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September 22, 2014

So long, Robot

Goodbye, Robot

So here we are in late September, and we're just getting around to writing about this year's Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit, or TUSH. Usually we try to identify this song in mid-July based on personal observation and cultural saturation, before the fall begins and it's obvious to everyone what song will stand as the one everyone knew and sorta liked that summer.

I guess it's "Fancy". But I came to that conclusion by looking at radio and sales charts and being aware that there's an Australian rapper called Iggy Azalea who people like now, and not really because I heard that song every time I was out over the past three months. This is because I don't go out much these days, and my kid's favorite playground doesn't pipe in Top 40 (thank God.)

My commentary about the video is coming months late, too. Here it is: I love that the video is a remake of all the best scenes in Clueless, but do 17 year-olds of today actually know and love Clueless, which came out while I was in college? I feel like my generation is the intended audience for the "Fancy" video, which strikes me as a misjudgment, since I don't really like the song. It's not a song for me, it's for people who are more into current pop culture, and are who are younger and go out more.

So this is a roundabout way of saying that it's time for this Robot to say goodbye. I'm not sufficiently in touch with TV, music, pop culture, and the peculiarities of everyday life to keep up a blog anymore, so I'll leave it to those who are.

These days I write about movies on Letterboxd, so come find me there. And hopefully we already admire each other's baby pictures on Facebook.

These 12 years have been fun. Thanks for reading!

July 25, 2013

TUSH 2013

Get Lucky, Daft Punk, TUSH 2013

It's late July, so this year's Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit, or TUSH, should already be out there, everywhere, an indelible, unavoidably catchy presence in your life.

So here it is: TUSH 2013 is "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk.

I suppose there's a potential title-holder in the other hit song to feature Pharrell, Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines", but that song has several strikes against it:

  • "Blurred Lines" came out all the way back in March, while "Get Lucky"'s release date of April is closer to the ideal early-summer TUSH debut.
  • "Get Lucky" is groovy, irresistibly catchy, features Nile Rodgers on guitar, and is 1,000 times better than "Blurred Lines".

So even though "Blurred Lines" is actually at the top of the charts right now, "Get Lucky" meets more of the classic TUSH criteria: I hear it more often, and I like it a lot more. Random people polled by New York Magazine apparently agree--GL beat BL in a person-on-the-street survey conducted in both Times Square and at 125th Street, which is close enough of a cross-section of America for me.

This is the second year in a row that a non-American has grasped the TUSH. In recent years, it's been someone like Black Eyed Peas or LMFAO, but last year it was "Call Me Maybe" by Canadian singer Carly Whatever Whatever. It's even more audacious that this year's TUSH was generated by a couple of French techno robots.

I for one support the international-robotification of the TUSH!

Note: Canadian 80's rock band Loverboy should claim a little bit of credit for "Get Lucky"'s TUSH victory because of their 1981 album of the same name. This album features enduring cheeseball classic "Working For the Weekend" and, in my opinion, the greatest cover art of all time:

Loverboy's Get Lucky

November 20, 2012

Hitchcock, the Underdog Auteur

Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock

The first movie director I ever heard of was Alfred Hitchcock. Actually, before I knew there were such things as movie directors, I knew who Alfred Hitchcock was. I used to watch reruns of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" on TV, and I assumed he must have written all those stories until my mom told me he was actually a director, not a writer. Then I heard that Alfred Hitchcock's movies were suspenseful and scary and had lots of murder in them, then I watched Vertigo and Rear Window, and then I thought maybe I should spend the rest of my life watching as many movies as possible.

The name "Alfred Hitchcock" is probably more widely known and recognized than any of his movie titles, and it's been that way since the 1950's. Pretty amazing! That's why it's so strange to see him as he's presented in this new movie, Hitchcock, as a scrappy underdog fighting the studio system to make his radical self-financed experimental art film, Psycho. This is where the movie is best: the scenes about the genius and sweat that went into making Psycho, from the original novel's inspiration by real-life murderer Ed Gein, to the money talks with the studio heads, the bickering with the prigs in the Production Code office over violence and nudity, casting, shooting the shower scene, editing, the score. All the technical stuff is fantastic.

Unfortunately, a lot of the movie deals with Hitchcock's relationship with his wife and collaborative partner, Alma Reville. She's played by Helen Mirren, who it goes without saying is fantastic, but their petty jealousies are nowhere near as interesting as the creative spark at the core of their relationship. Alma was Hitchcock's main collaborator in everything he did, and was already a successful writer and editor while Alfred was still learning his way around a set. (The Times has a great article about Alma in the two recent biopics about the Hitchcocks.)

Even though Psycho was massively popular and pretty much changed our definition of horror movies, it was seen as a risky proposition at the time. One of the reasons Hitchcock is so good at portraying Alfred Hitchcock as an unconventional indie hero is its director: Sacha Gervasi, who's only other feature is a great documentary about a metal band that never quite made it big, Anvil: The Story of Anvil.

Unlike Alfred Hitchcock, Anvil really are underdogs, admired by superstars of rock like Lars Ulrich and Slash, but still plugging away without major success, working cruddy day-jobs and going on depressingly mismanaged tours like an unfunny version of Spinal Tap. Sacha Gervasi calls himself "England's #1 Anvil fan", so this guy knows his lovable losers. I'm really impressed that he captured that same hardcore, outsider spirit in a movie that includes scenes of Alfred Hitchcock writing $900,000 checks and tossing back buckets of foie gras.

August 9, 2012

Next celebrity to get weirdly naked in a Lars von Trier movie: Shia LaBeouf

Shia LaBeouf in Sigur Ros video

Today we learned about an exciting new collaboration between two people who are into nudity that's kind of arty, but if we're being honest, is mostly just freaky and unsettling: Lars von Trier and Shia LaBeouf. Von Trier is known for emotionally apocalyptic movies involving gang rape, genital mutilation, and the end of the world, and Shia LaBeouf is a super rich and famous action movie star whose current relationship with celebrity is either estranged or outright hostile.

LaBeouf's latest role is in an arty, inexplicable 8-minute Sigur Ros video for an instrumental song, in which he appears totally naked, bearded, and getting busy with a blonde (above). Clearly this is an actor who's not afraid to get naked in front of the camera for a director who's into taking risks and/or being nuts.

Enter: Lars von Trier's new movie, Nymphomaniac! Shia LaBeouf is in talks to appear in this movie, which will follow title character Charlotte Gainsbourg through a lifetime of sexual exploits, including during completely inappropriate ages, such as infancy. There will apparently be both "hardcore" and "softcore" versions filmed, though I sense that the softcore version will be no less bizarre and perverse.

In the meantime, Shia LaBeouf will appear in some movies that don't include full-frontal, including Robert Redford's The Company You Keep (assuming Redford hasn't made a radical genre shift since The Legend of Bagger Vance.)

June 14, 2012

Early TUSH considerations

Call Me Maybe

It's only June, so the 2012 Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit, or TUSH, might still be a twinkle in The-Dream's eye, but some early activity in pop song market saturation is requiring our attention.

You've heard "Call Me Maybe". It's undeniably catchy, it's been on TV, and its spin-off videos and cover versions (The Roots and Jimmy Fallon, Bieber et al, NPR reporters) are getting even more attention than the original video. You probably can't remember the name of the Canadian teenager with the Deschanelian bangs that sings it (Carly something something, right?) but for now, that's incidental. We might have the makings of a TUSH on our hands.

Personally, I like my TUSHes to possess at least some passing whiff of soul or funk or something besides cute Canadian bubblegum. Also, the song was released way back in February--a classic TUSH bursts decisively onto the scene and is suddenly, unavoidably everywhere, instead of creeping up slowly on world domination. But even though it's taken 16 weeks to get there, "Call Me Maybe" is now at the top of the charts. New evidence suggests that the song has already burrowed its way into our psyches, because it's started generating its own references to the events that define our times:

Call Me Maybe Facebook face-eating joke

Most of the songs on the Billboard 100 have been kicking around for months (Gotye is still up there?!) so we're due for some spankin' fresh TUSH action. Carly whatever whatever's days as Queen of the TUSH may be numbered, but she's got it for now.

May 5, 2012

MCA's other hugely successful career

Adam Yauch at Tribeca Film Festival

You can look at Facebook, Twitter, and all global media to witness the explosion of love that poured out yesterday when the news hit that MCA had died of cancer. We all love The Beastie Boys, and it seems like hardly anyone knew how sick Adam Yauch really was, or that he was in serious decline. I can't think of another recent death that my generation felt this personally.

Beyond his Beastie status, Yauch was also a major force in indie film. In just four years his distribution company Oscilloscope Pictures (a division of his larger company, Oscilloscope Laboratories that also produces movies and music) has put out a whole lot of awesome movies, including some of the best things I've seen in recent years.

Here's the whole list of movies they put out--highlights include Exit Through the Gift Shop, Wendy and Lucy, Meek's Cutoff, Treeless Mountain, Dark Days, The Messenger, his own directorial debut Gunnin' For That #1 Spot, and Bellflower. I haven't seen that last one, but this EW article includes an interview with the writer/director of Bellflower, who spent time with Yauch last year when the movie was coming out:

I've hung out with him a couple of times. He's awesome. He took me to go meet Jack White when I was in Nashville. I was like, 'What the hell has my life come to? This is crazy!' Adam, oddly, has a lot in common with me. When I met him he was like, 'Were you one of those kids who used to make bombs?' I was like, 'Yes. This one time I almost blew my friend up.' And he was like, 'I did the same thing!'

When Criterion released a DVD anthology of Beastie Boys videos (with many directed by Yauch under the name Nathaniel Hornblower), Adam Yauch listed his Top 10 Criterion Collection movies, with funny non-sequitur commentary that almost (but not quite) hides the fact that he was a major movie buff.

Also related to his film career, here's a funny, goofily defensive proto-Borat attack letter he wrote as Hornblower to the NY Times in 2004 in response to their review of the B Boys' "Ch-Check It Out" video. This letter's having a second life since yesterday; the Times reviewer, Stephanie Zacharek, tweeted that he was right.

Here's MCA crashing the VMA's in 1994 when "Everybody Hurts" won best video instead of "Sabotage". He's in character as Nathaniel Hornblower, Swiss filmmaker, both pre-empting and outdoing Kanye and Sacha Baron Cohen. He comes on at 2:48.

February 17, 2012

More from the Linky

Jeremy Lin Hey Girl

The Robot Linky over there on the right of the screen is still having technical problems (how 'bout supporting an RSS feed for Plus, huh, Google?) so here are a few things from the past few days:

  • Inevitable: Jeremy Lin Hey Girl Tumblr.
  • A good piece about the ongoing battle between Presbyterian minister Jane Spahr (an old family friend of mine) and her church. Spahr was the first out lesbian minister leading a congregation and has been marrying same-sex couples within the church for years. She's an inspiring crusader for gay rights in a religious context, and has always spoken about marrying same-sex couples within the church as her spiritual calling, which pretty much means the Presbyterian church is arguing that God is wrong.
  • Nicolas Cage has been talking for years about his innovative acting technique he calls "nouveau-shamanic" and the rest of us would probably call "mental", but now he's comparing his inexplicable career choices to Led Zeppelin, which I hope means he's going to play a Norse hermit blues guitarist wizard soon.
  • Ken Jennings' response to yesterday's "aspirin between the knees" attempt at folksy contraception humor by Foster Friess that became an instant self-parody:

    I call b.s., BOTH my kids have been conceived with an aspirin between my knees. (Long story, pharmacy-themed roleplay.)

[tx, Cushie!]

February 15, 2012

Britney is indestructible

Britney in Chaotic

The Robot Linky feed isn't working today, so here are a few little things about politics and Factory Records and Britney Spears:

  • Over at the AV Club, Nathan Rabin continues his "My World of Flops" series with a look at the brief, unwatchable reality TV show that Britney Spears created during her ill-fated romance with Kevin Federline, "Chaotic". This "Flops" series is a continuation of Rabin's "My Year of Flops" in which he takes a fresh look at a movie (or TV show, or album) that was a commercial and critical failure, and considers why it flopped. Sometimes he finds heretofore unacknowledged value in the flops, which is not the case with his review of "Chaotic", possibly the worst TV show ever made.

    Rabin comes away hating Kevin Federline with such intensity and venomous rage it's almost worth reading just for that. But his analysis of the disaster that Britney was unwittingly getting herself into, in the form of a marriage and subsequent breakup that was so awful it made her literally insane and probably almost killed her, is the interesting part. If Britney could survive being married to someone as horrible and parasitic as Kevin Federline, he argues, she can survive anything.

    Here's an excerpt:

    [The show] captures the bizarre, counterintuitive power imbalance at the heart of Spears and Federline's relationship. Spears may be the world-famous, multi-millionaire sex symbol ogled and desired by tens of millions, but Federline is the one with all the power in the relationship. In "Chaotic", Spears looks to Federline for the approval, validation, and affection she gets constantly from the entire world, but he's able to control and manipulate her by strategically withholding them. In her mind, she's the lucky one. She's the one dating an older, wiser, more sophisticated man who's kind enough to let her experience the benefit of his wisdom.
  • In excavating the old bank that will be the site of his new restaurant in Manchester, Jamie Oliver stumbled on some Joy Division master tapes in a safety deposit box. [!?!?] Whoa! What's on them? Are there any new songs? Covers of "Louie, Louie"? Was it Factory Records founder Tony Wilson's safety deposit box? I worry we'll never get the follow-up this story deserves.
  • With the camps pretty much over, the Occupy movement is looking at one-day protests and actions, which I think is great--this has to be about something more than camping in public spaces. But a story today reports a planned event for February 29th: "Shut Down the Corporations Day". Um. I want to get behind this movement, but moronic non-strategies like this make it hard.
  • Kraftwerk is coming to MoMA! Ralf is going to do a series of 8 shows, one for each of their albums. Cool.
  • And if you didn't find Romney's insistence that he is "severely conservative" creepy enough, how about this: he mistreats dogs. Dogs Against Romney is doing two protests this week. If it takes stories about dog abuse for people to think twice about voting for Romney instead of his policy ideas, that's fine by me.

February 13, 2012

When Abraham Lincoln Comes Around

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

A new trailer came out for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that isn't that remarkable, except in two ways: it's strangely humorless and po-faced, like the movie itself is completely unaware that it's titled "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter". And it uses Johnny Cash's menacingly biblical spoken word section of "When The Man Comes Around" as the soundtrack.

Johnny Cash released "The Man Comes Around" in 2002, and it was one of the last songs he ever wrote. I don't know if you've noticed this too, but this song gets used in movies and TV shows A LOT. I understand why it's become the go-to soundtrack choice for horror movies or any apocalypse-themed entertainment form. It's like a more poetic version of the (pretend) Bible verse that Samuel L. Jackson pulls out in Pulp Fiction: in Jules' words, it just sounds like some cold-blooded shit to say to a motherfucker.

So here's Johnny Cash quoting Revelations in the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter trailer. Here he is again in the excellent opening credits sequence in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. And in the season 1 finale of the short-lived "Terminator" TV show, and in a (fan-produced) trailer for season 3 of "The Walking Dead". Any movie or TV show in the sci-fi/horror genre that involves a day of reckoning and/or the undead, this song fits so perfectly that producers probably need to stop using it for the next 10 years or so. Stick it in the penalty box along with the all-time champion of irritating soundtrack ubiquity, Jeff Buckley's cover of "Hallelujah".

I hope the Lincoln movie is goofier and more fun than the trailer makes it look--two hours of a solemn presidential hunk in a stovepipe hat screaming and swinging axes around in slow-motion sounds like undead tedium.

January 5, 2012

Myanmar gets its own manufactured girl group

Me N Ma Girls and The Runaways

If one requirement of a country's membership in modern, industrial society is its construction of a pop group whose youthful members were recruited and assembled by a group of producers and financiers, then welcome to the club, Myanmar! Cherie Currie and Baby Spice will show you around.

The Times has a feature on synthetic pop girl-group Me N Ma Girls (get it?), made up of five young women who were identified through a series of ads looking for girls with "energy and magnetic attraction," according to their manager Nicole May, an Australian dancer and graphic designer.

They seem to be the country's very first girl group, and though they haven't had real financial success yet, they have big dreams:

"I want this band to be famous and globally recognized. I want this band to hit Hollywood!" said Su Pyae Mhu Eain, a band member who studied zoology, specifically fish and shrimp, for her bachelor's degree. Her stage name is Cha Cha.

Cha Cha isn't the only member of Me N Ma Girls with an education to fall back on in case Hollywood doesn't work out. All five members have gone to college, with degrees in chemistry, math, Russian, and computer science. They might have easier post-pop careers than The Runaways (above), who were recruited by manager Kim Fowley before they'd had a chance to graduate from high school (and were, incidentally, huge in Asia.)

You can listen to their songs on Soundcloud, which are blandly produced, but offer the chance to hear young women rapping in Burmese, something you don't hear everyday. Like a lot of pop groups from non-Anglophone countries, they also sing in English, including lines from one of their catchiest songs, "Festival": "Hey you! Are you happy? You want some?" Here's the video, featuring the girls ecstatically partying down at an outdoor festival and lounging around a swimming pool while wearing the kind of long, demure sundresses that I think you'd only see in a girl-group video produced within an oppressive military regime.

November 21, 2011

Muppet Domination

Muppets Twilight poster

The world is bracing itself for the explosion of Muppet adoration that's going to burst all over everything in an avalanche of felt and chicken feathers when The Muppets opens on Wednesday. I thought I'd point out a few things about the funny and ingeniously creative marketing campaign, which has been so good it makes me a little worried that the movie can't possibly live up to my expectations.

The parody trailers. My favorite is "The Pig With the Froggy Tattoo", a funny take on the greatest trailer I've seen all year, the one for David Fincher's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake that still gets me so revved up I want to hurl a golf club at a serial rapist every time I see it. They also came out with a pretty good Bollywood one a week or two ago.

This morning NPR's Susan Stamberg did a good interview with some Muppeteers about the technical aspects of their work (lots of squatting, no CGI) and some of the voice actors about their characters. The funniest part is a segment with Muppet captain Bill Barretta, who does the voice for Rawlf, the Swedish Chef, and new character Pepe the Prawn. He based Pepe's outrageous accent (which I assumed was Cajun) on his wife's Spanish aunt: "She only spoke in statements. 'Iz a black shirt, OK. Come on, Beulah, we go to the mall, OK.' That's what she said all the time: 'OK,' at the end of everything."

Over the weekend, the Times released a video of Bret McKenzie, of "Flight of the Conchords" fame, singing his Muppets theme song "Life's a Happy Song" with Kermit--if the movie itself is this sweet and unpredictable and weird ("Life's a taco!") it's going to be as good as we all hope.

But the real question while watching all the ads: What about Frank Oz? The voice of Kermit hasn't been Jim Henson since he died in 1990--it's been Steve Whitmire since then, and he comes pretty close to the original.

But Frank Oz is alive and well. He was also, I just learned, writing his own Muppet movie script when Disney went forward with the Jason Segel-written one. Oz decided not to be part of the movie, saying he doesn't like Segel's script: "I don't think they respected the characters." Other veteran Muppeteers seem to agree, and some said they thought about taking their names off the movie.

You know what really bugged them? Fozzie's fart shoes. They're featured loudly in the trailers. "We wouldn't do that," a veteran Muppeteer said, "it's too cheap."

I agree, fart jokes aren't exactly Muppet orthodoxy, though I guess you could argue that Fozzie's always making bad dumb jokes. I still have faith.

November 9, 2011

Now R. Kelly has an autobiography

The title and cover of R. Kelly's autobiography were just released. This is it:

R. Kelly's Soulacoaster

Kelly announced that he was writing this book two years ago, because he was "tired of being misunderstood." Finally, we'll get a chance to hear straight from the man himself (and his co-writer) about his protracted court case for having sex with and peeing on an underage girl, what was happening with that midget ("Midget! Midget! Midget!") in his hip hopera opus "Trapped in the Closet", his illegal marriage to/impregnation of a 15 year-old Aaliyah, and his forthcoming album "Black Panties".

About the title, Soulacoaster. It's everything we've come to expect from Mr. Kelly: nonsensical, grandiose, funny, and painful. It's so far removed from having any meaning that I don't think you could really call it a metaphor. The photo makes R. Kelly look simultaneously like an egomaniac and a reluctant star. Like, does he want all those microphones to be there? Or is he angstily dismissing them, like, he's gotta get off this crazy Soulacoaster? Does he think he's Jesus in Ray-Bans?

Well, the book comes out next week, and R. Kelly is a born quote machine--one of my favorites, from 2004: "In life, you have people that love to party. That's me. People that love God. That's me. People that love sex. That's me. People that love people. That's me. And people that make mistakes. That's me also." So get ready for an avalanche of breathless excerpting all over the internet.

November 4, 2011

GWAR and mainstream media

GWAR guitarist

Now that the heyday of the PMRC is behind us, the only time you're likely to see an article about a band like GWAR in a paper like the New York Times is when one of their members is arrested for a heinous violent crime, or dies. Sadly, GWAR lost its guitarist of the last ten or so years, Cory Smoot, yesterday when he was mysteriously found dead on the tour bus. Cause of death isn't known yet, but the guy was only 34 years old.

As tragic as this news is, it's a wonderful opportunity to see the mainstream media try to explain it to its readership, which comprises a lot of people who are unfamiliar with the satirical heavy metal genre.

From the Times' piece:

Mr. Smoot, 34, joined the band in 2002, taking over the outlandish role of Flattus Maximus that had been played by other guitarists in the band’s long history. He also produced the group's last two albums—"Lust in Space" and "Bloody Pit of Horror," both on the Metal Blade label. On stage he wore a grotesque red mask, foam dinosaur-head shoulder pads and reptile feet.

GWAR was formed in Richmond, Va., in the mid-1980s and is known for its sci-fi costumes, raunchy lyrics and graphic stage performances, often touching on political and morally taboo themes. Its shows sometimes include phony decapitations and disembowlments of people wearing the masks of public figures. The theatrical conceit of the group is that they are intergalactic warriors, descended from aliens stranded in Antarctica who came to Earth to turn humans into sex slaves.

Thank you, newspaper of record, for publishing that last sentence.

The Washington Post includes an overview of GWAR's costumes,

As Flattus Maximus, Smoot wore shoulder pads made out of dinosaur heads, and a red Cro-Magnon skull. Other GWAR members' costumes are equally elaborate: Lead singer Oderus Urungus (played by Dave Brockie) wears a horned barbarian costume, and Balsac the Jaws of Death (played by Mike Derks) wears hooves and a mask shaped like a giant bear trap.

then they go even further, quoting subjective descriptions of attending a GWAR concert from 2004 to help its readers experience the magnitude of this loss:

While the band ground out such classics as "Apes of Wrath," "Horror of Yig" and "Biledriver," the audience was treated to such Caligulan diversions as a woman in a bikini breathing fire, a pope doll being savaged by a large singing Tyrannosaurus rex named Gor-Gor, and a pair of bondage slaves flogging each other with the bloody entrails torn from a figure resembling the president of the United States.

And Slate made a cool short video about the news, featuring gloriously apocalyptic footage of GWAR videos and shows.

RIP, Mr. Maximus. We bow our Cro-Magnon skulls in your honor (and really, really wish we'd gone to a GWAR concert while you were alive.)

November 2, 2011

Justin Bieber's paternity suit, as reported by the girl's grandfather

Justin Bieber

The day has arrived: Justin Bieber's been hit with his very first paternity suit and, according to the AV Club, "is a man now." He's also getting mental high-fives from Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Lil Wayne, Tiger Woods, Mel Gibson, and Steven Soderbergh. Welcome to the club!

There aren't many surprises to this one (he denies even meeting her, girl says it lasted a mere 30 seconds--hey, he was a busy then-16 year-old with places to be!)

But my favorite part of the story is that some reporter wrote up an interview with the girl's grandfather. A 20 year-old woman in LA says she had backstage sex with Justin Bieber and gave birth to his son. The world wants to know: what does her grandfather think?

Here's what the grandfather Eddie Markhouse thinks, a beautiful example of how people have nothing but wonderful things to say about their family members even when they're in the news for allegedly having sex with underage pop stars backstage: "I don't know the whole story. But, from what I understood, she met him at a concert and he sent two security guards down off of the stage to bring her backstage to meet him. She said they partied, had some drinks and they indulged in sex … She's basically an honest good person. She's got a big heart. She's a good kid and she loves this baby."

October 13, 2011

Farmers, Cowboys, and Karen O

Karen O

I thought about using the photo above of Karen O, singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and legendary hellion of live performer, as a Who'dat?™ last week, because I never would have recognized her with that new, New York Times-photo-shoot-appropriate haircut and sensible makeup, and without beer poured all over herself.

But now she's back in the news: she recorded a cover of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson's "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys", a song I really love. Her minimalist version is sort of atmospheric and spooky with that cracking voice of hers, and it's good.

The odd thing is that she recorded it for Chipotle, which uses it in a video connected to its new foundation, Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, that's going to give money to sustainable agriculture and healthy eating organizations and The Nature Conservancy and groups like that. Which is nice enough, I guess.

They released a beautifully shot video to go with the Karen O song, about three kids who break into an old abandoned farm house at night and walk around tearing stuff up and jumping on the beds before it dawns on them that this used to be somebody's home, and family farms are closing, industrial agriculture is bad for America, maybe we should read more of Mark Bittman's columns even when they involve confusing dissections of the Farm Bill, etc. It was made by David Altobelli, who also made some good videos for School of Seven Bells and M83.

Here's the video:

Does anyone else see a problem here? Using a song about cowboys to support farmers? Do the people at Chipotle not possess even a passing familiarity with the Great American Songbook, or at least popular high school musicals? As is clearly described in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends" from Oklahoma!, farmers and cowboys hate each other's guts [video]! During this number in the musical, a huge dance-fight breaks out between farmers and cowboys that stops only when Aunt Eller fires a gun in the air and then forces each warring Oklahoman faction to sing cordially to each other at gunpoint.

Farmers and Cowmen in Oklahoma!

Despite the Oklahoma! indiscretion, the Karen O song is nice, and if you go to Chipotle in costume on Halloween you can get $2 burritos and make a contribution to Farm Aid.

August 22, 2011

Jerry Leiber wrote the hits

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller

Jerry Leiber (right), the lyricist of the famed songwriting duo Leiber and Stoller, died today at age 78. Leiber and Stoller wrote loads of the great R&B songs recorded in the 1950's and '60's, and you could argue that they were responsible for rhythm and blues crossing over from black performers and audiences to Elvis, white audiences, and everybody in the world.

I love lots of songs by Leiber and Stoller, but my favorite might be The Coasters' "Down in Mexico", which is featured in a great scene from Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof", the second half of the undervalued Grindhouse.

Here's the whole 7 minute scene, featuring a dazzlingly menacing Kurt Russell, which leads up to the greatest lap dance ever performed in flip-flops, by Vanessa Ferlito. "Down in Mexico" and the accompanying dance start at 4:25 if you want to skip ahead.

A few other Leiber and Stoller favorites: The Exciters' irrepressible "Tell Him", Big Mama Thornton's original 1952 version of "Hound Dog", Elvis's pep talk for nerdy girls everywhere "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care", and the Coasters' tremendously fun "Youngblood".

August 12, 2011

Jani Lane and Cherry Pie

Jani Lane from Warrant

The lead singer of 80's hair metal band Warrant, Jani Lane, was found dead in a Comfort Inn room in the Valley yesterday. 47 years old. Cause of death hasn't been determined yet, but he had problems with alcohol and was in jail last year for DUI.

Like a lot of people my age, I watched the video for "Cherry Pie" several thousand times in the early 90's on MTV. Like a lot of songs from the glam metal era, it is not good, but it's indelibly catchy and uncomfortably memorable, the kind of song that will probably seep into your consciousness for no reason on a regular basis for the rest of your life. Band members say it was written in 15 minutes on a pizza box as an afterthought, when the label said they needed a hit for the album.

The level of blatant sexual innuendo in the lyrics is still a tiny bit shocking to me, even now. Maybe because I was an easily embarrassed 15 year-old when it came out? The song is 100% consistent in its themes and structure and is about only one thing: the singer doing it with his hot, probably underage girlfriend.

The album cover is a perfectly literal visual translation of the idiom suggested by the title, and still makes me laugh, gasp, and roll my eyes all at the same time.

Cherry Pie

My favorite verse:

Swingin' in the livin' room, swingin' in the kitchen
Most folks don't 'cause they're too busy bitchin'
Swingin' in there 'cause she wanted me to feed her
So I mixed up the batter and she licked the beater

[blush]

The other notable thing is Jani Lane's remark about "Cherry Pie" on a VH1 show about metal: "I could shoot myself in the fucking head for writing that song."

Jani did get to marry the girl in the video, Bobbie Brown (which might be the name that best captures the feeling of the late 80's/early 90's, along with Tawny Kitaen.) The video, which is both tame and terrible, was banned by Canada's Much Music for being too sexist (cue Nigel: what's wrong with being sexy?)

Pitchfork has more details on Lane's life in and out of the band, his recent appearance on "Celebrity Fit Club", and tour with the beleaguered Great White. But the sad thing is, when everyone hears about his death today, the first thing they'll think about is "Cherry Pie". RIP, Jani.

August 8, 2011

Another bum TUSH year

Katy Perry and Adele

It's that time again. I've been on the road for weeks, traveling the country on a mission of cultural exploration, listening to passing car stereos and piped music in convenience stores across the land, trying to identify the Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit of 2011!

This hasn't been much of a fun conversation for the last couple of years. In 2010, I lamely tried to deny the undeniable "California Gurls" juggernaut, because I can't stand Katy Perry and it's a terrible song without even a glimmer of anything real or funky or good. It's light and catchy, but not particularly fun.

Instead, I claimed that last year's TUSH was Cee-Lo's wonderful "Fuck You", which came out in late August and had every single quality that makes a TUSH a TUSH, except the part about being ubiquitous. But! That came later. By last fall, "Fuck You" was unavoidably overplayed, thanks to "Glee" and Gwyneth. I called it! (Three months early.)

The year before, the TUSH was the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling". I'm pretty sure I was right about that one, because I still hear this song all the time. I'm not happy about this.

This year, we've got a couple of non-compelling options: Katy Perry (again) with "Last Friday Night" from that same damn album of hers that came out an entire f'ing year ago (and is probably going to break Michael Jackson's record of generating five #1 singles. Barf.)

It's a song about partying, so at least it's in the TUSH ballpark, but, like last year's hit, it's irritating as hell. I hear it far too often. Shouldn't we be at least a little bit happy every time we hear the current TUSH? She's releasing a remix with Missy Elliott, which lends "Last Friday Night" some TUSH cred, since Missy's own "Get Ur Freak On" was the 2001 TUSH.

The other big contender is Adele's gigantic hit "Rolling in the Deep". This one has the ubiquity part cold. I heard it at a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming, I heard it at a family picnic when my teenage cousins' cover band started their backyard set with it. It's everywhere. Friends tell me just about everyone they know likes it, no matter what their usual preferences are.

