Saturday, January 11, 2014

Rockaliser Radio: Rockcast IV

For year four, Aaron and Nathan reconvene for the immense, three hour fourth installment of the Rockcast.

Will your hosts agree about the merits of jazz odysseys? Can they simultaneously cast aspersion on and appreciate Skrillex's musical contributions? How inspired will they be by the story of Nile Rodgers?

All will be revealed! Listen immediately! You can stream above and download the podcast here.

And for good measure, here are Nathan and Aaron's lists:

Aaron's 2013 favorites
1. Deerhunter, Monomania
2. Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady
3. Kurt Vile, Wakin On A Pretty Daze
4. A$AP Rocky, Long. Live. A$AP.
5. Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt
6. Chance The Rapper, Acid Rap
7. Danny Brown, Old
8. Grant Hart, The Argument
9. Run The Jewels, Run The Jewels
10. Marnie Stern, The Chronicles of Marnia

Nathan's 2013 favorites
1. A$AP Rocky, Long. Live. A$AP.
2. Janelle Monáe, The Electric Lady
3. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
4. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away
5. My Bloody Valentine, mbv
6. In Solitude, Sister
7. Marnie Stern, The Chronicles of Marnia
8. Richard Thompson, Electric
9. Thundercat, Apocalypse
10. Flatbush Zombies, Better Off Dead

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

And I'm Known To Kick It Like The Captain Of A Soccer Team: Aaron's Favorites, 2013

1. Deerhunter, Monomania
Absolute faith in the power of rock and roll. Anthems for staring at swamps in the twilight. Beauty in tangled peals of howling noise and hushed reveries. World-conquering riffs, crystalline shuffles, joy in transformation.

2. Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady
Monaé is an effortless virtuoso. She flits around a shimmering universe of her own creation, going wherever the funk (and Kellindo Parker’s insane guitar) lead.

3. Kurt Vile, Wakin On A Pretty Daze 
It’s loose, he’s lethargic. But there’s not a wasted moment on Daze, provided you turn up the speakers and let the golden vibes soak in.

4. A$AP Rocky, Long. Live. A$AP.
Rocky closes his eyes, dives in, and comes up with the sound he’s always heard in his head--hard, slurred beats, familiar and alive. All without breaking a sweat.

5. Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt 
Katie Crutchfield’s sparse, yearning guitar rock sounds like country music to me. It’s almost painfully intimate. But that’s the thing about Crutchfield--she’s tough as nails.

6. Chance The Rapper, Acid Rap
Straight from the South Side and with a foot in Native Tongues kaleidoscopics, an 18-year-old running circles around the competition. In a voice that mutates every minute, Chance spits details that will rip your heart open.

7. Danny Brown, Old
Hip-hop’s reigning elf king reintroduces himself, laying on the grime and charisma thicker than ever. I like the terse first half, but the clubby Side B’ll make you snap your neck too.

8. Grant Hart, The Argument
A Paradise Lost-inspired double LP brought to life by the melodic gifts of an American treasure. It’s inspiring that Grant actually made this, more inspiring still that it’s this good.

9. Run The Jewels, Run The Jewels
Get out of town. Go fuck yourself. This unremittingly intense neo-boom bap tag team isn’t for you.

10. Marnie Stern, The Chronicles of Marnia
Showering your consciousness with the blasts of guitar, explosive drumming and forest spirit vocals. This is Marnie’s Axis: Bold As Love--her gifts as a songwriter catching up to her sick guitar skills.

Edit: I  voted in this year's Pazz & Jop (here's my ballot), and submitted a Top 10 singles list:

And here's my yearly Tumblr tabulation.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Another Extraordinary Year: Nathan's 10 Best Albums of 2013

1. A$AP Rocky, Long. Live. A$AP.
Though the album came out in January and had leaked before the year began, Harlem's newest favorite son Rocky nevertheless provided the masterpiece to beat in 2013. His impeccable ear and experimentation with extreme bass ranges and extraordinary beats led to an album of incalculable riches--spacey, immediately memorable club jams ("Goldie," "Fuckin' Problems"), great collaborations ("PMW"), dalliances with genres outside of hip-hop (the improbably wonderful Skrillex production "Wild for the Night") and the greatest posse record in many many moons ("1 Train"), all providing one amazing rush after another, 12 times in a row.

