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2009.12.15

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I think you're pretty far off the mark here (at least in your warning of cultural apocalypse through enforced insincerity -- I haven't heard the album.)

The aughts have actually been a pretty heady time for sincerity in music all around. All that new folkie stuff is pretty heart on the sleeve and mainstream pop has gotten critical appreciation like it's never had. If there was a time of over-irony it was probably the 90s.

Taking on a new identity to sing love songs is pretty giant R romantic; a sign that she's following the zeitgeist I think, rather than that she's going through contortions to buck it.

In the case of stuff like Phoenix, I could see that as being true. But the folkie stuff reads to me as being a completely fraudulent form of sincerity, with almost no exceptions. It doesn't always make it unlistenable, it doesn't even make it bad music, but it does preclude it from proving any genuine sincerity. The constructs that the beards are putting on--it's a winking sham.

Mainstream pop having critical appreciation doesn't have a lot of legs with me either--the way I read that swell of "we like Amerie/Beyonce" now stuff, it's mostly tied up in a praise of production value or vocal backflips. Critics aren't giving a shit what those women sing about, they're flipping over the producer or the melisma.

I don't know Tucker, I just thought it was unlistenable bullshit.

Ouch!

What are some examples of these insincere folk-pop artists? (I ask genuinely - I'm not overly familiar with this area.) I think of artists like Joanna Newsom, Marissa Nadler - who both seem very genuine. And while Nadler is a bit more direct, both reflect this sort of return to simple sincerity.

I don't doubt Newsom's sincerity, but she goes pretty far out there in the let's decipher lyrics department. I'm less familiar with Nadler's recent output, so I wouldn't lump her in. That Drag City label does have a lot of bs folk though. Bonnie Prince Billy has made some great albums, but they're all released under a fake mystique that's grown more off-putting as it rolls along. MV & EE, Devendra, Bon Iver...

Part of it is a personal dislike for the pageantry, and I can see there's an obvious parallel to the pageantry of deathmetal, cock rock, countless rap artists--but those acts often behave like an outgrowth of the music, the make-up following the music. The problem i have with the folk thing is that it seems to be a necessary component of making the music in the first place. We can't do this sweet thing until we make some shit up first, that kind of thing. Dylan was a fraud too, but he was also a fraud who did actual poetry--this is making up an identity just so that you can get away with making the most popular kind of music ever made: love songs.

So if Wilco makes an overly sincere album, but does it without holing up in a cabin in Wisconsin, we're good right? It's the collective critical applauding of gimicks masquerading as bold new directions that cause the beef? I just want assurances that Jeff Tweedy's character is off limits throughout this debate.

Interesting. Thanks for the response. Maybe since I am less familiar with the artists' personae, I am simply unable to really contribute to this thread of conversation. I do listen to Bon Iver, Nadler, Newsom, and I recently saw Will Oldham in concert. But I am not really familiar with them as artists outside the context of their albums or stage performances (for example - I rarely pay attention to labels and am not familiar with Drag City at all).

One band that pops to mind is the Magnetic Fields...I'm not sure if they're quite indie-folk-pop or whatever the genre is, but their collection 69 Loves Songs is certainly laced with irony. It's obviously very intentionally constructed. The songs vary wildly in quality (and in apparent sincerity), but many of them are, at their core, simple love songs. I can understand why some might find this exercise off-putting, but for the most part I love it.

You've actually brought up a really great point, which is that the surplus of information that I've brought to the table doesn't add a whole lot to the listening experience, and in my case specifically, I'd say it severely detracts from it.

It seems to me like one of the only groups who can pull off sincere and happy are goof-ass electronica bands like Passion Pit and Phoenix. In some cases, that's part of the appeal, how blisteringly happy the music is mixed with the energy put into making it sound as joyful as possible. On the other hand, I think those two bands that I just named are an exception to a genre that is overall pretty crappy-New Young Pony Club, Matt and Kim, Crystal Castles all pretty much blow.

For the record, I don't like Bat For Lashes either, and while she has a point, this is a case of a child molester calling a dog-fucker a creep.

Side note: The more I listen to Vampire Weekend the more repulsed by their lyrics I am.

It sounds to me like you're looking for something close to actual authenticity, Tucker...which, yeah, you can't find that. It doesn't exist, at least not that way, I don't think.

