TIME technology

Jimmy Iovine Joining Apple After Years of Boardroom Flirtations

Apple Computer And U2 Celebrate New iPod Release
Steve Jobs (2nd-R) of Apple Computer poses with Interscope Geffen A&M Records Chairman Jimmy Iovine (L) Bono (2nd-L) and The Edge (R) of U2 at a celebration of the release of a new Apple iPod family of products at the California Theatre on Oct. 26, 2004 in San Jose, Calif. Tim Mosenfelder—Getty Images

Apple's acquisition of Beats Music will bring a brash and flashy record mogul, Jimmy Iovine, into the boardroom, and it could portend an industry-wide shift toward streaming music

When brash and flashy record mogul Jimmy Iovine first met former Apple chief Steve Jobs back in 2002, he could barely suppress his excitement. “This guy is unique,” Iovine reportedly gushed to a colleague. Jobs had just shown Iovine a beta version of Apple’s iTunes, and Iovine was effusive — in his own, brash-talking way. “How Sony missed this is completely mind boggling to me, a historic f***up,” he said, according to Walter Isaacson’s Jobs biography.

So began Iovine’s decade-long flirtation with Apple, the company he courted, championed and is now finally set to join as Apple announced Wednesday that it would acquire Beats Electronics, a company Iovine founded along with rapping legend Dr. Dre.

The $3 billion deal, Apple’s biggest acquisition ever, will make Iovine and Dre senior advisors to Apple’s content division. It also marks a decisive turning point in Iovine’s career — after nearly 25 years at the helm of Interscope Records, where he locked in deals with Dr. Dre, Eminem and Gwen Stefani, among others, Iovine will leave the company for good, bringing with him an invaluable rolodex of music legends.

In many ways, the move also mirrors a wider shift of talent in the music industry away from discs and downloads and toward subscription-based services. Iovine has a long record of embracing changes in the music business while other execs were digging in their heels. When Jobs was struggling to persuade music executives to sell their content through iTunes, Iovine was raving about its user-friendly design. “[Iovine] can see around corners,” Sony Music chairman Doug Morris told the New York Times.

Not that he and Jobs always saw eye to eye — Iovine said in an interview with AllThingsD last year that he was pressing Steve Jobs to charge a subscription fee rather than a flat rate per song as early as 2003. “I was always trying to push Steve into subscription,” he said, “and he wasn’t keen on it right away.”

They never did quite come to an agreement, but that didn’t prevent them from signing a number of lucrative cross-promotional deals. Jobs brought the customers, while Iovine brought the artists, most notably U2. That band’s record sales skyrocketed in 2004 after it appeared in Apple commercials touting a limited edition U2-branded iPod.

Now that Iovine has made a grand entrance into Apple’s headquarters, wearing no less than a gleaming blue blazer and suede sneakers, as the New York Times observed, analysts wonder if his subscription-based gospel will prevail. The market is certainly moving in that direction, as streaming services like Pandora, Spotify and YouTube have already begun chipping away at Apple’s sales. Track sales in the iTunes Music Store fell in 2013 from 1.3 billion to 1.2 billion units, the first drop since iTunes opened for business more than a decade ago. Whether Iovine can engineer a rebound will depend on his ability to see around a corner that eluded even Apple’s visionary founder.

TIME movies

Frozen‘s Latest Title — Fifth-Highest Grossing Movie Ever — Is Less Impressive Than It Sounds

Frozen
Disney / AP Photo

The animated heavyweight has raked in more than $1.2 billion

This Memorial Day weekend was a big one for X-Men: Days of Future Past, the new movie that earned first place in the box-office race — and, perhaps more surprisingly, for Frozen, a movie that has been out for about half a year already. The mega blockbuster has now grossed $1.219 billion worldwide, which earns it a spot in the list of the top five highest-grossing movies ever. (The movie bumped to No. 6 was Iron Man 3, which has earned $1.215 billion.) According to Deadline, the film got a big boost from its domination in Japan, where it’s won 11 weekends in a row and is the fourth highest-grossing movie ever.

That latest Frozen news is just one more in its long line of victories: Oscar wins, the title of highest-earning animated movie ever, fastest-selling digital home-entertainment release ever, source of a soundtrack that was the first album to sell a million copies in 2014 and much, much more.

But while being the fifth highest-grossing thing is a big deal — it’s in good company, following Avatar, Titanic, The Avengers and the Harry Potter grand finale — it’s maybe not as big as you’d think. Here’s a hint why: the oldest movie on that list is Titanic, which came out in 1997; no other movie from before 2000 cracks the top 10. That’s because the ranking in question is not adjusted for inflation, so newer movies have a leg up in raking in extremely impressive-sounding fortunes. As the New York Times pointed out when Avatar took the top spot back in 2010, it’s easy to think that such a list means that more successful movies are being made today; a more complete picture would look those numbers in context.

