Artist: Minus the Bear
Album: They Make Beer Commercials Like This (2008 Remaster)
Released: June 3rd, 2008
Label: Suicide Squeeze
Style: Indie / Rock
RIYL: good music
If you never heard this, you missed out on one of the best albums of the last ten years. Not to mention probably the most talented and inspiring band of the 00s. Minus the Bear are one of those bands that were at the forefront of the indie thing while hipsters all over the united states were still figuring out the indie thing was happening, and how you got to be a part of it. There used to be a time when authentic hipsters were distinguished by there amazing knowledge of bands that would blow your mind out if you heard them. Later on in indie history, scenesters were created to distinguish the real cool kids from their tail-biting, name-dropping counterparts. These scenesters were liable to jump at any new band that nobody had heard of yet. With all this new fan base (buying their merchandise, attending their shows, etc), these minor label bands were gaining great acclaim, converting the 'mainstream' within a few years from the terror extracted upon them that was the 90s music, and dropping sales of major labels all across the board.
This was supposedly due to, according the major labels and their pet government agency the RIAA, internet pirating. The humanity! All these people can get our bands' albums for free, and somehow that increased exposure is doing us harm in record sales! Whatever happened to any publicity is good publicity? Well, that's exactly what was working so well for indie labels. All this new circulation of their bands material was literally exploding their market. Labels like Sub-Pop and Polyvinyl were seeing record sales, and actually began to purchase bands from other labels, playing like the big dogs! And where was all this money coming from? The wallets of people trying to get in on the hipster scene, though I guess this demographic didn't know what the internet was back then, and still did things the old-fashioned way buying actual albums. So where do you go to buy indie albums though? Blockbuster doesn't carry them? Of course, you go to record stores, a key part of modern music sales that major labels appear to have forgotten exist in the free market. And thus, the tight-pants wearing, internet-diving hipsters had actually scared the music kings. The need to be cool, which apparently could not be fulfilled anymore by the mainstream music scene, had actually driven America's music budget underground until the record labels could come up with something good.
At about this time major labels started picking up indie standards like At the Drive-In, Modest Mouse, and later Death Cab for Cutie. Now suddenly, credible hipsters didn't have a leg to stand on. The bands they had established their cool credibility with were suddenly playing all over the radio, international tours, and worse yet.. we kind of liked their new pop-sensible, indie hooks. Meanwhile, since indie was such a huge hit, major and minor labels alike started churning out no-name freshman-singles and debut albums with only minimal listenership, only to blow them up extravagantly on their sophomore release, claiming them as the next big indie thing within circles of supposed cool, in-the-know (read: internet savvy) scenesters. This is how we got legends like The Strokes at first, but it's also how we now have Fallout Boy and Panic At The Disco today (or 2 years ago haha, my how the mighty fall), so be careful what you wish for I guess. You might just get more bands than you could ever possibly keep up with, and become obsolete and uncool to younger, more ambitious scenesters.
Anyway, that's my hipster rant. Within any respectable hipster's r'epertoire in 2002 you would have surely found a copy of Highly Refined Pirates. The really cool kids were already diggin' on This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic in 2001 (I was not among them, I hopped on in '02, admittedly) After a 2 year break, in 2004 both They Make Beer Commercials... and Bands Like It When You Yell "Yar!" At Them were released back to back, simultaneously blowing fans' minds yet again with their ability to create amazing, indie-rock music with no dilution.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Artist: Death Cab For Cutie
Album: Narrow Stairs
Released: May 2008
Style: Umm...Corporate Indie? I think they call that Alternative..
Buy From: Anywhere, it's not like they're on an indie label or anything.
1. Bixby Canyon Bridge 5:15
2. I Will Possess Your Heart 8:25
3. No Sunlight 2:40
4. Cath... 3:49
5. Talking Bird 3:23
6. You Can Do Better Than Me 1:59
7. Grapevine Fires 4:08
8. Your New Twin Sized Bed 3:06
9. Long Division 3:49
10. Pity And Fear 4:21
11. The Ice Is Getting Thinner 3:45
Ok, since I had such harsh words for the new single off Death Cab For Cutie's new album, Narrow Stairs, I decided I should say some nice things about the album overall. Despite the bands inevitable fall to a major label, abandoning their former Barsuk in favor of an international contract with Atlantic (read: CHING CHING MOTHERFUCKERS $_$), they are still very talented musicians, and no amount of corporate influence can take that voice away from Ben Gibbard.
Though I must say, the money's got some strange things coming out of his mouth these days. Narrow Stairs has got to be one of the most emotionally charged albums I've heard from them, and that's saying a lot considering the content of most of their earlier albums. Considering Gibbard is making more money now than he ever has in his whole life, you'd think he might start writing happy songs finally. Or maybe even a cool, kind-of-jammy singalong like Transatlanticism turns into at the end of the title track. Anything, but I guess that emo stuff sells, so what can you do?
This one hits those heartstrings heard though. I think it's probably a combination of a few things for me. First, this album is so epic. There's all kinds of build-ups that end in a capella, Gibbard hooks, or the 6-minute lead in on Possess Your Heart. I know I already talked extensively on that lead in, but seriously it doesn't get any more epic than that. And to seal the deal, the production crew at Atlantic is flawless; they really know how to make those notes hit home with ringing clarity.
Still though, it's all about that voice. I've been listening to all their older material and the new album on shuffle, just to try and pick out the differences, and really..I don't hear much besides the production quality and some major label garbage that just has to be there - e.g. the breakdown on Possess Your Heart; why does that part sound so horrible to me? Anyway, my point is I don't care what the albums sound like from now on, it's not bad and all I care about is Gibbard's voice. As long as he keeps singing, I'll keep listening to their albums. Case closed.
Edit 5/27/08 : Ok, so I continued my DCFC-discography, shuffled playlist and I decided that this is definitely not the most emotionally charged album I've heard. It is very well engineered, and those emo hooks are quite..emotional, but nothing compares to the raw power of Tiny Vessels and the rest of the tracks on Transatlanticism. Perhaps my pain, reminiscing of my teenage years first hearing that album, is blurring my judgment. I'm glad they didn't have emo when I was a teenager. We were all indie kids, united under one name! Now there's a million tiny scenes to be part of - screamo, emo, hardcore, grunge, grindcore, diy punk, no wave etc - some of which have just been re-adopted by todays youth. Unbeknownst to them, they're not doing anything new or unique. Just dividing themselves up into different categories, further separating themselves from one another by drawing imaginary lines in the sand based on what bands they like. Then they all talk shit on each other, that's the worst part. The state of "the scene" today is weak, man. Where is the love?
In closing, I just want to say this: I think emo is an attempt for music corporations to recover from the idea of naming a genre (indie, short for independent, as in independent label) based on the fact that the music isn't released on a major, or even well-known, label. Now, instead of indie-kids, they're emo-kids. All the music being released on Atlantic, and other big labels, that would normally have been classified as indie, is emo. The connotations are sickening though. I mean, seriously, what band isn't making music that is emotional? That's why we make music; we're emotional creatures, and we need to express ourselves. It's just ridiculous to say "These people over here are emotional." What does that mean for the rest of us? It means nothing, because emo is a made-up term (bastard step-child of the old punk scene, and I won't get into that but you can read about it elsewhere) that has been capitalized upon by music corporations. It means nothing now, and I wish all the black-haired, hoodie-wearing, myspace-supporting youths of our nation would wise up to this, and stop lining music corporation pockets with their misguided emotions.
Nothing against Death Cab though, it sounds like they're doing the same thing they have been all along, except now they're getting paid what they deserve for it. Cheers guys, the new album sounds great to me.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Released: January 2007
Label: Protest Recordings
- (4:42) Flagel Flygel
- (4:11) Gefeeling
- (4:26) Don't Play With the Gun
- (4:32) Sailor
- (3:50) I Woke Up
- (4:09) She Turns to Gold
- (3:59) If I Were a Cowboy
- (4:23) Lifeguard
- (4:54) Angelhorns
- (4:52) By the River
Playing Time : 43:58
Dibidim is Jeron and Jonas, two guys apparently from Badminton Bay in the UK. From what I can gather, which is very little, they're on this really rad label called Protest Recordings, which is a netlabel whose motto is exactly what I've been saying all along. I'll quote:
"Protest [Recordings] was borne out of a desire to set straight the shortcomings of the existing music industry, which has let down music lovers all over the world by placing undue emphasis on sales, and manipulating tastes by means of mass media - overpricing music whilst the artists themselves are left with potentially tiny royalties and little scope for creative expression."
Need I say more? Major labels are ruining the music industry, and stifling true creativity. You need look no further than The Mars Volta on that one. I remember the haydays of Cedric and Omar, in a band called At The Drive-In. And what are they now? They can't even release their albums on their own record label anymore. And for what? That damn, major-label check. Consider this: Is the music made inside your own space, when you had nothing better to do than express your emotions musically, the same as the music made in a studio, that you go to as a job, with the expectation of a paycheck at the end of your session?
Enter Dibidim, netlabel and all. No PFM review, no flash website, no tour. Just good beats and a myspace page. Now that's how you start a band these days. Just make some goddam music, then give it to everyone for a while. If it gets good response, you should probably cut a record. These guys needed to cut a record, this is mind-blowingly good material. Imagine, if you can, Air. The Air we remember from Moon Safari, the feeling that album gave you, then continue through the years with 10,000hz Legend and on through the discography until you come to Pocket Symphony. As an Air fan, I was a little disappointed with Pocket Symphony. It didn't have that same pop-sensibility that I remembered, nor the Brazilian influences (Azymuth in particular) that heralded them such a wide spectrum of fanship in the first place. It seemed very technical to me. Riders is a lot like what I would have expected Pocket Symphony to sound like, based on the sound of Air's previous albums, and the challenge of coming up with something enjoyable and engaging for new and old listeners ten years later. It's not exactly like any one Air album, it's just a sound that I could picture them coming up with on their own; I don't know why they didn't, but you could probably consider my question posed in the previous paragraph for some insight.
