The obvious music story of the week is the death of Bunny Wailer. I admit that I am not a reggae fan, though in small doses it’s fine. In fact, what always got in the way of me really digging The Clash was all the reggae-influenced numbers. But you certainly can’t overstate the importance of Bunny and Marley and Tosh and everyone else in that band to the entire global music scene.
Sir Mix-a-Lot is sort of seen as a joke because of his one hit wonder status from “Baby Got Back.” That’s not strictly true. He had a few big hits before that (in fact, the first show I ever went to on my own as Sir Mix-a-Lot in Eugene when I was 15) such as “Beepers” and “Posse on Broadway.” But more the point, the guy is actually a pretty good dude who has done a lot for the Seattle community and that very much includes during the pandemic.
“I knew that … if those clubs died, the next generation, they have nowhere to sharpen their skills,” Mix said. “They don’t have anywhere to go and these are small businesses that helped me. For me to stand idly by and watch these clubs go away, I can’t do that.”
Behind the scenes, Mix had been a close WANMA ally ever since his buddy who owns the Wild Buffalo in Bellingham called for help, not long after Mix’s scuttled tour. But his role became more public-facing after the formation of Keep Music Live last fall, the fan-led companion organization he co-chairs. Keep Music Live aims to raise $10 million to help see local clubs through their unwanted hibernation.
Since then, the homegrown rap star has been the face of the campaign, working the local TV news circuit to tout indie club stewards as community-driven small-business owners and how, for every concert ticket sold, an average of $32 is spent at neighboring businesses on show nights.
“It’s really an ecosystem, and I have to try to make people understand that it’s not some fat guy in a dark room snorting cocaine,” Mix says of club owners, deploying a go-to line from his save-the-clubs stump speeches. “So many people have that weird old 1970s image of what a nightclub is.”
With more than 30 years of club-rocking experience, Mix is no stranger to working a crowd, and those skills translate to the Zoom room. In those semiprivate Green Room Sessions run by Keep Music Live, and other virtual fundraisers, Mix serves as charismatic host, prompting would-be donors to open their wallets by promising to match their donations. Besides being co-chair, Mix is also Keep Music Live’s top donor, Severin says. Mix estimates he’s kicked in around $30,000 of his own money thus far.
So I was pretty confused this week. Kings of Leon, a band I have never cared one whit about, announced a project that seems to consist of words I do not understand.
American rock band Kings of Leon is getting in on the frenzy over non-fungible tokens, widely known as NFTs.
The group announced they’ll offer their latest album, “When You See Yourself,” in the form of an NFT, making it among the first bands to do so. Kings of Leon is offering its album package with a vinyl and digital download for a token priced at $50. It’ll be released Friday on YellowHeart (a ticketing and music NFT platform) and open for two weeks starting at noon ET. After that two-week period, no more will be made.
Kings of Leon is also offering more exclusive items as part of a series called “NFT Yourself.” People can bid on one of six “golden ticket” experiences, which offer fans four front row seats to the show of their choice during each tour for life.
So….I guess the band is going to waste a fuckload of energy through the computations required for the utter ridiculousness of crypto currencies to give their fans “experiences?” Pitchfork explains this a bit for the olde and in the way like me:
On February 28, Grimes auctioned off $5.8 million worth of digital art pieces within 20 minutes. More specifically, she sold NFTs. Short for “non-fungible tokens,” these cryptocurrency-adjacent virtual collectibles have recently attracted vigorous debate in the music community and beyond. The same weekend as Grimes’ sale, electronic musician 3LAU sold $11.6 million in NFTs, while Latin-trap star Ozuna sold out a batch of NFTs for about another $800,000. Now Kings of Leon are getting in on the action.
