Jan 2 2013

2012: A Year of Transition

Now’s the time of the year when people talk about everything that happened and what it means. Obama got re-elected, MCA and Whitney Houston died, some guy jumped from space and Red Bull paid him. We’re almost certainly going off the fiscal cliff. Taylor Swift is apparently a full-blown pop star now. Chik-Fil-A sold chicken sandwiches all while handling the daunting task of publicly hating gay people.  Breaking Bad is still the best show on television. Community is stil the second best show on television. Your mom likes Mumford and Sons now. SPIN Magazine the magazine is dead. George Lucas sold his light saber collection to Mickey Mouse. It’s been a fun year. A lot of things have happened. But music kind of sucks now.

I mean, let’s be honest. Do you guys remember the heydays of the burgeoning Internet? The blogs? The relevance of Pitchfork? All these awesome groups with buzz that seemed to be somewhat justified? Is it just me? Am I getting old and jaded? Probably. But it seems like good music is happening less.

And this is coming from a guy who really tries to keep up with this junk. I scour notable web zines every day for the hottest new band and track and tour date, etc. I don’t know, I guess I started feeling it around SXSW when I realized there really weren’t a lot of up-and-comers I was dying to see. Granted, there were a few, and there’s been a lot of newcomers that have been great. And a lot of my all-time favorites released new music this year. It’s been pretty good. Just not great. It could be better. I feel like 2012 isn’t memorable in the grand scheme of things. It’s just a stepping stone to the next big movement. Not just for music, either.

Granted, 2012 has probably been the busiest year of my life, as I (FINALLY) make the shift into this thing called “adulthood” and get a job and try to date people and take a more proactive approach to actually figuring out who I am and what I want. This year has been a big one for me. So naturally, I listened to less and less albums and went to less and less shows and bought less and less vinyl. I’ve been a bad music fan this year, guys. I mean, look at this damn blog. This is the most I’ve written here in months. I’ve officially kicked the addiction of regurgitating another website’s content just so I can get impressions here, simply because I’ve got so much more pressing things to do nowadays and I really would like to make this site more of a place where I go when I actually have something of substance to say. And of course, to run down the year and make lists. Which I still love to do. Like a lot.

So yeah, it’s probably an amalgam of things. First being I’m busy. But also because, when I run through new tracks and albums, which are now easily accessible and totally legal via Spotify, which has completely changed my life and many other people I know, …I find myself skipping through more than taking in and putting on repeat. And that’s because the output isn’t as great overall….right? People seem kind of lost. Musicians. Critics. Tastemakers. There’s some great stuff, sure. But overall, it’s underwhelming. But with years like this, there usually comes a moment of clarity, a renewed purpose, and a slew of awesome bands. It will happen. It happened in 2003. 2007. 2009. We’re due for another. It will happen again. Like I said, check the title….baby steps. We’re all taking them. Together.

So anywho, tomorrow you’ll get remixes, then tracks on Friday, then albums on Saturday. There’s less this year.  My albums are cut down to 30.  My remixes are cut down to 10.  My tracks….yeah, those are still 200.  Tracks are easy, and my favorite part.  I could’ve have done a 300, no sweat, but that’s a bit much, I figured.

I promise it will be unlike any other best-of list series you’ve seen. Because due to my schedule and the other reasons listed above and the feeling of “I like what I like and I don’t care” that comes with your late 20’s, that less cynical, less pretentious, more self-aware and honest, but increasingly jaded and crabby, vibe….my list is focused on favorites. Some made other lists. Some didn’t. And really the only person in the world who will like my lists the most will be me. But isn’t that the reason we make lists anyway? They’re more for ourselves. Sure, it’s fun to share. But at the end of the day, the process of seeking validation and gratification is tiresome. As a young rapper once said, and then everyone in the world proceeded to repeat all year long ad nauseam: YOLO.

I like what I like and I don’t care.

Happy New Year, kids!