Riders starts slow, and stays that way aside from a few songs. It's nice though, because it builds a lot. You can tell that they worked on it through the winter. It just has that wintry feeling. The pace is really mellow. Most songs don't start with the hooks, you gotta wait for it. Also, it's pretty soundscapy, like lots of dream rushes (like where the drum goes whooshhhhhhhh, If I Were a Cowboy is the one I'm listening to now) and echoey space sounds, and of course it's all synth. The guys harmonize so nicely though, you wouldn't expect it from the beards. The whole album is pretty much synthy goodness and the guys' beautiful harmonies. Lifeguard sounds a lot like Kraftwerk, though. And on Angelhorns they use an Accordion, which makes me feel like I'm in Italy for some reason.
All in all, this is awesome. I'm going to be listening to it for quite a while, I'm sure.
UPDATE: I talked to Jeron via the MySpecs and he says, "we are making our second album early next year followed by a gigantic world tour with a massive psychedelic pop big band." I'm so excited! FTR, the psychedelic pop big band is NOT The Flaming Lips, despite my initial enthusiasms upon reading that.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Artist: Death Cab For Cutie
Album: Narrow Stairs
Single: I Will Possess Your Heart
Style: sellout, would-be, indie legends
Label: Atlantic Records (Vinyl on Barsuk, so at least there's that to look forward to)
Death Cab For Cutie return to the corporate-sellout, indie pedestal with their new single, I Will Posess Your Heart, off the new album due out May 13th entitled Narrow Stairs. I actually really like the new direction the album seems to be taking. This single is a jim jam jimmy jam jamma, clocking in at over eight jammy minutes! All the Can references were true =0 The intro is completely bass driven, accompanied by piano (in true Gibbard style) and backed by a solid drumline. The chords echo with slight variations for four and a half minutes until Gibbard chimes in with his eagerly-timid vocals. To match the repetitive instrumentals, the lyrics are mostly chorus (with increasing cryptic voracity with each repetition) and a few fatefully-tragic, wintry verses ammounting to a mere shell of the shining indie songs from Death Cabs early career. A shell containing no nucleus, growing no greater form inside of it, tricking us into thinking that real, artistic creativity still exists, as opposed to profit-driven creativity which seems to be all a lot of bands I used to love seem to have left.
I miss songs like Photobooth, the sad songs with inspiring lyrics and catchy, drum-sequencer hooks. Now we get repetitive 6-minute-long intros with weak writing. I think if they stop writing songs for money, and went back to writing songs as a form of expression, the final result would be a lot more powerful in the ears and emotions of their fans. But I'm not them, and I don't have the options they have, and if I did I'm not certain that I wouldn't make the same decisions as them if I did have those options, of which I have no idea about anyway so I probably have no room to criticize them, as people at least. I'm here to criticize the music. And that is, in short, I like the new direction, but it has nothing for substance, musically and lyrically. That's not something I can overlook as a fan, and I'm not that jazzed to hear the new album based on this new single. I bet they didn't spend very much time at all creating it, perhaps even of tracks that didn't make previous albums, just strung together and produced the shit out of into a listenable collections of songs that Gibbard likely had to sit up until 4am for a week trying to think of lyrics for.
But that's my opinion, and I'm jaded. The song isn't really that bad, except the part where he starts "You reject my advances, in desperate plea" that part is really awful and is only made up for a little by being followed by solo Gibbard vocals, which I like when used in good taste. But damn that little breakdown part is bad. It ruins the song a lot for me. The rest is ok, just a little uninspired for my taste.
Emo kids need not get their boxes of kleenex however, this one isn't much of a tear jerker. Hope for a more solid heartbreaker on the rest of the album perhaps.
Also, I was going to put a copy of the song up to listen to like usual, but it's too big for my box widget. You'll just have to hear it at their Murdoch Space.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Artist: Vampire Weekend
Album: Self Titled
Released: January '08
Label: XL Recordings
Style: Yacht Rock, African Influenced
- Mansard Roof
- Oxford Comma
- Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
- One (Blake's Got A New Face)
- I Stand Corrected
- The Kids Don't Stand A Chance
I love this album so much; it's one of my favorites this year. I think mostly because it's so fun. The music is light hearted and neatly arranged, it covers many different styles on each song while keeping it's own unique sound throughout, and the writing is flawless. I'm a big fan of good writing; this album certainly sets the bar. Vampire Weekend are really setting the bar for pop music this year.
