We have nothing against Rolling Stone: We’re not its audience, and we know that. But we still couldn’t help but be sorely disappointed by its “40 Reasons to Get Excited About Music” issue. Black Eyed Peas at No. 1? Katy Perry? The obligatory “Animal Collective rulez teh underground” entry? Yawn!
But rather than whine and criticize, we’ve resolved to be constructive by providing a list that we hope will actually introduce readers to stuff they didn’t already know about and celebrate the accomplishments of under-appreciated bands, venues, labels, websites, and other music-related phenomena. With that in mind, we’ve enlisted some guest suggestions from our favorite music writers and put together Flavorpill’s very own 40 Better Reasons to Get Excited About Music — a list you don’t have to shell out five bucks to read.
1. Thrill Jockey: It’s not a new label, but it does seem to have been reborn in the past year, snapping up a handful of talented bands, from Mi Ami to Double Dagger to Future Islands to High Places. We love that it takes risks and signs bands based on the quality of their music, instead of following lame trends.
2. All Tomorrow’s Parties: “It figures that the best American rock festival is run by two Brits. There’s a reason that the Lollapalooza, Coachella, and Bonnaroo lineups are practically identical. ATP doesn’t bend to the whole Hype Machine/Pitchfork/label-money economy of R$$ hype. Their booking method is whimsical — hell, verging on outright stubborn — seemingly asking, ‘Will this be cool?’ before ‘Will this make money?’ This is why you get awesome, unpredictable shit like a Sleep reunion; or Aussie post-punk pioneers the Scientists playing their first American show; or Boris and SunnO))) teaming up; or co-curator Jim Jarmusch nabbing a bunch of stoned-out avant-riffers you’ve never heard of. Bonus: Your room is right on the festival site, so you can leave a show to catch a nap, have a snack, or take a shit in peace. It’s a lost weekend where everyone comes back with at least three amazing stories. My friends are sick of hearing me talk about it.” – Christopher R. Weingarten, @1000TimesYes, and author of the 33 1/3 book on Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back — out this week!
3. Streaming albums before you buy them: Want to listen to LCD Soundsystem’s new album, which doesn’t come out till May? Go ahead! (We recommend it!) In the past year or so, there’s been an explosion of free, online previews of music by great bands big and small. And it’s a total win-win: We get to check out our favorite artists’ new material before its street date, and labels like that it prevents illegal file sharing.
4. Bradford Cox: Seriously, we don’t know how the guy does it. But he somehow manages to put out roughly two transcendently brilliant albums a year, in his capacities as both the mastermind of Deerhunter and the sole force behind Atlas Sound. He is also really, really fun live.
5. Anyone can be a critic: “The ’90s may have taught us that ‘anyone can play guitar,’ but now any music lover with a working internet connection and a brain can share his or her enthusiasm with the public and rest assured that at least somebody out there will be listening. Having more music writers out there may mean a higher volume of shoddy criticism, but it also means that those of us who aspire to do more than post MediaFire downloads and paraphrase press releases can do so in dialogue with each other, prodding each other to come up with better and better explanations for why certain music makes us tick — and why it seems to be happening at this moment in history. Arriving at that understanding collectively — as a generation, even — is much more exciting than listening to what some snarky loner type sitting at an editorial desk has to say.” – Emilie Friedlander, who blogs at Visitation Rites, cohosts Arthur magazine’s weekly Newtown Radio show, and will debut the Newtown series “Underwater Visitations” this month
6. 33 1/3: The ultimate music-nerd book series, 33 1/3 has featured some of our favorite critics (and musicians like the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy) writing on classic albums, both cult and mainstream. They’re not all winners, but the vast majority of these tiny volumes are deeply satisfying for our inner obsessive fan.
7. Artists can do it all by themselves: “In the last 18 months or so, there has been an explosion of sites and services aimed at helping artists forge truly independent paths for themselves. Artists can now raise money to fund production of their records, use metrics services to plot more efficient tours and reach out to their most active fans, and even partner up with one another to get affordable healthcare. And really, any phenomenon that makes it easier to get a vial of your favorite band’s blood has to be pretty exciting, right?” – Max Willens, editor of We All Make Music, a website dedicated to helping musicians thrive in a post-label world
8. Lady Gaga parodies: We know we don’t even have to list and link them for you. The only thing more dumbfounding than Gaga’s weird, cultural reference-laden music videos are the parodies and homages that fans and detractors come up with.
