Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Talking of the onset of patternwork....

There is a 10th Anniversary Edition of Interpol's Turn on the Bright Lights out this month

I'm sorry, there is no earthly or unearthly reason why Interpol's Turn On the Bright Lights should be commemorated for having existed for a decade, let alone get the copious in-depth sleevenotes treatment.

I liked the record at the time, but it was hardly an epochal release.   (If it was, then it wasn't much of an epoch, let's be honest).

Pitchfork reviewer Matt LeMay avers that "in retrospect, 2002 may have been the very year that we stopped talking about how music sounds, and started talking about what other music it sounds like."

Hmmm, that was going on for a goodly while, I'd say.  It goes back at least as far as the mid-Eighties, starting in fanzines like Forced Exposure, where a kind of record-store-clerk delirium referentia set in.  The writers could assume a shared knowledge base among the readership and use comparisons as shorthand. It was simply how they processed new music: in terms of its relationship to preexisting music.

Increasingly fanzine-culture type bands approached music-making the same way. Often like Pavement they'd worked in record stores (c.f. Quentin Tarantino who worked as a video store clerk before becoming a director). In a sense it was totally natural, an authentic state of irony and knowingness.  That doesn't of course deflect the decadence / Nietzche "On the Uses and Abuses of History" / patternwork arguments, of course -- one can be authentically enfeebled c.f. earlier more vigorous stages of one's own culture.

Maybe it has got worse in this decade. But if so, the reviewing things in terms of references, what it reminds you of, etc -- that's a response to what the bands are doing, how they're laying it all out there.  Cultural capital: a portfolio of influences spread out for you to scan and approve.


  1. Hello Simon,

    I find it kind of extraordinary that a journalist who's frequently written sleevenote minutiae-type articles is surprised that other people want to do so, with a record that means a lot to a lot of people.

    I don't have any particular attachment to Interpol or that album but I know an awful lot of people do. It doesn't matter if it's not your epoch- sleeve notes aren't read by people seeking a zeitgeist, they're read by the sort of fannishness that creates the fanzines you talk about here. The 10-year edition isn't necessitated by any epochal qualities, it's not a lapidary artifact of any history save the personal fandom of those for whom it's meaningful. I wouldn't buy it, as Interpol aren't a band I hold a torch for but there are plenty of albums that I might.

    With all due respect, you sound as though you're clucking at 'the kids' that music isn't the same these days, it all sounds the same, etc. Interpol were no kind of epoch for you but they were for many of my friends; friends who are now, like me, in their late twenties and for whom albums from ten years ago become a familiar angst, a comfort board, a measure of experience. Special editions aren't purchased by people because of what they say about the music but about what they say about the collector, about the personal importance.

    There doesn't need to be any unassailable, truthful reason for an album to be re-released; a cynical marketing ploy, that's nonetheless appreciated with good intentions, is as good a reason as any other. It's publishing, not a law of physics.

    As for describing things in the ways that they sound like other things, that's always, always happened. It's the taxonomy of anything- familial classifications, the tracing of DNA. I don't believe that's ever not been a meme.

    But really, I just wanted to say that it's disappointing (and must be moreso for people who are fans of you, many of whom love Interpol) to see you sneering at what people might find epochal, might find worth writing about. I know that we fundamentally disagree about a lot of music that I like, I am kind of surprised that you begrudge sleevnotes for anything people, let alone large numbers of people, find meaningful.


  2. read what Chris Ott has to say about this

    he's 12 years younger me, actually a big fan of that album, and he finds it absurd that a record that is still widely available and has never been out of print is getting this kind of treatment

    i think anyone who was a real fan and understood where i'm coming from would *totally* get why i find it silly

    at any rate it's not my job to flatter the self-image of anybody in terms of their music taste and allegiances -- an individual or a band following or a generation. quite the contrary.

  3. I love that album! And yeah, no I was really incredulous when I saw it getting a reissue.

    Interpol are perhaps the prototypical example of a band defined by other bands, or in their case, a band defined by ONE other band - Joy Division.

    People are free to like whatever, but to celebrate the anniversary of an album which is essentially a post-punk period piece is to all but admit defeat that our generation has nothing new to say...

  4. "Epochal," in this context = now added to the lexicon of irredeemably debased words.