February 28, 2008

Always Magic in the Air

I've been away from the blog for a while (more on that later - maybe); I spent some of that time reading Always Magic in the Air, Ken Emerson's history of Brill Building-era songwriters. Reading the acknowledgments section, I get the impression this is the first book-length treatment of their collective story. The book reads as a pretty straight narrative of the careers the 7 or so songwriting teams Emerson chooses to focus on (Leiber/Stoller, Pomus/Schuman, Goffin/King, Bacharach/David, Sedaka/Greenfield, Mann/Weil, and Greenwich/Barry, if I remember correctly); my major disappointment is that he doesn't really do anything to challenge or question the orthodox view of that era of rock 'n' roll/pop music, or that group's role within it. It hews a little too closely to the general stereotypes of the era that permeate its depiction in popular film and television as well. In Emerson's defense, this could have more to do with the songs than with his writing, as the lyrical themes of these hits probably have a lot to do with the formation of these stereotypes in the first place. However, as it was largely a work of original scholarship, it makes a good foundational resource for others who may want to explore the topic in a more critical manner. At the very least, it led me to check out and appreciate some music that I probably wouldn't have otherwise. Check out a few tracks below (all links are zSHARE).

Ray Charles - "Lonely Avenue"
(by Doc Pomus)
The Coasters - "Searchin'" (Leiber/Stoller) (original vinyl single from Boogie Woogie Flu, a blog featuring a lot of vintage vinyl rips)
The Drifters - "There Goes my Baby" (Leiber/Stoller)
Wilbert Harrison - "Kansas City" (Leiber/Stoller) (vinyl rip, also from Boogie Woogie Flu)
The Monkees - "Porpoise Song (Theme from Head)" (Goffin/King)

This find, from Moistworks, offers a great gimpse into the demo creation process discussed in Always Magic...
Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman - "Great to be Young and in Love" (Demo)

February 20, 2008

Things from other blogs

From C-Notes, via I Rock Cleveland: After earlier canceling his appearance at a Dennis Kucinich fundraiser, Sean Penn showed up with Kucinich at the Beachland Ballroom for the Wussy/Ringworm show, appearing on stage to introduce Ringworm. The show was a fundraiser for WJCU, John Carroll University's radio station. If you want to check out this surreal affair, C-Notes says, "the concert will be broadcast free on YeboTV.com on Saturday, March 1. The show will run continuously from 7 a.m. to midnight."

Jess Harvell has been whiling away his remaining days as Idolator's senior editor by frequently updating his Tumblr. It's occasionally interesting stuff; who knew working for Denton Media could take such a toll on one's psyche? (Ok, probably plenty of people.) Blog angst! Anyway, yesterday he posted this link. It must be seen to be believed.

Finally, Raven Sings The Blues has a post today about Valley sludgefeasters Witch. I've seen them twice in Brattleboro over the past few months, and each time they've put on a good show, despite subpar venue sound that's rendered the vocals inaudible. On March 20th they're visiting Northampton for a sweet Spring Break gig at The Elevens.

February 18, 2008

Black Fire Percussion

I'm a sucker for drumline videos, so when I saw this clip of Brooklyn's Black Fire Percussion featured on the front page of YouTube, I had to watch. The sling harnesses had me expecting something along the lines of the show band style of traditionally black colleges (usually seen on TV once a year, during the Grambling vs Southern game), but Black Fire's style is actually a great synthesis of that and corps style, with the showmanship of the former meeting the precision and challenging charts of the latter. I think these kids are only in high school; considering that, it's pretty impressive stuff.

February 16, 2008


Jess Harvell just posted this jumpstyle video, and it would be irresponsible of me not to share it, as it blew my mind. I'd never heard of jumpstyle, but it turns out that it's like DDR without the pad -- and thus greater freedom of movement. Watch these guys go! And then half way through they start kicking each other's feet! No surprise that this appears to be an invention/preoccupation of central and northern European kids (don't ask what I mean by that). I hope the music genre is also called "jumpstyle", because I really think that word should be getting as much use as possible.

Further MP3 deals @ Amazon

Piggybacking on yesterday's post about "In C", there's plenty of similarly priced music available in Amazon's download store. I remember reading a blog post a year or so ago (I don't remember where) about the iTunes store selling many long Miles Davis tracks for $0.99, despite their policy that generally makes songs over 7 mins "album only". It looks like the same thing has happened to some tracks/albums on Amazon, like Riley's "In C" and "A Rainbow In Curved Air". The latter album has 2 tracks ("Rainbow" is ~19 mins. and "Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band" is ~22) each selling for $0.99, with the full album download priced at $1.98.

