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Ariel Pink, Jay-Z, and 9/11 Kitsch.

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There’s nothing sincere about Ariel Pink’s September 11th project Witchhunt Suite For WWIII. Not that it’s a farce or anything, just that it’s a musically clever, moderately ambitious though fairly obvious satire of the militarism that arose following that fateful day. It’s got a loose narrative, aided by news clips and delicate shifts in style that seem to soundtrack the increasingly clueless “shock and awe” approach to “the war on terror.” Breaking through Pink’s synth cheez are absurd clips of George Bush invoking the tough talk of old westerns (“wanted: dead or alive”); a sneering approximation of the ridiculous cock-pop of the Top Gun soundtrack drops down for a little while and parties; at one point, Pink in an evil grandma voice, hisses “get them!” referencing those Bush presidency attempts to find Bin Laden, who we were told at the time, was hiding in a cave.

Witchhunt Suite For WWIII makes a good, snarky case for how dumb the country and much of the Western world acted after the attacks, but that’s all it does. And well, no shit. Yet Pink’s approach also seems spot-on and maybe, we don’t deserve better. George Bush was an absurd figure, in cowboy boots (but afraid of horses), and referencing “wanted” posters as if he didn’t learn of it from old western movies just like the rest of us. Those liberals who stomped around threatening to leave the country were pretty absurd. And Ariel Pink’s pretty absurd too. Or maybe the whole thing is a joke? Pulled out of Ariel’s archives to clown Steve Reich’s ponderous WTC 911 or to try to sneak into wretched 9/11 music lineage that also contains the Tim & Eric-like 9/11 remix of DJ Sammy’s “Heaven” with melodramatic, creepy clips of a girl speaking to her dead “daddy.”

But there’s better 9-11 kitsch. Cam’ron and Vado’s Gunz N’Butta, its title taken from the economic term for the tension between defense and civilian spending and its best track, “American Greed,” awkwardly, brilliantly outlining the country’s decline at the hand of white collar criminals, actually feels cathartic. AraabMuzik’s screaming futuristic beats help. Jay-Z has, with a little help from people like Armond White, turned The Blueprint, his throwback soul-beat “masterpiece” that just happened to be released on September 11th, 2001, into some stalwart musical symbol of New York’s perseverance. The celebratory “Empire State Of Mind,” a genuinely awesome but very campy song off Blueprint 3 sealed the deal. You can now order a 10th anniversary, 36 dollar, blue vinyl edition of The Blueprint that looks like a crappy version of the blue vinyl edition I bought when the record came out.

James Ferraro’s Citrac, a 2009 double LP of menacing VHS drone, wrapped in a sleeve that mashes up screenshots from CNN, Lawnmower Man, and Left Behind with punk zine images of industry and a leather daddy, merges the Reagan-era action movie attitudes with the real-life Bush presidency’s mindless militarism. And perhaps you caught State department employee (soon to be former, no doubt) Peter Van Buren on NPR’s Fresh Air today. His book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, about his role in “rebuilding” Iraq, details enforced waste of money and constant contrivances to keep up the appearance of progress. His tone, at least in the interview, could be described as “laughing to keep from crying.”

A recent, rather epic Comics Journal interview with cartoonist Johnny Ryan slows down to focus on two of the ruthless satirist’s comics, both dealing with 9/11, using the very old-fashioned form of the gag strip. One is an image of the anthropomorphized twin towers having sex with a an airplane (a bird jerks off in the right corner). It’s labelled “69-11 Never Forget” and the joke seems to be just how unfunny it is. The other drawing shows a bloodied, detainee, eyeball hanging out, diarrhea dripping off the seat he’s tied to, as a cornfed soldier shakes his hands, upset. The caption reads: WHOA! WHOA! WHOA! That’s TOO MUCH information!”

In Michael Azerrad’s Wall Street Journal review of Retromania, the music historian observes that Simon Reynolds’ book curiously skips over September 11th: “Another big thing that Mr. Reynolds is forgetting: 9/11. That happened at the dawn of the 2000s, precisely when he believes pop music really began to atrophy. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the only people sanguine about the future were manufacturers of airport-security equipment.” That sounds like a strange, even cheap nitpick at first, but it gains traction the more you think about it.

Curiously, Reynolds doesn’t even bring up 9/11 when he discusses William Basinki’s Disintegration Loops! It’s as if he knew that even a simple reference to September 11th would require another chapter or at least, 40 more pages and so he just said, screw it. Following the attacks, there were plenty of pronouncements about the “death of irony” but for much of the decade, artists seemed content to hang out, ponder, replicate, and recontexualize the past and call it a day. Ariel Pink’s Witchhunt Suite For WWIII, a typically in-quotes composition from the chillwave inventor, sounds like that post-9/11 retro impulse being birthed before our very ears.

Written by Brandon

September 27th, 2011 at 3:33 am

Posted in Jay-Z

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