Oct 142008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.10.14

Uncategorized Comments Off on Tuesday Playlist for 2008.10.14

Intro: Well it’s been a pretty crazy week here, and I’m beat, so the column may be short this week, but it’ll be on time.

Listening: Okay, so the new Oasis album, Dig Out Your Soul.  I’m not going to go into too much detail, because I’m hoping to post a couple of proper reviews on it later this week.  One will be by yours truly and the other by my long-time friend and total Oasis fanboy Trevor.  (Some readers may remember Trevor from his review of the last Jimmy Eat World album.)  Spoilers: I really like the album, Trevor’s not such a fan.  Basically, I think it’s a hell of a good Rock album and, while it’s certainly not the best Oasis album, it’s their best release since (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?.

I’ve also gotten a chance to give Everything Is Borrowed, the new album by the The Streets a spin, and I was a bit taken aback by it.  It’s much poppier and whimsical than the previous records.  I’m a fan so far (just got it a few days ago), but anyone expecting the gritty sound and smirking, self-aware, satirical style of Original Pirate Material or A Grand Don’t Come for Free will be be surprised.  Mike Skinner’s still making good use of his sharp wit and his accented-yet-agile vocals.  The highly-syncopated aesthetic is still there, but minor tonality has been swapped out for major and themes of the highs and lows of everyday street life have been replaced with more abstract themes and a more symbolic style.

A great example of this new direction is the hoppy, keyboard-heavy “Heaven for the Weather”, the chorus which is, at first blush, Mike Skinner’s take on the conundrum of hell sometimes seeming the better place to end up in the afterlife.  (The chorus observes “I wanna go to heaven for the weather and hell for the company.”)  In classic Streets fashion, however, there’s some depth to the song, which is also about temptation and discerning the right thing to do.

All in all, though, despite its wit, the album isn’t on par with Skinner’s earlier works.  Skinner seems musically out of place without growling samples and gritty, tongue-in-cheek recollections of urban life.  The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living was not only satirical, incisive, and quick-witted, it was also musically rich without the music distracting in any way from the lyrical focus of the songs.  Skinner obviously knew how to weave his unique vocal stylings in with his Garage-influenced Electronica sound.  With a lighter, more pop-oriented sound, his gruff Mockney accent seems out of place, as does his stuttering cadence.  The result is a sort of aesthetic dissonance which, in places, doesn’t the album a real disservice (especially on track like “The Way of the Dodo” and “The Strongest Person I Know”).

Diehard Streets fans will certainly find some stuff here to like.  There are still clever turns of phrase and some nice beats to be found here and there.  Unfortunately the album is often too disjointed and stylistically dissonant to make for a very rewarding listen.  (E.g. the clash between the light, folksy piano lines and Skinner’s unmelodic, nasally, heavily accented voice on “The Strongest Person I Know” is almost cringe-inducing.)

Upcoming: If you like foppish Mope-Rock, there’s a new Keane album coming out.  If you like overwrought pop versions of Christmas songs, then Sixpence None the Richer has your covered.  If neither are really your thing, well, next week you can get new albums from Kenny Chesney, Electric Six, Brett Dennen, or Of Montreal.  There’s also an EP from Matisyahu due out.  And if none of that appeals to you, well, maybe new music just isn’t your thing?

And they just announced an album by some old timey rock back.  The band’s called Guns and something?  Roses, maybe?  Oh well, their album Chinese Democracy (which has been “in the works” for over a decade) is finally out in November.

Thinking: So all of you need to carve out 90 minutes of your day and listen to this twopart, 90-minute interview with Lester Bangs.  Bangs was THE rock critic 70s and early 80s.  If you want to understand the formation of modern rock music, listen to this interview and then go get a copy of Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader.

The interview is essentially 90 minutes of Bangs’ random musings on the state of the music industry at the turn of the 1980s.  He dwells quite a bit on what’s good and bad in punk/new wave and why they’re important.  It’s a must-listen for Stooges and Velvet Underground fans for that reason if for no other.

News: Björk, Yorke, and Pitchfork, Oh My!  Turns out that Nordic songstress (I use the term loosely) Björk is teaming up with Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke on a new single.  The song, “Nattura” will be released next Monday and Pitchfork Media (who broke the story) are already creaming themselves over it.

Of course, they’ll have tough competition, from that 7-year-old who’s tearing up the charts in the Europe and Asia.

From the “It’s About Damned Time” file, the last venue played by Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valen’s is being declared a Rock and Roll landmark by the Rock and Roll hall of fame.

I think that’s about it.  Oh, save for the stunning news from the EU that loud music  still bad for your hearing.

