Sam Anderson: The Weirdly Enduring Appeal of Weird Al Yankovic (NYT)
National economies collapse; species go extinct; political movements rise and fizzle. But — somehow, for some reason — Weird Al keeps rocking.
Onstage, Weird Al sat on a wooden stool and started to snap like a lounge singer. With an orchestra swelling behind him— the tour was called “Strings attached”— he kicked into a soulful medley of 1980s parodies. If that does not sound great to you, if it in fact sounds like a very particular flavor of sonic hell, I’m here to tell you something, Weird Al was absolutely belting. He was singing the bejesus out of this ridiculous music. I leaned back in my chair, reassessing core assumptions I’d made about life. Was this somehow part of the joke? That Weird Al was an amazing singer? His voice was athletic and precise. It was rippling through intricate trills and runs. By the time he reached the medley’s climax, “Like a Surgeon,” his 1985 parody of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” Yankovic was stretching for high notes and holding them over his head for the crowd to admire, like an Olympic weightlifter, who had just snatched 500 pounds.
But it turns out that Weird Al approaches the composition of his music with something like the holy passion of Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Looking through the “White & Nerdy” file felt like watching a supercomputer crunch through possible chess moves. Every single variable had to be considered, in every single line. The song begins with a simple sentence — “They see me mowing my front lawn” — and even here Yankovic agonized over “lawn” versus “yard” and “my” versus “the.” He sifted through phrases in gradations so small, they were almost invisible.
Weird Al likes to say that every one of his albums is a comeback album. That’s because a parody career is not like a normal career. It has no internal momentum. Everyone always expects you to go away.
Weird Al’s bond with his fans is atomic. He will stop and speak with them anywhere — at airports, outside the tour bus — for so long that it becomes a logistical problem. The fans approach him like a guru, and Weird Al responds with sweet, open, validating energy.
The connection is so deep that it is more like a merging, and after a while it struck me that Weird Al has spent basically his whole life making his music for exactly these people, which is to say for his childhood self. For many decades, he has been trying to delight Alfred Yankovic, the bright, painfully shy kid who grew up alone in his tiny bedroom. For the benefit of that lonely boy, he reshaped the whole world of pop culture. His ridiculous music sent out a pulse, a signal, and these were the people it drew: the odd, the left out. A crowd of friends for that lonely kid.
Kieran Hebden of Four Tet is a producer who puts the intelligence into Intelligent Dance Music.
Two years ago, Keiran Hebden released his second album as Four Tet. Pause went on to feature in numerous critics' Top Tens of 2001, and Hebden was even credited with inventing a new musical genre, 'folktronica'. Topping that achievement was always going to be a challenge, but it's one he seems to have met with his new album. Its implausible but beautiful blend of fragile acoustic fragments, brutal beats and glitchy electronica has already garnered a rich crop of five-star reviews, and Rounds looks set to be every bit as influential as its predecessor.
Gregg Segal tells us what it was like to take these absolutely bananas photos.
You know, the ones of the soulless hateful scumbag Paul Ryan in workout clothes and a backwards hat looking like a goofball?
Frank Rich: Chris Rock Talks to Frank Rich About Ferguson, Cosby, and What ‘Racial Progress’ Really Means (Vulture)
So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
Mark Richardson: A Window That Isn't There: The Elusive Art of Bill Callahan (Pitchfork)
Callahan’s power as a songwriter comes from observation. He finds things that don’t initially seem notable and then puts them under a microscope until we see something new. By imbuing simple objects with symbolic power and laying them out clearly, he can create an image or a feeling that seems closer to the person hearing it.
Just do it! Go and do it! There are no valid excuses [not to]. We see our excuses as real things, but they’re just a barrier you built between you and what you want to do because you are afraid to try it and fail. No one wants to fail, but you will never know if you don’t try it. Maybe the first few times, you’ll have a bad time…but then you won’t.
John Norris: Amrit Singh Puts the Indie in Indian Food (Interview Magazine)
A fine way to school yourself on the finer points of Indian cooking—and be entertained by some of the more talented men in indie rock in the process—is to check out Dosa Hunt, a new short by filmmaker and music journalist (and Stereogum's Executive Editor) Amrit Singh.
Recently I was approached by a newspaper reporter (who shall remain nameless) about a possible article on trolling. I agreed under the condition that I could talk about the importance of defining one’s terms. I was also asked to put the reporter in touch with a troll. I asked “Brian Macnamara,” who sometimes trolls under the name Paulie Socash (further info on Paulie here). In the end, the paper wasn’t able to run the piece (perhaps unsurprisingly, given Brian’s responses), but I asked for permission to post both sets of answers.
Sabrina Velazquez: Scene+Heard: Clones of the Queen get ‘Braided’ (Honolulu Pulse)
I have wanted to write about the dream pop trio Clones of the Queen for a while now, but have purposefully held off until their next album release. With their new EP, “Braided,” out now, it is by far high time.
Eric Harvey: More from my interview with Jonathan Sterne.
I interviewed Jonathan Sterne for Pitchfork about his new book. While conducting the interview, I thought Pitchfork readers would like to know about how AT&T’s capitalistic policies in the 1910s and 1920s laid the groundwork for those compressed bits of data currently clogging their hard drives, and other gentle, science-laden facts about the mp3’s history. I was wrong. But not to worry! Here are the cut bits.
Brett Bonfield: An Interview with Paul Ford and Gina Trapani (In the Library with the Lead Pipe)
Paul Ford: I don’t really make decisions. Instead, I pick my friends carefully. Then I go where people ask me to go; when no one needs me to go anywhere or do anything I work on longer essays that I’ll publish some day.
In general I’m excited for music to open up spatially, and for younger writers to resist the urge to fill every second with a million sounds. I’m looking for longer, more open lines now, with clear and confident production.