Recently I gave a presentation on The Philosophy of Music. Putting aside the definitional and ontological questions for a moment, perhaps the most troubling from a reviewer’s point of view was an epistemological one; what sort of knowledge does musical and lyrical content give us?. Without being able to answer that, qualitative musical criticism becomes extremely difficult beyond mere evaluation of relative competence of the performers, industry sycophancy, or expressive bitterness on the part of the reviewer. This is not to suggest that that such elements in a review aren’t important, let alone the non-musical elements (venue, visual presentation, crowd behaviour), but rather to identify aesthetically good music from that which is not. Why is it that a reviewer can say, with grounded justification, that the lyric snippet from New Order‘s ‘Crystal’ (“Here comes love, it’s like honey, you can’t buy it with money”) has the same sort of credibility as Stephenie Meyer in Twilight when the protagonist is asked whether they are hungry and responds; “No.” I didn’t feel like mentioning that my stomach was already full – of butterflies.
The estimable PopBitch details how UK labels refuse to actually make songs with massive demand available for purchase — deliberately missing the Christmas binge period for Nicki Minaj “Anaconda”, Gwen Stefani “Baby Don’t Lie” and Mark Ronson’s superlative “Uptown Funk” (which you should definitely play right now).
They’re all on YouTube, making fractional pennies per view, but the actual locally-chartable sales aren’t happening because the labels refuse to release them in that territory, as if the Internet never happened. The only vaguely plausible reason anyone can come up with is that the people running the PR campaign are attempting to make that campaign look good, and never mind the bit where the business is supposed to pick up all the free money lying around.
(“Uptown Funk” is finally being released before Christmas, with talk of intra-Sony shenanigans to achieve this.)
As perhaps the most important industrial band of the 1980s, Skinny Puppy developed a loyal following with their harsh instrumentation, samples, and politically blunt messages, especially with their opposition to vivisection. Albums such as ‘VIVIsectVI’, ‘Rabies’, and ‘Too Dark Park’ whilst far too challenging for mainstream popularity, appealed greatly to a select audience. An cascading set of disasters and a change in musical direction however plagued the band in the early 1990s; they changed labels, moved, had recording sessions interrupted by an earthquake, sacked the producer for the upcoming album, and faced increasing tension between band members, eventually leading to one member leaving, and another dying of of a heroin overdose shortly afterwards. The concept album, ‘The Process’, was not entirely well received and represented somewhat of a change in musical direction, which disappointed some fans.
- Sure, there were these four character names, but they were played by different people over the course of the band’s existence. (Look at the teeth!.) ‘Cos cloning was really big in the ’60s.
- Or how about only Paul lived, all the others died and were replaced early on.
- Or indeed the Beatles never broke up in the first place, as proven by this, er, cassette the guy got in the post.
MusicBrainz, the database of everything music-related, has launched AcousticBrainz, a database of song characteristics in the manner of Soundhound or Shazam, but with the data freely available to anyone, and a really horrible name. Nobody’s built a Shazam-like frontend for it as yet, but no doubt that will come. Here’s a sample of the sort of data they collect, which is more extensive than MusicBrainz’ existing AcoustID fingerprint database.
Formed in 1968, “Yes” is fairly much the iconic example of the crossover point of progressive and art rock. Whilst the line-up has seen many changes of the decades, with brief splits and reconstitutions, they’ve produced an epic 21 studio albums, 10 live albums, 32 compilation albums, 34 singles and 19 videos. With a total of at least thirty million album sales, two of the albums made their way to UK number one, and one of their singles did so as well in the US.
With a journey of that length, there is more than a few tales to tell. The following is but a small selection of oddities as a potted history in the “Yes” story, some of which are well known to aficionados, but nevertheless will give all a taste of the flights of these starship troopers..
It’s a cute fashion for the originators of subcultures to declare its ‘death’ just as it is starting; thus the hippies of Haight-Ashbury declared a “death of hippie” march in 1968, the punk band Crass sung “Punk Is Dead” on their first album in 1978, and so too that marvellous contemporary style of music where progressive and alternative meet in complex rhythmic structures, math rock, would face the claim of the “fall of math” by genre-exemplars 65daysofstatic likewise in their ground-breaking first album in 2004. Since then they’ve brought out a further four studio albums and a soundtrack with their complex and experimental sounds.
Courtesy of our friends at The Dwarf your author had the opportunity to see the legendary Radio Birdman as long as finger was put to keyboard in review. This iconic founding band of Australian independent rock and punk from the 1970s announced a reunion tour and concurrent with this was the release of an extraordinary CD boxed set consisting of all three early studio albums, a previously unreleased live album of the notorious Paddington Town Hall gigs, a DVD of various videos, three bonus discs of unreleased material, and a forty page booklet of images with an essay about the band from their earliest days by Toby Creswell, all packaged in a solid black box with the red Radio Birdman logo.
- My daughter just started learning viola. She could, of course, be the next Jimi Hendrix.
- There’s a whole genre of 9/11 Truther songs, and they’re insane. (Some handy rebuttals in case these people ever insist on talking to you.)
- How popular is Taylor Swift? She accidentally releases a track that’s eight seconds of white noise and it tops the Canadian iTunes chart.
- The Napster of the 1930s: bootleg lyric sheets.
- Dads at a One Direction concert.
- David Bowie, Brian Eno and Tony Visconti record “Warszawa.”
