Daftpop Art Therapy

Sometimes you just feel too tired to care about art. You don’t always want art to enrich your life and to give you something to think about. Sometimes you just want to  be entertained, to be comforted, and to forget your sad, sad life.

The other day was Valentine’s Day, and I was single for the first time in living memory. Okay, well, for the first time in a while. I thought about going to see The Young Victoria again, by myself, but I ended up just eating mini peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s on the couch while catching the end of The Princess Diaries 2 on TV. My roommate and I fawned over Julie Andrews’ eternal ability to bring class to even the most vulgar moving pictures, while I (secretly) fawned over Chris Pine, aka Anne Hathaway’s princely love interest aka Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek. Under normal circumstances, this actor would be too much of an all-American hunk for my taste (Spock’s lanky alienness is much more my style), but hey, these are desperate times.

The only thing I had around to call a constant, doting companion was my 50-lb killing machine, aka Benita the pitbull. We drove around in the zipcar and sang along to “Live my Life,” when it came on the radio. I wondered aloud, “When will T.I. get out of jail, Benita?” But she just looked out the window, apparently uninterested in this topic of conversation. We also heard the Young Money song “Bed Rock” on three occasions in just one car ride. Benita looked at me skeptically when I tried to sing along to that song, and I knew her expression conveyed only too much truth; my heart, indeed, no hearts, were involved in making that little ditty.

When women are sad in commercials and movies, we often eat unhealthy things and talk with our mouths full to a sympathetic friend on the cordless phone. But I didn’t feel like doing that. Or maybe, (shh) I’d already tried doing that, but no one picked up. I felt like smoking a pack of cigarettes, that was certain, but what to accompany this token self-destructive behavior?

These are the entertaining things I would have liked to do, and may comfort you too if you happen to cross a lonely patch:

1. Watch Star Trek

This 2009 movie was probably my favorite of all. I saw it 3 times in theaters! Many observed that this movie combined features of Star Trek and Star Wars. Really, I think people were just trying to say that it was entertaining, like Star Wars, and not boring, like Star Trek. But hey, in the end I sorta agree. Captain Kirk is reincarnated as Han Solo, and Uhura comes off as a self-possessed, sexually emancipated, smarty pants gal in the mold of Princess Leia. There is even a comedic duo serving the same purpose as C3P0 and R2D2, this time as O’Brien and his little bear-like friend. Lord knows Star Trek TOS has no such comedic duo. The point is, there were great movies in 2009, and then there were the cultural landmark movies of 2009, those that will endure in our cultural memory and be watched over and over again. Their lines will be repeated among nerd friends, and the characters, though clearly already borrowed from archetypical personalities, will go on to make new cinematic tropes. The two movies from 2009 with the honorary title of “cultural landmark” were Star Trek and Inglourious Basterds, and I would watch either of those movies any day of the week. Cultural tropes are exactly what sad people need to feel like they are still people, because cultural tropes help us feel connected to the larger world.

2. Listen to Destroyer

Even on bad days, you know you can’t feel that much worse than Dan Bejar typically does. Sometimes his guitar solos sound exactly like your howling soul: full of pathos, longing, frustration, and a touch of mania, they whine and flail, but eventually relent back into the fold of the melody, momentarily satiated.

3. Listen to the Moz

Obviously.

4. Watch Law & Order: SVU

I know what you’re thinking; daftpop, what kind of sick sonuvabitch watches this show and feels comforted? Well, here’s the idea: sometimes it helps to remember that a.) someone’s life is waaaay worse than yours and b.) that law & order still prevail in this great land, even if only in the great land of television. It also doesn’t hurt to spend 40 minutes of quality time with Olivia Benson, played by Mariska Hartigay, the finest lady ever to grace a police uniform. I sometimes get excited when Benson has to go “undercover,” meaning the writers find some excuse to put her in evening formal wear for a portion of the show. SMOKIN!!!!

These things have always worked for me. What works for you?


