by carl wilson

Friday Night Fights

Sufjan.jpg VS parishilt1.jpg

I have a review of the new Greg Graffin (Bad Religion) stab-at-old-time-folk album, featuring the Weakerthans, today in The Globe and Mail. The record, she is not so great. Tomorrow, there will be more reviews from me, in an early-summer Globe roundup. (Link to come.)

Why didn't anyone tell me when I made my songs-about-art list that Brazil's CSS have a hilarious tune out called Art Bitch? (With the already-infamous hook, "Suck suck suck my art hole, lick lick lick my art tit!") Here's a video of them performing it, in which the music is unintelligible, so read the lyrics. And if you're in Toronto, consider going to see them at the Mod Club tonight with Diplo et al. There's actually something a little Torontopia-like about this band, I might venture to say...

At last, someone has said exactly what I've always thought about Sufjan Stevens, but never got around to formulating. We can go back to the indie-rock self-infantilization-repression discussion out of the reaction to this, perhaps. I particularly appreciate the comparison to Conor Oberst - whether people love or hate Bright Eyes, their reactions always makes sense to me. (I'm quite fond of about half his stuff, impatient with the other half.) But to love or hate Sufjan Stevens just does not seem worth the effort. Yes, Chicago is undeniably a well-crafted song, and so are a few others. Who cares? I feel equally strongly about, oh, a well-made office chair. And actually, the well-made office chair is likely to have a stronger longterm impact on my life, with its benefit to posture and muscle strain. I'm sure he's a nice man, but Sufjan Stevens is the worst possible musical role model. (I have vaguely similar feelings about Radiohead, but I recognize that there's a much stronger counter-case to be made there.)

Jody, meanwhile, presents the even more thankless argument in favour of Paris Hilton. Go boy go.

Two significant corrections to things I said on Said the Gramophone recently: One, Veda Hille is not actually the filtered voice on her song about the cats at Brecht's grave. As Veda told me, "Talk about alienation effects!" Blush. Two, it's blatantly acknowledged on the Vancouver Nights record that Dan (Destroyer) Bejar wrote All the Right Moves. My theory was only a "discovery" for people who have MP3s and not the album. Resolution: Read liner notes gooder.

The Bagel at Spadina & College has joined the long list of great, shortlived Toronto venues. It saw the debuts of Pyramid Culture, Laura Barrett and Garbage!Violence!Enthusiasm! (or at least I think so) among others. It's a shame.

Finally, an interesting response to my StG Pere Ubu post from Anthony Rue (who also sent me yet another mix of We Have the Technology, the single with the synth removed almost entirely - which also will not do):

"Your article was very much in tune with something I've been thinking about recently. If Lipstick Traces came about ten years after the Pistols burst onto the scene, how could the 'lost years' of 1987-1996 be contextualized and recuperated now? I'm not buying into the depoliticized personal narratives found in Our Band Could Be Your Life...

"How do you account for the churn of edge culture? The constant rising and sinking of styles and players that tap into the ephemera of a moment, exert a brief influence, then vanish? Although I don't have a great affinity for any of their records as a whole, I'll take an aggregated ten minutes of Mark Moorland's guitar work with Wall of Voodoo over all of the Pavement records ever produced. Can a sound be more important than a song?

"Here's my sympathy for the Technology article. By the summer of 1987 I'd seen, in the course of a few months, Einsterzende Neubauten, Peter Brotzman, Steve Lacey, Steve Reich, Evan Parker, Fred Frith, John Zorn (with and without Naked City), Kronos Quartet, Psychic TV, Laurie Anderson, and Anthony Braxton. All those record crates seemed like anchors, so I sold all but a handful of records. Looking back now, I understand the shock of the guy behind the counter at Vinyl Fever. 'Are you sure you want to sell this?' came to sound like a Knee Play from Einstein on the Beach. Pretty much every thing released on Stiff and Slash. All of the imports from England, circa 1979-82, that I could have found in the midwest. Metal Box and the first Misfits album.

