The Riff - October 2007

Brooding With Beirut

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 10:18 PM EDT
beirut.gif

Beirut's newest release, The Flying Club Cup, has been haunting me for more than a week.The album, released by Ba Da Bing Records earlier this month, is sentimental, pretty, melancholy, and eery. And I can't get enough.

The 21-year-old Zach Condon, the brains of Beirut, made the album as an homage to the culture, music, history, and fashion of France, where he moved after spending two years studying Balkan folk music and Eastern European music scales. The album is an indie kid's interpretation/infatuation with nostalgic notions of European sounds and styles; sort of like a hipster marching band parading through the Old World.

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Clear Channel Bans New Bruce?

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 6:16 PM EDT

mojo-photo-nobruce.jpgBlogs are atwitter with the news that Clear Channel radio, famous for issuing company wide no-play edicts, has apparently issued another. But this time it's against The Boss, and that's even got Fox News upset:

Bruce Springsteen should be very happy. He has the No. 1 album, a possible Grammy for Best Album of the Year for "Magic," an album full of singles and a sold-out concert tour. Alas, there's a hitch: Radio will not play "Magic." In fact, sources tell me that Clear Channel has sent an edict to its classic rock stations not to play tracks from "Magic." But it's OK to play old Springsteen tracks such as "Dancing in the Dark," "Born to Run" and "Born in the USA."

While Bruce's left-leaning politics bring up memories of the recent blacklisting of the Dixie Chicks, I'm not entirely sure about this. First of all, "sources" say the memo was sent out to classic rock stations, which by definition are stations that play old music. We don't really have a classic rock station in San Francisco, but a quick look at San Diego's 101 KGB, "The Classic Rock Experience," shows their most played songs are "Ballroom Blitz," "White Room," "Rock & Roll All Night," and "Good Times Roll." Not even the rockingest of current rock jams are breaking through into the classic rock pantheon, to say nothing of stuff that sounds a lot like the Magnetic Fields. Clear Channel are probably reminding programmers that just because a standard classic rock artist has new songs, that doesn't mean they fit on the playlist.

This is of course not to defend radio, which at this point is kind of like a nearly deserted mall in a depressed Midwestern suburb: the last remaining stores are mostly selling trash. However, the Fox News article is mistaken on one point: it says tracks from Magic are "not being played on any radio stations, according to Radio & Records, which monitors such things. Nothing." Not true: in fact, "Radio Nowhere" is down from #2 to #3 this week on the Triple A National Airplay chart at Radio & Records, just behind Snow Patrol and KT Tunstall, and just ahead of Spoon. Triple-A radio's snowy-white "adult" brand usually annoys me, but that's not a bad Top 4, and people worried about Bruce not getting airplay should just change the station.

(Not So) Neato Viddys on the Intertubes

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 2:00 PM EDT

UK electro duo Simian Mobile Disco are pretty darn good, and their now-oldish track "Hustler" is one of the best songs on their new album, Attack Decay Sustain Release. Its dark breakbeat backing is combined with a repetitive, stream-of-consciousness rap about being too broke to buy records and stealing them instead. It already had a pretty good (if eyebrow-raising) video featuring a circle of hipster girls whose game of "secret" turns into a makeout session, but for some reason the band (or their label) decided that wasn't exploitative enough. Now we get a new video featuring dancing models who, er, binge and purge, in Technicolor:

Tuesday Coos, "Music News Day"

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 1:24 PM EDT

News

  • Dead Elvis knocks dead Kurt Cobain out of the top spot on Forbes' list of Top-Earning Dead Celebrities. Actually Kurt drops out of the Top 12 entirely. Other late musicians on the list include John Lennon (#2), George Harrison (#4), Tupac Shakur (#8), James Brown (#11), and Bob Marley (#12).

  • Rapper Nas defends his decision to call his upcoming album the N-word (which I typed once in the last story and now I just feel too queasy about it to do it again) in a convoluted statement connecting Barack Obama's presidential run to the recent spate of noose-related hate crimes. "It's probably going to make people uncomfortable," he says about the album's title. You think?
  • Arcade Fire's Win Butler responds to Sasha Frere-Jones' New Yorker article pointing out the band's, er, "whiteness." Butler begins with a serious discussion of Arcade Fire's musical heritage, but once he correctly points out that American music is already so racially mixed-up it's hard to tell what's what any more, he seems to realize what the rest of us have as well: Sasha Frere-Jones is kind of crazy, and why are we spending any time worrying about this?
  • Blog Brooklyn Vegan collects pictures of this year's hot Halloween costume (something you've already noticed if you went out at all over the weekend): Amy Winehouse. Fine, but jeez, ladies (and gentlemen): at least have someone else draw the tattoos on your arms so it doesn't look like the scribblings of a 5-year-old.
  • Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - 10/29/07

    | Mon Oct. 29, 2007 10:58 PM EDT

    This week, psychedelic space-rock reunions and retro Brazilian romps, plus a soul singer does her best King of Pop impression and a troubled pop princess gets a mashup makeover. Look at all that alliteration, it's like Top Ten tonguetwisters. What?

