Friday, May 21, 2010

A Sample Kind of Life

After hearing the song "Flashing Lights" for the first time a few weeks ago, I got my hands on KANYE WEST's 2007 album, Graduation. Last week, while driving to Chapel Hill with my roommate James, I put it on and he recommended I skip to the song "Drunk and Hot Girls," which features MOS DEF. I acquiesced and found myself listening to what sounds like the two hip-hop moguls adlibbing anti-party girl diatribes along to CAN's "Sing Swan Song."

Now, I'm not one to malign a musician for reusing somebody's original melody/beat/et cetera, but I cannot figure out why these guys felt it necessary to turn a couple snippets of DAMO SUZUKI's vocals into a five-minute rant about clingy wastoids (besides the fact that one part of the original vocals does sound like the words "drunk and hot girls"). Maybe West and Def did just hear a mondegreen in "Sing Swan Song" and thought it would make for some good comic relief on Graduation, but I think this kind of cross-genre sampling (especially from such a notoriously hip band as Can) serves a different purpose for "Drunk and Hot Girls."

Kanye West is the kind of hip-hop star who grabs the attention of all kinds of music fans, not just those who consider themselves true HIP-HOP HEADS. He collaborates with musicians from ADAM LEVINE to CHRIS MARTIN to TWISTA in order to make himself relevant to listeners of all types, but to please the music fan who may not like the big names next to the track titles he has to use samples that a) have not been used in any other noteworthy hip-hop songs and b) will grab the attention of the snobbier listener. Can seem like just the group to achieve both goals as they are not the kind of band to be played on mainstream radio and knowledge of their music nowadays provides
the listener with a chunk of CULTURAL CAPITAL. The samples taken from "Sing Swan Song" are "good" precisely because they elevate (or are supposed to elevate) West's music from run-of-the-mill radio-rap to hip-hop that involves itself in a CROSS-CULTURAL DIALOGUE.

I have also noticed this picking and choosing of samples as being able to function in the opposite way. Swedish electronic musician AXEL WILLNER (no relation, pictured), better known as THE FIELD, uses a sample from LIONEL RITCHIE's "Hello" in his song "A Paw in My Face." Willner preempts accusations of musical pretentiousness when at song's end he let's the sample unfurl, revealing the source material in a kind of "gotcha" moment. Instead of trying to dress up his music with a more obscure sample, he affectionately takes one from an artist known for being a popular cheeseball.

Samples today
, then, are more than the musical interpolations that they perhaps once were; musically they are very useful, but the mere presence of samples can change the entire meaning of a song, whether intentional or not. I can't help but think of Marshall Mcluhan's "The Medium is the Message" (which I haven't read in a while, so bear with me). The presence of a sample in a pop song is a medium that requires the conscious participation of the listener. This medium, no matter what its content may be, is schism and re-presentation of a previous pop song, therefore changing what the aims of what the new song may have originally been.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Palindromic Sentence Copout No. 2

So, I saw a bottle of Niagara Drinking Water (pictured) the other day and fashioned another palindrome:

Niagara's tsar again

This one assumes that Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, New York share a supreme ruler, which they don't. It turns out that putting verbs into palindromic phrases is the hardest part.

In other tedious wordplay news, peep this compendium of paragraphs that only use words with common vowels (via my girlfriend): EUNOIA.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


For a long time I have wanted to make up a palindromic sentence, and I have seriously tried to create one in the last couple of weeks. These attempts have not been as fruitful as my experiment with lexical ambiguity, but after what has probably added up to hours of work, I have a passable palindrome:

No, soil of folio, son.

