This came across my RSS Feeder just this afternoon. I’ve been rueing the day that I ever started subscribing to the AP’s Entertainment headlines through Yahoo. I can’t tell if it was written on a deadline or the author, Jake Coyle, is just a lazy hack. Here’s how it begins:
The first half of 2008 has already seen some great albums. There has been the majestic (Sigur Ros’ sunny new opus), the super hip (Vampire Weekend’s much-anticipated debut), the ultra current (Girl Talk’s sample-mad “Feed the Animals”) and the chart-topping classic (Death Cab for Cutie with “Narrow Stairs”).
But many of the best rock discs of the year so far have been defined by a strong connection to older, natural forms of folk, country and blues. For the listener unsatisfied by a music landscape that seems to offer two roads — broad pop this way, cultish hipsterism that way — these acts offer a refreshing and unpretentious third option.
I don’t know how “ultra current” Girl Talk can be considering how much it relies on samples from 2005 or anyone else who would consider Death Cab’s Narrow Stairs a “classic”. I’m also not sure about how “super hip” Vampire Weekend are, but that’s another topic for another day.
That second paragraph is what bugs me, though. The #1 record in the country right now is Nas’ Untitled– is that “broad pop” or “cultish hipsterism”? What about Erykah Badu’s phenomenal New Amerykah: Part One?
Coyle rhetorically asks – and then answers – “You want soul? Here’s soul.” He lists six records he’s digging right now (all, like the ones previously mentioned, by white people): Fleet Foxes, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, The Black Keys, The Constantines, Dr. Dog and Firewater.
When Coyle mercifully ends his piece I wonder if he threw his thesaurus across the room before getting around to coming up with something for Firewater. He might have just run out of adjectives or didn’t have time to contact a publicist and find something to plagiarize but he closes up by, yes, quoting Firewater’s MySpace page to sum up their sound: “music from the … heart, words that say SOMETHING.”
I guess that is an improvement over “I’m Rick James, bitch.”
Slate is not normally known for their excellent music coverage. That’s a shame because they have two good critics on staff, Hua Hsu and Jody Rosen. They also used to publish Sasha Frere-Jones before The New Yorker came calling, as well as Eric Weisbard. Slate makes an good effort to cover music – much better than, say, NPR with sports.
That is what makes this article by Ben Mathis-Lilley so puzzling. It is called “When good rappers collaborate with lame rockers“. Mathis-Lilley, according to his byline, is an editor at New York magazine. He might even be a good editor but he sure is a terrible music writer.
He starts out his piece writing about how he was excited that his beloved hip-hoppers The Roots had a record forthcoming. Then he was crushed because the band has a song on it called “Birthday Girl” that has Patrick Stump, of Fall Out Boy fame, singing on it. Then he offers this confession:
Now, I don’t really know anything about Fall Out Boy, but I understand that I’m expected not to like them. They wear hair gel, and one of the guys in the band dates Ashlee Simpson, so it’s fair to assume that they suck and that their fans are vapid teeny-boppers whose heads would explode if they heard what real rock ‘n’ roll sounds like. What kind of lame middlebrow loser do the Roots take me for?
That turns out to be okay because “I gave “Birthday Girl,” the Roots-Patrick Stump song, a courtesy listen and was greatly disturbed to discover that I liked it.” What kind of person hates their life so much that they’re disappointed in their own enjoyment? “I was a bit taken aback; cultural snobbery is such an integral part of my personality. I’d have to rethink a lot of things if it turned out I liked listening to Fall Out Boy, Maroon 5, and Linkin Park.” Oh.
But there’s a happy ending in all this soul-searching: “Fortunately, a quick zip through the iTunes store reassured me that I don’t.” Phew. That was a close one.
Mathis-Lilley doesn’t lose his focus though and still wants to answer the question of his article. He draws the conclusion that “[those lame rockers] are seen by their hip-hop collaborators, I think, as living samples, picked out of the musical spectrum because their voices have some distinctive quality that the Roots or Kanye West or Dr. Dre want on their track….Adam Levine has an indisputably fantastic voice for the wistful soul of ‘Heard ‘Em Say.'” Case closed; end of story, right? He could have fared better by using that as his thesis and building from there.
He spends the article with a premise that he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about and has some biases against things he isn’t supposed to like, gets disappointed in himself when he finds that he does in fact enjoy it. His research concludes that they were right he was wrong and maybe these “lame rockers” were the correct choices for the songs. So, unsurprisingly, he concludes with the premise that he began with, and in a bit of Rumsfeldian denial, still sticks with it:
In these last days of the record business as we know it, established indie-rockers are as good a sales bet as anyone else. So why not get the best rap acts and the best indie acts in the studio together? It might produce some great songs, it could move a lot of units, and—I say this with significantly less condescension than I would have a few weeks ago—it might introduce some vapid middlebrow teeny-boppers to bands they’ll like even more than Fall Out Boy.
Yeah. I’m sure the next thing this world needs right now is a Snoop Dogg/Iron & Wine collaboration and for 50 Cent to tell more people about Spoon. Moreover, just why was there no mention of Lupe Fiasco working with Matthew Santos?
Mathis-Lilley wanted to ask just what in the hell was ?uestlove thinking but he and his editors need to answer that same question first.
For the inaugural post I want to illustrate one of the true classics of BS music reviews. This review comes from Pitchfork in June 2004 and it is Brent DiCrescenzo’s review of The Beastie Boys’ To The Five Boroughs. It isn’t one of the usual hatchet-job from Pitchfork (it’s actually a very respectable 7.9). It is a bit wordy (DiCrescenzo was nothing if not a blowhard) and spends a lot of time dwelling on how a publicist for Nasty Little Man led DiCrescenzo on a wild goose chase across Europe for a promised interview with Radiohead (NLM represents both Radiohead and the Beasties). This review is worth mentioning because Pitchfork had to issue this retraction:
Last Tuesday, June 15th, Pitchfork published a review of the Beastie Boys’ To the 5 Boroughs by Brent DiCrescenzo, a frequent and trusted contributor. In his review, Brent detailed experiences with the Beastie Boys’ public relations firm Nasty Little Man, and its president Steve Martin, over the course of several years. Pitchfork has since determined that a number of DiCrescenzo’s assertions were false, based on corroborated statements from the two parties he claimed were participating in the chain of events referred to in the review. With apologies to Steve Martin and Nasty Little Man, we have retracted the original review in its entirety, and would like to make the following known publicly, to correct any and all falsities perpetrated by Brent’s review:
1) Radiohead were never in Milan in June 1999.
2) Radiohead never moved a concert from Villa Reale in Milan to Monza in 1999, 2000 or otherwise.
3) Steve Martin never “forgot to tell” Brent that the concert was moved, as it was not.
4) Neither Steve Martin, nor anyone working for Nasty Little Man, ever confirmed a Radiohead interview with Brent DiCrescenzo or Pitchfork.
5) Brent DiCrescenzo’s declaration that Steve Martin had not gotten back to him or Mean magazine about a possible Beastie Boys interview after six weeks is untrue: Martin was in constant contact with Mean publisher Kashy Khaledi and editor Andy Hunter throughout that period.
6) Mean magazine never “delayed their publication to accomodate [Martin’s] procrastination.” Kashy Khaledi did so of his own volition in order to keep the Beastie Boys cover story Martin had confirmed and saw through with him every step of the way.
7) Steve Martin has never, to Brent DiCrescenzo’s knowledge, “dangled [his] major artists… like carrots to the media in an attempt to blackmail press for features” on less established artists or bands.
Here’s the full text of DiCrescenzo’s review: