Posts Tagged ‘The Strokes’
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (& Museum) isn’t much.
I get the gist of what it’s trying to accomplish in creating a singular source (and tourist destination) dedicated to the immensity of popular music. In a (non-obvious) sense, I applaud their efforts in making artistic recognition more athletic recognition-ish.
I love music. I love sports. Let’s squish them together. In Cleveland.
However, on paper, populating a Hall of Fame of musicians makes no sense since artistic appreciation is 100 per cent subjective. Any effort to quantify “everything” is ultimately going to offend in the court of personal preference, not to mention realms such as gender, creed, sexual preference and age.
The physical Hall of Fame opened in 1995 and the concept seemed massively antiquated even at that time. Once Internet became the Internet, YouTube views and Twitter followers and iTunes sales became the new (and more legit) signifiers of “making it” rather than enshrinement and/or the chance to rub elbows with Jann Wenner and friends .
However, maybe that last paragraph doesn’t speak to an apples-to-apples comparison. “Greatest” (in a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (& Museum) sense) shouldn’t be a measure of pure volume.
… and to clarify, that’s volume in the $$$/eyeballs sense and not in the “hey, Dinosaur Jr are f**kin’ loud” sense.
If we’re talking pure metrics, WWW-based signifiers would be more akin to:
– Albums sales
– Number of Billboard Top 10 singles
– Concert tickets sold
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (& Museum) aspires to be the latter.
It never will be.
In short, does anybody really care who gets elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (& Museum)? With the possible exception of Rush (who’s fan base anecdotally has a disproportionate amount of math nerds and Nate Silver-types), there have been few fan bases who visibly gave a (damn) as to whether their favourite artist(s) was/were elected or not.
For modern superstars like Kanye West or the Arcade Fire, is anybody anywhere wondering how their latest album or tour will contribute to their respective Hall of Fame resumes? Of course, not. The Hall will continue to induct acts who are quantitatively great (ABBA, The Eagles) and acts who are qualitatively great (Laura Nyro, Randy Newman).
… strangely, this whole Rock & Rock Hall of Fame (& Museum) spew isn’t even the point of this post. It’s moreso a set-up to assess a pair of other “greatness” measures and determine if they’re still relevant in the present.
Most artists who appear on Saturday Night Live have hit some level of critical mass. There have been a few outliers over the years but in general, it’s a pretty static measure of popularity (greatness?).
Janelle Monáe, HAIM, Alabama Shakes and Kendrick Lamar are some of the artists who made the leap in 2013. On paper, appearing on a TV show that is almost four decades old seems a hugely antiquated measure of anything. However, the shareability of these performance via YouTube (and GIFs) gives an SNL appearance a cultural resonance that goes way beyond the original airtime.
What about the cover of Rolling Stone? In general, nobody buys magazines anymore and Rolling Stone is almost a decade older than SNL. However, back in the day, a Rolling Stone cover was typically a guaranteed measure of both qualitative and quantitative greatness.
Circa now, the only time a magazine cover tends to get noticed is when controversy or nudity is involved. Boston (the city, not the band) freaked last year when Rolling Stone put civic bomber Jahar Tsarnaev on its cover, he looking very much like Syd Barrett in the process. Boston’s mayor got mad, a ton of people wrote about the controversy. Etc. Etc.
A hypocrisy ensued because on the one hand, we are conditioned to believe that nobody cares about magazines any more (statistics and this Twitter feed support this). And yet on the other, we are supposed to feign outrage when a player from within this (supposedly dead) medium does something irksome.
Parallel: the public outcry in Toronto over the sale of Honest Ed’s. Arguments rooted in neighbourhood preservation and community are completely valid. But the store itself? Kinda brutal and no doubt teeming the kind of sweatshop-supplied “goodies” that’d make Walmart seem righteous in comparison.
Anyway, the point is that magazines might be dead and/or dying but in the right context, a magazine cover story can still have a broad impact.
So what is the real value of a Rolling Stone cover in 2014?
I think the value is largely rooted in intent. Back in the day, a lot of Rolling Stone cover stories sought to lift the curtain on our heroes. Popular themes: substance abuse, the rigors of the road, grappling with fame, relationships, troubled childhoods, more drugs, more drinks, depression, drugs, rehab, a few more drinks, stronger drugs and death.
The writing had a lot of gravity (not in a bad way). The word “fuck” was typically left in (in a good way). Sometimes the articles were great and insightful. Other times, they were beyond pointless.
