Louis XIV frontman Jason Hill knows what it’s like to be hated. In 2005, Pitchfork gave his major-label debut, The Best Little Secrets Are Kept, a pitiable 1.2. A jocular, Strokes-ian take on the classic-rock canon, Secrets hardly merited the thrashing, but that was the review’s least troublesome aspect. Not content to merely critique Secrets’ shortcomings, author Nick Sylvester ridiculed its creator.
Via a mock interview, the review imagined Hill receiving a medical checkup from “Doc Bolend,” presumably a stand-in for Marc Bolan, the late T-Rex frontman from whom Sylvester accused Louis XIV of cribbing their musical motifs.
Sylvester makes his musical objections clear—namely that Louis XIV are offensively unoriginal. But he also lobbed a few personal insults. In an imaginary quote, Hill says, “[The kids] get what they want—rock music that sounds like what they’re told the best rock music is supposed to sound like, and I get what I want—pussy sex with sweet virgins right in their dickholes.”
In other words, Hill not only makes uninspired music but does so intentionally to score with groupies. Sylvester concluded by having “Bolend” check for spinal curvature, only to discover that Hill has no spine at all.
Sylvester declined comment, but in a review of a Louis XIV show that ran in the Village Voice five months later, he denied attacking Hill personally: “I don’t know Hill, don’t profess to, and if he couldn’t handle my roundabout way of saying I think his band is destroying rock music, whose fault is that?”
Sylvester would likely argue that the Hill consulting Doc Bolend is the Hill on the album, a fictitious character he willfully inhabits to deliver his sexually charged couplets. Only one problem: Despite the glammy, regal attire and absurdly styled coiffure, Hill’s never conceded his creation is pure put-on.
And his belligerent email sent to Sylvester (lovingly reprinted in the Voice)—suggests he has a very real, personal stake in his art. “When you attack me personally, you better be ready for me to put my fucking fist down your throat,” he wrote.
The incident underscores the notion that it’s impossible to divine an artist’s motivations, and even if it were, it would be irrelevant—art doesn’t require the aid of an interpreter. If Sylvester thought the album endorsed a sexist point-of-view, fine, but by dragging the artist (real or imagined) into the fray, he shouldn’t have been surprised when Hill threatened to rearrange his teeth.
Hill has had time to cool off, and these days he sounds more amused than peeved. “I was actually more annoyed by the reaction to the review,” he says. “Pitchfork had just come into its own as being something that people would go to everyday, especially people in the music industry. Up until [the Pitchfork review], we had gotten great press. But once that review came out, I started seeing and hearing people agree with it. They were just basing their opinions on what [Pitchfork] thought.”
Indeed, a quick scan of ensuing reviews includes barbs in Entertainment Weekly, Alternative Press and Popmatters.com. That groupthink inspired the dig on the band’s latest, Slick Dogs and Ponies: “They pay more attention to press than soul.” And rather than seeking to convert detractors, Slick Dogs is an even more glam- and classic rock-indebted record. Likely future single “Air Traffic Control” is steeped in Ziggy-era Bowie-isms, and many tracks are outfitted with grandiose string arrangements, a few courtesy of Beck’s father, famed composer David Campbell. Like any good classic-rock band, Louis XIV appear to be entering their shaggy, acid-rock phase, albeit two to three albums early. It’s hardly surprising when Hill confesses he’s currently sporting a full beard.
With its heavily orchestrated song suites, Slick Dogs demonstrates that Louis XIV is more than capable of evolving from the near-pathological catchiness of Secrets. But, like its predecessor, Slick Dogs is also transparently enamored of its source material. It’s not a record likely to win Hill many new supporters, but he seems OK with that. “This is rock ’n’ roll,” he says. “If I’m ruffling feathers, then I must be doing something right.”
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