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

 
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Thursday, Nov 11, 2010
by Jake Cleland
Indie couldn’t exist as it is without punk and, while it may lack the anarchical, rebellious fervor of punk culture, indie is still the voice of the current generation.

A couple of days ago, I was chatting with this girl over beers about indie music. She was telling me that indie has gone from a philosophy to just a loosely defined category, and I realised the same thing happened with punk music. When I tried to tell her this, she told me she had no idea what punk music was. Needless to say, the date went poorly after that, but on the train ride home I started thinking: is indie the new punk?


First, we have to start with a definition. Indie literally refers to a band that records, produces, and releases its material outside the major label cabal, so already from that definition you can see how close it is, ideologically, to punk. You probably have a slightly different definition, but I transposed this one from what is traditionally agreed makes a film indie, though in both cases we know there are more elements. Twilight is technically an indie film, but when you think of indie films, you’d have a hard time putting it next to Brick or Clerks or whatever your favourite indie film is, yet they’re all still independently produced.


In 1975, the youth of the two greatest cities of the Western world, London and New York City, were trying to reconnect with rock’s new spirit. Their solution was punk. The music was loud, fast, and aggressive, but also simple. In a 1995 interview, Joey Ramone of the Ramones said “We wanted the kids to feel they could go out and do this too.” The kids felt isolated, but they had a lot to say, and now they had the avenue to say it. This accessibility was lost by the time the ‘80s rolled around. The three chords that were the backbone of punk were replaced with complicated solos and greater emphasis on technical aptitude. The elitism was restored to music. Then came the Millennials. Told they could do anything, that they were all delicate little snowflakes, unique, filled with potential, they ignored the obstacles and the unreality of becoming a famous musician and took up instruments anyway.


Tagged as: indie rock, punk
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Wednesday, Oct 13, 2010
Weezer fans’ disappointment with the group's recent albums may have less to do with how the band has changed than with how nerds everywhere have changed, Rivers Cuomo included.

That the quality of Weezer’s musical production has been in steady decline since the 1996 release of Pinkerton has been fairly well established. The Quorum of Pre-teen Girls that make up the band’s current fan base may have different things to say about it, but to more critical ears, or even just those who happen to enjoy loud music and ‘90s nostalgia, Weezer’s segue into the pop mainstream has been deeply disappointing.


However, in some ways, the pop cultural cluelessness represented in Weezer’s post-Pinkerton work speaks loudly for the authenticity of its contribution to the greater nerd aesthetic. The band’s late musical awkwardness draws interesting parallels to the social awkwardness of nerds everywhere, and as nerd-dom itself has undergone unsettling changes in the last ten years, similar changes in Weezer’s music somewhat validates its original positioning within that tradition. Weezer fans’ disappointment with the group’s recent albums may have less to do with how the band has changed than with how nerds everywhere have changed, Rivers Cuomo included. Even if Weezer’s newer music has no value in its own right, it may somewhat authenticate one particularly culturally important aspect of their first two albums, even solidify their rightful place with other nerd-friendly bands like Devo and They Might Be Giants.


Tagged as: weezer
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Wednesday, Sep 22, 2010
The author is expected to not only justify the album’s existence, but to justify the need to write about it in the first place. Is it any wonder then that such an intensely personal (and often defensive) writing tends to veer towards positivism?

Is there a more loathed creature out there than the music critic? Despite ranking somewhere between politician and lawyer in the public consciousness, the conflation of the Internet’s girth has seen the sheer volume of critics expand seismically. This, in and of itself, does not implicitly suggest a growth in demand, but the correlating rise in the layman’s musical knowledge (thanks to the bottomless resource of the Internet) suggests that music criticism is a desirable vice, like celebrity tabloids, gambling, or drugs. We dislike the idea of it, but we simply cannot tear ourselves away from the bottomless pit of consumption (in this instance, information and media consumption). 


The critics themselves share a portion of the fault in their poor public opinion, of course. The traditional music press in its heyday so seamlessly transformed itself into a placard for record labels and big box stores—churning out consumer reviews rather than focusing on relevant conversations about art in the age of access—that it hardly seems surprising that a new journal folds every couple of weeks. Nose-elevating cultural analysts have been quick to point out, with more than a hint of schadenfreude, that consumer reviews make little sense in an era when you can just stream or download the album yourself before purchasing (if the actual buying of music is even considered at all).  The conversation, they say, needs to go further than a friendly recommendation.


Tagged as: music criticism
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Wednesday, Sep 1, 2010
A long string of cribbed beats and run together pop references, "Alejandro" is a song truly made up of nothing, not even bothering to revel in its vacuity.

Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” is an artistic tailspin from the recent heights of singles like “Bad Romance” and “Telephone”. Pop artifacts that borrow heavily from their forbears must contain some framework of originality; a difference must coincide with the sameness so as not come off as plain stealing. Lady Gaga has not even attempted this with “Alejandro”. She not so much stands as stomps on the shoulders of giants like Madonna, ABBA, and lesser wits like Ace of Base. A long string of cribbed beats and run-together pop references, “Alejandro” is a song truly made up of nothing, not even bothering to revel in its vacuity. Sure, the song is catchy and danceable, but considering the level of work that came before it, a simple pop song is a letdown. A stolen one is a tragedy.


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Thursday, Aug 26, 2010
Throughout 'The Suburbs', Arcade Fire seems completely ill-equipped to understand both where it came from and, more pressingly, where it is now. That kind of tunnel vision is what leads the band to articulate such an uncritical urban bias.

Despite what the current consensus indicates, the members of Arcade Fire do not know a heck of a lot about urban planning. If they did, they’d realize that the suburbs they so bemoan emerged out of the various neighborhoods they constructed back in 2004. And that’s usually what occurs when any locale draws enough hype/praise/critical attention that legions of people migrate to it. Growth happens. It’s just as inevitable as finding a Starbucks in Manhattan.



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The question of whether or not that growth is a good thing—for the band, for “society”—is really a separate consideration. The more pressing matter, now that “universal acclaim” has been bestowed upon the band’s latest album The Suburbs, is simply recognizing the irony inherent in the album’s core lament: Arcade Fire have sprawled outward, musically and conceptually, like so many strip malls. Also, Bruce Springsteen grew up in Freehold, NJ, which is suburban at best.


If Funeral was close to home, and Neon Bible gestured toward grand universality, then The Suburbs occupies that middle space—a space between close-knit familial relationships and the wide world outside of them, where your own private prison feels big enough to incarcerate everyone.


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