Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Show Review: Tearist, BLOUSE & DIVERS @ SODA BAR SAN DIEGO CA

SHOW REVIEW
Tearist
BLOUSE
DIVERS
DJ MARIO ORDONTNO
Soda Bar, San Diego, CA.


  Last time I went to show was in October of last year, so you can call me "gramps."  Despite my time away, I was pleased to see that nothing has changed since last I checked.  Soda Bar still has those amazing televisions that show a feed of the performer on stage- what a great feature- the old 930 Club in Washington DC used to have those so you could sit in the back room and watch the band play.

  I got there earlyish specifically to see DIVERS and QUITE ENJOYED IT.  But I think I have a conflict of interest because I'm aware of some planning regarding the release of recordings by that Artist- so I figure I should keep my mouth shut- but promising.

  BLOUSE put out a 7" on Sub Pop and THEN an LP on Captured Tracks, which would seem to invert the usual direction of that situation.  BLOUSE is a Portland Ore by-way-of-LA four piece, female fronted gothy pop with a synth/bass interplay that reminds the listener of mid period Cure radio hits.  Putatively the opener for Tearist, you could argue that they were the co-headliner, as the crowd was heavy for their set, and they inspired fan style antics from the front row (observed via the Soda Bar stage feed.

  I'm curious to hear how it came to pass that Sub Pop released a 7" and then Captured Tracks got the subsequent LP- maybe the LP was planned before the 7" and the next LP is on Sub Pop?  Wouldn't surprise me- assuming they keep a steady tour schedule that have viability tattooed on their arms.

   Headliner Tearist first came to my attention last April when I was in Los Angeles for his sold-out show at the Echo.  I was sitting there and I saw a copy of the LA Weekly- it had Tearist on the cover.  Ever since then I've called Tearist the Nickie Minaj of the LA indie scene- although only to myself, obviously- until just now.

   Tearist is a two piece- guy running the keyboard array and female singer vamping/singing/howling.  You would have to be pretty damn dense not to realize that the female singer/guy on keyboards two piece is ripe for a break out act- and may even have one in GRIMES or Nite Jewel by mid 2012.  There's also Maria Minerva, US GIRLS,  Class Actress I think- I haven't heard.  But my sense is that one or two of those Artists will actually really emerge when they combine a breakout hit with a committed touring schedule- and so far none of those Artists have done that.

   Speaking as someone who's seen GRIMES and Nite Jewel in the last six months, TEARIST has an advantage in the area of live performance, in that she performs and doesn't just stand there.  There are also more vocal effects- which could either be a positive or negative in terms of Audience reaction.  Tearist has also developed legitimate street level buzz in Los Angeles- I see both Nite Jewel and Grimes as being national, rather then local phenomenon's.

  Personally though, I preferred the gothy bottom heavy pop of BLOUSE, but I can totally understand why people are excited about Tearist.  It's a good live show- check it out if you get a chance.  By the BLOUSE lp on Captured Tracks, will you- It got a 7.4 on Pitchfork- that's high enough to warrant purchase.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

CLASSICAL AESTHETIC PRINCIPLES: NOSTALGIA/RESPECT FOR THE PAST

    There are three (four?) main bodies of Aesthetic principles that any self-respecting Artist or Audience member ought to be aware of.  Classical, Romantic & Modern (Post-Modern?)  Today, everyone understands the aesthetic principles of Modernism, varied as they may be, but few people are truly conversant with Classical aesthetic principles themselves.  Or rather, any understanding of those principles is squarely guided by subsequent developments in Romantic and Modern aesthetics.

   One Classical Aesthetic principle which is often misunderstood is today called, "Nostalgia."  Nostalgia is a favorite punching bag for would-be writers about Aesthetic principles.  Rarely does one read an essay celebrating or glorifying Nostalgia, rather the intellectual posture is always to attack or question excesses of Nostalgia.

    I  believe this posture is largely based on a failure to appreciate the Classical aesthetic principle which lays behind "Nostalgia": To celebrate the glory of past achievement of Artistic perfection.  I've often  had conversations with Mario Orduno, head of Art Fag Recordings, where he and I have agreed that if a specific work of Art has attained it's own state of perfection, that work of Art requires no improvement, and ought to be respected forever.

  Exhibit A in this argument is the Supremes, Stop! In The Name of Love:



 That's perfect.  Glorifying it today isn't "Nostalgia" but a demonstration of  good Taste.

  The argument against the "danger" of Nostalgia- which is always defined as glorification of past successes or supposed successes, is founded on the Romantic principle of variety for varieties sake and isn't any more "right" than the opposite position.  To the extent that a specific writer doesn't understand the two bodies of aesthetic principles and their contrasts, it simply reflects poorly on the writer and publication.

