Odds/Sods

A Shout-Out to Good Business Practices

When the news of the EL VY collaboration first appeared a few months ago, we here at Rust Is Just Right did our due diligence and learned that this was not the first time that members of Menomena and The National had collaborated.  Danny Seim and Bryan Devendorf had teamed up with Dave Nelson to form the group Pfarmers, and released their debut album Gunnera earlier this year.  The record had a low-profile release, and it became clear that in order to secure our own copy of the album we would have to get in touch with the record label and order directly from them.  We put in an order, and waited for our copy to arrive, hopefully in time to compare it to the release of EL VY’s Return to the Moon.

Unfortunately, it seems our order got misplaced, and for a couple of months we did not hear back from the label.  We sent an e-mail to the label, informing them that our copy had yet to arrive, and that we would like an update on the status of our order.  Thankfully, this prompted a quick response from the label, and soon enough we had Gunnera in our hands only a couple of days later.

Not only that, but the good people at Jurassic Pop more than made up for the delay by sending us a bunch of free CDs and other fun stuff.  We appreciated this display of overwhelming generosity, and enjoyed listening to new albums from the likes of Helvetia, Reptar, and J Fernandez that we otherwise would have overlooked.  It is this kind of thoughtful gesture that ensures that customers will keep coming back for more.

So, kudos to Jurassic Pop, and remember to check out what they and other independent music labels have to offer!

A Few More SCARY Music Videos

Last year, we provided you with a non-exhaustive list of scary music videos to help you enjoy your Halloween.  This year, we have a few more additions to the canon, so your music video marathon goes on just a little bit longer.

First up, we have the video for Wolf Alice’s “You’re A Germ”, which finds the band in a slasher movie/Groundhog’s Day mashup, as the group constantly relives a terrifying night and attempts to figure out a way to evade the various killers that are out to get them.

Next, we have a selection that we unfortunately neglected to include with our previous list, Franz Ferdinand’s “Evil Eye”.  The video is equal parts gory, disturbing, and campy, which means it more than lives up to its title.

And finally, we have a video that we shared with you before: “Virgins” by Death From Above 1979.  Unfortunately, the band has yet to make a holiday-appropriate video for “Right On, Frankenstein!”, but this psychedelic freakout of Amish kids that evokes memories of Children of the Corn more than makes up for it.

There may be only three additions to our previous list, but it’s fair to say that the quality outweighs the quantity.

An Ode to “Roundball Rock”

With the 2014-2015 NBA season just now getting underway, (and with our beloved Trail Blazers tipping off for their first game tonight) we at Rust Is Just Right would like to take the opportunity to sing the praises of one of the greatest musical compositions ever written.  Do not dismiss the tune that a generation knows as the “NBA on NBC Theme” as just a mere theme song for a sports broadcast; no, the tune is an embodiment of the triumph of the human spirit.  That, and it is really fun.

Just listen to that jubilant melody, and try not to smile and bob your head.  Holy hell, not only are you primed to watch the Milwaukee Bucks take on the Sacramento Kings in an inconsequential mid-February matchup, but you are ready to tear away your sweatsuit and head onto the court to take on players twice your size.  The song’s power cannot be overestimated.

The craziest part is that “Roundball Rock” remains a popular touchstone, even though its heyday was in the pre-Internet 90’s.  A few years ago, I played with a band providing the musical accompaniment for a play, and we threw in an arrangement of “Roundball Rock” for a scene transition, and it got some of the loudest and most raucous applause of the night.  People go nuts for the song, even if they had not heard it in years.

Every single damn part of this song is awesome.  Even the more mellow second section, which exists only to provide a backdrop for Marv Albert’s summation of the storylines surrounding that Sunday’s particular matchup, is a brilliant callback to the main melody.  This song should play in the background of everyone’s lives.

And to think, the man responsible for this brilliance is John Tesh.  Watch this live performance of this song, where he explains the original inspiration.  The song was basically fully-formed from its inception!

I swear to God, that answering machine tape is the most priceless artifact in existence.

