3 Things the Grammys Got Right

Kendrick Lamar performs at the 58th annual Grammy Awards on Monday, Feb. 15, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
Kendrick Lamar performs at the 58th annual Grammy Awards on Monday, Feb. 15, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

Let’s be honest: of the four major award shows – the Emmy’s (TV), Grammys (Music), Oscars (Movies), and Tony’s (Theatre) – the Grammys is probably the worst and least representative of what is truly the best in its field. We’ve covered that plenty over the last five years but if anyone knows me, I like to focus on the positive. I’m a glass half-full type. That proved especially difficult with maddening snubs for Best Song, New Artist, and Album of the Year and just an overall boring broadcast. But I’ll do my best. So here are the three things the 2016 Grammy’s got right.

Hamilton gets its moment in the spotlight

Hamilton has been the biggest musical smash since Book of Mormon, and it rightfully crossed over from the Tony’s into the Grammy’s for a live performance and incredible rapped acceptance speech from creator and star Lin Manuel Miranda. It was a big wakeup from the first 1.5 hours of the awards show that was nothing but snoozy adult-contemporary singing.

Genre awards were largely correct

Whether it was Alabama Shakes winning Best Alternative album, Kendrick winning Best Rap Album, Chris Stapleton winning Best Country Album, or D’Angelo winning best R&B album, several great songs and albums actually won awards. In terms of sub-categories, this is probably the highest hit-rate a Grammy night has had in the last 10 years.

Kendrick getting awards two years after getting snubbed out for Macklemore

Two years after getting snubbed  for all the rap awards to white-rapper Macklemore, the Grammys do what the Grammys do best: make up for a previous wrong. Not completely, but at least in part. This has been done time and time again, and it usually happens with rock bands 30-40 years after their heyday, but fortunately, the Grammys actually got it right with Kendrick Lamar sweeping the rap categories. They certainly screwed up Album of the Year going with Taylor Swift over Kendrick, but that’s not a huge surprise (Speakerboxx/The Love Below by Outkast was the only time a rapper has won Best Album of the Year, and half of that album isn’t really hip hop at all).

Kendrick also delivered easily the best performance of the night, starting by pointing to the injustice towards Blacks in our prison system with “Blacker the Berry”, than going crazy with a huge bonfire and tribal dancers with the Grammy-award winning song “Alright”, and finally debuting a new song where Kendrick raps better and faster than anyone else. It was one of the few thrilling performances in a largely drowsy night.

3 Things the Grammys Got Right

The Brilliance of the Blue Jean Committee

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Perhaps no comedian has a better grasp on the music world than Fred Armisen, who was a drummer for Chicago indie-punk band Trenchmouth before becoming a weird comedy star on Saturday Night Live. Since SNL, Armisen has now become the drummer and bandleader for The Late Show with Seth Meyers, as well as one-half of the brilliant Portland spoof Portlandia.

Thus there might be no better person for  a music documentary spoof, and he and the amazing Bill Hader knock it out of the park in their new Documentary Now series, a new IFC TV series that spoofs classic documentaries. The last two in the series are on the Blue Jean Committee, Hader and Armisen’s made-up Cali soft-rock that’s based loosely on the Eagles. The two-part documentary is a quality spoof of The History of the Eagles, a 2013 Showtime documentary that famously cast band members Glenn Frey and Don Henley as complete jerkoffs. Hader and Armisen, as well as show executive producer Seth Meyers, pick up on the irony of such a gentle and soft band made up of a bunch of macho alpha-males that want to kill each other. That, in addition to Armisen’s complete takedown of classic music documentary clichés, is what makes the Gentle & Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee so hilarious.

Building on the macho men playing delicate music idea, the bandmembers Clark Honus (Hader) and Gene Allen (Armisen) are made into Chicago tough guys from sausage families that first tried Chicago blues, before deciding to opt for a SoCal soft-country sound. As cultural critic Chuck Klosterman says in the documentary, the Beach Boys sing about surfing and never surfed, so why can’t the Blue Jean Committee do the same with California.

In the documentary, the Blue Jean Committee has one breakthrough record in Catalina Breeze, which is really their Hotel California. Songs like “Mama, You’re a Dancer”, “Catalina Breeze”, and “Gentle & Soft” perfectly capture that corny California soft-rock sound. The documentary also includes other AM radio giants that Armisen and Hader are spoofing talking about the fake band, including Kenny Loggins of Loggins and Messina, Michael McDonald of Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, and Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates.

Blue Jean Committee is quickly becoming a reality as well, as the two performed on Late Night with Seth Meyers, and put out Catalina Breeze on Drag City Records. While there have been plenty of spoof bands, this is the best take I’ve heard on that cheesy 70’s rock sound, so definitely check out the Documentary Now episodes  (currently on IFC.com to watch and will be coming to Netflix soon) as well as the music itself. It’s rock parody at its best.

The Brilliance of the Blue Jean Committee

Annual Music Podcast Power Rankings

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I last visited the world of music podcasts in 2013 when, admittedly, I had a much harder time coming up with five music-related podcasts worth listening to. Since Serial came out and seriously raised awareness of podcasts, there has been a tremendous increase in podcasts in general. So much like TV, there is now the problem that there are not enough hours in the day to listen to good, worthwhile podcasts. So here are the best five music podcasts that I would wholeheartedly recommend.
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Annual Music Podcast Power Rankings

Apple Music: The Death Knell for Downloadable Music

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Once fat and healthy, the internet in the 21st century has thrown the music industry for a loop time and time again, putting musicians and the industry that produces them in a serious identity crisis as to where the money comes from. With the invention of the iPod and eventually the iPhone, downloadable music in MP3 format became the new form, and CDs went the way of the cassette tape. Vinyl strangely came back into vogue as a counter-cultural music fan move to the digital revolution. Throughout the whole age of digital music, file sharing through Napster, then Limewire, then BitTorrent and any number of other file sharing programs made music easily accessible for free. Finally, streaming came about from outlets like Rdio, Pandora, and Spotify to make music as easily accessible, though it does require some data usage, paying the artists at least something for the music, a fraction of a penny for each listen.

Apple’s entrance into the streaming service world, Apple Music, marks the beginning of the end for downloadable music. Apple, who owns the world’s largest music download store in iTunes, has stopped caring about iTunes and instead has thrown all their eggs in the Apple Music basket. The day Apple Music launched, it became extremely difficult to even find iTunes, or a price on an individual album. Instead, everything became focused on getting you to try the streaming service.

With the ability to listen offline, Apple Music completely blurs the lines between your purchased downloads and music you find in streaming. When you are under “My Music” on your iPhone or iPad, all your selected music, whether downloaded or just streamed, looks the same. Thus, Apple is playing a role in changing people’s understanding of your music. It’s no longer what you own, but it’s what you listen to.  All music is available to snatch up and be listened to in the instance of a quick search.

With Beats 1 Radio, Apple also offers an alternate to Satellite (Sirus XM) and Terrestrial (AM/FM) Radio, for people that prefer someone else to curate their listening for them. Already, Beats 1 is off to a great start, with mixtapes/radio hours from tons of influential artists, including Dr. Dre, Elton John, and St. Vincent. Apple is making sure there is a curated option for every music fan under the sun.

St. Vincent is one of many new DJs for Beats 1 Radio
St. Vincent is one of many new DJs for Beats 1 Radio

Some bugs remain, that will keep Apple Music from becoming a complete no-brainer. For example, there is no easy way, beyond a syncing workaround, to get your music that’s not on Apple Music (say a local artist or an album that hasn’t released is not yet on iTunes) on your device. You can essentially turn Apple Music off, get it added, and then turn it back on, but this is a time-consuming affair. There are plenty of other little kinks Apple still has to work out, but I’m guessing a few software updates later, Apple music will be pretty much all you want it to be.

My prediction is by the end of 2016, streaming and vinyl will be the two largest sources of revenue for consuming music. Yes, those are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum, but vinyl still scratches the itch of audiophiles who love the tangible aspect of a record and listening intentionally an album at a time. Streaming speaks to our sense of wanting everything now, on-the-go, and for the lowest price possible, only $9.99 a month. It will be interesting how artists survive this new form, but it could be more exposure for artists, and getting some money (if just pennies) from people who may have been downloaded their records illegally through file-sharing before, is a small step up. The music industry continues to be in the wilderness.

Apple Music: The Death Knell for Downloadable Music

Songs of Summer ’15 Walk-Off

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Every year, a song defines the summer: it’s at every wedding, every beach party, and every festival you attend. You simply can’t escape it, but usually its such a perfect song you don’t mind hearing it again and again. Pharrell owned the last two summers, with last year’s giddy-gospel “Happy”, and in 2013, singing the hook on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and producing Robin Thicke’s rapey yet infectious “Blurred Lines”. In 2012, it was the sneaky great “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen, and in 2011, it was LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem”, which is still inescapable at weddings everywhere.

With Zoolander 2 coming our way at the end of the year, how else could we settle the 2015 Song of Summer than a walk-off? Here we go, with the five leading candidates for song of summer.

Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen”

Dance Move: Bounce, bounce, bounce. Trap music is the flavor of the day, and on “Trap Queen”, Fetty Wap captures what people love about the ramped-up rap form in a catchy little package.

Drawback: Being the flavor of the day has its setbacks. I’m not sure we’ll be coming back to “Trap Queen” years from now, but I could be wrong.

Tame Impala – “Let It Happen”

Dance Move: Do the time warp. The psychedelic elecro-pop ride of “Let It Happen” warps space and time for the good of the dancefloor, throwing you through new sound portals left and right.

Drawback: Run time. At 8 minutes, “Let It Happen” is a little long in the tooth for most summer dance parties.

Major Lazer and DJ Snake featuring MØ – “Lean On”

Dance Move: The globe trot. “Lean On” combines two of today’s biggest hit makers, Diplo of dancehall project Major Lazer and DJ Snake, with the ear worm vocals of young Danish pop star MØ to make a global dance hit.

Drawback: Repetition. For as much as the song’s repetitive nature makes it instantly catchy, it also makes it get a little old.

Jamie xx – “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”

Dance Move: The gold digger. Channeling the old soul sample magic that Kanye West mastered in the middle of his career, British master-producer Jamie xx makes an instant party hit that speaks to modern music tastes (with the rap stylings of Young Thug and Popcaan) with the strength of a timeless sample from the Persuasions “Good Times”.

Drawback: A face. Anytime there isn’t a main hook singer or artist for a song, it makes it a little harder for the song to catch fire, and Jamie xx is no forward-facing superstar; just an extremely wily producer and DJ.

The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face”

Dance Move: The moonwalk. Anytime you can channel the King of Pop, you do it. Canada’s Abel Tesfaye, better known as the Weeknd, has always sounded like Michael Jackson stuck in an echo chamber, but “Can’t Feel My Face” finally finds him with the hit worthy of his talent.

Drawback: Is it too much like MJ? Nah.

———————–

Your walk-off winner:

I’ll let summer movie superstar Tom Cruise do the honors:

The Weeknd it is!

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Songs of Summer ’15 Walk-Off

Bonnaroo 2015 Recap In Full

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I’mmmm bacckkkkk! This is Riley Johnson, fellow friend and festival attender of LxL’s Wes, Austin, and Todd. After I attend Bonnaroo, and as is now tradition here at LxL,  I like to quickly recap the experience with a full 1-sentence review of each act I was able to see over the wonderful weekend (Todd filled in on any I might have missed that he happen to catch as well).

Last year, I had my Bonnaroo wristband purchased, my line-up all planned out, and my baby powder and chaffing cream packed away! Sadly, life got in the way and I was unable to make the trip to the farm. However, 2015 brought a new day and I jet-setted back from California to hoof it down to Manchester, Tennessee with some of my best friends. Bonnaroo was not top heavy this year, but it definitely was one of the best festivals I have seen from start to finish. There was a consistent flow of quality, weirdness, and crunk to keep you on your toes. You won’t get my favorite or my worst, but you will get a beautiful little one sentence take on every act I saw over the 4-day brain freeze known as Bonnaroo:
Continue reading “Bonnaroo 2015 Recap In Full”

Bonnaroo 2015 Recap In Full

Metavari Q&A

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Last fall, we spoke with Metavari, the ambient four-piece band from Fort Wayne, at Pinestock Music Festival (which has turned into one of the best fests in the midwest). We talked about their live show, new album Moonless, one of my favorite albums in this young 2015, and reuniting as a new band with the same name. Moonless is out today on their independent label Vital Shores.

 

LxL: So you guys are releasing Moonless on your own?

Nate Utesch, Metavari: Basically. 6 months ago I started working at a record label (Secretly Canadian/Dead Oceans/Jagjaguwar Jagjaguwar), so working with my boss, we started our own label to put it out. It will have international digital distribution, really limited American record store distribution, but it’s a lot more than we would normally do. And we have copyrights and publishing for everything. Unless something crazy happens, we are going to keep putting out our own music. And nowadays there are so many bands doing that.

LxL: That way you are getting most of the pie?

M: Totally. Also, with doing it on our own we will have more control for radio. Also since I do all of our design, I can design all our press kits and stuff. It’s really DIY. It may be a control thing, but we like having control over our distribution.

LxL: More and more, there is a huge benefit to that.

M: We will have lots of ways to be able to see where we are doing well. We will be able to see if Spokane is selling a lot, or if there is a radio station that is playing it a lot, that would help design where a tour should be. Right now, it’s more like throwing darts at a wall. It should help guide where we tour.

LxL: I did an interview with the NoiseTrade guys, and a big part of their model, is with the free downloads, you get the emails and zipcodes, and with that data, it tells you where you should be touring. In a lot of situations, bands were very surprised by the results, and had no idea they had 500 fans in Nashville.

M: We have one fan in Hawaii, so we should definitely go there.

LxL: (Laughing) Are you guys going to have videos for the new live show?

M: Yes we just finished all new video for all the new songs, lights, everything is new but done. We have been playing demos for a year and a half, and now we just scrapped all the demos and are learning how to play all the songs on the record. This is really just our second time even playing those (at Pinestock).

LxL: Where do you guys get the footage?

M: This time around, we just hunted and scoured for people doing analog experiments and then are asking permission to use it. From people doing macro lense liquid light shows that are very bizarre looking, and we found a guy doing analog VHS tricks in the 80’s, stuff like starfades. We just take the footage and bring it into Ableton and edit it to the songs so that it’s in sync.

LxL: Did that take a lot of time?

M: Yes (laughing). One of the songs, during our album photo shoot, a guy took video of the girl that is on the cover, and we meshed that to video sound effects, so we have some video that clearly goes with our album.

LxL: What originally inspired you to do video with your show?

M: That’s a good question. There are so many bands grew up that we liked that did it.

LxL: You guys definitely sounded similar to bands that did video as well like Sigur Ros and Album Leaf.

M: Yea definitely, and I think that was a big part of it. We were doing music that sounded a lot more like that, and then that became a substantive part of who we are. It definitely still is a gimmick, but it’s not as gimimicky as it used to be. We have also found more of an identity with the videos we choose, to figure out a vibe in the video that fits us.

LxL: How is this record different than your  other stuff?

M: Honestly, it really sounds like Metavari broke up and we all happened to start a new band with each other, and we couldn’t think of any names, so we just called it Metavari. It’s not really like post-rock or instrumental. It’s electronic and closer to pop music.

LxL: It really reminds me of Air and Mew.

M: I could see that.

LxL: Where did you get the vocal samples for Moonless.

M: All the singing on the album are us, except for one is Chelsea from Beat Connection from Seattle. They are too cool for us, but she somehow agreed to do it. I am friends with her in the design world. I publish an illustration magazine, and she is in a coming issue, and that’s how we met, so when we found out she was in Beat Connection, we decided we should be more than friends.

LxL: What were you guys listening to when making the record?

M: So much Phil Collins. I love Phil Collins. I bought a really old engineering book that Hugh Padgham had a whole lot of chapters in and he talked about the gate on Phil’s toms, and we spent a whole lot of time trying to get that right. I probably shouldn’t say that, because when you listen to that, it probably sounds like hell.

LxL: If you were to tell people to listen to Moonless doing one activity, what would it be?

M: Contemplating suicide? (laughing) Probably driving. Even the records that didn’t sound like that, we wanted all our records to sound like good driving records.

LxL: What’s your problem with the moon (in regards to the album title)?

M: It’s deeper than it needs to be. It’s the idea of removing something important, and then thinking about what life would be like. We had a really shitty years  as humans. And we wanted to make music that showed removing something important, and something that defines you, and then think about how your life is different and writing about it. The moon in Moonless is a wife in one track, but could be an aspect of spirituality in another track, or friendship in another track. I’m making it sound more cheesy than it is, but that was the underlying concept. So it’s pretty dark at times.

LxL: Well obviously if you took the moon out of it it would be pretty dark.

M: (laughing) There is one song where it’s this really corny story about the moon disappearing, and Japan flooding, and this girl on her computer in the midst of it. It’s all around loss.

Watch the Moonless trailer below:

 

 

Metavari Q&A