Monday, May 18, 2009

I go off on the whole concept of “nice”

John Vanderslice
The Romanian Names
Dead Oceans
It’s practically de rigueur when writing about John Vanderslice to mention what a nice guy he is – and, indeed, in the very limited contact I’ve had with the man (one phone interview, two albums ago), he seems thoughtful, self-deprecating, empathetic … all the qualities that make up “nice.” But honestly, I’ve been thinking about “nice-ness” and wondering if it isn’t a weak version of kindness, one that doesn’t require messy self-sacrifice, embarrassment or real understanding of other people. It seems like a social skill, rather than a real virtue, and in no way as demanding as integrity, honesty, courage or altruism. Nice is nice, but you shouldn’t get a medal for it.

I’ve been thinking about this while listening to Romanian Names, because this is a “nice” album, not a great one. It pleases with clean, intelligent production, thoughtful arrangements, clever, elliptical words. It assuages your feelings of inadequacy with songs so accessible that they seem to meet you at the door and introduce you to all their friends. It’s like a party in a well-lighted, tasteful room, full of upscale people who read the New Yorker. It’s entertaining enough on the surface in a chattery, well-informed way, but ultimately empty and a tiny bit boring. Somebody needs to say something offensive, or fart out loud, or get drunk and start ranting about the Trilateral Commission, or we’ll all get quietly wasted and want to kill ourselves.

More (which is actually about the songs on the album and stuff)

"Fetal Horses"


Ian said...

That, Jenny? That is great writing.

jenniferpkelly said...

Thanks, Ian. Means a lot, coming from you.

Ian said...

It helps that you've written one of those record reviews that makes all the other ones of the same album (coughpitchforkcough) look a bit silly and credulous. And that I'm such a huge fan/perpetrator of record reviews that take a moment out to just nail some tangential point, but still, those opening two paragaphs are just perfect (and the rest ain't shabby neither).

jenniferpkelly said...

Yeah, in general, I like reviews that provide some sort of insight into the music or process, rather than random stuff that happens to be flitting through the writer's brain at the moment. (The Elliot Carter review up at Dusted today was, I thought, damned impressive and I learned 2-3 things just from paying attention.) But it is sort of hard to write those "it's not terrible, but I'm bored with it and don't want to think about it anymore" any way in is good.

Oh, and thank you again. You are going to give me a swelled head.