The Riff - December 2007

Green Day Release New Music Under Bubbly Pseudonym?

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 2:28 PM EST

mojo-photo-foxboro.jpgAh, so this is why news stories are kind of confused about new Green Day material: the Bay Area trio have apparently released six new songs under a pseudonym, Foxboro Hot Tubs. The "official" web site for the Tubs features an EP called Stop Drop and Roll, whose look and sound is decidedly '60s garage rock, but with some eyebrow-raising similarities to Green Day's oeuvre, plus the bands link each other on MySpace, and that's a dead giveaway.

Green Day of course have a history of taking on alternate identities. Back in 2003 they released a new-wavey album under the name The Network, and to this day have never confirmed it was them, although everybody in the world knew. If Green Day are in fact the Tubs, they're taking the secret a little more seriously: a spokesperson for Reprise, Green Day's label, told MTV news he "knew nothing" about Foxboro Hot Tubs.

Stream: Six songs from Foxboro Hot Tubs

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The RIAA Nearing Goal of Alienating Everyone in the World

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 2:02 PM EST

Dr. RIAA-loveThe Recording Industry Association of America continues its fight against illegal downloading and music copying, and they're really ratcheting up the insanity. At this point I half expect their spokesperson to ride a nuclear bomb down on illegal downloaders a la Dr. Strangelove. First up, Billboard reports that they've sent another round of "pre-litigations settlement letters" to university campuses this week. This is the 11th wave of such letters, meant to notify the campus network administrators that the kids are downloading "Lip Gloss" again. Out of the 22 institutions which received letters, Minnesota's Gustavus Adolphus led the way, receiving 36 of the notices, followed closely by the University of Southern California at 33. Jonathan Lamy, the RIAA's senior VP of communications, issued this statement from their underground bunker: "For those who ignore these great legal options and ignore years of warnings, we will continue to bring lawsuits. It's not our first choice, but it's a necessary part of the equation."

Much more awesomely, the RIAA is now maintaining that the files on your hard drive you've ripped from the CDs you bought legally at the record store with good old American Rubles are themselves "unauthorized copies." That's right: you buy a CD, rip it to your Mac, pop it on your iPod: you're a criminal two times over. Breakin' the law! Jennifer Pariser, head of litigation from Sony BMG, says that making a copy of a song you own is "just a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy'."

Coming soon: the RIAA demands it be allowed to surgically remove the collections of synapses which "remember" songs illegally in human brains. How are labels supposed to make any money if all of us just sit around thinking about songs we've heard?

Me? Mommy Dearest?

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 12:00 PM EST

Car seats are the worst thing about motherhood, no doubt.

My 6 year old can manage his now, praise Jesus, but my 4 year old's m*&^erf%$#$ one! How I hate it, especially when it's raining or snowing as my cellulite-y old caboose pokes attractively out the rear car door. I couldn't wait for them to outgrow diapers, bottles and sippy cups - each, in turn used to be the worst, I was positive - but the freaking car seat thing never ends.

How blissful was my ignorance. Now - and I'm sure this time - overseeing my first grader's homework is the absolute, bloody, gall-dang-it-all, why-did-I-have-children? worst. That, not diaper bags, not carting around that behemoth two ton breast pump or even the bloody car seats, is truly the worst thing about parenting. Nothing will be worse, right?

New Music: Burial - Untrue

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 9:08 PM EST

BurialA few weeks ago I posted about Metacritic's tally of the best reviewed records of the year, and how a surprise candidate, The Field, had snuck up to #1. Well, there's a new #1 on their tally this week, and it's another left-field candidate: UK dubstep wizard Burial, beating the Field by one point and Radiohead by three points. Sure, the album just came out, so its critical average is based on far fewer reviews, but still, that's a bit of a shocker for an album that hasn't topped any individual lists I've seen so far. So what's it all about?

Dubstep is a wonky offshoot of two-step, a strange and wonderful microgenre of dance music that had a brief dominance of UK dance floors and pirate radio stations in the late 90s and early Oughts. Two-step is characterized by a severely syncopated bass drum, throbbing, walking basslines, and a skittering snare drum, typically overlaid with a traditional soul vocal track, so the music ends up being a strange confluence of drum 'n' bass intensity with R&B richness. Dubstep, as its name indicates, both ratchets down the pop trend of two-step and touches base with reggae, allowing half-time rhythms to emerge and the vocals to exist only as echo-y, repetitive samples.

