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Monday, Jun 29, 2009
Sometimes it's tough to get a large group of people to agree on anything. Here are three more personal favorites from 1999 that didn't make the cut for PopMatters'' overall feature.

If you travel in the right musical circles you’re probably familiar with at least two of these albums. The third is mostly forgotten, but still a personal favorite of mine.



cover art

NOFX

The Decline

(Fat Wreck Chords)

By the end of the ‘90s, NOFX was well-established as the good-time jokesters of the punk rock circuit. Sure, they occasionally tossed out more serious songs, but generally they were about sarcasm and silliness. So 1999’s EP The Decline came as a shock. This was an impassioned rant against gun-lovers, Christians, big corporations, and the complacency of the public in general without a joke in sight. And it was all contained within a single, 18-minute-long song. For a band that rarely managed to get beyond the three-minute mark, this was something very different.


The Decline burns through an album’s worth of guitar riffs over its substantial running time, constantly changing tempos and styles along the way. The lyrics are equally wide-ranging, as lead singer Fat Mike takes on a bevy of social and political issues. Despite all these changes, though, the mood remains consistent: angry. It’s that impassioned anger that allows the song to really hang together. Unlike prog-rock and metal bands that regularly go above the 10-minute mark, NOFX had very few templates to follow as they created the piece. Most riffs and themes don’t return once the band moves on—there’s no carefully constructed rock opera background at work here. But somehow, the band makes it work.


Tagged as: music of 1999
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Friday, Jun 26, 2009
by Jonathan Garrett

My mom only had two albums in her car when I was growing up—the Eagles’ Hotel California and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. And given how many soccer practices, guitar lessons, and tennis matches I was shuttled to as a child, I can pretty much hear these albums from start to finish in my head.  In fact, if I’m being honest, I’ve probably heard Hotel California and Thriller more than any other two albums in my life.


But at some point in my early 20s, Thriller vastly eclipsed Hotel California—and all others for that matter.  Rightfully so.


Tagged as: michael jackson
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Thursday, Jun 25, 2009
DNA made "Tom's Diner" into an international sensation but barely profited from their work.

The first time I heard “Marlene on the Wall” playing on the radio, I fell in love with Suzanne Vega. The song was catchy, her voice was soft yet defiant, and the image of a Marlene Dietrich poster passing judgment on a woman searching for love stayed with me long after the song finished playing. Suzanne Vega’s self-titled debut was one of the best albums of the year, with tracks like “Cracking” (“my heart is broken; it is worn out at the knees”), “Small Blue Thing”, and the devastating “The Queen and the Soldier”. But none of the three singles A&M released from the album charted on The Billboard Hot 100.


Surprisingly, neither did “Left of Center”, her enigmatic but hypnotic contribution to the Pretty in Pink soundtrack.


So I was happily surprised when, a couple years later, “Luka” became a major hit, spending three months in the Top 40 and peaking at #3. Finally, other people were discovering what a phenomenal talent Vega was. The Solitude Standing CD peaked at #11 on The Billboard 200 chart, and she was poised to become a major star.


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Wednesday, Jun 24, 2009

File this under “Two more reasons John Zorn’s Tzadik is one of the coolest record labels around” and “can’t an hombre kvetch?”


We’re only halfway through 2009 and Tzadik has seen the release of two of the most exciting jazz recordings of the year, courtesy of a surprising source.


Cuban-born percussionist Roberto Juan Rodriguez grew up in Miami and, like many children, was heavily influenced by the music of his surroundings. Many kids absorbed the Cuban and Puerto Rican rhythms of south Florida’s communities. Others lapped up the strong Caribbean flavor running through the city. Still others took to Dade County’s burgeoning hip-hop and club scenes. In Rodriguez’s case, however, the music that moved him originated from an unlikely source: Jews. As a teenager in his father’s bands, Rodriguez played his fair share of Jewish weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. He became enamored with the sounds of Miami’s large Jewish population and eventually provided music for a local Yiddish theater. Over time, Rodriguez began to envision the union of Jewish folk aesthetics with the Cuban music of his ancestry.


Fast-forward a dozen or so years and John Zorn has finally allowed Rodriguez’s vision to become a reality—and we’re all better off for it. In February, Tzadik released Rodriguez’s brilliant soundtrack to The First Basket, a documentary film about the history of Jews in basketball. Featuring both traditional acoustic and modern electronic instrumentation, the soundtrack is a tasty stew of Sephardic melodies and Cuban rhythms filled with generous chunks klezmer, club, and blues. Then, last month Rodriguez did it again on Tzadik with the release of Timba Talmud, another exciting fusion of Jewish and Latin music. The album’s opening track, “La Hora,” a play on the traditional Jewish dance song, is a blistering, infectious jam. Rodriguez provides an astounding percussion foundation that makes you wonder if he has more than two hands. And his bandmates readily fall in line with excellent violin, bass, and horn lines. 


Tzadik is certainly no stranger to the fusion of traditional Jewish music with other genres. The label’s Radical Jewish Culture series has almost single-handedly revived/created an (secular) interest in traditional Jewish music (and not only among folk music aficionados, but with those in the jazz and rock worlds as well). Rodriguez certainly isn’t the first artist on the label to combine Jewish and Latin music. In 2007, David Buchbinder’s brilliant Odessa/Havana showed that klezmer melodies and Cuban rhythms were not mutually exclusive. And Zorn’s own Masada groups have merged countless styles and aesthetics. Tzadik’s experimental juggling of genres and styles has also seeped into the mainstream jazz world as a renewed interest in the melding of diverse styles can be seen far and wide.


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Tuesday, Jun 23, 2009

Where last week was a major drought, save for some stellar Americana from Ha Ha Tonka, this week is an embarrassment of riches. Even records that wind up being a disappointment like Mars Volta’s latest are still worth a listen or two. The week is packed with the sort of stuff that makes indie fans salivate (Sunset Rubdown, Dinosaur Jr., Tortoise), while still offering solid choices for middle of the road rock fans with new platters from Pete Yorn, the Gossip (digital only until October), the Lemonheads and Cheap Trick.


Dinosaur Jr. - Farm: J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph resurrected the original band line-up in 2007 for the critically acclaimed Beyond and they have stuck with it. Leaving the majors behind for a respected indie label, Jagjaguwar, the group continues their anthemic sound, underpinned by J Mascis’ guitar hero riffs.


The Mars Volta - Octahedron: The former members of At the Drive-In continue their prog rock explorations, albeit at a lower volume and slower pace. Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala have both labeled the album their “acoustic” effort that, while not entirely accurate, does hint at the intent here.


Tagged as: new cds
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