Seth Colter

Stories by Seth Colter Walls

  • 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: ...
  • Elvis Costello: An All-American Boy

    You don't have to listen to the music of Elvis Costello (born Declan Patrick McManus in London) to know he's obsessed with Americana. First, there's that stage name. Next, you have the clues from the songs he's written (or covered): "Eisenhower Blues," "American Without Tears," and "American Gangster Time." In his spare hours, Costello is also a cheerleader for country music history. This decade, he petitioned the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to admit early trailblazer Wanda Jackson. Country—and red-white-and-bluegrass—also appear to have inspired his latest album,Secret, Profane and Sugarcane, which boasts bar after bar of mandolin, fiddle riffing and Louvin Brothers–like vocal harmony. Though it would be a mistake to label the 13-song set a narrow genre exercise. The shadow Nashville casts over Costello is a slightly more complicated affair. (Story continued below...)At the table of style, Costello has long been a gourmand hungry for almost any form he encounters. He frustrated some...
  • Kanye West: Author

    Feel the world is beating you down? Kanye West, a man frequently at battle—with, say, the president, or with Grammy voters—has written a short volume of aphorisms titled Thank You and You're Welcome. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Seth Colter Walls: ...
  • A Song and a Chat With Elvis Costello

    By Seth Colter WallsIn his more than 30-year career, Elvis Costello has partnered up with everyone from Johnny Cash to Paul McCartney and the Charles Mingus Big Band. His latest, country-inflected CD, Secret, Profane and Sugarcane, features a duet with Emmylou Harris and a tune co-written with country legend Loretta Lynn. Costello recently dropped by the NEWSWEEK offices to play a bluesy acoustic version of one of the new songs, "Sulfur to Sugarcane," and sat down to talk about the record, digital music and the most influential musician alive. Excerpts: Walls: Do you keep track of the albums you've recorded by genre? That is to say, Almost Blue was your first country record, King of America the second and so on?Costello: Well, the first one began as an altered blues album. The reason it was called Almost Blue was a play on the idea of it almost being blues. The original conception before it went to Nashville [for recording] was that they were all blues or R&B songs, like "Cry C...
  • Jazzy Mash-Ups

    If Ellington went indie, he'd sound something like Darcy James Argue.
  • Steve Reich on Winning the Pulitzer for 'Double Sextet'

    By Seth Colter WallsMinimalist composer Steve Reich, a true giant of American music, was finally given a Pulitzer Prize this week. Still in a hurry, at age 72, to finish his latest piece, the speed-talking Reich spoke with NEWSWEEK's Seth Colter Walls. Excerpts:Walls: The Pulitzer committee's taste in matters classical has long been criticized as narrow and academic. As a composer outside the "university" mold, were you surprised to win?Reich: Yes, I was surprised. But I was even more surprised to see David Lang win [last year]. Of course, I'm sorry they never gave it to Duke Ellington or Morton Feldman or Conlon Nancarrow. Hopefully, there's still time to give it to Terry Riley and Philip Glass. But obviously, there's been a change in the weather on the committee since [WNYC radio host] John Schaefer took the chair.Some say this amounts to more of a lifetime achievement honor for you, and that this piece isn't necessarily the best work to...
  • Worth Your Time: German Composer Bernd Zimmerman

    When David Foster Wallace hanged himself last year, mourning quickly gave way to talk of an unfinished novel. But while we wait for the book, I've been taking comfort in Wallace's early, exuberant fiction, which—compared with his bleak, later work —clearly delighted him nearly as much as it has delighted me.Wallace's creative and emotional trajectory brought to mind German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann, who killed himself in 1970. A conscript in Hitler's Army as a youth, Zimmermann spent his postwar life nursing depression, as well as his own uniquely gonzo musical style. In the opera "Die Soldaten," his most (in)famous work, orchestral shrieks are spliced with stomping, jazz-hall sonorities. Some find this unpalatable, but I hear beauty in the contrast. (I'm not alone: the opera sold out its run at last year's Lincoln Center Festival.)But as with Wallace, Zimmermann's final works can feel like drafts of a suicide note. So we should thank the ECM label, which just released an all...
  • Indie Interview: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

    The tension in music between innovation and devotion is particularly tight on Indie Avenue, where a band's work can be harshly evaluated based on its influences, while a simultaneous pressure to define a unique sound is undeniably stronger than in the Top 40 universe. This need to be original while maintaining a faultless, identifiable pedigree is a tough line to walk, but Brooklyn's latest It Band, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart—guitarist and singer Kip Berman, keyboardist and singer Peggy Wang, bassist Alex Naidus and drummer Kurt Feldman, as well as touring member Christoph Hocheim—keeps an admirable balance on its Slumberland Records debut. The 10-song set touches on shoegaze, reverb-heavy twee and '90s alt-noise, and showcases an admirable tightness of songwriting. (Put simply: They make a lot of musical subgenres sound uncommonly direct and fun.) Fresh off a 14-show marathon at South by Southwest last month, the band invited NEWSWEEK's video team to their Williamsburg...
  • An Exclusive Early Listen to Bob Dylan's New Album, 'Together Through Life'

    Bob Dylan is on a roll. After taking seven years to pen "Time Out Of Mind," another four to make "Love and Theft," and then touring for half a decade while musing on "Modern Times," he is delivering a follow-up album of new material faster than at any point since 1990. Back then, critics were hardly on tenterhooks waiting for the man's latest tunes, either. But what a difference a good decade-plus of career rehabilitation can make. News of Dylan's newest long-player, "Together Through Life," spread across blogs like a viral video last month, its announcement almost universally regarded as a welcome surprise--especially since Columbia had released a fine multi-disc set of recent outtakes only last winter. Hardly anyone expected another batch of Bob this soon. The evident speed and enthusiasm of the record's creation is, in the end, justified. You can listen to the album's penultimate tune, "Feel A Change Comin' On," exclusively here ...
  • When Bad Books Go Good

    Mary Gaitskill doesn't do pretty, but her new stories are still gorgeous.
  • EXCLUSIVE: New Details on Prince's Online Venture, Live Dates, Photos, and More!

    Prince's new online venture, LOtUSFLOW3R.com, will debut on March 24. The site will offer digital downloads of the three new albums previously announced with a March 29 street date, in CD format, at Target stores. Two sources in Prince's camp also have confirmed that the rumored price of $77 for one year's subscription to the site has been formally settled upon. The picture above is an exclusive screengrab provided to us by Prince's web developer, Scott Addison Clay, who recently gave me an advance tour of the Web site. That image, which is also featured on the cover of the LOtUSFLOW3R CD, will be the user's portal into the online "world" of that album, complete with lyrics, artwork and new photos, in addition to the tunes. Two other "worlds," one for each of the other two Princely releases, also exist on an animated 3-D plane, in an arrangement that Clay compares to the popular game Myst. The album "MPLSoUND," as previously re...
  • Q+A: Bob Mould On Staying Vital, and Accepting His Legacy

    Punk legend, alt-rock mainstay, "Daily Show" theme song composer: Bob Mould has got the icon thing covered. In April, the veteran musician is set to release his eighth solo studio album since the 1988 implosion of Hüsker Dü. (That tally doesn't even count Mould's other influential band, Sugar.) If the title, "Life and Times," suggests an artist in reflective mode, that's not too surprising: Mould is currently toiling on his memoirs, to be published by Little, Brown in 2010. For now, though, Mould is offering his most guitar-based set of songs in over a decade--completely setting aside the influence of his club DJ work that crept into recent rock efforts. For all that stylistic focus, though, the new album is hardly a monotone experience, since it features singer-songwriter acoustic pieces as well as steamroller punk anthems. Mould dropped by to play a solo version of his latest single, and talk to NEWSWEEK -- excerpts:Talk a little bit about the song you just played: "I'm Sorry,...
  • Exclusive: First Audio From Sonic Youth's New CD, "The Eternal"

    Photo: Andrew Kesin A couple weeks back, we received an invitation from Matador Records to come listen to Sonic Youth's latest record, "The Eternal," over at the label's Manhattan HQ, and I was happy to accept on behalf of NEWSWEEK. Halfway through the listening session, though, I found myself a touch aggravated.  It wasn't because the band's latest batch of experimental jams was of poor quality. As anticipated, "The Eternal" brings the goods—a none-too-surprising fact, given that most everyone seems to agree this band has been on a righteous hot streak in their third decade of activity. What grated was the understanding that this album wouldn't be on sale until June 9. Way too long to wait to hear it again. So we fixed that (kinda).The pitch to Matador's publicist went as follows. The Youth are all cool and avant-garde, right? They dig William Burroughs' "cut-up" novels. They've provided musical accompaniment to Stan Brakhage's abstract-expressionist films. Thus, shouldn't th...
  • A 'Terrible, Horrible, No Good' Media Trend

    The wave began in the spring of 2007, as then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales prepared to face an inquisition over the U.S. attorney firings scandal. The licking of liberal chops was so heavy that Salon.com predicted in advance a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" for Gonzo. (And so it was.) Since then, according to Nexis, that same "terrible, horrible" string of words has appeared in news stories nearly 50 times.They're all allusions to Judith Viorst's classic 1972 children's book about a hard-luck boy named Alexander, a kid based on the author's young son. In the past year, convicted senator Ted Stevens, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and doomed cabinet nominee Tom Daschle have all received the "horrible, no good, very bad" treatment.The weird part? Go back just a few more years, to 2005, and "no good, very bad" references all but disappear. Nexis turns up just a handful, most related to the original book itself. Asked if she has any theories about what gives, Viorst,...
  • Classical Music at the Grammys: Championing the Underdogs

    Compared to the play-it-safe pop music instincts of Grammy voters -- rightly derided by Joshua Alston below -- the winners on the classical side reflected a surprisingly cutting-edge taste Sunday night.As in: Are you for serious that the Los Angeles Opera's slick DVD of Kurt Weill's "Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" (see trailer below) took home both the Best Classical Album and Best Opera Recording awards? And that it beat out a brilliant CD of 20th-century violin concertos -- from Schoenberg and Sibelius, performed by Hillary Hahn and conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen -- in order to win the first of those two trophies? (Adventurous listeners are herewith advised to pick up both releases. While undeniably modern, neither requires a Ph.D. in music theory to enjoy.)To classical n00bs, that last graph probably sounded like a bunch of random syllables slapped together. I don't think the Grammys ever televises these categories, either, which speaks to the...
  • Rap Music's Orson Welles

    If you want rap music with a shelf life longer than milk, take a listen to Q-Tip's 'The Renaissance.'
  • Obama’s Affirmative Action Test

    How will the Democratic candidate deal with potentially divisive ballot initiatives calling for an end to affirmative action?
  • Deal Close for 2nd Fla. Primary

    A plan to raise soft money to pay for a second Florida Democratic primary--this one by mail--seems close to approval, according to Sen. Bill Nelson.