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THE BIG BET, PART 2
Biz does a 180 on the 360 deal. (7/20a)
FRESH WAVE OF QUESTIONS FOR TIDAL
They reported how many streams? (7/20a)
THE P!NK AND THE GREEN
RCA superstar and team are celebrating big numbers. (7/20a)
ZEDECK ZIPPING TO UTA AS HEAD OF MUSIC (UPDATE)
Not Zo, not Zu, not Kuz...it's Zed. (7/20a)
PERPETUAL MOTION
Who dat? (7/20a)
HITS' 31ST ANNIVERSARY ISSUE
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
PIZZA: A MUSICAL JOURNEY
Our treatment's almost done.
GAMING THE STREAM
...for fun and profit.
THE STORY OF MO
A gripping yarn
Critics' Choice
BETTER THAN A HIT: MIDYEAR 2017 FAVES & FINDS, EXPANDED
7/7/17

A playlist by Bud Scoppa

Rock’s not dead yet, boys and girls. The proof is this batch of irresistible songs released during the first half of 2017—although one, Radiohead’s “I Promise,” dates back to the sessions for 1997’s OK Computer, the great band’s third album and the last that presented them as a (relatively) conventional five-piece rock band from end to end. The other two dozen tracks are from some of today’s most beloved standard bearers: The War on Drugs, Spoon, Dan Auerbach, Arcade Fire and The National, alongside still-vital veterans Todd Rundgren (the greatest artist never to be deemed worthy by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee), Daryl Hall and four-fifths of Fleetwood Mac, along with Thundercat’s wicked-clever use of Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins’ instantly recognizable voices.

But the most compelling case for rock’s ongoing viability on this playlist are those bands and artists who are making ecstatic, sophisticated music below the radar.

Austin’s Cotton Mather have made two terrific LPs since reforming in 2012 on the occasion of the 15th anniversary reissue of their latter-day power-pop classic Kontiki. Last year’s Death of the Cool and the recently released Wild Kingdom contain memorable songs written by Robert Harrison as part of his project to write a song inspired by each of the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching, which seems unbearably pretentious but has yielded recordings that evoke the likes of Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Squeeze, XTC, Beck circa Sea Change and The Beatles, a reference point deepened by Harrison’s Lennonesque vocals. His “Better Than a Hit” struck me as the perfect title for this playlist of mainstream outliers.

Back home in Nebraska, Matthew Sweet has cooked up his most immersive album since his ’90s heyday with Tomorrow Forever. In my bio, I called the sprawling 17-song record Matthew’s All Things Must Pass. He’s back and swinging for the fences again, accompanied by his core collaborators and some scintillating new contributors.  

BNQT is the retro-rock alter ego of another Texas band, Midlake, as a premise for inviting the frontmen of other groups to bring songs and collaborate on their presentation. The resulting Volume 1, which features Band of HorsesBen Bridwell, Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos and, most winningly, TravisFran Healy, is a sheer delight throughout, but “Restart,” one of two tracks Midlake composed and worked up in character as BNQT without a featured guest, is an instant classic in its melding of crunchy groove, supercharged riffage, soaring harmonies and layer-cake chorus hook.

Californian Miranda Lee Richards, whose new Existential Beast locates powerful parallels between the turmoil of the late ’60s and today’s bizarro world, Adrianne Lenker of Brooklyn-based Big Thief and Alyse Vellturo of pronoun, another young Brooklyn band, make a captivating case for themselves as three of the most striking frontwomen to emerge in this decade. And pronoun’s “A Million Other Things” sounds like an Alternative radio smash to me and to others I’ve played it for.

Chris Price was raised in Miami, but his music is quintessential L.A. This was delightfully apparent in his insightful production of Rainbow Ends, Emitt Rhodes’ first album since 1973, and now on his own Stop Talking, which stopped me in my tracks. With 14 songs, each conceived and executed with jewel-like precision and withering candor, Price has made an album of revelatory musical and lyrical eloquence, a work that reminds me of Harry Nilsson at the peak of his powers. Imagine Nilsson Sings Newman with George Harrison on guitar and string arrangements by George Martin—and one guy playing all these roles.  

When I asked Chris via email what he picked up from Nilsson’s records, and what other artists helped shape his style and sensibility, the 32-year-old polymath responded: “Nilsson had a knack for locating the humor in tragedy, and the tragedy inherent in humor. He was like a great stand-up comic in that sense, always letting you know that things were deeper and more complex than what’s on the surface and actively trying to reveal that complexity to you. It helped that he was perhaps the greatest male pop vocalist of the 20th century. Other artists I am drawn to for similar reasons are The Kinks and the wry, cutting songs of Ray Davies; Nick Drake, who nailed alienation and longing better than almost anyone; Antonio Carlos Jobim, who reveals emotions through chords almost more so than through lyrics; Randy Newman, obviously; and of course, Lennon/McCartney/Harrison.”