The “Happy Birthday” Copyright: An Update

Last year we published a piece discussing the controversy behind the copyright claim to the song “Happy Birthday”, and included a brief rundown on some of the legal claims cited in the lawsuit challenging the copyright itself.  This week, a federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, in an opinion finding that the publisher Warner/Chappell Music Inc. did not have a valid claim to the lyrics of “Happy Birthday”.  Though one could find news of the result of the ruling from numerous outlets, it was difficult to track down a copy of Judge King’s opinion so we could analyze the opinion ourselves.   Eventually, we were able to locate a copy thanks to the Los Angeles Times, and the very least we could do is share their upload or Rupa Marya v. Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. with our readers.

It is important to note the distinction between the melody and the lyrics, and the different copyrights that are attributed to each element; this point is discussed on page 10 of the opinion, with the court noting that at this point it is the copyright on the lyrics that are in dispute.  The song that we all know as “Happy Birthday” uses the same melody as a song that sisters Mildred and Patty Hill had previously written, “Good Morning to All”, with a new set of lyrics substituted in their place.  The opinion provides the timeline of how the two songs were intertwined, and the convoluted history is why determining the origins of the copyright has been so difficult.

The rest of the opinion goes into deeper detail about the facts specific to this case and the precise legal standards involved, and their relative importance to you may vary.  But the case should serve as a reminder to the public about the importance of owning the compositional copyright.  Every song has two copyrights–one copyright for the composition (what is written), and one copyright for the performance (what is heard)–and it is the compositional copyright that is the money-maker.  That is the copyright which generates the most royalties, including the mechanical royalty that kicks in for covers, as well as the royalties from public performances (live performance and digital transmission).  Now you can see why “Happy Birthday” could be a great source of revenue for a company.

The saga of “Happy Birthday” is not over just yet, as many loose ends remain.  However, it became much harder for someone to make a claim on the next public performance you hear of that song.

An Ode to Amoeba Music

Heaven is a place on Earth

Heaven is a place on Earth

The highlight of just about every trip I take down to Los Angeles is our visit to Amoeba Music.  Usually it is a struggle for my friends and I to agree on something to do, but whenever a stop to Amoeba is mentioned, a consensus is reached immediately.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Amoeba, it is one of the largest independent record stores in the world, with hundreds of thousands of titles available for perusal to the discriminating music junkie.  Not only will you able to find the latest album from even some of the most obscure artists working today, but there are aisles and aisles that are filled with rare EPs and singles that you did not even know existed.  With this information in hand, you now understand why it is a must-see destination for every trip we take down south.

Usually one trip is enough, but on our journey back home we stopped in San Francisco for the night and had some time to kill before dinner, so we dropped in to that location as well.  When all was said and done, the damage was twenty-one albums, EPs, and singles covering a wide variety of genres.  For this go-around, my biggest score was picking up a wide variety of early post-punk albums that I previously had trouble tracking down because of limited pressings, and it has been a blast listening to all these lost classics since we returned.

Los Angeles is a hellhole, but at least it is a home to this wonderful oasis.

Rust Is Just Right In LA

Figure 8 mural, 4334 W. Sunset Blvd.

Figure 8 mural, 4334 W. Sunset Blvd.

We at Rust Is Just Right are making a brief trip to Los Angeles this week, and despite the fact that no one can question the impact that the city has had in the music industry over the last fifty or so years, we believe that this is the only landmark in the city that is worth a damn.  A few years ago we set out to find the wall that Elliott Smith used to shoot the cover of his album Figure 8, and to witness the site that has become a memorial to the brilliant musician.  It is smaller than you would expect and somewhat hidden away from view, but it is certainly worth the effort to seek out and witness for yourself.

A fond farewell.

A fond farewell.

Farewell, Dave

On Wednesday night, America will say goodbye to David Letterman, a comedic genius who has been revolutionizing late night television longer than I have been alive.  I missed out on the NBC years, so I learned about all his most memorable bits secondhand.  Instead, for me he was always the guy on CBS facing off against the Leno juggernaut.  As a kid, I appreciated Leno’s easy humor more, but over the years I began to appreciate Letterman’s sarcastic wit and his ironic take on comedic conventions, and eventually fully embraced his approach.  In my mind, “Is This Anything?” is the pinnacle late night achievement.

