Monday, August 6, 2012

The Evil Side of Music.

By now most of you have heard of that terrible ambush on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in which a madman went on a killing spree on Sunday, killing six people before getting shot and killed himself.

The gunman's name is Wade Michael Page, an Army vet who was demoted and later given an administrative discharge. Page was frustrated and decided to take it out on people whom he felt was lower than he was. After all, he had neo-Nazi ties and even played in a number of "hate" rock bands including a band called Blue Eyed Devils (NSFW). You would think that these bands are generally isolated and not very common, but they are still very much active in their communities.

The movie American History X, which was about a neo-Nazi who was trying to clean his act up and get his life back together, briefly covered the popularity of these hate rock bands.

The difference in the music that I cover and the music these bands play is that this music is not about popularity contests or how much money the band makes. It's simply propaganda to fuel this unrelenting hatred for anyone who isn't pure, someone not of their profile.

By textbook definition, it is music. It is indeed making a lot of noise. However, its significance is in the minds of those who continue to play this music, those who continue to hate and nothing more.

It is an absolute shame that music, something that I love so dearly is twisted and contorted into this blind, empty hatred.

I have a personal story to share. When I was a high school senior, I participated in my high school's showtunes and jazz choirs (Are you NOT laughing yet? Though, that's not the point of this article.). One of the highlights of my entire life was the opportunity to fund a trip to Europe, specifically in Austria, Germany, and Italy.

We went to Munich, Germany and had a great time there, but one of the main reasons we were there was to learn about the history there and not very far from the city was one of the first WWII concentration camps built, Dachau.

I didn't have family directly affected by The Holocaust, but the experience at Dachau is one of the most emotionally gutwrenching experiences I've ever had. You listen to all of the stories and you see the pictures and the disturbing videos that were taken and you think to yourself: "Where did humanity go?" and "How could people deny the existence of such a prolonged, agonizing tragedy?" Over 30,000 people were reported killed at that camp and it's very likely that there were more. How could you not be affected by something like that?

Music is meant to spur feelings within you that may not always be positive, but pure hatred is not meant to be one of them and for that very reason, I will not classify the music that Page made as music.

In the same breath, I hope that the actions of this terrorist don't scapegoat hard rock music as a whole as violent. Not all hard rock and heavy metal music is violent, not all rap music is violent, and not all pop music is violent (although if I hear "Call Me Maybe" just one more time...).

We can't tell these neo-Nazi groups to stop playing their music. We can't tell Westboro Baptist Church to stop playing their music. They're going to keep spreading their messages of intolerance. This article is only meant to inform you that people like this exist in the world. Haters gon' hate. So love your neighbor, appreciate your differences, and hopefully, as a people, we will triumph over this.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thoughts on the New Rock 101.9

After three months of the failed experiment of FM News 101.9 by Merlin Media, the owners of the station after purchasing it from Emmis Communications, alternative music made its return to New York City yesterday under the banner of New Rock 101.9, a station that apparently intends to pick up where WRXP left off a few months ago.

This is exciting news for a rock fan like me. However, I am going to be as cautiously optimistic as I have been about these stations in the last few years because I know that if they fall into the same problems that befell K-Rock's WXRK and WRXP that they will not survive for very long.

So far, listening to the station, I'm pretty happy that it seems to be focusing a bit more on new rock and alternative music, but there are songs that were played yesterday that were 5, 10, 15, 20 years old or more and that leaves me with a little bit of concern for the station's future.

Here are a few things that I think 101.9 needs to do in order to survive this go 'round:

1. Play new stuff : Yes, it sounds so simple, but alternative stations have been under the spell of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains for the last 20 years. Don't get me wrong, those artists are wonderful, but in the era of New Rock 101.9, Soundgarden or Alice in Chains (unless it's from their upcoming albums) do not qualify as new music.

I feel that alternative stations and their reliance on grunge from 20 years ago is stunting the growth of the artists that exist now. No one is denying the greatness of those artists, but much of their work now belongs to Q104.3 because they would classify at this point as classic rock. If nothing else, they may need to segment the golds (songs that are over 5 years old in radio rotation) to an hour or two so as to not get in the way of the newer stuff.

2. Play a diverse lineup of artists : So far, it appears that New Rock 101.9 is doing exactly that playing Three Days Grace, Florence and the Machine, Coldplay, and Rise Against amongst others. They need to make sure that they cater to every type of rock fan...the hipster, the hard rocker, and the like...because this is the only new rock station in New York City, and I'm sure there's room for all of that in this city.

3. Play local artists : New York City is the greatest city in the world and a huge part of that is because of the multitude of music scenes that exist right here in New York City. There are so many talented indie, alternative, and hard rock bands that it may be hard to fit all of them on the station, but there has to be a place for them, too. The scene had been faltering for a few years after K-Rock died, but there is still hope for us all.

4. Bring Back Matt Pinfield : Pay him whatever he wants, I don't care. The fact of the matter is that he knows his music. I want music intensive DJ's for a music station. Is that too much to ask? I don't mind some fluff talk, but we alternative fans care about our music. We want to know more about it if there is more to know.

5. Hire me : It doesn't have to be now, but can it be soon please?

That was more than a few things, but I think most of these things are necessary to keep New Rock 101.9 from falling to the same mistakes that our previous rock incarnations made.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Frank Ocean and his 'Odd Future'.

Overnight on July 3rd, Frank Ocean posted a message on his Tumblr that sent immediate shockwaves throughout the urban music industry, not so much because someone openly announced their sexuality, but moreso who.

As far as singer/songwriter/producers go, Frank Ocean is the 'it' guy right now in the business. Ocean has written for everyone from Justin Bieber to Beyoncé Knowles and has also been a hit parade in his own right, both with his massive hit single "Novacane" and as a feature in the Jay-Z/Kanye West hit "No Church in the Wild".

His status is unquestionably high in the world of hip-hop where the culture of "no homo" still reigns. It took a lot of courage for Ocean to admit all of this in the face of that. However, the issue of people of color coming out in and of its self transcends Ocean because of that culture.

It's interesting how many people of color generally react to any other sexuality other than heterosexuality and many times, that reaction will be a negative one even though our first African American president recently lent his support for gays to have equal rights.

You really have to go back in the history of this country and its treatment of people of color to understand the current plight of the LGBT community. On a week where we celebrate this country's birth, our 236 year history has not come without its flaws.

In 1787, legislation was introduced in this country called the Three Fifths Compromise. Slaves were considered three-fifths of a person and were not allowed to vote, marry, own land, or allowed to do much of anything without their master. It wasn't until 1967 that laws against interracial marriage were deemed unconstitutional.

While it's not exactly the same, many of those in the LGBT community feel like second class citizens because they're not allowed to marry who they want to and are not entitled to the same benefits. Up until last year, the military had a policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".

Listen, no one's asking you to become gay or bisexual just because there are laws that are introduced to protect those who are. They simply want to be treated as an equal and be entitled to the same rights that all Americans are entitled to. Whether you like it or not, this is the civil rights battle of our generation.

The reaction on Frank Ocean's post has generally been positive and I believe it's a small step in the right direction to acceptance. Acceptance will never be universal, but here's hoping that one day that we don't look at 'coming out' as a big deal.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

4/16/12: The Studio at Webster Hall: Fair to Midland/Dead Letter Circus

The last time I went to Webster Hall to see a show, it was the main stage where Evanescence headlined the Nintendo Fusion Tour with Cold, Revis, and Finger Eleven playing almost 9 years ago.

This time, I went to the Studio at Webster Hall, the main venue's side stage, for what would become the most diverse show I've ever seen.

The show started with a New York City area band called Ever Forthright. Ever Forthright is a djent metal band. For those that don't know what djent is, it's an experimental guitar heavy genre, chock full of solos and tricky time signatures.

Lead singer Chris Barretto is a djent metal veteran who had a stint doing lead vocals for Periphery before Spencer Sotelo took the job.

Their show was chaotic, but awesome all the same. It was hard to tell what kind of band they were at first...after all, they had a sax on stage (which they wound up not using). They let us know very early on. Through all of that djent-y goodness, there was actually a soft side. Chris Barretto went all Usher on a song called "City Limits". Their music may be more random than your run of the mill Family Guy episode, but somehow their tangential genre-bending riffage worked out well enough to be a worthy opener.

Next on the lineup was Jolly, yet another New York City area band I was unaware of before the show. This band sounded a lot different from what I was expecting from a band named Jolly. Sure, it was catchy, but there was quite a bit of moroseness...almost a HIM vibe from listening to this band. The band's sound was a bit all over the place from the softness of the harmonies and keys on songs like "Joy" and "Where Everything's Perfect" to "The Pattern", a six-minute opus that flirts with djent metal at its climax and the highlight of their set.

Speaking of tangents, one of the highlights of the entire show (in a show that had many) was the Maryland band Lionize that had a completely different sound than any of the acts on the bill. Their sound is very similar to that of Clutch. Their sound had a bit of funk, stoner rock, dub rock, and dirty south blues all wrapped in one. Their set was extremely impressive on me and I would certainly see them again if they came back up to the city anytime soon. Nate Bergman's vocals were showstopping.

That leads me to the awesome Aussies known as Dead Letter Circus, a band that is pretty massive in Australia that had their first NYC stop ever. They did not disappoint, playing songs from This Is The Warning, such as their first American single "One Step" and my personal favorite "Here We Divide". Lead singer Kim Benzie's falsetto is similar to Matt Bellamy of Muse or Anthony Green of Circa Survive, but Benzie does it with such ease live that it's hard to compare him to anyone else. Just last week, I found out that they released a new single off of their upcoming album called "Wake Up" in their native Australia and I'm waiting with baited breath to listen to it. Hopefully, we will all be able to hear it soon.

Finally, we got to watch the Texas fable rockers Fair to Midland and if you've never seen what their live show is like, it can be summed up in three words: Darroh is nuts. Lead singer Darroh Sudderth is a few fries short of a happy meal, but the fans love him for it because he and the band give off such energy and want their fans to feed off of it.

It's not about being perfect note for note, it's about giving the fans what they want. In some cases, what they want is Darroh inflicting ruckus on the crowd...and that he did, jumping into the crowd time after time. The fans went into a frenzy by the time they played "Tall Tales Taste Like Sour Grapes" crowd surfing, pit-forming, and all around having a blast. Their set was similar to the DVD they released of their incredible set at the world famous Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan. When they closed with "Rikki Tikki Tavi", they did so with authority. Darroh jumped into the crowd, just about fell on his face when he was launched back on the stage and let out a big "RRRRRIKKKKKIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!". And just like that, the set and the show was over, but not without the chaotic cheering of the crowd.

The show was as random and as chaotic as I've ever seen, but every band was up to the task. Every band put on their A-game and it showed throughout the night. Man, I miss going to live shows.

Death of a Kiss.

This marks the last weekend of the legendary urban adult contemporary station 98.7 WRKS-FM (Kiss-FM) in New York City.

Emmis Communications announced a sale of the station to ESPN Radio that set off a chain reaction of events. Kiss' legacy will live on, merging with 107.5 WBLS-FM and ESPN Radio will take over 98.7.

In the biggest music market in the world, two of the city's major FM stations will not play music and many of the major ones that do are mere carbon copies of each other.

Z100 and Now 92.3 FM are both pop stations that copy much of the same music and both of those stations tend to play a lot of the songs found on Hot 97 and Power 105.1FM, both urban (R&B/hip hop) stations and some of the songs from those stations leak into WPLJ 95.5FM and WKTU 103.5FM, an adult top 40 station and a dance station, respectively.

Songs in our market tend to be super crossovers. They not only cross over on stations that they would traditionally be played on if it were successful, but those songs then oversaturate radio with remixes both for easy listening stations and/or dance stations. By the way, if I start hearing Pitbull on Lite FM, I'm done.

EVERY SINGLE STATION here winds up sounding the same because of those super crossovers. Even some of the Spanish/Spanglish stations in the market tend to play the most popular songs on English pop and rap stations.

You would think that the biggest music market of the world would play music that's on the cutting edge, no matter the format, but this market is home to radio stations that play most vapid, lifeless, and safe music in the country and this is when you consider that terrestrial radio is still the #1 medium for discovering new music.