A 2003 Rolling Stone cover story on the Strokes is a good example of the latter. Tough assignment for journalist (and The Game purveyor) Neil Strauss, trying to get anything quotable from a band bred to look and sound bored. The full feature can be found here but more interesting is the play-by-play from Strauss’ notepad. Dude gave it the ol’ “college try” but this was an obvious “blood out of stone” scenario. Strauss should be commended for not hurling his pad towards Julian Casablancas’ face.
Again, the value of this brand of puff-y modern journalism is the intent, not the content.
In the present, lifting the curtain is a technique that publicists have reclaimed from journalists and bloggers. Wanna give your fan’s a peek at something? Put a snapshot on Instagram. Release a live recording on your website. Have your bassist tweet something wacky or offensive. Call TMZ.
The content is technical authentic but also completely fabricated. It’s so real, it’s fake.
On the flipside, subjecting oneself to a Rolling Stone cover feature is now (somehow) a post-modern means of letting go. By speaking to this under-read magazine, an artist is making this statement…
Hello. I am temporarily put my image in the hands of this writer. The resulting article will be largely irrelevant unless I say something provocative, stupid or racist. In short, the content doesn’t matter. What does matter is that this interview is an act of trust and I am comfortable with exposing myself in this manner. I hope this makes me look real. Because I am either real or want to be seen as real. Ideally.
This isn’t new. Trust has always been the subtext of any interview. What’s different is with so many more controlled options available to market oneself in the present day, there really is no need to pursue publicity in something as disgustingly antiquated as a (wretch… puke) magazine. Unless you’re consciously trying to make a statement about relinquishing control in a “I have nothing to hide” fashion.
The willingness is a statement. Everything else isn’t much.
MBV frontman Kevin Shields looked completely disengaged during the performance. Fellow cooer/guitarist Bilinda Butcher looked even bored-er. Speakers blared. Visuals were set to “seizure“. But reactions, energy, pulse? Nope. Just another day at the office for these two.
Why do we necessarily need our musicians to look “into it”? IMHO, effort is a nice-to-have in a live setting but it’s perhaps even more impressive to see somebody create epic art with a degree of nonchalance. As was the case with MBV in Toronto. And the entire history of J Mascis playing guitar.
Aside: seeing a band look awesomely bored on-stage while making an incredible racket is another example of how contrast is an underappreciated aspect in music. For more on this genius theory, read this.
Many outfits get tagged with the “they’re awesome live” label. This can help in terms of selling tickets and moving merchandise. However, it can also act as a distraction from the actual music (i.e. art) being created. Thusly, there are some “awesome live” acts who may not get the full artistic credit they deserve based on their on-stage antics (Fucked Up, the Jesus Lizard). The end game is they may get pigeonholed by some observers alongside other acts who exist primarily as a “spectacle” rather than “recording artist” (Gwar, Monotonix) in the traditional sense.
Google nets 18,000+ results for the expression “they’re boring live” so clearly, boredom is a concern for many, many music fans. But really, it should come down to a question of expectations. It’s not really fair to the artist to expect any random concert to provide the same brand of entertainment across the board (bored?). In the case of a band like My Bloody Valentine who took a two decade break between albums, I’d be really surprised if they did appear into it. Why would anybody think otherwise? If they really wanted to play these concerts, they wouldn’t have sat out 1993-2007.
I’d argue that the only problematically “boring” concerts are when a young-ish band get massive in a hurry (i.e. the Strokes, MGMT), focus on the substances or other distractions and start mailing in performances while they’re still in the ascension phase. This seriously is the worst but these outfits are pretty easy to spot via YouTube or Reddit or countless other outlets. Do your research and buyer beware, I guess.
So My Bloody Valentine looked half asleep. I thought the concert was beyond fantastic. Fucked Up insight CONSIDERABLE moshing while their singer strangles himself with the mic cord. It’s delightful; I’ve seen them maybe 4-5 times. Again, it’s all a matter of expectations and with a slew of online resources available to give your concert going experience an anticipatory litmus test, it’s now easier that ever to vet your “entertainment” options in advance. If you have concerns…
Bonus! 10 photos of artists who are/were really good at looking bored and being awesome.
