Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review: Ergo, multitude, solitude

multitude, solitude
A-   (if you’re into that sort of thing)
D    (if you’re not)

Ergo’s new album multitude, solitude comes with a nifty insert that features an early review/glowing praise lauding Ergo’s brilliance.  Barry Vacker, professor of media, cultural and utopian theory at Temple University, opens the adulation with just three words: “Ergo is cool.”

Not so fast, Ergo.

I’ll dismiss for a moment the hubris that motivates a band to put “We are cool” in the first line of the literature that ships with the album.  Let’s do a brief rundown of “cool.”  Elvis was cool for a while.  Then The Beatles were cool, and then some other bands were cool (including, but not limited to, The Clash, Run DMC, and more recently Vampire Weekend in that Vineyard Vines-y sort of way).  Ergo, I mean, God, of all people you should know what’s cool, you’re from Brooklyn of all places.  You’re from the Mecca of tight-pants, I liked-cool-before-it-was-cool cool.  But you know what really isn’t that cool?  Ambient music.

And that’s what multitude, solitude is.  Ambient, experimental, atmospheric music.  A lot of drum, a wailing trombone, a little gentle piano, and synth.  It’s not terrible stuff, Ergo.  The fact that you can make discord work, that you can turn the intentionally not-melodious into music is an accomplishment.  The tracks almost uniformly start near-silent, build with straggling cymbal strikes and held trombone notes into a chaotic mess, and crash in on themselves.  If atmosphere is what you’re going for, you’ve struck gold.  Your album is at once creepy, suspenseful, and dizzying.

But that doesn’t make multitude, solitude cool.  It makes the album play like the soundtrack to an avant-garde student film that doesn’t exist.  It makes the album sound like something a professor of music theory would put together meticulously while designing lesson plans on freeform neo-jazz. 

It also doesn’t make me want to listen to multitude, solitude again anytime soon.

--Dan Bliss, 
“Their Early Stuff is Better,” Thurs 6-7 pm/Fri 12-1 pm on WGTB


GT said...

I have to say I mostly agree with this review. Through a little bit of sampling online it's clear to me that these are talented musicians but perhaps they got a little carried away with creating ambiance because I feel like it's the backing music to some kind of film noir, like any second a deep voice is going to rise from the mix and say "It was a dark and stormy night...". I like the dual review you gave it to though, because a little part of me is actually getting into this. Unfortunately I'm into it as background music for homework.

brett said...

I don't usually comment on reviews of our band (and there isn't usually a comment box), but I found this one an interesting intersection of reasonable and uninformed. I wonder if you actually read the liner notes in full? Mr. Vacker uses "cool" as a theme in his essay based on writings by Marshall McLuhan on different kinds of media, not based on cultural trends.

"Hot media presented a dense flow of information, with light shining on the medium, such as books, newspapers, and films, with the photographic images shining on the movie screens. Cool media presented less information, with light shining through the screens, such as television and computers, each with pixelated images. Hot media extended information to us, cool media invited us into a world beyond the screen"

If you read the liner notes (and comprehended them) it would be pretty obvious we never said we were "cool" in the way you mean (nor did WE write that about ourselves).

Also, while I consider ambient a large degree of what we do, that seems like a somewhat glib description, this is certainly not ambient music in the sense of Brian Eno's (who certainly is cool) original ambient "Music for Airports", and "suspenseful and dizzying" are not usually adjectives one would associate with purely ambient music (but thanks by the way). Regardless, I'm glad you listened to it and enjoyed parts of it and we riled up enough by the liner notes to write about it.

RickRoss said...

Yeah Dan, there's nothing pretentious about using a Marshall McLuhan reference in your liner notes...................

(note exaggeration of "...")

stick to not commenting on reviews of yoruself.

Caroline said...

no, brett's point is pretty important that the professor's use of "cool" in the liner notes is really not how dan (mis)interpreted it. i'm all for commenting on reviews of yourself, close the artist-listener gap. points to ergo.
and i didnt even like this album.

Anonymous said...

