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Musings

For the alternative/indie world, 2010 has been a banner year of excellence. From The National’s grandiloquent High Violet to The Tallest Man on Earth’s one-man powerhouse The Wild Hunt, 2010 has produced defining albums from well-known acts to stunning debut albums from artists who promise so much more in the future. In the sweeping praise that so many albums have garnered this year, it goes without saying that some things got left behind, some things that, in less impressive years, may have risen to the top of the blogosphere. This blog will attempt to bring to light some of the lesser-known highlights of 2010.

Daniel Bjarnason – Processions [Symphonic/Classical]

We begin in February with Daníel Bjarnason’s Processions, an album that I have praised for months now–from posting the opening movement “Sorrow conquers happiness” from his multi-tracked cello suite Bow to String to reviewing the album with high praise. Yet, I cannot give this album enough praise, standing in the same echelon of excellence as High Violet, The Wild Hunt, The Archandroid, and all of the other albums that we have heard over and over. The album dances between bombastic and aggressive to hauntingly minimal, as if Max Richter decided to borrow from Stravinsky instead of Glass. In addition to Bjarnason’s brilliant compositional skills, the performers on the album (including the Iceland Symphony Orchestra) are first-rate, an indication that Iceland’s music scene goes far beyond Sigur Rós and Björk, and it is not going away anytime soon. Posted here…

Time for a breather? Girlfriends and wives the world over are suddenly breathing a sigh of relief this sunny day, as for the first time in three weeks, there isn’t a single World Cup game taking place. For me, that’s a handy opportunity to go back and pick through the wreckage of the teams who’ve already found themselves eliminated and wonder why my predictions were so woeful (considering I’ve already written about Paraguay, Ghana, and Uruguay, and they’re going strong for now). Then again, at least I’m not the only person in England who’s put in a woeful performance this summer!

Fabio Capello reacts to Rooney losing the ball yet again.

Trying to pinpoint one piece of music that completely encapsulates everything about a country is impossible unless you’ve spent a significant portion of your life living there, which is why I haven’t done it yet. England, however, is another matter, so I hereby present to you the single most English piece of music in history. You want camp? You want a pompous and slightly lily-livered sense of pride? You want a romantic view of the rolling hills of the countryside painted by people who’ve never actually lived there? You want a bunch of drunken yobs chanting meaningless crap at each other in large groups? Elgar’s got the goods. Why the hell isn’t this our national anthem?!

So where do we find Englishness specifically in popular music? Well, here’s an interesting, if flawed thought; in a recent…

Part One / Part Two

In July of 2006, mx founded the Sputnikmusic Staff – a move which, frankly, was made much too early.

The summer of 2006 was an interesting time for the site.  Its active userbase had been declining almost since the site was founded, but this was never more readily apparent than that summer, when Sputnik was plagued with downtime because of problems with the server.  At one point, the site was down for two entire weeks, and many started to accept that it might not come back.  And although it did come back, the damage had been done.  For one long interminable summer, Sputnikmusic’s active userbase consisted of under fifty people who kept the site alive, posting and commenting and trying to make sure the site that meant so much to them didn’t die by the wayside, because even though there was still a decent (for the time) amount of outside readership that didn’t have accounts, would they visit the site if no one was posting any reviews?

Still, mx implemented a number of big changes to the site.  Apart from fiddling with the design and layout of the site, he added a slew of new features, a few of which are still around today and a few that turned out to be not so great.  Lists were a huge addition.  If users weren’t content with simply talking about Metallica in a Master of Puppets thread, they could now post a…

England, France, and Italy might have already fallen by the wayside, but today is the day that European giants will start to drop out of the World Cup race not via their own incompetence and attitude problems, but because they’ve been beaten by a superior opponent. I hope, at least. It’s Spain vs. Portgual today and I can only hope it’s the first real display of European quality at this tournament; the first one not tainted by the incompetence of the opponents, at least.

I also hope we get to see Ronaldo cry. Just because.

I mean, c’mon. Are you telling me that’s not a beautiful sight?

The most recognisable artist from Portugal amongst Sputnik’s userbase is undoubtedly Moonspell, and for good reason; they’ve proven to be one of the most enduring metal bands in the world, with their latest outing, 2008’s Night Eternal, earning enough acclaim to make you forget that it had been a full 13 years since their debut, the cult classic Wolfheart. This song is from the latter, which is as essential a part of the gothic metal canon as Mandtlion, Bloody Kisses, and Wildhoney.

