Laser sharp
September 23, 2021

Michael Azerrad: My time with Kurt Cobain

A beautiful article in the New Yorker by Michael Azerrad, a journalist and one of Kurt Cobain's closest friends: "That’s the kind of thing that haunts people who know people who have committed suicide: Is there something I could have done? Twenty-seven years later, I still ask myself that question. I tried, but perhaps I could have—and should have—tried harder. The thing is, although I was in my early thirties, I was still immature and naïve. Maybe I wasn’t so well suited to the task". The long read also gives quite a convincing albeit prosaic explanation for the suicide: "Kurt had several clinically established risk factors for suicide, including inhuman levels of professional pressure, chronic and severe physical pain, and a heroin addiction that he just couldn’t seem to shake (or didn’t want to). He also had a long family history of suicide".

A great read in The Ringer about the cases of too similar songs, of which their creators aren't aware of: "We’re now squarely within a new era of music copyright litigation, signaled by a steep wave of fresh cases and settlements arriving on top of what was already a steadily rising tide. But while plagiarism has never been a larger industry issue than it is today, it also has never been more poorly defined. And given the way songwriters often borrow ideas without realizing that they’re borrowing—a documented artistic tendency that is likely increasing in frequency in our chaotic online world—this latest squall of disputes may be just the beginning of an even larger storm". The latest such case has involved Lorde's 'Solar Power', and Primal Scream's 'Loaded'.

True when sad
September 18, 2021

Why do we like sad songs?

“When we watch something or listen to something that undeniably does make us feel sad at some level, it’s not like we’re only seeking to feel sad” - Mary Beth Oliver, PhD, a professor of media studies at Penn State University Oliver told Elemental. “I think we’re trying to have a greater insight into the bigger questions — the purpose of life, or of human virtue” - sha added. Rather than “sad", she said she prefers terms like “meaningful” or “poignant” or “bittersweet”. “It’s absolutely possible to feel good about feeling sad sometimes,” she said. “Our emotions are much richer than some of these blunt terms we use”.

Ex-Rolling Stones tour manager and author Sam Cutler describes his friend Charlie Watts' funeral in a lovely Mirror article: "It's fitting to learn that Charlie Watts’ funeral – held last week in Devon, the place that he loved best – was modest and private. It perfectly reflects the man he was, and I completely understand the choice that was made. He would have hated a fuss and the commotion that involving the public would have meant". Cutler describes his friend's character further on - "Charlie, was in some senses, an anomaly. In the entertainment industry where bluster, fluster and muster are all, Charlie remained quietly confident, almost serene in his laid-back attitude, and possessed of an evergreen sense of humour". Cutler remembers a dinner with Watts: "As the meal progressed, I noticed a fan hovering nervously nearby with an autograph book and as he neared our table I rose to intercept him, asking him to come back after the meal was finished... Charlie intervened and happily signed the man’s book, and we regained our seats. He looked me kindly and said in that softly civilised voice of his, 'Sam, never forget, it’s the fans who pay for dinner'”.

"In the history of American orchestras, only one woman has risen to lead a top-tier ensemble: Marin Alsop, whose tenure as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra ended last month. Her departure has ushered in an unsettling era for the country’s musical landscape. Among the 25 largest ensembles, there are now no women serving as music directors" - The New York Times (via Art Daily) takes out the ugly truth. But, change is (maybe) about to happen...

With a little help from my dead friends
September 10, 2021

The future of dead celebrity discourse - chatting on Twitter?!

Rolling Stone goes into the new trend of rock stars tweeting as if they're still alive. This week George Harrison and John Lennon both tweeted through an online listening party celebrating the 50th anniversary of 'Imagine'. It's not only the Beatles breaking the space-time continuum - Tom Petty recently mourned the death of Charlie Watts.

Top ZZ
September 08, 2021

What is jazz?

Jazz Times talks to notable musicians who consider an old question, with Ambrose Akinmusire giving an interesting perspective: “It’s the sonic representation of how Black people navigate through the world. The improvised element. It’s the never know[ing] what’s coming your way, but reacting and staying calm and knowing that no matter what it is there’s a way to spin it and make it work”.

