Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Wednesday, Jun 5, 2013
The biggest surprise of Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires of the City is that it's a deeply God-haunted album, with Ezra Koenig posing some questions that don't have answers.

On Vampire Weekend’s first two LPs, lead singer and lyricist Ezra Koenig name-dropped Lil’ Jon, Peter Gabriel, and Jackson Crowder (identity not important) more times than he did God. In fact, Koenig’s lone reference to the divine was merely colloquial in nature: On “I Stand Corrected”, he sings, “Lord knows I haven’t tried”. That hardly counts. Though memorable, Koenig’s lyrical concerns back then didn’t register as all that weighty or ruminative. They instead had the mark of privileged, idle-time eccentricity, e.g. punctuation distinctions, sartorial refinement, and milky Spanish beverages. What came to the fore through such imagery, especially on the band’s eponymous debut, was a vivid sense of place. Fleshed-out themes weren’t a priority.


On this count, Vampire Weekend’s newly released third record—far and away its best—is a much different and more interesting animal. Though Koenig hasn’t jettisoned his colorful and digressive wordplay, Modern Vampires of the City comes through as a very theme-driven collection of songs. Both the sunny Ivy League provincialism of the band’s debut and the confident post-undergraduate worldliness of Contra are in the rear-view. In their place: aging, death, and the Man Upstairs, the last of these perhaps most overtly. Modern Vampires of the City is indeed a deeply God-haunted work, with song titles that include “Unbelievers”, “Everlasting Arms”, “Worship You”, and “Ya Hey” (think “Yahweh”). Now Koenig doesn’t give any indication he himself is a believer (more often just the opposite), but there is a recurring sense of engagement with God throughout the album, a sense of wrestling with the implications and impossibilities of faith. By accident or, more likely, by design, this builds and builds until Koenig puts everything on the table and addresses God directly.


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Thursday, Apr 11, 2013
Harmony Korine’s film plays games with both the audience’s and the character’s perception of reality, fantasy, and familiarity. The various ways the music is employed throughout the film helps confuse, disorient, or ground us, and the play between diegetic and non-diegetic music brings us in and out of the characters’ perspective.

Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is a film that’s easy to get lost in. It’s presented with nonlinear storytelling, montages of seemingly unrelated spring breaking, and repeated lines of dialogue, all in a wash of neon colors and excess. The music helps the audience remain grounded in reality and stabilizes the chaotic world we’re immersed in.


But it’s not just the audience that needs grounding. The film follows four young college students (portrayed by Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) on their adventures to St. Petersburg, Florida for spring break. The girls desperately want a break from their monotonous reality and see the vacation as a chance for them to find themselves, let loose, and have fun. Once they arrive, the young girls get involved in some heavy partying, and then, facilitated by their new leader, Alien (James Franco), a fair amount of crime. It is a world of fantasy for them, as it is for us. To them, it is world where their responsibilities disappear and they are free to party. They tell each other to “act like it’s a videogame” before they rob a local eatery to get the money needed for the trip. But given the non-linear editing effects, use of slow motion, and the aggressive soundtrack, complete with loud gunshot noises for scene changes, one begins to question whether the events of the story are meant to be taken as fantasy entirely.


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Tuesday, Nov 27, 2012
The music industry seems to be aggressively reactive, either spurning technology with a kind of evangelical vehemence or taking far too long to figure out how to use technology to the advantage of all involved. Is it possible that the music business could learn something from the porn business?

Stereogum recently published an article discussing the difficulties that musicians have in receiving revenue from services like Spotify and Pandora. The piece provides a good overview of the larger problem while also linking to various other blog and Tumblr. posts that have taken up this very same question, so I won’t retrace those arguments here. (However, I will rather cantankerously point out that, once again, there is no real deconstructive work happening in these Deconstructing: [X] thinkpieces.)


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Thursday, Sep 13, 2012
I use music as a viable source of empowerment: it is capable of conjuring up words and concepts that are oblique, or pretentious, or all-too-easily invoked, expedient for folks who ardently need a way to articulate the feeling they either can’t quite explain or desperately wish to get in touch with.

In a piece I recommend you read at The Rumpus, Amber Sparks, a non-believer, discusses matters of faith, spirituality, and art. The piece is entitled “Seeking Grace in Strange Places”, and I think that title is fine. I do find it curious, being a recalcitrant agnostic myself, that Sparks would consider writing (especially poetry) a “strange” place to seek grace. For at least two reasons. One, I think writing (in particular, art in general) is not only not a strange place, it’s the ideal place. Second, this sentiment presupposes (and I’m not deliberately picking on Sparks or even trying to quibble over semantics) that, say, a church is not a strange place. Indeed, one could counter, with minimal snark and maximum truth, that there are many things strange about looking for—much less hoping or claiming to find—grace, or God, in a building designated for that purpose. For starters, it’s a sanctioned endeavor, turning the transmission of spiritual release into an act approved by a professional, like taking medication that a doctor prescribed.


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Thursday, Jun 21, 2012
Really, do we need another article posted on the Internet that ponders the paradigm-shifting possibilities posed by that very same Internet? Right now, I’m just not sure that we do.

Writing for The A.V. Club in late March 2012, Scott Plagenhoef considered the potentially destructive effects of Tumblr on the creation and distribution of contemporary music.  “Is Internet culture turning musicians into content-producers?” his subtitle asks.


The article was interesting enough, but it left me unsettled for a few reasons, not the least of which was the question of when, exactly, musicians haven’t been “content-producers” in some shape or form.  However, what I found most troublesome about the post was the rather hackneyed claim that, yet again, the Internet has changed music forever.


Really, do we need another article posted on the Internet that ponders the paradigm-shifting possibilities posed by that very same Internet?  Right now, I’m just not sure that we do.


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