Jun 19 2012

Artist Compensation and the Lowery/White Conundrum

If you follow my Twitter, you’ve likely seen my screed on this whole NPR Intern/David Lowery thing. The whole thing’s gone viral, but I’m not really sure why. It’s the same old tired argument we’ve been having for about ten years now.

Wait, hold on. Let me fill you in.

So this intern at NPR’s All Songs Considered, Emily White, posted a blog on their site revealing the vast majority of music acquisition in her life has been digital. She’s 21 years old, and like mostly anyone in their twenties or younger, this is not a revolutionary confession. She’s gotten her music the same way nearly all of us did:

I didn’t illegally download (most) of my songs. A few are, admittedly, from a stint in the 5th grade with the file-sharing program Kazaa. Some are from my family. I’ve swapped hundreds of mix CDs with friends. My senior prom date took my iPod home once and returned it to me with 15 gigs of Big Star, The Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo (I owe him one).

During my first semester at college, my music library more than tripled. I spent hours sitting on the floor of my college radio station, ripping music onto my laptop. The walls were lined with hundreds of albums sent by promo companies and labels to our station over the years.

All of those CDs are gone. My station’s library is completely digital now, and so is my listening experience.

Sound familiar? Yeah, because we all did the EXACT same thing. In fact, we probably downloaded them illegally more often from Kazaa, Audiogalaxy 1.0, Ares, Morpheus, BitTorrent, and, yes, even Napster. The most surprising thing she said, I thought, was that she only had 11,000 songs. In a digital world, where an iPod can hold well over 40,000 songs, that’s a small collection.

Emily stated she envisions a future with a database of every song ever, available wherever she went, with artists being paid on a per-play basis. She basically described Spotify and other streaming-based services that exist, albeit with a flawed compensation strategy. This has been well-documented, as David Lowery points out, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So this ambitious, idealistic, honest intern posts her thoughts and vision for a brighter tomorrow in the music business. And what does the former Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven musician do? He shits all over her. In a well-written, eloquent, well-intentioned way of course. But he does so the same way every old fogey longing for the good ol’ days of physical distribution has for the past decade.

He goes on a lecture briefly explaining how mechanical royalties work, what an “advance” is, he rattles off some statistics of how album sales have declined, as if Emily doesn’t already know this. And then, he briefly takes the low road and mentions two suicides of notable musicians that were struggling financially. You know, because that’s directly related to this conversation (it’s not). Moving on…

He then gets to the beef, beginning with this age-old “it’s always been this way” premise:

“The fundamental shift in principals and morality is about who gets to control and exploit the work of an artist. The accepted norm for hudreds of years of western civilization is the artist exclusively has the right to exploit and control his/her work for a period of time.”

Certainly. Except everything has changed. Technology has changed. The copyright system is in major need of reform. A new emerging generation doesn’t look at this issue the same way. At all. In his rebuttal, Wesley Verhoeve puts it best:

I’d like to remind David for hundreds of years the accepted norm was that the earth was flat, and that women should probably not vote. Lets not get into a debate on the severely broken copyright system, and just accept that it’s severely broken. We change traditions once we gain new insights.

Lowery points the finger at White when she claims her generation won’t pay for albums, but convenience. What’s inconvenient about iTunes, he asks? Nothing, but there’s something arguably even more convenient out there: streaming-based services. Lowery finally gets to those, but of course, the old guy isn’t too fond of them, for moral reasons, naturally:

We are being asked to change our morality and principals to match what I think are immoral and unethical business models….What the corporate backed Free Culture movement is asking us to do is analogous to changing our morality and principles to allow the equivalent of looting.

Right, Dave. Because in our free, capitalist society, someone is demanding at gunpoint you put your music on Spotify. Hey, guess what I’m listening to right now on Spotify? “Take the Skinheads Bowling.” You’re welcome.

