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Splice Today: Lower Dens’ Twin-Hand Movement

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Here’s my review of Lower Dens’ Twin-Hand Movement, which is a really confusing, great album that’s really hard to write about, so I just took the detached, “try to explain” it route but there’s a ton of stuff I’m missing. And that’s always the case with reviews of any length but especially here. I actually think both of these pieces (“Blue and Silver” track review, Twin-Hand Movement review) by City Paper’s Michael Byrne kinda wrestle with it better than I, but still, there’s something missing there too, so you should probably just listen to the record yourself.

In an indie rock climate currently consumed by schticky eclecticism, Baltimore’s Lower Dens stand out for confidently and provocatively mining entry-level indie influences: the deliberate chug of the Velvet Underground, Cat Power in her noisy naïf phase, Joy Division’s disco-punk in a dungeon style. But Jana Hunter and her band don’t simply regurgitate underground rock classics; they approach these intermediate sounds from odd angles.

Two damaged, garage-rock instrumentals (“Holy Water” and “Completely Golden”) sandwich “I Get Nervous,” a confused, touching, almost love song (“Baby, I get nervous/Just being in your service”). “Rosie” noodles around for more than a minute before bass and drums enter the mix and once they do, Hunter’s hesitant vocals frantically climb through the group’s hazy, mass of sound. “Plastic and Powder” is a dubby, No-Wave-tinged composition stretched to its breaking point, building up, then simmering down to Fripp & Eno-like globs of ambient noise. It’s a beautiful moment on an otherwise nervous and jittery album…

Written by Brandon

August 5th, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Village Voice, Sound of the City: "In Defense of Nathan Williams"

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“So, you’re Nathan Williams of Wavves. You just played a pretty disastrous show that Pitchfork, in full TMZ mode, called “a meltdown”. What do you do? Well, you cancel your next bunch of shows, and then the next day, post an apology on your personal blog…before deleting it a few hours later. Very 2009, and more like a quasi-controversy fit for Kanye’s blog than for a bratty, no-fi musician who makes sad sack surf music aimed at a tiny percentage of the population, but here we are–at least Williams’ mea culpa isn’t all caps.

Really though, Williams’ apology is a surprisingly humble, no-bullshit explanation and it was, presumably, only the too-sincere laundry list of exactly what drugs he took (“ecstasy valium and xanax”) and Williams’ acknowledgment of a drinking problem that got his Fat Possum wranglers or even just good friends to tell him to take the thing off Blogger. Let’s hope the note, despite its deletion, lives on in people’s Google Readers and now, on a bunch of blogs (and at the top of this post) and reduces the schadenfreude coursing through comments sections and the Twitterverse and lets in some sympathy.”

Written by Brandon

June 1st, 2009 at 3:49 pm

The House Next Door: Music Video Round-Up (Beyonce, Sea & Cake, Glen Campbell)


“Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” doesn’t really have verses or even a chorus, it’s all-hook, moving from one high-energy Beyonce shout to another, never really letting up. The titular hook’s rushed through in the same double-time as that keyboard line on-speed and Jake Nava’s video similarly starts and doesn’t stop. It’s all performance on basically no set at all, Beyonce kinda lip-syncs, instead focusing on her and the other two dancers’ Bob Fosse “Mexican Breakfast” walk-it-outs with minimal lighting tricks with minimal cuts.”"

Written by Brandon

November 19th, 2008 at 5:28 pm

City Paper Review: Mount Eerie Lost Wisdom & Dawn

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“Since Mount Eerie, the 2003 follow-up to pretty much certified indie classic The Glow Pt. 2, Phil Elverum has switched his band’s name from the Microphones to Mount Eerie, started selling his music almost exclusively through his web site, and released a impressive mess of singles and full-length oddities with little interest in how they’re digested. This year has already seen the rerelease of The Glow Pt. 2 and a new Mount Eerie EP, Black Wooden Ceiling. The EP is an unexpected homage to black metal, a halfway point between all the nice stuff expected from Mount Eerie and the trebly heaviness of metal’s most evil subgenre…”

Written by Brandon

October 15th, 2008 at 4:04 am

Posted in City Paper, Indie, Mt Eerie

How Big Is Your World? Good Rap Songs.

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-Common featuring Pharrell ‘Announcement’
Click here to download ‘Announcement’
First, there was the ‘Planet Rock’/electro homage ‘Universal Mind Control’ and now there’s the Biggie-aping ‘Announcement’. That rubbery, back-and-forth guitar, Common switching up some lines but totally mimicking Biggie’s flow on ‘Just Playing (Dreams)’, as well as a quick reference to ‘Me & My Bitch’ (and a Puffy reference by Pharrell), it seems like maybe this new Common album will be some kind of hip-hop history lesson or something? The beat does a better job of sounding like an old, classic beat while retaining producer signature than Kanye’s weirdo Dilla attempts. The female “Uh!”, the guitar-sound approximation of ‘Just Playing’s bassline sound close enough to connect to the Biggie rarity, but there’s also some crazy cornball fluttering synths, and crazy marching band booms that every half-perfect, half-annoying Neptunes production has.

The rap history thing’s half cool because it’s not like Common’s saying anything interesting anymore (and he’s out-rapped by Pharrell here), but it’s annoying because this is the dude that in ‘94 was half-shitting on dudes like Biggie for ruining hip-hop, but uh, ultimately it’s sort of exciting. Still, it’s important to remember that the past two Common albums had these great singles and then were an album of boring, meandering turds, so, we’ll see, but so far, this hip-hop history concept is a good look. As usual though, ‘Invincible Summer’s already conceptually muddled because you know, it’s release date is in the fall?

-B.O.M.B ‘Over Here’
Click here to download ‘Over Here’
This song’s just no bullshit. Under three-minutes, these really tight drums, and justB.O.M.B–”Baltimore On My Back”–rapping straight-forward stuff that’s spare and direct and descriptive and nothing more or less. There’s a good mix of influences here as well. Like so many smart thugs, he owes a great deal to ‘Pac, but there’s some golden-age New York influence in his delivery and the beat–especially those Primo-ish drums–but it’s aware and internalizes more recent rap trends. The all-keyboard aspect of the beat, the purposefully simple and immediate lyrics, and the filling it all-out with ad-libs, show a relatively traditionalist rapper that didn’t turn the radio off in 1998.

This is from B.O.M.B’s ‘Testers’ EP which came out in May and sounds like what a lot of good rapper’s albums would sound like if the just cut-out all the crap and only gave you good songs. More rappers need to release EPs. For awhile, mixtapes had the casual, tossed-off effect of EPs but they got bloated or just terrible quick. The EP is an ideal introduction to a new rapper and B.O.M.B’s smart to take advantage of it as a way to release music. The other really-great song ‘Sunday’ from the EP can be found on Al Shipley’s Government Names blog. I met B.O.M.B and talked to him for a few minutes a few months ago and he just gave me a copy of his CD which you’d think is the kind of thing more rappers would do but they uh, don’t.

-Flying Lotus ‘Parisian Goldfish’
Click here to download ‘Parisian Goldfish’
Is this song based on the cowbell breakdown from New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’? I even sent Flying Lotus a fucking MySpace message about it because it was bugging me so much. He didn’t answer. There’s a noisy, weird side of Flying Lotus’ work that should get more attention than post-Dilla/Madlib knob twiddling. The best electronic music’s all about feeling and atmosphere. It’s silly to listen to mid-tempo beats when there’s not someone rapping on them. The big joke of Lotus’ ‘Robo Tussin’ remix of ‘A Milli’ was that his weirdo synth-fart bliss-out still wasn’t as weird as Bangladesh’s original. Maybe that wasn’t the intention and Lotus is just unfairly categorized with think they’re next-level “producers” like Madlib or Prefuse 73 because ‘Parisian Goldfish’ is pretty amped-up and ready for a party. No contemplation or head-nodding to this song necessary.

Everything’s sort of maxed-out and a little full of static and squelchy and anchored by this cowbell workout break that Lotus puts every production trick over. It gets chopped-up, it awkwardly repeats, he adds more sounds over top of it, and he piles the break atop itself into a mechanical CD-skip-like repetition and then takes it away to just play the loop to glorious effect a minute and fifty second or so in.

-ABN (Z-Ro & Trae) ‘Still Throwed’
Click here to download ‘Still Throwed’
Imagine ‘Get Throwed’ from Bun B’s ‘Trill’ but with Z-Ro doing more than the hook and Trae rapping instead of Pimp C, Jay-Z, and Jeezy and then some Linkin Park-ish keyboards all over it. Between this and the Linkin Park-ish ‘Shoot Me Down’ from ‘Tha Carter 3′–but pretending Busta’s ‘We Made It’ never existed–maybe Linkin Park are sort of good? Don’t front on that ‘Numb/Encore’ “song” either. This song’s interesting in contrast with the ‘Trill’ version in the sense that everything’s just down a few notches.

The chugging guitars are mixed lower, and the stoned, bubbling electronics of the original no longer flutter in the background, they’re slowed-down but louder and darker. ‘Get Throwed’ was a party song about getting high, ‘Still Throwed’ is a few years later, doing the same thing and it not being fun anymore…which is pretty much what every Z-Ro and Trae song’s about. The key lyric here is Z-Ro’s list of “same old”s, especially “strippers at the club dancing on the same old poles”. It’s not a surprise coming from Z-Ro, but this sense of being just as bored and disinterested by those three big, stupid hip-hop ideals of cool and power (drug dealers, girl, strip clubs) is really smart and honest. It’s like when he raps about treating lesbians and gay dudes properly on ‘T.H.U.G’. I’ve never been that into Trae and next to Z-Ro especially, Trae’s gruff voice sounds jarring.

-Ratatat ‘Black Heroes’
Click here to download ‘Black Heroes’
Ratatat’s schtick is pretty simple: Make every instrument sound like a synth or just be a synth, harmonize that shit, and make it sound like the music in a sad part of a video game. The closer of their latest album ‘LP3′ is the particularly affecting ‘Black Heroes’ and it really does bring up the feeling of like, a film-strip you’d watch in history class about the contributions of African-Americans. Imagine poorly-pencilled sketches of Marcus Garvey and Rosa Parks moving past to the tune of this song. This YouTuber had the right idea accompanying the song to an image of the Tuskegee Airmen. I think ‘Black Heroes’ is trying to get at like the pure immediate sense of the triumph of history and victory that you can get into when you’re in like 3rd grade and Howard Zinn doesn’t mean anything yet.

Because of their Brooklyn roots and love of all things electronic and video gamey, Ratatat are often seeen as ironists but there’s really nothing ironic or funny about their music. They use all those sounds to move towards some weird, off-kilter sense of warmth and sincerity. These are kids who cried at the ending to Adventures of Lolo 2 and just took the beauty of electronics for granted. They’re way beyond the played-out Kraftwerk-ian sense of “we’re all mechanical and without emotions” and electronics will comment on that trope; it’s sort of the same thing T-Pain’s trying to do or Kanye does on Jeezy’s ‘Put On’.

Written by Brandon

July 29th, 2008 at 7:15 pm

Indie Disrespect Goes Beyond Hip-Hop…

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Something I stumbled upon over the weekend tangentially got me thinking about the ever-present debate of relatively uninformed white writers and their connection to rap music. For the most part, I haven’t gotten too much of this kind of criticism myself, I’m more apt to recieve moronic accusations of disrespect from “Veteran” bloggers- which means guys blogging for three years as opposed to me, blogging for one year- but I’m keenly aware of the debate and if the pussy veteran types and pussier commenters didn’t take so many cheap-shots, I might even side with them…

It was this Pitchfork review of some new EP by Battles, wherein the reviewer made an uninformed generalization about progressive rock, that got me thinking about the typical “indie”-type fan, respectably entering out of his area of comfort, and talking straight-out of their ass because well, they don’t know much about what they have chosen to discuss. I want to look at the example and see where this writer went wrong and also to tell my readers- most of whom are rap fans- that they need to drop the rap-martyr complex a little bit and realize that white, indie kids show the same amount of disrespect to any number of marginalized, musical subgenres…

How I even got to a review of Battles I don’t know, I’ve only heard the song that had a video on MTV2 and don’t have the slightest interest in their music. They really only pop-up on my radar when some sorta-informed music fan friend of mine tells me they “think” I’d like them because their music is “proggy”. Battles are not “proggy”, nor are Wolfmother or Lightning Bolt, although The Decemberists actually sort of are, but rarely is that adjective ascribed to them…anyways, it was the first paragraph of this Battles review that really killed me:

“No band has marked indie’s prog revival more definitively than Battles: Their debut, Mirrored, took rock for a set of puzzle pieces, but was ultimately defined by its pictorial sensibility– each song felt like a cartoon soundtrack– and the incorporation of jokes into the most historically humorless music in the known world.”

This struck me as frustrating because prog rock is not one of the most “historically humorless” sub-genres of music and only a total fucking outsider who listened with nothing but irony and third-hand knowledge would say that because see, Prog is the well-known musical genre of nerds, like real nerds, like what nerds used to be, before being a “nerd” became a way to get pussy. They were into Tolkien and Dune and Dungeons and Dragons and Vaughan Bode and all kinds of other truly nerdy shit. As a result, the sense of humor on progressive rock albums is more the kind of stuff Dwight Shrute might find funny or super-conceptual (like everything with prog) humor that you gotta kinda be within the prog-culture to understand or “get”.

When YES called an album ‘Tormato’ and it has a cover of a windstorm of tomatoes, they know that is retarded and it’s funny to prog fans and musicians to make tedious music with loosely conceptual themes and so many prog-albums have a few throway joke songs (personal favorite: ‘Are You Ready Eddie?’ by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer). Of course, prog isn’t all a big ironic wank, it’s just, in-part, nerdy and self-deprecating, and outsiders, especially modern rock critics who hate pomp and theatrics, don’t dig that too much, so they assume there’s no joking going on; one can take one’s shit very seriously and very un-seriously at the same time, you know. The guy who wrote that Pitchfork review and a lot of Battles fans (and maybe even the group themselves), are much too cool and boring to get into Camel because there’s nothing overtly cool about first and second-wave prog. People who invoke Battles’ “proggy” aspects are people who like dumber, less engaging versions of a genre, the same way people like ‘Grindhouse’ but don’t know about and wouldn’t enjoy the films of Larry Cohen. It’s not that they aren’t allowed to like Battles or ‘Grindhouse’ it’s just that they feel an obnoxious need to connect it to an older genre or tradition it has very little to do with anymore. The embrace of certain aspects of prog without going full-speed ahead, of course, connects to the ongoing nerd-chic in the culture; people want to be un-nerdy nerds, just as they like edgeless controversy and teethless satire like ‘The Daily Show’…

What this does in connection with rap is show the tendency for indie types to condescend to any number of genres and not just rap, proving we rap fans need to chill a little bit; it’s not so much a race issue as it is an issue of co-opting anything obscure or outside their culture. Rap fans only notice when writers provide their genre with “disrespect” but the fact of the matter is, this disrespect is commonplace for almost any genre that isn’t rock, punk, or “indie rock”. It also goes the other way, as most rap fans and rappers are equally stupid and closed-minded and makes equally fucking retarded judgments on rock music. See Chuck D’s mixed-up history of 60s rock in his joke of a book ‘Fight the Power’ or listen to Kanye West talk about Franz Ferdinand like they weren’t third-generation rip-offs of Joy Division or Wire.

