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, Sinéad 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.
   

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

We Will Rock You .. Yes, They Will

We Will Rock You TPAC Jackson Hall

      There are times when I thank my lucky stars to have been born just early enough to catch the tail end of the baby boom, and late enough to have experienced the late 1970s with the appropriate amount of youth and innocence to accept what Queen contributed to rock and roll dramatics and theatre at face value, and not spend any time speculating on Freddie Mercury's sexuality or whether it mattered, at all. In art, tv, and film, the mid-late '70s and the first years of Ronald Reagan were an explosion of ideas and imagination that still had some value for art's own sake, and people dared stupid.

      Let me veer slightly off course and provide a separate example of stupid, fantastic entertainment  that succeeded wildly: 


       At 35 seconds in, one of the most famous exchanges in daytime history: "Luke? I love you ... you aren't going to let anybody freeze to death, are you?" "No, no, no I'm not going to let anybody freeze to death I'll talk to you later." Genie Francis and Tony Geary sold us the Ice Princess in all its cheesy glory because, in that era, the entertainment industry was willing to dare stupid, and offering support to people who were willing to play along. The above clip was from a show at the top of the heap in the Nielson ratings during its original airing. The actors sold it because for the 30 minutes they were performing, they let themselves believe it. That was 1981.
   
      For Queen, 1980 was the year of both their greatest commercial success and their first relative failure. The Game was their first album to hit #1 on both the UK and US album charts, and it yielded no less than 5 radio hits and two Billboard #1 singles. The Flash Gordon movie sound track, released later in the year, never made it into the top 20 in the US and barely top 10 in the UK. 

      1980 was also the year I got to see Queen at the 8,000-seater in my little town. Because Ticketmaster & charge-by-phone didn't exist in 1980, and the internet didn't either, a teenage kid had a fighting chance to score good seats if they cared enough to get to the box office an hour or more before tickets went on sale and wait. 

Freddie Mercury in and out of a jumpsuit
Richard Aaron photo
      Desire and good fortune put me in the 5th row for the most spectacular, best fucking rock show of my life. It was loud and brash and crude and fun and the light show brought us kids to near-sensory overload. I found the setlist online.  Shit, what a list. 

      And you know what's amazing, looking back? That tour, not just in Glens Falls but all over the place, they started their set with "Jailhouse Rock." And that might not seem significant given the undisputable iconic status Elvis has now, but in where I lived in 1980 teenage kids and twenty-somethings didn't give a crap about Elvis Presley, except for a small tribe of rockabilly fans.  The only Elvis that existed for most of us at that time was still the Fat Elvis in the white studded jumpsuit. But Freddie was a jumpsuit guy, and he dared to be that uncool.  

      So, about We Will Rock You. It's stupid. And it's brilliant. Stupid in how it tries to invalidate pop music that comes from synthesizer use (Queen did, during the 1980s, use synth). What's the point of railing  against the electronic/internet revolution if you're not going to try to break the machine? 
   
   The plot: 300 years in a future, dystopian society, Earth is called iPlanet and run by Globalsoft Corp. Musical instruments aren't allowed, let alone rock songs. A teen boy is arrested when he comes close to creating his own. In another part of town, a girl is arrested for failure to dress like all the Ga Ga Kids in her school. The two deviants find like souls, run away together and eventually wind up with a tribe of vagabonds at the ruins of the Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas. The brigands would all love to rock out - if they only knew what it was. 

    The dialog and plotting that gets us to and around all of that is sometimes contradictory, sometimes drags, and often the humor shoots for the low hanging fruit. In spite of all that it works for the same reason Queen's over-the-top live show worked, and the same reason Luke & Laura worked. The actors throw themselves into it with everything they have and no stepping back to consider how ridiculous they might be. The band members, that we can't see most of the time, throw themselves at the material with no holds barred, even though they'll never be Queen. The same can be said for the light set. Over the top and in your face in a way that you might have to cover your eyes, especially near the end. Everything about We Will Rock You is what novelist Tom Robbins' character Quivers would call, "Vivid." 

    A person couldn't ask for much better source material; many of the songs used are on the set list that's linked to, above. Most of the musical performances work great within the context, and "Somebody to Love" is probably my favorite stand-out.


    It may not hold up to all of the rules for brilliant theatre, but We Will Rock You does everything that counts for serious entertainment. As a testament to just how well it entertains, after the company takes their initial bow, there's an unexpected encore. Before the play indicates the encore is coming, the audience was already giving a standing ovation and prepared to go home happy. I won't spoil the surprise for you, but when you realize what you almost didn't mind missing it's icing on the cake.

At TPAC's Jackson Hall through Sunday, Nov. 17. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

More National / Dead Info

Look who walked onstage to play with The National & Kronos Quartet for their Outside Lands set?


