The Riff - April 2008

Obama Now Brought to You by Abercrombie & Fitch

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 12:58 PM EDT

mojo-photo-obamaandfitch.jpgBoth Towleroad and Gawker noticed this too: last night, during Barack Obama's Pennsylvania concession speech (in Indiana, naturally), there was a bit of surprising, shall we say, product placement. Three fine-looking young collegiate bros, placed directly behind the candidate, each wearing a clearly-branded Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt. First of all, what are the chances? I can imagine two frat boys leaving the frat house with their A&F shirts, but once a third joins them, you'd think one of them would go back and change. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that this is, as Gawker suggests, "a plot by the Obama campaign to win back the gay community, which has something of a taste for the youth clothing retailer and, especially, its catalogs, but whose vote is basically owned by Hillary Clinton." So true, and oh, the shame. Don't let anybody tell you the gays always have good taste.

So what's going on? Did A&F dispatch a trifecta of models to the arena, hoping for some air time? Or is this an inside deal, with the Obama campaign getting a cut (and maybe some boxer briefs)? If so, you'd think they'd be more about United Colors of Benetton, especially since A&F are well known for, er, marketing group sex to teens. Whose shirts can we expect to show up behind Hillary during her North Carolina concession speech, Polo by Ralph Lauren? Well, I don't care if these speeches turn into runway shows, I just want this thing over.

After the jump, watch the Obama speech and amuse yourself by imagining what each of our Abercrombie boys are thinking at any given moment.

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Harry Potter and His Copyrighted Magic

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 11:48 AM EDT

It's the epic struggle of our time: Scrappy internet fair-use exploiters vs. authors and their corporate overlords. But this time, the battle has, you know, wizards and muggles or whatever. Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling appeared in a New York courtroom last week to defend copyright infringement charges against Vander Ark, the creator of the unauthorized Harry Potter Lexicon web site, after plans were revealed for a book version. While some commenters attacked the site as "something parasitic on years of hard work by Rowling," the potential publisher of the Lexicon pointed out that giving authors too much control over "books about them" is dangerous:

We would have to get approval before we could write or publish on people's work. They would control critical commentary on their work, at any time, whether it is our kind of book or an Associated Press article. It would create total chaos in the area of critical commentary. Frankly, I don't think that would be good for anyone, even the authors themselves.

Rowling herself has appeared somewhat self-contradictory on the matter, first complimenting Ark's work and insisting she "never ever once wanted to stop Mr. Vander Ark from doing his own guide," but during the trial she came close to tears, describing the book version of the Lexicon as "wholesale theft."

In Defense of Long Songs

| Mon Apr. 21, 2008 8:02 PM EDT

mojo-photo-kraftwerk.jpgWhile Joshua Allen's piece in the Morning News appears to have tongue firmly planted in cheek, there's something intriguing about its thesis: that there is a "golden mean" of pop songs, and it's exactly two minutes and 42 seconds. As proof, he presents us with multiple unassailably great songs that clock in right around the two-and-three-quarter-minute mark: The Cure's "Boys Don't Cry," Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," The Beach Boys "God Only Knows," Prince's "I Would Die 4 U." Fine tunes all, and, as he puts it, they're "100 percent fat-free," with their brief running time forcing them to get right to the point. But does the 3-minute length zone really have a monopoly—or even a plurality—of great pop songs?

While there are lots of toweringly great 10-minute-plus tracks (Sonic Youth's "The Diamond Sea," Low's "Do You Know How to Waltz,") I'll concede these don't exactly fit into the mold of pop songs, with their extended sections of instrumental improvisation and feedback. But even within the accessibility restrictions of "pop," there are more, shall we say, full-flavored pleasures than the slim-and-trim pop nuggets listed above. Example #1: New Order's "Blue Monday." In its original version, this 1983 single runs 7:29, nearly three times the length of our "perfect" song, yet not a moment is wasted: it's structured so there's little repetition, and while the instrumental intro lasts over two minutes, new elements are introduced every few seconds, giving the track a sense of drama and majesty. Funny story: a boss at my old radio station once asked me to make a shorter edit for airplay, but I refused, since there's nothing that can be cut without changing—ruining!—the song's intricate progression. Yes, I am annoying to work with.

After the jump: sometimes you just gotta have that coda.

