The Riff - November 2007

Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - Reviewing Metacritic's Best-Reviewed Albums of the Year

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 2:10 AM EST

Well, Riffers, this will be my last Top Ten for a few weeks as I'm leaving for a European Tour this coming weekend; yes, that's right, Europeans will apparently part with their hard-earned euros (and zloty and koruny!) to watch me play CDs. Zut alors. So for this Top Ten, I figured I'd start the long, tortuous process of winnowing down a year-end "Best Albums" list by taking a look at the Metacritic Top Ten Best-Reviewed Albums of the Year.

Metacritic is a site that tallies up reviews from around the world of cultural criticism with a somewhat fallible mathematical formula, assigning points from 1 to 100 based on the grade given in the review. They've been adding up the points for the year so far, and their list is interesting both for its errors and its accuracy (for instance, hip-hop is noticeably absent from the top ten). Here's their list with my thoughts and where each album might end up on my personal year-end list.

Robert Wyatt10. Robert Wyatt – Comicopera
The 62-year-old former drummer for Soft Machine famously lost the use of his legs in an accident in 1973, and found his voice as a solo artist in the '90s. Comicopera is airy and jazzy, and Wyatt sounds delicate and emotional, almost like the reincarnation of Nick Drake. The album's themes revolve around protest; protest against war, against civilization in general. It's often quite beautiful and affecting, but also a bit scattered.
PB sez way lower

Battles9. Battles – Mirrored
Prog rock is back, and it's got techno in it! The New York combo sound distinctly British here in their ability to combine rock intensity with electronic experimentalism, and the album was appropriately released on Warp Records, home to Aphex Twin. But despite all that, it's immensely listenable, with lead single "Battles" taking on a kind of Gary Glitter-style swagger and ending up in Diplo DJ sets mashed up with M.I.A.
PB sez same

Panda Bear8. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
Good vibrations indeed, this reverb-laden tribute to the major-chord psychedelic pop of Brian Wilson has something in common with the Magnetic Fields: it achieves its traditional-sounding warmth via decidedly non-traditional methods. This is basically the solo project of Animal Collective's Noah Lennox, yet the sound is full and rich with harmonies.
PB sez kinda lower

LCD7. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
A triumphant and grief-stricken album of plain-spoken dance music, Silver so perfectly defines its own place that it's hard to imagine how we lived in its absence. Band leader James Murphy digs in the crates of classic disco, Talking Heads, and New Order, and created an album that holds together as such, despite the standout brilliance of many of its singles. The unlikely centerpiece, "Someone Great," has entered the pantheon of melancholy electro classics like "Don't You Want Me," with its mechanical blips coalescing into a majestic tribute to a lost friend.
PB sez way higher

Les Savy Fav6. Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends
The indie-punk band has built a reputation as a blistering live act, and this album captures an intensity that's infectious. The Fav were doing angular guitar rock before Bloc Party knew how to walk, and Friends has moments of "this is how it's done" greatness. "What Would Wolves Do" is the highlight, a ticking, melancholy track with soaring guitar lines reminiscent of early U2, but they also wander a bit into muddy ballads.
PB sez way lower

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iTunes For Magazines?

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 1:32 AM EST

Time Inc. is at work on Maghound, which is akin to an online newstand where readers will pay a monthly fee—$4.95 for three magazines, $7.95 for five or seven for $9.95—and can then mix and match magazines of their choosing (the magazines they offer, that is, I don't see Mother Jones pop up on the cover crawl).

Brian Wolfe, president of Time Consumer Marketing, calls Maghound, set to officially launch next year, the answer to Amazon for books, Netflix for movies, and iTunes for music. "The magazine industry," he recently told AdAge (subscription), "has done nothing essentially to make the consumer experience better." The online service, though, only goes so far. No digital, paperless versions. But one user improvement that will surely attract subscribers, those renewal notices won't pile up. But no promises on what bait-to-switch will fill your Inbox.

