Flux Pavilion "Bass Cannon" Video

“The scientist Flux and his minion Doctor P perform some perverted audio experiments on some unwilling candidates in the official video to Bass Cannon!” A video far more amusing to watch than its premise might suggest, “Bass Cannon” is the most recent single from UK Dupstepper Flux Pavilion.

Gold Panda "Marriage (Star Slinger Remix)"

Produced by visual artist Anže Sekelj and photographer Lucijan Kranjc, this video for Star Slinger‘s “Marriage” remix is engrossing in its mezmerizing light display. Transposing objects without having them ever actually move, the creative draw of the team’s visual display is melded nicely into the various beats and punches of the track. The original version of Gold Panda‘s “Marriage” appears on the UK producer’s 2010 debut release, Lucky Shiner.

Diarrhea Planet "Ice Age"

Rowdy energy and a sense of humor will only get you so far in this world, but when you couple those traits with a sense of musical direction you might actually be onto something. In terms of covering the bases, Nashville‘s Diarrhea Planet are good to go: the group’s reliable enthusiasm isn’t simply complemented by a shared sense of humor (see: “Ghost with a Boner“; practically everything they do), but is enhanced by it. Early last month at the Exit/In’s Freakin’ Weekend showcase, the group was billed alongside the likes of Cy Barkley, JEFF the Brotherhood & Miami’s Jacuzzi Boys, but with little difficulty they delivered the night’s most satisfying set. Four guitarist and a bassist up front with a charismatic drummer holding things down in the back, the group ripped through their performance but weren’t so focused that they didn’t remember to have fun on stage. While it doesn’t convey the entire live experience, this new demo of “Ice Age,” the first single from the band’s forthcoming Loose Jewels LP, does well to cram some lighthearted fury and finger-tapping antics into a tight 75 second package. Loose Jewels is set to drop this summer.

Lykke Li "Sadness Is a Blessing" Video

By merit of his weathered appearance — let alone his remarkable presence — Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård has made a (rather lengthy) career out of playing the role of hardened characters. In this new Tarik Saleh-directed music video for “Sadness is a Blessing,” the actor once again assumes a difficult position, this time opposite a defiant drinker played by Lykke Li. While his look of lost and betrayal which appears on the screen later in the video is not to be overlooked, it’s Li’s ability to offer such a theatrical shift in her demeanor that stands out as the visible highlight of the emotional clip. Now that we know she’s got chops: what’s the over under on the amount of time it takes before she’s cast in a film? I give it a year, tops.

Lupe Fiasco "Words I Never Said" Video

For all the heat that Lasers has (deservingly) taken, one of the album’s key moments of redemption can be found in the form of Lupe Fiasco‘s focused “Words I Never Said.” With “Love the Way You Lie” co-writer Skylar Grey on the hook, Lupe’s angry manifesto offers a strange contrast to the largely pop-driven wasteland that makes up the rest of the album; for all the conflict that’s been documented between the MC and Atlantic, it’s a wonder that this song was even considered to become a single. With too much static still surrounding the release however — as far as I’m concerned — the jury’s out on the man until we hear Food & Liquor 2.

Beastie Boys "Hot Sauce Committee Part 2" Review

Aside from breathing new life into a nearly 25 year old meme with the celebrity cameo-heavy Fight For Your Right Revisited short film, it’s no wonder that the campaign behind the Beastie Boys‘ Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 has been so tightly focused on building a sense of nostalgia around the group. For fans who have been longing for an old-school revival, Hot Sauce should suffice; maintaining a modern appearance, the album is largely a single continuous glance to the past. But for all the surrounding build-up in preparation of the release it’s not difficult to get caught up in the sheer excitement of having something new from a group of such familiar icons and overlook its immediate flaws.

Not unlike practically every other Beastie Boys album, Hot Sauce is home to a lengthy track list (16 tracks deep). Yet unlike some of the works which it reflects, it’s somewhat crippled by its own ambitiousness. Following the unusually twisted flow of the slow, sub-rattling “Tadlock’s Glasses,” the Beasties nail it with the powerful yet wisely balanced “Lee Majors Come Again” – which not unlike “Too Many Rappers,” has been floating around in various forms or a couple of years. In the wake of the punk-inspired “Majors” however, Hot Sauce becomes inadvertently capsized. The funkiness of instrumental “Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament” and warped electronics of the “muh muh muh muh muh muh muh muh muh muh Mike D” spouting “Here’s a Little Somethin’ for Ya” notwithstanding, the three minutes it takes to rumble through “Crazy Ass Shit” and “The Lisa Lisa/Full Force Routine” seem more of an afterthought than a proper conclusion.

Though harmless, including “The Bill Harper Collection” and “The Larry Routine” as disposable interludes does less to amuse than to merely provoke a preemptive skip to the next track. Aside from these minor weaknesses however, it’s hard to take too much away from the release. Not unlike To the 5 Boroughs‘ “Ch-Check It Out,” “Make Some Noise” steadily opens the album with an enthusiastic bounce, showcasing the trio’s still-vibrant interwoven chemistry. While the song might be the most consistent lyrically (best of luck following along without a transcription), “Make Some Noise” might best pop with MCA’s assertion, “I burn the competition like a flamethrower/My rhymes age like wine as I get older.” In the past 30 years has any act’s music aged better than the Beastie Boys’?

From that point forward the album goes hard on building an emotion of sentimentality: the recognizable bass of “Nonstop Disco Powerpack” works beneath a vocal effect similar to Ill Communication‘s “Bodhisattva Vow”; “Too Many Rappers” lashes out at “crab rappers” while Nas hustles over a drum loop not entirely dissimilar to the Zeppelin-sampling “Rhymin’ & Stealin’”; the broken, distorted guitar sample of “Say It” sounds like a Check Your Head-era counterpart to “So What’cha Want”; and “Funky Donkey” cheekily winks at “Brass Monkey.” This isn’t to overlook the dub-fused Santigold collaboration “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win,” the darker “Long Burn the Fire” nor the robotized “OK,” but it’s hard not to repeatedly return to and focus on the tracks which bleed such familiarity.

While a Country Mike revival is about the only thing keeping Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 from becoming a full-blown throwback, there’s little doubt that it’s meant to shed light on styles and sounds from the past. Though continuously the focus of “seriously, they might still have a classic left in ‘em” charges, the Beastie Boys have done something here that goes beyond dropping a farcical video tied to a self-referencing record: they’ve re-established their own necessity within modern pop culture. Unlike many of their contemporaries however, they haven’t had to rely solely on their greatest hits to do so.

Lykke Li on Later... with Jools Holland

What is there that can be said to deflate the power of Lykke Li‘s “Get Some“? Since it first debuted last October there’s been little negative to come from her entire Wounded Rhymes release in general, but the lead single stands as something particularly unique from the album’s nine other tracks. Could it be the booming drum line that rumbles beneath the singer’s sultry croon? Perhaps it’s the ominous organ that leaves the track so alluring. Whatever the combination of factors, it doesn’t hurt that the entire album invites this sort of imagery each time it plays.

Britney Spears feat. Nicki Minaj & Ke$ha "Till the World Ends (Remix)"

It could be that “Till The World Ends” is simply just a fantastic base to build any remix from, but this new version of the Femme Fatale track featuring Ke$ha and Nicki Minaj is sounding exceptionally killer. Led with a sharp-tongued introduction by Minaj, the song itself features harsher breaks (especially later in the song) before Ke$ha takes over the song’s hook. It’s only fitting that she sounds so at home with it as the singer co-wrote the track’s lyrics earlier this year. ‘Tis the season for the remix as Britney Spears herself recently jumped on an updated version of Rihanna’s “S&M.” Later this summer Spears and Minaj will team up when the duo hit 26 dates on The Femme Fatale Tour.

