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by Nathan Pensky

29 Jun 2010


Since Radiohead’s landmark album OK Computer (1997), the band’s music has had two defining characteristics to me: A) forward-thinking experimentation unsacrificing of melody, and B) somewhat unexplainable popularity. The enigma of Radiohead is not that its esoteric, bleepy-bloopy music stands in stark relief against the Britney Spearses and Justin Biebers of the world (which it certainly does), but that Radiohead ever charted at all, that such a comparison is even possible. To register surprise at the mere oddness of Radiohead’s experimentation would be unrepresentative of the group’s appeal. Singer Thom Yorke himself repeatedly has pointed out in interviews that the band isn’t even really all that experimental, how it never claimed to strive for the high water mark of the experimentation of such artists as Aphex Twin or Sigur Rós. Rather, discussions of Radiohead as avant garde makes sense only against its pop music peerage, a classification where it belongs, if anywhere. Mathematically speaking, say, in an X-Y Graph where the X-Coordinate represents measures of Weirdness against a Y of Popular Success (and the “Nirvana Diagonal” representing a slope of 1), Radiohead falls somewhere deep in and high up in the rarified air of universal acceptance and indomitable singularity of vision with people like David Bowie and Lou Reed. Yet, Radiohead’s albums fit more snugly on the racks of the pop/rock section at Wal-Mart with those of Miley Cyrus and Dave Matthews Band than with any other so-called “experimental” group.

And so the question on the lips of both hipsters and their junior high-age sisters everywhere remains… how? What is that certain something that has ranked Radiohead so high in the estimation of critics and consumers alike? Certainly not the fact of its experimentation, because even artists historically on par with Radiohead’s experimentation usually cannot boast that group’s success. Can you imagine Jobriath rivaling the Osmonds in concert ticket sales, or Funkadelic toppling Olivia Newton-John for radio play? And of course not because Radiohead’s forays into anti-pop ever offered anything overtly commercial, containing none of the fratboy-identifiable aggression of your Rage Against the Machines nor the manic-pixie-dream-girl fantasies of your Björks.

by Jessy Krupa

28 Jun 2010


In my opinion, “Hot As Sun/Glasses” is one of Paul McCartney’s best instrumental tracks. However, it is actually several different compositions put together and there are some lyrics at the end.

The first part, “Hot As Sun”, written in 1959, is one of the first instrumental songs McCartney wrote. A happy-sounding guitar-based melody, it uses an organ to make the carnival-sounding middle part. It then abruptly cuts into “Glasses”, which is mostly composed by the sound of electronic waves traveling through the rims of drinking glasses. This is a technique that McCartney seems to be fond of; in the PBS TV special Chaos and Creation at Abbey Road (available on The McCartney Years DVD set), he shows how it can be done.

by Christian John Wikane

25 Jun 2010


1967: It’s “The Summer of Love” but things aren’t so lovely in Hollywood.

The 5th Dimension are recording The Magic Garden with producer Bones Howe. It’s an ambitious follow-up to the group’s debut, Up, Up and Away (1967), which featured five compositions by Jimmy Webb, including the Top 10 title track. In between arranging and conducting the sessions for the new album, Webb discusses his lyrics with the group. Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis, Jr., Florence LaRue, Lamonte McLemore, and Ron Townson sing the words with their distinct, precise harmonies. The Magic Garden is the young songwriter’s first album-length score. He’s only 21 years-old.

Unlike its predecessor, this musical journey was not a ride in a beautiful balloon. In fact, upon close inspection of the lyrics, the mini-opuses of The Magic Garden sounded like someone took a spear and tore that beautiful balloon to shreds. The melodies and rhythms had to be accessible for AM radio play, yet a palpable undercurrent of anguish and melancholy resided beneath the sitars and harpsichords. Even the singles extracted from the album had a brilliantly deceptive optimistic quality. Did radio listeners realize that they were singing along to one man’s torment about the dissolution of a love affair?

by AJ Ramirez

25 Jun 2010


If you ever have a sit-down conversation with me about music, you’ll pick up sooner or later that I have a major jones for ‘80s R&B. It’s what I grew up on before I discovered rock music in the mid-1990: slick production, high-energy arrangements, and flat-out funktacular grooves. No slow jams for me: I like my R&B to sound like the soundtrack for the most happening house party ever.

I’m always open to encountering underrated gems from that period, and I was suitably impressed when a friend played me Marcus Miller’s underappreciated funk jam “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” (which peaked at number 36 on the Billboard Club Play chart in 1984). Admittedly, the song isn’t without its faults. Bathed in a production that sounds extremely dated, the song relies on a synthesized melody line with an atrocious tone, while Miller audibly strains as he attempts to high certain notes. Taken at face value, it’s actually kind of a cheesy song. However, Marcus Miller isn’t just your average glossed-up ‘80s funkateer. Miller has had an extensive decades-spanning career largely rooted in the jazz sphere, working both as a solo artist and in collaboration with heroes like Miles Davis. Miller has some serious chops as a performer and as an arranger, proving it with this uptempo blast that practically digs into the listener with its infectious hooks.

The point where “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” really starts to work its magic is when it hits the prechorus, where the agonized Miller sings the line “And the way she looks into my arms / Lets me know she wants me” in a staccato ascending melodic figure. That staccato motif is then utilized in chorus, injecting it with a fist-pumping energy that surges in search of release. With a chorus like that, I don’t care if if Miller piles on all the dated synth fills he wants. The 12” vinyl single mix is good, but it’s the album version from Miller’s self-titled 1984 effort that really deserves to be tracked down.

by Jane Jansen Seymour

24 Jun 2010


Photo: David Reyneke

It was date night for many couples at the New Pornographers concert at Terminal 5 on June 19th, with most of the crowd wearing shorts and sundresses after a warm, blue-sky day in New York City.  Seattle-based group the Duchess and the Duke served up a low-key set, strumming guitars for sparse songs containing cringe-worthy lyrics such as “happy like a clam”.  Friend Oscar Michel subbed for the Duke Jesse Lortz after he sustained a bad hand cut halfway into the tour. Lortz was able to play tambourine, however, and sing along with the Duchess Kimberly Morrison. The group looked like it got its name from all the Renaissance fairs it attended; thankfully, the only thing it has in common with the New Pornographers is some whistling.

Meric Long of the Dodos made a cameo appearance in the first set, playing a drum before his band from San Francisco stepped it up with its signature explosive sound.  With Logan Kroeber at a drum set and Keaton Snyder behind a xylophone and other percussion, the Dodos treated the fuller audience to “a couple of new songs”, as Long said, before ending with “Fools”, a song which made it to the television last summer in a Miller Chill ad.

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