I'm not upset that ESPN made the move to FM radio as ESPN's radio programming is dynamic and engaging. However, to do it at the expense of one of the better stations in the market was a bad idea. Cheers to Kiss and here's hoping the legacy of the station lives on with WBLS.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Radio is a Dance Floor...

Pop radio has been in different phases in the last decade...

1999-2001 is when you had the peak of the pure pop era with acts like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys and N*Sync

2003-04 is when hard rock bands like Evanescence, Trapt, Lostprophets, and Crossfade broke into top 40 radio.

Between 2005 and 2007 is when you had a lot of dirty south style rap artists breaking top 40 radio like D4L, MIMS, Yung Joc, and Lil' Jon.

2008 was the year of Pop&B with Chris Brown, Rihanna, and Usher dominating pop radio.

Ever since Lady Gaga's prominence in 2009, radio has sounded a lot like this.

Why? Putting a sociopolitical spin on it, the recession hit the US in late 2008 really hard and we're just now starting to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

Dance music seems to be the perfect escape music, so it's not entirely surprising to have seen acts like Taio Cruz and LMFAO dominate the Top 40 scene. Even songs that weren't meant to be dance songs in the first place are getting remade for the floor and are getting a lot of airplay, such as Adele's Someone Like You.

It's gotten to the point where other genres of music have had to adapt to the dance craze. Jay-Z & Kanye West's Watch the Throne project released the dubstep flavored "N**gas in Paris" as a single and Korn put out an entire album influenced by dubstep, The Path of Totality, last year. Add the three Grammies that dubGod Skrillex won a couple of weeks ago and it seems like this dance influenced pop music is here to stay for a little while.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why I Am Not "Team Breezy".

Three years ago, the world was shocked to find out that clean cut R&B/pop superstar Chris Brown beat fellow R&B/pop superstar and girlfriend Rihanna in a car in Los Angeles before the 2009 Grammy Awards. The extent of the felony mentioned in the link made it all the more shocking.

This past Sunday, after a successful run with his F.A.M.E. album, he won his first Grammy in 11 career nominations for the Best R&B Album.

As Chris Brown preps a new album called Fortune with new single "Turn Up the Music" already burning up Top 40 radio, he is facing yet another public backlash for the incident. Why? Because, simply put, he's never learned his lesson.

First off, no one hates him 'cause he's got a Grammy. They hate him because he admitted his guilt and never learned the error of his ways. He never got the punishment that fit the crime. For a punch in the face, he got a slap on the wrist.

People can hate on what Tiger Woods did, but what he did was not illegal, just immoral.

People can hate on what Michael Vick did, but he actually served time in prison and cost himself two full years of football in the process. He had to work really hard to come back to the level of prominence that he had before the dogfighting charges.

What Chris Brown did was so severe, that he could have earned himself four years in prison, which would have meant that Graffiti, F.A.M.E. and now the upcoming Fortune, would have likely never been released.

After his sentencing though, he was able to continue his career and still managed to put out an album (Graffiti) by the end of 2009. Despite the album being critically panned, he still earned two Grammy nominations and a debut sales week of over 100,000 copies.

Chris Brown then started to get on a roll. Deuces, the first single from F.A.M.E. earned praise back from his fans and music critics. He earned some of the most successful singles of his career, including the extremely popular song Look At Me Now, a song that earned Karmin a recording contract because of their cover.

Chris Brown was at the top of his game again and then his appearance on Good Morning America proved that he had not been given the right punishment.

It should have been expected that Chris Brown was going to face some questions about the Grammy incident. In fact, from the day of the initial report and on, it will define every aspect of his career.

Chris Brown doesn't seem to understand that and continues to lash out at his "haters". Even worse is that his fans feed his ego and his "hater" mentality by mitigating, condoning, and worse, making a joke of what he did.

No, it's NOT OK. That's why people hate on him in the first place. His talent does not make him immune from his actions.

At least since early 2011, it's been rumored that Chris Brown and Rihanna have come back together. If he slips just once into that abusive behavior that got him in trouble in the first place, we'll see how quick the world is to forgive his actions a second time.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dave Grohl and the Economics of Genre

Before I begin, I'd like to preface that I have the utmost respect for Dave Grohl. The music that he's helped create in the last 23 years as a part of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fast track his entry to the Hall of Fame.

At the Grammy Awards this evening, Dave Grohl said something that stuck out to me while making his acceptance speech for Best Rock Performance for the Foo Fighters' "Walk".

In the speech, Grohl made it a point to mention playing instruments and working at your craft to be a better musician.

I respected the speech, but the issue that I have is that not every kid can afford instruments to play and some neighborhoods here in the Bronx have it very difficult.

There are a lot of very talented, but underprivileged kids that don't have easy access to these instruments.

A lot of people turn to rap music because it's fiscally easier to handle. All you need is the gift of wordplay and a good beat (which can be vocally or digitally manufactured) and you have a song.

R&B music is very much the same way. All you need is your voice and music (which again can be very easy to make digitally).

In a world where your parents can barely afford to pay for rent, food, or even clothing, buying a $500 electric guitar with a $300 amp isn't really the answer.

It's a lot like sports. Not everyone can pay a couple of hundred dollars for the equipment to play football whereas you only need yourself, a round ball, and a hoop to play basketball or yourself, a round ball and a couple of placeholders to play soccer.

In either case, you make do with what you have rather than what you want to have.

It's all about money. If there were schools that would offer free lectures to kids that are aspiring musicians regardless of their socioeconomic class, that would be a wonderful way to bring kids to perform, hang out with each other and learn about each other (and how people don't all live the same way) and experience the ability to make music for fun together and eventually explore making music for a living.

Again, I have no problem with what Dave said aside from not recognizing that not everyone has access to affordable instruments to play with. However, this can change with lobbying from famous musicians (*ahem* Mr. Grohl) so that they can either begin new programs for kids to learn instruments and sing or enhance programs that already exist.

If there's one musician that I have faith to incorporate this change, it's Dave freakin' Grohl.

