Thursday, July 31, 2008

Outside Lands Festival

I just got tickets to the Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park. I got the tickets for Sunday, August 24. It’s a three-day festival, but I can’t swing that much festival, so I picked the day that had the most bands that I was excited about. Day 1 was also exciting, with Radiohead and Beck, but whatevs. There is something funny about the fact that I just paid a hundred bucks to see Jack Johnson and Widespread Panic, two artists for whom I have no affection. I’m really excited to see Wilco, Andrew Bird, Sharon Jones, Little Brother, and the Cool Kids. I’ll admit, I’m a little wary. I hate being in the sun, I hate crowds, especially with really drunk people, I hate waiting in long lines for stinky port-a-pottie…Originally I had no desire to go, but I was discussing it with some friends, and I realized that my hatred of festivals is based on Lollapallooza ONE seventeen years ago. So maybe I should give it another shot. Plus, it’s within walking distance of my girlfriend’s (and soon to be my) apartment, so what the hey. Also, festivals seem like the new big thing, so I better learn to love them.

Tix are still available, so go buy some, dog.
The line up is below…

Sunday August 24th (first band is on at 1pm)
Jack Johnson
Widespread Panic
Rodrigo Y Gabriela
Broken Social Scene
Andrew Bird
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Drive-By Truckers
Toots & the Maytals
Rogue Wave
Jackie Greene
Mike Gordan
The Cool Kids
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Little Brother
Bon Iver
The Mother Hips
Nicole Atkins & The Sea
Back Door Slam
Culver City Dub Collective

Friday, July 25, 2008

Best of 2008 So Far

With the year a little more than halfway over, I thought I'd take a minute to reflect on some of my favorite releases in the first six month of the two thousand and eighth year of Our Lord.

Best Hip Hop Releases:

1. Erykah Badu "New Amerykah Part 1" I gave this a really high score, and I still think it is a phenomenal record. You have to listen to "Soldier" on a system with good bass to truly understand. It's beautiful, angry, and banging.

2. Cool Kids "The Bake Sale" plus all their sundry mixtapes. I fucking love these guys. Call them hipster douchbags if you will, but I'm on board.

3. Atmosphere - "Strictly Leakage" Their free party album is full of classic funky breaks and Slug at his emo rap best, having fun and killing it.

Also. Atmosphere - "When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold." A little downtempo, with a few clunky tracks, but still packing enough great songs to make it worth repeated spins.

4. Invincible "Shapeshifters" An activist rapper who is white and female and doesn't sound like the Consolidated? Believe it.

5. Red Ants "Omega Point" I've been listening to this some more, and goddamn is it evil and delicious, like a good sludgy Black Sabbath track, only it's hip hop, and they are rapping about conspiracy theories.

Best Non Hip Hop Releases

1. Fleet Foxes S/T Like My Morning Jacket if they were a baroque medieval folk band.

2. Dodos "Visiter" Charming, pretty folk music that manages to not be to precious for its own good

3. Radiohead "In Rainbows." Goddamn is this good. After a few albums of meandering bullshit, they finally cut the crap and start writing songs again.

I don't really have any other top picks. There are other albums I like, but am not in love with, like the She & Him album, the Port O'Brien record, the Vampire Weekend album, etc. There is a lot I haven't heard, like the Hercules and the Love Affair album, which is supposed to be awesome, the Lil Wayne album, the new Torche album, etc Most of the other stuff that made other best of lists that isn't on mine is stuff I haven't heard and can't be bothered to check out.

So what did I miss? What am I totally wrong about? I'm pretty sure that all of my picks will stand the test of time, but then again, I don't listen to all of the stuff that made my year end list very much anymore either.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

T.H.U.G. Angelz

T.H.U.G. Angelz
Welcome to Red Hook Houses
Babygrande, 2008

T.H.U.G. Angelz is former Wu affiliates Shabazz the Disciple and Hell Razah, who offer a gritty concept album about the notorious Brooklyn projects. I appreciated the fact that they didn't glamourize the crime and drama of the project. This is more Nas or Mobb Deep than Cash Money. Beats-wise and subject-wise, this is solid, mid-nineties East Coast hardcore.

My review is here.

While trying to find a photo to steal for this blog, I came upon, which, of course, is an Italian blog where you can illegally download albums. Awesome.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Articulate Review

Slave For the Dollar EP

Articulate is a Baltimore MC who did this concept EP about not being a slave to the dollar. I had a bunch of journal entries like this when I was in high school. It dawned on me that rather than, like, work, I should be creating art and beauty and shit. Typical teenager, I thought I had it all worked out and the rest of the world were the idiots. His message is a little na├»ve, but still important – it’s easy to lose your soul chasing a buck.

My review is here.

Go to his website, and pay what you feel is fair.

