Category Archives: Music

My favorite music of the decade

The 2000s were a great time to be a music fan. The “heavenly jukebox” became a reality as iTunes, post-Napster file-sharing, AllofMP3.com (briefly), Rhapsody, Lala, imeem, Pandora, Hype Machine, music blogs, and dozens of other sites and programs enabled us to access pretty much any song ever made, often for cheap or free.

Having the world’s music library available to anyone with an Internet connection made competitive notions like airplay, shelf space, and cover shoots a bit less important; attention became somewhat less of a zero-sum game. This allowed a sort of post-critical music culture to take hold, where notions of taste and guilty pleasures gave way to … well, at least to questions of whether taste and guilty pleasures had any meaning anymore.

The popularity of Pitchfork suggests that the more widely shared answer is “No, as long as your non-guilty-pleasure guilty pleasures are the right ones.” Inside my own head, the answer has been a more definitive no — so much so that I seem to have lost interest in one of my former life goals/dreams: being a music critic.

In that spirit, I wanted to share my favorite music of the decade. Not “the best” or “the most important” music of the decade; you can read any number of lists that will tell you why Kid A, Stankonia, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Merriweather Post Pavilion, et al were decade-representative and influential and great.

I don’t necessarily disagree; I respect or quite like Kid A, Stankonia, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Animal Collective does nothing for me, though). But respecting Radiohead’s artistic experimentation and growth doesn’t mean I ever think, “Hey, I know what would be fun to listen to now! Thom Yorke’s processed voice going ‘Nnninnn innnn onnnn ninnnnninnn mmnnnnn … Yesterday I woke up sucking on le-mone’ while a brooding synthesizer cascades behind him and the rest of the band chats about Chekhov in the other room.”

I’m increasingly convinced that the way we hear, appreciate, and respond to music is highly idiosyncratic, even biological. Here, then, is my highly idiosyncratic list of favorite albums and songs of the decade. Some of them I like because a note or chord change triggers an endorphin rush for me; some have interesting lyrics or structures; some I probably like because other people liked them; most of them I can’t properly explain why I like them.

And yes, a silly Darkness Christmas song really is my favorite song of the decade.

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Why Sony’s iTunes competitor will fail – and how they could (but won’t) make it work

Back when the Playstation 3 was in the works, I wrote a lot about Sony’s misguided strategy for the console. My doomsday scenarios haven’t come true, but the company is definitely struggling — losses are projected at $674 million this year after $2.6 billion in losses last year, according to BusinessWeek. (“The two worst-performing products: TVs and video games.”)

So it’s great to see Sony has more dynamite ideas up its corporate sleeve. Like building an iTunes-like service. Because everyone knows consumers are looking for yet another site where they can pay to download movies/shows, music, and books!

Surely Sony has some secret sauce that’ll make this service stand out from the zillions of other similar services, both living and dead. Take it away, BusinessWeek:

Sony will try to differentiate its service from iTunes. One example: Users will be able to upload videos shot on camcorders, save photos taken with digital cameras, and post other digital content to their personal online accounts. … At some point down the road, Sony would consider letting independent software developers create applications for the service, much the way Apple does for its iPhone.

[Slaps forehead as crickets chirp.]

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The best Michael Jackson tributes, appreciations, and responses

One mark of Michael Jackson’s cultural impact is the strain his death put on the Internet. Another is the number of appreciations, tributes, and responses that have been written about him in the past three days (and the range of people writing those pieces). Here’s a roundup of the best I’ve read so far.

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The implications of an all-online entertainment future

Great post by Kevin Kelly on why the future of entertainment (and more!) will involve renting rather than owning, but having access to anything at any time.

This is key: “The chief holdup to full-scale conversion from ownership to omni-access is the issue of modification and control. In traditional property regimes only owners have the right to modify or control the use of the property. The right of modification is not transferred in rental, leasing, or licensing agreements.”

We have yet to deal with the legal (and cultural) ramifications of an entertainment world where everything is pure information rather than a physical object, and where you pay to access the information but not to own it. Those ramifications deserve an article or book of their own.

The greatest ‘band’ in the world

Here is a stunning performance by the world-famous Pete X, featuring (in this configuration): A “drummer” who only sometimes can get through Rock Band songs on the Hard setting; an inexplicably shirtless lawyer; a disco ball; a tambourine-less backup singer; and one bona-fide guitar hero.

Mostly we just did this to see if Prince’s people would send a takedown notice.

UPDATE: Drumroll please…

Dear jskorr,

This is to notify you that we have removed or disabled access to the following material as a result of a notification by The Publisher claiming that this material is infringing:

Pete X – Purple Rain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tp71CqKcgaE

Please Note: Accounts determined to be repeat infringers may be terminated. To avoid this, please delete any videos to which you do not own the rights, and refrain from uploading infringing videos. For more information, please visit our Copyright Tips guide.

If you believe this claim was made in error, or that you are otherwise authorized to use the content at issue, you may file a counter notice. Information about this process is here.

Please note that under Section 512(f) of the Copyright Act, any person who knowingly materially misrepresents that material or activity was removed or disabled by mistake or misidentification may be subject to liability.

Sincerely,
The YouTube Content Identification Team

Best paragraph of the week: Chuck Klosterman on ‘Chinese Democracy’

From Chuck Klosterman’s great review of the new Axl Rose and Friends* album (I’m adding a paragraph break for easier reading):

But it’s actually better that Slash is not on this album. What’s cool about Chinese Democracy is that it truly does sound like a new enterprise, and I can’t imagine that being the case if Slash were dictating the sonic feel of every riff. The GNR members Rose misses more are Izzy Stradlin (who effortlessly wrote or co-wrote many of the band’s most memorable tunes) and Duff McKagan, the underappreciated bassist who made Appetite For Destruction so devastating.

Because McKagan worked in numerous Seattle-based bands before joining Guns N’ Roses, he became the de facto arranger for many of those pre-Appetite tracks, and his philosophy was always to take the path of least resistance. He pushed the songs in whatever direction felt most organic. But Rose is the complete opposite. He takes the path of most resistance. Sometimes it seems like Axl believes every single Guns N’ Roses song needs to employ every single thing that Guns N’ Roses has the capacity to do—there needs to be a soft part, a hard part, a falsetto stretch, some piano plinking, some R&B bullshit, a little Judas Priest, subhuman sound effects, a few Robert Plant yowls, dolphin squeaks, wind, overt sentimentality, and a caustic modernization of the blues. When he’s able to temporarily balance those qualities (which happens on the title track and on “I.R.S.,” the album’s two strongest rock cuts), it’s sprawling and entertaining and profoundly impressive.

Runner-up:

Throughout Chinese Democracy, the most compelling question is never, “What was Axl doing here?” but “What did Axl think he was doing here?” … On the aforementioned “Sorry,” Rose suddenly sings an otherwise innocuous line (“But I don’t want to do it”) in some bizarre, quasi-Transylvanian accent, and I cannot begin to speculate as to why. I mean, one has to assume Axl thought about all of these individual choices a minimum of a thousand times over the past 15 years. Somewhere in Los Angles, there’s gotta be 400 hours of DAT tape with nothing on it except multiple versions of the “Sorry” vocal. So why is this the one we finally hear? What finally made him decide, “You know, I’ve weighed all my options and all their potential consequences, and I’m going with the Mexican vampire accent. This is the vision I will embrace. But only on that one line! The rest of it will just be sung like a non-dead human.”

* Remember, Chinese Democrasy is NOT a Guns N’ Roses album.

What is that thing on Beyonce’s hand?

Saturday Night Live had one of its stronger episodes of the season this weekend — further proof that Paul Rudd makes anything awesome. But forget the comedy (and Justin Timberlake’s awesome cameos).

What the heck is Beyonce wearing in her new video (and live performances, apparently) of Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)? It’s some kind of silvery metal glove-claw. You can get pretty good glimpses of it at :45 to :50 and 1:50 to 2:00 in the video:

cm-capture-1

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