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interviews

Top Albums of 2005

The“Best Records”list: It's“a sacred thing”in pop music fandom, says Jim, requiring a discerning ear and laser-like focus. Thankfully, our hosts are here to help. After sifting through hundreds of records, and countless days spent listening (perhaps to the discontent of their wives), they‘ve managed to pick out their absolute favorites. Here’s what Jim and Greg say they'll still be listening to in 2006.

Go to episode 2

Yoko Ono

This week Jim and Greg welcome music legend Yoko Ono. While many know her simply as John Lennon's widow, Yoko is also an accomplished artist in her own right. Since coming into the spotlight, Yoko has often been reviled her for her radical views and radical music (and for "breaking up the greatest pop group in the world"), but she recently found a new role as a heroine in the indie rock underground. A new generation of musicians who didn't grow up with the same kind of reverence for The Beatles have claimed Yoko as their own. This was especially evident at the Pitchfork Music Festival, where she headlined Saturday's show. Yoko not only played to an audience of thousands people — young and old — but she invited Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Cat Power's Chan Marshall on stage with her to perform.

Recently Yoko has been busy working on some new albums. The first is Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur, which features two discs of artists covering songs by John Lennon. She's also released a couple of disc of her own work. Yes, I'm a Witch is a collection of remixes of Yoko's songs by artists such as Peaches, Le Tigre and The Flaming Lips. This was followed by Open Your Box, a collection of dance remixes. The title is a testament to the artist's strong will. It stems from her song "I'm a Witch," which she was reluctant to officially release when she penned it years ago. She explains to Jim and Greg that it wasn‘t as acceptable at the time to come out with such strong lyrics. But, it’s much easier in 2007 to proclaim yourself a bitch.

John and Yoko both influenced each other's music greatly. Greg explains that Yoko's collaboration with her husband brought out the“beast”in him as a guitar player But, Greg wanted to know what Yoko first thought of John's“simple”pop songs considering how avant-garde her compositions were. Yoko explains that she actually found that approach quite refreshing. He helped her to understand how beautiful even the most simple, fun songs can be.

It would be unfair to categorize Yoko strictly as avant-garde. In addition to influencing John's undoubtedly mainstream music, she's also influenced contemporary bands like Cibo Matto and Deerhoof. Jim and Greg talk to the artist about hearing elements of the song "Why" in The B52s' pop hit "Rock Lobster." Yoko explains that she never looked at this as any kind of vindication, but that John actually found great joy in hearing "Rock Lobster" for the first time.

Go to episode 86
specials

Joy Division

In 1977 Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris formed the band Joy Division in Manchester, England. Now 30 years later, the music and the legend are as important as ever. Acclaimed video director and rock photographer Anton Corbijn just released his Joy Division feature film, Control. In addition, a number of albums and compilations are being reissued and a documentary is in the works. Jim and Greg took this opportunity to delve into the band's music and story.

So, why all the interest in a British band that lasted only three years and never even toured the States? Jim explains that Joy Division left a lasting musical influence that you can hear in dance-punk fusion bands like Interpol and LCD Soundsystem, as well as mainstream rock acts like The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins and U2. Also, because front man Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980, just one month prior to the release of "Love Will Tear Us Apart," the band's most successful single, the idea of Curtis and the band became almost as important as the music itself. The band was adopted by Goth youths and Curtis became romanticized as a tortured genius. Unfortunately while that propelled the band's name, it overshadowed what they were really about according to Jim and Greg.

The mythology surrounding Curtis‘ death isn’t the only thing that misrepresents Joy Division. Greg explains that the band's studio albums only showcase one side of the group's music. Producer Martin Hannett crafted the sound to enhance the band's dark, twisted image. On 1978's Unknown Pleasures and 1980's Closer, the songs were sparse and claustrophobic. But, as you can hear in live tracks like "Transmission," Joy Division was an aggressive, energetic band in concert. Their singles also present a more upbeat, dance-oriented sound. To get a full perspective on Joy Division, Greg recommends checking out the Closer reissue, as well as Substance, a collection of singles.

Go to episode 101

Remembering David Bowie

bowieremembered

Although passing away at the age of 69 seems early by today's standards, it's what music innovator David Bowie did with those 69 years that is significant. Bowie died after an 18-month battle with cancer on January 10th. He was responsible for creating magical personas, from Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane to the Thin White Duke. Bowie released more than two-dozen albums exploring the genres of glam rock, dance, electronic and even jazz. Along with many of his solo hits, he participated in many memorable duets alongside artists like Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and Queen. He earned a considerable amount of success in the art world and as an actor in films like Labyrinth and The Prestige. His freedom of expression in his music, art and sexuality opened people's minds and inspired countless artists. David left behind a son (filmmaker Duncan Jones), his wife of 24 years (the supermodel Iman) and their daughter Alexandria. In this show, Jim and Greg discuss David Bowie's legacy and offer highlights from his long career. Producers and long time Bowie collaborators Brian Eno and Tony Visconti also share their memories of the pop chameleon.

