Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Eric Clapton's Evil Speech

There's no mention of Eric Clapton on this blog. That makes sense--Clapton is not an especially relevant figure, and any honest assessment of his recent work must note how terrible it is (my dad occasionally buys Clapton releases, and this is certainly my impression). With a few exceptions, I don't care for his music, which I find boring and devoid of meaningful emotional content. Basically, I dislike Eric Clapton because I dislike Eric Clapton's music.

Recently, however, I came across a Clapton quote that almost defies words, and a very good reason to dislike Eric Clapton as a human being. It's from a 1976 concert in Birmingham, Enlgand:
Do we have any foreigners in the audience tonight? If so, please put up your hands. Wogs I mean, I'm looking at you. Where are you? I'm sorry but some fucking wog...Arab grabbed my wife's bum, you know? Surely got to be said, yeah this is what all the fucking foreigners and wogs over here are like, just disgusting, that's just the truth, yeah. So where are you? Well wherever you all are, I think you should all just leave. Not just leave the hall, leave our country. You fucking (indecipherable). I don't want you here, in the room or in my country. Listen to me, man! I think we should vote for Enoch Powell. Enoch's our man. I think Enoch's right, I think we should send them all back. Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I'm into racism. It's much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans and fucking [indecipherable] don't belong here, we don't want them here. This is England, this is a white country, we don't want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don't want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards. This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck's sake? We need to vote for Enoch Powell, he's a great man, speaking truth. Vote for Enoch, he's our man, he's on our side, he'll look after us. I want all of you here to vote for Enoch, support him, he's on our side. Enoch for Prime Minister! Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white! [source]
It's an unusually clear statement of principles. You might note that an anti-immigration position doesn't necessarily imply racism, but that's an irrelevant argument here, given the torrent of racial slurs and white supremacist rhetoric.

Enoch Powell, incidentally, was a right-wing British politician, most famous for his "Rivers Of Blood" speech, which decried immigration to the UK in the harshest possible terms. In the speech, Powell, an M.P., quoted a constituent as saying "In this country in 15 or 20 years' time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man." Powell's assessment of that man was that he was "a decent, ordinary fellow-Englishman." The Times, not a liberal paper, called it "an evil speech."

Clapton came out of his would-be stump speech for Powell looking terrible, but he has remained unrepentant about his words. Later in 1976 he gave an interview to Sounds magazine, in which he says:
I thought it was quite funny actually. I don't know much about politics. I don't even know if it would be good or bad for him to get in. I don't even know who the Prime Minister is now. I just don't know what came over me that night. It must have been something that happened in the day but it came out in this garbled thing... I thought the whole thing was like Monty Python. There's this rock group playing on-stage and the singer starts talking about politics. It's so stupid. Those people who paid their money sittin' listening to this madman dribbling on and the band meanwhile getting fidgety thinking 'oh dear'.
There's nothing funny about incitements to racial violence. Clapton's attitude--that the incident was a big joke, what does he know he's just a rock star?--is deeply irresponsible, and it's a small miracle that no one was injured in Birmingham that night. It's a lame excuse anyway, since nothing in the Clapton persona suggests Pythonesque wit. Still, the Sounds interview gives Clapton a free pass. Barbara Charone barely mentions Clapton's comments, and does not quote or give any real indication of the content of his remarks. She attributes the comments to honesty on Clapton's part. Her selective take on Clapton's words is as follows:
Unlike other artistes of his stature, Clapton can't be bothered to disguise true feelings or adopt phony attitudes.
So one night in Birmingham someone said something that triggered off an unexpected part of Clapton's rowdier personality. Maybe it was the drink. Maybe it was just a bad day. But it was so human and typically Eric. How many times have you gotten a bit drunk and spouted out great truths and philosphies only to later blush the next morning?
Charone's excuses are logic-challenged--maybe he's just too honest! Sure, Eric just got drunk and said crazy, racist shit--but who doesn't! Let's laugh about it! Later in the article, Charone, jokingly and to Clapton's face, pins responsibility for his words on "the Arabs," probably a reference to the beginning of his diatribe. Clapton takes her bait, and criticizes Arabs for spending their riches poorly: "they're sinking a lot of money into England and we'll probably regain if we're clever enough. Then they'll have to go back and discover more oil." (No evidence of a rapier wit there).

Clapton and his apologists attribute his animus toward Arabs to a member of the Saudi royal famly taking a pass at his wife. Though Clapton was no stranger to adultery, one can understand his offense at a royal harassing his wife. Yet Clapton's actions blame all Arabs for the behavior of only one, as if his actions came from an inborn predisposition. That is essentialism. It's also present in his rant about "disgusting" foreigners, in which he names only dark-skinned immigrant groups. Clapton mentions one incident of a foreign-born person acting crudely, and extrapolates to the point where he can believe that "this is what all the fucking foreigners and wogs over here are like."

Imagine for a moment: what if a young Prince Charles had made eyes at, say, Jimi Hendrix's wife? Would Hendrix then be justified in vocally hating all white people? Would he be justified in advocating that all Britons be barred from entering Washington State? Would we stop short of calling his comments racist, since he collaborated with many white musicians?

The comparison is imperfect, but I think it illustrates the point: those things are unimaginable--Hendrix would have been labeled a Black Panther and his career as a crossover artist would have been toast. But let's pretend Jimi Hendrix did do those things, and then spouted a hateful, nativist jeremiad, and ask a question more to my point: would the music press then explain away and ignore his hateful outburst?

Because that's what has happened with Clapton.* On the one hand, there are the apologists. One of them is Harry Shapiro, who in 1997 published a book about Eric Clapton, Lost In The Blues. His book discusses the controversy, but charitably refers to Clapton's hate speech as a faux pas. Shapiro prints a story, told by Clapton, in which he was approached by a Rastafarian two years after his Birmingham rant, and asked if he hates blacks. Clapton told him no. The guitarist is then quoted as saying "what started it, was the upsurge in London of Arab money-spending." Shapiro adds, "there was a story that one particular Arab had made a grab for Patti, not guaranteed to endear them to Eric at all."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Critical Beatdown: Round Eleven

Ghostface Killah, "Together Baby"

NS: The soul sample that accounts for the title of this song shows up haphazardly, sometimes mid-verse, and is otherwise unrelated to the Supreme Clientele-hearkening free-associative carnage contained within. Ghost has seemed less slapdash than this before, but not in the past few years. 4/5

AM: The jarring transition from the soulful chorus to the sub-RZA minor key verses--produced by someone called Yakub--is terrible, and Ghost, who just a few years ago attacked his beats so hard he sounded breathless, just seems bored. 2.5/5

PJ Harvey, "Written On The Forehead"

NS: Overlaying Church harmonies and vast, Enya-esque synthmospheres with reggae beats isn't something I'd normally associate with Ms. Harvey--particularly not as the first single to an album ostensibly called Let England Shake. The song works, of course, as I think all PJ Harvey songs basically do, but there's still a lot of concentrated weirdness to unpack. 4/5

AM: The most ethereal thing Harvey's ever recorded, and by some margin, "Written On The Forehead" sounds less like a song than a collection of noises drifting in from outside. In less than four minutes the song achieves a quiet rapture, and the effect is the sort of thing many artists spend a career chasing. 4.5/5

David Lynch, "Good Day Today"
NS: Speaking of weirdness..."Good Day Today" bears the stamp of Lynch's previous collaborations with Angelo Badalamenti, but this is obviously far housier than anything you'd ever hear on Twin Peaks. Lynch's lyrics are deceptively simple and childish, as we'd expect, spicing up the otherwise generic but still-rousing technobeat. 3.5/5

AM: For his first single, the director has transposed his oddities to the world of music. Over a throbbing synthesyzers and a drum machine, Lynch wrestles with the themes that appear in his work ("So tired of fire"), his vocals heavily processed. His delivery is arrhythmic--a proper R&B singer could have a hit with this--but the chorus is arresting in its simplicity. 4/5

Daft Punk, "End Of The Line"
NS: I have understandable expectations for Tron: Legacy (Jeff Bridges is in it, which is cool, and the dialogue couldn't be nearly as bad as the 1982 original, right?), but I have been really excited to see how Daft Punk's score underscores the onscreen video game action. "End Of Line" is about exactly what I imagined, but that doesn't make it any less exciting. Compared to the rest of the movie, anyway. 3.5/5

AM: Is a song that builds to something considerably less exciting than what it promises a success? Not in the case of "End Of The Line," which has the Detroit techno nods but not the radiant pop-funk workouts that color the group's best work. 1.5/5

Destroyer, "Chinatown"
NS: Not sure this sounds like any Chinatown I've ever been to--I can't remember the last time a Destroyer song has gone down this smoothly (and my lord, those saxophones shouldn't be as effective as they are). If I had to compare this to anything, it would be the melodic yet dance-y spaciness of The The's Soul Mining. In other words, I have to give this a perfect grade. There's literally nothing wrong with it. 5/5

AM: Huddling amidst the gauzy atmospherics, Bejar has rarely sounded more desperate as a singer. But as a songwriter he's flexing muscles I didn't even know he had--the female vocals and back-alley saxophone are both new to the insular world of Destroyer. This is Bejar at his best: inscrutable, yes, but also genuinely mysterious. 5/5

Bernard Sumner, Hot Chip and Hot City, "Didn't Know What Love Was"

NS: I'm going to keep singling out these group collab tracks written for Converse commercials, not because Sumner and co. are particularly deserving of my ire, but because "What Love Was" provides a solid demonstration of what a song written for commercials sounds like. It's not as good; it's also a mish-mash of New Order's worst early 90's tendencies. 1/5

AM: I have not idea how this was composed, but it resembles a Hot Chip track--and this one, like the others I've heard, sounds like a sleepy version of New Order--with Bernard Sumner singing over it. It's alright, slightly too busy, but mostly it just makes me want to put on "The Perfect Kiss" or "Age Of Consent" or "Bizarre Love Triangle" or... 2.5/5

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Aaron Listens To The Hits, Vol. 2

About 18 months ago, I listened to the the Top 10 songs on Billboard's Hot 100, and offered my thoughts on them. I've meant to revisit the project on numerous occasions, but haven't followed through. At one point, half of the Top 10 was so nauseating that I considered doing the UK Top 10 instead, only to discover that it was just as awful. But with that behind me, it's time to check in with the pop landscape...

