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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.

by Sean Murphy

23 Jun 2010


Who’s afraid of the big, bad Wolf? Plenty of people, and for good reason.

Fortunately for us, we are not sketchy record company executives or anyone else who may have unwittingly crossed his path during the Wolf’s prime. Chester Arthur Burnett was big and he was a bad man (the same way James Brown and Charles Mingus were bad men: they knew they were geniuses and they suffered fools poorly, as geniuses are obliged—and allowed—to do). Unfortunately for us, he is gone and has been for over a quarter of a century. Indeed, he moved on to that great pack in the sky early in 1976—a very appropriate year for this most American of blues legends. June 10, 2010 marked his centennial, and he remains an artist who cannot be imitated and whose unmistakable growl can probably never be adequately explained or understood.

by Jane Jansen Seymour

22 Jun 2010


There are many bands that met in high school and there are also bands comprised of siblings. The Magic Numbers are a band with a happy match of both times two. Siblings Sean and Angela Gannon grew up in Hanwell, London, and became neighbors with Romeo and Michele Stodart when they moved there from New York City. Sean and Romeo formed a band together first, but it wasn’t until their sisters joined them as the Magic Numbers in 2002 that things really started clicking. By 2006, four songs had placed in the top 25 of the UK singles chart and the band had also gained a healthy recognition from the US indie pop scene as well.

So it’s been four years since the last release from the Magic Numbers. The band members took time off to focus on their lives (Michelle Stodart had a baby girl) and put together a studio of their own while learning more about the recording process. Romeo Stodart kept writing songs and by the time things were ready for the next album, there were 30 for the taking. Michele and Romeo worked on the lyrics of some of them before the other brother/sister team was called into the studio, along with Robert Kirby (who helped with string arrangements before he passed away in October 2009). The expanded sound also includes horns and electronic elements, challenging the band to recreate this lush studio sound when it plays live in Australia and at England’s Glastonbury Festival this summer.

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