Mixed Media

MoJo Staff Picks: April 18

| Fri Apr. 18, 2008 3:09 PM EDT

mojo-staff-picks-250x250.jpgWelcome back to the "staff picks" shelf at The Riff.

1. Gary: Janet Jackson's new album, Discipline, dropped in February, so she's back in action. And it's good! I resisted the urge to include "When I think of You," one of the BEST songs from my junior high career, and instead went with a new track, "Rock With U," because it's saucy.

2. Gary: The combination of Faith No More's Mike Patton with the "math" rock/hardcore band Dillinger Escape Plan produced what I consider some of the most interesting and badass aggressive/metal/thrash/loud/angry music of the early 2000s. The band's chaos is precise, and nobody screams the way Mike Patton screams. Turn it up.

3. Kiera (on a Russian kick this week): "Id," Nogu Svelo! This band's name, I'm told, translates to something along the lines of "cramp in the leg!" They've been giving Russians cramps in their legs...from dancing...for 20 years. Like it? You're in luck! They have a new album coming out. Or at least that's what this Google translation of part of their website makes it sound like:

I hasten to inform joyous news: Musicians Nogu Svelo!...locked in the studio and prepare a surprise for all their fans!

4. Kiera: "Dvornik," Agata Kristi. Since you've always wished Depeche Mode would sing in Russian, I've decided to make your day. Masters of Russian indie pop Agata Kristi synth it up in this track. I won't lie: It's a little gothic, too.

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Music: LA Weekly Reveals Who Should Headline Coachella

| Thu Apr. 17, 2008 6:54 PM EDT

mojo-photo-yelle.jpgWow, somebody's been brushing up their Excel skills: the LA Weekly has done some serious data entry work on the 128 acts playing next weekend's Coachella festival, and they've come up with some pretty interesting charts 'n' graphs describing today's musical trends. And I do love charts 'n' graphs.

Sure, the pie chart showing most bands are white and the bar graph proving most lead singers are male aren't exactly surprises, and the fact that "most recent Pitchfork review" averages out to between 6.1 and 7.4 is probably due to the fact that every Pitchfork review is between 6.1 and 7.4. But ranking artists by their most-viewed YouTube clip isn't such a far-fetched way to gauge popularity in this day and age, and the results are eyebrow-raising. Turns out, if internet video ruled the world, French techno would be, er, king: Justice and Yelle (pictured above) were #1 and #2, with over 7 million views for their most popular videos. Zut alors! They were followed by Kate Nash, Serj Tankian and Mark Ronson, none of whom are, in fact, headlining. Actual headliner Jack Johnson doesn't show up on this list until #9, with about a third of Justice's click-throughs. While I can understand Justice's internet popularity, I'm most intrigued by Yelle's sudden notoriety: the video getting all the love is the Tecktonik-style Tepr mix of "ACDG" that I posted as part of my France wrap-up back in December. You go, Yelle. After the jump, let's watch that video again, pourquoi pas?

Can Conservatives Trigger Obamaphobia by Tying Him to Rap?

| Thu Apr. 17, 2008 2:55 PM EDT

mojo-photo-william2.jpg The generically-named conservative site HumanEvents.com (not to be confused with RobotEvents.com) has posted a pretty hilarious article which lists Barack Obama's supporters in the hip-hop world, and then quotes some profanity-featuring lines from their songs. They claim his "rapper" ties are even worse than the Jeremiah Wright scandal:

Although the media has finally exposed Barack Obama's ties to the unhinged pastor his support from rappers who propagate equally pernicious nonsense has gone almost entirely unnoticed. Rappers are gaga over Obama. The superstar Jay-Z, who raps about "b------," "hoes" and "n-----," even urged voters to support Obama in a robo-call for the March 4 Ohio primary and caucus. The equally foul-mouthed rapper Will.I.am, whose hit songs include "I love my B----," has hyped Obama in two widely-viewed videos posted on YouTube.

Okay, seriously, trying to portray Will.I.am as a dangerous, profanity-spewing thug is like calling Carrie Underwood a communist. There's also this most excellent line: "His complicity with rappers dates back to at least 2006." Well, that's basically when hip-hop started, right?

Music: Concert Review: Cat Power at the Warfield

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 6:17 PM EDT

mojo-photo-catpowerwarfield.jpgIt used to be that you'd go to a Cat Power show with some anxiety, like a dinner with one of your friends who drinks too much and has a tendency to freak out and get loud. But these days, Chan Marshall has cleaned up her act, and while the volatility is gone, it's been replaced by a feeling that she's holding back.

My review of her latest album, Jukebox, lauded her soulful (and sometimes barely-recognizable) takes on the standards, and on Tuesday night, we got three standout Jukebox tracks right away: The Highwaymen's "Silver Stallion," during which Marshall paced relentlessly around the stage, stretching her microphone cord to the limit; "New York, New York," which came off even more smoky and dark than on CD; and best of all, "Ramblin' (Wo)Man," twisted to evoke early Portishead with a lethargic tempo and throbbing electric piano. Sadly, as other reviews of this tour have pointed out, Marshall's whispery voice can get buried under the band, barely audible, much less intelligible. And when the show is all about a solo artist, you kind of want to hear them.

After the jump: can a Cat get a spotlight?

