Modern Rock Criticism ExplainedPerhaps you're not aware, but long before I rose to the ranks of Matablog editor / label co-owner, I dabbled a bit in the wild world of music press. Back in the go-go 1980's, I wrote for publications including (but not limited to) High Wire, The Wayland Town Crier, and of course, Smegma Journal. During that period, I had the good fortune of covering such emerging, pioneering acts as the Little River Band, Nantucket and The Sickness.
So it's with that body of work (probably part of an Experience Music Project exhibit, if not an entirely new wing someday) in mind, that I'd like to help you, the mystified, befuddled rock fans of today, make some sense of what modern music journalists are banging on about. For instance, when Uncut's Louis Pattison writes of Kurt Vile's 'Smoke Ring For My Halo', "the real heart of this record seems to lie in the moments of stillness and rest, where strung-out slackerdom attains an almost sacred quality", what the layperson might not understand is that Mr. Pattison is really trying to say,"THIS IS THE GREATEST RECORD OF 2011 SO FAR AND IF YOU DISAGREE, I'M GOING TO HIT YOU WITH A SHOVEL".
Likewise, when Mojo's Stevie Chick might cause some casual readers to scratch their heads with his thoughts regarding 'Smoke Ring' ("while the melodies and vibe seem to be channeling lost AM radio transmissions from the '70's, Vile's no relic-treasuring throwback, finding a unique, laconic voice of his own amongst the tangle"), the Rock-Criticism-To-English-Translator (tm) generates the following ; "it is a work of total genius, to only purchase one copy would be a crime against art, beauty and the human spirit."
Of course, our good friends from the British monthlies aren't the only ones prone to bouts of understatement, and that's why you're so very lucky I'm here to make sense of yet another Kurt Vile rave, this one coming from Pitchfork's Jayson Greene, who argues 'Smoke Ring For My Halo"'s "Ghost Town", "churns along in a similar weightless middle space as Wilco's 'I Am Trying To Break Your Heart' but instead of Jeff Tweedy's earnest napkin poetry Vile gives us muttered, inscrutable darts, a series of private jokes for an audience of one." What Mr. Greene wanted to testify was actually, "Kurt Vile's prose has molested my mind. And I was asking for it."
It's been my pleasure to walk you through the intellectual mine field that passes for record reviews, and who knows? The next time one of these analysts is beating around the bush, I'll not hesitate to assist, particularly if it can put the work of Kurt Vile in a deserved, wider context.
Jon Spencer speaksFile this under "totally fascinating blasts from the past". Gerard is that a category?
Jon Spencer talks to Ian Svenonius (I figured they'd be nemeses for the similar territory they mined during my youth) on VBS. Seriously interesting stuff:
TNV - M o v e t o C a l i f o r n i a
Catalog number OLE-896 is Times New Viking MOVE TO CALIFORNIA 7", slated to come out on September 8. The four song 7" contains two tracks from the upcoming BORN AGAIN REVISITED LP, those being "Move To California" and "City On Drugs," plus two songs from the coveted STAY AWAKE REVISITED cassette, namely "Pentagram" and "Teen Spirit In Hell."
Preorder the new album, in stores September 22, and get this 7", plus a copy of last year's STAY AWAKE 7", and a free poster, all for only $13 - while supplies last.
Download the MP3 of "Move To California" here, and enjoy your weekend:
Move To California (192k mp3)
Oh, and fuck your blog.
HuffPo : Equally Useful For Plugging TV Projex, Defending The Sucky
Someone should contact Rolling Stone's David Wild ASAP ; it seems the Onion's Jackie Harvey (above) has penned a rather pointless tribute to nature kid Billy Corgan for the Huffington Post and attached Wild's photo and byline to the article.
Now truth be told, I was not the biggest Pumpkinshead during their initial run -- I was more of an aging Nirvana-man, frankly. But over the past decade, I've come to really admire Corgan for his talent and his strong commitment to following his own muse rather than simply taking the standard issue rocky path of least resistance. Like Pete Townshend before him, Corgan seems like a man who takes the responsibility of being a rock star profoundly and even painfully seriously, grappling intellectually with the gig rather than just cashing in at every turn. As a result, Corgan may not always make things easy on his fans -- or on himself -- but he's always interesting. In an age of premature nostalgia, Corgan clearly wants his music to matter in the present tense. Not that he's a complete purist, as demonstrated by the recent use of the Pumpkins' classic "Today" on a Visa commercial.
