Powerhouse Sound & Reviews of Van Hunt and Vampire Weekend

The members of Powerhouse Sound, Ken Vandermark, Nate McBride, Jeff Parker and John Herndon, blend jazz, rock, reggae, punk and funk for a sound that defies boundaries. Tune in to hear their discussion with Jim and Greg, plus a special live performance.

Powerhouse Sound
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Music News

Nielsen Soundscan recently announced a 15% drop in total album sales, and a 19% drop in physical album sales in 2007. It’s fair to assume that CDs are on their way out, but Wall Street Journal Online columnist Jason Fry wonders if the album itself will follow suit. He talks to Jim and Greg about changing listening patterns in the digital age as well as alternatives. Consumers have become disillusioned by CDs, and may start to only want singles. Jim notes that this would be a return to the dawn of rock, when singles were king. He suggests that the album might stick around though—it will just be composed by playlist-makers rather than record companies. Jason adds that musicians might be well-served to follow the advice of Mark Cuban. The multi-media mogul recommends artists release series of songs rather whole albums.

Powerhouse Sound

This week Jim and Greg welcomed Powerhouse Sound, a veritable who’s who of avant garde jazz and rock musicians. Ken Vandermark, world-renowned reeds player and MacArthur Genius grant winner, assembled this bi-coastal motley crew to experiment with fusing jazz, rock, funk, blues and reggae. With him on the U.S. side of this project is bass player Nate McBride, as well as drummer John Herndon and guitarist Jeff Parker of the group Tortoise. The group has a new album out comprised of recordings done both here and in Norway entitled Oslo/Chicago Breaks.

Ken explains to Jim and Greg that the idea for Powerhouse Sound was inspired by Miles Davis’ experiments with blending jazz and popular music. In the 1970s, Davis began working with a diverse group of musicians to create an improvisational sound that is as much funk as it is jazz. Greg notes that this was a heavily controversial period for Davis; jazz purists saw it as a commercial sell out. But, like Davis, the members of Powerhouse Sound are not interested in boundaries and musical dogma. The sound is the key. You can hear this freedom in their performance of Shocklee/Broken Numbers. Check out the piece in its entirety here.

Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend

Next up is the self-titled debut from quartet Vampire Weekend. The indie rockers have been getting a lot of buzz for months now after releasing an EP. Now, with the release of their new album, they’re being referred to as the next big indie stars. But, both Jim and Greg disagree with the hype—Greg feels it’s unfair, and Jim feels it’s completely unwarranted. Jim hates this album and finds it to be pretentious both musically and lyrically. He explains that the Paul Simon-esque African rhythms feel contrived, and the mentions of Louis Vuitton, Benetton and Oxford Commas are more prep than they are punk, earning Vampire Weekend a Trash It. Greg disagrees and says the music has clean guitars, rhythms and a sense of humor. It’s a perfectly pleasant pop record—a Burn It that’s a victim of hype.

Jim

Jim gets to add a track to the Desert Island Jukebox this week, and he decided to pick a song from an art school band that got it right. The Talking Heads were the originators of this style, and their song Life During Wartime, is one of the first times they incorporated African rhythms and instruments into their New Wave sound. There are layers of percussion and a funky bass line, but the lyrics also deserve to be highlighted. Many listeners probably know the song as a catchy pop track, but it’s also got a heavy message about race riots and a society in trouble.

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