Mission of Burma & Reviews of Outkast and Christina Aguilera

Post-punk pioneers Mission of Burma join Jim and Greg live in the studio. The band will talk about their decision to reunite after 20 years and play some new tracks and old favorites. Then, the critics will review the highly anticipated releases from hip hop duo Outkast and pop queen Christina Aguilera.

Mission of Burma
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Idlewild Outkast

Idlewild

In the news this week is the release of one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year: Outkast’s Idlewild. This is the sixth album from André Benjamin ( André 3000) and Antwan Patton ( Big Boi), a hip-hop duo who have become major figures in pop music, as well as pop culture. 2003’s double concept album Speakerboxx/The Love Below received huge amounts of critical acclaim, as well a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, and singles like Bombs Over Baghdad, Rosa Parks, and Hey Ya, will go down as some of music’s best. So Jim and Greg anxiously awaited this release, which is paired with a film of the same name. Unfortunately, they both had to announce that this is one of the biggest disappointments of the year—and André may be to blame. The melding of his experimental style with Big Boi’s more classic hip-hop sound is what made Outkast great, but he seems to have really left the building on this one. Jim and Greg wish the record was less about unnecessary guest stars, faux 1930s inspiration, and eccentricity for eccentricity’s sake, and more about good songs. This double album gets a heartbreaking double Trash It. (Outkast fans would be better off checking out Big Boi’s recent mixtape, Got Purp? Vol 2.)

Back to Basics Christina Aguilera

Back to Basics

Another big album out this week is from pop princess Christina Aguilera. Or should we say pop queen? The former Mouseketeer is all grown up, and she shows it on Back to Basics (though not grown up in that Dirrty way. Rather, the classier Mrs. Bratman attempted to make more classic pop standards like the ones she grew up listening to. The first disc, produced by DJ Premier, is more club-oriented pop music. But the second features live instrumentation and a big band sound, and was produced by Linda Perry, whom Jim refers to as the modern Diane Warren. The problem, according to Jim and Greg, is not that she cannot sing—in fact, she sings a little too well. They wish she had showed a little restraint and didn’t feel the need to show off her impressive pipes so much. Another problem is what Christina chooses to sing about: Both hosts wish she would stop feeling so sorry for herself and her celebrity existence. Nevertheless, Jim and Greg think there are a handful of songs worth checking out. Back to Basics gets two Burn Its.

Mission of Burma

Mission of Burma

This week’s guests are the men of Mission of Burma: Roger Miller, Clint Conley, Peter Prescott, and Bob Weston. The post-punk pioneers were in Chicago to perform at the Pitchfork Music Festival, so they stopped by Sound Opinions for a discussion and performance. Jim and Greg explain that Mission of Burma is a rare example of a band able to break up, reunite and continue making music as good as (if not better than) they did before. Burma’s first incarnation was in the early 1980s—they recorded one album in 1982 before they had to disband due to Roger’s debilitating tinnitus, but their influence is undeniable. The band returned twenty years later to tour and record OnOffOn, and have recently released The Obliterati, which both Jim and Greg say may make their Best of 2006 lists.

Mission of Burma is known for combining pop melodies with quite a lot of noise. These characteristics often get the band thrown in the same pot as bands like Gang of Four and Wire, but listeners shouldn’t confuse these post-punkers. One of Burma’s distinctive features is their use of tape loops. During their first go-around, Martin Swope would record the band’s sound and manipulate it live with a reel-to-reel tape machine. Now Shellac’s Bob Weston has the job, and you can hear the effects on Max Ernst, which they perform live on the show. Another famous looper is Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, though he works digitally.

Another Burma trademark is the songwriting. All three regular members, Roger, Clint and Peter, pen very smart, rather literate lyrics. An example of this is another song they perform live, Donna Sumeria. While it was Roger’s attempt at a love song, it’s also a witty pun on Donna Summer and the ancient Middle Eastern civilization. Greg cites it as an example of Burma’s punk sensibility. Their music doesn’t have rules and can even have disco elements.

Greg

Both of the albums reviewed this week claim to draw inspiration from the music of the ‘30s and ‘40s, though Greg isn’t quite sure what music Outkast and Christina Aguilera are hearing. He decides to step away from their rather cartoony depictions of the era and put some of the real thing into the Desert Island Jukebox this week. Strange Fruit, by Billie Holiday has exactly the authentic sound these contemporary artists should be striving for. The song began as a poem that Jewish schoolteacher Abel Meeropol wrote after witnessing a photograph of a man being lynched in the South. (Meerepol is also known for having adopted the orphaned children of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg). The writer brought the song to Holiday at one of New York’s only integrated night clubs, but Holiday’s label refused to record the song. Still, the singer insisted on performing it and brought it to a specialty label instead. While the song became an anthem for the anti-lynching movement and is thought of as one of the great protest songs of the century, Greg wants listeners to pay attention to the performance. Holiday certainly had the chops to trill as well as any pop diva, yet she restrains herself, opting instead for a more understated tone—which makes the lyrics all the more more chilling. Not only can Holiday sing, but she knows how to sing. For this reason, Greg is going to take Strange Fruit to the Desert Island.

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