The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 4


1. Mär. 2009, 2:57

The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 1
The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 2
The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 3

Fourth and final part of the series, grabbed from the Sunday Times, linked up with Sorry for the slight delay.

(Typos corrected where caught. Please let me know if you find any more)

Watch tracks from Culture's definitive guide to modern music

1st February 2009

The Sunday Times Encyclopedia of Modern Music - Index:

Ambient I Alt-country I Americana I Anti-folk I Art rock I Blue-eyed soul I Conscious Rap I Electro I Emo I Fence Collective I Folk traditionalist I Folktronica I Freak Folk I Fridmann's Freaks I Gangsta rap I Garage I Grime I Hardcore I Heavy Metal I House I Hip-Pop I Indie rock I Manufactured pop I Montreal scene I Neo-Psychedelia I Nordic pop I Post-rock I Power-pop I Progressive rock I R&B I Second Childhood I Singer-songwriters I Slowcore I Synth pop I Techno


Key names: Common, Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli

It’s no more ferrets-in-a-sack-like than jazz, yet rap — and in particular — is synonymous with disagreement and name-calling. Albums that include conscious-rap moments (most recently, Kanye West’s) attract particular opprobrium — not least for getting the acts concerned (see Hip-pop) played on national radio: from the political-rap crowd for pandering to pop and from conscious-rap fans for opportunism. Both camps believe they are keepers of the true flame. Releases as seminal as Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) and Black Star’s self-titled 1998 album have long been bracketed separately, the first as hardcore and incendiary, the latter as considered and inclusive. This simplistic division continues: acts such as dead prez pursue an avowedly militant line (for instance, disowning Obama before he even took office); while the likes of Common and Lupe Fiasco produce more thoughtful but no less thought-provoking records. Staying out of the dispute and just sticking with the albums is the best option: as Grandmaster Flash demonstrated 27 years ago, the message (pun very much intended) is everything.


Recent: Common, Like Water for Chocolate (2000); Lupe Fiasco, Food & Liquor (2006); Q-Tip, The Renaissance (2008)

Classic: Boogie Down Productions, By All Means Necessary (1988); A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory (1991); Nas, Illmatic (1994)

Key track: Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, The Message (1982)


Key names: Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, Espers, Bat for Lashes

The prefix could just as easily be “”, “” or plain “strange”, but “freak” it is for the broadly folk acts who revive and, at their best, reinvent the late-1960s sounds of The Pentangle, Trees, The Incredible String Band et al. Nobody is sure why — perhaps it has something to do with the old David Crosby line about letting your freak flag fly. These neo-hippies certainly sing and play with a straight face, and conviction casts spells. Espers indulge in such stately tempos, the Tudors could cop off to them. The guru lite Devendra Banhart is king of the scene, though his own music never quite justifies the crown. The impishly mannered Joanna Newsom — harpist, Rapunzel lookalike, mould-breaking marvel — is the real deal. Vetiver, led by the Banhart sideman Andy Cabic, are only freaks by association; theirs is a dreamier, Appalachian country vibe. With bands such as CocoRosie, White Magic and those on the Language of Stone label, the genre is seen (in an upgrade of the Greil Marcus phrase) as a manifestation of . This side of the pond, though, Bat for Lashes’ debut album, Fur and Gold, has its freakish charms, as does Goldfrapp’s latest album, Seventh Tree, while Voice of the Seven Woods show you can be a freaky folker in Manchester — but Bez-watchers knew that already.


Joanna Newsom, The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004); Espers, Espers II (2006); Bat for Lashes: Fur and Gold (2007)

Key track: Joanna Newsom, Bridges and Balloons (2004)


Key names: The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse, MGMT

Way over to the west of New York state, not far from Fredonia, you’ll find Tarbox Road Studios. It’s an out-of-the-way place, and in winter you could find yourself snowed in, but it’s worth the discomfort because you get to work with the producer Dave Fridmann. Over the past decade or so, he has been the secret weapon behind America’s weirdest and most wonderful bands: The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse, MGMT. Sure, they’re all talented people, and could doubtless make good albums without Fridmann, but why would they want to when — as Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue puts it — “what you end up with is almost always more than you could ever dream”. Fridmann has worked in many genres, from the post-rock of Mogwai to Weezer’s power-pop, but he is most clearly associated with the Americana-meets-psychedelia-meets-prog of the Lips and the Rev, crafting a sound that — while it clearly spends a lot of its time being warped and reworked on a laptop — remains refreshingly human. Fridmann’s latest high-profile project, MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular, typifies his work in its ability to combine clever invention with big, brash, joyous noises such as the unforgettable synth riff on Time to Pretend.


The Flaming Lips, At War With The Mystics (2006); Mercury Rev, Snowflake Midnight (2008); Sparklehorse, It’s A Wonderful Life (2001)

Key track: MGMT, Time to Pretend (album version, 2007)


Key names: AC/DC, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Lamb of God, Mastodon

Not many acts can sell 10m albums in a month, but towards the end of last year, the 35-year-old Anglo-Australian rock band AC/DC sold 5m copies of their new record and chucked in 5m units of back catalogue for good measure. Their success was emblematic of an era dominated by the old guard: the long-awaited returns of Metallica and Guns N’ Roses were the big stories in , as well as Led Zeppelin’s one-off reunion at the end of 2007. The American thrash band Testament even won Metal Hammer magazine’s 2008 album-of-the-year award, after a quarter of a century in the business. Don’t think, though, that this is a heritage genre: the combination of old masters and a legion of younger bands means headbangers have never had it so good. And metal certainly is heavy these days: Metallica’s recent offering, for instance, had all the scorching intensity of their 1980s work. Perhaps even more notable is the rise of , which combines ferocious noise levels with tricky time signatures and advanced technique, as if to expunge the memory of ’s dumb formulas.


