It’s shaping up to be a long, hot summer, and I’m sweltering through the work week in my charmingly sticky home office. I don’t know about you, but when it’s this hot outside, I’m sticking with things that are light and effortless. This goes equally for beer and clothing, and it goes at least double for music. I’d been looking for something fun and a little frothy to suit my summertime energy, never quite satisfied with anything on the radio or the heavy drops and complicated beats of my friends’ beloved dubstep, until finally I came across what I didn’t know I was looking for: the mashup.
What’s a mashup?
Typically composed by remixing two or more distinct tracks by different artists, the mashup (often called Bastard Pop) puts a little spin on familiar tunes, giving fresh life and relevancy to even the most overplayed Top 40 hit. Mashup DJs like to pair songs that juxtapose themes and interplay lyrically in order to say something new, tempering genuinely complex artistry with what seems to be a simplistic urge to do something genuinely amusing. The standard “A vs. B” mashup format places the vocal track of one song against the instrumentation of another. This is, naturally, only the beginning. DJs are ever more ambitious, sampling elements from as many original tracks as they can find, and often including original elements (such as a beat or bass line) of their own creation.
For the milquetoast version of a mashup, look no further than the FOX television show Glee, which has produced some cute pairings of songs like Rihanna’s “Umbrella” with “Singin’ in the Rain” from the Broadway musical. The true spirit of the mashup, however, thrives on wicked dance beats and a solid sense of irony and the witty song titles.
Where can I find it?
The dilemma I’m running into is that as a new fan of this genre, I’m not overly familiar with the etiquette yet, and so I can’t be sure of whether it’s okay to link you directly to the myriad sources of excellent mashup music. Bastard Pop, like many other art forms that have developed out of the explosion of new entertainment technology in the last decade, has seen its share of struggles with the law. Mashup artists are part of the ongoing debate surrounding copyright and fair use – that is, the checks and balances system set up to defend first amendment rights in the face of copyright law. DJs see what they do as transformative work – the owners of the original material, typically, do not.
At present, it seems that the two sides maintain safe distance with an unofficial understanding – the DJs do not charge for the distribution of their music, and the record labels leave them to do their thing. There does not currently appear to be an issue with downloading and sharing the tracks themselves, but I haven’t found anything explicitly stating that a person either should or shouldn’t link out to distributors of these tracks. I’ll err on the side of caution.
A Few To Get You Started
Excellent mashup music is easy to find with your fancy Google skills, and it’s all available to download for free.
DJ Earworm’s United State of Pop (Don’t Stop the Pop), which was heavily played on Top 40 stations around New Year’s;
Girl Talk (pictured above), a popular DJ who’s finishing up his North American tour this month;
Bootie parties, which take place all over the world;
Any of the excellent work from DJs from Mars, DJ Tripp, DJ BC and plenty of others.
If you have any you love, please leave them in the comments section below!
A word on copyright
As a music lover and a personal friend to more starving artists than I can count, I wholeheartedly believe in an artist’s right to protect his or her property. Infringement upon intellectual property rights hurts not only the millionaire artist and the Big Bad record companies – it affects everyone involved in the creation and distribution of the work.
Out of respect for the artistic community, I will never link to illegal material, nor will I provide copies of copyrighted material without permission.
The ongoing debate regarding fair use and other intellectual property issues is a good thing. It means that artists can feel free to do what they believe in, and it means that our voices as consumers and constituents are heard. I won’t publicly take a side on the politics of this issue, but I will say this to my readers: go with your gut, as long as you’re not breaking the law.
In 2008, singer-songwriter Justin Vernon took the indie world by storm with the release of his newest project, Bon Iver. As the story goes, a world-weary and heartsick Vernon took to the Wisconsin woods for a long winter, during which he recorded “For Emma, Forever Ago” using rickety equipment and his own talent and innovation. The album was a critical darling, and although fans have spent the last three years grasping for any hint of new material, we’ve had to make do with collaborative efforts (such as “Roslyn” for the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack and “Lost in the World” with Kanye West).
