Category: music

the pizza underground

if you needed more proof than truth is stranger than fiction (or that child stars love pizza), look no further than the pizza underground.  what is “the pizza underground“?  well, obviously, it’s macaulay culkin & friends playing in a velvet underground tribute band where all of lou reed’s lyrics have been replaced with verses about pizza.  you simply cannot make this shit up.



Femcees Rising

Time magazine recently posted an article briefly introducing the 7 female rap artists they say are the industries new up-and-coming superstars, women they indicate are moving in the same direction as Nikki Minaj and Iggy Azalea, both of whom have found huge success in the male-dominated genre. The Time article was a response to XXL‘s (really good) list of 12 freshman rappers to watch over the next year, a list which, unsurprisingly, featured no women. Artists like Noname Gypsy and Nyemiah Supreme are joining the ranks of women like Brianna Perry to shake up the rap world brining pointed and poignant lyrics and melodies to the microphone.


However, one rapper they didn’t pay attention to is Minnesota-based rapper Dessa. Granted she is part of the underground rap scene and the Doomtree collective whih are not marked as mainstream music. Beyonce may not post Dessa’s music on her tumblr as she did for Brianna Perry, and you won’t see Dessa working with Timaland the way Nyemiah Supreme did, but her music explores cultural problems, issues of place and politics, crises of the heart, of life, and of childhood. Basically the same topics as all the other important MC’s working in the business and just as interesting to listen to, except she’s white.


The Fault In Our Scars


For the past year or so, I’ve kept hearing about “The Fault In Our Stars,” the tale of two teenagers who fall in love after meeting at a cancer support group. I’ve seen the rave reviews. Heck, there’s a movie version coming out in June, and I’ve seen the trailers. I’ve even gone into the bookstore, picked up the book, and debated buying it, all to put it back down again and wander over to another section.

The reason: I’m feeling a very specific brand of emotional cowardice right now. I don’t think I can handle All of the Feelings the book is sure to provoke. First love + terminal cancer = Lareign Curled Up in the Fetal Position, Weeping Softly.

There are times when I want a book or movie or song to make me cry, times when I cue up Neko Case’s “This Tornado Loves You” or Cat Power’s “Manhattan” because I’m convinced I have some sadness that needs to be released. At that point, it’s like blowing your nose: Kind of ugly, and you don’t want to do it with anybody else nearby, but you feel better once it’s over.


I’m not sure the same is true of “The Fault In Our Stars,” at least at this point. I’ve become all too aware in the last couple of years of just how fleeting life is, of how quickly people we care about can leave us. It’s not that I can’t handle reading about bad things or sad things, either; I do that every day, whether it’s checking the news or reading a novel for class. I don’t go peering around corners looking for stray emotions that snuck out of the Feelings Zoo. It just seems like a bad idea to immerse myself in this particular combination of beautiful things (like love) and sad things (terminal cancer) right now.

The actors in the trailer seem to be hitting all the right notes, and author John Green seems to be happy with what Hollywood has done to his book, which is rare enough in itself. But I think I’m just going to have to wait, on both the book and the film.

(some) money & beats & art

if it hasn’t been made abundantly clear on this blog, i can assure you that at least my friends are already well aware of my antipathy toward music streaming services.  it’s not because i’m an audiophile (my hearing never fully recovered after nine inch nails’ “fragility” tour back in 2000).  it’s not even because i have a janky internet connection at home (which i do).  it’s because i’ve yet to be convinced that any of the pay-for-service music streaming companies actually compensate artists fairly.

i know that my friends are aware of this opinion because one of them was good enough to email me a link to an article on the guardian this week regarding that very issue.  independent musician zoe keating shared her payouts in 2013 from iTunes, youtube, spotify, and other services—even going so far as to make the figures available publicly in a google document.  the guardian did some quick math, revealing that 92% of keating’s income still came from album sales, not streams.

it’s worth noting that the guardian also supplied an october 2013 quote from keating on this very topic:

I don’t feel like streaming is the evil enemy. I think it’s a good positive thing to get music out there… All I’m asking is make a direct deal with me, let me choose my terms.

while i do find keating’s transparency here quite admirable, i’d like to reiterate my earlier statement that, as a fan, i don’t actually care what the exact numbers are.  i don’t even care if a streaming service pays all artists the same rate (as beats music claims to).  what i care about is artists feeling like they’re getting a fair deal.  if they feel the system is equitable—regardless of where a given artist is at in their own particular career arc—that’s what i’m interested in.  and regardless of what numbers appear in keating’s spreadsheet, the thing i’m going to remember, and the thing that’s going to continue to keep me away from streaming services, is that keating still lacks control over who profits from her music.


p.s.  on a somewhat related note, last week new republic had a nice article on how/why book publishers haven’t exactly been as devastated by the digital revolution as the music & film industries.

Workin’ Woman Blues


Valerie June’s latest album is called Pushin’ Against A Stone (2013). About the title, June said that as a self-taught musician, “I feel I’ve spent my life pushing against a stone. And the jobs I’ve had have been fitting for getting a true feel for how the traditional artists I loved came home after a hard day to sit on the porch and play tunes until bedtime.”

You can find Valerie June’s website here.

Here’s the official music video for the song.

