Albums I Enjoyed in 2007 — 5



05.
Feist
The Reminder
Cherrytree
The Park

[ed. note — my sense of humor being what it was, I oversimplified Wilmoth’s argument a bit (just a smidge! uh huh!) and he responded in the comments. Since I am unused to people actually reading this site, I usually just say what comes into my head and in this case Wilmoth came by and called me out, and he was right. So besides noting that point 4 is meant purely for humorous purposes of satire, I encourage you to read the comments and see what Wilmoth says in defense of himself.]

So… Feist, huh? Heard about it enough, right? Let me come at it from another angle. Consider a post from June, at Pretty Goes With Pretty, entitled “Just Gimme Indie Wha??.” Scott Tennent semi-lampoons the Dusted review of Feist by Charlie Wilmoth, which pegs Ms. F in a category Wilmoth likes to call “Adult Alternative.” Oh dear, says Wilmoth, the lo-fi cracks have all been erased in big indie artists and all we’re left with is smooth contemporary pap. His biggest critique of Feist is that it’s not messy enough, and “what you see is what you get.” So Tennent then asks, “Have we been snookered? How can I read Pitchfork every morning and enjoy an album so palatable my mother-in-law might even like it?”

Tennent’s response is, “ultimately … so what?… overcoming one’s inner college rock snob is a personal battle.” Touché! Well said, and I applauded silently. Here are my responses to the conundrum:

1) I won that battle a long time ago, back when I was dancing in my room to my dad’s ABBA cds. In fact, I grew up listening to my parents’ music, and had no real musical taste of my own until much later. I was as at-home with the Carpenters as I was with Nirvana, and happy to make a mix tape with Mary Chapin Carpenter alongside Depeche Mode. I never read a rock magazine; sifted through radio play and finally abandoned it altogether; relied on my friends and my folks. I came out liking just about everything.

2) Oh, the Golden Age of Indie ! How wonderful everything was then! I really, really, REALLY hate comparisons based on nostalgia. Tennent skewers that pretty well, so I won’t go too far with it, but suffice it to say that 10 years ago, someone was probably talking about how the Cure was getting so smooth, and how they missed the old days, when Robert Smith hadn’t sold out his image to Kodak. It’s the oldest critique in the book, and therefore is always a failure.

3) Wilmoth avers that art “struggles. It makes messes.” Not always true. I am almost all the way through reading “Warhol: 365 Takes,” put out by the Warhol museum in Pittsburgh. Though Warhol had his messy moments, I was struck by this quote from his book From A to B and back again: “You see, I think every painting should be the same size and the same color so they’re all interchangeable and nobody thinks they have a better painting or a worse painting…. Besides, even when the subject is different, people always paint the same painting” (283).1 Consider that for a minute; if Feist and Norah Jones sound interchangeable, then are they simply fulfilling their Warholian purpose? Or can we simply say that Art is not confined to the Messy box or the Smooth box, but can be found in many styles and sounds, some of which sound quite similar?

4) Or is Wilmoth just angry because Norah Jones is a hiss and a byword in indie culture, and now he’s afraid that if he puts Feist on the car stereo, someone might say, “Hey, I didn’t know Norah Jones had a new album!”. My stars and garters! He might be taken for one of those … those people that like Adult Contemporary! His life will be ruined!

5) My mother-in-law listens to everything, from opera on down. Musically, I aspire to be like my mother-in-law. So there :D

All this is to say, yeah, Feist is smooth. She’s no CTFPA, that’s for sure, but in a genre that embraces Sharon Jones, can we have no niche for adult alternative? And are we Not Allowed to like it because it has flow? Dude, I’m tired of listening to crappy albums that everyone genuflects in front of. I don’t want everything to be Art. I want to hear something that’s smooth, that I like and that I can talk about to people that have never heard of Joanna freaking Newsom. So what if it’s popular? So what if, oh my gosh, my mother-in-law would like it? I like what I like, be it Art or cornerless consumerist treacle.

Therefore, let me say: “The Reminder” is chock full of stellarly smooth songs. “Honey Honey” and “1 2 3 4,” with their choral backgrounds; the clappy, poppy cover of Nina Simone’s “See-Line Woman” (just as poppy, by the way, as the original); “The Water,” which is jazzy and tinkly and does indeed sound like something that could be sung in the background at a restaurant. I don’t call this the best album of the year, and I don’t call it particularly influential or Artistic. I do call it something I enjoyed very much this year; something that is beautiful for its own sake and not because it has to be compared to every foremother it had. Here ends the diatribe. Give Feist a listen.