Scripting the Democratic Convention, West Wing-Style

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 3:34 PM EDT
convention200.jpg

Watching the slow-motion train wreck that is the Democratic nomination process is entertaining in a horrible kind of way, but just wait until the flaming hulk comes hurtling into the station. That's what New York magazine asked West Wing writer Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. to do, commissioning him to a draft a movie treatment of this August's Democratic confab-slash-conflagration in Denver. The result, "Four Days in Denver," is a brilliant piece of political theater, featuring lots of closed-door hijinks, a decisive Clinton-Obama staredown, an inconveniently thin Al Gore, an implausibly popular Wes Clark, and a convincingly savvy Michelle Obama. Plus there's lots of satisfying trash talk, like this Charlie Rangel comeback to Bill Clinton: "If your wife is elected president, I'm still gonna be chairman of Ways and Means and she's gonna need me every fucking day. So how do you wanna leave it: Fuck you, Charlie, or I'm sorry, Mr. Chairman?" Who knew superdelegates with appropriation powers could be so much fun? If you're looking for an amusing, semi-realistic guess about what's happening behind the poll numbers and delegate counts, check it out.

Music: Bill Cosby, Hip-Hop Producer?

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 12:43 AM EDT

mojo-photo-puddingcosby.jpgOkay, I hope this isn't a hoax too: Legendary comedian/actor and outspoken curmudgeon Bill Cosby is listed as co-writer and executive producer on a new hip-hop album project called Cosby Narratives Vol. 1: State of Emergency. The album was described in a statement as "an unflinching look at life in the 21st century, but without the profanity, misogyny, violence and braggadocio." Hmm, maybe he means, "life in a utopian space colony in the year 2525?"

The album actually has a somewhat intriguing pedigree, since Cosby will be collaborating with Bill "Spaceman" Patterson, who worked on "The Cosby Show," and Patterson's musical partner Ced-Gee, co-founder of The Ultramagnetic MCs. Hey, isn't that the group that the Prodigy sampled for their infamous 1997 hit, "Smack My Bitch Up"? (Link to video not safe for work). Why yes it is.

Contrary to some reports, Cosby will not rap on the album.

Cosby's been infamous for years, more so after his 2004 "Pound Cake Speech" which was, as Wikipedia puts it, "highly critical of some members and subsets of the black community in the United States." Sorry, Bill; I probably won't be buying Cosby Narratives (expected to be released soon), but considering Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow… Right! basically shaped my entire sense of humor and was probably my #1 most listened-to album between the ages of 5 and 10, I'm letting this all slide.

Cosby pudding portrait used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Rakka.

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Easy Desserts From the Pentagon?

| Tue Apr. 15, 2008 4:28 PM EDT

Tucked among the many U.S. Department of Defense emails in my inbox this week, nestled, in fact, between "Border Concerns" and "Coalition Forces Detain 12 Suspects in Iraq Operations," was the rather more provocative subject line: "Easy Desserts."

Yes, the Pentagon Channel has a cooking show. It's called "The Grill Sergeants."

Personally I was unable to get beyond "Turkey Time," but perhaps you'll have more luck than I did with "Flourless Chocolate Cake, Pumpkin Pie Cake, and Caramelized Apples."

Anyway, check it out. It's wistful and telling and weird in all the ways you don't typically hear when you hear about the war.

Plus, where else can you learn how to cook the world's largest turkey from a chef who says, "Can I get a military cadence?" to a uniformed band self-styled "The Tastebuds?"

Whoops: Party Ben Gets Fooled by Fake Death Cab Leak

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 10:06 PM EDT

The supposed leak of the new Death Cab for Cutie album I downloaded unwittingly last week and just opened up to check out today turns out to be a fake: an April Fool's joke by a blogger called Charlatantric. He put the new Death Cab song in the middle of a bunch of songs by German band Velveteen, whose singer sure sounds a lot like Ben Gibbard, in my (admittedly rather weak) defense. Guess I gotta check them out, I liked it so much. Anyway, goes to show: don't believe everything you read on this here series of tubes, something Nick Baumann just pointed out on this very blog. I'll review the real Death Cab CD as soon as we get it.

Blogs: Gawker Media Sells Off Sites

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 5:04 PM EDT

mojo-photo-gawker.jpgGawker Media, the blog "collective" that includes sites like Defamer and Gizmodo, has sold three of its 15 sites as part of an attempt to "hunker down" as they "wait for the internet bubble to burst." Didn't that already happen? Music site Idolator, travel site Gridskipper and politics blog Wonkette have all been sold to companies who can supposedly better sell advertising on them, with Idolator heading to Stereogum-owning Buzznet and Gridskipper migrating to Curbed. Wonkette, a near-legendary site that had been closely identified with Gawker, will now be part of the Blogads network that includes Daily Kos.

Since music is more my thing, I can attest that Idolator has always done a pretty good job, with an anything-goes pop culture policy and ample evidence of the quirky tastes of its writers. But when they post "Top Stories" and it turns out just a couple-hundred page views is all it takes to land there, one wonders how it all makes economic sense. (Not to gloat, as I'm sure Riff page views aren't anywhere close). Besides, Stereogum and Pitchfork also cover a lot of the same ground. Connect the dots to the recent stories about overwhelmed bloggers dropping dead from exhaustion, and this blog downturn ("downblog"? "blogturn"?) could be all too real. Jeez, Mother Jones, don't spin off the Riff to Playboy, you're a non-profit, remember? Guess I gotta up those click-throughs…

TV: "Greatest Comedy Sketches" Inspire Deadly Serious Writing

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 4:00 PM EDT

mojo-photo-50greatest.jpgOkay, I'll bite: Nerve.com (the sexy website) and IFC.com (the, er, indie film channel's website) have combined forces for some reason to bring us a list of the Top 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time. Sure, we've all got three hours to watch a bunch of YouTube videos of sketches we've all seen 100 times already. And I can ignore the fact that this joint venture requires one to jump back and forth between the two websites (opening a new browser window each time), and the fact that The State scored more entries than the Kids in the Hall. But it's the writing that does my head in: leaden descriptions of each sketch that are so brutally unfunny, they seem to siphon off the comedic energy of the sketches themselves. Check out this neutered portrait of Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition" sketch (#33):