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The Upsetter

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Jack White Could Learn About Lady Gaga and "Authenticity"

Posted By on Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 3:30 AM

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Like a euphemism for cunnilingus, the authenticity debate has returned to pop music. Which is to say, it never really left, but was badly in need of a new spin. And Jack White has obliged us. Sort of.

Last week White spoke to Esquire UK about Lady Gaga, among other things. "I don't think she lives it because it's all artifice," the former White Stripe said of the former Stefani Gernamotta's studied outrageousness. "It's all image with no meaning behind it. You can't sink your teeth into it. It's a sound bite. It's very of this age, because that's what people want. They want a Twitter line, a jpeg, an MP3."

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why Love Songs Often Let Us Down

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 4:00 AM

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I heard a love song today. Of course I did: you and I heard lots of love songs today. They stalked us every place we went. The difference between this love song and the dozen others that chased me around the city is it said something new to me. If you paid attention to the love songs you were dealt today, then you know this was no mean feat.

This didn't used to be so remarkable. There was a time when pop music seemed to provide a running commentary on my sentimental education. But it only does so rarely nowadays. Why?

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Place Where Music Takes Us

Posted By on Tue, Nov 20, 2012 at 3:30 AM

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Each of us knows what we're escaping from. That's the easy part. But when we listen to music, where do we escape to?

This question came to mind recently when I was trying to recommend music to a friend. "I want something loud and physical, something I can feel," she said. After whiffing on my first two suggestions, it occurred to me what she was really looking for was an escape route from her reality.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How Feedback Became the Coolest Sound in Rock

Posted By on Tue, Nov 13, 2012 at 3:30 AM

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Kerrraaang! came the sound from behind my wall, in my older brother's bedroom. It was his first weekend home from college and he'd returned to our small Indiana town with new toys: a CD player and a copy of Nirvana's Nevermind.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

The noise, which started when Kurt Cobain struck a power chord on his Fender guitar, continued to swell -- even as it decayed. It seemed if the wail grew any louder, it would envelope our brittle house, just as silence had after my brother left for school.

This was feedback: Electronic music's original sin; God's (or was it Zola's?) finger-wag at the increased decibel level at which people were suddenly living in the 19th Century -- the sound so unloved by the engineers who discovered it that George Beauchamp, in his original 1932 patent for the Rickenbacker, provided instructions for how to avoid its scourge.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Is This the Golden Age of the Amateur?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 3:30 AM

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It's nearly impossible for me now to pinpoint the exact moment my own dream of pop stardom died. That phase seemed to fade interminably, the way adult contemporary songs do. But I'm sure I've been a better music fan because of it. No longer do I measure my feeble songwriting efforts against my favorite records, and vice versa; nor do I presume a collegial bond with Goffin and King. Amateur ways suit me, I've learned.

But more happily, 21st Century ways suit the amateur. You might even say we live in a golden age for amateur musicians. It starts with technology (as these kinds of arguments have to, by some columnists' decree). I am one of millions of non-musicians who fight a nightly struggle, always trading files in and out of my laptop to clear more hard drive space for personal works-in-progress. My more talented peers might form bands from their archive. Or they may even cobble together tours, sign to small labels, and build audiences in the four- and five-digits -- without ever leveraging the accrued buzz into a living wage.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why Do We Share Music?

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 3:30 AM

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Today, I opened Spotify for the first time since spring. Waiting in my inbox was a playlist thoughtfully compiled by one of my closest friends. She sent it to me in August. Now, almost 70 days have passed. In that time, we've spoken on the phone nearly every day and met up at least a couple dozen times. Along the way, personal tragedy befell her, and she had to leave town for a week; I developed a severe sinus infection, and spent most of October with a medicinal clove of garlic in my ear; she returned and moved into a new apartment. It's nearly Halloween. We've leaned on each other a lot since August; we've sniped at each other, too. And through all this, not once did she mention her playlist.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How Music Draws Us Out of Ourselves

Posted By on Tue, Oct 23, 2012 at 8:38 AM

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This week, I'm your far-flung correspondent, reporting from the island of 3:58 am. I'm indulging in a favorite bad habit, one I've stumbled in and out of most my adult life. A little before midnight, I crawled into bed and started listening to Patti Smith's Horses. Four hours and three Patti Smith albums later (plus some time spent reading and trying to will myself to sleep), I've moved back to my desk for a quick Google search that has turned into this column. Such are the undisciplined ways of this vice I've given much of my life over to, which I call bedtime listening.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Does Our Early Taste in Music Say About Us?

Posted By on Tue, Oct 16, 2012 at 3:30 AM

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I don't mean to brag, but I'm almost certain I spent more time than you over the weekend thinking about Right Said Fred. Remember Right Said Fred? The duo of bald, mesh-tank-wearing beefcake brothers who, in the early '90s, had a hit with the song "I'm Too Sexy?" Sure you do.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why Kraftwerk Make Me Laugh

Posted By on Tue, Oct 9, 2012 at 3:30 AM

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Kraftwerk have been a lot of different things to a lot of different listeners. To the '70s American mainstream, the Düsseldorf electronic music pioneers were a novelty group responsible for the unlikely Beach Boys-meets-"Tubular Bells" hit "Autobahn." To David Bowie around the same time, they were a signpost pointing upwards on rock 'n' roll's evolutionary ladder (they eventually turned down his request to back him on his 1977 album Low, which didn't stop Bowie from borrowing their sonic pallet). Later in the decade, on albums Trans-Europe Express and The Man Machine, Kraftwerk provided at least part of the templates upon which many splintered genres were founded: hip-hop, synth-pop, electro, industrial, goth-rock, and ambient. And last week, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they were deemed worthy of a nomination on this year's ballot.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Neil Young Wants Perfect Sound. Here's Why I Don't.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2012 at 3:30 AM

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Today, at last, Neil Young and I are united in our ambitions: we would like you to go back in time, to Valentine's Day 1967. We want you to enter a recording studio in New York. This is a session for Atlantic Records, so the great Jerry Wexler is there, as is King Curtis and his saxophone. Most remarkably, though, is the presence of Aretha Franklin, who, as I write these words, is belting out the first verse to a record that will, for several generations to come, assert itself, time and again, as a masterpiece of soul music. The song is "Respect," written by Otis Redding.

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  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    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.'"