Thursday, February 28, 2008
Soul Sides is an audio blog by critic Oliver Wang that features a few mp3s a week of rare grooves, old soul, and all things dusty and funky. I’m starting to get into old soul, and Soul Sides is a great resource. Yesterday they posted a bunch of old rock by Howling Wolf. He also has links to other sites that post old stuff. Yes, three years too late I’m writing about audioblogs but fuck it, I’m old and it takes me a while to discover this stuff.
I also checked out Kimya Dawson’s site yesterday (she of Juno – remember?) and although I still dislike her music, I will no longer dis her. She’s the real deal, someone who is trying to do something sincere and real and positive, and I applaud her music and her approach to life. I’ve been a cynical fuck for so long that sometimes I have to remind myself that sometimes it pays to actually believe in something.
Now I’m gonna stop listening to the shitty rap I have to review and go listen to some old soul.
Friday, February 22, 2008
So as long as i don't have to listen to too much of her stuff, i'm all for kimya. go ms. dawson!!
(that's as nice as an asshole music snob like me gets on such matters, i'm afraid...)
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
To Whom it May Concern..., Beats and Rhymes, 1991
Reposted from www.rapreviews.com
Obscurity automatically gives things an extra layer of reverence and respect. If no one has heard of an album, it must be incredible; after all, no one saying anything about an album means that no one is saying anything bad about it. The truth of the matter is that while a lot of great albums are slept on, there are also quite a few that deserve their obscurity.
So in which category does Freestyle Fellowship's "To Whom It May Concern..." fall? Is it a wrongfully ignored classic, or a merely adequate record that has gained undue notoriety due to how few copies of it were originally pressed (rumored to be less than 1,000)? To answer that question, I listened to this record while pretending that it was as lauded as "It Takes A Nation of Millions..." or "The Low-End Theory," a hands-down, no-brainer classic that should be in everyone's record collection. Even given those high standards, "To Whom It May Concern..." stands up. It sounds remarkably fresh and exciting today, 17 years after its release.
This album is the epitome of jazz rap, and not just because of the jazz samples the group uses. The Fellowship, comprised of Aceyalone, All in All, J. Sumbi, Mikay 9, P.E.A.C.E., and Self Jupiter, don't rap so much as flow, the words spewing out of their mouths like Charlie Parker licks, complex, intricate, and amazing. They were trained in the art of freestyling at the Goodlife Café, and all of that practice shows. Aceyalone's rhyme on "Fantasy" is a perfect example; his lyrics come out effortlessly and relentlessly, never going quite where you expect, but always sounding right on:
"Would you like to be a part of my fantasy?
Fantasy, insanity, vanity, family, Kennedy, can it be?
It'll be great we can break all laws of gravity
Make room, or fly to the moon on a boom
We can let it get better, get etiquette, adequate, that'll get sloppy
Ten-four, you copy?
Big jollopy I pop a seed, pop a floppy
Teenybopper, hoppy, hype, my squad's the gods of the mic
So play vanilla, hammer, shamma-lamma-ding-dong
Killer, slummer, plan a pop song, KA!
But I like breakbeats and beatin' on the walls of bathrooms
The b-boys b boys forever
Yo, punk- what's your function?
Robotics, planets, products, annex, got it
Mechanics or sonics, organic, exotic, narcotic
Bought it, forgot it
I jot it down 'til I'm hooked on phonics
So much to do with a touch of double dutch
Of dodge ball, the Taj Mahaj's right below us
Slow us down and show us the forest
Or a Brontosaurus
I'm a Taurus, poorest one of all
Born in back of a pool hall, a joker
My Pappy's a penny ante poker player
Who's a loser, screwser, booser
Livin' a life of anger
Had one, two, one too many Harvey Wall Bangers
So bungee jump off a bridge and soar
With a rubber baby elastic plastic
Band around your ankle
Fasten up, next stop Banana Republic"
The beats are a combination of jazz, funk, and psychadelica that are banging but never cliche. Even the skits and shorter songs offer an insight into the group's humor and philosophy. "Let's Start Over," which features the group listening to the Triggerman beat, is especially prescient given Southern rap's dominance in recent years; "We Will Not Tolerate" has the group declaring "We are not your O-R-D-I-N-A-R-Y N-I-G-G-E-R-S;" "Dedications" has the group "livercating" the album to their fallen friends, saying "we must be strong, for the killing of ourselves must stop."
