Friday, April 18, 2014

On the Necessity of Categories in Music Criticism

"The singers aren't exactly interchangeable, not any more than the Strokes are with the White Stripes, or Pearl Jam with Stone Temple Pilots, but the whole point of the tenuously constructed musical category is that we are people who have shit to do and a finite amount of time for dwelling on the distinctiveness of each new pinchy-voiced pop sensation, and as such, this kind of lumping is as practically necessary as it is academically indefensible. It's incumbent on the singers to convince us of their exceptionality." --Matthew Cole, commenting on Duffy's album Endlessly, Slant Magazine

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Take Five (Vol. 3): Text If You Can Hear Me

I started up my MP3 player, pressed "shuffle," and these five songs played:

1. Scanner, "Emily" (2003) from the compilation An Anthology Of Noise & Electronic Music / Second A-Chronology 1936-2003 (Sub Rosa 2003) This is one of those Avant Garde pieces that will either hold fascination for the listener or send them scrambling for the “next” button on their MP3 player. I’m in the former group. Audio from a scanner is paired with background effects. The AoNaEM compilation is a must-have for anyone curious about the history of this genre.

2. De La Soul, "Potholes In My Lawn" from 3 Feet High and Rising (Tommy Boy 1989) I’m not sure I would have ever gotten into Rap if it wasn’t for this group and this album in particular. It’s hard to describe what they’re rapping about, but it’s not about crime, drugs, and bling. That perspective is sorely needed in the music world. They recently released all of their albums online, but I was too late to get them.

3. The Style Council, "Shout to the Top" from the compilation The Singular Adventures of the Style Council (Polydor 1989) A very good sampler of what happened after Paul Weller broke up the Jam and went in a more Pop/RnB direction. I’ve been listening to this album so long, it’s ridiculous. I would have made a decent UK Mod music nerd. God knows I’ve been listening to enough tracks from the other side of the Pond.

4. Conductive Alliance, "Alfred's Tongues" from Opticks (self-released 2013) This is a Chicago band that has a hazy, mechanical Pop sound that would work in a lot of settings that favor attentive listening. I could picture this sounding really good in a loft or warehouse space, where the drones and big beats have room to bounce around and mix together.

5. All Things Lucid, "American Crow" from All Things Lucid (self-released 2010) Another Chicago band of note. They're good at combining an MORish guitar Rock sound with some sharp social commentary that’s usually found in Punk. The protest element is so lacking in today’s Pop music, which isn’t surprising considering who now owns the major distribution labels. Still, there’s so much about the state of the world to be pissed about these days, especially if you’re in a younger demographic. The Revolution is out there, and it’s definitely not being televised (or played on a nationwide radio network).

I play lots of songs from the past, present, and future on my radio show on Sunday afternoons from 2:00pm-4:00pm Central Time on CHIRP Radio. Give it a listen!

TV Review: The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret

There are few things in life more painful than dealing with a moron who thinks he’s smart. Over the years, any number of sitcoms and dramas have demonstrated this. It takes talent to pull off this kind of theme week in and week out. One show that does this due to the strength of its cast is “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,” an Independent Film Channel original production.

Each episode opens with the same shot of a roughed-up and defeated Margaret (David Cross) sitting in a British courtroom, flanked by security guards, blankly listening to a series of charges made against him while a group of lawyers and guys in suits work themselves into a near riot expressing their disgust for him.

The viewer is then flashed back to the past, to see just how Todd Margaret got where he is. This much we know (and by "we", I mean those of us who are only halfway through the current season) – Margaret is working as a temp at some generic corporation whose boss (Will Arnett), upon overhearing the meek employee in his cubicle using his “Stop Being Such a Pussy!” motivational tape to practice yelling at people, recruits him to relocate overseas and sell a toxic energy drink called Thunder Muscle to the British market.

Margaret, with no natural talent for selling, experience running a business venture, or knowledge of UK culture, soon finds himself in a continuing series of outrageous and desperate scenarios that highlight both his incompetence and tendency to say anything but the truth to get himself out of trouble.

Maybe it’s because of the international setting, but after watching several episodes, I couldn’t help but think how well this show works as a metaphor for the USA’s position in the world for the last 10+ years. Todd Margaret is America in all its headstrong foolishness masquerading as go-get-‘em Capitalism, only too happy to dig a deeper hole than admit he’s in over his head. His globe-trotting, dickish boss, the one who sends toadies on missions to make him more money while he idles away his time doing nothing (when he’s not busy losing large amounts of money at online poker), is the stateless Upper Class, the ones with all the money.

Margaret’s love interest, cafe owner Alice (Sharon Horgan), is the UK, France, Germany, and any other US ally who, by hesitantly but ultimately tolerating Margaret’s buffoonery, instead of telling him to just fuck off already, is arguably just as complicit in the trail of waste and destruction that ensues. Margaret’s sole employee, immediately seeing what a complete tool his “boss” is and taking every opportunity to use it to his advantage and amusement, could represent anyone from an international financier short-selling another batch of Collateralized Debt Obligations to a smiling mullah accepting the latest planeload of cash from the CIA.

Political metaphors aside, this is a funny show that provides a good showcase for Cross’ and Arnett’s talents for cringe humor. It remains to be seen how much the show can keep up the plot before needing to get to that fateful opening scene. No doubt, there getting there will involve a lot more painful moments for the American.

My Rating: 7/10 (“Really Like It”)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My Top 10 Albums for 2010

I've posted my list of my favorite albums for 2010 over at the Chicago Independent Radio Project site, where I am a member and volunteer. Check out my list as well as those of other members at!