Alternate Tuning

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Location: Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

Friday, July 29, 2005

Willie Nelson Covers Nirvana

I'm starting to get into Willie Nelson (largely based on the strength of Crazy: The Demo Sessions, and I love this too-brief cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

It's from The Andrew Denton Breakfast Show Musical Challenge 2: Even More Challenged!. The basic concept: a DJ asks artists to do covers of songs he finds to be the opposite of their usual style.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Is It Really Necessary to Attack Payola's Defense?

I've given my thoughts on this one to the Stylus blog.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Yappin to the Captain 'Cos the Flip-Flops Happened

I can't quite articulate it yet, but news stories like this one on the controversial wearing of flip-flops to the White House strike me as exactly the reason a sustained, critical examination of pop culture is necessary. It irritates me to no end that public space is taken up with worries of old rich white people (those chosen to be interviewed) who are offended that college kids didn't choose "appropriate" footwear to visit the president (when they were being honored). I'm not even sure where I want to start: maybe by explaining that flip-flops (at least the kinds worn in the picture) are now shoes, not just beachwear. No one looks ridiculous, and, while the footwear has been traditionally less classy than other styles, it's no more inherently offensive than, say, open-toed sandals. The CNN news story interviewed employees of an NYC shoe boutique about it, and they were all appalled. Eff them, I say.

What else is going on in the White House these days? I kinda forget, since the media's happily presenting me with its continuing Soma-brand news. Assuming the role of mass entertainment, these kind of uncritical stories lull us away from the world instead of, as both news and art do at their best, bringing us more into it, or at least putting the events of the world into sharper relief.

So why am I talking about this here other than to vent? Any tie to music, the usual subject of my writing? Today's Pop Playground at Stylus initiates a series on "The Problem with Indie." Josh Love's written a solid essay, detailing one of indie's problems without dropping to an indie-sucks mentality. The reader comments, however, radically miss the point; in criticizing Josh for both his big words and his movement past a "hey, this is just music" attitude, the commenters imply that music isn't something to be taken seriously (whether it takes itself that way or not).

The issue at stake, to me, isn't whether or not pop = easy/fun/whatever or whether Big Star was or wasn't pop (is that even a legitimate questions?). My concern is how the music we relate to affects our lives, our culture, etc., and vice versa. The role of fun in an individual experience and in a culture at large means something. Obviously every experience doesn't need to be aggressively analyzed and contextualized and blah blah, but nothing's ever too little to be looked at, if we can find something in it or use it to explain something we need to say.

Flip-flops, pop music, indie fuxxors, all of it. Please don't tell me "It's just rock/shoes/an escape/teenagers/etc -- don't fuss over it." Yes, I will fuss.

**sidenote: yeah, the flip-flop story bothers me extra because I've got a thing against dress codes -- like proper grammar, they serve to [insert generic liberal intellectual phrase here, eg "reinfoce the existing power structures"].

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

New Releases This Week

Natasha Bedingfield -- Unwritten (Epic)
Fruit Bats -- Spelled in Bones (Sub Pop)
Jan Martens Frustration -- Jan Martens Frustration (Hidden Agenda)
Jim Yoshii Pile-Up -- Picks Us Apart (Absolutely Kosher) 2.5/5
Mazarin -- We're Already There (I & Ear) 2.5/5
Moonbabies -- War on Sound (Hidden Agenda) 3.5/5
Bob Mould -- Body of Song (Yep Roc) 3.5/5
Brian Setzer -- Rockabilly Riot Volume One: A Tribute to Sun Records (Surfdog)
Denison Witmer -- Are You a Dreamer? (The Militia Group) 3.5/5

Monday, July 25, 2005

Hear Me Sounding Baffled for 40 Minutes

My first appearance on a Stycast is available here. Stylus writer Mike Powell was in town last week so I made a guest appearance on his "Easter Everywhere" series, mostly talking about how I don't know how to talk about music.

Pick of the Week (7/25/05)

Trashcan Sinatras -- Weightlifting (Spin Art) 2004

Another selection of gorgeous pop from the "Why doesn't everyone know about this" category.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The OC's Mixed-Up

I'm in Flak again, this time on the most recent (relatively speaking) mix from The OC.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I Know I Can't Dance

So You Think You Can Dance? offers a show surprisingly different from Idol, despite trying to use the same formula.