This was recorded around the same time as "De La Soul Is Dead" and it shares the edge and darkness of De La's sophomore debut. Gangsta rap was beginning to outshine the jazzier, more positive, more afro centric manifestations of the art form, and a lot of MCs were deeply disappointed by this turn towards the negative. Hip hop was turning into the same tired stereotypes. Why be smart when being gutter sells? Why aim for art when you can go gold rehashing gangster movies? The Freestyle Fellowship retaliated by being just as angry as their gangsta peers. On "Sunshine Men," they criticize fake gangsters who moved to L.A. from parts East to cash in on the latest negativity:
"Those without talents, but big drug profits
Rap becomes a tool often used in vein
Just like a gun
When they want out of the insane lifestyle
But they want the insane pay
So they pick up a mic, yet they have nothing to say
It's a damn shame, 'cause they form the pack
Of those who represent my spot, yet they lack
The skill to get raw with words and cold shoot 'em
Stuck in the past, puttin' raps to a drum computer
Not even worried that the songs not able
'Cause they got juice and hook ups at big labels
No unique-ness, no goals or dreams
No creativity's exactly how it seems
As a sunshine man, with plans and a pen in my hand
Recording thoughts and beats for the next man
Even those who live without a clue
I bring the truth to you, it's not new
To help my cause, the rise or inflation
The incline of western civilization
Words to enlighten and to direct
Brought to you live and correct
From Sunshine Men"
The Freestyle Fellowship didn't manage to dampen the popularity of gangsta rap, and their criticism on "Sunshine Men" resonates just as clearly today as it did when it was originally released. What they did succeed in doing was inspiring and being part of a community of MCs who shared the Fellowship's positive message, including the Jurassic 5, Pharcyde, and Lootpack. "To Whom It May Concern..." might be to hip hop what the Ramones' or Velvet Underground's first albums were to rock music: an album few people heard, but that inspired everyone who did hear it to start a band and make music of their own.
The only negative thing about the album is the fact that it was recorded on a shoestring budget, and the sound quality shows. The levels aren't level, it sounds muddy, and the whole experience is akin to listening to a twice-dubbed tape. The question is, would you rather listen to a piece of shallow garbage that sounds crisp and clear, or a genuine masterpiece that is less polished? Personally, I'll take "To Whom It May Concern..." over Soulja Boy any day of the week.
"To Whom It May Concern..." is an innovative, creative, challenging record, one that pushes boundaries and further blurs the distinction between jazz and rap. The MCs offer some dazzling verbal acrobatics, and a lot of insightful and clever lyrics. This deserves a place next to your De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest albums. Most importantly, it deserves to be listened to, and since it is now available for download on Itunes and Emusic, hopefully it will get a chance to be rediscovered by the legions of hip hop fans who weren't among the lucky 1,000 who copped it the first time around.
Music Vibes: 10 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 10 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 10 of 10
Sunday, February 17, 2008
I saw Juno recently, and while I liked it, the soundtrack bugs the fuck out of me. Not the Belle and Sebastian or Sonic Youth, mind you; I'm talking specifically about the childish, inane, twee as fuck tracks by Kimya Dawson.
Now let me be clear: I've always hated twee, for the very fact that it was childish, inane, barfily cutesy, and just not very well made or fun to listen to. K Records? I'd rather wash my eyes out with soap. Manchild's with acoustic guitars and ukelele's? Grown women and men singing like slightly brain-damaged elementary school kids? um, pass. If i want endearingly childlike, i'll go with something more nuanced, complex, and interesting, like belle and sebastian or sufjan stevens. they fill the same role of other twee acts without sucking. If i want to listen to amatuerish, i'll listen to an indie rock or punk rock act that is at least acting a little bit their age.
The height of my hate of twee came at a dennis driscoll show at kimo's in SF in 2000. After an endless set of him singing about his bucket or how to make brownies, he said "I have a few more songs to do..." at this point the transvestite soundwo/man said, in a voice too deep for her leather skirt, "how about one more?" to which mr. driscoll had a fit, and said petulantly, "actually, i'm not going to do any more songs."
What bugged me about Dennis Driscoll, and twee in general, was how off it was. I understood people wanting to go back to the childhood innocence of their imaginary youth, but at 22, that just doesn't work. There was something really unhealthy and dysfunctional to me about watching adults act out their elementary school role-playing, going all kindergarten. it seemed like a dangerous regression, a way of ignoring the problems of the present by reverting back to childhood. It didn't seem like a healthy way to approach life. Also, the music was really shit.
so the juno soundtrack. It makes me more ornery than the indigo girls, dave matthews, and bob marley combined. I know it makes a lot of people very happy (my girlfriend included), but i can't help but think i'm right on this one.
Thank you and goodnight.
