Monthly Archives: February 2008

On the playlist, or no Kylie X FTW?

I went on a writing binge this past weekend, knowing I’d be getting a new influx of listening material. I used up this month’s eMusic quota, and the last few weeks have been bountiful (for me, at least) in the retail sector.

I am, however, disappointed that the US release of Kylie Minogue’s X was bumped without much prior warning. It was supposed to hit stores on Feb. 12, 2008. It didn’t. An unconfirmed report on Wikipedia says the release was pushed back to March 2008. I’m skeptical — a release pushed back by a month usually has a more specific date. That vagueness makes me think it’s pushed back even further.

Well, Amazon has an import version for a reasonable price anyway, so there’s no onus for me to wait. Till then, I’ll be occupied with all the following stuff.

Continue reading »

Favorite edition 1992

Of the past 20+ years in my music fandom, 1992 is the toughest to quantify. Only 17 titles in my CD collection bear a 1992 copyright date. Oddly enough, 1992 could be considered the emblematic year of that decade’s music. The year before, Nirvana ushered in what major labels would call "alternative music", a descriptor I find ridiculous to this very day. 1992 would signal a gold rush for everyone — listeners seeking more of this "different" type of rock, labels signing up grunge clones in a mad dash to fill the coffers.

I had hopes that if ’80s college rock crossed over, it would sound like Camper Van Beethoven, All About Eve or In Tua Nua. Instead, it sounded like 4 Non Blondes and Stone Temple Pilots.

The list for 1992 consists of only five titles. I’ll also list a number of titles I used to own that year and why I let them go.

Continue reading »

Yorico: second VERSE

Yorico’s second album, second VERSE, came at an inopportune time. I was enamored of SLOTH LOVE CHUNKS and VOLA & THE ORIENTAL MACHINE back in 2006, and while I recognized second VERSE was a good album, I couldn’t give it sufficient playback time to get a real feel for it.

Before the release of Yorico’s third album Negau in January 2008, I went back to second VERSE to see whether Yorico was an artist in whom I could really invest. I’m sorry for not having paid second VERSE my undivided attention, because this album is so far her loudest and most ambitious.

It was apparent with the departure of Onitsuka Chihiro from EMI Japan’s roster that Yorico was brought in to fill the void. Her piano-driven songs didn’t rely so much on the Carole King influence as Onitsuka, but on the surface, they seemed complimentary enough. There was also a hint of a rocker in Yorico, a trait that informs but doesn’t quite drive EMI’s other major source of income, Utada Hikaru.

second VERSE, however, establishes Yorico as an artist apart from Onitsuka or Utada. The balladry that dominated her debut Cocoon gave way to a mostly boisterous album full of rock songs geared for the anime theme song set — melodic enough to hook a viewer but hard enough to mask its pop underpinnings.

Continue reading »

Ari Gold: Transport Systems

Something about Ari Gold’s second album, Space Under Sun, rubbed me the wrong way. His self-titled debut felt raw, the proverbial diamond in the rough, but the slick follow-up didn’t quite live up to the promise of that debut.

Before the release of Gold’s third album, Transport Systems, I went back to Space Under Sun to figure out why it didn’t appeal to me. I found the answer in two consecutive tracks at the midpoint of the album — "Bashert" and "He’s On My Team".

The former is a sickly sweet ballad too plainspoken to be very poetic, and the latter is stagey novelty song too limited by its antics to even be funny. The rest of the album, however, actually sounded all right.

Gimmicks backfire if they’re not handled carefully, and Gold’s weakness are tracks that mishandles the gimmick. Transport Systems nearly skirts that peril — "nearly" because a cover of Human League’s "Human" embellishes the original with additional (read: unnecessary) material.

Dude — "Human" was a great song to begin with. It needs no addition. Would you paint a beret on the Mona Lisa? Gold salvages the alleged cover by singing the song’s chorus as is, but if he stuck to the original, he would have had a great encore.

Thankfully, it’s the only misstep on a focused, ambitious album, perhaps Gold’s best to date.

Continue reading »

It came from the ’80s

Before reality shows became the staple of the summer television season, reruns were the modus operandi of the networks. NBC at one time attempted to lure viewers to watch previously aired shows with the slogan, "It’s new to you."

The sentiment is something that’s driven my exploration of catalog releases. If I haven’t listened to it, it’s new to me. That’s my cop out for not contributing to the hype machine. It gets tiring trying to get the scoop on what’s next.

For the time being, I’m content to live in the past.

Continue reading »

Listening to the 20th Century

In the past, I’ve made noises about wanting to cover more classical music on this site. Well, the only way to do that is to listen to more of it, which I’ve been doing since last year.

Certainly, reading Alex Ross’ The Rest Is Noise was a big push, but there have been other stimuli leading up to that point. The only music blogs I really follow are classical sites, such as ArtsJournal, NewMusicBox, aworks and The Standing Room. I’ve got no fluxblog, Stereogum or Brooklyn Vegan in my RSS reader. And Pitchfork? I’m no masochist.

I’ve also gotten chummy with Russell McCollough, the classical buyer at Waterloo Records. He’s steered me to a number of titles over the past year.

There’s a lot of doom and gloom in arts coverage about the dwindling audience for classical music, and it spurs me to give the genre some room among the indie bands, Japanese bands and ’80s catalog about which I write. At the very least, I hope to generate some name recognition among the readers who wouldn’t normally seek out this kind of music.