2. Janelle Monáe, The Electric Lady
Speaking of many moons, Ms. Monáe had been mostly off the grid since the release of The ArchAndroid in 2010. Turns out she was fine-tuning a record that was maybe even better, more cohesive and sonically varied, in addition to demonstrating an unprecedented level of craftmanship and sheer exultant pleasure that reached rapturous levels at times. Monáe's prodigious voice, joyous production, and empowering, socially relevant lyrics were among a few of the album's virtues, which were otherwise brimming.

3. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
The opening thesis is "give life back to music": two robots survey the current EDM landscape and find it lacking in the type of warmth and humanity out of which great dance music originally came. Hence the collaborators--Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Williams--who help the robots provide the album with the depth, feeling, and occasional melancholy of a great lost 70s disco LP.

4. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away
The album title is a perfect four-word metaphor for an elder man's futile fight against mortality. After rocking hard with Grinderman and executing a brilliant string of late-career gems, Cave scales back the aggression and punkish energy a bit here. This is his On the Beach, an album that does not rock so much, but slowly builds through a molasses of top-shelf songwriting, wonderful orchestration, and literary, confessional lyrics.

5. My Bloody Valentine, mbv
Their last album may have come out when I was 6, but MBV's latest sounded the furthest thing from a reunion record. It was as if the last 22 years had suddenly vanished in an ether of aggressive flange, tremolo, and pitch-bending along with the familiar distortion, metronomic backbeat, and barely audible vocals we know so well. Ambitious and mind-bending, only the album's song titles were generic.

6. In Solitude, Sister
Yeah, it's one of those token metal albums that non-metal heads take to. So what? I will take my bluesy, riff-oriented hard rock however I can, and Sweden's In Solitude provided the year's most refreshing slab of British 70s metal-indebted jams. Each song has rhythm and panache, as well as hooks that buzzsaw their way into the listener's memory banks.

7. Marnie Stern, The Chronicles of Marnia
The greatest guitarist in America really pushed against her limitations on this, her fourth LP and first without longtime drummer Zach Hill. Her offbeat approach to fret tapping is still there, but is more effectively integrated into the songs than ever. And Stern's voice has a really lovely and longing quality now, something I never expected. Kid Millions admirably takes over for Hill on drums and together the two musicians provide moments of appealing still and calm in between sets of Stern's normally frenetic guitar/drum alchemy.

8. Richard Thompson, Electric
The elder folkie and guitar hero goes the stripped-down power trio route, which emphasizes Thompson's great axe skills. The result is a late-career success that is muscular and hard-rocking, while still immersed in Thompson's Celtic and folk-based songwriting. Thompson has always been a great player, but his guitar solos throughout this album are, I cannot emphasize this enough, particularly kick-ass.

9. Thundercat, Apocalypse
An unfairly gifted bassist who collaborates with everyone from New Zealand pop star Kimbra to Suicidal Tendencies, Thundercat produced a next-level jazz funk LP that sounded like nothing else in 2013. His complex and layered bass skills were a perfect match with Flying Lotus' shimmering and psychedelic production. The result was a brilliant concoction of sweet jazzy smooth jams plus the occasional roaring funk classic ("Oh Sheit! It's X").

10. Flatbush Zombies, Better Off Dead
2013 was an extraordinary year for hip-hop, no question. This list could have consisted entirely of Danny Brown, Juicy J, Pusha T, Run the Jewels, the Underachievers, Action Bronson, Spaceghostpurrp, just to begin with. But one mixtape that I kept coming back to was this one, by a young group out of Brooklyn's "Beast Coast" scene. The Zombies are a loopy three-piece that inventively plays with golden age boom-bap with a bit of horror movie edge (think Gravediggaz crossed with ODB to start). With the work of two hyper-quick emcees (Meech and Juice) as well as one of NYC's great new producing talents (Erick Arc Elliott), the result is a product that would have stood tall with the best of early 90s rap.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Look at Janelle Monáe's Metropolis Suite, Part 4: Electric Lady (Part 1)


