Mixed Media

Mellencamp Sings the News

| Tue Oct. 2, 2007 10:20 PM EDT
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With a career making songs about the working class and rural America, country/folk/pop singer John (Cougar) Mellencamp has similarities to Woody Guthrie, a guy who, in 1941 was singing for Dust Bowl refugees. Mellencamp even received the 2003 Woody Guthrie Award for "exemplifying the ideals" of the man. In his newest song, "Jena," Mellencamp appears to be embodying his hero's ideals again.

"Jena" is a quiet, restrained folk song written about the Jena 6, a group of six black teenagers that were arrested in December after an attack on a white student in Jena, La. Racial tensions have since flared.

The song is one of nearly 20 that Mellencamp recorded in August for a new album with T Bone Burnett that currently has no title, no label, and no release date, according to his publicist. But Bay Area folks might get lucky and hear "Jena" performed live this week when Mellencamp sits in with Burnett at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

A Huffington Post blogger suggests that Mellencamp take his politics to the next level and run for governor of his home state of Indiana. Um, I'm thinking Woody Guthrie would say stick with the guitar, sir.

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Tuesday's a Bruising Music News Day

| Tue Oct. 2, 2007 2:18 PM EDT

Common

  • Artists expressing solidarity with the so-called "Jena 6" include Common (above), Mos Def, MC Lyte, Talib Kweli and Pharoahe Monch. The rappers joined the call for a classroom walk-out yesterday in support of the six black students charged with second-degree murder after a fight stemming from a racial conflict at Jena High School in Louisiana. See Mother Jones' coverage of, well, having mixed feelings over the whole Jena thing here.
  • Radiohead's Web site slows to a crawl after fans start pre-orders of the band's new album, In Rainbows. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood wrote a kind-of apology on the site, saying it was "busier than they expected," I guess referring to the rest of the band, but not himself, is he pulling an "I-told-you-so" here? Incidentally, the Billboard story refers to the magazine's "Buzz" chart that measures, er, blog popularity. I didn't know they had a chart for that. More "High School Musical" posts coming right up.
  • The Police were honored with the Order of Arts and Letters at a ceremony in Paris on Monday. French Culture Minister Christine Albanel presented the high honor to the band, saying she expressed "France's full admiration and recognition." Sting, replying in French, said "we are very happy to be among your knights." That's right, he replied in French. Gotta love that guy.
  • Ugh. In the saddest development yet in a pretty sad story, Britney Spears has lost custody of her kids in a hearing Monday. Kevin Federline will take care of Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1, "until further order of the court." Is this even music-related in any way?
  • Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things 10/01/07

    | Tue Oct. 2, 2007 12:52 AM EDT

    Bruce10. Bruce Springsteen – "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" (from Magic, out 10/02 on Columbia) (Listen to excerpts and compare to the Magnetic Fields at Vulture here)
    Don't get me wrong, I think Bruce is great (especially Nebraska, since I'm from that state, go Huskers). But when I heard people were accusing Mr. Springsteen of stealing from my fave New York cabaret/experimental popsters The Magnetic Fields, I had to investigate. Turns out, yes, he's definitely doing a Stephen Merritt, and it's eerie, and actually pretty good. Over a simple violin melody and strummed guitar, Mr. Born-in-the-USA gets dramatic: listen to him hit that note on the line, "lovers they walk byyyyy." The day Merritt and Springsteen duet, no price is too high for that ticket.

    Klaxons9. Klaxons, Live at the Fillmore, Friday 9/28/07
    I do not get this whole "new rave" thing that people throw at Klaxons. They're not even rave at all! There's a keyboard in like three of their songs! But people insisted on bringing glowsticks to this show and whipping them around on strings like I remember from 1993. Not that I did that even then. There was even a crazy guy dressed up like a dalmation-man or something, with giant-soled shoes. Anyway, the band. They were pretty good (despite the half-empty venue), but much more in the spirit of punk rock than rave: edgy, raw, intense… okay maybe it was kind of rave-y. Bleep bleep!

    mojo-photo-dub4.jpg8. Various Artists – DJ Dub-4 – "September '07 Mix" (grab an mp3 at mashit)
    More genre-melting DJ mixes, this time focusing on "Kuduro," an Angolan dance music, mixed with more typical dancehall and breaks. The generally foreign-language lyrics make this a slightly edgier set than most, but with the syncopated bass drum keeping things from getting too mental, it's more easy to listen to than you'd think.