So maybe it's just me, because I'm not wild about it. It's a downer, which makes it a clumsy fit for a TUSH. It also came out in November of last year, though didn't hit #1 on the charts until late May, where it stayed for 7 weeks.

A few things about Adele that bug me: she owes a lot of her success to Amy Winehouse, who tragically failed to overcome her addictions, but was a far superior artist. Adele may not like the comparison, and it's possible that she wasn't directly influenced by Amy Winehouse, but her career probably wouldn't exist if "Back to Black" hadn't sold millions of copies.

And did you hear her rich-person rant about having to pay taxes earlier this summer? Awful.

There's also this song, "Party Rock Anthem", by uncle-nephew duo LMFAO which is currently at #1 in sales and radio play. Have you heard it? It's like six months old and intended to be a joke, I'm pretty sure. At this point, I don't care, it's ridiculous and fun, so if I start hearing it at Duane Reade or the Korean noodle lunch place on 48th St, it'll be a perfectly serviceable TUSH.

We've certainly got some ubiquitous songs this summer, but there's a certain laziness in identifying the season with songs that have been kicking around since last year. If I'm missing some great, sunshiny tune out there, please let me know!

July 7, 2011

Let's make Phife Dawg some money

Michael Rapaport and Phife Dawg

I can tell you exactly what I'll be doing tomorrow when the office closes: heading to 42nd St to watch Michael Rapaport's A Tribe Called Quest documentary Beats Rhymes & Life [official site]. I bet a lot of other people are going to do that, too, for the following reasons: it's the maybe the only feature-length documentary about a single hip-hop group; it's about one of the greatest groups ever; and the drama surrounding the movie and the group's vocal lack of support for it have just about eclipsed the movie itself.

The arguing about the movie seems to be mostly over at this point, especially since both Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad attended the screening at Tribeca and Ali said he was "representing Q-Tip" and that they were all happy with the finished version. Good thing for director Michael Rapaport, the world's biggest Tribe fan, who at times sounded like he was coming unhinged trying to get this movie out. In a letter to Landmark Theatres, he writes, "I didn't realize the movie was going to be as interpersonal as it turned out!" which I think is code for "I love these guys, but working with them has been a total f'ing nightmare!"

Here's what I think the drama was really about: 1) money and 2) Q-Tip's ego.

First, the money. Michael Rapaport initially promised the band 50% of net profits, which sounds pretty good, but then Q-Tip wanted the band to be credited as producers, too. Then some idiot producer, in a classic example of a cc screw-up, sent an email suggesting that they rush the movie poster into print without the band listed as producers, "then we'll fuck them on everything else." And Q-Tip was copied on it. So they freaked out (understandably), Michael Rapaport relented, and they got their producer credit (see full credits here.) Plus, drama and ticket sales have a dependably direct relationship.

Second, Q-Tip. I don't have any insider knowledge of the dynamics of the band members, but I think Q-Tip and Phife Dawg had a relationship reminiscent of other great two-headed groups that ultimately blew apart. Lennon-McCartney. Strummer-Jones. André-Big Boi. A tactfully written Slate piece on the movie describes the basis of their rift as "the simple fact that Q-Tip has always been the group's star despite Phife's abundant talent."

Here's my prediction about how the two of them come off in the movie: Q-Tip will seem like a consummate front man, and a little bit of an egomaniac who needs to have total control over his image, and Phife will seem like a funny, beleaguered, sympathetic guy who's been through hell. He really has had it rough: Phife has diabetes and apparently goes through a lot of medical difficulties in the movie. The band's 2008 reunion tour largely happened to help him pay his medical bills.

So let's get him some cash money! Maybe he's never had a cavity, but Phife needs his dialysis.

May 12, 2011

If You Leave Me Now

Peter Cetera sings Chicago's

Chicago's 1976 #1 hit, "If You Leave Me Now", holds a distinct honor as my own personal Worst Song Ever (a prestige it currently shares with "Wonderful Tonight" by Eric Clapton.) The treacly strings, the horn section stripped of all soulfulness, and worst of all, that melismatic falsetto moaning of Peter Cetera, the band's lead singer.

The thing is, this song starts out OK, with a little bit of '70's soft rock sincerity: "If you leave me now, you'll take away the biggest part of me". But then the second line comes in, "Ooo Hooo HOOO-OOO, NO-OOO, baby, ple-EEEASE don't GO-OOO!" It's a teeth-gnashingly visceral aural horror. Here's the band performing the song live on TV, with spectacularly silly '70's video embellishment (see photo above).

So this morning, I heard a good interview with Will Ferrell on NPR about his new movie, Everything Must Go, where he plays a drunk sad sack whose wife kicks him out of the house, leading him to set up his living area in the front yard.

Ferrell says that to tap into his own dark feelings of abandonment, he remembered when his parents got divorced when he was 8, and his mom would leave him alone in the car while she shopped for groceries while he listened to the radio. He specifically mentions Chicago as the band that made him feel the saddest, then he actually starts singing "If You Leave Me Now", right there on NPR, because of all the memories he has of his parents getting divorced and feeling sad and alone, that song is the single best expression of human misery. [Here's the audio clip, singing is at 4:40.]

I bet Will Ferrell doesn't actually like "If You Leave Me Now" any more than I do, but he seems to have accepted its special, odious role in his life with more maturity and grace than I'll ever have.

He also brought the song up in a People interview for Talladega Nights in 2006, when he says it's the song he would choose if he were an "American Idol" finalist, and then he and John C. Reilly start singing it together. This guy's been living with the pain of "If You Leave Me Now" for a long time.

My favorite use of the song is in Three Kings, when metal fan soldier Spike Jonze grudgingly plays it on his car stereo on his way to a raid in Iraq, after an earlier scene where Ice Cube suggests that the best pump-up music to listen to when going into a combat situation isn't Judas Priest, but "easy listening classics." The horrors of war.

Here's the video:

April 22, 2011

Weird Al and Gaga

Weird Al Yankovic

Now that the confusion has been cleared up and Weird Al Yankovic's parody of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" is going to be on his next album after all, let's take a look at his song, which is called "Perform This Way".

Well, huh. It's one of Weird Al's laziest parodies, isn't it? It's really just an extended, gentle ribbing of Gaga and her crazy outfits. And since the outfits that she really does wear are pretty much Weird Al-level weird to begin with (bees, meat) he doesn't have very far to go in that direction. Apart from "wrap my small intestines 'round my neck", I don't think he comes up with any ideas for a costume that she wouldn't actually wear. I wish he'd given it another 5 minutes to come up with a theme related to the content of the original song, rather than just saying "Haha, Gaga wore a meat dress, that is so cray-zeee!" It's like commentary on a Lady Gaga concert by Joe Biden.

How about "Shorn This Way", about drag sheep performers? Practically writes itself.

The best Weird Al songs are those that keep the original concept established by a pop song, then go in a completely different, AND FUNNY, direction. Some good examples of this:

"White and Nerdy"

"Amish Paradise"

"It's All About the Pentiums"

These are all hilarious and imaginative in a way that "Perform This Way" completely misses. I'm glad that Gaga had the sense to let him do the song, but I think Weird Al can do better than this for his first Gaga parody. Hope the video's better.

April 11, 2011

Blank City

Blank City

There's a great new documentary playing at the IFC Center, Blank City, about the hyper-indie DIY filmmakers and musicians working in the East Village in the late '70's and early '80's. It's the "No Wave" movement: a bunch of people with no money, no training, barely any equipment, cheap rent, cheap drugs, and a lot of friends in bands with a lot of time on their hands. Here's the movie's website.

Out of this movement, we got Jim Jarmusch, Sonic Youth, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lydia Lunch, Charlie Ahearn (who did Wild Style about Fab 5 Freddy and the early hip-hop scene,) Susan Seidelman (who went on to do Desperately Seeking Susan,) and loads of other renegade filmmakers. My favorite title is They Eat Scum, by the depraved Nick Zedd.

It's really inspiring and fun to watch this breathless moment when so many artists were creating such wild and new stuff, and made me wish I could drop in on that time and place. Kind of like how I wanted to be in early-'70's LA after reading the debaucherous Wikipedia page for Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco. A.O. Scott wrote an especially great review about the movie and the scene: "Technique, polish, professionalism -- all of these were suspect. What emerged in their absence, under various names, were films that were at once rough and sophisticated, cynical and passionate, jaded and hysterical. Kind of like New York itself."

A good companion piece to this movie is a collection of photos by Brooke Smith, better known as Catherine Martin from The Silence of the Lambs, documenting the hardcore scene in New York in the early '80's. It's wistfully cute seeing all those baby-faced kids in their torn Agnostic Front t-shirts. (tx, ADM!)

A few related documentaries: last year there was one about Basquiat, The Radiant Child, and a few years ago, one about composer and musician Arthur Russell, Wild Combination.

Blank City opens in other cities in May and June.

February 15, 2011

Boxing Scots, with Underworld

Beautiful Burnout, Frantic Assembly

An awesomely intense-sounding play is coming to St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn later this month -- Beautiful Burnout, an import from the National Theatre of Scotland by production company Frantic Assembly. It's not every day you hear about a play where the actors spend months getting in shape, but this one's like that, and I'm psyched for it.

Another cool thing: the soundtrack is all Underworld. In the play's trailer, we hear "Kittens" from their album Beaucoup Fish, a pounding, energetic track that, according to me, is one of the greatest dance tracks ever blasted out of a set of speakers. Another video of the actors training features "Mo Move", the opening track from A Hundred Days Off. And the play's title is taken from a song of the same name from Oblivion With Bells.

Though this is definitely a play with a kick-ass soundtrack, and not a musical, the use of music by a single group makes me wonder what a full-on Underworld jukebox musical would be like. We've already gotten productions based on the music of Johnny Cash, ABBA, Queen, Billy Joel, and Green Day. It's only a matter of time before my generation demands an electronic jukebox musical to relive those wild, drug-fueled club days of the late '90s from $140 seats in orchestra center. Plus, Underworld's songs almost always include vocals.

So why not? Imagine the storyline: an innocent boy arrives in London, meets a sexy cowgirl waitress who's into swimming in the ocean and hard psychedelics. The two of them and a transvestite calling herself Dirty Numb Angel immerse themselves in the underground club scene, where they experience color-drenched hallucinations, transcendental confabs with Albert Einstein, and epic marathons of Bruce Lee movies, all awash in blistering techno. The audience joins in chants of "lager! lager! lager!" during the big finale, while being showered in thousands of pills.

Here's a great video about what the actors went through to get into shape for the play. I love hearing them talk about how they had to "jess keep pooshin' yehself" to "become a buhx-ah". The play was apparently inspired by Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, but the setting has clearly been moved to Glasgow.

January 27, 2011

Spidey: That's what $65 million looks like

Spider-Man on Broadway

I went to see Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark last night with our old friend and former contributor Emily. We found some discounted tickets, and figured it was our cultural duty to bear witness to the most ambitious, bloated, beleaguered, and expensive theatrical production in Broadway history.

While some theater critics are trying, with growing annoyance, to follow the preview convention and not review the show until it officially opens (at last report, on March 15--are the producers cursing their own show?) other people, like Glenn Beck, have happily shared their critiques. Unlike Glenn Beck, I think we'd all be better off skipping the show and keeping both our kidneys.

Beck says that the reason he liked the show, and others didn't, is that there's "too much action and flying around." Not quite. The only good parts of the show were the action and the flying around, and there wasn't anywhere near enough.

Here's how you'd make this show good: More Flying Around. Cut the first 45 minutes of exposition and talking. Get Peter Parker and Norman Osborn to transform into their superhero/supervillain alter-egos in the first 5 minutes. Then get to the scene where the main actors all fly through the air, literally using all the space in the theater in a way no other show I've ever seen has done. There's one fantastic moment when you in the audience feel like you're on top of the Chrysler Building looking down at the traffic below, and it's awesome.

Other than the flying around, which there isn't enough of, scenes were good if they looked like rock concerts. Specifically: a scene right out of Lady Gaga's last tour with a chorus of taut, sinewy soldier dancers wearing militaristic leg-warmers and hot pants. A scene of super-villains vamping down a runway with cool exploding costumes made out of armor and lizard skin and pretend bees, which Em thought looked just like a Misfits concert. And a scene of a mythical Spider-woman hovering ghost-like over a sleeping Peter Parker and whisper-singing a creepy, dreamy song, like something out of a Tori Amos video.

Another way to make the show good: More The Edge-Style Guitars. The music is forgettable and weak, except for a few song intros that had that big, arena-filling, shimmery, delay-heavy guitar sound that, considering it was written by U2, I though we'd hear more often. A brief piano-lounge rendition of "We'll Have Manhattan" by the Green Goblin got the biggest laugh of the night.

This show looks like what you get when you spend most of your $65 million budget on insurance.

January 20, 2011

Why Vanity Fair is the best magazine, even with covers like this

Justin Bieber cover of Vanity Fair, Feb 2011

Of all the magazines I subscribe to, Vanity Fair is consistently the best, the one I'm most likely to read cover to cover. Sometimes carrying my copy around with me and reading it in public or on the subway can be a little embarrassing, due to covers like the one on the current issue (February).

I don't know if the general public understands that, yes, I'm reading a magazine with Justin Bieber on the cover, but the article that I'm reading at this moment is about how J.D. Salinger's experiences on the beaches of Normandy influenced the development of the Holden Caulfield character, or about the history and culture of The Guardian newspaper and how that determined its rocky partnership with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Or maybe I am, at this moment, reading the Justin Bieber article. But this is what really makes Vanity Fair great: I would guess that it's the best Justin Bieber article yet written, anywhere. I'm not completely kidding, here. In this article, we learn that Justin understands that more guys might start coming to his concerts after he turns 18; that he can solve a Rubik's Cube in 2 minutes; that Kanye's remix of one of his songs features Raekwon; and that his mom is younger than I am. (I know!)

Most of the reason this Justin Bieber article is so good and relevant to a non-tween audience is the author, Lisa Robinson. She's interviewed Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson (many times) and Kanye, and written articles about pop stars that reach beyond the existing fans. Which brings us to her Justin Bieber article, which I have to say is a really good read.

Just about all the celebrity stuff in Vanity Fair is good, even after losing the beloved Dominick Dunne (especially the features on dead movie stars and the making of classic movies by Sam Kashner.) The political stuff is good, the analysis of the financial crisis was probably the best anywhere, and the random pieces on the world's greatest surfers or a Florida private investigator that caught a serial killer are unexpected and consistently great.

My only complaints: too much stuff about the Kennedys, and the occasional piece that is so exclusively targeted to the extremely rich or people who wish they were extremely rich that I can't get myself to read it. I'll read an article about what kind of psychology/pathology inspires a person to spend $80 million on a yacht, but I don't much care about the yachts themselves.

November 21, 2010

The new Girl Talk album

All Day album cover

I've been trying to write this for several days, and might finally have figured out how to articulate a couple of unorganized, loosely-related things:

  • In a lot of ways, this album is more of the same. If you've heard the last two albums ("Feed the Animals", "Night Ripper") you pretty much know what to expect from this one. This isn't to suggest that it's dull or uninteresting: I had a huge smile on my face listening to this for the first time, starting at 0:05.
  • Starting this album with "War Pigs" is so incredibly wonderful and is exactly the kind of thing that makes me love listening to Girl Talk albums. It's also what makes me unable to listen to it without taking notes. This kind of album or music or art form, or whatever it is, is most rewarding if you know and love all different kinds of music. If you like Black Sabbath, New Order, Simon and Garfunkel, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Biggie, and "Tenderness" by the guy from English Beat, you're going to have a better time listening to this album than if you're into just one style of music.
  • Obviously, it's the experience of listening to this album and having moment after moment of delighted recognition that is the purpose of this kind of music, album, art form, whatever. The listener's experience is an integral part of all music, just like the viewer looking at a painting or watching a play is an integral part of those art forms.

    But with Girl Talk, without the listener hearing "Bust a Move" mixed with "Can't Get You Out of My Head" and laughing, this is just a bunch of snippets of other people's songs. What makes it art, or whatever you want to call it, is what happens in your brain when you listen to it, and that listener response is a more important part of what makes it good than it is for other kinds of music/art/whatever.

  • The experience of listening to pop music can actually be permanently changed by listening to Girl Talk albums. Since "Feed the Animals" came out two years ago, I've found myself hearing certain popular songs and thinking, "This is the kind of thing Girl Talk would use." I've heard that DJ's listen to music differently than the rest of us, constantly unconsciously looking for hooks, beats, or segments of two different songs that would go well together. I didn't even realize I had started listening to pop music in terms of Girl Talk using it on an album until I heard this one. Of course Lady Gaga is all over this album, and of course he used a big chunk of Rihanna's sassy "Rude Boy". I didn't even realize I was thinking like this until this album came out, and there these songs are.

I'm not sure if there are moments on this album that reach the transcendent heights of "Night Ripper"'s mix of "Tiny Dancer" and Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy", but there are a few contenders. I especially like "Sour Times" by Portishead with "Shutterbugg" by Big Boi, "Creep" by Radiohead with "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" by ODB, and "Lust for Life" with "Love Game" and "Hey Ladies".

My favorite moment so far is "Ante Up" by M.O.P., a song I've grown to love since seeing the totally genius Bert and Ernie rap video, mixed with Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA", which somehow captures the sincere, unifying, all-American patriotism of pop music.

You can see all the original tracks listed second-by-second on the album's Wikipedia page.

September 13, 2010

Watching Gaga on the VMAs

Lady Gaga in her meat dress at the VMAs

Gaga's total domination of all media continued last night with a record number of VMA wins, a predictably bonkers line-up of ever-changing outfits for her acceptance speeches, and then an unpredictably crazy/gross/brilliant final appearance in a meat dress. And for anyone who might have doubted her formidable vocal chops, a spontaneous performance of the chorus of her next record [video].

I sat there watching her, wishing I could be 15 years old. So that while watching Gaga in her meat dress, belting out a few bars with tears streaming down her face, my mind could just be happily blown, instead of trying to figure out how I fit into the Nostalgic High School Misfit demographic that a record company marketing team has surely mapped out.

In one example of today's onslaught of gossip site reactions to the dress, Hollywood Gossip did a little piece with a "Tasty or Tasteless?" poll for readers. But since this is a celebrity outfit at an awards ceremony, they also did their standard "Get This Look!" feature, where you can hover over the photo and see where you can buy affordable versions of the clothes and accessories the star is wearing.

I really, really wish the link to the dress went to a wholesale butcher, but in a spectacular missing of the point, it actually goes to a conventional burgundy-colored little floral dress that's made of silk, not slabs of beef.

September 7, 2010

Electric Zoo fashion

Electric Zoo 2010

[photo from NY Times]


On Saturday I went to the gigantic all-day two-day dance music festival on Randall's Island, Electric Zoo. I expected my posse to be among the oldest people there (except for the DJs and Jon Pareles I think we were) so I was curious to see what the club kids would be wearing these days. My knowledge of rave culture is pretty out of date, so I wondered how much had changed since the mid-90's.

Nothing. Nothing had changed. Aside from the people in t-shirts and shorts that would have been dressed exactly the same way in any recent decade, the club kids looked just like club kids circa 1994. I saw face glitter. Stuffed animal backpacks. Rainbow tights. Glow sticks. Pacifiers. Freaking whistles around their necks that they would un-ironically blow! It was the same radioactive cartoon character look that everyone was wearing almost 20 years ago.

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. After all, a lot of the music at the event was a clear throwback to the early 90's. If you went to the Rush concert at Jones Beach in July, I would bet you would have seen a lot of acid-washed jeans, feathered hair, and single earring studs on display in that crowd. (They did all of the "Moving Pictures" album and I bet it was fantastic.)

I'm not judging: this is just the reality of concerts and events that refer to a specific time and place in cultural history. The rave-y dance music scene peaked over 15 years ago, and it seems like the fashion is still stuck back there.

Some of the newer-looking outfit innovations that I noticed were lots of people in pink or green or orange neon shirts or accessories or tights, which is actually a throwback to the early 80's, fun fur leg warmers, and also these weird tutu-length crinoline things, which girls would wear over their pants or tights (see photo above). I don't know what that's about.

One other observation: I know we all need to record every moment of our lives for blogs and Facebook, but many people who weren't experiencing some sort of transporting chemical enhancement seemed to spend the really great sets fiddling with their camera settings or taking pictures or video of a DJ on a distant stage. The kids who weren't doing any documenting were pogoing up and down, waving their hands (or their glow sticks) all over the place, shaking their hair around, grabbing their friends in an ecstatic hug and generally losing their minds. There's some oddly Zen-like lesson on living in the moment in there.

September 1, 2010

Heart! (on Fox News)

Nancy Wilson of Heart on Fox News

All summer, midtown has had two competing live music series on the morning shows: NBC's Today Show series, which has featured Lady Gaga, Carole King and James Taylor, and Maxwell, and Fox News' All American Summer series, which has included American Idol losers, Uncle Kracker, and Toby Keith. Rockefeller Center has been attracting massive crowds with fans often camping out on the street the night before, while the shows in front of the Fox building on 6th Ave have largely been made up of people who happened to be getting off the F train on their way to work.

But this morning, Fox scored a huge victory with Heart! Performing live! I turned onto 6th Ave and heard Nancy Wilson pounding out the riff from "Magic Man" and ran to the corner of 48th St. By far the best start to my day of the summer.

Here's the video, which includes an interview with the Wilson sisters about growing up in a Marines household (this is Fox News, after all) and the sexism they faced in the 70's and still see in music today. And they do "Magic Man" starting at 3:30. It rocks.

This performance reminds me that this is not really a family-friendly song. Those lyrics are hot! I'm a little surprised they got away with the magic man and his magic hands on "Fox & Friends", but I guess rock transcends the Culture Wars.

Also: the Wilsons like Lady Gaga and Taio Cruz's "Dynamite".

August 31, 2010

FDA knows all about the cough syrup, kids

cough syrup

The FDA has noticed that kids everywhere are chugging cough syrup because they're making themselves sick: 8,000 kids ended up in the emergency room due to cough syrup abuse in 2008, which is up 70% from 2004. There's some talk of regulating the world's easiest drug for a high school kid to get, though making cough syrup prescription-only would be incredibly irritating during cold season. It might end up behind the counter, which would mean that you'd have to be 18 to buy it and would significantly compromise the offerings at many a drama club cast party.

In reading about kids drinking cough syrup, I found a wonderful Wikipedia entry, "Recreational use of dextromethorphan", the dissociative drug in many cough syrups, which is the last thing you should let any 16 year-old read if you're trying to prevent them from ladling this stuff onto their Cheerios.

A few excerpts from the various stages of intoxication one experiences on too much cough syrup:

* First plateau: effects include a sensation of alertness, stimulant effects such as restlessness, intensification of emotions, general euphoria, and euphoria linked to music.

* Second plateau: effects include entering a dreamlike state of consciousness, a heavier "stoned" feeling than with first plateau, and/or closed-eye hallucinations.

* Third plateau: effects include dreamlike vision, inability to comprehend language, abstract hallucinations, feelings of peace and quiet, and/or feelings of rebirth.

* Fourth plateau: an individual may experience a perceived loss of contact and control with their own body, out-of-body experiences, perceptions of contact with "superior," supernatural, or other archetypal beings (e.g. gods, aliens, vampires, etc.)

* Plateau Sigma: users have reported encounters with aliens and gods.

Maybe those last ones are only when you're on Ayahuasca-flavored Robitussen.

One clarification: the regular robo-tripping cough syrup that the FDA is concerned about is not the same as the stuff that southern rappers drink. That's drank. Sizzurp. Promethazine-codeine. Wikipedia has an extensive entry for that, too, with examples of about 35 different guys (and Nicki Minaj) who have referenced it in their songs. To be honest, prescription cough syrup doesn't sound nearly as crazy as the regular stuff, even if it can kill you: Wikipedia describes the high as "extreme somnolence" rather than vampire hallucinations.

No one seems to write songs about over-the-counter cough syrup, probably because its fans are mostly suburban 9th graders.

August 23, 2010

Cee-Lo's surprise TUSH

Cee-Lo Green

Just when I was about to give up and admit that 2010 would be a year without a suitable Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit, along comes our old friend Cee-Lo Green, who blows away everything you've heard all summer in the first 15 seconds of his new single, "Fuck You".

This is the most sunshiny, ebullient song I've heard all summer, and since the world first heard it at the end of last week and over the weekend, it has become absolutely unavoidably everywhere. It's been remixed by 50 Cent. It's been written up by the Wall Street Journal ("vulgar but catchy").

It's also been reviewed on Pitchfork: "It's beyond happy. Cathartic. It could be the new Sesame Street theme. It could play at a wedding, and your grandmother would hobble to it. It's post-censorship." It really is.

That's it! Katy Perry, you're outta here! Eminem, go beat girls up someplace else! At least for today, Cee-Lo's got this year's TUSH. And you can't even buy it until October 4.

Gnarls Barkley (Cee-Lo + Danger Mouse) had the TUSH in 2006 with "Crazy", which grew to ubiquity over several months. While the world took many listens to get into the wistful musings of that song, as of your first listen, "Fuck You" is burned into your brain forever. It's so catchy it feels like you already know it.

By the way, radio is playing a clean version of the song ("Forget You"), which as Pitchfork says, "may as well not exist."

Here's Cee-Lo's Twitter, and here's his website where you can hear a few of the songs that will be on his new album, Lady Killer.

August 6, 2010

Who's not supporting Wyclef for President

Wyclef Jean performing at Haiti benefit

Wyclef Jean says he didn't so much decide to run for president of Haiti, but that a groundswell of his fellow Haitians are demanding that he become their new leader. "People say, 'Are you running for president?' I say no, I am naturally being drafted by my country to serve my country," he told the Daily News.

Let's look at the response to his presidential draft:

Pras, ex-Fugee and Wyclef's estranged cousin, says he's supporting Michel Martelly instead of Wyclef because "he is the most competent candidate for the job." Martelly is also a Haitian musician who performs under the name "Sweet Micky". From Sweet Micky's Wikipedia page: "Outlandish and outspoken, Martelly has been known to drink publicly while performing in wigs, costumes, diapers, and Scottish kilts, and occasionally remove his own attire while performing." He's also friends with current president Rene Preval. Here's his MySpace page.

If Sweet Micky is the most competent candidate, it's going to be an entertaining few years for people who don't have to live in Haiti.

Also not a Wyclef supporter: Sean Penn. Last night on CNN he called Wyclef a "non-presence" in Haiti since the earthquake and says that for the next president, "I want to see someone who is really willing to sacrifice for their country and not just someone who I personally saw with a vulgar entourage of vehicles that demonstrated a wealth in Haiti that -- in context, I felt a very obscene demonstration."

Sean Penn's views on Haitian politics are actually more relevant that you might think: he's spent most of his time since the earthquake managing relief services for 50,000 people at a camp he co-founded, the J/P Haitian Relief Organization.

The Daily News interviewed some Haitians living in Brooklyn for their thoughts on Clef. A shipping company manager in Flatbush says, "Wyclef is a musician. He's not fit for the job."

But the Times found at least one Haitian who's enthusiastic about his candidacy:

Sitting on a cracked stoop in a battered neighborhood called Bas Peu des Choses, Linda Joseph, 36, clapped her hands in delight and said she probably would not have bothered to vote if Mr. Jean had not decided to run.

"Other people make promises and don't deliver, but Wyclef has heart," she said. "If he says he'll do something, we'll trust him. And besides, he already has all the money he needs. So he won't steal from us like the others.”

Oh, really, Linda? Clef's financial track record has more in common with other recent Haitian leaders than you might like.

He owes over $2 million to the IRS, which he talks about like it's a good thing: "owing $2.1 million to the IRS shows you how much money Wyclef Jean makes a year," he says, demurely referring to himself in the third person. And as we all heard about in January, he used his foundation, Yele Haiti Foundation, to pay himself and his other businesses, which is illegal. It also turns out that he's 40, not 37 as he used to claim.

At least now that Wyclef's in the race, everyone will pay attention to Haiti again for a few minutes. I hope his debates with Sweet Micky are televised.

July 22, 2010

TUSH 2010: I'm out of my league

Nicki Minaj

Every summer, there's one song that blah blah blah "totally ubiquitous summer hit". Hence, TUSH. In previous years, blah blah blah Rihanna blah blah Nelly, examples of summer songs you could not avoid hearing even if you wanted to, blah blah Rite Aid, car stereos, beach snack bars, your clock radio, blah blah blah blah "Macarena".

This year's TUSH isn't clear yet, at least not that I can tell. The contenders blah blah blah "OMG", "Bulletproof", both songs that I still hear all the time, but blah blah blah blah released 4 months and over a year ago.

Blah blah blah freaking hate every single thing about Katy Perry blah blah don't care how many goddamn weeks on Billboard blah blah blah Black Eyed Peas.

In New York Mag's "Song of the Summer" posts, it seems like they just look at the charts, without any of the more nuanced cultural analysis blah blah blah 2005 was obviously not "We Belong Together". It was "Hollaback Girl". There are rules here, people, and one of them is that the TUSH is never a melismatic slow jam.

Anyway. This year doesn't have a clear front-runner other than Katy Perry, who I refuse to acknowledge based on her affront to everything that is good and righteous in this world. If you feel like you know what this year's TUSH is, and it's a recently released feel-good, sunny tune that you cannot avoid hearing constantly in every aspect of your daily life, please tell me. I stopped being in the right demographic for this many TUSHes ago.

One dark horse entry for a late bloomer TUSH: Nicki Minaj's "Your Love". I've heard this song twice on the radio in the last couple of days, and I have Top 40 radio on for 5 minutes or less most days, so it's getting out there. It uses a sample from Annie Lennox's "No More I Love You's" and the girl-on-girl sword fighting video just came out. It's catchy, a little less energetic than a classic TUSH, but still could be a contender.

I like Nicki: she's been around for a few years, dresses like Anime Barbie or radioactive Wonder Woman, and is the first female rapper to have a #1 song on the Rap charts since Missy Elliott's "Work It". "Your Love" has been at #1 for two weeks now, so that's got to count for something.

I'll check back in August--by that time the one true TUSH will be exalted in all its glory.

July 14, 2010

Mark Ronson and the French

Mark Ronson, Bang Bang Bang

Happy Bastille Day!

In celebration, here's the video from a new single from the dependably wonderful Mark Ronson, "Bang Bang Bang". (thanks, King Pigeon!) It features a Japanese talk show, breakdancing preteens, and a chorus with lyrics taken from the French children's song you probably sang in 2nd grade music class, "Alouette". And MNDR and Q-Tip on vocals.

The video walks a fine line between funky kitsch and tired '80's video parody, but somehow everything comes together just right to make a phenomenally cool video. Does Mark Ronson ever make stylistic missteps? I don't think he does.

His new album "Record Collection" is coming out in October under the name Mark Ronson & The Business Intl, and it will include guests vocalists Ghostface Killah, D'Angelo, Simon LeBon, and BOY GEORGE. How does he do it?

His last album, "Version", was all covers of pop songs, with lots of really inspired selections on there, including the last (ever?) great recording by Amy Winehouse, "Valerie".

