Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ozi Batla Review

I reviewed Ozi Batla's Wild Colonial on RapReviews this week.
It's the first solo effort by a member of the Herd, an Aussie group that seems like the Roots. I think I used "old school" 100 times in my review, and with different spellings. That's because it is old school. And solid.

Speaking of the Roots, still can't decide if I want to invest money in their new one. I love the idea of the Roots, but find their albums consistently boring.

Carnival Review

I reviewed Carnival's Population of Invisible People this week on RapReviews. Well done holy hip hop, but 100% not my thing.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Soca Gold 2010

For years, the annual Soca Gold compilations have been the source for the latest and greatest soca music. If you are looking for what's going on in soca today, Soca Gold 2010 is a great place to start.
Soca, the dancey offspring of calypso, is essentially party music, custom-made for carnival. As such it resists attempts at critical listening. If you are thinking about it, you are missing the point. It similar to pop folk from other countries, like Bosnian turbo folk or Bulgarian chalga: a mixture of folk elements with digital production and a pop sensibility. Like all dance music, soca is best enjoyed in the moment, and no doubt is a much more religious experience a few drinks in on a sweaty dance floor. The hyperactive beat and simple lyrics don't necessarily translate as well in the harsh light of day.
This disc compiles 16 tracks from the world of soca. Rikki Jai and Problem Child with Ravi B. both offer up some Soca Chutney that with a heavy East Indian influence. Interestingly, both songs, "Barman" and "Ah Drinka," are about men whose excessive drinking causes problems in their relationships. Brit Donae'o's song "Party Hard" has a winning stripped-down beat that compensates for it's vapid lyrics.
Some of the best songs here are ones that most explicitly reference calypso, including Alison Hind's raunchy "Gimmie De Juk Juk," Patrice Roberts' "Work It," and Machel Montana's "Wooeeii Gal Wooeeii." That said, the hip hop/dancehall bent of Peter Ram's "Tattoo Farm" and Fadda Fox's "Staggerah" are nice takes on the genre. Roy Cape's "Huntin" and Jamesy P.'s "Ants In Yuh Sugar Pan" are so high-energy that they almost sound like they are being played at the wrong speed. Gyptian's hit "Hold You" is included, remixed with a soca beat for those who like their music less frenetic.
The album comes with a DVD of music videos and live performances. The DVD helps, especially the live performances, because they allow the viewer to experience soca in its proper element. The videos range in production values from economical (Rikki Jai's "Barman") to flash (Donae'o, Gyptian). Again, I was reminded of the chalga videos of Planeta's stable of artists like Malina and Gergana, which all featured beautiful women in tiny outfits hanging out in mansions and riding in fancy cars. It ain't high art, but it gets the job done. As an added bonus, there is footage of carnival, and of the cover model's photo shoot.
For fans of soca, Soca Gold 2010 is a nice collection of recent hits. For the curious, it's a good starting place. After listening to the music and watching the DVD, I don't know that I'd call myself a fan, but even I have to admit that the genre has an irresistible charm.
Article first published as Music Review: Soca Gold 2010 on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Applejaxx Review

I reviewed Jesus High on RapReviews this week, the new EP from Christian rapper Applejaxx. Not my thing. I'm working on a review of ANOTHER Christian rap group, Carnival, for next week. Me reviewing Christian rap is like someone with a wheat allergy reviewing a pastry shop.  Good for what it is, but not my cuppa.

Speaking of artists with religious views that conflict with my own, I've been getting really into Dillinger's CB200. He's a dancehall artist most known for his song "Cokane On My Brain." He's got a lot of other great songs that aren't so novelty-ish, and I'm loving that album. "Plantation Height" is one of my new favorite songs, and I love it even more than the Mighty Diamond's original, "I Need A Roof."

I've given the Guilty Simpson/Madlib collab, O.J. Simpson, a few spins. Surprisingly, Madlib is the weak link on that project. Half of twenty-four tracks are given over to lame skits where he basically plays back (Melvin Van Peebles?) comedy skits. It's half-assed, and takes away from the music. Guilty continues to be inconsistent as an MC, but "Coroner Music" has been one of my favorite songs since it was released earlier this year."

I'm also reading Rip It Up and Start Again,  a book on the post-punk scene of the late-70s early 80s. It talks about how much British bands were influenced by dub and reggae, especially in the bass. You can hear it in the rolling bass of Gang of Four, and in Jah Wobble's driving bass on PiL's "Poptones," one of my favorite songs ever.

PiL's whole second album, Metal Box/Second Edition, was song after song of bass-heavy death disco. I was in love with that record as a kid, and it still sounds good today. I also loved their follow up, Flowers of Romance, which was totally stripped down, with just bass, drums, and strings. I need to buy a copy of that. My 13-year-old self bought a cassette of that album at the Wherehouse on 41st ave in Capitola, and then listened to it obsessively while playing Nintendo, trying to figure it out.

I'm also thinking of buying the new Roots album. I haven't really gotten into anything they've ever done, although I've always liked the IDEA of them.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sleigh Bells

BK duo Sleigh Bells are one of the most hyped indie bands since bloggers gushed over Vampire Weekend’s African/indie/yacht rock in late 2007. Sleigh Bells’ buzz built over a series of live shows, including an electrifying performance at SXSW this March, as well as a handful of singles on their Myspace page.

Now that their debut, Treats, is out on M.I.A.’s N.E.E.T. Recordings, it’s not hard to see what all the excitement was about. Treats’  opening track, “Tell ‘Em,” begins with Derek Miller’s metal guitar and snippy hip hop beats, combined with what sounds like a machine gun going off. After 40 seconds of trying to process all this, singer Alexis Krauss starts in with her wispy voice, adding a little Ciara meets Elizabeth Fraser to the mix. It’s prime Sleigh Bells, drawing on Miller’s past in hardcore band Poison the Well, and Krauss’ background in teen pop group RubyBlue, while adding a hip hop backbone layered with heavy doses of industrial noise. At their best, Sleigh Bells perfectly balance indie rock, punk rock, hip hop, and noise, creating music that draws on existing elements yet sounds totally fresh.

So are they worth the hype? A lot of the excitement about the band has to do with the fact that they have a kinetic, original sound. A certain degree of that excitement is due to the fact that Alexis Krauss is easy on the eyes and looks good in spandex. Her sex appeal comes across on record as well, with her grunts, sighs, playground chants, and coquettishly sweet singing.

The haters are chiming in as well, mostly with a chorus of “Sleigh Bells aren’t THAT great,” and “They’re too noisy!” To the first point I’d say that no one ever lives up to the hype. It’s not their fault that there hasn’t been that much else this year that really got critics excited. Criticisms about how noisy the band are have more merit.

This is a very, very noisy record. Poison the Well was one of those growly hardcore bands, and Miller is obviously channeling that love of chaos with Sleigh Bells. The guitars sound like chainsaws, the drum machines layer industrial cacophony over their 808s, and it’s all cranked to eleven. “Crown On the Ground” and “Straight A’s” both sound blown out, as if they were being played too loud on shitty speakers. There is a layer of distortion and grime over the album that is okay with crumby ear bud headphones, but grating on a decent sound system.

I’m hoping that in the future Sleigh Bells tone down the noise, because they are at their most interesting when they quiet down. The chanting and grinding guitars of “Infinity Guitars” are fun, but the band is better when Krauss’ pop leanings win out over Miller’s angry hardcore dudeism, like on the gorgeous “Run the Heart” and “Rill Rill.” Krauss is a great singer but a bad rapper, so she should drop her attempts at hip hop and channel her inner diva. Less Ke$ha, more Rhianna.
So, are Sleigh Bells worthy of the critical adoration they somewhat prematurely received? Do they have another album in them, or is this a one-off, flavor-of-the-month deal? I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m having too much fun blasting Treats.

