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March 28, 2007 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2007-03-28

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The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom

Wednesday, March 28, 2007 - 5A

From folk to
punk and back

Daily Arts Writer
It was the early '80s. Reagan was screw-
ing around in Beirut, Mick Fleetwood was
filing for bankruptcy, "Fraggle Rock" was
instilling a love for radishes in children
everywhere and a scrawny young song-
writer named Lach was getting kicked out
of folk clubs all over Greenwich Village.
Their reasoning: He was too punk.
That was all it took - just a little rejec-
tion for Lach to take the initiative in mak-
ing his music heard. If his occasional
profanity, occasional intensity and con-
sistent unorthodoxy wasn't folk enough
to play in folk clubs, well, he'd just have to
create his own club. And when the Dylan
worshippers had their annual New York
City Folk Festival, Lach and his Dylan-
meets-the-Sex-Pistols friends inaugurat-
ed an entirely new genre upon launching
the New York City Anti-Folk Festival.
The name is misleading - anti-folk isn't
a genre opposed to the style and structure
of folk music itself, but more accurately
to the established folk music scene and
the expectations and definitions that are

tagged onto folk musicians. Now after
22 years, the term anti-folk has sprawled
out to include essentially anything that
sounds remotely akin to a bastard child of
punk and folk.
Take, for example, The Moldy Peaches.
If you're a fortunate soul, you may have
caught Adam Green and Kimya Dawson
donned in Peter Pan and bunny attire
opening for The Strokes or Tenacious D a
few years back. Unfortunately, the group
is currently inactive, though Dawson
claims that this does not mean they are
gone forever. Regardless, their 2001 self-
titled debut is enough to spark anyone's
interest in both the artists themselves and
the genre they boast.
After the first two tracks of the album,
the reserved listener sighs - entertained
by the quirkiness, amused by the simplic-
ity and secretly relieved by the absence of
unwonted anti-ness. But in classic anti-
folk fashion, the acoustic, love croons of
"Jorge Regula" are merely a prelude to
Dawson's painful screams of "take me
to your leader" in "What Went Wrong."
By the time the album reaches the vul-
gar blues shuffle of "Downloading Porn

So aloof - so anti-folk.
With Davo" and the flute-accompanied
spoken-word poetry in "These Burgers,"
the reserved listener is at a loss for words
- offended by the obscenity, baffledby the
absurdity and completely enthralled by
the transition, or lack thereof, into "Steak
and Chicken," a tune reminiscent of an
acoustic Wesley Willis backed by a cynical
Neko Case with a slight crack problem.
It isn't the mere addition of messy elec-
tric guitar riffs to vulgar narratives that
make The Moldy Peaches indicative of the
anti-folk genre, though that may be a gen-
eralized assessment. In addition to these
musical characteristics and low-fi produc-
tion, the anti-folk world is a place where
an entire song dedicated to crack cocaine
and a ballad of Helen Keller and Rip Van
Winkle are warmly embraced.
Essentially the only musicians who
would probably be refused acceptance.

OK, so maybe he took the whole just-got-out-of-bed look a little too seriously.

into Lach's New York anti-folk commu-
nity, or London's well-established anti-
folk collective, would be those who either
take themselves too seriously or those
who sell their souls to the man. While
the subversiveness and self-mockery of
anti-folk are innovative and humorous,
unless you're hip to New York's Sidewalk
Caf6's underground music scene, you have
to work pretty damn hard to get yourself
acquainted with anti-folk. All too often
the self-mockery of an anti-folk musician
overshadows the attempts at self-promo-

tion. This leaves brilliant projects like
The Moldy Peaches in the anti-folk shad-
ows of mainstream musicians like Regina
Spektor and Beck, whose early music was
rooted in and influenced by New York's
anti-folk scene.
Even if the anti-folk community seems
to enjoy its underground dwellings, how
can the audacious music-listener not
track down and revere an electrified "Lit-
tle Bunny Foo Foo" lullaby or a mournful
tune about chasingthe Lucky Charms lep-

