Pop & Hiss
The L.A. Times music blog
Tony Bennett-Lady Gaga's 'Cheek to Cheek' reaches No. 1

Pop odd couple Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga have taken the Great American Songbook back to the top of the pop charts with their duet album “Cheek to Cheek.” The week's top album also means Bennett bests his own record as the oldest artist to reach the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 Albums chart.

Three years ago, Bennett claimed that crown at 85 with his “Duets II” collection, and now has upped the ante to age 88 for his collaboration with Gaga, a 28-year-old artist young enough to be his great-granddaughter.

The good news/bad news aspect of “Cheek to Cheek’s” sales, which totaled 130,521: That’s a strong showing for Bennett, though short of the 179,000 that “Duets II” sold three years ago. But the numbers represent a deep slide for Gaga, whose 2011 album “Born This Way” came out of the gate with 1.1 million copies in its first week, then quickly fell to the lower reaches of the Billboard 200.

Reviews of “Cheek to Cheek” have gone both ways. Reviewing for the Los Angeles Times, Mikael...

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'This Ain't No Mouse Music!' doc celebrates rootsy Arhoolie Records

Long before phrases like “roots music” and “world music” became standard terminology in the pop music lexicon, scrappy little Arhoolie Records was playing a key role in giving voice to musicians and styles of music that had been largely unheard.

The story of Arhoolie, which started in 1960, and label founder Chris Strachwitz are the subject of “This Ain’t No Mouse Music!,” a new documentary by filmmakers Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling that’s screening in Los Angeles for nine days starting Wednesday at the Downtown Independent theater.

Like Alan Lomax before him, Strachwitz, who was born in Germany and came to the U.S. as a teenager shortly after World War II, sought out little-circulated recordings from rural Louisiana, Texas, Mexico, the Caribbean and even Los Angeles to try to expand the audience for Cajun music, zydeco, corridos, folk, blues and other strains that existed well outside the mainstream of the music business.

After unearthing various historical recordings, he expanded...

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Prince teams up with Kendrick Lamar at album release party

Prince, America's finest eminence of funk, has a couple of new albums out now. Kendrick Lamar, L.A.'s uncontested titan of hip-hop, is suspected to have one of his own sooner or later.

At Prince's dual-LP release party last night in Minneapolis, the two joined up for a high-spirited victory lap onstage.

Lamar hopped on to rap over a relatively deep-cut track from Prince, 1998's "What's My Name" (see the video here). The duo's virtuosic talents were a fine complement to each other, with Prince's inimitable guitar shredding weaving in and out of Lamar's quick verses.

To judge by their big grins, it was as much of a delight for them as it was for the crowd.

The set was in celebration of Prince's new sometimes-brilliant, sometimes-confusing albums "PlectrumElectrum," with his band 3rdEyeGirl, and "Art Official Age," a solo album. Lamar, for his part, has returned with a deeply funk-indebted single, "i," that uses the Isley Brothers' "That Lady" as a foundation for jubilant self-affirmation...

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Watch: Pharrell Williams recruits Takashi Murakami for 'It Girl' clip

Pharrell Williams and Takashi Murakami are at it again.

Just months after the prolific singer and producer remixed the theme song from Murakami's film "Jellyfish Eyes," the equally prolific Japanese artist has returned the favor by producing a music video for Williams' song "It Girl," which appeared Tuesday on YouTube.

It's a trippy, boldly colored clip in keeping with Murakami's signature style, with visual elements borrowed from anime and video games.

"It Girl" is the final track on Williams' album "G I R L," which came out in March following a series of huge hits he helped create for other artists, including Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk.

On Monday, Billboard reported that Williams is currently working with Gwen Stefani on songs for a new solo album from the No Doubt frontwoman, with whom Williams co-stars on "The Voice."

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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Watch: Daniel Lanois' abstract, pastoral 'Iceland'

Producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Lanois will release his latest solo album, “Flesh and Machine,” on Oct. 27. Pop & Hiss is premiering the video for the instrumental track “Iceland.”

The gently unfurling tune, based on a wandering seven-note melodic motif, is accompanied by film imagery assembled by Jim McKay, who has directed episodes of TV shows including “The Wire,” “Treme” and “Big Love.”



An earlier edition of this post listed the release date of "Flesh and Machine" incorrectly. It is being released Oct. 27.


The film echoes the piece and feel of the ambient music with a single take showing McKay’s daughter moving around a woodsy pastoral environment, her actions accelerating and decelerating in an unusual way.

“The invitation to find or create images to accompany one of Daniel Lanois' songs was exciting for me,” McKay said in a statement. "I was especially drawn to the track, 'Iceland,' firstly because it's absolutely...

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Watch: Shelby Lynne's vintage 'Thought It Would Be Easier'

Pop & Hiss is premiering a vintage live performance of the song “Thought It Would Be Easier” from the forthcoming 15th anniversary reissue of Shelby Lynne’s breakthrough album, “I Am Shelby Lynne,” which helped her win the Grammy Award for best new artist of 2000, the year the album came out in the United States.

That win became one of the great head-scratchers in Grammy Awards history: The Alabama-reared singer and songwriter had been recording and releasing music for a major label -- Epic Records -- for a dozen years when Grammy voters finally discovered her and anointed her with the new artist award.

The quirk of long-overdue recognition notwithstanding, the album was important in solidifying Lynne's artistic voice after years of attempting to fit a square peg into the round hole of Nashville convention.

After leaving Epic, Lynne found a new home at Island Records and recorded “I Am Shelby Lynne,” an album that explored emotionally deep terrain in “raw, deeply confessional numbers,...

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Nicki Minaj to host 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards

Nicki Minaj just scored her first No. 1 in the U.K. for her role on Jessie J’s ladies anthem “Bang Bang” and the rapper is set for another European milestone.

Minaj will host the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards, the network announced on Tuesday. She will also perform on the show that will be beamed from the Hydro in Glasgow on Nov. 9.

“I will not only perform, but I have the honorable task of HOSTING this year’s #MTVEMA!!!!!!! AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!,” Minaj tweeted to her more than 18 million followers.

Minaj is tied with One Direction, Eminem, Sam Smith and Iggy Azalea with four nominations. She’s in the running for best female, hip-hop, biggest fans and best look.

At this years Video Music Awards, Minaj opened the show along with her “Bang Bang” co-stars Jessie J and Ariana Grande and gracefully handled a wardrobe malfunction that had her spilling out of her black dress.

Katy Perry leads the pack of nominees with seven nods, including song and female honors. Grande is right behind with...

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Thom Yorke's 'Tomorrow's Modern Boxes' holds few surprises

If you’ve been following the arc of Thom Yorke and Radiohead, it probably doesn’t need to be said that his latest solo album isn’t a back-to-basics affair. Put another way: No, Yorke still isn’t interested in guitars.

Vaguely hinted at by Yorke in a few cryptic tweets -- including one of a rotating white LP -- this eight-track album debuted Friday. It's the first recording sold amid the file-trading wilds of BitTorrent,  at the cost of $6 and the time to install some software (that vinyl version is also available, for nearly $50 at the current exchange rate).

Given that Yorke helped reset the template in 2007 with the “pay what you want” offer for Radiohead’s “In Rainbows,” his album's surprise release is consistent with what’s come before -- and the same goes for its sound. With typical ominous atmosphere, "Tomorrow's Modern Boxes" recalls the melodic tangle of Yorke’s 2006 album “The Eraser,” with nods toward the impressionist dance pulse of his 2013 project with Flea, Atoms for...

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Listen: Lorde's new single from 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1'

Lorde was an appropriate choice to oversee the soundtrack for the film "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1." Both the film and her music are full of tales of young women in peril, navigating strange new worlds.

Now the New Zealand singer-songwriter has released her first bit of original music from the film, a new single called "Yellow Flicker Beat."

It's a little more dramatic and maximalist compared to some of her spare electronic-centric singles, but fits the movie's high tensions. Its starts with a  slow, torchy vocal with little more than backing coos and a deep bass tone to underline it. But by the chorus, the song bursts into a storm of digital drumming, ominous reverb and trancey snyth stabs. 

The film is out Nov. 21, with the soundtrack released on Republic later this fall. She also headlines the Greek Theatre in L.A. Oct. 6-7.

Lorde posted some thoughts on the single and the one-year anniversary of her album "Pure Heroine" on her Tumblr:

"i’m sitting up in bed, moving...

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Aretha Franklin covers Adele for new album out Oct. 21

As the undisputed Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin has contributed countless classics to the great American songbook and collaborated with an endless list of greats. 

For her next album, Franklin found inspiration from her fellow pop divas, a title she’s helped define. 

“Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics,” will see the singer tackle songs from Barbra Streisand, Gladys Knight, Alicia Keys, Dinah Washington, Chaka Khan and Etta James. 

On the album, out Oct. 21 through RCA Records, Franklin plays the piano on a version of the Supremes’ classic “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” mashes up Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" with Destiny's Child's "Survivor” and offers a take on Sinead O’Connor’s signature “Nothing Compares 2 U.” 

The lead single is Franklin’s ferocious take on Adele's megahit "Rolling in the Deep” – it’s dubbed  “The Aretha Version" (you can stream it above) – which she effortlessly turns into a sermon with an assault of vocal runs. She also adds in Marvin Gaye and Tammi...

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Listen: One Direction journeys to the '80s in new song 'Steal My Girl'

One Direction is going dad rock. Again.

After more or less borrowing the intro of the Who's "Baba O'Riley" for last year's "Best Song Ever," the British boy band cribs from Journey in its brand-new single, "Steal My Girl," which starts out almost exactly like the older group's hit 1983 power ballad "Faithfully." (Listen to the song above.)

"Steal My Girl," which appeared early Monday on YouTube, is the lead single from One Direction's upcoming album, "Four," due out Nov. 17.

But it's not the only sign that the band turned to the early '80s for inspiration this time around.

In "Fireproof," which One Direction released early this month, the group's members harmonize coolly over a rolling soft-rock groove that strongly recalls Fleetwood Mac's 1982 hit "Gypsy."

Stay tuned, hopefully, for one where they rip "Owner of a Lonely Heart" by Yes.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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Dublab celebrates 15 years with party, new projects

Over the last 15 years, thousands of web startups have come and gone. In 1999, Dublab was one of them, a new kind of radio station that only broadcast online. While others crashed, Dublab transformed itself into a nonprofit that earns its keep through listener support, grants and wildly inventive fundraising events. 

More than a bunch of coding, the Dublab site has become a thriving community and an essential voice of Los Angeles music. Dublab celebrates these 15 years on Saturday with a typically diverse, typically inspired collection of music, food and art. (See the full line-up here.)

It's been a busy year, Dublab's cofounder Mark "Frosty" McNeill told me. The group, which has studio space on the outskirts of Silver Lake, recently revamped its website, and in the process reorganized its vast library of live and studio recordings. Long a proponent of electronic music of all forms, a quick search in their archives reveals DJ sets from an array of artists, including Flying Lotus, Andy...

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