Music from the last century — and this one — get more hard drive space over the standard repertoire, the classical "war horses", as they’re called. I don’t have much more to add about Beethoven or Bach, and I usually exit in case of Berlioz. But I think there’s some overlap between indie rock and modern classical music that musicians in either camp don’t seem to recognize as much as they could.

Continue reading »

SXSW sells 2008 wristbands by lottery

Last year, my friend was pissed at me because I couldn’t go with her to buy SXSW wristbands. SXSW announced the sale of the wristbands by SMS text, and when the announcement went out, I was scheduled to conduct a training session at work. So she had to stand out in the hot sun for an hour, waiting in line outside Waterloo Records.

This year, she doesn’t have to go through that ordeal. Nor do I.

The first 4,000 SXSW 2008 wristbands will available only through a lottery. Entries will be accepted from Feb. 21, 9 a.m. to Feb. 25, 9 a.m. After all the entries have been accepted, names will be chosen randomly. These first wristbands cost $139. After that, the price jumps up to $180.

All the details can be found at

An open letter to the music industry: Enough with the Flash already!

Dear music industry,

Macromedia Flash has enabled you to put a lot of bling on websites. Just about every musician’s website I visit employs Flash in some manner, and it makes sense. Flash is incredibly useful for music and video playback. Hell, I even use a Flash player on the website for my own music project.

But please — just because you can paste an <embed/> tag onto your site does not mean you should. Nor does it mean you should design an entire site in Flash.

Among web design professionals, accessbility and usability issues with Flash are well documented. Just a quick Google search on "flash abuse" returns a link to a very good blog post detailing many ways Flash can break. Don’t think, music industry, you are above any of the problems detailed in the article. If anything, you’re one of the biggest offenders.

How many times have I encountered web sites that don’t show all the content in the viewport? Or web sites that don’t allow me to navigate without waiting to load? Or web sites with useless splash pages? Too many to count.

My current pet peeve are Flash sites which open links in new windows. Web browsers these days disable pop-ups by default. I’m not about to go through the hassle of unblocking your site because you don’t trust me to leave your site. If you rely too heavily on Flash, I’m not inclined to stick around anyway.

Then there’s the matter of being an asshole, something easy to do given all the big egos in your industry.

Continue reading »

Has Music with a Twist unwound?

Back in 2006, Sony made a lot of noise about launching a label featuring gay artists. Music With a Twist, as the venture was called, managed to release a soundtrack to the television series The L Word and a compilation, Revolutions. Then … nothing.

A visit to label’s web site finds it gutted, and a Jan. 24, 2008 article in the Falls Church News-Press about signee Kirsten Price hints at the label’s fate. Price regained rights to an album she recorded for the label after Rick Rubin was brought in to head Columbia Records, Music with a Twist’s parent company. Rubin, I guess, was not impressed. Two Myspace pages — one for the label, another for the compilation — are still up, but no one has logged into either profile since October 2007. The darkened out layout gives a definite shuttered vibe.

Labels are all about the big launch, but when something goes under, it’s never a headline. No one has outright announced the closing of Music with a Twist, but a series of dead web sites and an artist dropped before an album release indicates the obvious. The Gossip, perhaps the label’s biggest score, looks like they’re still on track to release a new album with the band’s previous label, Kill Rock Stars, still in the picture.

(The New York Times profiled Rubin, giving his nod of approval to the Gossip but passing on someone else.)

I voiced my skepticism about the label’s somewhat muddled directive. Here’s how the press release announcing the label’s launch put it:

The TWIST roster will feature LGBT artists who have mass appeal and hit potential across all musical genres. Also planned for the TWIST imprint is a series of branded compilations geared toward the LGBT audience, as well as music fans everywhere. These compilations will feature hit songs by established artists that have been embraced by LGBT audiences, as well as tracks from emerging gay artists.

Ambitious, but unfocused. It’s hard enough to find gay artists who don’t suck. (Get your head out of the gutter.) To market gay content to both gay and straight audiences? I don’t think the social forces are aligned to turn that into a money-making endeavor.

I didn’t really start investigating the fate of Music with a Twist till I wondered what was happening with Jonathan Mendelsohn, one of the few artists who contributed something I liked to the Revolutions compilation. Mendelsohn has a very minimal Myspace presence, and the "Type of Label" field used to say "major". Now it says "none". There are no blog entries, and the biography section is empty.

Whatever is happening with Music with a Twist, I hope Mendelsohn isn’t too adversely affected by it. I was actually looking forward to hearing more from him.

Throwing Muses: House Tornado

It was 1988 when I ditched radio and depended on magazines to direct my choices in music, and it was Pulse! magazine in particular that directed me to Throwing Muses. Back then, my knowledge of post-punk music extended to Midnight Oil, R.E.M., In Tua Nua and the Sugarcubes. I was hoping Throwing Muses would be the same.

Boy was I ever off the mark.

I bought House Tornado and listened to it. I couldn’t get into it. I played the album for a friend also exploring the same music as I was. He didn’t get it either. Thus humbled, I sold the album and used the proceeds to get something else. I’d buy The Real Ramona a few years later, but that was the extent of my interest in Throwing Muses.

In the ensuing years, I would listen to a lot of music. Some of it more challenging than Throwing Muses, some of it nowhere near as challenging as Throwing Muses. The Real Ramona would turn out to be a staple in my collection, an album so enduring it never got tired after years of repeated play. After a while, a little variety felt needed.

Nearly 20 years after my first encounter with House Tornado, I wondered what would happen if I heard it again. So I found it again, and I listened to it again.

Continue reading »