Saturday, March 28, 2009

Champs Vs. the League Review

My review of Quite Nyce & Raydar Ellis' Champs Vs. the League is up at RapReviews now. They are a Boston duo who have been involved in the underground hip hop scene there for some time.

Image once again stolen from Plug One Mag.

Holla Bout a Dolla - Raydar Ellis & Quite Nyce

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Illogic Review

My review of Illogic's Diabolical Fun is up at was the featured review last week. Ill Poetic, the producer, sent me an email thanking me for the review, and someone wrote to RR to say that I have "a professional style and a solid understanding of the art." Which was nice to hear.

By the way, the photo was taken from PlugOne Mag, which is worth checking out.

Here's a song from the album.

Diabolical Fun - Illogic

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Drinking and Driving

I owe a lot of my musical education to KSPB, the radio station of Robert Louis Stevenson high school in Pebble Beach. I came of age in the pre-internet days, when you had to really search to find music that wasn't top 40, and KSPB used to play punk and hardcore. I first heard Black Flag, Flipper, Dag Nasty, the Descendents, Gorilla Biscuits, 7 Seconds, Minor Threat, Nomeansno, and a lot of other bands on KSPB. I would tape the shows and listen to them over and over again.

One song I heard on KSPB was Black Flag's 1985 "Drinking and Driving." I can still remember the stoned DJ announcing the song (they were always stoned). It's a great song, and one of one of the better late Black Flag tracks. It's basically a burly metal song, way more Sabbath than hardcore. I never bought In My Head, the album it's on. Check out my post on My War from a few months ago.

I was straight edge as a kid, but I didn't know what straight edge was. I just didn't drink or do drugs, and thought drinking and doing drugs was stupid. "Drinking and Driving" was something of an anthem to me, because it called out the stupidity of getting drunk in a macho, tough way. Henry Rollins was a big, buff dude and he made being straight edge seem a lot cooler. Listening to the song now, the lyrics seem really clunky and embarrassingly self-righteous. At the time, though, it was nice counter to the sex, drugs, and rock n' roll being preached by buttrock bands like Motley Crue (whose singer ended up killing his friend driving drunk). It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

Man, I just got a flashback of driving in San Tomaso, Mexico, on a surf trip for my brother's 18th birthday. We were in my dad's friend's bronco, and he was downing beers, blasting the radio, and zooming down a dirt road screaming "I LOVE DRINKING AND DRIVING!" (My dad and he are no longer friends). That was a good trip. We went surfing at a break in Mexico where we were camping, and saw shark fins. We got out of the water and asked the local boys, "Hay tiburones?" and they said, no, no tiburones. right. Then we went down this crazy cliffside dirt road on a quest for surf, and ended up at a fishing village. I was convinced the broncos were going to tumble into the ocean and we'd all die. Good times. Don't tell my mom. And don't let your babies grow up to be surfers.

Streaming services considered

I've been exploring various streaming services lately as a way to stream music on my site. The coolest by far is Yahoo's, which allows you to post an MP3 with a player to it, so that people can listen to the track and then download it if they want. Sole Sides uses this, and it is simple and elegant. The problem is that you have to host the music, which means paying for storage and bandwith etc.

I've been using Imeem's service for a while, and that works ok. The problem is, in an effort to have their site actually make, you know, money, they are making it more and more fugly and cumbersome, with more and more ads. That makes the site sluggish and annoying to navigate, and the embedded players end up with ads. Then again, I don't have to pay to host or play the music, and in general you can play entire versions. As far as I know, you can only upload tracks to Imeem on a song-by-song basis, which makes it tough to upload a lot. I could be wrong though. I'm not the most technologically advanced man on earth.

I've discovered Lala recently, which is another streaming service. They will let you listen to every song exactly once, and then allow you to download it for 90 cents, or buy a streaming copy of it for ten cents. If you post songs to your site, they only play thirty seconds, which is sort of a bummer. The awesome thing about Lala, and what I'm excited about, is that you can upload your entire music library onto the site, and then stream it from anywhere. This means that you can upload your music from your home computer and then listen to it at work, or store your library on one computer and stream it from the rest of the computers in your home. One negative is that it can take forever for your songs to upload, so be careful where and when you do it.

Then there is Pandora, which is a streaming radio station that lets you customize your playlist. I have a ton, including an MF DOOM playlist, a 13th Floor Elevators playlist, a Leadbelly playlist, a Johnny Cash playlist, and an 80s hardcore playlist. Pandora is great for discovering more about genres you like, and I've been exposed to a few new artists through it.

