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Posts Tagged ‘music’

14 DECEMBER, 2010

2010′s Best Long Reads: Art, Design, Film & Music


Longreads and Brain Pickings have teamed up to highlight the most fascinating in-depth stories published on the web this year, starting with Art, Design, Film & Music. Below are 10 must-reads from 2010, exploring everything from the beauty of trash to the manipulation of a TV game show to the personal and professional relationships that are forged — and shattered — in the name of art.


Please Allow Me to Correct a Few Things (Bill Wyman, Slate, Nov. 5, 2010)

Time to read: 20 minutes (5,103 words)

Not an actual letter written by Mick Jagger, responding point-by-point to offending passages in Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life. It’s better: Music critic Bill Wyman created this fictional correspondence to construct an in-depth history of Mick and Keith’s relationship.

“He’s just trying to get my attention, I think, in the end. The remaining part of the rancor comes from the fact that he knows he lost me, many years ago.”


Crimes of the Art? (Michael Shnayerson, Vanity Fair, Dec. 1, 2010, 7062 words)

Time to read: 28 minutes (7,062 words)

A disturbing and heartbreaking portrait of a family grappling with its late father’s legacy: Was artist Larry Rivers a genius, an abuser, or both?

“Emma declares her father guilty of nothing less than child pornography, over a period of six years, with herself and Gwynne as his unwilling subjects.”


New York’s Garbage Anthropologist (Alex Carp, The Believer, September 2010, 4009 words)

Time to read: 16 minutes (4,009 words)

There’s art in everything, even garbage. The Believer interviews Robin Nagle, the resident “garbage anthropologist” for New York City’s Department of Sanitation.

“Every single thing you see is future trash. Everything. So we are surrounded by ephemera, but we can’t acknowledge that, because it’s kind of scary.”


The Mark of a Masterpiece (David Grann, The New Yorker, July 12, 2010, 16034 words)

Time to read: 64 minutes (16,034 words)

Peter Paul Biro uses fingerprint technology to help authenticate works of art–and writer David Grann puts the entire process under a microscope.

“When I asked Biro if he worried that his method might be flawed, he said that during nearly two decades of fingerprint examinations he had ‘not made one mistake.’ He added, ‘I take a long time and I don’t allow myself to be rushed.’”


Stephen Tobolowsky: The X Factor, Part One (Stephen Tobolowsky, The Awl, Aug. 2010, 4021 words)

Time to read: 16 minutes (4,021 words)

Character actor Stephen Tobolowsky is probably best known as Ned Ryerson from the movie Groundhog Day, and as Sandy Ryerson on the Fox show Glee. Few stories offer a more realistic glimpse of an actor’s life and what it’s like to audition in Hollywood. (Read part two here.)

“Message to young actors: When you first come to L.A. and you start to despair, remember the X-Factor. Hollywood is not like school. There is no syllabus and there are no grades-here you can succeed by complete failure.”


TV’s Crowning Moment of Awesome (Chris Jones, Esquire, Aug. 1, 2010, 5085 words)

Time to read: 20 minutes (5,085 words)

Esquire’s Chris Jones is on many Longreads best-of lists for his incredible profile of Roger Ebert (Click here to read it), but let’s not forget his investigation into a mysterious win on TV’s The Price Is Right. How, exactly, did Terry Kneiss make history by guessing the exact value of his Showcase Showdown?

“Terry believed that his brain and his eyes and his strong, deep voice made him the perfect vessel for exploiting weakness, for capitalizing on the imperfections of others — for seeing in their patterns an opportunity, a chance for him to break the game.”


And God Created Controversy (Jon Ronson, The Guardian, Oct. 9, 2010, 3141 words)

Time to read: 13 minutes (3,141 words)

If you aren’t a hardcore Juggalo, you can at least thank the Insane Clown Posse for inspiring some of the most bizarre stories of the past year. This one supposedly outs them as evangelical Christians. (See also: Inside the Gathering of the Juggalos, by Camille Dodero, Village Voice.)

“I suddenly wonder, halfway through our interview, if I am looking at two men in clown make-up who are suffering from depression.”


Apple & Design: The Man Who Makes Your iPhone (Frederik Balfour and Tim Culpan, Businessweek, Sept. 9, 2010, 5204 words)

Time to read: 21 minutes (5,204 words)

… paired with …


Interview with John Sculley (Leander Kahney, Cult of Mac, Oct. 14, 2010, 8322 words)

Time to read: 33 minutes (8,322 words)

Two men who have worked close to Steve Jobs, in different ways: The first is a profile of Terry Gou, CEO of Foxconn, the China-based manufacturer whose 300,000 employees build the iPhone and other products. The second is an interview with former Apple CEO John Sculley, who looks back on his time working with Jobs and the mistakes he made.