Song of the Week: Well, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of John Lee Hooker.  I ran across this recording of him playing “Serves Me Right to Suffer” a few days ago and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.  The man was definitely one of the greats.

Jul 222008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.7.22

Uncategorized Comments Off on Tuesday Playlist for 2008.7.22

Intro: Well, folks, unfortunately going to be a short one tonight. Work, as always, has me slammed and since I’m working with clients in the Eastern time zone, it means an early morning tomorrow. So here’s a condensed Playlist for you which will have to tide you over until next week or until things calm down enough that I can post a little more frequently.

Listening: The past month or so I’ve really just been listening to old favorites. I think that after almost a year of buying and listening heavily to a new album every week I was kind of craving some of the classics. This week it’s mainly been Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia by the Dandy Warhols and a selection of my favorite Cure tracks/albums.

First off, I really have to say that Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia is the most underrated albums of the past decade. I honestly think that it’s musically and satirically brilliant. The opener “Godless” to the closer “The Gospel” and peaking with the much-loved single “Bohemian Like You” it really is a masterful sendup of turn-of-the-millennium hipster culture and modern society as a whole. Add to that that it’s full of absolutely masterful rock tunes and you have one of the best rock albums of the new millennium.

Secondly, the Cure. Top 5 Cure tunes. Anyone want to play? Mine are as follows:

1.) “Lovesong” (This is as much because I associate it with someone very special as anything else, but it is a brilliant tune.)

2.) “Grinding Halt” (The Cure do Punk back when Punk was still important? Yes, please!)

3.) “alt.end” (“There’s a big, bright, beautiful world/Just the other side of the door.” Yeah, I think we can all relate sometimes.)

4.) “The Lovecats” (Maybe I’m just weird like that, but I kind of want this song played at my wedding.)

5.) “Killing an Arab” (The Cure riff on Camus; what’s not to like?)

Upcoming: Haven’t really seen anything exciting coming up. I have, however, heard great things about the Hold Steady, so I may need to grab the album they released last week. Also, I’m still loving Beck’s latest and I’m planning to review it as soon as I get a chance.

Oh, and then there’s the new Paul Westerberg album. I’ve never been a huge Replacements or Paul Westerberg fan (pardon me while I dodge brickbats from the audience), personally, but it’s there if you’re into that kind of thing.

News: The new Paul Westerberg (late of the Replacements) album that I mentioned above is for sale through Amazon for only $.49. That’s right, less than half a dollar. The whole thing’s a bit gimmicky: a single-track album, called 49:00, for sale for $.49, on July 19th (or as the calender-impaired Westerberg claims: June 49th). Inexplicably, Mr. Westerberg shies at the last gate: the monotractual (it’s a word now!) album clocks in at just 43:55.

Also, apparently donuts are now the official currency of Pitchfork Media.

Thinking: Why is everyone surprised that John Lydon’s been implicated in a racist dust-up? This is a man who, along with Sid Vicious and co., defined the public shock-persona. At this point, it doesn’t matter whether John Lydon is or isn’t racist; people are scandalized that Johnny Rotten might be. And really, that’s what matters, I think, as far as Lydon/Rotten is concerned.

Song of the Week: Here’s The Cure’s “Grinding Halt” (off their 1979 debut Three Imaginary Boys) accompanied by an awesome stop-motion video done by youtube user badhill:

Jun 302008

Pitchfork Gives Music 6.8

Uncategorized Comments Off on Pitchfork Gives Music 6.8

My good friend Dingel sent me a link to this Onion article ages ago, but I just stumbled back across the link to it whilst cleaning out my inbox: Pitchfork Gives Music 6.8.

Money Quote:

semi-favorable review, which begins in earnest after a six-paragraph preamble comprising a long list of baroquely rendered, seemingly unrelated anecdotes peppered with obscure references, summarizes music as a “solid but uninspired effort.”

“Coming in at an exhausting 7,000 years long, music is weighed down by a few too many mid- tempo tunes, most notably ‘Liebesträume No. 3 in A flat’ by Franz Liszt and ‘Closing Time’ by ’90s alt-rock group Semisonic,” Schreiber wrote. “In the end, though music can be brilliant at times, the whole medium comes off as derivative of Pavement.”

(Hat tip to Dingel and the Onion)

Feb 272008

International Make up a Word Day

Uncategorized Comments Off on International Make up a Word Day

The great Scalzi has declared today to be International Make up a Word Day. Far be it from me to resist such a decree, my contribution is “pitchforkate”. It means to write about music in a bloviating and self-congratulatory manner.

In a sentence: “Man, that guy totally pitchforkated his way through that review of the new Radiohead album.”