After three years of a band having a ‘new’ lineup one would think that they’re not really that new. But if you live in Ulan Bator, or Melbourne, you probably haven’t seen the Poppies for at least twenty years so this is new and, as a result, approached with some trepidation among the fans. Inquiring minds decided to fork out the extra dollars for special early-entry passes for a meet-and-greet, signing session and, most remarkably, a special introductory song chosen by the punters (we chose Def Con One, part of their set anyway, so we heard it twice).
The venue was the Hi-Fi Bar, right in the middle of the Melbourne CBD, once home some twenty odd years ago, to a delightful goth club with polished fittings and a very sensible design (dance floor at one end, bar at the other, mezzanine level overlooking the dance floor). It meant that people could actually have a conversation in a night club. It also meant that the people who wanted the music loud and pumping could have it loud and pumping. Since those days it has become a live venue for a while and, whilst the polish is well and truly gone, the layout is the same. Kudos for that choice.
With their last and most successful general release album released in 1994 (Dos Dedos Mis Amigos), it is a long time between releases for iconic grebo band, Pop Will Eat Itself. Or, if you like, 1996 with the rare “A Lick of the Old Cassette Box”, an LP limited to 200 copies. The fact that the band disbanded in 1996 is an obvious cause, even taking into a short reformation in 2005. But the Poppies have returned, albeit with a very different line up. The only remaining original member of the band is vocalist Graham Crabb providing continuity. The new members however come with their own impressive pedigree, Mary Byker (Gaye Bykers on Acid, Pigface) joining as a vocalist, Tim Muddiman (Gary Numan) on rhythm guitar, Jason Bowld (Pitchshifter, Killing Joke) on drums, and Davey Bennett (This Burning Age) on bass guitar. Certainly this source material itself is quite acceptable to the original Poppies sound, so I for one am happy to see this amalgamation of talent.
- How we’ve paid for music from 1983 to today, in one gif.
- Revealed: The Type of Music That Makes You Feel Most Powerful Spoiler: Queen “We Will Rock You”, 2 Unlimited “Get Ready for This”. Apparently it’s all about the BASS LINE.
- Charlotte Church on fifteen years in the music industry as a woman.
- You don’t play the ANS synthesizer (Russia, 1938) with a keyboard. Instead you etch images onto glass sheets covered in black putty and feed them into a machine that shines light through the etchings, trigging a wide range of tones.
- I am slightly horrified and fascinated by the This Exists channel on YouTube. For a starter, here’s a survey of the history of Scientology music.
- Terrorizer: Heavy Metal Is Gay: Why we need to tackle our homophobia.
Archive are a pretty superb combination of electronica, trip-hop, with progressive elements, something like a fusion of 65daysofstatic and Portishead. To say that they’ve put together some mighty fine tunes over the past fifteen years or so is understating their innovation and genius; a taster for the unfamiliar – ‘Lights’, you really must get ‘Lights’ to feel how progressive music should be constructed and rarely is. Axiom (2014) is their tenth album item since their debut ‘Londinium’ in 1996 (not including compilations), and is certainly an impressive project being released with an accompanying black and white short film. It is a notably shorter production, with the album being around 35 minutes and the film about five minutes longer. As a soundtrack and story combination it comes as a unified product with the track listing providing a narrative in its own right.
Really. Pretty laborious, but this seems to actually work. Anyone tried it?
Hey, it worked for Christians, perhaps co-opting rap music will work for neo-Nazis! Multiculturalist site Imagine 2050 writes of White Power rap used as a recruitment tool in Germany. Artists include N’Socialist Soundsystem, Sprachgesang zum Untergan, Natürlich, MC Bock and Makss Damage.
Imagine 2050 fears the power of this stuff for recruitment, but anyone with ears will laugh within thirty seconds and switch it off within another thirty. I’m not linking any, but you can find it readily enough with a search.
(I am particularly pleased to categorise this story under “R’n’B”. “I turn black music into white music – like Elvis did back in the day.” Yeah, no.)
Some kind person has been collecting this stuff. Enjoy. HT Paul Makepeace.
Paul Wilson writes, in Audiophile Review, possibly the stupidest argument against double-blind tests I’ve read in some time. He doesn’t just argue the case for a special exemption from joined-up thinking in general — he dodges even arguing the case, and just asserts it. Oh, and double-blind tests are inherently biased against audiophile manufacturers. (That one I might buy.)
The commenters note at length that, by previously asserting that he can tell cheap from expensive HDMI cables, Wilson could handily win James Randi’s million-dollar challenge for proving apparently-supernatural phenomena in the lab. HT Peter da Silva.
A great photo essay by Olaf Shuelke in Roads and Kingdoms of punk rockers and their kids, in full mohawked peacockery, putting on unlicensed shows with a generator and speaking out against injustice.
(Rone: “what, no ‘Mission of Burma’ jokes? son, you are slipping.”)
“Helvete is a new open-access electronic and print journal of black metal theory.” Conceived after Melancology, the second Black Metal Theory Symposium, in 2011, and finally out. This definitely outdoes me for rocknerdery. The first edition. “Black Metal theory is an infection in danger of becoming an epidemic … Black Metal theory is the infection of Black Metal by theory; it is the brutal vivisection of Black Metal’s heretofore incorrupt body.” HT Ms. 45.
Matt Daniels answers the question you hadn’t thought to ask: who has the largest vocabulary in hip-hop? Counts done from first 35,000 released words. Ah, the trials of the popular poet in the modern age.
Pete Farnan of Boom Crash Opera writes about playing A Day On The Green, to the most irony-free audience possible. “The Hunters and Collectors recently did a tea towel which apparently sold out.” He’s still whinging about rock critics, though. Dude, the internet killed us too. Talk about yer disintermediation.