Monday, July 27, 2009

I laughed pretty hard reading this story about Lil Wayne's rehearsals for an upcoming tour. It includes these three nuggets:

•"No 'Show Me What You Got,' '' Wayne informed his band, as he looked down at a set list and made instant edits to his program. "I do not know that shit."

•"I don't know a word of this shit," he kept repeating in a sing-songy flow. Then he just started freestyling in the same delivery. "I just wanna fuck you, baby/ I can't believe it."

•The music for "Successful" came on, and Weezy informed everybody, "By the way, I do not know my verse. I do not know my verse."

The more I read it, the more hilarious it becomes. We later find out that "Wayne said he may know the words by show time, and would let everyone know if he did," which is a nice gesture. While the whole ordeal is the kind of thing Chuck D would call "unacceptable for a professional," it's kind of awesome as well. (p.s. how great is it in the P.E. article when Chuck says of Flavor Flav "he's had a good life"?)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Aaron Listens To The Hits

It's a classic meme of the lazy music writer/blogger, listening to the hits so you don't have to. In any case, on this lazy Tuesday afternoon, this unemployed music fan finds himself with anything to do, hoping to pass the hours until he can leave the house and go see the legendarily legendary Sonic Youth tear shit up at First Avenue.

So I've decided to listen to two Top Tens and share my thoughts. The first is culled from Billboard's Hot 100 (half of which you can see here), and largely listened to on YouTube. The second is the Top 10 list on The Hype Machine's "Popular MP3 & Music Blog Tracks" page (available here), representative of what a small and irksome part of America listens to. While' "What's Hot" page is a more accurate snapshot of the tracks being blogged, I have less of an axe to grind with

So here goes...
Billboard Top 10, Issue Date July 25, 2009

1. Black Eyed Peas, "I Gotta Feeling"
--Just objectionable drivel. The ostensibly summery and inspirational beat sounds impotent. This song captures the zeitgeist of shopping mall background music. While the Black Eyed Peas are incredibly popular, their appeal remains a complete mystery to me. I suspect that, by jacking whatever sounds are currently popular, they manage to sound hip to their fans (kind of like Pauline Kael, I've never met a self-professed Peas fan) but make lightly catchy music inoffensive enought to earn radio play across a variety of formats. Plus, they're obviously willing to prostitute themselves. 1.5/5

2. Drake, "Best I Ever Had"--Drake sure came out of nowhere. He was on a TV show or something, and he's making the transition to pop stardom. "Best I Ever Had" is light fare, but pretty enjoyable. A little R&B jam with emphatic production and a nice chorus that features some soul man with a superior voice and the chant that Polow puts in all his songs. 4/5

3. Black Eyed Peas, "Boom Boom Pow"--The worst thing is, we know is capable of so much better. Yet he's content to produce amelodic, midtempo shit like this and watch the money roll in. The claims to credibility in this song are just laughable--the beat isn't "boom boom pow", it simply registers with no impact--and the manufactured catchphrase "I'm so three thousand and eight/You're so two thousand and late" hurts my ears. Are the Peas the most cravenly commercial act of our generation? In any case this song makes me believe every hyperbolic claim ever made about the Culture Industry. America I ask you, when it comes to the Peas, where is the hate? 0/5

4. Keri Hilson feat. Ne-Yo and Kanye West, "Knock You Down"--This one I quite like. The intro has a celebratory vibe, with weightless, insistent synths, and it's cool when the beat drops. Hilson does a good job, though the material doesn't tax her. West's raps are fun if baffling--does Kanye really believe he's the "new Slick Rick"?--and Ne-Yo sounds great as always. 4/5

5. Sean Kingston, "Fire Burning"--A club track by everyone's favorite heavyset West Indian. Not as obviously derivitive as some of Kingston's past work (esp. "Beautiful Girls" and that song that sampled "D'Yer Maker"). More confrontational than anything we've heard thus far in the countup, it could use less melody, fatter synths, more rhythm. I hope the breakdown has been excised from the single version. 3/5

6. Taylor Swift, "You Belong With Me"--I guess you'd call this country-pop; it also fits into the genre of media that unconvincingly paints beautiful women as loveless pointdexters. Generic yet pleasant, the chorus is catchy though no "Love Story." 3/5

7. Lady GaGa, "Lovegame"--I had so little use for the astonishingly popular GaGa's two previous singles I took a pass on this one. Probably bad and unintelligent, you'll have to figure it out for yourself.