My point is, the same uninformed white boys writing bullshit about rap are writing about prog and other genres and subgenres of which they know little beyond a superficial history. It is more symptomatic of a growing lack of passion amongst music writers, mixed with increased availability of music due to the internet, than it is a racial or cultural issue. It is this lack of passion that is mentioned by Carl Wilson in this Slate article (which I found through Richard), which it seems Wilson, like so many others, gleaned from SFJ’s kinda sorta infamous indie rock and rhythm tirade. Wilson’s main point, to remove any nuance and to conflate it with my own, is indie fans and indie rockers themselves, increasingly come from privleged backgrounds and so their disinterest in musical miscegenation is more because of “class” than “race”. The musicians and the fans of the music have very little to lose and play it safe, so they could never get really into rap or even really into prog…This moves toward explaining my connection between indie disrespect of prog and indie-type disrespect of rap; it’s more of an elitist thing, as prog is percieved as arty and pretentious and therefore, “falsely intellectual” and well, shit, rap is just dumb and funny, right? The same level of fun, sincerity, and the right kind of irony is going on whether it’s a rap cover designed by Pen N’ Pixel or a dragon-filled cover painted by Roger Dean…

In terms of indie and class, I might have been better to have chosen indie’s recent embrace of metal, a typically working-class, wonderfully aggressive, non-mannered genre, but that seems a little too easy and obvious. See, what indie types take-up in their embrace or prog, metal, rap, or whatever, is any and all types of “the other”. As indie types are generally white and upper-middle class (the fact that an “upper middle class” was created, proves the point about the wealthy’s increased interest in elitism and anti-elitism, at the same time) or plain ol’ upper-class, pretty much everyone becomes “the other” to them. Long-haired metal nerds, corpse-painted black metal dorks, dark-skinned hip-hop heads, and even hyper-intellectual D & D players, they are all exotic and fun to pick and choose cultural aspects to temporarily adopt. Rap fans need not get it twisted, the white working class has long been condescended to by indie types as well. The only difference is at some point in kinda recent history, the culture of complaint skipped-out on white people and so, even working class whites themselves feel self-concious about complaining about being fucked over, for they are not darker-skinned (although often equally poor and disenfranchised). The indie embrace of Pabst Blue Ribbon and faux-interest in sports, be it fake-fan or fashion and even moustaches, comes from a irony and reverse idealization of blue-collar, white culture. If indie types were sincere or real about this appropriation, they might even go deer hunting. There even seems to be a weird level of redneck co-opting going on, as rat-tails and other “bad” haircuts pop-up at hipster bars…when I saw Daft Punk’s ‘Electroma’, a guy in front of me had a redneck-ish ‘do and actually smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in awhile! Now that is a weirdly sincere devotion to being ironic…

So, what is really going on in music is just the upper-class by way of indie rock, ironically embracing another variation on “the other” which you know, as economic disparity widens, slowly becomes everybody that isn’t them. To get too worried about the simple co-opting of other cultures is a waste of time, for it has always been the case the wealthy who have the time, lack of worries, and obnoxious sense of privelege to condescend. Any history of the upper-class or aristocracy in any country (including ones led by brown people) will show the same level of elitism. A favorite example of mine is the Hellfire Club, a group of English Aristocrats who, in the mid-1700s got together to have mock-religious orgies! Now, I know liberals arts college now teach us that religion is horrible and therefore, we’re allowed to mock the religious for being so stupid and blah blah blah, but this is pretty much the same kind of mock appropriation of a sub-culture now found when some jerkoff ironically wears a Pittsburgh Pirates hat and sports a moustache. So, rap fans, don’t hog all the indie kid hate, plenty of other people deserve to be pissed off just as much.

Written by Brandon

November 5th, 2007 at 5:04 am

Posted in Indie, Irony, Prog Rock

Indie Rock, Whiteness, and Influences

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The October 22nd issue of ‘The New Yorker’, features a provocative think-piece by Sasha Frere-Jones entitled ‘A Paler Shade of White’. SFJ (as everyone seems to call him) bemoans the fact that rock n’roll, his definitive example of musical miscegenation, is now pretty much absent of “a bit of swing, some empty space, and palpable bass frequencies- in other words, attributes of African-American popular music.” He pulls from a convenient but still telling list of “indie rock” acts of past and present to exemplify an increased shift into what he calls “whiteness”. The short of it: indie rock is really stiff and mannered and boring because it’s no longer interested in, what SFJ calls in an accompanying pod-cast “American rhythm”. Although the exact details and specific examples he employs may be a bit problematic, it is hard to disagree with his overall thesis.

Some of the problems of the article might also be excused on the basis that the article is a purposeful provocation- at one point he calls Hall & Oates as “equally gifted” as Michael Jackson! For me however, its aggressive means justify its end, as it is properly targeting people that, just as modern hip-hop fans are asked reconsider what and why they listen, those who take their current music interests from the oppressively mannered ‘New Yorker’ or NPR or the soundtrack to ‘Garden State’ should be forced reconsider as well. The article is hardly without flaws and one gets the sense that SFJ himself would be the first to admit that (he calls his article “reductive” in the aforementioned podcast). Only in the absurdly polite and mannered ‘New Yorker’ would his article seem like a throwing down of the gauntlet…

As a whole, the article succeeds and has spanned other writers to delve deeper. The Village Voice’s Tom Breihan and Rob Harvilla debate the article on Breihan’s Status Ain’t Hood blog and while the discussion can easily be dismissed as masturbatory music-critic talk, it touches on issues of music and race that sort of makes everybody uncomfortable, and that’s always good.

One of the more poignant comparisons is between the current crop of indie types and those from which they glean influence. The Clash become a continued point of return for SFJ; they exemplify a group who respectfully but aggressively took-on music beyond their initial punk-rock range: “dub, funk, rap, and Motown interpretations”. When the Clash performed in New York, their opening act was Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five. Of course, the story goes that the Clash’s fans threw bottles at the rap legends but still- the artists knew where music was going and were quite fair to at least “cite” one of their influences, even if the audience was too stupid to get it.

