But Is It Art?

Thom Yorke being pretentiousRadiohead is generally acknowledged as the best band in the world today (Pitchfork Media described them as better than the Beatles when reviewing the record Kid A, which they gave a 10.0/10).  Closely in pursuit are the Arcade Fire and the Mars Volta.  I am not sure if I am talking about musical greatness or pretensions.  In my opinion, the latter one is more accurate.  These bands think they are very, very, very important.  They are very, very, very serious about that.  Which makes it even funnier when they do something very, very, very stupid because it’s supposed to mean something.  Case in point: 

o Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s description of his band, the Mars Volta’s, third album, Amputechture: “It’s about the pineal gland … and how we can come up with cures forcancer and AIDS if we’re more in tune with what’s going on in the rainforest.”  This guy is completely serious when he says his album is about a gland.  Not just any gland- thepineal gland.  Maybe he relates to it more than the pituitary gland.  This suggests that the Mars Volta are stoned out of their minds 24-7, which could explain why their music is so incredibly indulgent; imagine Funkadelic without the saving grace of funkiness and a lot more stuff to musically jack-off with, and you have the Mars Volta.  It’s not a pretty image.

o The Arcade Fire’s lyrics to “Windowsill” from their second album, Neon Bible.  These are delivered with a completely straight face: “I don’t wanna fight in a holy war/I don’t wanna live in America no more”. Does Win Butler think he is writing something meaningful here?  These lyrics can be best described as ‘Ramones go expatriate’ (and would da bruddahs ever leave New Yawk?).  With some knowing humor, this song could actually be sold with that description (don’t knock Ramones ripoffs, it’s what the Undertones built their career on), but I suspect Win Butler fancies himself to be as serious as Ian Curtis.

o Radiohead’s fourth album, “Kid A”.  Well, maybe not the album so much as the creative process.  Thom Yorke declared he needed to electronically manipulate his vocals to distance himself from the “horrible” subject matter of the title track.  I wonder if Michael Gira ever had this problem.  A sample of the lyrics from aforementioned track: “We’ve got heads on sticks/You’ve got ventriloquists”.  Oh, wow.  Very brutal and horrible.  And this is the band Chuck Klosterman called the smartest band in the world.  Other choice snippets from the album’s production include the practice of taking words from a hat to create lyrics in the dada style that are then delivered with the utmost seriousness (not deadpan, serious), forgetting the fact that dada was absurd and FUNNY (If Duchamp was trying to be really deep and arty when he said “I have a spiral shaped penis”, I was unaware).  And of course, the fact that the band nearly broke up deciding a running order for the tracks.  Fans convince themselves this means the album is an important artistic achievement. This is the kind of thinking that convinces me that James Chance was right when he said that a fan was the lowest creature on earth.

So these guys are pretentious assholes.  But who cares.  David Thomas is too at some points, and he fronted PERE UBU.  What about the actual music?  Well, they are all pretentious enough to completely detach themselves from anything remotely danceable, as funkiness would be a degradation of the artistic ideals of these bands.  The Mars Volta has vague moments of funkiness, but this is probably something that can be compared to monkeys typing Shakespeare.  The Arcade Fire are the least danceable group in the world.  They make marching band music; very stirring, but with all the lyrics, it can just make you want to break the record and put on James Brown. Radiohead (or at least Thom Yorke) said that they were finished with melody and just wanted rhythm.  They also named themselves after a Talking Heads song.  Based on this, I thought their sound would be like something off Remain In Light or Fear Of Music (they’ve got the dada lyrics). Turns out their rhythms are more like listless, slow, boring dirges than disco-meets-Fela Kuti workouts.  So you can’t dance to it, it’s pretentious, and it’s made by a bunch of stoners with delusions of grandeur (Mars Volta), marching band rejects with some actual song writing value (Arcade Fire, and yes, despite their pretensions, I AM recommending them.  Let Andrew Weatherall produce them and they could be Primal Scream with more violins and less 303.), and people who think dada is as serious as The Sorrow and the Pity (Radiohead). And these are the “best bands in the world”.

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One Response to “But Is It Art?”

  1. Negrodamus Says:

    Write something on Jack Johnson.

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