By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Down With the Blogstablishment: The last few years have seen the rise of unexpected tastemakers — sites like Pitchfork, blogs like Stereogum, and webcasters like KEXP. Let’s revisit a few albums they heaped praise upon in 2006. (Pitchfork ratings in parentheses.)
None of these records was awful, but none was all that interesting either. For this we accepted the death of print? When people complain about the power of the blogosphere, I think this is what they’re referring to: a cabal of thought-leaders whose dull, lockstep judgments are now inescapably influential in underground music.
The good news: I suspect Blogosphere 1.0’s influence will deteriorate in 2007, as it’s challenged by a series of new, more professionalized sites. Contenders include PaperThinWalls.com, a terse and admirably restrained site; NME.com, whose U.S. launch is backed by TimeWarner; and Idolator, launched by blog powerhouse Gawker Media. None of these has perfected its formula yet, but the entrants in Blogosphere 2.0 are well financed, carefully edited and less prone to hipster tedium. (I’ll be out of a job soon!)
Romancing the Past Commentators far smarter than I claim “echo boomers” (a.k.a. millennials, a.k.a. individuals spawned between ’82 and ’95) are the first generation of kids more conservative than their parents. It makes sense. Young’ns need to rebel against the permissiveness of their hippie-era parents. But isn’t this also the generation that’s into oral sex at teen sleepover parties? (Remember Oprah’s rainbow-party scandal of ’03?)
Regardless, this notion of youthful conservatism is borne out by a wide array of contemporary musicmakers. These artists spent ’06 yearning for a simpler, pre-Beatles/Dylan age. The formalist camp looked to Tin Pan Alley, Brill Building pop and the slightly more outré sound of early R&B. Take James Hunter’s People Gonna Talk, which sounds like it was recorded by Sam Cooke in 1959. Or listen to the bummed-out “ba-ba-bas” of Swedish chanteuse Sarah Assbring (a.k.a. El Perro Del Mar), whose songs borrow from Phil Spector–era girl groups. Or the wide-screen near-yodel of Richard Hawley, whose Mercury Prize–nominated Cole’s Corner borrows from Roy Orbison’s grandiose romanticism. Even established artists such as OutKast and Christina Aguilera got into the act with their new albums — the former with a pastiche of styles and sounds from the ’30s, Xtina with an update on the early Atlantic Records vibe.
More peculiar still were artists whose modern music belied old-fashioned attitudes. Sufjan Stevens’ five-CD box set Songs for Christmas is dominated by Christian traditionals like “Silent Night,” “Amazing Grace” and “Joy to the World,” which sit comfortably alongside his sharp, modernist originals. Much creepier was the stealthy moralism of the Killers’ Sam’s Town. Its lead single, “Bones,” sounds like U2 and Springsteen’s Americana-tinged arena rock. But when the narrator asks, “Don’t you wanna come with me? Don’t you wanna feel my bones on your bones?” an “angel” suggests, “Wait till tomorrow, you’ll be fine.” Holy cold shower, Batman!
These backward glances are certainly more profound than Tony Bennett’s superstar duets, or Barry Manilow’s disc of midcentury American songs. (Both were foisted upon us by Sony last year.) These younger artists seem to be cribbing an entire psychological POV from a half century ago. It’s as if our most conspicuously talented artists, troubled by the culture at large, would like to reimagine an America that was never muddied by upsetting rainbows — no oral sex at sleepovers, no Aquarian daydreams. (OutKast’s fable, Idlewild, represented a Southern past devoid of lynchings — and damn near devoid of white people.) How will this trend play out? Does this indicate a newfound idealism among “the kids” or an embrace of ’50s-style conformity?
The Death of Monoculture: While artists spent 2006 romanticizing America’s past, literate pop fans mourned those who once chronicled it: In December, longtime New Yorker writer George W.S. Trow died at age 63. His modest fame came from the essay “Within the Context of No Context,” which railed against television. (He called it “the force of no-history.”) In November, first-generation pop crit Ellen Willis, 64, died of lung cancer. And this past summer, the entire arts journalism community was riveted by the Village Voice’s dismissal of Willis’ former boyfriend, Robert Christgau, also 64. This self-proclaimed “dean of American rock critics” was fired “for taste.” Christgau later ignited a small scandal by granting an interview to PopMatters.com, in which he made a surprising confession: “When I grew up, there was a monoculture. Everybody listened to the same music on the radio. I miss monoculture. [Italics mine.] I think it’s good for people to have a shared experience.”