Category Archives: Music

Why people hate the Black Eyed Peas

Music critic, friend, and prolific freelancer Dan Weiss wrote a piece for the San Francisco Weekly called Here’s Why People Really Hate the Black Eyed Peas — and Why It’s Unfair. His piece was in response to Ann Powers’ similar article Pop’s Punching Bag: Hating The Black Eyed Peas, both addressing why people have such hatred for what is otherwise Just Another Pop Group.

Dan’s main point is essentially this:

Anyway, people hate the Peas not because of their lack of realism or accountability, but because their lyrics don’t even pretend to carry heft or lead listeners toward anything but a big, unspecific party. We “know” they glorify drinking, but their lack of specificity (some would say substance) couldn’t influence a dorm-mate to chug a shot.

Yes, the Peas have corny, nonsensical lyrics. But hating them on that basis betrays a misunderstanding of pop music’s great history of corny, nonsensical lyrics. From Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” to Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” the people who make these songs hits simply do not care. They want to dance and be as silly as possible, sometimes nonsensically. (Haters might, however, have a point that the Black Eyed Peas’ songs have no personality, or even that the members don’t “own” their futuristic getups the way Kanye and Lady Gaga do.)

He makes some good points, but he’s also a little off base here. If you ask someone why they hate the Black Eyed Peas, not their music, they’re unlikely to say it’s because of their lyrics or lyrical content–though this is a fair argument for hating their music in general. Rather, the reason that people hate the Black Eyed Peas is because of how they carry themselves.

No one hates LMFAO. They like to party. They make music for partying. And, despite not having the cultural cache or face recognition that the Peas do, LMFAO are dudes that live (or act like they live) the life of the music they make, that is, music to get drunk to. LMFAO are the new Andrew WK: when it’s time to party they will party hard.

The Peas have nearly the same formula, or at least it’s the formula that has turned them into the biggest pop act on the planet. But the Black Eyed Peas don’t love partying, they love being artists. And so they act tough, they dress tough, they try to present themselves as brooding, futurism-driven Artists. Fergie drops hackneyed battle-rap lyrics in the middle of their songs (“I’m so 3008, you so 2000 and late”). pimps himself as a Serious Rapper and shows up on records acting harder than he has any right now.

Because, let’s be honest, there’s not a whole lot to hate about “Boom Boom Pow” or “My Humps”. They’re silly pop songs that were made to get people on the dancefloor. Now if only someone will inform the Black Eyed Peas that’s what they’re doing, we wouldn’t have this problem.



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On First Listen: Actress – “Parallel World”

Just moments after XLR8R magazines posts the new song by Actress, it’s already up on Youtube for widespread consumption. Isn’t the internet grand?

Actress was responsible for one of my favorite records of last year and one of the better songs of the year, too. While a lot of his work is bass-heavy droning dance music, his new single “Parallel World” is anything but. The track opens on a stuttering musicbox melody with little accompaniment behind until a fried, mid-heavy sythn line enters. The individual instruments are all pretty frantic, oscillating at breakneck speed, but they blend together to create a fairly subdued whole.

The song runs on a little long, clocking in at about nine minutes. After six minutes, it begins a slow decent to its spacious end, but even the intriguing final minute or two can’t make up for a bit of the monotony in the middle. Regardless, it’s an interesting cut to come from Actress whose fingerprints are all over this track, despite it sounding unlike anything he typically does.

Download an MP3 of the song at XLR8R.

UPDATE: Actress, via his Twitter (@ctress_a; if you need verification of his awesomeness, look no further than his Twitter handle) has released three different songs, each about two minutes in length. Recommended.

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On First Listen: Balam Acab – “Apart”

If you haven’t already heard the self-titled debut EP from New York post-dubstep (or whatever you want to call it) artist Balam Acab, aka Alec Koone, shame on you. Though it’s understandable if you haven’t. The release received shockingly little publicity for how good it was.

Koone creates dense, velvety, echo-chamber electronica, not unlike his forebearer Burial. It’s often sample-laden and has more distinct melodies and song structure than a lot of dance music. His closest contemporary (and still-working, get with making a new record, Burial) comparisons are the equally unknown Sepalcure and the early works of now-indie  media darling James Blake, albeit with less of the frantic tension.

“Apart”, the second single from Balam Acab’s upcoming debut LP is better than the ethereal first single “Oh, Why“, whose shuffling electronics, heavenly piano, and butterfly flutter hi-hats create one of the best songs of the year. “Apart” begins with a sea urchin bass line slowly swaying and contracting amid a wash of keyboard drones, while the sounds of a mid-90s line printer tear apart the structure of the song. The cavernous chipmunked vocals that spring to life a few bars later cut through the density of the backing sonics like a hot knife to butter.