If you're still missing David Bowie, take a listen to our Spotify playlist, Sound Opinions' Salute to David Bowie.

Go to episode 529
reviews
FutureSex/LoveSoundsFutureSex/LoveSounds available on iTunes

Justin Timberlake FutureSex/LoveSounds

The final bit of news is the release of Justin Timberlake's second solo album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. The ex-teen heartthrob is all grown up and has aligned himself with producer Timbaland, as well as Rick Rubin and will.i.am, for a darker, more cutting-edge — and yes, sexier — sound than 'N Sync fans are used to. He's also launched an impressive live show that has the charismatic singer fronting an 11-piece band. It's just one of many adventurous moves that are impressing our hosts. Jim explains that with the exception of one bum track which tells the sad story of“a life ruined by meth addiction,”the diverse array of songs on FutureSex/LoveSounds all succeed. He gives it a Buy It rating. Greg agrees, explaining that the songs are fairly avant-garde and hook-less for a pop record. He does not think Timberlake is the best singer in the world, but he pulls off dance music as well as old-school soul. He also gives the album a Buy It. (By the way, Timberlake is not the only former Mouseketeer“dropping”a project this week. We want to extend hearty congratulations to his former girlfriend, Britney Spears, now the mom of two.)

JimGreg
Go to episode 42
Last NightPlay available on iTunes

Moby Play

Moby had one of the biggest selling albums of all time with 1999's Play, and now he's back with his eighth proper album Last Night. Jim and Greg describe the record as a one night tour of the New York underbelly. The music illustrates Moby's return to his disco roots, and as Greg discusses, the electronic artist really understands the drama in dance music, as well as the spirituality. He explains that between the beautiful melodies, emotion and beats, Last Night is a terrific album beginning to end. Jim has never been shy about being a Moby fan. He appreciates how the artist has never tried to be“cool”and how he has such an“old-school”appreciation of melody. As much as they hate to do it, both Jim and Greg agree and give Moby's new album a double Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 123
Tonight: Franz FerdinandTonight: Franz Ferdinand available on iTunes

Franz Ferdinand Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

Scottish indie rockers Franz Ferdinand have a new album out called Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. It's the third release for the New-New Wave band, and after a terrific debut, and a so-so follow-up, Jim and Greg were eager to see what the quartet had to offer. Greg hears a reconfiguration of their original sound. The dance element is more up front, making the rhythm section the most important one. Greg keeps waiting for lead singer Alex Kapranos to step up to the Bryan Ferry level, and until he does Greg gives Tonight: Franz Ferdinand a Try It. Jim doesn‘t think it’s fair to compare any mere mortal to Bryan Ferry and thinks Kapranos does a terrific job. He calls the group's routine“winning”and gives this album a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 164
I Am... Sasha FierceI Am...Sasha Fierce available on iTunes

Beyonce I Am...Sasha Fierce

Beyonce and her alter-ego have a new album out called I Am…Sasha Fierce. The album contains two discs, one comprised of ballads (the Beyonce side) and one comprised of funkier, up-tempo tracks (the Sasha Fierce side). Greg explains that Beyonce has reinvented being an R&B diva in the 21st century by putting the emphasis on songs. But, that's where this release falls through for him. The songs are not as strong, and he doesn't buy the Sasha Fierce attitude. For Greg this is a Trash It. Jim couldn‘t disagree more. He thought the ballad side had surprising range. Another pleasant surprise was Beyonce’s take on europop dance music. The second disc is full of great party tracks, and Jim recommends listeners Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 155
See Mystery LightsSee Mystery Lights available on iTunes

Yacht See Mystery Lights

DFA duo Yacht have a new album out this week called See Mystery Lights. Jona Bechtolt has been making music and art for a number of years now, but now he's partnered with vocalist Claire Evans, and Jim explains they are reaching their biggest audience to date. For both hosts, this is not undeserved. The electro-pop tracks really make you feel like you are floating in space, or are haunted by the paranormal. It's a perfect bridge of dance music and psychedelia, and both Jim and Greg give the record a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 195
They Want My SoulThey Want My Soul available on iTunes

Spoon They Want My Soul

Next to Yo La Tengo there isn't a longer-running, more reliable indie rock band in business today than Spoon. This year marks twenty years and eight albums for the band, which has had success on both independent and major labels, thanks to a signature sound that only seems to get tighter with each outing. Spoon's latest, They Want My Soul comes four years after the group's previous release and features the same economical and emotional music fans and critics have come to love, but with a subtle twist that Greg feels makes this album more fragile and beautiful than past records. Jim agrees… They Want My Soul is now his second most favorite Spoon album after 2007's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, and he's quick to point out this new album also makes a great dance record thanks to the rhythmic contributions of drummer Jim Eno. Eno's grooves opposite frontman Britt Daniel's vocals have always been the band's secret sauce, and it's still as good as ever. Both critics say They Want My Soul is a Buy It.