Finally, there is the behemoth known as YouTube. While not officially a site to stream music, a lot of people post static 'videos' with songs. The labels are cracking down on this, and at least one of the labels has pulled their music from YouTube completely. I use YouTube to find live footage of bands and old videos.

Coolfer has a great article about the downside of streaming services,
namely that people are streaming songs rather than actually buying them. I can say from my own personal experience that there is some truth to this. I love Beyonce's "Single Ladies," and in a pre-internet world I may have bought the single, cassingle, or even the entire album for that song. Instead, I've gotten my fill of it from streaming it online. In a lot of ways, I think the internet has cut down on my consumption of music I was merely curious about, rather than really into. It used to be that I'd have to dig through the bins at Amoeba or Streetlight to find artists I was interested in hearing. Now I can create a Pandora station and decide if I really want to invest ten or fifteen bucks in them. The downside is that record stores aren't getting my money, but the upside is that I'm left with far less crap in my record collection. A lot of the albums that sold so much at the height of the record industry was disposable garbage like Backstreet Boys, stuff that had the shelf-life of organic lettuce. Ten years ago we would have had to plop down 18 bucks to hear the latest pop single; nowadays we can stream it for free until we are sick of it, ten plays later.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Motley Crue

Emusic has Motley Crue's back catalog, so I downloaded a few tracks. I used to own 1981's Too Fast for Love, which is a pretty good punk/glam rock album. The title track is amazing, and there are a few more classic tracks on it, including "Public Enemy #1." Here's a horrible live version. I was introduced to the Crue by a coworker of mine in the late nineties. He was gay, so the fact that he liked them helped get over the ickiness I associated with them. Like "Girls, Girls, Girls."

At their best, Motley Crue capture the hedonism and recklessness of rock n' roll, where getting wasted is an end in itself and nothing bad can ever possibly happen to you. They reveled in being trashed and trashy, and their whole schtick was built on being bad boys who were tough enough for the dudes but cute enough for the chicks. Only the gnarliest of hesher ladies got into bands like Slayer or pre-haircut Metallica, but a lot acid-jean wearing ladies rocked out to the Crue.

My brother was into Motley Crue when I was 9, and I thought that they were totally scary. This was around the Shout At the Devil/Theater of Pain era. I never actually heard them until later, but between the satanic imagery and crazy make-up, they freaked me out. In high school, Dr. Feelgood was a huge hit, and the Crue became the epitome of the brainless, d-bag hard rock that Nirvana made irrelevant. Not that Dr. Feelgood isn't a decent hard rock album (which is a little like decent fast food). There are some good songs on it, and it is what it is. And what it is is a soundtrack for drinking shitty beer, smoking bad weed, and making out with chicks with feathered hair. Or being a pimply teenager.

In a lot of ways, Motley Crue in their heyday were kind of like a lot of rappers today; obsessed with sex and partying, hanging out in strip clubs, and entertaining in a slightly lobotomizing way. Their "Behind the Music" was the best one. (Best line: "He had just killed Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue." As spoken by Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue.) They had sex, drugs, death, and mainlining Jack Daniels. Looking at clips on YouTube, you realize how annoying it is to hear people boast about their wild partying days while pretending to act like they've repented. Do addicts really get to keep fucking up until they reform, and then brag about how much they've fucked up in the past?

They reformed recently, and I think Tommy's back in the band after quitting/being kicked out/badmouthing the group in 2007. Oddly enough, the Crue are sort of like the Rolling Stones now, in that they keep releasing records no one really cares about, and make a mint as a touring act playing their old favorites. I wonder if kids today get into Motley Crue in the same way they get into AC/DC and Led Zepplin? Personally, listening to this stuff makes me feel old and a little unclean. I just picture wandering around the Sunset Strip at dawn, sweating out whiskey and drugs, smelling like old sweat and cigarettes, with an empty pit in your stomach wondering how you'll manage to come down enough to sleep, and when you'll finally feel human again. But that's just me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Phew, from crust to euro-disco. I'm getting ready to go on vacation in Italy, and I was reminded of Sophie Ellis-Bextor, who I first heard when I was studying in Pavia in 2000. Her first hit was with "Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)" by Italian DJ Spiller. It's a fun housey euroey song, and was one of the few songs they'd play at clubs that didn't totally suck. The clubs in Pavia were very collegy, and were prone to playing Kiss's "I Was Made For Loving You" several times in an evening, whilst wasted British girls made out with random guys, and other drunk foreigners (and always the homely ones!) danced on the bar. Ick.

