News, new music, videos, and other fun stuff to help you get through the week…
After months of waiting, Run The Jewels finally released their highly-anticipated Meow The Jewels, a joke-remix album for charity that had several producers and musicians recreating the brilliant record Run The Jewels 2 using only cat noises. If you want to take a listen, a free download is available through the RTJ website, and yes, it is about as ridiculous as you would expect. As you enjoy such great remixes as “Paw Due Respect”, be sure to read El-P’s interview with Deadspin discussing the project.
Of course, if you want to listen to a more traditional version of Run The Jewels, we highly recommend that you check out their electrifying performance with TV on the Radio for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, if you have not done so already. Speaking of Mr. Colbert, he had a busy week last week, with the highlight probably being his vocal assistance on Pearl Jam’s cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” to close out one of his shows.
In other news, The Strokes informed announced to the crowd at their recent D.C. show that the band will soon be recording a new album, which we personally hope will be better than Comedown Machine.
Broken Bells premiered a new concert film over the weekend entitled Live at the Orpheum, and the group shared a new track to help promote the movie, an upbeat track with a jittery disco beat called “It’s That Talk Again”.
The Grammy Awards are a good idea in theory. We like to recognize artistic merits in a variety of disciplines, and we feel good when we come together and come up with some sort of consensus decision as to what is “the best.” The Academy Awards have worked pretty well for film over the years, and the Emmy Awards (despite never giving an award to the greatest television show ever) have done an adequate job as well, so why shouldn’t it be the same for music? And yet, pretty much from the very beginning, the Grammys have always been garbage.
I remember the moment when I completely lost faith in the Grammys, and it should be noted that this happened when I was in middle school, because that is when any hopes and dreams you may have had about the music industry recognizing artistic merit should die, and you can then readjust your expectations accordingly. It was when Radiohead’s ground-breaking, landmark album OK Computer lost out to probably Bob Dylan’s tenth-best effort (Time Out Of Mind) that I decided it was probably for the best that I stop giving a shit about this particular award. I probably should have seen the signs from the previous year, when Beck’s Odelay and the Smashing Pumpkins Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness lost out to Celine Dion, but at that point I didn’t have the same investment in either of those albums that I did in OK Computer. Even at that age, I knew that with that album I could divide my history of listening to music as pre-OK Computer and post-OK Computer, and no matter how good an album Time Out Of Mind may be, it wouldn’t be remembered in the same way. If you want to view the award as an acknowledgment of the greatness of Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, Nashville Skyline, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, John Wesley Harding, The Times They Are A-Changin’, and Blood on the Tracks, that’s fine, but that’s the only way to defend it.
It was then that my cynicism fully set in and I finally understood the rants of many alternative artists about the quality of the Grammys. Here’s how I can best sum it up: “How many Grammy Awards did London Calling win? That should tell you exactly how much attention you should pay to the Grammys.” This is an album universally recognized as one of the greatest of all time, one that ends up atop best-of-the-decade lists for two different decades (because of its UK ’79/US ’80 release date), and it received exactly zero Grammys. In fact, The Clash won precisely one Grammy in the course of their career, an award in 2002 for “Best Long Form Music Video” for the documentary The Clash: Westway to the World, long after the band had stopped making music. And to top it off, the Grammys had the gall to put together a supergroup performance of “London Calling” to honor the life of Joe Strummer when he died, as if the Recording Academy gave a damn about the group at all when they were around.*
Consider this: Exile on Main Street…Loveless… Nevermind…In the Aeroplane Over the Sea…Are You Experienced?…Who’s Next…Remain in Light…Willy and the Po’ Boys…Unknown Pleasures…Fear of a Black Planet…The Velvet Underground & Nico…Hunky Dory…Doolittle…not a single one of these albums received a nomination. And not only could I list dozens more examples, but I could point to a ridiculous number of artists who never won a Grammy of any kind.
Part of the issue may be with the nature of the Grammys themselves. The sheer number of albums that are produced dwarf the number of films that are released or television shows that end up on the air, so the mere act of getting thousands of academy members to listen to the same records is enough of a challenge on its own. Then consider the wide variety of musical genres that exist, and contrast that with the simple comedy/drama divide that characterizes film and TV–it’s even tougher to build any sort of consensus when you take this into account. And then there is the simple nature of voting, which anyone with a background in political theory can point to as a potential stumbling block. All of these issues make the Grammy Awards an exercise in futility, and yet for some reason people still get up in arms with the results every year.
Was Morning Phase the best album of the year? According to us, probably not, though if one considers it in comparison with the other nominees, we agree with the decision. Though it’s not Beck’s best (which is a nearly-impossible hurdle to clear, considering his incredibly consistent output and the Odelay/Mutations/Sea Change triumverate), if you judge it on its own merits, Morning Phase is a great album filled with gorgeous musical moments and poignant lyrics that will be remembered for years. But let’s consider that if the Grammys were actually interested in honoring the best of the year in music, then they would have had to invite Death From Above 1979 and have them perform, and despite the fact that they’re only two guys they would have melted the faces off of everyone in the audience with their blistering performance, and then no one would be able to work on Monday.
So really, the fact that the Grammy Awards don’t recognize the best music of the year is more of a public service than anything. Just don’t get up in arms when they make the “wrong” decision. They were doomed from the start.
*This is not to disparage any of the performers that participated, all of whom I assume had a great amount of respect for Joe Strummer and The Clash.
News and videos for you to watch as you contemplate the fact that people seem to actually care about the Grammys…
The Grammys were on last night, which prompts us to ask the question first posed by Eels, “Whatever happened to Soy Bomb?”
