That one stray word in the title of Army of Lovers: A Community History of Will Munro is integral. Sarah Liss’ book about the nightlife-changing activist, artist, and party-thrower, who died of brain cancer three years ago at the medieval age of 35, does use an oral-history structure, but she emphasizes the collective aspects of that form, just like her subject did. Whether stitching magical artifacts out of used briefs or seducing prim, atomized Toronto into polymorphous perversity with dance nights like Vazaleen, Munro used ephemeral objects and moments to lasting effect. His events bound together, to quote Liss’ subtitle, “club kids, art fags, hardcore boys, drag queens, rock ‘n’ roll queers, needlework obsessives, limp-wristed nellies, stone butches, new wave freaks, unabashed perverts, proud prudes and beautiful dreamers.”
Earlier this month, writing about the omnivorously virtuosic sisters of Haim, Slate music critic Carl Wilson (who is also a Hazlitt contributor, and a friend) invoked the grim purism of a decade ago, “when few artists labeled ‘indie’ would flirt with contemporary R&B.” One exception, he noted in an aside, was the Blow.
A bandonym for Portland-turned-Brooklyn artist Khaela Maricich and various shifting collaborators, the Blow makes minimalist pop about frustrated or at least convoluted longing. On 2002’s “Hey Boy,” Maricich meanders through a list of possible reasons why some guy didn’t call her: “A) you’re gay, B) you’ve got a girlfriend, C) you kinda thought I came on too strong, or, D) I just wasn’t your thing, no ring.” After six years of inactivity while formerly walled-off genres mounted their trellises, the Blow’s self-titled new album sounds dependable rather than novel. What persists is the charming idiosyncrasy of Maricich’s pithy, conversational vocal style, self-doubting but good at riding a beat.
In Sofia Coppola’s Bling Ring, Spring Breakers’ haughty older sister, the celebrities burgled by the title characters appear mostly as still images: cable news headshots or Myspace profiles, contrasted pixels. One coolly unmoving long shot watches the thieves navigating a glass hill house with the enthralled ambivalence of David Cronenberg. The only exception who put in an IRL cameo was Paris Hilton, who also lent her self-branded mansion so the filmmakers could pretend to rob it again. It might be the best sequence in the movie, a Parisian mise en abyme, even as it maintains Coppola’s condescension towards just about every person, object and commodity fetish onscreen. By 2013, the D. W. Griffith of celebrity sex tapes was reduced to a period detail. She’s running a duchy of product lines that makes millions upon millions of dollars every year in relative quiet, but the think pieces are pondering other figures.
You sometimes hear, including from me, that the annual Polaris Prize shortlists represent a misleadingly narrow spectrum of Canadian music, dominated by guitar-centric indie and its folksier hinterlands. Ascribe it to the lingering cultural prejudices of this huge small country, the taste consensus of the 200-plus bloggers, broadcasters and critics (like this one) who determine each year’s nominees, the ideological construct of meritocracy, the magnetic undulations of aurora borealis, whatever you prefer. But the performers at last night’s gala defied that critique: in the Art Moderne auditorium built by a ruined mercantile dynasty we heard assaultive riffs, worldly R&B, unbreathing minimalism, queer dance-pop, aboriginal club anthems, and finally a rejection of any such mediation. Jessica Hopper introduced the eventual oversized cheque recipients with two or three sentences: “Godspeed has decided not to be here.”
Last month, I did something I sedulously try to avoid and entered a serious discussion on Facebook. Another music-writer friend posted about Macklemore’s gay-equality single “Same Love“ and asked (to paraphrase), “why would anybody attack this song?”
I left a series of possibly-deranged-looking comments, trying to explain why I and others have such disdain for it: the spectacle of a straight white rapper sanctimoniously calling out “hip-hop culture,” i.e. black people, thereby overshadowing both queer MCs from that culture and his own lesbian collaborator; the adoring reaction from certain excitable websites, as if “Same Love” were a more rebloggable “Strange Fruit”; the well-meaning lyrics’ resemblance to a bad college-entrance essay. Then a bunch of strangers got mad. That almost surprised me, because all I did was echo existing “Same Love” critiques less eloquently. The NYC rapper Le1f tweeted one of the pithiest a few weeks ago, while noting that Macklemore’s #1 hit “Thrift Shop” is also strongly reminiscent of his earlier track “Wut.”