Thursday, August 30

Warm Spots in a Cold Summer

Let's face it, this past summer was a pretty lame one as far as music is concerned. It was a struggle, but I was able to find 10 things about music this summer that were pretty good.

10) Amy Winehouse goes into rehab: When Amy Winehouse sang about going to rehab on her breakthrough album Back to Black, some critics thought it was an empty sentiment, and that Winehouse was trying to cash in on a demographic by creating a false persona. Well, OK, I thought that. All doubts were shattered however, when the British singer and her husband Blake Feilder-Civil checked into a drug rehabilitation center. The trip to rehab came days after Winehouse was admitted to a hospital for an overdose after taking a cocktail containing heroine, cocaine, ecstasy, alcohol, and ketamine, a horse tranquilizer. While this is no laughing matter, it does give Winehouse a level of credibility that some (read: me) had questioned before. The news of the rehab not only gives Winehouse’s music a new level of sincerity, but it shows that she’s a freaking trooper. I mean, horse tranquilizer cocktail? What a bad-ass.

9) Sean Kingston – “Beautiful Girls”: With big name acts like Kanye West, James Blunt, John Legend, and Alicia Keys taking the summer off to release albums later in the year, it was up to smaller acts and no-names like Sean Kingston to provide the people with summertime jams. The 17-year-old Kingston stepped up to the plate big time with his song about good looking girls breaking hearts, aptly titled “Beautiful Girls.” Sampling “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King, the song is one of the catchiest songs released this past summer. Kingston’s voice is reminiscent of Akon’s, but he brings a level of innocence to the song, making it the soundtrack to high school drama instead of baby-mama drama. Apparently, the rest of the world agrees, as the song is currently number on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard Hot Digital Songs.

8) Bruce Springsteen gets the band back together: After releasing a solo album, 2005s Devils and Dust, The Boss is back together with his old crew, announcing that he will once again be paired up with the E Street Band. Not only have they recorded a new album to be released this fall, but the boys will be back in town soon enough, as a tour is rumored to be in the works for Bruce and the E Street Band. The album, which is set to be titled Magic, is the first album that Springsteen has done with the E Street Band since the critically acclaimed The Rising was released in 2002.

7) T.I – “Tell ‘Em I Said That”: While T.I’s 07 releases T.I Vs T.I.P was no where near as good as his 06 record King, it still served to show that T.I is one of the best mainstream rappers in hip-hop right now, and no song proves it better than “Tell ‘Em I Said That”. It boats sharp production centered on a dramatic keyboard, a capela lines, and a thermion to give it a spooky, threatening feeling. T.I is as sharp as ever as he calls out fake MCs everywhere, urging people to “run up on the suckers.” T.I may spend too much time calling out his opponents, but he sure sounds good when he does it.

6) Against Me! – New Wave: With the switch to a major label and releasing an album produced by Butch Vig, Against Me! will no doubt hear all the usual “sellout” accusations in the punk community. What those critics will miss is how far Against Me! has come as a band, and how good of a rock record they’ve made. The cleaner production and studio budget are all used to capacity on New Wave, as the band strives to push not only punk but rock music forward in hopes that music will matter again. If Against Me! can keep making tracks like the raucous “New Wave” or the power pop of “Thrash Unreal”, there is no doubt in my mind that they’ll pull it off.

5) Wal-Mart Sells DMR-Free Music Online: Not many people would be willing to praise a global conglomerate, but this time they did something right. Wal-Mart is now selling DMR free music at their online music store for 94 cents a song, a full 35 cents cheaper than on iTunes. DMR files have long been planted into music files as a means of slowing internet piracy, but problems with the songs and outrage by consumers has lead more and more companies to abandon the technology. This trend toward more open music sharing is more proof of the movement toward an all digital music market which is forcing more and more record labels to rethink how music is sold.

4) Rihanna – “Umbrella”: I don’t know how Rihanna keeps doing it. Last year, she rocked my cold, lonely world with “S.O.S”, a song that not only sounded better than ½ of the singles released that year, but also managed to make Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” relevant again, a feat that none had dared attempt since The Coneheads movie in 1993. Now, she found a way to bury herself in my brain once again, this time with “Umbrella”, which boats both the stupidest and catchiest chorus I’ve heard in years. You couldn’t turn around this summer without hearing the song blasting out of someone’s car, boom box, or ipod, and it never got old. If that isn’t the hallmark of a good song, I don’t know what is.

3) Lollapalooza:
The massive alt-rock festival was held in Chicago’s Grant Park for the third year in a row, and despite the fact the mammoth rock carnival no longer tours the country, people flocked to Chi-Town to watch up and comers like Tapes n’ Tapes and LCD Soundsystem play next to established acts like Modest Mouse, Daft Punk, and Pearl Jam. Regardless of personal tastes, Lollapalooza had something for everyone this year. From hip-hop acts like The Roots and Common, to pop singers like Amy Winehouse, to dance music from Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem, Lollapalooza covered all the bases. Not to mention producing some of the best live shows of the year. Tickets were a little more expensive than in past years (around $200), but people would pay that to see Pearl Jam, not to mention the 130 other bands at the festival. A success on all fronts.

2) Morrissey Turns Down 75 Million Dollars: In a time when has been rockers will get back together, embarrass themselves onstage, and shamelessly mine their back catalogue for a quick payday (cough The Police cough), Morrissey’s decision to not participate in a Smiths reunion is refreshing. The prolific singer and well documented sad sack reportedly turned down 75 million dollars to perform on a reunion tour set to take place sometime next year. Feelings about the Smiths aside, it isn’t often that a person will turn down money to do almost nothing, let alone 75 million dollars. Morrissey should be applauded for his decision.

1) Dan Deacon – Spiderman of the Rings: In a summer full of mediocre releases from second-tier artists, only one record stood out among the pack, fully embracing the ideal that summer should be loud, fast, fun, and over the top at all times. Spiderman of the Rings by Dan Deacon is as fun an album as I have heard all year. Deacon’s music is electronic ripped from the midi’s of childhood Nintendo games, cartoons, or whatever else happens to strike his fancy. Songs like “Woody Woodpecker” and “Snake Mistakes” push the listener just as much as they reward them; songs sometimes go into pitches that can be appreciated, but not enjoyed. Still, it is by no means a hard listen, as this is a party record for people with a nostalgic sense of humor and fun. The epic 12 minute trek that is “Wham City” is without a doubt the highlight of the record. Each sample lays on top of either other building to one giant, choral breakdown where everyone plays drums and sings. And in the center of it all is Deacon himself, every sound controlled and manipulated to suit his whims. Spiderman of the Rings is for the person who sees little kids playing with bubbles and thinks about joining in. After all, cutting loose is what the summer is all about.

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