Clearly I've fucked up:
Vampire Weekend, Will.i.am/Reich
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 "Will.i.am Reich" but came up dry so I just put it in the headline. Me not soon join staff of Teh Onionz.