Everyone s a critic

t ou didn't like the movie.
You could just say so, but
if you think about it, your
dislike says something about the
movie, not just about yourself. And
who are you to know anything
about German silent films from
1923? Or about films at all? You've
never held a boom or memorized a
script. Might as well stay as silent
as the movie.
Maybe this has never crossed
your mind about anything showing
at the multiplex,
but might you
feel this way at
a run-in with
Chinese cal-
ligraphy? Or
Welsh clogging?
Or a Renais-
sance painting?
There are
safe ways to ABIGAIL B.
have opin- COLODNER
ions and to -- --
express them.
In tomorrow's B-side writers will
discuss those who make a career
out of well-defended opinions. One
of your surest bets for talking criti-
cally about something - which is a
lot more interesting and specific to
what you've just seen than "it was
good/bad" - is to ask the following
question: Does it accomplish what
it sets out to do?
Judging a work on its own terms
is the most basic and fair way to
look at it critically. It also makes
the fewest assumptions, paring
down the realm of things that can
be criticized. It prevents viewers
from writingoff things they sim-
ply don't like as invalid. Sonnets
may not be your cup of tea, but
that doesn't mean individual son-
nets are bad, or lazily done, or not
thought through. They work with-
in a system, and maybe succeed
brilliantly at it. The complaint that
poetry itself is lame is a complaint
about how you receive it rather
than how it's presented to you. And
if the discussion is about the piece
itself rather than a genre, general-
izations are irrelevant.
Not all art comes with its own
translation of sorts, but many do in
some form. The placards accompa-
nying art in museums hold clues, as
do program notes at performances.
Sometimes the artist spells his
goals out for you, making it easy to

frame yoi
The Nt
and steel
the unass
al exterio
space wit
by huge c
light and]
above a w
ent music
through t
As thoi
didn't alr(
ent," the:
for his vie
son home
behind th
people wi
of a divin
and assur
had been
these inte
place. ThE
A robe(
boy press
A youn
ened eyes
next to he
ness with
wildcat s
being wra
keep it fri

ar opinion. his art succeeded. I wanted to like
madic Museum is a it. But as it stood, I couldn't have a
made, essentially, of paper positive opinion of it. It failed on its
cargo containers. Inside ownterms.
uming and unconvention- A work of art's own goals are
r is a cavernous arched usually more embedded and more
h one long aisle flanked subtle than that. But because works
olumns; the sepia-toned of art (no matter the genre) are the
phs bathed in golden product of decisions, not random-
hanging eerily in midair ness - they are created - they're
'hite pebble floor. Ambi- made of conscious decisions that
,mostly choral, echoes suggest the artist's intentions.
he temple - I mean Finding those decisions is the fun
ugh those design features Tchaikovsky's classic roman-
eady scream "feel rever- tic ballet "Swan Lake" hinges on
artist included a pamphlet heartbreaking duets between
ewers that drove the les- doomed lovers. One such duet is
. It described the vision set to an achingly slow violin solo.
Le photographs, all of The violin edges upa scale by
ith wild animals. It spoke half-notes, climbing and falling
e communion with nature repeatedly. During this the prima
ed viewers that nothing ballerina gets hoisted up in the air.
superimposed - that all over and over. Traditionally, this
ractions had really taken piece is essentially a showcase for
e artist was just capturing one pretty move.
of interspecies epiphany. Butin a contemporaryversion
d Tibetan-looking by choreographer Matthew Bourne
ed his face against an of the 19th-century ballet, the
s trunk, his face quietly dance is entirely different - not
e, his eyes closed. The least because the dance takes place
looked, um, generally between two men, who are not
e, too. going to be lifting each other above
g girl closed her enlight- their shoulders. Without those
and crouched ina tree, lifts, the duet was danced at about
he pose of the wildcat three times the traditional tempo.
r and asserting her one- And the music was transformed
the animal world. The - or rather, resurrected. Instead
howed its oneness by of the poor soloist agonizing over
ipped tightly in cloth to each note, he sent out soaring trills
om tearing her eyes out - the musicbecame a showcase
for the virtuosic musician, and it
was suddenly obvious that that was
the proper pace. The music was
How to simply written to be played quickly.
Unequivocally, then, to my mind
iluate art on this later choreography succeeded
and crystallized Tchaikovsky's
own terms. creation the way no version of the
ballet had yet.
Art should not doa disservice
to itself. It shouldn't be its own
redator claws. enemy. When it is, it doesn't mat-
tist's claim to capture ter if it's a blockbuster movie or if
ous moments of com- it's consummately obscure. And it
vas obviously false doesn't matter if you've grown up
ly so. He could have just with it or never encountered any-
c at the pictures for what thing remotely like it before. With
y are: contrived. Beauti- attention to the intentions behind
worldly, utterly untrue. art, anyone can have their opinion
ated goal was something and share it, too.

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