The video for the opening track, Mansard Roof, speaks volumes about the band themselves. Set on a yacht, we find the band sailing from New Jersey to Manhatten (I seriously have no idea where they're going, don't trust my judgement on this), eating neatly arranged snacks, and doing other yachtly activities, like playing Mansard Roof at the helm. The video looks like it was shot in the 80s, even down to the khakis, collared shirts, and video quality. This is exactly what I would picture them doing in their leisure time away from campus.
And while we're covering videos, the video for track 3, A-Punk, is also pretty rad. It reminds me a lot of OK Go's A Million Ways video, for no other reason than it's a dance that they probably had to practice over and over to get perfect for the video. I think Vampire Weekend's video builds on that concept a lot. In their video the setting changes a few times, the band changes clothes at different points, and everything seems like it's sped up really fast, even though they're all playing in time with the music. And they all look like they've been shrunk too, it's hard to explain. There's a lot going on, which is cool. You don't have to focus on any one part of it, and it changes enough to keep the viewer interested. I can't tell if they're trying to sound like the Sex Pistols or Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah though..
So yeah, they have cool videos. Lets talk about the album for a second. Quoted from their website: "The name of this band is Vampire Weekend. We are specialists in the following styles: "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa", "Campus", and "Oxford Comma Riddim."" The wiki says that they are influenced by african popular music and western classical music. I hear the western classical music a lot more, though the african influences are very apparent on some tracks. Perhaps they all listen to a lot of african popular music, world music is always trendy, but a lot of this doesn't sound like anything african I've ever heard. It sounds like a band of college kids made a witty album and used some drum samples from songs nobody knows about in Africa (like geniuses Daft Punk with their borrowed funk samples) then thought of some interesting names of styles to call it, which they also named the songs exemplifying each style apparently.
The song Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa sounds a lot like a track off Paul Simon's Graceland album, which has a lot of African influences too. I think his African influences may have been a little more genuine, or at least more unified and apparent throughout his entire album, because the next track on Vampire Weekend's album starts off rife with violins and the western classical influences mentioned. Also, Louis Vuitton gets their product placement in this song, but the band makes up for it by rhyming it with Reggaeton. In my book, since I loathe product placement so much and love reggaeton equally, they cancel each other. In short, I don't hear the african stuff on all the tracks, though it's very obvious on some. I hear more consistently the "Campus" style, especially in lyrical content.
The band apparently met while attending Columbia University, which explains why the entire album seems to be about life at an ivy league. It reminds me of Chuck Coleman's album People, Places, and Flings. There's a lot of talk about subtle differences between English Breakfast and Darjeeling, "diction dripping with disdain", and sleeping on the balcony after class. As was the case with Chuck Coleman, this does nothing to detract from the album. The songwriting is entirely clever, and it gives so much perspective on the band themselves; it would be a shame if they hadn't written it as such. You can check out all the lyrics here, and yes they are worth reading on their own.
This is a year-end-list maker for sure, and a band you can expect to hear a lot of hype around this year. You should definitely hear this once or twice, if for no other reason than to hear what the styles they've created to describe their music actually sound like.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Artist: The Mohawks
Album: The Champ
- The Champ
- Hip Juggler
- Sweet Soul Music
- Dr Jekyll and Hyde Park
- Señor Thump
- Baby Hold On
- Funky Broadway
- Rocky Mountain Roundabout
- Sound of the Witchdoctors
- Beat Me Til I'm Blue
- Can You Hear Me?
Alan Hawkshaw has been acclaimed as "King of Library Music Composers" for his works in the late 60s, and on into the 70s and 80s, making stock songs for radio commercials, tv themes, and more notably for this very album. Much of his library tracks were recorded for KPM Music (a UK, production-music library owned by EMI) and later released under different names like The Mohawks or Rumpelstildtskin. He also lent production and pianist skills to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin on their album, as well as Olivia Newton John and many others. You can find all kinds of neat information about tv jingles you might recognize by him at the wiki.
This is seriously funky business, don't let the stock music part throw you off. Apparently the jingles of yesteryear carried a lot more weight than the indie-pop-song, advertising revolution of today. (See Iron and Wine M&Ms commercial my personal, least-favorite example) You really don't hear stuff like this anymore, in fact you'd have even been hard pressed to find examples of music this good at the time it was recorded. It's the best of the best, which is probably why this album is so highly sought after by collectors and music enthusiasts alike, with many bootlegs and reissues in circulation. Apparently the real vinyl copies have a red fist on the cover, ftr.
Hawkshaw takes the lead role throughout the album on his Hammond organ, backed by a jazz orchestra made up of other session musicians. Most tracks have no vocals, and the few that have very little are mostly like background girls for the chorus. It's just good, funky jammin with wild solos by Hawkshaw throughout the album, most notably on the albums title track, The Champ. But not all of it is organs with Hawkshaw, like Funky Broadway is mostly horns swapping back and forth with eachother. Rocky Mountain Roundabout has some excellent rock-and-roll guitar stuff along with the Hammond solos, all backed by jazz horns. So much of this album is just fantastic, and you can really see how they'd all have to be studio musicians. The music is perfectly arranged, and played. These guys really know what they're doing, no doubt about that. They don't miss a note, nor is there a note that doesn't sound perfectly placed to build the song continually, even into the fadeout on some tracks.
