Posts Tagged ‘music’
David Bowie’s been looking back at himself in his music for at least 16 years, but this is the first time he’s doing it as an artist who’s actually, legitimately, honest-to-god old. At a dashing-looking 66, he’s hardly ready for the record books as World’s Most Decrepit Rocker, but in the past you’d get the impression that to Bowie, being “old” simply meant wrestling with the reality of no longer being the sexual provocateur he was in the early ’70s, the art-rock innovator he was in the late ’70s, or the world-bestriding megastar he became in the early ’80s with Let’s Dance. Now, on his new album, The Next Day, it sounds like “old” means “Jesus, I could have died on an operating table.”
I wrote about Psychic TV and William S. Burroughs’s “Pirate Tape” over at Cool Practice. Lots of adolescent anecdotes in this one.
5. The Ting Tings – “Happy Birthday”
4. Mya – “The Peanut Butter Stomp”
3. Nikki Flores – “The Twirly Whirly”
2. The Postmarks – “Balloons”
1. Dean and Britta – “Let’s Ride”
I’m going to hell when I die.
I’ve been keeping pretty busy these days.
At Cool Practice, I wrote about “Missing You” by John Waite and the kinkiness of crystalline-sheen ’80s pop rock. This is the sound of my soul.
At Vorpalizer, I continued my series of posts on alt-genre webcomics with entries on SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki and Forming by Jesse Moynihan. I also posted the second in a series on formative fantastic fiction, focusing on Taran Wanderer and the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander.
And at Rolling Stone, I updated my list of the Dowager Countess’s best quotes from Downton Abbey Season Three with a few from the season finale.
something i want to say
So I made that post about my favourite songs of 2012 (including taylor swift and gangnam style etc.) and people just hated on it.
I just don’t understand.
I mean, I do understand. I have my own issues with ‘the industry,’ I have issues with how it’s hard to compete with a bunch of people with great connections, and that a lot of real artists get lost along the way because they dont have an ‘in.’ and that women feel pressured to act like strippers and its ok to make rape threats but its not ok to say your a feminist. However, I don’t see why we have to hate something just because it’s successful, or assume that because it is successful it has no substance.
Like, how can you hate Beyonce? Shes changing the world. She stands for people of colour and women everywhere succeeding in a stifling patriarchy without compromising her morals. And she makes challenging, interesting art. She’s always positive. She is everything good. And the fact that she is hugely successful is not a shitty thing. It’s an important and amazing thing and she clearly works hard for it.
and I’m sorry, but I think it’s fucking incredible that a korean language song is the most popular thing on the planet. Thats so good for humanity. Psy wrote and produced gangnam style himself and directed the video HIMSELF. No one made psy. psy is a genius and i dont think its so terrible that hes been recognized for this. It also doesn’t make him evil. His art is creating a generation of kids that will grow up seeing asian culture as being as valid as western culture which they currently don’t. I know because I grew up in Vancouver and half my high school was korean or chinese and the kind of shit i heard all the time was horrible. I used to walk around with my chinese boyfriend and people would yell slurs out of cars. Racism isn’t over. Sexism isn’t over. The only way things actually effect social change is by hitting the audience that perpetuates these ideas. therefore, when a deserving artist blows up its good for everybody.
I’m tired of people telling me I’m ignorant for liking pop and hip hop, because I’m not. I know whats up with music. I have thoroughly investigated both mainstream and experimental music. in fact, i was so dedicated to experimental music that I didn’t even bother to learn about pop and R&B until i was 21. I put out multiple records on a label that was run by my friends and released my music on tape because it was the cheapest option. so please don’t tell me that I haven’t been enlightened to the world of alternative music.
and yet I know very few adult males who consider themselves serious ‘music guys’ who don’t laugh when I say I like Mariah carey.
Why? because shes beautiful and people like her. therefore she must be selling sex, right? so obviously her music is terrible, right? ugh.
The first time I heard mariah carey it shattered the fabric of my existence and I started Grimes
We’ve got to do better.
