Archive for October, 2008

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 7

Did you miss last month’s tasty audio? Never fear, click here.

October’s iPod update is a fantastic affair featuring 79 songs. It had a few older singles that I was recently turned on to, as well as some excellent new music from various genres. As we head towards the end of the year, keep your ears on for some of the huge and blockbuster album that are sure to be coming at us as the holidays approach.

Apollo Sunshine, Shall Noise Upon: This is the 3rd offering from Apollo Sunshine, a northeast trio that has made a habit of infusing new indie and rock music with retro themes. The light melodies and easy vocals go hand in hand with melodic and uplifting musical flourishes. Steely guitar in places, harmonized singing, use of woodwinds and basic drum beats can range in style here from unapologetic roadhouse rock songs (“Brotherhood of Death”) to melancholy drifters that border on an old Western soundtrack (“Fog and Shadow.”) But regardless of the style they employ, from top to bottom Apollo Sunshine has crafted an album that feels right on all levels. Don’t Sleep On: “The Funky Chamberlain (Who Begot Who),” “Money,” and “The Mermaid Angeline” which should find its way to a Wes Anderson film at some point.

Black Milk, Tronic: Rather than repeat anything about this album here, click this link for the album review.

Devin the Dude, Landing Gear: On his 5th album, Devin the Dude takes his recognizable laid back flow and infuses his beats with a bit more pop and energy than in previous outings. Never one to take himself too seriously, though, Devin slides through these tracks with ease, his voice consistently feeling like warm tea to a sore throat. Where other rappers yell, the Dude whispers, and where others bark, he glides. The best parts of this album are where DD doesn’t stray too far from this ideal, keeping mellow beats and silky smooth vocals on tracks you can kick your feet up to. His lyrics are simple and easy to understand, and the delivery makes you feel like DD is rapping right in your living room. Don’t Sleep On: “I Can’t Make it Home,” “Highway,” and “I Need a Song.”

Jake One, White Van Music: On his first solo album, Jake One takes hip-hop by the ears and shakes it around. The beats here are varied and layered, showing fantastic production ranging from deep bass rider tracks to spaced out 90s gangsta rap cuts. Some focus on pleasant vocal samples while others rely on heavy hitting beats. The strongest point of this album is that it never falls too far into one hip-hop genre over another… Jake One uses them all to great effect. Joined by a crew of well known rappers (Busta Rhymes, Black Milk, M.O.P., Brother Ali, Little Brother, Posdnuos, MF Doom, Casual, eLZhi, Pharoahe Monch, Kardinal Offishall, Royce da 5’9″ and Keak da Sneak) Jake One makes his debut album a memorable one that should be considered as one of the best complete hip-hop albums of the year. Don’t Sleep On: “Home,” “Soil Raps,” and “Oh Really.”

Doomtree, Doomtree: Click here for my interview with Doomtree. Doomtree seeks to answer the question, “What do you get when you mix 5 very different MCs with 4 very different DJs?” And it appears from their debut album that the answer is everything. On this lengthy and diverse 21 track freshman album, this group out of Minnesota spans the genre of hip-hop, never afraid to bring in something different or new. While some tracks stick to the straight ahead style, others incorporate sounds of rock or jazz. With the various artists on the mic, you can often forget that you’re still listening to the same album. If there’s one drawback to the diversity here it’s that there is never one coherent image or sound that defines the group, although, one would think from the presentation that that’s exactly how Doomtree likes it. Be on the lookout for solo albums from this collective in the months to come. Don’t Sleep On: “Sadie Hawkins,” “Gameshow Host,” and “Kid Gloves.”

Madlib, WLIBAM – King of the Wigflip: Madlib’s influence in hip-hop over the past decade has been pronounced. Through collaborations with J Dilla, Mos Def and De La Soul among others, Madlib has created a body of work that touches just about every corner of the hip-hop genre. Never afraid to branch out with a new sound, Madlib seems to draw his best work from never settling into one role, and never fearing to tackle all aspects of the production process, from DJing to MCing. This album is the latest in the “Beat Generation Series” from Barely Breaking Even Records which has previously seen incarnations under the hands of J Dilla, Marley Marl, DJ Jazzy Jeff, will.I.am and King Britt, among others. While I honestly couldn’t get into the entirety of this album, there are a few tracks that demonstrate that whether you like everything he does or not, Madlib remains on top of his game and respected by his peers. Don’t Sleep On: “The Thang-Thang,” “Blow the Horns on ‘Em,” and Go!”

Singles: These songs didn’t get full write-ups as part of an artist or album, but they are excellent singles nonetheless. “Electric Feel” by MGMT, “Please Believe” by Longshot and “Paper Planes (DFA Remix)” by MIA.

Wii Music!

It’s no secret that we over here at Evolving Music, and our backers at MixMatchMusic are all about the creation of new music and ideas. From artists collaborating to new musicians picking up their first instrument, any musical creation is generally regarded as good musical creation (and no, I’m obviously not talking about Soulja Boy…). With that in mind, the newest form of video game music has come out, and as is typical of Nintendo, the platform is more than just the idea of playing along to songs someone else has already wrote.

Last week, Nintendo launched their newest interactive game, Wii Music. While the heavy hitters of the video game music genre, like Rock Band and Guitar Hero are focused on letting you copy what someone else has already done to see if you can do it with accuracy and flair, Wii Music is innovative in that it focuses on allowing players to create music and explore various means of musical genesis. More importantly to MixMatchers everywhere is that the game allows you to collaborate with friends, compare songs and bring them together. One of the things I have found most detrimental about games like Rock Band is that even though they are entertaining and educational, they stop striving when it comes to user interaction and creativity. With the ability to try new instruments and learn how to put together different musical instruments and parts into a coherent whole, Wii Music could very well be the basic learning tool for an entirely new generation of musicians.

While I could go into more detail here, I have no problem letting the creator of most high profile Nintendo games and Wii Music, Shigeru Miyamoto, speak about it in his own words in this CNET interview.

Black Milk – Tronic Review

While traditional record labels and the overall state of radio hip-hop is in a sad state of decline, there continue to be a rash of good underground coming from the Midwest. A little while back we caught up with Minnesota’s DoomTree, and last month I spoke about the stellar album from Detroit’s eLZhi. eLZhi’s The Preface, with a large amount of production provided by Black Milk has been on repeat on my iPod for a while, so I was excited to hear word of Black Milk‘s solo effort, Tronic, hitting shelves tomorrow. But you don’t have to wait til then to read about it… we got a sneak peak this weekend.

Black Milk’s work displays a feel for both the progressively electronic side of hip-hop, as well as nods to the nostalgic feel of using old samples. Both work to great effect on Tronic, and while some cuts are much stronger than others, the album’s diversity of sound and style provide something for any hip-hop listener. On “Long Story Short,” the album opens with a simple piano rift that is then covered up by a pulsing beat and heavy melody pieces to form the backdrop of Milk’s rhyme describing his ascension in hip-hop. As the song ends, horns come in to help transition the piece back to the easy piano of the beginning, almost as if he doesn’t want you to forget that he appreciates both the gentle and heavy-hitting aspects of the genre. This gives way to “Bounce,” a darker song using heavy synths that sound like they could have come out of the Blade Runner soundtrack. Black Milk’s style lyrically on this song uses quick starts and stops, breaking his lines up and sometimes rearranging words to emphasize points. How he feels he fits in is obvious when, lamenting the current state of hip-hop he states, “that’s when I clock in as an option when you need a breath of fresh oxygen.”

“Give the Drummer Sum” mixes bass and snare drums with some traditional horn pieces and a sped up sample with “it makes no sense.” While the song is solid, it exhibits one of Milk’s traits in that at times he seems to try to do a little too much. The heavy rapping and funky drums fit nicely over the melody of the song, but the sample seems like one piece too many. This moves into “Without You,” a fantastic inversion of the usual hip-hop love song. Here, rather than taking the time to rap about a special woman in his life, he takes the opposite tact by rapping about how much better he is on his own. What’s special about this song is that he puts it over a playful and bouncy track, helping this break-up song to avoid any bitterness or darkness so commonly associated with them. It’s a welcome twist to a common theme.