Billboard Top 10, Issue Date December 11, 2010
1. Pink, "Raise Your Glass"
A while back, I read something by (I think) Maura Johnston that really nailed the Pink persona. Pink plays the rebel, Johnston noted, but her music always remains just pop enough to score success among the fans of the artists she's supposedly edgier than. "Raise Your Glass" is a good example of that, a song that celebrates outcasts but that will sound at home on Top 40 and Adult Contemporary stations. Musically, there's nothing to object to: this is assembly line Max Martin pop, assembled well. 2.5/5

2. Katy Perry, "Firework"
After the coy, annoying single and the prom night single, the good folks at EMI have deigned to grace us with the inspirational single. This minor Perry, even considering that all Perry is minor Perry (I say this as a fan of "Hot N Cold"). "Firework" sounds too small to achieve grandeur, and Perry, lacking a set of pipes like Mariah's, can't carry the chorus convincingly. 2/5

3. Rihanna, "Only Girl (In The World)"
Rihanna has reached a point where her hits resemble other Rihanna hits, and "Only Girl (In The World)" shares some of the DNA of 2007's M.J.-sampling "Don't Stop The Music." "Only Girl" isn't nearly as compelling, but it shares the sense of anxiety and merciless dancefloor stomp. Rihanna's still not a great singer, but she's distinctive, which can be just as good. 4/5

4. Bruno Mars, "Just The Way You Are"
We covered a Bruno Mars guest spot in the Beatdown, and I have the exact same feelings about this that I did about "Nothin' On You." It's lite rock with percussive nods to hip-hop. Let's not get into the lyrics: this is pure treacle, no way around it. 1/5

5. Rihanna feat. Drake, "What's My Name"
On the fantastic "Rude Boy," Rihanna was a woman out to get hers. I can't help but hear "What's My Name" in the shadow of that jam, and in comparison it sounds docile--"You're so amazing/you figured me out" is not a lyric I ever want to hear, especially about a dude who provides a verse as lazy as Drake's. The production--itself nothing mind-blowing--is the saving grace, airy with a stuttering rhythm. 3/5

6. Ke$ha, "We R Who We R"
This was apparently written in the wake of this fall's string of suicides by bullied, gay teens. Not sure how to feel about that--Ke$ha is probably in a better position to address suicidal teens than most people, but this weak dance-pop does the message no favors, and "We R Who We R" gradually becomes just another song about clubbing. There is something craven in its inability to actually, y'know, acknowledge that subject, or to differentiate itself from Ke$ha first hit in any way. 1.5/5

7. Far East Movement, "Like A G6"
I wish I could tell you that "Like A G6" excoriates earth's six largest economies for their catastrophic hubris, but of course it doesn't. This G6 is some sort of expensive private plane. No, the Far East Movement--the first Korean-American rappers of note--celebrate how fucked up you can get on cough syrup. The beat is minimal-ish, and kind of woozy, but these guys would probably get laughed out of Houston. 2.5/5

8. Nelly, "Just A Dream"
In a list that features "Firework," "Just The Way You Are," and "What's My Name," being the cornball anthem is an accomplishment, and not a good one. I could've swore Nelly's career was dead even before that Akon collaboration, but it seems that a song about being in love with your ex-wife has reignited it. This is pop-rap, but it's not hip-hop. 1.5/5

9. The Black Eyed Peas, "The Time (Dirty Bit)"
With the Black Eyed Peas, you know it's going to be cynical and generic, you just don't know what angle they're going to take. "The Time" forces together a power-ballad chorus, lifted from "I've Had The Time Of My Life," with a bloopy beat not particularly distinct from "Boom Boom Pow." I don't mean to insult B.E.P. fans--the one I know is in second grade, and she's cool--but that music this unimaginative continues to captivate just makes me sad. 0/5

10. Bruno Mars, "Grenade"
I'll give props where they're due: Mars was a co-writer of Cee-Lo's magnificent "Fuck You," which was at Number 9 last week (it's since fallen to 17). "Grenade" is no "Fuck You," but its certainly more dynamic than "Just The Way You Are," and the vocals here are alright. I even detect a hint of Jeff Buckley in its phrasings. "Grenade" is the only the third song in this week's Top 10 that I don't actively dislike. Props. 3/5

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We Deal In Too Many Externals, Brother: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Preliminary thesis: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye's Station To Station. By which I don't mean to suggest some sort of stripped-down, motorik-heavy funk and soul pastiche. No, I mean that Kanye was obviously coked out of his mind at every stage of this album's development. The proof is in the songs, each its own wellspring of tweaked-out neurosis refracted through the conflicting ambitions of pop music's most shameless drama queen.

Inhibited neural reuptake seeps through the edges of this dark, obsessive, even laborious fifth album, tinging the proceedings with stultifying melancholy (or should I say Mellon Collie?). Even the more traditional beats are ablated and extended to the point of dementia, each piled on with extra echo and guitar blurts and gospel choirs, with West's extended supporting cast of rappers and producers, an impressive collection of egos in their own right, subsumed fully into the service of the auteur's ruminative id. Even the skits sound simultaneously monstrous and oppressive. The songs are longer than those you'd find on an average rap album, and I've already lost count of the number of extended outros, interludes, and otherwise random musical vacillations.

Like West albums before it, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was conceived as a major, game-changing work, and as sometimes happens, the stars aligned and every music critic in America started celebrating the "comeback" of an embattled celebrity, almost in tandem. Pitchfork's 10.0 review, for instance, was just as much about "the Taylor Swift incident" (you know, that thing that neither you nor I nor any actual music fan cares about) and the artist's Twitter feed as it was about the album's "expansive, all-encompassing nature"; meanwhile, Rolling Stone typically extolled the album as sonically diverse enough to attract non-hip-hop heads ("Coasting on heroic levels of dementia, pimping on top of Mount Olympus"--Good lord!). Kanye's genius was affirmed once again and rock mags congratulated themselves on celebrating the virtues of a celebrity in a way that didn't make them sound like, well, pandering to celebrities.

I am not here to complain about the Pitchfork rating (their first perfect grade since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), nor am I interested in inciting backlash. I'm glad that Ryan Dombal was allowed to give something a non-retrospective perfect rating (one unfortunate feature Pitchfork shares with Rolling Stone). I like this album, but if by "10.0" we mean that every single second of its 1:08:34 has to be both perfect and pleasurable, they could have at least docked a .2 for Nicki Minaj's English accent.

What a circus, though! You've got Pusha T (the album's MVP), Rick Ross and Jay-Z as the repeat offenders. Then you have one-verse killers like Minaj, Cy-Hi Da Prince and Raekwon. And, on the back-burner, the RZA, Swizz Beatz, Kid Cudi, John Legend, and, er, Justin Vernon. Elton John pops by for an uncredited piano solo, but unfortunately not on the track with Raekwon, if you were looking for a future "Kiss The Ring"/"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" collab.

I'll go through this track-by-track, but overall I'll say that while this is an improvement over that shitbucket 808's and Heartbreak, what was most problematic about that excrescence of an album is still present in more muted forms here, the presence of autotune being the most serious repeat offender. But Kanye is still a young man, and I don't doubt that these problems could be corrected in the future, and the quality of his albums would increase dramatically. In order for that to happen, I would suggest that Mr. West first a) try pulling his head, if ever so slightly, out of his ass, and b) lay off the coke for a while. Less Ye and Less Yay, in other words.

1. Dark Fantasy
The opening is ominous, and not in a good way--first we get a few seconds of amateur storytelling from British Nicki Minaj, whose "performance" is irritating in a highly visceral, claw-out-your-eyes way. I wasn't impressed with the "Can we get much higher?" opening choir bit either, as I became immediately worried that we were entering Dewey Cox-during-his-Brian Wilson-phase-territory ("I need 10,000 didgeridoos!"). And I hope that massive choirs and the like don't become a staple of every "statement" rap album from here onward. But the beat, when it comes in at 1:07, is an old-school pleasure. My guess is that all praises should be directed toward co-producer The RZA, who's still better than anyone at constructing grimy, motif-oriented beats. As Rae would say, this is that Black Mozart shit.

