Here we are, a month into 2008. The Village Voice and Idolator 2007 critics polls were recently released, and it feels like it's probably time to wrap up our thoughts on the previous year in music. But rather than inflict my own opinions on you once again, I thought I'd turn to a less-pretentious source: my dad.
Larry Gill is a 67-year-old farmer who's spent most of his life in a small town in Nebraska and has no musical training to speak of (other than church choir). But his taste in music always surprises me: he's a big Coldplay fan and raves about the Zero 7 CD I got him for Christmas a few years back (and my mom assures me he really does listen to it all the time). So I wondered what he'd think about critics' picks for '07. I sent him a CD of some of the year's notable songs (along with a few of my own random picks) and we talked on the phone while he listened to it.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton went mano-a-mano during a Democratic presidential debate broadcast from the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles on CNN Thursday night. The debate left me feeling buzzed, annoyed, and inspired. Here's why:
NASA is planning to transmit the Beatles song "Across the Universe" towards the North Star, Polaris, on Monday, to mark the 50th anniversary of NASA and the 45th anniversary of their Deep Space Network. Polaris is 431 light years away, so they should be receiving it about the same time Beatles tracks show up on iTunes. I wonder if they're broadcasting it with DRM?
Members of TV on the Radio and The Rootsare set to cover a civil rights-era freedom song for an upcoming documentary. The film, Soundtrack for a Revolution, is being produced by Danny Glover. No word on a release date.
U2may be considering a record-setting residency at London's O2 Arena later this year. Prince played a run of 21 shows at the venue last summer, but the Irish combo are reportedly planning an even longer set of dates.
The deluxe edition reissue of Beck's classic 1996 album Odelay was released with screwed-up lyrics in the booklet. The LA-based musician issued an apology for the mishap, which reportedly was due to a designer grabbing un-proofed lyrics from a lyrics website. But as Rolling Stonepoints out, "she's alone in a new dilusion" (sic) may actually be an improvement.
I've already mentioned how Obama's got the best font of all the presidential contenders (and, thanks to an unusually lucid commenter, we now know it's called Gotham, a typeface featured in the great little documentary Helvetica), and now he's got some of the best posters of all time. First of all, anybody watching the Los Angeles debate between Obama and Clinton might have seen these, seemingly-homemade orange-and-black posters out front:
Someone forwarded me a link to a blog called Electronic Village which is tabulating rankings for black blogs. Somehow I qualify, even though it's the MoJo Blog (a 'problematic' they address). I offer this not because I'm on it but because it's a convenient way to figure out where to go looking for black blogs/topics of interest (there's a looong list of black blog links).
I can't vouch for quality (see below for mention of anti-Toni Morrison misogyny), or the quality of the organization itself, but their top 10 rankings for February 2008 are as follows:
A la yesterday's post on the literature of campaign endorsements, today Slate is running a wonderfully enticing compendium of books recommended for our winter reading pleasure. They cover all genres, but, being a non-fiction nerd, this one caught my eye:
Texas Death Row by Bill Crawford, ed. When I cracked open Texas Death Row, I thought, oooh, I see, it's a catalog of all the folks who've been put to death there, not the kind of book you sit down and read cover-to-cover. Then, I sat down and read it cover-to-cover. Not only because I knew a few of the unfortunates who wound up "riding the needle" from my long-ago stint covering Texas prisons, but because it's impossible to turn away from this inch-by-inch indictment of a culture that would feed a man with a 7th-grade education enough food to kill him right before actually doing so, and call that justice. (And how could anyone choke down a last meal of "fifteen enchiladas, onion rings or fries, eight pieces of fried chicken, eight pieces of barbecue chicken, eight whole peppers, ten hard-shell tacos with plenty of meat, cheese, onions and sauce, four double-meat, double-cheese, double-bacon burgers, T-bone steak with A-1 sauce, and a pan of peach cobbler?" No idea, but nobody dies hungry in Huntsville.)
Bill Crawford's book contains no commentary, just basic biographical information about the 391 men and women executed in Texas in the last 25 years. On page after page you see person after person who never made it past the seventh or eighth grade, and crime after crime connected with drugs—so tell me again why you still hear Texans boo-hoo about that awful Ann Richards, making them fund schools and treatment programs? This should be required reading for anyone even thinking about uttering the words fair or deterrent or closure in connection with the death penalty. As this compilation of loss makes clear, most of these people weren't thinking much of anything when they threw their own and others' lives away.
As if we readers didn't already have too many titles we're trying to get to. The same strategy that works with crackheads works all too well with us; we know we shouldn't read all those reviews but, dammit, we're just too addicted. Need more temptation?
Lately, there's been an ongoing Riffdebate about whether popular music totally sucks or just mostly sucks. Mother Jones staffers may be appalled to find the relative merits of "My Humps" being argued on the (virtual) pages of their esteemed publication, but I think it just shows the temerity of our journalistic commitments: we'll visit Iraq or Fergie-stan. The question of why people like what they likeor, more accurately, how in God's name they can freakin' stand that crap they're listening tohas popped up in a few other interesting places lately, and in both instances, it turns out musical taste has little to do with music.
Via Towleroad comes this bit of video tomfoolery; it's kind of an obvious idea, cutting together our suddenly-change-obsessed candidates over the appropriately-named Bowie classic, but right around the 55-second mark when the editing makes them "sing along," it gets pretty great:
It's Tuesday, and that's when people like to put out new CDs in the US of A, for whatever reason. Yeah, with the intertubes leaking music all over the place, release dates are less and less relevant, for sure; but say you accidentally stumbled into a record store (or ran inside to get out of the rain)? Here's what you might find, and what people are saying:
Hey, a blogger seems to have snagged a new, "leaked" single off the forthcoming Gnarls Barkley album The Odd Couple. Update: oops, it's gone already, that was fast. But hey, I've just found it on YouTube, "sans" video:
Gnarls Barkley - "Run" (from The Odd Couple out April 8th)
The song is (as its title indicates) kinda speedy, tempo-wise; Vulture is saying "too fast," but don't they remember the almost drum-and-bassy tracks from St. Elsewhere, like "Go Go Gadget Gospel?" I kinda liked that one: