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Wednesday, Jun 18, 2008
The Kills - Cheap and Cheerful

This song is a guilty pleasure for me.  Guilty because The Kills are the Marquis de Sade’s of skeletal alleyway rock wreckage, artists whose image has always felt a little too arch, constructed and Warholian for me.  A lyric like “I want expensive sadness”, regardless of the labored New York aesthetic is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect Paris Hilton to say.  Nihilism and empty heiress blather tend to meet on the extreme ends of the circle.  But there’s something about the gutter blitheness that makes The Kills a band that gets you in touch with your dirtiest, darkest most decadent impulses even if it is a hand-crafted collection of ironically non-ironic cliches.  Not to mention, they can concoct grooves that sound assembled from tenement litter with guitar little more that sparse, fierce punches.  I like them, but always fell like I should have my caveats handy. 


Imagine my surprise to see that the video for a song celebrating the destructive, melodramatic and snide aspects of human nature that has almost no creative energy behind its images.  We have tattered drum corps that really just looking like a methadone line forced to play band camp for day.  Splashes of paint smear the screen but the effect is campy, psychedelic, the antithesis of their sound.  If this is itself a cheeky inversion of their image, then I’m afraid I have to give up out of the sheer exhaustion of following such Olympic level posturing.  Allison Mosshart forgoes her pitch black mane for Flo’s wig from Alice making a perfunctory stab at the retro junky look that serves the video only in the sense of adding another decade to the slopped pastiche.  This song sounds sexy and dangerous, but the video is simply lazy, limp and tame.  They may as well have done it on a mountain top with someone’s “eyes on fire” for all the energy put into tossing this half-assery together.


Tagged as: the kills
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Wednesday, Jun 11, 2008
I Gotta Know - Wanda Jackson

Okay, so the title is both an exaggeration and a reversal of proper chronology.  Wanda Jackson is a huge Elvis fan, as evidenced by her one of her most recent releases, I Remember Elvis, but I couldn’t resist the quip since nearly all writing about Wanda Jackson contains the diminishing compliment, “the female Elvis”. 


Personally, I listen to her more and get much more enjoyment from her sound than I do Elvis’ oeuvre. (Also, please note that she could really play the guitar from the very beginning of her career.) The comparison also misses the deeper country and western influence, nowhere more evident than on the song, “I Gotta Know” which almost comically accents the twang on “thang” and “rang” (ring). 


She’s still touring; I guess that’s one of the benefits of being a hard working musician over a worldwide icon.  Try to sit still through the song’s bounce and her tight little jig around the stage.  Granted, she doesn’t have the smoldering sexy that pre-Rx bloat Elvis had, but her pin-up beauty and spitfire confidence go a long way in cultivating a wholly different brand of star presence.  She should have garnered bigger fame in her time, but has to instead settle for a devoted following and a belated critical resurrection.


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Wednesday, Jun 11, 2008
8Ball and MJG - Candy

I wish more people would stay on top of mid-‘90s hip-hop videos. This little gem by 8Ball and MJG is a prime example of how much nostalgia some of these videos create. It’s hard not to think of something like 8Ball and MJG’s “Just Like Candy” or Biggie’s “Hypnotize” and not remember the time or place in one’s life during the release of these videos. The quick cuts and the fade-ins and outs were staples of ‘90s hip-hop videos, especially the more laid back summer suave cuts.


This was before Southern hip-hop became immersed in clap-style snares and a much more narrow topic base—these were innocent party hits that play out over time as classics with style and class. 8Ball and MJG are two of the South’s kings—and its tracks like “Just Like Candy” that keep them on that throne. The Dirty South has changed quite dramatically, but it only takes a look back on tracks like these to realize the kind of soul there was at the party long before the youngsters hit the streets.


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Tuesday, Jun 10, 2008
Emily - The Shocking Pinks

This is a perfectly good example of great songs getting a video treatment that not only highlights the song’s weakness but makes the band seem a little bit on the desperate.  “Emily” has all the morose grandeur of a Psychedelic Furs song with a fair amount of Jesus and Mary Chain sonic smudging around the edges.  Not that the band doesn’t ad some elements of their own, it’s just that this particular song has enough 80s immediacy to make you think that you’ve heard it all before. 


But the video only makes the song seem entirely too long and, with its unsparing use of cliched image, entirely unoriginal.  This is the video a stupid ex would send you as evidence of their undying devotion to your idealization.  It’s if to tell someone, “I’m still getting over you, that’s why I’m having all of this anonymous sex with different women”.  Granted, he seems disconnected from all the half-clothed women, but the entire concept seems like an excuse for the band to place a dirty craig’s list ad soliciting video babes.  It seems wholly out of a genre, a mopey little piece of drone pop being given the poolside hip hop/hair band metal video treatment of boobs, boobs, boobs. The Michael Jackson “Black or White” morphig of all the other women into each other seems as disturbing as Edina (from Absolutely Fabulous)telling her daughter Saffron that she was born she named her “thing-it”.  The fact that it’s an attempt to tastefully render this kind of interchangeable-laws-of-booty video only makes it seem more farcical. 


It’s a shame too because the song has the kind of woozy, blurred undercurrent that sets it up for visual play.  But the time lapsed walking and thing-it “not Emily” girl are all you get.  Of course, the video shouldn’t taint your experience of a song, but with images this inept, there is the somewhat comical conclusion that Emily isn’t all that special.  Incidentally, according to the research cited by Rob Horning, this is close to the perfect pop song length.


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Monday, Jun 9, 2008

Michael Barthel has a great post over at Idolator about the anti-intellectualism of some music writers in particular and music criticism generally.  This is particularly ironic, as Barthel notes, when the critic in question slams him with a Borges reference.  (That would be Jorge Luis Borges for those of you not on a first name basis.)  It’s a great post for a number of reasons, including that Barthel calls out incoherence of someone trying to hide their philosophical depth for some sad approximation of street cred. 


Populism, in this context, is essentially the denial of expertise.  If it’s true that no one, given the instantaneous access, needs the contribution of critics, surely they need even less the dubious contributions of most music blogs, who act primarily as extensions of PR one sheets, without the objectivity. Music crticism has many unexplored tensions with the academy.  Some of them certainly come from the fact that many music writers, especially in their late 20s to mid-30s come to criticism from a University-era heavily steeped in postmodern theory.  Many of them, by choice, chance or deficiency have not continued on into academia.  Those anxious influences frequently crop up in either naïve rejection or equally naïve assimilation.


Music criticism also has a habit of writers competing with their subjects for having the most “rock and roll” values, something art historians probably don’t have hanging over their heads.  Consequently, Lester Bangs gets idolized for in part, getting fucked up all the time, because that’s way more hardcore than doing a systematic study of the evolution of brand mentions in hip hop lyricism.  That’s clearly not as cool.  Surely some people use philosophical jargon to obscure their insecurities, but just as many people deign to defend American Idol or Shania Twain based on some just as postured sense of contrarianism.  Barthel touches on some crucial issues that are worth arguing at length, but that wouldn’t cool, so I’ll keep it brief.  Foucault my ass.


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