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Gabe’s Top 25 Albums of 2013

Gabe’s Top 25 Albums of 2013

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Dec 31, 2013 | Comments (0)

1. Kanye West – Yeezus (Def Jam)
2. Beyoncé – Beyoncé (Columbia)
3. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap (No Label)
4. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety (Software)
5. Drake – Nothing Was the Same (Young Money)
6. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator (Matador)
7. King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath the Moon (True Panther)
8. Iceage – You’re Nothing (Matador)
9. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual (Rabid)
10. Haxan Cloak – Excavation (Tri Angle)
11. Sky Ferriera – Night Time, My Time (Capitol)
12. The New Trust – Keep Dreaming (Discos Huelga)
13. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience (RCA)
14. Merchandise – Totale Night (Night People)
15. Haim – Days Are Gone (Polydor)
16. Ka – The Night’s Gambit (Iron Works)
17. Charli XCX – True Romance (Atlantic)
18. Grouper – The Man Who Died in His Boat (Kranky)
19. The Crux – The Ratcatcher (Self-Released)
20. Helm – Silencer (PAN)
21. The-Dream – IV Play (Def Jam)
22. Julia Holter – Loud City Song (Domino)
23. Jose James – No Beginning and No End (Blue Note)
24. K. Michelle – Rebellious Soul (Atlantic)
25. Ariana Grande – Yours Truly (Republic)

Previous years here, here, here, and here.

Gabe’s Top 30 Shows of 2013
City Sound Inertia Wins National 2012 AAN Award

City Sound Inertia Wins National 2012 AAN Award

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Jun 8, 2012 | Comments (0)

Great news! At today’s 2012 convention in Detroit, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia awarded City Sound Inertia with a third-place national award for Best Music Blog.

On top of that, yours truly won a first-place award for print-based writing in the category of Music Reporting / Criticism, with pieces selected from the Bohemian on tUne-yArDs, Conlon Nancarrow, and those irritating Pink Floyd reissues.

I am humbled, and thrilled. I’m always in fine company every year with City Sound Inertia, and this year’s no different: Ian S. Port and the writers for All Shook Down at the SF Weekly deservedly took first place. Gimme Noise, from the Twin Cities’ City Pages, took second. So to have a small, individually-written blog from Santa Rosa up in there… it’s a great feeling.

After three straight years of winning this award, I’ve decided to make a big change on City Sound Inertia and invite writers other than myself to contribute. Regular visitors may notice some new bylines here; some fresh voices and different angles can only do a music blog good. From 2008–2011, I ran City Sound Inertia entirely on my own as a one-man show, but it’s time to let other writers in. Hopefully you’ll welcome them as you’ve so obviously welcomed me.

Thanks to AAN, an organization of over 130 papers across the country, for the support. And thanks of course to you, the readers, for sticking with me and putting up with my rants, raves and obsessions about music. Here’s love to you all.

 

…About Those Top 25 Albums of 2011

…About Those Top 25 Albums of 2011

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Dec 18, 2011 | Comments (2)

1. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

When I first heard tUnE-yArDs’ w h o k i l l, I was so flabbergasted that I could report my findings only in abstract poetry form. With a ukelele, a drum kit, a fantastic bassist in the form of Nate Brenner and a total command of loop pedals, Merrill Garbus has made a record that’s both daring, accessible, and fully enjoyable. Like Joanna Newsom revolutionized the harp and PJ Harvey rethought the autoharp, Garbus is probably spurring a boost in ukelele sales nationwide; what can’t be packaged is her incredible, malleable voice, which is sweet and cooing one minute and a roar from another world the next. Variety is the spice of w h o k i l l: There are grinding, horn-heavy jams like “Bizness,” and there are slow, beautiful ruminations on love, like “Powa,” with a breathtaking upper-register ending. Thematically, the record takes on a tortured society, from a refutation of modern America to violence, police brutality and empowerment. I saw tUnE-yArDs twice in 2011, and talked to Garbus briefly. (She told me “Santa Rosa isn’t piddly.”) I also played this record over and over and over and over and over and over.