An underrated part of Letterman’s legacy was his willingness to book unconventional musical acts.  In our brief run so far, we have spotlighted performances from favorite bands on the show several times, and we probably should have shared several more.  Over the years, the Late Show has provided several great groups with their first major exposure on a network, and it was always a joy to see Dave himself get a kick out of many of the bands that performed.  Of course, let us not forget the contributions from the brilliant Paul Shaffer and the CBS orchestra; there were few things cooler to watch than seeing Paul join in when he was digging what he heard, like he did with Red Fang a few months back.

So, thank you Dave.  You will sorely be missed.  And I hope you finally get a sweet drumset for yourself.

The True Terror of “It Follows”

One of the surprises of the spring season in the film industry has been the success of the low-budget horror film It Follows.  After weeks of buzz and strong word-of-mouth, the movie expanded to wide release and made back its budget several times over.  As a fan of horror, I eagerly anticipated seeing the film as soon as it swung by my neck of the woods, and was glad to hear that an original vision was getting so much praise and was being commended for actually being “scary.”  While I appreciated the skills displayed by the director and actors, and found it to be a well-crafted film as a whole, I felt It Follows ultimately failed to deliver on the terror that had been promised; perhaps the reason my assessment was so harsh was because of how impressed I was with another recent horror film, The Babadook, and felt that It Follows suffered in comparison.  Nevertheless, if there is one aspect of It Follows that I can unquestionably recommend for any prospective viewer, it is the film’s masterful and brutally effective score.

The music has long been an essential part of creating a successful horror film.  Who can think of The Exorcist without recalling its theme “Tubular Bells”, or remember Psycho without Bernard Herrmann’s whirling strings, or recall Halloween without John Carpenter’s unsettling and menacing piano score?  Even terrible movies have become classics in part due to their memorable soundtracks, like the goofy sound effects that serve as an alert that you are watching some part of the Friday the 13th franchise.  Last night, I even ended up doing an accidental experiment that helped confirm the specific power that music has in horror movies.  I saw a trailer for the upcoming Poltergeist remake in the theater, and chuckled a bit at the supposed scares, but those chuckles became full-fledged guffaws when I saw the trailer again later that night, but on mute.  There is nothing like seeing a silent killer clown toy trying to attack a little kid without the sound on.

In time, I believe that the score for It Follows will be recognized along with those legendary performances mentioned above.  Unlike those other examples though, it is impossible to single out a definitive theme or melody from It Follows; instead, the score is built on well-placed accents and unsettling motifs that help ramp up the suspense and build up a sense of dread as to what may happen next.  Disasterpeace, the score’s composer, does an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension for long stretches of time, before punctuating the music with jolts of terror.  The score is so effective in startling the listener that even after multiple listens I find myself being caught off-guard when my attention drifts elsewhere.

Disasterpeace does an excellent job of giving the soundtrack a retro feel without falling into the potential trap of sounding derivative; the brilliant use of synths helps evoke memories of the 80’s, much like the soundtrack to Drive, and the unnatural sounds and tones help instill terror in the listener.  The score also does a great job of manipulating dynamics, lulling the listener into false feelings of peacefulness and security, before exploding in sudden shrieks.  There are also moments where Disasterpeace vamps on a particular dissonant chord or riff, then suddenly shifts into a relentless, pulsating figure, which instead of releasing the previous tension, amplifies it to an even greater degree.

I am not sure when I will see It Follows again, but I know I will be revisiting its soundtrack time and time again.

The Brilliance of The Wrecking Crew

The session musicians were the unsung heroes of the early days of rock and roll, often breathing life into the hit records that made up the soundtrack of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  The singers were the stars who got all the glory and attention, while the people who provided the backing music that drove the songs remained relatively faceless.  What audiences did not realize was that it was mainly only a small group of highly talented musicians that were behind most of the big hits of the era, a loose collective that would become known as “the Wrecking Crew.”  They were never a formal group, but together they played on hundreds of songs and provided the instrumentals for stars like The Righteous Brothers, Sonny & Cher, The Ronettes, and more.  To be sure, most people realized at least in the backs of their minds that someone was playing on those records, but they almost certainly did not know that these same musicians were also laying down the tracks for the albums of other touring bands, like The Beach Boys.

These fantastic musicians are finally getting some long-overdue recognition with the release of the documentary “The Wrecking Crew”, a project that has been years in the making and is finally seeing a release in theaters and online.  The film was directed by the son of one of the Wrecking Crew’s guitarists, Tommy Tedesco, and features interviews not only with several of the members of the “group” but with many of the artists and producers as well.  And of course the movie is filled with tons of great music, a veritable jukebox of legendary songs that you had no idea had this common connection.

