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The Chills Silver Bullets
If you aren't familiar with The Chills, chances are you aren't entrenched in the New Zealand indie rock scene –not to mention this is first full-length album the group has put out in nearly two decades. The Chills are credited for popularizing the kiwi pop sound that emerged in New Zealand during the 1980s. It was a marked departure from the indie rock that was prevalent in the U.S. at the time and an original sound altogether. Greg was unsure what to expect from The Chills, as he hasn't heard a full-length album from them since 1996s Sunburnt. But he's happy to report singer/songwriter Martin Phillips is back. As a result of battling drug addiction and illness, Phillips‘ lyrics are dark and introspective. The album conveys a sense of urgency to appreciate life’s good things, and to Greg, Phillips sounds like a man renewed. Jim also likes the subtle touches of violin, timpani roll and chiming guitar. The song "America Says Hello" makes a political statement that is more direct than anything else Jim has heard from The Chills, so it's an enthusiastic Double Buy It for Silver Bullets.
Blur The Magic Whip
After a 12-year hiatus, English rock band Blur returns with its new album, The Magic Whip. Graham Coxon and Damon Albarn formed the group in 1989 where they gained success in the UK. While critics always embraced them, they never quite achieved commercial success in the U.S. outside of the track "Song 2." Greg likes the record and appreciates its honest lyrics and overall strength. He believes this effort is better than the members' solo work. The Magic Whip exceeded his expectations and he gives it a Buy It. Jim considers himself a Blur superfan. He argues that there are a few really great songs but the rest range from lukewarm to bad. Jim thinks Blur is starting to slow down a little but still gives the record a Buy It.
Jessie Ware Devotion
UK singer Jessie Ware has slowly been making her way stateside, first with buzz from tracks like "Wildest Moments" and then with a U.S. tour. Now her album Devotion is getting a proper American release with bonus tracks. Greg loves the shadow play of her vocals and chiming keyboards and hears a little reggae in the mix. But for him the key is restraint, with Jessie demonstrating that it's a choice, not a limitation. She can belt it when needed, but overall it's a beautiful, subtle record. Jim loves the new R&B palette and is excited by this trend that also includes The Weeknd and Rhye. Devotion gets a double Buy It.
Oscar Songs 2014
When it comes to movies, Jim and Greg defer to the Academy. But, when it comes to music, they aren't as casual. 2014 has been a banner year for pop music in the movies, with three of this year's Best Original Song nominees topping the charts. In fact, this kind of crossover hasn't happened since 1984, when all five nominees hit #1. First, there's Idina Menzel's ubiquitous "Let It Go," from the animated Disney hit Frozen. Written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez of Book of Mormon fame, it's a flashy show tune—the "Diane Warren power ballad" of Greg's nightmares—that fails to impress our hosts. Not so with "The Moon Song," from the film Her. Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who co-wrote the song with director Spike Jonze, has since released a duet with Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend. This quiet, intimate tune wins Jim's statuette, even if it's too low-key for the Academy.
Greg's giving his award to "Happy" from Despicable Me 2. While Mr. Kot admits to living under a rock when it comes to kids' movies, he considers Pharrell's single, with its layered vocals and handclaps, a pop masterpiece (despite the mediocre lyrics). Jim isn't as happy and thinks that Pharrell phoned this one in. Meanwhile, U2 took a break from ending world hunger to record a new song for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. While the film got little attention in the U.S., "Ordinary Love" has something else working in its favor: the media empire of Harvey Weinstein. His aggressive promotion already won the song a Golden Globe for Best Song, and could similarly sway the Academy…but not our hosts. Despite the noble subject, Jim and Greg just hear standard U2 flag-waving.
To cap off the show, Greg adds a track to the Desert Island Jukebox. Last week he played Nirvana's live version of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" This week he wants to highlight another great song from that Unplugged set: "Jesus (Don't) Want Me For a Sunbeam." It was written by the Scottish duo The Vaselines. The band has headed out on a new US tour and re-released their acclaimed 1992 album The Way of the Vaselines. Both are excellent opportunities to take another look at one of Greg, and Kurt's, all-time favorite songs.Go to episode 180
It seems like just yesterday that the British first invaded rock and roll. But, many early recordings by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who are so old they were about to fall into public domain. However, the European Union just extended that copyright law from 50 years to 70 years, giving record companies another two decades to collect big revenues. It's being called Cliff's Law after pop singer Cliff Richard, but other artists don't think the law will benefit them. Here in the U.S., copyright law allows for artists to reclaim ownership of their work after 35 years. So, many American musicians who made recordings in the 1970s, including Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Don Henley, are able to file claims. But the big four labels are heavily resisting, claiming that performers were mere employees doing“work for hire,”and thus have no rights.
