Monday, January 18, 2010

I'm passing the following along at the behest of my friend Kembrew McLeod, great scholar and music writer who produced the film advertised below. He's also a bit of a kooky guy in the best possible way, and so has created a video using his alter ego, RoboProfessor, to speak to some of the issues addressed at greater length in the film, which you can access here:

Copyright Criminals looks to be a wonderful video on issues surrounding sampling and current copyright laws, a crucial area that deserves all of our attention. It airs Tuesday night, Jan. 19, on PBS as part of their "Independent Lens" series so check it out if you get a chance.

Copyright Criminals examines the creative and commercial value of musical sampling, including the related debates over artistic expression, copyright law, and (of course) money.

This documentary traces the rise of hip-hop from the urban streets of New York to its current status as a multibillion-dollar industry. For more than thirty years, innovative hip-hop performers and producers have been re-using portions of previously recorded music in new, otherwise original compositions. When lawyers and record companies got involved, what was once referred to as a “borrowed melody” became a “copyright infringement.”

The film showcases many of hip-hop music’s founding figures like Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Digital Underground—while also featuring emerging hip-hop artists from record labels Definitive Jux, Rhymesayers, Ninja Tune, and more. It also provides an in-depth look at artists who have been sampled, such as Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown’s drummer and the world’s most sampled musician), as well as commentary by another highly sampled musician, funk legend George Clinton.

As artists find ever more inventive ways to insert old influences into new material, this documentary asks a critical question, on behalf of an entire creative community:

Can you own a sound?

Here's a link to the trailer for the film:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What follows is not an unbiased review. Bunny’s a Swine is a local Northampton band and guitarist/singer Candace Clement is a friend and former Smith student. I like Candace and her band mates Emerson and Dustin, and it so happens that I also like the music their band plays, not just because they’re friends but because they’re good and play music in a style that I like too.

(Truth be told, I don’t always go out of my way to see friends’ bands play and don’t always enjoy myself when I do. I’ve always enjoyed music more when I have a certain detachment from the players so I can inhabit my own little space as a listener who likes to mix it up with other listeners at shows. This is a big part of the reason why I don’t interview musicians as part of my research method. But I digress…)

Bunny’s a Swine just produced its first CD, Nothing Bad Will Happen. As far as I know it’s self-released and for the time being at least, not something you can find at a store near you if you’re lucky enough to still have a store near you that sells CD’s by non-big label artists in the first place.

With two guitars and a drummer Bunny’s a Swine has the same instrumental mix as Sleater-Kinney. Like that band, the elimination of the bass gives the sound a certain thinness at times but also creates a more democratic kind of musical palette. The two guitars and the voices of Emerson and Candace interweave and overlap in ways that often make designations like “lead” and “rhythm” irrelevant. Drummer Dustin Cote isn’t super flashy and at times he’s a little bit overwhelmed in the album’s mix but he keeps a solid, steady rocking beat that lets the guitarists wander from melody to noise and back again without getting lost.

In the thank yous accompanying the disc, Bunny’s thanks Guided by Voices and the Breeders, adding that they don’t know either band personally. It’s a statement of influence and lets you know that they’re strongly informed by 1990s indie rock and lo-fi (as does the Sleater-Kinney instrumentation). But the band’s proclivity for floating bursts of guitar noise is more reminiscent of the likes of Pavement and at times Sonic Youth. If this sounds like a band that wears its influences on its sleeves, well … is that a bad thing? Not to me, at least not when those influences are great and are all combined in a way so that they’re mixed together with a lot of creativity. This isn’t an album where there’s one song that sounds like Pavement and another that sounds like GBV. It’s an album where the influences merge on every track to make for a band that is more than the sum of its record collection.

Generally speaking, the first half of Nothing Bad Will Happen is a bit slower and more tuneful, and the second half is more riff-laden and rocking. I like the riffy stuff more because that’s where my tastes lean but the opening several songs have some great moments. The biggest surprise for me, having heard the band a few times in concert, is the quality of Candace’s vocals. Usually the “second” voice behind Emerson’s, her singing has an ethereal character unlike what you usually hear in this type of rock, a quality sometimes lost in the mix at their live shows. It makes for a rich contrast with Emerson’s throatier voice, which veers between ironic detachment and an almost unhinged mania that could pass for David Yow of Jesus Lizard.

Fave tracks include opener “Moose-Cow,” which features the contrasting voices of Emerson and Candace to good effect and also has a neat cloud of delay that arises in the chorus; “Vallum Bread,” which opens with a cool guitar line; and “Hatesong/Lovesong” and “Multiple Ex’s,” where the band’s rockier tendencies hold sway. Like any good indie band Bunny’s a Swine has multiple forms of web presence; the curious can visit, which will lead to other points of interest.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My last post - the last of 2009 - was kind of a bummer, so I'm glad that things are looking up as the new year begins. They've arrested someone for the fires that were set the night after Christmas and while it will no doubt take a while for things to play out legally, it's looking likely that they got the right person. Holly and I are relieved and cautiously optimistic.


A couple years ago I began cataloging parts of my musical experience in a more thoroughgoing way than I'd ever done before. I typed out a complete list of every record and cd that I own and have continued to add to it as I make new purchases, as well as keeping count. This was mainly to satisfy my curiosity, but also serves as a sort of catalog to my own personal music archive, which isn't super big but it's big enough, and growing.

I also made a list of every concert that I've attended, at least every one that I could remember. This was a very different exercise, since it was as much a memory test as it was a means of record-keeping. As with the list of recordings, I've forced myself to update the list every time I attend a new show, which means it's easy for me at this point to look back over the list and see what I've seen in recent months and years.

I don't go out to see music as much as I used to and this past year was one of the thinnest in recent memory where seeing live music was concerned. I attended some 16 concerts this past year, barely more than one per month. Partly this was because there just weren't that many things coming through town that I was dying to see, and I've never been so inclined to go see music just for the sake of it. But of course it's also a product of now being forty-something and just being too damn busy, or too drained of energy come night time, to go out and see music on a regular basis (regular meaning more like once a week or so, as opposed to once a month).

(I should note, though, that I don't count concerts that I attended where the performers were my colleagues in the Smith music department, of which I saw maybe half a dozen or so over the past year. Those events are often very pleasurable but they also feel like work.)

That said, I did see some great shows in 2009, and it's a decently varied lot.

Here's my top five shows of the year:

1. Isis w. Pelican and Tombs. The best full-on metal show I saw this past year (and one of only two - we don't get enough of it coming through our little town), and it was a blast. I especially dug Pelican, very cool progressive/instrumental metal, short on solos but long on texture and dynamics.

2. New York Dolls w. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. I wrote about this show months ago on this blog. Given that only two of the original Dolls are still alive, this was better than it had a right to be.

3. Allan Holdsworth. First time I've ever seen him, even though I've owned some of his albums for over twenty years. Without question one of the best guitarists on the planet in terms of sheer technical ability. Sometimes it sounded like he was playing two different single note lines simultaneously, his fingers moved so fast.

4. Fiery Furnaces w. Cryptacize. Can't say I was super impressed by Cryptacize, but Fiery Furnaces were great. I'd seen them once before about six years ago, in London no less, but I think this show was better. Eleanor Friedberger is a commanding stage presence almost despite herself. Not nearly enough people in attendance though - Northampton, you should be ashamed.

5. Natacha Atlas w. Syriana. I caught this show when I was in Liverpool, due to the good taste and good graces of my friend Anahid. Very cool Arabic pop, great vocals and some decidedly slammin' percussion. Caught me off guard in a good way.

Honorable mention goes to my fave local band of the moment, Bunny's a Swine, whom I've seen on a few occasions (and even played a gig with earlier in the year, at a Smith event that also featured my so-called band the Distractions - this does not count as one of the fifteen; again, it was too much like work) and who are great. I'll be reviewing their new cd in an upcoming post.