Gary Moskowitz, Online Editorial Fellow: I know I'm supposed to think all indie rock from Canada is cool (Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene), but The Weakerthans' newest CD, Reunion Tour (Epitaph's Anti-, 2007), is weak—no pun intended. The songs are soft and gentle and polite, and not that memorable. In fact the music puts me to sleep.
Anna Weggel, Editorial Intern: Listen, Debbie Downer. You obviously didn't get past the fourth track. I dare you to listen to "Virtue The Cat Explains Her Departure" without looking upward with quivering lips and slowly reliving the happiest moment of your life. Tell me, when was the last time you listened to a song sung from the viewpoint of a loveable, housebroken kitty?
GM: Loveable, housebroken kitties are cute and all, but these songs just aren't that fun. The fact that the band would even consider naming a song "Virtue The Cat Explains Her Departure" is, to me, further proof that this music is best for sleepy time, not party time. That said, "Elegy for Gump Worsely" (once again, with the terrible song titles) has some cool banjo parts. "Night Windows" is one of those cutesy-pie indie songs that has pretty melodies, Johnny Marr-inspired guitar licks, and a pulsing, repetitive kick-drum. I'm cool with some of that.
AW: One of the most infectious little ditties I find is "Sun in an Empty Room," with its clear, repeated chorus that might make for a good prospective Kidz Bop tune someday (and we know once you've hit Kidz Bop, you've made it big). "Night Windows," which originally made me take notice of the band, is getting some play on The Current, my hometown indie public radio station. The Weakerthans is Ben Kweller meets Snow Patrol meets Ben Lee meets the Polyphonic Spree, minus the child chorus and, you know, the weirdness. And might I remind you that sleepy time tunes have just as much a place in the cool-kid music world as party time jams. Everybody likes a good nap, man.
Spiralfrog.com, an ad-supported free download service, launched today, and your iPod isn't invited to the party. By the way, doesn't that idiotic name bring you back to those heady internet startup days, when companies seemed to throw a dart at a color and an animal chart for their names? Redgorilla.com! Bluegiraffe.com! Anyway, that was good times. This Frog plans to feature over 2 million tracks within the next few months, most notably from Universal Music; the label had famously refused to renew a long-term contract with iTunes over pricing disagreements. SpiralFrog's business model, such as it is, requires you to click on their ads to keep downloading songs, and they promise "no threat of viruses," which I totally believe; I mean, why would the intertubes lie to us?
This development comes on the heels of NBC/Universal's recent decision to jump ship entirely from iTunes and take its video content to Amazon's new download service, the nearly-as-stupidly-named Unbox. It's a box, but not a box! Derrrr! Apparently 40% of iTunes movie content was from Universal, and this became all too clear for me recently. I was searching through the iTunes movie section to grab some entertainment for a plane trip, and found slim pickings (sorry, Wild Hogs and Aeon Flux, but I'd rather read the in-flight magazine). NBC's TV shows will also be exclusive to Amazon's service, which totally sucks since I watched the whole season of "30 Rock" on my iPod last year, and that's how I realized that was a good show. Sorry, Tina Fey.
While I'm all for competition, pulling your products from a popular store for spite just seems ridiculous, like, sorry, no orange juice at Safeway, we want to charge you twice as much at Albertson's. Customers forced to search for their favorite shows will just give up and buy something else, or do what I did and grab a Bittorrent of the Simpsons movie, and feel only slightly guilty during the scene of Bart writing "I will not illegally download this movie" on the blackboard.
With Kanye West on track to outsell 50 Cent by at least 100,000 records this week, Fiddy cancelled his U.K. promo appearances after selling less than Mr. West there as well; he had threatened to retire from solo albums if West won the sales race.
The venerable management company The Firm has droppedBritney Spears as a client, after only one month. The Firm was to spearhead Brit's comeback, but released a statement saying "current circumstances have prevented us from properly doing our job." Ouch.
Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, frustrated by high CD prices and distribution problems in Australia and China, respectively, is telling concert-goers to steal his music. A YouTube clip shows him telling a Sydney audience, "Steal it, steal away, give it to your friends." He also told a Beijing audience that because Western music is difficult to find via legal channels in China, that "downloading from the Internet is a more acceptable options than buying pirated CDs."
