Saturday, June 28, 2008

another Vampire Weekend post

The last post about this indie-rock quartet was well-received, so I'll venture another opinion.

Vampire Weekend are a concept act about *not* wearing tight jeans in 2007-08.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

70s Albums

So, I have a problem with organizing my music-listening. I don't have a great deal of time to really "sit down with" my records, because I don't listen to music while I read, and when I'm not at home reading I like to be out doin' thangs or watching movies.

My procedure for a long time was to have a pile of "recently listened to/new" records out in front of my turntable, but this ended up being unmanageable. Then, for a while, I tried to restrict the number of records that were "out" at any given time to a dozen, which were to be played into the ground before moving to the next group. But, like the strange movies that work their way to the top of your netflix queue, it is hard to plan out in advance what albums you will want to hear a week from now.

My solution now is to only listen to records from the 1970s. I have already broken this rule from the start by listening to Led Zeppelin "I," Isaac Hayes "Hot Buttered Soul," and King Crimson "In the Court of the Crimson King," all from 1969. But we know deep down those are really 70s albums, because they are such 70s artists and in such 70s genres.

* * * *

Some time ago, Pitchfork Media published a list of the top 100 albums from the 1970s. I am planning to make my own list when I'm done with all this, but for now I would like to do a "reading" of the Pitchfork list, which can be found here pt 1 and here pt 2.

Negatively speaking, there are some gross errors here. The Sex Pistols album is wildly underrated (at #51), while the CBGB scene (Television, Talking Heads, Blondie, Suicide) and post-punk are overrated. This is in line with the entire project's favoring of the "artsy." Most egregiously, Black Sabbath is completely absent, as is Bob Marley. There are countless inexplicable exclusions.

Positively (that is, descriptively), the list's unbelievable pretension in what got included is unmistakable: as much Krautrock and glam as possible, Brian Eno and David Bowie everywhere, while the genres of reggae, soul, jazz, and funk are represented by mere touchstones. The most cliche thing possible would be to cry "hipster!" and "pretentious!" at these values. That is mistaken. Highly overrating Sly and the Family Stone is not a "hipster" move. The earnest inclusion of several Led Zeppelin albums is not "pretentious" in itself. What is pretentious is the split desire to produce a list by and for indie-rock (pitchfork's readership) and at the same time to make grand pronouncements about the place of Funkadelic in 70s culture. Which is to say, the list is more embarrassing to the extent that it steps *outside* its hipsterism and private tastes. For instance, is Stevie Wonder's "Innervisions" REALLY the only Stevie Wonder album superior to David Bowie's "Aladdin Sane"?? I wonder if there is a single person on earth who would assert that in a non-list form.

A GREAT list has its own logic--it makes you forget what has been left off. You grow to understand what the criteria were. This list is awful, because of the striking, striking confusion of putting a Sly and the Family Stone album at #4, and the only Marvin Gaye album at #49 (by contrast, Rolling Stone has this album as the #1 album of this decade!). A really really good list should be so well-conceived that in re-making or re-working it, you accidentally just repeat it while you think you are disagreeing with it. Like, it forces you to say, "The Beatles *really are* the best band"--for instance. Or, any list of the greatest novels that has Madame Bovary or Moby Dick at the top of the list is obviously throwing down a gauntlet.

Another type of great list is the list of albums that looks like a person's real private taste. The Pushead list of the 100 best punk records of the 1980s is an excellent example of this. It is bizarre and I disagree with a great deal of it, but it is *honest* and seemingly responsive only to internal criteria. Nothing is included for the sake of representing something else.

But let me tell you what I most like about lists. We are all inclined in our personal recommendations and on our myspace pages to represent our tastes a certain way. But the Beatles really are the best band. And it is important once in a while to have some perspective as regards what is "great" and a "must-buy." It is easy to say that something is fantastic when it is not being compared to anything else, but when held up against, say, James Brown's "The Payback," that is usually much harder to assert.