  It's certainly appropriate to comment on excesses of reverence for the past, but it's not an idea to abandon in favor of unceasing novelty, particularly when the Artist considers the qualities of the general Audience, and how they prefer the familiar to the novel.

FROM CLASSIC TO ROMANTIC: PREMISES OF TASTE IN EIGHTEENTH CENTURY ENGLAND

BOOK REVIEW
From Classic to Romantic: Premises of Taste in Eighteenth Century England
by Walter Jackson Bate
Harper Torchbooks
originally published 1946
this edition 1961


   What's amazing about this particular volume is how I acquired it.  You see, I went to the once monthly San Diego Public Library book sale at their location in San Carlos.  All the action at these sales takes place in the first 5-15 minutes of the sale, so the rule is either get there at the start or forget about it.  The way the sale is organized, they have fiction in front and then non-fiction spread out over two rooms in back.  I made my way to the Classics section- not immediately, but within the first 10 minutes.  There, it looks like they had an English teacher/student's collection of books on 18th century Aesthetics/Poetry.  I went easy of the Poetry stuff, but the books on Aesthetics were can't miss classics- like this GEM of a book- From Classic to Romantic: Premises of Taste in Eighteenth Century England by Walter Jackson Bate.

  From Classic to Romantic is typical of books about Aesthetics written at a high level BEFORE the 60s: Accurate as far as they go, but oblivious to the impending 60s revival of Romanticism inside and outside the university.  I think it's pretty amazing that Harper saw fit to publish, essentially, a mass market paperback of this title in 1961- shows you how awesome 1961 was, for starters- that people were ordering this paperback from Harper Torchbooks. From Classic to Romantic is in perfect condition, as if it had sat on a book shelf for someone's entire life- unread.  Condition is always a wild card when you are buying books on Amazon, and the library sale is clearly superior in that regard.

  Because from Classic to Romantic is so unpopular on Amazon (Sales rank in two millions'), I doubt I ever would have found it outside of a book store/book sale. I guarantee you 100% I would have bought this title at a used book store for much more then the 50 cents I paid for it.

   Bate accomplishes what the title promises: explains the premises of "taste" in eighteenth century England with reference to main bodies of thought: Classicism and Romanticism.   One of Bate's main points is that certain aspects of Classicism effectively paved the way for Romantic thought, but that the two school maintained their own disciples, with proponents of Romanticism emerging in the mid to late 18th century, and the proponents of Classicism emerging two to three generations before, as well as co-existing.

  Much of what is useful to a modern reader in From Classic to Romantic is Bates lucid explanation of the fundamentals of classical aesthetic theory circa early 18th century England.  These are sources that are foreign to the modern reader- most of the books that Bate references are close to impossible to understand for a modern examiner, so it's almost like he's an interpreter of these materials.

  I wanted to identify some of the statements Bate makes about principles of classic aesthetics, circa early 18th century England:

   The most pervasive single tendency of almost all classicism is, "the idealization of the familiar."  The achievement of this goal may utilize various means; but they are in all cases directly related to man, and are based upon man's common intellectual, aesthetic and moral experience and interest."
   Classical aesthetic values are unity, simplicity and the natural and harmonious adaptation of parts to the whole- founded on a confidence in truth and the grandeur of ordered generality.
   The primary rule of Classical aesthetics is  Decorum.  Decorum is defined by Aristotle as "preservation and ennobling of the type."
   Classical Art seeks to declare the unity, order and law that you find in the interweaving of past, present, and future.
  A primary interest to proponents of late 18th century Classicism was the nature of the reasoning and "methodizing" faculty itself...which culminated... an argumentative basis for Romanticism by the middle of the 18th century.

     The rest of the book is devoted to demonstrating this transition from Classicism to Romanticism via the tools provided by individual writers like Samuel Johnson and Joshua Reynolds- who share their own chapter. One of the main phenomenons generated by the transition from Classic to Romantic thought was the growth of "sympathy" "sentiment" and empathy among writers and intellectuals.   The ability to "feel" was something that initially distinguished forward thinking Romanticists from stuffy old Classicists, but this difference collapsed from the wide spread adoption of the trend outside the originating intellectual class- much the same way a "cool" band will become popular and lose it's original fans- so suffered the role of sympathy/sentiment in 18th century English literary society.

  At 99 cents on Amazon, From Classic to Romantic is a steal- and a must read for Artists and Critics alike.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Classical vs. Romantic Aesthetic Principles: Calculated-ness

  Classical, Romantic and Modern Aesthetics all have their own principles that they use to judge Artists and Art Products.   Classical Aesthetics was very rule-bound, so the judging of Artists was always accompanied by statements about whether specific works of Art obeyed or flouted supposed rules of Art.

