Friday, May 2, 2014


Here's an interesting exercise for aural analysis. Imagine a piece of music as a programmed pattern for a massage chair. Lower frequencies massage the lower back, and higher frequencies massage the shoulders and neck. Loudness at a specific frequency band would correspond to the physical pressure and speed that the chair would provide at the corresponding area of the back. Articulated, percussive sounds would evoke that dreaded "percussive" setting on massage chairs that feels like somebody is trying to tickle you with a jackhammer. Of course, a massage chair that was completely informed by spectral analysis of our favorite music to relax to would make for a pretty mediocre massage, because our back muscles and our cochleas want different things. That being said, It's important to remember that the ear itself is a frequency analyzer of it's own. The basilar membrane is a stiff structure in the ear that begins as thick and resonant with higher frequencies at the base of the cochlea and thins out as it approaches the apex of the cochlea, thus making it more resonant for lower frequencies. The result is a structure that resonates at specific points when activated by the entire spectrum of human hearing. One could imagine the tactility of the thinnest part of this structure vibrating in resonance with thumping bass, or sound like white noise, which has about an equal amount of power across the entire spectra of frequencies, vibrating the entirety of the basilar. However, if we were going to create a piece of music that was going to be the best possible 'massage chair' for our cochleas, would it be good music? Would we find it entertaining?

A spectral analysis I did of Atmospheres, a mastodon of a piece by Ligeti.

Short answer: I have no idea. Long answer:

Although I have a strong personal disdain for the genre as a whole and have never enjoyed listening to it, I am fascinated by the extreme rise in success of popular electronic dance music, popularly referred to as EDM. After reading up a bit on exactly this subject, I have found that EDM is the most distilled and economical form of aural stimulation through music: 5 minutes of sequencing work from the music creator birth hi hats that click away at approximately 10 ms, creating a pleasurable loop of constant ABR (Auditory Brainstem Response). Because it is so easy to generate using modern tools, the genre is perpetually oversaturated with new releases. It is worth noting that the people producing this music are not often cognizant of the neurological origins of the music, but the people that create the software and sound libraries for these producers often are. Furthermore, it is also an assumption that is supported by anecdotal evidence that a great many of the people that listen exclusively to this type of music are on severely empathogenic drugs, so it is safe to presume that these listeners to this genre respond mores to lower level neurological arousal such as brainstem response than higher level stimulation that people approaching music with any academic interest or even mere sobriety would respond to positively, such as constant confirmations and denial of expectation and social and historical context. It is the undisputed massage chair of music.

This begs the question: What kind of tools, be they acoustic or compositional, did the popular music of early modern Europe exploit to make the listener "feel good"?  In this case I am correlating popular music with early medieval church music for a myriad of reasons: In the same way that cathedrals, vocalists, and composers of masses all worked in conjunction to recreate a specific sound that evoke the concept of God, clubs, DJs and EDM producers all work in conjunction to evoke the concept of pleasure. The issue with both of these spaces is that your enjoyment of this space is contingent upon an interest in those space's definitions of said concepts. Similarly to how serious issues arose when you're expected to align with both the churches expectations for personal faith, serious issues arise when somebody's idea of pleasure does not align with strobe lights and sweaty dance floors.

