December 27, 2010 § 3 Comments
Musically, it has been an interesting year. Functionally speaking, the music enthusiasts have sustained some puzzling tensions; the number of vinyl records they own is comparable to the number of artists they follow on Twitter. This old-school-new-school collision has also put the value of medium into question. The availability of online music has created history’s largest generation of thieves. Meanwhile, vinyl and cassette sales have rocketed.
These incongruous trends reveal a new, driving force to the world of music: physical aesthetic. This explains why so many people left their laptops at home and braved freeways and downtown parking to visit their local LP supplier on National Record Store Day this year. Thousands waited in line to pay $40+ for 180 grams worth of Beach House’s Teen Dream, an album many of them probably already downloaded for free online. But isn’t music just music? An essentially aural experience?
Perhaps there is more to the vinyl revival than just the tactile aesthetic. In an increasingly cost-free industry, music—especially cool music—is losing its exclusivity. Yeah, you’ve heard Age of Adz, but do you own the vinyl with the prophetic artwork? “Impossible Soul” takes up an entire side! If the Internet made High Violet available to anyone, how else are you supposed to identify yourself as one of the National’s true fans? Our generation prizes authenticity first and foremost. In the world of free music, this translates to the tactile, the ownership, and the identity.
2010 has also witnessed the rise in prominence of the music blog. Now, blogs have been around for a number of years, but their significance and validity have increased with their readership. Each listener swears loyalty to their own blog-of-choice, whether it’s the grassroots intimacy of Brooklyn Vegan or the indie-turned-corporate reportage of Stereogum. Personal favorites aside, all pay homage to the all-powerful Pitchfork, whose 10-point record review scale carries colossal weight in the blogging community. Any band without the Best New Music blessing has essentially been deemed by Pitchfork as mediocre and forgetful. This label, however, can have a reverse effect. Bands given Best New Music seal of approval run the risk of being cast by others as overrated.
Blogging has also had a large hand in diversifying music. The immense variety of music available online is added to everyday. New genres spring up all the time. All this information needs classification, and that’s where the blogs come in. This year artists like Baths and Flying Lotus brought “Glitch-Pop” to the table, Washed Out and Small Black pioneered the “Chillwave” movement, and former Lo-Fi acts Best Coast and Wavves bumped recording quality up a notch for a sound some are calling “Post-Fi”. The origins of these labels can each be traced back to blog writers, whose authority in identification seems to have more weight than the artists themselves.
This movement circles back to the question of identity. Indie just isn’t indie anymore. Under the umbrella of indie are all sorts of movements, many of them stark in their differences. Now that indie has lost its indie-pendence, more specific labels are needed. The classification of bands is getting narrower and narrower. Again, exclusivity must be maintained.
Exclusivity and identity go hand in hand with personalization, another area that made great strides in 2010, most notably through the social-celebrity-stalker-site Twitter. A lot of artists are using the site to wear down the glossy, shaded partition that separates them from their fans. Bands got creative with this online conduit for free communication, many of them using it to announce secret shows, post links to new music videos, and, in many cases, give away free tickets to devoted fans. The increasing personability of musicians has turned starry-eyed fans into something more like distant friends. This pseudo-intimacy—however farcical—is at least, well, kinda fun.
Kanye West—whose Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy scored a perfect 10.0 on Pitchfork—has over two million followers on Twitter. Musicians of his caliber, however, have a sphere of influence much larger than that of social networking. This year, former President George W. Bush told NBC’s Matt Lauer in an interview that the lowest point in his Presidency was when Kanye West called him a racist as a result of the less-than-satisfactory response hurricane Katrina. Lauer told the former President that he might receive some heat for those words. “And here’s the reason,” said Lauer. “You’re not saying the lowest point in your Presidency was watching the misery in Louisiana. You’re saying it’s because someone insulted you because of that.” Kanye’s claim carried enough weight to cut the former leader of the free world to the core. Lauer then interviewed Kanye about a number of sensitive subjects, Bush and his award show interruption of Taylor Swift. Kanye reacted angrily, telling Lauer he was upset they used footage to provoke a reaction. His resulting tweets-of-rage made their way onto the Today Show the following day.
Now, in terms of actual music, 2010 went a lot of different directions. The one-man-bands of the year have garnered considerable attention: debut acts Wild Nothing and Twin Shadow—the creations of Jack Tatum and George Lewis Jr, respectively—made breezy reverberated guitar pop that could fool you into thinking they were each frontmen to full 4-piece bands. The accessibility of technology, along with the trend in lo-fi recording quality makes projects like this very possible. The aforementioned glitch-pop acts Flying Lotus (Steve Ellison) and Baths (Will Wiesenfied) each took to the stag with nothing more than a sampler and a lot of confidence. In September, solo act Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) headlined the FYF fest in Los Angeles.
2010 also gave rise to a less expected trend in music: pretending to surf. The summery, youthful beach-pop of The Drums, Surfer Blood, Best Coast and Wavves all recieved massive recognition. It seems, however, these acts are nostalgic for something they were never really a part of. The Drums, who wrote the whistley hit “Lets Go Surfing,” are from Brooklyn. Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast wrote most of her first songs while living in New York, and has admitted not being the biggest fan of beach life. Not a single member of the Florida based Surfer Blood knows how to surf.
The colliding old-school/new-school dichotomy discussed earlier manifested itself in many of the musical styles of 2010. Kanye West’s Pitch(fork)-perfect Twisted Fantasy was praised for mixing narrative themes and indie rock with the fundamental elements of rap; the last track on Fantasy begins with a sample from folk artist Bon Iver’s “Woods.” Bands like No Age and Deerhunter blended their traditional indie-noise rock with prerecorded loops and samples for a tighter, more focused sound. Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs is threaded with a longing for the way things were, and a lament for the way things are now. The music video for “We Used to Wait”—the track that arguably contains the most explicit depiction of nostalgic longing—ironically utilized the technologically advanced program Google Earth to evoke childhood memories in the viewer by showing photographs of their home. Sufjan Stevens’ apocalyptic love ballad Age of Adz made a large departure from his previous material. The familiar folk Sufjan leaves you after the chilling opener “Futile Devices,” and gives you over to a lovesick, virus infected cyborg Sufjan who guides you down through a minefield rumbling with harsh textures of noise and abrasively distorted guitars, and back up through spiraling crescendos of chanted harmonies and moments of awe-inspiring clarity and brutal, emotional honesty. The tour-de-force ends with the soft, familiar picking of acoustic chords that brings the album full circle and leaves you looking back, thinking—as Sufjan sings—“Boy, we made such a mess together.”
Music has undergone a lot this year, and society with it. We enter 2011 sustaining a lot of strange polarities and wondering how these tensions are going to tease themselves out. Stylistically, musically, culturally, aesthetically, a lot of exciting things are happening, and I’m looking forward to see what comes next, even if it is a bit messy.
By Christian Koons
December 16, 2010 § 1 Comment
December 15, 2010 § Leave a comment
This trailer for Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”
just hit the web. We, at The 138, are very much looking forward to it. May 2011 can’t come soon enough.
December 13, 2010 § Leave a comment
“We live in a crazy world,” says David Swanson, singer and primary songwriter for the Frozen Ocean.
“I’m constantly amazed by the extremes I see in our culture. One second you see acts of great kindness and love then the next, acts of unspeakable greed and evil.”
In response to those polar opposites, the songs on In Exile tell stories about desperation, greed, hope and the mystery of love.
David says, “honestly I don’t have a totally satisfying explanation for the painful things that happen in life, but I do believe that God reconciles everything for a greater purpose than what I can personally comprehend.”
One listen to In Exile and it’s immediately evident that the songs defy easy classification.
From the hypnotic opener Caught in the Air to the Irish-influenced closer Promised Land, In Exile paints a broad musical landscape.
“Some of my biggest influences when writing and recording these songs were Mark Knopfler, David Bazan and Daniel Lanois. My favorite albums have always been musically diverse, and I’ve never had interest in making an album that sounds the same top to bottom.“
David, a big fan of collaboration, called upon longtime friends, Matt Greiner (August Burns Red) and Andy Nelson (Wrench in the Works) to handle drum duties on In Exile.
“Matt and Andy are both guys I’ve known for a long time and am so proud of what they’ve contributed to the songs.”
In Exile is available everywhere digital music is sold.
December 11, 2010 § 1 Comment
Artist contact: email@example.com
December 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
Coming to the Gallery 12/13/10
Local artist, Sander Jackson Siswojo, has a show opening on December 13th at the Biola Art Gallery. Come out for some food, drinks, and great art. Reception starts at 7!
December 7, 2010 § 3 Comments
We recently sat down with musical artist David Bazan
and picked his brain on as many topics as we could.
Ladies and gentlemen: David Bazan.
Photo By: Joshua David Watson
How did Strange Negotiations (the upcoming album) get its name?
It’s a phrase that had been kind of rolling around in my head for the past year, or so, I guess. It just popped in and it seemed to describe the feeling I had about certain cultural things… For instance, sometimes something will get expressed within culture that is just super asinine but because enough people agree about it then you have to take it seriously so then you’re kind of negotiating with these people about this thing that you shouldn’t have to negotiate at all. So I started thinking of those aspects as like, this is a strange negotiation we are involved in.
The example that I had in mind was that Obama wasn’t born here… “Where’s the birth certificate?” Because enough people believe that, then you have to take it seriously. That’s strange. It seems inappropriate. You should just be able to dismiss stupidity as such, but nonetheless, here we are.
What direction are you going to take Strange Negotiations musically? When does it come out?
It comes out [May 2011]… Musically, it is a rock-n-roll record. Much more than [Curse Your Branches] was. Only two songs have bridges, which is kind of a nerdy, technical thing to highlight but for me, it’s a pretty big deal. The drums are delightfully blown up, the way that some of the drums are on “Control.” It’s a different record… I’m excited.
Is there a general theme of thought in the record?
It has a theme that weaves through most of the tunes in it. It has to do with the title. In the wake of the decisions about my life and my belief system that caused me to write Curse Your Branches, there is the uncomfortable remainder of seeing your family all the time and they believe and you don’t…and that’s somewhat common, I’m finding. But maybe more common is the political dissonance that happens between generations. The political dissonance, in general, that you have to co-exist with people who are vehemently opposed on a political level and how you go about that. It’s a record where I, in a vague sense, voice philosophies and ideas that pertain [to politics] and make accusations.
But then, it’s also a record about how you interact with people who think so differently from you in a fundamental way. Do you dismiss them? Do you pretend like you don’t disagree? Do you try not to talk about it? Do you engage respectfully? Do you let your own ideas become watered-down in the process? So the record is asking questions, but it’s not quite so grand as [Curse Your Branches.] The scale that Branches was on for me was personally pretty massive.
What do you mean by that?
I wouldn’t make another record like Branches, so I had to get it right [the first time.] So there is a lot less riding on Strange Negotiations. It’s just me shooting my mouth off.
It seems like music is a site for you to wrestle with personal doubts, fears, regrets, and struggles. How do you think about the relationship between the private aspect of writing your music and the public aspect of performing/recording it?
The music that I’ve written in the past couple of years has been more personal than any music that I’ve ever written… The songs that are more personal, I find that I have a stronger connection with. I can sing them more often, with more conviction. As they have become more personal, they have become more compelling to me. That’s the way I think of the private vs. the public. Having to go up in public and make such a big hullaballoo and say, “Everybody look at me! I’m going to sing some words and strum on this guitar!” It seems much more valid to be doing that when I have a much more personal connection to the songs. Sometimes, exposing oneself is a little odd. But in the end, I’m not hung up on that.
