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by Corey Beasley

10 Jan 2011


If The Lonesome Crowded West’s default mode is mouth-foaming anger, “Trailer Trash” is the wounded heart at the center of the album. Its laconic despair goes a long way toward expressing the other side of Isaac Brock and Modest Mouse’s vitriol, the place of real, self-lacerating hurt where all that rage actually comes from. Here, for the first and perhaps only time on the record, Brock seems uncomfortable—or at least dejected—in his mantle of the blue-collar prophet. If the song, like so many others, focuses on the story of a failed relationship, it does so in order to bring out the vivid particulars of Brock’s narrative style and characterization. The sense of poverty—the emotional poverty, yes, but also the actual, abject poverty—Brock conveys is just as integral to the song’s impact and vision as the lovelorn imagery he creates. True to Modest Mouse form, both poverties are cycles, seemingly impossible to escape.

Both Brock and Eric Judy spend the majority of the song with their instruments locked in a single chord progression, Brock alternating between scratchy palm-muting and well-placed bursts of power chords and Judy laying down the song’s primary melody in a head-bobbing bassline. That repetition, combined with Jeremiah Green’s tom-heavy beat sitting front-and-center in the mix, gives the track an almost trance-like focus similar to that seen in its emotional counterpart, “Heart Cooks Brain”. The verses’ locked-solid foundation, by virtue of their steady consistency, also points the listener’s attention toward Brock’s lyrics. It’s easy to quickly internalize such a rhythmic piece of music, so our ears are free to actively pick out the details in Brock’s narrative while the rest of our body nods along in reflexive step to the beat.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

7 Jan 2011


Mendelsohn: I’m completely confounded by Astral Weeks’ place on The Great List. Don’t get me wrong, I like Van Morrison, and I’m not above singing “Brown Eyed Girl” to Mrs. Mendelsohn (because she has brown eyes and she thinks it’s sweet). But Astral Weeks sounds like a couple of beatniks, a folk band, and a gaggle of hippies were involved in some freak transporter accident that left them fused together in some seething, ugly mass that still has enough dexterity to play the flute. What am I missing?

Klinger: That’s a beautiful story about you and Mrs. Mendelsohn. It gives me helpful insight into your marriage. But I have no idea where to begin as far as what you’re missing, because this is quite simply one of the finest albums of the 1960s. Achingly beautiful. I ache.

To help explain the critical acclaim for this album, it’s worth remembering that Van Morrison had previously been the pint-sized head thug for the ruffian R&B combo Them, followed by an abortive stint as a top 40 pop singer (the aforementioned “Brown Eyed Girl” era). The leap from all that to a delicate, graceful musing on romanticism is basically unprecedented. It’s as if Lost in Translation had starred Tony Danza.

by Zachary Williams

6 Jan 2011


The Beach Boys are my favorite band. I still can’t seem to give up the idea that the Beatles were the “greatest”. They never released a bad album, and were the prototype for all rock bands to follow. The Beatles were elite for a longer stretch of albums, but at his peak Brian Wilson topped them. The shining star of pop, Wilson achieved the highest levels possible in the realm of popular music. He wrote, arranged, and produced. The Beatles + George Martin wrapped into one. All following pop composers are compared to the incomparable standard of Brian Wilson, the true pop genius. Here’s my top ten Beach Boys LPs.

by AJ Ramirez

5 Jan 2011


Roughly 20 years ago was the popular apex of new jack swing, a subgenre of R&B that was the conclusion of the path that the musical form had explored for much of the 1980s. Hands down my favorite style of R&B, new jack swing marked the point when the genre began to fully acknowledge hip-hop, working its rhythms and raps into tight, well-oiled pop-funk compositions that valued high-stepping energy and intricate production above all else; the now thoroughly-blurred overlap between R&B and hip-hop in mainstream music is the style’s enduring legacy. New jack swing was club music—while certainly Bobby Brown or Guy would be wooing the ladies with every lyrical opportunity, it wasn’t the bedroom but the promise of a vibrant dancefloor that was the destination of choice—that was a much as feast for the discerning ear as it was fuel for a weekend out party-hopping.

A large part of new jack swing’s appeal is its irresistible energy, achieved through busy arrangements that incorporated stuttering grooves, swooping synth stabs, and confident, self-assured rap interludes.  Mainstream R&B of the 1980s was by and large upbeat and uptempo, and new jack swing maxed out those qualities as much as possible, making extended 12” vinyl remixes mandatory to keep the dancefloors happy. Part of what drew me to the genre as a kid which I only recognize now was its modernist nature: here was pop music that sounded daring in its slick construction and incorporation of (new to me then) sounds, not at all as dinky as technologically inferior synth-based efforts from earlier in the decade. The artists look the part, too—decked out in flattops and colorful outfits, they looked urban and urbane, the hip embodiment of the age.

by Evan Sawdey

4 Jan 2011


Last year, Yoko Ono released the Wouldnit remix EP, wherein she took a song that she had been revising for years (most recently her 2001 Blueprint for a Sunrise album) and let a field of dance producers have at it, resulting in some rather fascinating, unexpected results.  After all, Ono has been working in the dance arena for some time now, especially after a noted 2003 remix of “Walking on Thin Ice” had her climbing to pole position on the US Dance Charts, soon leading to a slew of similar chart-toppers not long after.  In short, Yoko Ono has inexplicably turned into the most popular septuagenarian that you’ll ever hear at a club.

Wouldnit, though, is a noted change for Ono, as now that she’s worked with the likes of Basement Jaxx and Felix Da Housecat, she felt like it was time to give some new up-and-comers a chance to shine.  Speaking to PopMatters through e-mail, Ono sat down to talk to us about how she feels about hearing her works reinterpreted, how some of the remixes continue her “dance of life”, and how she views her dance-diva image not as a career change, but just another step in the right direction . . .

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Difficulty As Tone in 'Hyper Light Drifter'

// Moving Pixels

"Hyper Light Drifter's creates a certain tone -- melancholy resignation mixed with a feeling of just barely scraping by -- that wouldn’t be possible in an easier game.

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