A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Big Star documentary

The producers/directors of the documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me: The Big Star Story have been shooting footage and interviews since 2007. They were at SXSW for the tribute show immediately following Alex Chilton's tragic passing, and now they are raising money to get to Memphis in May to shoot footage of the final tribute show in Big Star's hometown, start editing the film and release it in 2011. Seems a worthy cause. Check it out. (Click on the graphic below to see a trailer).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Eno, Pavement

Wisconsin Public Radio aired an hour-long discussion of arts criticism the other day - with insights from Manohla Dargis, Augusta Palmer, and Geeta Dayal, discussing her recent 33 1/3 volume on Brian Eno. (Geeta's section starts about halfway through, but the entire program is worth hearing.)

Also: a friendly reminder that Bryan Charles will be launching his Pavement 33 1/3 volume with a special event at Word Bookstore in Brooklyn on Wednesday evening. You can find all the details here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Vol 71: Public Enemy's Nation of Millions

We're thrilled to announce the publication of Christopher R. Weingarten's study of Public Enemy - available in North America right now, and in the UK/Europe/RoW from mid-May onwards. Back cover copy:

Christopher R. Weingarten provides a thrilling account of how the Bomb Squad produced such a singular-sounding record: engineering, sampling, scratching, constructing, deconstructing, reconstructing — even occasionally stomping on vinyl that sounded too clean. Using production techniques that have never been duplicated, the Bomb Squad plundered and reconfigured their own compositions to make frenetic splatter collages; they played samples by hand together in a room like a rock band to create a “not quite right” tension; they hand-picked their samples from only the ugliest squawks and sirens.

Weingarten treats the samples used on Nation Of Millions as molecules of a greater whole, slivers of music that retain their own secret histories and folk traditions. Can the essence of a hip-hop record be found in the motives, emotions and energies of the artists it samples? Is it likely that something an artist intended 20 years ago would re-emerge anew? This is a compelling and thoroughly researched investigation that tells the story of one of hip-hop’s landmark albums.

Christopher R. Weingarten is a writer living in Brooklyn and the former editor-in-chief of acclaimed webzine Paper Thin Walls. His work has appeared in the Village Voice, RollingStone.com, Spin, The Source, Revolver, Decibel, Idolator and more. His twitter is @1000TimesYes.

And here's an extract from the book:

Despite being tortured by art-terrorists Atari Teenage Riot, slowed down for Nine Inch Nails, drowned in bass by 2 Live Crew, surrounded by plush Dr. Dre interior and rapped over by practically every MC on the planet from 1988 to 1991, no one made “Funky Drummer” more arresting than Public Enemy. They practically own it. By the time Chuck and Flav were dubbed the conscience of the hip-hop generation, naturally given the final word in the landmark 1989 anti-violence benefit record “ Self-Destruction,” the faint echo of “Funky Drummer” played in the background, a familiar bustle that everyone recognizes is there to clear the way for the prophets of rage.

Stubblefield claims that the beat was influenced from the rumbling trains and appliances of his childhood. James Brown went even further back, taking a little credit for himself (as he was wont to do), saying the “beat of rap” was based on “the old drums of passion, my personal combination of the drums of Africa and the drums of the American Indian, both of whom I claim a heritage from.”

“Funky Drummer” is a tricky, ineffable thing full of ghost notes. Biz Markie says he never heard anyone beatbox it. None of the videos of people playing “Funky Drummer” on YouTube even come close. And even if the Bomb Squad didn’t sample it on “Rebel,” they certainly tried to capture its human element. The Bomb Squad huddled around samplers and pressed buttons in fractured unison, making sure it never looped perfectly. Flavor Flav tapped the snares in by hand on the Akai S-900 drum machine. They used him because Flav’s feel was different, something uniquely Flav — an example of the Bomb Squad going with what felt good over what felt right.

Hank would later fill Nation of Millions with near silent ghosted notes so even the drum-machine beats sounded like breaks. There are extra kicks tacked in “Rebel” like drum fills so the beat never repeats itself. The beat isn’t a static loop: it’s a living organism. According to Hank there are four beats at play in “Rebel,” each with a different turnaround, all mixed and programmed and played so as to not repeat themselves. He says, “It gives you the illusion that the record is getting better instead of just staying linear.” It’s truly a performance piece, closer to James Brown than the rap groups that sample him, the sound of a bunch of people sitting in a room and creating.

After the Bomb Squad opened the floodgates, chopped-up loops of Brown became the soundtrack of hip-hop’s greatest year. Copyright lawyers and “traditional” musicians had some bones to pick. “Tell the truth, James Brown was old,” responded original hip-hop band Stetsasonic, “’til Eric and Ra’ came out with ‘I Got Soul.’” The hardest-sampled man in show business recognized the loops’ import, as heard via James Brown’s official rebuttal on the Full Force track “I’m Real”: “All you copycats out there . . . Take my voice off your record until I’m paid in full.”

