Revisioning the Canon, for Kranks

Those who know me well know that with music, I’m a fussy eater. I can be extremely caustic (I recall trashing both Pat Metheny and Bob Dylan within the space of a single week some time ago on LJ, relishing every moment of silver-tongued venom I spat at their hapless defenders. Lost a few LJ conversants that week, did I…;) ). So naturally, when an article like this one comes out – in which a number of contemporary musicians get the opportunity to diss canonical rock records – I am both compelled and thrilled to read and vicariously enjoy their deep-seated scorn for things held precious by so many lifelong indie record store employees.

Perhaps the best and most deserved critique comes from Green Gartside (whose Scritti Politti comeback album last year would, in its half-assed aural blanduggery, ironically, be on my list of overrated records, former Scrit brilliance notwithstanding). He really tears them a new asshole. To wit:

Arcade Fire The Neon Bible
Nominated by Green Gartside of Scritti Politti

People who enjoy this album may think I’m cloth-eared and unperceptive, and I accept it’s the result of my personal shortcomings, but what I hear in Arcade Fire is an agglomeration of mannerisms, cliches and devices. I find it solidly unattractive, texturally nasty, a bit harmonically and melodically dull, bombastic and melodramatic, and the rhythms are pedestrian. It’s monotonous in its textures and in the old-fashioned, nasty, clunky 80s rhythms and eighth-note basslines. It isn’t, as people are suggesting, richly rewarding and inventive. The melodies stick too closely to the chord changes. Win Butler’s voice uses certain stylistic devices – it goes wobbly and shouty, then whispery – and I guess people like wobbly and shouty going to whispery, they think it signifies real feeling. It’s some people’s idea of unmediated emotion. I can imagine Jeremy Clarkson liking it; it’s for people in cars. It’s rather flat and unlovely. The album and the response to it represent a bunch of beliefs about expression and truth that I don’t share. The battle against unreconstructed rock music continues.

What a marvelous encapsulation of how taste can be so personal, so political, so fraught with fire and envious brimstone – “the album and response to it represent a bunch of beliefs about expression and truth that I don’t share”. I wholeheartedly agree, and toss it right back at ya, Green. Both the new Scritti and those Arcade kids (and, I might add, the most recent Scott Walker smegma about which so many armchair/laptop critics rave) utterly and completely clear the dance floor inside my head.

Of course, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such derision [which is the counterpuntal story (or punchline?) buried in this post, which I thought I might include to spice things up a bit]. Those who know me well may also recall the dispirited five-word dismissal my band got from Simon Reynolds, of all people. One year on, and he still hasn’t answered my email requesting clarification.

But taste can be so personal that we don’t talk to each other about it at all. This, I think, is one partial answer to a question Nancy posed on Online Fandom today (wondering aloud why friends – friends with whom we share only music preferences – are a different genus of friend than our other friends). I think that friends (and colleagues) who don’t share musical taste should talk about music more than we do, though. We should embrace and confront our differences. It’s a bit like a laboratory for exercising our critical skills with limited consequences (other than the hurt personal feelings of musicians, inherently self-aggrandizing and delicate about our works as we so often are). It’s a lot like scholarship. And… to throw in one more truncated tangent, it never ceases to surprise me how academics in the same school or in the same area of research have widely divergent tastes in music, even though they share the same taste in books. And we’re so quick to shut down dissensus over music when it invites itself into our conversations. How can that be? Shouldn’t we take up the same challenge of the debate on the subjects of Franz Ferdinand, or Morrissey, as we do when we grapple with the Frankfurts, or Marx?

Or is music just. too. personal?

5 thoughts on “Revisioning the Canon, for Kranks”

  1. Hey Jean,

    I think you and Jason have both read my post backwards, so maybe I need to go back and clarify in comments. As I said there, I’d be happy to have my Facebook friends on and keep up with their musical tastes there. It’s that I don’t necessarily want to bring the friends who are all about music into my professional circle of friends on Facebook. So it’s more that I don’t want to talk career with music people than that I don’t want to talk music with career people. If that makes sense.


  2. p.s. dare I mention how much autostart radio on web pages bothers me since I am so often listening to my own music while I browse?

    p.p.s. I totally agree with the Arcade Fire critique above, glad I’m not the only one who hears them that way.

  3. Nancy – I haven’t so much read your post backwards as I’ve brought my own experience to it (conversing with colleagues about theory but avoiding the topic of music with them). I suppose shared musical preference is still quite an important part of friendship bond-forming for me. I can never be as close with people who don’t “get” early Legendary Pink Dots, as their music has been so influential on my ideas about what music should be, which is one essential component of my being/identity. This being said, I wouldn’t presume everyone else will feel the same as I do about this question.

  4. PS, Nancy – I hope my widget is not autostarting for you. That is indeed obnoxious. I can’t even get the playlist to display properly when I look at my own page (OSX, Firefox).

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