On First Listen
Husker Du

By: Ian Mathers

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Posted 06/27/2007 - 07:23:26 AM by Blackmail:
 This column endures as the most mindblowing confessional. Some of these have taken a lot of guts to cop to and this one is no exception.
Posted 06/27/2007 - 07:54:45 AM by raskolnikov:
 It takes guts to reveal yourself in public as an idiot. Really, Mr. Mathers, your fondness for mediocre mid-tempo nonsense is just sickening, as is your inability to appreciate anything with a fast tempo. Most of the music you praise in your writing does not even involve actual bands playing music--you seem to prefer the solo songwriter who controls a bunch of studio musicians rather than bands, who tend to feature more sophisticated interplay between musicians (as well as more complicated arrangements and sounds, to say the least). This of course is the result of musicians spending years refining their ability to play with each other. Lastly, Mr. Mathers, I cannot imagine your music collection without laughing, much as I cannot read your writing without shaking with rage....
Posted 06/27/2007 - 09:13:23 AM by meatbreak:
 Mathers has The Goslings in his record collection. Bow down.
Posted 06/27/2007 - 11:22:09 AM by cwperry:
 "Track 3-12 of Warehouse"? Why not tracks 1 & 2?
Posted 06/27/2007 - 10:05:57 PM by IanMathers:
 cwperry, I missed tracks 1-2 and 13-20 of Warehouse because the guy who was going to pass it on to me ran into some last minute trouble. So it goes. raskolnikov, are you ever going to do anything useful with your life? You're getting boring.
Posted 06/27/2007 - 10:29:37 PM by j_cunningham:
 This is a really nice piece, Ian, especially your comments about how our tastes are not "inevitable and inviolate expressions of our personalities" but "shaped by context" -- which I know you and I have talked about before. I think I also like it because I, too, gave Husker Du a shot a few years ago and found almost nothing to latch onto, the only discernible highlight being "Pink Turns to Blue." And to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I would've enjoyed it in high school, either: the weird abrasiveness of Pavement and Sonic Youth were revelatory when I was 16, but they would've meant nothing without such sticky melodies. When I listen to Husker Du, all I really hear is racket, with maybe some strained singing buried in the muck. Fortunately, Bob Mould left all this behind when he started Sugar, since that band's "Gee Angel" stands as one of my favorite alt-rock singles: fast and tuneful and clean.
Posted 06/27/2007 - 11:18:08 PM by boilingboy:
 Nice piece, Ian. I do disagree with you though about much of Husker Du. True, New day Rising still has that thin, trebly SST sound, but some of those songs are wonderful. I love "I Don't Know What You're Talking About". But Flip Your Wig is just a revelation. This is one of the all-time great pop punk records, and is still capable of getting people pumped at a party. Listen to "Private Plane"...it's heaven. Warehouse is a little much to slog through, but Ice Cold Ice and Turn It Around are two of the best songs they ever did. Plus, the lyrics reached a pinnacle on Warehouse. Glad to here that you are a fan of Sugar's Beaster, which is another classic album.
Posted 06/28/2007 - 06:42:28 AM by jmp123:
 Fortunately Bob Mould left this all behind for Sugar!!!! Am I reading this correctly? Has music criticism officially come to an end? I don't really want to live in a world where Beaster is considered better than the entirety of Husker Du's output. What's wrong with kids these days. Oh, and Ian Mathers: the fact that you listen to New Day Rising and hear only something that neither musically nor lyrically fulfills is YOUR problem, not MINE. You see, your oh-so-condescending disclaimer at the beginning of the article does a nice backhanded job of suggesting that while fans of Husker Du are stuck in some seventeen year old musical arrested development, those who are courageous enough to show the emperor without clothes have moved on. Well, I'm happy to be as stoopid as a seventeen year old.
