Friday, January 24, 2014

January Sounds (or, I'm stumped for a pithy title)

    What's become an interesting year-end / year-beginning ritual for music lovers is the BBC's "Sound of" lists, something they started doing in 2003 when they chose 50 Cent as the act to watch. Their record hasn't been 100%; often, it goes like American Idol in that the runners' up are the most interesting, and have the better careers. In that first year the rest of the top 5 included Electric Six, The Thrills, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. #6? Interpol.

     2004 was another successful class, with Keane topping a poll that included Franz Ferdinand, Joss Stone, and Scissor Sisters. 2005? A bit of an off year. The Bravery came in first, Kaiser Chiefs at 5, and KT Tunstall at 6. And it's not that they were lacking, but lasting chart power wasn't a factor in that year's list. 2008. Now there was a class. Adele, Duffy, Ting Tings, Glasvegas, Foals, Vampire Weekend, Joe Lean & The JJJ, Black Kids, MGMT, and Santigold — only two of those ten haven't gone anywhere since.

     So, there're some good calls and bad. Some with shit-tons of artistic merit, and some pure bubblegum. This year's top pick is a kid named Sam Smith and his voice is heavenly, but the arrangements are the stuff pop confection is made of. Listen to him on Disclosure's "Latch" for a less RickRoll-worthy experience.


    California's BANKS and Chicagoan Chance the Rapper comprise the interesting Americans on the list. What's really got me worked up at present, though, is a young Bristol kid named George Ezra. #5. Little skinny blonde kid with a voice that would make Mississippi blues and Dave Wakeling fans, alike, blink. Twice.


      Ezra got early support from a local BBC outlet, started doing open mic nights, found himself at Glastonbury in the summer of 2013, and is now signed to Sony and working with Class of 2009 graduate Lady Gaga's publicist. Already, people are looking for a repeat Jake Bugg phenomena, or is it just the deservedly cynical UK press? You can't blame them/us. So many times, we've been hyped on some piece of schlock with a too-good-to-be-true origin story. Ezra sounds like he's got the goods, regardless. Let's just hope he can stay away from the producers-du-jour.


      One thing, a little disquieting, is the marketing agreements that are already in place. Apparently there's some kind of Burberry fashion connection. Kind of reminds me of how a Nashville Americana band had a Stetson endorsement before their album even came out. Can't anything stand on its own, anymore?

       Speaking of the home team, among Nashville's newer residents is guitar slinger / songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan. Originally from Ohio, Tasjan landed in NY in the aughts, in the original lineup of Semi Precious Weapons. The band was hot on the glam scene and destined for great things, but they weren't the kind of great things Tasjan wanted, and so he walked away from Gagaland (yes, two Gaga connections in one post. Dig it) into the decidedly more rootsy and down-to-earth Madison Square Gardeners. Even though that band wasn't very long lived, it put him in the same scene as people like Kevn Kinney and Todd Snider, who talked Tasjan into moving to Nashville. Between playing with SPW and bringing his solo act here, he's managed to share stages with the likes of the NY Dolls, Golden Palominos, Tim Easton and Drivin' n' Cryin'. In the latter case, he's their current guitarist.

       Like all the hard-working kids in town, Aaron Lee Tasjan's been out on the road almost since he got here. Keep your eyes peeled for his next local gig. This was at the Stone Fox, in December.

   

Monday, January 13, 2014

Brand New Single From Foster the People - Coming of Age

I don't think I've ever heard of the Direct Lyrics website, but a lot of people are about to. Foster the People have released a new single and they've got it up and streaming.
Foster the People - Coming of Age

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 Countdown Finish ... and the Top 5 Songs Are

5. Vampire Weekend - Diane Young

     This became a song people either loved or hated. I fell on the love side; it was like Elvis on steroids.

        

4. Macklemore & Lewis - Thrift Shop

    Backlash over this song, but particularly the video, developed over the song's send-up of commercial hip-hop culture. More on that further down the list but the important ingredient here is thrift shopping has long been the province of young, creative people in low-paying jobs. And $50 t-shirts deserve all the ridicule they garner.



3. Disclosure - When a Fire Starts to Burn
     
      UK brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence have been called 2013's stealth success. They were still living in their parents' home and taking festivals by storm last summer and hypnotizing people with the likes of ...

     

2. Lorde - Royals

     So ... about that backlash over criticism of hip-hop culture. Between "Thrift Shop," Lily Allen's "Hard Out Here," and "Royals," hubcaps and gold overlays took a minor stabbing. Are the complaints valid? I don't know. Perhaps. If so, they are no more (or less) valid than womens' complaints about 25 years of bitch/ho.



