A discussion between NPR writer, Evan Auerbach, and NPR listener, Carl Twocargarage.

Note:
In this discussion, Mr. Auerbach’s comments are taken verbatim from his recent piece, “Gift Ideas For The Hip-Hop Fans In Your Life,” which appears at npr.org. Mr. Twocargarage’s comments were made in his car, to no-one, while listening to NPR on his commute.

evanauerbach

Evan Auerbach of NPR and the blog, Up North Trips.

not buying it

Carl Twocargarage of suburban listenership.

Evan:
…You could go the traditional route when hunting for the hip-hop head in your life—vinyl reissues of Public Enemy and DMX albums, the “Halftime” 12-inch, to name just a few examples. But here we’ll suggest some less obvious ideas for everyone from the indie-label-budget baller all the way up to that I-woke-up-in-a-new-Bugatti paper spender.

Carl:
That last part was just gibberish. I do remember Public Enemy from back in the 1980s when hip-hop was called rap, though. But who performed “Halftime”? Should I… know that, somehow?

Evan:
2013 was a comeback year for Cam: He dropped a mixtape and a movie, and reunited with Dame Dash—even if it was only for a commercial. Killa managed all of this while reintroducing the world to his new-look Dipset clothing line.

Carl:
Okay, I asked my middle-school-aged grandson who “Cam” is and he had no idea. So I asked my son, who said that “Cam” is short for “Cam’ron” and told me I should look it up on “Pitchfork,” before making an excuse and hanging up. Guess the cat’s still in the cradle on that one.

But I didn’t catch who “Killa” is. And is Dame Dash anything like Dame Edna? Because if so, you’ve got my attention—that “lady” is hilarious (and she’s no lady, if you know what I mean)!

Evan:
For people who think 808s were invented by Kanye West, this book is an education.

Carl:
Is an 808 like an LOL? Because I know that one. I’m not totally lost, here.

Evan:
Isn’t there a rule that once you hit your 30s you can no longer refer to yourself as a Ciroc Boy? If there isn’t there should be.

Carl:
“Ciroc Boy?” Okay, look—how much homework am I supposed to be doing to keep up with you people? This feels like the time I had to go to that downtown record store to buy the new Phil Collins album because Suzy had the car and I couldn’t get to Target. I mean, they had the CD in the store, but the guy at the counter acted like he didn’t even want to touch it, much less ring it up. Made me feel like I was already a grandfather. To be honest, he was a real prick.

Evan:
DJ Paul, of Three Six Mafia, is an Oscar winner, a multiplatinum recording artist and the creator of a line of BBQ products. Perusing his site is really a gift to yourself, especially since, in true Memphis fashion, he’s put up 10 (downloadable) free recipes, too.

Carl:
“In true Memphis fashion”? Seriously: I know what recipes are, I know what downloading is and I know what “free” means. And I’ve never been anywhere near Memphis. Do you people not have editors over there because it’s radio, or something?

Evan [subliminal between-the-lines observation]:
Look, if you’re so out of touch that you don’t get my references, maybe NPR just isn’t your jam, grandpa. We have our finger on the pulse up in this m.f.—if it’s too hip, you’re too old. We’re rocking Cam’ron, yo! NPR is where youth culture lives.

Carl:
It has nothing to do with being young or old. It’s about basic journalistic practices and common goddamn courtesy. Flip your ego over and play the B-side, son.

Evan:
I’ll get down with AARP and dance on your grave. Dipset! G-g-g-g-Unit! Kendrick Lamar! Pusha T!

Carl:
Fine, fine; twerk your socks off, junior. I’ll bring your grandparents over to watch. It’ll be a time.

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The DATA plan.

No computers were used in the construction of these flyers.

No computers were used in the construction of the flyers shown in this post. (Click on through for larger views.)

One night, some years ago, my bandmate and I spent a thoroughly enjoyable few hours at Kinko’s, working on a flyer for an upcoming show. I brought fifty or so copies of the final version home with me and peeled one off to show my roommate, whose comment was, “Nice flyer. So, when’s the show?”

Yes: I’d forgotten to include that information. I slapped my forehead and called my bandmate, who slapped his and called us both morons, and we agreed to meet back at Kinko’s the following evening to add that important detail (and run off another batch of copies).

As I lay in bed that night, I concocted the following mnoronic (you see what I’ve done there) device, which I include herewith:

DATA

Date

Address

Time

Admission

These are all of the core, crucial, essential elements that any flyer should have, whether it’s a punk rock show or a lecture on the intrinsic hegemony of the modern workplace. (The only item left out is “Age,” which, in regards to all-ages shows, can be a crucial factor* in the punk scene; I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether or not to add a third “A” to this device.

Chris Ware has not approved this message.

Chris Ware has not approved this message.

The next day, when I met my bandmate at Kinko’s, I told him excitedly about my invention. His reaction wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

“Keep it to yourself,” he said. “No need to broadcast how dumb we are.” And, on thinking it over in the cold, hard and rapidly dimming light of the new day, I had to concur.

