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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27 Nov '04 06:55:52 AM

Below I know I suggested basically that the depths I wanted revealed in the new Magnetic Fields record would be lyrical and formal, and that the possible flaws I wanted to be saved from by that revelation are musical; that's exactly why I want the depths to come from the lyrics.

27 Nov '04 06:23:17 AM

The recent discussion of Galen Strawson's TLS article at The Reading Experience, Waggish, and Leithart is making me regret not having trudged over to the library when Christopher came by asking me about Charles Taylor's views on narrative selfhood. At the moment I'd especially like to see what more, if anything, Strawson says on Dostoevsky; Daniel Green notes that Strawson lists him as an author who might be seen as diachronic rather than episodic. I'm reading The Brothers Karamazov right now but I don't yet know if what I've taken from Mikhail Bakhtin's Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics will be borne out by my reading. Bakhtin discusses the (dialogic) presentation of character in Dostoevsky as the sort of thing that must be done through recurrent conflict in conversation; the people always have something more in reserve, unknown even to themselves, that can be revealed to them (and the others) by what they say when existing in conversation, when answering to the other person. Now, it's certainly true that one of the characters' means of dealing with the consequences of their periodic meetings and conflicts with one another is to set themselves into narratives; I can't think of a character yet who hasn't, when given any opportunity at all to reflect on their situation or relate it to another. But the impression I have from my (not close) reading of Bakhtin is that this narrative situating can be seen as secondary, as just the kind of thing that is meant to complement a more essentially episodic relation to others and life. From what I've gleaned about Strawson's essay from others, though, I take it that the way of reading Dostoevsky that I'm sketching maintains the distinction Strawson draws, and just suggests that some apparently narratively maintained selves (or characters) may only think they need narrative, or tend to think of themselves in terms of narratives. Or maybe I could say that I'm suggesting (I don't know, really) a reading of Bakhtin that says: to be dialogic is to be, ultimately, episodic. But this junk about episodic selves requiring an assumption of continuity gives me pause, which I guess is why I now need to read the article.

26 Nov '04 06:59:03 PM

(Let me dignify that by calling it a 'note'.)

26 Nov '04 08:02:27 AM

I prefer not to think about the hope I have that I will someday experience an epiphany about the songs on the newest Magnetic Fields record, i, so that I can see that they reveal depths I had not until then seen. It undercuts my enjoyment of the record too much, and I need it not to be undercut, because coming after my considerable investment in 69 Love Songs as it does, I'm susceptible to being put off by less than perfect records. Being put off the other Magnetic Fields records, I mean. I would prefer to not think about the hope I have because I know that its effect is partly only temporary, due to this record being the one after the one (the one that, when I think 'Magnetic Fields', I think of immediately, and most prominently). i feels, when I listen to it, a lot like every other Magnetic Fields record in its structure and balance as an album. I don't prize the others highly. I like to listen to them, and I love some of the songs on them. But it's as if Merritt's mode of songwriting and song making is responsible for my relative indifference to them as wholes; as is probably appropriate to the rough thematic and sonic cohesion, and distinction, of each one, my attitude toward each is more like: the one that sounds like ____________ (insert a non-verbal, though internal, gesture or something there, one made with the feelings), than it is like: the one with this and that and that and these (compare to Sonic Youth, who might draw similar descriptions in terms of their changes from album to album and the internal composition of each album, but whose albums I still think of very much in terms of moments, parts, successions, internal differentiations of all kinds). I do think of the songs, but it's of the standout songs (the ones that stand out to me, which for these albums is, I reckon, more or less the ones lots of people agree on - as opposed to my irritation with 69 Love Songs cherry pickers and Reader's Digesters). That's the way this new record feels, too. Maybe it's a bad sign, but when I think of it I think of 'I Thought You Were My Boyfriend'. Just like, when I think of The Charm of the Highway Strip, I think of 'Two Characters in Search of a Country Song', Get Lost 'You and Me and the Moon', and Holiday 'Take Ecstasy With Me'. (At the moment I beg inexperience on the first two records, but from the way they feel to me so far as I know them, I expect to end up in the same place, or no better.) And it's worse, here, because 'Boyfriend' is clearly the one song on the record in close proximity to the pop music tradition that lots of listeners and writers (me too, sometimes) keep wanting to make Merritt a member of. But even the occasional synthesizer (or at least foreign-sounding noise made to serve as one) or more obviously pop-derived beat on his past records can't hide the fact that he rarely satisfies, if he's taken to be a synth-pop songwriter; he does it too occasionally. (Perhaps it's just that when he does, it's one of the few times where he seems to be 'sincerely' (by the conventional understanding of the role a musician plays in making music) making contemporary - not dead and revived or foreign and appropriated because more or less accordingly dead anyway - music, which then fulfils the default conditions for acceptability by listeners and critics, calling for the default application of conventional standards of value. So then it must be what his thing really is, or ought to be, yes? No.) Bad sign, I say, because I'm playing right into my predisposition (and the publicly circulating, encouraged, endorsed, critical attitude) to treat 'Boyfriend' as primary and the other songs as secondary. And I want to; because one threat the album presents is the threat of sincerity, moreso than any previous Magnetic Fields album. As far as my inadequately practiced critical ear for lyrics can tell, the change doesn't seem to be in the lyrics. They maintain much the same (complex) relation with sincerity Merritt has always had. No - the threat is in the music, including the singing, which has always seemed to either inflect the words, change the way they are to be taken; or to provide a safe retreat when the possibility that Merritt might really actually mean it (or, just as importantly, and these possibilities come up in all sorts of different places at different times: really actually not mean it, even never mean it) looms too near. On i the music seems, or at least seems as if it could seem (the distinction is important mostly if you have in mind how people might react), to have pursued all of the things about 69 Love Songs that the suspicious listener (think of the punk strain in the indie mentality) worried augured the onset of underground slash ironic slash indie slash authentic (because the principled avoidance of the stratified public remanants of 'authenticity' is always involved in a complicated attempt to remain authentic despite everything) senility: 'real instruments' 'playing in a room' (remember Merritt's frequent joke in the booklet with the boxed version of 69 Love Songs: Handler says, hey this sound sounds like a band playing in a room, Merritt deadpans (as one reads everything he says, I suppose) oh really it's not - and the whole possibility of it coming off that way despite the contrary is of course intended hello) and a preponderance of songs without enough bitter jokes and ironic word-trickery reversals, and most importantly, a mode tried earlier (distanced re-engagement with a body of our musical, which is always to say romantic, past) but showcased in and to newfound scope. Boy, this is really getting out of hand, isn't it? But break for a paragraph I will not. The production on i (which incidentally could also invite elevated levels of indie-sellout style criticism, if anyone could possibly be incensed enough; this record has more 'realistic' and moneyed-sounding recording presence than any of Merritt's past records, and it's the first official Magnetic Fields record since their move from Merge to Nonesuch) is more or less as 'realistic' as those certain places on 69 Love Songs; probably more. And it seems not to have the same tinge of dissociativeness that let Merritt make his repeated 'oh really it's not' joke. And. It's so slow and the musical, stylistic identity-play is muted enough to make it seem as if the predominant mode on the record is something sinisterly singer-songwritery, in something like the way 'country' was on Highway Strip. It all makes for a threat. Or maybe rather the threat of a threat. For Merritt to have gone soft, to have become fat and complacent with his dollar sign bags and NYT accolades, or for his wellspring of romantic (capital 'r' there I reckon) inspiration, his talent, to have (ironically for someone so on record, and on interview, as dead-set against all fictions of the sort) run dry; those are threats. The most serious, though (of course), would be: for him to have - let me put it this simple way while admitting its inadequacy - turned his back on irony, bought into, for whatever reason, all the junk about love and feelings and all that, that he was apparently so wary of before that all he could do to get at it (and don't pretend he didn't, or didn't have to, or that you or I don't have to; or that the world, the way it is now, makes it easy for us to really do) was make record after record so indirect that, listening to them, you didn't always know if you were feeling it or not, or if you were supposed to be. Which is why I say threat of a threat; that that more serious threat is even a possibility ('even', hmph - a very real one, not just because of any particular thing about Merritt but because, isn't that just the way?) makes the task of getting to know the record, letting it insinuate itself, in order to see if maybe it really is the way it seems it could be, its own kind of threat that tends to push one away from the record. Leave it on the shelf.