It's also a hell of a lot darker, and Untrue is one bleak album. It's split between tracks with a drum beat and tracks without, and while the tracks with drums utilize the skittery rhythms of two-step, it's hard to see anyone dancing to them: the bass is so sludgy, so overlaid with gargantuan reverb and crackly effects, it's much more suitable for headphones. Moreover, the vocals that float in and out are mere disconnected phrases, making them all the more devastating: "because you lied…" repeats the title track, and "Archangel" keeps asking, "tell me I belong." These songs have a dark majesty that's not matched by the drumless, ambient tracks; those seem a little aimless and generic.

Untrue throws into sharp relief the unfair opposition set up recently in the New Yorker by Sasha Frere-Jones, who gives both white and black music too little credit in assigning them their signifiers. Burial, whoever he is, has managed to stir up so many influences, like R. Kelly in an Aphex Twin blender, that it's hard to tell what's what; moreover, its lyrical focus on the abject misery of a broken heart could not be more universal. It may not be record of the year, but it sure is something.

Burial - "Archangel" (audio only):

Best Albums of 2007: Critical Consensus Emerging?

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 3:24 PM EST

There's still like 20 days left in 2007, but some journalists have decided to ignore all the potential hot platters that could emerge between now and December 31st and go ahead an issue their Best of 2007 lists. Now we at The Riff are tallying up our opinions and will present the definitive top ten albums of the year next week, but for now, here's a little graph of some of the big albums and where various publications are ranking them. It's decidedly unscientific: I just picked eight magazines whose lists I could find online, and then included albums with at least two mentions, and at least one of those in a top ten, and then ranked the albums by number of mentions. And what have we learned? White people really like white people! Sure, the sample is skewed towards some rockist, British mags, but no Kanye? Jay-Z? Lil Wayne? Come on, critics!

mojo-photo-bestof2007graph1.jpg

This Is Your Brain on Music

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 3:00 PM EST

brain%20200.jpgFor the past few years, I've been posing a question to all my music-enthusiast friends: Why do we like music? And more specifically, why do we like the particular music that we do? "There's no accounting for taste" simply doesn't cut it for me. I'd like someone to explain to me exactly what accounts for musical taste. So far, though, no one's been able to answer my question definitively.

All this has, however, led to some pretty interesting nature-vs.-nurture discussions. Most people I've asked are cheering for nurture. "My older brother was really into hardcore, and I ended up stealing all his mixtapes," they'll say. Or, "I liked this guy in high school who played in a punk band." Even, "I used to dance around my living room to my parents' Paul Simon tapes, so I've always had a soft spot for folk music."

So it's pretty clear that formative musical experiences influence our music preferences at least a little, but there's some scientific evidence that there's an organic component, too. Today, I came across an Innovation Canada interview with Daniel Levitin, a McGill University neuroscience professor who studies music's effect on our brains. Now don't get your hopes up: Levitin says that scientists have a long way to go before they'll be able to answer the taste question. But what's really interesting is Levitin's unique research method:

IC: You emphasize using actual music — not abstract electronic sounds — in your studies. Is rap music by Busta Rhymes better than classical Bach for your research purposes?
DL: Part of the challenge in designing a rigorous experiment is ensuring that each subject has something equivalent. In the old way of thinking, you played everybody the same piece of music, but if you hate classical music and I make you sit for an hour and answer difficult questions about music while listening to Beethoven, I may not be getting meaningful answers out of the experiment. The newer way of thinking is that we need to be flexible about equivalence across subjects. That doesn't mean a loss of rigour, it means that you might have an experiment where everyone brings in their own music and each subject serves as their own control. So, the experiment may steer more to [rapper] Ludacris than [virtuoso pianist/composer] Liszt depending on who your subject is.

So even if he can't explain taste, Levitin is obviously acknowledging that it exists—and that it's important. My challenge to Levitin: Find me a scientific explanation for the fact that anyone was ever into the Doors. Now that would be impressive.

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Study This! Separating Siblings for Science

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 1:36 PM EST

These two women had always known they were adopted but had no idea that they had a sibling, let alone an identical twin!