Unfortunately, the vocal introduction is the most striking idea in the song. From there, Koone lets it slowly run its course. It’s not that “Apart” doesn’t go anywhere, necessarily, but it stops abruptly and without resolution, which isn’t entirely disappointing given the high you’re riding throughout the entire song, though you wish it had a few more concepts. Regardless, this is another notch on Koone’s bedpost and another reason to continue frothing at the mouth for his new record.

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On First Listen: Battles – Gloss Drop

During the summer of 2004, I took a girl I really liked to a Prefuse 73 concert at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. I didn’t know anything about the opening bands and frankly didn’t care that much about seeing Prefuse because, well, I was on a date with her. When we arrived, the Blind Pig was dingy and smokey–Michigan was one of the last states to outlaw smoking indoors and this venue was particularly congested–so we sat near the front window, on the other side of the venue from the stage.

A group that I had never heard of took the stage and started playing as I tended to my date who was having trouble breathing through the smoke. We went to the basement of the Blind Pig for shelter but there was little to be found. She was becoming visibly sick and wasn’t sure if she’d be able to make it given the No Re-entrance policy. We sat through the entire set of what I called “electronic music played on instruments” before she threw in the towel and we had to leave. I never saw Prefuse 73 that night but saw plenty of shirts that said “I have BTTLS in my life”. After dropping her off, I went home and Googled the phrase.

A few weeks later, the band’s only releases–B EP, EP C, and Tras–quickly became my favorite records. At the time, they were a band I could reference that not even a lot of my musically-inclined friends knew much about. They felt like a “find”, the likes of which I never come across. And when their debut LP Mirrored dropped to critical acclaim, I felt further vindicated.

The group’s latest release, Gloss Drop, however, is something of a disappointment. Battles thrives when they’re obliterating conventional instrument roles, when guitars sound like keyboards or martians and the group is on some Let Our Powers Combine Captain Planet shit. The dizzying pace of Mirrored‘s tracks kept this dynamic alive, but Gloss Drop mostly dismisses this trend in favor of individual identities: that‘s the guitar, that‘s the melody.

Rarely is that clearer than with the inclusion of vocal guest spots from the likes of Matias Aguayo (“Ice Cream”), Gary Numan (“My Machines”), and Kazu Makino (“Sweetie & Shag”). I mean, these are songs, not sonic cacophonies. All of the things that make Battles so captivating (alienness, obfuscation, slight of hand) are shed in favor of song structure and clearly defined roles. And when they do favor their old ways, tracks like “Inchworm” come out, which sound like they’re missing guest spots from the Animal Collective collective.

The real problem may be a lack of syncopation. Relisten to “Atlas” whose drum beat is almost dizzying or “Leyendecker” whose percussion only snaps on 2 and 4 because it’s hitting every other beat. There was a sense of controlled congestion to Battles that’s missing on Gloss Drop, a record that’s defined by its structure. The problem with the record is not that there’s singing, it’s that there’s room to sing. There are openings and gaps where you’re confronted with vacant space that could be better served being punctured by another Is That A Guitar Or Keyboard melody.

And while it must be difficult to keep up that level of next-level composition for long, this sudden a fall off is still disappointing. No longer are these guys doing “electronic music played on instruments”. They’re just playing instruments, like everyone else.

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Music Diary Project: April 7

The fourth entry in a series for Sick Mouthy’s Music Diary Project. Previously: Music Diary Project: April 4, Music Diary Project: April 5, Music Diary Project: April 6

Because there aren’t enough pictures in these posts

Artist Album Time of Day Duration Location Notes
97.1 radio station 6:55 AM 15 mins Driving to work
Instra:Mental Resolution 653 9:46 AM 20 mins Work New leak
Instra:Mental Resolution 653 10:12 AM 10 mins Work
Daedelus f. Milosh “Tailor Made (Sepalcure Remix)” 11:15 5 mins Work Found on Twitter
Instra:Mental Resolution 653 2:40 PM 4 mins Work
Jamie Woon “Gravity” live 2:44 PM 5 mins Work Felt like listening to this track after seeing it on the blog
Instra:Mental Resolution 653 2:51 PM 10 mins Work
Instra:Mental Resolution 653 3:40 PM 16 mins Work
Jay-Z Blueprint 4:02 PM 19 mins Driving home from work

You know the drill by now: listening at work is punctuated by stops and starts and is almost all new material; driving home I listened to some old school(ish) hip hop; and in the mornings, I listen to one of three radio stations that play songs of varying genres. If nothing else, my listening patterns are at least consistent.

My album of choice yesterday was Instra:Mental’s new Resolution 653*. It’s a twitchy dance record that a few friends were discussing and I knew nothing about. I decided to give it a whirl. Not really my thing so I only made it about 75% of the way through the record. Recommended for serious beatz people, though.

I had also forgotten just how good Jay-Z’s Blueprint was. Song after song, I was reminded of just how good Hova used to be. I still believe that Blueprint is dude’s best record because, yeah, it is. The first 5-6 tracks are absolute fire and when it does eventually fall off a bit, it’s not too far. He just sounds invigorated and hungry on this record in a way that you don’t hear from him in most of his catalog.

