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Top 25 Albums of 2010

Posted by: on Dec 14, 2010 | Comments (1)

1. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening (DFA/Virgin)

2. Yellow Swans – Going Places (Type)

3. Jóhann Jóhannsson – And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees (Type)

4. Robyn – Body Talk Pt. 1 (Konichiwa/Interscope)

5. Titus Andronicus – The Monitor (XL)

6. Standard Fare – The Noyelle Beat (Bar None)

7. V/A – Welcome Home (Diggin’ the Universe): A Woodsist Compilation (Woodsist)

8. The Velvet Teen – No Star (Self-Released)

9. Jack Attack – My Rights Have Been Violated (Self-Released)

10. Jason Moran – Ten (Blue Note/EMI)

11. Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday (Young Money/Universal)

12. Goodriddler – The Strength of Weak Ties (Sell the Heart)

13. Grouper / Roy Montgomery – Vessel (Self-Released)

14. RVIVR – S/T (Rumbletowne)

15. Marco Benevento – Between the Needles and Nightfall (Royal Potato)

16. Hanalei – One Big Night (Big Scary Monsters/Brick Gun)

17. Superchunk – Majesty Shredding (Merge)

18. Hearse – Diagnosed (Self-Released)

19. Sam Amidon – I See the Sign (Bedroom Community)

20. M.I.A. – Maya (Interscope)

21. Evan Parker & John Weise – C-Section (PAN)

22. Daniel Bjarnason – Processions (Bedroom Community)

23. Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (Warp)

24. Joseph Hammer – I Love You, Please Love Me Too (PAN)

25. Best Coast – Crazy for You (Mexican Summer)

Summertime Jams

Posted by: on Aug 28, 2010 | Comments (1)

So it turns out the Beach Boys, despite widespread rumor, are not actually suing yeowling bimbo Katy Perry for the line “I really wish you all could be California girls.” What they should sue her for, obviously, as forefathers of the summertime jam, is unleashing such a nauseating hit song on the American public. Have you heard the thing? While the Hollywood blockbuster seems to be getting smarter (Inception, The Kids Are All Right), the “summertime jam” is increasingly becoming the radio equivalent of the old-style Hollywood blockbuster—i.e., full of blatant dippiness and cheap thrills designed to make you feel awesome.

But Perry’s “California Gurls” does not make me feel awesome. What does, especially on the way to the beach or sharing beers in the sunset or at a backyard barbecue, is “Dance Yrself Clean,” from LCD Soundsystem, which bank-shots off every border of “summertime jam” to redefine the term. A rant against friends who suffer from diarrhea of the mouth (“Talking like a jerk / Except you are an actual jerk”), the track explodes three minutes in with thick analog-synth blasts and dirty, dirty hi-hats, owing to Talking Heads and Freddie Mercury while paving nine minutes of the way toward a future disco music.

From Inglewood, Cali Swag District brings us the dance-craze “Teach Me How to Dougie,” a razor-thin hip-hop hit hanging on an infectious, simple beat that first made waves in underground circles late last year. Capitol Records cleaned out the bad words and rereleased it this May; the original‘s better, but it still sounds ultrafresh and continues to inspire uploaded dance videos of four-year-olds dancing the dougie in the driveway. (Although: kinda bummed that L.A. gets attention for “Dougie” while this video from Oakland’s Turf Feinz is evidence that the Bay Area produces California’s most elegant street dancing.)

Dancing finds a lonely space in Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” an instant contagion advisable to avoid if you don’t want it stuck in your head for the next month. Cribbing Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself” concept, the song finds Robyn (a former Swedish teen pop star whose new album opens with a song titled “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do”) self-assured on the dance floor even while the object of her affection goes home with someone else. And Lord, the hooks are insane.

Is there any hit more tailor-made for summertime status than “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae? A rebuke to haters through deft dance moves and killer cadences sung in Monae’s Aretha-like voice, the song tacks on two minutes of call-and-response shouts, horn riffs, ukulele breaks and strings well past the usual three-minute mark; it’s also the rare song with a Big Boi verse where the Big Boi verse isn’t the highlight. Listen to it once and be transformed.

Transformation is the game on M.I.A.’s new album, nowhere more so than on “Steppin’ Up,” with its rhythmic cacophony of lug-nut drills; it manages to make the ridiculous phrase “subb-a-sub-a-sub-sub” sound ill. Similarly, sampling Annie Lennox’s “No More I Love Yous” is a terrible idea on paper; Nicki Minaj owns it for “Your Love.” (“Bloody hell,” M.I.A. recently quipped, “Nicki Minaj runs things.”) Minaj has been a prolific filthy-guest-verse rapper in the past, and if the slow burn of “Your Love” earns some overdue recognition, it will have justified its existence.

No summertime jam this year fills the seaside role like “When I’m with You,” by Best Coast, aka Bethany Cosentino. Cosentino loves cats, smokes weed and has a drummer who routinely wears a bunny suit. She’s also written the carefree beach party hit of the year. If the Beach Boys can shake any money out of Katy Perry, they’d be wise to kick a chunk to Best Coast for keeping their California dream alive—the sunsets, the sand, the surf and the salvation of sloppily swapping saliva. Summertime!

Finally, the internet has been dominated in the last week by what everyone’s declaring the Summertime Jam That Never Was. Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” isn’t ever going to enjoy radio play, but that hasn’t kept it out of my head since I heard it, just one time, seven entire days ago. Simply put, the song’s catchy as hell, and now that the nonexistent summertime weather in Santa Rosa has finally turned around and decided to shine, it couldn’t hit at a finer time. Watch it below, and enjoy.

Universal CEO to Independent Record Stores: Suck It

Posted by: on Jul 23, 2010 | Comments (2)

Jim Urie is the President and CEO of Universal Music Group, which has spent the last two decades buying up every label it possibly can to become the world’s largest music conglomerate. Like all record company CEOs, Jim Urie is trying to curb illegal downloading. Also like all record company CEOs, he’s not having much luck. So he’s begging you to help him out by signing this handy online form letter to representatives in Washington, D.C. which claims that illegal downloading is destroying American music.

Urie gave a real whiz-bang presentation about all this in front of other industry honchos at the NARM convention earlier this year, and got so fired up at the response that he created a Facebook page called Music Rights Now as a “call to action.” He recently asked the folks who champion independent record stores under the banner of Record Store Day to promote his Music Rights Now page, and they obliged with a click-through banner on their site.

He also asked them to distribute to independent record stores this statement he wrote, which reads in full:

I’ve received hundreds of e-mails enthusiastically reacting to my “call to action” at the National Association of Recording Merchandisers convention last month. The music business is facing huge challenges from piracy and theft. Never before in American history has an entire industry been so decimated by illegal behavior. Yet the government has not responded in a meaningful way to help us address the crisis. My call to action is for all of us to become more aggressive in lobbying our government, more outspoken in drawing attention to the problems caused by piracy and more actively engaged. We cannot win this fight alone.

Governments outside the U.S. are legislating, regulating and playing a prominent role in discussions with ISPs (Internet Service Providers). Sales have dramatically improved in these countries. How is it that the U.S.—with the most successful music community in the world—is not keeping up with places like South Korea, France, the UK and New Zealand?

As I said in my speech, I hope that the industry can negotiate a voluntary deal with the ISPs. We need our government representatives to encourage this. But whether or not we reach a deal with the ISPs, our government needs to know that we’ve got a piracy problem and we need real solutions. To accomplish this, our government needs to hear from all of us, so they know that their constituents are out here. Join me in calling on our elected officials to fight piracy. Please help by forwarding this email to your colleagues, friends—everyone who loves music. And consider enlisting your entire company to help in this fight. Then by clicking on the link below, a message will be sent to your representatives in Washington. Help us launch a viral campaign to cut off access to the online sites that are used to steal our music, our property and our jobs. It only takes a second, but it can make a tremendous impact.

You might think: A valiant crusader in the fight for justice! Except as a supporter of the ideals behind Record Store Day, and as one who thinks hometown record stores are just as important as gigantic conglomerates (Universal Music Group owns the catalogs of Motown, Def Jam, Island, Interscope, Geffen, A&M, MCA, Mercury, Verve, Lost Highway, Polydor, Decca, Hip-O, Prestige, Riverside, and lots of others), I say let’s look at this Urie guy a little closer.

Here’s the thing. In March this year, Urie announced a new $10.00 suggested retail price on most titles for Universal’s new releases. (The Roots’ How I Got Over and M.I.A.’s ///Y/ are the first that come to mind.) Which seems like great news, right? Consumers have been asking for cheaper CD prices forever! Everyone knows how little it costs to make a CD by now, and most people justifiably feel like charging $19.99 is outrageous.

But when Universal rolled out the new pricing structure, they conveniently forgot to mention who’s making up the margin. It’s not Universal. Instead, Urie is shifting the burden onto record stores—and in particular, independent record stores.

Let’s look at the M.I.A. record as an example. Big-box stores order so much quantity and so little variety that they’re able to get concessionary wholesale pricing from labels on new releases, but independent stores order nearly all new releases from distributors called one-stops. Under the old pricing tier, an independent store would have ordered a copy of ///Y/ for $10.99 from a one-stop, sold it for $15.99 and made five bucks.

Under Universal’s current “Velocity” program, the suggested retail price for ///Y/ is only $10.00, a fact touted clearly to customers on the overwrap sticker on top of the CD:

But how much does that CD cost the store? Below is a screen grab from the B2B ordering site at AEC, one of the country’s largest one-stop distributors to independent stores, and I swear it’s not Photoshopped. The first figure on the bottom line is the suggested retail price. The second is the wholesale cost to stores.

$10 MSRP, $9.99 wholesale. That’s right: The independent record store makes a one-cent profit. Essentially, Jim Urie is telling record stores to fuck themselves. Who could possibly be happy earning one measly penny per sale while making Urie’s company look like saviors for lowering prices?

The end result is that independent stores are threatened anew not by illegal downloading but by Urie himself, who apparently only wants to sell CDs at loss-leader outlets like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target—retail behemoths that continue to drive independent stores out of business. Urie doesn’t care; he’s shifted the burden to store owners, so he’s still making money. How the indie-loving people behind Record Store Day could even speak to the guy, let alone promote his agenda, is totally beyond me.

What a Godawful New M.I.A. Song: "XXXO"

Posted by: on May 10, 2010 | Comments (2)

It’s like she’s trying to have it both ways; i.e. epic political-allegory video with “shocking” visuals and a metaphor thought up by a junior high student and, also, this. Wasn’t it enough that she disregards the divide between genres? Does she also have to go out of her way to blatantly disregard the divide between underground and mainstream sensibilities? Because this shit is a cruddy autotuned Eurodance jack, and I have now never looked forward to an album less. “Born Free” was contrived but no one noticed it outside of the let’s-all-write-about-it video and hey! Wow! A Suicide sample! This, I hope, pulls the curtain back and shows that M.I.A. is now just playing the game like everyone else instead of making challenging, incredible, fucking vital music like the wonderful M.I.A. of old. Meaning the M.I.A. of six years ago. Could it really be all over? Is six years all it takes to drain someone of all their creativity? And they start singing about iPhones?

Treasure Island Festival Lineup Announced!

Posted by: on May 22, 2008 | Comments (3)

It’s no secret that one of my favorite concert-going experiences is the Treasure Island Music Festival, a two-day soirée with an incredible lineup and a beautifully scenic setting out in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. With the organizers planning the gigantic Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park this year, I expected that a second year out the island might be a sinking prospect. I needn’t have worried. This year’s lineup was announced today:

Saturday, September 20:
JUSTICE | TV ON THE RADIO | GOLDFRAPP | HOT CHIP | CSS | ANTIBALAS | AESOP ROCK | AMON TOBIN | FOALS | MIKE RELM | NORTEC: BOSTICH + FUSSIBLE

Sunday, September 21:
THE RACONTEURS | TEGAN & SARA | VAMPIRE WEEKEND | SPIRITUALIZED | OKKERVIL RIVER | TOKYO POLICE CLUB | THE KILLS | DR. DOG | JOHN VANDERSLICE | THE DODOS | FLEET FOXES

It’s $65 per day, $115 for a two-day pass. Tickets go on sale Friday, May 30, but make sure to visit the festival website for mailing list signups and presale passwords.

So what makes the festival so great? I’ll tell you.