Article first published as Music Review: Sleigh Bells - Treats on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wild Nothing - Gemini

Wild Nothing is the solo project of Virginian Jack Tatum, formerly of punk band Facepaint. He's abandoned jagged guitars and angst for the hazy sounds of late-80s dream-pop bands like Cocteau Twins, and the glorious mope rock of the Cure and the Smiths. Like other millennial retroists Neon Indian and Toro Y Moi, Tatum turns to the sounds of yesteryear to express the feelings of now.The album is full of reverberated guitars, shimmering synths, and tinny drum machines. While Tatum played bass on the album, it lacks low ends. Gemini is the opposite of funky: sexless, pining, trading on romantic yearning rather than physical excess.

"Our lips won't last forever and that's why I'd rather live in dreams and I'd rather die," he sings on opening track "Live In Dream," capturing the adolescent melodrama that fills the album. Gemini is the soundtrack of fledgling relationships, of unrequited crushes, of being young and happily melancholy. Tatum wrote all the songs and played the instruments, which at times results in navel-gazing. He's touring with a full band, which should make both the sound and themes of the music fuller and less introspective.

The album is dead-on 80s, and if you didn't know better you'd swear it came out twenty-odd years ago. Tatum doesn't merely emulate the sounds of the 80s, however, he internalizes them and makes them his own. Gemini is sincere and honest, and there is real emotion underneath the layer of synths and reverb.
Gemini's one failing is that while it is very successful as a sound, it is less successful as an album-length listening experience. In that sense, it reminded me of the Pains of Being Pure of Heart's debut: awesome in small bites, but a bit monotonous as a whole.  Many of the songs sound similar, and several, like "Pessimist," seem more like sketches than actual fleshed-out songs.

Still, it's a great sound, and in this day of the iPod and constant shuffle, it's likely that most listeners will digest this one track at a time. While I wasn't totally convinced with Gemini as a whole, I adored it in chunks. "Summer Holiday," Chinatown," and "O, Lilac" will stay in rotation on my iPod for a long time, providing three-minute voyages into an era of big hair and ecstatic heartache.

Article first published as Music Review: Wild Nothing - Gemini on Blogcritics.

Diwali: Gold Edition

If you are one of the haters who thinks that all reggae sounds the same, then volume #27 in Greensleeve's Rhythm Album series will prove your point. A uniquely Jamaican phenomenon, one-rhythm albums are compilations of tracks built around the same rhythm (ie riddim or beat). In other words, they are collections of songs that all sound pretty much the same.
"Pretty much" but not entirely the same, and therein lies the appeal of one-rhythm albums: their ability to offer different variations on the same musical foundation. It's a testament to the resourcefulness and ingenuity of Jamaican artists and producers, and proof that a little copyright infringement can be great for creativity.
The Diwali: Gold Edition offers 22 takes by 21 artists on Lenky's Diwali rhythm. The key to a successful rhythm album is starting off with good source material, and the Diwali beat is rock solid. Built around handclaps, it's a galloping, tribal beat with an Indian flair that manages not to wear out it's welcome over the course of the album.
The beat first came into prominence in 2002, and was used in both Sean Paul's "Get Busy" and Lumidee's "Never Leave You," both included here. It was also used in slow jams like Wayne Wonder's "No Letting Go" and Crissy D.'s "Make It Real Good."

The majority of the tracks, however, feature DJ's riffing over the rhythm. Sometimes this is mind-numbing, like on "Party Time" with Danny English and Egg Nog, but it's mostly done well. Tanya Stephens gives a harsh verbal beatdown to an ex on "Can't Touch Me No More;" Bounty Killer spits some righteous anger on "Sufferer;" Elephant Man manages to work in "99 Red Balloons" on his "Elephant Message;" and Spragga Benz sounds suitably off the rails on "Gonna Fight."