OK, so it lacks a key component of actual sentence structure, but let's presuppose that a child is making a diorama of a landscape for a school project and asks a parent, "Should I make the dirt for my diorama out of aluminum foil, Mom/Dad?" The parent, who would of course want his or her son to use a material that better resembles soil, would find a handy rejoinder in the above palindrome.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Shortcomings of "Trading Places"

As ANDY and I flipped through the local radio stations on the way to the grocery store the other night, we came across an USHER single that, despite its having been around for two years, neither of us had ever heard before. The name of the song is "TRADING PLACES" and it sees the R&B star serenading his lover with a proposal to perform a temporary role reversal in their relationship. Since initially hearing the song, I have listened to it repeatedly and watched its video accompaniment, in attempt to better understand what sounds like his attempt to usurp R. KELLY's position as the king of the R&B EROTIC ROLE-PLAYERS.

While looking for more information about the song, I came across an interview from September 2008 that speaks with my boy about his then-new single. When asked about it, Usher stated that "It's gonna be hot. The story is, like, wishful thinking for all men to have a woman who takes control and compliments us the way we compliment them...We wanted to do something very forward-thinking." Let us examine this statement in regards to the song's first verse:
I know what you're used to
We're gonna do something different tonight

Now we're gonna do this thing a little different tonight

You gonna come over and pick me up in your ride

You gonna knock, then you gonna wait

Ooh, you gonna take me on a date
You're gonna open my door and I'ma reach over and open yours

Usher sings these words not as suggestions, but as demands. Without regards for anything his lover may want to do, he prescribes exactly how this trading of places will occur. Despite his attempts to hand the control to the woman, Usher really maintains the upper-hand in his fantasy; he, in fact, forces her to do his every bidding.

The progressiveness of the song becomes even more questionable when one considers the gender roles he summons as what he will do for her. He proclaims that he will wake her up with breakfast in bed, walk the dog, and iron her shirt--tasks for which she will be responsible after the fantasy ends. Usher is apparently responsible for buying her things, taking out the trash, ordering Chinese food, and whispering in her ear how bad he wants to "do her." How forward-thinking can a song be when it emphasizes the ephemerality of the role-reversal and only highlights the shortcomings of their heteronormative relationship?

The most shocking part of the song is the refrain in which Usher sings "I'm always on top, tonight I'm on the bottom." This may be presumptuous, but I never expected a cat like Usher, him being a major SEX-SYMBOL, to partake only in missionary coitus.

The music video for the song only furthers all of the above points as it features a lingerie-clad woman who is putty in Usher's hands. She pseudo-actively pursues him, but is only present to make him more desirable. The beginning of the video even sees Usher watching her as she swims around in a fish tank (pictured), serving as his pet who is available when he wants to see something pretty, but unable to escape the confines of her role. The two even reenact the famous scene from BLOW UP in which the photographer straddles his subjects, pinning her down and making her into an object. Guess who plays the photographer?

While I suppose one has to admire Usher's attempt to make a progressive hit R&B single, his execution leaves a lot to be desired. He reinforces just about every idea that the song seems aimed at combating. I can totally see why this single never even cracked into the Top 40 on the BILLBOARD HOT 100. All this being said, I still think "U Don't Have to Call" is a great song.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

(Vampire) Week End

I do not think it is much of a secret to anyone who knows me that, due to a chance early discovery of their music and hosting their July 2007 gig in Virginia, I am an avid fan of one of 2008's most discussed bands, VAMPIRE WEEKEND. I have followed them since the day I discovered them and consider myself to be pretty aware of the origins of their aesthetic, so when I watched JEAN-LUC GODARD's WEEK END (1967) last night I was pretty taken aback by the references to the film that are apparent in VAMPIRE WEEKEND's music videos, namely the ones for "MANSARD ROOF" and "OXFORD COMMA."

I remember watching the "MANSARD ROOF" music video for the first time, seeing the band's name staggered in multi-colored futura font across a black background and thinking "Man, where do these guys come up with such simple, but effective (for lack of a better word) stuff?" Well, in the opening minutes of WEEK END I figured it out. The first time that the film's title is flashed across the screen (which happens quite frequently), it is in the EXACT SAME stark yellow, red and blue style (pictured). To make it even more similar, the film's title and the band's name share the same word; it actually took me until seeing the words in the same style to even make that connection.