* Clive Barker revealed that he worked as a hustler through the publication of Weaveworld in 1987, in a Facebook conversation with the artist Dave McKean. By that point he’d published all six Books of Blood, The Damnation Game, and The Hellbound Heart. Barker is one of my very few heroes, a man who seems to have lived his life and pursued his art the way these things are meant to be done; I’m sad that he clearly remains so saddened by this secret part of his life.
* Julia Gfrörer is publishing a book version of her comic Black Is the Color through Fantagraphics and she posted a hugely impressive comic called “World Within the World” that feels like getting slapped in the face repeatedly.
* Somehow I’d managed not to read “Cody,” a story Michael DeForge serialized on one of his websites last autumn — it’s now all on one continuously scrolling page so there’s no excuse anymore. Turns out it’s a weird, funny, really precise and thoughtful exploration of subcultures and the sacrifices we make of parts of ourselves that are surplus to our chosen identities.
* Also, I somehow whiffed on the announcement that Koyama Press is putting out Michael DeForge’s collected short stories in a volume called Very Casual. It’s a very good time period for that kind of thing, with killer collections from Josh Simmons, Gabrielle Bell, Hans Rickheit, and Sammy Harkham coming out last year as well.
* Zak Smith devises a table of 100 random Tolkien/Jackson elements for your RPG needs. Listing these elements in this way does a few things. First, it’s funny. Second, its list-format-derived fantasy-potpourri feeling gives lie to the notion that Tolkien had a hemmed-in, orderly imagination that made its impact primarily through “realistic” worldbuilding. Third, it gives some shine to Jackson as an interpreter and remixer of Tolkien’s foundational work. Fourth, it demonstrates that both artists have a facility for conjuring very specific and unique emotional or tonal images arising from setting and/or character (eg. “a depressed warrior princess,” “magnificent fireworks”), to go with the genre-related images of creatures and plot points and so on (eg. “enormous, intelligent birds of prey,” “a horde of climbing goblins.”)
* Speaking of the Mignolaverse, BPRD cowriters Mignola and Arcudi are doing an armored-supersoldier WWII period piece called Sledgehammer 44 with artist Jason Latour. I hadn’t even heard this was in the works.
* And a less rare but still always welcome Moralez-assembled image/gif gallery!
* My collaborator Matt Rota’s art is getting to that “was this made by human hands?” point. Those pink fleshtones!
* Had to happen eventually: Jonny Negron and cocaine.
* Had to happen eventually: Jonny Negron and animated gifs.
* Had to happen eventually: Jonny Negron and full-color comics. Negron is inevitable.
* I can’t say enough good things about the elliptical fantasy one-pagers my collaborator William Cardini has been putting up lately. What an innovative marriage of format, genre, pacing, and effect.
* This is some immaculate cartooning by Gabrielle Bell. There’s an intensity here I’ve never seen from her before, and her off-kilter way of spotting blacks is really cohering into a statement.
* You’d be hard pressed to find better value for your illustration-enjoying dollar than a “Here’s all the stuff I drew in 2012″ post by Hellen Jo.
* Tom Neely started a tumblr for his porn drawings. They’re gorrrrgeous. (They get much dirtier than the ones below.)
* Robin McConnell interviews Noel Freibert for Inkstuds. His work keeps getting better and white-hotter.
* Was Kylie Minogue the first person to make music that “sounded like Kylie,” or is there some antecedent of which I’m unaware? (Via Jamieson Cox.)
* I got a great deal out of BuzzFeed’s rundown of 16 great musical happenings from the past month — fine writing about fine music in a variety of styles. One of those things is “Full of Fire,” the 9-plus-minute new single by the Knife, which is relentlessly intense yet never ever aggravating. How they can keep you in that edge-of-panic listening state for that long across repeated listens is beyond me, but I’m glad they’re doing it. I’m glad they’ve constructed this aggressive industrial edifice at the heart of critical attention.
