Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: July 2009

Jonah Goldberg, one of America’s greatest clowns, thinks that we shouldn’t bother trying to stop climate change because WHAT IF WE GET HIT BY A METEOR.

I’m going to use this line of reasoning all the time now. Why didn’t I pay my taxes? THE COMING METEOR, THAT’S WHY. Why did I kill Jonah Goldberg? I’d never killed anyone before, and I don’t want to miss a thing.

Also he calls Henry Louis Gates a black swan.

Last night, my favorite bartender and I had the following paraphrased conversation, one which I hope to never have again with anyone who doesn’t know my musical tastes:

Bartender (who had previously scoffed at my Taylor Swift love, even though a fucking Marit Larsen or somebody like that song played later, which is basically Taylor Swift without anything good or fun): Do you have any recommendations for new music?
Me: No, I am really the last person you should ask.
Bartender: (something about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, oh no!)
Me: I mean, that Phoenix record is ok?

And then I recommended the new John Doe record. I am sorry, I didn’t have NPR’s list memorized. One of the things Bartender and I discussed is how a lot of these new hip bands have records that we don’t actually like or care about enough to listen to the whole way through. I really like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Phoenix songs when they come up on shuffle, but listening to them for longer than ~4 mins at a time is remarkably uninteresting. And I won’t rehash any kind of rockism or indie purity debate, but the fact that NPR listeners have a Best Singles of 2009 list that doesn’t include anything by Taylor Swift or Beyonce or “Birthday Sex” or even a boring Good Taste choice like Amerie in favor of, like, Bat for Lashes–who is one of my least favorite current acts in music (there is no point in a watered-down lo-fi Kate Bush, people)–is nonsense.

Anyway! Let’s have a very quick analysis of NPR’s top ten singles and the current Billboard top ten and see how they match up:

#10. “The Wanting Comes In/Repaid” by the Decemberists vs. “Battlefield” by Jordin Sparks
Holy shit this Decemberists song is like 6.5 minutes long. Starts with a very Victorian-sounding piano and then there’s Colin Meloy doing his usual effete nasal thing. This is very Arcade Fire bombast that quickly becomes prog. I am not so into prog. Who is this woman (maybe?) singing instead of Meloy? This guitar riff sounds like something that would’ve been on Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods except, you know, it would’ve been LOUD and FUN and ROCKING on the S-K record. And now Meloy again. And then the lady. Why are indie rockers doing prog? This is totally unnecessary, but the bloat gets kind of fun when it isn’t totally obnoxious. If only they sounded like they were actually having fun. 3/10

As for “Battlefield”: talk about bloat. This song is co-written by Ryan Tedder, who is currently the object of scorn for selling basically the same song to Beyonce (“Halo”) and Kelly Clarkson (“Already Gone”). The difference between this song and those songs is that Jordin Sparks is a much worse lyricist than Bey or Kelly. Sorry Jordin, but Pat Benatar did the “love = battlefield” metaphor better. Though the “Ya betta go and getcha armor!” part is the real hook, and is totally funny and great and makes me feel like raising my arms and screaming, so points for that. 6/10.

#9. “Laughing With” by Regina Spektor vs. “Waking Up In Vegas” by Katy Perry
Ugh, Regina Spektor? Really? Nice stately piano line, very autumn leaves being pelted by rain. But then: Ooof this voice. I can’t stand it. And I like Joanna Newsom! At least Newsom does something interesting with her voice and lyrics. The lyrics to this song are incredibly pious and holier than thou. I hope to never hear this again for the rest of my life. 1/10

Talk about a singer who is pious and holier than thou! Katy Perry is so fucking smarmy and smug: “That’s what you get for waking up in Vegas”? That’s just what you get for being dumb and annoying, really. She also can’t sing. But she knows how to write a hook (see her other hits as well as Kelly Clarkson’s “I Do Not Hook Up,” a song whose lyrics again show that Perry is a self-righteous prick), and this song is pretty massive once it gets to the chorus. This was already a great Carrie Underwood song called “Last Name,” and would be even better if it was sung by Gretchen Wilson or Miranda Lambert. 7/10

