Archive for July, 2009

Conversations About Contemporary Music and Culture with Myself (Part Three)

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Part Three:  “Pleasantness”

It’s my preference that the music, films, literature, and art that I expose myself to are not “pleasant.” From a frontman of a band, I want the the grating falsetto of Frank Black, the pissed off tone of Isacc Brock, the sandpaper sounds that come from Tom Waits’ throat, the discomforting whine of Gordon Gano, the awkwardly range-constricted Malkmus, and so on. Obviously there are many exceptions, Elliott Smith comes to mind, but even though his voice is “pretty,” his music certainly is not “pleasant.”

So, after many years of cock-rock dominating the rock n’ roll radio-waves, wuss-rock is in full effect. You should be able to identify wuss-rock from a mile away. As mentioned in Part One,I am aware of that wave of wuss-rock that breezed through in the late 90s to early 00s. Tal Bachmans Shes So High (Above Me)is so chiseled into my mind that sometimes I want to ram a ballpoint pen into my brain if that track happens to enter it. Other wuss-rockers include Vertical Horizon, Nine Days and their track Absolutely (Story of a Girl)and so on. These bands never outlived their 15 minutes and never for one second attempted to be indie, or were ever treated as though they were indie. Id never hear a critic, or overhear an irritatingly high-pitched voice say, Vertical Horizons latest album is a breakthrough for indie-rock.Unfortunately, this is the kind of press that the contemporary wuss-rocker Conor Oberst gets.

All Im stating is that not only has the perception of indie-rock become commercial, its gone the way of the wuss. So many soft voices whispered over dull string-quartets are repeating sentiments of unrequited love, teenage confusion, or irrational bliss. These songs haunt me in grocery stores and through acquaintances’ ipods.

I am by no means attacking the “validity” of this music. Is this music better than Nickelback or the proudly superficial radio-rap? Yes. I mean, generally, these starry-eyed boys are preaching anti-superficiality, non-conformity, anti-war, and other principles I can get down with, but unfortunately, they come off as weaklings and/or nancy-boys. Which actually hurts the messages that I agree with.

To be clear, though I’m calling certain musicians “weaklings,” I don’t listen to testosterone glorifying cock-rock either. With so, so much music out there, I’m curious as to why people aren’t more selective.

Obviously, a debate like this will invoke gender roles and sexuality and so forth, and I’ll try to dodge that discussion by just saying that you don’t have to be a “man’s man,” or some giant hoss of a guy to not be a wuss. Many huge body-builder type fellas are wusses. And there are many artists who may or may not appear effeminate (according to your perception) who are certainly not wusses. Woody Allen is no wuss. Gordon Gano is no wuss. Thom Yorke is definitely not a wuss. William Burroughs was no wuss (I’m aware of what his sexual orientation was). So, I hope that throws out the notion that I was looking at this from a regressive “men are men, women are women” perspective.

At the end of the day, if your music sounds like something that can be enjoyed by a soccer mom who voted twice for Reagan, I don’t think I’ll enjoy it. Ben Gibbard, I’m looking at you.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

Monday, July 27th, 2009

“Home”

http://micaelklok.com/uploads/Home.mp3

At first listen, you’ll either be wrapped inside of it, or you’ll just write it off as a simple, cheesy ballad.  I’m wrapped.

Generally, I have problems with cutesy, head-bobbing tracks, but the authenticity and play between the singers, frontman Alex Ebert (formerly of Ima Robot) and Jade Castrinos is too inviting, too charming.  And this is from a guy who hates “charming” things.

After minor research, the critics label this as neo-hippie rock, or hippie-ster (lame).  I believe this has more to do with the persona and image the band is emitting, rather than the music itself (though I’ve only heard a handful of songs).

Something I enjoy seeing more and more is the proliferation of horns fused into modern rock songs / bands.  I’m referring to the way Broken Social Scene (and ES & the MZ) utilizes multi-instrumentalists / a horn section, not the way ska bands use them.

Once I have moved and scraped some cash together, this is an album I will be purchasing.

The best professional write-up I found is located here:

http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/19/entertainment/et-edwardsharpe19

enjoy.

go ahead…

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

I realize that there’s not much multi-media stuff on here.  I apologzie for that.  I’ll put forth more effort to get videos, pictures, and music posted in the near future.

I was just hoping to get some essays and fiction flowing and hoping to get feedback from… well, anyone.

So go ahead and post or email me feedback, and I’ll throw some effort into making this a more entertaining site soon enough.

thanks,

—rick

Excerpt from “Victory Lap”

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

I said I’d put some of my fiction on here, so here goes.  I’m still new to this WordPress thing, so I haven’t quite figured out everything.  My lack of blogger know-how is why this excerpt of a screenplay is not formatted correctly, but you’ll get the gist.

enjoy.