* Before I saw this video for “Heidi’s Head” by Kleenex I’m not sure I’d ever really internalized the way in which punk and post-punk were threatening to the existing rock paradigm, perhaps because I always loved them all equally. But man oh man is this ever the sound of a bunch of young people telling the dinosaurs “We don’t need you.” (Thanks, Douglas Wolk.)
* On the dinosaur side of the equation, I’ve been enjoying Steven Hyden’s “Winners’ History of Rock and Roll” series on enormously successful critic-proof rock bands. The link takes you to the opening installment, on Led Zeppelin, the second-greatest band of all time, isolating the Jimmy Page-concocted “sound” of how the band recorded itself as the key to its lasting success, which seems dead-on to me. He also tackles Kiss and Bon Jovi, the worst and second-worst bands of all time, and Aerosmith, who were very good through Pump and then stopped being good.
* Hey look it’s pictures of Kate Moss and Foxy Brown and Kate Winslet and Michelle Dockery Beyoncé and Beyoncé again and Beyoncé again and Dave Gahan and Rainer Andreeson, for your looking at pictures of attractive people needs.
* Drawings of criminal conduct are not criminal conduct. No one should go to prison for having drawings.
* “we are all responsible for the dialogue we foster, the culture we create, the criticism we enable; a few more hits aren’t worth it”—Tom Spurgeon. I’d forgotten about this quote of Tom’s before browsing some old tweets just now, but I was thinking of something very similar after the long-awaited new album by My Bloody Valentine was suddenly released this Saturday — I found myself preemptively dreading the smartest seen-it-all, above-it-all guy in the room quips I suspected I was bound to see about it online. I’m trying to adopt what my Catholic school teachers used to call “an attitude of gratitude.” With something like MBV and their landmark record Loveless, which is so special and singular, it comes down to acknowledging it as such, and not spraying a bunch of diarrhea into the discourse surrounding a beautiful unique thing or the people that made it. The same thing could probably be said about Beyoncé, a monumental talent who seems to draw out the worst and most dismissive parts of some people. I’ve had a tough run for a while now, and the art that moves me is important to me, and I’m trying to conduct myself in a way that respects that, and surround myself with other people who do the same.
Pitchfork has a feature called 5-10-15-20 where they interview musicians about the music that was important to them at five-year intervals throughout their lives. On his personal tumblr editor-in-chief Mark Richardson asked people to create their own. You can find mine at my music tumblr, Cool Practice. A fantastic voyage from Lipps Inc. to A$AP Rocky.
I wrote about “Higher Love” by Depeche Mode for Cool Practice. A band playing to its strengths and obsessions, hard.
* Tom Spurgeon’s complete holiday interview series is up at the Comics Reporter. Go ye and click; so far I’ve really enjoyed the interviews with writer Mark Waid, cartoonists Dean Haspiel, Derf Backderf, Sammy Harkham, and Tom Kaczynski, and critics J. Caleb Mozzocco and Rob Clough.
* You should absolutely read “Sticky-Icky-Icky,” a stoner-sex-slice-of-life comic by Box Brown. I said “whoa” when I saw this page in particular.
* Ooh, it’s a master list of the tumblrs for all the members of Closed Caption Comics who have tumblrs. Thanks, Ryan Cecil Smith!
* Always glad to see smut from Julia Gfrörer.
* This painting by Charles-Frédéric Soehnée is a nightmare. (Via Monster Brains.)
* Just for fun, Dresden Kodak creator is doing a whole series of drawings and sketches and posts on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. Many of them are idiosyncratic and beautiful.
* The addendum at the end hurts a bit because Coates in scold mode is the worst Coates, but otherwise this is a nice scales-from-the-eyes piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates about Kendrick Lamar’s excellent album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.
* Here are all of Chris “Shallow Rewards” Ott’s posts on the Cure from his stint on the themed music blog One Week, One Band last year. If you want to read a good writer write a whole lot about a good band he happens to love, then this is
* John Brennan belongs in prison, not running the CIA. If you did half the shit this guy says it’s okay for the government to do, you bet your ass you’d be in prison.
