Loose in Blog Heaven

Feeling cocky? Surf the wave of MP3 blogs and find out just how much you don't know.

Last night the Go-Go’s saved my life. After endless days spent hopelessly adrift in the storming, hostile seas of MP3 blogs — assailed not by sharks, but by intimidatingly obscure jazz, funk, hip-hop, folk, or avant weirdness I’d never heard of, let alone heard — I desperately craved familiarity, a lifeline, a lighthouse beacon in the night.

Belinda, oh, Belinda. You make heaven a place on earth.

From head over heels to “Head Over Heels.” The dulcet tones of Ms. Carlisle (a childhood crush), yanked from the Bubblegum Machine ( Bubblegum-Machine.com/culchah.html ), pulled my lifeless body from the treacherous Sea of Cool Shit I Know Pretty Much Nothing About. A wondrous but overwhelming land, Blogville, but an easy place to lose your way, your dignity, your mind.

A Simple Primer: MP3 blogs are Web sites where someone — a writer, critic, DJ, or scenester — posts a coupla tunes a day for public download, free of charge and possibly illegally. Most confine themselves to a specific genre. Hip-hop is tremendously popular, the “indie” umbrella equally so, and, in the case of the glorious Bubblegum Machine, ’80s Cheez Whiz never goes stale. (Ah, Hall & Oates, a childhood obsession.) As this is a blog phenomenon, the tunes are accompanied by history lessons, critical discourse, or brief notes on the poster’s physical or mental well-being. For example, one of the contributors to Music.for-Robots.com has a bit of a cold, and is thus partial to snooze-alarm ambient techno at the moment.

A Reason That Simple Primer Possibly Wasn’t Necessary: These suckers are suddenly huge, targets of countless big media articles pondering What It All Means. This endeavor is obviously (ahem) hella illegal, but a) the few blogs targeting current music tend to generate invaluable publicity (i.e. Scissor Sisters, Arcade Fire), and b) the vast majority deal with material so below-the-radar that many of the artists themselves are unaware of their own existence.

The movement has already created a few minicelebrities: Matthew Perpetua of Fluxblog.org plays the pioneering Blogfather, whereas the Bay Area’s own Oliver Wang of Soul Sides (O-Dub.com/SoulSides), with his encyclopedic hip-hop and soul knowledge, plays the Doggfather. But far more engrossing, compelling, and ultimately overpowering are the tunes themselves, even as our whirlwind tour begins, via Fluxblog, with Gwen Stefani.

Most sites aspire to create their own insular, self-satisfying universes, but Perpetua is probably closest to the Blog Zeitgeist — finger on the pulse, that kinda thing. He also aspires to pump in some blood of his own, so he appends Gwen’s “Luxurious” with a long rant on the sexist, “rockist” (if you don’t know, you’re better off, trust me) critics who’ve mostly hated Stefani’s solo debut, Love Angel Music Baby. He scores a coupla debate points, but it doesn’t help matters that “Luxurious” is absolutely terrible, lower-case g-funk whereupon Gwen blathers on about Egyptian cotton and actually sings Chi-ching! Chi-ching! This album should come packaged with a shovel and some random dude to repeatedly whack in the face with it.

The Click — Vallejo don E-40’s old crew — would certainly approve of this merchandising technique, as a quick visit to Cocaine Blunts & Hip-Hop Tapes (CocaineBlunts.com) will gladly confirm. The Washington, DC outpost is currently conducting a sort of E-40 seminar, posting tunes from early-’90s tapes like the Click’s Down & Dirty, E’s Federal, and Suga-T’s It’s All Good, while discoursing on how much better the original cassettes are than the inferior reissued CDs. Very helpful, and the Click’s “You !!! Up When You Slammed My Motha” makes an excellent e-mail subject line.

The Cocaine folks are sometimes regarded as blustery and critical, a quality (positive, I’d say) also prevalent in We Eat So Many Shrimp (ManyShrimp.Blogspot.com), a feverishly updated Philly outpost currently crowned by a massive, eighty-minute West Coast hip-hop mix flaunting the Coup, Saffir, Medusa, Blackalicious, Aceyalone, CVE — you name it. Latyrx’s “Latyrx,” with its double-helix rapping style, is still devastating, but Mr. Shrimp unleashes plenty of devastation of his own via his exhaustive tune-by-tune, verse-by-verse liner notes. “San Jose hip-hop is some of the worst hip-hop I’ve heard ever,” he rants, before climaxing in his discourse for Freestyle Fellowship’s “Ummm”: “This song closes with the chant We will never fall the fuck off, we promise. What a fucking lie.”

Most blogs tend more toward moderation, diplomacy, and most happily, international excursion. The Suburbs Are Killing Us (ChristopherPorter.com) can’t help gushing over the occasional cheesecake photo of Julie Delpy (she sings, too, oddly enough), but also offers, in addition to jazz and the occasional Sinead O’Connor shout-out, some fine African jazz-pop fare. The lesser-known Benn Loxo Du Tàccu (Mattgy.net/music), broadcasting from West Africa, is also a splendid output for, say, mid-’60s Nigerian surf music.

Indeed, the more popular blogs are okay: Stereogum.com with its celebrity gossip and Joanna Newsom rarities, TeachingtheIndieKidstoDanceAgain.Blogspot.com with that popular Arcade Fire cover of Talking Heads’ “Naive Melody,” in which the wheezing frontman plainly sounds like Grandpa Simpson. But as this universe continues to expand, it’ll grow in fascination as it splinters, as the specialties get weirder and more distinct. Case in point: Locust St. (InkHornTerm.Blogspot.com), a compendium of 1940s folk, jazz, and swing with a curator so deep into it that he lists his nine favorite movies … of 1949.

Of course, the ephemeral, vaguely illegal blogosphere changes pressure quickly — it’s entirely possible that every tune mentioned here will no longer be downloadable by the time you read this. But a steadily increasing quality and quantity of tracks will have surged to replace them. So what makes these seas hostile? Blogs provide the most dramatic peek yet into the vast, endless void of Music That Time Nearly Forgot, and trying to absorb it all — as Soul Sides bounces from Oakland ’90s hip-hop to Hungarian ’70s pop to freakin’ Chicago — can leave you flustered, dizzied, and questioning what you know, and more importantly what you don’t. But whenever that happens, Belinda, oh, Belinda, will be there to catch you.

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