5.30.2009

IVoryTowerz Radio Cops an Attitude

Does someone detect a little swagger on the underground podcast this week? When the mix includes bands like the Rolling Stones, the Wailers, the Velvet Underground and Nine Inch Nails, of course there's a not just a little bit of rock 'n roll attitude in the house. And don't forget The Beatles. But this is not all classic rock. There's plenty of edgy underground content too, including a request for the the influential but little known band The Monks. And the mix includes a hefty dose of new material but also touchstones from the past: more than 40 years of sound find their way into this program. The content ranges from ska, reggae and punk to heavy metal and also includes proto-punk, alternative rock, and folk. Rev up your motors because this one speeds along with its own special sneer. This program is especially designed for a convertible with the top down and the speedometer over the limit. Rock on and enjoy!



(To stream or download this podcast, please click here.)


Playlist

"Let It Rock" (live) by The Rolling Stones
"Kingston 12 Shuffle" by Bob Marley & the Wailers
“Save the World, Get the Girl" by The King Blues
Jeff’s New Wave: “867-5309/Jenny” by Tommy Tutone
"Refuse Angels" by Crocodiles
"I Hate You" by The Monks (request)
"I Can't Stand It" by The Velvet Underground
Cover Me: "Waiting for My Man" (live) by The Tom Robinson Band
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Dehydrated II” by Pestilence
"Not So Pretty Now" by Nine Inch Nails
“Punk Sandwich” by The Dixie Dregs
“A Day in the Life” (live) by Jeff Beck
“Run for Your Life” by The Beatles
"My Favorite Year" (live) by Tom Paxton
"Gratitude (for Curt Flood)" by The Baseball Project
"I am Here" by John McCutcheon


(Mp3 Runs - 1:16:58; 71 MB.)

The program includes songs with explicit lyrics.

(The photo is a promotional still from The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando; the film is distributed by Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures.)



DISCLAIMER: The iVoryTowerz podcast is a non-commercial, non-profit program designed and used for educational purposes. Some of the material contained in this podcast is previously copyrighted but used with permission. Other copyrighted material is reused following fair use guidelines. Any copyright holders who do not wish to have their material used should contact the programmers directly at ivorytowerzradio@att.net and it will be removed. The programmers do not support filesharing and encourage listeners to buy music from the artists featured in this podcast.





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5.29.2009

Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest & the Critics

by Rick Rockwell

It’s never pretty when critical darlings fall off that special untouchable pedestal. You can just hear the anguished cries, the breaking glass.

The latest example: Grizzly Bear and the band’s new release Veckatimest. It seems like everyone from National Public Radio to the alternative rock press fell in love with the band’s last release Yellow House.

Not this time. David Malitz in The Washington Post savaged the record as boring and pretentious.

Actually, much of Malitz' take on Veckatimest is correct. He analyzes the sound and explains it well. He just doesn’t like what Grizzly Bear has produced this time. The band has sinned. They did not meet his expectations. As if critics set the musical agendas of bands and songwriters.


What the reviews of Veckatimest reveal is the closed-minded nature of rock criticism. In that world, certain rules for music are the vogue: songs shouldn’t exceed five minutes; songs that are quiet and introspective are suspect; and anything that references progressive rock must be attacked relentlessly. Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest fails on all counts. The fact that Grizzly Bear has the temerity to sonically reference Gentle Giant (on the track "Dory") or King Crimson (check the chord progressions on "I Live With You") means they have committed a cardinal sin in the church of rock music criticism.

James McGrory at The Georgetown Voice also calls Grizzly Bear boring. McGrory actually likes Veckatimest better than what the band has produced in the past, but he calls their style of chamber pop empty. To his credit, McGrory is consistent; he has never praised the band.

Such criticism is frustrating to read. What if McGrory and Malitz had been handed Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon when it was new? What would they make of that record? Not to say that Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest rises to Pink Floyd’s level, but many of the same techniques employed by Floyd to make a classic rock opus are what Grizzly Bear is using too. The band's examples for such experimentation are not only Floyd, and the Beatles, but also the Beach Boys.

Malitz calls Grizzly Bear precious for trying to emulate the Beach Boys. Actually, what Grizzly Bear has pulled off on Veckatimest is a pretty bold trick, as some parts of this third full-length studio release from the band echo Smile-era Beach Boys ("Two Weeks" especially). If Brian Wilson is listening, he should be smiling. Members of Grizzly Bear could be his musical grandchildren.

But Grizzly Bear is doing more than finding an artistic way to update Wilson’s signatures by adding in progressive rock flavors and then using indie rock sensibilities to make it all hang together. The opening track to Veckatimest, "Southern Point," not only gives a nod of respect to Radiohead but throws in some jazzy orchestrations for a pleasing twist. “Fine for Now” shows Grizzly Bear can also create layers of dynamic music that recalls their chamber pop contemporaries, the Decemberists.

Is Veckatimest a great record? No. Perhaps this is also why critics are reacting negatively. They have charted Grizzly Bear’s progress on their personal musical spreadsheets and the band should reach a particular level of achievement by the third record. But Veckatimest is still very good, perhaps even a slightly better record than Yellow House. However, that doesn’t cut it when the critics are creating their own virtual echo chamber for what should be adored and what should be trashed.

Fans of Grizzly Bear will likely shake their heads and wonder what the critics are talking about. Which is why that old Latin phrase applies when reading any criticism: caveat emptor.

(For a review of Grizzly Bear's EP Friend, please go here. For a short review of Yellow House, please go here.)

(The promotional photo of Grizzly Bear is from Warp Records. The band continues its world tour with a concert date in New York City, tonight, Friday, May 29. To see Grizzly Bear's video for "Two Weeks," please check below.)














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5.28.2009

Ann Coulter, Dick Cheney & Abortion: A Parable About Evil

by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

“Am I weird?” the teenager asked, balancing an old Ann Coulter book on her head, amid the bookstore’s discount stacks.

“You ask that as though weird were a pejorative,” her mother said. “You don’t want to be normal, do you? Do you want to be like everyone else?”

“I know what ‘pejorative’ means, and, as for being normal, which that word is not, I think I’d just like to fly under the radar.” She shrugged and Godless slipped from her head, landing face up on the industrial carpeting.

“Yikes!” her mother stepped back. “Now, that woman is truly weird. The wrong kind of weird, the kind that verges on evil.” She looked almost serious.

“Hey, why would she wear low-cut stuff with a cross?” The girl picked up Coulter and traced her plunging neckline and the cross pointing into her cleavage. “She hardly has breasts, anyway. So, like, is she really evil?”

“She doesn’t deserve breasts, and she’s the closest thing to evil there is because she pretends to believe the outrageously divisive things she says for the purpose of inciting fearful people to reject the unfamiliar — people who are different, opposing ideas, whatever — and to look to her for bullshit passing as comforting fact.” The mother took a deep breath.

“Huh? What are you talking about? Why do you always talk like that?” The girl balanced another book on her head while exploring Coulter’s character in her book jacket.

“Okay. She’s not really evil, but… let’s just say she’s full of shit. She’s full of shit because she tells fearful people outrageous shit, knowing it’s shit, and manipulating them into buying her shit.”

“We just learned about that, that thing you just did.” The girl flipped through the Coulter book, looking for more inappropriate pictures. “It’s called circular reasoning.”

“Well, Coulter has mastered it, that and the absurdly profane. After President Obama spoke at Notre Dame University’s commencement, urging pro-choice and anti-abortion folks to make nice, Coulter suggested that next year Notre Dame have an abortion performed live on stage, and that the 'president throw out the ceremonial first fetus, like on opening day in baseball.’”

“Yuck! She’s gross!” The girl dropped Coulter on what she figured was her pulpy little ass. “Hey! If you look at it from this angle, the title looks like ‘Goddess.’ Do you think that’s intentional?”

“I wouldn’t put it past her,” her mother snickered. “Once you’ve contracted a severe case of superiority complex, you’re much more susceptible to delusional omniscience.”

“Really, do you have to talk like that?” The girl looked at her mother through the 3-D glasses she’d found in the book now perched on her head. “Don’t you want people to understand you?”

“Not always, but I’m okay with my kind of weird. Coulter has never written about a substantive issue she didn’t slander with superficiality.”

The girl continued to ogle the downed idol at her feet. “Well, I don’t know who she frickin' is, but she looks like she’s trying to sell a book about religion with, like, sex. Not that she looks so sexy. Actually, she looks kind of bitchy. Why don’t you just say she’s a bitch? People would get that.”

“One can only hope they do,” her mother said.

“But do you think there are people who are really evil?” The girl looked around, still sporting the 3-D glasses.

“I don’t know,” her mother said. “Even the most horrible people always seem to have at least a hint of humanity. I’m sure even George Bush loves his kids.”

“Jeez. Bush isn’t evil.” The girl squinted at Coulter’s image to see if the 3-D glasses would make her breasts any bigger. “He was just too stupid to be president.”

“Okay, just kidding about Bush. Dick Cheney’s actually the almost-evil one, with his fear-mongering crappola.”

“So, you’re saying, like, even Hitler must have done something good at some point in his life?” The girl stuck the 3-D glasses in a copy of Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex, which seemed funny, but she wasn’t sure why, so she didn’t mention it.

“Well, yes, probably, although it pains me to say so. Maybe Hitler once helped an elderly woman across the street or wiped his pee off the toilet seat.” She picked Coulter up from the floor. “So, even this nitwit could have the capacity for truth and love,” the mother said unconvincingly, returning the book to the discount stack.

“Well, anyway, so am I weird or what?” the teenager asked, balancing the paperback edition of A Thousand Splendid Suns on her head.

“You’re my favorite kind of weird, Sweetie; you’re wonderful.”

(Editor's Note: This piece is cross-posted from Kit-Bacon Gressitt's personal blog, Excuse Me, I'm Writing.)

(Political graphic © copyright DarkBlack and used with permission. For more material like this, please see DarkBlack's blog.)












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Charging for Content: Why it’s Not the Future of Journalism

by Jeff Siegel

Dean Singleton's media empire is extensive, and he is generally regarded as one of the few newspaper moguls whose business might survive — and even thrive — in the 21st century. So why does Singleton's plan for the future look like nothing more than a new coat of paint on an old, beat-up house? It's not so much that his strategy revolves around charging for content on his newspapers' websites, which isn't going to work. It's that charging for content is a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem. And if Singleton doesn't know any better, what does that say for the rest of the newspaper business?

A couple of disclosures first: Singleton briefly owned The Dallas Times Herald when I worked there 20 years ago, and there are those of us who still blame him for its demise in 1991. Also, I am a part-owner of a smallish, neighborhood-themed magazine group in Dallas, where we compete against a variety of mainstream media (MSM), and so some might think I have a financial interest in seeing the MSM go out of business.

In one respect, The MediaNews plan, which was leaked to the Poynter journalism Web site, has much to recommend it. The report says: “Finally, we are not significantly extending the reach of our audience, as our online products too closely resemble the newspaper, and thus fail to meaningfully reach the next generation of readers.” That’s about as true a statement as has ever been written concerning the Mainstream Media.

The report does gives too much credence to what the business calls community journalism or user-generated content, where the people who read the news also write it. I know — first-hand — that this is impossible to make work. But much of what it outlines makes sense, based around the recognition that Singleton’s papers have something no one else has — unique content and a brand to deliver it.

