Friday, October 31, 2008

Wilco the Song

Did you guys see this?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Coates and Kool G

A couple of quick recommendations:

First, if you guys haven't checked out Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog at the Atlantic Monthly website, you should. He's a smart political commentator, hails from urban Baltimore, and is still quite a bit younger than your average pundit, which all adds up to an interesting, entertaining perspective on national events, written with a flair you won't find quite anywhere else.

Also, he has some very interesting thoughts on hip hop, which he muses on fairly regularly, and this weekend he posted this video from Kool G Rap in 1990. Some call Kool G the original gangsta rapper, which doesn't quite do him justice, as essentially nobody since has rapped "gangsta" with nearly so much depth, style, and social consciousness. Plus, his flow is just fucking sick! Prepare to watch some true science drop:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

If Hollywood directors made John MCain's ads

The first couple aren't that interesting, but the third one, a John McCain ad in the style of Wes Anderson, is pretty funny.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping

Kittybrains and Eric - I'm curious what you two think about the new Of Montreal album, as you two (and myself) are such big fans of the last one. ANNNNNND - discuss:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dreaming of You

For any of you who haven't heard it yet, the new Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Vol. 8 is incredibly good. If it were anybody but Bob Dylan I might say it was shockingly, unbelievably good, but with Dylan I was perfectly prepared to believe that his musical scraps from the past 15 years would be able to fill two CDs with compelling, impeccably arranged performances. I also love the music video for one of the previously unreleased songs, "Dreaming of You", which features Harry Dean Stanton, who I believe is essentially playing the role of Bob Dylan in this video. He looks through scraps of old paper and tapes, listens to old recordings, and reminisces sadly about his career. It almost reads like a lost final chapter of I'm Not There, as sad, old Bob Dylan reflects on all he's been through.

It reminds me of Johnny Cash's final video, for his cover of "Hurt". It's such a similar concept I wonder if the parallel was intentional.

I just hope that Dylan keeps going on for longer than Cash did after making that video. I'd certainly love to be able to hear all the treasures on The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 after another 15 years have gone by.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Foot Slightly In Mouth

Okay, on the heels of my praising music that incorporates international genres, while simultaneously mocking Snoop Dogg, I must sheepishly report that Snoop has apparently gotten big in India! (Maybe some of you knew this.) He's embraced certain elements of their music and it pretty much works. Listen for yourself...

(Note that you need to skip the first minute of the video to get to the actual song.)

Nerd Alert Follow-Up

I started writing this in the comment section for Eric's post, but it got too long...

Look, a couple things to consider in comparing eras. Number one is that rock music was so much more mainstream in the 60s than it was today. "Stairway to Heaven" was the most requested song in history at that point. (maybe still) "Bohemian Rhapsody" was a #1 single for weeks. "Hype vs. Reality" debates concerned Bob Dylan and Donovan, both of whom are respected today. (One more than the other of course.)

When you talk about the most hyped bands of today, you have to remember that most of the country is paying attention to hip hop more than they are to rock. So maybe it would be more appropriate to talk about someone like Snoop Dogg, who had this earth-shaking debut and then got progressively worse to the point where he's now just an ironic cannabis icon.

And among the rock bands that really get the hype, I'd say nearly all of them won't live up to their billing over time. The White Stripes? Give me a break. What has that band done that Led Zeppelin or [insert bluesy punk band here] didn't do far better 30-40 years ago?

The problem with bands like the White Stripes and the Strokes is this: Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones were ripping off old black delta bluesmen who the vast majority of people had never heard before-- therefore, these bands' contribution to mainstream culture was a breakthrough to those with limited cultural palettes.

Contrast that to the White Stripes and the Strokes, who are ripping off not obscure bluesmen, but rather Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones themselves-- acts that everyone has heard and who were doing the same thing, only better, decades earlier! All these 60's/70's rip-off bands will be judged irrelevant by history because they're adding nothing new to the musical canon.

But now consider bands that really are bringing something new to the mainstream. Radiohead comes to mind for their use of electronic music and their weaving back in forth between distorted rock and hypnotic lulls. Also, Paul Simon continues to push musical boundaries to this day. (Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints were great canonical contributions, but also check out Surprise, his most recent album.)

Same thing goes for David Byrne. Other acts (i.e. Arcade Fire) might be repackaging his Talking Heads material, but not him! His solo releases continue to span in all sorts of directions. And in the spirit of both Byrne and Simon (I can't believe I'm about to say this), if Vampire Weekend were to build on their culturally off-beat debut, they, too could prove to be an important band over time. (Lots to prove obviously, but their debut is promising.)

Praising Nirvana is about as bold as buying your coffee at Starbucks, but they achieved the same thing that I'm talking about with these other bands. They took the melodic, often scream-y pseudo-punk played by their idols (Pixies, Raincoats, Wipers, etc.) and introduced it to the mainstream radio market, most of whom hadn't heard this kind of music before.

And to clarify my overall point, everyone I've mentioned has something else in common besides unearthing obscure musical genres. They were all great songwriters/performers. Kurt Cobain was a better songwriter than Black Francis, Kim Deal, etc. Jimmy Page stole his licks from Robert Johnson, but he played them in a more electrifying fashion. Paul Simon writes catchier choruses than Ladysmith Black Mambazo. David Byrne doesn't just do one genre like his influences; he does 15. So these people rose to the top for a reason.

Contrast that to the nostalgia acts that dominate rock radio (and often Pitchfork as well), and note the difference. Those bands are watered-down versions of an older, better product. Nirvana, etc. stood the test of time because they outdid their influences. That is the difference.

Ralph Stanley Endorses Obama

For all you old-timey bluegrass types out there, you'll enjoy this excerpt from the NY Times Sunday magazine story on Obama. It concerns a rally in Lebanon, VA...

