May 31, 2010

Being mean about music

At the risk of sounding like I'm 100 years old: I like this "new" video by Vampire Weekend. It makes me smile a lot and want to share it with friends. The song, which I hated on first listen, has also grown on me.

And as I may have mentioned before, I've really become a YouTube playlist nerd. This playlist of bands on the Letterman show is pretty sweet. Might come in handy if we ever get around to hosting that poll for best latenight TV performances.

The Letterman list also led me to an incredible THEN and NOW for Kings of Leon. I really really hate them and I like some of their songs. How can they be such tepid tapioca?

But what I really came to write about is The Airborne Toxic Event, recipients of one of the most scathing music reviews I've ever come across. More on that in a moment.

Like Kings of Leon and other fancy bastards, Toxic Event has a song that I shamefully like and for which I slightly turn up the volume in my car when it comes across those rad waves. I'm talking about "Sometime Around Midnight." Despite liking it, I also hate it.

Lately it's been fun for me (annoying for Katie) when I make a point to mock radio hits for their formulaic pandering. Like how XX is tapping into some car commercial, female-led indie synth thing. Or how anyone with some sparse piano, guitar, and "oohs" and "la la las" can make it big. And how Toxic Event efforts to convey the epic emotions of ... going to parties ... you know, what it's like to be 25 to 35 these days and wearing skinny black ties to work.

So I had to Wikipedia these fellas to find out which record label created them out of thin air.

Boy was I surprised:
During a one-week period in March 2006 while working on a novel, [lead singer Mikel Jollett] learned that his mother was diagnosed with cancer, experienced a break-up, and was diagnosed with a genetic autoimmune disease which led Jollett to develop two cosmetic conditions: Alopecia areata and Vitiligo. Spurred by these events in his personal life, Jollett turned from writing prose to writing songs as he realized he was composing an album instead of a novel.

Jollett met drummer Taylor in the summer of 2006 and the two established an immediate rapport.
The entry goes on. It's as epic as Jollett's lyrics. In fact, Katie and I think Jollett wrote the entry. Talk about rah rah. Anyone ever seen a "live performances" section like that of this 2-year-old band?

Luckily Wikipedia pointed me to Pitchfork's 1.6 out of 10 review. It's worth reading in its (brief) entirety. It says:
In a way, The Airborne Toxic Event is something of a landmark record: This represents a tipping point where you almost wish Funeral or Turn on the Bright Lights or Is This It? never happened as long as it spared you from horrible imitations like this one, often sounding more inspired by market research than actual inspiration. Congrats, Pitchfork reader -- the Airborne Toxic Event thinks you're a demographic.
In ode to M. Squints Palledorous of Sandlot fame, I've been sayin' that for years about indie sensations like Napoleon Dynamite and 500 Days of Summer (the latter of which I ended up liking).

I just get scared when things I consider genuine turn to formulas then get gobbled up. Um.

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Blogger JHitts said...

I agree with the general gist of this entire article. A few general observations:

1. The first Kings of Leon album is sweet. What the hell happened to them?
2. I feel much the same way about The XX. I'm wary of them but for some reason I really, honestly love the song Crystallized." It has all of those female-led indie synth thing that you were talking about but they've tapped the perfect formula.

May 31, 2010 at 2:10 PM 
Blogger M. Perkins said...

Um indeed. Painful.

I have mixed feelings about the XX. I enjoy the album off and on, and I like the intro song and Crystallized. But I think three things sort of nail down my skepticism:
#1 The Crystallized music video which is this incredibly boring and also silly teenage-angst thing. Grow up.
#2 The guitarist cut short their tour because of "exhaustion." Grow up.
#3 All the reviewers losing their minds because a bunch of teenagers made something that isn't very energetic, so OMG it must be so mature and understated and the album of the year.

May 31, 2010 at 5:10 PM 
Blogger Daniel Silliman said...

I would hate Pitchfork less if they applied their ridiculous aesthetic standards (if that's really what they are) to their own goddamn writing.

June 1, 2010 at 3:44 AM 
Blogger JHitts said...

Woah, Mark. I didn't figure you'd have so much vitriol. I mean, I agree that they aren't very energetic in their video(s), but I can't really imagine what else they would be doing besides standing there. Their songs aren't really suitable for dancing.

Really, I think it's kind of admirable that in the videos they just kind of stand there and do nothing. I imagine their performances are much the same way. They're basically telling the viewer/ listener: "This is what you're seeing and this is what you're getting. We're just gonna play our goddamn songs. No bullshit. If you want that, go watch Of Montreal."

That said, I don't think their music is very interesting to begin with. So I basically agree with you that they need to grow up. Except, not about their videos.

But given the choice, I would listen to the XX all day if it meant never having to hear the Airborne Toxic Event. Jesus.

June 3, 2010 at 1:54 AM 
Blogger JHitts said...

Also, I listened to that ATE song a few times again just to get a feel. I'm trying to imagine just what universe they are trying to tap in to.

-Their music sounds too weird to be loved by Coldplay/ mainstream alternative fans (is that even a thing? "Mainstream alternative"? Jesus)
-Except, the actual music (at least on this song, the only one I've actually heard) is also too cliche for anyone with a basic knowledge of the recent history of pop/ rock music
-The dude's lyrics are too earnest/ hokey to be taken seriously by indie kids— this despite the fact that they take their name from a Don DeLillo novel and use Dave Eggers short stories in their liner notes
-I mean, really. These is NOTHING interesting about these lyrics. No wordplay, no clever phraseology, no double entente, no intricate story to make up for it. Just words. Words that say absolutely nothing other than the obvious.

For a band as supposedly well-read and well-educated as they are, they make boring-as-shit music. I mean, crap, at least Kings of Leon, as lame as they are now, have the awesome audacity to make a song called "Sex On Fire."

June 3, 2010 at 2:14 AM 
Blogger M. Perkins said...

The strings in the ATE song kind of remind me of Yellowcard. Anyone? Anyone? In fact, maybe ATE is Yellowcard. Maybe Yellowcard has spent the years since I was in high school feeling jealous of Arcade Fire, and this is them trying to be Yellowcard.

I know my reaction to the XX is not really justified. I mean, it's not really their fault. They were, what, 19? And at least 50% of my annoyance has to do with the reviews. A couple reviews called it resonant or emotionally sincere. I find it robotic. Virtually every critic thought that album was phenomenal, and I think, like you, it's pretty boring, though I enjoy it on occasion. I listened to it a few times during the Olympics because of that Apollo Ohno commercial.

Re the video: granted they couldn't exactly make the "Cousins" video for their songs. I don't mind simple, straightforward videos, though I rarely care much about them (I mean, why bother making a totally superfluous accompaniment when I can just play the mp3?). For whatever (probably groundless) reason their whole "staring ahead not looking into the camera" schtick irritates me. They look like sullen fifteen-year-olds in detention (and that's where the crotchety old man in me comes out).

June 3, 2010 at 2:48 AM 
Blogger JHitts said...

Just read your LJ post (I hadn't seen it before). Good call. I think you hit it on the head (though I really don't think the video is actually that bad).

I do think, though, that whenever I hear them in interviews or whatever they seem sincere. Like, they are honestly shocked that people give a crap about their music. Which is a good thing (that is, good that they haven't got it in their heads that they are hot shit). Maybe that means they can actually become a really good band down the line. But as it stands? Yawn.

June 3, 2010 at 3:41 AM 
Blogger Tony said...

I think I'm hating the XX more and more and I haven't even listened to them again since this commenting happened.

June 4, 2010 at 12:13 AM 

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