Portuguese music is probably best known in the wider world for fado, however; a genre with Iberian folk origins that could be linked to blues, in the way that it incorporated African rhythms introduced to local musicians by way of the slave trade and became synonymous with songs of longing and yearning. It’s older, though, with examples dating…

Just a day after England’s abject humiliation, is it time to kiss goodbye to my favourite team of this entire tournament? I spent a good two months telling anybody who would listen to keep an eye out for Chile, and their frankly outrageous 3-1-3-3 formation this summer, and with two victories, countless shots on goal, and a dominant, if ultimately fruitless performance against European champions Spain, they haven’t let me down. Today, though, they face Brazil. It’ll be a battle between two very different ideologies – Brazil’s solid pragmatism against Chile’s practically suicidal commitment to getting men forward at any cost. Chile could very well pull off a shock, but this is a World Cup. You can’t bet against Brazil. It’s the law. Still, at least Chile can come out of the tournament saying that they, along with Germany, can boast one of the two most exciting young talents to emerge at the tournament.

Arise Sir Sanchez!

The one single figure that probably encapsulates the history of Chilean popular music more than anybody is Victor Jara. A crucial part of the folky and politically charged Nueva Canción movement, which was the first and still biggest genre of popular music associated with Chile, he would perhaps still be held in such high regard even if he were still alive, but his death – in a hostage situation at the hands of General Pinochet’s armies during a military coup, no less – cemented his legend. As a member of the Chilean…

Part One

It didn’t take long.  By the end of 2005, Sputnikmusic was seeing exponential growth in its userbase.

It was technically a new website, but Sputnik didn’t face the hardships that most new domains have – namely, lack of viewership – thanks to its origins in the MX forums.   And although the vast majority of the forum users would come to abandon the site in its infancy, the number of views they lent early Sputnik reviews allowed them to pop up within the first pages of Google searches for music reviews.  A further boon for the website was the fact that it was founded before the demise of MXtabs and was therefore linked on each individual MXtabs page (Guitar, Bass, and Drums).

A link to Sputnikmusic on the MXtabs Guitar page.

Sputnikmusic’s major appeal came from its focus on the userbase, another holdover from its time as a subforum populated by members of MXtabs.  Except for the site’s design, layout, and general coding (which was run by Jeremy Ferwerda [mx]), MXtabs was run by the users.  They created the tabs and posted them on the site, which could then be rated and critiqued by other users (with a 5-star rating system and a link to “Correct This Tab”).  Sputnikmusic was meant to follow this same format, but there was more of a learning curve for the new members.  An amateur guitar player who posted a guitar tab on MXtabs was a…

I’m going to totally honest with you about why South Korea are getting their day in this blog now, the day after being eliminated from the competition by a rampant Uruguay side. The whole point from here on out, really, was to try to second-guess each game as it came, posting up each country just before they get knocked out whenever possible. It’s been such a unpredictable World Cup, though, that I’ve ended up with France, Italy, Denmark, and Switzerland flying back to Europe before I’ve even thought about them, while Uruguay, Japan, Paraguay, and Slovakia have made a fool of me for getting them out of the way so quickly. Honestly, I thought South Korea would win against Uruguay yesterday. And honestly, there is not a hope in hell you will get me to try to predict the winner of either of today’s games. No way.

So instead, here’s a write-up of South Korea, a country that is the exact opposite of North Korea in more ways than just the obvious.

I mean, would Kim Jong Il allow this? WOULD HE?!?

Those of you that idolize and worship everything Nippon – c’mon, admit it, there’s a lot of you – may be surprised to learn of the cultural sway South Korea has in the Far East; in fact, there is a large cult following of South Korean cultural artefacts in Japan not unlike America’s cult following of Japanese trends. For that reason alone, it seems counter-intuitive to delve…

Sputnikmusic was founded five and a half years ago – so long ago that the vast majority of people who posted in 2005 are no longer around.  This multi-part feature is for those of you who have an interest in the site’s history but weren’t around in its younger days.  You’ll find that, despite popular opinion, the professionalism vs. userbase/more features vs. more journalistic integrity debate has been raging for five years now.

The Early Days

Before there was Sputnikmusic, there was MXtabs.  Started way back in 1999 by Jeremy Ferwerda, MXtabs was one of the foremost music tablature sites on the Internet.  Over the course of six years, thousands of guitar, bass, and drum tabs were added to the MXtabs database, all created and submitted by users of the site.  In addition to tabs, the site also had a flourishing forum section.  Within that section was a subforum for music reviews, where music lovers and aspiring writers could submit reviews for their favorite albums.  That forum was the fetus from which Sputnikmusic would grow into a screaming toddler, which would grow into a moody pre-teen, which would grow into a pimply teenager, which would grow into a ???.

In 2005, the MPA (Music Publishers’ Association) realized that they could make a bunch of money by suing tab sites, presumably because the president of the company still had some negative feelings about being a man named Lauren Keiser.  In 2006, the company released a statement in which…

Landon Donovan’s tears were a bit much, but fair play, America – you won the group, and you sent England spiralling into an absolutely horrific World Cup knockout run that, from what I can see, will see us playing Germany, then Argentina, then Brazil, then Spain (providing we win even one of those games). Your attentions, on the other hand, can now turn to Ghana. You lucky, lucky bastards.

Actually, that’s pretty harsh on the best African team at the tournament – they looked impressive against Germany even in defeat, and they’ve certainly got the ability and the organisation to cause all manner of problems. They’ll basically have a home crowd, too – Africa expects. This game, my friends, could be an absolute doozey. So as the sides are pretty evenly matched, I think it’s only fair that my incredibly effeminate picture of Landon Donovan is also matched. With that in mind….

….here’s Stephen Appiah.

The major genre in Ghana is highlife, a blissed-out, jazz-influenced sound that is also one of the definitive genres for the entire continent, with a proud, storied history of over 100 years. There’s no shortage of big names – Sir Victor Uwaifo, Bobby Benson, Dr. Victor Olaiya, even some very early Fela Kuti – but for now we’ll focus on E.T. Mensah, a flautist, saxophonist, organist, and trumpeter who has achieved some international notoriety recently with a series of re-issues celebrating both his life and music, and that of West Africa in general. …

And so we reach the mid-way point, both for this series and for the World Cup itself. Today sees the end of the group stages and the final confirmation of which 16 teams are left to duke it out for the next two weeks – Honduras are unlikely to be one of them, and it’s hard to know exactly what to say about them other than that. So little attention is paid to them that one ITV correspondant referred to them as a South American country – without meaning to be too denegrating, they’re probably the most nondescript country involved in the whole tournament, and that’s no small accomplishment in a competition boasting the presence of both Slovenia AND Slovakia. All this despite an astonishing bit of governmental wrangling that got seemingly everybody in the world commenting as recently as last year, too. If it had happened in Mexico, Cuba, or even Costa Rica, rest assured you’d have heard a lot more about it; the international media just didn’t seem to care when it happened in a country nobody really knew anything about. Ditto the tragic murder of Edwin Palacios, brother of three of the current Honduran national team.

In keeping with all of that, Honduran music hasn’t produced any stars, certainly not ones who’ve found fame outside the country’s borders, so it’s hard to know where to start. If we’re just talking quality, though, then I can highly recommend one Aurelio Martinez, a man with, in addition…

All of a sudden, it’s starting to look a little worrying for Africa in the World Cup – South Africa’s bravery and spirit hasn’t seen them through, Portugal’s embarrassing demolition of North Korea have made Ivory Coast very unlikely to qualify, and Algeria and Nigeria simply weren’t good enough. Ghana’s qualification yesterday makes them the continent’s only representatives, then; the subject of today’s blog, Cameroon, were the first team to be eliminated from the competition after two disappointing defeats to Japan and Denmark. If only today offered an easy chance to restore pride; instead, they’ve got to play Holland. Gadzooks.

Perhaps it’s time to start planning for the future, then?

When asking for a list of genres Cameroon brought to the world, you probably wouldn’t expect ‘disco’ to be one of the answers. And yet, it was Cameroon’s own Manu Dibango that conjured up Soul Makossa, the album – and song – most frequently credited with sparking the disco craze. A rare venture into the Billboard charts by an African musician, it became one of the most sampled, referenced, and copied songs of the era – Michael Jackson fans especially may recognise the opening vocal refrain. The album itself is well worth having, incidentally – it’s a brilliant funk record, fleet-footed and melodic throughout.

That song shares its name – or at least the ‘makossa’ bit – with one of Cameroon’s most popular genres of music. The other – a more danceable, off-kilter affair that hasn’t found…

For all the criticism Blink-182 copped in the 90s for their supposed lack of punk credentials, they walked the walk when it truly mattered. Tom Delonge went mad in his castle, flew off on a coke-binge and produced three of the worst albums in major label history, Travis Barker died in a plane crash before coming back to life and Mark Hoppus hung around at the skate park. They were, essentially, Motley Crue for 9-year-olds.

