The Welcome Contradictions of Lorde

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The other day, a friend of mine who recently moved to New York from Salt Lake City was lamenting the collective fashion sense of her Williamsburg brethren. Back home, she explained, you could automatically tell who was alternative and who was a square, based simply on the way they were dressed. In New York, it's different. "Everything's blended together," she said. "There's no way to tell who's mainstream and who's not."

See also: Lorde - Webster Hall - 9/30/13

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On Default Genders, Dead Girlfriends, Politics, and Imagination

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In the middle of summer, when the Internet is starved for something to gawk at, even the smallest of controversies can make some noise. So it was last week with the release of "On Fraternity" and a subsequent self-titled EP by Default Genders, songs that provided just enough grist for the content mill to get to churning.

See also: How Not To Write About Female Musicians: A Handy Guide

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Kill Your Idols: Why Rap's Superstars Stay Relevant

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For the most part, we agree. Three of Jay-Z's last four albums have been terrible. Lil Wayne, addled as he is by lean and anatomical discharge (or just pure not-caring), don't rap so good no more. Eminem hasn't released a worthwhile LP in over a decade. Nas is wildly inconsistent--but we await all his albums with equal anticipation. It's a near guarantee that the sequel to Life is Good will be not-so-good but that won't stop us from slavering. The entire rap Internet still clamors for the newest release from all four.

Of course, the concept of a legacy artist is nothing new. Springsteen and The Rolling Stones still command an absurd amount of attention from the Rolling Stone set. But rap, more than most genres, has always been a young man's game. And even rock had decades of revivalist movements to stave off the omnipresence of the icons. It feels as if, for the most part, mainstream rap hasn't moved the needle in about a decade. There are only two artists who have debuted in the 21st century (Kanye and Drake), whose new releases are greeted with such critical enthusiasm.

So why is that?

See also: WIN TICKETS to See NAS at Citi Field!

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Zac Brown Band Stretches Country's Limits (And Its Legs) On Uncaged

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Country music has never had a simple relationship with Mexico. While outlaws like Waylon Jennings once warned that there "ain't no God" on the other side of the border, Tim McGraw more recently took the opposing position, suggesting that God in fact created the country, but only as a place for trapped American adults to go when they needed a vacation.

No matter one's position in this rather limited point-counterpoint, the "Mexico song" has become a staple of nearly all mainstream country albums. Kip Moore, for instance, recently gave the genre a nostalgic turn on Up All Night's emotional center, "Everything but You"; Brad Paisley, never one to pass up a chuckle, rounded out last year's This Is Country Music with the Blake Shelton-featuring "Don't Drink the Water" ("No one I know / goes to Mexico / to drink the water anyways" rolls the punchline). Shelton, meanwhile, once pushed the senorita-chasing, Van Morrison-quoting "Playboys of the Southwestern" up into the country top 40, though the tune never caught on as successfully as Kenny Chesney's chart-topping "Beer and Mexico," Toby Keith's "Stays in Mexico," or Zac Brown's platinum-selling "Toes," the opener on the band's 2007 major-label debut, The Foundation.

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Just Like Being There: The Economics Of Livestreaming Concerts

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Will you be watching?
Tonight, at 10 P.M., you can see the Dirty Projectors live. They're playing here in town, in support of their just-released new album, Swing Lo Magellan, at Music Hall of Williamsburg. If you didn't get a ticket, or just don't feel like leaving your apartment, you can cruise over to the YouTube home of local internet conglomerate the Bowery Presents (owners of The Bowery Ballroom, the forthcoming Rough Trade Booklyn, and The Music Hall of Williamsburg) and watch the whole thing as it happens, online, broadcast in pretty stunning HD. You'll catch every bit of banter, every wrong note, every silly cover they might throw in near the end, and you'll be seeing it as it happens. It will be just like being there. Right?


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Stephen Colbert Is A Bit Miffed That His Pop Conference Paper Got Rejected

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Next weekend, various stripes of music nerds (critics, academics, people who just like to think a lot) will descend on New York for the EMP Pop Conference, an annual mind-meld of pro and amateur musicologists that's taking place in our fair city for the first time. The conference, sponsored by the Seattle rock and roll museum the Experience Music Project (and this year co-sponsored by NYU's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, where I teach), is this year themed around the intersection between urbanity and music, and the weekend has an opening panel starring Angelique Kidjo, Esperanza Spalding, Santigold, and Das Racist's Heems and a closing talk about crate-digging with ?uestlove. In between are a slew of papers and panels that include a roundtable on mixtape culture featuring SOTC alums Zach Baron and Ryan Dombal, a look at the LA rave station MARS-FM by Michaelangelo Matos, and Jon Caramanica talking to GZA about Liquid Swords.

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In Defense Of Dave Grohl

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Dave Grohl had a good time at the Grammys on Sunday. The Foo Fighters won pretty much every rock-oriented award possible, he reminded everyone that he's got the power-ballad game on lock, and he even got to show off his sweet Slayer T-shirt. Once again, everything came up Grohl. The most likable man in rock wins again, right?

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Pazz & Jop 2011: Seth Colter Walls On Craig Taborn, Matana Roberts, And Voting From The Fringe

To supplement this year's Pazz & Jop launch, Sound of the City asked a few critics to expand on the reasonings behind their voting. We'll start off the series with Seth Colter Walls of New York City, who has a constant itch to do the deep dive and find the single-voter albums out there. Find his ballot here.

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Damn do I ever love voting in, and then reading, Pazz and Jop. All these serious music-listening people, expressing opinions, mostly with a high degree of sincerity: admit it, it's a nice break from the social media-enabled review cycle, in which a lot of people apparently feel obliged to sound off on topics about which they may only kinda sorta have an aesthetic stake. (Read: The Internet.)

Consumers (and/or voters) often look to the number ones, to talk about the consensus where it exists—me, I liked but did not love Merrill Garbus's poll-winning record, outside of the stunning tracks "Powa" and "Bizness"; I suspect her masterpiece as a composer may yet be written for forces larger than her multi-tracked self—but in times where a 10-vote album ballot feels ever more confining and statistically unrepresentative of broader listening habits, I'm always fascinated to look at the sheer number of lonely minority reports on this side of the poll.

Critics cited 1,734 different full-lengths this year; way more than half of those titles had only a single champion. Multiple votes for albums only start to occur with real consistency around poll position #341 (Gang of Four's Content). If you're a true Pazz freak you're gonna do the deep dive, and try to find something new in that glut of passions rebuffed (or ignored) by the hivemind. As in: wow, East River Pipe put out a record this year? I didn't know that. Same-ish thing goes for Brooklyn Rider and their disc of Philip Glass string quartets.

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A Dissenting Opinion: Let's Quit It With The Live Performances Of "Classic" Hip-Hop Albums

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Back in 2007, All Tomorrow's Parties and the Pitchfork Music Festival decided that getting GZA, the Wu-Tang Clan's resident rhyme scholar, to reenact his crime rhyme masterpiece Liquid Swords in full was a good idea. And it probably was—once, maybe twice. But the third time removed the charm. Yet since then, the notion of rappers being booked to perform albums in full has bloomed into an infernal trend.

The idea of having a classic hip-hop album be recreated in full in a live setting looks cool on a flyer and the show announcements will get people in comments sections talking, but the practice is problematic—in large part because most heralded records are guaranteed to have at least one bum note. If you witness Public Enemy storm through It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, do you really want the Beasties-lite of "Party For Your Right To Fight" to be the last noise you hear before leaving the venue? Or have Eric B & Rakim's ham-fisted limp scratch botch "Chinese Arithmetic" sullying "Eric B. Is President"? Does anyone not skip past the annoyingly upbeat "Let's Get Crazy" when running through The Great Adventures of Slick Rick? And good luck with any De La Soul project: De La Soul Is Dead is my favorite rap album on most days, but "Who Do You Worship?", "Kicked Out The House," "Johnny's Dead AKA Vincent Mason"—those are all better subtitled "Skip." (Although the idea of De La and cohorts performing the skits in a school hall is a ticklish one.)

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Pop Chat: Our Critics Discuss Demi Lovato's Unbroken And The Uneasy Transition Away From Radio Disney

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Demi Lovato, not pleased with her advance copy of our thoughts on her new record.

In the span of months, Disney star Demi Lovato, only 19, has gone from ugly tabloid stories—many probably false, but still—about cocaine, eating disorders and regrettable parties to releasing her third solo album, Unbroken, after receiving towering (ahem) acclaim for redemptive lead single "Skyscraper." This is 2011, of course, so her tours include fewer covers of goth metal and more of Lil Wayne, and her album features fewer guitars and more appearances by the likes of Dev, Jason Derulo and Iyaz. Popdust's Katherine St. Asaph and Sound of the City's Nick Murray discuss, via the miracle of GChat, Demi's new record, growing up in public, and the difficult transition from Radio Disney to Z100.

Katherine St. Asaph: The whole Demi Lovato album campaign's come seemingly out of nowhere, going from 0 to "Skyscraper" and then to Unbroken, the new album.

Nick Murray: Yeah, out of nowhere Demi Lovato starts getting critical buzz, while Joe Jonas plays a VIP-only show when Santos Party House takes over Saks Fifth Avenue for Fashion Week. How did we get to this point?

Katherine: Everybody likes redemption. Especially considering how (really, really, really) uncomfortable all the tabloid stories about Demi had gotten.

Nick: I imagine that much of the good press this record has gotten relates to how easy it is to find those stories (or the fallout from them) in the songs. But beyond the lyrical content, those tabloid stories have really determined the direction of the album and at this point, her career. Whereas most artists seem to attempt the transition out of teenpop by showing how edgy they've become (e.g. Miley Cyrus becoming a bird who can't be tamed in the video for "Can't Be Tamed," or Joe Jonas using drunk driving as a metaphor for a night in the club—or is it the other way around?—in "Fast Life"), for Lovato, that wasn't really an option.


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