1. Kanye West - Black Skinhead

      And then there was this. Did someone say "bitch"? Why yes, actually.






Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Quick Take on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug


       I saw the flick this afternoon. If you're a JRR Tolkien purist, you probably won't care for it — unless you're also a huge action fan and maybe a whitewater enthusiast. Peter Jackson has um ... Jacksonized the flick and turned it into a Lord of the Rings prequel that threatens the suspension of disbelief for the latter.  As a result, some of the best things about Hobbit 2 are also the things that also make it kind of dodgy.

Highlights: 

     Visually it's a 3D-elight, if you decide to view it in that media. The movie opens with a dark orc chase that quickly gives way to a sun-filled, airy meadow, with bumblebees flittering around the screen.

      The Mirkwood elves' hangout. Of the three elf kingdoms, Mirkwood Hall is a little more decadent than Rivendell or Lothlorian. But it's also more tree-ier and looks more like a place you'd expect to see elves. (Did I really just type that?)

      Bilbo above the treetops. It's funny how such a simple scene was such a memorable passage, in the book.

      Bilbo and Smaug and Holmes & Watson. As UK tv's current Sherlock Holmes (and the most stylish man in the universe, since Bowie) Benedict Cumberbatch is making a lot of people his bitch these days. As Smaug, he gets outwitted by his Watson, Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Cute, huh?

    Gandalf gets attacked by formless, black smoke Sauron, who turns into Burning Slit Sauron as a result of Gandalf's defense spells (I think). 

    River Barrel Chase. As a kayaker, this may be the result of some bias on my part, but that looks like one badass run.

    Bard!

    Legolas! 


Not so much

    Legolas! I know, right? Orlando Bloom is always a welcome sight, but there's something that's just wrong about a scene with a Legolas that looks 10 years older than he was in the LotR movies, meeting Gloin, father of Gimli, several decades before LotR takes place.

    Mirkwood Spiders. That whole business was kind of a let down, compared to the book.

    The Sauron reveal is another instance where you wanna go, 'hey gee, cool,' before you wonder, if they knew this cat was out of the bag this early in the story, why didn't they start coming up with a Destroy Sauron plan much earlier?

   No emotional connection to the story. Or very little of it, anyway. There's an elf/dwarf (Legolas, Kili, and the newly introduced Tauriel) love triangle that got added into the mix, but even that doesn't seem to hold up as any kind of sweepstakes. Considering what we know of LotR, it's a safe bet Legolas is going to wind up single, anyway.

  
    Overall: It's a good popcorn movie; the craft that went into it was superb. On the down side, its soul is missing. You don't get the feeling the movie makers love these characters the way they did in Jackson's other Tolkien trilogy. When you consider that was a much shorter book, and it's getting three installments, you'd think someone would have taken a little more time for that.

Monday, December 16, 2013

2013 Countdown Continued (15 Songs)

At this point it starts getting hard, with self-second-guessing as the new hobby. At this point, almost any of the next ten songs could get my vote for #1, depending on what day it is and what I'm doing.

But ...

10. James Blake - Retrograde

            White soul doesn't get much whiter or much more soulful than this. Blake evoked early '80s UK acts, but traded out the fromage for some knob fiddling, taking home the Mercury Prize as a reward. 



9. Volcano Choir - Byegone

     Justin Vernon's other band, or one of them, has been kicking around since 2005. This summer saw their second release, Repave.  If the Bon Iver chorals put you off, you can relax. The guitar does the soaring on this one.



8. NONONO - Pumpin Blood

          What is it with the Swedes? They were all over the place this year, in pop, rock, and post-rock all.  In NONONO's case, it's pop of the infectious kind.

           

7. Valerie June - Twined and Twisted

          There are an unlimited number of gorgeous songs on the debut of Brooklyn-via-West Tennessee's Valerie June. Though initial hype focused on June's collaboration with Dan Auerbach, the ageless, deep-South, soulful country songs are the ones that leave an imprint long after the player has moved onto the next song in the shuffle.




6. Phosphorescent - Song for Zula

      And another from a deep South native, gone to NYC. Alabaman Matt Houck  made the album of his life, in the aftermath of that life falling apart. "Song For Zula" not only stood "Ring of Fire" on its head, it also became an anthem for anyone with a tired-of-love gripe to whine about.

 

My Top Songs of 2013 Countdown

 I'll be doing this over the course of the next few days, 5 tunes per day.


 15. Daft Punk - Get Lucky

            2013 was the year dance music got its due. Funny thing, just as EDM was officially recognized as a force to be reckoned with, Daft Punk reunited and gave us the old school with Nile Rogers, himself, contributing.



