by carl wilson

Ticket to Random

L to R: 1, 2 and 3.

1. Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood has landed her at #54 on Billboard, her first time cracking the Top 200. It's sold five times the first-week numbers of her previous studio albums, and three times her last disc, the live Tigers Have Spoken. Some reviewers seem to find it overly cryptic and short on hooks; I am predictably on the opposite rampart: She's out of the awkward stage in her writing and into a style that's not or any other pimped-up genre, but Neko Music that's shot in wide-screen cinemascope.

2. Kompakt house-pop producer Justus Köhncke has cancelled his North American tour, meaning he won't be at the Goethe Institut in Toronto this Sunday.

3. But more than making up for that loss, Wayne Shorter (ex-Miles Davis Group, Weather Report) is coming to Massey Hall on April 5, bringing not only his quartet (Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade), but special guest Brad Mehldau as opener, who would be worth a Massey Hall visit in his own right. (Tickets $39.50 to $79.50, 416-872-4255 or at the Roy Thomson Hall Box Office.

Bonus round: Go read Sasha's piece in this week's New Yorker about the new Ghostface album. For one thing, I suspect our boy drops, within this article's quotation marks, the biggest barrage of F-bombs and other cusses in the shortest space in New Yorker history. (Anyone?) For another, the album sounds killer. For a third, I'm torn, maybe productively, about the style Sasha's New Yorker pieces have settled into over time. They're always admirably composed, with a humour that's at once hipper and even more dry than New Yorker standards - it's almost subliminal, which seems one very canny way to deal with the newbie/cognoscenti dilemma in addressing a readership: It's not that he's making inside jokes so much as that you have to be inside to tell that there's a joke to get. Yet his style there has settled into one that tends to eschew concepts in favour of nearly pure description. If he has a thesis in this piece, it's hella implicit. This by no means consigns Sasha to the daily-grind, consumer-guide camp of music writing, but it renders him mainly an unusually articulate reporter from the cool-music front. For me this really is too far from the opposite, "participant-observer" pole. I miss the SFJ who used to provoke heated arguments that helped set the agenda, the way Kelefa Sanneh does now at the Times. (That side of Sasha is left to his blog, which has been minimal lately**, and his non-feature contributions; eg., it's hinted at in his current Pop Note on "hotel music," which almost overlaps with my schmaltz project.) Either that, or I am missing some of the jokes myself.

(This post certified Bad Band Revolution free.)

** Oh wait, he's back!

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, March 15 at 04:39 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (19)



Posted by columbus-georgia-real-estate on April 13, 2006 09:02 PM

Posted by cake-toicing on April 10, 2006 06:18 AM



I'm very much sure I believe in objectively bad music, and Danger Mouse has proved this subjective view correct on a number of occasions. I guess that's objective in a personal sense and subjective in a world sense, which makes it intersubjectively bad music.

Wait, intersubjectively HORRENDOUS music.

Posted by Matt Collins on March 18, 2006 03:21 AM




do you believe in objectively bad prose? I'm not sure myself. I've just been puzzling over this distinction often made in rockcritville, the super-elevation of prose craft/competence and frequent (not universal) downplaying of musical craft/competence. I suspect the downplaying of musical craft/competence springs from the hegemony of a limited, Euro-derived notion of musicianship.

The relationship of prose craft & thought craft is interesting to me too. Some zippy prosers can be lotsa fun to read, but then I don't remember a thing they said afterwards; like a great conversation in a bar with a close friend. Some prosers can be a slog, and something on every page sticks with me for years & years. Journalistic crit heavily favors the zip factor over the stickiness factor. Not saying that's a bad thing. Obvs, the 2 don't preclude each other.

Posted by john on March 17, 2006 11:10 AM



By "he's back" I meant that Sasha was "back" to pointed blogging, not that Gnarls Barkley was back! I liked the sarcastic line "Music is a medium for asserting ownership." I have little to no opinion on Gnarls Barkley and suspect my indifference is permanent. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure I don't believe in "objectively bad music." (Note to preclude relativism debate: I do believe in objectively bad genocides, for instance.)

Posted by zoilus on March 17, 2006 02:38 AM



Wait, are you suggesting that Gnarls Barkeley is a de facto "bad band", or are you parodying the debate by mentioning objectively bad music in a post supposedly "Bad Band free"?

Posted by Matt Collins on March 16, 2006 08:09 PM



M.W.K. -- I got that it was a joke. Most of the NY'er class snobbery comes in the form of jokes. (Unless you count the ads.)

Not disagreeing with how anybody else took the line --

Posted by john on March 16, 2006 07:13 PM



Funny, I laughed out loud at the "reader's manual" line--the way I read it he was underlining the Wu's sui generis-ness, the fact that they were so odd and insider-ish, but still had mass appeal. If not many rap groups need one, it's because most rap groups are easy enough to understand, even for NY'er readers--the exact opposite of "typical NY'er class snobbery."

Posted by Matos_W.K. on March 16, 2006 04:45 PM



the thing is, the wu-tang manual is much more a document for the dedicated wu-tang fan than for the beginner or the rap novice. you actually have to be completely steeped or submerged in the W in order to get any meaning out of that book.

also, the new Ghostface, or at least the stuff that I've heard from the advance, is pretty great if only for the return of Pete Rock (!) to A-list producer status. "Be Easy" is the single of the year (excluding that TI song "what u know").

