The Riff - December 2008

Kanye West "Exposed"!

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 4:23 PM EST

mojo-photo-kanyewestred.jpgOkay, I hate when blogs do that, i.e., use cheeky misleading headlines to grab your attention. But a) we need some clicks over here on the Riff and b) that's what they said. Urb magazine has a link to a homemade video somebody's put together (YouTube user "Jonay122"?) detailing the sample source for just about every single Kanye West song ever. Now, "exposed" is misleading since, like most hip-hop, Kanye's use of samples isn't meant to be a secret, but an open recontextualisation. However, this video extends all the way to the recent 808s and Heartbreak album, which I had thought was just Kanye fooling around on the drum machine, sans samples, but it turns out I'm wrong--it's chock full of references as well. Either way, even if you're aware of the source for the robot voices in "Stronger," this is an interesting (if long--10 minutes!!) video. Ultimately, one comes away from it with the sense that the only thing that's been exposed about Kanye West is that the dude has a really big record collection. Watch it after the jump.

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Spin, Rolling Stone Release Best Album Lists

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 3:51 PM EST

mojo-photo-stonespincovers.jpgWith most of the recent publications to announce their "Best Albums of 2008" located, er, somewhere north of France, the lists have been heavy on stuff Brits like, most notably Elbow and Kings of Leon (i.e., dad-rock and a weird parody of Southern rock that I guess feels exotic to them). Now, finally, we have some American opinions to criticize! Our two big music mags, Spin and Rolling Stone, put out their lists today and yesterday, respsectively, and they're both okay as lists go, with Spin's a step up, naturally. Both New York-based mags put New York-based combo TV on the Radio at their #1 slot, and while I can't say enough good things about that band, the approaching-unanimous critical adulation is kind of creeping me out. Rolling Stone's list gets crazy after that, with the old, old white dudes who work at that magazine asserting their paleness via Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, and Metallica in the Top 10, and Guns N' Roses hovering just outside it at #12. Blergh! Why do people let them get away with that? Spin gets closer to the truth with Portishead, Deerhunter and Santogold, although how anyone could be tricked into putting Coldplay in their list is beyond me.

Anyway, I'll post the definitive Best Albums list on Monday, so stay tuned for that! Spin and Rolling Stone's Top 10s after the jump.

Gift Ideas For The Atheist, Part 1: Bumper Stickers!

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 3:47 PM EST

Not sure what to get the godless on your holiday shopping list? Some suggestions:

"Fine…I evolved. You didn't" bumper sticker.

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Also Available:
"I'm the Atheist Your Pastor Warned You About"
bumper sticker.

"Top 10 Reasons Beer is Better Than Jesus" beer mug:

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For atheists and beer-lovers alike.

Jesus Action Figure

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Bonus: Also works as an un-ironic gift for religious friends.

Happy shopping, heathens!

The Zero dB Project: Torture Playlist

| Wed Dec. 10, 2008 9:19 PM EST

Earlier today, the British human rights law organization Reprieve launched a campaign against the use of music as a weapon in war, called Zero dB (zero decibels = silence). Artists Massive Attack and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello joined Reprieve to demand that the US military stop playing their songs to captured detainees. Back in February, Mother Jones compiled a playlist of the songs used to induce sleep deprivation, "prolong capture shock," disorient detainees during interrogations—and drown out screams. The mix was based on a leaked interrogation log and the accounts of soldiers and detainees. For more, listen to MoJo's Torture Playlist—and a conversation with investigative reporter Justine Sharrock about "no-touch torture."

From the AP:

For many detainees who grew up in Afghanistan—where music was prohibited under Taliban rule—interrogations by U.S. forces marked their first exposure to the pounding rhythms, played at top volume. The experience was overwhelming for many. Binyam Mohammed, now a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, said men held with him at the CIA's "Dark Prison" in Afghanistan wound up screaming and smashing their heads against walls, unable to endure more. "There was loud music, (Eminem's) 'Slim Shady' and Dr. Dre for 20 days. I heard this nonstop over and over," he told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith. "The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night for the months before I left. Plenty lost their minds."

Mashup Roundup: Tom Petty vs. Beyonce, Cure vs. Commodores, Police vs. Bee Gees, Santastic 4

| Wed Dec. 10, 2008 8:20 PM EST

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How crazy is it that this goofball amateur phenomenon of combining the vocals of one song with the instrumentation from another continues to produce interesting, amusing, and hypnotic tracks, despite being declared dead, useless, and stupid? While Girl Talk's more or less enjoyable album (consisting mostly of fast-paced combos featuring rap over hipster rock) is landing in many year-end Top 10s, I've always preferred the well-constructed mashup song to the hyper laptop DJ set, a focused short story to the mixtape's sprawling novel. Here are a couple of the best recent tracks (and, well, one concept album).

