Archive for the 'ninjajabberwocky' Category

On Mashups

October 28, 2007

In the grand scheme of things, nerdbound was right in pointing out that writing full-blown Reviews with capital R’s is a bit intimidating after a while, especially after I blew my literary load all over that Feist concert review. Writing anything else that could live up to that onslaught of verbal masturbation became unthinkable, and so I’ve been spending the last few months wallowing in a sort of audiophilic paralysis, listening to awesome songs and doubting my ability to capture its majesty.

Well, fuck majesty. From here on in it’s going to be hack work all the way — you know, the kind you see on the typical music blog run by college students who like to fawn all over their favourite new artists with worn colloquialisms and stale verbal jisms of delight. (Incidentally, does ‘jism’ refer only to the substance or also to the act of discharge? I’m using it in the latter sense, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s valid.) Here’s the difference though, the one that will keep you coming back — here at elastic resonance, we take the hack to new levels of hackiness. It’s like irony, except instead of being sly and clever and ever so subtle, we’re just bad. Think of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s entire oeuvre — yeah, that bad. And yet we’ll conduct the entire enterprise smartly, with a sharpness and cheekiness that will become a recognizable brand of brilliance. That’s what we’re all about here (and really, anywhere that writes about music) — revelling in shittiness to the point of glory. How else could we live with ourselves?

And speaking of hack work cum brilliance (hackneyed transition drumroll please!), it’s time I displayed some of my love for mash-ups. Here’s the thing about mash-ups — they usually have no point. Seriously. There are times when the demands of musical fusion entail mixing two songs together, but mash-ups are not the children of those times. Mash-ups are the children of times when DJs sit around thinking to themselves, “Let’s see what I can do with my infinite skills! Oh my Gawd, look how clever I am! No one could have imagined mixing Journey with Ciara! The ironic juxtaposition is just too much for the ordinary mind to handle! When people hear it, their minds will be overloaded by the lack of sense the song makes, and they too will begin thinking in exclamations! Rawk!”

You think I’m just playing this up for yuks here, but mash-ups are seriously the musical expression of some sort of postmodern angst. Turntablism is about DJs using samples to create new aural textures, mixing in snippets and fragments from the most unlikely sources to generate a vast landscape of sound, with every sample and beat and learning video speech clip a natural, organic inhabitant. Mash-ups are about jamming songs into each other, hammering the square peg into the round hole, and calling that a work of art just because it doesn’t make sense but you did it anyway. The enjoyment you derive from a mash-up is ultimately a referential pleasure, not a pure one — when “Don’t Stop Believin'” is mixed with “Sexy Back”, you listen because damned if it isn’t an unexpected idea given our cultural context. How good it sounds is inconsequential to how good it is. And that’s because mash-ups, at least as the genre is primarily practiced today, are not music. They are cultural excrement. They are the third season of Arrested Development, all in-jokes and no real ones. They are surviving purely on the audience’s knowledge of the real music that has gone before, and their value is judged on where they fall on the cultural scales of relevance and unexpectedness, rather than any actual musical qualities. Just look at the components of a typical mash-up — the vocals from a rap track and the beats from some terribly white indie band. Rarely does anyone think about mashing up two indie songs or two rap songs, despite the interesting lyrical, melodic, and rhythmic possibilities there, and that’s because there’s no cultural shock value from mixing two white songs or two black songs — it’s the “oh WOW, won’t you look at that, Agnes!” reaction that most mash-up artists are shooting for.

And that’s not a bad thing, just as the third season of Arrested Development wasn’t really all that disappointing once you got used to the idea. Self-referentialism can be brilliant, and savouring the deliciousness of an idea can be just as good as drowning in an awesome song. But you have to recognize it for what it is, and what it is is hack work that occasionally results in flashes of brilliance. It’s in that spirit of hackneyed genius that I bring you the following tracks. (Also, I was getting tired of writing, and defending mash-ups on a general level seemed much less interesting than either attacking them or writing about specific tracks.)

ABX is a denizen of The Hood Internet, a regularly updated mash-up paradise, and “Collide You A Drank” transforms the annoying vocals of T-Pain’s “Buy You A Drank (Shawty Snappin'” and the emotional, strangled guitar of Cloud Cult’s “Chemicals Collide” into a pulsing, urgent beat that sweeps and soars all around, weaving all the melodic elements together.