Because, in fact, that's much of what we're doing in Dallas. Several years ago, we realized that our company would not survive as a print-focused business. Though we had always had a digital component — a website, e-mail, and blogs — but they had been secondary to the print effort. So, in 2005, we started the process to become completely digital. We beefed up the website and added a variety of editorial features, including videos and podcasts, and our readers can see the entire magazine online (and yes, we still deliver it, just as we have since we started in 1991). In addition, we are experimenting with a host of advertising and marketing initiatives, because we understand that traditional magazine advertising is not going to be enough in the digital age. And this has not been easy, especially in the middle of a recession.

The one thing we're not doing is charging for content.

I understand why Singleton, and so many other newspaper companies, are grasping at this straw. They need cash — badly — and this is the cheapest, easiest and quickest way to get it. But charging for content doesn't work. It assumes not only that readers will pay for internet content that they have always had for free, but that charging can generate enough revenue to make a difference. Anyone who believes that needs to re-load their Excel spreadsheet. The Wall Street Journal, which is about the only member of the MSM that has had any success charging for content, earns somewhere between $50 and $75 million a year from on-line fees. Its parent, Dow Jones, had revenue of more than $2 billion in 2008. Dow Jones’ owner, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, doesn’t break out figures for its operating units, so the comparison is rough at best. But it’s also obvious that if that's the best The Wall Street Journal can do, why does anyone else think they can do better?

The newspaper business will save itself only if it approaches its problems from a 21st century perspective, which means looking past the cheap, quick and easy fixes. Look for new-style marketing and advertising solutions. Focus not on the newspaper, but on the delivery system. Can the industry generate revenue through devices like Amazon's Kindle or Google's next innovation? Is there a way to charge internet service providers a licensing fee in exchange for access to newspaper Web sites?

Otherwise, Singleton — and his colleagues — will keep closing newspapers.

(The graphic is from radicalgraphics.org, which offers its material for free.)









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5.24.2009

Memorial Day, 2009


Memorial Day.
Bitter salt is dressed up,
As a little girl with flowers.
The streets are cordoned off with ropes,

For the marching together of the living and the dead.
Children with a grief not their own march slowly,
Like stepping over broken glass.

— Yehuda Amichai

(Regular blogging will resume again Tuesday after the holiday. Kit-Bacon Gressitt's regular Sunday commentary will run later in the week. Photo by BL1961 via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)




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5.23.2009

iVoryTowerz Radio Gets Punked Up

How about a little punk rock to enliven your Memorial Day holiday weekend? Nothing like a little protest as we remember the fallen. Somehow the punk movement looks all the more wise despite its underlying nihilism given what has happened in the more than 30 years since it exploded on to the cultural scene. The underground podcast gets punky just about every week, but this time out, we provide an extra special dose. For those who want more than music to mosh with though, we also throw some progressive metal, folk, and indie rock into the mix. Raise your fist. Strike the appropriate sneering pose (one that will scare Dick Cheney off the national stage). And strap on your Doc Martens. This one goes right for the throat. Rant with us. Dance with us. Rock with us. But, of course, enjoy responsibly.




(To stream or download this podcast, please click here.)


Playlist

"Teenage Lobotomy" by The Ramones
"Horseshoes and Handgrenades" by Green Day
“Another State of Mind" by Social Distortion
"Death or Glory" by The Clash
Jeff’s New Wave: “Girl U Want” by Devo
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Oblivion” by Mastodon
Cover Me: "Wild Thing" by X
"We All Shine a Light" by Cracker with John Doe
"The Modern World" by The Jam
"Turn Tail" by The Young Knives
“I'm Sorry, Baby, But You Can't Stand in My Light Any More” by Bob Mould
“Fly One Time” by Ben Harper & The Relentless 7
“11:11” by Rufus Wainwright
"I Don't Want to Talk About Love No More" by Amy Rigby
"Letter Home" by Susan Levine
"You're Not Broken" by Sera Cahoone


(Mp3 Runs - 1:18:36; 72 MB.)

The program includes songs with explicit lyrics.

(The photo shows the mosh pit at the now-defunct Washington, D.C. club The Bayou circa 1990 for a Ramones concert. The photos is by bog_king of Bethany, WV via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. Bog_king publishes the online musical and cultural blog Vanguard Party.)



DISCLAIMER: The iVoryTowerz podcast is a non-commercial, non-profit program designed and used for educational purposes. Some of the material contained in this podcast is previously copyrighted but used with permission. Other copyrighted material is reused following fair use guidelines. Any copyright holders who do not wish to have their material used should contact the programmers directly at ivorytowerzradio@att.net and it will be removed. The programmers do not support filesharing and encourage listeners to buy music from the artists featured in this podcast.





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5.21.2009

NBA Playoffs: The Conference Finals 2009

by Phil Kehres

As the conference finals begin in the National Basketball Association (NBA), it's time to reflect on why the Boston Celtics won't be repeat champions. After barely escaping the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the NBA playoffs, the Celtics fell in another seven-game series to the Orlando Magic. The loss of superstar forward Kevin Garnett to injury proved to be too much to overcome, even for the defending champs. However, though they failed to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics further proved themselves as a deep and talented team that will likely contend for years.

The absence of Garnett, part of Boston’s Big Three (which also includes forward Paul Pierce and guard Ray Allen), ultimately led to the demise of the Celtics. But without him, several others stepped up and helped the Celtics go deeper than many expected. Guard Rajon Rondo emerged as a legitimate star and a nightly triple-double threat. Forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis hit several big shots, including an astounding buzzer-beater to give the Celtics a 3-2 lead in the series. Even back-up center Kendrick Perkins got in the game, holding Orlando’s monster center Dwight Howard to a fairly quiet series. The Celtics may be going home early, but they won’t be left without hope for next year. A healthy Garnett back in the starting lineup could see this team deep in the playoffs for years to come.

