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Tuesday, Apr 29, 2008

How is it that a song made of all the worst things possible is endlessly awesome? Contemplate this while enjoying Komar & Melamid’s “Most Unwanted Song” (link via Scott McLemee). The song was produced based on the results of a 1990s poll asking Americans what features they like least in music. Michael Bierut at Design Observer suggests the result is a triumph of design: “If working within limitations is one of the ways designers distinguish themselves from artists, America’s Most Unwanted Song is a design achievement of a high order.”


And naturally, the most wanted song is unlistenable. If American Idol is the future of pop music, this poll-produced contrivance suggests the future will be bleak indeed.


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Monday, Apr 28, 2008

God, how I wanted to love the new Portishead record, to the point of erring on the side fandom: making excuses, exceptions, at times pretending to love a song that was actually causing vertigo. I understand that the progenitors of a genre that quickly descended into high-end frock shop soundtracks would want to make their long awaited comeback something of a departure. But why a decapitation?  I know that psychologizing people you don’t know is usually just an exercise in projection, but I do get the impression that Geoff Barrow resented Beth Gibbon’s centrality in their previous work. Her voice is abraded and assaulted, on this track trying to mournfully bleed through cold, staccato bullet beats. This is hardly the album exception: “Hunter” strangles and scribbles on her voice, backdropped with a lullaby rhythm where the cradle has fallen and been shattered by the 18-Wheeler from the “Enter Sandman” video.


The video helps little, framing the song in the cold mechanization of a factory studio, like H.R. Giger built it for them. I’ve been in a lot of studios and they don’t have to look like the torture rooms from Hostel. The song and visuals offer nothing but the experience of occlusion and abjection, a sad descent for a band that at the very least used to be able to do depressing well. This isn’t depression, it’s an adverse psychiatric drug reaction. Even more distressing, it’s not interesting, the very least you can offer a listener if you choose to be intractably difficult about rejecting your past. Both the video and song simply alternate between flat planes of abrasion while Gibbons clamors for air. It’s dull and lifeless. I’m open to having my mind changed on this; sometimes all it takes is for a thoughtful person to offer an alternate view that wholly alters your perception. But for now, at least, I think this is pure cantankerous clamor.


Tagged as: portishead
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Monday, Apr 28, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
John Andrew Fredrick of the Black Watch owns Donny Osmond's guitar and he's really happy about it.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I dropped an unabridged Random House dictionary on my foot while wearing flip-flops. Needless to say, the tears welled up big time.


2. The fictional character most like you?
I am Holden Caulfield.  My penchant for italics proves it.


3. The greatest album, ever?
The greatest album ever is Revolver, but if you quote me, The White Album and Rubber Soul are going to be seriously miffed.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Starsailor. (Just kidding: they’re the worst.)


5. Your ideal brain food?
I’ve never tried the sesos tacos at any truck in Los Angeles.


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Friday, Apr 25, 2008

Since this has been the year where many indie music magazines have gone to their grave (Harp, Devil in the Woods, Resonance, No Depression), and with them, much long form criticism.You would think that the corporately decentralized blogosphere might increase the importance of the critic’s perspective by virtue of freeing writers from the passive aggressive extortion of working in a medium where the financial success of your venture is directly tied to the people you’re supposed to be critiquing. Unlike other forms of Academy-ensconced criticism (literary, cultural), music criticism reeked of its financial backend so much so that it was fairly easy to dismiss Rolling Stone’s praise of the latest Hootie and the Blowfish album. But nothing even close to a resurrection of the critical high form has emerged on the internet in any but a precious few sites who still consider cultural analysis a worthy pursuit (PopMatters, Pitchfork, Idolator, and incredible MP3 sites like 20jazzfunkgreats.


Most of the MP3 sites I read are quite simply diary dumps of links with dreary anecdotes that even their friends must find tedious. This absorption of music criticism into a peripheral adjunct of Facebook narcissism is particularly troubling if the medium has any hope of producing greatness. The usual entry goes as follows: I went to a party the other night, my boyfriend broke up with me, here’s ten unauthorized songs to download. That’s a defamation of the tangent and about as critically astute as the iPod shuffle. Perhaps the incestuous bond between criticism and commerce was so thorough that their downward fate was duly entwined. It could also be that a review that aspires to be no more than a description makes little sense in a technological environment where individuals can instantly access the actual sound over second hand adjectives and analogies.  I can’t help but wonder if this is simply connected to the death of larger cultural figures of achievement (with the exception of Spencer and Heidi from The Hills).


Lester Bangs, Jim Derogatis, David Fricke, they all seem like part of a dying breed of critic that believed in music criticism as an intensive study of history, politics and exhaustive rock genealogies. I can easily see myself throwing the Sasha Frere-Jones gauntlet down, blaming the blogosphere for a coarsening retardation of culture or for not being black enough, but I’m really just curious about why people seem less interested in theorizing, critiquing and following ideas beyond a faint flicker and a halfwit’s retort. I’m in no way suggesting that I am spending my greatness inheritance; more likely, I’m mourning the fact that it is inexplicably out of my grasp.


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Friday, Apr 25, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Denmark's Fashion has been around since 2003, but the group only recently made their North American debut at SXSW this past March. Look for their US debut record this summer on Epic Records. You can check out a preview EP on iTunes now.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Tough one, but I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was the last one that really got to me.


2. The fictional character most like you?
The nameless narrator of the book Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. Obviously, it later on became a Hollowood box office hit movie. So, if you´re too lazy for the book just watch the movie, because it still hits a sore spot in almost everyone. A clver way of sticking it to “the man” and I am all for that.


3. The greatest album, ever?
Live After Death by Iron Maiden, a concert recording from Los Angeles at the peak of their carrer in ´85 with a bunch of songs from a brilliant back catalogue. That album always takes me back.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars for sure. I am an official memeber of the Hyper Space community at StarWars.com so I am almost religious about that. My apartment is overflowing with Star Wars gear. I used to play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit once a week a few years back. We stopped because we all knew all the questions by heart.


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