Sunday, December 25, 2005

Maw! We got visitors!

My server gifted me with hosting for the holidays, so I have some long overdue Giftmas presents to give out. Enjoy!
spiffy special: Vanilla Ninja
A very special guest returns today at th' Hut: Elisabeth Vincentelli is a former music editor and current senior editor at Time Out NY. Today, she joins us to drop some tracks and tell us a bit more about Estonian girl group Vanilla Ninja. Elisabeth and I share a taste for trashy Euro-pop; my hope is to hang out with her and her girlfriend shortly and share that love by gettin' down to some cheesy PS2 Dance Dance Revolution Megamix tracks. I miss the thrill!
Yes, I am a mega-dork.
Make her feel welcome and leave some commentary, n'est-ce pas?

While Sweden and Norway regularly produce extraordinarily inventive music in a wide range of genres, it looks as if the Baltic countries are turning into dangerous competitors. Typically, two of my current favorites hail from Estonia: the black-metal combo Loits (signed to the excellent Lithuanian label Ledo Takas) and the pop-rock girl band Vanilla Ninja. Let’s save Loits for another, darker time, and focus on Vanilla Ninja, which represented Switzerland at the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest in Kiev despite having zero connection to that country—well, their producer David Brandes works in Germany but was born in Basel, so maybe that’s all it takes to carry the Swiss flag.

Cynics may call Piret Järvis, Lenna Kuurmaa, Katrin Siska and Triinu Kivilaan guns for hire, but I still rooted for them at the contest. First of all, they wore all-white outfits and still didn’t look like dorks. Second, singer-guitarist Lenna professes to like nu metal and has appeared in an Estonian version of The Sound of Music—an unholy combination that actually sheds light on Vanilla Ninja’s mix of operatic overproduction and melodic chops. (I should specify “current mix” since the band used to be a lot more poppier, as examplified on “Inner Radio,” off Vanilla Ninja’s self-titled debut. The group’s turn toward rock grandiosity may have a little something to do with the departure of original member Maarja Kivi, who was replaced by Triinu.)

Vanilla Ninja - "Inner Radio"

The Ninjas’ Eurovision song, “Cool Vibes,” is among the strongest tracks on their third and most recent album, Blue Tattoo. Its coauthors, Brandes and John O’Flynn (a.k.a. Bernd Meinunger, a successful German music hack), also cowrote Germany’s Eurovision entry, Gracia’s awful “Run and Hide,” a detail that somehow adds to the inexplicable mystique surrounding “Cool Vibes.”

Vanilla Ninja - "Cool Vibes"

Everything about that song is dead perfect: the way it waxes and wanes, the way Lenna’s voice slightly breaks at crucial moments, the way the choir goes in and out, the way it all sounds like a particularly over the top Jeff Lynne concoction. I especially love that after literally dozens of listens I still have no idea what it’s all about. The first couple of times I heard it, for instance, I thought Lenna was singing “I can see the danger eyes in your eyes,” which felt poetically dumb in an English-as-a-second-language Eurovision way. But then I realized she actually says “I can the danger rise in your eyes,” which fits the song’s mood of vague despair. I read somewhere that it’s supposedly about a wolf, but I don’t think even Estonians would call a wolf “Cool Vibes.” Unless it’s a metaphorical wolf and the song’s about death by pop music. Damn, I knew I should have stuck with Arcade Fire.

Because Vanilla Ninja does particularly well in Germany, land of the power ballad, it seems like half of its latest songs fall in that category. The best example is “The Coldest Night,” in which lyrics such as “Rain of ice was fallin’/From the black clouds in her eyes” indicate that all is not sunny out there in Tallinn. Or maybe it’s about a wolf. Awesome!

Vanilla Ninja - "The Coldest Night"

Buy 'Blue Tattoo' from Amazon at ridiculously jacked up import prices.
Or, you know, look elsewhere.

Visit the official Vanilla Ninja website.

Explore the Eurovision website.