JimGreg
Go to episode 454
dijs

Greg

“Moody”ESG

This week it is Greg's turn to choose a song for the Desert Island Jukebox. He goes back to the late '70s and early '80s, the era when rock and dance music merged. This period has been referenced a lot during discussions of contemporary bands like Franz Ferdinand and LCD Soundsystem. For his pick, Greg goes to one of the sources—ESG. This South Bronx group made up of four sisters worked with Martin Hannett, best known as the producer of Joy Division. While not skilled musicians, the Scroggins Sisters had a unique sound that greatly influenced house and post-punk bands. Their track "UFO" is actually one of the most heavily sampled songs in music history. But for his DIJ, Greg chooses to play "Moody," which is both atmospheric and danceable. Listen for the conga solo by the sisters' friend Tito.

Go to episode 7
news

Music News

Traditionally the Grammy Awards honor commercial success more than critical. So it was refreshing to see Daft Punk take home so many prizes, including the two biggest: Album of the Year and Record of the Year. Jim and Greg were also pleased with the live performance featuring the French robots with Nile Rodgers, Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams, Omar Hakim and Nathan East (Usually the televised ceremony's odd couple pairings are nothing more than stunts). The last dance music album to win the top prize was Saturday Night Fever in 1979. Jim and Greg hope they don't have to wait another two decades for more EDM Grammy wins.

At 94, Pete Seeger lived long enough to know that his music inspired multiple generations. Greg describes him as a working-class advocate who delivered the news through song. And sometimes that news was met with controversy, as with his performance of "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, attempted unsuccessfully in 1967 and then again in 1968. Jim and Greg play a recorded version of that song in honor of Seeger, who died January 27 of natural causes.

Go to episode 427

Music News

Pioneering DJ and producer Frankie Knuckles passed away this week. Knuckles' musical legacy is arguably as important to dance music as Chuck Berry's is to rock or Kraftwerk's is to electronica. In the early 1980's, Knuckles helped cultivate House music's sound from the ashes of disco at a venue on Chicago's south side called The Warehouse. (Hence the name, House). The space was an oasis for misfits of all shapes, sizes, and colors to come together and celebrate being alive. As Knuckle's musical stature grew over the years performing at various clubs and remixing other artist's songs, he never lost his generous spirit. In a 2012 conversation with Jim and Greg at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Knuckles remarked that he‘d never regarded music as a competive sport.“Even though you have people on the dance floor, and people that come out and say this DJ is better than that one, I’ve never looked at it that way and I‘ve never let that influence me because I’m too busy having a good time and showing people a good time,”said Knuckles. He was 59 years old.

Go to episode 436
world tours

New Zealand

The Clean

Lorde is just the biggest name in a long line of important musicians coming out of New Zealand. So this week, Jim and Greg fire up the jet to take the Sound Opinions World Tour to the other side of the world. As a guide, they're joined by Wellington-based critic Nick Bollinger, host of The Sampler on Radio New Zealand and author of several books including the recent memoir Goneville.

They focus on an influential era in kiwi rock emerging in the early 1980s known as the Dunedin Sound that's closely associated with the legendary New Zealand indie label Flying Nun Records. Based around the southern university city Dunedin, the Flying Nun bands drew upon early psychedelia, American garage rock, and The Velvet Underground to create a distinctive jangly guitar-based sound, much of it released on lo-fi 4-track recordings. But while the key bands like The Clean, The Chills, and The Verlaines shared an aesthetic, Nick argues that their musical approaches actually were varied. By the late ‘80s and early ’90s, the Dunedin Sound had fully evolved to incorporate the shoegaze of Bailter Space and even the dance beats of Headless Chickens.

A key part of New Zealand's culture is its indigenous population. Maori, Samoan, and other indigenous groups make up nearly 20% of the population and have had a major impact on the island nation's pop music. Nick traces the history of Maori music from the Hendrix-esque guitar styling of The Human Instinct to the reggae boom of the '70s to the embrace of hip-hop. He also makes recommendations for great contemporary kiwi artists, including singer-songwriter Aldous Harding, power-poppers Kane Strang, electro-soul artist Electric Wire Hustle, and the eclectic producer Lord Echo.

Go to episode 605