INT. BEER AISLE OF GROCERY STORE – DAY

We see the pair peruse the beer from a distance.  Conversation and flirtation takes place but the audience doesn’t get any audio of the exchange, just body language. They select a six-pack of tall boys.

FADE TO:

INT. A CANTINA – DAY

Two tall-boys are cracked open. Jack and Jessica are sitting opposite one another.

JESSICA
Okay, we’re here, we have beer,
we’re seated, there’s no danger of
oncoming traffic, so let’s hear it.
Hater-

JACK
Whoa, okay, you are really hot in
the biscuit to hear why our big
cities suck.

JESSICA
Hot in the biscuit? Ha. Well,
whatever, like just explain.

JACK
Okay, well…

JESSICA
(cuts him off)
I mean, so far, it still seems full
of shit but…

JACK
Easy. I’m just gonna go ahead and
do my thing and hopefully you’ll
have an open mind and not come down
on me too hard. Sound good?

JESSICA
Sounds great.

JACK
Great. Now, without romanticizing
other cities outside our great
state, I’ll just try to explain why
at minimum Houston and Dallas suck.

JESSICA
(excitedly defending and
cutefully open mouthed)
Okay- I just don’t…
(big hand gestures)

JACK
Hold on, we’ll get there. Just bear
with me. So, Dallas and Houston
have been along for a good while,
BUT neither cities became the huge
metropolises, metropoli?,
(makes a “movin on” or
“whatever” gesture)
they are today until relatively
recently. Both cities’ populations
and economy, you know, boomed after
the 1950s. Technological industry
in “Big-D” and in Houston, the oil
“slash” (/) energy industry shifted
from shipping, receiving, refining,
and drilling to a kind of condensed
corporate headquarters.

Jessica drinks her beer, maintaining eye-contact with Jack.

JACK (CONT’D)
Important to note here, in both
cities, the economic base of the
towns switched from blue-collar to
white.

JESSICA
So, these towns changed and grew a
little…

JACK
(rhetorically)
So- these towns are late bloomers,
so what?

Jessica drinks her beer while looking a little intrigued at the same time of looking a little bored.

JACK (CONT’D)
Well, what I’m trying to say is
that because these towns are extraordinary
cases of “late bloomerdom”
compounded with the sudden
surge of people with white-collar
“slash” (/) upper middle-class
paychecks, it was amazingly easy
for housing and community
developers to sweep in and clear
everything out to suit their needs.
(looking at Jessica to
feel if she’s
reciprocating his energy)
Both open spaces and the old,
weathered neighborhoods were
bulldozed down.
Basically, it’s hard to find
evidence of life in Houston or
Dallas before 1950… unless you go
to what has been labeled “the
ghetto.” It’s weird.
(shrugs)
Driving through those cities feels
a lot like walking through a brand
new shopping mall where everything
is loud, flashy, and over-priced.

JESSICA
Oh.

JACK
Also, their baseball teams can’t
win, the Cowboys are obnoxious, the
Oilers are a memory, the Spurs
found a way to make basketball
boring, the Mavericks are prettyboy
choke-artists, and the “clutch
city” Rockets are long gone.

JESSICA
You’ve given this speech before
haven’t you?
(no shot of Jack’s
reaction)
Well, I happen to like these
towns… sports teams, superficiality and all!

FADE TO WHITE.

Conversations About Contemporary Music and Culture with Myself (Part Two)

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Part Two:  The Garden State Effect

If nothing else illustrates that the terminology, fashion, genre or idea of “indie” is being stretched way, way too far.  Take a look at these rom-coms directed towards teens and pre-teens.  Garden State was released in July 28, 2004 and it obviously was one of the first attempts by Hollywood to glamorize or cash in on the marketability of this growing “indie” culture.  What followed recently was Juno (2007) and Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist (2008) etc.  I’m certain I’ve overheard these damn films described as “indie” and this also cannot be further from the truth.

The point is just that.  This is a style, idea, or identity that is being marketed.  Not that claiming anything was indie, ever made it unique and cool, but certainly now, this is not the case.  But, “indie” was previously associated with anything different from what is marketed.  And this has changed.  Indie is now being marketed.  The mainstream styles that defined adolescents and their culture such as that obnoxious, red New York Yankees hat that Fred Durst (and all the teenage minions) wore backwards, or the Eminem buzzed bleached-blonde look is now young men actively searching for women’s jeans to wear.  These loathsome fashion and identity staples sold to us by music and film have most recently co-opted whatever little “indie” style there was and killed it.

