In 2013, Our Obsession With the Musical Past Made More Sense Than Ever

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Read our full Year in Review feature.

Halfway through the year, while editing this paper's music section, I began to notice that we were using an awful lot of apostrophes. They usually appeared in a reference to some decade -- "'70s," "'80s," or "'90s" -- and those decades were being used not as actual dates, but adjectives. Time periods were serving as shorthand for particular qualities of new music -- qualities we apparently found reason to invoke again and again, usually approvingly.


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Why Do Great Bands Get Shittier as They Get Older? It's Pretty Simple

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Weezer in 1996: Young and -- crucially -- dumb.
A piece on Noisey today asks why so many bands that were great when young and hungry became so mind-bogglingly mediocre as they grew famous, rich, and old. Here's why:

Because young people tend to be the only ones stupid, brave, and poor enough to make good pop music.

Seriously. Pop -- including rock, hip-hop, and "pop" as we know it -- relies largely on the naiveté, lack of forethought, arrogance, narcissism, and inherent recklessness of youth. Not all of it, but most. And as people get older, they tend to lose their nerve and/or will to potentially embarrass themselves publicly by saying true, interesting things. (The crazy-geniuses don't, of course, but most of our pop/rock/hip-hop stars aren't crazy geniuses.)

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R.I.P. Mac Daddy: Kris Kross' Totally Krossed Out Was My Very First Hip-Hop Tape

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Fond memories.
Chris "Mac Daddy" Kelly, one half-of the '90s hip-hop duo Kris Kross, died of a possible drug overdose in Atlanta yesterday. Kris Kross, you may remember, was the duo responsible for 1992 crossover rap hit "Jump" (not to be confused with House of Pain's "Jump Around"), and for briefly popularizing the practice of wearing one's clothes backwards. It is also the group responsible for getting me to purchase my first rap tape. Or, rather, for getting my parents to purchase it for me, at a time when a working knowledge of "Jump" was basically a prerequisite for social inclusion on the elementary school playground.


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The 2013 Grammy Awards: Few Surprises, Lots of Drudgery, a Little Fun.

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The Grammy Awards are dull and insipid every year, but at least for the last two years the Recording Academy managed a few surprises: In 2011, Arcade Fire won Album of the Year, providing a climactic reality-check for thousands of indie partisans; in 2012, the awards attempted to both grapple with the EDM boom and mend a fraught relationship with hip-hop ... before ultimately handing the whole thing over to a stage full of men with guitars. But, having tried to gain (or feign) relevance and failed, at least those Grammy Awards failed rather spectacularly.

By contrast, the 55th Grammy Awards last night proved both incompetent and exceedingly dull -- light on surprises, innovations, and blatant hypocrisy. It was a night of playing it safe, and it was about as fun as, well, fun., the excellent-but-not-terribly-exciting pop-rock outfit that walked away with the awards for Best New Artist and Song of the Year.

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The 20 Best San Francisco Concerts of 2012, According to Us

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Christopher Victorio
Bassnectar fans at Bill Graham Civic in October.
Whether you preferred the dancefloor at Mighty, the plush environs of Bimbo's 365 Club, or the dewy late-night fields of Outside Lands, there were plenty of great concerts in San Francisco and the Bay Area in 2012. We reviewed many of them, from "secret" shows at semi-legal clubs to sprawling, three-hour sets by all-time greats like Stevie Wonder. But even we couldn't catch everything. So first, check out our list of the 20 best local concerts in 2012. Then, in the comments, tell us what we missed. Here's to another great year of show-going in 2013.


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Murderous Music: On David Bazan's Brutally Suggestive "Second Best"

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David Bazan at the Independent last night.
The tradition of the murder ballad goes back a long way in music -- Nick Cave did a chilling album of them if you need a primer -- for the same reason we read novels about murder all the time: Violent death is about the most dramatic thing that can happen to a person. Having to depict a murder through words and music alone presents a particularly interesting challenge to songwriters. Do you reference it through the lyrics alone? Sample some gunshots? Throw in a scream? Or do you just find a way to use music to imply a violent act taking place?

That last method was used by singer-songwriter David Bazan on "Second Best," the climax of his Pedro the Lion concept album Control, which he performed in full for a sold-out Independent last night. In the barest outline of plot, Control tells the story of a businessman who has an affair and gets murdered by his wife. The end of "Second Best" is the climax of the story, where -- at least in our interpretation -- the wife actually stabs her husband. But there's no mention of any killing in "Second Best," only in the lyrics to the songs that come before and after. Instead, the song makes its murderous action clear musically.