I liked the DJ tracks the best, partially because I like the dancehall style more. They also seemed to stay truest to what I feel the essence of dancehall is: letting the DJ work over an existing riddim until it is entirely his/her own. Mega Banton only adds a few musical touches to the Diwali beat on "It's OK," but he owns it with his melodic chanting.

The album ends with Lenky's "Xm24," as well as an unadulterated version of the beat so that any aspiring producers/DJs can take their own stab at it. Admittedly, 22 songs in row built around the same rhythm is a little hard to take in one sitting, but it's enjoyable a few songs at a time. If you are curious about one rhythm albums, or can't get enough of the Diwali beat, this disc is a good place to start.

Article first published as Music Review: Diwali: Gold Edition on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


I reviewed the new Mopacino mixtape on RapReviews this week.

Arab-American rapper from Cleveland. Meh.

You know what's better? Black Flag performing "Rise Above" live in 1983. Scary bald dude with a tattoo of his own band on his arm. Yowza!

Or Fear doing "I Don't Care About You." I saw them open for the Pixies a few years ago, and Lee Ving still has a bitchen voice.

Or "No Vaseline," the meanest, funkiest dis song ever. "And yo, Dre, stick to producing."

Flying Lotus Review

Originally posted on

Flying Lotus :: Cosmogramma :: Warp Records
as reviewed by Patrick Taylor
[Cosmogramma] Within the first seconds of "Clock Catcher," the first song on "Cosmogramma," it's evident that beatmaker/composer/spaceman Flying Lotus (Stephen Ellison to his mom and dad) has left the boundaries of instrumental hip hop. The song sounds like Super Mario powering up while a Middle-Eastern orchestra tunes up in the background, all accompanied by harpist Rebekah Raff. It's trippy, it's disorienting, and it's amazing. 
If Ellison was referencing hip hop on his last album, 2008's "Los Angeles," he is using jazz as his blueprint on "Cosmogramma."  That's not just because his cousin Ravi Coltrane plays sax on the album, or because he references Sun Ra on "Arkestry."  "Cosmogramma" is full of an intricate, controlled chaos that reminds the listener of Charles Mingus's adventurous compositions like "Black Saint and the Sinner Lady." There's a lot going on in these tracks, but Ellsion holds it all together, always in control, always guiding the experience. Ellison is a composer, not a beatmaker. These songs aren't designed merely to get people moving on a dancefloor or facilitate a drug trip. There is thought and intent and artistry behind every bloop and whirl, which includes the packaging, designed to look like some sort of astrological artifact.
He experiments with a range of sounds and genres, including dubstep ("Pickled!"), indie ("...And the World Laughs With You"), and even house ("Do the Astral Plane"). Through it all, the album maintains a consistent theme and tone, with all 17 tracks fitting together like different chapters in a story. It's the kind of album that you have to listen to front to back, that you can't put on shuffle, that you can't separate out one song at a time. 
Ellison is accompanied by carbon-based life forms on several songs, including bassist Thundercat, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson on strings, Ravi Coltrane on sax, and vocalists Niki Rand, Thom Yorke, and Laura Darlington. The addition of organic, analog instruments into Ellison's digital sounds makes his music sound fuller than on past albums, giving him a wider range to work with.  He even uses a ping pong ball as part of the beat on "Table Tennis."

Ellison has described his music as "surrealist hip hop" in the past, and that label fits. It could also be described as post hip hop, music that draws upon hip hop for inspiration, but then takes it further. In that respect he's similar to artists like J. Dilla, Madlib, and even El-P, who are grounded in hip hop but want to color outside of its guidelines, want to combine their love of jazz, soul, industrial, and electronica with hip hop's beats and rhymes. 

"Cosmogramma" is ambitious, wonky, slippery, glitchy, and beautiful. It's Flying Lotus's finest work to date, is one of my favorite albums of the year so far. Hip hop heads might be sad that Flying Lotus is no longer our little secret, but he's too good to remain hidden in the underground. 

