Death to conservative music journalism.
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Worst Albums Of All Time
- The Clash - "Cut The Crap"
- U2 - "All That You Can't Leave Behind"
- MGMT - "Congratulations"
- The Verve - "Urban Hymns"
- Bob Dylan - "Christmas In The Heart"
- Weezer - "Make Believe"
- Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Californication"
- Metallica - "Metallica (The Black Album)"
Check out the full Worst Albums of All Time chart!
- The thought of a new Red Hot Chili Peppers album makes me weep for humanity on
- Worst Albums Of All Time: MGMT – ‘Congratulations’ on
- Why the fuck do people like Mumford and Sons so much? on
- Worst Albums Of All Time: U2 – ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ on
- Worst Albums Of All Time: U2 – ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ on
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- January 2013
- December 2012
- October 2012
- August 2012
- June 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- July 2009
- March 2009
- February 2009
Posts by AceMcWicked:
Clearly among the front runners in the UK’s ‘great indie hopefuls’ for 2013, Birmingham’s Peace were apparently the best think at this year’s SXSW music festival since ‘large rimmed glasses’ and ‘not acting like you’d think a Texan would act’.
They’ve chucked a lot of the album up here on Soundcloud, which is frightfully nice of them. I am still coming up with some meaningless superlatives to describe their sound, by which I mean I am still digesting it, but have a listen yourself and have a crack.
One of their cracking tunes is below. Enjoy, and Peace out. Yep. I went there. The NME may have beaten us to the album review but I beat them to the joke. Well, okay ‘joke’ is pushing it too…
In 2011, when Unknown Mortal Orchestra released their debut self titled album, not liking Unknown Mortal Orchestra in some circles was considered a crime against New Zealand. It was a bit like saying you didn’t like The Hobbit or Sir Edmund Hillary .
If I’d been better looking I’d have been labelled an ultra-hipster for my view that they were over-rated and that there was nothing ‘stand-out’ about them that raised them above the rest except for their Mint Chicks pedigree.
The thing is, I was wrong. I was wrong because I missed the point. Unknown Mortal Orchestra didn’t write stand out tunes that jumped out at you and that you felt straight away. The thing is, they did stand out but they stood out in your mind later – the complex, meandering guitar, the strange drum patterns, the vocals buried deep in the mix. I should have known better. You could say that I was late coming to the party.
I wasn’t going to make the same mistake about their sophomore effort and luckily for me I didn’t have to because, to get my biggest criticism of II out of the way early on, its not a massive progression in terms of style.
Another reason I was unlikely to hold the same initially silly view of II as their first album is that it does grab for instant accessibility more: tracks like One at a Time couples the trademarked Orchestra/Chicks drum-line with catchy riffs, melody and toys with the risk of a brass instrument for melodic effect. This is my favourite track.
So Good at Being in Trouble, shown below, indicates this movement to accessible and ‘pretty’ pop.
In many ways So good at Being in Trouble sets the tone of the album, even the more musically interesting tracks. The Opposite of Afternoon’ and No Need for a Leader are the most energetic tracks on here, but the energy is lighter and less immediate than anything on the debut.
The delight I (eventually) derived from the first album was that within the fuzz and chaos there were tunes that stuck in the back of your mind, almost as if waiting to appreciated later. With II, you have the same ‘save it for later’ beauty, but its not buried amongst the noise but in soporific guitar. The driving drums are still there, if anything they are more exposed and thus heavier on II than the debut.
As pretentious as it sounds to call something a ‘think piece’, and most of the time I hate any piece of music someone tells me to think about, there is no other way I think of describing why I like Unknown Mortal Orchestra and this is a rare rare thing.
It will probably come as an immediate revelation to some people, but remember, I was late in coming to this party.Tweet
Much like anyone, up until recently I thought I knew everything. Well, okay, not everything; I mean I knew that I knew very little about lots of things I wasn’t interested in but because I wasn’t interested in them they were unimportant.
So really, up until recently I thought I knew everything important.
Then in 2010 I had what, if I were a religious man or a man prone to cliché, could only be described as a Saul on the Road to Damascus experience; in 2010 I discovered The Replacements.
Yes. I discovered The Replacements, seminal 1980s American indie rock band in 2010. A mere twenty years after their last album was released, and I think I just slid in under 19 years since they broke up. The thing was, I had heard of The Replacements, fuck, I had even seen the movie ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ (with a soundtrack almost entirely by a band who didn’t pass me by at the time; Third Eye Blind…but that’s another blog post.) I just had never registered their importance. Despite being one of the most important and influential bands, well, ever.
This opened my eyes to the fact that maybe, just maybe, there were important things that I didn’t know, maybe life’s journey was one of constant learning and the gaining of wisdom. More importantly however, it made me think there may be other bands I had missed that really I shouldn’t have.
Moments of self-discovery can often carry with them serious emotional tumult and a good way to stay grounded is to take an inventory of your life. Well, I sort of did that.
