Saturday, October 30, 2010

Madlib Medicine Show #8: Advanced Jazz Review

I reviewed Madlib's Advanced Jazz this week on RapReviews. It is an 80 minute mix of classic jazz.  Esoteric as all of Madlib's stuff, but still a nice starting point for some great jazz. It made me realize I have to check out Eric Dolphy, and dig deeper into Coltrane's mid-to-late-sixties catalog on Impulse. He's put out a ton of records, most of which are more experimental and out there than his early-sixties stuff like Giant Steps or My Favorite Things. I'm not always a huge fan of avant-garde jazz, but when it's not too abstract or dissonant it can be interesting. It makes me realize how little I really know about music, though.

I really like A Love Supreme. It's adventurous but still conventional enough for me to grasp on to.

U Don't Like Me

I'm not a huge fan of Diplo. I like some of his work, (like "Pon The Floor") but in general he's too abrasive and annoying. Ditto for Lil Jon. Still, their collabo, "U Don't Like Me," is pretty awesome in a punch-you-in-the-face kind of way. I love the video game theme of the video, with poor Diplo getting his ass kicked in many different ways.

I'm six months late to the Danny Brown train, but have heard a few songs by him. He's got a street Kool Keith thing going. Raunchy and raw as hell, but pretty awesome.  His album "The Hybrid," was available for free, but I can't even figure out how to download it from his bandcamp site now.(update: I swear the download link wasn't there yesterday!)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Flying Lotus N' Thangs

Flying Lotus has a new video out, directed by Beeple, for a new song from his new EP. It's fuggin' weird, like a fever dream. Murderous robots and people holding signs that say things like "Kiss a dude."

Flying Lotus - Kill Your Co-Workers from Warp Records on Vimeo.

I also came across this, one of the best songs ever. Check out those clothes! It's 1990 all over again. And those computer graphics - you can tell by the fonts that Tribe was rocking Macs back before they were cool.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Treasure Island

I been busy. Mostly busy working and studying, but also busy doing stuff. I went to the Treasure Island music festival, which was pretty amazing despite the rain. It was worth it to see Superchunk and Broken Social Scene, who were incredible live.

When the going gets tough, the tough listen to emo, so I've broken my Drive Like Jehu's Yank Crime again. When you can't get enough 8 minute long math-rock songs. I heard an interview with the guys in the band, and they said they broke up mainly cuz they got bored playing such long songs. I guess I can understand that.

This is my favorite song from the album, "New Math." It has such a scary, frenetic energy, all jagged starts and stops, and the singer, Rick Froberg, sounds like an office drone losing his mind, screaming "Yeah you been had!!!!" like a madman. I think the fact that he sounds so square makes his outbursts that much more chilling.

I'd stoop to that. Sure I would. Yeah you been had.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Burnerz Review

I reviewed the new Burnerz album last week on RapReviews. It's a collab between Zion I MC Zumbi and producer The Are. 14 tracks of solid underground hip hop. Stupid name, good album.

On a similar theme, here's Dilla and Madlib doing "Fuck The Police" live, with an explanation of where the inspiration for the song came from.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Kane and Abel Review

I reviewed the newest Kane and Abel album on RapReviews last week. They were No Limit artists back in the day. I was not a fan of their music, but I'm not sure if that is because I don't like the genre, or they aren't that good. Probably a little of both.

This video for "Supa Clean" makes them seem like a parody act. What's with the little person dressed as black uncle sam?

Luciano and Duane Stephenson Review

Reggae artist Luciano has been releasing albums steadily since the early nineties, but his most recent, United States of Africa, is the first one I've had the opportunity to listen to. I've heard of him, of course, and his reputation as a deeply religious, deeply conscious artist who exists outside the trends of mainstream reggae and dancehall.
United States of Africa is an ambitious album, chronicling the struggles Africa has undergone and is still undergoing, but imagining it as a unified home for Africans and the African diaspora. The album deals with the Rastafarian dream of returning to the Motherland with an intensity, sensitivity, and understanding of current affairs that isn't present in most reggae odes to leaving Babylon and returning to Ethiopia. Luciano also ties in concerns with the economy ("In This Recession," "Invasion"). This is protest music done right.
The production combines earthy rasta dread with contemporary techniques and sheen. Luciano has a voice has a rough edge to it, which adds an element of depth to his music. The songs manage to balance a serious message with a sense of joy, which makes the album more uplifting than the subject matter might suggest. Highlights include "Moving On," which sounds like classic rocksteady; "Invasion," which is both weary and hopeful at the same time; the gorgeous "Unite Africa"; and the early reggae feel of "Hosanna." I personally didn't like the inclusion of alto sax and synthesizers on several songs, which added an unnecessary cheesiness. Still, United States of Africa is a powerful album, and places Luciano firmly in the tradition of Bob Marley.
Duane Stephenson is another reggae artists following in Bob Marley's footsteps. His sophomore ablum, Black Gold, was released last month, following up on 2007’s August Town. Before striking out on his own, Stephenson was the singer/songwriter in To-Isis, who had a hit with a reggae version of Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven.” Stephenson’s voice is reminiscent of Marley’s and he share’s the late legend’s heartfelt lyrics and social concerns. However, Stephenson’s music is polished with a layer of R&B sheen that veers close to schmaltz. The production is too cheesy and too middle of the road for my tastes, and as a result I wasn’t into this. Still, Stephenson has a great voice, and fans of smooth R&B should love Black Gold, even if I didn’t.

