Saturday, March 08, 2008

Keep the hits coming

Image: Mandy Lamb

Aly, Walk with Me - The Raveonettes

If it even crossed my mind in the past, I think I thought The Raveonettes were Dutch. I guess
I visualized them flogging their seedy Spectorish wares on the edge of some dank low-country canal a few meters from a red-light zone window display. Close enough: They're Danes living in New York. But you can locate the cathexis of their music in Los Angeles -- specifically, the LA of James Ellroy and Chinatown and its fictional, but viscerally oh-so-real fatal flaws, pitiless ambition, atavistic slaughter. Not that national identity matters much when every artist sings in English, is easily accessible via their social-networking site page and illegally downloadable off Romanian servers.

I can't help but think that The Rs' rootlessness is important, though, as if it lets them execute their art-damaged garage kink menacing and authentic. Sort of how the heroes of John Ford's westerns got away with violence (in the administration of justice) only because they were physically and emotionally disconnected from the familial and civic. Ok, this may not be the best analogy, because I don't get the sense The Raveonettes have any inclination toward moral markering. It's this anomie, in fact, that keeps a phrase like "walk with me" so open-ended. Are we just talking restlessness? Streetwalking? A haunting? Spiritual reassurance? Also, the way this song carves pop out of fizz and reverb is marvelous.

Buy Lust Lust Lust Lust Lust Lust Lu (Amazon, eMusic), Myspace

£4 - These New Puritans

I keep hearing how indebted These New Puritans are to hip-hop. The primacy of beats to this band of the mo I'll buy. But lyrically... there's not a whole lot of storytelling, cultural representation or linguistic calisthenics going down on
Beat Pyramid. "£4" pretty much consists of "four of your pounds" and its variation, "we've got four of your pounds." The only provocative, pause-and-ponder moment comes in the last few lines, "You get zero percent ... if you can fucking try to stay silent" (I think). Are TNP editorializing on the entertainment industry's decades-long exploitation of consumers and artists?

What's really fascinating, though, is how TNP uses symbols -- the number four, the pounds sterling currency -- not symbolically, but aesthetically, as sounds. "Four" and "pounds" are jackhammered into a blur of almost-abstraction so that they're sonic patterns as much as the cha cha chas.
Defamiliarization could go a couple ways here. The obvious one is the deconstructive path -- the song highlighting inherent instability of meaning (another track, "Numerology," repeatedly asks "What's your favorite number/what does it mean?"). But I think these boys and girl have a slightly different agenda. Consider what Jasper Johns did with his number paintings and drawings: highlighted process with texture and erasure, prodded the nature of representation by divorcing symbols from context. But more important, rendered the ordinary new and mysterious, made art out of the prosaic. The cool thing is, unlike a Johns' canvas you can dance to this.

Buy Beat Pyramid (Amazon), Myspace


Blogger Modestmerlin said...

Rootlessness is usually as important as rootfullness, don't you think? I'm a bit skeptical about the recent praise being showered upon THESE NEW PURITANS. It's one thing to acknowledge and enjoy a fun-for-now electropop'ish outfit but quite another to begin assigning higher meaning to an insipid track like "numbers aka numerology."

8:40 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Quite another (by which you mean, ridiculous) only if you believe meaning is intrinsic to the song, painting, etc (which I don't, obvs). I wouldn't spend time writing an mp3 blog if I had any investment in the high culture/low culture dichotomy or didn't think pop music was worth talking about seriously.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Infrason said...

The Raveonettes always sound so great. I love this elegant and mysterious sound.


1:46 PM  

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