The Champ is also a widely known song for having been sampled in so many other songs, notably because the actual word they're shouting in the songs opening and chorus is actually Tramp, which may or may not have anything to do with it's popularity amongst hiphop artists. One could also argue the point that the beat is so genuinely great, making it an obvious candidate for popularity. A list of tracks that sample The Champ is here.
This album is a true gem, and comes highly recommended by me and many, many others.
Also, I think it bears mentioning that I've seen track 2 listed as both Hip Jigger and Hip Juggler. It's hip jigger on the copy I have, but wiki says Juggler =/
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Artist: Sneaky Sound System
Album: Sneaky Sound System
Released: December '06
Label: Whack; Bondi Beach, Australia
Style: Indie, Electro, Dance Punk
- I Love It
- Thin Disguise
- I D E W 2 L U
- You Should Have Told Me You Were Gonna Change
- Hip Hip Hooray
- It's Over
- You're Hot
- Tease Me
To quote the perceptive and inspiring words of Ton Loc, "This cut is on fire." I can't believe I missed this album for over a year, it's the hottest shit I've heard in years. I really can't remember the last time I heard an album and just loved it so much. I've been playing it for months now and it keeps bangin' like the first time I heard it; none of it ever gets old and there's no filler. It's all Grade-A material, and excellently produced I'll add. Every song is meticulously put together for crowd-pushing, hip-jerking, indie-dance-party instigation!
Sneaky Sound System bring some serious hotness to the table for the rest of the loosly-defined, indie-electro genre. Nobody, imo, is making anything as bass-thumping, speaker-knocking, and DJ-friendly as this. The closest thing I'm hearing right now (and I'm strictly talking in terms of extreme sexiness combined with deep, thumping beats) is french electro, like people on Ed Banger Records (Justice, Sebastian, Mr Oizo) or maybe The Knife on their more pop-sensible tracks like Heartbeats, but that was two years ago. Digitalism is exactly who I'd say is closest to Sneaky Sound System in music right now, except they're not quite electro, or not the same kind of electro as Sneaky. But their album consistently comes with big beats and interesting song concepts. Big beats doesn't even begin to describe it, it's just huge. Sneaky Soundsystem doesn't have as big a beat as Digitalism; they're more electro, bordering on disco and funk.
The 00's are going to be remembered as saviors of the electronic scene, which I personally feel (some, not all) pretentious DJs are ruining for everyone. You don't have to have expensive tables and a huge record collection to throw a tight show anymore. And you don't have to play techno just because you're a deejay. Likewise, there's no shame in showing up with a laptop, portable hard-drive and Serato, and using the house tables. The idea is to get people on the floor, by whatever means necessary.
Every show or bar or whatever I've been to where the music was provided by someone with a laptop, whether on stage or not (wuddup Ruby Room, Oakland) there's always extremely good music on the speakers. I saw The Show is the Rainbow with Mindless Self Indulgence in Little Rock a few years back; his entire set is based on the laptop, even down to the visuals he had on a projector. And that show was mad awesome! The dude was totally all over the place, like down in the audience singing and going nuts. All he had to do the whole time was cover the microphone and work the crowd. It was totally fun for everyone, and a great opening act for MSI I'll add.
I almost prefer to go to shows with laptops really. You can walk up to the guy and he's not way too busy to talk to you, and you can see his playlist (if he's cool) and request songs and the dude probably has it and doesn't mind playing it, and if you're especially fortunate - and you have your handy, portable-media stick - you could score some really hot jams to add to your own digital collection.
I won't get too much into detail on meaningful lyrics, because I don't think it's the type of album intended to be thought provoking. It's just hooks, from start to back; "Hip Hip, Hip Hip Hooray / I'm lookin' for love, of the one-night varie-tay"; "Keep me on, don't switch me off"; "Your hot girl"; all that kind of stuff, some of those are the entire chorus, you know? It's great though, I mean you can't beat the simplicity of lyrics sometimes. Look at Soulja Boy's Crank Dat Soul; that shit is so simple, then they put it on a dope beat and everybody bumps it.
I really like this quote from IDEW2LU, "I'd never seen someone that looked like that before. She's like a Dreeeaam. I was totally, totally mesmerized." I mean, that's hot, seriously. This element adds so much more fun to the record. It's super sexy the whole way through. It makes me feel like I'm sexy. I like to feel sexy, personally. I'm sure that if I hadn't been so severely impaired by being born half-man, and half-bike... I would dance a fine jig. The finest, if only it weren't for these cursed, wheel legs!