The Modern Lovers: It is actually not that surprising that I missed these guys; they were only an active band between 1970 and 1974 and their recordings were not released until 1978. Nevertheless, their proto-punk sound could have been the back-bone of what US punk became; lo-fi and rough but more in the direction of Velvet Underground/Nico psychedelia than the fifties rock’n’roll template that was followed by the Ramones.
Okay, I’d not beat myself up too much about missing these guys until a year or so ago if it weren’t for the fact that they are pretty much a staple of any ‘Nuggets’-obsessed, garage-rock snob. They are also fucking brilliant.
Saul2Paul Damascus Tune (or, ‘tune you should listen to’): Old World
The Nerves: I actually owe Mike this one: I’d still be living under the slimy rock of ignorance regarding this seminal band were it not for him. The Nerves were a mid-70s US power-pop band, who like the Lovers (notice how I am shortening the band’s names now, like I’ve known about them for years…fucking poseur) only had one notable album release. Thing is, that one release is the tits: high energy and raw pure pop. I listened to fucking Patti Smith often enough; where the fuck were the Nerves.
They had a huge influence on the very early LA punk scene and bubbly, well-crafted pop songs like ‘One Way Ticket’, ‘Walking Out on Love’ and ‘When You Found Out’ are, well, better than anything that came from that more celebrated milieu.
Saul2Paul Damascus Tune: One Way Ticket
Eric B and Rakim: As anyone who knows me, knows I am pretty ‘street’ so it might come as a surprise then that I came to this most influential hip-hop duo through The Cool Kids’ first album in 2008. One of the greatest things hip-hop producers ever did for musical trainspotters was name-check their influences in their music; the Cool Kids’ constant references to Eric B and Rakim meant I discovered the 1980s, James Brown sampling, innovators a mere twenty years after they changed rap music. Less tinny sounding and fuller than most hip-hop producers at the time, their use of funk and soul samples, meant went on to influence pretty much everybody else after them. What dawned on me when I first heard ‘Eric B for President’, ‘Follow the Leader’ and ‘I know You Got Soul’ was how eerily futuristic it must have sounded. Or, in my case eerily contemporary.
Incidentally, their breakthrough hit outside the US was a remix of ‘Paid in Full’ by another artist who I ignorantly overlooked until about an hour ago: Coldcut.
If only rock bands made constant references to their influences in their music. Okay, yeah, Oasis, but other bands…
Saul2Paul Damascus Tune: Paid in Full (in as much as you will have heard literally every part of this tune in other tunes)
At The Drive In: Believe it or not kids, this is actually not my most embarrassing oversight but it does need to be mentioned that I actually didn’t hear any At The Drive In and consciously know what it was until 2002. This is embarrassing because not only was this post-hardcore band potentially the most influential band of the genre and far and away the most musically creative (okay, yeah, I am leaving out Refused’s ‘Shape of Punk to Come’, just give me this hyperbole…), but this band were also happening while I was supposedly into music. I know, I am a pillock.
Do I even need to tell you a stand out track? No. I will however, give you a track I love because it neatly segways nicely into my next embarrassing band oversight: listen to ‘This Night Has Opened My Eyes’ – it is not At The Drive In’s best tune, but it is a cover of another little known band, The Smiths…
The Smiths: To a certain kind of guy, admitting you don’t know who The Smiths were is a bit like admitting that you didn’t actually understand what happened in Inception or how sexual intercourse works.
To be honest, you can probably fake an understanding of conjugal obligation more easily than you can fake knowledge of Morrissey and Marr’s back-catalogue; so widely revered is their music and rabid their fandom.
Up until I was twenty-one, I had never actually heard of The Smiths.
Do you want me to describe The Smiths to you, or recommend a tune? No? Of course not, you know them all. Everyone does.
Anyway, I am sure that I am not the only person who doesn’t know everything; up until 2010 I thought I was the only person who did know everything, so please, feel free to share.
I am sure none of your off-the-radar bands are as embarrassing as not knowing who The Smiths were.Tweet
As Mani announces his departure to devote his life to the Lord’s work (by which I mean, obviously, the reformed Stone Roses) and front man Bobby Gillespie channels the spirit of Spinal Tap to announce the next Primal Scream record will be based around ‘one chord’ I think it is timely to have a look back at the godlike genius that is Primal Scream. Aside from being based around, one can only assume, The Greatest Chord Ever Known, Gillespie also told NME that the next record will also be very heavily influenced by their 20th anniversary touring of their classic Screamadelica album in 2011.
So, will it be Screamadelica 2?
I sincerely hope not.
I will firstly point out that Screamadelica is one of my favourite records of all time. My Top Five’ change fairly regularly and but it’s unlikely that there has been a time when Primal Scream’s epic pean to the party to end all parties has not featured in it. Screamadelica is a record that encapsulates, almost perfectly, the symbiosis between indie music and dance culture. ‘Loaded’, ‘Come Together’, and ‘Higher than the Sun’ are anthems for the ages, and Screamadelica is, in my opinion one of those rare records that captures a ‘feeling’ as much as a ‘sound’ every time it is played. And I came to Screamadelica nearly ten years after its release.