In other news across the pond, U.K. culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has called on search engines, such as Google, to bar links to websites with pirated material. You expect these kind of restrictions in China, but not necessarily in England. Hunt has rejected suggestions that this is“an assault on the ‘freedom’ of the internet,”but for Google that's exactly what it is. They said they already work with copyright owners to remove infringing materials. So it looks like legislation is the next step.Go to episode 303
The music industry now has a powerful new ally in its long-running fight against illegal file sharing: your friendly neighborhood internet service provider. After years of on-and-off negotiation with the RIAA and MPAA, the major U.S. ISPs – AT&T, Verizon, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner – have voluntarily agreed to“police”users they suspect of downloading illegal material (or as the ISPs are spinning it,“educate”them). Illegal downloaders will receive a series of warnings before their internet connections are slowed to a crawl. U2 manager Paul McGuinness, an early advocate of ISPs taking on greater responsibility for online piracy, applauded the move. But Greg is wary. Now that ISPs have taken up the anti-piracy banner, will the U.S. government be next?
The music industry has yet another reason to celebrate. For the first time since 2004, music sales are up. (And sure, only by 1%, but still!) While sales by superstar acts like Adele and Eminem did their part, the real surprise was the spike in catalog sales. Seems people just can't seem to get enough of that Credence Clearwater Revival.Go to episode 294
This week MTV launched a new sister — or rather“hermana”— network called MTV Tr3s. The station, pronounced“MTV Tres,”is a bilingual music network aimed at Latino Americans aged 12-34. Considering that the Latino population in the U.S. is estimated to grow 62% by 2020, this is a smart business move. Jim and Greg hope that the opportunity to focus on new, cutting edge Rock en Español acts is not lost. A skim of the programming schedule shows that the MTV Tr3s will not be radically different from the flagship station. In addition to a Latino TRL, which will feature acts like Shakira, Mana and Pitbull, there is a version of "Pimp My Ride" entitled“Pimpeando,”and a version of "My Super Sweet 16" entitled“Quiero Mis Quinces.”Sound Opinions doesn't like to pre-judge, but we suspect that Rock en Español fans might be better off seeking music out on their own. Check out Jim and Greg's interview with Ernesto Lechner for suggestions.
In the latest installment of what Jim and Greg have dubbed the“Pot Calls the Kettle Black”series, Sting recently spoke out against the overly commercial pop music of artists like Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake. He says,“Today's music is not designed for me… For me singing is a spiritual journey. I'm devoutly musical.”This statement comes from a man who debuted his single, "Desert Rose," in a Jaguar commercial. Of course, Sting has absolutely NO commercial aims with his next project — a disc full of 16th century music performed on the lute. True music fans can check that out next month. In the meantime, we invite Sting and Bob Dylan and any other cranky old rocker to make an appointment with the Rock Doctors.
After 24 years, legendary rock group The Who are coming back with new material. Remaining members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry will release a new album, Endless Wire, in late October. The two recently launched a tour, along with Ringo's son Zak Starkey on drums and Pino Palledino on bass, and finally, they have new music to perform. Greg caught their Chicago show, and was impressed that after years of trying to recreate what they once were, the band finally understands what they are — a duo. The music focuses on the combination of their vocals, rather than a powerhouse, arena rock sound. Jim thinks that all of Townshend's other projects are a lot more interesting than the new Who material, however. The musician/opera composer is also a publisher and author. Of course, it wasn't any of these things that got Townshend in the headlines in the past few years.Go to episode 44
If you were one of the reportedly billion people who tuned into the Olympic opening ceremony this week, you might be surprised to learn that most of the heavy-hitting British artists who performed - Arctic Monkeys, Emeli Sand'e, Dizzee Rascal, and Sir Paul McCartney among them - were paid only 1 lb for their troubles. Universal Music Group on the other hand, is raking in the dough. Isles of Wonder, the official soundtrack of the opening ceremony, which Universal released, is charting in the top five albums in UK, France, Belgium, Spain, and the U.S.Go to episode 349
It all comes back to music, doesn't it? Even the great mystery of Stonehenge might have a link to song. According to U.S. scientist Steven Waller, the Neolithic builders of the British stone arrangement were inspired by“auditory illusions.”He proposes that when two identical instruments, such as ancient flutes, were played at the same time, the effect was magical and otherworldly. Perhaps, similar to this?
