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The week in Pop (& Hiss) and more: Tom Morello, Airborne Toxic Event, Steve Martin, Ghost Face Killah the Beer and much more

April 29, 2011 |  9:37 pm

Pop & Hiss strives to provide the best, most relevant and entertaining music coverage of the week. Hey, it's a goal, be nice. Sometimes we have some posts that hit the mark. Sometimes we don't. Here's a quick look at some of the best of what Pop & Hiss and The Times had to offer this week.


From the ol' Pop & Hiss: 

Self-promotion alert! L.A. Times Festival of Books: The music of the written word. This weekend at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, there are plenty of panels available to satiate those who revel in all the links between words and music: poetic, analytic or otherwise. There will also be performances from bands to, you know, cut through all the yammering that'll be going on. To name two, our friends at Brand X will be presenting Young Hunting on Saturday and Hi Ho Silver Oh on Sunday.

Tom Morello lets pro-labor flag fly in new "Union Town" EP. There’s nothing like a big political rally to get the creative juices flowing for a politically progressive rocker. That’s just what happened after guitarist, singer and songwriter Tom Morello took part in demonstrations at the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., recently to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to strip the state’s public workers of the ability to engage in collective bargaining.

Ghostface Killah: Famous rapper -- also a limited-release beer. Billed as "the hottest beer this side of hell," Twisted Pine's Ghost Face Killah lands with the kind of bold proclamation that the rapper of the almost identical name can effortlessly toss off at a moment's notice. While the Wu-Tang vet spells Ghostface as one word, the brewers at the Boulder, Colo.-based Twisted Pine likely wouldn't quibble with the star over grammar.

Inside the banjo players' studio: Ed Helms and Steve Martin talk frailing, fingering and timing. This Sunday, Steve Martin headlines the final night of the Bluegrass Situation, a four-night festival curated by fellow actor and fellow banjo enthusiast Ed Helms. If it’s anything like the concert Martin did at the same festival last year, you can expect Helms to get on stage with Martin for at least one number and partake in… you know… banjos that duel.

Why Robert Johnson is the top blues legend. Neil Young, Keith Richards, T Bone Burnett, Robbie Robertson, Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt explain.

Poly Styrene, influential singer for X-Ray Spex, has died. Poly Styrene, whose clarion call, "Oh bondage, up yours!" became the rallying cry of punk feminists everywhere and foretold the Riot Grrrl movement, died Monday at the age of 53 after a long battle with cancer. 

Low End Theory meets Super Mario Bros. Local producer Shlohmo recently described Jonwayne's debut as "intelligent castle music." The joke was clear, but the truth in jest even more crystalline. With Wayne's Alpha Pup debut, "Bowser, he makes his homage obvious. Taking its title from the spike-braceleted villain of the Super Mario series, Wayne even titles a song "Mario Is Missing." 

Pop fans, get ready to hit the refresh button! Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale Tour will reach Southern California with stops June 20 at Staples Center in Los Angeles and June 24 at Honda Center in Anaheim, with tickets for both going on sale Saturday (April 30).

A collector's item from Arcade Fire. Leave it to Arcade Fire to one-up the standard T-shirt as a concert souvenir. As many fans are no doubt aware by now, the act unleashed about 2,000 glowing beachball-like orbs upon the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival crowd. Those who snared one of the LED-enhanced spheres found themselves with an unexpected free piece of art, and it's never long these days before band-related loot makes its way to the secondary market.

Price war! Amazon launches 69-cent MP3 store for top-selling tunes. Amazon.com, which is a distant No. 2 to Apple Inc. as a retailer of downloadable music, has upped the ante or, rather,lowered its prices to compete with iTunes.

How are your karaoke skills? Specifically, how good are you at singing a Bob Seger tune? You could get a major label deal! Perhaps male country artists are an endangered species. So if you're a guy between the ages of 18 and 26, the A&R department at Universal Music Group's Mercury Records wants you to drop them a line, as the label is offering up a "rare opportunity" to directly reach Team A&R.

See some music this weekend! Or if it's too late, at least learn more about Sean Rowe and Beaches. Trust. Don't be fooled by the quiet nature of Sean Rowe's music. These are songs that are unexpectedly disarming. First, Rowe's baritone commands attention -- a deep, lived-in, worn-out and seen-it-all voice, one belonging to a barroom storyteller with a slyly understated grasp of melodic twists and turns. Then, his lyrics don't leave much room for a listener to turn away.

Remembering "Poetry Man" singer Phoebe Snow, who died this week at 60. Phoebe Snow, the jazz-pop singer best known for her 1975 hit "Poetry Man," has died at age 60 of complications from a brain hemorrhage she suffered last year.

Do you know Denmark's electro-pop star Oh Land? You should. With female pop stars finding inspiration in broken hearts, dance floors and girl-power anthems, Oh Land took her cues from elsewhere: “Just traveling the road, and the restlessness of not really having a home other than where you are at the moment,” is how the Danish singer-songwriter puts it when asked about the source material for the tales of isolation that make up her eponymous stateside debut.

Album reviews: The Airborne Toxic Event's 'All at Once'Steve Earle's 'I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive' | Bootsy Collins' 'Tha Funk Capital of the World'

Live review: The Airborne Toxic Event at the Satellite. “All I Ever Wanted,” the best song from the Airborne Toxic Event’s forthcoming album, “All at Once,” starts in the same way that many of the band's songs do. A man is lying awake in bed, perhaps with a woman or a stiff drink next to him, and he is worrying about the future. 

Lil Wayne likes her! And she dresses in leather & lace! And she swears! But what does Porcelain Black sound like? Born Alaina Beaton, the Detroit native built a robust online following when she recorded under the moniker Porcelain and the Tramps. Her more industrial rock landed her a deal with Virgin Records, one that “just didn’t work out,” and a hard-learned lesson that she carries with her.

Eminem and Royce Da 5'9'' reunite for new "Bad Meets Evil" EP. What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, the news that Eminem and Royce Da 5'9" were recording an EP would've sent the subterranean realm into all-out spazz mode.

Fiona Apple, Paul McCartney, Black Keys, Modest Mouse and more sign on for Buddy Holly tribute. The catalog of rock 'n' roll pioneer Buddy Holly has continued to thrive long after the singer's life tragically ended at 22, and it will get a fresh look this summer when artists as varied as Cee Lo Green, Kid Rock, Fiona Apple, Modest Mouse, Lou Reed and Paul McCartney will appear on the 19-track collection "Rave On Buddy Holly." To be released June 28 by Fantasy Records/Concord Music Group, "Rave On" features recently recorded takes on Holly classics such as "That'll Be the Day," "Peggy Sue" and "Oh Boy," among others.

The music you bought this week: Adele, Paul Simon, Tune-Yards and more. The oddly enchanting experiments concocted by Merrill Garbus, who records under the Tune-Yards moniker, may be something of an acquired taste. Yet since a strong showing at the recent South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, Garbus has been winning fans and turning headswith her heavily varied vocal stylings and sample-heavy songs that follow a worldly groove. 

Los Angeles, say goodbye to SoKo. It was easy to spot the L.A.-via-France singer and actress SoKo around town. All you had to do was listen for the high-pitched voice singing something filthy or comically brutal.  

Tim Heidecker and Davin Wood are standing up for soft rock. The music of Tim Heidecker and Davin Wood flows into your ears like a clump of lard melting in the iron skillet of your soul. Or something like that. The duo, which just released the absolutely spot-on soft rock parody record “Starting From Nowhere,” bring the cheese to go along with the melted lard when they make their premiere appearance at Largo on Wednesday night.

Paul McCartney to reissue classic solo albums "McCartney" and "McCartney II"with bonus material, deluxe packaging. There is justice in this world for those of us who have long contended that Paul McCartney's weird and wonderful 1980 solo album "McCartney II" is way better and more interesting than most critics contended when it was released. The album, along with its predecessor from a decade earlier, "McCartney," will see reissue as part of the former Beatles bassist's extensive, ongoing catalog update through the Concord Music Group, it was announced Wednesday morning.

The One AM Radio premieres Dntel remix, releases first album in four years. The combination of the One AM Radio and Dntel seems almost preordained. Both One AM's Hrishikesh Hirway and Jimmy Tamborello, a.k.a. Dntel, have been making fragile, folk-tinted electronic music for years, with the latter practically inventing the sub-genre on 2003's "Such Great Heights" by the Postal Service, Tamborello's project with Ben Gibbard.

Com Truise premieres "Beta Eyes," set to debut on Ghostly International. "Beta Eyes," the B-side from the "Fairlight" single dropping next week, neatly captures Haley's aesthetic: a compromise between the immediate future and the anachronistic. It conjures a Macintosh nostalgia for futures dreamed up decades ago. Synthesizers bright as lasers and drums loose as dust. The full-length "Galactic Melt" drops July 5. Ideal summer music.

Make Music Pasadena lineup announced: Best Coast, the Morning Benders, Ra Ra Riot to headline. This year’s big names are all pleasant, guitar-driven indie, of the simple(Best Coast), saccharine (Ra Ra Riot) and smart (Morning Benders) varieties.  In the tradition of previous years, however, the rest of the lineup has an enjoyably diverse spread of acts to look forward to, from local synth-pop duo (and L.A. Unheard alums) Kisses, to goth-chanteuse Zola Jesus and up-and-coming Mexican songstress Carla Morrison. 

From our dead-tree edition:

Belle Brigade: A pop duo that's kin tight. In an early homemade video made by the L.A. band the Belle Brigade for its song "Losers," from the sibling duo's self-titled debut, Barbara and Ethan Gruska, ages 28 and 21, respectively, sit holding acoustic guitars in an empty bathtub. They're wearing white robes and Barbara has a towel wrapped around her head, as though she's just gotten out of the shower.

Wedding music fit for a prince and his bride. William and Kate's wedding music is also being kept under wraps, which leaves us free to speculate. A little 'Water Music,' anybody?

Grand ambitions for the Airborne Toxic Event. With sophomore album "All at Once" out this week and a new round of performances on the road up ahead, the Airborne is riding high.

At the crossroads as Robert Johnson centennial nears. Decades after his death, reverence and debate still swirl around the legendary bluesman who supposedly made a deal with the devil.

Images: Tom Morello (Sean Ricigliano); Airborne Toxic Event (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times); Ghost Face Killah the Beer (Twisted Pine Brewery)