* Very sad news: Wilko Johnson, guitarist for Dr. Feelgood and Ser Ilyn Payne on Game of Thrones, is dying of pancreatic cancer. Man that guy played with style.
* Scientists have filmed a live giant squid in its natural habitat. I can die now.
My David Bowie sketchbook has been showcased at BuzzFeed Music. (The drawing above is by Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio.)
I love this album cover. Barnbrook, the designers, talk about it at their blog.
Carnival of souls: Gossip Girl, Edie Fake, Fluxblog 2012, Chris Ware on Newtown, Shallow Rewards on shoegaze, moreFriday, January 4th, 2013
* Gossip Girl aired its series finale a few weeks ago. I watched every episode of that show and spent much of that time delighted in smiling-while-shaking-my-head-and-muttering-”you-magnificent-bastards” fashion. My friends Ben Morse and Kiel Phegley have reviewed the finale and the entire series in a two-part conversation that’s my favorite writing about Gossip Girl I’ve ever read. Here’s part one and here’s part two. The final two episodes of the show included two major events I’m still trying to wrap my head around; they both leave a bad taste in my mouth, but as Kiel and Ben convincingly argue, a Gossip Girl climax that didn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth wouldn’t be Gossip Girl.
* Edie Fake has come out of nowhere with a series of gouache and ballpoint-pen pictures of buildings called Memory Palaces that are among those rare works of art that make me go “Wow, I had no idea you could do that.” If you took the castles at the end of a Super Mario Bros. level and imagined that culture evolved forward a thousand years, you’d get something like this. It also puts me in mind of the old NES game Milon’s Secret Castle, or at least my hazy memories of same. Finding out where the buildings are from only makes it more remarkable. I sit and stare at this art like an apeman at the monolith. Never saw it coming.
* Still the best: Matthew Perpetua has released the Fluxblog 2012 Survey Mix, a TEN-disc overview of the year’s best music. It’s an overwhelming number of songs in a dizzying variety of genres and styles, but Matthew puts each disc together with thought and care and attention to flow, so you should feel free to DL ‘em all but listen to them one at a time. Find one with a few songs you dig or are intrigued by and let the rest come at you.
* My wife is a teacher and we are parents, and Chris Ware is the greatest cartoonist, so virtually every aspect of Ware’s New Yorker cover and essay about Newtown resonated with me deeply. This passage in particular evokes the way all of my personal and political anger and dread runs together lately:
In the course of the next few days, I was privy to the exchanges among my wife and her colleagues about Newtown, culminating in flabbergasted e-mails and Facebookings following the farcical N.R.A. press conference. Memes abounded, like, “First they call us union thugs and now they want to arm us?!” and self-mocking jokes about their own forgetfulness: “Do you really want to trust people like us with guns?” (Teachers are notoriously overworked and so occasionally forget their two pounds’ worth of keys in one classroom or another.) What astonished me most was that the gun lobby seemed to imply that it was somehow partly the unarmed teachers’ fault that the Newtown shooting occurred at all. Well, why not? Isn’t everything lately always somehow the teachers’ fault?
Meanwhile, our government revved its engines to Evel-Knievel itself over the fiscal cliff, civilization’s rock face having partly crumbled away because a clot of representatives seem to feel that government shouldn’t be funded at all. Over the holiday break, news arrived that thirty-seven Philadelphia public schools were closing because of budgetary cuts, and meanwhile the whole idea of public education continues to be cored out nationwide by taxpayer-funded private “charter” schools in a sleight of hand that I still can’t believe is legal. (Meanwhile, my union-thug wife is too busy grading papers and planning lessons to be able to get properly mad about it all.)
* A pair of standouts from Tom Spurgeon’s Holiday Interview series: Tom Kaczynski on his surprisingly ambitious micropublishing outfit Uncivilized Books and Dean Haspiel with a startlingly frank and harsh assessment of his own career.
* The Comics Journal has self-selected its best posts of 2012. Something for everybody.