Move over Bill, President Obama is proving to be the politician with the biggest“X Factor”(sorry Singing Senators). First he sang Al Green at the Apollo. Now he's performing with B.B. King and Mick Jagger-and according to our critics, pretty darn well. So what's next for the executive crooner? Greg votes for some Eurythmics, while Jim anticipates the post-office rendition of "My Way."Go to episode 326
The news starts with Front Line Management's lawsuit against Axl Rose. Front Line's founder and chief executive is Irving Azoff, who is also executive chairman of Live Nation Entertainment, which merged with Ticketmaster last month. Jim and Greg discuss the impact of such a lawsuit on an artist. Considering the mega-corporation controls ticketing, venues and many other aspects of the industry, they may not be one to tangle with. Also, they note that the lawsuit is over a breach of "oral contract." Who agrees to an oral contract these days? Especially with Axl Rose!
Jim and Greg discuss the yet again delayed emergence of Spotify in the U.S. The Internet music service, introduced in 2008 by Daniel Ek, has become one of the most popular of its kind in Europe with 7 million users. But despite rumors that it would come to the States this summer, Ek is still having trouble navigating our thick legal system. He wants Spotify to be legitimate, and that means a lot of licensing fees. But once it does hit our soil, Greg predicts big success.
It hit about 80 degrees this week in Chicago, and while it may snow again next week, we've got our eye on the summer. Jim and Greg run down some of the biggest music festivals of the season. First up is Coachella this month, which will feature Jay-Z, LCD Soundsystem and Faith No More among others. The following month, music fans can travel to Washington for the Sasquatch Festival to see My Morning Jacket, Kid Cudi and Ween. In June Bonnaroo will host the Dave Matthews Band, Stevie Wonder and Weezer. Two of the biggest festivals are right here in our hometown: Pitchfork Music Festival, which will boast a Pavement reunion, and Lollapalooza, which Greg can nearly confirm will have headliners Lady Gaga, Green Day, and a reunited Soundgarden. But, Jim points out that not all of the best multi-act concerts are destination festivals. Lilith Fair is back this year as a traveling women-fueled act with Mary J. Blige, Cat Power and Kelly Clarkson.Go to episode 227
One of the highest profile court cases in the music industry has been going on for nearly a year and half, and finally we have a verdict. A federal jury in Los Angeles on deemed that Robin Thicke, TI and Pharrell Williams's 2013 hit "Blurred Lines" was indeed similar enough to Marvin Gaye 1977 song "Got To Give It Up" to award the Gaye estate $7.3 million. Greg notes that while it's a huge win for the Gaye estate and one that will impact future copyright decisions, there will surely be an appeal. Howard King, Thicke's attorney said, "We owe it to songwriters around the world to make sure this verdict doesn't stand."
Pioneering documentarian Albert Maysles died on March 6th. Maysles, and his brother David, made a huge contribution to the film world with their cinema verite works like Grey Gardens and 1964's What's Happening! The Beatles in the USA. But for music fans like Jim and Greg, Maysles made his biggest impact with the 1970 rock doc Gimme Shelter, which showed the Rolling Stones during their 1969 US tour and the tragic death during their concert at the Altamont speedway. Maysles was 88.Go to episode 485
The Beatles remasters were a big success story for Apple Corp. In one week they sold more than 600,000 albums in the U.S. and had 13 of the 14 best-selling catalog albums. So the question is, are they worth it? Jim and Greg give their answers. The sound is improved, but the packaging isn‘t much to write home about. And, as Jim says, how many new Beatles formats should fans be expected to buy? Greg thinks the real gems are the Fab Four’s mono mixes, but those are only available as a separate and pricey box set. Jim and Greg think fans deserve a little more for their money.
