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The World According to Björk, Aoki, Tweedy and a Gaggle of Teenage Guitar Girls

{mosimage} Björk as Middle-Aged Pixie Can you judge a female diva based on how she copes with middle age? Cher has managed several fascinating career reinventions, but generally female artists fare no better than their male peers (e.g., the unseemly evolution from Casanova front man to pot-bellied leather pants–wearer). Thirty-seven-year-old Mariah Carey has struggled to reconcile herself with hip-hop; Whitney Houston seems unlikely to star again in anything other than reality TV shows; Diana Ross strikes me as more desperate for a resurgence than Neil Diamond. Using artists like these as standard bearers, it’s easy to see why Björk at 41 is cooler, more confident and far more compelling than any of her peers. You don’t even have to listen to her new album, Volta. (And based on the mixed reviews it’s received, that might be a good idea.) Divas are defined as much by what you see as what you hear; just compare Björk’s public image to that of, say, Sheryl Crow or Madonna. When the latter pair hit their 40s, they transformed their bodies into ruthlessly efficient workout machines. Their arms now have the tensile strength of Kevlar. By contrast, Björk began the press campaign for her new album by leaking the album’s cover image: a picture of the singer costumed as an armless, psychedelic Oompa-Loompa with giant blue feet. That’s what I call glamour! You tell me who’s more empowered.

The Yindie Rock YouTube Girls Underground music has traditionally been a thing for boys and blue states. For an insight into how far the yindie rock revolution has crossed over, though, check out http://whatwouldjb.blogspot.com/2007/04/youtube-indie-rock-acoustic-guitar.html, a blog post compiling “YouTube Indie Rock Acoustic Guitar Girls.” It features two dozen nubile young women, filmed in close-up, covering today’s fey rock champions (Sufjan to the Shins and everything in between), as well as predecessors like Mazzy Star, Neutral Milk Hotel and the Smiths. These covers reveal the dulcet character of today’s indie rock revolution. This differs much from the early ’90s punk/grunge uprising, rooted as it was in weird noises and sublimated emotional explosions. Today’s yindie rock is polished enough for fetishists of acoustic guitar tablature, yet sincere and yearning enough to compel the ladies. Note, also, that the site these embedded videos appear on is called “What Would Jesus Blog?,” and it’s unclear if the blogger responsible is being entirely ironic. Yindie is loud, proud, gender neutral and more than a bit conservative.

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Steve Aoki as Andy Warhol?

The cool kids have long known about Dim Mak proprietor Steve Aoki (a.k.a. Kid Millionaire). Now, thanks to

a recent L.A. Times article

on the nightlife impresario, so might your cleaning lady in Reseda, your stockbroker in Westwood and your parents back in Orange County. Is Aoki really the marquee name in contemporary hipsterism? Could he be the Andy Warhol of our generation? And if so, can those grossed out by his hollow-feeling, party-down rhetoric request an honorable discharge?

{mosimage}Wilco, Sky Blue Sky (Nonesuch) Marianne Moore, a peer of William Carlos Williams, once celebrated the poet for his use of “plain American which cats and dogs can read.” I think Wilco’s front man, Jeff Tweedy, is the William Carlos Williams of rock. That may sound like faint praise. Musicians usually aspire to be one part revolutionary, one part sex god. But I come here to praise Tweedy. When he sings “impossible Germany/unlikely Japan” on his band’s new, self-produced album, it opens a window of possibilities as wide and unlikely as Williams’ depiction of “the plums/that were in the icebox... delicious/so sweet/and so cold.” Compare it to this Tweedy gem: “I try to keep the house nice and neat/Make my bed, I change the sheets/I even learned how to use the washing machine/Keeping things clean doesn’t change anything.” Both men’s words drip with authority, while avoiding pretension. I shiver at the clarity they bring to bear on the world.

Musically speaking, Sky Blue Sky is just as lucid. New member Nels Cline — a longtime L.A. fixture — plays hyper-articulated blues-rock guitar lines that single-handedly arrest Wilco’s creeping avant-gardisms. Those tendencies distinguished the band on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but wore thin on the follow-up, A Ghost Is Born. On Sky Blue Sky, Wilco knock out memorable, “easy feeling” anthems that should shame a half dozen freak-folk bands into retirement. And tracks like “Shake It Off” and “Walken” forge a new sound that feels like it’s been around forever — chooglin’ blues rock for poesy-addled yindies.

Daniel A.I.U. Higgs, Atomic Yggdrasil Tarot (Thrill Jockey) So, yeah, we’re living through a moment when underground indie is transforming into a global mainstream. In the U.S. alone, fan faves like Modest Mouse, the Shins and Arcade Fire reliably shift 100,000-plus copies in their first week of release. Yet I can comfortably predict the third solo album by Baltimore resident Daniel Arcus Incus Ululat Higgs will not make it onto the Billboard Heatseekers chart. Higgs — an emo icon before the genre even existed — is an advertisement for pursuing a singular vision to the end of the line. Atomic Yggdrasil Tarot consists of six drones for piano, guitar, banjo and Jew’s harp, recorded entirely on cassette recorder. Please, though, keep reading! This record is a sad, beautiful, harrowing journey into the depths of isolated expression. Included is a book of Higgs’ visual art — visionary images in the mode of Walt Whitman or William Blake, a sensibility honed in his former day job as a tattooist. Why should you bother? Because in an overheated market, one forgets the virtues of longevity. Since 1989, Higgs has recorded 11 albums with his band Lungfish. They are probably more obscure now than when they started, but you can hear his convictions deepening with each release. On this album, he has become what he set out to be — a religiously omnivorous post-punk mystic. At this point, this kind of focus and dedication is way more unique than yet another indie rock record cracking the top 40.

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