Should Win/Will Win: The 2012 Grammies: The Big Four

Tonight marks the 54th annual Grammy Awards on the somber note of Whitney Houston's death. As sad as that news was, the show must and will go on. We still have a year of music that deserves celebration.

I will try my best to determine who will win in the Big Four and will involve a little of my personal opinion as to who should win. However, if last year's Album of the Year upset by Arcade Fire was any indication, you really don't stand much of a chance of predicting the winner for any award in the Big Four even though you do have a 20% chance.

I will start with Best New Artist:
The Band Perry
Bon Iver
J. Cole
Nicki Minaj

Who should win: Bon Iver. While Bon Iver made more of a splash on Kanye West's most recent solo effort, he is the indie darling of these awards much like Arcade Fire was last year, but much more dominant in that Justin Vernon and co. were nominated for three of the Big Four awards. It's gonna be hard to bet against him not winning one of the Big Four and this one seems to be the most likely.

Who will win: Skrillex in an upset. Something that you'll realize when looking at this category is that this is the award most likely to have upsets (Esperanza Spalding defeating Drake and Justin Bieber last year and Marc Cohn's (The guy that sang that "Walking in Memphis" song) 1992 win upstaging Boyz II Men). I just think this is going to be yet another year where Bon Iver, J. Cole and Nicki Minaj cancel each other out and Skrillex and the entire dubstep genre will be the beneficiary.

Record of the Year:
Adele - Rolling In the Deep
Bon Iver - Holocene
Bruno Mars - Grenade
Mumford & Sons - The Cave
Katy Perry - Firework

Who should win: Adele - Rolling in the Deep. As if that weren't obvious. But you know something, as amazing as Adele's year is, I don't see her sweeping her six Grammy nominations, much like Norah Jones did when she swept the Big Four awards in 2003.

Who will win: Katy Perry - Firework. The indie darlings Bon Iver and Mumford & Sons cancel each other out and as strong as Bruno's Grenade was, it's going to be between Adele and Katy Perry and Katy squeaks a victory. If there is any category in the Big Four that Adele is likely to lose out on, it's this one.

Song of the Year:
Kanye featuring damn near everybody - All of the Lights
Mumford & Sons - The Cave
Bruno Mars - Grenade
Bon Iver - Holocene
Adele - Rolling in the Deep

Who should win: Adele - Rolling in the Deep. Again, there's not a big surprise here. Adele should roll through the competition in this category.

Who will win: Adele - Rolling in the Deep. Kanye may actually be the strongest competition in this category, seeing as he wasn't in the Record of the Year category. This will be a category to watch, but I think Adele wins here.

And finally, the big one. Album of the Year:
Adele - 21
Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
Lady Gaga - Born This Way
Bruno Mars - Doo Wops & Hooligans
Rihanna - Loud

Who should win: Adele - 21. No album sold within the past year has come even close. No album has had as much artist praise as 21 either. When looking at a record in the world of social media, I tend to pay attention to what other artists say and while there are strong candidates, nothing tops 21. It shouldn't be any other way, really. While I would love as a rock fan if Wasting Light pulled off a great upset here, again, it is Adele's year. Even Dave Grohl praised the work of 21 in a recent Billboard interview.

Who will win: Adele - 21. If she doesn't, I can sense a riot coming on. It wouldn't seem fair to deny Adele the album of the year when it's pretty much saved the music industry in the past year. Distribution of physical albums has been down, but that hasn't stopped Adele from selling 100,000 albums a week pretty much all of 2012. The sales and praise make it hard to bet against Adele in any category let alone this one, but somehow, I don't see her sweeping her six nominations. She will win amongst the most for any artist though.

I didn't put money on the Super Bowl and I'll be damned if I start betting on these awards now, but I hope that I'm somewhat accurate.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rest in Peace, Whitney Houston.

As a 5/6 year old kid growing up in the golden era of music videos, there were two artists that stood out the most, one of which being Michael Jackson and the other Whitney Houston. As of today, neither are with us. Whitney Houston was found dead at a Los Angeles hotel this afternoon at the age of 48.

Whitney's legacy in music as a female artist is unparalleled.

As of 2010, she's won over 400 awards for her contributions to music and film.

Even though Katy Perry has recently threatened to break the award, Whitney Houston had 7 consecutive #1 songs on Billboard, a record that still stands for any artist.

Her second album (Whitney, 1987) became the first female album to debut at #1 at a time when debuting at #1 for any artist was a rare feat.

Her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXV (Bills v. Giants) in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War was so popular that it was commercially released and, to this day, is the only version of the National Anthem to be commercially released and be certified platinum.

All of this preceded the most successful album and venture of her career, The Bodyguard movie and soundtrack in 1992. The movie sold over $400 million worth of tickets worldwide, one of the top grossing films at the time of its release and the soundtrack is one of the best-selling albums of all time, apart from it being the highest selling soundtrack of all time at 17 million albums stateside and 44 million worldwide. The album was also the first album of the Soundscan era (post May 1991) to sell over 1 million copies in a single week.

The single "I Will Always Love You", a cover of a 1974 Dolly Parton song, became the most successful single at the time of its release hitting #1 on the Billboard for a then record 14 weeks, outperforming the original song (a rarity to happen in the music industry).

The single is the second best-selling single in history only behind Elton John's 1997 remake of Candle in the Wind and netted two of Houston's six overall Grammy Awards.

Lightning struck twice for Whitney when her cover of the 1978 Chaka Khan classic "I'm Every Woman" would also outperform the original, becoming yet another worldwide smash.

Before The Bodyguard's popularity, Whitney became romantically linked to Bobby Brown, the two would marry in July 1992, putting out "Something in Common" on Bobby's album the following month, which became a moderate hit for Bobby on one of his most successful solo albums. Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown would be born the following year.

The success of The Bodyguard led Whitney to another movie venture. Waiting to Exhale in 1995 became her first movie venture to debut at #1 and led to yet another soundtrack #1 with "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)".

The following year, Whitney starred alongside Denzel Washington in The Preacher's Wife, which did pretty well for a holiday movie and the soundtrack is the best selling gospel album of all time.

In 1997, a revamped version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella became one of the most successful TV movies in history, winning seven Emmy Awards.

