Mixed Media

Hooray for Beard Team USA!

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 12:19 PM EDT
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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.)

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

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 12:29 AM EDT

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 5:06 PM EDT

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!

Preview New Sigur Ros Documentary

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 4:06 PM EDT

Iceland is pretty
While Boing Boing might call me inhuman for this, I'm annoyed by Icelandic quartet Sigur Ros. I can't explain it: I'm a huge fan of abstract, soundscape-y music, from The Cocteau Twins to Godspeed You Black Emperor! Plus, I've been fascinated with Iceland in general since hearing about that town that beat the volcano when I was a kid. For a while, I really tried to like Sigur Ros (pronounced "See-hur Roce," with the lightest of trills on the final "r" in "Sigur"), since everyone I know likes them. One night a few years back I attended their show at the Warfield here in San Francisco, and after a while found myself feeling annoyed and uncomfortable. I couldn't figure out why, until it hit me: I just don't like this music. The willfully obscure vocals and odd instrumentation masked treacly melodies and hackneyed emotional builds, like a Hallmark card foisted on an unsuspecting hipster public. Finally, after one too many falsetto "ya-yooee-yoos" from lead singer Jon Birgisson, I walked out.

So I'm a skeptic when it comes to Heima, the new film the band is producing that features live performances at different venues across Iceland. However, the trailer is breathtaking, at least visually (a still is pictured above). The band are featured in odd locations, including in front of a small town church, in the middle of a field, and what appears to be an abandoned factory, often with small audiences of what looks like regular Icelandic families; these performances are intercut with stunning shots of Iceland's stark natural beauty. Heima will hit your local multiplex (or, uh, not) when it's released this fall along with a compilation album from the band. Will I be converted? Or do I even deserve to see it after expressing such blasphemy?

Watch the trailer here.

Winehouse Shows Up For Mercury Prize Ceremony

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 2:44 PM EDT

Winehouse
Gigwise is reporting that troubled singer Amy Winehouse has arrived at the Grosvenor Hotel in London for the Mercury Music Prize ceremony, set to begin in just a few hours. Her arrival is fueling speculation that she is tapped to win the award, given out for best British album of the year. Her appearance was far from assured; in fact, NME reported a few hours ago that Winehouse would be pulling out of the ceremony, only to pull the story and instead post an article about the singer's arrival and soundcheck.

As we noted earlier, Winehouse's personal issues and alleged drug use caused London bookies to knock down her odds at winning the annual prize; she had been considered the front-runner. While newcomer Bat For Lashes' haunting Fur and Gold is now the current favorite at 7/4 odds, rumors are apparently circulating that Winehouse, who flew into the UK just yesterday, changed plans to be at the ceremony in anticipation of a win.

NME writers are, understandably, pulling for so-called "Nu Ravers" The Klaxons, and solo electronic artist Maps remains a dark horse with his dreamy album We Can Create. 21-year-old singer Jamie T is also considered a strong contender, with oddsmakers placing him just behind Bat For Lashes. Personally, I highly enjoy Winehouse, The Klaxons, Maps, and fellow-nominees Arctic Monkeys, but Bat For Lashes is my fave too, if only for the trick-riding bunnies in her video.

That clip and some other nominees' videos after the jump; stay tuned to the Riff where we'll post the winner when it's announced.

Led Zeppelin Reunion Gig For Real?

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 11:53 AM EDT

Zep
Reunion fever continues this week, as fans debate whether the legendary English rockers will come back together for a performance this fall. Tickets for a supposed Zeppelin show at the O2 Arena (housed in the former Millenium Dome in London) are being advertised by Premier Entertainments, but the band have offered no confirmation, and promoter Harvey Goldsmith says he's concerned people are being "fleeced." He released a statement saying that there are "at least four events being advertised which I suspect either don't exist or where no tickets are on sale or indeed dates finalized." The vague language is giving fans hope that the remaining members of Led Zeppelin, who disbanded after the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, will perform together for the first time since a gig at Atlantic Records' 40th birthday celebrations in 1988. The tickets from Premier Entertainments have no official date apparently advertised the show's date as November 26th and come packaged with hotel accommodations, prices starting at £269. That's $541 at current exchange rates. You know, you could see Wolfmother 15 times for that kind of money.

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Friday a Wry Day for Music News

| Fri Aug. 31, 2007 1:15 PM EDT

R.E.M.

  • R.E.M. are putting the finishing touches on their new album with producer Jacknife Lee, their first since 2004. "Working rehearsal" shows in Dublin pointed towards a more straightforward, guitar-based sound on the new material, which Mike Mills confirmed to Billboard magazine, saying the band is using fewer overdubs and keyboards. The as-yet-unnamed album is set for release in 2008.
  • U2 are totally copying them! Their new album, also their first since 2004, is being rehearsed, according to producer Daniel Lanois, and set for a 2008 release as well. Lanois said Brian Eno is also involved in both writing and producing the material; some of the band's best albums, including The Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby, were produced by this duo, although their most recent album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, was mainly produced by Steve Lillywhite.
  • Will Apple announce the arrival of the Beatles catalog to the iTunes music service on Wednesday, September 5th, at their "special event" in San Francisco? The ads say "The Beat Goes On," and Ringo's solo work was added to iTunes today.
  • The sad Amy Winehouse saga gets slightly sadder: Bookmaker Ladbrokes has lowered the singer's odds to win the UK Mercury Music Prize, for which she was the frontrunner. Bat For Lashes' Fur and Gold is now the favorite, with 9-4 odds, compared to Winehouse's 11-4.
  • Radiohead's Kid A Meant to Be Listened to With... Radiohead's Kid A?

    | Thu Aug. 30, 2007 8:05 PM EDT

    Radiohead Kid A
    Bloggers are blogging that certain songs on Radiohead's 2000 album Kid A can be, er, enhanced by playing two copies of the CD together, one of them delayed by 17 seconds. Some fans are claiming Thom Yorke has said this mysterious phenomenon is "intentional." As someone who's gone on record as being amused by unlikely juxtapositions, I'm game for this: okay, internet, try me.

    The Modern Age has three sample tracks posted, and I gave them each a listen. "Everything in its Right Place (17 Second Delay Version)" comes out, um, muddy and ridiculous; "Kid A" actually does synch up on the beat, but still just sounds like two songs playing at once; "Morning Bell" not only syncs up, but, I'll admit, actually sounds kind of cool. Hmm. What could it mean?

    Despite my mashuppy history, I've never actually tried watching The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, although at a party this weekend, the hostess had Hitchcock's "Vertigo" on the TV and a mix CD on the stereo, and when Interpol's sparse, haunting "Pioneer to the Falls" came on, they seemed to go together pretty well. And no, there was nothing funny in the brownies. Anybody have any other secret musical juxtapositions they've enjoyed, either sober or not?

    Hillary Clinton Nabs Prestigious 50 Cent Endorsement

    | Thu Aug. 30, 2007 7:07 PM EDT

    50 and Hil

    In an interview with MTV News, 32-year-old Curtis James Jackson, otherwise known as rapper 50 Cent, revealed his views on our current president ("he has less compassion than a regular human being") and came out in favor of Hillary in '08, for reasons the candidate might call right and not-so-right:

    I'd like to see Hillary Clinton be president. It would be nice to see a woman be the actual president and ... this is a way for us to have Bill Clinton be president again, and he did a great job during his term.

    While his statement might seem a little self-contradictory, I'll go down on record as feeling a little bit the same way.

    So-called "backpack" rappers like Talib Kweli and Common have been giving shout-outs to Obama in their songs lately (Common's single, "The People," says "My raps ignite the people like Obama") but Hil may have a good strategy by going after the platinum-sellers. The big question is: who will get Lil Wayne on their side.

    Thurston Moore Says Maybe Sonic Youth Should Have Broken Up

    | Thu Aug. 30, 2007 4:33 PM EDT

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    We've been covering reunions a bit here on the Riff lately: actual reunions, ones that will never happen, and ones we're hoping for. Sonic Youth, to their great credit, have stayed a band (and a creative, relevant band at that) for almost 30 years, but even they realize that a breakup might have made things more exciting—and more lucrative. In an interview with Spin Magazine, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore said their greatest career "faux pas" was not breaking up:

    The Pixies reunion was a real success, and Dinosaur Jr. seems like a big success, and both those bands play as good as they ever did. Mission of Burma blew my mind when they came back. But a band like us never did break up. Which was to our own [detriment]. What would have happened if we did break up after Daydream Nation -- or even after Dirty -- and had gotten back together two years ago? You wouldn't be interviewing me here. You'd be interviewing me at the Chateau Marmont as I'm waiting for my limousine. We probably would have made so much money. That was our biggest career faux pas: not breaking up.

    Well, I'm not sure der Yoof would have made Police money, but still, he's probably right—absence makes the heart (and wallet) grow fonder. But with the band continuing to make some of the best music of their career, one hopes they're not seriously considering it. I'll give you $20 to stay together!