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hymns to the Silence: Inside the Words and Music of Van Morrison

You may be interested to learn that we've just published Peter Mills' remarkably thorough and erudite study of Van Morrison, Hymns to the Silence.

Neither biography nor chronological trawl, Hymns to the Silence is a detailed investigative study of Van Morrison’s remarkable career. Peter Mills engages with his subject in a fresh and accessible style – often challenging the received wisdom. He looks at Morrison as a songwriter and specifically as an Irish writer, yet one who has worked primarily with American musical forms. Key themes and motifs are examined, as well as the ideas of place, home and exile and Morrison’s periodic use of through-composition in major case studies of four of his best-regarded albums. Each section is full of detailed scrutiny and illuminating examples drawn from right across his recording and stage career, including his 2009 return to Astral Weeks. The book is also studded with fresh and original quotes from people who know about the music, including Maria McKee, Kevin Rowland, Kate Rusby, Ben Sidran, and Fiachra Trench.

Hymns to the Silence is a passionate, eloquent study of the complex and influential art of one of the giants of popular music.

Interesting, too, that our book published at exactly the same time as Greil Marcus' study of Van Morrison, When That Rough God Goes Riding.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Chilton in NoLa

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has a really fascinating (and quite long) article on Alex Chilton's post-Big Star life in New Orleans today. Among the stand out quotes:
“Walker, Texas Ranger” and “Touched by an Angel” fascinated him; he taught himself the “Walker” theme music on guitar.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Exile Reissue

You may have heard that the Rolling Stones are reissuing "Exile on Main Street" in May, with all sorts of cool bells and whistles, including 10 unreleased songs, some of which were unfinished at the time of discovery and had overdubs added 30 years later... It'll be interesting to see how those turn out.

It's a sensible time to check out (or revisit) Bill Janovitz's excellent 33 1/3 on the album. They go together like wine and cheese, or a needle and spoon, depending on your frame of reference...though I'm sure all were present at the original sessions.

If you're a journalist or blogger working on a piece and want to get in touch with Bill, send me an email at jmboling (at) continuum (hyphen) books (dot) com and I can make that happen.

Monday, April 05, 2010

CBC Book Club Selection!

Carl Wilson's 33 1/3 on Celine Dion is featured as part of the CBC Book Club's Music Month of April. He'll be doing an Ask The Author podcast with book club host Hannah Sung, and if you email questions before April 15, you will also be entered to win a Sony e-reader gadget. Not bad!

I just got back from a Pop Culture conference in St. Louis, and spent a lot of time talking with people about the 33 1/3 series, among other things. We ended up selling quite a few of this one, and met several professors who assigned it to students in their classes, but of course, there were a lot of people who immediately recoiled and shielded themselves from it like a teenage vampire reacting to a crucifix. I thought that was interesting since culture doesn't get much more popular than Celine...

At any rate, this should be pretty cool. I'll link to it again once the podcast Q&A goes live.

Coming Soon: Wowee Zowee

Bryan Charles' book about Pavement is currently at the printers - we should be getting finished copies in the next few days. Here's an extract from it, and beneath that you'll find details of a few readings/events Bryan's doing to support the book's launch in NYC, Boston, Portland OR and Seattle - if you can make it along to any of these, it would be a treat to see you there.


They toured on their own for the rest of the year. West locked in on drums. Bob’s role expanded. Pavement was road-tested and stable in a way they’d never been. They left other forms of employment behind. Rock and roll was now their full-time occupation.

Crooked Rain was barely eight months old. Pavement had toured almost constantly for the last two years. But they figured now was the time to record a follow-up. The band booked time at Easley Recording in Memphis. Doug Easley and Davis McCain, a couple laid-back cats with deep roots in the local scene, ran the board there. Lately they’d been working with a lot of indie bands. Pavement traveled to Memphis and began to sort out and record new material. They worked quickly and the songs piled up. When they weren’t working they grooved on Memphis and snarfed local grub. They recorded an astonishing number of tracks—the Easley session lasted only ten days. A few of the songs had been attempted for Crooked Rain but rerecorded in Memphis. The Memphis versions were radically superior. Walleye was a good guy and he came through with tight pieces. But the Easley guys were total pros. They’d been doing this shit since the Big Star days. Some of the songs they put to tape were already live staples. They’d been in Pavement setlists for a year or more. Also floating around were the songs they’d done with Walleye earlier that year. Those tunes had a different feel. They were more off the cuff. There’d been no plan for them. Now there was. Stephen wanted them on this record too.

