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20 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 am

Morning Buzz: Beatbox Flute

I guess this has been around for a couple years, but this is the first time I’ve seen it.

Molly is a fairly serious flutist.  She plays in a local orchestra and even played at a Kennedy Center event once.  There’s nothing she hates more than “jazz flute.”

I have a feeling I’m gonna be sleeping on the couch tonight for this. . . .

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18 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:45 pm

Brush with Hotness

Total Request Live

This is off topic, but given the demise of MTV’s Total Request Live, I wanted to share my own brush with celebrity.

Five or six years ago, I attended a retreat for my then-employer on Long Island.  At the end, I needed to travel into NYC for some meetings.  The bus service my company had hired to transport folks was short one vehicle, so they put the five of us heading to Manhattan in a limo.  One by one, it dropped us off.

I was staying at the Paramount, which is located around the corner from MTV’s Times Square studios, and unbeknownst to me, where MTV apparently kept a suite for visiting stars.

So when “my” limo pulls up outside the hotel, about 300 teenage girls started screaming.

Then I got out.

It was like somebody had thrown a switch.  The girls stopped in mid-scream.

I have never seen greater disappointment in my life.

Funny thing is, if I close my eyes, I kinda sorta almost not really look like a fat, middle-aged, gray-haired version of Justin Timberlake.

Bringing diplomacy back, girl.  Those other countries don’t know how to act.

Photo:  Wikipedia

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16 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 am

Morning Buzz: Music for an Economic Meltdown

The Flying Lizards, 1979.  Your love gives me such a thrill, but your love won’t pay my bills.

According to a VH1 special, the video was made for £7.  Today, that would buy you about 62 shares of Lehman Brothers stock, which closed with a value of 21 cents per share yesterday.

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15 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:45 pm

The Future of Music in China

Former Ministry/Public Image Ltd./Killing Joke drummer Martin Atkins went to China in 2006 to meet and record the next generation of Chinese musicians.  The result is Sixteen Days in China.  Here’s the trailer:

My favorite line:  “He’s such a good scratcher, he should have leprosy.”  Heh.

Atkins believes that what’s happening in China now is not unlike the London punk scene circa 1977 and New York’s new wave circa 1980:

The backdrop is different, but the immersion, the focus on just the music and attitude feels like a definite ripple from those times. It doesn’t feel strategized in a careerist way. The guys in D-22, who now have a label called Maybe Mars, and their venue reminded me of the vibe of CBGBs. . . .I think a natural process is underway. One of the reasons I mentioned New York in 1980 and London in 1977 is that both of those places and times seemed to be on another planet to me. . . . I thought I was going to get shot in Times Square while eating pizza. Whether that was true or not, it certainly adrenalized our activities and adrenalin opens up the pathways.

You can find more on the documentary, including the full interview with Atkins, here.  I can’t wait to watch the whole thing.

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 am

Morning Buzz: Because You Need A Break. . .

. . .from politics, and so do I.

If you only know Stevie Wonder from his performance at the Democratic National Convention, or from Jack Black’s snark attack on him in “High Fidelity,”  check this out:  Stevie on Sesame Street, circa 1973.

The man was an absolute rock god.  And his band is on fire.

Hat tip:  Kottke

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8 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:45 pm

Continued Server Problems

I want to apologize for yet another interruption today.  Readership has grown faster than I expected, and the web hosting company I chose to host the site has not been up to the task.  We’re working on a solution, but for now I’m going to have to grin and bear it.  Thanks in advance for your patience and understanding.

I also want to thank everyone who has joined the conversation here and/or has subscribed.  I’m both surprised and delighted at the response so far, and I’ll do my best to continue to make Undip worth your while.

Last but not least, don’t forget to vote in our newest poll — what should be Sarah Palin’s new theme song?

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4 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Hey, Kids! Let’s Play Hide the WMD!

Back when I was in graduate school, Chernobyl happened.  Being graduate students, we responded to this tragedy in the only way we knew how:  we threw a party.  We covered the walls with aluminum foil, replaced all the light bulbs with flashing red lights, and renamed the keg the cooling tower.  We had so many people there, that the floor almost collapsed and the heat generated by the foiled-up walls caused the air conditioning unit for the entire building to fail.

That was the last time I remember connecting nuclear power to dancing.  Until now.  If you’ve been watching the conventions, you’ve seen this commercial:

You may not have noticed it, given the awesome animation and Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown” playing in the background, but if you pause at 0:09, you’ll notice a couple of words down in the lower right hand corner:


So that’s where Saddam put it!  Canada!

And what is up with this ad?  Funkytown?  The happy shiny strip mining?  And the apparent argument that we should have nukes so that people can play Dance Dance Revolution in Shanghai?

So the ad is at least two years old.  The first version was in French.

{{PAGENAME}}You wouldn’t know it from the commercial, but after a check of The Googles, I found out that Areva is “a French public multinational industrial conglomerate that is mainly known for nuclear power.”


Did I mention that the company also manages those yellow cake mines in Niger?  More happy shiny strip mining!

That means Areva played a role, albeit indirectly, in the whole Valerie Plame scandal.  And the Iraq war.  And, of course, the lies of the Bush Administration to justify both the war and the Plame leak.

Now that’s some serious funk.

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3 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:15 pm

They’re Not Chanting “Barack,” They’re Chanting “Reggie!”

If you want one, go here.  Designed and promoted by the band The National, all proceeds go to the Obama campaign.

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17 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 pm

Weekend Pick: The Bird and the Bee

Something a little different for the weekend pick.  Not the band, but the video.  “Again and Again” is off The Bird and the Bee’s 2007 eponymous album.  It’s a great song — I had it in my head for weeks until I discovered The Submarines and “Swimming Pool” took its place.

You can find the band’s official video here.  It’s pretty good.  But I like this unofficial video even better.  It was put together by a self-described “aspiring director.”  It manages to show off all the things you can do on a Mac and at the same time capture the spirit of the song.  Word is that the band liked it, and sent him some free tickets to a show.  Good for them.

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11 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 am

Isaac Hayes, R.I.P.

If the only things you know about Isaac Hayes are his role as Chef on South Park and the “Theme from Shaft,” then you don’t know Isaac Hayes.  One of the truly great innovators in music history, his death is a tremendous loss.

Hayes not only put out some of the best soul albums ever, he also influenced genres as diverse as disco, funk, hip hop, neo-soul, and even trip hop (Steve Cropper’s guitar solo on “Walk on By” is one of the most sampled cuts ever).  Oh, he also wrote, played on, and produced many of the best Stax-Volt hits of the 1960s.

Do yourself a favor:  go over to iTunes (or your prefered music provider) and buy “Hot Buttered Soul” today.  Trust me — it’s priceless. The 12-minute version of Burt Bacharach’s “Walk on By” is one of the greatest songs in rock history (and this is coming from an ex-punk rocker who loathes jam bands with every fiber of his being).

To give you a taste, here’s the single version of “Walk” via YouTube:

Rest easy, Isaac.  I hope you’re already jamming with Otis, Jimi, and the rest of the crew.

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9 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:55 pm

Weekend Pick: The Watson Twins

If you’re a fan of Rilo Kiley, you probably know that lead singer Jenny Lewis put out a solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat, back in 2006.  I think it’s better than anything she’s done with RK: to this day I have it on heavy rotation on my iPod.

When it came out, her fans were surprised to see that Lewis had shared billing with a previously unknown duo, The Watson Twins.  It turned out that Lewis had discovered them singing back-up for some local band and brought them into the studio.  She liked the result so much that she gave them co-billing and even included them in the cover photo.

Chandra and Leigh Watson (yes they’re actually twins) are now building a nice career for themselves.  In June, their first full-length albm, “Fire Songs” came out.  I’d feature something from it, but the one video isn’t available for embedding yet.

I’m also a fan of their first EP, “Southern Manners,” particularly  “Shoot Out the Lights” (not the Richard Thompson song) and the title song.  There is a (pretty raw) clip of them performing the latter on YouTube, so I’ll go with that.

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4 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:40 pm

Belated Weekend Pick: The Submarines

The other thing Molly and I did this weekend, between packing, driving, and emergency room visits, is go see Aimee Mann, who played the 9:30 club on Saturday night.  She was great, as usual.  The opening act was a duo known as the Submarines.

My usual reaction to opening bands is pretty much “Get off the stage so I can hear the artist I came to see.”  But these guys were amazing — I loved their energy, their talent, and of course, their music.  When we got home that night, I immediately downloaded both their albums, which stand up to the live show.

I guess I’m pretty late to this party — they’re featured in the new iPhone 3G ad and one of their tunes was on “Weeds” — but if you haven’t heard them, they’re worth your time.  Here’s a taste — “Peace and Hate,” off their first album, “Declare a New State!”  The video is, as seems to be the case with all indy band efforts lately, lame.  But the music is great — simultaneously spacey, edgy, and sweet.

And while I’m on the subject, what happened to the days when a band like They Might Be Giants could get on MTV with low-budget cool vids like “Put Your Hand in the Puppet Head?  Then again, what happened to the days when MTV played music?  But I digress.