SFJ cites the fact that apparently Devendra Banhart has spoken highly of R. Kelly’s latest, but would never ingest Kells’ influence but “thirty years ago, Banhart might have attempted to imitate R. Kelly’s…soul.” I do not know what lies in the heart of hearts of the Arcade Fire but their music and persona imply an utter disinterest in black musical forms. Not that there is necessarily something wrong with that, but it does seem strange that indie groups flaunt their insularity, while their fans’ interests continue to spread, their IPODS filled with everything from the weirdo Top 40 of Timbaland, the Michael Jackson house music of Justice, to classic 60s Stones albums, and back again to say, the Decemberists. Nowadays, rock groups give me the impression that they (if these guys had any balls, another of SFJ’s implicit points) would be the ones more apt to throw bottles at a rap act than the fans. This is a pretty depressing reversal.

The reversal however, is only half-true as it’s not that musicians don’t listen to many different genres, but that they are unwilling to use it as a part of their music and worse, flaunt their rarified persona. It’s the musical equivalent of feigning ignorance or disinterest, which of course, reflects the too-good-for-it-all attitudes of so many indie rockers. Somehow, it has become cooler or more respectable to appear completely influenced by the Beatles or the Beach Boys or Springsteen than to grab from as many sources as possible…

But what about the numerous dancey indie groups that have indeed, rediscovered rhythm? They are cited by Harvilla in that ‘Status Ain’t Hood’ discussion as obvious counterpoints to rhythm-less indie rock SFJ conveniently cites. I would first say that these groups are still exceptions to the rule, and that even these groups actually take very little from African-American influences. So much of the “dance-punk” or whatever else is going on that embraces rhythm seems to take it from groups, performers, and composers that were influenced by black music; these new artists never look back to that original source. So much of what goes on in indie rock, that constitutes dance music, is rooted in late 70s/early 80s New York stuff, New/No Wave, Avant-Jazz, etc. etc. As I already said on the Status Ain’t Hood blog’s comments, I’d like to cite the example of the group James White & The Blacks. I’ll talk about them because they are one of the few groups of that era that I find genuinely interesting and engaging for more than a few songs and, they have a very explicit black influence.

-Listen to ‘Contort Yourself’ by the Contortions.

James Chance and the Contortions and later, James White and the Blacks, are maybe best described as punk rock meets Ornette Coleman’s “free jazz” meets James Brown. Those are the simplest and most palpable influences on the group. On the Youtube video found at the bottom of this post, a commenter refers to the playing of the Contortions as “a noise band, yet they are completely tight” which you know, if you open your ears a tiny bit further, would be a pretty accurate explanation of the JBs! Chance, especially when dubbing himself “James White”, a jokey homage to the Godfather of Soul- didn’t just go to Brown’s compositions simply because they sounded cool or danceable but fully internalized them. He took on the theatrics and gutteral screams of J.B and danced around as goofily and freely as well. He put himself on the line in a way that newer dance groups (excluding !!!) never do. Chance makes an ass of himself, he goes all-out for the sake of entertainment and if you want to give it some higher meaning “catharsis”…the reason so many indie rockers don’t embrace or seemingly eschew black influences is because that music about feeling and expression, the opposite direction, according to SFJ’s thesis, indie rock has moved since the 90s.

When you listen to The Contortions in light of groups like Liars, The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem, etc. you hear the way these groups have totally lifted guitar noise, attitude and overall danceable skronk from dudes like James Chance while internalizing very little of the James Brown. Again, it’s not a capitol offense or anything, but it’s sorta messed-up and it’s why none of those groups are very interesting. It seems far worse that these overt dance groups still make an end-run around black music by being influenced by the guys that black musicians influenced and not really checking into the original source. It’s one thing that The Arcade Fire are boring as fuck, it’s another thing that LCD Soundsystem can’t really get it up either.

Written by Brandon

October 18th, 2007 at 4:18 am

Posted in Indie, hipster

Notes on Otherness, Part Two: M.I.A


Click here to download MIA’s ‘Paper Planes Remix’ featuring Bun B and Rich Boy.

I’ve held a strong dislike for M.I.A since the annoying ‘Pull Up The People’ and that mixtape that allowed kewl kids to listen to Ciara without really listening to Ciara (Jazze Pha > Diplo). It was mainly her smug politics, particularly her obnoxious tendency to claim third-world status and half-assed political sloganeering that passed for insight among back-patting progressive types. Then, a few weeks ago I saw her perform ‘Paper Planes’ on Letterman and really liked the song. It’s an easy song to like- looping the ridiculously great Clash song ‘Straight To Hell’- and it works, including M.I.A’s crappy “rapping” and the conflation of gunshots and cash register sounds with ‘Rump Shaker’ is clever and post-modern and really does say a lot…although it begs the question: Why is Uffie the most hated hipster rapper out there and M.I.A, a critical darling? Don’t answer that, I don’t care.

A little while later on one of Tom Breihan’s podcasts, he played a remix of ‘Paper Planes’ featuring actual rappers Bun B and Rich Boy. The song is really, really great, as Bun and Rich Boy destroy M.I.A on a technical level but also content-wise. Between this song, his really smart verse about out-sourcing on Devin the Dude’s ‘Lil Girl Gon’, and countless lines on ‘Underground Kingz’, Bun’s probably the smartest political rapper out there. Rich Boy’s verse is some particularly clever gun-talk delivered with socio-political anger that M.I.A is too cool to express. Breihan, on his podcast, talks about how M.I.A and Bun drop these sort of general verses about violence while Rich Boy is like, in it- which is half-right. The best that can be said about M.I.A is her verse is so general and her sloganeering so simple, it’s not too annoying. To suggest that she’s doing anything close to what Bun B does is a little offensive. I’m not sure who orchestrated this song but as a song, especially if you don’t think too much about it, is really great.

