OK Go and the Revival of Music Video Culture

Busby Berkeley dreams

It was late on a Friday, and I was hanging out with my parents in Gastonia, NC.  They asked me I had seen the zero-gravity video on the plane. I had indeed seen reports of OK Go’s latest viral clip in my Facebook feed and other online news sources—having seen a few of their quite clever setpieces before I figured the new video would probably have a cool gimmick all its own, but I had not bothered to check it out (much as I heard roiling, boiling controversy about Bey and Kendrick the same week without actually seeing what caused all the ruckus). But it was kind of cool to sit with my mom and stepdad and see them enthused about new music—and more than that, to see an utterly daring, … [Read more...]

The Sound of Motor City: Ruin Porn, Popular Memory, and Protomartyr’s Vision of 21st Century Detroit

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For the past couple years, one of the most vital sounds in music today has come out of that ruined city of the middle west, Detroit.   “Before recorded time, in some suburban room, see the devil in his youth,” Protomartyr’s Joe Casey croons over a rapid postpunk beat. “He grew up pale and healthy with the blessings of his father.” Indeed, Detroit’s residents might recognize the suburban devil depicted in the opening song of band’s third album The Agent Intellect. “His privilege came before him, the promise of adoring, the devil in his youth.” Anyone familiar with the Motor City’s postwar history knows the critical place race has played in Detroit’s rise, fall, and current but perhaps not … [Read more...]

Outlanders, Young Fathers, & None Masters: Best Albums and TV Shows of 2015

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We live in an era when the music industry is long since "dead" (slain by Napster, and its remains desecrated by YouTube and Spotify), while TV is in crisis too: the broadcast networks have shed viewers for years, and now even the big cable companies realize they're in deep trouble, attacked on all sides by Hulu and Google Fiber. Yet for fans of music and TV, times have almost never been better -- at least in the sense of having a super-abundance of (often very good) options. Yes, for every Mad Men or Broad City there are ten Real Housewives of Plano, Texas and competitive nose-hair shows. (Though Schnozz Master was actually pretty good this year.) And your cousin has a web series that's … [Read more...]

A Look Back at A Brilliant Mistake

tsunami a brilliant mistake

Recently, the great historians at Nursing Clio issued a Twitter query: what's on your feminist playlist? Along with many other Twitterstorians, the chatterers of ToM joined the debate with gusto. Ryan Reft gave a shout-out to Sleater-Kinney's punk rock classic Dig Me Out and PJ Harvey's seminal Rid of Me. Lauren MacIvor Thompson gave this writer a welcome blast from the past in citing Mary Chapin Carpenter's epic anthem of working-class self-empowerment, "He Thinks He'll Keep Her," which I hadn't heard in years. I had a tough time picking my own. Patti Smith's raw, swaggering cover of "Gloria" seemed too obvious, but I couldn't resist putting it on the list. Ryan had already taken … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Rethinking Wowee Zowee

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Back in 1997, Stephen Malkmus was asked in an interview when it was that Pavement sold out or tried to make their sound more accessible. To the interviewer's surprise, the indie hero said Slanted and Enchanted, the band's celebrated 1992 debut. “We made a bunch of singles before that,” Malkmus recalled. Slanted might seem dissonant and avant-garde in retrospect, he said, “but then I felt it was such a pop album.” Indeed, songs like "Summer Babe" and "Zurich Is Stained" were actually lovely pop nuggets in comparison to the crazy, caustic noise rock that Pavement offered in the very earliest years of their career. To Malkmus, if not to many critics and fans, Slanted was just the first step … [Read more...]

Star Wars: The Han Solo of Wilco Albums?

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The advantage of surprise can overcome a multitude of sins; poor planning, mediocre workmanship, sloppy execution, they can all be forgiven when one is presented with a gift of unexpectedness. Other times a pleasant surprise can be just that: pleasant, enjoyable, and well crafted. Though obviously not the world-altering shot in the dark that was Beyonce’s self-titled 2013 release, Wilco delivered an album that feels as natural as the hot summer breeze it floated in on but remains as memorable as that first music festival you attended in high school. For sure, some observers will scoff. Star Wars is the musical manna of a band in its twilight, they will suggest; the Grateful Dead for aging … [Read more...]

1996: The Year R.E.M. and Pearl Jam Committed Suicide

e-bow the letter

The year was 1996—almost 20 years ago, kids—and the alternative revolution was in its dead-ender stage. Kurt Cobain was gone, the Smashing Pumpkins ruled with a cross-breed of Rush and Journey (before it was cool), and the ska and swing revivals were just around the corner. That year, two of the biggest bands of the early 1990s came out with albums that basically killed their careers: R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi and Pearl Jam’s No Code. Both albums met with mixed reviews from critics. Each earned an unenthusiastic 6 out of 10 rating from SPIN magazine, and New Adventures in Hi-Fi topped both best-of and worst-of lists for the year. Two bands who were at the height of fame—both of … [Read more...]

“Let It Be”: The Replacements, Generation X, and Sexuality 30 Years Later

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"If they hadn't come along I think we would have to invent them somehow," impressively bearded writer Robert Voedisch told filmmakers in 2011’s Color Me Obsessed. Sprawling over two hours, the documentary captures the feelings of affection, disbelief, and for many fans in regard to the last few albums, despair, that the infamous Minneapolis postpunk band the Replacements inspired. Indeed, the level of reverence that fans hold for a band clearly defined by irreverence remains palpable. They were a 1980s Velvet Underground, notes one; they may have sold few records, but everyone who picked one up joined a band. “The great existential heroes of American Indie rock,” Titus Andronicus lead singer … [Read more...]

Album 88: Historically Right on the Music, Presently Leaving the Dial

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Since 1971, Georgia State University has hosted an important Atlanta cultural institution—one that has created a positive relationship between the University and the city (and the general metro area). WRAS, known as Album 88, has allowed GSU students to bring their musical discoveries to Atlanta listeners. In doing so, this student-run radio station has been a touchstone for the local community for over four decades. What began as a 20,000 watt local college station has become a 100,000 watt megaphone for independent music in Atlanta and beyond. In the past 43 years, student volunteers at Georgia State University have had a voice in shaping the local and national music scene. During this … [Read more...]

Notably Decent Indie Rock: Meet the Counterfactuals

counterfactuals minimally decent people

ToM Best of 2013 There’s something very charming about the thought of a band of philosopher-musicians. Enter the Counterfactuals, a band whose members hail from Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges in Northfield, Minnesota. Songwriter, vocalist, and rhythm guitarist Daniel Groll specializes in normative and biomedical ethics at Carleton. Lead guitarist and Carleton philosopher Jason Decker may be most entertainingly described in his own words: “After refusing to vacate his office, he was hired as a tenure track professor, starting in the fall of 2008.” Drummer Mike Fuerstein teaches at St. Olaf, where he tackles epistemological issues in politics and the sciences and makes time to take American … [Read more...]

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