Welcome to Issue 64.1 of Digestable, your thrice-weekly mouthful of real things happening in the world, minus alarmist pandemic news.
Today’s news, fermented:
It’s Monday again - office closures and holiday declarations don’t mean we’ve outrun the work ahead. Here are some post-Juneteenth reads:
How to teach outside the textbook about Juneteenth
The ongoing significance of Juneteenth from Scholars for Black Lives
Also, give your money to Black people. Just do it.
A stunning summation from Kerry James Marshall:
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
We need to fucking ditch Jack Anthonoff I’m so tired my god. If you don’t know this man, he was a band member of Fun., then went on to make his own music as Bleachers and has since been the producer du jour for way too many jours. Thankfully Jack Antonoff isn’t one of these problematic abusive dude producers like Dr. Luke, Ethan Kath, et al. No, Jack exhibits another symptom of white-dude-ism which is that he produces boring, derivative albums for otherwise amazing artists and, while the artists get critiqued up and down for these less-than-great products, he slips off unscathed.
I was first made aware of our boy Jack in 2017 when three highly anticipated albums he co-produced came out at the same time: Lorde’s Melodrama, St. Vincent’s Masseduction, and Taylor Swift’s Reputation. None of these albums were by any means bad (tbf I haven’t fully listened through Reputation so I can’t say much) but they all display, in my opinion, slightly obscured and diluted versions of the artist’s former work - like you’re looking through a window at Lorde, but the window is a little cloudy and smeared with shitty Jack Antonoff production.
Lots of producers have their hallmarks and stylistic choices: Pharell loops the first beat four times to let you know it’s him and SOPHIE’s tracks immediately poke you in the eye with a distorted synth-spatula. But no one complains when they hear SOPHIE or will.i.am or RedOne on a track because their styles play with and augment the work of the primary artists rather than overshadowing and obscuring their features.
If I had to define Jack Antonoff’s production style in one word it would be “obscurity.” From what I gather he likes re-pitched unintelligible vocals (Sugarboy, Masseduction, and Sober), looped unidentifiable electronic noise (Pills, Hard Feelings), and swoopy distorted bass (every fucking track). They’re all things that could be cool but are too vague and undefined to sound like anything but noise - his ideas are there and I respect that but the execution, nah man.
Jack’s production style could easily be ruled out as a taste thing, but his true sin is much more terrible, something that no producer should ever do: he writes the same song for different artists. This came to my attention in 2017 with the three songs Liability (Lorde), New Years Day (Taylor Swift), and Happy Birthday, Johnny (St. Vincent). They’re three plodding piano ballads written to serve the same simple “emotionally grounding” role on the album. Sure piano ballads are a thing people have done forever but does it make sense for any of these women to write a piano ballad? No it fucking doesn’t! If she was trying to evoke confessional emotion, Taylor would certainly pull out a guitar, St. Vincent (also a guitarist) would turn up the reverb like on Champagne Year, and Lorde would pull out a heart wrenching stadium sing-along banger. Of course people can change and do unexpected things but the fact that this happened three times on three albums Jack was producing at the same time just seems like a lazy disservice to these fantastic musicians. He didn’t even treat the piano differently for the different tracks - it’s like they were all recorded in the same session and the same mic setup.
Okay this brings us to the reason I’m ranting today: I just listened to Lorde’s new Antonoff-produced single Solar Power and guess what? It’s a carbon fucking copy of ...At The Holiday Party, the only track I liked from St. Vincent’s recently released and Antonoff-produced album Daddy’s Home. They are both 88 beats per minute, in the key of B, with strummy guitar (played by Jack) and an extended outro. Oh and the melody of Holiday Party’s chorus is the EXACT SAME as the outro for Solar Power. With the exception of an extended pre-chorus for Holiday Party they are the same track. Don’t believe me? Here I made a recording of them playing over one another to demonstrate.
In conclusion fuck Jack Antonoff. Lorde, Taylor Swift, St. Vincent, fucking Lana Del Rey, they’re all individual artists with unique and interesting musical styles. I hate that I’m no longer excited to hear what St. V and Lorde do next because I know they have good things in their brain - but if it’s all going through a literal Jack Antonoff filter I don’t care. Fuck that guy.