Aside from Neko Case’s “Man”, which I wrote about yesterday, the other 2013 song about manhood that I find funny and subversive in all the good ways is Kanye West’s “I’m In It.” This would actually be my favorite rap song of the year if I thought it could be classified as “rap.”
Now, I one-million-percent understand why people would be offended by this track. Lyrically, it’s sexist, racist, and all sorts of wrong. But it’s really all sorts of clowning. He even closes the last verse with “time to take it too far now” — meaning, the joke. It’s a song that’s meant to offend, whether you want to take it seriously or as a lark, and maybe you’ve had enough of being intentionally offended either way. Fair enough. When I first wrote about the album I dismissed the song as Kanye’s lame “ain’t I stinker?” moment even though I thought it was the most sonically adventurous song, dead center in the most sonically adventurous stretch of the record.
Now, I think there’s probably more to the joke, which is — not to get all late-80s on you — a mix of 2 Live Crew’s bass and boasts with Andrew Dice Clay’s toilet mouth. This is clearly a depressed album, and on top of the chasing demons near the end, this is Kanye taking the manhood measuring stick of pleasuring a woman to an outrageous extreme, weighing the song down with John Carpenter-esque synths in verse two, the vocals doubled up into telephone-stalker mode, and orgasms that sound like slasher-film slayings (there’s the late-80s again). Is this pleasurable? Keep in mind that he boasts about what he’s going to do her, but the song is called “I’m in it.” It’s a boastful phrase at heart but why does it also sound like a prison?
I might write it all off as themes that don’t interest me if it wasn’t so comically over-the-top, with the aforementioned effects tossed out with barking dogs, massive bass blarps, and the phrase “swaghili.” And then there’s the guests: Kanye’s got the “Holocene” guy chanting “starfucker” and singing jibberish that bears a passing resemblance to Bell Biv Devoe’s “smack it up, flip it, rub it down” promise in “Do Me!” And Assassin nearly makes off with the whole damn song. This is all fun, and funny, to me. It’s the sex rap as a horror movie, Luke Campbell meets Bruce Campbell, but I like horror movies.
Neko Case, “Man”
The other week I wrote about Father John Misty and the humor in his music, while lamenting the lack of wit in modern indie rock. While pruning my ongoing “best of 2013” playlist down to one CD, I’ve come into a couple of songs that, as with Father John Misty’s “Only Child of the Ladiesman,” use humor in wry, subtle ways in order to explore the question what it means to be a man. I guess it’s an ongoing interest, I don’t know (I won’t write about Bill Callahan again, but his record is the same).
The first of these songs is Neko Case’s “Man.” It probably isn’t fair to bring Neko Case aboard a train of thoughts on the lack of humor in indie rock, as her roots are not in “indie rock” but punk and country, which are two genres that are historically unafraid to be snide, self-effacing, or to take the piss out of whatever the singers are concerned with. Additionally, Case recently rounded the corner past age 40 and settled into a comfortable, relatively reliable level of success, which affords her the luxury of not having to give much of a shit what people think of her. Maybe she does, but at this point she doesn’t have to, and that’s a freeing moment. Especially (I’m speculating) for a woman in the entertainment industry.
So she can be funny. She’s allowed. She can dress up in a gorilla costume, or tweet about her farts, or out-potty-mouth everyone on the Nerdist Podcast. And on it’s surface, “Man” is a very funny song. There she is dressing up as a cowboy on the cover, gazing off into the rolling hills of Marlboro country. There are absurdist lines in here like, “If I’m dipshit drunk on the pink perfume, then I’m the man in the fucking moon.” There’s the entire playful nature of a woman framing a song around the phrase “I’m a man,” not terribly unlike Elton John singing of himself, “The Bitch is Back.”
But “Man” is not a funny song. It is a fight song. It is to me the most subversive song this year aside from perhaps Lady Gaga and R. Kelly’s “Do What U Want.” It goes well beyond tweaking gender roles by virtue of its sheer fury and sense of purpose. Sure the drums thrash like Mass Romantic era pornographers, that guitar line acts as an eraser for whatever preconceptions you bring to the song, and her voice is (insert recycled hyperbole here), but what gets me is how thorough her approach is. Not content to be cheeky, she efficiently grapples the idea of what it means to be a man from several conceivable angles: semiotics, science, society. She shreds it all.
I’m not qualified to declare “Man” a “feminist” song or The More I Fight… a feminist record, but it does make me consider the feminine perspective much more than I do when I listen to, say, Lily Allen or Savages (to name a few this year). It’s worth mentioning that Case is closer of a peer to me than those artists, and you tend to relate stronger with people similar to your age. But also, the younger artists tend to traffic more in exclamation points (and there’s nothing wrong with this!), while Case traffic in question marks. Lines like “a woman’s heart is the watermark of which I measure everything” is a question mark. The way she sings, “it’s not an identity crisis” at the start of the song but “I’m not your identity crisis” at the end is a question mark.
