Steve Albini On Odd Future: "Assholes Making Music About Being Assholes"
By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 9, 2011 6:40PM
Steve Albini's never been one to mince words, and, in a recent Electrical Audio blog post, he had more than a choice few for rap collective and Pitchfork darlings Odd Future a.k.a. OFWGKTA. In response to an Electrical Audio comment, Albini tells of how he shared 40 minutes of his time with the group on an airport shuttle in Barcelona back in May. As he explains, Odd Future boarded the shuttle and immediately started to wreak havoc. Here's how Albini characterizes the alleged encounter:
They piled in, niggering everything in sight, motherfucking the driver, boasting into the air unbidden about getting their dicks sucked and calling everyone in the area a faggot.
We're pretty sure Albini is referring to Odd Future's alleged uses of those words, and not to anyone's inherent skin color or to the sodomizing of the bus driver's mother. (Wouldn't that be the Odd Future track to hear though?)
Albini also writes that Odd Future supposedly made rude, illicit requests for fast food stops. Adds Albini:
Interspersed with the McDonalds requests were shouted boasts about how often they masturbated and "fucked bitches nigger and got paid like a motherfucker fifty grand like a motherfucker." They continued complaining that the trip was taking too long and insisted they be fed immediately all the way to the airport, where their minder presumably fed them.
In a subsequent paragraphs, Albini directly tackles Odd Future's rape-and-murder-heavy content, citing both writer Peter Sotos and the band Killdozer as examples of "good people [making] ugly art." But before Albini draws those comparisons, he ruminates about what makes unpleasant art great art.
Ultimately the function of art is to express something and move an idea from one person to another, and the tools of that can include revulsion and discomfort. Having been in a few bands myself, thanks, I know that the uninitiated can mistake these devices as windows into the soul of the creator. Ultimately they are, of course, but not necessarily in the crude autobiographical way they are often interpreted.
To perhaps put it another way (and to paraphrase Roger Ebert): Art isn't about the what, necessarily, but more about the how. Lots of great art is about unpleasant subjects, but those subjects are also filtered through self-deprecating wit, social and political commentary, or even just a compelling narrative. (One example? Big Black's "Jordan, MN").
Yet another way to put it: Here's AV Club writer Stephen Hyden tackling the male condition in his most recent We're No. 1 column about Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak. Comparing 808s to Elvis Costello's first two albums, Hyden writes Costello's records offer a "devastating portrait" of the contradictory emotions that men experience about women. (A dichotomy that informs Ye's album too).
Here's the kicker:
What raises these albums to the highest levels of artistry—and makes them albums about misogyny rather than nasty byproducts of it—is how Costello doesn’t celebrate these feelings, he exposes and eviscerates them. He does it with typical subtly; each twist of the knife comes with a turn of phrase here and a vocal tic there, digging deeper in the flesh
Again, not the what, but the how. Which brings us back to Albini, who, while acknowledging Odd Future's right to make music the way that they want to make it, writes that them doing so doesn't engage him in the least.
... I can't make any critical assessment of Odd Future's music on its own terms, but [when] they go out of their way to make it clear that this is not a case of regular people making music about assholes, but assholes making music about being assholes[,] I have no time for that. I don't respond kindly to it when Ted Nugent does it either. If the whole thing is a put-on, a bit of Vincent Gallo life-as-theater for the benefit of whoever happens to be sitting next to them, that's no excuse. It's being an asshole about being an asshole.
Given Albini's own confrontational past (Rapeman, anyone?), perhaps these words ring hollow. To us, though, they hit the nail on the head of the Odd Future (or more accurately, the Tyler, The Creator) problem: Once Odd Future introduces their depraved world to us, they don't do anything with it. I think Goblin has its moments -- mainly in its title track and "Yonkers," the video for which is genius as a statement of purpose -- but in terms of Tyler's psychology -- why and how he does what he does -- the record is basically over once those two tracks end. The rest is a monotonous blur of "shits, fucks, niggers, bitches, faggots," and so forth. Given how the rest of Goblin pans out, is it really a surprise that they act in the way that Albini characterizes them as acting?
We emailed Odd Future's rep for comment. We've heard nothing back, but if we do, we'll update this post with a response.