The Riff - September 2007

Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - 9/17/07

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 10:43 PM EDT

This week, heartwarming Emmy moments, psychedelic French rock, and avant-Cumbia make the cut, but the theme (as always, emerging after the fact) seems to be boundary-pushing and genre-crushing hip-hop/techno cross-pollination. That should always be the theme, really.

10. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert giving Ricky Gervais' Emmy to Steve Carell
I was actually on a flight from Minneapolis during the Emmys, and probably wouldn't have watched anyway (Ryan Seacrest?!) but the YouTube of this is fantastic, and not just for the comedy value: the audience's cheers give you the sense that despite Extras' acknowledged awesomeness, Steve Carell is just a more awesome person, especially since Gervais didn't even show up. I wonder if any of it was planned?

9. Ivan Ives - "Got It" (From Iconoclast on No Threshold)
I remember Russia being way more into Army of Lovers than hip-hop, but that was a while ago; maybe Russian-born Ives is the tip of a new expat Russki rap scene iceberg. He actually lives in LA now and this track reflects sunny climes more than winter nights, with a funky retro sample and a cute DIY video. Not exactly ground-breaking, but I've been humming the chorus all week.

Twista8. Twista feat. Kanye West - "Well It's Time"
(from Adrenaline Rush 2007, out 9/18 on Atlantic)
(listen at The Fader)
Hyper Chicago rapper Twista's auctioneer-speed rhymes are offset with a decidedly mellow sample from Feist in this Kanye West production; it's apparently the bonus track on his new album, out tomorrow, and while the song is definitely breezy, it's no throwaway.

Saturday Night Fever7. The Bee Gees - "Stayin' Alive" (Teddybears Remix) (from Bee Gees Greatest, out 9/18 on Rhino)
(listen at Pitchfork)
Swedish combo Teddybears accomplished the almost-unthinkable on their 2006 album Soft Machine: they brought back Big Beat without any backlash, and it was actaully good. Or maybe they just brought back the good parts of Big Beat—eclectic, upbeat, accessible, soulful sounds. On this disco-riffic remix, the band correctly assesses that the original has the "accessible" part pretty much down, and their job is to f*** things up a little. This they do via skronky bass noises that sound a little like French contemporaries Justice.

Sonido Martines6. Various Artists - Las Rebajadas van a Brooklin (DJ set by Sonido Martines) (download an mp3 at Muy Bastard or Disco Shawn's blog, or listen at WFMU.org)
My expat compadre in Buenos Aires Disco Shawn introduced me to the amazing avant-Cumbia scene happening down there, and a billiant new DJ or producer seems to pop up every day. Sonido Martines produced this mix for DJ/Rupture's WFMU radio show, and the two share a philosophy: the NY DJ's marriage of Indian pop to drill 'n' bass was itself a radical reimagining of indigenous music. Sonido Martines' style, "Cumbias Rebajadas," is characterized by pitching tracks way, way down; at those speeds, the music takes on a strange psychedelic crackle, like a transmission from another time.

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New York Magazine Gently Mocks Meg White's Breakdown

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 9:39 PM EDT

White Stripes
I actually just can't believe they beat me to it. We've been covering the White Stripes' cancellation of their fall tour due to reported "anxiety" and a "breakdown" on the part of drummer Meg White; in the absence of further details, one can't help but wonder what's really going on. Well, New York magazine's got some ideas, ten in fact: their article, "Ten Things That Probably Stressed Out Meg White" is actually in the best of spirits ("get well soon Meg!") although it does point out her widely-noted "primitivist" drumming style: "couldn't remember drum part to 'Seven Nation Army'" is #2. Well, it's pretty cute, anyway. The Riff loves you too, Meg.

Music Movies Making Impact at Toronto Fest

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 2:37 PM EDT

Beautiful Downtown Toronto
Rolling Stone's "Rock Daily" blog has a wrap-up on the music-themed films featured at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, and it turns out they're all pretty good:

