Wasn’t Tami Neilson on American Idol? C+
It’s Tuesday which means I continue my
trolling experiment fine arts blog REALLY REAL REVIEW by reviewing Yumi Zouma’s new single ‘Depths pt. 1’.
Yumi Zouma’s latest outing has them sounding like a Kmart knock-off of Silicon: the slightly vocoded voice, the warm production, a low-key disco grove — the whole effect feels like an overbaked mac n cheese or really well fried courgettes. The whole effect is disaffected warmth, like a disinterested housewife performing ‘warmth’. You could be forgiven for thinking Kmart knock-off is an insult; the world needs Kmart.
I made the mistake of listening to Madeira (the project of Yumi Zouma’s former vocalist , Kim Pflaum) straight after listening to ‘Depths’. I forgot all about ‘Depths’. C+
New Zealand’s foremost music critic, ie. me, returns to the fore – to offer their opinions on IMPORTANT WHITE LADY Taylor Swift.
You could forgive yourself for mistaking ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ for sounding like a Dresden Dolls song, circa. 2002, when you wore way too much make up and thought knee-high socks were the bee’s knees and you cried in your bedroom because the popular girls in choir were mean to you and you used MSN Messenger and had a NEOPETS.
You could even forgive yourself for mistaking parts of LWYMMD as Gwen Stefani at the height of her netballer-cum-superstar powers, specifically that chant: IT’S BANANAS B A N A N A S!
You could forgive yourself for hearing hints of Regina Spector, too — Regina Spector is like Dresden Dolls, but less.
This all makes sense, right? Tay Tay came of age – like yours truly, the Greatest Critic Ever – in the mid 2000s when Amanda Palmer wasn’t this massive shitfire and Regina Spector wasn’t primarily known for theme music. You’ve got to remember: Dresden Dolls were COOL. They are like an overload of estrogen and hormones and puberty and angst. Swift’s currency for the good part of her first two albums deals in just this currency — except countryfied. LWYMMD is an unabashed homage to these forgotten gods — ruling women of the mid 2000s who have gone AWOL (more like AOL, amiright). It’s stupid. It’s dumb. I mean – Taylor can’t come to the phone. SHE’S DEAD. A
The Black Keys are the Mark Zuckerberg of pale white boy rock. They are so boring I find myself slip off into sleep as I write this. They are the famous version of every mediocre dude band in your ‘scene’ wherever you are, they are the lesser White Stripes (who at least had Meg). So what a surprise to see Dan Auerbach write a half decent pop song, which sounds like latter day Macca, or perhaps even Wings. I have never seen CARS or CARS 2 or CARS 3. I like Pixar films. I have no interest in talking cars. Hats off to Auerbach, though — a Wings song is ten times better than imitation 70s (his solo stuff) or rockist imitation 70s (‘The Black Keys’). ‘Like I finally started living for myself again’, Auerbach sings. With lyrics as unabatedly schlocky as these it’s a good thing the melody clings to cheesy riffs with all its might. B+
I once was playing The Chills great hit ‘I love my Leather Jacket’ at work, and this lady goes “I HATE THAT SCARFIE MUSIC”. I said, what? She said ‘I love my leather jacket’. I said, ‘Oh, The Chills’. She said “I HATED THAT SCARFIE MUSIC WHEN IT CAME OUT AND I HATE IT NOW’. I said, I think Martin Phillips is too old to be a scarfie. She reiterated she hated scarfie music. I put on Tall Dwarfs. I said, Chris Knox. How about that. She said, SCARFIE MUSIC IS NOT DINNER MUSIC. B-/C+
Shaggs-esque vocals meet a pop sensibility reminiscent of The Chills. And not in the try-hard way every half-bit band in Dunedin attempts to recreate The Chills, albeit in a ‘new’ way (The Prophet Hens spring to mind). It’s a wholly joyful sensibility where the pop springs out of the joy, like a joyful jack in the box, except a joyful jack in the box playing rocknroll. When I say Shaggs-esque vocals I mean vocals seem hollowed-out somehow, like how Nico sounds hollowed out all the way. Shaggs-esque is hollowed out half the way. It feels as if this might be a Link Wray record from an alternative timeline — one where Link Wray supplants The Beatles as The Greatest Musician and everyone sports Link Wray haircuts and Link Wray jackets and your parents talk about Wraymania. In New Zealand it is cold at the moment and this record gives my icy cold heart joy. Bravo. A
Aldous Harding is nowhere near as bad as Simon Sweetman says she is. She doesn’t sound like a goat. Goats do not like folk music. ‘Blend’ is folk music at its heart – Harding can’t rid herself of plaintive guitar lines, like those that were strewn over her debut. In songs like ‘Horizon’ Harding exaggerates those folk tendencies toward something that resembles what a cave would sound like if it joined a Bob Dylan covers band with a seal and the famous singer, Seal. Folk, at its heart, is a type of theatre. Woody Guthrie is performing the part of a dust bowl Depression-era citizen. Bob Dylan is an exaggeration of those qualities to the nth degree until he suddenly decides to perform something else – country singer or Frank Sinatra or whatever. More recent folk singers — Nadia Reid, et al, peddle a version of authenticity where the singer is an omniscient entity across the whole album (consider the reverb applied to Reid’s recent outing, ‘Preservation’). So authenticity doesn’t really matter. It’s boring. But ‘Blend’ is still folkie, cold drum line or not. Harding switches between “I” and “her” effortlessly – her lyrics are so specific as to be gnomic: ‘I used to watch you from the van/it was your band’. They feel directed at one particularly person — as the audience we’re left with the husks of lyrics, the hulled shells.