Before we look too far into the future, though, let’s take a look at the four other teams that are still in the dance. After beating Boston, Orlando gets the right to play the East’s number one seed — the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers have been the best team in the playoffs so far, going 8-0 in the earlier rounds to earn themselves a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. (Orlando handed Cleveland its first playoff loss on Wednesday, May 20 in the opening game of the conference finals.) Orlando will be the best team the Cavaliers have faced so far, however, and this series is far from pre-determined. Orlando’s sharpshooting forwards Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu can shoot the lights out on a good night, and they help spread the defense to allow Dwight Howard easy shots on the inside. For Cleveland to advance, they’ll need someone other than forward LeBron James to step up and keep the Magic’s three-point game at bay.

In the wild, wild Western Conference, favorites the Los Angeles Lakers will face their toughest challenge yet in the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets are playing the best basketball they’ve played all season, with superstar forward Carmelo Anthony playing out of his mind and veteran guard Chauncey Billups, nicknamed Mr. Bigshot, at the ready. Like the Magic, the Lakers are coming off a seven-game series that had no business going seven games. L.A. defeated Houston, which was without star center Yao Ming after Game Three. The Nuggets are a much better team than Houston, and, despite L.A.’s home court advantage, expect a dogfight. (The Lakers won Game 1 of the series on Tuesday, May 19, with Kobe Bryant leading the way with 40 points for the Lakers. The second game tips off tonight, May 21.)

LeBron vs. Kobe doesn’t seem like as much of an inevitability as it once did, but you can bank on two stellar Conference Finals series to carry us into the summer.

(Phil Kehres also is the co-author of Excuse Me, Is This Your Blog? He also contributes to Fear the Sword, a blog about the Cleveland Cavaliers of the Sports Blog Nation.)

(To see the schedule of NBA playoff games on various cable TV networks, please go here. To see a powerful dunk from Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic in the team's Game 1 victory, please check below.)


















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5.20.2009

Music: Challenging the Tastemakers

by Jordan Coughenour
Special to iVoryTowerz

There's something indecent about having to explain an infatuation with a band to a few cynical music snobs, when legions of screaming teenagers present a staunch argument as to the passion with which the group is worshipped and idolized by millions. I've always happily surrounded myself with the sort of people with whom I may jointly debate for hours regarding the idiosyncrasies of Astral Weeks (by Van Morrison, for the uninitiated) or the merits of using vinyl in the contemporary age. But sooner or later, the subject of contemporary artists will come up in our discussions, and I know it will be nearing the time when I should summon the deflector rays and prepare my resistance. Even though I feel I may speak somewhat eloquently on the evolution of 20th and 21st century music, I have never sought to disguise, that at heart, and in the capacity of my lungs to scream for an extended period of time, I am a fangirl.

I've sighed at Clay Aiken, pondered on the brilliance of Green Day and in what I consider to be my crowning achievement in fandom, sang along with thousands of tweenage girls at a massive outdoor Jonas Brothers* concert. It's unnecessary to say that I am alone in these many infatuations, or that they lack in recognition. No less an authority than Lady Gaga** compared the worldwide obsession with the JoBros to that the Beatles faced in their prime. Still, showing allegiance to any of these artists is an effectual black mark against the legitimacy of one's musical preferences. As soon as Hot Topic or Claires begin selling tacky plastic jewelry with a singer’s face on it, any existing credibility of the group is immediately washed away. Simply because their music has spoken to a younger generation who feel powerfully enough about it to latch onto it with any means possible, a group can go from being called innovators to posers before their album even hits the shelves. It’s not as if these so-called sell-outs have any less devotion to their music simply because they choose to sell records rather than auction off their assets. It’s clear from his recent Rolling Stone interview that Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong eats and breaths vinyl and guitar riffs. And even though their allegiance to The Mouse† may do them few favors as they get older, the Jonas Brothers’ ability to understand and play to the devotion of their young fanbase has continued to serve them well. What these bands, and their young (typically female) devotees have in common is a recognition that while giving in to The Man may be regarded by purists as losing touch with the music, it is also a quick and effective way to spread a powerful message, as well as make some serious cash. Always choosing the album less traveled may lead one to discover musical intricacies and harmonization never to be fully appreciated by the Suits of the world, but it also results in the absence of a gratification in passion and art only the sound of thousands of screaming teenage girls can offer.

*Sometimes referred to as the JoBros, to the uninitiated.

**Lady Gaga is the stage name of Stefani Germanotta a singer and songwriter who has written songs for Britney Spears and the Pussycat Dolls, among others.

†Disney produces a Jonas Brothers television series and the multimedia giant has supported the band's career.

(To read a review of the new Green Day release,
21st Century Breakdown, please go here.)

(The promotional photo of Green Day is from Warner Brothers Records. To see Green Day play a live R-rated version of "Know Your Enemy" from 21st Century Breakdown, please check below.)

KNOW YOUR ENEMY (LIVE)












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5.19.2009

Music Review: Tori Amos' Abnormally Attracted to Sin

by Rick Rockwell

Tori Amos is searching for a new equilibrium.

The news: she hasn’t found it yet on her tenth solo studio release, Abnormally Attracted to Sin.

Some may remember Amos as one of the female singer-songwriters who ruled ‘90s alternative radio. But like her contemporaries Alanis Morissette and P.J. Harvey, Amos is finding the new millennium a bit tougher to navigate. Unlike Harvey’s recent success, Abnormally Attracted to Sin and the over-wrought concept album project American Doll Posse (2007) show how much Amos has lost her musical compass.

American Doll Posse was supposedly a thematic departure from Amos’ past and the singer noted she wanted a complete change of approach from that point forward. Now, after dumping her record label (the new record is distributed through Universal Republic Records but Amos remains independent of a full label contract) too, Amos seems to be looking for the comfort again of her past sound. Abnormally Attrtacted to Sin is the tepid result.

