At the end of January this year, Catskills Records (in conjunction with Asthmatic Kitty) released Queen of the Wave, the fourth album from Finnish-Swedish anomaly Pepe Deluxé, a group centered around sonic scientists Paul Malmström and James Spectrum. Without much of a promotion budget or plans for a North American tour, the album did not storm the Billboard charts. Yet, the idiosyncratic LP, with its grandiose themes and occult-ish, scientific obsessions, is beginning to resonate with a diverse global audience. Indie bigwigs Pitchfork called it “a visionary work”, while one of the world’s most respected music recording technology magazines Sound on Sound called it an “immaculately produced and a really compelling listen!” By design, it’s a contemporary and exciting album, but here are five reasons why Queen of the Wave is destined to become a cult classic whose fame will no doubt grow and influence generations to come.
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Madonna is known for her singles. Throughout the duration of the 1980s and into the early ‘90s, it was these releases that defined her career. Her albums were weighed based solely on the success of the singles that came from them, and who could blame her for doing this? Madonna, in the 80s, was on FIRE! Have a look at Sound Affects’ “Top 15 Madonna Singles of All Time” list and you’ll see that eight of the entries are from the ‘80s. Ironically, album-cuts from this era in the pop star’s illustrious career were very clearly never released for a reason. Just have a listen to “Think of Me” from her debut album, “Jimmy Jimmy” from True Blue, or “Pray for Spanish Eyes” from Like a Prayer, and you’ll know what I mean. Madonna placed all her effort on hit songs, which by coincidence produced some bad LP-only material.
However, in the turn of the century, this pattern of throwaway tracks from a jam-packed singles album became less and less true. Madonna’s albums from 1994’s Bedtime Stories to 2008’s Hard Candy have been more consistent in quality. Subsequently, her singles have had less of an impact on popular music, with the odd exception. One could argue that 2005’s “Hung Up” from Confessions on a Dancefloor was Madonna’s last great single. You could blame the change of the musical landscape for Madonna’s fizzled impact, or her inability to truly distinguish which tracks on her LPs pack the biggest punch. Either way, some have gladly accepted that Madonna’s strength no longer lies in massive hit singles, but rather in consistently good full-lengths.
This week, industry professionals, artists, and the media gather in Austin, Texas for the 26th annual South by Southwest Music Conference. What started out as a meeting of the minds and a dog-and-pony-show for new and emerging artists has grown to become a popular destination for music fans. Consequently, SXSW increasingly attracts a broad range of entities with ties to the music industry, including participants, partners, platforms, and consumers of music. The convergence of entertainment media has brought the three SXSW conferences—music, film, and interactive technology—closer together. What was once considered anathema to artists (using rock and pop music to sell products, convey an image, or establish a brand) has become so common that the notion of “selling out”, once a label that could imperil an artist’s ability to maintain their integrity, has become quaint. In what has become a virtuous feedback loop, music helps sell movies and products, while movies and products help merchandise music. Music appears anywhere and everywhere, embedded in devices, advertisements, and film and television scores, no longer just existing as standalone works of art. Consequently, SXSW has grown from a glorified trade conference into a pop culture juggernaut.
To fully appreciate the ubiquity of music in our lives, and SXSW’s emergence as a major commercial force beyond its importance as a taste-maker and trendsetter, we take a look at a list of ten memorable performances from last year’s conference. If these moments trigger a sense of familiarity in the embedded SXSW experience, you’re probably the industry insider, hipster, local, or combined hip-local-industry-insider who refers to the conference as “South By”. If you are new to the SXSW experience, view this list as a crash course in what to expect from the conference.
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.
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.