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The Nicki Minaj Record Is Not Terrible

Posted by on Dec 7, 2010

This is only news to me because I had cynically decided Nicki Minaj’s record would be terrible about eight months ago. I knew the formula, or so I thought: artist puts out a few mixtapes, gets a couple high-profile verses, scores big with critics for something that sets them apart and then goes to record a proper album that crassly exploits those distinguishing features or somehow manages to make them sound completely unoriginal. At least that’s how I thought it might play out.

The first time I heard Nicki Minaj, I was fairly blown away. Then I looked her up and found this. The title of every song she’d guested on thus far sounded like a headline from Penthouse Forum. This brings up age-old issues about feminism in rap and the need to use sex as a foot in the door to get the real issues across; most realize swiftly that sex can be used instead of it using you, especially in the pursuit of sales and page views. When “Bed Rock” hit, I knew that Minaj had just built a career on the line “I think it’s time I put this pussy on your sideburns” in the same way that Ke$ha got famous by waking up and feeling like P. Diddy.

I also decided that her record would be terrible, because there would be too much money thrown at it, and that usually ruins everything. And though Pink Friday sounds plentifully funded, it doesn’t strip Minaj of her basic character—or, I should say, her multiple characters. She still ends lines by spewing like a barking dog (a la guess who’s playin’ Freddy), she still inhabits a persona for two seconds before abandoning it (British aristocrat, southern belle), but the varied production of the songs means that she doesn’t have to overcompensate with a scattered delivery.

Yeah, the thing’s fuckin’ filthy. It’s also hella clever and fun. Without Googling, I hear samples from “Video Killed the Radio Star,” “Don’t You Forget About Me” and “Scenario.” Eminem is an idiot on “Roman’s Revenge”—really, “no homo” in the year 2010?—Rihanna’s uber-inspirational on “Fly” and the production on “Did it on ‘em” lurks addictively. Not to mention that “I’m the Best” is an outstanding way to start an album: verse one humble (“I made a couple mistakes”), verse two trailblazing (“I’m fighting for the girls that never thought that they could win”) and wrapped up with a choice lift from Beyoncé (“all my bad bitches, I can see your halo”).

Oh, shit, and people in Japan don’t speak Thai. But that’s okay, and old Barbie World news anyway. The record’s still good.

Liz Harris, ‘Divide’

Posted by on Dec 1, 2010

I heard from quite a few people about a short piece I wrote on Grouper a few months ago, and though I’ve expounded on her music plenty, I’ve always been equally enamored with her artwork. ‘Divide’ is a book of Liz’s drawings that just came out via Root Strata, and it’s a fantastic collection of everything I love about Liz’s art: fine lines and finer ideas.

Some art I enjoy because it seems effortless, but more often, I love swimming through the process. Following Liz’s meticulous detail is like poring through ancient government documents: There’s a lot of hard fact there, but it requires lateral sight to place in understandable context.

‘Divide’ comes with a DVD, which I’ll watch after the book sinks in. In other words, 2023. You can order a copy here.

All Day Suckers

Posted by on Nov 17, 2010

If you’d have asked me two days ago, I would say that I can think of no possible way to ruin “Teach Me How to Dougie” by Cali Swag District, an essentially perfect song.

Girl Talk has a broader thought process than I, apparently.

Here you’ll find a track-by-track breakdown of all the samples that serve to render hip-hop songs palatable to those who remain enamored with the diminishing effects of the mashup craze birthed by real vinyl DJs and co-opted by the laptop brigade—including “Jane Says.” Sigh.

Don’t Buy ‘Sgt. Peppers’ for the Twelfth Time

Posted by on Nov 15, 2010

Here’s the thing about the Beatles and iTunes deal expected to be announced tomorrow. Much is being made about old copyright issues surrounding the “Apple” name, and how how it’s a big kiss-and-make-up story.

But what it comes down to is this: The Beatles catalog on CD for years was one of the most criminally un-remastered catalogs in all of music. When you bought ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ in 2008, its sonic quality was based on rudimentary standards in CD mastering from 1986.

When the Rolling Stones’ remasters came out in 2002, it set a precedent for the Beatles—not just aurally, but financially. The Stones remasters sold like crazy, and the Beatles took notice.

In September 2009, to great jubilation, the Beatles finally remastered their back catalog. The remasters were only available on CD, not iTunes, and as expected, they broke sales records for CD reissues. In 2009, the Beatles sold over 3 million CDs. For a time, the money rolled right in.

Now, over a year later, sales of those remastered CDs have fallen back to normal weekly figures. How else to jolt sales again? Move to the next medium. Of course—iTunes.

There’s no kiss-and-make-up story. It’s just the Beatles strategically timing the release of their music on newer platforms for maximum profit. Sorry to be cynical, but that’s really the beginning and the the end of it.

Our Time Is Now

Posted by on Nov 1, 2010

Krukow: “And that’s a wrap. Stick around for the postgame show. Our next broadcast is WE DON’T CARE. The first pitch is at WE DON’T CARE. The Giants are the World Series champions.”

In News

Cat Stevens vs. Ozzy Osbourne

Posted by on Oct 31, 2010

“Someone pull the emergency brake on that rainbow moonbeam choo-choo!”

No matter how you slice it, this unexpected bit of brilliant planning by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert was a highlight of yesterday’s Rally to Restore Sanity—or, as Obama called it, the “Rally Called Something Like Americans in Favor of a Return to Sanity or Something Like That.”

“Peace Train” vs. “Crazy Train,” with special guests at the end. So good.

The Fever

Posted by on Oct 30, 2010 One Comment

The Giants are up two games in the 2010 World Series and oh my God I can’t even believe I am typing those words.

I don’t have a felt cap covered in Croix de Candlestick pins, and I barely remember hearing Hank Greenwald on the radio before he retired, but I am a lifetime fan and something I can proudly say is that every time the Giants have been in the World Series in my lifetime, I have been at the stadium. In 1989, we had tickets, and watched at Candlestick Park in Game 4 as the A’s finished off a sweep. (I forgave them.) In 2002, we didn’t have tickets but went anyway, just to be a part of the scene outside the stadium; it was one of the better games of that ill-fated series which I can hardly bring myself to think about. This time around, no tickets either, but Tony and I parked at Tommy’s Joynt, rode bikes via Van Ness, Market and Fourth to the ballpark, turned on our Walkmans to KNBR and, without spending one dime on tickets, WATCHED THE GAME THROUGH THE RIGHT-FIELD FENCE. I love San Francisco.

You already know how the game went, and you can probably imagine the scene out on the promenade during the bottom of the 8th when the Giants scored 7 runs on two outs. I just kept splaying my arms up against the fence in religious fervor and hooting at the top of my lungs. After the final out, MAYHEM. Everyone was hugging and high-fiving total strangers; I even high-fived a cop. The Texas players’ buses were parked on Third near the bridge, and the lights were on inside the buses so you could see the players pointing, laughing and taking pictures of fans crowded around the Juan Marichal statue, chanting loudly that Texas sucks.

What you can’t imagine is the bike ride back to Tommy’s, which took us past the MOMA and Union Square. The entire city was going nuts. Cars were parked diagonally with all the doors open, music playing, people dancing in the streets, everyone going wild. People inside their SUVs high-fived us as we rode in the bike lane. People hailing taxis high-fived us while talking on their phones. People from the skinniest alleys to the highest hotel windows leaned out into the street to shout their joy. How can you take that away from people? I say more fair-weather fans, please, if it means more happiness to go around.

I remain amused at my many friends who couldn’t care less about baseball, like Jared Powell at Black Saints Tattoo, who recently offered 20 percent off for customers if they’d only just shut the fuck up about baseball for the duration of their tattoo. And I remain inspired by my friends who are into it, including Ethan Jayne, who is the whole reason I started writing this post in the first place. Formerly of Santa Rosa and since wooed to PDX and the Portland Mercury, Ethan nicely and neatly covers every thought I myself coincidentally had about music and its place in Thursday night’s game over at End Hits with style and humor. Check it out, and cross your fingers for the rest of this series because God knows it hasn’t always been easy being a Giants fan, no matter how long you’ve rocked the orange and black.