A plus D is the DJ team of Adrian and the Mysterious D, and they are just plain genius. I’ve got three tracks here, but they’ve got a ton more on their website, and each track is great in its own way. “Indie Hyphy” is an incredibly infectious mix of the most danceable elements from both E-40 and Keak Da Sneak’s “Tell Me When To Go” and Cold War Kids’ “Hang Me Up To Dry.” Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” provides a rollicking disco beat to Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.” And “Love Will Tear You Apart (She Wants Originality)”, the post-punk pièce de résistance mix of Joy Division, Bauhaus, and She Wants Revenge, relies on no dance-club gimmicks to create a wonderfully layered atmosphere. A plus D is one of the only truly versatile mash-up artists I’ve seen, drawing from beyond the latest mainstream hip hop tracks to produce some of the most creative ideas I’ve ever heard. Be sure to visit their site and check out their other stuff.

And finally, one of my favourite songs of all time: Arty Fufkin‘s mix of “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani and Pharrell and “Feel Good Inc.” by Gorillaz and De La Soul. “Hollaback Girl” is one of the most truly awful songs of our time, but surrounded by the bass and beats of Gorillaz, the chanty vocals and distorted croons take on a life of their own, eventually even adding back to the Gorillaz’ song. In fact, I can’t listen to either of the original songs now without feeling as if they are somehow empty. This mash-up is also unique in that it manages to trade off between the beats and vocals of each song, rather than merely laying down the vocals of one track onto the instrumentals of another; somehow, miraculously, De La Soul’s raps are supported by a refrain of “It’s my shit, it’s my shit” and it sounds good. The rest of Arty Fufkin’s tracks are sadly fairly hit-or-miss and mostly mediocre, but this one track remains my favourite mash-up of all time, embodying all that is wonderful about this genre.

Enjoy your bastard pop, kids.

MP3: ABX – Collide You A Drank (T-Pain vs. Cloud Cult)
MP3: A plus D – Beethoven’s Fifth Gold Digger (Kanye West vs. Beethoven vs. Walter Murphy)
MP3: A plus D – Indie Hyphy (E-40 vs. Cold War Kids)
MP3: A plus D – Love Will Tear You Apart / She Wants Originality (She Wants Revenge vs. Joy Division vs. Bauhaus)
MP3: Arty Fufkin – Hollaback Girls Feel Good (Gwen Stefani vs. Gorillaz)

P.S.
I have no idea why all these artists’ names begin with A.

posted by ninjajabberwocky

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The New Pornographers – Challengers

July 11, 2007

They say that Challengers is the New Pornographers’ most ‘mature’ release yet. I suppose this makes sense if your vision of a ‘mature’ sound consists of songs that are – there is no other way to say this – just plain boring: less energetic and more contemplative, high on reflective repetition and low on the ornate frenzy that the Pornographers have become known for.

All this talk about New Porn and ‘maturity’ actually worries me a bit. That word has been bandied about so much lately when talking about the Pornographers, its constant and repeated use apparently signifying that the band have finally come into its own as a musical force, fulfilling the promise of their early work. But ‘mature’ for New Porn is not the same as ‘mature’ for other bands. When Twin Cinema came out, it was called ‘mature’ because it took their jangly, unfettered pop to whole new levels, filling out their sound and demonstrating a new variety in their songwriting. And yes, this did mean some more slow songs, but that wasn’t the heart of Twin Cinema‘s maturity. The maturity in Twin Cinema was an ability to seamlessly mix the calm with the frenetic, and to boldly march out the killer melody lines while keeping the soundscape soft and settled when called for by the song. Yet because the tempo of songs is the most obvious difference between Twin Cinema and the previous Mass Romantic and Electric Version, it seems as if everyone has equated ‘maturity’ and ‘seriousness’ with slow, ploddingly contemplative songs.

Well, if that’s maturity, then Challengers is certainly a product of adulthood. The album sounds as if the Pornographers read all those reviews of Twin Cinema and then decided, “Hey guys, let’s make a REALLY mature-sounding album by writing lots of quiet, contemplative songs inspired by our life experiences!”, forgetting that loads of gentle, dainty acoustic strums do not an album make.

This approach doesn’t merely fail on the album level either. In fact, what makes Challengers so incredibly frustrating is that every song has the potential to be an amazing showstopper tune. There are great riffs embedded in almost every track, but instead of unleashing them to fulfill their full primal glory, primary songwriter Carl Newman simply deploys them as endlessly cycling riffs that rotate and grind away beneath melodies with no direction and no climax.