Erin Manning "Back and Forth" (Influenza)

It’s rare that music can appropriately be labeled as deceptive, but such an explanation might hold true for Back and Forth, the new EP from Nashville’s Erin Manning. Though physically unimposing, the petite vocalist maintains a commanding presence with a voice that is peppered with far more passion and explosiveness than her appearance or singer/songwriter label might lead on. Throughout the six song set the pace and tempo of the songs are indicative of a dense rock album at times, but that comparison really comes down to Manning’s ability to project something far weightier than her appearance might suggest. Not that there’s anything particularly worthless about coffee shop crooners, but with the EP Manning and her band convey a unique balance of musicality and passion which keeps any such comparisons at a distance. Though not particularly indicative of such gritty overtones, the album’s title track does offer an unusual balance between sweet and sharp, accompanying this vocal shift with the EP’s greatest musical outlier: two and a half minutes of tango pop. The explanation is far more bizarre than the actual track is, itself, but where it might not showcase the album’s primary sound it does reveal a distinct shift in the songwriter’s creative process. In this installment in the Influenza series, Manning explores the history behind the track and the relationships which led to its creation, also noting how it went a long ways in shifting the direction that she would take in writing the songs which followed. Erin Manning will be unleashing the new EP with a release show tomorrow (Saturday, April 23) at The Basement in Nashville.


I think the story behind the initial inspiration I had to write this song is sort of entertaining, and definitely provides a look into a very specific point in my life. When I graduated from college I had a job as a caregiver for an elderly blind woman, so for several days a week I would take her to her aqua therapy class and assist her with the exercises. She was quite short so her head barely reached over the water, and because she couldn’t see she also didn’t have very good balance. More often than not the exercises required me to hold both of her hands while facing her and we would walk across the pool, hand in hand as if we were ballroom dancing. This never ceased to entertain the both of us, and on one day in particular, the words “back and forth” came to mind as we were doing this very tango-esque movement. I guess it was just the thought of this tiny, red-haired old lady, striding around the pool with a 22 year old girl who was about two feet taller than her that finally started to take a toll on my thoughts, causing my words to unintentionally reflect my actions. The more I tossed these words around in my head, a melody started to form, and combined with the lyrics; I thought it only fitting to combine them with a Bolero feel.

I’d like to say that the song pretty much wrote itself from there, but I actually had a lot of trouble coming up with the rest of the lyrics. I had promised myself that the next song I wrote could not be a love/breakup song, and furthermore, I needed to start writing lyrics that were more “relatable,” regardless of their subject matter. The timing in this situation was poor however, because the person I had been dating had just done something that was so infuriating that it ended up causing one of those big moments in life where I found myself thinking, “How have I not learned my lesson by now,” or, “How did I not see this coming,” or, “How could I possibly allow myself to put up with someone like this?!” (Those questions would actually end up being the topic of the song — that feeling of wanting to kick yourself when you realize you didn’t learn a lesson the first time around… or the tenth time around.)

So in my time of feeling especially pissed off I was additionally burdened with the inner struggle of not wanting to write another breakup song, while the largest thing lurking at the forefront of my mind was the idiot psycho in my life. I ended up settling for a bit of a compromise, which was to tell the tale of what happened, but to try my hardest at recounting it in a general way so that people would be able to relate to what I was talking about (although I secretly hoped that maybe the screaming in the chorus would be distracting enough to make listeners not even pay attention to the words). I’m not too sure if I succeeded or did this to the best of my ability, but it was my first attempt at really working on my songwriting, so in that sense the experience still sticks with me. I’m also proud to say that the four songs I wrote after “Back and Forth” on my new EP are not love songs, or even about people in particular. Since the completion of the album, I’ve continued to stray farther from my breakup song tendency, which makes me excited about my future work, and has helped me grow more in my songwriting skills overall. I can’t complain about that.

Chaz Kangas feat. Mac Lethal "Scrambled Eggs"

While being far from confrontational, the tone of New York MC Chaz Kangas’ new album A Personal Reference has the potential to be very divisive. He’s funny without being snarky and remains true to his voice and interests without satirizing, but in sounding musically similar to Atom and His Package at times, something tells me that you’re either going to love him or hate him. “Young, Gifted and Chaz,” for example, samples the theme to The Critic with Kangas consistently playing to inside jokes and odd pop culture references, “There is one reason that I rap truly, it’s just so I can get Nardwuar to interview me.” If that doesn’t entice you, perhaps rhymes about late night Arbys runs, Mighty Ducks overdubs, tracks sampling everyone from Enya to the Breeders and collaborations with the likes of Mac Lethal and Homeboy Sandman might do the trick. If you’re still on the fence you might be interested in sampling his 2008 record with Childish Gambino (“My Hoodie“) or footage from the Minneapolis native’s winning performance at the 2007 Twin Cities Celebration of Hip-Hop Battle. But if for some reason none of that happens to appeal to you, hopefully you’ll still be able to give Kangas some dap simply for losing his ponytail… No ponytails in 2011: something we can all get behind. A Personal Reference is available as a free download via Kangas’ Bandcamp page.

Beyonce "Girls (Who Run the World)"

Leading the way from Beyonce’s forthcoming solo album is the vivacious “Girls,” a drumline heavy call and response banger that aches to be played at full volume. In light of recent releases from the likes of Britney Spears and Lady Gaga it’s encouraging to hear another big name drop some new material, and fortunately its momentous flow does well to separate the singer from her contemporaries. “Who run the world?” repeats Beyonce throughout the track. If the first third of the year is any indication, girls clearly have the pop world on lock down. Beyonce’s fourth solo album is tentatively set to be released in June.

Racism in Rap

[Note: This article uses language which some readers might find particularly offensive. Please be advised that the sensitive nature of the content is not being published with the intent to offend.]

“Hip hop’s vitality is directly related to its rebelliousness. You can tame it if you like (or try to), but whatever the result, it won’t be hip hop.” This statement comes from Hip Hop America author Nelson George in a 2007 Salon article titled “Is rap racist?” While that particular roundtable feature examined the core values that were tested during the Don Imus fallout, of any musical genre none has been so perpetually caught up in racial conflict as rap and hip hop. This isn’t to negate issues surrounding sexism and homophobia and their well documented places within the genre’s history, but race continues to be one of the leading topics which lends rap this “rebellious” connotation.

Everyone’s starting point in terms of this discussion is different, which is why everyone will have a unique perspective on the matter. Depending what effect racism has had on your life, that will leave you with a different starting point than I have. Racism isn’t foreign to me, but my history is limited to that of an outsider. I’ve never been the target of hate-speech, nor violence or physical harm based on the color of my skin. The starting point for Nashville MC Classic Williams is however very different, and he is releasing a new album tomorrow which tells his story. This past February the young MC first revealed his plans for The Soul of Nigger Charlie to me in an interview, however the album title carries with it connotation far beyond the simple words which comprise its title and lyrics.

Through one of our various email exchanges over the past couple of weeks Williams revealed why he felt it was appropriate to dive into such rough waters. “Me using the word ‘nigger’ in the title is obviously controversial, but it’s more than just that. It’s me freeing myself from the bonds the word placed me under growing up in the circumstances that I did. It’s one thing to look at the word and to fear it, but to actually experience being called the word on a regular basis for several years makes it a realer experience. As an artist, authenticity is everything — especially being a hip hop artist — and that’s about as real is it gets.”

The album itself bulges with bravado, opening with a female voice-over ripe with Blaxploitation-era reference. Adding to the idea that the album is in fact a soundtrack to his story, Williams offered note on the significance of the skits, “Honey Simmons is a character I created to narrate the progression of the album. I based her character off of the movie The Warriors. There was a women in the movie who announced what was happening in the street, in a sultry voice; extremely ’70s inspired. I felt like her presence on the project was necessary in order to make it sound more like a soundtrack rather than just a mixtape.” Despite using such methods to help relate his story however, during the album Williams wisely resisted stepping into the role of satirist. This isn’t to say that Charlie isn’t likely to become the source of misinterpretation, however.

