THE CURRENT

The feature article this past week (“Minnesota Becomes Eclectic“) on Pitchfork was on our new radio station in the Twin Cities, 89.3 “The Current.” Run by Minnesota Public Radio, The Current is so good that it’s broken my NPR-news habit. Read the article here, but I’ve been wanting to share a personal antecdote for awhile too.

I spent a couple days listening when The Current came on-air, getting a feel for it, and enjoying music from Wilco, Elliot Smith, Olympic Hopefuls, Radiohead, Spaghetti Western, Joseph Arthur… Late one night on the drive home I thought to myself, “Some Afghan Whigs would be great about now…”

The next afternoon, Mary Lucia played “Gentlemen.” I think I’m in love.

MIZZLE CONT'D – AESTHETICS BLOODSPORT (with pillows)

A good debate has been running in the comments to Cory’s post, but I’ve started a new post to encourage more readers to join the coversation. Are there really “good” and “bad” songs, or is everything personal preference? Is there a difference between “good” music, and “liking” music? Read what Mr. Furious, Cory Alan, Franz Clobberfist, and JT have written, and join in.

IF WE ASSERT THAT BEETHOVEN AND CREED are of different aesthetic value, then we must seek grounds on which to base our judgement. Most people think and act as if this assertion were; Cory writes, “I know you would probably agree with me that a band like The Beatles is objectively better than a band like Creed, regardless of how many people like either band however much.” It is in that light that I read Cory’s original post, and his comments on: originality, honesty, catchiness, and a certain self-serving quality. Conducting our examination with a clear example (like Beethoven / Creed, though the Beatles / Creed is certainly clear enough for most purposes) helps create understanding so we can talk over the finer points (Bright Eyes / Radiohead) with clarity.

This position states that an objective reality exists (i.e. is a form of “realism”), and it is within this objective realm that an aesthetic object (like a song) has its ultimate aesthetic value. It is more or less “good” in reality. Cory is a realist: “But truth and objectivity are completely independent from our PERCEPTIONS of truth and objectivity… a song’s quality is independent from whether one likes it or not.” But along comes Franz (or Kant) to rightly remind us that under no conditions can a person know or experience this objective reality – knowledge and experience is ALWAYS colored by subjectivity.

So should we give up trying to say anything meaningful about objective reality? Franz and the relativists say “Yes” – whether that reality exists or not is an open question for relativists (i.e. Beethoven = Creed people) but regardless, relativists think that no meaningful statements can be made about it. Realists (i.e. Beethoven > Creed) answer “No” – and cross the gap between subjective experience and objective reality by a variety of means including logic, conventions of language, and judging statements by standards like coherence or utilitarian value. The details cross the line of feasibility for this forum. Yet there is much at stake in this debate, more for how to live one’s life than for evaluating music. If a person accepts that some meaningful statements about an objective reality can be made, the immediate question here is finding some that deal with musical value.

Franz has anticipated this point: “Aren’t judgement calls subjective?” Yes, and no. I’ve admitted that there is a subjective aspect to any form of judgement – but that does not mean that the subjective part is the ONLY part of an evaluation. For example; Beethoven, Creed, and originality. The 9th Symphony contains more uniqueness than “With Arms Wide Open” – more intricacy in its’ harmonization, more complexity in its’ melodies, more variation in tone, rhythm, and expression. This is not my experience of the music; look at both pieces on paper, and you can see and read the difference. In terms of originality, Beethoven is good music, and Creed is not as good as Beethoven.

Notice that the act or state of “liking” this music hasn’t come into play yet. It’s an interesting question about the relationship between music’s quality and a person’s experience of it, and more so whether there is any kind of obligation to like good music and not like bad music. I won’t try to answer that today. It is this situation Cory referred to; an argument between people who have confused a discussion of good/bad music (as it exists objectively) and what sort of music they like (subjective experience). JT understands; “N’Sync has some songs that are some of my worst guilty pleasures. But that doesn’t mean it’s good, much less great.”

Very, very few people truly act like relativists (though many talk like them, saying things like “that’s just your personal like / dislike!”). From a relativist perspective, I can’t imagine why you would want to say, or hear, any statements about music at all. Even reading a review in which the author writes about their personal experiences, there is definitely a normative quality to the review. The author is suggesting a certain way of hearing the music, a “correct” way that gently excludes or de-values other ways of hearing it. In doing so, the writer asserts some normative value judgement, which necessarily appeals to an objective existence of some form. I’m convinced of the realist position. The real inquiry here is into the terms by which correct aesthetic evaluations are made; a subject which cannot be exhausted or concluded, but will generate fruitful discussion for as long as art exists.

