Tuesday, 4 August 2009
Air France, the Swedish duo of Joel and Henrik, is essentially the synthesis of Cut/Copy and Boards of Canada. They take the laid-back danceable grooves of the former, add interesting samples (re: The 1980's TV fantasy-romance "Beauty and the Beast" is used at the beginning of this track to perfectly set the mood), and tone down the energy, in the manner of the latter, such as to preserve a less clubby more minimalist electronic aesthetic. Interestingly enough, they do this without sounding too much like Kraftwerk (there are times when you ask yourself though). You see, one of the key appeals of this band --if I were to forget the catchy rhythms, interesting tones, and the fact that No Way Down (2008) may be one of the most apropos summer albums ever-- is its ability to avoid being pigeonholed into any particular category. They genuinely defy classification; so much so that all a person can do is describe Air France as being at the crossroads of other bands. Sound Tribe Sector 9 and Passion Pit and Tempest/Damage and Gang Gang Dance and Bag Raiders and Flunk and the Pinkertones and so many more (especially Swedes) can be used as mere descriptors but never as analogues.
Listen to the album HERE
2)Pocket Check by Windsurf
I had the idea to write about two really ebullient songs. I thought I'd grab a couple of tracks from the electronic beach-side music I've always been a fan of, and that this would satiate people's desire for the endless summer. Ironically, I've realized that rather than produce enthusiasm, Windsurf's sonics are far more likely to fill you with nostalgia. Maybe it's just me, but when I listen to "Pocket Check", I'm thinking back on the last 2 months rather than the upcoming weeks. In fact, the album cover's sunset scene, makes no mistake in advertising that one should expect Coastlines (2008) to embody the spirit of the ending summer.
Sunday, 19 July 2009
Giovanni Dadomo famously heralded The Clash as, "the first new group to come along who can really scare the Sex Pistols shitless". Ironically, the band was formed in an effort to branch away from the Sex Pistols unapologetic, "like it or fuck off", brand of rock. Stummer and Jones, instead, sought to popularize pub rock and even add an even deeper basis to the music. By their third album, London Calling (1979), the band had not only established pub rock as its very own scene, but synthesized elements of reggae, ska, punk, and soul in creating a truly unique amalgam.
"Spanish Bombs" typifies the sheer genius of this record. Initially conceived during a conversation regarding a Basque nationalist separatist movement (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), the final work reflects on the friction between Franco's fascist regime and his centerist/communist/anarchist opposition. Thoroughly intricate, the track is littered with allusions to figures like Frederico Garcia Lorca and the people's militia, red and black flags (communists and anarchists working together to oust the dictatorship), la Gaurdia Civil (a Spanish police force), and the atrocities at Guernica.
Amazing Album. Amazing Song.
2)California by Joni Mitchell
If I were around in the 60's and 70's, had a bit of a musical streak, and was willing to compete with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, I think Joni Michell and I could have got on great as a couple. Her because she was a beautiful, young idealist with an angelic voice and a passion for creating the best folk music of the decade (Re: Dylan excluded). Me, well, I probably could have served as a fawning devotee to any of her causes, in addition to being a great homemaker (see how progressive I would have been!). The problem with this fictional romance I, not-too-regularly, daydream about is that (and here's the kicker) I would never have had Joni's heart. No, she wasn't tied up with another man, but rather with another land. As a Canadian transplant, Mitchell found herself enamored of California's surreal geography and open-minded thinkers. Consequently, she recognized her new potential for independence in this frontier and saw that she had an audience comprised of those who believed her ideas possible. Luckily, as an 80's baby, I never had to deal with the anguish of losing Joni Mitchell, but you get the idea...
Friday, 3 July 2009
As the last track on Everything All The Time (2006), "St. Augustine" could have really gone any way. Throughout the album, the band (presumably, of horses) demonstrated their prodigious versatility. From their morose tracks like "The Funeral", lush with stoic lyrics about abortion challenged by cascading guitar chords, to their more upbeat songs such as "Wicked Gil", these guys proved over and over that they didn't necessarily fit into any prescribed niche. True, Birdwell's voice sounds a lot like Jim James...and that "glimmering reverb" doesn't help either. But what Band of Horses has going for it has all together nothing to do with these MMJ-esque qualities. Rather it's the dichotomies that they themselves establish. Stephen M. Deusner describes it as the "delicate balance of elements- between gloom and promise, quiet and loud, epic and ordinary, familiar and new, direct and elliptical, artist and listener", which is the real draw of their music. Nowhere is this is more apparent than on "St. Augustine", a song which harmonizes the basso vocals of Mat Brooke with Birdwell's soothing whisper. As the two croon in combination, they tell of past indiscretion, redemption, and forgiveness. Whether this song is about St. Augustine, Florida (as many from the locale posit) or about the misguided Saint Augustine Indian Mission School (their website even has pictures of the staff...gruesome), it is really the melancholy tone of the song which is most interesting, as it, like most conclusions, defines the complete work.
Everything All The Time
2)Citrus by The Hold Steady
"Citrus" isn't a fitting song on Boys and Girls in America (2006) or even for The Hold Steady. They don't thrash about loudly with heavy rock 'n' roll chords. Nor does Craig Finn narrate, in vivid detail, the story of teenage love and drug binges, though these themes are integral to this despondent piece. In fact, the only real resemblance this piece has to the rest of their catalog is that it is self-reflective and thus particularly apropos for drinking by oneself , in addition to our other self-destructive vices. Apart from this attractive complement, the song is gentle, cathartic, and unsurprisingly meticulous, making it pleasing on sonic levels as well.
As is typical of their lyrics, The Hold Steady are primarily speaking to the interplay of sex and drugs (with themselves creating the rock'n'roll to complete the trinity), but, this time it comes from a grander perspective. Perhaps, a bit older, Finn is now speaking with the voice of someone who's lived through the good times, as well as the bad, and uniquely, he tells no cautionary tale. Instead he, like the experienced sage, urges you to go forth and try it all. He only impresses on you that down this path, both Judas and Jesus await.
