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A few days ago I was reading a review for an album that went on and on about how annoying the singer was. The thing about the singer is, I didn’t find him annoying at all. In fact, I found his style of singing fairly common and thought harping on such a subjective detail was the sign of a poor review. The review read like someone’s opinion rather than an attempt to objectively analyze the music. The difference is subtle, but it’s important. It may well not be possible to be objective when reviewing anything, and that’s okay, but it is important you try. Because when I write a review it isn’t about whether or not I like it, it’s about how you will like it. I can’t get inside every person’s brain and tell them, based on their preferences, if they will like the album, but I can give a judgement-free summary of what it sounds like. Judgement-free doesn’t mean I don’t comment on what I think are its success and failures. It just means I leave my personal preferences at the gate, and talk about the music. If it was just about me, I could write, “I don’t like this, it sucks.” and that’d be a complete review. But we all know the point of a review is to do more than that. It should describe merits, whatever they are, if any, of the music.
I could review Justin Beiber and say, this is stupid. But what’s the point? It’s not my taste and I’d be talking about it through the ears of someone who listens to various types of rock. What I should do is compare it to other pop music. Is the production good? Are the beats good? Are the lyrics passable? Can you dance to it? Can you chill to it? Is it offensive? Is it too one note? Is it too simple? I know it’s not going to be math rock, so saying the instrumentation sucks is not saying much of anything at all. I need to try to get at what it does, and describe that, and the reader decides whether that sounds appealing or not. Sure, some personal taste will be thrown in there, but it’s important to note when it is opinion. “The vocals are grating at times if you don’t like autotune.” That means I think the vocals are grating because of the autotune, but if you like autotune, you’ll enjoy them. That’s different than saying “The vocals are annoying, shrill, and detract from the songs.” I listen to The Blood Brothers, so our definitions of shrill might be different.
I think this is another example of how we value our opinions over any sort of objectivity. Opinions never really matter outside of casual conversation with friends (or some types of art, apparently). But you don’t publish opinions, because who are you? One person in 7 billion.
I don’t usually rant about pop culture stuff (maybe I do, maybe I’m a liar, fact-check me), but I can’t stand these superhero movies. If you met me in 4-10th grade, I would have been the prime market for these nerdy comic book things. I still read comic books to this day (and have one upstairs waiting for me, which sounds oddly sexual), but I cannot get into this madness. It’s madness. People are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make some idiot pretend fly. The money is madness. But beyond that, the stories are boring. No matter how well made these damn movies are, they are the exact same thing with different colors and logos. How many times will the world almost be destroyed? How many times will simplified evil people come up with ridiculous schemes to reach whatever absurd ends they have in mind? Death, power, destruction, money, didn’t we outgrow these stories? I understand that big budget, crazy popcorn action movies will always be the highest grossing movies of the year, but when did the “nerds” jump on board? My little world always consisted of people who liked indie flicks and could occasionally pop in a mindless action movie and have fun. That’s what “The Fast and the Furious” movies are for. But at some point, instead of just admitting that we’re watching mindless action with people in costumes, we want to classify these movies as something more. Something better than the action movies some dumb, typical, movie goer likes. But we’re lying. They are dumb, big movies that are sometimes a lot of fun. They aren’t anything more than that. I would contend that “The Fast and the Furious” movies (especially 5 and 7) are better than any Marvel or DC movie that has come out since “The Dark Knight.” Every time a new comic book movie comes out we treat them like they are “LA Confidential” or “Roshoman.” We take them so seriously. It’s painful. They are better made versions of “The Transformers.” I don’t understand why we treat them so much differently. I don’t understand why the discussions about Batman V Superman are more in depth than the ones about The Raid. Thin characters? Who cares? Convoluted plot? Who cares?
Turn it on and tune out for two hours. That’s what these movies exist for. They aren’t changing the world. They aren’t revealing universal truths. And they shouldn’t be expected to do so.
Many things we experience are shallow. We only have the most basic understanding of what we see, and for good reason. There is too much in the world to learn everything, understand everything, experience everything. So when we hear about a new song, a new band, a new book, a new movie, we have to be able to quickly assess if it’s worth our time because we can’t listen to every band, read everything book, or watch every movie. We have to discriminate. We get as little information as we need to decide if we’ll enjoy an experience.
Which brings me to this song that people probably won’t listen to, but even if they do, they won’t think too hard about.
And that’s a shame.