But that’s easier said than done. Sites like BoxOfficeMojo offer up data about which domestic inflation-adjusted box-office — Gone with the Wind is first, Frozen is Number 101 — but different currencies worldwide inflate at different rates, so it would be a massive undertaking to break down the value of a unit of money in each country where each movie played and how much it has inflated since then. But that doesn’t mean that bloggers haven’t done that work. This 2011 chart, for example, finds that Gone with the Wind, which made $400 million worldwide, would have raked in a whopping $3.239 billion in 2011 dollars. Avatar and Titanic are still champs but Frozen‘s $1.219 billion leaves it at Number 17. A different blogger calculated in 2013 that, using available worldwide gross data and running it through a U.S. inflation calculator, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would come in first with an astounding $6.729 billion; on that chart, Frozen would be #27. Another has Gone with the Wind at $3.862 billion.

With Frozen still going strong from its November release, it does have a chance to climb the charts — adjusted for inflation or not — further, though it seems unlikely to break the $3 billion mark, a feat that has never happened in today’s dollars. On the other hand, Gone with the Wind and its early high-earning brethren didn’t have things like digital downloads and DVD sales to make the studio money in addition to the billions at the box office. That’s where Frozen has its edge — particularly because there’s no way to adjust for inflation on YouTube hair tutorials.

TIME Music

REVIEW: Tori Amos Creates Her Own Mythology on Unrepentant Geraldines

Unrepentant Geraldines
Mercury Classics

Tori Amos refuses to compromise the intensely personal focus of her work


This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Tori Amos restarted the conversation about art and aging as a woman, and the results are illuminating. This debate surges frequently, but female singer-songwriters of Amos’s stature face it perhaps more than others. While men are often revered and considered ruggedly handsome as they grow older, women have to battle the loss of their beauty, and often with it, their fame. Unrepentant Geraldines, her fourteenth album, personifies everything from the concept of trouble to the entirety of the United States, looking at their potential existence as women on “Trouble’s Lament” and “America”, respectively. Amos, now 50, has always been especially adept at transforming her personal life into majestic, surging dramas, and this album is no different.

Unrepentant Geraldines deftly combines her past forays into classical and orchestral music with the theatrics of her and Samuel Adamson’s adaptation of George MacDonald’s The Light Princess, but it’s never too tacky. Instead, the fantastical elements that inhabit tracks like “Maids of Elfen-Mere” and “Selkie” are woven in thick, rich threads, mimicking the structure of epic poems or Celtic story songs. Amos recorded the album in the Cornish countryside with her husband, Mark Hawley, and the album reflects that setting via springy strings, flutes, and lilting jigs. “Wedding Day” feels particularly Celtic, a retrospective on how love morphs with time. Amos has always had a taste for the supernatural and the ethereal, but these stories feel current too, as she folds issues like the NSA’s spying scandal into the doughy story of “Giant’s Rolling Pin”.

Although her lyrics on this album deal heavily in legendary and fictional elements, it also feels like they’re more connected to Amos’ own life than anything she’s written before. The songs that address aging are defiant in their descriptions, and specific enough to seem inextricably tied with her own life. On “16 Shades of Blue”, she addresses society’s marginalization. “You say get over it/ If 50 is the new black/ This could be your lucky day,” she sings, choosing her own current age rather than any other. Later, she speaks directly to those that would criticize: “There are some who say/ I am now too old to play.”

There are also plenty of references to the struggles that plague girls in their teens. Her 13-year-old daughter, Tash Hawley, even makes an appearance, singing the duet “Promise”, a song that offers an intimate look at a mother-daughter relationship from both perspectives. Hawley’s voice has a pop airiness to it, but also an opulence that’s reminiscent of diva-in-training Ariana Grande; based off the strength of her vocal performance on this song, it wouldn’t be surprising if she pursued a musical career of her own. Hawley’s voice, however, covers over the variation in Amos’ own vocal, as she swaps between clear, clean soprano and throatier alto ranges. At 50, her voice hasn’t grown thin or reedy, but it remains powerful, as showcased on the record’s most moving song, “Wild Way”, which turns the lyric “I hate you, I hate you, I do” into an admission of love purely based on tone.

Some artists struggle to reinvent themselves or adopt new fads at this point in their careers, but Amos feels very much like herself on this album, which is certainly part of her question: How does a woman in our society grow into her age gracefully while still demanding the right to be respected as an artist? On Unrepentant Geraldines, Amos does so by issuing art that refuses to compromise its intensely personal focus, in tone and topic. It pushes the boundaries of what we expect from older female artists by sheer force of will, and succeeds by embracing an expansive scope. Amos manages to weave her own mythology into larger fantastical stories, and fight societal norms in the process, all with a fierceness that will please old fans and likely win over new ones.

Essential Tracks: “Wild Way”, “Trouble’s Lament”, and “16 Shades of Blue”

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TIME Music

REVIEW: The Black Keys Go Big on Turn Blue

Black Keys Turn Blue
Nonesuch

The Keys have morphed into a shinier and, frankly, sexier version of themselves


This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

With Turn Blue, The Black Keys’ highly-anticipated eighth album, it’s tempting to zoom in on a single turning point in the Akron duo’s timeline to figure out how they made it here. The obvious choice is 2010’s dusky Brothers, vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney’s actual big come-up, eight years after debuting with The Big Come Up in 2002. The thing about the Keys, though, is that they still sounded like themselves even when their choruses became exponentially more robust. Auerbach and Carney simply became so good at what they do that they were no longer anyone’s secret.