But I choose to embrace Corgan in all his contradictions. And despite his apparent problems working and playing well with others in a band context, I have to report that I have found him to be incredibly bright, witty and honest on a personal level. To see some of the qualities on display, tune in April 2nd when Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin make what now looks like it will be their last shared TV appearance with the current Pumpkins lineup on the Chris Isaak Hour, a new show on the Bio Channel that I really love even if I am a producer on it.
Wear the Good-Cause Hat: Anna Ives vs. Cancer
Anna Ives is the very young, very adorable daughter of Zac and Amy Ives. Zac is co-owner of Goner Records, the singer for Final Solutions, and a flat-out great guy. The Goner Records BBS is currently holding an auction while Zac, Amy, and Anna are in Boston, where the latter is receiving specialized radiation treatment. The auction is to help offset the Ives' mounting hospital bills. I'm here to encourage Matablog readers to either bid on some of the great finds that have made it to the block, and to offer their own donated items for auction. All of the needed information, including Anna's story, can be found HERE.
The auction can be found HERE.
Read the Memphis Commercial Appeal story about Anna...
Additional questions not answered by those links can be directed to Eric Friedl: [email protected]
For Those About To Diss Bon Scott, We Condemn You
'Back In Black' aside, AC/DC's batting average during the tenure of vocalist Brian Johnson is substantially lower than that of countless Fall lineups during the same period. That said, the band's recordings with Johnson's predecessor, original howler Bon Scott (above), have more than stood the test of time, with patrons as diverse as Chris Lombardi and Mark Kozelek (ok, perhaps that's not the widest cross-section) singing their praises. However, with the news South Scotland MSP Christine Graham wants to officially recognize the band (in light of Scott hailing from the town of Kirriemuir, Angus), The Times' Joan McAlpine protests, "honour the achievements of our sons and daughters by all means...but only when they have done something worth celebrating. Sonic assault by wild men in mullets just doesn’t count."
Robert Burns has already been castigated as a poor role model for young Scots on account of his sexual promiscuity and love of a dram. He also left us poetry of incredible lyrical power, whether he was philosophising on the lot of the common man, satirising authority or expressing tenderness towards his many lovers.
Beside Bon Scott, Burns could occupy the editor’s chair at the Feminist Review. The closest AC/DC get to tenderness is Whole Lotta Rosie, in praise of the carnal expertise of a 19 stone woman known to the singer. If that’s too sentimental for your taste, what about Night Prowler, on which Scott plays the role of a sexual predator, taunting a woman lying alone in her bed, scared to turn the light off because of the noise outside her window. In the title song of the 1976 album, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, the singer offers to use neckties, TNT or concrete to dispense with the annoying people in your life — like school teachers and unfaithful partners.
It kind of makes you look again at the middle-aged, middle-class white men who regard this music as the ultimate in authenticity. Perhaps they love it because unlike them, the band never grew up.
I'm not sure if "authenticity" registers particularly high on the list of most AC/DC fans' fave attributes, but presumably Ms. McApline knows an awful lot about why someone else's tastes differ from hers. She's perfectly entitled to take dead, defenseless Bon Scott to task for sexism, but even crude characters have stories worth hearing. I'm not sure what having a mullet has to do with whether or not Scott & colleagues are genuine artists, but such superficial hangups reveal a little bit about the author's credibility.
Portland, Lock Up Your Daughters
In what likely constitutes the sexiest meeting of the minds in recent memory, Portland's Baghdad Theater will host Stephen Malkmus and Ian Svenonius for a taping of Soft Focus on December 4th.
Soft Focus, for those of you stuck in 1991, is a long-form interview program hosted by Svenonius and featuring interviews with some of the elite minds in independent culture.
If you'd like to attend the taping, please RSVP here. Svenonius will also pick the brain damage of PDX rock legends Pierced Arrows.
Fucked Up's Damian wears clothes in FRONT magazine
Click above and find out exactly why Damian has the best tits to ever go in a magazine. It had me convinced anyway.
Want to dress like your favourite Canadian FRONTman? Follow this link here for cool threads, the likes of which will undoubtedly lead to you hanging out with Charlotte from The Subways in a field in Berkshire, a lifetime ambition I've yet to fulfill until now.
Fucking Up The NME - The Making Of...So it's on the shelves this week, Fucked Up finally get their cover time. Blood (real), nakedness, Manginas, dark secrets and an insight into life with Fucked Up.
You can check out a short clip of Danny North doing the cover shot in a north of England Halal supermarket on his Flickr HERE.
For Starters, It Looks Like He's Had Some Work Done
You've got to admit, that's one heck of a transformation.
Jay Reatard Taking UK By Storm
The NME has issued a list of '25 Bands Making America Cool Again', and while these lists usually inspire head rolling from atleast 10 of the entries, I am really pleased that than our very own Jay Reatard makes the cut at #14 for the full list click here.