I find Harding more compelling than the current crop of New Zealand folk: Reid, Kane Strang, Marlon Williams, Luckless, et al. Most folk is at pains to reassert its authenticity, to lay some WORDS on you. Lay some authentic FEELING on you. I’m relieved music in the various micro-scenes here has moved away from such sincerity. The band Ov Pain sometimes sounds like characters from a H P Lovecraft story – Tim Player’s vocals as if he were in a B movie in another reality. Harding is at ease with playing a multiplicity of characters. I’m unsure if it is always compelling — ‘Blend’ does go on a bit – it’s like the Ebert scale of rating superhero movies against superhero movies, war movies against war movies, folk singers with folk singers, and so on. B-
We’ve now had a few days to digest Melodrama. I am suspicious of overly positive reviews so close to the release of an album. “Real” critics have previews, of course. Yet everyone is looking behind their shoulders — thinking, “what if the other critics have differing opinions to me? What if I look stupid?” Everyone’s waiting to see what everyone else thinks. Which is why Stereogum’s hack piece on Katy Perry — I won’t bother linking — is reactionary journalism based on taking the sentiment of the world~. And of course, all the other critics have similar thoughts! Take this sneering headline from Vice: “Sorry Katy Perry, We’ve Seen Your “Performance Art” Before”. Oh Vice! You are killing me with you alternative hot takes! So underground! So very now!
In other words, whilst the other critics are probably very nice people by and large their writing is baseless trash. Now, Russell Brown (via facebook) might claim that metacritic cannot lie. All the critics like it! Here is your evidence metacritic lies. IT’S ALL LIES:
GAG ME WITH NICK CAVE’S FUCKING SPOON. TWO HOURS OF SELF SERVING NAVAL GAZING?!?!!
Melodrama is super serious. Even when it is appropriating dance record influences (‘boom boom boom’) it feels a little po-faced, a little self-serious. Obviously the intention is quite different from a dance record — one of the most misguided claims in reviews is that it is a breakup record disguised as a dance record. That sounds pretty clever, no? It’s a great line for parties. Unknown Pleasures is more of a dance record. A dance record has some kind of inward motion which propels it forward, compels it forward. Though I am allegedly reviewing a single here, the whole of Melodrama lacks this kind of momentum. When you are dancing you feel this momentum, willed by the record, and it makes you dance. Melodrama is not a dance record.
In my drafts for RRR, there are twenty eight posts. I won’t publish many of them. Three of the drafts are various attempts at writing about Melodrama. Every time the conclusion is Melodrama is like, maybe a B-. The struggle is explaining myself. Writer in the Dark is perhaps the best track, Kate Bush-esque in its exploration of vocal possibilities; that chorus like a circle of English crows. And yet..