  • First up, Control, the Anton Corbjin-directed "interpretation" of the life of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, received a standing ovation after its screening, with Rolling Stone calling it "gripping." The second Joy Division-themed pic (movies come in twos!), simply called Joy Division, is a more straightforward documentary the magazine calls "traditional," relying on existing footage and interviews with band members.
  • Todd Haynes' atmospheric tribute to Bob Dylan, I'm Not There, was also warmly received, with the LA Times calling Cate Blanchett's portrayal of the enigmatic musician "phenomenal."
  • The documentary about Daniel Lanois' production work with artists like U2 and Sinead O'Connor, Here Is What Is, got good reviews for its ability to portray the creative process, making "something out of nothing," although even the "@U2" blog says its insider footage may be best appreciated by fans.
  • Finally, Rolling Stone calls Heavy Metal In Baghdad the "most powerful music film" at TIFF, a documentary about Iraq's "only heavy metal band," Acrassicauda. At one point in the film, their practice space is destroyed by a missile; now that's hardcore.
  • Visa Problems Keeping More British Artists from U.S.

    | Mon Sep. 17, 2007 2:06 PM EDT

    Lily Allen

    Saturday's Wall Street Journal is probably the most unlikely place you'll see Lily Allen's picture this week, as the paper featured an article on the problems British musicians are having getting visas to come to the U.S. It's the kind of thing that raised conspiracy theories with M.I.A. (maybe they didn't like her lyrics!) but when you look at the range and number of artists who have had tours delayed or canceled because of visa problems, it turns out Immigration officials just don't like the U.K. As the Journal reports:

    At least three anticipated tours by British artists scheduled for this month alone have been called off or pushed back because of musicians' visa problems. That is on top of at least 10 scuttled tours by buzzed-about British acts in the last year. Part of the problem, immigration specialists say: The traditional visa system isn't set up to cope with the new face of popular music. To get into the U.S., many foreign music acts need to secure a document known as the "P-1"-class visa. This visa requires acts to prove that they have been "internationally recognized" for a "sustained and substantial" amount of time.

    That's right: Immigration officials are deciding which artists are "recognized" enough for you to be allowed to see them. That means bands like Klaxons are submitting magazine reviews and blog postings (let's hope they read the Riff!) to try and help their case, but even then, it's far from guaranteed. The Journal focuses on the business impact of last-minute tour cancellations, detailing how Lily Allen's cancelled performance in Portland Oregon meant a 1500-capacity venue was dark on a Friday night. However, it's clear that it's music fans' hearts which are suffering the most:

    When the London indie-rock band Mystery Jets had to cancel its U.S. concert debut this summer because of visa problems, 21-year-old Krisan Cieszkiewicz of Portage, Ind., was devastated. "I've never experienced anything more heartbreaking or cruel in my life," says Ms. Cieszkiewicz, who had planned to see the band in Chicago.

    Okay, come to think of it, maybe Americans could use a little hardship.

    M.I.A. Terrible on Letterman

    | Fri Sep. 14, 2007 4:34 AM EDT

    M.I.A.Well, at least it wasn't Britney Spears bad. Anyone out there who's been reading all my posts on rapper M.I.A., but hadn't really heard her music, and decided to check her out on Letterman tonight, now you think I'm nuts. Yes, you're right, it was terrible. I stayed tuned in all the way through Martha Stewart's segment just to see M.I.A. make her Letterman debut, and to say it was disappointing is an understatement, but I don't know if it was necessarily her fault. She performed "Paper Planes," a Clash-sampling highlight from the new album Kala, but something was wrong with the mix, and you could barely hear her or the backup vocalist. I get the sense that maybe they were running her mic through the DJ rig, because his scratching on the gunshot FX was so loud it seemed to knock the sound out a few times. Even worse, when the prerecorded backup vocals came in during the chorus, they were so much louder than M.I.A.'s live vocals they made her seem like she was, well, relying on prerecorded vocals. Poor M.I.A.! And if you've never heard her before, please give her another chance.

    [update 9/17] Video below. People are reporting that she was not allowed to use gunshot sounds during her performance, so those are apparently just gunshot-like percussive noises.

    Preview New Joe Strummer Documentary

    | Thu Sep. 13, 2007 7:17 PM EDT

    Joe Strummer
    If you were intrigued by my review of Redemption Song, the biography of Clash front man Joe Strummer, but weren't sure you could stomach 600 pages about anything, then there may be an easier way to relive some of the punk rock legend's life. Julien Temple, director of Sex Pistols pic The Filth and the Fury, has a new documentary about the life of Joe Strummer, and it's getting pretty good reviews. Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten uses archival footage of Strummer's own voice from his BBC radio show as narration, bringing the singer-songwriter (who died in 2002) eerily back to life. It currently has an 8.2/10 user rating on IMDB, and a 100% "tomatometer" rating at Rotten Tomatoes (that's good).

