Jul 312007

Quite well, Mr. Johnston, thanks for asking. How are you?

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As an update to the whole M. Ward / Mastercard kerfuffle:

Pitchfork Media heard from a reader who claims to have talked to the brother of the original artist who supposedly said that Danial Johnston was, in fact, compensated for the use of the song.

So assuming that’s true, good job Mastercard. Assuming that we can trust Pitchfork’s relaying of a message from a reader who allegedly contacted the brother of the artist. I, for one, am taking this with a hopeful grain of salt.

In other news, Daniel Johnston’s website totally wins the award for “Most Charming URL EVAR”: http://hihowareyou.com/

Jul 312007

"Pour some sugar down on me."

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I have an idea for the most effective anti-drug campaign ever devised by mankind.

1.) Make several million copies of this photo of Keith Richards:

Keith Richards

2.) Post one in every classroom in America. Possibly taped right below the clock, so that students are sure to see it.

3.) Supplement it with daily readings from various Keith Richards interviews and his forthcoming memoir.

4.) Make sure that they know that Keith Richards does drugs. Furthermore, make sure they know that Keith Richards them to maintain his frail human form which, it is widely believed, actually died back in the late 80s and is now animated only by potent coctail of amphetamines and psychoactive compounds.

5.) Tell them that if they ever so much as touch an illegal drug, this grim, spectrous creature known as Keith Richards will hunt them down, steal their drugs, and do unspeakably evil things to them.

If the prospect of turning into Keith Richards doesn’t keep them clean, then the prospect of standing between him and his next fix sure as hell will.

My original thought was to recommend that parents get the picture painted as a giant ceiling mural over their children’s beds, but then I realized that would probably just cause severe psych trauma.

Jul 302007

An interesting post recently popped up on M. Ward’s MySpace blog. Mr. Ward, never one to mince words, states the situation quite matter-of-factly.

Mastercard was denied permission by M. Ward to use his version of Daniel Johnston’s “TO GO HOME” – so Mastercard found some anonymous musicians to re-record the song. Neither M. Ward nor the musicians that appeared on his version have any involvement in this recording or the commercial.

This, to me, seems like a reasonable, level-headed way to handle the situation. Mr. Ward wanted to set the record straight, and he did so simply, cleanly and professionally. Kudos to him.

Then Pitchfork Media got ahold of the post. The result? Apparently the above comment “points to the possibility of a Waits-ian battle brewing between the Merge songwriter and MasterCard.” What, Mastercard’s asshattery wasn’t enough of a story, they had to go and read a pending legal battle into the post, too? I mean, hell, even the title of the article, “M. Ward Digs at Mastercard” is inaccurate. I mean, I’m sure Mr. Ward is pissed (and with pretty good reason), but the above hardly counts as a dig. M. Ward wasn’t throwing down a gauntlet, he was making clear his role (or more particularly, lack thereof) in the proceedings.

But the Pitchfork noise squad seems to be so far gone that they don’t even understand professionalism when it’s rubbed in their smarmy little faces. Basically M. Ward displays great professionalism in letting his fans know what was up with the commercial in question and, when filtered through Pitchfork-o-vision, that became the first rumblings of a legal battle royale. No doubt they have visions of Thom Yorke sweeping in on vinyl wings weilding a flaming guitar to smite the evil-doing Mastercard . . .

Kudos to M. Ward for setting the record straight and being his level-headed and groovy self. (A bit of a plug, M. Ward is on the road overseas at the moment, so if any of you are reading this from the far side of the Atlantic Pond, you should check out one of his shows. He gives a great live performance.)

Jul 292007

The Problem with Pitchfork

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I’ve long harbored a secret fantasy that Pitchfork Media is not actually a review site, per se, but actually a giant, self-parodying joke by some very committed comedians. Kind of like Landover Baptist, but more subtle and for music. It would add a thick layer of rich, creamy irony to Pitchfork parody sites like Richdork Media. Suddenly such spoofs would cease to be clever and would instead, just be missing the subtle, beautiful satire of the whole Pitchfork project. Somewhere a small group of committed and prolific satirists (I for some reason imagine them all wearing berets and sipping cocoa) would chuckle softly to themselves.