The internet is full of stories from artists detailing just how little they receive from Spotify. I shan’t repeat them here. They are epic. Spotify does not exist in a vacuum. The reason they can get away with paying so little to artists is because the alternative is The ‘Net where people have already purchased all the gear they need to loot those songs for free. Now while something like Spotify may be a solution for how to compensate artists fairly in the future, it is not a fair system now.

Like I said, and I have said, everyone knows major labels own a 30%+ share of Spotify. Everyone knows their revenue scheme is godawful. Play a song 800 times, and that’s $1 of royalties. Pathetic.

Spotify and the other streaming-based services aren’t perfect. But they’re convenient. And they’re a start. And they’re the future. I’ll let Verhoeve have the floor on this one:

David goes on to calculate a back of the envelope number based on Emily’s 11,000 song library, and extrapolates that over time, concluding that she should pay around $18 dollars a month to turn her consumption into an “ethical one”. This is where he could’ve segued into the solution proposed by Emily, the Spotify-like library in the sky that synchs to everything everywhere, but he doesn’t.

No, instead, Dave proposes donating to a charity, or campaigning against corporate exploiters, or what Emily said her generation would never do, which is buy albums.

For Lowery, this is about ethics and morals and rebellion against “the man.” For Emily, it’s about a future business model that successfully adapts to the behaviors of consumers in the 21st century. So, yeah, Lowery can’t see the forest for the trees, as the adage goes.

Bob Lefsetz’s rebuttal is probably the best one I’ve read thus far, though his focus is on quality of music. It’s the typical Lefsetz argument: make music people want to hear, and they will ride against the trend. I call it the Adele Method. And while I disagree with Lefsetz’s obvious distaste for Lowery’s excellent music, his ability to understand we can’t go back to the old way is refreshing.

I believe artists should be paid. But that does not mean they should be paid the same way they used to be….To be fighting file-sharing is akin to protesting dot matrix printers. File-trading is on its way out. Because it takes too much time to do it. And you don’t fight piracy with laws, but economic solutions. It doesn’t pay to steal if you can listen instantly on Spotify and its ilk.

Bingo. Shaming the young generation into reverting back to a business model you understand won’t work. Accepting the future and shifting towards it is the obvious answer to the problem of digital music compensation. It’s blatantly obtuse for anyone, especially someone who has used Spotify, to think otherwise. There’s no reason to go back. And people won’t. Adapt or die.

Lefsetz continues:

That intern David Lowery is beating up on has no power. He’s wasting his time. And you’re high-fiving him as if it all makes a difference. You’re involved in a circle jerk anybody with the chance of making a difference is ignoring….Why do musicians think they can shame people into doing the right thing?…[T]he public is gonna say that fourteen dollars for a CD with one good track is stupid.

You start first with a killer product. And then you leverage this for change. Knowing that economics are more powerful than emotions.

David Lowery is not gonna make a difference. He’s speaking in an echo chamber. He’s got the right to do this, but that does not mean we should applaud it.

He’s right. The artists have suffered financially with the collapse of the CD model/Napster. But with destruction comes opportunity… Don’t forget, the record companies sued to kill the Diamond Rio, the predecessor of the iPod….Just hang in there. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Spotify pays most of its revenues to rights holders. The fact that labels come before acts and they don’t distribute all their income… Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Lowery’s post, probably the most-quoted part of it I saw. It’s a sound byte that people latch onto, and rightly so: it’s pretty much Lowery’s entire point.

Networks: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!
Hardware: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Artists: 99.9 % lower middle class. Screw you, you greedy bastards!

Congratulations, your generation is the first generation in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to the weirdo freak musicians!

I am genuinely stunned by this. Since you appear to love first generation Indie Rock, and as a founding member of a first generation Indie Rock band I am now legally obligated to issue this order: kids, lawn, vacate.

You are doing it wrong.

