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Wednesday, Aug 29, 2012
Pitchfork's end-of-the-summer experiment, a global vote called "The People's List", resulted in a final list that was unsurprising to most and enraging to others. PopMatters examines five things we can take from this list, not just about Pitchfork but about contemporary indie music as a whole.

Note: This piece flows from a conversation I participated in with my fellow PopMatters writers and editors. I thank Timothy Gabriele, AJ Ramirez, Alan Ranta, John Grassi, Chris Conaton, Zach Schonfeld, David Bloom, and Sarah Zupko for their help. I also thank AJ for his idea to have me write this piece.

As an avid fan of making lists, I participated in Pitchfork’s “The People’s List” experiment, the results of which were released last week. If any of you have read past lists I’ve written for PopMatters, you’ll know my choices tend to be the opposite of what people expect, and what ended up becoming my top 85 albums from 1996-2011, the current length of Pitchfork’s existence, reflects my penchant for bizarre picks. You won’t find many lists that include critically reviled albums like Oasis’ Heathen Chemistry amongst modern classics like LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver. While awaiting the results of the poll, I really didn’t think much about the list. I knew Radiohead and Animal Collective would likely dominate, since the participants would almost universally be Pitchfork readers influenced by the e-zine’s opinions. But upon I seeing people share their lists and thoughts about the list overall via Twitter and Facebook, some criticisms began to arise that were definitely worth considering.

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Wednesday, Aug 22, 2012
The most compelling reason to opt for the CD version of the Blur 21 box set is the inclusion of four rarities discs covering the span of the revived Britpop group’s history.

Calling the new Blur box set (named Blur 21, honoring the 21 years since their first official release) a treasure trove is, if not a bit hyperbolic, certainly not inaccurate. If, like many of my fellow music nerds, you’ve all but abandoned the compact disc in favor of the tried and true vinyl option, there’s a version of the box set just right for you. While including all seven of the band’s studio albums in thick vinyl cut from oak trees (probably), the collection is lacking many of the bonuses which made the CD version too tempting to resist.

Each of Blur’s albums—from 1991’s Leisure to 2003’s Think Tank—is given the double-disc treatment in the CD set, with most of the associated b-sides and non-album singles chronologically placed, allowing the listener to effectively trace the development of one of England’s greatest bands, one which transcended its assigned genre (Britpop) to become something greater, even while celebrating its own inherent Englishness. The CD box set also includes a handsome hardbound book featuring recording information and what one hopes is merely an abridged version of a much longer and more comprehensive oral history. There are three DVD’s included as well, rounding out the promo clips for anyone who already has Blur: The Best Of, and featuring a live performance from the “Singles Night” tour in 1999, a brief run through of 13-era songs from earlier that year and Showtime, a 1994 performance at Alexandra Palace previously only available on VHS. For completists, there’s also a one-sided vinyl single recorded in 1989 when the band was still called Seymour.

Tagged as: blur, list this
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Thursday, Aug 16, 2012
The second entry in PopMatters’ List This series about Oasis’ career after the release of the critically maligned Be Here Now explores the band's best album tracks after that fateful album.

Oasis are a great rock band. The problem they face, though, is that they likely won’t be remembered as a great one overall. The narrative that’s been shaped after years of new members, critical ribbings, and the persisting sibling rivalry between Noel and Liam Gallagher is that they put out two excellent LPs at the start of their career that they never lived up to. When the group dissolved after 2008’s good-but-not-great Dig Out Your Soul, most welcomed it with relief. A new (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? had failed to materialize since the mid-‘90s, and that was all the proof some needed to show how failed the latter half of Oasis’ run was.

I join the majority in their opinion about Definitely Maybe (1994) and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1996). They are superior recordings. But their strength doesn’t have to be the metric by which we judge the rest of Oasis’ career. If the only thing we consider when judging a band with a great first LP is how good the debut is, then we’ll almost always end up disappointed. Mogwai, for instance, broke ground in 1997 with Young Team, but since then have yet to receive a critical embrace as warm as that. Instead of viewing any great upstart as having to live by a standard they probably didn’t even set for themselves, it seems more sensible to view groups as progressive units that, if they’re any good, will try to divert from rehashing all their early material. “Wonderwall” is great, but if Liam and Noel had ridden that track until they called it quits, they’d have been even worse off than most see them now.

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Wednesday, Aug 8, 2012
Not every band borne out of a great predecessor can measure up. Here are five that do.

Merge’s recent remastered deluxe editions of Sugar’s Copper Blue and File Under: Easy Listening should be all the proof music fans need to accept that Hüsker Dü wasn’t the only outstanding act to count guitarist Bob Mould as a member. With all the breakups, deaths, and solo outings that commonly occur in pop history, it’s always rewarding to see a group formed out of the aftermath of a highly-regarded ensemble’s demise or splintering maintain a batting average that competes with its parent—especially since most of the time the spinoff of a Clash or a Rage Against the Machine or an Oasis is a underwhelming Big Audio Dynamite or an Audioslave or a Beady Eye. Bands on both ends may not muster similar levels of fame or sales, but like Sugar, a select few second acts have earned their place in history as more-than-able successors. Today, Sound Affects lists just but a few of the most exemplary examples.

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Wednesday, Aug 1, 2012
While Miles will always be known for his original compositions and for genre-busting, innovative records like Kind of Blue, E.S.P., and Bitches Brew, it’s worthwhile to give another listen to the great performances of standards the trumpeter recorded during the earlier part of his career.

Jazz musicians have long been taking the popular tunes of their day and revamping them for their own purposes. The tradition of covering “standards” began near the dawn of jazz and continues to this day. Groups like the Bad Plus and the Vijay Iyer Trio shape the pop songs of the last couple generations (i.e. Nirvana, Michael Jackson, the Pixies, etc.) into their own improvisational mini-masterpieces

During the time of Miles Davis, the “standards” of the day consisted of mainly Broadway show tunes and songs from popular Hollywood movies. Many of today’s up-and-coming jazz musicians learn the same standards that cats like Davis were playing in the ‘50s and ‘60s as a sort of rite of passage, a method for learning the vocabulary and intricacies of the jazz tradition. While Miles will always be known for his original compositions and for genre-busting, innovative records like Kind of Blue, E.S.P., and Bitches Brew, it’s worthwhile to give another listen to the great performances of standards the trumpeter recorded during the earlier part of his career. The so-called “Prestige years” of the early and mid-1950s were especially fertile times for Davis’ standards recordings.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy these tracks. The tunes, and Miles’ specific interpretation of them, have stood the test of time for a reason.   


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