Of course, other forms (e.g. the noun “pitchforkation” or the adverbial “pitchforkatingly”) are also acceptable.

Aug 052007

Giving Pitchfork a run for its money . . .

Uncategorized Comments Off on Giving Pitchfork a run for its money . . .

Hey everyone, I’m sorry I’ve been so catty the past couple weeks here at Fifty-Two Tuesdays, but I’ve been trying to read a broader scope of music news sites lately and that decision has exposed me to, among other things, the sludgy gloop at the bottom of the music reviewing barrel. A perfect example of the pap that one can dredge up from those foul depths, courtesy of Tiny Mix Tapes: “Unlike sophomore effort Antics, Our Love To Admire isn’t even a contractual obligation to push off without care.” (Link) What does that even MEAN? Seriously, folks, I don’t care if your reviews agree with mine, or if your style is anything like mine, or even if your goal in reviewing albums is like mine. But please, PLEASE, at least make your reviews intelligible! And less you think I’m depriving that sentence of some context which would clear up its symantec significance, here it is in all its non-sequitor-ish goodness:

“No thanks. Nearly three years have elapsed since any new material has surfaced, and the best the gloomsters can offer up is a prolonged re-hash of songs that barely worked the first time around. Unlike sophomore effort Antics, Our Love To Admire isn’t even a contractual obligation to push off without care. But boy does it sound like one; a band phoning it in, out of steam, and running on a few lingering fumes and smoldering coals. If that were the case it would be understandable, yet not forgivable. However, this poor piece of plastic doesn’t fit that description, and realizing that Interpol are aiming to impress with their major label debut is cause to audibly groan.”

And I thought the TMT article headlines were bad.

Clarity. It’s your friend.

Aug 032007

Pitchfork, Yet Again

Uncategorized Comments Off on Pitchfork, Yet Again

I’m really sorry to keep bashing on Pitchfork Media, but they really deserve it. What’s good this time around is that, in this latest installment (should I just make a regular “What’s Wrong with Pitchfork” column?), they get it. And right from the mouth of an exceptionally talented and vocal artist.

The article is called “M.I.A Confronts Haters.” Simple enough. It turns out that it’s a phone interview with British artist M.I.A (who happens to be of Sri Lankan descent.) What the headline blatantly avoids is that by “haters” the Pitchfork kids were apparently referring to themselves. Quote:

Pitchfork: I heard you say something to the effect of “he didn’t make Arular and he also didn’t make this record.” I’m wondering who you’re referring to, though I could take a wild guess.

M.I.A.: Yesterday I read like five magazines in the airplane– it was a nine hour flight– and three out of five magazines said “Diplo: the mastermind behind M.I.A.’s politics!” And I was wondering, does that stem from [Pitchfork]? Because I find it really bonkers.

Pitchfork: Well, it’s hard to say where it originated. We certainly have made reference to Diplo playing a part on your records, but it seems like everyone plays that up.

M.I.A.: If you read the credits, he sent me a loop for “Bucky Done Gun”, and I made a song in London, and it became “Bucky Done Gun”. But that was the only song he was actually involved in on Arular. So the whole time I’ve had immigration problems and not been able to get in the country, what I am or what I do has got a life of its own, and is becoming less and less to do with me. And I just find it a bit upsetting and kind of insulting that I can’t have any ideas on my own because I’m a female or that people from undeveloped countries can’t have ideas of their own unless it’s backed up by someone who’s blond-haired and blue-eyed. After the first time it’s cool, the second time it’s cool, but after like the third, fourth, fifth time, maybe it’s an issue that we need to talk about, maybe that’s something important, you know.

So M.I.A is pissed that Pitchfork is, apparently, massively playing up someone else’s role. What’s more, the phone interview apparently took place while M.I.A was sitting down to dinner in a San Francisco cafe. Now, I’m not sure if that was by design of the artist, or if it was Pitchfork being rude, so I’ll excuse them on that score, but through out the interview the only people that M.I.A seems to be confronting are the Pitchfork the Pitchfork Staffers themselves.

Now, while I’m not TOO huge a fan of M.I.A’s work (it’s just not my favorite genre) I due have a lot of respect for her skill and accomplishments. What’s more, every interview I’ve read with her has given the impression of an exceptionally intelligent, highly individualistic person, both both qualities I’m quite keen on. So to read her taking Pitchfork head on and taking them to task, all while the Pitchfork reviewer tries to stay in line with his interview script was pretty heartening for me.

Check the rest of the interview out here, it’s worth a read.

Jul 312007

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

Uncategorized Comments Off on Quite well, Mr. Johnston, thanks for asking. How are you?

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 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

Uncategorized Comments Off on The Problem with Pitchfork

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.