Websites Blocked By the Denver International Airport Free Wireless Service

| Mon Nov. 5, 2007 11:39 PM EST

mojo-photo-dia.jpgI returned from a quick trip to Nebraska today via DIA, and during my layover, logged onto their free wireless service. When I tried to check a few web sites, I got the following messages:

Boing Boing
"Your request to URL http://boingboing.net/ has been blocked by the URL Filter Database. The URL is listed under categories (Incidental Nudity, Blogs / Wiki), which are not allowed by your administrator at this time. The following reputation level was assigned to it: Neutral.

Towleroad
"Your request to URL "http://www.towleroad.com/" has been blocked by the URL Filter Database. The URL is listed under categories (Provocative Attire, Politics / Opinion), which are not allowed by your administrator at this time. The following reputation level was assigned to it: Neutral."

The Drudge Report, however, came up just fine. Just letting you know.

Prince Declares Images of Prince Off-Limits

| Mon Nov. 5, 2007 10:51 PM EST

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Lawyers for Prince have ordered several of the superstar's biggest fan sites to remove any image that bears his likeness prompting fans to form a group to fight the demands. Three websites: housequake.com, princefams.com and prince.org have come together to form 'Prince Fans United' in response to the situation, which even sees demands to remove images of fans own tattoos. - NME

Bruce Springsteen has instructed his legal team to track down all web sites which feature his ass and have them eliminated, the Riff has learned. The New Jersey star's rear, clad in worn denim, bulged proudly on the cover of the 1984 album Born in the U.S.A., and lawyers believe any internet representation of the cheeks' signature curves could constitute an income loss, as fans ogle the booty for free instead of purchasing the album. The Boss has enlisted a squadron of buttock investigators to identify his own personal posterior amongst what experts say must be "as many as 30" other backsides pictured on the internet. No bloggers were available for a rebuttal.

Chicago rappers Cool Kids have demanded all pictures of cool kids be removed from all websites, despite the fact that the members of the band themselves are not kids, and only cool in a kind of ironic sense. "We saw some pictures of like a couple actual cool kids on the news, and we had the feeling maybe the news guys were making fun of us, since that's the name of our band," said Cool Kid Mikey Rocks, wearing a fluorescent pink baseball cap. When asked if they were trying to be funny or ironic or artsy with their request, he replied, "I don't even know any more," while making air quotes with his fingers.

In a related story, obscure 80s combo The The have demanded all instances of the article which they doubled to form the name of their band be excised from the internet, starting at the end of the sentence you are reading on the Riff right now. "There's tons of other determiners around for people to use that don't interfere with our clients' ability to control their own image," said a spokesperson, "like 'a,' or even 'an,' and in many circumstances, 'da.'" Da spokesperson then ran out of da room, so nobody could take his picture.

Protests Continue Against "Demeaning" Hip-Hop Videos

| Mon Nov. 5, 2007 12:21 PM EST

mojo-photo-gangster.jpgWe've covered protests over hip-hop lyrics from a couple perspectives here on the Riff (now that's fair and balanced!) and the controversy continues: today the New York Times is reporting protestors are targeting media companies like Viacom (owner of MTV and BET) for "degrading" music videos. The protesters have been targeting the homes of company executives, but their goals seem a little vague:

Among other things the protesters want media companies like Viacom to develop "universal creative standards" for video and music, including prohibitions on some language and images. Video vixens and foul-mouthed pimps and thugs are now so widespread, the protesters maintain, that they infect perceptions of ordinary nonwhite people. … "A lot of rap isn't rap anymore, it's just people selling their souls," Marc Newman, a 28-year-old car salesman from New Rochelle, N.Y., said on Saturday. He was among about 20 men, women and children from area Baptist churches marching outside the Upper East Side residence of Philippe Dauman, the president and chief executive of Viacom Inc.

While 20 people isn't that impressive, and Enough is Enough shares their name with another group focused on protecting our children from "hard-core sexually-explicit materials that is harmful to our youth" (uh, sic?), the Times reminds us that both the N.A.A.C.P. and the National Congress of Black Women are on the side of "more corporate responsibility" when it comes to music videos. The sentiments have perhaps been explained more clearly by the blog BrilliantBrown.com, in reaction to the BET show "Hot Ghetto Mess": "At this point, I'm beginning to wonder if BET has been secretly purchased by the KKK or something." Jeez, the KKK or the Taliban, do I have to pick a side?