The biggest difference: there's no hope of an unskilled person with heart winning here -- good-bye even faux-democracy. One rightly-booted contestant argued that the show would end up being about rich white kids with training. She's off-base in the requirements of race and money, but not about training. While a church-choir singer like Fantasia could succeed on Idol, most of the successful dancers on the show have been taught. One of the requirements is to quickly learn a routine, which is much easier if you've got a background. The speed with which some amazing breakdancers got cut showed how little talent matters up against skill in this contest.

The laughers: much less interest here on the disasters, which was actually kind of nice, even if it makes for less appealing tv (says the hater in me).

The judges: three boring people without nearly the personality of Randy, Paula, or Simon. The low moment came when the fake-Simon told one competitor that he didn't dance "masculine" enough to proceed. It seems like dance would be one area you could avoid the strictures of gender norms...

I'm curious to see how this show does in the ratings. I suspect the average tv viewer (me) doesn't know enough about dance to have an opinion on lines, form, etc. Without the bite of sharp and clever insights and no engaging characters, I'm not sure this idea can carry a season.

And while I'm glad someone danced to M.I.A., I'm just confused if I don't hear the theme from Fame anytime I see a dance student.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Clap Your Hands Say Here Come the Hype and Backlash

The Clap Your Hands Say Yeah phenomenon seems tailor-made for a case-study in hype and backlash, if anyone's looking to do some groundbreaking journal article on that.
Hype too often gets credited as starting from a flashpoint, where I think it generally comes about through, if not some sort of collective semi-conscious, at least a broad base. The first review of CYHSY I saw was at Stylus, but other online magazines had there reviews up within days, too quick to feel that Stylus broke the band (not an argument I'd make -- the underground conversation had been happening). So possibly the hype is the result of an insular community managing to get its press machine running on several fronts at once. And, yeah, the Pitchfork factor is still high (see Insound's recent sale dedicate to PFM's Best New Music).

The backlash, predictably is beginning. So far I've only seen it in private conversations and on message boards, but the press side should be hitting soon enough (although CYHSY may still need to get a little bigger). I'm having a hard time understanding what's driving either side, though.

The self-titled debut is good enough, but it's really only got three standout tracks ("The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth," "In This Home on Ice," and "Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood"), and I'd have sworn "In This Home" was a cover of that '80s song I can't quite get in my head ("and we danced...all...night" or something). The album doesn't warrant the hate, although I understand the disdain for Ounsworth's vocals, but it is custom-made for it. The opening track is horrendous, the second one is dull, and the album doesn't really take off until the halfway point. If you come into it ready to hate, you'll find grounds for it and be done with the disc before you even get to the good stuff.

So backlash = dislike of hype + slow start to album.

But why the hype to start with? Are the music critics propping this album up just jonesing for David Byrne to be 21 again? (Yeah, you'll get the Byrne/Talking Heads comparison in almost every review you read and while those types of comparisons are generally pretty useless, this one's right on target, at least on CYHSY's poppier numbers.) Everyone seems to be having fun with this disc, but no one's really gotten into what essential need it speaks to.

For more fun and something with a more unique niche to fill, check out Art Brut's Bang Bang Rock 'n' Roll. Hopefully I'll have a full post up on it soon.

New Releases This Week (slowest week ever)

Iggy Pop -- A Million in Prizes: The Anthology (Virgin) 3/5
Uncle Earl -- She Waits for Night (Rounder)*
Various Artists -- NYC Subway - Songs from the Underground (Headset Productions)

*one of Uncle Earl's members is Abigail Washburn, who has a solo album just about to come out, Song of the Traveling Daughter. Appalachian mountain music mixed with a dash of Chinese folk that's definitely worth a listen, and has piqued my interest in Uncle Earl, whom I've never heard.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Pick of the Week (7/18/05)

The Spinanes -- Manos (Sub Pop) 1993

"Lovely" is how you describe the clarinet-playing of a kid you have nothing better to say about, but I'm redeeming the word in this case to apply it to the Spinanes' guitar-pop. This album falls into the "Why Doesn't Everyone Have This?" category.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Out of the Blue and into the Black (Metal)

I got an email out of nowhere from one of my best high school friends last week. We'd completely lost touch, but he managed to track me down through the Stylus staff page. Anyhow, here's what he's doing now:

My friend's Jason B., pictured to the far left of the screen.

It's not music I'm competent (or unbiased enough) to comment on, but what a fun thing to discover. In any case, here's an extra google hit for Sangraal, and good luck guys!