To over-simplify, an NFT is sort of like a digital certificate of authenticity. Digital artwork, by its very nature, can be copied and distributed instantly all around the world. But buying an NFT gives the customer proof of ownership for whatever they’re collecting, regardless of how many digital copies exist. Born out of the visual art world, NFTs create a sense of scarcity that’s inherently artificial—the token is rare, not the artwork itself. Accordingly, the story of NFTs is about commerce as much as music. What happens with them will have as much to do with the whims of financial markets as artistic ingenuity. The range of applications to music seems widespread but also tangential: Grimes sold images of babies toting spears through space, occasionally with snippets of her music attached, while other NFTs confer their buyers with distinctive album packages or live show perks.
I….still don’t understand any of this. I just want the damn kids to get off my lawn. Which is not a cryptolawn. You can also take your low-fi mixes of video game music, which is evidently a thing, and leave my lawn as well.
Sconnie rap. Not sure if they are laying down beats about cheese curds and ice fishing.
Sadly, The Bottle Rockets are no more. Good band, unfortunately not one I ever saw live.
As country music is forced to deal with its deep-seated racism, its artists are also coming out and embracing their queer identity. For a lot of country fans, I think this is going to be easier to embrace than anti-racism. But there is a long tradition of women in country being expected to date country dudes. The entire genre’s history is littered with sexist behavior toward so many artists, which is why Loretta Lynn had so many songs banned from the radio from time to time even though they were also hits, among other examples.
Junk Magic, Compass Confusion
A project led by the great pianist Craig Taborn, this is first rate material, combining some of the best musicians in modern jazz (Mat Maneri, Chris Speed, Erik Fratzke, David King) with electronic effects and post-production to create a deeply textured set that ranges from dark late-peak Miles to jams that take you to another world.
I’ve said this before, but the jazz being created today is equal to that of the 1950s and 1960s that everyone adores.
The Stroppies, Whoosh
I really like this 2019 album out of the Melbourne indie-pop scene. This keyboard heavy (not electronics heavy, classic keyboard sound heavy), boy-girl duet band just really nails what a solid indie-pop album should sound like to my ears. “Cellophane Car” is my personal favorite, perhaps because it is even more organ heavy than the other songs. Fun band.
Black Belt Eagle Scout, At the Party with My Brown Friends
Black Belt Eagle Scout is the stage name of the Swinomish indie rocker Katherine Paul. It’s neither here nor there in evaluating this album, but it’s worth noting the long and consistently underplayed history of Native rock and roll. On the merits itself, I’d say this is fairly standard, fairly interesting queer indie rock, something like Julien Baker’s work. She’s a pensive songwriter with a lot of tension in the music. For me, it doesn’t quite rise above the general world of slightly depressive indie pop to blow me away. But it’s certainly very solid work.
Low, Double Negative
I realized I hadn’t lisetned to a Low album in forever and then I remembered why I don’t much care for Low while listening to Double Negative. I should like a beat-heavy indie band with tons of fuzz and sound effects over some often incomprehensible vocals, but I don’t. The sound effects often move closer to annoying or even excruciating to my poor beleaguered ears than adding much positive to the atmosphere. If the vocals occasionally rose above the morass, that one would help, but they mostly shine through when the morass is turned down into background and even then, they don’t quite lead to enough for me to listen to this again.
There is so many great hip-hop or hip-hop adjacent artists out of Britain these days. Kate Tempest and Blood Orange are a couple of the best. Add Dave to this list. This is a remarkable album from 2019. Set up as a psychiatric session, this is an intensive and often quite dark examination of identity and the struggles of life. It peaks in one of the most astounding hip hop songs I have ever heard, an 11 minute song called “Lesley,” about an abusive relationship that ends up with the murder of the woman. And then it ends with a song framed by a conversation with Dave’s own brother, serving a long prison sentence from murder, lamenting, “I lost the only person I ever fucking idolised.” With fairly sparse production, this really relies on Dave’s words. And to say the least, he steps up to task. Wow.
I want to be clear what I think about this album. I have never given an A+ before since I started writing these posts. Until now.