PS: I'm sorry to mr. driscoll for dissing him. check out http://www.dennisdriscoll.org/ and make your own opinion. He has a right to do what he does, and he'd be an idiot to try and appeal to my tastes. I wish him the best of luck on his endevours, and if he makes people happy, all the better.
PPs: my own method of facing the world, ie hiding behind a mask of cynicism and jadeness, doesn't strike me as particularly healthy either. If you learn of a more effective and functional way of dealing with life, please drop me a line. Being a jaded music snob is hard work.
PPPS: also check out www.krecs.com.
On a recent Sound Opinions, critic Jim DeRogatis trashed Vampire Weekend's debut, essentially because they are a bunch of preppie fucks ripping off Paul Simon and singing about pretentious shit like Cape Cod and the Oxford Comma. He's only half right. Yes, they are pretentious preppie fucks, and yes, their lyrics can get too coy for their own good. And yes, they rip off Paul Simon and steal African rhythms in manner that is somewhat distasteful given their aforementioned preppie fuck status. I'll even throw in the additional criticism that they are incredibly over-hyped.
Still, Vampire Weekend are essentially the new Strokes: a group of talented, smarmy musicians that are getting obscene amounts of hype for music that blatantly shows its influences. They also share with the Strokes the fact that they are pretty good. If you ignore their preppie fuck status, their preppie fuck lyrics, and learn to love rather than hate their paul simon worship, you'll find that they are actually quite enjoyable. The album is fun, breezy, and short, the perfect soundtrack for drinking fruity drinks by a pool or making out with your girlfriend. Ignore the haters, and ignore the people giving this album excessive amounts of love: Vampire Weekend may not be the second coming of rock n' roll,k but they aren't half-bad.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
The Clash are one of my favorite bands ever. It’s hard to say how influential the Clash have been on my political and musical development. They got me to accept reggae, hip hop and disco as legitimate forms of music, and got me to expand my palette when all I was listening to was angry 1-2-fuck-you hardcore. Joe Strummer remains one of my heroes, and I love all of their albums (except cut the crap, which is, admittedly, a piece of steaming feces).
I haven’t been as in love with their post-clash work. Joe Strummer had a minor but interesting solo album in the late 80s, “Earthquake Weather,” which sold about 7,000 copies (!)(including mine). Mick Jones went on to do Big Audio Dynamite, mixing hip hop and punk into a pastiche that was interesting about half the time. He’s now formed “Carbon/Silicone” with former Sigue Sigue Sputnik bassist Tony James, and the two have been releasing songs on their website, www.carbonsiliconeinc.com. I love Mick’s voice, but his lyrics and songwriting are always hit and miss, and Carbon/Silicone is no exception. There are some clunky riffs and some clunky lines, but it still sounds great to hear his voice again. I also like the fact that he is doing this himself, and having a lot of fun with it. It’s kind of how I do this blog, only I totally half-ass this, and it sounds like Mick and Tony are actually trying.
Re-Up Gang - We Got It For Cheap Vol. 3
A year after “Hell Hath No Fury,” the Clipse and Co. release a follow up to 2006’s excellent “We Got It For Cheap” Vol. 1 and 2.” Like those albums, Vol. 4 is more cold-as-ice crack rap over new and newly jacked beats. Unlike “Hell Hath No Fury,” the boys are reveling in their role of crack dealers without remorse, making it slightly unappetizing. It also suffers from the usual mixtape issues, ie too many sound effects and shoutouts.
Killer Mike “Ghetto Extraordinary” This album from Outkast protégée Killer Mike was shelved by Sony in 2005. It’s now being released for free, and is not bad. Killer Mike puts the Angry Black Man back into hip hop, picking up where Ice Cube and David Banner left off. Like those two rappers, Killer Mike is equal parts street poet, insightful critic, and hypocritical dick.
AmpLive – “RainyDayz remixes” In which Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” is remixed to include rhymes by Too Short and Del. After my (pretty lame) criticism of Radiohead last month, I gotta admit that In Rainbows may be worth checking out. This is melancholy and awesome, and avoids sounding like a mash up.
I didn’t include links. You know how to use google, so if you want to find this shit, find it your damn self.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
The Teaches of Peaches
Kitty Yo/XL Recordings, 2000/2002
(reposted from www.rapreviews.com)
One of hip hop's selling points is that it has retained the sense of danger that rock n' roll lost years ago. Hip hop is music to scare your parents, loud, angry, profane, and as frightening and unwelcoming as the neighborhoods that rappers claim to come from. One of the downsides of this is that hip hop is not the safest or most inviting place for a lot of people, particularly women. This is especially true for female MCs. How do you compete in an arena where you are categorically degraded and put down, where "bitch" is used so commonly it isn't even considered derogatory? Most female MCs have responded by either trying to be badder than the baddest boy, by being a vamped up sex machine, or both.
