The Riff - December 2007

No Matter Where you go...: Disappearing Acts in the News

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 10:51 AM EST

While we were digging out from 9/11 and the nation spent so long hysterically trying to account for everyone, a writer friend told me that after most mass accidents -- train wrecks, etc -- some people were found to have used the tragedy to decide to disappear. They'd turn up months or years later, usually by accident or the diligent work of family members who hadn't known they'd been abandoned, simply having decided to walk away from it all. I don't know whether to condemn or admire these...bastards? Maybe they're heartless schemers and maybe they're just more brave and honest than the rest of us.

Britain's "Canoe Man" is simply the latest, if not the smartest. He deserves nothing but condemnation. Had he, and his wife, foregone the insurance money and simply walked off into the sunset together, hand in hand, to start over again like Adam and Eve in the Canal Zone, you could see the poetry. But what they've done to their sons: inexcuseable. You can live without your children, your parents, a lifetime's worth of friends and your country but not without an unearned windfall?

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Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things 12/10/2007 - Special Continental Europe Edition

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 11:01 PM EST

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While my recent month-long jaunt of DJ gigs around Europe didn't allow me much time for sleeping or eating, let alone exploring the local music scenes, I was lucky enough to have a variety of musical items cross my path in one way or another. Whether it was my fellow-DJs' favorite bands, a CD I grabbed at a random record store, or just something I saw on TV, here's some of the most memorable music from my trip. It's heavy on the France cause that's where I spent the most time... sorry, Belgium.

10. Sasha* (Germany)
Okay, I get one of these. This came on TV when I was in Germany, and while the song is a rather dull piece of throwaway pop-rock, and the video isn't anything to write home about, holy crap is he cute. Look at his little beard and his little T-shirt and his adorable little hairdo!! Who cares about the song, Sasha speaks the international language of hot. (*Not to be confused with slightly-less-hot-but-far-more-talented Welsh DJ Sasha)
Sasha – "Hide & Seek" (from Greatest Hits--who knew he had any?)

9. DJ Moule (France) (check out his website here)
Not that the other artists on my list aren't attractive men and women in their own right. For instance, this Bordeaux-based DJ and musician accompanied me on the French leg of my little tour and was liable to lift up his shirt and show off his abs at climactic points in his sets. Well, he deserves whatever silly indulgences he wants, since his productions are flawless pieces of energetic mashuppery, seamlessly blending classic rock riffs with breakbeats from the Chemical Brothers or Fatboy Slim.
MP3: DJ Moule – "Dig It On" (Chemical Brothers vs. T-Rex vs. Anne Lee vs. Marvin Gaye)

8. Village Kollektiv (Poland) (check out their MySpace here)
Blending the indigenous music of Poland and Bulgaria with dubby beats and drum 'n' bass rhythms, Village Kollektiv avoid the usual clichés of "world music with a beat" through sheer musicianship and a kind of dark intensity. Based around the creative partnership of producer Rafal Kolacinski and his wife, singer Weronika Grozdew-Kolacinski, the combo also brings together a wide range of traditional local musicians on instruments like the gadulka, the dulcimer, and everyone's favorite, the hurdy-gurdy.
MP3: Village Kollektiv – "Wysoki Ganecek" ("High Porch")

7. DJ Mehdi (France) (check out his MySpace page here)
I've featured Mehdi's epic electro track "Signatune" in my Top Ten previously; the track's surging chords were an oddly perfect fit with the awesome accompanying video's tale of competing car stereo systems. His second full-length album, Lucky Boy at Night, fits in with hipster Ed Banger labelmates like Justice and Uffie, but Mehdi's roots in the French hip-hop scene (along with his Tunisian background and childhood in the rough northern suburbs of Paris) show through in the music's gritty intensity.
DJ Mehdi – "I Am Somebody"

6. Plastic People of the Universe (Czech Republic)
The day I left for the tour, the New York Times featured an article about the Plastics that proclaimed the psychedelic combo had "catalyzed democracy in Czechoslovakia." Well! So, um, how does it sound? I stumbled into a record store in Prague and cobbled together a half-Czech sentence or two to ask the clerk what CD I should buy from the band, and he pointed me towards Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned, more of a collection of demos and live recordings than an album per se, and a little challenging of a listen on the iPod. More accessible is "Nikdo" ("No One") from a 1997 collection: its rolling rhythms evoke both Can and Frank Zappa.
Stream: Plastic People of the Universe – "Nikdo" (click here and scroll down to the music player)

Thriller: A Mirror to Our Changing Society?

