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Fluxblog Housing Works Event Podcast
You can download a podcast version of the Fluxblog 10th anniversary event at Housing Works in New York City earlier this week above. It was recorded by the kind people at Housing Works, and it sounds really good. The show is being presented with no edits, but there were only a couple little flubs along the way, so it’s no big deal. I’m really proud of how this turned out - everyone was great, and without any of us having an idea of what each other was doing, the songs all flowed together well and there were a lot of complementary themes. (I’m particularly pleased with how the idea I laid out in my intro was resolved in Rob Sheffield’s finale.)
Here is the running order of speakers:
• Matthew Perpetua on Scissor Sisters’ “Paul McCartney” and music as a way of communicating with and connecting to people we’ve never actually met.
• Emily Gould on Martha Wainwright’s “Love Is A Stranger” and songs that keep you from destroying your life.
• Heather D’Angelo of Au Revoir Simone on Electrelane’s “The Valleys” and how creativity triumphs over destruction.
• Mark Richardson on Silver Jews’ “How to Rent A Room” and learning how to enjoy settling down in one place.
• Sean T. Collins on Nine Inch Nails’ “Leaving Hope” and finding peace of mind in hopelessness.
• Amanda Petrusich on Interpol’s “NYC” and adjusting to life in New York City.
• Dick Valentine of Electric Six on Mark Mallman’s “True Love” and how love songs are often not what they seem to be.
• Rob Sheffield on Stephen Malkmus’ “Malediction” and looking to musicians for advice about life, and finding good advice in unexpected songs.
Plus, the entire group discusses the merits of R. Kelly’s classic “Ignition (Remix).”
St. Vincent Dilettante
St. Vincent’s Annie Clark is very fixated on how we create a public facade. While Actor was focused on a struggle to hide inner turmoil from the outside world, Strange Mercy is more concerned with relationships and how the persona and image we project informs how we connect – or do not connect – with other people. A lot of the characters on the record possess some degree of confidence or charm, or at least sell people on the idea that they do. The anxiety in the music mainly comes out of a feeling that you’re betraying yourself on some level for the sake of pragmatism and social advantage.
The characters in “Dilettante” are slippery and emotionally distant; neither seems to be sure of where they stand with the other. There’s a lot of implied sexual tension, but even more overt contempt. Clark’s protagonist is undermining and dismissive, but in a sexy, cavalier sort of way. Most other St. Vincent songs convey some sense of angst and dread, but the arrangement of this number has a glamorous swagger to it, it seems to strut around imperiously with excellent posture. It’s vaguely funky in its sway, her voice is lightly flirtatious even when uttering lines like “I have no patience for an estrangement.” There’s a touch of ugliness and discomfort along the way, but for the most part this is an incredibly well-drawn portrait of someone whose callousness has made them very attractive.
fun. - “Carry On”
I still think that Some Nights (fun.’s 2012 release, that got them nominated for a shitload of Grammies) is mostly on the offensive side of kitsch, but I do like this song quite a bit (definitely more so than their previous singles, “We Are Young”, and “Some Nights”).
Matthew Perptua (of Fluxblog, as well as Rolling Stone magazine, and Pitchfork—and a personal idol of mine) explained some time back that the reason he likes fun. is because they appeal to him in the same way that tacky, 70’s pop groups appeal to him. I definitely get that; there’s a certain amount of Captain & Tanille, and Electric Light Orchestra, and James Taylor to their sound. He goes on to explain that the reason they pull off this sound is because they take it so seriously. That’s no small feat, considering how ridiculous all of those bands I just listed off can sound. But the reason behind that is that this kind of kitsch-pop sound doesn’t sound good unless those performing it take it seriously. Nobody likes a bad parody.
“I wanted to do a song by Stephen Malkmus. I think it is one of the flagship FluxBlog artists. Matthew writes about it him a lot, it’s fair to say,” Mr. Sheffield joked to a nodding Mr. Perpetua. “Matthew is one of the few writers who blows him harder than I do.”—
If Rob Sheffield wanted to do every single event at Housing works, I would let him. He followed this with a vivid description along the lines of having his “critical tongue firmly lodged in Malkmus’ colon.”
