Archive for August, 2012

What is Pop Art?

Posted: August 31, 2012 in Editorials

Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe Prints

First, I’d like to apologize for the lack of a steady stream of articles in the recent days.  Things have gotten hectic but I will try to keep up a steadier rate of posts.

Anyways, today I was asked the following prompt, and although it does not only concern music, I figured I would post it because the subject intrigued me tremendously.

“Pop art, in its original form, was a polemic against elite views of art in which uniqueness is a metaphor of the aristocratic, and contemplation the only proper response to art.  In place of a hierarchal aesthetics keyed to define greatness and universality and to separate High from Low art a continuum was assumed, which could accommodate all forms of art, permanent and expendable, personal and collective, autographic and anonymous.’

The above quote was written without specific examples of evidence.  Discuss how this interpretaion of pop art could be proven and to what extent you agree/disagree with this statement.  Identify at least one original pop art example of your own.”

So without further ado, my answer:

The Pop Art movement was indeed an attack and a heavy-handed push away from traditional creative styles of artistic representation that advertised a somewhat pretentious, elitist, as Van Cagle wrote, era and lifestyle.  Andy Warhol is without doubt the most well known pop artist, though the genre of “pop-art” exists in many forms, including modern studio art, rock and roll and pop music as well as more modern music.  The key to pop art is that it is an ever-evolving art form that feeds off impatience with that which has already been done.

Mark Rothko’s “Red, Orange, Tan and Purple”

Often, when the more naïve museum-goer views a piece of modern art by an artist such as Mark Rothko, they think, “I could have done that.”  First of all, they couldn’t have.  Second of all, the main purpose of the modern art and pop art movements is not to create a beautiful, complex portrait, but merely to produce a unique piece of work that elicits a dramatic reaction from the viewer and expresses whatever subject the artist wishes to portray.  One of these “naïve folks,” as they have been called previously, cannot truly “do” what Rothko did because he has already produced this art.  The beauty of Rothko is that he was one of the first of his kind.  He popularized simplicity; he popularized filling a canvas with two blocks of color and shipping it off to the gallery.  In doing that, he swayed from the path of what had been previously recognized as good art and established a modern, pop style.

Willem DeKooning’s “Woman V”

Wilem DeKooning, another groundbreaking modern artist, famously captured figures and faces, unlike Rothko, and altered them almost to an unrecognizable point.  Whether or not one considers these paintings beautiful, (which many in fact do, people reacted to DeKooning’s work.  Many feminists were furious by his materializing and defacing self-respecting women with lines of paint, disfigured features and strange color choices.  But it was new! and that, is what was so important.

Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can Prints

In any essay regarding pop art, one would be somewhat foolish not to discuss Andy Warhol, made famous by his alteration of a simple photograph, using various techniques including silk screening.  Two of his most famous pieces, a series of versions of a photograph of a Campbell’s Soup Can and a series off versions of an image of Marilyn Monroe, exemplify his true and complete abandonment of the pretentious elite’s view of “what fine art should be,” even more so than Rothko and DeKooning.  Warhol’s received such strong reactions because, firstly, they were simple.  All he did was change a common item.  If one were to break down that concept, it would be far, far, far less complex than Leonardo DaVinci’s techniques when he painted “The Mona Lisa or Vincent Van Gogh’s methods when he produced “The Starry Night.”  Some of the photographs Warhol “messed around with,” so to speak, were not even his original work.  That concept of altering another artist or journalist’s pieces and even replicating a non-artistic item was so new to society that Warhol was met with strong responses, which is exactly what the Pop Art Movement needs in order to thrive.

Elvis Presley, The King.

Nonetheless, Pop Art spans not only throughout the studio art spectrum, but even further, into the subject of music.  Until the mid 1900s, songs by artists like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, Jazz numbers and classical pieces constructed popular music charts mostly of easy-listening songs.  When Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley burst into the music scene, their music was shunned as “devil music,” and many adults accustomed to the older, more traditional ways were concerned for the youth.  Music continued to progress into a much louder spectrum during the British Invasion and in the 1970s when artists like Led Zeppelin, the Who and Black Sabbath began combining blues and even some jazz with heavily distorted guitars and low grueling riffs.