The problem is that Screamadelica captured a moment in time, and it did this by being new and refreshing. For those who come to that moment in time later than on, such as me, there will always be Screamadelica. There will also be a host of other great records, with
a host of new takes on that experience. Bobby Gillespie was initially skeptical about whether or not people would be interested in Primal Scream touring the album for its twentieth anniversary. Obviously people were; many people would never have seen Screamadelica live but this does not really mean that people need the album rebooted.
The Primals have had problems with the past in the past. The abysmal 1994 follow-up to Screamadelica, ‘Give out but Don’t Give Out’, was the flabby, boring, white-blues record it was mainly because for a while there Primal Scream thought of themselves as a resurrection of the Rolling Stones in their hey-day. In a cruel twist of fate, the first single off of Give Out, the submoronic chant that is ‘Rocks’, was to become the Primals’ most recognisable song and biggest chart success until 2006. Critically, and indeed, the in the way history has judged them, Give out but Don’t Give Up was a disaster. It was this
disaster because it tried way too hard to be either Let it Bleed or Sticky Fingers. Or maybe Exile on Main Street. I can never be totally sure because of course it isn’t quite any of them. The Rolling Stones are god-like geniuses but let’s not pretend anyone needed to hear them slavishly rehashed in the nineties. The same fate, I feel, could befall Primal Scream again if they refry their own past.
The other big reason a rewrite of Screamadelica would be a massive mistake is because Primal Scream are more than simply ‘one trick ponies’. It is understandable when say, The Strokes, keep releasing the same album over and over again to ever decreasing excitement; that is ‘their sound’. There’s nothing wrong with it, it is pretty appealing in fact, but it is pretty singular. Primal Scream is not a band like this. In my opinion two of their best albums, XTRMNTR (2000) and Beautiful Future (2008), show that they have a depth of varied creative talent.
XTRMNTR was a brutal opus of an album, overtly political; the lyrics are chucked hurtling along with the tempo or the beat. The radical politics were initially lost on me; I actually saw XTRMNTR as the other side of the dance experience: the head-mulching rush of euphoria in ‘Swastika Eyes’ and the fuzzy paranoia of ‘Kill all Hippies’ made a
shuddering contrast to the ‘hands in the air and hugs’ of Screamadelica. XTRMNTR holds up in a way that other records that
inspire a similar speed-freak sensation don’t because, at heart, it is a rock’n’roll record more than it is a collection of dance anthems.
Beautiful Future, as beautiful as its name suggests, is beautiful in a whole different way to the wide-eyed trance-bliss of Screamadelica. Beautiful Future is unashamedly pop; well crafted songs with catchy beats and catchy lyrics. Their 2008 album, if it owes anything to anyone else, it owes it to New Order’s later work than anyone that ever pulled on the leather trousers of rock’n’roll.
As much as the dewy-eyed nostalgic devil on our shoulder may make us wish, there should never be another Nevermind, another Relationship of Command, another Sticky Fingers, or another Screamadelica. Bands that have the creativity to make music this good also have the capacity to be different, and that is what a band as godlike in status as Primal Scream should always aim for.
Incidentally, the song to eventually better Primal Scream’s ‘Rocks’ chart performance in 2006 was a little song called ‘Country Girl.’ In my opinion this was a song that was very appropriately used in a Levis’ jeans commercial because it was a pile of pants, but I have
since discovered I am in a minority of one by holding this opinion. Country Girl was a catchy piece of Americana-influenced pop music off of the amazing Riot City Blues album that couldn’t have been further from the long shadow cast by Screamadelica.
On this blog we are sometimes regarded as dewy-eyed optimists. Well, we are sometimes regarded as being nice about things anyway. At some point though the laughter and good cheer has to stop and you have to see the wood for the trees. Sometimes we even have to see the wood, or in this case the social, and hygienic unpleasantness, about something we hold very dear to us. I have always liked going out. I would rather go and have a beer with literally anyone than sit at home and face the dark void where a cooked meal, clean dishes and a vacuumed rug should be. This has led to some interesting nights out with some interesting people and every one of them was better than the alternative. I especially love going out and seeing music. I love live music but I am also chuffed with a decent DJ. Bands are usually better live, dance tunes are usually better twatted and your mates are funnier and cooler under the influence of poor lighting and alcohol. I like going out.
Well, most of time.
There are some parts of the experience of going to a gig that make me quite literally (because I couldn’t mean it any other way really) go home and write a bile-laden blog post.
Here are five of the best reasons to turn on the heater, do the dishes, and, erm, well, not cook maybe, but at very least order pizza. Reasons why we have iTunes and no mates.