"All these years later, and I still obsess about tracks I remember by bands whose names I have long forgotten. In 2000 I drove myself crazy trying to find a particular Wreckless Eric song that I remembered to be the perfect pop moment. But it isn't really about the song. It's not the albums but rather the sideways glances that I regret having lost."

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, July 14 at 5:16 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)



It never occurred to me that AMG maintained an editorial position. I don’t read encyclopedias for opinion.

Even so, the case against Stevens, especially the one made by Erlewine, seems a rather tepid if solicitous one. Indeed, the problem that Erlewine has, as I read it, is that Stevens’ shtick appears too seamless to be credible, that it lacks that emotional weight a more grizzled and substantial artist of his talents would posses. So a concession is made for Stevens’ talent. Ok. But it’s his comport that bothers you.

He’s too fey, affects a surfeit of sentimentality, and conveys a vulgar openness that borders on messianic arrogance. Ok - but so what? This seems characteristic of many a good, if not great, artist.

If we’re going to make cases against Stevens (or Radiohead), let’s make them with a little more force and conviction. Explain to us why their music is not only bad but also injurious and not deserving of the exaltation it receives. But this equivalency to Paris Hilton or an office chair strikes me as both infantile and wrongheaded. If these artists are evitable, then refrain from commentary.

But if, as I contend, they are immovable cultural forces for the time being (in their puny universes of significance, mind you) then as a Critic you have an obligation to engage them. Moreover, if Stevens is the “worst possible musical role model”, or something similarly apoplectic, wouldn’t you be remiss in you duty to not broach a corrective or offer sage contrary interventions? Or do you just not care, as you seem to be suggesting?

But it’s always refreshing, and intellectually lazy, to be the opposition for the opposition’s sake. Is it time to stop liking Broken Social Scene yet?

Posted by Alex on July 23, 2006 3:42 PM



I'm not sure why Sufjan Stevens' work has become so divisive, beyond the old "he was cooler when only I liked him" syndrome. Can someone explain me? Rather him than the insane boredom of another High Llamas record, at least.

Posted by Paul Isaacs on July 17, 2006 3:13 PM




No one is making anyone like sufjan but what bothers me is the sense that Stephen Thomas Erlewine (and maybe you) are enjoying this fantasy of shouting "The king he wears no cloths!". You said that you never got around to forumlate why Sufjan was bothering you and for my part im glad you did, i rather watch you put your energies explaining to me why the new mountain goats album is so good than explain why (you think) Sufjan is over rated. Sufjan's critics often give me the impression they are looking very hard for reasons to not like the albums (the arrangments might be very thoughtful but they are boring, the lyrics might be imaginative but cold etc.). To which I say, if you dont like fine dont like him but why this need to prove it to the world. I think whats bothering you and Mr. Erlewine about Sufjan is his aesthetics rather that the product.
In the end Mr. Erlewine doesnt provide me with any reason why I shouldnt like Sufjan but just makes me feel bad because I do ("maybe the king is not wearing any cloths?"). Im sorry he finds seven swans boring, I find it utterly utterly compelling am I like wrong for that? Mr. Erlewine biggest complaint is that despite how well the album is put together he "feels like he is being lectured to". This for me money is the weakest line of criticism I have ever seen flung at an album ever.

On the other hand I find Smile the most godawaful dissapointing piece of wank ive ever heard (metacritic score=97). Not that im gonna write an essay on that, I can appreciate the quality even if i dont like the aesthetics. Let Mr. Erlewine enjoy it in peace and quiet without being made to feel bad for liking it.


Posted by guy tanentzapf on July 17, 2006 1:59 PM



I like how he's writing music he likes, and doesn't care what disconcerted bloggers think.

Blame the (also very overrated) community of bloggers for his overpraise.

Posted by Jeff on July 17, 2006 1:56 AM



re sufjian stevens (and subsequently radiohead):
I knew i liked your opinions right from the start. this is just more encouragement!

Posted by ali marcus on July 16, 2006 6:32 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson