Posts filed under Music Criticism

Catching Up Again

One of these days I'll get this thing right. Anyway, updates:

My latest post at PopMatters, this one concerning the new album by Chastity Belt, I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone. This calls back to a piece I wrote last year about the Felice Brothers and "termite art."

My book is being finished up. One day I'll write about collating your own index. "Hellish" is too strong word, right, probably, maybe not. Anyway, there'll be a website for the book, Nothing Has Been Done Before: Seeking the New in 21st-Century American Popular Music; I'd like to put together an online resource, simple but substantial. I have the domains purchased, just need to set it up. In the meantime, you can learn more about my book at Bloomsbury's site.

I'll have another PopMatters column shortly, another piece there I'm excited about, and a review at the wonderful Los Angeles Review of Books pretty soon, too.

Lacking a relevant picture (oh, right, the book cover), here's a snap of Spike.

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Posted on July 11, 2017 and filed under Music Criticism, News.

Power Play: Brian Williams, Leonard Cohen, and "First We Take Manhattan"

My new column is up at PopMatters. Read it here. One of the more interesting discoveries in researching this piece was finding the videotaped interview from Toronto 1988 from which the prominent quote about "First We Take Manhattan" is taken. The quote from Part I of the interview that I included sheds a little light on the context of the more prominent quote, which is at the beginning of Part II. (Each is embedded in the PopMatters article.)

The fact that Cohen died the same week Trump was elected at first felt like some kind of cruel prank played on us by the universe. (He died on Monday, Nov. 7 but it wasn't announced until Nov. 10.) Here's the official video for "First We Take Manhattan."

Posted on May 15, 2017 and filed under Music Criticism, News.

Lana Del Rey's "Love" In a Time of Trump

My new music column is up at PopMatters today. It concerns pop chanteuse Lana Del Rey's recent single "Love" and listening to her use of nostalgia in a time of Trumpism. In many ways, this is a catching-up-with-things essay, and also very personal since it concerns, in part, my students at CCAD.

I should be back to a regular monthly schedule at PopMatters now that the book is handed in. (See the update below for more about that.)

Posted on April 3, 2017 and filed under Music Criticism, News.

Nothing Has Been Done Before To Be Published by Bloomsbury

So I can finally announce the big news I've been keeping hush-hush: Next fall, Bloomsbury will publish my book of music criticism! The working title is NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE BEFORE. The book explores the concept of the "new" in American popular music since 2000 and argues for a different way of engaging with that idea, and with music in general. It is not a book about, so help me, "trend forecasting." It's an unorthodox take on what newness, innovation, and novelty mean in popular music in this very particular and peculiar culture of ours.

I've been working on this since late 2014. The book has changed considerably since then, and I expect it to keep changing over the next several months before I submit the manuscript. That includes the musicians I'm writing about, but to give you an idea, there's a chapter on Kanye West and there's a chapter on Gillian Welch. I'm hesitant to give away too much about the book, and frankly, I have a lot of work to do. I don't imagine I'll post much "process" work, but we'll see.

So for now, here's a photo of a stack of paper: the working draft. I got the official word on my birthday back in July and signed the contract soon after. This is the biggest thrill of my professional life, and while there are a lot of people to thank, I owe everything to the biggest thrill in my life: my soon-to-be wife, Jamie.

Posted on August 24, 2016 and filed under Music Criticism, News.

Back On It

The Blind Engineer EP is out, today is Aug. 12, CCAD awaits, so I'm shifting back into non-summer mode. Boombox is playing some Times New Viking, Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell, Rae Sremmurd, and Frank Hutchison. My latest column is up at PopMatters re: Protomartyr's "The Devil in His Youth" and how it now seems like a song about Donald Trump. The Agent Intellect has been on replay in my car for the past three weeks. It's a great, great album.

Exciting news to announce pretty soon, but the biggest news in my life is that I'm getting married next month. Nothing will top that. If you're trying to contact me over the next month-plus, there's a good chance it'll take me awhile to get back to you.

Posted on August 12, 2016 and filed under News, Music Criticism, The Blind Engineer.

Summer of '16: Fantastic Negrito's "Working Poor"

My new column is up at PopMatters. It's one of those survey-the-land kinds of pieces, reflecting on where we're at as a country. Specifically it considers Fantastic Negrito's song "Working Poor" from his new album The Last Days of Oakland and what the song does--not just what it's about.

