Catching Up On The Week (Dec. 5 Edition)

Some #longreads as you once again ignore the Grammys

While lately most of their interviews have been rather serious, this week Run The Jewels have some fun talking to the AV Club about their love of Steven Seagal movies.  If you prefer analysis of their music instead, Stereogum has a piece discussing the significance of male friendship to their latest album.

There’s a reason that when watching the OutKast reunion this year that Andre 3000 didn’t feel like being there, and that was confirmed in his interview with FADER where discusses the specifics of his “selling out.”

If you’re looking for a gift for a music-loving friend, you might want to check out the book Check the Technique, which does us all a service by diving behind the scenes to provide us with information behind some of hip-hop’s classic albums.  The Atlantic interviews author Brian Coleman about both volumes.

Proving that just about every album gets the 20-year treatment, Stereogum has a piece on Bush’s debut Sixteen Stone.  While admittedly it was one of my first albums, it’s not exactly a landmark record, but the evolution of its reception makes the essay worth reading.

And finally, most of our Foo Fighters coverage has revolved around Dave Grohl, but this time it’s Pat Smear getting the spotlight.  Pat talks to Diffuser about the making of Sonic Highways and how he ended up becoming a part of Nirvana, as well as his unique take on guitars.  Though the introduction mentions only two of the legendary bands of which he was a member, rest assured, Pat does talk about his time in the Germs for a bit.


Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 3 Edition)

Some #longreads as you prepare for a weekend where you can finally stop writing about Project Pabst…

"God's Pickaxe"

“God’s Pickaxe”

SPIN did a series of interviews with the members of The Walkmen who went solo–first talking to Walter Martin, followed by Peter Matthew Bauer, and today publishing their piece on Hamilton Leithauser.  The fact that all three solo albums are brilliant and remarkably different from one another speaks to how amazing and underrated their band together was.

The AV Club did a roundtable discussing the massive re-release of Adore from the Smashing Pumpkins.  I disagree with most of the panelists about the merits of “Ava Adore” and “Perfect” (both of which I think are fine singles), but I agree with their main point that Adore as a whole is underrated.  A better piece is their Permanent Records feature on the classic from The Replacements, Let It Be.  Though I rank Tim slightly higher, it is still a landmark album worth plenty of discussion.

Gawker, of all places, has a great piece on OutKast’s homecoming show in Atlanta, discussing how their rise influenced a generation in hip-hop and helped the South make its mark on the genre.

Feats of Strength: OutKast

If my Facebook feed is any indication, we’re in the middle of wedding season right now; if you’re of a certain age, it seems like every week brings news of one friend or another getting married.  In fact, I was just at a friend’s wedding a few weeks ago, and because I’m always working, I found inspiration for an article on the dance floor.  In the past decade, “Hey Ya” has become an unofficial wedding staple; in fact, I believe in most states it is now the law that the couple is not officially wed until the DJ plays the song.

What is it that makes “Hey Ya” such a universally beloved song, crossing over beyond traditional hip-hop and pop audiences into rock radio, and now onto the wedding dancefloor where grandma and grandpa are throwing it down?  The answer is in the very basic structure of the song itself, with OutKast putting an ingenious twist on an old songwriting standard.  The chords to the song are among the first that any musician learns, (G, C, D, and E minor), and they’re played in a common progression (I, IV, V, and vi).  Throughout the whole song, none of this varies; it sounds universal, because it’s based on a music tradition we’ve had ingrained for years.

The subtle trick to the song is a slight modification to the rhythm of the progression.  Instead of giving each chord the same amount of beats, OutKast stretches out the number of measures for one chord, then shortens the measure for the next chord.  The first modification gives a natural tension to the progression, because the listener is conditioned to expect the next chord to come in earlier; the second alteration resolves it quickly, but does it in a way that pushes the listener into the next phrase.  So, “Hey Ya” begins with four beats of the G chord, eight beats of the C chord, two beats of the D chord, and then four beats or the E minor chord.  The eight beats creates tension, the two releases it, but pushes the phrase forward.  Because of the uneven distribution, the short D chord measure acts as a pickup into the E minor; the E minor works as a resolution, because it’s the relative of the G, the key in which the song is written.

The result is that the listener gets the benefit of both the expected and the unexpected; there is appreciation for the familiarity, but there is enough distinction that OutKast can maintain the listener’s attention throughout the song.  And it’s on top of this base that OutKast can add other touches that augment this feeling, from the traditional drumbeat to the funky bass that emphasizes those downbeats.  Throw in some goofy keyboard leas and some backing vocals, and you’ve got yourself a hit.

What’s interesting is that the structure of the song also gives clues to the lyrical sentiment as well–contrary to first impressions, this isn’t really all that happy of a song.  Each phrase ends on a minor key, which sounds “darker” and “sadder” in contrast to the preceding major keys; it mirrors the tone of lines like “Thank God for mom and dad for sticking through together, cause we don’t know how” and “If what they say is ‘nothing is forever’, then what makes love the exception?  So why oh why are so in denial when we know we’re not happy here?”  But we’re so focused on the initial happiness, that we tend not to pay attention to the end of each line.

Then again, maybe we just like singing “Hey Ya”, informing the populace what’s cooler than being cool, and shaking it like a Polaroid picture.

Catching Up On The Week (Apr. 18 Edition)

We’ve got some great #longreads for you this weekend, so try to fit these in as you enjoy Record Store Day.

Many music fans were excited for the reunion of OutKast at Coachella last weekend (this one included), but unfortunately it wasn’t the joyous celebration that we were hoping would occur.  There’s a lot to be said about the general shittiness of festivals, and Coachella specifically, but even that doesn’t account for some of the disappointment that many OutKast fans felt (personally, as a viewer watching things on my couch, I was able to enjoy it, album-plug for Future notwithstanding).  Rembert Browne at Grantland does a great job of expounding on this sentiment.  And if you’re wondering why the OutKast reunion was such a big deal in the first place, Andrea Battleground at the AVClub can help get you up to speed.

Last weekend I engaged in a scavenger hunt across Portland with some friends, and one of the items that we procured was an 8-Track of Bob Seger’s Night Moves.  It is now one of my most valued possessions.  Coincidentally enough, Steven Hyden wrote a piece this week why you shouldn’t scoff at this notion.  Behold, in all its glory:

My new most valued possession

My new most valued possession

SPIN has an excerpt from the recently released oral history of Dinosaur Jr.  You get a look at the early, early days of the band, as they toured around Massachusetts and their early ventures into New York, as well as their first tour as they opened for Sonic Youth.

Pitchfork has a couple of excellent features this week, both analyzing more the business side of music, and specifically the use and accumulation of data.  First, there was an article outlining the evolution of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart, and how its current format leads to problems in tracking songs.  It raises some interesting points, but to dismiss the impact on how the specific genre has had an impact on Top 40 is a bit of a mistake, and maybe a solution that is more in line with how Billboard charts Alternative Rock may be one way to go.  The other piece looks at the history of streaming and its future, finding analogues in prior devices like the jukebox and looking at how data is processed to give a better idea for programs in dispensing recommendations.  Both are great and worth the time to read.