Eliza Gilkyson, 2020
Since I’m a left-liberal labor guy, I guess I’m supposed to like earnest political folk music. While I can sometimes like that, usually I don’t. That’s because it usually lacks much to say. There’s no edge. There’s a reason that Gang of Four’s Entertainment alone has much more to say to me than just about the entirety of political folk music since 1980. Or Algiers or Drive By Truckers, for more modern comparisons. Or, to compare to the last album in this post, Dave.
Last year, the veteran Texas folkie Eliza Gilkyson released 2020, an anthem album for the year of struggle. Well, that’s fine. But it does struggle with the typical problem of the folk song. It has some OK covers that are rote for an album for this. The cover of “Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” is fine enough but who hasn’t heard this a million times? It doesn’t move the conversation around the song forward enough. As for Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” it’s just not that good. Somewhat more useful is putting Woody Guthrie’s letter to the racist scum landlord Fred Trump into music. The originals though aren’t that much better. Rather than cut and stab into the problems of today, they tend toward the “let’s just all get along” and “the people united will never be defeated.” I guess that’s OK if you are looking for a fairly easy liberal message. But this already feels dated and probably would have had I heard it a year ago when it was first released. Think about how little a lot of modern white folk artists have to say about social change and the struggles of the working class compared to hip hop artists. Gilkyson is a fine artist in her own right, but this comes up short in terms of political commentary and relevance.
Arthur Russell, Iowa Dream
For a guy who was such a perfectionist that he released almost no music during his sadly short life, there has been an overwhelming amount of Russell archival releases in the last 15 years. His experimental disco is hard for me to listen to, but I do like his songwriting side quite a bit. A lot of his very best songs came out on Love is Overtaking Me, but Iowa Dream, released last year, is a worthy collection as well. As a songwriter, Russell combined a Midwestern wistfulness (he was from Iowa before entering the New York art scene) with a atmospheric sense of song that often set a mood better than telling a story. Not every song here is gold, but it’s worth your time.
Moses Sumney, Grae
Try as I might, I just can’t get into Sumney. He’s very popular with the hipster kids as he presents a Black queer emotionally upfront version of popular music with lyrics and asides about loving ourselves and each other. I respect all of this. But it’s the vocal style that I can’t get past. His falsetto is so chopped up by the way he sings the syllables, all drawn out and vibrating, that it’s hard to follow the music. You want him to take over a little bit and just belt it out. I have the same issue with D’Angelo, another legend that leaves me a bit cold. It’s a bit of a specific complaint, but it’s mine nonetheless. There’s just not enough for me to grab onto.
Son Little, New Magic
Son Little is…..OK. He’s certainly competent at the many forms of Black music that he works in. But he’s also a kind of fine and pretty easy listening conglomeration of the last 60 years of Black music. There’s the retro soul, but it’s less interesting than, say, Leon Bridges. There’s plenty of rock and roll, but Living Colour or Algiers this definitely is not. There’s the blues background, but he’s not really moving that conversation forward. There’s nothing wrong with any of this. I’m sure he’s a perfectly nice act to see live. It’s a perfectly nice album to hear. But that’s what it is: nice. And nice also is kinda dull. The closer “Demon to the Dark” is the highlight, provider a darker edge to the music that the album could use more of.
David Murray with Saul Williams, Blues for Memo
Murray is a legendary saxophonist, most noted for his World Saxophone Quartet work. But this album, in part a tribute to the Turkish jazz legend Mehmet “Memo” Uluğ falls a bit short. Saul Williams, who has done spoken word work on lots of albums over the years, handles that here too. But both words and music tend to be a little on the superficial side and even a bit cheesy at times. Even at its best, when Williams writes about police killings of Black people and Murray provides the soundtrack for it, I just don’t find it works all that well. Lot of quality people here, but the sum doesn’t quite add up to the parts.
As always, this is an open thread for all things art and music and none things politics or disease.