josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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26 Dec '02 02:43:37 AM

I think if I played the Feelies' Crazy Rhythms for a number of people, they would focus on the voice to the exclusion of the other parts of the music, whereas I find myself doing the opposite. When there are vocals (there are long sections with none), they sound mannered - at least that's the nicest way I can put it. Also the most tentative, because I can't tell yet whether they are mannered, whether they're supposed to complement in some way the jittery, "perpetual nervousness" (like in the title of the first song) of the songs, or whether they're just not that good, but well-meaning at least. Less charitably, I might say that they sound like vocals done in the wrong style, regardless of whether or not they are done well so far as they could be in that wrong style. The music is fast, skip-fast back-and-forth, but stretched out over passages that are relatively long compared to the space of one bar of music. I can imagine long, vowel-carried vocal lines working well over such music, and in fact, at one or two places there are backing vocals that sound this way. That's probably in some sense a predictable and thus safe choice, though. My alternative probably is, too, though it's not as pretty: as they are, the vocals occupy an uncomfortable space between singing and talking, but although there are some resemblances to the Talking Heads (whose girly-weak guitar noises resemble the Feelies', too) I haven't yet decided that I think the vocals have an affective purpose similarly related to the lyrics. (I'll probably capitulate once I can understand the lyrics, but, you know.) Given that they're in that uncomfortable space, though, I can see (and wish for) vocals that sound more like talking. Instead, syllables are artlessly held out in what sounds like a mistaken or uninformed notion of what singers are required to do in light of their being, nominally, "singers". But. This has its charms.

None of this, though, explains why I focus in on the band to the (relative, obviously, given the above) exclusion of the vocals. I only meant to note what some people might unduly focus on if they were to do it the other way around.

23 Dec '02 10:44:08 PM

I swear I must have been reading the lyrics sheet. I can only recognize the "but now I'm not so sure" part.

23 Dec '02 10:38:46 PM

The guy at the store told me to play Around the House really loud, but it is suprisingly good at low volume.

It makes it sound more like a tasteful lifestyle accessory, which given the photos in the album art may not be all that far off.

23 Dec '02 10:33:31 PM

I came across this just now and it reminded me of something I've been thinking about lately, some arguments I want to make (in a philosophy paper, sometime) about this kind of wrong reading being "right". If they are acceptable, they seem to force a total change in criticism. If you're like me, you might find that trying to write at length about a reading you know to be "wrong" in some ways is very hard. Typical demands of good critical writing include completeness, textual fidelity, coherence, etc., and I suspect often the reasons that these "wrong" readings are "wrong" is that they have to forsake those things in order to get the appeal to the listener that they do have (from wherever else it comes from, emotional resonance, personal history, funny brain chemistry, idiosyncratic tastes, etc.). When I write about a reading, I start pushing for these things - thinking, where is the evidence in the song for what I am saying here, how can I make this stand up for others, etc. (Yes I know I have written "etc." three times in this paragraph.)

So. Uh. The question is, where does criticism go when this stuff is thrown out?

23 Dec '02 07:39:13 AM

"The old thing where it always was, back again. As when a man, having found at last what he sought, a woman, for example, or a friend, loses it, or realises what it is. And yet it is useless not to seek, not to want, for when you cease to seek you start to find, and when you cease to want, then life begins to ram her fish and chips down your gullet until you puke, and then the puke down your gullet until you puke the puke, and then the puked puke until you begin to like it. The glutton castaway, the the drunkard in the desert, the lecher in prison, they are the happy ones. To hunger, thirst, lust, every day afresh and every day in vain, after the old prog, the old booze, the old whores, that's the nearest we'll ever get to felicity, the new porch and the very latest garden. I pass on the tip for what it is worth."

- Beckett from Watt

23 Dec '02 07:22:09 AM

That can't be crickets I hear. It's like 20 out. But it sounds like crickets.

23 Dec '02 07:21:12 AM

The first thing I have to remember - I keep forgetting - is that I liked the Cee-Lo album way more than N.E.R.D. and it should be on there instead.

23 Dec '02 07:18:07 AM

Here are some lists to entertain and distract you. They are not all that interesting if you have heard any pop music this year, but they may be interesting insofar as I have not written much about liking lots of these things this year. I don't condone these lists, at the moment. I happen to have them done for two reasons, though. I asked my students to submit their top ten lists to me at the end of the year, so I thought I ought to have one done to show them in case they asked, too. Also, I got an invitation to vote in the Village Voice poll, and it excited me more than I expected it to. They never sent me a ballot, though, even after I wrote in and asked why they never sent me a ballot. (They also never wrote me back in the first place.) This crushes my spirits and makes me bitter. So, fuck the Village Voice. Now that I have said that, someone from the Village Voice will write to me explaining such and such and this and that, and I will be obligated by social conventions beyond my control to show some slight amount of remorse for saying 'fuck the Village Voice'. But fuck the Village Voice. Anyway, I don't like these lists any more but here is what they were, a few weeks ago.

Albums: 1. Sonic Youth - Murray Street. 2. Herbert - Secondhand Sounds. 3. Eminem - The Eminem Show. 4. Tom Waits - Alice. 5. Dave Holland Big Band - What Goes Around. 6. Missy Elliott - Under Construction. 7. V/A - 8 Mile OST. 8. V/A - Kompakt Total 4. 9. LL Cool J - 10. 10. N.E.R.D. - In Search Of...

Singles: 1. Eminem - "Without Me". 2. No Doubt feat. Lady Saw - "Underneath It All". 3. Louie Austen - "Hoping (Herbert's High Dub)". 4. Cee-Lo - "Gettin' Grown". 5. Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland - "Dilemma". 6. Missy Elliott feat. Ludacris - "Gossip Folks". 7. LL Cool J - "Luv U Better". 8. Nappy Roots - "Po Folks". 9. Eminem - "Lose Yourself". 10. No Doubt - "Hella Good".

Yes, I had reasons. Don't I always? Some are non-reasons, but still. Things will change a little bit but I'll try to write about these in the future.

23 Dec '02 07:05:35 AM

Disconnecting is bad, I know that much. That will matter, because it's part of what I was drawing a circle around myself for. Against. The spatial metaphors get complicated there.

There are two songs I have in mind now. One is "Get By" off of Talib Kweli's last album, Quality, and the other is I think "Follow the Light" off the Dungeon Family album. The latter opens with someone saying: "people don't use our music to get high, they use our music to get by". Or maybe I'm misermembering it, perhaps selectively. It could be "people don't just use our music to get high". Either way, getting by is, I think, seriously underrated.

Also misunderstood, or maybe misrepresented. For example, as being something one does with 'inspirational' or 'uplifting' records. I realize that talking about Murray Street, or those two songs more explicitly about getting by (which I like, but which I don't really listen to looking for anything along those lines), it might seem like I'm thinking about a certain kind of record. I'm not.

There are lots of parts in Wittgenstein's later writing about psychology where he pushes the idea that we may often only talk about, for example, intentions (like, I intended you no harm, or I meant to say this, or you didn't understand what I intended, or I intended to finish that on time) when things go wrong somehow. It's only in retrospect that we attribute intentions to ourselves, or other people. Often, we go along and do things just fine, we're understood, we do what we need to, nothing goes wrong. We could talk about what our intentions were in cases like these, too, but that might lead to problems. That I'm not going to explain right now.

And the same with getting by?