Many musicians eventually witness one of their compositions become most famous while being sung in another artist’s voice—pending a surge in radio spins for “Tower of Song,” that’s the chair Leonard Cohen will forever be tied to. A rarer phenomenon, though, is the artist who reveals some fundamental aspect of themselves while playing a cover. (When popular music was experienced primarily through live performance, bands prided themselves on their ability to master new jams; even as the recorded object replaced the interpreted song as the basic unit of listening in the 1950s, you could still find a dozen versions of numerous hits.)
Prince has inspired a few of them, although to my ears the only adaptation that entirely escapes his orbit is Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You.” I love the Pet Shop Boys’s version of “Always On My Mind,” which renders guileless, chastened lyrics as arch exhibitionism. And a good troll might argue that the Beatles sounded best, or at least happiest, running through Chuck Berry and the Marvelettes.
Kanye’s ridiculous, wonderful music video for “Bound 2” came out several days ago, but I can’t stop watching or thinking about it. Here are a dozen quick cuts.
1. Between the oversaturated wildlife and Charlie Wilson’s regally disembodied voice I almost expected a Disney number to break out. Kanye and Kim, rising aloft on interlocked eagles.
2. The green-screen aesthetic also puts me in mind of cutscenes from some old PlayStation RPG—those horses galloping towards the camera could be the opening frames of a Final Fantasy IX summon. It’s like a New Age sleep-aid CD given life.
Heidecker & Wood’s new album, Some Things Never Stay the Same, manages to be both a novelty album written by a comedian and a genuine ’70s throwback. It’s hard to know how seriously to take it, but it might be better that way.
On the title track from her fourth album Matangi, M.I.A. shouts out entire continents of countries, like an internationalist “Brooklyn’s Finest”: “Somalia, Bosnia, Cuba Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Bhutan Morocco, Botswana, Ghana, India, Serbia, Libya Lebanon, Gambia, Namibia, Bali Mali Chile Malawi…” Some of these are regions where she’s lived, recorded in or borrowed iconography from, but it can also be read as a diasporic roll call, places of flight and refuge. (You don’t need to cross the NSA to enter a stateless state; the U.S. government denied Maya Arulpragasam a visa to make Kala because of family ties to the Tamil Tigers.) The later diss of Drake, recently photographed next to Toronto’s own Ubu Roi, almost seems extraneous. She’s already implicitly rebuked his reflexive parochialism.
One of the first, best, and only things I read about Lou Reed on Sunday afternoon came from poet Michael Robbins. “My Lou Reed” trivialized the wave of writing about to hit us—“I know ten thousand bloggers are composing their ten thousand stories about how the Velvet Underground changed their lives, & I don’t believe rock & roll bands change people’s lives”—before sharing his story about how, when he was 16, the Velvet Underground changed his life. Reed’s legacy doesn’t need anyone to back it up with testimonials. The scope of his influence renders any single listener insignificant. Yet sharing personal stories seems a far more apt response than critical analysis.
That one stray word in the title of Army of Lovers: A Community History of Will Munro is integral. Sarah Liss’ book about the nightlife-changing activist, artist, and party-thrower, who died of brain cancer three years ago at the medieval age of 35, does use an oral-history structure, but she emphasizes the collective aspects of that form, just like her subject did. Whether stitching magical artifacts out of used briefs or seducing prim, atomized Toronto into polymorphous perversity with dance nights like Vazaleen, Munro used ephemeral objects and moments to lasting effect. His events bound together, to quote Liss’ subtitle, “club kids, art fags, hardcore boys, drag queens, rock ‘n’ roll queers, needlework obsessives, limp-wristed nellies, stone butches, new wave freaks, unabashed perverts, proud prudes and beautiful dreamers.”
Earlier this month, writing about the omnivorously virtuosic sisters of Haim, Slate music critic Carl Wilson (who is also a Hazlitt contributor, and a friend) invoked the grim purism of a decade ago, “when few artists labeled ‘indie’ would flirt with contemporary R&B.” One exception, he noted in an aside, was the Blow.
