The Artist vs. the Art, The National, Queens of the Stone Age & Walter Becker

Artist from the Art

Should we hold musicians to a moral standard? Jim and Greg talk with Duke University professor and cultural critic Mark Anthony Neal and music and culture journalist Britt Julious about whether art can be evaluated separately from the artist’s ethics. Plus, reviews of new releases by The National and Queens of the Stone Age, and tributes to Walter Becker of Steely Dan, and Holger Czukay of the influential Krautrock group Can.

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The Artist vs. the Art

Oscar Wilde once wrote, There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is, should we judge an artist’s output by their personal morals? Can you enjoy a song, when you know the person performing it has done some despicable things? This question is not new to music criticism. It applies to artists like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Miles Davis and more contemporary artists like Pwr Bttm and R. Kelly. Jim and Greg are joined by journalist Britt Julious (who has written for the Chicago Tribune, Esquire, Elle, and others) and Mark Anthony Neal (cultural critic and professor of African and African American Studies at Duke) for a discussion about whether we can, and should, hold a musician’s artistic output to a moral standard.

Sleep Well Beast The National

Sleep Well Beast

The indie rock band The National just released their 7th studio album, Sleep Well Beast. On this record, Jim says the band’s expressive lyricism, whether it’s about world and governmental politics or politics in lead singer Matt Berninger’s marriage, is as strong as ever. He’s generally been a fan of the group, but what makes this album a Buy It for him is the record’s electronic experimentation in the vein of Radiohead, as well as its impressive and steady guitar work. Greg believes that The National has always been a consistent band, and agrees with Jim that the ominous electronic undertones of the album make it unique and almost eerie. While Greg thinks this record is missing a little bit of The National’s signature emotional explosiveness, he still finds it to be a Buy It.

Villains Queens of the Stone Age

Villains

Queens of the Stone Age talk Villains on their 7th release (double 7s this week!). Led by Josh Homme, the group emerged from the ashes of the desert rock band Kyuss and released their debut record in 1998. Almost 20 years later, Queens has had a revolving cast of characters making up the band, but both Jim and Greg think they finally settled on the right chemistry with Dean Fertita, Troy Van Leeuwin, Jon Theodore and Michael Shuman alongside Homme. While initially skeptical, Greg likes producer Mark Ronson’s ( Amy Winehouse & Bruno Mars collaborator) spin on the record. He thinks Ronson helped elevate the more dancy and rhythmic components of Queens. Greg gives Villains a Buy It. Jim loves the riffs and rhythms on this record, but thinks that Greg’s praise of the lyrics as more than just another element in the wall of sound are a bit much. However, Jim loves the song Feet Don’t Fail Me because of its myth-like storytelling. Jim gives Villains a Buy It as well.

Walter Becker

walter becker

Walter Becker, one half of the iconic band Steely Dan, has died at the age of 67. While singer Donald Fagen is the better known member of Steely Dan, Becker’s role was just as important as incredible guitarist and bassist. In later years of the band, Fagen and Becker operated esentially as a songwriting duo with a rotating ream of back-up musicians. While the band might be written off as a slick jazz-influenced rock band, there is also a subversive wit to their songs. Greg memorializes Becker’s guitar chops and sneering sarcasm and plays the song Black Friday.

Holger Czukay

holger czukay

Another sad passing this week is Holger Czukay, bass player for the Krautrock band Can, who has died at age 79. Holger was one of the founding members of Can, a band who’s influence can be felt in much electronic music and more experimental rock bands like Radiohead. Jim notes that Czukay’s bass playing wasn’t flashy but the simplicity of it held everything together. In memory of Holger Czukay, Jim plays Halleluwah from the album Tago Mago.

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