9. Sia: “It almost feels blasphemous to include Sia in a list of ‘why I’m excited about music right now,’ because the singer has been turning out quality tunes for well over a decade. Be that as it may, the Aussie songbird is returning with her fourth studio album, We Are Born, on June 8. If you’ve heard the first two singles, ‘You’ve Changed’ and ‘Clap Your Hands,’ then you know she’s about to score a major win thanks to the production done by local star Lauren Flax and the Bird and the Bee’s Greg Kurstin, respectively. Additionally, Sia, along with significant other JD Samson (of MEN and Le Tigre fame), has contributed four tracks to Christina Aguilera’s upcoming release, Bionic, which drops the same day as her own offering. Color us psyched.” – Sheena Beaston, owner/editor of SheenaBeaston.com, rabid Twitter fiend (@sheenabeaston) and incumbent Editorial Director of eastvillageradio.com
10. Sissy bounce: It’s bounce — the ultra-sexy local New Orleans brand of hip-hop — made by flamboyant gay rappers, many of whom perform in drag. What else do you need to know?
Bathroom at The Smell. Image via Flickr.
11. Los Angeles: “Everyone knows Los Angeles hasn’t been a cool music city, unless you are wicked into hair metal, since punk became new wave in the early ’80s. But there is an LA renaissance brewing lately, mostly far to the east of the city in Eagle Rock, that is producing a lot of thoughtful, quality music. Most of it sounds like it is being filtered through the 1960s and then topped with a nice cover of the best underground parts of the 1990s. Fantastic bands like Best Coast, Avi Buffalo, Princeton, and Gamble House are shaping up to be a modern day Paisley Underground to complement the punk scene at The Smell that hatched No Age, Mika Miko, and more. This group of bands is taking lo-fi out of the bedroom and plopping it down in the Farmer’s Market.” – Courtney Smith , a writer for the MTV Music Blog, Uncensored Interview, and The Daily Swarm, who is finishing her first book, Record Collecting for Girls (Houghton Mifflin/Mariner, 2011)
12. The return of the single: Everyone is complaining about the end of the album in our new, mp3-blog, single-serving-download culture. Us? We think reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. What we’re enjoying is the return of the purely fun, or totally strange and consuming, single.
13. Big wins from little labels: “Forget chart numbers and actual record sales. Some of the most buzzed about bands and tracks come from fledgling start-ups and the ‘lesser knowns.’ Mixpak scored a few head turns when Jumeirah’s ‘Riddim’ was pulled to use as the base for Ludacris’ ‘My Chick Bad.’ Listen to those strings… mmm, memorable and tasty. But my favorite is Neon Gold Records. Releasing singles from Penguin Prison, Marina and the Diamonds, Ellie Goulding, and Yes Giantess, just to tap the tip of its glittery glacier, the local label sees each of its artists blogged and buzzed about on a daily basis. The only time you wouldn’t hear about these kids would be if every single blog and music site ceased to exist. Highly unlikely. – Sheena Beaston
14. Twitter: Okay, maybe this one is kind of obvious. But where else can you go to watch Ice-T beef with Amy Mann and keep up with the latest music news as it happens? Personally, we can’t believe we ever survived the blogosphere without it.
15. Indie-rock movies: Is it just us, or does just about every great, non-mainstream band have a new film coming out? The Magnetic Fields, Animal Collective, David Byrne — and that’s just off the top of our head. Now that it’s less expensive than ever to make a movie, you don’t have to be Bob Dylan to have a documentarian follow you around on tour. And that experimental film you had in mind? You can make your psychedelic dreams a reality with the simple click of a button.
16. The Cumbia Crossover: “For those unfamiliar with the spicy stylings of the modern stance on traditional rhythms of Colombia, last month’s SXSW was a great way to get acclimated. Introducing Mexican outfit Bomba Estereo to a bevy of hand claps and ‘wows,’ the band brought its fiery flare to many a main stage. Much in the same vein, noted London-via-Columbia DJ and party-thrower Isa GT just released an EP that pulls in Crookers for a remix of her track ‘Pela’O.’ Need more proof? Google search “Isa GT remix video” and hit the first link. You might not have a clue what she’s saying, but I dare you to try and not dance. – Sheena Beaston
17. Unsound Festival: A few months ago, this Polish electronic-music festival made its triumphant stateside debut. We like to think that it proved, once and for all, that DJs and other noisemakers are still innovating, and that there’s more to the music they make than drug-fueled dancing.
18. Bushwick Book Club: Talk about an idea whose time has come! The Bushwick Book Club meets at Brooklyn’s Goodbye Blue Monday to perform songs based on a different work of literature every month. This highbrow, but never stuffy, event has tackled everything from Raymond Carver to The Bible, and featured artists have included the Hold Steady alum Franz Nicolay and Jeffrey Lewis.
19. No Good for Me: “Three rad girls, one great blog about music and pop culture. There’s the one with an ongoing obsession with David Lee Roth who continually posts rare photos of Diamond Dave from the ’70s. There’s the one who turned Neil Young into a style icon, predicting the great western/beard revolution of 2009. And there’s the one who is freaky obsessed with the Beatles. For a world where everything old is new again, except written by women this time around, look no further.” – Courtney Smith
20. MEN: The new band helmed by JD Samson of Le Tigre hasn’t even put out an album yet, but the live buzz it’s been generating is promising as hell. Surf over to its MySpace page, give “Off Our Backs” a listen and see if you don’t have the danceable, politically charged, ditty in your head for the rest of the day.
Tokyo Police Club
21. Mom + Pop Records: “A new label is born and being run by Michael Goldstein (Goldie to his friends), formerly the partner of legendary A&R man Seymour Stein at Sire Records. Why get excited about Mom + Pop? It’s already signed Sleigh Bells, Tokyo Police Club, Freelance Whales, and An Horse. It’s on the path to building a roster of awesome real damn quick.” – Courtney Smith
22. 4 Men with Beards: As far as heroes of the new vinyl revolution go, 4 Men with Beards top our list. They’ve reissued everyone from Judee Sill to the Buzzcocks in high, 180-gram style. Chances are, if you’re admiring a particularly well-done new release of a cult-favorite album, these dudes are responsible.
23. Mad Decent: Diplo’s fantastic Mad Decent is more than just an awesome, varied electronic-music label. It’s pretty much the gold standard for top-notch remix work. And we couldn’t get through a work week without the great, genre-hopping mixtapes it posts on its website.
24. The return of Gil Scott-Heron: The multi-talented musician/poet who brought us “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is finally back with I’m New Here, his first new album in over 15 years. Now that he’s out of jail, Scott-Heron seems even more weathered than ever — but thankfully never beaten.
25. Record Store Day: “This awesome event celebrates the humble (or not-so-humble), kick-ass independent record store: the mom ‘n pop, the local chain, the champion of the obscure, the import, the vinyl. Tons of indie labels, bands, and shops release special comps and albums, and in-store signings and performances abound as kids are coaxed away from their laptops and torrents and back into Amoeba and Rasputin, Other Music and Dave’s Records. In an era when megachains fail and mp3s dominate, it’s exciting to celebrate the endurance of local music wonders.” – Leah Taylor, Managing Editor, Flavorpill NYC
26. Blogger-owned labels: “Just within the last two months, we’ve seen Weekly Tape Deck and Gorilla vs Bear‘s joint venture Forest Family, My Old Kentucky Blog‘s Roaring Colonel Records, Wonder Beard Tapes from White Guys with Beards, Chocolate Bobka blog’s Curatorial Club, and soon-to-debut Trig Club from Yvynyl and Frightened by Bees. I know some have questioned a blogger-turned-label-head’s ability to stay unbiased once they’ve got a financial stake in product-pushing; but I think subjectivity was kind of the point to begin with, and readers will continue trusting tastemakers whose preferences align with theirs, regardless. Overall, I’m eager to see how this plays out — which labels (and others that inevitably sprout up behind them) fade after a one-off release, versus which evolve into something huger.” – Sarah Lynn Knowles blogs at sarahspy.com and curates the new art/lit/music journal storychord.com
27. Hype Machine: Okay, everyone knows about Hype Machine by now. But it isn’t just what it’s always been — a ridiculously useful mp3-blog aggregator — that we like. It’s also started putting on great shows and becoming an ever-larger presence in the independent-music world. And it’s excitement about new sounds is contagious.
28. Insound: We love Insound for being a great online record store — as in, a place that actually stocks a large volume of vinyl — but that’s not all that makes it special. We adore its built-in radio station, for one thing, and its massive stock of free mp3s. Plus, it’s one of the best resources for finding out the release date of your favorite band’s new album. And its blog isn’t half bad, either.
29. Phil Collins’ four nights at Roseland, NYC: “If you think for one second that I will not be in attendance for at least one of Collins’ just announced nights at Roseland Ballroom in June, you’re sorely mistaken. Look at any popular mainstream drummer today (wait, are there any?) and give an homaged nod to Phil’s pad prowess. Now, if by some stoke of luck it was announced that Steve Winwood was opening, the five-year-old in me might start hyperventilating.” – Sheena Beaston
30. Naked music videos: Time was, you had to watch MTV to get your music-video fix. But now that music television barely plays any videos, the libertine internet is their main venue. And that means, among other things, a whole lot of seeing our rock-star crushes in the nude.