2. Gorgeous (Feat. Kid Cudi and Raekwon)
Plaintive, wailing slide guitar (is there any other kind?) is the biggest draw of this subdued track, along with Kid Cudi's even more lachrymose singing style. I had more of a problem with Dark Twisted Fantasy on first listen because there didn't seem to be enough bangers, and "Gorgeous" isn't exactly rippling with energy--nevertheless, upon repeated listens, it lives up to its name. Kanye is more of a controlling factor here than he is on most of the other songs, with three verses versus Raekwon's one to his credit (my favorite line is "It's like that y'all/it's like that y'all/I don't really give a fuck about it at all/cause the same people that try to blackball me/forgot about two thing: my black balls"). Raekwon, bless him, ignores what comes before, and just goes on talking about what he does best.

Rockaliser already wrote up this song here, unaware at the time that "POWER" is supposed to be in all-caps and poor Dwele no longer gets a co-credit (more on the craziness of MBDTF's attribution rules later). I'll add that the song sounds even better between "Gorgeous" and "All Of The Lights" than it does as a single--while it does have that "third track, first single" vibe, it's also a departure from any other radio hit he's ever done. Surely "Stronger" and "Gold Digger" never had such fuzzy bass, nor would they deign to sample something like "21st Century Schizoid Man" in such a surprising and (I mean it) delightful way. Don't know why the current SNL cast is the subject of so much of West's ire (particularly in light of his burying the hatchet with George W. Bush). It's hard not to be taken by the song's epic sweep, but as always, be mindful of wack lines such as "Colin Powell's/Austin Powers/Lost in translation with a whole fucking nation/they said I was the obamanation of Obama's nation" etc. etc. UGH.

4. All Of The Lights (Interlude)
Another "10,000 didgeridoos" moment, but at least it's short. It's a piano and string bit meant to introduce the "All Of The Lights" melody. The piano solo is apparently the work of Elton John, who despite, as I understand it, being a pretty famous musician and songwriter, doesn't get a proper credit. I don't understand how the "Feat." attribution works in hip-hop at all, and as we'll see in "All Of The Lights" proper there seem to be no rules to it, perhaps other than that guest rappers get credited, guest singers sometimes get credited, and anyone who plays an instrument doesn't get credited unless they happen to be Carlos Santana (Gorillaz seem to be the exception to this, by the way--if Ike Turner gets a shout-out for his "Every Planet Thinks We're Dead" solo, why not Elton?). Anyway, maybe "All Of The Lights (Interlude)" could direct hip-hop heads to the latest Elton John/Leon Russell Civil War collab The Union.

Just kidding.

5. All Of The Lights
So according to this, "All Of The Lights" has ELEVEN guest stars on it, none of whom I guess were worth the attribution. Rihanna's voice is most prominent amidst the opening horn fanfare, suggesting we are about to be treated to some fairly generic pop-isms until an absolutely frenetic drum track kicks in and absolutely buries the track's remaining ten guest stars. The song, for once, seems to be about someone other than Kanye--our unnamed protagonist becomes so enraged by the death of Michael Jackson that he beats his girl and ends up in federal prison, only to arrange some sort of reconciliation with his daughter at a Borders bookstore after doing his time. The chorus, though, brings it all back to Yeezy's pervasive ego: "All of the lights/street lights/search lights/flash lights," lots of lights. Remember that Kanye already explored this subject to some degree in "Flashing Lights." Are lights supposed to be some sort of extended, intra-album metaphor? No, Kanye would just like to point out to you, again, that he's famous.

6. Monster (Feat. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver)
Finally: a banger, and a next-level one at that. Pity Rick Ross, who really seems to be edging into a great verse for about ten seconds before Kanye interrupts with his momentum-killing "Gossip, gossip, nigga just stop it" hook. But for everyone else involved, "Monster" lives up to its name: the beat is hard, probably the hardest on the album, and also incredibly versatile. Kanye's spits aren't entirely unremarkable, but neither Jay-Z nor Nicki Minaj have a line as bad as that "put that pussy in a sarcophagus," so both of them are a lot easier to listen to. Most critics have extolled the wonders of Ms. Minaj's clownish verse, a grab bag of boastful speechifying, cartoonishly violent imagery, and one notable, transcendent scream. I agree with everyone else that she owns this song--it's too bad everything I've heard so far off her upcoming debut album has been deeply, deeply awful.

7. So Appalled (Feat. Jay-Z, Pusha T, Cy-Hi Da Prince, Swizz Beatz, and the RZA)
It might seem strange that Kanye groups both of the album's large posse cuts together in the middle of the album, but MBDTF has such an extended supporting cast that the entire album could have easily been lost in the mire of extended Pusha T and Jay-Z verses. So, in order: a) Swizz Beatz offers the novel observation that "life can sometimes be ridiculous" and only comes back to repeat that point on two additional occasions, remaining silent otherwise, b) Kanye engages in some amateur Muslim-baiting ("Praises due to the most high Allah/Praises due to the most fly, Prada") and makes an astounding, heretofore unheard of observation about how MTV no longer plays videos, c) Jay-Z, sounding uncharacteristically harried, wonders how to start his verse and declares himself a martyr on par with The Dark Knight's Batman, d) Pusha T talks about drug dealing (another shock) and makes intricate poker references, e) following a Swizz repeat, new kid Cy-Hi Da Prince declares himself "so outrageous" and claims God would be rocking his tunes on His iPod, and f) most disappointingly, RZA is relegated to repeating the non-Swizz Beatz chorus, which is awesome only because RZA is the loudest and angriest-sounding dude on this or any cut. Why not give the man his own verse, Kanye?

8. Devil In A Blue Dress (Feat. Rick Ross)
Could that be...a sped-up soul sample? People forget that this was once Kanye's MO, but "Devil In A Blue Dress" is probably the closest MBDTF comes to the classic Kanye of "Through The Wire" and "Gone." Appropriating a small vocal sample from Smokey Robinson's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Devil In A Blue Dress" is all about the slow build, starting at 2:51, that leads into a Rick Ross verse that is, as far as I know, a career best. The last 2.5 minutes of this song are astonishing in the way layers of tension are added in a grand, Hollywood sort of manner--it's perhaps my favorite part of the record as a whole. Props to Mr. Ross and the "double-headed monster with a mind of its own." I never really got Mr. Ross until now.

9. Runaway (Feat. Pusha T)
The length is epic--9:08 to be exact. So forgive me if I was expecting, based on the hype that this would be a next-level rap record, something like the hip-hop version of "Stairway To Heaven," or anything suitably epic in that regard. But this, the album's second single, is a complete dirge, with one notable exception. Yes, I know that the RZA could plink on the same piano note for a while and still make a beat that sounds great, but this isn't the RZA, and the piano "melody" of "Runaway," if you want to call it that, sounds like the work of a two-year old. I can't tell you how disappointed I was to see Kanye play this song on the VMAs, standing on a platform plinking a few elementary notes on the world's fanciest Fisher Price keyboard. And, on the lyrical side, the self-pity on display here, which would normally be restrictive, ends up being suffocated by Kanye's awful singing. As for the "Stairway" angle, the song ends with an appalling, and I do mean appalling, extended synth-blurt voice solo from Mr. West himself. It is, in terms of quality, the opposite of Jimmy Page's "Stairway" solo. It is so bad. On the other hand, Pusha's verse is great.

10. Hell Of A Life
I don't know why DJ Premier said Kanye was done with electro, since he obviously isn't, but "Hell Of A Life," despite invoking even more decadent rock star bullshit, features some of West's best moments as a rapper and as a producer (it's a great riff, for one). And this is all in spite of the fact that Kanye quotes Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" when he sings "No more drugs for me/pussy and religion is all I need" (as lifestyle sentiments go, I'll take George Clinton's "Don't need no girlfriend/I just need my dope" any day). The ending bit about falling in love with a porn star, getting married in the bathroom, etc. is actually kind of powerful, even for someone extremely, extremely wary of that sort of posturing. But again, all the choirs at the end--not needed.

11. Blame Game (Feat. John Legend)
Some people really seem to like this song, and I'll admit that the idea of using an Aphex Twin sample to engage in similar bouts of vocal and instrumental distortions sounds rife with experimental possibility. "Blame Game" sucks though--you'll just have to trust me on this. The piano sample, for instance, isn't as amateur as "Runaway," but never develops into something that matches the subject's fraught exterior. Between this song and the recent Venture Bros. finale, I think I've reached a point where this sort of adolescent male posturing, as it pertains to acting out towards supposedly unfair former girlfriends, is no longer something I want to hear or think about for a while. As the tension ratchets up and Kanye transforms his voice into a series of guttural, increasingly deepened and distorted accusations, I realized that I was starting to feel sorry for Kanye, in a way: epic self-regard, expressed on such a personal level, is a difficult thing to inflict on others. But then there is that Chris Rock skit, which is only slightly better than (if ten times as long as) the Tracy Morgan skit on Wu-Massacre which I declared to be the worst rap skit in the history of the genre. Again, I realized how vain and disgusting Kanye can be when he really wants to.

12. Lost In The World (Feat. Bon Iver)
Bon Iver is merely the latest representative "indie rocker" brought along to buoy Kanye's cred as a Serious Artist, but his talents, insofar as they actually exist (I am a Bon Iver agnostic, by which I've never been awake long enough to form an opinion), are completely absent when set against this fever-induced autotune nightmare. Christ, I hate autotune. The beat isn't bad amidst the bleatings and loopy vocal patterns that drive me nuts, and Kanye provides a sort-of nice capper to the proceedings, but this sounds like that "MMMM Whatcha saaaay" song whose name I can't actually remember, and repeated listenings confirm: it is awful.

