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Listening

A Truer Top 40

Tapes ’n Tapes; Destroyer; Ignatz; Eat Skull; forbidden gang funk from Rio de Janeiro

We all know the Billboard Top 100 is a sham; it’s a meaningless list of vacuous posers and pitch-shifted payola. The bands, singers, and studios that make it to the top of their Singles Charts, Hot Canadian Digital Singles Charts, or even the Bubbling Ringtones Chart, only got that way because they bought enough copies of their own album/ringtone to make it on the list. It’s the same way Lee Iacocca’s biography became a bestseller in the ’80’s (both the recording and publishing industries are just vanity ventures at this point anyhow). If it wasn’t arbitrary, why do you think Billboard calls its ranking software “Arbitron?” Either it’s a TI-86 calculator hooked up to a random-number generator in the basement corner of the Time Warner Center, or they shoved a statistical regression algorithm up a monkey’s ass and made it dance.

Point being: There is a need for a truer Top 40 list. Something that might list a Fleet Foxes, Dodos, Ratatat, or new Spiritualized album, even if those aren’t the most popular or most purchased albums at the time. The people will learn to like them by decree of law, but not be able to mention it out loud as it would make me feel less special to know that I wasn’t the only person who liked them first. In the meantime, here’s a partial list.


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Obscured and shamed for a terrible album cover, Tapes ’n Tapes’ second album got the bum’s rush of criticism for other reasons I can’t completely understand. Calling it “utterly and completely without talent” seemed a bit harsh and almost smacks of conspicuous cynicism (inverse payola?). The album is good. Sounds kind of like their previous album, The Loon, which was great. Walk It Off isn’t as complete as The Loon, but it certainly doesn’t exhibit the band’s “lack of originality.” And calling it “festering music bile that eats away at the core of humanity” would just be cruel. (Thankfully, nobody’s called it that.) What are the odds that Tapes ’n Tapes paid people to tarnish their image to return them to the stature of the underdogs they once were so their next album will be a phoenix rising out of the dust rather than a bunch of elitist jerks slipping off their pedestal? The odds are large, and I call it pure marketing genius.

» Listen to Tapes ’n Tapes at DoucheBagFace


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I’m just now getting around to Alex Ross’s The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, which is a great, fascinating book; not so much for the music, but for the level of egotistical insanity that seems to follow every composer mentioned. I guess when you’re creating giant scores for an orchestra filled with every Viennese prince, duke, and viscount in attendance, it can create a level of hubris that will eventually have you making declarations like “diatonic scales are for deviants and pederasts” or “the C minor chord represents the onslaught of humanity by industrialization.” I wish I could say Daniel Bejar of Destroyer made these kinds of pronouncements, as he could easily get away with it. Streethawk, Rubies, and This Night are near-perfect enough that he could easily say “minor keys are for monkey grinders and drunk Frenchmen” and we would have to take it as fact.

» Listen to Destroyer at The Catbirdseat


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Ignatz is one of those trump cards used in obscurity one-upsmanship. Say you’re talking to somebody about what you’ve been listening to lately, and they idly mention some German noise band that doesn’t make contact with the outside world. You can’t just sit there in shame at your ignorance of the world. You get right back up there and say, “Well I was just listening to Van Morrison’s dedication to ringworm that he made to get out of his record contract.” Problem is, you don’t actually like that song. You just thought it would piss them off. Instead, how about you mention this reclusive Belgian folk artist who makes a decaying, entrancing, and reverberating European bluegrass from a shed. Sounds outre, but still very listenable, in case they actually call you on your bluff. And if not, you can just make up something about a blind Japanese disco-polka prodigy who plays the mouth harp.

» Listen to “All Your Love” by Ignatz


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One side of the prospect of seeing a show in somebody’s basement in high school—as opposed to a dank, smoke-filled club—was that it was somebody’s family doing the entertaining. You got to see their house, maybe their mom would be upstairs making finger sandwiches; it made the loudest, most chaotic metal screaming seem quaint. “Oh, that’s just what the kids like to do,” mom would say as she brought out another plate of snickerdoodles. The kids would seem frustrated that the feigned angst at their parents who let them have the show in their basement was ultimately feckless. Not to say that Eat Skull are overprivileged punks looking for a reason to hate their parents, but there’s something friendly and inviting in their brittle, distorted ways that reminded me of it—like a No Age or a scuzzier Beat Happening.

» Listen to Eat Skull at Raven Sings the Blues


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I like to think of myself as principled, but when reading about a small boycott of a Chicago black metal outfit because of their possible white-power allegiances, I couldn’t imagine being able to do it. Not that I condone whatever it was that they said, but it’s tricky to know the politics of some group whose lyrics sound like “blarghghrhgrhgfhrghr” (hopefully it’s transcribed). And if you do start filtering out music by racism, sexism, and murderous intent, you start cutting out large swaths of music history. This grand history of sound in the 20th century has been mainly racists making sexist songs about fornicating and murder. It would be nice to start fresh and say: OK, no more fornicating and murder from here on out, but good luck with that. There’s plenty of nice people making nice music, but without the violent taunts of Brazilian gang funk, it’s just not the same.

» Listen to forbidden gang funk from Rio de Janeiro

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