Ambition permeates almost every bit of this album – something to be lauded in a time where music has become culturally devalued as important in itself.
Daft Punk’s latest album Random Access Memories resists easy categorisation. Undoubtedly an Event album, accompanied by an all-star guest list and Vice-sponsored short making-of documentary series, it is at times also a startlingly collection of disparate elements. The guest list includes 70s crooner Paul Williams, Pharell Williams, house/UK garage pioneer Todd “the God” Edwards, disco producer Georgio Moroder, indie artists Panda Bear and Julian Casablanca, and a host of veteran session musicians.
Though clearly an album deeply embedded in electronic dance music, this is Daft Punk’s most organic album yet. In lead-up interviews, the duo have spoken of “[recreating] what we used to do with machines and samplers, but with people.” It many ways, the album recalls the disco albums of the late 70s, with pulsing live drums and session musicians aiming for machinic precision. First single “Get Lucky” works well as a mission statement, with Pharell’s falsetto cooing over a lean repetitive groove looped to disco sublimity.
It’s definitely an audacious move in this age of computer generated EDM, and a risky one with few peers. One point of comparison is house gods Masters At Work’s 1997 Nuyorican Soul, which featured a similarly stellar guestlist and nostalgic viewpoint. But where Nuyorican Soul painstakingly recreated the disco past, Random Access Memories insistently foregrounds its contemporary status with vocoded vocals on almost every track. “Instant Crush” features Julian Casablancas from The Strokes crooning through a vocoder over a chunky New Wave groove. It’s instantly memorable and expertly balances the retro and futurist elements. “Fragments of Memories” features a nicely lazy vocal from Todd Edwards, looking back on a soon-ending holiday.
This is not to say that everything works quite so well, though. The eight-minute long “Touch” features the hammy Broadway vocals of Paul Williams alongside a children’s choir and an extremely cheesy disco section, and other discordant synth sections. It’s packed with ideas, and some of the string orchestration is lovely, but it’s a strange journey that doesn’t quite gel. In interviews, the duo have suggested this song to be the centrepiece of the album. Williams finishes the “you’ve given me too much to feel/you’ve almost convinced I’m real/I need something more, I need something… more.”
Given Daft Punk’s penchant for robotic masks, it’s an interesting twist on posthumanity to be sure, but one that makes sense in the light of Bangalter’s statement to the Guardian that “[We tried] to make robotic voices sound the most human they’ve ever sounded, in terms of expressivity and emotion.” A debateable claim. With a few exceptions – the monotonic “Doin It Right” – the vocoders work, but they don’t really connote very much at all.
But what does it mean, if anything? What is the point of making robots sound human? With few lyrics, it’s hard to really see the record as staking out much of a claim linguistically. Similarly, the cobbled-together signifiers of the 70s and 80s are pleasurable, but not really saying very much at all.
Random Access Memories is undoubtedly a unique sounding album, well-crafted in every sense. It sounds like a million dollars in an electronic moment where almost everything is made on laptops and the same few Digital Audio Workstations. Ambition permeates almost every bit of the album – something to be lauded in a time where music has become culturally devalued as important in itself.
It is a very good album. But a masterwork it is not, not really pulling all of these elements together into a completely convincing, whole artistic statement. It doesn’t really feel like it means anything at all. Random access memories indeed.
Everyone has been asking the wrong question. The question is, what is writing worth?
There’s been a brouhaha on the Internet of late, over the issue of whether freelance writers for magazines, journals, and internet media outlets should be paid for their work. (No one is yet questioning whether editors and staff writers should be paid. That’s coming, though, for reasons I will get to in a moment.) Some writers (mostly of the paid staff variety, coincidentally) want freelancers to suck it up and write for no money, for exposure or giggles or what have you. Among editors there has been a fair amount of hand-wringing and declaring that the system is rigged against them paying writers fairly, but no plan for changing the system has emerged to their satisfaction. (Or else, surely, they would be executing that plan. Right?).
Everyone has been asking the wrong question. The question is, what is writing worth?
As a freelance writer, I am, of course, concerned for the writers’ welfare. I’ve written for no pay, and enjoyed it–but that was before I had child care to pay for and a mortgage. By getting older, I’ve vaulted myself into the “more expensive and of questionable value as a fresh voice” category of freelancers. Lining up the supply wagons, then, takes a top priority as I make choices about where and how to do my work.
I’m also female in a terrible profession for women: according to the latest VIDA count, I should statistically be landing one pitch for every three or four that my male counterparts land. I know exactly how lucky I am to work with editors and colleagues who value and respect my work.
But to understand the issue of pay for written work, we need to pivot the camera around to face the magazine/media owners and publishers. These are the folks who make sure (as Cord Jefferson observed late last week) that the words written in today’s journalism/creative nonfiction world reflect a working-class, apprenticed profession populated largely by elites. This isn’t a new problem–but it’s a big one, and not just for the writers.
