Monday, December 31, 2007

Sumthin' Sumthin'

Damn Maxwell is smooth. All three of his discs are solid, although I admit it's been nearly 7 years since Now. Where for art thou, Maxwell?

I really wanted to see him when he played Pittsburgh in 2001. At the time it was more than I was willing to pay, but I felt like a fool immediately afterwards when a classmate mentioned she'd gotten to go (for free no less, on account of her internship). I kick myself to this day.

At any rate, here he is being all smooth and sexy at the Apollo.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Rockin' Little Christmas




I wanted to do a 12-days of Christmas wherein I posted my 12 favorite Christmas videos. Except that I forgot about it until two days ago. Never fear - I still bring some holiday cheer.

This little compilation first came my way back in the mid-1980s. My parents had it on cassette; if I recall, it was one of many miscellaneous recordings acquired when my great uncle died. Whatever the origins, it became a family favorite. A short, but sweet compilation of rockin' Xmas tunes. Some are classics that you'll remember (Brenda Lee, Chuck Berry, Bobby Helms), others are lost classics that have become personal favorites of mine (The Moonglows, The Enchanters). All in all, it's a great little compilation that is sadly out of print. So here it is. Pour out some drinks, exchange some gifts, and blast these xmas tunes. Happy Holidays, all!

V/A - Rockin' Little Christmas

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

M.I.A. = "Paper Planes"

Yes, yes and yes. New video for my favorite (and that of many others from what I hear) track from Kala.

Friday, December 14, 2007

merrry chrimble



Some more holiday cheer for you. As I've said before, I'm pretty selective about the Christmas music that I like. For those of you that know me, it should pretty much go without saying that The Beatles' Christmas releases are on my short list.

From 1963-1969, The Beatles sent out an annual Christmas 7" to members of their fanclub on both sides of the pond. Due to their rarity, they are highly collectible today. Apple put together a compilation of these releases in 1971, yet curiously, it hasn't been issued since, nor has it ever officially made it to cd. That being the case, I have sought after these recordings for some time, having heard only "Christmas Time (Is Here Again)," issued as the b-side to the Anthology single, "Free as a Bird."

One can only guess that it's a matter of time before the Christmas recordings get the reissue treatment, given that any Beatle release continues to generate a lot of buzz (think BBC Sessions, Anthology, 1, Let it Be...Naked, Love, etc.). Until then, we have the bootleggers to thank for keeping them in circulation. This release collects all of the releases as well as a few outtakes. They're highly entertaining - a good disc to pop into the car for that holiday drive.

The Beatles-Complete Christmas Recordings

Cheers, kiddies.

Sheena Easton - Sugar Walls

One of my favorite Prince-penned tracks that I've been spinning a lot this week. Super hot. The video however, leaves much to be desired. There's pretty much nothing about Sheena Easton here that I can construe as the least bit sexy or seductive.

Note Bruce Hornsby (sans Range) on keyboards.

Monday, December 10, 2007

2007 mix

Well friends, here we are, nearing the end of another year, gearing up for the holidays, and trying to make it through the end of the semester alive. Due to the positive response I received from last year’s mix, I’ve decided to indefinitely make this an annual project. Sure there are selfish motivations (forcing myself to stay up on current music), but I do enjoy compiling and sharing music with you all.

I started 2007 knowing that I was going to compile an end of the year mix, whereas last year’s was somewhat of a last minute decision. That being the case, I’ve had my ears open extra wide this year, and I’ve heard a lot. A lot of crap, but a lot of great music as well. Two factors result: first, this year’s mix is much more varied (I think) in genre and style than last year’s. So if you run into a track or two that don’t toot your horn, bear with me – there should be something for everybody here. Secondly, I had an overabundance of music to choose from. When I pulled together all of the potential candidates, I had over five hours of music. Granted, that included multiple songs from the same artists. Nevertheless, the whittling process was difficult. I will also admit that once I was satisfied with this selection of 22 tracks, I was something like 30 seconds over CDR capacity. So I went in to almost every track and shaved off a few seconds just so that I could cram it all onto one cd. I really couldn’t cut another track without throwing off the flow of the entire mix. So this mix clocks in at just under 80 minutes. Filled to the brim.

Alright, enough with the prefatory remarks. Ladies and gents, I give you:

Let the Champagne Splash: 2007 in Review



1. The Good, the Bad & the Queen -History Song
The Good, The Bad, & The Queen (Virgin)


A seemingly unlikely, yet wholly welcome supergroup. Throughout the year, the more that I learned about this project, the more interested I became. It was first described to me as a collaboration between Blur frontman Damon Albarn and Clash bassist Paul Simonon. Later I discovered that Tony Allen (formerly of Fela Kuti and Africa 70) was behind the drumkit, and The Verve’s Simon Tong was on guitar. And when I finally bought the damn record, I was pleasantly surprised to note that Danger Mouse was producing. All of this adds up to an incredibly enjoyable, if extremely moody musical excursion. This track is the album’s opener, and a suitable opener for this compilation as well. I find it a haunting ditty, to say the least.

The Good, The Bad & the Queen (official site)




2. Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs - Time To Go
You Can’t Buy a Gun When You’re Crying (Damaged Goods)


I won’t claim that I’ve followed Holly Golightly’s career with any depth. A few songs here and there, but admittedly she was only represented in my collection by her contribution to The White Stripes’ Elephant album. First of all, I think that You Can’t Buy a Gun When You’re Crying might get the Gonzo award for best album title of the year. Secondly, the whole album has this sort of American west twang vibe that suits Golightly’s voice incredibly well. I also applaud the use of train whistles to augment the lyrics.

Holly Golightly (official site)
Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs (MySpace)




3. Iron & Wine - Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog) The Shepherd’s Dog (SubPop)

I first came to Iron & Wine witih 2005’s Woman King EP. I fell in love with that disc, and this year’s full length, The Shepherd’s Dog is equally impressive. One of the things that I love about their music is that it’s rather subdued, yet fairly complex at the same time. This track is a suitable example. The layered vocals, the intricate rhythms of the percussion and guitar playing, the way organ, harmonica and supplementary percussion seem to float in and out of the song. I’m reminded that I need to check out the rest of their catalog.

Iron & Wine (official site)
Iron & Wine (MySpace)




4. Battles - Atlas
Mirrored (Warp)


An early contender for album of the year for me, Battles first full length Mirrored came by way of recommendation from a friend. Upon first listen, I was pretty much blown away. I’ve tried to describe their sound to other people, but have failed miserably in doing so. I think that may be the marker of a great band. They’re on Warp, but they aren’t quite an electronic act. They’re often described as following in the tradition of math rock, but I’ve never been to keen on that genre, and I don’t quite think it fits Battles. At any rate, I got to catch them live over the summer, and it was one of the best shows that I’ve seen in a long time. On record and on stage, Battles seamlessly integrates live instrumentation and electronic gadgetry. More impressive is that on stage, all of the samples they use are recorded live on the spot. When they broke into this track live, the capacity-packed Picador all began jumping in unison which was at once an awesome and also frightening feeling. I feared for the strength of the second story floor.

Battles (MySpace)




5. The Dollyrots - Because I'm Awesome Because I’m Awesome (Blackheart)

My first encounter with this LA outfit was when James and I saw them open for the Gore Gore Girls in May. Opening acts are always a mixed bag. But if I see a band having not heard them and walk out with their cd, they’ve clearly done something right. Some folks might complain that The Dollyrots are “too poppy,” and that’s an understandable criticism. But that’s also what I love about them – they unabashedly embrace their poppiness. I can see this being big amongst high school kids. This track was also used in a Kohl’s commercial. Do I care? Negative. While this is my favorite track on the album, it is also indicative of the rest of the disc. Just good poppy rockin’ fun. No shame my friends, I have no shame.

