Friday, December 25, 2009
Lee Fields & The Expressions - My World
Soul record of the year. Lee Fields connects all of the dots between Gaye, Mayfield, Winehouse, and Lidell. True, he gets some help from his friends - a band made up of Budos, El Michel, and Menahan members - but rather than attempt to force an update of his 70's sound, they cede the floor completely to his James Brown swagger and Otis Redding strain. Yeah, it's that good. Also, some of you who've been bumping J Cole's mixtape might hear some familiar things, especially on track 5...
Platinum Pied Pipers - Abundance
From old to neo-soul, the Platinum Pied Pipers are a couple of Detroit producers who have created the first real essential R&B album of the millennium. Though the singing is just OK, it's saved by the expansive and adventurous production, where electronic and acoustic sounds don't so much blend as spar as the tracks go on. Forward-thinking and almost too rich, you can chew on this one for months and months and still not really figure it out. The black Portishead? The urban Fleet Foxes? The first Andre 3000 tribute band? Yeah, it's something like that.
Foreign Born - Person To Person
So here's a unique story: band moves to L.A. to make it big, ends up writing a sunny pop album about all of the beautiful/ugly contradictions of SoCal life. But wait, you guys, Foreign Born is different. Not in any big way, really...or even any noticeable way. It just sticks in ways and in places other bands don't. Think of the first Weezer album, or Bloc Party, or Interpol. There's no real reason these bands should have risen above the rest, but we're all in agreement that they should've. Foreign Born is like that.
Phantogram - Eyelid Movies
They would've gotten away with it, if it wasn't for those damn kids. Phantogram, a boy/girl duo from Saratoga Springs, NY, put out a flawless album of electro minimalism, only to have a bunch of British teenagers totally upstage them and their sound. However, Phantogram's own vibe - more hip-hop than XX, and way dancier - deserves its own buzz. They say they aim to be the halfway point between Serge Gainsbourg and J Dilla, and if that doesn't get you to listen, you should probably just leave.
Paul White - The Strange Dreams of Paul White
This last one is for all the beatheads out there. Paul White is a whitehot producer out of Britain that combines the sampling skill and aesthetic of Madlib and Flying Lotus with the musical ear and weird-love of RJD2. The 21 beats on his debut are some of the most innovative music hip-hop made in 2009. Yeah, as the album title says it's really really strange, but the strangest thing about it is how addicting it is - whenever I put this on I can almost never take it off, because each track is so bizarrely fascinating. Get this man a rapper immediately.
Monday, December 21, 2009
It's really up to you. This isn't the married couple's first record together. It is, however, in the ultimate test of it's worth, the first one I've ever heard. In hard economic times, people inevitably yearn for a return to a past unsullied by compromise, greed and complexity. Check out these lyrics from the opening track:
Take me back when times were hard but we didn't know it
If we ate it we had to grow it
Take me back when all we could afford was laughter
And two mules instead of a tractor
Take me back again
Click here to go back again...
Thursday, December 17, 2009
As an addition - this video was pulled from Dame Dash's latest project, creativecontrol.tv. I highly, highly recommend poking around this site a bit. The Ski beatz under shows, Mos Def's channel, the Sessions @ DD172. I've never thought Dame Dash was a visionary by any means, more business man than anything. But he's founded this gallery/studio DD172 and this website to go along side it. It's like hip hop is having its hippy, psychedelic exploration period, but in the year 2009 with Dame Dash at the center, trying to make something a little more substantial and forward looking. It's an interesting thing, he's really just trying to get people together and get them to make their music and generate ideas. Mos Def is clearly perfect for this as it seems he has rhythm, verses, beats and talent coming out of every pore. Plus it seems getting high on camera is heavily encouraged.
Another gem from Creative + Control
Monday, November 30, 2009
The XX is a British band which has been on the radar for a couple months. Impressive album from a young band. Reserved, intricate - they push limits at just the right moments.They have a true touch for when to ease in and when to lay it on. They have a lot of the funky syncopated rhythms of bands like Phoenix, but the guitar is a dead ringer for Modest Mouse and the echoey, hollowed out sounds remind me a great deal of the Walkmen. But put that all together with a female lead vocalist, some dark lyricism and extremely particular production.