13. Who Will Survive In America
However, I'm actually quite pleased with how Kanye chooses to end proceedings, with an extended sample (over the same "Lost In The World" beat) from a 1970 performance of Gil Scott-Heron reading his poem "Comment #1." Scott-Heron addicts will note here that West is returning a favor--I'm New Here's intro and outro track both sample "Flashing Lights." "Comment #1" is a wonderful poem, one of my favorites (check it here--really worth listening to) but whether or not it works within the context of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy depends on whether you see the album as an Important Statement by a Brilliant, Troubled Artist or as a series of bleatings from a vacuous celebrity setting his Twitter musings to music. Me, I declare myself once again to be agnostic.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Before They Make Me Write

During the rock and roll era, few guitarists played to the acclaim Keith Richards did, with his popular group The Rolling Stones. Below, part of a recently recovered article about the musician. Textual references date it to 2010. The author is unknown.

I am standing at baggage claim with Keith Richards, and he is fuming.

"Fucking unbelievable,” Richards mutters, pulling out his fifth smoke of the morning. “Another fucking greyhound dead at LAX.”

Richards is referring to his dog Boy—named after “the old Muddy Waters tune”—who has passed away on the flight from Heathrow to LAX. Another of Richards’ prized greyhounds, King, died en route to Los Angeles in 1977. The guitarist—then Keith Richard—tells me that the dog’s death led to his decision to quit heroin in 1978.

While we wait for the local animal control to appear, I point out that this account is at odds with his book, “Life,” written with the journalist James Fox, but Richards seems unperturbed. “Right. The book.” He heads towards the door.

On the taxi ride to his hotel, we chat about the project. Richards admits that words—“mostly talking and writing”—aren’t his forte, and that he quit work on the book on several occasions. But he was guided by the conviction that if former Stones bassist Bill Wyman could write a book, Richards could write an equally long one. The book collects the wisdom that the guitarist has gained since starting rock’s most iconic band in 1962, the moss that this Rolling Stone has gathered, all 576 pages of it.

As Richards checks in, the concierge gives him a fax. It look like a child’s drawing, but turns out to be a goof from Mick Jagger. Richards crumples it up and tosses it into a trashcan—an assistant removes it and finds the recycling—and begins to speak about the member of his writing partner of nearly fifty years. These facts are in line with what appears in the book. They are not flattering.

We head immediately for the bar, and Richards has a scotch. Unprodded, he tells me that he wishes his band mates were better drinkers. “Ronnie, he used to be fun, and sometimes he still is, but the rest of them, I don’t know. I’d rather have a pint with the Exchequer than Jazzman,” he says, in an apparent reference to Charlie Watts. His thought is broken by the sight of a coconut above the bar. He allows his left index finger--the index finger that gave us “Satisfaction,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Rough Justice”--to sink into one of the deep crevices that line his face.

“You know, I’m proud of this book. I’ve been through hell, believe me, but I'm still here. Just wish Gram was too."

Life is a book marked by loss. Few people have lost as much as Richards has: friends, lovers, freedom, habits, Rolling Stones guitarists, and great chord progressions conceived while asleep.

At this moment, Richards seems to have lost his energy. He heads up to his suite for a nap--one of the "three or four" he takes on a typical day. He asks an assistant to text Johnny Depp and cancel their dinner plans as he walks away. He leaves me with the tab.

The rest of the article is lost, but the new information about Richards gives a fascinating look into the artist best known for popularizing the bandana.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thomas Chatterton Williams: America's New Worst Music Critic

Let's start out with the obvious: The Wall Street Journal editorial page, like its partner in quo-maintaining The Washington Post, doesn't often feature unadulterated Obama praise (or even checkered praise, at this point). As well it shouldn't, I guess--a healthy skepticism of those in power was once a critical component of American journalism, a long, long time ago. But a funny thing happens after weeks of running one editorial after another poking away at our president's supposed character deficiencies and deeply-held radical views. Vibrant, legitimate criticism leads to slightly more suspect criticism, which leads further down the rabbit hole into articles like "President Obama's 'Rap Palate'" (note the "rap palate" in scare quotes--scary!) by Thomas Chatterton Williams. The points raised by Mr. Williams are about the opposite of what anyone would call a "reasoned, rational political argument." I would call it "bitching for the sake of bitching/traffic."

Williams is responding to Jann Wenner's latest long-form "interview" (this time the scare quotes are justified) with President Obama in Rolling Stone. Wenner's panegyric intimations lie more toward using RS as a soapbox to insist how hip Democratic politicians can be, and the results are at least as embarrassing as the John Kerry interview in 2004. The difference is that in addition to questions about what Obama thinks of Bono or Bob Dylan, the subject turns, temporarily, to hip-hop. Says the B-Boy-In-Chief:
Thanks to Reggie [Love, the president's personal aide], my rap palate has greatly improved. Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I've got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert. Malia and Sasha are now getting old enough to where they start hipping me to things. Music is still a great source of joy and occasional solace in the midst of what can be some difficult days.
Obama also mentioned being a big fan of Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones, and classical opera ("There are days where Maria Callas is exactly what I need"), but his comments about rap being acceptable and even fun to listen to were what got the Fox Nation's goat (though Obama had noted even before he was president that he was a big Jay-Z fan). And then Thomas Chatterton Williams, author of the memoir Losing My Cool: How a Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture, became so appalled by the mere mention of Lil Wayne in the Oval Office that he started his column thusly:
What's on President Obama's iPod? A wide range, he told Rolling Stone magazine last week, from the jazz of John Coltrane to the ballads of Maria Callas. And more: "My rap palate has greatly improved," Mr. Obama noted. "Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I've got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert."

Expert or not, that's the wrong message for the president to be sending black America.

The "wrong message": being passingly familiar with one of the dominant forms of African-American music, which is somehow insulting to the character of all African-Americans. The subtext: yes, Obama is indeed a Scary Black Man. Continue:
Does Mr. Obama like Lil Wayne's "Lil Duffle Bag Boy"? In that song, the rapper implores young black men to "go and get their money" through round-the-clock drug hustling. And with Lil Wayne, it's not just an act: The rapper is currently serving a one-year term on Rikers Island after being caught in New York with drugs and guns stashed in his Louis Vuitton overnighter.
Mr. Williams happens to be correct about Lil Wayne serving at Rikers, but I have no idea why he chose as his example a song that a) is by Playaz Circle, and only features Lil Wayne, b) is called "Duffle Bag Boy" (no "Lil") and c) being about drug-running, has no connection to the weapons charge that landed him in jail. Let's be clear: by "drugs and guns," Mr. Williams is trying to imply a great deal more than one (1) .40 caliber pistol that was registered to his manager and happened to be in a bag close to his person. Hell, let's be crystal: Mr. Williams is trying to imply that any black man who goes to jail is never to be trusted or admired again, even if he has served his time, even if he seems repentant about the issue, even if he's on suicide watch--never mind that. Jail! Drugs! Guns! Hippity-Hop!
Lil Wayne is emblematic of a hip-hop culture that is ignorant, misogynistic, casually criminal and often violent. A self-described gangster, he is a modern-day minstrel who embodies the most virulent racist stereotypes that generations of blacks have fought to overcome. His music is a vigorous endorsement of the pathologies that still haunt and cripple far too many in the black underclass.
I understand and sympathize with the argument that hip-hop artists are given a free pass when it comes to issues of misogyny, casual homophobia, violence and general gangsta cliches. Modern pop radio is partially responsible for generally spurning lyrical and musical innovation in exchange for vacuous celebrity self-worship and lazy, repeatable innuendo. It remains in my mind of the utmost importance for music journalists to develop new modes of critical vocabulary when it comes to the discussion of hip-hop, to avoid endless valorization in terms of "flow" and "skill" when many popular rappers assert themselves as brands as opposed to musicians.

But calling Lil Wayne a "modern-day minstrel," with no qualifications, is beyond the pale. In order to believe something like that, you need to buy in, heavily, to these "virulent racist stereotypes," as if black hip-hop fans lack the agency to appreciate the music without buying into the lifestyle. A clue can be found in his last sentence: "His music is a vigorous endorsement of the pathologies that still haunt and cripple far too many in the black underclass." This makes perfect sense, if you believe that these "pathologies" are inherent in black people and entirely the fault of a monolithic underclass. Never mind institutionalized racism and the pitiful job prospects of post-industrial America: if only popular musicians would stop talking about bitches and hos, all those nagging pathologies would stay nice and dormant.

Thus President Obama has conveyed his taste for the rapper behind lyrics like:

Put that white widow weed in the cigar and puff

look, ma, I'm trying to make a porno starring us

well not just us, a couple foreign sluts

Naming thuggish rappers might make Mr. Obama seem relatable and cool to a generation of Americans under the sway of hip-hop culture, but it sends a harmful message—especially when, in black America, some 70% of babies are born out of wedlock.

