Saturday, August 21, 2010


I just got the four-disc Evolution of Dub Volume One: Origin of the Species. It's a box set released by VP records last year that consists of Joe Gibbs Dub Serial, King Tubby's Dub from the Roots and The Roots of Dub, and Niney the Observer's Dubbing With the Observer. All of the discs come in sleeves that reproduce the original artwork. I stumbled upon in at Amoeba today when I was looking for Niney's Dubbing with the Observer, which is super hard to find, even illegally. It's meant to be a classic of the genre. The point of the collection is to put four early dub albums together to show how the art form evolved. Joe Gibbs Dub Serial, which had a retail price of $50 in the early seventies (which is probably several hundred dollars in today's cash), was one of the first dub albums, and is less messed-with than Tubby and Niney's albums. This is probably all the dub I'll have use for for a long, long time, but it was a score to find four classic albums for about six bucks each.  I'm sure it would be much more meaningful if I smoked pot.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Purify Review

I reviewed Purify's Remixes Felt album this week at RapReviews. Purify is a Midwestern producer who does mellower, sample-based beats. Felt is a project with Murs and Slug. I was into it.

I have  a few more reviews I'm working on, but most likely will be on a hiatus for a bit, or at least posting sporadically. I'm going back to school, and working full time, which seems like a lot of work. Hopefully I'll still have time to do some reviews every couple weeks or so. How else am I going to get new music? All my record-buying money is going into books and school.

I've decided my study music for school this time around will be dub and jazz. I always need non-vocal study music. Last time around it was mostly ambient electronica and opera (which has words but still does the trick).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Common People

I studied in Florence, Italy in 1995. It was one of the best years of my life (to date), but at the time, I wasn't ready for it. I had moved to San Francisco in the Fall of 1993, and spent the next two years getting immersed in the burgeoning SF punk scene, seeing Green Day, Jawbreaker, and a lot of other smaller bands Before They Were Big (although Cake and Rage Against the Machine were probably the only bands I actually saw Before They Were Famous-Schlong, Skanking Pickle, Strawman, Pounded Clown, Tilt, Fluf, etc. never had such a big impact).

What was I talking about?

Oh, so I arrive in Italy as a twenty-year old who is really into country, rockabilly, Kiss, gangsta rap, and punk rock. My roommate in SF had been into the blossoming Brit Pop scene, but it seemed like fey, wimpy, affected garbage to me. I wanted to hear American music, dammit! I hated the idea of sucking up the Brits, and the snobbery and utter wimpiness that I associated with it.

Half a year in Europe changed my mind. We would go to the Scorpione bar (between the Ufizzi and Santa Croce, for anyone who knows Florence, and they would play videos that we would dance to. One of the videos on constant rotation was Pulp's "Common People." It was, and remains, one of my favorite dance songs of all time.

Musically, it references synth pop, glam rock, and British pop, but gave it a (then) contemporary sheen. More importantly, it had a level of musical sophistication that was sorely lacking among the deteriorating grunge scene. By 1995 grunge was sold out and played out. True innovators like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam had given way to shitty imitators like Candlebox and Creed. The music was muddy, dreary, and no fun at all. I was sick of distorted guitars, and sick of white kids from comfortable backgrounds whining about how miserable they were (see emo). Worse, American music had gotten insular and navel-gazing. I was over it, and looking for something that was more fun and had something to say.

"Common People" is a fun dance song, but it is a fun dance song that dissects how the rich see the poor as a font of authenticity and realness, romanticizing the suffering and squalor of the lower classes. Singer Jarvis Cocker calls out the girl in the song (based on a Greek woman he met at university), but also calls out the hopelessness and meaninglessness of the lives of the "common people."

"You'll never fail like common people," he sings. "You'll never watch your life slide out of view/And then dance and drink and screw/Because there's nothing else to do."

