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Wednesday, Jan 18, 2012
PopMatters's Corey Beasley can't knit you a blanket, but he can do the next best thing: here are five classic wintertime records to help you through the big chill.

What makes an album suited for winter? Should it be the type of record that encourages you to dig in for the season, fortify yourself with blankets and heavily spiked cider, call December through February a wash, and pick things up in March? Or should it be an album to help warm you up, get you moving again, and distract you from all that disgusting brown snow piled up by the side of the road? Whatever your instincts—fight or flight—here are five albums to help you through if you run out of mulled wine.


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Wednesday, Jan 11, 2012
The song, while the product of an artist with a unique vision, has the capability to become something else once it is put out for everyone to hear. Once a song is out in the open, it could very well undergo a transformation unlike the original artist ever anticipated. Fortunately, due to the skills of many artists, that need not be a bad thing.

Covering another artist’s song is a fantastic way for someone to demonstrate his or her musical skill in light of another’s. It seems that the notion of deconstruction is quite an accurate description of a song, for now a song written in one genre can be entirely re-interpreted in another. The Eagles’ “Hotel California”, a song coming mostly from the white-dominated ‘70’s California rock, was masterfully re-interpreted this year in the song “American Wedding” by Odd Future crooner Frank Ocean. Ocean took the music of “Hotel California”, a classic image of American societal decay, and sung over it lyrics about the decay of American romance. Though technically not a “cover”, that track nonetheless demonstrates the malleability of a song once it has been released.


The following 10 songs are prime examples of tracks that not only stand as great songs in their own right, but also as powerful re-interpretations of already great tunes. Ranging from folk to psychedelia to piano confessional, these songs all attest to the ability of music to unite people with distinct voices. As it turns out, unplugged covers aren’t just for bad coffee houses.


Note: Some of these tracks are not entirely acoustic, but in the cases in which there are non-acoustic instruments, they are not the central instrument in the song. I based my picks on songs that were either (a) entirely acoustic or (b) dominated by and large by acoustic instrumentation.


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Wednesday, Dec 14, 2011
Icon, music innovator, and trailblazing artist: Donna Summer epitomizes what rock and roll is all about, and that's why she belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The announcement of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF) nominees is a perennial litmus test for the world of music criticism. Who will rush to defend or dismiss the nominees? Will the nominated artists be subject to snarky one-liners, or accorded thoughtful analysis about why they merit a nomination in the first place?


When the RRHOF narrows the list from nominees to inductees, applause rings as loud as groans of disappointment. However, there’s a large distinction between educated dissenters and willfully ignorant misanthropes. Ironically, the endless well of information that is available in Wikipedia-dominated cyberspace presents a conundrum: history is re-written incorrectly, then copied and pasted ad infinitum. Key information is mysteriously omitted, facts are blurred. In the blogosphere, the race to author the wittiest remark has rendered fact-checking obsolete. This could only explain the sentiment behind a comment I read in an online discussion about the RRHOF’s Class of 2012. While many commentators maintained that Donna Summer should have made the cut this year, one site visitor wrote, “Donna Summer… Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… I don’t see the connection.”


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Wednesday, Dec 7, 2011
While jazz’s complexity cannot be denied, much of the music remains accessible to all. The trick is just finding the right tunes and artists, those who have a universal appeal beyond the scope of the typical, admittedly somewhat limited, jazz audience.

Jazz music began as a popular art form. From its origins in the streets, bars, and brothels of the American South to the speakeasies of Prohibition-era Chicago to the dance floors of Middle America during the big band era, jazz successfully injected the masses with the infectious spirit of swing. After World War II, though, a major shift occurred in America’s beloved music. The innovations of New York musicians like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie would be codified into the style known as bebop, one that emphasized angular melodies, complex rhythms, and virtuoso solos. The music’s primary venue then shifted from the dance floor to the jazz club, and big bands were replaced by small combos. In effect, jazz transformed itself from pop music into art music. Bebop was embraced not by the masses, but rather by a smaller group of devoted followers, including the urbane beatniks (protohipsters, if you will), who found inspiration in the music’s spontaneity and spirit of freedom.


In the post-bop era, the perception of many is that jazz is an elusive music, one that requires lots of “insider” knowledge to appreciate. While jazz’s complexity cannot be denied, much of the music remains accessible to all. The trick is just finding the right tunes and artists, those who have a universal appeal beyond the scope of the typical—admittedly somewhat limited—jazz audience. Below you will find my list of 10 jazz tracks for people who typically don’t like the form. Each of these songs has a strong emotional appeal. While they are all technically brilliant, they never lose the heart and soul amongst the musical intricacy. Many of these tracks are considered foundational to the “jazz canon”, that collection of tunes almost universally agreed upon as among the best work the genre has ever produced. These songs will serve as a “nonthreatening” introduction for those who have been avoiding jazz like the plague or haven’t listened to the music in some time.


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Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011
After soundtracking a bit of Twilight: New Moon and releasing a lovely new record earlier this year, Hurricane Bells' Steve Schiltz takes us through his top five favorite albums of all-time, all while wondering why more kids don't love the Edge . . .

It’s been an interesting ride for Hurricane Bells’ Steve Schiltz. The man rose to prominence for fronting the underrated NYC guitar-rock act Longwave, but once Schiltz began branching out on his own for his more acoustic-based side project Hurricane Bells, a b-side from his project’s debut album, “Monsters”, wound up getting on the soundtrack to the second Twilight movie. Suddenly Hurricane Bells was more well known than Longwave ever was, even if the song was nowhere near indicative of the cathartic content of his newer project’s’ sound.


Just as 2011 wrapped up, Schiltz could proudly look back on what he accomplished: following the release of the solid Down Comes the Rain EP in late 2010, Schiltz went back and revamped his sound for this year’s Tides and Tales, a much more sonically dense, expansive album than his debut Tonight is the Ghost was. With Tides, not only do we see Schiltz expanding his musical palette, but we also get to see him really come into his own as a songwriter for Hurricane Bells: each band now has their own unique, distinctive sound, even if they do come from the same mind.


To help cap off his triumphant year, Schiltz sat down with PopMatters to reveal his top five favorite records of all time, explaining why these discs had a great influence on him in the way that they did, all while he muses as to why more kids aren’t a fan of the Edge . . .


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