Everybody's a fucking genius these days
There's so much music I don't like these days that sometimes I feel like giving up on anything current and resigning myself exclusively to the past. While I'm familiar with the perils of dwelling to exclusion on negative emotions, I need to get some things off my chest. So please bear with me, for my hope is that once done venting my spleen I will be, a la Bill Burroughs post Naked Lunch, clean as an angel. Besides (getting defensive already) I've endured more than my fair share of obnoxiousness at the hands of these artists and their omnipresent champions so what's wrong with a little payback? Still the more sensitive readers are forewarned; the following will be negative, mean spirited and nasty. If I insult your favourite band rest assured I am in the minority here and therefore obviously wrong.
Some genres I despise. Like Post-Rock, as exemplified by the crap that labels like Thrill Jockey and bands like Mogwai and God Speed You Black Emperor shit out at alarmingly regular intervals. Let's start with God Speed You; beyond the fact that their music is dull, vapid and just plain boring, what really bugs me is their humourless pseudo-political bullshit packaging. That shit is just silly. Look me in the face and tell me differently. Unfortunately it's inspired a whole group of followers. There's even one here in Austin, and the word is John Peel's been playing them (when did he lose his taste?). They're called Explosions in the Sky (I know I know, a band name you'd dream up as a 4th grader or something) and they, like their mentors, favour long pretentious album titles (witness those who tell the truth shall die, those who tell the truth shall live forever) and lengthy two or three chord instrumental landscapes loaded with effects.
Can I give you a spoiler? All these bands Mogwai, God Speed and their imitators do basically the same thing. It's a fucking age-old concept called dynamics. The extent of their dynamics is twofold, and here it is: start really soft then get LOUD, then maybe soft again then loud then maybe LOUDER then slowly peter out after a good 8 to 15 minutes of time wasted (you will never get those minutes back). Title the whole mess something long and cumbersome with a keen adolescent pretension to the poetic and get ready for the nascent tongue bath from the press. This is what passes for genius in these sorry times. It's no more genius than the guy who made my lunch (I made my own by the way).
As for Tortoise, some of their sounds are okay by me. At least they have more than one idea (sometimes I wish they'd settle down into a groove more) though still much of it sounds decidedly prog rock to these ears (what's wrong with that should be self evident). Certainly the majority of their labels releases are just that; Prog Rock/Fusion given a hip face-lift. You know the drill: throw in a few played out break beats, a little half ass scratching, a few cops from Miles early to mid 70's period, some spoken snippets and damn if you don't have art worthy of unanimous appellations. Groundbreaking! Genius! And Wire magazine eagerly worming their way up your ass to boot. Speaking of Wire thank god they finally discovered hip-hop and explained to us all how, shockingly, it's actually a post-modern avant-garde art form (especially when you remove the noisy loud mouth gutter talk). It's no longer just your average street Negroes yapping "bounce and break body and say turn the party out".
Sadly it gets worse. There's actually a genre that people refer to as IDM which, get this, stands for "intelligent dance music". Well sniff fucking sniff. What this really means is utterly milk toast and divorced from any vaguely sexual rhythmic bedrock that might motivate you to shake your shit or have a good time (nothing intelligent about that, right?). IDM instead cloaks itself in weighty packaging and pretentious titles (again very prog) all belaboured beyond belief so you dare not mistake it as anything other than ART. This music is a soft on. Hey kids, we've taken dance music and deleted all the negroidness, so you won't feel embarrassed. Shit, give me Donna Summer and Giorgio's "I feel love". For that matter give me Jay-Z or R. Kelly (though not together, that could be bad for Jay's image).
Then there's this vague amorphous looming toxic thing referred to as EMO. Although you'd be hard pressed to find anyone on the street who could coherently explain to you what this means, I've come to realize through hard earned first hand experience that it means one thing to me and one thing only: utterly worthless shit. EMO derives I think from the word emotional. See, some bright young punk dreamed up the genius idea that music could and perhaps even should convey emotions and, voila, a genre is born. Except this stuff is a caricature. Pompous and overblown, it's someone who has never had a genuine emotion imitating what they think having one might sound like. I've been more moved by after school specials fer christ sake.
Though they claim to have nothing to do with EMO you do hear the word in connection with another group of Austin "boys" done good, who are also given to whiney vocalizing, long titles, ridiculous posturing and adolescence hi-jinks. That's right, the new saviours of rock, and you will know us by the trail of dead. Heads up cause here's another spoiler: its Fugazi mixed with Sonic Youth and a dash of U2. Yet somehow, (and perhaps this is where their real genius lies) even more goofy. The really amusing thing is these guys are all in their late 20's / early 30's (though word is they've started shaving years, gotta market that product guys!) but I hear their juvenile lyrics and imagery often defended by those unaware of their age with statements like "they're still kids, give them some time to mature". Times up.
Finally there's the sub par urban white folk/blues noodlings of Will Oldham, Palace and Smog. The main problem here is that all of these clowns are unmercifully ripping off something that Houston recluse Jandek has been doing much much better for almost 25 years now. And since he's been re-releasing all his old rare records on c.d. there's no reason to continue listening to the 2nd hand. (for more on Jandek visit Seth Tissues wonderful site http://tisue.net/jandek/) You can order the c.d.'s through Forced Exposure or straight from the man at his mysterious Houston PO Box. He even has a box of 20 c.d.'s for 80 bucks deal. May I recommend as good starters You Walk Alone, Ready for the House and Blue Corpse.
Alright, I feel much better now, but remember just cause I'm bitter doesn't mean that I might not also be right.
© 2002 William Crain