by carl wilson

Clearly I've fucked up:
Vampire Weekend,

Seems if I wanted to write a book about why people like the music they like and dislike the music they dislike (as my spiel goes), I should have waited a year and written a book about Vampire Weekend. Christgau's take is of course worth reading, though less for its dissection of the sloppiness of writers' Afro-pop references (not to mention the band's own), though that's a point well taken, than for its argument that what V.W. and African music have in common is that they'll be "a hard sell to the young" because the music sounds too happy for young people to take seriously. (For happy, read cheesy and for cheesy read sentimental and for sentimental, read chapter 10 of my book, "Let's Do a Punk Cover of 'My Heart Will Go On,' or, Let's Talk About Our Feelings.") (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Still, I can't help continuing to feel that cheerful songs set at cottages in Cape Cod and cheerful songs set in African shantytowns will have significant divergences of affect however much they intersect. Which raises an envy factor that is perhaps underdiscussed as an aspect of musical reception?

(Meanwhile, "Media Guy" at Advertising Age comes at Vampire Weekend this way: "In certain circles these days, liking or hating is less and less about liking or hating a specific phenomenon (e.g., a band or a movie or a politician) but about whether or not you like or hate the people who like or hate that phenomenon." Again, this is the subject of much of the book, with the caveat that it's much more common than "in certain circles" and has a lot longer legs than "these days.")

Xgau also points to an excellent post by Eric at Marathonpacks, who questions whether what V.W. is referencing is in fact African music at all, but rather western pop that's influenced by Afropop, eg Graceland of course and "Peter Gabriel, too," which for people V.W.'s age and presumed demographic would be music they associate with their parents back when said parents were yuppies. Where I part company with Eric is at his suggestion that the reference is therefore hostile/critical - if V.W. don't realize Graceland is a few floors above them in the tower of song, they're kidding themselves - but I certainly agree that V.W. knows what issues their "appropriations" raises and is doing it on purpose, with all the Louis Vuitton-reggaeton-Bennetton-PeterGabrieltoo verbiage. Whether they're doing it with all that much purpose is a question I'll take more slowly, and would prefer to think about with a more fully baked album than the one they've put out. By which time, if these little omnivores are as smart as they seem to be (but no smarter), V.W. will probably have moved onto something else.

V.W. is playing in Toronto tonight, but as I'll be busy at the door at Trampoline Hall, I can't make it, unfortunately - I'd like to see how they come across.

I was going to write here last week about the "Yes We Can" song/video, which knocked me out when I first listened to it, and its connections with speech-based composition in other genres, notably the work of Steve Reich, but John took care of that. I'd only add that Reich's use of this technique goes back further than Different Trains, to It's Gonna Rain, and give you a little visual aid: This is part of an ITV documentary about Reich. The section about It's Gonna Rain (an obvious influence on work like Byrne & Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts [heh, speaking of cultural appropriation...]) begins around 2:20. Btw, I have agonized over how to make use of the stupid portmanteau " Reich" but came up dry so I just put it in the headline. Me not soon join staff of Teh Onionz.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, February 11 at 5:09 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (15)



You know, I listened to VW just now for the first time, and they sound like Doug and the Slugs to my ears.

Posted by Matt Collins on February 17, 2008 2:38 PM



The common denominator...

I am enjoying VW lately and went and saw Xavier Rudd last week at the Danforth Music Hall and kept thinking 'Paul Simon Graceland'. On my way home I was listening to VW and strangely thought the same reference. African music, with a happy/poppy vibe - reaching the world and getting hype in N.A....Mr. Simon is shaking his head saying, "can you believe this shit?"

The music being happy is definitely refreshing. And maybe happy and enjoying life and expressing some positive will be cool for the next little while. Or maybe, (as you mentioned) that will be a tough sell. Who knows. Anyway, there are artists taking advantage of this sunshine and happiness vibe...Feist, Xavier Rudd, VW, and others...

Radiohead named their last album Rainbows. Isn't that the universal symbol of happy and cheer?

In a time of music industry meltdown, maybe the ship will sink to a theme of rejoice and rainbows.

