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Wednesday, Mar 7, 2012
With this year's South by Southwest Music and Media Conference kicking off next week, Sound Affects assembles a list of 10 acts to check out on your visit to Austin, Texas.

The challenge: coming up with a list of 10—not 25, not 100 (really NPR, 100?), but 10—must-see music events at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas this year. For the music lover, the annual South by Southwest Music and Media Conference (taking place March 13th to 18th) presents an Olympic task that involves winnowing over 1000 performing artists down to a manageable shortlist, and then shoehorning one’s must-see happenings into a roughly four-day period.  Do the math: for even the most disciplined music fan, we’re talking a maximum of six evening slots, and maybe a potential half-dozen day party slots (assuming one attends to essentials such as eating, schmoozing, and checking mail).  Throw in a few random touches like running into Lou Barlow playing the convention center food court, and we’re looking at perhaps 50, tops.


Thankfully, SXSW has gone one better, expanding to a fifth night (corresponding with a Pitchfork showcase held on the eve of the festival last year). Having scanned the most recently-available list of announced showcase slots, we present for your consideration, a list of “oh see this” artists.  I had a friend last year who kept things simple—he simply went traveled to wherever his favorite UK band was playing, and ended up going to a lot of parties and gaining broader exposure through a wide range of support acts. Our list strives to provide some degree of balance in the musical diet.  So who’s on yours?  We’d love to hear from you in the comments section.


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Thursday, Mar 1, 2012
From contemplative science fiction to macabre stop-motion, the 2000s brought forth some excellent film scores that are worth listening to long after the credits have rolled. With this year's Academy Awards just behind us, Sound Affects looks at the top movie scores from the 21 century so far.

The 2000s were a fine decade for film, and correspondingly a great decade for musical scores. Certain trends in film soundtracks became quite popular, notably Zach Braff’s indie mixtape formula so perfected in the music for Garden State and The Last Kiss (though most tout the former as his best, I prefer the latter). While mixtape soundtracks grew in prominence, certain composers rose to legendary status, notably Hans Zimmer, who by the decade’s conclusion had a prodigious body of work. In a world of increasing musical diversity, much is available to filmmakers in creating sonic backgrounds to their moving pictures.


The following list represents what I found to be the best in cinematic scores over the past decade. I’ve decided to narrow down my list specifically to scores, as comparing a soundtrack comprised of multiple songs by various artists to a body of music composed by one artist specifically for a film wouldn’t make for a fair list. Some of these soundtracks do feature a song that wasn’t written specifically for the movie, but all of the scores represented here are analyzed for their merit as pieces of music composed specifically for film.


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Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012
The first decade of the new millennium proved to be a fruitful time for great progressive rock. While some of prog’s most legendary bands took turns for the worse, others rose to meteoric prominence.

Late into 1999, a single album caused a seismic shift in the progressive rock scene. That album, Dream Theater’s Metropolis, Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory, seemed like any other prog concept album. Yet despite its release later in the year, the LP would go on not just to be hailed as one of the year’s best progressive rock records, but one of the genre’s all-time classics. This set the stage for Dream Theater to shoot to the forefront of the progressive rock scene, while also serving as a prototype for the style of prog that would become even more popular over the course of the next decade. Just a year later prog supergroup Transatlantic released its debut record, still very much a prog favorite, which included much of the complex musicianship so masterfully displayed on Scenes from a Memory.


Oh, how times have changed. Dream Theater’s prominence—while no doubt still formidable—would wane in the latter half of the decade, as the band put out releases that just couldn’t match up to the brilliance of its prior recordings. Meanwhile, countless numbers of long concept records were released, with quality of music often being sacrificed for the quantity of minutes the musicians could keep on shredding.


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Wednesday, Feb 8, 2012
In the wake of Madonna'a ostentatious Super Bowl halftime performance, PopMatters presents a rundown of the Queen of Pop's 15 finest singles.

To date, Madonna has released 75 singles across 13 albums, four soundtrack albums, and six compilation albums, with “Give Me All Your Luvin’” (from the upcoming LP MDNA) being her latest. She has had 12 number-one hits in both the United States and the United Kingdom (with different sets of songs), plus 24 chart-toppers in Canada, and 38 US, 60 UK, and 49 Canadian Top 10 hits. Madonna has dominated the radio and video airwaves for quite some time, and although the moniker of “King of Pop” is firmly affixed to Michael Jackson, “Queen of Pop” gets bounced around to every new fluffy pop tartlet who claims to integrate music and fashion like it’s something that’s never been done before


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Wednesday, Feb 1, 2012
The process of deciding which Trane solos are the best of the best gave me a good reason to go back and listen to his catalog once again, as if an excuse is even needed. I hope you do the same.

John Coltrane completely changed the face of music in a recording career that lasted only a little over ten years. He was so influential in so many ways that it’s impossible to list them all. Naturally, many of his compositions have become part of the standard jazz canon, tunes that all young jazz musicians must contend with in order to be considered legit. He completely redefined the vocabulary of the genre with his “sheets of sound” and modal approaches. Coltrane revolutionized the way people play the saxophone, from his adroit use of the upper registers (known as altissimo) to his popularization of the soprano saxophone in jazz. His classic 1960s quartet is considered the apotheosis of the modern jazz combo for many. Above all, though, Coltrane played some of the most innovative, sublime, poetic solos in the history of the music. Every jazz musician aspires to capture even an iota of Trane’s musical and spiritual energy.


Ranking one Coltrane solo over another is an act of absurdist thinking. Nevertheless, the process of deciding which Trane solos are the best of the best gave me a good reason to go back and listen to his catalog once again, as if an excuse is even needed. I hope you do the same.


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