March 29, 2008


Hey! I made a Muxtape for nobody to look at, just like I haven't looked at anyone else's, much less listened to them.


This is a themed mux, with most of the tracks relating to recent happenings. Here's the track list, with explanations:

Max Roach - "Driva' Man", from We Insist! (Freedom Now Suite)
Last Tuesday night, UMass hosted a tribute concert for Roach, who was a member of the music faculty during the 70s through 90s. Many university jazz ensembles participated, and there were some special guests, including:

Yusef Lateef - "First Gymnopedie", from Psychiemotus
Lateef is 88 years old; he was a little slow moving around on stage, but once he started playing he may as well have been 30 again. Lateef completed a PhD in education at UMass in 1975. Also present was Reggie Workman, who played bass on this album.

Nat Baldwin - "De-attached", from Most Valuable Player
Thursday night, Nat Baldwin performed at Hampshire College's Red Barn. It was the 3rd time I've seen Nat and his band live in the past 4 months, and it was by far the best. Previously, they always just stuck to album tracks, but this time they opened up the set to allow plenty of free playing. Baldwin's free-jazz inclinations should come as no surprise, as he spurned basketball scholarships to study at Wesleyan under:

Anthony Braxton - "Comp. 6 K", from The Complete Braxton
In May, Wesleyan will be featuring two nights of Braxton performances on the 7th and 8th. The 7th will feature Braxton playing with a small ensemble, while the concert on the 8th will largely consist of student ensembles playing Braxton compositions. Both concerts are free. (PUN?)

Dave Longstreth - "She Turns to Ash", from The Graceful-Fallen Mango
Tomorrow, Dirty Projectors will be playing at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, with openers No Kids. This is my favorite track from Longstreth's pre-Projectors album. Dig the repetition.

Triangle Forest - "Rockagon", from Hostile Takeover
Wednesday brings yet another AS220 appearance from Providence's favorite syhthy faux-Brit cheeze-poppers, who will be opening for:

HEALTH - "Crimewave", from HEALTH
I'm not sure if I like HEALTH, but I know I like quesadillas, so I will be there.

The Notwist - "On Planet Off", from The Devil, You + Me
This album just leaked last week. I don't want to promote leak culture but this is one of the only albums being released in the coming months that I have any interest at all in hearing (2 others I can think of: Scarlett Johansson, BSS presents Brendan Canning). I've only listened to it 2 times so far, but I like what I hear. Despite this being the band's first album in 6 years, the sound hasn't changed much at all. It's like I'm still sitting in my freshman dorm room, listening to Neon Golden on Winamp. I really like the kling-klangy beat on this track.

Odd Nosdam - "Forever Heavy (Remix)", from P S E
Rick Ross vs. Hercules and Love Affair - "Blind Speed (ABX Remix)", from The Hood Internet
This is a blog, after all.

J.C. Chasez - "Blowin' Me Up With Her Love", from Drumline Soundtrack
The Best Song.

WERE, Cleveland - "Indians Are on the Air", '60s era radio promo
Monday is Opening Day!


March 17, 2008

An article in today's NY Times asks whether "Starbucks has squandered its musical tastemaking cachet by offering more mainstream selections in its coffee shops." My immediate question upon reading that front page synopsis: who expects anything but the mainstream from Starbucks? The answer turns out not so much to be consumers, but people at the big music labels. And the word "mainstream" in this case has nothing to do with the style of music, but only with the names creating the music. To put it briefly: record labels are upset that Starbucks is now apparently focusing less on breaking new artists, and more on selling music from established artists, including those on its own Hear Music label. The typical sentiment from biz insiders looks something like this: "'I don’t have the sense that there is any longer a culture and purpose to their musical endeavors,' said Mr. Sonenberg, who has had a dispute with the company over its handling of a new band, Low Stars. 'It’s lost its sense of purpose.'"

The question that remains, and is for the most part left unaddressed in the article, is whether this has any real, negative effect on the consumer. Will the consumer even know, or care, what they're missing if they never hear the run of the mill acoustic folk pop of Low Stars? Starbucks is a mainstream vendor, period: mainstream coffee, mainstream atmosphere, mainstream music. Whatever "culture" or "purpose" industry types are worried the chain has lost has nothing to do with artistic value, but simply with the value the labels hope to create by having Starbucks play a role in breaking their next big act.

March 14, 2008

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Slate illustration that accompanies the article.

