I was on the roof of my building today, in the sunshine, watching a condominium go up. It’s mostly constructed, and when it’s done it’ll reach over 80 stories into the air, topped, no doubt, by a roof with an amazing view. On my eye lever (21 stories up) were rows of identical balconies, divided in five on each floor, a section for each glass box enclosure. Someday soon these enclosures will each house zero to three people, mostly young, liberal, upper-class professionals.
These buildings have come under a great deal of criticism in my parts (Toronto) lately. They’re just tacky, and they’re forcing out the poor,.
In turn: They do indeed look like identical glass boxes, because they are indeed identical boxes. But this is what people want. I’ve lived most of my adult life in shoddy walk-ups. Those places are a fun adventure, but they suck. I’ve had leaking roofs, heat that’s controlled by stingy tenants in other units, a balcony I can’t use because it’s unsafe, places that bake in the summer and freeze in the winter, almost a dozen landlords of debatable trustworthiness and solvency, and the list go on. Yeah, those places had “character”. And wanting a place with character is a fine perspective have on life, but wanting home to just be the place you come back to and a place to (comfortably) relax when you’re not out living life is a valid perspective too. These condos are higher quality than a shady storetop and most unrenovated hundred year-old houses. Pretty much universally. I like coming home knowing that those my doorknob won’t fall off, I can sleep at night in air conditioning, and the water pressure will stay constant day to day. These places are higher quality than most of the housing around here.
Two: poor people are having to move around downtown Toronto because wealthier people want to live here, not because there are lots of places for said wealthier people to live. We can agree that housing prices are generally determined by supply and demand, yeah? Well, the demand is high because this is a good place to live. More units do not cause said price increases. You think governments should have rent controls or (even better) designate that every building must have more affordable units? Great, so do I. So get to calling your local politicians. And then every condo will provide more places for more families to live than if they weren’t there and we can all want more of them! But that won’t happen, because (and here comes the knife):
Urban condo critics tend to live in very desirable places. Places that confer high social status. I know, I’ve had my share of awesome, quirky places that impressed strangers and friends alike. And they’re upset that so many fairly normal upper-middle-class people are getting in on walking to work and staggering home from the bars and getting to say they live downtown. Well, too goddamned bad. If you want to live somewhere gritty and next to the poor, you can move to Dundas and Parliament and get yelled at by the people our system has let down. A system, by the way, that’s far more reliant on the taxes coming from those left-wing professionals than they are on liquor taxes from bohemians. Not that bohemians aren’t great, but having to keep moving is their lot; let’s not get moist eyes about it.
Besides, cities are where most of the good in the world originates, and good cities are what happens when enough density and good laws. And condos, sheer human boxes, are immense density. Five years ago, at the intersection where that 80-something story building is now going up, there were maybe ten people living there. Every night two of them had sex. One of them worked on a song, one of them on a book. Every three nights one of them cried. Every four months of them fell in love, Some nights nobody missed a dead loved one. Some months nobody worked for themselves, or made a new friend. Some years nobody saved a life. Now? You know where I’m going with this. The rare is now commonplace, the common now super-duper-common. A place worth a chapter will soon be worth an encyclopedia. And not just that, but these are the people we need more of. Not all of them, but most: take public transit, support gay marriage, don’t oppose abortion, vote only halfway with their wallets. And they’re better looking than average, those condo people. Look in the windows and see human accomplishment, see how we have conquered the ground! Someday we may fall, but for today we have grown up to be a beautiful woman! Up with society! Up with medicine and commerce and the bustling city! Up with condominiums!
We’re all designed to protect our egos, often at great cost to our ability to perceive reality. When faced with painful truths (usually about ourselves), we’ll make like hamsters and run our wheels until we’re exhausted, making up elaborate reasons why we’re really not so bad, so we can conclude that it’s not our fault: “Tequila makes me do crazy things!” or “It’s all that damned affirmative action” or a talking snake in a tree, when the reality is that we’re all (to varying degrees) weak. But it’s hard to accept that we’re irresponsible, or unqualified, or disobedient, or unable to remember why he started the paragraph. But that was a cool bit about the bible, wasn’t it? I was all like “yesssssss” internally when I thought of it as an example.
But when we’re supposed to like something and we’re not sure why, or supposed to dislike something and not sure why, it’s easy to dismiss our cognitive dissonance by dismissing said something as property of one of the three brow tranches. Oh man, I just lost my paragraph direction again! Good thing nobody reads my website!
The point I was planning on getting to was that some people (mostly critics) are high-brows, but want to be seen as unpretentious, and express them by examining and adulating ultra low-brow stuff, while hating the most on the stuff that’s most of the way up the chain. At least, just below wherever they are. And that’s wrong, but not only for the obvious reason that art (or food or whatever) should be judged on its merits, which are only objective when I make a judgement on them, but because we’re being dishonest to ourselves: Philip Glass is good minimalism, Seinfeld is good middle-brow humour, Family Guy is good low-brow humour, and Beyonce is good dance-pop. Now, I don’t like dance-pop, and I’m not going to pretend I do, and I don’t care if people think I’m pretentious. Fuck, I am pretentious, but I do my best to like whatever’s good, and if someone else likes Edgar Varese or Cheers or Nickelback it doesn’t make them bad or wrong, it just means they’re not my friends (kidding kidding kidding). But if we want to be happy we should try to be honest about what we like, otherwise you’re looking in the mirror and blaming all women because you like One Direction condominium mason jars and talking snakes, or something.
This album’s okay. I know that I’m supposed to fucking love early Magnetic Fields, but come on. Bunch o’ keyboardy pop songs, some of which don’t even pop. Three fucking song titles that mention the moon. And really, really simple sentiments all over the damned place. Buddy, Merritt, Uncle Steve, guy from The 6ths: you can’t claim (lyrically) that you’re over rhyming moon and June on the same album that you have songs with choruses like “You said good night / But you meant goodbye / Now our love has died / This is why I cry” or “You and me and the moon / You and me and the moon / You and me and the moon.”
In fairness, a couple songs here actually feature guitars (or keyboards set on geetar), and, unsurprisingly, those are the best things here. Aside, from the second straight album, for the excellent bookends, the creative lullaby “The Dreaming Moon” and the catchy, 80s-y “Famous”. But while love songs are neat-o, it helps to have more than one kernel (or colonel, for Americans) of an idea per song. Unless you’re gonna write, like, 69 songs per album and fill them all with humour and cleverness, but that’s too silly an idea to contemplate. One idea in a Stannis-serious song like “Don’t Look Away” or “The Desperate Things You Make Me Do” is not gonna yank my crank, even if you throw in a few cute references to gayness (which still make me sigh happily a little).
Got to love the Merrittman, but the adulation seems to be based on his promise, and this is the most Travis Snider-y of all of his early albums. Fine enough, but try a little harder, or don’t release three albums in two years. This album’s a tacky, mid-sized building in an expensive part of town. And those damned keyboards sound like Aqua. Stupid 90s.
5 / 10