Sure, everybody loves a guitar show-off, melting picks and blistering fingers as they break barriers of time and space to send billion-note hyperspeed solos out into the cosmos like a rock Big Bang. But for those of us who came of musical age under the fuzzy blanket of shoegaze, the anti-rockist banners of punk, or the tripped-out tie-dye of psychedelia, Yngwie Malmsteen-style pyrotechnics not only seem excessive, they also kind of hurt our ears. So, let's take time to celebrate guitarists at the other end of the spectrum, musicians who have found that a single note, played at just the right moment, can stand up to the most complicated finger gymnastics. Now, sure, you may ask, "if it's just one note, how can you tell if it's a solo and not just, well, a note?" There were two basic criteria: one, the position of the solo at a climactic moment in the song, generally just after the second chorus (disqualifying "You Keep Me Hangin' On"); and two, when the solo is finished, you feel like standing up and cheering, or at least you would if you weren't so cool.
Didn't we have a seminar or something to take care of all that? In politics, things seem to be looking up: An African-American has all but wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination and the California Supreme Court just decided they wanted in on the gay marriage economic boom. But over on the arts and culture pages, where you'd think people would be a little ahead of the game, homophobia and racism are still rearing their ugly heads, in subtle but egregious ways. At issue: can black singers ever avoid being classified under "hip-hop," and when is it okay to posthumously refer to someone as "gay"?
After the jump: let's just agree, "no" and "never."
With a 3G iPhone apparently around the corner, the NY Timesis reporting that Apple may be more willing than ever to negotiate with record labels in exchange for, well, more stuff you can buy on your iPhone. Apple wants more ringtones and "ringback" songs (music you hear when you call somebody, which by the way is really annoying), as well as the ability to sell songs from iTunes right over the phone network. Currently, you can shop at iTunes on an iPhone only via WiFi or connecting to a computer.
After the jump: how much would you pay for Colbie Caillat?
LA-based singer Beck has posted a stream of the first song from his upcoming album Modern Guilt on his website, and while the album's being produced by Danger Mouse, there's little mashuppery or Gnarls Barkley-style soulfulness afoot. "Chemtrails" sounds, for all intents and purposes, like Dungen, or more accurately, like the psychedelic rock of the 1960s that inspired them. A rolling beat is way up in the mix, combined with a funky bassline, while way off in the background Beck himself croons in a reverb-drenched falsetto about how there's "too many people, watching the chemtrails." Oh, chemtrails. Somebody I know got taken in by this conspiracy theory and would get wild-eyed as they'd launch into wandering explanations of how we're being secretly sprayed with unknown chemicals for unknown reasons. (Yes, I know I'm inviting some awesome comments. Have at it, shut-ins.) So, is Beck, like myself, concerned and saddened by a populace so consumed by fear that it's willing to believe (and obsess about) anything, or is he issuing us a warning about the secret government cabal drenching us in brain-controlling dust? Buy my chemtrail psychic cleanser and be free from the unknown effects! Better yet, buy Beck's Modern Guilt when it comes out next month, because if this song is any indication, it'll sound like nothing he's ever done.
Racial identity, gentrification, and indie rock frame Barry Jenkins' breakthrough film, Medicine for Melancholy; a sweet, provocative, and sometimes redundant film about two hip, African American twentysomethings who spend one full day together in San Francisco after hooking up at a party the night before.
San Francisco has been the backdrop for a ton of movies—Vertigo, Bullitt, the Towering Inferno, 48 Hours, So I Married an Axe Murderer—but in Jenkins' film, the city's giant hills, bustling city streets, museums, renters-rights debates, and indie music actually shape the story's narrative. As the two main characters walk up and down hills, ride their bikes downtown, attend exhibits, walk past an open-door neighborhood town-hall meeting, and get drunk at a mostly white hipster bar, locales actually help focus and shape conversation.
Jenkins' "medicine"—constructive debate, the excitement of meeting someone new—for "melancholy"—struggling to understand and define racial and cultural identity—can feel a little forced. Arguments between the two main characters sometimes fizzle and come to no conclusion or consensus. But this frequently funny, often endearing look at life in San Francisco will serve as a worthwhile time capsule for the City by the Bay, and many of its complexities.
Okay, I know I've been talking a lot about the Portishead album, which I love more and more with each passing second. But while my adoration for Third is nearly boundless, I'm not blind to its more, shall we say, "mockable" aspects. Case in point: listening to track two, "Hunter," today, I was suddenly reminded of another piece of music that it resembles. A long-buried German cabaret number? An obscure album track from the soundtrack to an early Bond film? Norwegian funeral dirges? No, no, no: "Hunter" seems to have borrowed its dramatic piano melody and swerving chord changes from the theme to SCTV's brilliant soap opera parody, "The Days of the Week." After the jump, compare and contrast for yourselves. Hmm, maybe we should also be looking for hidden references to "The Great White North," or perhaps the organ sounds came from Tex and Edna Boil's Organ Emporium?
