The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Deep Thoughts...

Thankfully, Saturday Night Live never made a Jack Handey movie, because that would have been the only way to ruin what might have been one of the top ten funniest recurring gags in the program's history. Seriously, what kind of a human being couldn't find these parables hilarious:

"If they ever come up with a Swashbuckling School, I think one of the courses should be laughing, then jumping off of something."

"When you're riding in a time machine way far into the future, don't stick your elbow out the window, or it'll turn into a fossil."

"It takes a big man to cry, but an even bigger man to laugh at that man."

Or perhaps the ultimate Deep Thought: Why do people in a Ship Mutiny always ask for "Better Treatment"? I'd ask for a pinball machine, because with all that rocking back and forth you'd probably get a lot of free games."

In that vein, I wanted to explore a few thoughts that I've been having on this lovely Southern California Friday. Can't say I'm in any sort of a bad mood, I've got the Islands concert tonight, various parties to attend this weekend and three more shows lined up next week. Of course, this week has also produced the revelation that just because I went out of town to Coachella, it doesn't necessarily mean that time actually stops. Who knew? Accordingly, for the last five days I've been trying to get my head above water (and no I'm not like Troy McLure...get your minds out of the aquarium people), and trying to find some time to work on my novel, The Botany of Desire. Actually, my novel is definitely not called that, I think the Botany of Desire is a best-seller, one with the absolute dumbest titles I've seen in a while, proving once again that just because someone is creative they aren't necessarily smart or good (see Animal Collective, The Liars, The Fiery Furnaces).

At any rate, thought #1 concerns the no-longer-little website, Pitchfork. Yesterday, the site gave Sunset Rubdown's new album the much-coveted "Best New Music"Designation. At some point over the last two years getting a good review from Pitchfork suddenly translated into massive buzz and yupster popularity. Of course, some bands will always be much too weird to fit into that equation (The Liars, Boris, Deerhoof), but think about all the catchy bands that have got Best New Music in recent memory (Bloc Party, Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands, Wolf Parade), these are all indie bands who suddenly have gained substantial popularity. Popularity that would likely not have come without Pitchfork's Best New Music designation. Think about it, there's simply no way that Vice, Asthmatic Kitty, Merge, or Sub Pop could've generated enough press or radio airplay to hip the rest of the world on the various merits of the aforementioned acts, all of whom produced excellent albums deserving of the attention. Or just look at Clap Your Hands' popularity. Talk about no budget for promotion, they aren't even signed to a label, indie or otherwise. Their popularity is almost solely the result of Pitchfork's 9.0 review, with an assist from the many MP3 blogs

At any rate, my question is, has Pitchfork become aware of this and has decided to become stingier towards awarding new albums this designation? I'm not sure how many of my reader's check Pitchfork daily but before Sunset Rubdown's album dropped, it seemed like it had been months since the Fork inducted a new album into the BNM spot. So I decided to do a little bit of counting and thus far, Pitchfork has only given out 9 Best New Music classifications this year. In 2005 alone Pitchfork handed out 46 Best New Music spots. In 2004, it gave out 44. Since we're about 1/3rd through the year, this would seem to only translate to 27 BNM spots for 2006, a marked drop from year's past.

Is this because 2006 is a particularly bad year for music? After all, several groups that had gotten Best New Music in the past dropped albums that were deemed un-worthy (The Secret Machines, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Streets), or has P-Fork decided that it needs to preserve its indie cred at all costs, lest it go too mainstream? It's really a hard call to make, but if Pitchfork has decided to tighten up its criteria, I can't really criticize this decision. While Pitchfork's reviews are often atrociously pretentious and often incomprehensible, the scores themselves are often on the money. Very rarely do I purchase an album that makes Best New Music that I don't enjoy at least a little bit. Accordingly, like it or not, P-Fork has gained a lot of "street cred," in the music world. After all who really competes with Pitchfork? Does anyone really trust Rolling Stone, Spin or Urb's reviews? I don't. As for Stylus, it has its moments but it also has its slips--see MIA getting album of the year and the recent Best New Music review for Gnarls Barkley's wildly overrated "St Elsewhere" album. (though I'm still waiting to see what P-Fork will do with it).

The last time I remember a publication having such a monopoly on the market was The Source , which was practically the bible for rap music in the mid to late 90s. While The Source had myriad amounts of problems that contributed to its downfall, one of the main ones was the loosening of its critical standards. I officially stopped buying The Source when it put Trina on the cover (or was it the Master P and L'il Romeo cover), but the Source really jumped the shark when it gave The Hot Boy's 1999 "Guerilla Warfare" album 4.5 mic's. Prior to this, The Source had rightfully earned a reputation for being a fiercely tough to impress critic. This was the same magazine that gave both Outkast's "Atliens" and Eminem's Marshall Mathers LP just 4 mics. With this decision to give such a high score to an album as atrocious as the Hot Boys', The Source's credibility was shot.

At a time when Pitchfork's influence is being widely touted (see this Washington Post profile that all but gets down on its hands and knees and fellates Pitchfork editor/publisher Ryan Schreiber), Pitchfork probably has to do its best to limit the amount of hype that they can give a particular band. Schreiber, named one of People Magazine's "25 Most Important People in Music," even addresses the question in the Wash Po article, concerning Clap Your Hands. Schreiber points out that their "live show isn't great," which is a charitable description of their live act. He also claims they got "too much too soon." Trust me, if you'd been in that tent at Coachella watching all these music industry geeks drool over the weakness of Clap Your Hands' set, you would've realized Pitchfork's power to make people think whatever it tells them to think.

Ultimately, in order to stay relevant, Pitchfork is probably going to have to impose stringent standards towards what gets Best New Music and it looks like they already have. Perhaps my guesses are wrong and this is just a down year in music, but in all likelihood, the much-derided "elitist tendencies" of Pitchfork will only get exacerbated by this new-found pressure.

Thought #2: Is it too much to ask rappers to actually write down their lyrics before they rap them. I was at the gym today, listening to tracks on my iPod when I couldn't help but pause at two unbelievably stupid lines from songs that I'd been listening to.

The first came from an undeniably great song, "Do What Ya Feel," off of Redman's classic "Muddy Waters" album. One of my favorite rappers of all time, Redman's lyrics are/were usually pretty solid.

However, what am I supposed to glean from this line that he drops mid-way through the song:

"Better move with a set of tools/ I be doing it to mics when I'm a heterosexual."

Was there a point in time when Redman was a homosexual and we just hadn't been apprised of it? How in God's name did that line make it to the album without at the very least, Erick Sermon going, "Hey, might wanna' re-think that one. Or at least substitute "because" instead of "when." Just a thought.

The other staggeringly stupid line comes from "Executive Decision," off of the 1997 Firm album, creatively titled, "The Album." When this album dropped it was widely panned as one of the worst ever made, mainly due to the hype that accompanied the pairing of Dr. Dre's production with Nas, AZ, Nature, and Foxy Brown. The album wasn't as good as it should have been, but in hindsight it actually has a couple of really excellent songs. I'm not going to say that it's a great album or even a good one, but it isn't nearly as bad as I remembered it to be.

But at any rate, in "Executive Decision," on the second verse in the song, Nature drops this gem:
"Who's the first to set it/At times my flow's pathetic"

One could argue that Nature was just trying to use pathetic to mean good, similar to how Michael Jackson's used the word "bad," but I'm relatively certain that he didn't even know what pathetic meant. You'd think Nas might've whispered in his ear and explained it to him, but apparently, he's not THAT conscious. Either that, or Nature is uncharacteristically introspective, but I doubt it.

And people wonder why I listen to about 90 percent rock music these days.


At 8:11 PM, Blogger David said...

Want more uncommonly terrible rap lyrics? This topic alone could fulfill the creative spark for an entire month of blogging.

Here is my submission:
"Stick a broom in your butt/tell you, 'go, head boo'/Thugged Out motherfuckers like the rest of the crew"

Anyone who can identify this artist and the song will get a bong rip on me

At 8:29 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

you know it took me a second or two, but it was so familiar because that is a great song, except for that one viciously stupid line. I thought at first it was superthug, because I knew it was Noreaga. But then I realized off of the DJ clue CD on Fantastic Four. I'll take my payment before the Blueprint/RJD2 show.

At 9:45 PM, Blogger David said...

Never again will I dare F with Mr. Weiss' knowledge of obscure rap lyrics. Well done, sir, well done. Reward will be showered upon thee come Monday evening.

At 10:49 PM, Anonymous dan said...

i love all the hype that pitchfork has the same power that rolling stone had in the 60s/70s. Does that mean in 20 years, pitchfork will be totally useless and meaningless?

My biggest worry is that seth cohen will talk about it one day, then its really over.


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