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2009 Music Lists

Friday, January 1, 2010

Listomania: Top Hip-Hop Picks For 2009

Posted By on Fri, Jan 1, 2010 at 10:11 PM

While year-end, catch-all wrap-ups are common to every musical genre, in no other style of music do they turn into the hand-wringing, "state of the game" examinations that hip-hop seems to provoke. (I've certainly written a few.) We worry because we care, of course. But at some point, like a thirty-something parent, those of us who are fans should probably acknowledge that the kid is all right.

After all, this isn't 1989, when our ten-year-old was about to dazzle us with a new golden age but we couldn't see it yet because he was still just a kid. It isn't 1999, when we worried that our twenty-year-old was running with the wrong crowd, post-Tupac and Biggie. The more we fuss, the more we fret that every crap album or crass trend is going to be the death of our baby, the more ammo we give to those who'd like to believe in just such an eventuality. (Don't think there are any left? Visit a chat board near you.)

Overall, the past twelve months have been fairly quiet ones in the hip-hop world. (When the year's probable big story involves Kanye's VMA faux pas, that's telling.) A number of hip-hop titans attempted comebacks, some of them successful and a couple of them listed below. However, while the music was sometimes inspiring, even the triumphs rang a little hollow. To be a star in 2009, in a post-downloads-destroyed-the-music-industry era, just doesn't seem to carry the same cachet as it once did. And, of course, the balkanization of the music world continues apace; with ready access to almost anything, the idea of shared culture seems paradoxically to recede.

Nevertheless, the kid is all right. In fact, he's not a kid anymore. He's a thirty-year-old adult who, we can rest assured, will be around long after we're gone. Here are ten reasons -- not related or thematically coherent reasons, perhaps, but good ones just the same -- why.

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Antipop Consortium
Fluorescent Black
(Big Dada)

There were certainly bigger names who re-entered the fray in 2009, but perhaps no comeback was as welcome as this reunion of hip-hop's authentic punk-rockers. Having extended the middle digit to convention in numerous prior instances, Beans, M. Sayyid, High Priest and Earl Blaize did on Fluorescent Black what all great artists do: They found a way to make their art accessible without losing their sense of adventure. So if 'Volcano" sounded like the left-field hit that the group's 2002 single "Ghost Lawns" never quite became, you could flip to the rawer-than-raw freestyle "Dragunov" and the orchestral techno of "Timpani" for reminders that APC can still be as AP as it needs to be.

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Listomania: Top Latin Music Picks For 2009

Posted By on Fri, Jan 1, 2010 at 12:05 PM

It's been a year of surprises in Latin music. Reggaetón continues fading, albeit slowly, and the industry's mainstays aren't garnering the attention they used to. Case in point: Don Omar's summer release iDon (no relation to your phone), which remained quiet after its first single, "Virtual Diva." Some big names continue to survive and thrive: Daddy Yankee powered through with Talento de Barrio, and Tito el Bambino had a strong year with his everlasting single, "El Amor." But overall, the genre seems to be shifting toward the amorous style from Panama characterized by last year's breakout, Flex.

Meanwhile, Latin pop is alive and well, this year thanks to solid efforts from big names like Paulina Rubio, Luis Fonsi and Shakira -- even pop diva Nelly Furtado, who navigated a successful crossover. But perhaps the most interesting trend is the apparent rise of indie alternative acts -- groups from small labels with huge potential and sounds too varied and diverse to easily classify. We're witnessing the growth of a subgenre once limited to rock en español and populated solely by a few established artists.


Hello Seahorse!
  • Hello Seahorse!


Hello Seahorse!
Bestia
(Nacional)

Can we call this a dark-horse victory? After all, few people would have expected this Mexican trio to land on a year's-best list, let alone in the top slot. One listen, though, and whether you're a lover of Latin alternative or just a music lover in general, you'll find Bestia absolutely captivating. Lisa Loeb look-alike Lo Blondo's ethereal vocals and the lush musical landscapes that her bandmates Oro de Neta and Bonnz! conjure are damned likely to entrance you. You could think Yeah Yeah Yeahs, though the XX might actually be a better comparison.

Da'Zoo
Da'Zoo
(Sony Music Latin)

This Puerto Rican foursome drew a lot of well-deserved hype over the summer, thanks to the second single off their debut album, "Excuse Me." Blending electronica with pop and urban sounds -- not unlike the Peas -- Da'Zoo's freshman offering features up-tempo and very, very danceable songs with plenty of humor in the lyrics.


Manu Chao
Baionarena
(Nacional)

Putting a live album on a list like this almost feels like cheating. For one thing, live albums are always chock-full of an artist's most beloved songs, and with discs like Esperanza, Radio Bemba and last year's Radiolina, this Parisian-born citizen of the world's got a lot to throw at a crowd. And nowhere does Manu Chao shine as brightly as he does on stage. Baionarena translates that vibe to disc -- well, minus the hazy ambience. And you can always add the haze yourself.

Cucu Diamantes
CUCULAND
(Fun Machine)

Fans of Yerba Buena are no strangers to this glammed-up chanteuse, and although this is Cucu's solo project, Yerba co-founder and producer extraordinaire Andres Levin lent his chops, as did Yotuel of Orishas. The result is a modern take on cabaret with urban and alternative flavors, along with Cucu's unmistakable Cuban vocal stylings.

Los Amigos Invisibles
Comercial
(Nacional)

It's been fourteen years since the Amigos' 1995 debut, and contrary to what the title of their latest album implies, the group remains as dedicated as ever to their initial mission of being Venezuelan anti-heroes in a scene dominated by rock and salsa. Of course, that scene has expanded considerably as the band has gone global, and the influences that converge on this record seem as far-flung as ever. The outcome? Latin-funk-house with incisive wit.


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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Listomania: Top Metal Picks For 2009

Posted By on Wed, Dec 30, 2009 at 5:04 PM

This year was such a good one for heavy music, I wound up having to cheat when putting this list together. I just couldn't settle on ten albums that kicked my ass the hardest in 2009; there were dozens of candidates. The best I could do was fourteen, so each of my top four slots are ties.

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Mastodon

Crack the Skye
(Reprise)

Baroness

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Blue Record
(Relapse)

2009 was Georgia's year. Atlanta-based Mastodon released a prog-metal epic that holds its own with the most ambitious hard rock of the '70s, combining lyrics that told the most bizarre, convoluted story (it involves astral traveling, the Russian monk Rasputin and more) since Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The music was brilliant, too -- less assaultive than earlier efforts, but just as awesome. No wonder they played the whole album on tour this year. Meanwhile, their friends in Savannah's Baroness issued a sophomore full-length that displayed a rare combination of ambition and restraint, building on the successes of 2007's Red Album without feeling pressured to go as prog as Mastodon, or get heavier for heaviness's sake. Blue Record is unashamedly beautiful.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Listomania: Top Southern Rap Picks For 2009

Posted By on Tue, Dec 29, 2009 at 2:56 PM

Yeah, it stirred the Yankees to the World Series championship, but was there a more boring album this year than Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3? Perhaps it was a geographic thing; with a few exceptions like Raekwon and Kid Cudi, most of 2009's exciting, innovative rap records came from Southern artists. Sure, many are filthy, grimy and didn't get major-label releases -- note the preponderance of mixtapes below -- but there's little doubt that hip-hop is still whistling Dixie. Here are the year's best Southern rap albums.

Gucci Mane
Murder Was the Case

(Big Cat)

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Gucci was 2009's most divisive MC, inspiring both superlative praise and histrionic disgust from fans and critics alike. He was also its most prolific, seemingly spending every free minute recording -- when he wasn't in the can. Though he cranked out countless mixtapes and even a major-label album, unauthorized studio disc Murder Was the Case stood out. Culled mainly from older material, it features thick, ecstatic beats from Atlanta producer Zaytoven and showcases Gucci at his slurring, dazzling best.

