Call for Feature Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Wednesday, Apr 9, 2014
Simultaneously invoking the age of the pharaohs and propagating hip-hop futurism, the Egyptian Lover was a stalwart of the West Coast pre-gangsta scene.

Way before gangsta rap became the dominant and domineering style in the region, California’s hip-hop flavor of choice was electro. In stark contrast to ‘90s gangsta rap’s recycled P-Funk grooves and obsession with street authenticity, the more style-conscious West Coast electro of the 1980s looked to European synth innovators like Kraftwerk and, with keyboards and drum machines in tow, melded post-disco innovations with rap bravado to create a slick and sleek brand of futurist dance music. Unfortunately, this pivotal era of West Coast hip-hop is often ignored, both by broader musical histories and even some of the artists themselves who have a certain image they’d like to maintain (if you really want to listen to some of Dr. Dre’s best work, I’d recommend seeking out the tracks he cut in the ‘80s with the decidedly un-gangsta World Class Wreckin’ Cru).


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Tuesday, Apr 8, 2014
Twenty years since the world learned of Kurt Cobain's death, what impact does he have on rock music today?

Twenty years ago today, the world learned of the death of Kurt Cobain. Postmortem examination has placed his final moments a few days prior, but it was on April 8th, 1994, that everyone fully grasped the extent of the Nirvana frontman’s inner struggles. Instantly, Cobain was anointed a musical martyr, a voice of a generation whose choice to take his own life meant that he exited this mortal coil in his creative prime, and therefore would be preserved as an idealized memory instead of sullying his reputation with erratic latter-day artistic detours or crass cash-in reunions. Even as the tragic news was first being digested, the sentiment that Cobain should be counted as one of the great icons of rock ‘n’ roll was in the air. Today it is accepted fact—he is one of those names and faces that a person charged with distilling the genre’s vast history into a ruthlessly abridged version would scan over and conclude, “This one, this one is worth remembering.”


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Monday, Apr 7, 2014
Diving into the first track on The Beach Boys Today!, we look at "Do You Wanna Dance", a re-interpretation of a 1958 Bobby Freeman song, and investigate the question of what exactly a Beach Boys song is.

This first track on The Beach Boys Today! is a cover of the 1958 Bobby Freeman song, “Do You Wanna Dance”. At first, this fact may seem ironic, as I stressed in my introduction that Today! raised Brian Wilson’s status as a “songwriter who deserved respect and admiration for his musical innovations”. But by opening the album with a cover, we are allowed to see more intimately what Wilson can really do with a song. Here, we have a reference point with the original, which can then be compared to the Beach Boys’ version, revealing Wilson’s’s skill as an arranger and interpreter more clearly.


Outside of the slap-back delay on the drums and an unusual false ending, there’s nothing particularly notable about the original 1958 recording (though it does feature a young Jerry Garcia on guitar, for whatever that’s worth). It’s a piano-driven rock track that features a standard I-IV-V chord progression, simple lyrics, and a loosely sung melody. The Beach Boys version, in contrast, is lushly orchestrated, tightly structured, and includes an instrumental bridge in a different key. Essentially, it sounds very little like the original version, and musicologist Philip Lambert notes that this track “highlights the difference between ‘a song covered by the Beach Boys’ and an existing song transformed into ‘a Beach Boys song’.”


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Friday, Apr 4, 2014
I gazed a gazeless stare. We walked a million hills. As the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death approaches, Counterbalance takes a look at Nirvana's landmark acoustic performance.

Mendelsohn: It seems surreal to me that Kurt Cobain thrust off his mortal coil 20 years ago. It might just be my inability to come to grips with my own age, but here we are, Klinger, two solid decades since Cobain’s death. In that time, the music industry has changed dramatically and I find myself wondering, would Cobain have been more comfortable in the music industry of today, where artists enjoy an unprecedented amount of creative freedom and independence thanks to niche labels and the slow decline of the major labels? Or would the pervasive nature of social media that lets the public directly scrutinize the artist’s each and every move made him feel even more uneasy than the unrelenting fame he seemed so unequipped to handle?


I don’t really want you to answer that question, and I’m sorry for waxing philosophic but I find myself thinking these things as I made my way through Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York. I am awed by the flashes of beauty on this record, a record I hadn’t listened to in nearly those 20 years, but going back to it now, it strikes me that this might have been Cobain writing his own eulogy. Here he is, stripping down his music, laying bare his influences, and the result is an enigmatic and enduring performance that bookends Nirvana’s short run.


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Thursday, Apr 3, 2014
This Canadian songsmith writes gorgeous music that is simultaneously lush and intimate, but that doesn't mean he still has some choice words about Frank Zappa, Rob Ford, and so much more.

If anything, Barzin Hosseini is a bit unassuming.


You see him, he’s very quiet about his ambitions, but you find out that his long-running musical project, simply called Barzin, has been putting out music for more than a decade now (having formed all the way back in 1995), and also learn of how this Canadian has produced records for the likes of Memoryhouse—all on top of releasing his own book of poetry—and this quiet character slowly comes into focus.


Yet if Barzin stands for anything, it’s assuredly for quality music, and his lush, lavish fourth album To Live Alone in That Long Summer manages to simultaneously sound sonically expansive even as it possesses the emotional intimacy of a home-recorded acoustic ballad. His production skills are very much in top form here, and songs like the tremolo lament “Lazy Summer” and the affecting “Stealing Beauty” only help further Barzin’s unique aesthetic.


Now, of course, Barzin tackles on the unique challenge that is PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here revealing an affinity for the radio DJ from Northern Exposure, sage advice learned from Frank Zappa lyrics, and has some choice yet reasonable words for his town’s mayor, Rob Ford ...


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