Anyway, in conclusion: This album is hot like the sun. If you have the means, please get it. You will not regret this decision.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Artist: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
Album: 100 Days, 100 Nights
Released: October '07
Label: Daptone Records; Brooklyn, NY
Style: Soul, Funk
Buy From: Amazon
1. 100 Days, 100 Nights
2. Nobody's Baby
3. Tell Me
4. Be Easy
5. When the Other Foot Drops, Uncle
6. Let Them Knock
7. Something's Changed
8. Humble Me
9. Keep On Looking
10. Answer Me
Sharon Jones doesn't need the long line of credentials she carries in most reviews to speak for her. One need only drop the needle and let her voice take you back. I'm talkin' way back, to days when Aretha Franklin was commanding solitary-diva status in the world of soul. Today that diva is indubitably Sharon Jones. Raised singing in church in the heart of Funkytown, USA - read:Augusta, Georgia; home of James Brown - she got her start in music singing backups and worked her way into the studio at Desco Records to sing back up for Lee Fields. The producers at Desco were so impressed they cut her first studio recording, Switchblade, that day. She continued to do work for the label, making singles mostly and a brief tour of the UK where local DJs had popularized her singles. And just as it seemed she would make her major breakthrough, Desco records went under. Not, however, before Jones got the chance to meet the men that would rocket their careers into the forefront of modern soul and jazz.
Backed by long-time cohorts The Dap-Kings, it's clear to see why people are buzzing about these guys. At a glance you see a bunch of white guys in cheesy blues brothers costumes, but in the words of Bootsy Collins, "You can't fake the funk." All these guys have got style, and not just musically. Their suits are actually pretty nice, I especially like this photo from Spinner.com
Their third release on Brooklyn's diy-funk label, this is for certain the crowning gem in a long line of funky jams forming the heart of what some (wiki) are calling a "revivalist soul and funk movement," but what I just call "makin' em like they used to." I don't know how they do it (that's why they play, and I write), but they've managed to recreate the authentic sound of soul records released over 40 years ago, even down to the production quality. They even limit themselves to instruments and studio equipment available circa 1975 to create a sound that's vintage and polished.
As any good soul album should be, 100 Days, 100 Nights is about love, first and foremost, and then a lot of what comes with it. The album starts with the title track, a seemingly cryptic tale of love lost, set to gypsy beats. It's the break in the middle of the song that gives away the nature of the album to follow. The beat fails as the orchestra builds suspense, "Wait a minute, maybe I need to slow it down a little, take my time." She's addressing the issue that in just one half of her first song she's already given up the climax of the story, and thus we hear the tales of her 100 days, and 100 nights (imo) and in no particular order.
And that's just the song-writing. The music is absolutely fabulous! The Dap-Kings are so on point! with all the funky hooks you could shake a hip at, and they come fully equipped with the horns and strings. I can actually picture Sharon Jones on stage belting and crooning and taking me through the entire emotional spectrum as she tells each story in song. Her power is what holds the bands presence so solidly. There's a lot of people making some really funky music these days, but none of them have her at the microphone. It's a total package with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, which is why I suggest everyone pick up a copy of this album, all their previous albums, and keep an eye out for anything resembling any of that material. This is the kind of music that never goes out of style, and it could use a little proliferation.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Artist: Adam Tensta
Album: It's a Tensta Thing
Released: September '07
Label: Respect My Hustle Entertainment(RMH Ent) in association with K-Werks; Stockholm, Sweden
Style: Electro, HipHop, 80s-Influenced
Buy From: Amazon
1. It's A Tensta Thing (Prod. Howard Who)
2. Bangin' On The System (Prod. Kajmir)
3. My Cool (Prod. Addeboy vs. Cliff)
4. Walk With Me (Prod. Howard Who)
5. Dopeboy Feat. Eboi (Prod. Howard Who)
6. See U Watchin Feat. Nitti Gritti (Prod. Leslie & Nitti Gritti)
7. Do The Right Thing (Prod. Gifted)
8. They Wanna Know (Prod. Addeboy vs. Cliff)
9. I'm Sayin' Feat. Isay (Prod. Gifted)
10. 80's Baby (Prod. Keione)
11. S.t.o.l.d. Feat. Eboi (Prod. Addeboy vs. Cliff)
12. Incredible Feat. Isay (Prod. Howard Who)
13. Before U Know It (Prod. Leslie)
14. Same Face (Prod. Howard Who)
Swedish MC Adam Tensta is taking the world of Hip Hop by storm with his new breed of Electro-Rap. Hailing from the city of Stockholm, and taking his name from the city's suburbian district Tensta, this 80s child is just what the doctor ordered after a deafening pause from the Swedish HipHop scene. His new album It's a Tensta Thing has seen two singles do very well on Swedish airwaves, but can he sell pop-sensible Americans with his genre-bending new breed of HipHop?
I think he can. His refreshing take on the genre is..well, refreshing. Take the track They Wanna Know for example. He specifically mentions not selling drugs, not banging in gangs, dressing how he wants because that's how he likes it, keeping his personal business private, and respect to his mother. Also, he reps his hood, having the entire video shot in Tensta.