Originally posted on Blogcritics as 
Music Review: Luciano and Duane Stephenson - United States of Africa and Black Gold

Saturday, October 02, 2010

What I'm Listening To

I've been really into the Mountain Man album lately. I downloaded their debut for my wife about a month ago, but only this week listened to it myself. They are a vocal trio of three women (who met at Bennington in Vermont, of course). It's not the kind of music I normally listen to, but there is something so beautiful and soothing about it that I can't stop listening to it.

I also have been listening to the new Superchunk album, Majesty Shredding. I was suspicious at first: is this just gonna be a bunch of old farts trying to recapture their rock out glory days? However, like Sonic Youth, Superchunk are good songwriters, don't stray to far from their sweet spot, and are still making interesting music. At least for an old fart like me. Sounds like 1994 all over again.

And them doing my favorite song, "Throwing Things," acoustic:

I also got a two-disc set of Big Youth, which is pretty amazing. Also, his "Goodness Gracious!" from "Can You Keep A Secret" (in the first five seconds of this clip) is in the Beastie Boys "Pass the Mic." A song which, while it still holds up, has some splaining to do for years of shitty rap-rock.

I've also been listening to Junior Byles, who is one of the most amazing, heartbreaking reggae artists ever. I love his version of "Curly Locks," a song about a rasta whose girlfriend's father doesn't want her going out with a dreadlock. Lee Perry did a version that was more whimsical, and Sinead O'Connor did a good version as well, but Byles' is number one. Byles was a gorgeous singer, with a sensitivity that made his music something very special. Unfortunately, the elements that made him an amazing singer also led to his mental instability, and he's spent most of the past three decades living on the streets and pretty much insane. There is footage of him playing live in the 2000s, but he is clearly a shell of his former self.

Ernie Smith - The Best Original Masters Review

Article first published as Music Review: Ernie Smith, The Best Original Masters on Blogcritics.
Ernie Smith was a Jamaican artist who had a string of hits in the early seventies, including “I Can’t Take It,itta Patta,” “Bend Down,” and “Life Is Just For Living.” He recorded for the Federal Records label, who is know for their polished take on reggae. The production on this best-of collection owes more to the countrypolitan sound coming out of Nashville in the same time period as reggae.
There is none of the deep bass or colly-fueled skank of contemporary reggae producers like Joe Gibbs, Niney the Observer, Bunny Lee, or Lee Perry. Instead, there is a pop sheen to the songs, from Smith’s restrained baritone to the inclusion of non-reggae elements like strings and piano. Many of the songs sound like country-western, but for the mild reggae lilt. “I Can’t Take It” even includes a spoken word interlude at the end of the song, in clear, American English, without any of the patois or slang that makes reggae so distinctive. He also experiments with pop on “Footprints on the Ceiling.”
Even the more “reggae” songs on this disc are produced in a way that make them sound country. In the hands of Joe Gibbs or Bunny Lee, “Bend Down” could be a mellow, post-rocksteady reggae song. Smith makes it sound like George Jones with some dreadlocks on bass and guitar. The same is true with “One Dream,” “Ride On Sammy,” and “Pitta Patta.” Smith tries out some patois on “Duppy Gun Man,” but it sounds staged and insincere. His patois on “Key Card” and “Nice Time” sound more natural.

I’m not trying to write him off as a posh, fake Rasta. His pop approach to reggae may not have jibed with what was going on in the dancehall at the time, but forty years later his material sounds like other pop artists of the time, including Johnny Nash and George Jones. Smith’s take on “Sunday Morning Coming Down” is on par with Johnny Cash’s version. The pop production techniques add novel elements to the reggae sound palette, and it’s old enough to sound cool and retro rather than cheesy and watered down. As non-traditional as Ernie Smith’s music is, I found myself really enjoying this album.
There is an upbeat vibe to the songs that acknowledges the hardships in the world without being overwhelmed by them. There’s a story in the liner notes about how Smith decided to return the Jamaica in the late '80s after years of living in Florida. There had been a hurricane, and on the U.S. news, Americans were complaining about how they lost everything. This was contrasted with the Jamaican news, where poor villagers who lost everything were happy to still be alive. Smith realized he was living in the wrong country, and moved back to Jamaica, where he continues to record today. The Best Original Masters is worth investigating for any fan of early seventies pop and country, and anyone who appreciates the pop songwriting from that era.