Doja Cat

"Interpolations have run rampant in the strange year of 2021. Just ask Olivia Rodrigo, Ava Max, Lorde and Doja Cat, who’ve all made charting or platinum records in the past year borrowing beats and melodies from older hits. As a musical concept, interpolations are a cousin to sampling, the art of sticking sound snippets of older songs into new projects that has defined so much of hip-hop. Rather than lifting or modifying a recorded track, though, an interpolation cribs only from a song’s written composition — whether that’s lyrics, a melody, a riff or a beat" - Rolling Stone goes into the story of interpolating old songs for new hits.

Input analyses Kanye West's career as it was mirrored in his fashion: "Kanye has curated his aesthetic universe to be one of the most recognizable in the music industry. His relationships with music and fashion have not only been symbiotic within his own life, but with the streetwear landscape around him. While the Yeezy label carves Kanye’s imprint within luxury fashion, he uses his merch as a creative playground, transforming each album into collectible garments. The lasting impact of Kanye’s merch has less to do with the artist himself, but more so with the creative ecosystem he creates around each project, and the aesthetic footprint it leaves behind". West's listening event for his still-unreleased album on August 5 proves the point - with 40,000 ticketed guests, it raked in $7 million from merch sales, breaking the record for highest-grossing U.S. tour.

"Some of 2021's most hyped albums are from Pop Smoke, DMX and now, Aaliyah. So what's the difference between honouring a legacy and cashing in?" - The Face asks in its new article, inspired by the latest Anderson .Paak tattoo. "Putting out new records that are often assembled from scraps to sit in their discographies is an act of legacy trampling. It is the capitalist pursuit of squeezing a person’s commercial potential for every last bit of juice. Yet it’s not impossible to put out unreleased recordings in a way that feels appropriate, egalitarian even" - The Face insists.

"The first songs to express personal emotions and individual aspirations appeared more than 3,000 years ago in Deir el-Medina, a village on the west bank of the Nile. By seeming coincidence this was also the location of the first successful labor protest in history, when artisans launched a sit-down strike that forced 'management' - Ramesses III in this instance - to increase grain rations. Is it just by chance that a major musical innovation and a historic expansion in human rights took place in the very same (and tiny) community?" - music writer Ted Gioia asks in his great article about the connection of art and activism.

Let the circle be unbroken
August 20, 2021

Essay: The history, anatomy, and art of moshing

At its best, moshing is a visceral and collective experience, a physical way to match the energy of the music you’re witnessing with the feeling it gives you. When done right (and safely), there is a willful exchange of bodily autonomy in the mosh pit — it’s a relinquishing of a certain amount of control of where your body goes and moves, a step into chaos, a pushing and pulling motion that mirrors the intensity of what’s happening on stage. At its best, there should be a feeling of respect in the pit; everyone is there for a similar reason: to enjoy live music in a visceral and cathartic way" - Consequence points out in an essay about the art of dancing in a punk show.

Homo countryens
August 19, 2021

Gay country artists finally able to come out

Brooke Eden

“It was like, ‘I can be comfortable and out and gay, or I can do country music, but I definitely can’t do both’” - one gay country artist told Rolling Stone about the dichotomy that now appears to be falling apart. There are several that have come out recently - Brooke Eden, T.J. Osborne, Lily Rose, Shelly Fairchild - without jeopardizing their careers.

"Most amps sound better at volumes loud enough to fray the edge of notes with the subtle distortion that is to electric guitars what makeup is to a drag queen of a certain age... We seem to love broken voices in general: vocal cords eroded by whiskey and screaming, the junked-out weakness of certain horn players, distortion which signifies surpassing the capabilities of a tube or a speaker—voices that distort, damage, but (at least in performance) don’t actually die" - guitarist Marc Ribot makes the case for loud music in the Literary Hub.

Pitchfork goes into the sensitive issue of music ownership: "The reality that behind every young, female pop star exists a team eager to exploit that stardom by any means necessary has not exactly been obscure throughout pop history. The shadow of the svengali producer and manager, long solidified in the work of men like Phil Spector, Porter Wagoner, and Kim Fowley, lingers in the edges of the modern industry... But 2021 feels like a breaking point for a public understanding of industry control that stretches far beyond singular producer-artist dynamics or bad contracts. As high-profile artists like Britney Spears and estates like Aaliyah’s battle for control and fight off their respective leeches, they illustrate the ways in which a musician can be dehumanized to function as a kind of corporation, one through which a staff of bad actors can rotate, or be sold off in parts to the highest bidder".

