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Wednesday, Mar 6, 2013
Rakim packs a lot into 50 couplets; get in the flow and you can picture like a photo.

In 1988, Rakim may or may not have been the greatest MC in rap—Big Daddy Kane was mining similar rhythmic territory, Chuck D’s subject matter was more throat-grabby, Erick Sermon and Kool Moe Dee were funnier, etc.—but he certainly had people’s attention. Following their auspicious 1987 debut album Paid In Full, Eric B. & Rakim released Follow the Leader in 1988 to general acclaim and eternal appearances on Best Of lists. Writing in the New York Times, Peter Watrous named Follow his “Rap Album of the Week” and summed up Rakim’s achievement, “He will vary rhythms, pushing and pulling against the beat to highlight his lyrics.”


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Wednesday, Feb 27, 2013
Tortoise's music is nearly impossible to pin down. So, let's try to do just that, shall we?

Tortoise is one of those steadfastly independent bands who’ve never aimed for the mainstream, and they’ve been progressively honing their unique sound for two decades now. Eschewing the typical rhythms of rock ‘n’ roll while incorporating influences from krautrock, electronica, and jazz, the group’s relaxed-but-watch-tight songs cover so much ground that it’s difficult to get a handle on exactly what Tortoise sounds like like. (“Post-rock” being a useless and lamentably over-applied favorite.)


While the band’s entire catalog is well worth your time, here are ten Tortoise songs drawn from their discography (discounting their cover album with Bonnie “Prince” Billy) that I feel best sum up the group’s sound.


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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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