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I never thought of “Starfish and Coffee”—that sweet, mysterious song—as a children’s song until I saw Prince perform it on Sesame Street with the Muppets. It makes perfect sense as one: it’s got a simple melody and silly lyrics, and it’s set in a schoolhouse. I guess its psychedelia was the main reason I never saw it that way. I associated it with something as adult as acid rather than as innocent as a nursery rhyme. But I guess all kids’ songs are kind of psychedelic, and all psychedelic songs are kind of childish. Often explicitly so. The Beatles count three songs…

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It’s common advice among Beatles fans to consider Let It Be the penultimate Beatles album, and Abbey Road the last. The logic is that Let It Be was largely recorded before Abbey Road and finished later by Phil Spector to many fans’ displeasure; Let It Be is a messy document of a band struggling to get itself together, while Abbey Road is the well-deserved finale, with the boys putting aside their differences to make one more like they used to. I’ve always resisted this interpretation. Let It Be is a better ending, and a more honest one. It’s well-known the Beatles…

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Finding both sites I wrote for had already reviewed Actress’s great new record AZD, I impulsively decided to submit it for consideration to the Emerald, the paper I wrote for in college. They decided not to run it, so I’ve uploaded it here. (It’s short because the Emerald word count for reviews is between 450 and 550, as opposed to the 500+ and 600+ of Spectrum Culture and Pretty Much Amazing respectively.) ____ The key thing to know about Actress’s fifth album AZD is that it’s an Actress album in the way Splaszh and R.I.P. were and not in the way Ghettoville was. Though it has its defenders, Ghettoville was largely…

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The vet returns home from Vietnam, broke, bedraggled, traumatized, disillusioned. He’s left a lot of friends behind. They greet him warmly; “what’s happening, brother?” they shout, inviting him to shit, trying to strike up a conversation about football. He’ll have none of it. How could they know what he’s been through? Their chatter dissipates into howls and barks. The vet looks around at what he’s supposedly been fighting for: institutionalized racism, violence, misery, poverty, environmental devastation. Who could think about football? So begins Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, one of the bleakest and most affecting of the ‘70s protest-soul classics, a…

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Nothing is more inspiring than watching people have fun doing something they’re good at. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of Pokémon battle videos. These videos are always narrated. When the players speak, two things shine through: their personality and their skill. As expected, some players are blue and coarse, straining to be edgier than the game; others are awkward and shy. My personal favorites are star players like Haydunn and Shofu, who talk fast, crack little jokes, and are likable enough I’d want to talk Mewtwo movesets with them over a beer. What  astounds me when I watch these videos…

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Watching James Brown perform is disturbing. To see him stagger back for the second or third round of please-please-pleases is to watch a man in pain; he’s barely able to stand, his face contorted in a grimace, glistening with beads of sweat. There’s something superhuman about him – how can a human do that for so long? Or make such screams? Some performers make their act look easy. Brown makes it look Sisyphean. There’s a scene in Batman v. Superman where Bruce Wayne does pull-ups with cannonballs strapped to his legs. It’s like that. Still, listening back to Live At…

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Picking an album of the year is an almost religious ritual for me, and sad to say I’ve fucked it up a couple times. I declared Fetty Wap my favorite album of last year – an album which I still love but which fell pretty far down the frequently-played list once Jazmine Sullivan’s Reality Show sank its claws in me. At the time I wrote that list I was freshly in love with Fetty Wap, and that’s the problem. What tops a critic’s list will usually end up being what they’re obsessed with at the moment. If you’d asked me…

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Nathan Stevens has contributed to PopMatters and Spectrum Culture. He and I are both avowed fans of the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. He celebrated Christmas growing up; I didn’t. But it turns out A Charlie Brown Christmas speaks to us in similar ways, and that just speaks to the magic of this great album. Here are our respective reviews, which I’ve included as the second installment in my ongoing Faves series.  Nathan Stevens: Music is attached to a majority of my childhood memories. Singing in church choirs on Christmas eve, listening to James Taylor as my Dad baked cookies, my Mom and…

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I recently reviewed the reissue of Bruce Haack’s The Electric Lucifer for Spectrum Culture. I understand why the Canadian label Telephone Explosion decided to reissue it; it’s one of the first psych-rock albums to exploit the then-largely-untapped power of the synthesizer, and early synth music is all the rage these days. But Lucifer is also something far more dated and embarrassing: a peace-and-love album from the ‘60s, where “powerlove” is the only force powerful enough to defeat evil. Now that liberal pop culture has become more aware than ever how complex the underlying issues fueling inequality truly are, I don’t think anyone reading…

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I’ve decided to start regularly posting reviews of albums I consider among my favorites, seeing as most of the sites I write and have written for emphasize timeliness. I’ve written a few retrospective reviews for Spectrum Culture on albums like Prince’s Black Album and Biosphere’s Substrata, but the opportunity to do so doesn’t come around much. These reviews come out of bursts of love and inspiration. This is my first one, of Parliament’s Motor-Booty Affair. ______ “This fish tale begins where most fish tails end.” George Clinton is a funny motherfucker. It’s hard to imagine anyone in pop better at absurd one-liners (“lemme slide a…

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