MUSIC NEWS: Lady Gaga, Rufus Wainwright, CocknBullKid, Friendly Fires, Stephin Merritt, New Order, Depeche Mode, Calvin Harris
Norman Brannon is a pop critic, musician, and author based in New York City. He presents a weekly music update here on Towleroad and writes regularly at Nervous Acid.
Follow Norman on Twitter at @nervousacid.
It may be officially impossible to write about Lady Gaga with any real modicum of objectivity, and on some level, that might be her real success: If Gaga aims to polarize — us vs. them, outsiders vs. establishment, monsters vs. non-monsters — then she's certainly done that. But to some extent, the visual and ideological spectacle that she insists upon also tends to obscure the fact that Lady Gaga is ostensibly a recording artist and not simply a performance piece; at one point, not too long ago, she was an ordinary young woman who played nondescript piano bar songs at nondescript piano bar venues and took the subway home like everyone else. The question, then, becomes how to isolate an album like Born This Way from the meat dress, the egg pod, or the paper-eating sideshow on David Letterman, and the answer is not quite clear. Because for all its successes (the synthesized resurrection of Laura Branigan on "Marry The Night") and failures (the cultural tourism and Latin-fetishization of "Americano"), Born This Way exposes a flaw in Gaga's multimedia barrage — if only because, without the over-the-top visual stimulation, there is a lot to be underwhelmed by: Like the relentless four-to-the-floor, which seems to have only one configuration. Or the lack of subtlety, which makes sure you immediately get the point, but discourages digging deeper. Or the frequent references to religious iconography, which fail to add anything new to an already over-mined conceit. Of course, if it sounds like I'm being overly harsh on the only artist in the world to ever achieve a number-one single with the words "gay" or "lesbian" or "transgendered" in the lyrics, you might have a point. There is a certain amount of carefree revel on Born This Way that is compelling for its potential to surprise — I'm still trying to figure out exactly what she means when she says "Scheiße, be mine," and don't worry, I know what "scheiße" means — but that means there's also something to be said about its more predictable moments. I mean, earlier this year, Gaga announced that this was "the greatest album of the decade." She can't possibly be upset if we hold it up to her own standard.
Rufus Wainwright has begun work on his seventh studio album with producer Mark Ronson — whose résumé includes work with Amy Winehouse and Adele, among others. "The main objective — not for the entire [album] necessarily, but for portions of it — is to be danceable," Wainwright says. "I just want to make something that you love, driving around in your car listening or losing your mind to on a dancefloor."
Relatedly: It has recently been confirmed that Adele is working on a collaboration with de rigeur British rapper Tinie Tempah. As for Amy Winehouse, her father Mitch — who is currently on a press tour promoting his own album — gives new word on his terribly missed daughter: "She's doing better now," he says. "She has been clean for two and a half years … I'm not saying that her problems have gone away, because they haven't. She's dealing with it."
Listicle: Eight openly queer rappers you should know.
Magnetic Fields songwriter Stephin Merritt recently announced the release of Obscurities — a collection of rare and hard-to-find material spanning most of the 1990s. The fourteen-song album will come out of August 23, but you can download a teaser MP3 for the elegant "Forever and a Day" now.
Florence Welch has revealed thematic details for her forthcoming second album — the follow-up to Florence + The Machine's breakthrough debut Lungs: "It still feels like I'm very much drawn to dark metaphors in the new songs. It always feels like as if with each song you write, you're trying to understand something about yourself: Why am I this way? What's wrong with me?"
The original success-by-blog band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah return from their four-year absence with a new album called Hysterical — produced by John Congleton (Modest Mouse, Explosions in the Sky) and due in September.
June 6 is the street date for Total: From Joy Division to New Order — the first compilation album to combine classic singles from the related bands. Also featured: a previously unreleased song from New Order called "Hellbent." The new single is available for streaming below.
How to put this bluntly: If I were writing a column entitled Twelve Songs You Need To Hear This Week, I'd most likely hand you a copy of Adulthood — the debut album by CocknBullKid — and call it a day. In a week where Lady Gaga will be christened the still-reigning queen of pop, Anita Blay might get only a fraction of the accolades for an album that, hyperbole aside, actually delivers on incredibly sophisticated and well-executed modern pop. There are spiritual predecessors, of course — notes of Kylie Minogue admittedly register high here — but Blay's style is so inimitably English (and so unmistakably working class) that it's impossible to fail in teasing out her own idiosyncratic vision. That current single "Asthma Attack" namechecks LCD Soundsystem while recalling Change–era Sugababes is no accident: much like the entire album, Blay's occasionally harsh urban aesthetic is unfailingly tempered by kindness.