Furthermore, I'd like to talk briefly about white noise through the critical lens of spectral equilibrium.  Recently there has been a lot of talk in the sexier corners of academia about biophony: The phenomenon that vocalizing animals will  naturally select specific bandwidths-here being ranges of pitch- to vocalize in based on other competing regular sounds in that ecosystem. In conjunction with geophony, the study of non-animal sound, one could imagine there is a darwinian tendency for animals to find a specific bandwidth niche, and in doing so bring the ecosystem closer to equal power across the aural frequency spectrum. This all pertains to acoustic ecology, a field as interesting as it is difficult to bring up on first dates.
Before electronics conditioned us to correlate it with poor signals, white noise at a reasonably quiet volume was evocative of the placidity of nature.  Fifteenth century polyphonic masses, especially from the flemish school of polyphony, were incredibly spectrally dense and had an expansive range compared to prior music. This, in addition to the talking and other ambient anthrophony going on in the cathedral, meant there was a relatively high level of noise. Thus, a church of Early Modern Europe was spectrally similar to any natural ecosystem in many ways. The most alien, artificial feature of the cathedral was its acoustics. There was simply no other space built on the scale of a cathedral in 15th century Europe. With their vaulted ceilings, cathedrals like St. Donations in Bruges did more than provide spaces that projected the singing voice exceptionally well; Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals were spatially biased so that sound from the altar to the congregation came primarily from above. In conclusion, cathedrals were acoustically evocative of natural habitats with one key difference: voices perceived to be coming from the heavens.

Compare this to the archetypical well engineered EDM song, with it's restrained use of specific bandwidths during specific EDM tropes: the introduction of the low end with the drop, the hi hats, clicking away at 10 milliseconds, using the frequency cutoff of a lowpass filter to control the dynamic of the ubiquitous "wub-bass" rather than wholesale attenuation of the signal. On our hypothetical massage chair, this is music designed to deliver concentrated payloads to specific pressure points, while the church music of early modern Europe was more of an all-encompassing, slow massage meant to entrance you, in addition to a fan which you can imagine is emanating from a higher power if you keep your eyes closed.

So what is lost in the analysis of music in terms of how good it is to your ear hole? For one, it is not accounting for the push-pull tango of confirmation and denial that good music performs with our expectations. Even more than that, however, the aural massage chair does not consider the literary ambitions of great music. I spend a lot time thinking about what kinds of music I cannot get out of my head, and why I'm so enraptured by it. I have found that the common thread of my favorite music is strong narratives, characters and setting. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, my favorite singular piece of music, is a piece about pagan ritual, and renders convincing musical commentary on the volatile relationship man has with nature.  Avalanches' Since I Left You weaves an album-long tapestry of musings on travel and exoticism, using a collage of samples from various genres and ethnicities in an attempt to create die Übergenre der Musik, or at least a globally-minded gesamtkunstwerk. Biggie's Ready to Die's dichotomy of charismatic malefaction and hysterical guilt asks the listener what it really means for a person to be bad, especially when that person is trying to escape from under the thumb of institutionalized racial oppression. The counterargument to this is that music is abstract and meaningless so that we can create our own narratives while listening to it. I think that is merely an excuse not to dig into the implications of the music at hand.

My fascination with the literary component of music is the reason why I do not enjoy the vast majority of EDM or early modern church music. EDM is intentionally vague as a function of the space it is for, allowing listeners to fill in their own narrative of a classic night, chiming in with occasional pseudo-philosophy about how short life is and the only way to appreciate your existence and the existence of your closest friends in this transient window of mortality is to "go all night". Church music expects you to fill in a narrative of your personal devotion to God within the cracks between the Kyrie and the Credo. It's this contradiction that keeps me from actively enjoying both genres of music: The expectation that the ambiguous nature of the music will allow you to fill in your own narrative, as long as it is the very specific narrative the music and the space it is built for wants you to experience.

Some further reading:
A soon-to-be colleague of mine Madeline Huberth wrote an excellent masters thesis on arousal and musical memory.

A soon-to-be professor of mine Jonathan Berger wrote an excellent article on confirmation and denial of expectation in music

Thanks for reading.

Suggested listening:

Not my favorite track on the album (Made Possible has been my jam for a month or so now), but still a great piece.

One of the most visceral songs I've ever heard. Listen for Jay Rock's structurally flawless guest verse, as well as the fantastic use of a segment of His and Her as a postlude

Cedric sounds like a fucking rock star in this project, and Omar's playing has all the manic energy that was missing from Mars Volta's final album, Noctourniquet.

In celebration of returning to the Island for a little bit after graduation.