In watching the video for "Bang Bang Bang", I started wondering about those lyrics to "Alouette", which I've half-known since childhood. "Alouette, gentille alouette, je te plumerai." Then you go through all the different parts of the bird--the head, the beak, the wings, the tail. It's pretty much the only French I know, besides "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)", which every American girl is required to know so she can scream it at house parties when that Christina Aguilera song comes on and imagine she's very cosmopolitan.

But although I assumed the song was a sweet tribute to a bird, I had no idea what a lot of the words meant. So I looked them up.

Turns out that "plumerai" means "pluck". It's a song about plucking a DEAD BIRD. Gentille alouette! I'm going to pluck your head!

What I had always thought was a mild song celebrating a beloved bird as it happily fluttered around in the French countryside turns out to be a gruesome tune about ripping the feathers off a bird's dead little body.

Those sick French bastards.

June 25, 2010

World Cup in America

Diana Ross at the World Cup opening ceremony, 1994

Now that the US team has done well enough to advance to the next round, it's time for World Cup fever to sweep America! We like sports that we're good at. The game against Ghana tomorrow afternoon (2:30 on ABC!) is probably going to be the most watched soccer game yet this year.

The first time I remember being aware of the World Cup was in 1994, when it was hosted here in the US. In doing some research about that year's tournament, my friend T-Rock happened upon the description of the opening ceremony, which was held in Chicago. Here's the Wikipedia entry. It keeps getting better:

The opening ceremony of the World Cup was held on 17 June at Chicago's Soldier Field. Numerous dignitaries attended, including US President Bill Clinton, Chancellor of Germany Helmut Kohl and President of Bolivia Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. The ceremony was emceed by Oprah Winfrey.

In addition, Daryl Hall, Jon Secada and Diana Ross gave musical performances. Ross was also supposed to kick a football into the goal from the penalty spot at the end of her performance, with the goal then splitting in two as part of a pre-orchestrated stunt. She kicked the ball wide to the left, missing the goal, but the goalposts were collapsed anyway in accordance with the stunt plans.

From the American perspective, the most important aspect of the 1994 World Cup is definitely the video for Daryl Hall's horrific theme song, "Gloryland", which plays sort of like a 9/11 tribute video combined with a Disney World ad. It also features segments from the opening ceremony, which demonstrate that even a serious sports country like the United States is powerless to resist creating a big ridiculous Eurotrashtastic explosion of kitsch when planning a soccer-related gala event:

You can watch just Diana Ross's failed penalty kick and exploding goalposts here. For future reference, don't stage the crescendo of your globally televised soccer event around a 50 year-old diva scoring a goal.

June 10, 2010

Should I go to Rock the Bells?

Snoop Dogg on stage

The lineup for this year's Rock the Bells show just got announced, and they're doing things a little differently this year: all the big performers will be performing one of their classic albums in its entirety. Because of my ambivalence about big all-day outdoor music festivals, which has developed over the years into full-blown revulsion, I've never attended any of the Rock the Bells shows that have come to the east coast. But this year, I'm thinking about putting aside my aversion to standing around all day in a crowded field with no shade and $4 bottles of water for the chance to see some awesome performers. Maybe. At least this year it's at Governor's Island, which is a big step up from Jones Beach where it's been for the past 2 years.

Let's look at the lineup:

  • Snoop, doing "Doggystyle". Even with an impenetrable cloud of smoke around his head and swarms of Dogg Pound members wandering all over the place, this should still be great. Snoop has that combination of laid-back smoothness and tight precision that I love. He's the chillest rapper out there who enunciates. Plus: good old Michael McDonald sampling Warren G.
  • Tribe. Yes! Doing "Midnight Marauders". Huh? When you've got one of the greatest albums of all time, "The Low End Theory", under your belt, plus a fun debut album that didn't do as well commercially but is full of classics, why would you go with the OK but not as good third album? I love Tribe, but the album selection is a missed opportunity.
  • Wu-Tang Clan, doing "36 Chambers". Rock the Bells has always had strong Wu representation, and at first I thought I've got to see it. But when you think about it, ODB's gone, lots of the original members are more into doing their own projects these days, and it's entirely possible that only 2 or 3 original members will show up (Method Man and Raekwon, probably, hopefully RZA?) along with about 37 other random dudes who just hang around on stage. The year to see them was probably the first Rock the Bells in 2004 when ODB was still alive. This one could be transcendent and amazing or sort of a let-down.
  • Rakim doing "Paid in Full". Awesome.
  • KRS-One, Slick Rick, DJ Premier, all sound pretty good. Premier is allegedly doing a tribute to Gang Starr, which is ironic since right before Guru's death last year, he allegedly denounced Premier and said he didn't want him to be involved in any tributes. I guess it's Premier's show now. There are lots of smaller acts like Brother Ali and Clipse that look good.
  • Then there's a special performance by Lauryn Hill. Excuse me, "Empress" Hill. I don't know what she's doing here. It seems like she never recovered from the massive success of the "Miseducation" album, and remember her MTV Unplugged session from 2002 where she was completely unstable and started crying? Her behavior since then has been erratic and she seems to flake out of shows a lot of the time. It's a strike against the festival.

Just found out tickets are $99. To stand around all day and deal with long lines and sweaty 6' 3" guys who stand right in front of me in order to listen to a raspy Lauryn Hill while waiting for the good stuff.

Sitting on the couch and listening to "The Low End Theory" doesn't sound half bad.

June 3, 2010

Books about music, books about movies

They Live by John Carpenter

One of the coolest things to happen to music criticism in recent years is Continuum's 33 1/3 series of short books, each one about a different album and by a different author. Each book is around 100 pages long, and includes background, interviews, heady analysis, and often some wacky, highly personal musings, reflections, and rants on the importance of the album in question. They're a lot of fun--the experience of reading one is sort of like meeting an interesting person at a party and suddenly finding yourself in a long, meandering conversation about the album that's playing, which you both happen to really love.

The albums in the series range from the obvious but necessary ("Led Zeppelin IV", "Doolittle", "OK Computer") to the well-informed if less canonical ("Meat is Murder", "Born in the U.S.A.") to the truly inspired picks that you might not immediately think of for a series like this ("Rid of Me", "Trout Mask Replica", and one brave monograph about Celine Dion.) There are new ones coming out all the time--I can't wait to see the book for Wu Tang's "36 Chambers", especially the crazy recording studio anecdotes. Here's the whole Wikipedia list and Amazon list.

Many of the writers of these books don't have any other author credits on Amazon, so there's a tantalizing sense that you yourself could one day write a 33 1/3 book on "Dubnobasswithmyheadman" or "Faith" or "Elastica" or "Very Necessary", and that music fans everywhere would read about your own personal musical obsessions.

(As a side note, I've always thought it was an unfortunate indicator of my own musical ignorance that the one book in the series written by somebody I actually know is about an album I have zero personal connection with: The Minutemen's "Double Nickels on the Dime".)

This news has been out for a bit, but I just found out (via Rex) there's going to be a similar series of short books -- about movies! It's called Deep Focus, and it's being put out by Soft Skull Press. The first two books in the series will be about John Carpenter's alien takeover movie They Live, by Jonathan Lethem (!), and Charles Bronson's Death Wish by Christopher Sorrentino. Both are out in November.

So the next obvious question: if you could write a book for this series, what movie would you choose? It seems like they're going mainstream so far, but let's assume that the movie selection will be wide open. I might pick a favorite comedy like Tootsie. There's so much to say about that movie. Or, oh man, can you imagine getting to write a whole book that encompasses every tangent and diversion about Blue Velvet? Or The Apartment? Or Dead Alive? Or Hannah and Her Sisters? I can't wait to see where they go with the series.

If you were going to get paid to go off at length on your own totally subjective analysis and personal adoration of a movie, what would you pick?

May 17, 2010

RIP Ronnie James Dio. \m/

Ronnie James Dio, devil horns

Over the weekend, master metal screamer Ronnie James Dio died of stomach cancer. Dio was unbelievably great. Sure, he was diminutive, cartoonish, and outrageous, but if aliens landed on earth and you had to show them one video clip to explain what metal was all about, all you'd have to do is pull up some Dio, such as "Die Young" by Black Sabbath or "Holy Diver" by Dio.

Here's a brief obituary on Pitchfork, which says Dio "represented heavy metal at its most over-the-top, ridiculous, and fun." The respectful and thorough Times obit credits Dio with popularizing the international symbol for metal, the devil horns gesture, and provides a brief how-to for Times readers who are just getting into hard rock. It also mentions a Dio fact I never knew: he was born in Portsmouth, NH!

I found out about Ronnie James Dio through a spoken word piece by Henry Rollins called "Breaking Up is Hard To Do", which offers advice how to cope with getting dumped. It's the funniest thing I've ever heard from Henry Rollins by far. His advice involves fashioning a cape out of a towel, putting on a record featuring Ronnie James Dio on vocals (who Rollins describes as "this little evil gnome") and selecting any one of his many songs with an "Evil Woman, Look Out!" theme to sing along to.

You can hear the whole bit on YouTube. Actually, it not only offers some good advice for dealing with getting dumped or any other personal tragedy, but it's also a serviceable primer on fronting your new charismatic and defiantly non-ironic hard rock band.

May 3, 2010

Music videos are back

Lady Gage Poison TV

Back in the early days of shows like "Friday Night Videos", music videos were a fun, goofy diversion. They usually looked like they cost about $25 to make and served as a novel way to experience the songs you heard on the radio, and as a new resource for looking at girls and guys in sexy outfits. Examples: Olivia Newton-John's "Physical", Steve Miller Band's "Abracadabra".

Then videos became both big business and sometimes actual art. You've got every video from "Thriller", a-ha's "Take On Me", and Tom Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More". People often cared more about the video than the song, and videos became the perfect marketing device: ads that people wanted to watch. Pretty soon David Fincher is directing Paula Abdul's best videos and Madonna's "Express Yourself", Michael Jackson makes "Scream" for $7 million, and Aerosmith does an Alicia Silverstone video trilogy ("Cryin'", "Crazy", and the one I always forget, "Amazing".)

I'd love to see a graph comparing the declining number of videos aired per day on MTV and shrinking record sales. Maybe downloading had already taken hold, so MTV decided to stop running video-ads for singles and albums that no one was buying anymore. Or maybe MTV's lack of interest in videos and growing devotion to reality shows actually contributed in some small way to the crash of the music industry. Either way, record companies don't have the marketing budgets that they used to, and the last five years or so have been terrible for the music video.

In New York magazine, there's a great article called "Internet Killed the MTV Star", which says that even if they're not on TV anymore, videos are back. There's nothing in this piece that comes as much of a surprise, but it nicely articulates a few things that you've probably been noticing over the past few years:

  • Videos are popular again because of YouTube
  • YouTube has slowly shifted focus from accidentally popular amateur videos to intentionally popular music videos
  • Lady Gaga is the biggest thing to happen to music videos since MTV, Madonna, and Tawny Kitaen.

Gaga's videos have over 1 billion views, and she's one of few current artists to have truly massive album sales ("The Fame" hit 10 million in February), so it seems that people do still actually want to buy a record when they like the videos.

Gaga's videos are also money makers in themselves, through a little bit of revenue from internet ads, and from far more lucrative product placement, which glaringly saturates the "Telephone" video. The CEO of video service Vevo (which is owned by Sony and Universal) says, "There was a time when music videos were purely promotional, and that was fine when people were buying music. Now they're no longer promotional. We sell advertising in and around them at a premium. Instead of being a marketing expense, videos can be a profit center."

One of the best things about the resurgence of music videos as something record companies will actually invest in again is that the most exciting directors that really know how to make great videos can get back into it. The director of Gaga's current trilogy, Jonas Akerlund, did a lot of Roxette videos and that notorious Prodigy one for "Smack My Bitch Up". Spike Jonze has just done a new one for LCD Soundsystem's "Drunk Girls". Michel Gondry, who did tons of great videos for Bjork and the White Stripes, but hasn't been doing much lately, says, "now I feel like it's coming back to early MTV, before the big-budget cranes, when it was creative and fun."

Videos might be creative and fun again because we're going to see a whole lot of Virgin Mobile ads in them, but on the whole, it's probably a better experience than watching MTV circa 1999 when you pretty much just saw the same Smash Mouth and Limp Bizkit videos every day.

[Thanks, That Fuzzy Bastarrd!]

April 1, 2010

Duff McKagan: a man I never wondered whatever happened to

G n' R back in the day

I love my Guns N' Roses albums as much as anyone who grew up in rural America in the '80s, but I haven't followed the post-GNR career of bassist Duff McKagan, aka the tallest guy in the band. Since GNR he's had some bands and solo projects, and played in Velvet Revolver along with Slash.

But the really interesting stuff is what he's doing now. Duff just announced that he's now a member of Jane's Addiction, he's a columnist for Seattle Weekly, where he writes twice a week about music, and for Playboy, where he writes my favorite column in the business press, a finance column called Duffonomics.

I had no idea he was writing those Seattle Weekly columns until reading the Pitchfork news piece today, but they're pretty fantastic. A couple of recent notable ones:

  • Duff used to be a big Bauhaus fan.
  • The first time Guns N' Roses played sold out shows in a decent-sized club was in London in 1987, a few weeks before Appetite For Destruction came out. "The real reason we were here, of course, was to fucking rock. I must say that back in that period of the band's career, nobody did it with more purpose, sneer, and reckless bad intent than us. When we walked to the Marquee on that first night, we were met by the crowd that was in line surrounding the block. We were absolutely fucking amazed that all these people came to see us." Those must have been some really, really fun shows.
  • As a recovering alcoholic, Duff still has a lot of problems controlling himself around Girl Scout Cookie season: "I just ordered 90 boxes of Thin Mints and chocolate macaroon cookies from my sweet little daughter, didn't I? They arrived two days ago. Fuuuuuuck! That first night, I ate two whole boxes. I felt like that guy with melted chocolate all over his face and hands, crying uncontrollably, watching a sappy soap while listening to Celine Dion."
  • And a really incredible and great piece about being on the same flight as Kurt Cobain a couple of days before he died.

As of today, I'm a bigger Duff McKagan fan than I've ever been in my life.

March 29, 2010

When famous people are gay

Ricky Martin's Hall of Fame star

It's getting increasingly difficult to remember which gay celebrities have officially come out and which ones are just biding their time until they have a new album/movie/show to promote.

Today's news that Ricky Martin is a fortunate homosexual man wasn't surprising in itself, though for a minute I thought, didn't this just happen the other day? When we found out someone was gay who we already knew was gay?

Oh, no, that was Sean Hayes (just in time for his new Broadway show!)

It's no one's duty to be a positive role model for their alleged community, but every time we get another Ricky Martin to admit it already, hopefully it gets a little easier for the rest of the closeted people we see on TV and in movies to come out, too.

So, how about it, Anderson?

Tom?

Hell, Peter O'Toole?

Wait a minute. Ladies first!

Latifah?

Jodie?

How much of the entertainment industry is gay? A lot more than we know about. Ultimately it's no one's business, and you can't get very far by guessing, but I know attitudes and assumptions would change mighty fast if every single gay celebrity (and elected Republican, apparently) came out tomorrow.

March 19, 2010

The Runaways reviews

The Runaways cast

The first movie of the year that I'm really excited about, The Runaways, comes out today. Let's look at some reviews:

  • A.O. Scott seems to love it in spite of its typical music biopic flaws. Also check out his glowing comment about Dakota Fanning: "Ms. Fanning, who has shown herself a remarkably disciplined and self-aware actress almost since toddlerhood, displays heartbreaking vulnerability as well as frightening poise."
  • Three stars from Roger Ebert, who especially loves Michael Shannon as the Svengali-like producer/manager Kim Fowley. He also ends the review with this cute note: "Many years ago, while I was standing at a luggage carousel at Heathrow Airport, I was approached by a friendly young woman. "I'm Joan Jett," she told me. "I liked Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." Just sayin'."
  • Owen Gleiberman thinks it's OK as long as the girls are rocking on stage, but the dramatic scenes are "glumly episodic." He also wishes Kristen Stewart played Joan Jett with bigger dykey swagger.
  • Michael Phillips says that even if we've seen the stories and these characters before in other rock movies, The Runaways "has an exceptional hangout factor."

March 18, 2010

Hidden tracks

Hidden Track cartoon

A few days ago the Top 13 posted a list of the top 13 hidden tracks from albums through the ages. Since then I've been thinking about the hidden album track. I remember stumbling upon them on CDs like Nine Inch Nails' Broken, Nevermind, and Blur's Modern Life is Rubbish, and it usually happened the same way: I'd put the CD in the stereo, listen to the whole album while simultaneously puttering around the dorm room or flipping through Ray Gun or however else I spent my time in the mid-90s, then when the album seemingly came to an end, I'd just let it sit there in the CD player.

Some time later, music would unexpectedly burst forth from the speakers, always a surprise and sometimes a startling shocker if I'd gotten really engrossed in reading the liner notes or dozed off (this was college, after all.) A hidden track!

I remember my group of friends being so enamored of hidden tracks that when making mixtapes for each other, we would sometimes include unlisted hidden tracks buried somewhere in the middle of one side of the tape, as a little surprise bonus.

I'm not as in touch with new music as I was 15 years ago, but I'm guessing that the hidden track isn't as popular as it was in the 90s, and has maybe become somewhat of a lost art. Hidden tracks probably work best on CDs: though the first hidden track was probably "Her Majesty" at the end of side 2 of Abbey Road, that track is hidden only in the sense that it wasn't listed on the album cover. Vinyl has tighter space limitations, so even if you notice your turntable is still playing after the music ends, there's only so much dead space a record is likely to devote to a surprise hidden track.

The digital display of a CD tells you it's running through dozens of 2-second-long tracks, or that the last track has continued playing for 6 or 7 minutes after the music stopped. But the way I used to listen to music, I usually didn't even notice until after the hidden track unexpectedly started playing.

But think about listening to an album as mp3's on your computer or on an iPod. The hidden track makes no sense in a digital music collection. You'd see that odd-looking "16:37" length of a song right there on your screen, or those extra, unnamed 38 tracks between the last two songs. It would be obvious. And imagine how irritating it would be if an extra long song with a hidden track at the end of it came up on shuffle. You'd probably try to edit out the dead air and split the songs into two separate tracks.

The thrill of the hidden track has faded.

Here's Wikipedia's entry on hidden tracks and their varieties, as well as a very lengthy list of examples.

A few of my favorite hidden tracks: "Postscript" at the end of the Pet Shop Boys' Very, the track at the end of the 1977 album by Ash, and that great untitled song at the end of R.E.M.'s Green album, which might not really be hidden, but it's unlisted on the album cover. Also "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" by Lauryn Hill, the raging, feedback-y "Endless, Nameless" by Nirvana, and, of course, "Bitches Ain't Shit" on Dre's The Chronic, which are all included on the Top 13 list.

What hidden tracks do you like?

February 16, 2010

She's everyone's Sharona

Sharona Alperin

Doug Fieger, singer and guitarist of The Knack, died over the weekend of lung cancer (here's his obituary.) But his teenage girlfriend from the 70s, Sharon Alperin, still looms large in pop music history as the subject of their biggest hit "My Sharona", that classic tale of unrestrained sexual coercion.

Fieger presumably built his entire career around that one song, which was #1 in the charts for 6 weeks in 1979 and has been the inspiration for many parodies and tributes and the scene from Reality Bites that ushered people my age into generational nostalgia, even though we were still in college when the movie came out.

Anyway, I'm glad to see that Sharona, that braless teenage siren in a tank top, has used her tangential celebrity to her own advantage: her real estate website URL is mysharona.com, one third of the site's page on her experience is about the song, and she was interviewed for Entertainment Weekly about Fieger's death (she "spent the entire weekend" with his body. Ew.)

If the entire universe is going to hear how a 26 year-old guy in a band pressured you into having sex with him when you were 17, you might as well spend the next 30 years cashing in. Go, Sharona.

Note: The Knack's second biggest single, "Good Girls Don't", is also catchy as hell and has even more salacious lyrics--see the Wikipedia notes on the "clean" version.

February 8, 2010

Band reunion

Here's a great SNL sketch from this weekend's show, for everyone who's realized with dawning horror that the guys from the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and the Circle Jerks are all well into their 50s now.

Band Reunion, with Crisis of Conformity:

You hear that, Alexander Haig?

Also, did you know Fred Armisen was the drummer for freaky 90s punk/hardcore/funk band Trenchmouth? I guess as SNL's oldest member and only legitimate aging rocker he's mentally preparing himself for his inevitable fist fight in the parking lot future.

January 21, 2010

Gaga tears New York's face off

Lady Gaga at Radio City Music Hall, NYC

(photo by dionisioyang)

I had been concerned that Lady Gaga was going to cancel her show at Radio City Music Hall last night, since she was sick and had canceled her last four shows. But when I checked her Twitter page yesterday, I found this entry: "Can't wait 4 Monster Ball, ready to tear the face off my hometown 2nite."

It was on. And she did. My face = off.

What's so amazing about Lady Gaga is her ability to create such an eye-popping performance with costumes and sets that are truly dazzling, and to be doing it now, when we've all seen everything already. The stage was set with four gigantic video panels that for the best songs (productions, really) had beautiful lights and image effects that were trippily transporting in the same way that the best moments of Avatar were. The show looked like no expense was spared to make sure everyone's minds were blown, and judging from her on-stage comment that her managers ask her why she spent all her money on her show (answer: "Because my fans are sexy") it was indeed really, really expensive.

The best numbers featured Gaga hovering above the ground in a glowing light box platform thing, wearing a bodysuit covered in little lights, or antlers, or a gladiator leotard, or a dress made of thick layers of black feathers. (Or in one shocking-for-Gaga scene, pants.) Some of the numbers were of a more standard variety that I imagine Madonna's or Gwen Stefani's shows would be like, i.e. prancing around the stage in a red patent leather bikini with a bunch of studs (see photo).

But the best productions were James Cameron-level beautiful, or completely weird, like for "Paparazzi" where she wore an elaborate up-do that was connected to two big metal rings that were linked to a horizontal metal rod that two dancers moved around the stage, essentially pulling her along the floor in an elaborate sort of hair-bondage scene. Then for a brief interval it was just Gaga alone on stage at a piano, singing a fantastic bluesy, smoky, torch-song version of "Poker Face", and some other ballads.

The crowd had a lot more women and people in their 30's or older than I would have expected. I thought it was going to be a bunch of teenage girls, a lot of gay guys, and me. In reality, the crowd seemed to be mostly people over 25, almost 100% of whom were wearing some combination of feathers, leopard bodysuits, glitter, mirrors, and in one case, a full-body spacesuit covered with Christmas lights.

Somewhat disturbingly, there were some moms who apparently are not familiar with Lady Gaga's style, who brought their 10 year-old daughters dressed in wigs, high-heeled boots, and aviator sunglasses to listen to Gaga talk about blowjobs and dry-hump guys in spandex with fur covering their faces.

Anyway, another thing Gaga is good at is this: she appears to be totally genuine in her stage banter. She says a lot of stuff about following your dreams and being whoever you want to be and not letting anything hold you back, but she actually seems like she means it. When someone has made a career out of putting herself out there the way she has, I guess she knows what she's talking about when she says it's sometimes hard to be yourself, but really, it's the only way to go. I'm still not the biggest fan of all her music (except for "Bad Romance", which rules) but this was one stunner of a show that I think made everyone there want to be Gaga.

Reviews and pictures at the Daily News and the Post, good review from the Times.

December 17, 2009

Runaways!

Runaways

I didn't realize how excited I was for The Runaways biopic until I watched this excellent short trailer that came out today and my mind exploded.

Yeah! They're gonna tear this world apart!

In addition to the cast that plays the band (Kristen Stewart, finally playing the big butch role I've always wanted her to do, little Dakota Fanning in full glam-punk regalia, and Alia Shawkut as a bassist that never actually existed, but was definitely worth inventing so that Alia Shawkut could be in this movie) there's Michael Shannon as the band's manager Kim Fowley.

Fowley was a legendary producer in his own right, producing "Alley Oop", Dr. Demento standby "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Ha", and some early Jonathan Richman albums, and co-writing songs for KISS and Slade among others. As is sometimes the case with legendary producers, particularly those who discover and promote successful girl groups, he was also a real jerk, and after The Runaways split up, he used the name to start a new group called The Runaways, then was sued by the original band for the name and money he owed them.

Anyway, Michael Shannon is the actor to play Kim Fowley. Dark, charismatic, sort of sinister, and not afraid to play deeply slimy guys.

I can't wait to see the transformation of the band from the group of girls who posed in a wood-paneled basement in their t-shirts above (look at that cool teenage Lita Ford on the right!) to the stylized, heavily-jumpsuited rock act they became:

Runaways, glam

Comes out in March!

October 18, 2009

Putin: Everybody Dance Now

Putin rocks it

Ever eager to show the world that Russia is an equal to the West, Putin has suggested that Russia host a new international song competition. It will be just like the long-running televised Eurovision song contest, except it will be called "Intervision", and the only participating countries will be Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. These are all the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which according to member countries is "not a NATO clone". OK.

Kazakh Eurovision sounds almost too good to be true. [Cue video of Borat singing "Everybody Dance Now".]

I'd love to see what kind of elaborately staged pop songs are put forward by quasi-authoritarian states as part of their effort to show the world that Central Asians can do flamboyantly choreographed dance numbers in glittery makeup and spandex dirndls while sing synth-pop, too, just like the Swedes and Germans.

In response to Putin's idea, Eurovision says "it would be delighted to license Mr Putin the Eurovision Song Contest format," but they can't do Intervision without paying up.

Russia actually won Eurovision last year, so they were this year's host country. This year Norway won. Since Putin seems to be a man who doesn't enjoy losing, the upside of Intervision would be that Russia would probably get to win every year, with maybe an occasional courtesy victory for China.

As a side note, Sacha Baron Cohen is reportedly on board to play a new, non-Borat character who enters the Eurovision contest in a movie with the self-explanatory title Eurovision: The Movie. It's being written by Dan Mazer, one of the writers for the Ali G/Borat/Bruno empire, so I think it's going to be great. A Eurovision parody is such a logical next step for these guys, though the biggest challenge might be creating parody acts that are funnier and weirder than the real ones.

Here are a few Eurovision videos to give you an idea of how bizarre a spectacle it can be, both intentionally and unintentionally funny. Norway's winning song from this year, an emo violin folkpop tune; Apocalyptica, a Finnish hard rock cello band from 2007, with stage dancers wearing some sort of pelt tutus; and Ukrainian comedian/insane disco robot Verka Serduchka from 2007.

October 9, 2009

Today's news

Obama waves

Some of today's happenings:

  • The Nobel Committee, in a spasm of ecstatic relief that George W. Bush is no longer President of the United States, awards the Peace Prize to Obama. "He's only been President for 9 months!," everyone is saying, "He hasn't done anything yet!" Obama himself seems genuinely surprised.

    It does seem like this choice is as much a condemnation on the direction the world has taken as a result of our last administration as it is an approval of Obama. For the sake of comparison, let's look at what George W. Bush accomplished in his first 9 months in office: He cut taxes, especially for the very rich, rejected the Kyoto Protocol, and allowed our country to be attacked by terrorists. Maybe Obama should get a few Olympic medals and a VMA on top of the Nobel Prize.

  • Charlotte Gainsbourg has a new song called "IRM", which is French for MRI, inspired by the many MRIs she went through after she had a brain hemorrhage a couple of years ago, which I didn't know happened. You can download it. Beck co-wrote and produced this song, and all the songs on her new album, also called IRM.
  • Do you realize Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" album came out THREE YEARS AGO? Wow. She has a new one coming out next year, "hopefully". This reminds me of sporadic reports of a new Elastica album that floated around music magazines throughout the late 90's. That one took 5 years, and wasn't worth the wait.
  • YouTube is at over a billion video views a day, and is "getting closer to being profitable."
  • Marge Simpson on the cover of Playboy.
  • And finally, two people killed by a sweat lodge.

October 5, 2009

Ulrich sues Axl

Axl Rose and Ulrich Schnauss

The Chinese Democracy curse lives: Axl Rose and Geffen are getting sued by the record company that puts out Ulrich Schnauss's albums. They say that two of Schnauss's songs are used in Chinese Democracy's "Riad N' the Bedouins."

As the Daily News reports, "The suit is the latest chapter in the troubled history of the album, which took nearly two decades and millions of dollars to complete."

Here's a Rock Band video of some guys doing the Gn'R song and kicking ass.

Here are the Ulrich Schnauss songs, "Wherever You Are" and "A Strangely Isolated Place", with its videogame VisionQuest video.

September 13, 2009

Remakes and non-resurrections

St Etienne's Fox Base Beta

Some bits of news from the last few days:

August 25, 2009

Surprise returns

Skins

  • MTV has bought the rights to remake British teen TV show "Skins". The original series was pretty great--you can watch it on BBC America and on YouTube.

    Fans are worried the MTV version will be watered down, meaning there won't be as much drugs, drinking, smoking, swearing, nudity, sex, binging, purging, and suicide attempts, all of which were well-represented on the original. They'll probably pull off casting unknown actors, since they're used to doing that already. It sounds like the original producer and one of the co-creators are coming over for the new series -- the producer says his goal is to make sure the new show is "the absolute opposite of 'Gossip Girl'."

  • I would never in a million years have guessed who has the #1 album this week. It's Third Eye Blind. Huh?
  • Spout is putting out a book based on their blog, probably my favorite of the movie blogs out there.
  • A long piece on Wired about Craigslist is titled "Why Craigslist is Such a Mess", but is really more about the mystery of why Craigslist is so incredibly successful when it doesn't follow any usual business or organizational rules at all:

    Craigslist gets more traffic than either eBay or Amazon.com. eBay has more than 16,000 employees. Amazon has more than 20,000. Craigslist has 30. Craigslist may have little to teach us about how to make decisions, but that's not the aspect of democracy that concerns [Craig] Newmark most. He cares about the details, about executing all the little obvious things we'd like government to do. "I'm not interested in politics, I'm interested in governance," he says. "Customer service is public service."

August 18, 2009

Video scratch

Mike Relm, scratcher

  • This is from a week or so ago: Wired has a short video interview with Mike Relm, one of my favorite mashup guys, talking about his live sets where he scratches music and video simultaneously. With stuff like Battle Royale, Pee Wee, Led Zeppelin concert footage, and amateur YouTube videos. It's cool.
  • I like Nicole Holofcener's movies, which center on women and their relationships but are better than most other movies about women and their relationships, and always star Catherine Keener. But here's her next movie: I'm With Cancer, starring James McAvoy and produced by Seth Rogen (who co-stars) and Evan Goldberg. It's about a young guy with cancer.

    I can't decide if I'm annoyed that one of the few successful women writer/directors who makes good movies about women has been absorbed by the Seth Rogen juggernaut, or if I'm hopeful that the next Rogen/Goldberg movie might be a lot better than Pineapple Express.

  • A New York judge ruled that Google has to reveal the identity of a blogger whose blogger.com site, Skanks in NYC (it's been taken down), exists only to diss model Liskula Cohen, who wants to sue the blogger for defamation. (She's also the one who a crazy guy hit in the face with a bottle at a club.) The blogger's lawyer said this case could lead to indiscriminate lawsuits against internet trash talkers, which means the floodgates might have just been opened.
  • The Times says that there are almost twice as many Dunkin Donuts as Duane Reades in the city, which I can't see how that is possible.

August 17, 2009

London Fog, then and now

London Fog ads

  • Last night's season premiere of "Mad Men" featured a storyline about a campaign for London Fog. Above are two real London Fog ads--the first appeared in an copy of Playboy from the early 60s, and features a tearful woman using her man's raincoat as a Kleenex. You can read the text of the ad in a blog post about using deep zoom with Playboy's online archives (for the articles, of course) which touts the coat's imperviousness to "emotional outbursts or sudden cloudbursts". The second ad is a not-so-pregnant-looking Gisele from a few weeks ago.

    Don Draper's new campaign, which he briefly described last night, involves a woman wearing a London Fog raincoat flashing a man on the subway--which sounds a lot more like the 2009 ad than the actual ad from back then.

    And of course, the whole storyline was a big product placement (so was the Stoli reference.) London Fog probably got to request that their ad on the show feature a naked lady to keep their branding consistent.

    (Also, pretty good episode, but Sal and Joan were both great. I bet this season will be good because of the supporting cast, and not so much the stars.)

  • "Reno 911!" got canceled. It ran for SIX SEASONS. If "30 Rock" gets canceled this year, I'm gonna riot.
  • Brad Pitt is allegedly going to be in the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey, Jr/Jude Law Sherlock Holmes movie as Professor Moriarty. He wouldn't be my first choice for Holmes's menacing nemesis, but maybe Eddie Izzard isn't available (wouldn't he be good?)
  • Mike Nichols is going to direct an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel Deep Water. The book is about an unhappy couple who agree that the wife can see other people. She does. Then her other people start dying off. Mike Nichols is better at quiet personal dramas than thrillers, but it still sounds cool.
  • And here's a great Times article about Al Bell, former owner of the late, great Stax Records in Memphis. He's trying to bring Memphis back as a musical capital, through the Memphis Music Foundation and one of the greatest museums I've ever been to, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

August 11, 2009

Crime, movies, Pee Wee

Pee Wee Herman

  • Paul Reubens is bringing back his live show that began in 1980, The Pee-Wee Herman Show, to an LA theater this fall. Most of the original cast and crew will be back, which I hope specifically means Laurence Fishburne.
  • A completed documentary about some guys trying to find the reclusive John Hughes is going to be released. It seems that late last week, they were suddenly able to find a distributor. It's called Don't You Forget About Me, but could also be titled You Forgot All About Me Until My Untimely Death Hit the News.
  • A Brazilian crime show host is being investigated for generating stories for his TV show by ordering killings. I wonder if that's how "Cheaters" works too.
  • A man was found guilty of groping Minnie Mouse at Disney World. The costumed victim said she "had to do everything possible to keep his hands off her breasts."
  • It's real: Bob Dylan Christmas album
  • Upcoming Hank Williams biopic. He died when he was only 29. Who could play Hank? I like Channing Tatum, who's from Alabama like Hank, if he can lose some of the beefiness. Or James Franco (too crinkly?) or Paul Dano (too baby-faced?).
  • A map of drug use across the US, by state. Vermont and Rhode Island like their drugs, North Dakota prefers binge drinking.
  • A report about the Waterfront Commission of New York, which was created to fight waterfront corruption, finds that (surprise!) it's corrupt.

August 10, 2009

Def Leppard and iTunes

Def Leppard from back in the day

As anyone who grew up liking metal (or hard rock, or hair metal, or Top 40) probably knows, Def Leppard is one of the last remaining major iTunes holdouts. Sure, you can get their 2008 album, Songs From the Sparkle Lounge, on iTunes, but since there is probably zero chance that you looked up Def Leppard on iTunes to find that album, they may as well not be up there at all. Also, is that title a joke?

The band has licensed a few of their classic tracks to video games--you can download live versions of "Rock of Ages" and "Photograph" through Guitar Hero III.

Today we heard that "Rock of Ages" is also going to appear in a new metal-themed video game Brütal Legend. This is the one with Jack Black as a roadie running around and fighting evil, with a soundtrack of over 100 metal songs from a vast array of sub-genres (including "hair, black, thrash, British, new wave, goth, industrial and death, just to name a few".) The game's creator, Tim Shafer, says that of all the songs they wanted, "Rock of Ages" was the single hardest one to get. Those guys sure are cautious.

"It came down to the wire," he said. "We were really close to not getting that one. We built an entire mission around that song. It's really appropriate because there's these guys mining through rocks. It was the perfect song to use, so we're really happy to get that in there."

AC/DC, The Beatles and Garth Brooks are also not on iTunes--and these are all bands with insane album sales and really dedicated fans. Maybe at one time, Def Leppard could claim the same kind of power over the music marketplace, but they seem to realize that their fans are probably only willing to forego downloads and buy physical CDs of their old stuff. Which is pretty easy to do--I got a used copy of Pyromania for like 7 bucks a few months ago, though sadly the band won't see a penny of it.

So maybe with the new video game, they were holding out for more money. Or maybe the band has realized that they can demand a lot higher royalties from sales of video games than they can from iTunes downloads, so they wait for those offers instead of settling for their 9 cents per download or whatever. The band has gone on record with their love of Apple, and singer Joe Elliott, guitarist Phil Collen, and new-guy guitarist Vivian Campbell all claim they love their iPods and are Mac guys. I bet they have no problem with iTunes, but their accountants do.

Here's the 80's-Arthurian "Rock of Ages" video.

July 28, 2009

Linky links

Funny People

  • Spout's review of Funny People is up. Did you realize that movie is TWO AND A HALF HOURS long?! Karina liked it, mostly, though she says it's less funny than Apatow's other movies and gets "crazy indulgent with the montages."
  • Darren Aronofsky's next movie is about two rival ballet dancers, one of whom (Mila Kunis) might be a figment of the other's (Natalie Portman) imagination. One thing Aronofsky does not seem to like: blondes.
  • Ben Affleck is directing another movie. This one is a bank robber/FBI drama called The Town, with Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, and, maybe unfortunately, him.
  • Network attempts to get people to watch more TV: a new half-hour TV show that just plays viral internet videos called "Smash Cuts".

  • Record companies attempt to get people to buy more albums: iTunes will start selling albums packaged with artwork, videos, and ringtones in a new product code-named "Cocktail". At higher prices, right? Great.

    Later in this article, AP lists some other things labels have tried to get people to buy more music, like iTunes' tiered pricing structure and exclusive videos and stuff like that, then says, "So far the impact of such efforts on sales volumes has been minimal." Exactly.


July 22, 2009

The unleakable Jay-Z

Jay-Z is unleakable

Jay-Z says he's going to hand deliver The Blueprint 3 to the London office of his current label, Atlantic, as part of his efforts to stymie leaks in advance of the official release in September.

And this is going to prevent leaking how, exactly? Is he also going to hand-upload the album on iTunes, hand press the CDs, and hand deliver them to stores and distributors and reviewers and ad agencies and movie studios and the billion other people that will get promotional copies?

A guy like Jay-Z can't believe that physically shepherding his album to the label will have any impact on whether it gets leaked or not, so why would he tell everyone about this strategy? To throw down the gauntlet to would-be leakers--steal this, bitches! Or maybe this way, when and if tracks are leaked, he can lay all the blame on the label. Or most likely, announcing he's hand delivering the album makes it seem more desirable and precious and therefore worth the low low price of $14.99 at the record store Amazon.

As he said when explaining his change of labels, he's an entrepreneur. Which some might say is a word that better describes a band that self-releases their albums or makes their music more freely available online, rather than an artist who futilely attempts to keep the inevitable digital dissemination of his album from happening so that it can only be purchased from a gigantic media corporation. Incidentally, Atlantic now sells more than half of its music digitally, like through iTunes and ringtones which, along with Auto-Tune, get no love from J.

Even if Jay-Z is sleeping with the new album under his pillow every night, he's going to release a second track this Friday: "Run This Town", with a 100% Auto-Tune-free Kanye and Rihanna. Also, the album will be released on September 11, like the first Blueprint album was, even though that's a Friday. I guess 9/11 is his lucky day.

July 20, 2009

TUSH 2009, a late bloomer

I Gotta Feeling

Now that everyone's become an expert on the phenomenon of the song of the summer, there have been predictions about the Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit on every pop culture website you read. Vulture at New York Mag has owned the debate this year, with a weekly post ranking contenders that I guess will keep plugging along until everybody gets their hands on advance copies of The Blueprint 3 and loses interest in disposable pop.

I've been waiting to see if any TUSH was going to emerge from underneath the Lady Gaga juggernaut of year-old songs that are still cluttering up the charts. Then the Michael Jackson shockwave hit, which has kept the record industry afloat for at least another couple of months. The sales story of the year belongs to MJ. Check out this Billboard chart of album sales--he owns it, and probably will for months to come.

So if I was going to declare the 2009 TUSH to be the one song that I've heard more than any other for the last month, it would be "Billie Jean". Obviously. That's the ubiquitous song (Sasha Frere-Jones claims this year's summer jam is defined by Michael Jackson's death, but doesn't say which song.) But in the long term, "Billie Jean" doesn't belong to this year. You won't associate it with the places where you heard that song over and over again this summer, because it will always take you back to the 80's. So I'm going to stick to the spirit of the TUSH and pick a new song that isn't popular only because of a sad death and the resulting media hyperventilation.

It was looking like this year's TUSH would be some Lady Gaga song. She is everywhere -- still -- and it has been suggested that her persona might be a creation of Sacha Baron Cohen. But her album came out last fall, even if it didn't really take off until this spring. "LoveGame" [video] could be a TUSH contender--it's irresistibly catchy and has the best vocal hook of the year, and any song whose beat is self-described as "sick" I am automatically going to love. But by now it's too old and it's not sunny enough to capture the feel of a summer hit.

Then came the Black Eyed Peas. Their new album The E.N.D. was released in early June, and shortly after its release they had the #1 and #2 songs on the charts, something that no one's done since OutKast in 2004. Here's this week's chart.

Their first single was "Boom Boom Pow" [video]. I don't like it. Doesn't go anywhere and isn't actually that fun.

But the song that was born to be a TUSH is their most recent single, "I Gotta Feeling". This is the song that all of a sudden I hear everywhere. It's on the radio when I set the alarm at night, it's on the radio when the alarm goes off in the morning, it's in the Indian fast food place on West 48th, at the gym, everywhere. It didn't come out until the end of June, but already sounds like it's been around forever. It was produced by French electro-dancepop producer David Guetta.

Plus the admittedly ridiculous video is pretty great--the band goes to a wild house party which is like a condensed version of every 80's teen movie party montage you've ever seen. Everyone's jumping on the bed and spraying beer all over everything and making out with each other and jumping in the pool, except, hey, look! There's will.i.am waving a red cup around! There's apl.de.ap dancing on the kitchen counter! There's a girl spilling cookies onto the floor as she takes them out of the oven! Because this is the kind of party where people bake! It's fun, goofy, disposable.

Also: "I Gotta Feeling" gets the award for best use of Yiddish in a pop song: "Fill my cup! (Drank) / Mazel tov! (L'Chaim!)"

As a tribute to better BEP, here's the video for "Fallin' Up" from their first album. This song has a verse about how they'll never sell out. Ahem.

June 18, 2009

TV theme songs

Mary Tyler Moore opening sequence hat throw

Today's Daily News has a long analysis of the evolution of TV show theme songs. It doesn't seem to be related to anything, but it's pretty good anyway. It starts out with the idea that you can identify someone's generation by which theme songs they know all the words to: "Gilligan's Island" represents one generation, "Brady Bunch" is another, and "Greatest American Hero" is another. Of course, anyone who's in my generation knows all three because of the Golden Age of Afternoon Reruns in the early to mid-80's.

Anyway, the point of the article is that with so many shows on all the network and cable channels, audiences don't have the time or the brain capacity to get to know and love theme songs they way they used to, and many shows have almost completely gotten rid of theme music all together. Think of those 3 seconds of abstract whooshing that seems to be the theme music for "Lost".

There's a long tradition of theme songs that set up the premise of a show and characterized the storyline that extends into recent years. The theme song for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" [video] about how Mary's gonna make it after all sets the stage for the show in much the same way that They Might Be Giants' "Boss of Me" did for "Malcolm in the Middle" [audio], and that ran until 2006.

Today's producers seem to be less secure about holding viewers, so they cut the long theme song to get straight to the action: "Now that most of us have dozens or hundreds of channels to surf through, and a remote to do it with, the networks are terrified that the minute one show ends, we will start looking around ... The idea is that we shouldn't have time to even think about picking up the remote before we're seeing action from the next show."

Maybe that's why cable networks are comfortable with longer opening sequences with theme songs than networks are, so we get "The Sopranos" [video] and "Weeds" [video] with one and a half minute intros, and on the networks we have a few quick bleeps to introduce "24".

So I'll share a few of my favorite theme songs and TV theme music. Please add any other stellar examples or personal favorites in the comments. (Click on the show names to hear the theme music.)

Miami Vice: My entire family used to be whipped into a frenzy of excitement every Friday night when that Jan Hammer music came on.
Mad Men: That moody, jazzy theme song with the hesitant descending strings somehow captures everything you need to know about the show.
The Jeffersons: I know. It's obvious, it's predictable, it's fantastic. It's by Ja'net Dubois.
Fame: Maybe I'm being influenced by the trailer for the new movie, but the original was really great.
Law & Order: Both the succinct "Dick Wolf Cash Register Sound" and the funky shuffle of the original show's theme music.
The X-Files: Abstract and spooky, maybe most popular ambient TV theme song ever?

The site Television Tunes seems to have every theme song ever--over 11,000.

June 15, 2009

School of Seven Bells, Rock and Roll

School of Seven Bells at Bowery Ballroom

[photos by tammylo]

I first saw the Deheza sisters when they were part of On! Air! Library! back at the now-defunct Rothko in October 2004. I liked them--dreamy, atmospheric programmed rock with some guitars, and beautiful vocal harmonies. They were better live than on their album (I think they only ever did one)--harder, louder, and I didn't mind the repetitive droning aspects of their music that got a little tedious when listening at home. On the album, some songs felt like they were 2-3 minutes too long, prompting one non-fan friend to make an ingenious play on their name: I! Hate! Them!

Anyway, they've since regrouped as School of Seven Bells, and have been touring like crazy for the last couple of years in support of their album Alpinisms. I got to see them Friday night at the Bowery Ballroom.

They've moved up in the world of New York venues, and they've really jumped ahead in their sound. Those same gorgeous harmonized voices from gorgeous twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra, on top of some searing guitars with tons of effects, tight keyboard melody lines, and some big big beats. They sound like the harder early Lush tunes (think "De-Luxe" and the louder version of "Thoughtforms") with some noodly MBV-style shredding. And then Orbital or Underworld's drums programmer doing some kick-ass electro-techno beats.

Their album doesn't always sound like it, but School of Seven Bells live are an abstract-rock party band, something less blowsy than dream pop. Dream Rock? They also had cool video at the show, including one visual effect that I still can't figure out, which involved a bright light creating a shadow of the band on a white backdrop, then smaller and smaller versions of that same shadow image moving in flashes up the screen. It was pretty wild.

Their first album is out on Ghostly International, the Michigan label that also has Matthew Dear and some other dancy stuff. The next one will be big, I bet.

Here are some more photos of the show from Time Out, and some videos, which are OK, but they're a lot better live.

June 9, 2009

Christina Aguilera's mysterious cool trajectory

Le Tigre and Christina Aguilera

First she put her pants back on. Then she recorded an album of 40's style jazz with beats. Now Christina Aguilera is recording her new album with Ladytron, who reported that they were doing some tracks for the album, including a (presumably chilly-electro-style) cover of Ladyhawke's "My Delirium", a rockin' little song that was totally ubiquitous all winter and spring at the spinning class I go to.

And now she's recording with Le Tigre, those raging synth-punk feminist rockers we had almost given up on. It's been 5 years since their last album. But according to Le Tigre's JD Samson, the whole band is doing something with Christina for her new album, which comes out this fall. As Pitchfork reports, it will be a "bizarrely awesome combination."

I'm hoping for a duet of Christina's four-octave soul stylings and Kathleen Hanna's joyfully pissed-off snarl-screech. Hopefully recording with a mega-superstar will encourage Le Tigre to return to the catchy, banging, punky-pop sound from their early days.

June 4, 2009

Good, crazy, violent Bob Dylan video

Still from Bob Dylan Beyond Here Lies Nothin' video

Pitchfork has a regular feature called Director's Cut, where they interview the directors of interesting music videos. Today's installment is about a new video for Bob Dylan's "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'", which is more like a short movie that uses the Dylan song as its soundtrack than a traditional music video.

In addition to hearing the song, you can hear a lot of ambient sounds of the main action of the video/movie, which consists of a man and a woman beating the crap out of each other in a motel room. The storyline is minimal and inexplicable, but it's an engrossing, violent video.

The video is by an Australian director Nash Edgerton, who has mostly done stunt work in a million action movies, and directed a few of his own movies. Looks like he's a big fan of the Uma Thurman/Daryl Hannah scene in Michael Madsen's trailer in Kill Bill 2.

And there's your tie-in tribute to today's sad news about David Carradine.

May 18, 2009

Who's Older?™: Rock legends at Radio City

Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Today's edition of Who's Older?™ takes you to the Leonard Cohen concert at Radio City last Saturday night. Cushie used her advanced-level detective skills to get on the pre-sale list and got to go to the show, and while there, saw and heard about all kinds of celebrities, including Kirsten Dunst, Pierce Brosnan, Bjork, Bette Midler and Martha Stewart waiting in an epic bathroom line.

Also attending the show was Leonard Cohen's old pal Lou Reed. But exactly how old are we talking here?

To play, guess which of these two grandfatherly singer/songwriters is older, then click on their names to find out if you're right.

Who's Older, Leonard Cohen or Lou Reed?

Even if it's tricky to tell which is older, it's pretty obvious which of the two dyes his hair.

Here's a great anecdote about the first time these two met, taken from a book of rock star reminiscences called Yakety Yak:

In 1966 I borrowed some money from a friend in Montreal and came down to the great empire, America, to try to make my way. I had written a few books and I couldn’t make a living.

In New York I found this huge explosion of things and I was interested in this enlightened community being promoted in the east side of New York and I would go down there but I couldn’t locate it. I walked into a club called the Dome and I saw someone singing there who looked like she inhabited a Nazi poster; it was Nico, the perfect Aryan ice queen. And there was a very handsome young man playing for her; he turned out to be Jackson Browne.

I just stood there and said forget the new society, this is the woman I’ve been looking for. I followed her all around New York. She led me to Max’s Kansas City.

I met Lou Reed there and he said something very kind to me which made me feel at home. I had no particular clout in that scene. Lou came over and introduced himself and said, "I love your book." I never knew anybody knew my books because they only sold a few thousand copies in America.

Nico eventually told me, "Look, I like young boys. You’re just too old for me."

Lou Reed recounted their meeting too, while he introdruced him at the 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction:

"I first met Leonard Cohen at the Chelsea Hotel," Reed said. "We were talking and - I thought it was sweet of him - he said: "You wrote a song called I'll Be Your Mirror and it made me want to keep writing songs.'"

Sounds like they're still friends. Lou Reed may have a lot more albums than Leonard Cohen, but I bet Leonard Cohen has made more money, if only because of "Hallelujah", aka the most grossly overused song in movie/TV soundtracks. Lou Reed has "Satellite of Love" in Adventureland, but Leonard Cohen has "Hallelujah" in Watchmen and Shrek.

But at this point, Leonard Cohen probably needs the money more: a couple of years ago he won a lawsuit against his former manager for $9 million that she stole from him, but actually never got any of his money back.

So if you go to his show on this tour [schedule], I'm sure he'd appreciate it if you buy a t-shirt or some stickers at the merch table.

May 13, 2009

Aerosmith knows its audience

Aerosmith Guitar Hero

In a brilliant piece of cross-marketing, Aerosmith just made a deal with a gaming company to make a series of lottery games named after Aerosmith songs with pictures of the band on them. The company says they already have two dozen card designs based on different songs.

Now that is a band that truly understands its fan base. People love Aerosmith, people love scratch cards. Now they can buy their $2 "Sweet Emotion" lottery ticket at the same time they're picking up some grape soda and a thing of Cheetos at the 7-Eleven. It's beautiful.

Ross Dalton, the head of licensed content for GTECH, the lottery company, said they noticed that Aerosmith fans overlapped with the traditional lottery audience, which is male, middle-aged and lower middle class. "You could probably count on one hand the number of bands that would be both palatable in government-sponsored gaming and recognizable to a broad demographic. That’s why we got very excited about Aerosmith."

I see what he means. Who's gonna buy a Coldplay scratch ticket?

Winners will win things like backstage passes, concert tickets, and, of course, more Aerosmith branded merchandise.

Now that Aerosmith has cornered the markets for band-branded video games with Guitar Hero and band-branded lottery tickets, you could probably guess that they've also branched into merchandise that appeals to more affluent demographics, such as stainless steel water bottles, onesies, and fancy pen sets. Thankfully, a girl can still get an Aerosmith belly ring too.

January 22, 2009

Lost: the meaning of season premiere music

Lost plays Willie Nelson record

Last night's season premiere of Lost began almost exactly like Season 2's first episode: a man whose face is obscured gets up, puts a record on the hi-fi, and goes about his morning routine. The first episode of Season 3 featured a woman playing a CD while doing domestic things around her house.

In the Season 2 episode, the man was Desmond, and it was the first time the audience got to see evidence of regular domestic life, technology, furniture, etc. on the island, so it was a big surprise. The Season 3 episode introduced us to Juliet and life on the island before the plane crashed.

This time, we're used to seeing fully-stocked kitchens and stereo equipment on the island, so the scene wasn't much of a shock. The obscured man in last night's episode turns out to be Dr. Candle, a lead scientist of the Dharma Initiative. According to a theory on Slate yesterday, the first scene of a new season is a little preview of what the rest of the season will focus on. So it looks like Season 5 will be about Dharma, and probably a lot more stuff about time travel.

Since these three season openers are so alike, let's look at the songs that Desmond, Juliet, and Dr. Candle play. Desmond played "Make Your Own Kind of Music" by Mama Cass, a song about forging your own path and staying true to your own unique ideas even if it means you'll be alone. Some lyrics: "You're gonna be knowing/ the loneliest kind of lonely/ It maybe be rough goin'/ Just to do your thing's the hardest thing to do." Desmond is alone in the hatch for what, 3 years or something? And he's on a seemingly impossible but ultimately successful solo mission to find his long lost girlfriend, and also seems to be uniquely able to time travel without having a cerebral hemorrhage.

Juliet plays Petula Clark's "Downtown" while preparing for her book club meeting in her house on the island. It's a sad, wistful song about wanting to be somewhere else--Juliet listens to it and looks at herself in the mirror and cries, and later we find out she really wants to get off the island.

So what does last night's song tell us about Dr. Candle, and the Dharma Initiative? Dr. Candle puts on "Shotgun Willie", a 1973 song by Willie Nelson. After getting through the lyrics about Shotgun Willie sitting around in his underwear, the record starts skipping on the lyric "Well you can't make a record" before getting to the rest of the line, which is "Well you can't make a record if you ain't got nothing to say."

The skipping record is like the whole island that starts skipping around through time after Ben turned the Magic Wooden Wheel at the end of last season. And the lyrics might refer to Dr. Candle's unsuccessful attempt to record his introductory video on the Dharma Initiative (the one we saw a few seasons ago) because he gets interrupted when his construction crew stumbles on the time-travel mechanism that lies inside a hunk of rock on the island. Or maybe Dr. Candle really does have nothing to say and the whole premise of the Dharma Initiative is incorrect, or philosophically wrong?

Or how about this: Check out the rest of the lyrics of "Shotgun Willie": "Now John T. Flores was working for the Ku Klux Klan/ The six foot five John T. was a hell of a man/ Made a lotta money selling sheets on the family plan."

Whoa! The Dharma Initiative is either a white supremacist operation that seeks to use the island's mysterious time-travel capabilities to turn the island into a mono-racial anti-immigrant dystopia (unlikely-- Dr. Candle is Asian, though the rest of the Initiative crew seem really white) or the sort of mocking tone of the song means that whatever utopian ideals the Dharma Initiative has for an engineered society are as absurd as a bunch of ignorant hooligans running around with sheets over their heads.

It's impossible to read too much into this show.

[You can watch last night's episode for free on the ABC site.]

January 12, 2009

Ladies fall for "You Light Up My Life" every time

Jared Harris in Happiness

The Daily News has a story today about Joseph Brooks, a man who wrote the 1977 love ballad "You Light Up My Life", made popular by Debbie Boone and used as the title song in his show biz/romance movie of the same name, which Brooks wrote and directed.

These days, the 70 year-old Brooks is using his apparently durable fame to lure aspiring actresses to his apartment via Craig's List ads, promising to show them the Oscar he won for the song and give them parts in his next movie, then drugging and raping them. He's allegedly committed 5 such assaults over the past two years. Gross.

Maybe he was inspired by Jared Harris' use of the song in Todd Solondz's Happiness, in which his Russian cab driver character's acoustic rendition effortlessly sweeps a love-struck Jane Adams into bed.

Here's the video (involves sex, NSFW):

Here's a video of Debbie Boone singing the song at the Grammys.

Mickey Rourke at the Golden Globes

Mickey Rourke at the Golden Globes

It was a big night for Mickey Rourke. He got up on stage to collect his Best Actor Golden Globe, dressed in a satiny suit, sequined sash, and a chain wallet, and while he was up there, he talked about his long road back, got Darren Aronofsky to give him the finger on live tv, and thanked his agent, his co-stars, and his dogs (it was not, as Spout blog notes, an acceptance speech scripted by any publicist.)

He also restated his enduring love for Axl Rose, in what I'm guessing was Axl's first Golden Globes acknowledgment, for giving the movie the rights to use "Sweet Child o' Mine" at an affordable price. That single rights clearance sounds like it was one of the most important elements about the whole experience of making The Wrestler, as far as Mickey Rourke is concerned. In an interview about that song, Darren Aronofsky also talked about it like it was a defining event of the entire movie:

With "Sweet Child o' Mine", what happened was we were doing the scene in the bar. Mickey was miserable because he hates hair music. He loves Guns n' Roses but he hates a lot of hair music. I was like, "Mickey, these are the only songs we can use." There were like three or four songs that we could afford because it costs more money if the actors sing along. He said, "Why can’t we get 'Sweet Child o' Mine'?" I was like, "Go ahead, get in touch with Axl and try; but, the last time Axl gave a song to which anyone could sing along, it cost a million and a half dollars."

So as the day got closer and closer, it became a possibility because Mickey kept bothering Axl and begging Axl, "Please, let me have it." But you know you have to get the sign-off from everyone in Guns n' Roses. But Mickey’s friends with all of them, he knows all of them. The day for shooting comes and we don’t have the rights. Mickey said, "Just shoot it. I’ll get you the rights." I said, "I can’t, man. We’ll just have to do 'Round the Round.' " So I got him to do "Round the Round."

We got halfway through the day and then Axl called and said, "You can have 'Sweet Child o' Mine'." I was like, "Oh gosh, should we go tell Mickey that we got the song? Or just keep going because we can’t reshoot?” Because we were on such a low budget that we couldn’t go back and reshoot... In the end, creatively, I liked it the best; but, now that we had the rights to "Sweet Child o' Mine", I was like, "Oh great, we’ll use it for the final entrance because it’s such an important song for us on the film." Mickey used to come out to that when he was a boxer. Whenever he’d do anything athletic in the film, he’d be like, "Put up 'Sweet Child o' Mine' " and we’d blast it so that he was all pumped up when he did his move. For the crew it became our anthem and having it in the film was just a great thing that Axl added.

[video of his speech]

Note: In addition to all the former members of Guns n' Roses, Mickey Rourke is also friends with Bruce Springsteen and his main awards season competitor Sean Penn.

January 7, 2009

Prince's cover of "Crimson and Clover"

This is from a couple of weeks ago, but I only just happened to hear on Classic Hits station CBS (my #1 source for music news) while at the eye doctor today that Prince released a few songs from his new album recently, one of which is a cover of one of my favorites, Tommy James and the Shondells' "Crimson and Clover".

His version uses the same reverb-y guitar and underwater-sounding vocals, and it sounds fantastic. It starts off a lot like the Tommy James original, then moves into some harder Joan Jett-style rocking, with a new dropped-in verse of his own that starts "Baby, I think I love you", which Rolling Stone thinks is from Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" (or is it Prince's own "I Feel 4 U"?) Actually, I think they meant the Troggs' "Wild Thing", as covered by Jimi.

You can hear all the new songs here. You can also listen at Prince's radioactive-psychedelic new website, Lotusflow3r.

December 15, 2008

Which soul icon will Beyoncé play next?

Beyonce as Etta James, Cadillac Records

Beyoncé's latest movie, Cadillac Records, tells the story of Chicago's Chess Records, an early blues, soul, and rock label that introduced black artists to white audiences and global stardom. Beyoncé plays Etta James, and though her acting is a little uneven and the movie isn't doing especially well at the box office (it opened last week in 9th place, this week it's at 11th), she's got an Executive Producer credit and sings the hell out of a lot of soul classics on the soundtrack.

Her last major role was in Dreamgirls, the quasi-historical story of Motown Records, Detroit's early pop and R&B label. She played the Diana Ross character, and even though she was flat as a flounder, she looked great in those early 60's outfits and more or less held her own in a mediocre movie.

So what's next? I'd like to see the early rock label triumvirate completed with a movie about Stax Records, Memphis's early soul and funk label. Like Chess, most of the greats on Stax were men (Isaac Hayes, Booker T and the MG's, Otis Redding) but there were a few outsize female icons that would be great for Beyoncé to play. She could do a pretty good Mavis Staples [photo], beating out her older Staple Sisters to become the lasting solo star. I'm not Beyoncé's greatest fan, and she's better at pop than soul, but she's trying to stretch herself into a respected actress, which is good. Plus she's probably a major draw for audiences that might otherwise not care about movies about old record labels.

Cadillac Records was OK. It has a few great scenes, and Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters and Mos Def as Chuck Berry are especially good. I wish there had been more scenes about the uneasy partnership between Leonard Chess, the label owner, and Muddy Waters, his first star, since their scenes together were the most memorable. And fewer contrived lines like "Just you wait! My wife's gonna drive a Cadillac!"

The Post explains today why Bo Diddley, also a major star on Chess, isn't mentioned in the movie at all. His management company says:

"It's no secret that Bo had real issues with the Chess brothers and their 'creative accounting practices.' It was Bo's recollection that every time he or another performer would go into the Chess offices to ask for their royalties, they were given the keys to a new Cadillac instead. So, in that regard, at least they got the title of the movie right. Regardless, we are completely shocked that the producers would omit such a seminal figure as Bo."

