Archive for the 'Music' Category

Adventures in Ethnic Music

Oct 02, 2005 in Music

I’ve been wanting to write about ethnic music for a while. By this I mean the indigenous varieties of world music that sound so much different than anything that Americans are used to, although international variations on uniquely American musical styles are quite interesting too. I’ve found myself listening to more international music in recent months, mainly because of the sheer variety, novelty and beauty of it.

The first thing I implore you to do is check out eMusic.com. They’ve got the 50 free mp3s offer going on right now, and they have a great selection of independent and international music. For that matter, iTunes or any other good music download service can help you find good stuff.

I’d like to start in the early 20th century with Yazoo’s Secret Museum of Mankind series. This is a collection of early ethnic music taken from rare 78s, from a period just before technological progress began to displace indigenous cultures. Here are some mp3s from the series:

Yazoo also has other compilations of Irish, Polish, Bulgarian and Jewish klezmer music. Right now I’m listening to The Music of Madagascar, a collection of early Malagasy music. Malagasy music is strangely melodic and beautiful, with soaring harmonies. Here’s the first track from the compilation:

Sufi devotional music, or qawwali, is specifically designed to bring listeners into trance. The foremost exponent of qawwali was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who achieved worldwide reknown in the 1990s. Khan was known for his embrace of western musical styles (there are pop and techno versions of his songs) and he performed with musicians such as Peter Gabriel and Eddie Vedder. Khan’s qawwalis start out slow, but gradually increase to a fevered, ecstatic pitch, with a moderate degree of improvisation.

Abita Parveen is currently the most popular qawwali singer, and definitely the most popular female exponent of the style. Instead of the crescendos and improvisation of Khan’s music, Parveen sticks to the poetical forms of the kafi or ghazal. Once you get past the occasionally cheesy strings, Parveen’s music is quite beautiful indeed.

But apparently it’s still ok to portray oneself as a white trash hick

Aug 26, 2005 in Music

“Redneck woman” Gretchen Wilson (who, in typical celebrity style, is much more attractive than any redneck female I’ve ever seen) was criticized by Tennessee’s attorney general for holding up a can of Skoal during concert performances of the song “Skoal Ring.” The AG was concerned that impressionable kids might be tempted to try chewing tobacco because of Wilson’s endorsement. (The singer has since agreed to stop displaying the can).

I’m waiting to see if a generation of teenaged female country music listeners take up using cherry, apple, berry, vanilla, mint or peach flavored Skoal because Gretchen Wilson said it was cool.

…except rap and country

Jul 22, 2005 in Music

Today’s cartoon from Natalie Dee dot com parodies the “I like all kinds of music except rap and country” cliche. Just check a Google search to see how pervasive this sentiment is.

Personally, my pet peeve has always been people who claim to like “everything.” Oh really? Do you like zydeco? Tuvan throat singing? Norwegian death metal?

And why is it that rap and country are so hated by many, and that so many often hate both? Let’s not forget metal, which probably ranks third on the most-hated music list.

On the subject of race, isn’t it ironic that if it wasn’t for white kids buying hip-hop records, the genre wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it is? And isn’t is also ironic that almost all modern-day blues fans are white?

On the flip side, why is it that there are so few people of color in both country and metal, both predominantly white genres that were nominally influenced by black musical traditions?

Pre-trip post

Jun 28, 2005 in Music

Heading out tomorrow for a two-week trip to W. Virginia and NYC. To occupy myself during the long drives I’ll have to undertake, I’m in the process of downloading and burning as much music as I can. I was in the mood for something a little French, which led me to dig up these fine websites on 60’s French pop:

So far I’ve grabbed a 2 CD Serge Gainsbourg comp and a Francoise Hardy comp off the newsgroups. See my earlier post on Serge Gainsbourg here. Also, iFilm recently posted the infamous video of Serge telling Whitney Houston on live TV that he’d like to f*ck her.

Ruining Pet Sounds from the Congo

Jun 18, 2005 in Music

Konono No.1 is a Congolese street band extant for over 25 years now who recently recorded their first album for Belgian label Crammed Discs. Konono was discovered by producer and Congolese music afficionado Vincent Kelis, who recorded their debut Congotronics with a Mac G4 laptop at an outdoor session in the Congo city of Kinshasa.

Konono No.1’s sound is a combination of traditional trance music and contemporary Congolese pop, but what makes their music truly exotic and extraordinary is the homemade amplification that lifts their traditional rhythms into the realm of experimental psychedelia.