If 2011 is the year that commercial Euro-house went American mainstream, then Friendly Fires might be banking on the return of balaeric house: With their second album, Pala, the UK-band completely dismiss the over-filtered dark synths and go in favor of a lighter, summery sound that will inspire far more joy on the dancefloor than angst; it might be downright impossible to do anything but hug the person next to you when "Hawaiian Air" comes on. Their reverence to the rave is also present here — "Live Those Days Tonight" is the most authentic Manc–house track since people actually bought Happy Mondays records — but on Pala, it's more about smiley-faces than synthetic ecstasy.
Very few artists can survive the ghost of being considered a "Christian artist," and yet David Bazan — whose '90s output as Pedro the Lion earned that very title — has persisted. Part of his reinvention, of course, lies in the release of 2009's Curse Your Branches, which effectively served as Bazan's break-up album with God; the introspection and criticism of his former life lay as bare as just about anything you'll ever hear on the subject. His second solo album, Strange Negotiations, gets its release today, and much like Branches, it's a musically and emotionally stripped-down affair — wistful over past mistakes, but softheartedly determined to make good on redemption.
Also out today: Various Artists — Kitsune Maison Vol. 11: The Indie Dance Issue (Kitsune), Art Brut — Brilliant! Tragic! (Cooking Vinyl), Bird of Youth — Defender (Jagjaguwar), Pete & The Pirates — One Thousand Pictures (Zoom), Thurston Moore — Demolished Thoughts (Matador), New Kids on the Block & Backstreet Boys — NKOTBSB (Sony Legacy)
SOUND & VISION:
Depeche Mode — "Personal Jesus" (Stargate Remix)
They're better known for their work with Rihanna and Katy Perry, but Norwegian production duo Stargate clearly owe much of their sound to bands like Depeche Mode. Here, with the lead single from Remixes 2: 81-11, Stargate finally inspire the medieval witch-hunting treatment they couldn't really muster up from "Firework."
Princeton — "The Electrician" (feat. Active Child)
The L.A.-based Princeton cite only two influences on the Facebook page: Steve Reich and Larry Levan. You kind of can't argue with that! For "The Electrician," the band puts its atmospheric synthpop in the hands of Active Child's Pat Grossi — whose wide-room vocal adds celestial depth. The video's graphic police brutality is not for the faint of heart, and yet the song's cinematic quality would feel a little less exposed without it.
Calvin Harris — "Bounce" (feat. Kelis)
Kelis continues to feed her club fixation, this time teaming up with UK electro-house producer Calvin Harris. The video is mostly safe, but still NSFW — which is probably the state of a lot of our weekend social lives. Aside from the part about passing out in the club, I hope.
James Blake — "Lindisfarne"
A standout track from Blake's acclaimed self-titled debut, "Lindisfarne" eschews dubstep for despondent robotic soul and features a somewhat uncomfortable clip that is one-part Party of Five, one-part cult recruitment video. Also, fans of gobbing may get a little extra something out of it.
This strange and stunning performance of "The Man Who Stole a Leopard" at last night's "Unstaged" concert in Los Angeles. It was directed by Lynch and is punctuated by various Lynchian oddities like floating heads and an animated radio.
Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...
DATA VISUALIZATION: David McCandless gives a TED Talk about how to visualise data beautifully.
ALASKA: Armed Lyndon LaRouche supporter gets taken down by security at the Alaska State Fair.
HONEY TRAP: China's got talent?
MODERN FAMILY: Gets better with a George Clooney three-way. From the Emmys.
For recent Guides to the Tube, click HERE.
Gay bashing brawl under investigation in Clear Lake, Iowa. "A man was reportedly dancing when he was slammed to the ground and beaten by another patron who made rude references to the man’s sexual orientation. A friend of the victim then reportedly tried to pull the attacker off of him and that resulted in other patrons getting involved. Peterson described the scene as 'mayhem.'"
Black gay couple walk out of Mount Calvary Holy Church during anti-gay sermon: "Mack and Garrett, 32, contacted DC Agenda about their decision to walk out on Owens’ sermon and are believed to be the first gays to publicly disclose their departure from a church that activists say has a large number of closeted gay members, mostly black."
Susan Boyle has new airport meltdown: "The source went on to explain that while SuBo was waiting to board a flight to Chicago, she suddenly grabbed a cleaning product out of a janitor's cart and used it as a fake microphone..."
Jesus Luz shows some bush.
Drug resistant HIV poised for surge, self-sustaining epidemics: "When the team used the model to look into the future, it predicted a rapid upsurge in the spread of resistant strains. The model suggested that 60 per cent of the resistant strains currently circulating in San Francisco could cause "self-sustaining epidemics", says Blower, in which each infected individual spreads the resistant strain to more than one new recipient."
