Those for Whom What’s Laudable Is All That’s Audible

Throughout the history of the written word and the recorded sound, there’s been a large discrepancy between what people listen to and what actually gets written about. Critics need something to write—there are columns to fill and ink to use, and two-word reviews are hard to write (e.g., “shit sandwich”). So reviews tend toward music with an interesting story or a detailed description, and songs without that depth can be left by the literary wayside—even if they’re being played at every college party, ad nauseum.

Take, for example, “Party Like a Rockstar,” the Billboard-charting, crunk anthem from the Shop Boyz. People listening to mainstream radio on a regular basis must be sick to death of this song. Though they may admire the production, the swing of the lyrics, and the irony, and relish the cross-cultural integration, at this point familiarity has bred contempt. The song is played nonstop at loud, overblown frat parties that leave you emotionally spent. It’s been remixed over and over with Chamillionaire, Guns N’ Roses, Spacehog, and some group called the Ham Burgaz. The “totally dude” chorus is no longer comically poignant, but an inside joke that’s run its course. On the other side, for someone like myself, who lives in a self-imposed cultural bubble, it’s the new thing. It’s that rising tension of fight music that breaks into a party, like when professional wrestlers make out.

» Listen to “Party Like a Rockstar” by Shop Boyz vs. Spacehog

Techno suffers from this issue the most. In its Detroit infancy, it was an underground convention, but when techno began reaching number-one spots on the charts in the ‘90s, rock critics didn’t know what to do. How many ways can you describe “oonsk-oonsk-oonsk?” They’re not making cultural shifts in the current paradigm nor were they creating new subcultures—and yet, kids seem to listen to it a lot. Now that mp3 blogs are widely available, it presents a new publishing format that doesn’t require words and words on top of words. You can simply create links and lists to promote bleeping-blipping electronica. Like here when I say that this band Cave is a growing psychedelic thud that trods its way into its own beautiful style of burgeoning chaos.

» Listen to “Annihilation Sludge Flow” by Cave

Without that recognition from the mainstream press, scores of dead subcultures continue to roam the planet. Retro rockabilly throwbacks and righteous Insane Clown Posse Juggalos have one thing in common: They feel their community never got its due respect; and for that, it gives them a sense of purpose as an oppressed majority, or large minority, to keep the social order alive. If the mainstream spotlights ever shine their way, I wonder what they would do? Would they embrace the attention? Or would they revert to yet another obscure group with a complete style ensemble? And then 10 years later take a trip to Japan to find a find a small Tokyo district devoted to screaming, psychotic ICP cover bands that do it that much better.

» Listen to Boris with Merzbow (Live) at Raven Sings the Blues

NPR just had a piece on Jandek, and while the piece didn’t offer much in the way of new information (the story of Jandek, an overview of the Jandek on Corwood movie), it was a step in a good direction. Maybe this is some sort of amends for trafficking in so much quaintness all these years. Now with the possibility of digital radio tripling the operating bandwidth in some markets, NPR has the opportunity to truly dive into some experimental niches. Just for starters, how about a Bobb Trimble hour? He has the same mysterious serial-killer-or-moody-guitar-strummer vibe as Jandek—but it’s actually listenable (minus Jandek’s Blue Corpse album, which has always been listenable). It would make a good transition from quaint to eerie via some mellow field strumming.

» Listen to “Premonitions—The Fantasy” by Bobb Trimble

As a better bridge, how about the new Thurston Moore solo album? It’s acoustic, warm, and friendly with the Nick Drake autumn sounds (mostly) so there’s no offending the old folks , and NPR already loves Sonic Youth. Or just something a little more unexpected? Because mainstream outlets fail in this regard. They create a filter, just as anybody does, that only allows in the same spectrum of music that every other critic lets in, independent of quality, even if the music is immensely popular. And if it weren’t for audiophiles with no literal interest to pick up the scraps that fall between, it would be the same best-of-the-year lists with the same albums everywhere. Yeah, that Vampire Weekend track is good, but what else you got?

» Listen to “Silver>Blue” by Thurston Moore

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