A bandonym for Portland-turned-Brooklyn artist Khaela Maricich and various shifting collaborators, the Blow makes minimalist pop about frustrated or at least convoluted longing. On 2002’s “Hey Boy,” Maricich meanders through a list of possible reasons why some guy didn’t call her: “A) you’re gay, B) you’ve got a girlfriend, C) you kinda thought I came on too strong, or, D) I just wasn’t your thing, no ring.” After six years of inactivity while formerly walled-off genres mounted their trellises, the Blow’s self-titled new album sounds dependable rather than novel. What persists is the charming idiosyncrasy of Maricich’s pithy, conversational vocal style, self-doubting but good at riding a beat.
The year I loved the Dismemberment Plan more than any other band in the world was also the most boring year of my life. Boring in a boring way, too, the way things are boring when you’re 15 and average and marooned in the world of your childhood. I worked an after-school job at a Catholic uniform store and came home by a bus route whose most interesting feature was a graveyard. I lived in Toronto, but I’d stopped smoking weed and without a fake ID I had nothing to do on weekends except ride the streetcar and chain smoke. Sometimes my best friend and I voyaged out into the suburbs, which were exotic to us—all the bands we liked came from the suburbs. One of the best nights of the year involved an acoustic concert at a Timothy’s in Whitby; the lead singer finger-banged me during an early-morning rerun of MacGyver.
For over a decade, Pusha T has rapped enthusiastically, unavoidably, and unapologetically about selling cocaine. Born Terrence Thornton, the 36-year-old Virginia native never bothers with the metropolitan sheen of Jay Z nor the hardscrabble regionalism of Deep South heroes such as Scarface. In Pusha’s musical universe, drugs are peddled with the same stark intensity, the same frantic bursts of darkness and light, with which they’re used.
There’s money made, but the rewards are always relatively modest or stuck in the background. Soldiers fall, fiends struggle, and women lurk, though never in a way that knocks Pusha’s solipsism off its mark. It sounds repetitive, monotonous. In practice, Pusha has been one of hip-hop’s sharpest, mostly consistently rewarding emcees (check out Jack Hamilton’s overview at Slate). “Grindin’,” the 2002 minimalist banger made back when Pusha and his brother Malice were the Neptunes-sponsored duo Clipse, could’ve been a one-hit wonder. Instead, it’s proven a remarkably durable mission statement.
As Ocean Pup, Harper LaRoche was Leather Space Man’s confidant, drummer, and lover. This is how she broke his heart.
Writing about a previous edition of Pop Montreal, I said that certain music festivals feature so many tempting shows as to make the scattered rush between them “strangely serene.” This time around, it was tranquil in a muted sense. You couldn’t wander down the street and encounter a band like the precise, nimbly noisy Deerhoof playing some unfamiliar club. There were no agonized choices akin to last year’s between Venus X and Lil B, at least for somebody with my tastes; I invariably found only one set luring me at every hour of the night. But in that subdued, off-peak mood, several moments still seemed emphatic.
Marc Jacobs made some people upset recently. Or, rather, Marc Jacobs made a lot of people who generally give no fucks about Marc Jacobs write feverish posts about the style house on their Facebook walls. Scandal struck when someone in the presumably deep Marc Jacobs bureaucracy designed a shirt that was essentially a copy of one of white power skinhead band Skrewdriver’s album covers—and not the first album, either, which sketchy dudes of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities will continuously and tediously defend as “not the racist one.”
You sometimes hear, including from me, that the annual Polaris Prize shortlists represent a misleadingly narrow spectrum of Canadian music, dominated by guitar-centric indie and its folksier hinterlands. Ascribe it to the lingering cultural prejudices of this huge small country, the taste consensus of the 200-plus bloggers, broadcasters and critics (like this one) who determine each year’s nominees, the ideological construct of meritocracy, the magnetic undulations of aurora borealis, whatever you prefer. But the performers at last night’s gala defied that critique: in the Art Moderne auditorium built by a ruined mercantile dynasty we heard assaultive riffs, worldly R&B, unbreathing minimalism, queer dance-pop, aboriginal club anthems, and finally a rejection of any such mediation. Jessica Hopper introduced the eventual oversized cheque recipients with two or three sentences: “Godspeed has decided not to be here.”
