Some Saturday self-promotion

The current music-writing climate—the network of mp3 blogs, Bandcamp, Facebook pages, Soundcloud, Tumblr, and the websites of now-defunct print magazines—provides a fascinating paradox. Now more than ever, the Internet makes it easy to access and evaluate a band’s music on its own merits. But it also makes it easier than ever to plug into the echo chamber—the countless “reaction” blog posts and ersatz cultural analyses—and tune out the music itself.

For Seattle Weekly’s year-end music issue, I wrote a column about music writing (so meta) and the importance of listening to music. Read the whole thing on the Weekly’s website.

My favorite albums of 2012

Writing a “best albums of the year” list is little more than an recipe for present posturing and future embarrassment. That said, as someone whose opinions about music get published on a blog with a lot more readers than this one, I feel like I should broadcast my tastes for transparency’s sake. Also, these things are fun to write. So here’s a top-10 list, with some very brief write-ups for each choice, plus a Spotify playlist at the end if you’re into that.

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1) Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city: The most impressive thing I’ve heard all year, hands down. A great performance from Lamar, most notably for his storytelling—a “socially conscious” rap album that treats its subjects deftly and with empathy, and is all the more powerful for it.

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2) Tame Impala, Lonerism: If only every band who bills itself “classic rock” or “psychedelic” were as adept at synthesizing its influences, and as unafraid to push its sound in new directions, as these dudes from western Australia. Stunningly good.

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3) Hot Chip, In Our Heads: No singles the caliber of “Boy From School” or “Ready For The Floor” (though “Look At Where We Are” comes close), but plenty of jams. The quality here is more consistent than anything Hot Chip has ever produced. 

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4) Daphni, Jiaolong: Brainy, fractal house music from Dan Snaith. It sounds a lot like the last album from his main band (Caribou’s Swim, released in 2010), but entirely instrumental. Fascinating  beat experimentation.

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5) Frank Ocean, Channel ORANGE: Nearly as good as everyone says it is.

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6) Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory: The best punk/harder rock album I heard this year, and also the one with the clearest commitment to songcraft.

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7) Grizzly Bear, Shields: The world’s most tasteful prog rock band.

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8) Chairlift: Something: Immaculately polished electro-pop from a band previously best known for having a song that sounds like Feist in an iTunes commercial. Still shocked by how good this album is.

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9) Dirty Projectors, Swing Low, Magellan: In which Dave Longstreth learns to write love songs, and sounds all the more human for it.

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10) THEEsatisfaction, awE naturalE: A compact, expertly produced (those beats!) hip-hop/R&B hybrid.

Honorable mentions:

LPs:

Purity Ring, Shrines | Perfume Genius, Put Yr Back N 2 It | Erik Blood: Touch Screens | Japandroids, Celebration Rock | Beach House, Bloom | Spoek Mathambo, Father Creeper | Shigeto, Lineage | Bear in Heaven, I Love You, It’s Cool | Grimes, Visions | Bobby Womack, The Bravest Man in the Universe

EPs:

Mister Lies, Hidden Neighbors | Pure Bathing Culture: s/t | CFCF: Exercises  | Daniel Rossen, Silent Hour/Golden Mile | Matthew Dear, Headcage

Playlist (songs from every album listed, as well as some other stuff I liked): 

The rise of electronic music…

The rise of electronic music in America is great because all these hundreds of thousands of kids going to festivals in Vegas and New York– wearing furry boots, living the rave dream– are binge-drinking music. They don’t care about quality– it’s about the epic build and formulaic comedown. But five years from now, they’re going to stop that, and there’s a good chance that 20% of them will stick around and start finding avenues towards Aphex Twin, Kraftwerk and Basic Channel. That’s going to be an influx of people who are going to make this music last longer and be relevant.

That’s electronic musician Matthew Dear, from an interview with Pitchfork republished today as part of the site’s “The Year in Quotes” feature. I fear he’s being too optimistic, but it’s a refreshing perspective nonetheless, especially amid the many comparisons between the rise of EDM over the past four-or-so years and the counter cultural emergence of rock music in the ’60s. For now, at least, fur rave boots remain a worthwhile purchase.

Football.

To commemorate my first-ever fantasy football regular-season championship, I’m posting this gem of a beer commercial I found the other day. It’s an informative study on just how dated an ad from 2002 can look 10 years later, especially when much of that ad’s content—the glorification of concussion-inducing hits, terrible early-’00s post-grunge rock (is that you, Kid Rock?), and out-and-out misogyngy—is considerably less palatable today. This must be what my friends who don’t watch sports think about people who watch sports.

The cult of Tommy Wiseau

The Room cast

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted on here, but after seeing The Room auteur Tommy Wiseau live, in all his rambling, possibly drug-addled glory* last night at a screening at UW, I couldn’t not write something about it.

