Thursday, June 12, 2008

"What is this shit?"

I can't tell you how long I have been waiting for a "legitimate" reviewer to provide us with a heartily dismissive pull-quote that I can display prominently next to more favorable critical commentary in the IJG press kit. You see, not unlike my new friend in Washington (the guy with the faux fat fetish), I too long to puncture through the tedious pleasantries and spin of the indie music media/promotional derby. Not out of spite, mind you, but just because I'm impatient to get past the words, to something real.

You see, dear reader, once you figure out that, to some extent, PR is a game, and that, with a little persistence, a savvy marketing person can always get someone somewhere to write a compelling review that makes [insert the artist of your choice here] sound like they are the next [insert the music god of your choice here] -- well, then, the whole process starts to feel a little empty. Which is not to say that I haven't appreciated the great things that some of our critics have said about the IJG over the years. Au contraire -- I am floored and flattered by every one of them. In my (many) weak moments, I even savor them.

But the anti-authoritarian in me has also always fought against the notion of filters, and tastemakers, and folks whose authority derives from the things they say about art. Idealist that I am, I imagine a world where a listener's inherent curiosity simply drives her to explore and discover new music -- just as much as (if not more than) the commentary of some self-appointed "in the know" cultural observer. Music criticism, in this crazy fantasy-land of mine, continues to be written and read and appreciated, but primarily as literature. And love-of-music happens not because of what someone said about a piece, or how it was framed, but simply because of what it sounded like.

I know, I know: I'm being pretty unrealistic, and there are certain things you just have to deal with when you get into the music business. But humor me for a minute. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that we came close to achieving my bass-ackwards goal of picking up a press-kit-worthy negative comment with "This is a bad joke -- right?" Alas, that one didn't come from a pro, so it didn't serve my purposes quite so well. But now the cranky-but-entertaining Tom Hull (who really is one of my favorite critics) has delivered manna from the heavens in the form of his review of LEEF. Enjoy:

Cheap cardstock wallet packaging, back cover printed white on yellow (glad I was able to lift the credits and track list elsewhere), full liner notes promised on website but not available yet. Started this while driving around Detroit, but popped it out after a few "what is this shit?" minutes. I've played and enjoyed a couple of Andrew Durkin's group's records in the past, but wasn't prepared for this sharp swerve into Zappa-land. (Actually, I flashed on Brecht/Weill cabaret first, which may have been the initial idea -- but Zappa does get a name check.) I've avoided it ever since, only putting it on when there was nothing else left to unpack from the travel case. Played it twice. First, if you bracket the vocal stuff, the musical performance is stellar. Industrial Jazz has always been a catchphrase in search of a concept -- e.g., the analogy to Industrial Rock never fit -- but Durkin has finally managed to squeeze all individuality out of the big band without sacrificing idiosyncrasy. Hard to imagine anything but a machine managing that, or exhibiting such spurious complexity just because it's possible to gear it that way. Clearest case is "Bongo Non Troppo," working off a relatively simple Latin riff, but there's more in "Howl" and "Fuck the Muck" (at least until the voices appear). The vocal stuff is more scattered -- skit and shtick, a bit of "Fuck the Muck" choir, and two legit songs (both optimistically reprised in radio edits at the end): "The Job Song" (on the Brechtian end) and "Big Ass Truck" (more Zappaesque). In Christgau's CG scheme a couple of these named pieces would be Choice Cuts. I don't do that because I'm still stuck in the old-fashioned rut of trying to swallow records whole. B+(*)

There is one factual error here -- the packaging is not "cardstock," and it wasn't cheap by any stretch. But everything else he says is true. Unless you disagree with it, in which case it is false.

(Oh, and as an added bonus, Hull also covers the new Empty Cage record in this same review set. I'll leave it to Tiner to comment if he sees fit.)


Jeff K. said...

I liked how Hull got the name of your band wrong in the review that appears right under it. (I assume that was your band he was name-checking in Tiner's review -- lest I smell a infringement matter brewing... ;-)

Kris Tiner said...

I like your review; can't see why he'd even bother with most of the others...