1. Bernard Sumner, New Order
2. Charlie Watts, Rolling Stones
3. Doug Martsch, Built to Spill
4. Jamie xx, the xx
5. John Entwistle, the Who
6. John Hassall, the Libertines
7. Mark Smith, Explosions in the Sky (accepting on behalf of his band’s unjust “they’re boring live” stigma)
9. Nate Dogg
10. Neil Tennant, Pet Shot Boys (mildly related, the track “Being Boring” is completely underrated)
Bold statement: The most effective means of promoting music in 2013 is to stay invisible and authentically allow the fans to come to you.
Whack Scottish electro duo Boards of Canada haven’t released a full-length studio album in close to eight years. Until right now.
Tomorrow’s Harvest arrives amid a seismic wave of hype, at least compared to where this outfit left off in 2005. Boards of Canada were always popular, no doubt. But their woozy take on electronic music always seemed to be a bit more of a “nice to have” rather than a “must have”. Even their lauded 1998 debut Music Has the Right to Children is probably best positioned as background music if we’re being completely honest with ourselves. As us “serious” music fans typically aren’t.
Boards of Canada and their minders used a decidedly modern approach to hyping Tomorrow’s Harvest, “hiding” song snippets out-of-doors and across the Internetz and seeding various bloops and bleeps with tastemakers over at NPR. Seems and sounds pretty effective as it’s positioned the album as one of 2013’s most anticipated (until the next one) and really helped Boards of Canada jump a layer or two in terms of (perceived) notoriety. It remains to be seen if this is parlayed into lucrative live appearances (uh, Boards of Canada isn’t good at touring) and/or things of this nature.
… and yet while the Boards of Canada hype machine has been churning for much of the last few months, it was pretty much dormant for years upon years prior. Partially or entirely by design.
A great way to build buzz is to shut your goddam face and let your disciples come to you, let them pine for you, let them yearn in their hearts and their souls and their wallets.
No doubt, it’s chancy but it does speak to the fact that there are two exceedingly popular approaches for musicians to stay viable in 2013 and that we’re seeing each employed more and more.
1. Speak early, speak often and never, ever go away
There are a variety of approaches to stickin’ around, whether that’s guesting on other artist’s tracks, high-profile production gigs, touring when you don’t have anything active to promote (Courtney?), being a jerk, having somebody else be a jerk (or a-hole) to you or generally being around places where there are lots of cameras. The example of this approach are probably Rihanna, who literally has not left us for more than a couple of weeks at a time since 2005. Check her discography and you’ll see we’re entering into Cal Ripken Jr. territory: an individual who is consistently good-to-very-good on a daily basis and maintains this level of performance for years on end without any legit threats to the throne (Manny Alexander notwithstanding, obviously).
Yeah, “girlfriend” is on a sick run that is now approaching the decade mark and she doesn’t really show any signs of slowing down. Time will tell but the sheer magnitude of what Rihanna has done since 2005 quite trumps Whitney, Mariah, Beyonce, Diana Ross, etc. in terms of density AND volume. Big picture: she probably doesn’t get enough recognition considering. Ironically, Rihanna’s 2005 debut Music of the Sun (terrible album art BTW) was released August 12 of that year, a precise two months (well, two months and five days) prior to Boards of Canada’s last full-length The Campfire Headphase, which birthed of October 17. Full circle, dude!
2. Leave and be vague about when/if you’re coming back
Again, this is the approach Boards of Canada used when they went AWOL circa 2007-2012 and it has been employed by a variety of other artists in recent years with varying levels of success: David Bowie, Daft Punk, My Bloody Valentine, Kate Bush, D’Angelo, Guns N’ Roses, Portishead, even the Arcade Fire in a far more micro sense. The irony is in most or maybe all of these cases, the chasms between albums isn’t a marketing ploy at all. It’s more a product of disinterest or legal matters or substance abuse. Furthermore, I guarantee you in each instance, it’s largely a result of the artist not having anything new or interesting to say. That’s seriously not a bad thing: showing the restraint to stay away until you’re ready to speak when not spoken to.
It’s been well documented that the record industry itself is essentially flatlining but the community still bears pock marks from its “salad days”. The standard two year “record-album-tour-rinse-repeat” cycle is still very much a thing even though albums don’t mean very much at the moment and everything that isn’t nailed down or firewalled is ultimately lifted.
Take a band like the Strokes, who seemed like they might be encroaching on “so overrated, they’re underrated” territory when they released their kinda-fantastic 2005 effort First Impressions of Earth. That was their third full-length. What have we seen since? A couple of tepid follow-ups and a band that conveys a wild degree of disinterest, now paired with their stylized disinterest.
