Category Archives: Features

MySpace takes a shine to Karen O, Ryan Adams and Interpol

This week on Myspace, three artists are featured who’ve all released new albums this week — Karen O, Ryan Adams and Interpol.

karen o red

A story by “Sad Girls Guide To…” is the most in-depth of the three profiles here. The Sad Girls list the reasons why they think art-punk icon Karen O is so influential.  The mini-stories are heavily subjective, but enjoyable to read nonetheless. Stories include links to the music of Karen O as well as her namesake band Yeah Yeah Yeahs, how her solo release “Crush Songs,” came about, and her fashion sense that no one could have predicted.

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One story is called “She Doesn’t Give a F*#! Onstage,” which is actually true (she pulled her pants down and everyone saw her bum as she closed down the House of Blues in Boston last year). Interesting fact: After the YYY’s full-length 2003 record “Fever To Tell” blew up the charts, Playboy asked Karen O to pose for the cover. She refused. Good call.

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Everybody Loves a List profiles Ryan Adams, whose listed occupations include singer, songwriter, poet and painter. Adams’ hardcore punk album, “1984,” was leaked by a fan who streamed it onto Youtube. The buzz about that album only snowballed from there. Everybody loves a List makes the case that Adams is a mega Deadhead, and it seems they have a point. The writers hunt down these little nuances between Adams’s songs and music from Grateful Dead’s massive catalog.
They mention Adams’ bootlegged track “Abigail” has the same time signature and four chords as the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.” The comparisons between the two artists are pretty in-depth. On the other hand, drawing a correlation between Adams’ tweeting pics of his cats and Jerry Garcia’s album “Cats Under the Stars” might be a stretch. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously, and anyway, it shouldn’t.
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The last story, by Graphic Content, is more of a list, but probes the name of post-punk band Interpol’s new album “El Pintor” (“The Painter”) and five alternative anagrams to consider. That story speaks for itself.

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How Death put a needle to the chest of punk

abandcalleddeath

I got the DVD “A Band Called Death” as a gift. My friend knows I’m a punk-hungry girl, always ready to learn more, so he thought this was right up my alley.

I fully admit, when I heard the title of the DVD, my mind sort of was a mix of going blank, then thinking, “oh shit, what did he buy?” followed by, “Who the hell is Death?”

But I was the clueless one. My friend had done his research and told me a little about the band’s history; then I was intrigued.

The band was originally called Rock Fire Funk Express–Dannis Hackney on drums, David Hackney on guitar and Bobby Hackney on bass. The three African-American brothers from Detroit first started making funk music. Then they saw the Beatles and the Who, changed their tune pretty quick and became a protopunk band.

David Hackney was adamant about calling their new reincarnated band Death, “spinning death from the negative to the positive,” according to Bobby. When they went to record several songs in 1975, they had support from Clive Davis, president of Columbia, but when they wouldn’t budge on the name, support fell through.

While the Hackney brothers still had the masters, those original recordings sat in Bobby’s hot, dusty attic, a place where albums should have no earthly business.

By 1977 Death sputtered out, and the members moved to Burlington Vt., about the farthest you can get from any bustling music scene. They switched to gospel rock this time and released two albums. David Hackney died of cancer in 2000. The surviving members are still in the reggae band Lambsbread.

But like any enduring story, it hardly ended there.

According to the movie, Ben Blackwell, writing for the blog Chunklet, wrote about one of Death’s songs, “Politicians In My Eyes,” of which just 500 recordings were made.

Listening to “Politicians In My Eyes,” it’s eye-popping how forward-thinking the song is, with its progressive, almost psychedelic middle section, with its hard-punk vitriol and revolution-blaring lyrics, and the song sat, for decades.

Once the single started to leak, the fire spread and talk about Death rumbled quietly underfoot — after the Clash came and went, after the Sex Pistols burned out, after Bad Brains exploded onto the scene, after countless other punk bands credit those early influences and said they did right by the genre.

Three sons of Bobby Hackney formed the band Rough Francis in 2008, bringing the seven original songs into the bright light of the 21st century. Then Death began to reawaken. In 2009, the songs were released on Drag City Records and titled “For the Whole World to See.” That’s when punk enthusiasts started to open their eyes to this gem of a band.

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It seems like it was meant to be that Death should remain quietly asleep for so long. It took decades for the rest of the world to wake up to this definitive protopunk band. If they had found a record label in 1980 that would take its name, it could have died on the table and it wouldn’t have been afforded this neo-revival.

The advent of MTV in the early 1980s and its polished visual element was further proof history was not ready for a band called Death.

Death would probably have been buried under the messy pile of sweaty punk-rockers, and their name was all that did them in. While the Pistols, Ramones, Clash and other punk giants will always claim their spot, the story of Death should remind everyone that punk-music history never really has an end.