The Dollyrots (official site)
The Dollyrots (MySpace)




6. Spoon - The Underdog
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)


I have to admit two things: 1) The only other Spoon album I’m familiar with is 2002’s Kill the Moonlight. 2) I liked Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga well enough the first time around, but it took a second listen to really get into it. That said, it’s become one of my favorite albums of the year. In the Spoon material I knew previously, I was drawn to Britt Daniel’s well projected raspy voice and the band’s knack for melody. Both of these elements are all over Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. I also commend the band for making an album that clocks in at 36 minutes. In the age of gratuitous 70 minute albums, there’s something to be said for brevity. As for my song selection, it was between this and two other tracks. This won out partially because it fit into the larger mix better, but also because it might be my favorite on the album. In addition a jumpy rhythm, I love the brass hook, not to mention the jangly tambourine. Further, I dig the sentiment – “You got no fear of the underdog / that’s why you will not survive.” Implied message: don’t get cocky – watch your back, slick.

Spoon (official site)
Spoon (MySpace)




7. Gore Gore Girls - All Grown Up
Get the Gore (Bloodshot)


I’ve been following the Gore Gore Girls for a few years now. I think I first heard them on Little Steven’s Underground Garage around the time that Up All Night was released. A friend once described them (and I think accurately) as the perfect combination of 1960s girl group sensibility and Detroit muscle. I also place them in the tradition of the New York Dolls, but more so for their attitude than their musical similarities. Get the Gore was highly anticipated for me, and it certainly met expectations. In fact, I’ll venture to say that each Gore Gore Girls LP improves upon the last in terms of songwriting and production value. This song had been on their website for a year or so before the album came out, and it remains a favorite.

Gore Gore Girls (official site)
Gore Gore Girls (MySpace)




8. The Raveonettes - You Want The Candy Lust (Sony)

I wasn’t even aware that The Raveonettes were recording, so it was a pleasant surprise to get the news over the summer. This actually hasn’t hit Stateside yet, but don’t’ go ordering from Amazon.co.uk just yet – the US version will have bonus tracks for once. I’ve loved all of their work up to this point. They channel garage and girl group elements, and love the wall of sound. Lust is highly enjoyable, and presents another serving of the patented Ravonettes sound. My only complaint is that it doesn’t take the group into new territory. Each of their three releases to date have been distinctly their style, yet different enough to keep it interesting. Lust is great – I just hope that they don’t enter into a stylistic rut.

The Raveonettes (official site)
The Raveonettes (MySpace)




9. Candie Payne - By Tomorrow
I Wish I Could Have Loved You More (Deltasonic)


Liverpudlian Candie Payne’s debut album is undeniably retro in its feel. Yet while some tracks boast the production work of Mark Ronson (of Amy Winehouse fame), Candie Payne harkens back more to mid-‘60s swinging London rather than Winehouse’s take on American r&b of the same decade. The result is a highly enjoyable romp that makes one desirous for the days of go-go dancing. Initially, I’d slated the title track, an ominous, mid-tempo, minor key interpersonal lament. But instead, I went with this hyperactive foot stomper, at least in part due to the irresistible horn line.

Candie Payne (Official Site)
Candie Payne (MySpace)




10. The Budos Band - Budos Rising
II (Daptone)


This twelve-piece outfit from New York City comes to us from the Daptone label, home of such other soul revivalists as the Dap Kings and the Mighty Imperials. I actually remember going to a Daptone showcase at CMJ in 2002, although I don’t believe the Budos Band were on the lineup. Nevertheless, they are fairly representative of the label’s sound, while of course maintaining their own character as well. The second album is a 38-minute instrumental excursion that melds urban funk and soul with elements that invoke the American desert. I can’t explain it. Maybe I’ve just fallen victim to the album’s cover art. Either way, the album is solid – well worth checking out.

The Budos Band (Official Site)
The Budos Band (MySpace)




11. New Young Pony Club - Grey
Fantastic Playroom (Modular Interscope)


Somewhere between indie pop and electro, there is the New Young Pony Club. Fantastic Playroom has generated a decent amount of buzz in the blogosphere, although sources indicate that the band has been releasing singles in the UK (many of which appear on FP) for the last two years. Regardless, the album doesn’t sound “so 2005.” It might sound a little 2001, but I’m okay with that. The album includes a number of strong tracks in this dance-rock vein that are catchy as hell. Furthermore, they apparently have the seal of approval from David Bowie (so says Allmusic.com), so that automatically ups the ante.

New Young Pony Club (Official Site)
New Young Pony Club (MySpace)




12. Kylie Minogue - 2 Hearts
X (EMI)


I tend to be a little bit behind the curve, so I’m only now getting into Kylie Minogue. Listening to her more recent albums, I’m baffled as to why her cover of “The Locomotion” was the only song to break in the American market, while she’s dominated the UK and Aussie charts for two decades. At any rate, one of the things that propelled me to explore her catalog a bit more was the video for "2 Hearts." Not only is the video smokin’ hot, but the song’s style was totally unexpected. Sure, one could argue (fairly accurately) that it’s pretty Goldfrappy (my new favorite adjective), but it’s done well. I also love the circus tent burlesque motif of the video. It’s good to see that she isn’t limiting herself strictly to slickly produced dance club pop (which I support anyway, but I’m just sayin’).

Kylie Minogue (Official Site)
Kylie Minogue (MySpace)




13. Blow Up - Everyman Everywoman
Yes, I’m a Witch (Astralwerks)


Alright – you know I love her. When I first heard that there would be a new Yoko album this year, I was immediately psyched. I’ll admit that when I heard it wouldn’t really be a ‘new Yoko album,’ I was a little disappointed. Then I saw the contributing artists, and then Yes, I’m a Witch began generating an incredible amount of buzz in the music press and online. It would be inaccurate to call Yes, I’m a Witch a remix album, nor is it an album of artists covering her work. Rather, it featured a slew of contemporary artists constructing new music around Ono’s vocal tracks. The results are both interesting and impressive. As a side note, this album led to a seminar paper that will hopefully be presented at IASPM 2008, but that’s another story altogether. There were a number of tracks I could have included. I went with The Blow Up’s take on “Everyman/Everywoman.” When the song was originally remixed in 2004, DJs cut up Ono’s lyrics to transform the song into an anthem for gay rights/gay marriage. Blow Up runs with this reworking, but puts it into this amalgam of surf/spy guitars backed by a house beat. I’m totally down with that. In addition, Yes, I’m a Witch and the companion Open Your Box (a compilation of remixes initially released 2001-2007) have given me fantasies of a Yoko Ono dance party. Sadly, I feel like I might be the only one that would show up. Iowa City just isn’t the cultural climate for such things.

Yoko Ono (MySpace)




14. Dizzee Rascal - Bubbles
Maths and English (XL)


I can’t explain it, but there’s something about the sound of a British accent rapping that I find aurally interesting. Dizzee Rascal’s third offering continues his off kilter brand of hip hop. This was staple in my car and discman during the early portion of the summer. So much so that I think I’ve almost reached a saturation point with the album. Alas. Having been released months before Common’s Finding Forever (see below), I was unsure how Dizzee’s collaboration with Lily Allen would come off. Surprisingly, it works. Unsurprisingly, the song (“Wanna Be”) is well suited for the character identity Allen established for herself on last year’s Alright, Still. “Bubbles” is definitely the highlight of the album for me – the beat, the groove, and the lyrics that seem to mock American top 40 rap culture. Sold.