#8. “Sleepyhead” by Passion Pit vs. “LoveGame” by Lady Gaga
I have never heard of Passion Pit. Oh hey, beats! And some weird grating vocal sample? I can’t believe NPR listeners like this. Oh no, what unfortunate singing. How come indie dance tracks rarely have much of a groove that makes people want to, you know, dance? The very simplistic beat is the best thing about this song. 4/10

Ugh. “Disco stick” is a Bottom 5 of All Time euphemism. But at least there’s a groove to this, and I like American pop stars using more Eurotrash synth sounds on their songs. I can at least see myself dancing to this, especially if it’s mixed so loud that I can’t hear what the hell Gaga is saying. 6/10

#7. “This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case vs. “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas
Oh man no contest. Great song great conceit great vocal, a driving guitar sound that wouldn’t be out of place on an early U2 record, and that final heartbreaking squeal, Neko you are a 10/10.

The BEPs are a scourge on humanity, and this song is the sound of hell. Fergie’s “I’m so 3008/You’re so 2000 and late” is probably the line of the year, though, sadly. Every time there’s a moment that makes me think this song isn’t so bad, something like the JockJam “Let the beat rock!” happens that makes me facepalm. This song was #1 for 70 weeks, come the fuck on America. 1/10

#6. “Zero” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs vs. “Fire Burning” by Sean Kingston
This song and this band would be so much better if Karen O could sing (I mean, even “Maps” was better when it became “Since U Been Gone”). Totally fun and I love Nick Zinner trading in his guitar for synths. Would be a transcendent dancefloor experience if Karen O could match the music and soar, instead of being all cheeky. Give this shit to Martha Wash. 9/10

Raise your hand if you thought Sean Kingston was gonna be a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. Okay, settle down everybody! This song is pretty great, totally everything you want from a summer jam. Good production by RedOne, whose work with Lady Gaga proves that he knows how to burn shit up even if it’s kinda annoying. Birthday cake! Also: I am predisposed to bumping up the score of any song that has a “whoa-oh” in it. 8/10

#5. “Lisztomania” by Phoenix vs. “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon
This is very much what I like about brainless indie rock, when it gets really bouncy and vaguely loose and not too concerned with making some kind of artistic statement. The entire Phoenix record is like this, kind of the perfect soundtrack for a summer barbecue after you’ve had about five beers and it’s about 6:30. 8/10

God, indie rock all over the place! I have never heard a Kings of Leon song in my life, so this should be fun. Remember them, the Southern Strokes? Lolz. Weird how these nominal guitar-rock bands are using these breezy keyboard sounds all of a sudden. And then the singer kind of clashes with the background, like a short stubby guy enthusiastically doing a pretty ice skating routine. This isn’t bad, and I appreciate the fact the singer sounds like he’s listened to soul music before (thanks, the South!), but it doesn’t become anthemic enough, and ends totally suddenly and anticlimactically, like some kind of Collective Soul song. 6/10

4. “The Rakes Song” by the Decemberists vs. “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift
Not another one! Give me a big fat break, NPR listeners. I assume Meloy isn’t singing about a garden tool. I think this is the Decemberists trying to do crunk! No, for real! 6/10

Please see previous post for why “You Belong With Me” owns your face. One thing I neglected to mention, however: the Beyonce-esque way she trills “You say you’re fine/I know you better than that/Hey, whatcha doin’ with a girl like that?” To the boy in this song: Wake up, cos Taylor could have another you in a minute. 10/10

3. “Blood Bank” by Bon Iver vs. “Knock You Down” by Keri Hilson featuring Kanye West and Ne-Yo
Bon Iver does the kind of music that is basically not my thing, but this has a nice containment about it, something that is both eerie and comforting, like a power outage in a cabin in the woods during a snowstorm. When he goes into a falsetto, though, and throughout the last half of the song, he sounds like an American version of Chris Martin. 7/10