    Matt7. Matt Hite – "Me & You & Yazoo" (Cassie vs. Yaz vs. The Art of Noise) (grab an mp3 here)
    Oh, the cutthroat world of mashuppery! I've been wanting to put something together with "Situation" for a while and then fellow-SFer Matt beats me to it with this near-perfect combo. I'm not familiar with the Cassie song, but I can't imagine it's any better than this: a silky-smooth mashup that's both funkier and easier to listen to than the Yaz classic.

    mojo-photo-ironandwinesmall.JPG6. Iron and Wine – "White Tooth Man"
    (from The Shepherd's Dog on Sub Pop)
    It's hard to pick my favorite song on this album, but right now the weird Fleetwood Mac-via-India vibe of this track is grabbing me. Is there a vaguely political bent under the trippy music? There's lyrics like these: "We all got sick on a strip club meal / While the statehouse was fryin' all the witches again." Hmm.

    The Fake Web Site As Promotional Tool

    | Mon Oct. 1, 2007 8:24 PM EDT

    Buy n Large

    In this day and age, with cynical tweens skimming past ads on their Tivos, it's tougher than ever to come up with advertising that actually reaches the target consumer. Not surprisingly, movies and TV shows are at the forefront of a kind of viral internet promotion that's almost an extension of the creative work itself: the fake Web site for a fictional organization. ABC's "Lost" was one of the first to try this out, creating a site for The Hanso Foundation as part of the show's mythology; the site's calming turquoise palette and new age-y music struck a perfectly creepy tone.

    Now, two upcoming films have created fake company sites, with varying degrees of creative success: first of all, the highly-anticipated "Cloverfield" project (from "Lost" producer J. J. Abrams) which may or may not be a new Godzilla movie, has spawned a website for the Tagruato Corporation, a deep-sea drilling concern whose subsidiaries include, bafflingly, the Slusho! drink company, or as they put it, "Slusho! brand happy drink is a icy cool beverage… [that] contains a "special ingredient" that customers can't get enough of." Hmm, what could this have to do with Godzilla? Even though the movie's hand-held trailer (watch it below) was pretty awesome, I'm not obsessed enough with this to really understand what's going on here.

    Trailer for "Cloverfield" ("1-18-08")

    A little more entertaining for the casual fan is Pixar's fake site for its upcoming robot movie, "WALL-E". The film is set some time in the future, and a single corporation apparently builds and owns just about everything. The company is called, awesomely, "Buy n Large," and its Web site is hours of fun. From the perfectly-calibrated corporate-speak ("…by visiting the Buy n Large web site you instantaneously relinquish all claims against the Buy n Large corporation…") to the "World News" stories about floating cities and ads for the mood-altering drug "Xanadou" ("effortlessly feel like you've just purchased that once-in-a-lifetime item!"), the site is both a stand-alone parody of corporate America and an intriguing teaser for the movie. There's a couple places you might want to call David Foster Wallace ("Buy n Large to brand direction 'North'") but the story on "Pix-Vue" Animation Studio's new "4-D" film is priceless. And I totally need that laundry robot and the 1,000,000-zettabyte hard drive, like, right now. Considering the movie looks like another cutesy romp with big-eyed creatures on some sort of quest, this site might be the best part of the whole deal.

    The First Radio One DJ: Yeah, Baby, Yeah

    | Mon Oct. 1, 2007 6:14 PM EDT

    Tony Blackburn

    I know some of my recent posts have been a bit anglophilic, but anyone interested in the history of radio (or the swingin' 60s) will enjoy this. BBC Radio One is celebrating its 40-year anniversary, and while I've already mentioned my annoyance at their lily-white "legends" schedule, the shows themselves have been fascinating: Fatboy Slim's reminiscences included the story about getting sued by his heroes in The Clash when he pilfered the "Guns of Brixton" bassline for his first #1 hit, "Dub Be Good To Me" (under the name Beats International). Remember that one?

    Good times. Anyway, today's Daily Mail features a personal history from Radio One's first morning show host, Tony Blackburn, detailing his experiences as a DJ whose celebrity eclipsed many of the stars whose records he was playing:

    The opportunities to let this go to your head were manifold. There was an endless stream of record pluggers eager to wine and dine you, invitations galore, flattery from all sides - and a generous supply of women ready to throw themselves at you. Even at the height of my fame, though, I was well aware that my Mr Nice image - complete with catchy jingles and corny jokes - wasn't going down well with everyone. At the Radio One Roadshows, there would be a bit of ribbing from the more drunken elements of the crowd - and it was never very pleasant to hear the occasional chorus of "Tony Blackburn is a w*****" from a few blokes at the back.