But on the topic of “the other”, ‘Paper Planes Remix’ reeks of exploitation. This is particularly fun to pick apart because it hints at some things that have always bothered me about M.I.A, namely, a certain hypocrisy when it comes to her discussions of colonialism, imperialism, and issues of the third-world. It’s cool that she took the time to pick out two smart, politically-engaged and still entertaining southern rappers, but another aspect of it just feels off. M.I.A, starting with ‘Piracy Funds Terrorism’ has shown a tendency to avoid more conventionally accepted “smart” American rap for Southern rappers. Recall that she declined working with Kanye on ‘Late Registration’ but has since collaborated with Timbaland, Three-Six Mafia, and others. Part of me think it’s wonderfully contrarian, a way to validate much-maligned Southern rap but another part sees it as similar to the moans about hipster celebration of crack rap over “smart” rap. Many blame this Southern rap fixation on collaborator Diplo and indeed, that makes some sense, but recall this moronic blow-up with with Pitchfork, where she minimizes Diplo’s influence on her music:”[It is] insulting that I can’t have any ideas on my own because I’m a female or that people from undeveloped countries can’t have ideas of their own unless it’s backed up by someone who’s blond-haired and blue-eyed [meaning Diplo].” To me, the situation reads more like M.I.A using Diplo. Indeed, many might credit Diplo for the southern rap influences but one another level, he will act as a shield for exploitation criticisms. The white dude will get the shit and not the British/Sri Lankan female. It’s convenient for M.I.A to lash-out against those who credit Diplo for her success after the fact; if what Miss Arulpragasam says is true, she used the white boy’s whiteness to gain acceptance: M.I.A is more successful and well-known than Diplo.

The weird issues of exploitation go further as her problems with the pretty much accepted producer/rapper relationship is just one of many examples of taking American rap and pop on her terms. The accurate and much-discussed conflict with European Americans in regards to their treatment of the other, be it individuals or a whole culture, is the expectation that the other should come to them or meet them half-way. In the case of M.I.A, it is she who expects the rap culture to accept her. Is there any rapper out there who does not suffer a little bit of credit due to collaboration? M.I.A just happened to choose a white collaborator, so she can invoke her gender or race when proper credit is not given; she doesn’t just accept it. In this Status Ain’t Hood interview, she complains about Timbaland’s interest in (gasp!) making hits and surprise, surprise…Three-Six Mafia suck at collaborating with women! Did she expect these production legends to bend over backwards because M.I.A showed up? She also sounds incredibly British (not Sri Lankan) when she condescendingly speaks of Three-Six’s limited travel experience and carrying around their Oscar (as if DJ Paul and Juicy J aren’t aware of why that is funny…).

In the same interview, she has a similar tone discussing Baltimore Club producer Blaq Star (“He’s really really soulful”) which brings us back to Diplo. Diplo has, rightfully, caught a lot of shit for what many in Baltimore see as an exploitation of the city’s music. I guess it’s cool that now M.I.A is going straight to the source but I don’t see how that’s any different from vaguely uncomfortable genre-hopping experiments from Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel. On the topic of that ‘Graceland’-level of exploitation, there’s M.I.A’s use of a Nigerian refugee named Afrikan Boy. When she describes the part of England from which Afrikan Boy comes, she sounds like some Long Island Jew who ended up in the wrong part of New York: “He’s this Nigerian kid, and he’s a refugee who lived in Woolwich, which is the worst neighborhood in London. I went there once in my life accidentally when I fell asleep on a night bus, and it was like the worst day of my life.” Besides the uncomfortable aspects of her description, it’s weird the way she uses conventional appeals to essentially “street cred” when describing the rapper. There’s also her use of Aborigine Kids on another track and the off-handed comment that now two of them are “in a young offenders’ institute.” I get the icky feeling that if M.I.A weren’t exploiting her own Sri Lankan heritage, she would be called-out for exploiting these kids and you know, not helping them out for anything beyond sticking them on her album.

What seems to excuse M.I.A’s cultural exploitation is her own minority status which, if she didn’t seem to constantly flaunt and address it, would be a little more acceptable. She was born in England and went with her family to Sri Lanka; her father was some kind of revolutionary. I would not disagree that her life was tough, but she was never as “third-world” as the people she speaks-up for. She eventually came back to England thanks to Western programs that aid refugees, got an education, became an artist and musician. Ultimately, her rather questionable connection to the third-world is fine but since it is she who plays games of “I gotcha” identity politics, she deserves to be called-out. She subscribes to and/or takes advantage of the rather weak assumption that all “oppressed” peoples share some kind of weird connection; Stanley Fish called this “boutique multiculturalism” meaning,: People weave in and out of differing “foreign” cultures, picking and choosing which aspects to embrace and which to ignore (like shopping in a boutique).