2. Death Grips – Ex-Military (Third Worlds)

The Easy Listeningification of Everything was probably the defining thread of 2011. Last year’s chillwave mellowness permeated not just wispy rock hits from bands like Real Estate, Toro Y Moi and Washed Out, but it snored its way into hip-hop as well. Musically, Drake’s Take Care is just a couple steps away from new age, and Frank Ocean, sprung from the usually abrasive group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, wowed critics (and Beyoncé) with a smooth, synth-ed out semi-R&B record, Nostalgia, Ultra. This Prozac-esque trend owes in part to three years of Lil’ B, the Oakland rapper from The Pack who released an album this year called I’m Gay, and whose Rain In England LP, heavy on rhythmless synthesizers, was released by the experimental noise label Weird Forest. (Going further back, one could tip the hat to Jay Electronica, who in 2007 released “Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge),” a 9-minute track of rapping, with no drums at all, over the incidental score from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.)

All this lead-up is to say that I got tired of hearing rap music that wasn’t fucking rap music in 2011, and Death Grips’ Ex-Military was the perfect antidote to the annoying trend of blissed-out navelgazing in hip-hop. Led by the maniacal MC Ride and powered by Hella drummer Zach Hill, the album is one ferocious eruption of angry ideas after another, shouted recklessly over samples from the likes of Jane’s Addiction and Link Wray. The group’s videos are skittish, diseased and terrifying. Hip-hop in 2011 mostly said, “I’m cool, thanks.” Ex-Military said fuck you.

3. EMA – Past Life Modern Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

Another pitfall of music in 2011 was dull oversharing. Menial details of one’s life do not a deep statement make, but plenty of artists (and Facebook users) thought otherwise. EMA’s Past Life Martyred Saints is an album by Erika M. Anderson, who realizes life is not poetry unless you make of it something different and eloquent. You might not think as much from an album that opens with the lines “When you see that ship / It is the ship you can see,” but hang in there, I promise. “I wish that every time he touched me left a mark,” Anderson repeats on “Marked,” sounding like an Exile in Guyville Liz Phair; “20 kisses with a butterfly knife” reads like a cast-off lyric from Tom Waits’ Blue Valentine. There’s blood, jealousy, disappointment and revenge, especially in the fantastic semi-spoken “California,” a masterful hypotenuse between Patti Smith and PJ Harvey. Live in San Francisco, EMA was all sorts of likable awkwardness—if you’re into real human beings trying to be real human beings in front of a crowd of strangers, against the odds, she is fantastic. If you are not, you will probably say it feels like a therapy session.

4. Jamie XX – We’re New Here [Instrumentals] (XL)

I remained apathetic to the universally loved 2010 debut album by The XX (except that beautiful intro!), and this year did not jump out of my seat for a Gil-Scott Heron remix record by Jamie XX, We’re New Here. Intermittent “old soul” voice samples in electronic music = kind of 1999, but in the limited-edition box set released for Record Store Day, there was a separate disc of the instrumentals. I played them, and played them, and played them. Each time, the sonorous bass kicking in during “I’m New Here” was like a drip of morphine; the insistent wiggle and menacing handclap of “Running” always put me in an imaginary heist movie. This BBC Essential Mix on Soundcloud gives you an idea of the thoughts running through Jamie XX’s brain; download and escape.

5. Givers – In Light (Glassnote)

When making these lists, I have to consider records that just plain make me happy. Sometimes those records shoot to the top of the list, like in 2007, with the Cribs’ Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever. This year the “always makes me happy” award goes to Givers’ In Light. Critics may have pointed out that it sounds a lot like a Vampire Weekend / Dirty Projectors hybrid, but there is an effervescence to this record that I cannot deny. I mean, the first song is called “Up Up Up”! If I were to pick a perfect single of the year, “Saw You First” would be a contender—just a sweet-sailing, high-kicking love song that hits all the right notes. Really, listen to it. There are mega-epic “rock moments” all over the record, the songs are a senior thesis in perfect arrangement, and goddamn if Tiffany Lamson and Taylor Guarisco’s voices aren’t a lovely blend.

6. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (Self-Released)

I’ve tried in the past to contain these lists to legit physical releases, but with more and more artists self-releasing via free download, I wave the white flag—five titles on my 2011 list began life as free online offerings. The Weeknd’s House of Balloons was posted online in the early part of the year, and it might win the award for broadest appeal. The Weeknd is Abel Tesfaye, an Ethiopian-Canadian R&B singer who bathes in dramatic lust; if you’ve ever wondered what might happen if The-Dream loved Siouxsie and the Banshees, here’s your answer. More about mood than songwriting, House of Balloons is a successful straddle between indie, R&B and pop, and its intrigue and atmosphere transfer a regular late night into something gripping and sexual; a regular morning into something laden with regret and haze.

7. Clams Casino – Instrumentals (Type)

“Lil’ B songs are better without Lil’ B,” a friend told me recently, and such subtraction leaves Clams Casino’s Instrumentals. Casino is from Jersey, makes beats that fit in to the 2011 aesthetic of laze, and has worked with A$AP Rocky and Mac Miller and maybe Drake but he’s not saying. He always sounds better on his own, and Instrumentals—originally a download, eventually released on 2LP by Type Records—skirts into an astral plane and deserves attention without clamoring for it. Seek it out if you can; he’s definitely on the rise.

8. Odd Bird – Smith (PCL)

Some albums don’t hit at first pass; you have to turn them inside out. In the case of Odd Bird’s Smith, I took the literal interpretation of this idea. First, I bent the gatefold LP backward and inside-out so that this excellent photo by Sara Sanger would be the “front” cover. Then, I began playing it starting on Side C instead of Side A. Both adjustments turned a decent local release into a year-end winner. Taut tunes, animal imagery, harmonies between Ashley Allred and Judah Nagler that are in the clouds, plenty of guest musicians, and songs that pay rent in your head.

9. Kreng – Grimoire (Miasmah)

Remember all that complaining about synthesizers, a lack of drums, and langour infecting all genres? An irony to The Easy Listeningification of Everything in 2011 is that much of it is imported from the so-called “noise” scene. (See: Oneohtrix Point Never.) I admit that I overdosed on noise in 2010, and try as I did to escape the genre’s clutches in 2011, certain artists grabbed me and would not let go. Kreng’s Grimoire is an Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack updated for the 21st century—it lulls, then slashes, and slashes hard. Aside from Bernard Herrmann’s music for Obsession, I have never been so downright terrified listening to a record . Here’s a Soundcloud; good luck making it out unscathed.

10. Amon Tobin – Isam (Ninja Tune)

There was a streak there where I was waiting for Amon Tobin to make a substandard album. It came with The Foley Room, an experiment in field recording and sound manipulation that fell flat. But with Amon Tobin’s Isam, the Brazilian-born DJ makes a pummeling, bombastic case for longevity. (Back in 1997, who would have predicted that Ninja Tune’s boy upstart would one day overtake DJ Shadow?) Everything Tobin does is interesting, but Isam is cohesive, and ranks up there with Supermodified and Out From Out Where.

11. That Ghost – Songs Out Here (TwoSyllable)

That Ghost’s Songs Out Here is a surprise favorite of mine recorded by a kid named Ryan Schmale from Santa Rosa, whom I have never met. Lo-fi and echoey, part Roy Orbison and part Shirelles, antiquated and warehoused. I keep pulling it out and putting it on, and finding new things to love.

12. Hudson Mohawke – The Pleasure Principle (Warp)

Though he released a “real” EP this year on Warp, Hudson Mohawke’s The Pleasure Principle is a fucking dance jam, with exuberant club-worthy remixes of Janet Jackson, Keri Hilson, Jodeci, Aaliyah and Gucci Mane. I want to hand it to a DJ at Rock ‘n’ Roll Sunday School and see what happens.

13. Grouper – Alien Observer / Dream Loss (Yellow Electric)

For those looking to kill the lights and imagine Lars von Trier’s Melancholia in real life, Grouper’s Alien Observer / Dream Loss is a two-separate-album release; a vision in reverb and lost emotion. For someone whose art can be very detailed and knotty, Liz Harris’ music is linear and soaring; I cannot help loving this.