Take for example “The Old Showstoppers”, the album’s second track – it seems primed for success at the beginning, with a riff that ranks among the Pornographers’ catchiest while still maintaining a unique, almost Western sensibility, but the song never takes that tense energy anywhere. Eventually the catchy riff switches off to a chorus that fails to strike the listener or appeal in any way, and by the time the riff returns, it’s a tired sound that only tells the listener that this song has no place else to go. The 3.5-minute title track, “Challengers”, offers a simple, pretty tune that would have worked much better on a track half that length, and even “Myriad Harbour”, the album’s most fun and electic song (though maybe that’s only because it sounds a little too similar to the Pixies’ “I Bleed”), only manages to rouse itself for a couple of stanzas before slumping back into a groove that is entirely too settled. In fact, “My Rights Versus Yours” and “Mutiny, I Promise You” are the only songs that have anything resembling a build-up of energy and tension, but even those level off about halfway through and rest at a lazy crest for the remainder of the tracks.

None of this is a slight to the band, which is plugging away with as much proficiency as ever – tight harmonies, steady guitars, and beautiful pop vocals. The trouble is that these songs just give them nowhere to go. It’s almost heartbreaking to hear all these elements being steadily layered on in the hopes of creating a full aural atmosphere, only for all the parts to sink into a malaise of sound with no direction or purpose.

If nothing else, the lyrics seem to have improved, but I have to admit that even this is somewhat of a disappointment. While it’s nice to see some poetics of substance (especially on “Myriad Harbour” and “Unguided”, Dan Bejar and Carl Newman’s respective odes to New York City), the sheer joy of Newman’s nonsensical word pudding on the previous albums was part of what made the New Pornographers such fun to listen to. The lyrics still work (especially on “Unguided” and “Adventures in Solitude”, among the best of the explicitly reflective tracks), concocting a sense of wonder and adventure unique to the Pornographers style, but that old glee is missing. Sure, it’s mature, but it’s also weary, and weary does not suit the Pornographers well.

You’re less liable to notice all this if you listen to the album by itself, but in light of New Porn’s past achievements, this album is a disappointment. It’s frustrating to me, as a huge fan of the band; I wanted desperately to love this album, and the listening experience was only made worse by the fact that everywhere I looked I could catch the edges of little diamonds of incredible pop riffs and musical moments peering out, wanting nothing more than to escape the mud that obscured them. Challengers is pleasant to listen to and even moving at times, but it’s a frustrating step back for the band from their Twin Cinema glory.

We thought we lost you,” croon Newman and Kathryn Calder in “Adventures to Solitude.” “We thought we lost you. Welcome back.” Here’s hoping that on the Pornographers’ next outing, we can say the same to them.

5.6/10

MP3: The New Pornographers – Myriad Harbour
MP3: The New Pornographers – Unguided

posted by ninjajabberwocky

We dig music.

July 2, 2007

My co-author nerdbound set me on the task of writing the first post while he went off to watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That bastard. The first post is, of course, one of the most difficult literary forms to satisfy. Its purpose is to explain what the hell we’re doing here while not boring the shit out of the reader. To do this, it must both inform and entertain, inspire yet titillate. And God knows titillating is hard enough on its own without an extra requirement for simultaneous profundity.

So instead of starting with something of my own, I instead turn to a paraphase of “I dig music,” the inspirational semi-last words of Russell Hammond of Stillwater. I could also turn to his subsequent choice of last words – “I’m on drugs!” – but we’re family-friendly folks here at Elastic Resonance, embodying the good values of old-time Americana. Or not, considering that neither Mike nor I really likes country. (Carrie Underwood’s pretty cute though.)

Here’s what we do like – indie rock, pop, punk, metal, folk, hip hop, classic rock, electronica, dance, trance, pants (no, really, pants are very useful things), and every point along the WTF spectrum, from the poppy insanity of Architecture in Helsinki to the dense atmospherics of Liars. We’ll cover everything from album reviews to mp3 samples to concert news to rants on random music-related topics. And sometimes we’ll even talk about cheese. God, I love cheese.

So stick around while we get on our feet and get the site running. Things look bare now, but I promise good shit is coming soon. We hope you dig it as much as we dig our music.

posted by ninjajabberwocky