31. The coming musical iPad-enhanced eBooks revolution: “The technology hasn’t been perfected yet, but if you’ve been paying attention to the publishing industry at all this year, then you know it is in approximately the same place the music industry was ten years ago. The release of the iPad is about to bust eBooks wide open. Imagine being able to read Marisa Meltzer’s new book Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music and, with one click, play the song/artist she is writing about in the background, using the music cloud behind Apple’s Lala player. Say you’ve never heard of Babes in Toyland and, after reading about them in a section of the book and listening to ‘Bruise Violet,’ you like them and want to know more — you can toggle over to your Wiki app and get whatever info the crazy people who write Wikipedia entries wrote. All that on the same device, while the eBook remembers exactly where you were when you flip back to it. As book and magazine publishers slowly move toward this model, I’m sure they’ll think up even more amazing integrations. For now, I’ll continue to daydream about handing my iPad to a friend to read a section of Chuck Klosterman’s latest and then play them the Billy Joel song he’s talking about so we can both agree: Billy Joel is not awesome.” – Courtney Smith
32. MNDR’s live show: “With but one EP, and a one-off single to her credit, Brooklyn’s MNDR (pronounced: Em En Dee Are) manages to take the title of my ‘most seen in a live setting over the past six months’ artist, thanks to a dynamic stage presence and equally rad tracks. Quite a mouthful, but the IDM (intelligent dance music) and nerdcore solo star is worth the words and effort to catch her in any setting. Having previously been associated with Yeah Yeah Yeahs as their touring keyboardist and engineer, she’s made a name for herself by combining accessible electronic tunes with a lovably charismatic and spastically awesome aesthetic.” – Sheena Beaston
33. SoundCloud: For too long, online music-playing options have been ugly, clunky, or insufficient. But we love SoundCloud, an aesthetically pleasing, easy-as-pie way to share your favorite songs with the world.
34. Outdoor DIY venues: We like a good SummerStage concert as much as the next New Yorker, but sometimes the massive crowds and AstroTurf burn start to grate on us. And that’s why we love the small, informal outdoor venues that are cropping up everywhere. In Brooklyn, we’re partial to BKLYNYard (known to most simply as “The Yard”), which sits on the banks of the odiferous Gowanus. With its trees and picnic tables, it kinda reminds us of summer camp.
35. The Bell House: “This Brooklyn venue makes me excited about music because it’s the only non-headache-inducing place I’ve seen a concert recently. No matter where you are standing in the venue, you have a great view of the stage… and it’s cheap… and they have ‘secret’ shows like the National.” – Kelsey Keith, Deputy Editor of Flavorwire
36. Showpaper: At a time when most listings have moved online, to sites like Oh My Rockness and Brooklyn Based, and, of course, Flavorpill, Showpaper is an idea whose brilliance lies in its retro simplicity. On one side of the free, bi-weekly, newsprint broadsheet, you get a gaggle of underground, all-ages concert listings in the tri-state area. On the other side, you’ll find a work of art by a different artist every week, making each frail piece of paper a weird, wonderful keepsake.
37. Grooveshark: Even our 57-year-old dad has fallen in love with this free streaming-audio site. Its pleasant, simple interface and enormous, user-generated library, and the options of saving favorites and making playlists are nearly too good to be true. We’re not sure where Grooveshark stands, legally, but we’re crossing our fingers that it sticks around.
38. Trouble in Mind Records: This Chicago-based label only puts out 7-inch records, printed with bright, multi-colored labels and sheathed in psychedelic, peacock-print sleeves. As for the music, it’s retro rock of the highest order, from artists including Ty Segall and the Fresh & Onlys.
39. Floristree Space: Like we said, we’re suckers for a good DIY venue, and Baltimore’s Floristree space may just be our favorite. It’s friendly and big, with a nice stage and good sightlines. And when the kids in Charm City dress up for a show, let us tell you: they go all out.
40. MOG All-Access: “MOG is a huge network of music blogs (music + blog = MOG, not, it turns out, just a half-man, half-dog creature from Spaceballs), but it also hosts an insane number of tunes and albums — like, seven-million tracks. For five bucks a month, you can have streaming access to its incredible library. I know this might sound like a sales pitch, but the real excitement for me doesn’t actually kick in until it releases its mobile app (soon, I’m told) — then your iPhone becomes a crazy iPod on even crazier steroids. Any song, any album, no matter how obscure, will literally be at your fingertips.” – Leah Taylor