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The Vocoder & Opinions on Blitzen Trapper and Sleigh Bells

Jim and Greg are joined by Dave Tompkins, author of How to Wreck a Nice Beach, a history of the vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop. Tompkins reveals the instrument's secret military past and funk roots.

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Jim and Greg kick off the show by discussing the results of the biggest pop music contest in the world. No, not American IdolEurovision! That television broadcast drew more than 120 million viewers worldwide (compare with Idol's 24 million) and remains the world's most-watched non-sporting event. Germany is the big winner this year with its contestant 19-year-old Lena Meyer-Landrut.


The History of the Vocoder

Next Jim and Greg are joined by Dave Tompkins, author of How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop. The vocoder is an electronic instrument that produces a distorted, robotic sound. You probably recognize it making an appearance in songs like "Trans Europe Express," or even "I'm Not Moving," but you probably don't know about its secret military history. It was developed as a tool to encode speech during wartime and was used by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt–a far cry from Afrika Bambaattaa. As Tompkins explains, there's something the human ear finds undeniably fascinating and pleasurable about machine-like voices. And, ultimately, the technology all stems from a desire to make cheaper phone calls.

reviewDestroyer of the Void (Bonus Track Version)Furr available on iTunes

Blitzen Trapper Furr

Blitzen Trapper kicks off the reviews this week. Their 5th and latest album is called Destroyer of the Void. Both Jim and Greg were big fans of the 2009 Sub Pop debut Furr. Greg continues to respect singer Eric Earley's songwriting and fondness for traditional American folk sounds. But, he feels like the band is on repeat with this album. It's too predictable and only gets a Try It rating from Greg. Jim can't believe his ears. The moments of departure and growth that Greg loves are the worst parts of the record according to him. Blitzen Trapper is aping Queen, and it doesn‘t work for Jim. It’s a“disgrace”and a Trash It.

reviewTreatsTreats available on iTunes

Sleigh Bells Treats

Sleigh Bells has released its debut record, Treats. The duo of guitarist and beat maker Derek Miller and vocalist Alexis Krauss made noise at both CMJ and SXSW. But to Jim, a self-professed connoisseur of noise, this is too much. Every note is full of massive fuzz and distortion. Everything's at“11,”and it gets a Trash It from Jim. Greg wants us all to note the moment where Jim complained his rock and roll was too loud. It's ear-bleed loud, yes, but it's also a tremendous pop pick-me-up. Greg gives Sleigh Bells a Buy It.



“The Ballad of Easy Rider”The Byrds

It's Jim's turn to add a song he can't live without to the Desert Island Jukebox this week. He honors iconic actor Dennis Hopper, who died last week at age 74. Hopper not only directed classic movies like Easy Rider, he chose their soundtracks. So for his track, Jim chooses "The Ballad of Easy Rider." The version in the film features a solo performance by Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, but Jim prefers the version by the whole band.

Featured Songs

  1. Deep Purple, Hush, Shades of Deep Purple, Spitfire Records, 1968
  2. Lena Meyer Landrut, Satellite, My Cassette Player, Unknown Label, 2010
  3. Afrika Bambaata, Bambaata's Theme, Beware (The Funk Is Everywhere), DBK Works, 1986
  4. Wendy Carlos, March from a Clockwork Orange, A Clockwork Orange, film score, ESD, 1972
  5. Parliament, Mothership Connection, Mothership Connection, Mercury, 1976
  6. Peter Frampton, Show Me The Way, Frampton Comes Alive!, A&M, 1976
  7. Tonto's Exploding Headband, Cybernaught, Zero Time, Viceroy, 1971
  8. The Alan Parsons Project, Raven, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Mercury, 1975
  9. Afrika Bambaata, Planet Rock, Planet Rock: The Album, DMK Works, 1986
  10. Rammellzee, Cheesy Lipstick, The Bi-Conicals of the Rammellzee, Escape, 2004
  11. T-Pain, I'm Sprung, Rappa Ternt Sanga, J-Records, 2005
  12. Phil Collins, I'm Not Moving, Face Value, WEA, 1981
  13. Tom Tom Club, Spooks, Tom Tom Club, Island, 1981
  14. Kraftwerk, Trans Europe Express, Trans Europa Express, EMI, 1977
  15. Styx, Mr. Roboto, Kilroy Was Here, A&M, 1983
  16. Blitzen Trapper, The Man Who Would Speak True, Destroyer of the Void, Sub Pop, 2010
  17. Blitzen Trapper, Destroyer of the Void, Destroyer of the Void, Sub Pop, 2010
  18. Blitzen Trapper, Below The Hurricane, Destroyer of the Void, Sub Pop, 2010
  19. Sleigh Bells, Infinity Guitars, Treats, Mom & Pop Music, 2010
  20. Sleigh Bells, Rill Rill, Treats, Mom & Pop Music, 2010
  21. Sleigh Bells, Kids, Treats, Mom & Pop Music, 2010
  22. The Byrds, Ballad of Easy Rider, Ballad of Easy Rider, Columbia, 1969
  23. Robyn, None of Dem, Body Talk Pt 1, Interscope, 2010
  24. Chromeo, Call Me Up, Fancy Footwork, Vice Records, 2007
  25. Janelle Monae, Oh Maker, The ArchAndroid, Bad Boy Entertainment, 2010
  26. The Black Eyed Peas, Boom Boom Pow, The E.N.D., Interscope, 2009

Footnotes Germany Wins Eurovision Dave Tompkins: How to Wreck a Nice Beach Blitzen Trapper Sleigh Bells