This spring, music fans everywhere were delighted to hear that a new, eponymous album was due to be released in the summer. We’ll have to wait until June 21 for the complete release, but to tide us over, the band has released their first single, “Calgary”, as a free download via their website. It’s a catchy tune that reflects Vernon’s growth as both a songwriter and a collaborative musician.
Bon Iver will tour throughout the United States beginning in July. I’ve already purchased tickets for their stop in Richmond on July 30th, and you can bet you’ll get a review of the show here on MTM afterward!
Allow me to take the opportunity of this week’s post to make sure you’re aware of arguably the biggest thing to hit following SXSW2011: folk duo The Civil Wars.
Singer/songwriters Joy Williams and John Paul White have been making a stir since 2009, when their heartbreak anthem, Poison & Wine, debuted on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Fast forward a year and change later, and their February 2011 LP release, Barton Hollow, has topped several of the iTunes and Billboard charts.
This is the part of the story that, chances are, you already know. The album’s titular single topped the iTunes singer/songwriter chart in January, and the song’s music video still shows up in the weekly countdowns on both VH1 and CMT. Barton Hollow is just about everywhere, and if you haven’t heard the single yet, you’re probably just not paying attention.
Here’s the part where you may want to tune back in: you can (and should!) download 10 tracks, recorded live in concert, for free. Do I even need to keep typing here? Go on and download the free tracks, and when you’ve fallen so deeply in love that you simply must have more of The Civil Wars, head on over to iTunes and pick up your copy of Barton Hollow.
Be sure to come back and tell us what you think!
(MR Note: You can also buy the album on Amazon for less here.)
I’m having a really good week. I ran my very first 10k this weekend; my best friend just moved to town; the weather is beautiful; and there are some delicious things going on in my personal life. And the fact I had tickets to see one of my all-time favorite bands playing at my favorite venue last weekend was the cherry on top. I couldn’t have been more excited to kiss the sun goodnight, throw on a new dress, and head downtown.
By the time we arrived at the National in Richmond, the opening band The Octopus Project had already cleared the stage, and the sold-out crowd was hot and antsy and, from my five-foot-six vantage point, annoyingly tall. Heavily tattooed college kids jostled for space, and girls in brand new sun dresses tittered anxiously. The energy enveloped us as we all seemed to hold our breath together.
The truth about all Explosions in the Sky fans is that whether you’ve been listening to them for just a few weeks or for the better part of a decade (like me), we’ve all connected to the music in our own way.
When the curtain opened on the four stark figures bathed in blue light and guitarist Munaf Rayani made his minimalist introduction, it was like 1500 people collectively let go of that breath we were holding, relaxed into the music, and let each note carry us away. It’s such a cliche that I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but I swear to God, you can practically hear the big Texas sky in every chord of every song. That’s probably why they used Explosions as the theme song to Friday Night Lights. It’s no secret that there’s a visceral, heart-rending, perhaps even emotionally-manipulative quality to their music – Chuck Klosterman once wrote:
“if you play Explosions in the Sky loud enough,
the process of hanging drywall can be a life-altering experience.”
What struck me instead was the deeply private experience that the band created, even in a vast, crowded space like this. My friend expressed it best when she said she felt like she could close her eyes and float a million miles away. When she said this, I noticed many heads bowed down, with hands folded under chins or eyes closed as if in prayer, imagining another time, another place. I hope the artists on stage felt it; I hope they humbly realized the power of their music.
Then, I closed my eyes too and journeyed to Texas….
Their new album “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care” comes out on April 26.
Los Angeles fans, Listen Up!
You will get the privilege of hearing their new album in a totally unique way on April 23. They’re taking over the Hollywood Cemetery and installing art that was inspired by each song. Admission is free if you RSVP here. 8pm-11pm. If you go please take pictures and let us know your experience!
While we wait for the new stuff, let’s reflect back on a classic.
I’m sure we’re all seething with jealousy this week at the good fortune of those who have the opportunity to head down to Austin for SXSW. I heard my boys Atomic Tom killed it on Monday night! For my money, Coachella is this year’s sold-out festival to covet, but I’m still green as can be about all the great shows I’ll miss this week.