Groovejet (If This Aint Love) - Spiller Feat. Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Sophie Ellis-Bextor looks Eastern European, but is actually British. She has a sort of upper-class voice, and does upper-class disco. The kind of music that makes office workers dance with their heels and handbags. Its' not revolutionary, but it was pleasant enough. She had another big hit with "Murder On the Dance Floor," which I wasn't a huge fan of. When I was in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria, her song "Mixed Up World" was popular, and while it's far from brilliant, I kind of liked it. I found it sort of comforting. Plus, she's pretty.

Atomic Kitten were also popular in Bulgaria around 2003. They do a similar handbag disco. I was struck by the fact that they all looked a little tore up, like they had spent a few too many late nights at the club, drank a few too many cosmos, snorted a few too many lines of coke in the restroom. I realize that's mean, but for a group whose main talent is their looks, they look a little rough.

They remind me of the Pussycat Dolls, who also look tore up. Plus their music sucks. Exhibit A. At least Atomic Kitten are innocuous.


I finally tracked down a copy of Hiatus' "The Brain" album online. I have it on vinyl, but I can't find my copy, and I haven't been able to find a CD version or legal MP3. It's a great album, easily one of the better crust albums from the early 90s. They production is a notch above your typical punk record, so they sound like they are playing instruments and not cardboard boxes. It has a really heavy sound, not unlike early Metallica. It's not the kind of thing I want to listen to a lot, but when I'm in the mood for something tortured and heavy, it fits the bill. Also, it is a 12", so it's all over in less than half an hour.

What I like about Hiatus is that there is an emotion behind their music. They went for something a little deeper than your standard "blarrrlrlrlr fuck the system VIVISECTION!!!" One of my favorite tracks is "Home Sweet Home," about being homeless. The record has a full lyric sheet, so he really is saying something, not that you can make it out.

Home Street Home - Hiatus

I used to listen to this kind of stuff to fall asleep, by the way. There is something about music that is so heavy that I find very relaxing. It kind of fills up all of the space, so that it ends up being calming in a weird way.

Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Thorns of Life, Danananaanackroyd

One of the new buzz bands around the internet these days are the Pains of Being Pure of Heart, a New York band who do 80s poppy shoegaze. They sound like Lush meets the Smiths meets some other Manchester band I didn't listen to. It could be a recipe for lameosity, but they make it work. They basically sound like being 16 and in love in 1992. The more I listen to the album the more I love it.

Also, Blake from Jawbreaker/Jets to Brazil has a new band called Thorns of Life. They played at Gilman a few months ago to a very enthusiastic crowd. They sound more Jawbreaker than Jets to Brazil. J. Robbins, of Jawbox/Burning Airlines fame is recording their debut. Check out their set here.

Also, I was listening to All Songs Considers show about South By Southwest, and one of the bands they were excited about was Dananananackroyd. Horrible name, but the have a fun, punky, poppy sound. I downloaded this track.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

In Praise of Minimilism

I saw a thing in Pitchfork today about Jack White teaming up with Allison Mossheart of the Kills to form a new band the Dead Weather. You can stream some songs at their website, and they sound pretty good. I love Mossheart's voice, and the band has a 60s garage sound. White's a freak, but I admire him as an artists, and I loved how he stripped down and minimilised rock with the White Stripes. As things got bigger and shinier and more complicated and produced in the late 90s, he peeled it down to guitar and drums, and used those constraints to force himself to create interesting music that worked with the limited palette. The Kills did a similar thing with their guitar/drum machine. The problem with those limitations is you eventually do what you can with them, which explains why the Dead Weather have a more fleshed out sound and fleshed out band.

On a similar note, I heard Beyonce's "Diva" yesterday. It's a pretty horrible song, and the beat is basically Bangladesh doing his "A Milli" beat again. "A Milli" is a pretty amazing beat: it's so minimalist and that the few snare beats that actually come in hit that much harder. It's an example of less is more. It is also basically the same fifteen seconds looped over and over again - the ultimate in lazy beatmaking. It's unfortunate that Bangladesh is trying to do it again with "Diva," because that's the kind of formula that can't work very many times. Especially when "A Milli" was one of the most overplayed songs of '08.

A Milli - Lil Wayne

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Keelay and Zaire review

My review of Keelay and Zaire's debut, Ridin High, is the featured review at RapReviews. They are a production duo based out of the Bay and VA, and do smooth, R&B-inspired hip hop. They collaborate with Blu, Planet Asia, and Phonte, although the Phonte number didn't quite do it for me. Overall, it's a pretty good album, and I'm sure you'll hear more from them in the near future.

Here's a video of them performing live.

