(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Concert review - Jill Sobule, Erin McKeown

27 November 2009 (The Walnut Room, Denver CO)

This show promised something familiar and something new. Jill Sobule was here in July with John Doe and the Sadies, but I hadn't seen Erin McKeown before. It became clear that the two of them have developed a good tour chemistry.

The Walnut Room is an interesting venue. It has a normal bar with seating out front and a fairly intimate performance room in the back. With a scattering of tables and not much open space in front of the stage, a more raucous crowd wouldn't have fit. Last night, though, this wasn't a problem. The audience was enthusiastic, but fairly polite.

Jill Sobule

Jill and Erin kicked off the show together, singing a one-off theme song for Denver. It was a good start, reminding the crowd that Jill is a home town girl. Her set list ran through familiar paths, with several songs from California Years. As I've come to expect, Jill brought an uncompromising sincerity along with a slight vulnerability to her songs that built a strong connection to the audience.

Erin sat in on a few songs, adding a nice electric lead touch to Where is Bobbie Gentry? and a Riders on the Storm-influenced low-key organ backing for When My Ship Comes In. This last was probably my favorite song of the set. Jill was loose and funky with the rhythm; the song had a really fresh feel. Jill's friend, Eric Moon, also sat in on accordion for several songs -- another nice local touch.

In a lighter moment, Jill reworked her Kathie Lee song of a hidden lesbian relationship to take aim at Condoleezza Rice. This served as the perfect sweetness before her last song, Sonny Liston, which captured an aching sense of nostalgia and loss.

Erin McKeown
I recently reviewed Hundreds of Lions, McKeown's latest CD. It's a great listen, but how well would it translate to a stripped down solo performance? It turned out that the live energy and stage presence easily made up for the missing musical parts of a fuller band.

With no break between sets, Erin dove right into a sing-along version of Slung-Lo. Acting out the lines to teach the audience, McKeown was playful and fun. Then she shifted into an up tempo rockabilly vibe for Queen of Quiet. Then came the bluesy groove of The Taste of You, complete with the lead in story about living across from a strip club.

From song to song, including several from Hundreds of Lions, it was clear that the crowd knew the material well. The mood evolved throughout the set, but Erin's warm interactions with the audience were constant.

Jill Sobule returned the favor from her set and sat in on several songs. Their styles were so different, yet complementary. They ended with a huge encore of Neil Diamond's America, which had both women competing on who could channel Neil the best (I'd give it to Erin). The crowd joined in and closed out the night on a great show.

The Black and Tans I had were the perfect match for the music: two contrasting parts that fit well together.

Many more pictures at my Flickr.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

CD review - Apse, Climb Up (2009)

Apse has gone through a remarkable amount of change just to get here. Over the last 10 years, they've cycled members in and out and their sound has shifted, too. Aside from shorter songs on the new album compared to Spirit (their first album), Climb Up still mines some of that darker mood, but it also breaks things up, shifting from moodiness to anxious energy.

Musically, Apse owes a great debt to Joy Division and New Order, but they also pull in some Flaming Lips and Radiohead. Layered under all of that is a retro taste of King Crimson and Roxy Music. Sure, that's a lot of bands to compare with, but the songs really do bounce around. Robert Toher's vocals are loosely attached and evoke an edgy Marc Bolan (T. Rex).

There are some great elements here: wonderfully detailed textures, interesting syncopation, and a fair amount of psychedelia. But the overall effect is too scattershot. Climb Up is full of random shifts, like the pensive, deliberate slide of All Mine jumping into the progressive drive of Rook, Only the languid vocals maintain any cohesiveness. Later, Tropica builds a dream drenched collection of sonic layers, that build like a giant wave before drifting away and dissipating. It sets a wonderful mood, but it's torn apart by the sharp contrast of The Whip. This song takes a driving beat and a strong T. Rex feel and assembles them into a nicely packaged indie rock groove. It's not that any of these songs are bad, they just don't flow. Maybe, if they were reordered...

If the album doesn't quite satisfy, there are still bits to appreciate. The Joy Division/New Order post-punk vibe, strongest in 3.1, is a treat. The Age kicks off with a Brian Eno era Roxy Music feel and eventually slides into a trippy, Indian-tinged bit of rhythmic complexity. The affirming mood of The Return has a lot of neat little pieces that fit together in joyous tonal complexity.

