Tuesday, April 2, 2024

great moments in retrophobia

At The Ringer, a  whole feature about Pitchfork's Most Notorious Review. 

The year was 2006, the album was Jet's second effort Shine On, the writer was....  well, that's the mystery that Ringer's Nate Rogers sets out to solve. 

And the review? The review was wordless, consisting only of a brief video of a chimp peeing in its own mouth. 

Scott Plagenhoef, an editor at Pfork, recalls: 

We were talking about the central problem as we saw it with the record, how the Return to Rock trend that started with the Strokes, White Stripes, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs—and really rock in general—had curdled into a set of lazy signifiers and poses. When the point or driver of what you’re doing is reclamation it’s inherently limiting and resistant to new ideas. It’s a creative cul-de-sac. Progression—whether it was in hip-hop, pop, guitar music, electronic music—was important to us at the time. Seeing mainstream rock music, which of course most of us had grown up with a fondness for, became so knuckle-dragging and Xeroxed was disappointing.

This what things were like in the 2000s. A state of affairs that might lead someone to write a book called Retromania.

Mind you, a magazine doing an in-depth historical investigation into a single record review could be taken as an example of retro culture.

Or if not retro exactly, then a kind of chronically historical culture.

Only way to make it more archive-feverish would be if it had been an oral history of the Shine On review.

As it is this piece  - including a sidebar on Other Famous Pitchfork "Stunt" Reviews -  is nearly six thousand words long

Never listened to Shine On, or indeed any Jet album, but I confess I've always liked "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" - always turned it up when it came on the radio. It's an immaculate recreation, boosted with modern production.  

They get down pat the surly, rocket-in-my-jeans-front-pocket mannish-boy swagger of, I dunno, the Pretty Things

Perhaps justifying one's weakness for such a record would require resorting to the "time travel" metaphor, the futurist critic's self-respect-saving rhetorical maneuver.

Going back to the mid-to-late 2000s, when the retro-talk really started in earnest.... 

Momus amusingly castigated this sort of thing at that time -  reactivating Peter York's concept of Art Necro and talking about Retro Necro

One post in particular at his blog Click Opera I remember vividly, although possibly imprecisely: 

Momus is at an airport and what is clearly a rock band arrive at the same gate. The Groop come swaggering in, elegantly wasted, in the appropriate dress for a rock band sonically oriented towards the pre-punk Seventies. Suddenly Momus feels like he's looking at employees at one of those "living history" museums, whose job it is to wear Medieval garb and do traditional crafts all day long - , working in the blacksmithy, churn butter, that kind of thing . 

I suppose it's possible the band at the airport might actually have been Jet.

Not that there wouldn't have been many other contenders to trigger this epiphany - Kasabian. Probably most groups that appeared on the cover of NME during the 2000s

Yes, it was a chronic culture of revival and reenactment... which now feels stabilized, just part of how things are and will always be... 

But at the time it seemed inundating and alarming...  the escalation of  preexisting trends and their synchronized convergence, combined with new digital archiving platforms = Crisis. 

Particularly disorienting and dispiriting for post-punk veterans such as me and Momus and Mark. 


Matt M said...

I was unaware of the Pitchfork review. I was aware of Jet because they were Australian and I was... in Australia. My German housemate at the time was really into them and would play the entire album frequently. She was 10 years younger than me and called them "The Australian Beatles". Altho I don't think she meant it as an insult to Australia.

They were more the "Australian Bootleg Beatles" as far as I was concerned but maybe I am just no fun.

Anonymous said...

My neighbour is this young woman, mid-twenties, huge fan of The Fall, plays bass in various post-punk indie bands. The other day she was complaining that some of her band mates were pushing their music towards pre-punk rock instead of her preferred '79-'82 post-punk, like the myth of Year Zero was still a thing. And here's me, an old codger, trying hard not to express my condescending cynicism, thinking: at this point in time, what's the difference?

Phil Knight said...

Of course my long term assertion on this sort of stuff is that it isn't "retro", it is patternwork, viz the climax to "Pergammon and Beyreuth":

"The final result is that endless industrious repetition of a stock of fixed forms which we see today in Indian, Chinese and Arabian-Persian art. Pictures and fabrics, verses and vessels, furniture, dramas and musical compositions - all is pattern work. We cease to be able to date anything within centuries, let alone decades, by the language of its ornamentation.

So it has been in the Last Act of all Cultures."

The problem with the term "retro" is that it posits this phenomenon in temporality, whereas really it is atemporal. It isn't "looking back", it is simply repeating established patterns in the absence of any spiritually invigorating new patterns emerging.

Eee said...

I recall the Maker's 70th Anniversary issue in 1996 (about the last era in which it was still readable) which featured Liam & Noel (of course), with the latter having written "Beatles 1967-70" on his hand.

He may as well have been waving a white flag.

Tyler said...

On the effect of the passage of time on 'Year Zero' - I've often thought that the gradual slowing down of culture immediately after punk was the worst thing that could've happened to it - what was intended to be a short, sharp, deck-clearing movement making way for the Next Thing tuned into the most memorialized and respectable cultural institution in the history of pop music, likely exceeding the hippies and psychedelia at this point (the Met Ball had a general 'Rock Culture' theme in the late 90s, then had a pure 'Punk' theme in the late 10s, which I think says a lot)


re "Pattern work", it's a great concept

But with groups like Jet and all those early 2000s nu-garage bands, there's very much an element of time travel - of longing to go back. I think that is show by the fact that the bands not only make the old-fashioned or now-static, ground-to-an-evolutionary-halt sound, they also dress the part. They are hugely invested in this golden age and wistfully wish to reconjure, like a movie remake of rock's golden years but with them in the main character roles. They also often fetishise things like old makes of instruments and studio gear, while their record packaging usually references / reverences the older look of records. Finally, they are boned up on the era - they have read the books, know the myths and lore.

"Pattern work" is more akin to folk movements or traditional music movements. And interestingly with folk, the musicians and the fans just wear the normal clothes of their own era. So Eliza Carthy, say, went through a phase of having punky dyed hair.

But again with folk music / traditional music, even there 'pattern work' doesn't quite apply. Because there is something elective about it - participants and adherent chose to embrace the traditional music sound, as opposed to what the mainstream is offering. There is a conscious preservationist impulse.

'Pattern work' as I understand from that quote you've quoted (and quoted before) is more like a situation where nothing can be done, some wellspring of lifeforce in the culture has done stagnant... renewal is impossible ... there's a helplessness, a fatedness. This is Spengler quasi-biological view of history - seeing cultures and civilisations as organisms with life cycles