It took the work of Rough Francis, record collectors and musicians to stoke the fire and give members of Death the recognition they always deserved. Above it all, David seemed to have the prescience to see far ahead in the future and know it would all work out.

Keeping an open mind to new music should always be a constant to fans, bloggers, recording companies and bands, because the most influential stuff could be where we least expect it.

There must still be more punk fans out there who haven’t heard of Death. Alert to those guys: More head-banging has arrived.

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Record Store Day 2014: From Singapore to Nirvana

The buzz about this year’s Record Store Day has been simmering for months. Everyone wants to jump on the reissue bandwagon, and they should, for good reason: Vinyl continues its upward climb after its heyday up to the early 80s. It never really went away; a new generation continues to clue in to its value–  its pristine sound quality and an intangibility that mp3s only wish they had. Plus, the fact that we can finally get Nirvana’s 7″ single of “Pennyroyal Tea/I Hate Myself and Want to Die”— which never made it off the ground in 1994 due to Kurt Cobain’s death—- is reason enough to pay attention to this holiday.

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The Record Store Day list was released Thursday and you’ll need at least two weeks to go through it all. More blog posts to come. Priorities: Figure out now what you want, and out how much money is left in your bank account to pay for all of it.

Among the tasty gifts this year– releases from David Bowie, LCD Soundsystem, Foals, Cults, Chvrches, Coldplay, Cure + Dino Jr., Veruca Salt, Cut Copy, Cage the Elephant, Velvet Underground, Death Cab for Cutie, DEVO, Haim……. The list is laden– everything from the Everly Brothers to Genesis to the Doors to Dolly Parton. Piles and piles of artist compilations, live concerts and re-releases.

Some highlights:

• The seminal band Joy Division will release their debut album “An Ideal for Living.” The 1978 album, remastered at Abbey Road Studios, will drop via Rhino Records April 19.

• Devo is planning a triple threat: “Live at Max’s Kansas City” from Nov. 15, 1977 on 12″ vinyl, Butch Devo and the Sundance Gig on DVD, and Devo partnering with the Flaming Lips.

• The ever-influential Mudhoney will reissue “On Top” on vinyl through Sub Pop. Also, the Sonics will partner with Mudhoney for a 7″ release for “Bad Bettie/I Like It Small” on Muddy Roots.

• Oasis, best friends always, will offer a 12″ of “Supersonic” on Big Brother Records.

• For the lighter-80s alterna-set: Tears for Fears- “Ready Boys and Girls” on TAO.

• Type O Negative will offer “Slow, Deep and Hard” on Metal Blade.

• Green Day plans to cover three platforms: cassette, vinyl and CD. Other punk gems to come: The Ramones- “Meltdown with the Ramones”- on vinyl through Rhino, and “Pissed Jeans: The Very Best of Sub Pop” will be out on 10-inch vinyl.

• It’s official: The weirdest submission on the Record Store Day list: “Pop Yeh Yeh: Psychedelic Rock from Singapore and Malaysia 1964-1970.”

• Just. Stop. Rockabye Baby: Lullaby Renditions of David Bowie.

Sub Pop helps you narrow it all down here. Or just visit www.recordstoreday.com. Now.

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Emilystrax Year in Music: 2013

For my first year as a music blogger, there’s no getting around the fact that this is an incomplete list of the best of 2013. This year was finding my feet, working on contacts, and trying to catch up on the years I stayed away. There are volumes of great bands I heard that I simply couldn’t get to write about or couldn’t fit on this list– Foals, Daft Punk, The 1975, Parquet Courts, The National, Skaters, David Bowie’s “The Next Day.” I hope to bring you more comprehensive music news and reviews in 2014. Still, unlike that fruitcake you got in the mail, this music list won’t go stale in 2014. Here’s what rose to the top.

Dog Party- Lost Control

10. Dog Party: Lost Control– While their album has its ups and downs, the radio hit “Jet Pack” and “Go Flamingo” are good enough to overlook what are shortfalls. They can only get better.

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9. Potty Mouth: Hell Bent — Old-school punk-rockers just came to my attention only recently, but they’ve had a growing buzz and deserve to be on this list. Potty Mouth dives right in — no time for long intros. They’re direct in their voice and biting at that. It’s easy to guess they would be a blast to see live.

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8. Mount Kimbie: Cold Spring Fault Less Youth — This year I discovered dub-step, and learned to appreciate the artistry of techno, tonal disparities and mellow percussion. It’s mesmerizing.

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7. Lorde: Pure Heroine. The teen who brought us “Royals” may likely be one of the youngest divas to burst onto the pop-music scene since Madonna. Her album takes risks, and is even abstract at times, and that takes guts at 16. She updates the idea of romantic love but with a dose of reality. Her record does no disappoint.

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6. Mother Falcon: You Knew– This band of 18-20 musicians (yes, the number fluctuates) have put out some of the most original music to hit the scene in a long time. It marries classical and rock flawlessly. It flutters and shakes its way into your musical lexicon. Highly recommended if you want to broaden your musical horizons and simply listen.

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5. Haim: Days Are Gone — 2013 was THE breakout year for this pop/alt chick-sister act. They are not afraid to channel Laura Branigan, but remain super catchy and bring the 80s squarely into the now. They proudly wear their heart on their sleeve. Get it, if only for the devilish “My Song 5.”

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4. Deap Vally: Sistrionix– Two punk-rock vixens meet at a crochet class, decide to join forces, and destroy your vision of what the blues should be. Just listen here. My review of their EP Get Deap! is here.

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3. Arcade Fire: Reflektor — While there are stretches of enjoyable music in Reflektor– Forgive me, top music websites— this album was not as impressive as the tidal wave of media and ads hyped it out to be. Yet it draws you in with deep-storied melodies and dramatic crescendos. Reflektor creates an aura of French romance and intrigue that only Arcade Fire consistently does so well.

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2. Kanye West: Yeezus — There is no argument that outside the studio, the hip-hop king creates his own media firestorm, and that’s unfortunate. But the music is what should stand in the end if it’s good enough, and it is. The imagery he’s able to conjure is always vivid and engrossing and personal. Make up your own vision: West rocking a Wookie suit in “Guilt Trip” to being a newly risen pharoah in “Black Skinhead,” to being a guy so damn arrogant he’s barking for his damn croissants (that doesn’t need to be envisioned.)  His ballsy interpretation of Nina Simone‘s “Blood on the Leaves” only misses the mark marginally. West raises the bar for the rest to follow, and blazes new paths as others are just getting a hint of what he’s doing. Each release is darker and more introspective than the last. “New Slaves” is a far cry from “Gold Digger,” but the downward journey is ever sweeter.

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1. Laura Mvula: Sing To The Moon — Before the king goes the queen. Out of everything I’ve heard this year,  she’s been a constant. It was my anthem at summer vacation on the Cape, and had a hand on my shoulder on many a dark drive home. The music at times is intensely personal and takes its time. Mvula  also shows her strength— at one point singing, ‘Who made you the center of the universe/Who made you judge and jury over me?’. “Sing to the Moon” moves smoothly, anchored by her powerful vocals and piano ballads. Her style dances elegantly between classical and popular music.  It’s done to perfection.

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Thanks to all who read my blog and see you in 2014! ~ Emily

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From Bowie with love: A book list

Just about anything Bowie does is cool– this now includes opening up the dusty old spine of a musty book. He’s now invited the world to check out his book list.

My blog post many moons ago mentioned David Bowie’s exhibit at the V and A in London. The “David Bowie Is” exhibit now resides at the Art Gallery of Ontario. A story about the exhibit is here.

This poster probably graced your local library back in the 80s.

This poster probably graced your local library back in the 80s.

As part of the exhibit, curators Marsh and Victoria Broackes released a list of 100 of Bowie’s Must-Read books. Besides the fact that a global musical pioneer is letting us know what he likes to read, the list is an eye-opener simply for its variety.

The list runs chronologically, starting with “Black Boy” by Richard Wright, from 1945 and ending with “The Age of American Unreason,” by Susan Jacoby, from 2008.

It includes well-known classics and music-based books, mysteries and obscurity.

There’s poetry and beatnik stories; stories on Kafka and Francis Bacon. The list even includes British crude-comic mag “Viz.” The only details are that the magazine started in 1979 — Does this mean he’s read the roughly 266 issues since its inception?

Be like Bowie: Read.

Be like Bowie: Read.

A few highlights:

Well-known classics: George Orwell’s “1984”;  Vladimir Nabokov‘s “Lolita.”

Music-based books: “Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom.”

True mysteries: Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.”

Bizarre titles: Arthur Danto‘s “Beyond the Brillo Box”; Howard Norman’s “The Bird Artist.”

And the corker: “Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson,” by Camille Paglia.

Your own well-rounded cosmopolitan library, built by Ziggy himself.

vintage book poster

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The case for cassettes?

It’s known as the cassette tape, or simply, the tape. It’s rectangular, maybe an ugly beige or plain white or clear plastic, with ribbon inside it. Tapes feel chunky; they make little sounds when you shake them. Sometimes you hated them, other times you loved them; either way, it mattered, to most any music lover in the 80s.