14. Beyoncé – 4 (C0lumbia/Sony)

The video of the year, in my opinion, was this Jay-Z-filmed backstage iPhone clip of Beyoncé warming up in her dressing room by singing “1+1″ with sparse accompaniment. Though I didn’t dig the album at first (singles “Love on Top” and “Countdown” are not the best representatives of this effort), Beyoncé’s 4 won me over with its unapologetic bliss. Get happily married, y’all, and then play this album, and then tell me what you think of it.

15. Tom Waits – Bad as Me (Anti-)

Another album I initially dismissed was Tom Waits’ Bad as Me, largely because it breaks absolutely no new stylistic ground. I kept coming back to it, though, and more than a disappointing retread from someone who should have more vision, it’s a touching album. The incessant banjo on “Raised Right Men” matches any tense gait, and the last song “New Year’s Eve” should be played at every New Year’s Eve party.

16. Terius Nash – 1977 (Self-Released)

Terius Nash’s 1977, well, what can I say? Yes, I love The-Dream (a.k.a. Nash) up to a point (that point would be Love King, blecch), and this free download brought back some of what I love. “Used to Be” is everything all those other cold-fish rapper-singers who complain about their love lives wish they could attain, a village idiot with a huge, complicated heart.

17. Pete Swanson – Man With Potential (Type)

A holdover obsession from 2010, Pete Swanson’s Man With Potential grabbed my ears for expanding beyond Swanson’s noise parameters and into a bizarre type of… house, or something? Imagine Manchester’s Factory with an insistent short-circuit; fans of Eno, Vangelis and Kraftwerk might do good to watch this clip.

18. Liturgy – Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey)

Many years ago a band from the East Bay called Asbestos Death morphed into a band called Sleep, whose Dopesmoker ushered in a new wave of slow, plodding stoner metal. (Kyuss helped on a mainstream level, then turned in to Queens of the Stone Age.) For a time, stoner metal was everywhere, and Sunn o))) did it best, and then… oversaturation. Liturgy’s Aesthetica brings that beat back in amphetamine explosions of rapid-fire time signatures and eruptive, howling vocals. It’s fast, it’s furious, it kicks ass.

19. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)

I avoided St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy (fashion spreads turn me off) but then saw a clip on the late-night, and dove in. There is no easy categorization for the music here, and Annie Clark seems to avoid it even further by piling up pedal effects on her guitar playing. If the last time you heard her she was covering Jackson Browne (or as the kids say, The Royal Tennenbaums), then it’s time to call again.

20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25…

I love Greg Brown’s Freak Flag because his voice is lower and raspier than ever. . . Crooked Fingers’ Breaks in the Armor has “Heavy Hours” and “Went to the City,” two goddamn incredible songs. . . Do feel free to be freaked out by the cover photo of Chelsea Wolfe’s Ἀποκάλυψις, and make sure to save some extra freakedoutedness for the music. . . I desperately want Concord Jazz to take good care of the entire OJC catalog they recently acquired—seminal jazz titles on Riverside, Prestige and more by Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Rollins, Evans—but their track record of honoring what we loosely call “real jazz” is not promising. Releasing Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott’s Ninety Miles is a step in the right direction. . . I loved James Blake’s James Blake for two weeks, then hated it, then saw him and loved it, then hated it again, and now it’s just there. . . and from the fantastic vocalist, Gretchen Parlato’s The Lost and Found is a collection of soothing, nuanced songs by Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans, Lauryn Hill and others, with contributions from Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinsumire and Taylor Eigsti. And girl, she gots Skrillex hair.

Original list of the Top 25 Albums of 2011 is here.

 

Top 25 Albums of 2011

Top 25 Albums of 2011

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Dec 14, 2011 | Comments (3)

1. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (4AD)

2. Death Grips – Ex-Military (Third Worlds)

3. EMA – Past Life Modern Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

4. Jamie XX – We’re New Here [Instrumentals] (XL)

5. Givers – In Light (Glassnote)

6. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (Self-Released)

7. Clams Casino – Instrumentals (Type)

8. Odd Bird – Smith (PCL)

9. Kreng – Grimoire (Miasmah)

10. Amon Tobin – Isam (Ninja Tune)

11. That Ghost – Songs Out Here (TwoSyllable)

12. Hudson Mohawke – The Pleasure Principle (Warp)

13. Grouper – Alien Observer / Dream Loss (Yellow Electric)

14. Beyoncé – 4 (C0lumbia/Sony)

15. Tom Waits – Bad as Me (Anti-)

16. Terius Nash – 1977 (Self-Released)

17. Pete Swanson – Man With Potential (Type)

18. Liturgy – Aesthetica (Thrill Jockey)

19. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD)

