Reviews

EAT II: A Collection of Words and Pictures by Robert Pollard

Andy Fogle

It's hard to find any meaningful distinction between Pollard's poems and his songs, other than the latter generally work, and the former generally don't.


Eat Ii

Publisher: Rockathon Records
Length: 56
Subtitle: A Collection of Words and Pictures
Price: $12.00
Author: Robert Pollard
Amazon
Making the private world public, that's what the poet does.
-- Allen Ginsberg

Anything too stupid to be said is sung.
-- Voltaire

Rockathon Records, publisher and merch-site of Pollard himself, refers to EAT as "Bob Pollard's literary magazine", but most literary magazines publish more than one voice. When they include artwork, most literary magazines present more than one artist. Most litmags have an editor -- or even two! -- deciding what goes in and out, and if editors' work ever appears in the magazine, it is limited to reviews or commentary. Most are open to submissions from the outside world. Bob Pollard's? None of the above. Here are two ways to react to EAT:

1. This ain't no literary magazine! Guy's just passing off another batch of Budweiser-laden surrealism that he habitually concocts in his Dayton dives. 2. Oh, it's a litmag all right -- Bob's and only Bob's. One guy, one vision. Isn't there something cool about that?

I wouldn't care so much about the semantics or the self-publishing factor if EAT were much good, but it isn't. Bless Bob for his efforts, but this thing is 95% boring. What is it? 41 poems that read like Pollard's songs, but without the music, and 33 collages, which look, with a few beautiful exceptions, like rejected album art.

There is a long and generally lame history of musicians venturing into publishing poetry: Lou Reed, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Jeff Tweedy, Billy Corgan, Jewel, Tupac. While I am a good old classic indie rock boy, the only music-poetry leap I've been compelled by is David Berman's Actual Air. Otherwise? Ranaldo should stick with music. Corgan, Jewel, and Tupac are just laughable flukes as poets. And Lou Reed, one of my absolute heroes, repeatedly hailed as the greatest living rock'n'roll poet, the most literary songwriter, deserves such accolades, but I find it very, very hard to actually read him.

The problem is the page versus the stage. Jeff McDaniel, while discussing performance poetry in an old issue of a (real) literary magazine called Hyper Age, said "While I believe that poems should work on the page, the stage is the place where poetry comes closest to magic." He's right: poetry is our oldest form of literature, was originally oral, and, at its best, still sings the best through a live human voice in touch with the physical and intellectual forces of language. So one might think/hope that music-folks would write amazing poetry. Here is "Apparent Ecstasies and Hardcore Scores":

Got it all on a string
nicely built
and breathing in

Coming at you
faster and faster

A modern disaster

Marching to the cut-off point
still alive

Standing outside

Humble no doubt

It could start

All…
Over…
Again…

This actually strikes me as an okay poem, but it's also an example of the kind of writing that needs music, which supports words in a way the page simply cannot. Consider how much emotional, physical, and logical work guitars, bass, and drums do -- all the arrangement, the shifts in volume, the spacing, the variation of pace, harmony, dissonance. It all works in a way that we can feel what is central, what is peripheral, what is the core, what is development.

In the October 2005 issue of Poetry, Daisy Fried reviews the new Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World's Best Poems, and takes issue with Paglia's assessment of Joni Mitchell's version of "Woodstock". Fried asserts that Mitchell's performance has "a layer of complexity the rather paltry lyrics alone don't convey. Of course poetry and song are related...They're also quite different. To appreciate Mitchell, I needed a CD...Good song. Still not a good poem" (51). It's hard to find any meaningful distinction between Pollard's poems and his songs, other than the latter generally work, and the former generally don't.

Pollard's lyrics often sound like (and read like, and probably are) cobbled together fragments, impressionistic images, slivers of wordplay, sing-song surrealism, and I've always appreciated, even cherished, his best work for that very quality. But this magazine makes me realize, as I realize when I try to read Reed's lyrics as poetry, that music is crucial support and compliment for Pollard's lyrics, because when the words are all alone on the page, they can't stand. I bet "Apparent Ecstasies and Hardcore Scores" could work pretty well as a 60-second song with Pollard's odd chord progressions, his sonic nerve, his intonation, his spit -- but as a poem on a page, it's pretty mediocre.

I once overheard Mike Watt giving an interview at a booth at the Black Cat in DC, and he mentioned how the Minutemen were influenced by the tension between some paintings and their titles, the gap the viewer must at least behold and maybe even fill in.

Pollard's collages create the same gap, their number one technique being surrealist juxtaposition. The magazine's cover shows the portrait of a decorated military officer on what looks like a ratty green plaster wall, with the officer's face obscured by a moth -- it's called "A Tolerant Gloss Can Complete". The title pushes the Magritte-rip-off into interesting territory, but all in all? Eh.

The center spread, on the other hand, works well as both stunning image and creepy narrative. A line of three suited men stand at a control board, while the close-up of a sleeping man faces down at them on a giant roll of film. It's called "The Discreditors" and does a good job of going beyond the shock of juxtaposition, creating its own autonomous atmosphere, and suggesting a kind of media-political paranoia as these three suited men twiddle knobs during a topless man's sleep.

I want "Blindness" in my house. Divided into two halves, this most abstract of Pollard's collages evokes Rothko and Warhol. The bottom half is just a fuscia rectangle with a dark, uneven line at the bottom; the top is the rust-colored close-up of a pair of slightly parted lips -- and that's it. It's as if Pollard quiets the noisemaking juxtapositions with something less ra-ra and therefore, something we can more easily trust as being attention-worthy.

"Blindness" works in a way that none of the other poems or collages do. It doesn't try as hard as others with their longer, wackier titles ("Program Seed Telecopter" -- yeah, yeah Bob, to quote Lou Barlow, same old say mold), their more wannabe-shocking juxtapositions (cartoon lightning bolts in a woman's eye, the top of a bald head foregrounding a black and white photo of a house in winter), their excessively mere wordplay ("Smelling Cleveland by the Pond"). After a short while, we know the techniques, we know the poses, and they simply get old like the last several GBV years.

Then again, I don't know that EAT pretends to be anything more than what it is: a new outlet for Bob's creative impulses. He has exemplified the DIY ethic for a couple of decades now, and his writing method has always been slaphappy, what with an average of around 20 songs per album after album after album. Part of that ethic seems to be, "I write a dozen songs a day, put them out, and screw it." I don't exactly fault that, as the un-self-consciousness sometimes makes for awesome surprise.

(Incidentally, there's the sincere tongue in the sly cheek of his song-publisher's name, Needmore Songs, so he's aware of how obsessively he produces work, which predictably, ranges from the brilliant to the instantly skippable. There is also a funny graphic on the Rockathon site, speaking to Pollard's prolific carelessness, and his attitude about the production and reception of all this, well, stuff.)

I can also say that strictly in terms of price and product, EAT is a relative steal at 12 bucks for 24 pages of full-color collages and 41 poems. So it beats the hell out of other such books of poetry, art, and litmag ventures in that respect, and I can't say I'm even interested enough to be disappointed in most of those. I doubt there's much, if any, money being made, and I reckon that Pollard puts this stuff out simply because he makes it; it's what he does, and to be fair, it is a unique piece of work, maybe not so much for Pollard, but it is an intriguing convergence of the rock, poetic, and art worlds. I'm glad for its "difference", but difference doesn't make it much good.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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