Over the past decade and change, the Keys have morphed into a shinier and, frankly, sexier version of their rawer original incarnation. Only now, though, are they stretching out their legs and exploiting their resources to full effect. Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, who co-produced Brothers and 2011′s El Camino, joins the Keys again here, and the album wouldn’t sound as gorgeous without him. Then again, both Auerbach (Lana Del Rey, Dr. John) and Carney (Tennis, The Sheepdogs) are also trusted producers now, and together the three of them weave the Keys’ ass-stomping blues rock template with the ROYGBIV slickness heard on Broken Bells’ After the Disco, Burton’s latest album with The Shins’ James Mercer.

After Auerbach and Carney first decamped to Michigan, Turn Blue was primarily assembled in Hollywood and at Auerbach’s Nashville studio, its sessions more spread out than those of earlier Black Keys albums. Accordingly, Turn Blue does a bunch of moving around itself, reveling in styles from soft psych and broiling hard rock while expanding to greater heights through multi-tracking and ghostly ooh-ooh vocals. There are times when you hear a buzzing layer that doesn’t seem to come from an amp or anything; it’s just there to add a little more dimension. Thankfully, though, it’s never too much noise.

The studio trickery is helpful in both widening the album’s general scope and highlighting textures one at a time, be it a gossamer Auerbach falsetto (never before has his voice been so high-pitched so often) or a cheeseball keyboard figure. The seven-minute opener, “Weight of Love”, is so total in its mystifying Led Zep sweep that you almost miss the song’s personal implications (Auerbach and Stephanie Gonis divorced last year). “Bullet in the Brain” starts acoustic and grows until it’s like the Keys are trying to one up Tame Impala in today’s field of gusting psych rock. On the fluid strummer “Waiting on Words”, Auerbach adopts what is practically a Bee Gees vocal affectation, and the song becomes a psychedelic custard.

Although Auerbach and Carney, both 34, sometimes refer to Burton as their third member, this is still a two-man operation, in essence. Black Keys riffs and solos have traces of Jimi Hendrix’s grace and Jimmy Page’s speed, but it’s come to the point where you can ID them as Auerbach’s even though he doesn’t have a “Seven Nation Army” under his belt. Meanwhile, Carney’s emphatic drumming slaps and erupts, creating beats that could easily be rapped over during certain intros and outros. These two entities — guitar and drums — still coexist beautifully in this band, and some of these songs don’t require much else, even as additional elements do pop up. “Fever”, which curls with a robotic, beeping organ riff, is splashed with sweat, toting a well-defined bridge and ascending with a high-stepping swatch of strings. The crouching “It’s Up to You Now” is at first driven by Carney’s rumbling, then carved by Auerbach’s spidery riffs. “Gotta Get Away”, the oddball closer, is both goofy and irresistible, opening with a Tom Petty road-rock riff and continuing with lyrics that couldn’t be more joyously straightforward: “I went from San Berdoo to Kalamazoo/ Just to get away from you.”

Because it’s so nonchalant, “Gotta Get Away” also distills Auerbach and Carney’s status as a band somehow immune to “selling out.” The catchier their songs are, the more fun it sounds like they’re having, and who can argue with that? These guys built their following so steadily you’d think they made their name handing out flyers. Turn Blue, though, is the sound of Auerbach and Carney eagerly and grandiosely taking things into their own (and, if you want, Burton’s) hands. On SNL over the weekend, as fellow Akron native LeBron James and the Miami Heat dropped a game to the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Keys had an underwhelming performance of their own, with Auerbach strumming lethargically as though distracted during both “Fever” and “Bullet in the Brain”. Well, that type of thing happens; surely we can expect better from their European festival slots and NBA arena gigs over the summer. If Turn Blue finds as much commercial success as Brothers or El Camino — and it might, even though it doesn’t have a “Howlin’ for You” or a “Gold on the Ceiling” — the airwaves are about to get more adventurous thanks to a band that finally decided to go big.

Essential Tracks: “Weight of Love”, “Bullet in the Brain”, and “Fever”

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TIME Music

REVIEW: Provocatively Titled White Women Album Proves Chromeo Is Back

Chromeo White Women
BIG BEAT / WEA

These tracks are likely to make their way onto many a warm-weather playlist


This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

The provocatively titled White Women brings to mind issues of race and gender. Don’t approach this record thinking it’s the soundtrack to the next Seneca Falls Convention, though. The title — like Chromeo’s obsession with female legs — is a jovial placeholder for the mysterious and the everyday. Pulled from erotic fashion photographer Helmut Newton’s 1976 book of the same same, White Women presents the curious perspective of a jilted lover who can never quite trust the pretty girls in his life. Despite his uber cool nature, this sap is destined to stand on the outside and bemoan the incomprehensible nature of the opposite sex. It’s not a far cry from the Canadian duo’s previous offerings — nor from the common themes of popular dance music in general — but there’s still plenty of mileage left in this ride.

David “Dave 1″ Macklovitch and Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel are at their best when they balance equal parts awesome and aw-shucks. Single “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)” is a prime example of them being unlucky in love but still riding high. Macklovitch admits, “I get jealous/ But I’m too cool to admit it.” Chromeo may be the hottest dudes in the room, but they’re still carrying a middle school dance-worth of social anxiety, as well as a junior high rhyming dictionary. But the final product is still charming and catchy.

“Over Your Shoulder” continues to flesh out the concerns of confidence, appearances, and dating, as Macklovitch falls for a girl because of an attraction to her flaws and imperfections: “See your problems of self-esteem/ Could be self-fulfilling prophecies/ So probably your best policy is to talk to me.” Gemayel rounds out the song with an ethereal keyboard arrangement that flies like an eagle clutching the Steve Miller Band, while The Bee Gees-inspired bass line high-steps like a pimp on payday.

It’s now been 10 years since the meteoric rise of the group’s first hit, “Needy Girl”. Fortunately, though, Chromeo still knows how to throw a party. A nice perk of being such seasoned and gracious hosts is that the guest list for each fiesta keeps getting better. Representatives from Vampire Weekend, Toro y Moi, and even the family Knowles dropped by the studio to contribute to the record. Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is credited for ushering in a new era of collaborative dance tracks across the length of an album; similarly, these collaborative spots march along with an assortment of ’70s keys, ’80s synths, and funky talkboxes, which bring a dusting of Studio 54 and Reagan-era chart toppers to your local wifi hot spot. But rather than linger too long in the Giorgio Moroder dynasty, Chromeo bounce around between eras while still keeping a fresh sound.

“Come Alive” is a lovable tune that features Chazwick Bradley Bundick of Toro y Moi fame. Bundick’s humble vocals play well off Macklovitch’s leading man charm and add an earnest touch to a song about crushing on a working-class girl who pulls double shifts just to keep her head above water. Macklovitch and Bundick step in to rescue her from this mundane existence, while Gemayel’s hip atmosphere reminds all that quitting time is the highlight of any dull job. Solange’s impassioned vocals on “Lost on the Way Home” also add range to another uplifting gem, allowing Gemayel and Macklovitch to showcase the softer side of their production touch.

Not all of the collaborative efforts bear fruit, though. “Ezra’s Interlude” features Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig contributing the thinnest, least finished track on the record. Granted, it is only meant as a brief musical soliloquy, but Koenig’s recent Academy Awards performance of “The Moon Song” with Karen O proves that he’s capable of launching a little ditty into the stratosphere. Instead, this track feels like a missed opportunity that’s been shoehorned into the final cut without being fully explored.

White Women also trips over a few other snags that disrupt its flow and harmony. “Sexy Socialite” drops Macklovitch in the middle of an overly clumsy back-and-forth (“Sexy socialite/ Always so polite”) with a high-class lady, complete with a shaky rap breakdown that proves finishing schools do not offer classes in hard knocks. “Frequent Flyer” is another misstep that relies on a lackadaisical structure and an overly rhyme-y sameness: “One, two, three/ You and me/ Can you move at my velocity?”

Despite a few setbacks, White Women proves that Chromeo are on their way back to form via a playful deconstruction of dance floor jams and an innocent, universal heartache. It won’t make the shortlist for record of the summer, nor will it force listeners to ponder its depths for long. But there’s still a fine collection of lively tracks that have earned their way onto many a warm weather playlist, as well as runway fashion shows and your favorite club at midnight.

Essential Tracks: “Over Your Shoulder”, “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)”, and “Come Alive”

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TIME Music

REVIEW: tUnE-yArDs Capitalizes on Cultural Tourism, With Mixed Results

Tune-Yards
4AD

Most of the album relies on African pop's euphoric groove


This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Merrill Garbus plays fast and loose with cultural signifiers, and her band name alone indicates an antagonistic bent with its case-shifting approximation: tUnE-yArDs. For her third official album, Nikki Nack, Garbus ventures even farther down her multi-colored, veering rabbit hole, picking up where her 2011 sophomore effort, w h o k i l l , left off, but not necessarily achieving the same success. Her proper debut, BiRd-BrAiNs,was initially released on Marriage Records and then reissued by 4AD in 2009, but it was w h o k i l l that racked up critical approval and a cult following for Garbus’ quirky, vibrant vocal layering and flashy pop mosaics.

Even in the three years that have passed since then, the lens of critical examination has shifted a bit, or perhaps, become more nuanced. One of the touchstones that Nikki Nack evokes in my mind again and again is Paul Simon’s Graceland (1986). That Simon’s classic record drew heavily on South African pop was part of its appeal, but if it came out in 2014, conversations about cultural appropriation would be rampant. In the same way, listening to Nikki Nack is sometimes an uncomfortable experience, and descriptors like “pseudo-tribalism” easily surface even on cursory listens. Where does influence end and appropriation begin? In many senses of that dichotomy, it probably depends on the listener. But African pop’s euphoric groove is almost impossible to confuse with anything else, and most of the album relies on the foundations of that tradition.

