Y Marks the Spot: I’ve come to Loathe You, Music

YOUR FUTURE HERO.

 

There was one lucid moment in the past year of my musical breakdown which sums up the silliness and absurdity of music as culture.  It happened around the time of Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” a fantastically brainless musing about partying and the days of the week that, with the help of the internet, turned one hapless teenage girl into the Antichrist.

Maybe it’s because I’ve come to cherish the weird and terrible instead of condemning them; maybe it’s just because I’ve stopped defining myself by what I’m entertained by.  In any case, I didn’t get the outrage against “Friday.”  If I was 16, still awash in brand name rebellion and mass marketed introspection, I’d probably have gotten offended and howled for her head with the rest of the uppity jackasses.  So here’s one more reason why I’m glad I’m no longer 16.  It’s a dumb song.  The end.  Get over it.

It was while I was in this line of thinking that I was treated to a performance of late 90s pop classics sung by a room full of girls drunk with nostalgia and beer.  So many songs that I actually did rail against back in the day, songs I was sure would bring about the downfall of civilization, were being sung in earnest by people who this night acted like this music was civilization’s apex.  I’ll admit that I had to get out of there after the third Spice Girls song, but I also realized that someday Rebecca Black, Justin Bieber, and the next test tube babies from the Disney Channel and American Idol will be the elder statesmen of all music.  “Mmmbop” by Hanson is no less absurd than “Friday,” but it’s more tolerable because it’s not happening now.  Because it’s history, and thus safe.

Beyond this moment and a few others, my past year has been spent loathing the grand idea of music.  This isn’t to say that I’ve spent that time in silence; in fact, I’ve often clung to music as a means of evasion and inspiration.  But any and all moments when music went beyond my headphones and me and became social in any way drove me nuts.

The earliest break was a continuation of a problem I’ve had since I began reviewing albums four years ago.  Essentially, I think music journalism is bullshit.  I knew it was bullshit when I started doing it, and I think it’s bullshit now, and there has never been a period when I didn’t believe this.  Even more than any other form of media, music works on a visceral, personal level.  Attempting to foist your tastes upon someone else, especially in the impersonal realm of media propaganda, is as illogical as it is invasive.

The last year has seen long stretches of time when I threw up my hands and stopped being a music journalist, but I’ve never quit for good.  The question arises: if I hate music journalism so much, why am I still doing it?

The first and easiest answer is that I don’t write about music for music’s sake but for writing’s sake.  I don’t want to be some desperately hip tastemaker.  I’m fine with giving my opinions on a thing, but I don’t have the attitude that my opinions are law.  In fact, I don’t really care if anyone picks up an album at my suggestion.  I write to write, and I write for myself.  Reviewing albums is good, constant exercise.

More importantly, I also review for myself.  I’ve found quite a few really good albums that I wouldn’t have discovered had I not been reviewing music on a semi-regular basis.  Even as I loathe the telemarketing aspect of music journalism, I’ve personally benefited, learned, and grown as a result of pursuing it.

My final point on why I write about music is that I’ve found that I really like interviewing people.  A review is black or white, life-changing or total shit, but talking with people about what they do provides a lot of context to the work that is sometimes wonderful to discover.  I did have a bit of a meltdown in the past when I realized that, with the possible exception of David Bowie, every musician in the world is going to answer the question of what sets them apart with the cliché that they’re honest and real.  Nonetheless, I get much more out of interviewing than being a product shill (and in media, even when you’re savaging a product, you’re shilling it).

The other big reason behind my break with music comes back to age.  Just as I no longer take music I dislike as heralding the apocalypse, so too do I no longer tie my identity to music I do like.  I have favorite bands, I suppose, but my sense of brand loyalty is gone.

Furthermore, I’m falling out of the target audience.  Pop music is a teenager’s game, and I’m a decade past the expiration date.  I’ve heard the same lyrical themes of phony, desperate romance and phony, triumphant rebellion for my whole life.  With every repetitive sentiment music becomes more pointless.  I’m kind of over it, which means that music is kind of over me.  It’s a strange and occasionally alienating feeling, but one I can live with.