20. Greg Brown – Freak Flag (Yep Roc)

21. Crooked Fingers – Breaks in the Armor (Merge)

22. Chelsea WolfeἈποκάλυψις (Pendu Sound)

23. Stefon Harris/David Sanchez/Christian Scott – Ninety Miles (Concord)

24. James Blake – S/T (Atlas/Universal)

25. Gretchen Parlato – The Lost and Found (Obliqsound)

There is much discussion about all of these titles over here.

Live Review: Kreayshawn at Slim’s, San Francisco

Live Review: Kreayshawn at Slim’s, San Francisco

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Aug 26, 2011 | Comments (0)


There’s a chemistry about live music that’s referenced pretty constantly—this thing of the performer feeding off the fans, and the fans feeding off the performer, until some mythic plane is reached where the energy created is greater than the sum of its parts. This phenomenon has no name, but go to a few shows and you’ll eventually see and feel it in action, particularly with up-and-coming artists suddenly handed a tidal wave of attention. Some up-and-comer, say, like Kreayshawn.

At her show in San Francisco last night, the audience showered as much energy as possible on the 21-year-old Oakland-bred rapper, whose “Gucci Gucci” video is at 13 million views and counting. Yet onstage at Slim’s, Kreayshawn seemed either incapable or uninterested in giving it back, either consciously relying on the mere presence of her instant fame to provide excitement, or nervous about a hometown crowd—or, you know, she could’ve just been kinda stoned.

Granted, this is sure to improve with more experience. The set was trashy, superficial and fun, as expected. And despite Kreayshawn’s detractors who say she can’t rap, she’s a natural on the mic in the true test of a live setting. Either on older mixtape rambles like “Wavey” or new track “Rich Whores,” Kreayshawn stayed on point, holding up under the weight of the bass and not falling back on prerecorded vocals like some of the show’s openers.

Still, something was amiss. Even as the sold-out crowd sang along, the unsettlingly thin Kreayshawn paced the stage with an uncertain air, as if she hasn’t decided what kind of star she wants to be just yet; either the kind that strives to connect with fans, or the kind that tries to be so aloof that people are drawn to her more. The result was that the club’s energy wasn’t reflected by Kreayshawn on stage, but instead dissipated into the rafters, its well from below gradually drying out.

The show improved markedly with the arrival of V-Nasty, who seemed genuinely thrilled to have her moment in the limelight, no matter how fleeting or controversial that moment may be. With the three on stage together, an element of the classic boy-band formula came to mind: a group of separate personalities, branded as one. V-Nasty, the stonewashed-jean-wearing white trash foulmouth in love with Waka Flocka; Lil’ Debbie, the awkward, untalented one along for the ride; and Kreayshawn, the skinny, fashion-minded Powerpuff girl of the bunch.

After “Bumpin’ Bumpin’” ran its course, the intro to “Gucci Gucci” dropped. The place went nuts, and though the crowd could have sung the whole song for her, Kreayshawn stayed on the mic for every line. Finally, a sort of pinnacle had been reached, and it was just as well—it was the last song of the set. Afterward, the White Girl Mob danced around to Cherrelle’s “Saturday Love,” a fight between two girls broke out in front of the stage, and Kreayshawn waved and went down the backstage stairs, on her way to host the red carpet at the VMAs this Sunday, talking fashion with the stars. Shit, it could even work out better than rapping. Who knows?

City Sound Inertia Wins Another National Award

City Sound Inertia Wins Another National Award

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Jul 22, 2011 | Comments (2)

Well, color me honored! Today in New Orleans, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies held their annual AAN Awards and handed out a second-place national award to City Sound Inertia for Best Music Blog.

Considering the great altweekly music blogs out there—Ian S. Port and the SF Weekly’s All Shook Down; Ezra Careff and the Portland Mercury’s End Hits; Rob Harvilla and Zach Baron at the Village Voice’s Sound of the City, which to no one’s surprise took first place—well, being in such fine company, and winning two years in a row, and doing so all by myself in a relatively small town… it feels good.

