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06-04-10 Footnotes
Show 236: The History of the Vocoder, Reviews of Blitzen Trapper & Sleigh Bells, Jim's DIJ

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1 Jim and Greg kick off the show by discussing the results of the biggest pop music contest in the world. No, not American Idol…Eurovision! That television broadcast drew over 120 million viewers worldwide (compare with Idol’s 24 million) and remains the world's most-watched non-sporting event. Germany is the big winner this year with its contestant 19-year-old Lena Meyer-Landrut.

2 Next Jim and Greg are joined by Dave Tompkins, author of How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-Hop. The vocoder is an electronic instrument that produces a distorted, robotic sound. You probably recognize it making an appearance in songs like “Trans Europe Express,” or even “I’m Not Moving,” but you probably don’t know about its secret military history. It was developed as a tool to encode speech during wartime and was used by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt—a far cry from Afrika Bambaattaa. As Tompkins explains, there’s something the human ear finds undeniably fascinating and pleasurable about machine-like voices. And, ultimately, the technology all stems from a desire to make cheaper phone calls.

3 Blitzen Trapper kicks off the reviews this week. Their 5th and latest album is called Destroyer of the Void. Both Jim and Greg were big fans of the 2009 Sub Pop debut Furr. Greg continues to respect singer Eric Earley’s songwriting and fondness for traditional American folk sounds. But, he feels like the band is on repeat with this album. It’s too predictable and only gets a Burn It rating from Greg. Jim can’t believe his ears. The moments of departure and growth that Greg loves are the worst parts of the record according to him. Blitzen Trapper is aping Queen, and it doesn’t work for Jim. It’s a “disgrace” and a Trash It.

4 Sleigh Bells has released its debut record, Treats. The duo of guitarist and beat maker Derek Miller and vocalist Alexis Krauss made noise at both CMJ and SXSW. But to Jim, a self-professed connoisseur of noise, this is too much. Every note is full of massive fuzz and distortion. Everything’s at “11,” and it gets a Trash It from Jim. Greg wants us all to note the moment where Jim complained his rock and roll was too loud. It’s ear-bleed loud, yes, but it’s also a tremendous pop pick-me-up. Greg gives Sleigh Bells a Buy It.

5 It’s Jim’s turn to add a song he can’t live without to the Desert Island Jukebox this week. He honors iconic actor Dennis Hopper, who died last week at age 74. Hopper not only directed classic movies like Easy Rider, he chose their soundtracks. So for his track, Jim chooses “The Ballad of Easy Rider.” The version in the film features a solo performance by Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, but Jim prefers the version by the whole band.

Songs Featured in Show #236
Deep Purple, "Hush," Shades of Deep Purple, Spitfire Records, 1968
Lena Meyer Landrut, "Satellite," My Cassette Player, Unknown Label, 2010
Afrika Bambaata, "Bambaata's Theme," Beware (The Funk Is Everywhere), DBK Works, 1986
Wendy Carlos, "March from a Clockwork Orange," A Clockwork Orange, film score, ESD, 1972
Parliament, "Mothership Connection," Mothership Connection, Mercury, 1976
Peter Frampton, "Show Me The Way," Frampton Comes Alive!, A&M, 1976
Tonto's Exploding Headband, "Cybernaught," Zero Time, Viceroy, 1971
The Alan Parsons Project, "Raven," Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Mercury, 1975
Afrika Bambaata, "Planet Rock," Planet Rock: The Album, DMK Works, 1986
Rammellzee, "Cheesy Lipstick," The Bi-Conicals of the Rammellzee, Escape, 2004
T-Pain, "I'm Sprung," Rappa Ternt Sanga, J-Records, 2005
Phil Collins, "I'm Not Moving," Face Value, WEA, 1981
Tom Tom Club, "Spooks," Tom Tom Club, Island, 1981
Kraftwerk, "Trans Europe Express," Trans Europa Express, EMI, 1977
Styx, "Mr. Roboto," Kilroy Was Here, A&M, 1983
Blitzen Trapper, "The Man Who Would Speak True," Destroyer of the Void, Sub Pop, 2010
Blitzen Trapper, "Destroyer of the Void," Destroyer of the Void, Sub Pop, 2010
Blitzen Trapper, "Below The Hurricane," Destroyer of the Void, Sub Pop, 2010
Sleigh Bells, “Infinity Guitars,” Treats, Mom & Pop Music, 2010
Sleigh Bells, “Rill Rill” Treats, Mom & Pop Music, 2010
Sleigh Bells, “Kids” Treats, Mom & Pop Music, 2010
The Byrds, “Ballad of Easy Rider,” Ballad of Easy Rider, Columbia, 1969
Robyn, “None of Dem,” Body Talk Pt 1, Interscope, 2010
Chromeo, "Call Me Up," Fancy Footwork, Vice Records, 2007
Janelle Monae, "Oh Maker," The ArchAndroid, Bad Boy Entertainment, 2010
The Black Eyed Peas, "Boom Boom Pow," The E.N.D., Interscope, 2009
Ronny Dio & The Prophets, "Gonna Make it Alone," Rollercoaster Records, 2006

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