2/21/2013

Damned If You Do...

NATALY DAWN
How I Knew Her
[Nonesuch-2013]

Best known as half of YouTube sensation Pomplamoose--along with fellow multi-instrumentalist Jack Conte--Dawn's solo debut is a lush collection of singer/songwriter Americana which has earned mixed reviews and a Spin magazine "Worst New Music" designation despite fitting the profile of the type of album that passes for a critical favorite these days. Of course, critical faves tend to be measured by the music and/or the artist's relationship with a certain degree of authenticity and Dawn's viral past hinders that authenticity in the eyes and ears of quite a few reviewers. The same flip-flopping folks who deem it "rockist" to evaluate popular music artists by this standard, mind you.

Something is fishy here. Why aren't the folks at Spin and other like-minded critics praising her distinct and engaging voice, the well-crafted songs, the wistful Americana? We realized we're not really crazy about the album; a conclusion based on how the songs on How I Knew Her lack the necessary pull to drag themselves up from their frequent preciousness and occasional forced quirkiness, and nothing to do with her internet past. (The title track is stellar, tho.) But something did not add up. Hmm...
It was at this point that we arrived at a 'Eureka!' moment.

It seems as if fellow critics' main beef with Dawn and her album is that instead of following her band's cute Lady GaGa and Beyonce covers and going the Carmin route--gimmicky covers on YouTube leading to a trashy Black Eyed Peas/Top 40-type career--Dawn decided to cash in her viral chips as an earnest singer/songwrit­er instead of the abominable cheesy musical theatre geek fascinated with lowest common denominator hip hop and auto tuned bullshit that is Carmin. Truth is, if this album had been made by someone plucked out of obscurity and without the stigma of internet inauthenticity, Spin and Pitchfork would be all over it. But they want their viral sensations to stay in their place and continue being their pet monkeys; never attempt to rise above anything Bieber-esque. It's like a perverse variation on the indie rock elitism of not liking an artist as soon as they become popular. Jeez...

We don't care for Dawn's musical politics (her defense of Amanda Palmer's free musicians scam was deplorable) and Conte comes across in interviews like a soulless douchebag better suited for writing beer jingles, but this album should be judged on its own merits and not based on some bullshit 21st century bias engaged in by those who have the least amount of cred in the world of music criticism. You are the ones Frank Zappa was referring to, kids, when he famously said "Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read." Try to do better, will you? You too, Nataly.

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