Madlib Medicine Show #7: High Jazz

Stones Throw, 2010

There's an ice cream shop in San Francisco called Humphrey Slocombe that specializes in "unique" flavors. So unique that they got written up in the New York Times about a month ago. Their most famous flavor is Secret Breakfast, which is vanilla with bourbon and cornflakes. Some of their flavors, like Secret Breakfast, offer a unique take on old standards, and end up being really good. However, a lot of them are just weird. I've tried their Peanut Butter Curry, which was edible but wacky, their Salt and Pepper, which was kinda gross, and their Balsamic Caramel, which was fucking nasty. My problem with Humphrey Slocombe is that their ice cream is interesting, but not particularly enjoyable.

Which brings me to Madlib's latest installment of his monthly Medicine Show, "High Jazz." This disc contains thirteen songs of Madlib's various avant-jazz incarnations. It includes tracks by Generation Match, Jahara Massamba Unit, the Kenny Cook Octet, Yesterday's New Quintet, and R.M.C. What are these different incarnations? I don't know. Are there other actual people in the groups, or is Madlib playing all the instruments? I don't know, except that Karim Riggins played drums on some of the tracks.
Before I get too deep in my criticism, I should disclose that I don't know a lot about avant-garde jazz, seventies or eighties jazz, or music theory. I own a lot of 50s and 60s jazz, but not much beyond that, and my collection doesn't get much more far out than a few Sun Ra albums that I enjoy but don't totally understand. I like jazz on an aesthetic, not intellectual level, appreciating how it sounds versus the theory and thought behind the composition. In short, I'm a lay person, so my observations and criticisms should be taken with a grain of salt. I've also not delved too far into Madlib's jazz persona. The only album I own is his jazz-funk "Sound Directions," which I liked. I've stayed away from his Yesterday's New Quintet material, mostly because I was pretty sure I'd feel the same way I felt about it as I felt about "High Jazz."

That said, I like what I like, and I wasn't liking a lot of "High Jazz." Partially because I don't "get" what he's doing musically, and don't have a refined enough ear to appreciate it. Mostly, though, I didn't get into "High Jazz" because many of the songs sounded half-baked and half-finished. "Reality or Dream" by the Big Black Foot Band featuring Black Spirit sounded like someone reciting poetry while the band warmed up. Generation Match's "Electronic Dimensions" was a series of electronic blurbs and bloops that meandered around without any since of direction or purpose, like two stoned robots talking to each other.  Russel Jenkins Jazz Express's "Drunk Again" sounds like three different bands playing three different songs at once. Jahari Massamba Unit's "Pretty Eyes" and "Wanderin'/Nighttime" are pretty enough, but underwhelming, more background music than something that commands your attention.
I'm fully aware that as someone who is not a big avant-garde jazz fan, I could be missing the genius of these songs. To the extent that I'm not enjoying this album because I'm not smart enough to get what's going on, so be it. My real complaint, however, is how half-assed and tossed off the above songs feel. Madlib has been churning music out like a madman this year, and I'm noticing a disturbing lack of finish to some of his output. It's like he's so concentrated on getting shit out the door that he doesn't spend enough time editing what he's doing, and the result is a noticeable sacrifice in quality as he increases his quantity. Madlib is a talented dude, and he should let his prolificness get in the way of making quality music.

Not that "High Jazz" is terrible. Things get more interesting on the deep spaciness of "Space and Time" by R.M.C., with its tinkling piano and heavy acoustic bass. Yesterday's New Quintet's "Conquistador" and the Big Black Foot Band's "Tarzan's Theme" also pick up the pace, providing a groove you can hold on to and sounding more recognizably like songs. Poysner, Riggins, and Jackson's "Funky Butt, Part 1" offers up some funky latin jazz, and the disc closes with "Kimo," a song by the Joe McDuphrey Experience that sounds like a jazz version of house music.

If you are a jazzhead, you might appreciate "High Jazz" on a level that I am unable to. Maybe I'm totally missing the point of this album. To me, it sounds like a lot of half-finished ideas that were rushed out to meet a deadline rather than a well-constructed, well-thought out album. Too much of it is like vinegar ice cream: interesting, but not very enjoyable.

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