So, Climb Up is a mixed bag. Sort of "rum and coke follows gin and tonic". It's worth a listen to see which parts you'll enjoy.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

CD review - Erin McKeown, Hundreds of Lions (2009)

I'm looking forward to catching Erin McKeown in concert this coming Friday in Denver at the Walnut Room. She's touring with Jill Sobule, another of my favorite singer/songwriters. I hadn't really heard Erin before listening to Hundred of Lions, but I'm a fan now.

Her voice is intriguing: smoky and a little bit bruised. It reminds me a bit of Shirley Basie, Edie Brickell, and Eleni Mandell, depending on the song. McKeown tends sings a little off to the side of her subjects, providing a touch of distance. Several of the songs are borderline hypnotic, with repeated phrases and music that builds, layer by layer. The music meshes orchestral instruments with guitar and drums. There's a strong folk aesthetic, but it's tempered by jazz grooves and an indie rock sensibility.

There are several strong tracks, but All That Time You Missed is one of those hypnotic ones. It starts with a tone and an uptempo acoustic guitar and builds a moody groove. There's a satisfying contrast between slow components and faster ones: the woodwind tone and other slower tonal bits on the slower side pushing against the faster guitar and percussion. The percussion starts with simple drums but little bits of tech noise slide in as the complexity evolves. The chorus speaks to a universal theme of post breakup analysis:
And the easiest path to a broken heart is to keep moving
Could we have saved ourselves this walk by standing still?
This live version, stripped down to just the guitar and voice, doesn't really do it justice.

McKeown has talked about rejecting traditional genres for categories like "sunny day" or "car ride". The song, 28 starts out like a sunny walk, dappled with shadows. It's dreamy, with opaque lyrics that fit the music. Something about the melody of the bridge after the first lines makes me think of Riot Van, by the Arctic Monkeys, which just seems like an odd juxtaposition. Eventually, the song shifts into more of a simple, repetitive rocker before shifting back. I would have like more of that higher energy section, but the dynamic drop is nice, too.

There are plenty of sweet moments scattered throughout Hundreds of Lions -- the Celtic folk sound of You, Sailor (with its "I am a king/I am aching" dualism), The Lions' lush, "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite" style retro groove, and the chanteuse-worthy Seamless which evokes Shirley Bassie singing Autumn Leaves.

Give Erin McKeown a listen. A 15 year old Dalwhinnie, sweet with heather should go well with the music.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Essay: The interconnected web

The OCD part of my nature makes me look for patterns and connection. That's actually a normal human trait. We categorize things to better understand them. It also gives us an instant context to communicate with each other. We tend to assume that everyone has categorized things in a roughly similar manner, but often forget to ask whether the category itself makes any sense.

Musical categories, for instance, seem inherently weak, especially when it comes to styles that are still evolving. That's largely because there are so few pure musical genres. Sure, with insulated groups, there's a sense of musical style sui generis, like Appalachian bluegrass or Swedish death metal. And yet, even these are tethered to roots that have spawned countless other styles. It's hard to find purity; there is no vacuum.

Over time, many stylistic labels become useless on their own: rock, jazz, world music...because the label represents a melange of vaguely related instances. We sense the relationship between two sounds, but can't really articulate the details. So we fall back to the general name. Rock has come a long way since the '50s, but even in the early days, elements from other styles, like country or blues, intruded. Like any hybrid, a given musical sound can be healthy, varied, and strong from taking pieces from numerous sources to create something unique.

For me, the most interesting music happens in those odd spaces between genres. That's why I love bands like Gogol Bordello, Camper Van Beethoven, Dengue Fever, Easy Star All-Stars, Nouvelle Vague, Whiskey Blanket, and Béla Fleck. Picking a genre in these cases seems pointless; it's better to list their antecedents. The music is vibrant and compelling, but the labels (e.g. jazz-bluegrass or gypsy punk) don't really make the grade.

Unfortunately some people get too hung up on labels. They can argue about whether something is "really punk/reggae/etc" and discount artistic value because it's not a pure enough example of something that was poorly defined in the first place. There are whole styles of music that I thought I didn't like, such as bluegrass or heavy metal. Eventually, though, I encountered examples of music I found I did like when I stopped worrying about the label. Occasionally, it even opened up my ears to the style in general. Now, I don't necessarily like everything I hear, but I can focus on what it is I don't like rather than automatically dismissing it.