We’re now seeing the next generation of hipster-approved outfits hitting THAT phase in their discography including future Coachella headliners the National and Vampire Weekend. These bands have been steadily “around” for a while now (the National… much longer than a while but in terms of general consciousness, a while).
It appears their respective ascents are still in progress but given their active touring schedules and the ubiquity of their output in certain circles, it’ll be telling to see if people will start to lose interest some time soon. Possibly by the end of 2013?
There hasn’t really been a extended stretch where people had an opportunity (the pleasure?) to yearn for Vampire Weekend or the National since they’re always playing live or talking with Pitchfork or chumming around with Steve Buscemi or Hayden or whoever. So it’s tough to gauge whether they’re yearn-worthy at all. Boards of Canada have passed the yearn test. Time will tell with these other bands.
So what did Boards of Canada do during their hiatus? Not sure. What we do know is that their Reddit fans spend a lot of time sharing and speculating while various music blogs played their part in elevating the band into uncharted waters. Again, this pattern carried on for years and the result is an inflated sense of actuality that can allow ordinary bands to jump to soft-seater status and GOOD bands to effectively become legends (or headline festivals named after sauces).
This isn’t a comment at all on the quality of Boards of Canada’s music…. even though it totally is. It’s more a comment on the fact that perhaps the best hype-fuelling device in modern music is a complete swing of the pendulum to everything else happening in the industry.
If you ignore everything and everybody, it’ll only make people want you more.
It takes a certain calibre of artists to turn the trick but when you look at the reception that Boards of Canada, Bowie, MBV and Daft Punk have received in 2013, you’ve gotta imagine that more artists will be opting to STFU for prolonged stretches going forward.
Thankfully. There is way too much music as is.
Bold statement: Now more than ever, music lovers can own and access a wide range of music, cool or otherwise, without much impact on their beloved street cred. No more “guilty pleasures”. Just “pleasures”.
Two early 2000s innovations forever changed the type(s) of music that hipsters and other insects would admit to owning and/or enjoying.
The first innovation was the mash-up. A modern take on the decidedly non-modern efforts of Steinski, Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, M|A|R|R|S and the Timelords/JAMMs/KLF, the mash-up soon became a staple of tinny MP3s and trying-to-hard dance parties across the land.
The Strokes/Xtina purée “A Stroke of Genius” set the stage and things had ‘gotten got’ by the time Girl Talk showed up. Big picture, the mash-up was an indirect way for hipsters to admit their acceptance (ne: love) of Top 40 and gave us some tremendous efforts such as the still-holds-up goodness of…
The second innovation was the iPod. No need to recap its impact but a notable piece of fallout: you could no longer conceal the dirty little secrets of your music collection within your BENNO. Liberating to no end, the iPod forced music fans to drop the pretense and own what they…. well, own.
Short version: should you REALLY be ashamed of owning any piece of music? If your friends are going to judge you… Well, maybe those aren’t real friends.
The following is my effort at ownership and the big reveal of my “Theme from CompletelyIgnored.com” and “Theme from CompletelyIgnored.com 2.0” iPod playlists.
These songs are drawn from the 15,000+ songs that live in my 80GB iPod classic.
Theme from CompletelyIgnored.com: 25 songs that, in theory, I should never admit to owning. Rather than, y’know, publishing them on a WordPress blog.
Theme from CompletelyIgnored 2.0.com: 25 songs that I should be name dropping with regularity. With a heavy debt paid in full to this book.
Combined, this is the musical equivalent of buying carbon credits to juke my footprint of perceived lameness.
– It was a tough call between “Music Box Dancer” and “Popcorn” to fill the random-instrumental-smash-of-the-1970s quota. Regardless, the latter should get more credit for helping to introduce electronic music to the masses. The song is over 40 years old.
– Belated Jorday update (of sorts) via MySpace.
– Totally sincere: early 1990s Europop is one of the most underrated blips in Top 40 history. So many amazing tunes from so many outfits that were clearly one-and-done propositions (and possibly not even bands as I think some of these songs may have been written by marketing agencies). Effectively, the MuchDance series circa 1991-1995 could serve as that era’s Nuggets.
– Grantland.com is tremendous but seeing Rembert Browne poke fun at an 1980s remake of “Apache” without any acknowledgement of its impact on hip-hop? A miss.
– Not surprising but there is a serious Shotmaker hole in the Internet. Maybe this Wikipedia hyperlink will help.