Posted by Graham on March 16, 2006 03:22 PM



Jordan, my take on the "reader's guide" line was my immediate, visceral reaction. Not to say that one's first reaction necessarily reflects an author's intention, but I thought we all agreed a long time ago that authorial intention didn't get to set the terms completely.

I agree that Sasha probably didn't intend to make a class-snob move. But such moves are in the New Yorker mag regularly, so it's a suggestive context.

"Reading too far into . . . " -- heck, that just makes me want to read further in! Sounds sexy!

Reading hath no bottom.

Posted by john on March 16, 2006 02:46 PM



Actually, Jordan, it was a reference to The Wu-Tang Manual: Enter the 36 Chambers, an actually existing "reader's guide." He wasn't just being fanciful.

Ronen, I think the reason you see that "formula" in SFJ's New Yorker pieces is that element C is not usually an obscure hip-hop artist but an older soul or funk or jazz artist - whom I think Sasha hopes some readers might find more familiar. Which could be wishful thinking on his part.

Posted by zoilus on March 16, 2006 12:56 PM



Re: the reader's guide line - I think y'all are reading too far in - it sounded to me to be simply the way Sasha chose to deal with Ghost's reputation for randomness, disjunction, near-gibberish (no wait that's Cam) and other moves that would put him pretty far out the way even in obscurer fields (say, poetry) where reader's guides actually also seldom happen and would be welcome.

Posted by Jordan on March 16, 2006 11:10 AM



Nicely said, Carl. Although, I wonder (respectfully and cheerfully) if you give SFJ a little too much credit. I can't count the number of times I've read the following sentence/formula in his pieces:

"[Song A] uses a sample from [Song B], originally written by [Obscure Hiphop Artist C] in 197x."

Is this "purely descriptive," as you said? Well, yes. But it's also something else--not so much a knowing subliminal wink (as you wrote) but more, in my opinion, a crutch that allows him to avoid saying anything all that illuminating or original about the original song--or even why we should care about the song, the sample, or anything. (Which, in my unsolicited opinion, is more or less what a pop critic writing in the New Yorker should do. Tell educated people who don't follow contemporary music what's worth listening to out there, or not, and why.) Which is also precisely what his colleague Alex Ross does, week in and week out, about any form of music, to consistently more impressive results.

Posted by Ronen on March 16, 2006 10:28 AM



Carl, I, too, have exchanged emails with Sasha; he's always been courteous and kind. And I shared your reaction as well, subtracting the "Canadian" and adding "generally poorly informed."

The traditional New Yorker-mag quest for the drollery of the proles is something a New Yorker writer should be wary of. That's all.

Posted by john on March 15, 2006 09:20 PM



Sasha and I just have a passing email acquaintance. I'm not even on his links list anymore, I noticed in the course of doing this post. (NOTE: The two facts are totally disconnected.)

John: Yeah, I noticed that line too, although I am sure he didn't mean it that way. My reaction, though, was, "Dude, I could use a reader's guide for every hip-hop album I own." Because I am too white, too old and too Canadian.

Posted by zoilus on March 15, 2006 09:13 PM



I dig SFJ, and this piece is cool, but the line, "Not many hip-hop groups need a reader’s guide," pushed uncomfortable buttons; felt like typical New Yorker class snobbery and a not-untypical-enough type of crit condescension toward musicians. SFJ ain't saying that books = smartness; but New Yorker tradition would at least imply such an equation.

Danger, Will Robinson.

Love/hate relationship with the New Yorker, which, but for this vibe, would be a love relationship.

Posted by john on March 15, 2006 07:50 PM



Are you tight with SFJ? He has a sweet job, though not as sweet as the guy who gets to do those paintings of up-and-coming rock bands.

Posted by macro on March 15, 2006 07:34 PM



Yeah, I certainly had that Slate piece in mind, Jody - and the fact that the Times is now possibly the biggest must-read periodical on music is delightfully queer (to use the word in a Eustace Tilley sense). I agree with all your balancing words on Sasha's New Yorker stuff, and you're probably right about the long-term trajectory. Just something I'd been watching and wondering about for awhile that seemed worth mentioning in terms of today's debate (see previous post's comments box).

Posted by zoilus on March 15, 2006 06:37 PM



Carl, the Ghostface album is AWESOME. New York fights back!

As for Sasha's style, I know what you mean about "pure description." I would say it comes with the territory...but think of Pauline Kael: she sure got feisty in those august pages! Anyhow, I think Sasha probably just needs to log another year there, and then he'll be able to let rip. He's really *creating* something as he goes along -- it must a real tricky task, figuring out how to write about pop in the New Yorker -- and under the circumstances, I think he's doing an amazing job. His prose is tight as shit and his taste is pretty impeccable. And in that tastemaking sense, I'd say he's still (to use your phrase) "setting the agenda."

That said, it would be great if he could someday get polemical. The other day I reread his great Slate piece from a few years back in which he ripped Alex Ross. (Beat the shit out of Eustace Tilley, he'll give you a job.) It's still the best thing ever written about rockism, if you ask me.

One last thing: the fact K. Sanneh is, as you suggest, the reigning pop crit-provocateur, speaks volume about the amazing job he's done of loosening things up at the Times. Talk about "pure description": before K., the Times coverage was nearly all description. I love Jon Pareles, who writes beautifully and knows more about music than anyone on earth (I once saw him taking notes at a Eliades Ochoa concert by writing out musical notation on a bar napkin!), but he's always tended to describe a bit too much for my taste...

Posted by Jody on March 15, 2006 06:28 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson