Category Archives: pop music

The Joy of Media Studies

In teaching my undergraduate Media Studies seminar, I often illustrate concepts that students find abstract or complex with examples from pop music, and especially music video. A few weeks ago, I was using a series of clips to run through some  dominant concepts in mid-twentieth century media studies, a funny thing happened in my classroom.

I started to play this clip…

…and just as I reached to turn the sound down and start talking about QD Leavis, my students started singing. All of them. Loudly.

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Read this Book: Girls to the Front


I’ve  started and re-started this post six times already, trying to come up with an intriguing angle on Girls to the Front, the book by Sara Marcus that occupied the coveted “first-book-Michael-will-read-after-the-school-year-ends” for 2010-2011. For the seventh attempt at writing this entry, I’m going to try a simpler approach. Read this book. Trust on this.

More after the jump.

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The Beastie Boys Revisit, Revise, the 1980s

Fight for Your Right, Revisited (2011)

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about The Beastie Boys lately, and not because they’ve been one of my favorite bands (Licensed to Ill was one of the first two albums I purchased with my own money–six year old Mikey Dwyer picked it up on cassette from a Massachusetts record store in early 1987, along with the soundtrack to Top Gun). And it’s not just because the run-up to their latest album, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2, has utilized new media services and transmedia promotion with a sophistication and savviness not ordinarily associated with the major record labels. And it’s not because the album is, by the way, totally fresh. I mean, it is because of those things, and there are lots of worthwhile reads on those subjects. But it’s also because the promotion for this album has also featured the Beastie Boys seeking to reflect on, and finally redefine, their 1980s stardom, and perhaps offer a new vision of the 1980s as a whole.

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Protected: The Same Old Songs? The Invention of Oldies in Reagan-Era Hollywood

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The 2010 Mixtape

In February of 2010, The Mr. Roboto Project closed its doors, with no definite plans to reopen. Its closing left a considerable void for DIY arts and culture in pgh and the rust belt.  Make no mistake, DIY music has and will continue to thrive without Roboto, but for everyone that attended a meeting, put on a show, saw bands or met friends there, Roboto was something special.  It’s easy to be cynical about being young, punk community, DIY ethics and aesthetics, but Roboto worked. It just did. The first time I walked into Roboto, it felt like possibility. It never stopped feeling that way to me, or to many of the dear, dear friends I made there.

Personally, Roboto’s closing was another reminder of my changing relationship to music. During last year’s All Songs Considered Year in Review show, renaissance woman (and my perma-crush) Carrie Brownstein argued that music was becoming less and less social. In many ways, my experiences in 2010 bore this out. The memorable engagements with music that I once had in spaces like Roboto were in 2010 supplanted by extended headphone engagements. 2010 was, in many ways, a year of deep listening experiences–ambitious efforts by Kanye West, Titus Andronicus, The National, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Midlake and Sufjan Stevens proved that talk of “the death of the album” was premature. On the other hand, the chance encounters with music, the word-of-mouth promotion and direct relationship with artists that made Roboto so special to those of us who spent time there has in some ways been replicated by online music communities. Blogs like Can You See the Sunset and Rebel Frequencies, podcasts like Sound Opinions, aggregators like HypeMachine, sharing communities like Waffles and What, and sundry message boards and twitter feeds (like our very own @rustbeltrising) have all helped me keep music as an important part of my life.  Without them, much of the music that follows would not have come to my attention. I’ve also been able to plug students in more directly to developing conversations in the music industry (special shout to students putting out albums of their own, including Sarah Aument, The Fly, Liz Lewis, and others that would probably be embarrassed by my endorsement.)

I’m past the point in my life where I could honestly try to compile a list of “best” music of 2010–best songs? best albums? best artists? best shows?–so instead, I’ll humbly offer my Mr Roboto Project Memorial 2010 Mixtape. So much music had to get cut from this 20-track opus: Beach House, Vivian Girls, Wiz Khalifa, She and Him, Girl Talk, Grass Widow, Reading Rainbow, Rot Shit, The New Pornographers, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, The Tallest Man on Earth, Best Coast, Joanna Newsom, The National, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Rural Alberta Advantage, Avi Buffalo, The Menzingers and lots more I’ve missed. What’s left is the music I spent the most time with and enjoyed the most this past year.

Track by track breakdown after the jump.

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