Radiohead’s groundbreaking “Kid A”

Regardless, even that style of music became overused by the year 2000 when Radiohead, a previously grunge and rock and roll group from England released their album Kid AKid A epitomizes all that is pop art in a perfect way.  The record strays from the familiar rock and roll genre with which Radiohead was previously associated and almost took rock music apart, giving the album a much more electronic sound.  A famous article from Rolling Stone Magazine begged the question, “Why did Radiohead have to kill Rock and Roll?”  But did they kill rock and roll?   They are still considered a rock band.  Thus, they did not kill the genre, though they did alter it in such a drastic way, reminiscent of Rothko, of DeKooning, of Warhol, without causing their removal from a popular area in popular culture.  They created a new style, but did not just run away from the old like previous pop artists.  Instead they infested the older musical work and proceeded to become one of the most respected artists of the 21st century.  That is what Pop Art is about: bring something new to the table with the hopes for a response and create something for further Pop Artists to work from.

Grammy Award-winning alternative rock band from Devon County, England, Muse, known for smash albums like Absolution, Black Holes & Revelations and The Resistance, are one of those bands that really get the music world’s blood pumping just before they drop a new album. The Strokes’ Angels, The Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ I’m With You had similar effects on the rock community. So in the spirit of teasing us fans, Muse has dropped two singles in the past few months, from their upcoming album, The 2nd Law, which is set for release on October 1, 2012. The first single “Survival,” the official song of the 2012 Olympics on June 27, 2012 rides a piano groove with intense twinges of a full orchestra.

The most recent release, “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable,” (listen above) which was featured in the first teaser trailer for Muse’s The 2nd Law is a little more intriguing. It begins with a fast paced classically orchestrated string section track that is periodically interrupted by massive operatic vocals. A female voiceover then squeaks out of the speakers, glitching now and then, discussing unsustainability of human lifestyles with references to Newton’s 2nd Law of Physics, hence the record’s title. About halfway into the track, the operatic classical music stops and heavy electronic dubstep beats clearly played on instruments by Muse take over the song. I’m not sure if I’m a fan of the new direction Muse has taken as I haven’t heard the album yet, seeing as it is unreleased, and the two singles that have been released are somewhat different in style, other than the fact that the band is clearly pushing itself to seem “epic” in stature and sound, thus the album will probably be rich with many styles and genres. It would be nice to see Muse release some work that is more focused on being a raunchy rock tune, like some of their most fantastic tracks such as “Stockholm Syndrome” and “Knights of Cydonia.” Nonetheless, if you are looking for solid pump-up or workout songs, look no further than “Suvival” and “The 2nd Law: Unsustainable.” It is best to remain open-minded, especially since singer and guitarist Matt Bellamy, bassist Christopher Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard have certainly achieved their goal of creating truly epic songs for The 2nd Law thus far.

Regina Spektor performing live at New York’s United Palace Theater on May 15, 2012

The lights dim, and a yellow spotlight illuminates a small cylinder stage right at Manhattan’s United Palace Theater, a converted Church located on 175th and Broadway.  A flowing voice that sits somewhere between high and deep washes over the crowd as Regina Spektor, a dainty five-foot-two pale skinned Russian girl with curly brown locks wearing a bright red dress glides into the light.  “This aint’ no cover, it ain’t no style,” sings Spektor, mournfully, unaccompanied by her minimalist band (a drummer, a cellist, a keyboardist.)  Though her backing band proved to be vital and talented, the opener, “Ain’t No Cover” displayed several aspects of Spektor’s stage presence: her soulful power as an artist, her remarkable voice and her bold personality.  Not many artists can kick off a show by singing completely alone, though Spektor captivated the 3,293 fans in the small, sold-out theater by doing so.

Regina blasted through pretty much every one of her hits, including several new singles off her May 25th, 2012 record, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, the peppy, French-twanged “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)” and the mysterious “All the Rowboats,” a song about priceless paintings hanging on a museum’s walls.  My personal favorites were her encores, which also happen to be her biggest hits, the pretty, “Us,” from her breakout record, 2004’s Soviet Kitsch, the cheerful, lovey-dovey “Fidelity” and the extraordinarily beautiful “Samson” off of her 2006 masterpiece Begin to Hope.  Other special performances included the 2006 hit “On the Radio” and 2008’s Far’s “Blue,” “Laughing With,” and “Dance Anthem of the 80s.”