Fortunately for those of us who haven’t the time or resources to make the trip to SXSW, the festival’s organizers have historically been incredibly generous in providing samples of content from a wide cross-section of performers. These samples have varied a lot from year to year, and the majority of the free content is typically not available until well after the festival has closed down. This year, however, the SXSW organizers have decided to whet our appetites with a sampler of 22 tracks from the festival’s lineup, available for free on iTunes. There are a number of other places to get free, legal downloads of music by this year’s featured artists, as well. There’s a collection of 140 songs available from WXRT Radio, a small sampler available from eMusic, and this year, even Amazon has jumped into the game.
These pre-show samplers are only the beginning. For the last few years, the SXSW team has made an extensive compilation of hundreds of tracks from as many of the showcased artists as possible. The timing and delivery method of these projects has varied, and it’s anyone’s guess as to when and how they’ll be made available this year, if at all. In years past, the files have sometimes been uploaded individually to the SXSW website, and were then compiled by independent music lovers and dropped into torrent files for mass distribution. While these torrents are easy to use, simple to find, and decidedly awesome to listen to, it’s worth pointing out that they’re NOT licensed for distribution and are therefore technically illegal to download. I’ll stay off my soapbox here, except to say that if it’s illegal, don’t do it.
The good news is that there is plenty of free, legal, and awesome content available to help you get your SXSW fix. You can be sure that when and if a master track list becomes available, you’ll find out where to get it right here at MTM. In the mean time, I hope you’ll find plenty to occupy your time within the 200 free tracks I’ve highlighted today. Be sure to tell us in the comments section what you loved and hated from this year’s SXSW samplers!
MR Note: Dressing for a concert is always a challenge for me, but I always follow Lindsey’s philosophy below. I rock a wife beater and jeans with a smoky eye and awesome accessories. We do differ on shoes though. I have to wear heels to get my groove on.
I recently received a reader email that asked what type of ensemble is appropriate to wear to the types of shows I attend. I dreaded trying to answer this question, because I go to so many different types of shows at a number of venues, and I thought for sure that my attire would change dramatically from one event to the next. But when I started thinking about it, I realized that I adhere to a pretty straightforward uniform. Last week’s outfit is a perfect example (please excuse the laundry):
Now, I don’t get terribly adventurous with my clothes in general. I like clothes that fit well and flatter my figure, and while I follow fashion trends pretty closely and am pretty up on what’s going on in the fashion world, I find that in practice, it ends up being much more about comfort for me. This goes doubly true when I am headed to a show, where I know there will be lots of dancing around, that booze will be flying, and that I’ll be on my feet for the majority of the night. In the interest of comfort, practicality, and being secure enough in my look that I’m not worrying about it while I’m trying to enjoy the music, I typically wear some variation on this theme:
Urban Outfitters Silence + Noise Jeggings, currently $39 and originally $54, but wait a week or two and they’ll go back to the $29 I paid for them.
Target Kaden Boots, $35, which I discovered via the recommendation of excellent affordable-fashion blogger Jaclyn Day.
Biggest No No
I do believe that going to a rock show is a great place to show a little individuality, and even to try something new. However, a word to the wise: don’t express that individuality through a pair of painful shoes or a top that you’re going to fidget with all night. The most miserable concert experiences come from being ill-prepared (example: I wore flip flops to that Avett Brothers show back in October, and the concert was held at night in an outdoor pavilion. My tootsies were distractingly cold all night long), so wear a pair of shoes you can bounce around in and a top that both looks good and keeps your goods in check.
Show some personality instead with a strong eye, a bold lip, some rock star nails or some statement jewelry. It bears noting, however, that you should probably not do all of these things at once, so as not to risk venturing into hooker territory.
On Wednesday, I went the jewelry route, and paired several of my favorite pieces with some pretty standard hair and a strong eye:
Single-band silver ring, American Eagle (bought about a million years ago so there’s no way I’d be able to direct you toward it)
Multi Strap Watch, $20, Target (my set came with black, turquoise, and white straps, but there are several options in stores)
On Friday night, I went a different route: super-straight hair, a little less makeup, but with a rather striking new manicure with China Glaze polish in Evening Seduction, about $6.
