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Art, Hatred, and Reconciliation by carlmagazine
November 3, 2010, 10:29 pm
Filed under: Music, Society

by Charlie Rosenthal

When we interact with art, are we supporting the values it espouses? By consuming the art, do we, by default, approve of the viewpoints contained within it? Am I encouraging homophobia when I listen to Nas, who once rapped about “Gay-Z” and “Cock-a-fella Records”? How about misogyny, when I hear Killer Mike espouse the virtues of women who “gobble up j**m like school lunches”? Or, even, domestic violence when I listen to the Smiths and Morrissey moans about “smashing every tooth” in his girlfriend’s head, right before claiming that he’s persecuted and feels like Joan of Arc?

My completely selfish instinct—after all, I like Nas, Killer Mike, and the Smiths a lot—is to not alter my behavior at all. If it doesn’t bother me, why should I make my life worse? I imagine I’d be a slightly less happy person if Led Zeppelin I were no longer in my iTunes library, but that doesn’t change the fact that the members of Zep basically spent most of their career doing depraved stuff to women, like penetrating them with mudsharks. Does the artistic value of what they created—the ferocious apocalyptic moan of “When the Levees Broke” or the slow burning blues of “Dazed and Confused”—outweigh the raging cock rock of “The Wanton Song”? Yes and no. Yes, because artistic and literary value is enough to redeem something, at least in the eyes of the law. No, because, even if the work is not obscene, it can still espouse views that are offensive, untenable, or otherwise unsavory.

However, is listening to a misogynist like Mick Jagger or a homophobe like Cam’ron any different than listening to fringe neo-Nazi nuts like Skrewdriver or Prussian Blue? On some level, yes. Mick Jagger and Cam’ron are, above all else, popular. They’ve gone platinum. Skrewdriver and Prussian Blue are probably praying to go gold. However, that sort of thinking just gives Killa Cam the bully pulpit to scream “no homo” while clad in head to toe pink fur. We can’t let popularity get in the way of principles. Popular acts should, thus, be more responsible to the masses. We do get that, to some extent. If a song is on terrestrial radio during the day, it’s likely to be free of overtly offensive views, thanks to the FCC. You just won’t catch Taio Cruz espousing the same views that hard heads like Boot Camp Clik would.

I’d wager that a vast majority of Americans who enjoy the genre of music that Skrewdriver plays, i.e., punk rock, refuse to listen to the band entirely on basis of their political views, as opposed to any real or perceived lack of talent. For all I know, Skrewdriver plays exactly the sort of punk rock I enjoy. I just refuse to listen to them because I find their political views to be personally offensive. This leads me to believe that I’ve created a double standard for myself. I’m perfectly okay with Biggie “[smacking] the b***h in the face,” but not with Prussian Blue’s twin Aryans singing about killing Jews. Is it because I know that I’m not going to go and smack women around? Is it because the anti-Semitic blather hits just a bit too close to home? In both cases, yes. All of that aside, I think the real difference lies in intention. Prussian Blue makes hate music. In each and every song, they’re out to let everyone know about the superiority of whites, whereas Biggie doesn’t appear to be intending to convince anyone to hit women. He’s just telling it how he sees it. However, this does not let Big off the hook at all. He’s still responsible for whatever terrible things he advocates.

Many, many critics have attacked rappers for “glamorizing” the gangster life style. While I write this article from the comfortable perspective of a white, privileged, liberal arts college student who will not have to rely on “sellin’ crack rock or [having] a wicked jump shot” to succeed in the world, I can still say that there is a certain glamorizing inherent in not only rap, but most popular music. What could be cooler than doing many shots of Patron with Trey Songz before going back to his crib, except, maybe, selling several kilos of the purest Peruvian white with Rick Ross and then riding around in his Maybach, chilling with DJ Khaled? There’s no way to guarantee that musicians do not portray their lives as rich and famous people as fun and cool. Of course, people could realize that dealing drugs isn’t a good life style and musicians could realize that it’s pretty reprehensible to peddle such propaganda, but that’s just not going to happen.

In the end, there isn’t a singular answer to the question of how we are to react to music that espouses views that we, ourselves, do not hold. We could boycott the music or we could ignore it. It’s up to each person to come up with his or her own answer. I, personally, choose to believe this, which is, in my mind, a massive cop-out: I’ll continue to listen to whatever objectionable music I want, while, subtly, criticizing it for the outlooks that I don’t hold, resting sure in my own ability to not let Morrissey’s sexism, Nas’ homophobia, and Killer Mike’s misogyny pollute my thinking, all while enjoying the music as much as possible.

 

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A Willow is Planted, a Star is Born: Introducing Willow Smith by carlmagazine
October 27, 2010, 5:31 pm
Filed under: Music | Tags: ,

By Rachel Feinberg

Recently, Justin Beiber has dominated the airwaves with his prepubescent but catchy tunes.  King Beibz better watch out, because there is a new girl on the block: Willow Smith. Willow Smith, the nine-year-old daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, just burst onto the music scene with the catchy, upbeat jam, “Whip My Hair.” The song combines a fast, percussion-heavy dance beat with Rihanna-esque vocals. The lyrics are pretty simple. 80% of them are the repetition of the phrase “I whip my hair back and forth.” The rest of the lyrics are about confidence and women and girls feeling empowered. “Ladies if you feel me/Do it to whip your hair/Don’t matter if its long or short/Do it to whip your hair.”

With the catchy song comes a fun video. It opens with a whimsical scene of Willow entering a dull silent classroom where the walls and furniture are all a sterile white. Soon she brings it to life and into color by playing her music and whipping her hair dipped into bright colored paints. The later scenes show Willow and other students dancing in other parts of the school. Her fashions in this video channel similar looks to Janelle Monae or the aforementioned Rihanna with intricate hairdos, a face bedazzled with diamonds and trendy, futuristic outfits.

As the daughter of two of America’s biggest stars, there is no question that nepotism played a role in her rise. She was featured in her father’s blockbuster, I Am Legend, as well as Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. She was also signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label.  It is easy to draw a comparison to Miley Cyrus (pre-Vanity Fair photoshoot) when looking at Willow. They both have famous fathers and as youngsters entered careers on screen and in music, garnering fans from their tween base and beyond. Perhaps Willow’s career will go in a different direction than Miley as her sound is a little less poppy. Even Nicki Minaj released a rap over “I Whip My Hair.”

The future of young Willow Smith seems bright for now with tons of attention in the media, the blogosphere, and even a tribute video from Jersey Shore’s Snooki. I wish the best of luck to Willow; as she embarks on her career as she brings to the airwaves prepubescent sugarcoating combined with a spicy twist of swagger.



The Sounds of Violence: 10 Scary (and Possibly Spooky) Songs by carlmagazine
October 23, 2010, 8:24 am
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , ,

by Andreas Stoehr

Want to put together the ultimate Halloween playlist? Well, we at The Carl have got you covered! And you have just enough time before the big night to, uh, purchase these songs through perfectly legitimate means. Or something. So give your dorm that macabre atmosphere with these classics of scaaaaary music…

10. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus

Back when “goth” meant something more than a high school fashion statement, Bauhaus released this tribute to vampiric icon Lugosi, who shuffled off this mortal coil in 1956. Long and atmospheric, the song was featured in the opening scene of The Hunger (1983), where it helped establish mood better most of the noisy, confusingly edited scenes to follow. Its eerie simplicity set an example that director Tony Scott would’ve been wise to follow. Sample lyrics: “The virginal brides file past his tomb / Strewn with time’s dead flowers…”

9. “Pet Sematary” by The Ramones

Written for Mary Lambert’s 1987 film of the same name, it was the song that finally brought together punk rock and Stephen King. In their typically repetitive fashion, The Ramones beg not to be interred in the titular burying ground. The band had a history with the horror genre – see the Freaks references in “Pinhead” – so they were a pretty natural fit for this material. But once you’ve heard the Ramones’ rendition, you should listen to the even creepier cover by the Swedish band The Tiny. Sample lyrics: “And the night, when the moon is bright, / Someone cries, something ain’t right…”

8. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson could be a pretty creepy guy, and I’m not talking about his appearance or personal life. I’m referring to his frequent use of monsters and the supernatural in his music. (See also: the multimedia extravaganza Ghosts.) And with the assistance of John Landis and a rapping Vincent Price, “Thriller” is not only one of the best scary songs; it’s also a truly great horror movie. Werewolves and zombies and meta-commentary, oh my! Sample lyrics: “It’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark…”

7. “Transylvanian Concubine” by Rasputina

Much of Rasputina’s music reveals a morbid sensibility at work (see also “Christian Soldiers“), and frontwoman Melora Creager sure has a knack for blending idiosyncratic humor, wordplay, and gruesome imagery. In this song from their album Thanks for the Ether, she invites the listener to a vampiric community of sexual abandon. The song also introduced Rasputina to the wider world through its appearance on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sample lyrics: “You can never be too rich or too / Thin. The blood has run out…”

