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Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013
With the February 25th release of Steven Wilson’s third solo LP The Raven That Refused to Sing (and other stories) approaching, PopMatters looks back on Wilson’s storied career to pick out ten of his strongest recordings, ranging from beautiful works of ambience to transcontinental art rock.

Most Steven Wilson fans go a little more than the extra mile in expressing their adoration for the famed British prog legend. They won’t just buy his music on the day of its release—they’ll shell out upwards of 150 dollars for a deluxe edition. They aren’t likely to just be content with going to one of his shows a year—in many cases, they’ll fly across oceans to see him, as many did for No-Man’s reunion shows in 2009. Since Wilson’s career began with No-Man (the art-rock duo featuring him and singer/lyricist Tim Bowness) in the late 1980s, his sound has expanded in ways few could have imagined back then. From the progressive rock and metal of Porcupine Tree, his most famous project, to the Krautrock-indebted pet project IEM, his many musical ventures depict him as the ultimate polymath; many hats fit comfortably on his head.


As a result of Wilson’s desire to always reach out into new musical realms, his discography has become impossibly expansive. Uwe Häberle, a clearly devoted fan, compiled all of the man’s releases into one PDF document, totaling an enormous 500 pages. With the winter of 2013 now upon us, Wilson has yet another release to add to this ever-growing list: The Raven That Refused to Sing (and other stories), his third solo LP, out on February 25th in the UK (26th in the US) through K-Scope. In light of this new album, PopMatters digs through the large collection of what Wilson has brought to the musical world thus far, selecting ten pieces that are especially relevant to his status as a legendary artist not just for progressive rock, but for contemporary music as a whole.


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Thursday, Feb 14, 2013
From mournful laments to giddy, knees-up swoons and everything in between, in observance of Valentine's Day Sound Affects runs down the choice love songs from post-punk's most capable romantics.

Despite his ghoulish appearance, Robert Smith is a big softie. For the past three decades, the mind, heart, and soul of the Cure has been one of the top songwriters around, and though he has a penchant for doomy goth dirges, he’s also got a real knack for writing the sort of songs you’ll play at your wedding. A ravenous reader, Smith has mastered a literate lyricism that when married to his band’s winsome melodies results in songs worth wrapping your arms around. It’s not for nothing that generations of flutter-hearted youth have dedicated countless hours listening to the group’s songs alone in their bedrooms, headphones on their heads and the rest of the world shut out.


That’s not to say that the Cure’s most moving love songs are always of the happy variety. Actually, Smith often throws in a somber twist—a “catch” if you will, if you wish to use the Cure vernacular—that adds an emotional counterbalance to the sweeter phrases. Smith is smart enough to realize his songs exhibit more heft (well, that and he’s unsurprisingly the sort of person prone to dark moods) when they contain a tragic element, a slice of longing that’s never fully resolved. Sometimes he’ll go pitch-black, plumbing the depths of his despair over his departed love with such agony that he invites the release of death. And then every once in a while, he’ll do the complete opposite and throw out a love song without a catch, one that expresses romantic sentiments with nary a hint of gloom, and unfettered by the irony favored by some post-punk peers who’ve also taken lighter detours.


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Thursday, Jan 31, 2013
The year 2013 is already setting itself out to be the Year of the Comeback. In acknowledgement, Sound Affects looks at ten fantastic returns by artists who had lost their mojo and/or been away for far too long.

On his 66th birthday this month, musical legend David Bowie shocked the public by proving he wasn’t dead. He did so by releasing “Where Are We Now?”, the lead single from his forthcoming album The Next Day, his first LP in a decade. Suffice to say that the music press was beside itself with excitement upon learning of this.


Bowie hasn’t been the only musician thus far in 2013 to pop his head out again after a long hibernation. Both Justin Timberlake and the reunited Destiny’s Child have dropped new singles. Meanwhile, My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields continues to maintain that his group’s two-decade-in-the-making follow-up to Loveless is almost done for serious this time you guys.


Not every long-desired comeback is victorious. Even when a song is merely okay (sorry, Mr. Bowie), we might cling to it in the heat of the moment because it reminds us of what we have been longing for—see The Guardian‘s coverage of Bowie’s return, which at times resembles fannish hyperventilating. But on occasion, an artist does come back swinging, and swinging hard. This week, Sound Affects pays tribute to those who have taken their knocks only to return in most admirable fashion by offering up a selective listing of ten of the better return-to-form singles. Feel free to suggest your own favorites in the comments section.


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Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013
From the type of honest and revealing storytelling that some have mastered to the wit-centric, mind-bending lines that ooze with double entendres and third, fourth, and fifth meanings, the best hip-hop will forever be contingent on the power of its lyrics. Here, PopMatters takes a look at 10 of the best lyricists the rap form has to offer.

When people dismiss hip-hop as dance music, or racist music, or cheap music, or angry music, or idiotic music, or detached music, or lazy music, they clearly have no idea what the genre is about. Founded merely on someone talking quickly over disco beats, hip-hop’s essential element has always been its words, and those who believe otherwise need take their Toby Keith records and get the hell out of the room.


It’s fascinating, really, how introspective and confounding stories can be told through 64 bars of vivid imagery on top of chopped-up and rearranged grooves. But that’s why rap music has managed to not only survive, but thrive over decades. When done correctly, there may not be another genre in all of music that has more substance within its texture. Hip-hop’s most imperative element is its lyricism and the skill with which it is presented. From the type of honest and revealing storytelling that some have mastered to the wit-centric, mind-bending lines that ooze with double entendres and third, fourth, and fifth meanings, the best hip-hop will forever be contingent on the power of its lyrics. Here, PopMatters takes a look at some of the best to ever craft simple sentences and small stories within this particularly transcendent medium.


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Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013
To coincide with the release of Yo La Tengo's 13th LP Fade this week, Sound Affects compiles the essential tracks by the unlikely last band standing from indie rock's '90s golden era.

One of Yo La Tengo’s defining characteristics has been its remarkable consistency, whether you’re talking about how the trio’s warm, rough-hewn aesthetic has become so familiar, or how reliable the quality of its output is. Yet even if you consider the group’s last two decades since 1993’s breakthrough effort Painful as basically a single, more or less continuous high period, there are still some obvious peaks in Yo La Tengo’s deep catalog. And what these standout moments also point out is just how diverse and versatile the threesome of Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan, and James McNew has been, as adept with just an acoustic guitar as they are tangled in a mess of distortion pedals and multiple drum set-ups.


Compiled here are 15 (or so) essential Yo La Tengo songs, which mostly coincide with the band’s best, though not exactly. That kind of list would have to include “Deeper into Movies”, “From a Motel 6”, and “You Can Have It All”, as well as make room for the latest entry in the YLT pantheon, “Ohm”, which is sure to place high in the pecking order in due time. Instead, for the sake of variety, across albums and styles, what’s contained herein tries to cover all the bases to Yo La Tengo, tracing the history of the unlikely last band standing from indie rock’s ‘90s golden era.


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