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Top 5 Reasons Why Kreayshawn's Somethin 'Bout Kreay Is Not the Worst Album of 2012

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The Kreay
It would be oh so fun to claim -- as Dan Weiss just did in a post for this very blog -- that Kreayshawn's long-awaited full-length debut is on track to be the worst record of 2012. And it wouldn't be hard: Somethin 'Bout Kreay, which came out this week, is basically an album of nonsensical brags muttered halfheartedly ad nauseam over amplified flatulence.

But you know what? Some of the Oakland tart's dimwitted overshares are actually kind of cool -- and the loud fart sounds are, too. While we highly doubt Somethin 'Bout Kreay will be a critics'-list topper come January, it's certainly not the wholesale massacre that some people have made it out to be. The album even makes a case for Kreayshawn as a charmingly, hilariously incompetent brand of pop star. So before you believe the haters and take it for granted that Kreayshawn's debut is a disaster, here are the top five reasons why it totally isn't.


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Old Versus New at Outside Lands 2012, With Old the Heavy Favorite

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Christopher Victorio
It was around 8:30 p.m. on Sunday night at Outside Lands, when Stevie Wonder and his band went into "Living For the City," that the festival's reverence for the past became most painful.

Over on the Twin Peaks stage, Skrillex, the black-clad millionare monster at the top of EDM food chain, was just about to do his Bladerunner-bass thing. Flocks of younger fans, having already gotten their fill of Stevie, were streaming back across the Polo Fields toward him and the other side of the festival.

Wonder had used the hour he'd been onstage not just to play his own songs, but to invoke the whole 20th century of Black American music: He'd tipped his hat to Michael Jackson with a gorgeous cover of "The Way You Make Me Feel." He'd covered the great bluesman Jimmy Reed. Later he would revisit the Temptations' "My Girl." And of course he played his own songs -- which, like "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)," and "Higher Ground," are more like basic elements of the American atmosphere than mere hits, they appear so regularly in everyday life.


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In Praise of Artists Touring With Nothing New to Promote

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Christopher Victorio
The stage during Neil Young and Crazy Horse's Outside Lands set. Five of the 13 songs Young played were brand new, from his upcoming album with Crazy Horse.
The idea introduced by the Don't Look Back concert series, an offshoot of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival, has found its way into the broader live music circuit over the last few years: a band, currently operational or not, comes together to play one of its most influential albums all the way through. Public Enemy's done it; so has Slayer; so has Ennio Morricone. They do it at the Pitchfork Music Festival. They do it at Rock The Bells.

Nobody's doing it at San Francisco's Outside Lands festival this year, but the concept has felt resonant all the same: not the concept of performing an entire album, per se, but that of performing songs that have, for all intents and purposes, no novelty value. Most acts at Outside Lands have released an album within the last year or so, and playing a festival set without bumping at least the lead single of the freshest product is, economically speaking, dumb. Still, how nice is it, in principle and in practice, for a band to tour just for the sake of playing its songs?


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Squarepusher's Torturous Bass and Blinding Light: Resistance Is Futile

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Squarepusher at the Regency Ballroom. Cover your eyes.
Not one word passed from Squarepusher's Tom Jenkinson to the assembled audience at the Regency Ballroom last night. Plenty, however, was said.

Jenkinson began this forceful lecture on the extent of his own power before even stepping onstage. Into the silent, lightless theater, a vast panel of LCD screens onstage abruptly flashed the Squarepusher arrow logo in piercing white light, forcing the crowd to squint or look away. Then, with the stage still empty, the P.A. began issuing slow throbs of super-low bass, at a volume level somewhere between oppressive and likely fatal. Fight-or-flight impulses were triggered. Vital organs shuddered. Breathing patterns were disrupted. Instead of music, this was mild torture -- its mass crushing, its steady repetition terrifying, even with the knowledge that it was part of the show.

Soon we began to hear the sound of dirty metal grinding in slow, reverberant agony on top of the low-end. The bass grew louder, hitting the resonant frequencies of the various materials making up the former movie theater. The metallic highs screamed on in electronic pain. There was still no one on stage.


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