Ah, Tory Britain, where complex problems are solved by a good dose of straight talking.
Speaking as a fat man, my suspicion is this. Those of us who are basically happy to be fat will probably smile at the GP and say “Yes” because, amazingly, we already know we’re fat. People who are not happy to be fat also already know they’re fat and will feel sad. Feeling sad might motivate them to lose weight, but remember they’re already unhappy about being fat so the unhappiness hasn’t worked as a motivator yet. Maybe it suddenly will though!
(“Obese” is a really horrible word, anyway. Nobody calls Santa or Brian Blessed obese. If I had the choice I would definitely rather be called fat.)
The conversations I’m seeing in my RSS reader about the Best Coast album today are so far off from my own thoughts on the album I don’t know where to begin. This quote, I think, gets at what I imagine (or, at least, what the marketing has led me to believe) would be the ideal listening circumstances: out of your mind on a beach making out with someone you love. It’s certainly possible, of course, that those are also the ideal listening circumstances for Ashlee Simpson or Taylor Swift or whatever, but you’d have to convince me.
Put simply, the appeal of Best Coast over, say, Taylor Swift is not that one is more complex or mature than the other (I’d imagine people with greater maturity have had their fingers on Swift’s songs and productions, if it matters, which it really doesn’t). It’s one of function. These records work in different ways, at least right now— who knows what future perspective will do to all this. One is more literal, storytelling and lyric-driven, and the other is based more around a strong voice and a strong sense of mood.
Yes, this is all fair comment! The conversation spun out of the specific comments in Larry F’s review about lyrics (which are sung clearly and mixed high so I noticed them in a way I didn’t for, say, School Of Seven Bells) But certainly in my last post I was using that as shorthand for a broader similarity which maybe only I can hear! But the “strong mood” in Best Coast sounded like longing to me, which I also hear a lot of in teenpop, and in my experience longing under the influence of different substances is still longing. Anyway this is sort of what I meant by “wrong target market” in my original post so I’ll stop now.
Time for a huge digression! This was also always one of the things that bugged me about the way people treated pop music. The idea being that people liked stuff in the Top 40 simply because they hadn’t been exposed to the alternative.
I can’t speak for the genres you’re talking about, but one of the reasons it’s a powerful idea for pop music is that, well, it’s true. For a lot of people. They listened to pop first, then they discovered semi-pop (of whatever subcultural stripe) and they never looked back.
Except another group discovered semi-pop and basically ignored it, and another group discovered it and kept on listening to the Top 40 too, and yet another group DID look back, and so on. But the existence of those groups doesn’t stop the basic idea from being powerful: it creates something to talk about, an initiation story, and a story of making a trade-up.
It sounds like the music you’re talking about is dismissed as “adolescent” rather than “kids stuff”, and as you say is more class-bound, but the idea is similar: that there’s an evolutionary ladder in music listening and you’re a rung or two down. (My parents believed in the ladder too but for them ‘classical’ was at the top, not Animal Collective. And in the 90s I knew a few people who’d put ‘jazz’ up there.)
Anyway, this all relates to the Best Coast conversation earlier today, and it’s why I think the relationship - such as it is - between Best Coast and teenpop is something of a red herring (even though I raised it in the first place!).
Basically, you can answer the question “Does Best Coast do similar stuff to Taylor Swift but in a different idiom?” with a “Yes”, and you can answer the question “Is Taylor Swift better at it?” with a “Yes” too, and you would still have only a slim chance of convincing a Best Coast fan to listen to Taylor Swift on that basis. Not just because they don’t SOUND much like one another but because socially it’s difficult to frame it as a trade-up (not impossible though). You can frame Best Coast as a social trade-up from Taylor Swift a lot easier, though. Even if you think it’s worse music. (There’s nothing to say your music taste has to improve as you age - I was into MUCH worse things age 15 or 17 than I was at 12 or 22).
