Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Dose 8...Take Cover, It's a Remix!

Covers and remixes are fundamentally reinterpretations. Though some artists opt for a more conservative approach by simply adjusting the voice carrying the tune, others find it a creative and imaginative experience to rearrange the very structure of the piece. Neither Johnny Cash nor Nina Simone are strangers to this musical practice. In fact, to many, they are seen as the epitome of reconstructive and "reconstructible" artists. This is because both Cash and Simone's music has an intangible quality, that can only be seen as "soul". Their music, no matter the writer, arranger, or producer, evokes emotion because it is their sheer passion which is transmitted. Enjoy...

1)I Hung My Head by Johnny Cash

Sting. Sting would be another person who's a hero. The music he's created over the years, I don't really listen to it, but the fact that he's making it, I respect that...

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)

The High Preistess of Soul, Nina Simone, originally recorded "Ain't Got No/ I Got Life" for her album, Nuff Said (1968). This track, showcasing Simone's immense vocal talent, was written to highlight the tribulations of being a negro slave. By juxtaposing all that's witheld from the slave with that which she has available, Simone depicts the perservering power of the soul. This solemm lyricism, however, is complimented, on both Simone's original recording and Groovefinder's remix, by an upbeat piano and drum section. Perhaps this is to further counterpoise the elements of hate which served to repress the human spirit and the optimism inherent in life.

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

Dose 7...A Throwback or Two

Today, I offer a couple of original samples. Sure, for most people of my generation these songs won't conjure up the memories of their release and "the good ole days", but even if you're young, they're sure to get you groovin'...

1)Funkin' For Jamaica by Tom Browne

My first introduction to Tom Browne came from the one and only J Dilla. Whilst still producing for Slum Village, Dilla sampled "Funkin' For Jamaica" on the Fantastic Vol. 2 track, "Forth and Back". When I got older, I started digging in the crates (thanks to a lot of help from Kevin Nottingham), and uncovering the original samples to a plethora of Dilla tracks. This pursuit led me to believe that much of the talent we heard in mid 90's hip-hop production came from classics, and the deeper I got the better the music was. This track is your quintessential late 70's & early 80's jazz recording. Check it out on Browne's Love Approach (1980).


2)Today Won't Come Again by Donal Leace

It took me ages to admit to myself that Kanye West is a lazy producer. In K's defense, he has an amazing ear for music, but what he samples has been already been created. Unlike the Rza or Dilla, he doesn't sample two or three second snippets and individual instrumentation. Instead, he takes full choruses and verses, and aside from the chipmunkesque distortion he contributes, he does very little to make them his own. This is the case with "Today Won't Come Again". You know that whispering hook you think is so endearing and you love so much at the beginning of "Hey Mama"? Well that came directly from this song, but rather than dive into an honorary tribute to his mother, Leace calls for political change and places emphasis on action. Sounds good to me...

Get it from Kevin Nottingham on Late Registration: Original Samples

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Dose 6...Sunny-Day, Bloody Sunny-Day

On this luminous Tuesday morning, as I slowly emerge from my self-created cavernous sanctuary, constituted mainly of duvets and pillows, I find myself yearning for some uplifiting neo-psychedelia and garage-pop sounds. But, I'm tired of listening to my Apples in Stereo and Dr.Dog LPs which, though amazing the first two trillion listens, have lost some of their charm and originality. Instead I'm opting for something a tad different...

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.

Technicolor Health (2009)

2)Red and Purple by The Dodos

"I know that I am yours and you will be mine, Come and join us in the trenches, Red and purple by our side, Say you'll never leave us, In this company of mine", The Dodos croon in their intricate love song. Superficially they tell the of war, "red" and "purple", perhaps further coding the Japanese cryptographic machines used to decipher US communications during WWII. Underneath this labyrinthine tale, however, an even deeper symbolism pervades. It may just be that these colors themselves signify, the two extremes of any meaningful relationship. Red might constitute suffering and sacrifice as it does in Christianity, while Purple connotes the emotion of love as in Alice Walker's novel.

Visiter (2008)

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Dose 5...Dancin' the Night Away

Note: Sorry for the lack of updates, but a recent bout of illness has kept me bedridden for the past couple of days. Luckily in that time all I was able to do was listen to music and watch scrubs in 72 minute blocks (thanks megavideo).

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.

1)Smile Upon Me by Passion Pit

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)

2)Shooting Stars by Bag Raiders featuring Rhys

Together, Aussies Chris Stracey and Jack Glass are the duo known as Bag Raiders. Primarily known for their impossibly addictive EPs and remixes, the two have never put out a full length album. I remember this being the subject of a heated debate this past fall. Arguably, none of the songs on their three EP is worth skipping over, but why not complete an LP and showcase their talent outright? It wasn't until short while ago that I realized: these two are products of the modern generation. In our world of iPhones, mp3's, and ADD who really has the time or attention span to listen to a full album? Hell, the concept behind the Bear is to bring digestible quantities of great music to this very audience. Instead, the Bag Raiders and we (shameless self-promotion) understand this trend and seek not to curb your behavior as some of our peers would, but rather to indulge you in your instant gratification. Two great songs, two remixes, what more do you need? Be sure to also check out "Turbo Love", the title song of the album.

Shooting Stars

Turbo Love

Monday, 9 February 2009

Dose 4...Jamtronica?

First and foremost, a shout out is in order to our new found Kiwi constituency. A few of the Cub Scouts down there have been hooking me up with varied music selections for years and it'll probably be reflected in a lot of my choices...

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

Dose 3...The Wallabee Champ

"Why is the sky blue? Why is water wet? Why did Judas rat to Romans while Jesus slept?"

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


As hectic and distracting as things here at the Bear get, we are still always interested in bringing you little tidbits that might brighten up your day. Ever wonder, "Why polarBear neckWear?"... Sure it's an interesting rhyming couplet, which handily fits as the stereotypically quirky name that so many bloggers seem partial to, but what underlies this calculated choice?

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!

Dose 2...A Day for Inspiration

Dose 2...

1)Space Walk by Lemon Jelly

The British duo of Nick Franglen and Fred Deakin created the electronica project Lemon Jelly in 1998. Beginning with a slew of limited circulation EPs in the late 90's and finally putting out the acclaimed, LemonJelly.ky (2000), the group's fanbase grew steadily. For their 2nd full-length album, Lost Horizons (2002), the team decided to create a cartoonesque landscape, which feels very much like the world of Candyland. Infused with the sweet and endearing melodies, the album will have you smiling the whole way through.

Though it is hard to choose just one of the eight blithe tunes to fit into your daily listening, there are a few which stand out. Most notably the song "Space Walk", which was also issued as a single. The track begins with a sample of the original tapes from the 1969 Moon landing underscored by a fragile piano melody. The curious annotations and commentaries of these first explorers of our Universe bring to the table a certain genuine quality that has not-so-recently been phased out of the music industry. Grab a cup of tea, close your eyes, and listen as this song begins to elucidate the emotion, glory, and splendor of this historic occasion.


2)Paris 1919 by John Cale

By 1973, John Cale had finished his work with the Velvet Underground and had embarked on a solo project. He had created three albums by himself, but seemed doomed to be overshadowed by his work with VU. His release of the album Paris 1919 (1973) broke this trend. Layering brilliant and complex lyrics overtop minimalistic mournful folk tones, which always seem to swell just when you need them to, Cale is able to masterfully reconstruct scenes ranging from his childhood to the Versailles Conference.

Though each song is, in its own right, an artistic triumph, I am most prone to recommend the title track, Paris 1919. The slight staccato piano chords, accentuated by a full orchestral section, create a rich tableau over which Cale laments of fleeting love, failures of war, and temerarious self indulgence.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Daily Double Dosage?

So now that we've left the holly jolly season behind us and are back in the swing of things, I figure we at the Polar express ought to assign our daily music homework. All too often we think of listening to music as an extinguishing agent for our minds. We sit idly without and hear without listening. Let's curb this habit... the Bear is proud to bring you two songs daily that are essentials for the growing boy/girl...hate 'em or love 'em...listen to 'em

Today I figure I'll stay uniform and pull two from the upcoming "Dark Was The Night" Album:

1)Lua by Conor Oberst with Gillian Welch

2)Train Song by Feist and Ben Gibbard

Dark Was The Night

So I just got this album and i have to say it's pretty good for that dark gray mellow Edinburgh morning (or night for that matter)...

This Disc:

That Disc:


So after ages of searching other peoples' blogs for all sorts of whathoosits I've decided to start my own. Won't you follow me on this joyful venture into the unknown...