Dizzee Rascal (Official Site)
Dizzee Rascal (MySpace)




15. Gameboy/Gamegirl - Sweaty Wet/Dirty Damp
(independent)


I don’t even know how I came across this group. I think it was via
Off the Record
. Regardless, this Australian dance outfit clearly doesn’t take itself very seriously (or at all), which is something I can appreciate. To my knowledge, they haven’t actually released anything yet, but they have a selection of tunes on their Myspace page that are generally a good time. This is byfar my favorite. For a spell this summer I listened to it nearly daily when I came home from running when I was literally sweaty wet and dirty damp. I’m pretty sure they’re talking about something else here though. Also, “wamp-wamp?”

Gameboy/Gamegirl (MySpace)




16. Client - Drive
Heartland (Metropolis)


When I came across Client on the RegnYouth blog, the description led me to anticipate something akin to Kraftwerk. That’s not quite what their second album offers, but it is certainly well steeped in late 1970s/early 1980s electronic music. In addition to echoes of synth-pop past, other tracks on the album present a more broadly new wave vibe, wherein the duo gets a bit rockier on tracks such as “Lights Go Out,” “Xerox Machine.” These tracks were under consideration for the mix, but “Drive” won out, mainly for the lyrics and vibe. It puts me in mind of those late nights on I-80 making the trek from Iowa City to Pittsburgh.

Client (Official Site)
Client (MySpace)



17. M.I.A. - Paper Planes
Kala (Interscope)


Kala was one of my most anticipated releases of the year. Last year I was hipped to M.I.A.’s debut Arular, which instantly became a fixture in my discman for the summer of 2006. The follow up from the London-born Sri Lankan raised in India (!) doesn’t fail to disappoint. Upon first listen, I immediately felt that there was something different about Kala from it’s predecessor. Not just song structure, but something fundamental that I couldn’t put my finger on. Hemani then made the astute observation that Arular relied more heavily on electronic drums, whereas Kala makes greater use of what I’ll call organic percussion, for lack of a better term (of course, "Paper Planes" doesn't illustrate that fact, but I digress). In addition, M.I.A. has maintained much of the character of Arular while not repeating herself – a key factor in a successful sophomore album. This song stands out for a number of reasons. First, it appropriates “Straight to Hell,” potentially my favorite Clash song. Secondly, a number of people have commented (and I agree) on the jarring effect of the gun cocks and shots (CBS even censored the shots when she played Letterman). This is interesting given the prevalence of such sounds and imagery in gangsta rap for nearly twenty years (egads...). Says M.I.A. on that point: "I was going to get patties at my local and just thinking that really the worst thing that anyone can say is some shit like: 'What I wanna do is come and get your money.' People don’t really feel like immigrants or refugees contribute to culture in any way. That they’re just leeches that suck from whatever. So in the song I say All I wanna do is [sound of gun shooting and reloading, cash register opening] and take your money. I did it in sound effects. It’s up to you how you want to interpret. America is so obsessed with money, I’m sure they’ll get it." Kala is solid from start to finish, and if pushed to make such a call, it might top my list of 2007 releases. Now if I only had better luck with seeing her live.

M.I.A. (Official Site - do not click if prone to seizure)
M.I.A. (MySpace)




18. Common - The People
Finding Forever (Universal)


With Common, we have another example of me being behind the curve. I’ve been familiar with Common for some time, but had never explored his work too deeply until early this summer when I finally picked up Be. On the strength of that album, I bought Finding Forever shortly after it came out (the same day that I purchased the M.I.A. disc, actually). There are certainly no disappointments here for me. Only knowing his two most recent albums, my base of comparison is limited. However, I can say that Finding Forever continues in the same vein as Be in terms of style and class. It’s simply a solid hip hop record, one that has the gumption to sample Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” I’m also taken by the collaboration with Lily Allen, “Drivin’ Me Wild.” While I love her, Allen’s contribution to that track finally sees her stepping out of her cheekiness, and to great effect. “For the People” is simply a strong track, the first single, and one that I suggest would make a great campaign song for fellow his fellow Illinoian. Oh, and Common’s daughter found Nemo.

Common (Official Site)
Common (MySpace)




19. Aceyalone – Lightning Strikes
Lightning Strikes (Deacon)


This little nugget came to my attention thanks to Pete over at IckMusic. This was the first I’d heard of Aceyalone, though he’s been making solo discs since 1995. As such, I have no idea how representative Lightning Strikes might be of his back catalog. However, if the 2007 release is any indication, I should go back and explore his work. Throughout the disc, Aceyalone makes use of beats and musical backdrops that are more dance hall than hip hop, leading to an end product that is a rather refreshing stylistic hybridization. The album also features a track with Chali 2na, formerly of Jurassic 5. Admittedly, that collaboration is better than anything J5 had put out since 2000.

Aceyalone (Official Site)
Aceyalone (MySpace)




20. Justice - D.A.N.C.E.
(Downtown/Ed Banger)


Justice was first billed to me as something to check out if you miss “good Daft Punk.” As someone who was fairly disappointed in the last Daft Punk LP, I was intrigued. While I liked the album when I first heard it, it wasn’t until I saw the 'performance' of "D.A.N.C.E." on Jimmy Kimmel that I was totally hooked. The song then became a bit of an obsession, although the whole album does in fact recall classic Daft Punk. And they’re French, go figure. It’s a solid dance record. Said Justice about this song: “It’s a defence of Michael Jackson and it’s not ironic at all.”

Justice (MySpace)




21. Chromeo - Bonafied Lovin’
Fancy Footwork (Vice)


One of the things that’s nice about being a music geek and interacting with undergraduates is that occasionally you’ll get hipped to something new and exciting. Knowing my penchant for dance and funk music, a student of mine recommended Chromeo, and this song in particular. I checked them out on MySpace and was sold immediately. They definitely get the award for best use of the Minneapolis Sound in 2007. The whole album follows this vein and it’s a funky romp from start to finish. Aside from the crisp production, this could easily pass for a 1984 release. This puts me in mind of a colleague’s response to last year’s mix: “I’m amazed that you found so many songs in 2006 that sounded like Prince.” Go figure. Lastly, it is well worth checking out Chromeo's videos on YouTube. As with Gameboy/Gamegirl, I’m pleased that these guys refuse to take themselves seriously.

Chromeo (Official Site)
Chromeo (MySpace)





22. White Stripes - Effect And Cause
Icky Thump (Warner Bros.)


And here’s your coda after that little dance party.
Jack White is a busy bee. Here’s the math:

1999: self titled White Stripes' album
2000: White Stripes' De Stijl album
2001: White Stripes' White Blood Cells album
2003: White Stripes' Elephant album
2004: produces Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose
2005: White Stripes' Get Behind Me Satan album
2006: Raconteurs album
2007: White Stripes' Icky Thump album

And allegedly there’s a second Raconteurs album in the works. Is this cat going to release something every year? I’m okay with that – he has yet to fail in my eyes. I was a bit apprehensive about this album. I’ve loved every White Stripes disc thus far, and they seem only to get better with each album. 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan was undoubtedly my favorite, and I was concerned that album was the high water mark, and that the band would diminish in creativity and intrigue. I’m happy to report that isn’t the case. I will say that Icky Thump doesn’t reach the heights of Get Behind Me Satan, but it’s still a pretty damn good album. Like it’s predecessor, it does cover a decent amount of stylistic ground, which I generally appreciate. I went with this song for its simplicity and sentiment. I also like it when Jack White whips out the acoustic for a boot-tappin’ number. I almost put the half-skit/half-song “Rag and Bone” on here instead (which has yet to lose its novelty on me), but alas. “Effect and Cause” is a suitable ending, and this is the tune with which I leave you in 2007.

The White Stripes (Official Site)
The White Stripes (MySpace)




Honorable Mentions:

There was simply a bounty of good music this year, so cuts had to be made. There were a few minor criteria used in selection. I did after all have over 5 hours of music in my initially compiled list. First, I excluded anything that may have had a 2007 release in the States, but was initially released elsewhere in 2006 (Amy Winehouse, The Noisettes). Second, I cut covers (Erin McKeown, The Bad Plus, Ryan Shaw, Detroit Cobras). Other than that, it simply came down to what worked best in conjunction with the rest of the mix. Thus, these releases are all worthy of your time, despite not making the final lineup.

Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass (Def Jux)
Amina – Kurr (Ever)
The Bad Plus - PROG (Heads Up)
Bird and the Bee – Please Clap Your Hands (Blue Note)
[Includes an amazing cover of the Bee Gees’ “How Deep is Your Love” that will melt your heart.]
Black Moth Super Rainbow – Dandelion Gum (Graveface)
[Small note here. I’d first heard of Black Moth Super Rainbow early in the year, perhaps on Pitchfork, and thought to myself, “Well that’s an interesting name for a band.” I left it at that. Fast forward to this summer. A high school friend of mine asked if I’d heard Black Moth Super Rainbow. I relayed that I knew the name, but hadn’t heard the music. Turns out, I went to high school with these guys. Small world! The album is worth checking out – pretty damn trippy.]
Black Francis – Bluefinger (Cooking Vinyl)
[ Return to form (finally).]
Detroit Cobras – Tied and True (Bloodshot)
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone)
Keren Ann – Keren Ann (Metro Blue)
Eleni Mandell – The Miracle of Five (Zedtone)
Erin McKeown – Sing You Sinners (Nettwerk)
Thurston Moore – Trees Outside the Academy (Ecstatic Peace)
The Noisettes – What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf? (Vertigo/Universal)
Ryan Shaw – This is Ryan Shaw (Columbia)
Bruce Springsteen – Magic (Columbia)
Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (Republic)
John Zorn – Six Litanies for Heliogabalus (Tzadik)




Dissapointments:

Duran Duran – Red Carpet Massacre (Epic)

Granted, I wouldn’t expect much from a Duran Duran album at this point. But I was kind of amped when I saw that Timbaland was producing. The result is predictable – good production, subpar music and lyrics.

The Stooges – The Weirdness (Virgin)

There isn’t much to add to my initial reactions upon purchasing this album. I believe that this was the first 2007 release that I purchased, and one of the worst. Not *the* worst however. Sadly, that honor is reserved for another one of my top ten artists of all time.

Prince – Planet Earth

Again, I don’t have anything to add to my initial comments. Giving the album another spin while reflecting on the year’s releases, I feel exactly the same about this album. That is, disappointed. Fortunately, I don’t have to completely write Prince off for 2007, as the First Ave. show was certainly a highlight of my concert-going experiences.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

two blogs to check out

Hi folks! While you're waiting for my next post, check out the blogroll.

Two new additions:

First, there's Digital Meltdown. A wide variety of posts here - some great garage and funk comps, (Ok - LOTS of great garage comps) and a great post on the new Ladytron record.

Second, we have LOUD.ROBOT, a blog that focuses on well informed reviews, covering quite a bit of genre ground already, though it only started up this week.

Check 'em out!

I'm busy with end of the semester business, but I will have a year-in-review post soon, as well as some other tricks that are up my sleeve.

In the meantime, Snoop and Nate Dogg reinterpret a James Brown holiday favorite:

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Xmess




Every year they seem to cart out the Christmas decorations a bit earlier. It used to be that Christmas in July was a novel joke, but we're coming ever closer to extending the holiday hubbub that far in advance. Most respectable members of consumer culture hold off until after Thanksgiving. Me? I wait until December 1st. It seems fair. Let November have it's own holiday, let's not get caught up in the madness just as soon as we've loosened our belt buckles. Sure, I've done some shopping (online) in recent weeks, but that's the extent of it.

Part of my reason for waiting is the music. There is a seemingly infinite amount of Christmas music out there. And I enjoy roughly 7% of it. So it's also important for me to not wear out the novelty of those songs by listening to them for a month straight. In college I compiled a Christmas mix, and last year I went for a second round. For you, dear readers, I present the best of those volumes. Tracklist in comments. Enjoy!

Gonzo's Xmas Mix

livin' swell.



I like that LL apparently keeps his Kangol on in the bedroom.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Jackson Five to Reunite


So the story has been picked up pretty widely in the music press - according to Jermaine Jackson in a recent BBC interview, the Jackson Five, including Michael, are planning to tour in 2008.

Who knows if this will actually happen. They've been talking about it for the last twenty years. The rumor seems to surface every 5-7 years, most recently in 2001. Now, 20 years ago, this would have been a pop cultural dream come true. But in 2007, the question is 'Does anybody really care?'

I've already lost faith in MJ's performance abilities. Yes, I love Motown, yes I love the Jackson Five, and yes I love MJ (to a point). But I have little desire to pay through the nose for tickets to see what I imagine will be a caricature of J5. I could be wrong. It could be the tour of the decade. But I think that's pretty much a long shot.

Of course, this clip from a few years ago is decent, but I'm putting my money on lip synching here:



At any rate, here's an interesting moment: J5 covering Sly on Sullivan:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Verve - Bittersweet Symphony

I liked this song when it came out, but it's one that I've grown to love as the years pass. I like a lot of different music for a lot of different reasons, but rarely will I come out and proclaim that a song is 'perfect.' This is one of them.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Friday Funk



A couple of years ago I was record shopping with a funk afficianado I knew from college. Amongst other things, he suggested that I give this 1979 disc from Ohio-based Slave a spin. I'd never heard of Slave before, but I do like the funk. The title track, "Just a Touch of Love" was enough to sell me on the album. The whole album is great, and has become one of my favorite funk albums in my collection. I was pleased as punch to be able to put "Just as Touch of Love" on a dance mix for a party recently.

I subsequently explored Slave's catalog a bit deeper. I'm pleased to report that their first two discs (Slave and The Hardness of the World are also excellent. The only other one I've heard was 1980's Stone Jam, which I was not very taken by. Still, here's a great funk outfit that perhaps doesn't get the amount of credibility that it truly deserves. So give this one some play, and enjoy the weekend.

(link expired)

And here's a lip-synched TV performance of the title song. Love those threads!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

"Shock the Monkey"



A song that I never get tired of. Today's discman (yes, still holding on to that) accompaniment was PG's third and fourth albums, a perfect pairing. While the third (aka 'melting') is my favorite of his ouvre, I ended up listening to "Shock the Monkey" 3 or 4 times in a row when I had the security album spinning. I've always wanted to play this at a dance party. An odd choice, but I think it would work under the right circumstances.

----
Exams are over (although I'm waiting on the results) - blogging should be back to a more regular schedule now. I'll try, anyway. I have at least one more post in my head for the very near future.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Justice - "D.A.N.C.E." 'live' on Jimmy Kimmel

Lola F. hipped me to this little nugget over at her blog ephemera. I don't mean to steal her thunder, but I've watched this three times over the last day or so - it's worth sharing/reposting. I admit that when I first heard the Justice album I was pretty indifferent about it. But after watching this I gave it another go, and I'm grooving to it. This song should be played at every house party for the rest of the year.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tony! Toni! Tone!

For reasons that I cannot explain, this song has literally been in my head for weeks. Why? Until tracking down the youtube clip, I don't think I'd heard it since it was out. I don't know.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Radio Mix



It's been a while since I shared any of my mixes with you all, but rest assured, I've been making them (see my archive at Art of the Mix if you're interested). Anyhow, I'm here to share the latest.

This mix has been in my head for at least three years, potentially longer. But three years ago was when I was motivated enough to start keeping a list of radio songs. This is at least partially due to a professor whom I was TA-ing for at the time, who had a knack for finding songs about communication and media (and he's also aresponsible for a few of the final inclusions). Anyhow, this mix was always on the backburner. Recently I decided to finally move on it.

I asked around for suggestions. Due to the suggestions I received, I feel the need to justify my inclusions and exclusions.