At 35, when one started searching for her birth family, they found out that researchers had intentionally separated them, and as many other twins and triplets as they could get their mitts on, specifically so they could study the nature v. nurture thing. To top it all off, these separated siblings have no legal recourse. The study results won't even be available until 2066. Did the birth parents know their kids would be separated?

I guess I'd have made a lousy scientist because there's no way I could ever have devised, or agreed to, something so callous. Here's hoping they don't give up on the legal angle so no one ever comes up with this type of psychological Tuskegee experiment again.

Led Zeppelin & Portishead: Video

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 1:17 PM EST

You know you want to watch. First up, Zep:

Led Zeppelin - "Whole Lotta Love" (Live at O2 Arena, 12/10/07)

The first thing one notices is: so many dudes, and so much bald. Anyone with a fetish for paunchy bald guys with a lot of money would be in heaven at this show. But then, that riff starts up, sounding even on this cell phone camera like it's being played by the finger of God, and you remember what the fuss is about. Wait, where's my hair going and why am I so flabby around the middle?

Quick, before we get too old, let's watch Portishead:

Portishead - Unknown New Song (Live at ATP 2007, 12/7/07)

Well! Now that's... noisy? Actually, after a minute, the clanking industrial drums become kind of hypnotic, and singer Beth Gibbons' voice is still powerful, both delicate and anguished. It's a catch-22 for bands like this: the reason they gained such enormous adoration was their boundary-pushing innovativeness, but then how do you progress and continue to innovate without losing what made you special? Apparently by out-clamoring Nine Inch Nails. Hmm.

Female Genital Mutilation and Male Circumcision: Both Wrong, Dammit

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 1:14 PM EST

My post last week on the debate around female circumcision is still on my mind, as well as the world's. Today, a NY Times piece on male circumcision, as well as my original post, has me thinking. OK. Circumcising baby boys is wrong, too. Happy now?

I gave little thought to my own son's future, let alone his rights, when I left that decision up to his father since I knew what he'd decide. Had I been on my own, I'm sure I would have had it done with little thought but at least, that way, I had plausible deniability going for me if Junior came after me in the future. That was 2001 and the backlash against the practice was in its infancy. Now, though, I don't see how you can support the practice for men but not for women. Of course, circumcising anesthetized babies in a hospital is a far cry from doing it to 12 year old in the village square. Still, adding an operating room in the latter instance might be painless but nonetheless wrong. If either a boy or a girl wants to be circumcised once adult, who's to complain (see: breast implants and 're-virgination' procedures)? But until the health claims made for male circumscision are proven (see the above article), it's hard to see how the practice can be justified on grounds of tradition alone.

Man, I hate having to carry my thoughts through to uncomfortable conclusions. I'd rather change a 1,000 mouse traps than my mind.

(Also, see the Huffington Post on a western woman's investigative foray behind the veil since there's a pretty straight line between it and FGM.)

Tuesday You're a Loser for Not Being at the Led Zeppelin Show Music News Day

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 1:04 PM EST

mojo-photo-news1211.jpg

  • Yes, okay, jeez, fine, Led Zeppelin played a show last night and apparently it was okay. Or, alternately, "glorious" (NY Times), "a joy and a privilege" (UK Telegraph), and a "triumph" (Billboard). God, everybody, if you like them so much why don't you marry them.

  • The transition to digital sales hasn't given people better taste: iTunes has announced the top-selling single and album on the music download site this year were from Fergie and Maroon 5, respectively. The rest of the top five albums? Amy Winehouse, Kanye West, Daugtry and Colbie Caillat. Fine, fine, holy, crap.
  • Wilco will one-up the recent trend of playing entire classic albums live by attempting to perform "the complete Wilco" over the course of five February nights at the Riviera Theater in Chicago. Frontman Jeff Tweedy promises they'll "clear out the dusty corners of the catalog." That's a lotta Wilco.
  • Erykah Badu will release her first set of new material in four years this coming February 26th with a double album called Nu AmErykah. The singer told SOHH.com that the work was inspired by producers like J Dilla, Madlib, Sa-Ra, and 9th Wonder. Okay, maybe I'll forgive that weird title.