SWells : Harp "Licked Musician Ass Until It's Tongue Bled"
Middle age has taught me that regardless of my current views on the state of print media, nobody wants to hear about the good old days reading Suburban Relapse and Sick Teen 'til 4am whilst surrounded by vomiting kitty-cats. Look, I already know that Rusty Clarke and Mission Of Burma excepted, most everything I used to love has completely gone to shit. Fortunately for the rest of you, however, former NME/current Guardian scribe Steven Wells (above) isn't quite prepared to take the death of modern rock criticism lying down. "Once music journalism was the playground of punks, pirates, arse bandits, chancers, hardcore lesbian punk bondage freaks, revolutionaries, drug addicts and the borderline insane," writes Wells in the current Philadelphia Weekly. Man, have you ever heard someone so romantic for the glory days of Alternative Press?
Three leading indie music magazines have bitten the dust since the beginning of the year. The spectacularly dull No Depression, the stunningly uninteresting Resonance and the jaw–droppingly mediocre Harp have all recently gone to that great Belle and Sebastian disco in the sky. All of which is great news for anybody who hates mediocrity.
Harp founder Scott Crawford was actually proud of how timid and unambitious and bland his baby was. He described Harp as ”a nice middle ground between the indie–centric Magnet and the dad–rockin’ Paste,” which is not so much a manifesto as a prenatal death rattle.
Full disclosure: I worked for Harp for a while. Publisher Glenn Sabin recently described the magazine as ”irreverent.” It wasn’t. It licked musician ass until its tongue bled. The line ”Joe Strummer must be laughing his rotting cock off,” was cut from a review I wrote of an embarrassingly necrophiliac Clash re–reissue box set because it was ”disrespectful.” And the editor who hired me—admittedly a rampaging punk rock lunatic—was told to clear his desk and vacate the building immediately.
Eventually the dullards reached a dull critical mass. They formed hundreds of dull, white, sexless and punchably smug suburban bands. And they started magazines with names like No Depression and Harp and Resonance and Corduroy. Yes there really is a magazine called Corduroy. One imagines they passed on Beige as too incendiary and Cardigan as just a shade too fucking exciting.
Hey Buddy, Can You Spare 167 Seconds?
(Tom Scholz --- not bad, but he's no Lee Mavers)
"Don’t get me wrong, slugger," scolds The Morning News' resident efficiency fetishist Josh Allen. "I love 'More Than a Feeling.' But it's four minutes and 47 fucking seconds long. I don’t have time for that kind of nonsense."
My scientists told me that the perfect song length had to be closer to three minutes than two, but definitely shorter than three minutes. Three minutes is where bloat starts to set in. Where the band thinks: Hey, let’s do the chorus seven times. Hey, let’s give the saxophone guy a real moment to shine on this one. Hey, let’s add another bridge.
Just look at what clocks in between two and a half and three minutes: “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “We Got the Beat,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Good Times Bad Times,” “I Would Die 4 U,” “Paranoid,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Debaser,” “God Only Knows,” and “Fall on Me.” These are not only stone-cold classics but they also encapsulate all that is great about the band without wasting your goddamn time.
The scientists then dug up this song by a group that pretty much defines one-hit wonder: the La’s. The song is “There She Goes,” and is so flawless that it instantly made everything else the band did pointless. This ditty is two minutes and 42 seconds, and is all about songwriting economy.
I listened to it and said, in my rich and sonorous timbre, in my typically concise and absolutely-nailing-it fashion: “Here is a song that has everything I need and nothing I don’t.”
The main riff acts as the intro. The verses are the chorus. The solo is 100 percent fat-free and leads right into a tidy bridge. And then we’re back where we started. It’s like some ingenious IKEA futon or Japanese love hotel where every component is doing double-duty. When “There She Goes” is over, I guarantee absolutely no one in the room goes: “Jesus, finally.”
I’d hit upon the perfect song length. I fist-bumped somebody.
Céline Dion : Worse Than Hitler & Cancer Combined, Or Merely Misunderstood?While Q Magazine once described Céline Dion as a vocalist who"grinds out every note as if bearing some kind of grudge against the very notion of economy.," The Calgary Herald's Nick Lewis hopefully points out she's won twice as many Oscars as Martin Scorsese. Hey, Marty never's been a Eurovision contestant, either.
"Even though it's in this post-modern, over-the-top way that can seem kind of synthetic, Céline Dion represents old fashioned values," says Carl Wilson, author of Let's Talk About Love, a book that examines why we love to hate Canada's most popular musician.
