Monday, March 16, 2009

There are certain signifiers that are everywhere these days, designated at this moment in time as arbiters of quality. By themselves, however, they're meaningless, and it seems as if in a few years time it will be these things that will again be rebelled against.

In comedy, there is this certain presentational style, of young males with shaggy hair, that can be vaguely associated with indie rock, that seems to short-circuit and circumvent the quality standards of reasonable snobs. I've talked about this in the past when talking about how the HBO show Flight Of The Conchords isn't funny at all, and I feel the same thing applies to the MTV sketch show Human Giant and approximately half of the cast of Saturday Night Live. (I also dislike the American version of The Office, which a lot of people like, and feels like it might fit this mold as well.) It feels like a mutation of the idea of "alternative comedy," like no one noticed that no one on The Comedians Of Comedy tour was traditionally attractive. What's disconcerting about it is how it misreads the idea of "taste" and makes it into something class-based. (That might be where the whole thing comes from, but it's really to be avoided.) Tim And Eric deliberately avoids this stuff, and while their show has its own weaknesses, it really makes it feel like its own voice.

In comics, it seems like the old model, where people gave far too much credence to mediocre auto-bio comics, has been largely abandoned, but these days I really feel like silkscreen covers make more of an impression than they should. The comics of Juliacks are really cool and distinct, but man: There is a zine rack at Atomic Books, made up of stuff that would be super-compelling when I saw it at The Olympia Comics Expo, that on closer inspection is not as powerful as things I want to give my dollar to. When you see a whole heap of the stuff it really makes you just want to pay attention to cool drawing again.

(Speaking of cool drawing, let me go on a tangent. My friend has a portable hard drive with a bunch of downloaded comics on it. He was talking shit on "comics made by graphic designers," which I then discovered, when looking at what was on his hard drive, that he was specifically talking about the work of this guy Jonathan Hickman, which I think he'd obtained accidentally. But holy shit is that stuff awful, deeply dull to look at. Comics made on Illustrator, like Achewood, but without the flair for dialogue, just that flat talking-head presentational style. Also on the hard drive were issues of the Geoff-Darrow-drawn Hard Boiled and the complete run of Sam Kieth's The Maxx. I am all for people trying to find their own voices but it's weird to look at those, back to back, and ask yourself why you would ever make the choice to read the Hickman comic, let alone make comics in such a deeply dull way. No one making mini-comics is making those mistakes, and they're not doing that weird over-rendering color thing that mainstream comics do, so they're a little smarter. I think that both of these trends are the autotune of comics, and will just make everything from this era badly dated in ten years time.)

In music, the signifiers are much the same as they've always been: Acoustic instruments still indicate sincerity- but the one that's really bothered me is the way keyboards and 4/4 house kick drums are supposed to make an audience dance. It feels fascistic as a death march to me. I should also point out that currently lo-fi production feels really "in" in a way that is totally fucking with critical perception, and that I feel really bad for any critic who ranked The Vivian Girls (who, according to all gossip I have heard, are awful people) on their best-of-2008 list. That's sort of interesting, because I sort of feel like a lot of these things have to do with the feeling of money implied by the decisions being made, and they're using traditionally "poor" sound. But maybe it's only appealing at this point in time because it's not actually "poor" in terms of money involved, since it's cheaper to just record on computer, rather than an analog four-track. I'm not trying to do a thing where I half-remember The Psychic Soviet, so I'll cut short this line of reasoning. This post is very negative, but it's meant to serve as prophecy that in time everyone will see past such artifice.

6 comments:

bp baggins said...

i think recording on a 4 track is only cheaper than recording on a computer if you already own a computer. computers are thousands of dollars, you can get a four track for around $100... just saying. in general i agree with a good deal of the stuff you say here. maybe i'm just being defensive because i've always enjoyed the way music sounds when recorded on cassette and like the vivian girls album?

bp baggins said...

yeah, i hate that jim on the american office is an indie rocker or something. that one episode where he plays pam some arcade fire sounding shit on his ipod made me want to throw up. still enjoy the show, but i'd like it more if he was just an average joe.

Brian said...

I am sort of reaching about the cassette/4-track comments. The Punks album was done to cassette, most of the people I know use cassettes. Most of them have never gotten any props for it though.

I'm sticking by my Vivian Girls diss. Did you see their dismissal in Blastitude, in the same sentence as a dismissal of the band Teeth Mountain, two of whose members I live with?

bp baggins said...

not that i remember, which is weird,i thought i memorized every blastitude post! haha... but i kind of see what you mean w/ your cassette point. rich people pretending to be poor (or "slumming it" if you want to use that term) has been going on for a while now. not that i've seen vivian girls or wavves' bank statements or anything. shit, i enjoy both bands but can totally see why people wouldn't be into it. to each their own, right?

bp baggins said...

found it, but it's by tony rettman. i think the main dude liked both bands? i could be wrong. shit, i'm wrong a lot...
"‘Life is a zero sum game’ – George Carlin ‘Back in Town’ (1996)

I’ve stared at many blank computer screens in the past six months — both at home and at work — thinking I had something to write about the passing of George Carlin. Not like I think it’s of grave importance that anyone reads what I think of his passing. If anyone would want to read anything that I write (which I find highly doubtful) they’d more than likely wanna read what I think of the Vivian Girls or Teeth Mountain or whoever else is getting their ass licked by Dusted this week. For the record, I think the Vivian Girls suck, Teeth Mountain sucks and I think George Carlin dying really fucking sucks."

bp baggins said...

yeah, other dude named vivian girls #3 album of 08. i should look at all of this before leaving you lots of comments. http://www.blastitude.com/27/index2.htm#2008