The problem is that, as the pool of writers becomes both more homogeneous and less able/willing/incentivized to cover hard news, readers miss out on the stories and voices of people who look, talk, and think like themselves.
It’s not that it’s impossible for a writer holed up in a group apartment in Brooklyn to hit the streets in search of a picket line or a PTO meeting or a tenants’ association rally to cover; it’s that publishers are steadily removing the incentives to do so. Many publishers have convinced themselves that readers only want more stories about celebrity book authors and recycled TED talks about owning less stuff or how to crowdfund your band tour. And they won’t allow real people’s stories to edge out the glamour porn.
Without a viable profit-making model, these media companies and publishers are groping in the dark for ways to make money. It’s a sad—and hopefully temporary–side effect of this groping that good writing about real people gets devalued in favor of the thing that is sure to sell pageviews/copies.
Readers—especially women readers, as editors continue to spend their shrinking hard news budgets on writing by and for guys—are infantilized and devalued when publishers invest in lazy puff pieces pitting them against each other with “mommy wars” and “leaning in/out/north/west/south/whatever” and celebrity cheating scandals. Meanwhile, corporations, police departments and government agencies get away with things that these same writers for these media outlets might otherwise uncover.
So, if real news coverage and creative nonfiction about ordinary people’s lives is worth more than publishers will pay for it, what becomes of the writers? As Charles Pierce notes, journalists’ class consciousness has been scraped away so thoroughly by decades of consolidating news corporations and good old-fashioned unionbusting that the New York freelancing crowd only just noticed that the media outlets they write for will never want to pay them a dime no matter what they cover.
Barbara Ehrenreich has been doing some interesting work lately on the state of journalism and similar professions, and what she tells up and comers is ‘Welcome to the American working class.” The eating ramen and living in semi-squalor and needing infusions of additional cash to make rent that Jefferson mentions—those are features, not bugs, of the profession today. (Whether the cash infusions come from your parents or from playing poker or throwing rent parties is totally up to individual circumstances.) And part of what Ehrenreich is saying is that we ought to embrace this, to begin to have a class consciousness that will help us writers identify more with our readers, who are themselves struggling.
It can be scary to be a freelancer out there hustling, not sure where the next gig or check will come from, or when. Your writing gets skewed by the need for cash: you have to pitch things that are tied to the news cycle, however batty and soul-crushing it may be to write yet another piece about Celebrity Author Queen Bee Du Jour. It may feel more righteous to do a piece for free here and there because it liberates you from that market-driven headline.
But, in my experience, the bills will keep piling up on top of the small brown wicker table next to the front door, and you’re going to have to pay them (just as readers have to pay theirs). There are so many freelancers that the need for collective action in the face of publications’ unwillingness to pay is great—as someone recently pointed out, when writers talk to each other, it always benefits them financially.
So: Writers, talk to each other. Decide together what is worth writing about, and which publications are worth working for. And then pitch the editors on the topics that keep you awake at night, not what you think will perform well in SEO terms. There are a thousand stories in the naked city, as the saying goes. Somebody’s got to go out and tell them.
With her distinctive calling-card single “Video Games” and album Born To Die, Lana Del Rey has been one of the most hotly debated artists of the past year. Initially feted for her “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” sound and DIY Youtube aesthetic, [...]
With her distinctive calling-card single “Video Games” and album Born To Die, Lana Del Rey has been one of the most hotly debated artists of the past year. Initially feted for her “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” sound and DIY Youtube aesthetic, the blog love quickly faded with some flat live performance and the news that, far from a trailer park ingenue, Ms Del Rey is the daughter of a rich investor. Lana haters became as ubiquitous–and as vocal–as her defenders. It’s surprising, then, that neither have really been out in force with the release of her new “Paradise Edition” of Born to Die. Is the hype over?
After “28 Days Later” “Sunshine” and “Never Let Me Go,” Alex Garland is now master of the science fiction genre, an allegorical titan and action giant. With Dredd, he has modernised a British comic phenomenon and nailed him up on the screen for all to see.
Mega City One is widescreen for 800 million people. Its streets are legion. 12 serious crimes every minute. 17,000 crimes a day. The law can only respond to 6% of them. Rotting unnoticed in a back alley are the corpses of the Avengers piled high next to the slumped bodies of Batman and Spiderman. This blockbuster bloodbath was shocking and unexpected performed execution style. Lycra costumes just don’t cut it in this dystopian future. To take on this city you need judge, jury and executioner. You need Dredd.
Leeds Festival often gets over-shadowed by its counterpart Reading, and has a reputation for a weakened line up. But this year, Festival Republic put on a fantastic weekend, and here is why…
24th-26th August, Bramham Park.
