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“America: Land of the Misunderstood”

Around the time this frat-boy type brags about seeing the Pretenders open up for Iggy Pop and about his di** size in practically the same breath, you know there’s a sort of cultural slippery slope going on in America. For instance, this guy doesn’t strike me as the type who would have been into The Velvet Underground’s Andy Warhol “camp,” no pun intended, in the New York 1960’s, but without Lou Reed you probably have no Pretenders or Iggy, at least not as we know them. I mean, I don’t care about this crap all that much, and I could get into how people in Chicago will call Depeche Mode “gay” and then vaunt the Tool set as the best in the entire Lollapalooza…

What I’m eventually going to get at is that America is more a land of cultural aesthetics. Whereas Britain actually masters MUSICAL aesthetics. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard an American album heralded as being of impeccable production or whatever, whether it’s some Jeff Buckley record, or The Stooges – Raw Power, and it just doesn’t do it for me. And I just listened to the song “Kamikaze” on Spotify by PJ Harvey, normally buried toward the tail end of the pitchfork British scapegoat, but pretty much universally enjoyable, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, and goddamn if that song doesn’t just wail, from a production standpoint. First of all, the synthetic and the natural are seamlessly blended — apropos of her working with Tricky on album prior, the song starts with distorted drum machine, eschewing meter a la trusty Harvey m.o., to the point where when the sixteenth note hat hits come in, you’re not sure if they’re fake or real, they’re just part of the soundscape, and a brilliant part. I think of what this one chick said one time about Pink Floyd, that “It’s just… ALWAYS… SO… GOOD…” that’s basically what I find with Harvey, complete mastery of production for the basic end of the listener not noticing it at all; that is, the whole thing congeals into one rock statement that diverts the attention back onto, you guessed it, her love life. ‘Bout time.
I was just thinking about what it is to be black, and what it is to be an animal. Sure, I don’t actually know either of these things firsthand, but I’m not exactly a damned stranger to the idea. Earlier on the college campus in town, this guy was walking down the quad actually emitting bird calls. It was amazing. I smiled at him and said, “That’s pretty good.” He nodded back. I thought about notifying the campus newspaper, thinking, God, this guy’s got a raw talent that’s pretty unique (the guy was like Pakistani or Palestinian or something, in case that matters at all to anyone), but then I thought, That’s sort of what’s wrong with America. We quantify everything, we bottle everything up. To the point where, what’s there really left to bottle up? To the point where, we’re vaunting Speedy freakin’ Ortiz, for Christ’s sake, as galvanizing women in society, as if it’s so revolutionary for a girl to be in a band… I mean, has Sadie Dupius even dumped beer on herself at a concert yet? Freakin’ amateur.
Anyway, it’s good to imitate animals, especially if you’re doing so without even getting paid for it like in the case of those dress-up plays and stuff, but it’s bad to imitate black people if you’re white. What’s the reason? It’s pretty simple, really, if a bit depressing: it’s good to be an animal, and it’s bad to be a black person. White people think it’s “dope” and “badass” to be black? Uh, black people must have missed the memo on that, they got shipped from their land and enslaved here, and now it’s freakin’ cold and they gotta buy the white man’s coats and crap. Trust me, they’re not in the mood for talking, or probably galvanizing a new American genre of music either, for that matter. They’re in the mood for getting their hands on some white chicks, that’s for sure.
So where do the British fit in to all of this? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but one thing I know is that, and this should never be the case but it is, they appreciate music a hell of a lot more than we do. Until this past year, we Americans weren’t even privy to the Lou Reed biography, Brit Jeremy Reed-penned, Waiting for the Man: The Life and Career of Lou Reed; it was available in Britain only. And yet, I sit through this Bruce Springsteen Super Bowl halftime show with these people in Indianapolis and all I can hear is this fat chick going, “I still think he looks hot!” Boy, America is lucky Super Bowl parties aren’t rated on a five-star scale.
Even take a band like Oasis. They obviously have a lot of fans and a lot of haters (Harvey, et. al.), but I wouldn’t PERSONALLY want to be faced with the challenge of making a rock album better than Be Here Now, or something like that. It’s got more melodies in Noel dropping his pick on the floor than the entire last My Morning Jacket album.
As for the last 10 or 15 years, you could say The Libertines and Franz Ferdinand collectively amounted to about the artistic stature of The Strokes, and America had a great wave of conceptual indie in the late ’00’s, Animal Collective, Battles, Dirty Projectors, etc., but as for this recent trend of poppy ’80’s-revival low-fi, Yuck are simply doing it better than anyone else, and it’s The Vaselines they’re harking back to. They have a way of immersing lyrical messages WITHIN the lyrics, so the song is less like something to sell deodorant to, and more like something that will still be standing sovereign 20 years from now as a true, human, veritable end-of-rope romantic statement by way of bratty guitars and drums. I can’t help but thinking that there’s a stigma against this sort of thing here in the States, somehow.

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