Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Your Band Sucks"

Hopes were high for Summer Hymns on the eve of the release of the band’s fourth album, Backward Masks, in 2006. The quartet had already been exulted by Pitchfork Media, the premier indie rock tastemaker, for its previous albums, receiving 8.4 and 8.8 ratings out of 10.0.

“I was thinking, ‘Best New Music,’” says Lucas Jensen, the band’s publicist at the time, referring to the web site’s most prestigious seal of approval. “It could take them to a new level.”

But the fickle Pitchfork slammed the album with a 4.4. Despite acknowledging that the album echoed their acclaimed back catalogue, reviewer Jason Crock concluded, “This might be the most alarmingly tedious indie release of the year.”

The fallout was immediate. Jensen spoke to writers, all of whom mentioned the negative review and assumed the record was bad. When Gresham tried to tour, booking agents scorned him and audiences were tiny.

“I don’t necessarily blame Pitchfork for it. It’s more about people who like the record, and then read something on Pitchfork, and then decide they don’t like it. I think that’s more their fault than Pitchfork’s fault,” says Gresham.

But it’s everyone’s fault, really.

The music revolution that has left major labels liquidating and record stores crumbling has also sparked an overload of opinion. Music geeks have never been so able to smear their opinions across the Internet, and the exhilaration of hype has never been so fickle. But the breathlessness that comes with each discovered gem is tempered by the thud of abandonment, sometimes just months or weeks later, as the next buzz-worthy group emerges. The speed of decay is often outpaced by the viciousness of the response. Bands that are old news are ignored, or become punch lines. Careers are destroyed or created with a click. Backlash has become more than inevitable – it has become anticipated.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Interlude: Actor Out of Work

Scanning the riotous "Going Out of Business" signs, I found myself remembering.

It was just a few years ago when another behemoth closed, ten blocks downtown. I'm unconvinced that these were both illegal download-related fatalities. Real estate and economics played a role, surely, but so did mismanagement and greed. The Times Square Virgin Megastore, and its more familiar, Union Square cousin, are (were) highly profitable and always have (had) costumers. The story here isn't slumping sales, but rent. Vornado Realty Trust purchased the entire Virgin Megastore chain, and as owners of the two actual properties in New York, the company wants to get a tenant who will pay more.

I know times are tough and the bottom line is important, but what about cultural value? Virgin was, for all its corporate branding and big box disadvantages, a vivacious, socially vital institution. And nothing exemplified that more than in-stores.

Annie Clark, the petite maelstrom at the center of St Vincent, was a brave choice for the "last days," as she cheekily deemed them. Emotionally jittery, restless and evocative, Clark is a far cry from any norm, indie rock or otherwise. Laughing with a mouth of blood, as one of her songs go, needn't be a depressive state. While the subjects are gloomy, the music is cathartic and cataclysmic, with guitar-driven blasts and operatic vocals, at once regal and earthy. Alas, no old songs, but the new cuts off of Actor were much in the same vein, complete with horns, strings and fuzzy, violent guitar.

St Vincent plays Webster Hall on Wednesday, May 20th.

MP3: St Vincent - Actor Out of Work
MySpace: St Vincent
Official Site: St Vincent

More photos at brooklynvegan.

Monday, May 18, 2009

While We Were Out

Three months. A quarter of a year. A lot of albums, and a lot of news.

I haven't been ignoring things - it's very difficult not to hear change when the ground is shaking around you - but it's fair to say that I haven't been broadcasting myself as much. My passion became a job, of sorts. Interviews started sounding the same. Shows were repetitive - or at least covering them became so.

But it's still exciting.

When I first started ÜberDrivel - almost three years ago now - I just wanted something to pass the time. I didn't really know where it would go, and it has completely surpassed my expectations. And I realize that's too much to just throw away. Too important.

So, ladies and gentlemen, to make it official: I'm back!

Here are some things that happened during the hiatus (mostly depressing):

-Blender runs out of juice. I interviewed for an internship there last year, and it seemed like a really cool place. While not always my style or subject matter, there was some good journalism in there, and some really good writers. It's sad to see yet another print publication go under, but at least there's still the website.

-Google pursues free, "legal" downloads in China. The fact that the major labels have bought into this means two things to me: business is so desperate that they're willing to pursue anything that might give them a market share and China is a serious deal, and potentially a huge chunk of the pie. I was born in Beijing, and it always discouraged me how little interesting music seemed to emerge from China, so hopefully that will change. (More on this later...)

-R.I.P. Etherea, R.I.P. Kim's, R.I.P. Virgin (soon), R.I.P. Sound Fix Lounge (maybe not?). Other Music, please hang on!

-Sirius and XM merge. Which would seem like a massive antitrust issue, but people don't really want to pay for anything these days, least of all radio. On a related note, I have a newish radio program on WNYU, called Telephasic Workshop. Deep house, minimal techno and IDM, enjoy.

-ÜberDrivel is on Twitter - free NYC concert feed all summer!

And, since it has really been a while, here is a musical treat. I dare you to not get it stuck in your head.

MP3: Gabriel Ananda - Babypunk
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