1. Facebook Gaggles.
I like the onward march of technology as much as the next guy and I love social networking. I love the freedom it has afforded us to express ourselves and show our friends and loved ones what we are doing. I even love the fact that you can go on Facebook and, at the click of a button, see 592 photos of your friends, with their arms around each other’s shoulders, smiling for a picture while a band plays a world-shattering and potentially life-changing set in the background. What I don’t love however is being stuck next to a gaggle of these munts in a club as they spend the entire night photographing their seemingly ever-increasing group of BFFs while you are trying to actually, I don’t know, enjoy the band. It wouldn’t even be a problem, save the slightly stupid and mildly insulting fact that they are ignoring the music, if in order to take the photo they didn’t need the entire dance-floor. For fucks sake – take one photo and move on. You all look like shit anyway.
2. Swamp Toilet.
It is a well known fact that at every nightclub, at exactly 11 o’clock, the bar-staff press a button under the bar which causes the toilets to instantly over-flow; this serves to cover the floor with toilet paper, condoms, plastic baggies, vomit and of course piss and shit. No-one knows why they do this, I am going with ‘arcane tradition’, but there is no other way of explaining why this happens. I have been at gigs with three people in attendence and still had to wade through bits of someone’s partly digested Mee Goreng; at least three stages of said digestive process being stuck to my shoes. And who is taking a shit at a night club anyway? Well, I did used to ask this until I answered my own question: people on drugs. In fact, Government – here’s a ‘Keep Kids off Drugs’ slogan: “If you snort drugs in a club you’ll either have to take a violent emergency shit, or have to kneel in someone else’s”. Not catchy, but potentially effective.
3. Bar Wankers.
I am not referring to the long suffering bar-staff when I talk about the ‘bar wanker’, though I have actually met my fair share of those in my gig-going life as well. I’ll cut them some slack because it’s a tough job with shitty hours. The people I am referring to are the people who go to a bar, five deep with punters, somehow get to the front of the queue by the sheer force of their personality’ and then proceed to order something fucking pranny. We’ve all been just a bar-girl’s recognition away from ordering our pint when suddenly some douche-bag said bar-girl used to root cuts in and orders five Singapore Slings, a Drambuie and Radon and four pints of Pimms served in six Edwardian bowler hats. What a cunt.
4. Check Yourself. No really, you have to. And it is probably for the best.
Coat check is something you always want when its not there, but really wish you hadn’t used when you get the chance. Okay, I get that that is a hopelessly specifc analogy; more of a description of one particular experience than an analogy really. You have three choices at most gigs; die of heat exhaustion wearing your coat, get your coat covered in beer and over-flow piss trails from the toilets by leaving it hidden, or use the coat check and then be unable to get your property back at the end of the night because you lost the microscopic piece of paper you were issued, while heavily intoxicated, that you have to present otherwise you will quite literally, never be able to see your jacket again.
5. Train in Vain.
The best thing for me about going to a gig is the music. Secondary to that is several other things; having some beers with mates, getting twisted, showing off, or sliding over on a bit of lemon. For some however, none of these perfectly normal aspects of a night out appeal as much as moving from place to place. There are lots of these people too, because they always seem to be able to form a human chain, desperately snaking its way around the gig looking for the perfect spot; pushing others aside and spilling drinks in their single-minded quest. It is always a fruitless mission too, because these people do it all night; never finding where they are ‘up the front’ enough or ‘what happened to Sara’ they endlessly, and annoyingly, weave through the crowd.
Well, there are my top five. I feel better, and I didn’t even have to crack open the old chestnuts of ‘smoking outside’ and ‘booking fees’ which, while fucking stupid, are a bit of a cliche and something most of us have come to accept.
I might go out now…Tweet
That New York fall of 2001 the world changed forever. People often say that centuries begin not on the first day of that century but are forged in the clearing dust of a cataclysmic event. Few would argue that rock music was the same after The Strokes released ‘Is This It?’. For a while there it was a worry. For a while there at the end of the century those nonces that are forever saying ‘rock is dead’ seemed like they could be onto something. Through the blaring stupidity of a hundred sub-moronic nu-metal bands, the refried mulch of Pearl Jam’s 900th album, and the tongue-in-cheek death-throes of whatever-the-heck-wave punk it looked a bit grim.
But then came The Strokes, looking a bit like the Ramones’ cuter cousins and sounding a bit like The Stooges, made you wonder where it had been all this time because it was just so, so, rock.
Like it had been there all along.
But still, somehow sounding new. Lo-fi and garagey but also beautifully pop.
And of course there were others. Across the Atlantic it seemed like it was happening somehow in tandem. Carl and Pete’s band supported The Strokes when they first toured the UK and combining a raw, edgy punk sound with a sepia-tinged music-hall nostalgia, The Libertines made up the other part of the story.
There were others though too; loads more kids in skinny jeans with guitars and cool songs that made you wonder how Linkin Park ever sold a record and it is one of these ones, oft overlooked in the first rock story of the millennium, that I want to shine a light on – The Vines.
I know I’ll probably change the title of this post soon as it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but it is relevant to The Vines: it might be strange to think of The Vines as overlooked. In 2001 they were a big deal in Australia, their debut single ‘Factory’ got heavy rotation in both the UK and the US, and their debut album ‘Highly Evolved’ pipped Pete and Carl’s arcadia-crack factory to the post. They always sounded slightly more ‘classic’ rock than any of their contemporaries; not as weird as The White Stripes, and they never had the fashion-impact of either two aforementioned trans-Atlantics. Their detractors and fans cited their heavy grunge and ‘Nuggets-era’ psychedelic garage-band influence in equal measure. They could write songs, especially of the rough-hewn, grimey rock style popular at the time (see ‘1969’ and ‘Highly Evolved’).