“Rocking Chair” specifically suffers from the feeling that it’s a track crafted to assume the easy longevity of actual heritage folk tracks, but it feels stiffly studied instead of free-flowing from an actual shared vernacular. She glibly mixes folksy fiddles and a hoarse, hollow well of vocal yelps that feel unnatural in their guttural phrasing. She’s faced cultural tourism critiques before for her face painting, and even for w h o k i l l track “Gangsta”, which tackles gentrification and stereotypes with a rather heavy hand, as does Nikki Nack’s “Left Behind”. A line goes, “We said we wouldn’t let them take our soil,” which feels more than a little rich from a white woman raised in New England. Sure, these lines can easily be mythology and not autobiography or realism, but the record routinely engages in this kind of odd projecting.

The attempt that Nikki Nack makes to grapple with serious social issues is strangely belied by the album’s collage-like feel and carefree elements. For instance, album closer “Manchild” asserts, “I mean it/ Don’t beat up on my body,” potentially addressing issues of domestic violence and that gruesome ilk. But the track is buoyed by cowbell and tinny click-snap beats and seems ill-fitted for its subject matter. Earlier on the album, “Real Thing” contains the lyrics “I come from a land of slaves/ Let’s go Redskins, let’s go Braves,” which conflates a series of intensive racial issues in America into a neat, flippant phrase that seems to value end rhyme over its own endgame. Is this her attempt to bring attention to these inequalities and the capitalistic support of stereotypes by American sporting complexes, or simply to rhyme two problematic examples? Time and time again, all the finesse and flex of the album’s distinct harmonies and intricate structures are undercut by clunky and even bizarre diction. Often the rhymes feel too dead on, like end couplets were adopted simply to follow the pattern with no real ear for grace.

It’s odd, because in some ways, this is the kind of art that many of us have been crying out for — art that actively engages with social issues and seeks to confront or assert liberal stances instead of juggling the same eros and alcohol-fueled ideas. But her focus also strays. An odd one-minute-plus mid-album skit called “Why Do We Dine on the Tots” relates a cannibalistic tongue-in-cheek short story done with the same funny voices many of us adopt to read books to our favorite kids. It’s an embarrassing, albeit brief, moment in a record fraught with other flawed lyrical flubs.

But even after all these observations, the way the record sounds is almost enough to keep the jagged edges from sticking in your craw. Lead single “Water Fountain” is hookier than a DJ Mustard radio smash, and even if it unnaturally contains the phrase “ride the whip,” it’s impossible to shake the handclap rhythm that jitters its way right under your skin. The evolving orbit of “Look Around” is another high point, undulating through the adoration of a stable lover. Its tightly packed harmonies are grated through distortion, but the crisp backbone of vocal acrobatics is Garbus’ strongest asset. “Stop That Man” and the other album single, “Wait for a Minute”, are other bright spots, expanding into dream pop territory and the crossbreed form of alt-R&B that the last five years have manufactured. When the record hits, it hits so cleanly and sweetly that superlatives spring to mind unbidden. But the record’s highs simply can’t balance out, or make up for the lows.

Parts of Nikki Nack are interesting, deeply beautiful, and insanely catchy. Other parts are painful to listen to given their overt blindness to the nuances of holding conversations like the ones she attempts to initiate. Regarding her conversations with others who questioned why she was traveling to Haiti, Garbus herself writes that she went to “situate myself in a non-western musical tradition.” Then, indicates that her listener was shocked by writing, simply, the word “Pause.” Too bad she gives herself the credit for innovation in the silence that ensues, instead of considering it’s her audience that is skeptical of such open cultural tourism.

Essential Tracks: “Water Fountain”, “Stop That Man”, and “Wait for a Minute”

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TIME Music

REVIEW: Pixies Mostly Stale on Indie Cindy Album

Indie Cindy
Pias America

The last couple of years have taken a peculiar turn for the alt-rock pioneers


This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

“But everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band,” Brian Eno once said about The Velvet Underground’s meager-selling debut. It might be even more hyperbolic to equate that level of influence to twisted alt rock progenitors the Pixies, but I still can’t help but imagine professed Pixies fan Kurt Cobain listening to “Gigantic” and scribbling notes. “I really remember thinking, ‘That is such a Pixies rip,’” Dave Grohl once confessed about “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. “It was almost thrown away at one point because it just seemed too much like the Pixies.”

The extent of the Pixies’ influence on the ‘90s alternative rock boom can be debated, but practically nobody — critic or fan — questions the band’s body of work. That incomparable late ‘80s/early ‘90s run of Surfer Rosa, Doolittle, Bossanova, and Trompe Le Monde, a bizarre brew of melody, quiet-loud dynamics, oddball lyrics, and kitchen sink vocal deliveries, still delivers an abrasive euphoria that’s hard to explain and impossible to ignore. It’s that rare discography capable of changing how you hear music. So, really, it wasn’t all that surprising when the original lineup of Black Francis, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago, and David Lovering reformed as a touring group in 2004 and found that legions of fans old and new awaited their return.