A Cheat Sheet
If you’re still uncertain about what to wear to an event, your best bet is to take a look at the type of clothing the band wears in concert. Take a look at what the performers usually wear on stage, dial it down at least 10%, and you should be good to go. The two shows I saw this week were a great example:
Each of these groups, although their styles vary, embrace a very casual, comfortable look on stage. You wouldn’t want to show up to either of these events wearing a sequined dress and sky-high heels.
Like with all of the best songs, the key is to be true to you.
The key is to always wear something you like, something you feel good in, and something that will help you feel as though you are part of the experience but with your own unique vibe. Above all, you want to have fun and enjoy the music, and not have to waste time worrying about how you look!
In the last few hours of 2010, I was nowhere near my computer. I was visiting with family, primping for a night out, meeting up with my honey and dancing the cares of the year away. I hope you were all doing some combination of any or all of the above, too. But we should all be grateful that at least a few people were working right up until the last day of the year, if only because their labors have brought us the subject of this week’s post.
I’m talking, of course, about ViCKi LEEKX. If you haven’t had the chance to step out and download M.I.A.’s latest mix tape release, you’ll want to pop on over to the website and get yourself a copy, stat. Access is free and requires only an e-mail address, which they’ll use to send the link for download. I picked up my copy of the mix tape yesterday, and haven’t received any spam yet – but I did use my “mailing list only” e-mail address for retrieving the link, just in case. The tape, which was released on New Year’s Eve, runs about 36 minutes and consists of 19 separate tracks, although it shows up as just one continuous track in my iTunes folder (which is fine, because it really should be treated as such). The mix is self-produced and also features production by Diplo, Blaqstarr, and Rusko, among others. It’s a pretty badass effort and, while I’m not overly familiar with the work of the other artists independently of their relationship with M.I.A., it’s clear that everyone’s had the chance to put their own stamp on the collaboration.
A number of the tracks in this mix stand on their own merits as truly club-ready – you can practically see people bumping along to “Go At It” and “Overdrive”, “Gen -N-E-Y” is a serious driving tune, and “Bad Girls” is practically begging to sweep like wildfire through the nation’s bachelorette parties. But the mix as a whole is well worth the hour and change it takes to listen straight through twice. The running juxtaposition of tribal beats against synthetic blips straight out of old video games is not only jarring and interesting, it’s an effective (if unsubtle) nod to the overarching themes of the whole project.
True to form, M.I.A. uses this mix to be provocative, and the themes and messages herein certainly raise eyebrows. Her lyrics address a dizzying collection of relevant pop-culture references, from Facebook to Nicki Minaj to (obviously) WikiLeaks. She dances across issues like privacy, feminine roles, and the internet generation, without ever really committing to saying something significant about those issues. But this has always been one of the intriguing things about M.I.A.’s work: she often seems content to be the one saying something in a room full of people who don’t seem to be saying anything. It often strikes me that perhaps in the same vein, it’s enough that we, as a collective audience, take M.I.A. seriously enough seek out anything thematically relevant beyond the sex/love/PMS pigeonhole we shove so many female artists into. But that’s another discussion altogether – and, in fact, it’s one I’d like to have down the line.
As far as this mix goes, I’m content to just give it a whirl (preferably on repeat), and not think terribly hard about what it all means. It’s catchy and fun, and just the sort of all-purpose jam music that we should all have on hand, should we spontaneously need to rock out. Make sure you go out and grab it while it’s free.
MR Note: If you’re a music lover, take some time with this post. The musicians Linds features are really awesome. Mumford & Sons is one of my all time faves and I fell in love with Atomic Tom when she posted that impromptu subway video (below). Where and how she finds most of them, I don’t know and I don’t care. But she has yet to cease to amaze me with her collection.
Well, kids, here we are. It’s the end of another year. It’s been an amazing year full of surprises and adventures for me, not the least of which has included joining the crew here at MTM! I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to work alongside this talented and knowledgeable group of writers.