14. Atoms for Peace - Ingenue

            Speaking of dancey things, Thom Yorke's little side project became a full-fledged entity, complete with tour that even stopped in Nashville.




13. Franz Ferdinand - Goodbye Lovers & Friends

     Four years after Tonight: Franz Ferdinand pissed off the indie boys club, they came back with the slightly better-received Right Words, Right Thoughts, Right Action.  Though there were plenty of pop-ready tunes on the album and two or three radio-ready singles, the lyrics on "Goodbye Lovers and Friends" show a protagonist self-directing their future funeral, in all of Alex Kapranos' biting glory.

Don’t wear bright colours
You know I hate bright colours
I never liked you for the way you dressed
Anyway

The groove is the icing.



12. The National - Demons

     2013 was also the year The National earned the respect to transcend their indie-darling status and start making the jump to bonafide pop culture.


 
11. Deerhunter - Dream Captain

        Indie rock was all over the place this year. This track stood out for me for the sheer power-pop noisiness, that didn't get old within the space of three weeks.  Big ear worm.



Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lily Allen Is Mocking the Dominant Culture. You'd Be Pissed Too, If You Were In the Scene


      My neck is sore from all the back and forth over Lily Allen's new video,  and its satirical mocking of pop music conventions that rely on objectification of women.

      The music business has long been known for sexism, but in the last decade its taken on horrific proportions. Three months ago, Huffington Post wrote an article about how Lorde's song "Royals" was the first song by a female artist to top the Alternative charts in 17 years. That's shameful, considering it's coming from the genre that got its start with bands like the B-52s, X, Eurythmics, SinĂ©ad O'Connor, and thrived with Belly, Throwing Muses, Concrete Blonde ... shall I keep going?

      Anyway, here's a link to the article. Make sure you read the comments and see how many people immediately started taking shots. The hatred pouring out on the page is astounding.

     So it's interesting to see what the negatives are about "Hard Out Here." From the men in the scene she's satirizing, the typical response boils down to, "shut up, cunt." But the women ... oh my. Sad to see so many supposed feminists jumping all over Lily for the use of black dancers in twerking. In butt-jiggling. Champagne pouring over body parts.

     At first, it's easy to get caught up in their rationalizations. "Lily only cares about White Feminism," etc. In the Washington Post,  Soraya Nadia McDonald writes,
Black women are not here to be used as collateral damage in the fight against patriarchy. We’re smart, resourceful, capable allies, but that stunt Allen pulled is not ok, and hiding behind the explanation of “satire” is weaksauce, because this happens over and over and over.
       At a certain point it dawns on you: these women are actually here to defend the abusive patriarchy whose balls Allen is kicking in. That's one of the top symptoms of a dysfunctional society, in the first place. And it was there that I was reminded of the infamous reaction Aerosmith's Steven Tyler had to the movie, This Is Spinal Tap.

     Rob Reiner's famous "mockumentary" took a playful hand to the excesses of a once-famous, now on the skids, hard rock band in the 1980s. It came out in 1984, when Aerosmith was trying to come back from drug and personnel problems. The following quote comes from excerpts of music industry Joe Smith's taped interviews, now in the Library of Congress (the emphasis is mine):

"...When we got into the thick of stardom in the Seventies, I found the most outrageous things I asked for, would've thought of asking for, had already taken place the week before with some other group. It was harder to do something that hadn't happened . . . I can remember the height of my oblivion, I was into doing things just because I could. I would think nothing of tipping a whole long spread, and I'd be so livid – explicit – no turkey roll! Give us a turkey – no gravy, no stuffing, just real meat. No hockey pucks, no mystery meat, just a turkey. And I would come in after coming offstage, and I'd have 12 ounces of Jack in me, and half a gram, sweating profusely, and I would see that tray, and I would go "Yeeow!" and just turn the thing right over. And that would feel good to me. That felt real good . . . That movie [This Is Spinal Tap!] bummed me out, because I thought, 'How dare they? That's all real, and they're mocking it.'"

 And here's what Brad Whitford told SPIN magazine:

"I'd swear those Spinal Tap guys were at half our meetings," says Whitford. "The funniest thing is, the first time Steven saw it he didn't see any humor in it. That's how close to home it was. He was pissed! He was like, 'That's not funny!'" -- Spin - May 1997
   
     I also have a recollection of reading an article on INXS in one of the big three (Rolling Stone, Musician, SPIN) that recounts Michael Hutchence's negative reaction to the film. I can't find it online, unfortunately, but it was along the lines that he found it depressing because it hit so close to home.

      Bottom line: These supposedly intellectual viewpoints, claiming the ground of "Black Feminism" are acting as nothing more than shields for the excesses that we've been through before, and (rightly) derided before.

    Mock on, Lily. Mock on.