"The 29-year-old rapper really stepped in it, and continued to smear it all over the place, when on July 25th during the Rolling Loud Miami music festival he made some truly vile comments about gay men and people living with HIV... After his clusterfuck of faux-pologies, DaBaby’s left those in the queer community no choice but to demand dollars... We don’t need apologies. We’re tired of apologies. To be Black and queer in this country is to constantly have to apologize for your own presence, to constantly assert your own value, and to constantly watch others dismiss you entirely. An apology ain’t doing shit for anybody. Instead, speak the only language that carries weight in this country: cold hard cash" - Rolling Stone gets to the bottom line with DaBaby.

Vulture Craig Jenkins looks beyond DaBaby being dropped from Lollapalooza after some public homophobic comments: "The connectivity the internet allows made it so people who grew up siloed in their like-minded communities now have to hear from the people on the margins, and the people on the margins got smart and organized and are starting to creep into positions of power and greater visibility, and the blowback for this has been unsubtle and retrograde and base and disgusting. A lot of people want things to stay the way they used to be and seem unable to grasp that the way things were required marginalized people to suck it up and live as second-class citizens in a country clearly built for someone else. There’s no going back to sucking it up. Here’s the thing: This ends one of two ways. We all die hating each other, or we start acting like other people exist and are deserving of the same respect and consideration that we demand for ourselves".

Canada established a government-funded, Christian church-administered boarding school system in the late 1800s, with the goal of forcibly removing Indigenous children from their “savage” parents and impose English and Christianity. Some 150,000 Indigenous children attended these schools before the last one closed in 1997. The mortality rate for those children was estimated to be up to five times higher than their white counterparts, due to factors including suicide, neglect and disease - nearly 38,000 sexual and physical abuse claims from former residential school students were reported, along with 3,200 documented deaths. Guardian presents Canadian rappers coming from the indigenous communities who are using their music as a tool of recovery for themselves and their communities.

"What do musicians who blend fact and fiction owe their real life subjects?" - NPR's Ann Powers writes exploring "self-referential musicians making waves in 2021 not only because so many notable current songs tread this ethically shaky ground between self and other, true and imagined, but because that's what songwriters who perform their own work have been doing for at least a half-century... What unites these artworks is a thrilling immediacy that comes at the risk of their makers' dignity and their close companions' right to anonymity". A clever text about the sensitive issue.

Plenty of strings attached
July 19, 2021

Essay: Guitar sounds all over hip-hop


"Electric and acoustic guitar sounds have spread onto more hip-hop records, through an assortment of production techniques, including an increased employment of loops and loop makers, who create short melodies for producers to build beats around" - Vice points out the new trend in hip-hop production. "On the Polo G’s latest album, 'Hall of Fame', nearly half of the 20 songs include a guitar sound in the beat. On H.E.R.'s 'Find a Way' the R&B artist H.E.R. uses a crystalline electric guitar as a canvas for her voice. On J. Cole's 'Pride is the Devil', a simple and somber guitar riff carries the beat"...

New figures out of the US this week suggest that biggest hits are increasingly becoming smaller, Music Business Worldwide suggests, based on the latest streaming figures. The industry’s biggest streaming hit at the mid-year point of 2021 is significantly smaller than its biggest streaming hit at the mid-year point of 2020, of 2019, and of 2018. The biggest hit of H1 2021 in the US was Olivia Rodrigo’s 'drivers license', which attracted 460 million on-demand audio streams during the six months. In 2020 the biggest hit was Roddy Ricch’s 'The Box' with 728 million streams in the first half of the year, the prior year it was Lil Nas X’s 'Old Town Road' with 596 million streams, whereas in 2018 Drake’s 'God’s Plan' pulled in 655 million audio streams. This is all especially odd, of course, when you consider the massive growth in streaming’s popularity between 2017 and 2021. MBW offers a few explanations - it's a Covid-inspired anomaly, or maybe people are listening more to catalog music (older than year and a half).

Country's music
July 14, 2021

Rolling Stone: Morgan Wallen is America

"Morgan Wallen's 'Dangerous' is far and away the biggest album of 2021 in the US so far: It has netted 241,000 album sales and 2.3 billion audio streams, blowing out of the water any of the runner-ups" - Rolling Stone looks back at the numbers of the album stained by the racial slur scandal. What does that mean?: "Wallen is not a dysmorphic product of a toxic genre or niche fanbase growing like fungus in the armpit of some much healthier and more noble thing. He’s America. America loves him. Nobody wants to say it".