In 1998, she released her first non-soundtrack album in eight years with My Love is Your Love, yet another album that netted Whitney more top 40 hits including "Heartbreak Hotel" and "My Love Is Your Love".

Her double-disc greatest hits album netted her another 10 million sales worldwide in 2000 and in 2001, because of her worldwide success, Whitney Houston signed a record contract of $100 million for six records with Arista Records, the biggest contract in music history, a contract that would seem more synonymous with sports.

However, through all of the success, there were very serious problems. These problems surfaced in the infamous 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer that was one of the most watched interviews in primetime history.

The interest in the interview unfortunately didn't translate as well into album sales and, while the album did moderately well, was not the worldwide smash that Whitney was used to having. A holiday album released the following year didn't do very well either and continued Whitney's downfall.

However, rock bottom became the reality TV show Being Bobby Brown, a show which she was originally going to stay away from. The show displayed Whitney at her very worst, but in a way helped her realize what she'd become. Word had it that the couple went through the $100 million that had been given to Whitney and then some.

After fourteen years, Whitney and Bobby divorced in 2007, leading Whitney to focus back on her music. Clive Davis overlooked what would turn out to be Whitney's last album I Look to You, in 2009.

The comeback was relatively successful. becoming her first album since The Bodyguard soundtrack to go #1. The album received critical praise, however, the album's success was stunted with a much criticized performance on Good Morning America the week of the album release.

Last year, Whitney's problems with drugs and alcohol resurfaced as she went back to rehab. It was also announced that she was working on a remake of the film Sparkle, which had just finished shooting before her death.

In three years, two of the greatest performers of my generation are no longer with us. Rihanna said it best in tweet form when she said "There are no words. Just tears." May she finally be at peace. The Grammies will never be the same without Whitney or Michael there.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Black History Month: Alexis Brown (Straight Line Stitch)

I've covered Straight Line Stitch before, but for those who don't know, Alexis Brown is one of the very few African American female lead singers out there in a rock band.

Straight Line Stitch formed in Knoxville, Tennessee in 2000 as a male-fronted band.

Alexis joined the fold in 2003 and the band has been growing exponentially in popularity. The band gained attention from Dale "Rage" Resteghini (who's music video credits include Fall Out Boy, Jim Jones, and Adelitas Way) and they filmed their debut video for Remission.

Resteghini formed a record imprint on Koch Records so that they could put out When Skies Wash Ashore in 2008, an album that netted Straight Line Stitch a Sirius Octane hit with What You Do To Me. The band draws comparisons to everyone from Shadows Fall to fellow female-fronted metalcore band In This Moment.

In 2011, the band followed the success of Skies with The Fight Of Our Lives. Unfortunately, the band has recently suffered some setbacks with the departures of two more members (drummer Kanky Lora and guitarist Kris Norris), but the band has more former members than current and it appears that they have no immediate signs of slowing down with their latest awesome single One Reason.

Black History Month: Mahlon Rhodes (Amplexus/Hawks & Wolves)

Mahlon Rhodes is an up and coming lead vocalist from Ohio who's put out music with two great projects, Amplexus and, the latest, Hawks & Wolves.

The lead singer originally made waves with Amplexus and the 2007 album Deus Ex Machina.

Mahlon's biggest influences include some of my personal favorite bands, Thrice, The Receiving End of Sirens, and Killswitch Engage, all band influences of which you can hear in the original project. They'd played shows with bands such as Norma Jean and

In 2011, Mahlon and members of Amplexus regrouped and formed the project Hawks & Wolves.

They recorded their debut EP, The Alread EP, in Woodstock in upstate NY. The EP is based around a concept of a paraplegic, mentally unstable Army veteran who creates a world away from reality, finding his freedom. The band, in a short time, has played shows with Bayside and Emery, amongst others.

You can listen to the EP on their Youtube page, including my personal favorite I Dream, I Dwell.

Black History Month: Sahaj Ticotin (Ra)

One of the most underrated rock singers in the game, Sahaj Ticotin is the profile for today. This one holds a special place as Sahaj was a Puerto Rican that was raised in the me! (He also comes from Egyptian descent which explains the band name). Influenced by Metallica, The Police, and other acts, Sahaj is one of the best singers in the hard rock genre.

In 2002, Ra put out their major label debut From One (Universal), which led to the release of one of the catchiest songs of that entire year, "Do You Call My Name".

Universal mismanaged their entire deal however, poorly promoting the 2005 follow-up Duality, which managed to pull in modest numbers despite the poor marketing for the record.

After they were dropped, they put out a live album the following year with independent Cement Shoes Records called Raw. They apparently released the album and while there was talk of a studio followup on Cement Shoes, they wound up leaving that label to self-release Black Sun in 2008, led by the single Broken Hearted Soul.

Ra has earned regular airplay of their music on Sirius' Octane with songs like Broken Hearted Soul and Supernova, the first single of their 2009 B-sides album Black Sheep.

Originally, Ra was going to call it quits so that Sahaj can focus on solo material, but late last year a new song came out called Running Blind that features Dave Chavarri of Ill Nino that is likely to be on their upcoming album due for release sometime later this year.

Sahaj will still be releasing solo material and according to his Facebook, he will be releasing the solo debut on what rock fans are labeling Super Tuesday (releases from Shinedown, Hurt, The Veer Union, etc.), March 27th.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Black History Month: Kele Okereke (Bloc Party)

Kele Okereke is the lead singer behind the British UK band Bloc Party, a band who's debut album Silent Alarm was the indie darling of 2005, winning praise from publications like British heavyweight NME.

Interestingly enough, Franz Ferdinand's lead singer Alex Kapranos gave Bloc Party a hand after hearing a demo of "She's Hearing Voices". The live session they played on BBC led to what became the debut single off of Silent Alarm, "Banquet".

Silent Alarm went platinum in Britain with succeeding singles, such as "Helicopter".

Silent Alarm was so popular amongst indie rock fans that it had been re-released with B-sides such as "Two More Years" and later as a remix album.

The remix album led them to explore a dancier side of Bloc Party (as if there wasn't a dance-y side already) with A Weekend in the City, led by the lead single "The Prayer". "I Still Remember" became their most successful song radio wise here in the States.