Read this brief interview with VN.

spiffy special: Too $hort
A very special guest returns today at th' Hut: Anthony Miccio. Internet wag and pen-for-hire, Miccio also runs Anthony is Right, where he dispenses choice bon mots and variegated wisdom on matters musical and otherwise. Anthony has long been th' Hut's connection for all things big and glistening that might otherwise escape our more rockist readers earholes; today he tries something a bit less radio-friendly.
Make him feel welcome and leave some commentary, ya heard?

Too Short - "She Loves Her"

One could be forgiven for believing that Too $hort, author of "Invasion Of The Flat Booty Bitches," "She's A Bitch," "The Bitch Sucks Dick," "Punk Bitch," "Can I Get A Bitch," "Take My Bitch," and "Bitch Bitch Bitch Make Me Rich," is an insufferable misogynist, extreme even for a hardcore rapper. So it's surprising that his 14th album, 2002's 'What's My Favorite Word?', finds him writing about a lesbian encounter in the second person ("You look in the mirror, and see your own reflection/ Face in her thighs, with no long erection"). While the track's success as erotic art is questionable, its refreshing to hear him describe sapphic self-discovery with such sympathy ("juices flowin like a stream/ with no man in between/ feels like a dream"). His fascination with lesbianism has precedent (i.e. 2000's "2 Bitches" - "After seein this shit, I ain't wanna fuck/ I wanna see how long they can keep goin/ I don't know, I fell asleep on 'em/ When I woke up I was getting my dick sucked"), but "She Loves Her" reduces his presence to mere narrator, an unexpectedly ego-free progression.

Don't get the wrong idea, though - his latest album has a track called "Hobo Hoeing."

Buy 'What's My Favorite Word?' from Amazon.

Visit Too $hort World, the man's official site.

Read this long $hort interview from the MurderDog archives.

"Life too short, girl?"


In the mood to rough it?

Have I already written about how glad I am that I'm on monkeywire? Without it, I would never have learned about Stalin's Monkey-Man Soldier program and my life would've been that much less rich.

Six months later and I still enjoy the occasional game of peekaboom. This visual $25,000 Pyramid may be my favorite game on the web this year.

Fun with fraternity hats.

This immense Maude Flanders in heaven fanfic site makes me kind of glad that I can't read German. Or else deeply sad that I can't. Not sure.

File under mysterious: Tofu vs. Fork didn’t really do it for me.

For about two months I kept up this pic of Celine Dion eating a baby on my work computer, from this amazing Celine Wallpaper site until my co-workers forcibly made me change it. Some days I miss it more than others.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

big ups to da critical massive

blah blah blah

Wiping the harddrives means various hoops to jump through to get access to my hosting service again (long story), so while we're waiting, here's a new bit of Stylus reviews.

I've gotten myself into the position of writing for free for Stylus; mostly as an excuse to get my writing sharper, produce more blurbable work to be introduced as sample text to net freelance work (Music Mags! I'm Available! Call Now!) and also to keep me plugged into what's what on the pop airwaves. I'll be posting my weekly snarkiness here on days when I don't have a longer article together, along with corporate sponsored links where you can either hear the music or see the video and make up your own mind.

Ten Years - "Wasteland" (click on "launch music player")
The pain of the wounded middle class has so much to answer for: self-inflected cigarette burns, eyebrow piercing, the fashions of Hot Topic and "Next... on the WB..."-style tracks like this. So wrought with vapidly introspective Shelley-by-way-of-Sevendust lyrics; so predictable in their rising and falling guitar riffs; such meaning in their plaintive, echoing torment... oh, the humanity!
Alright, obviously I can't take Ten Years too seriously; but I do have to admit this track is morbidly entertaining. 'Wasteland' is catchy, well-structured and melodramatic enough to hold your interest while it's on; but skirts relevancy and further review by dint of lack of depth. I need an Amy Lee guest-vocal, a demonic vocoder chorus or something similarly and pleasantly batshit-crazy (isn't anyone doing emo-banjo solos yet?) to bust up the tedium of a well-done formula that's getting a tetch tired. Otherwise, this is nice but hardly noteworthy enough to stand out in a too crowded field.