Mooga Review

40 Cal
Gold Dust Media

I’m not a fan of the Dipset and their whole crack rap thing. This is the third Dipset member’s material I’ve had to review, and the second album by 40 Cal. That means that I’ve invested more time with the Dipset and 40 than I have with Mission to Burma, , the Fall, Love, 13th Floor Elevators, Ike and Tina Turner, or any number of important musical acts that have never crossed my way. That makes me a little sad. 40 isn’t a bad rapper, but I don’t like the Dipset schtick, and he sticks to it. The promo was especially annoying, with no album art, no production credits, and all of the tracks divided into five tracks to make it harder to rip and post on the internet.

My review is here.

By the way, “Mooga” means money in 40’s parlance, but is an Arabic-language website. I can’t tell what it’s all about. The one article I glanced at with Google's translator blamed Israel on the food shortage, and accused them of trying to sabotage Egypt's wheat production.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Get yr folk on

By now I can admit that My Morning Jacket's new album is pretty fucking awful. I gave it the old college try, but I just can't listen to it, despite a few high points.

Luckily, my yen for countrified prog-folk is being sated by two great newish albums.
The first is the Fleet Foxes self-titled debut on Sub Pop. They basically sound like an atmospheric MMJ channeling CSNY. But in a good way. It's been on heavy rotation on my girlfriend's computer since I downloaded it yesterday.

The other is Oakland's Port O'Brien, who have the chaotic tendencies of the Arcade Fire with the quirky folk of the Dodos. I've only given their album "All We Could Do Was SIng" a few spins, but it's better than ok. Maybe I'll write a real review later.

If you are as heartbroken by the experimental sucktitude of "Evil Urges," take succor in the Fleet Foxes and Port O'Brien.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Seven Essential Ska Albums (and the only ones really worth owning)

I love old ska. I first got into ska in the summer of 1987, when I went to the Manteca water slides with the Manresa Junior Lifeguards, and older JGs Shanae Machetti and Allison Moore played the English Beat’s “Mirror In the Bathroom” at our campsite. Slowly, through my older sister and her friends, I got exposed to the second wave British acts like the Specials and the Selector, and some Desmond Dekker stuff. I got really into ska my sophomore year of college, listening to bands like Operation Ivy, more Two Tone stuff, and local bands like Sacto’s Daisy Spot and Filibuster. My best friend Jaime was dating a (Philipino) skinhead in the mid-nineties, and hanging out with some of the Sacto skins, and through them I got exposed to more old ska and reggae, including Lee Perry’s “Chicken Scratch.” Lee Perry is better known for his reggae and dub stuff, but “Chicken Scratch” is an essential early ska album. I just picked up a remastered reissue from Heartbeat, and it still sounds wonderfully scratchy, just like old vinyl should. Ska was basically Jamaicans attempts at American R&B, and it has all the charm of old soul albums with the extra kick of that ska rhythm. Some of the tracks even sound like jump blues. (I recently learned, by the way, that ska is meant to be pronounced “skya,” and refers to the sound of the guitar. Just thought I’d mention.)

Listening to Chicken Scratch got me thinking about other ska albums, and so I’ve compiled a list of essential ska albums that no collection should be without. Because of ska’s limited range, this list is also the ONLY ska albums you need to own.

1. Chicken Scratch

2. Rockin’ Steady – the Best of Desmond Dekker. This came out in 1992 on Rhino. There is another greatest hits package floating around with two discs, which is an awful lot of Desmond Dekker. Either package is worth it for “That Woman,” “the Israelites,” “Honor Your Mother,” and “007” which is available on pretty much any early reggae collection.

3. The Harder They Come Soundtrack – Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, Toots and the Maytals…a lot of the great early reggae/ska is here. This was America’s real introduction to reggae.

4. The 2 Tone Story. The two-cd 2Tone singles collection. 2 Tone was the label that led Britain’s second wave of ska, in which punks and first-generation West Indian immigrants banded fused the energy with punk with the speed and angst of punk, creating some pretty great music. All the great British bands are here, including Madness, the Selector, the Specials, the Beat, and the Bodysnatchers. The second cd is mostly neo-mod and new wave stuff that is pretty inessential.

5 & 6. While you’re at it, you might as well pick up the Specials self-titled first album, and the Selector’s “Too Much Pressure.” Both bands have greatest-hits collections that are more readily available and collect the few gems from their second albums, but you might as well just go for their debuts.

7. Finally, you should get Operation Ivy’s self titled album on Hellcat, which I believe is a rerelease of their Lookout! Records discography. At the very least, it has their Energy! disc and is only missing a few tracks. Op Ivy were a late-80s punk/ska band, and one of the best to do that mix well. Their later incarnation Rancid had some ok songs as well, but Op Ivy are really the way to go if you want an American 3rd wave band. The one issue with Op Ivy is that they inspired leagues of imitators, none of whom were as good, and most of whom sucked.

Ska, like punk, is one of those genres which offers diminishing returns, so an artists second disc is worse than their first, and the third and fourth iterations of the genre have none of the wheat of the original and all of the chaff. That’s why Let’s Go Bowling, Skanking Pickle, and every other Bay Area ska band from the mid nineties is omitted from this list. They just aren’t worth your time, and these seven albums should be all you need, ska-wise. Neither is any of the bands’ later output. Anything that the British groups put out after 1984 isn’t worth your hard-earned money. (That same rule holds true for early 80s hardcore as well, by the way.)

