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Decibel

Surf Music

Tuneful Web Sites We Can't Live Without

Posted 7/12/2000

The Brainwashed Brain

Brainwashed.com is where you'll find the home pages of an array of cutting-edge but lesser-known acts, from industrial pioneer Meat Beat Manifesto to post-rock godfather Tortoise to the British sound butchers of V/VM and more. Beyond the extensive roster of these well-kept fountains of info, there's the Brainwashed Brain, a weekly Web zine wherein Brainwashed proprietor Jon Whitney and a slew of volunteers review records (with audio clips!), movies, books, live shows, and Web sites. Quite a variety of genres and musical movements are represented. Most impressive of all, though, is the fact that the site has no banners, no ads, no commercials--and the staff is adamant about keeping it that way. Imagine what Whitney and company could do with a budget. (RK)

Descarga.com

These days, just about every music store carries the Buena Vista Social Club disc and a desultory handful of other Latin music titles. But this slick, recently launched English-language journal/mail-order site offers an expert overview of the breadth and depth of Latin music and its recordings, complete with a huge searchable catalog, lots of well-wrought editorial content, and loads of special features. (At Decibel's press time, Descarga.com offered a special salute/guide to the late Tito Puente.) The site's pundits have even compiled weighty "starter packages" of up to 15 specially selected (and discounted) discs to initiate neophytes into various sorts of salsa, Latin jazz, etc. (LG)

Dusty Groove America

With all the mail-order music sites on the Web, there are only a few that make us fear for our credit-card balance. Dustygroove.com is right at the top of that list. As the name implies, the Web outlet for the Chicago-based retail store specializes in old records and the genres that fetishize them, especially the hip-hop, soul, funk, jazz, and Latin vinyl so beloved by heads and DJs everywhere. The store gets fresh platters every week and puts them up for sale online, complete with the kind of enthusiastic (but not misleading) descriptive blurbs that feel like a friend grabbing your elbow and leading you to juicy finds. But Dusty Groove doesn't stop there. The store's site also features reggae, obscure and groovy soundtracks, the best vintage Brazilian selection on the Web (the best one in English, anyway), and more on vinyl, and an equally impressive selection of CDs, mix tapes, collectibles, videos--you name it. DG's sister site, UHF , also carries a growing selection of indie rock, electronic music, and less groove-based sounds. It's enough to put those of us with a serious tune habit in the poorhouse. (LG)

Forced Exposure

In the '80s, Forced Exposure fanzine was the underground-music fan's best and most attitudinal authority on underexposed artists ranging from John Fahey to Borbetomagus to Chris Knox to John Cage. Over the course of the late '90s and into the '00s, the zine mutated into the Web's most comprehensive e-commerce source for bizarre and unusual sounds from the world of electronic music, improvisation, avant-garde composition, psychedelic music (new and vintage), the more experimental wings of the rock and hip-hop scenes, and various other uncategorizables. If your hunger for the unusual goes unfulfilled by local music-store bins, your solution might lie here, with Forced Exposure's inexhaustible catalog of available-nowhere-else esoterica. (LG)

HipHopSite.com

A winner of the prestigious Online Hip-Hop award, HipHopSite.com leads the pack of burgeoning sites dedicated to the art of hip-hop. You can trek to "News On the D.L." for the latest industry scoops or get unbiased and in-depth album reviews of new releases from "In the Deck," and "New Joints" breaks down the week's latest batch of 12-inches for all of the fledgling bedroom DJs across the globe. The site's interactive capabilities add a new wrinkle, allowing visitors the luxury of previewing tracks before they are actually available. Refreshingly, HipHopSite also implements some humorous elements, such as "I Ain't Havin' That," a weekly parody column that makes light of the genre's often unwavering seriousness. Also, with more than 1,000 records for sale in its vaults, there isn't a better place on the Web to locate that elusive CD or vinyl pressing that didn't make it to your favorite retail outlet. HipHopSite is a virtual hip-hop nirvana. Bookmark it and click away. (MC)

Homemade Music

Suppose you want to go 21st century with your musical hobby but don't have the time or money to master the ins and outs of Web sites, MP3s, and burn-to-order CD-Rs. Homemade Music is for you. It puts an end to the days of dubbing endless copies on cassette or getting stuck with 900 of a 1,000-CD run. You send the site (which started as an outgrowth of home-taper journal/fanzine Gajoob) copies of your premanufactured CDs; it puts up a Web page for your music (complete with sample downloads) and offers visitors the option of buying your record, asking only 20-percent commission. (If your disc sells for $10, you get $8.) Or, send in the digital master of your own personal Pet Sounds or Downward Spiral; when someone orders it, the site can custom-burn a copy and ship it out, complete with artwork you provide, for a flat $5 per sale to cover its packaging and production costs. If you're seeking music rather than a way to unload it, Homemade Music is worth a visit as well. For instance, Baltimore-based home-taping goddess Linda Smith has been selling her sometimes-hard-to-find tunes on the site for the better part of a year. Best of all, Homemade Music offers a chance to make good on all those claims of supporting independent musicians who need the money, Metallica be damned. (LG)