6. “In Heaven” by Peter Ivers

In Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr., David Lynch gave disturbing implications to Roy Orbison (“In Dreams,” “Llorando”) and Bobby Vinton (“Blue Velvet,” duh), but Eraserhead‘s “In Heaven” is probably the most aggressively surreal use of music in the whole Lynch canon. From the gurgling ambient noise in the background to Ivers’ twangy delivery and the shaky organ accompaniment, every aspect of the song contributes to the deranged vision of “heaven” that Eraserhead’s hero Henry pines for. Sample lyrics: “In heaven, everything is fine / In heaven, everything is fine…

5. “Gloomy Sunday” by anyone

Rezső Seress’s infamously depressing song carries decades’ worth of depressing rumors, including ones about its composer’s own suicide. But that hasn’t stopped generations of musicians from covering it! Some of the best include Billie Holiday, Artie Shaw, Lydia Lunch, Portishead, and Sinéad O’Connor, each of whom gives it a unique (and always depressing) spin. It’s not called the Hungarian suicide song for nothing. Sample lyrics: “My heart and I / Have decided to end it all.”

4. “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield

Maybe this wouldn’t be considered “scary” if it hadn’t been used in The Exorcist. But hey, it was, and now it’s impossible to hear those bells a-ringing without conjuring up thoughts of danger, darkness, and Pazuzu. They just sound so redolent of both the 1970s and the unexplained. This also makes great mood music for frightening trick-or-treaters.

3. “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” by Krzysztof Penderecki

I don’t know nearly enough about musical technique to say why “Threnody” is so chilling, but its feral, anarchic sound – and the use of Penderecki’s other music in movies like The Shining and Shutter Island – confirm its status as scary music. Blame pop culture for putting this commemoration of a national tragedy into such vulgar contexts, but it’s now impossible to hear it now without thinking of long, narrow hallways and something lurking around the corner.

2. “This Is Halloween” by Danny Elfman

One of the best songs from Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, it’s a paean to everything good and scary about the season, from “the one hiding under your bed” to “the clown with the tear-away face.” It’s also informed by the subtle undertones of poignancy, regret, and tradition that fill Nightmare. The whole segment is a triumph of beautifully grotesque animation meeting catchy songwriting – and it’s only the first of the film’s many musical treats. Others include “Sally’s Song” and “Oogie Boogie’s Song,” or you can try Marilyn Manson’s not-for-all-tastes rendition of “This Is Halloween.” Sample lyrics: “Trick or treat till the neighbors gonna die of fright /It’s our town, everybody scream…”

1. “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett

Pickett’s one-hit wonder is really the beginning and the end of popular Halloween-themed music. It’s harmlessly tongue-in-cheek, but contains a deep and infectious reverence for the Universal horror films of the 1930s. Incorporating Karloff, Lugosi, and the rest into the musical fads of early ’60s, the “Monster Mash” is a reflection of just how ingrained in American pop culture these monsters were. It’s also the quintessential song for radio airplay on October 31 – and the same should go for your iTunes! Sample lyrics: “The scene was rockin’, all were digging the sounds / Igor on chains, backed by his baying hounds…”



Remix Roundup: Islands by xx by carlmagazine
October 22, 2010, 12:32 am
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , ,

By. R. Orion Martin

UK trio xx sneaks into your life unnoticed. They background your AT&T commercial, your Law and Order, your Gossip Girl. They show up on Jimmy Kimmel Live and one of them almost cries. Lucky for you, there are plenty of remixes out there to help you process the experience.

xx (original)

Islands is home base for xx’s carefully articulate sound. The restrained riffs and drum machine complement the whispered exchange between singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft and singer-bassist Oliver Sim. The song has a powerful progression without being forceful, rare for such young artists (all born in the 90’s).

Jamie of xx (remix)

While it’s Croft and Sim whose vocals appear on Islands, Jamie Smith is the architect of their sound. In a special remix, he boils the song down to it’s essential components, limiting the drum machine to only 30 seconds of the song. Good listening for late walks home from the libe.

Yasumo (remix)

Melbourne remix artists Yanni Nair and Simon Salerno truncate the rhythm for this more accessible but less satisfying variant. There are no new components to the song, they’re simply mixed to give the song more rhythm and pronounced pauses. Perfect for off board dinner parties.

Nosaj Thing (remix)

Jason Chung is an LA-based producer firmly rooted in the Low End Theory scene. His remix of Islands is almost a reversal of what Yasumo has done. Where Yasumo tears apart and rebuilds the song as a new creature (stronger, faster, if not necessarily better), Nosaj replays most components of the song but stays truer to its original intention. Like the original, Nosaj creates a rich tonal environment in which the vocals can shine. This remix is best for waking up from a nap.