Critical mass: when content creators can't help but succeed
My dashboard has just blown up with the arrival of a new Pitchfork Reviews Reviews post, which is receiving tons of acclaim in the form of “likes” and re-blogs and replies. The piece deals with the idea of Pitchfork as burgeoning cultural institution and analytical vs. passionate writing, and it got me thinking about a few things. The specific point of inspiration was something Jim DeRogatis said:
Jim DeRogatis tells me, “My biggest problem with Pitchfork is their desire to be monolithic,” and I tell him…
This strikes me as a problem that is fairly non-sensical. Pitchfork doesn’t have an explicit desire to be “monolithic”: its massiveness can be attributed to 1) the very common motivating factor of popularity and 2) its reaching of “the tipping point” of music criticism at some point since its inception 15-odd years ago.
DeRogatis is clouding over the difference between desire for the establishment of a monolithic monopoly and the human craving for success. The word “monolithic” conjures up the image of Pitchfork’s editors and business personnel sitting in a dark room at twilight, plotting the destruction of Stereogum and Gorilla vs. Bear and every other music site on the Internet. Nobody’s interested in that sort of cultural homogeny, not even sites with active business interests. The creation and nurturing of intelligent discourse is beneficial for everyone. Of course, I think Pitchfork wants to be (and currently is) the pre-eminent voice and the authority on independent music, but that doesn’t mean they’re interested in the elimination of everyone else, which is what the word “monolithic” implies.
My second issue with his perceived “desire to be monolithic” isn’t based on semantics as much as cultural kinetics. The concept of the tipping point is a familiar one at this point: eventually, businesses and other entities reach a level of success where future success becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Well, Pitchfork reached that point a long time ago. Even if the site’s show-runners decided they wanted a reduction in scale, it would be impossible to achieve unless they shuttered their doors. P4K’s ubiquity is now an inevitability: every new review and feature will automatically receive Facebook likes one from segment of the population and will be shunned by another.
It’s important to note that Pitchfork isn’t the only site that’s reached this level of success, where acclaim and scorn are both assured. The Internet has made it possible for thousands of content creators to obtain a dedicated following that will support all of their output. Stereogum could post a Yanni MP3 (no offense, Yanni) and a small town’s worth of teenagers would head to The Pirate Bay to download Yanni’s discography. Disco Naïveté could upload a Nickelback video and write “This is a song!” underneath it and it would receive likes and re-blogs. These sites have ran with their strong content and initial success, and they’ve become institutions organically, not because they’re run by dictators looking to dominate everyone else.
Strangely enough, an excellent example of what I’m trying to argue is the very Tumblr that inspired these thoughts: Pitchfork Reviews Reviews. Within the nano-ecosystem of Tumblr (and even in the larger realm of “music on the Internet”), the site has accumulated a large, dedicated readership. Some people will undoubtedly like this latest post without even reading it, just because they know the source - an action that’s markedly similar to someone bringing up a band they’ve never heard because they saw the name on P4K or Fluxblog. (It’s already got 100 likes, or some other sizeable figure.) On the other side of the coin, perhaps a few disgruntled wannabe writers will dismiss the piece as “hipster B.S.” and ignore it completely. It’s funny to think about, but a certain level of success has already become inevitable for PRR. “David” (that’s the creator?) has experienced the same phenomenon that Pitchfork has, only on a micro-scale, and no one would argue that he wanted to become a monolithic force in the world of Tumblr long reads and “music criticism criticism”. It just sort of happened.
How Far We've ComeDawes
Last night, Housing Works hosted an event (they are really good at that) for the tenth anniversary of Fluxblog (also the Tumblr), the original mp3 blog. Matthew Perpetua takes a song and offers a beautiful, contextual way to really hear it.
I was too shy to introduce myself, but Fluxblog has been really important in my online life since I started sharing my podcasts online on December 31, 2008. There are 29 up so far.
So this is my dedication for Fluxblog’s anniversary: Dawes’ “How Far We’ve Come” from their 2010 Daytrotter session. Here’s to ten more years of music and Matthew’s words around the songs -
Sweetie & ShagBattles (with Kazu Makino)
Battles (with Kazu Makino)
Sweetie & Shag
This has become one of my favorite songs off Battles’ new album, Gloss Drop, and a summer favorite. It’s so bouncy and sweet, with a side of coy sinister. The whole album is a great departure from Mirrored—like a fucked-up ride in an ice cream truck in a heat wave.
(Track via Fluxblog)