Bobby Ray
B.o.B. vs. Bobby Ray

(Mixtape)

Atlanta MC B.o.B. was gangsta rap's next big thing, a tremendous talent who plays live instruments, produces and rhymes with equal aplomb. So of course the 21-year-old abruptly changed his moniker to Bobby Ray and began penning introspective songs. This oft-hilarious mixtape pits the two alter egos against each other. With DJ Don Cannon and DJ Green Lantern at the helm, it's a substantial appetizer for his major-label debut next year.

Lil Boosie & Hurricane Chris
Category 7: A Bad Azz Hurricane

(Mixtape)

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Who would have thought two Louisianans not from New Orleans would make the state's best music this year? Category 7 showcases Shreveport's Hurricane Chris and Baton Rogue's Lil Boosie's debauched chemistry. Both thrive on the same type of tinny, low-budget country-rap beats, and unlike Boosie's pandering, unadventurous studio album, SuperBad: The Return of Boosie Bad Azz, this mixtape features them at their most explosive and silly. It's not always poetry -- Chris's description of two "bad bitches" who "got naked while I watched Austin Powers" comes to mind -- but it's never boring.

UGK
UGK 4 Life

(Jive)

Mostly recorded before Pimp C's syrup-related death in late 2007, UGK's probable swan song is a compelling testament to Pimp's skills, despite barely acknowledging his passing. There was never much room for downcast introspection in the duo's songs, anyway, and so it's probably for the best that the record focuses on what Pimp and Bun B always did best: rhyme about their whips and their dicks.

Z-Ro
Cocaine

(Rap-A-Lot)

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With Z-Ro's long-awaited album Heroin delayed, Cocaine ended up as the appropriately named followup to 2008's Crack. Though Cocaine was originally intended to be a mixtape put out by little-known producer DJ Drama Queen, it more than holds its own as a proper album. Full of swirling, cinematic beats from Z-Ro himself, it's the latest from a melodic-flowing MC who still hasn't quite gotten his due.


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Monday, December 28, 2009

Logan's Jog: Portable Audio From the Dystopian Future

Posted By on Mon, Dec 28, 2009 at 6:52 PM

It will fall to future generations to grasp how truly shitty the Oughts were. They won't believe it at first. They'll say, "You mean to tell me Mel Gibson didn't specially build New Orleans as a place to film Biblical tales?" Or, "If the emoticon wasn't the 43rd president, then who was?" Or, "I thought Russell Brand was one of those Borat-type characters, no?"

But there's one thing we can all celebrate about the past decade: the iPod. In a moment of Fitzgerald-ish whimsy, we're even tempted to sum up these sleekly-designed years of tinny resonance by calling them the iPod Age. Which is why it pains us to tell you this golden era of portable audio is nearing its end and, in the coming ten years, personal stereos will take a nightmarish turn. Sure, the sound quality will improve. The treble will shimmer. The bass will rumble. You'll be able to discretely hear Benny's foot, keeping time throughout "Knowing Me, Knowing You". But at what price?

The Mp3-D

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Just as the mp3's popularity begins to wane, Phillips introduces the mp3-d, the digital audio format which adds a holographic image only the listener can see. It's a boon for major labels. That is, until "3-D R. Kelly" breaks free from the video realm and sublets the duplex next door. Music sales plummet as 3-D R. Kelly's lack of lawn care skills keeps the nation on edge for days.

Pros: Lightweight; good value; hallucinatory.

Cons: Headphones are of poor quality; "3-D R. Kelly" is a surprisingly quiet and respectful neighbor, which only unnerves you more.