And Then There’s Marion Brown

Posted by on Oct 26, 2010

After yesterday’s post on Solomon Burke, Eyedea and Ari Up, Chris points out what I should have remembered: Don’t forget that Marion Brown also died recently.

Not that I can say anything that his music didn’t already say on its own. I can, as these things go, remember when I first discovered him via his eponymous ESP album. Crossroads Records on Hawthorne, in Portland, Ore. The cover was black-and-white, no title. I was just getting back into jazz. It didn’t really stick out from most other ESP stuff I was finding at the time.

But Brown’s name popped up time and again. Most notably, on Coltrane’s beast Ascension and Archie Shepp’s Fire Music, two hallmarks of the avant-garde. You could take the boy out of Georgia, but you can’t take Georgia out of the boy, and his series of records inspired by his home state find his vision coming complete: Afternoon of a Georgia Faun is an actual avant-garde outing on the now-pulseless ECM, and Geechee Recollections on Impulse is gracefully biting.

The only other thing to say is that yes, I found out about his death from Superchunk’s Twitter feed. I still think it’s fantastic that the archetypal indie-rock band would record a track called “Song for Marion Brown,” because I am into people listening to all kinds of music no matter what style they happen to excel at playing. And anyway, the lines are blurring more and more each day. Robert Plant’s most recent album contains two songs by Low. Mavis Staples recorded her latest album in Wilco’s recording studio with Jeff Tweedy. And Big L, from once-budding hyphy group the Pack, is putting out experimental spoken-word records on the same label as the Sun City Girls and Yellow Swans. Genres don’t exist anymore.

Somehow this all ties into me buying tickets for and then deciding not to go see Best Coast tonight. I’ve blown hot on Crazy for You and been entertained by its hooks, but ultimately, I feel perplexed that the world’s so-called discerning music listeners are elevating something so stringently unoriginal. If I were a female songwriter, I would be especially frustrated, because Bethany Cosentino has now proven that lifting the Shirelles’ schtick, rhyming the same words over and over, sticking to the same themes of longing and loneliness and adding in a few references to cats and weed are all it takes to achieve stardom, apparently. I love me a good jingle, and Crazy for You is shameless fun, but if I’m going to get really hyped on something it better be more variegated. In that dept., Marion Brown: 1. Best Coast: 0.

Finally, Warpaint’s new album The Fool was released today. Listen to it here.

They Come In Threes

Posted by on Oct 25, 2010 2 Comments

Noting the passing of a celebrity is like celebrating a pennant win in the bottom of the seventh; there will be two more, according to the self-fulfilling maxim. So when Solomon Burke died at the Amsterdam airport two weeks ago, I held my breath, hoping the next one would be more prepared to go. Someone like Eddie Fisher or Tony Curtis. I didn’t get my wish. Eyedea and Ari Up were gone within two weeks.

Most people online will see photos of Ari Up, née Arianna Forster, read a few lines and assume she was just another screamer in a punk band—especially if they see the cover photo for the Slits’ album, Cut, which shows Forster and her bandmates topless and covered in mud. But the Slits couldn’t have been further from the bedraggled screams of punk, or of X-Ray Spex, who they were often compared to. Juxtapose the roughshod reggae-disco of Cut against records by the Rapture and M.I.A. and it’s clear Forster was really, really ahead of her time.

Eyedea, from the Minneapolis hip-hop duo Eyedea & Abilities, was just 28 when he was found dead last week. I did the math, discovering he was still a teenager when his massive statement of purpose, First Born, was released. The triple-album is essentially Exhibit A in the case for the personal/political torch of punk being rekindled in indie hip-hop. Naturally compared to Atmosphere due to geography and pigment, Eyedea expressed a pensive examination of the world and the individual’s place therein with humor, cleverness and heart.