“Hold It Down” comes next and rips with a beat and synth combo that sounds like it could have come out of an ’80s pop song like “Tainted Love.” But just when you think it might be a slow rehash, Milk uses the head nodding beat to rap quickly, ripping through the song in a way that feels like lightening on wheels, while still mixing in a stop and start that keeps it fresh. This is followed by one of the strongest tracks on the album, “Losing Out” with Royce da 5’9″. The strength of this album comes not just in the speed of the verses, but in the successful mixture of the futuristic sound some of the songs aspire more to while interspersing a repetitive and backbone providing sample. Unlike the repetition on “Give the Drummer Sum,” which wears thin by the end of the track, the use of the sample here as catalyst for the verses keeps the entire cut moving.

Heavy bass synth rules the DJ Dez featured track “Overdose,” and successfully conveys the feeling of an overbearing and heavy runaway train. But not one to become too bogged down in one style, or leave the listener too overwhelmed, this is followed by the easy flow and lightly vocally backed “Reppin for You,” which includes another fantastic line regarding the state of the industry when he spits, “This dude asked me/, ‘what’s the answer to this hip-hop cancer/, I’m so hungry for real shit I feel like I’m fasting,'” and at times it feels like Black Milk, in his desires to be both progressive and retro, is starving to provide something real on multiple fronts. “The Matrix” is the cameo cut on the album, with appearances from Pharoahe Monch, Sean Price and DJ Premier and is followed nicely with the hi-fi sounding “Try.”

One of the most solid aspects of this album is that even in the heaviest rapping moments, Black Milk never wants the listener to forget how musically focused he is. Numerous songs have extended musical portions and the instrumental “Tronic Summer” exhibits this beautifully, taking a relaxed beat and infusing it with synths and keys for an easy driving song. Throughout the album, Black Milk does a good job of mixing up his style and production. At points futuristic and at others retro, Tronic displays a musically and lyrically diverse piece and while a few tracks hit a bit too hard for my liking, the overall feel of the album is sure to please anyone looking for some solid new hip-hop.

SanFran MusicTech Summit 3: Albums Die, Social Media Kicks Ass, and Songs Find a Home

For those of us in the music tech space, attending an industry event can be a great opportunity for fruitful networking, a way to keep up with emerging technologies, and a place to learn from brilliant people. Or it can be boring and kinda pointless if not well run. Luckily for us, Brian Zisk has a knack for recruiting excellent panelists, solid sponsors, and exciting new startups to form the foundation of his SanFran MusicTech Summit.

Having attended both the first and second summits as guests, this time around MixMatchMusic was given a presentation slot. Booyah!

An obvious draw for this particular summit was featured speaker Stephan Jenkins, of Third Eye Blind, who had some poignant thoughts on the future of the music industry and the role (or lack thereof) of the album therein.

I heard mixed reviews of the panels overall, but found the ones I attended to be fairly compelling. In “Social Networks: Marketing & Entertainment” there was a heavy emphasis on the power of peer recommendation. As consumers continue to tune out traditional media such as radio and billboards they place more value on social media. When we were asked how many of us thought social networks will influence this year’s election, basically every hand in the room went up. Other topics included microblogging, the death of banners, and viral marketing. Cool takeaway for musicians: Use Pinger to group fans by area code and notify them of a show in their area by voicemail.

In “Building Social Networks around Music”, Rachel Masters of Ning noted that if fans are engaged they are going to buy more. She also said that every musician should have a community manager. This is a great tip. Musicians, or someone they delegate the task to ideally (so the musician can focus on making great music), should be using social media tools as much as possible to engage fans – by listening and responding to those fans and monitoring what is going on in their community and the culture that their music is a part of.

The best part of this summit was the “Special Presentations”. If you’re an emerging technology junkie you’ll understand. A host of interesting startups gave brief demos of their services and were met with a healthy mix of encouragement and skepticism from the audience. The most exciting one was Bandcamp (.mu not .com) – “the best home on the web for your band’s music”.