Not that I give a shit about wearing women’s pants, it’s just that there used to be a dissenting culture to all things Nickelback and mainstream, but these “hipsters” (or whoever) aren’t realizing that they are what is mainstream now.  The cycle is over.  You may have loved and lived punk-rock in the 80s, but by the time Blink-182 came around, punk was no longer cool.

So it goes.  Trends, music, films, and styles come and people decide who they are going to be for the next few years without giving much thought as to why they’re buzzing their head and bleaching blonde in ’00…

only to grow it out and use a headband to plaster their mop in front of their giant sunglasses in ’08.

Conversations About Contemporary Music and Culture with Myself

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Part One:  Indie?

I’m tired of hearing “indie” used to describe everything.  Ben Gibbard is not “indie.”  Neither is Vampire Weekend.  Whatever fashion statement someone is trying to make is not indie.

To give a literal definition of “indie” (in regards to entertainment):  in-de-pend-ent – music (or any media) that is created apart from the major labels (studios, networks, publishers, etc) Universal, Warner, Sony and EMI.  Purists would extend the definition to include any off-shoot labels (or movie studios) operating under the umbrella of the above majors as well.

In the past I have defined this term, “indie,” as art or media that is conscientiously in dissent to whatever the mainstream happens to be.  This includes promotional techniques as well.  For instance, if the work really is different (from the mainstream), it won’t be promoted in the same manner as a Jerry Bruckheimer project or an album by 50 cent or some other blatant pop star.

Here are some obvious examples of what indie-music is specifically.  When the hair-bands (van halen, GnR) and U2 were dominating the airwaves on the commercial front, the Pixies were doing something totally different and independent from major-label influence.  When “alternative” or grunge was the mainstream, Pavement was on a completely different track.  When rap-rock (limp bizkit, korn) and wuss-rock (third eye blind) or that SoCal wave of pop-rock (lit, everclear) were going ape-shit at middle-school and high-school dances, Modest Mouse was making great albums that weren’t financially successful.

Then two events occurred that turned the industry.  Elliott Smith dies on October 21, 2003, and Good News for People Who Love Bad News is released six months later.  With Smith’s death, a genuine stir is created.  College radio stations mourned Smith similarly to how CNN is currently mourning Michael Jackson.  And when Isaac Brock decides to use major label production and promotional techniques for Good News the industry absorbed the shockwave of change.  These events, the industry’s capitalization on the death of the single most anti-corporate and unabashedly unique singer-songwriter and the era’s most important “indie” band conforming their production, and more importantly, reversing their stance on corporate promotional techniques are largely to blame for this proliferation of all things “indie.”

How did Modest Mouse do anything different as far as promotion for Good News is concerned?  It’s simple to point out that the three full-length Modest Mouse records along with everything else they made before Good News (which are damned amazing) didn’t get so much as a single play on Clear Channel radio, but “Float On” was featured on commercials for K-Mart as well as featured on the MTV video music awards.

Those two events, combined with the previous years’ success of soft-shelled boys holding guitars (Jason Mraz, John Mayer, Jack Johnson, etc), lead to the majors paying attention to bands like the decemberists, the killers, iron and wine, the shins, arcade fire, bloc party, death cab, the postal service, kings of leon, etc and giving them the “pop-rock” treatment.

These new pop bands made music free of a blatantly obvious and easily identifiable genre.  Meaning, you just can’t lump them all into “neo-folk” or “lit-rock” or what have you.  But they all do share a few similar characteristics, and so, people that had no idea how to articulate what they heard or how to accurately describe what they were listening to, stapled the default genre tag for anything not blatantly obvious.  This default genre, being “indie.”  So, without an easily identifiable genre tag, everything just sort of became indie, regardless of label, sound, attitude or promotion.

So what to do now?  Who is indie and who isn’t?  Who is underground and who is “selling out?”  Essentially, none of this matters.  That debate is garbage anyways.  What is important, is people thinking about what they like and why they like it.  As well as folks possessing the ability to discuss their tastes and interests without lumping everything into a vague genre.  When people ask me what I like, I approach the conversation with great delicacy.  But still, after naming a few of my favorite albums, be it Madlib’s Shades of Blue or Wilco’s Being There, I’ll here some bystander cut me off with a comment like “oh, so you’re into, like, indie stuff huh?  Yeah, me too.  Totally.  Indie for sure.”

These conversations can be irritating and it’d be productive if people thought about what they like and search for a way to describe what it is they like.  For god’s sake, don’t call Feist “indie” just because she’s a female singer that occasionally plays guitar and does not do anything similarly to former pop-queen Brittney Spears, or current pop starlet, Lady Gaga.  Feist is pop.  This is not to say her music is good or bad, but call it what it is.  I’m familiar with her outstanding work with Broken Social Scene (which is another textbook example of “indie”) but the work that bears Leslie Feist’s name, is certainly, without a doubt, “pop.”