“The fierce sense that the market is failing— that pop has gone wrong and that its spirit lives only in exile— sits somewhere behind every independent movement that lays claim to the p-word, and every hopeful revivalist. Pop wears many skins and sheds them constantly and inconveniently. The husks can be beautiful, what wriggles free of them often awkward and ugly— naturally it’s tempting to settle on a discard, pay it cult, study and describe it.
Like indie pop, for instance. One reason I like that Taylor Swift single is that in sentiment it reminds me of music I heard on John Peel in the 80s— the mousy righteousness of Taylor’s unspoken infatuation is pure Sarah Records. But there the similarity ends. As music, indie pop held, and holds still, that a messy sketch of an ideal form is worth more than a glossy grab at whatever works.
You might say ideals should beat pragmatism— but all the ideals of “perfect pop” we have started out as hopes and hustles. The 60s girl groups and janglers that indie pop drew on were going for effectiveness, and it happened that beauty worked. The appeal of pop, for me, is that its definition of effective keeps changing— yes, conservatism brings return, but so does novelty. The constant dance of “what’s great” and “what works” is what keeps me a pop fan: It’s as close as art comes to sport.”” —This, from my “Decade In Pop” article on Pitchfork, is along similar lines.
“Summer advice: anyone who felt 00s teenpop songwriting got a raw critical deal should stay far far away from reviews of the Best Coast LP,” said Tom Ewing, and this is Exhibit A. I certainly understand why Larry Fitzmaurice wouldn’t want to mention Taylor Swift or Ashlee Simpson here, but still!
The thing is, it’s not like there haven’t been critics - good critics, too - walking listeners through Taylor’s or Ashlee’s records and pointing out the subtleties or resonances in the simplicity. So it doesn’t annoy me that critics praise Best Coast for that stuff. I like Taylor, never got into Ashlee; I think TS and AS’ lyrics are better than BC’s, but I’m not target audience for any of ‘em so I’m missing out. I just think it’s a shame that writers get a free shot at defining the Big Fact about Best Coast whereas critics doing the same actually-listening-hard work on Taylor Swift end up marginalised by a huge narrative about mainstream-ness and pretty-ness and princess-i-ness.
What I was worried about when I tweeted that was what Larry F DOESN’T do, which is play the exceptionalism card: “Most pop has dumb lyrics but unlike the dumb lyrics of [POP STRAW GIRL] Best Coast’s ring true”. So for me this isn’t an example of my own Straw Best Coast Review but I’m sure if I look hard enough I’ll find one.
None of which explains why I really dislike the Best Coast album. I think it’s that the zen simplicity / laziness (delete for preference) of the lyrics seems to carry over way too much into the music and its aesthetic. It’s like, if you assume that BC thinks the best way of communicating something driving her crazy is to say “it drives me crazy” just straight out, there’s been a similar process in the music choices: what is the best way to make an indie-pop song? Well, it’s to do this and this and this - all this familiar stuff which has been set in stone for years and years. The heuristics of the Best Coast album bore me to death, basically - there’s no surprise in the music, not even a “can I get away with this” cheekiness because the boundaries of what can be got away with are so fixed. I would honestly rather listen to Jedward!
Even if it might make the preservation and transmission of particular pieces of music more difficult, I would still prefer a version of musical discourse based on the barter that is individuals constructing, comparing and negotiating their tastes than the central banking system represented by the canon. Of course it is as impossible to have a world free of the canon as it is to have a world in which everyone agrees with the canon - but it is possible for intelligent adults, once they’ve got away from the ‘starter kit’ use of it, to avoid using the canon to back up their arguments about musical value, I think.
As for the thing about personal taste, I dont think it’s a mystical argument. The canon does not have to back itself up - it is an abstract, as you say. This means that a referral to the canon is shifting the terms of an argument into the abstract, where I don’t think it should go - it’s a cop-out if you like. Complaining about the canon is also dumb on these terms, of course, like complaining about the top 40 - nobody actually likes the entire canon or the entire top 40.” —
I’d have to think about how much of this I still agree with, but blimey I was lucid before I had kids.
