Mixed Media

Music: Is Flying Lotus the New J Dilla?

| Wed Jun. 11, 2008 5:51 PM EDT

mojo-photo-flyinglotusla.jpgOkay, for those of you not attuned to underground instrumental hip-hop, perhaps that headline didn't make much sense. Quick background: J Dilla was a groundbreaking producer, real name James Dewitt Yancey, who worked with artists from Common and the Pharcyde to Kanye West and Busta Rhymes. He suffered from lupus, dying in February, 2006, at the heartbreakingly young age of 32. I've already blathered endlessly about his genius and the brilliance of his final album, Donuts, a mostly-instrumental work of re-imagined soul and melancholy notes. Dilla's wonky, spacey style has definitely been influential, but yet it always felt like there were few (if any) hip-hop producers in his realm, creating a sound that's definitely experimental, but still warm, organic, and full, with an off-kilter, syrupy feel to the rhythm.

Flying Lotus' origins in Winnetka, California, couldn't be more removed from J Dilla's Detroit upbringing, but the 24-year-old producer (aka Steve Ellison) may have established himself as the heir to Yancey with his new album, Los Angeles. Sure, there are the basic similarities: this is crunchy, organic-sounding instrumental hip-hop, with an unashamed love of drums: tracks like "Melt" focus almost entirely on exotic-sounding percussion, similarly to the brief tom-tom-driven "People" from Dilla's Donuts. But Flying Lotus is no copycat. On last year's Reset EP, he struck out on a slightly darker, more electronic direction, with mechanical, buzzing tones accompanying quirky samples, and that trend is in evidence on Los Angeles as well: "Riot" features a vibrato electronic bass line, and interludes like the 45-second "Orbit 405" are a cacophony of electronic static and bleeps, like a compilation of all cell phones dialing on the eponymous freeway.

After the jump: Who's your famous auntie?

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McCain Snubbed by Chuck Berry But Still Loves ABBA

| Wed Jun. 11, 2008 4:58 PM EDT

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You almost start to feel kind of sorry for GOP candidates out there on the stump. As we've reported here on the Riff before, Republicans tend to have a tough time finding tunes to play at their public events, since the artists, once they find out, tend to make very public rejections and denouncements of said candidates using their songs. Presidential candidate John McCain has himself acknowledged the problem, joking that the campaign has been using Chuck Berry's 1958 classic "Johnny B Goode" only "because it's the only one they haven't complained about us using." Well, scratch another one off your playlist, Johnny, since Mr. Berry has just announced his support for Barack Obama. Duh:

"America has finally come to this point where you can pick a man of colour and that not be a drawback," Berry said. "It's no question, myself being a man of colour. I mean, you have to feel good about it." The anointment of Mr Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate was, he added, "definitely a proud and successful moment for all the people of this country – not just black people, but Americans in general." Berry, known as the "father of rock 'n' roll", recounted: "In the Fifties there were certain places we couldn't ride on the bus, and now there is a possibility of a black man being in White House."

Oh well.

After the jump: If you change your mind, I'm, uh, the first in line?

Study: Canadian Musicians Would Like You to Pick Up the Tab

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 7:45 PM EDT

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The average Canadian musician makes only $16,500 ($16,000 US) per year from their craft and is largely against free file sharing, according to a survey of 700 musicians conducted by Pollara, a Toronto-based research firm. The survey was released as part of a new report on the Canadian music sector conducted by Dr. Douglas Hyatt of the Rotman School of Business in Toronto. The survey found that with retail sales of music declining, Canadian musicians typically make around $25,000 ($24,555 US), but pay $8,300 in expenses.

- Billboard

The study also found that, when broken down into categories, "expenses" included the following:

-- Molson's: $5700
-- Donuts at Tim Horton's: $1200
-- Trying to keep warm by burning crumpled bills: $650
-- Replacing antique bar lamp after getting a little excited during guitar solo at a gig in Edmonton: $350
-- Poutine: $250
-- Rush box set: $130
-- Arcade Fire T-shirt: $20
-- Health care: FREE!

So, do your Vancouver guitarist buddy a solid and give him 99 cents for an mp3 today. That's only 97 cents US!

Vishnu Ad Death Threats? An Onion Editor Responds.

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 7:39 PM EDT

onion%20vishnu%20150x300.jpgThe Onion's website recently featured a four-armed, blue-hued Vishnu incarnated as a serenely multitasking Indian call center operator. Thank Allah that Onion editors had enough sense not to exploit images of the prophet Muhammad instead to hawk its latest hardback collection of ironic misinformation.

But although there are no bombed embassies to speak of, the Onion ad has sparked controversy among Indian journalists.

"Instead of finding something that we could all laugh along with, the Onion seems content in giving us something sufficiently exotic that some of us can laugh at," writes one commenter on the South Asian Journalists Association's online forum.

"Perhaps some of us have gotten too comfortable here in the US to truly understand what is happening back home and instead respond with the cliche "offended minority" reaction," writes another.

