Saturday, November 11, 2006

pop rock(ish) downloads (aka "pock")

Pop/rock might seem like an overly vague designation — after all, rock & roll was catchy and melodic long before it was thought of as pop music, and from the early '60s on, nearly all pop reflected the influence of rock & roll in one way or another. But pure pop took a while to become comfortable with rock's insistent backbeat, and it wasn't until the dawn of the '70s — around the time when rock & roll's first-generation fans were settling into adulthood — that truly equal pop/rock fusions became the epitome of mainstream music (as opposed to pre-rock vocal pop, which still commanded a sizable adult audience for most of the '60s). Naturally, pop/rock's primary focus was on melody — as big, catchy, and instantly memorable as possible, whether the song was a rocker, ballad, or midtempo in-betweener. But the other, less immediately apparent aspect of pop/rock was its emphasis on the professional craft of record-making. The songs were tightly constructed, with no wasted space or prolonged detours from the melodic hooks. The production was clean, polished, and bright, making full use of the advances in recording technology (and technique) that had taken place over the course of the '60s. In general, pop/rock was catchy and energetic enough to appeal to younger listeners, but clean and safe enough for adults as well. Pop/rock, however, was not soft rock; it's important to realize — hard as it may be to imagine today — that the big hooks, rock instrumentation, and definite backbeat gave pop/rock an energy that would have been too edgy for more conservative listeners who hadn't grown up with rock & roll. Naturally, with its commercial accessibility, pop/rock produced some of the biggest stars of the '70s, such as Elton John, Peter Frampton, Paul McCartney & Wings, and Fleetwood Mac; it continued on into the '80s with Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Hall & Oates, George Michael, and many others. In the '90s, pop/rock became largely the province of well-established veterans, as alternative rock, urban R&B, hip-hop, and teen pop took over the pop charts to the exclusion of most everything else. -AMG

The Autumns slumberdoll (dream pop/rock)
Chin Up Chin Up This Harness Can't Ride Any.../We Should Have Never Lived...
Futureheads, The Skip To The End
Long Winters, The Pushover, Stupid
Modest Mouse Float On, The View, Worms vs. Birds* (indie/alterna pop/rock)
Pinback Fortress (indie pop/rock)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Shoegaze downloads

Shoegaze is a genre of late '80s and early '90s British indie rock, named after the bands' motionless performing style, where they stood on stage and stared at the floor while they played. But shoegaze wasn't about visuals — it was about pure sound. The sound of the music was overwhelmingly loud, with long, droning riffs, waves of distortion, and cascades of feedback. Vocals and melodies disappeared into the walls of guitars, creating a wash of sound where no instrument was distinguishable from the other. Most shoegaze groups worked off the template My Bloody Valentine established with their early EPs and their first full-length album, Isn't Anything, but Dinosaur Jr., the Jesus & Mary Chain, and the Cocteau Twins were also major influences. Bands that followed — most notably Ride, Lush, Chapterhouse, and the Boo Radleys — added their own stylistic flourishes. Ride veered close to '60s psychedelia, while Lush alternated between straight pop and the dream pop of the Cocteau Twins. Almost none of the shoegazers were dynamic performers or interesting interviews, which prevented them from breaking through into the crucial U.S. market. In 1992 — after the groups had dominated the British music press and indie charts for about three years — the shoegaze groups were swept aside by the twin tides of American grunge and Suede, the band to initiate the wave of Britpop that ruled British music during the mid-'90s. Some shoegazers broke up within a few years (Chapterhouse, Ride), while other groups — such as the Boo Radleys and Lush — evolved with the times and were able to sustain careers into the late '90s. -AMG

Dirty On Purpose Light Pollution (shoegaze/noise pop)
Seksu, Asobi Thursday, New Years
My Bloody Valentine Lose My Breath
Ride Vipor Trail

Riot Grrrl(ish) downloads

Riot grrrl is a raw, incendiary brand of feminist punk that emerged from the early-'90s indie-rock scene and sparked a subculture that lasted well after the initial movement began to fade. Riot grrrl was a blend of personal catharsis and political activism, though most of the attention it drew was due to the latter. Many (but not all) riot grrrl lyrics addressed gender-related issues — rape, domestic abuse, sexuality (including lesbianism), male dominance of the social hierarchy, female empowerment — from a radical, militant point of view. The similarly confrontational music favored raging, willfully amateurish blasts of noise, with only a rudimentary sense of melody or instrumental technique. Riot grrrl's abrasiveness served several purposes: it ensured that the anti-corporate music would never achieve alternative rock's crossover success (the label that released the highest percentage of riot grrrl records was called Kill Rock Stars); it defied stereotypes of women (and female musicians) as meek, overly sensitive, and lovelorn; and it found a powerful expressive tool in noise. To most riot grrrl bands, the simple act of picking up a guitar and bashing out a screeching racket was not only fun, but an act of liberation. To outsiders, the musical merits of riot grrrl could be highly variable, but to fans, what the movement represented was arguably even more important than the music. The riot grrrl movement was mostly centered in the Seattle/Olympia, Washington area; several exceptions included England's Huggy Bear, as well as several grungier groups like Babes in Toyland and L7, who fit the spirit of the style but were more tangentially related to its ideology. It was mostly rooted in punk's DIY ethos and tradition of protest, but in terms of direct inspirations, Joan Jett was lionized in many quarters of the movement for her simple, punky hard rock, confident sexuality, and independent business sense. Riot grrrl's emergence coincided with an explosion of female talent in other wings of alternative rock, and the term was frequently misapplied in media accounts of the phenomenon, which incorrectly labeled more accessible alt-rockers like Hole and PJ Harvey as riot grrrls. True riot grrrl bands — Bratmobile, 7 Year Bitch, the queercore outfit Team Dresch, and the center of the riot grrrl universe, Kathleen Hanna's Bikini Kill — never even approached popular acceptance. Since most bands weren't very prolific, the movement's initial flash of enthusiasm faded after a few years, but it continued to enjoy a lasting impact in indie culture, where the original bands helped inspire countless feminist zines and were still looked up to as icons and role models. Kathleen Hanna continued to record with several different projects, and scene veterans Sleater-Kinney became critically revered indie stars several years later, thanks to their ability to blend riot grrrl's passion and ideals with hookier songs and intricate instrumental technique. -AMG

Bikini Kill New Radio, I Like F--king
Brassy Work It Out
Bratmobile Panik, Die, Shop For America
Cadallaca Two Beers Later, The Trouble With Public Places
Excuse 17 Watchmaker
Huggy Bear No Sleep
Sleater-Kinney Entertain/Oh!