That "creative accounting" is represented in the movie, with Leonard Chess diverting a bit of Chuck Berry's prodigious income stream to his less popular labelmates. The scene in Cadillac Records was almost exactly like the scene in 24 Hour Party People, the quasi-historical movie about Factory Records, when Tony Wilson uses New Order's royalties to pay for other less successful ventures, like the Hacienda and every other band on the label.

Seven Levels of Christmas

Here's a special Christmas music video from Uncle Thermo to remind you of the true meaning of the season: Morrissey and flossing.

December 3, 2008

Pitchfork 500

Pitchfork 500

I should have written about this earlier, but Pitchfork has a new book out, Pitchfork 500. It's a collection of the 500 best songs ever according to them.

Last week I went to an event at a bowling alley in Greenpoint where a DJ played tracks from the book, and it seemed like a great selection. With 500 tracks to pick, they covered everything--some huge hits that probably appear in the majority of our planet's CD collections ("Holiday" and "Push It") as well as a Stereolab B-side ("French Disko") and a Magnetic Fields song released on a tiny label from Chicago that I mailed a check to in 1995 to order the album and they never sent me the damn thing ("Take Ecstasy With Me"). Justin Timberlake appears right next to Luomo. So it's a really eclectic list and a lot of fun to peruse.

They organized the book chronologically, starting in 1977 with "Heroes" by David Bowie, a song that on some days I think is the best song ever. It would probably be in my Pitchfork 1. Anyway, it's the perfect year to start with for anyone who is in my generation and doesn't want another rehash of how great our parents' music was. Pitchfork says they picked that year because it was "the birth of punk and independent music".

The book then travels through chunks of years that represent sort-of distinct periods of popular music with little blurbs about each song selected. There are also lots of pull-out mini-lists about notable (or made-up) sub-genres that might be the most compelling part of the book. They've got a section on Yacht Rock (which of course includes "Sailing" by Christopher Cross), Career Killers, and something like Bleep Rock which includes a personal favorite, I-F's "Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass".

Listening to selections from the book as they were played leads me to guess that a significant number of the editors that chose the songs were mid-90's college radio DJs who happen like all the same stuff I liked when I was 20. Including some I've hardly thought about since I was 20 (Felt, Unrest). But there are many moments of recognition. My favorite Pavement song ("Summer Babe (Winter Version)") my favorite Kate Bush song ("Running Up That Hill", of course), AND my favorite Orange Juice song ("Blue Boy")! Whoa.

As with any "best of" list, there are going to be a lot of selections in there that you'll strongly disagree with (for example there is NO WAY that "Setting Sun" is the Chemical Brothers' best song) but the book is a pretty fascinating flip-through. And it would make a great gift for music fans, provided you are prepared to accept their refusal to leave the house, talk to you, or do any activity apart from read that book for several days after they get it. If you choose to give it as a gift, expect total engrossed silence, punctuated by outbursts of impassioned ranting about "Highway to Hell" vs. "Back in Black" and how just because Bon Scott was dead doesn't mean that they didn't record some of their best stuff post-1980.

Here's the full list.

November 12, 2008

Jerry Garcia, before the egg creams and heroin

Young Jerry Garcia, age 25

This is what Jerry Garcia looked like in 1967 at age 25. He had just recently started the Grateful Dead (a name the whole band hated) and he was a big fan of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and bluegrass.

It's this period of Garcia's life that a new biopic will focus on. Spout is suggesting some actors to play him, but their ideas all sound like the later-era Jerry Garcia, the heroin addict and egg cream fiend. They're talking about Philip Seymour Hoffman, Vincent D'Onofrio, or Paul Giamatti. I love all those actors, but we need someone young, hairy, and maybe a little doughy-faced to play Jerry when he looked like this:

Jerry Garcia, young

So here are a few ideas: Jeremy Sisto. He's got the hair, he'd have no trouble growing a big beard, and look at that smile:

Jeremy Sisto

Here's another one: Danny Masterson, from That 70s Show. Put a few pounds on him and he's just about perfect. Plus, everyone already associates him with being a stoner.

Danny Masterson

Then there's the obvious choice: Seth Rogen. The man is the real hirsute frizzed-out deal, and is clearly no stranger to Cheetos. But his range is pretty limited: I'm guessing the first half-hour or so of the movie might involve some scenes where Jerry Garcia is not high, and it's hard to imagine Seth Rogen pulling that off.

Please add other ideas in the comments.

October 31, 2008

Upcoming sci-fi

Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet from 1956 is one of the most entertaining sci-fi classics out there, even for a not very committed sci-fi fan like me. In the story based on The Tempest, a young Leslie Nielsen leads a mission to a distant planet inhabited only by the sweet-faced Anne Francis and her father, and lovable sidekick Robby the Robot. The movie also had the first all-electronic movie soundtrack, and this was years before the first Moog synthesizer came out.

So now there's going to be a remake, which hopefully will hang onto some of the endearing qualities of the original, or at least include a Leslie Nielsen cameo. The remake is being written by J. Michael Straczynski, a man who I think formed my childhood concept of what sci-fi/fiction is: he wrote for He-Man, She-Ra, and the 80's version of the Twilight Zone. (He also created Babylon 5, which I wasn't into.) And he did the screenplay for the Wachowski Brothers-produced Ninja Assassin, which comes out next year and looks OK.

But: more important. J. Michael Straczynski also wrote the screenplay for the movie version of Max Brooks' World War Z! The book is a really fun read, a surprisingly well thought-out and thorough collection of oral accounts of the great zombie war that engulfs the globe in the near future.

Here's a review of the leaked World War Z screenplay, with some excerpts. Looks like the movie will stick with the current fast-zombie trend, and attach all sorts of criticism of government corruption and consumer culture to the zombie metaphor--the reviewer calls it "a George Romero wet dream."

October 22, 2008

Preteen vampires

Let The Right One In

While everyone's waiting for those sexy teenage vampires in Twilight, there's a much weirder looking movie coming out this Friday: preteen Swedish vampires (that hopefully will not be especially sexy) in Let The Right One In.

The story is about a 12 year-old boy living in suburban Stockholm in the early '80's who gets bullied at school. The he's faced with a moral dilemma: should a boy kill a known vampire if that vampire is gruesomely killing all the little bastards who beat him up every day? The vampire in question is a sad-faced 12 year-old girl, and they kinda like each other. She's like an externalized form of Sissy Spacek's apocalyptic telekinetic skills in Carrie.

Here's a fantastic short clip from the movie that plays on that "you have to invite vampires in before they can come into your house" rule that we all learned from The Lost Boys.

Clip from Let the right one in

The NY Times has a very sweet, sad clip, too.

If you only saw these clips, you'd probably think Let The Right One In is a little wistful movie about how lonely it is to be a vampire tween. But check out the trailer: knives, gore, blazing infernos, and a little girl killing people with her bare hands! It's pretty great.

There's a glowing quote from Guillermo del Toro in there. There are talks of an American remake already--he would be ideal to do it. But in reality, it looks like we're going to get J.J. Abrams' production company doing the remake, with the guy who did Cloverfield directing. Will they be able to resist casting 20 year olds and turning it into an especially gory episode of "Felicity"?

The author of the original book seems to be a Morrissey fan: the title was taken from the similarly-titled Morrissey song, and there's another Morrissey quote (from "Last Of The Famous International Playboys") as an epigraph. So there should be some dark, funny stuff in there, too.

It opens on Friday at the Angelika.

October 13, 2008

NYC club security

Santos Party House

[photo of Santos Party House by down by the hipster]

A quick comparison of two clubs in New York.

Cielo: I went two Fridays ago to see Nick Warren. Arrived at 11:00, line is already stretching down the block. Bouncers use a handheld scanner to verify my driver's license while I'm still standing out on the street. Once inside the building, the barcode on my ticket is scanned by another handheld reader, and more bouncers examine every purse, wallet, pocket, Altoids box, and lipgloss applicator very closely. They look carefully between every bill in every wallet. Everything is taking forever. A female bouncer puts her hands actually inside of my underwear. They appear to have drug testing equipment and every so often some of the kids trying to get in are abruptly escorted out.

Once I regain some sense of personal boundaries and get inside, there are some regular club kids dancing, and also a whole lot of guys in striped shirts and ties getting Grey Goose bottle service. The bar is a chaotic, heaving nightmare. Nick Warren is OK, but overall it's a stressful downer. Maybe Cielo should just hire El Al's elite security staff to work the door more efficiently. I used to like this place, too (at least on weeknights.)

Santos Party House: I went here last Saturday to see Z-Trip. Walked down an empty Lafayette Street at 11:30, right through the door, paid in cash, and was on the dance floor about 15 seconds after approaching the club. Didn't even get carded. The crowd was mixed in every way, everyone's dancing, and there's good beer on tap for $7. No line at the bathroom. A fun, completely easy night.

Maybe it's just that Cielo has been around since 2002 and the owners have seen many clubs get raided, and Santos is new enough that it hasn't yet (it opened in the Spring.) But when getting inside a club feels like intake processing at a federal detention center, that is not a good club.

September 22, 2008

My Bloody Valentine at Roseland

My Bloody Valentine at Roseland

[photo by 12th St David. they're all pretty fuzzy, but that's what you would expect, right?]

Here's who I thought would be at the My Bloody Valentine show tonight: guys I dated in college who live in the tri-state area, provided they could find a babysitter on a Monday night.

Here's who was actually there: Many iterations of the guys that you may have known in the early 90's at your college radio station who smoked weed and listened to MBV, and also a number of people who looked exactly like the untenured professors in my English department. Brown corduroy jackets and everything. Almost none of these people were dancing, and several, I swear to God, were gazing at their shoes. Plus maybe 3 or 4 girls.

This show was a sold-out sausagefest, but then again, I was pretty disdainful toward MBV all through college (indiepop fan), only later realizing that those dope-smoking radio DJs were onto something. And there we all were, 15 years later, packed into Roseland and bobbing our crinkly heads.

I was a little worried the music might be a self-indulgent, feedback-heavy Jazz Odyssey freakout, the kind of unstructured guitar-band reverb drone that is the reason why I don't go to Sonic Youth shows. But actually, My Bloody Valentine was incredibly tight. They rocked. Each song was clearly delineated as an individual song, with those beautiful, catchy pop melodies floating through swampy layers of guitar sludge. As my concert companion said, the band was a whole lot tighter than the Dandy Warhols, who he had seen a week or so earlier. (The Dandy Warhols are like 12 or 13 years old now, not much younger than MBV, which is weird.)

It's hard for a short person to see very much at crowded shows like this one, but when I caught glimpses of the band, they were keeping themselves mostly obscured in a hazy, saturated murk of lights. Pink, Loveless-cover colored lights. Kevin Shields appears to be turning into Robert Smith.

A tight set of catchy songs like this reminded me that My Bloody Valentine, with all their multitracked guitars and loops and fuzzed-out vocals, is ultimately a really disciplined rock band with some great hooks. They kept the set to songs that ran only about as long as they did on the albums, with no interminable solos or repetitive wanderings. Until the very end.

At the end, they changed direction completely and went into a eardrum-liquidating monotonous droning distortion loop that sounded like an airplane taking off. For 20 minutes. Or maybe longer--that's when I left. "That was the loudest thing I have ever heard," said the concert companion. I had to get out of there, but I was glad they had separated that element of their show from the more mainstream-rock part, because I only really want to hear actual songs, and my ears hurt. Still, an amazing show.

Here's the Times review of their show on Sunday at All Tomorrow's Parties up in the Catskills, with a good, quick history of the band. Here's their video for "Soon" from 1990.

September 4, 2008

Lars Ulrich--A changed man

Lars Ulrich, sad and happy

2000: Lars Ulrich, Metallica's outspoken drummer, alerts Napster to 600,000 fans who had downloaded their music. Their accounts are canceled, and fans are outraged at the band for targeting them, as on the whole they are probably some of the most loyal music fans on the planet. Ulrich also testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on file-sharing, and asks them to stop services like Napster, "before this whole Internet thing runs amok." Newsweek calls him a "cyber narc".

While this was going on, Ulrich did an interview with Slashdot in which he defends his primary argument (file-sharing is stealing), but also admits that record companies blew it by not understanding the Internet's impact on the music industry soon enough.

This week: Copies of Metallica's not-yet-released album "Death Magnetic" are getting downloaded all over the place after a Paris record store started selling it.

Not only does Lars not flip out and threaten to sick the government on his fans, he actually sounds totally OK with it:

"If this thing leaks all over the world today or tomorrow, happy days. Happy days. Trust me. Ten days out and it hasn't quote-unquote fallen off the truck yet? Everybody's happy. It's 2008 and it's part of how it is these days, so it's fine. We're happy."

Wow. Maybe all that band therapy got him to let go of his "fiercely independent and controlling" nature, or maybe he's just rechanneled his rage back into his music, which fans and the New York Times are saying is the best thing they've done in many years.

August 25, 2008

Merge Records' celebrity series

Amy Poehler and Bon Jovi on SNL

We already knew that Amy Poehler loves Bon Jovi (see above, and SNL video), but it turns out she's an indie rock fan, too.

For its 20th anniversary, Merge Records has asked a bunch of famous people--some musicians, some not--to curate a series of compilations of their favorite Merge tracks. So far, they've got Peter Buck and the guy who directed Junebug and some Superchunk videos to curate the first two, then later in 2009 will come volumes by Jonathan Lethem (who's a big music fan), David Byrne, Amy Poehler, and the chef at Momofuku, David Chang, who I guess is a celebrity now (here he is on Charlie Rose.)

The only way to get these CDs is to subscribe to the whole series of 14 compilations, called SCORE!, which you can do starting September 8. Proceeds from sales will go to the charitable organizations picked by each curator. Neat!

Pitchfork has some more details about the series.

A few Merge bands I've liked from the pre-Arcade Fire years: The Magnetic Fields and The 6ths, Polvo, Neutral Milk Hotel, East River Pipe, and the re-released stuff by The Clean.

August 12, 2008

Little Chinese girls in Olympic lip-sync cuteness scandal

Chinese girls lip syncing Olympic opening ceremony

It turns out that the little pig-tailed Chinese girl who sang "Ode to the Motherland" at the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony on Friday was actually lip-syncing [news report with video]. The real singer, Yang Peiyi (on the left), has a better voice, but was deemed "not as cute" as the lip-syncing girl by the Communist Party, which thinks nothing of driving talented but insufficiently cute little girls into bitterness and self-doubt by the age of 7.

"The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feeling and expression," explained the music director.

Well, Yang Peiyi, join the club. I'm sure this girl with killer pipes and crooked teeth would get a lot of sympathy from American singers who have been through the same thing. Legendary vocalist Martha Wash actually sued C+C Music Factory in 1990 after a skinnier woman, Zelma Davis, lip synced to Martha belting out "Everybody dance now!" in the video for "Gonna Make You Sweat" and during live (or "live") performances. [UPDATE: Zelma says she didn't lip sync live. See below] [you have definitely already seen this video, but here it is]

And here's another one: LeShaun, the rapper who did the sexy female vocals for LL Cool J's "Doin' It" in 1996 [video]. She got upset that she was not asked to appear in that video--a few skinny girls were cast instead, which LL claimed was due to LeShaun's pregnancy at the time, "rather than any other of her physical features", according to her Wikipedia entry. Here's a 1993 video of LeShaun talking about her own videos being censored because of a double standard applied to women perpetrating violence in rap videos.

But both Martha and LeShaun got over it, and both went on to record more songs with the groups that cut them out of videos.

Little Yang Peiyi has a pretty mature attitude about her own experience with getting screwed out of a live performance that was rightfully hers because of her looks. "I’m OK with it," she said in an interview on the state TV network. "My voice was used in the performance. I think that’s enough."

"I love my country and am eternally loyal to the Communist Party," she continued, eyes wide with terror. "Please don't hurt my family."

UPDATE: Zelma Davis herself wrote in with a clarification about her vocals in "Gonna Make You Sweat". She writes:

"For the record, I have never lip-synched to Martha Wash's vocals during live performances.

I've performed "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everbody Dance Now)" on Saturday Night Live, Oprah, Live with Regis & Kathie Lee, hundreds of concerts around the world, and I have never lip-synched to Martha's vocals."

Thanks for setting the record straight, Zelma!

August 11, 2008

Isaac Hayes, soul icon

Isaac Hayes at Wattstax

Isaac Hayes was unexpectedly killed by a treadmill yesterday, after having some recent health problems. The NY Times obituary says his music "defined the glories and excesses of soul" through his early years as a songwriter and musician at Stax Records in Memphis.

Cushie and I happened to visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis a few months ago, and it was one of the best music history experiences of my life. Before he did "Theme from Shaft" and became a celebrity in his own right, Isaac Hayes wrote around 200 songs from the Stax catalog with his partner David Porter, including Sam and Dave's "Hold on, I'm Comin'" and "Soul Man", and played keyboards with Otis Redding , Booker T and the MG's, and pretty much everybody else on Stax as a session musician.

Also in the Stax Museum is Isaac Hayes' car, a blue 1972 Cadillac Eldorado, which was lined with fur, had a bar that popped out of the dashboard, and because he was a man undaunted by the technological limitations of his time, he had a small black and white TV sort of wedged awkwardly into the area below the radio between the two front seats. The car was taken by the IRS in 1977 when Hayes had some financial problems.

In a good VH1 interview from a few years ago he talked about his fearless and distinctive sense of style, which sounds more like a celebrity from this decade with an army of personal stylists on staff than a southern black man starting out in the early 60's:

"I used to go to a place called Lansky Brothers on the corner of Beale and Second and have them make all my clothes. I wore everything, man. I wore orange suits, pink suits, purple suits, chartreuse suits, green suits - it didn't matter. After I saw The Pink Panther with those Nehru collars and stuff, I was the only one wearing those in Memphis.

"A guy sold me a chain necklace and a chain belt to match. I started wearing that onstage, then I switched to wearing tights. I thought if a belly dancer can wear them, then I can wear them too. Eventually a guy named Charles Rubin said, "I'm going to make you a chain vest." I realized, Wait a minute, I'm wearing chains! Chains once represented slavery to a black man in this country. I said, I'm going to turn it around -- these chains are a symbol of strength and power. So I kept wearing them."

Here's a video clip of Isaac Hayes making his dramatic entrance at the Wattstax concert in LA in 1972. Pink tights, black and white fur boots, and gold chains. He is so awesome:

Isaac Hayes at Wattstax

Hayes seemed to move effortlessly from one important moment in pop culture to another for his entire life. After helping to create soul music in the 60's and defining himself as a symbol of black pride during the 70's, he moved onto TV and movies in the 80's. He was in Escape From New York, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, and showed up on "The A-Team" and "Miami Vice". In the 90's came "South Park" and, of course, Scientology. It would have been only a matter of time before he did a song with Kanye.

Incredibly, Hayes had just finished making a movie called Soul Men with Samuel L. Jackson and good old Bernie Mac, who also died this weekend. Hang in there, Samuel L.

LA Times
also has a very lengthy and in-depth obituary. Reports of the number of kids he has varies from "several" in the LA Times to 6 on IMDb to 12 in the NY Times. There's a good, if not very well organized bio on his website.

August 1, 2008

2008 TUSH. I guess.

Rihanna Disturbia

Now that we're in August, the Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit, or TUSH, of this summer should be clear by now. At this time last year, you couldn't go more than a day or two without hearing Rihanna's "Umbrella". When she performed the song on the Today show last July in Rockefeller Center [video], she drew a huge swarm of fans, there were umbrellas bobbing through the crowd, and her gigantic stardom was solidified.

This summer, we got Rihanna on the Today show, again, and she performed "Umbrella", again, along with two new songs ("Don't Stop the Music" and "Take a Bow"), neither of which were that great [video]. The best part of this year's performance was the rockier version of "Umbrella" [video], which only emphasized that her good song is old, and her newer songs are dull.

It seemed like Rihanna was out of the running for this year's TUSH--until "Disturbia" came along. This song was released at the end of June, and it's gotten as far as #4 on the singles chart. At first I didn't think this song could be a TUSH because it's associated with Rihanna's 2007 album Good Girl Gone Bad, but it's actually part of the "Reloaded" re-release of that album that came out two months ago with some new songs. Plus, can the same artist have two TUSHs in a row? Highly unconventional.

"Disturbia" also lacks the sunny, breezy qualities of a solid TUSH--it's not goofy like "Hollaback Girl" and doesn't have the irresistible appeal of "Crazy In Love". It's actually pretty dark, which is enhanced by the sinister video, which looks like the Nine Inch Nails "Closer" video if it were set in Jame Gumb's basement, and features lots of orgiastic bondage freaks humping their chains. Not exactly MTV Beach House material.

But the song is catchy, and most important, I hear it a lot. It was played a few times at a recent minor league baseball game I attended, along with the standard "Song 2" by Blur and "Gasolina" by Daddy Yankee, it's on the radio when my alarm goes off, it's playing on car stereos on 7th Avenue at 2 am. It's not especially memorable, and not very hooky, but seems to appeal to enough people that it's starting to create some airwave saturation. Plus, that spiderweb bodysuit that she wears in the video is super hot.

The only other serious contender that I can identify is Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" [video]. This song is seriously popular: it's been at #1 on the charts for 6 weeks now, and Reuters just called it "the song of the summer".

But this song drives me up the f'ing wall. Its production is totally bland and flat, it's not the least bit funky or danceable (which all good TUSHs are) and the theme seems to be the same giggly, "bi-curious" Lesbian Chic that was popular when it was on the cover of Newsweek in 1993. Plus, Jill Sobule did a song with the same title about the same thing [video] in 1995.

The Katy Perry video is mostly not bad--she frolics with a room full of hot girls in their underwear, jamming to her cruddy song and reveling in how totally radical and experimental she is by kissing a girl, then wakes up in bed next to her boyfriend, and sighs with the relief of unshakable heterosexuality. I sort of hate it. And did you know that Katy Perry's first album was Christian pop? Yep. Maybe that's why she thinks kissing a girl is a notable thing to do.

Plus, I don't think I've heard "I Kissed a Girl" even once at a beach snack bar or in the Walgreens. As far as I can tell, Rihanna has just squeaked in with an unprecedented 2nd TUSH.

But I'm not that convinced. I may be off-base here. There may be another song out there that meets the Total Ubiquity criteria for TUSHdom, so let me know if there is. But I have to have heard this song tons of times this summer without trying to seek it out, and it has to be good (e.g. maybe it's "Lollipop").

Here's a good feature from WNYC on identifying this year's song of the summer, where you can vote on any of about 30 contenders (many of which are bogus. Sigur Ros?!) The videos they feature include "Disturbia", "I Kissed a Girl", and "Lollipop".

July 28, 2008

Can rock change the world?

Muhajababe

If you watched MTV in August 1989, you probably remember all the news reports about the Moscow Music Peace Festival, or in the words of Sebastian Bach, "Rocknost". The concert, which happened just a few months before the Berlin Wall came down, was the first huge western rock concert in the Soviet Union and represented its unstoppable shift toward democracy and cultural freedom.

Of course, it was a metal concert. The bands included Motley Crue, Cinderella, Ozzy Osbourne, Bon Jovi, and Skid Row, and showed that the great unifier that spanned the Iron Curtain was big hair and guitar solos. Ironically, the supposed message of the concert was the war on drugs, which wasn't exactly reflected in the bands' behavior. Ozzy says that it was after this concert that he got so drunk that he famously tried to kill his wife, Sharon.

But the legacy of cultural and political change through music remains. A few years ago, Lionel Ritchie did a concert in the newly pro-Western Libya. In an interview, he shared his belief that music can be a more powerful force than diplomacy in mending political differences:

"I have seen it where in many many populations of the world, politics they couldn't agree on, religion they couldn't agree on. You bring a musical artist in, it translates totally into another realm, and I think that what's going to happen now, that by this being the door to open, you're going to see a change in this country, I can almost guarantee it."

Lionel Ritchie is apparently also huge in Iraq: "Iraqis who do not understand a word of English can sing an entire Lionel Richie song."

So now Iran, a country in which all Western pop music with lyrics is banned and the government censors Iranian albums before they're released, has agreed to host a concert with Western artists. Who is going to represent freedom and democracy at this pivotal cultural event, our decade's Rocknost?

Chris de Burgh. The man who gave wretched life to a leading contender for the Worst Song Ever, "Lady in Red", will perform later this year at a stadium in Tehran, with an Iranian band. Apparently he's very popular.

Despite this devastating blow to the prospect of mutual understanding between the East and the West, I think the concept still holds promise. While Chris de Burgh is obviously a terrible choice for this Iranian concert, other artists could make some real progress in bridging our differences. Metal is universally and timelessly loved by teens around the world, especially kids who live in an oppressive political environment that's on the verge of a huge cultural shift. Basically, if the US considers a country our enemy, then that nation's kids are the world's biggest metal fans.

Slate has an article today ("Rock the Mullahs") about metal in the Islamic world, featuring videos by hard rock and metal bands from Morocco to Israel to Iran. A new book by political historian and metalhead Mark LeVine, called Heavy Metal Islam, demonstrates that just like Soviet teens in the '80's, the pissed-off kids in Muslim countries who want their world to change are the ones in Mastodon t-shirts:

A member of Iran's most popular metal band, Tarantist, tells LeVine, "Metal is in our blood. It's not entertainment, it's our pain, and also an antidote to the hypocrisy of religion that is injected into all of us from the moment we're born."

One of the patriarchs of Morocco's heavy metal scene, Reda Zine, puts it this way: "We play heavy metal because our lives are heavy metal."

The photo above of a so-called "Muhajababe" is from a good NPR story about LeVine's book and the Middle Eastern metal scene.

Ahmadinejad may welcome Chris de Burgh with open arms, but it sounds like he'd have better ticket sales with Ozzfest. Or go local-- Acrassicauda, Iraq's biggest metal band, is the subject of a new documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad.

July 14, 2008

(53rd + 3rd) = (hookers x 2 boroughs)

53rd and 3rd, Manhattan version

The Daily News has a story on a woman who was walking to the emergency room last fall to get some help with her asthma, while wearing a long winter coat, and got picked up by the cops for prostitution. It was 2:30 AM, and she was walking alone on 3rd Avenue near 53rd St, an area the Daily News says is popular with prostitutes. You may know the Ramones song "53rd & 3rd", a song by Dee Dee Ramone about hustling for drug money back in the '70's.

Except the woman who got arrested was at 53rd and 3rd in Brooklyn. She was going to Lutheran Medical Center in Sunset Park.

Amazing. Is there some kind of cross-borough predisposition for certain intersections to attract the same kinds of people? I wonder if some South Brooklyn hookers knew the reputation of Manhattan's 53rd and 3rd and decided to base their operations at their local intersection to solicit confused old-school punk fans.

It looks like the Manhattan 53rd and 3rd hasn't changed so much since the 70's: when a big prostitution ring was busted in March (not the Spitzer one, the other one), one of its brothels was at 229 E 53rd St, just a few doors down from 3rd Avenue.

All charges were dropped against the Brooklyn woman who was mistakenly arrested last fall, and she's issued a complaint against the cop who brought her in.

July 2, 2008

James Brown's stuff, for sale at Christie's

James Brown's SEX jumpsuit

One result of the ongoing uncertainties and fighting over James Brown's estate is that many of his personal possessions are being auctioned off. Christie's has the full catalog online, and amidst the many jumpsuits, leather sofas, awards, original paintings, and "GFOS"-emblazoned accessories are many really personal letters and notes, and a few mementos from the darker years of his life.

Here are a few notable items up for sale.

Standard flamboyant celebrity clothing:

Some items I would love to bid on:

Really personal/cool/strange/sad stuff:

The auction is on July 17. Starting on July 12 you can go to Christie's and look at all this stuff in person.

June 25, 2008

Germany-Turkey throwdown

Turkey Germany flags

This afternoon, Turkey plays Germany in a semi-final game of the Euro Cup. I really love the added political drama of international sports when one country plays its own former colony, like when Senegal trounced France in the very first game of the 2002 World Cup. Games like that don't happen much in the Euro Cup, but the long and mostly exploitative relationship between Turkey and Germany means this game is going to be a good one to watch, even if Turkey doesn't have the greatest chance of winning.

I happened to go see Fatih Akin's great new movie The Edge of Heaven last night at Film Forum, and it's all about messy interactions between Turks and Germans. His earlier movie, Head-On from 2005, was incredibly good; this one deals with some of the same difficulties of the Turkish population living in Germany, but gets into even better stuff about parents and children, the things people will do to try to take care of each other, and the unlikely connections that can form between people from different worlds. It was fantastic, but way too complicated for a brief summary.

The Edge of Heaven's original title in German translates to On the Other Side, which is better. Here are a few glowing reviews, from A.O. Scott, Roger Ebert, and the Guardian.

(One note about the cast--the most famous actor in the movie is Hannah Schygulla, who was in a bunch of Fassbinder movies in the '70's, and played the title role in The Marriage of Maria Braun. She's still awesome.)

Germany's Ulrich Schnauss also played a free concert at the World Financial Center last night--I caught most of it. Now I just gotta get some stuffed eggplant and shish kebab and get ready to watch Turkey face Germany starting at 2:45.

In case you're interested, here's some background on the Turkish population in Germany. The short version: Germany invited Turks to come into the country after WWII because they needed cheap labor. Loads of Turks came over, and today make up the largest minority population in Germany, but weren't given citizenship. Most children of immigrants aren't citizens either. So today, there are millions of Turks in Germany, many of whom are 3rd generation residents and may have never been to Turkey, but aren't citizens. It sucks.

Starting in 2000, Germany allowed children of foreigners born in Germany the possibility of citizenship, so maybe things are changing.

UPDATE: Germany won, barely. They pulled out a winning goal in the last minute of the game, plus the whole world missed Turkey's surprise last goal because of satellite broadcasting problems. Bleegh.

June 24, 2008

You know you're a '00's kid if...

2000's

VH1 started its newest installment of the "I Love The..." series last night with "I Love the New Millennium", a show that looks back fondly on the decade that we're still in.

Message boards on VH1 and IMDb are full of "Are you kidding me?" and "What's next? 'I Love 45 minutes Ago'?" comments, but personally, I have no problem with a nostalgia show about just a few years ago. I don't feel especially nostalgic for when I was 9 or when I was 16. I feel nostalgic for when I was 27.

The 2000 and 2001 shows were on last night; 2002 and 2003 play back to back tonight. There were a few obvious segments in last night's episodes that didn't exactly capture the zeitgeist of years past because nothing has changed since then (remember the iPod? and when people downloaded music off the internet?) But there were a few bits that really did feel like a return to a not-so-distant long-lost era:

  • Failed football experiments: XFL, Dennis Miller hosting Monday Night Football
  • Dude, Where's My Car?
  • Kelly Ripa's debut
  • Sisqo

Many of the hosts of the old shows are back, with the deadpan Michael Ian Black delivering a solid half of the commentary. Dee Snyder is back, squeezing this new show in between episodes of "Rock the Cradle" and "100 Most Metal Moments", as is the most inexplicable of the regular VH1 commentators, Luis Guzman. The guy does 4-6 movies a year and still has time for this crap? He does a good job though. Also back are two members of The Donnas.

