Mixed Media

Friday is Thy Day for Music News

| Fri Sep. 7, 2007 1:06 PM PDT

Common

  • Rapper Common pledges to stop "disrespecting homosexuality" and using the N-word in his music, after being approached by gay fans and, uh, Oprah, respectively. "I wanted to show a step for myself toward improving on certain things," he said, in an apparent attempt to imitate the sentence structure of Miss Teen South Carolina.
  • Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood: Okay, we're done recording our album, now we just have to "decide what we should do with it." Let us listen to it, maybe?
  • French singer/actress Charlotte Gainsbourg is recovering after brain surgery to remove a hematoma suffered during a water skiing accident. Gainsbourg, the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, released her album 5:55 earlier this year, a collaboration with Air, Jarvis Cocker and Neil Hannon.
  • The AP says music videos are going low-budget, due to less cash on hand at the record labels, or maybe people just like treadmills and Zach Galifianakis.
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    New Music: Stateless

    | Thu Sep. 6, 2007 10:52 PM PDT

    Stateless
    Let me tell you about my dad. He's a farmer in a small town in Nebraska, where I grew up, and while in many ways he conforms to rural Midwestern stereotypes—no-nonsense, hard-working, libertarian—in musical taste, he's completely off the map. I'll get him some CDs for birthdays or whatever, and it's been both amusing and heartening to see what makes his "playlist." Let's just say there is no bigger Coldplay or Zero 7 fan in the whole Central Time Zone than my dad. This is a guy who wears the Coldplay T-shirt I got him to church (much to the amusement of our young pastor), and wore out his copy of Zero 7's Simple Things so badly I had to get him a new one. So now I'm always on the lookout for good stuff my dad might like: not too crazy, soulful, maybe with some piano. UK's Stateless will be the next CD I grab for him, and I think he'll like about 2/3 of it.

    Hailing from Leeds, England, Stateless fit into the Mo' Wax/DJ Shadow trip-hop world, but with the spirit of Radiohead, if not the grandiosity. I included the Portishead-reminscent "Inscape" in my Top Ten back in June, and that track's chilly, underwater feel only offers a glimpse of the variety on their self-titled album on K7. New single "Bloodstream" (featuring Lateef the Truthseeker) leads off with a simple piano melody, then adds a jazzy beat, but lead singer Chris James takes the spotlight with a voice that's both emotive and restrained: "I think I might have inhaled you/I can feel you behind my eyes," he sings, in as straightforward a definition of "lovesick" as you'll hear. Tracks like "Bloodstream" and "Down Here," with their hypnotic piano refrains, will be my dad's favorites, but "Radiokiller," with its syncopated dance beat and electronic flourishes, proves they're not worried about alienating the AARP set, and "Crash" echoes Boards of Canada's vaguely menacing minimalism. While I'm not a lyrics guy, some lines do seem to revert to cliché, and not every melody line is as inspiringly fresh as "Bloodstream." But overall, it's a highly enjoyable debut. I'll let you know what Dad says.

    Listen to the whole album (after providing your e-mail address) at the elaborate K7 home page, or at their MySpace, or grab a couple mp3s on the blogs: MonoCrave features "Bloodstream" and "Blue Trace," and Cellmates hosts "Radiokiller." Of course you can pay for the album at iTunes. Video for a live performance of "Bloodstream" after the jump.

    Bono Pays Tribute to Pavarotti

    | Thu Sep. 6, 2007 1:29 PM PDT

    Bono and Pavarotti
    U2 band leader Bono has paid tribute to Luciano Pavarotti, whose collaboration with the band Bono reveals was at the opera singer's insistence. Writing on U2's official website, Bono says Pavarotti "lived the songs, his opera was a great mash of joy and sadness; surreal and earthy at the same time; a great volcano of a man who sang fire but spilled over with a love of life in all its complexity, a great and generous friend."

    The U2 star details how Pavarotti pestered the band to write him a song by "continually" calling up their housekeeper until the band agreed. The collaboration would eventually result in the delicate single "Miss Sarajevo" from the Passengers album. Pavarotti also once ambushed the band in Dublin with a film crew, hoping to convince them to play his festival in Modena. Bono and Pavarotti's duet performance there is pictured above.

    Pavarotti died this morning in Modena at age 71.