First, the exclusions.

There are a surprising number of songs in popular music that are about or are somehow related to radio. One of the ways that I narrowed this down was to include only songs that were explicitly about radio. Thus, I cut songs about radio-as-relationship-metaphor (Joni's "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio"), love fostered via radio (Donna Summer's "On the Radio"), identity formed through rock and roll music on the radio (VU's "Rock and Roll") etc. There is one possible exception to this rule, which I will note in my annotated tracklist. So simply mentioning radio "Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl," Chuck Berry's "No Particular Place To Go," etc.) was not enough. I wanted radio to be the topic of the song, not merely a backdrop or a bit player. Interestingly, this forced me to really pay attention to lyrics, and I made some new discoveries in my understandings of some of these songs.

So, at least three years in the making, I give you my latest mix, Radio - Someone Still Loves You


1. Peter Gabriel - "On the Air"

Somehow this song didn't come to mind until a few nights ago, when I put on Peter Gabriel's second album (admittedly not my favorite). While the song played, I read the lyrics and was pleasantly shocked. It's not only a song about amateur (potentially pirate; he does after all, broadcast from a shack in the woods) broadcasting, but about ham radio as a substitute for human relationships ("Oh it's not easy / No it's not easy / Making real friends"). And clearly this is an appropriate opener.

2. Steely Dan - "FM"

Despite my love of their music, this may be the first time I've ever put Steely Dan on a mix. What I like about this song is its praise of the Frequency Modulation band: "No static at all!" Sure, I doubt Fagen et. al. were rebelling against AM, but isn't it just like a geeky jazz-rock band in the 1970s to champion FM?

3. Ramones - "We Want the Airwaves"

The only band to appear twice on the mix. This is a practice that I generally try to avoid, but the Ramones have two excellent songs about radio, so I had no choice. Interestingly, there is a political tension between their two radio songs. This one is clearly on the activist end, effectively a rallying cry for pirates and LPFM advocates. Songs about citizens taking over radio get a special nod in my book.

4. LL Cool J - "I Can't Live Without my Radio"

A classic. However, I'm concerned that at times, Cool James appears to be talking more about a boombox/tape deck than the medium of radio ("I'm lookin' at the wires behind the cassette / And now I'm on the right, standing on the eject" and "Get fresh batteries if it won't rewind"). Yet his choice of terminology is 'radio,' so it's included. In reality, this song appears to be more about the virtues of his box than anything else - male technological braggadocio.

5. Queen - "Radio Ga Ga"

In compiling this mix, I was a bit surprised by the amount of songs that qualify as laments for the medium, even in the 1970s/1980s (and along with that, the romanticization of the medium - so many of these songs reference listening to the radio in bed as a teen). "Radio Ga Ga" is an unabashed love song about the medium, delivered with classic Freddie Mercury panache. Furthermore, Susan Douglas lifted from the song in her introduction to Listening In: "You had your time, you had the power / You've yet to have your finest hour." One can only hope that it's true!

6. Starship - "We Built This City"

Another first - I have never put Starship on a mix before, and for good reason. Come on, what was once Jefferson Airplane was but a joke by its 1980s permutation. However, the lyrics of the song struck me - they're about the deregulation of broadcasting! This might sound like a stretch, but let's take a look at the lyrics. Not only does Marconi play the mamba (via Morse code on the wireless, no doubt), but "Someone always playing corporation games / Who cares theyre always changing corporation names." I think those lines are pretty clear, yeah? So let's look beneath the veneer of Starship's aesthetic cheese and look at the lyrics. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't vouch for the group, but the lyrics are fairly potent, particularly as they're pre-Telecommunications Act of 1996.

7. The Buggles - "Video Killed the Radio Star"

Another lament. Interestingly, this song has become canonized as the theme of the MTV era, yet it's pretty clear that the song is much more about radio than video. Also interesting is that the song was actually released in 1979, two years before MTV exploded on cable. It was only a few years ago that I realized how much despair is actually contained in the lyrics. These is true of each verse stanza, but particularly in the lines, "And now we meet in an abandoned studio / We hear the playback and it seems so long ago / And you remember the jingles used to go." Maybe its just me, but this always conjures images of an abandoned radio studio reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic environment - dimly lit, dusty, cobwebs, the equipment barely works, yet it works just enough for the aging radio folk to sit and reminisce about a time when the visual had less dominance, and radio reigned.

8. Everclear - "AM Radio"

Here's one that was hipped to me by a colleague. I've never felt strongly about Everclear one way or the other, but this is a great radio song, as, in contrast to the Steely Dan track, opts to romanticize the era when Amplitude Modulation reigned as the dominant source of radio broadcasting. That alone makes it interesting. I also appreciate the quip "You'd have to wait, but you could hear it on the AM radio." Those of us that spent our childhood and adolescent years listening to radio with cassette recorders at the ready can surely sympathize with such a line. I often wish that I'd held on to those many tapes of songs I taped off of the radio - they'd be a trip to listen to now. Alas.

9. Wall of Voodoo - "Mexican Radio"

When paying close attention to the lyrics of many of these songs, I'm shocked at how well represented radio history is in popular music. Here we have an ode to border radio! Amazing.

10. Ramones - "Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio"

The second great Ramones track about radio. This one is probably my favorite. Again, we have the imagery of a teenager listening to rock and roll radio in bed. The general vibe of the song is great (love that sax line), and I've identified with the lines "We need change and we need and we need it fast / Before rock's just part of the past / 'Cause lately it all sounds the same to me" for some time. Maybe I'm just getting old. At any rate, you have to love all of the name dropping of disc jockeys and rock stars here as well. Not to mention the Phil Spector production.


11. Elvis Costello - "Radio Radio"

I would be remiss were I not to include this classic, potentially the most obvious yet most loved of radio songs. Again, I'm struck that the sentiment regarding radio in rock lyrics even in the mid-late 1970s spoke against commercialism and homogenization. More than that, Elvis is totally making a culture industry argument: "Radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools tryin' to anesthetize the way that you feel." You'd better listen!

12. The Clash - "This is Radio Clash"

Three cheers for songs about pirate radio! "Capital Radio" was also in the running, but the content and delivery of "Radio Clash" was to good to resist. This is another one to be filed under revolutionary radio - "Orbiting your living room / Cashing in the bill of rights." Indeed - in addition to the British pirates of the '60s, weren't Dunifer, Kantako et. al. cashing in the bill of rights in the microradio movement?

13. The Replacements - "Left of the Dial"

This is the one song that could be considered an exception to my rule that the songs had to be about radio. But "Left of the Dial" holds a very special place in my heart for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it was the last song I played as DJ at WPTS. In reconsideration, I guess it is a song *about* radio - after all, the narrator knows where to find the other party - the noncommercial portion of the FM band. But there's clearly a non-radio narrative here too. Sue me. Plus, how many songs are about college radio?

14. REM - "Radio Free Europe"

Again, I'm amazed at how well represented radio history is in popular music. Here we have a little ditty about a US CIA operated clandestine station (really a coalition of stations) formed with the mission of spreading democracy and dismantling communism via broadcast propaganda. Take that Red Scare! The organization is also behind a more recent clandestine effort, Radio Free Afghanistan.

15. John Hartford - "Turn Your Radio On"

Here's one that I was unfamiliar with until recently. Of course, I found out via an excellent radio-themed edition of Bob Dylan's Sirius show that this version is actually cover. Alas, the mix was already made. It's true to the original at any rate. I love the idea of radio as a means of communication with a higher power. I feel like there were similar uses of the telephone in popular culture, but no specific examples come to mind at the moment.

16. Neil Young - "Payola Blues"

This one requires little explanation. Sure it's somewhat tongue-in-cheek ("cash-a-wad-a-wad-a"), but Neil Young's dedication to Alan Freed "wherever you are" adds a romantic/nostalgic element to the song. And once again, the song is still relevant today, given the covert forms of payola currently in practice.

17. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - "Radio Nowhere"

Almost immediately after Springsteen offered this track as a free download on iTunes, fans began labeling it "'57 Channels and Nothin' On' for radio." An accurate assessment, but I think "Radio Nowhere" has a greater urgency, lacking the humor of "57 Channels." I feel ya, Boss. Sure the lyrics aren't particularly poetic, and the music is fairly standard (in fact, it's the same chord progression as the Joan Osborne hit "One of Us"), but the spirit of the song hits home, and is delivered flawlessly. I'm curious as to whether this song has charted at all on airplay charts.

18. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - "The Last DJ"

Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that a number of songs chronicle radio's downfall amidst deregulation, but I am a little shocked/pleased that folks like Springsteen and Petty, once radio staples and still on major labels, bluntly criticize the state of the medium in song. As I recall, Petty was also in some hot water from his record company in the mid 1990s for posting a then-new album on his website for download. I guess he really was 'born a rebel' (hey hey hey).

19. Rush - "The Spirit of Radio"

Closing us out is a song that I guess I never paid much attention to lyrically, for I took it as a celebration. In fact, we have another lament. Starting off with a romantic verse about waking to "a friendly voice," the song's chorus ends up making a culture industry argument of sorts:
"One likes to believe in the freedom of music / But glittering prizes and endless compromises / Shatter the illusion of integrity" and the coda: "For the words of the prophets [profits?] were written on the studio wall / Concert hall / And echoes with the sounds of salesmen." I guess the CBC isn't all it's cracked up to be.

----
So there you have it. I'm glad I finally got this mix out of my system. It was a much more interesting experiment than I anticipated, primarily due to the various facets of radio history articulated in these songs. Maybe I can submit this mix for my comps. Maybe not.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

2 brief notes

Apologies for the sparse blogging as of late - I'm incredibly busy with school business this semester. Posts will continue to be sporadic for a few months - bear with me.

In better news, thanks to an anonymous commenter for pointing out that the Ethiopiques series is being posted over atChocoreve, which is a great blog anyway. Enjoy - I know I will!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ethiopiques



One night in the not too distant past, my buddy James came over for some drinks and camaraderie. As usual, he brought some music with him. "Ethiopian jazz," he said. I was pretty certain that I'd never heard Ethopian jazz (or any music from the country, for that matter). So we threw it on. Within a couple of tracks, I was taken in.

The disc collects the works of composer/bandleader Mulatu Astatke. Apparently Jim Jarmusch included some of these tracks in Broken Flowers. I never got around to seeing it though. At any rate, these instrumentals are captivating and an unique take on this American form. If I could compare it to anything that I'm familiar with, I might point to John Zorn's Masada project, although I'm not entirely sure that would be a fair comparison for either party.

A little research on the Internet tells me that there are 22 volumes in this series! I'm definitely curious to hear more. But for now, enjoy volume 4.

Tracks:

1. A Man Of Experience And Wisdom
2. When Am I Going To Reach There?
3. From All The Time I Have Passed
4. Nostalgia
5. My Own Memory
6. My Muna
7. My Gubel
8. My Asmara
9. February
10. Liberty
11. Baby, My Unforgettable Remembrace
12. My Saba
13. I Can't Live Without You
14. Bell

Ethiopiques 4

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Help" on DVD - finally!

Thus far, the only Beatle films to see worthwhile DVD releases in the States have been Yellow Submarine (released in 1999, and apparently once again out of print?) and A Hard Day's Night (a slick 2-disc edition released in 2002). Rumors persist annually that Let it Be is being worked upon, but who knows if that will ever happen. And I know that I'm in the minority, but I'd love to see a special edition of Magical Mystery Tour as well.

But the good news is that the second Beatles/Dick Lester film is finally getting the DVD treatment. Help! is to be released on 10/6 in the US. Two versions - one standard 2-disc set and another 'deluxe' edition with schnazzy packaging, a copy of the script, a book, repros of the movie posters, etc. I was all about going for the deluxe edition (I am first and foremost a Beatlemaniac). But seeing as it lists for $134.99, I think I'll settle for the standard version.

At any rate, I'm excited about this finally getting a proper release. Now I don't need to hold on to that VHS copy any longer. A Hard Day's Night is probably a better film, but Help! is so absurdly wonderful.

Here's one of my favorite music clips from the film, for "Another Girl."



And here's an extended trailer for the dvd.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Paint the White House Black

It would be a great campaign song. I'm just sayin'. I also forgot how much of an all-star affair this video was. Hooray, 1993!y

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Radio Nowhere

Normally I wouldn't overlap with posts over at Ick Music here, but I'm compelled to share this one for a couple of reasons. One, it's a great Springsteen song. Two, the video on amazon is pretty bad quality. Three, it's about radio consolidation! I'm curious to hear the rest of the album. Until then, here is "Radio Nowhere."

Sunday, September 2, 2007

United States of America



In high school and early college, I got into a lot of music on account of a particular friend of mine. We had similar, yet also distinct tastes. Over the years, we turned each other on to a number of artists. One group Justin hipped me to was Broadcast, who put out some stellar music in the early 2000s. This post isn't about Broadcast, but bear with me. One day, he asked me if I'd ever heard the United States of America. The only thing that came to mind was the Presidents of the United States of America ("millions of peaches..."), which I knew wasn't what he had in mind. He played me the band's sole, self-titled album, and I was very taken with it. Much more so than "she's lump, she's lump, she's lump."

The reason I mentioned Broadcast earlier is that USA is one of their most overt influences. The connections are clear, although to say that Broadcast is merely imitative of USA misses the point entirely.

Lacking a guitar, the band opted instead for strings, synths and various electronic gadgetry to round out their sound. The result is something unique in the context of popular music in 1968. Experimental yet focused, edgy yet polished. The album's poor sales and the internal tensions of the band's only tour led to the band and album's disappearance.

The great Sundazed label reissued the album in 2004, giving it the remaster and extension treatment, serving up 10 previously unreleased tracks, all of which are worthwhile. You'll have to buy the album if you want those, but here is the original LP in its entirety.


(link expired)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

hiatus

Hello all. Sorry for the lack of updates - it will continue for a few more weeks. My summer term ended with the month of July. I've been in Pittsburgh for a week, so I've been doing a whole lot of relaxing and just having fun. And of course, record shopping. I found some particularly tasty gems at Jerry's Fine Used Records - their soul/funk/r&b section was simply brimming with great stuff!

Anyhow, I'm traveling around for a couple more weeks, so there will be few - if any - updates. However, my friend Peter did hip me to a freshly released volume in the Eccentric Soul series, so that will likely be the first post upon my return - look out!


Gonzo sez: "Summer's here, and the time is right for you-know-what!"

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Review: Prince's 'Planet Earth'



Well, here we are. A little over a year since the release of 3121, and a new Prince album is released. I wasn't all that anxious about this release. Surely, I knew I would pick it up first thing in the morning, but I guess there just wasn't much buzz as opposed to previous albums. They played it over the PA while were waiting for Prince to play at the Target Center a few weeks ago, but it was hard to really listen to it under those circumstances. Other than that, my only exposure was "Guitar" and "The Once U Want 2 C," both of which he played that night.

So anyhow, I picked up the album this morning. Let's go step by step.

Although I think the photo on the cover is a bit silly, I'm a sucker for gimmicks, and was pleased with the hologram cover. Hours of amusement! As Matt and I opened our respective copies, we were befuddled at the lack of a booklet, or even a damn tracklisting. Brilliant. Jokingly referring to the Crystal Ball fiasco, I commented that "maybe there will be liner notes online." Har har. Imagine my shock when I found a pdf of lyrics, etc. on Prince's website. Come on now, what's the logic?