Lloyd Dobler‘s “In Your Eyes” tape was safely encased in his boombox as  he hoisted it high above his shoulders in “Say Anything.” The tape spilled its guts in the aftermath of the party scene from “Sixteen Candles.” And of course there was the mix tape Lafawnduh gave “Napoleon Dynamite,” which changed everything.

Tapes turn 50

Tapes turn 50

The tape has been having a bit of a revival lately. Cassette Store Day was Sept. 7, and a slew of artists released tracks on plastic to celebrate. Musicians on the tape include The Flaming Lips, Suicidal Tendencies, Deerhunter, Animal Collective and Guided By Voices. Parquet Courts’ latest EP, ‘Tally All The Things That You Broke,’ is set to come out with a mix tape of various artists.

As long as you kept your old stereo, it’s still easy to throw your songs on tape (no computer necessary). Bands still do that these days to get their music out.

The tape turned 50 recently, and its birthday certainly deserves a footnote in music history. For all its faults, it got many of us through the “me” decade.

CD-Blank

These days the CD rules. But in the 80s, CDs weren’t readily available. You could go buy your tape at the local Sam Goody, or maybe have a BMG tape-club membership — I thought that was all the rage. (It wasn’t.)

While CDs are miles ahead technically, tapes will always have that little extra something CDs can never erase or duplicate.

I was always felt an excitement unwrapping the slick cellophane wrapper and first opening the tape. It made a slight creak at the hinges, which told you it was brand-spankin’ new.

At that point the plastic was all clear and smooth and pristine. If you were lucky,  your choice of tape came with a little colorful booklet lovingly tucked into its case, showcasing lyrics or a bunch of cool photos. If you were not lucky,  you only had the cover art on the front and the little spine, and nothing else. That was more common on tapes in the early  to mid-80s.

A lot of tapes when they were first opened had a smell to them I likened to candy. The Police’s “Synchronicity” tape smelled like that; probably still does. It’s still in the basement.

The clear plastic on my Synchonicity tape smelled like candy.

The clear plastic on my Synchronicity tape smelled like candy.

There’s not that much excitement when trying to open a CD wrapper — it’s more like —- “Oh great — now I have to go get a knife and hack at the plastic until it finally bows to my pressure.” Shrink wrap is the devil.

Tapes could live almost their entire life span on the bottom of your kids’ closet, underneath grit and broken toy parts. If you were somewhat careless with your cassettes and the ribbon gets pulled out, just take a pencil and wrap it back in– maybe you’d get some sound distortion at that point in the ribbon (which you would always remember from then on, sadly.)

CDs easily get scratched, bent, or just shatter. There’s no coming back from that.

Songs on tape are either on Side A or Side B. The musician had to have a big closer for the end of Side A. This was supposed to entice you to press the eject button to flip the tape over for Side B, unless you were one of those fancy folks who had the kind of tape player that did that for you. Elitist.

CDs have one side, so there really isn’t a big send-off in the middle, or anticipation, such as when the tape is flipped. Press one little button on your CD player and you’re on to the song you want– no sitting, head in hand, pressing fast-forward….. stop, play, — that’s not the right song—- fast-forward…… stop, play….. rewind……. play, give up and listen to whatever comes out.

Which brings us to the biggest difference between tapes and CDs:  The Mix Tape. For the road, for vacation, from one best friend to another, to your lover, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. As a thank-you when you’re not floating in dough.

Half the fun is decorating the cover and coming up with a title, but the biggest draw was playing DJ. It’s like putting a little kiss on each song you picked- hoping the person likes what you chose and how you put the tape together. It was so personal, trying to create that mystery.

mixtape

Yes, you can do a mix tape with either tapes or CDs, but you could “tape over” some songs if you hated them in your mix tape. CDs are burned, and that’s it, so you’d better get it right. Hopefully you didn’t already put your blood and tears into decorating the damn thing.

This is what the floor of my bedroom would have looked like in 1987.

This is what the floor of my bedroom would have looked like in 1987.

But technology waits for no one, and bands need to keep up with whatever format is hot right then to stay relevant. So yes, CDs and mp3s are here now, but maybe Cassette Store Day and mixtapes prove the medium still has some life to it. Maybe musicians these days are looking back on those old tapes, and rethinking them a bit.

(Side B side note: Unfortunately, the tape has the dubious distinction of being the ugly stepsister– it’s the third wheel in the life cycle of how we listen to music. Records came first and were refined over the decades. They are already enjoying a robust resurgence. The 8-track made a very special footnote in the 70s while records still dominated. Cassettes were the transition from records to CDs.

These transitions are clearly getting smaller and smaller. CDs don’t show any sign of stopping, although now we are moving toward the mostly invisible MP3s. Music creates such an emotional connection for people, that having a strictly electronic medium for the song that got you through that breakup somehow seems wrong.)

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