We picked off last in 2010, in a series of posts reviewing Janelle Monáe's ambitious sci-fi concept cycle Metropolis, from her debut 2007 EP The Chase to 2010's The ArchAndroid (which contained the second and third suites in the cycle). Then Monáe released no new work for three years, barring the occasional guest voice on a Big Boi, fun., or Estelle number. She was supposedly at Wondaland Studios working on two albums, which she claimed last year would be released according to her "soul clock."

And now one of those albums, The Electric Lady, is finally here. Can she possibly live up to increased expectations as a sophomore artist? Does Lady build or expand upon the Metropolis mythos in addition to providing a solid listening experience? Did the artist capture this reviewer's heart once more? Spoiler alert: heck yes. I've listened to the album a half-dozen times now, and, while it's too early to compare this to The ArchAndroid, I already feel this album improves on the first's relistenable qualities (even if there are more skits this time around). It is a pleasure to be transported back to this world, and I will keep coming back to this record for a long, long time. My endorsement should be sufficient, but if you want more detail from a preeminent amateur Monáeologist, read on...*

1. Suite IV (Electric Overture)
The latest suite opens with now-customary orchestral pomp, except this time there's a more interesting rhythmic core. A "Peter Gunn"/Link Wray-type guitar line deeply rattles its way around increasingly sumptuous and bouncy string arrangements. The vocals, which arrive later, are filmic and set a scene, laying the melodic groundwork for what is to come. It's better (and shorter) than Ms. Monáe's previous suite openers, perhaps enough so that even my esteemed colleague will give it a shot.

2. Givin' Em What They Love (Feat. Prince)
That's definitely Prince on guitar at the beginning, his strums as unmistakable as his increasingly wizened reed of a voice. The Purple One, who pioneered so many potent genre-crosses in his own time, is a natural denizen of Metropolis. The percussion here is tribal and builds slowly, sort of like "The Cross." Prince's work is so good in part because he matches Monáe's vocal line at the exact same pitch--not often we hear him sing that high these days. The song builds to an ecstatic organ and guitar build, with Monáe's voice soaring as Prince's provides spiritual backing vox and trademark ripping (of the axe sort). The strings come back at the end. As in the previous suites, these recurring string arrangements will provide much of the connective tissue between songs.

3. Q.U.E.E.N. (Feat. Erykah Badu)
The album's first single, released on the Internet a few months back, did not light my fire at first. The video was certainly interesting, and introduced the less (literally) buttoned-up, more sexually liberated Monáe of 2013. I grew to like it more after several more listens. The keyboards are very Minneapolis, as indebted to the Time as they are to Prince, but sounded frenetic and unfocused until I paid careful attention a few dozen more times. There's a lot else going on here, not least is Erykah Badu's smoky vocal interlude toward the end of the piece. Then Monáe spits conscious rhymes, in a manner that went out of fashion years ago ("While you're sellin' dope/we'll be sellin' hope"), for what will be the first of several verses on record.

4. Electric Lady (Feat. Solange)
Holy smokes, is this one incredible song. Compared to either "Q.U.E.E.N." or "Dance Apocalyptic," this should be the single. Solange Knowles, the third R&B standard-bearer in a row, is yet another colorful addition to the album's psychedelic palette. If Ms. Knowles made music as energetic and bouncy as this all the time, I would buy copies of her records by the dozens. There's a hint of '90s R&B girl group to the song--think the best and most anthemic TLC or En Vogue. It has that sort of bounce and flavor, as well as requisite drum drops (nothing cooler than when drums drop out and bass keeps going) and chorus of melismatic backing vocals toward the end. Monáe raps again, describing general feminist good times. Solange's role, for the most part, is unobtrusive--Monáe is still the star. So hard not to get caught up in the spirit here. This is ultimate "blast your speakers and dance around your bedroom" music.