Posted 06/28/2007 - 09:33:44 AM by raskolnikov:
 How is it possible to become a critic of rock music without having heard bands like Sonic Youth, Gang of Four, or Husker Du? Such blatant ignorance of important work could only be rewarded by a job at Stylus....this column says more about Mathers' poor listening habits than he would care to admit. How does someone reach the age of 25 without hearing albums like New Day Rising, Entertainment!, or Daydream Nation? Simply pathetic, if you ask me, not to mention utterly lazy. And as far as the Goslings are concerned, just because Mathers owns their stuff does not mean he understands it.
Posted 06/28/2007 - 09:35:00 AM by raskolnikov:
 Also, Sugar pales in comparison to the Huskers, if they don't vanish altogether....
Posted 06/28/2007 - 11:10:07 AM by zapruder:
 I don't normally go in for commenting on comments, but raskolnikov and jmp123--you guys are laying it on a bit thick, yes? And Ian's one of my favorite Stylus-ers, so here goes. First, jmp123, Ian emphatically states in his second paragraph that he's NOT condescending to people who are still Husker fans: "It's not me claiming that I mostly lost interest in the kind of thing Hüsker Dü did so well in my late teens means that anyone who liked them or likes them is somehow immature or lacking." I don't know how much clearer he could have made it, yet you claim he's suggesting the exact opposite. Read closer, please. And raskolnikov--really? Ian's "revealed himself as an idiot" because he didn't get around to listening to one band? You're "shaking with rage" because some guy happened to absorb different records when he was younger? Jesus, get over it. Or is it the fact that the same guy gets published in Stylus? Well, maybe he gets published because he's, you know, a *good writer*, with sense enough to avoid irresolvable taste wars. By contrast, here's what you two sound like: "I refuse to live in a world where Cookie Crisp is considered better than Cocoa Puffs." Or: "Who can reach the age of 25 without ever having eaten a bowl of Lucky Charms?" Man alive, what are you talking about? List-centric, barroom foaming may be entertaining now and again, but it's nothing you'd want to READ. The real test of criticism is whether you can write a decent travelogue--*regardless* of the itinerary.
Posted 06/28/2007 - 11:27:18 AM by raskolnikov:
 Zap--that's exactly the problem with most music listeners...music is not something to get over. To care too much about it is impossible for me. And as far as irresolvable taste wars (your phrase, not mine) are concerned, I think that certain works of art in all genres are so significant in their excellence that they stand outside of the is-it-great-or-not dichotomy, and that any responsible critic must recognize their worth in some small way. Ian Mathers is fond of very derivative music (like Spiritualized and Iron and Wine, to name two bands he consistently praises), and when confronted with the original sources of inspiration for many bands of the nineties and aughts he denigrates them rather than see their worth or the shadow their influence casts. This habit of his is really sad, actually, and it's not good critical writing at all--it's cheap polemics disguised as thoughtful idol-tweaking. According to Mr. Mathers, the meandering junkies of Space Needle were taut and economic in their jamming, while the jams on Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation are self-indulgent. Opinions like these represent failure to recognize the obvious on a massive scale, and they should be called out as crap instead of brilliance.
Posted 06/28/2007 - 12:17:52 PM by Blackmail:
 @raskolnikov: 'How is it possible to become a critic of rock music without having heard bands like Sonic Youth, Gang of Four, or Husker Du?' Easy. Seriously. Just by listening to something, actually anything, else!
Posted 06/28/2007 - 12:38:48 PM by IanMathers:
 Come now, John; surely Husker Du's best stuff has more "sticky melodies" than Daydream Nation? I mean, I'm not sure I can even give you Pavement. I think my rock-loving younger self actually would have had less of an adjustment to Zen Arcade than to Slanted & Enchanted - Mould and Hart are a lot closer to the rock tradition as writers than Malkmus was. I haven't heard enough Sugar yet, but I really like the Beaster EP. zapruder, thanks for the kind words.
Posted 06/28/2007 - 01:45:22 PM by Zarklephaser:
 I'm with zapruder on this one - I think Ian seems to be above any stupid taste-war you are obviously waging on him. Great article, Ian. And by the way, according to CONVENTIONAL ROCK CRITICISM'S VIEW OF SUGAR'S DISCOGRAPHY OMG, you ought to check out Copper Blue as soon as possible (and all rock crit opinions aside, I think it's one of the finest records of '92 and the highlight of Mould's career, Huskers be damned!).
Posted 06/28/2007 - 01:59:15 PM by jmp123:
 Let me make two points: To all of you who would defend Herr Mathers: would you take seriously a pop music critic who thought that Wings was a better band than the Beatles? A film critic who thought that De Palma was a better film maker than Hitchcock? It's not that Sugar is necessarily a worthless group (its musical template was too good to begin with)...it is that their limited output is rather derivative and lacking in substance and innovation. Second, I realize that Mathers offered a disclaimer at the beginning of the article but this kind of thing must always be read in two ways: The fact that Ian Mathers frames his entire discussion about Husker Du as something that has passed him by (i.e. "that ship sailed when I was seventeen") and that his musical taste has now grown (i.e. "started listening instead to bands which would lead me to where I am now, where hard and fast and loud and fuzzy are occasional diversions, not the staples of my musical diet.") My problem with this article is not the subjective nature of his assessment (although I do think people often hide behind such caveats) but, rather, his rather flippant dismissal of Husker Du as a "fast, loud and fuzzy" band that uses this sonic template to disguise their insubstantial nature (i.e. the diversion versus staple of one's musical diet). For those of us who have been listening to this band for a better part of twenty years, we realize that the music made by Husker Du and other SST bands--beyond the thin and tinny sound (I'm sure Sting's contemporaneous records sounded gorgeous in comparison)--were some of the most essential American underground music made during the Regan years. There is much, much more I could say.
Posted 06/28/2007 - 02:36:05 PM by AKMoose:
 "that's exactly the problem with most music listeners...music is not something to get over. To care too much about it is impossible for me." I believe this is my favorite thing raskolnikov has ever said.
Posted 06/28/2007 - 04:00:29 PM by terrorist:
 zapruder, if this is what you consider compelling material, i think you're basically waging an unwinnable taste-war yourself
Posted 06/28/2007 - 06:46:49 PM by zapruder:
 Who's anyone to say what "the problem with most music listeners" is? "Caring about music too much" doesn't give anyone a license to call people idiots for listening to different records. That's all I'm saying, with a pixel-enhanced period at the end. Terrorist--my opinion of Mathers' writing is just that, and I've got no war to wage there. My beef is with the creaky notion of there being some kind of indie rock canon, and snubs for anyone who failed to eat a piece of it. Again, aiming to bust out definitive/best/whatever lists is a fun diversion, but it seems to me that "On First Listen" is deliberately placed to fly in the face of that. Ditto "On Second Thought." And please, let's not unpack the "derivative" box. Many millions of boxes spring outta that one, and we'll never be able to fit them all back in. We've all had ships sail on us, and I'd like to think that none of us are "idiots" for it.
Posted 06/28/2007 - 08:18:06 PM by jmp123:
 Well, there's derivative and then there's derivative...in the type of relativism that passes for music criticism "these days" we all know (wink, wink) that everyone sounds like everyone else, that there is no original music being made, and ELO is a very important group. However, for those of us who may still think for an itsy, bitsy second that, yes, there still is a meta-discourse about these things then some groups are a bit more derivative than others. Sugar is derivative because it (literally) copied elements of Husker Du's sound, updating it and making it bright and shiny for a newly emerged alternative friendly music industry. Gone were all of the shadows that made albums like "Metal Circus" and "Zen Arcade" so fantastic, and in came radio friendly crap like "Gee Angel" (music is more than being "fast, tuneful and clean"--if anything it should almost be the antithesis of this). If this makes me some indie-rock snob (with said term being almost meaningless when Husker Du first came out) then I am what I am. This whole discussion reminds me of a woman at a bar who once told me that Blink 182 changed her life. I thought at the time: if I was once depressed at the thought that someone might have a cathected relationship to Green Day (a group whose total modus operandi was a cynical derivation of a once vibrant punk scene), then I can only laugh at a musical culture that finds meaning in a copy of a copy (and before someone out there makes the ol' Baudrillard argument let me just say that irony and self-consciousness is not the same as cynically copying for the sake of success). I'm sure someone will write in to defend this shit, btw. Either that or I smell one of those great Stylus articles brewing deep in the bowels of this venerable institution (i.e. Green Day vs. Blink 182).