Thanks to all of you readers for sticking with me here on City Sound Inertia; I continue to be humbled by the fact that people actually read these words of mine, still usually typed at 2am from home. And again, thanks especially to AAN, not just for the award but for nurturing and championing alternative news media. Now go on and listen to some records! Start with Mingus Ah Um, The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death, Midnight Marauders or w h o k i l l, and you’ll be in fine shape for the rest of the day. Here’s love to you all.

 

Who the Hell Made Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ Video?

Who the Hell Made Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ Video?

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Mar 11, 2011 | Comments (206)

By now, chances are you’re one of the 100,000 people who today have ratcheted up a ton of views on the completely Bonkersville video for Rebecca Black, “Friday.” Where to begin? The way Autotune makes her pronounce the word “Fraah EE Daayee”? The existential question of which car seat to take? The segment in the bridge where it is very explicitly explained exactly where in the rotation of days of the week Friday falls?

See for yourself:

So yes, you are blown away. My friend Trevor puts it best: “It’s like everyone involved was given cat tranquilizers and then forced at gunpoint to make a video. The expression on her face when she’s saying the “fun fun fun fun” line is somewhere between ‘I’m saying “fun” but that word means something different on our world’ and ‘Help me I am being held hostage by Kim Jong Il and forced to do this.’”

Who the hell made this video?

The answer is Ark Music Factory, a Los Angeles-based company operating as an industry hybrid of Maurice Starr and John Bennett Ramsey. Their casting calls are perfect bait for starry-eyed parents: “If you are a great singer without any material and you want to get discovered,” one reads, “then Ark Music Factory is looking for you.” [It's now been removed; screen grab here.]

The formula is simple: They’ll fly your child between the specified ages of 13-17 to Los Angeles, write her a “hit,” record it in super-compressed Autotuned production, shoot an edge detection-overlay video and BAM! Maybe your kid can notch up a couple thousand YouTube views while you watch your dreams of being a pop-star parent percolate.

Ark Music Factory was launched last month by Patrice Wilson and Clarence Jey—pictured here with one of their pop stars-in-training, J’Rose. Clarence Jey has a MySpace with songs like “Nasty Boi” and “Party Like the Rich Kids.” The biggest name he’s worked with so far is Richie Kotzen, a guitar player from the 1980s hair-glam band Poison. He’s made a “chillax album,” and apparently has studied his Giorgio Moroder. He’s worked with girls as young as nine years old.

In fact, young girls seem to be Jey and Wilson’s preference, looking at Ark Music Factory’s roster. Here’s CJ Fam, a girl who usually sings at Ronald McDonald fundraisers and County Fairs, starring in “Five Days With Ark Music Factory.” It’s supposed be a commercial for Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson’s company, but it just looks plain depressing, creepy and horrible:

Ark Music Factory obviously has put a lot of effort into promoting a girl from Madison named Kaya Rosenthal, whose “Can’t Get You Out of My Mind” video was heavily promoted but has already been surpassed in views by Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video since I started typing this post:

Kaya at least understands the music video game—she took part in this spoof of music videos—but most of Ark’s clients appear oblivious to the realities of the music industry. In the comments of another video filmed by Ark Music Factory’s in-house producers, Sarah Maugaotega’s friends ask questions like “howd you make this !?” and “amazing howd you do it?” Sarah’s probably the most natural-sounding and looking singer on Ark’s roster, and her official YouTube channel has only seven subscribers. Nevertheless, this video got made:

The Ark Music Factory video team of Chris Lowe and Ian Hotchkins has some pretty standard teenage boy-girl ideas revolving around breakups, like this video by Ashley Rose, or this dippy, semi-charming video by Britt Rutter…

…both of which trade pretty heavily in teenage tropes like texting and video chat. Then there’s the truly unexplainable videos, like “Crazy” by Darla Beaux, which shows the teenage singer in a straitjacket on a survelliance camera, interspersed with hipstamatic shots. Most of the others are just as formless in concept.