“[Steve Jobs] was a person of huge vision. But he was also a person that believed in the precise detail of every step. He was methodical and careful about everything — a perfectionist to the end.”


Cherayla Davis: Amateur (Paul Hiebert, The Awl, Oct. 26, 2010, 2477 words)

Time to read: 10 minutes (2,477 words)

One aspiring singer’s story of near-misses and changing priorities–culminating in a performance at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night.

“‘I was tired of being poor, and a lot of people have to be poor before they make it, but I’m just not willing to do that,’ Cherayla said. ‘You know how someone says “You’re so talented, you’re going to be the next _______!” I don’t receive that anymore from people, and I don’t want that.’”

See more Longreads 2010 “best-of” lists here.

Mark Armstrong is a digital strategist, writer and founder of Longreads, a community and Twitter service highlighting the best long-form stories on the web. His thoughts about the future of publishing and content can be found here.

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13 DECEMBER, 2010

The Best Albums of 2010


Haunting vocals, bone-chilling harmonies and measured hipster-snubbing.

Today begins our “12 Days of Christmas” series of best-of lists. Every day between now and December 25, we’ll be publishing our favorite pieces of culture from the past 12 months — ideas, events, reading, apps and more — beginning with music. And just to throw out the necessary disclaimer, this is by no means a be-all-end-all or an attempt at universal tastemaking — we’ll leave that to the Pitchforks of the world — but, rather, just a highly subjective list of the albums that made us smile, cry or dodge repeated requests from coworkers to let go of the Repeat button. And, no, at the risk of hipster venom, we will not be including LCD Soundsystem‘s, Arcade Fire‘s or even, gasp, Broken Bells‘. So sue us.


It’s easy to attribute The Morning Benders’ utterly refreshing sound to their remarkable age — they’re practically teenagers. But something about their breathtaking blend of Berkley and Brooklyn makes them utterly enchanting. Big Echo did for 2010 what Noah and The Whale’s First Days of Spring did for 2009 and Fleet Foxes did for 2008 — quietly deliver tender, harmonic punches to your deepest gut.

For fans of Local Natives, Deerhunter, Mumford & Sons, Emiliana Torrini.


Two years ago, Cee-Lo Green made waves as one half of acclaimed duo Gnarls Barkley (the other half being the infamous DJ Dangermouse). This year, Cee-Lo not only milked the viral circuit for all it’s worth, but he also delivered one of the year’s most memorable albums. The Lady Killer is the kind of stuff you can’t get out of your head OR off your playlist. Powerful and punchy, Cee-Lo’s vocals don’t just meld with the beat, they ARE the beat, like blood throbbing through your very veins.

For fans of Black Eyed Peas, The Roots, Jurassic 5.


Besides being triumph over personal tragedy for Ra Ra Riot — the death of original drummer John Pike — The Orchard is an exercise in chamber pop perfection, complete with cello, cymbals and all stunning string magic that boosts the vibrant vocals to an even more mesmerizing place. It’s the record that got the most play in our iTunes this year, showing no signs of the usual wear-and-tear and ear fatigue that music overdose tends to inflict on an album.

For fans of Vampire Weekend, Le Loup, Metric.


Easily our favorite act at SXSW this year, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings’ unique brand of 60s revivalism shines with full foot-tapping, head-bopping, booty-shaking glory in I Learned the Hard Way. It’s Amy Winehouse meets Motown, without the drugs and the bad hair, flowing between sweetness and indignation just like love itself does.

For fans of Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, She & Him, Cee-Lo Green.


Glasser easily has the most haunting sound we’ve heard in years. From the entrancing drum beats to Cameron Mesirow’s soul-binding vocals, Ring is the kind of record the sound of which you imbibe and get drunk on, losing yourself in its sonic rabbit hole like Alice in a vertigo-inducing Wonderland.

For fans of Bat for Lashes, School of Seven Bells.


It’s been a good year for West Coast bands. With their spellbinding vocal harmonies and enchanted rhythms, LA’s Local Natives may just be the new Vampire Weekend. Gorilla Manor will kiss your mind with its salty lips and leave the aftertaste of the ocean on your breath, then walk away quietly, leaving you restless and longing for more.

For fans of Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, Anathallo.