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The Rise and Fall of Timbaland

A contemplative Timbaland, wondering how he will spend all that dirtee cash he got from shitee trax.

If you are an artist and you happen to name your album Shock Value, well, then you have to be reasonably confident that your album is not so shockingly bad that its title becomes ironically applicable. If you are an artist and you happen to name your follow-up to the previously mentioned album Shock Value II, well, then you are just dumb. It’s not so shocking anymore if it’s the second in a series, is it? Tell that to Timbaland, who, with every passing year, loses his ability to shock us in both good and bad ways.

Like, say, former bandmate and fellow Virginian Pharrell, Timbaland was so ubiquitous for such a long time that his beats lost their astonishing weirdness.  Unlike Pharrell, Timbaland’s ubiquity didn’t always seem like it was going to be a bad thing. Timbaland’s signature–samples from exotic musics (see: the 50s Egyptian track “Khosara” on “Big Pimpin'”), poly-rhythmic shuffle shuffle (see: “Cry Me A River”), manipulation of negative space (see: “Get Ur Freak On”)–was bound to yield more interesting bounty than Pharrell’s somewhat single-minded future fetish.

But, I daresay, I didn’t know the meaning of “phoned in” until I heard Timbo’s recent singles from Shock Value II. It’s as though dude didn’t even have the decency to phone in from a fucking iPhone, but instead used like a 2002 Razr. Not so cutting edge anymore.

Take the single “Carry Out.” JT is on it for good measure, but the song has no trace of melody or memorable hook, therefore he could not save the day. The beat track is a clattering mess of bells, recalling the busy hustle of “Promiscuous,” but lacking the snaky, desire-fueled focus of the latter song’s verses. Furthermore, the song is in identity crisis: it’s a little too slow for the dance floor, but it’s a little too up-tempo to be a sex jam. The song sighs to a start like an old Honda–not loud, not startling, just sorta rusty and tired–then meanders around for a few minutes, a passionless, middling tune that should interest no one.

And I haven’t even gotten to the lyrics. There are more half-baked food/sex analogies in this song than there are in the whole of, say, the books Julie & Julie and Like Water for Chocolate COMBINED. But the food/sex theme isn’t even cohesive; advertising slogans (“have it your way”!!!) mingle with restaurant references (“i’ll keep you open all night like ihop” gross!!!), cooking terminology (“pretty sure you got your own recipe”) is spliced with fast food cliches (“i can tell that way you like, baby, super-size”), making for an overall unsavory song.

Then there’s “Say Something,” the other SVII single. It features Drake, whose practiced, plastic swag and suave-i-tude make him one of the vilest billboard artists out there.

So, unambitious beats, crappy guest artists, recycling of ideas: is Timbo getting ready to exit stage left for a hiatus? He has laid low previously, notably between 2002 and 2006. Or is he just milking this old cow until its teat is totally dried out?

Probably milking the teat. After I started writing this blog post, I heard a Timbo-produced track off The Game’s forthcoming album, called “Krazy.” Blarey guitar and carnivalesque organ make for a dizzying track. The Game seems a little out of place, while Gucci seems typically at home with himself. I keep imagining the three of these dudes hanging out at the county fair playing carnival games; Gucci effortlessly shoots the little race horse each round, winning a new styrofoam-stuffed teddy bear at every attempt, while The Game stares wanly in the background and Timbo stuffs his face with fried concoctions such as elephant ears. In other words, this track is Krazy.

“Krazy” doesn’t contain any of the signatures of Timbaland’s most recent production or artisting work: no lush Euro-techno, no dry-as-bone drums, no layered, stuttering drum track. In fact, it reminds me a good deal of the less listenable songs on the most recent Clipse record–choppy, trebbly guitar riffage that tries really hard to come off as “bad-ass,” and unexpected but annoying instruments buzzing around in circles–all forces combining to make you realize you just need to click forward to the next track. So while “Krazy” is a departure, it’s no revelation.

But the difference is enough to give pause: it’s easy to dismiss Timbo by saying “he’s past his prime.” But what if he’s just gearing up for round-three of his massive career?