They had ‘next Nirvana’ shtick-promise scrawled all over them.
Oddly they befell a fate similar to another Australian band that found itself at the eye of a musical and cultural storm a generation earlier, The Saints. Releasing the first “British” “punk” single in 1975, The Saints may have gotten the music and even the attitude of punk but they never really had the image. Theirs was no filth, fury or fashion and arguably the lack of image or indie-cred is what hamstrung The Vines as well. The Strokes went on to mega-stadium rock stardom and the Libertines as a band, and in their component parts, exploded all over the British cultural and tabloid consciousness. The rest, they could say, was history.
The Vines did however, release three other brilliant albums. Their second album, Winning Days, was initially greeted with a hiss and a roar but as the anticipation subsided it was quickly revealed as a move in a heavier and more classic Oz-Rock direction. With, y’know, a couple of ballads.
Vision Valley, their third, is my personal favourite album – a thirty-minute no-fuss blast of punchy, immediate power-pop (‘Don’t Listen to the Radio’, ‘Dope Train’ and ‘Fuk Yeah’ being my stand-outs). ‘Melodia’ was much maligned (maybe, I always thought, because of it had one of the ugliest record sleeves in the history of pop) but to me this is their artistic apex – combining what was best about Highly Evolved but dripping with a heavier psychedelic.
The Vines, in my opinion, did what the rest of their contemporaries really didn’t: had an enduring and varied career. When we look back on the rest of The Strokes fare they always seemed to be chasing the same idea. One or two really cooking pop songs (12:51, Heart in a Cage, Juice Box) followed by same-same filler and for all their beauty and drug-fucked glory (and, yeah, okay, largely because of it…) the most enduring thing about the ‘tines in the sober light of morning is, heart-breakingly, unrealised greatness.
While I’d never want to say that musical greatness was an endurance sport, it’s usually the opposite, it is sometimes comforting to know there are modern bands that you can already argue stand up over time.
Introducing our newest contributor: Steven Sourman. In an attempt to balance out what Steven has referred to as the “liberal hipsterness” of Riot Radio, we’ve employed Steven to offer his more “traditional” view of music, for our more conservative readers.
I assume you are reading this in the evening, as this is clearly a ‘personal interest’ website entry and you couldn’t be doing that at work. If you are, cease and desist viewing this content at once! You will get fired because as we all know the internet sucks away time from your working day. Also, what you may not be aware of is that the internet not only sucks away your working hours but it somehow sucks away valuable information about your company.
Or your life.
To be honest, the internet should be avoided at all costs unless you are sitting at home, you are done with the newspaper, you have watched the television news and you have arrived at your allocated ‘internet use’ hour. I suggest 8PM. Get those emails out of the way first…
So I will assume that it is 8PM. Sharp.
In any case, while I am suspicious on the format, I thank Mike and Dan for inviting me back on to engage in a good, honest discourse on the ‘State of Modern Music’.
Tonight we discuss “Hip-hop”.
Now, I use the modern trend of putting a word, or phrase, in quotation marks for a reason; I am in two minds as to whether hip-hop is even really music. For a start, it wasn’t invented in the 1960s and it seldom has guitars in it. The Beatles never released a hip-hop record and I have my doubts whether the Rolling Stones ever did. While I accept that there have been some half decent musical genres invented since the 1960s, I am usually skeptical about them.
However, on the positive side, Prince did have one or two stabs at hip-hop on the cusp of the 1990’s and I have recently discovered, by way of Lupe Fiasco’s recent album ‘Lasers’, that you can find hip-hop music recorded on compact disc.
So I was, as you can imagine, divided.
Now, the thing with hip-hop is that it is largely made up of a series of electronic noises joined together with a person, or persons, talking in rhyme sequences over the top of this collage.
Sometimes it is performed by white people as in the case of The Beastie Boys but more often than not it is performed by black people, much like the aforementioned Lupe Fiasco or, because it is older and thus far better, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five.
Now I can appreciate what hip-hop artists are trying to achieve, it is no secret they wish to sound like funk and soul musicians from the 1970s such as Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament or Funkadelic. The key problem however, which is their key impediment to all hip hop sounding like actual music, is they often don’t incorporate a ‘band’.
I have heard that some hip-hop artists on occasion do incorporate real instruments but when I asked about this at Borders the clerk gave me a look of incredulous insolence.
Sometimes I do wish there was a way of finding out about music that didn’t involve the occasion of good customer service in a major retail chain or reading a newspaper review, I really do.
