Latest Blog Posts

by PopMatters Staff

9 Jun 2008

Sebadoh
Soul and Fire” (acoustic demo) [MP3] (from Bubble and Scrape Deluxe Edition (Domino/Sub Pop), releasing 8 July 2008 in the US)
     

Apollo Sunshine
666: The Coming of the New World Government [MP3] (from Shall Noise Upon, releasing 2 September 2008 in the US)
     

Amplive vs. MGMT
Of Moons, Birds & Monsters [Communication Edit ft. Mistah Fab] [MP3]
     

Modey Lemon

“A fuzzed-out, driving masterpiece with catchy hooks beaten to death by guitar/synth mayhem by Pittsburgh’s most-loved sons. Equal parts sci-fi darkness, garage angst-ridden wreckage, and kautrock brilliance.”—Birdman Records

Become a Monk [MP3]
     

Ice Fields [MP3]
     

Buy at iTunes Music Store

Tilly & the Wall
Pot Kettle Black [MP3]
     

The Gang

“Formed out of a love for playing music for people, Brooklyn-based The Gang is trying to lend form to a feeling through their own brand of rock. Recommended if you like Mission of Burma, Le Savy Fav, The Go! Team, and Fugazi.”—Absolutely Kosher

One Up the Sun [MP3]
     

Sea So [MP3]
     

The Melvins
Nude with Boots [MP3]
     

by Rob Horning

9 Jun 2008

Ronan McDonald’s recent book, The Death of the Critic, which argues that literary criticism should be evaluative so that it can reach a broad audience and therefore be relevant, has prompted some discussion at The Valve and Salon. Writes McDonald, in a passage excerpted by professor Rohan Maitzen here, “Perhaps the critic is not dead, but simply sidelined and slumbering. The first step in reviving him or her is to bring the idea of artistic merit back to the heart of academic criticism. ‘Judgment’ is the first meaning of kritos. If criticism is to be valued, if it is to reach a wide public, it needs to be evaluative.”

McDonald appears to be serious in arguing that the academic study of literature should focus on whether works are good or bad, inviting a return to the “warm bath” approach to pedagogy that invites us to luxuriate in the Great Works and congratulate one another on how perceptive we are in appreciating them. But who establishes the terms of correct aesthetic judgment? It seems like a will to power is all that’s required, and then the spread of one’s aesthetic tenets serves no greater function than oppressing the world with your particular tastes. And if it’s not simply egotism, usually a covert political agenda is being served—the way the New Criticism tended to denigrate political works in favor of sterile formalism, which guaranteed quietism in the humanities. McDonald argues that true criticism was destroyed by cultural studies and its political agendas, but passing judgment is a political act. What is so hard to understand about that? You can’t impose an aesthetic value system on the public without imposing at the same time an implied set of political views, usually conservative ones, since the very act of imposing your judgment on others is an elitist proposition. (Not surprisingly, McDonald doesn’t like the democratization of criticism—probably because he suspects democracy as a principle. What, all those rubes out there get to have their own opinion, and it should count in the social world we share?) An aesthetics is always political; otherwise it’s merely solipsistic.

Speaking of solipsism, McDonald’s concerns over the democratization of criticism prompts this blithe statement from Salon’s Louis Bayard:

The problem with arguing for cultural gatekeepers is that, if you’re a professional critic, you inevitably look self-serving—“Hey, that’s my job!”—and yes, elitist—“Don’t try this at home, guys.” I myself don’t have any particular training or qualifications to be a reviewer, other than my own experience as a reader and writer, so I feel silly arguing that someone else isn’t qualified to deliver an opinion. And believe it or not, I’ve learned things from Amazon reviews, from letters pages, from literary blogs, from all sorts of non-traditional outlets. The quality of writing is certainly variable, but then so is the quality of traditional journalism.

Believe it or not? Bayard’s point is well-taken but is undermined utterly by that condescending interjection. Oh, is the great Louis Bayard to deign to find himself informed by the great illiterate mass of monkeys pounding away at their naive Amazon reviews and noncommercial blogs? I’m left with a sense of the mammoth amount of entitlement that critics seem to feel by their appointment to their prominent perches, and if that sort of critic is dying, I’d be happy to shovel the dirt on the grave. You have to hope he was being ironic in a way that is not coming across—which itself is an index of the distrust between critics and readers (readers like me, anyway).

