Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It's What You Play That Counts

I'm told that the August issue of Guitar Player magazine has an interview with Bernard and Phil of New Order (well Phil‘s sort of like the stock replacement guitar player who is filling in while Gillian is out of the band, but you get the idea). It’s an interesting interview that cuts to the meat of what I want to read in interviews with artists- the creative process. In particular, Bernard talks about writing and how "in the past we’ve had our fingers burnt" led to their current approach to producers. Here’s my condensed version of the interview:

BS: See, we write songs two ways. One way is me sitting in front of a computer with a guitar or a synth and constructing a track brick-by-brick. The other way is getting myself, Hookey [bassist Peter Hook], and our drummer Stephen together in a room and jamming. In that scenario, we would typically come up with three solid ideas, and then I would go off and write melodies and lyrics for those ideas. The problem with that way of working, however, was that when I left, the whole writing process came to a halt, because there wasn’t a guitarist around. But this time, when I left, Phil was there, and they could continue on.

Phil, you’ve worked with both Johnny Marr and Bernard. How different are their respective attitudes toward the instrument?
Cunningham: Totally different. Johnny is “Mr. Guitar.” You go to his studio, and he has books on the history of guitar, and a spare room full of every guitar you could possibly name. He’s obsessed with all things guitar. Bernard, on the other hand, has two guitars, and he uses them strictly as song generators.

Bernard, how would you describe your guitar style?
Sumner: I just try to keep what I do very basic, but I make sure that what I do is good basic. I’m not a virtuoso. For me, the guitar is simply a tool to make a track exciting because it’s a very punk instrument.

Yeah. I’m no more accomplished on the instrument than I was in 1979. I reached a level long ago where I was good enough to write songs, and I like to keep it that way. I’m not a big fan of virtuosity, because it’s not how you play that counts, it’s what you play—right? If you read a book, for instance, you don’t look at the typography, or how well laid out it is, you focus on the story. Also, I feel there’s something to be said for playing guitar with your brain, not just your hands. If you’re not amazingly articulate from practicing scales every day for five hours, there’s a certain crudeness to what you do. But you make up for that by using your imagination.

: Bernard doesn’t usually bring up the “me sitting in front of a computer” but equally interesting is the effect this may have had on NO’s song structures over the years. In most of the band’s songs the vocals are rarely central, and instead of the standard verse-chorus-verse approach many of their songs go back into further instrumental passages after the vocals wrap up and this might have come about from the Gillian days when she would add some extra melodic synth components while Bernard went off to write lyrics.

Oh, the NO “Singles’ album looks like it really is going to happen later this year. No word yet about a US release.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

More Homework?

Soulwax just announced a remix album of their recent material and since they employ the services of the finest remixers in the world I am interested. Besides, it's got their cover of Daft Punk's "Teachers" on it (I will always regret not asking Luke Slater, who I interviewed for a video show I was working on a few years ago, how it felt to be included on DP's list) so what's not to like about that?:

’Nite Versions’ features brand new interpretations of tracks inspired by and taken from the band’s last LP ’Any Minute Now’.

The songs have been expanded and extended to make them work on the 12” format – an idea following in the footsteps of Talking Heads, The Human League and New Order.

The full ’Nite Versions’ tracklisting is:

‘Miserable Girl’
‘E Talking’
‘Accidents And Compliments’
‘I Love Techno’
‘NY Lipps’
‘Another Excuse’

: I wonder if this is why The DFA's take on "NY Excuse" was pulled off itunes in the past couple of weeks. These disappearing songs on itunes are testing the limits of my already fragile hold on sanity.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

E Talking

Forging ahead into the future of 1999, just consider smaller labels have been doing the same thing with releases that are likely not profitable to press for some time, Warner Brothers just announced a new "e-label":
Warner chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr said: “Our most important job is to work with artists and help them hone their craft.”

Bronfman said that too many young artists were being dropped when their first albums did not sell enough copies.

He explained: “While the old system allowed an artist time to develop and grow, today's business is such that an initial commercial failure for most artists means they no longer get a second chance."

While I'm pleased that the majors are looking for new ways of funding artist development I am puzzled why it's "today's business" environment that is to blame. I remember reading articles in the late 90's in Rolling Stone and Spin about the major label's movement away from traditional artist development towards picking up bands that already had achieved local radio hits and other situations where they signed bands to release a specific song. It's not like the one hit wonders haven't always existed, but the music industry is foolish if they don't realize they own the lion's share of the blame for the commercial climate of the music business today.