I actually made this discovery after looking up On the Corner, which I'd seen earlier while browsing at Turn It Up!, but decided to hold off on purchasing. On Amazon, the two longer tracks are "album only", but as part of the full album download they're still priced at $0.99, making the entire 4 track, 55 min. album $3.96. At 6 tracks, Kind of Blue comes out to $5.94 (though the physical CD can be had for just $2 more)... and so on with much of his catalog. I haven't found any other artists yet whose albums are priced this way, but I imagine further searching in classical, jazz, and other typically long form genres would yield more good finds.

Note: I'm not necessarily advocating purchasing music from Amazon, but I was surprised that some of the album downloads were priced so low. There's certainly plenty to be said for supporting local music stores, not to mention the benefits of owning the physical albums rather than lossy, ethereal MP3s. Nonetheless, when I can find albums I've been looking for priced at <$5, I have a hard time saying no.

February 15, 2008

"In C" free @ Last.fm

I was just about to post about how Amazon's MP3 store is selling the entirety (a single 42:03 track) of Terry Riley's historic minimalist composition "In C" for $0.99, when I saw that Last.fm has it for free download. While the version available at Amazon is apparently the original 1968 recording by SUNY Buffalo's State University Center of Creative and Performing Arts, it's unclear which version is available at Last.fm.

February 11, 2008

Selling the Drama

I Alone

Today at Zoilus, Carl Wilson briefly discusses the connection he sees between will.i.am's Obama video "Yes We Can" and "speech-based composition in other genres, notably the work of Steve Reich." He then links to John Shaw, who goes into greater detail about the history of "the setting of speech to melody." I'm not going to try to summarize or rehash either of the posts here, but both provide a compelling alternate view of the song, removed from the knee-jerk snobbishness coming from much of the rest of the blogosphere (Idolator goes so far as to use scare quotes, suggesting that this doesn't/shouldn't count as "music"). You should read them.

Wilson's and Shaw's posts actually led me to watch the video for the first time. I'm not sure I'm sold, but their analyses at least provide a reason to pay closer attention to the song, and try to get beyond the parade of questionable celebrities. I'm curious how it would have been received if it had been released audio-only, since I'm pretty sure the visuals had quite a bit to do with turning people off.

Wilson also posted this video from a British documentary on Reich. I will repost is here because it is pretty sweet. This is part 2 of 6, all of which are available if you click through to the video's YouTube page. This portion features a clip from a performance of Terry Riley's "In C" and interview footage of Brian Eno discoursing on Reich.

February 8, 2008


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Who will be the first self-righteous blogger to complain about this?? First one to use the word "rape" wins my undying hate!

I call dibs on The Hater for part 1, though I definitely give her too much credit to think that she would go for part 2.


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Does anyone else find the extent to which Obama supporters have embraced Shepard Fairey's posters (in his trademark totalitarian-propaganda-inspired style) kind of creepy/unfortunate/maddening? I showed this picture to my 10:10 class, and one student actually thought the posters weren't in support of Obama, but some sort of backhanded satirical insult. I don't really "get" the fervent Obama support. I've been asking my classes today, hoping that there may be one such supporter who can explain it to me, but all I keep finding are reasons why NOT to support Hillary or McCain. Another student (a McCain supporter) suggested that this segment of the Obama camp is simply part of a "movement about being excited." I'm inclined to think she's right.

I find the will.i.am video similarly unnerving. Check out Elliott's thoughts on it here.

Colleen posted about recent election developments here.

As I passed by the co-opted convenience store in the Student Union the other day, this song was playing. It's a good one.