Among the myriad surprises this year has wrought, I’m happy to count the wealth of diverse and eclectic indie music that has been released in 2010. As is customary for the end of the year, the lists of top albums are all over the place. I’ll leave the declarations over best and worst totheexperts (spoiler alert: Kanye wins), but I thought this would be a good time to give a quick rundown of a few albums that have made a great impression on me this year. So in no particular order, here are ten albums that really did it for me in 2010.
Frank Turner, Rock & Roll
A good friend turned me on to Frank Turner just this week, and my life is definitely better for it. This talented Brit has been rolling solo since his 2005 split with his band, Million Dead. Rock & Roll, an EP that dropped a couple of weeks ago as a teaser for the forthcoming full release, is robust and exciting in and of itself. Each track is completely different from the last, which I’ll admit leaves the EP with a distinct lack of cohesion. Still, it achieves what a good teaser release ought to: it whets the listener’s appetite for the sure-to-be excellent album to come. The full release is definitely on my list of things to pick up as soon as it’s out.
Jeremy Messersmith, The Reluctant Graveyard
I fell for this truly under-appreciated artist via the track “A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard”, which I heard early this fall on an episode of that cute NBC show Chuck. Messersmith’s voice is pleasant and his melodies are lovely in their simplicity, but the standout of this album is the grace in Messersmith’s lyrics. His word choices are weird and vaguely morbid, and there’s something strikingly economical about his writing that evokes generous imagery out of short and simplistic phrasing. His themes are often sad, but incredibly accessible, and his lyrics are endlessly quotable. “This is how it has to end/so love somebody while you can”? Come on.
Atomic Tom, The Moment
Full disclosure here: I am partial to this band due to a personal connection. We ran in the same circles back in the day when I worked for a little NYC music PR firm, and I’ve had the opportunity to see them perform several live shows. But I can say without a doubt that I’d have bought – and loved – this album even if I discovered Atomic Tom through the standard channels. Atomic Tom garnered some excellent publicity with the release of the video above, which caused quite a stir in the news media this fall and boosted their visibility enough to garner them a top spot on iTunes for a little while there. As an album, The Moment is the kind of anthemic powerhouse that makes it a staple of my regular workout playlist (I’ve even been known to blow through the album from start to finish while banging out a few miles on the bike or the treadmill). There’s not a downbeat tune in the bunch, but each track is balanced just right, and Luke White’s infectious voice never gets old.
Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz
Everybody loves Sufjan, and I’ll tell you why: he’s out of his damn mind. The consummate overachiever did it all over again this year, surprising no one by delivering a project that was completely different from everything he’s ever put out for us before. The Age of Adz is such a departure from the gentle banjos and wispy lyrics of his earlier efforts, but at second glance, it’s more consistent with Stevens’ sensibilities than ever. The album is meticulously developed and organized – you need only read the manifesto on his website to know that – and Stevens’ trademark fearlessness is all over every track. Sufjan Stevens is the kind of artist that everyone expects will be surprising, and while that’s a tall order to fill year-in and year-out, he’s certainly made it happen so far. Oh, and by the way – everyone ever should know that you can download any of several tracks off his record label’s website. I’ll wait here while you go get that taken care of.
Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record
Are we back? On to the next album. Although I am a huge old-school BSS fan (particularly, a You Forgot it in People fan), Forgiveness Rock Record has enough heat behind it to prove that these Canadian indie stalwarts have still got something to say after more than ten years. My personal favorite off this album is “Forced to Love,” which, in my opinion, absolutely kills. But the rest of the album makes its own case for brilliance with the kind of cohesion that only true pros can reach. I had an absolute blast at their show here in Richmond in September, but it’s worth noting that most of my favorite moments of the night came from tracks off of older albums. Seeing “Lover’s Spit” live? One of the top ten moments of my year. I will add to that the caveat that the 15-minute rendition of “Meet Me in the Basement”, off Forgiveness Rock Record, was just as amazing as anything from their more seasoned catalog. Which I guess is to totally contradict my previous statement. The music lover’s dilemma, am I right? Anyway, all this is to say that Forgiveness Rock Record is a strong effort that’s mostly mellow and then shockingly vulgar, which is kind of how I like my music and my men.