Rather than spending a grip of cash on a fancy band website for your music or having songs on a ton of profiles on other social networks like myspace, last.fm, and facebook, you can have it all in one place. They will be building out additional features later, but right now they focus on providing the following: ownership (your own design, logo, URL etc), speed and reliability, viral distribution, stats (who are your fans) and being “your fifth (very nerdy) Beatle” that handles everything in the background. And – it’s free. As far as selling your music you have a choice: give it away for free, set a price, or let your fans set the price. Pretty freakin solid.

Also noteworthy were Apture, which helps you “add multimedia to your site in one click”, and JamLegend (currently in private beta), the free online version of Guitar Hero. Speaking of guitars, near the end of the day, a Gibson and some other goodies were raffled off.

Overall, it was another solid event (go Brian!). The bay area locals who attend seem to be getting more and more well acquainted and there are always some guests from afar to spice things up. Then there is the cocktail party, where the tech nerds, rock stars, marketers, and their respective fans mingle. Always an interesting mix…

View more pics here.

Singles and Fame: Stephan Jenkins and Eminem

At the San Francisco Music Tech Summit, which MixMatchers have written about and are currently attending, Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind spoke yesterday regarding the music industry and its future. While I have inside word that the introduction given to Mr. Jenkins’ was a bit gaudy and overblown, he had some interesting thoughts on the future of music and music downloads. What I found most intriguing about his comments was the support he seems to exhibit for the thought process I’ve followed the past couple months, especially in the “What I’m Hearing Now” posts, that the more control the consumer has over what they buy, as opposed to what they’re forcefed by labels (think full albums for $17), the more interested they’re going to be, and the less potential for album filler will exist.

While I think the album can remain an integral part of the music industry, the time when it ruled the Earth is done and gone. There’s a lot of bands out there that don’t deserve full albums, or simply don’t have enough quality material to fill one. Furthermore, with more and more options in terms of buying music, consumers have no reason to buy larger albums when they can save money and have only the music they want. Let’s not forget that not only does the full album raise the price considerations, but simultaneously eats into storage space which can cost additional money in CD and external hard drive back up options. Personally, I’ll listen to every song sample of an album on iTunes. I then make an album purchase decision based on the number of tracks I like enough on their own to buy, and if the difference between that cost and the full album cost makes sense. When I speak of albums remaining an integral part of the industry, I’m speaking of concept albums and others where the coherency and enjoyable aspect of the music is tied directly to its place in the entire album. I think Radiohead’s Kid A, Dave Matthews Band’s Before These Crowded Streets, and edIT’s Crying Over Pros for No Reason are all examples of albums where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

In other music news I found interesting, Eminem has been out interviewing with folks in advance of his new release. Apparently, in hiding, Em has been working on the album Relapse with Dr. Dre for quite some time. Given that chatter is starting to heat up regarding Dr. Dre’s long-awaited Detox album, one has to wonder how much cross-over work is being done by these two, and if and to what extent they influenced each other on albums coming many years after their most recent predecessors. But it’s nice to know that Eminem has had his share of fame and now would just like to make music…he’s been at his best when he concentrates on what brought him to the dance.

The Whiskey Thieves: Stealing Hearts in San Francisco

Local favorites, The Whiskey Thieves, played a show at Pier 23 last night and completely rocked it. The Sonoma-born band is comprised of singer Codi Binkley, guitarist Gabe Brueske, bassist Zakk Murphy and drummer Thomas Bottar. For four such musically different dudes (each brings a totally different style and background to the table, according to Zakk), their collective sound is pretty damn hot. Listen here.

Hearing them live for the first time I see what he means. Trying to classify their sound is hard. I heard everything from hard rock and heavy smoky blues to funky, reggae-infused jams. Each member of the band has a maestro-like command of his instrument and the singer’s voice is mesmerizing. Codi’s vocals are, depending on the song and genre, reminiscent of many other greats. At our table we decided he was channeling each of the following at some point: Anthony Kiedis, Eddie Vedder, Jack Johnson, Jimi Hendrix (listen to #5 and you’ll see what I mean), and Brad Nowell. Oh, and even Matisyahu (check out #9, my favorite)!

