Reading

A Must-Read Kanye West Roundtable

Were you one of the poor souls spazz­ing out over Kanye’s 10.0 from Pitch­fork? How per­fect­ly 2002 of you. If you’re look­ing for more grist for the mill, look no fur­ther than Jeff Weiss’ excel­lent My Beau­ti­ful Dark Twist­ed Fam­i­ly round­table, in which sev­er­al crit­ics offer their thoughts on what most peo­ple seem to believe is the album of the year. (I’m inclined to agree with most peo­ple.)

Not good enough? Jeff and his friends are real­ly, real­ly fun­ny.

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Listening

What Happened to the New Pornographers?

I haven’t even fin­ished lis­ten­ing to the first song on the New Pornog­ra­phers’ lat­est album, Togeth­er, and I’m bored. This is a band that once inspired me to do that least cool of things — join the band onstage to dance — way back in 2001 at the Music Hall of Williams­burg. Man, that was fun. Has it already been five years since they played a pre­view of Twin Cin­e­ma at the Chameleon Club in Lan­cast­er, PA? It has, hasn’t it?

It sounds like a snide, elit­ist thing to say, but the New Pornog­ra­phers weren’t built to last. They were that rarest of ani­mals: a super­group not only didn’t suck, but actu­al­ly pro­duced two clas­sic albums and a pass­able third before becom­ing adult con­tem­po­rary clap­trap.

You see, it would’ve been won­der­ful if they nev­er real­ly formed a band as such, just pro­duced Mass Roman­tic, toured, and then went their sep­a­rate ways. Sure, Elec­tric Ver­sion is a spec­tac­u­lar album and I wouldn’t want to for­get how fan­tas­tic it was to see them play those songs, too, but it’s just that it’s hard to look back on those albums and see them in the same light as they were made. Togeth­er, and it’s pre­de­ces­sor, Chal­lengers, are shock­ing­ly bor­ing mid-tem­po affairs that make you won­der how the New Pornog­ra­phers ever packed so many hooks into “To Wild Homes.”

The pace of their career makes me think they released those great albums, split briefly, and then reunit­ed to pro­duce two more lack­lus­ter albums, only to dis­ap­pear into obscu­ri­ty. Maybe it’s for the best. That way future gen­er­a­tions might dis­cov­er the unbri­dled joy when they first hear Neko Case wail on “Let­ter From an Occu­pant.”

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Reading

My Part in the Spiral Stairs Snafu

I had no idea that any­thing I’d ever writ­ten, least of all a review of a mid­dling album by Spi­ral Stairs, would ever gain this degree of infamy, but then this sto­ry broke this week. Turns out Spi­ral Stairs is upset at Pitch­fork for their appraisal of his body of work post-Pave­ment. That’s total­ly his pre­rog­a­tive, but wouldn’t it have helped if he didn’t insist on rewrit­ing “Coolin’ by Sound” and just giv­ing it new titles?

For the record, that review stands as one of the most puerile pieces of crit­i­cism I’ve ever writ­ten. Bear in mind that it was writ­ten at a time when peo­ple actu­al­ly wrote neg­a­tive reviews about music, and those reviews were often long than 140 char­ac­ters. Want to know a secret? The orig­i­nal was longer AND mean­er. Hard to believe, right?

For what it’s worth, I loved Pave­ment. I’m not a hope­less nos­tal­gic for the band, how­ev­er, and I’ve felt that both Kannberg and Malk­mus over­es­ti­mat­ed their tal­ents in their solo efforts. I lis­tened to Mon­soon hop­ing to hear some­thing dif­fer­ent from Kannberg. How do you root against the under­dog? The unfor­tu­nate thing was that I didn’t find any­thing to like and he’s been shock­ing­ly con­sis­tent in under­whelm­ing crit­ics and con­sumers. This may be why he was so frus­trat­ed in Pave­ment. Malk­mus was too shrewd an edi­tor to allow him to con­tribute mate­r­i­al like this.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the praise I lav­ished on Kannberg for real­ly work­ing to pre­serve Pavement’s lega­cy as one of the great acts of the ‘90s. I meant what I said about him under­tak­ing the thank­less task of unlock­ing gems from old tapes that he had to lit­er­al­ly cook before they could be pre­pared for remas­ter­ing. I think I can speak on behalf of Pave­ment fans every­where when I say that effort was appre­ci­at­ed.

It’s a shame he can’t get past these bad reviews and just move on. He shouldn’t be dis­cour­aged by a hand­ful of bad Pitch­fork reviews. At least someone’s lis­ten­ing to these albums and pro­mot­ing them at all. Will he ever play sold out tours across mid-sized venues as a solo artist? No. But he’d do him­self a favor by low­er­ing his expec­ta­tions and maybe enjoy the fans who do come out to see him per­form. Is that so much to ask?

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Doing

WORST HEADPHONES EVER: ETYMOTIC ER6i

After reach­ing out to the ILX hive­mind for sug­ges­tions on buy­ing a new pair of head­phones, I end­ed up get­ting a pair of Ety­mot­ic Research ER6i Iso­la­tor In-ear Ear­phones, against the advice of for­mer Sty­lus col­league and renowned audio­phile Nick Southall. This, I real­ize now, was my first mis­take.

In my haste to find a suit­able replace­ment for my old AKG K 26 P’s, I set­tled for a pair of in-ear ear­phones. They were near­ly twice as expen­sive as the AKG’s, but based on what I read online, they’d be much gen­tler on my pre­cious eardrums because I wouldn’t have to play them as loud­ly to drown out ambi­ent noise. Since I want to pre­serve my hear­ing at least until I have teenaged chil­dren, this sound­ed like a good idea.

It wasn’t.

When I first used them, it was a rev­e­la­tion. I bare­ly had to turn the vol­ume on my iPod on and I got amaz­ing sound, and, despite what you might read on Amazon.com, decent bass response. But imag­ine my sur­prise when I dis­cov­ered that the right cone blew out while I lis­tened to R.E.M’s “Liv­ing Well Is the Best Revenge” some­time this past spring.

No wor­ries, I assured myself, con­fi­dent that their cus­tomer ser­vice would be able to deal with my issue in a fair and time­ly man­ner. I mailed my faulty ear­phones back, had them repaired, and they were returned with­in a few weeks. If there’s one good thing to be said for Ety­mot­ic Research, it’s that they have fine cus­tomer ser­vice.

Every­thing was back to nor­mal. They sound­ed great and were very com­fort­able, despite the fact that they need to be insert­ed pret­ty deeply into the ear canal to prop­er­ly iso­late the music. I was in love with them all over again. That is, at least until yes­ter­day. They’re bro­ken again, and this time it’s the left cone.

I’ve writ­ten cus­tomer ser­vice again, but this time I was far less under­stand­ing. I don’t feel the need to pla­cate any­one. They’re charg­ing a decent chunk of change for a prod­uct so frag­ile I don’t it think can be used in real life set­tings. I plan on get­ting this pair fixed or replaced and then keep­ing them at work, nev­er to be used out­doors again. They’re so bad they make me wish I’d read an Ama­zon review before buy­ing them. They’ve been a major dis­ap­point­ment and I wouldn’t rec­om­mend them to any­one look­ing to replace Apple’s hor­ren­dous ear­buds.

It’s back to the draw­ing board then. What ear­phones or head­phones do you use? Where and how do you use them? I need your sug­ges­tions!

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