    I guess he means "wanker" there. Or, um, "wookie"? Anyway, Blackburn's commercial style was anathema to John Peel, Radio One's champion of the underground, and the two were enemies from the start:

    Our strained relationship was a perfect metaphor for what was happening in the pop world. John was on the side of the long-haired, the drop-outs, the students - all those who regarded the three-minute pop single as a blot on the face of culture. I was the happy-go-lucky dispenser of the kind of song that an audience only had to hear once before rushing out to buy it. Fortunately, I've never given two hoots about street cred. If I'm being perfectly honest, I'd say that seeing Bobby Vee perform was far more enjoyable than watching The Beatles in their prime.

    Bobby who? While Blackburn still seems to carry some resentment for not being as canonized as the late John Peel (and I have to admit I'd probably take Peely's side in the argument), on the whole he looks back at his wild times with a bemused "how did this happen to me" attitude. It's kind of like reading about a flesh-and-blood Austin Powers.


    SNL Samples Aphex Twin Without Asking?

    | Mon Oct. 1, 2007 4:33 PM EDT

    The Drukqs Don't Work
    While I was out and about and missed "Saturday Night Live"'s season premier, there were a couple items of note; first, Kanye's odd musical appearance (more on that here), and second, the "Iran So Far" digital short. This is Andy Samberg's deal, once again proving that just as he continues to be nearly unwatchable as a live performer on the show, he knocks every one of these pre-recorded pieces out of the park. It's a fair trade-off. This "Iran" piece riffed on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent remark at Columbia that there are no gays in Iran, with Samberg professing his love for the Iranian president, and in a most definitely gay way. With cameos by Maroon 5's Adam Levine and Jake Gyllenhaal, the track could go on to be another internet hit like "Lazy Sunday," but NBC seems to be holding back. Copies of the clip have been removed from YouTube, but you can't watch it on NBC's site either; clicking on the video brings up an error. What could be the problem?

    Well, it turns out Samberg might have gotten a little too sample-happy. It turns out that the delicate piano melody that forms the basis of the tune was taken directly from an Aphex Twin song, "Avril 14th," off the 2001 album drukqs, and it appears they didn't have clearance for it. Oops. You can just imagine the stern talking-to Lorne Michaels probably gave Samberg this morning. "Andy, I just got a very angry phone call from Warp Records, would you know anything about that?" "Sorrrryyy..." The Daily Swarm is reporting that an "SNL source" says they're working on getting all the right clearances, and hopefully then you'll be able to watch it without guilt on NBC's site. But until then, I found a link they haven't shut down yet. I have to say, I get a little verklempt hearing the cheers after the line, "I know you said there's no gays in Iran, but you're in New York now baby."

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    Radiohead to Release New Album in Ten Days!

    | Mon Oct. 1, 2007 2:49 PM EDT

    Radiohead - In Rainbows

    Well now I feel bad, since I'd been complaining about how cryptic they were being. Radiohead have announced they will be releasing their new album, In Rainbows, in ten days. Rumors had been swirling about the band's upcoming material in recent days, with coded messages on their official site leading some to look for a March, 2008 release of a new album. Radiohead left EMI in 2005, so their next move had been the topic of great speculation. Thus this announcement has come as a major shock, with Pitchfork headlining their article, "NEW RADIOHEAD ALBUM AAAAAAAHHH!!!"

    The unexpectedness of the announcement may be the least unusual thing about the release, which is breaking with many record industry conventions. First of all, the album will be available for the first two months after its release only as a digital download from the band's website; second, and most interestingly, fans will be able to "name their own price" for the purchase. A disclaimer on the checkout screen reads, "It's up to you." Agh! Pressure!

    The band will also sell In Rainbows on traditional CDs and double vinyl, just not immediately; the CDs will begin shipping in early December. Billboard has a tracklisting.

    [update] For an interesting take on In Rainbows UK Telegraph blogger Shane Richmond has a piece called "How Radiohead Killed the Record Labels." His point is mostly that while Radiohead isn't doing anything that new here, it's still a big deal because, well, Radiohead is a big deal:

    None of the things Radiohead are doing with this is unique. All of them have been developed and used by other artists for quite some time. But this is Radiohead. When one of the world's biggest bands does something like this, it will get noticed and it will start people thinking. ...Record labels survived for years on the value they added to the process. They made it possible for bands to make records and get them into the stores and then used their marketing weight to get those records played on the radio and featured in magazines. In the process they made enormous profits by overcharging fans and underpaying artists. ...[But] they no longer add any value to the process. In fact, they act as a barrier between fans and musicians. It's time to move them out of the way and Radiohead have just showed us how.

    Well! All praise be to Radiohead! The album's popularity is assured, but the question remains on how all this will work out; the website has already crashed once due to overwhelming traffic. Any problems with delivering the mp3s (or the actual CDs) could be looked at as a warning for any band trying to imitate Radiohead's move. We'll see in ten days...