Total listening time for the day was 114 minutes (1 hour and 54 minutes), which is a pretty steep decline from the last few days. I remember spending a large portion of the day with my headphones on but no music playing. I don’t know why necessarily, but the practice of wearing my headphones at work is just natural now.

*I just realized it, but when I had this in my Excel spreadsheet and would use the autofill feature to copy the artist/album into subsequent rows, the album title was slowly ticking up: Resolution 653, Resolution 654, Resolution 655.

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Music Diary Project: April 6

The third entry in a series for Sick Mouthy’s Music Diary Project. Previously: Music Diary Project: April 4, Music Diary Project: April 5

Artist Album Time of Day Duration Location Notes
Jamie Woon “Gravity” 8:30 AM 40 mins Work Plan to listen to Frank Ocean after this song
Frank Ocean Nostalgia, Ultra 9:18 AM 45 mins Work Listened to Jamie Woon much longer than I expected
Asher Roth/Pains of Being Pure of Heart mashup From the Hood Internet 10:10 AM 2 mins Work Retweeted
Four Tet DJ set 10:12 AM 7 mins Work Found on Twitter
Jamie Woon Mirrorwriting 10:21 AM 44 mins Work
Isolee Well Spent Youth 1:51 PM 9 mins Work Stopped to write work e-mail
Isolee Well Spent Youth 2:22 PM 15 mins Work
Pusha T Fear of God mixtape 3:58 PM 10 Mins Driving home from work
Prefuse 73 One Word Extinguisher 4:10 PM 10 mins Driving home from work
Nicolas Jaar Space is Only Noise 7:38 PM 20 mins Driving to pick up pizza

By this point, my habits are becoming pretty clear: The majority of my listening is done at work and almost all of it is new music. Because I sit at a computer for 8 hours every day, I’m almost constantly scouring the web and looking for new DJ sets or Youtube clips of live shows.

Because there’s so much new music out there, I rarely listen to anything old. A frequent criticism of me is that I don’t listen to anything made before I was born, and for the most part, that’s true. I spent a lot of time getting acquainted with the canon and working my way through back catalogs, but at this point, I like to stay up to date on the new things that are happening. And given that I don’t do a lot of listening after work, there’s not a whole lot of time in the day to throw on old Prince records and just soak them in (this is not necessarily a critique on the canon or Prince specifically).

It was a pretty electronic day, otherwise. I listened to Nicolas Jaar’s brilliant Space Is Only Noise (my current album of the year) for the first time this week, and I also threw on the new Isolee record which is going to be the best record no one cares about in 2011, even people that like dance music.

My driving music was basically what it always is except late at night, which I mentioned yesterday, when I threw on Jaar.

My total listening time yesterday was 202 minutes (3 hours and 22 minutes), which is more in line with Monday’s listening than Tuesday’s. I expect that my listening will hover in this general area for the rest of the week until Saturday and Sunday, when I probably won’t listen to much music at all. But we’ll see what happens when we get there.

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On First Listen: Jamie Woon – “Gravity”

Because this record isn’t out yet, the only Youtube recording there is of “Gravity” is a live version, but this is a fairly faithful live rendering.

Though I’m smitten by large portions of Jamie Woon’s Mirrorwriting, the high point on the record is the subtle “Gravity,” a song that has quickly become Song of the Year, something that changes on a semi-regular basis. But for at least a few days, “Gravity” has the honor of holding the Song of the Year distinction in the mind of a nondescript music blogger.

“Gravity” is a breakup song and in that regard, it’s unremarkable. But the subtlety by which he unveils that revelation (Money is time / Time is a currency / You and I both know who you’re spending yours on) is captivating. The separation in the final line (“You and I”) is a reminder that this is no longer a “we” situation. The song opens with what sounds like white noise, accompanied by light strings and a single acoustic guitar. Woon is alone, and you can hear it not only in his voice and lyrics, but in the gaps of instrumentation. This is a diary entry, not an R&B song.

Possibly the track’s greatest strength, however, is the range that Woon sings in. When approaching subjects like Woon does here, it’s important that listeners can relate to them, otherwise lyrics typically sound contrived and stereotypical. But there’s a very Everyman-ness to “Gravity” because of where Woon’s voice hovers. I’m sure Ne-Yo has better range, but if you want me to relate to something, it’s best to make it attainable and understandable.

There’s no redemption or anger in this song. It’s an exploration of feelings shortly after you’ve discovered the woman you love has left you for someone else. There’s loneliness and hollowness and a sense of longing. But most of all, there’s confusion, something you can grasp in the way Woon whispers his vocals.

By the time Woon’s voice fades to black, you’re left with the electronic buzz that had been building behind him, unaware of where it came from and only now able to recognize its air-thin, receding qualities.

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