NPR Lays Off Staff, Cuts Shows

| Wed Dec. 10, 2008 6:07 PM EST

mojo-photo-nprlogosm.jpgIt turns out that the economic downturn has taken its toll even on the non-profit among us (gulp!) as National Public Radio announced today it would lay off 7 percent of its staff and cut two underperforming shows. "Day to Day," a midday news program, got the axe, as did, perhaps more troublingly, "News and Notes," NPR's latest attempt to reach out to an African-American audience. Both shows were based at NPR's new Culver City studios. So was this my fault for not giving money to both of our local public stations?

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Helvetica: Juggernaut of Modernism or Accidental Default?

| Wed Dec. 10, 2008 4:52 PM EST

mojo-photo-nycsubway.jpgLast year's engaging documentary Helvetica made the point that the font's use as the main typeface of the New York City subway is symbolic of its status as a singular "modern" design. Anyone who's visited New York knows that the plain white-on-black lettering seems to bring a modicum of calming order to the tangled, chaotic system. Clearly this was all part of some benevolent modernist designer's brilliant plan, right? Nope, it turns out it was kind of an accident. The Transportationist blog points out a fascinating recent article in the AIGA Journal of Design that shows just how haphazard the process really was.

On Hollywood's (Not-Always) Subtle Homophobia

| Wed Dec. 10, 2008 2:55 PM EST

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The excellent Hollywood biopic, Milk, has unwittingly exposed a subtle form of homophobia--"a post-ironic, post-homophobic homophobia," as the Washington Post puts it--that remains a fixture of the Hollywood media circuit. Today the Post has compiled a disturbing account of interviews given by male actors who play gay men in the movies, and who are invariably asked by journalists and talk show hosts what it was like to kiss another man (with the obvious subtext: wasn't it kind of nasty?).

Exhibit A is a conversation between David Letterman and Milk's James Franco, in which Letterman asks him what he was thinking going into a minute-long kissing scene with Penn:

"I didn't want to screw it up," Franco told Letterman.
"See, if it's me, I kind of hope I do screw it up," Letterman shot back. "That's what you want, isn't it?"
"To screw it up?" Franco asked.
"I mean, do you really want to be good at kissing a guy?" Letterman said as his audience howled with delight.

Even worse was an interview Chris Potter, an actor in Showtime's Queer as Folk gave to MSNBC: "Soon as they say 'cut,' you spit," he sneered. "You want to go to a strip bar or touch the makeup girls. You feel dirty. It's a tough job."

Coldplay Deny Plagiarism Accusation, Get Dissed By Reuters

| Tue Dec. 9, 2008 6:57 PM EST

mojo-photo-coldplaysatriani.jpgThey just can't win. As reported here on Friday, UK ballad-producers and castoff-military-gear-sporters Coldplay had their highest-profile plagiarism accusation to date when guitarist Joe Satriani filed suit against the band, saying they'd ripped off one of his songs. Well, Coldplay have responded, calling any resemblance between "Viva La Vida" and Satriani's "If I Could Fly" "entirely coincidental":

"If there are any similarities between our two pieces of music, they are entirely coincidental, and just as surprising to us as to him," the band said in a posting on its website.
"Joe Satriani is a great musician, but he did not write or have any influence on the song 'Viva La Vida.' We respectfully ask him to accept our assurances of this and wish him well with all future endeavours."

So, take that, right? But Reuters can't help but have some fun, describing the band in a way that's gotta make Chris Martin wince:

Coldplay, whose soaring atmospheric tunes have been unfavourably compared to those of U2, brushed off the allegations.

"Unfavourably"? Is that really necessary? I mean, yes, totally, but that doesn't seem like, you know, reporting. But hey, if Reuters says it, it must be a fact. Either way, it's a good excuse for me to run my cute Photoshop collage again.

Blur to Reunite, Inspiring This Collection of YouTube Videos

| Tue Dec. 9, 2008 6:26 PM EST

mojo-photo-blurband.jpgWhile I was over looking at NME's Top 10 Singles of 2008, I noticed another screaming headline, pictured on the cover of the new issue: BLUR REUNITED! For the uninitiated, the legendary London four-piece lost guitarist Graham Coxon in 2002 after he got really annoyed during the recording of their last album. Lead singer Damon Albarn went on to wild critical and commercial success with Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad and The Queen, so he's not exactly hurting for cash, but he and Coxon have apparently buried the hatchet (hooray!) so the reunited band can play some gigs in 2009:

"It just felt it was right again," declared Albarn of Blur's return. "It somehow feels like there's something for us to do again, we're not completely useless or pointless, we've got a reason to exist." Coxon agreed, explaining the band were "making public what's been going on a little bit privately. For the benefit of the fans and those interested we can say that something's on the cards."

A single show is currently planned at London's Hyde Park on July 3rd, and an appearance at Glastonbury is rumored. Hey, howabout Coachella?

After the jump: Blur, a YouTube history!