The last couple of years have taken a peculiar turn, though. While unabashed reverence for those 20-year-old albums remains intact, it’s become popular to pick on the present-day Pixies, as if the band members weren’t responsible for building that legacy, only tarnishing it. Some perceive touring for nearly a decade on old material a simple cash grab (though, can 10 years still be considered a “grab?”). Others bemoan founding bassist Kim Deal leaving the band last summer and cry foul at replacing her with another Kim (Shattuck) and then finally with Paz Lenchantin in a game of musical female bassists taken directly out of Billy Corgan’s playbook. Most recently, though, the band have endured a fairly uniform online lambasting — with charges of treason, sacrilege, and Pixies-less-ness thrown in — after finally releasing three EPs of new material. Textbook case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Unfortunately, Indie Cindy may make you wish the band had left well enough alone. Dubbed an album (not a compilation), the record merely assembles all the tracks from EP1, EP2, and the just released, but long ago leaked, EP3. If you give a damn about Pixies, you’ve heard all of these songs already, and no fresh album art, re-sequencing, or magic conjured up by the letters ‘L’ and ‘P’ placed next to each other is going to change your opinion on them. Either you’ve already banished these songs from your iPod and memory or, like me, set aside that overshadowing back catalog and tried to appreciate Cindy’s redeeming qualities.

It’s not as though you won’t recognize Francis and Co. here. Trace elements of the Pixies do surface throughout: barked verses and melodic choruses (“Indie Cindy”); a toned-down take on that soft-loud yin and yang (“What Goes Boom”); and occasional slips into Spanish (“Andro Queen”). Sorely missing, though, are the unnerving tension, eccentricities, sense of imminent peril, and trade-off between precision and recklessness present in classic Pixies records. The absence of Kim Deal’s backing vocals (that’s an imposter on “Bagboy”), which could create tension by echoing, countering, or undercutting Francis’s parts, doesn’t help matters, but the problem stems beyond a lineup shuffle. It’s an incredibly tame and polite record, which is hard to accept from Pixies. Indie Cindy feels like paint-by-numbers when we expect Black Francis to hone in upon that imperceptible orange in the ocean or green in the sky.

Consequence of Sound’s own Steven Arroyo offered sound advice when he suggested bypassing the new Pixies cuts that try for gritty and menacing (“Blue Eyed Hexe”, “What Goes Boom”). The band sound far more comfortable and convincing on the album’s lighter fare (“Andro Queen”, “Ring the Bell”). The uncharacteristically straightforward “Greens and Blues” revisits Francis’s obsession with extraterrestrials (“I said I’m human, but you know I lie/ I’m only visiting this shore”) and charms on the back of a simple acoustic strum and Santiago’s sunny day, seaside guitar work. Ironically, it’s through an alien’s eyes that Francis actually seems normal — here, self-doubting and summoning a brave face once realizing a connection he cherishes can’t last (“I’ll leave you alone, fade from your mind/ Slip into the greens and blues”). Likewise, “Indie Cindy”, once you get beyond barked lines like “I’m the burgermeister of purgatory,” hinges on a simple, gentle plea for love and acceptance (“Be in love with me/ I beg for you to carry me”) from either a woman or maybe even listeners.

And it’s in that spirit of understanding and acceptance that Pixies fans might be best served to simply accept that Cindy ain’t Rosa and never could be. Sure, you can wallow in disappointment that this record ranks a distant fifth alongside the band’s classic LPs, but don’t allow yourself in the process to miss out on a handful of worthwhile songs.

Essential Tracks: “Greens and Blues”, “Indie Cindy”

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TIME Music

REVIEW: Foster The People Struggles on Sophomore Album

Supermodel
Columbia Records

Any good will from 'Pumped Up Kicks' is gone


This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

It was easy to be cynical when Foster the People broke through with “Pumped Up Kicks”. Frontman/mastermind Mark Foster had, in fact, been working as a jingle writer for a while, so connecting the dots between soulless commercialism and the almost too-perfect indie pop wasn’t challenging. Foster himself didn’t shy away from that link: “I definitely learned from the commercial standpoint what works,” he told Rolling Stone in June 2011. That hook could easily be called contagious, even weaponized, designed in a lab to overpower the pop universe. And it did.

But after a few hundred more listens to the single, and a couple of spins through the accompanying album, there was some charm there. Sure, it was stylized, self-aware, maybe even calculating, but what pop music isn’t? Torches had a few more epic choruses to offer. And the guy can write a hook, and no one should be penalized for that. Taking a job that utilizes that ability sounds pretty reasonable. But more to the point: “Pumped Up Kicks” was just so gosh darn catchy.

That good will is lost pretty quickly, though, on the opening lines of their sophomore LP, Supermodel: “I woke up on Champs-Élysées to the djembe of Ghana/ A fine lady from Belize said, ‘You got the spirit of Fela.’” So begins “Are You What You Want to Be?”, like someone was handed a box of Vampire Weekend fridge magnets (complete with a backing track of West African rhythm and bouncing bass) and told to have at it. Foster goes on to make a veiled connection to insurrection of some sort (“The right words in the hands of dissidents with the fire/ Will rip apart the marrow from the bones of the liars”). Later, the MGMT-indebted, wonky disco of “Best Friend” might be the album’s best track, but even that gets weighted down some by talk of theta waves and celestial beings. These and lines about guerrillas and war machines littered throughout smack of a real effort at seriousness, and that effort doesn’t suit the kind of ultra-pop they produce, a genre built on apparent ease and immediate appeal.