Black Music and Black Muses writer affirms the beauty of whistling; a great essay on the pretty little skill: "What superfluous love and mischief lurks in a sudden whistle? What calling into being of what playfulness and what hysteria travels on the thin wavering line between gasp and gust we call whistling, a form of telling ourselves secrets in public, a polite diversion from the blankness of it all... Why not let lips pressed together lightly and spiraling the air into witness be friendly? What malice is there in absent-minded desire? Why not objectify one another on a whim and improvise high-pitched windows into the atmosphere to say hello. Why do we feel entitled to the hyper-reverent silence of monasteries as we pass the living on sidewalks, in cities, full of synaptic impossibilities that only noise can heal or render as ease instead of shame?".

THe coffee folk
July 06, 2021

Essay: How Starbucks suburbanized music

Jezebel analyses Starbucks' history in music, from its humble starts to the million-making business: "The Starbucks compilations were utterly suburban in feel. Neat, inoffensive, and modern in their convenience, they presented a skin-deep assessment of the genres they represented. They gestured toward what it was to be cultured while requiring none of the time or work it actually took to be so. They commodified the grit of the ’60s coffeehouse and encased it in plastic".

"Millions of listeners now subscribe to lo-fi hip-hop playlists to relax, study, chill, and sleep. Its popularity has spawned a DIY business opportunity. Companies like Lofi Girl (formerly ChilledCow) have carved out their own lane, launched their own record labels, built an independent brand of merch, products, playlists, and more" - Trapital says presenting Music Ally's piece about the chill-hop genre.

"The question of control has surrounded Britney Spears from the start of her career. How much was she being manipulated by the powerful men who stood to profit from her image? To what extent was her existence manufactured by the demands of the system around her?" - The New Yorker asks in a long-read after the disturbing testimony pop star gave at the Los Angeles court about her conservatorship. "Many of the most harrowing revelations in her testimony had been visible to anyone who cared to look closely. She told the court that she’d wanted to express them for a long time but had been afraid to do so in public - 'I thought people would make fun of me'”.

Streaming gives the artists an opportunity to break out from obscurity, but makes it exponentially more difficult to have a follow-up hit. That’s because like so many other viral hits, the song, not the artist, became the asset - Vox writer Charlie Harding says in an interesting essay about the artist and the album in the age of never-ending flow of music. “Streaming is a great way to make an artist faceless” - says Lucas Keller, the CEO of the entertainment management company Milk & Honey, who adds - “the song becomes bigger than the artist”. Emily Warren, who has written hits for Dua Lipa and the Chainsmokers among many others, said that she knows songwriters with hundreds of millions of streams and Grammy nominations who still drive Uber for a living. But she says that a songwriter with just two big radio hits is set up to retire.

The Earth was not enough
June 29, 2021

Sun Ra: The impossible attracts me

Sun Ra liked "the new", whether it be instruments, words, genres - The New Yorker points out in a profile about the innovator. He gave instruments new names, like the “space-dimension mellophone", the “cosmic tone organ" and the “sunharp", whereas his band the Arkestra weren't musicians, they were "tone scientists". Sun Ra himself was an exploratory soul - “the impossible attracts me, because everything possible has been done and the world didn’t change". This spring, the Chicago gallery and publisher Corbett vs. Dempsey reproduced a series of Sun Ra poetry booklets: 'Jazz by Sun Ra',' 'Jazz in Silhouette', and 'The Immeasurable Equation'.

Analysis of Singapore's GDP is funnier!
June 28, 2021

Hey Pitchfork, could you lighten up a bit?!

An obvious question, for years now, which nobody has loudly set, to the very clever and way-too-serious Pitchfork writers (or, maybe, should its owner Conde Nast answer it?!). "Pitchfork is devoid of personality to a startling degree, especially in a pop culture magazine" music journalist and critic Wayne Robbins argues, defining Pitchfork texts "as post-humor assertions of importance regarding artists no one outside a young cohort of music nerds would find meaningful or important". What the P lacks, Robbins is certain, are expressions of personalities: "There isn't a single critic at this magazine that has a distinctive, look-forward-to-reading style or personality. And I bet you could make a substantial list with names of writers who are capable, but for some reason can't, or won't, let their freak flag fly".

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