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

 
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Tuesday, Jan 19, 2010

When an entertainer dies, it’s always a strange event. Suddenly, millions of strangers mourn the passing of someone they never knew, simply because they made a few movies, starred in a TV show, or cut a few albums.


I never “got it”. Until a few days ago.


“The most devastating entertainment death of my life” was the text I sent to a friend when I heard of the death of Jay Lindsey, a.k.a. Jay Reatard. Only four days ago, early Wednesday morning, Jay Reatard, age 29, was found dead in his Memphis home. When I read the news late that night, it took a few seconds longer than usual to process what I was reading.


Jay Reatard was dead.


Tagged as: jay reatard
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Monday, Jan 18, 2010
Artist/producer PC Muñoz mines for gems and grills the greats.

Over the past 20 years, dream-pop/spoken-word artist Ingrid Chavez has quietly and powerfully carved a unique path and place for herself in the world of music. Many music fans first encountered Chavez as the angelic character “Aura” in Prince’s 1990 film Graffiti Bridge. Pop and dance fans may remember her as the author of the words to Madonna’s erotic mega-hit “Justify My Love”, and R&B fans likely recall her groundbreaking 1991 Paisley Park release, May 19, 1992, which was packed with dancey grooves featuring both spoken poetry and spirited, sung vocals. Sonic adventurers of all stripes may also know her as a guest vocalist on recordings by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and maverick recording artist David Sylvian. After taking some time off to raise her daughters and limiting her music output to a few sporadic guest spots, Chavez is now back with a highly anticipated new album, A Flutter and Some Words, which effectively coheres her diverse background and particular set of influences into an enchantingly fresh sound.


A Flutter and Some Words is a collaboration with a duo of super-talented Italian maestros, Lorenzo Scopelliti (co-writer, multi-instrumentalist) and Alessandro Mazzitelli (recording and mixing engineer). Recorded mostly in Italy (save for some production work on the title track by longtime friend/collaborator Richard Werbowenko) the 14-song collection is a treasure trove of sonic delights: an earthy mix of lovely organic textures, otherworldly soundscapes, found-sound percussion and traditional string and wind instruments, with Chavez’s exquisite voice and words holding it all together.


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Sunday, Jan 17, 2010
This rising Canadian quintet has developed quite the unique indie-rock sound, getting an assist from Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew while also expressing their desire to witness the dinosaur fight to end all dinosaur fights.

Still Life Still waited awhile to put out their debut album.  In fact, they waited for more than a decade.


This Canadian five-piece formed in East York (a Toronto suburb), initially just as barely-teenagers with a passion for music, but as the years have gone on (and the lineups and band names have changed), Still Life Still have persevered as a group of lifelong friends whose love of infectious indie-rock isn’t too far removed from that of fellow label-mates Broken Social Scene (whose Kevin Drew co-produced their debut album Girls Come Too).


Marrying catchy guitar riffs to cryptic, sometimes blatantly dark lyrics (the climax of “Planets” is “it’s a family of wolves out there / yeah they bury their young”), the group is able to balance pop immediacy (“Kid”) with full-on rock squall (album opener “Danse Cave”) without so much as batting an eye, something that’s best exhibited during their energetic, participatory live shows.  To top it off, the band have garnered quite the reputation as road trip pranksters, once apparently slinging an entire meatball sub at the van of tour/label-mates The Most Serene Republic while driving. 


After opening for the Hold Steady during the Canadian stretch of their latest tour and with Girls Come Too still garnering lots of acclaim, drummer Aaron Romaniuk sat down to participate in another fantastic installment of PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here declaring his love of dinosaur fights, his true feelings towards Jingle All the Way, and reminding us all what the greatest album of all time really is ...


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Friday, Jan 15, 2010
How long does it take to document a relationship's implosion? If you're Liz Phair, it only takes three minutes.

After reading a solid month of “decade’s best” lists, I couldn’t help but think back to my “Best Album of the ‘90s” pick, Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville. I occasionally have pangs of regret not choosing Radiohead’s OK Computer because technically, I believe it’s a superior album. But in general, I have no qualms about letting this pick stand because while other albums may have defined their specific genres like Nirvana’s Nevermind and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, Guyville perfectly encapsulated not one but two major defining trends of that decade: the rise of a new generation of female singer/songwriters and the do-it-yourself ethos of indie rock, which took on a whole new life this past decade.


When Phair’s album came out (and several years after), most people I talked to readily brought up one of two songs: “Flower” and “Divorce Song”. For many, “Flower” was often-quoted because of the brazen, graphic lyrics, which was one of the first major elements of the album that made critics take notice. At one party, a fellow student talked about how she quoted the lyrics to her boyfriend whom she didn’t think knew the artist or album, and the boyfriend said “Can you say something to me that did not come from a Liz Phair song?”



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Thursday, Jan 14, 2010
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

Some musical artists are able to move; others are a movement. Such artists tap into a need within a mass of people, musically feeding off of the axiom that there is strength in numbers. George Clinton has always had both, strength and numbers, and from 1975 to 1978 he led a funk movement that changed the landscape of popular music forever. For that four-year period he and the numerous members of his bands Parliament and Funkadelic, always two sides of the world’s funkiest coin, were Masters of the Form that traded masterpieces back and forth while creating a new brand of musical expression and black consciousness. It was a movement that any casual Funkadelic fan should have known was coming. The title track of their 1974 release, Standing on the Verge of Getting It On was a proclamation to all that would listen that Funkadelic should be listened to by all. The following year they released the amazing Let’s Take It to the Stage.


Let’s Take It to the Stage was part invitation, part challenge, part promise and all funk. It was the work of a group that had turned a corner, a combination of all the disparate aspects of Funkadelic’s music up to that point, the extended jams, aggressive guitars, smooth ballads, tight vocals, psychedelic flourishes, risqué sexual lyrics and dirty funk into the most concise songs they’d ever recorded. In 1974 they had asked listeners to, “Stick us in your ears and dig us”; in 1975 they promised, “to be good to your earhole”. On Let’s Take It to the Stage it’s a promise the group kept.


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