There’s a wonderful anecdote Fish uses to exemplify this kind of thinking and it comes from (I think) a Paul Theroux travel essay. In the essay, Theroux recounts traveling through a Muslim country and chatting it up with a cab driver who happened to have a Literature degree (this is off the top of my head, so the exact details may be off). Theroux and the cab driver waxed poetically about classics of literature and then Theroux, thinking he with a completely like-minded liberal-arts type, asked the driver his opinion on the Rushdie fatwa. Much to Theroux’s surprise, the driver slammed on his breaks and angrily ranted murderous threats against Rushdie. The point being, this moronic assumption that people all over the world who share certain qualities, be it oppression or education- are “just like us”, is wrong! One can imagine M.I.A in the foolish spot of Theroux and not the Muslim cabbie, as she sat in Three-Six Mafia’s studio and heard them preach “backwards” expectations of female rappers or stand in shock when Timbaland drops “baby girl, go to your teepee”…

Written by Brandon

October 4th, 2007 at 9:19 pm


Support Your Local, Prick Independent Music Store Pt. 2: Indie vs. Mom & PopCommenting on yesterday’s rant, Noz rightfully pointed out that I “should draw a distinction between ‘Mom & Pop,’ as in the general interest, privately owned community catering record store, and ‘Indie,’ the cooler than thou underground/specialty spot” adding that it is “the former is what suffers the most from the mega stores.”. I would certainly agree that the indie-ish stores have more of a core audience but I’d also add that I have an equal lack of sympathy for the Mom and Pops. The illusion that something non-corporate or “underground” is automatically better or worth supporting on principle alone, is something I grew out of by the time I got to college. Most Mom and Pops are run with the same degree of ruthlessness and disinterest in music as a Best Buy or Wal-Mart. I was recently at a Mom and Pop I frequent and heard the owner, pushing around the employees before telling them “Put that Taleeb Kwalee display out” and walking out the door.

The Mom and Pop can rip you off or fuck you over because they don’t have to answers to higher-ups. They are corporate stores with a martyr complex (they’re being run into the ground, you know) so they justify their shady tactics. For five years, I worked at a Mom and Pop video store and in that time, never missed a day of work that I didn’t find a replacement for, worked just about every Holiday (because the owner would never schedule herself or her daughter to work on such days), and when I got a real job, which significantly cut-down my hours, they let me go.

On Christmas, the only holiday they closed up for, they would sometimes leave a note on the door claiming that they would be open on Christmas. On December 26th, the manager would tell you to charge the customers for not returning the movie on Christmas day unless they tell you they came up yesterday to find the store closed. I simply didn’t do this because I felt more of a connection to the customers than the store but the fact those tactics, forcing employees to lie and manipulate, remind me of the complaints regularly mentioned about big-name stores.

At first, I was idealistic about working in a Mom and Pop (and used the non-corporate cred. to get girls, just mention some anti-corporate signifiers and the panties drop!) but events like the Great Christmas Hustle of 2004 made me realize this wasn’t any different than working for a corporation. I stuck around because I was too scared to find another job and you could do shit like smoke weed behind the building or play softball in the parking lot but even those fun times, I would’ve traded for a Thanksgiving off and a decent pay raise.

In retrospect, I realize that had I worked at a Blockbuster or Hollywood Video, as diligently and for that length of time, I probably would have rose to some kind of managerial position and maybe even gained some kind of health benefits. At this Mom and Pop (and many I’d imagine), the possibility to move-up is non-existent because the owners function as the workers as well and while idealistic types see that as somehow warm or human, it really just means you interact with the person that fucks you in the ass instead of never seeing them because they sit behind a desk hundreds of miles away.

I was at a friend’s house a few weeks ago and flipping through the channels, the friend’s roommate asked to stop on a channel showing some super-obvious documentary against Wal-Mart. Wanting to spare the room an anti-Wal-Mart rant, Monique blurted out “I love Wal-Mart” and I smugly concurred (because a real discussion of Wal-Mart’s good and bad qualities wasn’t going to develop). The smug roommate (No disrespect to you P.K, but you gots to chill) responded in a voice suggesting a more relevant counter-point than the one he had, said “Oh, you’ll eat at Holy Frijoles and shop at Wal-Mart?!” (I’ll explain Holy Frijoles in a moment). He thought he was somehow finding a discrepancy between us happening to eat at some hipster restaurant earlier in the evening and shopping at Wal-Mart. I seriously forgot that anyone around my age still held such simplistic, black and white opinions on independent and corporate entities which, as I said yesterday, are really easy to have when you’re young, well-off, and single and therefore, don’t have to shop at a place like Wal-Mart.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Holy Frijoles. Holy Frijoles is a sort of hipster Mexican restaurant located in one of Maryland’s most popular bastions of both coolness and Balda’more-ness, Hampden, MD. Hampden has the unique population of young, decent-minded hipsters and lower-middle class White trash (“Dude, there’s so many ugly people around here”-JJ), somehow living nearly together, mostly peacefully, primarily due to their united negrophobia. Seriously, black people just don’t live in the surrounding area known as Hampden. My father at the ripe old age of 18, somehow managed numerous Royal Farms Stores in Baltimore (dude’s a go-getta but was raising me along with my 17 year old mom, so he had to be) including one in Hampden and from a very young age, spoke of the hypocrisy of “bohemian” places like Hampden which uses the lower-middle class whites to appear anti-elitist, all the while scoffing at the occasional black customer and/or refusing to hold the door for black truck drivers carting in their cigarettes and donuts (Dad also voted for George Bush; The world is complicated.).

