Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sound Team / Movie Monster / Rating: 3.7

Hooray for guest reviews!!!!!

written by Joaquin Stick

"Sound Team's first proper full-length Movie Monster tries hard to straddle between blockbuster and cult classic, flashing a dizzying array of instant-cred reference points like so much major-label bling and piling on rube-dazzling special effects."

In the review of Sound Team's Capitol Records debut, Marc Hogan gives a strong critique of the band's calculated influences and backroom strategizing. Like the blog frenzy surrounding Samuel L. Jackson's upcoming pièce de résistance, Snakes On A Plane, Hogan considers the band's internet buzz to be undeserved because they're merely a work of artifice. Lacking originality, they utilize "Wall-of-the-Edge guitars" and "blurry soundscapes" and a "hipster roll call of influences" to make you think they're good - or more importantly, cool.

Damn you Sound Team.

And damn your hipster roll call of influences that make us think you're good.

Except, of course, that all of this is absolute conjecture. There were no interviews. No candid morning talk show tell-alls. Marc Hogan based his entire review, not on evidence, but on what he imagined were the motivations of these six strangers from Austin when making music. And, in fact, he's not imagining some random set of motivations, he's laying his own extremely self-conscious worldview onto a band's completely unknowable intentions. Who knows if they studied's findings and attempted to outsmart you? Who knows how many oblique strategies The Arcade Fire schemed up for Funeral? (obviously, with their attire, weeping violins and funeral invitation-style cd insert, a lot more.)

Speaking of The Arcade Fire, when discussing Win Butler's reasons for having Sound Team as support, Hogan presented blog gossip as fact to support his opinion, and I literally shit my pants. This hearsay is akin to me giving credence to one Gorilla vs. Bear commenter who claims Hogan had a "nasty and public spell of diarrhea" once at a party.

So, if we remove all the conjecture and isolate the actual review of the music, we're down to seven words:

"...a shortage of, like, actual decent songs."

Now that's a perfectly respectable opinion to hold. Expand on how these songs aren't decent. Examine their strengths and weaknesses.

Apparently, Hogan didn't trust his critical skills enough to use them, and instead engaged in a 500+ word personal attack on the band. Was it to boost his word-based paycheck? (And, speaking of money, is there a correlation between low-quality reviews and Pitchfork's abysmal rates?)

Let's see, we've got: -"adenoidal overemoting" -"marble-mouthed" (yeah marbles!)-The singer's "strangled Walkmen/Creed croak" and "screamo-wails"-They "hack together Yankee Kid A Foxtrot nonsense lyrics"

Wow, these guys just can't seem to do a thing right, can they?

Hogan's ridicule of a lyric mentioning Kafka ("Kafka on the shore...") actually ends up working against him, for it reveals his lazy, superficial approach to criticism. Kafka On The Shore is a book by Pitchperfect-fave Murakami. Now, as to the line's meaning, or any of Matt Oliver's songs, I can't make much sense out of it. Consequently, there aren't many emotionally-affecting moments coming from the lyrics. There are enough quotable ones to tell he's got talent, though: "Came home from work and your house was missing, Told ourselves but we weren't listening" (Born To Please), "You never died, But we had your funeral anyway" (You've Never Lived A Day), "Woke up one day I was seven years older" (Handful Of Billions).

Obvious hip flashword-bands and nonsense observations reveal a lack of actual critical listening. Loveless - Yeah, he went there. And I guess the title track's "ghostly harmonies [that resemble] a subpar TV on the Radio outtake" were pretty fucking ghostly, because a second listen revealed that there aren't any harmonies in the song!

He namedrops Clap Your Hands Say Yeah with the slight observation that both they and Sound Team start their albums with short songs; except, Sound Team is less-credible for sounding "With Or Without You"-like, versus the hipper "carny busk" of CYHSY. He also takes a moment to namedrop Tapes 'n Tapes because they both have a song that mentions a place. (?!) But, Sound Team's hip Portland reference is less credible than T 'n T's "endearing" Harvard Square/Good Will Hunting reference, which is actually hip because it's not hip. I'm just gonna go ahead and type hip one more time.

A few comparisons are right on. The best description of Movie Monster is Krautrock/Eno-inspired instrumentation, a forkful of Spoon, a spoonful of The Walkmen and maybe a small barrel of Hall & Oates vocals. Hogan's version: "there's the hipster roll call of influences: Stereolab and Low-era Bowie (and thus, Krautrock motorik)." Hmmm - such an odd, all-pervasive awareness of 'cool'.

Of course, the popular trends right now don't have much to do with those influences. If you look at the most popular bands of the moment, a large group of them fall into the loose movement of freak-folk (Devendra, Joanna, Beirut, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Arcade Fire), freak-pop (Animal Collective, Architecture In Helsinki, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Fiery Furnaces, Sufjan) or the all-encompassing Shambolica (Tapes 'n Tapes, Sunset Rubdown, Wolf Parade, Flaming Lips, Islands). It seems to be some sort of reaction against the reigning electro and post-punk/new wave revivals of the first half of the decade. Warmth versus cold. Thesis/Antithesis. Sixties versus eighties. Possibly a yearning for an idealized past in the midst of a harsh, Bushy present. I don't know - I ain't no psychologist.

So, one has to wonder where this animosity towards Sound Team comes from. Is Hogan just a mean fellow? I don't think so. In fact, he lets slip the source of all this contempt in one of his passing shots: "...flashing a dizzying array of instant-cred reference points like so much major-label bling." And two paragraphs later, "[the last song] unveils the Bono-sized ambitions lurking beneath the album's more fashionable style-shifting." Marc Hogan's resorting to the biggest copout-cliché in all of music journalism: major label = sellout.

Unfortunately, Sound Team have found themselves in a big Capitol Records-shaped pickle. Although they're on a major label, they aren't getting the benefits that can usually off-set the dreaded indie 'backlash'. No ads. Limited distribution. Some stores familiar with their Work EP had no idea Movie Monster was already out. No PR campaign. Less blog activity because being on a major kinda means you don't need breaking or discovering, plus, again, many people had no idea it was already out. An $18.98 retail price. Capitol has been on a signing binge, which has left many of their indie bands languishing in this kind of purgatory.

I'm willing to keep an open mind, but it'll be hard to write a worse review this year. I actually want to see someone try. There are also bigger ramifications for Pitchfork if it keeps allowing this lack of rigor to color its pages. It has the potential to be an esteemed publication like Allmusic or Rolling Stone a few decades ago, but at present it's only popular because it's popular - like all those major label bands they despise.

And as for the bigger ramifications for Mr. Hogan, it's not that he can't write a good review (see Cloud Cult's Advice From The Happy Hippopotamus review). But, I think the best conclusion can be found by quoting,, Marc Hogan. The writing can drastically improve by resisting "a music scene fraught with carefully cultivated, ultimately unrevealing, laughably insecure projections of 'cool'."

Final ratings: review: 0.1 / album: 8.0 (sorry I forgot to post this with the review the 1st time!)