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.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


I know everybody is going to hate me for this, but Thank Me Later by Drake was an excellent, genre-defying album. I wrote it off at first because I thought it was just a generic vapid pop album, but it takes pop hip hop, and R+B conventions (lyrics about clubs, patron, critics, etc.) and turns it into something really honest and introspective. Example: Fancy starts out as a traditional Swizz Beatz collaboration about women in the club. Commodious chauvinism? Not quite. Instead, it turns out to be a testament to strong, independent women with successful careers and confidence. I know it isn't on the intellectual level of a paper by Susan McClary or anything, but it's an honest, good intentioned statement. This introspection is reflected in the textures: What starts out as a bright, busy soul sampling club jam shifts abruptly into a compressed, mellow, dark wash of synths and lo-fi vocals. It's pop, but it's well thought out, it's musical, it transcends expectations, and I love it.

A common criticism of pop music is that it is soulless and stringently strophic; a series of calculated canzones calibrated to appeal to crass consumers, released incrementally to induce vapid excitement. And to some extent, its true: The music is a product. But is that not true of so many pieces of art music? Imagine the composer, all intellect and inhibitions, writing a piano sonata: That sonata will be filed into the ranks of a genre that contains literally tens of thousands of sonatas. How can one make their sonata more memorable then the thousands of pieces made from the same mold? Because the piece isn't an idiosyncrasy in the canon of western art music, it lacks emotional weight.  If the composer is afraid to draw outside the proverbial lines, his or her dear piano sonata will be forgotten quicker then the Thong Song, and our protagonist, Sisqo. If the snake does not molt it's skin, it will be ensnared in it and never grow.

Drake, however, has made an album of the kind of music that people will remember amidst the aural ocean moderated by the pop music industry. Therefore, if he can make an honest, introspective work out of a genre overcrowded with product, the composer can make an honest, introspective work out of a genre overcrowded with intellectualizations and exercises in borrowed processes. Music is not a product, but a passion; Not an aesthetic, but an art.

Friday, April 1, 2011


I have this nightmare. Actually, I have many nightmares, but this particular one is certainly the most memorable of them. It happens sporadically: sometimes it will occur three times in a row; Sometimes I will go weeks before I stumble upon it in the depths of my most placid slumber. By now I should greet it as an old friend. But every time it occurs it sends me into thralls of some of the deepest dread I have ever experienced.

In this nightmare, I am trapped in an exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It's a large space, with pristine white floors and ceiling, void of chantonnes or chintzes. However, this space is completely encapsulated by glass. Here we are, thirty other starving individuals and I, as the denizens of some phantasmagoric otherworld. They ignore us, and frankly, why shouldn't they? We have nothing of interest to them. There's a pile of starved  bodies on the floor. And we're all ciphers because we don't want to appeal to the thousands of faceless projections that crowd the MoMA floor. But we just refuse to try to get their attention.

I am a freshman at the Jacobs School of Music, pursuing a combined performance and composition degree. And that scares the hell out of me. I, like my colleagues, am in this field because I can't see myself doing anything else with my life. But when we graduate, we'll be in a world that, for the most part, has felt alienated by the intellectualization of art music since the advent of process music in the twentieth century. We need to demand people's attention. We need to make art music exciting again. As an artist, I am terrified of making uninteresting music. I never want my music to be a curiosity that cannot keep somebody's attention with anything other than pretentious intellectualizations, the soprano singing inversion  this, the bass retrograde that.

I am not saying that process music is bad. In fact, some of my favorite pieces are by serialists. But a process is just that: a process. All of the theory we know is extremely important, but they're just tools, colors for our growing palette. A good piece of art is not explained in technicalities; it's explained in emotional impact and the statement it is trying to make. This blog is about music that appeals to me; from Brahms to Fela Kuti, to Talib Kweli to the Walkmen, to World Inferno Friendship Society to Alan Berg, to Bad Brains and so many more. This is not a blog about thorough analysis. This is a blog about music, and what makes it appeal to everybody.