At least he knows he’s old. But in making his point, Lowery misses the biggest one: this girl, and this young generation of music lovers, are all on his side. NO ONE thinks artists shouldn’t be paid. The question is how, but we already know what the answer shouldn’t be in these changing times. Out with the old, in with the new.

Feb 21 2012

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – White Pony

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

28. Deftones – White Pony

I wrote about this album almost two years ago in great detail, and you can read that here. The previous writing serves as an in-depth review, so today, instead of retreading what I’ve already stated, I’ll give you my personal reflections of the album and why it ranks so high on this list. Granted, that has a lot to do with the fact that it’s the Deftones’ most successful album, a mega-selling, Grammy-winning high point in the band’s illustrious career, released during the nu-metal mainstream peak. But, as with most Deftones material, to compare it to its assumed peers is myopic and just flat-out wrong.

I was anticipating exactly what I got from White Pony, a metal band reveling in the fact that the sound they had helped pioneer was now the toast of the town. It’s always a thrill for me to see a bold, genre-bending band achieve much-deserved success. The Deftones were one of the first I can remember: I witnessed a band I had loved for years prior finally earn major accolades, and it felt (and sounded) oh so good. And though the band has never made a bad album before or after White Pony (especially recently with the excellent Diamond Eyes), this album is considered the mark of Deftones’ glory days, when FM radio airplay still mattered and Ozzfest and Family Values Tours still existed.

Funny that the sound they honed was everywhere in 2000, because by the time the public caught on, the Deftones had moved away.  There’s less screaming, less rapping, more crooning, and more textured ballads here.  The raw sound of previous outings is polished and expertly executed.  These guys, even though they were just now receiving attention, had become elder statesmen at this point.  The precise White Pony only serves to support that argument.

Listen to White Pony on Spotify.

Feb 6 2012

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer?

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

29. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer?

Kevin Barnes had certainly already made a name for his project Of Montreal with two eccentric, excellent albums Satanic Panic In the Attic and Sundlandic Twins, not to mention a high-energy, over-the-top live show. But it’s the near flawless Hissing Fauna where Barnes reached the apex of his songwriting ability, and gave us an ultra-high-concept album tackling his own personal turmoil with depression, isolation, and sexual frustration.

Of course, even then, saying things like “sexual,” “high-concept,” and Of Montreal in the same sentence was redundant. But if there was any question as to what exactly the Athens-based band was up to, they made that pretty clear with Hissing Fauna. At this point, you either jumped on board to help Barnes wave his freak flag, or you bowed out. But amidst all the layered falsettos, funk-disco hybrid moments, and weird sound effects, Barnes was writing his most introspective material ever. “Gronlandic Edit” talks about isolation in Norway and the quest for religion, while “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse,” probably the theme for the entire album, deals with the autobiographical depression the frontman was going through, sleeping for hours in a friend’s apartment.

But if you’re like me, a person who doesn’t really delve into lyrics until many listens later, you won’t notice all this sadness amongst all the heavy dance jams this album is packed with. Hissing Fauna is loaded with fan favorites, live staples, and instant Of Montreal classics, including the sex-soaked “Fabregie Falls For Shuggie,” which is still probably my favorite Of Montreal song ever. As the years went by, it could be argued Barnes went a little overboard with the whole thing, as he’s in the middle of releasing a litany of convoluted, unfocused albums, but back in 2007, he and his group reached a personal best with Hissing Fauna.

Listen to Hissing Fauna Are You the Destroyer on Spotify.

Jan 24 2012

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – One Wolf

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

30. One Wolf – S/T

Yesterday Daniel Markham released a solo EP of new material, straying far, far away from the alt-folk background of his primary songwriting venture One Wolf. Those of us who have seen the band perform live saw the transformation coming a long time ago. The sound of a One Wolf album and a One Wolf show are two different animals. One is quiet, reticent, calculated. The other is high-energy, eventful, fucking LOUD. As Markham currently makes steps to combine the two with his newer songs, we should step back and dust off his finest creation – One Wolf’s debut album.