This borrowed intertitle seems to be the only GODARD technique present in "MANSARD ROOF" as the rest of the video consists of many quick cuts and close-up shots of band members' faces, both of which are scarce in the film, WEEK END. One need only skip two VAMPIRE WEEKEND music videos ahead, though, to run right into another pretty clearly borrowed aesthetic. GODARD's film is full of long panning shots that are set in rural scenery, seem to last forever and incorporate many seemingly ridiculous elements (crashed, flaming cars, dead, blood-soaked human corpses, people dressed up in strange costumes) into the MISE EN SCENE and the main characters are a volatile couple who are worried, AD ABSURDUM, about their material belongings. "OXFORD COMMA" (pictured) incorporates these elements into the video as it is all one continuous take that follows one character, singer/guitarist, EZRA KOENIG, who seems fairly oblivious to the chaos around him. He walks along singing and playing guitar as people, some ignoring him, others not so much, make plans for an unknown task, film him, shoot each other and mimic him just as WEEK END's Roland and Corinne trek towards OINVILLE without paying much heed to those who they encounter.

The question that remains after noticing these similarities between WEEK END and VAMPIRE WEEKEND is simply: "Why?" Do these 21st century pop stars think they are entitled to these techniques just because their chosen moniker is similar to that of GODARD's film? Do they just have an affinity for the FRENCH NEW WAVE director and want to pay homage to him as best they can? Do they feel attached to this film's message in some way and want to incorporate it into their band's entire ethos?

In the case of "MANSARD ROOF" I think it is pretty safe to assume that the WEEK END-like beginning and ending titles are only used because of the similar wording, although the text does fit very well with the bands aesthetic as a whole. The "OXFORD COMMA" video, though, may just have more to with WEEK END than just a superficial reference. WEEK END, from what I took away from it, is a film that is intensely against corporations and commercialism. Throughout the entire movie, the characters drive everywhere in cars and navigate through traffic jams and exaggerated crashes that include maimed, bloody victims (pictured). Roland and Corinne repeatedly get excited about the automobiles they encounter and Roland frequently expresses interest in buying a new, nicer one. They do not seem to notice, however that the car crashes which they so often encounter are killing most of the other people in their movie. They both compulsively strive for better products without noticing the bad effects of them. In "OXFORD COMMA," KOENIG sounds like he is talking to a girl who is far too concerned about her own activities and social status. She travels ("take your passport"), listens to popular music (the Lil' Jon reference), and fibs about her class rank ("Why would you lie about how much coal you have?") while selfishly speaking badly to the person who is trying to help her. The character in the song, channeled only through KOENIG's transmission of her words, is just as oblivious to the peril that surrounds her. KOENIG himself cannot see any reason why someone would make such a false claim, but as he meanders through the set and asks about the girl's intentions in doing so, it is apparent that he really cannot understand why someone would create such a lie because he, clad in a nice, white suit and riding in a nice, white car, is very apparently part of the upper crust who would never need to lie about such issues as social status. He too seems deluded from the problem (in his case the CLASS SYSTEM) that surrounds him.

All throughout WEEK END, Roland and Corinne encounter people who repeatedly remind the main characters and the audience that everything happening is within the world of the film. When Roland attempts to hitch a ride after his car becomes immovable, a possible hitch poses him the question: "Are you in reality or in a film?" (paraphrased) and when he responds that he is part of the latter, the prospective driver cruises onward. This aspect of WEEK END pulls the viewer away from the absurd elements so he or she can set aside the absurdities, accept them as fictional and focus on what intention may lie behind the film's outlandish metaphors. The VAMPIRE WEEKEND music video in question performs a similar function when, very early in KOENIG's stroll, a film crew, separate from the one actually filming the video , pops up behind him and briefly follows him (pictured). In the context of "OXFORD COMMA," being reminded of the music video's fictional nature lets the viewer see that what appears in the frame is only one perspective, much like KOENIG's lyrics. This reminder that this video is, in fact, a fictional view can also serve much of the same purpose as it does in WEEK END, but in the interest of keeping this BLOG POST somewhat short (and it may be too late for that) I will not go into many of the other character interactions in "OXFORD COMMA."

