“I also need just to go on record here and say (1) the worst ten minutes of Hannibal display more tonal control and visual imagination than the best hour of almost any other drama you can name, even the great ones; and (2) it should have been nominated here; and (3) it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t nominated because 20 or 30 years down the road, young students of cinema and television will ask their elders if they watched Hannibal during its first run, and they’ll all lie and claim they watched every second, like people do today when young viewers ask about Twin Peaks.”—
“In this way, she actually has a lot in common with Thom Yorke from Radiohead. Both artists have very specific sets of personal iconography – hers is like a Pinterest board full of glamorous images from fashion magazines and old movies; his is more like a wall full of paranoia-inducing news clippings. For both, evocative imagery and vaguely triggering language orbit expressions of raw, distressed emotion. Del Rey’s debut was uneven in quality partly because she overwhelmed her songs with signifiers, but she’s become a more sophisticated songwriter over time. Ultraviolence has more or less the same ideas and aesthetics as Born to Die, but the emphasis has shifted from setting a scene to conveying an air of exquisite, seductive sadness.”—
“How could anybody see Haim as anything other than completely new and exciting? To my ears they are totally brand new and alien. It’s like they took Amber Coffman from Dirty Projectors, with all her instrumental and vocal talents, cloned her twice and signed the results to a major label. The most notable thing I’ve noticed about Haim is this unique melodic thing. Their voices loooooove the 4th note (‘fa’) of the scale. They love to hit it, hold it and suspend it way longer than anyone else. The movement from the 4th note of the scale to the 3rd note — often deployed as a 4-3 suspension, Google for more — it’s full-fat, full-sugar. The richest dessert in tonal harmony. Stick with me through a couple of examples. The words that fall on the 4th-note are capitalized. ‘Falling’: “Don’t stop NO I’LL NEVER GIVE UP / AND I’LL NEVER LOOK BACK/ JUST hold your head up.” ‘The Wire’: ‘but I fumBLED IT / WHEN IT came down to the wire.’ Both songs have no 4s in their melodies until these coups de grâçe. They’d hit those 4-3 suspensions and my soul would soar, then a second later my heart would sink with the realization that these girls are better songwriters than I am ;_;”—I had Owen Pallett explain what’s going on in a few recent hits by Beyoncé, Haim, Ariana Grande, Usher, and DJ Snake, plus one song from his excellent new album In Conflict. I especially liked what he had to say about Haim.
“The role of Mystique deserves to be treated with the respect and careful casting that the role of a 150-year-old, venomously angry, lesbian shapeshifting assassin merits. She deserves a spinoff trilogy every bit as expensive as Wolverine Visits Japan. Jennifer Lawrence has a great jawline and seems like she’s a lot of fun at parties; she’s a good actress but she does not have Mystique running in her veins. I want to see a woman who looks like she’s committed murder during the act of sex wearing that blue paintsuit. I want a woman with falcon eyes and a crocodile heart, a balls-out weird woman, a woman who’s spent some time living underground. She deserves to be played by either Tilda Swinton, Eva Green, or Lena Headey, in that order.”—
“The Rolling Stones are making their fifth concert tour of the United States – a tour that will take them to 30 cities by the end of the month. The middling attendance [9,400] at a stadium that seats 14,000 was attributed by some to the heat. Others believed that interest in British rock groups is declining and that the scaling of tickets from $5 to $12.50 has simply become too much for young fans.”—Here’s a wonderfully ironic excerpt from the New York Times’ review of The Rolling Stones’ show at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens on July 2nd, 1966. FYI, if you adjust for inflation, the jump from $5 to $12.50 is roughly equivalent to a jump from $36 and $91 today.