But I think enough time has passed since then—and I have no doubt whatsoever that there are still people in bands absent-minded, distracted, forgetful or just plain dumb enough to make these kinds of mistakes. It’s for that dopey but loveable crowd that I’m finally going public with the DATA system. Simple, memorable, effective. (Maybe jot it down somewhere so you don’t forget it.)

Oh, what a nite.

Oh, what a nite.

* Inexplicably, Crucial Factor is not the name of a straight-edge, hardcore, metal or any other band. xCRUCIALFACTORx WTF

Poptimism in the truest, most graspingly desperate sense of the (made-up, hilarious) word.

hearting u 4 evs

Wow, Pitchfork; so, in the new world, do we really have to dig under Nickelodeon spinoff sitcom rocks to find the debuts of future pop starlet also-rans so that we can give them a 6 out of 10 next to music made by (and ostensibly for) grown-ups?

Apparently, we do.

Well, all right! Hell, let’s crack open the Night Train and get it over with! My friends; my good, good friends: Here’s to comparing Carly Rae Jepsen to—well, to anything in the world, out of haplessly ambitious ass-coverage and sheer desperation.

It’s okay, Pitchfork. The last ten years haven’t been a colossal waste of time—they’ve just been an exercise in discovering just how far down this thing can go.

…And here we are. See you on the other side!

P.S.: Just kidding; see you at “South By.” We’ll be the ones in the party tent rocking glow-in-the-dark label promo gear and doing shots!

Critic vs. critic: Staging the set.

A multi-point agenda for a discussion of pop music.

darwin mayflower: world! domination!

Okay. I’ve been skirting the issue for long enough. In the coming days and weeks, I’m going to be digging into a lot of the things that initially inspired me to start this blog. It’s going to be a tough but enjoyable challenge to keep it light, concise, positive and entertaining—I definitely tend toward the verbose and cranky.

Among these will be posts, observations, deliberations and (ideally, even) discussions covering such topics as the following:

1. “Poptimism” vs. “rockism” and other false dichotomies.

Stipulating that music is often “product,” and that this is the case in the majority of popular/“pop” music, how do we navigate the blurred lines* between works of artistic worth and songs/albums/artists whose existence is predicated on calculated profitability? This is in or around, say, the Mountain Goats and Britney Spears (to use two examples of artists with whose work I’m only passingly familiar).

2. “If it’s popular, it can’t be good,” and other fallacies/straw men.

Get under the hood of the whole, “Listen, people wrote off the Beatles as fluff, at the time—but now we know they were geniuses,” thing and hunt around for valid and meaningful examples of this poptimist platform plank. See also: Motown…

Counterpoint: Consider, say, the Neptunes and Timbaland as examples of musical innovators whose work and influence may transcend their immediate context(s); see also: Phil Spector.

3. “Guilty pleasures” and other copouts.

Recognizing that some music we enjoy may not comfortably fit into the critical matrix we’ve cultivated—and identifying and evaluating various methods for coping with this; e.g., denial, secrecy, ironic flaunting, blatant hypocrisy, unabashed ownership, re-assessing objective/subjective critical/aesthetic standards, expansion of tolerance/perception, etc.

Establish the difference between A) reconciling a guilty pleasure to fit within (or hide behind) a set of musical preferences and B) figuring out ways to approach music we like that can accommodate a breadth of styles and sounds without requiring exceptions or explanations. This might involve taking a step back and considering the way(s) we enjoy music, first, before we get literal and bring the kinds of music we enjoy into the discussion. Whoa. (Surely this has been done before; I’ll look into it.)

4. Maintaining consistent standards of evaluation, and other challenges.

What do we expect from pop music? When we hold it up to the standards we apply to “real” music (or “authentic” music, if we apply the rockist perspective), is it acceptable/odd/irrational/unrealistic/poptimistic—even for its most ardent defenders—to be disappointed when it falls short?

Are poptimists just grasping to identify and adore the next Beatles, so as to short-circuit the period of critical disdain and get to the fun part where we all get to take it seriously while we’re dancing? Do people just want to be pre-emptively on the right side of this era’s “disco sucks” battle? If so, in whose service is this done; for whose benefit? The artists’? The labels’? The critics’? The (ugh) audience’s?

Side note: It’s always fun to feel like the opposition; like the persecuted minority. Rebellion is historically cool and intrinsically fun. Imagine if your pals on the battlefield were, like, totally hot red carpet celebs? That’s, like, win-win, right? (We’re all still fourteen, right?)

5. Do we need to talk about this?

I mean, apparently, we do. But I’d like to pose the question, just because it’s come up in conversations along the way. From my own perspective, the lines aren’t really all that blurry—it seems pretty clear to me what’s purely product (or so close as to make little difference) and what’s implicitly or inadvertently got “product” in it, but isn’t intrinsically created as or to be product.

But that’s an “I know it when I see it” viewpoint, which, as we know, is not a helpful or objective basis for judgment. So I’m curious as to why the conversation is necessary—and, I admit, I think I have to include this section to explain/justify my own pontifications on the subject. Because clearly it matters enough for me to get so worked up about it that I started this blog and wrote all this stuff. Why do I give this topic—so much of which I find to be superficial and uninteresting—so much thought?