    10. Mary J Blige – "Just Fine" (from Growing Pains out 12/11 on Geffen)
    Justin Timberlake's whole career is predicated on a post-Michael Jackson equation, i.e.: people want soulful dance-pop, and they're tired of waiting for Jacko to provide it, so they'll take an imitation. Well, now Blige is stepping up to the MJ plate, aiming right for Off the Wall-era disco-lite. She vamps and struts over a backing track that's uptempo yet delicate, with an acoustic guitar and keyboard filigrees that are oddly reminiscent of Steely Dan's "Peg." Did I mention it's good?

    9. Blue States – "Allies" (from First Steps Into… on Memphis Industries)
    The UK producer (otherwise known as Andy Dragazis) is known for his Vangelis-style electronic swirls, and this track is appropriately dreamy. The video, on the other hand, is a somewhat disturbing look at how the random little details in our daily lives could bring about drastically different conclusions. Don't drop your keys!!

    8. Reminiscing about seeing Daft Punk in concert
    …by watching really awesome videos like this one below or a full-length (if pretty shaky) video of their entire set at this weekend's Vegoose festival. Human! Robot! Anyway, if you missed them, sorry.

    Blonde Redhead7. Blonde Redhead – Live at the Warfield, San Francisco, 10/24/07
    I'm not sure how Blonde Redhead do it. In order to replicate the full, multi-instrumental sound of their albums, the three-piece must be using some sort of tape in concert. Sounds of pianos and backing vocals show up without physical manifestations thereof, and oddly, it adds to the general otherworldliness of their live experience. The band's newer material is almost "shoegaze"-level fuzzy, but their edgy, unusual songwriting adds a strangely retro feel, as though you're watching an old Italian movie.

    6. Black Dice – "Kokomo" (from Load Blown on Paw Tracks)
    It's nice to see this freaky Brooklyn combo have calmed down enough that you can actually make out individual notes in their songs, but this isn't going to the top of any hit parades anytime soon. Just sit back and remember your tripped-out college days, when a throbbing bassline and random, surreal images of Froot Loops commercials and freaky patterns would have totally made your Monday.

    NY Times: Rockers Celebrate Brand Awareness

    | Mon Oct. 29, 2007 4:24 PM EDT

    mojo-photo-gnrcandle.jpgHere on the Riff, we've covered the thorny issue of putting your music in commercials (with commenters coming down pretty evenly split, if I'm reading their incoherent ramblings correctly), but today's Times goes straight for the top: Duff McKagan, formerly of Guns N' Roses, currently of Velvet Revolver, and business school graduate. The Times kind of rubs in that the dude is 43:

    Like other rockers easing into middle age or seniorhood, Mr. McKagan is also experimenting with new partnerships in response to a music business in flux. Amid plunging record sales and Internet file sharing, rockers are eagerly plastering their names everywhere. Their "brands" are now found in television commercials, tour sponsorships, and merchandise as diverse as cars, private-label wines and celebrity cruises.

    "Seniorhood"? Ouch. The article brings up more aging rockers who have left their youthful anti-commercial ideals behind: The Stones (Budweiser!), Paul McCartney (Starbucks!), Sting (Jaguar!). Why is everybody shilling for The Man? Because nobody's buying records:

    All of this has been set in motion by a well-known reality: record sales "fell off a cliff," says Jonathan Daniel, a former musician and now a partner at Crush, a management company that represents such bands as Panic! at The Disco and Fall Out Boy. Shipments of CDs were $9.16 billion in 2006, down 31 percent from their peak of $13.21 billion in 2000, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

    Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy: the Beatles and Stones of our generation.

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    Country Legend Porter Wagoner Dies at 80

    | Mon Oct. 29, 2007 1:22 PM EDT

    mojo-photo-wagoner.jpgCountry music legend Porter Wagoner died yesterday in Nashville after a brief battle with lung cancer. While his string of hits in the '60s might not be immediately familiar to contemporary audiences, Wagoner's trademark flashy rhinestone suits made him a symbolic country music figure, and his hand in launching Dolly Parton's career proved his own eye for talent.

    Wagoner signed to RCA in 1955 and had a syndicated TV show in the '60s and '70s. He hired a 21-year-old Parton as a duet partner in 1967, and the two won the Country Music Association's "Duo of the Year" award in 1970 and 1971. Wagoner's career petered out in the '80s, and he only returned to the studio this year, recording an album for alternative Los Angeles label Anti-. His last show was this summer where he opened for the White Stripes at Madison Square Garden.