Now I was going to cover electronic dance music in another chapter but since Mr Fiasco’s album incorporates a lot of this as well, I will simply say that this style is even less musical and is basically hip hop music performed by homosexual people and slightly more difficult to buy.Tweet
Since the theme of this page is the ‘death to conservative music journalism’ I think a recent article in The Guardian is exceedingly poignant. It talks about, among other things the heavily conservative strain running through British Popular culture.
The link is here and I will let you read it. I mean, it is well written, if a little, okay a lot, depressing.
For those unacquainted with British politics, here’s a recap: In May 2010 the Conservative Party won, by way of a sleazy coalition agreement, the leadership of the United Kingdom. They replaced a tired and, it seemed, long-in-the-tooth Labour administration headed by a tired, and long-in-the-tooth leader Gordon Brown.
We all remember Britain for such musical acheivements as The Beatles, The Libertines, Oasis, the Kooks and Take That.
You may remember Labour from such events as the 1997 British elections, Tony Blair hanging out with Noel Gallagher and trading wry quips, Cool Brittannia and the Iraq War.
The article goes into a lot of very high-minded analyses of the situation and I urge you to read it. I will focus briefly though on the music bit of it.
It points out that in the 1980s, under Margaret Thatcher, it was cultural suicide to be a Tory if you were a creative person. It talks about how this hurt Gary Numan’s career who was a supporter of Thatcher. I would argue that never doing anything much useful except write ‘Cars’ did that, but that is a whole different story.
I shows how far things have gone and how bad they have become. It isn’t just a sign that people’s political viewpoints have changed, it shows how deluded they are. The Conservatives haven’t changed – it is a case of same old Tories with a shiny new, public school, leader doing what they always do. Make the lot of poor, working and, well, different, people tougher.
Music and popular culture, the decent bit of it anyway, has been largely about divergence from the norm, from conservatism, because that is where creativity is. It has often been about protest and painting a view that is different from what your parents may have believed. Okay, Gary Barlow (who is chums with David Cameron we are told) has always been a twat, and Take That always made music for douchebags, but it is scary when you think that creative minds could see a swing to the middle or even the right.
The fact remains – the Tories will, and in some cases already have, made it tougher to be creative in Britain. Gone are the days when you could live on the dole or artists wage and use it to support you while you tried to spin some beauty. Look at any of the popular artists you love: The Stones, Oasis, the Stone Roses, the Libertines: they are all products of the fair society – a poverty safety-net and a liberal education (in particular the art school) system. It is no surprise, as the article points out, that many of the leading proponents of popular music in Britain now are ex-private and in some cases, public school toffs: they are the only one’s who can afford the luxury of time and leisure to create genius. You know the people I mean; those people that talk funny and hate poor people. Them.
It is also poignant because in New Zealand we have a bunch of conservatives running things, albeit not posh ones, and things are going to get hard for the poor and the different in New Zealand. I would just hate it is culture here gave up and took the side of those who are doing this to us.Tweet
I have always thought conservatism tended to arise from one of two things; upbringing (early onset conservatism) or fear (adult onset conservatism). It was sometimes a mixture but, as an optimist, I have always felt it was curable. However, the philosophical, moral and political tortoise-shell of conservatism is far reaching and effects very strongly both the music the conservative listens to, and the format in which they listen to it.
Now, I’ll start by making a few things clear. The first thing is I am not really talking about political conservatism or, shall we say, ‘Big-C’ Conservatism. Being posh or being scared of the modern world influences the way people vote and the views that they hold but this is neither the time nor the place. I will add though, for the record, that I picked John Key as an OpShop fan from the moment I laid eyes on him, I really did.
Secondly, this is a game of degrees; most people exhibit conservative traits in some shape or form. Conservatism can be seen as an understandable, if a little chicken-shit, response to the fast-paced and unnerving world we live in.
It is also a truism to say that we are strongly influenced by our upbringing.
If you add to this mix that one generation’s liberalism is often the next generations’ reaction, something proven any time Eric Clapton opens his mouth, we can see why conservatism is so prevalent.
Conservatism and innovation is played out in the musical experience as the eternal struggle between exciting and bland, relevant and dead-horse-flogging, up-to-date and out-of-date. Basically, good versus evil.
Ladies and gentleman, the prevalence of conservatism can make it seem like good, relevant, up-to-date, and basically kick-arse is getting its arse fucking kicked.
So I think we should shed some light on it.
Conservatism in the musical experience can be broken down into four broad character failings; worship of the past, spoon-fed-edness (Yep, that is a word, shut up…), single-genre interest, and die-in-a-ditch loyalty to dead formats.
We’ll start with those who see music as an endurance sport. Conservatives see pop culture as being like whores and ugly buildings in that it gets respectability, and credibility, with age.
Conservatives generally like what they have always liked. In some cases it’s the shit that happened to them when they last felt cool, which seems to most often be high school, or the third year of their marketing degree at Otago University. Hard-core, real conservatives though, like music that stopped happening before they were born. This is because any controversy, any real relevance, and any questions posed by what they are hearing, have already been answered, done, and dusted.
Conservatives don’t like ruckus and popular culture tends to cause ruckus when it is fresh out the packet, but old popular culture has been absorbed into the mainstream of life and is therefore no longer ruckus.