Drake’s new album, Nothing Was the Same, will be officially released tomorrow. Anupa Mistry and Rawiya Kameir talked about it.
Aubrey’s currently living in L.A., though his presence never looms far from the city. The downtown condo and a Forest Hill basement, Acura days, jubbies from Jungle, white wine spritzers at Vivoli—all are indelible to his geospecific narrative. Between the slang and the restaurant call-outs, the street references, and the “same city, same friends” mentality, Drake continues to mythologize his version of Toronto on NWTS. I love visualizing early morning light over the massive, 16-lane 401 as Drake drives east to Markham Road against traffic, while listening to “Connect.”
On “Wu-Tang Forever,” a rap head-trolling song that felt initially underwhelming but is fast becoming a fav, he says: “I just gave the city life / It ain’t about who did it first / It’s about who did it right.” You recently moved back to Toronto from London; does Drake’s mythologizing feel even more potent because you’ve been away? What makes this record feel so ~TORONTO~ to you? And, most important, do you agree with his statement? Did he do it right?
Last month, I did something I sedulously try to avoid and entered a serious discussion on Facebook. Another music-writer friend posted about Macklemore’s gay-equality single “Same Love“ and asked (to paraphrase), “why would anybody attack this song?”
I left a series of possibly-deranged-looking comments, trying to explain why I and others have such disdain for it: the spectacle of a straight white rapper sanctimoniously calling out “hip-hop culture,” i.e. black people, thereby overshadowing both queer MCs from that culture and his own lesbian collaborator; the adoring reaction from certain excitable websites, as if “Same Love” were a more rebloggable “Strange Fruit”; the well-meaning lyrics’ resemblance to a bad college-entrance essay. Then a bunch of strangers got mad. That almost surprised me, because all I did was echo existing “Same Love” critiques less eloquently. The NYC rapper Le1f tweeted one of the pithiest a few weeks ago, while noting that Macklemore’s #1 hit “Thrift Shop” is also strongly reminiscent of his earlier track “Wut.”
Who owns “Y.M.C.A.”? At this point, the cheesy disco number feels like part of the culture, more a folk song than a piece of recorded intellectual property. After untold bar mitzvahs and countless stadium sing-a-longs, after entire generations of awkward teenagers have spelled out its title with their skinny arms at middle-school dances, how can you possibly hope to control it?
Because the world is occasionally a beautiful place, 2 Chainz included a 28-page cookbook with his new album, B.O.A.T.S. 2 #Metime, which was released earlier this week. While the cookbook in its current form presents recipes for favorites such as shrimp scampi and garlic mashed potatoes, the original version was less focused on tour-bus cuisine and offered more in the way of guerrilla warfare tactics than your average foodie may expect. Here, a deleted entry from the unedited manuscript.
Big Star assumed fame was theirs and the world let them down; Death left their music behind and the world handed it back to them, legitimized. Sometimes, the line between failure and triumph is a matter of ambition.
As the equinox approaches, music nerds everywhere obsess over an album unlike the dominant sound on the radio, one forgoing EDM tempos and fraught, compulsive party anthems. Late last summer, the soprano of choice was Carly Rae Jepsen, whose winsome record Kiss, taking reference points from half a century of pop and romantic ambiguity as its subject—my friend Brad described it as “songs of varied success with unresponsive interfaces, all of them boy-shaped”—tragically reached fewer people than the 17th most popular “Call Me Maybe” meme. Ariana Grande’s new debut Yours Truly enjoys advantages Jepsen did not, like her built-in American fandom from a bunch of Nickelodeon TV shows I’ve never seen. But it’s also a precise, studied evocation of ‘90s R&B, a period adored harder still during the genre’s present marginalization. Why raid sarcophagi for Aaliyah vocal sketches—really, Drake, get cursed—when you could just hire Babyface, who produced not a few of those original hits?