Deviating from the straightforward alt-country of previous project Waiting to Derail, Markham, along with drummer Zach Davis and bassist Brad Ivy (Sammi Rana joined the band later), amp up the diverse instrumentation, abstract lyricism, and, most importantly, the power of a simple hook. “Don’t Take It Personal” is a Cobain-esque passive-aggressive ode to shitheads in a redneck bar, many of which One Wolf has reluctantly played in. “H(A)unted” is the album highlight, a lamentation on self-identity. “Roads” is a timeless commentary on lost love and moving forward, strung together with a naturally beautiful melody. Here, underneath all the confusion, we find optimism in Markham’s lyrics, as in the two-stepping affair “Close Your Eyes” and the surreal “Sleeper.”

Keeping to traditional melody, yet remaining progressive in texture, Markham and the rest of One Wolf created the blueprint for how they would approach this album’s sequel, and how Markham currently tackles his newest efforts. Overall, it makes for a remarkable listen, one that cannot be duplicated, and an album only a fool would pass up. Years later, One Wolf’s debut is still Markham’s finest work, and one of the best Hub City creations of the past decade.

Listen to One Wolf on Spotify.

Dec 17 2011

Most Disappointing Albums of 2011

A recent NBC/WSJ poll revealed 76% of Americans consider 2011 to be a “below average” year or “one of the worst” in their lives. Certainly times are tough in the world. Obama is a lame duck, and the competing Republicans are clinically insane adulterers and fundamentalists. The economy remains on the brink of collapse; Congress is a brainless, yelling mob of idiocy. REM broke up. Limp Bizkit got back together.

Musically speaking, do I consider 2011 to be a disappointing year overall? Not really, but I don’t consider it to be a revelatory one either. So I’m indifferent. That said, as is the case with every year, 2011 had its share of disappointments. Maybe in these five cases, my expectations were set unreasonably high. But for at least a couple, I don’t think that’s the situation; some of these albums just flat-out suck.

Radiohead – King of Limbs

This is a good album. Not a great one. And when it comes to Radiohead, “great” is the caliber the world expects. Perhaps that’s unfair, but it’s realistic. It took them a while, but they finally churned out a dud. Is it challenging? Yes. Is it ambitious? Absolutely. Does it sound forced, lost, sometimes even lazy? Unfortunately, but definitely. I look forward to hearing the next great transformation in the sound of Radiohead, because this was obviously a stumbling transition of some sort.

Tyler the Creator – Goblin

It’s incredible how one album can utterly silence an excited mob. Count me as one of the many who saw Odd Future at SXSW, on Jimmy Fallon, and was psyched to hear Tyler’s new solo outing. With the exception of “Yonkers” this is a complete mess from start to finish. It is patently offensive in an auditory, not lyrical, sense. The real disgust lies not within the misogynistic, homophobic verses, but the tuneless, boring dreck that surrounds them. Unlistenable.

Washed Out – Within and Without

Speaking of boring….I guess I should have seen this one coming. Abandoning the fun, infectious, danceable influence evident on the excellent Life of Leisure EP, Ernest Greene conjured up a full-length full of mood, but absolutely nothing that stands out.

The Strokes – Angles

That dreadful, thrown-together album cover says it all, doesn’t it? How bummed were you after hearing this all the way through for the first time? What a sinking feeling. Exactly three tracks here are great, even if they’re not exactly progressive. The rest is uncharacteristically confused. The listener feels the same way the band probably did after finishing this: what?

Justice – Audio Video Disco

It’s generally expected when you take four years to make a follow-up to a critically acclaimed debut, that means you’re taking some risks, trying some new things, and the result will be an interesting one. That’s exactly what Justice did. In fact, that’s all they did. Going the way of MGMT, there’s very little here that sounds even remotely like the 2007 French house duo that isn’t Daft Punk. More prog than anything else, Audio Video Disco throws a lot of spaghetti at the wall, and almost none of it sticks. Props for changing the formula, but I would have preferred a simple Cross Part 2.