* Forgot to link to this before, but wow: The MoCCA Festival, now under the new management of the Society of Illustrators, has announced a new steering committee for its 2013 show: Anelle Miller, Kate Feirtag, and Katie Blocher from the Society, as well as Leon Avelino (Secret Acres), Charles Brownstein (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund), Karen Green (Columbia University), William Hatzichristos (CollectorZoo), Paul Levitz (Writer/ Educator), Barry Matthews (Secret Acres), and Tucker Stone (Bergen Street Comics). That’s an institution that’s getting serious about a small-press show that suffered from years of malign neglect — as ably detailed by Barry and Leon, who are now helping to guide it. Also I’m sure Tucker Stone and Paul Levitz will have a lot to talk about.
* Please go read First Year Healthy by Michael DeForge, now available in its entirety on one continuously scrolling page. Subtly effective horror with an extravagantly inventive sense of design. This is one of the best things he’s ever done.
* In contrast with the previous few links, all of which involve artists breaking their own mold in some way, this jaw-dropping Julia Gfrörer piece is more a matter of her becoming the most Julia Gfrörer she can be. I said “Jesus, Julia” out loud when I opened it.
* Always good to see new Uno Moralez work, no matter how small.
* Gorgeous cover by Zach Hazard Vaupen. Makes me wish he’d work in color more often.
* Dave Kiersh continues to post his old minicomics, which are ungainly and funny and pervy and immature and romantic and which put it all out there.
* Finally, congratulations and come back soon to Chris Ott, who says he’s wrapped up the initial run of his Shallow Rewards music-criticism video essays with (oh boy oh boy oh boy) the first two installments of a promised shit-ton of videos about shoegaze.
My piece on musical chills and ASMR made editor-in-chief Ben Smith’s list of the best BuzzFeed posts of the year. It made the editors’ list of BuzzFeed’s best longreads of the year, too. Plus there’s the best music writing list I mentioned earlier. I’m chuffed.
My pieces on musical chills/ASMR and Godspeed You! Black Emperor are featured in this list of the editors’ picks for BuzzFeed’s best music writing of the year. But besides that there’s rock-solid writing on Passion Pit, Bruce Springsteen, Kendrick Lamar, Ke$ha, Frank Ocean, Bat for Lashes, Taylor Swift, the Replacements, PJ Harvey, Nicki Minaj, Ben Folds Five, Rihanna, EDM and more.
* It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Tom Spurgeon has begun his annual series of lengthy holiday interviews with comics luminaries, with Alison Bechdel kicking things off. I’ll probably get less enjoyment out of these this year than previously because I just haven’t read as many comics this year as I used to do, but I’m telling you, curling up with my in-laws’ dogs and sinking into the couch with the Comics Reporter Holiday Interview series on my laptop is one of life’s great pleasures.
* Liv Siddall’s essay on Chris Ware and Tavi Gevinson’s interview with Ware himself, both for Rookie, are both very good, but more importantly they both come with the most life-affirming comments sections you’ve ever seen on anything involving comics. Just a slew of kids saying “Wow, this sounds great, I’ve gotta check it out, thanks.” Gevinson uses her power to rep hard for the High Alt comics makers, and she does it well, and I’m glad.
* You can look at this lengthy post by Grant Morrison on the history of his feud with Alan Moore and think “good for him, sticking up for himself” or “yikes for him, living in this headspace.” A bad thing to do would be to troll the detractors or supporters of the writer of your choice with it — even at their crankiest and crank-iest, these guys have earned better than that.
* Big comics interviews I’m saving for later: Tim Hodler talks to Tom Kaczynski, Alex Dueben talks to Charles Burns, Tim Hodler and Dan Nadel and Frank Santoro talk to Jaime Hernandez and Gilbert Hernandez.
* Speaking of Frank the Tank, he’s an Eisner judge this year, so I think it’s safe to say the days of Jaime shutouts are over.
* Christopher Tolkien’s disgust for Lord of the Rings licensed products, including the movies, is a depressing fact of life for those of us who’ve enjoyed both his father’s life work (which also became his own) and the work derived from it.