And then Solomon. I was among a few hundred people who once waited over an hour while Solomon Burke was stuck in San Francisco traffic. It was 2005, a free show at Amoeba, and his fans were adhering to the title of his recent record, Don’t Give Up On Me. Patience was rewarded when Burke was led to his red velvet throne and began singing—the huge store was silent while he commanded the afternoon. At one point, a front-row fan shouted a request for Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and in a lightning-fast move, Burke pointed in their direction and immediately went in: “I was boooooorn…”

If there’s any good to come of all this, it’s that you now have three masterpiece records to check out: The Slits’ Cut, Eyedea & Abilities’ First Born, and Solomon Burke’s Don’t Give Up On Me. It’s rainy season. Enjoy.

Live Review and Photos: 2010 Treasure Island Music Festival

Posted by on Oct 19, 2010 One Comment

I’ve got a theory and the theory is this: No matter how early you try to arrive at the ballpark to catch the shuttle to Treasure Island, you will always get to the festival three seconds after the band you’d sell your left kidney to see takes the stage. Bridge traffic, shuttle lines and unexpected delays crop up every year. That’s a better scenario than missing your favorite band entirely, but it’s nonetheless sweat-inducing—even in the type of bone-chilling weather which this year finally decided, after three Treasure Island Music Festivals benevolently spared the San Francisco cold, to rear its oceanic head.

Yes, it was cold. And yes, two of the must-see acts of 2010, Die Antwoord and Superchunk, played at relatively early time slots, which surely was a strategic move on the festival organizers’ part, I imagine, to beef up the crowd in the early hours. Both acts could have more played a few slots up on the bill, and that’s not accounting for taste—just demand. Likewise, Deadmau5 probably should have headlined Saturday, because a gigantic sea of neon-clad pacifier-wearers with goosebumped bare midriffs bailed for the warmth of the shuttles before LCD Soundsystem.

For having been debunked as the Borat of all viral hip-hop jokes in 2010, Die Antwoord is insistently entertaining. Not too many rappers quote Cypress Hill and Ren & Stimpy in one breath while in the next, freestyling a couple lines about wiping his ass with a shirt someone threw on stage while actually wiping his ass with a shirt someone threw on stage. Juvenilia reigns, with stagediving, mooning the crowd and false appendages. Both Ninja and Yo-Landi really need to eat some food, but the fact that I still have their hooks in my head three days later tells you something about the success of their gimmick.

Nic Offer, singer of !!!, sings with his fly open! I am thrilled to finally see this band after too many missed opportunities. “You know where we played last night?” Offer offers. “Tokyo! That’s right! Friday night Tokyo, Saturday San Francisco. Three hours sleep, baby!” With LCD Soundsystem here too, the spirit of Jerry Fuchs lingers. Thanks for “Heart of Hearts” and “Must Be the Moon,” guys.

During Four Tet’s set, I finally have my brush with fame: The two guys handing out the “Thank You” stickers. Every fourth person I see has one stuck to their clothes, foreheads or breasts. Mid-dancing, they speak to me in body language which asks, “Hey man, do you want a ‘Thank You’ sticker too?” I respond with body language that says, “Yeah, here, lemme peel one off your roll there.” They both wag their fingers as if to say, “No way,” then one of them peels off a sticker and slaps it on my sweatshirt himself. They continue dancing. There is a man in a full-body green suit crowdsurfing. The sun is setting. Four Tet is a little less pastichey and more fluid than when I saw him last, four years ago, after Everything Ecstatic. This is not all that bad.

Somewhere in there between Kruder & Dorfmeister and Deadmau5, the news comes in: The Giants had beaten the Phillies in Game 1 of the NLCS. This fact is incredible to the point that stray fans shout things like “Cody Motherfucking Ross!” and random strangers jump up and high-five. Entire portions of the crowd chant “Let’s Go Giants!” The timing is good. I find a Fountaingrove Round Barn T-shirt on a hipster vintage rack in one of the clothing booths. Back near the port-a-potties I watch a gate-crasher hop the fence and sprint into anonymity. My best friend gets engaged. Okay, okay, that actually happened the night before. But still. Love is in the air.

“Deadmau5 Suck5,” my newly-engaged friend texts, but it’s not true. Deadmau5 is just there, the neo-house flavor of the year with an overboard, impressive light show owing buckets to Daft Punk. This happened two years ago, and it was called Justice. Where is Justice now? Replaced, it seems, by a DJ who hates DJs in a mouse helmet who lifts Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” I’m not on the right drugs, but for 45 minutes, Treasure Island is a solid, teeming, unified mass.

Watching Miike Snow is a nice change of pace from the phenomenon of Deadmau5. They’re shrouded in blue lights and a constant billow of fake fog (when, honestly, real San Francisco Bay fog could very nearly fill the role just fine). They’re from Sweden. This fact is helpful for copy editors when cursing their name, but doesn’t solve the whole puzzle. I suspect Miike Snow likes it that way. “Animal” sounds perfect in the dark.

To answer your question, yes, LCD Soundsystem does open their set with “Dance Yrself Clean”! Along with “Drunk Girls,” “I Can Change,” “You Wanted a Hit” and “Home,” This is Happening is well-represented. “All My Friends” is the hands-down jam. “Yeah.” Admirably, every sound on their recordings is replicated by one live instrument or another, and James Murphy can absolutely sing those falsettos live. Honestly, they could play all night, but when 10:50pm rolls around it’s time to pull the plug. “We don’t make the rules,” explains Murphy. “We’re not the cops.”

Superchunk rules Sunday. I resist the phrase “showin’ ‘em how it’s done,” but in Superchunk’s case it truly applies. No band at the festival is as punchy and energetic, but punchy and energetic are only tips of the equation: Vitally, Superchunk actually plays as if their music is important. Almost every other band playing today glosses over with that same lame rock-guy detachment that ruined the 1970s. In fact, with the rain, everything seems downright gloomy on Sunday after Supserchunk. They have every right to rest on their laurels, but instead they flail, pounce and thrash through such a damn fine set. Starting with “Kicked In”? BOLD. “Water Wings,” “Throwing Things,” “Detroit has a Skyline,” “Hyper Enough,” “Precision Auto,” it’s all in there.

It’s sad that Zooey Deschanel reminds me of Taylor Swift, but the facts are that like Swift, she’s cute and she doesn’t always sing on key. No one cared when Kurt Cobain didn’t sing on key, but Deschanel is going for an altogether different, which is to say retro, thing. She & Him’s 50s girl-group-by-way-of-Patsy-Cline schtick, female backup singers and all, relies on polish and technique, neither of which Deschanel has in spades. If it weren’t for the indie cred of M. Ward, who once made wonderfully strong, eloquent records before hopping on this confusing side project, I doubt many people would take the band seriously.

Monotonix: Bringing the DIY basement show to music festivals since 2008.

Two temper tantrums into Broken Social Scene’s set, a friend compares Kevin Drew to Axl Rose and chuckles; said friend loves Axl Rose and all his shortcomings. But I can’t digest it, not since seeing Drew and the rest of the band in much better, triumphant, E-Street-Band-like spirits just a year ago. It’s not just the weather, which is gloomy enough. Brendan Canning violently throws his guitar to the ground. Drew makes a pissy comment about how when you play as many shows as he does, you get accustomed to the sound being perfect. Wrapped in leather and shades and heroin-like detachment, he drops his own guitar mid-song to wander around the stage, invading other people’s instruments. They play “Almost Crimes” and “Anthem for a 17-Year-Old Girl” from You Forgot It in People; “7/4” and “Ibi Dreams of Pavement” from S/T; and the rest is from their new record, but they’re not feeling it, and neither is the crowd. Just an off day, I hope. The cold wind and cold vibes take their toll, and we head out.

More photos below – All photos by Elizabeth Seward. (more…)