Music, I still like you, even if you do sometimes act like an obnoxious twit who doesn’t realize that you’re wallpaper, not religion.  We’ll be friends for life, and nothing will change that, but the time has come for a little clarity between us.  It might help our relationship if you occasionally shut the fuck up.

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Y Marks the Spot: The Bullshit Addict

When I came up with a new personal code of conduct this past January, I placed the most value not on what I wanted to accomplish, but how.  As such, the most important rule I set for myself was to not be frustrated when (not if) I failed to immediately live up to all my expectations.  Having been fueled by frustration for most of my life, I have an annoying and highly self-destructive tendency to throw all my hopes and plans into the dumpster at the first setback.  Usually this comes about because I become willingly distracted by some stimulus and forget about all the big things I want to accomplish.  The stupidity comes about when this sloth frustrates me into giving up and engaging in further, more depressed sloth.  The result of this cycle often becomes that I get so spun around that, when the distractions are all conquered, I’m left with no idea of what to do next.  This is where I’m currently at.

I am a junkie, not for alcohol or drugs, but for bullshit.  I’m not being melodramatic or romanticizing the situation at all.  My sense of obsession is titanic, and rather than use that potentially wonderful quality to fulfill all the big goals I want to accomplish, I derail myself at any given distraction.  The title of my stimulus review column, The Designer’s Drugs, is not so much a clever, rebellious name as it is an admission that entertainment can – and often does – become an addiction.

Even now, even as I’ve outgrown a lot of my past stupidity, I’m fantastically addicted to addiction.  If I’m playing a video game, I tend to complete every side quest and every achievement.  I loathe watching television shows because watching every episode in a series takes too much time and effort, and with TV shows, if I’m in for a penny I’m in for a pound.  I spend hours, days, weeks, and months on the internet doing little more than absorbing trivia, yet I find that I don’t know how to turn off the switch.  I’m brilliant, in all the wrong ways.

My current theory is that all of this comes from a feeling that all stimulus is there to be consumed or conquered, which isn’t surprising considering that I was raised by video arcades and Nintendo.  It’s this line of thought that justifies why I stopped buying cigarettes, as I’d go through a pack a day simply because it was there.  It makes much more sense for me to pace myself and steal cigarettes from my friends.

So if I can view every aspect of my life in gaming terms – winning, losing, high scores – is it possible for me to enjoy life as it is?  Whether won or lost, a game is over.  Life isn’t really like that, as I’m coming to realize.

But strangely, awkwardly, and full of failure, I’m getting better.  Sometimes.

My only rationalized consolation for the time I wasted between January and now is that most of the wasting went according to plan.  During that period, a few video games came out that I knew would be awesome, including a remake of one of my favorite games ever, Final Fantasy IV.  I consciously decided to get these games, and didn’t feel bad about it at all.

Perversely, this is a drastic improvement over the days when I would buy crappy entertainment of any kind simply to get new things.  At least I wasn’t wasting my time on consuming something I didn’t even really like.  This is me maturing.

Unfortunately, my taste in games runs toward epic strategy games that take weeks to complete, so even my reasoned decision ended up with me playing these games from waking to sleep, for days at a time.  I wasn’t frustrated by this, but I sure wasn’t being fulfilled, either.

Equally unfortunate was what happened once I emerged victorious and had no more worlds to conquer.  When the last game was finished, I had no desire to get another throwaway game, to watch throwaway television, to drown in the throwaway internet.  I was done being entertained, and I had no idea what to do next.  Victory had crippled me.

I’ve spent the time since reading, in my conquering junkie style, but I’m not reading mindlessly or gluttonously.  Soon the books I’m working on at the moment will run out, and I’ll be in the same position I’m in with all the other forms of entertainment, not knowing how to flip the switch from mindless reception to brilliant transmission.

I’ve spent a month trying to figure out the answer, but in that time I feel like something might be building, if I allow it to.  The temporary breakdown of my brain I’ve been slogging through has sucked, no doubt.  But it may have been necessary.  I’ve always been kind of an idealist nihilist in that I feel that I’m at my best when I have nothing.  Maybe this is the nothing I’ve been waiting for.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Jammin’ George’s Very Jammin’ Christmas

Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Flag Day!