The film does an excellent job of providing excellent insights into the dynamics of the music industry at the time as well as the recording process, especially the mechanics that went into creating Phil Spector’s famed “Wall of Sound.”  We get a chance to see the insides of his legendary recording studio, and see how all the musicians would crowd together in the same tight space with dozens of microphones perched all over the place. One of the nuggets that we learn is that an essential component to the sessions was running the musicians through hours and hours of takes, so that in the end the feel had just the right amount of looseness and raggedness to feel effortless.  It was also fascinating to learn that although most of these musicians are expertly trained in jazz, they earned their places in the Wrecking Crew because unlike the previous generation they were willing to work on this “dumbed-down” form of music; many of the musicians successfully make the argument that it really was not much of an artistic sacrifice at all, that “work was work” and that they still performed at the highest level.

Along with various great moments from Tommy Tedesco, the documentary provides multiple in-depth looks at other performers, including the legendary drummer Hal Blaine and the brilliant bassist Carol Kaye.  I always love learning about the work of Blaine, especially his memorable performance on the classic “Be My Baby”, and he is an especially engaging presence in the film.  I would have preferred an even more extensive look at the song which features the most memorable drum intro of all-time, but then again the story of its recording could probably fill up an entire documentary on its own (for some additional information, here’s a great article that provides even more details about the recording of the song).  The interviews with Kaye are also a highlight, as not only does she pick up her bass and shows an example of how the Wrecking Crew would come up with their own arrangements from what was written, she also illuminates some of the intra-group dynamics, including the fact that she was treated as “one of the guys” as a fellow musician.

“The Wrecking Crew” does have some flaws, namely that for the most part it lacks a definite structure and a sense of flow, and is more of a hodgepodge of engaging anecdotes.  To be fair, other recent music documentaries suffer from this problem, most notably recent Best Documentary winner “20 Feet From Stardom.”  But the passion is apparent on the screen, and the numerous wonderful stories that the performers provide make it a film worth watching for any music fan.

A Recap of the Time a Music Publication Mocked Me With My Own Writing

Insecurity can spur people to commit reckless deeds, including going above and beyond to lash out at perceived threats.  I can understand the desire to protect one’s reputation and integrity, but I will never comprehend the extent to which it motivates some to create mountains out of molehills.  As you may expect, the stupidity began where you would expect it most these days: Twitter.

Two weeks ago, a few folks I know in Twitter ended up getting into an argument with an online music publication, and upon witnessing their treatment by this supposedly professional organization I inevitably waded into the muck to defend their honor.  Their unforgivable sin was to share a link of a particularly bad review and to comment on its alleged quality; the publication saw their interaction, and proceeded to insult them for their opinions.  What made this a particularly bizarre interaction was that neither party had included the publication’s Twitter handle in their discussion, yet the company decided to interject anyway and express their displeasure.

It is one thing to defend your honor, but it is another to go out of your way to impugn someone else for providing their opinion.  The publication then doubled down on their rude behavior by browsing through the profiles and timelines of these folks to use as fodder for insults.  I was appalled at this trollish behavior, and specifically called out the company for engaging in such petty tactics.  I want to stress that it was not the author of the review that was officially engaging in this behavior at this point, but the person who ran the Twitter account for the entire publication, a person who felt that it was a good idea to drag the name of the entire company through the mood to harass others.  At a certain point, this person then directed some insults in my direction, and condescendingly attempted to explain how internet searches and Twitter works, as they apparently took offense to my acknowledgment of their shady behavior.  Their final reaction was the coup de grâce, as they proceeded to look up this site (which is linked in my personal Twitter bio, for the record), and then spit back to me the first line of the review that was at the top of the page.

Let us review: Company engages in shady behavior, gets called out on it, proceeds to mock person for calling out said behavior, then engages in the very same behavior in order to taunt the critic.  Excellent work all around.

So, what sparked this entire nonsense that took up several people’s afternoons?  A terrible album review.  Rest assured, it was an absolutely awful piece of writing, and as a service, we will provide some constructive criticism.