All in all, though, Timbo’s narrative should serve as a cautionary tale of overexposure. If you’ve got something good, be measured in your output, don’t burn out for every last dollar. At the end of the day, you will respect yourself, and you’ll make better music. Timbo still might do this yet.

Is Ke$ha just secretly Uffie?

Okay, I just have to get this off my chest. When I first heard “TiK ToK” I almost fainted, because it was so annoying. But it was totally annoying in a very distinctive way, in a very familiar way… in a very Uffie way.

If you don’t know who Uffie is, well, thank your lucky stars. She was featured on the song “Thhee Ppaaarrttyy” on the Justice album .

Not only is the nasal, bratty, totally affected “raps” of both these gals uncannily similar, but the songs “TiK ToK” and “Thhee Ppaaarrttyy” are both about the exact same thing: partying rowdy, girl style.

Notice, they both say really stupid things when they are rousing their girlfriends to party:

Ke$ha says: “I’m talkin’ ’bout errrbody gettin’ crunk/boys are tryin to touch my junk.”

Uffie says: “Let’s get this party started right/Let’s get drunk and freaky fly (ey-ey-ey-ey-ey-ey-ey-eyyyy).”

First off, what is freaky fly? Uffie has been out of the United States so long that no one told her how dumb that sounds. Ke$ha, who is not an expat like Uffie, is just trying to place her partying within the tradition of Southern rap. But being featured on a Flo-Rida track does not a southern rapper make.

While “Thhee Ppaaarrttyy” is barely listenable due to Uffie’s offensive phrasing and nonexistent flow, I find myself strangely drawn to “TiK ToK.” At first I was repulsed, but in the end, it was the Miley Cyrus-esque, vocoder-slick, inorganic wall of keyboard in the chorus that won me over. It’s so stupid that ir’s kind of good.

In Paul Lester’s Guardian column, “New Band of the Day,” he characterized Ke$ha’s music like so: “Her music is like an über US version of “chav pop” – trailer trashy to the max – only it’s so full-on it’s almost like some postmodern arthouse joke.” Word.

Lester is a little nicer to Uffie, and courteously points out all her cool fashion and electro cred before noting, “There’s an air of hip insouciance about her every utterance.” If by hip insouciance he means reckless disregard for how vocals should sound, I would agree.


True Human Nature Revealed by Blood-Sucking Immortals

Born to be Bad: The Autobiography of Eric Northman
This photo is from the back jacket of my new autobiograph: "Born to Be Bad: The Story of Eric Northman"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s vampire anti-hero, Angel, drinks animal blood he picks up at the butcher and, by some devilish magicks, acquires a soul. This soul grants him the ability to reject the blood lust of his brethren. Also, if you hadn’t noticed, his name is Angel, and not Lucifer or Satan T. Spawn or even Spike. (Although everyone knows Spike is way better, but I’ll get to that later.) True Blood’s southern gentleman-vampire, Bill, drinks the recently invented synthetic blood, ironically called True Blood, and also rejects the cruder vampire ways by leading a moral, non-murderous existence.

The Cullens, including EDWARD, are the central vampire family of the Twilight books, and they too are weirdly moral for their race, choosing to drink animal blood (albeit not from a bottle or plastic container, but straight from the throbbing neck of a big stag) instead of hunting humans.

The point is, every vampire tale features an unvampirely hero who adheres to human codes of ethics. This and many other examples from True Blood, Buffy and the Twilight saga reveal a troubling self hatred among vampires. JK. These things really reveal that most vampire stories are celebrations of human life; we don’t have to make the choice to kill or not to kill whenever we go to eat! Evil is a choice for humanity; evil is written in the genetic code for vamps. Folks like Bill and Angel would trade their good looks, deadly speed, and immortality for a frail human body any day of the week!