Why not stop there? Obama has also conveyed his taste for (and therefore must endorse everything ever said by) the artists behind the following:
White girls, they're pretty funny
Sometimes they drive me mad
Black girls just wanna get fucked all night
I just don't have that much jam
Chinese girls are so gentle
They're really such a tease
You never know what they're cockin'
Inside those silky sleeves.
She takes, just like a woman
She makes love, just like a woman
And she aches, just like a woman
But she breaks, just like a little girl
Racism. Misogyny. And how can he admire a woman who shacked up with Aristotle Onassis when so many black children are born out of wedlock? Miles Davis and John Coltrane were both addicted to heroin--does Obama believe casual drug use is okay for musicians? I'm just asking, yo! you decide.

(I would have loved to witness Mr. Williams' Google search for rap lyrics terrifying enough to alarm the boomers but also excerptable in a major newspaper).

The article goes on to quote similarly suspect lyrics from Jay-Z (Nas gets the shaft, due to space restrictions I guess), who is described by Mr. Williams as a "rapper and unrepentant ex-drug dealer" who has "been photographed sitting in Mr. Obama's chair in the White House Situation Room." This of course begs the question: "What president would ever let Marilyn Manson drop by the White House? Is Jay-Z any better?"

Good question. Would Mr. Williams be writing about it? Obviously not, because of course Marilyn Manson does not represent the pathologies of "white culture" in the way that Lil Wayne and Jay-Z, being official representatives of their race, do. Also, it's 2010.

I've known a few ex-drug dealers, some of whom remain unrepentant, and I can tell you that neither they nor Marilyn Manson have committed anything close to the sorts of heinous activities perpetrated by certain Washington lobbyists and Wall Street bankers in the last couple years. Not even close. These are the power players that are invited to the White House on a daily basis. In order to believe that Jay-Z's White House visit represents a lowering of Presidential standards, you must honestly be convinced that African-Americans who once dealt drugs aren't fit to grace the same halls as Jack Abramoff and Bernard Kerik, to say nothing of the actual war criminals who once occupied significant portions of our Executive branch. It requires turning a specific kind of blind eye--a kind that would have to be inured to all the horrors brought about by exporting American culture--with the exception of black people rhyming, over beats.

Williams, by the way, is black, not that such a fact would change my consideration of his essential cluelessness regarding rap music and race. Check out his absurd bio:
Like many young men in America, Thomas Chatterton Williams grew up in awe of Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, and the parade of bling-bedecked rap stars he saw on Black Entertainment Television. Williams emulated their lifestyle - sporting chains and expensive designer clothes purchased for him by his girlfriends, who were themselves little more than accessories to Williams.
Williams' bio is candid about the fact that he used to be a pretty big asshole. Judging by this description, I agree: he was a prick. Treating women like "accessories" is, yes, a bad thing. Young Mr. Williams really does sound emblematic of everything terrible in hip-hop culture. Myself, I generally stop paying attention whenever cultural conservatives start to say "I used to have so many girlfriends," before going on to lament modern sexual permissiveness, but let's continue.
In LOSING MY COOL: How a Father's Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture (The Penguin Press; May 2010; $24.95), Williams describes how he managed to juggle these two disparate lifestyles--"keeping it real" in his friends' eyes and studying for the SATs under his father's strict tutelage. Pappy grew up in the segregated South and hid in closets so he could read Aesop and Plato.
Being able to "keep it real" while simultaneously studying for one's SATS--it kind of is like the segregated South! Especially given Young Williams' father had to deal with the pernicious influence of Tupac's famous anthem "Plato and Aesop Iz Gay (Don't Ever Read That Shit)" or Biggie's "Make Sure To Treat Your Multiple Girlfriends Like Accessories (Make Them Buy Your Clothes Also)."

Well, I kid. Having not read Losing My Cool, I can't know for sure, but I'm sure the message is that if you're a young black man, if you manage to make it through high school without the demon Hip-Hop turning you to a life of drug-dealing and ho-abusing, you may one day use all the knowledge acquired from reading 15,000 books to selectively quote scary rap lyrics you've obviously never heard before, in the interest of making sure a public figure can never again exercise his or her aesthetic judgment when it comes to personal music preferences. Or alternately, I guess you can listen to all types of music, even if the subject matter is sometimes troubling, and focus on more important issues than whether or not a particular artist makes your race look clean and law-abiding. Maybe then you could be president, and not a tiresome moralizer who is obviously uncomfortable with how much of an asshole he used to be as a teenager. It isn't the demon Hip-Hop, Thomas: It's YOU.

YOU had a hard time treating women with respect. YOU were the one who decided the general takeaway message from hip-hop was wearing designer clothes and huge, ungainly chains. And then, when you must have realized what a ridiculous cliche your life had become, instead of choosing a more enlightened path YOU decided to latch onto another polarizing cliche, that rap music was the thing keeping you down all along. For every example you can bring up of lyrics that "diminish blacks," I can provide three or four counter-examples. Others could probably provide a lot more. Hell, I can show you stories of legit, card-carrying African-Americans who have indeed been empowered by a particular rap song, as have I to a certain degree.

Here's one:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Critical Beatdown: Round Ten

Brian Eno, "2 Forms Of Anger"
AM: The increasingly busy first minutes of "2 Forms of Anger" sound like generic dystopian stuff--with a great drum sound, sure, but disconcertingly anonymous . The guitar at 2:08 lands with impact, but everything about "Anger" makes me wish for the joyfully experimental Eno of old, instead of this self-serious electro-gruel. 2.5/5

NS: In retrospect I should have tempered my enthusiasm for Eno first's Warp release, given that nothing that Eno had done lately, on Warp or otherwise, has interested me greatly. "2 Forms" has an exciting pulse and a number of enterprising new guitar sounds, but at its core it's basically a non-song, more in tune with the musician's ambient oeuvre. 2.5/5 

Pimp C feat. Bun B and Drake, "What Up"
AM: Essentially a Drake song featuring the members of UGK, albeit one where everybody holds their own. It's pretty awesome--the exuberant production of Drizzy acolyte Boi-1da recalls "International Player's Anthem"--I just wish Pimp C was more of a presence on his own jam. 4/5

NS: The Naked Soul In Sweet Jones may ultimately be an exercise in poor judgment, but there's no denying that tracks like this are a lot stronger than anything Bun B's recent album Trill OG. Drake's verse in particular is stronger than anything I've heard him do in a while, even as I'm guessing that Pimp C would have never heard of the guy, unless he happened to be a fan of Degrassi... 3.5/5

Mark Ronson feat. D'Angelo, "Glass Mountain Trust"
AM: D'Angelo sounds haunted--probably by that synth pipe organ--and increasingly determined, as he escapes, breaks out, and busts through the glass, only to find himself still trapped. Why he's warbling out of the side of his mouth, well, your guess is as good as mine, but it's nice to have him back for these four minutes. 4/5

NS: Ronson deserves credit for wresting a decent performance out of a man who seemingly Sly Stone'd his way out of the business a full decade ago. He deserves significantly less credit for electronically treating D'Angelo's (basically tuneful) bleatings. Or has D's voice just changed that much? Either way, vintage synths only count for so much with such a canned drum sound. 2.5/5

Willow Smith, "Whip My Hair"
AM: "Whip My Hair" stands as a testament to that most American of ideals: that we could all make a credible Rihanna song if our parents were rich enough. One need not know anything about haters and getting the party started to sing about them. 3.5/5

NS: On some level, it's fascinating. At ten years old, she represents the first American generation to have no institutional memory of 9/11--or, to put it another way, it's possible she was conceived at around the same time Voodoo came out. The song is otherwise screeching, repetitive junk, but at least the subject matter is blessedly ick-free. 1.5/5 

Neil Young, "Walk With Me"
AM: The 64 year-old rock god may be inconsistent these days, but that doesn't mean he can't still bring it. Lyrically, "Walk With Me" is Harvest material, but the sharp bite of Young's electric guitar has that Rust Never Sleeps crunch.  Good stuff, Lanois' production even gives the song a foreboding sense of atmosphere, though the outro could be trimmed. 4/5

NS: Unlike Brian Eno, I'll basically follow Neil's career wherever it goes, even as the prospect of a team-up with Daniel Lanois doesn't exactly excite this non-U2 fan. But with Lanois keeping his trademark electronic textures at a minimal level, Young's unadorned guitar-playing sounds as spirited as it would have in a different context 30 years ago. Would this be better with bass and drums? Maybe, but it's already a high-level Neil Young song. 4/5 

John Legend and The Roots feat. Common and Melanie Fiona, "Wake Up Everybody"
AM: John Legend one of those guys whose formal perfection as a vocalist makes him really boring, and his voice sounds too thin and passionless here to carry a wake the fuck up people-type R&B number. 2/5

NS: If this was 2008, "Wake Up Everybody" would have been a considerable step above what accomplished in his Obama speech-in-single "Yes We Can." But now the 2010 midterms are upon us and "Wake Up Everybody" seems not only silly, but kind of sad. Common is a shot in the arm, but only in comparison to the sleepy-by-nature Legend. 2/5

Monday, September 20, 2010

Grinderman 2: A Real Cool Time?

Grinderman have a song called "No Pussy Blues." You probably know this if you've read a review of their debut, self-titled album, many of which were almost entirely given over to descriptions of the track. You may even have read about the song in the reviews of Grinderman 2, which does not feature "No Pussy Blues."

