The Riff - August 2007

Music Piracy Destroying Economy

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 4:09 PM EDT

ArrrrYou thought it was the subprime mortgage crisis behind recent global economic instability? Wrong! Remember that mp3 you downloaded the other day? That's what did it. I hope you're sorry. Yesterday, the Dallas, Texas-based Institute for Policy Innovation released a study that says worldwide piracy of recorded music costs the US $12.5 billion and 71,060 jobs annually. The Institute came up with those numbers by combining jobs in sound recording and retail, as well as lost earnings and taxes, and then multiplying them by ten thousand, apparently. And yes, their Dallas headquarters should give you a clue as to their political leanings: the IPI was founded by Dick Armey, and was ranked as "super freaking conservative," by a conservative research center. So these are the people angry at Bush for being too liberal.

No word on whether the study took into account all the glamorous blogging jobs that have actually been created by this whole downloading trend.

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Tuesday the Woozy Music News Day

| Tue Aug. 21, 2007 9:29 PM EDT

MOZZZZ!!!!

  • Morrissey schedules a fall US tour that includes four nights in SF, five nights in NY, and ten—count 'em!—ten nights at the Palladium in Los Angeles! (CMJ)

  • Amy Winehouse calls off her fall North American tour, set to begin September 8th in Toronto, with the dates to possibly be rescheduled in 2008. Or not! Who knows! She's nuts! Refunds available at point of purchase. (Billboard)
  • Kanye West responds to the 50 Cent September 11th album release date rivalry with a "thank you." Take that. (MTV News)
  • The Jesus & Mary Chain will return to the studio and record an album, their first since 1998, and have booked some US shows in October. (Filter Magazine)
  • New sculpture celebrates Russia's love for The Beatles, or something? (NME)
  • Wedding DJs: not dead! (Idolator)
  • Rilo Kiley: Sellouts or Sly Foxes?

    | Tue Aug. 21, 2007 5:51 PM EDT

    Rilo Kiley"Ambition," said Oscar Wilde, "is the last refuge of failure," although the Wilde I remember from the "Monty Python" sketch also said "your majesty is a big jam donut with cream on top," so who knows what he was talking about. But in the world of indie rock, even a whiff of ambition can cause fainting spells, so Rilo Kiley must have known they were taking a risk on Under the Blacklight, out today on Warner Bros. It's a fascinating album, but in a raunchy, funky, and yes, poppy (or populist) way, and judging by the "listeners also bought" section on their iTunes page (Camera Obscura, Tegan & Sara, Belle & Sebastian!), their fans may not follow along.

    The LA foursome's last album spawned an unlikely hit, the charming, countrified "Portions for Foxes," in which lead singer Jenny Lewis insists she's "bad news." But even in that traditional-sounding song, there were hints of bawdiness: "The talking leads to touching/And the touching leads to sex/And then there is no mystery left." The first single from Blacklight, "The Moneymaker," takes that "sex" thing and runs with it, with a naughty soft-core video, but really, the lyrics are all about Rilo Kiley signing to a major label and working with Maroon 5's producer: "You've got the moneymaker/This is your chance to make it."

    Thoughts on M.I.A.'s Kala

    | Tue Aug. 21, 2007 3:16 AM EDT

    M.I.A.: KalaIf you've been a faithful Riff reader, you've heard a lot about M.I.A., otherwise known as Maya Arulpragasam: from the YouTube debuts of "Bird Flu" and "Boyz," to the arrival of advance copies of the new album, to her streaming all of Kala online. So, the album arrives in stores tomorrow: what's the final verdict?

    ArularWith Kala named after Arulpragasam's mother, it's illustrative to look back at Arular, her 2005 debut, named after her father. The first singles, "Sunshowers" and "Galang," featured similar downtempo dancehall beats, with edgy lyrics that seemed to invite analysis as part of the London-born singer's Sri Lankan heritage and her father's participation in militant Tamil activism: "shotgun, get down / too late, you down." My experience with the full-length was a kind of gradual awareness: certain tracks grabbed my attention at first (the rollicking freestyle of "10 Dollar") while others took time to adjust to (the aggressive Baile funk of "Bucky Done Gun"). As time went by, the album seemed to capture both a forward-looking electronic sound (partially thanks to its edgy producers, including Diplo and Richard X), as well as a political mood informed by both anger and ebullience.

    So, two years later, M.I.A. is back in action, with production duties mostly taken over by Switch, a UK electronic artist and DJ whose chopped-up style teeters on the bleeding edge of dance music. Again, the first singles, "Bird Flu" and "Boyz," featured similar triple-time beats and lyrics with obtuse references to violence and politics. But as Robert Christgau pointed out in Rolling Stone, the rest of Kala doesn't seem accessible, with jagged beats and even more eclectic references: Bollywood, didgeridoo, The Clash, The Pixies, Baltimore house. While he calls this an "art music," it may be helpful to remember that Arular's catchiness was by no means immediate, and tracks like "Bucky Done Gun" seemed brittle and abrasive at first. M.I.A. has a tendency to shift the world to her point of view, and while Kala forces your ears to adjust to its pressurized depths (and vertigo-inducing heights), I'd buy stock in Kala sing-along futures.

    Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things, 8/20/07: Bay Area Flavor

    | Mon Aug. 20, 2007 11:25 PM EDT

    Ah, San Francisco: cold, dirty, expensive, and impossible to get around in. But, our mayor is so dreamy! Take that, Boise! Also, lately, lots of good music is coming from all sides of the Bay, and some of it lands in my always-worldly Top Ten this week. I know you don't need them because of the fog, but why not put your stunna shades on anyway, it's for fun.

    Talib Kweli10. Talib Kweli feat. Justin Timberlake – "The Nature" (from Eardrum, out 8/21 on Warner)
    (grab an mp3 from The Scramble Network)
    Kweli may not have qualified for MTV's recent "Top 10 Hottest MCs" list (that controversially ranked Lil Wayne #1, and Kanye ahead of Fiddy!) but he's a towering hip-hop figure nonetheless. This mellow, soulful track gets a little "Lite FM" when Trousersnake pops in for the chorus, but Kweli's flow is perfectly calibrated, intense without shouting. Plus when the beat kicks back in at 4:23, wow.

    Tarentel9. Tarentel – "Everybody F***s with Somebody" (from Ghetto Beats on the Surface of the Sun, CD version just released on Temporary Residence)
    (stream at Aquarius Records' site)
    Boy, "Sunshine" could have been such an awesome movie, but it had to turn into "Zombies in Space" instead. Dammit! Anyway, San Francisco avant-rockers Tarentel aren't fooling around with their title, and unlike some of their previous instrumental work, this isn't dreamy: it's dense, skittering, Krautrock-y, like Battles only less concerned with "songs," if you can believe it.

    Foreign Born8. Foreign Born – "Union Hall" (from On the Wing Now, out 8/21 on Dim Mak)
    (grab an mp3 at BiBaBiDi)
    This band originally came from San Francisco, although they're in LA now, so I suppose I shouldn't count them. Either way, the four-piece gain infinite points by prominently featuring an autoharp here. I love me some autoharp. The track starts off restrained, in Jesus & Mary Chain territory, and then erupts into a Band of Horses-style chorus. Check them out at a free show at the Echo in LA tomorrow night.

    Nyles Lannon7. Nyles Lannon – "Slipping" (from Pressure, out 9/18 on Badman)
    (listen on his MySpace)
    Hey, just a few weeks ago I featured Bay Area band Film School in the top ten; now here's a—chuckle!—Film School graduate. Har!!! Ahem... he used to be in Film School. Is this thing on? Sheesh. Well, where his former bandmates have moved into a swirlier, almost goth-y direction, Lannon's reference points are more like The White Album, psychedelic and complex.

    Modeselektor6. Modeselektor feat. Thom Yorke – "The White Flash" (From Happy Birthday out in September on BPitch Control)
    (mp3 via Beep Beep Beep)
    On Yorke's solo LP, the electronic backing tracks seemed resistant to easy grooves—they were hypnotic, but you couldn't really dance to them. Here, Berlin duo Modeselector retains the experimental vibe, but adds a solid, if dubby, beat. Yorke's vocals devolve into a chant of "you have all the time in the world," and even though this track clocks in at 7:30, you kind of wish you did.

    Merv Griffin Was Gay and Everyone Is Freaking Out

    | Mon Aug. 20, 2007 3:49 PM EDT

    Merv and his horse
    In another depressing sign of just how uncomfortable America continues to be with all things queer, the Hollywood Reporter's "outing" of host and producer Merv Griffin is sending shock waves through the industry and the press. On Friday, the Reporter printed a story in its online edition headlined "Merv Griffin Died a Closeted Homosexual." Then, apparently buckling under pressure from "Hollywood titans, advertisers, and lawyers" (reports Michelangelo Signorile on his blog), they pulled the story, which has since reappeared under the new title, "Griffin Never Revealed Man Behind the Curtain," with significant revisions. (See the blog Queer Two Cents for an outline of the revisions, Canada.com for a reprint of the original story, and Towleroad for a timeline of the events). Reuters picked up the story and just as quickly dropped it, saying it "did not meet our standards for news." (See this page, where the Reuters story apparently was at one point.)

