Sunday, February 04, 2007

SNOBS RULE MUSIC JOURNALISM AT NEWSPAPER: Albums are dead and it's the revolution-solution

Sunday's always snob day in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times.

Like the other few very big dailies of the nation, it's the day the reporter trots out the big feature he or she's been working over all week, the one that has to establish some unified field theory in pop music, or find the right kind of intelligent and cultured musicians to expose to readers. Or both.

The lede piece was Ann Powers' the-album's-dead-nope-maybe-isn't-if-people-take-my-advice article. The New York Times had someone do this, too, back in December. (See here. No one listens to 'em, it's all iPods and piracy, go die already geezers.)

"The album as a format is dead," writes Powers. "It is so, so dead that it's obituary has been written approximately 981 in the past five years (that's how many times the phrase 'death of the album' came up when I put the phrase into a Google search."

Friendly advice: Because something is in a database one thousand times doesn't make it so. Check bioterror inevitable or it's easy for terrorists to [do fill-in-the-blank].

In any case, directly below Powers' article on the death of the album and Fall Out Boy's insistence that theirs will be the one to resurrect it, comes the second feature.

"How's this for a concept album: Jim Morrison's spirit summons a collective of Internet-savvy artist-activist-environmentalists to slip the surly bonds and attend a party up on high," writes Susan Carpenter.

It would be funny if Carpenter had an obvious sense of humor. Although surely a nice lady in person, Carpenter is a Times features writer who is always the snob in print.

Writing on books or music or consumer goods, she just can't help it. Everything is either the most expensive, the biggest, the bestest, the brightest, the most precious or something exceptional.

Normally, she's been writing for the automotive section. A weirder match couldn't be found because the Times car section, Highway One, is anchored by relentlessy unsnobby and merciless reviews.

But not Carpenter's work.

She writes only about breaking the speed limit with the most expensive and high-powered motorcycles money can buy. When they're not the most high-powered, they're the weirdest, like a Russian Army-built one that comes with a sidecar, one you can't afford, either.

For today's article, it's description after description about how intellectually, physically and spiritually top rank Perry Farrell is.

" . . . [he] shows them the pollution and the melting solar ice caps, then sends his party guests back to earth where they are christened as Solutionists and charged with saving the world."

"What he's setting to music: The 'revolution solution.'"

Now you might think such a thing cries out for lampooning. But the Times would never allow such a supercilious bird in its music section.

". . . Farrell's tight-fitting T-shirt and jeans showing off his low-fat physique, a string of red semi-precious stones demonstrating his allegiance to Native American philosophy . . . Farrell's is the ultimate in cosmic thinking . . . cosmic as in universal, as in visionary, as in the product of extensive reading, study and drive."

"Farrell seems especially affected by William McDonough and Michael Braungart's book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, about rethinking the manner in which objects are designed so they don't rot in a landfill but devolve into reusable 'technical nutrients.' "

Carpenter goes on but the reader gets the idea. If she were a horse, the thing to do would be to take her out, way way out to the most verdant pasture, letting her there to nibble grass and other nutrient-filled shrubs while pondering the ineffable goodness of the sky.

That being the case, Carpenter is easy to lampoon.

A few years ago, the Times published a feature on a local pop dance band called Dengue Fever. DD took it straight, cut-and-paste from the newspaper, leaving much of the structure of the original intact but souping up into super-Carpenter-style.

Remember, this is to be read with the straightest demeanor, else it would not be fit for coverage by many of the newspaper's music reporters. It's not funny, damnit!

Dengue Fever catching on!

If you can imagine a band where a Cambodian beauty queen shares the stage with Fidel Castro, Harry Truman, "Hooray for the Salvation Army Band" Bill Cosby and Michael Hutchence, you'd have a pretty good idea of the band Dengue Fever.

A well-executed experiment in the patenting of weirdos, the Silver Lake six piece is the sound of two cultures -- and eras: rollicking Sixties Beach Boys and psychedelic music translated into Khmer for the girl from Phnom Penh to sing.

During a show at Santa Monica Feeble Bar on Ivar last week, Dengue Fever surprised more than a few listeners. Warmed up by a Chilean singer-songwriter who wore a sanitary napkin on his head ala John Lennon in LA exile from Yoko Ono, singer Nyquol danced around the stage in a too-tight pair of Cambodian bridal bloomers. After belting out lines in Khmer and talking to the crowd in broken English, the band passed a hat. It was quickly filled.

The band was not surprised. Crowds always "go mental" at their shows, band members say. In 2002, when the group made its live debut at hipster hangout Spaceland in Silver Lake, "even white guys in tight pants with chew tobacco tins in their back pockets were dancing," said the bassist.

Guys with chew tobacco tins in their back pockets are rare in Silver Lake, but there's something in the combination of Beach Boy lyrics in Khmer and bridal bloomers that inspires.

To look at the audience during a performance is to see dozens of faces admiring the singer as if she were some sort of exotic animal in a zoo, like the giraffe with the giant kink in its neck now on display at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

The 23-yearold singer is Cambodian, not Cambodian-American, which would spoil the stilted novelty of this article and the band's official bio.

Band members Ethan and Zac Holtzman, who think of themselves as Cambodians, too, were trawling Little Phnom Penh in LA when they discovered their front girl singing in a market. Both had wanted a real Cambodian singer ever since 1997, when they visited southeast Asia and became hooked on the local psychedelic rock.

Zac Holtzman explains Cambodians went crazy for psychedelic music shortly after a B-52 was shot down over the country during the Nixon Administration's secret bombing campaign. The B-52, with "The Devil's Music" painted on its nose, carried cassettes of Jimi Hendrix, the Jefferson Airplane and the Beach Boys, which were listened to intently by scavengers combing the wreckage.

On the band's debut, Phenom-Penh, there are only two original songs. The rest as Sixties numbers translated into official Khmer. Especially exciting is a version of "If 6 was 9," which in Khmer means *&Y34 ^ ==!@, a southeast Asian wish to live long and prosper.


Anonymous rmicken said...

Angor Wat Da Fuck?!!

2:06 PM  

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