Showing posts with label hipster. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hipster. Show all posts

Monday, March 11, 2013

album review: 'the raven that refused to sing (and other stories)' by steven wilson

I wish hipsters were more sincere.

Now, in a previous review I wrote about hipster music and culture, how most of it is rife with condescension, shallowness, and capricious exclusivity, and how most of their art is praised for the superficial aesthetic rather than deeper meaning. But as hipster culture has been embraced by the mainstream, I will say there is one thing about it I can praise, and that is that there is nothing wrong with liking different things. It's gotten people to check out and try new things they've never seen or experienced before, and I think that's only a good thing, particularly for the artists who have been struggling in the underground and are now getting more attention than just Pitchfork.

That being said, with mainstream acceptance comes rampant cynicism and naked commercial exploitation, and since hipster culture is built on consumption, the effects have been all the more stark. More than once I've caught myself wondering if people are listening to weird material not because they actually like it or appreciate its value, but because it's the 'in thing' to do. They're still following a herd - just one that's a bit more scattered.

But while hipster culture has introduced a plethora of new acts to the spotlight, it's also done something I really despise, and that is to drench everything in 'irony'. This is something I've never liked about hipster culture, because it's disingenuous and more than a little disrespectful to the artists who care about their work. Furthermore, it adds an additional asterisk to questions of what people like - are they liking it because it's something they genuinely enjoy, or because they're being 'ironic' or just running with the crowd? As someone who is deeply sincere about his likes and dislikes, I find quite insulting when people claim to like something 'ironically' because it's not just condescending to their audience, it's condescending to the artist. It's the hipster saying that their artwork is only worth anything as a punchline, not related to any merit or message. And the more time I've spent on Pitchfork, reading their 'style over substance' album reviews, the more I have to wonder whether or not any of their appreciation for the music is sincere in the slightest. 

And thus it's absolutely no surprise Pitchfork has tended to completely ignore the genres of progressive rock and metal, even though one would think both music genres would be right up their ally. Musical complexity, expansive soundscapes, a strong literary and classical tradition, these are all things Pitchfork loves, yet new prog albums, even independent ones, are never reviewed. But it becomes fairly clear when one considers that prog, in nearly all of its forms, is incredibly, achingly sincere music. These are artists pouring a ton of work and depth into their craft and delivering that message completely straight. It's a mindset that allowed Jethro Tull to make Thick As A Brick, an album spoofing the ludicrous excesses of prog rock that later came to be celebrated as one of the greatest prog albums of all time. And I think one of the reasons that album is so well-liked today isn't just because prog is sincere, it also actively demands that its listener be sincere, and thus Jethro Tull's spoof ended up being less of a joke and more of a tribute to the genre - or at least that was how the fans considered it. Perhaps to the genre's detriment, the majority of prog takes itself way too seriously, and it expects the listeners to do the same.

But, you know, most of the time, prog's seriousness and complexity can work well. Yes, the worst of prog rock and prog metal earn the 'pretentious' label right out of the gate, and one of the reasons the genre is considered near-extinct in modern times is because that bloat and pretentiousness got too unwieldy to be tolerated, but the best prog rock is timeless, delving into deep issues with intellect and surprising insight. Thus it shouldn't come as any surprise that prog rock and prog metal are two of my favourite genres of music, even despite my acknowledgement of some of the inherent ridiculousness and pretentiousness. In fact, I'll be the first to admit that often the musical complexity and dynamics are what redeems some of this genre from really not being nearly as interesting as the artists seem to think it is.

And on that note, let's talk about Steven Wilson.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

album review: 'swing lo magellan' by the dirty projectors

Short version: yeah, these guys are seriously talented instrumentalists, but outside of that, there's nothing of substance good or interesting enough to justify the artifice. In other words, it's insubstantial, and outside of the great leading single, not really worth your time.

Today, we're going to talk about hipster music, and the culture that supports it.

Considering my fondness for weirdness and off-beat stuff nobody has ever heard of, one initially might make the reasonable assumption that I hold some fondness for the hipster lifestyle, that I might be one of the exotic coffee-drinking, art film-viewing, glasses-wearing, generally snobbish fellows that peruses Pitchfork and has general disdain for everything popular. Now, anybody who has read any of my reviews would know by now that's not the case, and while I can appreciate some of the art and music and films that come out of the hipster culture, I know myself well enough not to consider myself a hipster. In fact, if I'm going to be completely honest, I don't really have the highest opinion of 'hipsters' in general.

Part of it comes down to attitude, I think. There's a certain element of condescension inherent in hipster culture that comes with seemingly knowing and 'understanding' things other people don't, but here's the contradiction: for something to remain hipster-friendly, it needs to remain somewhat underground. If it becomes popular, suddenly it's not cool in the same way, unless said hipsters appreciate it 'ironically'. It comes down to not appreciating the art because it's good or profound or interesting or groundbreaking, but because the 'mainstream' hasn't discovered yet. It's the thrill of being in a secret society and the assumption that just because someone is privileged enough to have the time to go hunting for this sort of material, it makes that person better. Now granted, I get the appeal, but I've got to be honest, I'd prefer that the wider culture would embrace the art in question because it's good, and might provide a message that benefits society on a greater level. While hipster culture promotes exclusivity, I'd prefer something more inclusive, with the only barrier to entry coming in the interpretation or reflection of the artwork. 

And here's where we come to the part of things where hipsters cringe, because it's something they really don't want to admit, and that's the deeper message of most of the 'hipster culture' they admire just isn't nearly as deep as they want it to be. I think, on some level, hipsters recognize that, and thus they seek out music that's more esoteric and bizarre in aesthetic, but not really all that deep or interesting upon a closer examination. It's one of my bigger problems with Pitchfork - not that they don't do a decent job analyzing the external aesthetic and mechanics of a song (albeit all of them need to put away the damn thesaurus), but that they rarely go deeper into the message and deeper meaning of the work. 

Now, it doesn't help matters that being a hipster is becoming a 'thing', so to speak. The mainstream market was starting to realize the appeal of the hipster 'brand' as early as 1995 with the opening of RENT (likely earlier in some places), and it has reached the point that there is indeed a hipster 'brand'. For as anti-corporate as some hipsters like to think they are, they feel to realize that their lifestyles and cultural appreciation are dependent upon the corporate brands that feed them. And as ironic as that is, I can't help but feel a twinge of unease when I see the mainstream adopting some of the aesthetic of hipsters and indie rock while completely missing any substance that might be hiding inside. I've ranted about Foster The People before, how they were a band that was co-opting the hipster look and feel for their music and the attitude for the message, but the message was so insidious and phony that it felt like a self-absorbed parody in the vein of 3OH!3, but they aren't the only band that fits into the corporate co-opting of the hipster brand.

And here's the worst part - instead of fighting this by writing interesting, deeper songs, hipster music has hidden behind greater and greater artifice, perhaps to disguise the fact that they've never had anything that interesting to say in the first place. As an act, Metric's Synthetica was at least trying to make a statement, but most hipster indie rock won't even bother.

And with that, we have to talk about The Dirty Projectors, an indie rock band that's hipster through and through.