One of the most challenging portions of the album comes in the form of recurring segments featuring another character, Lame Dodges. The recorded phone messages seem at first to be poorly guided skits featuring a stereotypical redneck aggressively tossing out slurs. But Williams explained that they are not as they might first appear. “Lame Dodges is not a fictional character. He is a real person, and these are actual calls that he left on my voice mail. I changed his name and turned him into a caricature. By turning him and all people who say racists things into a character that people can laugh at I negate the negative energy. People will find it funny, but really it’s sad.” They are, however, not funny in the slightest.

The backwoods drawl of Dodges lashing out at Williams is sad, the repeated taunts of “stupid nigger” reinforcing the hatred that lurks behind the words themselves. This is where intent and execution begin to blur. Even when given context the clips are unforgivable in their crass nature. While they project a mindset which I simply don’t understand, they do raise an issue which stands at the heart of why the discussion of race remains relevant in the genre (and in our society): the problems that persist don’t begin with the music or an artist’s volatile lyrics, but in the actual issues that remain prevalent in real life. In “Changes,” 2Pac once rhymed, “Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races.” It’s such misplaced hatred as these Lame Dodges clips which beg the question which follows: Do these bouts of realist interjection detract from the album’s success?

In attempting to put personal ghosts from his past to rest Classic Williams has created an album which is sonically endearing while it also challenges personal comfort levels. Musically the production by Klassix Jones helps to further establish Williams as one of the most promising young voices in Nashville, but for every bit of good that can be gained from the album, its subject matter points to a focus which might potentially be misinterpreted or overlooked in the process. Perhaps The Soul of Nigger Charlie will leave an impression on people, perhaps it might simply go unnoticed. Regardless, the album suggests a willingness to approach a daunting subject matter in a serious way which many would immediately back down from. Is art at its best when it genuinely reflects the world around us? For better or worse, I feel that it is. Throughout his new album Classic Williams might be projecting a sample of the ugliness that remains in our world, but in doing so he’s reminding us that the word nigger isn’t simply a weightless term, but one which still carries with it a very serious impact, and one which cannot be taken lightly.

Record Store Day at Third Man Records (Nashville, TN)

Photos taken April 16, 2011 at Third Man Records in Nashville, TN.

RJD2 "Might As Well Step Forward"

Directed by Brad Hasse and featuring the phenomenal B-boy stylings of Quest Crew comes this new video for “Might As Well Step Forward” by RJD2. While the Inversions of the Colossus feature would likely offer itself as a great soundtrack for any visuals to jump off from, the LA dance collective immediately feed off the track’s energy and steal the show. If you’ve got a few unfilled minutes in your day and need some prime entertainment, a quick YouTube scan provides plenty of examples as to why the America’s Best Dance Crew season three winners are so special. RDJ2 isn’t that bad, either.

The Kills Perform "Satellite" on Conan

The Kills performing “Satellite” on Conan with a trio of backup singers to kick in that extra bit of soul? Where do I sign up? Perhaps the setup leaves too slick a sound for your liking? You’re in luck: in addition to the television performance a second web-exclusive video has been released of the duo performing a stripped down version of the gritty “Pull A U” backstage. They never cease to sound good, do they? “Satellite” is taken from the Kills’ most recent album, Blood Pressures, while “Pull A U” was first released on the duo’s 2003 debut, Keep on Your Mean Side.

Vast Air "Nomad" Video

It feels like a lifetime since Vast Aire’s new release was first announced — it’s been about four months since we first heard his Cappadonna collab and the phenomenal “Sour Diesel” — but despite the LP simmering on the back burner for months, Can Ox 2010: A Street Odyssey has now been given a street date of May 31. Though continuing the trend of blurred street shots which largely comprised “Diesel,” “Nomad” adds a far denser beat to accompany the smoke-strong lyrics. At this point there’s little doubt that the song is likely to serve as another indicator of the strong flow which is likely to continue throughout the album, but if I never see an artistically out of focus video again it will be too soon.

Matic Lee "Flyin' Nimbus"

Originally having no prior idea as to what a flyin’ nimbus was (personally), Matic Lee is back with a bit of a lesson in pop culture to accompany one of his latest free-flowing joints. The Dragonball wiki (what, you thought there wasn’t a Dragonball wiki?) explains a flying nimbus as “a yellow magical cloud that serves as a vehicle.” In the context of the song, one can only assume that the flyin’ nimbus is the tightly-knit drum beat that pops beneath Lee’s bout of lyrical soul-searching, the MC gathering inspiration to continue on in the face of tepid successes. “No matter how many beats I make/Can’t seem to get a piece of the cake/I need a piece, get a break/But everybody want a piece: get a plate.” He continues, “So what do I do, been around all this time, tryin’ to find a clue/Been makin’ moves since oh-two/Got shit on YouTube with four million views.” You’re going to have to hear the whole song to get a better taste for it, but “Flyin’ Nimbus” is just one of the latest reasons why Lee has quickly become one of my favorite voices, both as a lyricist and producer, in Nashville. If you’re feeling this track I suggest you check out the recent video feature for “Smoke Session” which Lee produced for CB.

Cheap Time "Another Time" Video

Ever feel like life puts too many tangents in the way between you and a good time? If you’re in need of some straight ahead, no frills snarling garage punk, Cass Records is here to help with the latest release from Jeffrey Novak and Cheap Time, offering up a money-back “no tangent guarantee.”* “Another Time” is the A-side to the group’s most recent 7″, backed by “Immediate Future,” and is complemented with a slick bar-hopping video produced by Chris Anderson.

*Cass Records’ “no tangent guarantee” is not valid in the greater United States, the lesser United States, Canada, Mexico and any country starting, ending or featuring an E or an A in its name. Your move Burundi.

If Nardwuar Can Do It, You Can Do It, Too!

For those still unfamiliar with Nardwuar (his Odd Future SXSW interview ring a bell?), the Canadian radio and television personality has been going strong and doing his thing for well over two decades. One of the higher profile aspects of “his thing” has been creating a niche for himself as one of the world’s most bizarre artist interviewers. As the written introduction to this TED video explains, “Punk Rock Journalist Nardwuar the Human Serviette wants to take you on a journey into his do-it-yourself world of investigation and adventure. Through hard work, meticulous preparation and a tremendous passion for finding out interesting facts and tidbits, he sets the stage for unexpected situations and spontaneous reactions. It is an upfront and unconventional style that has resulted in verbal attack, physical threats, desertions, and some the most insightful and genuinely engaging conversations with the biggest names in music and popular culture you might ever witness.” So if you don’t know, now you know.

Those who have been following his career for weeks, months or years should have some kind of an idea of what he’s all about and what he’s been through. But for those who are new, this video offers a number of anecdotes and short clips which feature the likes of Snoop Dogg, Kurt Cobain, Lady Gaga & former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien; if you’re already well aware of the back-story I might suggest skipping ahead to the 16:00 marker however. The purpose of his presentation during the illustrious conference series wasn’t to simply show that by having balls you can actually achieve something (though that’s part of it), but that by without trying you’re never going to get anywhere. That’s not just how a music nerd from British Columbia was able to carve out a name for himself, but that’s how anyone gets anything accomplished: by not being afraid to try.

To focus in a little more however, one of the key points during his presentation is in his lesson surrounding the Latin term “volenti non fit injuria.” The Internet says that this means “to a willing person, no injury is done,” but Nardwuar uses a craftier illustration, likening it to a punk rock mosh pit. His example to which the saying relates is of a time when he was patronizingly asked (there’s more to the story, but watch the video for the context) why he does what he does: “Do you have to do this game? This is embarrassing for you.” In Nardwuar’s position it’s been clear all along that he has been willing to except it if he gets embarrassed or shake it off when people act like he’s a joke. By simply being born we all unknowingly sign the contract of volenti non fit injuria, but many of us still fail to realize that we’re not a victim simply because someone else doesn’t like us or think what we do might have little value. You can’t take everything everyone does to heart, and even when it stings the most, you can’t let that get in the way of you taking the next step. “If I can do it, you can do it too!” exclaimed Nardwuar at the end of his presentation. Truer words may have never been spoken.