5. Good Morning Midnight 

One thing that differentiates The Electric Lady from The ArchAndroid is the presence of track-long skits. And like many concept albums past, the framing device of this album is a radio station DJ who fields calls from eccentric listeners (most likely played by various Wondaland collaborators). DJ Crash Crash, "robotic hypnotic psychotic DJ," is broadcasting shout-outs from his listeners. One of them betrays serious prejudice against the robot race, which the DJ dismisses out of hand. Monáe's playful handling of racial prejudice (as displaced through the prism of futuristic robots) is what sticks out most here. There was a lot of that on the last album, but here it is even more overt.

6. PrimeTime (Feat. Miguel)

Borrowing the backing vocals from the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind"...why not? It makes a great deal of sense in the presence of Miguel, who borrows from rock, punk, and classic psychedelia for his sumptuous R&B in a manner not unlike Monáe (or, obviously, Prince). "PrimeTime" is the album's first proper ballad, but it does not cause the album to lag at fact, this may be the most staggering song yet. It goes beyond mere babymaking music. Over a slow dance groove, Monáe sings a melody so pure and simple it seems ripped out of the Great American Songbook. This album shows how good she is at singing at high registers without being showy or obtrusive. Miguel matches her in the second verse, his syllables more playful, and yet aching. The song is lush, it's romantic, and there is not a single songwriting error to be found here. Props also to returning guitarist Kellindo Parker, nephew of Maceo, who contributes some great, Prince-like guitar work at the end.

7. We Were Rock & Roll

Seven songs in and the album is yet to slow down. A loose and limber groove propels this track into classic anguished soul territory (I was reminded a bit of one of my musical heroes, Gil Scott-Heron). The song isn't exactly a tribute to rock music, but it has fiery guitar at points, and the subject matter is certainly stereotypical (we are young, on the run, no one understands us, etc.). The song is girded by a descending guitar figure and a syncopated hi-hat rhythm not too far from James Brown at his simplest, along with some hand claps and organ stabs, but otherwise keeps it pretty simple. Monáe's voice is once again the focal point of our attentions, which really pays off when a choir of backing vocals joins up with her to sing "it's alright." Kellindo Parker throws out some more excellent guitar parts here.

8. The Chrome Shoppe

DJ Crash Crash returns and announces something called the "Cyberfreak Festival." Some robotic sorority girls promise a "bouncing electro-booty contest" which is a good description for this album's sound. Then they announce the next song and single, "Dance Apocalyptic." I have a historically low threshold when it comes to rap skits but these brief snippets do have Monáe's authorial eccentricity stamped all over them, which to me overcomes their non-musical, marking-time aspects.

9. Dance Apocalyptic

Like "Q.U.E.E.N.," I was not taken by second single "Dance Apocalyptic" at first. The parallels to "Tightrope" were obvious, and this version sounded like the earlier song's brief uke part extended to a punk-ska BPM that never really took off anywhere different or unexpected. The groove here still isn't my favorite, but I've warmed to the message, Monáe's vocals, and most importantly, the song's amazingly upbeat vibe. Elsewhere, though, the song is a bit too sugary and retro, and again, it doesn't go to those magical unexpected places where genre is smashed into millions of irrelevant bits. On one level it is still a great listen, and far from a slog, but at another level it is Janelle-by-numbers. As far as nonsense refrains go, "Smash, smash/bang, bang/don't stop/galang-alang-alang" is merely okay.

10. Look Into My Eyes
Side 4 of Metropolis comes to a close, and after a nine-song sprint, this is the cooling session. Bits of the melody from the opening suite appear again, wedded to stately flamenco guitar and a lush tango atmosphere. The effect is again very, very romantic, to an almost narcotic degree. Monáe's collaborators, Deep Cotton, have gotten even better at arranging strings this time around. If there is any song this resembles, it is Archandroid's "BaBopByeYa" (splashed with a bit of "Sir Greendown") but while that song was lengthy and almost punishing at times, the airy "Look Into My Eyes" leaves as quickly as it appears. This song and many others on the first side really illustrate how much more of an individual sound Monáe has developed in the last three years--there are moments here when you can tell, even if she was not singing, that this is a Monáe-type jazz progression or modulation. Her songwriting tricks, rather than sounding borrowed or transmuted from the best of Prince, Stevie, and Michael, are starting to sound simply like Janelle. Although not entirely, as we will see in the next suite.

It occurs to me that I have yet to discuss much of the album's storyline (narrative in concept albums has always been a big blind spot for me). Tune in next time as I delve more deeply into the plight of Cyndi Mayweather with the ruminative, equally staggering fifth suite.


Suite I (The Chase)

Suite II

Suite III

*no star rating needed**
**no explanation needed for lack of star rating

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Miracle of the Isleys

“That Lady” blows your face off. Its rhythm guitar struts its way out of the gate, soon to be joined by Ernie Isley’s searing lead. Ronald Isley’s vocal, buffeted by a chorus of his brothers, is the equivalent Ron's arched eyebrow--leering, but needy below that. Stuttering Latin percussion sets the thing on fire, and the three minute guitar solo that closes the song is a jaw-dropper--a shimmering vortex of energy that gives Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Hazel a run for their money. It’s a funk monster, a band rebapitzed in electricity and groove.

1973, when The Isley Brother released “That Lady” as a single from 3 + 3, was a time of seismic change for the band. Look at that album jacket--the one with them in slick, cowboy-pimp costumes--and the evidence is there. The title itself alludes to a handful of new band members. And on the back, there’s the record label: T-Neck Records.

They couldn’t have chosen a better song to kick off their new era. “That Lady” is a rewrite of 1964 single by none other than The Isley Brothers. Their first stab at the song, titled “Who’s That Lady,” failed to chart. Responding to the rise of The Impressions, the song has a gentle, samba-like lilt. It’s elevator music, absolutely eviscerated by the 1973 version.

Fuck, it was even eviscerated by their next single. Also from 1964, “Testify” is a bluesy rave-up. In addition to being a startlingly funky song for 1964 (“Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” wouldn’t arrive for another year), it also features the first recorded appearance of a young Jimi Hendrix. His guitar threatens to engulf “Testify,” and it wasn’t long before Hendrix and the Isleys parted ways.

“Testify” was the first single released on T-Neck Records, the label the Isleys set up to release their own music. At the time, the three Isley Brothers, O’Kelly, Rudolph, and Ronald, were living in Teaneck, New Jersey, a few miles outside the Bronx. They named their new label after their new hometown. But T-Neck didn’t last for long, with the brothers quickly bolting for Atlantic, Veep, and, finally, Berry Gordy’s Tamla.

Which should have been great, but the journeymen brothers never really clicked in Motown. Aside from one hit, the classic “This Old Heart of Mine,”* there was a string of middling successes. The Isleys felt like they weren’t getting the best songs that Motown had to offer. So they left, went back to T-Neck.**

In 1973, T-Neck inked a deal with Epic Records to distribute their music, a bit like the one Philadelphia International had with CBS. The Isleys now had the independence of being their own bosses, along with the public platform and national distribution a major could provide.

At the same time, the Isley Brothers officially added three new members: Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley and Chris Jasper (a brother-in-law of the Isleys). It was a pretty momentous change for a group that had been a trio since 1957. The three new members, and in particular Ernie and Chris, became the group's primary songwriters.

I made a Spotify playlist of these dudes' brilliant work. Check it out.

And the new kids are all over “That Lady,” which they rewrote (funkified might be a better word). The older Isleys harnessed their energy, switching up their vocals into an intoxicating melange. The end result was magic--the best song on the very strong 3 + 3. That title, by the way, referred to the three original Isleys adding three new members.

The Isleys' new freedom and new members sparked a revolution in their sound. It’s a remarkable change for a group whose roots date back to gospel and doo wop. The Isleys had been around for so long by 1973 that it had been a decade since their “Twist and Shout” inspired the Beatles. The Fab Four were toast by '73, but the six Isleys were hanging tough.