Other tracks carry similar weight, particularly the eyebrow-raising “A Beginner’s Guide to Destroying the Moon”. With the subtlety of a hammer to the head, Foster soapboxes for an unclear battle: “We’ve been crying for a leader to speak like they are prophets/ The blood of the forgotten wasn’t spilled without a purpose/ Or was it?” Later on the album, “The Truth” brings prophets back to the fore, again leaving intention vague and angsty. “A blinding call to prayer has touched my feet/ Like the call of the prophets/ A purpose is needed before you know that you know,” Foster coos over dubstep-adjacent bass, though only a few steps away from The Killers when things get pared down to echoed piano and limber percussion. On “Nevermind” (which lingers uncomfortably close to Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” in its acoustic guitar core), he gets a bit more philosophical: “It’s hard to know the truth in this postmodernist view/ Where absolutes are seen as relics and laughed out of the room.” While an extreme of the spectrum, these clunkers are indicative of the album’s struggle at exploring heavy, dark topics.

But what about the darkness of “Pumped Up Kicks”? That one was about a shooting, and it didn’t overpower the pop. The difference here comes down in part to production. Whereas Foster’s vocals on “Kicks” were lo-fi mumbly on the verses and falsetto and grouped on that hook, Supermodel pushes him to the fore with a high-gloss sheen. The line “Just like an animal, I protect my pride” on single “Coming of Age” is a bit too twee on its own, but the glammy echo and ’80s neon framing highlight it even more. Throughout the album, Foster the People play on-the-nose karaoke backing band to their vocalist, leaping from facsimiles of The Bee Gees to Twin Shadow to a cauterized, sedated version of The Flaming Lips. None of these guises, though, fit seamlessly; none of the hooks that accompany those masks ever obscure the fact that the masks exist. At times the hooks aren’t strong enough, and at others the gloss-glopped production and genre choices are too overpowering to make that distinction.

When Foster goes for simplicity on “Fire Escape”, he sounds like a guy who means what he’s singing, like the acoustic guitar, lonely xylophone, angelic backing choir, and small-room echo weren’t choices, but necessities. The chorus (“I am a fire escape, my spine is made of iron/ My heart pumps old red paint/ Save yourself, save yourself”) is evocative if messy, and the entire song seems to be about the way Los Angeles destroys so many dreamers (and, I guess, acting as the sacrifice to save them?). It’s a bit unwieldy coming from a guy who made a big name for himself in the City of Angels. But the song sounds so genuine, especially when compared to the rest of Supermodel, that its cliches can be swept under the rug.

Either Supermodel was written as an attempt to chase the success of Torches, or it was written as an insistence that Foster is more than a disposable pop writer. And they gain ground on both of those goals, no matter which was intended. But ultimately, the album lacks that effortless cool that’s required for this kind of slick pop music, the type that powered “Pumped Up Kicks”. But Foster spent years before that song on other projects and ideas, struggling to find his voice. Surely, it didn’t come into being fully formed or without effort. Appropriately, Supermodel sounds like a band aggressively trying 11 different approaches to their next effortless sound. Equally appropriately, with increased attention comes increased expectations and increased scrutiny, neither of which are met by this sophomore release.

Essential Tracks: “Best Friend”, “Fire Escape”

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TIME weather

Record-Setting Rain Ravages Southern and Eastern Coasts

An emergency worker walks on the other side of the street where one car still rests precariously after a retaining wall collapsed beneath a row of vehicles in Baltimore, Maryland, April 30, 2014.
An emergency worker walks on the other side of the street where one car still rests precariously after a retaining wall collapsed beneath a row of vehicles in Baltimore, Maryland, April 30, 2014. Karl Merton Ferron—Baltimore Sun/Reuters

Rainfall connected to storms that wrought deadly tornadoes in the Midwest and South this week has tested the Gulf Coast, where some areas saw the most precipitation on record since the National Weather Service began tracking rainfall totals in 1880

Updated 12:45 p.m. ET

Record-setting rainfall pounded the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States on Tuesday and Wednesday, with even more rain looming for some parts of the Eastern Seaboard. Florida was hit particularly hard, and by Thursday afternoon, people in the Panhandle region were cleaning up as floodwaters receded.

The National Weather Service warned Wednesday of a “complex storm system” that will continue to rain down on the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast into Thursday.

In parts of the Gulf Coast, hurricane-tested residents faced unprecedented rainfall that flooded highways and washed away parts of homes. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency and warned residents to expect more flooding.

The NWS said up to 18.9 inches of rain fell over a 24-hour period in Alabama and Florida, CNN reports. The airport in Pensacola, Florida recorded 15.55 inches of rain, the highest rainfall total in a single calendar day since the NWS began tracking rainfall totals in 1880.

The rainfall in the Gulf Coast was connected to a storm system that fueled tornadoes and severe storms across the south and midsection of the country earlier this week. Those violent storms were linked to the deaths of 36 people.

The bad weather spread east as nighttime fell on Wednesday. Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport recorded 5.18 inches of rain on Wednesday, breaking a daily record, the Washington Post reports. New York City’s Central Park saw the 11th heaviest daily rainfall according to the New York Times. Flood warnings were in effect for New York City early Thursday morning.