I also read another article about the same announcement where they mentioned the bottom line response of big labels to government policies (like the recent Supreme Court ruling that allowed the Betamax doctrine to stand):
"We like government levies when they benefit us," Bronfman said. "I would like none of the legislators in France, for instance, to say they should no longer pay us a levy for all the blank CDs that are being sold, (though) it doesn't make up for the revenue that we're losing...If the government mandated filtering technologies, we'd be delighted."

: Remember, it’s their most important job to help artists…

Saturday, August 20, 2005


I knew things had been taken to the next level for Gwen Stefani’s solo career when a fifty-something co-worker exclaimed she loved that song when “Hollaback Girl” came on the radio a few days ago. Having just announced a second Bay Area arena show and a fourth single that is all over the airwaves could there be any doubt that Gwen Stefani posses a killer pop instincts? She was on to something when she began positioning herself as hip hop savvy new waver a couple of No Doubt albums ago when they hired Hype “Directed Every Hit Hip Hop Video For Five Years’ Williams to create the clip for “Ex-Girlfriend” and then she began moonlighting from the band to work on Eve’s big hit “Let Me Blow Ya Mind.” Now she’s cashing in with her genre-hopping album, and it’s not like she didn’t have a plan when her record company funded her working with top producers:

"I knew it was an easy, upbeat album, that even if you hated me you couldn't help but like some of the songs, because they were meant to be these addictive songs.
That was the goal, to make a record where picking the singles would be a big issue because every song could be a single."
The fourth single, Cool, has been chosen by Stefani to show the more laidback aspects of the record. She also wants her New Order pastiche, The Real Thing, to be a single.

: Of course the problem here is that releasing “The Real Thing” would end Stefani’s string of hit singles, so I don’t see it happening. Besides, both Andre 3000 tracks are better tracks with more radio potential. Stefani also spoke a bit about her follow up album that is expected before the years end:

She's compiling the best of the unreleased songs and has plans to release them as a companion album at Christmas. One song, Wonderful Life for Him, features Depeche Mode's Martin Gore on guitar. It's especially poignant, as the song was written about the first boy Stefani ever kissed, who has since died.
"He was a huge Depeche Mode fan," she says. "He actually turned me onto them. I was really into Madness. I was, like, 'Depeche Mode? That's electronic weirdo music'. My friend would not believe Martin Gore is playing on this song I wrote him."

: She’s been talking about that Gore song for over a year now (when she originally began promoting the album months before it was finished), and her story has tweaked a little bit. I recall her first talking about being into dance pop music, not Madness, before this old boyfriend. I’m sure she just got confused about her past after the hundreds on interviews she’s done. Something about the subject matter and how it didn’t make the first album’s cut tell me that it’s probably not the most upbeat and radio-friendly song.
What really impresses me is the order that Stefani has released the album’s single so far. I can’t think of another example of an album that released tracks #1-#4 as singles in the order they appear on the cd. The closest I can think of is New Order’s “Republic” did use the first four tracks, but changed the order up.
And it’s also worth mentioning that Stefani, while sticking with arena support standby’s Black Eye Peas for the first local arena show, is still taking chances. Somewhat controversial electro-dancehall-something star M.I.A. will be opening for Stefani later on her tour. Maybe she’s the person who decided to take The Faint to open large venues with No Doubt before most hipsters knew who The Faint was? That would be bananas.

Friday, August 19, 2005

You're My Greatest Hit

They disbanded three years ago and only managed to release two albums in their career, but Leftfield are putting out a greatest hits album:

’A Final Hit’ will feature their early hard-to-find 12” releases ’Not Forgotten’ and ’More Than I Know’ alongside their hits, including Open Up’ which features John Lydon.

Bandmember Neil Barnes said: “I had never sat down and listened to the music that spanned our career in this way before. The essence of Leftfield was to simply make exciting music, push back some boundaries, and to take creative steps forward. We had some great fun on the way.”

: This begs the question of whatever happened to the duo. I thought they both planned solo careers and my internet searching powers have come up empty on any information about what they are up to these days. In any case it's a shame there won't be new tracks on the compilation because the band did stay together another three years after their final album.

Then there’s the rumor that New Order are releasing another greatest hits album later this year. Not a good move. “Best Of?” felt a bit rushed given there were only two albums after “Substance” but it wasn’t a bad thing. I never picked up 2003‘s “International” which came out only one album after “Get Ready” and this new compilation would is following right on it’s heels. One would think this might drain some good will from fans looking forward to the possibility of a completely new album from NO next year (assuming the band have been truthful in this years interviews). Bah.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Electro Distortion

Side-Line just reviewed the new version of Miss Kittin's "I Com" which appears to package the US only "Mixing Me" EP with the original album, and their review highlights the problems of writing about minimal techno:
I’ve been seduced by the acid-groovy Abe Duque remix of “Requiem for a hit” and the groovy 80s dance “Original” version of “Soundtrack of now”.

: The big problem here is that both tracks mine the same acid techno sound, but the description would lead you to believe that "Soundtrack Of Now" somehow sounds more dated than the remix which just isn't the case. I addressed the same tracks in my own review of "Mixing Me" by attempting to avoid super broad generalizations like "80s" but even then I'm not sure I painted a strong enough picture of the music. Rock and pop critics have it so easy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Can't Fight

The official Pet Shop Boys site has been fairly quiet about their "Battleship Potemkin" soundtrack that is due out in early September, except in the US (where we still don't have 2003's "PopArt" collection). What they do mention is that the album is an EMI Classics and Parlophone co-release, and that a DVD version of the film with the soundtrack might be released in the future but they are currently having difficulty obtaining the rights (only slightly ironic given the film's celebration of Russia's communist roots). So far there has been no confirmation to outside reports that "No Time For Tears" will be getting a single release or really much of anything which leads me to believe that they have fairly low expectations for the release (well, what could you expect from a mostly instrumental soundtrack to a 1920's silent film).
However, the site is already pushing their next album:

Neil and Chris are currently working on a new batch of four songs for their next album with producer Trevor Horn, making a total of nine tracks. The latest four are described as "more electro--pop" than the first "epic" five Horn has produced. The Diane Warren composition, "Numb", originally recorded for the "PopArt" compilation and produced by Trevor Horn, will also feature on the new album to be released in Spring, 2006.

: Of course the new album should be fantastic given PSB's recent rebound with "Disco 3" and the new "PopArt" singles. Still Warren's involvement is puzzling. What's the woman who wrote "Because You Loved Me", "Un-Break My Heart" and "How Can We Be Lovers" doing with these people who's music I love? I think the answer lies in Leann Rimes who recorded Warren's "Can't Fight The Moonlight"* with Horn for the "Coyote Ugly" soundtrack.

Now for snippet of discussion taken from the Boys fan magazine "Literally" captured during their XFM session last year:

Waiting, they discuss whether there is any possibility that the film Love Actually could be worth seeing.
"I met someone who saw Love Actually yesterday who said it made them want to leave the cinema and hug someone."
"Oooh," says Chris. "Was this someone who also liked Dido?"
"I think it was," Neil concedes.

* Doing a bit of research I found that someone claiming to be Saint Etienne recorded a euro cover of "Can't Stop The Moonlight" a few years ago. I haven't been confirm it outside artistdirect apart from discogs (and it's on a different label than the rest of their material), so maybe they got it wrong this time...

Sunday, August 14, 2005

All You Do Is Talk Talk

Thanks to Live 105's "Coldplay Weekend" I had a chance to hear the much-debated-on-electronic-music-forums "Talk" several times. Essentially there was an odd amount of fuss a few months ago over the adopting the synth melody from Kraftwerk's "Computer World" into a repeated guitar solo in the Coldplay song. The amount of debate the song received surprised me considering the amount of sampling pioneered by Kraftwerk themselves (although usually in a modernist context as opposed to the post-modern referencing point that sampling is often used as today) and in the electronic scene in general. Regardless of whatever pointless controversy surrounds the song it is heartening to see how well the “Computer World” melody translates into an arena rock guitar line. If nothing else it speaks to the timelessness of Kraftwerk, and their continuing influence on so much of today’s music.

I found this at cute story at Contact Music regarding how Coldplay obtained permission to use the riff:

But he was only able to obtain the riff by writing to frontman RALF HUTTER and begging him to let Coldplay use it.

He admits, "The only thing I could think of was the pen pal letters I learnt in German lessons at school. I had no idea if they knew who Coldplay were so had to explain myself like a 15 year-old school-boy.

"Dear Ralf, I sing in a band called Coldplay, blah, blah. I drew a little picture. Everyone says it's extraordinary that they said yes.'

Compare clips: Kraftwerk, Coldplay

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Louder Than A Bomb

NME reports that Tiga has a new single out this October that is produced by Soulwax and features Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters on vocals. The song sounds highly promising because Tiga is fantastic (even if he does too many covers and not enough original material), SS's are one of my faves and Soulwax's "NY Excuse" is my anthem right now (yes, it's good enough for what I pay). Of course I also like the Tiga & Shear's previous collaboration, covering "Hot In Herre" and Tiga remix of "Comfortably Numb" is top notch as well. What I really hope is this signals that Tiga is finally releasing a proper (non-dj-mix) album. The guy's been at the edges of electro scene for years and just keeps teasing us with singles. It's time to shows us the goods Tiga.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Simply Berzerk

Stephan Groth, the man behind Apoptygma Berzerk has a history of changing up his musical styles at least a bit, but his new single has really thrown me for a loop. The last time we saw Apop they were headed out of a traditional ebm sound towards something with a synthpop vibe, and around the same time he also went somewhat electroclash with his Fairlight Children project (taking a cue from the Leeb/Fulber tradition of changing names when not creating specifically “scary” music). While I don’t dislike Groth, his music has never particularly appealed to me so I’ve dragged my feet in sampling something from his new album. What a surprise it was to hear the new rock direction he took with “In This Direction.” Not only does he sport some sort of tracksuit looking jacket in the video, but the music is like Stabbing Westward doing some sort of Bon Jovi/Van Halen cover. It just does not work musically because it, or anything else with a 80's pop metal vibe, just shouldn't and to make matters worse the video is annoying as well (with an ending that is definition of unclever).

Monday, August 08, 2005

Wrong Number

Having just changed their live lineup about a month before playing Live8, it looks as if The Cure have a new album on the way. NME recently spoke to Robert "Fat Bob" Smith at a festival in Spain where he revealed some details:

“We want to start recording in October/November and get it out by birthday next year, which I know is quite cheesy.”

Smith turns 47 on April 21 2006.

The star also revealed he intends to work with former Siouxsie And The Banshees colleague Steve Severin on new material.

Smith added: "I'm not sure though. We might kill each other!"

: If working with a Banshee wasn't excitement enough for you, then you have to see this bit of background from the NME story:

The band were thought to have split, but returned with an eponymous and critically acclaimed album in 2004, eight years after 1996’s ’Wild Mood Swings’.

: It appears "Bloodflowers" was never released. See what happens when you release an album without a song that is worth being a single.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Misguided Focus

If you've even flipped past cable news in the past few months you know the inappropriate amount of airtime a certain news story has received and how it has been:

twisting traditional notions of news judgment and becoming Exhibit A in the media's fascination with missing people - as long as they happen to be young, white, female and pretty.

: I was pleased to see a story examining the lack of actual news value of the coverage, and unhappy to hear that it appears to be catalyst for Greta Van Susteren's recent ratings victories. In the big picture Van Susteren's focus is completely misplaced:

With war and terrorism in the news, critics wonder how one missing person case can so dominate a news program. Even on the night President Bush nominated John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court, "On the Record" spent far more time on Holloway.

Her name came up 178 times during a computer search of "On the Record" transcripts from the past two months, only seven times for the same period on Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" on MSNBC. The count was 434 times for Fox's three prime-time news shows; 50 for CNN's.

: Now compare the number of people effected by this story with, say the London bombings which have changed speech laws in the UK and prompted random bad searches in the New York subway. Or consider the decades of influence that Roberts' could have if he reaches the Supreme Court. It's just mind boggling that involving one person could deserve so much attention given that no one watching will likely have any effect on the case since it's taken place in another country. The sad thing is that Van Susteren has nothing on Nancy Grace (who never met a person who wasn't guilty). TV news can be a scary place.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Special Cases

It’s official. Sinead O'Connor is leaving behind her most recent retirement, announced in 2003, to release something of a sequel to her cover album “Am I Not Your Girl?”:

Her new album, 'Throw Down Your Arms', will be released on October 3.

Recorded in two weeks, the record is made up of tracks which have “inspired Sinead in her life and work for the past fifteen years”.

Even though much of her music is outside of my immediate musical passions I’ve long considered Sinead to be one of Our Great Voices and it’s been a sad watching her once promising career sink into public indifference. Still I don’t know how much to expect from this new album because it seems to be mostly takes on reggae songs which isn’t something I would expect from Sinead, but I’m willing to give it a chance. At least it’s a move away from the unfortunate 90’s Celtic revival that she was lumped into (not that she’s directly to blame for Lord Of The Dance or Enya-mania but you get the idea).

Perhaps more promising is Sinead’s recently released collection of her Collaborations. My favorite material from her usually includes electronics, like “I Am Stretched On Your Grave”, and this album delivers tracks with Massive Attack, Jah Wobble‘s Invaders of the Heart, Conjure One, Bomb The Bass and Moby providing the music.