Boys and Girls in America
Monday, 22 June 2009
Detroit is one of the few places, outside of New York, Houston, and Chi-town, with a real claim to breeding the best underground hip-hop. Just think about her notable alumni: Eminem, J Dilla, Slum Village, Guilty Simpson, Black Milk...the list goes on. Furthermore, it doesn't seem like this trend is changing. D-town continues to be a fertile environment from which new MC's and producers are burgeoning.
With all of this competition in the big city, it can be pretty hard for lesser known, but equally talented, artists to make their mark. As is often the case, it seems as though a grassroots campaign is best adapted for such a climate (Obama '08?). When hard working, skilled artists get together to start a movement, there is no stopping them. This is definitely the case with The Breakfast Club EP (2001). When Detroit natives Lacks (formerly LacksiDaisyCal, now MC Ta'Raach) and Big Tone recognized the immense talent in the city's underground scene, yet the inefficacy of each artist in completing his own project, they teamed up to assist in producing, sequencing, and mixing. As Lacks said on Platform 8470, "The Breakfast Club was an artist support group started by myself and Big Tone then later Elzhi (Slum Village). It was never really a rap group." By enlisting Elzhi, 87, and Dwele (he's the soulful guy on "Flashing Lights"), the collective was formed and the team became much more than the sum of their parts (Synergy!).
Although the group recorded constantly, they were really interested in helping each individual member release his own solo project. Despite this ethic, the guys would put on shows in Detroit together, all for the public's enjoyment. This warm reception instigated them to sequence some of their unreleased tracks and therein lies the birth of The Breakfast Club. 20 or so cassettes were sold locally but, as Lacks continues, "the craze hit and muhfuckahs in Japan, Germany and everywhere else had a copy. Last I remember copies of the original tape on CD where selling for $80. I guess we did something people loved." Truth...
The Breakfast Club EP (2001)
(The sound quality on this unreleased album is lacking, as it was ripped off a cassette, but the 192kbs creates a pretty cool aesthetic)
2)Stress by Jazz Addixx
I often wonder, "What the fuck happened to hip hop"? This bastardized music we listen to on the radio (Hot 97 and Power 105, for me) just isn't cutting it, especially when so many real artist and talented musicians are being slept on. In this age of the global recession, wherein Harvard grads are struggling to find employment, should Jeremiah seriously get recognition for a 3 minute blumpkin of a song, entitled "Birthday Sex". Our world is one where former chiefs of industry are driving taxis and delivering pizzas, while a no talent ass-clown like Drake sits atop iTunes hip hop chart with his "hit" ("pardon me, I had to laugh at that" -Jay Z), "Best I Ever Had". Honestly, something ain't right!
Unfortunately, the parties that profit are far fewer than those which suffer. Not only does the public have to sit back and watch as the music industry implodes due to its own decadence, but we must also live with the fact that our children (none for me... *knock on wood*) and their children are being indoctrinated in this drivel. Moreover, artists with even a smidgen of talent are being overlooked for their more pop-friendly (dare I say, Dumber!) counterparts.
America, let's look at ourselves as the cause because the people on the radio tend to reflect what we desire out of music. With regards to hip hop, in the 1980's our society needed change. There existed a yawning dichotomy between the rich and poor and grave social injustices were plentiful. As well, the lingering effects of the country's inherently racist doctrine were coming to light. To all this, we called on figures like Chuck D, Run DMC ("Wake Up" is like a hip hop "Imagine"), and NWA to expose the hipocracy in statements like "equality for all mankind" and show that there was a sector of the population being exploited. In the early-90's, gangster rap emerged to explore the manifestations of legislation employed to keep blacks in the lower class. It showed that what whites feared in blacks was really a monster they themselves created. By the mid-late 90's (at the time when I was first "allowed" to listen to rap) the themes had changed once again. As the unofficial apartheid began to lift, rappers began to think, not only in terms of keeping up with whites, but rather in exceeding their wealth and power. The game, thus, changed from one of equality, to one of narcissism, opulence, and power.
Then, somewhere in the late 90's and early 2000's, there occurred a Gestalt switch. Suddenly hip hop became everyone's music, and little white, brown, yellow, and purple kids were allowed into the club (metaphorically speaking). As such, the music's aims became universalized. Every kid, then, became infatuated with the themes of money, glory, and power. As evidenced by our culture (think Pacino's famous Scarface line, "In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women."), sex was a natural corollary. Thanks to this dissection, we can now understand the climate we have created, and how these talentless people became our icons. But what to do?
The change from good hip hop into its evil counterpart did not occur overnight. That said, any reformation will take time. In order to be part of the change, we can't play into the hype and idolize these figures any longer. Instead, we have to work to find better music and patronize it, thus creating an incentive for musicians to return to the "art".
Listening to Jazz Addixx', Oxygen (2005), is a breath of fresh air and a step in the right direction...
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
On the six and a half hour ride (if you take I-95) from Tallahassee, Florida to Charleston, South Carolina, most of us would relax by taking in the scenery, listening to music, and gorging on rest stop knick-knacks (I prefer Sour Patch Kids). However, the true genius, it seems, instead spends his time concocting lyrically surreal fantasies...or at least that's how the story goes. In an NPR interview, sometime back, Bird confessed to having devised "Fake Palindromes" while on just such a journey, in an effort to amuse himself. He also explained that the lyrics are centered around a particular 'singles-ad' that interested him, as it was different than most others that he had encountered.
Bird opens the piece with chaotic electric violin swells, creating the imagery of a ship on rough waters (perhaps drawing comparison to the treachery of singles life). But, it isn't until the folk singer-songwriter chimes in with his lilting, though reserved, vocals that we get a chance to understand complexity of Bird's creation. Utilizing his lyrical prowess, which would baffle even Chomsky, he begins nimbly unloading his artillery of cryptic shibboleths over the heavy cadence. (My dewy-eyed Disney bride, what has tried/swapping your blood with formaldehyde?) As interesting as what Bird says, is how he says it. His voice carries with it a faint Rufus Wainwright-esque murmur (this is very apparent on "Masterfade"), while his mouth seems wired shut ala Kanye West (...it sounds as if Bird is actually singing with his teeth clenched).
Though the song contains no actual palindromes, the theme may be much more subtle. Perhaps the notion of a palindrome, a phrase that works from either direction, can be seen as synonymous with opposites which are, in reality, the very same. Extrapolated, this metaphor works pretty well with the idea of finding love. As the song is named "Fake Palindromes", the title seems to suggest Bird's pessimistic sentiment towards singles-ads. Just a thought...