Dec 16 2011

Most Overrated Albums of 2011

Let’s get the negative lists out of the way first. As 2011’s Listmas continues, there are a plethora of albums ranking high on prominent lists that frankly don’t deserve the accolades given. I’ve limited my selection to five of what I feel are the most overrated albums this year. Granted, there are several more I feel could have made the cut (Wilco, Smith Westerns, Kate Bush, Kurt Vile, Karl Maus, Juliana Barwick, The Antlers, Wild Beasts, Wild Flag, Nicolas Jaar), but for the sake of not being TOO snobby about it, the following are the ones I’m most sick of hearing about.

Disclaimer: “Overrated” doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t enjoy the album, it just means I apparently didn’t enjoy it as much as the rest of the world.

Bon Iver – S/T

To give this snoozer sophomore slump comparable praise to the brilliant For Emma, Forever Ago is blasphemous. And now it’s got apparently unwanted Grammy recognition behind it. In between producing a classic and smoking weed with Kanye, Vernon apparently decided anything second-rate he put out would receive “album of the year” nods, and he was so very, very correct.

James Blake – S/T

Let’s be clear: there is STRONG potential here. The highs are high, but the lows are dreadfully low. “Limit to Your Love” and “The Wilhelm Scream” are examples of the genius amalgamate of noise and melody, beauty and chaos, that Blake has to offer. The rest? A collage of ideas tinkering for mood over melody. I look forward to the next try, when this up-and-comer will hopefully embrace his more structured side.

Foster the People – Torches

Foster the People are the MC Hammer of the new electro-indie sound – they took a fresh sound that had already earned popular recognition (MGMT, Passion Pit), watered it down with repetition, trite lyrics, and gimmicks, and became an overnight success story. If I wanted to hear this derivative mess in any fashion, I’d take Adam Levine to a karaoke bar and make him sing “Kids.”

Destroyer – Kaputt

Really? Is this album as great as everyone claims it is? For that matter, is ANY Destroyer album as great as everyone claims it is? Chalk it up as another project that will always make the year-end rounds regardless of output. There’s nothing criminal here, just formulaic and overdone, and it gets pretty samey about halfway through.

Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica

Daniel Lopatin’s better project, without a doubt, is Ford & Loptain; here, in OPN, he embraces his ambient, “Brooklyn” tendencies, and the result is a journey into atonal slumber. The “trying too hard” distate is overpowering throughout, with mindless repeated samples amongst a directionless hiss and unfocused arrangements. After dropping the fantastic Channel Pressure this year, one has to wonder what’s the point of this particular mess?

Dec 15 2011

My Year In Live Music – 2011

Compared to my first year as an Austin resident, I took it pretty easy this year. I suppose the combination of budgeting, starting grad school, and just generally growing old has slowed me down a bit, but I still saw some cool shows. And with M83, Radiohead, Drake, and Born Gold all coming in the first half of 2012, looks like I’ll be getting a head start on this list for next year. In the meantime, here are some highlights, at least ones I could remember, from 2011.

Hooray For Earth @ Emo’s Inside – 10/1

I believe this was the last show I saw at Emo’s Inside (I remember seeing Twin Shadow around ACL time on the outside stage just before they shut it down), and I’ve yet to see a show at the new locale on East Riverside. I had been dying to witness Hooray For Earth for many many months, and finally seeing them rock out was rewarding, as was a nice conversation with the lead singer afterwards.

Deftones @ Austin Music Hall – 6/4

Call it making up for lost time; I’m not a huge fan of AMH – actually, I hate it quite a bit, but I’m never missing a Deftones show. I finally saw them for the first time last year, and as long as these guys make it to Austin, I’ll be going. The crowd was awful, as was the case last time, but Deftones more than make up for all the teenage rudeness.