When I got back to SF in summer of 1996, I started going to Popscene, then at the Black Cat Club. Every Thursday me and my roommate Matt would dress in our most mod gear, drink guiness and dance. Every week this song came on, and it was always a cathartic experience, naming how meaningless and inconsequential we were feeling, and making it seem ok. I still love the song, and whenever I hear it, it makes me smile.

So I got into Brit Pop for a while until eventually, the artifice and foreign-ness of it got on my nerves again, and I gravitated towards other types of music. When I went back to Italy in 2000, I was listening mostly to hardcore punk. That year my biggest musical discovery was Bob Dylan. Sometimes you have to go away to come home.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Arcade Fire and albums

I bought the new Arcade Fire, The Suburbs, last week. I coulda downloaded it on Emusic, but I went in and paid my $13 for a physical cd at Ameoba, because that's how the band meant it to be digested. I do a lot of digital downloads, and there is a positive side to it, but there is something to be said for the permanence and physicality of an actual album.

I believe in albums. I believe in listening to 40-60 minutes of what an artist has to say, to hear how their songs interconnect, what the different songs have to say about an artist, and the mood that is struck over the course of an album. Mostly I listen to music on shuffle on my iPod, but I'm fucking sick of it. I'm tired of hearing a reggae song after a punk song after a hip hop song after a jazz song. I'm tired of how it doesn't make sense, how there's no rhyme or reason, how I skip ahead before I reach the end. I used to know how all of the songs bled together on the albums I loved, how the end of one song fed into the beginning of another, the mood shift as a slow song is followed by an uptempo song. Now it's just a hot mess, 1000+ songs on shuffle with no rhyme or reason. I want to go back to listening to albums. I want artists to keep making them. I realize it began with the technical limitations of records, but it makes sense. And I think 45 minutes is a perfect time frame, maybe a little less, maybe a little more. In the 90s, every album became a double album, all of them pushed to their 75-minute capacity. This meant that albums were bloated, full of filler, and not enjoyable to listen to as a whole. Less is more. Give us your good shit, leave the detritus for a mixtape or box set.

I haven't listened much to The Suburbs, but when I do it's as a whole, not on shuffle, as an album, like Win and fam meant it. Dammit.

Busy Signal and Capleton Review

Two recent dance hall releases highlight two very different approaches to the genre. Busy Signal’s D.O.B. is full of high-energy songs about partying, while Capleton’s I-Ternal Fire offers a more mature and reflective perspective.

Busy Signal’s third album, D.O.B., is full of raucous riddims, hyperactive rapping, and many odes to partying and getting it on. Much of the success of the album is owed to the producers, who include DJ Karim, Kalonji D’Aguilar, Stephen “Di Genius” McGregor, Shane Brown, T’Jean Bennett, and Andrew Myrie. They show some of the same risk-taking and experimentation that made turn of the century hip hop so exciting. There are latin riddims on "Picane" and "Busy Latino," and classical flourishes on "Opera." "Nuh Fraid" sounds like Southern club rap, and "Hair Dresser Shop" draws from American R&B. Several tracks offer up the distilled essence of dancehall, including "Summn' A Guh Gwaan," with Bounty Killer, and "My Money (Money Tree)." The latter is little more than a snapping beat with Busy Signal's Auto-Tuned voice filling up the empty space, minimalism at its best.

Busy Signal rounds out his dancefloor movers with a handful of slower tracks. "Sweet Love (Night Shift)" is an update on the Commodores' 80s hit "Night Shift," and despite the cheese factor, Busy makes it work. He tries the trick again on "One More NIght," but this time around the source material (Phil Collins) isn't worth resurrecting. He picks a better song to rework on "Hi Grade," which references Tenor Saw's "Ring The Alarm" to praise the herb. The album ends with the ballad "Peace Reign," which proves that there is more to Busy than nightclubbing. Still, Busy Signal is at his best when he's getting asses to move, and the finest moments on D.O.B. are the uptempo ones.