This song and video perfectly sum up life for musicians. It’s a life most people outside of music never think about, but it’s incredibly relatable. Most people don’t think about the hours upon hours spent on the road between shows, the driving through the night, the terrible conditions, the lack of sleep, the soul crushing experience of playing to next to no audience, etc.
I think, if given a chance, most people can relate to this story. Whatever it is you’re doing, it probably isn’t easy. There’s probably a lot of failing and a lot of fear that it’ll never work out. But it’s more than that because it’s not a simple story. It’s not Katy Perry talking about being a tiger. It’s their life. It’s real people experiencing what we all experience. The drudgery of trying to do something.
This song is basically a song about perseverance, but without some glorious payoff. It’s just a song about life. Hitting a wall in whatever you’re trying to do.
“We’ve had some dark days, we’re in the thick of it now.”
Working to overcome it but never seeing any progress until you feel you have nothing left to give.
“We’re wasting away, bit by bit.”
But realizing that this isn’t going to stop you.
“Oh it was cold but still it wasn’t cold enough, to freeze the blood beneath my spine, and at least I survived.”
You can be repeatedly beaten down, but keep going anyway. Maybe because you’re foolish. Maybe because you don’t know what else to do. Maybe because all the dark days were fun. Not in some overly romantic way. They sucked. Losing sucks. Failing sucks. But in between the suck were experiences you never thought you’d have. Relationships that you wouldn’t have formed without dragging yourself, being dragged, dragging others through the shit thrown at you. You don’t become a tiger at the end of it, because it never really ends. There will probably be more dark days, and maybe that’s the only thing you’ll get in life. But it sometimes seems like the entire point of it all is to keep going as long as you can survive.
That’s not exactly an in-depth review of the song, but it’s what is often passed over in the moment of judgment, the moment of discrimination to get on with your day. The backstory of a band that you would never know if you didn’t stop for a moment to listen. A story that relates to everyone, even if you never touched an instrument.
If just given some time, most people have stories to tell. And many are worth listening to.
I have memories associated with this band to the point that it’s hard to think about them outside of my experiences. Before Paramore blew up, my friends were in love with the singer. In our stupid little world, most members of most bands were male, so whenever a female popped up it became a bigger deal than it should have been. Plus, they were teenagers, so it’s hard not to think like that. Paramore went on tour supporting I Am The Avalanche, a band I still love. I went to the show in Oakland. It was a small, half filled (being generous), room. Seeing them live was my first experience with Paramore. They were nothing special. A fun and solid live show, but I had seen thousands and they didn’t stand out. How wrong could I be? Anyway, a year or so later, Riot came out and the world stopped spinning. Whenever I hear this band I think of my stupid friends with their stupid crushes.
Number 28: Paramore – Riot! (2007)
I don’t know where to start with this album. To be frank, I think it’s pretty bad. I don’t usually say stuff like that, but I think this album is clearly mediocre when it’s at its best. It’s a pop album with hardly a tinge of punk, but that’s not the problem. The problem is it’s even more formulaic than Brand New and less fun. They take fewer risks and there’s no compelling backstory to move the lyrics along. I had problems with Brand New lyrics being juvenile, these are even worse. They’re cliche. “Why don’t you stand up, be a man about it. Fight with your bare hands about it, now.” Men fight, get it?
Let’s start with the obvious. A number of these songs are catchy as can be. There’s no difficultly in trying to understand their popularity, it’s clear. I won’t categorize these songs as bad, but they are boring in that they wear out their welcome quickly. They are songs that are made to be replaced. The mid-tempo songs are relatively unremarkable. There’s not much to say about them. If you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all. The lyrics and inoffensive music will appeal to a certain sect, but without that bias it’s hard to be drawn in to songs like When It Rains.
The sequencing on this album is actually pretty good. It’s front loaded for sure, but there are enough hits near the end to bring attention back before straying too far. I can’t fault this album much for what it is. It’s not made for me, and what it is made for it does pretty well. Teenager in love or heartbreak? There’s stuff to get into. Just learning your instruments? Play along to this album. But it’s not innovative. It’s not challenging. It’s a by-the-numbers type of album. Which is only a problem because it’s number 28 on the best emo albums of all time list. Paramore does this better on their self-titled album. Which is an improvement on everything about Riot!
But seriously, Misery Business is so much fun, dudes. And the closer is a banger.
