Monday, December 21, 2009

2009 - The Year the Music Died

About once a month I comb Amazon's bestseller lists (music and books) to look for new stuff.

Today's perusal ended in dismay over the state of the charts. Since Amazon represents only that company's sales (and I've noticed they are skewed towards web people's tastes), I hopped over to Billboard and ran the numbers on types of music selling (for the first 100).

Christmas - 25
Rock - 13
Country - 8
Hip-hop - 10
Pop - 21
Christian - 3
American Idol - 4
Dunno - 16

A solid fourth of the list is Christmas albums - old ones even. 8 of them are catalogue (meaning old) albums or greatest hits compilations - and that's not including the Christmas albums that are ancient. Even Christian albums are charting (most Christian music gives me the dry heaves, even though I am a Christian).

That many Christmas albums shouldn't even be charting if the industry were healthy, let alone a showing by Christian music at all.

Note that there are 16 albums I couldn't identify genre by sight. These days, my wife and daughters listen to a station that plays a mix of the old and the new, so I knew who Lady Gaga was before she started showing up nekkid everywhere. Yet, for almost a fifth of the albums, I've never heard of the artist.

So, I think the evidence is pretty solid. The music biz, and I knew it and loved it up until American Idol came on the air, is pretty much dead.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Music These Days

Gad, another month (or so) without a post. I sure know how to keep a blog lively, don't I?

Happed across this oddity: "The Beatles Never Broke Up"

The story is this guy passes out in the desert somewhere and is rescued by an inter-dimensional explorer who happens to come from a parallel world where the Beatles never broke up, so before the guy is dropped back in our dimension, he lifts a mixtape the traveler's college girlfriend made.


That (mildly clever) bullshit aside, the site has a free (and surely illegal) mashup of Beatles and Wings tunes. It's a cute diversion, and intriguing attempt to sound like what it claims to be. Frinstance, it changes the Wings song "Jet" to "Jen" and is edited just enough to sound like it's calling out "Jen" rather than "'jet".

TLD: This reminds me of a site I can no longer find (I have it on an archive but don't care to search for it now) that was ostensibly a blog (before they were known as blogs) about this woman who was dying in Alaska of some mysterious disease that gave her migraine headaches so profound she was unable to function or remember what she did when they hit. Oh, and her eyes would go completely red like a vampire, so she would often frighten children if she was out and about when one hit.

The other story-line was how much she loved to screw, and her fetish for guys who were kielbasa-sized - teeny peenies need not apply.

The weird mix of tragedy and erotica was, well just that: weird, and it was fun to guess if the author was a real person relating true events or someone just having a lark. I came down on the side of "lark" because the final two posts were made by her friend who found her out dead on the top of a mountain. Topless.

Since most women wouldn't put so much emphasis on the state of a dead friend's relative state of dress, or linger on that fact so pruriently, it tipped the scale for me. I also remember the new author waxing on about her vision of the woman's soul lifting up out of her body and looking down on her bare form, and noticing how beautiful she was, even in death.

It was interesting purple fiction when it was out there. More than a few newsgroups debated whether or not she was real.

I don't think there will be all that much debate on the alternate reality Beatles tape though. Pure boy bovine shite. Someone put a lot of work into it, though.

In the world of real music, I recently spun up the new Flaming Lips, Embryonic. Both myself and my eldest daughter, who love all the FL stuff we've heard so far (essentially the trilogy - Bulletin, Yoshimi, and War), were less than impressed. My daughter didn't even recognize it was the same band.

I heard snippets of stuff I liked, but not one whole song. I'll probably carve it up and place the interesting stuff between other Lips cuts on some future anthology, but I doubt I'll put it on again to listen on purpose.

You can never really know, but it felt like they had a lot of good half ideas, but just couldn't get any of them to gel into a couple of complete good tunes. Kinda like Abbey Road's second side - except the Beatles realized all they had were interesting partial songs and rather than try to make them stand alone, they mashed them into one big medley.

Still, I will check out all future Flaming Lips efforts. They're on my "always check it out" short list with Dwight Yoakam, Joe Jackson, Jeff Lynne, Rickie Lee Jones, U2, Everclear, Ween, Steve Miller, Elvis Costello, Maria McKee, Marshall Crenshaw, and Donald Fagen.

