Our favorite things this week include The A.V. Club Undercover, ZTT Records, and "Cupid Deluxe."
Everyone loves a good cover, especially one that forces a band out of its comfort zone to produce something original. That is the concept of A.V. Club’s Undercover series, my latest addiction. For the past four years, A.V. Club has invited 25 bands to its tiny studio to choose from a list of 25 potential cover songs. The catch is that when a band performs a song, it is crossed off the list and the following band must pick from the leftovers. This leads to some hilarious but surprisingly great combinations, like the demon-clad members of GWAR performing Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car.” Some of my other favorite performances include Mac DeMarco’s take on “Undone-The Sweater Song,” Frontier Ruckus putting a folk spin on “Semi-Charmed Life,” and Dawes’ cover of “Christmas Time Is Here” (Yes, there are two Christmas editions). As one might expect, many of the performances fall flat, but it is still fun to see these bands struggle through something unexpected. Also, the clips aren’t too time-consuming, lasting an average of five minutes. It’s the perfect break in your day to check out a new band, or to watch your favorite artists jam to their guilty pleasures. (Will Halnon)
The Future in the Rear-View Mirror: Today, it’s hard to imagine just how much it felt like the musical future was now in the early 1980s. Future Pop, a book of photographs by Peter L. Noble, treated artists as different as Laurie Anderson, Iggy Pop, The Culture Club and The Thompson Twins as equally meaningful. Time hasn’t been kind to Noble’s enthusiasm, but in the moment, the possibility that technology could not only change what was possible in pop music but demand updated aesthetics was real enough to lead to overreaches. The giddiness of the moment is the thing I hear most when I put on The Organization of Pop: Music From the First Thirty Years of ZTT Records. The productions are too big, too lush and hyperreal (check the finger-breakingly crisp snaps in Art of Noise’s “Moments in Love”), and the tracks radiate self-importance. The latter is often the kiss of death for me, and in the day it was a problem. Time has solved that though as many of these songs got their comeuppance, dismissed as one-hit wonders or mocked on VH-1’s I Love the ‘80s. Now its clear that 808 State, Art of Noise, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and ZTT founder/producer Trevor Horn made musical decisions that had to be made to move down the path toward EDM today. (Alex Rawls)
Blood from an Orange: It was certainly a "duh" moment when I learned that some songs aren't written or produced by the people who sing them. That may have been years before I came close to approaching music critically, but it still fascinates me how credit is doled out for great songs. Solange Knowles' True EP was one of those records that catapulted a mostly unknown producer into the limelight. Devonté Hynes, known currently as Blood Orange, was given credit for finding a Knowles' niche after producing the fantastic True — a beacon for both artists. Add a writing credit on Sky Ferreira's "Everything is Embarrassing," and Hynes was a certified critical-darling in 2012.
Now, Hynes is releasing his first album Friday after that big break, Cupid Deluxe, now streaming on iTunes Radio. He's no stranger to the music business, going through as many genre shifts as name changes since the early 2000s. But Cupid Deluxe proves that everyone should've been listening to Hynes long ago. It shares the smooth, often exotic R&B of Knowles' tracks like "Losing You," but it explores hip-hop and funk just as much. (Brian Sibille)