    [update #2] As news emerges that no advance copies of In Rainbows will be sent to the press, British music weekly NME has taken it upon themselves to match up the album's tracklisting with YouTubed live footage of the band, and they've found clips of almost every one of the songs. Whether they're completely accurate, it's hard to be sure, but if you can't wait ten days for your Radiohead experience, check the videos out here.

    Kanye on SNL: What the Hell?

    | Mon Oct. 1, 2007 1:58 PM EDT
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    For weeks I've been hearing how great Kanye West's new CD is, so I was chomping at the bit to see his performance on Saturday Night Live's season opener this weekend. His first song? Awesome. But by the time his second song had ended, I was scratching my head trying to figure out what the hell happened.

    His first , a "Stronger/Good Life" medley, was a seamless performance. He was high energy (almost too high), he had an all-female (under-utilized) backup orchestra, solid backup vocalists, a tight live band, and stage lighting brighter and flashier than I remember seeing anyone under on the SNL stage. So far, so good.

    Then came his second song, "Champion." Once again, high energy coming from everyone on stage. Then Kanye tells the band to break it down, and he goes "off the dome" (what came across as an improvised, off the top of his head freestyle) without any backup from the band. A risky move indeed, considering he didn't really have much to say. There were several lines about him being on top of his game, being number one, and being "the Don," but unfortunately his freestyle meandered toward a complete anti-climax of him saying "I keep going, going, going going..." Well, yeah, that's what he did alright, for way too long (about six minutes).

    He recognized the flubs of the performance by mixing "I meant to mess up" into one line. I give him a lot of credit for improvising on live television; that's a bold move. But in this case, I'm thinking he should have stuck to the script.

    The Politics of Pistolera

    | Fri Sep. 28, 2007 9:46 PM EDT
    pistolera.gif

    The band Pistolera proves that the accordion can be as mighty as the bullhorn. With its squeeze box, guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, the NYC-based quartet mixes traditional Mexican music with rock and political commentary to create a sound that's like an outdoor Folklorico festival happening smack dab in the middle of an immigration rally.

    In the song "Cazador (Hunter)," the band plays festive Mexican folk music while guitarist/vocalist Sandra Lilia Velasquez sings about Minutemen that patrol the border: "…You with the binoculars, who comes to patrol; GO HOME! Hunter, you have no place here...They say they are protecting the country from illegals, but how, if this land was stolen from the Mexicans?"

    Pistolera plays a mixture of norteño (polka beat with accordion), ranchera (waltz or polka feel, similar to mariachi music), and cumbia (a mixture of Latin rhythms similar to salsa and merengue). And their unique sound hasn't gone unnoticed; their album Siempre Hay Salida peaked at #1 on the CMJ (College Music Journal) Ñ Alternative Select Albums chart earlier this year.

    It's not the kind of music I seek out on a regular basis, but the ideology of the band makes the seemingly harmless music kick a little ass. In a recent Rolling Stone Mexico interview, Velasquez said, "In Mexico, people are not attracted to rancheras, they are interested in anglo indie rock. For me the real alternative in music is to explore one's roots. People think that if you are born in the United States you should play rock and if you are born in Mexico you should play banda. I was born on the border. I play both."

    Nike Goes Native

    | Fri Sep. 28, 2007 9:30 PM EDT

    I waited a couple of days to blog about Nike's new shoe for Native Americans, thinking some sort of backlash would reveal itself in the form of a few web posts, but alas I've seen no scathing critiques. What gives?

    Nike this week unveiled what it said is the first shoe designed specifically for American Indians, hoping to promote physical fitness in a population with allegedly high obesity rates. The shoe, the the Air Native N7, is designed with a larger fit (a "taller shoe") for what Nike says is a distinct foot shape of American Indians, and has a "culturally specific look" to it (They look like shoe designs from the 70s to me). Tribal wellness programs and tribal schools nationwide can purchase the shoe at wholesale price ($42.80) and then pass it along to individuals, often at no cost.

    All of the articles I found today (USA Today, Fox News, MSNBC, Boston Globe) were reprints of the original AP story, which essentially reads like a press release promoting the socially-conscious folks at Nike. I did track down some good fodder in the blogosphere. On the Huffington Post, Milwaukee Dan wrote: "Wow, how nice. After stealing their land, destroying their culture and shoving them on to "reservations," Nike is going to give them a shoe made by slave labor in China. That's so American."

    Raising awareness about the issue of high obesity levels of folks living on tribal lands sounds like a great idea to me, but I'm not exactly jumping up and down just because Nike came up with an affordable shoe with added toe room. Hopefully by Monday some real dialog will surface.