Surely, of the album’s 17 tracks (a deluxe online edition includes an extra “Oscar’s Theme,” which is actually one of the album’s better songs) Amos has penned a handful of winners, but nothing on the order of “Cornflake Girl” or “God” (both from 1994’s Under the Pink). The song “Police Me” is an interesting sonic reference to those times with its edgy guitar breaks and lyrical references to a “storming blackberry girl.” The album’s first single “Welcome to England” (Amos resides in England and holds both American and British citizenship) includes Amos’ idiosyncratic, staccato vocal style underpinned with Mac Aladdin’s razor-sharp guitar accents, but the song simply meanders, like a walk along the cliffs of Dover. The end result is pleasant, but a bit lightweight, despite its lyrical foundation about seduction. Or perhaps it really is just a small complaint about the British weather, as the lyrics use that as a conversational swing point (“…You better bring your own sun / sweet girl. / You gotta bring your own sun….”)

From the opening minor chords of “Give,” and Amos’ plaintive vocals, Abnormally Attracted to Sin sounds more like a harrowing voyage than a descent into decadence. Oddly, the arrangement of “Strong Black Vine” with its thick string arrangement and pounding drums lifts just a bit too much from Led Zeppelin’s classic “Kashmir.” Amos’ attempts at a sexy growl in her delivery can’t save the song from its over-produced self-indulgence. Like the lead single, some songs (“Flavor” and “Fire to Your Plain”) just move lazily and seem like forgettable trifles. Others (“Ophelia”) are dour explorations of Amos’s black moods or the moods of her alter-egos.

However, sometimes that dourness finds just the right cathartic note. “Maybe California” is one of the album’s best tracks and its mix of moody melancholy works perfectly. There are other songs of note too. Disguised as a mother’s conversation with her son about girls, “Mary Jane” is a humorous ode to cannabis. “Not Dying Today” includes a nice musical hook set on a percolating beat. And “Starling” is a fine bit of British folk, especially with Amos’ use of Matt Chamberlain’s restrained snare drums dialed down underneath the main mix. (Amos self-produced the album, and her husband Mark Hawley was one of the two sound mixers on the project.) But there aren’t enough of these moments.

Although Abnormally Attracted to Sin is a sprawling statement of independence and another experiment with creating lyrical novelettes, ultimately it is all too much. Like some artists, Amos needs a producer who will help her select her best tracks and lock the rest away. Clocking in at more than an hour and 12 minutes (without the bonus track) and with only about a third of its songs up to Amos’ usual standard, the real sin here is Amos’ extravagance.

(The promotional photo of the cover for the new Tori Amos release is from the artist's myspace page, where Abnormally Attracted to Sin is streaming for a limited time. Amos begins her world tour on July 10 in Seattle, WA. To see the video for Amos' "Flavor," please check below.)














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5.18.2009

Sports: Boxing's Version of Middle East Peace

by Suzie Raven

The United Nations uses negotiations to try to bring peace to the Middle East. Ahmad Tuba and Raany Tal use boxing.

Tal, an Israeli Jew who owns three gyms in the Tel Aviv area, noticed Tuba, a Palestinian Arab who lives near Nazareth, when scouting for young amateur fighters to train almost six years ago.

Jews and Arabs in the Middle East often do not speak with one another, but Tuba has been training with Tal ever since the two first met. Five days a week, Tuba spends two hours each way on five different buses to get to Tal’s gym. Tal has spent time with Tuba’s family.

Their relationship is an anomaly and has helped break down barriers in people around them. It also led to Tuba’s professional debut at the Legendary Blue Horizon in North Philadelphia last week. Tuba won a unanimous four round decision against Baltimore's Vincent Batteast. Obviously, Tal wants Tuba to win fights, but the social ramifications are not lost on them. They also hope that the career of an Arab fighter with an Israeli trainer will show the world that people with their backgrounds don’t have to hate each other.

It’s sad that neighbors feel an intense hatred towards each other based on a conflict that their governments have not been able to resolve. World leaders are obviously not making tangible progress in the conflict, but people like Tuba and Tal prove that religion should not preclude friendship. Everyone deserves a fighting chance.

The columnist who broke their story on these shores, Annette John-Hall of the Philadelphia Inquirer said it best: “They have broken down barriers where high-level talks have foundered. Just another example of how sports can serve as the world's greatest ambassador.”

Tal and Tuba have forged a relationship despite all odds. Their example proves that religious differences and decades of harrowing conflict do not have to end in hatred between people. They have put us one step closer to peace in the Middle East.

(Photo by januszek of Poland via stock.xchng.)








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5.17.2009

E-mail: The Perfect Distraction

by Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Recently, I sat at my desk, committed to adding 2,000 words to my mediocre American novel manuscript, but I just wanted to clear out my e-mails before getting started.

The first one asked me to save newborn buffalo, but I didn’t want to think about their wobbly little legs, shattered in a stampeding frenzy.

Then Amazon suggested, based on my previous purchases, that I might like to order John Stossel's Politically Incorrect Guide to Politics, except what Amazon doesn’t know is that Stossel kind of gives me the creeps.

I could have read a joke about $7 sex. My husband has been traveling a lot lately, so I did, and then I thought maybe I shouldn’t have, but it was too late.

I could also have read an analysis of the poll to which 66 percent of women responded that being a mother is a woman’s most important role, but it smacked of some sort of confused misogyny.

Facebook sent me a birthday notice for someone I don’t know but whom I mistakenly approved as a friend before I figured out Facebook. But Facebook annoys me, so I deleted it.

I could have looked at what Verizon is charging to my credit card, but the purpose of automatic payments is to avoid acknowledging how much all this great technology costs.

The definition and etymology of “dissimulate” was enticing, and because I love words, I opened it, and now I fully intend to use “dissimulate” in my 2,000 words. I am not dissimulating.

