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Debut Album Awareness: 'Hale & Hearty' by Heyward Howkins

June 25, 2012

Conjuring allusions to Smokey Robinson, Kid Congo Powers, David Lovering, and Fred Myrow, Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Heyward Howkins is set to unleash his poignantly baroque The Hale & Hearty, an evocative amalgam of “British tweed (see Nick Drake)” and “dusty American flannel (see Bon Iver).”  Personally, it’s quite like nothing I’ve heard before (lyrically or musically), flaunting unusual yet powerful all-analog arrangements, guided by Howkins’ unique, rustically thespian vocals.  A smattering of the tunes gives off the husky Americana of Grizzly Bear (although not as dark), while others recall the raw textures (and horns) of Neutral Milk Hotel.

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Music, Music Commentary, Music Reviews

Review // Beach House: Bloom

May 14, 2012

Review | Beach House: Bloom

In a recent interview with Pitchfork‘s Jenn Pelly, Beach House multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally revealed his frustration with the changing ways in which we listen to music:

“A lot of people listening to music now don’t listen to the songs or lyrics at all. They just go, “Good tones…” and that’s it. But we’re obsessed with songs. Sometimes, I feel like people aren’t listening to our songs, they’re just listening to the sound. “

Scally’s chagrin can be viewed as a gripe with twenty-first century music as a whole. In an age where music is both easily accessible and easily dismissed, the dual arts of album structure and song writing have been lost amongst many artists.  Taking this into consideration, Beach House, a Baltimore-based dream pop duo, can be seen as traditionalists in the world of modern indie music. Over the course of four albums, including 2010’s sonic opus Teen Dream, the Beach House sound has remained steady, slowly improving with thoughtful refinements.

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Music, Music Commentary

Meagan Tubb & Shady People: Roots Rock Done Right

January 18, 2012

When you live in the live music capital of the world (Austin, TX), where there are over 10,000 bands to compete with, it can be difficult to set yourself apart from the crowd. But Austinites Meagan Tubb & Shady People succeeded in doing so by taking the “‘keep it simple” approach and running with it — an ambition that is openly revealed in the first moments of their latest album, Cast Your ShadowI recently embraced the opportunity to catch them at Proud Larry’s in Oxford, Miss., on January 14th, and I couldn’t help but document the experience via camera; as well as explore their history and new LP via digital pen.

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Music, Music Commentary

SMiLE: Brian Wilson's Elusive Opus Made Accessible by Crafty Fans

January 10, 2012

SMiLE, the most famous unreleased album of all time (at least until 2004), was slated as The Beach Boys‘ follow-up to the epochal Pet Sounds (1966; Capitol Records).  SMiLE‘s original recordings were roughly committed to tape between May 11, 1966 and May 19, 1967, shortly before lead composer Brian Wilson — arguably the only American rock musician to counterpoise The Beatles in compositional genius and songwriting craft (post-Rubber Soul) — fell into a drug-induced impasse of bedridden depression.

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Music, Music Commentary

MouseRocket // A Look at Their Songwriting Craft and History

December 22, 2011

MouseRocket, a five-piece indie pop group based out of Memphis, is the poster child for generations of local musicians intent on rethinking and re-creating garage rock.

Since its inception in 2001, the group has mastered the technique of reshuffling the hallmarks of the subgenre in question. In addition to classic rock style guitar work, MouseRocket explores various modern textures: upbeat melodies; New Wave keys; prog drums; and even a cello, which Memphis Symphony Orchestra cellist Jonathan Kirkscey makes child’s play of as he sneakily weaves through Hemant Gupta’s bass and Robert Barnett’s drums. Continue Reading…

Music Commentary

Rightwingers rapping on Common's door

May 12, 2011

Evidently, it has come to the political social media sphere’s attention that Chicago-borne rap artist Common has been invited to the East Room of the White House yesterday by Barack and Michelle Obama for a literary event entitled, “An Evening of Poetry.”  Included in the list of poetic invitees were Elizabeth Alexander, Billy Collins, Aimee Mann, Jill Scott and Steve Martin.  Strangely enough, Common’s presence at this prestigious event has unwittingly taken center stage due to his background as a rap artist, particularly in the context of irascible right-wingers.  These right-wingers, unsurprisingly, include The Blogprof and Nat Brown of the National Review.  The most interesting form of protest, however, belongs to the GOP’s most celebrated idiot, Sarah Palin, who snarlingly tweeted on the subject, as well as allegedly labeled the artist (and his lyrics) as “vile.”

