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When New Zealand qualified for the World Cup, I distinctly remember some very proud, vocal gloating from Australians who were looking forward to seeing them getting beaten 4-0 every game. Out of interest, how are the Socceroos getting on with that so far? And how did New Zealand do earlier today? Having said that, there’s no denying that New Zealand are largely attending just to make up the numbers; if they qualify from their group ahead of Italy or Paraguay it will be a shock of the highest order. It’s lucky for me that they’ve qualified, though – partly because they have some pretty great music going on, but mostly because I can now take my one and only opportunity to post a Middlesbrough player.

Look! It’s Chris Killen! And some other guy!

New Zealand’s prime musical export has been indie pop, in various incarnations – Split Enz being the most famous (singer Neil Flynn went on to form Crowded House with some Aussies, the traitor), and The Clean the most influential (as Pavement and Yo La Tengo will only be too happy to tell you). The Chills are probably the pick of the bunch though; certainly, they recorded possibly the greatest single by any NZ indie band in the form of “Pink Frost”, a shoegazey standard with just a hint of peak-era Sonic Youth about it. I’ve never been that keen on the intro, but from the 25 second mark onwards it’s glorious.…

So, that Germany lot. Pretty terrifying, eh? After their 4-0 mauling of Davey’sBoys, it feels like the big names of the World Cup have finally arrived (not like these English and American numpties). Attention thus turns to Italy tonight, and their opening game against South American dark horses Paraguay – and one suspects that Italy may have an axe to grind in this one. After all, we know the Italians love to be stylish and love to be good-looking, so how will they react when they realize that Paraguay’s star centre-forward is not just more dashingly handsome than their entire squad, but probably the whole rest of the World Cup combined?

Admit it – you want his babies.

Admittedly, pug-faced thug Gennaro Gattuso does bring the batting average down considerably for the Italians.

Paraguay’s musical scene, like that of several of the other countries this blog will cover, is shaped by the political upheaval in the country’s recent history. Here, that means flirtations with communism, dictatorship, and most damningly, the artistic oppression the country suffered under Alfredo Stroessner’s reign as President. It was only in 1989 that most popular forms of music were allowed to fully blossom in the nation, having been largely shunned (although not banned) since the start of his reign in 1954. Perhaps that history explains why, despite its sunny climate, metal has thrived in the country over the past two decades. Acts like black metallers Sabaoth, thrashers Raw Hide and Corrosion, and the more traditional…

If you’ve got a bit of a fetish for goalkeepers, and were hoping to see some quality displays between the sticks, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to you sincerely, on the behalf of the entire combined populations of England and Algeria. Seriously. Might I suggest you become a Nigeria supporter?

I guess with Slovenia currently sitting pretty ahead of both England and USA after Robert Koren’s tame, gentle pass somehow got shovelled into the goal by Farouzi ‘Robert Green in disguise’ Chaouchi, now’s the time to celebrate them.

There’s simply nowhere to start talking about Slovenian music other than Laibach – Slovenia’s most admired musical export by light years, and probably the only musical act from the country that most of the readers will have heard of. Named for the name the Nazis used for their hometown, the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, the band have toyed with Nazi imagery for their entire careers, both adapting the insignia into their own imagery and working extensively with anti-defamation artists and charities. Their most notorious musical moments in English speaking territories are covers – most notably Queen’s “One Vision”, which is sung in German and re-named “Geburt Einer Nation” (The Birth of a Nation, nodding to the famously controversial pro-KKK silent movie by D.W. Griffiths). They’ve been a consistently controversial group themselves, although it hasn’t stopped them from becoming a strong influence on much of the industrial and martial industrial music made since (Rammstein and Rome particularly), and in…

Yes, attempting to blog about the music of the USA on a site like Sputnik is patently ridiculous. I know. That’s one of the reasons I’m getting it out of the way early; the other is to say YOU’RE GOING DOWN AMERICA

Be honest – who’s side do YOU want to be on?

Ahem. So anyway, I suppose the best way to approach this to go back to a time when American music was exactly that – American music, and not some globally-dominant behemoth that just happens to revolve around California for some reason. And to kick that off, I’m resorting to playing personal favourites with comedian, country pioneer, and all-around vaudeville nutcase Uncle Dave Macon. This is the sound of America in its youth, still in thrall to the Appalachian folk music developed by Americans working in tandom with the Irish and Scottish diaspora, yet to discover and assimilate the blues music of the slaves that would lead them to musical world domination. Macon’s vocal delivery was radical for his time, particularly in terms of the music being recorded at the time, and his performing style was no different – more aggressive and raucous than country or folk has been since. And that’s before we consider the knee-slapping sexual innuendos that abound in so many of his songs, puns so well-concealed that half the time it’s not even clear whether or not it’s accidental.

There were many things – World War II,…

Not a bad opening match, all told!

You know, there used to be a time when the words ‘Uruguay’ and ‘World Cup’ went together like ‘Billy Corgan’ and ‘whiny bitch’. They both hosted and won the first one, in 1930, before hopping over the border to Brazil and gazumping them in their final in 1952. All this and two Olympic golds in the ’20s, too. They’re a shadow of their former selves now, though; largely relying on the skills of two gifted frontmen, one of whom looks not entirely unlike Simon Amstell.

So, who’s your favourite McFly?

Not unlike football, Uruguay’s music has tended to be overshadowed by that of its much larger neighbours, Brazil. Yet it had its own version of tropicalia, running concurrently to the Brazilian psychedelic revolutionaries, and the biggest name was in that was Eduardo Mateo. Finding an English-language equivalent for Mateo is difficult; he was an enfant terrible of the nation’s music scene, who was rumoured to struggle with mental health issues, and yet he became arguably the most influential musician the country had ever produced. The below track comes from his 1976 collaboration with Montevido born percussionist Jorge Trasante; a record recorded after both musicians were exiled from the country by the government-imposed period of martial law that ravaged the nation in the mid-’70s.

Before Mateo’s blend of rock, traditional Latin-American folk forms, and psych, though, there was the Uruguayan invasion – which is exactly what it sounds like. After The…

Howdy. You might have noticed something that something fairly big is about to start in South Africa, and as a European I am duty-bound to spend the next month waffling on and on and on about it. It’s great, though, because the World Cup offers us a chance to do many things, like laugh uncontrollably at France, get drunk at 2 in the afternoon, tell a room of journalists to ’suck it and keep on sucking it’, and research other countries in the hope of finding another stereotype to chant about. So why not do it here? I’ll bet that 95% of the people on Sputnik own songs from, at most, 6 of the countries participating (and that’s accounting for your token J-pop albums and weirdly popular outliers like Laibach).

So where better to start than the hosts?

One of these men is called Macbeth Sibaya. Awesome.

South Africa’s music is unique amongst that of Africa in the way it has permeated American culture, largely thanks to Paul Simon and his massively successful Graceland; indeed, when the average person tries to imagine African music, from any part of the continent, it’s almost certainly the monophonic vocal harmony of Ladysmith Black Mambazo they picture. It’s an odd stereotype, for sure, but it’s one that’s ensured that they were, and perhaps still are, more famous in the US than they were in their home country.

Yet Ladysmith are a one-dimensional representation of…

Those of you who have been keeping up with UK festivals this year will know that one of the headline slots at the UK’s biggest rock festival was given, for some reason, to a lumbering, crippled dinosaur of a band, with their best years over 2 decades behind them and a deeply egotistical, deeply irritating singer seemingly intent on officially becoming the world’s biggest tool guiding them ever further into mediocrity. The festival goers who were duped in parting with around £150 of hard-earned for a ticket have been praying every day and every night that this band – who are still living off the glories of three not-that-good singles from a not-that-good album released in the 1980s – will pull out and allow somebody relevant to take their slot.

Unfortunately, Guns n Roses are still scheduled to play Reading and Leeds.

I would have loved to post some Janelle Monae here today, but such is the excitement around her outstanding new album that I’ve been beaten to it. Luckily, one of dubstep’s kings of utter filth has just premièred his latest sonic assault.

Diving further into the gutter than even last year’s Choke on Coke EP (and its delightfully tasteful artwork), “Disturbed” is just that. The bassline on this track isn’t even a bassline – it sound like more like the growling, gaping jaws of a demon-possessed monster of the kind John Carpenter might fantasize about in a particularly twisted moment. Hell, one of the top rated YouTube comments on the track insists that it’s ‘dirtier than Bin Laden’s wank flannel‘ – do you need a higher recommendation that that?

It’s a funny subplot in popular music’s history that a friend of mine pointed out in a conversation a couple of years ago; the most timeless, interesting music always tends to happen at the tail-end of a decade. He was pointing out how crazy the music industry went in the late ’90s, and how bands like Superchunk had unbelievable and hilarious amounts of money thrown at them, and bands as obviously offputting and angular as Placebo could become superstars, but it extrapolates across the decades; in lists like Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time, Sputnik’s own user-voted all-time chart, and the Top 3000 albums on Acclaimed Music, there’s a real swing toward records that arrived in the latter half of their decades. On Acclaimed Music, it’s only 5 of the top 20 and and just 17 of the top 50 that represent the first half. Look at the best-selling albums of all time on a worldwide level, and you’ll see that of the 20 studio albums to have solid more than 30 million copies, only 6 have a year ending in a number lower than 4. Where it should be half, it’s nearer to a quarter.

The one obvious explanation is that both musicians and labels – not to mention the media – are always eager to fashion out an identity that will define the decade, leading to a mad scramble of anything-goes creativity as people spend two or three years looking for the next big…

I mean, seriously. Bask in it. Isn’t it glorious?

The music’s not shabby, either; dip into this blend of English folk and indie pop and see what you make of it.

Five points from an outsider:

1) Logic would surely dictate that the standard of American Idol would be much better than that of its UK equivalents, The X Factor and Pop Idol. Roughly speaking, there are 309 million people in the US and just 60 million in the UK – surely a country with five times as many people will have five times as many brilliant singers, and ergo, would be five times as likely to have a seriously world-class talent? Apparently not; we shouldn’t forget that Leona Lewis was a complete fluke, but the fact remains that AI hasn’t even come close to producing anything on her level. Not even Kelly Clarkson is comparable; she survives by having great songwriters and producers, not a great voice. Even taking the average ability of the contestants into account, the only reason the US have the upper hand on the UK is because we, as a nation of cynical, hate-filled piss-takers, are obliged to field one complete joke every year. Take them out of the equation and we stack up. We probably shouldn’t.

2) I sure am thankful to be watching a singing competition that doesn’t have Jedward in it, mind.

3) What the hell is with all the guitars? Is there some sudden obsession with a pre-conceived notion ‘authenticity’ on this show, or has it always been this way? In the UK at least, the show has always been happy to embrace its gleefully vapid nature, but the US…

Dubstep? The question mark is important; that beat sure ain’t 2-step. But if dubstep is going to grow into something else entirely – something for the mainstream album listeners – let’s hope it’s as good as this pulsating, emotive epic. It’s like listening to Skream’s awesome remix of La Roux’s “In for the Kill”, except it doesn’t have La Roux on it (and that’s gotta be considered a huge improvement, right?)

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As any Sputnik regular will know, a couple of the staffers here have got a thing going on for UK hip-hop; Orphans of Cush did gatecrash our 2009 top 50 at an impressive #27, after all. You might have realized, too, that the latest record from the scene to makes among us is Devil May Cry by Iron Braydz.

Now, I couldn’t tell you why, but something about Braydz made me cast my mind back to the early part of last decade, when UK garage was just beginning to turn into grime, and British urban music has a stranglehold on UK radio and people still gave a crap about the MOBOs. So Solid Crew were absolutely massive then. Hell, they were probably the biggest band in the country, regardless of country; they genuinely revolutionized UK rap. Angus Batey pointed out as much in a recent Guardian interview with the group’s lynchpin Megaman, while the band still gets respect in the scene; Durrty Goodz, on the state-of-the-nation address “Switching Songs”, acknowledged the change they brought to the UK garage scene.

‘Deep basslines and a load of energy
And I loved the beats because they came with melodies
I could go raving and sip on the Hennessey
And wouldn’t even think about looking for enemies
Then shit changed, everyone just bugged out
So Solid came and it all got thugged out’

That lyric encapsulates why the band were never really embraced…

We’re all just too geographically, musically, and culturally disparate for it to ever happen, but if Sputnik actually did have an office, The Tallest Man on Earth would be hogging our stereo pretty badly right now. Even as early as April, The Wild Hunt looks like a shoe-in for our year-end top 5, with no less than 10 members of staff already giving at least 4 stars.

The early favourites seem to be “King of Spain” and “Kids on the Run”, but for my money, the album’s highlight is the tortured “You’re Going Back”. Rather than the obvious reference points of Devendra and Dylan, this vaguely unhinged, end-of-tether melody recalls the best of Tusk-era Lindsey Buckingham, in the way it suggests that the writer has an unwavering belief in love even as it tears their mind apart.

In a world where nothing is taken seriously, everything is fair game, multi-media marketing is of paramount importance, and postmodernism runs rife enough to allow us to see intelligence and subtlety in just about anything, the man who samples Lil’ Wayne and slaps it over a Disney sample, forcing ‘Stuntin’ Like My Daddy’ to be a part of one of the most famous father/son stories of all time, making macho thuggery child-friendly, and making nostalgia current, is King.

Face it; DJ Doyou is what 2010 really sounds like.

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