Ladytron have always been kind of sneaky. They're better than they should be, with a far-from-unique formula of vaguely out-of-date electronica and breathy female vocals, plus a name that seems culled from Barbarella or something. Yet each of the foursome's three albums so far, starting with their 2001 debut, 604, has risen above generic retro-futurism or pretentious glam-techno, utilizing a diverse stylistic palette as well as an wry playfulness (witness their cover of Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)"). Plus, they just write really good, catchy songs: "Seventeen," "Destroy Everything You Touch," and "Playgirl" could all take on the best Depeche Mode songs in an electro battle of the bands. Most intriguingly, they seem to have gotten better with every album; does Velocifero, out next month, continue the Tron's evolution?
Welcome back to the "staff picks" shelf at The Riff. Fresh off production of our July/August issue, we're happy to be playing some music.
1. You've heard it before, but not like this. "Cotton Eyed Joe" in its true Appalachian splendor—one fiddle, one voice. A New Yorker by origin, Bruce Molsky travels deep in the backwoods of America collecting tunes and learning technique from porch-sittin' old-timers. An immaculate musician, in this track, Molsky nails the true scratchin' style of old-timey music—complete with quarter tones and double stops, he fiddles and sings at the same time.
2. Has the Democratic race been divisive? Is it threatening to tear apart the party? My grandfather thinks so, and it's certainly a lively topic in political America these days. So I thought I'd add a little music to the discussion by one of my favorite new LA bands, Division Day. Next time you're caught in an argument between BHO and HRC, you may just find yourself hoping the damage is "Reversible." (Click here to listen to the full song played to a picture of the band.)
3. I was first introduced to Oliver Rajamani a couple years back while working in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. I was immediately intrigued by his seemingly effortless success in blending diametrically different musical traditions. His songs, like "Unnai Marenthal," are mostly sung in Tamil, an ancient Dravidian language, but are mixed with Hindi, Urdu and Spanish. His music similarly pulls motifs from various cultures—Brazilian rhythms, flamenco guitar, Indian drums, and gypsy spice. Makes for daringly good party music.
4. I'm not the first to point out that when under incredible pressure, consumed by guilt, or facing impending doom, we humans tend to exhibit a curious response—the nervous tic. The calmly capable Andrew Bird, master of live-looping, has noticed as well. If you ever find yourself with a slight "Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left," you may want to tune in, strap on the sumo suit, and relieve some stress.
Encore. She told me, to my face, there's a good man's in my place. This is the crux of "Fare Thee Well Blues," as played by Big Apple old-timer Bruce Molsky (because I know you wanted more). This is a satisfying blend of grit and talent with enough blue notes to catch the attention of even the mildest blues fan. The song is derived from a 1920's rendition by Mississippi bluesman Joe Callicott, which Molsky found on an LP in the back of a record store as a teenager.
I'll never watch Midnight Cowboy the same way again. It was clear something was up with Jon Voight last year when he went on Fox and, between queries about daughter Angelina, told an elated Bill O'Reilly that America's liberal professoriate was a dangerous fifth column. He slammed unnamed but "cunning professionals" for feeding "propaganda" to the "extremists" who criticize President Bush. And—remember this in exactly two sentences—he repeatedly condemned "religious fanaticism."
Now Voight has traveled to Israel to, as Haaretzreported yesterday, "express ... his opposition to exchanging land for peace with the Palestinians." Says Voight in an interview clip accompanying the story: "God gave this land to the Jewish people; they shouldn't be giving it away." He tearfully calls Israel "the sole reminder of the survival of the Jewish people."
Himself not Jewish, Voight also sent around a strange primary appeal earlier this year in which he declared, "Every Jew should be voting for Giuliani." Look, I'm all for philo-Semitism, but what's with this guy?
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from jesilu_mac.
Now retired Chilean judge Juan Guzman conducts a long, tedious investigation into the brutal killings and disappearances that took place during the country's Pinochet regime in The Judge and the General, an 84-minute documentary film that had its world premier recently at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
The film is Guzman's journey toward discovery; of the atrocities linked to Pinochet, and to his own self-awareness as a judge in search of truth who initially was skeptical about taking on the investigation. Guzman and his crew of lab technicians, police, and government officials travel to all corners of the country to study bones of those who were killed, interview their surviving family members, and review piles of documents.
One audience member at the San Francisco screening, during an open-mic Q&A, told Guzman he was a "fraud" and that he should be ashamed of himself for taking credit for taking down Pinochet. After the loud "Boos" and hisses (and one or two claps) died down, Guzman said, "You obviously don't know what you are talking about," and applause filled the room.