February 7, 2008

Nat Baldwin

Nat Baldwin
Jeremy Leclair (alto sax), Brett Deschenes (trumpet), Nat Baldwin (double bass)

New Hampshire native Nat Baldwin has been a favorite since early December, when I saw him open for Dirty Projectors at the Middle East. A former member of that band, Baldwin's solo work is a unique brand of contrabass-centric chamber jazz, with vocals in the manner of a reined-in, gentler Dave Longstreth. Last week I made a trip south to Wesleyan University to catch him playing a free show (w/ Angel Deradoorian, Deertick, and Belly Boat), and afterward picked up his new album, Most Valuable Player (due on Broken Sparrow either later this month or in April, sources vary). On his past albums, the lively sound of his performances (augmented by saxophone, trumpet, guitar, and drums) was often lost in the recording process, but MVP, recorded and produced by Grizzly Bear member Christopher Taylor, fares somewhat better. Lead track "Lake Erie" has just begun to make the blog rounds, written up (poorly, imo) yesterday in the Forkcast, and posted today on My Old Kentucky Blog (which also brings word that he studied under legendary free-jazzist Anthony Braxton). Having grown up on the shores of our most disgusting great lake, I'm partial to this track, and I also think it has the best horn sound of any of his studio recordings thus far. Much of the album features Dave Longstreth on 12-string guitar; other standout tracks include "Dome Branches", "One Two Three", a new arrangement of "Enter The Light Out", and closer "Look She Said", in which he shows Braxton's influence on a very free bass solo.

A search for Nat Baldwin still only yields 3 hits on the hype machine, but I have a feeling that will change as his tour continues and MVP's release date approaches. I don't mean this to be a self-serving "I was in before the buzz" kind of post, but the indie-blog hype factory can be a cruel mistress, and I hope he's able to emerge unscathed.

Baldwin has already gained some recognition in the U.K., where "Only In My Dreams", from debut album Lights Out (2005), was featured in a commercial for Orange Telecom. Check out the clip:

Nat Baldwin's Myspace
Elsewhere: Elliott covered Nat Baldwin yesterday.

More Robyn

First: Read Kelefa Sanneh's excellent review of Robyn in today's NY Times. [One note - I'm pretty sure the word "Nazi" has been censored on every album version of "Handle Me", from the initial 2005 Sweden release and last year's U.K. release, to the U.S. release scheduled for this April.]

Then: Check out Spin's coverage. Why didn't they talk to me and take my pic? Good question! Maybe I wasn't dressed New York enough for them??

February 6, 2008

Robyn blog attack

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The best of the horrible pictures I took (during "Show Me Love").

Everyone in the music blogosphere is posting about the Robyn show last night. I was also there. My thoughts:
  • I've never seen an audience so totally devoted to the performer. I think part of this has to do with the fact that she didn't attract a traditional indie-rock/blog band crowd, but it was still pretty remarkable.
  • Accounts differ, but this was either the first time she's ever performed live in the U.S., or the first time she's ever performed here with a live band. Either way, it was at least the first time she's performed here in 10 years.
  • Outside of the jam band circuit, having two drum kits & two drummers on stage is just about the awesomest thing anyone can do.
  • For the first 2-3 songs, she sang with a backing track of her own voice, and I was worried it was going to be Blonde Redhead redux, but after those it was all live, with occasional backing vocals from the keyboard player.
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    For me, one of the highlights was when she played the sweet Knife-style electro-drum fills in "Who's that Girl" (the album version of which is in fact produced by The Knife).
  • Setlist:

    Crash and Burn Girl
    Who's That Girl
    Bum Like You
    Handle Me
    Keep This Fire Burning (from Don't Stop the Music [2002])
    Konichiwa Bitches
    Be Mine!
    With Every Heartbeat


    Show Me Love (from Robyn is Here [1998])
    Jack U Off (Prince cover)
    Be Mine! (ballad version)

  • The venue was ridiculous. There were restroom attendants. I peed, he turned on the water so I could wash my hands, and handed me a paper towel. I DID NOT TIP. It generally seemed to have the atmosphere of a dance club rather than a live music venue.
  • The opener, Drop the Lime (terrible name), was also ridiculous. I don't see how his "singing along to bass music" shtick could really fly outside of the Manhattan trust fund/prep school circuit, and he certainly appeared out of his element in front of the Robyn crowd. I saw people laughing at him, and not in a good way.
  • Out of all the tracks the house DJ played before and in between acts, the only one that got any kind of response from the audience was The Outfield's 1986 hit "Your Love". It reminded me of Slate critic Jody Rosen joking that Journey was the #1 band of 2007. I mentioned it in an Idolator comment, hoping that a real music writer/someone smarter than me might have something to say about it, but apparently no one was interested.

