[Originally published @ Birdseed Shirt, 16/03/2008]
Over the past three months, whenever (like today) I’ve felt like procrastinating from the massive amount of work and papers I should be focusing on, I’ve turned to reading and mulling over a bunch of long form music criticism endlessly. I’ve kind of refrained from dipping my toe in the water because…well, cowardice mainly. There are already people out there tackling this stuff in an interesting, articulate manner, but it’s probably time to start puzzling out my stances on this stuff rather than just absorbing uncritically. Even if it’s been written about before, or better.
Anyway, not sure if I’ll write something out tonight. If I don’t, it’ll wait until I’m done these stupid papers. The point is simply that posting this should (hypothetically) motivate me to actually write. In the meantime, some interesting music writing:
Rules of the Game – Frank Kogan.
Kogan’s probably my favourite writer of criticism at the moment. His pet project is exploring what music does and how we use it. Intelligent and exploratory, although his modus operandi is often to assume that his audience needs to be cajoled out of certain modes of thought. This would come across as a bit condescending at times if he weren’t absolutely right. This stuff kind of guided me through the January bubblegum pop experiment. Speaking of which,
Cure for Bedbugs – Dave Moore
More freeflow in form than Kogan’s stuff and easier to follow if you work your way forward from the beginning.
Filled with great stuff…wander through the archives. Miss this site like whoa.
Anyway…I’m not sure where I want to go with my stuff…The teenpop/country kick that Bedbugs and Kogan provoked me onto is still going strong, but I’m not sure what I have to say about it right now that they haven’t. Also, the only people likely to read this are friends of mine, and I don’t have the patience to try and convince them of the merits of having a serious discussion about Paris/Lindsay/Ashlee/Miley. Hell…it took me a few months to get past my issues with it, and I was consciously seeking to be pushed. That said, this tends to be where I find the most volatile discussions of music going on so odds are on ILM or Kogan provoking me into some kind of response.
“Indie” is frustrating me right now, and I have a rant in me on the stagnation of rock due to its obsession with “canon” and “importance” and how the shift away from the sense that music has political agency and towards an apolitical nature has left rock as a genre at loose ends. That said, it’s a) probably been written about at length elsewhere b) an underdeveloped train of thought and c) a set of ideas that i don’t necessarily think is correct. I need to work it out a bit more.
Part of me wants to say that rock lacks ambition, or at least the ambition to be the best due to the glass ceiling of canon, something which a genre like rap inherently lacks (I mean…GoaT is something endlessly debatable and a title claimed by every third rapper) and pop, which is kind of a perpetual chain of singles trying to one up each other. Rock has diminishing returns with every “Best Band”? Coldplay will never try to be better than Radiohead and don’t even hit the as good as. Beatles, Dylan, Stones, Ramones, etc. made important music that Changed the World. Ergo, we can no longer do this. Ergo, why bother trying.
Problem? Since our means of evaluating value in rock IS “importance” (= changes the world) any rock that shoots lower is not “important”. Perhaps rock needs to find a new means of evaluating itself? Because idolization of the past is just resulting in an endless stream of backwards-looking signifiers and revivals. The Killers have already done both parts of the 80s moving from gaudy to Springsteen. Springsteen’s the big touchstone of the past year or two wrt “importance” (see Neon Bible, Boys and Girls in America, etc.). Which is not to say that these are bad albums or albums I dislike, but simply that they’re operating quite restrictedly. Maybe?
I want rock to find a way to explore, incorporate other genres and have fun while doing so. Instead of shooting for “important” just…move forward and see where we can go with it. As I type this I’m coming up with a list of rock bands that don’t really fit with this. Hmmph.
This doesn’t mean that pop is better than rock per se, but just that as the industry is declining in sales and stability, a lot of rock is still trying to make big important albums in the old model of culture while pop is trying on 400000 different outfits to see what will work and spitting out stuff that’s got both nothing and everything to lose and is thus awesome.
Gah. Ok. Poorly thought out, general, lacking in concrete examples or argumentation, filled with bullshit assumption and false dichotomies. Scratch this. I’ll come back to it later. Hopefully with something specific, thoughtful and original.