This is also a message that can transcend genders. As Case points out, “man” means so many different things, and pointedly shouting, “I’m a man” does as well. Case’s confidence is infectious. It’s an adrenaline shot for everyone, in the way Jay Z’s songs about rising from the projects to global icon can inspire a 13-year-old suburban girl to ace her history exam. The song is an anchor tattoo on your bicep, and you can flex it however you want.
From the album “Modern life by Jaakko Eino Kalevi” (Helmi036)
Bryce Hackford - Another Fantasy
I make these every year for December travels & thought I’d share. These are my favorite songs of the year. They are listed in the track order on the CD, not in any “ranked” order. There is no rap because I listen to it in the car with my 6-year-old (although Neko gets away with an f-bomb).
1. “Lanzarote” — Lindstrøm & Todd Terje
2. “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” — Thundercat
3. “Down Down the Deep River” — Okkervil River
4. “Got Your Love” — Black Hearted Brother
5. “The Perfect Life” — Moby (featuring Wayne Coyne)
6. “Pretty Boy” — Young Galaxy
7. “Despair” — Yeah Yeah Yeahs
8. “The Wire” — Haim
9. “Outsiders Blues” — Wooden Wand
10. “Small Plane” — Bill Callahan
11. “Song For Zula” — Phosphorescent
12. “Ya Hey” — Vampire Weekend
13 “Other Boys” — Eleanor Friedberger
14. “Man” — Neko Case
15. “Weed Instead Of Roses” — Ashley Monroe
It’s pretty much either highly emotional stuff, or slightly subversive stuff, or euphoric stuff, and right around tracks 4 and 5 it’s stuff that happily reminds me of life in 1999-2002. I love this mix.
If I knew how to make a zip file and put on a sharing site, I would, sorry. Maybe I’ll make a Spotify playlist (Bill Callahan won’t be on it but I can swap it out for Camera Obscura’s “Do It Again,” which was my toughest omission).
Was just reminded of how incredible the drumming in this song is.
Last night, late, I was watching it snow
It always goes sideways in the city
It comes right out from the street lights, you know
Pumped out by an engine deep inside the earth’s core
It goes sideways in the city
Cover the shades and erase the day
This could be any evening in any place
The blizzard blows from left to right
which is funny ‘cause the piano’s playing “Summertime”
So sounds the alarm of ragtime
It’s ragtime keeping time
This song has pulled me back from the brink of a depressive bout like six times already this fall.
Last week I wrote about EMA and the lack of humor or wit in “indie rock” these days (I’d include sex in that mix were it not for the fact that indie-rock has almost always been a Barbie/Ken doll with no genitals). This reflection got me revisiting Father John Misty’s Fear Fun, which was my favorite album of the past year and probably the decade to date, precisely because it IS funny and sexy — although not exactly “indie rock” so much as a certain kind of Laurel Canyon-esque folk-rock. My other favorite album this decade is Destroyer’s Kaputt, which also happens to be much wittier and sexy than the average “indie” album these days. You see a trend here.
It wasn’t until I saw Father John Misty perform in concert this summer that I came to appreciate “Only Son of the Ladiesman.” I’m still unsure of how much I liked the show; it felt a little too labored, but the dude has some goddamned pipes on him and that goes a long way in the nobody-can-really-sing 2010s. As you can see in this clip, Josh Tillman affects his songs with exaggerated gestures and a vaguely cabaret flair mixed with an old-fashioned-freakout stoner — part Rufus Wainwright and part Wayne Coyne — and it led him to accent the “Ladiesman” line “I’m a Dodger’s fan” which air-quotes and a shrug, as if he had no idea what the hell such a thing meant.
I always saw this song as all the billboards on Sunset Boulevard coming to life in some psychedelic amalgam, culminating with the iconic Marlboro Man (Is that one even still there? I can’t imagine it is, but Sunset would feel weird to me without it). Even the name in the song title — “Ladiesman”, not “Ladies Man,” which makes it come off like a cartoonish superhero like Superman — is outsized and goofy. The air-quotes and the shrug, however, made me wonder if there was introspection beyond the joke; that the song is Tillman sifting through the qualities of what makes a “man” from advertising and entertainment, and filtering out the outdated traits. Manhood, in terms of how it is portrayed in the media, is utterly ridiculous. As a result, most men are utterly ridiculous (present company included). This is not particularly newsworthy, but it’s great fun to see an artist inflate the ultimate male ego to Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade proportions, only to stick a pin in it.
I wrote 1 or 2 professional movie reviews a week for several years, but I left my staff job and then got burned out by the exhausting repetitiveness of it all (95% of movies are almost exactly the same, which is why critics overpraise the ones that aren’t).
Now I write one movie review every 3 months or so. This is my one review for the past 3 months.