Mary J. Blige - "Be Without You"
If anybody's earned the right to coast on sheer harmony and talent, it's Mary J, one of the few women in modern R+B with the longevity to have serenaded two generations of spurned baby mamas. Blige may have stopped growing artistically quite some time ago, but she's still plenty capable of connecting the quiet storm dots with more pinache, emotion and skill than any four bubblecrunk pretenders to the throne.
On 'Be Without You,' Mary cries a little, raps a little, channels a little Aretha and does what she does best: crafting a nth iteration inner-city-couples-only-skate-jam that wouldn't have sounded any more out of place in '94 than it will in '06. It's nothing special, but the musicbox-dancer piano, on-the-three handclaps and Mary's sweet, soulful voice make this more than kind enough to merit a listen and a lap around the roller-rink.

Cast of Rent - "Seasons of Love"
When I was in college, RENT had just hit in a big way and you couldn't escape the soundtrack at any of the theater kid parties. One night, curious as to what all the fuss was about, I isolated myself next to the stereo and forced myself to listen to the full score to find out what all the fuss was about. About an hour and a half later, I still had no idea. The audio equivalent of jazz hands, this overblown up-with-people pap is as unlistenable,soulless and calculated as anything I've heard this year. Evicted.

Nelly f/ Paul Wall & Big Gipp - "Grillz"
All three verses are reasonably clever ("where i got em? you can spot em/ on the top and the bottom./ Got a bill in my mouth like I'm Hillary Rodham") and it's about time that somebody got Gipp and Paul Wall on the same track to discuss orthodontia, but 'Grillz' is still a little disappointing. Most of the blame for that can be laid at Jermaine Dupri's not so def barely-there production, which recalls the similarly boring Neptunes single 'Flap Your Wings'. I'm not against minimalist hip pop ('Laffy Taffy' is still on heavy rotation around the house), but these guys deserve something better to rhyme over than 'Urban Preset 42', no? Anyway, I tend to prefer Nelly's "let's get freaky and fuck" anthems over his fashion statement/advertising jingles; I can't pretend to care about fronts and tennis shoes, but sex is a product even I can stand behind.

Matisyahu - "King Without a Crown"
I came for the kasha, but I'm staying for that skankin' dub: against all odds, Matisyahu's odd mix of pro-Yahweh, anti-drug Hassidic reggae is touching, sweet and eminently fun. Though Matisyahu gets his foot in the door on gimmickry, he keeps your interest getting by on skills and songwriting, not novelty; the guy can sing, he can scat and he can flat out rock the beat. Worth a listen for even the slightly curious, you may well walk away a believer.

Trace Adkins - "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk"
Although nominally a stab at country/hip hop crossover, 'Badonkadonk' is more novelty Southern rock than anything else. With lyrics that suggest that yon fair maiden's keister has "got it goin' on / like Donkey Kong", a cornpone fiddle desperately competing with an electric guitar and a poorly edited video mix (replete with dubbed in pseudo-reggaeton/electro/disco beat and a ten gallon hat full of awkward white-gal ass shaking), you COULD make a case that there was some ironic enjoyment to be culled here. You'd be wrong, though. Nashville's Muzik Mafia (which this is clearly trying to rip off) make cheap throwaway pop with a country flavor that keeps its savor for a long time into the chewing. This, on the other hand, kinda sucks. Don't be fooled by cheap imitations, kids.

Don't believe me OR your own ears?
Get a second opinion.

losin' it

My thanks to those of you who sent out impassioned "we'll-get-through-it-together" emails, notes and friendly wishes when my hard drives crashed; it's appreciated. However, please note: suggesting I get an Apple is like telling a man whose boyfriend just broke up with him that he should consider dating women. Not the place, not the time.

Anyways, the data is gazonkered and effectively irretrievable. A backup from March of this year is providing mostly solid, but literally hundreds of albums and thousands of singles that I've acquired since then are gone for good. Sure, most of this is fairly easily found again (even though I generally give away discs once I have them on my hard drive, there's always slsk and the like), but the real stinger is the TIME spent putting that collection in digital format as well as the constant nagging "do-i-still-have-X?" worry burning in my head. Not knowing what comprises my music collection is a real pain.

But don't cry for me Bloggentina; life is great both professionally and personally and new music is still a constant both at work and at home (the benefits of working in a music club and living with a cute music industry hack). Yes, it's a bummer, but I'm gonna keep on truckin'. There's plenty yet to share with y'all as well; this mini-tragedy provides a perfect opportunity to go back and explore some of my older (read: "older to me") backed up music to turn folks on to. Let's see what I can find.

What I wouldn't MIND, however, would be some best of '05 mix CDs so that I can get a good look at what the year had. Since that backup took place in the START of March, the year 2005 is musically lost to me in it's entirety and I know that I at LEAST need a few best of the year discs.

Anybody care to oblige? Address on th' right.

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

step one, friday: itunes crashes

step two, friday night: windows crashes

step three, saturday night: reinstall windows

step four, saturday night: D + E drives unformat

step five, saturday night: ipod erased

step six, after hours on sunday: windows reinstalled. internet up. All external and secondary drives claiming "unformatted" resulting in all music missing. Some 60 thousand songs worth. All documents and writing missing. Last backup was in March, 50 dvds worth of material but do I reformat drives? Should've tried to back up now, but with windows hardly working it seemed impossible. Do I try to salvage? Difficulty keeping lunch down.

step seven: going to cry for a bit.

Data recovery guy calling tonight; going to badger my friendly work tech guy.

Maybe time for a new computer? Dunno. Nauseous over this, of course and trying hard to quell desire to take a hammer to the whole sh-bang.

Further reports forthcoming. Prayer and voodoo curses are appreciated.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

as in, "everybody's a"

blah blah blah

So I've gotten myself into the position of writing for free for Stylus which is mostly an excuse to try and get my writing a bit sharper, produce yet more blurbable work that can be introduced as evidence to get freelance work (Available! Call Now!) and keep me plugged into what's on the daily U.S. pop airwaves. I'll be posting my weekly snarkiness here on days when I don't have a longer article together, along with corporate sponsored links where you can either hear the music or see the video and make up your own mind. This week's batch is pretty sad, but why should I have to suffer alone, eh?

Coldplay - "Talk"
It takes work to out nullify U2, but I'm of the opinion that Coldplay is now officially the most boring band on the airwaves. This is less a single and more wallpaper; after a half dozen listens, I'm still not sure if I've heard it yet. Singularly unremarkable and utterly bland, it's hard to find much of anything to dislike about "Talk", except that in a world as full of bright and wonderful music as this one, I can't imagine why you'd want to waste your time on this blank slate.

Jamie Foxx f/ Ludacris - "Unpredictable"
Foxx's self produced first single smacks of Kanye West's influence in every way but the most important: it's not especially good. Solidly middle-of-the-road rnb only barely fit to make out or dance to, 'Unpredictable' takes no chances, carefully positioning itself in the most innocuous and radio friendly manner so as not to embarrass its crossover star with a The Return of Bruno style debacle. It's a success on that count; Foxx does faux-R. Kelly as well as he apes Ray Charles, but from the lame spoken word opening to the too-short and untypically pedestrian Ludacris guest verses to the song-ending falsetto chorus redux, 'Unpredictable' is anything but.

Natasha Bedingfield - "Unwritten"
Oh, Britain. With Rachel Stevens and Girls Aloud to choose from, you export us THIS pap? Bedingfield's first single was a mystery-to-me international hit but as little as "These Words" grabbed me, this is MUCH worse. Paint-by-numbers pop should have at least a single standout moment; this tries to coast by on a 'Tuesdays with Morrie' feel good vibe that manages to be both cloying and stultifying without breaking a sweat. "I break tradition / sometimes my tries are outside the lines We've been conditioned to not make mistakes / but I can't live that way"? Oprah and cancer patients don't need this much glossy self-affirmation. "Feel the rain on your skin / No one else can feel it for you"? Somebody get that copy of SARK's collected works away from Jean Teasdale and get her a shot of tequila STAT. Worth avoiding.

Daddy Yankee - "Rompe"
Giving "Rompe" a numerical review is missing the point; this isn't music to listen to so much as it is background wash, a soundtrack to roll up in, order a drink to or shake ass over. A relentless, critic-proof knuckleheaded bounce that bears a stronger resemblance to a ytmnd loop than a complete song, the undoubtedly soon-to-be-inescapable beat sounds like it'll be better by the fourth remix. Now, it's just eating straight cookie dough and just as likely to make you sick if you overdo it.

KoRn - "Twisted Transistor"
Okay, forget the song. Let's talk about the video.
In the video, the players in Korn are replaced with Lil' Jon, David Banner, XZibit and Snoop. The Korn dopplegangers are playing a benefit for a CBGB's clone. XZibit keeps puking everywhere. David Banner almost has his eye put out by something shooting out of a smoke machine. Snoop gets snarly and diva-ish and slaps their intern around. LIL JON TAKES OFF HIS GLASSES. Clearly, this is an important turning point in the evolution of the American music video.
Whazzat? How's the song? Forget the song.

Don't believe me OR your own ears?
Get a second opinion.


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Monday, December 05, 2005

"One commonly raised problem is ‘How could Noah fit all those huge dinosaurs on the Ark?’ "

glisten: the ark

The Ark - 'This Piece of Poetry Is Meant To Do Harm'

Two points to be made at the outset:
First, I'm not a fan of glam. Freddie Mercury is a mystery to me, Elton John is generally a turnoff and I spent a month trying Bowie with limited results. True, I do loves me my Hedwig, by and large I have a general aversion to draggish attitude-rock; unless it stands up and slaps me around, I'll take vanilla, thanks.
Secondly: I have a slutty penchant for discovering and falling in love with a band's sound, listening to them nonstop for weeks and then trumpeting them as the greatest band in history. This generally leads to burnout, happy memories and a somewhat more measured assessment of the artist's place in my personal hierarchy, but when you're top of my pops, yer my fave of all time.
That said, meet my new favorite band of all time: Swedish glam-rockers The Ark.

I was lucky enough to get a copy of the album about six hours before I saw them at Mercury Lounge and was instantly hooked. One of the things I like best about them is the effort they take to really CRAFT a song to have an instant efferct on the listener; there's a gorgeous balance between the wacked out metal moments and the quiet, ballad-y breaks. The songs are engineered to push your buttons and they succeed. Better than that, there's a refreshing lack of irony; despite the thick drizzle of glammy-cheese heartily drizzled over every hip-twitch and rock-yowl, there's never any "wink-wink-aren't-we-hip" self reference. It ain't Po-Mo and that's a blessing.

At the gig, I was completely won over. I jumped around like a dork and headbanged like I was back in high school. Frontman Ola Salo, the band's Adam-Ant lookalike and mega-charismatic frontman, is amazingly fun to watch strut and fret on the stage; at one point he straddled a front row fan's shoulders while singing their 2000 Swedish hit 'Let Your Body Decide' and piggyback-rode into the center of the crowd, still headbanging and commanding call and response on the chorus. His onstage patter was sharp, self-important and delightully fun; we were invited to sing the national anthem of The Ark, given a primer to the manic-depressive nature of the Swedes ("half the year it is totally dark and half the year it is very bright, so we are all completely crazy") and told not to expect an encore "except maybe if you all scream very, very loud." Friend-Of-The-Hut Elisabeth Vincentelli (who deserves credit for turning me onto The Ark in the first place) recalled a great representative moment from a prior concert: during one of the band's trademark bridges/Ola solos, Salo's singing climbed higher and higher until his voice cracked and the hall fell silent. Without missing a beat, Ola deadpanned to the crowd, "I've run out of notes" then cued the band and jumped right back in.