Music: Saturday is Record Store Day. Should You Care?

| Fri Apr. 18, 2008 6:01 PM EDT

mojo-photo-recordstoreday.jpgWhat's that, kids? You want grandpa to tell you what a record store is? Well, imagine an iTunes you can actually walk around in. Neat, thanks Grandpa! Now bring Grampy his illegal Pall Malls. And, scene. Ahem. Few brick-and-mortar shops have suffered as much in the wake of the intertubes as have independent record stores: the NY Times reports over 3,000 have closed in the last five years, half of them independent. Tomorrow, in what can be viewed as either an innovative attempt to spark renewed interest in the neighborhood vinyl emporium or as a desperate plea for help, a consortium of music retailers will present Record Store Day, with all sorts of events to draw people in. Manhattan's Other Music will play host to "celebrity" DJs from bands like Grizzly Bear and Deerhunder, while closer to home, Metallica will perform at Rasputin's in Mountain View, and Jello Biafra will work the "help desk" at Amoeba in San Francisco. Plus, bands like R.E.M. and Vampire Weekend are selling vinyl singles available for one day only. Fun! But will it save the record store?

MoJo Staff Picks: April 18

| Fri Apr. 18, 2008 2:09 PM EDT

mojo-staff-picks-250x250.jpgWelcome back to the "staff picks" shelf at The Riff.

1. Gary: Janet Jackson's new album, Discipline, dropped in February, so she's back in action. And it's good! I resisted the urge to include "When I think of You," one of the BEST songs from my junior high career, and instead went with a new track, "Rock With U," because it's saucy.

2. Gary: The combination of Faith No More's Mike Patton with the "math" rock/hardcore band Dillinger Escape Plan produced what I consider some of the most interesting and badass aggressive/metal/thrash/loud/angry music of the early 2000s. The band's chaos is precise, and nobody screams the way Mike Patton screams. Turn it up.

3. Kiera (on a Russian kick this week): "Id," Nogu Svelo! This band's name, I'm told, translates to something along the lines of "cramp in the leg!" They've been giving Russians cramps in their legs...from dancing...for 20 years. Like it? You're in luck! They have a new album coming out. Or at least that's what this Google translation of part of their website makes it sound like:

I hasten to inform joyous news: Musicians Nogu Svelo!...locked in the studio and prepare a surprise for all their fans!

4. Kiera: "Dvornik," Agata Kristi. Since you've always wished Depeche Mode would sing in Russian, I've decided to make your day. Masters of Russian indie pop Agata Kristi synth it up in this track. I won't lie: It's a little gothic, too.

Music: LA Weekly Reveals Who Should Headline Coachella

| Thu Apr. 17, 2008 5:54 PM EDT

mojo-photo-yelle.jpgWow, somebody's been brushing up their Excel skills: the LA Weekly has done some serious data entry work on the 128 acts playing next weekend's Coachella festival, and they've come up with some pretty interesting charts 'n' graphs describing today's musical trends. And I do love charts 'n' graphs.

Sure, the pie chart showing most bands are white and the bar graph proving most lead singers are male aren't exactly surprises, and the fact that "most recent Pitchfork review" averages out to between 6.1 and 7.4 is probably due to the fact that every Pitchfork review is between 6.1 and 7.4. But ranking artists by their most-viewed YouTube clip isn't such a far-fetched way to gauge popularity in this day and age, and the results are eyebrow-raising. Turns out, if internet video ruled the world, French techno would be, er, king: Justice and Yelle (pictured above) were #1 and #2, with over 7 million views for their most popular videos. Zut alors! They were followed by Kate Nash, Serj Tankian and Mark Ronson, none of whom are, in fact, headlining. Actual headliner Jack Johnson doesn't show up on this list until #9, with about a third of Justice's click-throughs. While I can understand Justice's internet popularity, I'm most intrigued by Yelle's sudden notoriety: the video getting all the love is the Tecktonik-style Tepr mix of "ACDG" that I posted as part of my France wrap-up back in December. You go, Yelle. After the jump, let's watch that video again, pourquoi pas?

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Can Conservatives Trigger Obamaphobia by Tying Him to Rap?

| Thu Apr. 17, 2008 1:55 PM EDT

mojo-photo-william2.jpg The generically-named conservative site HumanEvents.com (not to be confused with RobotEvents.com) has posted a pretty hilarious article which lists Barack Obama's supporters in the hip-hop world, and then quotes some profanity-featuring lines from their songs. They claim his "rapper" ties are even worse than the Jeremiah Wright scandal:

Although the media has finally exposed Barack Obama's ties to the unhinged pastor his support from rappers who propagate equally pernicious nonsense has gone almost entirely unnoticed. Rappers are gaga over Obama. The superstar Jay-Z, who raps about "b------," "hoes" and "n-----," even urged voters to support Obama in a robo-call for the March 4 Ohio primary and caucus. The equally foul-mouthed rapper Will.I.am, whose hit songs include "I love my B----," has hyped Obama in two widely-viewed videos posted on YouTube.