    [update] Here's the video for "Miss Sarajevo," by the U2/Brian Eno/Pavoratti project Passengers, whose weird echoey chords owe more to Eno's Another Green World than anything else, but just try not to get shivers when Pavarotti comes in at the 2:59 mark.

    NY Times: MTV Looking Kind of Desperate

    | Thu Sep. 6, 2007 1:10 PM PDT

    I Don't Want My MTVBashing MTV is so commonplace that it's become a bit of a cliché. Where's the music, blah blah, yes, we know. But today's New York Times sneaks its way into the beat-up-MTV gang in an amusing way: behind a veil of presenting the supposedly innovative updates to this year's Video Music Awards. After first comparing the network's stumbles to Britney Spears' and detailing how far behind YouTube and MySpace its online numbers are, the article turns to the VMAs. Suffering an apparent 28 percent drop in viewership last year, they're making a couple changes. First, as they've bragged, it'll be televised this Sunday at 9pm, and only this Sunday at 9pm--no endless repeats the week after. But wait, really?

    In a departure from MTV's practice of plastering the channel with repeat showings, programmers this year are hoping to attract interest with alternate versions. The first will be shown with running commentary from celebrities at the show who will chat about their favorite moments. The next will replace portions of the original with previously unshown performances or other moments chosen by visitors to MTV's Web site. ...MTV plans a third iteration that will highlight the strongest musical performances.

    So, editing out the worst screwups makes it an "alternate version"? Well, guess the first intriguing idea turned out to be a lie. Howabout the show itself?

    This year's Video Music Awards will be shown live from the Palms Casino Resort (where MTV also recorded a recent season of its reality series "The Real World") and will be substantially revamped. Instead of the usual production built on a single stage, MTV is taking a shotgun approach, scattering cameras around the hotel, with artists performing and receiving awards in decorated suites and the hotel's own concert hall.

    What's so great about the Times article is that the descriptions of the show's changes are written in such sunny prose, but the ideas just sound terrible. Performances from hotel suites?! They may have found the only way to make the show seem more canned. The VMAs' glory days as a tongue-in-cheek nose-thumbing at traditional awards shows may be long gone, but the Times makes clear things sure can keep getting worse.

    BBC Radio 1 Celebrates 40 Years of White People

    | Wed Sep. 5, 2007 1:34 PM PDT

    Macca on Radio 1
    The BBC's venerable pop-music outlet, Radio 1, turns 40 years old later this month, and to celebrate, the network is featuring ten days of special shows hosted by major figures in music. The series, called "Radio 1 Legends," kicks off on September 17th with Sir Paul McCartney, then continues with more guest DJs:

    Dave Grohl (9/18)
    Gwen Stefani (9/19)
    Paul Weller (9/20)
    Paul Oakenfold (9/21)
    Noel Gallagher (9/24)
    Debbie Harry (9/25)
    Arctic Monkeys (9/26)
    Ozzy Osbourne (9/27)
    Norman Cook (9/28)

    Okay, first of all, of course dance music is central to Radio 1's history, but Oakey and Fatboy Slim?! Were, um, Rob Da Bank and Jive Bunny not available? Secondly, I know I just posted about the trouble with demanding social realism from our art, and I also know this is the BBC, but I'll go out on a limb and say that non-whites have made some contributions to music in the last 40 years. Perhaps one of them could have been included?

    New iPods Have WiFi! Somebody Give Me $399!

    | Wed Sep. 5, 2007 1:09 PM PDT

    iPod Touch Well, there was no big announcement of The Beatles coming to iTunes, but this is pretty cool: Steve Jobs just announced a new line of iPods that are basically iPhones without the phone complication. The "iPod Touch" will have the same full-screen touch interface as the iPhone, and will be able to connect to iTunes via WiFi. This may seem a little silly, but I have to admit whenever I travel and see a record store in an airport, I think, "why can't I just walk in there and aim my iPod at a thingy and grab a new song?" Well, now, basically, I can—if I just spend $299 for an 8GB model or $399 for a 16GB.

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    Since Nothing Else Important Going on in World, Congress Takes on Hip-Hop

    | Wed Sep. 5, 2007 12:20 PM PDT

    We've covered Al Sharpton's protests against sexism and violence in hip-hop, as well as the movement against homophobia and violence in reggae lyrics, here on the Riff. Some of us may have also posted a hip-hop video here whose cheeky references to pregnancy some found offensive. Well, the government is here to straighten this mess out (except the homophobia part). Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) announced today that Congress will hold a hearing later this month regarding media "stereotypes and degradation" of women, focusing on hip-hop lyrics and videos. Reports Variety:

    Just as his colleagues on other committees have summoned TV execs to be grilled on sexual or violent content, Rush wants to hear from the leaders of companies purveying rap music. The intent is to examine commercial practices behind the music's most controversial content.