But why would anyone try to celebrate humanity through the conduit of the unhuman, the supernatural? Well, it’s all about the deep structures, methinks. No better way to examine the deep structures of what makes humanity human than looking at how inhuman non-humans can be. These tales give us a taste of the sexy power of what it is to be a werewolf/vampire/shape-shifter, but ultimately we don’t end up thinking, “Gee, I wish I were a werewolf!” We end up being glad we are humanz.

EXCEPT FOR IN TWILIGHT! In what is either a brilliant shift in the genre, or an ill-thought-out accident by a terrible writer, the Twilight books exult most of what is vampirely. And I am troubled by this.

SPOILER ALERT regarding Breaking Dawn! Don’t read on if you want to be surprised in the books. Once Bella becomes a vampire, she discovers that it was always her destiny to become one of these pale-fleshed immortals. She smugly recalls human life as a time of dim colors, weak twinges of emotion, and perilous physical incapacity. As a vampire, she is more graceful, more powerful, more at home with herself, and, most importantly, more fully able to love Edward forever and ever!!!

Moreover, there is apparently no down-side to being a vampire. In Meyer’s books, vampires don’t even need to sleep, much less be limited to sleeping during the day, so they lead a restless, ceaseless existence. Does that sound like a special ring of hell to anyone else? And yet, there is no reflection by any Twilight character that it might very well be awful to be alive and AWAKE forever. This is just one of many reasons I do not want to be a vampire.

Why does Twilight‘s human-shunning ways suck? Well, for a number of inter- and extra-textual reasons. Firstly, Bella became a vampire for her boyfriend–she literally dies for Ed, just like she always wanted! Family? Friends? College? Future? Whatevs! Bella’s true self is actually achieved through abandoning this self, for a DUDE. Secondly, Bella’s self-love as a vampire just flat out degrades life as a human. It doesn’t illuminate any aspect of what it is to be human, as Angel’s and Bill’s struggles do, it only shits all over the human condition, claiming that our sense perception and emotional life is but a glimmer of what could be, were we superior creatures.

But maybe Meyer is just taking the vampire genre the logical step further. It is important to note that even though Angel and Bill are the good boys of their respective fictional universes, and they win the hearts of the golden blondies/heroines of the tales, the heroines always eventually fall for the bad guy. The dark side can only be resisted for so long. In Buffy, Ms. Buffy eventually falls for Spike, and he doesn’t even have a soul! Though he makes pains to become good, Spike’s goodness is always in doubt, and he can only fight his nature so long. Yet I know not a Buffy fan who doesn’t root for Spike. I seriously didn’t care if Buffy crossed over to evildom, her devotion to Angel and all things of the light gets a little old. Likewise, in True Blood, clearly Sookie and Eric are about to have an affair. All I can say is, SOOKIE, DO IT!!!! Eric is way hotter than Bill. Eric is a delightfully immoral being of Swedish descent. He is also blond, has an accent, and is the arch-nemesis of the series’ hero, kind of like Spike.

So if all ladies in the vampire-verse are unable to resist the darkness, mayhaps Bella’s full-on conversion to the darkness is an alright conclusion. Why fuck em when you can join em? Eh?

But no, not really. I have advocated and continue to advocate stories of the supernatural where humans come out the winners. SO THERE.

Black leather is always in style for blond vampires, be it 1998 or 2009.
Black leather is always in style for bad vampires, be it 1998 or 2009.

2010 Art Times: BEACH HOUSE

Beach House's album cover is a very light beige Zebra print; I decided to just show you some Zebras in love.

I am taking a break from telling you about my favorite things from 2009 to tell you about my new favorite thing from 2010.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I wrote music reviews for my college newspaper. I had the honor of reviewing Beach House’s Devotion, way back before I even knew or cared about them. Here is what I said. I am only posting it to give you an idea of why this band is great:

“Hopelessly Devoted”

Beach House’s 2006 debut found a loyal fan base among fans of low-key, off-tune, ambient imitations of White Light/White Heat-era Velvet Underground. Critics, however, were less eager to embrace the monotonous, long, and messy first album.

Devotion, the newest release by the Baltimore duo, refines the bands original formula of fuzz and shimmery clutter, creating a happy marriage of atmosphere and melody.