Then lets listen to My Cool for a second. This track is just awesome. It's obviously electro, completely danceable, and the HipHop aspects are rock solid. His verses are tight, the production is tight, and while the entire song is about how cool he is, that coolness is not based on how many bitches he fucked, or how many stacks he made in the dope game, nor - believe it or not - how big the rims on his car may be. He's cool because he dresses fly, his beats are dope, and he struts his shit. Plus, the video is straight out of 1985. I'll spare the details on that and just link to it because the shit is hot, you shouldn't miss it.
Moving on, my favorite song from the whole album is Dopeboy, featuring Eboi. Again we see the hot 80s electro influences, tight flows, and a straying away from traditional gangsta rap themes. The song, though it calls out many times "Do I look like I sell drugs?!" is actually about how Tensta and his boys, in fact, do not sell drugs, and apparently look like they do because they get stopped by security all the time, despite the fact that the real dopeboys are all over the clubs everywhere making bank every saturday night. I think the song is really about profiling, when you get down to it.
There's tons of other hot tracks, though the album doesn't entirely subscribe to the Electro/HipHop hybrid theory - no L-Park pun intended. Bangin' on the System is one track that I think is pretty bland, alongside Walk with Me. While other tracks stray in a good way; I'm Sayin', featuring Isay, is an essential track for this album, showing Tensta's lighter side with a little soul.
Another point I feel is worth mentioning is Europe's love of the 80s. Many 80s children are now growing up into aspiring musicians and repping their 80s roots, Calvin Harris, namely. Being an 80s kid myself, I can totally appreciate this sentiment. I sport my 80s birthday proudly all the time (85 in da hizzee wut wut) and it's pretty rad when people making hot music do it too. I don't see why we don't hear more of it here in the states, considering most of what everyone loves about the 80s was made here (Charles in Charge, MTV, Atari, etc). I think perhaps it's because those of us born in the 80s here in the US are just starting to try to figure out how we're going to try to stay afloat in fascist america; finding time to record a hit album is a little tough. Though, truthfully, I'm not sure how much easier Europe's 80s babies have got it.
The song I'm referring to on Tensta's album is called 80s Baby, and while on the surface it appears to be about him being born in the 80s and reping that, there's a darker underside to the song, as throughout the entire album. The fact is, Tensta is a ghetto of Stockholm, not so much a suburb like we think of suburbs here in the states: nice houses that all look the same in perfect rows ending in culdesacs. While 80s babies in America were waking up to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles every saturday morning, Tensta talks about waking up to drug raids. The album makes you want to dance on most songs, giving it an air of neutrality to the problems of society, as dancing is thought by most to be an escape from the pressures of life. Tensta won't let us forget those problems, however; he forces us to remain aware of them, and not by glamorizing them but by addressing the lives they affect, specifically the little kids he mentions consistently throughout the album.
In closing, this album is totally hot, politically aware, and pretty much everything I wish American Hip Hop was moving towards today - minus the boring tracks. Watch the videos, listen to the tracks in my Box widget, maybe even buy it and decide for yourself.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Artist: Ruckus Roboticus
Album: Playing with Scratches
Released: Locally in Ohio on Nov. 10th, 2007; Worldwide on Jan. 8th, 2008
Label: Grease Records
Style: Including, but not limited to, mashups of hip-hop and children's music
Buy From: Amazon, Rucus' Online Store
02. The Birth of Ruckus
03. Baby's First Scratch
04. When I Grow Up
05. Never Play With Scratches
06. How To Handle Grown Ups
07. Intermission (Flee To The Playroom)
08. Here We Go
09. A Child's Introduction to Drums
10. Everlasting Ghettoblasting Gobstopper
11. Taking Turns (Feat. Skratchmatik)
12. Bedtime For Sleepyhead
13. Face The Music
14. The Rebirth of Ruckus
Hailing from Dayton, Ohio, DJ Ruckus Roboticus is mashing up funky, sample-based, hiphop with the likes of Girl Talk and Kid Koala. Drawing primarily from old children's records, this album "tell(s) a semi-autobiographic story, about the birth of a kid, who learns to scratch on his See-N-Say toy, and who has to deal with growing up and facing pressures from the grown-up world."
We begin the album with the needle dropping on track one, the Overture, setting the stage for us with samples of children talking over some funky beats. Moving on to The Birth of Rucus, Roboticus keeps the vibe up while getting us prepared already for the plethora of vintage hiphop and children's samples to come , covering everything from the act of mating to the point of conception, and his subsequent birth.
The real fun begins on Baby's First Scratch. Using a presumably-modified See-N-Say we hear reenactments of baby Ruckus' first electronic explorations, although I doubt baby's real first scratches ever sounded this good! And with this, the album really kicks off. The stage is set, the audience knows what it's in for and obviously hasn't turned off the stereo yet, so Roboticus ages himself a few years for When I Grow Up to give us a taste of his young aspirations of being a superstar drumming idol.