Second up The Dodos. Three guys (used to be two until they added a vibraphone player) with a propensity for African polyrhythms and folk music. It's a nice combination to say the least. You might say, well isn't that just Vampire Weekend without the amps? No, because the Dodos have been around longer than Vampire Weekend. So there.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros have that huge, full stage Polyphonic Spree kind of thing going on. Except without the weird hippy cult aspect and their music is better. It's more Arcade Fire, if the Arcade Fire came from LA instead of Canada. It's a lot brighter, sunnier - very conducive to trips across the desert and singing at loud volumes. Fun tunes.
Last but not least - Bear in Heaven has released a pretty overwhelming album. The music is half Interpol, half My Bloody Valentine. There are very poignant, spare sounds that kind of punctuate the songs, but they come jumping out from behind a big wall of sound. It makes for an unusual mix - you would think the subtle, ambient stuff would get lost, but it manages to stand alone in its way until they decide it's time to put everything together, and then the whole thing just knocks you over. It's intimidating.
The Dodos - Time to Die
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - From Below
Bear in Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth
Sunday, November 15, 2009
You're looking at the self-titled debut album of Moby Grape, the 1967 San Francisco critical darlings that time seems to have forgot. As one commenter put it, "The Grape's saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad-luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak, all set to the tune of some of the greatest rock and roll ever to emerge from San Francisco. Moby Grape could have had it all, but they ended up with nothing, and less."
This album is equal parts CSNY, late-1990's Beck and 60's Motown. I realize how ridiculous that sounds but it just flat out has to be heard. The only "hit" on here is a song called Omaha which the Boss has been known to cover occasionally and which charted all the way up to #88. Other standouts include "Come in the Morning," "Hey Grandma," and the beautifully short ballad "Naked, If I Want To" (only 58 seconds).
Accolade-wise, the rock press has always been and continues to be very kind to both the band and in particular this album, which ranked #121 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The band's become more well known of late for in-fighting and litigation, but it's worth noting that they did in fact perform at the infamous 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, during which The Who smashed their instruments and Hendrix notoriously lit his guitar on fire during an odd sacrificial ritual.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
(The third and fourth tracks will hook you)
I have been to a few live shows in my time. I generally avoid the opening act - by and large this has been an appropriate plan of action. There have been a few exceptions - the Cool Kids, Fujiya and Miyagi. tUnE-YaRdS takes the cake. Not only was this the best opening act I have ever seen - the Dirty Projectors had an extremely tough act to follow, they may have come up short. tUnE-YaRds is essentially just Merrill Garbus - a woman with a voice so incomprehensible, you actually spend a lot of time trying to understand where all those sounds come from. During the set, you could see the audience go from, "What the fuck is this," to "Wow, who the fuck is this?
To begin with, her voice is a cross between Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin and Fela Kuti (with some Prince thrown in for good measure). She borrows a lot from African and Reggae traditions in her singing. But when you listen to this music you absolutely must keep one thing in mind - she is the ONLY one singing, producing, percussing, strumming. She does the whole thing. To watch live is essentially to watch her record the album anew. She sings some background vocals and records them, then does some percussion and records it, then adds a little something oddball and records it, then mixes it all together and the song begins. It's nuts. Not to mention, wait for it, her main instrument is an ELECTRIFIED UKULELE. Not only does she play it magnificently, but you find yourself wondering why she was the first to think of it. To be fair, she has a bassist, but he is really just a dude that stands in the background.
Unfortunately the album, which she recorded herself on a digital voice recorder, does not nearly compare to the live version. With that in mind though, I cannot say enough about the live experience. Blew my mind.