“Part of the reason Coldplay has so little competition outside of singer-songwriter dudes like Ed Sheeran and John Mayer is because romantic love songs are rarely valued within rock culture. Sometimes they’re derided as a sellout move, like how in the ’80s, hair metal power ballads by the likes of Poison and Bon Jovi were mocked by fans of harder, more self-consciously macho metal bands like Metallica and Anthrax who distanced themselves from love and sex entirely. Punks and indie rockers typically approach the notion of writing love songs with irony and cynicism; new wavers in the ’80s dressed up their love songs in dark drama and grave seriousness; and the alt-rockers of the ’90s — R.E.M., Nirvana, Bush, Stone Temple Pilots — mostly hid straightforward lyrics about love in songs that were otherwise made of nonsense words. This dismissive attitude about love songs is baked into two of rock’s most defining binaries — The Rolling Stones are seen as cooler than The Beatles because they have fewer love songs, and within The Beatles, John Lennon’s often cynical view of love is held up as evidence of his genius while Paul McCartney’s lovey dovey lyrics are widely considered to be his greatest flaw as an artist.”—
“It’s tempting once again to blame the dullness on Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, a sometimes-capable producer whose reputation in recent years has carried the weight of an “Out of Order” sign on a bathroom door. Indeed, Burton’s reign of boredom continues here in typical fashion; his love for airlock-hatch atmospherics and stiff string-section motifs are intact, and even without the credits confirming it, you could probably guess that the orchestral touches of “Year in Review” were lifted from the score for an Italian 1970s sex comedy.”—
“Ageism is a real thing. I had to get my head around how am I going to — in the music industry, being in front of the camera at 50, it’s not as if we — women — are seen as Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt where we’re just coming into our hotness. They’re leading men! There are leading women that are around my age but it’s just starting to happen. You’re just starting to see that happen in the movie industry. But coming to a rock concert — [women] can’t be doing granny rock. We’re singing about emotions, we’re singing about sexuality, we’re singing about all these things. Whereas roles for Helen Mirren, who is the hottest thing I’ve ever seen — try and find her equivalent in rock and roll. We are having to carve that out for ourselves because you don’t go see some of my contemporaries, you don’t go see the Chilies [Red Hot Chili Peppers] and think They need to be doing grandpa rock. No! They’re virile men who are sensual and they can sing about anything. Our culture doesn’t see it that way [for women]. There are certain things, if you start singing about them — if you listen to the young girls, I hear them talk, “Oh! She looks desperate! That’s so desperate!” Whether you’re in your 20’s looking desperate or you’re in your 50’s looking desperate — desperate is desperate. But you don’t hear them say that about the guys”—
“Merrill Garbus sings about other people with great empathy and endless curiosity, and with a lot more generosity than when she addresses her own anxieties and concerns. It’s no surprise that when she comes up with a solution to problem of how to “find a new way,” she finds it in observing the strength of other people around her. “When I see you changing, I believe that I could change too!,” she exclaims, sounding as though she’s cracked a code. The Garbus of Nikki Nack isn’t quite the superhumanly self-assured warrior-woman of w h o k i l l, but in showing us this vulnerability and crisis of confidence, she’s even more inspiring. Hearing her change makes you feel like you can change too.”—
“In other words, [Review] is a satire of New Golden Age of TV Drama antihero shows hiding in plain sight. It takes the basic “man ruins all he cares about in the name of something that makes him nominally freer and more powerful” structure of the genre and plays it for deliberate laughs. Instead of a meth empire or a mafia family or a double life, he commits his bad acts in the name of the television show that chronicles them. He’s Walter White, but without the sense that there’s anything tragic about him — he’s just an oblivious faux-smart buffoon. It’s a satire of the middle-class middle-aged white-male entitlement and privilege that all the big dramas treat as the stuff of life. And it’s unbelievably funny.”—
“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.”—
“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.”—
“At one point during the [808s and Heartbreaks] session, Kanye wrote a song about how dumb all of T-Pain’s ideas were. He then proceeded, T-Pain said, to make “everybody in the studio join in with him to sing, like, ‘T-Pain’s shit is weak.’ ””—
“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.”—
“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.”—
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.”—
“What you like in your twenties is not completely trustworthy. I trust the teens more. Especially before you develop an aesthetic, you like what you really like, and they just glow to you in this way and it’s beyond capitalism. It’s not necessarily because things were marketed towards you – Devo was marketed towards me, but I was just like “this is the shit.” It just sticks out like a sore thumb.”—
I’m very proud of the set of year-end posts Aylin Zafar and I put together at BuzzFeed this year, with big help from Caitlin White, Maria Sherman, Alex Naidus, Tanya Chen, Gabriela Kruschewsky, and many other writers. Our goal was to be as helpful to readers as possible, cover as much as we possibly could, and avoid the sort of apples vs. oranges dilemmas you get by mixing everything together, so we broke things out into genres and themes. Here’s the full set. I hope you find some things to enjoy.
Here’s all the music criticism pieces I wrote for BuzzFeed in 2013. I just want to have it all in one place, really, but I think it’s worth looking over if you’ve missed any of it. I’m pretty happy with this body of work overall, and think that a few of these pieces are among the best things I’ve ever written.
I interviewed Trent Reznor and Rob Sheridan about the truly astonishing visual presentation of the current NIN tour. Gifs and youtube videos can’t really do this justice — it’s a very full aesthetic statement, and technologically so far ahead of what anyone else is doing.
“If you grow up in the United States, it can be very easy to have no perspective on living in a culture dominated by art and media from another country. Some music from around the world seeps into mainstream American culture, but it’s never dominant, and music from abroad is made with the understanding that you have to cater to the American market to be a big star. Americans are used to the rest of the world bending over backwards to blend in with their culture, and think nothing of foreign stars from ABBA and Björk to Shakira and Phoenix singing in their second language to appeal to the English-speaking world. Americans are almost never asked to adapt, and very rarely have to feel as though their culture is being infiltrated by the value systems of foreign nations.”—