Latest Blog Posts

by Jason Gross

10 Mar 2009

To follow-up on previous posts about Ticketmaster and its questionable reselling (scalping) policies, the Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about artists who are scalping tickets to their own shows with the blessing and help of… wait for it… Ticketmaster themselves.  Yet another reason that Congress shouldn’t hand TM an opportunity to get even bigger and corner more of their industry.

by Randy Haecker

10 Mar 2009

Headlining the Italians Do It Better showcase at NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge, the Portland duo Glass Candy delivered a spellbinding set of indie disco magic on Saturday night. Charismatic frontwoman Ida No was joined by musical director and keyboardist extraordinaire Johnny Jewel.

The duo played a selection of underground hits from their 2006 breakthrough album B/E/A/T/B/O/X, as well as a strong selection of material from the newly-released Deep Gems. With a myriad of black and pink balloons piled high on stage, Glass Candy finally appeared after 1:00 am. Opening acts for the concert included Nite Jewel and Twisted Wires.

For more information on Glass Candy and Italians Do It Better visit


by C.L. Chafin

10 Mar 2009

Del Marquis, the guitarist for the tirelessly glamorous Scissor Sisters, makes a sharp turn to the dark side with “Character Assassination”, the title track from his forthcoming EP of the same name. We here at PopMatters are thrilled to be able to present the world premiere of the video for this track.

Over doomily cascading Gary Numan-style synths, Marquis explores the extremely thin line between delight and despair.  As for the video, it’s as if Nine Inch Nails had Philip K Dick direct a video using only the cover of Peter Gabriel’s Shock the Monkey as inspiration.  It’s moody stuff, but he can’t be all gold lamé bikini briefs all the time.

by Rob Horning

10 Mar 2009

Economist Simon Johnson, of the excellent Baseline Scenario blog, wrote a post that effectively sums up what is so frightening about the predicament the big banks’ negligence has put the U.S. in. Obviously, it’s not that the U.S. is in danger of becoming a social democracy or a socialist state or whatever making Limbaugh’s legions whine—I would welcome that sort of development anyway. And banks have never been a purely private industry anyway; they have always relied on certain dispensations and implicit guarantees from the state to operate. The real danger is that the current chaos and uncertainty in banking will worsen the principal-agent problem and lead to the sort of corruption we associate with organized crime becoming entrenched in the official economy.

Maybe I’m naive, but part of American “exceptionalism,” it seems to me, is its complacency about corruption, as though its highly ambitious and self-interested capitalists instinctively shy away from compromising the system by cheating it, by abusing the commercial codes of trust that allow the economy to function and thrive where graft-laden bureaucracies falter. But downturns challenge that faith, and well-placed people begin to see more advantage in rewarding themselves financially than in the glory of power in a proud and growing economy. Johnson’s post explains how that may be playing out now.

Boris Fyodorov, the late Russian Minister of Finance who struggled for many years against corruption and the abuse of authority, could be blunt.  Confusion helps the powerful, he argued.  When there are complicated government bailout schemes, multiple exchange rates, or high inflation, it is very hard to keep track of market prices and to protect the value of firms.  The result, if taken to an extreme, is looting: the collapse of banks, industrial firms, and other entities because the insiders take the money (or other valuables) and run.
This is the prospect now faced by the United States.

This analysis suggests some of the powerful incentives various financial players have to create more confusion than what the volatility in the markets have already generated. They can profit personally, or at least protect themselves, and the expense of the system generally. The scheme of bailouts as they are being conducted currently by the state, play right into these players’ hands.

The course of policy is set.  For at least the next 18 months, we know what to expect on the banking front.  Now Treasury is committed, the leadership in this area will not deviate from a pro-insider policy for large banks; they are not interested in alternative approaches (I’ve asked).  The result will be further destruction of the private credit system and more recourse to relatively nontransparent actions by the Federal Reserve, with all the risks that entails.

Responding to Johnson’s post, Yves Smith points to a 1994 paper by economists George Akerlof and Paul Romer that makes a similar point. Their argument is a kind of moral-hazard variant that sees an incentive for corruption in the wake of bailout plans.

Our theoretical analysis shows that an economic underground can come to life if firms have an incentive to go broke for profit at society’s expense (to loot) instead of to go for broke (to gamble on success). Bankruptcy for profit will occur if poor accounting, lax regulation, or low penalties for abuse give owners an incentive to pay themselves more than their firms are worth and then default on their debt obligations….Unfortunately, firms covered by government guarantees are not the only ones that face severely distorted incentives. Looting can spread symbiotically to other markets, bringing to life a whole economic underworld with perverse incentives. The looters in the sector covered by the government guarantees will make trades with unaffiliated firms outside this sector, causing them to produce in a way that helps maximize the looters’ current extractions with no regard for future losses.