Friday, August 2, 2013

The National to Produce Grateful Dead Tribute LP

       Word is moving around that The National, riding high on the success of their latest lp Trouble Will Find Me are turning to a different source for their next bout of inspiration — The Grateful Dead. Look for a tribute on the horizon, as Relix reports the band's twin guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner will curate the album,
which will benefit the AIDS-fighting charity Red Hot. The article goes further on to say Bryan and Scott Devendorf will "ghost curate." Look for members of Vampire Weekend and Bon Iver to show up.
     This isn't the first time the Dead have gotten the tribute album treatment. Back in the early 1990s, Deadicated was among the first wave of popular tribute CDs that marked that era, and it was (and some would say, still is) one of the better examples, with contributions from artists as varied as Jane's Addiction, Warren Zevon, Los Lobos, Midnight Oil and Lyle Lovett.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Have You Heard Misty Miller? You Need To

      Every so often, a young girl picks up a guitar and uses it to focus her rage in such a way that scares the shit out of many young and old men, alike. Patti Smith did it. So did PJ Harvey. Courtney Love, almost, but the sideshow got in the way. And now an 18 year old from London, who first gained attention two years ago with a ukulele and park bench, has picked up a new toy.


Honestly, it's not anything we haven't heard before. But I kind of miss the days when PJ Harvey was relevant in the US. More ...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Yum! New Hobbit Trailer

For the Desolation of Smaug, aka The Hobbit part 2. 


Let me be the one to say it: Richard Armitage makes dwarves look kind of hot. And OMG! Legolas!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sigur Rós Streaming New LP on Amazon

Aside from the music itself, the most interesting thing about the preview from the 7-album strong, ground-breaking, constant concert-sellout Icelandic band's pre-release promotion is the fact that, like Daft Punk, the National, and a small handful of others, its debut is not on NPR, NME, Paste, Pitchfork, PopMatters, or any of the usual suspects where the culture wars are being fought, but instead at the record store itself. That, and the fact they're coming to Nashville this fall! The date is 9/27, the place, The Woods at Fontanel. Tickets go on sale Saturday 6/22.

click image to go to stream

Friday, June 14, 2013

... and the boy: Tom Odell. A Tale of Two Videos

Who could blame serious music fans for putting the UK's Tom Odell in the "file under James Blunt" column, when this video for his first single, "Another Love" showed up last November?





It's a discrimination of sorts; you hit the "play" button, you see the ridiculously good-looking boy in close-up, you see the young girl draping herself on him, and — if you're the jaded type — you think, "Cheese alert! Abort mission!"  Because that's not what a serious artist would allow for a video. Right? And so, you're gone after 30 seconds and miss the bite of the remaining 3 or so minutes.

So it comes as no surprise that, when it became time (right now, actually) for Tom Odell's label to put him in front of American audiences, we got a fresh new video. The theme is similar. Like the original video, the below features the lovelorn 22 year old ignoring what's in front of his eyes, but we are spared the initial emphasis on Odell's dreeeeeeeeeaminess.




 You can't blame the UK Gaurdian for calling it this way:

"Odell's songs – combining his Jeff Buckleyesque golden voice and thumped piano – are so commercial you can almost hear the sounds of ringing cash registers behind the eerily layered backing vocals and pounding drums."

But then, the classically-trained pianist's bite shows through:

"Odell is full of such details that thrill mainstream audiences, but although he sings with his eyes closed to signify deep angst, he forgets to sustain the illusion when he opens them to peek at the front rows. In fact, that glint in his eye suggests he's more than another laboratory-created mainstream troubadour, unless sharing his tequila with the crowd is another fiendish move to roughen up his image."


Look for the rest of the Londoner (via Chichester & Brighton) and Brit Critics' Award winner's debut, Long Way Down, on June 24. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Girls of Summer: Lorde, Valerie June

Right now there are two young female artists in major rotation in the Bitchin' Granny Car™stereo ... one from the Deep South, and one from the Southern Hemisphere. Allow me to introduce you to ...

Lorde

It's looking more and more like the song (or one of them) that's going to turn out to be this summer's smash is from New Zealand's teenage chart sensation, Lorde. Born Ella Yelich-O'Connor, she got signed at age 12 — and the payoff cometh with a song that spent 6 weeks at the top of the NZ charts. When Lightning 100, here in Nashville, started playing her song "Royals" about a month ago, radio listeners responded immediately. 

The commentary on the in-crowd, rapped over a minimal beat, obviously is striking a chord with the masses. “When I wrote Royals, I was listening to a lot of rap, but also a lot of Lana Del Rey, because she’s obviously really hip-hop influenced, but all those references to expensive alcohol, beautiful clothes and beautiful cars – I was thinking, ‘This is so opulent, but it’s also bulls**t.’”





How fast is she breaking? Last Thursday, a Google news search turned up a little over 400 results in the publications it monitors. Today that number is up over 1200. And here's something else that's turned up, on Lorde's Soundcloud account, of mighty interest to '80s alternative music fans:




Boom. Our teenage breakout turns out to be a Replacements fan. Or at least has someone in her camp who turned her on. Perhaps this could be the effective indie-hater block Del Ray could have used.

Valerie June

Wow. Damn. I received an advance of Valerie June's debut album last week and haven't been able to stop listening. 30 year old Valerie June Hockett was born and raised in Jackson, Tennessee and took a stop on the Memphis scene before landing in Brooklyn. In its own way, West Tennessee is as much a melting pot as NY, it's just the flavors that go in are a little different. On VJ's debut you can hear echoes of '60s girl groups & Nancy Sinatra, Stax/Volt, Link Wray, Howlin' Wolf, thrown in with bluegrass king Bill Monroe, Appalachian howlers.

The first single out got an assist from Black Key's Dan Auerbach ...



Very Memphis rave-up, but don't let its lightness fool you. This compelling album is chock full of deep blues, country soul and loneliness that will linger on your mind long after the party's over. Check out this heart-stopper: