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Songsmith: F’Real? No, really. F’Real?

Posted by: on Jan 14, 2009 | Comments (4)

I’ll never buy a PC, but if there’s one thing that bugs me about Macs is how supremely pompous the company is about their alleged ability to replicate human creativity. I used to think that the “Genius” feature on iTunes was the most egregious example of this, but now Microsoft has taken back the prize. Behold: Songsmith. Its commercial wins in some other category, too, though I’m not sure which. Horrible? Comically absurd? Scariest thing to watch while on LSD?

The key problem with this dumb-in-the-first-place idea is that one still needs to come up with an engaging melody, which, as Jimmy Van Heusen or Johnny Mercer could tell you, is the entire game. And even then, it’d be interesting to sing “Caravan” into Songsmith and see what sort of bullshitty crap comes out—probably, if the above commercial is any indicator, it’d be no different than pushing the “Demo” button on a Casio in 1986.

All of this reminds me of those just-add-water foam dinosaurs, where you add something pure and natural to something synthetic and get something overblown and gaudy.

Update, thanks to Eric: This is the fucking most awesome cohesion of blog memes in the universe. David Lee Roth’s acapella track run through the Songsmith. Listen and weep.

Oh Shit: This One’s Even Better.

Yoshi’s In Trouble

Posted by: on Jan 10, 2009 | Comments (0)

Yoshi’s gets a $1.5 million loan from the City of San Francisco. On top of a $1.3 million loan. On top of a $4.4 million loan. And Wayne Shorter didn’t sell out the place? Things are not looking good. From Jesse Hamlin’s piece in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Kajimura expects to pay off creditors – including some who have filed lawsuits against the club – as soon as the city cuts him a check.

The San Francisco venue has lost “several hundred thousand dollars,” and to reverse that, the booking in San Francisco, Hamlin reports, will diversify into world music and Americana. Oakland’s Yoshi’s will stay predominantly jazz.

I’m sad for Yoshi’s, but at the same time, I must admit there have been great jazz artists playing there who I haven’t felt compelled to see. The high ceilings have a little bit to do with that. There’s just no replicating the coziness of Yoshi’s in Oakland; it is and remains the perfect place to see jazz, and opening up the booking to artists like Toumani Diabaté and Tracy Nelson over in San Francisco will ensure that Oakland retains more artists like Wayne Shorter and Roy Haynes.

Inevitable: Open the floodgates for other local businesses to ask for their bailout, too.

Animal Collective’s ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ LP Disappears Immediately

Posted by: on Jan 10, 2009 | Comments (3)

I wrote a few weeks ago about Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, a record that a surprising number of critics have no reservations about already hailing as the album of the year. I didn’t like the album at first. Then I reconsidered the unique achievement Animal Collective had made by constructing pop songs out of unconventional ingredients, and wrote my review.

Another reason I may have been inclined toward speaking favorably of the album is that the band released it on vinyl two weeks before the CD, which is always a way to win my heart. Not that anyone could find the damn thing. Websites sold out of it immediately. Stores couldn’t even order copies. It swiftly went out of print. Fools were bummed.

Here’s the amazing thing. As reported by MTV, of all places, Merriweather Post Pavilion has a chance at actually hitting the Billboard charts next week for selling out the initial run of 4,500 copies. That’d be vinyl on the Billboard 200. Could you believe it?

This falls in line with reports of vinyl sales being up 89-percent from last year, and of record pressing plants being swamped with orders nationwide. It’s getting crazy in lacquerland.

Anyway, if you missed out on the 180-gram gatefold 2LP version of Merriweather Post Pavilion, don’t stress. It looks like they’re already rush-releasing a vinyl repress to be out “in the next three to five weeks.”

As for me, I’ve been swinging back toward my gut instinct. It turns out that those hooks all over the record are in fact obnoxious to me, after all. What can I say? I like Feels. Renaissance Faire singing about quaint domesticity, not so much.

Will Oldham in New Yorker, Will Oldham in Santa Rosa

Posted by: on Jan 7, 2009 | Comments (1)

There was a fascinating 10-page New Yorker profile on Will Oldham in last week’s issue, spotlighting in particular his penchant for playing small, weird, semi-secret out-of-the-way shows.

In related news, if I were you, I’d subscribe to Will Oldham’s mailing list. Like, right now. There’s a noticeable gap in his upcoming tour itinerary, and though I’m sworn to secrecy about the details at the moment, I can tell you that when tickets go on sale for his show in Santa Rosa, they won’t be available through normal sources, and they certainly won’t last long. The mailing list is your best bet.

iTunes Goes DRM-Free, Charges You For It

Posted by: on Jan 6, 2009 | Comments (0)

No more burning and wasting CD-Rs. No more hooking up cables between computers. No more importing into iMovie and saving as mp3s. No more FairGame, or DRMDumpster, or MyFairTunes.

But if you’ve got a large iTunes library and want to kill the DRM encoding, Apple’s gonna raid your wallet.

In a move rivaling the RIAA’s decision last month to stop suing people who illegally download music, Apple Inc. announced today that finally, 80 percent of its 10 million songs in iTunes will now be available in the DRM-free version of iTunes Plus, and that its entire library will be available DRM-free by the end of March.

But in a move rivaling Mafia shakedown tactics, music fans with songs purchased from the “old” iTunes have the option of converting their current DRM-encoded songs to 256kbps DRM-free files for an “upgrade fee” of 30 cents per song. If you’ve got 2000 songs, that’s a whopping $600—and all for something that both Apple and the major labels should have been offering all along anyway. It’s basically a shrewd and unforgivable variation on the music industry’s tradition of forcing fans to pay for the same music all over again. Fuckers.

Interestingly, the company’s started a variable price-point system as well: songs from iTunes will now cost either the usual 99 cents, the cheaper 69 cents, or the premium $1.29. The labels get to decide how much to sell their songs for, and I think the results will be pretty hilarious. Don’t expect their prices to be based on reality (i.e. new releases vs. back catalog tracks).

Sigh. It’s days like this that remind me the music industry is a festering money bog of rotten slop.

So Long, Freddie Hubbard

Posted by: on Dec 29, 2008 | Comments (1)

Earlier this year I saw Freddie Hubbard, one of the world’s greatest trumpet players, at Yoshi’s in San Francisco. It was a living, breathing disaster. If you’d like, you can read about the show here, but if you ever listened to this man and felt the transport in his trumpet playing, I warn you—it will only make you sad.

In his prime, Freddie Hubbard’s solos were the very definition of speaking through playing. His notes were words, his runs long sentences. He was sad, funny, and fearless, all without opening his mouth. I have spent cumulative hours with my eyes shut listening to his solos, being taken on beautiful journeys no oral storyteller could match.

There are so many amazing albums that Freddie Hubbard played on I don’t know where to start. I also keep discovering them in my own collection. The hallmarks: Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch. The standards: John Coltrane’s Olé, Art Blakey’s Mosaic, Tina Brooks’ True Blue, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. The big-band avant-garde: Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, John Coltrane’s Ascension. His own: Open Sesame, Hub-Tones, The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard and yes, Red Clay. All of them superb.

Freddie Hubbard died today at age 70, a month after suffering a heart attack. He had a really terrible curtain call in life, and it was torture to watch someone whose playing I loved so much struggling so viciously. It was worse that he was so cantankerous and volatile—just truly heartbreaking. Here’s hoping he found some peace. He’s still my pick over Miles Davis any day, hands down.

A memorial tribute for Freddie Hubbard is planned next month in New York City. In the meantime, here he is with Art Blakey, Wayne Shorter, Curtis Fuller, Reggie Workman, and Cedar Walton, in 1962. He always blasted hilarious grand entrances in his solos when he was able, and this one’s no exception.

Au Revoir, Eartha Kitt

Posted by: on Dec 25, 2008 | Comments (2)

She was a bad-ass who didn’t complain very often but also didn’t take any shit. Fled the States. Demanded equal treatment for women in the industry. Got stuck with some industry-branded Cruella DeVille-type nympho image. An incomparable cabaret singer.

“There’s no cabaret around the world that I know of,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s all gone the way of business, too much business, therefore the soul of the business has gotten really very lost. Greed is so destructive. It destroys everything.”

She taught James Dean dance lessons. Stood up to Lyndon B. Johnson over Vietnam at the White House. Was spied on by the FBI. Orson Welles called her the most exciting woman in the world. When asked which records she’d want on a desert island, she always said her own.

Eartha Kitt died today, joining an esteemed list of other entertainers who shuffled off on Christmas Day: W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Dean Martin and James Brown. So long, sweetheart. We’ll spin “I Wanna Be Evil” over Tofurky and pumpkin pie tonight.

They Still Make Tapes

Posted by: on Dec 23, 2008 | Comments (9)

Imagine my absolute shock when the other night, coinciding perfectly with my article this week in the Bohemian about why I still make tapes, this collection of cassettes arrived wrapped up on my front porch, like an abandoned child in swaddling clothes:

No way! Now that’s some incredibly in-depth joke, I thought, figuring that someone had spent hours making fake cassette artwork for five local bands: The New Trust, Not To Reason Why, the Velvet Teen, Polar Bears, and my own band, Santiago. But it just got even more insane when I opened the cases.

That’s right: these are actual manufactured cassettes!

My jaw dropped. Yes, these are complete albums on tape, and what’s more, the Warner Bros. style sheet for cassettes is adhered to down to the tiniest detail in the artwork: the black-bar cover, the block font on the spine, the timestamp on either side of the shell, the Dolby logo everywhere. Unbelievable. There are liner notes inside, and the catalog numbers even reference the old “-4” suffix, applicable to cassettes.

It’s like something I never thought I’d ever see. Holding something in your hand that surely couldn’t exist. Like a hallucination come true. Like the most retardedly beautiful Christmas present ever.

I called the usual suspects, Josh Drake and Josh Staples, and they proudly admitted to the feat. Those guys have done some absolutely stupid, bonkers-ass, unnecessary bullshit in their time, but this is by far my favorite thing they’ve pulled off. How did they do it? It turns out that there’s a place in Petaluma, Kaba Audio, that still takes orders for cassettes. Totally crazy.

I’ve been assured that there’s only 100 copies of these cassettes out there, which considering the demand for cassettes these days is probably about 97 copies too many. They come packaged in a $10 5-Pack, boasting “Now With Compromised Fidelity!” Those wanting in on this extremely short run can find it at the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa.

I got an overwhelming response to the article on cassette tapes, incidentally, which proves that you can’t kill a medium that’s been a part of people’s lives for decades. I even got some phone calls from people who rattled their cassettes into the phone, proving that they, too, still love tapes. The sad thing is that there’s still a market for cassettes (anyone who works at a record store can attest to repeated inquiries for tapes), but it’s just not profitable for the already-fledgling record companies.

The last actual manufactured cassette I saw domestically from a major label was Common’s Be, issued with a stock font, a chintzy black-and-white spine and no j-card at all. The last actual manufactured cassette I bought, though, was Green Day’s American Idiot, with a full-color fold-out j-card and official Warner Bros. packaging. It came from a seller in Malaysia, where cassettes are still relevant and where major labels actually order legitimate pressings of tapes there. Recently, they’ve made Metallica’s Death Magnetic, Kanye West’s The College Dropout, Weezer’s Make Believe, Against Me’s New Wave, and many, many more titles on cassette in Malaysia, all in short runs of about 200 or so.

The best way to find Malaysian titles on cassette is on eBay; type “Malaysia” into a cassette search and hundreds of titles pop up. There’s a long and strange dissection of complex Malaysian copyright laws here that might shed some light on why Malaysia is the dominant producer of new cassettes. And some incredible-looking Malaysian cassette manufacturing equipment is for sale here, which hopefully does not spell the end of cassettes entirely. Here’s a sample image of how they do it in Malaysia:

Music Twitterings Hither and Yon

Posted by: on Dec 20, 2008 | Comments (3)

Woke up yesterday and groaned at Pitchfork’s top albums, unsurprising since they lost all credibility with The Knife in 2006. Read about the recording industry’s strange new stance on downloading, which is to rely on Internet providers to do their dirty work for them. Was amused at the Phoenix Theater announcing the banning of hyphy shows, which is a brilliant maneuver, on par with announcing the banning of raves.

Flipped on the radio for Face the Music with Scott Mitchell and Frank Hayhurst, on KRSH. Laughed at the end of the show, when Frank presented Scott with a golden kazoo, since, alas, Scott is headed over to BOB-FM and will soon be replaced by Brian Griffith as the morning guy on the KRSH. Brian’ll be good and Scott’s been good, but man. I still miss Doug Smith.

