I never thought that it would come to this, but it seems that droning, feedback-laden guitar rock – of the kind that Lou Reed patented in the waning 1960’s – has become something of a rarity. The world moves on, of course, and the dozens of bands that were formed because someone stumbled across a Velvet Underground album have flourished and run their course. It is the nature of culture. We are dominated now by a different set of collective musical gestures. And that’s ok, because contrary to the nostalgia narrative, the culture was not objectively better when everyone sounded like they’d stumbled upon a Velvet Underground album. If nothing else, now it actually feels like a treat again to hear someone who has mastered that particular droning laissez faire. Maybe one day kids stumbling upon Parquet Courts records will be motivated to start yet another garage rock cycle.
Coming to the end of our sexy songs about sex, we’ve illuminated nothing, I think. Let’s cap it all off with something mindless and fun. Chromeo isn’t known for depth or perceptiveness, but they are known for… actually, I’m not sure what Chromeo is famous for. Hyper-caffeinated dance music influenced by funk, disco and old school hip hop, according a swift bout of research. Post-millennial party music, I guess. Let’s just say that when these guys write a song about a sexy socialite they’re not trying to explore the problematic intersection of gender roles and institutional class disparity. There’s artists who do want to explore those things, but at the end of the day, people just want to dance and pretend that it’s still 2001 and Paris Hilton is the role model we all look up to. So file it under Music for Sleazy Parties.
Here’s a song about sex, and all of this week’s songs are going to be about sex. Disingenuous, I know: most, if not straight-up all, songs are about sex. I could put it out there that most human endeavor is in some way about sex, because humans are simplistic like that. But definitely most music, though some people do try to put on a genteel scrim by dragging ‘love’ into it. Some people are so masterful that they don’t mention interpersonal relationships at all, but it’s understood that deep down inside, their artistic motivation is the same as the guy screaming about his love rocket. (It’s always the hope that their showmanship will increase their chances of finding someone to bonk genitals with, and frankly it’s failproof.) But, by and large, most songwriters stick with what they know and what sells: sex is fun and it sure would be great to have some. This school of songwriting is inexhaustible, and inexhausting. This song by Die Antwoord is a straightforward example of sex-focused songwriting; it delivers the message that sex is fun and it sure would be great to have some; it has a bedroom-suitable beat and a hook that, besides selling sex, could also be used to sell alcoholic beverages, tropical-smelling beauty products and any number of other sexuality-enhancing products. Of course, we all know that two of the three members of Die Antwoord do, in fact, have sex with each other and even have an offspring to show for it, which lends it an element of authenticity often missing from sexy songs made by people who don’t actually have sex with each other and therefore lack that certain sizzle when they perform together. Which is the thing about sexy songs: there needs to be an element of real passion behind the dirty talk or else they just sound stupid.
St. Vincent is a woman of mystery. She doesn’t like to open up her personal life, which is understandable enough. We should all be wary about trying to draw straight lines between art and real life. But she does write such passionate and complex love songs. They’re not even love songs in the traditional sense. They’re not about the usual business of desire and putting the loved one on a pedestal (then tearing them down from it in due time, of course.) She writes songs about looking at a person, seeing them for their good and bad sides, having an intense and ambiguous web of feelings about them. It’s hard to tell when listening to a St. Vincent song if it’s about a loved one or a passing stranger or even just a reflection of herself. A very intellectual approach, I think. I would like to know who some of her muses are, besides that bug-eyed English waif, but of course she’d never stoop to picking her work apart like that.
She’s selfish but he still loves her. That’s a little bit of an ambiguous love song, but you know what, real life is riddled with ambiguity, and love songs traditionally don’t reflect that. We experience mixed feelings a lot more than whole-hearted ones. Admit it, you know you do. We need that to trickle into our pop music. I’m a big advocate for smart and clever pop, which there’s never enough of. Indie pop is where it’s at, though. With those things said, I give you, Miniature Tigers, an indie pop group with a smart take on the usual pop song love shit.
Wherever you were in 2014, I hope you fell in love. Like, with a person who reciprocated your feelings and stuff. Me, I actually did the opposite, but I did fall in love with Future Islands, and falling in love with music is way better than getting attached to people. (I’m totally warming up to celebrate the anniversary of my most miserable breakup, stay tuned for that shit.) What music does, and why we cling to it so much, is make art out of feelings. Feelings are mundane, hormonal and stupid; art is forever, and it validates the feelings that created it and the feelings that it creates in turn. Every once in a while a song will come on the radio that just speaks to every feeling you’ve ever had, and you’re like “Yes! welcome to the soundtrack of my life!” So it stays on in your life long after whatever it was you were doing that day or than summer or that year has faded from memory. Fortunately for me, as it were, this doesn’t remind me so much of the shitty summer of 2014, but it does remind me of someone I spent some time with sometime later, who was charming and fun, and who I have no hard feelings towards, though I have no real desire to see them again.
(Photo by Harry J. Roth)
So somebody really likes Scandinavia a lot. This is Morrissey, who is not given to liking things a lot. It’s also a very melodramatic song, I would almost even say bombastic. Which are things late-stage Morrissey is very much given to. He likes being pompous is his old age. Frankly, I can understand if you no longer want to see or hear anything about him at this point. A lot of people think Morrissey stopped being relevant a very long time ago and needs to just go quietly already. I would agree except that he still finds time to write the occasional song that just speaks to me and my mental state. Or, failing to be emotionally on-point, he’s still frequently very funny. A lot of us keep coming back just for the wordplay. There’s just not enough articulate songwriting in the world, and nobody writes lines like Morrissey.