Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Public Service Post #1

(The mp3s are near the end)

A flurry of critic vs.writer brought some excitement to the end of last week. Nick Hornby is a writer who seems to have decided that his love of Elvis Costello qualifies him as a music critic. That's kind of a snippy (though somewhat accurate) way of putting things. I don't pay much attention to him, but what I've read of his has made it very clear that I'm not going to learn anything interesting to me by reading his writing on music...I pretty much figured this out after High Fidelity, but his subsequent writing (Radiohead, etc.) has done nothing to change my impression: I don't think that he believes, on some level, that people really like experimental/edgy music.

On Friday Nick Hornby had an Op-Ed in the NY Times. You can read the text of it in this I Love Music thread (if you're curious and don't want to get it from the Times. It's about the 34th post in the thread as you scroll down). [I Love Music goes down from time to time. If the link doesn't work, it's probably just temporary.]

Shortly thereafter, Sasha Frere-Jones who used to play in my beloved Dustdevils (as well as his own band Ui) and who's written prominently for Slate and more recently The New Yorker (with a nice piece on Nellie McKay) published a very thorough dissection/destruction of Hornby's piece. SFJ's response is here.

I'm glad that he wrote that...I've been vaguely worried that Hornby would somehow get himself recognized, through sheer force of will or via literary connections, as a music critic with something to say. I generally steer clear of larger theoretical issues, but even in practical terms (i.e. finding interesting things to listen to) Hornby has been useless to me. If SFJ's piece can help in any way to keep Hornby out of the public eye, I'm happy.

That's not why I'm bringing the article up.

It occurs to me that some of the bands mentioned in both articles may not be common knowledge, and I thought I'd do my bit to help.

In his piece, Hornby wrote at one point:

The pop music critic of The Guardian recently reviewed a British band that reminded him — pleasantly, I should add — of "the hammering drum machine and guitar of controversial 80's trio Big Black and the murky noise of early Throbbing Gristle." I have no doubt whatsoever that the band he was writing about (a band with a name too confrontational and cutting-edge to be repeated here) will prove to be one of the most significant cultural forces of the decade, nor that it will produce music that forces us to confront the evil and horror that resides within us all.

The band that Hornby can't mention (he really is kind of irritating about the fact that they have a "transgressive" name/nature...he could have just said that the Times wouldn't let him print the name) is Selfish Cunt, as revealed by SFJ in his response.

Anyway, I have my doubts that many people in the US have heard Selfish Cunt. I don't think they're going to change your life, but I like to know what critics are talking about. Here's Britain Is Shit and Fuck The Poor from their single. I like the first song. It starts off kind of wobbly, but right after the break in the middle, when the guitars first come back in it builds up a nice little shuffly head of steam. Second song...not so much. I don't really hear much Big Black in their sound, but there is a drum machine, and they do seem to be confrontational, so I wouldn't argue too much. Even though he's being annoying, I have the feeling that Hornby is right when he implies that Selfish Cunt won't be the next Sex Pistols.

I'm also not sure how many people (in the grand scheme of things) have heard Big Black. They were Steve Albini's group in the 80's. Albini is probably better known as a producer and complainer these days. At the time I thought that Big Black had a monster of a sound, but when I've listened to their albums in recent years they sound much thinner than I remember them being. Here are the two songs that I liked the best about sixteen years or so ago: Kerosine, from an album called Atomizer and Heartbeat (a Wire cover) which was a single. Heartbeat also appeared on a CD called The Rich Man's Eight Track Tape which also includes Atomizer.

I can't help much with Throbbing Gristle. I've only owned one album of theirs (First Annual Report...oddly enough I found the record on the street) and all I can tell you is that I didn't like it too much (I've never been a fan of industrial music) and that I didn't know about the Moors Murderers prior to listening. My memory of the album is that the first song, Very Friendly, did sound something like Selfish Cunt, but I'm not going to swear to it and the record is in a box in my basement so I'm not going to check.

I also can't help with Marah (the band that Hornby likes, at the expense of the others) as they don't sound like something I'd be interested in. I have a feeling that someone somewhere has mp3s of them posted. Ah, here's a couple. Looks like you have to register to listen.

That's it. Tomorrow things get back to normal with a band that Nick Hornby would probably like.

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