Sunday, June 12, 2005

My usual problems w/The Believer apply to its new Music Issue--I don't like Danielson Famile to begin with so I haven't dived too deep into Rick Moody's consideration of them, and it's not helped by the fact that if a movie were to be made of his piece a few years back on 69 Love Songs it would have to be subtitled, with the subtitles reading, throughout, "Haha look! They're PAYING me to do this! What a scam! Hahaha!" I should also note that I almost never read fiction so I have no idea what he's like as a novelist; I suspect I'd be put off by that, too, but maybe (hopefully) I'm wrong. (His thing on the National Book Award a couple issues ago wasn't exactly enthralling, either--kind of shrill, actually.)

Q&A's: Best surprise is that John Roderick from the Long Winters, a Seattle band I've never much cared for, is a smart, funny motherfucker I'd love to talk to sometime. (Next time he makes an album, I guess I should, huh?) Carrie Brownstein talking to Karen O is all right; Eric Spitznagel talking to Beck is rather good, they manage to go over fairly standard territory in a surprisingly fresh way, I didn't feel like I'd read that one over and over already. Patton Oswalt and Aimee Mann and a bottle and a half of wine wasn't as self-regarding as I'd feared, which isn't to say it wasn't pretty self-regarding. Steve Almond on Smoosh was charming, mostly because he didn't get cute with the questions.

Essays: Hua Hsu's thing on end-of-history songs from the last days of the Cold War was pretty cool, though I wish he'd expounded more. The piece on the history of the smoking-bananas-can-get-you-high scam is really insightful. Douglas Wolk on the Fall's Peel Sessions box = easy highlight, so much so it's almost embarrassing to bother pointing it out. ("Easy" not because anyone else sucks, but because he's Douglas Wolk, whose job it is to make it look easier than it is.)

Still need to get around to the Susie Suh thing, though I often find James Hunter dense to the point of impenetrability. Haven't read most of the one-pagers, actually. I'll leave non-music content out in the spirit of the issue's selling point (and my specialty). The Singing Drummers thing was fairly amusing, though The Believer's charts have always left me bemused but not much more as a rule.

Played the CD earlier tonight for the first time. First half is quite good--I think I like Spoon's cover of Yo La Tengo's "Decora" more than anything on Gimme Fiction, actually, and I like that record just fine, my amended-by-others Spin grade notwithstanding. Second half drops off considerably. Still, it's free, which certainly doesn't hurt things any, especially since I enjoyed the first half so much.

Nitpicks will be with us always, but I do admire the magazine on the whole (I've bought every issue since no. 1) and am glad it's around. It's VERY indie-centric, obv., and while that's not an end-of-times kind of thing to me (this week, har har), I wish they'd at least make the effort to broaden it more. Recently, a friend mentioned that he did a Q&A with a well-respected dance-music figure for them, to run at some later point, but I wish it were in this issue--not just because I'm excited to read it, but because the thing is SO DAMN INDIE-ROCK, y'know? I am beyond tired of the assumption that smart people necessarily like indie rock, or that indie rock fans are necessarily smart, or any combination of those things you want to come up with in your spare time. Sure, plenty of indie rock is smart; this year, the Hold Steady and the Mountain Goats have made my thus-far first- and third-favorite albums, and they're both easily enough accomodated by that category. But apart from the still-awe-inspiring (for fans, for readers, for hip-hop lovers, for folks who do interviews at least some of the time and are always trying to bone up and do better, like me in each of those cases) ?uestlove interview by Toure, most of the non-indie-rock interviews with musicians they've run haven't been particularly interesting. (Actually, that's unfair; I'm primarily thinking of Toure's Q&A with Q-Tip, which was everything the ?uestlove one wasn't: plodding, uninspired on both ends, and sort of puzzling, in the sense of, "What did they run this one for? I haven't learned anything interesting here." I may find the Aimee Mann/Patton Oswalt thing a touch precious, but I did come away from it knowing that Mann likes Oscar schwag and that Oswalt has some interesting theories about Democrats needing parental figures, both of which were fairly striking while I was reading it, which is all I can ask for short of timeless literature.)

Nevertheless, there's something disheartening about this narrowness. What about jazz, guys? Matthew Shipp or Jason Moran or James Carter or take-your-pick are fascinating figures who have lots to say from what I've read; get a sympathetic ear to grill 'em and we'd lap it up. Classical, too. Etc. (And hey, maybe I ought to get off my ass and pitch them something along those lines, too, right? Put up or shut up, right, Matos?) Obviously, The Believer isn't a music magazine, and I wouldn't want them to be. (I'd love for someone to come up with the equivalent of it for music, though--and maybe, again, I should put up or shut up.) So yeah, that's what I'd ask for in future Music Issues--that, and I wish they'd made the One-Page Reviews music reviews rather than book reviews, just this once.