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    Dr. Dre Suing Label; Madonna Leaving Hers?

    | Mon Aug. 20, 2007 1:52 PM EDT

    Dre and Madge
    Two stories today prove just how relevant (and helpful!) record labels are nowadays. First, Dr. Dre is suing the defunct Death Row Records over rights and royalties from his 1992 album The Chronic. Dre handed over rights to the seminal album in exchange for royalty payments, which he now alleges he has never received. Death Row filed for bankruptcy in 2006, raising the shameful possibility that one of the greatest albums of all time will be auctioned off to pay for, I dunno, an outstanding debt to OfficeMax.

    In other "record labels are awesome" news, NME is reporting that Madonna is considering leaving Warner Music, where she's been under contract since 1982. Where does she want to go? Another label, perhaps? Nope: Live Nation, the venue owner and event producers. Perhaps she's realized that today's music business model is all about live performances, for someone like Madonna especially: her eight Wembley shows in 2006 grossed over 20 million dollars.

    Raising a Glass for Max Roach

    | Fri Aug. 17, 2007 9:22 PM EDT

    When you're a true fan of jazz music, you don't take the music lightly. When you listen to recordings by jazz greats, you study each song; you learn each note of every solo.

    The jazz drummer Max Roach was one of those greats that you study.

    His passing this week prompted a lot of conversation between my friends and me about how awesome Roach was on the drum kit and how much we've been influenced by his style and ideas. One of my musician friends sent out this email today:

    It seems like whenever one of the greats passes away these days, it never gets the press and back story it deserves. Max Roach's composition "Drum Conversation" was on a random old record that my folks had in their collection and it was the main reason I picked up the drums in the first place. After Max, drummers were considered musicians. Please raise a glass for Max, we owe him a huge debt.

    Well, here I am, raising my glass. To Max Roach.

    Chart Beat: New Albums

    | Fri Aug. 17, 2007 5:50 PM EDT

    UGK

  • UGK land at #1 on the Billboard album chart with their well-reviewed self-titled album on Jive, selling 160,000 copies on the strength of the Andre-3000-featuring (and Willie Hutch-sampling) "International Player's Anthem."
  • Teen pop sensation Jonas Brothers land at #5 with their second release, the first album to be issued in the "CDVU+" format, using 100% recycled paper for packaging and featuring a bunch of digital extras.
  • Austin's Okkervil River had a surprisingly high debut for their album The Stage Names, landing at #62 after selling around 10,000 copies.
  • The Flight of the Conchords EP, featuring music from the show, sold 6,000 copies, good for #126 on Nielsen's Soundscan charts.
  • Over in the UK, 20-year-old newcomer Kate Nash debuted at #1 on the album charts with her debut, Made of Bricks. Is all new UK pop music in the Lily Allen-style MySpace-phenomenon mold these days? Well, thankfully, it's pretty good. Listen to some tracks here or, well, on her MySpace.
  • First Listen: The New Pornographers - Challengers

    | Fri Aug. 17, 2007 4:37 PM EDT

    New New PornCanadian "supergroup" New Pornographers made two really good albums, and then made a great one, 2005's Twin Cinema, where the unique aspects of their 47 (or so) members seemed to gel magically. Cinema's power-pop was oddly familiar and comfortable, but sounded like nothing else: Fleetwood Mac? The Cars? Whatever it was, each track on that album seemed to top the previous one for sheer joyfulness, erupting into blissful codas of "hey-las" in three-part harmony. Even the contributions of the shambolic Dan Bejar (who usually annoys me) seemed charming. It was my #2 album of the year, just behind good old M.I.A.

    That's why Challengers is such a disappointment. The unified perfection of Cinema seems to have spun out and disintegrated, like a hurricane moving over cold water. Opener "My Rights Versus Yours" is nice, but it's a pale imitation of Cinema's "Bleeding Heart Show," with a groove that never seems to get off the ground. Neko Case's voice is still awe-inspiring, and on the title track, there are glimpses of her greatness, but the song's awkward phrasing seems to strangle her. Bejar gets track 4, "Myriad Harbor," and it's a terrible Pixies rip-off. Next. Relief comes on track 7, "Unguided," with bandleader A.C. Newman on vocals, but it still sounds like a Cinema track played at half-speed, and at 6:33, it's three minutes too long.

    Okay, I'm looking like a negative jerk, let's find something good to say. Track 9, "Go Places," again lead by Case, has a swaying bar-room charm reminiscent of the Pogues, and track 11, "Adventures in Solitude," starts as a lovely, quiet ballad, with a delicate refrain of "we thought we lost you," although its rocking climax never really rocks.

    A quick look around the intertubes shows there's people who think Bejar is the best part of the band, and people who think this is their best album. The NPs definitely reward multiple listenings, so perhaps further attention will uncover Challengers' appeal. But right now, I'm not feeling it.

    Challengers is out 8/21 on Matador.
    Hear mp3s at Stereogum here; I tried to check out their official website but my work internet censors are preventing me from doing so. Huh.