The album is available for streaming on Spotify if you’d like to hear more. I’d suggest buying the album with no hesitation. It’s pretty great.

white folk bling

i wanna get this outta the way right up front:  i live in a deep, dark hole w/r/t pop culture.  and also, yes, i’m maybe a bit racist (especially w/r/t hip hop).  i just wanted to remind you.  in case there was any confusion as to why this whole macklemore/grammys backlash has me perplexed.  i totally get the whole “recording academy is out of touch” argument.  but, fuck, what awards association isn’t?  bitching about macklemore winning grammys is like bitching about a biopic winning too many damn oscars.  pissing & moaning about why *your* guy didn’t win (whoever *your* guy is) only serves to legitimize the whole absurd enterprise.  if you’re gonna attack the grammys at all, why not make it about the ludicrous prospect of giving awards for art?

but maybe you wanna make this about race.  and, to be fair, because we’re talking about america, you can pretty much bet race is a factor.  but is it the factor?  have we already forgotten that kanye west swept the 4 rap categories of 2011, and 4 of 5 in 2007?  or that lil wayne won 4 of 5 in 2008?  in fact, other than a handful of awards given to eminem, and a single award to the beasties in ’98, the grammy’s rap category has been completely dominated by black artists since the recording academy began awarding them in 1988.  so someone whingeing about a white artist in 2014 strikes me as someone actually having an issue with their own long/short-term memory.  if you’re gonna get on the grammys about diversity, why not make it about the GLARING omission of female hip hop artists (and not just in 2014, but for 25 years now)?

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money & beats & art

this past tuesday, beats music debuted.  if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a new streaming service being offered by a collective of pretty d*mn impressive people, including dr. dre, trent reznor, and jimmy iovine.  i did some searching around the internets and, near as i can tell, most of the media coverage around this launch was focused on that music dream team & how their product is different from pandora, rdio, spotify, rhapsody, itunes radio, youtube, etc. (the main talking point being that beats is an actual service, one curated by real humans instead of robots or algorithms or whatever).

but rather than a summary of beats’ product model, what i hoped to find was some music journalist who had broken down beats’ business model.  on none of the articles i found (even with click-bait titles such as “7 things you should know about beats music“) was the topic of artists’ revenue ever seriously covered.  i was most disappointed to not find any mention of that from pitchfork or sound opinions—until i learned that pitchfork & sound opinions were both “curators” on beats.  it was especially disappointing to not hear from the sound opinions co-hosts, not least because i’m a huge fan of greg kot, but also because jim derogatis tried to take pitchfork founder ryan schreiber to the woodshed over journalistic ethics for curating an online music tv channel.

the closest i found to any reporting on the issue was a throwaway graf at the end of a rollingstone piece:

Beats Music is also focused on creating a service that is fair to the artists whose music it streams, and will pay the same royalty rate to all content owners. “Beats Music is based on the belief that all music has value and this concept was instilled in every step of its development. We want it to be just as meaningful for artists as it is for fans,” Reznor said in a statement. “We’re committed to providing revenue to artists, while helping to strengthen the connection with their fans.”

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ring of fire pt. 2

so, do you remember that time i was talking about my favorite cover version of “ring of fire“?  i might have to stand corrected.  ray charles, performing the song— on, of all places, the johnny cash show in 1970—is basically too good to be true.  but don’t take my word for it…



cowpoke punk

so i was in a winery last night, on a very trendy strip of chicago that’s packed with restaurants from famous chefs, and i was there to see a singer-songwriter play a solo show with just his acoustic guitar.  the concert tickets assigned you a specific seat in the venue, but not in rows; they were chairs at tables fanning out from the stage, where you would be served by a waiter before, after, and during the show.  the friends i went with ordered a carafe of wine & it came in—i swear to god—an actual beaker (like, from a laboratory—with the mL markers up the side & everything).  i ordered a can of beer, which was opened in front of me & poured into a very fancy chalice.  we were seated less than 10′ from the singer’s microphone stand (and there were others even closer—right up to the edge of the stage, no more than 2′ from our troubador).

i tell you all that because it seems so unexpectedly bourgeois given who i went to that venue to see.  i’ve been a fan of the old 97’s for years now, and this show was starring their frontman, rhett miller.  i guess you could call them an alt-country band, but that somehow doesn’t do them justice (kinda like that label never really did uncle tupelo justice).  in fact, even as a fan of their music, i don’t really know how to do them justice with words.  this is no less true even when just talking about a single man, a mic, and his guitar.  so i’m gonna need some a/v support on this post.

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most of the people you see in the picture above didn’t know each other a couple weeks before that shot was taken.  two of the women were friends with each other.  and one couple was married.  the rest of us were strangers until we’d all landed in the kathmandu airport.  that was really the first time i’d ever taken a trip like that.  so i didn’t really know how good i had it.  some of my fellow trekkers made an offhand remark about how on previous group trips, they hadn’t been so lucky, they hadn’t gotten along so well with every member of the group.  i had nothing to compare it to, so i might’ve taken it a bit for granted that we’d gelled so quickly & awesomely.  we really did have a great group.

i just found out a couple days ago that my friend, and the only other male from that trip, died last week.  phillip had been in need of a liver transplant for many years, but medical complications kept him from getting one.  coincidentally, the day after i learned of his passing, john richards (the morning radio show host at kexp) did his annual “mom” show, which happens every november 13.  he started that show as a tribute to his own late mother, but it’s evolved into this kinda amazing experience where the community that john richards has built up over the years comes together to grieve for their own losses—to find comfort through music, and a connection to thousands of people they will literally never see or speak to.  people email in stories & requests, and john reads some of them on the air (he admits that it takes him days to get through everything that people send in).  that this is possible—and so incredibly moving—over the radio, in the 21st century, strikes me as nothing short of extraordinary.  and wonderful.  you can listen to yesterday’s morning show in it’s entirety through kexp’s streaming archive, and/or you can see the playlist of songs on their website.

phillip lived just outside seattle (where kexp is based), and he was a huge fan of music (not to mention, a musician himself).  i don’t know if he ever heard john’s “mom” show, but i think he definitely would’ve approved.  i didn’t get a chance to send john anything yesterday, so this one’s for you, phillip:

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