I was completely enthralled by her adorable stage presence, how meek and tender she seems in front of an audience regardless of the fact that she is a highly successful recording and touring artist who has released a gold album and is constantly on the bills of major music festivals.  Though, the intimacy of her shows is what is so appealing about them.  Her music isn’t anything like Def Leppard or Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi—it isn’t geared for massive stadiums the likes of Madison Square Garden or England’s Wembley Stadium and so on and so forth.  And sitting in that small converted church, I felt her magical voice that more closely resembles a musical instrument than any other singer’s since Freddie Mercury.  I find that I prefer live Spektor to studio Spektor as she plays most of her songs on a massive, grand piano.  In her more recent live performances, including the one for which I was present, she leaves the heavy studio production behind, (hence her small band) which gives her music a more raw, deeper and truer sound.

She completely enchanted me, drawing me into her songs, despite my embarrassingly sparse knowledge of Spektor’s music, limited to five, maybe six songs.  Usually, if I attend a live performance and hear songs with which I am unfamiliar, I promise myself that I will go home and listen to them right after the show, though they never remain in my mind for long enough for me to recall them at a later date.  This was not the case after the Regina Spektor concert.  I remembered every single song I heard well enough to listen to her albums upon returning home and point out which songs she played, even before actually looking at an official setlist.  Seeing Regina live is a relaxed, enjoyable and happy experience. Perhaps if someone is interested in seeing extremely meticulous and technical musicianship, powered by loudness and chaotic guitar solos, drum fills and organ licks, seeing Regina isn’t for you.  But if you are in the mood for a chill evening filled with simple, nice and melodious tunes, definitely see Ms. Spektor for she will provide you with one fantastically fun night.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers, one of the United States’ biggest modern rock bands, just released an extremely successful record, “I’m With You,” which was nominated for the Grammy Award for “Best Rock Album,” a covers EP with songs by The Ramones, The Stooges, The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Neil Young and Dion and the Belmonts, and have been touring relentlessly across Europe and America, a concert-series that included several headlining positions at major festivals. If that wasn’t enough, the band has announced that over the course of the next few months, they will be pleasuring their fans with various B-Sides and unreleased tracks from the “I’m With You” sessions.
Today, the Chilis released the first of this series, “Strange Man” and “Long Progression.”

The above video of “Strange Man” was removed by the record label so you can listen to “Strange Man” here and in the below post you can listen to “Long Progression.”

“Strange Man” begins with a classic Chad Smith/Red Hot Chili Peppers beat, rich with funky snare hits, and a mellow I’m-With-You-esque chord progression, that could only exist in an incarnation of the Peppers with new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. Nonetheless, the song later features a more typical Chili-funk riff that resembles Klinghoffer doing his own take on a guitar pattern similar to that of 1991’s “Give It Away” from the band’s tremendous record, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. “Strange Man” is definitely the stronger of these two tunes and resonates with me more than some of the tracks that actually made it to I’m With You, though it is somewhat funkier than most of the other tunes on record.

See the above post to listen to “Strange Man” and click here to listen to “Long Progression” because the above video was removed by the label.

“Long Progression” is less recognizably a Red Hot Chili Peppers song than “Strange Man” and sounds more like the Chilis playing a standard rock song, which was the issue a lot of music critics and fans had with I’m With You: only about half the record was truly unique and original. Nonetheless, “Long Progression” is worth a listen for the Chili Peppers’ tight musicianship and terrific songwriting if nothing else. Klinghoffer’s guitar solo about three minutes into the song should erase any doubts that he is not a sufficient replacement for guitar virtuoso John Frusciante. Sure this solo isn’t godly, but Klinghoffer sounds solid on the track. I’d also like to point out Chad Smith’s monster drum fill at the close of “Long Progression.” Anthony Keidis sounds extremely enthusiastic and upbeat on this song, which is always nice to hear. The wonderful thing about the Chili Peppers is that even their weaker tracks are still quite good. “Long Progression” is a nice little tune, and listening to it, once, if not several times (as I have already) would not be a waste of your time. Perhaps it’s not their greatest song ever, but it’s way too far from lousy to overlook.