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Wednesday, Aug 3, 2011
Antichrist superstars, astro-creeps, and broken machines all assemble for this look back at the ten best singles from alternative metal's golden era.

Despite what the nomenclature would have you believe, alternative metal isn’t simply a mash-up of alt-rock and headbanging heaviosity. In fact, alternative influences are not an essential component to classifying alt-metal bands. Alternative metal began to emerge in the 1980s as disparate left-of-center heavy metal groups dabbled in styles outside of hard rock orthodoxy, including funk, hip-hop, industrial, and, yes, alternative rock. The genre began to codify in the early 1990s into a modernist strain of metal that emphasized aggression and texture over melody and traditional hard rock lead guitar, a fortuitous development that allowed it to gain commercial ground at the same time thrash and grunge were redefining the boundaries of what sort of heavy music could garner mass appeal. Though its descendant genre, nu metal, would largely forgo its adventurousness and idiosyncrasies for rigid formula, alternative metal is still a vital force well into the 21st century, as its influence is so pervasive that its sonic hallmarks practically shape the sound of contemporary hard rock radio.


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Wednesday, Jul 27, 2011
Bon Iver's "Beth/Rest" is just the latest song that beguiles as many fans as it detracts.

Bon Iver’s self-titled new album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 album charts last month, and most critics and fans are responding favorably to the record. But for all of the press the album has picked up (i.e. how do you make a follow-up to a beloved debut album, will Bon Iver succumb to a sophomore slump?), the biggest story of Bon Iver seems to be the last song.


“Beth/Rest” begins with an unmistakable late-‘80s synth hook that has drawn comparisons to Bruce Hornsby. For others, it sounds like mid-‘80s Chicago (especially “Hard Habit to Break”). Regardless, it’s a horribly dated sound. So dated in fact, that people either see “Beth/Rest” as a brave declaration of love for music that we’re taught not to love because of its lack of coolness, or as another example of crass hipster irony.


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Thursday, Jul 21, 2011
Today, the intersection of dance music and rock music seems only natural. However, the process has been in the making for decades, and this list provides an introduction to ten of the best albums this genre combination has to offer.

Rock music has come a long way, you know. Charting the evolution of the genre, mapping its seemingly infinite offshoots and hyphenated mini-trends—these would be full time jobs, lifelong careers. Rock twists around with soul, bops along with funk, embraces pop, and (often horrifically) flirts with rap and hip-hop. All of this hybridity speaks to rock ‘n’ roll’s revolutionary spirit, its classic refusal to work cleanly within established borders. Of course, these experiments often come with plenty of controversy among fans and critics alike; when rock, for example, hooks up with the sheen and pulse of dance music, many people are historically just as likely to stare awkwardly at the floor or flee the room as they are to start shimmying. Those who stick around and are willing to get their blood moving have been—for decades now—rewarded with some of the best, most exciting, and most inventive popular music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Today, dance and rock have become so intricately involved with one another that it almost seems beside the point to mention their pairing—look at LCD Soundsystem, for example, who made recent headlines by playing its final show at the legendary Madison Square Garden, a rare feat for an indie dance-rock band with little radio play.


The days when disco and the Bee Gees represented all that is evil to the rock world are long over. To celebrate, here’s a list of ten essential dance-rock albums. There are plenty of worthy records and bands not included here (apologies to ESG, Dinosaur L, and Depeche Mode, to start), so read on and make your own list in the comments section. Get those hips moving.


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Wednesday, Jul 13, 2011
The final Harry Potter film is upon us, so why not spin these magic-tinged tunes to commemorate the occasion?

The supreme pop culture manifestation of magic-making for many, the Harry Potter phenomenon reaches its cinematic conclusion this month with the release of The Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Although the pop culture juggernaut certainly has served as a source of inspiration for those in the musical milieu in recent years (look no further than the emergence of J.K. Rowling-quoting “wizard rock” acts like Harry and the Potters), both the light and dark arts have infused certain pop music lyrics for decades.  There were magic-referencing tunes to be found here and there going back to the birth of rock and earlier (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ signature tune “I Put a Spell on You”, for instance), but wizardry truly found a home in music during the late ‘60s hippie heyday, when mind-expanding experimentalism and generational struggles resulted in a widespread of popularization of mysticism (be it Eastern, Celtic, or an indiscriminate hodgepodge of various sources) and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien among young people.  Psychedelic rockers happily embraced magical concerns, and following in their footsteps their offspring in the heavy metal and progressive rock genres devoted themselves to otherworldly explorations of ancient powers and pagan tales on a fairly regular basis, up to and including referencing their favorite fantasy novels in their verses and on record sleeve artwork.


So with all that in mind, here’s five recommended tunes about virtuous spellcasters and evil conjurors, ranging from the 1960s to the 21st century. I have elected to skip over anything that’s directly informed by the Tolkien bibliography, for material available on that topic from the 1960s alone could spawn its own list (why director Peter Jackson never put any Led Zeppelin songs in his Lord of the Rings films, I’ll never understand).  No, wizardry in general is the focus here, and whether it’s viewed as manifestation of light or a tool of wickedness, it’s bound to inspire recordings to try an capture a little of that sorcerous essence.


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Thursday, Jul 7, 2011
With the 25th anniversary deluxe edition of the band's fourth album Lifes Rich Pageant due out soon, here's a look at the top videos R.E.M. made during its tenure on I.R.S. Records.

During its tenure on I.R.S. Records between 1982 and 1987, R.E.M. practically invented the language for alternative rock music videos. Rebuking the style and flash of the first MTV generation, in those years the Athens, Georgia quartet produced beguiling videos (often directed by singer Michael Stipe) to accompany its singles and a select few album cuts that were more art films than pop promos, relying on Super 8 footage, film negatives, montage editing, altered speeds, and other low-cost film-making techniques instead of clichéd plastic-looking sexy models and lip-synced performances to capture the rustic mystery of its music in visual form. Although the look of those vintage R.E.M. clips was admittedly dependent on limited resources, the band and the directors made laudably skillful use of what was available to them, resulting in timeless efforts that are on par artistically with the most acclaimed promos (be they big-budget technical spectacles or similarly clever DIY affairs) from that or any other era.


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