1: Andy Warhol: 365 Takes. ed. Deborah Aaronson. New York: HN Abrams Inc, 2004.

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13 comments

  1. Icka’s avatar

    I thought that album was beautiful as well, and I think it’s a little ironic when people start saying a certain kind of music isn’t art simply because it’s beautiful. Some sculptures are Oldenburg, and we appreciate them for their strange, off kilter outlandishness, but some sculptures are Rodin, and we appreciate them because they’re smooth and beautiful, like the Reminder.

    And, you may like to know, I had your mother-in-law listening to M.I.A. in the car this afternoon outside of Shopko.

  2. zara’s avatar

    Tee hee! I imagine she grooved real hard to Mango Pickle.

  3. zara’s avatar

    I agree with the critic’s sort of … disappointment. I think he wanted one thing out of Feist and she delivered something else. But to denigrate it on that condition … uncool!

  4. scott pgwp’s avatar

    Word!

    The Reminder is definitely not the best album of the year, but it also doesn’t deserve the backlash coming its way. As I said… somewhere else (heck, it might’ve been my own blog!), the record is not challenging enough to be divisive. Either you love it or your ambivalent to it. The people that react harshly to it are reacting precisely to the idea that adult contemporary is seeping its way into indie rock. And of course Feist is nowhere near as treacly as “adult contemporary” would connote – because it’s INDIE contemporary. As I said in the post you linked to, we–those of who were in high school in the 80s-90s–are the generation that ALWAYS had an underground; specifically, an underground that bred distrust of the mainstream. Now that we’re growing older, having kids, buying minivans, whatever, it makes total sense that we would want mellower music that is still not manufactured mainstream pap. (that Feist is gaining acceptance in the mainstream is another issue entirely).

    Wilco has been getting a lot of the same flak, what with Sky Blue Sky being tagged “dad rock” in certain corners. Yeah, so?

    Two other things entertain me with all the list-making going on right now – first, that so many people are blown away by LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends,” which is apparently becoming a generation anthem for aging hipsters – but still danceable and cheeky so it’s different from liking Feist, I guess; and second, that Panda Bear is at the top of so many lists. It’s a good record, but it makes me think that those putting it at the top of their lists require that a record be challenging on some level in order to be designated the best. That seems disingenuous to me. Not to slag PB, but I question whether that truly was the most-played album on everyone’s iPods this year.

  5. zara’s avatar

    That’s exactly why I didn’t call my list, Best Of. I think on these lists there is a HUGE element of “was it challenging” or, even huger, “was it something you’ve never heard of” or “does it meet certain indie snob credibility criteria.” Not that the person didn’t like the record, but that they’re inflating the “importance” of the record because of its … challenging aspect.

    I think Dad rock is a very natural place for Gen X to go, and the backlash is very natural as well, because the younger folks always have to a) maintain their snobbery and b) rebel against what everyone else likes. But I’m a mom, and so what I like is mom rock, right? Heh.

  6. charlie’s avatar

    I always appreciate responses to things I wrote, and I’m grateful for the mention here, but I must confess a bit of confusion about some of the responses and I would encourage those who haven’t done so already to click through to and read the actual review. The review contains little or no “nostalgia” for “the Golden Age of indie” and is in fact pretty dismissive of a lot of the stuff that was released then. Instead, I’m saying that different circumstances now, such as better technology and more money, have changed the playing field in indie rock, often for the better (Joanna Newsom, etc.) but sometimes for the worse.

    (Also, I’m not a huge Cure fan, but wouldn’t a critique of the Cure from 1997 about the old stuff being better have been mostly true and therefore NOT a failure? I’m not really being nostalgic in the review so it doesn’t apply anyway, but I don’t understand what you’re getting at here.)

    Also, why the need to question my motivation for writing the review? Is it so hard to believe that I simply didn’t like it, rather than being “angry” because I actually, secretly liked something that sounded like Norah Jones? This is such a bizarre (and kind of amusing) accusation!

    Also, where do I say that no one else is allowed to like it? People are welcome to like whatever they want. If you enjoy Feist, that’s great. I give you my blessing. :) I simply don’t, and it would be dishonest for me to review the album and say otherwise.

    Here, my review is made to sound totalitarian and nostalgic. Please go back and read it – those qualities are just not really in the review.

    Cheers, and thanks for your time.

    Charlie

  7. charlie’s avatar

    “Indie rock” in the previous comment should probably be read as “indie music” or something. Clearly Joanna Newsom isn’t rock. But I think you can probably see what I’m getting at.