(Quickie: the brand-new Rickie Lee Jones is OK; fans should give it a spin.)

The album I've been putting back in the machine the most is Moby's latest, Wait for Me. It's one of those things he does best: a wall of oddly pleasant melancholia.

The melodies and chord progressions that bang around in that man's bald head can be some of the most beautiful you've ever heard. If there's such a thing as reincarnation (and I don't think there it, at least how most people think of it), Mozart is back, living in New York, and running a vegan restaurant. (And is a Christian to boot.)

The other thing I'm enjoying the hell out of is Cheap Trick's Sgt. Pepper Live, which is a performance of the whole album, in order (with a little help from the New York Philharmonic), plus parts of the medley from side 2 of Abbey Road as the playout.

Listening creates that sorta fun cognitive dissonance you get when hearing a really good mashup of two songs you know really well, but without the betrayal of not hearing what you expect. This is a band in top form, sonically in the same place they were on the fantastic At Budokan, playing an album anyone my age knows by heart. Somehow it rocks just a bit more than the original.

Here's something I found via Attu Sees All (google that and you'll find Attu's site - NSFW, though):

EMBED-Ballon Bass And Box Jam - Watch more free videos
You can bet I'll be annoying some folks at the next party with that particular contraption.

Finally, this must've missed my radar due to the sad fact that no one has really broadcast videos in a long time. Bjork continues to floor me with some of the visuals (and songs, of course) that she's dreamed up. This tops them all, though. Growing a ribbon dress out of your nipples? Wonder what gave her that particular nightmare. NSFW, btw, due to nipples.
Some Excitement

I've recently gotten a bang out of these:

2012 in which John Cusack stars in the end of the world where stuff blows up real good. Just a popcorn movie, but one that has actual suspense to offer (as long as no one you know has given up some spoilers). My wife, a tough critic, liked it too. Date movie!

Dan Brown's The Lost Seal, in which Tom Hanks, I mean Robert Langdon is drafted to solve another mystery where signs and portents are hidden in paintings, pyramids and preposterously placed body parts.

Lovers of well-written fiction often claim they can't get past Brown's prose, and this tome will prove no different. Even I, who has a high tolerance for clumsy prose (I cut my teeth on sci-fi after all), rolled my eyes as one more character was rolled out who happed to be rich, good-looking, ethical to a fault, and beloved by all. Even the bad guys are uber-dudes.

And, of course, if you are a believer of any religion, you'll find plenty to annoy you. If you're a practicing Roman Catholic - someone who's beyond the show-up-and-kneel-stand-kneel-pray-go-out-to-breakfast stage - you'll again want to slash Brown's tires. However, in a small shocker, he reveals that Langdon is a practicing Catholic.

But, the man knows how to write breathless, labyrinth adventures with a satisfying twist ending. The dual in the dark (you'll know what I mean when you get there) was especially clever.

Finally saw the musical Wicked.

As constant readers know (assuming I have any anymore given my near absence from posting lately), I rilly rilly don't like most musicals, so they start out in the hole with me and have to claw to level ground before they impress me.

I liked it a lot.

I wasn't expecting the plot to move along so peppily, but damn, every 15 minutes you're completely somewhere else than you were before - kinda like Fight Club. The climaxes brought the requisite goosebumps that good theatre can.

As I suspected, the plot was unique to the play and borrowed only incidental details from the turgid (and somewhat wretched) book, thus it was a great story. And it fit nicely enough into the plot of the movie we've all seen, which was a brilliant choice. The novel takes the stance that the "Oz we know" was a rosey mythological retelling that left a lot of the gory details out. The play occurs "inside" the movie and doesn't betray it.

Both the movie and this play transcend their original material to be so much better that similarities feel incidental. I find that really compelling. I can't think of another example where the derivation outshines the source, and more than once.

Some would say the new "Star Trek" reboot is an example of that, and I would kinda agree. But a lot of the thrill is seeing how the new version of the character references the old. You have to have seen the original to get the full effect, which is not the case with The Wizard of Oz and Wicked.

See it if you can.