Julian's Rocklist Site

So what was British über-DJ John Peel's favorite song of the year 1977? If that question stirred even a tingle of interest in you, a) you are a sad and pathetic human being, just like us, and b) Julian's Rocklist Site is for you. British music dweeb Julian White put up this site to warehouse all available year-end, decade-end, century-end, best-whatever lists from the British music weeklies and monthlies, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, The Wire, Mixmag, Kerrang!, and more, plus links to music sites from assorted other countries and in assorted other languages. It's nothing fancy to look at and contains no sales figures, trivia, or cool photos--it's just critics' lists, with some readers' polls thrown in for good measure. But if you love this sort of stuff--and you know who you are--you'll have fun dinking around in White's site. (Peel's 1977 pick? "Dancing the Night Away" by the Motors.) (LG)

Maryland Party

A quick-and-dirty eyeball informs us that baltimorebands.com probably features links to more Baltimore-area bands than does Maryland Party. Certainly, the former boasts a more serious, professional name and interface. But mdparty.com is the one we sometimes find ourselves navigating for plain old kicks. Like baltimorebands.com, it features a boatload of links to band Web pages, club Web pages, a message board, and a chat room (which usually attracts a few "18"- and "21"-year-olds looking to make music in a way that has nothing to do with amps and drums). But the list of band links, while perhaps patchy and incomplete, never fails to divert. Did you know the Maryland Army National Guard Band was online? You might run across a band site like that for Jerk and the Offs, a band so evidently awful that its only online press clipping includes the description, "It's like your friend's brother's band that your friend is always trying to get you to listen to, you know? Just barely able to play instruments without a hint of an original idea that would make up for the lack of talent, so you make polite comments like 'That was a good guitar solo' or 'I like that intro' when all you really want to do is throw the tape out the fucking car window because it's just painful to listen to something so pathetic and unoriginal." Wow. We're glad we stopped by for that alone. That and the joke of the day. You see, there are these three Labrador retrievers at the vet's office . . . (LG)

Ministry of Sound

Even though a lot of dance music comes from the United States, it's still the British that give the genre its biggest market and end up being its most valued tastemakers. And in a virtual world where branding is king, you can't beat London ultra-mega-mega-club Ministry of Sound for instant authority. This site's navigation and general architecture could be vastly improved upon, but this recently launched offshoot of MoS' growing empire of beats and rhythms has real potential to dominate dance-music content online just as much as its counterparts Musik and Mixmag do in the global print market. Reports on the latest festivals, some great archived DJ sets from superstar British DJs as well as hungry up-and-comers, and that ever-so-cheeky British club wit can all be found at MoS. If only American club culture could get it together like this. (JH)

The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive

If you're stumped about exactly what they're saying in that latest jam on 92Q, you can probably find out here. The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive is a choice collection of rap lyrics transcribed and submitted by music listeners around the globe. Many popular rappers (for example, OutKast and Busta Rhymes) get a page with cover scans, cross-references, and links to other projects on which they've guested, and the hip-hop underground is well represented too. But since nothing's really "official" at this site (although a few artists have set up official sites hosted by OHHLA, most notably the Del the Funkee Homosapien and his Hieroglyphics crew), there's no guarantee that the transcription you've found is absolutely correct--we've found some errors ourselves. But overall, the OHHLA is a valuable and unique resource. (RK)

Paris Transatlantic

On Paris Transatlantic, you can find news and reviews of contemporary music from around the world. While the site focuses on contemporary "classical" music, you can also find healthy doses of experimental, world, and electronic coverage. This upbeat, chatty Web site employs an arsenal of enthusiastic (yet unpaid) aficionados who report from Beijing to San Francisco and many points in between. Part of the appeal of this Internet monthly is its box-of-chocolates eclecticism. With interview subjects ranging from serialist don Pierre Boulez to "soundpoetry artist and ambience composer" Erik Belgum, you truly don't know what you're going to read. And they cover avant-garde architecture and dance too. (DS)

Pheer.com

Young and bored in the mid-Atlantic? If you're into punk and hardcore and have Internet access, you're on your way to a solution. For almost two years, Pheer.com has functioned as a sort of cyber version of the good old flier-wrapped telephone pole, getting the word out about shows in the area. The listings cover everything from big outdoor events at Wilmer's Park and established area clubs such as the Ottobar to happenings at VFW posts, high schools, and, uh, "Ron's house." Visitors can send info about upcoming shows, put a word in on the lively message board, download sound files, or check out the endless links. We like. (LG)

Pitchforkmedia.com

If High Fidelity got anything right about music geeks, it was how they like to list and rank things. Most importantly, music geeks like to prove their self-worth by making the music they hold dear seem really important. Right now nothing is doing more to validate sitting in your bedroom listening to Modest Mouse and Radiohead than the skinny-white-boy-dominated Pitchforkmedia.com. Consistently updated with slanted news and four biased album reviews each weekday, Pitchfork is indie rock's version of the permanent fanzine. Pitchfork archives all of its verbose album reviews, reminding you that they were into Buelah and the Beta Band long before you were. Infrequently posted features are either top-whatever-of-whenever lists or interviews that make musicians like Archer Prewitt and Dismemberment Plan sound more important than they are. One of its best sections may be the "Cover Art Cop," which exploits unoriginality in album covers. All in all, it's a well-done site that is hurt by implied self-importance--the same reason it is so interesting to read. (DP)

Popex

We may look down on the get-rich-quick market players who ride unstable tech stocks to wealth, but deep down, we're secretly envious. Despite being the harbinger of eventual economic doom, playing the market looks fun. For those more fluent in MP3s than IPOs, the addictive music-trading game popEx lets you buy and sell stock in our favorite bands. The Webmaster adjusts prices according to sales, insider tips, real-life charts, and personal whim. More than 300 bands and nearly 25,000 players are registered. The site features such faux-eTrade options as band profiles and stock history, a "best investor" chart, a tips-and-rumors forum, and weekly dividends paid out on real-life sales. Our insider tips: Invest in critically unpopular bands like Sisqo and Eminem--they're gold come dividend time. Most importantly, remember that it's only a game. (PA)

Radiohead

Yes, there is a place here where you can buy all of Radiohead's CDs and T-shirts. But you are not just a target market when you surf onto the home site of this group of post-whatever pioneers. Rather, you are treated to an online extension of the band's ideas and art--some of which achieves the levels of enigmatic avant-garde institutions like Superbad and hell.com. And even though the band is a relative newcomer to the Web, Radiohead's parent merchandising group, W.A.S.T.E., understand better than a thousand greedy Silicon Valley/Alley ultracapitalists that a true community is based on sharing, not selling. And they do their best to remind their online fans that the Internet is only ceded to Steve Case and Jeff Bezos if we passively let them dictate to us. Best line: "The most essential thing in life is to establish a heartfelt connection with someone." In this online space, everyone is on equal footing. (JH)

Skimo.com

One of the wonderful things about the Web is the way it allows a small apartment amid the fusty "shoppes" of downtown Ellicott City to double as one of the country's foremost centers for the distribution of electronic music. Skimo (pronounced "eskimo," just like the pie) proprietor PJ Dorsey got his foot in the business at Modern Music, but unlike MM, which has a physical store on Canton Square to go with its Web site (www.modernmusic.com), Dorsey's worked strictly via e-mail until very recently. Skimo's site is still under construction, but you can now check it out and select from its stock of 12-inches and CDs by abstract blipstreamers and beat jockeys from around the world (Funkstörung and Ryoji Ikeda) and around the block (Baltimoreans While and Cex [aka City Paper contributor Rjyan Kidwell]). (LG)

There is big bang & total entropy

Author/magnificent obsessive Meg Wise-Lawrence has created a highly literate suite of pages so chock-full of info on so many weird, seemingly unrelated music and pop-cultural topics that the site becomes a 'Net-based Unified Field Theory of--um, we're not sure what, actually. But we do know that Diamanda Galas, Blixa Bargeld (of Einstürzende Neubauten), Nick Cave, Lydia Lunch, Patti Smith, Carly Simon, RPG games, radical feminism, Star Trek, and possibly Phish have something to do with it. We know this because Ms. Lawrence studs nearly every sentence with at least one link leading either to other pages she or like-minded people have written about the aforementioned topics, or at least one link to appropriately odd sites, or at least one link to other, thematically connected sites Ms. Lawrence has created. Proof positive that obsessive-compulsive disorder has an up side. (IG)

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