* oh, like you wouldn’t have

Sorry, can’t talk right now.

Busy hitting “refresh” over and over at the Italians Do It Better site.

AD2_MOUNTAINS

This is in or around being an obsessive record-collecting dope (with exceptional taste in music and design).

Seriously; you should look into this label. $5 for a CD? $10 for a record (on color vinyl, with free download, of course)? Free downloads of like half their catalog (or more) over at Soundcloud? Sweet DIY/glam analog/photocopy-style graphic design and really fun, sharply-crafted and overall awesome music?

How is the mainstream music industry collapsing when this model exists?

(Oh, wait; I forgot—greed, aggressive short-sightedness, suing the people they should have been figuring out how to appeal to, and giving today’s limos and lunches priority over staying in business tomorrow. Easy to overlook.)

We’ll come back to this.

…But for the moment, I just wanted to point out that the following excerpt from the middle section of Steve Albini’s classic treatise, “The Problem with Music”—not always included in online reposts, possibly due to the lower swearing content and/or lack of immediately apparent/transferable relevance to being, you know, cool about band stuff—is, at this current moment, awkwardly and profoundly relevant to America in general and the Internet in particular. (This is in or around “blogging” vs. “writing.”)

But, as I say, we’ll come back to this. It’s late. For now, please complete the assigned reading below, at your leisure, and be prepared for discussion in class when we reconvene.

Excerpt from Steve Albini, “The Problem With Music,” The Baffler, Nov. 1993, pp. 31-38 (why, yes—I do have an original copy):

II. What I Hate About Recording

1. Producers and engineers who use meaningless words to make their clients think they know what’s going on. Words like “punchy,” “warm,” “groove,” “vibe,” “feel.”

Especially “punchy” and “warm.” Every time I hear those words, I want to throttle somebody.

2. Producers who aren’t also engineers, and as such, don’t have the slightest fucking idea what they’re doing in a studio, besides talking all the time.

Historically, the progression of effort required to become a producer went like this: Go to college, get an EE degree. Get a job as an assistant at a studio. Eventually become a second engineer. Learn the job and become an engineer. Do that for a few years, then you can try your hand at producing. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one.

Calling people like Don Fleming, Al Jourgensen, Lee Ranaldo or Jerry Harrison “producers” in the traditional sense is akin to calling Bernie a “shortstop” because he watched the whole playoffs this year.

The term has taken on pejorative qualities in some circles. Engineers tell jokes about producers the way people back in Montana tell jokes about North Dakotans. (How many producers does it take to change a light bulb? “Hmmm. I don’t know. What do you think?” Why did the producer cross the road? “Because that’s the way the Beatles did it, man.”) That’s why few self-respecting engineers will allow themselves to be called “producers.”

…Tape machines ought to be big and cumbersome and difficult to use, if only to keep the riff-raff out. DAT machines make it possible for morons to make a living, and do damage to the music we all have to listen to.
_________________

Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one.

Discuss amongst yourself, Internet.

Too many bands, not enough… Oh, forget it.

“So—I hear you’re in a band these days, Kyle?”

“Yeah, Aunt Beth. We’re called American Car.”

“I am 63 years old and even I am aware that your band will be impossible to find on the internet. Did my sister fall down the stairs while she was carrying you?”

Sigh. I knew you wouldn’t ‘get it,’ Aunt Beth. Whatever. We’re playing a show next week with Banana Phonetic and Tree Frog Avengers. We’ll be doing a new song I wrote about how a girl made me feel.”

“I want to talk to Kyle. I know Kyle is in there. Kyle, can you hear me? It’s your Aunt Beth. Follow my voice.”

Based on a true story. Well, probably, anyway. You can’t make this stuff up.

Le Babar en la chambre: Daft Punk bit Chromeo.

I’ve been meaning to bring this up, because I’m out in the wilderness at the moment and there aren’t that many people I can really run this by, but for real: Doesn’t the song, “Fragments of Time,” from the new Daft Punk album, sound a hell of a lot like that Chromeo + Vampire Weekend Guy track that came out along with Business Casual…? Am I the first person to ask about this? Sure, I am a little tipsy right now, but come on; it hit me “like whoa” the first time I heard it. I can’t be the only one, right?

And while we’re on the topic: I ain’t hating, but damn; how many years and millions of dollars did this new Daft Punk album take to make—while Chromeo (and various others) somehow manage to pop out sharp, sweet, well-crafted and well-produced synth-pop with only like a year or two between albums? Just sayin’s. I love Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder—seriously, I do, and my hat is off to those “off the wall” Frenchbots for enlisting them—but those dudes were not only good at making good pop music; they made solid names for themselves back in the seventies because they were good at getting the shit done and putting it out like it was pop music and not the second coming of pop French art Jesus or whatever.

And on that note, I bid you good gin. Oops, sorry—good evengin.