There was another Facebook request, from another stranger who wanted to be my friend, but I’ve learned that lesson well.

Salon.com sent an article about the state politics of stem cell research, but I figure with Barack Obama in the presidency, and my cells in California, I don’t have to worry about it.

Someone forwarded a poem called “Crowning,” published in The New Yorker, and, because it was a poem and in The New Yorker, I read it and it was lovely. And then I was surprised that I was surprised it was by a male poet. I’m a pig.

The Publishers Marketplace wanted to report all the new book deals this week, but I didn’t get a deal, so I didn’t open it, although I’ll try to be pleased for the writers who did. Bastards.

Composer and violinist Mark O’Connor wanted me to buy his Americana Symphony CD, but, although I love his work, the economy is “not getting worse as quickly,” so I didn’t.

Message!Products was pitching a sale — 25 percent off — but I just replenished my pro-choice checks, so I didn’t bite, but I did wonder why they always announce a sale just after I’ve received my order.

I didn’t want to plod through a Human Security News report because I didn’t want to know about the dozens killed in Mogadishu, the 700 militants killed in Pakistan, the 106 children who died in shelling in Sri Lanka, the 50 people hospitalized after a girls’ school poisoning in Afghanistan, the 49 killed in Sudanese tribal violence, or the political prisoners suffering ill health in Myanmar (it’s really Burma), presumably including Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi. Okay, I peeked, and it was exactly the agonizing news I expected.

The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) asked me to contribute to its effort to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Souter with a pro-choice nominee, but President Obama’s head is screwed on straight and NARAL is just trying to keep up with the anti-choice opposition to a pro-choice nominee. Of course the complacency of majority is ill advised, so I reconsidered briefly, until I remembered the economy.

I could have read STRATFOR’s editorial on "The Strategic Debate Over Afghanistan," but I’d had enough frustrating news for one day, so I didn’t. Although I did feel a little guilty about that one, which resurrected the threat to the baby buffalo and their wobbly little legs, and then I was swamped by a swell of guilt.

So, I rescued the National Resources Defense Council's e-mail from death by deletion, clicked to save the newborn bison and read all about their terrible plight, and I wondered if I could work baby bison into my 2,000 pages.

But then I got another e-mail, asking me to ask President Obama to put an end to the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy for gays in the military, a policy akin to sanctioned lying, so I had to respond to that one, and then — oops, another e-mail.

(Editor's Note: This is an abridged version of this piece. The original, unabridged version can be found at Kit-Bacon Gressitt's personal blog, Excuse Me, I'm Writing. Ms. Gressitt regularly cross-posts her writing with this blog.)

(The screenshot photo is by Spencer E Holtaway of London, U.K. via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)










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5.15.2009

Music Review: Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown

by Rick Rockwell

With the release of 21st Century Breakdown from Green Day, a year with a bumper crop of wonderful music just became notably stronger. Green Day’s eighth studio release is that good. The album not only solidifies Green Day’s place as the most significant punk band of this new century but this new release could likely end up as the best album of 2009.

Certainly, Green Day doesn’t explore any new ground on 21st Century Breakdown; some will likely criticize that. If you’ve heard the band’s other classics, you’ll know what to expect. However, if Dookie (1994) or American Idiot (2004) did not exist, 21st Century Breakdown would still come charging out of your speakers and capture your heart with its fine, enthusiastic songcraft and seem fresh. (“American Eulogy: Mass Hysteria/Modern World” actually plays not only as this album’s climax but as a completing couplet to American Idiot. Some might actually argue that 21st Century Breakdown is the intended sequel and bookend to American Idiot, but this new release stands on its own.) 21st Century Breakdown is a worthy successor to those other Green Day successes, if not the band’s entire catalogue.

This is an album filled with adrenaline and testosterone. The arrangements are mostly slashing guitars, sledgehammer power chords and marching Ramones-style blitzkrieg bops. (Despite its title, “Before the Lobotomy” is not a Ramones homage but rather a pop song infused with critical commentary. Check the lyrics: “Everyone’s reminded / Hearts are washed in misery / Drenched in gasoline.”) Yes, the band includes some ballads and quieter interludes, but mostly this is accelerator to the floor modern rock at its best. The album ranges from superbly crafted power pop (“21 Guns”) to blistering punk protests (“Horseshoes and Hand Grenades”).

“Horseshoes and Handgrenades” not only tops the anger meter but it announces Green Day’s intentions. Guitarist/singer/composer Billie Joe Armstrong spits out “I’m not fuckin’ around….” over a barrage of crunching guitars. Who says the spirit of the Sex Pistols is gone? The song also neatly genuflects not only to Patti Smith, but also to Van Morrison & Them. Several of the album’s songs actually point directly to Morrison’s “Gloria” for inspiration, partially because one of the album's recurring characters in its cycle of love songs has that name.

The bonus version of the album with its two additional tracks (the regular album has 18 tracks and clocks in at more than an hour and nine minutes of music) points to additional inspirations. Green Day’s cover of The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away” plays like a seven-minute mini-rock opera and tops the original. Although 21st Century Breakdown is less of an obvious concept album as was American Idiot, the songs blend together, many using the technique of searching an old radio dial; something that is lost in the modern age. Much of the album is at turns a deft commentary about modern media (the radio especially) or a bludgeoning rant (see “The Static Age,” which has a title that tells it all). While appropriating The Who’s sense for the dramatic album-long story arc or commentary (along with a sense for turning pop hooks into sturdy rock songs) Green Day also nods to its punk roots with a cover of Social Distortion’s “Another State of Mind.” There’s something to be said for keeping a solid foundation of hardcore punk that Social Distortion (of the 1980s California punk wing) represents.

Get ready because this album is worth every bit of the five-year wait since American Idiot. There are at least a handful of potential hits on 21st Century Breakdown (“Know Your Enemy” is the first single), and Green Day is ready to hijack your radio with as many of them as possible. Your part: turn up the volume.