(My second post on Carry Like Mariah was of Dilla's Donuts, which I also compared to Mingus. 

Z-Man "Cupcaking" Video

I love this song.

Four Years

I've been doing Carry Like Mariah for almost four years now. It started because I wanted an outlet to explore my then recent obsession with hip hop, and force myself to write more. I started it before I began writing for RapReviews or Blogcritics, and fourteen days before I met my wife. I was at a different apartment, at a different job, and in a different space then.
The blog has morphed since I started it. These days I mostly use the blog to repost reviews I've written elsewhere. I pump out 1-2 300-800 word reviews a week, and I don't have much time for anything else at this point in my life. I'm listening to less hip hop now, that obsession replaced by my obsession with reggae, which will no doubt be replace by another obsession in a few years.

I have no intentions of being a professional music journalist. For one thing, there's no money in it. For another, I'm too damn old. I'm thirty-five. Had I got into this gig when I was twenty-two and going out five nights a week, it would have been a different story. Now I go out once every six weeks. I'm in bed by 10pm most nights, and up at six on most mornings. I have a full-time job that I like, and focus a lot of my energy into the non-profit sector that, frankly, seems a little more crucial than music.

I get 5-10 songs a day emailed to me by various PR people. I don't have time to be that current. I could get involved in the local music scene more and write about up-and-coming bands. I don't have the time, or rather, I don't want to devote the time. I'm not a scenester, schmoozer, tastemaker, or mover and shaker. I'm a dude who spends a few hours a week writing in between working 40 hours a week and spending time with my wife, my friends, and my family.

Still, I like my writing gigs. I love getting CD's to review in the mail, many of which are mediocre, but some of which are pretty great. I like being able to email a PR person and get a digital copy of a new indie release in a matter of minutes. It's a great time to be a music fan, and I'm loving all of the music I get to listen to.

At some point I'd like to focus less on reviews and more on articles that probe a little deeper. I had the idea to do one on racism in the punk scene. Or on how many buzz bands offer diminishing returns, and how that's ok. Or on how hip hop is dying, becoming as watered down and irrelevant as rock n' roll. About how punk was in many ways a big con. But that takes time and thought and editing, and in short supply of two of those three things.

Anyways, four years and counting. Here's to it.

Friday, June 04, 2010

What I'm Listening To

Once again I've overloaded myself with music. This time it's so bad that I'm thinking of not getting anything new for at least a month or two, until I am able to at least partially digest all of the new music I've bitten off recently.

Including the new Flying Lotus, which I'm working on reviewing. It's amazing. Like Mingus only electronica.

I'm also working on a review of Wild Nothing. Pitchfork liked them. It's sort of 90s 4AD dream pop. I like it.

Exhibit a:

I traded a bunch of old stuff in at Amoeba and immediately bought a bunch of new stuff, including 2008's Hercules and the Love Affair album. It's like LCD Soundsystem doing gay disco. With a transexual singer. In other words, rad.

Madlib's reggae mix got me into dancehall, so I got Lone Ranger's M16, and Trojan's 3 disc dance hall comp. It's repetitive, it's dudes sing-talking over old records, but I can't get enough of it. It combines the spaciness of dub and the groove of rocksteady. Here's Big Youth performing live:

I just downloaded the Sleigh Bells album. It's sort of sexy girl vocals over grungy hip hop beats and 80s metal guitar. I haven't listened to it a lot, but the snippets I've heard are interesting at least. They are latest buzz band. I'm wondering how much of it has to do with their music, and how much has to do with the sexy lead singer who wears spandex.

I also have some other reggae and hip hop cd's to review, and I burned a copy of the latest Gorillaz CD. Not to mention that I've been wanting to listen to Lee Perry's Ape-Ology over and over. Everyone gets excited about Return of the Super-Ape, but for my money it's Roast Fish, Collie Weed and Cornbread, his vocal album that is full of crazy songs. 
I got my work cut out for me.

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