The Genius

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This is the smartest personal stereo ever. In fact, The Genius is so clever that when you first see it at Best Buy you feel a little intimidated and pass on it. So many functions, so few buttons. But within months, The Genius infiltrates your life. First, it gets an entry-level position in your office. Next, it makes fast friends with your foodie spouse by feigning a passion for Mediterranean cuisine. By the time you find yourself up at 4:30 a.m., driving The Genius to the airport, you realize you've been duped--because data-entry clerks don't have summer homes in Corsica (and people fresh out of law school don't come with touch screens). But the audio quality is so high and the storage space so vast, you decide to let it go.

Pros: An excellent dinner guest.

Cons: A little pedantic about the pronunciation of those Ethiopian musicians you claim to love.

The iTodd

This Apple product comes in two styles: the first, the iTodd Classic, is a robot that looks like a dashing, '70s-era Todd Rundgren and sings from his large repertoire of alternate versions of "Hello It's Me". The second model, the iTodd Blotto, does everything the original does. But only as prelude to a sloppy threesome with the actual Todd Rundgren. Plus instant messaging.

Pros: Instant messaging.

Cons: Instant massaging.

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The Deliberator

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Inspired by social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, Sony introduces a portable device that allows all registered users to listen in on each others' lives, recording the best parts for a super surveillance mash-up laying bare the popularity of chipotle.

Pros: Great audio performance ...

Cons: ... if by "audio" you mean incessant smacking at your ex's dinner table.

The MaxiDisc

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The decades-long trend toward increasingly smaller players is reversed by upstart electronics company Nekonokoi, who introduce the MaxiDisc, a luxurious audio format eight feet in diameter which fits in a twelve foot-tall off-road device the listener rides like a Hummer.

Pros: Decent hook-per-gallon rate.

Cons: Owning one is a sure sign you're the problem -- not the solution -- in several Jared Diamond books worth of civilization-wide pitfalls.

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Listomania: Top Americana Picks For 2009

Posted By on Mon, Dec 28, 2009 at 4:43 PM

We spent 2009 sorting through piles of folk and Americana releases, revising this list in our heads till the bitter end and failing repeatedly to understand the hype behind the Avett Brothers in the process. While a year of listening brought no shortage of pleasant surprises, our hands-down favorite release of the year was still an album of classic Willie Nelson tunes. Go figure.

Phosphorescent
To Willie

(Dead Oceans)

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It's rare that a tribute album approaches the quality of the source material, rarer still when thesource is Willie Nelson. Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck proves himself a master stylist on To Willie, however, probing the depths of the Red Headed Stranger's catalogue and breathing new life into classic songs like "Walkin'" and "The Party's Over." In the case of "Reasons to Quit" and Houck's beautiful space-gospel treatment of "Can I Sleep in Your Arms," it's safe to say he even one-upped the originals. No wonder Willie himself invited the band to play Farm Aid and join him for a little puff-puff-pass on the Honeysuckle Rose.

Alela Diane
To Be Still

(Rough Trade)

Singer-songwriter Alela Diane may share a lot of history with her fellow freak-folk brethren (she and Joanna Newsom attended the same Nevada City, California, high school), but she's far more of a classicist than most of her peers, preferring to wrap her gorgeous mountain alto around simple, tightly written Appalachian folk tunes rather than dabble in proggy and more pretentious British variations. The mournful "White as Diamonds" may well be the prettiest song of the year, and it says a lot that the other ten tracks here aren't far behind.

The Low Anthem
Oh My God, Charlie Darwin

(Nonesuch)

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The Low Anthem casts a wide net on the reissued Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, incorporatingsinging bowl, pump organ and some lovely clarinet on songs that split the difference between Tom Waits-style barkers ("The Horizon Is a Beltway"), Leonard Cohen-esque ballads ("Ticket Taker") and quiet, falsetto hymns ("Charlie Darwin"). With a voice that can go from a gravelly bark to a dove-like coo in the space of a few songs, lead singer Ben Knox Miller has us looking forward to whatever he and his talented comrades do in the future.