So now, instead of satisfying my need for pattern and connection by sorting music into genres, I look for the patterns relating a given performer or song to other things I know. I can wonder which of those connections are real and which are just coincidence (or too removed to track). My head doesn't have a set of bins, it has a web.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

CD review - Dub Skin, No End in Time (2009)

I've reviewed Ft Collins' Dub Skin's live show, when they opened for the Easy Star All-Stars. This time, I gave a listen to their newest CD, No End In Time. Their live show was good, but they sound even better here. The conscious lyrics, the Burning Spear sound, and great bass and drums -- everything fits together just-so.

No End in Time grabbed my ear from the very start with the instrumental, Dubway Station. The spacious mix and moody ska groove sound like Ghost Town by the Specials. A simple keyboard chank and stepping bass line provide a nice grounding for all kinds of little fills and leads. When the song slips into double time around 2:40, things get a little trippy in a dub style.

It's easy to miss the point and reduce reggae to the chank beat. This mistakes anything with a similar reverse emphasis qualifies as "reggae". True reggae, though, is all about fitting together a collection of intricate parts which still fall together as a groove. On the surface, the music is simple. But, listening closely, you can hear the complexity of odd little percussion fills, the perfect background vocal parts, and tasty little keyboard parts.

Dub Skin understands this. Songs like Calm Before the Storm and Conquer Rome have a simple structure and are easy to listen to. The deeper immersion reveals the drummer's perfect fills kicking into the chorus and the odd bits of echoed keyboard and percussion decorating the corners of the tune. The guitar leads organically flow from the groove and seem less like an ego pose compared to a lot of rock music.

Another great track is Strongest Foundation, which brings back some of that ska sound. Repeated reverb-drenched guitar fills and echo saturated vocal parts mesh perfectly with the punchy drum sounds (especially the tom work). The song flows into a psychedelic dub jam that sets the mood without dragging on for too long.

I can't wait to catch Dub Skin live again. I'd love to hear some of these songs live. No End in Time is available for free download from their site. Check it out and if you like it, either catch them live or buy their debut release from digstation.com so they get paid.

Now, I'm thirsty for some home brewed ginger beer.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

CD review - Mojo Nixon, Whiskey Rebellion (2009)

Psycho-billy rocker Mojo Nixon is back from the dead (or at least the '90s), with a collection of recordings he found along with a couple of newer pieces. The songs are typical Mojo: over-the-top, simple rockabilly tunes with a heap of attitude on top. Taken as a whole, Whiskey Rebellion feels a little more haphazard than his earlier work because the instrumentation, arrangements, and recording quality vary wildly from song to some.

The world, according to Mojo, is split into the things he likes (Elvis, Kinky Friedman, America) and the larger group of things he hates (Dr Laura, his wife, asparagus, Don Henley, Judge Judy, small planes, drug testing). Mojo taps directly into his inner 13 year old (which is a bit more of a smart ass than his inner 8 year old) and vents forth. This is what he's always done and continues to do here. Once he gets started, nothing slows him down. If it weren't for his sins, he could have become one of those manic southern preachers, almost speaking in tongues he has so much to say.

The high point is clearly Just a Little Favor for the Kinkster, with Prisoner of the Tiki Room and Promised Land II as nearby peaks. Just a Little Favor has a stream of consciousness delivery that warns you that every live version will be different, even while the frantic rockabilly groove stays constant. Prisoner of the Tiki Room is Mojo's send up of Tom Waits. Finally, Promised Land II has enough autobiographical bits mixed in to sort of explain how he got where he is.

The screeds about Judge Judy, Dr. Laura, and urine testing seem fairly dated. And I understand that he wants to support his good friend Kinky Friedman, but reworking Elvis is Everywhere into a campaign song (Kinky is Everywhere) is a weak offering.

All in all, it's a mixed bag. As with all reviews, "if this is the sort of thing you like, you'll like this." I don't know if it's me or Mojo, but I'm not really feeling the magic this time, myself. I used to love Mojo back in the '80s and this doesn't live up that level.

The best link I found for listening was the Amazon site, so drop by and check him out.

Pour yourself some Pearl or PBR while you listen. Sure it's corny, but sometimes that's just what you want.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Concert review - Saul Williams and guests

8 November 2009 (Fox Theatre, Boulder CO)

This show was part of the first national Afro-Punk tour, as an outgrowth of the Afro-Punk Festival in Brooklyn. Afro-Punk is a multicultural scene, giving a rallying point to outsider urban kids. The community fosters a punk attitude, where political expression, skate culture, and music all come together along with non-simplistic view about racial stereotypes and expectations. The tour continues from here out to California and up the coast.

