Please . . .

forgive the static.

Not static as in noise, but static as in I haven't written anything for you in a while, so nothing's changed.

Static, as opposed to dynamic.

I've been working on some CSS/HTML to move the blog from "cleanly designed" to "ass-kickingly designed." I'm a design junky. I gibber and drool at Dwell. I've always used Apple hardware when I've had the choice. I have an antiquated TV just for the wood paneling and the zinc-colored knobs. Since this blog is a reflection of me in the digital sense, I'm obsessing over the web equivalents of bent plywood and stainless steel.

I probably should be focusing on content, since I've seen some ugly-ass pages do really well, but this is Notes from the Internet Generation, not Notes from the Myspace Generation. I have a little pride.

Speaking of Notes from the Myspace Generation, has anyone heard of Ultragrrrl? I found her thru Idolator, Gawker Media's music blog. (I like Idolator so much that it's in my links bar. If you are a music snob it's a good read.) Apparently, the girl has had her hands in a lot of college rock pies. Here's what the Village Voice had to say:

Lewitinn first got national attention in 2003 via her blog, Sarah's So Boring Ever Since She Stopped Drinking (now located at Then came Making Out With Ultragrrrl, her minuscule but influential column in Spin that ran from 2003 to 2004. She's won Paper magazine's People's Choice award for Best Party and Best DJ (sharing the latter honor with her DJ partner, Karen Plus One) two years running, and in 2005 wrote The Pocket DJ, a book of playlists for different genres, moods, and occasions. It sold 38,000 copies—successful enough that she's signed to do a second book, The Pocket Karaoke. She's working with a screenwriter on a movie script partially based on her life. Her growing profile nabbed her a recent write-up in Vanity Fair (written by her good friend and former Spin mentor Marc Spitz, which spurred a bit of controversy) and more media attention than any other a&r rep in town when she started Stolen Transmission, a subsidiary of the Island/Def Jam label empire. But her main claim to fame is the early discovery of New Jersey goth punkers My Chemical Romance—a band she briefly managed—and her similarly prescient championing of Las Vegas dance-rock sensations the Killers. She also provided early support for such bands as Muse, Franz Ferdinand, Fall Out Boy, and Stellastarr(whom she also briefly managed). She has shown an unsettling ability to call the next big thing—a soothsayer for teenage girls, middle-American music fans, and even hipsters who would like to think they know better.

And here's what I posted in the comments section of the article:
Let me state, for the record, that I'm a kid from Nashville and my tastes are more Uncle Tupelo than the Killers. I'm pretty eclectic, though, and I'm no redneck.

Let me also state that Sarah is good looking, quite disarming, highly intelligent, and articulate without being self-conscious. It's easy to see how she got where she is.

But Sarah suffers from Myspace Syndrome. Or, as famed Microsoft nerd Robert Scoble puts it, she is in an echo chamber. She has her ear to the ground, sure, but "buzz" is a very incestuous thing. All of her pet projects are the sort of "alternative" MTV2-friendly bands that we've been inundated with since everybody took a second to think about Korn and said in unison "This nu-metal shit sucks."

Of course these bands generated buzz. They sound cool, but sounding cool is a quite different thing than sounding good.

Sounding "cool" is about aping post-punk and hoping kids don't realize that Franz Ferdinand is Gang of Four run thru Pro Tools. It's about having just edgy enough of a sound so that you can get shelf space in Hot Topic, but not enough to alienate the 14 year old girls who spend their days on Livejournal slavishly posting back and forth. Its about stylization over musical substance. It's about a sound that's "different" but still homogenized.

Sounding cool is what Sarah is good at, but what about sounding interesting? Or, heaven forbid, finding sounds outside this "cool" orthodoxy? Taking risks in order to bring forward performers who generate buzz based on the power of their music rather than the power of their image, or (more truthfully) the power of their image to give their listeners a sense of elitism?

Don't get me wrong; I'm a snob. One of the joys of living in flyover country is getting to look at people like they're dumb when you ask why they've never heard of Pavement. (Insert any well-celebrated indie act for Pavement. The gag still works.) But Sarah, dear, elitism is the double-edged sword that makes Ultragrrrl possible and also makes her a pretty target for all that vitriol. (If there's anything snobs love to do, it's hating.) It might even be her undoing. The joy of that elitism, however, is that right now you've got more mindshare than Jay-Z. You're the cover story in the Village Voice, for fuck's sake. Why sit at the right hand of a guy whose greatest artistic triumph was getting ripped off by Danger Mouse? That seems awfully stifling for someone who prides her label on being an incubator for the next big thing. Break out of that tiny box and see what happens.

I hope I wasn't too mean, because she obviously cares about this music. Reading her blog convinced me of that. However (and this is a big however) I can't stand to listen to half of it, and I'm a pretty with-it guy. I may be geographically disadvantaged, and I may not listen to what the cool kids are on this week, but damn. I mean, damn.

I think I've made my point.

posted by John @ 8:11 PM,


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