New commentators include Toofer and Josh from "30 Rock". Maybe they did this show during the writers' strike?

A few things from our current decade that I already feel nostalgic about:

  • Canceled TV: "The Job" and "The Lone Gunmen"
  • Low Culture (a highlight or two)
  • Fametracker
  • Common and Kanye on "Chappelle's Show" doing "The Food" live [video] (to be honest, the first time I saw this clip from the show was just a few days ago, but the pre-Jamie Foxx Kanye wearing a Kanye West t-shirt and blazer, with Dave Chappelle raising his fist in the studio/kitchen was instant wistfulness.)

June 2, 2008

Get saved with Slim Cessna's Auto Club

Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Mercury Lounge, June 1, 2008

[from a video by lzplksk]

Last night I went to see Slim Cessna's Auto Club at the Mercury Lounge with a friend who came from another city just to see them. From the little I knew about them, I was expecting a country-gospel influenced rock band, but their live show is more like a 1936 rockabilly pentecostal tent revival, the kind that has snake handling. It was fantastic.

You can walk into a Slim Cessna show and be Jewish or agnostic or a lapsed Catholic or whatever, but you're probably going to come out a member of the Church of God. It's as close to a religious experience as a lot of people in our generation are going to get on a typical day, at least at a rock show. The six members from Denver may look like the bad guys in a Flannery O'Connor story, but they seem like real sweethearts. The band has an album called "Always Say Please & Thank You", which I don't think they mean ironically.

They've got a lot of songs about damnation, but it seems like there are an equal number about Jesus and salvation, too. They're like a gospel band that is totally aware that you've got to do a lot of sinning before you can be redeemed.

The band includes all the standard rockabilly elements you would expect (upright bass, pedal steel guitar, banjo) but there are some surprises too, like a double-neck guitar with a Jesus and Mary hologram. They also yodel.

There are a bunch of pics on Flickr of last night's show and Friday's show in Greenpoint. A few good short videos are up there, too, which give you a little taste of their energetic fervor. Lots more on YouTube.

There are some free downloads available on the band website, and a list of the remaining tour dates for the next week or so.

Also: I was just thinking about Bo Diddley last night--Slim Cessna's rhythmic, reverb-y guitars and dark lyrics reminded me of him. Here's the Times obituary.

May 20, 2008

Almost-mythological R. Kelly child-porn trial is actually happening

R. Kelly at the Grammys

Over the past six years, you may have heard about successful and deranged R&B singer R. Kelly and how he was charged with having sex with (and maybe also peeing on) a teenage girl/girls, and taping himself doing so. Finally, the judge, the lawyers, and Kelly himself all showed up at the same time, a jury was selected, and opening statements are happening today.

Even though the judge in R. Kelly's case has forbidden access to sealed documents and closed hearings, there are so many weird details about this case, including all the other instances in which R. Kelly has had sex with underage girls, that the media is still finding plenty to talk about.

The Chicago Sun-Times published a long story in 2000 about R. Kelly having sex with teenage girls, and two years later, the incriminating videotape was sent anonymously to one of the authors of that story. The paper's website has has an incredibly thorough special section dedicated to the case. Recent headlines include "R. Kelly angrily hurls basketball at reporter at rec center" and "Potential juror: R. Kelly's 'not very smart'".

They also have a blog about the case, with a recent post suggesting that Kelly's brother might testify against him with evidence that R. Kelly tried to bribe him to say it was him in the infamous video. In an earlier interview, the paper quoted Carey "Killa" Kelly as saying, "And I say to America, the criminal justice system: If you let that n***** off, he's going to do it again, trust me. I bet my life on it."

The Sun-Times has owned this story from the beginning, but the NY Times has a good background article today, too. They interview some media and culture scholars about the case, with a few interesting conclusions. One of them thinks that since 2002, we've all gotten so used to sexed-up teenagers that this dirty video case seems like less of a big deal than it might have at the time.

The Times quotes a professor of black culture at Duke, Mark Neal, who notes that since the indictment, R. Kelly has continued to write songs about having threesomes and called himself the "Pied Piper of R&B", implying that he seduces children with his music. "Either he’s absolutely demonic or stupid or crazy."

Yep, probably. Or, as R. Kelly once attempted to explain the messes he's gotten himself into: "In life, you have people that love to party. That’s me. People that love God. That’s me. People that love sex. That’s me. People that love people. That’s me. And people that make mistakes. That’s me also."

Mm-hmm. Well, he also said at the time of his indictment that "Osama bin Laden is the only one who knows exactly what I'm going through."

I think I'm going to stick with demonic, stupid, or crazy.

May 12, 2008

You really oughta know

Dave Coulier and Ryan Reynolds

Alanis Morissette's new album is called "Flavors of Entanglement", by which I think she means "Jagged Little Pill, Pt. 2: I Can't F'ing Believe I'm Going Through This Breakup Bullshit All Over Again".

She tells People that the album is about the "unraveling" of a significant relationship, and "chronicles the rock bottom finally being hit."

There has been much speculation about who she was singing about in "You Oughta Know", her first single about how much it sucks to get dumped, with most theories pointing to Dave Coulier from "Full House" and, more recently, "Skating With Celebrities". It's a lot clearer this time around--she and Ryan Reynolds dated since 2002 and broke up last year. He was with Scarlett Johansson a few months later.

"Flavors of Entanglement" comes out June 10; Scarlett's vanity-album of Tom Waits covers comes out next week (and generally isn't getting great reviews.)

Maybe not that surprisingly, it looks like Alanis is appearing in better movies than Scarlett this year. Alanis has got Radio Free Albemuth, an adaption of a Philip K. Dick novel about an extra-terrestrial resistance movement against a despotic president, and The Other Side, a supernatural mystery with Giovanni Ribisi and Jason Lee.

Scarlett has He's Just Not That Into You, which looks sort of like Sex and the City but with worse clothes. Ryan Reynolds is starring in Adventureland, which is by the director of Superbad and feateres Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, so will probably be at least OK.

April 1, 2008

Crinkly music fans rejoice

Paul Simon rocks out

Tonight at BAM begin a month-long residency by Paul Simon. This seems a little surprising, since BAM usually goes for less mainstream performers (Fiona Shaw in Happy Days buried up to her shoulders in a mound of dirt, for example) and I tend to think of Paul Simon as an eggheady musical tourist that my parents enjoy listening to. A month-long BAM residency by someone like David Byrne, that I could see.

But Paul Simon? Paul Simon means swarms of aging Upper West Siders in batik kaftans and fake-exotic jewelry, getting down to "You Can Call Me Al".

Those people will be there, sure, but there will probably be a cool element there too--Pitchfork just reviewed a collection of live Simon and Garfunkel performances that was released by Starbucks. And they gave it a 7.9!

Also Jon Pareles at the NY Times (not exactly the most forward-thinking music critic, but still) wrote a long piece about Paul Simon with a sort of convincing argument that, for all his success and popularity among people like my parents, he's still an outsider in the music world.

I'm not sure that one of the world's most recognizable folksy singer-songwriters is still an outsider just because he keeps writing about being alienated and sullen, and Pareles does admit that his style is "smart, bourgeois, fussy wimp." But I'll admit I listened to that Concert in Central Park cassette a million times in high school, and for at least one of the BAM shows, Paul Simon will be joined by David Byrne, as well as actual African people. Remaining tickets start at $100! (Oh well.)

In other old rock star news, REM's new album "Accelerate" comes out today and they played a good set this morning at Rockefeller Center [video].

March 26, 2008

LA Times completely duped by Tupac fan/forger

James Sabatino

The Smoking Gun totally busted the LA Times today over last week's story about the Tupac shooting that implicated Puff Daddy. Turns out the FBI documents that formed the basis of the story were fabricated.

And here's the best part: the guy who forged the FBI documents is James Sabatino (above), a known con man and rap fan who has been trying for years to, as the Smoking Gun puts it, "insinuate himself, after the fact, in a series of important hip-hop events, from Shakur's shooting to the murder of The Notorious B.I.G." In the forged documents he created, Sabatino actually named himself as one of the New York hip-hop figures who lured Tupac to the site of the shooting.

I love it.

This isn't the first time Sabatino has made up connections to famous rappers. According to the Smoking Gun, he had "created a fantasy world in which he managed hip-hop luminaries, conducted business with Combs, Shakur, Busta Rhymes, and The Notorious B.I.G., and even served as Combs's trusted emissary to Death Row Records boss Marion "Suge" Knight during the outset of hostilities in the bloody East Coast-West Coast rap feud." He's currently in federal prison for some other crime.

Wired has good coverage of the many misspellings, typos, and other inaccuracies littered all over the fake FBI documents. And the NY Times is continuously updating their story, providing lots of details about LA Times journalist Chuck Philips (Pulitzer Prize winner!) and excerpts from interviews he's given since the article came out last week in which he gushes about how exciting it was for him to get such fabulous FBI reports--"like frosting on the cake." Philips notes that he had mysteriously never heard of James Sabatino in all the paper's years of reporting on the Tupac case, but insists, "he definitely knew these guys."

The LA Times has started to investigate their gigantic screw-up.

At the time the article came out, Puffy called the allegations "beyond ridiculous", which still seems to be true.

Another great bit from the Smoking Gun piece about Sabatino's other attempts to pass himself off as a hip-hop bigshot:

Sabatino has frequently claimed to have managed a number of leading hip-hop acts, including Notorious B.I.G., Lords of the Underground, and Heavy D and the Boyz. Du Kelly, a member of Lords of the Underground, described Sabatino as a "scam artist" who briefly tried to befriend the group's manager. Kelly said that he recalled Sabatino as a "short, Caucasian, little chubby fat guy" whose "father was supposed to be Mafia or something." He added that Sabatino also tried to get near the Wu-Tang Clan, "but I heard they beat him up."

March 12, 2008

Hollywood heralds the death of yet another street art form

Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo

Here's something Hollywood has a long history of doing: latching on to an informal variety of art or performance that was originated by poor people living in big cities, then sucking all the life out of it through a series of big, commercial movies that feature a sanitized version of the original performance/art form.

In 1980: Can't Stop the Music (disco) and Xanadu (disco roller skating).

In 1984: Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (breakdancing). These two movies came out only 7 months apart, which says a lot about their production values, and shows how well the producers predicted that the first movie would swiftly obliterate whatever coolness breakdancing still had.

Now it seems like young star Channing Tatum is making a career out of these kinds of movies. The guy is the star of Step Up and appears in Step Up 2 The Streets.

(I am guessing that at one time there were young city kids who actually engaged in some form of street dancing, which is different from step dancing, right? Kids in my hometown were metal fans, so I'm out of my element.)

Channing Tatum is also the star of Dito Montiel's upcoming Fighting, about underground street fighting. And now he's going to star in Parkour, about an undercover cop who enters the shadowy world of underground street gymnastics. [tx T-Rock for developing this theory.]

By the time Parkour gets released in 2009, it will be 5 years after the French District 13 came out. Parkour probably stopped being cool around 2006, sometime after that one scene in Casino Royale and the Madonna video. Even the Times did their characteristically late trend-watch piece last June. If those weren't enough to make parkour uncool, this should do it.

Channing Tatum is the perfect prefab famous actor name. If I start acting, I think I'm going to use Hepburn Dakota.

February 26, 2008

Mariah Carey's new market: 30 Rock fans

I don't know what kind of genius is on Mariah Carey's marketing team at her label, or if Tina Fey has started producing music videos, but a snippet of Carey's forthcoming video for "Touch My Body" features extended sequences of her frolicking around an apartment, in bed, and in a backyard game of frisbee with Kenneth Ellen Parcell from 30 Rock (aka Jack McBrayer.)

Watch the video clip, which includes a "Love Rocks" undershirt, tube socks, and a viking helmet:

Kenneth Parcell in Mariah Carey video

Mariah may not be aware of this, but the snippet is very reminiscent of a fantasy sequence from an episode of 30 Rock from this fall when we see Kenneth seducing Tracy Morgan's wife, Angie, while wearing only his NBC page jacket and an eyepatch, shaking martinis, and sensuously feeding her a turkey leg. You can watch the episode (#202) for free on the NBC site.

The video is directed by Brett Ratner. A new episode of 30 Rock airs April 10.

February 25, 2008

The Academy hates America

European Oscar winners

All the big awards were won by Europeans at this years Oscars. The UK was represented by Daniel Day-Lewis and the magnificent and extra-terrestrial Tilda Swinton, France by Marion Cotillard, Spain by Javier Bardem, and the Grand Duchy of Minneapolis by the Coen Brothers and Diablo Cody. Those last two won writing awards, demonstrating that the fine European sensibility is best for interpreting the multi-faceted nuances of American culture.

Even the best song and best score awards went to Europeans. Ireland's Glen Hansard and Czech Republic's Marketa Irglova won for their acoustic-y "Falling Slowly" from Once. Hansard's gleeful acceptance speech ate up 100% of their alloted time on the stage, and Irglova didn't get to say a single word before the orchestra started playing and stopped her.

So then Jon Stewart came back on and said, "That guy is so arrogant"--my favorite line of the night. After the commercial, Stewart went off-script to bring Irglova back on to deliver her very sincere acceptance speech.

Here's a video of Hansard's acceptance speech, Jon Stewart's one-liner, and Irglova's return to the stage [link fixed].

A complete list of winners.

December 19, 2007

The future of music, according to David Byrne and Thom Yorke

David Byrne and Thom Yorke hanging out

The good folks at Wired completely understand what people like me want in this world: they got David Byrne to interview Thom Yorke about the digital release of the Radiohead album, the future of music, and pretty much everything that's strange, wrong and/or interesting about the music industry.

It's not too long, worth reading. There are also lots of audio snippets of their conversation. But here are a few highlights:

  • Radiohead made about $3 million from download sales of the "In Rainbows" album, which is more than they have ever made from all digital sales of their earlier albums combined.
  • This is probably because EMI, their former label, gave them exactly $0 for digital sales of their music. Wow.
  • David Byrne makes most of his money from licensing. Radiohead make most of theirs from touring. Albums sales hardly enter into it.
  • In spite of everything, both guys still think releasing albums, rather than a song here and there, makes sense. Yorke: "Songs can amplify each other if you put them in the right order." He says it would have been snobby not to release an actual CD of their album.
  • This is probably already obvious to everyone, but Thom Yorke explains it well: The old system where labels sent advance copies of CDs to the media so the albums could be reviewed in the press pre-release was all for the goal of making albums chart high in the first week they were released, which nobody really cares about besides labels--bands or fans sure don't. And this very practice is what allowed (and encouraged) people to leak and download music pre-release, which has largely brought about the nosedive in CD sales over the past few years. You manipulate the fans, they bite you in the ass.
  • Best part of the interview: both guys realizing that record labels are spending all their time worrying about distribution and DRM and licensing and suing people if they think they're getting ripped off-- which is all just "the delivery system". They have forgotten why people buy music in the first place. Byrne says, "people will still pay to have that experience"--connecting with music they love. Yes, yes, yes.

Great stuff.

In related news, MTV calls 2007 The Year The Industry Broke, with a blow-by-blow recap of all the events signaling the end of the music industry as we know it. There are a lot.

December 10, 2007

Who'dat?™: Rock legends

Today's installment of Who'dat?™ features a performer on stage at a recent concert. It's a tricky one because you can't actually see this person's face, but the outfit conveys this legend's stage presence, charisma, and long history of womanizing and drug addiction.

To play, look at the picture below and try to figure out who it is, then click on the picture to see if you are right.

Who'dat?

See you on December 21!

December 4, 2007

Led Zeppelin reunites, faces prospect of playing "Stairway to Heaven"

Slow dancing to Stairway to Heaven

[middle school slow dance photo from Asphalt Jungle]

Every time there's the tiniest bit of news or rumor related to Led Zeppelin's upcoming reunion concert in London, the world goes nuts. Some news has been genuinely exciting, like the potential tour next year with the Cult, a rumor that was started by Cult singer Ian Astbury himself, who said they were going to tour with a band that begins with "L" and has a "Z" in it. (Though maybe he meant Limp Bizkit.) Some news has been more mundane, like the coverage about Jimmy Page's broken pinky finger, which postponed the show originally scheduled for November.

I was glad to see that someone more knowledgeable than I am did some analysis of Jimmy Page's off-hand comment that they were planning to play a song that they had never played live before at the show, guessing that it might be "For Your Life" from their final album Presence. Which is not exactly the kind of song that compels music critics to call Led Zeppelin the greatest rock band of all time, but still, it's news like this that fans want to hear.

But the best article I've read lately is one on Slate today, that focuses entirely on the question of whether Led Zeppelin will play "Stairway to Heaven" at their reunion concert or not.

That is a great question. "Stairway to Heaven" is undoubtedly the Led Zep song that many people heard first, hear most often, and is the song that devoted classic rock radio listeners request the most and, consequently, that others least want to hear. It's the most radically overplayed of all overplayed songs. Anyone playing "Stairway to Heaven" runs the risk, as the Slate writer says, of "sounding like a lame cover band."

It also doesn't help that a lot of people will forever associate it with middle school dances and all the humiliation that goes along with trying to slow dance for the first half, then deal with the awkward segue into the fast part at the end. Just the association with any aspect of middle school makes it a song that's difficult to appreciate on its own merits.

Plus, it's a weird song. The author of the Slate article writes, "It was "Stairway" that branded Zeppelin as spaced-out mystics," with those hokey, pretend pagan, potentially-Satanic hedgerow-bustling faerie lyrics. It's not until the last third that it gets good and starts sounding like a song that nobody but Led Zeppelin could have made, and as hard as it is to listen to such a familiar song and really hear it, let's admit it: it rocks.

The band has already played it a billion times, and Robert Plant has basically disowned it, though they still played it at their earlier reunion concerts, Live Aid and an Atlantic Records anniversary concert in 1988--concerts that Jimmy Page admits sucked. So yeah, I bet they'll do "Stairway to Heaven", but Robert Plant will be rolling his eyes the whole time.

October 22, 2007

This week's teeth-gritting Style section

Grammar Bytes

A few articles from yesterday's Times Fashion & Style section that seem to provide some meta-commentary on the world we live in.

First there's a piece on socialite Tinsley Mortimer's husband. His name is Topper, he's an investment advisor and a fan of Caddyshack, and he offered many spectacularly clumsy quotes that I am very grateful to the Times for choosing not to clean up at all:

"It’s worked out well for Tinsley," Mr. Mortimer said. "She’s built a great business for herself, she’s heading in the direction that she’d like to see herself."

But, he continued, "I don’t know that the route to how she got there is what I’d tell my 5-year-old girl to follow if I had one... I just never liked that whole thing with everybody trying to gain status from being involved in these charity events."

As awkward as his criticism is, Topper is clearly unhappy about his wife's pointless fame. Sure, he could have married someone who wasn't such a calculating publicity-hog, but he didn't know he would end up connected to the empty, self-serving elite social scene. He later compares Tinsley unfavorably to LeAnn Rimes, who also attended an event, because at least LeAnn "didn’t make her bones going to charity parties. She did something else." Preach it, Topper!

Next we've got a "What's Next for Lance Bass?" piece about his memoir, Out of Sync (a title I bet celebrity biographers have been dying to use for most of the last decade.) He says "it was very, I don’t know, like, therapeutic" to write the book, but as much as he hopes his former bandmates will read it (especially JT, who he slams for going solo) he's not sure they will. "It’ll take them a while because none of them like to read," he said.

It must have been hard for the Times to publish so many gems in one section, but later they indulge their editorial superiority with "Your Modifier Is Dangling", a tribute to hopeless cause supporters who rage against grammatical abuse. These people have started Facebook clubs like I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar and Grammar Freaks United in which they can vent their outrage at the world.

OK, I hate it when shampoo ads say their product "structurizes" your hair as much as the next girl, but check out this advice from business writing consultant Lynne Agress about what to do when somebody you're talking to makes a grammatical error:

Don’t point out the mistake. Instead, repeat what was just said, but with correct usage this time, and in your own sentence. Then keep talking.

"So if someone tells me that everyone has their issues," she said, "I reply, 'Yes, everyone has his issues, but that doesn’t mean we have to worry about them.'"

Yuck! Gee, I think they might pick up on your totally unsubtle correction, there. I know, "their" is wrong. But many people who have a robust appreciation of grammar use "their" as a replacement for the clunkier "his or her" when speaking, knowing it's incorrect, to avoid using sexist language. The fact is, there is no polite or non-prickish way to correct someone's grammar unless you are a teacher, or unless someone specifically asks you to edit their writing. You're just going to have to bitch to your grammar vigilante Facebook group.

October 4, 2007

America: A nation of enablers

Britney Spears Gimme More

Britney Spears has lost everything. Manager, lawyer, publicist, respect from critics, musicians, and everybody who saw the VMAs. Her kids. Her mind.

But she's still good enough for the American people! If she keeps up with the flamboyant displays of humiliation in public, we'll keep buying her songs. "Gimme More" is now #3 on the Billboard charts, and the #1 download in the country. The actual CD version of the single hasn't even been released yet (import version comes out next week.)

October 1, 2007

Radiohead is their own music industry

Radiohead In Rainbows

The big music news today is that, after a week of mysterious messages on a cryptic website, Radiohead has announced that their new album, In Rainbows, will be available October 10.

But here's the interesting stuff: they're not signed to a record label anymore, so they're releasing it themselves. And they're releasing it as an mp3 download (DRM-free, thank you very much!) Later this year, you'll also be able to buy an $80+ package that includes an album CD, a whole CD of extra tracks, the album on vinyl, the download of the album, and a lot of cool-looking artwork that you will probably love if you're a really serious fan.

But if you just want the album, you can purchase the download from their website... for whatever price you want. You can pre-order it now.

Few other bands could pull this off. Radiohead has enough fans that they don't need a label to promote them, and letting people name their own price for mp3's will probably only make the world love them more. And by letting listeners have a high-quality, DRM-free copy of the album for basically making a donation, they've done one of the only things a band can do to seriously dissuade people from leaking and downloading illegal copies of the album. The die-hards will shell out for the fancy CD/vinyl/mp3 package, and a whole lot of other people will give a few bucks (or whatever) directly to the band. Pretty easy to feel good about that, isn't it?

If you'd rather have the CD, you can wait until early next year and buy it, presumably for regular price.

It's another blow for the music industry. And what are they going to do about it, not include Radiohead's newest album on the charts? Who cares? Radiohead should go on tour with Prince and throw bricks through Capitol Records' windows.

It would be an interesting study of the economics of fandom to see the range of prices people choose to pay for the album. If no one will ever find out what a cheap bastard you are, would you just pay 10 cents? If you love Radiohead and support their campaign to further dismantle the record industry, but don't have to pay full iTunes-scale price for the download, would you still pay $10 for it? [Note: there is a transaction fee for downloading the album of 45p, about $1.]

OK, time to participate in some rockonomics market research!

How much did you pay for the Radiohead album?

Answer in the comments. Be honest!

August 27, 2007

How to seduce your best friend's wife

Pattie Boyd, Wonderful Tonight

There are already thousands of Beatles biographies out there, and all of them recount how George Harrison's wife Pattie Boyd left him for Eric Clapton after he hounded her for years, and they both wrote all kinds of songs about her, including the beautiful and tender "Something", the classic rock standby "Layla", and maybe the worst song ever written "Wonderful Tonight".

So now Pattie Boyd has a new autobiography. She decided to go with Wonderful Tonight for the title, so that the world would never forget that this treacly piece of prom theme garbage that Eric Clapton insists on singing with his eyes closed is about her. Poor lady.

Janet Maslin reviewed it for the Times. She exhibits some kind restraint, but still notes some of Boyd and her collaborator Penny Junor's more vapid observations: "This book includes perhaps the least useful account of the much-described 1968 all-star idyll in India: 'If it was anyone’s birthday, and there was a surprising number while we were there, including George’s 25th and my 24th, there would be cake and a party.' "

But what makes my heart go out to Boyd is her account of Eric Clapton stalking her for 7 years until she finally divorced George Harrison and married him. The guy sent her anonymous letters like this--"for nothing more than the pleasures past i would sacrifice my family, my god, and my own existence, and still you will not move", started dating her 17 year-old sister, then wrote "Layla" for Pattie in 1970 and played it for everybody telling them it was about her, and then actually threatened to start using heroin if she didn't leave George for him.

She didn't, but the determined Eric Clapton started doing heroin anyway. By the time Pattie finally left George for him in 1977 he had become a big junkie, then in kicking that, transitioned seamlessly into raging alcoholism. "It was as though the excitement had been in the chase," Boyd realizes, and she eventually ended what sounded like a completely awful marriage in which he drank two bottles of brandy a day and impregnated other women all over the place and wrote songs like "Wonderful Tonight".

She sounds like she's doing OK now.

August 21, 2007

MTV and Rhapsody: taking digital music a few steps back

MTV and Rhapsody

MTV announced today that they're scrapping Urge and teaming up with an online music service you've probably never heard of called Rhapsody to offer digital music to its viewers. Membership plans under the new partnership haven't been announced yet, but of all the online music download services I've ever seen, Rhapsody's looks like the worst. The service is part of Real Networks, the people who brought you the worst media player of all time, RealPlayer.

Here's the offer: you pay $12.99 a month, and can listen to all the music you want on your computer. But no downloading or anything. If you want to download music, it costs $14.99 per month, and you can then download your music onto a Rhapsody-compatible MP3 player, which does not includes iPods.

And if you want to download a song onto your computer, it costs another 89 cents per track! After you've already paid 15 bucks a month just to put music on your cruddy-looking SansaRhapsody MP3 player, you have to pay again if you want to be able to burn a song onto a CD! You can also download your songs onto your cellphone, but only if you have a contract with Verizon.

And of course it goes without saying that even these purchased tracks come with DRM that limits copying to 5 computers (with the exception of Universal, who are offering their songs without restrictions starting today.)

What kind of deal is that? Considering that the other big news today in online music is that Wal-Mart is offering DRM-free downloads for a mere 94 cents each, MTV/Rhapsody isn't looking so tempting. A year ago Rhapsody had only 4% of the online music market share, so they've got a lot of work to do.

MTV is assuming that people are going to keep buying bigger and better combined phones and MP3 players. Wired bets that the next big iPhone-related announcement from Apple will be that iTunes tracks can be downloaded wirelessly with an iPhone, since that seems to be the main thing iTunes can't do yet.

August 9, 2007

The latest in pretend lesbian entertainment

tATu

I don't know how I missed earlier reports of this casting news, but Mischa Barton, canned actress from canceled teen drama The O.C., is starring in a new movie called Finding tATu. The movie just finished filming in Moscow, and tells the story of two young women who find love at a tATu concert.

Russian pop group tATu was a perfectly engineered specimen of pop marketing. Their cliche of a Svengali-like producer and former child psychologist, Ivan Shapovalov, said of his soft-porn entertainment product, "I saw that most people look up pornography on the Internet and of those, most are looking for underage sex. I saw their needs weren't fulfilled. Later, it turned out, I was right. This is the same as my own desires."

As an erstwhile tATu fan friend once said, what's better than two underage girls? How about two underage girls soaking wet? In school uniforms? Making out with each other? Here you go: the "All the Things She Said" video, which is like the KFC Famous Bowl of mainstream commercial fetishism.

By 2004 their popularity started to wane, Yulia got pregnant by her hockey player boyfriend, and the illusion crumbled. A year later during primetime sweeps, Mischa Barton locked lips with Olivia Wilde in a brief teenage lesbian relationship on The O.C. [screenshot], which generated a little ratings boost (the show was already starting its downward spiral) but didn't really raise any eyebrows. Now, in a complex layering of simulations, Barton plays a young lesbian inspired by performers that everybody knows are just pretending to be lesbians.

Since this is such a tireless niche market, somebody figured it was a good idea to write a screenplay based on a Russian novel called tATu Come Back (looks like the novel was never released here.) Actually, writing this story in anything other than screenplay form sounds like a big waste of time. The director is the same guy who did the recent schlocky Captivity. Today's Daily News calls the movie a "sexy romp" (2nd item)--demonstrating the robust appeal of manufactured pretend-gay pop culture. But who cares, everybody knows it's manufactured; two girls getting it on = built-in audience.

July 20, 2007

Friday reading

Tom Cruise in Valkyrie

Lots of great stuff on Page Six today. Some highlights:

  • David Frost recounts the grossest conversation-starter of all time: As they were sitting down to their famous TV interview, Richard Nixon turned to him and asked, "Well, did you do any fornicating this weekend?" YUCK YUCK YUCK. What's even more disturbing than being asked a question like that by Richard Nixon is that Richard Nixon obviously thought of himself some kind of slick, winking, ladies' man. Puke.
  • Tom Cruise in his fetishiest/campiest movie outfit yet (above), on the set of Valkyrie in Germany.
  • During her first show in 2 weeks not to be canceled due to exhaustion, a troubled Amy Winehouse spit on the crowd. Crying onstage and hitting herself in the head with her microphone also reported.
  • A bizarre story from Moby about getting a funny letter from Karl Rove, after Moby joked that maybe they were half-brothers. The letter suggested that maybe James Carville was a more likely secret relative. Moby might actually not be joking about this.
  • And A.M. Homes, a writer we still love even though her latest books are maybe not as good, is reportedly doing an HBO series about the Hamptons, which hopefully will be as perverse and sick as her very best stories.

July 19, 2007

It's the middle of July. Anyone seen a TUSH?

Rihanna umbrella single

Most summers, a pop song has emerged by now that so saturates our environment that you hardly go a day without hearing it somewhere. Car stereos, bars, the Gristedes PA system, radios at the beach--it's everywhere. It's the Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit.

I've been listening hard every time I go into a Rite Aid or a bodega to identify the song that will be the definitive hit of summer 2007, but I'm still waiting. What is this year's TUSH? Today, the NY Times' Kelefa Sanneh wonders the same thing. He comes down strongly supporting Rihanna's "Umbrella" [video], which was auspiciously released right before Memorial Day, and only got knocked off #1 on the charts this week. Of course, in his review back in June, he predicted that it would be this year's Song of the Summer, and whaddaya know, now he says he was right!

I should also note that Kelefa Sanneh suggests that the 2005 TUSH was Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together", when everybody knows it was "Hollaback Girl", obviously.

"Umbrella" is catchy, sure, and I like it OK, but it lacks the warmth and energy of your ideal summer hit. Plus it's not so great to dance to. Last year's TUSH, "Crazy", was unconventional too--a consideration of mental illness and death somehow lacks the buoyancy of "Macarena" or "Good gracious, ass bodacious", the opening of "Hot in Herre".

There's still a lot of summer left, but so far I'm not quite hearing non-stop, unavoidable, ubiquitous "Umbrella" airwave saturation. Or maybe I just need to go to bars more. So what else would qualify? Sanneh offers "Beautiful Girls" by Sean Kingston [cute video], and earlier WNYC suggested a few other songs that seem off base now, such as Ne-Yo's "Do You", which I rarely hear and in my opinion is a pretty terrible song.

