Monday, February 11, 2008

Recent Enthusiasms

"You can't go on suspending judgment forever--that would be to forgo genuinely enjoying music, since you can't enjoy what you can't like. But a more pluralistic criticism might put less stock in defending its choices and more in depicting its enjoyment, with all its messiness and private soul tremors--to show what it is like for me to like it, and invite you to compare. This kind of exchange takes place sometimes between critics on the Internet, and it would be fascinating to have more dialogic criticism: here is my story, what is yours? You might have to be ready, like Celine, to be laughed at. (Judge not, as the Bible sort of says, unless you're eager to be judged.) In these ways the embarrassment of having a taste, the reflexive disgust of distinction, the strangeness of our strangeness to one another, might get the airing they need." --Carl Wilson, Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste

Yes, the book is every bit as remarkable as you've heard/read. I feel like I need to take another spin through it immediately, so I can get more into the heart of the thing rather than, as I did throughout my initial reading, just facepalming myself every page and marveling, "holy shit, he's really going to pull it off!" I have at least eight or nine other pages dog-eared on my copy marking quotes that easily could have subbed in for the one above, but it's such a strong, bold work, his arguments really deserve to be taken as a whole, not just cut-and-pasted to show off the flashier bits. Highly recommended.

I was in San Francisco this past weekend, taking a whirlwind tour of the city and the general bay area. During a quick spin through the SFMOMA, I enjoyed, despite much walking fatigue, a nearly transcendent moment in front of Andy Warhol's National Velvet. I feel kind of irrationally insecure about the fact that so much of my favorite art was made by white men in America in the mid-twentieth century, but there it is. (Talk about the embarrassment of having a taste!) It's such a heartbreakingly fragile work, an effect that's really only enforced by its large size. It made me want to cry for Elizabeth Taylor, for Andy, for film, for the march of time, for the fleetingness of youth and beauty. I saw in the repetition of the images not just the flicker of a strip of film through a projector, but a heartbeat at once worried, ecstatic, ephemeral, and very, very human. It's good to go out and wander around and open your eyes and look at things, kittens. You never know what's going to hit you and when.

As for the musics, lately I've been digging Illinois, whose official studio recordings come off with the same kind of shiny Rogue Wave/Margot & the Nuclear So & So's thing that's pleasant and catchy without being as ruthlessly hooky as, say, the New Pornographers or the Shins, but live, their energy has a much sparkier/spunkier edge, in a cute indie rock boy kind of way that makes you want to meet up with the lot of them for a beer at the local dive bar, and, if you're lucky, score a snog in the back corner with whoever's single enough and desperate enough at the moment. Likewise, White Denim's stage presence doesn't come anywhere near matching their sound, in a really fantastic brain-fuck of a way. Their EP Let's Talk About It is all attitude, attitude, attitude, but live, they're just a bunch of beautiful idiots, mumbling under their breath to each other between songs, the vocalized internal monologue bleeding through the fourth wall (if there can even be a fourth wall at a rock show like this) and becoming every bit as valuable to the overall effect as their squawking guitar and old-car-backfiring-in-an-alley bass rumbles and spastic, frantic drumming. Really addictive stuff. The jury's still out for me on Vampire Weekend, but "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" is just ridiculously catchy, almost infuriatingly so. And I'm still parsing what I think about Times New Viking, being as all over the place with the "huh, reallys?" as they are, but, DS schools us on why those huhs might be more worthwhile than I would have given them credit for on my own.

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