Tag Archives: media

The Joys Of RipFork

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I bought the newest Tame Impala album, Currents, recently. I listened to it while filing other CDs and I thought it was pretty good. It’s different from the hazy psychedelia of the first two records, which I think is the point. Kevin Parker, from what I can gather, didn’t want to make another album in the same style, so he’s added synths and took, what seems to me, inspiration from 80s synth pop. So far, so good, right? Well, folks who don’t like the album keep pointing to a review over at Tiny Mix Tapes, by Will Niebergall. This review, to them, sums up what is ‘wrong’ with “Currents”.

I decided to go and read the review, to see what insights Will had about the record. Instead, he waffled on about how T.I. ‘are the rock equivalent of Instagram’. I didn’t get the analogy and I don’t have an Instagram account, so the stuff about the settings didn’t make any sense to me. I guess I’m not cool enough to know what Will is on about. On the same Google page as the review, there was a link to site where the Tiny Mix Tape review was itself being reviewed. I visited the site, called RipFork and found myself agreeing with the meta-review. There’s an archive section on the site, so I went back and started reading those posts, too.

The aim of the site is simple – taking the piss out of pompous reviewers on various sites, but mainly Pitchfork, which has gained a reputation for dense, academic reviews filled with jargon and asides completely un-related to the album being reviewed. David Cross, the comedian, posted a really funny Top Ten List of ‘albums to listen to while reading over-wrought Pitchfork reviews’. I’m not quite sure why Cross was invited to do so and even he expresses surprise at being asked to mock the ‘house style’ of Pitchfork.

Matt Wendus, who posts at RipFork, was an online music critic and before anyone accuses him of hyprocrisy, he gives a couple of his own past reviews the ‘rip’ treatment. There’s a list of five ‘writing disorders’ on the site and yes, I recognised some of them in my own writing. I don’t read reviews much anymore, as there’s so many sources of just hearing the tracks on an album before I buy it. Matt makes a good point of this, when pointing out bits of reviews that are confusing. Reviews need to be concise now, because the reviewer is competing with YouTube, with streaming services and download sites. Why read a review which appears to be more of a term paper or doctoral thesis, than someone describing the sounds of a record they listened to? Academic vocabulary and clunky phrasing can’t substitute for genuine love of listening and documenting what you actually heard. I’m not saying that everyone should suddenly start turning into Lester Bangs clones, but is having a bunch of Robert Christgau clones any better? Most of them don’t even have the wit of X-Gau, anyway.

I do occasionally read articles at UK-based site The Quietus and while there are informative ones, the reviews can be as tough of a read as Pitchfork. I suppose it’s a hang-over from the glory days of the NME in the 1980s and early 1990s, when the reviewers were eager to flaunt their knowledge (and degrees in literature and philosophy) by describing records as ‘cathedrals of sound’ and other indecipherable terms. RipFork has tackled a few Quietus reviews as well and I’ve had to agree with Matt’s opinions on them. Seriously, read this review and try and work out what the record actually sounds like, based on what is written in it. I couldn’t – I’ve got no clue what that person was on about.

Inevitably, some people will object to reviews of reviews and some comments on RipFork attest to that. As Matt says, though, he doesn’t have over 200,000 Twitter followers and a festival in his name. Like it or not, Pitchfork has influence and some of its reviews can hurt sales of albums. Sloppy writing and dense language shouldn’t be why an album fails – it should be all about the music. If a reviewer can’t communicate why he or she doesn’t like the music in a concise way, then I can’t see why they can’t be ‘ripped’ for it.

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The Decline Of The Flaming Lips?