The sheer chutzpah of The Ark is most evident in their penchant for lifting sounds from other bands; 'Armed Forces'-era Elvis Costello fingerprints are visable all over 'Trust Is a Shareware' and a guitar line from The Flaming Groovies 'Slow Death' is cannibalized for 'Clamour for Glamour.' In an especially ballsy move, they swipe the bassline from 'My Sharona' note for note and use it as the hook for the new wavish 'Girl You're Gonna Get 'Em (Real Soon).' On the face of it, this sort of indiscriminate borrowing of themes and beats smacks ugly, but in practice it's somehow endearing and redeemed by the fact that the band tends to IMPROVE on the source material. It's more hip hop sampling than rocknroll plagiarism.

I had a helluva time picking out just one cut off of State of the Ark and it feels like a bit of a copout to post the album's first track, as if I just didn't bother to listen to the rest. Suffice it to say, that's not the case; rather, 'Piece of Poetry' is such a spectacular representative earworm that it simply cannot be overlooked. 'Poetry' sets the tone for the rest of the album with its baldly T.Rex derivative hook, relentlessly catchy rhythm and singalong lyrics. If this don't get you, you likely won't be moved by the rest of the album, but if it DOES, then I'd strongly recommend checking out the equally excellent aforementioned 'Rock City Wankers' (an attack on junkies and critics that features a "Try some manners, fuckface" chorus) and the unstoppable anthems 'One Of Us Is Gonna Die Young,' and 'Deliver Us From Free Will.'

The Ark's third album will see an American release in (hopefully) early 2006, but if you really need it now (and you do), you can buy 'State of the Ark' from Amazon, at import price, now.
A brief first listen to the band's earlier albums suggests that 'State' is a real leap forward in quality, though 'We Are The Ark' and 'In Lust We Trust' have some immediate moments.

Visit The Ark's official site on the web, where you can stream the whole album and watch the video for 'One Of Us Is Gonna Die Young'.

Skim The Ark's PR Bio.

Learn a bit more about Swedish music from this very subjective survey, then download more Scandinavian tunes from audioblog/recordlabel 'It's a Trap!'

Read this brief but fairly dead-on take (though I believe Ola actually identifies as bisexual rather than gay) on The Ark from 'Bring Back Sincerity.'

Explore TV Ark UK, "the television museum."

Inside the Ark are treasures beyond your wildest aspirations.


Jazze Pha and Cee-Lo have linked up to release their debut collaboration Happy Hour, which features collaborations with artists Nate Dogg and Mannie Fresh.

Or as we like to say back in Nantucket, "awwwwww DAMN, it's ON."

Unsure what to get that special someone for Christmas? How about a flayed cat? Or a book bound in human skin? And when the Xbox360 is sold out, nothing says love quite like a good trepanning.


My lover/my enemy ILX to the rescue again with this amazing collection of Videos of Non-Britney People Lip-Syncing to Britney Songs which rapidly metamorphoses into something even MORE disturbing.
I'm not saying that this demented cat goofing on Suddenly Seymour should be the new Gary Brolsma or anything... but a dollar and a dream will get you there.

"You have the power to change your life."

The funniest thing to me about this already-wildfire-spreading Schwarzenegger in Rio video isn't so much Arnie's love for "watching the mulattas shake it" or his bizarre joy in teaching his tour guide to fellate a carrot stick as it is that my BOSS sent this to me. NSFW, indeed.

Please do not shake the baby.

Fetish Fronts for Strange Folk: "My review of Dr. Ted Rothstein's cosmetic braces"

mmmmmm... delicious HAND.

No idea where I found this, but these paintings by The Royal Art Lodge collective are a joy to behold.

Frere-Jones quips: 'I hope to use the ejaculation "Christ on a plastic dolphin!" in the New Yorker soon.'

And then there's this...

blah blah blah

Big influx of newbies since the San Francisco Chronicle article came out; welcome. No, the site's not dead; it's just resting. I've been busy.

And I'm okay. Ecstatic even, just really into the new job as PR flunky. Loads of fun and I see tons of good music. All of which I should write more about. So I will. Wednesday should show the return of Miccio and a wicked track from Guinea, courtesy Sekouba Bambino Bembeya Diabate.

Say THAT three times fast.

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