In any case, here is my preliminary top 10 list (before I've done a lot of listening to my pile of 70s albums)--with pitchfork placement in parentheses.

1the stooges- fun house (12)
2bob dylan- blood on the tracks (5)
3the ramones- ramones (23)
4david bowie- ziggy stardust (81)
5sex pistols- never mind the bollocks (51)
6stevie wonder- talking book (--)
7led zeppelin- 4 (7)
8judas priest- sad wings of destiny (--)
9bob marley- catch a fire (--)
10neil young- after the gold rush (99)

My inclusion of judas priest is the only one i think is "non-canonical"--but I think if one subtracts the entire subsequent history of metal from this album, it is truly the culmination of led zeppelin, glam, and black sabbath, i.e. a masterwork.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Let's admit we (you) made a mistake

Look, America. No one has tricked us except for ourselves. In reviews of the new Marky Mark film--oops, the new Donnie Wahlberg film--oops, le nouveau film de M. Night Shyamalan, nearly every critic unleashes all they've got of mockery and cynicism. Rating a terrible 20% at Rotten Tomatoes (and an even worse score among respectable "top" critics), "The Happening" is sure to bomb and may just put an end to Mr. Shyamalan's Hollywood career. Opening this weekend, it's up against an Incredible Hulk movie, but sadly--very sadly--it cannot pose as the "intelligent alternative" to the Hulk, since by all accounts, it is just as retarded.

My contention: it's not that this person's films have gotten worse. Rather, we have become increasingly aware of how hacky and boring and pretentious and badly-scripted, etc. they were in the first place. There is a handy graph of this data on Rotten Tomatoes, but here are the ratings scores for his films (in chronological order):

Sixth Sense: 84
Unbreakable: 68
Signs: 74
The Village: 43
Lady in the Water: 24
The Happening: 20

I saw the first four of those when they came out (I love movies). At the time, I too felt that Unbreakable was stylish but boring; Signs was stylish but dumb; and The Village was stylish but truly retarded. Lady in the Water starred my least favorite actor Paul Giamatti, so I didn't go see it, and who knows about the Happening. Sure it *sounds* bad. 

So, it does indeed seem like this man's films get progressively worse. But I saw The Sixth Sense recently: IT IS HORRIBLE. Easily as bad/dumb as any of those other movies. And once one feels this way, it does not at all incline one to think, "Well his second and third movies were also, y'know, kind of good." Once the first illusion is dissolved, his films certainly do not look like a steady decline

>Epistemologically, what we have hear is a randomly arranged pile of equivalently-bad films. By "random" I mean that their chronology is irrelevant on video store shelves, and in terms of absolute quality-evaluations. The *illusion* of a decline (i.e. the illusion of an initial quality) only spells out our obvious biases and desires: we wanted these movies to be good, and we kept on wanting that even when they weren't. Each time that they weren't good, we pretended that it was the fault of the object (of our criticism), when really they are all the same. Our "disappointment" in Mr. Shyamalan was really guilt at an initial mistake that we could not admit and therefore had to keep repeating

So, while I cannot defend these shitty movies, I make two charges: that everyone had a serious lapse in judgment as regards The Sixth Sense (and to a lesser degree his other positively-reviewed films); and that the venom spat at his newest work should really be turned towards reviewers themselves for encouraging him in the first place and not admitting their complicity in this pretentious, bombastic career.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

New Weezer Video

The video for the new Weezer song is a series of references to popular youtube phenomena (or what wikipedia calls "internet memes"). Most often, Weezer has (somehow!) gotten these losers to reprise their 3-minutes-of-fame-grabbing appearance in the video for this song, singing along or dancing, etc. Other times, the members of Weezer themselves are impersonating famous videos.

I'll be honest, I didn't "get" 80% of the references. I'll be more honest, whenever someone shows you a viral internet video, it's always really really embarrassing for that person. They are sitting next to you, saying, "yeah---oh wait here's the best part" and looking at you with this stupid grin. After you smile a little, out of pity, they say something dumb like, "well it was pretty funny the first time." Anyways, I looked up every reference made in this video, and the original youtube videos often had 20 million views, without ever being something weird or very funny. In short, I am shocked at our nation's sense of what constitutes "OMG you have to see this." Then again, I don't work in an office any more, so I am a bit removed from all this.

