Initial reaction was: what’s this, the New Shallowness? But I quite like the new solo Elite Gymnastics sound of ‘Andreja 4 Ever’ (it sounds to me a bit like Isn’t Anything-era My Bloody Valentine, without the distortion), and I’m not opposed to people playing around with historicism a bit.
In fact, it seems like he’s looking for a way to avoid the patriarchal nature of canon:
“When I go back and I listen to Ruin now, I realize how much of a nerd-male record it is. I don’t regret making it, but now I’m trying to rebuild my own canon where Joy Division or Radiohead doesn’t matter but Tori Amos or Sarah McLachlan or the Spice Girls or George Michael or Des’ree or the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack do matter. It’s aggressively more feminine than the Ruin stuff.”
I put Ruin second to EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints in my 2011 list but I can’t say it struck me as in any way particularly ‘male’ by comparison. If one associates ‘rock’ sounds with maleness, EMA wins. The Elite Gymnastics record is equally full of sensitive, emotional (but still artistically guarded) soul-bearing, so is it something about the structure: the confessional passivity of songs like ‘Omamori’ of ‘Minneapolis Belongs To You’, or the musical system of ever-shifting sampling, taking from everywhere and everyone but rarely giving? In relation to the Pitchfork ‘People’s List’ controversy, it seems we are told that the ‘nerd-male’ attitude dominating music appreciation is one of collating and classifying, based on knowledge rather than emotion, privileging analysis over personal interpretation and connection.
But the problem with such an ‘analysis’ itself is that suggests that there are fundamentally different gender-based means of appreciating art, rather than the discrimination against women both outside and inside of the music culture coming from broader social motives (what women and girls are ‘expected’ to be interested in, how they can spend their time, the kind of personal relationships they form…) that cause the resultant numerical imbalance. If James Brooks simply wants to rebalance the gender profile of his sampling, or investigate further the mysterious world of female vocals, that’s admirable and cool; but I don’t think it’s a good idea to qualitatively declare his past music as ‘male’, apart from in reference to the gender of its creators.
A lyrical and musical examination in 11 bursts
“Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains.”
My second favourite record of the year hasn’t inspired much writing in me before now, certainly not compared to EMA, but in its own way I’ve found it tremendously interesting and self-revealing. If there’s a theme to RUIN, it might be about being places and not being places: cities, relationships, paradises, any state which comes with a sense of expectation but also an unattainable, hard-to-grasp reality. The liminal structure of the music – on the margins of genres, sounding more often than not indistinct in its own skin, repeating itself and changing – reflects this profound human insecurity, but also revels in it.
“It’s hard to balance wit and seriousness because a lot of people have trouble taking in both at the same time.”
The track-by-track treatment below focuses more on the lyrics in the first half, and the music in the second. Something that became apparent as I worked my way haphazardly through the record (starting with one song here, and another there, as the desire to write about something in particular took me) was that what is a very pleasant-sounding work hides a rather bleak and depressing portrayal of life. What elucidated this was, of course, the lyrics booklet, which alternates between pictures of flowers (albeit in the centrepiece mixed with cigarette stubs and a partially charred dollar bill) and stark white-on-black text.