Justin Townes Earle
Midnight at the Movies

(Bloodshot)

It's hard to believe, but Justin Townes Earle may have shown up his famous dad this year, outdoing Steve's somewhat predictable Townes Van Zandt tribute with this subtle gem of a country record, which owes more to the ghosts of the Grand Ole Opry than anything on Copperhead Road. Songs like "Poor Fool" and the devastating "Mama's Eyes" ("I am my father's son/I've never known when to shut up") sound classic enough to be cribbed from the Hank Williams songbook, while at the same time maintaining the contemporary sophistication of songwriters like Guy Clark. The fact that he finds the honky-tonk in a Replacements tune ("Can't Hardly Wait") is just icing on the cake.

Great Lake Swimmers
Lost Channels

(Nettwerk)

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Great Lake Swimmers frontman Tony Dekker has written his fair share of heartbreaking,reverb-soaked ballads in the past, but Lost Channels finds him and his band also dabbling in Waterboys-style folk rock. What results is the Swimmers' most varied and accessible recording to date, with "Palmistry" and "She Comes to Me in Dreams" upping the tempos ever so slightly between obligatory Dekker tearjerkers like "Concrete Heart."


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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Eight (One-Hit) Wonders of The Bay Area

Posted By on Tue, Dec 22, 2009 at 9:00 AM

One-hit wonders are often maligned in music, but the truth is it's pretty hard and pretty remarkable to achieve success on the pop charts. As we slowly wrap up December's reflections into music history, behold the eight most awesome one-hit wonders that the Bay Area has produced:

8. The Greg Kihn Band

"Jeopardy" was a number-two hit in 1982, a tune so large it attracted the attention of satirist Weird Al Yankovic. Though his "I Lost on Jeopardy" barely cracked the top 100 on the pop charts, it's sadly remembered more readily than Kihn's breezy, feelgood original.

7. Third Eye Blind

With its vengeful, post-breakup blame-game whine, 1997's "Semi-Charmed Life" sailed to number four. The taste for bitterness turned out to be fleeting, for 3EB has never duplicated the feat, even four albums later (including one new record that came out this year).

6. Chris Isaak

Good thing Isaak indulged his topless model fantasies in the video for his 1990 number six hit "Wicked Game." It would be the last time he got so much, um, exposure.

5. The Tubes

Fee Waybill and the gang reached number 10 with "She's a Beauty" in 1981. But even a jaunty, carnival-themed video in heavy rotation was not enough to land the Tubes back at the top.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Top 10 Onstage Gaffes of 2009

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2009 at 8:41 AM

We'll admit there's more than a little schadenfreude going on in this list of the best onstage gaffes of 2009. But why else would Al Gore have invented YouTube if not to feed our obsessive need to see celebrities get taken down a peg? Here with, our favorite of the year's music-related missteps, caught on tape.

Tony set punishes Brett Michaels for Rock of Love via decapitation


Why Poison was performing at the Tonys in the first place is still a mystery to me, but the band's performance wound up bringing more heat to the show than if Neil Patrick Harris had tongued Liza Minnelli, thanks to a falling set piece that wound up knocking Michaels down, leaving him with a broken nose and a split lip.

Steven Tyler still livin' on--and fallin' off--the edge

At a show in South Dakota, AP video captures Aerosmith's Steven Tyler having a seizure playing DDR hopscotching dancing, before an ill-conceived spin move sends him careening off the stage.

"Im'ma let you finish"

Im'ma let Kanye dig his own grave (fast forward to :44).


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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eight Great Foodies from the Bay Area Music Scene

Posted By on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 8:30 AM

DJ Pam the Funkstress: Cajun food queen
  • DJ Pam the Funkstress: Cajun food queen

The Bay Area's devotion to its homegrown music and food is steadfast. The culinary creativity here is as infectious as our sonic imagination, so it should come as little surprise that there is a crossover between the two local scenes. But did you know that DJs are whipping up cupcakes and burritos, and guitarists are serving up their personal brands of margaritas and champagne?