8. Pitbull, "I Know You Want Me"--As far as I can tell, everything about reggaeton distilled to its essance--a countdown, a repetetive rhythm halfway between hip-hop and cumbia, bilingual lyrics, much talk about sex. A lot of the pop crits went wild for this one, I think it's OK. 3/5

9. Jeremiah, "Birthday Sex"--Yup, that's what it's about. Pretty unremarkable: slow, with some robo-bongo percussion. Somebody's been listening to Kells. 2/5

10. Hannah Montana, "He Could Be The One"--Cyrus still can't sing. Bland, aspiring to rock yet with a country twang in the lyrics. 2/5


Hype Machine's "Popular MP3 & Music Blog Tracks," July 18-21

1. Sufjan Stevens, "Chicago"--I've never quite understood the appeal of Stevens, but then I've never tried that hard. This modest epic does little to change my mind, and I'm baffled as to why a song 4 years old would top this list, but that's Hype Machine for you. At least it's not a mash-up of "A-Punk" and "Love Lockdown," or anything of the sort. 2/5

2. Boys Noize, "Jeffer"--Sub-Justice dance-y music pollutes the Hype Machine charts, and this tune stinks. It beeps and squeals and stuff, but lord knows I would never choose to move my body to this. 334 people disagree, and "loved" the song...*sigh* 2/5

3. M83, "We Own The Sky"--I've always appreciated how much M83 are willing to rip off My Bloody Valentine, and I mean that completely in earnest. While the drum machines and synths change things up, the reference points are still there--hushed vocals and music that sounds like it was composed in waves and layers rather than measures. The best M83 tracks (my fave is "Don't Save Us From The Flames") twist shoegaze to a wonderful, ghostly effect. This song is hardly one of those, it's pretty good regardless. 4/5

4. Kings Of Convenience, "Mrs. Cold"--Halfway between Jason Mraz and "Girl From Ipanema." A delicate, forgettable number. I mean that as a compliment. 3.5/5

5. Chromeo, "Call Me Up (Bag Raiders Remix)"--Haven't heard the original. The song starts out nicely with a quiet build, but the vocalist sounds like a poseur and the telephone noises distract from the calmness of the rest of the composition. Steers into more conventional synth-pop territory two-thirds of the way through. It's for the better. 2.5/5

6. Barack Obama, "You Ain't My Bitch, Nigga"--An Obama impersonator spouting gangsta cliches. Not especially funny, probably racist. 0.5/5

7. Sebastien Tellier, "Fingers Of Steel (Hypnolove Remix)"--One of like 25 remixes that this blogger posted, it's no wonder the dude didn't seem especially taken with this one. Describing it would be a waste of my time. 2/5

8. Elizabeth & The Catapult, "Race You"--Quirky, unendearing chanteuse-pop, a la Feist or the odious Regina Spektor. 1.5/5

9. Santigold, "M.I.A. Artistes (feat. Pitbull & Ying Yang Twins)"--Weird. Combines one of my favorite songs of the past few years, the Pitbull-featuring Ying Yang Twins jam "Shake," with the beat and choruses from "L.E.S. Artistes," by the Bud Light Lime-approved shout-rapper Santigold. Nothing to write home about, unless you are a Hype Machine user. 2.5/5

10. Atlas Sound, "Walkabout"--I'm in love with this song, and I confess it was a major reason I picked the Hype charts over the ones. A collaboration between Deerhunter's Bradford Cox and Animal Collective's Panda Bear, the circular, colorful, and vaguely orgasmic melody bears the strong influence of the latter. Less immediate are the contributions of Cox, who handles lead vocals and comes up with some very A.C.-esque lyrics. Childlike, lovely, brilliant. 5/5

I crunched the numbers, and the average score for the Billboard tracks was 2.5. The Hype Machine songs averaged at 2.55.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Deleted Scenes From The American Indie Underground