I asked Onion editorial manager Chet Clem if he received any death threats in response to the Vishnu house ad. His response:

CD Review: Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 6:36 PM EDT

mojo-photo-lilwaynecarter.jpgDelays are never, ever a good sign. If the release of your highly-anticipated creative work keeps getting pushed back, it's pretty much a given that when it finally emerges, it'll be bloated and uneven, overcooked in spots and raw in others. I'd hoped mixtape master Lil Wayne would prove the exception to this rule, but the long-delayed Tha Carter III (in stores today) is more mixed bag than mixtape, with brief hints of the head-spinning magic that made his bootleg releases so exciting marred by dull (if financially successful) attempts at mainstream appeal.

New 3G iPhone: Resistance is Futile

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 6:16 PM EDT

mojo-photo-borgphone.jpgSteve Jobs has announced the introduction of new iPhone models, slashing the baseline price in half to $199. The new models will run on 3G technology, allowing for faster internet access and download speeds, and will feature GPS, so you always know where you are. While Jobs himself just called the new phones "zippy," others have decided that higher-speed internet access and the possibility of unlimited music downloads may be "as important a moment in musical history as the invention of the gramophone." At the risk of sounding like an alarmist Luddite, I'll take it further: the new iPhone brings us one step closer in our inexorable progress towards becoming The Borg.

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Is the (Traditional) Rock Band Dead?

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 5:46 PM EDT

mojo-photo-noage.jpgNouns, the new album from the Los Angeles-based No Age (left), is fast becoming one of the most acclaimed albums of the year, with high marks from Pitchfork and NME. The album's sound, as Pitchfork put it, is "cacophonous" and "gorgeously thick," punk rock with a swirling, tone-bending My Bloody Valentine sheen. What might surprise you is that the band is actually a duo: just two guys, Randy Randall and Dean Spunt, playing guitar and drums respectively, their sound filled out by loops and samples. Lately, this seems more and more common: most of the interesting developments in rock music are coming from "non-traditional" band lineups. Is the good old rock four-piece an endangered species?

After the jump: I still haven't found the U2 I'm looking for... but I do have a No Age mp3!

Does It Matter If Bob Dylan Supports Obama?

| Sun Jun. 8, 2008 6:52 PM EDT

The wad of celebrity endorsements Barack Obama has in his back pocket got a bit thicker once rock legend Bob Dylan told The Times of London that Obama was "redefining the nature of politics from the ground up."

Now for the real question: Are times really a-changin' so much that McCain supporters will swap sides to Barack n' Roll?

Just recently The Weekly Standard's blog chided "failed kingmaker" Bruce Springsteen for his political outspokenness, while praising Dylan for making the "smart career move" of never publicly supporting a candidate.

So much for rocker silence; now for the echo.

—Steve Aquino

Rapper Nas Produces Obama Song That Isn't Terrible

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 5:27 PM EDT

I know, we all got sick of the Will.I.Am track pretty quickly (although the McCain spoof was pretty awesome), and let's not even link to Obama Girl. But leave it to New York rapper Nas to come up with an Obama-referencing track that actually sounds pretty good. MTV news has a clip of the new track, called "Black President," which started out as part of a mixtape, but will now be included on the as-yet-untitled upcoming Nas album. Part of what makes this song interesting is its complexity: rather than being a goggle-eyed campaign sing-along, it actually expresses some doubts, with lines like "These colored folks and Negroes hate to see one of their own succeeding/America: surprise us, and let a black man guide us." Nas even wonders aloud if Obama really can "keep it way real." Plus, it's, uh, got a good beat. Check out a clip after the jump.

Chart Beat: Coldplay's Biggest Hit Ever; Duffy Doffs Madge

| Thu Jun. 5, 2008 6:47 PM EDT

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Well shut my mouth: I've been ragging on Coldplay's upcoming Viva la Vida for a while now, but the lead single of the same name has just jumped to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the band's highest-charting single ever in the U.S. ("Speed of Sound" peaked at #8 in 2005, and the ubiquitous "Clocks" never made it past #29). The album's out June 17th. Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III finally hits stores next week (I'll believe it when I see it) and "Lollipop" remains at #1 on the singles chart for a fourth week, while second single "Got Money" debuts at #13. That's only half of his four appearances in the top 40 this week, the most since 50 Cent back in 2005.

Over on the albums chart, Usher beat out the Sex and the City soundtrack this week, debuting at #1 with Here I Stand, while music to drink cosmos to landed at #2. Death Cab for Cutie's Narrow Stairs dropped from #5 to #10.

Across the pond, hotly-tipped Welsh singer-songwriter Duffy hops back up to #1 on the European albums chart with her debut album Rockferry, replacing Madonna's Hard Candy at the top spot. (Rockferry climbs to #7 in the US this week). Portishead's Third is barely hanging on in the European Top Ten after five weeks, although it was just certified gold in the UK for sales of 100,000 copies.

A selection of accompanying videos, after the jump.