I'm graduating! Also worth noting: This song does not resolve until the very end, just like Tristan and Isolde. Does that mean Kanye West is the Wagner of our generation? Yes.

Friday, November 16, 2012


All media, be it pop, art, prose, or games, and their value as entertainment, are defined by how they retain the interest of the consumer. Media will make certain demands of the consumer; To listen critically to a song or a verse, to keep track of characters and plot in a movie or novel, or to execute complex actions in a video game. If the consumers accept the demands made by the media, they are rewarded with new content; Hidden subtext, a dynamic and melodic chorus in a song, or a new environment to explore in a game. This is the feedback loop: the constant alternation between challenge and reward when listening to a piece or album, watching a film or television show, reading, or playing a game. If the media is not challenging enough, the new content is devalued and the player/listener/reader/viewer is calloused to new content and skims through it unappreciatively. However, if the media is too challenging, the consumer will not have the patience to see the content on the other end of the challenge. It is a precarious balancing act that is completely dependent on the medium and the consumer's attention span.

However, that does not mean that any specific media have fixed feedback loops. Indeed, all forms of media have explored the spectrum between depth and accessibility. On one hand, there is a concern that the consumer will have a short attention span and require immediate gratification, a concern that is becoming increasingly validated in a world where media is easier to access and cheaper than ever. On the other hand, consumers may demand more challenging content in order to feel a greater sense of reward or entitlement. For music, the band Fun is on the former end of the spectrum, dealing exclusively in ebullient, non-offensive pop concerning ubiquitous anxieties and unrelenting idealism to the point of being theatrical. On the latter end of the spectrum rests The Mars Volta, a group that pours multiple hooks, polyrhythms and noise experiments into every song they create at a neck-breakingly fast pace. This has never been a proper indicator of the quality of the media: Contrary to the tastes of the snobby intellectual, there is beauty in the dilution of content, pacing exposition at a rate one can comfortably digest, and if content is paced too densely it can be impenetrable; Contrary to the tastes of the crass reductionist, media can be monotonous if it builds too slowly, and rewarding if it challenges the consumer. Indeed, the exact rate at which ideas should be introduced to the consumer is dependent on both the medium one is working in and the audience one is working towards. Many popular indie rock bands, such as The Shins and Arcade Fire, will write songs built around a singular hook of a chorus, set up tonally by a conventional verse. Through this these bands create a simple but effective feedback loop: the setup and establishment of key and (aesthetic) tone, followed by the reward of a catchy, cantabile hook, and repeated in strophic form. by repeating the verse and hook alternatively, they repeat the feedback loop, alternating between challenge and reward for the listener. In this genre, the verse is exposition, and the chorus is cathartic execution: In the former, the pieces are set on the chessboard; In the latter, the game. It is the maximum utilization of minimal content.

The opposite is true in conventional forms of hip-hop such as the work of anyone from Pac to Meek Mill: The verse is the focus of attention, and the chorus is establishment of tone. Furthermore, the verse is a constant stream of new, non repeating content lyrically, set against an ostinato of instrumentals. This is why many songs in this genre will begin with the chorus, or eliminate the chorus or hook all together (such as Lil Wayne's "6' 7'", Jay-Z's "No Hook", Danny Brown's "30", Pusha T's "Blow", or Nas's "A Queens Story") This is an exceedingly clever method of pushing content to the listener- while the rapper is pushing new content to the listener at a rapid pace in the form of lyrics, the listener could listen to the beat, which is repeating over and over again under the rapper. Here, the rate of exposition is stacked vertically: The beat is redundant and easy to chew, while the lyricism is a blitzkrieg of wordplay, narrative and complex rhyme schemes. While a listener might enjoy a song on first listen because it bangs and has all types of incredible instrumentation and sampling, that listener is also rewarded on repeated listens by being able to interpret and analyze the lyrical content.

Films face a similar challenge in having to having to create layered feedback loops. In an action movie, there will be set up and exposition for the first two thirds of the film, leading to a massive climax of cathartic violence. However, in order to maintain the interest of the audience, the film must also be composed of several smaller feedback loops- exciting set piece moments of tension and release, to entertain the viewer as he or she is being set up for the climax. This is also the skeleton of the convention romantic comedy- smaller feedback loops of cutesy slapstick humor as the film builds a larger loop of two people falling in then out then presumably back in love. The feedback loop is easy to control and manipulate in cinema- the consumer is presumably devoting their full attention to the product, unlike music; The consumer is also forced to only see what the film wants him or her to see when the film wants to show it, unlike video games. It's a phenomenal and tightly fixed medium of entertainment.

Video game developers need to be especially conscious of the feedback loop, and different people have different interests in what kind of challenge they want from a video game. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an RPG developed by Bethesda Softworks, a collective of industry veterans that have been notable for creating vast worlds rich with mechanisms and mythos. The first three Elder Scrolls were tremendously difficult games- games in which you had to build a character by placing points into certain skills, and if you put too few points into a certain skill, you would be completely boned for the rest of the game- a possibility that modern game design conventions avoid. In the fourth and fifth iterations of the series, Elder Scrolls games have given the player the option to play in a version that is almost impossible to fail in- the player can run around the world, throwing around spells at characters like some sort of coked-up wizard serial killer. As these games become easier and more accessible, the they become less like a game and more like an interactive sandbox, where the player blows through content and lore as fast as possible and is heralded as the hero of every town and guild in the game world. Here, the player is treated as some sort of hybrid between a tourist and the Übermensch. I could only imagine that many people who play video games find this treatment immensely satisfying- adolescents who want immediate escapism from a world where they ultimately do not feel they have enough control. However, this is a double edged sword- as the player moves through levels, dungeons, plot, combat, and lore at an incredible rate, they slowly become callous to the details of the game that the developers spent hours trying to perfect. The player begins to notice vistas and the thrill of combat less and less and starts to notice little incongruities and inconveniences- an arbitrary menu here, a choppy animation there- more and more. Eventually, the player is focusing more on what is slowing the rate he or she is consuming content moreso than the content itself. This is the point at which the player's actions are out of the developer's control as the player tries to break the rules of the game in order to negate challenges as much as possible. This is where all writing, art, and design is completely devalued in the player's experience.

On the other end of the spectrum is a game called Dark Souls by the Japanese developers From Software. This game explains nothing about it's mechanics nor context. It presents the player with a massive, continuous, and dangerous world. It delights in monkey wrenches and fail states: At one point a few hours in (after you think you have finally figured out the combat system) there is a large bridge. When you try to cross it, a giant dragon comes out of nowhere and sets the entire bridge on fire, resulting in instantaneous death unless the player ducked quickly into a set of stairs on the right. The game is purposefully vague about where the player can and cannot progress and how to unlock areas. Furthermore, there is no in-game map- the player must remember which roads lead where. This forces the player to prod at the game and experiment with it to advance- and to advance at a snails pace that most people interested in video games would not have the patience for. However, as the player advances and succeeds, the reward feels immense- one soaks in every vista, every new room, and every new encounter. The player lavishes in every new area and detail as the huge, mysterious map begins to fill in with shortcuts to and from areas the player has been through before. Furthermore, the game revels in surreal twists of logic. At one point the player can take an elevator from a later point to the starting area, at which point I was astonished. I could not believe that the chapel I spent hours getting to was mere stories above the shrine at the end of the world I was dropped in. Upon further thought, I realized that it was completely impossible- the elevator was a vessel through non-euclidian space, a trick built on the work of MC Escher. At other points, the game plays with scale- one room contains a massive rat, at least 8 feet tall and covered in scabs and matted fur. The game forces the player to play by the game's rules, instead of bending and distorting to allow the player to access all of it's content as quickly as possible. However, the game is more rewarding at each victory than any game to be released in the last decade. Indeed, Dark Souls stretches the feedback loop farther than many things in many mediums.

