Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

Clef Notes: The Clef Notes Is Dead Edition

Every Friday, or at least until his spectacular rock star flameout, Giovanny will be dropping a week’s worth of music knowledge on you with Clef Notes, proof positive that he’s a one man music magazine.

News:

John Lennon (1940-1980)

Gone but never forgotten: In every corner of the world this week, tributes, celebrations, and moments of silence were held to celebrate the life, and mourn the senseless assassination, of one of music’s most incredible figures. December 8th, 2010 marks the 30th year since the death of John Lennon, and to this day his influence on the medium, contributions to the world, and indomitable spirit live on and resonate. All of the world’s media outlets honored the man and his work and, more specifically, the music entities offered remembrance in the form of photo retrospectives, archive emptying, and post-mortem eulogizing. Rolling Stone magazine, the institution that was granted the last real access to the genius had, at the time of his death, been preparing a piece meant to mark his reemergence onto the public scene from his (somewhat) insulated time in the late seventies, and has provided fans with numerous extensive features on Lennon, and his last days in particular, in this month's issue and on their site.

The music world also paid homage to Lennon in other ways, like the Kink’s Ray Davies writing a moving essay in the New York Times detailing some of his experiences with John and Yoko when they all lived in New York City. U2 dedicated Pride (In The Name Of Love) to the fallen icon during a performance in Australia, then later interjected parts of Dear Prudence and All You Need Is Love into Where The Streets Have No Name. Perhaps the most touching sentiment expressed about Lennon this week came from his widow Yoko Ono, who shared a tea making story involving the couple on her blog, and asked all of his fans to keep his memory alive by not just remembering his words, but his deeds as well.

Got any more bright ideas?

Charity burn!: This week saw some of entertainment's biggest stars become punchlines to countless jokes as they all got served a slice of digital humble pie. For those of you who may not be aware, a roster of big name celebs (including music A-listers like Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Lenny Kravitz, and Swizz Beatz) all committed "twitter suicide” in an effort to raise money for Alicia Keys’ AIDS charity (Buylife.org). The goal was for people like you and me to donate a million dollars; once that goal was reached, the participating stars would affect a digital resurrection, so they could live to tweet again. The problem was none of us really cared, which is a pity, because AIDS is obviously a crisis which is a threat to all humanity. In most estimations, the campaign’s flaw was its aim; had the charity been raising money in order to guarantee the stars would never tweet again (especially the likes of the Kardashians), the sum would have been record breaking. Instead the initiative failed to inspire, the celebrities were all forced to endure Twitter silence for longer than they had anticipated, and (from some reports) were slightly embarrassed that their narcissistic idea had fallen flat. Fear not though, faithful reader; an altruistic billionaire (Stewart Rahr), who some reports say was “coerced” (cou-begged-gh), matched the 500,000 dollars that the charity did manage to raise on its own, so we no longer have to wonder what Usher is having for breakfast.

State of the industry: Just as industry predictions indicated last week, Susan Boyle dethroned Kanye West in the latest edition of the Billboard Top 200. This aspect of reality, though idiotic, is something that I would rather not focus on, so instead let’s discuss the newest addition to the Billboard chart suite, the “Social 50” chart. For those of you not up to date with the industry’s newest ways of measuring its ever-shrinking penis, the Social 50 will rank an artist’s popularity on this thing that I am considering calling the Internet. Every week, the bean counters will tally up an artist’s growth in friends/fans/followers, along with page views and song plays on Myspace, YouTube, Twitter, and iLike. The goal of this list is to provide “a weekly snapshot of the artists that music fans engage with the most in the social arena, which in today's world is a significant validation of their investment in an act." I actually kind of think this may be a good idea, especially for up and coming bands or artists, as it may be another avenue for an act to prove its worth to labels, which are increasingly hesitant to support new artists. Although I will not cover this list every week, I will check in with it from time to time, to see how this experiment is working... or if it is working. By the way, the first artist to claim the top spot on this countdown is (the now red-haired) Rihanna. Take that, Bieber!

Reviews:

Body Talk PT.3 - Robyn

Robin Miriam Carlsson or, as we mortals better know her, “Robyn” had herself one hell of a 2010. The Swedish-born, night-club cyber-diva kept the world dancing all year, releasing 3 EPs of such startling consistency and awesomeness that it makes her relative lack of mainstream success in America a true crime. I dare any of you to find another major artist that put out the same volume of superb music this year. Even in a world where your favorite artists are now capable of supplying you with new works whenever their hearts desire, you’ll find that most lack the courage or convictions to provide us with little more than demos and remixes.

Before I go any further, let me make it clear that I understand dance music isn’t for everyone; it’s probably not for most of you reading this right now, and, hell, it’s not even really for me, but one has to be able to recognize greatness no matter its guise. That said, the final installment in the Body Talk trilogy is a great culmination to a string of releases which have provided Robyn with the sort of career renaissance seldom seen in the genre (she has been around since the 90s, people). The trilogy also serves as a tremendous example of dance music being lyrically sophisticated and sonically airtight, with the perfect amalgamation of classic and current in its presentation of palette and structure.