I enjoy the beat’s pulse at the beginning, even if Kanye is doing whatever that is over it. Keri Hilson is an okay singer, I guess, though the sentiments she’s expressing are pretty trite and bland, even if it kind of doesn’t make sense. When love knocks you down, get back up? So, refuse love’s actions and power? Uh, okay. Ne-Yo’s appearance saves this from being what seems like a pleasant but unforgettable trifle, and then: KANYE. WTF. “OMG, you listen to that shit?/Woe is me, baby this is tragic!”?????!!! GTFO. “This is bad, real bad, Michael Jackson/Now I’m mad, real mad, Joe Jackson”?! Are you even trying?!?!?!!?!?!?! 5/10 (based on an average score for each performer, wherein Kanye gets 2/10, Hilson gets 5/10, and Ne-Yo gets 8/10)

#2. “Two Weeks” by Grizzly Bear vs. “Best I Ever Had” by Drake
So much repetitive piano plonking going on in indie rock nowadays. Like everyone’s angling to be on the trailer of the next Wes Anderson movie. I’ve seen this guy around my neighborhood, seems like a nice dude. This song is really just a bunch of swirling Spector-ish prettiness desperately looking for a purpose. Like a hook, maybe? The song just comes in all good-looking charming-like and does nothing to justify any emotion besides boredom, like a really bad first date that makes you want to just fuck and run. I’ve already forgotten about it. 3/10

I am not so into heterosexual men talking about the myriad ways they’re going to Get Down, but “Best I Ever Had” somehow manages to sound classy, like some kind of old 90s chestnut, and, you know, in spite of all that TMI sexytimes talk, it’s pretty sweet. Makes me wish I had a hot tub. 8/10

#1 “My Girls” by Animal Collective vs. “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas
Is “My Girls” a Temptations update? No. Okay. I’m waiting for something to happen in this song, besides the crickety noise and the drumming circle chanting. This is kind of like the Polyphonic Spree, maybe? Maybe I’d like this if I still did drugs. I guess I have to admire the band’s dedication to a song that sounds busy even if it goes nowhere. Jesus Christ, NPR listeners, this and the Grizzly Bear are your favorite songs of the year so far? Um, okay. 3/10

Not the Peas again! Give me a break, America! This guitar is very indie rock! Like something Interpol would come up with if they weren’t so dour. And then there are, like, Vitamin C-worthy strings. What?! And everything is so optimistic, like you’re putting on your Axe body spray before picking up the boys, and there’s a whoo-hoo! They just wanna have fun, you guys, like oh my god! In their case, fun = getting drunk and jumping off sofas. L’chaim, mazel tov! If only they could get Fergie to shut the hell up. A glorious piece of cheese. A shamefaced 8/10, would be higher if it knew to leave the party earlier, god this song doesn’t have enough in it to last five minutes you guys.

Average scores
NPR: 5.4
Billboard: 6.5

Sorry eeeeelites, you lose out to REal AmurriKKKa!

Above is a picture of Taylor Swift performing at a country music festival, possibly in character for this song:

“You Belong With Me” is Swift’s third single off of her sophomore record Fearless–a record that, though she may have proven herself a pretty good country artist on her self-titled debut, shows that Swift is an even better pop star. On Taylor Swift, she hopscotched through various conventions of country songwriting, acting out a bit of vengeful female here (“Picture To Burn”), lovelorn pining there (“Teardrops On My Guitar,” such a classic country title also), with a fair dose of perky down-home good ol’ girl sentiment thrown in (“Our Song,” “Mary’s Song [Oh My My My]”). What elevates Swift’s songs beyond their traditions, however, is the quality of her songwriting craft–whether it’s in the specificity of details, the tweaking of a chorus lyric or in the subtle way she sings a line that creates an unexpected texture to the writing itself.