R&B had its fair share of vets who rolled with the times, from geniuses like James Brown and Marvin Gaye to the Wilson Picketts and Joe Texes of the scene (who are also amazing, don’t get me wrong). But even in that world, the Isleys' career is remarkable. They were a band, first of all, who kept up with the times by calling on their own family members. It didn't hurt that the new bandmembers were younger.

And, like Brown and Gaye, they found a way to pursue their vision without pesky label oversight. Owning their label allowed the brothers an artistic freedom most journeymen R&B acts never saw. Their vision wasn’t as radical as, say, Sly Stone's, which is perhaps why it’s overlooked today.*** That's no reason to ignore it.

My esteemed colleague first pointed me to their incredible run from 1973 to 1978, writing to me that:
the era between 3 + 3 [1973] and Showdown [1978] constitutes one of the greatest six album runs in history. Seriously listen to all of these: Live It Up, The Heat is On, Harvest for the World, Go For Your Guns, Showdown
He’s right. If you told me that a band wielded the sick funk of P-Funk, deep grooves of Stevie Wonder, and smoothness of the finest Yacht Rock****, I’d say that surely that band released blockbuster after blockbuster, and has earned its place among the soul celestials.

Not quite, but the Isley Brothers deserve it. I can't do justice to the range of their 70’s material, which runs the gamut from funk beasts to quaking quiet storm. There’s a sharpness to the way the older brothers’ vocals play off one another. Ronald Isley, quite shy in real life, is a commandingly soulful lead. Chris Jasper’s keyboards stomp, simmer and slice across these albums. And Ernie Isley is one of the great R&B guitarists, hands down. Listen to the way he tears up the back halves of "That Lady," "Who Loves You Better" and "Midnight Sky."

During their six-album run, the Isleys surrounded themselves with talented people. On the first four of these albums, they worked with engineers Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff in LA. That team were early explorers of the synthesizer, and helped Stevie Wonder harness its power on his early 70's classics (Cecil would later work with Gil Scott-Heron). One of the wonderful things about the Isley's run is that they toyed with R&B's new sandbox in always ecstatic, often conventional songs. Chris Jasper wasn't the first dude to deploy swamps of clavinet on his jams, but damn if they don't sound good.

So do yourself a favor a get 3 +3Live It Up, The Heat is On, Harvest for the World, Go For Your Guns, and Showdown. A lot of these are easily found (and inexpensive) at used record stores. And if whoever owns the rights to these songs is reading this--you could certainly bring some attention to what NS rightfully calls "one of the greatest six album runs in history" with a box set. Give it the Harry Nilson treatment.

Of course, one group has been light years ahead in keeping the legacy alive: hip-hop producers. Isley Brothers samples could sustain an entire series of blog posts, but suffice to say Public Enemy, Biggie, Salt-N-Pepa, De La Soul, Nas, Jay-Z, the Beastie Boys and OutKast have all rapped over Isleys samples. Personally, I love the way UGK flips "Ain't I Been Good To You" into the paranoid slow drip of "One Day." And DJ Pooh's repurposing of the paranoid "Footsteps In The Dark" into the ultimate cruising anthem, Ice Cube's "It Was A Good Day," is immortal.

R. Kelly deserves the gold star in terms of reppping the Isleys, having starred alongside Ron Isley several times in their Mr. Biggs song cycle. Isley plays Biggs in the songs and videos, who challenges the younger Kells for the affections of a lady. It's not "Who Loves You Better," but the songs are always fun.

It's a late career curio for the Isley Brothers. But these 70's albums are no curio, they're the vital work of R&B giants. Seek them out.

*I’m compelled to mention that Rod Stewart does an incredible cover of “This Old Heart of Mine” on Atlantic Crossing (with Booker T and the MGs behind him). Stewart and Ronald Isley would later hook up for a remarkably dated remake in 1990.

**The pre-Epic T-Neck years (1969-1973) aren’t the focus here, but suffice to say that in this time period they did record some classic shit before going back to T-Neck.