The waiting was over, and things couldn’t have been better. The sun was making a rare appearance, bags are packed, tickets in hand and excitement growing as thousands of fans from all over the country headed to what would be their new home for the next 5 days.
On arrival, the atmosphere was electric, what a fantastic Bank Holiday weekend there was to look forward too. Friendly smiles, laughter and banter were everywhere. It was a long journey from the car park to the camp site, but with the adrenaline and anticipation building for the weekend of great music, the heavy load of belongings on backs (many thanks to the ‘tinnies’) seemed a small price to pay.
Leeds Festival often gets over-shadowed by its counterpart Reading, and has a reputation for a weakened line up. But in my eyes, Festival Republic put on a fantastic weekend, and here is why…
Playin Me sees Cooly G staking a place as a fine purveyor of digital soul
Three years after first making a splash on the UK bass music underground with her anthemic “Love Dub,” Cooly G’s debut album has finally arrived on the revered Hyperdub label. While the album format has historically proven a stumbling block for many a dancefloor-focused producer, Hyperdub has made its name off of coherent artist-statement records. Playin Me is no exception to this, though neither does it reach the heights of some of the label’s classic back-catalogue.
There’s not one false note in “The Punk Syndrome,” the thrilling portrait of Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day, a socially minded and politically incorrect quartet of kick-ass musicians – who happen to be mentally disabled, and the real rebellious deal.
The word “punk,” like the word “independent,” has been so oversold and misused it’s practically meaningless. So when a film bills itself as “the saga of the last true punk rock band in the world” you have to sigh and wonder whether it’s just more marketing hype. Fortunately, there’s not one false note in “The Punk Syndrome,” co-directors Jukka Kärkkäinen & J-P Passi’s thrilling portrait of Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day, a socially minded and politically incorrect quartet of kick-ass musicians – who just so happen to be mentally disabled, and the real rebellious deal. Prior to the film’s Hot Docs premiere I spoke with Finnish director Passi about redefining “normalcy” and upending preconceived notions, and got the scoop on shooting in arts-supportive Scandinavia.
Last Days here is the riveting story of Pentagram lead singer Bobby Liebling, a hard rock legend and hardcore addict who, as one of Liebling’s friends puts it, sold his soul a long time ago – and is now fighting like hell to get it back, one piece at a time.
The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam is the Cannes of nonfiction filmmaking, so just nabbing an invitation anoints a doc amongst the best of the best. Don Argott and Demian Fenton’s “Last Days Here” not only screened the prestigious event this past November, but beat out a handful of other stellar flicks to win the IDFA PLAY Competition for Music Documentary. None of which came as a surprise to this critic who’s been following the two since their riveting doc “The Art of the Steal” – about the dirty battle over the Barnes Foundation’s 25 billion dollars in art – rocked my world back in 2009. Now the Philadelphia homeboys have trained their lens on another Pennsylvania subject, Pentagram lead singer Bobby Liebling, a hard rock legend and hardcore addict who, as one of Liebling’s friends puts it, sold his soul a long time ago – and is now fighting like hell to get it back, one piece at a time. I spoke with the gung ho co-directors prior to the film’s NYC opening on March 2nd.
Long before anyone else, had heard of Gaga, Mark Bowden predicted which songs would be dancefloor hits. Here he selects some of his favorite DJ podcasts for us.
Looking for great dance music for the gym and never know what to put on your I-pod in the gym or while cooking, well, now you don’t need to worry because you can download free dance music podcasts. I sat down with the very goodlooking and charming Mark Bowden who runs Hyperactive, the famous music promotions company in Europe. Bowden spots hits before anyone else – every day thousands of songs cross his desk from cheesy pop tracks to the hardest drum n bass. Hyperactive has a record for consistent success rate and quality releases, with UK number ones from the likes of Lady Gaga to Madonna and a following that includes many of the world’s greatest DJs. Long before anyone else, had heard of Gaga, Mark predicted which songs would be dancefloor hits. It was an extra treat, then, to have Mark select some of his favorite DJ podcasts for us.
The perfect ambassador for all things Sweden is famous for, Ace of Base’s Ulf Elkberg takes us on a tour of Stockholm and shares us some of his secrets about the town.
Famous for its music, design and enviable social democracy, Sweden is an idyllic-yet-modern country to spend some time in. I caught up with Ulf Ekberg, best known for being co-founder of Ace Of Base. One of Sweden’s greatest international successes, they are in the Guinness book of World Records for having the best-selling debut. He’s also famous for having girls scream over his good looks, and while he knows how to party, he also happens to be a great businessman—he’s been Volvo’s and Ericsson’s ambassador. In a way he’s the perfect ambassador for all things Sweden is famous for. Ulf takes us on a tour of Stockholm and shares us some of his secrets about the town. The way Ulf describes Sweden with such an eye and detail; it could only be an artist talking.
Global Comment © 2012 | Design & Developed by : Slate