In other news, my review of Charlie Wilson's Uncle Charlie is on Metacritic. I gave it the lowest score - 60 vs. 70 from Vibe and Billboard. The sixty was because I knew it was ok for what it was, but definitely not my thing. The blurb from my review is pretty lame: "A third of the songs are about hooking up with ladies, a third are heartfelt ballads to lovers, and a third are break-up songs. It's the lifecycle of a relationship, over and over. I'm not convinced by it, but it's working for him." I mean, I wrote it, and I mean it, but it doesn't make me sound like the most brilliant writer ever. Meh.

And I still have this stupid song in my head.

Fucked Up Blogs

Fucked Up are becoming one of my favorite new bands. I listen to Chemistry of Modern Life regularly, and it continues to impress and inspire me like few records have recently. They played here last month and I punked out and didn't see them. New New Year's resolution: stop acting like such an old man!

They have two blogs. One, Looking For Gold, is done by their guitarist, 100,000 Marbles. The other, Voice of Dissent, is done by their vocalist, Pink Eyes. His name, by the way, comes not from the eye infection of the same name, but from a very disturbing porn series. Seriously, don't google it. You don't want to know. Ick. His real name is Damien, so let's stick with that. He's a smart, funny dude. Prone to bleeding onstage.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Dead Kennedys

One of the records I came across in the batch I picked up from my parents last month was the 1980 debut by San Francisco's Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. I got this on vinyl in the late 80s because it wasn't available on cassette or CD at the time. This was one of the first records I ever owned, along with two Sex Pistols bootlegs and a copy of Sid Vicious's atrocious solo album. Fresh Fruit was also one of my first lessons in just how user-unfriendly vinyl is. I only listened to it a handful of times, mainly because the turntable was hooked up to the family stereo in the living room.

The album opens with "Kill the Poor," which was also the Dead Kennedys first single, is a pretty amazing piece of satire, calling for the government to use the neutron bomb to kill the poor.

The sun beams down on a brand new day
No more welfare tax to pay
Unsightly slums gone up in flashing light
Jobless millions whisked away
At last we have more room to play
All systems go to kill the poor tonight

Here's a video of them playing it in San Francisco in the early 80s. One of my personal favorites is the bitter, nihilistic "Looking Forward to Death," with the wonderful chorus of "I don't need this fucking world!" I also love Nomeansno's acapella cover. There are a bunch of other classics on the album - "California Uber Alles," "Holiday In Cambodia," "Let's Lynch the Landlord," "Chemical Warfare," and of course their cover of "Viva Las Vegas." There's also a lot of filler, but the hits make the album worth it. It's not my favorite of DK's output. I've always loved their odds and sods compilation Give Me Convenience of Give Me Death, Plastic Surgery Disasters. I could never get into Frankenchrist, and Bedtime For Democracy, their last album, was an unsuccessful attempt at hardcore that is pretty horrendous, with a few exceptions.

They were a pretty geeky looking bunch, or at least not as crusty and spikey as a lot of the British bands of the era. Their sound is also a lot weirder than the straight-ahead hardcore that was becoming popular. The Dead Kennedys were in the last wave of punk bands that tried to do different things with the genre, adding in a little surf influence. They were also very political, which is largely due to front man Jello Biafra. When I was 14 Jello was one of my heroes, and I thought he was the smartest guy on earth. He had a huge influence on how I saw the world, which is a little scary because now he seems sort of like a crazy ranter. He used to do a zine called Fuck Facts which was basically collages of clippings of kooky news stories. I used to think it was brilliant, but now it seems more like the crazy meanderings of a paranoid schizophrenic. I had several of his spoken word albums back in the day, but I heard him a few weeks ago on the Sound of Young America and I couldn't do it. I mean, god bless him for keeping on keeping on, but I think as I've grown I've grown apart from Jello's political views.

I got Fresh Fruit on CD when it came out in the early 90s, but ended up selling it back to Amoeba when I got rid of a bunch of my punk and grunge CDs. I've downloaded "Looking Forward to Death" since then, and it still helps me through many a rough morning.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Sufjan Remixed

Montreal producer Tor has just put out Illinoize, which remixes Sufjan Steven's music and mashes them up with songs by Aesop Rock, Outkast, and Gift of Gab. The seven-song EP is available at, and you can listen to them there so that you can sample before you commit bandwith and disc space. I like the MC's he works with, and the mellow, acoustic beats are pretty good. Worth the download.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Sankofa MWF 4 Review

I reviewed Sankofa's Music With Friends Volume 4 mixtape on RapReviews this week. Purify does the beats, and it's worth your time. And free, at Obese America. I've been singing his praises for a while.

I also reviewed Charlie Wilson's Uncle Charlie. He used to sing for the Gap, and has had help from Snoop and R. Kelly in getting his solo career going this decade. Not my thing, although I have "There Goes My Baby" in my head. It's a song about checking out chicks at the mall. A little tragic, but catchy.

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