With Every Heartbeat:

Cobrastyle (not from last night, but too sweet to not post):

More recaps:
her jazz

February 4, 2008

Flavor Theory: An Introduction

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Apparently, discoursing on the nature of flavors is seen as outré in some segments of the blogging population -- looked down upon as some sort of pseudo-intellectualism gleaned from reading Fast Food Nation. Let me state this upfront: I HAVE NEVER READ THIS BOOK. My knowledge of flavors comes squeezed from my own mind grapes, transmitted there by my taste buds. Maybe also some articles from Time or The New York Times or Morris Day and the Time. But be assured: I am a self taught flavor theorist. My flavor theorizations are pure and authentic. Unsullied by Eric Schlosser or required reading as part of my liberal arts education, I have known flavor theory for at least five years. To my knowledge, I am the first and only flavor theorist. Let us begin --

For years, various and sundry academics, intellectuals, journalists, pundits, grandparents, and vice presidents' wives have attempted to explain what they see as the decline of our culture and civilization (be it American or World). What is to blame? Guns? Movies? Video games? Gays? Rap music? The decline of prudence regarding the erotic act? Despite the best efforts of these self-appointed cultural saviors, the answer to each of these possibilities has always been no.

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I prefer to look at the question this way: What, if any, are the most significant changes in the most base elements of human existence since the dawn of civilization? Is life now more violent, or more grotesquely violent? Certainly not. It may be easier to kill people, and plenty more people to kill, but wars and violence are nothing new. Have you seen Apocalypto?? I haven't, but I have heard about it. Let's look at the necessities of day-to-day survival. Do we poo or pee differently? Certainly not, only in different places (toilets). Do we copulate differently? No. By the end of Rome, everything had already been done. Everything. They may not have had "marital aids" but those only speed up the process, the bodily mechanics are essentially the same. Is sleep any different? More comfortably maybe, but no. What is left but eating and drinking?

In pre-modern times, before they had flavor science, humans were limited to those flavors naturally occurring in nature, like meat, berries, dirt, and squash. New flavors could only be developed by combining existing flavors, or modifying the flavor source in some way (cooked meat tastes different than raw meat, and meat marinated in a fine raspberry vinaigrette and then cooked tastes different still). Never were they able to produce new flavors radically different from those found in nature.

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But now we can. Go to the grocery store and look at all the flavors: Blue Razz? Cooler Ranch?? Hot 'n' spicy Cheetos??? These do not even make sense. Not only that, but many flavors are given the names of naturally occurring flavors, when their taste is in fact far removed from the source. Have you ever had a watermelon Jolly Rancher? Then you know that I am right. These flavors are unnatural, and there are far too many. Our flavor library has to have at least tripled in size, and it has likely grown beyond even that! From the first taste of one of these perversions, our minds have been radically altered. This is too much. We cannot handle it. Our equilibrium, our collective unconscious, our sense of being, or whatever else you prefer to refer to, is totally fucked. Flavors are the root of our end.

February 2, 2008

Cleveland HS Rockoff Finals

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Today is the final round (or "Final Exam", as they like to say) of the Cleveland High School Rockoff at the Cleveland House of Blues (previously mentioned here). While The Distractions unfortunately didn't make it to the finals, the band formerly known as Dr. Salt, now The Modern Electric, will be there representing my hometown and alma mater. Normally a four member group, the band will be performing as a two-piece - Garrett Komyati on guitar and regular bassist Matt Childers on drums - since the other members are no longer in high school and are thus ineligible. In the semi-final round they played a few original songs, plus an acoustic cover of Slade's "Come on Feel the Noise", and received some of the most positive reviews of any band in the tournament. The finals will be webcast live at Cleveland.com (direct link), with The Modern Electric set as the 2nd group to perform, around 3:20pm.

In other Rockoff news, The Distractions have posted a live recording (from last week's semi-finals) of their song "4th Time's a Charm" on their Myspace.

Dr. Salt/The Modern Electric - "Untitled" (mp3)

A clip from their semi-final set is about 3/4 of the way through this video.

From the Vault: Willoughby South Drumline - "2000 Cadence" (mp3 @ zShare)

February 1, 2008

Pictures from Saturday night:

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Last night a DJ saved my life.

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Kelly Link, Ed Skoog, John Hodgman, Thurston Moore, Rachel Sherman

[Source: essentials; HT: Colleen]

The Distractions

Today the Cleveland.com music blog, "Rockin'", posted a video update from last Sunday's High School Rock-Off semi-final round. Check out the video, and fast forward about 2/3 of the way through (to the group of dudes sitting on a couch) to see Willoughby's own skank-meisters, The Distractions. The one doing the talking is my brother.

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One of only 39 bands called The Distractions.