This week, heartwarming Emmy moments, psychedelic French rock, and avant-Cumbia make the cut, but the theme (as always, emerging after the fact) seems to be boundary-pushing and genre-crushing hip-hop/techno cross-pollination. That should always be the theme, really.
10. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert giving Ricky Gervais' Emmy to Steve Carell
I was actually on a flight from Minneapolis during the Emmys, and probably wouldn't have watched anyway (Ryan Seacrest?!) but the YouTube of this is fantastic, and not just for the comedy value: the audience's cheers give you the sense that despite Extras' acknowledged awesomeness, Steve Carell is just a more awesome person, especially since Gervais didn't even show up. I wonder if any of it was planned?
9. Ivan Ives - "Got It" (From Iconoclast on No Threshold)
I remember Russia being way more into Army of Lovers than hip-hop, but that was a while ago; maybe Russian-born Ives is the tip of a new expat Russki rap scene iceberg. He actually lives in LA now and this track reflects sunny climes more than winter nights, with a funky retro sample and a cute DIY video. Not exactly ground-breaking, but I've been humming the chorus all week.
8. Twista feat. Kanye West - "Well It's Time"
(from Adrenaline Rush 2007, out 9/18 on Atlantic)
(listen at The Fader)
Hyper Chicago rapper Twista's auctioneer-speed rhymes are offset with a decidedly mellow sample from Feist in this Kanye West production; it's apparently the bonus track on his new album, out tomorrow, and while the song is definitely breezy, it's no throwaway.
7. The Bee Gees - "Stayin' Alive" (Teddybears Remix) (from Bee Gees Greatest, out 9/18 on Rhino)
(listen at Pitchfork)
Swedish combo Teddybears accomplished the almost-unthinkable on their 2006 album Soft Machine: they brought back Big Beat without any backlash, and it was actaully good. Or maybe they just brought back the good parts of Big Beat—eclectic, upbeat, accessible, soulful sounds. On this disco-riffic remix, the band correctly assesses that the original has the "accessible" part pretty much down, and their job is to f*** things up a little. This they do via skronky bass noises that sound a little like French contemporaries Justice.
6. Various Artists - Las Rebajadas van a Brooklin (DJ set by Sonido Martines) (download an mp3 at Muy Bastard or Disco Shawn's blog, or listen at WFMU.org)
My expat compadre in Buenos Aires Disco Shawn introduced me to the amazing avant-Cumbia scene happening down there, and a billiant new DJ or producer seems to pop up every day. Sonido Martines produced this mix for DJ/Rupture's WFMU radio show, and the two share a philosophy: the NY DJ's marriage of Indian pop to drill 'n' bass was itself a radical reimagining of indigenous music. Sonido Martines' style, "Cumbias Rebajadas," is characterized by pitching tracks way, way down; at those speeds, the music takes on a strange psychedelic crackle, like a transmission from another time.
I actually just can't believe they beat me to it. We've been covering the White Stripes' cancellation of their fall tour due to reported "anxiety" and a "breakdown" on the part of drummer Meg White; in the absence of further details, one can't help but wonder what's really going on. Well, New York magazine's got some ideas, ten in fact: their article, "Ten Things That Probably Stressed Out Meg White" is actually in the best of spirits ("get well soon Meg!") although it does point out her widely-noted "primitivist" drumming style: "couldn't remember drum part to 'Seven Nation Army'" is #2. Well, it's pretty cute, anyway. The Riff loves you too, Meg.
Rolling Stone's "Rock Daily" blog has a wrap-up on the music-themed films featured at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, and it turns out they're all pretty good:
Todd Haynes' atmospheric tribute to Bob Dylan, I'm Not There, was also warmly received, with the LA Timescalling Cate Blanchett's portrayal of the enigmatic musician "phenomenal."
The documentary about Daniel Lanois' production work with artists like U2 and Sinead O'Connor, Here Is What Is, got good reviews for its ability to portray the creative process, making "something out of nothing," although even the "@U2" blog says its insider footage may be best appreciated by fans.
Finally, Rolling Stone calls Heavy Metal In Baghdad the "most powerful music film" at TIFF, a documentary about Iraq's "only heavy metal band," Acrassicauda. At one point in the film, their practice space is destroyed by a missile; now that's hardcore.
