Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In response

Alright, I said I wasn't going to do this but my response to Kitsch's comment on my last post was so long that I decided to just post it to see what other people say (although he's the only one that responds anymore, you douche bags.)

Cookie Mountain and YS are tough albums and Silent Shout isn't quite everyones cup o' tea. Liars being in the top 10 at all is bizarre, that album is great but more difficult than the rest of the top ten put together. I like that 2006 was a year of great, complicated albums and I like that Pitchfork is not really compromising too much when it comes to reader accessibility vs. straight up good albums.

I don't know what to think about silent shout being number one, though. a lot of people did like it, but in my opinion the second half is a bit lackluster, and the lyrics aren't really anything special (I'm dancing for dollars/for a fancy man).

Not that I expect them to wow me with their English considering they're, what, sweeeeeedish? Its just that I feel calling something a great ALBUM and ranking it against other ALBUMS presumes that an album is a cohesive collection of songs that all speak in the same direction. The Knife has got itself a good cohesive sound going, sure, but nothing in the album really feels like they had a mission in mind. It feels more like they've got a good sound and ... what ... what else?
More to come??? I don't know. I dont have opinions anymore. I'm a barrel of opinions with the bottom cork pulled.


Anonymous said...

Did you see? Andrew Bird is looking for street teamers, free tickets!

Ryan said...

Contrary to what Alex said, I would've expected The Hold Steady to score higher. I saw them recently at the Black Cat and every track from the new record rocked my face off. The crowd, myself included, sang every back-up vocal part while Craig did his shtick. I bought it all: the literary wit, the drunken fervor, the "woah-ohs," and the no-bullshit, blue collar rock-sans-pretense. Craig Finn is both thoughtful (read: brilliant) and entirely accessible (read: brilliant).

The Knife? #1? Really? Maybe I just don't get it. I'm generally not into the electronic aesthetic, but I can admit "Heartbeats" warms the soul. Still, the overall record is definitely not my bag. I second the "wtf?"

I was sure the fork would put TVOTR at #1. Big rock anthems, catchy as hell, yet filled with really interesting sounds and top-notch production. Also, werewolves. Fucking werewolves, what more could you want? I guess #2 will have to suffice.

Ryan said...

Also, it's a lacklust(er) year when "My Love" is the top single. I'm not saying it's not catchy, I'm just saying it's no "Hey Ya" or "Since U Been Gone." Hell, it's no "Cry Me A River."

And where the hell was "Crazy" on the list? Overplayed, sure, but for a damn good reason.

2007, show me what you got... shorty.

Ryan said...

PS This video should've made some kind of list:

Alex said...

Opinions being what they are, I'm not going to try to change anyone's, but we can play like we're getting paid for this (actually, maybe Ryan is. Are you?)

The lyric thing is whatever, I know nothing about the Dreijer siblings' first language, although my guess from interviews is that their english is as good or better than mine, yrs, or Ryan's. Maybe yr being sarcastic with that comment - and you'd be an asshole for trying to engage me in sarcasm, cos you know I don't pick up on that shit internet- or reality-wise.

But, again people with their crazy opinions, I would take the Knife's lyrics anyday, cos I think that they are effective (and affective) for being so direct. So Karin Dreijer doesn't say shit like "thee," "sassafrass," and "sysephus," which is awesome, cos the last thing I want to hear while listening to an electronic album are literary god damn lyrics. Maybe that's yr biggest problem with it, actually, cos the lyric complaint is in some respect like me saying, "Dude that fucking Joanna Newsom cd has some pretty harp shit, but where were the fucking beats, dude, I expected the club doors to blow off!" I'm playing dumb a bit, cos the lyrics are a focus of the Knife, but my larger point being that if given a chance to name "5 things Andrew doesn't like about Silent Shout" I would say "lyrics" first, maybe second if I hadn't had my morning coffee. So calling it both "lacklustre" and not very good on the lyrics front tells me a lot more about you than the album. So some people think the lyrics are perfect, me included. "Now I can't think no more / I was so concentrated / On keeping things together / I've learned to focus on / I didn't want to disappoint / Now where is everybody / Is it still light outside?" = most heartbreaking ending on a 2006 album I heard. The way the lyrics work with the pitch modulations thrown on Karin Dreijer's voice on "One Hit" is more packed with nuance than anything Joanna Newsom lifted off The Faerie Queen. And this, "Sitting and picking on myself / It's a shiny, shiny morning / And when the light finds my eye / I'll be fleeting like a scent," manages to be as ugly as it is beautiful ("picking on myself" + "fleeting like a scent" = super ambivalence, I love it). Oh, and both of those are from the last half of the album. You may not like those quotes, which is cool, but you really shouldn't bring yr quirky, literary taste to an electronic record and expect to come out fully satisfied.