* The television critic Alan Sepinwall recently self-published a book called The Revolution Was Televised, outlining the New Golden Age of TV Drama with a chapter apiece on twelve landmark shows: Oz, The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 24, Battlestar Galactica, Lost, The Shield, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Friday Night Lights. I’ve been reading Sepinwall on and off for years and years now — he more or less invented weekly reviewing and he’s a central figure in the TV-critic back-and-forth I follow on twitter and in the field’s seemingly countless podcasts and such — so there’s something of a local-boy-makes-good element to the book getting a rave review from Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times before she put it on her top 10 list for the year. Anyway, here Sepinwall talks about the books to one of my favorite TV critics, Willa Paskin.
* Lots and lots of people wrote lots and lots of words attacking or defending Homeland season two, but my podcasting pal Stefan Sasse bucked the trend and took some shots at Homeland season one instead.
* I quite liked Jessica Hopper’s interview with Grimes, who made one of the year’s best records and who emerges here as a forcefully thoughtful presence.
* The oral history trend has clearly reached its baroque period, where instead of culture-defining/altering movements or mega-masterpieces, they’re now about the “Blackwater” episode of Game of Thrones or Interpol’s first album. That’s a wonderful use of the form if you ask me.
* How embarrassing was Richard Cohen’s column decrying the physical fitness of Daniel Craig’s James Bond as some sort of affront to the masculinity of book-readin’ types like Richard Cohen? I’ve had a coworker walk in on me while I was using the restroom in the altogether and I still found this thing more mortifying.
* If you were wondering when the next time Michael DeForge would level up was gonna be, you’ve got your answer: “First Year Healthy.”
* Jonny Negron has — ha, like I even need to say anything at this point. Like I don’t put Jonny Negron art in every linkblogging post I do. It occurs to me that what Jonny does is invest “cool” imagery with the sense of mysterious and sinister don’t-try-this-at-home-kids intimidation it held for me as a kid. As alluring as these people are I’d be afraid to walk into a room where they were hanging out. For what it’s worth I think his last couple months of work are much more strongly erotic than anything he’s done in a while, but that could just be me. And look at the skintone on this one! LOOK AT IT
* Big new Gilbert Hernandez books coming in the new year: Julio’s Day! Marble Season! A now-completed collection of work he serialized during Love & Rockets‘ second volume and a pseudoautobiography, these could send him in the direction of critical and audience reappraisal that the outré sex and violence of his recent comics have denied him.
* I’m super-excited to purchase Magical Neon Sexuality by Kevin Fanning, though I’m waiting until I’m flush with Christmas cash. Fanning is the genius, the literal genius, behind The Cold Inclusive, which is sort of like magic realism only it’s sex with celebrities instead of angel wings and shit and which is one of my favorite things I ever saw on the Internet. I gather this book is in that vein. I realized today that Fanning’s stories are a big unconscious influence on me in that Drake comic I did with Andrew White and two or three other things I’m working on now.
* Kevin Mutch has begun serializing a slightly recolored version of his Xeric-winning graphic novel Fantastic Life online. I liked that book a lot — it’s kind of like a lo-fi X’d Out.
* Eleanor Davis made a comic about her friends skinning a fox and it’s brutal and beautiful. Go through the last month or so of her blog, because Davis is on fire right now the way, say, Gabrielle Bell was two summers ago.
* Sally Madden’s book about working at Philadelphia’s gross, awesome medical-oddity showcase the Mutter Museum, Gray Is Not a Color, has maybe the best cover of the year. Herb Alpert’s throne of skulls grows taller by the day, I’m told.
* New Cindy & Biscuit by my man Dan White! Some publisher with a solid and adventurous kids’ comics program should snap this up, for real.
* This comic by Benjamin’s fellow Collective Stench member Tom Toye seems to vibrate off the page.
* If you didn’t like the liberties Peter Jackson took with The Hobbit, then man oh man are you going to have complaints about Josh Simmons’s commissioned portrait of the Witch-King of the Nazgul.