Alas, I’m sure that this is just fantasy on my part. And Pitchfork reviews like Marc Hogan’s review of Easy Tiger, are actually what passes for serious music journalism as far as the Pitchfork crowd is concerned. What makes this review such a perfect example of the sad, self-important crap that passes for musical criticism over at Pitchfork? I’m glad you asked.

First of all, Mr. Hogan starts his review not only by admitting to pirating the album he’s reviewing, but trying to frame his piracy in terms of a “the label made me do it” mentality. Any claim to professionalism that Mr. Hogan may have had just flew out the window in amidst his self-congratulatory whining. Mr. Hogan, if you do pirate the albums you review, please have the good taste not to tell us about it. And if you do tell us about it, please don’t make yourself out to be some kind of copyfight activist. Just admit that you’re a cheap shill who’s bitter that the label didn’t send him a complimentary disc. I didn’t get a comp disc either, but you know what I did? I went out and bought a copy with my own, hard-earned cash. From my favorite local record store even. You want to enjoy the view from the moral high ground, try buying a copy from one of the last local, privately own record stores in the nation.

Even more aggregious than his piracy is his “I’m the victim” attitude and his smug sense of justification. In his attempt to defend his downloading of a leaked copy rather than buying the real deal he says:

“I ended up downloading the leak like a hardened criminal because these days labels send out the kind of CDs that don’t play on computers”

Yeah. Some labels do that. Some CDs these days have been carefully designed so that they won’t play on computers. But guess what? Easy Tiger wasn’t one of those CDs. I came right home from 4,000 Holes, opened the CD up, popped it in the drive and it worked just fine. But even if it hadn’t worked in my computer, you know what I would have done? Cursed the label and listened to it on my stereo. Yes, labels are stupid for trying to restrict the rights of their users. It’s not stupid but evil of them to charge us for a CD and then tell us how we can and can’t use it. I’m as much a believer in the need for pro-user copyright reforms as anyone else. But I’m also a firm believer in the importance of professionalism and good conduct. Every CD that I review, I pay for. If for no other reason than that if I wind up recommending an album to my readers, I refuse to suggest that they buy something that I was unwilling to pay for myself.

But that’s exactly what Mr. Hogan did. He tells all his readers that he refused to pay Mr. Adams, the label (Lost Highway), and the retailer for the music he got, and yet right below the header for the article are several links to places where you can purchase the album. Mr. Hogan, I almost feel that I should congratulate you on your shamelessness. Your bald-faced hypocrisy may not be legendary, but it certainly is of epic proportions.

(As a side note, when I read Mr. Hogan’s line about Ryan Adams “self-mythologizing”, my brain nearly exploded from the force of “pot-calls-the-kettle-black” jokes that came rushing into it. )

So now not only have I supported the artist and my local record shop, but I also have the actual CD, liner notes, etc. in addition to the digital copies of the tracks I made. As Mr. Hogan relates to us in a yammering, pointless half-paragraph, he got a bunch of poorly-labeled .mp3s and the chance to look like amateurish douche when wasted a significant chunk of his review space patting himself on the back for pirating Mr. Adams’ music. I’m not much one for competition, but I think in that proverbial match up, I came out the winner.

And then there’s the matter of the review itself. It is, for the most part, impressively unhelpful, considering the number of adjectives that Mr. Hogan uses. He also follows the baffling and somewhat annoying convention of mentioning every single song on the album, whether or not he has anything useful to say about it. I’ve often wondered if, along with their apparent self-aggrandizement and self-reference quotas, if Pitchfork required this of their reviewers, or whether it was just an unfortunate point of style in the Pitchfork reviewing community. Either way, it leads to phrases like:

“Fittingly, the free-wheeling opener and its anachronistic vernacular (“the whole she-bang”) take Adams back to the Jerry Garcia tones of Cold Roses, stretched rolling-paper-thin.”

Now, at first glance, this reads like a sentence that should be really informative and helpful. It seems like, after one reads it, one should have a reasonable idea of what the album opener sounds like. But what, pray tell, does it mean for a song to be “free-wheeling”? Which tones is Mr. Hogan talking about? And what does it mean for a tone to be “stretched rolling-paper-thin”?