The program opened with the validators. This is a critical part of Obama’s small-town strategy — getting respected surrogates to stand up and say that Obama is a guy you can trust. The first person on stage was Ralph Stanley, the 81-year-old legendary bluegrass musician, who was born in nearby Stratton and makes his home in Dickenson County. He unfolded a piece of paper and read, in a shaky voice: “I want to endorse Barack Obama as the next president of the United States. Thank you very much!” The gymnasium exploded. (When the candidate met Stanley backstage, Obama told him that he had some of Stanley’s banjo music on his iPod. Stanley nodded appreciatively, but a few minutes later he turned to a friend and asked, “What’s an iPod?”)

Rest of the story found here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Critical Consensus

Time for another navel-gazing post from me about the Rock canon:

I just saw this on Pitchfork:

Pitchfork is making the leap from pixels to the page: On November 11, Simon & Schuster imprint Fireside Books will publish The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present. This handy paperback chronologically explores Pitchfork's 500 favorite songs from 1977-2006, constructing an alternate history of the past three decades of popular music-- one that extends beyond the typical Baby Boomer-approved canon of the Clash, Prince, Public Enemy, Nirvana, Radiohead, and Outkast.

From art-rock and proto-punk godfathers such as Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie to today's leading lights such as the Arcade Fire, the White Stripes, and Kanye West; from superstars to cult heroes; and from punk, indie, and pop to hip-hop, electronic music, and metal, we've created the ultimate playlist. Interspersed throughout are sidebars on the most vital subgenres from electro to grime to riot grrrl, along with pieces like "Career Killers: The Songs That Ended It All" and "Runaway Trainwrecks: The Post-Grunge Nadir."

A few preliminary points:
-I think bashing Pitchfork is, at this point, tiresome (sorry guys-- I know it's one of our favorite activities) because at this point, they've clearly descended into self parody on some points and have proven to be a clearly useful site on other points.

-This is, in and of itself, exciting to me because I used to LOVE Big Rock List/Review books. For better or worse, I seriously grew up on the Rolling Stone Album Guide, the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, and the original print version of the All Music Guide (not to mention the Rough Guide, Music Hound, Spin Alternative Guide, and others I just browsed in the Tower Records and Borders Books on Rockville Pike). I say "for better or worse," because while it is undoubtedly what made me the music-obsessive I am today, it also made me the music-obsessive I am today. And it reinforced certain what I guess I'll call "rockist" (though I hate the term) biases that it has taken a very long time to shake off. (Broadly speaking, a basic preference for white male bands with guitars over all others). There hasn't been a new book like this that anyone cares about in a long time-- and why would there be? The action is all online anyway. So the fact that Pitchfork is trying to enter the print world is kind of exciting just on that basis.

Anyway, what actually struck me was the juxtaposition between the two lists of artists. To wit:

the typical Baby Boomer-approved canon of the Clash, Prince, Public Enemy, Nirvana, Radiohead, and Outkast


art-rock and proto-punk godfathers such as Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie to today's leading lights such as the Arcade Fire, the White Stripes, and Kanye West

A few things strike me about this. But in short, I'm not sure I see a difference between the two lists in terms of either alternative "cred" or acceptance by the critical establishment. Honestly, they could have swapped out any artist from one list to the other and it would be equally meaningless. In the first place, it's one thing if they were contrasting the Baby Boomer canon of Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Jimi with people like Bowie and Eno. But I don't see how, at this point, championing the Arcade Fire or Kanye West brings you so far outside of the mainstream critical establishment that boosts Radiohead and Outkast. They're just slightly newer artists. It would also be one thing if they said, "Damn the man, but Boyz II Men, Bush, and Offspring were the secret artistic leading lights in 90s music" or something like that. That would actually subvert the critical canon in a meaningful way too. But to force you Clash fans to think outside your narrow boxes and embrace David Bowie?? What does that even mean?

Anyway, the point is not just to bash Pitchfork's slippery sense of genre and the critical establishment. I also just find it interesting how the idea of a rock "canon" changes. The aforementioned Illustrated Guide to Rock and Roll (See here) went a long way towards establishing the rock and roll canon. I still remember it fairly vividly-- the article on the Band, for example, made me truly appreciate them for the first time. There were chapters on all of the usual suspects (Beatles, Stones) and genres (rockabilly, soul, girl groups). And though this is partially because of when it was first written (mid 80s I think), it is so strongly tilted towards the 60s, with full articles on overrated 60s bands who, at this point, could almost qualify as underrated because no one cares about them anymore (The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane) that I remember, as a young burgeoning music geek reading it (and watching the multi-part PBS documentary with all the great talking head interviews with people like Jeff Skunk Baxter and Bob Geldof) that upon the calendar turning to 1970, All Good Music Stopped.

Pitchfork's guide doesn't start until 1977 (which is actually consistent with the old establishment line that that was the year that Good Music Started Again, only to end in 1980, but then start again with the release of Nevermind in 1991), so it won't have the same problems regardless. But I think the canon has already shifted to embrace the figures they're writing about anyway. Also, the Whites Stripes are overrated.

Friday, October 10, 2008

This time I think it's real

At the risk of having egg on my face, I do believe that Chinese Democracy will actually be released this year. This sounds as close to official as we're gonna get.

(Dr. K: link fixed)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Take On Me: The Literal Version

These lyrics are much better than the original.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Andrew Bird - "Oh No"

From the new record coming out January 27th, Noble Beast. Listen here.

Friday, October 03, 2008


That's my new word. I checked google and it only brings up six hits (though that may be lagging, and it's possible that after last night there will be more people who simultaneously invented it too).