The Best New Thing You Haven't Heard Of This Week: Seth Colter Walls and Maura Johnston On The New Newness, Strange Jazz, And The Semi-Return Of Hole
Seth Colter Walls: Maura, has it been a good first third of 2010, music-wise? What were the highlights? And what depressed the shit out of you?
Maura Johnston: 2010 has actually been a great year for music. So far! And there's more to come!!
Seth: Really? Because I've felt slightly… underwhelmed. (Though I'm glad you are confirming that the rest of calendar year 2010 is still to come.)
Maura: Well, I know the whole existence of the future has been a cause for worry recently. But I am optimistic!
Seth: Make me excited about all the stuff that came out recently. I probably missed a lot of great things? That Tracey Thorn record is a killer, I'll admit.
Maura: Yes and that's actually a future record! It comes out in May. As does the LCD Soundsystem.
Seth: LCD = also good. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. What's been top-notch great that's also legal to own already? For me, the list is sort of small:
Seth: Joanna Newsom was superb. Ditto Badu.
Maura: I have to dive into the Newsom. But I am with you on the Badu!
Seth: The new Ted Leo album, The Brutalist Bricks, really impressed me. Tighter than recent efforts, but with just as many hooks spilling out everywhere.
Maura: He's so great, and underappreciated.
Seth: Like everyone knows he's "good," but he gets NO BUZZ.
Maura: You saw that Village Voice interview with him, right? He talks about the economics of being in his situation really honestly. And he's still going — yesterday on Twitter he gave a little lesson in what way of buying music benefited musicians the most.
Seth: Maybe he should make a video about an army of cigarette-sunglasses who massacre an ocean full of naked ladies! I bet that would make his music better, or at least more appreciated.
Maura: Well the thing is, artists who have been around a while just aren't appreciated. The craving is for The New — or the Not Around For Long Enough For People To Remember — at all times.
Seth: So let's talk about the NEW NEWNESS (tm'ing that phrase in music criticism, btw).
Seth: The NEW paradigm to talk about NEW things all the NEWtime. Newly!
Seth: For example: I sort of can't believe that anyone thought this Fang Island band was Best New Anything, aside from Best New Thing I Hadn't Heard of This Week.
Maura: "I Hadn't Heard of This Week." That's part of the problem, right? The pressure is on to take the pulse of the more dynamic indicators. Which is why every blog these days has one of those annoying Tweetmeme badges that shows real-time how many people are Tweeting about each post.
Seth: Oh yeah. (And please Tweet this post, kind readers, while we whine about this.)
Maura: And so like your more mainstream outlets are talking less about what's good and more about "what's happening" in music, as anyone who's covered Biebermania can tell you.
Seth: Aha. I have not covered this.
Maura: That was not what you would call a review-borne phenomenon. Although I do enjoy some of his songs quite a bit.
Seth: Right, because the mass of interest was formulated by 12-year-olds, who don't need reviews!
Maura: But who act in enough of a mass to be noticeable.
Seth: Here's my enduring frustration about "act[ing] in enough of a mass to be noticeable." Let's think about things to drink. I enjoy a nice shot or two of whiskey every now and again.
Maura: I do as well!
Seth: Though I wouldn't be surprised if you told me that the most popular drink, by volume, was Similac. But you know what? I DON'T FUCKING CARE. I don't need or want to read a story about this "hip new drink that all the twelve month olds are really buzzing up on their baby blogs, because their bodies can't handle anything else anyway!"
Maura: Oh totally.
Seth: I would just like my adult drink.
Maura: But the problem is one of economics. As in, the economics of content not working, and higher-ups on the editorial and business sides collectively freaking out. In theory, covering the super-popular, pageview-heavy stuff is supposed to float the items that aren't as much of a click-frenzy.
Seth: Yeah, call me when it's more than a theory on a whiteboard in a meeting, cuz people are ruthless about bouncing from websites.
Maura: I mean I have been in a fairly morose "the system is broken" mood for, oh, the past 18 months or so.
Seth: Can you tell me what magazine this is? "State Of Rock: 40 reasons to get excited about music, starring: The Black Eyed Peas."
Maura: Oh, Rolling Stone.
Seth: At first I thought it was the cover of Why Don't You Commit Suicide? Weekly, but upon closer inspection, you're correct.
Maura: Which is hilarious given the one-two punch of Rolling Stone's slavish devotion to "doing it live" and the Peas' abysmal performance on Idol last week.
Seth: I hesitate to embed, but it really was a spectacle of awful …
Maura: The Peas kind of fascinate me.
Seth: I guess my feelings are, Wow: you have patterned your band's music after the sound my ATM makes upon any transaction, and your stage aesthetic after the Power Rangers. Also I'm rather weary of profiles of artists that talk about what great marketers and businesspeople they are.
Maura: Totally understood.
Seth: Like when Usher's new album came out. It's like, okay, did he write any good R&B songs? Because I'm not buying his Habits of Seven Highly Annoying People.
Seth: I have a theory about this.
Seth: So in olden times, when wages rose generally, there was a middle class, etc., rock/pop/dance icons were allowed to be "popular" and therefore "great" simply on account of doing good work — or having a good look, or whatever. It wasn't super-important for them to be annoying cross-platform marketing temples because nobody particularly needed to behave that way in life to be comfortable (broadly speaking). But in an age in which everybody is on 15 social-networking sites, the pop stars have to do it too. Or else they lose the cachet of somehow seeming to model the appropriate kind of "winning" behavior that most people expect from people "at the top."
Maura: There's that. But there's also the idea that at this point, people making money from the old-school, big-conglomerate music business? Are kinda newsworthy, in that fewer people are doing that every day. Think of it as a beaten-down-dog-can-still-bite-man kinda thing.
Seth: Oh, that's a smart point.
NEXT: Digital Seven-Inches And The Lost Concept Of "Fun." Plus, It's Time to Talk About Courtney Love Again.