While probably the best book ever written--the only other tome of such vast cultural import is the Bible, which sadly includes no anecdotes about SST Records--Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life is not without its omissions. A partial list:

The Entire Paisley Underground Scene--Probably the most glaring one. Azerrad was clearly attuned to a lot of what was going on in L.A., as the chapter about Black Flag (the book's first and longest) proves. But the Paisley Underground gets the short end of the stick. The scene, part of a transatlantic psychedelic resurgence, was strong throughout the 80's, in spite of its stupid name. It included, most notably, The Dream Syndicate, as well as the less-known but strongly Rockaliser-endorsed bands like The Rain Parade and Three O'Clock. They made some sweet jams, yet Azerrad's book never mentions the scene, and his only reference two the latter bands is a major put-down:

At the time, there was a slew of American bands--the Three O'Clock, the Bangles, Rain Parade et. al.--who were copping superficial aspects of the Byrds and other trippy Sixties bands but weren't actually psychedelic at all. This disgusted Hart, Mould and Norton just as much as the conformity of the avowedly nonconformist harcore scene did.*
And while the next point he makes--that Husker Du's cover of "Eight Miles High" is fucking sick ("one of the most powerful pieces of rock music ever recorded"; a 7-inch of the track with a live version of "Masochism World" as a b-side is among my most treasured possessions)--I don't get the enmity he feels towards the Paisley scene. I suggest he dust off a copy of Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, a disc that would prove influential on the slowcore bands of the 90's.

I think the reason Azerrad omitted the Paisley scene from his re-telling of the 80's underground is twofold. First off, as far as I can tell, the man isn't a fan of traditionally psychedelic music (though I'd lay down money he likes Television). His book actually contains zero mentions of Robyn Hitchcock or the Soft Boys. Zero mentions! In a 522-page book about the 80's underground!

But his main beef with the Paisley Underground bands--and I'm just guessing here--would seem to be the generally apolitical stance of the scene. Mudhoney certain lose points for not being into the political aspect of indie. And that's fair--I sure wish The National or Iron and Wine seemed like they were a part of something larger than a 70's AOR rehash--but, damn Azerrad, Sixteen Tambourines is a really good album!

More hardcore--Yeah, yeah, there are chapters about Black Flag and Minor Threat, and like half the OBCBYL bands (at least) started out playing hardcore. But, as hardcore punk was the basis for everything OBCBYL chronicles, a Bad Brains chapter seems like it would've been a cool addition. I'd happily read a 7 Seconds chapter, which could provide a nice a counter-argument to the frequent assertions that doctrinaire hardcore is evil.

Meat Puppets--He mentions the band 16 times, and these guys are indie lifers (well, for the most part). They might make kid's fruit juice commerical songs these days, but the band really was exhaustingly good in their prime. Plus, they come from a region of indie America we don't read about in OBCBYL.

R.E.M., Pixies--I mean, I know why they weren't included, but still.

The Violent Femmes, Galaxie 500--Yup, there are others. Feel free to suggest your own, or provide OBCBYL exegesis in the comments. I should note that M.A. does offer his "humblest apologies to those [omitted] bands and their fans. There are plenty more books to be written about this subect; I invite you to write one of them." It's perhaps the best sentiment ever, further proof that Michael Azerrad is a sweet dude (as is this). Can't wait for the Bob Mould autobiography.

*Interestingly, while Azerrad sees Husker Du's music as something genuinely new, the afterword to Simon Reynold's Rip It Up And Start Again identifies the band's sound as part of a broad and regressive backward-looking trend that began in the 1980's and is, to my ears, really strong today

Monday, July 6, 2009

Thoughts, Vol. 1

•"Sympathy For The Devil" is the blueprint for Nick Cave's entire career. Particularly in his more recent incarnations, but essentially since he discovered the blues, Cave's yarns of rambling, bleated misanthropy have borne a strong resemblance to the persona Jagger inhabited on "Sympathy."

•Bruce Springsteen will die of a heart attack onstage; it's astonishing that he hasn't already.

•James Brown was a genius of non-sequitors. Two favorites:
"Sixteen of the American Presidents were black."

"I'm not going to be joining ZZ Top. You know they can't play my stuff. It's too complicated."