Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ring my bell

I know, I know, normally I write here about music I'm obsessed with, and this subject absolutely does not qualify, but I'm gonna post it anyway. Given my recent track record as a blogger, you should be grateful that I'm writing anything.

Very interesting NPR story tonight on the popularity of rapper T-Pain as an, ahem, "ringtone artist." (Whoops, I've just opened the door to everyone googling "T-Pain+ringtones." Welcome, one and all--you will not find what you are looking for here, I assure you, but feel free to stick around and discuss Autechre, the Beach Boys, and bossa nova with us.) There is a related story here.

What I found most interesting about the piece was the analogy to Bing Crosby, who became a hit on early recordings because his crooning sounded good on Victrolas. The theory is that Mr. Pain's voice (as the Times surely calls him) has the same effect on the tiny speakers of cell phones. It's probably the only time Der Bingle and T-P have been mentioned in the same sentence.

As for the specific quality of his voice that's causing all the attention, it's the product of a vocoder, we are told--as if he's the first guy who ever sang through one of those devices. So much for Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton, Madonna, Cher ... Anybody wanna try "Rocky Mountain Way" on a phone?

Me, I'm sticking with my simple little flutelike sound, short and sweet and reminds me of H. R. Pufnstuf. No strippers involved.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Year in Music: 2007 edition

Moving right along.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: I was tempted to give this to In Rainbows, just because, but instead there shall be a tie. One winner is incredibly unhip and the mere mention of his name will cost me valuable credibility points among the cognoscenti, but those will be regained by the revelation of the other winner. Just watch:

Paul Simon, Surprise.

As a soft rock lover from my youth, I was a huge Simon & Garfunkel fan, and followed both their solo careers longer than most right-thinking people did, but they both lost me sometime in the early 1980s. Graceland, which is the one Paul Simon album it's probably cool to like, did nothing for me, and the ones after that left me cold, too. Until this year, when 60something Paul joined forces with 60something Brian Eno. The end result is just kind of great, if you ask me: beautiful production, moving and funny lyrics, catchy melodies. I listened to it over and over again when I first got it early in 2007, and think I will do so again, very soon.

Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala.

Much of what I just said about Surprise's strengths applies to this album, too, only its creator is almost 40 years younger. I'm a bit conflicted about giving this Album of the Year status because I've only been listening to it for the last 3 weeks or so, but it's so incredibly good that I'm gonna go with my gut. The guy does sound a great deal like Stephen Merritt, Jonathan Richman, and my main man Don Lennon, but he's also some kind of wild production genius--no album by any of those fine individuals sounds anywhere near this sonically complicated. I'd love to hear all the stuff he samples in its original form, because I don't recognize any of it, and because I suspect that he has transformed it all so thoroughly as to be unrecognizable. It's also hard to tell what comes from somewhere/someone else and what he generated himself, with or without other musicians. His voice (like Simon's, actually) is a bit limited, but he does a great job writing for it. It may take some getting used to. I suspect this is one of those love-it-or-hate-it affairs. Chalk me up as a lover. "Shirin" is easily the most beautiful song ever written about an Iraqi hairdresser operating an illegal salon in her apartment.

The Flight of the Conchords, Songs from the First Season (or whatever it's called)
Matt Pond, PA, Last Light

CONCERT OF THE YEAR: Lucinda Williams at Artpark (Lewiston, NY). At first I was drawing a blank; this was not a stellar year for live shows, at least not those that I managed to catch. But then I remembered what a magical evening this was: great set list, cool new songs, best of the 3 times I've seen her since the mid-80s. Duet with opener Charlie Louvin was icing on the cake.

Runners-up: Before I remembered Lucinda, I was thinking of giving this one to 3 shows I saw in about 2 weeks, 2 by Ani DiFranco and 1 by Andrew Bird, all at Ani's new venue, Babeville, which immediately made my list as Best Concert Venue in Buffalo. But I felt kind of weird about that since I have had a work connection (tenuous in Bird's case) to both artists and it felt like nepotism or something similar. But hell, they were all great shows.

ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Think I'm going with a tie here. The new car in our household has a 6-CD player, and I've been enjoying cooking up retrospectives and supersets and such, and the best one by far thus far consisted of six recordings by, you guessed it, Mr. Paul Simon. It's not just the new album (see above); I also got several CD reissues of his earlier works that came out a few years ago, each with 2-3 bonus tracks (usually demo versions of key songs, sometimes with very different lyrics or arrangements) that really do hold up. The second best superset came from Radiohead, and while I don't think they've singlehandedly sparked a revolution or anything, that was a pretty damn cool stunt they pulled with their latest album, and the album itself is even cooler.

Runners-up: See "Album of the Year" runners-up.

SONG OF THE YEAR: Amy Winehouse, "Rehab". I know, I know, she is currently on the fast track to becoming the new Lindsay Lohan, better known for actual stints in rehab than for her art, but that is still one damn catchy song. Sort of reminds me of Ray Charles releasing songs like "Busted" when he was busted and "Let's Go Get Stoned" when that was something he tended to do quite a bit. I'm not super-crazy about the entire album, but as singles go, that one is a doozy.

Runner-up: Because this blog is called "Can't Get It Out of My Head," attention must be paid to the many times that Feist's "1-2-3-4" got stuck in my brain, thanks in part to that ubiquitous Apple/iTunes commercial and thanks in larger part to the song itself. I'd give the video "Video of the Year" if I had such a category, which I don't, because videos don't exist anymore, as we all know. The whole Feist album is terrific, btw.

That's all, folks. See you in November 2008!

The Year in Music: 2006 edition

You will have noticed by now that I am neither very prolific nor very prompt when it comes to this whole blogging business. Take, for instance, the Ehmke(e) Awards, an annual ritual of mine for the last, god, at least 15 Thanksgivings. (This 2004 entry tells you all you need to know about the basic concept.) I never quite got around to announcing the 2006 winners, and now it's already time to reveal the class of 2007. I made some notes a year ago about who won what, and I even had pictures to accompany some of them, but now I don't know where the notes are and I don't want to take the time to find the photos, a process which would only remind me about a whole bunch of other posts I never posted here during my various extended absences.

So in the interest of moving on to 2007, I'm giving you the 2006 winners off the top of my head. Maybe I'll remember the missing ones later, or find those damn JPEGs, but if I were you I wouldn't hold my breath.

SONG OF THE YEAR: Believe me, this shocks me way more than it's going to shock you, but the award went to ...
Justin Timberlake (and, really, Timbaland) for "SexyBack". As proof that I made the right choice, I can still stand to listen to this thing a year later, now that it is a staple on the wedding-reception circuit. Thanks to the lo-fi vocal mix and the deliberately abrasive effects throughout, I'm pretty sure it's one of the weirdest-sounding songs to be a smash hit in a long time (although a lot of hiphop has been sounding pretty weird for a while now). Neko Case was runner-up for "Margaret vs. Pauline," which was stuck in my head for a long time, along with a lot of other lovely stuff from the Fox Confessor album.

CONCERT OF THE YEAR: This was very easy to pick. Pet Shop Boys at Hummingbird Centre, Toronto. I'd never seen them live, and it was one of the most brilliant shows/performance pieces I've ever seen, starting with the multiple faux PSBoys who began the show, then that incredible stage (an enormous and enormously malleable light cube), those dayglo outfits, the wonderful backup singers/dancers, and the set list. I'd catch them again in a heartbeat--and I have a feeling that, while the songs would be pretty much the same, the staging would be quite different.

Here's a video from a different stop on the same "Sodom and Gomorrah Show" tour, promoting a new concert DVD I just learned about. It looks fairly representative, in a super-condensed form, of what unfolded onstage in Toronto:

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Uh oh, I don't remember. Maybe I'll find the notes and add this later.

ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Drawing another blank.

This is what I get for waiting 365 days to post. But fear not: the gap between 2006 and 2007 will be much shorter. Behold!