Seth Colter

Stories by Seth Colter Walls

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    The Rolling Stones Come Back From Exile--Again

    It’s a fact as undeniable as it is oft-repeated: in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the Rolling Stones were incapable of doing wrong. Or, at the very least, the wrongs they were committing were exactly the sort that the public wanted from its rock stars.
  • It's Indie Music Month!

    A crowded release schedule is, in part, beyond record labels’ control. But could it yield surprising benefits?
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    Vollmann's Latest Volume

    A William Vollmann tome of only 528 pages? (At least the subtitle is hefty.)
  • Erykah Badu's Maverick R&B

    Erykah Badu's latest album is filled with plenty of gonzo touches, not least of which is its title—New Amerykah, Part II: Return of the Ankh. One of the best moments comes toward the end, when Badu's voice is manipulated for a few syllables. The recording-studio software drags her pitch down into the comically monstrous, basso profundo range, and then, with equal speed, slingshots it back up into the recognizable realm. It is—as the kids say—a "WTF?" moment nonpareil. It makes you laugh, too—since the head fake isn't repeated, you spend a lot more time thinking about the fleeting seconds of weirdness than the music actually spends being weird: a neat trick. On another track, Badu conjures an odd pairing of characters when she sings: "On this porch I'm rockin'/back and forth like Lightnin' Hopkins/If anybody speak to Scotty/tell him beam me up." Few singers would invoke the country-blues legend just before dropping a Star Trek reference, but then again, that's the line on Erykah:...
  • Holocaust Music Breaks Its Silence

    The story of Franz Schreker flips classical music's greatest cliché on its head. Instead of toiling in obscurity during his life and gaining fame only after death, the Austrian was a star as a young composer—before he was all but erased from history. In 1919, the influential critic Paul Bekker wrote that Schreker was the only operatic author with a claim to Wagner's exalted legacy. During Weimar-era Germany, Schreker's half-Romantic, half-avant-garde dramas sold tickets as reliably as those by any other living composer, aside from Richard Strauss. But with the rise of Hitler's cultural Gestapo, Schreker—whose father was Jewish and whose dramas were shot through with Freudian sexual anxiety—saw all his works banned as entartete, or "degenerate." In 1932, the same year the Nazis took a plurality in the Reichstag, he was hounded out of his prominent teaching post in Berlin. Then his curtain call at the premiere of his final opera was greeted with a chorus of anti-Semitic boos. A year...
  • The Hollowness of 'The Hurt Locker'

    It's unfashionable to carp about Hollywood's motives in handing out the Oscar for best picture. Savvy filmgoers are, at this late, cynical date, surely aware of the industry politics afoot, even if we reserve the right to howl privately about the worst offenses. Each awards season we are reminded that, in 1981, golden-boy Robert Redford's Ordinary Peoplebeat out Raging Bullby Martin Scorsese and The Elephant Manby David Lynch—a fact that, by itself, could suffice as a prosecuting attorney's closing argument in any civil action against the Academy. Yet this year an issue beyond taste is raised by the Oscar race: the cineplex's tortured response to the nation's ongoing war in Iraq. It's a howler that's actually worth bitching about.This weighty complaint is prompted by Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, a sure-thing best-picture nominee set in 2004-era Iraq. Staff Sgt. William James (played by Jeremy Renner) is the recklessly brave, reliably effective bomb tech who defuses the IEDs...
  • Lady Gaga's Music and Fame Hypocrisy

    French intellectual Claude Lévi-Strauss died at the age of 100 last month, before he could comment on the latest single from Lady Gaga. If you think this an absurd notion, note that Lévi-Strauss's major project—discovering the common aspects of myths from different eras and continents—has influenced many pop scholars, including Greil Marcus. In our American Idol-ized culture, few myths loom larger than pop fame, which is why the philosopher and anthropologist might have had something to say about Top 40's self-professed conceptual artist of the moment. In a way, he still does.Gaga herself invites such highfalutin scrutiny. In interviews, she alludes to Andy Warhol and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, whose words she has tattooed on her arm. Pop's intelligentsia has largely gone along with Gaga, anointing her, like Madonna, a dance maven who has something to communicate aside from great grooves. So when Gaga sings, in the title track to her celebrated debut album The Fame, that "all we...
  • Classical Music's Version of Dodgers vs. Yankees

