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Flight of the Conchords - Flight of the Conchords

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Artist: Flight of the Conchords

Album: Flight of the Conchords

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Apr. 22, 2008

Flight of the Conchords is essentially an album of (mostly) R&B and hip hop pastiches. If I can quote Frederic Jameson at length for a moment: “Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique style, the wearing of a stylistic mask, speech in a dead language: but it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without parody’s ulterior motive, without the satirical impulse, without laughter, without that still latent feeling that there exists something normal compared with which what is being imitated is rather comic. Pastiche is blank parody, parody that has lost its sense of humour…” (his emphasis).

The schtick is this: nerdy white guys play R&B songs ironically and rap, but you know, in a dorky way. Not for the entire album, but for an appreciable amount, enough so that the songs not adhering to this strategy are merely diversions. Thus, one step removed from a rapping granny, Flight of the Conchords in 2008 traffics in the musical equivalent of “White people do things like this and black people do things like that.” Eminem is spinning in his grave right now.

Irony only works if there is a coherent target that one is undercutting. Wonder Showzen works not because its target is kid’s shows but rather because it is using the structure to attack dogmatic religious and right wing political beliefs. The Venture Brothers are amazing not because they ridicule awful 60s cartoons or comic book conventions, but rather use those things ironically to comment on the characters they’ve created. However, the target here is at best nothing and at worst traditionally black genres of music, the slightly concealed, slightly racist sentiment being that there are kinds of music that normatively are relegated to certain groups and isn’t it funny to transgress those boundaries. Thus, they’re not parodying a song or a certain artist, but rather creating pastiches of entire musical forms without any thought about what they’re saying or doing or the cultural context they’re making the songs within. It has inspired me though to go to New Zealand and peddle my brand of humorous Aborigine joke songs and see if I can get a show on TV One. That is, assuming New Zealand also treated their native people as deplorably as Australia did and that it works as a metaphor for United States race inequality.

One of the few successful attempts I’ve seen at the “white comedy duo raps” method came from The Mighty Boosh’s first season (and also the BBC radio show). In “Tundra” while trapped in the arctic, Howard and Vince rap about the blinding whiteness of the snow, but here, the joke is what they’re saying not that they’re rapping. I feel like Flight of the Conchords could do something interesting if they embraced the absurdity of their act and didn’t stand aloof from it at an ironic distance.

By Andrew Beckerman

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