 

Film: Jammin’ George’s Very Jammin’ Christmas (2011)

 

It’s entirely in keeping with everything I know about the great Jammin’ George that he would send me a Christmas-themed video at a time nowhere near the holidays.  It’s both an absurd decision and a delightful one.  Very Jammin’ Christmas is a quick burst of Jammin’ George’s comedic genius largely infused with (though in no way limited to) Yuletide spirit.  While this 10 minute show doesn’t have the variety or the sheer mindfucking of George’s hour-long epic, Jammin’ George’s Land of Fun, it is a joyous bit of goofing around.

As opposed to the greater diversity of that epic, George’s tribute to Christmas largely sticks to quick impressions and snippets of song.  He does bring back a few classic bits from Land of Fun, one of which is appropriate for the Christmas theme and the other so weird that I’d watch it a thousand different ways.  The first is Jammin’ “George’s 12 Days of Christmas,” featuring George reading down a list of things that make the holidays great, including hot body poses, quenching Orangina, and falafels a-falafeling.  The weird bit is George showing his audience how to make toast.  There’s no swerve; it’s simply George putting bread in a toaster and buttering it when it comes out.  But he’s pumped about it, which sells the entire bit and makes it hilarious as well as bizarre.

His new bits are more or less Christmas-based, the most notable of which features George as the fourth wise man, late for the nativity and looking for a good place for falafel.  He also does a wicked impression of Ebenezer Scrooge.  Still, some of my favorite bits ended up being the times when he’d go off topic.  There’s a great joke about George’s dad being a hedge fund guy before it was cool, and he does a sweet impersonation of Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood.  Then there’s George’s weird, mild-mannered rant about going on a bus ride and not getting a tuna sandwich that was promised him, which would have been out of left field from a lesser comedian.

I do wish that George would have gone longer on this video and diversified his skits a bit more; there’s so much more holiday-themed gold that the man could have mined.  I am more of a fan of Land of Fun, but Very Jammin’ Christmas is a good introduction to those who haven’t seen that masterpiece, as well as a great companion piece for those who have.

The Designer’s Drugs: IamX/The Sounds

Medium: Album

Stimulus: IamX – Volatile Times

Anno: 2011

 

Compared to its previous releases, the latest album from IamX plies a slightly more subdued brand of electrogloom.  The grandiose intensity and orchestration characteristic of IamX remains; all that has changed is that Volatile Times is more menace than fury.

Still, what fury does exist here more than makes up for the rest of the album’s comparative calm.  “Cold Red Light” is a brilliant mixture of snarling robotics that evokes the very best of David Bowie’s forays into industrial music.  The album’s title track is a bouncier blast of big band pop which merges well with the whispers and screams in Chris Corner’s vocals, and “Ghosts of Utopia” is a darker and more stripped-down version of that song.

The calm parts are equally deft, and as has become tradition, the final track is especially breathtaking.  In this case, the track is titled “Oh Beautiful Town,” and it exemplifies all that grandiose intensity and orchestration that sets IamX apart.  It seems that with each release, this entity drifts further from beeping masochism and pretentious darkness, and it moves further into these big, beautiful songs – and that’s a wonderful thing.

 

Medium: Album:

Stimulus: The Sounds – Something to Die For

Anno: 2011

 

I’m not sure if the Sounds’ mutation from electrorock to electropop makes much of a difference.  Sure, the keyboards on this album completely dominate the guitars and there are a few tracks here that seem more radio-calculated than usual, but the band’s instrumentation was always so poppy that the difference on Something to Die For is a question of degrees, not absolutes.  The Sounds haven’t changed their style; they’ve simply arrived at its next logical conclusion.

In any event, the best songs on this album are more pop than rock.  The first two tracks are the album’s zenith, as the darkly ravish “It’s So Easy” leads into the bright orchestra pop of “Dance with the Devil,” and both shine.  “Yeah Yeah Yeah” is a straight-up 80s drum machine dance anchored by hate and Prince-namedropping in the vocals.  Even the best rock song, “Diana,” sounds a bit New Order in the basslines.  In fact, the songs that do sound like typical punky Sounds – especially “The No No Song” – feel pretty average.

There’s little on Something to Die For that is mind-blowing, but it’s a solid experiment that neither destroys the established formula nor stagnates in it.