Using a collection of homemade and found instrumentation — including three likembe, or thumb pianos, and a variety of percussion including whistles, hubcaps and drums — Konono’s whirling dervish of rhythm is broadcast through a set of homemade microphones, amplifiers, loudspeakers and electronics.

Here is the band page on the Crammed Discs website. For a taste of the band in action, check out this amazing video, filmed at a street performance in Congo. Kelis wrote a letter to this blogger offering a little history behind how he discovered the band.

Congotronics is available as an (expensive) import, but the album can easily be had through iTunes, Napster, eMusic or your favorite online music store.



I was a little late to this party, but last month, the online label Hippocamp.net released a remix compilation of one of my favorite albums, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

Hippocamp Ruins Pet Sounds is a reimagining of one of pop’s greatest masterpieces by a collection of electronic artists. The results range from transcendent (”Don’t Talk”) to merely annoying (the 12-minute remix of “Here Today”).

As is to be expected with things such as this, legal pressures forced the sites hosting the album to take it down. It has since found a new home at Banned Music, along with other quasi-illegal remix classics like the Grey Album.

A Crazy Muthafucka Named Nina

Feb 22, 2005 in Music

One of the most unusual covers I’ve heard in recent memory is Nina Gordon’s acoustic rendition of NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton.” Nina is formerly of the group Veruca Salt, and is now a pop-folk singer currently recording her second solo album.

Nina’s site also features covers of 80s hair metal bands Skid Row and Cinderella. A video mash-up of Nina’s cover with the original NWA video can be found here.

A mention of Sri Lanka that has nothing to do with the tsunami.

Feb 06, 2005 in Music

Sri Lanka — a southeast Asian country largely ignored by the rest of the world — has been getting a lot of press lately due to that tragic tsunami. Now there’s another reason for Sri Lanka to be mentioned in the press: the debut album from Sri Lankan-born Maya Arulpragasam, performing under the moniker M.I.A.

M.I.A. is shaping up to be the UK’s hottest musical export since Dizzee Rascal. Maya combines UK garage with dancehall rhythms, ghetto patois, and Bhangra influences, and her music could be best described as “Dizzee Rascal meets Peaches.”

Her debut album Arular will be released on February 22, and is already shaping up to be one of the most anticipated albums of this year. Here are some mp3’s of her first two singles, also included on the upcoming album:

M.I.A - Galang
M.I.A - Sunshowers

And the number one song this week in Germany is…

Jan 11, 2005 in Music

A novelty song about a crocodile sung by a four year old girl is the number one hit single in Germany this week. Schnappi das kleine Krokodil started out as (what else) an internet phenomenon, and has inspired several remixes on it’s way to the top. mp3’s can be downloaded here.

My Favorite Albums of 2004

Jan 08, 2005 in Music

It’s time to partake in that new year’s tradition of listing one’s favorite albums of the past year. There’s really nothing on this list that isn’t present on hundreds of other top album lists, I just thought I’d throw in my twelve cents. So without further ado…

1. Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News: Modest Mouse finally shed the annoying idiosyncracies of their past work and left us with an album of breathtaking genius. The larger listening public rewarded them appropriately by making this album a near-platinum hit.

2 - 3. Madvillian - Madvilliany / MF Doom - Mmm… Food: Madvillian, the collaboration between MF Doom and Madlib, became every white music critic/geek’s favorite hip-hop album of the year. The MF Doom solo album, for me, became the one hip-hop album this year that I couldn’t stop listening to.

4. Brian Wilson - Smile: The greatest album never released was finally completed this year, and it didn’t disappoint. 38 years wasn’t too long, now was it?

5. Nellie McKay - Get Away from Me: This precociously talented redhead burst onto the scene this year with a double disc debut of witty, genre-defying piano jazz stylings. Nellie was embroiled in scandal when it was revealed that she lied about her age and possibly exaggerated parts of her biography. But the revelation didn’t seem to affect Nellie’s career, as the public responded “Who the hell is Nellie McKay?”

6 - 7. Danger Mouse - The Grey Album / The Kleptones - A Night at the Hip-Hopera: 2004 was the Year of the Mash-up. The Grey Album, a mash-up between Jay-Z’s Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album, inspired a series of poorly executed copycat efforts involving bands such as Weezer, Pavement and Metallica. A Night at the Hip-Hopera was an epic mix that paired the Queen catalog with some of the best-known rhymes in hip-hop.

