Pop & Hiss
The L.A. Times music blog
Aphex Twin's 'Syro': A labyrinthine EDM gem

Few artists over the last few decades have as successfully thrived beneath various interfaces as Richard D. James, better known as Aphex Twin.

A composer and beat-music innovator whose way with intricate electronic-synthetic melody spawned entire instrumental subgenres, James has over two-plus decades constructed a veiled mythology around his artistic self involving truths, half-truths and outright lies.

Which is to say, if news were to break tomorrow that James, 43, were in fact the mysterious graffiti artist Banksy, or had pranked critics by hiring a bunch of hack imitators to create his new “Syro,” few could argue that signs pointing to such things weren’t in his past.

It’s an impressive, influential body of work. If German group Kraftwerk best illustrated the early potential of human-computer interaction in pop structures, James a decade-plus later harnessed faster processors to build -- and deconstruct -- wild synthetic sculptures. In classic works like “Analogue Bubblebath,”...

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Caetano Veloso gigs the Hollywood Bowl; Bird and Banhart offer support

Three handsome men, each raised in different decades in different countries and with varied demeanors, walked onto the Hollywood Bowl stage one after another on Sunday night and sang in a few different Romance languages about mortality, love, diamonds and jasmine, sinister helicopters, disgusting sex, movie stars and more.

The Venezuelan American Devendra Banhart was casual, almost to a fault, but through his occasionally magnificent songs confirmed an ambition that belied his laid-back whatever happens, happens persona. The Chicagoan Andrew Bird built cascading melodies and harmonies on his violin, and was joined by his band the Hands of Glory to update vintage country and suggest joyous new avenues for American vernacular music.

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FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post gave the title of "Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical" as "Brazil Classics: Beliza Tropical."
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Most important in the scheme of things, the fabled Brazilian singer, songwriter and restless...

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Pink Floyd offers release date, cover art for album 'The Endless River'

The new Pink Floyd album, called "The Endless River," will be released on Nov. 10, and the band has offered more details on its creation. Recorded by the trio of David Gilmour, Rick Wright and Nick Mason -- Roger Waters is no longer a member of the band -- the album is mostly instrumental, and expands on ideas originally laid down during the sessions that produced 1994's "The Division Bell."

Produced by a consortium including Gilmour, Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, Youth and Andy Jackson, "The Endless River" was a long time coming, according to Gilmour in a statement. 

 “The Endless River has as its starting point the music that came from the 1993 'Division Bell' sessions. We listened to over 20 hours of the three of us playing together and selected the music we wanted to work on for the new album. Over the last year we've added new parts, re-recorded others and generally harnessed studio technology to make a 21st century Pink Floyd album. With Rick gone, and with him the chance...

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Katy Perry at Staples Center: 5 thoughts on her hometown show

Declaring that “nobody reps this place harder than I do,” Katy Perry took over Staples Center on Friday night for the first of two hometown concerts on her Prismatic World Tour.

“It doesn’t matter if this is show No. 65,” she told the arena full of California gurls (which included, Perry said, her 93-year-old grandmother). “You’re not just another number.” Here are five thoughts on the evening:

1. Only a pop star with as many hits as Perry would dispense one of her biggest right out of the gate, as the singer did with a highly aerobic rendition of “Roar” that had her jumping glow-in-the-dark rope at one point. The bouncy anthem of self-affirmation, which also opened last year’s “Prism” album, set the cheerfully optimistic tone of the two-hour production to come.

But it served notice as well to any casual fans in the house -- the chaperones, in other words -- that they were likely to know every song Perry planned to play.

2. She wasn’t kidding with the aerobics. Perry sang “Part of Me”...

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Garth Brooks on Garth Brooks: 'I don't get it'

Ask Garth Brooks, who plays the first show of his seven-performance run in Atlanta starting Friday night, what the secret of his continuing popularity is, and he’s stumped.

“I wish I could explain it: Of course -- I’m beautiful, are you kidding me? I’m talented,” he said, chuckling. “But I don’t get it.”

Shortly after opening his 11-show stint in Chicago on his first world tour in 17 years, Brooks remains convinced there’s something at work beyond the personal  appeal of what he sometimes refers to as “the Garth Brooks guy.”

“If the Garth guy shows up or not, these guys are still going to have the same great time,” he said, noting one bit of fallout from the cancellation of his five sold-out shows in July at the 83,000-capacity Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland.  “We saw video footage of people in Ireland, at a bar the night we were supposed to be there, singing ‘Friends in Low Places’ and they were having the time of their lives.

“It’s like it’s their show,” he said.

Then he...

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Magic Johnson returns to the Forum -- as a music fan

Former Lakers star Magic Johnson will set foot in the Forum in Inglewood on Sunday for the first time since it reopened in January, this time as a fan on hand to catch Frankie Beverly and Maze’s performance, rather than as a member of the team he helped win five NBA championships in the 1980s during the “showtime” years.

“[L]ooking forward to seeing one of our all-time favorite bands, Maze feat. Frankie Beverly, Sunday,” Johnson tweeted on Wednesday, which drew a response from another veteran sports figure, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who answered “I love Frankie Beverly and Maze!!!!!!”

Sunday’s show also features Patti LaBelle and Ruben Studdard, all of whom are scheduled to receive commendations from Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts at the show.

The Forum reopened in January following a major renovation by the Madison Square Garden Co., which put $100 million into buying and updating the arena that opened in 1967 and helped usher in the era of arena rock that flourished in the 1970s and...

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Friday Coda: Meredith Graves, Minutemen, U2, #Fugazi1888 and more

Amid the volume of musical frequencies and written online responses to said frequencies this week, a few stood out. Among them: an analysis of the Minutemen's "Double Nickels on the Dime"; a punk singer's remarkable essay; a tip on a fantastic, unheralded Netflix-available doc on Branson, Mo.; more reaction to the U2/Apple thing.

Bonus: If you read to the end, a new career may await you. 

-- Meredith Graves is the singer of a New York punk band called Perfect Pussy. She has also written a remarkable essay on gender politics, identity and popular music, one that she recently delivered at the Basilica Soundscape festival in Hudson, N.Y. The music site the Talkhouse republished it this week, and it's an essential read.

At one point she compares Andrew W.K. and Lana Del Rey, and the ways in which each is scrutinized and accepted by the public.

After exploring Andrew W.K's back story, Graves concludes: "The entire thing was a cleverly planned piece of living theater that was meant to seem...

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Barbra Streisand stays mostly the way she was on 'Partners'

Amid the breathless genuflection that constituted Jimmy Fallon’s much-hyped interview with Barbra Streisand this week on “The Tonight Show” – “It’s unbelievable to stand next to you,” he actually said at one point -- Fallon somehow managed to extract a piece of useful information from his guest: that her goal with her new duets album was not simply to remake some of her biggest hits but to “reinterpret” them – to provide, in the case of “People,” for instance, “a whole other way of looking at the song.”

Let’s get real, Babs.

Most of the dozen tracks on “Partners” -- which features duet partners such as Michael Bublé, Andrea Bocelli and the singer’s son, Jason Gould – offer no such vantage. A vaguely bluesy rendition of “Come Rain or Come Shine” with John Mayer differs little from the vaguely bluesy rendition on Streisand’s 1979 album “Wet.” Her blustery harmonizing with Josh Groban in “Somewhere” tells us far less about the “West Side Story” war horse than the weirdly trippy take she...

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Lifetime announces Nov. 15 premiere date for Aaliyah biopic

Lifetime has set a date for its Aaliyah biopic.

"Aaliyah: Princess of R&B" will premiere Nov. 15, the network announced Thursday. Lifetime also released a new still from the film showing Alexandra Shipp as the late R&B star.

Lifetime’s original movie about the singer’s life, including her rise and tragic death in a 2001 plane crash at the apex of her fame, has been controversial. When the network announced the project over the summer there was a backlash from the singer’s fans and family.

Fans protested the casting of Disney star Zendaya Coleman in the role of the singer-actress affectionately known as Baby Girl. Numerous petitions even popped up online.

Jomo Hankerson, the singer’s cousin and president of her label Blackground Records, also spoke out against the film. Hankerson told the New York Daily News that the family’s issues weren’t with Zendaya’s casting but with Lifetime.

“It’s never been about the actress. The problem that we have is that Aaliyah was an icon and she deserves...

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Throwbacks: Reissues by ABBA, Bedhead, JB's, Kinks, Paramount, more

These days everything's pretty dusty in Southern California. To paraphrase Travis Bickle, someday a real Discwasher will come and brush all this grit off the vinyl. Until then, experts with good ears will have to suffice.

Below, the week in reissues, archival recordings and old tape, all gussied up for new ears.

 -- Four Swedes helped define pop music in the 1970s. Their names: Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Bjorn, and together they were ABBA, purveyors of hits including "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Take A Chance," "Waterloo," and many heavenly others. At the peak of its popularity, the quartet ruled the charts with breathtaking singles that still sound essential 40 years later. Proof: the forthcoming "ABBA -- Live at Wembley Arena."

Recorded at the end of 1979 at the peak of the group's fame, the Wembley set spans 25 songs, and will arrive from Universal Music Sept. 30 on double-disc and triple 180-gram vinyl.

Also coming out will be the only ABBA-sanctioned book ever issued, called "ABBA...

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Jason Isbell leads winners at Americana Music Awards

If there were a triple crown in Americana music, Alabama singer and songwriter Jason Isbell took it Wednesday night in Nashville, collecting artist, album and song of the year honors at the 2014 Americana Music Awards.

Isbell’s album “Southeastern,” which also generated an award for producer Dave Cobb, spawned the song of the year winner with “Cover Me Up.”

Accepting that award, Isbell saluted the musician who is arguably the most revered songwriter in country music history. "Happy birthday to Hank Williams," he said. "If it wasn't for that guy, we'd be doing this in some burned-out Kmart in Murfreesboro."

L.A.’s own rootsy twosome, the Milk Carton Kids, a.k.a. Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, won for best duo or group, and rising Kentucky singer and songwriter Sturgill Simpson took home the emerging artist award.

Guitarist Buddy Miller, who also led the house band at the ceremony in Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, was named instrumentalist of the year.

This year’s three...

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Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton lip sync with Jimmy Fallon

OK, so it was an in-house NBC promo for the new season of “The Voice," but as self-promotional sketches go, Wednesday’s lip-sync contest between “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon and “The Voice” coaches Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani was pretty entertaining.

Country star Shelton quickly jumped out of his native genre by opening with Indonesian pop singer Taco’s 1983 version of “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” a track that allowed him to let his motorcycle boot-clad feet fly during the tap-dancing interlude.

That segued to Fallon’s first selection: Ellie Goulding’s “Burn,” which benefited from Fallon’s canny use of a mini flashlight for his big finish.

Stefani’s opening salvo--after dissing Fallon by thanking Jimmy Kimmel--was Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” in which the No Doubt front woman ratcheted up the energy level and showed what a bona fide rock star has over a country singer and a musically savvy comedian when it comes to performance authority.

Shelton returned in the second round...

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