With that in mind: More
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Courtesy of Josh Holland
"As the story goes, sometime around the summer solstice of 1982, a meeting was called in the secret laboratories located below the throbbing floors of Studio 54. Among the attendees were Rick James, David Bowie, Giorgio Moroder, ESG, Herbie Hancock, Oates (Hall was on a ski trip), a young Gary Numan, and a 7-foot robot controlled from space by Afrika Bambaataa. According to legend, the meeting lasted over 25 days, because this consortium of musical geniuses was there for one unprecedented reason: to breed the greatest pop band of all time. With the help of some young Dutch geneticists, the Consortium collected each member's DNA and created specific "genetic cocktails." These were then spliced into five embryos that would soon bloom into the five cutest babies the world had ever seen. The babies soon turned into boys, and the boys to men, and then back to boys again, and then slowly into young adults, which is about when they met at the Wesleyan Pop Conservatory in Connecticut, USA (all part of the Consortium's plan). These five were Tal Rozen, Victor Vazquez, Alex Kestner, Owen Roberts, and Lee Pender (in order of height, ascending), and now, they are Boy Crisis. One part funk, two parts electrofunk, and ten parts electrosexfunk, Boy Crisis is here to make sure that all your parts feel like grooving, whether they want to or not. Each song is a 3-minute ritual to the Gods of Pop, like Prince and Quincy Jones (the band was at one point named Princey Jones), but they also sacrifice to a variety of Muses, like Tom Tom Club, Sade, and KC and the Sunshine Band."
Monday, November 2, 2009
Probably nothing can sum up my love/hate relationship with Jay Electronica better than the short video above, a teaser for a track with Just Blaze off of his ever-forthcoming debut. For the first 45 seconds, it's the most pretentious thing hip-hop has ever produced, like a black Hansel from Zoolander inserted into a Wes Anderson film. I mean, really?
Then the beat goes full-retard at :46 and I forget where my face is.
Then Jay-E materializes out of the ether and tears it open with 4 bars that bleed in a way rap never does, with genuine vulnerability and uncertainty.
Then, just as I'm wrapping my head around it, around all of the dizzying possibility just laid in my lap in the space of a minute in a half, it's over.
So it is with the whole of Jay's career, a series of false starts that are all the more infuriating for their ineffable brilliance. The dude is a total enigma, disappearing for months at a time only to resurface with a track so untouchable, so right, that all the hype in the world doesn't seem like enough. Then, like clockwork, he pulls a Chappelle and flees. Such talent, such a tease.
In an era when every other rapper is using the internet to bury their fans with every half-baked idea that enters their mind (hi Weezy), Jay-E has slowly and methodically brought the entire blogosphere to a fever pitch. And for good reason - nobody in rap has ever set the lyrical bar as high as he does. He spits with an insatiable curiosity that this incurious genre has never seen before, a pleading, an effort, an exploding in every direction that reminds me of no one else. All of which means this: Jay Electronica might be the first rapper to be bigger than hip hop, or he might never release another song in his life. He’s 4 bars in and all we can do is wait.
Download the "What the F*ck is a Jay Electronica" Mixtape here
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Apparently there is no shortage of these dudes making warm, worn-in, cassettes full of summer psychedelia and mellowed-out surf rock. This one comes from Matthew Mondanile, otherwise known as Ducktails. He's got his fingers in various projects, but it all boils down to another dude who lives with his folks and makes music all day that sounds like someone poured sun over everything and played it on an old sneaker. And damn is it good. Like Washed Out, Neon Indian, Memory Tapes, this guy just simply does his thing on this album. His stuff is a bit more raw and pared down than some of the others, and, as a result, has more in common with bands like Explosions in the Sky or Of Montreal than some of his other contemporaries - less synth, more guitar pedals. The instrumentation is basic, vocals are limited, but he just rides the sounds, pours on the echos and feedback and it all turns out quite wonderfully. One of the more soothing records I've heard in a long time.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
That's Cali in Columbia, a city known as "the salsa capital of the world". After some successful experiments in 70's American funk, Jamaican dub, and Caribbean island music, British producer Quantic decided in 2007 to move there and start his musical career over, recruiting a band of regional musicians for a group he called "Combo Barbaro", adopting the endearing term Europeans use for people of the Americas.
"Tradition in Transition", his first record with the group, is interesting for the ways it engages with its surroundings. What continues to separate Quantic from, say, Buena Vista Social Club, is his refusal to be swallowed whole by his influences. Though the music here is shaded by different latin genres, it retains a definite North American groove and feel throughout. Rather than trying to be any realistic representation of Columbian music and Columbian life, it portrays his very skewed fantasy of it, and that proves to be far more intoxicating. This is so goddamn good, you guys.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
As legend goes, at some point in the early 1990s, a pizza delivery man stole a cassette tape containing a momentous yet seemingly impromptu jam session between Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, his longtime mandolin player and muse David Grisman, and Garcia's friend, guitarist Tony Rice. The recordings were made in February of 1993, just over a year before Garcia's untimely death (Who could have seen that coming? He looked so healthy.)
