Music Reader: Thom Yorke, Harlem Shake, theft, Macklemore and more

A recurring weekly feature where we highlight some of the more interesting music articles from across the web.

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Thom Yorke: 'If I Can't Enjoy This Now, When Do I Start?' by Tim Adams (The Observer): So you've probably heard Thom Yorke's new band Atoms For Peace by now. Thom paints the album, Amok, as a less thought-over kind of thing than Radiohead, as perhaps something almost even sunny, benefiting from the LA vibe where it was recorded. Flea apparently got him even surfing. Yorke also paints his lyric writing technique (he chose lyrics on Kid A, for example, by pulling them out of a hat) as being something like what life is like these days. Which seemed an interesting comparison to me: all these images and things vying for our attention, and the way that feels. Also see Sasha Frere Jones on Atoms For Peace at the New Yorker and did you know Radiohead's first album Pablo Honey's now 20 years old

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Can Theft Kill A Band? by Dan Hyman (BuzzFeed): BuzzFeed are weird. Sometimes their output is considered, well-researched stuff like this: how instrument theft is actually a serious issue that's caused major havoc to a lot of bands. (Lots of times musicians can't afford the insurance, let alone the money to replace the instrument at short notice). And then sometimes BuzzFeed really know how to troll.

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Behind 'Thrift Shop': What Made It A Triple J Hit? by Jadey O'Regan (FasterLouder): O'Regan is a musicologist, interested in the nuts and bolts of sound, and here she looks at good old 'Thrift Shop', that song that was a bit popular recently. In particular, there's a saxophone riff that goes through most of the song, and O'Regan does well in explaining exactly how that saxophone bit contributes to the song feeling like it does. And elsewhere, if you want more serious music analysis, Dr Vicky Williamson, a music psychologist with a blog at the NME, explains why minor keys sound sad. There's also my analysis of the song here of course.

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Bob Dylan Lays Off 2000 Workers From Songwriting Factory (The Onion): Think Dylan wrote all his own songs? Nosiree. For years, Dylan's actually owned a songwriting factory in Muscatine, Iowa, where good hard working Americans wrote songs like 'Masters of War' and 'Gotta Serve Somebody'. But times are tough these years, and it's time for Dylan to downsize. 

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The Creator And The Critic by Dayna Evans (CollapseBoard): It's not exactly uncommon that there's some crossover between music critic and musician. There's Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens writing criticism at The Monthly these days, and the likes of Morrissey, Neil Tennant from Pet Shop Boys, and Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders dabbled in music criticism before they were famous (also, well, there's my 'plodding keys' - thanks Doug!).

Evans, who had been behind a musical project called Manors, laments the time she's spent casually reading internet criticism, and reading, well, reviews of reviews. It's easier to criticise, after all, than to create; just reading internet criticism seems to have turned off Evans' desire to create; she hasn't written any new songs recently, she's just been surfing the net. But this is a world where being in the know is important for a musician; it's important to know how your stuff will be received. And so it's not like she really wants to ignore all the critics either. It's just that the payoff from reading stuff on the net is more instantaneous than the payoff from carefully crafting songs and spending long hours putting things together in studios.

(Mind you, I disagree with her argument that people who criticise without first creating are babies pretending to be adults. Musicians do have a tendency to worry about things that audiences don't. So while another musician might understand better what the musician is trying to do, they probably have a shakier grip on how the audience might receive it. Or just might be more emotionally invested in it, so losing objectivity. Whereas the non-musician critic might be more aware of all this.)

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The Harlem Shake What-Does-It-All-Mean Music Writing Competition: 'Harlem Shake' is the #1 single in the US now (as well as here), and so there's been plenty of writing recently about what it all means (my silly analyse-the-Harlem-Shake-by-doing-a-metaphorical-Harlem-Shake 'Number Ones' column included).

But, well, the song is #1 and it's weird and it does say interesting things about the world right now. So here is Jon Caramanica at the New York Times making connections between Macklemore and Baauer, here's Jody Rosen talking to Chris Molanphy at Slate about the changes in the Billboard charts that allowed it to get to #1 in the US (in contrast, the charts here in Australia are purely about sales, if ARIA's FAQ on their website is to be believed. That's right, Australian singles buyers, it's all your fault). And perhaps most insightful of all, Ned Raggett's thoughts on the song at his Tumblr. And not to mention the Wall Street Journal pointing out that it's a craze in China too now, known as the 'Loser Dance', and (oddest of all), a blog from the Smithsonian Museum talking about the whole thing (when frankly they should stick to amazing stories about isolated Russian families surviving in Siberia for decades without seeing another human soul. )

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Remembering When Country Music Wasn't So White Or Conservative by Nathan Rabin (The AV Club): These days in the US, country music seems like the music of reactionary folk from the South who think that Obama is really a Kenyan. But this wasn't always the case, argues Rabin. The likes of Hank Williams and Willie Nelson loved black music, incorporating it into their own -- you can hear that in the funky grooves on a song like Nelson's 'Whiskey River', or the bluesy intensity of Williams' 'Lovesick Blues', that's as much Robert Johnson as Jimmie Rodgers. And there's a joy to a recent compilation of 'country funk' that Rabin discusses here - it's hard to think of two genres now that'd be harder to fuse, but in the early 1970s this was a pretty common thing to do!

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The Mystery of Shuggie Otis by Jeff Weiss (LA Weekly): The recent documentary on the singer-songwriter Rodriguez, Searching For Sugar Man, won the Oscar recently. And, in truth, there's a million Rodriguezes, people who made an album or two and never got big despite being kind of awesome. And one of them was Shuggie Otis, whose 1974 psychedelic soul album Inspiration Information was ignored at the time, and discovered later by the cognoscenti (for further Rodriguezes, see Vashti Bunyan, Emitt Rhodes, Judee Sill, Big Star...). So it's fascinating to see him profiled here, 40 years later, now that he finally feels he has a chance to make something out of his music.

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Tim Byron

(Thom Yorke pic: Tim O'Connor)

profile of TimByron