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 3:19 PM EST

mojo-photo-thriller.jpgI had just turned 12 years old when Thriller came out, and while my musical taste was already showing signs of techno snobbery (boy, did I love that Human League album) I was just as caught up in Michael Jackson mania as everyone else. Released on December 1st, 1982, Thriller suddenly seemed to be everyone all at once, and even at the time, the album felt like an Event, with an almost electric feeling in the air when we'd put on "Beat It." Of course, an album that's sold 104 million copies can never be said to really have "gone away," but its thin, oddly minimalist sound couldn't have been less in fashion in the 90s. Listen to "Billie Jean's" legendary bassline: when it steps up a fourth on "who will dance/on the floor/in the round," it's almost comically high, barely a bass at all. But clearly "Billie Jean," which along with "Beat It" is the album's creative and popular peak, has remained a dance floor staple, achieving an iconic status that inoculated it against divergent trends. It's only this year, however, that some of the album's "lesser" tracks seem to have found new life in high-profile samples and remixes.

Comeback Fever: Led Zeppelin vs. Portishead

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 1:46 PM EST

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It's a big (extended) weekend for fans of long-lost bands, with highly-anticipated performances from two wildly different UK legends (although it suddenly occurs to me that their music often shares similarly sludgy tempos which could possibly engender an amusing mash-up). First up, on Friday night Bristol's reclusive trip-hop combo Portishead played their first live show in a decade at a place called, erm, Butlins Minehead, apparently some sort of "resort" or something on England's west coast. Butlins' website, with its big-eyed teddy bear mascot, could not be a greater contrast with the bleak sounds of the jazzy trio, and the UK Guardian's review found the venue disappointing, with its dinner options limited to Pizza Hut and Burger King. Not surprisingly, they also found the performance underwhelming, with the band sounding "nervous" and new material "hard to get a handle on." The paper admitted that the band "caught fire" during the classics like "Sour Times" and "Numb," but perhaps it's a sign of how desperate people are for anything Portisheaddy when they say that the "highlight" of the show was notoriously dramatic singer Beth Gibbons laughing off a mistimed entry into a new song. Like, hooray, they didn't have an emotional breakdown? The UK Telegraph was more generous, calling Gibbons' voice "undiminished" and saying the new material seemed to be "moving in wider directions."

Led Zeppelin's return is set for only minutes from now and the band have already made news with their backstage demands, and they're not of the "no green M&Ms" variety: the band's rider requested only tea, coffee and an ironing board, although the promoters said they'd give them a bottle of wine anyway. Details of the band's rehearsal have also hit the press, with a fan who was supposedly at the soundcheck posting on the band's official forum that they heard "Good Times/Bad Times," "Ramble On" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine" at the rehearsal, and that "Page was on fire – completely awe inspiring!!" NME will be live-blogging the show with a song-by-song account, if you're obsessing and weren't lucky enough to with the ticket lottery.

So, My Bloody Valentine, any reunion plans?

Grammy Nominees: The Right-On and the Random

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 1:29 PM EST

mojo-photo-grammysart.jpgBy now everyone's seen the big news about the Grammy nods: Kanye gets a bunch, Amy Winehouse gets almost as many, and Bruce gets denied in the Album of the Year category. Since the Grammy nominees have about as much to do with good music as, I dunno, the contestants on America's Next Top Model have to do with human beauty, it doesn't really pay to fret about who's been unjustly denied a nomination. What's more interesting is finding evidence there are some serious weed smokers in the nominating committees, allowing both compelling and completely baffling nods to slip through.