I understand that describing music can often be difficult. There’s a very significant divide between the those things which language is good at describing, and those things which music evokes. Language and music, being of very different characters and serving very different purposes, have a hard time engaging one another. Fine. But it seems that all too often Pitchfork reviewers are satisfied with vague, imagistic pseudo-descriptions, which do less to inform the reader about the music than about the extent of the reviewers vocabulary and writing skills.

Which leads me, I suppose, to the real point of this little rant. When reviewing music, or books, or any other kind of artistic work for the public, the reviewer is not the point. The art is the point. And I think too many reviewers forget this far too often. I don’t care about Marc Hogan when I’m reading his reviews except to the extent that I know whether I trust his opinions or not. Reviewers are good in so far as they can handle the difficult task of talking about art in a productive and descriptive way. People like reviewers that tend to have similar tastes as them. And while the reviewer’s writing voice can be important (I wouldn’t have any desire to be a music reviewer if it weren’t for Glenn McDonalds’ column The War Against Silence) it’s only valuable if it actually conveys enough information about the art to help the reader know what to expect from it.

And while I wish that Marc Hogan’s obtuse, self-congratulatory, overly- and often self-referential style was simply limited to him, it really is endemic of the whole Pitchfork culture. What’s more saddening, however, is that that that, in addition to his poor and unhelpful style, his blatant hypocrisy and lack of professionalism might also be not just a problem with Mr. Hogan, but with Pitchfork Media writ large.

Jul 272007

Well, it looks like we have a 3-way tie for next week’s album. So, by exercising my right to tie-breaking, I’m casting my vote for the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album.

Between backlog on my promises here and an incredibly uninspiring release lineup this week. (The only that’s made a real blip on my radar is the new Korn album, which I’m, shall we say, less than enthusiastic about.) A quick check of Metacritic and the Billboard charts reveals a somewhat-hyped album by a band called Common and a bunch of late-summer re-releases.

I can’t say I’m really surprised. The major summer album season has come to a close and we’re sliding into the release doldrums that usually settle in this time of year. The big-name albums have already hit the market and, after the last few weeks we’ve had, I can imagine most bands aren’t thrilled about releasing this close on the heels of so much awesome material. (I mean, coming out on the heels of the Smashing Pumpkins comeback alone would be enough to give any new release an uphill battle for recognition, not to mention all the other well-hyped stuff that’s come out lately.)

So here’s what we’re gonna do: I’m declaring this next week a Fifty-Two Tuesdays catch up week. I’ve got a list of things I’ve been meaning to write and/or have promised you all to write and/or started already, so I think we’ll forgo voting for a new album this week and see how much catching up I can do in the next week or so.

So, here’s the plan for the next week:

– Review of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Is Is
– Review of The Chemical Brothers’ We Are the Night
– Review of Interpol’s Our Love to Admire (Which has been in extremely heavy rotation in my world the past week or so.)
– A ranty little essay I’ve got started, kvetching about one of the big review/news outlets. (Which one has earned Aaron’s ire? Tune in later this week to find out!)
– One or two other small items I’ve been wanting to blog about but have slipped through the cracks lately
– Misc. other stuff I might run across.


P.S: Scroll down or click here for my review of They Might Be Giants’ The Else.

Jul 272007

They Might Be Giants, The Else

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Artist: They Might Be Giants
Album: The Else
Label: Idlewild
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.7.10
Score: 8.5/10

One of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio and really falling in love with is They Might Be Giants’ cover of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” (originally recorded by The Four Lads). One of the first CDs I ever bought was a copy of their album Flood. As such, I’ve always had a special place in my musical heart for TMBG and their unique brand of semi-absurd pop. So I have to admit that, when The Else popped up on the voting options, I was secretly hoping it would win the vote. It did and so, well, here we are.

The album is the 12th studio album from the Brooklyn-based duo. It continues a long, proud tradition of fun, well-crafted, often absurd pop music. The Else also comes with a bonus disc called Cast Your Pod to the Wind, which is chock full of rarities and unreleased material. The album features production work from the Dust Brothers and from Grammy Award-winning producer Pat Dillet, whose production work TMBG fans will be familiar with from several of the band’s previous albums.