Now, I’ll be clear, this is a failing I myself am guilty of and I know why. Sometimes something endures because, and solely because, it is good. Not being alive when The Beatles were relevant I missed out on having to listen to the thousands of bad Mersey beat imitators, however due to my love of things new I have, for instance, bought Razorlight albums.
Two of them in fact.
The other reason I know I am a victim of nostalgia from time to time is because sometimes the past was good and sometimes music is a good touchstone to remembering those good times. We’ve all been there, at 3AM, arms around the shoulders of our buddies, singing along to Smells Like Teen Spirit. I know I have. I know you have too.
People who only listen to old bands and artists from before their time, or from their youth tend to at least actually love music. They just love old music. They can be forgiven. However, there is a group of nostalgics who simply can’t be saved. This group are the retro crowd. These people don’t like bands, or songs; they like eras. Or they like their perception of eras. We’ve covered the eighties before but really, if you think any decade equates to a style of music that you like you are both in need of a history lesson, and you are beyond salvation.
Take your soundtrack album off. The theme party is over. And you look fat in spandex.
The second character failing, those whose musical tastes are spoon fed to them, we’ll keep brief. I am quite sure they don’t actually like music; they just know they need to own some to stay ‘with it’ between pilates classes and their book club, so they make a cursory scan of commercial radio, they hear something that doesn’t make them feel uncomfortable, and they buy the CD.
It doesn’t make them feel uncomfortable because it doesn’t make them feel anything, and there is an entire industry devoted to the production of this beige gunk. These people are also beyond salvation so we won’t stay too long mulling on their genus, however, I will say this – I am hoping that changes to New Zealand on Air’s funding and promotion strategies will mean that John ‘Smile and Wave’ Key will have something more interesting on his iPod this time next year.
The third character glitch is, in my mind, the darkest. It is the darkest because it is the one that runs so close to political Conservatism the two traits could be skipping hand in hand down Xenophobia Lane.
The single-genre listener is, I believe, saying something without saying something…if you get what I mean.
In popular music the most mainstream thing you can like is ‘rock’. Okay, that is pretty broad, covers lots of interesting styles of music that I love, but it’s true. I share a lot of my musical tastes with a lot of people who would be died-in-the-wool conservatives (Oasis probably being the main intersection). The thing is, when people say to me they like ‘rock’ I get a bit of a chill. When they say they like most music ‘except hip-hop and techno’ I worry. The techno bit I’ll forgive – I like a lot of dance music but I accept this is a sectional interest. I will ignore the burning-of-books-esque ‘it’s not proper music’ jibes and some of the latent homophobia. I’ll accept this because lots of it is crap. A lot of it is substances over style, and I say this with both a heavy heart but in good conscience because I know, with a lot of it anyway, I am right.
What bothers me most is the hip-hop bit.
The thing is, hip-hop has been the most relevant musical genre of our generation and frankly continues to be. Since the first time white-folks heard Grandmaster Flash sing about urban fright over a futuristic electronic drum some time in 1982 hip-hop has been the protest music of the age we live in, the sign of the times, and it has done this with class and ingenuity. I will never forget when someone explained to me why Nas’ ‘Sly Fox’ was the most important rock song of 2008. This track, which incorporated guitar and four minute song structure of a rock song, summed up that year in a way that Bob Dylan would have had a hard time pulling off, even when he wasn’t a wizened, bitter old man. Take the controversy out of the equation and hip-hop is still both exciting and so broad that it is hard to sum up in any single description.
Hip-hop is also produced, performed and aimed at the experience of people that are a different colour from most pop-cultural conservatives in the Western hemisphere.
Dollars to donuts, scratch the surface, feed a few beers to, and have a chat with someone who professes not to like hip-hop and you will find a racist; the worst sort of conservative.
The thing is single-genre nutters exist in all musical spheres and scenes – sometimes because they don’t actually like music (the unsaveables) they just like being in a scene, and sometimes it is because ‘this is the music they like and there’ll be no shifting it’.
Which moves me on to the final, most controversial, and most poignant character failing of the conservative; the die-in-a-ditch loyalty to out-dated formats. I say most contaversial because it is a battle-ground issue which touches on the conservative-pantie-creaming issues of law and order and the ‘way things are’, as well as faces the white-hot heat of technological progress.
I like something to hold in my hand; be it my dick while I listen to Girl Talk’s ‘All Day’ and watch online porn, or a solid object when I had over cash, or let’s face it credit, for music. I bought CDs for a long time and still do through what is probably a misguided loyalty to the idea that if you pay for music, and most importantly, if you buy the CD, you are giving something to the artist.
The conservative can say they don’t like stealing music. Stealing is wrong and conservatives know this; they love the rule of law.
Torrenting an album is actually stealing it. While fearful conservatives mainly have a problem with this because they worry they’ll go to gaol and have to mix with criminals, they won’t get a mortgage, or they think somehow their identity will be thefted through the Ethernet cable, the rest of us know stealing is actually wrong.