(The promotional photo of Green Day is from Warner Brothers Records. Green Day will open its world tour in New York City on May 18. To see Green Day play an R-rated version of the title track from 21st Century Breakdown at a club date in Oakland, CA, please check below.)

21ST CENTURY BREAKDOWN (LIVE)
















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5.14.2009

iVoryTowerz Radio: The Western Special (Deux or Dos)

There's nothing like a sequel to give a program the stamp of success. This week the underground podcast goes western, as a sequel to the most popular iVoryTowerz Radio program ever: The Ecstasy of Gold. So if you like music with a western flair, settle in for plenty of pedal steel guitars, banjos and fiddles. But it wouldn't be an underground podcast without an eclectic twist. So you'll also find everything here from punk and metal to rockabilly and reggae. There's a lot more than just folk, country, country-rock and alt-country here. And the music covers more than 70 years of modern sounds. Jingle jangle your spurs, and, of course, enjoy responsibly.


(To stream or download this podcast, please click here.)


Playlist

"Hang 'em High" by The Reggae Cowboys
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Rawhide” by Dezperadoz
Jeff’s New Wave: “Take This Job and Shove It” by The Dead Kennedys
"Jeannie Needs a Shooter" by Warren Zevon
“Knoxville Girl" by The Outlaws
"Big Iron" by Marty Robbins
"South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)" by Patsy Cline
"Love is a Rose" by Linda Ronstadt
"Back to Austin" by Shelley Laine
“Mexicali Rose” by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys
“Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Asleep at the Wheel with Willie Nelson
“Go West” by Geraint Watkins
"Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key" by Billy Bragg & Wilco
"El Paso" by Don McLean
"Viva Zapata" by Link Wray
Cover Me: "The Theme from the Magnificent Seven" by Los Straightjackets
"3:10 to Yuma, Main Title Theme" by Marco Beltrami

(Mp3 Runs - 1:11:16; 66 MB.)

(The photo is from the National Endowment for the Arts and is in the public domain.)



DISCLAIMER: The iVoryTowerz podcast is a non-commercial, non-profit program designed and used for educational purposes. Some of the material contained in this podcast is previously copyrighted but used with permission. Other copyrighted material is reused following fair use guidelines. Any copyright holders who do not wish to have their material used should contact the programmers directly at ivorytowerzradio@att.net and it will be removed. The programmers do not support filesharing and encourage listeners to buy music from the artists featured in this podcast.





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5.13.2009

Films: Can the New Star Trek Ever Please Old Fans?

by Rick Rockwell

The answer to the title’s question: maybe.

But that possibility will come only through a difficult process. Director J.J. Abrams and his mostly new cast have given it their best shot with the new Star Trek feature, the eleventh film in the series. However, the problem is that old fans know the entire process is exploitive at its core.


First, some necessary truths: 1) this author fell in love with the series when it debuted in the 1960s; 2) this author has tracked the series and its spin-offs ever since; 3) this author believes producer Rick Berman ran out of ideas for the franchise in the mid-1990s, leaving several poor films (Nemesis and Insurrection) and various foundering television series (Deep Space Nine and Voyager), all with the Star Trek brand attached, in his wake. The final spin-off television series Enterprise was a poorly designed prequel. Although some critics say that series found its way by its third season, the damage was done. Star Trek had imploded on the weight of its inconsistencies and plot holes, propelled by the corporate greed that compels media corporations to wring one more cent out of once creative ideas. Many old fans had given up on what the new producers had done to the Star Trek franchise and the idea wasn’t attracting new audiences. The ratings for Enterprise were testament to that.

The corporate media — in this case Paramount Pictures which is owned by media giant Viacom — are aided in their greedy efforts by the mainstream media. (This theory, of course, is not new. Note: most major newspapers and television outlets are owned by the same corporations that push these products. Does it make sense for them not to aid in the marketing of their products?) Take, for instance, this essay by Hank Stuever of The Washington Post (owned by a multimedia company with concerns in magazines, newspapers, television stations and cable television, among others). Stuever argues that Abrams needed to “re-boot” Star Trek (why not just rewrite?) to reach new audiences and enliven the franchise.

Let’s apply some logic to this, as one of Star Trek’s key characters, Spock might. This idea at its core assumes the old fans don’t matter, or that they will buy just about anything with the Star Trek label, doesn’t it? Stuever’s argument comes from the same book as the newspaper executives who have been searching for their new audience for more than a generation. Meanwhile, as they tinkered with their product to find that elusive new (and younger) audience, they kept ticking off the old audience with the changes. The same can be said of television executives who also continue to redesign their product in search of ever younger or different audiences while the old audience grows more frustrated (and is also moving elsewhere beyond standard over-the-air television).

Credit Abrams, screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, and their young cast with trying hard. The new Star Trek film is fun. But try as they might with the intricate explanations and an interesting (if flawed) speech by original cast member Leonard Nimoy (Spock) at the end, the film falls apart about midway through. Abrams’ action film directing attempts to distract from the huge plot problems and the breakdown of character development. Throw in enough explosions, special effects and fist fights and maybe folks won’t notice, seems to be the philosophy. And many won’t. But this is not a great film. It’s not even a great Star Trek film. It doesn’t rise to the level of The Wrath of Khan, or The Voyage Home or even First Contact.

Was the $10 spent on the new Trek film worth it? Probably. Did the new stewards of this franchise need to create an alternate Star Trek universe using the hoary Star Trek devices of time-space singularities and time travel to wipe the slate clean and give themselves some creative elbowroom. Perhaps. But in the end, it seems like much of the philosophical core of the original series has been lost along the way. And this film consumer and former fan can’t help but feel just a little manipulated.

