from Monday, June1st of the year2009.
See, now I’m happy. I posted yesterday about this review of the Grizzly Bear show, and now there is an interesting and (for now) civil discussion going on in the comments section. This is what the internet is for. Let me break down the essential arguments. First, I called attention to my dislike for the words “precious” & “twee” in reviews because I find them problematic, non-specific, and coded. I asked what the opposite of precious is “” my argument being that adjectives that are descriptive and dismissive are wasted space in reviews. A reader offered “sloppy” as the opposite of precious, which I must confess I hadn’t thought of. A friend emailed me and staged it in terms of food, which is interesting:
Precious? “EveryÃ¾ing Bagel” from WD-50
Sloppy? Not Precious?
What makes all of this super interesting for me is that all of this is talking about Grizzly Bear. If you set up a sliding scale from Precious to Sloppy, where would you put any of the following:
Grizzly Bear, Dory
versus something like this:
Boulez, Messageesquisse, final section
Paul Simon The Cool, Cool River
Are you gwine give Paul Simon a hard time for the precision of this song? The presence of Possibly Ethnic Instruments? The lopey time signature that changes in the choruses?
or better yet:
Steve Reich The Cave, Genesis XXI
I feel like the scale breaks down. Precision and meticulousness just mean different things to all y’all indie rock people. Let me go out briefly on a limb. One of the most exciting things about the universe of indie rock or art rock or whatever the fuck you want to call it is the ability of the artist to represent, through recordings and live shows, an internal artistic universe. This is the difficulty composers always have: to represent the so-called life of the mind in small units of time. If you get commissioned for a five minute piece of music, you need to make it be, in addition to a successful five minute piece of music, an appealing glimpse into your musical/mental/erotic universe:
John Adams Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Larger works need to be larger glimpses: not just a peek through a window but a proper walk around the garden, with drinks:
Wagner Siegfried Dritter Aufzug: Vorspiel
CocoRosie are the best at this. You put on one of they jams and within seconds you realize that you are getting a really specific peek into a really specific place. If you’re into it, there are other buildings on the property:
(is there a better lyric than “Mexican PonÃ½ / Fucked up Shoes”?)
So the point is: meticulousness & precision are the way to get this stuff across. And in the scale of things, Grizzly Bear is really not doing anything more than paying attention to each sound and each gesture “” and, I will add, just in my personal experience of dealing with them, not in a way that I would even begin to call overly-meticulous or precious, it was actually kind of a free-for-all with a larger shape governing smaller decisions. All of this is a very, very long way to just interrogate that sentence in the Times one more time:
But wow, these songs are precious, and they occasionally came spangled with extras that made them even more so.
Are they really? Are they so precious that they require a wow? Ùˆ! I bristle because I have been involved in some very meticulous music-making in my life, and this was one of the least. The application of that word just resonates in the same space in my head when President Bush said, “I don’t care what somebody on some college campus says.” Words like that ““ especially in reviewsÂ ““ are training people to mistrust mindfulness and thoughtfulness, and it freaks me out a little bit to see a band I like so much get chided with a code-word for not having written meat & potatoes rock & roll.
That said, let me close out with two unprecious classix:
Classic the First
Philip Glass Floe from Glassworks Live at Sadler’s Wells