A close listen of The Else will provide ample evidence that, not only are They Might Be Giants a group which hasn’t lost its touch, but also that they’re a band which is continuing to grow and mature, even after almost two decades in the industry. In particular, the melodic and harmonic themes in The Else are richer and more polished than most previous TMBG releases. Whereas before one got the sense that the music was decidedly secondary to the lyrics, such can’t be said as readily this time around. Songs like “Climbing the Walls”, which features rich harmonies and some really cool guitar hooks, for example, seem to indicate that a lot more thought has gone into the non-verbal portions of the music. “Feign Amnesia” features sparse, syncopated guitars, admirably accompanied with solid drumming.

For all the little concessions to musical maturity, they are just that: small nods in the direction of a more refined, “respectable” sound. The album still drips with classic They Might Be Giants surrealism and joyful exuberance. Songs like “The Mesopotamians” (“Sargon, Hammurabi, Ashurbanipal, and Gilgamesh!”) and “Bee of the Bird of the Moth” could only have been pulled off by TMBG. They’re groovy, catchy, and gleefully absurd. It’s rare that a band develops a voice so unique that not only does no other band try to ape them, but no other band even could. This album is a TMBG album through and through and there is absolutely no mistaking that. No other band could ever quite replicate the same delicate musical blend of silliness, pop excellence, musical talent, and lyrical wit.

And really, it’s the lyrics that set this album apart. They range from remarkably subtle and sly-grin-inducing satire (“The Shadow Government” – “Crawling out of the flophouse, I saw the mayor stealing my junk / I doth protest / citizen’s arrest / now my body’s in his trunk”) to the fantastically silly (“The Cap’m” debates the finer points of the use of contracted nautical honorifics) to the delightfully imagistic and abstract. Songs like “Contrecoup” make one think that, really, maybe other bands are just taking themselves too seriously and, perhaps, a little lyrical levity might actually improve things. I mean, hey, any song that can actually pull off using words like “craniopsophic” and “limerent” gets major points in my book. And TMBG manage to use them while discussing phrenology AND lamenting lost love. Bonus!

The Else is a must-have album for anyone who likes a levity, wit, and listenable pop music. It’s easy on the ears, fun for the mind, and soft on the pop sensibilities. If you’ve ever heard and enjoyed a They Might Be Giants album, this is a great place to start. The solid full-length album and the bonus disc of rarities and unreleased material makes it a great value, and its fun, simplicity, and G-rated content make it fun for the whole family. A safe buy for anyone looking for good, enjoyable music who doesn’t mind a healthy dose of absurdity in their auditory diet.

Jul 262007

"How are things on the West coast?"

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Okay, I know I promised that I’d have the review up today, just a day late, but sporadic internet outages and work pressures dictated otherwise. It’ll be up tomorrow. Totally totally will be. Promise. In the meantime, enjoy this bizarre little video from Interpol, whose new album Our Love to Admire is out on Capitol Records and is amazing.

So here’s Interpol with “The Heinrich Maneuver”:

Jul 252007

"West Xylophone!"

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Hey kids, I’m gonna be a day late with my review of the new They Might Be Giants album. (I’ll have it up tomorrow, promise!) By way of an apology, here’s a short, but positively delightful music video from the band, for their song “The Alphabet of Nations”.

Jul 182007

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There is no surer sign that we are living at the end of days than this: the Spice Girls are reuniting for a world tour.

Jul 182007

Well, by a 2-1-1 vote, They Might Be Giants won the poll this past week, and so their new album The Else will be next week’s review. Also in the near future you can expect reviews of the latest Chemical Brothers album and of Paul van Dyk playing the Qwest Field Event Center in Seattle this weekend. The latter is thanks entirely to my brother Brian and his wife Amy who snagged me tickets to the show and will be going with me. Should be a great time, and you’ll all no doubt hear about it here. One other potential future bonus review is the new Interpol album, which I know I will be constitutionally unable to resist buying. So tons of good stuff in the offing.

In more immediate news, things have taken somewhat a shift towards the indie this week, with albums from indie rock darlings John Vanderslice, Robbers on High Street, and Tegan and Sara (who I could have sworn were a major-label act), as well as a new EP from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. On the mainstream side of things is new material from the likes of Prince, Silverchair, and Sum 41. So, here are your choices for this week and, as per usual, votes can be posted to the comment thread.

Prince, Planet Earth
Robbers On High Street, Grand Animals
Silverchair, Young Modern
Sum 41, Underclass Hero
John Vanderslice, Emerald City
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Is Is [EP]
Tegan and Sara, The Con