Let us now discuss the labyrinthine, in-your-face, introspective, esoteric, head-bobbing, fist-pumping, booty-shaking, genre-defying mélange of the Rock Critic Cliché milieu.
(Riffage. Let us also discuss riffage.)
Like any other, this profession suffers from its own unique lexicon of ridiculous, impenetrable jargon. I am certainly not immune to this disease, nor can I suggest a foolproof cure. But perhaps I can diagnose specific viruses and prescribe medicine for -- lousy metaphors. (Gotta knock it off with the lousy metaphors, too.)
As we behold 2005's shimmering, hypnotic, melodic dawn, I pledge to you: Every bolded word in this article, I will never use again after this week.
Angular: Frequently describes guitars that sound, well, pointy. Sharp, unpleasant, of or like Fugazi. As opposed to "circular."
Coruscating: Really, really angular.
Listenable: "I didn't like it."
Unlistenable: "I didn't listen to it."
Seminal: "I sold it back for $5 without listening to it, but then everyone else wrote about it, so I had to buy it back for $12 and pretend I liked it."
Minimalist: Describes any song that does not employ a full string orchestra. "Hall & Oates' 'I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)' is a seminal, coruscating slab of minimalist pop."
Danceable: "I couldn't dance competently if my pants were on fire."
Beatlesque: (Fires rocket launcher at head.)
Radio-ready: "This is the only song I remember."
Anthemic: Really, really radio-ready.
Jangly: Fate intertwined with R.E.M. Adios.
Drops, e.g., "Tone Loc's new album drops January 25": Knock it off; you're white.
Wheels of steel, as opposed to "turntables": White white white white white.
Swirling: Conjures lush soundscapes of boring pretentiousness.
Cerebral: Yes, sir: Brian Eno is smarter than you.
Cinematic: What -- like Meatballs?
Eclectic: "From polka to bluegrass to baile funk to death metal! It's a floor wax and a dessert topping!"
Crunk: White white white white white white white white.
_____-esque/ish: "Dude, I gotta finish this: Aqua Teen Hunger Force starts in twenty minutes."
Like _____ on acid: "Dude, that giant bag of fries totally just said 'Crunk.'"
Wanton Hyphen Overuse: An ordinarily calm writer friend of mine flies into a rage whenever this technique is employed. Specifically, he refers to it as "I-can't-think-of-what-to-write-so-it's-time-to-just-say-'fuck-it'-and-hyphenate-the-shit-out-of-a-whole-mess-of-words-that-might-come-close-to-an-accurate-description-of-something-that-I-might-be-able-to-work-out-myself-if-I-read-real-books-instead-of-Spin-while-I-go-poo-poo." He'll be fine, honest.
Wanton: Not yet. I still really like wanton.
_______ Yet ________: Increasingly common. Angry Hyphen Guy particularly chafes at the "Retro Yet Futuristic" tag: "What -- like Barbarella?"
Wanton Capitalization Overuse: Such as, oh, say, Angry Hyphen Guy. I'm still enamored of this one too. Let's save it for '06. -- Rob Harvilla
Praise beyond the greatest of praise for Robert Johnson, who died so that rock could live! May he sing on the towering spires of the canon! It is in his name that we must invoke a fatwa above all other fatwas...for these crimes have been committed by one who was once most holy...a Fallen One. For Eric Clapton's sins are now unforgivable, now that he has released the blasphemous Sessions for Robert J.
Though we must list his crimes against that which he once held holy, we weep as we do so!
He has released a tribute album, that most hollow of efforts. Worse, he pays tribute to Robert Johnson by releasing watered-down white-boy versions of the searing blues songs he once held so dear.
He has selected as the opening track to the album a version of "Sweet Home Chicago" that sounds as if it came from Sessions for the Blues Brothers.
He has aligned himself to the blues clichés that he once stomped down in rock fury. When he was with Cream, he birthed "Crossroads" anew from the womb of his holy guitar. Now he has not the stones to place that hallowed song on this album.
He attempts to ape the soul-cleansing falsetto cries of Mr. Johnson but only squeaks like the emasculated pretender he is.
He puts just enough remarkable guitar playing on the album to remind us of his former greatness.
We forgave "Tears in Heaven." We forgave the MTV Unplugged "Layla." But we can forgive no more. Eric Clapton has fallen. Fatwa!
It is written. -- Ayatollah of Rock
Serious music dweebs may very well adopt Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed (Routledge, 2004) as their rare-vinyl-collecting bible. The lisping indie obsessive who gets teary-eyed at Belle & Sebastian concerts, Steve Buscemi's character in Ghost World, the Kermit the Frog-voiced fellow who knows the whole discography of bands he doesn't even like: They're all guaranteed to bust a blood vessel over this one. It's a guidebook written by geeks, for geeks, that makes rock & roll seem almost not cool, grouping fans alongside other nerd cliques who fixate on comic books or Star Trek.
That said, the average music enthusiast will also find Grooves an informative and pleasurable read. The book, edited by Scram editor Kim Cooper and contributor David Smay, contains a wealth of far-out performers who never got their due, forgotten albums by big-time artists and impassioned defenses of maligned records even the Salvation Army can't get rid of. The emphasis here is on vinyl, including many records that never even made it to CD.
So what do they preach about? Kim Cooper tells the engaging story of the very obscure (and very short) musical career of Beverly Hills dental assistant and tripped-out songwriter Linda Perhacs, whose creative efforts didn't bloom until she fell in with the laid-back Los Angeles hippie crowd. One of her patients was film composer Leonard Rosenman, who in 1970 helped Perhacs record her only album, Parallelograms, which Cooper describes as "delicately layered love poems to the natural world and the charged erotics of youth."
Too obscure? David J. Schwartz focuses on a somewhat-forgotten aspect of Johnny Cash's storied career. As a young ruffian, Cash wasn't afraid to piss people off. When country radio ignored the song "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" from his 1964 album Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian, Cash took out a full-page ad in Billboard indicting the music industry for its desire to "wallow in meaninglessness."
Still, the unknowns rule the roost here -- for hardcore record-collecting freaks looking for new, obscure obsessions, Lost in the Grooves hails little-known acts such as voodoo shrieker Exuma, Wichita rock quartet the Embarrassment, the Italian wannabe-Hawaiian act Nino Rejna and His Hawaiian Guitars, French ex-beatnik popster Michel Polnareff, '60s singing duo Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, and the Yiddish-sung American standards of the Barry Sisters. The book also champions traditional rock-critic favorites such as the Brit-pop Housemartins, New York post-punkers the Feelies, the deathless avant-garde crew Pere Ubu, the beloved duo Sparks, Elephant 6 deity Neutral Milk Hotel and snappy Seattleite pop-punkers the Fastbacks.
Lost in the Grooves doesn't have much to say about jazz or metal, and the few hip-hop write-ups appear to be penned by folks who hardly qualify as fanatics. Otherwise, most musical genres are well covered, though the writing is occasionally subpar and skippable. But most writers succeed at promoting their favorite obscurities, leaving you to wonder, "Should I really seek out a copy of Buckner & Garcia's Pac-Man Fever or the Bee Gees' Mr. Natural?" The answer, of course, is yes. -- Adam Bregman