    They're not in competition, they swear. Much as you might want to draw elite orchestras from New York and Los Angeles into a bicoastal grudge-match story, they just won't hear of it—especially this year, when both are debuting young music directors who aim to raise the cultural profile of classical music.Even if we grant this premise, it's certainly notable that top philharmonics on both coasts have simultaneously undertaken face-lifts. In Los Angeles, 28-year-old Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel and his frizzed-out mane have ignited a frisson of attention, with 18,000 citizens turning out for his debut concert at the Hollywood Bowl this month. Dudamel's kineticism isn't limited to gestures, either: his interpretations of repertory warhorses—such as Mahler's First Symphony—are riotously fine. Meantime, to less manic fanfare, 42-year-old Alan Gilbert—a New York–born Japanese-American—has succeeded 79-year-old Lorin Maazel at the New York Philharmonic. Though he's a less demonstrative force...
  • What Does Bob Dylan Sound Like Singing Christmas Carols?

    What would you say if Bob Dylan came caroling in your neighborhood on Christmas Eve?"Listen, Bobby D. That was an absolutely rip-roaring take on 'Must Be Santa,' but would you mind terribly playing 'Idiot Wind' while you're here?"...
  • Grand Valley Michigan's Minimalist-Music Hotbed

    The best performances of Terry Riley's 1964 minimalist classic In C  come off like great sex: variations are gradually introduced and then withdrawn from a rhythmic structure—and when it's all over, you have a trancelike "what just happened?" kind of hum in your head. Created as a shot across the bow of midcentury atonal complexity, In C is typically driven by a pianist who pounds out a C note, in different octaves, for the entire piece, while a group of musicians (any number and on instruments they choose) play 53 shards of melody around that steady pulse. In C depends on this radical openness, which in turn reveals the work's ability to retain an identity even as the performers collaborate in surprising ways. So it's fitting that Riley's piece can still shock on its 45th anniversary, this time courtesy of a two-disc set titled In C Remixed. Even more shocking: the album is conceived by Bill Ryan and his students at Michigan's Grand Valley State University.Yes, you read correctly....
  • Book Review: A Nader Novel

    Liberalism has long held a reputation for hoarding the influential celebrity talent: Redford, Streisand, etc. Consider last fall, when candidate Obama received an aesthetic donation from rapper will.i.am, whose "Yes We Can" video featured Scarlett Johansson, while GOP admen resorted to piping in old Jackson Browne—who promptly sued. But when it comes to art that has swayed power brokers instead of voters, the free-market fundamentalism of Ayn Rand tilts the balance rightward. Federal Reserve icon Alan Greenspan wrote in his memoir that Rand was a "stabilizing force" in his life. Congressman John Campbell told The Washington Independent that Atlas Shrugged—in which John Galt organizes an industrialists' strike against a socialist state—is his "instruction manual."Because Rand's broad (and repetitive) novelistic brush strokes invite mimicry, it's no surprise that a thinker on the left would mount a similar tract-as-fiction in response. What's shocking is that Ralph Nader thinks he's...
  • Somebody, Please! Write Whitney Houston Better Songs

    Pretty much nobody roots against Whitney Houston. After the train-wreck marriage to Bobby Brown (complete with embarrassing reality show), her admission of substance abuse problems, and the long periods of inactivity, it's difficult not to feel for the female singer who's had as much influence as anyone else on the post-Aretha direction of popular soul. The sense that Houston is due for a reversal of fortune is why her new album, I Look To You, should perform acceptably on the charts; a sympathetic public can take an artist part of the way toward a comeback. Though songs like her new album's lead-off track also help a great deal. Co-written by Alicia Keys and produced by hip-hop auteur Swizz Beatz, the stripped-down, swinging disco of "Million Dollar Bill" is precisely the kind of material Houston can still own. The sound is slightly throwback in nature, but with a tasteful sonic update that can fend off accusations of cheese. Unfortunately, that sweet spo...
  • Yoko Ono Gets Her Due

    To talk about Yoko Ono is to talk about The Scream. An impossibly long, warbling vocal tremor, it confirmed the public's worst prejudices about Ono—that she was an unmusical self-promoter who'd put John Lennon under her spell and split up the Beatles. Never mind that her experiments with musique concrète played at Carnegie Hall's recital space five years before she ever met Lennon, or that Ono's studio art had previously become a pillar of Fluxus, the conceptual-art movement organized around chance. Perhaps it was an unintentional testament to the raw force of her act, but the public's reaction constituted a frenzied rhetoric beyond the influence of such information. Today Ono recalls being blamed for whatever Lennon's failings were seen to be by any given group. She says the radical left, frustrated with Lennon's peacenik refusal to sign up for violent protest, thought her the culprit. So too did Middle America, except that its beef seemed like an after-the-fact explanation for the...
  • A Trippy Q&A With Wayne Coyne About the Flaming Lips' Return to Noise

    If a band leaks four full songs from a new album months before the street date, it's usually a sign they're confident about the total package. And in the case of the Flaming Lips, that confidence appears legitimate. For anyone disappointed by the more commercial aspect of the band's last two efforts, the Lips' next 70-minute full-length release, due Oct. 13, plays like a freak-show mea culpa, clattering and gyrating with psychedelic glee. Lead Lip Wayne Coyne spoke with NEWSWEEK's Seth Colter Walls while rolling on a tour bus through Northern California. In the course of several dropped calls, he discussed the recording of Embryonic, and his influences—ranging from Jean Cocteau to Gwen Stefani. Excerpts:Hello?Coyne: Hey, just so you know, we're in the bus, traveling through Northern California. It's the worst place to try to have a phone conversation. We're probably going to lose you, but you can keep calling me back.Good deal. You were just...
  • New (Possible) Radiohead Song Gets Us All Talking About Radiohead Again

    So there's maybe a new Radiohead song making the rounds─and, as Pitchfork and Stereogum have noted, if it's a fake, it's a damn good one. "These Are My Twisted Words" popped up on a fan site this morning, without any attribution or, um, attendant facts. But the looping weird melody and plaintive vocals are prime Yorke & Co. Hear it for yourself, before YouTube receives a copyright-infringement claim....
  • Jazz Innovator Les Paul Dies at 94 -- A Life in YouTube

    How many inventors are also great artists? Les Paul was both—an innovator in jazz, blues, and pop music who also pioneered the design of the solid-body electric guitar (since made iconic by the Gibson brand that bears his name). He passed away Thursday, August 13 in White Plains, New York, from "complications of severe pneumonia." He was 94 years old. In memory of Paul, we offer a tribute with these YouTube clips. by Seth Colter Walls A truly great commercial, in which an aging Paul schools a youngun playing the guitar he invented.Here's some blues from Les Paul, courtesy of what looks like a TV appearance from the 1970s or early '80s. Country legend Chet Atkins joins Paul halfway through.Going back to the '50s, here we see Paul jamming with a jazz group that's part of some plot or another. Check out his solo at the 2:30 mark.For a more comprehensive look, see this short documentary produced for the JVC JazzFest in 2005.
  • This Raekwon Album Is Really Happening, Isn't It?

    I was trying not to get my hopes up. We've been hearing for years that Raekwon intended to serve us an encore helping of his 1995 classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. What we got instead were some other albums and OK mixtapes. Plus, given the weirdly diminishing returns of a lot of the Wu-Tang Clan's solo-member efforts, it wasn't unreasonable to think that even if Raekwon managed to bring out a sequel, it might fail to measure up. But earlier this year, we got a release date for Part II. Then it was pushed back. That wasn't so upsetting, because a lot of us still didn't believe it would ever happen anyway. Now it looks like September 8 truly is the date. Raekwon has signed on the dotted line with EMI. And now a cut, titled "House Of Flying Daggers," was played at a Hot 97 event. It's a burner. Of course, it wasn't long before someone upped a radio-rip to YouTube. Check it out (and yeah, since it was out over the air, it's the clean...
  • Maxwell Dishes on Auto-Tune, Hip-Hop, Radiohead, and Baby Makin'

    Some musicians work only on their own terms, while others aim to satisfy the charts. Maxwell is doing both at the same time. After ditching the music game for eight years in order to pursue a “normal life,” Maxwell’s latest CD shot to the top of the Billboard 200 during its first week of release. He spoke to NEWSWEEK’s Seth Colter Walls about what changed in the interim─including Auto-Tune, hip-hop, and the urge to make babies of his own, as opposed to just baby-makin’ music. Excerpts from their chat:After eight years away from the game, did you expect to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart?It's a good feeling to know you're not irrelevant! Yeah, look, I'm always pleasantly surprised. I don't walk around drinking my Kool-Aid, thinking I'm the ish of all times. You just cross your fingers and hope. I'm just grateful people went out and bought the album. They could have gone online, found a torrent, and stolen it!I read that you were unsure of your relevance after the rise of...
  • Maxwell's Pure Blues Sounds

    If you're doing quality work within a genre, you don't tend to declare it dead. And then there's Maxwell, the R&B singer whose pouffy Afro and history-conscious music made him a leading sex symbol of '90s neo-soul. "Is there even such a thing as R&B anymore?" he asks. "Hip-hop has completely absorbed it. I have no problem with that." Even if this is a politic acknowledgement of reality, it's a good thing he doesn't mind. Maxwell just released his first new album in eight years: the awkwardly titled BLACKsummers'night. Turns out he's changed, too.After his platinum debut in 1996 and a No. 1 record in 2001, Maxwell dropped out of the game. The explanation is human enough: he wanted a life outside the industry. "People who do get a great deal of success, they start to buy into the conditional aspect of that love," Maxwell says. "I'm so happy that I didn't lose the real idea of who I am." By the time he began recording new material, Maxwell was digging acts like Radiohead and...
  • Why CDs are Killing Classical Music

    In 1996, American composer john Adams wrote a whirligig of a piece called "Scratchband." In its short running time, woodwinds and brass chase each other through thrashing figures so drunk on high spirits that the electric guitar, bass, and percussion can barely keep up. It would be the perfect track to play for anyone who thinks classical music is plodding or stuffy beyond saving—except for the fact that no one owns a legal recording of the music. It's not as though Adams is ashamed of his daring 12-minute essay in sound. He's simply been at a loss, for more than a decade, when it comes to identifying a major symphonic work or concerto that "Scratchband" would make sense next to on an 80-minute CD. "I've been kind of hedging," Adams admits, "because it's hard to find a spot."This obsession with the compact disc would make a lot more sense if sales of the format weren't plummeting across the board. But that is not the world we live in. It's time someone said it: the cult of the CD is...
  • A McCartney Tour Guide

    Usually, when a music legend announces, "And here's a song from my latest record," the unspoken response from the audience is "OK, but you'd better follow it with some hits." Sometimes this dynamic makes sense; mega-artists tend to draw big crowds even after the muse of inspiration has long since left the building. But as Paul McCartney prepares to play seven dates in four U.S. cities this summer, he happens to be floating on a raft of recent material that ranges from good to great. You could draw up a fascinating set list just from the snappy Memory Almost Full, the sophisticated Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, and the wild-as-"Helter Skelter" Electric Arguments (released under The Fireman moniker in 2008). The sad thing is we'll probably never hear that kind of Macca concert.There are two reasons. The more obvious one is that nostalgia-seeking boomers would drown out the music by screaming bloody murder. The less evident—and more mysterious—explanation is that McCartney doesn...
  • David Foster Wallace: On Line

    It's easy to miss the small things when trying to scale a mountain all alone, obsessed with simply planting one foot after another. Same goes for books so long that reading them seems like scaling K2. With its 1,000-plus pages and 300-plus endnotes, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest is precisely such a doorstop. And now, it has its own literary sherpa.InfiniteSummer.org is a virtual book club that guides readers through the novel in 75-page chunks (not including endnotes) every week for three months. On the Web site, where discussion forums have been created, "spoilers" are verboten; you can talk only about the pages that everyone should have read by each week's end. What makes this different from your run-of-the-mill book club? In the old-school system, you'd have a hard time finding more than one or two people with enough nerve (and time) to join a traditional Jest confab. A virtual meeting place not only approximates a book club's sense of community, but brings a crowdsourced,...
  • Seth Colter Walls Responds to Commenters

    NEWSWEEK's music critic Seth Colter Walls wrote a piece last night describing how Michael Jackson's music failed to win him over as a fan. A lot of you commented, most of you stating (like stuff mcgee) that "while you give him [Jackson] some credit, you fail to recognize the level of sheer genius that MJ possessed."  Others, like stanbrakhage, wrote that "while I totally agree with you, I'm not sure our voice--the voice of the condescending hipster--makes for a necessary addition to all the news coverage." Walls responds to your comments below: ...