(yeah, anyone want t-shirts, cds, etc., I'll get 'em to you).

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

New Releases This Week

Hard-Fi -- Cash Machine (Vice) 2.5/5
Kinski -- Alpine Static (Sub Pop)
Metalux -- Victim of Space (Kill Rock Stars) 2.5/5
Mixel Pixel -- Contact Kid (Kanine)
The Most Serene Republic -- Underwater Cinematographer (Arts & Crafts) 3.5/5
Röyksopp -- The Understanding (Astralwerks) 3/5
Son Volt -- Okemah and the Melody of Riot (Transmit Sound/Legacy)
Wolf Parade -- Wolf Parade EP (Sub Pop)
Xiu Xiu -- La Forêt (Kill Rock Stars)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

They're Looking Great for 2008

The date needs to be changed, but I know this ticket would get some support:

Monday, July 11, 2005

Pick of the Week 7/11/05

John Prine -- John Prine (Atlantic) 1971

Countryish singer-songwriter shows brains and humor, and gives us a song especially relevant for this moment in US history: "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore."

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Anyone have any idea how to fix this layout problem (or is it only on my computer)? I've tried 4 different templates and they all show up with the sidebar and main page staggered. All ideas welcome, effective help will receive some sort of undetermined and valueless (not priceless) reward...


You might notice I've dropped the SecondSpin link from the left-hand column (or the overhead one, assuming my blog still looks so ridiculous and possibly incurable). I did so because they've managed to initially botch my first two sales to them, not crediting me for music I've sold, and crediting me for less-expensive albums I've never heard of. I'm just now working this out with their customer support, but it's very discouraging that it's happened on my only two attempts to sell. Anyone ever use and want to share their experiences? I had only heard good things, but now I'm suspicious...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Two Steps to an Awesome Review

1) Listen to an album only once.

2) Talk about zombies.

Here's proof.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

New Releases This Week

The Album -- Leaf Seal Beach EP (Better Looking) 2.5/5
Missy Elliott -- The Cookbook (Atlantic)
The Juan Maclean -- Less Than Human (Astralwerks) 4/5
Paul Metzger -- Improvisations on Modified Banjo and Guitar (Secretly Canadian)
Sufjan Stevens -- Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty) 4/5
Wilderness -- Wilderness (Secretly Canadian)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Marc Caro Nails Live 8 Coverage

Here's a great take on MTV's coverage of Live 8:

Top quote: "If MTV were honest, it would have billed the event as Pre-Digested 8, because the network was maddeningly averse to showing most of the bands live. It was as if MTV were auditioning to get the TV rights to the next Olympics."

Monday, July 04, 2005

How to Package Music

I just got the new collection You Ain't Talkin' to Me: Charlie Poole and the Roots of Country Music, and it serves as a lesson to all compilation makers in how to make something that people will buy rather than download. It comes in a little textured box with three individually packaged discs. The music's accompanied by a 30-some page booklet with fantastic pictures and an essay on Poole's playing, his biography, and the relevant related artists (the music, wisely, contains Poole's influences and inheritors as well as originals he covered and songs he made relatively famous later picked up by others). The packaging on this set's so exquisite that it's senseless to download the songs, because you need the liner notes, and you'll want the box.

Friday, July 01, 2005

In Which the Author Makes a Confession and Gets a Rhetorical Beat-Down

Today, I admit what I like:

Everyone else has far better points and less parade-making writing, but I'm sticking with me.

Some highlights:

"But unlike that under the table double-dealing from years past, there is nary a mafia figure or coked-up programming director in sight." -- Bill Gibron

"Reality-television achievement has become the second lottery, where hard work and talent are trumped by self-exploitation and displays of creativity so oatmeal gray that even Goldilocks herself would cry, 'This porridge is just shit.'" -- Terry Sawyer

"Heading down the road to see the carpet rolled out for American Idol's finale was one of the most quintessentially American moments in my life, more so than seeing a Hummer with a 'no blood for oil' bumper sticker." -- Jodie Janella Horn

" Both American Idol, and our presidential elections function as celebrations of voting for its own sake, showcasing our ersatz democracy in which you, the wise viewer/citizen, are endlessly applauded for 'exercising one's rights' by choosing among the limited options offered without questioning why they are so pathetically inadequate in the first place." -- Rob Horning