Channeling Yo La Tengo or the Cocteau Twins, Victoria Legrand (singer/organist) and Alex Scally (everything else-ist) create a dreamy soundscape that is at once comforting and alien. It takes more than a few listens to break through the album’s shadowy reverb world; but a patient listener will discovery the many virtues of Devotion.

Victoria Legrand’s resonant alto recalls the deep world-weariness of Nico. But Nico comes from some cold Scandinavian future where feelings are no longer required; Legrand still has a heart to be broken. Her pathos opens like a wound in the pleading chorus of “Gila,” or the lovelorn la la la’s of “You Came to Me.”

Alex Scally jangles tambourines that were pop instruments in a former, happier life. When guitars appear, they’re sliding down into minor keys as mournful additions to the low-tempo blues of songs like “All the Year.” Elsewhere, harpsichords, wind chimes, organ, and a soft tap-tap of the bass drum all undergo the dust-wash of Beach House’s production style, lending the album the feel of a fresh discovery sitting in musty box of your parents’ 60’s vinyl.

And therein lies the genius of the album: all the songs possess a 60’s pop sensibility, and would be radio-ready if only they traded organ for guitar, low tempo for fast. A perfect example of this is the deceptively brilliant and understated, “D.A.R.L.I.N.G.” in which Legrand busts out an old pop staple by spelling the chorus, and takes the listener on a soaring, pulsating journey with an optimistic organ and twangy guitar.

As Legrand tells one of her ghosts on the album-opener, “You came to me/in a dream,” so too comes the estranged, beautiful, and mysterious cousin of pop music Beach House offer on Devotion.

Grade: A-

More like, GRADE A+ FOREVER!!!

Now, Beach House has bequeathed to the world Teen Dream, a perfectly-titled, perfectly written, perfectly beautiful album. It is saving my life, it is making me believe what music is for again.

Nigel already did a great post on this album, and likened the experience of listening to the album to falling in love. And I think he was dead on–it seems pedestrian and rude (rude like uncouth) to talk about this album in regular music review terms.

We can agree, perhaps, that it is the duty of the critic and of the writer to articulate why something is great. But is there a time when something is so great that words don’t really do it justice? Is it a fucking cop-out to say that? Well, yeah, I’d say normally it is. Whenever a sentence starts with “Words fail to describe…” (here’s lookin’ at you, Stephanie Meyer!) you know that the writer is just too dumb to think of the right words. But music and its mystical qualities seem especially poised to evade capture by words.

Walter Benjamin wrote an essay called “The Task of the Translator.” It’s pretty crazy, and he talks a bit about forests and trees in a belabored metaphor that probably only he really understood… But the point is, he discusses the choices and analysis of translating a text from one language to another. Exact equivalencies between two languages don’t really exist, so the translation becomes some further evolution of the original work.

Writing about music is like translation. The writing is a separate entity than the music it is describing, and it takes on a life of its own in words. In the case of translating Teen Dream to words, I might have written a short story about loss in the winter time, or maybe typed out a scene from Anna Karenina (perhaps the one where Levin is looking at Kitty ice-skating–it’s full of hope, longing, joy and sadness, all at the same time!), or maybe I would have written a poem about my little wooden cabin, or something. The point is, a music review wasn’t gonna cut it when discussing this album.

Let me know if this makes sense, I had two glasses of wine while writing this.

love,

anna

just a thought: FRED FALKE AINT SHIT

Daftpop may have been concerned with high-falutin and academic topics since the new year began, but eventually all momentum yields to inertia, and what goes up must come down, etc, etc. What plagues me now is something very silly, something irrelevant. I just need to know: Fred Falke, why? Maybe someone more acquainted with dance genres can explain to me why, why this man remixes songs.

