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The Men’s new album makes me nostalgic for 90s indie rock in all the ways Yuck was supposed to but didn’t. It’s not that they sound like Sonic Youth, but there’s just enough to bring it to mind. I’m also feeling certain noisier Broken Social Scene bits in some of the Javier moments. This album is so freaking good it hurts.

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Beats, Rhymes & Life

Last night I watched the Michael Rapaport documentary about A Tribe Called Quest. Initially I enjoyed it, but mostly due to the connections I already had with the music. ATCQ was my group back in the day (Full disclosure: I was more of a De La guy back then, but ATCQ seems to hold up more). The vintage live shots and basic history was kind of fun. The central narrative that the ovie delivered was moderately compelling: the tensions between Tip and Phife, and Phife’s diabetes. But I felt that overall, the movie was a bit of a miss. It didn’t spend much time really on the music or image and how it came to be. It gave lttle to no information about the record cmpany conflicts which seems to have been the cause of the break up. I wanted to know more about Beats, Rhymes and Life, and why Consequence came into the group and how the stylistic move came to be.

The movie wasn’t bad, but really only serves as primer to casual ATCQ fans. BUt at the same time it really paints Q-Tip unflatteringly, and treats Phife only a iittle better. Jarobi, however is the man.

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"In other words, LCD Soundsystem fans are the type of people who think buying their 10-year old kid a Public Image Ltd. record for his birthday is an example of good parenting."

This is an amazing thing. However I put it out there that the #2 and #1 bands, while quite awful, both have one more good song than LCD Soundsystem, who have zero (Eagles have “One of These Nights” and Dave Matthews Band, against my better judgment, have “Too Much” which would be great with a different singer).

(via screwrocknroll)

I hate Ian Cohen. So Much. I mean I think the whole concept behind the piece is sort of terrible, but this sentence sums up much of what I hate about this kind of thing (and a lot of Ian Cohen’s thang). It is sort of a dig at the artist but mostly a way of making himself feel cool at others’ expense. I can’t tell if this is because an inability to see how different people experience music, just plain dis-ingenuity, or it’s trolling masquerading as criticism. If its the latter, then I guess you win Mr. Cohen.

(via edwardok)

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  1. I have no idea what these songs are supposed to be about. The lyrics are superficially indecipherable. There’s one track (‘Powa’) where Garbus briefly and convincingly sings like Robert Plant. There’s another track (‘You Yes You’) where she repeatedly screeches the phrase “What’s that about?” and it might be the single most grating musical moment of 2011.
"

Or, you could like, listen closer and think. It’s not that hard. I like Klosterman, but no music writer is ever anywhere near good when s/he tries to parse why others like an artist without doing the actual messy ethnographic work, or (much worse) to be a sportswriter/political wonk and predict an artist’s legacy. (via marathonpacks)

This is not a apologist for Chuck Klosterman’s post, as I think CK gets a lot wrong in the article (in fact the whole premise is a little iffy) but I think this particular observation gets CK’s motivations for writing wrong. This is not an attempt to figure out what her appeal is, or why people like her. He even says near the end:

I am rooting for you, Merrill Garbus. I like your record, and I hope you make many more. I want you to be a genius, and I have no reason to believe that won’t happen.

Which I guess you could take as him just trying to retain some degree of impartiality. He’s musing on the strange place tUnE-YaRdS is in right now, with this huge amount of critical acclaim, but still fairly underground and unknown to the general public. I think he probably does like this record.

My problems with CK’s piece are twofold:

1) His wierd discussion about sexuality/androgeny. Like the blog quoted above mentioned in a later post, the abum is rather forthrightly sexual. It doesn’t come across andrigenous at all. I’m guessing that he heard the few songs she sounds like Ezra Koenig and saw that she had this hippy-face-painting thing going on and created the narrative out of that. Like if she’s not wearing hotpants and stilettos she must be going for androgeny. Ugh.

2) The whole idea that he imagines her in this ‘tough’ position where since she makes ‘difficult’ music that’s been well-reviewed and tries to imagine her potential career trajectory. Like she has to choose (or even give a shit) between making more poppier fare, or never living up to the expectations of this greatly critically received album. From what I can tell, this is not something she probably even cares about. It doesn’t seem like W H O K I L L was meant to do either of those things. It’s getting out what she needs to get out in a wholly original uncompromising way. If W H O K I L L was critically panned, I imagine she’d carry on. That’s the impression I get from her music at least. CK seems to think that artists are either going for one of those two binary options he lists, rather than marching to the beat of their own (looped) drummer.

The CK piece kind of irritated me because it seems like he saw this thing he’d never heard of, gave it a quick listen, and figured what little he got out of it (besides liking it) was enough to prognoticate about the artist’s future. Thanks, Mr. Expert.

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Thoughts on Criticism

I have been immersing myself in music criticism as of late, through tumblr, ilx (though it’s been down for far too long), and various media websites and have realized that I like it much better when a critic talks about what he/she likes rather than what they don’t. This is a bit of a reverse of what I used to like. When I was younger, reading a good hit job or pan was some of what I liked best. They were funny, and (at least when I agreed with them) helped solidify my hipper than thou feelings.

As I have gotten older and really branched out in my music listening, I like these kinds of critical snubs less and less. It’s not that I think one can’t be critical of music, but it seems to me that a real drubbing fails to really tackle the music. I think to rate an album a 0/10 or 1 star or what have you, you have failed to grasp the truth of the music you are supposed to critically analyzing. In these kinds of cases, I don’t think it’s the music’s fault as much as the listener who has missed the idea that there are different ways of experiencing music, and has closed themselves of from a variety of ways the particular piece could or should be experienced.

I was inspired to these thoughts by the recent pitchfork review of the Childish Gambino record camp, by Ian Cohen. I didn’t mind Camp but thought it was definitely a flawed record but the manner and venom with which Cohen attacked the album seemed to miss the point. The album is selling well, so it can’t be completely devoid of value and I think Cohen avoids trying to get to the heart of the albums appeal*. He instead focused on what he took to be central misunderstandings of CG’s self-understanding/image. What bothered me about this was it did seem to cynically assume the worst about the artist (something which seems to happen a ton in music crit lately) and avoid trying to take the music in on CG’s terms. And he for the most part avoided talking at all about the music as a whole, focusing mostly on one or two songs that best furthered his thesis.

I don’t even know if my thoughts on this are fully coherent. Something rubbed me the wrong way about the score and the review (despite not really loving the album myself), not to mention many of Ian Cohen’s other reviews and the way which a lot of artists are talked about on ILX. I understand not enjoying something and giving it a critical look. But because you don’t enjoy it and it’s flawed does not imply that is unenjoyable writ large, and I think part of music criticism should attempt to locate the truth the music has to offer, regardless of whether you like it or not. This is why I like reading music criticism about music that critics like.


*If one were cynical one could say it’s good sales is mostly Community fans, but I’m guessing there’s more than that going on.