Yesterday I wrote, “I’m not smart, I just try harder than you.” It sounds a lot like an insult, because it sort of is. But what it really was supposed to convey was hope mixed with frustration. My intention was to point out that, for the most part, there’s not much difference between the smartest and the dumbest people you know. Sometimes it’s hard to shake out the differences because it goes back to childhood – maybe even babyhood – with differences in upbringing, motivation, interests, etc pointing one kid towards something resembling genius and the other towards something else entirely (maybe sports, or music, maybe status and possessions). More likely the discrepancy between the smart kid and the dumb kid is slight, unless you are friends with clueless people, which is fine, but let’s eliminate that extreme from the conversation.
The post from yesterday was in response to being called the smart kid by my friends. I have that label because I pursue a rather highfalutin sounding science. I have all kinds of ideas about life, meaning, lifestyles, love, hate, goals, self-esteem, religion, happiness, utilitarianism (and other things that I hope will convince the reader that I’m smart). If we have a conversation about anything I can probably pull an idea, possibly modified, from a smart person who said a smart thing about the topic (or I can talk about papers I’ve read and so many studies). Those types of references to those types of pompous topics are somewhat impressive, like a person who knows all the best obscure, underground music. (A professor once said the goal of a philosophy paper is to make allusions to philosophers that the philosopher reading your paper will have to look up. Peacocking for thinkers.)
But I’m not smart. Not inherently at least. Any intelligence I have is worked for. And continually worked for. I don’t read a single book and dust my hands of that topic. I read, then read more, then read opposing positions, then read laughable positions, then keep my eyes open for anything new on the topic, sorting my thoughts all the while.
It’s like trying to understand the Batman mythos. I can’t watch the Nolan films and pretend I understand Batman. I have to read a lot of comics, dating back a long time, or at least the summaries. Which Robin died? Who killed him? What happened to Barbara Gordon? Where’s the first Robin? Who’s the third? There’s a girl Robin? Batman has a son? Who’s Batgirl? When? Then there’s the entire rogues gallery.
For some reason, when it comes to Batman we understand that we have to go learn about it to understand it all. We understand that we can increase our Batman intelligence. But for some reason we don’t extend that to general intelligence. Or science intelligence. Or math intelligence. (I’ve lost count of how many people have told me they are no good at math. Obviously. I wasn’t either. I spent hours every day for months on months on months learning it. I didn’t fucking intuit how calculus or linear algebra works. I LEARNED it.)
This all relates to what Carol Dweck calls the growth mindset. Seems a lot of people are in a fixed mindset, in which they think they are as smart as they can ever be right now. But all intelligence is, is learning. It eventually becomes creative and abstract but that comes much later and is not always necessary. What it really boils down to is effort. You can put in the effort and read a stack of cognitive science/philosophy/whatever-you-want-to-learn books and have a happy pile of ideas to think over. Or you can limit yourself to a single mind.
I’m considered the smart kid because I can say stuff like “stereotype threat” and know what it means. But that’s simply because I read a book discussing a hundred aspects of stereotype threat by the guy who coined the phrase. I know what heuristics are and have tons of examples because, again, I read a book by the guy who coined the word. There’s nothing about me that screams smart. Which makes the comment annoying on two fronts. The first is uplifting. You can know everything, and more, than I know. I’m not special. The second is angry. I didn’t luck into this mind. I didn’t accidentally learn stuff. I had to work at it. I have to work at it. I read almost constantly, and write whenever I’m not. I make sacrifices to focus on that aspect of my life. To treat intelligence as something that just exists, belittles and diminishes all the effort I put in.
so that’s what I was trying to express yesterday in a single sentence.
I love this song and felt compelled to share it with everyone in the world. Seeing how I don’t know everyone in the world, I did the next best thing, the only thing I’m capable of, wrote a blog about it.So here it is. Maybe I’ll do this more, even though most of my music blogs don’t get much attention. A shame for me because I love discussing music.
I’ve been doing brief reviews for albums over the last week or two, but I had to take a break to talk about how amazing this song is. It’s special, really, really, really special. The song starts with sparse guitars and a piercing voice singing about domestic abuse. It’s a haunting topic and her vocals match. The guitar mostly follows her voice up and down until the rest of the band kicks and the song momentarily explodes until the next verse and the chill is back in your spine. More than half way through the song becomes a massive rocker, flying through the door, breaking every valuable you have in the house. It sounds big and it’s beautiful while the guitar screams its first solo. Then quiet returns. The song almost disappears and falls away. Right when it feels just about over, the second guitar solo comes squealing in. The solo is exceptional in the way it starts and carries the song without any help for more than 20 seconds. Just a wailing guitar that has as much emotion behind it as the rest of the song, which is a great deal.