Posted 06/29/2007 - 03:53:34 AM by IanMathers:
 "his rather flippant dismissal of Husker Du as a "fast, loud and fuzzy" band that uses this sonic template to disguise their insubstantial nature" <-- There's your problem; you're inferring something I never implied or intended to imply. You thinking I consider Husker Du insubstantial is your problem, not mine, especially as it seems other readers aren't suffering from that error. Also: Are you really saying that Sugar "copying" Husker Du is like ELO copying the Beatles or someone? Does Bob Mould have to completely alter his style of songwriting just because he formed another band? I'm not as relativist about copying as you seem to think, but you chose a pretty dumb example.
Posted 06/29/2007 - 11:53:37 AM by j_cunningham:
 First of all, I co-sign Zapruder's first post entirely. I like reading Ian's stuff because he's a thoughtful, engaging writer, not because he's somehow proved himself by having heard X number of albums. Ian may not have heard Husker Du until he was 25, but maybe if he'd gotten into them when he was younger, he wouldn't have gotten into Joy Division when he did. There's only so much time to hear the vast amount of music in the world, and the best way to go about it, IMO, is to just follow your whims, rather than sit down and subject yourself to something "important" and "canonical" out of obligation. Furthermore, what I like about this column is precisely the kind of fresh take that comes from not having to don the expert's hat for a change; there are plenty of good things that come from writing from a position of authority, but it can also result in lazy criticism. At the very least, On First Listen, by construct, is almost never lazy.
Posted 06/29/2007 - 12:00:16 PM by j_cunningham:
 Second: Ian, I forgot you dislike Sonic Youth! I dunno, this is all making me want to dig out the "best of Husker Du" mix someone made me a couple years ago, but if I'd heard the same sort of melodies I find all over Sonic Youth's work in Husker Du, I probably wouldn't have written them off so quickly. As for your Pavement comment, I'm curious what you mean about Mould and Hart being "a lot closer to the rock tradition as writers" than Malkmus is. By "writers" do you mean lyricists? Because one of the main things that captivated me about Pavement as a teenager was that the lyrics were so abstractly surreal, which seemed to be a vast improvement on most pop music (the fact that they seemed genuinely poetic, too, meant that they had a bit of a leg up on Beck and Soul Coughing, whom I also liked at the time).
Posted 06/29/2007 - 12:08:06 PM by j_cunningham:
 "Let me make two points: To all of you who would defend Herr Mathers: would you take seriously a pop music critic who thought that Wings was a better band than the Beatles? A film critic who thought that De Palma was a better film maker than Hitchcock?": Sure, if they could back it up in a way that was thought-provoking and well-written. I certainly don't judge critics by their taste alone, and to be honest, if I agreed with someone all the time, there wouldn't much point in reading them, would there? Anyway, as I said in my first post, the most interesting part of Ian's article is not the "OMG CONTROVERSIAL OPINION" aspect of him dissing Husker Du, but the comments he makes about taste being contextual, which I think is fascinating and rarely commented upon.