One of the most striking things about Holy Frijoles is the way one can see back into the kitchen, revealing a cramped, dirty room totally out of ‘Das Boot’ full of black people making my 8 dollar burrito! Wonderful! You will never see these guys out of the kitchen and in the restaurant, the closet you’ll get to an ethnicity “on the floor” is those indie guys that look like Fez from ‘That 70s Show’- it’s like God created this specific indie type for the indie chick who won’t date black dudes but needs to rep her liberal arts education open-mindedness and goes for some American Apparel-wearing Beaner…but I’ve digressed now haven’t I? The point is, if the jerkoff who runs Holy fucking Frijoles ran a big business it seems like it’d be a lot like a Wal-Mart.

Written by Brandon

August 22nd, 2007 at 9:23 pm

Posted in Indie, Wal-Mart, hipster

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Support Your Local, Prick Independent Music Store Pt. 1: Best Buy.

I received a few e-mails giving me shit for buying ‘Underground Kingz’ from a Best Buy. Most were half-informed rants that repeat stuff like “corporate entities” but one was, although a bit condescending, earnest in its attempt to inform me of how independent record stores are going out of business, etc. etc. Of course, I know that, I just don’t care. Generally, I respond to just about every e-mail I get, but numerous attempts at concisely explaining my position got really long and not-concise and I figured I’d turn it into a blog entry.

First, I do support plenty of independent music stores, probably at least as much if not more than the douchebags that sent me self-righteous e-mails. I don’t really work much or very hard, so my yearly income is somewhere around $10,000. I would say it is a safe estimate that I literally spend at least $1000 dollars a year on CDs and records and most of that is not at Best Buy. Last night, when I got home from a record store (picked up a used copy of Devin’s ‘Coughee Brothaz’ album that comes out in a few weeks and ‘Green Street’ by Grant Green) to find my latest credit card bill in the mailbox: I owe $1,481! So yeah, I “support” (whatever that means) record stores so much it will probably ruin my credit.

My only Best Buy shopping is with new rap releases because they sell them for mad cheap and Best Buy is like a 10 minute drive from my house while my closest independent record store is at least 30. Also, Best Buy opens at 10am and when I’m so excited about the new UGK that I can’t sleep, I don’t want to drive another 20 minutes and wait until 11 or 12 or whatever time some fat fuck who runs the indie store decides to wake up and open his store.

Second, there’s the very real fact that you can’t depend on an independent record store to have anything. See, independently-owned record stores are essentially fascist and more often than not, cater to what the people who work there or run it listen to. If you’re lucky, that is awesome but it generally means they have a lot of releases from KRANKY and not what I’m looking for. It really is possible that the owner of any indie record store does not know UGK or does not care and would choose not to order it because indie stores are working with a lot less money and have to make decisions to not carry stuff. Oh right, they can “order it” for me but why the fuck would I do that when I can go down the street and get it right now? I’m not the Jesus Christ of music purchasing; I don’t have that kind of constitution.

When ‘†’ by Justice came out, I drove all over Baltimore looking for the CD and you know where I finally found it? Best Buy! The past week or so, I’ve obsessively sought-out ‘The King of Roq’ from Baltimore’s Blaq Starr and the only place that has it is not a record store at all but a shoe store: Downtown Locker Room. In the past however, it is Best Buy and FYE that carry and support local Baltimore artists and if you were a local artist, wouldn’t you want your album in a big store like Best Buy?! You’d reach a much larger and broader audience placing your music in a Best Buy than in an independently-owned store and frankly, the corporate sheep of Best Buy will support the product more; you won’t run into some surly record twat who “hates” Baltimore Club or gives you a rant about how that CD sucks as you’re purchasing it!.

I once myself wallowed in the smug pride and complacency of believing people should shop independent and all that, but the actual differences between corporate and independent is pretty negligible.

In terms of music consumption, a store like Best Buy probably exposes just as many people to new music as the “cool” record store named after a Captain Beefheart song. Before I could drive or had a credit card, my options on where I could purchase shit was pretty much limited to Best Buy. I’d go with my mom to the mall and I’d tell her I was going in some store and I’d find her in an hour and then I’d run across the street to Best Buy and obsessively run-around looking for whatever CDs I wanted. I remember buying ‘Kind of Blue’, ‘It Takes a Nation…’, and Yo La Tengo’s ‘I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One’ in an eighth-grade birthday money spending blow-out. Now, is it better that I heard those even if it meant buying them from a “corporate entity” or should I never have heard them? Best Buy has a decent balance of independent and relatively obscure music with mainstream stuff and if you’re some interesting kid in the middle of nowhere, it serves its purpose especially now that all the “indie” artists have sold-out (but won’t admit it). The selection in many independent stores isn’t that much different from Best Buy. Of course, that too will be blamed on evil corporate takeover tactics and not most indie clerks a) not searching out new, interesting music and b) selling the same stuff because it sells and they too are only concerned with the bottom line.

It is the luxury of the fairly well-off to preach independent shopping. For those with less time and less money, it is harder to justify dropping a few more dollars on something they want just because a bunch of jerkoffs have made where and what one purchases an ethical fucking issue. In a few months, some Mom will be buying the new 50 Cent for their child. Best Buy will have Christmas sales that may bring the album under $10 dollars, while purchasing it somewhere else it’d be closer to $15. To a parent without a lot of money trying to buy what their kid wants, that $5 matters; it means her kid gets one more stocking stuffer. All of the Corporate haters have either never had their options and time extremely limited or have forgotten what that is like.

Written by Brandon

August 21st, 2007 at 4:24 pm

Posted in Best Buy, Indie