* Guy Davis fanart for Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit? Sure, I’ll eat it.
* Zak Smith asks and answers the question: “Why is this picture so good?” (It’s by Adrian Smith.)
* Uno Moralez’s first image/gif gallery in a long time is also the scariest one in a much longer time.
* I don’t know of any rationale for keeping a nonviolent offender who’s not a risk to himself or others in literally torturous solitary confinement like the Obama administration did to the Army’s Wikileaks whistleblower Pfc. Bradley Manning, I just don’t. Who does?
* This Glenn Greenwald piece on the horror of Newtown as reflected in the drone and bombing deaths of Pakistani and Yemeni children at American hands (or Palestinians at Israeli hands, and let me warn you the photo that leads that link is enormously upsetting) is literally the most important thing to think about in the world right now. It is so vital for us to see that all lives are of equal value, and to understand that the mass death of children caused by the American military/intelligence apparatus abroad is just as devastating and horrifying to their loved ones, and to the conscience of the universe, as the mass death of children caused by maniacs here at home. Once you make this connection you can never unmake it, which is why it’s so important to make it. This has in one way or another been the topic of almost everything I’ve written this year. It’s never far from my mind, ever.
* Fittingly finally, David Chase explains the end of The Sopranos. None of the above?
This is normally the sort of thing I’d reserve for a Carnival of Souls linkdump post, but by now I’ve put off putting one together for so long that I’m actually intimidated by the volume of stuff I’ve got bookmarked for it. Besides, I think this deserves its own showcase.
If you haven’t seen them already, I want to introduce you to Chris Ott and Shallow Rewards.
Shallow Rewards is a series of video essays, I guess you would call them, in which Ott blends music criticism, music-criticism criticism, industry talk, and pop-rock history lessons in the most seamless and engaging fashion I’ve ever seen.
Here’s the first one I really watched, independent of the he-said/he-said intercritic tussling that attracted me lookie-lou-style to the series in the first place. It’s about Bruno Mars’s surprisingly great Police pastiche “Locked Out of Heaven,” to which I was exposed in the very same way Ott was: Driving my family around in the car, listening to pop radio. This is him singlehandedly carving out the discourse the song deserves, looping in the Police, Sting, the Romantics, Gorillaz, superproducers, Mark Ronson, poptimism, nostalgia, and more, all amply illustrated with video and audio and textual support.
And this is the video that really floored me, somehow. It’s Ott in his rant mode rather than his music-history raconteur mode, explaining how the Internet’s ubiquitous access to a wide variety of music, coupled with music criticism websites’ need to drive hits by talking about the things people are talking about, has led to “peak distortion”: the canon is discussed to death while the median, with which listeners were once forced to come into contact via scarcity-bred chance, is invisible.
The first time I watched these videos — and let’s pause and reflect on the import of that statement: the first time, out of several, I’ve voluntarily watched the same recordings of a music critic talking into a camera — I watched them in mix-and-match fashion, gravitating toward the topics I was most interested in: the Ministry episode, the 4AD episode, the opening series of rants, the Duran Duran two-parter (!). That’s a great way to watch them.
But I think it actually does a tremendous disservice to how thoughtfully Ott arranged the arguments he made and the videos in which he made them. When you start at the beginning and work your way forward, the cumulative impact is just tremendous. There’s a cataloguing of symptoms, there’s a diagnosis, there’s a prognosis, there’s a prescription, and there’s a demonstration of what things would look like when cured.
Were I to boil it down it’d all sound like truisms: Don’t chase attention, don’t write about the same things everyone writes about, don’t willingly or unwittingly serve the interests of commerce or PR, reclaim your worth as a writer and/or musician and/or music fan by talking passionately but non-hyperbolically, originally but not obscurely, about good-to-great music wherever you find it. But laid out as Ott lays it out it’s like taking the red pill and seeing the Matrix for the first time.