Arctic Monkeys "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair" Video

Today the Arctic Monkeys released some psychedelic visuals for the band’s single which premiered this past Monday on Zane Lowe’s BBC Radio 1 show. Like any number of DIY found-footage videos, “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” reinforces the idea that (for the most part) once you’ve seen one trippy acid-dream video you’ve seen them all. All things considered however, that ultimately does little to take away from the highly concentraded track. (Sidebar: When it comes time, I’d like to personally nominate “Do the macarena in the Devil’s lair” as the most nonsensical lyric of the year.) The band’s forthcoming album Suck It and See will be released June 6 via Domino.

How to Avoid Pissing Off Music Bloggers (And Several Other Handy Tips for Artists)

This week Culture Bully is celebrating its sixth anniversary and in looking back on the years it quickly becomes evident that even during such a short amount of time the online musical landscape has changed immensely. While the blogosphere on the whole has made many complex advances over the years, music blogs in particular have seen a wild shift in both credibility and popularity. With that in mind there have also been noticeable changes in how bloggers, labels and the artists themselves all interact, and how each of these relationships have impacted larger trends across the board. With that in mind it seemed more appropriate to mark the occasion with something that would be of larger benefit than simply a self-absorbed self-congratulatory blog post (though don’t get me wrong, I did that also); more specifically, something that could potentially offer some insight into the music blog process for artists (or labels, or anyone, really). The following isn’t a State of the Music Blogosphere address, nor is it an arbitrary step-by-step “how to” for artists guiding them toward getting their music out there. But rather, it is a series of tips which come as the result of conversations with a few dozen bloggers, industry figures and artists, all of which stand to enforce not only why it’s important that artists keep music blogs in mind when promoting their music, but what they can do to avoid being one of the many who fail to make it out of the inbox.

Why Music Blogs?

Music blogs aren’t likely to change the world any time soon, but they have significantly helped shift the face of how music is promoted online. In 2006 the term “Blog Band” began to buzz when acts the likes of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Cold War Kids began finding wider audiences, due in part to growing support from music blogs. Rolling Stone went as far as printing a piece titled “First Hype, Then Kill” which tracked such bands’ success relative to their support from blogs. The idea was more of a farce than anything, and it eventually peaked with a well-received (and rather hilarious) video that Human Giant released with Tapes ‘n Tapes parodying the influence of music bloggers. (“Step one: You get the bloggers on board.”) “When Stereogum launched almost 10 years ago, labels treated Web and print publications very differently,” explained the site’s founder Scott Lapatine via email. “Blogs had extremely limited access because the Web was viewed as untrustworthy and unprofessional. Which was sort of true! That stopped being the case after a few years. Now there’s a constant dialogue.” Stephanie Trick, former Director of Online Marketing at Mute Records, echoed that same sentiment, “Expectations of bloggers changed quite a bit since I started working in music in 2005. I think they were seen as more supplementary to a traditional publicity campaign.”

While music blogs hardly had the ability to single-handedly make or break careers, their early effectiveness became partially due to a tendency of featuring “unknown” acts or groups that would typically be overlooked by mainstream media. In a 2007 article, Wired’s Eliot Van Buskirk noted that “Taken on the whole, MP3 blogs offer more breadth, depth and music than a magazine or radio station ever could.” “They seem to be leading the way with breaking new bands,” agreed Tapes ‘n Tapes’ manager Keri Wiese, cheekily adding, “so most of their attention is paid to the buzziest of the buzz bands.” Additionally, while not only offering a promotional outlet for artists who might typically go largely unnoticed, there was an ongoing perception that bloggers were unprofessional college kids, hacks, or nerds typing away late into the night while living in their parents’ basement (at various points of my life I have been all of those things) rather than being legitimate journalists (something I have yet to be). On the surface this might seem like a burn, but in many ways it gave bloggers a fresh introduction to a market that had otherwise become tired of old, jaded curmudgeons. “A lot of them are really respectful music lovers who like sharing their love of music with others,” noted Trick, a statement which still goes to represent the majority of music bloggers.

This isn’t to say that music blogs haven’t moved beyond this simple generalization though as there are plenty of bloggers, those both well respected and completely unknown, which make some sort of income from their blogs (this being one such blog). But of the 17 music bloggers I surveyed for this article only one person claimed that making money from their site was a driving factor in them blogging. When considering that three hours is the average amount of time that each blogger spends working on their site every day, that number should seem absurdly low. Having met dozens of music bloggers in person and hundreds online I can confirm that it’s no secret that the common interest which is shared by all is a passion for music; it just so happens that many of these particular fans have channeled their passions into a now largely reputable medium.

What You're Up Against

While it stands to reason that music bloggers would also conveniently be fans, that point alone does little to help artists actually be heard however: you still have to put yourself out there somehow. While reaching bloggers via Facebook and Twitter is becoming increasingly popular, the most utilized method for reaching music bloggers has been through email. But simply shooting a clear and concise message off to someone hardly offers any guarantees, a fact which isn’t lost on Wiese. “Back in the day, I imagine bloggers interacted with a few people a day and got a handful of emails. I cannot even imagine how deluged they are with emails now.”

From the bloggers I spoke with, the average number of PR/label/band emails which they receive on a daily basis is just under 100 (93). This probably isn’t an encouraging figure for artists attempting to reach out to bloggers, but unfortunately the picture only grows darker from there. “The most difficult part with music bloggers is probably getting them to pay attention,” suggested Wiese, a sentiment which was echoed by both Trick and George Corona, co-founder of Terrorbird Media. “Definitely,” he confirmed when asked if the most difficult part of working with music bloggers is getting a response. The survey results only served to further emphasize this point. Of those 93 emails music bloggers receive on a daily basis, less than half are opened (45%) and of those emails even fewer (20%) are responded to. So if on any given day you were to drop 93 emails on the music blogosphere, you’re only likely to hear back from about eight bloggers. And depending on who you talk to, even that figure seems like it might be a stretch.

Further, Corona suggested that depending on the focus and popularity of the blog you’re contacting, your chances of being heard may become even slimmer. Despite many bloggers still priding themselves on devoting their sites to artists who float well below the mainstream’s radar, Corona added, “The reality is that a lot of outlets are reluctant to cover if the artist doesn’t have an endorsement already from another outlet.” But that isn’t the end of the story on emails.

“Following up is extremely important,” he continued. “Sometimes nothing will happen with an outlet until the fifth email.” Repetition is a method which artists have to be careful with however. “A big chunk of people are not going to get back to you at all,” continued Wiese. “That does not mean you should send a bazillion emails asking if you’ve listened, and it also doesn’t mean that they haven’t listened. You can ruin it by badgering someone.” A statement which Corona seconds, “[With] random, haphazard follow up [it] is really difficult to get good results.” But despite such stacked odds, someone has to be getting through, you might be saying to yourself. Is there something that can be done so that your email doesn’t simply blend in with the dozens and dozes just like it which hit a blogger’s inbox on a daily basis? Absolutely.

The Medium is the Message

“Breaking through to any kind of next level requires both hard work and a massive amount of LUCK,” confirmed Wiese. But in the case of reaching out to music bloggers, luck can be somewhat less a factor than simply catering to an individual’s preference is. For instance, when Culture Bully started six years ago, the ultimate prize that a music blogger could receive was an mp3 in an email, approved and fully cleared to post. As mentioned in the introduction though, a lot has changed since 2005. The bloggers surveyed were evenly divided in terms of their preference of how to receive music: a third prefer an MP3 hotlink to a streaming link, a third prefer the opposite and a third are split between each option. Many were strong in noting that they don’t like receiving songs as email attachments however, a trend which Wiese strongly confirmed, “Do not send large attachments EVER.” Appealing to this preference isn’t a sure-bet, but it won’t hurt. Despite the balanced acceptance of each method, MP3s and streams, the overwhelming majority of support has shifted away from what was once the primary method of sharing music.