Anyway, on to the music.

Upon hearing the opening title track, my heart sank. It's not the kind of song that grabs your attention at the beginning of an album. I'm ashamed to admit that I agree with this, but a friend of mine said it reminded him of mid-1990s MJ songs like "Childhood" and "Earth Song." They lyrics are also uncomfortably preachy. Maybe things will pick up.

When Prince released "Guitar" on his website this winter, I hated it. It sounded horrible, and lacked the energy that a song called "Guitar" should have. Luckily, he revamped it for the album, thickening up the production a bit, and pushing the guitars to the fore. It's an ok song, but not particularly interesting musically or lyrically.

"Somewhere Here on Earth" takes the tempo back down, with Prince in falsetto seduction mode. Another ok song, but nothing that Prince hasn't done numerous times before (and better, for that matter).

I first heard "The One U Wanna C" at the Target Center show. It was much different there, being played only by Prince and Wendy. I liked it there. The album version is alright, but in comparison, this arrangement lacks the pathos of the live version. I like it because it's uptempo - there are far too many slower songs on the album. But other than that, it is fairly unremarkable. My buddy Mike likened it to a Sheryl Crow song. Sadly, I can see the similarities.

You know what? To hell with this. I don't even have the patience to do a track-by-track analysis. As a whole, Planet Earth is utterly disappointing. It ranges from bad to mediocre. It's uncreative and uninspired. I've subscribed to the belief that even the bad Prince albums have a couple of hot tracks on them. I can't find one on this disc that makes the album worthwhile. I can tell you right now, nothing from Planet Earth will be on my 2007 mix, and that breaks my heart.

I've said it a million times - I've resigned to the fact that Prince will not put out any more mindblowing albums. He's done being creative, period. And I'm okay with that. Despite lack of innovation, I thought Musicology was a tight pop record. And there are a handful of songs on 3121 that I find legitimately interesting, although the album as a whole is not. But there are really no merits to Planet Earth. It seems rushed, the lyrics are trite, the music is uninteresting. The first record in 21 years to feature Wendy and Lisa, and this is the best we can do?

Today I came to the conclusion that Prince has entered Rolling Stones territory. He'll continue to put out lackluster albums, some might be more competent, some might have a few good tracks, but nothing touching their peak years. But he will maintain his reputation as a live performer. I'm ok with that, but then what's the point in putting out such bland material? Why not just devote yourself to performing and producing?

One final observation - there isn't a single song on here that another artist couldn't have done. That is, there isn't anything about the music here that makes me think "Ah, Prince - only you could pull this off."

In closing, I'm severely disappointed in the album, and I didn't even have high expectations for it. I made the statement to Mike that "I think it's at least better than the Stooges record." But I think I'm recanting that statement. Because my problems with the Stooges record stem from Iggy's lyrics and vocals. Musically, it's pretty good. I can't say the same for Planet Earth. Furthermore, Mike noted that I should consider that the Stooges hadn't put out a record in 35 years or so, whereas Prince has been releasing albums continuously. So we can give the Stooges some leeway for being out of the game. But Prince, what's your excuse? Why is it that while under contract to Warner Bros., Prince claimed his creative freedoms were restricted by the company, yet now he's making the most explicitly commercial pop music of his career?

(sigh) I don't know. I've listened to it two full times through, and can't bring myself to do a third right now. It's one of those rare cases that I listen to the album, and seriously feel as though I'm wasting my time in doing so. But you know I'll buy whatever he puts out next anyway.

Monday, July 23, 2007

"drums please!"

In light of having a few weeks with no major commitments (though I plan on doing a good bit of reading), and just because:

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Battles/Police

So it's been a whirlwind week - three shows in seven days, in three cities. Whew! I've already given the dirt on my Prince Minneapolis experience (see below). This will be less substantial, but thought I'd put some thoughts down anyway.



This past Thursday, I caught Battles at The Picador in Iowa City. I'd been anticipating this show for about a month. A friend of mine hipped me to their record, and they are doing some truly unique stuff. I have great difficulty describing them to friends. Usually I say something to the effect of "mostly instrumental rock/experimental." Yet this description fails and makes them sound like a jam band, which they are not. Here's the video for their single, "Atlas."



So that should give you some idea. Live, they are both masters of their instruments and of samplers. Note that none of the samples they use in concert are pre-recorded; they sample themselves playing live, then manipulate it as they see fit. This was seriously one of the most intense rock shows I've ever been to. Jucifer is the only other band that I can think of that matched Battles in intensity. Also, The Picador was packed, which is rare at least from the shows I've seen there. It was 8 of the best spent dollars this year. Their album, Mirrored is available on Warp Records and is a contender for album of the year in my book.

----



The very next morning, I made my way to the bluegrass state for another highly anticipated (albeit more expensive) show, the reunited Police. The Police are in my top 10 bands of all time. They have no flaws in their catalog in my opinion (barring "Don't Stand So Close to Me '86"). I got into them through a bandmate in high school, and along with the Talking Heads, were one of the bands I most wanted to see reunite, but knew there was no chance that it would happen. Or so it seemed.

At any rate, we got to Churchill Downs intentionally late. We were hungry and didn't care about the opener. After scoping the merchandise (again overpriced) and making a pit stop, we were hopelessly trying to find our seats when we heard "Message in a Bottle" kick in. Cripes. We made it to our seats by the end of the song.

So how was it? I was nervous, as the tour had met with mixed reviews thus far. I felt it necessary to evaluate it song by song. Many of the performances were tight and well executed ("Roxanne," "When the World is Running Down," "So Lonely," "The Bed's Too Big Without You") and others left a bit to be desired ("Don't Stand So Close to Me," "Driven to Tears"). The songs that I felt were lackluster were generally because they dropped the tempo significantly. One of the great things about the Police is the energy of their songs. Drop the tempo by about 1/8, and that energy is lost. I was also a little put off by the use of DAT backing for the vocals in "Roxanne" and percussion in I think "Walking in Your Footsteps." I understand why it was used, but not having it would not have detracted from the performances by any means.

So it was a bit of a mixed bag. I didn't leave feeling disappointed or that I'd wasted my money. But it wasn't as solid a performance as I would have hoped. But it was still the Police, fer Chrissakes.

Prince - All Mixed Up



Last week whilst still riding my Prince high, I for some reason dug through the lesser-explored end of the Prince shelf to dig out some homemade mixes, etc. I came across All Mixed Up, a 70-minute megamix of Prince (and Prince-penned) tunes artfully mashed and mixed into an impressive and continuous piece. So I thought I'd share it with y'all. It's good for running and for dancing. Of course, after I uploaded it, I realized that it's once again available on their website, but ah well.

All Mixed Up website

Sunday, July 8, 2007

"Is this my hometown?"



What a weekend! I'm back from a road trip to Minneapolis for Prince's homecoming show. As always, it was a great time and well worth the time and toil it took to get there.

First, the show at the Target Center:
I never got final word on what the cause was, but we were lined up outside of the venue until between 9 and 9:30, and the show was to start at 8:30. Prince finally took the stage at 10pm. We couldn't quite make out what they were playing over the PA, but my guess is that it was the upcoming Planet Earth album. From what I heard it sounded good, but clearly I can't make an accurate assessment. We were initially to get copies of the album at the show (a la Musicology), but for whatever reason, that didn't happen.

I didn't know what to expect from the setlist, given that he isn't touring, but has been doing the Vegas thing and had some shows in LA recently. I was a little surprised that his setlist was so hits heavy. In fact, it was fairly similar to a Musicology tour setlist (you know, the tour which was the last time he would play the hits - how soon we forget!). That was a bit of a letdown for me. But that might be simply because this was my 5th Prince show in the last 10 years, and I'm a geek. Still, some of the hits sounded really good in terms of arrangement - particularly U Got the Look and Kiss.