    The film is now playing in Europe and Japan, but has only had a few festival screenings in the U.S.; a limited stateside release is planned for November 2nd. Watch the trailer below.

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    Madonna and Britney Spears Threatened with Beheading

    | Thu Sep. 13, 2007 5:01 PM EDT

    Madonna & Britney

    The leader of a Palestinian terror group has targeted Madonna and Britney Spears for spreading "Satanic culture," and threatened to behead them. Muhammad Abdel-Al, the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, based in the Gaza Strip, made the comments in a new book, Schmoozing With Terrorists, that presents interviews with members of terror organizations. Abdel-Al was quoted as saying:

    If I meet these whores I will have the honor—I repeat, I will have the honor—to be the first one to cut the heads off Madonna and Britney Spears if they will keep spreading their Satanic culture against Islam... If these two prostitutes keep doing what they are doing, we of course will punish them.

    NME reports the comments come just as Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie are heading to Israel to celebrate the Jewish New Year. Terrorists, they say crazy stuff.

    If Our Government Was Run By K-Tel

    | Thu Sep. 13, 2007 4:08 PM EDT

    Bush Greatest Hits
    Via Towleroad comes these mocked-up adverts for some unfortunately fake greatest hits collections of the Bush administration (and, in a special guest appearance, John McCain)—although, even more unfortunately, the quotes themselves are all too real. They're all pretty great, but I have to say the glowing disco sunshine of the "Condi" album cover is especially sublime.

    Clicky to embiggen.

    Cheney Greatest Hits

    mojo-photo-Condi Greatest Hits

    Kanye West is Awesome

    | Wed Sep. 12, 2007 8:31 PM EDT

    Kanye West

    Funny how much difference a few days can make, huh? Kanye West is known for his egotistical outbursts and random baloney-spewing, but with his new album getting great reviews and headed for #1, suddenly he's also making a lot more sense. First of all, his statements about the MTV VMAs "scandal" on a Sirius Satelite Radio morning show Tuesday are pretty much right on. Describing Britney Spears' terrible show-opening performance, he blamed MTV, telling Sirius the network was "just trying to get ratings, and they knew she wasn't ready and they exploited her." West wanted to perform "Stronger" as the show opener, but was apparently told to host a "suite party" in a hotel room instead, where his performance of the hit track was under-lighted and attended only by pre-selected industry zombies.

    "They exploited her, they played me and I really don't mess with MTV," he said. "So why do you have me do 'Stronger' in a suite, but you end the show with Justin? I looked at 50 like, yo, we need to help each other as much as possible."

    Considering the massive sales for "Stronger" over the last few weeks (and now for the full album), it does seem a little cynical of MTV to give the show-opening performance to Britney, while Kanye is so clearly on top, but what else is new?

    Well, no matter what you think of the whole debacle, West is making great music, and if you think he's got a bad attitude, check this out: French duo Justice, you'll remember, are supposedly the rapper's arch-rivals after they beat him for "Best Video" at the European VMAs in 2006. This year, in a cute rematch, the animated-T-shirt-featuring video for their track "D.A.N.C.E." was up against West's "Stronger" for "Video of the Year." Rihanna won, so now, everybody's best friends: the director of the video, So Me, was recruited by West to direct his own new video, which turned out so spectacularly you'd forgive a hundred tantrums. The liquid animations help you focus on West's intricate phrasings, and give added "oomph" to the track's already-high spirits. More Franco-American collaborations, please, and you go, Kanye.

    Kanye West feat. T-Pain - "Good Life"

    White Stripes Cancel Entire U.S. Tour, Cite "Anxiety"

    | Wed Sep. 12, 2007 4:03 PM EDT

    White Stripes
    After cancelling their upcoming appearance at Austin City Limits , Detroit duo White Stripes have gone one step further and cancelled their entire Fall U.S. tour. Yesterday the band announced they would be pulling out of the Austin City Limits festival this weekend due to a "nervous breakdown" on the part of drummer Meg White; the reason being given for the full tour cancellation is that Meg "is suffering from acute anxiety and is unable to travel at this time." Refunds are available at points of purchase.

    All the best to Meg, but I do have to say this clears up a bit of a conflict here in the Bay Area: the Stripes' 9/21 show in Berkeley was to be the same night as the Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem show at the Shoreline in Mountain View, as well as Simian Mobile Disco's local debut, although I'm probably the only one who cares about that last one.