"She represents loyalty and family and romance, and a lot of people around the world relate to that, and see her as articulating those emotions in a way that they feel they are not able."
Wilson was no Dion fan when he took on the task of writing about one of Canada's favourite singers, but says he now has a newfound respect for her and her craft.
"Part of what my book works through is the instant reaction of, 'I would never listen to her,'" he says. "It's one thing to say, 'It's not my thing,' but it's another to say, 'I could never bring myself to.' Then it sounds almost defensive or threatened. It takes on a 'What does it mean if I do listen to her?' aspect that could say something about you that you don't want said.
"At that point it's less about the music and what the music says about you.
"The implication is that people who listen to her are stupid or declassé, everything about it is that this person is a loser on some level."
But where and why does this snobbery arise? Unlikely musicians such as Snoop Dogg and Timbaland have taken in her four-year Vegas gig, A New Day, and Prince reportedly went to see it a number of times. So why do self-professed "informed" people dislike her?
"A lot of it has to do with social position," Wilson says. "She's less likely to find sympathetic ears among university-educated, urban people, people who are most represented in Canadian media. And she's more likely to find sympathetic ears among people who don't necessarily have a stake in staying on the cutting edge, on seeming hip."
Earles & Jensen MP3 #4: Kurt Loder Has Lost His Mind
I'm not sure what's more amazing about this call — the game concept itself, or the fact that the woman at the other end takes it completely seriously.
This is, of course, the 4th midday MP3 from the Earles & Jensen prank-call double CD this week:
Kurt Loder Has Lost His Mind (mp3)
Click on these links for the previous three MP3s released this week:
#3: Barbara's Husband Clears The Air
#2: Barbara: A Realistic Portrait
#1: Christopher Fucking Cross
The image at the top is one of the many fantastic depictions found in the colossal 64-page booklet jammed with drawings, photos and long-winded liner notes by over 35 big-name contributors including Gregg Turkington, Gerard Cosloy, Archer Prewitt, Jennifer Herrema, Devendra Banhart and many more.
Publicists the world over: Beware!
Set up by a clearly over-worked and under-appreciated Brit hack, it's nice to know us PRs can expect helpful and constructive feedback from journalists:
Lost In Showbiz blog
Photo: Max Clifford clearly quaking in his boots.
Why do people buy records?I've been quizzed a lot recently about the so-called vinyl revival. Sales of indie rock records, of rock records in general, are up on vinyl. I respond with the standard litany of answers: people want to connect with an artifact, something real and physical, and something that doesn't feel as worthless and disposable as a CD... something that sounds better than an MP3. The inclusion of MP3 download coupons in vinyl LPs also caused a big spike in sales, since people no longer had to choose between CDs and LPs.
But in some ways the whole question misses the point, because it implies that people buy records only because they want to hear the music. The real question could be: why do people still buy CDs? And this gets into the reason why we're still called Matador Records, not Matador Music or Matador Entertainment. We're not a music company: we're a record label.
I think that many people buy records not just to hear the music, and in some cases not to hear the music at all. There's an employee here who actually pays money to buy secondhand CDs on eBay of his favorite '80s artists like Annie Lennox. He has all the music already - he just wants to put the CD on a shelf. When I was 12 or 13 and first started haunting used record stores in Boston, I wanted to smell and feel and touch the vinyl, the cardboard jackets, the musty smell of the carpets. This wasn't just nostalgia: I've always been a collector of things - stamps, coins, books. I like to amass stuff and display it. Of course I love to handle, read and listen them too. But owning and listening aren't unconnected. The whole thing is interconnected and intertwined.
That some people like to pay for, collect and own records (and this includes downloads from iTunes as well as LPs and CDs) is not meant to suggest that the music business isn't in trouble or that the sales of recorded music are not in decline. But the media have not gotten the whole story here, which is why I'm talking to puzzled journalists at Time, Wired, Rolling Stone and other publications every couple of weeks. It's just that the focus on vinyl sales is only part of the picture.
I don't believe that downloading and competition from other formats like games and DVDs are the only cause of the decline in record sales. It's also simple availability. Tower Records was actually profitable on a store-by-store basis. The chain went under because their bank would no longer finance their revolving line of credit. Of course, Tower shouldn't have accumulated as much debt as it did, but in other industries, in the economy as it existed 2 years ago, credit was not a problem. The problem was that Wall Street no longer believed that selling records had a future. In other words, Tower didn't go under because its record sales were down: it went under because the banks, under the influence of the media and popular memes believed that record sales were going to go down.