As the title track begins, it's obvious we're dealing with a full-grown, healthy, well-adjusted robot, doing as every good robot should and warning human kind of iminent danger. That is, the very real danger of..playing with scratches! Here's where the Kid Koala references really start hitting home for me. It's obvious this DJ has a lot of raw talent and tons of great ideas, not to mention a genuinely eclectic taste for beat progression, sample placement and funky flow in his songs.
How to Handle Grownups doesn't do much to advance the story of Roboticus, but it is a great concept for a song. And well executed, continuing on the theme of children's records and hiphop samples, scratched to perfection. The record endures like this in excellent taste, though as it continues we hear an increasing ammount of funk and drums taking the forefront of the album, with the scratching and samples taking the backburner momentarily. Until Everlasting Ghettoblasting Gobstopper. At this point the album takes a turn for the BOOM! The track starts off seemingly harmless, with a light xylophone and some drums, pretty catchy no doubt. Then it drops, an entirely unique track halfway through. Here we see Roboticus' aspirations to make big beats for hiphop artists coming into play...sort of =) It's not quite studio clean (obviously, given the vinyl samples), and it's a little crashy for the hippedy hop -towards the end, more notably- but the influence is definately present imo.
Then on the next track it's back to the kids, funk and scratching with a refreshing take on the situation by guest Skratchmatic, appropriately titled Taking Turns. All good things must end, however. Bedtime for Sleepyhead begins the wind down after a wild adventure into the robot playground. And if you shook the sleepy out of your eyses after that one get ready for round two, because Face the Music is sure to put you down for the night. Your last hope is the final track, The Rebirth of Ruckus, which is pretty mellow, but still revives the funky beat of the album, followed by a 3 minute Outro of a sound we're probably all too familiar with: a needle idling over the blank center of a record, though this is edited a little so if you forget to turn off the album by the middle of this 3-minute track you'll get to hear at least a little bit of manipulation, and the album ends with a closing sample.
Well done, I say. Very well done indeed. I'm expecting this to make my Year-End '08 list for sure. Before we close, here's some links to related content.
Impose Magazine Interview
Album: Hustle! Reggae Disco, Kingston London New York
Label: Soul Jazz Records
Released: 2002 (2xVinyl) / Jan. 2003 (CD)
Style: Reggae, Dub, Disco
Buy From: Soul Jazz, Amazon,
1. Blood Sisters - Ring My Bell (Anita Ward)
2. Derrick Laro & Trinity - Don't Stop Till You Get Enough (Michael Jackson)
3. Latisha - I'm Every Woman (Chaka Khan)
4. Black Harmony - Don't Let it Go to Your Head (Jean Carn)
5. Family Choice - Reggae Beat Goes On (The Whispers)
6. Xanadu & Sweet Lady - Rappers Delight (Sugarhill Gang)
7. Carol Cool - Upside Down (Diana Ross)
8. One Blood - Be Thankful for What You Got (William De Vaughn)
This is a fantastic collection of songs. It's all covers of popular American disco/hip hop from the late 70s and early 80s, done by artists in the UK and Jamaica. All of them were released originally as 12" singles (Track 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) around the same time the originals were still topping the charts. Track 5 was released on Union records, and track 7 on Hawkeye records; both went under in the 80s. All these are very rare tracks you could have easily heard on the dance floor in Kingston, London, New York (hence the name) or any other nightclub with a savvy DJ in the early 80s, but you'd probably have a little trouble tracking down a vinyl copy these days. The fact that Soul Jazz has acquired the rights for all of them to compile this album merits them a big Thank You! from me and reggae fans the world over.
So, what all that means is that here we have a bona-fide, vintage, reggae-dub album essentially from 1979, compiled and released in 2002. And the music really shows it too; slow reggae/dub beats, echoes, layered vocals, and all the little reggae 'pow' noises (you know, like in Serge Gainsbourg's Mauvaises Nouvelles Des Etoiles.) Plus the opening to 'Upside Down' sounds like it's straight out of an NES game. You couldn't ask for a better combination of funky, reggae jams with catchy lyrics that you probably already know anyway.
I've only been sitting on this for a few months now and already it's turned into an instant classic. I keep it readily available for the time when I'm done trying to sift through all the stuff I download each day for gems, the time when I just want to hear something familiar that I already know and love. This album, in the short time I've had it, has already achieved that status and I listen to it often, then find myself humming and even singing out loud throughout my day (Reggae beat goes onnnn..just like my love, everlastiiiing) only to get home and turn it on again to get another taste. Needless to say, this little jammer has carved out a permanent home on my iPod's hard disk. If you're into reggae, despite whether you like the original tracks or not, this comes highly recommended.
Oh and for the record, Soul Jazz released an EP for this album in 2002.
Click here for my HubPages review on this album. Includes videos via YouTube, shopping options from eBay and Amazon, and lots more!