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Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009

In belated recognition of the recent release of Beatles CD remasters, I thought I should briefly discuss my favorite Beatles song.


“Dear Prudence” is the second track on the group’s 1968 double album The Beatles (more commonly referred to as “The White Album”).  It was one of several songs the band members wrote during their early 1968 trip to study meditation under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. John Lennon wrote the song about attempts to get one of his fellow meditation students, actress Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence, to come out of her room after suffering a panic attack. During recording sessions for “The White Album”, Paul McCartney played bass, piano, and drums on the song, the latter the result of the temporary resignation of drummer Ringo Starr from the group.


The most distinctive aspect of “Dear Prudence” is its ethereal, almost foreboding quality, something which is quite uncommon in the Beatles’ discography. The song’s sound is partially due to the fact that the group recorded it on eight-track equipment. However, the arrangement of much of the song is intentionally sparse; after the upbeat power-chord Beach Boys homage of album opener “Back in the U.S.S.R.”, “Dear Prudence” wafts onto the record like a gentle breeze. At first “Dear Prudence” seems nothing more than low-key ballad wrapped in sadness; its strength lies in how it builds up to a fantastic finish that banishes the negative atmosphere just like the sun breaking through on a cloudy day.


Tagged as: the beatles
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Tuesday, Sep 22, 2009

It’s a huge release week, one of the most packed of the year. Fall is indeed here in force. Pearl Jam self-releases, but partners with retail behemoth Target, while indie rock unloads a treasure trove of new music, and British pop stages an invasion of sorts with the return of Mika, Richard Hawley and David Gray.


Pearl Jam - Backspacer: This is a giant release and marks the former grunge band’s embrace of pop, so perhaps it’s fitting that the normally anti-corporate Eddie Vedder and co. steered the exclusive big box store release to Target. The band is going it alone here with a self-release, something only the world’s biggest artists like them and Radiohead can really do and still move major units. The result has been near universal critical acclaim for the band’s new musical direction.


Basement Jaxx - Scars: The South London house duo release their first record since 2006’s Crazy Itch Radio. While nothing here trumps the sublime beats of 2003’s Kish Kash, Scars does offer an engaging selection of collaborations, including turns with Santigold, Amp Fiddler, and Yoko Ono.



Tagged as: new cd releases
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Tuesday, Sep 22, 2009

In a recent PopMatters post, I highlighted the importance of the Glasgow music scene – and its historical relevance to the world of music. Like musical hotspots, Seattle and New York—Glasgow possesses the wet weather of one, and the greased-up urban spontaneity of the latter. As such, it should come as no surprise to find that another up and coming Glasgow-based band is rekindling the flame of the 1970s NY punk music scene in 2009.


In particular, I am referring to the quartet, known as Isosceles. A member of the Art Goes Pop music collective, Isosceles’ sound is emblematic of the collective’s moniker. Rickety guitar work is interspersed with a spattering of drums, and lead singer, Jack Valentine’s yelping vocal execution – all of which help position the band nicely between Television and The Modern Lovers.


And just like their forefathers, the foursome is keen to experiment with ironic, self-referential songs. Their second single (and perhaps their catchiest) entitled, “Kitch Bitch” is like a post-modern version of Pulp’s “Common People”, churned out at high speed. While their first single, “Get Your Hands Off’ is a tongue and cheek number that flips the notion that men are sex pests on its gender-bending head, suggesting instead that women are the ones hungry for the bump and grind. However, when Valentine begins to sing, “I said honey, don’t use your sexuality on me”, one starts to realise that his voice is laced with the equivalent of a wink and a snigger. For all of the song’s candour, it is still clear that the boys approach their subject matter with a sense of humour.


Having already supported Scottish stalwarts, Franz Ferdinand on a previous Scottish tour, the boys have already developed a healthy buzz in the area. Personally, my interest in the band grew out of trips to a local coffee shop (referenced in their second single). When I overheard the strapping young gentleman mutter something about his musical career, I felt such a strong compulsion to investigate them. In the year since then, the band have continued to develop their following in the Glasgow music scene, whilst maintaining their humble and erudite personas—saving their energy for their fervent, audience-pleasing shows.



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Monday, Sep 21, 2009
Pop Heroism, One Song at a Time

“Better Days” - Bruce Springsteen
Written by Bruce Springsteen
From Lucky Town (Columbia, 1992)


A slightly different version of this V-C-V was originally published on pcmunoz.com on August 9, 2005


Bruce Springsteen has long dealt with intense, powerful subject matter. The characters in his songs are often trying to find their place in life while battling the burdens of fleshly weakness and spiritual frailty, attempting to make sense of the various ties that bind them to people and places.


“Better Days” is the lead-off track from 1992’s Lucky Town, one of the two discs Springsteen simultaneously released that year (the other album was called Human Touch). It was not made in collaboration with the E-Street Band. Much of the relationship-oriented material on the record deals with the idea of renewed hope, after a wrong turn in the recent past. “Better Days”, particularly, seems to be the light at the end of the dark “tunnel of love” Springsteen so thoroughly described in the album which preceded Lucky Town and Human Touch.


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Friday, Sep 18, 2009

The reaction to rapper Kanye West’s interruption of singer Taylor Swift’s MTV Video Music Awards acceptance speech had snowballed in interesting ways. Even the President of the United States has called West a “jackass” for taking away Swift’s microphone to praise Beyonce Knowles’ “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” video. Scores of celebrities have criticized his behavior, largely on Twitter. Meanwhile, a whole Internet meme has sprung up around West’s recent behavior. NME.com has assembled a gallery featuring choice samples of Photoshopped images where West inappropriately interrupts several pop culture figures (my personal favorite is the one where he interrupts Super Mario 64). Hell, when I checked Facebook the other day, I noticed a new quiz titled “Where will Kanye interrupt you?”


Now, it’s quite clear to anyone with a basic grasp of manners that West was indeed acting like a jackass, and he quite rightly has since apologized for the incident. Additionally, West’s behavior is a surprise to no one familiar with the rapper. West has become well-known for his attention-grabbing remarks over the years, ranging from stating “George Bush hates black people” during a 2005 benefit concert to support Hurricane Katrina victims, to exclaiming he was “done” with MTV after not winning a single award at the 2007 Video Music Awards, to repeated exaltation of his own genius. Still, this event has exploded into a cultural phenomenon because it illustrates how ridiculous West’s acts of idiocracy have become, and how much of it people will tolerate. You would think he’d stop acting like an idiot by now, but no, there he goes again. And do we really have to put up with this?


Tagged as: kanye west
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