Review Summary: Inanity insanity
PC Music has been a viral phenomenon for almost two years at this point, and it’s still unclear why the internet continues to lose its collective shi
t whenever anything remotely newsworthy related to the label (erm, excuse me, ”collective”
) comes to be. The artists under A. G. Cook’s umbrella tend to inspire either utter adulation or unadulterated fury, and it’s particularly interesting to note the unintelligibility and blathering that’s come to characterize almost any reaction within these two opposite poles.
Take, for example, the unusually vibrant comment section for Resident Advisor’s review of QT’s “Hey QT” (QT is a project created by Cook and frequent friend of PC Music SOPHIE). It features users bemoaning the tragedy of (and I quote) “art-school types in E-postcodes hyping over-conceptualised, sucrose packaged ***e to a navel-gazing and mostly talentless bunch of music writers in SE- postcodes,” a qualm which I assume might have sounded pleasant to the 79 people who upvoted it but which, in this writer’s humble opinion (aside from the bit about navel-gazing, mostly talentless music writers), sacrifices sense for snark. Or, say, Jia Tolentino’s praise of this very compilation from last week, quite possibly the most Pitchforkian Pitchfork piece in recent memory. Even ignoring its obvious issues (“anti-physical music for anti-physical time"” Seriously"), the review embodies the decipherable half of the complaint voiced above, prattling on ad infinitum about “chip[ping] your way to the real through this pixelated thicket” and using the word “aesthetic” to describe the PC Music sound with what seems terrifyingly akin to a straight face.
If there’s any conclusion I’ve been able to draw from the internet static permeating PC Music’s presence, it’s that anybody purporting to analyze or meta-analyze the cultural relevance of Hannah Diamond or lecture on why that one easyFun song is especially applicable to today’s hyperconnected era is shamelessly and unequivocally bullshi
tting you. If you take any couple of paragraphs about PC Music’s place in 2015’s internet, cut any mention of the label or the media it encompasses, and copy-paste the result into a publication database search, I guarantee you’ll find something almost verbatim from 2013 written about vaporwave or something from 2011 written about seapunk. Two or three years down the line, we’ll almost certainly see the new post-Internet genre du jour take center stage with almost exactly the same mindset and almost exactly the same fanbase divisions, and you’ll be able to do the same thing with any sort of thinkpiece (shudders
) written about that genre.
Point is, the kind of ignorant self-awareness that PC Music prompts isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s one that will continue to drive clicks simply because it drives indignant white-knighting and anti-white-knighting and anti-anti-white-knighting in some sort of perverse manifestation of the phrase “turtles all the way down.” After all this nonsense of claiming new identities and reclaiming old identities and repurposing the internet for the purpose of art for art’s sake, I’m wholly unconvinced that anyone has anything particularly new or valuable to say on the subject, even if everyone wants to say something regardless. (And, of course, I’m now hopping in on that train long after it’s left the station, but at least I admit I’m a humongous hypocrite. Sue me.)
Personally, what I find most interesting about the music coming from PC Music is how it breaks down the wide scope of great pop production into its component parts, then takes the most rudimentary aspects and haphazardly builds them into a song and calls it a day. It’s pop music viewed through the lens of people who love pop, designed for other people who love pop and people who have used the phrase “through the lens of” far too many times in music criticism. Having a passion for pop music involves a certain level of self-effacing humor (“yep, my taste is shit
!”) and an almost masochistic desire to openly embrace the kind of music to which your peers might refer so eloquently as “trash” or “crap.” It requires a willingness to critique the occasional vapidity and shallowness of the music you hear while simultaneously reveling in the music’s euphoric triggers.
While PC Music turns the vapidity mentioned above up to 11, you can tell that the label’s producers love the kind of pop music they skewer. For some, the nose-thumbing might inspire rage, but what really comes through for me (as well as other listeners who adore it, I assume) is the sheer joy inhabiting every track. Even if it embraces pop culture with tongue firmly in cheek at times (the oddly celebratory exclamations of “A cowgirl is getting drunk tonight!” in GFOTY’s “USA” seem like either a really hamfisted critique of mainstream jingoistic patriotism or, more likely, GFOTY poking fun at those who would publish really hamfisted critiques of mainstream jingoistic patriotism), its savvy with wild, wacky hooks is almost unparalleled.
What’s impressive is the wide swathes of bubblegum pop Vol. 1
manages to cover. The compilation of previously-released (and, for the most part, freely-available) songs that have come out of the PC Music camp over the past two years or so travels all across the spectrum of purportedly brainless pop music, twisting and ripping until the songs are a specter of their models. Nowhere is this clearer than Lipgloss Twins’ “Wannabe,” which sounds like the product of a drunk DJ banging on an MPC pre-loaded with a broken library of sounds found in Barbie’s DJ Turntable set while another drunk DJ screws around with volume and pitch knobs. It’s unsettling and ghostly, yet insanely catchy and memorable, a tribute to really terrible club music in the best way possible. Or, on the other side of the spectrum, you have A. G. Cook’s “Beautiful.” It’s simultaneously meaningless (the two lyrics repeating over and over until they become sound rather than words) and one of the best pieces of poppy trance this side of 2010 or so, perfectly distilling the elation of the best songs of its style with its cotton-candy synth syncopation and vocal chops.
That’s really the issue here: all this self-indulgent nattering about anti-pop aesthetics and attempting to justify why the music exists/is important/is fundamental to music’s survival/sucks kind of misses a highly probable explanation which might actually explain this music’s popularity: because it’s fun, new, exciting, and hits all the same buttons and switches any good pop song does. The pull of contextualization is so strong that it draws in everything in its path, to the point where I’ve only spent about a quarter of this review actually talking about the album I’m supposed to be reviewing while simultaneously complaining about said contextualization. The kind of narrative PC Music embodies - whether intentionally or not - is alluring because it provides so much fodder for Important Discussions (capitalization included as sarcastically as possible) which are so much larger and weightier than the music itself. In jumping headlong into this narrative, though, we run the risk of losing sight of why we’re listening to the music in the first place. Personally, I listen to PC Music because, above all else, I really enjoy it. It’s my hope that on some level, everyone else who does so can find that joy in what’s probably the most important place with respect to PC Music: the music itself.