Secondly, the puritanical "album as Album" meme really needs to be fucking dropped, dude. It's bullshit and you know it. How is Silent Shout any less (or more!) of an album than Cookie Mtn, Girls and Boys, Ys, or hell here's a REALLY good, more "disjointed" or whatever album that I know you drool over, So This Is Goodbye?! Tell me about how to find this Album with "a cohesive collection of songs that all SPEAK in the same direction?" Obviously we're talking about lyrics again, right? Well you don't like the Knife's lyrics, so I won't take up yr time explaining to you why the themes and style of Silent Shout make an incredibly cohesive statement, you know, "speaking" in the same direction or whatever, so instead I'll challenge you on something else. If Silent Shout "has got a good COHESIVE sound going," then why can't that also be "the mission?" (Sidenote: "The mission?" When did music start sounding like military ops? 9/11 really did change everything!) In one sentence please, I need the mission, purpose, essence, strain, theme, or whatever of each album you like from this year. You see it's some hangover ideal way back from "way back when Albums mattered, man!" Moreover, it's an ideal that only gets mobilized as a negative criticism, rarely ever is it something that someone marks out as a positive. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to praise an album for being, "finally, the ultimate Album!" Either way you push it, it's a completely uncritical statement, lacking any engagement with the disc on its own terms. So what's worse?

bassguy180 said...

Paid? People get money for writing things?

Actually, I'm at work right now, so in a sense I am getting paid for writing this comment. (yep, listening to phoenix and commenting on blogs... what a job)

Alex, I can't say I fully agree with you on the "anti-album meme" thing. I think I understand where you're coming from--eschewing an outdated critical tradition of what a [rock] album "should" be. However, there is definitely a difference between a cohesive album and a collection of good songs. Otherwise, I would buy more Greatest Hits records.

good album:
Radiohead - Kid A
good songs:
Phoenix - It's Never Been like That

"The album" is important in its ability to come together regardless of (a lack of) singles. The new Hold Steady record for example--there aren't any singles that jump out at me on that album, but overall it kicks ass. It demands to be listened to on its own terms and as a whole.

I like The Strokes. "Last Night" is an awesome single. Still, I like all the songs on that first record. However, when I first heard Room on Fire, no individual song jumped out to me as exceptionally catchy. Yet, the album as a whole offers such a consistent musical direction that I ended up enjoying it way more than the previous album. The same deal with Broken Social Scene. The songs from You Forgot It In People stand up on their own way better than those on the recent eponymous record, but I prefer the big, textured, cohesive sound of the newer album.

Anyhow, that's just my thoughts on the matter. What do you think of books of poetry/short fiction as compared to literary "best of" compilations?

Alex said...

I understand wanting to see an album come together, but I also don't think one that does is qualitatively better than one that doesn't, or "one that is a good collection of songs," just to keep the language consistent. It's a question of use-value, innit? Well, I guess to an extent, even though I'm sure that if we all dig hard enough each of us can find albums that match both qualities (i.e., Born to Run for me!), but we should probably say there is a hard and fast difference just for the sake of clarity and argumentation. Anyway.