***But don't underestimate the way Ron Isley spits out bullshit in "Fight The Power." It caused problems for radio programmers, and was pretty rare for 1975. Asked why he swore--which surprised the rest of the band--Ron just said "because it needed to be said." "Power" was written by Ernie Isley the same day as the similarly political "Harvest For The World." And, for what it's worth, 1977's "Tell Me When You Need It Again" sounds like something from Fresh, and the bass on 1978's "Ain't Givin' Up No Love" is like a less drugged-out "Thank You For Talkin' To Me Africa."

****The Isleys cover of "Summer Breeze" goes down so smooth, after its gently psyched-out intro, that British DJs find themselves powerless before it whenever the weather gets nice.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Christian Rockaliser

This blog is not, no matter what anyone tells you, dead: I'm working on a post at the moment, and the monster project that has been cryptically alluded to on Twitter progresses slowly and steadily.

I'm not writing to defend the vitality of Rockaliser today--that should be an eternal given--but to point to something I wrote elsewhere:

Deep in central Pennsylvania, the roads are usually quiet, but today Route 747 is gridlocked. Cars crawl towards the Agape Farm on Rapture Street, which is tucked away in a small woodsy valley outside of Mt. Union. Handwritten signs along the road read "Welcome Creation," beckoning each caravan toward a weekend of worship. Just past the intersection of Hallelujah Highway and Glory Lane, the sound of "The Star Spangled Banner"—performed by the band Audio Adrenaline—echoes across hundreds of tents. Like the firing of a gun, it announces the advent of Creation, America's largest Christian music festival.

My friend and colleague Alana L. and I went to a Christian Rock festival--the Pennsylvania-based Creation, which is America's largest--and wrote about it for Mother Jones. It was a pretty unique experience--a world away from the music that I usually write about--that I hope we captured adequately.

I can't say that I converted into a Christian Rock fan at the festival. And that's the last thing I'll be saying about the bands, as John Jeremiah Sullivan himself said when he went to Creation (Sullivan, in fact, goes on to share several insightful thoughts about the bands). At the end of the day Creation is kind of just another summer music fest, albeit one with its own quirks and some very different aims from, say, Coachella. But you can just read the article, OK?

Monday, April 8, 2013

From the Rockaliser Publicity Department

We at Rockaliser like to occasionally share our accomplishments like most human beings, and last year we contributed a couple YA-level music history books to Lerner Publishing's American Music Milestones series. I wrote a history of hip-hop, while my esteemed colleague tackled soul and R&B. A couple days ago, we learned that the book series was selected by Booklist's Daniel Krauss as one of the top 10 nonfiction series of the past 12 months. This is already after Booklist gave a glowing starred review to American R&B a few months earlier. Very cool! We would love it if you considered buying these books online or requesting them at your local libraries.

The other authors involved in the series, by the way, were Lloyd Sachs, Arie Kaplan, Matt Doeden and Erik Farseth. Big ups to Greg Hunter, a great editor and buddy who shared our passion for the music and for conveying its importance in an accessible manner. On a completely unrelated note, check out this crazy album cover.

The next item is that my esteemed colleague's post on Eric Clapton's racism is again seeing a lot of traffic, after being linked to by Gawker last year for a reason I no longer remember. The blog Dangerous Minds also wrote an article on a similar topic not long ago. If you're new to the blog and would like to see more, here are a few of our favorite pieces (plus a few more).

Finally, service on the blog has been somewhat quiet (at least on my end), but that will change, as we are again working on a lengthy summer series of posts that may dwarf last year's Rockaliser 30 in terms of ambition and moxie (if not in word count). Your Rockaliser writers are going to continue to branch out, so watch this space for more good writing in the future.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

RIP Roger Ebert

The great film critic Roger Ebert died today, at age 70. Suffice to say, it's a sad day here at Rockaliser. Nathan and Aaron both wrote remembrances of the man:
I credit him for showing me the potential of film as a medium, and my gratitude for the love of film he instilled in me will always be immense.
From Nathan's Tumblr
i’ve hated a lot of films ebert liked, and love a bunch of films he hated. but his criticism was so earnest and deeply considered that it was worth grappling with, always.
From Aaron's Tumblr