Okay, seriously, trying to portray Will.I.am as a dangerous, profanity-spewing thug is like calling Carrie Underwood a communist. There's also this most excellent line: "His complicity with rappers dates back to at least 2006." Well, that's basically when hip-hop started, right?

Music: Concert Review: Cat Power at the Warfield

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 5:17 PM EDT

mojo-photo-catpowerwarfield.jpgIt used to be that you'd go to a Cat Power show with some anxiety, like a dinner with one of your friends who drinks too much and has a tendency to freak out and get loud. But these days, Chan Marshall has cleaned up her act, and while the volatility is gone, it's been replaced by a feeling that she's holding back.

My review of her latest album, Jukebox, lauded her soulful (and sometimes barely-recognizable) takes on the standards, and on Tuesday night, we got three standout Jukebox tracks right away: The Highwaymen's "Silver Stallion," during which Marshall paced relentlessly around the stage, stretching her microphone cord to the limit; "New York, New York," which came off even more smoky and dark than on CD; and best of all, "Ramblin' (Wo)Man," twisted to evoke early Portishead with a lethargic tempo and throbbing electric piano. Sadly, as other reviews of this tour have pointed out, Marshall's whispery voice can get buried under the band, barely audible, much less intelligible. And when the show is all about a solo artist, you kind of want to hear them.

After the jump: can a Cat get a spotlight?

Scripting the Democratic Convention, West Wing-Style

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 2:34 PM EDT
convention200.jpg

Watching the slow-motion train wreck that is the Democratic nomination process is entertaining in a horrible kind of way, but just wait until the flaming hulk comes hurtling into the station. That's what New York magazine asked West Wing writer Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. to do, commissioning him to a draft a movie treatment of this August's Democratic confab-slash-conflagration in Denver. The result, "Four Days in Denver," is a brilliant piece of political theater, featuring lots of closed-door hijinks, a decisive Clinton-Obama staredown, an inconveniently thin Al Gore, an implausibly popular Wes Clark, and a convincingly savvy Michelle Obama. Plus there's lots of satisfying trash talk, like this Charlie Rangel comeback to Bill Clinton: "If your wife is elected president, I'm still gonna be chairman of Ways and Means and she's gonna need me every fucking day. So how do you wanna leave it: Fuck you, Charlie, or I'm sorry, Mr. Chairman?" Who knew superdelegates with appropriation powers could be so much fun? If you're looking for an amusing, semi-realistic guess about what's happening behind the poll numbers and delegate counts, check it out.

Music: Bill Cosby, Hip-Hop Producer?

| Tue Apr. 15, 2008 11:43 PM EDT

mojo-photo-puddingcosby.jpgOkay, I hope this isn't a hoax too: Legendary comedian/actor and outspoken curmudgeon Bill Cosby is listed as co-writer and executive producer on a new hip-hop album project called Cosby Narratives Vol. 1: State of Emergency. The album was described in a statement as "an unflinching look at life in the 21st century, but without the profanity, misogyny, violence and braggadocio." Hmm, maybe he means, "life in a utopian space colony in the year 2525?"

The album actually has a somewhat intriguing pedigree, since Cosby will be collaborating with Bill "Spaceman" Patterson, who worked on "The Cosby Show," and Patterson's musical partner Ced-Gee, co-founder of The Ultramagnetic MCs. Hey, isn't that the group that the Prodigy sampled for their infamous 1997 hit, "Smack My Bitch Up"? (Link to video not safe for work). Why yes it is.

Contrary to some reports, Cosby will not rap on the album.

Cosby's been infamous for years, more so after his 2004 "Pound Cake Speech" which was, as Wikipedia puts it, "highly critical of some members and subsets of the black community in the United States." Sorry, Bill; I probably won't be buying Cosby Narratives (expected to be released soon), but considering Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow… Right! basically shaped my entire sense of humor and was probably my #1 most listened-to album between the ages of 5 and 10, I'm letting this all slide.

Cosby pudding portrait used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Rakka.