Posted 06/29/2007 - 02:39:55 PM by jmp123:
 Sir Ian- A few points: One, I apologize for the lack of clarity w/r/t my ELO comment. I wasn't really linking it up to your "On First Listen" article...I was merely (and ineffectively, btw) using that group as an illustration of the often absurd opinions that float to the top of the Stylus homepage from time to time. I remember when people rolled their eyes at the mention of Jeff Lynne's execrable career rather than placing him in some kind of new canon (yes, I "get" the joke--these things are lame so let's make a "fake" canon). That said, ELO had/has nothing to do with Sugar. My only point is this: if someone (with thought provoking arguments and all) tried to argue that, say, "Band on the Run" was a better album than, say, "Revolver", I might be skeptical of said person's musical taste. Here, indeed, one could find a much better analogy for the whole Huskers/Sugar thing: Band On the Run is a pleasant album, but lacks everything that made Revolver something that I want listen to for the rest of my life. One could speak about a series of contexts and distinctions that make this opinion so, but I imagine that if you polled any number of popular music fans around the globe they might have a similar opinion. I'm sure you all have other analogies. Second, you may argue that you never intended to imply that Husker Du is inferior because they are "fast, loud and fuzzy", but with constant recourse to the "oh so young and naive" seventeen year old Ian lurking in the background of this first listen (let us allow for a certain intertextual reference to a recent stylus article wherein seventeen year old men were considered some of the worst people on the planet) I can't help but detect the condescension of someone who is quite satisfied to leave such listening practices behind (you're even content to insert the onomatopoetic *sigh* into your article. Should you be upset or frustrated with this little excursus, please blame zapruder who chastised me for not reading closely. I say most of the people here don't read close enough. Finally, this is really directed more towards m. le 'ruder, I believe that the "On First Listen" and "On Second Thought" need not be simply a shooting gallery for sacred cows. Case in point: Mallory O’Donnell's fantastic OST regarding "The Stranger". What she does in that piece is neither to blame nor to praise either Mr. Joel or us but rather ANALIZES a piece of music for what it is. It's a brilliant dissection that (tragically) makes me want to go back and listen to "The Stranger" not because it is a brilliant album, but because I want to hear what Ms. O'Donell hears in it. Her essay reminds me of David Foster Wallace's "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again", which essay made me want to take a cruise simply because I wanted to experience a cruise the way he does/did. I think this is what columns like this can and should do, not simply give the middle finger to albums and groups that other people like.
Posted 06/29/2007 - 03:49:41 PM by ghostracer:
 I don't discount your opinion w/r/t Husker Du, but I feel it's mostly unclear until the last paragraph...i.e. they are good, i probably really would have liked them in high school, but they aren't necessarily the legends our band could be your life makes them out to be.....at least that's what i see. i don't have a problem with your saying that, but i do have a problem with the way you say it, which was dense and confusing. Now, any article on Husker Du should necessarily be dense--there is a lot to process there--but it shouldn't be confusing. the example i can think of relates to "makes no sense at all" and "diane" where i couldnt tell which song you were talking about--i.e. i couldn't tell if you even said anything about "diane"--this is an interesting article anyways, but too hard to read. as a pretty big fan of the Du, i clicked on it immediately, but i skimmed through it upon encountering its labryinthine hesitant ambivalent style. I asked for new day rising for christmas after reading "try" by dennis cooper, and i burnt "zen arcade" off a friend after learning he had it--and was blown the fuck away. "Chartered Trips" "Hare Krsna" "Broken Home Broken Heart" --these songs on the first side of the album bored you?
Posted 06/29/2007 - 05:13:17 PM by grandbanks:
 I'm not gonna get on this train, but one thing: 'the most interesting part of Ian's article is not the "OMG CONTROVERSIAL OPINION" aspect of him dissing Husker Du, but the comments he makes about taste being contextual, which I think is fascinating and rarely commented upon.' Every comment on this site is basically a testament to taste being contextual. It's only as fascinating as those making the comments. Good luck with that, and to Mathers' credit I don't think he claimed to dislike Sonic Youth, just the majority of "Daydream Nation."