There’s a chance of rainstorms Thursday in cities from Jacksonville, Fl. to Portland, Maine, Accuweather forecasts, while residents in the Southeast are in for even more trouble as more rain is expected Friday.

[CNN]

TIME Music

REVIEW: New Eels Album The Cautionary Tales… Lives Up to Title

Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett
Pias America

This album struggles to appear deeper than a common puddle


This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

“Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic.” Perhaps quoting Anaïs Nin at a time and in a space like this (particularly while occupying a similar unseeing model of myself) may come across rather callow, encroaching on unreasonable even, but let’s be honest, as befits a friend.

Mark Oliver Everett, affectionately known to us as “E,” has been making music for 22 years, and on the 22nd of April released the latest offering from EELS. Though I’m a long-standing devotee, the project’s 11th album and I got off on the wrong foot. Granted, I dove in feeling swamped already by the sheer quantity of albums Eels have recently released (this marks a total of five in five years) and naturally wanted to flip through the songs of The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett as one would the pages of a hand-drawn comic flip book — quickly and furiously. However, with every turn of the “page,” another frame flipped by depicting a rapidly dropping 10-ton Acme weight (followed by an imaginary sad trombone backing track). I was drowning from a surface listen like the character outlined by Nin — gasping for air underneath it all.

Nonetheless, let’s follow theme: I’m a strong swimmer. At a glance, the album is bookended by the opening track, “Where I’m At”, and the final plea, “Where I’m Going”. Even though the former sits sweetly as a wafty instrumental, it feels unnecessary. It lacks in depth and warmth and would be better suited as the soundtrack of a British TV period drama. The track is then repeated during “Where I’m Going”, but this time E slaps on some lyrics. The efficacy of his compositional vocabulary overpowers lyrics drenched in child-like sentiment fit for a musical: “Sunflowers shooting up to the sky that is glowing/ And I’ve got a good feeling about where I’m going.” On paper, that reads as truthful, but for some reason, on record, they’re kept by tempo and timbre floating above the surface. The melodic arrangement feels contrived.

In the end, neither of the tracks feels ultimately necessary. It would have been more hard-hitting to begin with “Parallels” because it deflects as a reference to his famed physicist father’s “many worlds” theory. Considering Everett’s fertile inclination to share, deflection is needed more than reflection. While the string arrangement on “Agatha Chang” sounds perfectly appropriate, his hesitant baritone breeds a sense of speculation. It feels too slight to stick.

The people behind the album are complicit in its stranded stature, as seen in the press release’s punted summary: “an introspective turn for E.” But isn’t E always turning inward? A “turn” denotes change. He’s turned older, sure; his head is turned on the cover of the album, yes, thank you. But E is singing about the same themes that he was singing about years ago, albeit he’s coloured them in with better production than on its predecessors (save Electro-Shock Blues, Daisies of the Galaxy, and Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, which remain unbeatable). So, to the rest, I call bullshit.

After 10 albums containing occasional bursts of solipsistic tangents, taking a turn would have meant wringing out every breath of angst and forgiveness he had to muster — not simple affectations like “everyday I live in regret and pain” during “Kindred Spirit”. If the music was meant to aid this journey of reconciliation for him, in between the swaying of folk-styled rhythms and soothing introductory chords, all it does is extinguish the fire he hoped to ignite. Melodically, “A Swallow in the Sun” begins with a similar intent but thankfully includes cymbal-led drumbeats. But I can’t help imagining hopeless scenarios of What Ifs. For instance: What if the garage rock guitars captured during Shootenanny were weaved into the same falsetto and scream found in Hombre Lobo?

Is it too late to throw in that his voice supersedes expectation? And, in hindsight, is this stripped-down, softer, and quieter songwriting his way of showing respect to the truths he’s so vulnerably trying to portray? Probably. “I wouldn’t answer each time the phone rang,” sounds more to me like the confessions of a teenager than a 51-year-old man bound by the tight knots he’s struggled to break free from for years. Everett’s gruff croon radiates in “Gentleman’s Choice”, which during Blinking Lights and Other Revelations was realized in the song “I’m Going to Stop Pretending That I Didn’t Break Your Heart”. The intimacy is certainly here, bolstered by additional instrumentals; clarinet, sax, trumpet, and cello pop in.

What The Cautionary Tales needs is a prudent pruning. This album struggles to appear deeper than a common puddle, and while E’s previous penchant for sharing has given him a brilliant book of songs from which to draw, I wonder how long he’ll stay floating on the surface, moving only according to the tides of the ocean around him, unable to reach a new destination. For E, the goal should be submerging further, one step further than the concept of introspection; he may be looking inward from the surface, but submerging would necessarily include unraveling bits and clawing deeper. I’m more intrigued to find out what he hasn’t been saying for all these years — not the repetitive staring down of monopolizing despair, mortality, and cosmic isolation all at once.

How’s that for existential crisis? Stuck on the edges of a never-ending philosophical spiral of ( f )eels.

Essential Tracks: “A Swallow in the Sun”, “Mistakes of My Youth”

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