I want to come out now and say that I'm not anti-album so much as I'm anti-"idea of the Album as critical tool/takedown." Why? Well, because what makes an album an Album generally lacks definition and substance. To go back to the Knife record, it has a cohesive sound but somehow it isn't a cohesive record because it lacks... something else. As to whether or not you have that feeling, whatever, I can't make anyone like Silent Shout, but when it starts taking the form of criticism* I start getting uncomfortable. And the biggest problem of the "it doesn't feel like ..." is that such a line becomes really easily defeated once someone raises their hands and says, "Um, but I do feel like the album is cohesive through and through!" Or even, "Um, but I don't think it needs to be cohesive through and through, because I get this kind of value out of it." I mean, I'm trying in some sense to just ask for a more nimble form of criticism (which might mean that criticism become altogether form-less, or at least more malleable to what the album itself is trying to do). The Knife is maybe not the best example for me to argue, because I think it is a perfect length, has a definite movement, and ends exactly where and how I want it to. I can't really come up with a better example, but maybe Boris is actually a good one. That album fucking kills with a big ass sword, although I don't think it really has a particular course or drive. Just to rock. Which, again, is what it does and it does it well.

Basically, what I mean to say is that the album need not be the model for qualifying artistry, "Best Albums of the Year" being the title or not. I mean, if one of the main gripes is that "album" becomes too broadly construed, then, well, okay. But I think that "Best Albums..." is more a matter of format and cost than genre or feeling.

And as to yr last question, it really is a matter of use-value. If I am a professor and if I want to teach a bunch of poems out of a literary "best of" compilation, I'm not going to make my students buy a bunch of books for one or two poems. They come down to completely different things, needs, etc. I actually wonder why it is that the question you ask is in fact the perennial question whenever a conversation like this happens? They both serve their functions, don't they?

*And in this respect I'm not even responding to Andrew so much as I am responding to a much larger thing about the "blogosphere," which is basically popularity by free-mp3 and hit count. Blogging has put too much personality into thinking about music. By saying that I don't mean that I want stat-automatons a la Pandora or Gnod, but that too often music gets bandied bigged up and taken down with little more than a thumbs up or thumbs down. There's very little of substance in music writing these days. Man, I sound fucking OLD.

Alex said...

And I should also point out that I have nothing but love for Andrew and his writing (and sometimes his taste). My writing tends to be more caustic than my actual personality, the latter of which is timid and unstable.

(That's for all the mystery people who must think I'm the biggest asshole in the world.)(And if you think that, fuck you.)

Cap'n Guthrie said...

I don't expect silent shout to sound like Ys. I never said The Knife need to be literary english PhDs. Big words do not a great poem make, I understand that more than anyone as you know. though, I don't claim to think that poetry and lyrics are that close to each other in the literary pie graph in the sky, I think its pretty safe to say that both are pretty damn similar. I also know that non-english speaking bands can wow me with their words. bjork: great lyrics, not primarily an english speaker. So I know its faulty logic to say that a band can't write good english lyrics if they're not english speakers, I was being half-sarcastic there, yes. and also far be it from me to have researched the history of those twins, I dont know maybe they grew up on an american navy base? maybe their father was JRR Tolkien?

I think your faulty logic lies in thinking that I automatically went to the "rockist" (or whatever the fuck) view of an album before thinking about it. rather, what I meant was that a list comprised entirely of Albums (capital A) must in some way naturally produce some sort of qualification for what makes Album 1 better than Album 2. Part of Pitchfork's deflector shield comes from the multitude of voices who obviously have different opinions on what a good Album is.

lets explore for a moment: what is great album? a collection of singles a la The Strokes? a cohesive story from beginning to end a la Mastodon? Songs that bleed into each other a la Abbey Road? Well the obvious answer is: all of those.

In my OPINION which is the key word of music journalism here, Alex, I prefer albums that sound cohesive, with songs that all work like intertwining jungle gym bars. I never said that I disliked Silent Shout for being an album that wasn't like this, I just felt that Pitchfork tends to choose albums for the same reason that I do.
Look at 2005: Illinois. one of the most overthought concept albums of all time (and in a series of concept albums!). 2004: #1 Arcade fire (shudder) whose first four songs all have the same title and bleed into each other. #2 Sung Tongs: "acoustic strums and wild, flailing voices ... coalesce into something sublimely weird and undeniably beautiful." #3: A Grand Dont Come For Free: more of a story with different tunes than a concept album.
2003: #1 The Rapture: Echoes : okay this doesnt fit the mold, but I will say it was as a surprise to me then as it is now (partially because that album was so much more mediocre than everyone thought in my opinion)
#2: the lemon of pink: "the strict construction of a storybook is at work here"
#3: our friend Sufjan again w/ Michigan.

top 100 albums of 1990s
#1: OK Computer, duh

top 100 albums of 1970s
#1 Low: David Bowie: "Low was the most potent and encompassing hybridization of pop music's many modes to that point, an album that continues to resonate as a syncretic masterpiece three decades later."

