Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Raveonettes vs Warlocks

Consider two bands, A and B. Both bands release new albums at around the same time (usually this is the case, but not always, sometimes this situation applies to albums released in different years). Band A's album happens to tread on similar ground to whatever Band B is doing, and actually surpasses it -- they have essentially beaten Band B at their own game. The end result is that you end up devaluing, or even dismissing Band B's work because of the music of Band A. There should be a phrase for this.

Sure, it's not really fair -- it's not Band B's fault that Band A put out new music at the same time as them, so why can't both albums be judged separately, on their own merits, without one's perception of the quality of one being correlated to the quality of the other? But our brains don't always work that way, and besides, music listening habits *are* correlated, because listening time is finite, which means that we frequently must choose to prioritize what we want to hear. I could easily find myself thinking "I have Band A now, I don't need Band B so much anymore".

With their most recent albums, Warlocks have been Band A, while the Raveonettes have been playing the part of Band B. It's funny, because Raveonettes played the opposite role last year, acting as Band A and virtually shaming Band B's (Jesus and Mary Chain) debut album. But this year, they've moved past their "Psychocandy" phase and into their "Darklands" phase. They've toned down the cacaphony and the huge choruses, and moved toward something darker and moodier. Enter Warlocks, who have ironed out the jammy tendencies of past albums that usually resulted in a few tracks carrying on for seven or eight minutes as if by force of habit. They've stopped trying to make "Sound of Confusion" (with one exception, "Surgery" where they went girl-group and made their best album by far) and have moved on to making "The Perfect Prescription". The two sides meet at "There is a Formula to Your Despair", where Warlocks manage to outdo the Raveonettes on the latter's turf. Warlocks' previous attempts at girl group pop were highlighted by swagger and arrogance, but they had never convincingly pulled off anything tender or vulnerable.

Here is the albums ballot that I submitted for Pazz and Jop (numbers in brackets are the points awarded):

YYY's (20)
Moderat (19)
Lisa Germano (15)
Ben Klock (10)
Animal Collective (8)
Tim Hecker (7)
Moritz von Oswald Trio (6)
Matthew Robert Cooper (5)
Shackleton (5)
Warlocks, "The Mirror Explodes" (5)

After much thought, I removed Courtney Love's "Nobody's Daughter" from the list because it hasn't been released yet. As a reflection of my own listening habits and my favourite "new" music in 2009, it belonged, but it didn't feel appropriate to include it in a poll (I have thus disqualified myself from picking it for my own top ten of 2010, but reserve the right to vote for it in P&J if I choose ... this seems fair!) The points rankings are top-heavy, as they should be because only the top two albums stand out for me as classics right now, deservedly ranking amongst the decade's best music.

So with Courtney Love out of the picture, I put Warlocks "The Mirror Explodes" in the #10 spot. It's another patchy album in a list full of patchy albums, and it might be more of a "comfortable" listen rather than a work of truly great art, but I kept returning to it throughout the year and that counts for a lot seeing as my attention span has been whittled away to almost nothing thanks to my iPod, using Youtube as my personal jukebox, etc. Warlocks have been getting the shaft from critics for years, which is baffling because they consistently hit on a bunch of crit-love touchpoints (love of druggy 60's pop, girl groups, Spacemen 3/JAMC ) -- all of which can be applied to the criminally underrated Raveonettes as well. How many rock bands this year wrote a song as good as "It's Just Like Surgery"? How strong was 2005? How can a band write a song that good, and only make the 11th best album of the year? I really have no idea why the likes of Pitchfork have turned Warlocks into a punchline, consistently giving their albums grades that are comparable to a C-student's GPA. Do nostalgia trips and California bands who aren't afraid to use the word "psychedelia" add up to some kind of crit-poison?

Little White Earbuds and me: check out the mindmeld. Four albums in common, plus two others (Martyn, Redshape) that IMO didn't live up to the hype but were still pretty good.

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