There are four SKUs to the whole Body Talk affair (Body Talk Pt. 1, 2, 3 and the compilation), and two of those came out in the last two weeks, those being Pt. 3 and the compilation simply titled Body Talk. The third EP is the shortest of the three, featuring just five songs, but all of the tracks are on the compilation so if you don’t own the other installments, the compilation is the best choice for the uninitiated. The five newly released tracks are all great thumpers that will, without a doubt, have dance floors throughout existence undulating in ecstasy - those of you that loved the ballads of previous releases have to quit crying and dance. All five tracks feature sterling production and pinpoint precision, with the best of the bunch being Time Machine and the magnificent Call Your Girlfriend.

As far as the other tracks selected for the compilation go, all the real winners are there. Fan favorites such as Dancing On My Own and Hang With Me as well as my favorite previously released tracks Fembot and U Should Know Better make the cut, so everyone should be happy (even though they did unfortunately include None Of Dem). All in all, I would have to say that Body Talk Pt.3 is great, the compilation (Body Talk) is excellent, and Robyn is pretty amazing.

Pilot Talk II - Curren$y

Those of you who read Clef Notes regularly may remember the favorable review that I gave to the first weed-laced Curren$y LP of the year. I felt that the first Pilot Talk was an authentic portrayal of an emcee who had struggled to achieve his shine, and was satisfied by the fact that he accomplished it all on his own terms... being really, REALLY high. When I heard that Curren$y was realeasing a second LP this year (and thus shattering all sorts of pot-head stereotypes), I was cautious about setting my expectations. After all, the first record was quite good, and he isn’t Swedish.

Thankfully, my fears about Pilot Talk II were unfounded, and the record turned out to be pretty good, just not as good as the first. It feels like there is something missing from this LP, and this element leaves the listener with a feeling akin to an unscratchable itch. It’s not just that the hooks aren’t as good, though admittedly they aren’t (does anyone really think the chorus of Michael Knight is catchy?), nor is it the change in scope, though there are a lot more verses about cars on this record. It simply feels like the album lacks impact.

The last paragraph may read like I am not a fan of Pilot Talk II, which isn’t the case - I just wish this was labeled as a B-Side collection. There are still more than enough instances of Curren$y’s near-subliminal wit all over this release; whether it be the far-too-short Montreux, the absurdly clever Real Estates, or the completely sick groove of Flight Briefing. Groove is probably the operative word for a record like this which is as chill as chill-wave can be, and is as much about vibe as it is about getting high. The beats are still sick (once again thanks to Ski Beatz), the flow is still serpentine, and the record is still good. Just not as good.

The Fool - Warpaint

Every now and again a record comes out that doesn't properly represent a band, and I suspect that is the case with Warpaint’s The Fool. The reason I can’t come up with a more definitive verb than “suspect” is because I have never seen the band live, but I have heard numerous testimonials from individuals whose tastes I respect praising the band for their near-spiritual live performances. After a few trips down the YouTube concert footage highway, I can see, to some degree, what these people are talking about. Warpaint creates a haunting landscape of mournful serenity live, a landscape which is somewhat obscured on their debut release.

The buzz surrounding Warpaint goes far beyond their live prowess. As a matter of fact, I have recently read a Best Of 2010 list, from a rather prestigious British music magazine, that has this very record in their top ten. To say that such a claim is an overstatement is a colossal understatement. The Fool is a decent record that at times is damn near terrific, while at others is monotonous. There are some moments that are pretty close to breathtaking, and most of those are in the stretch from Bees to Composure (tracks 4 through 6). That is not to say there are no other highlights on the record, they just don’t shine as bright, no matter how many times the British try to assure me that they do.

16th Notes:

This can't come out soon enough.

This week New York City was the epicenter of great rock shows as Jeff Tweedy, Jeff Magnum, and Robert Fripp all played blazing sets. Of course I am sure that cool kids the likes of you were at all of those events (you bunch of liars)... Nick Cave was in a car accident this week, but don't worry, we know that a simple car crash can't hurt Nick Cave... Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett are considering breaking up the Gorillaz due to the rigors of touring and rockstardom. This marks the eleventy first time that this sort of story has reared its ugly head, so pretty much nobody believes them... Judas Priest announced their farewell tour this week. Too bad most of us missed it, because it was back in 1992... The Beastie Boys are going to be premiering  a short film at the Sundance film festival that tells the story of what happened to the three kids in the (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) video. Some of the actors that have been tapped to appear in the movie include Will Ferrell , John C. Reilly, Elijah Wood, Danny McBride, and Jack Black. If you don't think that sounds awesome, then go back to listening to My Chemical Romance.

Top Ten List:

Much like Curren$y, there have been numerous artists who have found their inspiration from the blessing of a certain emerald muse. In that spirit I bring you the top ten songs about marijuana.

10) Muggles - Louis Armstrong
9) One Toke Over The Line - Brewer & Shipley
8) Crumblin’ Erb - Outkast
7) Kaya - Bob Marley
6) Mary Jane - Rick James
5) I Want To Get High - Cypress Hill
4) How To Roll A Blunt - Method Man
3) Becasue I Got High - Afroman
2) Rainy Day Woman No. 12 & 35 - Bob Dylan
1) Legalize It - Peter Tosh

Track Of The Week:

Written On The Forhead - PJ Harvey: This week's track is the first taste that we have gotten of P.J. Harveys’s upcoming record (Let England Shake), and it is the sort of ethereal goodness that makes you glad she makes music.

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