All joking aside, this album is extremely unique in a Yankee Hotel Foxtrot kinda way. Basically, the album leaked, became fodder for Deadhead tape traders and then, over a decade after it was recorded, finally saw an official release and remastering by Grisman. There are mistakes amidst the conversations, but the most unbelievable thing about this recording, and please accept my apologies if I sound sappy, is its heart and soul. These are the intimate recordings of an incredibly epic, prolific guitarist playing the music he first fell in love with in the company of a few close friends. Truly incomparable.
Highlights include "Shady Grove," "House of the Rising Sun," Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," and Miles Davis' "So What." I think it's more than ironic that the trio covered Miles, given the fact that I consider this gem to be the closest to jazz that bluegrass music has ever come. Enjoy.
Here's a quick hit for you all. I posted about The Cool Kids way back when they were opening for MIA. Turns out they're a Chicago band (and now that I live here, I feel compelled to represent) and have teamed up with another local crew, Hey Champ who recently toured with Lupe Fiasco. Many of you know our own MW Levy, who may or may not know the Hey Champ boys. Anywho...this shit is smoothed out. It's pretty nice to see some local bands with a little bit of hype putting their heads together and helping each other out. Plus they both earn points for having great band names.
This will get you to the mixtapes.
And in case that weren't enough...Big Boi has signed with Def Jam and will soon be releasing Sir Lucious Left Foot. A tease below.
Friday, October 16, 2009
This is what they would sound like. No joke though, this album is somewhere between house/funk and Asteroids. This should have been the soundtrack for that movie the Wizard starring Fred Savage. I posted a Neon Indian video a few weeks back. The song was a teaser for what is really a fine album. Full of oddities and geeked out little DJ tricks, the music is pretty damned fun.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
With this ongoing battle as backdrop, The Very Best have arrived to provide an argument of their own. Formed in London when two DJs walked into a used furniture store and discovered the Malawian owner of the store could actually sing his ass off, they released a mixtape last year that was met with near-universal acclaim. The key to their success is an inversion of a well-worn formula: instead of cross-polinating African textures and rhythms with pop songs, ala Graceland or the aforementioned Vampires, they've lifted all the sounds of modern western music and molded them to fit traditional African song structures. Though the energy and originality of the music speaks for itself, the inclusion of both Ezra Koenig of VW and M.I.A. on their debut LP drives home the point: true music is boundless.
Similar in approach but totally different in genre, the BLK JKS are an indie rock band from Johannesburg that deserve way more ears than they're currently getting. Discovered by Diplo (who else?) on a 2008 trip to South Africa, they remind me either of TVotR covering Rusted Root, or Mars Volta backing up Santana, depending on the song. Which is to say: WTF.
BLK JKS enlisted our old friends the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble for their debut, and, like TVotR before them, the "wall of sound" school of production wails about as often as it wears. When they wail, like on opener "Molalatladi", the Afroelectric storm rains down with unopposible force and everything from the warble in the lead singer's voice to the ska-like guitar flicks seems to pulsate with the same rhythm. But unlike their Brooklyn brethren, BLK JKS haven't yet figured out how to maintain the tension while dialing down the tempo, as "Standby" blandly proves. Still, there seems to be something effortlessly natural about the Prog&Beats combination that the BLK JKS are advancing, and if they're given more time to refine it, they might arrive somewhere neither their home country nor their adopted one could've imagined.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
These dudes are a Brooklyn supergroup pounding out legit King Tubby style dub. The drummer toured with The Fugees, Stu Brooks is G Units bass player, and DP plays guitar for Mos and Common. Basically, they're highly coveted musicians. And its no wonder, cause the three of them make this shit sound silky smooth, staying true to the dub sound with nothing more than looping effects and their respective instruments. Its tight. This is their debut from 03, which is super laid back and just plain dope. Their last record with Mike Patton's label Ipecac is a metal/dub blend, which is in many ways more impressive, but probably a little harder to get into for most. That being said, this record is just silly good. If you get a chance to see these dudes live, do not miss it.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Looks like these guys have been busy at work in the studio the last couple months and plan on releasing a new EP this December titled, "Fall Be Kind." Personally I can't think of a better way for these guys to cap off the year they had than by coming out with a freshly minted album. So far there hasn't been any track listings leaked, but it would be a safe to assume "Bleed," "Grace," and "What Would I Want Sky" to be on there. Release date is set for December 8th. Until then- here is a hot little collaboration between Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) and Atlas Sound titled, Walkabout.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Hello Team - I wanna introduce you all to Donnis, a rapper from Atlanta. I know, I know... you've heard them all before and decided that southern rap sucks. Well, as much as that might be true, this guy doesn't. He's been getting some nice attention in the blogosphere, so why should Bangers be any different?? Here is his 10-deep sponsored mixtape called Diary Of An ATL Brave...
Highlighted by the intro track 'The Beginnings', where he contemplates what it takes to become famous; 'Underdog' has a soulful-vibe that reminds me of the Isaac Hayes record from Kill Bill (fast forward to 01:10 here); and 'Gone', which could be the record that puts him on --
- Rollin up a swisher sweet fat as Mr. Winslow -
Oh yeah. He was complex mag's album of the week a few months ago. Don't be the last one to hear about this dude...
Friday, October 2, 2009
Often times when supergroups form, they promise a lot but in reality deliver very little (see Audioslave & Velvet Revolver), fortunately this is not the case when it comes to MOF. This album is chalked full of heartfelt songs, sun drenched guitar riffs, and that wonderful Blonde on Blonde Bob Dylan piano sound. Definitely more rock than folk. Below is the music video to their first single off the album, The Right Place.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Just wanted to post a couple of quick tunes that have had my head bobbing of late. First: Neon Indian is of the Washed Out vein - everything sounds like it's played off a warped record, but still fresh as can be. This track has gotten some play, but damn it's good. Second up: Dan Deacon is a DJ out of Baltimore that has been on the scene for some time and his latest album, Bromst, has had some buzz. Needless to say, I like this song. And third: Mr. Scruff's Sweet Smoke off Trouser Jazz. Great album, great tune, nothing new, but still delightful.
This album is really excellent funk. Adam Gibbons is the main man behind Lack of Afro; a producer and multi-instrumentalist, he has combined some pre-existing songs with his own creations and the result is music that can make you tap down the street by yourself, or happily entertain some friends while eating dinner. There is of course a wonderful use of horns, essential to all that is funk, along with a steady rhythm in most of the tracks that keeps the head bobbing and the flow smooth. This album, called "Press On," was released in 2007 and he just came out with another called "My Groove, Your Move" that I haven't acquired just yet. I hope you enjoy the good times that derive from the good tunes.
Here is "Press On" by Lack of Afro.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
There's a very good chance you have already heard this band. Nonetheless, I'm posting the album because it is a good listen. But also because I finally put my finger on what some of these electropop bands remind me of - Peter F-ing Gabriel and Phil Collins. Maybe others have made this connection, but I finally got there and it's like now I have seen the light. Abstraction and melody, dynamic changes and satisfying tempos - listen to Solsbury Hill or Take Me Home and then Burial or Animal on this album and you'll see. Passion Pit has some of the same shit going on for sure, in fact it may have just hit me how completely saturated today's music is with these guys and I had never really thought about it. Sure Brian Eno gets credit, and the Talking Heads, but I think Gabriel and Collins get overlooked. I can't say I'm much of a Genesis fan (especially the Gabriel years - way too prog rock for my taste), but I've always kind of enjoyed each man's solo stuff. These dudes knew how to write a catchy tune that always managed to come across as epic - something the Arcade Fire does extremely well these days.
Anyway - back to Miike Snow. I don't know, well, anything about this band, other then they're Swedish and they have some street cred in the biz as producers. The pace and general exuberance of the music masks how melancholy some of the lyrics are. When the songs are good, they're really good, when they miss, it's like they went a little too Maroon 5 or Pink - this tends to happen more as the album progresses. It's sort of like if Passion Pit got overcooked in the Rainbow Room on a few of these tracks and came out of the Brill Building instead of Brooklyn. That said, I'd say the first half of this album is solid and there are moments on the latter half.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Taking a page from Howie - here's a power pop group that is oft overlooked I find. I stumbled on this band some years back when trying to figure out the origin of the song "Thirteen" as covered by Elliott Smith. Behold, Big Star. Some of their songs might be familiar to you (namely Cheap Trick's cover of "In the Streets," which became the theme song for That 70s Show), but these guys are somewhere between the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Beatles. You can sort of imagine being 15 and really connecting with these songs hardcore. It's not the most sophisticated lyricism but the melodies are clean, catchy, and full. It's fun listening. So, for your pleasure, I'm posting two albums for the price of one - rereleased as a set: #1 Record and Radio City. I find the songs where they're letting it go a little are much better than the ballads, which can get kind of cheesy and high school. Songs like Feel, In the Streets, O My Soul, She's A Mover definitely put a kick in your step and have a more rootsy feel. This is pure pop - most of the songs are under 4 minutes, and it's a fairly basic composition, but there's definitely something to be said for doing pop well. And they do.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Between the hype, the anticipation and the attachment of a legendary album's legacy, anything less than a classic would have proven to be a major disappointment. Few albums have gone through this much turmoil and delay in the planning stages yet turned out so cohesive and tight. The last time a Wu-Tang record came together with this kind of personnel and succeeded under a grand conceptual vision, we got Fishscale, and calling Cuban Linx II Raekwon's equivalent to it isn't out of the question. Like Ghostface's modern classic, this album defies hip-hop's current atmosphere of youthful cockiness and aging complacency: instead, it's driven by the sometimes celebratory, sometimes traumatized sense of stubborn survival and perseverance, a veteran mindset that can no longer picture success without having to defend it. Consider this a triumphant defense.DOWNLOAD
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Enter stage right- Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox, founding member of Animal Collective). Now I know what you guys are thinking, "Chip this isn't really anything new, nor is it you kicking your addiction to Animal Collective." You're absolutely right! But I don't care, because this album rocks! You could say it's one of those two steps forward, three steps back kinda of things.
Person Pitch is actually the third solo album from Panda Bear, and was rated the best album of 2007 by Pitchfork Music. All the things you love about Animal Collective you will find in Person Pitch: those poignant lyrics, tight samples, creative beats, Brian Wilson-esque harmonies, and of course that hypnotic and celestial wall of sound that they do arguably better than anyone else. This album is surprisingly upbeat musically and lyrically compared to his other solo work. Call me crazy but this could be due in large part to Panda Bear moving away from Baltimore to Lisbon Portugal and marrying a beautiful fashion designer. Fortunately the quality of music has not taken a tole, as it does sometimes when other musicians start making money and stop being being poor & depressed artists (see Modest Mouse).
I suggest buying this album immediately, going to the park, and zoning out while watching the clouds go by. Without any further ado- "Bros"
Before your memories recall the Family Guy reenactment of the first song ever sung, know that The Cave Singers lead vocalist has a captivating raspy voice that makes me feel the peace of the countryside. They hail from Seattle, and the three man outfit has a simplicity to them that keeps their sound pure. Taxonomically speaking, I'd call them active Folk. They let lose on occasion, "Dancing on our Graves," but their instrumentation and overall vibe definitely inspire tranquility over chaos.
Here are their two albums for your auditory pleasure. Invitation songs is their first; it dropped in 2007. Welcome Joy was released just this year. They're on tour now and I believe heading east. I attended their show here in Chicago and really enjoyed it.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Put this in a box with Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Iron & Wine, maybe your Grizzly Bear. These slow, contemplative, pulsing, ambient, echoing tracks are made for rainy days and dark nights of the soul. Haunting vibrato, long fermatas - there is some clear reference to Radiohead in here as songs bounce from soft and brooding to hard and fast. Let's be clear - this album is not named Hospice by accident. Songs are about illness, death, not exactly happy topics, and the music matches the prevailing sentiment. That said, it's extremely provocative emotionally and musically - you occasionally hear those albums that physically tug on your heart strings and this one definitely slips right into that arsenal. They remind me a lot of Broken Social Scene in the best possible way - big full sounds, evocative lyrics, you can hear the heart in the record.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Feeling the urge to put on a good late night drunk, but just can’t decide on the perfect musical accompaniment? In a “Best Songs” special issue of the UK magazine Q, the editors offered Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye” as the best song “for being alone at 2 AM with a bottle of red wine.” If you aren’t feeling that brokenhearted and prefer, say, bourbon as your drink of choice, try “Loan Me A Dime” from Boz Scaggs’s eponymous debut. (Note: This song does not sound like the softy rock “Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle,” or “Harbor Lights". None of ‘em. I promise.) This epic down-on-your-lady-luck blues cover validates your besotted melancholy with forlorn organs and a plodding beat, but then swings you out of the dumps with the rhythmic flex of the Muscle Shoals session players and Duane Allman’s screaming guitar. Unlike most songs that last over ten minutes, this one also plays pretty well to the late-night crowd in your favorite dive bar.
The original by Chicago Blues guitarist Fenton Robinson is equally great (and much shorter) in its own right. It’s got some killer drumming and Robinson’s voice blows Boz’s out of the water.
Friday, September 11, 2009
The first track, Satellite Skin, is straight from the We Were Dead era of bigger, slicker sound/production and layered harmonies. Radio-friendly and a little more market savvy, it's good but it's hardly where Modest Mouse began. But there are some throwbacks on here - namely Guilty Cocker Spaniels and the Whale Song with some serious meandering guitar and Brock's notorious lyricism. They get back to some of those southern, countrified tunes as well (see: Perpetual Motion Machine). All in all, it's a solid effort from a solid band, but not a standout. If you're a fan, there are a few that are surely worth hanging onto. For people who simply don't care, this probably won't change your mind.
Brandon's post in late July got me listening to a lot of Allen Toussaint, so I thought I'd post one of my favorite Allen Toussaint produced songs, Aaron Neville's "Hercules". ("Last Train", which a commenter so rightly highlighted, is a close second. Oh and all of Rock of Ages by the Band; Toussaint did the horn arrangements.) Aaron Neville is on his A game here - he floats out the falsetto (you know: the touuuchh, the feeeel of cawwwtonnnn) when the music calls for it, but otherwise reigns in his voice for some cool and clipped wisdom about the feats needed to survive in a hostile, mixed-up modern world. Neville is great, but Toussaint's mellow production steals the show. The bass line is downright infectious, and the way Toussaint folds in swelling horns, cool jazz guitar, timbales fills, and piano harmonies is masterful. Wait for the point around 2:30 with just drums and rhythm guitar; so good. Street life is hard, but Neville and Toussaint know how much it helps if you can just keep it funky.
Hi, I'm one of the hottest musicians in the world right now, and my name is goddamn Ernest. I've spent my whole life in South Carolina and Georgia, living mostly on my parents' peach farm. I have a makeshift studio in the attic where I started making music a few months ago with virtually no training, experience, or money. My style, a dumbfounding combination of Californian pop, Italian disco, and John Hughes films, is basically Coppertone in sonic form and you really have no choice but to become obsessed with it. Other things about me that kick ass: I only release my records on cassette, my band name so perfectly mirrors the aesthetic of my music that all other descriptions fail in comparison, and I have a new album, by which I mean tape, coming out in a week. Did I mention I spent my entire life in rural Georgia?
Monday, September 7, 2009
The guys who run this label are serious music nerds. Their business plan was essentially to cater to folks who like the idea of digging through record crates and discovering old gems, but don't actually enjoy the practical reality. So it's small, it's niche, but it's for all those folks who like good, soulful music, regardless of where it came from. These tracks are worn, raw, a little unfinished, and extremely fun to listen to - they call it "eccentric soul."
I'm not going to post any of the songs for download because I like these guys and I like what they're about, so I encourage you to actually pay for it. They're available on iTunes, or you can get a double LP for about $20.
Here's a taste - check out the second track by Marion Black. Their myspace page is pretty entertaining as well.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
If the barbershop quartet didn't tip you off, I'll just come out and say it: Mayer Hawthorne is almost completely unoriginal. His voice is a whiteboy version of Smokey Robinson's, his songs are straight out of the Motown playbook, and his lyrics consist mainly of the word "girl" with various verbs around it.
As anybody who's listened to Blueprint 3 knows, though, originality is overrated. Particularly when you're trafficking in 60's soul, whose template for success is as narrow and exacting as it is fucking perfect. The genius of Mayer is that he doesn't so much push this old template forward as nudge it a few inches over - the drums a little louder, the falsetto a little smoother. The songs, too, never stray too far from the Sam Cooke/Marvin Gaye 3 minute blueprint, where there's nothing extra, and no second is wasted. And some of them, like "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out" and "Make Her Mine", are actually brilliant in their own ways, managing to add to the deep soul canon rather than just borrow from it. Chalk Mayer up with groups like Menahan St. Band and El Michels Affair as dudes who get the throwback-to-the-future steez correct. And if you don't believe that, believe this: your girlfriend will love it.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
The title refers to the choice catchphrase of the show-within-the-show on Ricky Gervais' HBO sitcom Extras, with which I am completely obsessed. Its closing credits song (covered by Chris Martin in one of the most brilliant television cameos of all time) is the title track to this Cat Stevens record. I've always been a big fan of the album. Harold and Maude, which you might recognize as the movie that both Mary and Ted agree is the "greatest love story of our time," used several tracks from Tea for the Tillerman in its score.
For the most part, the album stands by itself. Each song flows into the next one. Although it's a fairly prototypical pop/folk record, not quite what I'd call "unique" in any sense, its wisdom lies in its simplicity. It's the album that made Cat Stevens, aka Yusuf Islam (See "A is for Allah" if you're unsure of the quickest way to ruin your career) a household name in America, mostly on the strength of the single "Wild World." Released in November of 1970, the album was ranked #206 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. "Father and Son" is truly a touching tune.
What Stevens lacks in wit is more than made up for with hauntingly pristine vocal melodies, carefully orchestrated guitar layering and the kind of delicate vocal sap unseen absent Paul McCartney. Enjoy. And go watch Extras.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
After learning that the main creative talent of YACHT is a founding member of the Blow, well you know I had to check this shit out. It sort of starts out where the Blow left off - half spoken-word, half Moldy Peaches and nursery rhymes - but somehow extremely charming and catchy. I just love how simple these songs sound, but once you really pay attention, you realize how layered and intricate they are - the initial appeal is the simplicity and then they sort of draw you in slowly on each song to something far more complex. It moves quickly into something more ambitious, adding some fucking sweet loops to poppy, catchy tracks and throwing all kinds of synth and abstraction over some very maudlin singing. Knowing where Bechtolt began makes some of these dancy, discoed out, edgy electronic songs extremely surprising, and perhaps even more awesome. Because people who brood like to dance too apparently.
Quick post-script - saw them in Chicago a couple nights ago. Killer live show. Again, like the Blow, verging on performance art with audience banter, a very personalized power-point presentation/interactive video. But for a small gig, very high energy and extremely fun. Highly recommended.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
But let's put that aside for a second and engage in a quick thought experiment: what if you had to put together an MJ tribute album? What would it sound like? Well, for one thing, there's no beating Quincy at his own game, so you'd have to forget about topping his glossy production. You'd also want to engage artists from a whole bunch of different genres, to underscore his impact on nearly every type of popular music. A lo-fi mishmash, ideally - capturing the blissful essence of MJ's songs, but in a way that brings their monumental status down to size.
So good news: the bloggers over at BUTTERxFACE have done exactly that, assembling 12 lo-fi luminaries to deconstruct some of the world's best known compositions. The crystal clarity of the originals is swapped for smooth patina, the loss of precision resulting in an underlying warmth. When the songs works best, as on Toro y Moi's "Human Nature" and Family Portrait's "Will You Be There", they seem less like Important Pop Music Covers and much more like a version of a seemingly eternal song, like an "Amazing Grace", one that's sung around campfires by memory and has no discernable birth or death or beginning or end. As they should be.