Don't stop here. Listen to the entire album. Andrew Bird is extraordinary, and this was my gateway into his brilliance.
Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production Of Eggs (2005)
2) If I Had A Hi-Fi by Bottin
Bottin, or William Bottin, or Guglielmo Bottin, is a Venetian musician, producer, and sound designer (an Italian designer...sounds reliable) who specializes in downtempo and trip-hop. His music very much resembles that of Kruder & Dorfmeister, but carries with it an aura of artsy-ness. Unlike K&D's G-Stoned (their only really worthwhile album), Bottin seems less reliant on single instrumentation. The focus of Bottin's music is never centralized to a single soloist (sample, of course), but instead meanders frantically creating a soundtrack to some alien dream world.
So why Bottin over any other DJ/Producer? Honestly, it's because he's the only guy with 3 palindromic song titles on one album.
I know! I'm stretching my credibility here, right? But come on. You knew today's theme when you started reading. I guess you're gonna have to forgive me if you thought there was something much deeper.
If I had a hi-fi
Also, here's a list of some other songs, whose titles are palindromes...
I'm a lasagna, Hang a salami (credit to Jordon Wolosky for inventing this one)
Friday, 5 June 2009
Perhaps it's the nostalgia of having just left the UK, or the sheer fractalized bliss this album emotes, but recently I haven't been able to get enough of Satanic Panic In The Attic (2004). Though the album's sound is a dramatic divergence from their previous works, this seems to indicate an evolution in the band's method of production. Rather than working with his entire ensemble, Kevin Barnes took the reins on this project and saw it as testing ground for new sounds and arguably his most eccentric, though introspective, lyricism (at least until 'Alter Eagle Whoa'). The result harnesses the same psychedelic cheerful exuberance the band was always known for, but limits it to specific tracks, thus varying the sound throughout the album and intensifying the kaleidoscopic euphoria on particular songs.
Satanic Panic In The Attic should really come with an advisory sticker...Beware: This album is a drug that causes addiction!
Satanic Panic in the Attic
2)Harlem Country Girl by Olu Dara
It is a grave injustice that Olu Dara's fame should have been eclipsed by that of his son Nasir (who appears on 'Jungle Jay'). Prior to 1994, and the released of Nas' Illmatic (still, in my opinion, the best hip-hop album ever created), Dara was primarily renowned for his skill on the cornet. His proficiency was vindicated by the illustrious jazz musicians he kept as colleagues. He recorded several albums with saxophonist David Murray, drummer Art Blakely, The Henry Threadgill Sextet, and even pianist Don Pullen. That said, although Dara was in good company, he yearned to leave the avant-garde jazz scene in search of a more bluesy sound.
In 1998, he took hold of this opportunity, recording and producing In The World: From Natchez to New York. The title was meant to reflect the growth of this creole boy from Natchez, Mississippi (right off Highway 61, on the border of Louisiana) into a man, and illustrate that as we age, we bring with us our lifetime of experiences. As such, the sound on the album is deeply steeped in African roots (because, after all, we are a manifestation of our ancestory) while maintaining the tradition of folksy-blues so integral to creole culture. Precocious as ever, Dara adds the ingredients of his newly found fluency on guitar, as well as his raspy but endearing voice, to prepare his own particular southern gumbo (Highway 61 Revisited, if you will). Thus the evolution of Olu Dara, from backing group member to band leader, was completed.
This is a rare one.
If you want it, get it from...
Monday, 1 June 2009
In fact, this mindset is exactly what motivates some people (pretentious ones in my opinion) to see themselves as '-heads'. These pompous bastards are so self-indulgent, that in many cases they stoop 'so low' as to condescendingly share their appreciation of these once-privately applauded works with a world that couldn't care less (see: Polarbearneackwear.blogspot.com).
That said, I have a couple juicy (and positively secret!) nuggets for everyone.
1)I Just Wanted To Say by My Morning Jacket
Google the lyrics to this song...I dare you! You won't find anything but forums abuzz with bloggers and stoners alike discussing the hypocrisy that is US Medical Marijuana law (perhaps I shouldn't have used the pregnant keywords: I just wanted to say MMJ). In all seriousness though, the internet is a huge place and scouring for a song with only the fainest notion of the melody is a monumental task...ok let's backtrack for a second.
Three years ago, as a budding rock climber (not so geeky anymore, huh?), I would make regular visits to my local rock wall at odd hours. This was the price I paid for my bashfulness as a 'shoobie'. Nonetheless, in the absence of my prodigious friends (who I am still somewhat intimidated to go with...oh god, save it for therapy), I would climb and listen to a seemingly ancient mixtape made by a member of the mountaineering club, years before I joined. As I would strain for various indentations and features on the granular surface of the gym's bouldering wall, an optical lens would face a similar struggle in reading the 'pits' of the badly defaced CD-RW (a perfect microcosm), to reproduce some semblance of the tracks burnt onto it so many years before.
On this CD, one particular track stood out. Now I could guess it was a My Morning Jacket song, but because Jim James often sings as though he is the last contestant in a Homeric game of 'Chubby Bunny' (Disclaimer: We do not avocate the gleeful enjoyment of this high-glucose "game of death"...facts!), it was quite hard to disentangle any of his potentially meaninful verses. Unfortunately, as I planned my sessions with the intent of solitude, I had no one else to verify my hypothesis of MMJ or to enlighten me as to the track name. So I was stuck with the one line I had mistakenly deciphered as, "I just wanted to be, just you wittle paht of yo chee", and a dwindling number of resources.
At the time, the iTunes Store had 180 songs by the band (mind you Evil Urges only came out in 2008), but I remained undaunted and searched and searched and searched...180x... until finally, at my wits end, I found the tune. This ordeal was my form of pledging, a trial by fire wherein my travail paid off (though I often wonder why I never just stole the damn thing) and I was inducted into a brotherhood of MMJ fans...nay, devotees!
This all came to light as effete soon after though, as one of my climbing buddies (one whom I had avoided during my self-conscious "training-wheel" phase) had apparently had the entire MMJ album, Does Xmas Fiasco Style (2000), all along. Arrgghh!!!
Either way, here it is...
Does Xmas Fiasco Style (2000)
2)Gonehead by Asamov (now The AB's)
Isaac Asimov is a total dick! I'm not saying that because he wrote some nerdy book about "robo-psychology" and how we can't trust technology. And, I am also not saying it because Will Smith was cast as Detective Del Spooner in the biggest waste of my $10 in 2004 (keep in mind, Shark Tale came out that same year...come on Big Willy!). Anyhoo, my grievance arises over the fact that even after recieving royalties on the $120 million summer blockbuster, the Asimov estate still sought litigation against a similarly monikered hip hop quartet, Asamov, in 2006.
Now this burgeoning ensemble, whose release And Now (2005) blew up in the underground hip hop scene, was destined for big things that year. Their debut album was an acclaimed success, their fanbase was growing well out of their homestate of Florida, and their lead single "Boombox" was featured on iTunes 'Back to School' free music project. Unfortunately, having just come upon fame, they had neither the energy nor the financial fortitude to confront this behemoth of an aggressor. Thus the ultimatum was set and, as anyone in their position would do, they opted to change their name. This disruption caused their record label to halt the production and sales of their first LP. Ever since the, retitled, AB's have worked on putting together a follow up as enjoyable as their original album.
The rarity of And Now (Original Press) surely makes it a must have (leaving aside, for a moment, their verbal finesse and jazzy laid back production). Cling on to this piece of apocrypha, for if you don't, it truly will be lost in the sands of time.
And Now (2005)
Sunday, 24 May 2009
A couple days ago, I said that I had never heard of Breeze Evahflowin', but that his verse on 'Same Beat: Freestyle' was exceptional. Well after conducting a little investigation into Breeze's hip-hop history, turns out I may have been sleeping on one of today's best freestyle lyricists.
Though, prior to 2001, most people hadn't heard of Breez, he had been making waves in the hip-hop community since the late 90's. As a member of the New York hip-hop collective Stronghold, Breez was came to the forefront of the nation's growing battle rap scene. In 1999, Evahflowin' was crowned National Grand Champion at the Blaze Battle Competition. Unfortunately, though his skills were recognized at such events, he still wasn't generating the popularity that someone of his caliber should have. It wasn't until January 2001, that most of the public caught their first taste of Breez. On MTV's Direct Effects, he reigned as battle champ seven weeks, effectively establishing the standing record. Two years later, Breez offered a nugget of his immense talent on the Fly EP (2003). Since then, Breez has remained relatively low key, working with hip-hop's elite underground artists and putting out a slew of independent singles, EP's, and, recently, a compilation entitled The Unearthed Past: A Collection Of Underground Hip Hop (2009). Keep an ear out for this talented MC.
Learn something (anything) everyday!
Saturday, 23 May 2009
Juju, Fashion (aka Al' Tariq), and Psycho Les tear it up on this classic Beatnuts track. Though they never garnered the fame that many of their fellow Queens rappers (Nas, Rakim, Mobb Deep) did, The Beatnuts were always equally talented. Every track on Street Level (1994) is gangster-rap classic, including "Ya Don't Stop", "Are You Ready", "Get Funky", and "2-3 Break". A great deal of credit has to go to their production, which, on this album, is simply remarkable. Take "Hit Me With That" for example. The beat samples Monty Alexander (Love and Happiness), David Axlerod (Holy Thursday, obviously), Method Man (7th Chamber), features awesome scratching, and has some weird child sounds (I think he's saying "oh", "no", and "eh"). In saying that, their MC skills cant be overlooked either. Each of these guys has a unique flow (they're all slow, smooth, and jazzy) even though most of the lyrical content drips with narcissistic self-approbation. Anyways, this is the one album I'm going to be listening to A LOT this summer.
Street Level (1994)
2)Same Beat Live Freestyle (at WKCR FM) by Y Society feat. Breeze Evahflowin'
I've really got to thank my man Kev for hooking this one up. Homie's got an ear for the illest stuff out there right now.
So I knew very little about Damu and Insight (together, Y-Society) before hearing this EP. Last year (maybe a bit longer now), Y-Society's Travel At Your Own Pace (2007) was acclaimed by many as the best hip-hop album of the year. Damu's Pete-Rockesque productions and Insight's versatile flow led people to think that it was the reemergence of jazzy poetry-styled rap. As such, the album was generally seen as a renaissance of Golden-era hip hop.
On Same Beat EP (2009), Damu takes one beat ("This Advice" from TAYOP) and shows the flexibility of his production. One track features Damu's own vocal contribution, while another showcases Insight's studio talent. However, the track really worth focusing on is the Freestyle for WKCR...
and I thought the Jay-Z/Big L freestyle only had competition from Murda Mook/Jae Millz... oh my god!
Here Insight and Breez Evahflowin (never heard of him, have you?) go crazy. Insight takes the first verse, and though he maintains his flow, sounds a bit shaky as he concludes (You gotta go out and vote/ cuz that's what you should be doin'/ Understand that if you're whack, your life's ruined). The second round goes to Evahflowin', and he's off the hook ("Circulate the lines, like the surface of the vinyl"...fuck!). Not to be outdone, Insight comes back with a vengeance. He completely restructures his rhyme scheme, rapping at speeds that would leave Twista tongue-twisted (The "Syllable Suplex" verse is unreal) and flowing with a pulse that only Big L brought to the mic (They weak preformers when you see them rock live/ thinking sales mean skills?/ that's really not wise). By the end, Insight's style morphs into some incarnation of the RZA saying,"6 confused bio-physicists"?, but he still keeps it together.
Frankly, this is the best freestyling I've heard since the days of Big L. Rather than battling each other, it's almost as though Insight and Breeze are taking on the entire rap community...guess who wins?
Check the video: Here
Check out Kev's Post: Here
Same Beat EP (2009)
Thursday, 21 May 2009
It all began with humming...or at least, that's how I remember it. Nearly 3 months ago, a friend of mine was humming a tune thats vague familiarity tickled my curiosity. When I asked him for the name, he couldn't produce a solid answer and responded "I think it's Beulah". With that, we opened iTunes and proceeded to investigate. Opting for the 'track by track' method, we went through Handsome Western States (1997) until we found a tune that resembled his off-pitched crooning. "Riders on the right won't you help me, It's crowded and a bit too lonely", it seems, were the words he was missing.
Beulah's sound, on HWS, shifts between lo-fi pop and punk, all with a refreshing air of California dreaminess (what do I even mean?). Western States is also a remarkably accessible album, which cuts it apart from In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (1998), one of its contemporaries from another Elephant Six group. Though at first the album gives the illusion of simplicity, it appears that this was purposively employed to highlight specific sections with brass and string accompaniments. In the end, its short length (34 minutes and change), teen-focused content, and catchiness made me realize that I should have been listening to this instead of Nimrod, in 1997.
Also check out: Lay Low For The Letdown, The Rise And Fall Of Our Hero's Reward, and Delta (sort of like a Modest Mouse version of "In My Life")
Handsome Western States (1997)
2)The Music Never Stopped by The Grateful Dead
A month ago, I probably wouldn't have considered myself a true Dead fan. Of course, like all red-blooded Americans, I sang along to Uncle John's Band, Friend Of The Devil, and Casey Jones. And yes, I enjoyed listening to the vast majority of their music. But what separates (or perhaps more correctly 'separated') me from the true fans, was my apparent nescience regarding their versatility (especially towards their more funky songs). See, I always thought of the Dead as Americana-Jam. A sort of primitive (albeit amazing) endeavor in stretching the boundaries of rock 'n' roll. And in many respects they were.
However, my understanding of the Dead completely changed when I gave Blues For Allah (1975) a listen. What I realized, was that my preferential treatment of their older music (see: Aoxomoxoa, Workingman's Dead, American Beauty) had inadvertently blinded me to their more experimental stuff.
So am I a 'true fan' now?
No, true fans are middle aged, have dancing bears sewn onto their corduroy backpacks, and love sticking it to 'the man'. That said, I definitely have a greater appreciation for their work thanks to this album.
This album is sick. Its style is never static and the jams are enthralling. Actually, if I may be so bold (sorry Mr. Garcia, Weir, Lesh, et al.), I think it needs to be said that Blues For Allah is the wrong title for this album. Instead, perhaps we should call it something like 'Tiktaalik'. It honestly sounds like the missing link between the experimental progressive-rock of Pink Floyd (Atom Heart Mother era) and the jam sounds Phish.
Ok, so maybe that's a bit farfatched [preposterous, retarded, etc.], but honestly listen to Blues For Allah and see whether you recognize it as the Grateful Dead you thought you knew.
Blues For Allah (1975)
Saturday, 9 May 2009
Set over a looping sample of Sly's hit, "Everybody is a Star, "Star" epitomizes the two best qualities of any Roots track: optimistic lyricism and a jazzy beat. Their particular message on this track reassures the audience that they too are important. Stars of the same magnitude as The Roots? Probably not, but everyone's still special in their own way and should be themselves (now where have I heard that before?).
So the message is cliched...but the song is immaculate. Black Thought's introspective lyrics and ?uest's jazzy cymbals are perfectly matched, while the Family sample is top notch (Sly's R&B tone is reshaped into a jazz ballad). If you stick around for the rest of the album you may be a bit disappointed. Songs like "Don't Say Nuthin'" (which actually says just about nothing) and "Guns Drawn" (which might sample NBA Jam Tournament Edition '94) aren't great lyrically, but beg to be blasted obnoxiously out of car windows. On the other hand, songs like "Stay Cool" and "Boom" are worth skipping entirely. Anyhow, make your way through this album and ask yourself whether The Roots still are, in the immortal words of David Brotman, "just that good!"
The Tipping Point (2004)- Part 1
The Tipping Point (2004)- Part 2
2)Thought Process by Goodie Mob featuring Andre 3000
Holy Shit!!! I can't believe I've been sleeping on the Goodie Mob for this long. This Atlanta quartet (often paired with Outkast and other Dungeon Family members), featuring a young and presumably less rotund Cee-Lo, Khujo, Big Gipp, and T-Mo, absolutely kills it on their debut, Soul Food (1995). The most notable theme on this album is spirituality. So much so, that for moments (especially when backing tracks drop out) the soulful recitations make you wonder how this collective could have remained largely an underground sensation. As far as conscious rap goes, this is A-one.
On "Thought Process", the crew, along with Andre 3000, describe the stress of poverty and the importance of prayer in pushing on. Here Cee-Lo has the best verse, rasping, "I wanna lie to you sometimes, but I can't/ I wanna tell you that it's all good, but it ain't/ It's nigga's hurtin' and uncertain 'bout if they gon' make it or not". Only a hair less powerful is 3000's signature stream-of-consciousness verse, which crests as the beat fades out and the rest of the group is heard clapping to keep the a capella rhythm.
Soul Food (1995)
Saturday, 2 May 2009
Once a champion sailor, college football player, and excellent potter, Andy Oakes has constantly found ways to reinvent himself. Oakes' first began flirting with the notion of creating music over a year ago. At the time, he and a friend thought it would be interesting to create a mash-up of artists from two distinctly different genres (How original!). Through the grueling process of learning the in's and out's of music programs, Oakes stayed determined when others were cynical. In mixing Jay-Z's verses on "Justify My Thug" with Sound Tribe Sector 9's futuristic tune "F. Word", Oakes first tasted the glory that is musical creation.
Since then, Oakes, whose moniker has changed nearly as many times as Prince's (from Jeffrey to Andy to DJ Ayo to J-OK!), has devoted himself solely to music. Though, in the last 6 months, I have been lackadaisical in following his endeavor, it seems that his interests have changed from solely DJing to rockin' the mic too.
On J-OK!'s (I'll acknowledge his 'street' name) debut showing, Every Street Mixtape (2009), he does well to set himself apart from the riff raff of the hip-hop community. An album predicated on animosity towards the trite and repetitive bullshit that passes for popular rap these days, Every Street is a poignant statement that what we need to do is return to the conscious music that was original hip hop. But, is J-OK! really going to be the one to bring us back?
Most probably not...but I support his earnest effort!
1) J-OK!'s production on the album is ill. He creates beats following the mantra of ultra producer RZA. He takes tiny snippets, as opposed to lazy chorus sampling, and loops them creating, as RZA coined, "psychedelic rap". Plus, Big A-LO's mixing and scratching is wild!
2) The lyrics are actually pretty decent...interesting....funny...what's up with the scat solo on "The Funk"? With regard to lyricism, I am especially impressed by his work on "Fire & Rain" and "What It's Like" (*sick Em impression on this track).
3) His flow isnt THAT wack! Ok, so it's kinda your cliche elementary hip hop flow (See: Hope), but you can tell he's learning as the album progresses. With that said, I'll go out on a limb and say that his rhyming style will become more stylized and personal on his next outing.
4)What J-OK lacks on the first verse of "Hope" is made up for by Barack's flow.
5) Most importantly, I must invoke the wisdom of the one and only KRS-One, and say if "MC's spit rhymes to uplift their people".... J-OK most definitely is one of 'em.
So, while it's not the debut that Illmatic (1994), Reasonable Doubt (1996), or Ready To Die (1994) were, Every Street is legit. It's definitely worth, at least, a once over, and in doing so I'm sure you'll find a couple tracks you like.
My personal favorites were "Fire & Rain", "Hope", What It's Like", and "Music Theory".
Get it at...
Every Street Mixtape (2009)
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
1)Danish Donuts by Isbjerg
Following his predecessor's cue, Isjerg chose to rework the original samples from Dilla's final album, Donuts (2006), in order to create an homage to the master-producer. In a "choose-your-own-adventure" styled effort, the Danish producer utilizes Dilla's palette to create a work his very own. In fact, Isbjerg's endeavor succeeds so much so that many of the tracks on Danish Donuts rival Dilla's original cuts.
Bests: Piano Mash, Twisted Wonder, Hold On, Last Call for Danish, Danish
Danish Donuts (2009)
2)Mathmatics by Mos Def
The two hip-hop stars pair up on what might be the best track from Def's critically acclaimed Black On Both Sides (1999). Throughout the song, Mos riffs on the different social challenges, advocated by governments, which serve to subjugate urban minorities. His conclusion is that a system predicated on treating people like numbers could never have sympathy for the struggles of real people...
"This is business, no faces just lines and statistics
from your phone, your zip code, to S-S-I digits
The system break man child and women into figures
Two columns for who is, and who ain't niggaz
Numbers is hardly real and they never have feelings
but you push too hard, even numbers got limits
Why did one straw break the camel's back? Here's the secret:
the million other straws underneath it - it's all mathematics"
Black On Both Sides (1999)
1)Railroad Man By Eels
With the exponential rate of technological innovation, I think it is easy for any of us to feel like an "old railroad man". I, myself, remember using actual maps, learning with out Wikipedia, and not using Facebook as a means of prolonging inane friendships. For some of us, the nostalgia that accompanies the "simpler" life far outweighs the benefits of these new devices. E's Railroad Man shares a similar sentiment, and he too opts for the "old ways".
Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (2005)- Disc 1
Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (2005)- Disc 2
2)Brandy Alexander by Feist
Leslie Feist, with her angelic voice, cute demeanor, and effervescent personality, is impossible to dislike. "Brandy Alexander" is particularly paradigmatic of these three qualities. The song's progression from quiet, forlorn initial verses, to optimistic choruses perfectly captures the spirit of the song. When she is with her "Brandy Alexander" she transforms from the timid quiet girl into a free spirit.
The Reminder (2007)
1) Moth Wings by Passion Pit
Just a little update: NEW PASSION PIT!!! With their forthcoming album, Manners (2009), in its final stages, Angelakos and Co. have begun to give clues as to the new sound for their first full length production. I, myself, am a fan of this new direction (as long as falsettos stay the band's M.O.), but I've gotten mixed reviews. Let me know what you think?
Moth Wings on Youtube
2)The Death of Adam by 88-Keys
For well over a decade, 88-Keys, worked behind the scenes, producing tracks for high profile hip-hop artists like Scarface, Mos Def, and Beanie Sigel. Last year, Keys decided to tell a story rife with innuendo. The Death of Adam (2008) chronicles the sexual adventures of protagonist, Adam. With the help of Phonte, Kanye (co-producer), Redman, Kid Cudi, and Bilal, 88's narrative becomes robust. Each featured MC adds their personal flavor to their particular track, giving the album a varied feel, ranging at times between R&B, Hip-Hop, and Rap. Finally, with its twist ending, this album reminds me of a sexually charged A Grand Don't Come For Free (2004).
The Death of Adam (2008)
Saturday, 28 March 2009
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
1)Chains, Chains, Chains by Elvis Perkins in Dearland
In stark contrast to Perkins' Ash Wednesday (2007), an album forged by tragedy, his most recent creation is boisterous and processional. Despite the difference in tone, Perkins remains devoted to a similar subject matter. He focuses on dark issues such as death and lonliness, but does so within the aesthetic of Americana.
"Chains, Chains, Chains" is a particularly poignant track on Elvis Perkins in Dearland (2009). Throughout the song, Perkins voices many of the existential questions which sporadicly arise from our own subconcious to plague us. Interestingly, he punctuates these dispiriting inquiries with intermitent horn, trombone, and string interludes which give the track an overall lightheartedness. Make sure to also check out "Doomsday" and "I'll Be Arriving" (as luck would have it all three are in order).
2)That's When the Audience Died by Final Fantasy
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
1)One Day by UGK feat. 3-2
I think I'll let this song speak for itself...
2)Mind Playin Trick '94 by Scarface
Unlike the Geto Boys version of this track released on We Can't Be Stopped (1991), Face's solo track focuses primarily on the psychological baggage that street life of can bring on. Three years older, and perhaps three years wiser, Face can now deliberate on failed love, hypocrisy within the community, and the daily violence that he witnesses.
Saturday, 7 March 2009
Because there are no LP's I'll hook up some Youtube links...
Blood Red Heart
2)Undertaker by M. Ward
On Transfiguration of Vincent (2003), Ward attempts to make sense of the death of close friend Vincent O'Brien. The immediate intimacy of the album's subject matter at once makes you close to Ward and able to empathize with his grief. Ironically, Ward sets the tone for this album with a certain lightheartedness which "transforms plain grief into a celebration of the essentially absurd, precarious nature of life." On "Undertaker", he opens with a shivering harmonica verbrato and a guitar tuned to the spirit of Jack Johnson. Throughout the track, Ward describes the high's and low's of love...original huh? What differentiates Ward's portrait from that of his colleagues (namely every musician to agree "love hurts") is his relative equanimity. Ward gives us a descriptive account of love, in the strictest sense. "Love is so good, when you're treated like you should be," he sanguinly warbles. This sentiment is decisively contrasted with the halcyon recitation, "Oh but if you're gonna leave, better call the undertaker, take me under"...
Friday, 6 March 2009
Röyksopp, and Justice. Falke, on the other hand, opted to create his own electronic tracks and has since released a number of singles. As the sun slowly comes out of hiding, eager to illuminate the the northern hemisphere in that annual phenomenon we call "spring", I felt it only fitting to find a tune in the spirit of the season. We are all aching to get rid of the cold and escape into that blissful period of long days, longer nights, and no responsibility. Falke's "8:08 PM @ the Beach" reminds all of why we're all so damn chipper about these warmer seasons. The night parties at the beach, the firepits, and the serenity of waves crashing. All in all, it's enough to get your summer festivities started early this year...
2)G'won Train by Billy Larkin & The Delegates
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
1)I Hung My Head by Johnny Cash
Sting's 1996 ballad, "I Hung My Head", masterfully tells the tale of a man resolved to die for a crime he didn't intentionally commit. The narrator has accidentally killed his fellow man and must come to terms with his guilt and face the consequences. All in all, this track had the makings of a classic. Sadly, Sting ruined this tune by accompanying the melancholy and repentant lyrics with a jazz organ and an upbeat voice, which is eerily reminiscent of mid-80's Springsteen.
Cash's take on this piece is a bit more somber. In being so, it evokes the perfect blend of mourning and optimism for the human spirit. Cash has always been known for his ability to take a song and make it his own. This is clear from a number of his renditions on his album, American IV- The Man Comes Around (2002), including "Hurt" and an amazing version of "In My Life".
2)Ain't Got No, I Got Life by Nina Simone (Groovefinder Remix)
If Simone's aim, musically, was to produce a glimmer of hope, Groovefinder's was to infuse enough cheer to reinvigorate those who have been downtrodden. With the addition of a brass section and an even speedier tempo, Groovefinder explodes this classic ditty.
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
1)Funkin' For Jamaica by Tom Browne
2)Today Won't Come Again by Donal Leace
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
1)Niagara Falls by Harlem Shakes
To begin with, Harlem Shakes represent everything I hate about bands like Vampire Weekend. Both VW and the Shakes love their boldly colored sweaters, and whatever else constitutes the Ivy League ensemble these days. They both play pop-oriented songs that proclaim to go deeper than your average tune. And Harlem Shakes will soon see that their constituency is predominantly comprised of similar, if not the same, hipsters and girls who "know" something about music. Fortunately, there is something redeeming about the under-engineered sounds of this Brooklyn based quintet. Songs like "Niagara Falls", which are destined to be future pop gems after the release of Technicolor Health (March 2009), jangle out a certain intimacy which is undoubtedly lacking from the music of their oxford and cardigan wearing colleagues.
2)Red and Purple by The Dodos
Saturday, 14 February 2009
Though it is quite a difficult task to date the origins of "dancing", archaeologists suspect these rhythmic body movements have been an integral part of story-telling, showing affection for the opposite gender, and expressing the sentiments of pieces of music since the beginning of human civilization. From then on, dance and music have been inseparable.
How then are the contemporary genres of "dance" and "electronica and dance" divergent from any other music? In this humble bear's opinion, it is in the fact that these two styles imply something about the emotion they transmit. Often led by a shrill falsetto, robotic vocoder, or sampled verse, these songs are saturated with a certain elation that you can't find everywhere. With their 4/4 beats and 200+ BPM these songs get even the lamest geizers movin' and a-shakin'. So here's a thought, this week spend your 15 bucks on the type ecstasy that will keep you sweaty and dancing until the wee hours of the morning, without scaring mom.
My first brush with Passion Pit, the electro-ego of Michael Angelakos (perhaps Greek for "angelic voice"), was on the way to a Mike Gordon show at Highline this past summer. Pumped for the sweet jams I was about to hear, I was charged with the euphoric intoxication only the freedom of summer and 1/4 of Phish could arouse. While my friend, a recent graduate, and I waited at a nearby apartment for the doors to open, he regaled me with his stories of post-college life. Most notably, he told me about the job he had landed as a talent scout at a local venue, Piano's. When I asked him what bands he had been checking out lately, he had but one name: Passion Pit! When I told him I had yet to hear of them, he quickly lunged for the nearest computer and proceeded to Youtube "Sleepyhead", the only song off the Chunk of Change EP anyone knew about. From that moment on I knew they would be big.
Now, nearly 6 months later, I'm hard pressed to find a person who hasn't heard of this Cambridge electro-dance band. Every blog, reviewer, and music columnist has added their two cents to Passion Pit's growing "Chunk of Change" (where do I come up with this?). So, in lieu of the background information, concept of the album, or song breakdown, I will just leave you with the love-inspired sounds of Passion Pit...
Chunk of Change EP (2008)
Monday, 9 February 2009
Now onto business and your daily dosage. Until recently the very term "Jam" would not come up on any blog you scanned. The word brought to mind images of dirt covered teenagers feeling their "good vibrations (vibes?)" and burnt out hippies doling out advice on how we should all avoid foods with pesticides. Suffice it to say, it aroused visceral revulsion for most bloggers. But that was before the lines between Jam and Electronica/Dance became blurred. Now, this relatively recent genre of not-so-classifiable music (technically known as "Trance Fusion Jam" or "Livetronica") seems to be Jam's salvation. Combining elements of Jazz, Electronica, Dance, Jam, and Funk, this music has great potential for being everyone's cup of tea.
1)Toward Peace by Telepath
Arriving on the Jam scene this past year, Telepath has had a great rookie year. Their notoriety began with a spot at the Echo project and then sets at Bisco and Trinumeral. Later they toured with Lotus and should be on the road in early '09 with The New Deal. On their debut album Contact (2008), Telepath succeeds in blending the sounds of archaic and traditional eastern instruments with those of contemporary synthesizers and drum machines. "Toward Peace" displays this amalgam in its epitome. Think "Luma Daylights" meets Ian Anderson. The song begins by taking a note from Yo La Tengo's "Green Arrows" (Crickets set a great backdrop) and then incorporates a piano, a flute, shimmering synth strings, and a great Dub drum cadence.
2)Lovely Allen by Holy Fuck
Holy Fuck has a simple formula for making music: mimic electronic music without the interference of all those modern doohickies like laptops. Instead the band comes armed with a drum kit, a plethora of keyboards (some real and some toy), phaser guns, and a bass guitar. Though this track, off their second album LP (2007), came out quite some time ago, I never had a chance to give it a listen. "Lovely Allen" seems as though it could have been a collaboration of Kevin Drew and Richard Ashcroft. The building swells have a protreptic virtue which makes you want to get out there and take the world head on.
PS. Here's a pretty funny site dedicated to Jam Band Fans:
Sunday, 8 February 2009
Last night the legendary Ghostface Killah made a trip upstate. Nah, Mr.GFK isn't in trouble with the law (at least to my knowledge), rather he was putting on a show at a small liberal arts college. The school, with its mainly upper-middle class white population, seemed like the perfect venue for Pretty Toney to showcase his paranoia-induced rants about surviving in the jungle that is the Shaolin Projects (unfortunately since I don't have my copy of 'The Wu Manual' by RZA I can't give a better geographical reference point). Luckily for portions of the student body that may have felt alienated by such themes, it has been almost 15 years since the Wally Don (38) spit the first verse on Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). In this time, Ghost Deini has put out 7 solo albums and 5 others with the Wu, so the students had an ample selection to choose from. Though I couldn't make it there personally, representatives of the Bear Camp attest to the Iron Man's maintained eminence on the mic. As such, I thought it fitting that today's dose could come out of P-Tone's incredible body of work...
1)The Mask by Danger Doom Feat. Ghostface
I've got to confess that I am, have been, and probably always will be a fan of MF Doom's production and in many cases his baritone nonsensical verses. Furthermore, I am also a big follower of Adult swim, and when the concept of this album (The Mouse and Mask) was first brought to my attention, I thought I had it all. "The Mask" is an exemplary showcase of the three men (Dangermouse, MF Doom, Ghostface Killah) involved's individual talents. Dangermouse lays the beat with a funky breakbeat over Franco Micalizzi's "Sadness Theme", while Doom and Starky Love offer lines about the identities they must keep secret.
Best GFK verse:
As I stroll the globe and terrorize the planet
With a Bill Clinton mask and them Playskool hammers
Me and DOOM, always be the best on the landin'
Superhero's for life, until our souls vanish
2)Impossible by Wu-Tang
This is quite possibly my favorite Ghost verse ever. It's filled with the type of emotion that only a great producer like RZA can draw out. In an interview with Ryan Dombol, of Pitchfork Media, the RZA alluded to this point. "Listen to how Ghost sounds rappin' over one of my beats and then over another beat... he sounds like a grown man [on my beat] and he sound younger on [other] producers' beats because they don't know the frequency." Dombol would go on to argue that this was not the case, referring to the maturity that GFK shows on 'Fishscale' (maybe not on "Heart Street Directions"), but this simply isn't the case. The relationship that Wu members have with one another, and specifically with the RZA, is time tested and proven by each rapper's prowess on their collaborated efforts.
Best GFK verse:
When we was eight, we went to Bat Day to see the Yanks
In Sixty-Nine, his father and mines, they robbed banks
He pointed to the charm on his neck
With his last bit of energy left, told me rock it with respect
Saturday, 7 February 2009
After a bit of scouring on the universal repository of information that is Google, I have found but one single, lonely reference to "polarbear neckwear" (interestingly enough, used in the exact phrasing). Unfortunately the poet who spun his verse with regards to our fair site was none other than the notoriously illegitimate gangster, Gucci Mane. On his reportedly freestyled track "Lights On, Lights Out", the Goochster spits:
"Frostbite, Klondike, Polar Bear neckwear...
Watch & Ring, fridgedaire, $30,000 dolla here,
Ice on dem wheels holla, 'Million Dolla Rims' partna...
I can't talk to you...you ain't talkin' cash dolla!"
Now this pathetic excuse is the only reference to Polar Bears and Neckwear to be found on the internet? Sadly, the creativity we showed in concocting our own apellation mirrors Gucci's in more than sheer product. It was something of a freestyle on our part, that when blogspot asked us to devise some peculiar moniker to describe the site which had yet to be created, we came up with such an odd choice.
Frighteningly, we must also consider the possibility that if our brains are so attuned with that of Sir Goochins, that we may have more in similar than may be outwardly obvious. To get the most blatant resemblances out of the way first, I must note and accept that us Polar Bears may have as strong of an affinity for "ice" as modern rappers. Whether we find our *bling* in the northern ice caps or the window of Jacob the Jeweler (circa 2005), it all seems to point in the direction of congruity. Next, ask yourself the question, "Have you ever seen a happy polar bear not covered in fur?"...I thought so. Now think, "Does Gucci Mane like his share of furs?"...I'll answer this one for you:
Finally, it seems like both of our prospects for the coming year seem bleak. Gucci, who violated parole by neglecting to fulfill his community service requirements due to a previous encounter with the law, will be spending 2009 in prison and, if he's anything like Shyne, putting together albums and mixtapes for our pleasure. (Alert: POSITIVE MESSAGE AHEAD!) For me, the situation is equally grave. According to Dr. Nick Lunn of the Canadian Wildlife Service,
"The condition of adult bears has steadily been decreasing, with the average weight of females declining toward a threshold at which the chances of it bearing viable cubs becomes doubtful. As Nick explained, that threshold may be reached, if the trends continue as they have, as soon as 2012. The principal cause for the deteriorating condition of this population of bears is the early break-up of sea ice. Bears have to go further and work harder to find their principal source of food, the ring seal, and thus the female gives birth to her cubs more emaciated and less able to nurture her cubs. More cubs are not surviving to adulthood. The overall threat to the population is that current generations of bear will not be replaced."
I guess Gucci and I will have to prove over the course of this year that we are survivors in one way or another. Good luck to a brother in a rough situation!