Love the blog by the way.

Posted by Mike Laba | Toronto Unplugged on February 17, 2008 10:46 AM



Not that this no-way-out is any good as an ad absurdum, but their alternative is to be called out for rich-kids-acting-miserable-in-their-privilege, no?

Posted by peli grietzer on February 14, 2008 1:15 PM



My previous comment is not as off-topic as it seems. What I was getting at is that often the 'rapturous glee' is in the making, not at all in the style or content. Kids play with a straight face.

Posted by michelangelo on February 14, 2008 10:23 AM



I've jammed with kids and I suggest that a truly 'infantile' band would sound a lot like early Boredoms.

Posted by michelangelo on February 14, 2008 10:09 AM



Has anyone said anything about the album cover as a rococo take on Big Star's Radio City?

No? Phew.

Posted by Mark on February 13, 2008 4:19 PM



"Infantile" has become a word that has very little to do with actual infants, or even toddlers. If a band could convey *real* infantile rapturous glee, well, for one thing, their songs would be really short. But they would be extremely, almost painfully, beautiful, and nothing to do with twee.

Not disagreeing with your observation, dave m., just remarking on how funny our vocabulary can be sometimes.

Posted by john on February 12, 2008 7:58 PM



oh no, i do think they're happy sounding, harmonies like theirs code as 'happy' as any musical theatre composer will tell you.

but that happiness isn't reflected in their lyrics or in their performances. the singer's voice is affectless, he never sounds passionnate to me; and their lyrics are very descriptive -- other than "campus" there's not much emotion described, even in "cape cod kwassa kwassa" which sounds sort of like an ode to a girl, though you'd never know it. it's all very stiff-upper-lip. in fact, i'd say they do fit in your book, but as the very definition of the indie kid afraid of/sneering at expressing emotion.

and xgau is just wrong, indie kids certainly do like happy music -- how else to explain their love of twee? lots of it is melancholy but tons of it is just rapturous glee unbound. infantile rapturous glee, but rapturous glee nonetheless.

Posted by dave m. on February 12, 2008 5:42 PM



PS - I do agree that you could dispute the notion that V.W. is happy-sounding - Xgau's argument was that the band sounds happy "in their Ivy League privilege." I hear that tone when I hear them, in all the major-chord clean bounciness, much more than I hear "austerity." But it's a subjective (and tentative, based on limited listening) call.

Posted by zoilus on February 12, 2008 1:37 PM



I'm half-kidding, Dave, but the point is that the book takes cheese, or as I call it in the book, schmaltz, as one entry point into the what-we-argue-about-when-we-argue-about-taste question. But you could use any taste dispute as a similar case study.

And Bob's point about happy music being anathema to young listeners really is not that distant from the argument I make about sentimentality being uncool - in the calculus he's pointing to, the very *idea* of happiness is a sentimental one. So I do see a connection there.

Sorry if all that was unclear.

Posted by zoilus on February 12, 2008 1:33 PM



much as i enjoyed it, i don't see the connection with your book here. vampire weekend aren't cheesy at all, as julianne shepherd in her otherwise-hateful anti-Ivy League hatchet job rightly points out -- they're unbelievably austere about everything and rarely show any discernable emotion, unlike say celine. they just happen to do it all in very simple, plain, unadorned harmony, lots of major chords and 1-5 resolutions, without distortion.

Posted by dave m. on February 12, 2008 11:23 AM



Here is a picture of Ladysmith Black Mambazo hanging out with Mr. T.

Posted by dylan on February 12, 2008 7:41 AM



Thanks for post the Reich vid. He's very engaging -- I'd never seen footage of him talking. Great to see footage of "In C" too. And I hadn't known about the pigeon's role in "It's Gonna Rain" -- great stuff!

Posted by john on February 12, 2008 2:05 AM



For me, it's all in the phasing. (Hadn't seen that Reich vid, before--thanks!)

Posted by Craig D. on February 12, 2008 12:06 AM



Man, that Obama rhetoric is great rhetoric.

Posted by Ryan M on February 11, 2008 8:20 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson