Critical Hit!!

pop culture (and everything else) explored

“What’s your favorite band?”

I get torn now and again on what my favorite band is. I’ve tended towards Genesis, allowing me both the pleasure of 70s prog and 80s pop in one convenient package. But the allure of The Smiths is inescapable. I suppose the nice thing about art is that is you can never have enough.

Both bands were a huge influence on me in college. Everywhere I travelled on campus I had my (then working) walkman, with The Queen Is Dead around all through that first fall. It took me a while to get into it of course. The album was a gift courtesy of a cousin of mine for high school graduation, and at first I found it rather impenetrable, but listening to it first in a sleepy daze before bed wasn’t an adequate introduction. I carried it with me around campus to try again, and it soon became a staple. The summer after freshman year, I got more of the Smiths new and old rips from libraries and it was all I listened to that summer. Much of my first summer was unfaltering habit, from having pasta every night, to watching anime until 5 in the morning, to playing The Smiths as soon as I got home form work in the lonely apartment on Calvin’s campus. It was bliss.

The same can be said for the next summer, except the band of choice then was Genesis. My dad was always a big fan, and I asked he make a mix for me before I left for college. He did, and it piqued my interest even more. Again, it was the same method of carrying around an album in that same walkman, growing to the love the sounds surrounding me. But this time, the album of choice was Selling England by the Pound. It makes for an indelible memory, listening to Genesis as my feet caressed the hardwood floors beneath me, the stereo equipment perfectly arranged to make a room worthy of pride.

When I signed up for last.fm (which never worked on my laptop again), it said my listen count for each artist was in the thousands. And that was just using my computer! Each summer was a prime opportunity to listen to each artist’s backlog, learn about genre and music history, and subsequently rack up a lot hours listening to music. Perhaps its a tradition I should keep up. It makes every summer unforgettable.

The National’s Indistinguishability

I found making a comparison between The Smiths and The National makes for an effective point of contrast. Generally speaking, both bands have a very distinctive sound, unmistakable for any other band (in the case of The National that latter, statement doesn’t hold up as well.) Each respective band has the same kind of instrumentation for the majority of their work. Both rarely (if ever) have, say, guitar solos, or other musical instruments that attract attention to themselves. Instead, it’s all about layering sound. And to cap it all off, each has a distinctive voice as the lead vocalist fronting the band.

Categorically speaking, the bands are very similar, but in execution, they are vastly different. Morrissey’s lyrics may have an overall tone of melancholy, but they can also be playful and literary. Though every song by The Smiths sound distinctively theirs, songs don’t sound like the same monotonous dreck of The National. It feels redundant to say this, but every Smiths song is distinguishable from each other, whether it be the rockabilly of “Rushholme Ruffians,” to the droning “How Soon Is Now?,” to the playfully snide of “Frankly Mr. Shankley.”

Through this comparison, my point is that there is nothing distinguishable about The National. It’s difficult to even call their repetitive sounds a distinctive trait, as it’s “boilerplate indie.” I suppose with The National, you’ll at least always know what you’re going to get.

Note: Calling something boilerplate means it’s cliché. Somehow, this reviewer means it as a compliment.

IS CAPITALISM TO BLAME?

Originally posted on WAKE UP WEEKEND:

2014_mcmullen[smallpdf.com] copy Economist Steven McMullen says the answer is “Yes”! 

In recent years, our ability to produce animal-based food has increased dramatically, but this increased efficiency has come as a result of decreased quality of life and shorter life-spans for the animals.  Similarly, industrial breeding of animals for pet stores and experimentation often results in very poor living conditions for animals in the breeding facilities. Should this animal welfare problem be blamed on farmers?  Are consumers to blame?  Or should we blame the capitalist system in which people operate? McMullen argues that both farmers and consumers are limited in their ability to improve the lives of these animals because of the nature of the market economy in which animal lives are traded. Moreover, it is precisely the elements of the market economy that make it so successful that result in poor outcomes for animals in the system. According to McMullen…

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Media Affectation in Frozen

Disney's Frozen - Paintings and Anna

When talking about feminism in the media, people typically emphasize that media does not occur in a vacuum, but rather has social, historical, cultural, and politics contexts, among others,  that inform a reading. A pervasive trope, like the damsel in distress, proves damaging when its widely propagated throughout social and cultural institutions. Frozen has a microcosm of sorts of this idea: a context where a certain message seen in countless forms of media becomes the norm and is perpetuated by being taught to citizens. This particular context is within the castle walls itself.

Growing up in a relatively sheltered childhood, Anna had little contact with the outside world. We see this progression from the song “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?” to “For The First Time In Forever”, from when Anna is a young girl to when she matures into a older teen. The lyrics of “Snowman” mentions that in midst of her boredom, she’s “started talking to the pictures on the walls.” This connects to her giddy actions while singing “Forever,” as her leaps and bounds around the castle mimic the poses in the paintings surrounding here. In essence, she’s become the romantic as effused by the paintings  - the media and its messages – she intakes daily.

The message is clear: media affects us and constructs what is normal and right. In Anna’s case, she growns up in an environment where the idealized images are incredibly romanticized, and thus holds wildly unwise notions about love. It’s a subtle connection the film makes, but the cause and effect is clear.

The National Is Boring

After many a listen and conversation, I’ve made up my mind in regards to The National: a boring waste of time. All their songs are the same mid-tempo balladry. Any interesting musical diversity in their earlier work was lost when they left their alt-country roots for repetitious dreck. There’s a dulling sameness to everything they put out, musically and lyrically.

I find it impossible to remember how any of their songs go, despite listening to albums multiple times. The only one I can approximate (aside from my ‘favorite’ track) is “I Should Live in Salt,” but of course I can’t sing along to it because Berninger mumbles his way through. Owen Pallett may have said it best, noting that “The National is the ultimate ‘They suck! except for that one song’ band, and that song is different for everyone.” For me, that song is “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” because The National’s form of music making actually works in favor for the song: slow layering to make a grand album ending song. Of course, all of The National’s songs sound like slow emotional songs to cap off an album, but they rarely do anything except crawl limply out of the speakers. 

I look back at my eager optimism in my past writings with a sense of shame. Was I so excited to jump on the bandwagon I purposefully dulled my critical edge? Pretty much.

 

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