Behold our picks for eight local artists who rock kitchens and vineyards as easily as they do concert stages and DJ booths:

8. Boz Scaggs
Along with his legendary singing and songwriting career (that includes six Top 20 hits), Scaggs is well known for supporting live music in San Francisco: He owns Slim's and the Great American Music Hall. He's also the former owner of Marina bar/restaurant Blue Light Cafe and is now cultivating a new passion with his Scaggs Vineyard in Napa.

7. Sammy Hagar
The loud rocker runs a quiet food and spirits empire from his home base in Mill Valley. He sold 80 percent of his Cabo Wabo tequila company to Italy's Gruppo Campari for $80 million, and partnered with Gruppo subsidiary Skyy Vodka (of S.F.) for marketing. He is also the former owner of S.F.'s Tres Agaves restaurant and tequila lounge--he bowed out of that one in 2007. Thankfully, his more lowbrow and touristy Cabo Wabo Cantinas are nowhere near here.

6. DJ Hubert Keller

While Keller is principally a chef and restaurateur (Fleur de Lys

and the newly opened Burger Bar in Macy's Union Square), it seems that his heart is truly

found on the dance floor as DJ Hubert Keller, pumping out tunes that fuel the European

tropics. The Top Chef Masters contestant drops the Balearic beats of Ibiza by way of one-off parties at night spots such as San Francisco's Bambuddha Lounge and at the occasional culinary event.

5. DJ Rajah

Chef, culinary instructor, and DJ Roger Feely of Soul Cocina deftly blends the musical and edible diaspora, sourcing beats and ingredients from all continents. Find him on the streets of San Francisco, as part of the current wave of gourmet food carts.


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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dingoes Ate My Baby? Top Five Fake TV Bands

Posted By on Thu, Oct 8, 2009 at 10:44 AM

The fake band is a staple of narrative television. You know the episode: the kids get together, write a bitchin' song, suddenly know how to play instruments, enter a contest they are sure to win, and then end up fighting when their egos grow to large. Inevitably, they fail, even though success seemed so sure. Everyone learns a lesson about being humble and kind, and the band is never spoken of again. It is completely forgotten that the cheerleader once knew how to wale on the drums. Or some variation thereof. Here are some of the best examples of this trope. And by best, we mean worst.

Full House, Jesse and the Rippers


Three adult men all decide to be roommates and raise one of the dude's kids together. Only in San Francisco! And of course, one of those dudes was the adorable Elvis-loving, motorcycle riding Uncle Jesse, who hung out with the Beach Boys and combed his hair a lot. And had a band. Said band was called Jesse and the Rippers. Jesse and the Rippers had a music video, which consisted of Uncle Jesse rolling around in a bed with his shirt off, standing behind a window with his shirt off, and creepy shots of the character's twin babies blinking into the camera. Watching this as an adult I realize that this is basically Mom Porn. Your kids love the TGIF lineup and you haven't watched the news in six years? Here you go, Mom. Here is John Stamos, shirtless.


My So-Called Life, Frozen Embyos

The intense and pathetic nature of Angela Chase's lust for the idiotic and insensitive (but really hot) Jordan Catalano was one of the most relate-able things about teen drama My So-Called Life. Jordan was in a band called Frozen Embryos with the legendary Tino, who never appeared on screen but always knew where the party was. In a memorable scene, Angela gets invited to band practice, where Jordan warbles out a treacly balled about someone named "Red" who cheers up his otherwise dreary existence. (It's hard to be really hot and really illiterate.) Angela thinks it's about her. It's not. It's about Jordan's car. Because horny teenage boys are really into singing love songs about their cars.

 

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    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"