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26 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:45 pm

Weekend Pick: Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy

When my daughter was born, my friend Kimi gave her the coolest little kids-size Michael Franti and Spearhead “Power to the Peaceful” t-shirt.  Greta still wears it — and looks adorable in it.  But I have to admit that while I like Spearhead, I find it’s more of an intellectual than emotional appreciation.

I prefer Franti’s previous band — the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.  Here’s “Television,” one of their classics.

This one is for Joe Scarborough.  Warning:  the video contains some graphic violence.

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21 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:00 am

Sunday Night Pick: Eric B & Rakim

I’m late with my pick of the week, in large part because there has been so much news this weekend.

Call me old skool, but I still love Eric B & Rakim.  “Paid in Full” was way way ahead of its time, and remains one of my all time favorite cuts.  I was tempted to go with that, but given that it is election season, I had to go with “Eric B is President.”   Here’s a live version, along with “I Know I Got Soul,” from what looks like the Apollo…

“Thought I was a donut, you tried to glaze me.”  Gotta love it.

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11 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:54 pm

Friday Night Pick: Aimee Mann

In the spirit of many other sites’ late night music blogging, I thought I would start a similar tradition here.  Each Friday night, I wlll pick one song and talk a little bit about why it’s a favorite.  Yes, I know this doesn’t have much to do with diplomacy, foreign policy, or politics.  But we also cover pop culture here at Undiplomatic, so stop whining already.

Let’s start with Aimee Mann.

A few years back, Nick Hornby wrote an essay for Granta’s music issue; it also was included in Songbook, his terrific collection on the joys of music.  I can’t remember the title — my copy of Songbook happens to be in my daughter’s room at the moment, and I’m not about to go in there and wake her up just for your sake.

In any case, Hornby uses Nellie Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird” to illustrate how a new song can crawl inside your brain and start gnawing at you until you have what (I think) he called a “narcotic need” to hear it again and again.  (Right now for me that song is the Bird and the Bee’s aptly named Again and Again.)

Most of the time, as Hornby notes, a song eventually loses its novelty — somehow you decipher its hidden charms — and then you move on to the next drug.

But what Hornby doesn’t explain — or at least in my foggy memory I think the fails to explain — is why certain songs never lose their novelty.  Each of us probably can name dozens of such tunes — for me, they include the Talking Heads’ version of “Take Me to the River,” the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” and the English Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom” (and no, I’m not going to take the time to find links to all of them).  Every time I hear those and many others, the narcotic buzz comes back: they still sound new, fresh, and interesting.

But no artist comes close to matching Aimee Mann when it comes to songs retaining their novelty.  I have 8980 songs on my iPod; I’ve given 1496, or 16.7 percent, the highest possible rating of five stars.  (Note to Apple:  ten stars, already, for crying out loud.)  I have 119 songs by Aimee Mann; I’ve given 50, or 42 percent, five stars. But that’s only half of the story: I just took a look at the list of the 120 songs I’ve played most often since I bought my first iPod in 2003, and twenty-nine of them are by her.  (Green Day and They Might Be Giants are next, with ten each.)  Sure, this is at least in part a reflection of my recent musical interests, but it’s also a pretty strong indicator of how much I like her work.

If you asked me why I’m such a big fan, I’m not sure I could tell you.  Yes, her lyrics are sharp and insightful, and her melodies are almost always starkly beautiful.  I love the fact that her saddest songs can put me in a good mood, and I like the way she combines folk-tinged rock with small bursts of electronica.  But you could just as easily name another three dozen artists who do the same, and none of them are nearly as interesting to me.  In the end, as Hornby noted, it really does come down to chemistry.

Molly and I had the chance to go see Aimee in concert this spring — she played a gig at the Birchmere in NoVa that was only announced on the club’s and her sites.  It was a phenomenonal show, one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.  She did songs off her then-unreleased new album, and took requests from the audience.  Everyone should have the chance to see their favorite artist do an all-requests show in a small, intimate setting.

Okay, enough already.  The whole purpose of this post was to plug her new single, Freeway.  It already has crawled inside my head and is contentedly gnawing on my neurons as I speak.  I’m sure that it and other songs from her new album, @#%&*! Smilers, will shortly assault my favorites list.  So go to iTunes or her website and buy them already.

In the meantime, here’s the video.  It’s not that good, but the song just rocks out.

Aimee Mann “Freeway”

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1 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:50 pm

Dancing King

His name is Matt.  Take the time to watch his singularly amazing video.  Summary:  one dude uses his talent for dorky dance moves to bring the world together.  My absolute favorites are at 2:11 (Poira, Papua New Guinea) and 2:33 (Guragon, India).  I dare you not to be moved….

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

h/t:  Crooked Timber

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