Maitzen’s conclusion seems pertinent to the question of that distrust:

I share McDonald’s concern about the isolation of academic expertise from today’s reading culture more generally…I think, too, that he is right to be looking at questions of judgment and how they are understood and articulated as one of the flashpoints for misunderstanding or resentment between academics and other readers. I just don’t see how his prescription to be more evaluative is an adequate response, unless (at the minimum) it is accompanied by a commitment to showing why the question “Is it of any merit?” requires substantial complication before a worthwhile answer is possible. The responsibility here is not all ours: ideally, readers would want, not to be dictated to, but to be engaged in debate worthy of the books they are considering.

Criticism that prompts readers to become critics themselves in their own way would be healing the divide. That’s why the flowering of millions of critics on the internet should be heralded as success, not failure or death.
If critics—any critics, academic or otherwise—deserve our attention, it seems that should be a matter of their being interesting in their own right, producing something compelling from their interaction with some other work that makes us want to think and talk about it too. Mere evaluation seems the least interesting outcome of such an interaction. At best, it prompts tautological arguments about taste.

McDonald believes that “If criticism forsakes evaluation, it also loses its connections with a wider public,” but I’m not sure why that matters. Does criticism need to compete on the same turf as marketing, and should it really strive to become more like marketing (evalutive criticism of the most straightforward sort), because it happens to have an extremely wide public in our commercial society? McDonald apparently laments academic critics’ loss of public influence, but I’m not sure why they would deserve it; surely it’s better that critics are taking less of the attention away from the art they would, under McDonald’s system, be judging? Academic critics in general write repetitive and aggressively unreadable prose; this is because the mechanics of the profession demand it. (Academics must prove their mastery of a field through tedious recounting of previous scholarship, then they must prove a mastery of the field’s arcane lingo, which helps establish the discipline’s authority.) Were they to write in a more accessible fashion—for lay readers rather than their peers—they would be undermining the credibility of their field, th epresumption that special training is required to perform the sort of analysis in which they have become specialized. If we don’t think these specialized analyses are worth performing, better then to argue for the abolishment of literature departments, and turn literary analysis back over to the Virginia Woolfs of the world, the leisure-class dilettantes with the time and inclination to parse fictions.

by Mike Schiller

9 Jun 2008

I’ve never been someone you could call a launch-day adopter, usually opting to wait until brand new consoles get a) cheaper and b) a little bit more readily available.

We're counting the minutes…

We’re counting the minutes…

There was a time, however, when my then-girlfriend and I decided that paying out the ear for a PlayStation 2 was a good idea (this was in January of ‘01), because hey, it was a DVD player too!  And for the better part of that year, it was a fun toy that occasionally came in most handy when we really, desperately felt that we needed to have a DVD (a format which, at that point, was still something of a novelty).

In November, everything changed.

I hadn’t actually played anything past the demo of the original Metal Gear Solid, but I got swept up in the massive amounts of hype for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, purchasing it as soon as it came out.  It remains, to this day, my favorite PlayStation 2 experience of all time.  It was something that I could play while my girlfriend watched, and while I would be entertained by the stealth and the constant tension, my girlfriend could be entertained by the lengthy (and often hilariously convoluted) storyline.  It was a game we would play instead of watching our favorite television shows, and the turning point that transformed the PS2 from a fun curiosity to an all-out entertainment machine.

The guy could have a walker and be out of teeth; I stillwouldn't want to mess with Snake.

The guy could have a walker and be out of teeth; I still
wouldn’t want to mess with Snake.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was just as good a play experience, but it came at a time in our lives when games simply could not take the priority that they once did, so it didn’t leave nearly the impression that MGS2 did.  Still, the affection I hold for MGS2 means that anything related to the series gets my full attention—especially a full-on sequel.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots looks incredible.  From the shock and awe of the Movie Voiceover Guy trailer to the 15-minute beast that’s been floating around for a couple of years now, every little bit of publicity I’ve seen for MGS4 makes it look like an incredible experience.  Heck, even Raiden, the much-ridiculed primary player of MGS2, looks like he’s grown up a bit, perhaps inspiring a mite less criticism for his presence.  All in all, the thing looks incredible, and I’m going to have a really, really hard time paying attention to anything else until next week.  Maybe this game is what transforms the PS3 into its own full-on entertainment machine.