Two rock lawsuits are making the news. First, The Ellen DeGeneres Show is being sued by some of the largest record companies for copyright infringement. As viewers know, Ellen frequently and enthusiastically dances during the show. Unfortunately for her she doesn‘t like any fair-use beats. Instead she’s boogied down to over 1,000 copyrighted pop songs without permission. As Jim notes, the ironies abound: Ellen has not only hosted the recording industry's biggest award show, The Grammys, but she's been tapped as a new judge on American Idol, who works in partnership with Sony Music, one of the plaintiffs.
Next is an update on a lawsuit Jim and Greg discussed earlier this year. Guitar shredder Joe Satriani sued Coldplay for ripping off his composition If I Could Fly, in their track Viva La Vida. The suit has been dropped, and while no financial details have been revealed, Coldplay doesn't have to admit to any guilt.
Famed poet, spoken word artist and punk rocker Jim Carroll passed away last week at the age of 60. Carroll may be best known for his 1978 book The Basketball Diaries, which was adapted into a film of the same name. He was also very involved in the CBGB's punk scene of the 1970s, and under the encouragement of Patti Smith, transformed his poetry into music. To honor Carroll, Jim and Greg play People Who Died from his 1980 album Catholic Boy.Go to episode 199
Europe is really setting the stage for how the U.S. will approach digital music in the next couple of years, so Jim and Greg take a look at news coming out of that region. In France, the government plans to subsidize legal music downloading to encourage young consumers not to illegally get songs. This is going to cost the French government some $35 million. But, this might sound like a better option than the“three strikes”law to one French ISP. Free has declined to send out warning letters to its users. Over in Ireland the three strikes approach got struck down entirely. The big four labels were unable to convince an Irish court that laws to identify and cut off internet users should be enforceable in that country like others in the EU. And finally, one U.K. music executive offers another solution entirely: £1 records for all!
If you‘ll only spend a dollar to support a band, how much would you pay to stop them? $10 million? That’s how much a former Seattle fan of Weezer intended to raise as part of a campaign to get the Rivers Cuomo-fronted band to stop playing. Jim and Greg like this idea, but think Weezer might be the wrong target. Who would you pay to (not) play?Go to episode 256
North Carolina Congressman Melvin Watt has introduced a bill that promises to shake up the radio world. Known as the "Free Market Royalty Act," it would require broadcasters—online and offline alike—to compensate artists and labels whose music they play. (Under the current rules, only the songwriter and rights holder receive the royalties, and terrestrial radio stations get a free ride.) While artists have come out in support of the bill, The National Association of Broadcasters — the U.S. radio industry's lobbying arm—is making its opposition known, warning that this“performance tax”would burden already-struggling radio stations.
Over on the charts, a string of debuts took top slots. Drake's new album Nothing Was the Same exploded at number one, making it the second best-selling debut week for any artist in 2013 (topped only by Justin Timberlake). And, for the second week running, Miley Cyrus'“Wrecking Ball”is number one on Billboard's Hot 100… but is it really? In February, Billboard began including digital streaming in its tally for the Hot 100. So, Miley has YouTube to thank for her success.
In other weird charts news, the finale of AMC's smash hit Breaking Bad aired last week, and it closed with the forgotten Badfinger track "Baby Blue." Hours after the final credits rolled, 5,000 fans had purchased the 1972 song on iTunes, and its Spotify streams skyrocketed by 9,000%. Greg thought it was a good song choice, but Jim says that he would have preferred Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." (Hey, at least it wasn't as painful as The Sopranos farcical "Don‘t Stop Believin’."
Jim and Greg invite you to "Ask the Critic." This week they answer a question from Kevin, a 15-year-old fan from Chicago. Kevin seeks advice on starting a band. Jim and Greg tell him to play from the heart…never mind those stinkin' critics! Got a question for Jim and Greg? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888.859.1800.Go to episode 410
It has been an historic few weeks for aging rockers on the Billboard charts. First, at age 88, Tony Bennett broke his own record as the oldest living artist to have a #1 record with Cheek to Cheek, his duet with Lady Gaga. Then, we have diva Barbra Streisand with her own duet album Partners. The success of her latest endeavor makes her the only artist to have a #1 album in each of the past six decades.