“It doesn’t seem to matter that Common is generally known as a thoughtful, progressive MC,” begins Alex Eichler of The Atlantic Wire.  “Or that he’s also an actor who stars in family friendly fare like Just Wright; the story on conservative blogs right now is that he’s a “vile,” “cop-killer supporting poet” (Common has voiced his support for Mumia Abu-Jamal), and his presence at the White House will be “sickening.”

[… ]this isn’t the first time that winds of controversy have blown up around what were intended to be innocuous White House functions. In February, Glenn Beck criticized the Obamas for hosting a Motown concert “while the world was burning”–presumably a reference to the unrest in Libya happening that week. Last August, when Obama held a dinner at the White House in celebration of Ramadan (which George W. Bush also did for eight years while in office), he spoke in defense of Park51, the lower Manhattan Muslim community center–a move that drew predictable howls of outrage.

According to Eli Rosenberg of The Atlantic Wire, Palin has been quoted as retorting, “I’m not anti-rap.  In fact, like Bret Baier, I know the lyrics to ‘Rapper’s Delight,’ too.”

Palin had spoken up through her Twitter account about the event, and went on Fox News last night to deride the White House for inviting the rapper. With questions surfacing on Twitter, a new conspiracy may be born about Palin’s hip-hop credentials, as incredulous Tweeters demanded to know: where is the video evidence? Check out the original statement from On the Record here. It’s also worth pointing out that, at over 14 minutes, “Rapper’s Delight” is a very long song with a lot of lyrics to know.

The first question that scrutinous-minded individuals might ask themselves is: Why is this newsworthy?  Causally, one’s soberly principled answer might be that it’s not.  Let’s start by boiling away the artery-clogging duck fat: said right-wing outcries are based on the presence of a hip-hop or rap artist in the White House (God forbid), which is a form of music akin to African-Americans (a form of artistic expression whose popularization could arguably be traced back to the rise of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in 1978 — much respect).  A second question requires that an autonomously minded thinker step back from the minutiae (filled with kaleidoscopes of right-winger red herrings) to see the larger trend: the coded bigotry of the GOP in the media.

It’s as plain as that.

It’s disheartening to think that Common’s invitation to the White House as a poet is even “controversial” to begin with.  It’s one thing to celebrate or glorify criminal violence, materialism or misogyny in a rap song (as some mainstream rappers do, surely); it’s another thing to simply wax rap about the socio-economic struggles of some African-Americans who are unfairly born into a life of poverty, drugs, gang violence and crime (which can be said for various ethnic groups or minorities in North America — including white Americans, who are a mixture of different races, anyway).

Good art, after all, necessitates candor and honesty.  An artist will write about what he or she knows and has been systematically exposed to.  Is Common required to censor himself for the sake of a few shortsighted (albeit widely tuned into) right-wing conservatives who have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about?  Unless we want to live in the first dystopian hour of Demolition Man, then no.

It’s also disheartening to read the subtext between these right-wing outbursts against Common, which, in short, seems to imply that rap is not a legitimate form of poetry.  As if there ever was an axiomatic set of rules for invalidating select iterations of poetry, prose, film, or music; and how that criteria may or may not apply to certain types of artists being invited to the White House.  Many have tried … and have failed.  Such a crusade will always fail, much to Armond White’s chagrin.

The didactic kernel of the story deserves reiteration:  Select right-wingers enable subliminal agendas to metastasize a subtextually anti-ethnic message throughout various conservative channels of the US mainstream media.

On a rather unrelated note, I was watching the TODAY Show this morning and couldn’t help but notice that Palin’s daughter, Bristol, had recently undergone plastic surgery to “fix her jaw,” which seems to have included the vacuuming of some latent subcutaneous baby fat.

Good to know, TODAY Show.

I also took reluctant note that she was a finalist on Dancing with the Stars, and has made her mama, Sarah, a proud grandmother in 2008 (I guess I do live in a log cabin without cable or Internet):

Doe-eyed Bristol Palin, 17 and ruggedly handsome Levi Johnston, an 18-year-old self-described “f—in’ redneck,” have been dating a year, locals in Wasilla, Alaska, told the Daily News.

And the pregnancy? An open secret in the close-knit town of 9,780.

Being a teen mother must be hard work

Update: Watch how Jon Stewart debates Bill O’Reilly on this very subject via The O’Reilly Factor.  Notice how O’Reilly’s best defense is to systematically (and loudly) interrupt Stewart’s points in hopes of dulling the edge of his wit.

Notice how it doesn’t work:

Video highlight:

“And by the way.  You know songs are not literal, right?  When the weather girl is singing Raining Men, it’s not really precipitation of males.  It’s a metaphor.”

Thanks to reader I.G. for the tip.