In a January post titled “An open letter to independent artists to delete their myspace pages,” Aaron of Tsururadio made his plea for musicians to move on from the social media hub. Though the main argument is made quite clear in the title, a number of valid complaints are also provided throughout the article as to why MySpace has become such a nuisance. One point of his stands out above the rest however: “Is myspace the first impression you want to give a potential new fan?” The same question would seem to hold true for a blogger: so aside from its increasingly slow loading time and decreasingly functional assets (all of which made that much more evident after the site’s most recent redesign), how does MySpace compare to other methods of sharing music in 2011? Not well at all. When surveyed the bloggers were offered a list of resources which help artists deliver their music to listeners and two stood out miles above the rest: Soundcloud and Bandcamp. As Franky of Listen Before You Buyrelates, “I’d rather click a link and listen to a song than click a link and wait for the song to download, then find the song on my desktop, and then open it in my media player.” Furthermore both of these services are about as easy for artists to use as they are for listeners (both offer simple tutorials to help get you on your way: Soundcloud + Bandcamp). Music bloggers also confirmed that MP3 hotlinks were still favored, as they ranked third, when compared to Facebook (fourth place), Reverb Nation (fifth place) and MySpace (sixth place).

With the process of uploading music and sending mass emails being so simple and inexpensive, many artists are still of the belief that they’re giving themselves a leg up on competition by making the extra effort and sending a physical package with a hard copy of their music. This theory would seem confirmed by Tim of The Blue Walrus, “Emails cost nothing to send so people send them regardless of whether they fit my tastes, whereas CDs/vinyl/tapes/etc. all cost money to produce and post — people will only tend to send them if they actually think I’ll like it.” Surprising as the news might be however, the overwhelming majority of bloggers surveyed confirmed that they don’t actually pay any more attention to physical copies than they do digital. In explaining his stance, Peter of TwentyFourBitoffered an intriguing alternative, “My advice to bands considering what to send over would be: Send a stream or video of your absolute favorite track, regardless of when it was recorded/released. If the song is something that they could die happy knowing they had put to tape, I not only would be open to hearing it, but would love to. I’ve been recording music for 14 years, so I’m familiar with the struggle of creating a gem you’re thrilled with before struggling to find some friendly ears to share the jams.”

On a personal note, one of the most unfortunate experiences in terms of being a music blogger has been the realization of how much money artists waste by blindly following this method of promotion. As an artist, when you combine the cost of a CD, a jewel case, printed inserts, release documentation and a bubble mailer (not to mention the time it takes to assemble everything) you’re making a serious investment in the hope that someone will actually listen to what you’re sending them, let alone enjoy it enough to promote it. Peter continued, “If they sent a nice piece of vinyl, I’d listen, but I’d prefer bands not waste such an amazing product on promos unless I’ve already raved about them.” As if it weren’t hard enough to make money as a musician, there are countless artists who still follow this very path of outreach. Bloggers might not seem like the most caring or responsive people in the world but I can almost promise you that no one wants you to waste your money by sending them music they don’t want to hear. So now that you’re saving your hard-earned dollars by not sending CDs and vinyl out, it’s time to touch on one of the easiest ways you can avoid being overlooked by music bloggers altogether: simply don’t send anything.

The Carinal Sin

In a recent discussion with Anthony Volodkin, founder of the world’s most popular music blog aggregator: The Hype Machine, he explained that the site now indexes around 800 music blogs. Additionally, Brandon Griffiths, founder of Elbo.ws (another tremendously popular music blog aggregator) revealed that his site presently monitors around 4000 music blogs. Technorati, “the leading blog search engine and directory,” tracks well over 100 million blogs (*English speaking blogs*), but only lists some 7000 as music-specific sites. Clearly the organizational system there isn’t perfect and doesn’t include all 100 million blogs, but how many of those do you honestly think might actually be music blogs: 10,000? 20,000? 100,000? More? The point with all of this is that there are more music blogs out there than anyone would ever have time to sort through. As a music fan, focusing on the big picture as a whole could be overwhelming but once you dive in — following blogroll links and shoutouts, taking advantage of the connectivity between like-minded bloggers — it doesn’t end up being all that difficult to find some music blogs which fit your interests. You’d think that the process which artists might go through when searching for blogs that would vibe with their music would seemingly be just as simple, but if you ask a music blogger, you’re likely to get a very different response.

The lightning rod of the survey was quickly identified when bloggers were asked whether or not they feel that those sending emails should know what kind of music WOULD NOT be of interest to them. “I wouldn’t have over 26,000 unread messages if folks could target the proper blogs more efficiently,” replied Sean of Buzzgrinder. This opinion isn’t simply shared by bloggers however. “For a new band, you can’t just generically pitch everyone,” explained Corona. “You have to really target who you think might be into something — so you have to read their blog, and at the very least have a basic idea of what they’re about and what they’re into.” Trick noted that through her five years in the industry she focused on “maybe up to 100 blogs per campaign.” Wiese further reinforced this idea, adding, “I think if bands take the time to do some research and seek out their audience, they will have more success. Take those small successes and build on that.” However, the most interesting piece of advice on the topic came from John Dragonetti, one half of the indie pop duo the Submarines.

Independently releasing their debut album not too long after Culture Bully got going, the band was swiftly picked up by Nettwerk. Yet despite the continued label support (they just released their third full-length LP), a number of high profile advertisement spots for the likes of Apple, and a variety of film and television features, the band still emphasizes adding a personal touch to their process. “We’ve simply tried to connect with blogs that we’re fans of. Just connecting with a few folks can help set the right tone for the band. Even if your label is sending out en masse, the band should do stuff on their own.” He continued by defining the importance of relying on your own sense of hustle even if you’re surrounded by a team working to help you. “We’ve had a great relationship with our label but you don’t always want to be defined through the filter of a record company. Label folks come and go as much as bands do, so it’s good to connect independently.” There is another side to this argument however, and just because a few bloggers (about 90% of those surveyed, actually) think that musicians (and labels/PR folk) need to do a better job of focusing their campaigns doesn’t mean that they speak for everyone.

“Why not send to as many people as possible?” Replied Lee of Knox Road. “I don’t see much harm in it, as long as the emails are either bcc’d or personal (which will indeed, and for good reason, get more blog love).” Added Franky in response to the original question, “No, mainly because between myself and my writers we have a broad taste in music and will literally post anything if it’s ‘good’.” That doesn’t take away from the general sense of care that many overlook when focusing on music blogs that might actually be interested in their music. While it might not affect the artist in terms of shooting off emails — last time I checked it costs the same to send an email to one person as it does to 1000 people — such minimal attention to detail would likely save artists from wasting money on unnecessary mail-outs, and it would definitely leave a little more room to breathe in bloggers’ inboxes. Why should that matter to you as an artist? Because it’s just about as likely that music bloggers will become overwhelmed by volume and blindly purge 100 emails as they are to becoming fully engaged with 10 well-placed messages. If you want bloggers to take time and become interested by what it is you’re presenting them with, make certain that you’re prepared to spend just as much time to figure out who your music is best suited for. All of this isn’t to merely say “don’t send anything” and move on, but it’s 2011 and unfortunately that means that simply recording your music and hoping for the best isn’t going to cut it.

So, Now What?!