A bit of background: The Room is Wiseau’s 2003 film, a melodrama whose only coherent plot point involves a love triangle between Johnny (Wiseau), his “future wife” Lisa, and his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero) that eventually leads to—spoiler alert—Johnny’s demise. Interspersed within this narrative are directionless asides, unidentified minor characters, extraneous B-roll of San Francisco, and no fewer than four cringe-inducing sex scenes set to canned R&B slow jams. (This informative Entertainment Weekly article—not an oxymoron, I swear—provides some good context.) I’ve seen the movie four times now, and I could go on for 2,000 words about everything that makes it terrible; it’s widely considered one of the worst films ever made. But unlike your average B horror movie, it’s bad for very memorable reasons, most of which stem from Wiseau’s leaden directorial hand. He also wrote and produced the film, and his  singular vision of interpersonal relationships, gender roles, and the American dream (“USA is the greatest country in the world,” he effused last night) permeates every aspect.

Screenings of The Room happen once a month at the Central Cinema, but those don’t feature Wiseau in the flesh. His long, stringy hair is still jet black, and he was wearing an outfit that made him look like a combination of Bono, a Hell’s Angels member, and a high-school sophomore going to his first formal dance. Sestero attended as well, but clearly out of obligation. He gave one- or two-word answers to questions while chewing gum, seeming genuinely bemused at the absurdity of him standing on a stage, taking questions from college kids about the dreadful movie he made nine years ago.

Wiseau, on the other hand, enjoyed every second of it. He gave advice, signed DVDs, and showed off his monogrammed boxer shorts when a student asked if she could called him Thomas. Wiseau makes a good chunk of his living through appearances like this one, and he seemed genuinely appreciative of the audience’s surprisingly genuine admiration (more on that in a second).

Tommy Wiseau at UW's Ethnic Cultural Theater, iPhone pic by me.

Tommy Wiseau at UW’s Ethnic Cultural Theater, iPhone pic by me.

Later that night, one of my friends said that the The Room is our generation’s Rocky Horror Picture Show. He’s right to some extent—audience interaction is what makes a screening of The Room special, but Rocky Horror lacks a cult of personality like the one Wiseau provides. For hardcore Room fans, he’s a transcendant leader. For me, the screening acted as a rebuttal to the attitudes expressed in that superficial, straw-man New York Times opinion piece meme last week about the end of irony. In theory, a Room screening should be ironic, but if anyone who attended last night did so out of irony, the joke is squarely on them—between waiting in line, watching the movie and Q&A session, and waiting in line again for Wiseau’s autograph, they would have sacrificed more than four hours in their contemptuous pursuit of a bad joke. Like any kind of cult anything, Room fandom is about the genuine adoration of a really, really bad art. And Wiseau—in all of his pale white, heavily accented glory—is the phenomenon’s unquestioned figurehead, irony be damned.

*Considering that Wiseau said “maybe” when an enterprising student asked Wiseau if he would smoke DMT with him and his friends after the show, I’m not entirely making a cheap joke here.

‘The beginning of the end’ for UW’s newspaper (or, the importance of a good Twitter handle)

Throughout the summer, I’ve been in charge of the social media accounts for UW’s student newspaper, The Daily. It’s been something of a thankless job, but it’s also been entertaining in ways I never anticipated.

First, a bit of backstory: There’s a much larger newspaper called The Daily that happens to be dying. This is big news for a couple reasons. First, it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch and the News Corporation, which makes it attract controversy faster than the average digital newspaper. That ties into the second reason The Daily is big news: It’s a tablet-only experiment that’s failing. Badly. News came yesterday that the website is laying off 50 employees, a third of its staff.

So how does this affect the UW Daily? Ironically enough, Murdoch’s Daily has a Twitter issue (and it’s probably fair to say that, for a digital newspaper, this is symptomatic of its larger problems). Years ago, someone at the UW Daily grabbed the @thedaily Twitter handle, which resulted in Murdoch’s Daily being stuck with the confusing @daily handle. As a result, I see around three to five misdirected tweets per day to our account (4,650 followers) from people who are really looking for the other Daily that isn’t a college newspaper (more than 97,000 followers).

With the recent news about the layoffs, the mistweets really started heating up yesterday:

The end of The Daily?

But what’s even better is when writers for The Daily do it themselves when tweeting out their stories:

Or when we get mentions from bizarre conservative blowhard Twitter accounts, like @libertydefender and his oh-so-clever profile pic:

This all shows the importance of having an intuitive Twitter handle—it must be at least a little embarrassing for The Daily to be beaten out by a college newspaper. One thing is certain, however: With Murdoch’s Daily in very real danger of being shut down, those who manage The UW Daily’s Twitter in the future won’t be privy to such amusing tweets.