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Monthly Archives: July 2010

It hasn’t been a great couple of months for blonde alt-rock icons who meant the world to me when I was thirteen. First, Courtney Love reconstructed Hole to release Nobody’s Daughter, a meaninglessly brash update of the heartbreaking and raw solo demos that floated around the internet last summer. What has been lost from the post-rehab versions is the sense of vulnerable humanity that pulsed within the warm guitars, the open spaces of the songs, and Courtney’s disheveled croak which actually enhanced the tales of burnout and decay and hopeful redemption. In the Hole record, that croak sounds weak and thin when backed by pseudo-grunge guitar crunch, and with new songs (or rewrites of the old ones) that contain lyrics full of silly bluster; where once Courtney Love sounded as if she was staring her demons in the eye (finally!), she now sounds as if those demons are insignificant and barely worth attention.

This new iteration of Nobody’s Daughter is unfortunate because it really could have shown a new Courtney Love—an honest, poignant, sympathetic, and artful one—instead of all this hollow bluster. She really is a fantastic writer; if only she’d get out of her own way more often. Hey, Courtney: rock music is dead—at least the kind that you want to play—so do you really want to make a record that sounds like it should be played on radio stations that pump out Chevelle? Next time—if there is a next time—stick to the warm SoCal 70s acoustic guitars. They worked a lot better, and made you sound like a real person.

She’s done a lot of terrible or confusing things, but worst of all (for me) is what she did to “Pacific Coast Highway.” The original is right up there with “Malibu,” proving that for all her faults, Courtney Love is a tremendous chronicler of Los Angeles.

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Liz Phair is getting laughed at—AGAIN—for her terrible music decisions, leading people to think that the music itself is terrible. This happened most recently in 2003, when she wrote and recorded a handful of songs with The Matrix (responsible for at least two of Avril Lavigne’s best songs) on her much-derided eponymous major label debut (I myself think the record is cynical and a little cringe-worthy at worst, but contains some exuberant and occasionally touching songs).

Phair is now getting mocked for releasing her new album Funstyle—rejected by her record label, which does have a point—on her website, including the head-scratching “Bollywood,” an honest-to-God rap over a faux-bhangra beat that details how she began to work as a television composer (or something?).

Look, there are other songs here—songs like “Miss September” (which wouldn’t sound out-of-place on Whitechocolatespacegg) and “Satisfied” (a song that Taylor Swift could do wonders with if she rewrote the lyrics, proving an earlier point, though isn’t it weird that Swift is now a better writer than Phair?)—but the weird joke-songs like “Bollywood” and “Smoke” (which seems to poke fun at her post-Liz Phair career) and “Beat Is Up” (a send-up of Chicago ladies and their self-help gurus) and “U Hate It” (appropriately the final song on the album, which is hilarious and also contains the immortal lyric “I think I’m a genius/You’re being a PEEN-IUS”) will garner all the attention. As they probably should, and certainly Phair wouldn’t want it any other way.

Because look: how long has Phair been a troll? Let’s not forget that Exile in Guyville was a deliberate response to not only the Rolling Stones, but all of Chicago and dude-centric indie rock to boot. Her Girlysound tapes contained the cowfucking diptych “California” and “South Dakota.” So these new songs, as far as intent goes, are really nothing new. You could say that even her foray into glossy pop was a large-scale trolling in line with Guyville, but directed at a much larger population. Taking all this into account, Liz Phair may actually be the world’s most successful internet troll, with Funstyle as her latest salvo.

Does this make Funstyle a good record? Absolutely not. But like Zappa, like Metal Machine Music, it makes for an interesting listen (of course, because Liz Phair is a woman with a certain reputation, the assumption is that there is no semblance of thought behind her artistic intent, which is bullshit: songs like “Bollywood” and “Smoke” are too galling and knowing—too self-conscious—to be anything less than the kind of pop-art statement that makes Lady Gaga look like the shallow pretender she is; hey “Little Monsters,” this is how you do subversion). Which is more than you can say about Somebody’s Miracle—to quote Pitchfork, “Now [that] is a terrible Liz Phair record.” Funstyle is the sound of Liz Phair not giving a shit, and daring you to do the same. The fact that you are angry or bemused or interested or appalled only means that Phair—loser that she may often be—has won again.

Oh yeah—”Bollywood” at the very least showcases better white-girl flow than anything in Ke$ha’s oeuvre. Also? That part where she goes “CONNNNNTRRRAAAACCCT” all evil-like reminds me of that skit in “Dre Day.” Finally: “I was trippin’ lookin’ at my portfolio” is possibly the funniest opening line to any song that has ever existed. God bless you, Ms. Phair. Just, you know, try to write a fucking song again, at least once in a while

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Speaking of Ke$ha, how terrible has pop radio been lately? There have been exactly zero good songs this year that have gotten any play. Lady Antebellum’s crossover “Need You Now” was the one bright spot earlier this spring, though its debut on country radio in late 2009 disqualifies it from contention (Justin Bieber’s creepiness and Ludacris’s embarrassment also disqualifies “Baby”).

At least last summer had a few certified summer bangers, no matter how terrible (“I Gotta Feeling”), slightly douchey (“Best I Ever Had”), or marginalized (“You Belong With Me,” “Party in the USA”). This year we are relegated to Katy Perry, a singer/personality so abhorrent she can’t even make a song about the superiority of California girls sound even remotely listenable or fun.

Highlight of the year so far: Miranda Lambert’s month-long country chart-topper “The House That Built Me.”

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I don’t know if it’s my SoCal homesickness, but lately I’ve been listening to two indie rock acts (GASP!) from Southern California who slather reverb and fuzz onto their specific genres. San Diego’s Wavves and Los Angeles’s Best Coast have struck a laidback breezy vibe that reminds me of SoCal beach lounging; Wavves with surf-inflected punk-pop and Best Coast with their vaguely girl-group sound. Of course, being so typically indie, the production makes both acts sound like absolute shit, obscuring the fact that some actual tunes are buried underneath all that pretension. Wavves’s Nathan Williams is hot but douchey, which is perfect for a Southern California boy, and his voice produces the exact kind of obnoxious whine you’d expect (I keep thinking Cobain crossed with someone else I can’t quite place; maybe a bit of Pete Shelley?). “Green Eyes” has the great punk line “My own friends hate me/But I don’t give a shit.” And Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino could actually be a force if she matured beyond indie aesthetic; songs like “When I’m With You” showcase an actual songwriting talent and vocal presence sorely lacking in much of contemporary indie rock (including Wavves).

And if their aesthetic and their locale weren’t enough to have me conflate the two acts, here are their recent album covers:

I CAN HAZ FUZZPOP.

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