Relating his own personal experiences on his blog, Nashville-based artist Quiet Entertainer recently wrote, “Do you hate the media and the press? Do you think that they are purposefully ignoring you and all others with talent? Do you think the entire world is against you and your music? This is your first obstacle; maybe your biggest.” It’s easier to believe that no one cares about what you’re doing than it is to care enough yourself to put a solid effort into attempting to focus your music at bloggers who are likely to enjoy it. Regardless though, if that’s how you feel right now, don’t worry, it’s natural and you’re not alone in experiencing such insecurities. “There are honestly some bad critics out there with quite a bit of power,” added Wiese during our conversation. “It can be as simple [as] relating to the music and other topics on the site — or as ambiguous as the vibe you get when you walk into an unfamiliar coffee shop,” noted Dragonetti when explaining his process of searching for bloggers to reach out to. “You kind of get a sense right away if it feels right to you or if it feels ‘off’. There are also plenty of blogs that I love — and still send our stuff to — that probably couldn’t care less about the music we make.”

It’s a hard market to break into but it’s not impossible. And perhaps you’re doing everything right and are still falling through the cracks; that’s life, it happens to all of us. The flipside is that if you’re doing something right, regardless of all the hurdles there are to overcome, chances are better now than they’ve ever been that your music is going to be heard. “Bands are much savvier about digital strategy than people realize,” concluded Lapatine. And I personally feel that to be true, myself. I guess it’s really no different than any relationship: If you want an honest effort from the other party, you’re going to have to do some work yourself. If you want someone to blog about your band but can’t be bothered past the point of spamming a collection of mailing lists, you’re wasting everyone’s time including your own. Whatever you do though, don’t give up. That next email you send or blog you read might lead to you finding your biggest supporter. It’s always worth a shot, but unless you’re sensible with your expectations and are willing to be at least a little bit honest with yourself along the way, you’re not likely to make it past a single blogger’s delete button.


Notes: All numerical figures have been rounded up. While the volume of music bloggers surveyed isn’t enough to make any serious claims, those who contributed to this include a wide range of both males and females from around the world who have been blogging from anywhere from one to ten years. By my estimate, that’s a pretty solid sample group. With the exception of Stereogum‘s Scott Lapatine, bloggers’ last names were omitted as some simply prefer to leave it that way — by all means, if you’re curious, feel free to ask them though: Aaron (Tsururadio), David (SF Critic), Franky (Listen Before You Buy), Greg (Captains Dead), Jessica (New Music Collaborative), Joe (Each Note Secure), Jon Jon (Sound Verite’), Lee (Knox Road), Lydia (Sunset in the Rearview), Matthew (Song, by Toad), Niall (Nialler9), Peter (TwentyFourBit), Sandy (Slowcoustic), Sean (Buzzgrinder), Tiana (Ride The Tempo), Tim (The Blue Walrus) & Will (We All Want Someone To Shout For).

Rihanna feat. Britney Spears "S&M (Remix)"

Whatever your opinion was of the original version of Rihanna’s “S&M,” chances are you’re going to hold the exact same feeling toward this newly released remix featuring Britney Spears. The original is a bit tacky both lyrically and musically and introducing Britney to amp up the kinky anthem only goes to emphasize that aspect even further. It’s not really the song, itself, that’s the most alluring part of this collaboration though, but a different sort of rework which would likely be cause for some serious attention. As my man Gotty at The Smoking Section mentioned of the release, “The song really isn’t my personal cup of coffee but I’ll be the first one clicking play if a video releases.” And I’ll be the second.

Adrian Champion "Stars & Stripes" - A White Stripes Remix Album

The most immediately attractive aspect of Stars & Stripes is the robust character that resonates throughout the release. White Stripes remixes aren’t exactly a new invention — hell, one of my favorite mashups from 2005 was DJ Riko’s reworking of Ludacris’ “Stand Up” with the duo’s “My Doorbell” — but the album isn’t as simple an equation as: Stripes song + MC = mashup. Adrian Champion explains, “I was late jumping on the White Stripes bandwagon. But, when I heard ‘Doorbell’ a few years back I became an instant fan. That raw, classic sound was so fresh to me.” But the album’s not simply a collection “reimagined” versions of well-loved favorites, but rather it’s an audible orgy including a number of Champion’s personal favorites from the other side of the musical map. Including such artists as Mos Def, Outkast, B.I.G., Busta Rhymes, Pharoah Monch and Common, the album’s selection of source tracks is almost as interesting as the new songs themselves. “So there it is,” Champion closes. “Hip-hop fans, meet the White Stripes. Fans of the White Stripes, meet hip-hop.” Fans of both, meet Adrian Champion.

Foo Fighters "Wasting Light" Review

The release of Wasting Light from the Foo Fighters carries with it an unusual sense of urgency that hasn’t been experienced for quite some time with the band. Perhaps the gravity of the release is due in part to the new documentary tackling the Foo’s history and recent tribulations, a film which has been largely marketed for its insider’s look into the near-demise of the band. Or it could be that the 16th anniversary of the Foo Fighters’ debut album is quickly approaching. Or it could simply be that the timing’s right, the stars have aligned, and with grunge-nostalgia on the rise, fans have once again started to crave some new material from the group. Whatever the case, with Wasting Light all of this momentum has helped create one most consistent albums in the band’s history. The problem is, that’s about all it really has going for it.

No, this isn’t to say that Wasting Light is terrible or that it doesn’t interject some energy into the run of ballad-heavy LPs which has flowed from the group over the past decade. Opener “Bridge Burning” quickly squashes that idea by breaking out with an explosive drum and guitar combination before Dave Grohl wails, “These are my famous last words!” The song retreats into an alluring chug but still carries a progressive pace, one which leads nicely into “Rope.” With an echoing guitar stutter the album’s most accessible single does well to keep momentum going into the group’s collaboration with the legendary Bob Mould. “Dear Rosemary” holds its own as one of the album’s best tracks, with Grohl bellowing “Truth ain’t gonna change you lie/Youth ain’t gonna change you die” before sharing a layered call-and-response with Mould. The explosive “White Limo” rounds out the first quarter of the album with Grohl growling and screaming his way through the sharp and aggressive track. If ever there were a reason to celebrate the Foo Fighters, surely these first songs should be enough cause, right? Yes and no.

Though consistent, Wasting Light is still noticeably front-loaded. While no track on the album would do any better at following “White Limo,” the jump from the explosive standout to “Arlandria” creates a noticeable dip in the album’s rugged appeal, immediately shifting from a refreshing rock effort to something that’s on the same level with the majority of what’s come before it from the band. “These Days” only highlights this shift further as its soft vocal introduction — which finds Grohl crooning “One of these days the ground will drop out from beneath your feet/One of these days your heart will stop and play its final beat” — restrains the track before it finds its groove with a mid-tempo beat. The song’s got a great chorus, as many do on the album, but it only ends up illuminating a larger trend which runs throughout Wasting Light.

An average-sounding song for the Foo Fighters is still a fairly enjoyable track. But what’s been true elsewhere in the band’s catalog is also true of Wasting Light: once each song is put under a microscope and listened to on its own, out of the context of the bigger picture, they begin to lose their luster. From “Arlandria” through to Grohl’s throaty plea in album closer “Walk,” there is a consistent flow here which can’t be argued, but all the same, each song’s individual effectiveness is blurred by the compounding of the select moments which actually stand out on the release. A few good choruses on their own don’t add up to a whole lot, but when you begin to group them together, that collection of largely forgettable tracks can appear to carry far more impact than they did on their own. From “Back & Forth” to “A Matter of Time” to “Miss the Misery,” there are moments that shine through in each of the album’s tracks, but unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening here; on their own Wasting Light‘s individual parts do not appear to equal the album’s whole.