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You may or may not know about the latest blunder release from The Flaming Lips – yet another in their (hopefully ending soon) series of re-makes of entire LPs. They first tackled Pink Floyd‘s magnum opus “The Dark Side Of The Moon” in 2009, which featured guest appearances from Stardeath and White Dwarfs (a Lips-ish psych-rock band from their immediate area, Norman, Oklahoma – featuring Wayne Coyne‘s nephew on guitar and vocals, no less), Henry Rollins and a few others. The results seemed mixed, to me anyway – far less satisfying than the genre-hopper rock-to-reggae version by Easy Star All-Stars. The Lips have (or had) their own brand of psychedelic playfulness which didn’t seem to lend itself to Roger Waters‘s mannered observations. They followed that up few years later with a re-make of King Crimson’s classic 1969 progressive rock album, In The Court Of The Crimson King. I’ve not heard it yet, but The Lips were never really known for their dextrous musicianship (aside from Steven Drozd), so I’m guessing a lot of the K.C. flash has been substituted for more of a ‘mood’. They then decided to try their hands on The Stone Roses‘ debut album. I’ve heard parts of that and while some of the covers seem interesting – the youthful exuberance of Ian Brown‘s gang are transformed into melancholy dirges. Coyne and Co. sucked all the funk and swagger out of the tunes.

Now they’re back (after releasing the possible nadir of their studio records, The Terror) with another covers album, a version of one of the most iconic LPs of the rock era, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The question seems to be: does the world need another one of these? Particularly when you consider the disastrous 1978 film, featuring The Bee Gees and the much-better NME 1988 compilation, “Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father“. A bit more obscure are the “Trance Remixes“, created by someone (or collective) called Nasty Little Dog and the mash-up collection “Sgt Pepper’s Mid-Life Crisis“, released for free on the internet for the 40th anniversary of the release of the album.

In any case, The Lips gathered together the usual suspects, along with members of neo-psych bands MGMT and Foxygen and…uh…Miley Cyrus (??!!!). The record was just released this month and is getting middling reviews. A video was made ‘starring’ Cyrus and a nude blonde girl (Coyne seems big on nudity these days), for their version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. It’s…interesting, but lacking in the kind of delirious hope that characterises a lot of their earlier work.

So what’s happened to a really great band? Damned if I know, but it does seem that Coyne’s had a bit of a topsy-turvy existence the past ten years or so. His parents have both passed away now and Coyne was reportedly close to both. His beef with Win Butler tarnished Coyne’s “nicest guy in rock-n-roll” image – though it wasn’t the first time he publicly trashed another front man. Remember the whole Richard Ashcroft thing, back in 1994 (and again in 2006)? He’s also split from his long-time wife, Michelle Martin (though that was first announced in 2012). To be fair to the guy, he’s had a shocker.

Still, it’s probably no surprise that his extra-cirricular activities are affecting the music of the band. Getting his Instagram accounts shut down for nudity and drug use. The whole tiff with Erykah Badu, over filming her sister nude (I see a pattern emerging) in a tub filled with glitter and corn starch for the video, for their cover of Roberta Flack‘s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face“. His cavorting with pop tartlets Ke$ha and Cyrus makes it seem like he’s desperate to ‘keep up with the kids’, or at the very least, courting shallow pop audiences. Luckily, the rumoured ‘Lip$ha‘ album never materialised, as that might’ve been another nail in the coffin of their credibility. Then, of course, the whopper of them all, the very public exit from the band by long-time touring, then officially studio drummer Kliph Scurlock. Scurlock initially claimed Coyne was verbally abusive and that he (Scurlock) was outraged over Coyne’s friend, Christina Fallin (daughter of Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin), wearing a Native American head-dress. Coyne hit back, calling Scurlock a ‘pathological liar’ and dismissing his hatred of a wide spectrum of bands and Lips friends. To be fair on Coyne, despite the vitriol he expressed about the split in the ‘Rolling Stone’ interview, Scurlock did a semi-reversal and issued an apology days after the story broke.

So where does all this leave the music? Well, again, “The Terror” received mixed reviews and the tracks I heard (“You Lust“, particularly) just didn’t seem to have much going on (for thirteen minutes, as well). Maybe not Lips-by-numbers, but sorta lifeless. Sure, they’re trippy – but sometimes that’s not enough to carry the album. There seems to be a lot of recycling from the past few records. The collaboration EPs, released throughout 2011, were also a bit of a disappointment, even the ones that, on paper, should work really well. Some of them were O.K., like the EP with Neon Indian, but even the best track on it, “Alan’s Theremin“, is eight minutes of a synth arpeggio and two guitar chords.