What, then, of Jedward? Twins John and Edward Grimes, too, embody the true spirit of punk. Look at the evidence: 1) impossibly shit, spiky hair; 2) ugly co-ordinated outfits; 3) complete lack of musical ability; 4) impossibly shit, spiky hair. They have, quite simply, invented a whole new genre of karaoke – fans have all the fun of listening to tone deaf amateurs without the hassle of being drunk or being around moderately interesting people.

Here’s Jedward putting their uniquely punk slant on blink-182’s ‘All The Small Things’:

Oh dear. As an Englishman I’ve clearly got enough to worry about myself without casting pity on other nations, but Australia haven’t really had the greatest World Cup, have they? Not only were they torn to shreds by Germany in their opening fixture, and not only have they collected two red cards to key players already, but they’ve also has to suffer an embarrassing rift between journalist Michael Cockerill and the permanently injured Harry Kewell, which has left Kewell looking just a little stupid (Cokerill asked Kewell to ‘actually DO something’ against Ghana, and Kewell promptly got himself sent off for a senseless handball), and left Lucas Neill reduced to announcing that actually, they’re not whingers and bottlers. What’s more, after New Zealand’s heroics against Italy, the Socceroos now face the very real prospect of going out of the tournament having been outplayed and outscored by their bitterest rivals. Still, some tunes might help, eh?

And here’s a picture of a sport they’re actually good at, too!

Everybody with ears knows about the major Australian acts, so there’s not really much anybody will get out of their videos being posted here, but just for the sake of the people who will undoubtedly complain anyway, here they are: AC/DC, Crowded House, Nick Cave, The Saints, Kylie Minogue, The Go-Betweens, Natalie Imbruglia, Bee Gees, The Avalanches, INXS, The Church, The Triffids, Sia, You Am I, The Vines, Hilltop Hoods, whatever Luke Steele is pretending to be this week, Silverchair, Wolfmother.…

It’s all getting a bit exciting now, isn’t it? Today sees the real meaty end of the tournament kick off, as teams start to drop out of the running altogether; by close of pay on the 25th, we’ll know exactly who will contest the knockout stages and who will be joining the likes of Cameroon in flying home. In Nigeria’s case, it’s do-or-die time – nothing but a victory over South Korea and some help from Argentina against Greece will stop them from becoming the second African nation to drop out of the first African World Cup. Still, if it’s any consolation, they can boast probably the best individual performance of the tournament so far in the shape of goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama’s Messi-defying heroics in their opening fixture against Argentina.

Mad respect for the blackest man in Tel Aviv.

The role played by Nigerians in the development of modern Africa’s musical consciousness simply can’t be ignored. While each African nation had its own folk forms – and with Igbo and Yoruba, Nigeria is no exception – it was Nigeria that was the first to embrace new styles and promote hybrid forms, bringing those folk sounds into a contemporary context. Nowhere was this more telling than in the development of Afrobeat, a crucial genre of music pioneering by Nigeria’s most famous son and probably African music’s most beloved figure – the legend that is Fela Kuti. This music – a blend of highlife, pyschedelia, funk, and sociopolitical fire – displays…

Before you read on, I’d like to qualify my definition of a musical, in relation to Tremé, to clear up any possible confusion. Tremé is a musical program in that it heavily features musical performances. These performances are, uh, performed, by the shows characters—its guest stars, its cameos, its extras…you get the point. But Tremé is not a musical in the same vein as Glee. There are no impromptu bursts of song, replete with back-up dancers and an invisible backing band. Tremé is a dramatic program.  It just happens to centre around the musical city of New Orleans. For the uninitiated, the tremé is a New Orleans neighbourhood known primarily for its musical heritage. Scroll to the bottom for some clips.

I'd do anything for her to look at me with such longing. Or at all.

Glee is a lot of fun. I like it, unironically, and I have no problems putting those words to print. But having just watched the tenth episode—and first season finale—of HBO and David Simon’s Tremé, I’ve got to put something else into print, something I’ve known pretty distinctly since I watched the first episode some weeks back—Tremé, not Glee, is the best musically oriented show on television. I’m sorry, Channing. It’s not personal.

No, what it is is (is!) the honest to blog truth.

Yes, Glee is a lot of fun. I think I’ve already said this. But that’s more or less all it is. That’s not…

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