Other Ten Percent 5/13/13

May 13 2013

Well that’ll teach me on the new OTP format. I’ve been waiting for inspiration to strike and it’s now 10:47 on Sunday night and I’m drunk and I frankly don’t have a better idea of what I’m going to talk about than I did on Friday. So here’s the best I can do: let’s talk Daft Punk because right now we’re in a place where they’re emblematic of something that interests me intensely about music. At the moment we’ve got a radio edit of one song and really terrible rips of some small portion of two more but we’ve got a complete track by track review of the album from about 18 different sources.

On some level that’s actually as old school as the album itself, it used to be that you could actually have an album that existed for an elite few WITHOUT having it leak to everybody else and that’s now something you can only do when you have the absurd combination of clout and money that Daft Punk currently possess, but that’s not what makes their current position interesting to me.

What’s interesting to me is how bizarre it seems to try and impose your own narrative on top of that. Sure other people have had albums that got reviewed before they got leaked but nobody’s so thoroughly defined the story of what that album will be before anybody’s heard significant portion of it. Daft Punk is bringing Disco back. You can accept that or get out of the way but it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen because they have the mindshare and the narrative around the album is so on lock that it almost doesn’t matter what the album actually sounds like.

Just look at the reaction to Get Lucky. In any other year the race for the year’s summer jam would be a reliable traffic earner for anybody that judges music. Who gets to be the OFFICIAL summer jam is such a ridiculous question that I came up with 10 different options myself and I don’t have an editorial group I’m navigating. This year though, the articles are still happening but there’s no suspense. NY Mag published their version and even though the headline was “what will be the summer jam of 2013” the content of the article was “it’s Get Lucy. Here are some other songs though.”

For a while now I’ve wanted to do a review site for music but I’ve been describing it wrong. When I’ve said I want a music site that doesn’t pretend to be an impartial judge that’s objectively evaluating music people have rightly asked if I’m saying I want to be Lester Bangs but what I’m actually suggesting is the exact opposite. Instead of somebody who admits their biases up front and who just runs with them as hard as they can, I want a music review site that is actually grappling with the biases more than the music itself. I want to care about the story around the music that has informed everybody’s review MORE than I want to care about the album. In fact, I kind of want to only review albums nobody’s heard.

I touched upon this a little when I was talking about Kitty and Grimes on Wednesday but it isn’t limited to them by any means. Instead, it seems to be a vital part of the calculus of every band and we’re just pretending it doesn’t exist because it’s “all about the music, dude.” The fact that it hasn’t been all about the music since…ever doesn’t seem to bother anybody. Instead, it seems to make them all the more obsessed with the prospect of being the one reviewer that’s able to shake off the illusions of whatever story the band is telling about itself so that they can tell you what’s REALLY going on.

I’m not ready to say that review of an album is impossible but I am ready to say I’m not particularly interested in that review even if you could make it. Nobody listens to an album without some sense of the story around it. Nobody’s sitting down to listen to Random Access Memories with no conception of what Daft Punk is trying to do here, they’ve made damn sure of that.

Of course, none of this is limited to music. If that medium is unique in any way it’s that music reviewers have somehow managed to keep their belief in creativity ex-nihilo, but I’m not entirely sure that argument is even valid. All art criticism has an odd tendency to pretend like all we’re judging is the piece of art in front of us when anybody with any sense knows that isn’t true.

If any through-line to the new version of Other Ten Percent ever appears that’ll make me stick with this instead of freaking out that I’ve run out of things to say and reverting to the old format it’ll be that not enough people care about what a thing wants to be. I’m not trying to excuse crap art’s failure to execute on their ideas (and I do worry that in my haste to edit things down to the most pertinent links I sometimes gloss over that there’s a LOT of crap out there) but most everybody’s stopped judging things as a failure to create what it wants because they’re satisfied to attack it as a failure to be what they want.

Oh, right, the Daft Punk album. I mean on some level they’ve set themselves up to fail here. You can’t announce that you’re a wake up call to electronic music and actually BE a wake up call to electronic music. You can’t say you’re the wake-up call for anything and have that work. The best you can hope for is that everybody doing the thing you hate ignores you because you smacked them around too completely for them to try and directly respond to you (Sup, Cabin in the Woods).

On another level though it’s almost impossible for them to fail. It’s Daft Punk and they’ve clearly laid out the criteria on which you can judge them. They’re making a disco throwback record and they hired fucking Nile Rodgers for the gig. Good luck questioning those credentials.

…Yeah here’s what I’ve got to come up with to make these OTP entries work: I need a better moral than the fact that I’ve read 10,000 words on a topic and have no idea what I think about it.

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