Category Archives: Music

The SportsAlcohol.com Hit Piece: Lorde

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Witch-ay Woman

In a move that pays off approximately one Beyonce per decade, I decided to give Lorde a listen. I’d heard a lot of good stuff about her, and I try to occasionally branch out from my indie-rock geekery. It’s super fun to actually like a popular music artist because those albums are super-easy to find at Best Buy or used-CD bins (note to the youngs: used CD bins are boxes of CDs… wait. CDs are things with music you can buy on Amazon or in in stores where… wait. Stores are places where… oh, fuck it, look it up). Contrary to the indie-rock stereotype, I am always in the market for stuff that is easy to like. I was so excited when I thought that maybe Nicki Minaj would be really good.

I was a little skeptical about Lorde because of the praise she’s earned in publications such as Rolling Stone, but then her album (albums are like mp3s, but like, in an order and stuff) was two dollars on Amazon. I would buy almost any popular album for two dollars. I’m often tempted to buy albums I know for a fact I don’t like if they’re two dollars. Plus, no matter how big-boxy it is to buy an album from Amazon for two bucks, I can know for sure that the royalty Lorde gets from that single copy Amazon-discounted copy will be roughly a thousand times higher than what she’d get if I listened to her album on Spotify three or four times. Never say I never did nothin’ for ya, Lorde, he said, when tossing her the equivalent of two quarters, or: the total amount of money your twenty favorite artists have earned from you listening to them on Spotify, total, in their and your lifetimes.

Anyway, I bought the Lorde album and listened to it a bunch of times and now I have an opinion about Lorde and the dominant opinion is: Lorde needs to be taken down and also I shouldn’t listen to this album very much anymore except maybe “Royals” and perhaps “World Alone.”

It’s not that Lorde or Pure Heroine are all that bad. But the cred Lorde seems to be accruing needs to stop or at least slow down a little. Yes, I will acknowledge the coolness of Lorde being a (a.) seventeen-year-old (b.) female (c.) from New Zealand (d.) who looks sort of like a witch and (e.) helps write her own songs that are then (f.) only marginally overproduced in that trendy faux-minimalist sort of… OK, now it sounds less like I’m acknowledging her coolness and more like I’m writing a takedown! Now we’re in the spirit! The general problem with Lorde is that she gets instant cool cred the same way that the record industry embraces anyone who is successful.

I might sound like a cranky Generation Xer here — and I seriously don’t know if I’m in the Generation X or the millennial boom or maybe, just maybe, a sub-generation I just invented called the Third-Greatest Generation (the top two are NOT the ones you’d expect) — but we need to stop giving young people awards for just showing up. I’m not complaining about, like, Participant ribbons here. Participant ribbons are reasonably honest. They say PARTICIPANT and are given to people who participate! I would be happy if Lorde showed up on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a ribbon that said PARTICIPANT.

But Lorde gets way more credit than that, sort of like how Taylor Swift gets infinite cred for kinda-sorta writing her own songs — even for lyrics that other people have basically already written. I’m not suggesting that Swift wrote “so casually cruel in the name of being honest” after hearing Paul Simon sing that “there’s no tenderness beneath your honesty.” Actually, I’m suggesting quite the opposite: I’m sure Swift hadn’t heard the Paul Simon song. And that’s fine. But you don’t get full credit for re-discovering and re-phrasing that idea. And you certainly don’t get credit for not phrasing it as well.

But that’s another story for another post that tries hard to reconcile how much I love “We Are Never Getting Back Together” with Taylor Swift’s authenticity, which I do not question so much as classify under “authentic self-regard” (see also: Roberts, Julia). Let’s get back to Lorde.

Lorde’s voice is weird.

I don’t mean weird like truly eccentric or wild, like Bjork or Corin Tucker or Nicki Minaj in-character. I mean that somewhere between her native accent and her vaguely American-accented singing, her tongue starts to sound heavy. Her vowels are rounded and some of her consonants come out muffled together, like she’s only singing out of the very front portion of her mouth. It has a weird slurry-baby effect and yeah, it’s a little unnerving to hear a teenager drop truths while sounding like a drunk baby.

Lorde’s songs pretty much all sound the same.

Everyone loves “Royals” for the way Lorde rolls her eyes at music-industry materialism…

Actually, hold up. Let me clarify something.

Lorde is overrated but not racist.