  Romantic Aesthetics took the opposite posture, specifically attacking the allegedly unbreakable rules about what constituted good Art, and good Artists within the field of Classical Aesthetics.

  This transition generally took place between the end of the Renaissance and the mid 18th century, but the debate between Classical and Romantic Aesthetics remains a valid jumping off point for evaluating the Aesthetics of a specific Artist or Art product.

 Both Aesthetics have their own principles that they favor and dis-favor.  A main principle where they diverge can be described as the degree to which an Artist or Art work can be said to be "Calculated."

Andy Warhol



  As an example of this debate in the field of studio Art, you can thing of the debate over the aesthetic merit of an Artist like Jeff Coons, Michel Duchamp, and Andy Warhol.  In the field of Music, a relevant debate is the degree to which the work of an unknown Artist is perceived as "calculated" and how that does or does not impact the more substantial principle of Authenticity.

  An Artist embodying Classical Aesthetics is one who sees a specific "truth" and seeks to provide order and harmony in his/her Artistic universe.  An Artist who embraces Romantic Aesthetics would become enraged at the prospect of being deemed Calculated by a Critic, presumably because it conflicts with the core Romantic principle of Authenticity.

Andy Warhol Campbell's Soup Can


  The role of the Market in all this is to encourage Artists who can understand while ALL POPULAR MUSIC EMBODIES Classical Aesthetic principles or order, harmony and technical excellence, while paying lip service to the Romantic principles that the contemporary audience for Art desires from it's Artists:  Alienation, Isolation, Dissatisfaction with "the way things are."   A specific Artist given commercial success will have to adjust his or her principles with the growth of an Audience:  As an unknown, it is best to embody Romantic Aesthetic principles to appeal to the "hard core" fans of a particular genre, much in the same way a Politician will "secure his base" in a Primary campaign, before "moving to the center" for a general election.

  Here, the successful embodiment of Romantic Aesthetics in early Artistic products is the equivalent of "securing your base" and the shift to embracing Classical Aesthetics the functional equivalent of "moving to the center."

  In this way, a young Artist is well advise to be conversant with Romantic AND Classical Aesthetic principles.  A common mistake is to IGNORE Classical Aesthetics on the theory that they 'don't matter'- but they do- because Classical Aesthetics appeal to a greater portion of the Audience for any Art then those who support Romantic principles.

Punks On Mars Is A Hot New Band

  Perhaps I'm not the most appropriate person to say that Punks On Mars is a hot new band, since I am a partner in the record label that put out his new record.  But the way I look at it, the worst that could happen is some other record label would get all excited and offer him a record deal- and I'm sure the Artist- Ryan Howe, for Punks On Mars would be stoked if that happened, so I figure...why not.

  When Punks On mars was brought to my attention last year by my partners, what struck me immediately was the scope of vision.  So much of what I am asked to listen to is the musical equivalent of a pack mule with blinders on its eyes.   You would think, given the advances in recording technology, that indie music, encumbered by market constraints, would be breathtaking in variety, but sadly this is not the case.

  The next thing I learned is that Ryan Howe, the main man in Punks On Mars, had a history of releasing music, and that he had done it in a typical DIY fashion.

  Third, I heard the songs that comprised the release that I was helping to put out.  Like other bands that I've had the opportunity to observe at this stage in their career (Crocodiles, Dum Dum Girls, Soft Pack/Muslims, Woven Bones, Reading Rainbow and of course Dirty Beaches) the recordings possessed a combination of songwriting ability with a sound that takes advantage of constraints in recording technology.   This is a combination that is visible in other phenomenons in popular music history, going back to the book in Post World War II American Independent Record labels brought about by the dissemination of recording technology outside of New York City.

  So at that point- there was only one question on my mind.  Can Punks On Mars deliver live?  Answer yes, as witnessed in this video:



  Je-sus- that is incredible footage.  There is no question that he is going to go SXSW- that he will blow everyone away, and everyone will fall into line after that, and it will all go from there.  That is music with sparkle.  That clip is from Newtown Radio, BTW.

PUNKS ON MARS LAST FM: 4000 plays.
LUKE PERRY LAST FM:  5600 plays

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

FRANCES BURNEY HAD HITS FOR DAYS

BOOK REVIEW
Camilla
by Frances Burney
Oxford's World Classics Edition p. 2009
Originally Published 1796


   Frances Burney had hits for days.  As I've observed here, Artist biography's tend to fall into hagiographic or psychological modes of analysis.  Rare is the Artist biography to address the market conditions that shaped Artist output in any significant way.  Certainly, as one proceeds back through time, this fact becomes more, rather then less true.