In an effort to dispel the myth that "No Pussy Blues" is the only Grinderman song, I'll take a look at the nine songs on the band's week-old sophomore effort. I also hope to debunk that other fiction, that the band, which includes Nick Cave, Martyn Casey, Warren Ellis, and Jim Sclavunos--four-sevenths of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds--hearken back to Cave's first group, the truly depraved Birthday Party. No ratings this time, since I don't feel like it.

1. Mickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man
Martyn Casey's strident bassline anchors Grinderman 2's fiery opener, with each note landing with the thud of a typewriter run through a stack of Marshalls (a typewriter can be heard at the start of...a certain song from the last album). The other Grindermen merely augment Casey. When the chorus hits, things explode outwards, in a mess of noise that would do Ron Asheton proud, while the verses are exercises in finely controlled tension. The lyrics--something about a just-awoken creep, his brother, and a "lupine child" who is literally aflame--are hardly Cave's finest moment, but his genius is as a performer, and this is a good performance.

2. Worm Tamer
Part of Grinderman's appeal is that such talented men have set their sights so low. "Worm Tamer" is a grimy song, with dirty lyrics that include the already-famous couplet "Well my baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster/Two great big humps and then I'm gone." All well and good, but Grinderman approach garage rock with nuance: the song rises and falls with its backing vocals, staggering along with the crunch of whatever strange instrument Ellis is playing, and generally sounding like the misplaced anger that consumes a man's head moments before he makes the sort of decision you cant un-make.

3. Heathen Child
Already written-up here. I've become more slightly fond of this song in the past six weeks. I still find the tension/release ratio, especially at the pivotal moment where tension becomes release, to be lacking, but the unsettling bounce gets me through. Love the part where Cave's rejoinder to our delusions is always "YOU ARE WRONG."

4. When My Baby Comes
Warren Ellis, who has come to be a dominant force in the Bad Seeds, plays throughout this album with an attention to texture rarely heard in rock music, on instruments like the bouzouki. The two halves of "When My Baby Comes" see him first painting a creeping disquiet, via knotted instrumentation and rude interjections, and then crafting a trance-like abandon (with a large assist from Casey's Mordor-ish bassline). It's no wonder he scores so many films.

The lyrics on "When My Baby Comes" are probably the most compelling on the album. Cave will recite two lines, sing the title, and then start again, picking up from a different point in space or time. Sung in the first-person, from an institution, they represent the fractured thoughts of a rape victim who dreads visiting hours and is linked to a mysterious, possibly fictional girl whose dealings on the narrator's carpet elicit great anxiety. The structure of the song, from the claustrophobic first half (which features nearly all the lyrics) to the molten ebbs and flows of the second part, mimic the the before and after of the narrator's tragic experience, but also an essentially disjointed mind.

5. What I Know
Consisting mostly of a simple, repeated thump and a quiet melange of stringed instruments, "What I Know" is a disarmingly beautiful track on an album that disavows Boatsman's Call-style gorgeousness. Cave, whose voice is far too loud in the mix, sounds intimate and resigned. The brief lines he spits out at the beginning work well, but he nearly ruins the track with his trademark tics near the end. Not the unequivocal success it might have been, but still mostly lovely.

6. Evil
There's a weird dynamic at work here, as Cave's foolish narrator declares his love for his baby in humiliating and desperate terms, while punkish backing vocals shout "evil!" and "evil rising!" Who's evil? The narrator? Nah, he's just a fool. Then his baby? Perhaps, but we know nothing about her. I suspect Cave is singing from some hellish place, where he feels compelled to pin all his miserable hopes on a woman with no distinguishing characteristics. Wherever the narrator sings, he sounds lost inside the howling noise. The vocals are probably too loud, again, but you don't really notice.

7. Kitchenette
The leering "Kichenette" supplies Grinderman 2's other moment of comedy: "What's this husband of yours ever given to you?/Oprah Winfrey on a plasma screen." Lyrically, this is the closest we get to a "No Pussy Blues" sequel, as Cave begs and pleads for the object of his desire to desert her husband and hideous children ("the ugliest kids I've ever seen") and allow him to make good on his single-entendres. The slowest song yet, all about the low-end, "Kitchenette" doesn't drag, but five minutes is a long time for a tune that exists to let Cave ham it up.

8. Palaces Of Montezuma
Perhaps the least Grinderman of all the tracks on Grinderman 2, "Palaces" wouldn't have sounded out of place among the careening rock and roll operettas of Abbatoir Blues and Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! The presence of a piano may have something to do with that, as do the background vocals and complete absence of scuzz. Which is fine, since I think Abbatoir and Lazarus are unbelievable albums. Don't ask me what Miles Davis the black unicorn is supposed to be, though.

9. Bellringer Blues
"Bellringer" would also fit on Abbatoir Blues, which already had a bell-themed tune. For one, there's a more conscious literary bent here, with the talk of soul survivors a possible echo of Exile On Main Street's closer. It's a dense song--like most of the album, it sounds like the work of a much larger band--a T-storm's worth of thunder, lightning and screaming wind. In other words, a fitting end to an excellent album. Grinderman haven't yet put out anything to rival the Bad Seeds' very best, but nor do they sound like anybody's side project.

Friday, September 10, 2010

This Is Exactly What I Am Talking About

The Village Voice's Sound of the City blog just posted an interview with Animal Collective's Panda Bear (we reviewed his new single here), conducted by Stelios Phili (who must be new, I think), entitled "Q&A: Animal Collective's Panda Bear On How He Is Similar To Kanye West." The accompanying tweet, published minutes ago, makes sure to add the "@" in the "@kanyewest" part in. What is the nature of the conversation regarding Mr. West?

I can see how you'd view a solo album in that way, just being dependent on yourself and trusting your own judgment.

Does that mean I have a massive ego? Is there something wrong with that?

No! You're not Kanye, far from it.

I've never been to an award ceremony, so you never know. If you let me loose in that zone, I'm going to go crazy.

This is the sum total of references to how Mr. Bear is "similar to @kanyewest" in the entire article. It's a total aside that has more to do with the differences between Animal Collective and Panda Bear's solo career than it does with anything having to do with a popular rapper's preening, attention-whoring antics. Then Panda Bear makes a joke, and they move on to the subject of how guitar-heavy Tomboy will be. But, for some reason, there's the subject line for the whole article, in the vain fucking hope I suppose that maybe @kanyewest will retweet it to his thousands of followers.

And this is an article that otherwise allows Panda Bear to make interesting points, ranging from his various psychological approaches to writing music to his general response to negative reviews (from one Jim Derogatis). Sure, the tone is as kiss-assy as we have come to expect from the Voice (sample "question": "After living in Portugal with English as your main language, I imagine coming back here, where everyone wants to talk to you, is pretty jarring"), but it's not formless M.I.A. babble either, so that's a plus.

I'm going to continue to document this nonsense, even if it doesn't fall under the strict purview of music criticism, particularly as I become more entrenched in New York's music scene and the trendy, otherwise musically-ignorant vampires that feed from it. I previously referred to the Brooklyn music journo establishment as "click-hungry starfuckers" and I stand by that assertion now more than ever. Play us off, Mick:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Goddamnit Morrissey

Morrissey is again courting charges of racism with his claim that the Chinese are a "subspecies." It’s hardly the first time he’s made such provocations (around the sixth, I believe), and further indication that his admirable sympathy for animals outweighs his respect for people with darker skin than himself. It’s extremely dispiriting that a man of Morrissey’s intellect has learned nothing from previous controversies.

So what now? Morrissey has already released this non-apology
If anyone has seen the horrific and unwatchable footage of the Chinese cat and dog trade – animals skinned alive – then they could not possibly argue in favour of China as a caring nation. There are no animal protection laws in China and this results in the worst animal abuse and cruelty on the planet. It is indefensible.
About which he is largely correct. But his willingness to paint the situation in terms of racial inferiority is at issue, not the live skinning of animals. Even his statement, which deems--I'm moving his words around here, but I think the meaning is present--the Chinese to be uncaring and cruel. As someone who cares about human and animal rights, I'm aware that horrible abuses take place in that country, but I don't think these abuses are due to subhuman characteristics, or that all Chinese people are responsible for what was likely decided by a small coterie of Beijing bureaucrats.

The Guardian’s Tom Clark notes that, as a singer, we can hardly call on Morrissey to resign. As a fan, I don’t even want that; his trio of 00’s releases, Years Of Refusal, Ringleader of the Tormentors, and You Are the Quarry, were all good-to-great, his best album-length product since the 80’s. Questionable lyrics have cropped up throughout his career—why exhort us to anti-DJ violence in “Panic,” and why doesn’t the “Bengali In Platforms” belong “here”? Although I don't many detect nativist sympathies, many hear them in "The National Front Disco."

These lyrics, along with the public statements Morrissey has made, are difficult to square with his embrace of his Hispanic fanbase. He dedicated 1999's Oye Esteban! tour to these fans, and famously procalimed he wished he was born Mexican. His 2004 comeback single, “First Of The Gang To Die,” was about a charming latino gangster.

I find it extremely odd that Morrissey adores the ethnic group who personify immigration in the United States, where he lived for nearly a decade, while vilifying British immigrants, as he did in 2008. Perhaps, as is so often the case with those who loudly denounce immigration, Morrissey simply doesn’t know the Britons of Bengali descent or Chinese people that he denounces. Maybe if, as with Mexican-Americans, large groups of British minorities became Morrissey fans, he might question his prejudices.

