Friday, April 30th, 2010

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

here is an album that you should buy in physical formSeth 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).
Maura: Hurry!
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.

25 Comments / Post A Comment

evilfred (#2,351)

Thank you Maura and Seth! I love love loved the last Tracey Thorn album and am eagerly looking forward to the new one! Stoked on all the amazing material that Robyn has released lately and I hope that she can maintain quality over her 3 planned releases this year.

New Crystal Castles is great too. I'm confused about whether Roisin Murphy is going to actually release an album or just more singles?

katiechasm (#163)

Ted Leo, LCD Soundsystem, The National = Cool dad rock.

/brb listening to Charles Hamilton.

That *is* a good song to be listening to on Friday afternoon. Carry on!

riggssm (#760)

Yes, the Janelle Monae tune is tight. That bass line. And the classic horn line (real horns smoothly meshed with the best of digital!?!). TIGHT.

evilfred (#2,351)

and so innocently happy sounding! joyous even

Bittersweet (#765)

Is it too much to hope for a "Tightrope" dance craze this summer?

Good lord. Riches abound.

FYI here's some great smaller-scale stuff from this year (give or take):

John Bellows, "Clean Your Clock"
Jerusalem and the Starbaskets, "Battle of the Orchids"
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears "Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!"
Moon Duo, "Escape"
John Martyn, "Battle of Medway" (reissue)
Wolf People, "Tidings"
Yellow Swans, "Going Places"
The Last Rapes of Mr. Teach "Solid Body"

This Wolf People album is interesting, thanks!

Matt (#26)

Big ups for big-upping Jason Moran. Heard him with Greg Osby and Nicholas Payton and dude kills it.

Still not buying The National as anything more than formulaic retread. Saw them in the rain last year at APW (an apropos setting for The National) and we came up with that very same mock-technique.

Flashman (#418)

I'm *really* into this Titus Andromicus album. Playing it over and over.

Matt (#26)


dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Unclear why the end of the music industry as we know it doesn't also mean the end of caring what music journalists say about what we're supposed to listen to now?

Miles Klee (#3,657)

robyn's body talk pt.1 is really excellent; the back half even has this kinda reggae dancehall riddim thing happening

cherrispryte (#444)

I have a friend who's a huge The National fan. I may send this to him.

On the other hand, I am INCREDIBLY excited for the new The Hold Steady album (Next week squee!! It's already streaming on NPR!!!) so I am not sure if I get to be judgy. But I am sort-of sad it wasn't worthy of a mention here.

LondonLee (#922)

That Janelle Monae single is fan-bloody-tastic, thanks for introducing me to it.

Though why on earth is it five minutes long? Be twice as good at half the length (and without the obligatory, stapled-on rap part)

djfreshie (#875)

Disagree x100. We don't need more short songs.

LondonLee (#922)

I'm not against extended 12" versions for clubbing (I own a lot of those) but for the "radio" or wherever people hear "records" these days, keep it short.

djfreshie (#875)

Uh…why? Because you personally have a short attention span or because you perceive the public to? And in either case, there's nothing about this composition that is repetitive in any way. It seems there are simply elements of it that you dislike? In which case, how can something 'fan-bloody-tastic' also reach levels of dullness?

djfreshie (#875)

I'm asking but I know the answer I guess. Maybe I confused because the amount of effort and musicianship and talent and time that went into making this song, and your contradictory response amounts to both "it is awesome" but then also: "tl;dr." Which is odd because if it is awesome and you like it…why does the length bother you? And if it is too long, why would you like it.

For example, there are elements of the Lord of the Rings movies I like, but holy fuck those movies are godawfully long and filled with repetetive gooble-gobble and overemotional garbage. But I would never say those movies are good. Conversely, the Dark Knight could have been 24 hours long and I would have just sat there forever and loved every minute.

I've experienced situations where something is good and short, and sometimes it is good because it is short. But never is something good but too long. If I start getting bored by it, then it is not doing it's job. Especially a dancey song. Do you also dislike 'Hey Ya'? It follows a very similar structure to this song.

Bittersweet (#765)

djfreshie, we can agree to disagree about LOTR and The Dark Knight (which couldn't end soon enough for me), but I agree about long songs. If they're good, who cares if they're 2 min. or 8?

Of course, this could be a purely economic reaction to iTunes – I want my money's worth for my $0.99 (or $1.29), dammit!

djfreshie (#875)

Obviously tastes are relative…but the point is…if the thing is good, then length is (somewhat) irrelevant, as long as it is non-repetitive. If it is short, then great! Thanks for the short nice thing. But if it's long, it's long. You don't get to choose just the solo from Stairway. Either you accept the whole or the none.

djfreshie (#875)

And itunes value, obviously :)

LondonLee (#922)

It is perfectly possible to think a record is great but also think it would have more impact if it was shorter. The length doesn't "bother" me I just thought it was unnecessary as the record says most of what it has to say by the time Big Boi appears. Put it this way, for me it became a bit less fan-bloody-tastic by the end. OK? Get it?

I thought Dark Knight was 24 hours long. Least that's how it felt.

BadUncle (#153)

That Janelle Monae and the Hanoi Janes just put a big smile on my face. Nice!

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