Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Beasts of the Best of 2013: Grantland's Steven Hyden

By: Ben Johnson

I've had two can openers die on me in the last month. One died because of being too shitty, and then I bought another one, and that second one died too, also of Immediate Shitty Can Opener Syndrome. I can see the problem. The teeth aren't catching, so after the blade wheels clamp on the lip of the can, I turn the crank and nothing happens. I have to reclamp over and over again, dozens of times, all around the edge of the can. And sometimes that doesn't even work. So I, regular Joe American Consumer, am throwing away multiple broken can openers. They will be taken to a landfill, and they will sit there, not opening cans, until the fucking sun explodes. Designed obsolescence is now apparently a can opener-level thing.

What this means for me is now I have a can opener budget. I have to be an informed consumer about finding a can opener that is designed to handle the strain of opening a can. I'm thinking I should either go vintage or high-end. The thought of strategizing about a can opener decision depresses me to my marrow. What kind of world do we live in where caveat emptor applies to can openers? It should be, "Oh shit, food is in that  can and I want to eat it. Okay, I'll buy a can opener, problem solved FOREVER." But the world is not perfect, and so now I have to spend some of the limited time I've been afforded as an alive person deciding what to do about my can opener situation. My hand has been forced. I can't just lay back and accept the status quo. The status quo does not open my cans.

What we're up to now is that even the fucking can opener company guys are eying the bottom line and looking out for number one. You'd think the owner of a can opener manufacturing firm would be a kindly man who looks like Albert Finney in overalls, going "I own a can opener factory, been in the family 80 years; anyway, I don't hear too good." Nope. It's probably his asshole son in control now, a hotshot who emerged from the sales department with a few ideas up his sleeve. I'm picturing a rich 45 year old manbaby with a coke habit and an MBA who drives a Lexus and puts dick pics on Instagram even though he's married with three kids. This guy, we'll call him Rick because Rick is a funny name for pretend people you hate, had the bright idea that, "hey, according to my Principles of Economics professor, I can take over this company, lay off all the workers, outsource the labor to a slave camp in Malaysia, make the shittiest possible can openers, and people will buy them anyway because the thing about cans is you can't open them without a can opener. That way all the customers, for instance Ben Johnson in particular, will have to buy another two can openers in less than a month." And Rick Finney multiplied his revenues by a factor of everybody is fucking furious and hungry, and CNOPNR stock soared. You don't like it, too bad. Rick Finney has a job to do, and that's taking care of business, Rick Finney style.

Oh shit: maybe it's a cabal of Rick Finneys. He's probably in league with his best friends Pete Zacutter and Dave Spatula, and they meet in the darkened conference room from Doctor Strangelove and hatch evil schemes of new brokedick nickle and dime shit to foist upon me.

This is what I think of while I'm angrily clamping and re-clamping one of those big cans of crushed tomatoes. I'm sure there are inaccuracies. I'm probably leaving out some mergers and acquisitions. Hostile takeovers. A dog-eat-dog business environment where Mom and Pop Can Opener are besieged on all sides by money-grubbing jackals who force them to "get with the times." Can opener manufacture is probably a tough racket. The real life Rick Finney is probably looking at his kid's college bill and sobbing in his Lexus over the sad inevitability of his own decline, and he is probably right to do so. There's only so much money you can make from can openers before the Peter Principle catches up to you and you go bust-o with investments in areas outside of your area of expertise. For all his contributions to the can opener business world, Real Rick Finney is probably slowly dying of stress-related maladies, probably closer to a modern-day Willy Loman than the villainous Caligula figure of my imagination.

But I don't care about the particulars of this. I choose to focus my ire on my second broken ass can opener and the worst possible version of the fictional Rick Finney who brought it to me. I do this because he, representative corpuscle that he is on humanity's taint, deserves as much ire as can be heaped on him, and because I have a shitload of ire to misplace because I'm currently opening a can of tomatoes like a starved mutant lunatic from a post-apocalyptic future. And, worse, I'm so used to getting boned as an average member of the populace it doesn't even feel all that unnatural to try to open a tomato can with my teeth and hands. I take it in stride.

Maybe I'm reading a little too far between the lines. Sure. But hey: I've been to a shopping mall. I've worked in a commercial real estate office. I read the articles about our society's collapse, our outrageous inequality. I'm there, daily, when shit doesn't work the way it's supposed to and nobody is there to do anything about it. A can opener breaks in my hands and, as with all other subliminal signals I receive from an oligopolied America these days, I am led to conclude, "What the fuck chance do I have?" I'm just a man with a can trying to cook some spaghetti so I can not die for one more day of this shit. I don't matter. Nobody cares about me, not even some fictionally pure ideation of Good Old American Can Openers Incorporated. I'm nothing and I'm nobody, all alone, and I have to get my own back.

Anyhow, Grantland has Officially Narratived the 2013 Year In Music. That's what they do over there. To summarize: Steven Hyden basically thinks the music biz is like my imaginary version of the can opener business now. He is basically right, because he is basically just expressing his own opinions, and he is funny in places, and you can't really argue with funny.