Just when you thought concert tickets couldn't get more expensive, they just might. Independent concert and event promotion company, C3 Presents will reportedly sell 51% of the company to Live Nation. C3 is responsible for events like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits Music Festival. A collaboration with“Death Star”Live Nation would greatly increase that company's stake in the U.S. concert market and possibly lead to higher ticket prices for you the concertgoer.
Which designer has English indie pop band The xx in a fury? Hugo Boss recently used a song in its new ad campaign—one that sounds strikingly similar to "Intro" by The xx. The band is extremely unhappy, calling the song“a poorly designed fake.”Perhaps Hugo Boss should stick to designing clothes.Go to episode 463
- Rosie & the Originals, Angel Baby, Angel Baby (single), Highland, 1960
- Spoon, Hot Thoughts, Hot Thoughts, Matador, 2017
- Spoon, First Caress, Hot Thoughts, Matador, 2017
- Spoon, Us, Hot Thoughts, Matador, 2017
- The New Pornographers, Whiteout, Whiteout Conditions, Concord, 2017
- The New Pornographers, High Ticket, Whiteout Conditions, Concord, 2017
- The New Pornographers, Avalanche Alley, Whiteout Conditions, Concord, 2017
- Spoon, Shotgun, Hot Thoughts, Matador, 2017
- Mastodon, Steambreather, Emperor of Sand, Reprise, 2017
- Mastodon, Show Yourself, Emperor of Sand, Reprise, 2017
- Mastodon, Sultan's Curse, Emperor of Sand, Reprise, 2017
- Aimee Mann, Goose Snow Cone, Mental Illness, SuperEgo, 2017
- Aimee Mann, Simple Fix, Mental Illness, SuperEgo, 2017
- Aimee Mann, Stuck in the Past, Mental Illness, SuperEgo, 2017
- Aimee Mann, Patient Zero, Mental Illness, SuperEgo, 2017
- Honeyblood, Ready for the Magic, Babes Never Die, FatCat, 2016
- Honeyblood, Love is a Disease (Live on Sound Opinions), Babes Never Die, FatCat, 2016
- Honeyblood, Fall Forever, Honeyblood, FatCat, 2014
- Honeyblood, Babes Never Die (Live on Sound Opinions), Babes Never Die, FatCat, 2016
- Honeyblood, Sea Hearts (Live on Sound Opinions), Babes Never Die, FatCat, 2016
- The J. Geils Band, I Must Have Got Lost, I Must Have Got Lost, Atlantic, 1974
- Lupe Fiasco, Pick Up the Phone, Drogas Light, 1st & 15th, 2017
- Mavis Staples, Action, Livin' on a High Note, Anti-, 2016
- The Staple Singers, I'll Take You There, Be Altitude: Respect Yourself, Stax, 1972
- Mavis Staples, Love and Trust, Livin' on a High Note, Anti-, 2016 soundopinions.org Sound Opinions is a website
After stops in countries like South Africa, Japan, and Sweden, the Sound Opinions World Tour is trekking on. Jim and Greg hop over to Cuba, inspired by the historic changes in U.S.-Cuban relations announced recently by President Obama. Their guide to Cuba's influential rhythms is Ned Sublette, author of Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo. Ned tells us that Cuba has been alive with music ever since the sixteenth century. Drawing upon its unique ethnic history, Cuba developed a polyrhythmic style quite different from what emerged in North America. Innovative artists like Arsenio Rodríguez brought Cuban dance music into maturity during World War II. The unshakeable rhythms of the mambo, rumba, and cha-cha-chá filtered into the United States, particularly in the world of jazz – Dizzy Gillespie's collaborations with Chano Pozo changed music forever. Rock ‘n’ roll and the blues also adopted Afro-Cuban flavors. Even after Cuba's isolation following the 1959 revolution, the music never stopped, according to Ned. Nueva trova, for example, a movement led by singer-songwriters like Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés, began to fuse revolutionary politics and idealism with traditional song forms. Cuban rhythms also provided the basis for the global salsa phenomenon of the '70s. Today music in Cuba thrives in both traditional genres and in modern ones like reggaeton. Though he's not personally a fan of the hit 1997 Buena Vista Social Club album, Ned was happy to see North Americans reengage with Cuban artists. With the political changes underway, he expects to see an even more exciting cultural exchange between Cuban musicians and the rest of the world.Go to episode 482