You’ve got to wonder: What if all these Ark Music Factory girls hung out together, for one night? What would happen? Would the space-time continuum rupture? Behold, the Ark Music Factory launch party, which has to be seen to be believed:

Now look—I’m not going to say that Jey or Wilson are pedophiles, like a lot of internet commenters are doing. That’s a really rash conclusion to reach with no evidence, especially when we all know that the music industry thrives on young girls. They’re just doing what every shuckster in L.A. is doing, with the knowledge that short shorts on skinny legs will never go out of style.

But I will point out that their company obviously needs a lot of money to rent Rolls-Royces; pay studio time; shoot videos and rent venues and musicians and soundmen for launch parties. That money ain’t coming from record sales or publishing royalties. It’s coming pretty obviously from rich parents, buying a chunk of the L.A. myth a few days at a time so their kids can brag about it at school and continue to inflate their own vanity.

Is it sad? That depends on your point of view. Is it hilarious that “Friday,” Ark Music Factory’s biggest hit, has gotten famous for being mercilessly made fun of on the internet? You bet it is.

Ascension

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Feb 18, 2011 | Comments (3)

Anyone who watched the Grammys on Sunday night has probably been thinking about fame all week: both the instant fame of people like Justin Beiber, and the slow rise to fame of bands like Arcade Fire. And between the chatter about Mumford & Sons; and “The Song Otherwise Known as ‘Forget You’”; and that idiotic egg and even more idiotic song of Lady Gaga’s, there were two glimmers of what cynical viewers referred to repeatedly around the water cooler the next day  as “hope.” Namely, the Grammys awarded to Esperanza Spalding, for Best New Artist, and Arcade Fire, for Album of the Year.

Whether or not Esperanza Spalding’s win over Beiber will signal a true shift away from pop stardom and toward artistry is dubious. But the funny thing about it is what’s usually pretty funny about the Best New Artist category: Esperanza Spalding is nothing new. Nor is she unknown, much as the legions of betrayed Beiber fans want to believe. Spalding’s 2008 album was distributed through Starbucks, and as such was sold, promoted and piped into every outlet of the most ubiquitous worldwide chain since McDonald’s. Locals know her from playing sold-out shows at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival for the last two years, but she’s also been a huge-selling jazz artist worldwide. Lately, she’s sometimes made statements implying a predilection towards playing commercial pop, and chances are this Grammy win will render her next album very, very palatable. But the bottom line: Best New Artist. Spalding fits the description. Beiber? Not a chance.

The Arcade Fire win is a different matter. Within hours of their win, a Tumblr called “Who Is Arcade Fire” popped up, which offers really hilarious catharsis for those who have loved the band since 2004 and who have hated the Grammys for longer. The indignation on display, the utter frustration, the permeating theme that “Nobody Has Ever Heard Of Them“: it’s good for a laugh. The truth, of course, is that Arcade Fire has been destined for worldwide recognition since Pitchfork’s 9.7 review of Funeral in 2004. At that point, Pitchfork had already replaced Rolling Stone or Spin or any other outlet as the go-to for prescient reviews and relevant music news, so the writing was on the wall. Record stores were sold out of the album for three weeks straight.

(For the true nerd, there’s a great little bit by Christgau here about that historic Pitchfork review of Funeral, and the writer who penned it, David Moore. Moore is now into teen bubblegum pop and loves Ashlee Simpson.)

It’s too bad that The Suburbs is the band’s worst album, but that’s how these awards things work. What it means is a whole new generation of music-loving kids are going to be feeling really, really confused, and possibly feel like Arcade Fire are no longer “their” band. I’ve seen Arcade Fire twice since 2005, and one of my favorite things to read in the aftermath this week has been Carles’ take on it at Hipster Runoff, which is trying to be funny but evinces constant traces of real emotional uprising over their new mainstream status. This band meant something to me, he says, dammit, and now this. What now?

All diehard music fans have this moment. Mine came when Green Day signed. I learned swiftly that you can’t own a band—that, in fact, it’s best if the band belongs to the world, messy and superficial and under corporate domination though the world may be. Even though Green Day was no longer on an independent label like Arcade Fire (and yes, their Grammy win is as big a deal for independent labels as everyone is making it out to be), the underground scene that nurtured Green Day still felt a huge sense of ownership in the band. That was a wrong move, or at least a losing one.