Once again, it's style over realism on the Wii.  Developers arefinally getting the hang of this little console…

Once again, it’s style over realism on the Wii.  Developers are
finally getting the hang of this little console…

Obviously, things are pretty quiet elsewhere on the release front.  Nascar fans get the latest iteration of EA’s circuit simulation, and Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles looks fun in a sort of Hotel Dusk meets Phoenix Wright kind of way.  Wii owners also have the inventive-looking shooter Blast Works: Build Trade Destroy on its way this week, in which you get to build up your own ship out of the pieces of other ships.  Like a cannibalistic Vic Viper.  It’ll make a perfect game to play with the kids (rated E and everything!) during those times of day when Metal Gear Solid 4 might not be, you know, appropriate.

The full release list and the Movie Trailer Guy trailer for Metal Gear Solid 4 (just because I’m obsessed with it) is after the break.

by Lara Killian

9 Jun 2008

It’s a totally mixed bag this week. I’ve just started reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and I’m halfway through Markus Zusak’s I am the Messenger. Firoozeh Dumas’ Funny in Farsi is also in the bedside pile, as it caught my eye when I was shelf-reading the biographies last week at the library.

image

The more ‘literary’ graphic novel trend continues as well as I am slowly working through Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History on short breaks at work; Art Spiegelman’s incredible Holocaust memoir (rendered on behalf of his father) was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, which was a huge step forward for the graphic novel genre.

Time is not on my side, however, because the high school is going to close soon and all materials are due to be returned in the next week. Perhaps I can try to do without sleep for a few days?

I tend to read mostly fiction, but I’m trying to be more openminded about nonfiction, biography, and other genres. Do you stick to one genre most of the time or alternate between several? Perhaps get caught up in historical nonfiction for awhile, then switch to Victorian fiction and on to comic books a few weeks later? What genre(s) are you reading this week?

by Christian John Wikane

9 Jun 2008

Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

A heat wave swept through New York City last week as Donna Summer held court at the posh west-side haunt, Mansion, to officially celebrate the launch of her new album, Crayons (Burgundy, 2008). Greeted by an ovation that lasted well towards five minutes, Summer was moved to tears by the genuine adoration of fans, friends, and industry folk gathered for the occasion. Though Summer has consistently worked onstage and in the studio over the past two decades since her last full-length studio album—a fact she emphasized to the intimately gathered audience—this appearance marked an emotional, poignant “coming home” for the woman whose voice has echoed through the hallowed dance halls of Gotham for more than 30 years.

Hosted by Burgundy and radio station WKTU, the evening featured Donna Summer joined by a full band, including husband Bruce Sudano on background vocals.  Vocally impeccable throughout the eight-song set, Summer served up a cocktail of sass, humility, and divine diva stylizations. Thunder roared out of the speakers (and from the audience) on the opener, “MacArthur Park”, where every set of ears and eyes was porous with anticipation for Summer’s classic, chill-inducing belt. Turning to Crayons, the seven-minute “I’m a Fire” translated extremely well to the stage from the studio recording’s neo-disco beat thanks to the deftness of Summer’s drummer. After hitting number one on the club play charts earlier this year, “I’m a Fire” is already an audience favorite.

All photos: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

All photos: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

Summer sizzled during a simmering medley of “Bad Girls”/“Hot Stuff”, playfully exchanging moves with the lead guitarist and striking a stance befitting a rock star with the mic stand. “Science of Love”, arguably the best track on Crayons, continued the blistering dance-rock fusion to scintillating effect while the anthem-like “Stamp Your Feet” (her latest single) elicited a sea of fist-pounding pantomime. Summer clearly relished the opportunity to perform new songs. Based on the number of people singing along, so did the audience.

Still moved by the uproarious reception, Summer extemporaneously included one verse of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” in the evening’s repertoire, dedicated especially to the audience. The spontaneity of that moment was followed by the inevitable—moments later, the familiar chords of “Last Dance” raised the energy in the room to a feverish pitch. Summer’s extended performance of the Oscar-winning song signaled the conclusion of a night that succinctly paid tribute to Summer’s iconic status across three generations of listeners.

Donna Summer embarks on a two-month U.S. tour beginning July 3 in Newport News, VA.

All photos: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

All photos: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Hozier + Death Cab for Cutie + Rock Radio 104.5's Birthday Show (Photo Gallery)

// Notes from the Road

"Radio 104.5's birthday show featured great bands and might have been the unofficial start of summer festival season in the Northeast.

READ the article