Enter Merril Nisker, aka Peaches, a Canadian artist who mashes up hip hop, electronica, and rock, and infuses it all with a healthy dose of estrogen. Her philosophy (and schtick) are clearly defined on her first single, "Fuck the Pain Away." Over a dirty Roland MC-505 beat that sounds straight out of "Push It," Peaches raps:
"Sucking on my titties like you wanted me
Calling me, all the time like Blondie
Check out my chrissy behind
It's fine all of the time
What else is in the teaches of peaches?
Like sex on the beaches - huh? What?"
All of this leads to a chorus of "Fuck the Pain Away." That is Peaches in a nutshell: rudimentary, crude, crass, and sexy. In 2001, this sounded like a revolution to a lot of women I knew. Peaches spoke to all of the women who were grounded in feminism but tired of feminism's perceived tendencies towards victimization and prudishness, and tired of not having a space to express their sexuality in ways that weren't tied to male fantasies. After years of addressing the painful and seemingly endless ways in which sex and sexuality are used to oppress women, there were a lot of ladies who wanted to fuck the pain away. Kathleen Hannah echoed the sentiment in Bikini Kill's "I Like Fucking": "Just cuz my world...is so fucking goddamn full of rape/ Does that mean my body must always be a source of pain?...I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe."
Peaches addressed sex from a woman's perspective, steering clear of the jailbait image of singers like Britney and Cristina, or the porn star chic that was becoming all the rage. Peaches didn't care about getting the boys off; she was too busy worrying about herself. The result was lyrics that were sexy without tying women to being Barbie doll sexpots. Peaches may be on the plain side, but she is decidedly 100% natural. On "AA/XXX" she delivers an anthem for small-chested women:
"I like the innocent type
Deer in the headlight
Rocking me all night
Flexing his might
Doing it right
Keeping me tight
Taking a bite out of the peach tonight
I'm only double-A, but I'm thinking triple X"
Men remain a necessary evil in her music, and Peaches treats them with the respect that most rappers have for women. She orders them to go down on her ("Diddle My Skittle," "Suck and Let Go"), and on "Hot Rod," exclaims "Give me your rod/Show me what you got/Rub it against my thigh." "Teaches of Peaches" is clearly a woman's show, made for and by females sick of being relegated to the role of video ho, eye candy, or baby mama.
To be honest, Peaches isn't really a hip hop artist, and I don't think she considers herself a rapper. She is more a performance artist, mixing up styles as they suit her to create her own pastiche. Her later albums have seen her veer more towards electronica and cock rock, but "Teaches of Peaches" is firmly rooted in "Licensed to Ill"- era beats. She is as complicated musically as she is lyrically, which means that her beats have two modes: uptempo and dirty, and downtempo and dirty. In fact, all of the songs basically sound the same, which is to say awesome. I wish more artists would reference that old Def Jam sound in their beats. Of course, Peaches wouldn't be nearly as interesting if she were just another white hipster ironically flirting with hip hop. Trust this: Peaches ain't faking it. She's the real deal, as nasty as she wants to be, hardcore for the hardcore.
To me, "Teaches of Peaches" will always be the album that taught SF hipsters that it was ok to get their freak on, and allowed a lot of women I know the opportunity to tap into their inner horndog and feel good about it. When civilization gets you down, when you hear a rapper use "bitch" one too many times, when you are feeling sick and tired of being sick and tired, put on Peaches and be happy being dirty.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Sunday, February 10, 2008
From Here We Go Sublime
One good thing about year-end best-of lists is that you can catch up on releases that would have otherwise slipped by you. "From Here We Go Sublime" made a lot of critic's lists, and I finally managed to track it down this week. The Field is a project by Axel Willner, a Swedish(?) electronica artist. The record is equal parts trance, downtempo house, and minimalist techno. Tracks like "Over The Ice" and "Good Things End" have a thumping drive that reference Euro techno without actually going there. "A Paw In My Face" goes towards a more New-Order-esque beautiful meloncholy; "The Little Heart Beats So Fast" has a farting house beat that reminds me of Daft Punk and Tosca. The whole album is subtle, layered, and pretty. It reminds me of some of the other German techno stuff I've heard (particularly on Miss Kittin's "Radio Caroline" mix), and there is even a little Aphex Twin. It could be the one electronica album you need to own this year. My only complaint is that it is impossible to find a digital copy of it.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
I detest the Beach Boys. I hate their vocal harmonies, I hate their icky bahamania vibe, i hate how hipsters faun over Pet Sounds, and mostly, i can never forgive them with making such god awful surf music that had very little to do with either surfing or music. i grew up a surfer (a class only slightly less snobby than music geeks)(of which I am one), and I was bludgeoned with the beach boys my whole life. "Surfin' Safari" is a dubious song at best, but on the 1,000,000th listen, it becomes unbearable. Add to this the fact that the beach boys WEREN'T SURFERS, and that their music has about as much to do with surfing as Vanilla Ice had to do with being a gangsta. Surfers don't even listen to the Beach Boys (although, to be fair, surfers have pretty crummy taste in music as a rule. They tend to like stuff like TSOL and Jack Johnson, neither of whom are a tremendous improvement from Pet Sounds).
So i can't stand the beach boys, i'm sick of them being the unofficial soundtrack to my state, and i hate that so many indie bands emulate their vocal harmonies and melodies. And yet i actually kind of like Panda Bear's Person Pitch, which in many ways riffs off of those very Beach Boy formulas. Panda Bear is one part of the Animal Collective, who as a group do their own fair share of Beach Boys worship. I haven't really listened to them, and it's only by chance that i came to check this out. the fact that pitchfork fawned over it shamelessly intrigued me a bit. It is a big, spacey album, full of vague lyrics and vague melodies. two of the songs sprawl over the 12 minute mark, and they are mostly drones, repeating the same hypnotic rhythms and melodies. It's "interesting" as well as enjoyable, which is a good thing. It's even made me want to put aside some of my hatred of the beach boys, although not enough to give Pet Sounds another spin.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Reposted from www.rapreviews.com
I tend to see all remix albums as suspect, a ploy by labels to sell you the same set of songs twice. "Perseverance: The Madlib Remix" is even more suspect, because it is the same producer remixing his own work, so it can't even offer a radical reinterpretation of the songs. Should consumers pay money to hear a producer remix himself? Would you pay to hear the Neptunes remix "Hell Hath No Fury," Timbaland remix "Miss E…So Addictive" or Dr. Dre remix "The Chronic?"
Maybe you should. Far from feeling like a cash-in rip off, "The Remix" is actually an interesting reimagining of Percee's "Perserverance." What's great about this album is that it changes the relationship between producer and rapper. Since the days when Kool Herc was spinning block parties in the South Bronx, hip hop has been about MCs rapping over beats; in other words, the rappers are usually the ones riffing off of what the DJ is doing. On this album, Madlib gets the opportunity to riff off of the MC, which results in beats that sound more energized and engaged. Madlib is able to craft his beats and samples around Percee's rhymes, not the other way around.
This disc doesn't really feel like a remix album. Part of this has to do with the fact that Madlib plays it fairly safe here, offering another version of the song rather than totally deconstructing it or screwing and chopping it. That's fine with me, as I've always hated noisy, glitchy, seven-minute remixes. I personally am not that interested in listening to how bugged out a DJ can make a track sound, and much prefer the more straightforward approach Madlib takes.
"Put it on the Line" offers creeping guitar in place of the keyboards on the original; "No Time For Jokes" replaces hard boom bap with a jazzy flute loop; The funk breaks on "Legendary Lyricist" and "Last of the Greats" are replaced by electro beats. Some of the tracks are mirror images of the original, like "The Hand That Leads You," which offers a slightly different variation of the original beat. Some beats are more radical reworkings, like on "Throwback Drum Attack," in which Percee's "Throwback Rap Attack" is refigured over a drum fill. "The Remix" also offers a new track, the Soul II Soul inspired "Real Talk." The end result is 14 new Madlib beats, all of which are good, and none of which are merely recycled from his other production work.
Percee's vocal tracks stay intact throughout the disc, with Madlib weaving his way around Percee's bombastic flow. As with "Perseverance," Percee stays in overdrive, and Madlib attempts to chill P out with is beats. In some ways, "The Remix" does a better job of balancing Percee's single-minded flow than the original, and the result is a listening experience that is mellower and subtler than "Perseverance." I did miss the harder funk of "Perseverance," and I felt that in general there was more excitement on that disc than on these remixes. Still, "Perseverance: The Madlib Remix" is a solid album, and is as good as the original. Madlib's beats are always worth checking out, and longtime fans of his work won't be disappointed. People who slept on "Perseverance" should check out "The Remix," but if you weren't a fan of Percee's rapping on the original, there is nothing on here that is radical enough to make you change your mind. That said, either version of "Perseverance" is worth owning, and you might as well get both.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
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