It’s tough to say where they’re going from here. Hopefully, The Flaming Lips will become more of a balanced project and not just the Wayne Coyne Experience. Sure, Steven Drozd does contribute most of the musical ideas (and musicianship), but lately it sounds as though he’s hit a wall. Michael Ivins, there from the very beginning, seems to have been sidelined in a band he co-founded. Perhaps they’ll take a looooooong break after this “Sgt Pepper’s/Fwends (yes, it actually has the word ‘fwends’ in the title)” business. Wayne may be running away from a role (imposed from outside, of course) as one of the elder statesmen of American “alternative rock”, but I don’t know, it seems like the dude needs to chill for a little bit and pull the group back from novelty and gimmicks (gummy foetuses, songs buried in skulls, cover albums, etc.). I hope they can get it together, ‘cos it’d be a shame to lose a really, really great group.

Radical Feminism and ‘White Privilege”

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Fairly recently, I fell afoul of a couple of women when I dared to utter the heresy that ‘not all men do X to all women’. I was labelled a misogynist and was told that saying that ‘shuts down discussions of sexism’. I disagreed with that assessment and then suddenly, ‘privilege’ entered the discussion. I was told I enjoyed ‘privilege’ as an American of European descent, or “white”. I’d heard that word (privilege) being thrown around of late, but I hadn’t had it thrown at me, especially during a discussion on whether it’s O.K. to tar all men with the same brush.

It got me thinking, though – am I really ‘privileged’, in the sense that I have things bestowed upon me just because of skin colour? I do admit that I’ve enjoyed a few advantages in life. I didn’t grow up in a ghetto. My family, while certainly not anywhere near wealthy, weren’t lacking in the basics of food, clothing, shelter and we received gifts on birthdays and holidays. When I was 13, I had orthodontics to correct some crooked teeth – they weren’t cheap either. My siblings and I were able to attend Catholic middle school, mostly on our mother’s behest, but my parents could afford the tuition (though, at the time, their budget was resembling a fibrous element that keeps footwear on feet).

I come from a large family – my mother last gave birth in the early 80s, just as I was hitting my teenage years. By then, inflation was up and the money was stretched. I didn’t like Catholic high school much, and luckily, due to their fast-dipping bank balance, was allowed to go to a public high school for my final three years. I don’t recall a whole lotta privilege in the school – when I didn’t put the graft in for an Algebra course, I was failed and had to go to summer school. There wasn’t any “nudge, nudge – wink, wink – it’s O.K., son, you’re white, here’s a passing grade….” going on.

I wanted to attend a technical uni in Britain or Ireland (a pipe dream, given my financial circumstances at the time). My SAT scores weren’t the best and I didn’t even have a ghost of a portfolio to show. I hastily slapped some (very amatuerish) drawings together and applied and was turned down by the three or four I had applied to. Again, it seems like the ‘white privilege’ network let me down – the nerve! I mean, I’m white and everything. They’re deciding stuff on merit???!!! No-one told me. I was accepted at a technical uni in Boston. My father could only afford tuition for one year. When I tried to secure a bank loan for my second year, I was turned down – I didn’t have any credit history at that point, you see. I had to leave school after the autumn semester of my second year, with a small (compared to now) pile of student debt and no job.

I embarked on a ‘career’ of dead-end retail and service jobs – I wasn’t given any extra pay for being white, or any extra power. At one job, I was made redundant the day I was due to sign my union papers, so I could stay at the job. What happened there? I mean, I thought I was supposed to be offered things because I’m white. I finished up courses for my associates degree, going part-time to a technical college, with loads of minority students. In the courses I attended, I wasn’t treated any differently, advantage-wise, to anyone else. I landed a job at an architecture firm, after applying for three years, as a courier/runner. My immediate supervisor was an African-American woman. She was great, and we got on well. One of my duties was to drive another African-American woman to pick up office supplies – we got really well, too. After three years, I was made redundant, due to costs being cut and my drafting skills having suffered for me not using them in the interim. I just wasn’t capable at that time of keeping up the speed needed for the work.

There’s loads more examples – I wasn’t just given a visa to move to the UK, I had to apply for one and pay the coin of the realm, just like everyone else…and on and on. Now, yes, I may have enjoyed advantages – but to me, that doesn’t seem to equate to privilege – which the families who constitute the oligarchy seem to enjoy.

I don’t want this post to be a “woe-is-me”/”I’m a victim” kind of thing and also, to any National Front/Stormfront types who think this is some sort of call-to-arms – I’m not with you at all, at all. I’m not down with racists or sexists – I’m just discussing the language of “privilege”. To me, I’ve not enjoyed a lot of privilege. Yes, I’ve not had to confront institutional racism on a massive scale and as I say, I’ve been pretty comfortable most of my life. I was also told that African-American opinions and those of other minorities “are inherently more truthful” than those of whites. Yeesh!

Anyway, I agree with Lewis Gordon when he stated: “A privilege is something that not everyone needs, but a right is the opposite. Given this distinction, an insidious dimension of the white-privilege argument emerges. It requires condemning whites for possessing, in the concrete, features of contemporary life that should be available to all, and if this is correct, how can whites be expected to give up such things? Yes, there is the case of the reality of whites being the majority population in all the sites of actual privilege from prestigious universities to golf clubs and boards of directors for most high-powered corporations. But even among whites as a group, how many whites have those opportunities?”

Also, for further edification, please read the late, great Robert Anton Wilson‘s essay about Radical Feminism and language, titled “Language And Lunacy” (originally published in 1996 and reprinted in the collection, “E-Mail To The Universe”, in 2005). You can read it here.

Of course, this ‘is’ all just one human’s opinion, based on my own life experience – perhaps other ‘white’ humans do experience privilege in this society. Then again, perhaps some humans of Asian descent and African-American descent enjoy privileges too.

 

Take one flock of pigeons, apply cat and retreat.

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We have recently witnessed the unedifying spectacle of a famous and fabulous wealthy footballer of some ill-repute being taken to court for allegedly hurling vile racist abuse at another footballer of slightly lesser fame and ill-repute, who is blessed with a relatively thinner bank account: a pretty sad reflection of modern day Britain but also a small storm in a small cup of tea. Should the case have ever come to court? I really don’t think so. Of course, racial abuse is unacceptable and the idiots that indulge in it are beneath contempt but I doubt this was a good use of court time. It did, however, at least ensure the debate about racism in British society is kept high on the agenda, for which we should all be grateful. In the fall-out from all of this, following the collapse of the case against the alleged abuser, we now find that someone has called another footballer who was a witness at the trial, a ‘choc ice’.

There are a lot of things I would want to call this, again fabulously wealthy and publicly lauded, player: ‘choc ice’ isn’t one that would immediately spring to mind but that’s hardly the point. ‘Choc ice’, we have to assume, is a term meant to denote ‘black on the outside and white on the inside’ and is akin to the already commonly used epithet, ‘coconut’. Again, this isn’t a very nice thing to say about someone  but should it be enough for the police to start snooping around? Surely not? Hang on, though, because the Derbyshire Constabulary think differently. A foolish man used Twitter to compare said player to a chocolate covered vanilla treat and the police are called in. Over the years I have lost count of the number of times that I have phoned the police to tell them that gangs of youths are vandalizing our local park, verbally abusing members of the public, dealing in drugs, partaking of underage drinking and just generally making damned nuisances of themselves: what has been the response of our local boys in blue? Not very much. If they do turn up it’s usually hours after the events have come and gone. How many times do we hear of old people being beaten up in their own homes, women attacked on the streets and burglars and thieves just generally doing as they wish? Far too often these days. Now, without wanting to sound like Richard Littlejohn, it has to be said that someone is getting all their priorities wrong here. You just cannot start prosecuting people for saying things you don’t like, even if their views hurt someone’ s feelings. The only way to defeat racism is to hold it up to the light and reveal it for the rank madness that it is. Make these people look like sad losers, fools, nutters or whatever but using the courts to ensure we all think the ‘right way’ has dangers all of its own. Besides, do you really think that calling a rich footballer a ‘choc ice’ on an internet forum is a real crime? Time for a reality check.