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by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

14 Oct 2010


Klinger: Well, we’ve been told that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the most important album ever and that it’s over-primped, over-cooked, and over-rated. It’s an insubstantial tea-and-crumpets trifle that changed the face of rock forever.

Here’s an illustrative example: In 1974, the UK magazine NME ranked Sgt. Pepper at number one on its Greatest Albums of All-Time. When they published a similar poll in 1985, the album didn’t make the Top 100. Such is the duality of Sgt. Pepper.

Mendelsohn: I understand the duality. Sometimes I would listen to Sgt. Pepper and be blown away, other times it would be a bit of a ho-hum affair. Listening to it again for this project, I’m slightly underwhelmed (on the upside, I’m listening to the remastered mono version of the album and it sounds completely different than I remember). But where did all the rock go?

Klinger: I picked up the stereo remaster a while back, so I did recently experience a Pepper epiphany. It is one album, though, that I’ve so fully internalized that it took something as dramatic as the remastering to kick me out of my comfort zone.

But you can’t find the rock? This is a statement that I find to be a bafflement.

by Nathan Pensky

13 Oct 2010


That the quality of Weezer’s musical production has been in steady decline since the 1996 release of Pinkerton has been fairly well established. The Quorum of Pre-teen Girls that make up the band’s current fan base may have different things to say about it, but to more critical ears, or even just those who happen to enjoy loud music and ‘90s nostalgia, Weezer’s segue into the pop mainstream has been deeply disappointing.

However, in some ways, the pop cultural cluelessness represented in Weezer’s post-Pinkerton work speaks loudly for the authenticity of its contribution to the greater nerd aesthetic. The band’s late musical awkwardness draws interesting parallels to the social awkwardness of nerds everywhere, and as nerd-dom itself has undergone unsettling changes in the last ten years, similar changes in Weezer’s music somewhat validates its original positioning within that tradition. Weezer fans’ disappointment with the group’s recent albums may have less to do with how the band has changed than with how nerds everywhere have changed, Rivers Cuomo included. Even if Weezer’s newer music has no value in its own right, it may somewhat authenticate one particularly culturally important aspect of their first two albums, even solidify their rightful place with other nerd-friendly bands like Devo and They Might Be Giants.

by Sean Murphy

12 Oct 2010


Many of porcupine Tree member Steven Wilson’s mostly accurate, but increasingly tedious denunciations of inferior audio can be attributed to genuine motivations. He really does despise digital downloads and looks askance at those who would abuse their ears (and his art) by listening to them. You can usually ascertain if someone’s agenda is disingenuous by the amount of money they stand to make; in Wilson’s case, sniffily censuring consumers for their philistine proclivities is certainly not going to line his pockets. Bully for him—his browbeating-bordering-on-bullishness comes from an uncorrupted heart. Still, fans that are sufficiently removed from the sullied means of production and procurement Wilson whines about might hope he can avoid becoming known more for his crankiness than his musical proficiency. 

It’s not that he’s a snob, these fans could claim; it’s that he really cares about music (his already notable street cred as a proponent of progressive rock was augmented by his recent undertaking to remaster—for the umpteenth time, it might be noted—the (brilliant) back catalog of King Crimson; suffice it to say, this is not a task the merely passionate producer assumes, this is an obsessive labor of love).

So what are we to make of Wilson’s latest jeremiad in Electronic Musician, “In The Mix: Everyone’s A Critic”? A knee-jerk analysis might be that the self-appointed physician who would ameliorate all that ails us might want to turn some of that attention inward. It is by now abundantly clear that Wilson would prefer that more people shared his opinion on how music is made, received, and enjoyed (an exalted regard of his own judgment includes Wilson in an artistic community that is neither exclusive nor in danger of diminishing its numbers). What is striking—and slightly unsettling—about his new piece is the implication that Wilson might prefer that a great many people have no opinions at all.

by Jason Cook

11 Oct 2010


Perhaps the best and most descriptive title on the soundtrack to Exorcist II: The Heretic, “Little Afro Flemish Mass” is one of the post-exotica songs from which this series derives its name.

Exotica, named after the respectively titled 1957 Martin Denny album, was a musical genre born out of a strange 1950s need for suburbanites to escape the glamor of their picket-fence nuclear era with impressionistic, pseudo-Oceanic lounge music, similar to the “space age pop” also of the era. Les Baxter’s Ritual of the Savage is perhaps the most important work of the genre, offering a true escape for turntable-listeners of that decade’s twenty-something generation by way of stereophonic strings, tribal rhythms of all sort, vibraphones, kotos, gongs, bird calls, and nearly anything “exotic” (or not endemic to white, suburban, narrowly cultured, unable-to-listen-to-real-jazz-but-rather-Sinatra-&-Swingin’-Brass). Is it a good genre? Yes. Did it die with the JFK era? Mostly.

In the same way that the 1990s gave birth to post-rock by reinterpreting standard rock instrumentation in Bark Psychosis’ Hex or Slint’s Spiderland, Ennio Morricone, probably not unbeknownst to himself, borne post-exotica with “Little Afro Flemish Mass”. The piece is culturally-aware; it behaves exactly as its title claims. In the film for which it was written, at the moment it plays we find, by our definition, an exotic setting (Ethiopia); a ritual of sorts (the Afro-mass); and all the chants, trappings, and impressionist garb one might have conversely imagined for Les Baxter’s work. Morricone’s piece is aware of Baxter’s work, and one might take this argument and scold it for the fact that “Little Afro Flemish Mass” isn’t a postmodern interpretation of anything: It is what it is—an imagined mass, a recitation of Catholic circumstance in a weird setting. But that’s false, I say. “Little Afro Flemish Mass” is to Ritual of the Savage on the basis of its outlandishness, its inherent association with a genre known for cultural misappropriation.

by Zachary Houle

8 Oct 2010


The year 1976 was a turning point in the career of Chicago. The group was riding high after releasing Chicago IX in 1975, which was a “greatest hits” album that spanned their first seven records (save for Chicago III, which didn’t have any big Top Ten hits on it, and the live album Chicago IV”. The hits album reached number one on the Billboard 200 and stayed on the chart for 72 weeks. However, the follow-up LP, Chicago X, would be the high-water mark as far as commerciality would go–at least, for a little while–and would see the gradual start of dissension in the ranks. The dissension notably came from the control that producer James William Guercio had on the band, who was shaping and determining the band’s fate as it became more and more popular, which some band members were starting to grow uncomfortable with. While Guercio wouldn’t be dismissed until after Chicago XI (1977), the strain was starting to show on Chicago X. “It started happening with the tenth record”, notes Walter Parazaider, the band’s saxophonist. “He didn’t want us to learn any of the production techniques. He’d go to sleep at nine o’clock, and we’d start producing the records ourselves. Or trying to.”

Some of the resentment would be thanks to the inclusion of one slow song on the album, “If You Leave Me Now”, which was such a huge hit that it more or less defined the sound of the band among radio listeners and programmers, despite the fact that earlier albums had their share of ballads. It was Chicago’s first number one single and helped Chicago X sell more than a million copies in three months. The song was so pervasive on radio upon its release that, reportedly, those tuning in in New York could hear the song playing on four different stations, each with varying formats, simultaneously. Long-time guitarist Terry Kath and keyboardist Robert Lamm were not pleased. It has been said that Kath might have quit the band over the new direction the band would pursue in the wake of “If You Leave Me Now”, had he not accidentally and fatally shot himself in the head in January 1978 in what was a drunken handgun handling mishap.

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