Friday: Hi, I'm Back, and It's Music News Day

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 12:47 PM EST

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  • Bay Area trio Green Day is finally ready to hit the studio to work on the follow-up to 2004's American Idiot. The band released a statement on their website saying they wouldn't be repeating any of the angry themes established on that decidedly political album, which makes sense because everything's totally fine now.
  • Jay-Z may be splitting from his label Def Jam after allegedly demanding "big, big money" that Def Jam bigwigs found "excessive." The rapper's contract is set to expire at the end of the month, and the article helpfully points out that instead of working on his negotiating skills, he was celebrating his 38th birthday… in Paris. No wonder he needs more cash.
  • Brit combo Manic Street Preachers are accusing Radiohead of "demeaning" music by allowing fans to decide how much to pay for their new album, In Rainbows. This is a band right up there with Robbie Williams on the list of Bands Most Successful In Europe That Nobody In the US Has Ever Heard Of. Anyway, their bassist Nicky Wire spoke to UK newspaper the Daily Star, saying the free download phenomenon is "ruining" the music industry.
  • Can't get enough of Benny, Bjorn, Anni and Agnetha? Well, starting in 2009 you'll be able to take a chance (ahem!) on the Abba museum in Stockholm, a three-floor complex dedicated to the Swedish legends. The complex will include a room dedicated to the band's fashions as well as a recreation of their recording studio. Hey, let's watch an Abba video.

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    Nowhere to Hide: Googling in Space

    | Fri Dec. 7, 2007 11:31 AM EST

    The New York Times:

    Starting next week and over the next few months, several American airlines will begin testing Internet service on their planes.

    On Tuesday, JetBlue Airways will begin offering a free e-mail and instant messaging service on one aircraft, while American Airlines, Virgin America and Alaska Airlines plan to offer a broader Web experience in the coming months, probably at a cost of around $10 a flight.

    Tuesday, 7:05 am, JFK to DFW, JetBlue Flight 263:
    Seat 5A: Dude, what u doin? just took off. drunk off my ass by 1 PST HELL YEA. Flyin suks.
    Seat 14F: hi mom.just tok off. $10? tis connectn so lame.
    Seat 17C: wassup? jus tk off. i thot stewardss wer supposed 2b be hot? pilot has a lisp. LOL!!!!!!!!!!!
    Seat 19D: i wanna divorc. jst took ff.
    Seat 22B: just tuk off. r u there?! OMIGOD. Loser in 5A watchng porn!!!!!!!!! its 7:06 in THE MORNING!!! Flyin is he wurst. ths connectn suck bg tme. shudda brout a book....


    Bad, Baaaad Santa

    | Fri Dec. 7, 2007 11:27 AM EST

    From the AP:

    "Last year, Microsoft encouraged kids to connect directly to "Santa" by adding northpole@live.com to their Windows Live Messenger contact lists. The Santa program, which Microsoft reactivated in early December, asked children what they wanted for Christmas and could respond on topic, thanks to artificial intelligence.
    The holiday cheer soured this week when a reader of a United Kingdom-based technology news site, The Register, reported that a chat between Santa and his underage nieces about eating pizza prompted Santa to bring up oral sex."

    It went downhill from there. Oddly, Microsoft doesn't suspect this was the result of an employee prank. Meaning someone consciously programmed AI Santa to discuss bj's? No wonder everyone wants to work there.

    8 Grammy Nods Enough For Kanye?

    | Thu Dec. 6, 2007 2:15 PM EST

    Rapper Kanye West's hunger for accolades never seems to dwindle, so I'm wondering how he's feeling about receiving EIGHT (Yikes!) Grammy nominations this year. Amy Winehouse also topped the nominee list. Other nominees included folks you would expect (Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Foo Fighters), and a few more interesting candidates (Corrine Bailey Rae and Herbie Hancock).

    For the full low-down, check out the AP story here.

    Racist like Mommy?

    | Thu Dec. 6, 2007 1:09 PM EST

    Via Salon's Broadsheet, we learn today that white mothers, more so than white fathers, teach their kids to be racist. Or, white kids get whatever racism they learn from their mothers. Or something like that.

    The study focused on white kids 4-7. Since I have two half-white kids in that age group I have to agree with the broads at Broadsheet that any info gleaned from them has to be taken with a boulder-sized grain of salt. What about the other kids at school, regular babysitters, movies, TV, toys and just plain listening to what adults do and not just say? Bravo to researchers for studying weird stuff like this, but what about the racism and or racial attitudes of non-white kids?

    Only an abstract of the study is available (for free), so we cheap bastards can only know so much about this finding, but I spend a fair amount of time with black folks. Let's just say that we tend to be pretty straight forward with our 'observations' about white folks. Racism or hard-won knowledge gleaned from centuries of 'interaction'? You be the judge, but I'd bet that a study of black kids' racial attitudes would make for some pretty interesting reading.