Who do you think makes the most compelling argument for the Christian faith?
There are Christians that I know that I find compelling as people. But I haven’t run into any Christian apologist that has really addressed my specific set of concerns. My buddies, who I respect who are Christians, I don’t think they are trying to [do that] in their work. I’m mostly interested in finding out what’s true and what holds up. My buddy, Eric Balmer, has been reading this Joel Green book [and it seems] interesting to me because it seems to be about things I’m currently reserving judgment about that I’m curious to understand and know about.
I don’t [know of any compelling apologetic cases for Christianity] and it’s an interesting question. Evangelical Christianity, as I grew up with it and as it seems to exist currently, seems preoccupied with the confession of Christianity. That one would confess the right things, and that seems to be one of the main points of it. I find that so unsatisfying. To me, the best cases for Christianity are when people actually bear the fruit that they say they are going to bear. To me, that is the most compelling reason to think anything or do anything or to respect a confession. A confession of belief on it’s own is just the most flaccid thing. In that sense, an academic book, self-help book, or just a Christian apologetic book means so much less.
[They would say] “So this is what I think…” [I would respond,] “So you’re divorced three times, you’re estranged from you’re kids… who cares what you think about the universe? I want to be at peace. This peace that passes all understanding that you’re talking about, you don’t have it. You treat people badly; you misunderstand fundamental ideas of the world at large.” These [bearing fruits] are far more compelling to me than, “You have to get the confession right or you’ll burn for eternity.” And I just think: “Yeah, that’s becoming less compelling by the minute too because everything else you say doesn’t seem to match up with reality, so why would I assume that would?”
When it comes to the evaluation of the ideas of Christianity, I find all sorts of guys compelling. Most of that has to do with the study of the Bible. Marcus Borg is a fascinating guy. Peter Enns wrote an interesting book called Inspiration and Incarnation. I like Bart Ehrman a lot. I think his story is compelling. He comes across as pretty cynical. I don’t share all of [his conclusions.] His scholarship seems good in the subject matter of the books and how earnestly he deals with the problem of suffering and things like this are unique and compelling. I think he is paving the way for other people to bring scholarly, biblical criticism to the masses in a way that hasn’t been. I think that’s a good thing. When inerrancy finally stops being insisted upon by the majority of evangelicals, the movement will be much better off.
Do you miss God? (Or your previous perception of him) Do you miss your naiveté? Would you go back and live in that if you could? Do you ever get tired of wrestling?
I do miss my previous conception of God. But I don’t miss the naivety. People have complained about me in the past. [They say,] “How arrogant, he is the ultimate arbiter of what he finds, true or not true.” In reality, we just are. Sometimes some people are able to exist in the same community for their entire lives, but most people go around from community to community, for whatever reason, and where you land community-wise is your choice. What resonates to you about what they believe is true, is your choice; Ultimately we are the ones that have to be responsible for what we believe and for ourselves. And if we lived in the early 1700’s in the South of the United States and our community believed that slavery was right on and we knew deep down that it wasn’t, it’s up to us to stand up and say, “You know, that just doesn’t sound right to me.” Because I am the one that’s responsible for where I end up philosophically, it’s really nice to be able to evaluate ideas honestly and call a spade, a spade. Now that I’m out of the movement, without the threat of being kicked out of the movement, it seems like a basic pleasure, or right, to be able to think freely about ideas. That is worth even major discomfort. To be allowed to be wrong and come back to that later and say, “You know, I was wrong about that and not have all this heavy stuff hanging over your head about it is better than the discomfort that comes along with the grief of losing one’s faith.” Which I did…it was something that needed to be grieved, maybe even more profoundly than the death of someone that I knew. It was a bummer. It was a really big bummer. But who’s to say what is lost and how long it’s lost for. I have impulses to express gratitude toward the unknown, to what is. I’ve read that people say, “Well that is so encouraging; it’s just evidence that God is still at work in the hard heart. Blah Blah Blah. It is what it is. Maybe there is something, maybe there is nothing. But what I’ve fought for and what I’m happy to have, is the right to go with my gut. I’m going to do that as humbly and as earnestly as I know how. That’s the way I’ve gone about it up till now too.
Could you see yourself coming back to the biblical account of God while rejecting the “personal Christianity” (modern-day American evangelicalism) that you seem to be so angry with?
I’ve always had concern and conflicts with evangelical Christianity. Since I was fourteen, I’ve had major issues with the American Evangelical expression, but from fourteen to twenty-four [years old], that was never a deal breaker, and in the end it wasn’t the American Evangelical expression that was the deal breaker. It was what I perceived to be logical gaps in the biblical narrative in the [foundation.] Starting with the fall, the character of God throughout the Old Testament. Jesus is interesting. But without the fall and without the required reconciliation, the atonement is not the answer to any question. There is still a lot of study that I have to do but as I go over it and over it and over it again… I couldn’t make sense of it.
And so that was the thing more than anything. It was specifically the biblical account of God that was the deal breaker. What’s nice now is that I still have a lot of gripes with collective action of American Evangelicals. I don’t [need] to have any angst about any of the ones that I know and love. People say and do shitty things, no matter what “stripe they are”. I can think of plenty of evangelicals, I can think of plenty Democratic politicians. It’s everybody.
(The following are lyrics from Bazan’s song, Curse Your Branches) “Red and orange, or red and yellow in which of these do you believe if you’re not sure right now, please take a moment, cause I need your signature before you leave?”
It’s a pretty flaccid attempt to make a metaphor of having to make a choice between relatively similar systems of belief when so much is at stake. I was not given the opportunity to evaluate the system that [I was] about to sign onto. There are a lot of emotional pleas, “Do you feel empty inside?” “Yeah, absolutely.” So you sign on the dotted line and along with it comes this pork barrel of other things. It’s a reference to (Snaps fingers) “Everything is at stake. You need to make a decision, if you die tonight…”
That was my guess actually.
(Laughs) You win.
“If no heavy breath blew up these lungs while dirt and wet spit hung a ghost in the air, well we’re still here?”
I grew up hearing the narrative of: Adam formed from the dust of the earth. If that part didn’t happen, then what do we do then? I’m still here. There must be some other explanation. I’m here right now. Being is the thing that this all hangs on. The rest of it is speculation.
On a lighter note, what’s the best question you have ever been asked in a Q and A time?
Just a month ago, someone asked what I was more disappointed by: Star wars movies that followed [Return of the Jedi] or the Weezer records that followed Pinkerton. I thought that was great.
What was your answer?
I said the Star Wars movies that followed “Jedi” because… they’re terrible. But Pinkerton doesn’t depend on the story telling later on in their catalogue. It’s just a great record. But the whole of Star Wars [original trilogy] depends on Darth Vader’s turn to the dark side. Those three movies are predicated on a believable turn to this dark side. With all that money, that’s literally all they had to do. The turmoil that Luke is so clearly enduring in “Jedi” is crippling. You see the tension. It’s masterfully done. If they even came close to that feeling in Hayden Christensen’s character, that would be fine. But his turn to the dark side was inexplicable. It’s just a failure; it’s such an enormous failure. My daughter has seen [the original trilogy] a few times. They are so great. Each time, with a little bit of skepticism, I’m trying to watch them with new eyes. Thinking, “Is it just nostalgia? Is it just cause I was a little kid?” And they are corny in their ways, but they are much different movies than those other ones. I like them far, far better. What is wrong with George Lucas?
What are you listening to now?
The Gillian Welch record Time (The Revelator) I’ve loved that record for years. It’s so good. The new Land of Talk record is great. That’ll do.
The following is a recent live performance of Bazan’s In Stitches.