Without doubt, Marshall McLuhan is referenced far too often by poseurs who barely understand his ideas about media and technology. In this case, though, the poseurs are those attacking the McLuhan reference.

To reference McLuhan's idea of "cool media" in liner notes for minimalist ambient music is hardly pretentious (or hubristic) if the person providing the reference has been a professor of media studies for over 15 years. The same author who has written numerous articles and books on art, media, science, technology, and culture.

Of course, my experience as a professor does not inherently prove the merit of the ideas in the liner notes. I only mention this background to illustrate than I am well-informed on McLuhan and think his ideas on "cool media" apply to Ergo. The liner notes are posted here:

Each reader can decide on their own about the merits of the ideas in the notes. I applaud Brett for defending himself and his band, for how else would readers know that Dan Bliss misrepresented the cool comments.

The shallow review by Bliss and RickRoss's supporting sarcasm reeks of the rabid anti-intellectualism that pervades America culture, even at colleges and universities. Rather than try to understand or expand one's mind, the goal is to trivialize and denounce as a cover for laziness and/or superficiality. Note that there is no attempt by Bliss to refute or explain anything in the liner notes, other than his myopic and inane references to Elvis, The Beatles, etc. The silly reference to the student film is an ever fashionable non-sequitur.

There is nothing more indicative of this anti-intellectual attitude than RickRoss piling on by trashing the McLuhan reference without having read the liner notes. Reminds me of the creationists and fundamentalists trashing Darwin or Dawkins without having read them or even trying to understand them. -- Barry

igs said...

Full disclosure: I edit this blog so I am both responsible of the content and biased towards my writers. With that said:

There is no doubt about the fact that Dan misinterpreted the usage of 'cool' in the liner notes. For that, I certainly carry some of the responsibility, as do my fellow editors, and I apologize.

And Brett, I think it is fantastic that you pointed out our mistake. When it is simply a matter of fact and not of aesthetics, you should definitely correct us and anyone else. You'd be surprised at how many bands actually do it.

However, Barry, I think you've unfairly written off RickRoss as an anti-intellectualist. Regardless of the fact that you certainly know a great deal about Mcluhan, Ergo chose a Marshall Mcluhan theorist to write their liner notes. While no one doubts your expertise or the authenticity of your reference, the point is that they used a description in the liner notes that (albeit accurately) describes their music in Mcluhan terms. This carries a certain stigma and hubris. I won't say I agree with RickRoss, but I do think its unfair to accuse him of being uninformed and an anti-intellectualist because he thought the frame of the liner notes was pretentious, not unfounded. And as far as the sarcasm goes. Well, welcome to the internet.

Lastly, I'd sure like to hear what other people thought of the MUSIC, not the liner notes. That is, after all, why we reviewed the album.

Dan Bliss said...

Well that got more of a reaction than I anticipated, but hey, that's the point, right? Some thoughts, and then an apology.

1) Yes, I read and understood the liner notes and therefore (to some extent) was purposefully glib in the review. That said, if putting the words "Ergo is cool" front and center in the only literature that ships with an album isn't begging for a double entendre at the very least, I might as well toss out my newly-acquired diploma.

2) Yep, my musical references were inane. I treated that opening part of the review as a tongue-in-cheek jaunt to the point that (what I perceive to be) ambient music isn't the trendiest thing for (what I perceived to be) my audience. Did it have anything to do with ergo, really? Nope. Not really.

3) I refuse to give ergo higher praise than an A- (for fans of the genre). Grade inflation is a serious issue.

4) I agree with Caroline. Dialogue with artists is super-cool. The critique of my critique has forced me to put a considerable amount more thought into this piece of work than I perhaps did in the first place.

And 5) Sorry, ergo. You guys are spot-on with the hot/cold theory stuff, and I pounced on an out-of-context liner note to frame my piece here. My bad. But keep in mind that I used words like "accomplishment" and "struck gold" with regards to your album. (That's praise).

And sorry to you, too, Barry. I tried to wax sarcastic at your expense. Once again, mea culpa. Look, I used Latin; not a chance I'm anti-intellectual.