Saturday, March 29, 2014

Afghan Whigs- Do the Beast

God, I've missed the Whigs! Greg Dulli writes "confessional R & B" ( as if anyone else does)  in the persona of a man who really has something to confess- his songs convey all the wickedness that men hide, not the flaws that still makes us look good. That's the problem with all the Emo types- it's like that question on a job interview - what would you say are your flaws?- and, of course, you're supposed to go through the verbal ju-jitsu to make up some supposed problem that still makes you attractive to your prospective employer- Gee, Jim, I just work too hard!- or in the Emo-boys case- I guess I just loved my girl too much. Greg Dulli would answer that question with : Well, Jim, I've punched out 8 of my last 9 bosses, and the 9th got his desk burned down. You don't really want to know about my 10th boss. But, you can hear his songs in a multitude of ways. The Afghan Whigs bring down the most brutal funk, blues, and Soul music this side of the Pop Group. Yes, some members have gone, but this still sounds like the evil crew that recorded "Congregation" "Black Love" and "Gentlemen". The only band that comes close to this is Girls Vs Boys, and whereas they're a louder, more traditional alt-rock band, The Afghan Whigs are darker, and deeper. So, why would I miss this collection of demons? Because the devil has the best music. Because it makes me glad I'm not the guy who fits these songs. Because they're the musical equivalent of a hard boiled novel like Jim Thompson used to write. Because too many other would celebrate these guys that Dulli creates, and it's a good thing to know their flipside, left you find yourself rooting for the heel. Because Rocknroll can really be the Devil's music.
If you like the dark stuff, you cannot deny this.

Pixies- Indie Cindy

So, people are calling it the first "Pixies Album" since 1991. I suppose that's sorta true. It's not, in that live lps, and compilations followed 1991's Trompe Le Monde, and if they don't count, then, this doesn't because it's a compilation of their three recent EP's. It is true, in that it's new music by Black Francis, played by Black Francis, Joey Santiago and David Lovering, and what else do you call that? But, I still wouldn't put it in line with the new LP by My Bloody Valentine, you know?
With that question hanging over it- let me state, for the record, it's the best compilation of Pixies songs since Bossanova. It's not the equal to Doolittle nor Surfer Rosa, but it's certainly up there with Bossanova and the Purple Tape, and Come on Pilgrim. Which, of course, makes it an absolute essential listen.
However, I'm not blind- I know that every Pixies album has filler, and everyone disagrees as to what is filler, and what is not. So, the format here- three EPS, and then, a collector's edition LP is ideal- if you're just in it for "the good stuff"- you can pick up one or two of the EP's, and call it a day. If you're a slavish fan boy, you can get all the EP's, plus the LP, with the live CD and the book. For me, I have all three EP's, and I think I'm done. I've seen the band live, I don't need the live CD ( plus, this. Great set/interview) and I've never been as impressed with their visual work, as with their music. The music, though, is as good as I could request: What Goes Boom, Greens and Blues, Magdalena, Blue Eyed Hexe, Another Toe in the Ocean and Andro Queen are the highlights, and  only Indie Cindy and Bagboy are minor letdowns. The rest of the songs are good, but not amazing.
Would I like to hear Kim Deal singing on them? Sure. She didn't want to sing these songs. So, are we supposed to deny reality, in favor of our projections?  I think that's unfair and, frankly, stupid. The guys in the Pixies have grown up, have moved on, and are not the same people as they were in 1990. I am not the guy I was in 1990. Expecting 1990 is just plain stupid in 2014. So, in 2014, these songs just destroy any competition in the independent Pop/rock category. I have some other records to talk about- so, yes, there are other great releases, this year- but they aren't in this category ( just so's you know- I've been listening to the new Afghan Whigs , Disasteratti and Off! records- can you see how they're not in the same category?) . As George Michael might put it- listen without prejudice, and you will be rewarded.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Null Object Pattern

So, read this. I partially agree. There are some huge limitations, and obvious biases in Gioia's arguments, not least of which is that, by using the metric of top 40 pop music, Billboard and American Idol on the one side and Jazz, Newspapers and The Saturday freakin' Review, on the other makes much more generational and idiosyncratic than it needs to be.
But, I am not trying to simply argue with him. He's wrong but that's less important than how he's right- I do think music as a cultural force is getting shorted, and it's partially the music press to blame. Here's a thought- maybe it's by design? Consider this- the music business hasn't gotten by on selling music in a long time. I could be wrong on this, but if so, not by much, but I believe since before the advent of Mp3's, music hasn't sold "enough" by the Wall Street standard. I would pin it somewhere in the mid-to-late 1980's. So, music becomes a loss leader, in an effort to sell us T shirts, Walkmen, IPods, or Coca Cola. So, maybe turning music appreciation into "lifestyle" reporting is less about dumbing down, and more about smoothing out- it's ways of making us feel less in control of our own culture, and accepting our Corporate Overlords. Does that sound kooky and conspiratorial? Well, first consider how many pop, rock, country and dance artists are actually in the business of selling T shirts, and other merchandise. Now add to that how many live venues are actually in the business of selling beer. Now add to that things like Jay Z and Rocafella/ Rocawear, or even Blink 182 and Macbeth. Starting to see? Think about why it is that bands on Bandcamp are doing "name your own price", or why it is that even a whore like Trent Reznor has been willing to give away whole albums. Ultimately, it's because, overwhelmingly, we have been conditioned by over a generation of mass culture to devalue music, in and of itself.
Again, though, I'm about solutions, not problems. I believe the solution is contained within the problem- by going away from "mass" or "niche" or "counter" culture, and into idiosyncrasies and individual tastes, we can redefine what culture is. By going beyond tribal identities- Punk, Stoner, Rave, Redneck, etc ad nauseum- and starting to identify by aggregates  - we can make new culture. For example- you know those ridiculously detailed Netflix categories? "Romantic, provocative stories with darkly comedic undertones and just the right amount of steamy" ( actual category from my Netflix) - what if that was a cultural descriptor? What if rather than saying "I'm into Punk", we said " I like angsty, uptempo minor key shoutalongs with loud guitars"- it would bring us back from being demographics, because it's hard to market to things so detailed and small. So, rather than pedantically talking about the pentatonic scale ( which would mean exactly what to a Thai teenager into gangsta rap, and EDM?) - maybe we should be talking about what we actually like?
But, what would I know, right?