More importantly, Wendy Melvoin was on board, as we'd hoped. She didn't play on every song, but came and went as needed. One particular treat here was a set of just Prince, Wendy and their guitars. The version of "Sometimes it Snows in April" here was a big highlight for me.

The selist was littered with a few covers as well. The version of Gnarls Barlkey's "Crazy" was good, but one thing that always annoys me about Prince concerts is the excessive showcasing of his band members. I would much rather have heard Prince singing this tune. And I could have done without the extended Renato Neto/Mike Phillips instrumental take of What a Wonderful World. I always feel like these little excursions kill the energy of the show. At any rate, I was floored when he launched into the Cars' hit "Let's Go." First of all, this seemed an unlikely song for him to cover; secondly, The Cars are one of my favorite bands of the late 1970s/early 1980s; thirdly, it ROCKED. A great surprise, to be sure.

The other huge highlight (potentially 'the' highlight) for me was when I saw a set of timbales carted out onto the stage. Shelia E. joined Prince for a brief runthrough of Let's Go Crazy, before launching into A Love Bizarre. This is one of my very favorite Prince compositions, and my first thought was "they'll play about a verse of this." Fortunately, they ran through the entire song, and jammed out after the verses were through. This was followed up by a full version of The Glamorous Life, which was also great to hear live.

Final comments: Although the setlist was hugely predictable, the aforementioned special moments made it all worthwhile. Not the best Prince show I've seen, and not the worst.

Setlist:


Purple Rain
Take Me With U
Guitar
Shhh
Musicology/Prince & the Band
Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry)
Let’s Go (the Cars)
Satisfied
What a Wonderful World (inst.)

Just Prince & Wendy:
Little Red Corvette
Raspberry Beret
The One U Wanna C (new song - liked it a lot)
Sometimes It Snows in April

Seven
Come Together (Beatles)
Do Me Baby (Prince on piano next for songs)
I Wanna Be Your Lover
How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?
Diamonds & Pearls (just a snippet)
Cream (back on guitar)
U Got the Look
If I Was Your Girlfriend
Black Sweat
Kiss
Let’s Go Crazy (minus all the verses, plus Sheila E.)

A Love Bizarre (Sheila E.)
Crazy (Shelby Johnson on vocals)
Nothing Compares 2 U
Glamorous Life (Sheila E.)

----

Then it was on to the aftershow at First Avenue, Prince's first appearance there since the warmup gig for the Sign 'O' the Times tour in March 1987. As soon as this was announced, I knew I had to do everything I could to be there. We left Iowa City at 4am on Saturday morning to get in line for tickets at First Ave, which went on sale at 3. We arrived around 8am, and there were somewhere between 250-300 people wrapped around the building. After a long, hot day on the sidewalk, we secured tickets.

I'll preface this by saying that I've never been to First Avenue, Paisley Park, or any form of an aftershow by Prince. So this was even more exciting for me.
The aftershow was absolutely the highlight of the weekend. I was excited about this for days, but when Prince took the stage at 2:45am at First Avenue, I was dumbfounded. I kept thinking (to myself) and saying (out loud) "Holy shit, I can't believe that this is happening." I was about 8-10 people back from the stage, and we were PACKED onto that dancefloor. To utilize a relevant quote, the Kid was in rare form. Wendy and Sheila played with him for the entire set, and Larry Graham showed up as well.

I'm trying to recall a show that had the amount of energy that the crowd at First Avenue projected, myself included. Despite being tightly packed in, we were all dancing, singing, doing whatever motions Prince dictated, etc. It was really something.

"3121" sounded incredible live, and the crowd was very amped. They jammed on this for a while before going into "Girls and Boys," which was both unexpected, and probably my favorite part of the aftershow. Vous et tres belles, mama. Once Larry Graham showed up, it was obvious that there would be a string of Sly and GCS tunes. While not a fan of Graham's persona, he is an amazing bass player, and these songs sounded great (especially when Prince took the mic).

My only complaint is once again too much showcasing of band members. The brass excursion of "Down By the Riverside" was great, but the Shelby J songs were a bit of a buzzkill.

Actually, that's a lie. My biggest complaint is that it was shut down by the cops. At one point, I noticed a suit at the side of the stage signaling to Prince. After "Alphabet Street," the band left the stage. A minute or so later, Prince came out to thanks us and to say that unfortunately, the cops were making them stop. Apparently there is an ordinance which requires such establishments to close at 3, even if they've ceased serving alcohol. So that was unfortunate, especially looking at the rest of the setlist. But he got in a solid 70 minutes or so, and I have absolutely no regrets about the trip, the money or the time. And of course, it was also special seeing him in First Avenue given the history of the venue, as well as its relationship with Prince. If only everything hadn't been pushed up by the late start at the Target Center. Ah well. Hopefully there will be other opportunities in the future.

Aftershow setlist:

3121
Girls & Boys
I Feel 4 U
Controversy
"Cockeyed Woman"
Satisfied
Down by the Riverside (instrumental featuring horn section)
Gotta Broken Heart Again
Love Is a Losing Game (Amy Winehouse tune sung by Shelby J)
Love Changes (Mother’s Finest tune, by Shelby again)
Thank You (w/ Larry Graham on bass)
Hair (w/Larry Graham)
Sing a Simple Song (w/ Larry Graham)
Everyday People (w/Larry Graham)
Alphabet Street

What was left on the setlist, according to the Star Tribune:
Baby Love
The Dance
Let’s Go
Anotherloverholeinyourhead
The Question of U
Peach
Lolita
Black Sweat Kiss

Monday, July 2, 2007

I feel Icky

I've sung the praises of IckMusic many times in this blog, and now you have another reason to go. (As if there weren't enough already, the recent post including a a 1978 P-Funk show among them.)

Pete invited me to be a regular contributor to his blog, and I eagerly accepted. My posts there will generally not overlap with my posts here. Redundancy is no fun. At any rate, my inaugural post is now up. Check it out, along with all of the other goodies Pete has for you.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday, June 22, 2007

Eccentric Soul: Deep City Label



Recently, my good friend Peter hipped me to a series of compilations titled Eccentric Soul. I believe there to be 11 volumes total in the series. I only five, but they are stellar. So my next string of posts will share what I have of this great series.

Each volume showcases a different soul label. I'm not talking about Motown, Stax, Atlantic, etc. (though I love them dearly). Rather, these are smaller labels, regional and local in nature. That means that you might not be familiar with the bulk of the tracks, but it also means that it's an opportunity to uncover some lost gems from the glory days of soul.

First up, we have the Deep City label from Miami. Note the inclusion of Betty "Clean Up Woman" Wright and the great rendition of Otis Redding's "Pain in My Heart" by Helene Smith.

1. Am I A Good Man - Them Two
2. Someone To Fulfill My Needs - Moovers
3. I Am Controlled By Your Love - Helene Smith
4. I Don't Need Help - Johnny K. Killens & The Dynamites
5. Stay Away From My Johnny - Freda Gray & The Rocketeers
6. Thrills And Chills - Helene Smith
7. Paralyzed - Betty Wright
8. I Love You Baby - Moovers
9. Pain In My Heart - Helene Smith
10. The Upset - Paul Kelly
11. One Little Dance - Moovers
12. Good Lovin' - Betty Wright
13. Willing And Able - Helene Smith
14. It's My Baby - Paul Kelly
15. You Got To Do Your Share - Helene Smith
16. Good Thing Part 1 - Frank Williams & The Rocketeers
17. Darling I'll Go - Moovers

Enjoy, and stay tuned for more of this series!

Eccentric Soul vol. 7: The Deep City Label