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by Rob Horning

26 Mar 2010

Can beauty be separated from domination? That’s what this essay about “superbeauty” by Julie Lansky (via Rob Walker) left me wondering. Not that her essay is about that—it’s more of a defense of designing for jouissance rather than for functionality or posturing: “Reclaiming beauty from irony, reclaiming beauty from kitsch — this has been a project of early-21st-century design.”

I kept waiting to get mad at the essay—I have no love for deisgny-ness, and figured it was only a matter of time before I’d want to break out Alfred Loos’s Ornament and Crime—but I was strangely indifferent, largely agreeing with her while pursuing my own tangential thoughts. For example, what does Lansky mean by beauty? That can’t be taken for granted, because that is the whole of the ideological stake. Beauty and aesthetics are the time-honored alibi for hierarchical oppression; it is the velvet medium of hegemony. Beauty is defined so as to protect the interest of elites, their cultural and physical capital. Labeling something beautiful is an expression of power; then it’s a matter of getting others to either agree or suffer for their disagreement. Lansky comes closest to a definition, I think, in this statement: “Answering the capitalist economy’s call to create and fulfill desire in every corner of life, designers have even entered an age of superbeauty.” That is, to assure consumer capitalism’s viability and ideological underpinnings, designers assert beauty in novelty, variety and ubiquity, traits suitable to the mandate of continual capital accumulation, and constant expansion of consumer demand. Superbeauty refers to applying aesthetics to mundane objects once considered beneath such attention. That means the logic of distinction, under the pressures of capitalism, is spreading itself over a broader and broader domain. Hierarchy must be articulated in every last corner of the culture; everything must announce “desire,” the lack that testifies to the material reality of status, makes it seem a physical inevitability as undeniable as yearning. Nothing can be innocent, nothing can promise a glimpse into an alternative to the logic of capital, and capitalist desire. So I guess I disagree that superbeauty is for “personal delectation” as Lansky argues. That’s the classic mystification, that tastes can be personal.

by Jimmy Callaway

26 Mar 2010

In 1983, the Circle Jerks released their third album, Golden Shower of Hits. The title track was a pastiche of AM gold by the likes of the Carpenters and the Starland Vocal Band, counterpointed by the punk-rock stylings of the Hermosa Beach-based band.  It was an exquisite end to an exquisite album, an album many hardcore fans consider the last “real” Circle Jerks record before the departure of original rhythm section Roger Rogerson (bass) and Lucky Lehrer (drums). The band would go on to record many more albums, but musically and stylistically, Golden Shower of Hits marks a departure point for them as a band.

Enter the year 1984, and the release of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s In 3-D album. The track “Polkas on 45” is a medley of popular favorites including the Who, the Clash, and Devo, only this time done in the style of traditional polka music. Whether or not Yankovic was aware of the Circle Jerks’ jaunt into similar territory is unknown; however, Yankovic has followed this up by including a like medley on nearly every album he has recorded since, intent on applying this basic premise to the evolving tastes of mainstream pop. 

Like much of Yankovic’s fare, these medleys are not meant to be taken overtly seriously, but as more of a light-hearted jab at the songs being parodied. But there is something of a biting edge here, and that becomes more apparent when someone like Aaron Roszczewski edits the original videos to fit the form of “The Angry White Boy Polka” from Yankovic’s 2003 Poodle Hat album, and posts it on YouTube. The glib seriousness with which such acts like Papa Roach or Disturbed approach their radio-friendly songs is made even more hilariously apparent when against a backdrop of music that has not been popular since the Lawrence Welk generation.

If the job of the satirist is to point out that the emperor has no clothes, then “Weird Al” Yankovic has got fashion tips for all of pop music.

by Matt Cibula

26 Mar 2010

1.0 Mention that I was up late when I came up with these ideas, kind of a disclaimer. (“Dreamin’ when I wrote this / So sue me if it goes astray,” etc.)

1.1 Note that I was listening to Norah Jones and had an epiphany about her and someone else.

2.0 Note general critical intransigence about Norah Jones, how they started out worshiping her genre-blend of pop jazz country soul, then started to deride her as too soft too slow too unfocused.

2.1 For my money her best work was third album Not Too Late as she flashed a sense of humor, got political, and loosened up a bit.

2.2 But interesting that not much buzz attended last year’s The Fall, mostly just mentioned and ignored.

2.3 Maybe because of its weirdo lead single “Chasing Pirates”; not exactly “Don’t Know Why”; was it soft rock? was it her big pop move?

2.4 Also hard to get hold of. Song about insomnia, confusion, loss of control. Norah Jones not in control?

by Thomas Hauner

26 Mar 2010

Regina Carter played the role of reverent interpreter, anthropologist and musical diplomat Tuesday night at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, the first night of a residency in support of her forthcoming album, Reverse Thread.  The album, a new collection of African folk songs arranged by and reinterpreted for her new ensemble (also called Reverse Thread), is another excursion into new sonic frontiers, providing “the opportunity to explore and celebrate a tiny portion of music that moved me”, Carter said.  Enabled by a MacArthur fellowship to follow her muse, Carter’s Reverse Thread resonates with her confident yet lyrical tone, albeit in the refreshingly new context of the African diaspora.

by Jennifer Cooke

26 Mar 2010

The only thing more buzz-generating for an artist than having a video directed by Johnny Depp is to have that video banned. Sheffield workhorses Babybird (of “You’re Gorgeous” fame) have the singular good fortune of Depp’s friendship, which led to his playing guitar on the single “Unloveable”, and then directing the video. It’s depiction of frontman Stephen Jones’ hanging has met with some controversy, which can only benefit Babybird. And since “Unloveable” is a great song and “You’re Gorgeous” came out way back in 1996, let’s hope so.

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