Archival Music Releases

I wrote a piece about “archival” music releases for Diffuser. I discuss three different types of these albums. The first, Wheedle’s Groove, focuses on a specific regional scene–the soul and funk of Seattle. The second, Too Slow To Disco, is like a glorified mix tape you might make your friend. The last one, L’Amore, is a reissue of an album that was privately pressed and barely heard back in 1983. Below, listen to Lewis’ “Cool Night In Paris.”


Carl Wilson, Celine Dion Talk About Love

I reviewed the book Let’s Talk About Love for the LA Review of Books. The author (also Slate’s pop critic), Carl Wilson, goes out of his way to try to understand a Celine Dion album that he hates. In doing so, he tries to figure out the source of taste and the job of a critic.

A First for the Staple Singers

I wrote about a new book on the Staple Singers for Paste. Surprisingly it’s the first book on a group that had two number one hits and earned admiration from Elvis, Dylan, and Prince. Below, a Staple family track that the Stones ripped wholesale.


And here’s their last number one hit, written and produced by Curtis Mayfield.

Questlove’s Family Affair

(I wrote this last summer, when the drummer Questlove’s autobiography came out, but my piece slipped through the cracks, so I’m posting it now.)

In Ahmir Thompson’s memoir, Mo’ Meta Blues, the drummer writes about his decision to go by his better-known moniker, Questlove. The name, he writes, combined “a mix of substance and style;” so does his book. Mo’ Meta Blues includes some normal career description, but several years are described largely through the records he remembers listening to at the time. He also throws in interviews with (and interjections from) the manager of his band, as well as emails from other people involved in the writing and editing process. Musicians take note: most of the time, Questlove manages to spice up a form that should be interesting — after all, few people have an artist’s breadth of experience — but too often ends up boring, repetitive, and predictable.

Not that Questlove throws the whole musician’s autobiography playbook out the window (for another interesting experiment in music memoir, read the book-length interview of the artist Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy). “[E]very music memoir has the same shape,” writes Questlove, “[i]t starts off with a simple statement about childhood: ‘I was born. . . My dad did this.’ But I don’t want to start that way. I can’t start that way. I won’t.” But of course, he does.


Purple Hair

I wrote briefly about Prince’s appearance last night on the Arsenio Hall show for DiffuserFM. Read the piece here.

Purple Snow

I wrote about a new compilation from the Numero Label, Purple Snow: Forecasting The Minneapolis Sound, for the Atlantic. Read the piece here.

Below, one of the my favorite productions from Minneapolis-funksters Jam & Lewis, Janet Jackson’s “When I Think Of You.”

Double Trouble

I wrote about new double albums from Cass McCombs and Arcade Fire, as well as the double album more generally, for Splice Today. Read the piece here.

Below, an old Cass McCombs song, “County Line,” which leans towards Fleetwood Mac and sleek, country-tinged ’70s pop.

Super Rhythm(er)

I wrote about a new book, Beat Box, for the Atlantic. It’s about one man’s collection of 150(!!) drum machines. Read the piece here.

Drum machines are often named terribly–wrap your mouth around “Super Rhythmer.” But the use of drum machines is one of the most important story lines in the last 40 years of pop. A lot of mega hits were made with drum machines. Here’s Roxy Music’s “Dance Away,” a smash in 1979. According to the book, the drum machine was set on “cha-cha” for this track.

A Battle For R And B’s Future

Janelle Monae and the Weekend both released highly anticipated new albums today. I talked about the different visions of the two singers for the sight Splice Today. Read it here.

Here’s a ballad from the new Monae album, featuring Miguel:

And here is a Weeknd track that epitomizes his favorite sounds and themes:

Kelly’s Eyes

Prince was (and probably is) brilliant, but one of the prices for that brilliance was his legendary irritability. He was notoriously hard to work for — people worked for Prince, never really with him — and he ditched collaborators and band members on a regular basis. What happened to the men and women who had the chance to watch and learn from one of pop’s greatest before being rudely discarded? Some fared better than others. Andre Cymone was one of Prince’s earliest musical companions, helping him out on his first two albums from the late 70s and the legendary 94 East recordings, which weren’t released until 1985. Cymone struck out on his own in 1982, and his debut album, Livin’ In The New Wave, contained Cymone’s version of the pop-rock-soul-funk mix that Prince made into high art on 1980’s Dirty Mind. Sometimes, Cymone gets it exactly right, like on the bouncing yet lovelorn “Kelly’s Eyes.” Those album graphics are straight out of Star Wars.

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