But even lamer is the "after-life" of the people who appear in these videos. Here they are in a Weezer video, which is a HUGE step up from the internet. But... don't they know... that they are popular in the first place for being wildly embarrassing? I contend that they don't. I mean, I don't think it is possible for someone to think that. A famously bad American Idol contestant from several years ago released an album to capitalize on his massive exposure. The question of whether he thought "he could really sing" or not is academic--his biggest mistake was thinking anyone would find him funny for a 45 minute CD. The Weezer video is funny (no, it's not, but we'll get to that) because it keeps the references short, they make the people recognizable (if you have seen their videos in the first place), and they pretend there is NO after-life for these people at all. They are here to "do their one thing." Which is all we want them to do.

What's sad is that people don't know what makes them funny in the first place. To ever read an interview with someone whose popularity was a fluke, and hear them describing their "new projects," is heart-breaking. You just wish someone would tell them, "We don't care about you now. Go back to where you came from." And I like the Weezer video's spirit in pretending that, wait, we actually like these people, they seem fun, let's all celebrate them one more time.

The reason, however, that the Weezer video is not "funny" is because... well, in what way could it be funny? I'm familiar with the concept of the joke, and there are a couple here, sure. But the majority of the youtube allusions can only be called "funny" if by that you mean "referential." Perhaps you thought someone doing something on video was funny--but does that carry over to watching them sing or dance along to a Weezer song? You can imagine millions of people seeing this video and saying, "Oh that's so funny, how did they get all those people to sing along? Do you think they used CGI or that they *really* had them all there?" etc. Where "funny" in this sentence means something like:
-not condescending to me
-expensively edited
-containing references understandable by me
-in front of me right now

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Austin: In League with the NY Times

"Oh, you lived in Austin? It's supposed to be really cool there."
"It's not."
"Oh, but I heard it was."
"It's not."
"Hm. See, I heard it was."
"It's not."
"Really, though, I think it must be."
"It's not."
"That's so strange, because there's no way that it's not cool there."

Sometimes it feels like I'm the only person in New York not enamored of the medium-sized, traffic-congested, isolated, provincial, cheap, politically-deranged, and culturally self-absorbed capital of Texas. Not that everyone has been there. Although the worst barista at my local coffee shop is from there. He wears sandals. He mentions being from Austin as though *that* were his job. I wish he would learn what pumpernickel was instead.

I understand that New York is stressful, and that also it is so great here that we have to (in bad faith) "really like" some other place that is secretly crappy so that we look all the better by comparison, but take a look at today's NY Times. Two (2) articles about Austin: 1) an indie film is opening in Austin instead of NY or LA. 2) The "Texas Hill Country" is the #1 place to visit this summer.

First off... "ooooh, an *indie* film." Indie, like organic, is one of those scams of capitalism and reification by which buying something is neat because it supports some supposedly noble venture. Austin is a real home of independent film, because of the number of college students and the University's film school. All I have to say about this is that when Bergman's last, magnificent film Sarabande played in Austin, there was one other person in the audience the night I saw it. Austin is not a town of film-lovers. It is just full of young people who don't work.

As far as the travel article, which begins "Who needs Europe?", viz. when Austin and the surrounding area is so wonderful, my only response is something like, "You fucking idiots." If the scorching heat, computer-industry yuppies, pretentious backwoods foodie-ism, and hicks hicks hicks are a substitute for Europe, really I don't see why sniffing glue is not a "travel destination" for the NY Times. It is equally disorientingly shitty, but at least you won't have 5 days left of it after you realize what a bad decision you made.

Oh and the other day this fat girl I met was telling me she wanted to move to Marfa, TX. That's not in Austin, but I still felt like I was on crazy pills. Honey, they don't have an Urban Outfitters there.