  8. zara’s avatar

    I did read it, in fact, three times; though some comments vis-à-vis your review have elements of snarkiness (point 4, obvs, which was supposed to be amusing, since I don’t know you and couldn’t possibly infer your motivations), you’re overestimating how much your review meant to the article. Tennant used your idea as a way to get up on his soapbox, and I used his to get up on mine.

    I didn’t think your review was any more totalitarian than any critic’s is supposed to be, but I did find it quite nostalgic. I even agreed with it in a way, and I thought I understood what you were getting at — I understood it to mean that time and technology were smoothing out, and therefore denigrating, the, say, spiritual-musical quality of music that Feist was putting out (to wit, sentences such as “The less obvious effect that technology is having on indie rock is that the punk spirit of so much ’80s and ’90s indie is just about gone from many of the biggest records.”) That her technique and technology are astoundingly good, but there’s nothing behind it that is indie anymore. Which I disagreed with, as is my right as a fine upstanding blogger who isn’t paid one cent for her opinions.

    If in fact you mean quite the opposite, then both Tennant and I were mistaken … perhaps the message got mixed up somewhere in the receipt of it. I am interested to note that I read the piece so much differently than you had intended it to be read, but of course I came to it from Scott, who also agrees, but has a different view of it. We both appreciate your thought-provoking reviews, I’m sure.

    Not all of my piece is meant towards you, however; I did however branch out to poke fun at those folks that are college rock snobs, and who do believe that in effect one cannot like the music one’s parents like. Which is very sad for them, but they live in blissful ignorance that one day they’ll be the parents and they’ll say, “back in MY day, when the Cure was GOOD, Robert Smith didn’t even wear lipstick dammit!” You were not meant to be included in that category, since once I haven’t read any of your reviews besides the Feist one.

  9. juliette’s avatar

    touchy, touchy.

  10. charlie’s avatar

    I know you read the review, don’t worry. :)

    I didn’t think your review was any more totalitarian than any critic’s is supposed to be, but I did find it quite nostalgic. I even agreed with it in a way, and I thought I understood what you were getting at — I understood it to mean that time and technology were smoothing out, and therefore denigrating, the, say, spiritual-musical quality of music that Feist was putting out (to wit, sentences such as “The less obvious effect that technology is having on indie rock is that the punk spirit of so much ’80s and ’90s indie is just about gone from many of the biggest records.”) That her technique and technology are astoundingly good, but there’s nothing behind it that is indie anymore. Which I disagreed with, as is my right as a fine upstanding blogger who isn’t paid one cent for her opinions.

    If in fact you mean quite the opposite, then both Tennant and I were mistaken … perhaps the message got mixed up somewhere in the receipt of it.

    I didn’t mean the opposite. I’m just pointing out that it’s a nuanced opinion, not a nostalgic one. I suppose what you wrote set me off because I’m not a big fan of “Back in my day…” sorts of arguments, either.

    I guess what I’m saying is this – technology and money have changed things in indie music in ways that are, for some reason, rarely discussed. In some hands this can be extremely exciting; in others it can be limiting. I emphasized the last part of the argument in the review because I believe that’s the part that applies best to Feist, but I believe the part about excitement at least as strongly, and I wouldn’t trade in my Scott Walker and Arcade Fire and Melt Banana and Joanna Newsom and The National records to take a time machine back to 1989, that’s for sure. That’s all.

    Thanks,
    Charlie

  11. zara’s avatar

    Ooh, me either. For one thing, 1989 was the year of the really really awful perm (thanks mom).

    You seem like a really nice guy with an excellent sense of humor, and darn it, a lot of good points … I feel a bit guilty for boiling your review down to one concept and then jumping on it like a rabid dog with constructed-nostalgia problems. Darn you critics for actually being human after all! I did oversimplify and I apologize for it. I feel an editor’s note coming on.

  12. charlie’s avatar

    Oh no, that wasn’t necessary! Nice, but not necessary. Thanks for allowing me to say my peace here. It wasn’t even a big deal – if I hadn’t been getting tons of nasty mail about another review, it probably wouldn’t have even bothered me enough to mention it. (Say anything negative about Radiohead, and their army will come marching to your door, apparently.)

    I’ll keep checking back – I like your writing.

  13. zara’s avatar

    Thank you!

    Good luck with those Radiohead fans — they are legion — but fending them off is what you get paid the big bucks for, right? Riiiight.

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