8. Deerhoof - Milk Man: Deerhoof honed their no-wave inspired pop weirdness into their finest album yet. At times sweet, mysterious, experimental, and raucous.

9. Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat: The Fiery Furnaces debut album posed this married duo as a quirky, poppier White Stripes. Their sophomore effort, Blueberry Boat, proceeded to destroy that conception. A dense, sprawling album that constantly shifts from one musical idea to the next, sometimes several times within the same song.

10. Dizzee Rascal - Boy in Da Corner and Showtime: Dizzee saw two albums released in the States this year, the reissue of his debut album, and it’s followup, Showtime. Dizzee has pioneered a volatile mix of dancehall, hip-hop and garage into a genre that some have dubbed grime.

11. The Streets - A Grand Don’t Come for Free: The UK’s other big hip-hop artist of the past year. This got a lot of play on my radio show.

12. Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender: With a voice that sounds like a cross between Bjork and Iris Dement on helium, Joanna Newsom presented us with one of the quirkiest albums of 2004. Newsom accompanies her idiosyncratic voice with some accomplished harp playing and the occasional harpsichord. Charming, but can be difficult to listen to in one sitting.

A few other albums I enjoyed this year:

Rogue Wave - Out of the Shadow
of montreal - Satanic Panic in the Attic
Stereolab - Margerine Eclipse
Big Songs for Little Attention Spans: A 100 song mix of short songs
Aqui - The First Trip Out
Air - Talkie Walkie

The great albums of 2004 I’d like to hear, but havent:

Devendra Banhart - Rejoicing in the Hands
Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans
Animal Collective - Sung Tongs
Nick Cave - Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus

The Overrated: Every year, there’s at least one band whose debut is hailed as the second coming of Jesus. Massive critical acclaim and worship follows, and curious music fans rush out to buy the album. A backlash inevitably ensues. These are my picks for the most overrated bands of 2004.

The Arcade Fire
Franz Ferdinand
The Killers
The Libertines
Overrated repeats: Wilco, Interpol

VH1’s “40 Most Awesomely Bad Metal Songs Ever” and revisionist history.

Nov 25, 2004 in Music

No Thanksgiving dinner for me until later this evening, so I’m watching TV and hitting the bottle right now. I’m watching the 40 Most Awesomely Bad Metal Songs Ever on VH1 right now, and while it is quite enjoyable (as enjoyable as VH1’s pop culture crack can be), I have to take issue with the program’s (admittedly well-deserved) derision for late-eighties’ hair metal.

Yes, it’s bad. It was bad then, and it’s even worse in retrospect. But while watching Riki Rachtman, assorted critics and celebrities, and VH1’s producers slam bad metal videos, I can’t help but think that it’s the MTV Networks’ fault for popularizing this trash in the first place. Same with the network’s other bad video shows, in which they trashed “Ice Ice Baby” and other awful hits of the past two decades. If they do another program in ten years trashing the boy bands, hair metal and tween pop they helped to popularize in the 90’s, I’m going to go fucking ballistic.

On the subject of hair metal: As bad as it was, it was virtually inescapable in the late 80’s. In fact, this pop-influenced “metal lite” penetrated so far into the mainstream, that it was mistaken for metal by many people. I had this conversation many times in those days…

Me: “Yeah, I listen to metal.”
Clueless Person: “Oh, do you like Guns N’ Roses / Poison / Insert-hair-metal-band-here?”
Me: “No, that stuff’s crap. I like stuff like Metallica / Slayer / Insert-obscure-thrash-metal-band-here.”
Clueless Person: “Never heard of them.”

The Riki Rachtman helmed “Headbanger’s Ball” was a prime example of this. When it premiered in 1987 (with big-haired future blogger Adam Curry as host), HB was the place for metal fans in the heartland to get their fill of metal videos. In it’s early incarnation, the program ran the gamut from popular hair metal bands to old school metal to the underground. As the decade wore on into the early 90’s, the ascendancy of hair metal overran the program to the point that Riki Rachtman became one of the most hated men in America. (Unfortunate for him; Riki had nothing to do with the selection of videos on the program. That task lay with the network’s programming directors, and Riki’s criticism of the network’s choice of videos eventually cost him his hosting job.)

Eventually, a band called Nirvana came along and sent hair metal the way of the dodo bird. (Ironically enough, Nirvana was mistaken for a metal band by MTV. One of Cobain’s first TV appearances was an interview on HB in a gaudy Victorian-era dress. “It’s a ball, isn’t it?” Kurt wryly intoned.)