Went to the downtown Post Office, where the holiday season has brought radio privileges for the counter staff. Was glad that instead of “Wonderful Christmastime” or “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, the clerks were stamping packages to “A Simple Twist of Fate,” by Bob Dylan. Dodged a car driving by playing the Youngbloodz-Procol Harum portion of Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals.

Got to work and read this wonderful piece of writing, regarding Leon Russell, by my friend John Beck. Felt the best kind of jealousy—I suspect that John is much more bound to editorial direction than myself, occasionally forced to write about music that he can’t personally get that excited about, and I love examining how he navigates total cowshit and turns it time and again into flowers. He’s good at it.

Read about the heavy metal singer who stabbed her guitarist for messing up a solo. Downloaded DJ Malarkey’s new Holiday mix to listen to while scouring club listings for New Years’ Eve information. Came across this lovely Christmas video of a drunk family partying their asses off around the tree, circa 1962, set to June Christy’s “The Merriest”:

(If you’re looking for a fantastic jazzy album of non-religious Christmas originals, call your local record store and pick up June Christy’s This Time of Year, just reissued a couple years ago.)

Had lunch at Hang Ah Dim Sum with the Love Level crew. Thought about Chinese opera and talked about Darker than Blue: Soul From Jamdown. Was reminded, by Mark and Gary, about KOME-FM and their street-sign stickers. Chatted about Backdoor Records. Thought about the late KPLS-FM and their even later cowboy-hat VW Bug.

Came back to work and gawked at the amazing Kate Wolf Festival 2009 lineup, with Emmylou Harris, Dave Alvin, Richard Thompson, Patty Griffin, Mavis Staples, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Wrote a little bit about Adam Theis and his upcoming SFJAZZ show, whose excellent Spring season was also announced this week: McCoy Tyner, Allen Toussaint, Bill Frisell, Kenny Barron, James Carter, Tinariwen, Roy Hargrove, Chris Potter, Brad Mehldau, Mariza, Kenny Burrell, Michael Feinstein and Branford Marsalis, among others.

Went to dinner at Fitch Mountain Eddie’s with my dad, where Richelle Hart and John Youngblood performed songs like “Summertime” and “Women Be Wise.” Talked a lot of shit about Ticketmaster, only to have the guy at the next table introduce himself as a guy who works for Ticketmaster. Wished him luck with that whole massive-debt-and-getting-dumped-by-Live-Nation thing.

Then: headed to the Raven Theater for the Bobs, who were as entertaining and awe-inspiring as they were when I last saw them at the Raven Theater in 1989. Was billed as the “Sleigh Bobs Ring” holiday show, containing plenty of Christmas numbers—”Christmas in L.A.,” “Christmas in Jail,” and an insane new song sung from the point of view of the Virgin Mary, “What Is This Thing Inside Me?”

Old chestnuts were dusted off, like “My, I’m Large” and “Boy Around the Corner,” and all the new ones like “Get Your Monkey off My Dog,” “Title of the Song,” “Imaginary Tuba” sounded great. Closed with “Christmastime is Here,” which I’m glad is becoming a holiday classic. Haven’t paid much attention to the Bobs in the last 20 years, but I was simultaneously buckled over with laugher, googly-eyed with amazement, and heartened that they still hang out in the lobby afterwards, chatting with all their weird fans. Thanks for keeping it up, guys.

Came home and listened to Booker Ervin, Madlib, No Age and Lucy Ann Polk. (Not Van Morrison, like grouchy Joel Selvin.) Wondered if real life was more important than music, or if the two are actually the same thing. Opted for the latter. Did the dishes and hummed Frank Sinatra. Went to bed.

Does Aretha Franklin Make Up For Rick Warren?

Posted by: on Dec 17, 2008 | Comments (1)

This is what we’ve been waiting for. Forget the Cabinet picks. The real question has been: Who will Obama pick to perform at his inauguration?

The inauguration schedule is in, and the winner is Aretha Franklin.

Does the Queen of Soul make up for Obama’s pick for the ceremonial invocation? Rick Warren, anti-gay, pro-life, co-conspirator in the fake “cone of silence” debate? No, it doesn’t. Picking one of the greatest singers ever to live (the greatest, if you read Rolling Stone) to sing at the inauguration is a classy move, but Rick Warren? Wha th’ fu?

Also performing are Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero, and the usual collection of military bands and childrens’ choruses. Full schedule here.