Price is trying to figure out what to do with the rest of the 40-odd songs he recorded during the Stop Talking sessions, while also finishing up the debut album of the power-pop supergroup Bebopalula. “It’s incredibly gratifying to be back in a band, especially one where everyone else is such a good singer/songwriter in their own right,” he says. “It takes so much of the pressure off when you only have to deliver 1/4 of the material, and the rest of the time you can really focus on making your contributions as a musician as impactful as possible. The album has a very unique sound, I think unlike anything else around currently.”

Can’t wait. 

7/7 update: Just expanded the playlist from 25 tracks to 30, with selections from Fleet Foxes, Real Estate, Curse of Lono, BNQT with Fran Healy and one more from Sweet. (Yes, it looks like there are 32 embed below, but that's a Spotify glitch.)

Only yesterday did it hit me that 24 of the 25 tracks on the initial playlist are from North American bands and artists, the exception being Radiohead. Of course, you could also throw in Christine McVie on the two collabs with Lindsey if you want to be picky. In any case, I find that fact encouraging. But I’ve added some Brit flavor in two of the additional five with Healy and up-and comers Curse of Lono.

      

OFFA REX: BOW BEFORE THE QUEEN
7/6/17

About 45 seconds into "Sheepcrook and Black Dog," a track from The Queen of Hearts, the forthcoming Nonesuch set from Offa Rex (due 7/15), I said something I don't often say these days: 

HOLY FUCKING SHIT.

The Zeppelin-esque riff rock that kicks off the tune gives way to gorgeous, authentic English folk, and the effect is electrifying. The band is an inspired collaboration between Portland pop-rock provocateurs The Decemberists and English artist Olivia Chaney, whose grasp of classic Celtic song is as profound as anyone's—and whose voice is a gift from heaven. 

While the rest of Queen isn't quite as heavy, it is relentlessly riveting, and a showcase of the participants' musical versatility. Among the other highlights: the beguiling title track, the rousing, politically charged "Blackleg Miner," a gorgeous take on Ewan McColl's evergreen "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and the stately memento mori "The Old Churchyard."

What's perhaps most staggering is that these songs are all either traditional or well-aged standards in the folk canon; Offa Rex's interpretations (driven by Chaney's canny arrangements) sparkle with immediacy. 

You can hear the whole thing here, thanks to an NPR advance stream. It's a a welcome drink from the deepest of wells.

SONGS FROM THEĀ 
MOTHERFUCKING WOOD
6/27/17

By Simon Glickman

Funny what the universe can throw your way, exactly when you need it. Such as Rhino’s Jethro Tull Songs From the Wood 40th Anniversary Edition: The Country Set.

This handsome batch of remastered discs, concerts and outtakes, replete with a 96-page booklet for maximum fan geekage, is my new standard for “rediscovery.”

When this record was nearly new, I lavished many, many adolescent hours swooning away to its sylvan grooves—and leering at its occasionally lascivious lyrics.

Think that’s a nerdly confession? Nestled among my other 45s is the 7” “The Whistler” single featuring the (until now) otherwise unreleased “Strip Cartoon” as a B-side. The Chrysalis logo revolved in my dreams. I played air flute. I might as well have lived in The Shire.

And I further admit that over the years, I came to think of the album as lesser Tull, lacking the edge of the angry young early-’70s material, so of the city and therefore, somehow, more authentic. But now I’m a gray and withered old hobbit and have experienced the country air and all of its joys. So Songs’ folkloric anthems, fixated as they are on the seasons, on antediluvian lore with the fertile earth at its center, feel warmer and fuzzier than I might’ve imagined.

The reason this album and the music immediately following it hewed to these themes is twofold. One: Ian Anderson and his bride left the city at last and he lived the life of a country squire in Buckinghamshire, where the rites of spring were danced outside his very windows. Two: His manager gifted him with Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, a scholarly guide to the beliefs and rituals of the pre-Christian land. He dove in, and emerged with forest-rocking cuts like “Jack-in-the-Green,” “Ring Out, Solstice Bells” and “Cup of Wonder.” And also sexed-up woodland jams like “Velvet Green” and “Hunting Girl.”

The music marries the band’s tricky, already baroque rock to the timbre of ye olde English folk, but the combination has aged rather astonishingly well. Even with bubbling late-’70s synths all around the hedgerows. Also: Jesus, this rocks. Put on “Pibroch” for your Sabbath-worshiping pals and see them bow down before the blazing riffage of Martin Lancelot Barre.

Couple this with two audio discs and one DVD of a miraculous ’77 show that crystallizes the band’s repertoire, stylistic range and sheer sense of fun better than any I’ve heard, and you’ve got something pretty miraculous. Then there’s all the stuff that takes my geekage to the next level, like the charming trade ad for Marshall amps that finds Barre recounting his nervous Tull audition. Or the interview with engineer Trevor White! What does he say about rolling off 10db in the first submix? Buy the set and find out!

Look, I know this ain’t for everybody, But it sure as shit was for me, and now—when merely cataloguing the terrible things going on in the world is a full-time occupation—it is solace indeed.

Too nerdy for you? Fuck off. I’ve got air flute to play.