Then we have an economy that lacks even the pretense of competitive meritocracy, an inherently unsustainable one in which connections to favored firms is all that matters. Those firms profit without sustainable business models, at the expense of firms that might have such models, until the economy grinds to a halt. That may actually be what has already happened.

by Michael Edler

10 Mar 2009

Michael Azerrad claims, ”Few American bands were asking to be taken seriously as art, but Sonic Youth did.”

Pandering to Sonic Youth on a blog dedicated to pop art and history and rock is about as cliché as any writer could perform. However, I also know writing about Sonic Youth is necessary because so few bands want to be taken seriously as art. The history of pop music is populated by people who just want to be musicians or in a band or, in some cases, a rock star. Sonic Youth wanted to be art! Their earnest beliefs during the early part of their career would fail an ordinary band. Pop/rock acts looking to become more than their worth usually burn out from the strain of having to meet such lofty self-expectations and, for the majority of their career, Sonic Youth has teetered between complete brilliance and sudden extinction.

But here they are; a 16th studio album Eternal due out in June, their last two studio albums,  Rather Ripped and Sonic Nurse displayed their relevancy, and the re-release of three of their mainstay and eponymous albums, 1982’s self-titled release Sonic Youth, 1988’sDaydream Nation, and 1990’s Goo brought many fans back to their fold. Then, Sonic Youth’s complete performance of Daydream Nation at 2008’s Pitchfork Festival made them an urgent expression. Many bands dry up, but Sonic Youth inspires imagination and creation.

When Neil Young released his 1991 “live” album Arc, it was a direct tribute to Young’s conversations with Thurston Moore. An inspired CD of mixed feedback loops from Young’s concerts with Crazy Horse or the band’s inspiration in the development of Wilco from alt-country heart throbs to feedback frenzied creators of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Sonic Youth is there as a nod to those who want to be more than a band, but art.

Most agree that two of the three most essential Sonic Youth albums are Daydream Nation and Goo. I don’t think these two could be argued against. Daydream Nation found the band exercising their vision in a non-stop attack on conventional sound and criticism of the age’s anti-culture and ignorance. Goo set into motion how the band could infuse their musical energy into tight three-five-minute sound bites that featured a growing sense of melody and an understanding of pop song mechanics. Goo is as important for the reasons that are not true in Daydream Nation; Goo is playful in the ironies of the modern world whereas Daydream is a bombastic soundscape of criticism and anger. Both are truly brilliant because they attempt to make sonic art.

However, after Daydream Nation and Goo, the band fell on tough times and the sweet taste of success clouded many musical adventures. The album Dirty although remarkable in its production value, fell short and subsequent albums of the 90s showed a band trying to recapture an energy many long time fans thought was a thing of the past, but the 2004 release of Sonic Nurse brought the band back from the depths. The release of Sonic Nurse demonstrated a band that still held musical relevance, but in its wake were the childish angers of the ‘90s and a band fully accepting of its age and maturity as song writers. Sonic Nurse revitalized a band left, by many, for dead.

Gone was the ironic and uninspired tinge of the Washing Machine album and replaced by a band hell bent on recapturing the artistic song crafting that had been a staple of Daydream, Goo and the like. Sonic Nurse begins with “Pattern Recognition” a nod to the William Gibson novel and a strong hint that the days of old were back for the band. William Gibson was highly utilized in Daydream Nation; his writing influential for many of that album’s work. The highly critical look outward to a world full of patterns; “I won’t show you,/
Close your eyes and feel the fun/ Pattern recognition’s on the run.” Sonic Youth is best when their critical eye is guided outward, but where there is demonstrated restraint sonically and lyrically. The sonic depth that makes Sonic Youth so brilliant is a sound that doesn’t overindulge in volume, but in the notable attempt to ebb and flow over sound.

Songs like “Dripping Dream” with its opening layers of guitar and Kim Gordon bass line, followed Steve Shelley’s steady drumming are subtle and evenly mixed. A track like “Stones” with its minute of rhythmic, Sonic Youth-esque guitar staccato and slow build to the final 1:30 of what may be the best riff in the entire career of the band demonstrates the band’s realization that Sonic Youth finally recovered its sonic mojo again after years of trying to hang on to ancient and angry tropes from the overused Grunge phenomenon. They understand what made Sonic Youth was not necessarily their desperate anger (although this is still a part of it), but they can layer a song like no other band.

When Kim Gordon whispers in the track “I Love You Golden Blue” I am reminded that Sonic Youth is in the art game. The gentle guitar and subtle but even groove of Gordon’s bass and Shelly’s percussion remind me that Sonic Youth has also grown. The band is too smart, too creative, and too good to go away for too long. I am eager for Essential because every time Sonic Youth goes away I want to whisper the line from “I Love You Golden Blue” with Kim Gordon, “I still miss you.”

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

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