Last year you could have picked one of at least 4 or 5 songs and declared it TUSH 2006. This year's a little trickier. It will all be clear in another month--what's it going to be?

June 29, 2007

Joan Jett kicks ass

Joan Jett at River Rocks

[photo by classicgrrrl79]

Last night Joan Jett & the Blackhearts played River Rocks at Pier 54. Joan was as wiry and fiesty as ever, wearing a black vinyl top that probably would have fit her in 1980 when her first solo album came out.

And of course, they rocked. In addition to a handful of songs from her new album, Sinner, the band played literally every single Joan Jett & the Blackhearts song I have ever heard. Hearing all their hits together like that, I realized how many of their biggest songs were actually covers: "I Love Rock 'n Roll" (The Arrows), "Do You Wanna Touch Me" (Gary Glitter), "Light of Day" (Bruce Springsteen), "Crimson and Clover" (Tommy James).

But one of her best songs, "Bad Reputation", is one that she wrote. Though it was actually never released as a single, I suspect that "Bad Reputation" has had somewhat of a resurgence in popular culture recently because it's the track used in the opening credits of "Freaks and Geeks", the beloved but short-lived TV show from the '90's that I also bet has enjoyed newfound popularity because of the wild success of The 40 Year Old Virgin and more recently Knocked Up, which were created by the almost all the same people that did the TV show. I couldn't help thinking that the biggest reason that Joan Jett played "Bad Reputation" as the very first song of her set last night was, weirdly enough, Judd Apatow.

"Bad Reputation" was also used in a promo for TLC's "American Chopper" earlier this year.

June 5, 2007

Celebrities of the MTA

In the 50th Street C/E subway station:

Robbie Williams, MTA Superintendent

Must be part of his post-rehab personal development plan.

Earlier: reports of Robbie Williams' staggering and not really credible daily intake of legal substances that prompted him to check into rehab--prescription anti-depressants, "36 super-strength double espresso coffees, 60 Silk Cut cigarettes and around 20 cans of energy drink Red Bull."

May 10, 2007

Klosterman, New York magazine, and the Eagles

Lebowski hates the fuckin Eagles

Blah blah backlash, I still like Chuck Klosterman. Not everybody appreciates his obsessive approach to the minutiae of popular culture and tendency to make just about every story he writes a self-referential exercise or public disclosure of his family history/love life/drug habits.

But when he was writing for Spin, before the big shake-up that seems to have resulted in everything in there you'd want to read getting axed, I enjoyed his columns. In these columns, he often made wild and unsubstantiated claims about music and sometimes relied a little too heavily on the same '80's metal bands for earnest comic value, but they were almost always genuinely funny, even if his one-liners hold up better than his thesis statements. Sometimes the essays captured some idea about music that was new, at least to me (such as the "Ten Most Accurately Rated Artists in Music History" piece.)

So then New York magazine comes along with a self-consciously quirky little Apropos of Nothing column called "32 Reasons Why the Eagles Are the Best Band in the Universe", which is an attempt at ripping off Klosterman that is just not subtle at all. It's also not very successful. Here are some of their reasons:

3. Like all good California singer-songwriters, they looked great, too — no other band has pulled off the awake-for-three-days-on-peyote-buttons, stumbling-off-a-Lear-jet-dressed-like-a-cowboy thing with as much style.

5. The poster included with 1974’s On the Border, in which Don Henley is wearing the manliest peasant blouse in rock history.

7. The career arc of Glenn Frey, from “Chug All Night” — a song from the first Eagles album, about wanting to be “high on a pleasure wheel” — to “Smuggler’s Blues,” a nuanced critique of U.S. drug policy (seriously!) that inspired a really good Miami Vice episode.

28. The use of the “talk box” guitar sound — think Peter Frampton — on “Those Shoes.” Walsh’s solo sounds like a duck trying to speak with its mouth full of rubber cement and chewable Quaaludes.

The underlying "greatest rock band" hyperbole of this list is a rip-off in itself, and these kinds of statements about the Eagles are, I guess, trying to be cute and "random" ("rubber cement and chewable Quaaludes"??) but come off as insincere and unfunny. So the style of this piece really bugs me, as does, of course, the notion that the Eagles are the world's greatest rock band.

The fact that they actually include as a reason the Eagles reference that's in The Big Lebowski ("15. The scene in The Big Lebowski where the Dude (Jeff Bridges) gets thrown out of a taxicab for dissing the Eagles") demonstrates that these people have no idea what they're talking about. The Dude getting thrown out of cab after he says "I hate the fuckin' Eagles, man" isn't supposed to act as a rebuke to the Eagles-hating public, it's meant to suggest that the Eagles in general, and the song playing in the cab ("Peaceful Easy Feeling") in particular, are not synonymous with "the best band in the universe". As Robert Christgau famously wrote, "Another thing that interests me about the Eagles is that I hate them."

Watch the Eagles-dissing clip from The Big Lebowski.

May 8, 2007

Long way down

This flyer was taped to a lamppost on 9th Avenue, advertising an upcoming show at local cruddy fake-Irish bar Mean Fiddler in a couple weeks.

Chris Barron flyer

Guy from the Spin Doctors, using his 1993 Rolling Stone cover to promote his latest tour. Flyer is taped up next to an ad for a man with a van, and a flyer for a craft fair at a middle school.

[tx Cushie]

February 27, 2007

YouTube ruins it for everyone

no more Twisted Sister

Great post on Fimoculous yesterday about YouTube and the death of video culture. Remember when YouTube was still an exciting new resource that totally changed the way people thought about once obscure material, music videos, clips from tv shows and movies? When you could think, hey, I wonder if the song by Frazzle and the Frazzletones from Sesame Street that I loved so much when I was 4 is up there, and it was?

Well, not anymore, it's not. The best demonstration of YouTube's recent decline is Fimoculous' methodical revisiting of a wonderful Pitchfork feature from last June, 100 Awesome Videos. I was pretty excited about this video collection myself. It was article that took a lot of work, and now it's mostly useless, because fewer than half of the 100 videos that used to be freely available on YouTube are still available there. The rest of them have been replaced by the "This video is no longer available" notice of doom.

No more Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It", no more ODB's "Got Your Money" [note: the Pitchfork links don't work anymore, and though right now you can search for and find new posts of these videos on YouTube, it's only a matter of time here]. I understand about intellectual property and artists getting their due, but this seems like a poorly-conceived knee-jerk restrictive approach to all video media that only aggravates fans and prevents the public from learning about new things. How is this helping anybody? And I'm not just saying that because we got banned.

Rex says, "I try not to be polemic about these matters on this blog, but I find it hard to believe this is good for anyone -- artist, label, critic, fan, and, especially, the marketplace of ideas."

January 23, 2007

Greg's List 2006: A compilation and analysis of 90 "Top Ten Albums of Year" lists from around the world, plus additional commentary and lots of videos

Every year, our friend Greg takes all the "Top 10 Albums of the Year" lists from around the world, adds up all the rankings, and determines the 50 most critically acclaimed albums of the year. Being an incredibly voracious and dedicated music listener himself, he also offers his commentary on each of these albums, provides his own Top 20 list (with commentary), and this year has managed to link to YouTube videos for virtually all the artists mentioned. He even threw in an obituaries section.

As in previous years (2004, 2005), we are stunned by the amount of information he has assembled, and by the amount of music he listens to and comments on. Pazz & Jop and the new Pitchfork survey are great, but we love that Greg -- who is just one guy with no interns, no inside connections, and a roommate who only occasionally pays the internet bill -- is out there finding all these lists and listening to all this stuff, and compiling it for the benefit of music fans everywhere, including you.

Here's Greg's List 2006.

Hi friends,

Here's what I've assembled for my 3rd Annual "Year in Music" write-up.

First, as always, is the aggregated list, my attempt to rank the year's most acclaimed albums according to thousands of critics from around the world, though through a system of indirect representation. This year I collected 90 Top Ten lists from magazines and webzines around the world.

Continue reading "Greg's List 2006: A compilation and analysis of 90 "Top Ten Albums of Year" lists from around the world, plus additional commentary and lots of videos" »

Greg's List 2006: Obituaries

Greg supplied so much information for his list this year, we couldn't fit it all in one post. Here are his obituaries for some notable artists who died last year.

Syd Barrett

Acid-gobbler extraordinaire who masterminded Pink Floyd's first album, the goofy-demented-kaleidoscopic The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. 3 years later he released 2 druggy solo records and then basically disappered, but he'd cemented his reputation as one of rock's most eccentric and mysterious voyagers.

Watch a performance of "Jugband Blues" link

James Brown

Here's one of his finest moments from an on-air interview w/ Sonya. Amazing. link

Here's a live performance from '67. Without question one of the greatest performers ever. link

Ruth Brown

Rock & Roll Hall of Famer "Miss Rhythm" was a sensation for Atlantic in the '50s and, along with Etta James, helped bridge the gap from Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan to Aretha Franklin.

Here's a live perforrmance of "Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean." What a voice. link

Desmond Dekker

Iconic Jamaican singer who began recording in the ska era, though some of his best work was rocksteady. He also had a comeback during the late '70s ska revival in Britain, where he had first enjoyed the adoration of mods a decade before.

Here's the hilarious video for "Please Don't Bend" link

Arthur Lee

Leader of '60s L.A. cult band Love, whose masterpiece Forever Changes consistently shows up in the top 20 or 30 in "Best Albums of All-Time" lists. Love's sound was psychedelic but also relied on sophisticated song structures, with elaborate horn and string parts and fuzzy guitars, in contrast to the spacy, jam-oriented aesthetic of NorCal psych bands Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. Lee's weird, weird lyrics were way ahead of their time and way cooler than fellow L.A. "poet" Jim Morrison's.

Here's a vintage video for "Your Mind and We Belong Together" link

Grant McLennan

One half of the songwriting team for The Go-Betweens, the Australian R.E.M. McLennan also lead a solid solo career in the '90s.

Here's the video for "Easy Come, Easy Go." Perfect pop song. link

Wilson Pickett

Southern soul singer, a contemporary of Otis Redding and Solomon Burke in the '60s. Never really a critical favorite but a great singer nonetheless. Here's a live performance of "Everybody Needs Somebody." Now this is feel-good music. If you're not wearing Wilson's smile by the end of the song, you've got a heart o' stone. link

Gene Pitney

'60s teen idol with an absolutely heartrending voice, best known for bringing more than a few Bacharach/David songs to life. Not the genius that Orbison was, but certainly better looking.

Here's some TV performance of "I'm Gonna Be Strong" link

Ali Farka Toure

Malian blues guitarist whose instantly recognizable style was one of the signature sounds of West African music in the '90s.

Here's some live performance. "King of the desert blues." link

James Yancey (J Dilla a.k.a. Jay Dee)

Detroit beatmaker J Dilla was one of hip-hop's greatest producers, fashioning a style as unique and progressive as those of Dre, RZA and Timbaland. Dilla supplied beats for the likes of Common, Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, Ghostface, and D'Angelo, but his 2 solo albums, this year's Donuts and the incredible Welcome 2 Detroit, really showcased his best work. Like The Meters, he could do more with a simple beat and some bass (maybe a little guitar, a little organ) than most producers could do with 24 tracks, and his beats thus had a loose, live, spontaneous feel (it's no wonder The Roots worshipped him). But as many others have noted, it's really all about the drums, often played by Dilla himself, which always seem to dance right around the pocket.

Here's the video for "McNasty Filth" (Dilla in the Astros hat) link

January 18, 2007

What you say about his company! Is what you say about society!

knights of prosperity!

Most TV shows that want to be successful try to pick soundtrack music that suggests a certain fashionable coolness that will appeal to today's young generation of trend-setters. You've got Neko Case getting played on Veronica Mars and some po-faced acoustic guy named Josh Kelley showing up on Smallville.

Most shows decide not to include, for example, Rush on their soundtrack, because doing so would label your show as being hopelessly lame and out of touch with key marketing demographics.

But for ABC's wonderful new Knights of Prosperity? No problem.

You can see Eugene Gerkin, Rockefeller Butts, and Gary Subramaniam jamming to "Tom Sawyer" in the first minute and a half of last night's episode (the 1/17/07 one) on the ABC website. [You probably have to sit through an ad, but it's worth it.]

October 23, 2006

Weird Al still has it

If you grew up in the '80's and listened to music, you knew all the popular artists and the couple of hit songs they released each year, and you probably liked a few of them. Then there were Weird Al Yankovic's parodies of those same songs, by all the different artists, and even if you didn't love the original, you pretty much had to admit that Weird Al's versions were at least as good or better. His best videos made parodies not only of the original songs, but the whole ridiculous MTV-generated celebrity culture.

His first singles, "My Bologna" ("My Sharona") and "Another One Rides the Bus" ("Another One Bites the Dust") came out in 1980. His newest album, Straight Outta Lynwood, came out in September, and last week it was in the Top 10 (his highest chart position ever!) His latest single, "White & Nerdy" is hilarious [video]. How has Weird Al lasted all these years, never varying his basic formula, and never wearing out his welcome?

Slate has a great article about the improbable 25+ year career of Weird Al Yankovic that says everything I have to say about him and his role in popular culture. Weird Al's unique and seemingly everlasting importance in music is best described by Chamillionaire, whose song "Ridin'" he parodies in "White & Nerdy": "It's one thing to go platinum. Where do you go from there? Then Weird Al calls."

The Boston Globe also did an adoring piece on Weird Al over the weekend, describing him a "sort of cultural Geiger counter."

Here's one of the most bizarre things on his MySpace page [sound on]: a photo of Weird Al done up as a thoughtful acoustic singer-songwriter:

Weird Al

Doesn't this freak you out?

September 29, 2006

Video: Aimee Mann on Letterman

Here's the great Aimee Mann, recorded on Letterman. As far as abnormally tall, avian singer-songwriters go, she's right up there with Beth Orton.

Or, download it as an iPod/iTunes/everything-compatible MPEG4.

If you've never heard Aimee before, and you like this song, you should check out her album Bachelor No. 2 or the soundtrack to Magnolia.

Monday's video: Not sure yet, but will not be musical in nature.

September 28, 2006

Blah, blah, blah....The Strokes.

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah 2003, blah blah blah blah blah The Strokes. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Brooklyn and blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah Fischerspooner, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah fucking movie nights at fucking Galapagos and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Planet Thailand.

As if that weren't enough, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Fabrizio blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah Gawker blah blah blah blah blah blah trucker hats, trucker hats, trucker hats. Blah.

Blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah Conan blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah. Sorry. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Blah blah blah blah blah blah....2006. Blah blah blah SNL blah blah blah blah saggy tits:

Blah blah iPod/iTunes/everything-compatible MPEG4: Song 1, Song 2.

Tomorrow: Back to reality with Aimee Mann, and maybe somebody else.

September 26, 2006

Video: Ladies and Gentleman....Prince!

Fuckin' Prince, man. I him loved in back '85, and I was LATE to the party. I can remember huddling in a corner with "Darling Nikki" so my mom wouldn't hear that key word. And "When Doves Cry" was my favorite song until "Like a Prayer" came along.

Do I still love him in 2006? Um, not sure. Sometimes I feel like I'm still waiting for the follow-up to Purple Rain. Then when he showed up on SNL a few months back, it was certainly a bit of a disappointment, especially since he didn't even appear in the Prince skit to parody himself. Lighten up, buddy! Pull back the curtain once in a while.

Anyway, here's Prince.

Like most videos we post here, you can download it as an iPod/iTunes/everything-compatible MPEG4.

Tomorrow's video: Probably two, from the Strokes. (I know, I know.)

Video: Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell on Conan

I certainly do love, in a romantic way, Emmylou Harris. Her voice is getting a little hoarse as she ages, but she is still wonderful, and she possesses a rare grace.

Here she is with Rodney Crowell, performing a cover of Dylan's "Shelter from the Storm".

Like most videos we post here, you can download it as an iPod/iTunes/everything-compatible MPEG4.

If you've never heard Emmylou before, and you like this song, you should check out her amazing album Wrecking Ball.

Tomorrow's video: Prince

September 25, 2006

Cleaning out the closet

Amy is on the road for the next couple weeks, so I figured I'd take the opportunity to post some stuff I've had lying around for a while, or some kinds of things we don't ordinarily post. Specifically, I've got a bunch of videos that I never got around to posting, so I may as well upload some of those over the next week or so.

Here's the Beastie Boys performing Root Down on Conan a while back:

As with almost all videos we post here, you can also download it as an iPod/iTunes/everything-compatible MPEG4.

I'll post another one tomorrow.

August 27, 2006

Talib Kweli Puts on a Show

talib kweli

Note: Most of the links in this post go to pages with auto-playing soundtracks. Turn down your speakers if you're at work, etc.

On Saturday, Talib Kweli performed for free at City Hall Park as part of the J&R Music Festival.

Talib has the potential to be one of the best MCs ever, so his name alone was enough to get me down there, but his long-time friend and collaborator, Jean Grae, was slated to appear, too, which turned this into a don't-miss event.

What made the show really remarkable, though, was the slew of unannounced guests who took the stage. The special appearances began with DJ Hi-Tek (Talib's collaborator on the excellent Reflection Eternal project), continued with the Phil Da Agony, Ras Kass, and some other underground stars, but then got crazy when Will.i.am and Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas took the stage. Will.i.am let loose with an extended freestyle, supplying his own reverb effects while Taboo stared at us menacingly [video]. But even B.E.P. had to step aside for the final guest, Common, whose arrival in his trademark earth tones and green slouch cap spontaneously taught the underground hip-hop heads in the crowd to be multi-orgasmic. Thank God Mos Def didn't show up...people would have started engaging in carnal acts with each other right there.

I took a bunch of pictures and shot some murky video, so if you're interested...

Here's a video slideshow. (The backing track is "Eternalists", from Kweli and Hi-Tek's Reflection Eternal.)

Here's some other stuff:

August 22, 2006

Update: TUSH 2006

Gnarls Barkley Crazy

About a month ago I claimed that the Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit of this year was Rihanna's "S.O.S". While this more or less made sense at the time, I can't let this stand. It's been a weird summer with a lot of big hits, slow builds in popularity, and other surprises in the science of pop ubiquity assessment, and around late June, "S.O.S." looked like it had firmly grasped the TUSH designation.

But now that the summer is ending and we have some perspective, it's clear that the real TUSH that everybody hears all the time without seeking it out, and that will keep being played on the radio for years to come (have other people been hearing "Hollaback Girl" as often as I have this summer?) is "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley.

I had previously thought that "Crazy" was an indie kid's unrealistic dream of a big hit that would never achieve the popularity and ubiquity of, say, 2002's "Hot in Herre". But Emily has been hearing it at her gym all summer long, it's now on the radio on a seemingly hourly basis, and last week it came on over the loudspeaker at Better Burger and non-stylishly-dressed teenagers sitting in the booths were mouthing the words.

Yeah, it was released way back in March, but the song is still #2 on the charts (beating goddamn Nelly Furtado!)

Actually it's probably about time to start winding down the saturation of this song so everyone doesn't get really sick of it.

August 21, 2006

OBL: saving all his love for Whitney

To demonstrate just how pervasive celebrity worship has become in our world, Page Six today has quotes from a new book by Kola Boof, Osama bin Laden's alleged mistress/slave, in which she describes Osama's obsession with Whitney Houston.

Boof writes in Diary of a Lost Girl, "[He would say] how beautiful she is, what a nice smile she has, how truly Islamic she is but is just brainwashed by American culture and by her husband - Bobby Brown, whom Osama talked about having killed, as if it were normal to have womens' husbands killed." Sounds like love!

Perhaps his devotion to Whtney is tied to her (ongoing?) affiliation with the Black Hebrews and her visit to Israel in 2003 during which she repeatedly stated, "This is MY land!"

It seems that Whitney's coquettish looks and unconventionally Zionist tendencies may have been enough to make Osama want to overcome his racism and become a giving, generous lover: "He said he wanted to give [her] a mansion that he owned in a suburb of Khartoum." Though he told Boof that "African women are only good for a man's lower pleasures," he said "he would be willing to break his color rule and make [Whitney] one of his wives."

Hey, CIA: now is the time to secretly reopen Alec Station and get over to Pakistan with some copies of the unrated version of The Bodyguard!

August 18, 2006

Gnarls Barkley and Peeping Tom, SummerStage

Gnarls Barkley at SummerStage
(photo by Dan Dickinson)

Last night was the end of this year's SummerStage concert series, and also the final show of Gnarls Barkley's summer tour. With all the hype they've gotten since the spring, and their non-stop touring schedule since then, I was a little concerned they would already be burned out. They totally weren't at all. Their costumes were from School of Rock (Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse in short pants and red kneesocks) and they raised their goblet.

They did every song on the album except for "Online", as well as covers of The Greenhornes and The Doors, with pure energy and style. Cee-Lo Green is an unstoppably awesome front man--genuine, charming, funny, and soulful. He asked the crowd several times if we could dig it. We could. Danger Mouse stayed up on a raised platform, busy with his keyboards and other machines, but laughed with everyone else at Cee-Lo's banter and got down to the music now and then.

The crowd was a weird mix of slack-jawed scenesters, enthusiastic crinkly-faced music fans, and a lot of teenagers. I saw several sets of braces in my immediate vicinity. Gnarls Barkley have been such a sensation this summer, I guess it's not surprising that they attract a wide spectrum of people, but it was still sort of strange to see so many white high school kids grooving with grown-up rock fans to what is essentially radio-friendly gospel and soul.

The opening band was Peeping Tom, which is Mike Patton from Faith No More's new band. Mike Patton is as much of a maniac as ever, and still likes to do his crazy vocal stylings, screeches, yowls, grunts, and chants--my concert companion described him as a heavy metal human beatbox. A lot of the crowd went absolutely nuts for this band (the crinkly-faced rock fans) while the teenagers stood around looking like they had no idea what was going on. Mike Patton still has the same spasmic energy as he's always had, and at one point grew frustrated with the weak response he was getting from the audience, telling us we were a "Starbucks crowd". That got people all riled up, and he seemed pleased. When he yelled "Central Park, middle fingers in the air!" we happily obeyed.

Rahzel, the beatbox from The Roots, is also in the band, and performed an incredible solo interlude. He introduced himself, for all the people who only knew him as "a black guy in a white suit", then performed a scratched-up version of Busta Rhymes' "Touch It" using only his mouth and a mic. It was the coolest part of the night.

The band's, or supergroup's, DJ is Danny Elfman-loving turntablist Mike Relm.

August 16, 2006

Janis Joplin biopic struggles back to life, looking worse than ever

Janis and Zooey

Now that the planned Janis Joplin biopic Piece of My Heart, starring Renee Zellweger, has finally bitten the dust for good, some movie producers seem to have overcome monumental inertia and re-started talks for the other Janis Joplin biopic, Gospel According to Janis.

Back in 2004, Pink was planning to star in this movie. While this was almost as crazy-sounding as casting Renee Zellweger, at least Pink has some key features in common with Janis. Namely: she has a big, noisy, booming voice, she's got a tough-girl swagger, and she's not very pretty. Gospel According to Janis was a movie I would watch. Sadly, Pink pulled out, declaring that the casting process had turned into "some circus pop contest - who's the 'it' girl who wants to play Janis".

True to Pink's words, today's news reveals the radical, innovative new direction the producers of this movie have decided to take. Get this: they cast a really young, really pretty girl to play Janis. I know! It's crazy, but who knows, it just might work.

After considering Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and maybe the least-Janis-like actress ever, Scarlett Johansson, to play the leading role, they have now settled on the willowy, sugary-sweet Kewpie doll Zooey Deschanel.

Well, maybe some of Zooey's rivals for the part can help her explore her degenerate drug-addict side.

July 18, 2006

2006 TUSH

It's mid-July, and you know what that means. Time to start paying attention to the songs playing in Old Navy, in delis, at the gym, and on Jeep stereos to identify that one song that has seeped into your unconscious to become our nation's Totally Ubiquitous Summer Hit!

So what songs have we been hearing again and again this summer? In May, there was still a lot of treacly whine-rock floating around, and everybody in the world heard that damn "Bad Day" one million times. But one of the most important qualities of a true TUSH, apart from its total ubiquity, is that is has to be an upbeat, positive, fun song that you (or a teenage version of you) could conceivably dance to. The prime example of the TUSH is probably "La Macarena" from 1996, and also "Crazy in Love" from 2003.

Many music fans were hoping that "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley would achieve TUSH-level widespread popularity. During the 15 seconds that I hear KTU every morning when my alarm goes off I sometimes hear "Crazy", and many people have seen it performed on the MTV Movie Awards and Conan. And it's still at #2 on the Billboard charts. But ubiquitous? Sadly, I don't think so.

I've been hearing a lot about this new Nelly Furtado "Promiscuous" song, which appears to be gaining some popularity. But here's the thing: I hated this song about one minute into the video with its unsuccessful attempts to look sexy by Ms. Furtado, who looks to me like she's trying too hard. And please, "Promiscuous"? Just keep your shirt on there, Nelly.

I don't usually like to suggest a TUSH that was released during the mid-spring, but in this case, there's no denying it. Rihanna's "S.O.S.", which came out in April, is still absolutely everywhere. I hear this song several times every single week being played on car radios, in Duane Reade, at the video store--it's unavoidable. It's not the most captivating song, but that "Tainted Love" sample makes it instantly recognizable, and I like Rihanna's relaxed delivery and deep, sexy voice. It first hit #1 on the charts at the beginning of May, but this song has not faded away at all as the summer moves on. There are definitely newer and cooler summer hits out there, but have you heard any of them as many times as you've heard "S.O.S."?

The Post weighed in on the TUSH issues a few weeks ago, and many of their "experts" support either "Hips Don't Lie" by Shakira (which came out in March) and this "Promiscuous" garbage. Some think Justin Timberlake's new single "Sexy Back" may yet emerge as a late-summer TUSH (but it won't, it sucks), and I'm also interested to see if Paris Hilton's surprisingly not-loathsome "Stars Are Blind" goes anywhere. We'll see what happens in the next few weeks. But for the moment, it looks like 18 year-old Rihanna has it. If I'm just wildly out of touch and have missed a more ubiquitous tune, please leave a comment.

TUSH 2004, 2005

July 5, 2006

Gnarls Barkley: the drink

Gnarls Barkley drinking Gnarls Barkleys

I've been really impressed by the Gnarls Barkley album, "St. Elsewhere". Perhaps you've heard of it, as it's been in the press pretty much nonstop since the spring. I like them, I like their music, and of course I really like their promotional photos.

So one night last week while on vacation at a sleepy little lake in Vermont, I realized that Gnarls Barkley deserve their own drink. Something with all-American ingredients that was sort of Southern, and sort of like what teenagers might want to drink the first time they get really drunk on their parents' liquor cabinet and whatever they find in the fridge. With some experimentation (first attempt turned out to be a modified Scarlett O'Hara), and some help from my drinking buddy and Joe the bartender, we hit upon Gnarls Barkley: the drink.

In a highball glass:
A good, long, healthy pour of Jim Beam (or Jack Daniels)
Fill most of the glass with Dr. Pepper and ice (or Mr. Pibb if you want to be extra southern)
Add a splash of cranberry (doesn't add any flavor, but makes the drink a nice deep red)
Crush a mint leaf, add that in
Garnish with lime

It's delicious! Sort of a less classy mint julep. Drink up!

June 26, 2006

Busta's ex reveals the bitch in him

Busta Rhymes and his ex at high school prom

This photo from Long Island's Uniondale High School prom in 1991 could almost be a Who'Dat?™: Before They Were Stars edition, but that hair and Woo-Ha grin give it away. Today's NY Post includes a sort of backhanded celebration of this weekend's Gay Pride festivities in the form of a lengthy sympathetic interview with Busta Rhymes' estranged ex-girlfriend with whom he's had a nasty custody battle over the last four years. The ex, Joanne Wood, claims that Busta has been so vicious to her in the press and in front of their kids because after their 10 year relationship ended, she started living with a female partner.

The article clearly takes Wood's side in the case, and gives her plenty of space to vent about the abuse that Busta has dished out since their breakup. "His ego is definitely hurt," she said. "If he's being emotional, then let him just be emotional - that's like the bitch in him. If you want to be emotional, I don't have a problem with that, but he's wearing his emotions on his sleeve." She claims that Busta has openly called her all kinds of horrible names to their three sons, T'Ziah, T'Khi, and Trillian, who repeat Busta's cruel words to her--most creatively, a "man-bitch lesbian".

The custody fight ended in December with Busta winning, though he has a criminal record involving illegal guns and assault which the Post helpfully summarizes in a sidebar. Wood and her lawyer claim that the court decision in Busta's favor makes irrelevant references to her "lifestyle" and her "lover", suggesting that the court believes her homosexuality makes her an unfit parent, though no case of neglect or abuse of the children is cited. The decision also refers to an occasion in which one of the kids walked in on her and her partner having sex in the bedroom, but as she and her lawyer point out, "Where else should they have sex?" The kids are now living with Busta's mom while their legal guardian is out on tour supporting his new album "The Big Bang". Wood can see them twice a week and every other weekend.

Could this be the most pro-gay rights piece the Post has ever published? Well, maybe. Or maybe they're still just pissed that Busta won't give up the goods on the shooting of his bodyguard earlier this year that he likely witnessed.

June 20, 2006

Awesome Videos

Twisted Sister video shot

Considering their snotty, obscurer-than-thou reputation, Pitchfork's staff collection of 100 Awesome Music Videos really is a great list. All the videos in this list had to be available on YouTube, so maybe that helped keep the inclusions pretty mainstream and accessible.

This will totally eat up your entire workday, but I encourage you to browse the list, which is alphabetical by artist. A few highlights:

  • Busta Rhymes, "Woo Ha!! Got You All In Check!" Often imitated, but there's no one like Busta.
  • Lionel Richie, "Hello". As Pitchfork says, "like the Plan 9 From Outer Space of music videos."
  • Röyksopp, "Remind Me". Neat bit of computer animation of the mechanized urban workday. One of my personal favorites.
  • David Lee Roth, "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody". From Dave's early solo career, outrageous self-parody.
  • Kidz Bop, "Since U Been Gone". Surprisingly creative cover of the Kelly Clarkson song, it's structured like a brother and sister making their own music video using an old videotape of an elementary school play. The little-kid rock concert scenes are some of the most energetic stuff I've ever seen in a video. It's cool.
  • R. Kelly, "Trapped in the Closet". Described by Pitchfork as his "12-part inadvertant surrealist masterpiece." Really worth watching if you haven't seen it yet. Weirdest mainstream video in recent years.
  • Vitalic, "Poney". I start laughing uncontrollably around 1:05.
  • Twisted Sister, "We're Not Gonna Take It". Obviously.

June 6, 2006

Tommy's lame post-fight makeup attempt

Tommy Hilfiger wears his favorite band's tshirt

"Thank you, Axl, for not knocking my lights out the other night. I'm 55 years old over here, people. I'm fragile. And have terrible judgment about picking fights. Heh, sorry, man. Rock on, GnR! Can't wait for Chinese Democracy!"