Posted 06/29/2007 - 10:59:30 PM by raskolnikov:
 Well let's get specific then: Mathers claims to have "imagine[d] these albums" in the first sentence of this article. Other than the stupendous arrogance of such a statement--since after all these albums were already imagined, performed, and released by Husker Du--it seems to me this statement is also a disclaimer of sorts, with the reviewer copping to some serious preconceptions about the music under discussion. The whole article smells of predjudice against fast tempos, I tell you.....in this day and age? Prejudice against fast tempos?!?
Posted 07/01/2007 - 06:13:57 AM by bassman08:
 Just between you and me, I'm still not sure that ol'rasky actually LIKES anything, he just likes PRETENDING that he likes good/important/influental albums so that he can make fun of other people's musical tastes and keep his índie cred' because if he said that he likes, oh, say, Queens of the Stone Age (see most recent review's comment section) or Spiritualized, than the people in his avant-garde noise experience (they don't like to be referred to as a 'band', please, that's so juvenile) won't let him play tambourine anymore.
Posted 07/01/2007 - 11:11:24 PM by raskolnikov:
 If I don't like anything, then what are all those albums, discs, and tapes doing at my house?
Posted 07/02/2007 - 06:49:29 AM by bassman08:
 All part of the disguise, my friend. All part of the disguise...
Posted 07/02/2007 - 11:53:00 AM by grandbanks:
 C'mon, bassman, you've gotta have higher standards of fun than this. Raskolnikov doesn't "make fun," it is a different beast entirely, like it or not.
Posted 07/02/2007 - 12:50:58 PM by j_cunningham:
 grandbanks, you're absolutely right that "every comment on this site is basically a testament to taste being contextual," but that doesn't mean that people are always cognizant of it; when people claim that there are records that someone "should have" heard by a certain age or records that are inherently superior to others, it seems that there's a whole lot of denial regarding that fact. Also, I know from talking to Ian (not just from his Stylus articles) that he's not a big SY fan.
Posted 07/02/2007 - 07:17:59 PM by raskolnikov:
 There are a few writers for this 'zine that are afraid of the "rock" in rock music...same goes for a few of the posters.
Posted 07/03/2007 - 12:00:37 PM by grandbanks:
 See, just saying that you know Ian right there complicates any argument you could make regarding context, but I am trying to avoid circular conversations here, not perpetuate them. My comment was essentially aimed at trying to just moot the whole point about the subjectivity of talk about "canons" and getting offended at said theories of relevance and neglectful listening on the part of "music critics." Just realise that when you are getting pissed at Raskolnikov you aren't defending an ideal so much as feeding the beast. I mean, the only solution is for every commenter and writer on here to submit a bio listing their credentials to make comments etc., and that is something I do not wish on anyone. I wouldn't even get on here at this point other than to say that I believe it is often the writers and defenders of the pieces that are often taking the most liberties with context as opposed to people like Raskolnikov. Just look at the attacks on him (mainly the blanket statements about noise/avant garde music etc. and Rask's supposed cheerleading for such). It's just a piece and an opinion on one band, sure, but look at what it creates. Lame jokes about a guy who has obviously spent a lot of time sifting through mediocre and tepid music and won't stand for it any more. I guarantee that most of the bands people make fun of Rask for liking are cool being called bands and are way less pretentious than the average dude/person commenting on here, but of course that idea offends people the most. People on this site are very touchy concerning their own complicity in the taste wars. Get over it, defend your opinions and like what you like and realise that without people like Raskolnikov this site would be really fucking boring. He even kind of defended Pelican, so he can't be that hard-assed of a dude.
Posted 07/03/2007 - 06:07:17 PM by j_cunningham:
 I "know" Ian in the sense that we both write for this site and as a result have occasionally traded e-mails. (I've only met him once, two years ago.) I'm not sure how that "complicates" my argument in any way, though, since I'd have made it regardless of how or by whom it was prompted.
Posted 07/04/2007 - 08:27:18 AM by raskolnikov:
 The complication in Mr. Cunningham's argument is that it is hard to defend someone while simultaneously dropping their name.