I want to clarify that my interest in and examination of working-class music does not mean that I think those who do not work, or can't work, are lesser citizens. As the Clinton campaign ramps up, it continues to spread the centrist gospel that working people just try harder than those who don't work, and that those who don't work don't deserve much, if any, regard because...well, the implication is that they're lazy. The rhetoric would never outright state this, of course; it's too verboten, too "tacky" and non-inclusive. But Clinton's neoliberal policies negate or obscure the systemic ways in which the poor are made poorer. This pretty much captures it:

The idea that only people who work full-time shouldn't have to live in poverty is disgusting to me. I don't want to contribute to that already pervasive perspective, and I plan to address this in a future column.

Posted on July 14, 2016 and filed under Music Criticism, News.

PopMatters: The Flea-Market Music of the Felice Brothers

My new "Ties That Bind" column is up at PopMatters, this time around concerning The Felice Brothers' music which I lovingly think of as "flea-market music":

With the release of “Plunder”, there are now two new Felice Brothers singles in advance of the group’s forthcoming album, Life in the Dark. Both songs sound like they were made from a flea market. Not about a flea market, or at a flea market. From a flea market. Of it, born from it, cobbled together or fashioned from pearl-handled baby spoons, Amish clocks, weathered license plates, frayed copies of Life magazine, beat-up ukuleles, cigarette smoke, dried mud, and the lazy cacophony of hagglers, collectors, and weekend comedians. Neither song is dressed as kitsch or irony; they’re not dressed “as” anything. Each is simply the expendable, the boxed-up and unpacked, the well-handled, common, and priced-to-sell stuff of shopworn America that someone thinks ought to be worth something to somebody. And it is.

I was stuck on what to write about for a while, then heard "Aerosol Ball" and things clicked. "Plunder" came out while I was finishing the piece. Not much in the way of extended thoughts right now. It's all there.

Posted on June 15, 2016 and filed under Music Criticism, News, Reviews.

This Week's EP

Once again I'm trying to keep my pencil sharp by reviewing single tracks from wherever, whenever, most of it fairly new unless otherwise stated. This time around I'm calling it "This Week's EP" because the EP is a lovable form: brief, intense in its focus compared to an LP, but spacious enough for some noodling around. The idea is that the included songs would fit on an EP. If that means six songs, or two, so be it. The point is to write this off-the-cuff, no planning, typos okay, lots of semi-colons, perhaps.

The endeavor to create a weekly update, or even any kind of regular update, on this site has failed before, and I expect it to fail again.

Track 1. "Complicated," Fitz and The Tantrums, from their new self-titled album (Elektra/WMG)

The zenith/nadir of indie pop in the sense of highly compressed synth-crunch made with the "spirit" of indie-rebellion-something-or-other, this song, on the heels of the band's single "HandClap," reminds me of the white-collar bar near the Short North Market called Brothers, a meat market kind of place I wandered into once years ago and will never wander into again. "Kissing like a car crash" is a good lyric, though. My rating: three half-smoked cigarette butts on a sidewalk.

Posted on June 10, 2016 and filed under Music Criticism, This Week's EP.

Extended Thoughts on Prince: Never Stop Arguing

When Prince passed away on April 21, I knew that my next column at PopMatters would be about him. That column, "Prince: Never Stop Arguing," is up now. Read it before reading any of what's below.

The problem was that I didn't know what to say. For me, trying to write about Prince has been like trying to walk around an ocean. Where do you even think about beginning? I've been a Prince fan since I was thirteen and first heard Purple Rain. As a young musician I was blown away by his talent, his soul, his ambition, his dedication. I traded for bootleg tapes. When my truck was broken into one night, I was more pissed about the thief taking my Paradiso live CD than I was about the shattered window. I've been trying to write about Prince for years, either for a PopMatters column or something else; I have a few stalled essays, one dating back to the album 3121, one as recent as last year.

Posted on May 16, 2016 and filed under Music Criticism, News.

Documenting The Life of Pablo

My latest column at PopMatters has posted. It's about Kanye West's new album, The Life of Pablo, and its evolving nature. I was reading a recent essay by the philosopher Boris Groys concerning contemporary art and the internet, and something clicked. West's constant revising of his album has been treated like a novelty, so I wanted to dig a little deeper into what's going on.

You can read Groys' essay, "The Truth of Art," at the art journal e-flux here. My thanks to Matt Mitchem, my CCAD colleague, for hipping me to it. I've been reading a lot of Groys lately for my book of music criticism; one of the challenges for that book, and this PM column, is to think through what he's saying about visual art in regards to music.

I regret I didn't write more about The Life of Pablo's actual tracks, but it just wasn't in the cards given my subject. Maybe in an expanded version, or here on my site.

Posted on April 4, 2016 and filed under Music Criticism.