Sure, sincereity is a pose in some sense, and the folk stuff (from Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Iron and Wine, etc.) is all into the pose of being earnest folkies with hearts on their sleeves. But what do you want? A different pose? It seems like, citing Dylan you kind of do; more earnest troubadour, less fairie magic. I like Donovan a lot better than Dylan myself at this point, so, you know, Devandra Banhardt, Sufjan Stevens — I'm happy with that, pretty much.

I also think you're kind of wrong about the Amerie/Beyonce thing. I know for me, I often find the lyrical content moving; Mariah Carey's "h.a.t.e.u" is total high school poetry, but it's devastating -- much like shojo. I pretty much categorically prefer that to Dylan's beat poet crap. And I don't know that I"m really all that weird as far as popists go. I mean, yeah, the fact that the songwriting and production is amazing is a big part of the appeal; but the glossy production and the layered songwriting seems to me like it's of a piece with the gloppy lyrics. It's a big gloppy package, and that's what people like; if they're more ironic or distanced then you've got...I don't know, something like LIttle Boots, who's good too, but a bit different.

I kind of loathe Wilco, though. Different strokes and all that....

Dylan? Let me clear that right up: no thanks, i've never gotten ahold of him. I wouldn't say I dislike him, it's just aggressive ambivalence. I do appreciate his strength as a lyrics writer, but otherwise, not interested.

Here's my feeling about Beyonce/Amerie type stuff: i do think of those two as artists, talented ones. But it would seem to me that actually calling them that IS a bit unusual, that it's more common to claim them for the People, to label them entertainers and move on. And when I see that critical praise you're referring to, it comes with a lot of "producer so and so did this", and I think that undercuts their actual value, it turns them into a fill-in-the-blank machine, the latest chick-with-great-voice that people praise. The difference, for me, between a Beyonce and the reaction to some random Floridian singing Whitney Houston on Idol is that the audience is reacting merely to the vocal tricks, they're applauding a skillful delivery of vocal acrobatics--not artistry. It turns pop singing into workouts and freak shows. Is it true that some people don't make that distinction, they just like what they like, big gloppy packages of Put A Ring On It and circus seal performances of the Titanic song alike? Yes, definitely, and well they should, I don't have any problem with that reaction, because it's theirs, and they aren't faking it.

It's not so much authenticity, although I'll admit that I do like that quite a bit. My feeling, more generally, is that there is a general contempt for sincerity in any format--that you can't sing without winking and saying "i don't really mean it", and if you do, the way soul divas do, you're automatically considered a lesser artist than the ones who make complicated, hyper-poetic, less popular tunes. It's not that i'm trying to have another snobs versus slobs thing, although I can see how open I am to that, especially with this much verbiage. It's a more general feeling that this year as a whole struck me as an exhausting journey through art that was embarrassed about having any real feelings at all, art that seemed to believe that it had to bury itself under massive levels of pretense and explanation out of some concern for being made fun of a grand scale. Albums and films, terrified of being serious, because holy shit, what if somebody pointed out how much of a DORK they were being.

Am I right? I'd doubt it, i didn't really keep up with music this year as well as Marty did. But I'm not going to back down from arguing made-up points just because I haven't done serious research.

Man, you've got to listen to more metal. That whole worried about being embarrassed thing; it's really an indie rock problem that comes with trying to be an idiosyncratic genius. Metal doesn't care about that shit. It's a lot more like folk music, where there's a pretty set form to fill, and you fill it, and that's that. Not that there aren't tons of brilliant musicians...but it's a good place to go if the quest for authenticity and sincere insincerity is getting you down. Really, that Pyha album is sincere front to back, through and through — you don't get more sincere than a 14 year old Korean kid sitting in his room making apocalyptic music about the evils of war.

I guess it's hard to say what the critical take is or is not on folks like Beyonce and Amerie. I think it's hard to talk about those folks without talking about production because...well, production is really important. At the same time, I certainly do see some sort of author function for both Beyonce and Amerie. Beyonce just has such a track record of making great music, and Amerie really has a distinctive style...and, you know, Mariah Carey writes almost all her material to some extent or another, and her album would probably be my choice for best of the year, actually.

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