Posts Tagged ‘BAMM Argument’

The BAMM Argument: OK Go

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BAMM writers Chris and Jasper face-off for and against a musical issue of the day. This time around – the pros and cons of viral promo-vid pioneers Ok Go …

For (Christopher Davies):

Let’s begin with a caveat: there’s no point in pretending that Chicago rock quartet OK Go are better known for their musical output than for their innovative promo vids. Ever since they rocked out four treadmills for the beautifully simple and engaging reel to ‘Here It Goes Again,’ internet-land is always awash with excitement whenever they unleash their latest effort.

And this, it would seem, is where the problem lies for a lot of people. Naysayers insist that OK Go represent something insidious – a genuine triumph for style over content, a band who eschew any interesting creative direction in favor of gimmicky virals that are guaranteed to rack up the Facebook hits. Their music takes a very noticeable second place – perhaps even to the band itself.

Just how fair is this? No-one has ever claimed that Ok Go are a revolutionary-sounding act – their stock-in-trade is the sort of whimsical indie which has proven to be the lifeblood of college radio stations for decades now. This doesn’t mean that their output is bad: perhaps a little uninspiring to those who demand a little more ‘oomph’ with their listening choices, but there’s certainly a market for their kind of thing.

Is their music worthy of the same contempt as the stuff out there that is genuinely lazy, tired and cynical? Sure, they’ve recently started to engage in all sorts of corporate sponsorship, but last time I checked that wasn’t fundamentally incompatible with having artistic integrity. Only the tiresome whiners who still hold up Kurt Cobain as some bastion of ‘never selling out’ would be so churlish. (And while we’re on the subject, here’s a bonus controversial argument for you all: Nirvana really weren’t very good).

Also – let’s address the fact that OK Go’s music is overshadowed by the videos. Whose music wouldn’t be? This isn’t so much a comment on the state of their sound as it is the sheer imaginative power of their promos. To dislike a band for excelling in one area of their craft – while they are simultaneously nothing less than proficient in all the others – is a bizarre mission statement indeed.

Against (Jasper van der Put):

Let me start off by stating that I think cross-media fertilization is a good thing. Engaging multiple senses should make for an enhanced artistic experience. As a consequence, I would have zero problems with OK GO if they would define themselves as a multimedia platform, with the video aspect at least of equal importance as the so-cal band ‘s musical stylings. My issue lies with the persistence of OK GO in portraying themselves as a proper band, when the music’s in fact the weakest link in what OK GO brings to the table.

Consider the band website. OK GO very clearly presents the tabs marked Shows (live music) and Music (recordings) ahead of Videos. Standard practice for any indiepop band you might say. Looks can be deceiving. Their entire frontpage consists of paraphernalia that ties in with their video for the new single “Needing/Getting”, including behind-the-scenes documentary, novelty merchandise (car fresheners) and “OK GO’s ultimate road trip playlist”. Then there’s what Paste Magazine refers to as:

“More impressive than the driving stunts, intricacies of the course and thousands of instruments (junkyard pianos, homemade percussion, tubas and Gretsch guitars) that are featured in “Needing/Getting,” however, is the successful collaboration of band branding that the video represents.”

Sure, partnering up with Chevrolet for their new video was fruitful. Having your video premiered at the Superbowl is not to be sniffed at. But this is a BAND, or at least so they say. But there’s just not much music going on with OK Go. Before I set about writing this piece, I watched this video at least three times and while the driving stunts, intricacies of the course and thousands of instruments used are firmly planted in my brain, there’s not a single hook or melody that stuck with me from the song itself. It’s a pattern that exhibits itself throughout the band’s singles catalogue, from the treadmill shtick to the Rube Goldberg Machine video. They even went as far as to perform their breakthrough treadmill act at the 2006 MTV Awards, supported by a BACKING TRACK.

This choice of marketing value over musical prowess and novelty choreography over musical instruments grants the final push with which to discard OK Go as a musical act. They might be great video producers, fine marketeers, stunt drivers or treadmill ballerinas … but it’s pretty evident: OK GO are not a band. At all.

The BAMM Argument: ‘Mylo Xyloto’, Coldplay

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BAMM writers Chris and Jasper face-off for and against a musical issue of the day. This time around – the pros and cons of the new Coldplay album ‘Mylo Xyloto’.

For (Christopher Davies):

Look – I’m not saying that Coldplay are full-on, balls-to-the-wall musical pioneers. I’m not saying that they sometimes can’t be a little bit insipid, or lyrically simplistic, or that their tunes haven’t been overused on a million ‘emotional’ reality TV show montages. And – here’s the kicker – I’m not even saying that Mylo Xyloto is their best album (it’s certainly not the one with the most pronounceable title). ‘A Rush Of The Blood To The Head’ retains that title almost ten years on.

Coldplay have never pretended to be anything other than purveyors of mainstream, melodic, instantly accessible pop music. What, exactly, is wrong with that? If they’d been trying to pass off the singalong ‘woah-oh’ choruses of ‘Hurts Like Heaven’ or ‘Paradise’ as monumental leaps forward in sonic engineering, we’d be right to sneer at them. Instead, people feel the need to sneer at Coldplay for that most base and annoying of reasons: because it’s fashionable to do so.