Ott is a big, funny, combative personality. Boy, is he ever. His twitter feed is scabrous, and as I said, I first came across him when he did a whole video going after a review by Mark Richardson, one of my other favorite music critics in no small part because there’s not a ranty bone in his body. But this facet of Ott’s work doesn’t drive me crazy the way similar work done in comics criticism drives me crazy (literally, in some small way this year), for a few reasons. First, I’m far enough removed from the issues and industry and personalities involved that little to none of myself is invested in the outcome of the fight. I can watch it like I watch a football game my family puts on the TV during a holiday gathering.
Second, you may disagree with the contours or conclusions of Ott’s angriest arguments, I know I do from time to time (I don’t see the need to cede the discussion of Death Grips to the band’s grandiose pronouncements about themselves instead of talking about the way their music sounds, which I like a lot, for example). But they are always actual arguments, not a bunch of assumptions, ad hominems, and contrarian-conventional wisdom hastily jerryrigged into a platform upon which to perform standup insult comedy.
Last, and not necessarily not least since I believe in the inherent value of criticism independent of what else you do but not necessarily least either, he’s doing so much more than rant. He’s being the change he wants to see in the world. Moeover, he’s being the change he wanted to see in his own life and career, which is probably more important. He saw what was out there, he identified what didn’t work, and he’s fixing it, video to video. Video to well-made, thoughtful, funny, clever, sometimes charmingly self-important, always entertaining video, might I add.
(The “Crap Guitars and the Madness of Crowdsourcing” video above is the ne plus ultra of the form. Damascene-conversion insights, dishy insults, funny rock-nerdy insults (Lana Del Rey “is the reason the KLF lit a million pounds on fire”), thoughtful fuck-yeah music cues (ending a rant about the “industrial effort…like making a car” put into creating Lana Del Rey with a quick and unexplained cut to “God” by former one-time record-industry people-pleaser Y Kant Tori Read frontwoman Tori Amos), an “I know how this looks and I really don’t care” cut back to a silent shot of Ott drinking a beer and shaking his head in disgust while looking off-camera — it’s all there.)
A few weeks ago it looked like I was about to pull out of the depressive nosedive I’ve written about recently. I had a great, relaxing weekend with my wife and kid and cats. Boardwalk Empire was incredible and Homeland aired the best episode of the back half of Season Two. I was writing about all sorts of things all the time, and getting money and recognition in return. I finished a comics script I’m really excited about that said a lot of what I wanted to say at that moment. Then a few days later dozens of people I know and like got laid off and treated badly in the process and I was blown prostrate to the floor again. C’est la vie.
Anyway, the point is that perhaps more than any of the other things I just listed, discovering Shallow Rewards, watching and rewatching them, literally losing sleep staying up to watch just one more video before bed, helped me out of the tailspin. I’d become unmoored from comics criticism, the thing I’d spent a decade defining myself by doing — over unpleasant interactions, over feeling out of step with the prevailing tone, over a gradual inward transition from “writing about comics” to “writing comics,” over getting more intellectual and emotional and financial and interpersonal rewards from writing about television and music, over a lot of things. Seeing these videos made me feel like criticism can do anything it wants to do if you love the thing you’re talking about enough to want to live up to that love. If you’re angry, fine, you can do something with that. If you’re obsessed, great, you can do something with that. If you want to recreate the overall vibe of the most fascinating fact-filled chat you’ve ever had in a bar with some guy or girl who’s into something you’re interested in and just totally, totally knows their shit and communicates it to you with such effortlessly revelatory power it’s like you just learned about a 27th letter of the alphabet, awesome, you can do something with that. The point is that you can do something. If it’s possible to do with pop music, an industry that’s fallen off from its ’90s highs but still has cash and infrastructure enough to support the creation of a fleet of Star Destroyers, it’s possible to do with literally anything you’re interested in enough to talk about. Anything.
I can’t think of a work of criticism that hit me as hard as these videos did in a long, long time. I wrote a fawning fan letter because of them. To a critic. How about that?
Start your holiday break early and watch them. Maybe they’ll inspire you the way they’ve inspired me. Enjoy.