The press leading up to Wasting Light has largely been focused on the album’s unique creation. Yes, the Foo Fighters went analog with the recording; yes, they reverted to the familiarity of Butch Vig to oversee production; and yes, guitarist Pat Smear reclaimed a full-time position in the band and was joined by his co-Nirvana alumni Krist Noveselic for a song (the familiar sounding “I Should Have Known”). But after listening to the album over and over and over again, all of this begins to take on more of a hint of desperation than reinvention. Once the immediate appeal wears off, Wasting Lightbegins to reveal itself as an album that does a good job of sounding like a well-rounded mainstream rock record should sound if it wants to play to the widest audience possible. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t think that by being consistent at sounding like a good rock band that the Foo Fighters are doing anything spectacular here. At its heart, Wasting Light is just another step for a group that’s already seen its best days come and go, led by a frontman who is doing himself a great disservice by not spending more time behind the drum kit, where he never fails to show the exact spirit which is missing from the Foo Fighters.

Coolio Está Demasiado Caliente

A few weeks after “Wonderwall” had captivated listeners in the UK, Coolio returned with a flow back in your ear. One of Coolio’s greatest assets was that you didn’t have to be a rap connoisseur to get down with the man’s music back in the ’90s; much like the Spin Doctors, I think that some of Coolio’s songs still hold a place in hearts of music fans everywhere, regardless of whether or not they’d ever bother listening to them again. Seriously, when can “Fantastic Voyage” or “1, 2, 3, 4” hit the speakers without a party breaking out (in your pants)? But aside from those two tracks and “Gangsta’s Paradise” (which ended up as the highest selling single of 1995) there really isn’t much else to get too worked up over in the rest of his catalog; a fact made that much more unfortunate considering that he’s still making music. There are, of course, a few tracks along the way that garnered some heat: 1997′s “I’ll C U When U Get There” (back when using letters instead of full words was legit… and about a million miles away from the questionable taste of Ke$ha’s “C U Next Tuesday”) wasn’t bad, the awesome all-star cypher on the Space Jam soundtrack was a beast, there was a tight track from a godawful Whoopi Goldberg movie… Oh, and a commentary-heavy record about promiscuity and the necessity for contraception awareness. Which one of these things is not like the others?

“Too Hot” wasn’t exactly the peak of Coolio’s career, but it was hardly a low point either, eventually peaking at the #9 position in the UK while rising to the #24 position on the Billboard singles chart. The song has a good-enough bounce and a bit of a message, which was apparently enough to help it ride as the third most successful single from the MC’s landmark release. That’s all great and everything, but if anyone actually listened to the lyrics of the song, there’s no reason it shouldn’t have topped charts and broken sales records around the entire world. Allow me to indulge myself in the first five bars alone and you’ll see what I mean:
"Everybody listen up ’cause I’m about to get my speak on
Fools be trippin’ when it’s time to get their freak on
Runnin’ ’round town, puttin’ it down
Without no protection, funny erection
When it’s time for selection, what’s your direction?"
This isn’t even including the yeah-it’s-still-pretty-relevant-given-the-year-it-was-released shout out to Magic Johnson. Nor is it taking into account the brilliance of the music video’s B-movie special effects and questionable storyline (You get AIDS = you turn into colored sand, unless you’re a white dude, then you turn into marbles. Oh, and Coolio might actually be Satan). All I ask is that next time you think about Coolio, which might be days away, or it might be decades away, you reconsider this gem and ask yourself: “Without no protection, funny erection, when it’s time for selection, what’s your direction?” Simply put, “Too Hot” was, and is, nothing short of a masterpiece.

[This article first appeared on Tsururadio.]

Ryan Adams Ain’t Got Shit on the Pops

Q: What did you think about Ryan Adams’ version of “Wonderwall”?

A: It’s shit to me, man. I like Ryan Adams and I like some of his songs. But I hated what he did with “Wonderwall.”

That quote comes from a recent interview Liam Gallagher did with MTV, largely discussing his new band Beady Eye before conversation inevitably turned toward the cultural landmark that is Oasis. Looking back, it’s a bit telling of how big Oasis truly was that we’re still intrigued by songs that have long since become overused, overplayed and overly dissected. “Wonderwall” peaked at #2 on the UK singles chart back in November of 1995, but what still resonates as one of the most significant moments in the song’s history ultimately had less to do with Oasis and more to do with a band that had formed a mere two years earlier on the platform of reinterpreting “universally popular songs.”

While the Mike Flowers Pops’ cover of “Wonderwall” still stands as one of the most bizarre versions of the song, it achieved such shocking success that it nonetheless solidified its place in pop culture history. On December 30, 1995, while Oasis’ version of “Wonderwall” sat firmly at the #7 position on the UK’s singles chart, the Mike Flowers Pops’ rendition of the track debuted at the exact same position that the original had peaked at mere seven weeks earlier. Just let that settle in for a moment: while “Wonderwall” failed to top the singles charts in either the US or UK, it was so widely adored that even while the original remained a relevant single, a cover was initially able to match its commercial success. For two weeks “Wonderwall” locked down two top 10 positions on the singles chart, a feat which seems unbelievable in retrospect. That being said, the story of the Mike Flowers Pops’ “Wonderwall” runs a little bit deeper than simply being a timely cover of a wildly acclaimed single.

Earlier in the year Flowers (born Mike Roberts) was recruited by BBC Radio 1′s Kevin Greening to cover modern singles for the DJ’s show. The project was set to feature a new cover every week and for the first installment in the new series the collective decided that there’d be no better bet than to stick with “Wonderwall,” as it was still near the peak of its popularity. After recording and releasing the song on Greening’s radio show, English radio host and personality Chris Evans caught wind of it, falsely believing it to be an uncredited original released decades before Oasis had even formed as a band. That week Evans dubbed the track the “single of the week” on his Radio 1 breakfast show, wrongly informing listeners that it was indeed the original version and that the brothers Gallagher were artistic squatters. Once the dust settled and controversy was put to rest, the Gallaghers eventually gave permission for the cover’s release and, as they say, the rest is history.

Though the Mike Flowers Pops never matched the success of that first single, the group found scattered achievements following its release including a groovy version of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” which cracked the top 40 in August of 1996.

[This article first appeared on Tsururadio.]

Nas & Damian Marley "Land of Promise" Video

While Distant Relatives hasn’t exactly achieved the level of critical acclaim (or commercial success) that the combination of Marley and Nas are capable of garnering, it still stands to reason that the album may become more attractive to the masses as it’s given years to breathe. “As We Enter” remains a personal top 10 track from last year and the recent music video “Patience” is bound to show up on at least a few year end lists come December as its visuals are nothing less than stunning. Such creative peaks aren’t necessarily indicative of what’s available with the entire album, but they help provide an introduction for the layers of intriguing beats and subject matter which flow throughout.

Black Lips "Modern Art" Video

Following “Go Out and Get It!,” the music video for “Modern Art” offers the second taste from the Black Lips’ forthcoming album Arabia Mountain. It’s going to be interesting to see how influential Mark Ronson was in terms of guiding the LP’s production, but the first two tracks seem to suggest that the theme which runs throughout the recording might simply be: “tightness”. Sure, there are set to be 16 songs on the record, but thus far they’ve been amazingly compact. This might not exactly entice fans who specifically latched onto the freak-out psych of the band’s last album, 2009′s 200 Million Thousand, but returning to a far more basic blueprint isn’t a bad idea as far as I’m concerned. Arabia Mountain is set to be released June 7 via Vice.

The AK "740"

Though not as intense as much of the trunk music which flowed with his Kaby’s Day Out mixtape, the AK‘s “740″ is setting a strong trend for what’s to come with another upcoming release, Stigmatic. Not only does the track offer a chill vibe and a few humorous verbal stabs along the way, but it has what might be the best lyric of 2011, “Fuck all these local cats I only fuck with Culture Bully/And I’m comin’ for your milk money, Kaby the Original Bully.” Then again, I might be biased there; note to all artists hustling to get their music heard, playing to the egos of music bloggers is a great way to make that happen (haha). Watch out for more music from Kaby in the coming weeks; Stigmatic is tentatively set to drop Good Friday.