In general, we here at Rust Is Just Right do not particularly care about the Grammys, a position we will explain in more detail in a piece that will be published tomorrow, but we were glad to see that one of our favorite albums of the year took home that particular prize. Morning Phase, while not our pick for top album, will certainly find its way onto our list when we publish it in April, and we’re perfectly content to see that the man who made Odelay, Mutations, Sea Change, and Midnite Vultures (and also wrote the 90’s-defining song “Loser”) receive an award. Kanye West’s antics at the show and subsequent explanation has generated its own series of stories and opinion pieces, of which this Billboard op-ed is probably the best. At least Beck responded with humility to the whole affair.
In much more interesting news, Grammy Award-winner Kendrick Lamar released a new track this afternoon, the furious “The Blacker The Berry”.
Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original. If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.
Dirty Projectors broke through in a big way in 2009 with their release Bitte Orca; though the album didn’t sell that many copies (which, let’s be honest, was to be expected, considering the experimental nature of their work as well as the decline in sales across the music industry overall), it garnered a massive amount of praise and ended up on countless Best Of lists. At the very least, it earned the group substantial buzz and a placement on the strangest triple-bill I’ve ever seen–playing Madison Square Garden with Wavves and headliner Phoenix (plus a special appearance from Daft Punk(!)). I will never forget looking across the arena that night and seeing thousands of faces that were alternately bewildered by the complex time signatures and odd vocal inflections of the group or merely bored by the lack of instantly-accessible melodies and wondering when those guys with that one song they really liked were going to show up.
“Stillness Is The Move” was a highlight of Bitte Orca for many fans, even if it strayed a bit from the usual Dirty Projectors formula (as much as there is such a “formula”). Dave Longstreth’s yelps don’t make an appearance on this track, as the group’s three female vocalists (Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle) provide the harmonies, though his intricate and unique guitar style makes a distinct impression. The guitar is paired with a glitchy upper-register bass part which helps provide a skittering counterpoint; though the two parts have two markedly different rhythmic patterns, they somehow fit together in a pleasing groove. But the true power of the song is the gorgeous interweaving melodies of the vocals, which will have you humming along long after the track is over.
She may be remembered more for her antics inside an elevator with her sister and brother-in-law last year, but there was a time where Solange attempted to step outside of Beyonce’s shadow by launching a music career of her own. Though we seem to be coming closer everyday to becoming ruled politically by a coupleofdynasties, the public has been less accepting of nepotism in the music industry for the most part, and as a result few remember Solange’s brief career. If Solange is remembered at all, it’s generally as a punchline.
However, there was one brief shining moment to her career that is worth revisiting, and that is her cover of “Stillness Is The Move.” Solange displays great vocal dexterity in her handling of the song’s complex melodies, allowing her to show off her range and musicality. It’s an impressive display of musicianship in its own right, but the true power of her cover is how it develops and embellishes the strengths of the original. The cover emphasizes the deep rhythmic groove, showing that hiding underneath all the usual indie rock trappings there was a soulful R&B song; though it’s hardly definitive evidence, a quick look at the way the singers dance in the original music video helps confirm this assertion. The interweaving guitar and bass parts in the original may interact with each other in an elaborate manner, but they’re actually held together by a simple drum groove that drives the song.
Additionally, Solange’s vocals help illustrate the technical achievements of the original. Subsequent listens revealed how the trio was able to bounce around difficult intervals and odd rhythmic accents with ease, which I had glossed over initially. With that in mind, I can’t say that Solange’s version is the superior one, though she does a great job of making it her own, but that it’s still an excellent performance because of the way that it found new qualities in the original that had previously been overlooked.
New music, new videos, new articles, and even new music lessons for you this week, so no complaints this Monday.
The Black Keys will be filling up the newsfeeds of most music sites this week, in preparation of the release of their new album Turn Blue next week. For those who want an early listen, it’s streaming through iTunes, or if you want your new Black Keys given to you in a more piecemeal fashion, Slate has the video of the band performing the new song “Bullet in the Brain” for Zane Lowe. And for those of you who are more visually-inclined, the band has released a video for early single “Fever”. It finds the band adopting the lo-fi aesthetic of other videos like “Lonely Boy” and “10 A.M. Automatic”, and features Dan Auerbach as a haggard Evangelical preacher trying to inspire his flock, while looking as if he’s afflicted with the malady from the title.
Coldplay performed two new songs from the upcoming Ghost Stories on the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live, and Pitchfork has the video of the songs, plus Chris Martin’s appearance in a sketch as well as an unrelated sketch about the perils that come with daring to speak ill of the goddess Beyonce.
The Antlers are continuing to tease fans with details of their upcoming album Familiars, providing SPIN with the stream of their latest track “Hotel”, which reminds me quite a bit of Burst Apart‘s “I Don’t Want Love”. The music is still as gorgeous and haunting as ever, and I can’t wait to hear the new album. Also relevant to my particular interests is the fact that after seemingly skipping out on Portland for their upcoming tour, they will actually be visiting the Rose City as a part of the just-announced MusicFest NW lineup this August 16-17.
Sharon Van Etten shot an interview and performance with the AVClub for their Pioneering series, and for the occasion she chose to cover Bruce Springsteen’s “Drive All Night”. Check out the videos here.
For those looking for a #longread for the week, I recommend this Billboard article which excerpts the Fredric Dannen book Hit Men and discusses the long battle over the royalties for Meat Loaf’s mega-selling Bat Out Of Hell album. It’s infuriating to see the treatment of the original producers by Sony and their continued attempts to duck out of their obligations for proper payment. In case you had any lingering sympathy for the major record labels, this should help extinguish that pretty quickly.