Recent: Mastodon, Blood Mountain (2006); Metallica, Death Magnetic (2008); Meshuggah, ObZen (2008)

Classic: Black Sabbath, Paranoid (1971); AC/DC, Back in Black (1980); Motörhead, No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith (1981)

Key track: Tool, Vicarious (2006)


Key names: Outkast, Kanye West, Cee-Lo Green

In America, the term has come to mean artists such as Nelly, who are allowed on the radio because they make formulaic, unthreatening rap lite. Over here, it is used to describe hip-hop musicians whose love for, and sheer breadth of knowledge about, other genres has come to influence the music they themselves make. It’s not as simple as a hip-hop act cynically adopting some pop moves to score a hit, more a reflection of the frequency with which, when you encounter them, many acts steer talk away from their own genre and start dropping some unexpected and leftfield names into the conversation. Outkast are prime examples: with roots in , Andre 3000 and Big Boi proved too restless and inquisitive to be boxed in (characteristics that would bear glorious commercial and musical fruit with the hit single Hey Ya!). Kanye West has followed a similar line of inquiry, mashing up Daft Punk in 2007, with Stronger; and, last December, releasing an album of sepulchral electro, on which he sang, and from which rapping was entirely absent. Both acts, of course, are played on the radio — but with their integrity intact.


Goodie Mob, Soul Food (1995); Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003); Kanye West, Graduation (2007)

Key track: Outkast, Hey Ya! (2003)


Key names: The Aliens, Mars Volta, Super Furry Animals, The Tyde, Animal Collective

Psychedelic rock emerged, under the joint influence of hallucinogenic drugs and eastern musical scales, in the mid-1960s. American psychedelic bands, largely located in San Francisco, were emblems of the emerging counterculture, while British psychedelia tended to be low-key, inward-looking and prone to whimsy, as in the songs Syd Barrett wrote for the early Pink Floyd, or the work of The Small Faces. Psychedelia was one of the musical forms killed off by in the mid-1970s, but it re-emerged in the 1990s thanks to the bands of the collective (The Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel), stoner rockers such as Kyuss and such inveterate experimentalists as The Beta Band and Super Furry Animals. Modern exponents include The Tyde, who offer a 1960s double whammy of psychedelia and music; The Aliens, an offshoot of the Beta Band with two excellent albums under their belt; Mars Volta, from Texas, who tread the fine line between psych and prog; and Animal Collective, from Baltimore, whose latest album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, is an early contender for album of the year.


Recent: The Tyde, Three’s Co (2006); The Aliens, Astronomy For Dogs (2007); Super Furry Animals, Hey Venus! (2007)

Classic: Pink Floyd, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967); The Beatles, Strawberry Fields Forever (1967); The Small Faces, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake (1968)

Key track: Animal Collective, My Girls (2009)


Key names: David Guetta, Eric Prydz, Swedish House Mafia, deadmau5, Stimming, D Ramirez

It’s hard now to imagine a man earning more than £150,000 in one night for putting some records on, but the Manchester DJ Sasha was paid at least that much on Millennium Eve.

That night was the pinnacle of house music’s global reign — it had become a bloated and cynical money-making industry. When music fell out of favour at the beginning of the new century, , the biggest of all the dance styles, was hit hardest. After 15 years as the planet’s most fashionable music, it all but disappeared except in its spiritual home, Ibiza. Yet house is too versatile, too danceable, to die, and by late 2006 it was back at No 1 in the form of Fedde Le Grand’s single Put Your Hands Up 4 Detroit. With a new, sharper sound, influenced by French electro producers such as Daft Punk, house has been retaking its old territory and can now boast superstars again — the Frenchman David Guetta has more than 50m YouTube views to his name. For the cognoscenti, the German sound has made the genre respectable once more.

ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS David Guetta, Pop Life (2007); Chloé, Live at Robert Johnson (2009), Various artists, Global Guide 09 (2009) (Amazon UK)

Key track: Eric Prydz, Pjanoo (2008)


Key names: Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Al Green, Emmylou Harris, Neil Diamond

For the first 20 years of its existence, rock music was deemed to be a young man’s (and woman’s) game. When musicians hit 30, it was widely assumed, they would get a proper job, buy some slippers and start listening to Des O’Connor records. But they didn’t — and, for the next 20 years, we rather wished they had done, as artists who had shone brightly in their twenties churned out a poor imitation of their best work in their thirties and forties.

Then something magical happened. Entering their fifties and sixties, and gazing rather closely at mortality, singers started to recapture their early form. The phenomenon began with the producer Rick Rubin’s at the time extraordinary, with hindsight inspired, decision to sit Johnny Cash down, tell him to forget about musical fads and fashions, then make him sing from the heart. Next, Bob Dylan rediscovered his muse, and re-established his reputation, on Time Out of Mind. The second-childhood effect is not limited by gender or genre: Emmylou Harris is on rare form these days, the soul legend Al Green is at his magical best and even the MOR mainstay Neil Diamond has benefited from Rubinisation. And the concert sensation of last year? None other than Leonard Cohen, peaking nicely at 74.


Emmylou Harris, All I Intended to Be (2008); Al Green, Lay It Down (2008); Johnny Cash, American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002)

Key track: Bob Dylan, Not Dark Yet (1997)

Watch tracks from Culture's definitive guide to modern music

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