Saul Williams is an excellent choice as headliner for this tour. His poetry and performance identify well with the Afro-Punk aesthetic and he's fairly well known nationally. Most the people I talked to before the show said that he was the main draw. They were ready to be moved by his words and his beat.

The night's entertainment split into two halves. The American Fangs and Earl Greyhound provided a more traditional rock band show, while CX KiDTRONiK with Tchaka Diallo and Saul Williams took more of a punk/rap approach.

DJ Musa
Denver turntable artist DJ Musa wove throughout the whole evening. He started the show, running an ongoing series of mixes, and also filled the time during the stage changes between acts. With a pair of digital Midi turntable controllers and a MacBook, he threw together some typical laptop grooves with some scratching. The mixes were not bad, with lots of the expected hip hop beats, but he also tossed in some punk and Nirvana to keep the crowd's ear. One particularly sweet transition was when he smoothly flowed from Public Enemy into Living Colour's Cult of Personality, which features a cool, off-beat guitar riff.

American Fangs
Houston's American Fangs started their set at top speed and never slowed down. The brownian motion on the stage set a punk mood, but the band is very polished and tight. The music was more of a thrashy hard rock. The frantic, restless vibe was a good start for the main attractions.

The songs were catchy enough. They sounded a bit like the Arctic Monkeys -- which is a great club sound. That was one hardworking drummer and their lead guitar player knew how to pose while he shredded. I've talked about "snotty boys with guitars", American Fangs are "angry boys with guitars".

During the set break, I talked to their singer, Gabriel. He said that they're enjoying the Afro-Punk Tour, but the drives can be pretty long -- they drove 22 hours to get to Boulder from New Orleans. After this tour, they're planning to record a new CD. Their last one, which they were selling for $5 at the show, had been recorded by their guitar player. Go to their site and listen to Le Kick, it's their contribution to the Afro-Punk sampler and it's a great rocker.

Earl Greyhound

Earl Greyhound is a trio out of Brooklyn. I kept counting and there were only three musicians every time -- but when I shut my eyes and listened, I'd come up with a bigger number. Their sound is thick, where the guitar shifts roles between fills, lead, and rhythm. Such a rich guitar tone: beautiful ringing guitar, fluid leads, and echo saturated psychedelic sound. The bass playing was smooth and melodic, featuring a light distortion and flange. Rounding out the sound, the drums were rich and syncopated, driving the beat, but never simplistic. The interplay of the male and female vocals reminded me of X, even if the music was completely different.

The first song of the set recalled Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, which set the tone for the rest of the set. The Led Zeppelin sounds persisted through a full set of epic songs, which featured some interesting chord progressions. Occasionally, they evoked more of a My Morning Jacket progressive rock sound. They played a new song that sounded like Pictures of Matchstick Men, with a droning vocal part echoed by the fill guitar. Sometimes, the bass and guitar twinned one another until they veered apart. This was hard rocking but complex music, in contrast to American Fangs.

I'm sorry that Earl Greyhound didn't have a CD for sale. I also would have liked to have talked with them after their set.

CX KiDTRONiK with Tchaka Diallo
And now for something completely different. When CX KiDTRONiK and Diallo hit the stage, it was a hostile takeover. They brought a low-fi musical approach, stripping things down to synth trigger beats and samples backing a mix of rap and punk vocals. At the same time, they created a visual spectacle, with sideshow antics and silly string. CX KiDTRONiK acted like he was in a manic Three Stooges movie, rolling on the ground and jumping up on his table full of gear. After a fairly short set, they closed with Shout, singing along with the old Isley Brothers record. That gave us a chance to catch our breath before Saul Williams

Saul Williams
Saul Williams had a backing band with guitar, keyboard basslines, and CX KiDTRONiK on synth percussion. He played a number of songs from his latest album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust. If you aren't familiar with Saul Williams, he performed in the movie Slam, doing spoken word/poetry. He pulled out stylistic elements of the Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. As Saul said in Sha-Clack-Clack (and performed at the show), he "is that nigger". The punk noise of the last set arose again, but this time in service to the words. He exhorted the audience, laid out political and racial identity philosophy/questions, and rocked the house.

The music may have been there for the words, but everyone pulled their weight. Genre jumping from punk to reggae chank, to hip hop beat, to Fishbone rock, Saul and his band raised the roof while raising consciousness. Another crowd pleaser was Convict Colony, off the new album. Later, he even covered U2's Sunday, Bloody Sunday in a punk version. His singing there may not have been the strongest, but he made the song his own. The last song of the set, with a descending line like Bela Lugosi's Dead, spiraled into chaos. Saul came back out for an encore of a couple of songs.

Driving home after this four hour show may have called for black coffee, but I'll recommend Kamikazes for the show itself.

More photos on my Flickr.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Concert review - Honey Gitters, Good Gravy

4 November 2009 (Aggie Theater, Ft. Collins CO)

This was a free show, but the crowd was slow to turn out. When the Honey Gitters started their set, there were only a half dozen people there. Fortunately, people filtered in slowly over the course of their set to build a respectable sized audience.

Honey Gitters
I feel bad for the people who missed the opening of the Honey Gitters' set. This was a tight band of solid players. They put on a great show, balancing an expanded bluegrass sound with entertaining stage presence. If you get the chance to catch them, I highly recommend them. The interplay on stage meshed well with their audience interaction. The improvised patter, especially from bass player "Slim" Acosta, was comfortable and funny.

The other players in the band (Chachi Simms on guitar, Josh Beard on banjo, and Leland Leyba) each brought their own personality and skills to the show, too. Most of the material was bluegrass or country rock based, but the Honey Gitters often pushed the boundaries, with forays into funk and rock. The banjo work was especially interesting, because Josh ran his banjo through a raft of effects. So, his leads often sounded a lot like an electric guitar, but you could still hear the banjo roll technique come through.

There were several highlights. Cocaine Lil featured a cut time/reggae beat and a lyrical flow that reminded me of the Beat Farmers' California Kid. The band drifted into a blues funk groove for It Ain't Funny, which featured solid bass work, a shredding guitar solo, and Les Claypool inspired vocals. Another funk groove (Wet Cigarette?) added Good Gravy's Kyle Van Buskirk on percussion. During his lead section, the band laid out a dreamy groove.

I also got a copy of their CD, Barrel-Sniffer's Holiday, which features many of the songs they played. This is a good quality recording that expands on their live sound, adding accordion and the occasional fiddle. Their MySpace page streams several of these songs, so give them a listen until you can catch them yourself.

Good Gravy
I spoke briefly with Kyle from Good Gravy before their set. He was excited about their shows in Moab this weekend and their upcoming recording plans. I'm really looking forward to hearing what they choose to record.

I last caught the band back in April, when they opened for Jerry Garcia Band. They've come a long way since then. Last night, they were engaging the crowd and showing off some much improved harmonies. This show was a better demonstration of their stylistic range. While their central ground was in the bluegrass and country space, they were quite comfortable jamming into rock or what I'd call speed-grass. More importantly, they could bring these dynamic variations into a single given song. Shifting fluidly from one groove to another, this was catchy music and the audience was wild for it. It did seem like the percussionist's synth pad was lower in the mix, but maybe everybody else was just louder this time.

My favorite song was 37, an epic bluegrass/country rock/funky/psychedelic extravaganza. Good Gravy effectively gave us a tour through their influences. There was a fair amount of Grateful Dead in the mix and lots of higher energy sections. The effects-laden mandolin was especially trippy.
Another peak moment was their speedy cover of House of the Rising Sun, with some shredding lead riffs and a spacy electronica background. These guys are all rock solid musicians, fully at ease with their material.

I'm looking forward to their eventual CD. I hope they can capture their live energy.

Pour me some bourbon and branch and let's make a night of it.

More photos at my Flickr.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

CD review - The Kleptones, 24 Hours (2006)

I've been meaning to review the Kleptones for quite a while. DJ "Eric Kleptone" creates mashups of pop, rock, and rap songs, with generous amounts of movie and TV sound thrown in. While there are tons of talented, witty mashup artists, the Kleptones stand out as unique, especially for their album focus.

My introduction to them was through Yoshimi Battles the Hip-Hop Robots, which was a song by song mashup of the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots mixed with artists like 50 Cent, Blackalicious, and the Beastie Boys. A Night at the Hip-Hopera did a similar thing with music by Queen. This review will focus on their most recent disc, 24 Hours, which is a concept album where the songs represent the course of a day. Running through the hours, the collection tells a whole story, ending as it began in a dream state.

This is a double album (day and night) with 33 tracks, which is a bit more than the Moody Blues used for Days of Future Past. So, there are so many hot tracks that it's difficult to narrow down the list. The source songs cover a good 40 odd years of music, including artists from John Lennon to White Stripes. There an undercurrent of subtle self-deprecation and irony, with references to theft ("...even if it's for a worthy cause") and lame DJs ("...anybody could whip (this) up in 10 minutes with GarageBand). Sound bites from the movie Waking Life provide another common thread.

Here are a few highlights: 0810 - Down on Bennies is beautifully assembled with the vocals from Elton John's Bennie and the Jets paired with Rage Against the Machine's Down on the Street. The chords are nothing like Bennie, but they work with the vocals perfectly. I'll never listen to Elton John the same. 1100 - Casbah Ain't Easy layers David Bowie's It Ain't Easy onto Rock the Casbah by the Clash. The peak of disc one is 1600 - War of Confusion, with pieces of Stevie Wonder's Superstition, a couple of Peter Gabriel songs, and Edwin Starr's War. Except for the sound bites strewn through it, this sounds like it's of one piece. It's heavily political with bits of George W Bush's State of the Union address.

Disc 2 moves into the evening with a stop at the bar. Stevie Wonder's Uptight (Everything's Alright) rocks over Jet's Get What You Need to create 2100 - Uptight Jet. Things turn darker later on when 0205 - Drunk Machine crashes to an end leading to 2245 - If Not For the Ambulance Driver. The latter is a sweet balance of George Harrison and the Flaming Lips. Near the end, 0610 - We All Fall Through the Air provides a nice dreamy groove, bringing back Elton John, this time with Air.

Even if you're on the fence about the whole mashup thing, give the Kleptones a listen. Because of intellectual property issues, Kleptones CDs are not available in stores but you can download them for free from their site. If you like what you hear, you can contribute to them as you see fit.

What to drink? Black and Tan, of course.

Essay: Mix and mash

I talked briefly about DJs and mixing in my Pretty lights review. I want to talk a bit more about mashups in particular, in preparation for my review of the Kleptones' 24 Hours. A mashup is a mix of two or more songs in the same track, where the intent is to create a musical hybrid. Since this usually entails heavier usage of the source material than a simple sample, each of the original songs is still largely recognizable. Oftentimes, this is structured by mostly using music from one song and vocal tracks from another: think Stairway to Gilligan's Island, except maintaining the original Gilligan tune for the vocals. Genre hopping between the songs is also common.

Much like my preference in cover tunes, I really like creative mashups. There's something really satisfying about a clever combination. At its best, a good mashup balances between a novel experience with something familiar. The familiar song(s) raise associations that can provide a sense of deeper meaning and increase my appreciation of the originals while I enjoy them in their new context. In contrast, songs like P Diddy's I'll Be Missing You, with its straightforward lift of the Police's Every Breath You Take, seem non-creative and dull.

Of course, that raises the question of whether a mashup is truly a creative work. If the DJs didn't play any of the music they're putting together, are they just stealing art from real musicians? This may seem like a new, particularly egregious case of appropriation, but it's really a standard practice throughout the history of creative arts. Great painters and sculptors have stolen techniques and visual elements from one another. Classical music has used folk melody themes and jazz has a long history of reinterpreting classic tunes. Musique concrète, a musical/artistic approach based on found sound, is even more closely related to today's mashup. If information or meaning is added by the musical juxtaposition, then this is a creative work. Keep in mind, too, that, though there are mashup tools (e.g. ACID Pro), creating a mashup is a challenging technical task. The DJ has to unite rhythm, musical key, and create a balance between the sources. Even if the keys match between two songs, the chord changes of one song may not meshwell with the melody of the second.

The ethical question is more interesting (and harder) to answer. There has been plenty of debate over the use of short samples in hip hop music. In the case of mashups, much more of the source material is used. This seems to be analogous to cover songs. In that case, live performances are addressed through BMI/ASCAP fees paid by the venue and CD sales pay publishing royalties. Live performances aren't really an issue, as most mashup DJs don't focus on live shows. Most mashup artists do offer recordings, though, and they don't tend to pay royalties, which is an issue. That's why many of mashup artists give away their tracks and rely on donations and other sources. The holders of the publishing rights do their best to shut down the mashup DJs with varying suucess (look at DJ DangerMouse's Grey Album). The few mashups that develop a cult following usually find a legal path to capitalize on the fan base.

Coming up next is my review of the Kleptones, who are one of my favorite mashup artists.