   Burney was one of the novel's first hit makers. (!)  She is most known today for her direct, proximate influence on Jane Austen. (@)  Camilla was her last (of 3) novels.  Her break out was Evelina (BOOK REVIEW) and then she followed it up with Cecilia (BOOK REVIEW).  Both Cecilia and Camilla are 900 pages long, and that is A LOT of what you need to know about both the strengths and weaknesses for Burney as a novelist, but someone who inspired excellent Art, rather then one who created great Art for herself.  I venture that only as a fan- the truth is that she had hits for days, and she was the first really popular female novelist and that counts for a lot.

   Her biographical details are interesting and relevant, even if they don't tell the whole story.  She was the daughter of Charles Burney- who is himself a pivotal figure in the history of Music.  She got married at 42 and had a kid at 43... in 1793.  Burney wrote Camilla, her last novel, to secure the position of her family after her child was born.  She did not right another novel afterwards.

  If Evelina represents the "first record" of Burney's Artistic career, Cecilia represents the perfection of her form, and then Camilla is a re-iteration of that success, in the same way that successful movies bear sequels.   Burney wrote Camilla with her existing Audience in mind, and the Audience responded predictably(favorably).  In a very real sense, Cecilia and Camilla are basically the same character: A young woman on the border of wealth and poverty, needing to secure a husband and very enmeshed in the well-being of her extended family.

  Both novels clearly belong to a mixed 18th century/19th century tradition.  Compare Evelina, which is an epistolary novel- and thus clearly a work from the 18th century- with Cecilia/Camilla, which both feature a more modern narrative technique while keeping the lengthy, plot-heavy form of the 18th century novel.  The endless machination of plot that characterize Burney's later two novels clearly catered to the mode of publishing for the Novel at the time she was writing.

    The Publishers then (late 18th century) wanted books to come out in multi-volume editions.  In the case of Camilla, the form consisted of five volumes- i.e. separate books published in sequence.  Each Volume had two "Books,"  and then there enumerated Chapters within each book.

 Broadly speaking, Cecilia dealt with a young woman who could only inherit on a specified condition, and Camilla dealt with a young woman who everyone thought to be a heiress, but was not.  The function of the inheritance in both novels is as an instrument for literary alienation of the main characters. It is fair to say that both plots are entirely driven by complications related to inheritance and marriage.

 One completely insane note from the perspective of the modern reader is that literally none of the main characters are older then 18.  This is a book avowedly about very young women getting married to much older men who were often behaving in a manner that would land them in prison for the rest of their lives in "modern times."

  Burneys characters are emphatically of the 18th century, particularly her feckless, spend-thrift men.  Whether they were modeled on her father or people she met as the daughter of a Court Musician in late 18th century British society, they are well observed, and represent an enduring contribution to the encyclopedia of literary depiction.

  The 18th century definitely had an edge of danger in England that the Victorian period somewhat evened out, but the men in her books are almost to a man literally sociopaths.  I believe that this likely appealed to her immediate Audience, and perhaps prevented her from gaining the kind of acclaim that she deserved.  Personally, I think her male characters are fascinating, the 18th century of American Psycho's Patrick Bateman.

  I would submit that female Audience members still respond to this kind of male character.  I suspect that the Lifetime Network movie catalog is chock a fill with them, as are Romance novels and other kind of art forms with a primarily female Audience.  To talk of the Authors enduring success here  is to talk of the depiction of social space and character: Burney excelled at doing both, and it was something that her followers amplified with great success. Clearly, they did not amplify the practice of writing two 900 page plus novels with 50 odd characters each- other Authors did that, but not her female succesors.

NOTES


!  Burney was the one of the first woman to score a hit number one novel.  And she did it at 26.  Back in 2010, I observed of her first novel, Evelina, "You can’t write about Evelina without commenting on what a success the book was.  The mere fact of Evelina’s endurance, in print, for over 200 years speaks to that success.  The more 18th century literature I read, the more I find myself drawn to the market place for that literature.  I wonder whether, ultimately, there is anything particularly interesting about 18th century novels other then their relationship with the readers."

@  Jane Austen may be the most successful novelist of all time.  Certainly, when you add in the Bronte sisters, you have an Artistic tradition being developed along aesthetically advanced and market savvy lines.   If a reader is interested in the larger pan-Artistic field of "Asethetics," the woman novelists of the late 18th and early 19th century are a worthwhile territory in which to pan for inspirational and thematic gold.

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