There was a big internet thing recently about whether “Royals” is secretly or not-so-secretly racist because it dismisses elements of culture that are coded as black. But while several of the images in “Royals” seem to be derived from hip-hop videos, the idea that no one is allowed to mildly bag on perceptions of hip-hop culture strikes me as enormously ridiculous. Not least because hip-hop covers a far broader spectrum of songs and styles than what Lorde describes — fair to say that when she says “every song’s like,” she’s referring to a rhetorical “every” song on Top 40 radio, not “every” song in hip-hop, which is not mentioned in her lyrics.

Of course, a lot of “every” song popular in 2014 does have some kind of hip-hop influence — which is exactly why trying to parse out some racism “Royals” seems like a fool’s errand. That complaint misses how mainstream the culture the song describes actually is. It makes sense that Lorde, as a teenager, focuses on that kind (that is to say, hip-hop-influenced) materialism and consumption, rather than, say, Old White Male materialism and consumption.

In fact, despite the rap-video imagery in the lyrics, a lot of what she’s singing about also recalls the flood of the we-invincible-cause-we-drunk party anthems of the last few years — songs that have further mainstreamized a sensibility that might have once been more identified with a particular strain of pop hip-hop, but is now pretty much pop culture at large, especially in the music industry. I get that these trends are often most exploited and encouraged by an old-white-male offensive line up at the executive level, but does this make any artist or any song further down the food chain automatically above reproach? You could call Lorde a hypocrite for appropriating hip-hop-lite beats in a song that seems to knock hip-hop culture, or you could admit that it is, in fact, OK to say that 200 songs about swigging Cristal are not necessarily that interesting without throwing the artist babies out with the shitty music bathwater. Look, a lot of mainstream music made by black people fucking sucks as bad as a lot of mainstream music made by white people. It’s part of the universal law of music suckage.

Anyway, back to:

Lorde’s songs pretty much all sound the same.

Everyone loves “Royals” for the way Lorde rolls her eyes at music-industry materialism. On her album, a few tracks after “Royals,” in which we learn that she’s “not proud of her address,” “we’ll never be royals,” and that she’s not interested in what “every song’s like,” there’s a song called “Team,” in which we learn that Lorde and her crew “live in cities you’ll never seen on screen, not very pretty but we show them how to run free,” and that she’s “kinda over gettin’ told to throw my hands up in the air.”

I, on the other hand, am kinda gettin’ over what an iconoclast Lorde is and now wondering if maybe she is a little racist. (Still probably not, but still.)

Even on the songs that don’t repeat themselves lyrically, there’s a very clear sound on Pure Heroine that gets very clearly exhausted. The album’s basic formula, moody but accessible beats plus Lorde’s voice, is reasonably appealing but even after a mere ten tracks, it feels a bit like an extended remix of itself. Basically, she sounds like a sassier Lana del Rey, but less self-consciously lush and “cinematic.” As it happens, this makes her somewhat more tolerable than Lana del Rey (GATSBY EXCEPTION INVOKED, by the way). But it does not make her a major sonic adventure. I don’t know a lot about production, but the Postal Service Lite beats on this record don’t seem like the height of electrosophistication to me. “World Alone” is particularly Postal Service-y in its vocal melody and multiple beat kick-ins. And it’s easily one of the best tracks on the record. I also like the way she uses the phrase “like yeah” in “Tennis Courts” because I’m always in favor of people using that phrase, but when she sings “it’s a new art form/showing people how little we care,” I don’t even think I’m learning about how today’s seventeen-year-olds think, because millennials seem, if anything, to care a lot, sometimes about good things and sometimes about bad things. Showing how little we care, on the other hand… isn’t that back in Gen-X territory again?

(I couldn’t tell you; I’m a Third-Greatest.)

I’m not sure if Lorde’s rediscovery of Gen-X and Postal Service beats is more or less impressive considering that…

Lorde is a music-biz lifer.

Lorde RS

Here is a quote from the Rolling Stone cover story on Lorde:

“I think my whole career can be boiled down to one word I always say in meetings: strength.”

Feminists, rejoice! Lorde says the word “strength” at meetings! I wonder if these meetings literally begin with Lorde sitting down at a big conference table and just announcing: “Strength.” And then the marketing execs have to go from there? Or does she follow it up with other key words that she only sometimes says in meetings, such as: “robust.” Or: “disruptors.” Or: “low-hanging fruit.”

I don’t mean to bag on Lorde for taking meetings. But it is funny just how little difference there is between her career arc and, say, Katy Perry’s or Justin Bieber’s.

The Rolling Stone article goes into matter-of-fact detail about how Lorde won a school singing contest with a classmate, the classmate’s father sent their recordings around, and Lorde’s voice caught the attention of the head of A&R at Universal Music New Zealand. Her development deal “went nowhere” after three years. As Rolling Stone dramatically phrases it: “The idea of a music career could have floated away.” (NO, I imagine we are meant to cry out. LET NO IDEA OF A CAREER FLOAT AWAY!) But in a turn the magazine terms “fortuitous” but seems more like “what happens when you have a development deal with a major label,” a local manager heard Lorde and offered her his songwriter client as a collaborator. Then they made some songs that the label wasn’t crazy about, but despite the label’s disinterest they took it to the internet, guerilla-style, which is much easier to do when you are guerilla-style disseminating professionally written and produced songs with major-label backing.

If you haven’t done the math yet, this means that crazy from-nowhere success Lorde has been doing this since she was twelve years old. This makes her slightly more of a novice than Miley Cyrus. Slightly.

That’s not to say we should get hung up questions of authenticity. Miley strikes me as enormously mannered and self-conscious, from the Lady Gaga school of explaining why what you’re doing is subversive and interesting, but I still like “Wrecking Ball.”  But I think pretty much everyone would agree that Lorde is hyped as the real deal because of her age and hairdo and ability to think in complete sentences. If we’re talking about music, she has about as much good material as Miley or Katy Perry or anyone else with one or two good songs and a lot of stuff that sounds like those other songs but not as good.

In other words: “Royals” is a pretty good song but it’s nothing you couldn’t say at meetings.

An Initial Evaluation of a Handful of Songs from Teeth Dreams, the New Album by the Hold Steady, as Played at Their 10th Anniversary Concert at the Music Hall of Williamsburg

Marisa
Gripes

Marisa

There are contrarians, there are iconoclasts, and then there is SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Marisa. A contraiclast? Her favorite Springsteen album came out this century, so she is basically a controversy machine.

Also, she is totally not a dude!
Marisa
Gripes

Latest posts by Marisa (see all)

AHHHHHHHHHH! THESE SONGS ARE SO AWESOME! THAT FIRST ONE WAS GREAT BUT I HEARD IT ALREADY, AND THAT SECOND ONE WAS JUST AS GOOD, BUT THE THIRD ONE WAS EVEN BETTER AND I DIDN’T THINK THAT COULD EVEN BE POSSIBLE! WHY DID I HAVE TO WAIT FOUR YEARS FOR THESE SONGS?

Wait, I waited four years for these songs? The Hold Steady has been a band for ten years? Am I really that old? Come to think of it, the crowd was jumping around a lot less and there was maybe only one beer spilled on me. Are we all getting old? Sleepy.

Maybe just don’t watch the Grammys?

Rob

Rob

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

You are messing up my twitter

2014 Grammys are evilFor the reasons outlined below, I’ve already decided not to watch the Grammys. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to check in on my social media at some point. People are always using the internet to post things I’m not interested in, but I was taken aback about how many people care about the Grammys in this day and age. I don’t need to hear about how Macklemore is overrated or underrated.  I don’t need to hear pretty much anything about Taylor Swift ever again. I have nothing against these people, but I hear more than enough than any person needs to about both of them by virtue of the fact that I’m an American with an internet connection. The night of the Grammys, I’m somehow getting extra Macklemore & T Swift in my life.  All I wanted was to check the news and I was just flooded. I come into work the next day (the in person version of twitter and facebook) and everyone is still talking about it. I can’t escape.

Sherlock was on!

Sherlock The Sign of ThreeThe night of The Grammys was the American broadcast premiere of the one where John gets married. I don’t care if you were one of those people who used Dirty Internet Tricks to watch the episode beforehand or one of those people who doesn’t care about Sherlock. IT WAS THE ONE WITH JOHN’S WEDDING. The shortest stag party ever. The best best man’s speech ever. Sherlock thinking his morning tea just appeared. That hug! Mrs. Hudson’s hat! Molly’s bow! And yes, there was also a clever mystery of some sort. Something so much better was on TV for the whole land to see, even if you were seeing it for the second time. I also watched Downton Abby and it was maybe the best episode of this lackluster season, but I wouldn’t fault you for not watching that.

