Torch Ballads & Jukebox Music

April 6, 2012

Becoming James Brown: On RJ Smith’s The One 3

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What Brown wanted to do was lay down a strutting, macho anthem marked by explosions of brass and a guitar that sounds like chrome wheels spinning. He hums a melody to the sax player and a bass line to the bassist. He thumps out a beat for the drummer. He watches a trumpet player struggle, fires him, then re-hires him moments later. And when the singer is ready, he screams out a set of lyrics scratched on a sheet of paper. The song is called “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”

February 2, 2012

Nevermind Nostalgia: Twenty Years After Nirvana 13

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Hearing that Nirvana’s Nevermind was 20 years old was kind of like seeing an old drinking buddy turn to Jesus in his autumn years. I was happy for him and everything, but I missed the old days when we shared the fortress of solitude.

January 30, 2012

Find Myself A City To Live In: Ed Sanders’ Fug You & Will Hermes’ Love Goes To Buildings On Fire 0

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Finding the entrance points to New York’s musical undergrounds has never been quite as simple as decoding MTA maps, though that’s usually the first step. Two excellent new books chart a decade-and-a-half worth of street-level detail, illuminating not only entrance points, but how they were willed into existence.

January 5, 2012

The Soundtrack of Our Books 16

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Publishers and authors have begun to experiment more with audio as a natural step in the promotion of their books. But recent trends suggest that readers are looking for even more direct ways to incorporate music into the reading experience.

May 24, 2011

Dylan at 70 3

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Lurking in everything Dylan has ever done, for better or worse, is the myth of America, its chameleon-like quality to be everything to everybody its greatest asset, permitting openness, not for the sake of change but because of its necessity. This is the history Dylan, who turns 70 years old today, has drawn from to create his own history.

December 29, 2010

Take This Waltz: Leonard Cohen’s Tour Comes to an End 10

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I have a hard time describing the concerts themselves. I can describe the external details, but the problem is that words fall flat when describing a religious experience.

November 30, 2010

Things Done Changed: Hip Hop and Literature 18

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The juxtaposition of traditional poetry and hip hop is spiky and uncomfortable, to say the least.

June 25, 2010

Why We Wu 6

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More than any other modern act—with the exceptions, perhaps, of Miles Davis and B.B. King—The Wu Tang Clan has laid claim to nearly every corner of its genre.

June 2, 2010

Headphone Elegies 5

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We’ve become not just curators of music but curators of connections, immersed in an aural landscape and a transporting, internal soundtrack.

May 11, 2010

The Weird Sisters: CocoRosie’s Grey Oceans 8

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CocoRosie’s mythology is equal parts Victorian childhood and modern Gothic. The freak folk/trip hop duo are innocents who know about the dark side, but still believe in angels, fairies, God, St. Nicholas, rainbows, unicorns, Armageddon. The sisters’ haunting, perverse lullabies tend to make lovers or haters of their listeners pretty quickly.