Last week I hung out with Mike Dirnt on Steve Jaxon’s show on KSRO. He was up in Santa Rosa do to some interviews for his “other” band, the Frustrators, who play the Phoenix tomorrow. As pointed out in my music column in this week’s Bohemian, the last time Dirnt played the Phoenix with Green Day, right after signing to Warner Bros., there was a group of protesters out front calling themselves the “punk police.”

I wasn’t one of them. Instead, I was hanging around behind the theater with Billie Joe, playing one of Green Day’s new songs I’d taped from the Gilman soundboard back to him on a borrowed guitar. Except I’d written new lyrics for the entire song: “I’m not bein’ punk / I’m just sellin’ out,” I sang to him, to the tune of “Burnout.” He winced. And laughed, sorta, when I finished the song. I was only trying to exaggerate and thus mock the ire of the “punk police”—and later that night, while playing “Burnout” at the Phoenix, he got to the chorus and sang the same lines, about not bein’ punk and just sellin’ out. I knew he still had a sense of humor.

But just like Carles with the Arcade Fire, just like teenagers before him with Death Cab For Cutie, just like a million teenagers and their beloved bands that get huge, one can’t help but get emotional. Aaron Cometbus has produced by far one of the best pieces of rock writing ever with his latest issue of Cometbus, which is a journal of his adventures while touring China with Green Day last year. But moreso, it’s a trip through the complicated feelings one endures while watching something once pure and special and intimate sell thousands of $30 T-shirts in one night to even more thousands of kids in Singapore. There’s laughter, tears, kisses, and an overall sense of reunion—not just between people, but between long-conflicted emotions brought on by the ascension to fame.

As for me, the funny thing is that after letting Green Day go and accepting that they belong to the big wide world all those years ago, hanging out with Mike last week was a reminder that they hadn’t let me go. Mike instantly remembered playing a show I booked for them at Piner High School, and driving around Santa Rosa with me in their van after playing another ridiculous lunchtime show I’d booked at Santa Rosa High School, and the old bands I’d played in, and just about every show they played up here in Santa Rosa. It’s doubtful he remembers much from his third-to-last show on their latest tour of Japan, but there’s something about the early days—of a band, of a relationship, of life itself—that sticks with each and every one of us. I was surprised at first he remembered those times so well, but then again I wasn’t surprised at all: I remember the first few shows I played like they were yesterday.

It might just all come down to the old adage that when you’re least looking for something, it falls in your lap. Esperanza Spalding, Arcade Fire and Green Day weren’t ever looking primarily to be famous, but they were great, and it happened. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga’s obsessed with fame on every level, and might be destined to see her influence on other artists (Minaj, Cee-Lo, etc.) outlive her own artistic relevance. I mean come on. That horrible song? That useless tangent on the organ? “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen”?! Really?

Coddingtown Center’s ‘Dinosaur Christmas Song’

Posted by: Gabe Meline on Dec 22, 2010 | Comments (0)

It’s been a while since I’ve dusted off this old flexidisc record and played it—12 months, to be exact.

In December, an annual tradition of mine is to listen to “Dinosaur Christmas Song,” credited only to “Coddingtown Center.” For those who grew up in Santa Rosa, it’s truly one of the strangest Christmas songs in existence, telling the story of how the very first Christmas ever took place on the land now known as the Coddingtown shopping mall. It does a horrendous job at connecting Christmas and commerce, but I look at it through the eyes of one like, say, Stan Freberg, who railed against the commercialization of Christmas. Would not even Stan be charmed by the surreal absurdity of the British narrator, the female chorus, and the incessant groaning of dinosaurs in the background?

Many years ago, right when I started at the Bohemian, I decided to try and track down the origins of this record, which I discovered in 1994 at Goodwill for 35 cents. The article took me to Coddingtown in Santa Rosa, Hugh Codding’s main office in Rohnert Park, local commercial recording studios, radio stations, Montgomery Village and more. Read all about it here.

Or, if you’re so inclined, click the player below and be transported to a very strange moment in local history. At this point, after becoming an annual tradition, it’s one of my favorite Christmas songs. Enjoy.

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