Saturday's Wall Street Journal is probably the most unlikely place you'll see Lily Allen's picture this week, as the paper featured an article on the problems British musicians are having getting visas to come to the U.S. It's the kind of thing that raised conspiracy theories with M.I.A. (maybe they didn't like her lyrics!) but when you look at the range and number of artists who have had tours delayed or canceled because of visa problems, it turns out Immigration officials just don't like the U.K. As the Journal reports:
At least three anticipated tours by British artists scheduled for this month alone have been called off or pushed back because of musicians' visa problems. That is on top of at least 10 scuttled tours by buzzed-about British acts in the last year. Part of the problem, immigration specialists say: The traditional visa system isn't set up to cope with the new face of popular music. To get into the U.S., many foreign music acts need to secure a document known as the "P-1"-class visa. This visa requires acts to prove that they have been "internationally recognized" for a "sustained and substantial" amount of time.
That's right: Immigration officials are deciding which artists are "recognized" enough for you to be allowed to see them. That means bands like Klaxons are submitting magazine reviews and blog postings (let's hope they read the Riff!) to try and help their case, but even then, it's far from guaranteed. The Journal focuses on the business impact of last-minute tour cancellations, detailing how Lily Allen's cancelled performance in Portland Oregon meant a 1500-capacity venue was dark on a Friday night. However, it's clear that it's music fans' hearts which are suffering the most:
When the London indie-rock band Mystery Jets had to cancel its U.S. concert debut this summer because of visa problems, 21-year-old Krisan Cieszkiewicz of Portage, Ind., was devastated. "I've never experienced anything more heartbreaking or cruel in my life," says Ms. Cieszkiewicz, who had planned to see the band in Chicago.
Okay, come to think of it, maybe Americans could use a little hardship.
Well, at least it wasn't Britney Spears bad. Anyone out there who's been reading all my posts on rapper M.I.A., but hadn't really heard her music, and decided to check her out on Letterman tonight, now you think I'm nuts. Yes, you're right, it was terrible. I stayed tuned in all the way through Martha Stewart's segment just to see M.I.A. make her Letterman debut, and to say it was disappointing is an understatement, but I don't know if it was necessarily her fault. She performed "Paper Planes," a Clash-sampling highlight from the new album Kala, but something was wrong with the mix, and you could barely hear her or the backup vocalist. I get the sense that maybe they were running her mic through the DJ rig, because his scratching on the gunshot FX was so loud it seemed to knock the sound out a few times. Even worse, when the prerecorded backup vocals came in during the chorus, they were so much louder than M.I.A.'s live vocals they made her seem like she was, well, relying on prerecorded vocals. Poor M.I.A.! And if you've never heard her before, please give her another chance.
[update 9/17] Video below. People are reporting that she was not allowed to use gunshot sounds during her performance, so those are apparently just gunshot-like percussive noises.
If you were intrigued by my review of Redemption Song, the biography of Clash front man Joe Strummer, but weren't sure you could stomach 600 pages about anything, then there may be an easier way to relive some of the punk rock legend's life. Julien Temple, director of Sex Pistols pic The Filth and the Fury, has a new documentary about the life of Joe Strummer, and it's getting pretty good reviews. Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten uses archival footage of Strummer's own voice from his BBC radio show as narration, bringing the singer-songwriter (who died in 2002) eerily back to life. It currently has an 8.2/10 user rating on IMDB, and a 100% "tomatometer" rating at Rotten Tomatoes (that's good).
The film is now playing in Europe and Japan, but has only had a few festival screenings in the U.S.; a limited stateside release is planned for November 2nd. Watch the trailer below.
The leader of a Palestinian terror group has targeted Madonna and Britney Spears for spreading "Satanic culture," and threatened to behead them. Muhammad Abdel-Al, the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, based in the Gaza Strip, made the comments in a new book, Schmoozing With Terrorists, that presents interviews with members of terror organizations. Abdel-Al was quoted as saying:
If I meet these whores I will have the honor—I repeat, I will have the honor—to be the first one to cut the heads off Madonna and Britney Spears if they will keep spreading their Satanic culture against Islam... If these two prostitutes keep doing what they are doing, we of course will punish them.
NME reports the comments come just as Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie are heading to Israel to celebrate the Jewish New Year. Terrorists, they say crazy stuff.