Bill Maher @ ACL Live – 3/26

Not a music show, but man was it hilarious. My second show in the ACL Live venue, and Bill proved he loves Austin. The crowd was mostly receptive, but I did get some looks for applauding loudly at the atheist jokes. Do people know who they came to see?

Robyn @ ACL Live – 2/17

Robyn is incredible, see her live the first chance you get. High energy, tons of dancing, great acoustics, great venue. The crowd up front was crazy annoying, especially during Diamond Rings, but what are ya gonna do?

Sleigh Bells @ The Glass House – Pomona, CA – 4/13

The Glass House is a weird little venue; I honestly had no idea how far Pomona was from West Hollywood, but we drove a long way to see this awesome awesome show. It was all ages, no alcohol. Not that I had a lot of cash anyway. Sleigh Bells killed, as is the routine.

The Go! Team @ Echoplex – Los Angeles, CA – 4/19

The Echoplex was closer, but it felt like a shady neighborhood. The venue, however, is pretty damn awesome, and the Go! Team were just as fun as I could have imagined. Hopefully these guys make a new album, because I’m betting they’ll make a stop here in Austin if they do.

Primus @ Stubb’s – 5/24

It’s so great to have these guys back and playing new stuff. Have I said that lately? Great show in one of the best venues in town, and we met Les (again!) and got a pic with him afterwards. Swell fella!

Dwight Yoakam @ ACL Live – 7/21

Another strong showing from the hillbilly king, this time at a venue within walking distance. Now if he would just get back in the studio!

Austin Psych Fest @ Seaholm Power Plant – 4/30-5/1

I really had no idea what to expect, but this ended up being a pleasant surprise. I got sufficiently drunk and listened to some crazy great psych music from all around the world, in the most appropriately creepy place to see a show in Austin, the echo-riffic Seaholm. Capping off the fest with Roky Erikson providing the soundtrack to the news of bin Laden’s death is a memory I will never forget.

Fun Fun Fun Fest @ Auditorium Shores – 11/4-6

I was a bit concerned for the future of my beloved FFF when they announced they were moving to the Shores, but in hindsight I feel ashamed for not having faith in the Transmission crew. Not only was this the best lineup I’ve ever seen in the fest’s six-year history, but the change of venue actually improved the overall experience. Great vendors, great music, not too crowded….best music experience of 2011, hands down.

SXSW 2011 – Spring Break and Beyond

The best week of the year did not disappoint, though this year I focused a lot of energy on getting into shows I didn’t think I would be able to get into. There’s certainly an extra feeling of reward when you’re granted access to an exclusive party with A-list bands and free food and booze. My personal highlights were the Zynga party (flyer above) and catching Queens of the Stone Age at La Zona Rosa. Another great free party showing as well this past year, especially Mess With Texas, which never disappoints. Saw the Strokes at the Shores, too, which was great. While 2010 might be remembered as the year of mini-riots and ridiculous overcrowding, for me it was just a regular old SXSW, fun, booze, catching up with old friends, and seeing some great music.

Dec 14 2011

2011: The Year In Music

For those who truly choose to recognize it, three major shifts happened in 2011.  The first, as is apparent during this year’s Listmas (and will be apparent on my year-end lists as well) is the resurgence of irreverent, smart hip-hop and what is half-mockingly referred to as PBR&B.  The introspection of 2010’s hottest rappers (you know, when Eminem got all mature and serious and junk) has caused a shift in the landscape.  As rap has been semi-tossed aside in the pop world in favor of the Eurodance craze, rappers have become more….sad.  And real.  And risk-taking.  And progressive. And brilliant.  Drake crooned, the Weeknd swooned, Big K.R.I.T., Danny Brown, Kendrick Lamar, and A$AP Rocky all impressed.