Shakira (cover)

Curve ball of all curve balls. It’s not uncommon for superstars to allude to a passing interest in up and comers, but Shakira is taking it to the next level (Universe Cup). Her cover spares no effort in turning Islands into the pop ballad it’s not. A good choice for your studied-abroad-in-South-America-and-gained-new-perspective-on-how-Shakira-is-actually-a-deep-and-multi-layered-artist-and-you-shouldn’t-judge-her-I-mean-Shewolf-was-good-right? roommate.



Modern Classis: Hercules and Love Affair by carlmagazine
October 21, 2010, 2:23 am
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , ,

by Charlie Rosenthal
Disco gets a bum rap. Every history of punk music begins with some sort of screed against the materialistic, drug-fueled excesses of terribly trashy, popular disco, much as every account of the beginnings of grunge attacks the similar excesses of hair metal. The problem is that disco is inherently easy to understand. It is very uncomplicated music. You dance to it. You do cocaine to it. You abuse polyester to it. There isn’t too much deep, deep introspection or social commentary in the music. Even in the academic sphere, disco is hated. For example, in his textbook Introduction to Black Studies, Maulana Karenga (the guy who invented Kwanzaa) brutally attacks disco as a white, pop bastardization of traditionally black forms of music, such as soul and funk. Admittedly, disco does deserve some of this hatred. Some disco does really, really, really suck. However, occasionally, disco can be brilliant.

In 2008, Andy Butler of DFA Records, under the pseudonym Hercules and Love Affair, along with a large cast of guest vocalists, most famously Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, released a self-titled album. Drawing from the wells of disco and classic house music, Butler crafted an album that smashes nearly all of the misconceptions about disco. There is discussion of important themes, ranging from aging to acceptance. The musical chops are impeccable, with Tim Goldsworthy and Butler expertly blending horns, synthesizers, drums, vocal samples, and more exotic instruments to create a lush, deep musical environment. On the most basic level, Hercules and Love Affair is a great dance album. I’m not sure you could play it at a Sayles Dance, but you could certainly get away with it on some wildly progressive dance floor in either New York or Stockholm. It’s grooveable. However, the greatest triumph of Hercules and Love Affair is the addition of vocals. It’s that addition that changes it from a dance album or a party album to a listening album. It’s not really meditative headphone music (it’s far too bouncy for that), but it’s certainly deep enough to be really, really listened to.

Lead single “Blind” is perhaps the most evocative of Andy Butler’s uncanny ability to work vocalists in. The aforementioned Antony steps in and delivers perhaps his defining performance. Coming across as a sort of male diva, Antony’s voice quavers, soars, shrieks, and generally works to it’s fullest. For example, during the bridge, when most of the instrumental tracks drop out, he soars to unimaginable heights. He then rolls along, low, sort of murmuring about feeling things. It is, without a doubt, one of the most emotive vocal performances in recent electronic music history. Antony also shows up on album opener “Time Will,” a drastically different track. Instead of matching “Blind” and its towering heights, “Time Will” moves along at a slower burn. Antony doesn’t show off the full extent of his vocal talents, instead opting to mutter a bit over some handclaps, crying synths, and thumping drums. Otherwise, vocalists like Nomi Ruiz on “You Belong,” a house song based around an intelligible vocal sample, and a supremely smooth Kim Ann Foxman on “Athene” always add something to the track, creating uniqueness and an aural signpost to remember each song by.

Apparently, Hercules and Love Affair will be coming out with a new album in January. Whether or not its as good as their debut album remains to be seen, but, for now, we have this one testament to what can happen to disco when put into capable, modern hands.



Rick Ross’s Teflon Don Inspires Many Bad Puns, Conspicuous Consumption by carlmagazine
September 29, 2010, 8:44 am
Filed under: Music

By Charlie Rosenthal

How did this happen?  Rick Ross, the man who once rhymed “Atlantic” with “Atlantic” and claimed to know someone named Pablo Noriega, just released one of the ten best rap albums of the year.  This is the same Rick Ross who was once a Corrections Officer, the same Rick Ross who was once sued by a drug dealer for defamation.  Somehow, Rozay managed to overcome all this and release an album nearly entirely about how rich he is.  Even more amazingly, it’s good.