Pavement wrapped up at Easley. They mixed the tracks and recorded overdubs in New York. They took a step back and assessed the material. It was a wild scene. They had fully fleshed-out songs and whispers and rumors of half-formed ones. They had songs that followed a hard-to-gauge internal logic, sometimes drifting into the ether or flying totally off the rails, sometimes achieving an unlikely resolution. They had punk tunes and country tunes and sad tunes and funny ones. They had fuzzy pop and angular new wave. They had raunchy guitar solos and stoner blues. They had pristine jangle and pedal steel. The final track list ran to eighteen songs and filled three sides of vinyl. Side four was blank. There was an empty thought bubble on the label. The record’s title was a nod to Gary. He’d say wowee zowee when something blew his mind.

Major labels were still hounding them, offering them big dough. It was the waning days of a golden era but righteous coin could still be had. The Jesus Lizard was on Capitol. Royal Trux—Pavement’s old Drag City label mate—was on Virgin. Who had made these decisions? Who thought these weird fucking bands would recoup? Pavement weighed their options. They decided against signing a big contract. What was the difference anyway? Matador still trucked with a major. The Atlantic deal was history. They were with Warner Brothers now. Wowee Zowee would be the first record released under the new arrangement. The Warners people were psyched. They were ready to get the publicity machine rolling and make the band stars. The Pavement guys were psyched. They knew they’d made a good record and were ready to tour. In a wild turnaround they’d been booked to play Lollapalooza. It was by far the best lineup in the festival’s short history. The Jesus Lizard, Beck and Hole were on the bill. Sonic Youth was the headline act. Stephen picked Rattled by the Rush for the first single. It had hypnotic stuttering guitars and a staccato vocal pattern tough to get out of your head. It had a monster post-chorus riff. It had a catchy chant and killer guitar solo at the end. The time was still right for this kind of number. Rattled by the Rush was going to be big.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010, 7:30 p.m WOWEE ZOWEE book launch
Word Books
126 Franklin Street
Brooklyn NY
Reading from the book followed by a Q&A with Matthew Perpetua of Fluxblog

Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 7:00 p.m.Reading/discussion/signing
Brookline Booksmith
279 Harvard Street
Brookline MA

Sunday, May 23, 2010, 7:30 p.m.Reading/discussion/signing
Powell's Books
1005 W Burnside
Portland OR
Also reading: Mike McGonigal, editor of YETI magazine and author of LOVELESS, the 33 1/3 book about My Bloody Valentine.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010, 7:00 p.m.Reading/discussion/signing
University Book Store
4326 University Way NE
Seattle WA

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Dan Kois Interviewed at Fluxblog

There's a superb discussion of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and Hawaiian music and culture over at Fluxblog - well worth reading. Dan, of course, is the author of the 33 1/3 volume on Iz's album Facing Future. (Fun fact: it's the only 33 1/3 book to have made it into Target so far!) An extract:


Matthew Perpetua: I think it’s very interesting in terms of how music spreads in different ways now, and how we have these alternative models for becoming well-known. It’s a really interesting case study for that.

Dan Kois: Right! Even with the Internet, the fact that a 1,000-lb Hawaiian man with a ukulele is about to go double platinum is pretty astonishing.

Matthew Perpetua: It really gives hope to all sorts of amazingly talented misfits. Susan Boyle owes him a debt, perhaps.

Dan Kois: I was just thinking of her! She’s one of the few artists for whom the disconnect between image and sound is as jarring to mainstream audiences as Iz’s.

Matthew Perpetua: At the same time, she’s marketed on those looks. The hook is that she’s this person who looks like the total opposite of anyone’s conception of a popular artist. People are attracted to the notion of her being a pure talent, which is the case with Iz as well.

Dan Kois: Right, whereas for all the things that has annoyed me about Mountain Apple, they’ve never once marketed Israel on being “the fat Hawaiian guy.” It’s always been the music they’ve sold. By all evidence he was a pure talent. He certainly had a great voice. He didn’t write many songs but some of them are great. And he could play a ukulele like the dickens — his bandmates all speak fondly of his skill with the instrument, even though he rarely tuned it very well.


And you can read the whole interview here.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Rombes @ Rumpus

Nicholas Rombes, author of the 33 1/3 volume on the Ramones (as well as the excellent Cultural Dictionary of Punk: 1974-82) has a new column about film, over at The Rumpus.

It's called 10/40/70 - the idea being that each column will examine one movie by freezing the frame at 10:00 minutes, 40:00 minutes, and 70:00 minutes and will then discuss those three images in detail. If the first installment is anything to go by (on Starship Troopers), we're in for a treat...