Ska eventually morphed into reggae (at least in my version of the universe – let me know if you disagree), and there is a lot of great early reggae out there. If you are still jonesing for that ska beat, and can deal with a little mellowness, check out any of Trojan Records collections of early reggae. There is some good stuff in their vaults, and most of it ended up being covered by the British second wave bands.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Nas, Step Your Rap Game Up

Earlier this year, Nas made a shameless attempt at generating interest in his flagging career by saying he was going to name his new album "Nigger." Unsurprisingly, retailers, his label, and anyone with common sense pointed out that you can't really name your album an expletive, particularly an especially vile racial slur. Even if you are black.

So Nas caved, and now his album is untitled. I watched the video for "Sly Fox" on Pitchfork today, and it was pretty bloodless and lame. He's taking a stab at the media, but lines like "When I see CBS, all I see is B.S." are just embarrassing. Step it up, Nas. Quit trying to stir controversy, and focus on making good music. Please?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

America is just a word but I use it

As usual I’m late to jump on the bandwagon with this, but a recent Sound Opinions show about their favorite songs about America got met thinking. So here are three songs that embody America to me:

Modest Mouse, “Novocaine Stain” off their 1996 album This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About

Modest Mouse were one of my favorite bands in the late nineties. They were the perfect soundtrack for depression, and for a quarter-life crisis. This song, about the changing landscape caused by development, perfectly captured my fears and anxiety about California and San Francisco’s ever-growing population. Everyone’s moving to paradise and turning it into a strip mall. No I don’t like this change of pace at all.

“Interchange plazas a mall
And crowded chain restaurants
More housing developments go up
Named after the things they replace
So welcome to Minnow Brook
And welcome to Shady Space
And it all seems a little abrupt
No I don't like this change of pace”

Minutemen “Corona” off Double Nickels on the Dime

Better known as the Jackass theme song, this rousing Tex-Mex blazer is actually a commentary on coming face to face with “the dirt, scarcity, and the emptiness/of our South.”

"The people will survive
In their environment
The dirt, scarcity, and the emptiness
Of our South
The injustice of our greed
The practice we inherit
The dirt, scarcity and the emptiness
Of our South
There on the beach
I could see it in her eyes
I only had a Corona
Five cent deposit"

It makes me tear up almost every time.

The Minutemen’s “I Felt Like A Gringo” is another song that reminds me of America, partially because it takes place on the 4th of July, but also because it discusses the awkward, ugly American abroad, both reviled and envied by those outside our borders. Over a funky, bluesy riff, D. Boon wails “A ton of white guilt that’s my problem. Obstacle to joy/one reason for using drugs.” The song is a classic example of Boon’s wonderful poetry, which seems simple on the surface, but deals with a lot of big questions.

“Slept on a mexican beach slept in trash - American trash -
thinking too much can ruin a good time.
I asked a Mexican who ran a bar for Americans
"Who won" I said "The election?",
He laughed, I felt like a gringo,
They played a song and had some fun with us.
Why can't you buy a good time?
Why are there soldiers in the street?
Why did I spend the fourth in someone else’s country?”

That song also gets honorable mention for containing several quotes that have continued to resonate with me since I first heard it almost twenty years ago. Why can’t you buy a good time? Why are there soldiers in the street? Why did I spend the fourth in someone else’s country?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Cool Kids

Cool Kids
Bake Sale
Chocolate Industries, 2008

I don't know much about the Cool Kids, other than they are a Chicago hipster-hop duo who have generated a lot of buzz among those in the blogosphere. Me, I don't have the patience/short attention span to keep up with the latest and greatest, so it takes me a few months/years to catch on to things. Bake Sale is their first official release, I believe, although they have released some mixtapes and singles over the past year.

It would be tempting for me to hate on the Cool Kids and their irony-drenched hip hop, only it's so much damn fun. Their beats are minimalist, futurist, and dance-oriented, in the same vein as a lot of hyphy stuff, only not annoying. Lyrically they are clever and funny. Imagine if the Pack had some better skills, or if Spank Rock weren't as sex obsessed - that's sort of the Cool Kids. I've been listening to this nonstop since I downloaded it from emusic, and you should too.

The Cool Kids also have a new mixtape, which you can download here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tanya Morgan - The Bridge

Tanya Morgan
The Bridge EP
IM Culture, 2008

I'm a Tanya Morgan fan, so I was happy to review their new EP for RapReviews this week. Here.

If you've never heard Tanya Morgan, you probably should. Their only flaw is an awkward name and some technical issues, given that they are located in Brooklyn and Cincinnati, and do a lot of their recording over the internet. Sometimes the vocals come in at different levels, which can make their recordings sound more amatuerish than they deserve. Still, good stuff.

There is a good interview with the crew at Mixtape Monster here.

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