February 15, 2006

Politics, gay lounge singers, and Valentine's Day

A post-Valentine's Day quiz about the very special Valentine's Day social dinner held at the White House last night, which featured a short concert by Michael Feinstein including "Great Balls of Fire" and, of course, "Laura".

Michael Feinstein laughs at/with George Bush

Complete the following sentence:

Celebrated singer of American standards Michael Feinstein is laughing...

a) because our President trying to sing and dance really is that hilarious.

b) because he is a sycophantic suck-up who loves Republicans.

c) to show fellow guest Chuck Norris how enchanting and full of life he is.

d) to keep from crying, just like on M*A*S*H.

e) all the way to the bank.

February 6, 2006

Fake news, real news

Michael Jackson, the Pope's composer

Remember in 2004 when Maureen Dowd referenced a joke in an Ali G interview with James Baker about the similarity of the words "Iraq" and "Iran" and the potential danger of attacking the wrong country ("Bomb Ira-")? She pointed out that this joke had sort of come true: "Well, as it turns out, we did bomb the wrong Ira-."

In recent years there have also been some easy jokes made about the Catholic church and its child abuse scandals that went like this:

You know who the Catholics could bring in to see them through these scandals and restore their public image? MICHAEL JACKSON! Or:

You know who would be a good new Pope who could show the world that the church is in touch with recent events? MICHAEL JACKSON!

So today there's another joke:

You know who the Catholics should hire to set John Paul II's prayers and chants to music? MICHAEL JACKSON!

And like "bomb Ira-", it's come true.

January 25, 2006

Greg's Music Forum 2005: Aggregation and analysis of 75 "Best Albums of 2005" lists from around the world

Ok, people, this is important. Our friend Greg has once again compiled every "Top 10 Albums of the Year" list he could find. He's aggregated the results and, using a custom ranking system, carefully calculated the 75 most critically acclaimed albums of 2005. He collected and analyzed 75 lists from around the world (a big jump from last year's list). Below, he presents the combined rankings, provides the individual lists in their entirety, weighs in with his own "top 20" list, and offers a short commentary on dozens of other albums from 2005. So here's Greg...

Hi everyone and happy new year. It's a long post so I've included a table of contents to help you navigate (i.e. skip the bullshit).

The T of C

I. Shout-Outs and Explanation of Collated List Methodology
II. 2005: The Year in Music
III. The Collated List (Top 75)
IV. My List (Top 20)
V. My pithy comments on over 70 other albums released this year
VI. The Raw Data (75 top ten lists from 14 countries)

I. What the fuck is this?

Last year I compiled 60 end-of-the-year best albums lists from a variety of music publications from North America, Europe and Australia.

A bunch of people asked me to do this again, so I did them a great favor (yeah, like I wouldn't have done it anyway), only I upped the ante to 75 lists. Here's the distribution of the lists by country:

  • Belgium - 1
  • Canada - 3
  • Denmark - 1
  • France – 2
  • Germany - 4
  • Iceland - 1
  • Italy - 4
  • Netherlands - 2
  • Norway – 4
  • Poland - 2
  • Spain - 5
  • Sweden - 3
  • United Kingdom - 16
  • United States – 27

Since I am no statistician, my method for aggregating the data was simple and not very scientific: 1 “point” for each 10th place listing, 2 points for each 9th place mention and so on up to 10 points for each 1st place mention. Unranked lists were excluded, as were lists by individual critics and bloggers. The result, for whatever it's worth, is some kind of estimate of international critical consensus. Use it as a list of music to seek out, or as a list of stuff to avoid, or just as what it is – a reflection of what kind of music music critics, who are not your average music listeners, like (there are several professional music critics among you – whatup Pitchfork, whatup NME). The individual lists are included at the end for a closer comparison of American vs. European critical taste, or for finding a publication that suits your taste, or to check my math. Enjoy!

Most of these lists were sourced from several pages on the web:

Thanks guys. Keep up the good work. Maybe next year I'll have a website like you guys.

II. 2005: The Year in Music (overly pessimistic discussion prompts)

Another year in music gone by. What does it all mean? Or as Madonna asks on her new album, “Will any of this matter?” If you love music it does. An analysis of the year in music might as well start here with Billboard's Top 200 sellers of 2005.

As this project demonstrates, the music press has an unprecedented reach and influence on music. This is new in the history of popular music and is mainly attributable, like most things these days, to the juggernaut-like growth of the internet. But despite the proliferation of music websites, webzines and blogs, as the data reveals, there is a surprising unanimity of taste among these sources. This is primarily because nearly all focus on the same style of music (generally speaking, alt-rock, for lack of a better label) and are written by and for the same demographic. Not that some of these aren't excellent resources, but many do suffer from a severe narrowness of focus. Thus it seems to me like the more established and traditional magazines (Mojo, Uncut, Record Collector, Rolling Stone) talk the most sense and are least susceptible to passing trends (though I'm not arguing that all passing trends are necessarily bad). More than ever, bands read music publications and are aware of what constitutes good music (to these publications), so you have bands tailoring their sound to the whims of the critics. Naturally, this merging of art and media creates an increasingly insular, cannibalistic music community. And we wonder why independent music in North America continues to choke on the sputum of its own self-importance while some psychotic hype abroad sent another wave of neo-post bands surging across the Atlantic to wash up a tangle of flotsam and jetsam on our continent. Is there an egress from the cycle of madness? Apart from a few exceptional artists, the mainstream doesn't seem to hold much hope, although perhaps the most welcome explosion of the year was that of southern rap, which had always had an influence on the mainstream, but this year became it. Although it might be a futile and delusional enterprise, for my part, I constantly seek out music that strikes me as the least studied and the most genuine, to put it rather imprecisely. And with that I conclude my rant. On with the lists.

III. The Collated List (# of points in parentheses; ties settled by AllMusic ratings):

75. Junior Senior - My My Hey Hey Yo Yo (Crunchy Frog) (10)
74. Neil Young - Prairie Wind (Reprise) (10)
73. Avenged Sevenfold - City of Evil (Warner Bros.) (10)
72. Little Brother - The Minstrel Show (Atlantic) (10)
71. Trivium - Ascendancy (Roadrunner) (10)
70. The Rakes - Capture/Release (V2 International) (10)
69. Eels - Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (Vagrant) (10)
68. Smog - A River Ain't Too Much to Love (Drag City) (11)
67. Nine Inch Nails - With Teeth (I Nothing) (11)
66. Hakan Hellstrom - Ett kolikbarns bekannelser (12)
65. The Mitchell Brothers - Breath of Fresh Attire (Wea/Beats) (12)
64. DJ Muggs vs. GZA - Grandmasters (Angeles) (12)
63. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Howl (Red Ink) (12)
62. Tocotronic - Pure Vernunft Darf Niemals Siegen (13)
61. Metric - Live It Out (Last Gang) (13)
60. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Worn Copy (Paw Tracks) (13)
59. Akron/Family - Akron/Family (Young God) (13)
58. Jesu - Jesu (Hydra Head) (13)
57. Bruce Springsteen - Devils & Dust (Columbia) (13)
56. Elbow - Leaders of the Free World (V2) (14)
55. Madonna - Confessions on a Dance Floor (Warner Bros.) (14)
54. Doves - Some Cities (Capitol) (14)
53. Common - Be (Geffen) (14)
52. Rufus Wainwright - Want Two (Geffen) (16)
51. Dalek - Absence (Ipecac) (16)

50. Paul Weller - As Is Now (Yep Roc) (16)
49. Queens of the Stone Age - Lullabies to Paralyze (Interscope) (16)
48. Devendra Banhart - Cripple Crow (XL) (18)
47. The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree (4AD) (18)
46. Coldplay - X & Y (Capitol) (19)
45. Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine (Epic/Clean Slate) (19)
44. Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy (Jagjaguwar) (20)
43. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - Worlds Apart (Interscope) (20)
42. Konono No. 1 - Congotronics (Crammed Discs) (20)
41. Amadou & Mariam - Dimanche a Bamako (Nonesuch) (21)
40. The Decemberists - Picaresque (Kill Rock Stars) (22)
39. Beck - Guero (Interscope) (22)
38. Gang Gang Dance - God's Money (The Social Registry) (23)
37. Robyn - Robyn (23)
36. Edan - Beauty and The Beat (Lewis) (24)
35. Death Cab for Cutie - Plans (Atlantic) (25)
34. Isolee - We Are Monster (Playhouse) (25)
33. Sigur Ros - Takk... (Geffen) (27)
32. The Rolling Stones - A Bigger Bang (Virgin) (28)
31. Deerhoof - The Runners Four (Kill Rock Stars) (30)
30. The Magic Numbers - The Magic Numbers (34)
29. The Mars Volta - Frances the Mute (Universal) (34)
28. The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday (French Kiss) (35)
27. Ry Cooder - Chavez Ravine (Nonesuch) (41)
26. Spoon - Gimme Fiction (Merge) (42)

25. Broken Social Scene - s/t (Arts & Crafts) (42)
24. System of a Down - Mesmerize (American (47)
23. Maximo Park - A Certain Trigger (Warp) (47)
22. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (48)
21. Art Brut - Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Banana/Fierce Panda) (49)
20. Kaiser Chiefs - Employment (Universal) (52)
19. Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs (Righteous Babe) (52)
18. The National - Alligator (Beggars Banquet) (53)
17. Kate Bush - Aerial (Columbia) (53)
16. Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary (Sub Pop) (60)
15. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods (Sub Pop) (62)
14. The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan (V2) (63)
13. My Morning Jacket - Z (Badman) (79)
12. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema (Matador) (79)
11. Gorillaz - Demon Days (Virgin) (80)

10. Animal Collective - Feels (Fat Cat) (84)
9. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (Saddle Creek) (95)
8. Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better (Sony) (119)
7. Kanye West - Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella) (127)
6. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem (DFA/EMI) (138)
5. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm (Vice) (140)
4. M.I.A. - Arular (XL) (192)
3. Arcade Fire - Funeral (Merge) (200)*
2. Antony and the Johnsons - I Am a Bird Now (Secretly Canadian) (243)
1. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois (Asmathic Kitty) (307)

*Although released in the States last year, Funeral was considered a 2005 release by most European publications, hence its inclusion here. The fact that it still collected more votes than all but 2 artists -- in spite of being ineligible for 27 lists -- shows how well it was received overseas.

IV. My List (let the hyperbole begin):

20. The Hold Steady – Separation Sunday (French Kiss)
Best Track: “Your Little Hoodrat Friend”
“Yeah, damn right you'll rise again”

Separation Sunday is to Midwestern-bent indie rock what The Drive-By Truckers' Southern Rock Opera was to Southern-bent indie rock – a character-driven story evoking the people, places and music of the region, set to some driving, nuts-out music. The Hold Steady recalls not only a time when indie rock actually rocked (remember Superchunk?) but also the late '70s, when classic rock was giving way to punk. There are nods to Thin Lizzy, Springsteen, AC/DC and, possibly the strangest and greatest of Midwestern bands, Cheap Trick. Craig Finn's mostly spoken (in a snarly Mark E. Smith kind of way) vocals will either take some warming up to or they'll start to gall your ears after a few listens, but this was still some of the most muscular and honest rock and roll to be found in 2005.

19. Brian Eno - Another Day on Earth (Hannibal)
BT: "And Then So Clear"
"As the snow across the tundra / And the rain across the skies"

Eno's unexpectedly structured ambient-pop record is a model of understatement -- everything's carefully placed, expertly modulated. The sonic array is broad enough that none of the tracks sound the same, though the mood is consistent enough that the album never sounds choppy. Some of the songs are so delicate and weightless they're hardly there, while on others, like "Passing Over," the sense of dread is so present that it makes my bowels go lax. Eno often references his best album, Another Green World, not only with the title but with certain words and synth patches, though generally the songs here are more fully formed, which means that while there's not a dull moment on Another Green World, there are a few dull stretches here. But aside from that and a few tracks that sound like some Laurie Anderson shit, this is a powerful recording.

18. The National - Alligator (Beggars Banquet) BT: "Daughters of the SoHo Riots"
"Out among the missing sons and daughters of the SoHo riots"

"Sometimes I feel like I'm carrying the whole of hip-hop by myself," Kanye either boasted or lamented a while back, but he actually had some help this year. The National, on the other hand, seem to be carrying the indie rock torch all by themselves. Jimmy's right, they sound like Archers of Loaf, and they blend their British and American influences as deftly as the Archers and their other indie rock forebears, Pavement and Guided by Voices. Matt Berninger's lyrics are funny and desperate, confident and self-deprecating in the best spirit of the genre. “I'm the great white hope,” he jokes on “Mr. November,” but it sounds oddly convincing.

17. Paul Wall - The People's Champ (Swishahouse)
BT: "Sippin' the Barre"
"I'm iced out like frozen food / Sippin' on the ski taste"

Houston might be the worst city in the country but its nascent Swishahouse scene, where everything gets screwed and chopped for the torpid sizzurp slurpers, is really something unique. And Mike Jones might've sold more records this year but it's Paul Wall that we're least likely to forget. He's certainly not the most dexterous or versatile MC (he raps about the same stock topics over and over – his grill, his city, the purple stuff, switching lanes, etc.), but his jumpy, canted flow is instantly recognizable and immediately endearing. “Internet Going Nutz” is about picking up bitches on the computer, which is groundbreakingly (un)cool, and “Just Paul Wall” is an unusually humble autobiographical rap and introduction to the oafishly lovable “Paw Waw, baby.” What it do.

16. The Go-Betweens – Oceans Apart (Yep Roc)
BT: “Born to a Family”
“Born to a family / Of honest workers”

Australians Robert Forster and Grant McLennan are master songwriters – acute, direct, controlled – and The Go-Betweens were one of the most consistent bands of the '80s. They're also one of the most unsung. Probably what prevented them from finding the substantial fanbases and critical plaudits that their American and British contemporaries (R.E.M. and The Smiths) enojoyed was that they didn't have a vocalist/frontman with as much charisma (gayness) and as unique a voice as either Morrissey or Stipe. But the quality of their songwriting really isn't that far behind that of R.E.M. or The Smiths (which, in my book, is saying a lot). And I guess their low-profile status is part of their charm. Oceans Apart is an excellent record, but if you're new to The Go-Betweens you might be better off starting with the back catalog. Any of their albums from the '80s. Seriously, they're all good. Wait, not Send Me a Lullaby. But any of the other ones.

15. John Hiatt - Master of Disaster (New West)
BT: "Thunderbird"
"There's a burial ground / beneath a cattle herd"

Hiatt's nasal delivery is about as unaffected a voice as you're likely to find in this day and age of exaggerated vocal stylization. His stories are told in a homey language with a wisdom, a melancholy and a wit all akin to John Prine's. Backed by The North Mississippi Allstars, who sound like a loose but solid L.A. bar band here, Hiatt managed to cut the only truly convincing piece of Americana I heard this year.

14. Beanie Sigel - The B. Coming (Roc-A-Fella)
BT: "I Can't Go On This Way"
"I still pray along, forgive me for my actions / Cuz I still spit gangsta think Muslim and act Catholic"

We sort of know what it sounds like when an artist records an album having just been released from prison. It sounds pretty much what you think it'd sound like - free, self-starting, a roar of release (see Steve Earle's Train-a-Comin' or Cormega's The Realness). But what does it sound like when an artist records an album in a hurry right before he leaves the world to serve a year-long prison sentence? Apparently it sounds like this. Sigel's album is many things: a defense of his actions, a plea for forgiveness and understanding, a document of his life and the elements of his social situation, presented as possible catalysts for his crime in a Native Son kind of way. The track titles are pretty indicative of the album's tenor: “I Can't Go On This Way,” “Lord Have Mercy,” “Flatline,” “Look at Me Now.” It's not without its digressions, though – guess what “Purple Rain” is about? The production is thick and ornamented and there lots of guest verses, most notably his pal Jay-Z and Twista. Overall an excellent rap album, made all the more poignant by the circumstances surrounding it, something like when Warren Zevon sang “Knockin' on Heaven's Door” and “Keep Me in Your Heart” while terminally ill.

13. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema (Matador)
BT: "Streets of Fire"
"Lick my lips, twist my hips / But Contessa...I already did"

The New Pornographers can overdo it – a song needs one good hook, maybe two or three, but certainly not five or six. And the bastards make it sound so easy - I don't know if any band since The Attractions has played such tight, catchy pop/rock so effortlessly. Let's cut this one short with a little music critic rhapsody that goes like this - The New Pornographers are the best indie rock band of the 21st century and this is their best album.

12. Gorillaz – Demon Days (Virgin)
BT: “Feel Good Inc.”
“City breakin' down on a camel's back”

A fiendish concoction from Damon Albarn and Danger Mouse. Apocalyptic parables, ghoulish laughter, lethargic beats, anachronistic synth melodies, all swathed in Mr. Albarn's broken-hearted refrains. Butler and Cocker were the obvious heirs to Bowie's legacy in the '90s, but it's Albarn who's proved to be the most Bowie-like in the long run – experimental, restless, hiding behind his creations and always finally elusive. It's an eclectic album and things don't always jell, but Albarn's still all by himself in this territory.

11. Kanye West - Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella)
BT: "Heard 'Em Say"
"The devil is alive, I feel him breathin"

I don't think an artist has enjoyed such an overwhelming union of popular success and critical favor since Nirvana. And like Cobain, Kanye's personality threatens to overshadow his music. Unlike Cobain, however, Kanye has been more than willing to accept his role as spokesperson for a populace. The thing is, he's a damn good one (see “Crack Music”). Courting controversy and fueling his own iconic status, Kanye has earned his share of detractors, but keep in mind that ego has a different valence in America's black community. But the music.... Late Registration is every bit the equal of its predecessor, though it's a somewhat different album. Enlisting the help of studio whiz and soundtrack mangler Jon Brion seemed like a misguided move, but somehow they pulled it off with great panache. Brion's touch is felt but not intrusively so, and Kanye's beats are great, of course. It's his clumsy delivery that's always borne the brunt of the criticism, and it's definitely not his greatest weapon, but it really does make him seem less like a rapper and more like a...friend! Isn't that nice?!

10. M83 - Before the Dawn Heals Us (Mute U.S.)
BT: "Teen Angst"
"How fast we burn / How fast we die"

If Albarn's vision of the end was a burning monkey's head preceded by a grand danse macabre, a burlesque of human folly and cruelty, Anthony Gonzalez's vision is less political, more of a great melting into pure sound, everything drowning in cosmic washes of synth. It's a synesthetic experience, intensely visual and emotional – think Sigur Ros set to driving beats and seraphic choirs. If the album title doesn't give you enough of an idea, consider song titles like “Don't Save Us from the Flames,” “Let Men Burn Stars,” and the album's stunning coda “Lower Your Eyelids to Die with the Sun.” Clearly not for the jaded or stoic.

9. The Game - The Documentary (Aftermath/G Unit/Interscope)
BT: "Westside Story"
"The West Coast never fell off, I was asleep in Compton"

Has it really been almost ten years since Tupac turned his toes up? It seemed like such a surprise that someone from L.A. finally offered a contribution to the rap dialogue between New York and the South that Jayceon Taylor's debut practically comes across as a gimmick. It doesn't help his case that he drops names with what must be a groundbreaking frequency. But it's not ostentatious - more of a personal history of hip-hop listening, a grateful acknowledgement of influences and inspirations. The album's pretty much a showcase of hip-hop's best producers – Dre, Timbaland, Kanye, Hi-Tek – and the list of guest MC's isn't bad either – Eminem, 50, Nate Dogg, Busta Rhymes. Taylor's delivery is tough and gruff, his rhymes terse and clipped. What else can I say? It's the best piece of gangsta since 50's debut.

8. The Darkness - One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back (Atlantic)
BT: "Dinner Lady Arms"
"I know I'll never be your Mr. Right / But I'm happy to be your Mr. That'll Do for Tonight”

The hardest thing to understand or accept about The Darkness is that they're not a novelty act or even a very derivative band but a profoundly original one. The irony issue is beside the question; The Darkness, more so than almost any of their contemporaries, encapsulate some of the qualities essential to the spirit of rock and roll (whether we're defining that as Elvis, Hendrix or Kiss) – theatricality, passion and FUN. One Way Ticket isn't as consistently awesome as Permission to Land, which was the freshest sounding thing since Andrew W.K. Here it seems like they responded to the criticism that they were a facile Queen rehash by recording several tracks that actually do sound like Queen, which are the album's only missteps. Otherwise the riffs are just as perfect and the power ballads just as soaring.

7. Billy Corgan - The Future Embrace (Warner Bros.)
BT: "Mina Loy (M.O.H.)"
"The siren calls outside / They want to kill us all”

In the popular music of the early/mid-'90s (when I was in high school) there was a pretty solid consortium of Gen-Xers – Billy Corgan, Kurt Cobain, Trent Reznor, Beck, Billie Joe Armstrong, Courtney Love and Eddie Vedder – and each had carved out his/her own little niche in the Gen-X market: Billy was lovesick, Kurt was angry, Trent battled his personal demons, Beck was a funny freak, Billie Joe was apathetic, Courtney was crazy and Eddie was...actually, I don't know what the hell Eddie was. Kurt's critical barometer has fluctuated the least, and then probably Beck's; arguably Billy's has aged the worst, probably because he was the only one who wrote pretty love songs. But this is what always set him apart from his contemporaries. His lyrics could be as elliptical as Cobain's or Vedder's, but his music was always the most unapologetically beautiful and mellon collie. His ear for melody was undeniably brilliant, and it still is. The Future Embrace is a step back from the bright, lofty rock of Zwan (a remarkable album that was critically ignored); rather, it plays like a more stripped down version of MACHINA, Corgan's last album with the Pumpkins (also a remarkable album). Heavily processed guitars, programmed beats, a thudding synth bass and Billy's caterwaul – that's about it. The cover suggests that Billy still has something of a messiah complex, but as long as he keeps making great records, I don't care who he thinks he is.

6. Bob Mould - Body of Song (Yep Roc)
BT: "Underneath Days"
"Fucked under these days"

Along with The Edge, Peter Buck and Johnny Marr, Bob Mould was the most influential rock guitarist of the '80s. His signature distorted open chords were as ubiuitous in '90s alt-rock as Buck's open high string picking. His solo albums have always lacked the immediacy of Husker Du's dynamic pop-punk attack, and Body of Song is no exception. It's a fairly straightforward album, though not without a few curiosities (apparently some people were pretty miffed by the vocoder). But it's also an incredibly sure-footed set of songs, resonant with depth and maturity. Nothing innovative here, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. It's a satisfying return to form dressed up effectively with modern flourishes.

5. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cold Roses (Lost Highway)
BT: "When Will You Come Back Home"
"Shivers in the sheets and the blankets of snow"

Cold Roses sounds like a summary of Adams' career thus far, showcasing everything from the alt-country rockers of his Whiskeytown days up through the sappy singer/songwriter ballads of Love is Hell. But he also channels something new here, and it's the spirit of a band whose influence on alt-country has been largely underappreciated. As you might have guessed from the title and album cover, it's The Grateful Dead. The Cardinals are the ideal backing band for Adams, and it's their guitarist, J.P. Bowersock, who summons the ghost of Garcia (circa 1968 - “Wharf Rat,” “China Cat,” etc.) with his winding but tasteful solos. Alt-country has proved to be a pretty durable genre, and ever since Tweedy jumped ship a few years back, Adams has, willingly or not, and lousy attitude notwithstanding, proved to be one of its true stalwarts and most genuinely gifted songwriters.

4. Ry Cooder - Chavez Ravine (Nonesuch)
BT: "Soy Luz Y Sombra"
"Soy luz y sombra, el sol brilliante"

An absolute virtuoso effort from Cooder, who pulls out every last stop in telling the true story of Chavez Ravine, an Hispanic L.A. neighborhood bulldozed in the '50s to make way for Dodger Stadium when the team was making the move from Brooklyn. Soundtracks, not albums, were always Cooder's forte, and that's probably what makes this so successful, although Cooder isn't so much scoring this film-on-record as he is directing it. Sufjan's Illinois is a similar project, another attempt to chronicle a place in song, but his album never really rises above its outsider-looking-in configuration. It's a more subjective experiment and comes across as such – an artist using the names and events of a locality as fodder for his art – and the listener walks away knowing a lot more about Sufjan, but not a hell of a lot more about what Illinois is really like. Cooder's album is more of a sociological study of its subject, though without any of the aridity that such an academic treatment might suggest. On the contrary, Cooder's treatment of the tragic material is compassionate and funny. Cooder really gets inside his story, acts out the parts of some of his characters (a la Tom Waits) and captures the authentic rhythms and sounds of the neighborhood by bringing in several popular Latin singers of the era and including archived clips of radio interviews. It all took place at the height of the Red Scare so Cooder naturally foregrounds the politics of the situation, but fortunately not in a preachy way. All perspectives are considered – characters speak from beyond the grave, there's a song from the bulldozer driver, who explains that he was just doing his job, and a song about a neighborhood baseball fan whose home was displaced. Cooder's arrangements are inspired and forward – listen to his guitars emerge from every corner of the mix on “Muy Fifi.” The scope of the album is nearly unprecedented and its success nearly unqualified – as a moving musical creation and as an American historical document.

3. Antony and the Johnsons - I Am a Bird Now (Secretly Canadian)
BT: "Bird Gehrl"
"Bird girls can fly"

Apparently I don't need to convince too many people that this is the shit. Though it didn't find the ecstatic reception in the States that it received in Europe, it wasn't exactly panned here. Antony Hegarty arrived as one of the most original artists to come along in years. His voice certainly owes something to Bryan Ferry's patented tremolo, but Antony's is more soulful and aching, quavering over simple arrangements of piano, bass and strings. The imagery is unusual – mythological stories of gender transmutation and metamorphosis. But the themes are about as universal as you can get – the struggle against entrapment and the yearning for release – from the body, from the earth, from the confines of one's gender. The result is something spiritual in its simplicity, enchanting, uplifting and utterly unique.

2. Kate Bush - Aerial (Columbia)
BT: "How to Be Invisible"
"Is that a storm in the swimming pool?"

At the beginning of the '80s when Bowie's music started losing its edge, Kate Bush's music swooped in to fill the vacuum left in Bowie's wake (I mean the sudden absence of clean, arty rock). There was Peter Gabriel and there was Roxy Music in its later incarnations but Kate's music was more radical and compelling than either of theirs. There were other mysterious, dark-haired beauties like Chrissie Hynde and Lydia Lunch, other women who sang sexually charged music that was more than a little aberrant, like Marianne Faithfull, Blondie and Stevie Nicks, but Kate was up to something different. Let's review some of her album covers: the cover of her first album, The Kick Inside, deceptively makes Kate look like a country singer; the cover of her next album, Never for Ever, is one of my favorites – it shows an illustrated Kate giving birth to a swirl of Where the Wild Thing Are-looking creatures; on the cover of The Dreaming she looks like an Elvira gone Jenny Craig; and on the cover of Hounds of Love, well, she's in bed with a couple dogs. Aerial does not have Kate on the cover. Instead, a serene, new-agey looking picture of some water, rocks and sky. And the album's as different as its cover. Her voice isn't as shrill as it once was, there's nothing here as catchy as “Wuthering Heights,” and nothing as unrestrained and feral as “Get Out of My House.” But Aerial is something of a mood piece, as suggested by its title - it's airy, eerie, aerie-like, and Kate's lyrics are still masterful at detecting the magical in the ordinary, her voice and piano compositions still transporting. This is a beautifully crafted record from one of the most pioneering female artists of the past 30 years.

1. Richard Hawley - Cole's Corner (Mute U.S.)
BT: “The Ocean”
“Here comes the wave, down by the ocean”

Hawley's voice is a transmission from the '50s, a rich baritone with echoes of Elvis, Orbison and even Sinatra. And like Sinatra's classic In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning, Cole's Corner is a triumph of atmosphere, sculpting the city's lonely after-hours with images of empty streets, wet and neon-lit, deserted cafes, quiet hotel rooms. The layered, velvety production casts Hawley's dramatic longing in just the right shade of noir and the songs sound so instantly classic it's hard to believe these are original compositions and not covers of crooner pop standards. Absolutely gorgeous.

Continue reading "Greg's Music Forum 2005: Aggregation and analysis of 75 "Best Albums of 2005" lists from around the world" »

January 22, 2006

"Lazy Sunday" video remixed with rapping kids

lazy sunday

After SNL aired "Lazy Sunday," the Andy Samberg/Chris Parnell rap video about going to see Chronicles of Narnia, Waxy.org's Andy Baio brilliantly followed up with an MP3 of his 7-year-old niece and 9-year-old nephew rapping "Lazy Sunday" against a homemade beat.

So we've taken the obvious next step and remixed the original video to feature the kids' performance. Here you go:

Nick and Amelia's "Lazy Sunday" -- the video (14mb, mpeg4)

ps. the video is compatible with iPod and everything else.

ps2. Yeah, the first chorus is a little muddy.

January 4, 2006

Update on formerly relevant celebrities: Pink

Pink

MTV apparently gives Pink a high enough score on the celeb-o-meter to devote a feature article about what an exciting year 2006 looks like it will be for her.

Her new non-ironically titled album I'm Not Dead is going to come out in a couple of months, and will feature a political track expressing her outrage at the state of our nation's foreign policy, titled "Dear Mr. President." With this song, Pink will join the ranks of political singer-songwriters Pete Seeger, Master P, and 4 Non Blondes, who also have released songs called "Dear Mr. President."

Guess how many albums Pink will have released when this new one comes out. FOUR.

And that's not all. Pink will also star in a new Romanian horror movie called Catacombs, along with another one-named actor, "Cain".

I don't know about you, but I totally lost track of Pink sometime shortly after news of her alleged title role in Gospel According to Janis, one of two planned Janis Joplin biopics, faded into nothing.

The other biopic is Piece of My Heart, which is/was to star Renee Zellweger. Considering both movies have planned release dates of 2005 on IMDb, we may never get to see the battle to determine which actress is better at crying and drinking a bottle of Southern Comfort at the same time.

December 15, 2005

Who's Older?™: Aging gay British stars

We'll always have a soft spot in our hearts for George Michael, and will play "Fastlove" and select Wham! tunes at parties from time to time, but we can't necessarily say that he's the most relevant aging star these days. He may be headed for some minor comeback in the form of a documentary movie about his life and career called George Michael: A Different Story. And his plans to attend Elton John's wedding ceremony next week apparently make the news.

Rupert Everett has never dropped off the radar entirely, though these days instead of starring in irrelevant period movies like The Importance of Being Earnest and The Ideal Husband, he's doing voiceovers in animated movies like Shrek 2 and Narnia. He's good in those Oscar Wilde costume piece remakes, and has excellent eyebrows, but we'll never forgive him for urging Madonna to record that wretched "American Pie" cover.

We're leaning heavily toward George Michael as the more appealing star, but that doesn't matter. All that matters right now is which one of them is older.


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