This kind of exceptional craft is all over the place in Fearless, and every song on here is a winner to boot. Easily my favorite thing about Swift is her dedication to being a certain kind of teenage girl–the kind of bright-eyed optimist who believes in the stories of fairy tales and reimagines Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending (“Love Story”). This naivete is all the more striking when the record takes its downward turn to heartbreak, starting with the refutation of fairy tale imagery in “White Horse” with such clarity so as to make it striking:

I’m not a princess, this ain’t no fairy tale
I’m not the one you’ll sweep off her feet
and lead her up a stairwell

Except for rhythmic innovation, her songwriting contains much of what I want out of pop music; while there’s a strong dedication to convention and tradition, what Swift does within the lines are charmingly fresh. Liz Phair and Sheryl Crow only wish they could write songs like these, and Swift is decades younger than they are. Even better than the heartbreak of songs like “White Horse” and “You’re Not Sorry” (in which she sounds like she’s been directed to think of whatever Jonas brother it was that dumped her), however, are the big-hearted ones like “Fifteen”–another exercise in teenage mythology that simultaneously celebrates it and tears it down–and “The Best Day,” a song so moving that, as Sasha Frere-Jones put it in his stellar New Yorker profile on Swift, it should become the official Mother’s Day song.

But to get back to “You Belong With Me” for a second. It’s already her highest charting single on Billboard‘s Hot 100, currently at #3, and I hope she finally gets a #1 single soon, especially if it means dethroning the horrible turd-filled run that the Black Eyed Peas have had with first “Boom Boom Pow” and now “I Gotta Feeling.” Why? Fearless is probably my favorite ever pop album made by a teenage girl (sorry, Fiona), and “You Belong With Me” is like a sweeter, non-grating version of Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend”; the fact that these two could make a song and video so thematically similar and yet one comes off as bitchy and cruel and the other comes off as sunny and adorable speaks volumes to their respective personalities.

“You Belong With Me” also takes a hackneyed teen movie concept and boils its essentials (the dichotomy of shorts skirts/t-shirts, of high heels/sneakers, cheer captain/being on the bleachers) down to a delightful 4 minutes rather than the interminable 90 which would have included, oh, Rachel Leigh Cook’s bitchface or Freddie Prinze Jr.’s non-personality. The absolute zoom on the chorus, and how Swift’s reed-thin voice manages to ride its bombast before flattening with vulnerability. And then there’s my absolute favorite moment of pop music in 2009: Swift’s audible gasp at 2:46 before breathlessly listing every lovesick reason why she’d be this dumb oblivious schmuck’s perfect girlfriend. So desperate and sad and hilarious, like much of teenage existence.

And the mere fact that she deserves it; since 2006’s “Tim McGraw,” she has had my favorite run of singles this decade with nary a #1 to show for it. Putting this in perspective, B2K has more #1 hits than Swift. One of these acts is keeping the music industry afloat, and the other is one you have never heard of. And there’d be no one more fitting to knock off the Black Eyed Peas–who represent everything that is evil and wrong with pop music–than Swift, who represents much of what is wonderful and great about it.

Also, look at that picture! Conceptual dedication and regular gosh-darned cuteness.

The following paragraph from AO Scott’s review of Bruno says more about AO Scott than it does about Bruno, Sasha Baron Cohen, satire, or homosexuality:

The film demonstrates, at a fairly high level of conceptual sophistication, that lampooning homophobia has become an acceptable, almost unavoidable form of homophobic humor, or at least a way of licensing gags that would otherwise be out of bounds. An early sequence that graphically shows Brüno and his lover exerting themselves in various positions and with the assistance of, among other things, a Champagne bottle, a fire extinguisher and a specially modified exercise machine, derives its humor less from the extremity of their practices than from the assumption that sex between men is inherently weird, gross and comical. The same sequence with a man and a woman — or for that matter, two women — would play, most likely on the Internet rather than in the multiplex, as inventive, moderately kinky pornography rather than as icky, gasp-inducing farce.

HMMMMMMMM. Because I think the use of such objects during heterosexual copulation would be icky and gasp-inducing but mostly hilarious. That’s just me though! Maybe I’m heterophobic?! Because I kind of don’t find that sort of thing as kinky as AO Scott does, who would find it icky in homosexual context. Well well, is this a hall of mirrors I see?

I’m sure the movie is funny but of course I am a little suspect as far as the intention of some of its comedic setpieces but mostly I won’t be seeing it because I don’t really like humor based on cringe-worthy situations laughing at other people’s stupidity, a syndrome dating all the way back to America’s Funniest Home Videos. Because more than dildo-equipped bicycle sex, that kind of comedy is icky to me.