Sun Soakin’ Bulges in the Shade

Yesterday’s glance back at “Big Me” from the Foo Fighters triggered a thought about another music video that was released right around the same time as it; that being the clip for “Peaches” by the Presidents of the United States of America. Actually, after scouring the the web for some information I was able to find a site that is in the process of archiving a number of old lists from Much Music’s weekly Countdown show, and not only were these two videos released around the same time but there were a number of other standout clips that were current during the spring of 1996. The Countdown list from April 12 includes a variety of examples which continue to serve as some of the best representations of music videos from the era: everything from “1979” from the Smashing Pumpkins to “High and Dry” by Radiohead to 2Pac & Dre’s “California Love” to Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova.” Perhaps it wasn’t The Golden Age of Music Videos, but there was a glut of great clips at the time that have aged remarkably well. I think I’m going to have some (more) fun looking back through these old lists and reintroducing myself to some forgotten classics. In the meantime (which was also a high charting video that week) check out one of the videos that set an early precedent for the cheeky humor which has run throughout PUSA’s entire career (a career which, after a two-year hiatus, surprisingly continues to this very day).

[This article first appeared on Tsururadio.]

The Fresh Fighter

With the new Foo Fighters album becoming available online during the past 24 hours it felt appropriate to continue this journey back into the ’90s with a look at the group’s first crossover hit: “Big Me.” With other standouts from the Foo’s debut album including such hard-hitting tracks as “I’ll Stick Around” and “This is a Call,” “Big Me” was definitely an unexpected outlier in terms of the LP’s sound. Additionally, the release of the song as a single, and more importantly a music video, marked a significant turn in the way the group promoted itself. Not only did the track reveal a softer musical side of the band to listeners, but in spoofing a series of notorious Mentos commercials, the music video became the band’s first to reflect the group’s charming sense of humor; a trend that has continued through the years, most recently showing up in the clip for “White Limo.”

[This article first appeared on Tsururadio.]

Fleet Foxes "Helplessness Blues" Review

“I have such a weird relationship with this record,” confessed Fleet Foxes‘ Robin Pecknold in an interview with Stereogum this past February. “The process of making it really took over my life and started affecting my relationships, which in turn affected the record.” Yet while the band’s new album Helplessness Blues is recognizable as a testimony to this personal struggle, it also represents a test for the group as a whole. Faced with the potentially crippling reality that they have created an outrageously high standard for themselves, the band was confronted with a new challenge: Could they create music true to their vision while avoiding disappointing the legions of fans they’ve attracted along the way? The immediate answer was no; or at least not at first.

Fleet Foxes logged plenty of hours in the recording studio in 2009 while working on what would become Helplessness Blues; so many that a 2010 release was a near certainty. But after wrapping on the recording the band re-approached the new music with open ears and decided that it didn’t reflect their vision. Speaking to Uncut magazine, Pecknold recently revealed that he “felt there were things that could be improved.” So they “improved” them; re-recording many of the songs and pushing the album’s pending release date off into the distance.

Now in its final form, Helplessness Blues doesn’t sound entirely all that different from the music that the band has released before it. The LP opens with the energetic alternating picking of “Montezuma,” relying on attractive vocal harmonies that have remained a staple throughout Fleet Foxes’ entire catalog. “The Cascades” flows by as a succinct instrumental. “Someone You’d Admire” loses itself in the combination of Pecknold’s gentle croon and a hollow-sounding acoustic. “Blue Spotted Tail” focuses similarly on cautious picking before bleeding into the rumbling conclusion of “Grown Ocean.” Really, for the most part, it could be argued that little has changed here: Fleet Foxes still work within the gray area of folk-pop, not really pushing any boundaries through the creation of their songs. Yet, despite such basic similarities, Helplessness Blues is constructed with a different purpose than 2008′s Fleet Foxes. Relatives of “Mykonos” and “White Winter Hymnal” are nowhere to be found, but are instead replaced by a number of rich tracks which further reveal the level of craftsmanship employed by the group.

Be it the fiddle which follows the brisk build-up of “Bedouin Dress,” the grandiose pounding rhythm of “Battery Kinzie,” the extended opening vocal harmony which leads into a rollicking, free-spirited breakdown in “The Plains / Bitter Dancer” or the unusual musical disintegration in the conclusion of “Lorelai,” the album offers a variety of moments which keep things from becoming monotonous. There are three tracks which extend this further though, all of which helping to solidify Helplessness Blues‘ unique personality. The spirited pace of “Helplessness Blues” is refreshing, but it’s Pecknold’s lyrics in the song which help raise awareness of the conflict he was struggling with during the album’s creation. “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes unique in each way you can see/And now after some thinking I’d say I’d rather be a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.” It’s a dilemma nearly everyone faces — the struggle to find one’s place; a search for meaning. “Blue Spotted Tail” is another song which finds the vocalist confronting this struggle by questioning the purpose of existence. These themes of searching for self are woven throughout the album, each acting as a poetic reminder of the personalities behind the music.

“Sim Sala Bim” progresses in a different direction, musically, as the track’s showcase of delicate finger-picking later erupts into a swelling acoustic solo (of sorts); it would fit in seamlessly on Led Zeppelin III. While not a major contrast to the rest of the album, the song offers a wink to a different range of influence that isn’t really associated with Fleet Foxes, suggesting that a fierce desire might swell below the band’s mellow harmonies. To some degree this is picked up once again in “The Shrine / An Argument,” a track which might be best defined as Helplessness Blues‘ aural climax. It continues where “Montezuma” left off with an immediate display of dexterity on the guitar before showing off the first break in Pecknold’s voice — real emotion. Through its eight minutes the song shifts between a variety of different sounds and patterns but — spastic horn outro aside — the segment of the track which leaves a lasting impression is, again, that created by driven acoustics.

After listening to Helplessness Blues it would seem difficult to believe that the album isn’t viewed as a success by the band’s members. It is as much a reflection of personal internal struggle as it is evidence of individual musical progression. But that might have been all it ever needed to be all along: a Fleet Foxes album simply good enough for the band. (That would explain the re-recording, at least.) Which isn’t to say that they might not actually have cared much about disappointing their fans, but they could have rushed the release of the album’s earlier version, or could have easily stripped apart the most successful aspects of Fleet Foxes and manufactured something that would drive fans wild. They could have, but they didn’t. Thankfully for fans, what remains offers the best of both worlds: an album that satisfies the band which doesn’t abuse predictability in meeting a high level of quality. What more could be asked for?

Danger Mouse, Daniele Luppi & Jack White "Two Against One"

New music was unveiled today from Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi’s Rome project, which will see its official release May 16 in the UK and May 17 stateside. It was announced earlier this week that the duo’s “Two Against One” collaboration with Jack White and “Black” with Norah Jones will both be featured on an upcoming Record Store Day release from Third Man Records, so appropriately each track has now surfaced as a sample of what’s likely to follow. Jones’ “Black” continues a trend that runs through much of her music: while the song and lyrics were written before she became involved in the project, her sultry vocals demand the bulk of the attention in the song. “Two Against One,” however, steps away from what might’ve been expected from a Jack White feature as the song utilizes limited guitar in creating the dark cloud of audible sorrow which aids White’s vocals in developing its unique tone. For more on the album, a video primer was released earlier this week featuring commentary by all four artists.

Openmic "Can You Blame Him?"

Following a drop of “The Code” last week with a listening party over the weekend, Nashville’s Openmic is slowly revealing his forthcoming For The Rebels mixtape as something that demands a bit of attention. In “Can You Blame Him?” his continuous flow offers countless lyrical subtleties that are easy to overlook — “Dreamin’ like I made it then I notice I ain’t safe till I get further from the place that I was tryin’ to run away from” — but in this particular track, the musical quality isn’t shelved in favor of strict lyricism. For The Rebels is set to drop April 9. Definitely stay on the lookout for more from this guy in the coming weeks.