On Tuesdsay, William Weir, identified by Slate as "a writer living in New Haven," had a piece published in the online news magazine entitled "Words Words Words: Are excessive lyrics ruining pop music?" The article is a mess. It begins as a lament of the dwindling number of instrumental compositions that make the pop charts. This is reasonable enough, and well supported by the figures Weir provides: "From 1960 to 1974, 128 instrumentals reached the Top 20, while only 30 did from 1975 to 1990. And since? Five." However, by the second paragraph focus shifts from the lack of instrumental hits to the growing verbosity of those songs that do make the top of the charts:
While wordless pop has disappeared from commercial radio, pop music has become ever more long-winded. The year-end top 10 songs from 1960 to 1969 have an average word count of 176. For the 1970s, the figure jumps to 244. In 2007, the average climbed to 436. The top 10 for the week of Feb. 2, 2008, features six songs over the 500-word mark. Chris Brown and T-Pain use 742 words in their "Kiss Kiss."
Thus, according to Weir, the reason instrumentals have fallen out of favor is because pop hits now feature more words than ever. What? There are two arguments here that have been conflated into one: first, instrumental music is not as popular as it once was, and second, pop hits now have more words than ever. But correlation is not causation, as any writer living in New Haven should certainly be aware.

Regarding the decline in popularity of instrumental tracks, Weir makes a few good points:
I understand the appeal of the human voice, and I certainly can't begrudge anyone's joy at singing along in the car (unless I'm in it). But why such shabby treatment for the instrumental? Marketability. A band is practically faceless with no crooning front man. ... Here's another problem for the instrumental: Fancy a new song, but don't know the name? You can Google the chorus. But with no words to work with, you're reduced to humming the guitar part to friends and record-store clerks, hoping they'll recognize it. They won't. Music journalists also share some responsibility. Words are writers' friends—they're easier to critique than a musical phrase the reader can't hear (although hyperlinks change this a bit). Take Black Sabbath's "Iron Man": I can go on for quite a while about the title character's tragic circumstances, but it's the riff that raises the song to pioneering doom classic. For all of the riff's majestic awesomeness, though, I'm at a loss to describe it.
However, this is about all he gets. They're reasonable arguments, sure: MTV was certainly more interesting with a singer to focus on; in these days of music saturation, it is a lot easier to find (and most importantly, buy) a song if you can search for some words (just look at Google Trends for last night and this morning: searches for songs featured on last nights Don't Forget the Lyrics are near the top of the list); and I hate hacky, lyric-centric music criticism just about as much as Weir seems to. Unfortunately, Weir decides to spend the bulk of his time decrying the fact that song lyrics have a lot more words than they used to.
[The] Great American Songbook is a bible of pithiness. "Blue Moon," "Over the Rainbow," and "Embraceable You" all make their cases in fewer than 100 words. Will Smith, Kenny Chesney, Bon Jovi, and Beyoncé all have songs called "Summertime" yielding word counts three to five times as high as Gershwin's tune of the same name. They all have a similar message: "The livin' is easy." But with only 92 words, Gershwin says it best by letting the melody become part of the story.
And then: "In Smith's "Summertime," he recalls hanging out in Philly parks, in Mercedes-Benzes, and at a place called "The Plateau," where everybody goes. All I picture are the Fresh Prince's summers. They sound fun, but I want my own." Does Weir not understand hip-hop?? I would imagine that rap, given the verbal necessity of the genre, is largely the reason for a lot of the numbers Weir provides on the steadily rising word total of pop songs. This is as bad, or worse, than Stereogum's infamous "hip-hop hates melody" comment. Here the claim would seem to be that hip-hop loves words. And that's bad because... it makes for impersonal music? Lost in Weir's analysis is the idea that the rising word total of pop songs could actually be a credit to the music's creators and listeners and a sign of increased sophistication, as they're now not only capable of writing and understanding, but are also desiring more complexity than we get in the lyrics to "Blue Moon".

Inevitably, Weir lays the majority of the blame for the rising lyrical word count on Bob Dylan. His conclusion:
Finally, there's Bob Dylan, the man perhaps most responsible for the word/music power imbalance. With the releases of "Wipe Out" and Lonnie Mack's "Memphis" in 1963, things looked bright for the rock instrumental. Then came The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and his 564-word "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall." That year, the New York Times likened his songs to "speeches delivered to guitar chording" and called him "an inspired poet." Two years later, the Times reported that everyone was copying him.
In Always Magic in the Air, Ken Emerson notes how threatened -- really, doomed -- the Brill Building and 1650 Broadway songwriters were by Dylan's growing popularity. However, most of those songwriters and lyricists saw the power in what Dylan was doing. They recognized it as something new and exciting, many of them were fans and admirers themselves. It would be foolish to think, though, that their admiration for Dylan's music led them to discredit their own short and sweet pop songs. As each has had its own era of pop chart dominance, each also has plenty of musical and cultural value of its own. It's a shame that Weir doesn't see it that way.

Charlie Parker's first recorded solo

On Wednesday, Boogie Woogie Flu posted a vinyl rip of Charlie Parker's first recorded studio solo, on the 1941 track "Hootie Blues", by Jay McShann And His Orchestra. Check it out.