The Rescues, Let Loose the Horses
I love love love this album. As I understand it, The Rescues is comprised of four singer/songwriters who were all active on their own at one point or another, but who later joined forces in the perfect example of a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts. The voices all put together are something truly special to behold, as evidenced on the amazing track, “My Heart With You.” The track appeared on their early-2010 EP, which is worth picking up just for the one song that was left off the album. These are voices that were clearly meant to meld together, and they work to devastatingly beautiful effect.
The Hold Steady, Heaven Is Whenever
If you’ve never seen The Hold Steady live, you’ll want to watch the embedded video for a primer on lead singer Craig Finn’s beyond-adorable affect. This Brooklyn band has obviously been floating around for several years, but I only had an opportunity to see them for the first time this fall. I remember remarking to my roommate that Finn just seemed like he was having so much fun on stage – like he’s some little kid they picked out of the crowd to sing along with the band. It’s an experience that translates beautifully to the album, a well-paced collection of what I can only describe as summer songs. There’s not a whole lot of variety in the melodies, but if you’re a Hold Steady fan, you’ll know that the melodies are superfluous to the honest and funny storytelling in each song. The whole album brings to mind the kind of hot summer nights where old friends sit around telling tall tales. On “Our Whole Lives,” Finn croons, “we’re good guys, but we can’t be good every night,” and it might as well be the motto for the entire album; it evokes the feeling that these are a bunch of good guys who like to cause a little mischief every now and then. Which is completely fine by me.
Freelance Whales, Weathervanes
I’m pretty sure I picked up on these guys via Grey’s Anatomy (please don’t criticize my questionable taste in TV), but I’m not quite sure how I ever lived without them before. Freelance Whales’ music calls to mind melodies by Joshua Radin and details by (yep) early Sufjan Stevens, but there’s a crispness to their music that avoids the drowsy sentimentality of the aforementioned gentlemen. There’s also something younger about their sound – a hopefulness, perhaps – that I find completely spellbinding.
Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More
Now, before you give me a hard time about this one, I’m completely aware that Sigh No More was released in 2009. But it came across my path in early spring 2010 – recommended, in fact, by the same friend who brought Frank Turner to my ears. And let’s face it, the world fell in love with Mumford & Sons in 2010. You couldn’t turn on a prime-time soap or flip past an MTV commercial this fall without hearing the strains of one of their soulful anthems. The band members are also prolific bloggers on their website, and they’re widely known for creating a welcoming, comforting atmosphere at their live shows. Not that I would know, because who could get a ticket for one of their US shows this fall? Regardless, I love this album more than I could even begin to express – and to be honest, I don’t even want to try. It’s the kind of album you can just marinate in, one that improves with every listen and practically begs you to add your voice to their hearty chorus. You’re missing out without this album. End of story.
The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt and Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird
Everything I feel for Mumford & Sons goes double for the Tallest Man on Earth, also known as the rather slight-of-frame Kristian Matsson. He released The Wild Hunt, earlier this year and followed it up in September with the five-track EP, Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird, following the tremendous success of his brilliant 2008 debut, Shallow Grave. I’ll skip the easy Dylan comparisons that have been done to death, and just say that I find more to love about every new release from this prolific artist. He is the true master of his reedy guitar, and it’s always obvious he knows his raspy voice perfectly well, and uses both instruments to their fullest. Matsson shows growth from one effort to the next, and I love the range he shows with the piano-driven ‘Kids on the Run”, the electric guitar on “The Dreamer” and the charming melodic departure of “A Lion’s Heart”. Sometimes the Blues… is a lovely coda to the trajectory set by The Wild Hunt, and I daresay the two releases deserve to be placed together on the shelf.
That’s it for my 2010 album picks, but I’d love to hear what you all discovered and loved this year! Be sure to point out any egregious exclusions from the list in the comments.