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July 12, 2004

Raised on Radiosity.

Radio is a joke, and it's not funny anymore. But you can't hang the DJ - he's probably not even in your city. As we all know, enormo biz outfits like Clear Channel are the ones ensuring that it's Guitar Gods Weekend from coast to coast, and that there's a KIIS outlet for every market.

This is old news by now, but it's a big reason why I listen to a lot of NPR. I'm still a fan of radio, and National Public Radio is one of the last pieces of the medium to retain its humanity. But it's that same distinctive flavor that's led me to characterize its contributors. We always imagine faces for people we only hear, whether they're on the radio or the other side of a phone. But because NPR's hosts and correspondents have such powerfully personal styles, my brain can render them in sketches of a short phrase, or even one word. Their voices are audio logos, as instantly recognizable as Intel's four-note trill or the strident rush of John Tesh's "NBA Theme".

Here's a few the most powerfully-branded in my mind. No reflection on these peoples' abilities as broadcasters or journalists; I just can't shake these descriptors when I hear their voices.

Melissa Block Plucky
Michele Norris Yowza!
Robert Siegel Professorial
Neal Conan Fuddy-duddy
Steve Inskeep White guy
Renee Montagne Dinner party intellectual
Carl Kasell Loves to eat bread

And, my all time favorite:
"From NPR news in Washington, I'm Laksmhi Singh." Perfect rhythm, incredibly cool delivery. Singh is like that impossibly smart girl you knew in college, who was also at all the shows. At least that what's I like to think she's like when she's delivering the news. Again, it's all about voice-branding.

As for me, I covered shows by Cake and the Mooney Suzuki for Glorious Noise. The former revealed The Cake Fan Archetype, which is a mix of They Might be Giants Fan-style eccentricity and vague hippie overtones, while the latter - recent Capitol Records signees and recipients of the Matrix Treatment - were disappointly flat after three years of consistently awesome shows.

Lot of action at Pitchfork. Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter have released an incredible new record on Barsuk that seems like the perfect blend of insurgent country, torch song mood, and drug use flashback power. "In those dark places cut into the earth, Sykes' sinewy vocal is like a canary with a cigarette.". Despite the hype, I just don't get what's so awesome about the Killers' Hot Fuss; the Vegas combo's debut is appropriately hooky, but also irritatingly plastic. "It's plain the Killers have made a record more concerned with artiface than artistry...Why does it try to squeak by as another deft pop reversion when it actually seems to be a revisionist cash dance?" There was also a funny cut 'n' paste thing from MTV2 darlings Bumblebeez 81 called The Printz. Verdict: the group should probably give more time to Chris Colonna's actractively laconic sister Vila. "'I flow like water in a stream/I got the mad fuckin' scheme/All up in my regime.' Okay, it's not exactly Def Poetry Jam, but when she starts blaberring about putting placentas in blenders over a sample of a tennis volley, smart brains start thinking 'guilty pleasure'."

Oh, there was also a review of Thank You, Temporary Residence's cool 8-year anniversary comp that's filled with typically laid-back post-rock fare, as well as Azure Ray's New Resolution EP, which I'm not sure I linked to before.

What about AMG, you ask? Well, here are some links. There's the ball-busting bluster of Gretchen Wilson - even if Redneck Woman suffers from too-slick production, it's still more populist a statement than Nashville's made in quite a long time. What about Bond ? This combo of UK lovelies have been cutting chamber and orchestral music into world beat and euro-dance inanity for a few years now, and fitting in holidy schlepping for Marshall Field in the margins. Classified changes nothing, but damn if they don't look great on the cover. Conversely, David Caruso looks terrible on the cover of the colon-happy CSI: Miami: The Soundtrack. The art work for Burning Brides' Leave No Ashes is some of the best of the year, and their album ain't too bad, either.

Other, actually cool, un-Carusoian stuff: Polly Paulusma, Scissors in my Pocket; Sodastream, A Minor Revival; Elizabeth Anka Vajagic, Stand With the Stillness of the Day.

Next week, more reviews/articles, and an explanation of my newfound obsession with CBC Radio!

JTL

Posted by Johnny Loftus at July 12, 2004 10:24 AM

Comments (4)

Phil:

Johnny,
I have a similar fascination with certain news reporters. Of course, my obsessions are mostly based on looks because I am shallow, but still...

I love MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell. She's so foxy and smart and even funny when she's not reporting straight news. But I feel like I'd just come off as a politically junked-up dopehead if we met face-to-face. So I keep it safe by watching her from afar.

I also love former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonen. She's a conservative, which should make me shiver and shrink away like a leech under salt, but love is a funny pinch. She's pure fecking class. She pitches that conservative wrap with such a sense of humility and humanity that the GOP should put her on permanent retainer.

This isn't love, but I also really dig Tucker Carlson's show on PBS. Look at me! Two conservatives in a row! I think I spent too much time in Bus(c)h Country last week.

Kristy:

Johnny,
Re NPR types: What about Sylvia Poggioli (spelling approximate)? I always picture her as the ultimate NPR feminist/politico, driving a 1972 VW bug from broadcasts to demonstrations to spaghetti dinners she whips up for partners in the struggle.

Jake:

I hate to be a spoiler, but you can totally see photos (and bios) of all the NPR personalities in [url=http://www.npr.org/about/people/bios/]this section of their website[/url].

Johnny Loftus:

Fuck you, spoiler. We know that. I don't care what they REALLY look like - I'm just describing my brain's initial reaction to their voices. I've read the bios and looked at the photos; doesn't matter - their audio signatures are so ingrained that I still have the same reaction.

Kristy, you're right about Poggioli - she always seems to be in a different European country when they talk to her. And that Trebek-ian pronunciation! Another correspondent in the same realm is Anne Garrels. Her one-word description in my mind is "Haughty", since she comes off as this know-it-all grandstander with just a touch of arrogance. I actually respect all of that in regards to her reporting, which is always spot the fuck on. But I can't help thinking that she always sounds like she loves to hear herself giving the report as she stands in Kabul, having just beat the info out of some poor Pashtun warrior. "Don't mess with me warlord! [i]Don't you know who I am?![/i]"