    MP3: Porter Wagoner – "Committed to Parkview" (from Wagonmaster, 2007)

    More Halloween Fun: Flaming Lips Host Flaming Skeleton Parade

    | Mon Oct. 29, 2007 1:02 PM EDT

    Flaming Lips

    I guess the joke would be, "Do you realize/that you have the most beautiful skull?" Or maybe not. The legendary Oklahoman psychedelic-rock combo played host to the "Ghouls Gone Wild" Halloween parade in Oklahoma City over the weekend, managing to recruit 1,000 fans to dress up in spooky skeleton costumes and carry flaming torches in what the band's recruitment e-mail referred to as "a spectacle celebrating the mysterious, the supernatural, and the otherworldly." Kind of like Zaireeka?

    The parade, sponsored by the Oklahoma Gazette with the stated purpose of "celebrating creativity and artistry in Oklahoma City," kicked off at 7pm on Saturday night, but not without a bit of a hitch: the specially-designed skull masks the band had ordered for marchers were deemed too vision-impairing to be worn by people carrying, say, flaming torches. "We do not want anyone catching on fire," Lips frontman Wayne Coyne reassured parade-goers in a speech before the parade.

    I'd just like to point out that if this parade had happened here in San Francisco, you wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between the costumed participants and the homeless lining the streets, there would have been a fight between anti-war protesters and 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and like seven people would have been shot.

    First Listen: Jay-Z - American Gangster

    | Fri Oct. 26, 2007 8:54 PM EDT

    Jay-ZProving once again that retiring is the best way to drum up interest in your work, America's Richest Rapper (TM) returns with another surprisingly interesting album. Okay, sorry, maybe it shouldn't be surprising, everything Jay-Z's done is basically stellar, except for last year's lazy, aimless Kingdom Come. For American Gangster, though, Jay-Z has some inspiration: the upcoming Denzel Washington vehicle of the same name. Now, this isn't the soundtrack, but Jay-Z says each track on the album was inspired by a specific scene in the film, which he then reinterpreted through an autobiographical prism, focusing on growing up in the projects in Brooklyn. Understandably, this is emotional territory. Check out the Marvin Gaye sample in "American Dreamin'": "Oh no/I never give up," he sings, in a loop from 1976's "Soon I'll Be Loving You Again" that sounds more like a plaintive cry against greater and greater odds as the song goes on.

    But don't worry, the album isn't all tearjerkers; the very next track, "Hello Brooklyn," with the ubiquitous Lil Wayne on guest vocals, is all thudding bass and handclaps, with Jay-Z telling the borough "I ain't mad at you." While Diddy and the Neptunes take production credit on much of the album, "Fallin'," a highlight featuring dramatic strings and a Motown-style chorus, was produced by Southerner Jermaine Dupri. On it, Jay-Z's lyrics come fast and furious, with complicated, tongue-twisting internal rhymes, and a final denouement: "Fightin', you'll never survive/Runnin', you'll never escape/So just fall from grace."

    The title track is listed as a "bonus track" on Wikipedia; I'm not sure what that means, since the song is awesome. A funky, horn-filled sample gives it a kind of '70s vibe, with appropriately snazzy metaphors: "The way I shine, it's like a zillion-dollar light bill." Jay-Z has been known for pushing the sample envelope, but on Gangster he sticks to classic soul, creatively cut up, and it gives the album a driving, urgent focus. Are we talking another Blueprint, or even Black Album? Well, probably not, but it's another fascinating chapter in the Jay-Z saga.

    American Gangster is out November 8th on Roc-A-Fella, but it's leaking over here at mylifemyhiphop. Get it!

    Let's Get Scared with Spooky Halloween Mashups

    | Fri Oct. 26, 2007 5:10 PM EDT

    Mashing PumpkinsHey, look at that, Halloween is next week, and your best chance for spooky revelry is probably this weekend. Is it just me or did that kind of sneak up on us? I haven't even decided whether I should be Wolverine again. I haven't been growing my muttonchops so it's probably moot. Anyway, some of my cohorts in the pointless world of putting songs with other songs have produced a whole compilation's worth of Halloween-themed mashups, perfect for your costume party or, uh, erotic ball. Called Mashing Pumpkins (and not to be confused with the Irish tribute band), the album had to endure some unexpected popularity after getting mentioned on Boing Boing, and their original website crashed or got overwhelmed or just shut down by unsympathetic web service providers. Now that's scary. But both Boing Boing and Mashup Town rushed to the rescue, archiving the tracks and offering them for free download; the latter even has the super scary artwork.

    Party Ben recommends:
    Track 5 – "I Want My Mummy"
    A cheeky upbeat combo of The Who, Steve Martin, and some mummy-oriented clips from LA's Mr. Fab.
    Track 6 – "Snap Yo Specials"
    While the Specials' "Ghost Town" seems only tangentially Halloween-related, Lil' Jon's growly raps flow perfectly over the top.
    Track 10 – "Bad Moon Werewolves"
    You can't go wrong with "Werewolves of London," and the fact that the UK's Cheekyboy got "Bad Moon Rising" to fit over the top is nothing short of miraculous.

    So is it time for the Christmas-themed mashup albums yet?