26 Nov '04 06:00:41 AM

Steve Reich, Music as a Gradual Process. I do not know if it is complete.

23 Nov '04 07:27:36 AM

If it could be said that there's some truth and falsehood (not necessarily in equal measure) in everything, and that some things are false because they are lies, or distortions, then you might say that my default, apparently instinctive (scare quote that however you like) way of responding to music, the one I have to work to suspend or surpass, is to go for the truths whose false aspects come not from deception or distortion but because they make me forget about the rest of the world.

20 Nov '04 08:14:10 AM

Oops - I guess they're only sorta fine.

19 Nov '04 07:57:18 AM

Does a male rapper ever do an album without another male rapper on it? (Ans. = yes obv., but the dumbness of the question still reinforces the dumbness of the original question.)

18 Nov '04 08:34:45 AM

I'm afraid there may be a question, come the end of the year, whether I should be putting two Kompakt mixes in my top ten. And one a mix of remixes, even.

But I'm now feeling solidly committed about eight records, which is much more decided than I was a few months ago, and I thought I would just have to fill out my list with best-I-heards. (This may still end up being what happens, but at least it won't be my only motivation.)

It seems I'm now waiting to see if I can settle on one of the chart rap albums. I've liked the ones that I've heard alright, but none wholeheartedly. Maybe the Trick Daddy, given some more time? (The magic play count for 'Ain't a Thug' is at 6 today, and it's not staying there.)

I find it interesting that I'm over my initial doubts about the Magnetic Fields record enough to list it - I think it really only took some close repeated listening, enough for me to build up some affection for it and learn the songs, perhaps not insignificantly in a short period of time where I was loaded down with grading work - yet I wouldn't say it's that much better a showing (to use the ugly record critic talk: well, let's see if they could do any better this time, heh heh har) than the Stereolab album that remains cheering but flat. Perhaps the different musical styles make it more acceptable for a record of songwritten (ahem) romantic pop to be okay than for a record of uh whatever it is, I don't want to get into that now, to be okay. Or maybe Stereolab's just played their sound out more.

What I've got so far (after #2 I'm ill-prepared at present to rank them honestly):

1. Junior Boys - Last Exit
2. Sonic Youth - Sonic Nurse
3. Madvillain - Madvillainy
4. Mouse on Mars - Radical Connector
5. M. Mayer - Speicher 2
6. Pan Sonic - Kesto (234.48:4)
7. De La Soul - The Grind Date
8. The Magnetic Fields - i

It's a very me list, I see.

I'm less sure now about my singles now but that's just because there are a few I know I'll list, and I'm not too bothered about sorting the rest out; it would be better if I could just put a big affirmation of the fact that there are singles at all on my ballot (notice how I am talking as if the Voice might send me a ballot again this year, even though I didn't return it last year and am not sure I should be given one this year). Like so: I ♥ singles. Yes.