Rick Ross and Def Jam bought themselves a championship.  There are no no-names showing up on this album, only certified all-stars.  This album features tracks produced by Clark Kent, Kanye West, and the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and guest appearances from Jay-Z, John Legend, TI, Erykah Badu, Kanye West, Trey Songz, Gucci Mane, Drake, and Raekwon, among others.  It seems bizarre to praise an album because of the strength of its guest appearances, but, in general, the better the main rapper is, the better the guest verses are.  Basically, Jada might be willing to phone it in on some track by Memphis Bleek, but he’ll try and raise his game when he’s guesting on something legitimate.  As a result, Jay-Z sounds hungry, TI sounds confident, and Kanye West swaggers on “Live Fast, Die Young”.  Even Gucci’s verse is good.  On Ross’s third album, the pretty good Deeper than Rap, “Maybach Music II” featured T-Pain on the hook.  T-Pain is good and all, but Rozay upgraded to neo-soul goddess Erykah Badu for the third installment in the series.  On one level, that sums up the album: why only have good when you can have the best?

As an album, Teflon Don gets by far more on feeling, atmosphere, and sheer sound than it does on lyricism.  Ross’s massive blunted rasp absolutely crushes bangers like “BMF (Blowin’ Money Fast)” and “MC Hammer” and, nearly equally well, rides over more laid back, chill tracks like “Super High” and the superb “Maybach Music III”.  Ross still isn’t a great rapper, especially when he makes semi-cringe worthy claims like “I don’t smoke no tobaccos/ but I smoke the most rappers”, but he’s well beyond competent and self aware enough to only rarely leave his wheelhouse of braggadocio.  On some level, that’s a very good thing.  The Boss attempting Cudi-style mope rap would turn out atrociously, just like Cudi penning odes to speedboats and women tattooing themselves with his name would bomb.  Ross avoids the staleness that would come with such a lack of thematic variation by keeping the album short and by being a legitimately interesting and fun rapper.  For example, during “MC Hammer”, Ross screams “My top back/ I’m circumcised!”  Even if that line would never show up on an MF Doom or Aesop Rock album, it’s still memorable, which is a pretty fair substitute for being “good” or whatever we want our rap lyrics to be.

I have no idea what this means for rap.  Teflon Don has effectively nothing in common with every other good rap album released over the past couple of years.  It’s the anti-recession rap.  Teflon Don isn’t out to be clever like Tha Carter III was and it isn’t a Blueprint III style victory lap.  It celebrates the cocaine culture that Big Boi rejected.  It features very little of the introspection that Drake made fashionable and it doesn’t bother with the storytelling of Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II.   It’s like Teflon Don was made in a ‘90s vacuum where Will Smith lied about ever leaving West Philly and decided to start dealing comical amounts of white powder and smoking forests of weed.  Call it Big Ricky Style.



Remix Roundup: Little Bit by Lykke Li by carlmagazine
September 27, 2010, 10:13 pm
Filed under: Music

By. R. Orion Martin

With so many remixes and mashups torrenting around campus, one needs an instruction manual just to match the correct version of the song with the correct moment of Carleton life.

Lykke Li

The original Little Bit came out in 2007 by Swedish indie singer Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson. She patterns her soft, whisp-like voice over plucked strings and a soothing beat. Definitely the most placid version of the song, ideal for the “I’ll stress out tomorrow” Saturday afternoon.

Death to the Throne

Many remixes lay a thumping base beat onto the song without thinking about how it affects the song as a whole. Death to the Throne is a promising up and coming remixer who goes above and beyond. He specializes in dance beats that have a life of their own. Death’s remix of Little Bit is perfect for the post Sayles dance party encore.

CCS

CCS turns to the synths for this quirky “knob-twiddling” version. Best suited for convincing your friends (or rivals) that you listen to more obscure versions of the music they like.

Villains or Gigamesh

Either of these remixes turns Little Bit into a danceable club hit without the originality and playfulness of the Death to the Throne remix. If you plot remixes on a black to white spectrum, these would mark the neutral gray where songs are catchy enough to dance to on the first listen but don’t leave a deep impression. Probably best for initiating new listeners.

Drake

Leaving the instrumentals of the song quite close to the original, Lykke Li adds a heartbeat base for this collaboration. Drake goes on the offensive against his girl’s friends? “Tell her get a man ain’t cheatin’ on her ass with a girl that I know yeah tell her all that.” If you find yourself falling into a facebook unofficial fling, look no further.

Runner-up Remixes

Eke Whaa

Matas Berlin

Staygold/Savage Skulls

Rapaport & Malmqvist

If you know more than me about music and want to help me write another article like this, I’d be psyched.