Saturdizzle Mizzle

This is going to be a weird one, but I wanted to start a little list of the things I like about music, and what I think makes a good song.  I think the definitions are somewhat objective in the sense that the qualities all need to be there for it to be fully “great,” but subjective in as far as whether people understand or are attracted to it.  Let me explain:  To have a good (objectively good, not “good” in the sense that everyone will like it, even if they should) song, you need these qualities:

Originality (stand on the shoulders of your heroes, pick a new fruit off of the tree)

Honesty (this is a tricky one; there’s a thin line between fabricating a loss or a break-up just to have something to whine about and to have an excuse to front a black-haired band, and using an example of it to speak some universal truth about loss, even if it didn’t necessarily happen to you.  It all rests in motivation, and since You Never Can Tell what people mean when they say what they say, or what their reasons are behind it, you have to sometimes either suspend disbelief in order to enjoy a song, or built a sort of relationship with the songwriter based on whether they’ve been honest in the past.  Does that make sense?  Earn my trust!) 

Catchiness (sounds superficial, but what I mean is, it’s got to have substance, something that makes it stands out and helps the song grab the attention of the ear.  Great songs don’t always do this on the first listen, sometimes it takes 3 or 4 or 5 or more listens to pick up on it)

Self-Serving (written for the song-writer, not an audience; meaning, you would write the song for yourself, even if no one else was around to hear it.  The best musicians love to make music, and I know that sounds silly, but there are so many bands out there who seemed to be motiviated by everything but actually creating a decent instance of music). 

Finally, there has to be the willingness of the listener to meet the song halfway.  What I mean is, everyone loves the Blue Album from Weezer- why?  Because the songs on that album are so great and also so catchy, the listener has to do very little to meet those songs and appreciate them.  Those songs practically come to your doorstep and make out with your mom.  And you dad LOVES it.  He sings along!  Meanwhile, there are far less The French Kicks fans than Weezer fans (at least in the US) because The French Kicks are definitely a band you have to meet more than halfway.  You’re at least going to have to drive to the midway point, which happens to always objectively be Ceresco, Nebraska.  It just is.  Then, finally, there are bands like Sigur Ros.  Now, I am still on my way to meet this band.  I can see them off in the distance, and let me tell you, they are shredding.  I can see that they are good.  But they are so far away, and I keep getting sidetracked by Nada Surf and Superdrag, who are in the car with me, singing songs I learned on the second listen.  So while it’s not impossible to go all the way to meet Sigur Ros, it’s tougher because they are farther away on the “originality” side of the spectrum, and it takes actual effort to get to them.  Meanwhile, “Say It Ain’t So” is still making out with my mom.

HOWIE-  Please do your best to comment/add to this, if you have anything: I would love to hear what you say on the matter.  I remember one time we were talking about someone who believes a song is an objectively “bad” song arguing with someone who likes this “bad” song, and how they are arguing past each other.  Maybe expand?  It’s a profound concept that I didn’t get at first, but leave it to Baby Beaver!  

SOME KIND OF MONSTER

Some Kind of Monster, the making-of documentary about Metallica and their newest record St. Anger was supposed to be a good film whether you care about Metallica or not. Noel and I watched it a couple weeks ago, and I sat on the floor for over two hours, engrossed. Seeing the story of frustration, depression, and addiction behind St. Anger gives the album the personal relevance it needs. I’m not a big fan of the band, but the film inspired me to borrow the record from Noel. I wouldn’t have connected with the music on my own or through my individual experience, but knowing the band’s crucible over the past few years through the documentary and the fire they put their art through has forged that connection.

St. Anger‘s energy is fueled by positive, self-searching fury. The album’s sound juxtaposes the chaos of metal with a cut & pasted, ProTools-processed production style. In more ways than one, it has the characteristics of edge, striving, and tension between musical repetition/change that howie&scott’s signs aimed for. Big thrashy riffs are beaten out and given structural room to breathe; a theme is often introduced, varied, and played again, sounding achingly slow against Lars’ quadruple-time drumming. Musically, Metallica is smart and solid but not unorthodox, an extraordinary garage-metal band but not revolutionary. For the first time, the band co-authored all of the lyrics. Dominant is James Hetfield’s wrestling with his psychological shadow self – this is the correct way to hear the exhortation to “Kill” at St. Anger‘s close. It’s Hetfield’s shadow speaking; it’s poetry, “reality” in aesthetic terms only. Note the change from Ride the Lightning and other metal of that era, which took its own mythological exhortations as real.

In the tension between creativity and expectation (whether the band’s own, or fans’, or those of metal in general) a few moments falter lyrically. “Invisible Kid” would sound ten times better if the fourth line of each stanze DIDN’T rhyme with lines 2 & 3, and the chorus of “Purify” might be heard in any given Midwestern dive in a song by any given metal band; we rightfully expect more from Metallica. Yet only “Shoot Me Again” is wounded mortally by its’ cliches; it stumbles down the road without any of the redeeming qualities of the rest of the album.

With St. Anger, Metallica has created a desperate, honest statement of survival. It’s mature in all the good ways: well-played, dealing with real struggle, tempered by experience. Go ahead and be surprised that I’ve made myself its advocate; I am too.

echoes RUMORS

Received some meaningful, informal positive feedback about echoes and nickel today from Courtney Yasmineh. I’d given her a disc (nickel and Shacker’s Knowing Her Best…) awhile ago after hitting her CD release show. Courtney said she’d actually been listening to the disc, and even spun it for her producer, Rob Genadek, and it seems he dug echoes too. The lyrics were a big hook apparently (catchy + quirky), which I felt good about.

In other less-than-official echoes news, I’ve demoed six new rock songs and am in search of a producer (because I can’t do drums at home in Minnesota – not enough gear). I’m talking first with someone through Tapestry, the WCC contemporary worship band, but Courtney’s offered to help locate a reasonable (read: pro bono) backup if the first choice doesn’t work out. So, hopefully there will be new rock’n’roll this summer. I’ll keep working on some more acoustic stuff at home in the meantime. -h

a message from: AL "PUFF" GILBY Re: LUNCH BY YOURSELF

“Allen, when we’re gone, you’re gonna miss us. You’re gonna eat lunch all by yourself!” my friend Laura exclaimed as we ate a late-night dinner at Village Inn. I was a junior in high school, hanging out with my soon-to-be-graduating senior friends, and a few of us were engaged in a discussion about songwriting. Upon receiving Laura’s words of insincere discouragement, I was inspired to write a silly chorus on a napkin. Soon after the chorus was complete, I penned the first verse, and recorded a simple guitar/vocals version of the song. Naturally, its lighthearted lyrics and simple rhyme scheme lent well to a Green Day-ish punk sound.

Two years later, I was in a college band, and we needed some
original material. I remembered that silly little song I had started
years before and decided to complete it. I kept the lunch theme in the
choruses, and wrote verses two and three about my transition from high
school to college. We only played the song once in concert, and not
long after that performance, we disbanded. So, over my 2004 Christmas
break, I decided to record the song myself.

Although I did not mean for this song to be taken seriously (many of the lines are tongue-in-cheek), it does have some truth to it. For those of you who share my trouble with hearing lyrics correctly, here they are in written form:

All my senior friends are gone
It is not gonna rock on
When I go to lunch next year
But in all reality
My junior friends will stay with me
But here’s what Laura tells me anyway…

Lunch by yourself, all by yourself
You will hate lunch, you will hate lunch
Lunch by yourself, all by yourself

Senior year is going well
Except for one thing, let me tell
I love this girl, I think she’s really great
But she doesn’t love me back
I think my heart is gonna crack
My appetite is gone again today

I am upset, I am upset
I don’t eat lunch, I don’t eat lunch
I am upset, yes I am very upset

I feel like I want to die
I feel like nothing’s going right
My hope’s misplaced, I’m a disgrace
But the months fly past…

My high school years are gone and I
Often stop and wonder why
I wasted so much time being upset
With the things that now have passed
And the hurts that did not last
At least I think I’ll learn from my mistakes

Now I eat lunch, now I eat lunch
Not by myself, not by myself
Now I eat lunch, yes, now I can enjoy lunch
Soon there will be a girl for me
We will share lunch, we will share lunch
And we will be oh so very happy

-allen

MELODIOUS OWL / OLYMPIC HOPEFULS / FAUX JEAN at the TURF CLUB, ST PAUL, 29 JAN 05

This isn’t a show review, because CJ and I didn’t get in the door. A front-page spread in the entertainment section of Friday’s StarTrib on Hopkins’ high-school heroes Melodious Owl brought a sellout home for the Turf Club. We stood in line, in the freezing cold, for about 30 minutes before it became apparent that we weren’t going to get in. Instead, we spent the evening talking to Kassie Church and listening to The Sugarplastics, Kevin Tihista, and Ted Leo + the Pharmacists.

I still felt good about the show. We each took a bullet for the scene; it’s great that freaky, original local bands can sell out a club. So cheers to Melodious Owl, the Hopefuls, and Faux Jean.

APPROACHING "DE-LOUSED IN THE COMATORIUM," SPOON IN HAND

The Mars Volta hang the entire weight of De-loused in the Comatorium on whether you, as a listener, will accept and connect with a decision made at the end of the album.

De-Loused… tells a story. I’ve read a little about it (which helped me comprehend it precisely “a little”) and slowly absorbed since its release in the autumn of 03. In track two, “inertiatic esp,” we’re introduced to the protagonist, a fellow in a coma (“Coma-guy” for now). He is lost in his coma, travelling through a scary, vaguely sexy, vision-world. It reminds me of the vision quest Homer Simpson took after he ate the Insanity Pepper at Springfield’s chili cook-off. But without the fox-narrator. Coma-guy wanders this coma-world, this vision-quest, for the duration of songs 2-8. In #9, “televators,” Coma-guy wakes to our reality (the one in which you’re reading this [blog]) and, seeing it, chooses to release his hold on it and die.

This is the crux; do you believe the story so far, and do you care? Your answer will determine the record’s worth for you. After several listens I find, somewhat surprisingly, that I do.

If you journey with Coma-guy this far, closing track “take the veil cerpin taxt” will treat you to a higher-level vision. After death, it seems a new journey awaits that is to the coma-world of tracks 2-8 what the coma-world is to our reality (which we glimpsed only in track 9 – the crux). The Mars Volta reveal their vision of an afterlife as an exponential increase in insanity – an even hotter chili pepper, hotter than you even imagined your taste buds could transmit.

I LIKE YOUR SLEEVES. THEY'RE REAL BIG

Many of you readers have seen the film “Napoleon Dynamite.” We’ll agree it’s funny, but I think it’s also a poignant look at the baffling, comic, tragic collision of the weird and the mundane that we experience as life.

Uncle Rico is my favorite, because of his football videos. There are days when I think amateur football videos are to Uncle Rico what Mr. Furious is to me; a futile grasping at glory, a project with meaning in such a narrow context that only Napoleon’s reaction is true, and only a hopeful reading of Kip’s response offers a plausible path forward;

“This is the worst video ever!”

“Duh, Napoleon, like how could you even know that?”

Space Lord Mother Mother

It’s been a little while since I’ve added any blogness to the Mister Pister Albums Records web-log site
www.señorfuriosorecordizzapizzamakerdeluxe4000.com/nerdyblackflips/freshfruit.org

and so it’s time to do so!

The Beach Puppy is getting closer and closer, and frankly, I can’t wait.  I’ve heard some just-about-finished products and it’s a lot better than I could have even imagined.  Echoes of Beach Puppy, the backing vocals are amazing and wow can we say weird creepy grandfather’s suit and piano-butter?  Can we?  I think we might.  But all seriousness aside, it’s going to be flippin’ sweet.  Yikes!  That’s for you, H-Murder!  Okay, well everyone who’s heard the almost-finished mixes has been impressed with the production and musicianship, so I think we got ourselves a winner.  And also, Bike came over to my house, and he forced me at broompoint to have a tea party with a robot and it was so awkward because my tie didn’t fit (it was size extra medium) and the robot didn’t have much to say, except for the fact that he loves Bike. 

So Bike, Echoes, Beach-Puppy, Blackbeard and Mr. Furious are at a bar, listening to a live recording of Tucci spitting sesame seeds at a cowbell while wishing they were listening to howieandscott, and Heavens to Betsy Me Martha, it was awesome.  And for the first time, they all consciously realized they were part of one big happy family.  Congratulations to them. 

I really ought to add something at least a little not worthless to this blog, so I will say that my favorite DJ is DJ JoshO, from SLC.  Heiruspecs (spelling?) are playing in Lincoln soon, and I am going to go to that.  Howie turned me on to them, yes!  And what’s more, I am trying to get a show booked for Beach Puppy in Lincoln or a surrounding area fairly soon, so keep your little weird eyeballs peeled!

Yikes, again!