Why were you surprised there wasn’t a real Lou Reed Tribute?Metallica at The 2014 Grammys

One of the things that people complained about was the lack of a true  tribute to Lou Reed beyond whatever weird thing Metallica did. Lou Reed was a true rock iconoclast. His work was dedicated to deconstructing all that came before and building something new from the wreckage. His influence was greatly responsible for the garage, punk, post-punk, alternative, and indie movements (among others). He was basically the godfather of all the recording industry was against in the 70’s and 80’s before they figured out how to profit off of it. There’s nothing the Grammy’s could have done to properly honor his legacy, especially paying him tribute. I’m not interested in the Grammys because they are structurally unable to appreciate Lou Reed.

If you have an opinion about this, it is meaningless

Just look at this list.  Eighty-Two Categories! How can you get mad that “Royals” lost Record of The Year when it won Song of The Year? Do you even know what the difference is? Scroll farther down and see how ridiculous some of those categories are. Don’t forget that there’s also a Latin Grammys on top of this. If you created an award show you cared about, is this how you would structure it? In some ways, all awards shows are meaningless. The Grammys seems to elevate this meaninglessness to new heights. I want to be upset about how much crap gets honored over what I like, but it’s nothing to get worked up about. 

It’s not even fun

This structural issue also means that you can’t easily do a Grammy pool. Think about it. Do you know anyone who has a Grammy party like people have Oscar parties? In my cantankerous old age, I have soured on awards shows in general (obvious, I know). That being said, I can understand the fun of an Oscar party.  I think a Grammy party is my version of hell.

Feeding The Beast

The Grammys are like Tinkerbell: they only exist because you believe in them and clap real hard. Maybe we should demand something better. Instead, this wave of social media I was inundated with perpetuates them. In a day and age when DVRs should help us from staying up late on a Sunday, people instead watch awards shows live for the express purpose of live tweeting and interacting with other live tweeters. This creates trending topics in social media and breathes new life into events that should be passing by the wayside. The internet was supposed to give us the tools to create and explore what we wanted on our own without corporate interests gatekeeping. Right now, we’re stuck in a feedback loop and it’s painful.

This is the 21st Century

I don’t think that technology killed music, but it did deal a mighty blow the music business. The Grammys are just a leftover of a bygone era. They have tried to adapt by downplaying the actual awards and promoting the types of performances other ceremonies have been doing for years. Some of them are even enjoyable. But why sit through hours of acceptance speeches and stuff you don’t care about to maybe catch something inspired when I promise you it will be online the next day, even the dope commercials.

Death to the record industry!

Home Taping is Killing MusicI’m sorry. I know how this last part makes me sound, but it’s a pretty inescapable truth. The Grammys never are and never were a celebration of music. They are a celebration of the recording industry as it existed in the previous century. At some point, their business model shifted from exploiting artists to protecting the intellectual property those exploited artists generated. For decades major record labels leveraged their recording, distribution, and promotion resources to create a system where they profited much more than the actual music makers. In an era when all of those activities can be done to some extent in a bedroom with a personal computer, we should question what value the corporate music industry provides and why we would want to celebrate that.

They Might Be The Dismemberment Plan

Rob

Rob

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

They Might Be Giants & The Dismemberment Plan

Before I even heard “Waiting,” the first new recording by The Dismemberment Plan in over a decade, I was reminded of They Might Be Giants. That was because of The Plan’s initial distribution method for the song; in order to hear it, you needed call a phone number and listen to it as a voicemail greeting. For over twenty years, TMBG ran their own Dial-A-Song service, which did the same exact thing. Once I heard “Waiting” in higher fidelity, the comparisons continued.

The keyboards beep and boop like a cartoon robot. The beat is bouncy, with a mix of live and synthesized instrumentation. The beginning and end contain unothodox samples. The lyrics are clever rhymes taking a different look at the ordinary. All of these things in “Waiting” reminded me of They Might Be Giants, and I’m not the only one. In this interview with Dismemberment Plan frontman Travis Morrison, Dan Weiss describes Uncanney Valley, their forthcoming reunion album as “a dozen They Might Be Giants-esque pop songs.” This excites me for a few reasons.

