Bad Choices and Wilted Flowers
So my editor at the LA Weekly approaches me about reviewing a new release, Choices and Flowers, by “oddball rapper” Lil B (about whom I knew nothing). He wants me to review it using the toughest classical music standards, and I say, “Sure, I can do it.”
About 2 or 3 minutes into listening to the album, I realize that I’ve heard this music many times in my life. It will be a retired doctor who is now composing music because he has a MIDI keyboard and Sibelius, and he asks me what I think of his piece. Or it will be some hippy-dippy acquaintance who puts on a New-Age instrumental album, promising me how great it is, and it is as dull as an accounting webinar.
What do all three–Lil B, the retired doctor, and the dippy New Age musician–have in common? Lack of training, and it shows–obviously, terribly–in their music.
My review went up at the LA Weekly (read it here), and it’s already become the most insanely popular thing I ever wrote for them. This depresses me to no end when I compare it with the paltry hit rate I receive on stories about John Adams, Louis Andriessen, John Cage, and other great composers of our time.
On iTunes, the fans of Lil B–pardon me, The BasedGod (for that is how Lil B self-identifies on Choices and Flowers)–give it 4-1/2 stars, and consider it greater than anything Mozart, Beethoven, or Steve Reich ever wrote. In the comments to my story, fans hope that Lil B scores movies and opine in all caps that he is a great minimalist composer like Terry Riley or Philip Glass (I can’t tell if the latter fan is serious or pulling my leg).
Some of my observations and jokes did not make it into my Weekly post, so I’m posting them below. You’ll understand them better if you go to the Weekly and read what’s up there post-editing first.
After listening to three or four tracks, it became painfully obvious that Lil B’s method of composing is to drop his hands on the white keys C-B-A-G and just repeat those pitches in that order. Over. And over. And over. Every once in a while I might hear a different note, but after a few seconds, the descending C-B-A-G would kick in again. It was laugh-out-loud funny.
I compared this technique to the way my 4-year-old nieces play:
If you’ve ever watched an untrained toddler attempt to play a melody on the piano (instead of simply banging chords and tone clusters), that’s usually how they do it. More curious children try to vary the order of the notes from time to time.
Many of brief comments on every single track (done at the behest of my editor) were changed. I really like what I had originally, so I’m reproducing it below:
1.”I Made the Right Choice” by selecting a string pad patch to play the notes C-B-A-G.
2. “Lessons From the Wind”: Play the notes C-B-A-G over and over on an oboe patch, with a clarinet trill interjecting at random places.
3. “Walking Through Berkeley” I heard synthesized strings playing C-B-A-G.
4. “My Mistakes” are believing in playing C-B-A-G repeatedly and releasing it to the public.
5. “New York I’m Home” and ready to play C-B-A-G on an electric piano patch
6. “Where Are You Going” when there are filter-sweep patches and clarinet patches playing C-B-A-G?
7. “Lost in the Sky of Love” for the notes C-B-A-G.
8. “Save the Animals” by playing a synth patch that always sweeps upward to the note while string pads intone C-B-A-G
9. “Happy to Live” to play the notes C-B-A-G.
10. “What Came First Are We Alive” or have we died and gone to hell where the notes C-B-A-G are repeated in unpredictable rhythms?
11. “Tokyo” sounds surprisingly like Berkeley and New York, except with a cheesy koto patch
12. “Tribute to Lil B” by playing C-B-A-G for almost 5 minutes
13. “At the Zoo With Mom” the chimpanzees threw their C-B-A-G’s at some kid tormenting them
14. “Dreams Are Real” and so are the notes C-B-A-G
15. “Exhale With Love in Your Chest” the notes C-B-A-G over filter-sweep patches and doofy sitars
16. “Wooden Hotel” where the pitches C-B-A-G check in and never leave
17. “Welcome to America” which oddly is in a different key than the cities of Berkeley and New York
Tomorrow night I’m going to hear John Adams’ new opera/oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary. I expect to be thoroughly astonished, delighted, and moved.