So, what purpose does VAMPIRE WEEKEND's appropriation of GODARD's aesthetic serve? After seeing WEEK END I think I have a better grasp on how I am supposed to interpret their videos (at least in the case of "OXFORD COMMA," maybe "MANSARD ROOF." "A-PUNK" and "CCKK" are seemingly impertinent here). "OXFORD COMMA" now looks to me like a young man's walk through his immediate surroundings as he pays attention only to the events that seem to concern him, and the song's subject comes off in much of the same way now also. This connection between the musicians and the filmmaker also makes for one very exciting epiphany one can encounter while examining the former's work.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Kate Bush: In Continuance and My Criticism of AEP

Let me this POST begin with a KATE BUSH update: The day after I wrote the last entry I went to the record store near my house, SCRATCH AND SPIN, and picked up her 1985 LP, HOUNDS OF LOVE, and WOW! This album contains two songs mentioned in my last post , "HOUNDS OF LOVE" and "RUNNING UP THAT HILL (A DEAL WITH GOD)," and since purchasing it, I have listened to it numerous times. On my first night with the record I tried to fall asleep to side B, entitled THE NINTH WAVE, and it was REALLY SCARY. It features chopped up, backwards vocals and an OMINOUS voice that sounds like it could belong to a DRAGON. She also references psychoanalyst, WILHELM REICH, in the song "CLOUDBUSTING." My KATE BUSH IMMERSION and APPRECIATION (which will henceforth be referred to on my BLOG as my KBI&A) is going swimmingly. I look forward to obtaining my next album of hers; I think 1982's THE DREAMING (pictured), as it contains the aforementioned "SUSPENDED IN GAFFA," may be my next try, but I'M NOT QUITE SURE YET.

Now, I have for the past month or so been fulfilling requirements for South Carolina's ALCOHOL EDUCATION PROGRAM because of an UNDER-AGED DRINKING TICKET which I received last semester. The program requires clients to participate in COMMUNITY SERVICE at non-profit organizations and take a number of alcohol-related information sessions
. One of these sessions was simply called an alcohol education class, which I attended for three Fridays with a couple other AEP clients. For the final class, the teacher, MR. BEN BOATWRIGHT (who actually is a decent, respectable fellow), said we were to create and present an "art project" (which encompassed any medium: painting, drawing, sculpting, spoken word, written word, et cetera) in which the students must explain what AEP means to him or her. I chose to write a manifesto, as it was the medium in which I could most-clearly articulate my views on the program, and my roommate and friend, ANDY (pictured), suggested I use it as a subject for a BLOG POST. I had already toyed with the idea myself and I have decided to do so as I thought about the essay for quite a while and treated the project much like I would a POST on my BLOG. So, the ensuing words come from my UNTITLED MANIFESTO that I created for the AEP PROGRAM.

South Carolina
’s Alcohol Education Program (AEP) has proven to me to be a system, constructed under the guise of a safety course, to wrench money and time out of young people and make them try to adopt the government’s strict views on substances. AEP has shown me that the government really does not care about the well-being of all offenders of imposed alcohol and drug laws; it simply wants to take the time and money of those who cannot manage to slip through the cracks of the system. Whatever negative connotations I had reserved for this type of program through my first dealings with Pre-Trial Intervention have been thoroughly reinforced and strengthened after experiencing much of the same in AEP.

