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Beck – Modern Guilt: It’s Pretty Alright, I Hear

July 30, 2008 Leave a comment

I’m going to make an admission. I’ve only heard one Gnarls Barkley song. “Crazy.” And I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve listened to it on one hand. But I knew when it was announced that Beck–possibly the best, most original songwriter and musician in the past fifteen years–was working with Gnarls Barkley mastermind Danger Mouse that it was a Big Thing. Mostly because both Beck and Danger Mouse are known as musical art-house freaks and mad scientist geniuses.

Beck has been many things in his career, from scrappy stoner goon on “Loser” to ironic pop culture sponge on “Where It’s At” to folksy balladeer on most all of Sea Change, to master hookwriter on Guero’s “Girl” (which I continually interject into “best song ever” arguments.) On Modern Guilt, I think Beck Hansen has finally hit his zenith.

Rather than being a mish-mash of sounds, Jackson Pollack-like canvases streamed with dribbles of color and splatters of genius, Modern Guilt has a focus and an urgency rarely touched upon in his other albums. Modern Guilt is the “Whistler’s Mother” of his catalog. It is direct, and to the point. In talking with a friend of mine today he mentioned that the lyrics on the album are far more direct than previous Beck albums. I suggest that musically that is true as well.

Between Beck’s melodies and Danger Mouse’s sparse (yet layered) backgrounds, the 60’s influence that always seems to pervade Hansen’s songs seems right at home. Guitars have a dirty crunch without sounding overwrought for authentic sound. Acoustic drums exist in the same land as electric beats and breaks in a seamless rhythmic pulse. The soundscape of the title track is uneasy and foreboding yet still unusually dancible. Or is it dancible and then uneasy and foreboding? In either case, it’s fucking good. And then the very next track, “Youthless,” is swimming with bloops and beeps reminscent of Guero.

If anything, that is the downfall of the record. The diversity we’ve come to expect from Beck is, well, expected. The album seems to be the culmination of his entire body of work from “Loser” all the way up to The Information. So I wonder, then, where he can go from here.

I hope he takes Danger Mouse with him.

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Elder Statesmen of Shut the Hell Up

July 18, 2008 Leave a comment

Note: Part Two of the previous article will be up as soon as I get all my interview e-mails back and write the damn thing. So I present this one because it’s short and the subject annoys me.

Okay, this is for the following magazines and/or networks:

  • Rolling Stone
  • Spin
  • vh1
  • MTV
  • Blender
  • Revolver

I am sick and tired of the phrase “Elder Statesmen of Rock.” So far it has been applied to Metallica, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, R.E.M., U2, Pearl Jam, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Rush, and probably dozens of others. I’m sure Conor Oberst is up for a nomination for Elder Statesman in the near future, and he’s only in his 20s.

But here’s the thing. It’s rock and roll. It’s not supposed to have elder statesmen. Is it possible to be older than 30 and successful in rock without that stupid collection of words? Can’t we think of a better turn of phrase? I submit that the aforementioned magazines and networks are being lazy (well, lazier than normal.) I realize that music journalism is essentially shoegazing at this point anyway, dying a slow death alongside the industry, but can we please, PLEASE come up with something different?

Oh, Is That All? (Part One)

July 10, 2008 Leave a comment

I’m lucky in that I can call a very creative group of people my friends. I know two web developers (one of which is a particularly lucid writer), a novelist that’s working in television, a theater technician, poets, and countless musicians. All of them have big hopes of becoming something Important. What I’m wondering, though, is what will ultimately push them over the edge into profitability and/or notoriety? And for that matter, what about any other random blogger in the world?

One problem with being a producer of a creative piece of work, be it fine art, writing, blogging, music, whatever, is that, ultimately, you’re trying to sell something to someone. Unfortunately, most of the time, that something is information. Images, ideas, or expressions that aren’t easily wrangled or tangibly owned the way, say, your couch is. Without being able to extract some sort of easy monetary benefit out of a product like a blog post, being creative is generally a pretty piss poor way of making a real living. So how do we fund ourselves, as bloggers, or writers, or photographers, as creators? Advertising.

Not our own, of course. Not advertising our own product with our product, but advertising someone else’s product with our product.

There’s countless websites out there telling you how to create traffic and therefore generate revenue for yourself through your blog. Most of them make the claim that the best way to create traffic is to have good content, and the rest will come naturally. But will it really? Most of these sites say that, in order to have good content that you need to do a few things to really get people to notice, most notably specialization and personal branding. Selling yourself to sell certain ads to certain people, essentially.

While I agree that there are advantages to specialization, what happens if you’re one of those people who simply can’t keep tied down to one subject type or beat? What happens if you have a really good idea that you just have to write about? Do you put it on the shelf for later, or for someone else to publish for you? Do you start multiple blogs and spread out your workload? I contend that you shouldn’t have to. Sure, market saturation and trends will tell you that that should get more people to your site, but will it really?

This is where my real point begins. In all that specialization, and pandering to your audience and advertisers, what’s to guarantee that you’ll get any traffic at all? Sure, there are people that blog or write or take pictures or paint solely for the joy of it, but anyone trying to make a living though creative arts generally have to jump through so many hoops just to get noticed that it’s enough to make any self-respecting writer jump ship and work as a day laborer for the rest of their lives (or until their bodies give out.)

Should we just write, put it out there, and hope to get noticed? You’ll be waiting a long time for that to happen, I think. You could pimp the hell out of your work to your friends and anyone that has an internet connection, but I still don’t think that will guarantee any staying power. Look at the webcomic industry. Is there really any rhyme or reason as to which comics are popular and profitable versus the flashes in the pan? What is it that makes Drudge one of the most popular websites in the world when all he does 90% of the time is simply repost stories, like just about any other schlub could do?

For an answer to questions like these, I’ll be using one of those generic “Get Traffic Quick” strategies. I’ll be sending out an e-mail interview/questionairre to some of my aforementioned creative people and see what is important to them in a blog, what gets them to come back, and finally, what they are doing to further their creative presence on the web. Hopefully I’ll have the project completed within the next couple weeks, so keep your eyes on this space.