Friday, August 29, 2008

THE GLORY DROOPETH TO THE DUST: Rock critics sent packing once again

Getty Images folded today for the commoner's sin of failing to make money.

PaperThinWalls was another of many music media sites done in by lack of any concrete way to monetize the Internet. As a publication devoted to fringe music, it gambled on being able to somehow capitalize on a niche audience -- indie music hipster/nerds -- an excessively fickle group least likely to part with cash for much of anything. The first company into it, Pitchfork Media, essentially owns this territory and shoving room for others has been very hard to come by.

The PTW website posted daily reviews of singles selected from bands and solo acts as well as links to news thought likely to be of interest to regular readers. It employed a handful of full-time staffers and about forty free-lancers. Your host was one of the latter. specialized in covering what I've disparaged here as nerd rock -- poverty-case art practiced by pale liberal arts grads and assorted flunkouts. It's a broad genre, spanning college radio alternative pop to microniche heavy metal bands fit only for booger collections.

If you think rock 'n' roll, people who can sing and a groove or steady beat are boring, then nerd rock is for you. (And you're probably reading this blog by mistake.)

My lack of enthusiasm for the genre is not only one of taste but also generational. Been there, done that in a crap noise rock band in the early Eighties. Then one didn't have the social networking power of the Internet at one's command, just fanzines to be mailed out with excess postage. This was actually a good thing. It served as a limiter on the number of poor groups making "records."

When the Internet removed physical and economic restraints on execution, being in a calculatingly wretched nerd rock band became something floods of young people aspire to.

In any case, DD reviewed records for PaperThinWalls for about a year and a half. The effort was sincere but always a juggling act in which one tried not to overly insult the readership and artist while at the same time fairly illustrating what one really thought of various CDs.

In other words, skill in the art of damning by faint praise.

Some examples (I challenge you not to smirk).

Jesse Sykes’s voice goes from hoarse to whispery, lugubrious the rest of the time, like a distraught frog if there were such a thing. 'Those were happy times,' she sings, sounding unsure of her convictions. -- from a review of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter here.

Beats listening to John Mellencamp singing about our country during a commercial for full-sized pickup trucks. -- on Blanche's “What This Town Needs.”

Not Blanche, that was for sure.

Masterplan sets guitars for the heart of the Milky Way, building stainless steel cathedrals in the pomp-rock-fried part of the your mind after 20 years of listening to Foreigner, Head East and Maurice Jarre’s soundtrack to Dr. Zhivago ... "Now it's time, I'm gonna win!" sings a poor man's Lou Gramm on a song of the same title ...

Most of Lords’ "This Ain’t A Hate Thing, It’s A Love Thing" CD is ... a strong whiff of underemployed laborers from the ’71 rock vineyard, a field from which oddballs were handpicked and kept on major label retainers as long as they didn’t cost much and were able to sell ten thousand copies ... See here

With a burst of feedback, Monarch! slows to the speed of 18 minutes over breakfast porridge in a bowl and it’s raining outside. Cymbal strikes and snare drum shots —- in your ennui you toss spoonfuls of porridge at the wall. A banshee wails at the calumny. If you’d had “Speak Of The Devil, Speak Of The Sea” to listen to 10 years ago, you wouldn’t have made it to work in the morning. The economy would have collapsed as the polity stared into its morning mush, a collective tear falling to the table.

The first tune, “Geryon's Throne,” is 27 minutes [and] the Orthodoxies indicate it is their hardest song to play because one has to know where one's going to get somewhere -— and with a finish at the half-hour mark, a good short term memory, backward and forward, is required.

Face it though, you don't want to be buying albums of just the corny old-timey trad stuff when -- ho-ho-ho -- on Christmas you'll be watching porn on the net in the morning, masturbating alone and watching a third-rate bowl game over a few six packs to make the afternoon short. If lucky, by evening you'll have blacked out. -- On Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison's “Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk” from a CD entitled "Happy Holidays."

Turn the thing up real loud, mix with flashing lights, and if there are any epileptics in the vicinity, they'll hurl and seize. Burned to a CD and stuck in the house 500-watter, it made cats run for cover and hide for 15 minutes ... -- White Denim's “Let's Talk About It.”


On a song called "I Shit You Not" from the fringe death metal band, Daymares:

Without a lyric sheet you’ll not be able to ascertain what the singer is shitting-you-not about, although his conviction is obvious. “I shit you not!” shouts the entire band at the two-minute mark. For the remix, try “We shit you not!” guys. It'll add a little extra push and pull between choruses because it's a phrase everyone can enjoy.

DD's last dance with Paperthinwalls was over half a year ago, for an Israeli punk rock band called Monotonix, a name which gave them a little too much credit. Feeble foreign punk rock would have been well beyond lame even in 1988 so I chose not to fulfill the review.

Paperthinwalls, relatively uniquely among most music journalism sites which exist solely on the net, paid its contributors. And its end simply makes things more crabbed for its writers, diminishing music journalism by loss of a a place where you could, although somewhat cryptically, write what you thought, not what some band of silly people wanted for their scrap book.


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