So why do we revel in different rates of challenge and reward? Why don't we focus on a medium where we can be in complete control of when and how the player, listener, or viewer is challenged and rewarded? The answer is hidden under a veil of self-indulgence: consumers do not want to allocate complete attention to a piece of media that does not need it. Consumers do not want to be forced to sit in a concert hall and not have to check their cellphones or drink or talk to their friends. Consumers don't want to play a video game where they are not being challenged on their own volition. Consumers don't want to be forced to read an entire book in one sitting. That is why, as media creators, we cannot force viewers, listeners, and players into claustrophobic skinner boxes with our products to ensure that they pay full attention to it. All we can do is offer: Here are our worlds, our voices, our deepest passions. Here are our half-justified explosions, our funniest dialogue, our saddest heartbreaks. Here is our work, our art, our focus-test-assured Kick Ass Title that has words like "Dark" and "Justice" and "Duty". We will let you be the hero of our worlds, the most intimate listener in our recording sessions, the most trusted lover of our protagonists. But only if you want to be.

And if you want to, I had better get paid for it. This shit doesn't make itself.

Friday, April 13, 2012


I wrote this in defense of an article in the Atlantic that described Kanye West as an American Mozart.

I'm a composer currently studying in the Jacobs School of Music in Indiana University. Jacobs is notorious for having the most intensive musical analysis courses in the nation. I've also studied in Paris in the European American Music Alliance, which is Nadia Boulanger's program that has been continued on by her and Messiaen's students.
That being said, I have extensibly studied both Mozart's and Kanye's work extensively. Having done this, I would like to express that I believe that Mozart is one of the most overrated human beings in history, having been mythologized like so many composers of the German tradition of western art music. His work is an exercise in wit and framed emotion, as is so much of the mid-classical era. The theorists of the world salivate at his use of thematic counterpoint in the finale of the Jupiter Symphony and his ability to pivot to new key eras, but he was still trapped in the conventional sonata form, like a virtuoso painter who only has access to charcoal and paper. Indeed, Mozart's actual musical identity is simply a wittier Haydn with less jokes and more gimmicks.
Kanye West has changed the face of modern music. Before he was signed to a record label, he would create five instrumentals a day, every day. He pioneered the manipulation of vinyl speeds to pitch shift samples. This allowed the rapper to be the dominant force in the middle register, while the sample provided a countermotif in the high register. He pioneered the use of lyrics in a sample to hocket with a rapper's lyrics, allowing for a thematic reapplication of the sampled song's original intent to create darker, ironic imagery. More recently, he has completely revolutionized the use of form in hip-hop, using samples in different contexts throughout his albums for thematic development, shifting key areas, and even changing tempos and meter within a song. He has elevated hip-hop in a way that baroque elevated art music the the 16th and 17th centuries.
Therefore, I wouldn't consider Kanye West an American Mozart- Mozart represents refinement and a return to reason. I would call him the American Bach, taking previously established conventions and forms and taking them to extremes for the sake of musical identity and expressionism.
Regardless of musicality, I would take a living artist over a marble bust in a museum any day of the week.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Igor Stravinsky was and is an untempered orchestra of temperaments. He embodied and embodies the impassioned virtuosity of the concert master, the shrieking histrionics of woodwinds, the noble swagger of brass, and the thunderous acrimony of percussion. He was a prodigy, a protege, and a pariah. His music was entirely unique: Quirky scherzos, angular rhythms set against romantic waltzes, stubborn ostinatos, and mature subject matter. His music has retained much of it's effect throughout the years, and he is one of the few composers in standard orchestra repertoire whose music can be considered art and not art history. Musically, he was a radical, taking the traditions of Russian romantic music, neo-classicism, and serialism and perverting them into his own artistic vision. But as a human being, he was shockingly normal: He had a family, made many friends in the art world, took shots with Dylan Thomas in Los Angeles, and was generally described as "incredibly polite."

But he was also kind of a dick.

Stravinsky constantly contradicted himself throughout his career. He outwardly detested religion until he rejoined the Russian Orthodox church in his early forties. He had no reason for this conversion other than "why not." His goal for his music was to "send them all to hell." Coco Chanel said she had an affair with her while he was married to Vera. He hated serialism until he became a serialist composer almost immediately after Arnold Schoenberg, the father of serialist music, died. If you asked twelve different acquaintances of Stravinsky what kind of man he was, you would most likely get about forty different answers. However, his persona was not shifting as much as it was splintered: fifty different facets, a difference face for every occasion.

Of Montreal, and specifically their frontman Kevin Barnes, are not like that. Of Montreal are bouncy and joyous and obsessed with sex. All the time. It is hard to isolate a 30 second sample from either of Of Montreal's two most recent albums (Skeletal Lamping and False Priest) that has no sexual content layered over bubbly instrumentals. However, it never becomes redundant or tedious or even predictable.It simply becomes more and more impressive. Halfway through the album you expect them to run out of energy and peter out into some sort of Pavement-esque acoustic thing. But their specific brand of ebullience and libido spans the entire duration of both LPs. I would not be surprised if they were maenads. But underneath the Prince-gloss that all of their music is lacquered with, one can notice that their music is astonishingly complex and beautiful. Their songs are almost almost never specifically strophic: songs will switch keys and tempos with little regard for smooth transition. In many cases it's hard to tell what is a postlude and what is an entirely new song. The result is pure aural euphoria whereas all the fat has been trimmed.

Here is where Stravinsky and Of Montreal intersect in my mind: Stravinsky has been placed on some sort of intellectualized pedestal where everything he has done must be scrutinized as art, even though in many cases he was just having fun. Many critics of Stravinsky don't believe that there is artistic merit in abandoning intellectualism and just deciding to do something crazy. Of Montreal are vice versa: Although their image leads many to believe they are just making quirky chamber pop, they make very tasteful and complex music. Both artists lead to a very important question: Why can't art be entertaining, and why can't entertainment be art? 

Monday, May 9, 2011


In a departure from my usual pedantic ramblings, here's a cool picture of a piece of paper I wrote lyrics on in 10th grade.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Reflection Eternal: Train of Thought by Talib Kweli is arguably one of the greatest records ever made. It is arguably the hip-hop equivalent of Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Seaand many people have argued that it (arguably) belongs in some sacrosanct vestibule paying homage to the greatest hip hop records of all time, tributes depicted in a medium somewhere between classical marble busts and abstract tessellations, featuring the likes of Nas' Illmatic, Biggie's Ready to DieJay-Z's Reasonable Doubtand Talib Kweli and Mos Def's Blackstar. Arguably. But the fact of the matter is that this album cannot be defended or attacked in a verbal argument: It's nigh impossible to explain exactly what makes this album so appealing. I have no idea how I'm going to approach this post because the only way to figure out if you love the album as much as the incongruous congregation it has garnered is to listen to the entire album, in it's entirety, about four times. Then one must not think about it for about a month, and then listen to it again. At this point, one will either scratch one's head wondering what all the fuss is about, or one will discover one of the most rewarding aural experiences they have ever had. But your proclivity to this album largely depends on a variety of factors that I have no control over. And I should be content with that. But the truth is I'm not. So I'm going to try my hardest to describe just what's so incredible about this album.

Hip-Hop is a many-limbed manic leviathan. There is no doubt that it is a hydra of an art, transmorgifying and transcending at an alarming tempo. The difference between hip-hop and most genres in the pop format is that it defies simple definition. The majority of my friends in this beautifully innocent, brazenly innocuous state of Indiana hate hip-hop. The main thing I realized about people that hate hip-hop is that they always have a very verbose definition of what hip hop is. They list off a set of horrifically patronizing stereotypes: Stereotypes directed not just at hip hop but at poor african americans in urban environments. They're not trying to racist or ignorant: They're probably more informed about these sorts of things than I am. However, the problem with this is that hip hop has no conventions. There is no box. With a genre like rock, if you want to listen to a rock artist that makes conventional rock music, you can listen to an artist like Kings of Leon, an artist that makes really well written conventional rock music. But there are no hip hop artists like that: Hip-hop is a collective of larger-than-life personalities that reside in limbo between labels. It's poetry. It's music. It's whatever you make it. Reflection Eternal: Train of Thought is a testament to artists that defy conventions in order to create their own brand of art that in turn influences the next generation of artists as they create their unique brand of art, and the idols they are informed by: Gil Scott Heron, Nelson Mendela, Lennox Lewis, Nina Simone, Langston Hughes, Fela Kuti, Maya Angelou, and more. It is not so much influenced by jazz as it is informed by it. The album avoids using easily identifiable samples and combines diverse instrumentation to create rich, unique textures- from the dense, polyphonic funk guitar of Soul Rebels, to the chopped and screwed grab bag of orchestral strings and wah guitar in This Means You, to the celeste(!) in Eternalists. And as far as lyricism goes, few are as intelligent or as passionate Talib Kweli was when he was recording this album. Here we see Kweli embodying a quartet of virtues. Soprano: The hunger. Alto: The intellect. Tenor: The confidence, and bass, the personality. Kweli presents himself as a man of many emotions, parables, and memories. It's not that either do anything particularly incredible. It's that the two are so unique, and that they work so well together, and they have such a clear vision of what they want for the album and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

To tell you the truth if you read that entire paragraph then you're a sucker. You should of just bought or torrented the album half a paragraph ago. I have said absolutely nothing significant  in the last 100 words or so. It didn't even have any of the forced Nabokovian wordplay that I throw in to make myself look intellectual sometimes. But more importantly than any of that, nothing I say about this album should change your viewpoint on this album. You are going to either (a) not bother listening to this album and go on to more important things in your life, (b) briefly listen to some of the links and remember you don't like hip hop or this specific brand of it, (c) you will procure the album and it will hide in the depths of the your library, or (d) you will enjoy the album on your own accord. And I should be okay with that. But I have a major flaw in my personality. I objectify people. Oftentimes I will think I love or respect somebody, when the truth is that I actually love or respect who I want them to be, which is always incredibly unrealistic. I'm not kidding myself: I'm never going meet somebody who loves all of the exact same music, art, film, or people I love as much as I do. But the truth is I will never realize that I have an unrealistic perception of who a person is until they call me out for it. And I feel horrible about it. But I'm trying really, really hard to be better. So don't think that I will think any less of you, or that you will be any worse a person, for not liking this album.  Sometimes I make the mistake of believing that my opinion in something is more valid than someone else's because of my experience in the subject. But the truth is I am a particularly supercilious cipher, in the nebulous cast of the strangers I have never acknowledged. There they are, in their living rooms, watching their Celebrity Apprentice and listening to  their Fela Kuti during commercials, writing their blogs.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


The World Inferno Friendship Society are a punk band, whatever that means. One may label them as enigmatic, but they are not so much mysterious as they are logistically impossible. The ensemble features an astonishingly tight saxophone section, including former members of Drexy's Midnight Runners(!). Their lead singer is Jack Terricloth, a mix of cabaret, charisma and Codeine. Their guitarist is named Lucky. The only thing anyone knows about him is that he has a cat, who is also named Lucky. At first glance, they look more like an impromptu circus act then a band. However, World Inferno write extremely likable and clever music. They can move through four or five different key areas in a single song. They are influenced by the Weimar Republic, klezmer, and Paul Robeson. Clearly, the members of this collective are extremely talented and well educated. But they also bring a certain jovial energy to everything they do that makes one wonder if they are ever discontented by anything.