My problem with the program starts with the evening on which I committed my “offense.” I had gone to a friend’s house out in Blythewood and was quietly spending time with friends and just happen to have been drinking beer. Nobody I was with was excessively loud or drunk and we were all having a pleasant, low-key time. The only reason that I think the police even showed up is because they were called to another house down the street that may have actually been disturbing the peace of the gated community. Whatever the reason, the police came in nine separate cars and searched the entire house. I willingly walked outside and stood with my friends, thinking that there was no possible way that these cocky dullards were going to write some nineteen tickets for those who happened to be under-aged. I was wrong, though, as we waited for about two hours while the law enforcers did their enforcing with smiles on their faces, the entire time trying to sound appealing to us as they lamented the beer which they made us pour into the sink. Any bad view that we were supposed to reserve for the liquid was immediately countered by the police officers’ assertions that they wanted to take it home and drink it themselves.

The issue of court dates for the ticket hearings again showed me how arbitrary the entire program is as some people had their lawyer parents or friends come along and had their charges and tickets immediately absolved. As the imbecilic and inconsiderate police officers scheduled the court dates to be right in the heart of my friends’ and my final exam week, some of my fellow “offenders” had to reschedule their dates in order to take their tests. Well, all those who chose to reschedule were also free of charge as the correct police officers did not show up at their cases and thus, another few of my friends got to save their time and money. The unlucky few of us who actually had to go through the AEP program were all left dumbstruck by the court’s simple dismissal of some cases and we saw very clearly that all this program is used for is revenue.

The actual program of AEP (with all due respect to you, Mr. Boatwright) has been a long process of redundant teachings, wallet-emptying, vain payments and a failure to make me see why I my “offense” should count as any sort of crime. In my Alive at 25 class, instructor Larry “Skid” Skidmore repeatedly told the class that he did not care if we drank, we simply have to be responsible and of-age. Responsible, yes, it is very important to avoid using machinery whilst consuming alcohol and to ingest it in moderation. Well, at the time of my "offense" I had taken in all of two beers and had planned to spend the night at the place of gathering. This, according to Skid, is responsible, so all I have to do is be of-age. Well, why if he says that is the only thing I am missing, should I even have to worry about it? I do not understand how a man could completely take and obey the laws imposed by the government solely because they are imposed by the government. Has he never thought to question these laws by which we are supposed to live? He had reserved similar ideas about marijuana as he said that he wanted to try the drug, and in 2040 (which, according to Skid, is 38 years from now), when he believed it would be legalized, would absolutely like try it. Why does he have to wait for a higher power to tell him it is alright? Has he no personal motivation or thoughts outside of the ways the government tells him to think and act? I find people who adopt and act in this subservient vein to be unreasonable and very ineffective types to whom I am supposed to listen.

In sum, the Alcohol Education one is a program that capitalizes mainly on the college student’s tendency to like to loosen up on the weekends after stressful days of schoolwork. We have learned that policemen go fishing for under-aged drinkers in popular areas like Five Points because they have to meet a quota that assures that the government will be able to pay enough officers so that it can also generate revenue from this lucrative, evil business as well. Nevermind the fact that the people forced to go to these alcohol classes have very busy schedules as is. It is perfectly acceptable to make them work extra hours at their jobs, work at their jobs on already-busy weekdays as they spend weekends fulfilling class and community service requirements and have them skip important university classes to hear statistics about their demographic rattled off by a preachy, homophobic moron. More than anything, AEP has made me more aware of the moral emptiness of the program and monetary goal for which it actually exists.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My Life in the Ghost of Bush

Until July 2008, KATE BUSH was a name which I had heard mentioned in passing, but I had never pursued her music for myself. I had before heard praise for her work, but did not know whether or not it was something I would really be able to DIG, so she remained estranged to me for quite some time. For some reason, last semester I found myself engaged in a conversation with my friend, LINDSEY, about her song "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" and we watched the music video for it and I remember feeling like she was an artist to whom I would need to dedicate some time in order to really get into her. This past summer I was in the CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY sorting through the music section when I came across her 1989 album, THE SENSUAL WORLD. I checked it out from the library and took it home and listened to it once. Again I was fond of it, but I felt that I would need to give her another chance at a later point, as I just was not quite connecting with LP.