Sure, sure, Fred Falke is a really good French bassist genius whatever. They say he is a remixer extraordinaire. But everyone seems to be ignoring the fact that pretty much every song Fred Falke has ever remixed is destroyed in the process; the original material is stripped of all its particular properties and rendered unto the communal spirit of all Fred Falke remixes. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1998, 2008 or 2047, a Fred Falke is unaffected by time and trend. IN A BAD WAY. The formula is something like this: lightening-strike arpeggio-ed synths up high (sequencing, I think?), a little New Romantic/m83 synth work in a lower key to provide a lush electric backdrop; a bumping funk bass, and that’s it.

What is the goal of remixing a song? It is to scramble, highlight and recontextualize a song we already know. Sometimes remixes make the song better, because the new mix seems to hit on some ideal quality that the original producer just couldn’t draw out of the song (see: Clipse’s Mr. Me Too z.a.k. remix, vs the Pharrell album version). But you know what? Fred Falke just puts all his remixes in the context of Fred Falke!!! This is just ridiculous musical egoism. Get over yourself, for serious!

Here are some examples:

Ladyhawke: Back of the Van (FRED FALKE REMIX)

The Whitest Boy Alive: Golden Cage (FRED FALKE REMIX)

Here are some more examples where Fred Falke ruins a good song by making it 1,000 hours long:

Grizzly Bear: Two Weeks (FRED FALKE REMIX)

Annie: Anthonio (FRED FALK REMIX)

Remembering Haiti’s Revolutionary Hero

I'll cut you, Frenchies

Sometimes I feel guilty when all my pop culture and culture scribblings are so detached from reality. And they are, pretty much, but sometimes that’s okay: l’art pour l’art, right? However, I have felt the need to post something about Haiti for a while. My earliest encounters with thrilling scholarly literature may very well be my encounters with the writers of La Négritude. These Négritude writers were black Francophone men from the Caribbean and Africa.

Unfortunately, I realized that the one Haitian poet I thought I’d read, Aimé Césaire, isn’t even Haitian. He is Martiniquan. Before you call me racist, and say you are ashamed that I have conflated these two African-influenced Francophone Caribbean islands, let me remind you that Aimé Césaire’s most fucking awesome prose poem spends a good deal of time dealing with colonialism in the Caribbean en générale, and that Césaire devoted much of his scholarly career to writing about Haiti’s revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture. In the anti-colonial spirit of L’Ouverture, Césaire and the Négritude writers desired brotherly solidarity among African-influenced Francophone Caribbean islands.

Accordingly, you should all read Césaire’s extraordinary prose poem from1939, “Cahiers d’un Retour au Pays Natal.” This is not a well-known work of 20th century poetry, but it should be. The prose poem is at times hypnotic, exhilarating, and horrifying; it charts the history of Martinique and the storms and disasters that have quaked it; it demands revolte and revolution; it expresses the longing of an exile who is searching for a voice for his small, ignored French colony of a homeland; and it is strikingly poignant to read after an event like Haiti’s recent earthquake.

But all is not disaster in the Caribbean, and it would be a shame to only think of the islands in that context. FOR INSTANCE, Haiti abolished slavery in 1804, and was the first place to do so in the Americas. Abolition didn’t come about by a bunch of white liberal do-gooders and their pamphlets. It came at the hands of former slaves who organized armies and waged war with the occupying French. Toussaint L’Ouverture led the rebellion; he was captured in 1803; Haiti declared their independence from the French in 1804.  L’Ouverture died in captivity in France, but he is often called a martyr.

Here is a rather inspiring, if highly Romantic and pathetic-fallacy-rife poem by Wordsworth; it’s ending is perhaps something we can keep in mind while the efforts of rebuilding Haiti are on-going. This poem simply called “To Toussaint L’Ouverture,” and it was written while L’Ouverture was in jail:

By William Wordsworth

(1770–1850)

Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men

Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough

Within thy hearing, or thy head be now

Pillowed in some deep dungeon’s earless den;

O Miserable Chieftain! Where and when

Wilt thou find Patience? Yet die not; do thou

Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:

Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,

Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind

Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;

There’s not a breathing of the common wind

That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;

Thy friends are exultations, agonies,

And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.