Maybe. But if Chinese people--or anyone else--decide they never want to hear from Morrissey again, I can't say I'd blame them.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Google Maps Is Not Art (Or, I Don't Give A Fuck About My Childhood Home)

Hey, remember what it was like to be a kid, all those years ago? Remember how carefree and energetic you were, how close your circle of elementary school buddies used to be? And then how you all drifted apart? And your parents, they used to be younger too, but now they're significantly older, their minds and bodies succumbing to rot and old age, a few miserable decades left to them at most? Doesn't that realization make you think of your own impending mortality? Doesn't that also make you sad? Don't you want to be a kid again now? Huh? Huh?

If you're a discerning Rockaliser reader, chances are the above questions strike you as banal and trifling, at best. And yet it's likely that, as a discerning fan of indie rock, the Arcade Fire remains one of your favorite bands, even though they've been harping on this same juvenile nostalgia trip for three albums and one EP. Their latest, The Suburbs, manages to literalize this misbegotten homesickness even further: it focuses on Win Butler's early life growing up outside Houston, and while it has significantly more chaff than the previous two LPs, there are still several songs I like a lot, such as the title track (previously reviewed here) and the spirited rocker (!) "Month Of May" (dunno how I feel about songs where the repeated mantra is "rococo rococo" however). Basically, it's a good album, even if it probably isn't enough of my bag to make it on my year-end list. As is the case with a lot of albums.

However. (This is a big however.) I'd like to direct you to a recent video, directed by Chris Milk, for the song "We Used To Wait." Or it's not really a video--it's billed as an "Interactive Film" that utilizes a lot of new HTML5 techniques to make each individual's viewing of the video a bit different. Optimally synchronized with Google Chrome, there's a note at the beginning asking you to type the address of your childhood home. Then the video is basically as follows:

A widescreen browser window pops up in the center of your computer monitor, featuring a set of feet moving swiftly down a dark, empty street. The feet are revealed to belong to a hooded, faceless sprinter who runs in time with the accompanying tune. The camera pans out slowly to show that dawn is approaching, or something. Then, another pop-up appears in the top left corner of your screen, this one featuring a bunch of featureless black birds clustered near a lonely cloud. The guy keeps running as the birds swoop down, and then you notice you're looking at a topside Google view of your neighborhood. Except, digital birds have been added, enough to make you wonder if Tippi Hedren is making a house call. At this point different pop-ups featuring the nameless runner move from corner to corner on your screen; the overhead camera zooms closer toward your house. Then, most terrifyingly, the viewer is treated to a series of shots of your old neighbors' cribs. Following that, the money shot: the runner finally stops to cool down...right in front of your house (in my case, it looked to be about mid-autumn when Google came cruising through my 'hood). The bird's eye zooms out again, and inexplicably another pop-up, this one a blank white space, tells you to "Write a postcard of advice to the younger you that lived there." So I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to write "This is fucking bullshit" in florid, distractingly branching type (drawing anything recognizable, on the other hand, is almost impossible). Then the runner dude pops up again, this time hoofing through negative white space, which leads to the grand finale: those birds perch themselves on your drawing, then fly back into your neighborhood, and together the runner and his bird friends leave a trail of trees that explode out of the ground like mushroom clouds, right in the middle of what is now your ecologically devastated neighborhood. The worst thing is that I already have a perfectly beautiful giant tree in my front yard that is apparently uprooted to make room for Whispy Woods from Kirby 64.

The point of this video couldn't be more clear if the filmmakers added blazing neon signs to every piece of symbolism: it's about your childhood, which is barely even a memory anymore, see? The idea, I guess, is that the viewer should be emotionally floored seeing a relic of his or her childhood, and will therefore be able to finally understand what Win Butler means when he makes inscrutable, Dylanesque points like "Sometimes, we remember bedrooms. And, our parents' bedrooms. And the bedrooms of our FRIENDS!" Freud would love this shit.

But I came away from this video wondering if I'd ever want to listen to the Arcade Fire's music again. I know for a fact that I can never listen to "We Used To Wait" again, period. Whatever value that song used to have in my mind, it has been completely supplanted by a revulsion to the basest form of marketing gimmickry. Is anyone else bothered by how lackadaisical indie bands seem to be about their songs being used as tools for burgeoning technology products and companies? I know that this has been going back at least as long as when U2 was shilling iPods (for free, granted), but this strikes me as a new low. The song becomes just as useless a piece of petty technology as all the cool Canvas 3-D engines and choreographed windows that supposedly represent the future of music videos.

I know I'm probably not the audience for this. Everyone has a relatively different idea of when MTV really started to suck, but I've always held it was from the very beginning: there's something about the music video form that, even at its best, doesn't do much besides sell products and rob people of the ability to think hard on the ineffability of great art. I don't need to tell you that music is an intensely subjective experience, but it's becoming harder and harder for anyone to be convinced that that should continue to be the case. Now all of a sudden, a certain song that was once a conduit for all different sorts of creative impulses is relegated to a particular gimmick or a particular actor. Not many people who watch music videos, I believe, does so because they want to listen to the music. It's a tool for promoting celebrity.

Now you could argue that the Arcade Fire video is a response to that, that by personalizing each viewer's experience the band and the director are bringing a bit of that lost subjectivity back. I don't think it works like that, however: it's even a worse type of imagination-hijacking. Personalized gimmickry is the worst type of gimmickry. What is to be gained by seeing your childhood home in the midst of all this CGI goop? What experience is being evoked other than a generalized Thomas Wolfe-whoops-there-goes-your-childhood malaise? There couldn't be any other reason for having the viewer write a letter to his or her childhood self, an act which should be right there in the dictionary, in big fucking bold letters, under "self-indulgent."

But beyond the goopiness of the premise, there's a sinister, more immediately pressing chewy nougat center. Even a few years ago, I feel it would make anyone uncomfortable to know that their home was being monitored for the purpose of a worldwide interactive map. The only thing the "We Used To Wait" video does relatively successfully is illustrate in Orwellian terms how this country is slowly becoming the world's biggest surveillance state. This isn't a criticism meant to slight the band specifically, since they are from Canada (where the process of monitoring its citizens is a bit more lax, I imagine). But it does suggest uncomfortable facts about the secret surveillance tactics our Executive Branch has been utilizing, unchecked, since 9/11. And if you think that this is less of a concern now that Obama is president, I suggest you read a series of investigative articles entitled "Top Secret America," all published a few months ago in the Washington Post. We as citizens have virtually no say over where the federal government chooses to put video cameras or whom it chooses to wiretap. I've seen the effects of this firsthand: a few days ago, I went down to Harlem by Columbia University with a friend of mine. The immediate area around the heavily-fortified campus looked like a ghost town, and it didn't take me long to realize the reason: there were video cameras pointed at every sidewalk, on every block, even in the alleyways. This was not the case at all five years ago. As one of the articles notes, government officials have to utilize specifically eavesdrop-proof rooms to prevent federal leaks; meanwhile, children are now being taught in elementary school that privacy doesn't exist, and everything they do from a young age will be monitored and judged well into adulthood.

And since this is essentially a Google Chrome project, we can't leave out Google's role in forcibly extracting our search histories, monitoring our e-mails and phone calls, and deriving that knowledge as a means to target our needs and desires with money-directed advertising. And speaking of Orwellian, Google CEO Eric Schmidt was recently quoted as saying that "if you have something you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." Is this the man you want to be teaming up with your favorite band?

All this may sound like a far cry from an innocuous interactive video that utilizes a few cool map features. Then again, maybe not. The thing is, it's hard to find a major indie band today that won't whore itself out as long as the cause is benign enough, or as long as the song is shilling for some cool gadget or marketing scheme. The uncool thing, now, is to take artists to task for doing bullshit Converse ads because, after all, there's degrees to selling out, it's all relative, and what's wrong with getting paid if you're essentially allowed to write the same music you would anyway? It's hard to argue with that viewpoint on an aesthetic level. How long until we just do away with albums altogether, and we just download the Arcade Fire app and instead look at the tweets regarding all the incestuous dealings of your favorite bands, see which rapper from Young Money cameos in the new Vampire Weekend video? MTV showed that the logical extension of music videos was doing away with music altogether--how long until our most beloved indie bands start following that same route?