And yet it feels fair to compare the two. Bush is a noted influence on Lorde, both albums centre around piano ballads. I don’t mean piano ballads in terms of Randy Newman, who uses the piano as punctuation. I mean piano ballads in terms of lush indulgence of the piano itself, a celebration of the piano as instrument. Bush is a lot older. Aerial is a document of domesticity, of being set in place. Melodrama is not about domesticity. It almost seems to be about being not fixed in place, about moving, about being in motion. Bush enjoys herself. “Swishy swashy swishy swashy/get those dirty shirties clean”. As a writer Bush isn’t afraid to seem ridiculous, to play with the accruements of everyday life. Her vocal experimentation follows suit. Writer in the Dark is a lot more leaden. ‘To be a good man for someone else/sorry I was never good like you” has the same self-serious significance any young adult carries around.
I don’t care about Lorde breaking up with her boyfriend and going out to party all night.
Ok – you say – you’re not the demographic. That’s a point. It’s a record aimed squarely at thin cis white females. If you’re not a cis white female? If you’re trans? Queer? Of colour? then the record can be hard to relate to. This is the pervading feeling that follows around Lorde/Taylor/et al when trying to engage with their work – the feeling when you enter into these spaces of white womanhood: Baby Showers, Hen’s Nights, cafes occupied entirely by thin women in Lululemon tights. It’s not such a struggle to engage with the privilege of wealth. Kanye unabashedly embraces it, rejects it, mocks it with startling clarity.
The best part is the really Kate Bushian part, where Lorde crows ‘I am my mother’s child/I love you til my breathing stops/I love you til you call the cops on me’ because for once Antonoff’s chorus-wall is effective, yet also because it’s Lorde at her most intimate, unafraid to sound like the madwoman in the attic. The accruements of white womanhood are exaggerated (’til my breathing stops’, like some Bridget Jones-esque caricature) til they fall apart, stretch, move about. It takes your breath away. B
Maybe The River Jesters should call themselves The River JETSTARS and then at least they would have a pun going for them but The River Jesters are too serious for puns. They don’t take their music IN JEST. More like The River SERIOUESERS, amiright?
I actually came into contact with this band which sounds like a bunch of walking penises slapping guitars into one another’s ballsacks through a tweet reply to a more talented Dunedin musician, who will go unnamed:
What got me was NOT ALL MEN and I cackled and cackled and cackled until I had to have another sip of my Really Really Review Wellness Tonic (TM) and then I thought, with a name like the River Jesters, they’ve got to be goofy, right? Like — at best some middle aged dudes from Tauranga making lute-based prog rock, and I can get into that. But no — Saturday Night is more inane than Friday, by no.1 pop goddess Samantha Black. At least Friday is a no-holds barred lyrical JOURNEY through Samantha Black’s own life. I mean “Gotta make my mind up, which seat can I take” is a real QUAGMIRE many of us can relate to, us car-riding citizens of the world. When the singer in The River Jesters wails out “You want me, yeah you need me” it comes off as gross masculine posturing — I dislike this type of lyrical conceit in general. It can perhaps be pulled off by Bo Didley or Nicki Minaj, but not by some young faux-70s ‘rockers’ who sing it guilelessly without a trace of irony. The guitar solos are as rote as they are dull. The whole of The River Jesters output is inane yet deprived of any joy. In the words of DEAN OF ROCK CRITICS Robert Christmas, what is this shit?
It’s been aprox. 2 years since my last post, so in a last-ditch desperate attempt for relevance I’m BEING INTERVIEWED BY THE SHAKING WRECKS OF FRAGILE MASCULINITY AT ZM. Ha ha that was a Lorde joke. No, but my attempt at relevance is opening up RRR to the whole world, because it was obviously chomping at the bit to be reviewed by this discerning mind. The best thing on Katy Perry’s new album isn’t on it. It’s Swish Swish, which sounds like Blood on the Dancefloor-era MJ. Just listen to that enunciation! (‘A tig-ah‘ ‘you’re cal-u-lated’). Or: it sounds like Katy Perry trying to sound like MJ trying to sound like Trent Reznor. Both Bowie and MJ made albums influenced by wee Trent, but MJ’s are superior by far — supremely odd inflected pop with disregard for slavish devotion. Swish Swish has impeccable timing. Listen to it loud. Wait for the ‘swish’ to drop. Listen to the pristine clicks. Listen to Perry inflect “number” like the deepest cut in a sea of deep cuts (‘numb-ah!’). Listen to Nicki predictably be Nicki (though ‘silly rap beats/just give me more cheques’ is a pretty sly wink and rebuke to Nicki’s recent collaborations with every pop singer ever) (uhm) (ah). A