Blanket Music Cultural Norms

[Hush; 2004]

Styles: folk-pop, indie pop
Others: Belle and Sebastian, M. Ward, the Decemberists

I'm ashamed to be a music critic for a lot of reasons. There's the lack of pay, the lame parties (where we all gush over the Futureheads or something), and the fat chicks/dudes we all end up marrying. But the worst part of all is the fact that I have to actually go out of my way to say Cultural Norms is NOT the Great American Album of Our Time. Can you believe this? Hush Records President Chad Crouch, the Blanket Musicmaker himself, has claimed this third album under that moniker to be an "ambitious" piece of "American pop music" and some critics are buying it (why did I put American pop music in quotations too?).

They call Chad clever. Are we really in such a state where we'll accept "Keep the prices down/ Maximize efficiency and/ Keep the prices down/ Source the products overseas" as great lyrical wisdom? So he listened to the most recent Fountains of Wayne album and read the Wall Street Journal headlines to write "Keep the Prices Down," "Back to the Grind," and "Press Conference." These lyrics hit me as Weakerthans-minus-the-personal-impact poetry. Chad can be sly; Chad can be funny. But he can't make me think about what he's really saying. I might say, "That's ambitious," but I'm not going to connect with the song on any deeper level.

Speaking of ambition, there's a lot of talk about the music itself, too. Besides enlisting friends Jenny Conlee and Chris Funk of the Decemberists to help on some tracks, Chad has tried to shake up Cultural Norms with all styles of American music: R&B, indie-pop, samba flourishes, jazz, and folk. But while genre-hopping is fun, the moves seem so calculated on this album that once again I can only whistle and say, "Is this guy trying to push the Great American Album concept down our throats or what?"

Many reviewers are quick to call this record clever because it wants to have some ideas. And ideas are good, but where is Chad Crouch coming from? After listening to this album six times, I'm not even sure if Chad likes America. There's no emotional impact. And if Chad's trying to create his own Great American Album of Our Time, he should know emotion is what has always driven American music. There's a reason why Bruce Springsteen yells as much as he sings on Born to Run. Heck, there's a reason why so many people are excited about the Arcade Fire. I just hope Chad understands someday; because he's a smart guy.

1. You Shouldn't Have Said That
2. Guernica
3. Back to the Grind
4. Keep the Prices Down
5. Solider's Story
6. Cats Corps
7. Press Conference
8. Just Us
9. I'm Fat
10. Filesharers Lament
11. Of Thee We Sing
12. Digital Pedestrians
1. You Shouldn't Have Said That
2. Guernica
3. Back to the Grind
4. Keep the Prices Down
5. Solider's Story
6. Cats Corps
7. Press Conference
8. Just Us
9. I'm Fat
10. Filesharers Lament
11. Of Thee We Sing
12. Digital Pedestrians

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