There's not much geared towards the club on Capleton's I-Ternal Fire. The dancehall veteran has put out over twenty albums, and his slack days are far behind him. His latest album sees him examining what is right and wrong with the world, offering up 15 tracks of reggae that draws from roots artists like Bob Marley.

At his best, Capleton channels the righteous anger and soulful riddim of roots reggae. "Global War" criticizes Western countries for their wars; "Acres" celebrates marijuana agriculture; and "Same Old Story" is a moving ballad. The production throughout is lush, drawing heavily on acoustic instrumentation to create an organic feel. However, while the album sounds great and I appreciate the conscious lyrics, I-Ternal Fire is too mellow for my tastes. It's adult contemporary reggae, which isn't my cup of tea. While I may not put I-Ternal Fire on heavy rotation, it is still a solid album that fans of mellower reggae will enjoy. Personally, I'll stick with the more energetic if less morally defensible Busy Signal.

Article first published as Music Review: Busy Signal and Capleton on Blogcritics.

Gotham Green Review

I reviewed Gotham Green and Quickie Mart's Haze Diaries Volume 3 on RapReviews this week. Decent stoner rap, with enough solid tracks to make it at least worth a perusal on their bandcamp site. They have some stuff for free, if you are feeling cheap. Here's the song they did with Freddie Gibbs.

There's a music marketing site I read sometimes called Audible Hype, and they said that there has been a 300% increase in albums released this decade. Here's a quote from their post on how oversaturated hip hop was last year:
According to SoundScan, 105,000 new full-length albums were released in 2008, up almost 300% from earlier in the decade. The number that sold over 1000 units in the first year? Only 6,000.


Also, I'm loving the new Roots album, How I Got Over.  Maybe because there are so many indie rocker guest spots. It's mellow, grown-man hip hop, but I love it.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Thee Oh Sees, Yellow Fever and the Bare Wires at the Independent

I went and saw Thee Oh Sees, Yellow Fever, and Bare Wires play at the Independent on August 7, 2010.
I was excited to see Yellow Fever, whose debut last year has stayed in heavy rotation on my stereo.

Bare Wires from Oakland opened up. I know nothing about them, except that they are from Oakland, are named after a John Mayall album, have a lead singer who looks like Wierd Al, a bassist that looks like Joey Ramone, and sound like the Sweet meet the Kinks. Here they are playing at SXSW this year.

Yellow Fever were good, but a little mellow for the crowd. It was a woman with a Buddy Holly look on guitar and vocals, and a guy who looks like my friend Chad on drums and keyboards. Dude was multitasking.

The highlight was the Oh Sees. I don't know anything about them, either. Evidently their singer, John Dwyer, is an SF garage punk legend, having been in the Coachwhips.

Their sound is a mix of rockabilly, punk, and garage rock, distilled like a fine bourbon into the purest essence. They were ROCKING. It was probably the most rock n roll experience I've had in a while. Dwyer played his guitar like it was trying to escape from him, the drummer pounded away on his drums, and the bassist (petey dammit) banged his head like a possessed mod. So, so good. HIPSTERS DANCED. For real.

I think his wikipedia entry says the difference between the Oh Sees and Coachwhips is less drugs. Goddamn.

Anyways, I was really into the show, even if I did leave before midnight.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Mac Truc and Reggae Gold Reviews

I have two reviews for RapReviews up now.  The first is Mac Truc's II Be Heard.
He's a rapper out of the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virgina) who does grown man rap - jazz-influenced beats and rhymes with perspective. He reached out to me because I had reviewed TruBless's album a few years back. It's a solid album, worth a listen.

I also reviewed the Reggae Gold 2010 compilation. I'm still not totally sold on contemporary reggae, but there is some good stuff on the comp, including "As We Enter," with Nas and Damien Marley, that samples one of my favorite Ethiopian reggae songs.

Hey, hold these flashlights and look tough. Sweet, that's our video right dere.

I just got the new Roots, which is great, and the new Arcade Fire, which I haven't listened to. It seems good though.

Blog Archive