    "I want to talk to executives at these conglomerates who've never taken a public position on what they produce," Rush said. "But it's been surprisingly very difficult to get them to commit to appearing."

    Witnesses include toppers Philippe Dauman of Viacom, Doug Morris of Universal Music Group and Edgar Bronfman Jr. of Warner Music Group... So far, only one artist has committed to appearing—Master P, who began his career as a gangsta rapper but has since focused on positive messages and images in his music.

    Hey, they've even got a catchy title, to distract from that whole First Amendment problem:

    Currently titled "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degradation," the hearing is intended to address "what is certainly a timely issue and one that won't go away," Rush said. ...Rush stressed that this is "not an anti-artist hearing, or antimusic or antiyouth hearing." He said he's hoping for voluntary—not regulatory—solutions. "I respect the First Amendment, but rights without responsibility is anarchy, and that's much of what we have now. It's time for responsible people to stand up and accept responsibility."

    I'd been wondering what to call this rights-without-responsibility feeling I've been having. Hooray, it's anarchy! And any sentence that begins "I respect the First Amendment, but..." is gonna be an awesome sentence.

    In all seriousness, it's mostly just sad that this hearing will do nothing to illuminate the troubling issue of offensive art versus free speech, or of representation of offense versus actual offense, issues that have vexed us for a while. If we rely on the media to represent ourselves and our interests, then it's easy to want art to portray our ideal society, not our real society, or a negative fantasy. The problem is, not everyone has the same ideals, and if the government is involved—even assuring us they're "hoping" not to use "regulatory solutions"—the effect is one of intimidation and censorship. Furthermore, why hip-hop is being singled out seems far more nefarious than some offensive lyrics. God forbid our elected officials might focus on making real efforts against poverty and inequality that might lead to social changes and less-offensive art.

    Hooray for Beard Team USA!

    | Wed Sep. 5, 2007 10:19 AM PDT
    beard180.gif

    If you are, like me, devastated that you missed the World Beard and Moustache Championships in England last weekend, despair no longer: You can find pictures on Time's website. The sideburns freestyle competitor alone makes it worth a look.

    In case you're wondering, which you obviously are, how Beard Team USA did, they made our country proud and picked up a few awards. You can read about it on their blog. (Yes, really.)

    New(-ish) Music: Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators

    | Tue Sep. 4, 2007 10:29 PM PDT

    Because of the holiday weekend and a jaunt to DJ down in LA, I thought I'd take a week off from the Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things. But don't fret, Riff readers, I've still got lots to say about new music, I'll just post about it randomly.

    Keep Reachin' Up
    My first exposure to Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators was via their single, "If This Ain't Love." At first it's easy to lump the track into the current neo-soul trend with Amy Winehouse and her backing-band-sharing compadre Sharon Jones. With Willis' silky-smooth voice and the jazzy backing track (not to mention the retro album cover), "Love" seems like a straightforward throwback at first listen; but closer attention shows there's more going on here.

    "If This Ain't Love"

    The track's minor-seventh piano chords and unexpected melodic twists are unabashedly modern, and the flute solo at the end verges on psychedelia. This is retro, but set entirely in the present.

    Klaxons Win Mercury Prize

    | Tue Sep. 4, 2007 3:06 PM PDT

    Klaxons
    In a surprise upset, London-based trio The Klaxons have won the Mercury Music Prize for best British album of the year, moments ago at a ceremony in their hometown. The band were dubbed "new rave" by snarky critics who took their often sci-fi or mystical references (and somewhat danceable beats) as a sign of the return of ecstasy and glowsticks, I guess. However, the band's debut album, Myths of the Near Future, is actually far more complex and textured than such a description might imply. "Gravity's Rainbow" is an intense, bass-led track reminiscent of Bloc Party, while "Golden Skans" is more acoustic, with its falsetto refrain of "ooh-ee-oohs," although just as urgent. It's a very good album, but the best one from a British artist this year? Well, sorry, Bat For Lashes!