Commissioned by the Andy Warhol Museum, singer-songwriter duo Dean & Britta wrote and recorded 13 original scores and classic covers for Warhol’s little-known silent films — black-and-white portraits of cultural icons like Nico, Lou Reed, Edie Sedgwick, Ann Buchannan, Freddy Herko and Dennis Hopper, shot between 1964 and 1966. The result was the two-CD gem 13 Most Beautiful: Songs For Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests — a deluge of rich guitar strums and dreamsome, melodic honey-vocals, with a kick of head-bobbing beats in just the right places. We reviewed in full here.

For fans of The Love Language, The Velvet Underground, The Swell Season.


It’s rare for a tribute album to make a best-of list. (Ours, at least.) But The Bird & The Bee‘s superb tribute to the great Hall & Oates, Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall And John Oates is in a league of its own. The band’s siguature 80′s revivalist sensibility already seems like a perfect fit, but rather than merely covering the iconic songs, they truly make them their own. Inara George’s soft and sensual vocals flow with the chill-synth arrangements to a captivating effect, breathing exuberant new life into the beloved dusty classics.

For fans of Hall & Oates (d’oh…), Belle & Sebastian, A Fine Frenzy.


Yeasayer have been — quite rightfully — described as “musical magpies.” Odd Blood, their sophomore album, more than substantiates this claim with its psychedelic spunk, paradoxical blend of vocal apocalypticism and chirp, and hypnotic instrumentation. Ambling Alp was positively one of the stickiest tracks we heard all year.

For fans of MGMT, Animal Collective, Radiohead.


For nearly 15 years, Belle & Sebastian are among the most prolific indie bands of all time. After a four-year hiatus, Write About Love was welcomed with a polarized response as some longtime fans found it, for lack of better words, terrible. We, however, fall on the other end of the spectrum and think it delivers the same kind of perk-perfect vocals and immaculate chamber pop we’ve learned to love. It is, ultimately, happy music. And we could use a bit more of that.

For fans of She & Him, The Smiths, Love, Nick Drake.

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09 DECEMBER, 2010

How Music Works


What Stanley Kubrick has to do with Medieval harmonies and universal lullabies.

Music. It’s hard to imagine life without it. How flat would a world be where films have no scores, birthdays no ‘Happy Birthday,’ Christmas no carols, gym workouts no playlists? Music is so ubiquitous and affects us so deeply, so powerfully. But how much do we really know about it? How well do we understand its emotional hold on our brains? How Music Works, a fascinating program from BBC4 (the same folks who brought us The End of God?: A Horizon Guide to Science and Religion), explores just that.

Composer Howard Goodall takes us on a journey into music’s underbelly, examining the four basic elements that make it work: Melody, rhythm, harmony and bass.

Melody is music’s most powerful tool when it comes to touching our emotions. Our mothers sing lullabies to us when we’re infants and tests have shown that we can even, as babies, recognize tunes that we heard in he womb.”

Every music system in the world shares these five notes in common. Indeed, they’re so fundamental to every note composed or performed anywhere on the planet that it seems, like our instinct for language, that they were pre-installed in us when we were born. These five notes a human genetic inheritance, like the fingers on our hands.”

Catch the four remaining parts of Melody here: 2, 3, 4, 5.

Rhythm is the part of music that interacts most immediately and spontaneously with our bodies. Without it, music would be pleasant enough, but it would be brain food. With rhythm, though, music becomes hypnotic and sensuous.”

The rest of Rhythm here: 2, 3, 4, 5.

Unlike rhythm and melody, harmony wasn’t part of music from the beginning. It’s an upstart. It came into life gradually during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. But what an upstart!”

Harmony continues here: 2, 4, 5. (Alas, Part 3 has been gobbled up by copyright claims — even though the series is not available on DVD or in any purchasable format. Such is the disposition of copyright Nazis — far from merely ensuring that creators are compensated for their work, they’d rather let a cultural artifact rot in obscurity than reach is wide-eyed audience. UPDATE: Here’s part 3 — thanks, AJ.)

One of [the] most distinguishing features [of the opening theme from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey] — and one that’s been imitated by thousands of science fiction, thriller and horror movie scores — is the long-held bass note that begins it. It’s awesome: Bottom C. It’s big, it’s deep and it’s powerful. And it came to stand in our minds for a sense of menace, or wonder, or infinity. Just this one note. But there are loads of examples of bass lines that give a piece of music its style and its shape.”

The rest of Bass can be found here: 2, 3, 4, 5.

For an even more fascinating look at the DNA of music, we highly recommend Goodall’s Big Bangs, which explores the history of five epic discoveries — notation, equal temperament, opera, the piano and recorded sound — that forever changed the course of Western music.

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