Getting Digital

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I imagine just about everyone is aware by now that "Kristen", the Emperor's Club call girl who met Eliot Spitzer in DC, is actually Ashley Alexandra Dupre, an aspiring R&B singer with a few songs on her Myspace. Now the Daily Intelligencer at New York Magazine is reporting that she has sold over 2 million digital downloads of her 2 songs through online music vendor Amie Street. Each song sells for 98 cents, and she gets a 70% cut of the total profit. The "total profit" as considered by Amie Street is likely less than the total 98 cent cost of the song, so it's unclear how much Dupre is actually receiving per download, but let's assume that it's at least 25 cents. Multiply that by 2 million+, and she's made over $500,000 on digital downloads, the majority of which have come this week. As shown in the graphic above, her songs are topping Amie Street's weekly (and even monthly) sales chart. I'm not sure where NYMag got the figures for actual number of tracks sold, since they don't appear readily available at Amie Street, but it would be interesting to see how her numbers this week compare to the top selling songs in the iTunes and Amazon stores.

March 13, 2008

2 things that I like about No Age.

No Age

I've been burnt out on new music/indie music/blog music lately, but No Age is one of the handful of that type of bands I've still been listening to. Here are two things that I like about No Age:

1) Drummer/vocalist Dean Sprunt's voice -- With No Age, Times New Viking, and probably some other bands I can't think of, the drummer/vocalist is coming back! Sprunt's vocals are especially notable for their nasal, bratty, Tom DeLonge-esque quality. On their last record, this tone was usually at least somewhat buried beneath the noise in the mix, just enough to cover up the obnoxiousness that would make them sound a little too mall-punk. But if you listen closely, it's there, and it screams SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (in a good way).

2) Guitarist Randy Randall's name -- In a lot of other bands, Randy Randall would seem like a jokey stage name, but in this case I'm assuming it's just what people have always called him. Each part of his name also carries a special association in my brain: Randy. Randall.

BONUS 3) Interview and concert footage from XLR8R

March 10, 2008

Harshing My Buzz

ALSO: Slate's Daniel Gross says Stagflation is back.

Baby Huey

This album has dominated my listening for the past week or so; check it out:


"Hard Times"

Baby Huey

March 4, 2008

Marion Cotillard

Apparently in an interview a year or so ago, recent best-actress Marion Cotillard questioned the official accounts of 9/11 and the first moon landing. Of course, everyone who thinks celebrities' opinions are important and/or worthy of our scorn has been all over it, pulling no punches in letting us know how stupid and crazy they think she is. These are largely the same people and organizations who like to denigrate George W. Bush at every possible chance, and have long been cheering on Obama (to a lesser extent Clinton) while largely ignoring the GOP nominees, as they really aren't even relevant to progressive thinking people like us. However, they're willing to accept the official record - a record developed during the tenures of Bush and Rudy Giuliani - on 9/11? Cotillard says "I think we're lied to about a number of things." Are these journalists, bloggers, commentators, etc. saying they really, sincerely believe the official account of these events? If so, I'm willing to bet it's likely the only product of the Bush administration that they wholly, unquestioningly accept. To me, this isn't just about the discourse of entertainment media, but mass political discourse as well. Here we have the landmark national event of a generation, and we don't even allow ourselves to question it, never mind the fact that the story comes from an administration that has shown itself to be great fans of secrecy and underhanded dealings. Of course, Cotillard's statements do get more specific - and a little more far-fetched - as to why 9/11 may have occurred, but coverage of her remarks has generally been taking her to task over the mere act of questioning in addition to her more concrete statements. Jezebel's headline reads "Marion Cotillard: 911 Is A Joke." Did the blogger responsible for that headline really get that from the remarks Cotillard made in that interview? The fact that Cotillard is foreign and female likely has something to do with the bile her statements have provoked, but it's frightening and unfortunate when the most important political event of the past few decades is declared hands-off. When we let things like this happen, we're complicit in allowing for a culture of greater secrecy and less transparency in our government.

An Album Cover

Flowers Forever
Flowers Forever, Flowers Forever (Team Love)

Infant nudity is a practically cliché - and definitely less than shocking - rock album-cover trope. My issue here is that perennial problem for the sports photographer at a basketball game: the pit shot. I can almost smell the fresh off the tour-bus b.o. wafting out towards me. Also, what's with the front-row attempt to recreate the logo of late Christian ska-sters Five Iron Frenzy?


Sarah Lipstate

Sarah Lipstate, the newest member of Parts & Labor. An avant-garde guitarist and general noisemaker (check out the double-neck bow action in the pic above) who's been recording/performing under the name Noveller, Lipstate's addition is the 2nd change (the 1st being new drummer Joe Wong) to the band's line-up since recording Mapmaker, one of my favorite albums of last year. Though I lament the loss of potential CF (I'll need to read his Public Enemy 33 1/3 book before rendering a final judgment) Christopher Weingarten behind the kit, I'm excited to hear the sounds the new members will add to BJ Warshaw and Dan Friel's already devastating squall. According to a post on P&L's Myspace blog, "We're now a four piece band trying to sound like a six piece instead of three piece band trying to sound like a five piece. Know what I mean?"

mp3: Parts & Labor, "Sugar Kane" (Sonic Youth cover, from 2004 tribute album Confuse Yr Idols)