The music from THE SENSUAL WORLD (the album physically returned to its place in the Chicago Public Library) went un-listened-to on my computer/iPod for a while, despite the recurring notion that I should be giving it another chance. In the past few weeks, though, I have experienced a surge of allusions and references to the work of KATE BUSH. In a relatively short span of time I purchased PETER GABRIEL's, SO, which features her in one song, heard her name mentioned in interviews with the bands HIGH PLACES, VIVIAN GIRLS and then again at my friends' house as I browsed through JOSH's music collection. The latter three of these instances involved the exact same song, "RUNNING UP THAT HILL," which I now know to be one of her biggest hits. After these encounters I gave this song a good listen, enjoyed it and decided that NOW is the time that I will actively pursue KATE BUSH's discography.

As I gave THE SENSUAL WORLD a couple more (figurative) spins, I finally started to be able to get into it. I think I was intially driven away by the many IDIOSYNCRASIES that make up the album, its tendency to sound somewhat DATED in its overall sound and the DENSITY that permeates every song. My recent multiple listenings and continually increasing enjoyment of THE SENSUAL WORLD are where now I stand in my first steps of KATE BUSH IMMERSION and APPRECIATION. Since listening to it, particularly the last song, "WALK STRAIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE," I have again seen her influence on the band PONYTAIL's singer MOLLY SIEGEL, especially in very beginning of their song "BEG WAVES." Both women make that noise that happens when you MAKE YOUR LIPS LIMP AND BLOW THROUGH YOUR MOUTH WHILE HUMMING IN A HIGH PITCH, a sound often more associated with small children than with pop vocalists.

The ICING on my PROVERBIAL KATE BUSH CAKE, though, appeared after the commencement of my IMMERSION and APPRECIATION. Last Thursday I got RA RA RIOT's new album, THE RHUMB LINE (pictured) from WUSC while doing a radio show. I listened to the this album a lot last weekend and had chosen a couple of initial standout tracks to frequently revisit, one of them being the ninth song, "SUSPENDED IN GAFFA." I listened to this song a few times before I researched their album and figured out that this particular selection is a KATE BUSH COVER.

No more than four days later, I was at work creating an ON THE GO PLAYLIST on the company iPod. There is a lone song by British post-punkers, THE FUTUREHEADS, that comes from their self-titled album that I frequently listened to when I was a junior in high school. The song is called "HOUNDS OF LOVE" and I put it on the playlist I was making to see if I would still enjoy it as I used to do. Continuing to scroll through the selections, I came across KATE BUSH's name and, because I had recently started my venture into her work, I threw that song, also entitled "HOUNDS OF LOVE," into the mix as well. Of course I noticed that these two songs have the same name, but I did not pen THE FUTUREHEADS as people who would cover KATE BUSH. I was quickly proved wrong, though, as not longer after hearing THE FUTUREHEADS' singer request for his shoes to be taken off and thrown into the lake, KATE BUSH did exactly the same.

Here I realized that I was SO CLOSE to accessing her music YEARS before I actually did, if only I had checked for writing credits upon hearing the song the first time! I am trying to decide if an AFFINITY for KATE BUSH has always been in the cards for me, if I have been experiencing more encounters with her recently than can be considered normal, or if she is simply a HUGE, INTERNATIONAL POP STAR and it is common to hear her name mentioned. If the latter is the case, then maybe one or a couple mentions got her on my brain, so I have just been taking more notice when her name arises. I'M NOT REALLY SURE, but I am glad I have finally started to take note of and experience KATE BUSH's (so far) unique, gratifying music.