I really don't want to sound strident. For one thing, I don't plan on blaming the Arcade Fire when this country completes its slow slide towards North Korea-type dynastic statism. But they are from Canada--they come from the same country that gave us Neil Young. Could you imagine Mr. Young using one of his song as a vehicle for compartmentalized, dehumanized nostalgia? Has it come to the point where our childhood homes are used as a commodity, sold and resold to us decade by decade, as our memory of what actually made childhood so enjoyable is replaced by visions of intrusive digital trees? As I said before, I already have a perfectly good tree in my old front yard. It has a tunnel. Sometimes when I go back, I eat lunch on its steps. I don't imagine it will be going anywhere soon. But fuck a Google when they come to bulldoze it down.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Critical Beatdown: Round 9

Grinderman, "Heathen Child"
NS: Though I'm disappointed that the version of "Heathen Child" featuring Robert Fripp has yet to make the Internet rounds, there's enough to dig here in the meantime, most obviously Grinderman's patented lascivious groove. Not an immediate classic (it kind of meanders), but Cave sings and everyone else plays at the top of their game. 3.5/5

AM: There's something not quite right about "Heathen Child." On the one hand, if this evil boogie moved onto your block, you wouldn't let your children play near it. On the other, there's too much build up, not enough release. 3.5/5

Panda Bear, "Slow Motion"
NS: I like this more than "Bros," actually. Certainly, the beat is snappier than AC/Panda Bear fans are probably accustomed to (I predict a Kanye sample in 2011). And the timbre is as lush as we have come to expect from Mr. Bear. 4/5

AM: The stuttery, head-snapping rhythm recalls Madlib, of all people, while the reverb soaked, chant-y vocals do indeed achieve a state of suspended animation. A song like this doesn't go anywhere because it doesn't need to. 4/5

Bethany Cosentino, Kid Cudi and Rostam Batmanglij, "All Summer"
NS: This collabo between Best Coast's singer, Vampire Weekend's lead guitarist and the erstwhile Transformers soundtracker strikes me as a perfect summer jam to play on repeat in hell. Alternating between Cudi's awkward non-verses (which kind of linger without significant accompaniment) and Cosentino's vacuous chorus, it shouldn't surprise anyone that this travesty was written for a Converse commercial. 0.5/5

AM: Music so meaningless as to render any judgment of quality moot. 2.5/5

Marnie Stern "For Ash"
NS: Marnie's latest is as riff-tastic as ever, a mini-suite of furious strumming, chanting and fret-tapping (an area in which Stern really distinguishes herself--Battles aside, she's probably the best in the biz). While there's no reason to think this couldn't have been on her last album, the charm remains intact. 4.5/5

AM: She yelps like Avey Tare, and this song taps into the prismatic melodies of Animal Collective's best work. Marnie and her guitar get there in their own fashion, shelving the abrasive, metallic sound she usually favors for a fleetness that allows "For Ash" to sprint along in spasmodic bliss. 4.5/5

Eminem feat. Rihanna, "Love The Way You Lie"
NS: I don't want to accuse Rihanna of attempting to benefit from her won experiences with domestic abuse, but I wonder why she felt the need to lend her voice to yet another one of Eminem's hyperviolent, self-loathing rants, narrated by a repentant Chris Brown type. Even if the tone was different, the song is still junk: if this beat isn't another jack from Dido, it might as well be. 1.5/5

AM: I get that Eminem likes to rap in character, and I realize Rihanna is on an edginess offensive. But the moronic "twist" here makes my stomach churn for all the wrong reasons. Sonically, it offers nothing that that Plan B album didn't in 2006, when he was ripping off Eminem. 1.5/5

Estelle Feat. Nas, "Fall In Love"
NS: "American Boy" goodwill will only get you so far. This song is obviously meant to evoke that 2008 classic, down to the basic rhythm of the thing and the way her voice dips down when singing the title. What's weirder is that, in addition, Nas basically parrots Kanye's part. 3/5

AM: "American Boy" was better the first time around. Every aspect of this song is about 60% as infectious as it was on that one. 3/5

Fucked Up "Year Of The Ox"
NS: That a 13-minute punk track doesn't run out of ideas halfway through is, already, triumphant. That said track manages to throw in some lovely string passages and at least a half-dozen great guitar lines suggests overwhelming talent and ambition. This whopper of a rock tune might even top COCL's greatest moments. 5/5

AM: My original "Ox" write-up noted that the violin is too sugary, that the guitars never accumulate their pummeling sheen. Which is true. But then I listened to it five more times, and realized: with a sound this huge--and "Ox" sounds massive, even for Fucked Up--singling out one element misses the point. "Year Of The Ox" just keeps growing, oblivious to its own imperfections, until it encompasses a handful of moments as transcendent as any in the band's catalog. 4/5

Let's Wrestle "I'm So Lazy"
NS: Heavy shades of GBV here, which I cannot stress enough is not necessarily a good thing. The singer's voice seems distractingly off at times, and I probably wouldn't have noticed that if "I'm So Lazy" was two minutes shorter. It ain't exactly harmful, but still... 2.5/5

AM: The charm and hooks that colored Let's Wrestle's debut are blessedly present, albeit in somewhat shorter supply. The sloth extends to the tempo, but churning power-pop is always a good thing, even when it's sluggish. 3.5/5

Monday, July 26, 2010

Public School Teachers Have Opinions About Music, Too

You know something that the Washington press corps and the Brooklyn music-crit cognoscenti have in common? They both get bugs up their respective asses whenever non-professionals decide to try out what they (Washington/Brooklyners) do. If you've been following this whole story about the backlash against Andrew Breitbart's recent hit piece on Shirley Sherrod, for instance, you've probably seen a few articles or newscasts to the tune of "disrespectful bloggers and anonymous commenters attempting journalism HARUMPH!" Or, to put it another way, you get a lot of tsk-tsking about the state of our current (admittedly mindless) political discourse from the type of people who assiduously avoid asking politically harmful questions in the face of two mounting wars, the type of people who furthermore have no trouble quoting anonymous hearsay from a few former journo pals.

Music critics are a similarly cagey bunch (in the sense of "this is my cage it is for me only get the fuck out"), especially in Brooklyn. Some strike me as little more than click-hungry starfuckers, as a matter of fact. And they seem to be more in the business than ever of mocking the opinions of average New Yorkers. This post isn't meant to name names (maybe someday I'll compile a list), but I'd like to point to a recent (admittedly jokey) example of this sort of tribalism here.

What we have here is a piece posted on Sound of the City, a Village Voice blog, written by critic Rob Harvilla, entitled "New York Magazine's 'Jukebox' Feature Returns To Mercilessly Antagonize Us Once Again." It's an insider-y thing about the return of a running feature in New York magazine in which three New York denizens/music fans are asked to rate recent releases on a ten-point scale. Needless to say, Harvilla finds the opinions of Mike the Lawyer, 31, James the Literary Agent, 60, and Nicole the Public School Teacher, 30, to be hopelessly banal:
Your answers are "Big Boi is probably the best M.C. in the game," "The whole album gets you up on your feet," and "I know that if I heard some of these songs in a club, it would put me in a good mood, ready to dance, because the melodies and beats are great," respectively. Further indignities are visited upon Francis and the Lights ("It put me in a let's-go-out-and-have-frozen-yogurt-and-figure-out-what- we-are-going-to-do-tonight mood"), Sheryl Crow ("The record made me feel introspective and positive about life"), and you, oh lover of half-literate rock writing, left with no recourse but to invent future very probably apocryphal New Yorker stereotypes: The Surly Hot Dog Vendor, the Gurgling Baby in a Park Slope Stroller, the Guy From the Bronx We Were Too Scared to Actually Talk To, The Otherwise Exemplary NYC Publication That Needs An Actual Full-Time Music Critic, Like, Five Years Ago.
Let's be fair: Harvilla isn't actually trying to imply that only those with proper training are allowed to discuss or write about music (no professional critic would argue something that pompous and self-aggrandizing! [wait never mind]). His problem would be, at least I hope, that New York Magazine has a New York Times-like problem of soliciting only the opinions and views of upper-class Manhattanites. On one level he could be arguing something important: that maybe the Features editors of metropolitan newspapers or magazines could look a little beyond their own communities, perhaps interview a 24-year old meat packer from Harlem, say, rather than another 60-year old literary agent. If this feature was more than a day old (and I know it used to exist in a different form), and that's the kind of thing New York kept doing, then there would be an excellent idea for a blog piece.

But that doesn't seem to be his main beef. His problem is with the opinions of the citizen journalists themselves. Voice critics may disagree with Plebeian #1's assertion that "Big Boi is probably the best in the game," and that might not be the kind of thing that would make it through the copy desk (and how could it be true, after all, if Drake's album just went platinum?), but it's not that absurd of a statement, and in truth he could probably make as good a case in the affirmative as any Rob Harvilla could in the negative. This is exactly the type of Armond White behavior that paints criticism as a whole in a self-satisfied, bitchy light. Mike the Lawyer might be a lawyer, perhaps even a rich, evil lawyer, but it says in the article that he got his ass beat for defending Pet Sounds, and in my mind that affords him more legit rock cred than writing for the Voice. More importantly, Mike, James and Nicole all seem to like entirely different kinds of music, which again puts it ahead, diversity-wise, of the Voice (certainly, Harvilla and co. would never describe themselves as mainly fans of "classic and indie rock").

They could be regular-ass white people with boring lives and boring jobs, but you can be surprised by how genuine and affecting boring white people's love for music can be, how life-changing it may have been in certain situations, even if otherwise they don't have the time or the compunction to constantly go to shows or decode the latest nonsense spouted by MIA.

In other words, Rob the Music Critic, 27*: I have no beef with you or the types of artists you like to listen to. And in truth I don't know much about "apocryphal New York stereotypes," nor am I much interested in finding out (when I go to NYU, I plan to cover my ears and scream loudly whenever the subject is mentioned). But I don't see how you can find Jukebox to be a bad idea in chrysalis. Citizen criticism is all over the Web: it's what you're reading right now. Some of it's getting to be pretty good. Some of it (gasp) could be written by lawyers.

*I made up Harvilla's age so I could put that writerly bullshit above. Sorry.