(To read about the media hype and reviews of the new Star Trek film, please see: "Who Needs the New Star Trek Movie? We Have the Reviews.")

(The promotional photo for Star Trek is from Paramount Pictures. To see a trailer for the film, please check below.)
















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5.12.2009

Music Review: Hedley’s Never Too Late

by Jeff Siegel

There is a tradition in rock ‘n roll that stretches from the early 1970s, when bands like Journey and Styx first appeared, though Survivor and Loverboy in the 1980s, to Bon Jovi in the 1990s. Call them, for lack of a better term, prom bands — that is, the bands that have the hits that get played at the high school prom.

Count Hedley’s Never Too Late (Fontana International) as a proud member of that tradition. The album, out today (May 12) on iTunes and as a CD on May 19, has all the distinguishing characteristics: The insistent choruses, the Top 40 radio hooks, the fuzzy, crashing guitars, and a lead singer who won’t quit. In this case, that’s Jacob Hoggard, the one-time Canadian Idol finalist who formed the band and fronted its first two albums, Hedley (2005) and Famous Last Words (2007).

Interestingly, this is not the kind of music that people familiar with those first two records (mostly Canadians, where the band has scored a number of hits) would expect. They were, if not exactly alt-rock, not nearly this cut and buffed. But Hoggard and crew pull out all the stops for Never Too Late. If he doesn’t sound like Styx’ Dennis DeYoung singing “Lady” in 1975, it’s not for a lack of trying. The title track, with its “Here’s to all the broken hearts tonight.... every girl and boy who lost their joy” is aimed squarely at the blue-tuxed, corsage and spaghetti strap crowd.

Will this album be Hedley’s crossover to the American charts? Probably not, though that’s obviously the intent here. The band understands the formula, but it doesn’t seem to have whatever it is that takes an ordinary band and gives it Styx-like success. Or even Loverboy-like success (see: “Working for the Weekend” in 1981), to use a Canadian example. The playing could be a little tighter, the lyrics could be a little sharper, and the production could be a little less obvious. The album comes closest on “Bone Shatter,” but it takes more than one song to be the heir to a tradition.

(The promotional photo of Hedley is from Universal Music Group. The band will play a limited Canadian tour, beginning June 20 in Belleville, Ontario. The band has a YouTube site, but Universal Music Group restricts the use of embedded video.)








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5.11.2009

NBA Playoffs: Symmetry & Sensation

by Phil Kehres

A quick glance at the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoff bracket reveals a cursory appearance of symmetry. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets are dominating the opposition and find themselves up 3-0 against the Atlanta Hawks and the Dallas Mavericks, respectively. The Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic are tied 2-2, as are the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. There’s much more to these series than meets the eye, however.

As Cleveland strives to maintain its so far perfect playoff run, some would have you believe that the weakness of their first two opponents has been the cause for their success. While it’s hard to argue that the Detroit Pistons were anything but awful, Atlanta is no pushover. Make no mistake — this series is as lopsided as it is because of the Cavs' suffocating defense and balanced offensive attack. Though Atlanta has sustained some costly injuries, the Cavs have simply taken care of business. They have systematically demoralized their opponents on a nightly basis — a feat that the fellow powerhouse L.A. Lakers (more on that a bit later) haven’t been able to match. Despite those who say that Cleveland is at a disadvantage because they’ve yet to face a real challenge, NBA Coach of the Year Mike Brown and his Cavaliers would have it no other way.

The other series in the Eastern Conference finds an injury-plagued Boston Celtics team somehow managing to hang tough against the energetic Orlando Magic. With the Magic poised to take a 3-1 series lead on their home court, Celtics forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis nailed a buzzer-beating jumper to shift the momentum back towards the defending champions as they take the series back to Boston. You have to wonder how Boston hasn’t overdrawn its account in the good karma bank, but at this point, the Magic have to do some soul-searching. With Boston running out the dregs of its bench for substantial minutes each game, this series is closer than it should be.

Over in the Western Conference, the prolific Denver Nuggets have taken a commanding lead over the Dallas Mavericks, but not without controversy. Game 3 was won on a last-second three-pointer by Carmelo Anthony, who was clearly intentionally fouled by Dallas guard Antoine Wright prior to the shot. The missed call was so egregious that the NBA issued an apology after the game. Whoops. Dallas, now on the brink of elimination, has a redwood-sized chip on their shoulder that they’ll need to use to their advantage in Game 4 if they have any hope of challenging the red-hot Nuggets.

The most intriguing series going on is the contest between the defending Western Conference Champion L.A. Lakers and the Houston Rockets. The Lakers, favored to win the NBA title this year were stunned in a Game 1 loss at home. Games 2 and 3 got wild. Lakers guard Derek Fisher was suspended for body checking Rockets forward Luis Scola in Game 2 and Rockets forward Ron Artest was ejected from both games. The Lakers, however, recovered from their lackadaisical Game 1 performance to take both of the next two games and gain the momentum. Game 4 was proof that momentum in sports is a mirage. Down superstar center Yao Ming, who is out for at least the rest of the playoff with a fractured foot, the Rockets pasted the Lakers to ties the series up. Fortunately for L.A., the series is headed back to the Staples Center. Kobe Bryant and crew will have to pick up the pace. Playing this poorly against a Rockets team decimated by injury does not bode well for the Lakers' prospects in later rounds — should they advance.

Excitement abounds so far in these playoffs, and likely things won't cool down. The upcoming week could feasibly see both the defending Eastern and Western Conference champions sent packing. If Boston and L.A. manage to advance, they’ll each have to deal with beasts lying in wait.

(Phil Kehres also is the co-author of Excuse Me, Is This Your Blog?)

(To see the schedule of NBA playoff games on various cable TV networks, please go here. To see official NBA highlights of Glen Davis' sensational buzzer beater in the last Celtics-Magic game, please check below.)



















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