Some recent things I’ve written
- For Pitchfork, a review of Ejecta’s debut album. RIYL: making fun of Drive while also enjoying Drive, Styx, disco, happy drugs in sad places
- Also for Pitchfork, a review of Kevin Morby’s (ex-Woods, The Babies) solo album. So good he called me a 4th grader on Twitter, then backed down when I pointed out the only factual error came from his official press bio. RIYL: ’80s Dylan, ’70s Neil Young, pretending to be something you’re not to mixed success.
- For GQ, a guide on how to drink at the holidays around your family for millennials. It ran before Thanksgiving but is still applicable to Christmas, I suppose. RIYL: passing out on the couch only to be snapped awake by Derrick Rose nailing a game-winning shot and screaming “FUCK YEESSSSSSSS” as your relatives swivel their heads to see if you need to be put to sleep
- For Pacific Standard, a defense of SPAM. RIYL: telling your health to go fuck itself
- Also for Pacific Standard, a look into why people say “we” when they really mean “I.” RIYL: getting super annoyed by this habit
Music writing is 100 percent opinionated. Most music writing is either from: A) Someone who can generate a lot of bullshit content for BuzzfeedorPatch, etc. B) What’s perceived as a clique but is really writers trying to latch onto a new band or sound because they’re not making ends meet and want to be making more money. C) Those who are given assignments from editors who get promo emails from partner labels or corporations all day. D) Those who actually go out to shows and see what people like/find something they like and write about it because they think other people can relate to the music/can dig it. Only this last one isn’t fueled by money but a bit of adventure, finding something out on your own and relaying it. Liz has always been excited to share music, not jam it down your throat because she wants to make money.
This is a smart response to #ThatVideo and worth reading in full. However, I can’t help but look at these four tiers as they relate to the artists themselves, not the writers. Reorganize it as…
A) The obvious traffic spikers (Grimes, Vampire Weekend, Dirty Projectors)
B) The buzzy nowness (Disclosure, DIIV, Perfect Pussy)
C) The buzz seekers (literally anyone but okay, let’s say Dead Gaze and Kevin Morby, both of whose records I reviewed for Pitchfork)
D) The unsigned unknown (whoever’s opening a Wednesday night Death By Audio show)
… and you get an easier picture of what, I think, the problem is: That D) acts become C) or B) or even A) acts in the span of weeks for reasons that are almost certainly not solely because of artistic aesthetics.
(Aside: Visual aesthetics come into it, definitely; it’s only human nature that a lot of bands who make it, whether male or female-fronted, are decently good looking. The casualness of DIIV guy talking about modeling like it’s just something you do. Bradford Cox: “Indie rock is such a bratty culture, and I don’t see a lot of ugly people in it, either. I feel very proud to be hideous.”)
But, okay, let’s talk about hype. Three months ago Perfect Pussy was an amusingly-titled band jockeyed by literally three writers on Twitter. Now, they’re a lock for year-end coverage and while still a “DIY” band—tapes on the mail to their fans across the world, weekly gigs at 285 Kent—are now repped by the same publicist as Grimes. You might say their general marketability has a cap on it, but they’re undoubtedly cool and went from being IMO a run-of-the-mill hardcore act to one of those B) level bands in a matter of weeks.
I, for one, have no idea what halcyon era of authenticity Ott is referring to in any of his videos. But all of these “ads have always existed in music” deflections seem intentionally fatuous given the immense, immense differences of the music industry today compared with the music industry then. This is undebatable, right? The Internet exploded and democratized all of these bedroom artists and bands to get out there and noticed. I get dozens of emails per day regarding bands I’ve never heard of; I try to listen to as many as I can, though Lord knows I miss the mark compared to a lot of other writers. But one of the things the Internet certainly has not democratized is how bands can be successful; you start out as a Death By Audio band, but soon enough you’ve got the same publicist as Grimes. (Those publicists are themselves great people who I enjoy a nice relationship with; I’m just making a point about scaling upwards.)
I’ve only met Jenn Pelly and Maria Sherman a handful of times and I haven’t met Liz, but even without knowing them I think it would be extremely impossible to question their level of commitment and enjoyment w/r/t the bands they write about. But the fact remains that there are people sitting in rooms, scouring all these blogs and looking for artists they can make some money with by signing to their PR firm, their sponsored show, their sugared drink brand, etc. Are those entities evil, cynical, and craven in looking to maximize their brand by giving money to a band? Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. It’s complicated! I don’t know about Urban Outfitters paying Best Coast, but I’d probably be down if, say—warning, shallowly explored hypothetical—Annie’s offered to cater all of GODMODE’s touring acts. It’s a grey area reflecting economic realities that are frankly pretty depressing if you want to get into the nitty gritty of where the money goes. (See Nitsuh’s Grizzly Bear piece and Damon Krukowski’s Pitchfork editorial, but it’s also across the board: the shutterings of Spin, AOL Music, MSN Music, etc.)
Regardless of the upside, it’s ruthless out there. I’m friends with some people who work for major record companies and the way they talk about bands is astonishing; they’re in it for the art, absolutely, but any band who can’t sell something is worthless. I’ve heard them deconstruct and dismiss a list of unsellable Buzz Bands—bands firmly endorsed by the critical consensus—with the bored affectation of someone twirling a piece of gum around their finger. By the same accord, small labels are totally broke—I have friends who’re trying to sell their records at a lower level, but if you don’t appear monetizable on something outside the music it just isn’t happening. Which leaves you with a Bandcamp, a packed house at DBA, and… what? The art?
The art, yes. That’s what’s worth protecting, and no one has all the answers; not Chris Ott, and not any of the intelligent people responding to him. But I don’t think it’s improper to ask these questions, though it’s certainly Ott’s fault—and this is a big fault—that he’s made his perhaps valid points legitimately irrelevant because he can’t play nice with the only people paying attention.
pre-8 AM Gchats
Jeremy 2: I'm staring into the shapeless void of the internet today, and I'm just waiting for a dark shape to appear from its maw to grab my soul and imprison me for the rest awful eternity. How about you?
Me: listening to one direction and writing about sports
Jeremy 2: yeah that's a "same"
November 27, 2013 at 6:34pm
Heating up again
Two phenomenal answers. Alas, I went with “The Matrix” before I saw them.
Crowd-sourcing this one
Latest communication: “Can you name on socialist entity in the history of the world that was successful? Your closest and only answer might be the pioneering days of the zionist movement in Israel, and even that fizzled out because in theory socialism is fabulous, in reality it doesnt work”
My question is, can I give any better answer than “The Matrix”?
state of discourse
Dude: No - overall real standard of living would be much lower in Socialist America. Obviously that may be a point of disagreement, but I believe it to be true. Lots of problems in today's (quasi-)Capitalist America, but none would be solved by turning up the dial on "socialism".
Me: IMO we could safely turn the socialism dial up to like a 7 or 8
A college friend posted the Gawker article about all the anti-capitalist things the Pope said the other day and one of his friends said “Socialism sucks” so, I don’t know, I typed “Socialism owns” and he responded and so did someone else and now I’m just trolling them really transparently but it seems to be working way better than it should and I’m escalating things before the moment when I can post “Hannah Montana" or "Where’s the birth certificate, Barry" and walk away. It shouldn’t be this fun but I am very bored this pre-Thanksgiving Day and also kind of an idiot.
This may sound obvious, but it’s important to note for drinking newbies, especially since Thanksgiving marks the beginning of pro-drinking season: imbibing with your relatives is different than pounding a sixer with your bros.
Here’s something I wrote for GQ on young folks learning how to drink around their families at the holidays.