The second one is more important to the industry as a whole: Spotify.  Its launch in the US has caused nothing short of a revolution: millions have signed up for the service, initiating a preference for a streaming-based distribution model over downloading iTunes files.  Spotify isn’t the first of its kind, but certainly its connections and marketing have made it the poster-child for what many are calling the next pivotal shift in how we listen to music.  A vibrant, passionate discussion has formed from the company’s popularity; the service has caused its share of controversy and criticism regarding royalties and high-profile artists like Coldplay and the Black Keys opting out.  Certainly the model isn’t perfect, but could it be the new blueprint?  One thing is for sure: the business of digital music is crazy exciting right now.

The final shift in 2011 happened to me personally, it really wasn’t an event, more of a realization.  I became aware of my adulthood, I suppose, probably for the first time ever, and it has affected my listening habits and preferences.  Not that I’m listening to “mature” music now….quite the opposite, in fact.  I guess I just finally decided life is too fucking short to be pretentious, and that we should just listen to whatever we want.  Though I suppose I’ll always have these so-called “hipster tendencies,” I’ve begun to embrace my love of escapist music, of pop, of rap, of dance, of strong melody, of hooks.  Because, to me, music is probably the most important thing in my life, and it is meant to be stimulating, challenging, but also, prominently, and this is the part we forget in college, kids, it is meant to be enjoyed.  And if I sit around listening to shit I don’t like all the time because I was told it was awesome or groundbreaking, I will die a sad, pompous, stuck-up old man.  So live your life, and stick to your guns. And dance if you want to, damnit.  And listen to music that makes you feel good.  Because this is your life, and you only get one.

One other thing I would like to mention that 2011 will likely be remembered for, but is of no consequence to me: this is the year Adele took over.  And so emerges another AC-friendly artist that the world adores, but I am left all by my lonesome to proclaim: “Meh.”  And look at that: I’m bored already just talking about her.  Damn, there I go again! Hipster tendencies…..baby steps.

So here is the blog schedule for the remainder of 2011.  Stick around and be prepared to disagree!  Should be a grand old time.

December 15: My Year In Live Music
December 16: Most Overrated Albums of 2011
December 17: Most Disappointing Albums of 2011
December 18: Top Music Videos of 2011
December 19-23: Top 200 Songs of 2011
December 24: Top 20 Remixes of 2011
December 25: Honorable Mention Albums of 2011
December 26-30: Top 50 Albums of 2011
December 31: Top TV Shows of 2011
January 1, 2012: Quarterly Review

Dec 9 2011

The Top 50 Albums of the 2000s – FutureSex/LoveSounds

Today I continue a series of posts dedicated to the best albums of the last decade, posting analysis of one album at a time.

31. Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds

I’m frankly not surprised Timberlake’s put down a microphone and shelved his dancing shoes for mediocre acting. There was no way he was gonna top this. Marked as a progressive foray into more suggestive lyrics and sex-soaked sounds, FutureSex/LoveSounds is a mish-mash of homages to the greats before him – Prince, Pendergrass, Michael. While not necessarily a lyrical beacon of brilliance, musically speaking, Justin’s second album is TONS better than Justified, which was basically an intro to the post-N’Sync bad boy.

The finest tracks here are probably producer Timbaland’s last GREAT ones, including “My Love” and the minimalist, classic, fantastic “SexyBack.” Medleys just as infectious as the songs they transition envelop the album, which sounds designed specifically for an evening of promiscuous fun. The first half is drinking, dancing, and going home with someone you don’t know. The second half winds everything down with pleasant slow jams and Timberlake’s reminding you the kid’s got pipes.

So if you just came back from the cineplex pissed that you just spent $10 on another shitty JT movie (he’s been on a roll of crap this year…Bad Teacher? Friends With Benefits? In Time?), my advice is to crank this up and grind and sway with your lady. It’s times like these, when our favorite boy band stars become undeserved A-list actors, we can reminisce on the moments when they focused on honing their true strengths.

Listen to FutureSex/LoveSounds on Spotify.