* * * * *

– Roughly half of the review centers around “cum” and its use in the very first line of the album, and the term is mentioned in all four paragraphs of the review, as if its presence is emblematic of the whole.  Despite the paragraphs dissecting its particular usage, the case is never made why the reader should care that Father John Misty mentions it or how its use represents the album.  In other words, the author assumes the argument has been made merely by bringing it up, but does not make any relevant connections himself.

– Xiu Xiu should never be used as a positive example.  If you are unfamiliar with Xiu Xiu, they are the embodiment of every negative connotation that one has when he/she hears the term “performance art”; creating worthwhile music is definitely not their goal.  Back when I worked in radio, I played one of their songs for our new music show, which deviates from the usual playlists and allows us to temporarily indulge in numerous offbeat tastes, and it was the one time I had a listener call in and say terrible things about what we were playing.  And that guy was totally right.

– If we are to indulge in the comparison of the use of “cum” by each act and look at the reviewer’s argument on its face, it is unclear what kind of distinction is being made.  In both cases it is an attempt to juxtapose the sacred and the profane, and in both songs it is used literally to convey a particular image.  It seems to be merely the author’s opinion that Xiu Xiu did a better job of this, which is fine, but there is no objective distinction in the two cases.

– The reviewer attempts to mock Father John Misty by claiming that the use of the term “Rorschach” was a pretentious attempt to display intellectual superiority says more about his impression of basic psychological concepts than FJM’s.  The reviewer gets this completely backwards, since it is much more likely that “Rorschach” was used not to impress the listener, but as a descriptor that is universally known.  Who is unfamiliar with Rorschach ink blots?

– It is hilarious that the reviewer attempts to call out FJM for his “PSYC101” analysis, when the fact that so much of this review is devoted to “cum” indicates that the author has some sort of obsessive fixation.  Or do they not cover Freud in PSYC101?

– The use of “Bro?” as a complete thought says way more about the review and the reviewer than anything else he has written.

– Hidden in the third paragraph is a legit criticism about irony and the nature of the “Father John Misty” character.  Many can find the different levels exhausting, as it can seem to be an attempt by the artist to always be able to escape criticism.  Tillman walks a fine line, and the fact that some say he crosses it is fine.  Personally, I think he comes close several times, but I am ultimately swayed by the record’s charms.

– The reviewer spends half of the final paragraph completely botching the analysis of a particular song because he spent no time doing any actual research on the record and neglected to include a key lyric in his assessment.  I Love You, Honeybear is a concept album of sorts loosely based on Tillman’s recent marriage, so the fact that he is undercutting himself in the lyrics to “The Ideal Husband” carries more weight than for which the reviewer gives credit.  The author does acknowledge the fact that Tillman is purposefully undercutting himself, but he is clumsy in his criticism by calling out “a dumb lyric about ‘putting a baby in the oven'”, since in the song itself Tillman sings, “said something dumb like ‘I’m tired of running.  Let’s put a baby in the oven.'”  I can see the point the author is trying to make, but when you call out a lyric for being dumb when the singer himself says it is dumb, it makes you look like an idiot.

– As you may expect, seeing “a hodgepodge of Suburbs (2010)-era Arcade Fire strumming” makes me want to scream.  FOR FUCK’S SAKE, ARCADE FIRE DID NOT INVENT GUITAR STRUMMING!  IF THEY HAD A DISTINCTIVE SOUND, THE WAY THAT THEY STRUM THEIR FUCKING GUITARS WOULD NOT BE A PART OF IT!

– “Did you know Joe Strummer got his name when he heard an Arcade Fire song?  He actually came to the future, heard one of their songs, asked ‘what is this?’ and when told it was ‘strumming’, he went back in his time machine and recorded The Clash’s debut album.”  I imagine this is the exact belief of this idiot.

– To sum up, the entire review consists of an analysis of a single line whose significance is never established, and the one reference to the actual music involves a band to which there is no actual resemblance and involves a comparison that sheds no light whatsoever.  It is not as if it is impossible to compare Father John Misty’s music to anyone, but it may involve looking back further than 2010.

* * * * *

I hope that the professional music publication which created this entire mess is now satisfied that it now has constructive criticism as to why its review was completely awful.  I also hope that someone somewhere within that company learned that it is probably unwise to act like a complete dick on Twitter.  But I am also a rational person, and I doubt that either of those hopes will come to pass.