This is tougher because a. more likely to forget stuff, b. all a big provisional swirl - nothing’s really jumped out and defined my 2010 yet. If I’ve said an album is good and there’s no track from it here it’s because I haven’t really picked a standout not because no individual track is better than my 20th placed one here.
It includes some 2009 tracks which, in that lovely Pazz and Jop get-out, “made their impact” this year.
- Alicia Keys - “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart”
- The-Dream - “Yamaha”
- Wiley ft Chew Fu - “Take That”
- Sleigh Bells - “Crown On The Ground”
- Hot Chip - “One Life Stand”
- Ward 21 and Tifa - “High Come Down”
- Lady Gaga ft Beyonce - “Telephone”
- Kourtney Heart - “My Boy”*
- DJ Zinc ft Ms Dynamite - “Wile Out”
- Katie Melua - “The Flood”
- Robyn - “Dancing On My Own”
- Marina And The Diamonds - “Hollywood”**
- Kelis - “Acapella”
- Crystal Castles - “Baptism”
- Kanye West - “Power”
- Big Boi ft Janelle Monae - “Be Still”
- K Michelle - “Fakin It”
- Vampire Weekend - “White Sky”
- Goldfrapp - “Rocket”***
- Groove Armada - “Paper Romance”
*provisional - urgently need MP3 of this!
**this despite it having really terrible lyrics!
***more for the two Richard X mixes maybe but I can’t decide.
(A quick note on album taxonomy: there would be another category, i.e. TERRIBLE and maybe even TERRIBLE AND FILLS ME WITH WRATH but I’ve done well at avoiding such things so far.)
In my world this counts as HIGHLY ORGANISED, normally I only start listening to albums in a panic in October. In fact, looking at this, to have fixed or provisional opinions on 41 albums by this point in a year is pretty much unheard of for me (yes, I’m a semi-professional music writer, but I mostly write columns, and for the last few years my focus has been on individual tracks). Oddly enough I don’t feel “caught up” - my tracks listening has suffered and that matters more to me than whether a hyped LP is good or bad or indifferent. And similarly I don’t think this has been any better or worse a “year for music” than the last few. In fact the lack of real must-play-this-40-times tracks has probably made me more down on 2010 than I ought to be looking at all the records on this list I enjoy.
The factor that’s changed, incidentally, isn’t having new outlets for my writing - I get very few promos because I’m too idle to get in touch with PRs - but getting an external hard drive to put all my music on. This has meant I can transfer files very quickly between my desktop and my laptop, which in turn means I can listen to new CDs in the office. Simple and boring as that!
These albums are REALLY GOOD: Ayobaness!, The-Dream, Sleigh Bells
These albums are GOOD: Ikonika, Vampire Weekend, Crystal Castles, Big Boi, Spoon
These albums are GOOD FOR NOW BUT I MIGHT GET BORED: Guido, Scissor Sisters, Goldfrapp, School Of Seven Bells, Alphabeat, Marina And The Diamonds
These albums ARE PROBABLY AT LEAST GOOD BUT I NEED TO PLAY AGAIN: Cibelle, Holy Fuck, Prins Thomas, Shangaan Electro, Flying Lotus, Pantha Du Prince, K Michelle, Robyn
These albums are BETTER THAN EXPECTED BUT MAYBE NOT ACTUALLY GOOD: Ke$ha, Wavves, MIA, Groove Armada, Chemical Brothers, Citay, Diana Vickers
These albums are FLAWED: Phantogram, Zola Jesus, The Knife
These albums are BORING BUT OK: Kylie Minogue, LCD Soundsystem, Crookers, Hot Chip
These albums are BORING AND NOT OK: Bonobo, jj, Delorean, Drake, Best Coast
These albums are AS YET UNPLAYED: Ariel Pink, Christina Aguilera, Kelis, Titus Andronicus, Gonjasufi, Oneohtrix Point Never, Gorillaz, Caribou, Janelle Monae (I know, I know), Corinne Bailey Rae