I mean, I could go on, but my point is made: Pitchfork typcally chooses albums with a cohesive statement rather than a collection of singles. Now, I don't think that Silent Shout isn't cohesive. In fact I love the album. I feel that the second half is not really as good as the first, but it's not unlistenably bad like the second half of Candy-o or something. I also find that there is a disjoint between their pumping sonics like the first two tracks and we share our mother's health and then the slow brooding (sometimes boring to me) of Na Na Na.

I feel like The Knife would have been in the top ten, no doubt, my surprise was that they didnt choose the obvious choice like TOTR or Newsom, I mean, even you said those would be obvious and why the fuck are they so obvious? because they are great albums? what else would there be? besides the most talked about albums? and they're only the most talked about because so many people love them!

I find your knee jerk reaction to my analysis of Pitchfork's top ten kind of insulting. especially since I planned on not spending too much thought on it because Pitchfork is only the be-all end-all of music when it comes to cash money.

Alex said...

Point taken, and sorry for sounding insulting but I own every word I wrote. I still disagree with you but it obviously isn't worth spending anymore time or energy talking past each other.

Cap'n Guthrie said...

actually, ok computer isn't as duh as I lead it to be. it isn't very cohesive of an album, probably as cohesive as Silent Shout. I feel the same way about ok computer that I do about Silent Shout, I'm not a huge fan of the second half of ok computer. Granted it is my favorite album of the 90s (so far) but I rescind the "duh"ness of that album.

Also: alex yr point about "Blogging has put too much personality into thinking about music" I dont know why this is a bad thing? I think the point and click, mp3 leak-fest is kind of a bad thing (though I partake in it): it hurts the artists pocketbooks and feelings. but overall I don't know when in the past or when in the future or when in the present that music journalism has ever been about anything but personality? I like the fact that there is a multitude of folks listening because ultimately musical taste is subjective. Evanescence might not be the blogosphere's cup of tea, but Fluxblog sure likes that new track. Ya know?

the barrel is running low, I'm scraping that last opinion sludge from the bottom.

bassguy180 said...

and hoes.
Pitchfork is only the be-all end-all of music when it comes to cash money and hoes.


also, I think my preference of Album to album stems from the fact that there's already a top singles list. For me, it makes sense to have a singles list with the best songs (on which I don't think The Hold Steady belongs) and then an album list with the best Albums. When I think of "the best -Album- of the year," I expect (for whatever reason, bias or otherwise) to get the feeling of something that's overarchingly epic (ie Blood Mountain, etc) or anti-epic (ie Kid A) or something... that is to say, it doesn't have to be "epic" in a greek, patriarchal (or rockist) sense, but I definitely look for a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. But like Andrew said, it's kind of a subjective standard.

ps Beans--lighten up. we all think yr a good writer and (usually) have good taste. ;)

Alex said...

Yes, I see what you mean, but I'm trying to point out that "personality" gets conveyed by how much yr taste resembles this anonymous mp3 blogger who likes to hand out the goods, no charge. There are obvious benefits and drawbacks to that whole phenomenon, and I have no doubt that I'm being a bit unnecessarily grandpa-ish about responding to what really is just a new period in marketing and dissemination, but whatever. Truth is, I know a couple writers with lots of personality (the kind that makes you want to read more of their articles, the kind that makes you think about the music beyond good or bad, the kind that makes you want to actually engage a record instead of just listening to it) who also can't get jobs. I should maybe revise my statement to say that I think there actually isn't enough "personality" in music writing anymore, cos all of it gets caught up in a proliferation of faceless mp3 blogs. Or at least the kind of personality I want out of writing/criticism (the kind by people like JT Ramsay, for example!) just doesn't have a place in the market anymore. I mean, I don't if you've heard about this, but it smells all kinds of shitty to me.

Okra Mary said...

I would respond more if my bloglines feed wasn't fucking up all the time. Also, I e-mailed you and you didn't e-mail me back.

I mean, I guess the message didn't really warrant a message back..but c'mon...it's the holidays!