Kelis tells PETA off: "I would eat pterodactyl if you found some and you told me it was meaty and delicious."
D.C. sees second slaying of gay man in two weeks: “There is no indication at this time that this homicide occurred as a result of a hate crime."
Maryland delegate introduces anti-gay bill: "Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr.'s measure would also declare that marriages between individuals of the same sex are against the public policy of the state of Maryland. The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee has rejected similar measures introduced before, which prevented the bill from going to the House floor for debate. In neighboring Washington, D.C., gay couples will likely be able to apply soon for marriage licenses. The district's City Council passed a bill last month legalizing same-sex marriage."
Glee's Matthew Morrison to release debut album.
Documentary about killing of gay Liverpool teen Michael Causer to be screened at Istanbul International Film Festival: "We are all really excited that such an important film is being shown in Turkey. The international struggle for LGBT equality and acceptance is one which is the central message of this film. What happened to Michael Causer was a travesty of justice and was plainly ignored by many in the national media."
Kellan the Barbarian?
Pope defends invitation of Anglicans disaffected by gay policies to convert: "Benedict told members of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that the invitation wasn't an attack on the church's reunification efforts with other Christians but designed to help them by bringing about 'full and visible communion.'"
Bruce Weber's All American.
British auto show Top Gear slammed for not allowing gay couples in studio audience: "It’s very odd, but what do you expect from pigs that grunt? Regrettably, with Jeremy Clarkson involved, it’s not surprising. The show itself is full of stereotyping of both men and women – but it’s funded by gay and lesbian licence fee cash as well as everyone else’s. Arguably, this is a breach of the Sexual Orientation Regulations 2005."
Court: Sperm donor wins access to son raised by lesbian couple in Ireland. "The Supreme Court ruled that, while the man was not entitled to guardianship, he has natural rights over the three-year-old child. Five judges unanimously found it was in the best interest of the boy’s welfare to remain in contact with his biological father."
The second coming (site nsfw) of Klaus Nomi?
Liza Minnelli settles $100 million sexual harassment lawsuit brought by chauffeur who claimed she spit on his face.
McDonald's fires manager who told trans applicant "We don't hire faggots.".
Shelter for homeless LGBT youth expanded on Long Island: "But a $200,000 donation later, the charity, and the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, of which it is a part, helped create a new 16-bed shelter at the Church of St. Andrew’s in Astoria. The Ali Forney Center, which is named for a gay homeless teenager who was killed in 1997 and which has seen its budget cut in the past year by nearly $450,000 because of the economic downturn, is partnering with the church in operating the shelter."
Kelis brings her milkshake to Popbytes' yard.
Economist map: Where gay American couples live.
GLSEN's ThinkB4USpeak campaign launches meter measuring number of times anti-gay slurs have been used on Twitter daily.
Lip reader takes a look at the Jim Harbaugh video: "I took a look at the clip, and it is somewhat straightforward, although there is a word that is unclear. … My professional opinion is that during this portion, the speaker says 'Fuck it, [Nigel], Fuck it.' He does not say 'fucking' nor 'asshole.' The middle word seems to be a name, which could be different from the one in parentheses above. Possibly the name of a player, coach, or referee, a first or last name." Video HERE.
19 House Republicans introduce resolution to make it clear that Congress likes Christmas.
16-year-old girl found guilty of shooting classmate who rejected her: "Teah Wimberly was convicted of killing Amanda Collette, 15, a classmate at a Miami high school. Wimberly had been sending Collete text messages declaring her love, and shot her after her advances were rebuffed."
National Organization for Marriage (NOM) targets Maine gubernatorial, senate races.
Female teachers caught having sex in school classroom in Brooklyn during talent show.
Pauly from Jersey Shore says he's ready to show off his wang for Playgirl.
Teaser poster for Sex and the City 2 revealed.
Moonie paper Washington Times folds.
Minnesota art history researcher gets broken leg as result of hate crime bar brawl: "As DeLand and others tried to pry the man off another man who had been with the first assailant joined in. The two men repeatedly called members of the group 'faggot' and 'nigger.'"
Idina Menzel to play rival coach on Glee.
States of Marriage: a documentary from Vermont Public Radio.
First shots of Alby's love interest on Big Love.
Alameda School District approves anti-bullying proposal: "Trustees voted 4-1 to keep the existing 'Caring School Community' lessons for students in kindergarten through second grade, as well as to launch the new plan, 'Steps to Respect,' for third through fourth graders. The new lessons come in the wake of the board's approval in May of lessons meant to specifically address anti-gay bullying, which were dubbed Lesson 9. Three months later, district leaders admitted their existing anti-bullying curriculum didn't do enough to address bullying based on other factors, and they put together a pair of committees in an effort to change that."