I'd have added some mumbo jumbo about how the major companies are quietly positioning themselves to profit from all (still rising) vinyl sales, holistically, via solidification of distributorships and silent hush-hush indie label acquisitions, so that they still get paid by the unit regardless of which artist is on the LP. I'd have mentioned that they're going to find infuriating ways to further leverage their position in this market as long as there's growth in it. I'd have mentioned that the failure of big promotions by mega monoculture pop artists like Katy Perry and Jay-Z isn't that they failed to galvanize, it's that the narrative of these artists is no longer one of discovery and emergence, and therefore these artists offer no social media cultural capital accrual via reportage on same, so people don't care except insofar as it's fun to. It may be somewhat hip to be square, but Katy Perry is for squares, man.

Yeah, I'd have probably said something like THAT. 

And then I would have caught myself and told myself that nobody cares what I think. I'm just a dirty unkempt plebian bending back a half-opened lid of a can of crushed tomatoes with an old spoon because apparently, as confirmed by literally everything around me on a constant basis, I don't matter. If I did matter, I would have a nice can opener from Williams-Sonoma that probably costs $40 but is so, so worth it just like all the finer things in life. Instead I'm down here in the muck with everybody else.

Anyhow, Steven Hyden enjoyed the following records in 2013:

10. Haim, Days Are Gone

This is emerging as my least unfavorite album that is everybody else's favorite album. At this point I feel like maybe I should not not buy it.

9. The National, Trouble Will Find Me

Can we please stop calling things like this "indie." It's not like it's a sacred word or anything, but it can just get confusing when people use that word to indicate "sounds like a baritone T-Bone Burnett."

8. Ashley Monroe, Like a Rose  

Steven's real favorite album might be just hanging out in a Starbucks.

7. Palms, Palms 

I always think it's weird when grown men profess an affinity for the music you're supposed to listen to when you're an early teenager, between the discovery that you don't have to just listen to whatever's on the radio in the family minivan and the discovery that all the bands they have on t-shirts at Hot Topics are in fact quite shitty.

6. Fuck Buttons, Slow Focus 

Have we gone through the looking glass where the best way to get free publicity is to name your shitty band Fuck Buttons or Perfect Pussy? I hope there's a backlash of band naming where all the guitar-driven tough guys go "We don't give a shit about internet hype and all that crap, and that's why we called our band Fluffy Unicorns. Sometimes you just gotta take a stance and say enough is enough, man."

5. Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Daze 

Nobody's got beef with Kurt Vile. He's beefless. He's a slippery beefless angel.

4. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories 

Here's an area of critical agreement that's hard to argue with. I don't care who you are or what your landscape of individual aesthetic preferences looks like, Daft Punk is doing more good than harm. You can definitely disagree with 4th best album of the year, but Daft Punk album years are better than non Daft Punk album years when measured by number of Daft Punk albums per year. That is a fact.

3. Bombino, Nomad

As bad as fetishizing world music just for the sake of appearing globally conscious is, Tuareg Rock is the most promising and interesting rock-influenced thing currently happening on the planet, and this guy is a high enough level operator in that world to merit the full production treatment. I might prefer the more raw stuff as documented recently by Sublime Frequencies, but as the saying goes a rising tide lifts all the boats. These guys are rockin' where it's hard to live. The more vociferous the plaudits the better.

2. Kanye West, Yeezus

It's not that I hate Kanye West. It's that I long to be indifferent to the existence of Kanye West. He's good at some things and he's bad at some things. He's like Tony Romo. Like Romo, I don't see why we have to talk about him every single day, or convince some unseen enemy he's actually all good or all bad, and pore over his performances like conspiracy theorists with a newly remastered copy of the Zapruder film. Kanye West is just a guy, just a musician, and this album is just an album. It can mean more than that, personally, for you and for a lot of other people too, but that doesn't mean it is more than that. Sgt. Pepper is an album. Moby Dick is a book. Caddyshack is a movie. We take it too much further than that, we get in trouble. We're all supposed to be human beings, here. Kanye seems to be having some trouble with this concept, and from the way he's treated I can't say I blame him. At least not 100%. Yeezus might be the best or second best album of the year, but it is becoming my least favorite thing to talk about. Like I don't think it's even healthy to be talking about anything this guy does.

1. Deafheaven, Sunbather   

When I was twelve I listened to Alice in Chains a lot. I did not actually like it, but there was something compelling about the music. It created a very specific nausea every time I listened. Looking back, I think that nausea was the band's sonic/psychedelic replication of being junk sick, which, if intentional, would represent an accomplishment of sorts by a skilled rock band. On the other hand, who enjoys being junk sick? That's a feeling to be avoided. If your most defining accomplishment as a band is skillfully causing a specific nausea and unease similar to the sensation of needing a heroin fix, maybe what that means is you're skilled at being shitty, which calls the value of your skill into question. Anyway, Deafhaven reminds me of this.