When men display Amos’ brand of unpredictable, reckless ambition, we call them geniuses. Think of Jack White, or how very strange Radiohead’s Kid A sounded when it was first released but how enthusiastically that strangeness was greeted. Look outside of music, too, at how we adore the formal experimentation and/or self-indulgence of David Foster Wallace, or Charlie Kaufman, or Community creator Dan Harmon. Spike Jonze just got an Oscar for writing about his imaginary girlfriend! For a guy, doing strange things with form and pulling up bizarre visions from the core of his own personal torment is proof that he’s a capital-A Artist. But we scarcely mention it when we talk (or don’t talk) about Amos. I hate to pull a “because the patriarchy” here, but I can think of no other reason why so many people have worked, so hard, to avoid engaging with her work — or why they so often do it by way of trivializing Amos herself. When a woman claims the freedom to experiment that’s necessary to approach “genius” territory — the freedom to disregard or flaunt expectations, to alienate people, to fall flat on her face, to produce something that it might take more than one or two casual listens to penetrate — she’s grabbing at a traditionally male prerogative. When that happens, rather than admitting that a woman might intentionally release unusual work because she’s got some new ideas, most of us decide that she’s letting weird stuff leak out by accident, instead of applauding her sense of purpose.

Where Would Music Be Without Tori Amos

You really need to go read this thing Sady Doyle wrote about Tori Amos whether you like Tori Amos or not.

I think a lot of people [in indie rock] now are inherently apologetic because of the things we grew up with in the ’90s, and we saw rock music go from the most beautiful, amazing, culture-changing thing to, like, rap metal. The world of indie and rock music became very apologetic, and no one’s trying to be too good and they’re always trying to hold it back either with the songs or the production. No one wants to be quote-unquote “obvious.” But, like, everyone references Paul Simon, and Fleetwood Mac has become a huge indie reference nowadays, but that’s all bullshit because the most important part of that reference is not the dry snare drum, it’s the unbelievably classic songs and production. After rap metal in the late ’90s, there was this split of mainstream and indie and rock, like they couldn’t coexist. But I grew up when The Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam and Nirvana were all mainstream, but they were also really good. I’d much rather be a part of mainstream culture than be a part of my own culture and have it be not…all the way.

Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff Refuses To Be Apologetic About His Music

I really liked talking to Jack Antonoff from Fun. and Bleachers – he’s very confident and has a lot of bold opinions, and I definitely agree with him about this bit in particular.

It’s easy to describe Morning Phase as a sequel to Beck’s quiet, melancholy 2002 record Sea Change, but while there are aesthetic similarities and nearly identical personnel, it seems inaccurate to sell this as a depressing record. Yes, there are notes of sadness and regret over the course of its 13 tracks, but it’s all rather muted. Whereas Sea Change was written in the immediate aftermath of a painful breakup and has the distraught yet blank feeling of clinical depression, the pain in Morning Phase – particularly on cuts like “Say Goodbye” and “Blue Moon” – feels like it’s been long since processed and accepted. The only tension in the record is in figuring out which parts speak to a genuine, newfound serenity for Beck, and which parts are just him giving a cold, thousand-yard stare.

Who Is Beck, Really?

I wrote about Beck’s Morning Phase, and also a bit about Midnite Vultures.

But while bands will still adopt and adapt to other music – and sometimes, like Radiohead, be loved for it – “Discotheque” also threatens to hold up as threadbare the entire vision of rock as the natural base of musical progress. If “rockism” has ever meant anything, it means what happened on [U2’s Pop] – an assumption that other musics exist to provide new directions and stealable ideas to four rock guys in a guitar/bass/vox/drums lineup.

U2 – “Discotheque” | FreakyTrigger

I actually quite like U2’s Pop, but I can’t really disagree with much of anything Tom Ewing wrote in this incredibly smart piece about the record and specifically its lead single “Discotheque” over on Popular.

Early on, I made it my goal that if my music were ever recognized in any way, I would want it to lure people into my world, the way music has affected me in the past, like when I first heard R.E.M., and there was the mystery of the South, with the kudzu growing over everything, and the people. It made me want to go down there and experience it myself. There was a sort of magic to it. So I wanted to incorporate what it was like to live here in the Midwest, in Dayton, where there’s really nothing to do but drink and watch airplanes. I wanted to convey the mundane nature of the place. It’s restrictive in a way but it’s also what keeps me here. It’s what keeps me coming back here. There’s a comfort in it. I’ve thought about living in New York City or Austin, but I know I could never do it. I’ve got too many people here that provide me with ideas. I mean, I’ve always been more interested in creating alternate worlds rather than literal ones. I feel like there’s a spiritual component to that as well. I write about these alternate worlds that I believe might exist, but I’m also doubtful.
Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices, interviewed in 2004 for The Believer. This interview is featured in Confidence Or The Appearance Of Confidence, an forthcoming collection of Believer conversations with musicians.
In a time when it’s broadly assumed that rock music is no longer a vibrant part of pop culture, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is an argument that heavy, aggressive rock can still be the ideal vehicle for a major artistic statement. Against Me! do nothing to reinvent the wheel on this record — on a purely musical level, there’s nothing here you wouldn’t have heard on any given Epitaph or Fat Wreck Chords release in the ’90s — but Grace embraces the strengths of aggressive rock to communicate thoughts and feelings that simply would not have come across as well in other styles.

"Transgender Dysphoria Blues" Is Proof That Rock Still Matters

I wrote about Against Me!’s new album, which is one of the best rock records of the past few years.

Cass McCombs
"Big Wheel"

This song has the most aggravating fade out I’ve heard in a long time. I get it on a conceptual level: The song keeps going on and on, like the trucker narrator driving off into some infinite horizon, but damn it, I want to stay with it! The lyrics of this song are exceptional – partly because there’s some very vivid and specific images, but mostly because the rambling internal monologue takes some turns that are genuinely surprising. I particularly love when the character starts dissecting the question “what does it mean to be a man?,” and both challenges the idea, and embraces a particular idea of masculinity that gives him a sense of pride and identity.

(Originally posted 10/15/2013)