Towards the end of the A Weekend in the City era, they put out a non-album single called "Flux" that hinted at the sound of the band's next album Intimacy.

"Mercury" was the first single off of Intimacy. Intimacy was originally released as a download and later physically (with added bonus tracks), which wasn't terribly common a few years ago. Unfortunately, due to the music industry bottoming out, Bloc Party's third album wasn't nearly as successful, so they decided to go on a hiatus after 2009's non-album single "One More Chance".

All of the members of Bloc Party moved onto their own projects, including Kele's 2010 debut solo album The Boxer, which was led by the electronica-infused lead single "Tenderoni".

The band reconnected in 2012 with plans to work on their upcoming fourth record.

What I like about Bloc Party is that they put out so much material. There are so many B-sides that they have put out that are every bit as good as their album material. It'll be interesting to see where Bloc Party goes with this album...whether they put out something closer to Kele's solo album or whether they go back to their Silent Alarm roots.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Black History Month: Crispin Earl (The Veer Union)

Crispin Earl is one of the bright spots in hard rock as the lead singer of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada based The Veer Union, a band who's major label album Against the Grain was able to garner three charting singles.

Originally playing as Veer, the band played shows with Hinder and Seether while their debut Time to Break the Spell was a hit in the Vancouver music scene.

The band's infectiously catchy music got them a deal with Universal Motown to release Against the Grain and Seasons earned extensive quality time on sports montages. Youth of Yesterday and Darker Side of Me failed to do as well, but it's becoming rare for a hard rock band to go three singles deep nowadays.

Unfortunately, due to their low sales, they were eventually out at Universal Motown, but they quickly came back to re-release Time to Break the Spell which featured I Will Remain.

They quickly got snatched up by Rocket Science Ventures that features acts such as Filter and Angels & Airwaves and will be putting out Divide the Blackened Sky in 2012. If lead single Bitter End is any indication, this'll be one of the most talked about hard rock records of the year.

If their recorded stuff isn't enough to convince you that Crispin is awesome, check out this cover of Alice in Chains' Down in a Hole.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Black History Month: Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders)

Welcome to the start of CFW Rocks' look at up and coming rock and metal artists of color. This is not really meant to be about whether black artists are better than white artists or vice versa.

This is meant to give an answer to oft-played out stereotypes that black people are just out to be rappers and R&B singers. I hope to open a lot of eyes and ears out there.

With that being said, my first focus is on Tosin Abasi, lead guitarist of one of the best instrumental metal bands out there, Animals as Leaders.

Tosin Abasi used to be the lead guitarist of metal band Born of Osiris, but developed an innovative instrumental project that best shows off his chops. With the help of Periphery lead guitarist Misha "Bulb" Mansoor, the project released its debut in 2009.

Internet buzz about a relatively new genre of metal called Djent gave Animals as Leaders spots in festivals such as South By Southwest, headlining tours with bands such as Dead Letter Circus, and opening for bands like Underoath and Thursday.

Most guitarists can barely master six strings. Tosin plays 8 string guitars...LIKE A BOSS!

And Tosin is now also playing with a band called TRAM, a band that features Javier Reyes, also of Animals as Leaders and members that have played with The Mars Volta and Suicidal Tendencies.

Their debut album Lingua Franca debuts February 28th on Sumerian Records. Tosin's widely considered one of the best guitarists in any genre, period. With the eight string guitar playing and ease with which he can carry a solo, I think I'd be silly not to agree.

Black History Month: Don Cornelius

I was going to wake up this morning and start posting about influential rockers of color, when I heard the news that Soul Train creator and host Don Cornelius died of an apparent suicide.

Our generation is spoiled when it comes to listening to black artists and having all of these avenues (on radio, television, and now the Internet) for promoting their music.

That was not the case 40 years ago, when Soul Train was born. It was wonderful because it was happening in the golden age of soul and R&B music when you had Aretha Franklin, James Brown, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Al Green and countless other artists playing Soul Train at the peaks of their careers, performing the best songs of their priceless catalogs.

As a kid, my Saturday morning television viewing consisted of the occasional morning cartoons, but they were dominated by Dick Clark's American Bandstand and Don Cornelius' Soul Train.

The Soul Train dancing line is one of the most iconic images in television history and is often imitated at special events, such as weddings today.

The legacy of the program still lives on Centric Television, where it still airs vintage episodes of Soul Train today. In fact, the Soul Train Music Awards also live on through Centric years after Soul Train was canceled (the show ended producing new episodes after 2006).

It would be hard to imagine the music world without the influence of Soul Train because of where music stands right now with rap and a little known soul-influenced singer by the name of Adele dominating top 40 airwaves.

Initially, Soul Train was reluctant to air rap artists themselves, but with the influence of popular television shows such as YO MTV Raps! popping up, Soul Train soon followed suit despite Cornelius' aversions.

It is extremely sad to hear of Cornelius' passing, especially in conjunction with the start of Black History Month, but the influence of Cornelius and Soul Train on the industry will not soon be forgotten.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Death of Megaupload: What Does The Future Hold?

A day after the SOPA bill died in Congress, federal prosecutors decided to shutter Megaupload, one of the most popular websites for uploading and downloading files online. Seven people were arrested and those arrested members face up to 55 years in prison if convicted. Megaupload, at one point, was the 13th most visited website in the world.

The story is even more intriguing. Famous hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz (real name: Kasseem Dean) best known for his marriage to Alicia Keys and production credits for songs from Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Busta Rhymes was apparently named the company's CEO. That's currently being called into question, although there's little doubt that he at the very least invested in the site.

Dean's relationship with Megaupload led to a video circulating featuring many of his celebrity friends (ranging from Kim Kardashian to Kanye West) championing the site's usage. The Mega Song featured vocals from Will.I.Am and Macy Gray. This led to a lawsuit from Universal Music Group claiming that their artists had not been cleared to either appear on the video or participate in the making of the song. There was also a takedown notice from Will.I.Am sent to Megaupload.

Of course, Megaupload made the rounds on all kinds of sites, including hip hop sites such as World Star Hip Hop, who among a couple of other websites had been temporarily shuttered by Homeland Security due to copyright infringement last year.

So what becomes of the future of Internet cloud sharing? Many people believe that other sites are soon to follow such as Rapidshare and Mediafire.

What I would be interested in finding out is if any of the entities in the Mega Song video invested in Megaupload and if so, how much? Essentially, they would be making (advertising) money off of some of their own pirated downloads (and potentially more than they would be making off of their legal downloads...except for you Kim Kardashian, no one ever would download Jam legally OR illegally). It sounds completely conceivable given that Swizzy is friends with many of those listed in the video.

A group of hackers known as Anonymous used their hacktivism to take down Universal Music Group, BMI, the Department of Justice, and the RIAA amongst other related websites. The near future for those websites is going to be extremely turbulent.

In the meanwhile, the anti-piracy legislation known as PIPA, the Protect IP Act is currently making the rounds in the Senate.

Trent Reznor, Amanda Palmer and OK Go are amongst the artists speaking out against the pair of anti-piracy bills.

The future of Megaupload hangs in the balance, but where one entity dies, another will take its place and I think this is going to be a long, drawn-out battle. This is not going to be as cut and dry as the Napster case was and because of a legitimate artist like Dean being involved, it will probably have more twists and turns in the case.

I, for one, would like to see how this evolves and if there are any other artists implicated in this.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dave Grohl: A New Rock Revolution is Coming

In a recent Billboard interview, Dave Grohl compared the current musical climate to what was going on just before Nirvana exploded onto the scene in 1991 with Nevermind.

He believes that a new rock revolution is coming and that rock is not dead.

I believe that rock is not dead as well, despite what naysayers have been saying for a few years.

However, I don't know if rock will ever be as commercially successful as it was back when Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains were platinum players.

It remains to be seen if there's an artist or group of artists willing to take that challenge, but I do know that there are plenty of hard rock and alternative artists that are consistently good at what they do.

One thing is for sure though; the rock revolution will not be televised. It'll be online.

MTV as we knew it died years ago.

My personal opinion is that there should be festivals that continue to be streamed for free online on sites such as Youtube. Last year's Lollapalooza where Foo Fighters headlined a rainy Sunday night is a brilliant example of how amazing a rock band's reach can be with the power of the web watching a rock show. Venues should take advantage of this as well. The Rave is another example of how webcasting can change the industry and the brands of popular venues around the country. It doesn't happen nearly as often as it should. Live music is the cornerstone of rock music's success.

Rock music needs the Internet to embrace it as terrestrial radio has abandoned rock as commercially viable music. Rock is not only getting switched out for pop and urban stations, but also non-music formats such as news and talk.

If Adele can spin the pop music world on its ears, then there has to be a rock artist that does the same to rock as Dave Grohl mentioned.

Is there anyone that you feel could lead the "new rock revolution" that exists today? Is the revolution just a short time away? If not now, when? (No, that's not in reference to the new Incubus album, but you should probably check that out anyway.)

Fave Five: Songs Dedicated to the Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

People would be surprised by how important and inspirational Dr. King is in the music industry. The stories that come from his speeches and his faith live on through music dedicated in his memory. This list of five songs highlights the diversity of the message sent and the attempts that Dr. King made to bring about diversity throughout America.

1. Stevie Wonder-Happy Birthday (1980) - If you hear this song without knowing that this was about the struggle to accept Dr. King's birthday as a national holiday, you'd be surprised by how upbeat it is, but at the same time how angry and pointed it was. Dr. King would be proud of this song because it's every bit as much a protest song as those sang during the actual movement.

Favorite line: Because it should never be
Just because some cannot see
The dream as clear as he
That they should make it become an illusion

2. U2-Pride (In the Name of Love) (1984) - This song is probably the most recognizable and most commercially successful song related to Dr. King's memory. What makes this song so impressive to me is how this band, a band from Ireland, recognized how important Dr. King's message was not only to the United States, but to the rest of the world. It should come as no surprise that not only is it the most popular song in Dr. King's memory that it is also amongst the greatest songs U2 has made in its 30+ year history. The song has been covered by everyone from John Legend to Richard Patrick of Filter with Lacey Sturm of Flyleaf.

Favorite line: Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

3. Public Enemy-By the Time I Get To Arizona (1991) - Dr. King's holiday did not become recognized as a national holiday until 1986, but that didn't stop some states from hesitating to recognize it, such as Arizona. In fact, 2008 presidential candidate John McCain originally opposed the holiday back in the 1980s. Arizona's long history of denying the holiday led to this angry Public Enemy song.

Favorite line: They can't understand why he the man
I'm singin' 'bout a king
They don't like it
When I decide to mike it
Wait I'm waitin' for the date
For the man who demands respect

4. Rage Against the Machine-Wake Up (1992) - This song is more of a general song about the Civil Rights movement, but the history mentioned in this song makes it important to recognize in this post. In the fateful year of 1968, in fact, less than a month before Dr. King was assassinated, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover made a memo that targeted civil rights leaders such as Malcolm X and Dr. King (for his support to the end of the Vietnam War).

In fact, lead singer Zach de la Rocha read the infamous memo as the bridge of the song and ended the song with one of Dr. King's most famous lines from his 1965 Selma to Montgomery speech How Long, Not Long.

Favorite line: How long? Not long, cause what you reap is what you sow!

5. Anberlin-We Owe This To Ourselves (2010) - Anberlin released this song off of their last album Dark is the Way, Light is a Place and the song's references to Dr. King's assassination and the civil rights movement may not seem as obvious as the other songs, but the lines expressed here are just as intense as songs released closest to the movement that led states to finally recognize Dr. King's holiday. It should also be noted that U2 is one of Anberlin's biggest musical influences so it also comes across as an upbeat tribute to "Pride..."

Favorite line: If every man became a king,
(We could start it all with this)
We could do more than just dream
(We could start it all with this)
I feel, I feel, the change is here...

I hope that musicians continue to express the gratitude and grace that has come with Dr. King's message.

In fact, the 2012 Grammy Awards have recently honored Dr. King's most famous speech, the I Have a Dream speech from the March on Washington on August 28th, 1963 by adding its recording to the Grammy Hall of Fame. Let the dream live on.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Music Enthusiast: WTF is that?!?

For those of you who've been following me and my articles, I don't classify myself as a music reviewer. Reviewers and journalists are more objective in their approach. I consider myself a music enthusiast.

I don't give out negative reviews because I don't write about music that I don't like. I figure that it's a lot easier to ignore music that I don't particularly care for. Why give music that doesn't deserve praise any more attention than it already gets? That's why I don't give scores for the music I present here, I merely profile it and then attempt to give you a reason to listen to it.

In a sense, I work like a radio station. Why broadcast anything that's not worthy of your attention? That's not to say that I don't post anything negative. There's a lot wrong about the current industry that I address strongly, but when it comes to the music, there's far too much good music out there to bother with the bad.

This is why I consider myself a music enthusiast.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The War on Kroeger

The biggest story of the past week in rock music revolves yet again around the "biggest band in the world", Nickelback.

Patrick Carney, drummer for the band The Black Keys took Nickelback to task by saying that music fans made Nickelback the biggest band in the world and rock music is suffering in large part because of them, also managing to throw the post-grunge era under the bus with Nickelback.

Nickelback responded by actually thanking Carney who solidified them as the biggest band in the world. No band that has sold this many records that has received this much hatred.

So the question to ask regarding this topic would be: Is Nickelback singlehandedly responsible for rock music being on life support? Are they the Biebers of Rock in that they're the scapegoat for EVERYTHING that's wrong with the music industry?

More importantly, is there anything Nickelback can do to save themselves from being the scapegoat of the rock world?

Post-grunge includes bands such as Seether, Breaking Benjamin, and Three Days Grace. Are those bands just as guilty of destroying rock?

My New Favorite Rock Radio Station.

As you know by now, I'm not a big fan of radio. At all. I generally don't care for online radio enough to listen to much of it either.

However, recently my faith has been restored thanks, in part, to

This online station has the perfect balance of playing new songs from established artists, old classics, and exciting new, unsigned talent.

It's the only station that I have thus far that I'm willing to listen to. The only thing I wish that I would be able to hear is some DJ's talking about the music. Playing the music is one thing, but being able to sell it to listeners is extremely important.

I hope that they consider adding DJ's in the future if only for a few hours of the day, but just the fact that they're taking charge in actually playing all of this music, when music critics and journalists claim that rock is dead, that hard rock is dead-er and when rock radio stations in the last two years have followed suit.

It's gotten to a point where even established rock artists on major labels have to fight to get on rock radio. However, rock is NOT dead and Q109 won't let that happen.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A band a day...The Memorials

As far as female-fronted bands go, The Memorials are going to be the talk of 2012. They're currently in the middle of recording their second album which should see a release later this year. Last year, they put out their self-titled debut and this year will prove that there's no such thing as a sophomore curse.

The Memorials currently consist of:
Viveca Hawkins - lead vocals
Jordan Ferreira - touring guitarist
Thomas Pridgen - drums

Viveca Hawkins started off singing as an R&B singer, in fact putting out a solo record this past year, but her haunting vocals play a perfect role within The Memorials. If you've not yet heard of Thomas Pridgen, who's previously played drums for The Mars Volta, you probably should.

Progressive rock and R&B may sound like a mix of oil and water to you, but when you hear songs like the psychedelic-flavored We Go To War, it's going to amp you up. Kind of sucks that I missed them in this area playing live at one of the best live venues in the city, The Mercury Lounge.

Many publications will pigeonhole their sound as Afropunk or Afrorock and quite simply, they just rock. Most bands take a couple of albums or more to define their sound. The Memorials hit the ground running. When their second album comes out, they're going to rule the Bay Area music scene with an iron fist.

A band a day...The Intersphere

2012 is looking up for up-and-coming bands. Mannheim, Germany based band The Intersphere will attempt to bring their slice of progressive rock stateside.

The Intersphere is:
Christoph Hessler - lead vocals
Thomas Zipner - guitarist
Sebastian Wagner - bassist
Moritz Müller - drums

The Intersphere will release Hold on, liberty overseas on January 20th in their home country and January 23rd elsewhere in Europe and will release it in North America on February 28th.

The Intersphere is a band that has an artsy approach to rock, but if you've listened to their current single "Sleeping God", you know that they're not afraid of having songs with crushing riffs. The Intersphere compares themselves to Muse, Dredg, and Incubus. I would like to add Karnivool to that list of awesomeness.

The Intersphere has played the Rock Am Ring festival, the biggest rock festival in Germany, so you know that they're capable of tearing stages up.

Momentum is definitely on The Intersphere's side. Now all they would need is the right tour to break them in the States. I think they'd fit perfectly touring with a band like Fair to Midland. Keep an eye on The Intersphere because I think 2012 will be a year for them to blossom at home and in the U.S.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year's Resolution: Go Your Own Way

Everybody makes New Year's Resolutions, but it would really help if people made New Year's Resolutions that really stuck. For the music industry in 2012, it's for artists to go independent.

While the industry's sales were actually slightly up from a year before, the music industry's system is more broken than ever before. EMI, one of the big four labels dissolved in 2011, leaving only three majors (Warner, Sony, Universal). The system currently in place may not continue to be the same in the future and it may be better for artists to push for self-sufficiency.

I had a wonderful discussion with a friend of mine about this over New Year's where it had become apparent that bands still have a dollar and a dream to make it with a major.

However, those bands will clearly realize that labels won't be so quick to sign them without marketing savvy. At this point, labels are looking for a sure thing. They don't gamble nearly as much as they used to and they want to make sure that they're banking on whatever investment they make.

Bands have to be more self-sufficient because the industry seems to be moving in a way where labels won't exist as they are right now 2-5 years from now.

Bands need to not only market their shows, they need to know how to effectively use band pages on Facebook, Reverbnation, Root Music and the like, and they need to know how to effectively sell themselves to fans before selling themselves to labels. Bands will realize that labels are helpful, but if you can learn how to do a label's job better than a label can for you, you're much better off going it alone.

Let's make 2012 the year of independent bands and artists.