Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Negasonic Teenage Warhead

I try to stay positive, and I specifically avoid simple negative reviews because A) they're too easy. Tearing something apart is the natural order of things. B) apart from telling you that I don't think you should spend your money ( a dubious authority, there), what good does a negative review do? and C) On the off chance that somebody takes what I say seriously, I could curtail the career of someone with value. All that having said, negative reviews can be a lot of fun, if you don't take them too seriously. So, in that spirit here's a few:
Against Me!- White Crosses : Mike Peters called. He still has his haircut, and he'd like his sound back for his 40th anniversary tour.
The Decembrists- The King is Dead : Well, much like the Osprey, the Pinto, and emetics it performs exactly as it was designed; badly. Here's the idea on paper- a bunch librarianesque nerds condescend to play Country. The execution? Ever heard your college English professor sing? Yeah. This thing is just as much of a disaster as you might imagine it to be. Amazon wants to sell it to you with the new Iron & Wine, and Amos Lee CDs. I want the names of people who bought that package so I can avoid them.
Destroyer-Kaputt : I wonder sometimes. I mean, I can get behind some easy listening for kitschy reasons, and I can even understand how some folks are masters regardless of genre- Burt Bacharach is a really good songwriter, even if I can't always appreciate his songs. But who listens to a Kenny G record and says that's excellent, I want an indie rock version of that! I want underproduced smooth Jazz! I want the quiet storm to be mixed with Tape hiss! On top of that foundation, then, destroyer adds a hearty dose of the more laughable excesses of the New Wave pop sound. Then, the whole thing is overlaid with irony, so as to excuse it as "Lol/Jk". That just makes it a seven layer burrito of bad for me. See, the response that Dan Bejar wants is for me to play this turd for my friends, and then laugh while my friends wince. I'd prefer to play punk rock versions of gospel hymns and watch my friends wince at actually liking stuff they thought they hated. See how that changes things? The irony is that bad things can be made good, not that bad things are bad. That's just masochism.
Bob Mould- Life and Times : I've stayed pretty safe so far. If you read this blog at all, you're probably pretty much not interested in the Decembrists, anyway. Now, I'm cutting a bit closer to home. Bob Mould. St Bob. The guy who invented Alt-rock, and who spearheaded the return of accoustic solo performances. One third of Husker Du, which makes him pretty much the Lou Reed of the Hardcore nation (yes, that makes Grant Hart John Cale). I can hear people saying 'tread lightly grasshopper' already. On top of that, this is a year-old release. Doesn't matter to me. I still own every record the man put out, and yes they do vary in quality. I never hated a Bob Mould record enough to ditch it, until this one. I even like some of the Modulation and Loudbomb dance tracks. So, what broke? Maybe it's the Hootie-esque "tasteful' guitars. Maybe it's the Pete Townshend self-pity at maturation ( it's ok to get old. It's ok to have some self pity. It's not OK to have self-pity because you've finally accepted the reality that you're just going to get older). Maybe it's that I do really hate the straight use of Auto Tune (When Kanye does it as an effect, and even riffs out solos on it, it's pretty awesome. When Bob Mould does it because he cannot hit the notes anymore because his voice is shot, it's lame enough to give me a headache) I think it's because this is a Bob Mould record that is tailor made for the NPR "adult contemporary' market. As in- this is a straight business move sidling up to the demographic. This is rebranding- and the culmination will be the autobiographical book tour. I know Bob's shooting for Biopic, but he's too niche.
The Walkmen- Lisbon : No. Just No. No,no,no,no,no,no,no,NO,NO,NO! WRONG! Turn that crap off. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gang of Four Content?

I'm old. Like it was put in the not-quite-brilliant "Knocked up": I'm not old for the world, but I'm old for this club. That's fine with me. One day I'll be dead, and that will be the time for assessing my relative worth, but until then, I want to contribute whatever I can, even if that's easily dismissed, or rejected outright.
Likewise, much of my taste is old, and all of my aesthetics were set in granite, years ago. So, even if I like something new, my reasons for liking it are probably old. I'm good with that, even if you might not be.
All this brings me to the new Gang of Four release "C O N T E N T". I think it's brilliant, 5 stars, 10 out of 10, etc. I'm probably the exact target audience, though. See, the two core members are about 10 years older than me. The band dates to the late 1970's, and more than a decade separates this release from their last collection of newly penned material. That means that like me, though this release may be new, they are old, and it's coming from an old place. Again, for me, the relevancy of this is only in positing the relationship between us- you, the potential reader, and me and my tastes, aesthetics, and so on. I, personally, prefer the somewhat outmoded sensibility that informs this newest release. They're not making a dubstep record, here, nor would I want them to- even if that would have a better critical reception (not that it has a bad reception- just not quite as fawning).
There are those who would hear the mildly leftist lyrics, and conflate that with their fearsome reputation as hardcore Marxists, and dismiss them based upon that misunderstanding, and misinterpretation. First of all, they are simply a rock band. They aren't the propaganda arm of any people's liberation front. The band members probably do vote fairly left of center, and express their world view honestly- but just as it's unfair to view an artist as a republican or as a christian in that the art is the art, the man is the man, and the worldview is the setting- I don't think any political party would want these songs as anthems, because they express anxiety and self-doubt more so than any political platform.
Likewise, there are those who would blame them for not more fully embracing the new media models. Before release, they had toyed with some of this; they had a pledge site for a crowd-sourcing option for producing this release, but seem to have abandoned it. Further, on tracks like "Who Am I?" appear to be questioning new media models. I think, again, this is due to them being, like me, somewhat outmoded, but still trying to contribute to the discussion. Please note that other older artists, like Tony James and Mick Jones from Carbon/Silicon, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails, and Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre are contributing to various degrees to this same debate, and everyone appears to be trying to adjust their old-world sensibilities to the new world of media. I think some models are fairly doomed, like pledge sites. Sure, they will work for a limited time, while people are excited by the new model, but when it comes down to producing the finished art, it's an individual thing, and cannot be effectively crowdsourced. Someone has to have executive control- it's unsurprising to me that old guys like the Gang of Four would revert to the traditional model, but it doesn't have to end that way- I could see a modification to the model- maybe crowdsource the selection of producers to a limited pool- maybe crowdsource remixes- maybe competing releases- one traditional, the other crowdsourced, but still, I don't see ceding creative control, or ceding distribution rights as a fully workable model. Then again, I'm old. I'm excited by the new ideas, but I revert back to form- I got this as a download from a traditional site, and immediately burned it to CD/hard drive. I will admit that I even can see the allure in a major label, or in buying a physical CD at a chain store. So, even though I'm trying to adopt some of the new media, I cannot make the full journey.( at the same time, if they didn't deliver what they promised, people who donated should be compensated)
On a far less meta level- why do I think you should listen to this? Because even minus half the band, this stuff burns like no other "post punk". There are moments where you will be reminded of everything from David Bowie to Jello Biafra, and from Bloc Party to Zounds. All the while, they never give up sounding like the Gang of Four that you should remember. This is because their influence is huge, and their scope is deep. The lyrics still sting, and are full of multiple meanings. This really is top-notch stuff.