Mates of State
Cute Grows Up
Mates of State: Team Boo (Polyvinyl '03)
Music box. Hurdy-gurdy. Pinball gallery. Turning point of silent movie. Between-innings entertainment at a minor-league ballpark. E Street pseudoclassical. Even, almost, ? and the Mysterians. That’s how pop history is conceived by Kory Gardner. Words aren't quite irrelevant‑-cf. "This is the whiner's bio," or "Set the rocks on fire." But they are ancillary. B PLUS
Mates of State: Re-Arrange Us (Barsuk '08)
Alternia knows two things about this duo: raw biography and raw sound. Married, two kids, publicly affectionate on stage; so tuneful they embarrass coolsters who think babies are icky, but also, due to how hard Kory Gardner pumps her organ and John Hammel meets his match, energetic, rendering the tunes forgivable. And right, sometimes their hooks are sugary enough to give me a tummyache too. But for Gardner to devote herself to piano as Hammel quiets down doesn't justify the consensus diagnosis of, eeuw, domesticity. Musical symptoms just aren't specific enough. Instead one must refer to those supposedly unmusical carriers of specificity, the words. Seldom anything special in the past, now they add up to a painful, unresolved song sequence about a couple who buy a biographically verifiable dream house and then hit the rocks as definitely the husband and possibly the neglected wife seek sexual solace elsewhere. So no, Pitchfork guy, you can't call "Blue and Gold Print" a lullaby just because it's slow and invokes the kiddies. No, Pop Matters guy, you can't praise the "The Re-Arranger"'s arrangement without noting that one thing getting rearranged is lives. Pop hooks deployed to keep up a good front are too complicated for tummyaches. Not heartaches, though. A MINUS
Oh well. I'll just play it now for the first time and forget about it. I don't know if this will exactly be music to make me think about giving thanks, but I got to hear it.
As great as Fight Songs was, the fact that Satellite Rides was even better is scary.
If you wanted to get fancy about it, and I do, you could then blame this emotional trap on the same untrammeled capitalism that turns every young job seeker into a freelance contractor
I heard Satellite Rides and read the review for Fight Songs well before I actually heard Fight Songs, so I actually connect Bob's comments about the "emotional trap" of "untrammeled capitalism" to Satellite Rides, and especially "Buick City Complex."
Briefly, that song opens "Do you wanna mess around?" and the first verse is about wanting to get a relationship "right this time." Then the second verse is about how, actually, he doesn't want a commitment. Then, surprisingly, the chorus is about the protagonist and his love interest's building being torn down, so they need to move: "Where you gonna move/do you wanna mess around?"
So to cope, the protagonist wants to make out with the love interest. And he wants it to be meaningful. But he doesn't want a commitment. So the same "untrammeled capitalism" that is tearing down this building, which I assume is to build something bigger and more lucrative, keeps the protagonist roaming about, not settling down, transient, taking pleasures where he finds them, but not sticking around for long because he believes pleasure is inherently fleeting. And this is a mode of thought that can be ascribed to people my age, who are and perhaps may always be freelance contractors. We want stability, but economically we're learning that we can't have it, so we take it when we can have it, and move on when inevitably we're asked to. It's not that he's a bad person, I don't think. He just has a different take on love that is defined by his experience. That's how I read the song.
This essay was for the newcomers. Welcome y'all!
With all the talk of art, critics, morality and politics recently, allow me to recommend this essay --
-- which is about lit rather than music (though it applies to art-culture as a whole). And superior to Menand's recasting of his introduction that appeared in last week's New Yorker. Entertaining and enlightening, enjoy.
Nothing sends you running to the record store faster than that full A xgau review.
Since we're talking favorite reviews, here's mine. Nothing was gonna make me feel good THAT week. Still an A plus from my boyhood hero came damn close.
BOB DYLAN: "Love and Theft" (Columbia) Before minstrelsy scholar Eric Lott gets too excited about having his title stolen--"He loves me! Honey, Bob Dylan loves me!"--he should recall that Dylan called his first cover album Self-Portrait. Dylan meant that title, of course, and he means this one too, which doesn't make "Love and Theft" his minstrelsy album any more than Self-Portrait's dire "Minstrel Boy" was his minstrelsy song. All pop music is love and theft, and in 40 years of records whose sources have inspired volumes of scholastic exegesis, Dylan has never embraced that truth so warmly. Jokes, riddles, apercus, and revelations will surface for years, but let those who chart their lives by Dylan's cockeyed parables tease out the details. I always go for tone, spirit, music. If Time Out of Mind was his death album--it wasn't, but you know how people talk--this is his immortality album. It describes an eternal circle on masterful blazz and jop readymades that render his grizzled growl as juicy as Justin Timberlake's tenor--Tony Bennett's, even. It's profound, too, by which I mean very funny. "I'm sitting on my watch so I can be on time," he wheezes, because time he's got plenty of. A PLUS
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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