In 2010, both Kanye West and World Inferno experienced the popular musician's worst nightmare: Both were planning on releasing a new album, and unfinished versions of songs from both albums were leaked to the public. However, the two artists had completely different, but equally impressive, reactions to the divulgence of demo tapes. Kanye West immediately flew back to his personal studio in Hawaii and, leaving his twelfth rib in Chicago, re-recorded the entire album. Many people believe that this album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is his magnum opus thus far. Few of these people realize that he did it twice (Kanye West has been a favorite artist of mine for a very, very long time. I plan on discussing him in a future blog post about the diaphanous-yet-diaphragmatic relationship between the artist and his or her art, and how it makes all of the difference in how the art itself is perceived). On the other hand, Jack Terricloth casually dismissed the leaks with his usual cryptic charisma ("Songs want to be free. Songs want you to whistle them!"). It was the naturally punk thing to do. In fact, the most punk thing about them is that they seem to want nothing more than to bring their genuinely eclectic music to the stage in euphoric bedlam. And they are embraced by the Brooklyn punk community, even though they do some very un-punk things.

At this point, the reader has probably inferred that I know absolutely nothing about punk culture. I listen to a lot of punk bands, in particular Bad Brains, Misfits, Cobraskulls, etc., and of course ska, like Streetlight Manifesto, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Rancid. But I have no idea what punk is post 2004. In the vein of the post-modernist movement, it seemed to start out as a rebellion against the structured intellectualizations and soulless virtuosity of prog music. But prog music is, for the most part, dead. The main themes of punk music that were retained and emphasized post-Fugazi are the crazed energy and the anybody-can-make-music sentiments. These are definitely points I can agree with. But the Brooklyn punk scene comes with it's own pretentions: To be a part of punk culture is to be immersed in it's philosophy. It goes beyond sewing the names of various punk bands into one's favorite studded leather jacket: One's rejection of more conventional forms of music and society is manifested in the sporadic desire to screw society and break stuff, a philosophy I could definitely get behind if it didn't feel so mandatory in context. The problem with the Brooklyn punk scene is this: Brooklyn punks, and by Brooklyn Punks I mean people who are really passionate about punk music and culture, are a dying breed. In their dying throes they have become more conservative in their definition of what punk music is in a world where punk music has evolved into so many different sub genres. Make no mistake: here is the esteemed tradition of rats in alleys, encapsulated in caveats and codexes. Here is the congressional body- As plebeian as the oligarchies of ancient Greece, but with as many furrowed eyebrows and suspicious eyes as the Duma-  that adores the World Inferno Friendship Society. And this makes no sense to me or anybody I know.

Make no mistake reader: A World Inferno Friendship Society concert attracts punks like no other event. I have seen it with my own eyes: An ocean of pierced lips and liberty spikes, with five skinheads (real, punk skinheads! No neo-nazis here!) standing in front of the stage, an oasis of flesh amongst leather blacks, neon reds and toxic greens. I too, climbed on stage and threw myself into this ocean (So this is the sign of a true punk concert: Nothing lubricious, no libations, just violent kinetics). But there is nothing punk about the musicians on stage. The members of this band are masters of songwriting in the pop format. They are formally trained in their instruments, and they even know a lot of music theory, which they apply to their songs in extremely clever ways. Here is a very un-punk thing that World Inferno does: At the end of their song Canonize Philip K. Dick, OK, The World Inferno Friendship Society actually canonizes a Philip K. Dick quote. It's clever, intelligent, and borderline pretentious- anything but punk. If anything, they represent the antithesis of the informed nihilism of punk icons like Boyd Rice. But the Brooklyn Punk community loves World Inferno, because world inferno shares their wanton and euphoric energy, and the dynamic between the band and it's fans in action is electric. Make no mistake, reader: The World Inferno Friendship Society are a punk band. Whatever that means.