Never mind the fact that artists get a piss-poor rip on solid format music. Ignore the fact that most relavent musicians realise that the internet is, at worst, a double edged sword where their recorded back-catalogue gets nicked but they also have the greatest exposure they have ever had. Never mind the fact that CD’s come in crap jewel cases, have been kept artificially overpriced due to distribution cartels, and look like a cheap knock-offs of something that should be a bit bigger.
Stealing is wrong and it will mean you won’t get a mortgage.
I am still, to this day, a bit divided.
The problem I have with conservatives, as you can probably garner, is not so much that they have a problem with technology or progress but why. I know how to use a computer to steal music, I am not scared of it, but I do sometimes wonder if what I am doing is wrong.
The conservative fears for fear itself; he or she worries not for music, the artists, integrity but for the crumbling edifice of the ‘way things once were’.
Also, loads of them don’t know how to use torrents.
In summary, there really is no summary. This is because the battle for hearts and minds continues. This is sort of why I am doing this, writing I mean. On this blog. This was going to be a bio but I will do that later.
The thing is, conservatism is at best your lamest and saddest urge but at worst it is prejudice and it interferes with your own personal progress. At very worst it does this en masse. It means we find what we really love about music compromised down to its blandest, safest, nothing and nostalgia becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We realise that what went before us probably was better if only because we keep looking back at it longingly without the courage to try something new.Tweet
The weird thing about trends or movements or ‘sounds’ is you think that there is an age where you would not only cease to care, but even if you did want to be ‘hip Uncle Dan’ and keep up with the kids, you’d stop hearing about, or relating to them. Obviously being ‘hip Uncle Dan’ is pretty specific to me but you get the idea; you’d be essentially locked out of paradise because of your age, questionable sexual motives and bad breath.
Okay, again, fairly specific.
You would think you would cease to ‘get it’, but above all, you would also cease to care because, by and large, once you are out of the identity-formation stage of adolescence ou realise, for the most part, the movements and scenes and zeitgeists that surround a ‘sound’ are nought but vapid fashion.
And the shoes often hurt and are wholly impractical.
When I first heard No Age’s ‘Nouns’ there was something I loved about it right off the bat – the fuzzy lo-fi production, the song wallowing deep in the loops of buzz and feedback. It reminded me of nothing as much as shoe-gaze music if My Bloody Valentine’s punk influence had been West Coast Hardcore. I became a little bit obsessed with both Nouns and the stumbling realisation that they were not alone. There were other bands of their ilk (deriving from an all ages club space in downtown Los Angeles called ‘The Smell’) and I quickly devoured Abe Vigoda’s ‘Skeletons’, HEALTH and later The Wavves (a San Diego band where every second song title had the word ‘goth’ in it). Each band had a subtly different sound but enough to bond them together to indicate a ‘sound.’
While I far from discovered them before anybody else, which as anyone of my disposition knows is the hallowed prize of teenage fandom, I certainly stumbled across them for myself long past the age when I thought I would ever find another ‘sound’ to get excited about.
And they got better.
A month or so ago I was waiting for someone in a magazine shop and I leafed through a, then, month old issue of the NME. They had done a piece on the ‘LA stoner scene’ (I am not sure if that was the title but needless to say it was about as naff and probably only half as patronising.) The Wavves had released ‘King of the Beach’, No Age had recently released ‘Everything In Between’ and Abe Vigoda had the follow-up to ‘Skeletons’; ‘Crush’ on the way. Each band had bounded forward musically since their debut full-length records and everything they had done before. The song-writing had gotten more polished and the sound had been honed. They lost little of the lo-fi rough and readiness (yes, ‘rough and readiness’ is a proper music journalist phrase, don’t look it up, you don’t have time) but the song structure had gotten better. The piece focused around the witty, and beautifually pop, Best Coast (a band who’s sound has less of a connection to the above-mentioned bands than the drummer has connection to Smell graduate band Miko Mika) and ‘the next big thing’ out of America. The piece focused more around the scenesters penchant for psuedo-legal marijuana than anything remotely musical, and it dripped of a contempt often seen in music journalists when they feel they are getting something after everyone else (and in the case of NME, on the wrong side of the Atlantic) but it did drive home for me that I had actually cottoned on to something that resembled a ‘sound’ which I liked. It made me wish I was a teenager and discovering it and getting my mates into it. It filled me with a difficult-to-fathom joy that songs like ‘Post Acid’, ‘When I’m With You’, ‘Teen Creeps’ and ‘Valley Hump Crash’ were being written and performed and recorded and it made me feel a little embarrassed that I had doubted for a second that they were.
Listen to, fucking now:
No Age ‘Everything in Between’
The Wavves ‘King of the Beach’
Best Coast ‘Crazy for You’
HEALTH um, either of their remix albums to tell the truth as they are actually a bit better, as albums, than the originals – ‘HEALTH ‘Disco’ or the originally titled ‘HEALTH Disco 2’ especially if like me and the rest of the thinking world you like Crystal Castles.Tweet