Posted May 26, 2013
into Music by John Birmingham
Everyone should have seen Commander Chris Hadfield's cover of the Bowie classic Major Tom by now. If you haven't, shame on you. Here 'tis.
In the vid below, shot before he took off, he talks about about how important music can be to the astronauts, cosmonauts, whatevernauts up there. And I have to say it's something I never thought of. The latest Apple ad, featuring nothing more than people groovin to their phones' itunes libraries, does a great job of reminding us how important music can be to us as a species. And yet you almost never see it in SF.
It was important enough to the space agencies involved in the ISS to commission a bespoke guitar.
Somebody, Blarkon or Damien probably, will now interject with three examples of seminal space operas featuring the protagonists playlists as pivotal plot devices. But I don't recall any, and that's all that counts.
Watch the vid. It's fascinating, especially if you've seen Hadfield's Bowie act.
Posted April 10, 2013
into Music by John Birmingham
A couple of weeks ago I quietly, almost shamefully added a new album to my Rdio collection. Well, an old one really. Fleetwod Mac's Rumours, which I onced owned on genuine black vinyl, and then CD, and played obsessively through my teenaged years.
It seemed such a naff, retrograde thing to do, slipping it into my carefully curated playlist, which is looking so much better since I kicked Anna off my account and into her own. What would people think if I signed in via Facebook and saw that I wasn't thrashing the Hoodies, or The Lacs or polishing my inusufferable hipper-than-thouness with the borrowed cred of somebody cooler's playlist. What if they saw I'd just listened to three Stevie Nick's songs in a row. Totally not by accident.
Fuck, Lobes might even unfollow me on the twitterz.
Ah, but then I read that the young people are loving the old school Mac, and that while I was dozing into late middle age, Rumours in particular had snuck back into the affections of a whole generation. The one after Y.
What. The. Fuck.
Because apparently it was the soundtrack of their childhood, and it makes them feel good. Like cold milk and warm choc chip cookies at the end of a winter's day. Flavorwire, was so intrigued it lent it's popcultural heft to James Lachno's think piece about the band's unexpectedly renewed popularity.
"... there’s more to it than that: right now the hippest bands around all want to sound like Fleetwood Mac. What started in the late-2000s with US folk-rock revivalists such as Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver has built up a head of steam. Last year saw the release of fine albums from trendy US acts such as Best Coast and Sharon Von Etten that bore the unmistakable influence of Fleetwood Mac’s classic Seventies period, as did work from blockbuster pop artists Mumford and Sons and Taylor Swift. Barely a cigarette paper, meanwhile, can separate the sound of Stevie Nicks’s songs from Rumours and those of the BBC's feted Sound Of 2013 poll winners, Haim."
Even as an aging Nicks fan, I think that par overstates the case, but at least I can now breathe easier when I plate up the album on Rdio.
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Posted July 20, 2012
into Music by John Birmingham
Props to Barry Divola for beating me to Lana Del Rey. I'd been meaning to do some thinkin' out loud on Del Rey's eerily compelling mash up of the last 60 years worth of musical sound salad but Barry got in first today.
Before Barry however there was the Hipster Hivemind which, having been embarrassed by a few moments initial enthusiasm for Del Rey's high-spec re-engineering of the Rebecca Black fame engine decided to throw the switch from lip curling snark to attack dog savagery. Barry can fill you in on that. All of it I missed, cos I'm just not hip enough.
I found Del Rey's self titled album on the new release page at Rdio.com and hit it up because, well, she looked hot. (An unforgivable crime against the integrity of all pop culture, apparently). A couple of moments listening to opening track, however, and I was sold. Literally. I decided to buy the album rather than just streaming it.
Choice in music, like choice in humor, is subjective. A lot of <del>haters</del> critics hated LDR. I loved it, and many, many plays later, still love it. Lana Del Rey is a creation in the same way that Dr Dre, Gaga, the Sex Pistols, AC/DC, Elvis, all of them were created, or perhaps just curated by their labels, managers, audience and so on. Lizzy Grant, the singer who inhabits the form of Del Rey, has crafted a character from an early Easton Ellis novel; a trust fund ingenue who takes her nihilism with champagne and pearls rather than the warm coke and greasy chicken-n-chips that sustains the inhabitants of, say, a Hilltop Hoods track. She is the culturally incorrect voice of the one percent. Or perhaps the one percent's girlfriend.
Staging her act on the wrong side of that American class divide was... er, brave. I suspect it directly fed into the backlash that began before her official fifteen minutes.
Anyway, that's my reading of the Del Rey character. The music, I just dig on, which is why I was kinda taken aback when I realised how controversial that entirely subjective choice was. First inkling came when a music critic friend pushed back when I tweeted a line about the Del Rey album being cool. (The crit, Amanda writes great gig reviews, informed and genuine. She is so genuinely contemptuous of LDR that I wanted her to write a coupla hundred words here in counterpoint, but couldn't raise her in time.)
After dueling with Amanda I decided to check the Discovr Music app to see what sort of Del Rey links it thru back at me. For similar artists it gave up Lykke Li, Florence and the Machine, Foster the People and James Blake. So far so meh. The blog entries about her however where a revelation. Uniformly toxic. And angry. And very very determined that whole world should know they would be forever Marked as of the Beast if they didn't immediately grab a pitchfork and a burning branch to help destroy this monster once and for all.
This chick had upset some entitled fuckin' hipsters, lemme tell you.
The near uniformity was vaguely familiar, but it took a minute until I recognised the tone. The same, ominous hum of an approaching swarm I'd heard a hundred times before. At the Instrument. Except rather than coming in to astroturf the comment thread with, say climate change denial, this swarm was inbound on Lana Del Rey, her breathy voice and collagen lips. Barry Divola again:
...even before she had released her debut album, Grant had already been through the deified-then-crucified story arc. A big reason for this was the fact that her rise was a direct result of that YouTube video. She who is born by the internet dies by the internet. Even the media started referring to her as a meme rather than an artist. In The New York Times, Jon Caramanica opened his story with the line ''It's already difficult to remember Lana Del Rey, but let's try'', as if her career were already over and he was writing about her as a pop-cultural artefact.
The artefact has proved infuriatingly resilient. As Barry points out she was meant to come down to Oz in February and play at the Oxford Art Factory, a comparatively tiny venue in Sydney. Five hundred punters, tops.
That tour was postponed due to the explosion of interest in her. Five months later, she's not only doing two sold-out nights at the Enmore Theatre (total audience 4000) but she's also on the bill at Splendour.
I wont be at either. But I would've liked to see how Lizzy Grant pulls off the Lana Del Rey character in front of a live audience.