The show consisted of both songs off their new album, Almost Time, and covers from the likes of Johnny Cash and Joe Cocker among others. A consistently high energy show kept the audience dancing and drinking. Their great stage presence plus their charming and self-deprecating vibe make The Whiskey Thieves both entertaining and approachable. Not surprisingly, the tagline on their MySpace page is “We’re like an alcoholic boy band that doesn’t suck”.

John McCain and Sarah Palin: Music Thieves

We’ve been told at numerous points over the past couple months that John McCain and Sarah Palin are the correct people to run our country for the next four years. While I usually try to keep my political leanings out of the EvolvingMusic blog (I mean, we’re here for music, right? There’s enough politics already), I find it absolutely shocking that the McCain campaign continues a practice that is both disrespectful and illegal.

We hear them talk about “shaking up Washington,” bringing the idea of ethics back to politics, and a chance for change. We hear Palin all the time tell us that she’s going to “talk straight to the American people.” Basically, they’ve run their campaign on the idea of honesty, transparency, and a return to basics. If that’s the case, then why are they blatantly, without permission and regardless of the wishes of the musicians, using songs they have no right to use throughout their campaign?

For those of you unaware, an artist with a copyright on a song has to give permission for the song to be used. McCain’s camp has now used, without permission and frequently with strenuous objections by the performers, songs by Heart, Foo Fighters, Jackson Browne, John Mellencamp and most recently, Survivor. What’s worse is that they aren’t limiting this illegal use to just playing the songs on campaign stops… they’ve gone so far as to include a few in television ads.

What this practice demonstrates is not only a willingness to steal music from the artists, (and therefore a pre-election demonstration of how rigidly McCain wants to follow the laws of our land) but a blatant attempt to sway public opinion and perception based on the popularity of pop music. McCain is trying to make himself popular by using music that most people know and enjoy. The problem is that when the majority of the artists are against McCain and his policies and don’t want to be associated with him in any way, it amounts to a willful and heinous disregard for the wishes of other people, the legal rights they have over their own intellectual material, and an unabashed attempt to mislead voters by pulling at their musical heartstrings.

While most artists have simply spoken out and demanded the cessation of usage of the songs by the McCain camp, Jackson Browne has stood up and filed suit against McCain and the Republican Party. The problem is that even if the artists request a stop to it or file suit, the song has already been used, the damage has already been done. You can’t, as we’re often told, unring the bell. Just how many people nationwide are even aware when they heard the Foo Fighter’s “My Hero,” that the Foo Fighters would later strongly object to the use and tell McCain to knock it off? My guess is not as many as actually heard it.

Now obviously, my interest here as a writer covering music is the issue of songs being used without the permission of their owners, and what that means for the music industry, and more importantly, the artists. If a man like Jackson Browne has been making music all his life while simultaneously engaging in supporting the Democratic party, he should at least be given the right to turn down McCain’s request. But if McCain doesn’t even bother to request, it hurts the entire industry by setting a standard under which a prominent politician running for public office can get away with whatever he wants musically, until someone like Browne steps in to stop him. The public usage of music, particularly for endorsement, without the express written consent of the musician is a slippery slope that would be very dangerous to start down.

But music and copyright issues aside, let’s look at the fundamental issue here. John McCain and Sarah Palin are thieves. They are stealing other peoples’ work, using it against their wishes and using it to promote themselves. They are disregarding numerous laws in the process and establishing an atmosphere where they demonstrate their belief, as they share with the current administration, that they are above the law. You talk about speaking for the people, but here they are shouting for people that want no part of them. And the really big question you need to ask is this: if a Senator from Arizona and the Governor of Alaska are willing to so blatantly infringe on other peoples’ rights, use things that aren’t theirs for their own political gain, and actively mislead the very citizens they are supposedly “straight talking” to, what outrageous and illegal things will they be willing and capable of doing if they actually become the Executive Branch?

For Part 2 of this story, click here.


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