I say: enough. I say: more power to all the soccer moms who’ll be humming along when they get the CD for Christmas. Mylo Xyloto is great big warm-hearted Pop with a capital P: a flawlessly polished and produced collection of FM radio revenue-drivers. It reveals itself completely and brazenly within one listen, hurling out anthems that will no doubt put a sullen frown on the faces of Sonic Youth t-shirt wearers as they mutter into their bottles of Pabst. Good.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put my lighter in the air … ‘All the hiii-gghs, all the loo-ooows …’

Against (Jasper van der Put):

I will be the last one to say there’s anything wrong with appealing to large audiences. I’m not one of those flimsy indie-hipsters who take pride in hating anything with an accessible hook. But why does Coldplay, once a herald of my teenage anxiety and lack of attention, go out of its way to prove they’re commercial schmucks? In a move not unlike Radiohead’s recent exploits in the beatscenes from London and Los Angeles in particular, Coldplay decided to explore R&B and electro as new sonic frame for their upbeat pop tunes. But unlike Radiohead there’s not much here in the sense of a symbiosis. They’ve simply adopted the idiom without as much as missing a beat.

Now, with most acts one would simply shrug its shoulders and go about its business. But this is Coldplay we’re talking about, once the most genuine band to dominate the world stage. Now, we have to rely on Chris Martin’s funny banter to convince us he’s still this down-to-earth geezer churning out a new record with his UCL mates.

I’m having none of it. I can’t help but feeling as if Mylo Xyloto heralds the demise of Coldplay as a actual band that plays music. It’s all gone behind a wall of processors and a deadly dose of ‘Eno-fication’ (on that note: Eno producing Mylo Xyloto feels awfully similar to Lou Reed doing ‘a Lulu’ ). All that’s left is Martin’s ever-heartfelt falsetto, and the notion of Mylo Xyloto being a concept album, an opera of sorts. I don’t want to sound like a conservative, as if I can’t allow Coldplay to expand their palette and explore new musical territory. I just can’t ignore my inner teen mourning over guys who used to be such awe-inspiring craftsmen of pop-rock gems. A waste of talent if there ever was one, I tell you!

The BAMM Argument: ‘Audio, Video, Disco’ by Justice

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In which two BAMMers lock horns ‘for’ and ‘against’ a hot topic. This time around: Jasper praises the new album by Justice, while Chris isn’t so keen:

For (Jasper, BAMM Amsterdam):

So, Justice made a bold move. They knew they had to. Producers Gaspard Augé en Xavier de Rosnay obviously learned from the pitiful downfall of fellow electro-rock crossover acts Digitalism and MSTRKRFT. All three surfaced around the same time with the same aesthetic, but were chastised for rehashing the same old tricks (insert Digitalisms latest LP I Love You Dude) or simply threw in the towel and went back to their garage (as in: revamping Death From Above 1979). Meanwhile, acts like Skrillex, Magnetic Man and Deadmau5 ascended, scaling up (or dumbing down – your choice) dubstep and techhouse to stadium-worthy proportions.

In a classic showcase of ‘no guts no glory’, the Parisian duo dig knee-deep into 70’s hardrock while adopting a more subtle, songlike approach for their second album. No, Audio, Video, Disco is no †, and thankfully so. That album already realised the entire potential of their newfound rock-electro crossover. There’s not contesting that on first listen, there are no epic dancefloor anthems here, or chart-topping hits along the lines of D.A.N.C.E. for that matter. But is that really the only meausure by which to judge Justice’s right to exist? Like MGMT, one could say Justice needs to step out of the hype in order to survive. MGMT’s sophomore album Congratulations was initially received with a lot of scepticism, but 18 months later people have become much more receptive towards it. It just took some getting used to.

Moreover, even without the conceptual banter this record still contains a handful of very recognisable disco-rock tracks (Civilization, Canon, Helix) and a novelty hitsong -the title track- to boot. It’s not brilliant all around, but plenty from an act in transit from the pinnacle of hype to the bedrock of the French house scene.

Against (Chris, BAMM London):

There’s nothing wrong with taking a ‘lighter touch’ to your sound – which is exactly how French electro-pop duo Justice have positioned their sophomore album ‘Audio, Video, Disco’, labeling it ‘daytime music’ as opposed to the nocturnal vibe of the last one. It’s just that – if you’re going to make things a little more sunshiney – you’ve still got to keep a bit of attitude in there. A bit of what made you special in the first place.

Does ‘Audio, Video, Disco’ have this? As much as I want to love this album, I’ve got to say that it doesn’t. At best, it’s a catchy but patchy prog-rock pastiche that passes the time amiably enough. Hit up the worst moments (and there are quite a few) and it sounds like a collection of MGMT studio outtakes. The whole record is deeply in thrall to the keyboard-wielding electro-epic forefathers of the late 70s – but it doesn’t do anything else with the sound (unlike, say, M83, whose aesthetic may be grounded in the 80s but whose sound also explores new territory).

Remember when you’re a kid, and your parents told you that they ‘weren’t angry, they were just disappointed’? That’s the overriding sensation I get from this album. After the promising, punchy, discordant and almost operatic vibe of their first album, it seems that Justice have taken a step backwards. And it’s a shame.