Of course, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy to some extent. If Towers go under and there are fewer places to buy records, then record sales will go down. Ironically, this is one of the things that killed vinyl in the late '80s. Everyone said: get vinyl out of there, convert your retail racks to CDs, or you're going to get stuck with a dead format and dead inventory that you can't sell. Now this same meme is killing record retail (or at least chain retail, and the indies who aren't moving with the times).
This same meme affects people on an individual level. People who would go on buying records out of love of owning records, or even just out of habit, stop doing so because they are told that it's stupid and a waste of money to buy records. And they can no longer do it easily anyway, because their favorite record store is out of business. Only the portion of the record buyers who really care about owning records will still go out there and do it... and of course, a good percentage of those are people who want to buy vinyl, not CDs or digital downloads. But even the latter two types of buyer (and there's plenty of overlap) buy because they want to buy and own records in whatever format, and they will continue to buck popular perceptions. For a while anyway.
So my challenge to all the media outlets asking me about the vinyl revival is to say: are you really looking at the full complexity of the story? Why do people buy records, and to what extent are you, the media, complicit in making it difficult or uncool for them to do so?
DeRogatis : G.I. Joe Sucks Even Worse Than "Juno"Despite the snazzy Thurston Moore design, I've neglected to pick up my SXSW goody bag. No offense to the organizers or their lovely sponsors, but I've got enough stacks of CD's I'm never gonna listen in my house already, thanks. But enough about my weekly care packages from 304 Hudson St. (hey, JUST KIDDING), the Chicago Sun-Times' Diablo Cody-baiting Jim DeRogatis (who kindly, though incorrectly ID'd me as the guy who signed Naked Raygun --- please, some long overdue credit for Sam Berger) reveals a rather peculiar inclusion in the 2008 bag o' swag :
The most notable thing about this year’s bag, in addition to its skimpiness, is a green plastic toy soldier of the classic “kids’ army guys” variety, except this one is holding a guitar instead of a rifle, and he’s twisty-tied to a color card that identifies him as “Sgt. Solo,” brave representative of Armed Forces Entertainment. (Why they didn’t just go with “Sgt. Rock,” I’ll never know; maybe there were copyright issues.)
The blurb at the bottom of the card reads: “Plug in your weapon, turn up the power and fire away. Your limo is a Humvee and your ride is a Blackhawk. For over 50 years, America’s stars have earned their stripes by performing for our country’s greatest audience. Find out if you have what it takes to tour the world entertaining the troops with Armed Forces Entertainment.”
Yes, you read right: These are your tax dollars hard at work in a promotional effort to recruit rock bands to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan to entertain our troops. Mind you, if anyone deserves free entertainment, it’s the brave men and women making incredible sacrifices for their country overseas. But really, wouldn’t they be better served by the government spending that money on better benefits and health care, more useful gifts for a theater of war (like adequate armor on those Humvees) or, heaven knows, upping the diplomatic efforts to end these conflicts?
These are things worth mulling while visiting the group's Web site, which features an even more bizarre piece of promotional artwork via the illustration of a doctored Sherman tank -- the kind that won the “good war” of WWII -- with an acoustic guitar replacing the turret and gun barrel and a swirl of paisleys beneath the treads, all under the banner “SXSW Music.”
The Crazed, Inexplicable Rush To Mock Cop Shoot CopAs you might've read via Pitchfork or Idolator, Michael Kaminski of Akron, OH was arrested last weekend for trying to hold up a video store with a cologne bottle shaped like a gun. Why might PF give a hoot about the Akron police blotter? Well, as it turns out, Kaminski is a former member of NYC avant combo Cop Shoot Cop.
Or so I'm told. When I saw the PF headline, "Ex-Cop Shoot Cop Dude Attempts Boneheaded Robbery", I thought, "no, not sweet globe-trotting Tod A. Please don't let it be the dashing David Quimet. If Jack Natz or Phil Puleo are facing jail time, where can I send the cake with the file inside?"
But it wasn't any of those guys. It was Michael Kaminski, who by virtue of being a replacement guitarist during the group's 7th and final year of existance (please note that Kaminski is featured on none of CSC's commercially available recordings) has given rock bloggers around the globe a chance to sneeringly drop a band name they might not otherwise bother with.
While I'm sure some of you would just as soon file this story under "who gives a fuck?", the PF thing bugs me. If Willie Alexander got pinched for failing to pay his parking tickets, I doubt the Boston papers would run a headline claiming "VELVET UNDERGROUND ROCKER JAILED".
Granted, there's something irresistable about a dude from a band called Cop Shoot Cop being nabbed with a faux firearm. Except the guy in question was barely a member and the fellows responsible for CSC's surviving works, have not, to my knowledge, been charged with any felonies in the past 7 days.