Heavy Rotation: Calvin Harris - I Created Disco

| Fri Nov. 2, 2007 4:47 PM EDT

mojo-cover-calvinharris.jpgWith my rep around here as a glowstick-waving techno-bunny, I try to restrict my postings about dance music (really!), so the Riff doesn't turn into, you know, XLR8R's Dubstep Blog. But every once in a while an electronic full-length comes along that sticks in my head and seems like a candidate for mass crossover success, and right now that CD is the fantastic debut from Calvin Harris.

Another Scottish wunderkind, his clearest antecedent in the realm of solo Scot electro producers is, of course, the brilliant Mylo, and their styles do have some similarities, especially a kind of cheeky take on a certain decade between the '70s and the '90s. But while Mylo often seems to veer off into hypnotic, dreamy chill-out sounds (and doesn't sing), Harris is all about getting down and dirty on the dance floor, and strutting his stuff with winking, goofy vocals. Check out "Vegas," in which he insists, in a kind of Zen koan of partying, "I've got my car, and my ride, and my wheels… I've got my drugs, and my stuff, and my pills":

Just when it seems like the funky bassline is all we get, an unexpected chord pattern swoops in over the top, giving the track a strange edge of uncertainty.

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Friday? Aye, It's Music News Day

| Fri Nov. 2, 2007 1:11 PM EDT

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  • Wait, you're telling me that after the whole build-up and lottery rigamarole, the Led Zeppelin reunion show scheduled for November 26th in London is being postponed because Jimmy Page hurt his widdle finger? Oh, but you're also telling me it was actaully a fracture, and the show's already been rescheduled for December 10th? Okay then.

  • Meat Loaf halted a gig in Newcastle, UK last night after only a few songs, announcing not only the end of the show but of his musical career. "I can no longer continue," he said, "this is the last show I may ever do in my life." Audience members reported the singer had seemed "drunk" and was slurring his words during the concert; Meat Loaf apparently tours with an oxygen tank by the side of the stage due to health concerns.
  • Rapper Da Brat was arrested in Atlanta last night after allegedly hitting a waitress in the face with a rum bottle. Ouch. She posted $50,000 bail and was released. Da Brat was the first female rapper to go platinum. More importantly, what's that horrible yellow polka-dot jacket she's wearing? Is that a promotional shawl for Bee Movie?
  • Do you like music, except for all those musical parts? Well get your rhythmic butt to the 19th Annual Drum-Off Grand Finals in Hollywood January 5th, where drummers from Bad Religion, The Roots, No Doubt and Pennywise will, you know, drum. The event brings percussionists from around the country together to compete for a $10,000 prize and the ignorance of fans everywhere.
  • I Hate Sigur Ros

    | Thu Nov. 1, 2007 1:22 PM EDT

    HvarfenflarfA while back I posted a link to preview a lovely-looking documentary on Icelandic combo Sigur Rós. The stunning, hi-def shots of the band's homeland and the unusual locations for the live performances were intriguing, despite the fact that their music has always bugged me. So it was with some interest that I awaited the band's new double album, Hvarf/Heim, which comes out next Tuesday. Would it signal a musical evolution, finally allowing me to join my hipster friends in Sigur Rós adoration?

    Nope. To be fair, the album isn't entirely new, and is more like a double EP: part 1, Hvarf, consists of "lost" songs from earlier in their career (like, what did they do with them?), and Heim is an acoustic set of older songs. But listen to "Staralfur," from the second EP, on their MySpace. The two-chord structure is just lazy, and the piano trills are so sappy they belong on a Hallmark Movie of the Week soundtrack. Lead singer Jónsi Birgisson sounds like an elf with a nasal infection, and when the track erupts into a supposedly climactic all-strings coda, you get every sad cliché from when a pop band writes for violins: naive, faux-tearjerky melodies, floating around the base of the chord. It sounds like the music from those "The More You Know" PSAs. Hvarf? Blarf!

    Now, the accompanying film, Heima, shows that perhaps the Rós are best heard as an inoffensive soundtrack for affecting visuals. But if I ever have state secrets you want to get out of me, skip the waterboarding and go right for Hvarf/Heim at full volume. I'll tell you anything you want to know.