As they get older, The Dismemberment Plan are getting away from Pixies-like dynamic explosions, shouting, and clever but bitter lyrics that initially drew me to them in college. That doesn’t mean that they’ve slowed down, but focused on other strengths. Foremost among these is a sense of exploration and experimentation. I don’t think there’s a better model for longevity in music through trying different things than They Might Be Giants.

The older I get, the more I find my musical tastes solidifying in a way I swore they never would. I’m more interested in listening to bands I already like as opposed to discovering new sounds. Favorite bands that are always trying to change and push their boundaries is an effective, comforting way to push back against the atrophy.

About The Name Singing About Economics

Rob

Rob

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

Singing About Economics is a horrible name, one of the reasons I think it fits for this blog. In the short time I’ve been doing this, I’ve found my blogging to be both needless and self-indulgent. I needed a name to acknowledge that so it was out in the open up front and I could move on.

The first title for this blog that I thought of was Dancing About Architecture, from the famous quote: “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” I need to be honest and say that I first heard a variation on it in a movie I’m embarrassed to have seen, Playing By Heart.

I did not like that movie, but I did like that line. It perfectly captures what I dislike about most music journalism: it shouldn’t exist. I’ve always felt that music writing is the ultimate job for Those Who Can’t Do, perhaps because it’s something I’ve always been interested in doing. Since the whole point of this blog is to get me writing again and I will probably write a lot about music, it made sense. dancingaboutarchitecture.com is owned by a domain reseller that wants over two grand for the name, so I decided to research an alternative with a similar meaning.

I’ve most often heard the original quote attributed to Elvis Costello, but I was always suspicious of its provenance. Then I came across this excellent blog post from Quote Investigator. It’s always a good feeling when you google something and the top result is a well researched article that precisely answers your question instead of an unanswered forum post or a Yahoo! Answers page.

According to the Quote Investigator, the earliest version of something resembling the quote is found in an issue of the New Republic in 1918: “writing about music is as illogical as singing about economics.”  The domain was available and a star was born.

One problem with this name is that you can sing about economics. For proof of concept, I humbly submit the song “Gold Standard” by Albany Legends The Orange. I once saw them perform this song at a show at Valentine’s, prefacing it by saying, “This song is about monetary policy! And girls!” They’re specifically using it as a metaphor to talk about relationships, but it’s an impressive feat nonetheless.

Starting To Write Again

Rob

Rob

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

I’ve started and restarted this first post almost a dozen times. What you are reading is the last attempt. The whole point of this blog was just to give myself a place to write again. Just write and not worry what comes out in the hope that the quantity will eventually lead to the quality. I used to enjoy writing and I used to be good at it, or at least I think so. I know for sure that I’m not anymore. There are a lot of reasons for this. When I started working in marketing and doing lots of copywriting, I had to force myself to focus on the parts of writing that I didn’t like. Being persuasive and concise can be important, but it’s no fun when they are of absolute importance in everything. The bigger problem is that I stopped almost all the other writing I was doing. Now I work in a different field and I don’t write at all anymore.

So it’s time to write. It’s not important that it be good or important at first, I just need to get it out there. I have totally been that person who sits on the couch and thinks they have a great novel or a screenplay in them if they when it’s been months since they’ve written anything. I need to actually do the damn thing before I worry if it’s any good. In the 1970’s, Jack Benny bemoaned the death of vaudeville, saying it was a place where talent could be lousy and gradually learn how to be good. In that respect, this blog will be my turn of the century variety show.

In the interest of hitting the ground running with material, I’m creating The Hundred Song Exercise. A group of my friends put together a list of our hundred favorite songs for the first decade of this millennium. I had a good time putting together my list, but not a lot of time reflecting on it. The goal will be to take all 100 of songs from my personal list and write about each one in a different post. I’d like to finish that up in about three to four months, but I’m not going to beat myself up if it takes longer. I plan to write about things besides music, but this will probably occupy most of my blogging time, at least at first.

I know that I could do this anywhere, like a free blogspot or tumblr blog. The other thing I wanted to work on in addition to my writing is my coding ability. Almost all of my coding skill have come from necessity, learning the bare minimum to get by in non-programming/non-development jobs where I have to edit some html and css and maybe little php or javascript as well. Greater practical tech skills could only enrich my life, I think. I think I have the potential to be more successful in life than I have been to this point. At this point, it’s up to me. This blog is most likely not a stepping stone to fame and fortune, but I hope it can give me focus and practice help me with whatever’s next.