As I duly note the hosannas piled like fruit at Justin Timberlake's feet, let me posit FutureSex/LoveSound as Timberlake's Modern Times: an album that refines the achievements of its predecessor, made by a star whose anemic theosophy hardened not long after his thirteenth birthday, who prefers to beg/borrow idioms, sounds, tropes, production doohickeys, and melodies over crafting something world-historic – who may in fact be smarter than we critics because he realizes that begging and borrowing, when refracted through his starpower, becomes lustrous and thus stranger. Like Dylan, Justin knows just enough about how human beings interact to use their language but is incapable of transcending his/their limitations (lots of losing-my-ways, what-goes-around-comes-arounds, and until-the-end-of-times here), which is, I suppose all we want from a star.
Frankly I don't get the complaints that Justin's a cipher without Timbaland; since I figured that JT's a zero anyway he had nothing to lose. But "Señorita" and "Rock Your Body" on 2002's Justified didn't sound like anything the Neptunes had done before, and I give Justin the credit; their toddler-funk and Justin's pseudo-lubriciousness mated and produced a handful of delightful children (if you doubt me, relisten to the latest Nelly Furtado album and you'll note the difference between a client and a collaborator). Divining ways of fucking with his producers' sonic signatures by plagiarizing primary sources is his finest gift. He croons over a Linn drum programmed with Princely precision in "Until the End of Time," forces Snoop to inject languid raps in the loping "Lady Cabdriver"-wannabe "Pose," and overdubs himself singing in his lower register for the magnificent title track. Most happily for all concerned: not a single Brian McKnight horror.
Justin wants us all to love him (and according to this many of his skeptics already do), despite the disparity between his ambitions and the results. He's got great ears and a big attention span though, both of which distinguish him from the other graduates of the Teen Pop Class of '99. The smugness which once made him distasteful has turned into a self-confidence winning enough to win the surly likes of Jim DeRogatis.
Our feared & revered leader recently made her opinions clear on the new records by one Justin Timberlake and one Beyonce Knowles. Notwithstanding the fact that I am an insider because my first psuedo-girlfriend had the surname Knowles (OK, not in any way related, buuuut), I agree with much of what she said. JT's record is a bit long for me, and it has that queasy virtue/vice of running with the same handful of synth sounds throughout, but it's clearly the better of the two albums. That being said, what would happen if we made... one great album out of two so-so ones? What would happen if we alternated nothing but the best tracks from both records to make one hot-as-a-grill (and I ain't talkin' bout Paul Wall) summer R&Bpop LP... Hmm...
(Motown afficionados will note the oh-so-clever reference)
1. Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds 2. Beyonce - Deja Vu (ft. Jay-Z) 3. Justin Timberlake - Damn Girl (ft. Will.I.Am) 4. Beyonce - Upgrade U (ft. Jay-Z) 5. Justin Timberlake - Sexy Ladies 6. Beyonce - Ring the Alarm 7. Justin Timberlake - SexyBack (ft. Timbaland) 8. Beyonce - Get Me Bodied (Remix) 9. Justin Timberlake - LoveStoned/I Think She Knows
Purists will note that the 5th track is a splice of the 3rd track from JT's album, with the unnecessary slow shit hacked off. Also, the 8th track is the more-unhinged version found in the "bonus" section of B'Day, freed from the obnoxious bullshit that surrounds it.
Via, of all things, Something Awful, we have Skeet Spirit, an instrumental crunk tribute to Radiohead. This brings together two of the FunkyFunky 7's favourite loves/punching bags, and although I have yet to listen to it (I am downloading as I type) I am sure that it will be much enjoyed whether trainwreck or surprisingly good.
Somebody who isn't tired can outline the sociological interest inherent in this kind of project, or the legal issues, or even the aesthetic ones; I'm just waiting to hear "No Sizzurprises" and "Creepin' (On Dat Ass)" with glee.
Salon, that online outlet for liberals 1) summarizing books either for or against a creative God, or 2) interviewing authors who write books either for or against a creative God, just gave us a change of pace with its article "My Dream TV Show". A series of heads including St. Mark Cuban, James Frey (I just saw him on Deadspin! His agent is totally a scepter'd lion!), and Phil Rosenthal weigh in on that very subject.
But the true gift is John Darnielle's. For those of you who've caught the connect to Jakarta with some regularity, it won't surprise you to know all five of his ideas involve boxing. They're pretty awesome. I kind of hope Get Lonely is pretty awesome. But then, I keep hoping everyone's albums are pretty awesome.
Also, Ian prompted, and I deliver: 128 kbps (forgot to change the defaults) renderings of the couple songs I talked about last post:
I'd like to talk about some white people for a second. If I could. On an impulse, roommate Chad bought a record player yesterday; last night, we had Baby's First LP Scouring Session. His thing, I believe, is vocal pop. The Beach Boys, cabaret Queen, and the Mamas and the Papas.
That's one of the records he bought. The big single is "I Saw Her Again," something I've been enjoying incrementally more upon each hearing for the last fifteen years. Just a great, intricate pop song. John Phillips has the girls imitate cellos, each pair of voices fights the other for dominance, and the shudder in the line "you know I wanna lay down and die": as Beatlesque as one can get while actually referencing the Kinks.
But the most interesting thing on the album is the following song, "Strange Young Girls". It's basically an olde school English folk song about blank girls on the Strip. Each member takes a mournful line, followed by the whole group in homophony. It's pretty contrary to Phillips' concept for the group (all that contrapuntal shit covering up for lazy songwriting), but it completely makes sense. It's California dreaming on ketamine.
Fuck if I know who plays the spidery lead guitar, as three guitarists are credited on the ass end of the sleeve, including "John Phillips, the acknowledged leader". Regardless, the setup is blessedly simple: a bass, an acoustic guitar, and that guitar (when it's not up front, it's tapping ominously along the surface). Really fucks up the flow of the album, which would be a problem if 1) The Mamas and the Papas were a stone classic, or 2) if it were some schizo gem, in which case "Strange Young Girls" would be doing a favor to the album's reputation. Neither is happening here.
Oh, and as I was telling Alfred, last week I had the overwhelming urge to hear ELO's "Turn to Stone". So I bought it on iTunes. And it was the best decision I've made since the test for chlamydia. I'ma jack off to the Vice letters section now.
Since the FF7 somehow keeps building upon a single recurring theme (and that theme is motherfuckingBEYONCÉ), I'd like to take this opportunity to expound upon something I mentioned that pertains to her a while back .
I've never seen the Austin Powers Goldmember movie. I think I've picked up bits and pieces over the years, but I've never just sat down and watched it from start to finish. But a single from our beloved Beyoncé was dropped thanks to that flick, and it was titled "Work it Out". And it was ok... er... good, even. An interesting (and movie appropriate, I assume!) sounding tune, the thin funky (somewhat annoyingly flat) beat and fake horns bump and grind against eachother whilst Beyoncé sings sweetly and slowly about being lonely and horny until she gets the opportunity to tackle and bump and grind against her mans. She doesn't really exercise her vocal capabilities too much here; on (rare) occassion, she lets herself go-- her passionate throaty screaming penetrates the empty void that the minimal beats create, and, well, ends up way overpowering the whole joint and sounds pretty out of place. But despite, who DOESN'T want to hear a song by Beyoncé where she sings and screams about sexxin'? NOBODY.
Speedometer is pretty much the UK's answer to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings-- just slightly older and whiter, and, well, European. If you don't know what that comparison means, just think funky horns, guitars, sassy soul-queenesque vocals, and drum breaks that make you want to dance until your heels dig themselves inches into the ground below you. THAT-- is Speedometer. Speedometer has made their mark on the neo-funk scene by touring constantly for the bulk of the 21st century. One day I guess they decided that it would be fun, or hilariously kitschy even(?), to cover this Beyoncé song and play it at their shows. And I'm not sure if it's just the overall nature of the beast (i.e. THA FUNK), or if these guys are just THAT DAMN GOOD, but I would take this cover of Beyoncé's song ANY DAY over the original. They sped the song up a good bit, added rip-roaring horns and some funkyfunky rhythms and beats. And the SINGER! Ria Currie! That girl can FUCKING SING. She's dynamic! Sultry! And in control! I *dare* say, that in this case, given the nature of the song, etc, she pulls off a MUCH better vocal performance than our dear Beyoncé. Blasphemous, I know. BUT... Check it out.
So. The real question here is... if Beyoncé had had a proper musical backing for her vocals, meaning she had the opportunity to sing along to a rip roaring funk burner instead of a... uh... laid back faux-porn soundtrack... Would the end result have been any better?
Today is the day that OutKast release Idlewild, an album that many will purchase, few will understand, and almost no one will care about when the big ball drops on 2007.
It's been a pretty good year for mixed bags getting praised as startling successes, but the loving-up almost universally expected and accorded to Idlewild is puzzling at best. The Guardian and NME can be forgiven 'cuz they're British, but the normally reliable Rob Sheffield? FOUR STARS?
Come on, people.
Don't get me wrong. When the lid on my coffin is slowly lowered, Aquemini will be one of the ten records held in my steely grasp. Despite "Mamacita." But Idlewild is nothing more than mediocre.
Is it eccentric? Yeah, sure. It's crazy, man. But it ain't "Crazy in Love." For once, with the possible exception of single #2 "Morris Brown," it's the first time OutKast have been weird in such a predictable fashion. Honestly, when I heard that it would be hip-hop with swing/30's-era touches, I expected PRECISELY the record that's being sold in stores as of today. Even the '71 Funkadelic cast-off that serves as coda here didn't surprise, if only 'cuz the boys have been avowed worshippers of the Clinton Empire since day one, a fact made ridiculously apparent by ATLiens comic-book display.
But all I wanna know is, since when were we supposed to settle for this? Is rap dead? It can't be - shit regenerates like bubonic plague. But I refuse to accept T.I. and the despicable Lil' Wayne as the new saviours, just as I resisted the onrush of backpacker bullshit post-'98. I like some Lupe Fiasco allright, but his whole act seems like it was pre-manufactured to be served in a can. And Kanye West can eat a bag of dicks. Good producer, "Jesus Walks" aside. Lousy rapper. End of story.
Where is our hero, people? Who will save us now?
Must we be forced to accept the half-assed musings of an act who once littered the landscape with cast-off gems like "In Due Time" - a throwaway soundtrack cut better than anything on Idlewild?
Someone please come with salvation. I refuse to believe that my suburban love for Run-DMC and LL Cool J should end so direly.
Beyond their penchant for horrorshow tabloid headlines, the Libertines move me because they find a lyrical and vocal correlative for the motormouthed preemptory insistence of their guitars. The dialogue -- between singers Carl Barat and the hapless, hopeless Pete Doherty -- is jagged and demotic, exactly what one would expect from old friends/combatants. Or lovers. The ease with which Barat and Doherty allow for this possibility opens their music; it positions them fully in the canon. Consider Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' yelped harmonies in "Dead Flowers," animated by a mutual delight in tweaking the song's country-blues tropes yet buoyed by the tacit admission that, snarky or not, having a laugh at these tropes' expense keeps the needle and the spoon at arms' length for another four minutes.
The Libertines' 2004 single "Can't Stand Me Now" is a soiled transcript of what happens when two men realize that their jokes no longer amuse, that irony isn't enough anymore, that there yet remains an appetite neither music, friendship, nor even the needle and the spoon can sate. The song itself teeters over chaos: in its opening salvo one guitar keeps a nervous rhythm while another picks high, yearning notes, before trading places -- all this before Barat and Doherty dramatize their revolting melodrama. Barat is matter-of-fact and inexorable: "An ending fitting for the start/you twist and tore our love apart"; Doherty, at first a live embodiment of why the bromides of Narcotis Anonymous are as injurious as the drugs ("you shut me out and blamed it on the brown"), kicks back with a chorus admission so strangled and free of irony that it can make you gasp. By shouting "You can't stand me NOW!" he's inverting a myriad love songs in which the lover can't grasp why the beloved finds him undesirable; and when Barat confirms his partner's conclusion with an improvised "No," it's as chilling a moment as any I've heard in recent years. Where else can Doherty go beyond self-abasement? He'll take his partner anywhere he wants to go, he'll try because there's no worse they can do -- he'll burgle his own room if necessary. It's not a stretch to imagine that the love-which-dare-not-speak-its-name nibbles at the frayed edges of Doherty's heart; it's not hard to postulate that Doherty found the Fisher-Price homoerotica of the Who, the Stones, the Kinks, the Buzzcocks, the Smiths, and Suede a disgusting sham unequal to the dilemma of what to do when the person you want most in the world is your male best friend. There he is sharing your microphone: the only awareness that your improvised lyrics might have parallels beyond the fictive is in the frightened wet in his eyes.
All this serves as a preface to the Dirty Pretty Things' Waterloo to Anywhere. I've only heard it once; it sounds a lot like the Libertines, without Doherty's guitar, harmonies, and subtext. Perhaps Doherty hopes that Barat's perfectly honorable impulse to carry on will suceed -- surely one of the many reasons why he continues to destroy himself is his inability to cope with this news anyway.
Though I'm not sure that makes sense - but I aspire to be / teh Hermione.
So, it ain't about rap (Houston or otherwise) it ain't about indie and it ain't a mashup.
What is it? It's Archie motherfuckin' Shepp, bitches! Recognize!
So, who is he? Well, he's the missing link between John Coltrane and Joe Henderson. He's one of the unheralded greats of the tenor sax. He's the man who brought some of the rawest politics to jazz in the 60's but didn't forget how to swing, bop, or rock the gutbucket blues. In short, he might be the man for me this side of Coleman Hawkins, and those who know me know that's sayin' a lot.
I really know next to nothing about jazz, but I listen to a lot of it and I love a wide range of it, so, though I might not be able to articulate in a Down Beat type-o-way, I can at least say this much: what made Shepp so great is that same indefinable combination of progressive blowing with pure swing that informed his predecessors - from Ben Webster, to Hawkins, to 'Trane (well, up until his space cadet days), who was his immediate mentor. Better yet, Shepp had a real lust for and understanding of R&B and blues that many of his fellow hard-blowing tenors lacked - so when Albert Ayler made a record like New Grass, it (undeservedly) brought the heavy hand of critics down upon it, but Shepp's own Attica Blues was heralded almost immediately as a classic, despite its deviation from the reedy freneticism of his earlier Impulse sides.
So, from his 1968 mini-classic The Way Ahead, we've got the monster (hehe) "Frankenstein," swingin' like Hawkins after too much Bourbon & Coke (not a-Cola), beltin' like Bing Crosby after coming home to the wife and blowin' like that shit did in the wind.
You know how the most obvious thing about "Deja Vu," was that it is not "Crazy In Love"? Even when you first heard it and it was completely awesome, as good as it was, it had its complete failure to live up to its predecesor constantly hanging over its head. To make myself very much a complete geek, it was the Ron Weasley of Beyonce tracks. (I'm not even sure if that makes sense, actually.)
"Ring The Alarm" is the spine-tingling, incredible Beyonce smash that "Deja Vu" aspired to be. (Does this make it the Ginny Weasley of Beyonce tracks?) I hope this is a hit, because god damn does it deserve to be. It's all sirens and screaming and the best thing about it is its affirmation that Beyonce can still be creating songs that are actually exciting. Not just enjoyable to listen to, but exciting, the sort that kind of stop time when you listen to them.
"Ring the Alarm" is better than "Deja Vu," it's better than "Ain't No Other Man," it's better than motherfucking "Crazy"... I'd even say it's better than "Promiscuous Girl," except, you know, let's not start throwing around accusation we can't take back.
I really hope I don't get sick of this.
(P.S. The Hold Steady's "Chips Ahoy" is great too, but I'm going to save my Hold Steady post for some other time)
Fellow FF7er, Mallory, ripped this compilation for me a while back when it was released (waaaaay back) in July. It's the latest in the excellent line of Rapster Records' "The Kings Of..." releases.
Disc One is compiled by Kon & Amir, the prolific digging duo behind the "On Track" compilation series of soul-popping rare grooves and breaks. Disc Two is compiled by Japan's own super funky and self-proclaimed "King of Digging" DJ Muro.
This pairing of artists is a bit odd, considering there's been some beef between the two groups in the past-- a quote from Amir...
“There was this guy out at the time named DJ Muro who called himself The King of Beats, or The King of Digging. We kinda took offense to that because to us, no body could be the king of digging because there is always gonna be somebody who has knowledge of records more so than you. That’s just the nature of things. So we decided that we could do it too because there are so many great records out there—like, if [Muro] was the King of Digging, how come he didn’t put these or those tracks on there, you know?”
But either they got over their hatin' and realized that with their digging powers combined great things were possible, or maybe Rapster didn't care that there was beef there (or paired them intentionally for dramatic purposes!), BUT for whatever reason, now we have a good two cds of jaw-drop-worthy soul and funk that you've probably never heard before packaged nicely together in one nice little set!
Now Disc One, the Kon & Amir disc, is a bit tame for my personal tastes. There is some great laid-back funk, soul and disco here-- a lot of instrumentals mixed in as well. It's mixed well, and, well, I'd never heard anything on this compilation prior to listening to it, so I guess there's definitely some rare shit on 'ere. Overall I wasn't too keen on the mix though... just not my "style", the tracks felt a bit long and cumbersome at times, etc. Some notable (and probably some of the most upbeat) tracks off of Disc One:
Then there's Disc Two. DJ Muro's mix. Which is pretty much the densely mixed, fast paced, makes-me-want-to-move good time that I was hoping to get out of this compilation in the first place. I was familiar with a few of the tunes off of this mix before listening, which *may* mean that Muro is not as deserving of the rare digging crown as his mixtape counterparts (kidding!). But regardless, the guy knows how to mix a fucking tape! His transitions are for the most part flawless, he throws in bits of salsa, funk, soul, disco, and pop in 1 to 2 minute-long blurbs, which keeps things constantly moving and exciting. There's a very strong sexual tension overlaying the entire mix, more blatantly in tracks such as the Bob Crew Generation's "Menage A Trois" and Together LP's "We're Together", but all the latin tinged instrumentals and sassy soul tunes throughout help carry that motif to the end. Some favorites:
Also if you want to hear more of these mixes, or hear how well they're actually mixed, you can check out Rapster's webpage and stream the first 15 minutes of each disc from there.
And Scarface! You may recall (or not) when I mentioned something about Scarface not thinking T.I. was gangsta, and from there, I pointed you to a post on my own blog from a while back. If you scroll down to point "f" and point "g", you will see some mumbo jumbo about scarface wanting to get out of the rap game. Well, I got that information from my brother, who used to work at one of the Harley Davidson shops here in Houston, namely the one that Scarface shopped at. My brother was Scarface's go-to parts-guy on many occasions. And my brother sent me a follow up article yesterday that proved that Scarface wasn't shitting him when he went off on his rant about getting out of the game. Scarface has now very publicly vowed never to record another solo record. 'Tis a sad day in Houston, folks.
One of the things Texas hip hop is great for is the posse track. OK, one of the things hip hop is great for is the posse track, but these Texas cuts seem to have their own distinct take on the form that makes a great thing pretty fucking amazing. My theory is that because all the big Texas names are primarily rapping about rather limited, culturally specific subject matter - cars, drank, hometown pride, etc., - they've finessed their flow and their presence as their standout qualities rather than their subject matter. This is hardly an original thought - 7er Heightsy was alluding to much the same thing a few days. So I guess when you get that many rappers all on the one track, and they're all rapping about the same general thing, the only way they can stand out is by dropping mesmerising punch line after punch line. And if you get a whole bunch of H-town rappers on the one track all trying to out-do each other you know it's gotta be fucking gold.
Trae's track isn't quite a posse cut - it's still primarily Trae, and the guests are support players, but nevertheless, y'all need to hear Trae, and as one more blogger who's blogging about how not enough people are blogging about Trae, maybe that will change and y'all will start blogging about Trae. And listening to him, too. This is about cars, so we get everyone dropping great lines about how much they love their Cadillacs, and it's all over this thick grimey bassline that sounds kind of Three 6-ish (they're on here, so it's a distinct possibility that they produced it), and by the time we get those icy synths dripping like candy paint sneaking in when Paul Wall starts rapping, you should be sold. I'll be writing Trae's new record up for Stylus in the coming weeks, so you've got until then to cop that, otherwise you'll just be... well, you'll be missing out, won't you?
This also has Trae on it, and a million other great Texas kids, so, yeah, again, it's great. The original was on Z-Ro's Let The Truth Be Told and it's good too, but it doesn't compare at all to the Texas remix, which, so far as I know, is only available on Rapid Ric's Afta Da Relays mixtape. (I got it from The Shrimp sometime last year). This exemplifies what I was saying - it's hard to go ten seconds without someone saying something incredible. Let's start with Paul Wall informing us that he brushes his teeth with Windex and go from there. It's also worth owning solely for the Chamillionaire verse, because, while I'm real pleased that the King Koopa is getting his cash on, there is no way "Ridin' Dirty" or the Ciara collab or anything from The Sound of Revenge compares to verses like these.
And here again we have another stunning Chamillionaire verse, followed (as everyone's noted) by a Paul Wall verse, something we're incredibly lucky to be hearing on a 2005 track (as everyone's noted). But really, everyone brings it here, from Slim Thug doing his bawss thing to Lil' Flip's melodic flow to Mike Jones being his goofy-ass self and shouting a lot. Even Aztec, Roc-La-Familia's next big thing for about 5 minutes last year sounds good, rapping in Spanish and getting to do a verse alongside some of Houston's finest - nearly all of Houston's finest, actually, which is why this is so enjoyable.
So, as mentioned briefly over at my own blog, I recently received a copy of Joy Division's Heart And Soul, aka "basically everything they ever did" - not that I didn't alreadyown a hefty chunk of their work (and also not that I'm not still tempted by at least one more disc - come on, how can I not own a live version of "Atmosphere"?). I have been listening to basically nothing else all week; every day at work I get through at least two of the four discs before people ask me to listen to something, anything else, please, and it has been, so say the least, illuminating.
I won't deny a part (a large part?) of the appeal of Heart And Soul is that it is, or rather seems, complete; "here, this is everything, you have all of them now." Just as with their songs the existence of Joy Division came to sudden stop; as the allmusic review of H&S puts it, they both fell apart and collapsed. In at least some ways I prefer New Order to Joy Division, but the fact is there will never be an object that exists for them the way Heart And Soul turns the work of Joy Division over those four years into a kind of singular entity; New Order have simply done too much to be concretized in this fashion (yes, you could take all of their albums, b-sides, etc., and put it in one place (Andrew Unterberger did it, before Get Ready I believe, and it was 14 CDs) but it would be different for a host of reasons beyond the trivially tautological one).
And similarly, fittingly, Joy Division's music/image/art/career seems complete and singular in a way New Order's (and the vast majority of other bands') doesn't. The thing about the way we talk about the corpus of most bands is that we discuss it (knowingly or not) in a kind of ideal fashion, where we speak as if every individual song or moment exhibits the traits we wish to mention; of course there are always counter-examples, interesting discographical nooks and crannies, counter-essays to be written. But despite the fact that not every Joy Division song sounds remotely the same (and I don't just mean the divide between their icy remove and their darkly frenzied moments - see "Autosuggestion" for a relatively rare example of them bridging the gap), their music has this weird kind of darkly monolithic force (and yes, darkly; as Mark k-punk puts in an excellent post I'll be linking to shortly, "They were Gothic, but not Goths, surely") that means you really can't find exceptions; Paul Morley's wildly imaginative reading in the booklet for Heart And Soul makes some huge, overarching claims that wind up sounding and feeling real; there are very few throwaways or deviations in the catalog, for better and for worse.
Of course, as mentioned, I have been listening to little but them for a week, but the fact that I could/would do this is to my mind more proof of this quality of their music, not less; theirs is a sound and, yes, a worldview so starkly self-sufficient that you can crawl inside of it and get lost, and as long as you keep your head about you, as long as you remember what's up and what's down (as long, in other words, as you don't pull an Ian Curtis - remember too that clinical depression is above all else an inability to see other possibilities, and suicide often occurs when you believe that things will never be different again), there's nothing wrong with that. They may be anhedonic, pessimists in the Schopenhauerian sense, despairing of existence itself, but that is not necessarily a harmful thing:
I remember, in what must have been 1983, asking a fellow JD cultist (being into Joy Division for me was pretty straightforwardly a religion, a cult in the strong sense, a badge of non-membership in the teenage world of empty hedonism): 'Why is it that negative things are so much more attractive than positive things?'
Seems to me that its crucial to go all the way through the libido of the negative - to utterly resist the commonsense privileging of the vital whilst NOT getting Curtis syndrome. The r and r young death thing was so self-conscious --- from what Deborah Curtis says, Ian C was fixated on this since his own teenage years.
That comes from here, which is a follow up to this rather amazing, aforequoted post; both are worth your time. The latter, which I stumbled open while writing this post, interacts with what I'm saying here in all kinds of ways and I'm not even sure what I want to say makes sense without reading what Mark has to say as well. It didn't determine the content of my thoughts on Joy Division, but it certainly implemented large areas of the structure. It also highlights two extremely important things about Joy Division (well, many more than two, but two I specifically want to mention here):
JD followed Schopenhauer through the curtain of Maya, went outside the Burroughs Garden of Delights, and dared to examine the hideous machineries that produce the world-as-appearance. What did they see there? Only what all depressives, all mystics, always see: the obscene undead twitching of the Will as it seeks to maintain the illusion that this object, the one it is fixated upon NOW, this one, will satisfy it in a way that all other objects thus far have failed to. Joy Division, with an ancient wisdom (‘Ian sounded old, as if he had lived a lifetime in his youth’- Deborah Curtis), a wisdom that is pre-mammalian, pre-multicellular life, pre-organic, saw through all those reproducer ruses. This is the ‘Insight’ that stopped fear in Curtis, the calming despair that subdued any will to want more.
We should resist the temptation to be Lorelei-lured by either the Aesthete-Romantics (in other words, us, as we were) or the lumpen empiricists. The Aesthetes want the world promised by the sleeves and the sound, a pristine black and white realm unsullied by the grubby compromises and embarrassments of the everyday. The empiricists insist on just the opposite: on rooting the songs back in the quotidian at its least elevated and, most importantly, at its least serious. ‘Ian was a laugh, the band were young lads who liked to get pissed, it was all a bit of fun that got out of hand…’
It’s important to hold onto both of these Joy Divisions – the Joy Division of Pure Art, and the Joy Division who were ‘just a laff’ – at once. For if the truth of Joy Division is that they were Lads, then Joy Division must also be the truth of Laddism.
It is so, so important that Mark doesn't privilege either of these views of the band. I, unsurprisingly enough to many who know me, think of it in a Spinozistic framework; insofar as you consider Joy Division as Pure Art, these things are true, and insofar that you consider them as Lads (or, more simply, People) these other things are true. There is no contradiction there, merely different ways of looking at it. This is, admittedly, how we get away with saying these mad, beautiful, insane things about the band; Joy Division as Pure Art (or more accurately, as Art Object) is and always must be a complete idealisation, an abstraction. What we encounter when we listen to the actual music is never that abstraction; instead, all the things Mark, or Paul Morley or myself say about the band are mere shellshock, the attempt of the mind to explain this thing that has happened to it.
But what has happened to us has happened on the level of art, and art is always the realm of the ineffable, and so we all scratch the truth (hopefully), sometimes strongly enough others can recognize the truth they've encountered too. What's kind of wonderful about criticism is that writing about this even can generate, again, this kind of visceral impact, in fact the best of it has to; and so we're left reeling again (reeling was precisely my reaction to "Nihil Rebound: Joy Division", especially stumbling on it at work!). It's not as if Joy Division has a monopoly on this sensation, or that it must be somehow dark or tormented or anti-vital; every single album or song I love does this. But the reason I keep listening to Joy Division, over and over and over, is that they seem to posses infinite reserves of the stuff; "Insight" and "Atrocity Exhibition" and "Glass" and, yes, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" still give me that shock of the new, still excite and terrify and effect me in a way that doesn't seem to wear off. I don't care if there are 3-4 versions of "Dead Souls" or "She's Lost Control" not just because they're fantastic songs, but because they keep hitting me as if I'd never heard them before. ("The point about the return visit is not the infantile pleasure of repetition, but the possibility of surprise. A good work of art never stays quite the same: it ambushes you, outwits you." Rupert Christiansen) And if you don't think that's rare and precious I would suggest with no ego at all that you probably don't listen to nearly the volume of music I do (with no ego, because how is that somehow a good or proud or noteworthy achievement?).
In much the same way that film critics wind up loving films and directors that those who watch few films - not necessarily bad films, although they may be, but few films - think are too obtuse, too off-putting, too weird, music critics usually wind up liking weird shit. Not liking, really - needing. If I only listened to ten CDs a year, would I need Joy Division, or Eluvium, or Low (one of the few bands I could compare with Joy Division in the strength of their, again, not just music but view of the world) - hell, would I need Wheat? Teenage Fanclub? Rachel Stevens? Submerging yourself in the great stream of relatively similar mainstream cultural/artistic products makes you more receptive to the stuff on the margins, although hopefully still receptive to the best of that stream.
But, unsurprisingly, I've moved a little far afield. It's actually tempting to stay away from Joy Division's actual music, because so much has been said about them so well. Anyone attempting to grapple with what we might call the punk diaspora (or maybe the post-Glam or post-punk diaspora) needs to grapple with them, as well as anyone who doubts at all the primacy of the vital (or even, as I do, just doesn't want things to be so lopsided, so "positive" all the time, which of course robs the positive of its force), anyone who has ever had art hit them like a freight train - all of these people need, at some point, to grapple with Joy Division's work. Most of them, if they can manage the sheer force of the stuff, will enjoy the experience. This is a band who made one album that could secure their good name forever by itself. It took me ages to come around to Unknown Pleasures; but that's because I had the (mis?)fortune to buy a copy of Closer, one of the very few things I am tempted to call a perfect album, before I ever encountered that forbidding black sleeve. Again, those two slim works would have been more than enough to lionize Joy Division; the massive wealth exhumed on Heart And Soul for those of us born too late is again as good but in some ways purely unnecessary.
And yet, for me at least, absolutely none of the power of Closer depends on Ian Curtis' death. I was aware of his suicide when I bought the record, but I seemed to forget about it when I listened. Yes, he sounds "already gone" (although well-worn, that particular critical line happens in this case to be 100% correct), but in a way that really doesn't depend on physical death. Your take on suicide may vary, but I can't help thinking of it in all but medically-caused cases (i.e. clinical depression) as a stupid, selfish, cowardly act. So Curtis was either obliterating any claim he had to my respect at the same time as he obliterated himself, or else he was the victim of an illness. Pity or disgust. The man may inspire either, as well as myriad other emotions, but the music, the aesthetic object - how above all that it was and is. Closer is nothing less than every negative impulse of humanity, both good and bad. It is an album that it is impossible not to understand in some way as a human being, from "Atrocity Exhibition" to "Decades" and back again, fear/fury/despair/loss/knowledge/lacking looping around towards you forever ("forever" being a concept Joy Division have a very odd relation with, in a lot of ways). I can only think of Curtis the human in the abstract, when not experiencing the music; when I am in the grips of it there is only Curtis the force of nature.
One thing is certain; if there ever is another act with Joy Division's viscerality (coated with layers of abstraction, yes, but at the root of it, at the level where it connects - something primal and howling, expressed either through actual fury or negatively through the desperate show of abeyance Joy Division would put on), they will be wholly different. And when I listen to Heart And Soul I begin to share Mark's pessimism that there ever will be again. Listen to someone like Editors, whose debut I quite enjoy; ultimately it's "just" music. You can argue that Joy Division is more than that partly because of the weight of history and significance they have accrued, but The Back Room will never be another Unknown Pleasures (And also, what of those who were there at the time who felt the way we do about Joy Division, without history on their side?) (Also also, to be fair to Editors who as I said I like, I don't get the sense their ambitions were ever to make anything beyond "just" music, nor do I think they've failed at it; Mark may argue that their ambitions are too low, and it's a worthy point, but a different one.) That time, for better or for worse, has passed. We are left with some deaths, some deprivation, a wonderful legacy (in the form of New Order, on whom I could easily write as much, but I like you all, believe it or not), and one of the most shocking, terrible, powerful, and perversely enough vital oeuvres ever produced by anything related, however tenuously, to Rock and Roll.
Its hot in Houston. Too damn hot. And there's three things that I like in hot weather: coke (as in cola), spicy foods and spanish music. The thought of sweating it up to salsa, cumbia, reggaeton... its refreshing. And it just so happens that those rhythms mix so well with hip hop. So I built a mixtape of various Latin styles, threw them around some beats and mixed in a little funk. RJD2, Ozomatli, Breakestra, Gorillaz... who knew they'd work so good together.
Just like seemingly no one gave a shit about commercial hip-hop-as-art as recently as four years ago, the universal esteem accorded the Man in Black is a fairly new phenomenon. It just took the equivalent of five Kidz Bop! albums and a creepy-ass video, no? The only Cash album I listen to these days is Gospel Glory. It's not amazing.
One of my favorite things about country music is the economy of the lyrical structure. Every single line is placed to build up to the one or two lines in the chorus that provide the thematic center of the track. It's even like they've worked backwards, which in actuality, I'm sure they do. The killer phrase in the chorus comes first, and the entire track gets built round that.
It's different to the way things work in other genres. Rock tracks tend to be built in linear fashion, usually an outpouring of the artist's feelings or thoughts. The hook exists to reaffirm the already introduced ideas. It's the idea of the artist as unique genius, some specially-gifted individual with insight into thoughts and feelings the rest of us could not hope to understand. This style of writing assumes that the goal is to plug a hose into the writer's heart and extract pure emotion out through the mouth, with things like words and structure necessary evils. Of course, the end result isn't quite like that.
In hip hop, meanwhile, the hook is usually just the catchy bit to grab your attention - there's a reason why in rap it gets referred to as hook rather than a chorus. Often it doesn't even need to have anything to do with the verses; it can be a thematic re-affirmation, but that's not necessary.
Julie Roberts' "Break Down Here" is one of the best country songs from the past few years, and of course, it has a great idea at its center. Julie's just left her guy and is driving down a road in the middle of nowhere and her car is making those bad sounds that no one likes to hear their car make. And in the chorus she tells us that she sure hopes she don't break down here, but, of course, she's not referring solely to car trouble.
I'd sure hate to break down here/ Nothing up ahead or in the rearview mirror/ Out in the middle of nowhere, knowing/I'm in trouble if these wheels stop rolling/ So god help me, keep me moving somehow/ Don't let me start wishing I was with him now/ I made it this far without crying a single tear/I'd sure hate to break down here.
I like to imagine that the guy Julie is driving away from is Dierks Bentley, and that this song is his response. The two tracks, so far as I know, have nothing to do with each other, but if we pretend that they're related it adds another level of meaning that makes each a little bit more enjoyable.
Dierks Bentley (his name is the country equivalent of Juelz Santana) has just been left by his woman and he's got a cute lyric to describe it, too:
I know there's nothing stopping you now/But I'd settle for a slowdown.
Ah yes, emotional pragmatism is a quality so sorely lacking in pop music. Or rather, it's a nice idea; Bentley knows he's fucked up way too much to even entertain hopes that his girl will come back to him, but he hopes she'll at least slow down a little bit as she drives away from him. If that woman actually is Julie Roberts, we know she's feeling just as bad as he is. So, come on Julie... give Dierks a slow down, and maybe you'll realize he's not that awful after all.
One reason I think I will ultimately fail as a writer is my inability to translate my feelings for Anna Nalick's "Breathe". And had I heard this on the radio before I caught the clip one night on VH1, I'd still be kidding myself that I'm destined to write the Great American Pale Fire. Really, the video is shit, all designed to guss up my fellow Californian as a Serious Artist, one who paints song lyrics on her walls and scratches out bad stanzas with the fury of creation. But - fucking BUT - there's this moment when she's singing the most self-important & dead-signifier lines of the song ("And I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd/Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud/And I know that you'll use them, however you want to..."). The music cuts out (which isn't done on the album or on radio), and I'm watching a white screen with Nalick's singing head. And as soon as she finishes those last four words, her head snaps with an involuntary spasm, and there's the start of a sob. A real fucking sob. And it gets me every damn time. I've probably started to cry about ten times just watching a callow soft-rocker get Gilmore Girls on my ass. It pisses me off no end, but you absolutely need to know this about me.
4. Erykah Badu, "Love of My Life"
Witness! The progression of hip-hop, beating "Dani California" by a half-decade. Note! How disco and funk had as much to say as dub. See! Erykah take the Rock Steady Crew to the mat. Laugh! As Badu dons a Kangol and breaks MC Lyte down. Nod! As Badu sheds the dookie rope and salutes the Five Percent machinations. Give dap! When Erykah hops from West (funny + not so funny the moment when Ice Cube gets hip-hop in some criminal-type shit) to Dirty South. Mourn! The signing of contracts, the fulfillment of dreams, adolescence's skin shed. Fucking check out! That lily-white sight gag, true and sad. Try to remember! The song after watching the video ten times.
3. Lee Ann Womack, "Twenty Years and Two Husbands Ago"
I was a bit startled when this track got the nod in Stylus' year-end singles list over the stylish throwback "I May Hate Myself in the Morning". As bridges go, I'd take "I know it's wrong/But it ain't easy moving on/So why can't two friends/Remember the good times once again?" over the wishy-washy "Water under the bridge/I guess that's all life really is". Maybe that says more about my satyriasis. Whatever. Anyway, this video debuted about a week after Faith Hill's "Like We Never Loved At All". Both clips pull heavily from Nashville's glorious countrypolitan days, and both are for subpar clips. I give the nod to Womack because for all her magic, Sophie Muller (who deserves her own post on a subject tangential to this) can't avoid Tim McGraw's dumbass hangdog eyes.
"Twenty Years" is decidedly brighter, and populated with sketches that seem familiar: the fedora-clad, cigar-chomping manager (?); Womack's triad of delicately-coiffed belles; the girl with the stunning brown hair who may or may not be Womack's daughter; the young buck with the obscenely large (and obscenely drained) decanter. No asshole lovers to be found, just high tea in a bygone Nashville with Womack poignantly reigning o'er all. There's a part about halfway in where Lee Ann sings "never let somebody get that close," and she's set off against the wood paneling like a porn actress, and some crewcut photog is off her left shoulder, sticking his tongue out as he snaps another one. Fantastic.
2. Frank Sinatra, "Old Man River"
Not a bad song for the Chairman, certainly giving him a vocal showcase toward the end, but the subject matter finds Frankie trying and failing to express solidarity with the plight of the Black sharecropper. But the video - actually the closing scene to the forgettable 1946 feature Till the Clouds Roll By - trumps all. From the first shot, a woman staring off-camera as a man strikes a timpani (both clad totally in white), this clip is the closest thing Earth came to a Stanley Kubrick musical. From there, Ol' Blue Eyes hisself, in an alabaster tuxedo and elevated from the orchestra upon a pillar, becomes our focus. There's a sudden cut outward (I could see this in Stanley's bag of tricks), but we're still trained on the lofted singer, as far from harsh Mississippi labor as a man can be.
But once the singing cessates, the camera pulls back until we see that Frank, orchestra, superfluous girls, and conductor are all on a celestial island, ribbed on the underbelly with a staircase corkscrewing perilously down, offscreen. It's an effect that I daresay sill stuns sixty years later.
1. Mat Kearney, "Nothing Left to Lose"
Why one? Cos it's recent. I think there's a plot at work here: our scruffy slinger works his way cross-country to his heterosexual other. Intervening, though, is America, gorgeous and tired. Within a palette of grey-leaning blues and browns, Kearney slouches across dozen of restaurant booths, parks his Motor City hulker in institutional motels, and hitches through some of the most worn-in country - natural, urban, and semi-urban - you've ever seen. Kearney himself mouths a few words, and we see him jumping in the bed of the odd truck, but director Douglas Avery makes landlocked America the star. Editor Nicholas Wayman-Harris cuts between arresting images (flaming car in a lot, a streetside shop that just ends along a desolate blacktop, traffic on a rain-slick cantilever bridge) in a manner that would be dizzying. But anyone who's made a highway trek from Florida to Indiana by way of the Appalachians, say, knows: this is how you see the sights through a window at 70 mph. Don't linger too long on any one place, or your thoughts are lost forever.
From the other room, my roommate thought Kearny was the Counting Crows. Surely that means something.
1. How closely does this song/video (particularly Michael Gira) veer towards the line separating terror and camp, and is there any correlation between the bits where "New Mind" approaches (or crosses and re-crosses) that line and how close it comes to being Goth?
2. Has anyone else noticed that Godflesh's entire career is pretty much an amplification (and maybe slight metallization) of what Swans were doing in the 80s? Does this mean I can't like "Body Dome Light" any more? Is this part of why I prefer Jesu to Godflesh?
3. No matter how you feel about Gira marching around with a flashlight and an axe, how creepy is the end of this video, with its light-enshrouded torso writhing at the end of a corridor?
So I finished off that sixer of Coronas last night. M wanted to take the room swimming, but everyone decided another episode of The Hills was in order. The show name sounded familiar; it turned out to be Laguna Beach in Space or something. Some ginger-headed boy in Jordan home whites took umbrage that his aspiring fashionista girlfriend wanted to be "royalty". She simultaneously took offense and the under at once: "Well, every girl deserves to feel like a princess!"
Everyone in the room loved it. Just ate it up. I thought about my half-bottle of Thunderbird in the fridge until I realized it fell to me - the only one who didn't feel the stone drop while viewing BBC Three's Sinchronicity - to bitch about the state of MTV. Right? No videos, the travails of (hopefully) unrepresentatively moronic rich kids? The usual. But on the truck ride back to M's I realized I didn't care. No, it was more than that: I don't want MTV to show more videos.
In the ATX, we have ME Television, which shows about 20 hours of videos a day (the remaining hours are devoted to local restaurants, the same shitty short film about a kid hunted by soldiers, and station gadfly JJ Castillo's shiteating muggings). I've been guilty of watching this channel for hours at a time, with its beguiling mix of new (Rihanna, that damn Dixie Chicks video) and old (the Fabulous Thunderbirds!). But whenever I stop, I get cloudy. Convention after convention haunts these videos, from "Triumphal Live Setting With Hand-Raising Twats" to "Side Mounted Car Camera Catches Rapper Looking Existentially Disquieted" to "Director's Comments and Band Lingering After 'Cut' Left in Video Because We're Packaging Reality". This shit runs together after a while, because 1) singles tend to maintain similar themes and structures, which means most videos are responding to the same cues, and 2) music videos are a profoundly lesser art. Like, lesser than slam poetry.
We all know "Video Killed the Radio Star," but who remembers the other videos MTV played that day? Very few, of course, and there are reasons why. Music videos are promotional tools, designed to get the songs in front of more people (and in many, many cases, videos seemingly exist to make the songs better). Why would I watch Men Women and Children's ponderous Studio-54-on-the-sun video if I wouldn't want to catch their half-assed electrorock live?
I'm also getting weary of music videos that show up the songs within (see: Sophie Muller's entire output). The first five times I watched OK GO's last couple videos, I was amused at the band's cheek and "ambition" (which would be subversive if we weren't living in a viral-video age). After that, I noticed the songs kind of suck. At first, it was fun trying to sort out the mashed iconography in Cat Power's "Living Proof," but in the end, the peakless track leaves me as cold as its video's endless slow motion. ("Lived in Bars," on the other hand, is a joyous clip with a song to match.) Coldplay's "Speed of Sound" (by the always-reliable Mark Romanek) and Doves' "Some Cities" are two other culprits that seem to show every couple of hours down here.
If MTV showed videos all day, we'd see garbage like 30 Seconds to Mars, She Wants Revenge, and Dem Franchise Boys. Who wants that? Relegate the videos to the late night, and maybe we'll be forcing groups to get more creative with their visual choices to get noticed. Or we'll just unleash another generation of Sophie Mullers. In any event, I'm more entertained and inspired (even if it's a reactionary inspiration) by dumb-ass Hollywood interns trying to choke "soulful" and "concerned" looks out of those drained-pool eyes.
I was never a fan. I was one of those people so caught up into east coast wordplay and avant-gardism that I hastily ignored the south. It was actually not until talking to Saul Williams (conversation to be published this fall through Callaloo) about southern hip hop and its parallels to southern blues music that I actually started to give it the recognition that it deserves.
As one who will join the cipher from time to time, I’ve got mad respect for MCs who freestyle songs in the studio (ex. Dipset Three Song Freestyle On Hot 97/ Lil Wayne Where The Cash At). I’m a bit biased at maybe becoming attached to the idea that the spoken word possesses some sort of supremacy to the written one.
On Weezy: I don’t know where he suddenly came from, and no not every song is fire, but when he’s on—he’s on. This song reeks of misogyny a bit (sorry Kates) but Spank Rock (not beating a dead horse, just an example) and Williamsburg have taught me that even little trust fund girls want to dance to the raunchy shit. Thanks Caps & Jones!! Weezy’s flow is like a cyclone and it just throws out these great lines at random:
"I like those Amerie’s you can have those Omarosas" vs.
"Broke niggas only make jokes, nigga.I make more than I can fit in this quote"
After that last line, my head exploded.
Dipset are goombas. The Ramones were goombas too and they’re legendary for it so what’s the point in worrying about that? One thing that Dipset does well is doing what other people aren’t. They sample songs that no one would ever consider (“Built This City”) and they do things like freestyle three songs live on the radio and brag about doing so. If JR Writer’s new record was as good as his mixtape verses and what he does on this, Dipset would be a whole ‘nother story.
"You’s a fake G like a thousand in counterfeits" "Listen here, your fucking engineer couldn’t get to my level"
Ignore the Hell Rell verse, it’s pretty stupid, but the 1st and last songs. Wow. Also: This post started about the south, and then it kind of went onto Dipset. They have a lot of joints with Weezy--plus Santana and Weezy have a joint tape coming out…so yeah.
First off. I'd like to start out with a little love for T.I. (lady k!'s no hater!)
I found this unmarked remix of "What You Know" somewhere on the internet. I don't have anymore information than that-- I actually have had it a while apparently and randomly found it in my recent-downloads folder the other day. Whoever remixed it changed the entire backing music/beat to something weird and electronica sounding. And in doing this, it pretty much changes everything.
I was scrolling through ye ol' ipod yesterday (which is coincidentally also named "the funkyfunky 7" (he's lady k!'s primary DJing tool- "lady k! and the funkyfunky 7!"), and thus inspired the name of this blog-- IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING) in preparation for my hour-long commute home from work. While scrolling through my tons and tons of tunes, I noticed the Nextmen mixtape titled "A Child's Introduction to Jazz". I found this a few months ago, but have yet to get around to listening to it. So I thought, "Hey! what the hell! why not! I like the Nextmen's previous mixtapes (scroll to the bottom) alright, so this should be good too. right?"
Let's just say "this should be good" = UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR, people.
This mixtape is FANTASTIC! The title of the mix, though misleading, I assume was taken from the record they sample at different points in the mix, which is a really old children's educational record about jazz. It starts out with the first lesson from the jazz record, the instructor talking mundanely about 2 different jazz samples that open the record, when all of a sudden no other than Luda! get's dropped in to crash the learning-party.
Throughout the mix, you'll be taken through a roller coaster of sounds from the likes of Nas, Rhymefest, Plant Life, Faith Evans, Jill Scott, The Talking Heads, Breakestra, Bob Marley, and a TON of others. You'll hear Hall & Oates mixed up with a Clinton Sparks (feat Notorious BIG) track. You will hear MORE THAN ONE Prince track. Is that the UK'S fabulously funky Speedometer doing a BEYONCE COVER?? OH HELL YES IT IS!
They slow the mix down considerably towards the end, which is a bit of a bummer, but they wrap things up with Al Green's "Let's Stay Together", which has always been in contention for lady k!'s favorite r&b track of all time, so the slowing down of the mix is lady k! approved!
I *highly* suggest checking this one out. I'd post some samples, but the copy I have is just one huge mp3, and I don't have the tools to slice anything out at the moment. Just know that there are a few tracks involving Alphabets on here. And come on! Hall & Oates + Clinton Sparks! If that's not enough to send you running to your nearest record store (or p2p program) IMMEDIATELY, you probably hate music. So go!
Just a little bonus treat for the H-Town crowd. 1976 Houston clip (verrrry high quality for Youtube) of the "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" chant from "Mothership Connection (Star Child)" with the amazing Glen Goins (from my Dad's hometown of Plainfield!) bringing down the Mothership.
1. Get Off Your Ass & Jam - Let's Take It To The Stage 2. Freak Of The Week - Uncle Jam Wants You 3. Red Hot Mama - America Eats Its Young 4. Back In Our Minds - Maggot Brain 5. Funky Dollar Bill - Free Your Mind & Your Ass Will Follow 6. Good To Your Earhole - Let's Take It To The Stage 7. Super Stupid - Maggot Brain 8. Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On - Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On 9. One Nation Under A Groove - One Nation Under A Groove 10. Hit It & Quit It - Maggot Brain 11. Stuffs & Things - Let's Take It To The Stage 12. You Can't Miss What You Can't Measure - Cosmic Slop 13. I'll Bet You - Funkadelic 14. Loose Booty - America Eats Its Young 15. Cosmic Slop - Cosmic Slop 16. You Scared The Lovin' Outta Me - Hardcore Jollies 17. Maggot Brain - Maggot Brain
Not definitive, but it's a start. Album title in italics, natch.
I'm the newest and, I believe the fourth funkiest (though my funk quotient is steadily increasing) member of this here Funky Funky Seven. I hope y'all are doing well.
I'm Jonathan, regularly of Screw Rock 'n' Roll, and thanks to Lady K (got diamond eyes) I'll be talking about music in this blog, too. So, let's begin.
I'm a big fan of regionalism in hip hop. If there's a regional scene, I need to know. I'm a sucker for all the idiosyncracies, the slang, the local legends who never sell on a national scale, all that shit. So, yeah, the Bay never took off with Hyphy the way we all thought it would. OK, the way people like me who thought we were going to see H-Town happen all over again in northern California thought it would. But even if it didn't really happen, the Yay is still pretty great. It can be the Scene That Almost Was, and that's good enough for me.
Let me explain. Rick Rock takes Corey Hart's "Sunglasses At Night" and turns it into "I Wear My Stunna Glasses at Night." That's all you need to know. What, you're not downloading this shit? "Sunglasses At Night" becomes "Stunna Glasses At Night." It's genius!
And let's continue this cheesy sample fest with Mistah F.A.B.'s celebration of ghostriding, which is quite possibly the most entertaining aspect of sydeshows, and certainly the one that makes for the best YouTube clips. Which I would find and post except I've never blogged YouTube videos before, and I haven't had enough coffee this morning to learn how to do it. The best way to make a song about ghostriding, as Mistah F.A.B. is quite obviously aware, is to sample the Ghostbusters theme and then... well, not much more than that really. When you've got a sample that great, all you need to do is come up with lyrics like...
"Get out the way let Casper drive!"
"Who's that driving? PATRICK SWAYZE!!"
And you're pretty much set.
I have a feeling I took this track from one of the many Bay Area blogs around, most likely Nation of Thizzlam, City of Dope or Strivin, all of which are excellent resources for those of us who like what's going on in the Bay, but live thousands of miles away. So check them out, too, alright?
About terming it a ‘synth rap revolution’. That was a bit of hyperbole on my part, but it does not diminish that since about the time that Lil Jon was getting on magazine covers accompanied by his favorite synths, this rap shit has been changing. It’s true that Cash Money was doing synth stuff as well, but with Lil Jon it became a bit more pronounced. Take for example his team up with the Youngblood’s “Damn”. What many pointed out during his ascendancy to the top of the pops, was that he was using synths not generally associated with hip-hop. Thus, it can be said that he was innovating the game in a way. For instance, Jimi Hendrix wasn’t the first guitarist to use feedback in a recording, but the way that he flipped the script with it, was in fact innovating.
In regard to a false sense of epic-ness, I should hope that producers need not be phenoms in order to make music of quality. In our world of indie-rock, going back to its punk rock ideals, there is something inherently noble about making music without being a musical prodigy, so I believe that criticism is a bit misguided and unnecessary. (The Ramones, Pavement, The Raincoats, The Jam, Lo-Fi rock by design really.
What’s wrong with infusing hip-hop tracks with a bit of the baroque? Is it loftier to sample the Patton soundtrack than to do it with an SR-10 or a Korg Triton? It sure is cheaper for one thing. The sense of ‘false epicness’ is a term particular to the one who said it, so it seems that’s a matter of personal preference. Do movie soundtracks, which often operate in a minimalist framework, also reek of ‘false epicness”?
I also find it a misnomer to say that TI and Rick Ross are seen as deities, when to all of us in the know (and I’m including school age kids too) ask “who produced that?”. The Runners appear in the video for Hustlin’ (albeit ever briefly) and producers often have the rapper exclaim their name somewhere near the track or the producer does it him/her self. This a Nitti Beat!
If the southern drawl is something inferior to the sharp diction of the rappers of the Bay Area, why not throw out Delta blues. At its core another genre of “sloppy” vocal style and crude instrumentation (while I don’t find “What You Know About” crude at all). I do encourage those who decry TI’s lyrics to be stupid and senseless to actually rap them along with the song. Once I found myself rapping to the beat and realized what an impressing effort his flow is on the track. True, the lyrics may not be full of any consciousness expanding, but then again neither is Spank Rock’s “Put That Pussy On Me”.
One thing that southern rappers aren’t appreciated for is their penchant for actually flowing over the beat with no lyric sheet. BIG did it, Jay-Z, Ja Rule, etc do this, but for southern hip-hop this is pretty much a standard practice. In their genesis, Houston screw tapes were always “flow only”. Riding the beat to the degree he does in this song, is actually something to marvel at. Which, again is my personal opinion. It has been written that speech is higher than writing because it is actually closer to the original thought. In a sense, if this is seen as a worthy view, the ‘south flow’ has something going for it.
As far as ringtones go, sure, record companies want to sell music. If “She Loves You” came out in a time where one could download a ring tone, rest assured that it would indeed be everywhere as well. Does the popularity of a song take away from the quality of said song? The first time I heard the ‘synth washes’ of “What You Know”, I felt it was something special. A force feeding wasn’t necessary. Also, as one who never listens to the radio, neither song has been force-fed down my throat.
When I listen to say Aphex Twin or Boards of Canada, the fact that many times the pianos involved don’t sound ‘real’ isn’t really bothersome. They are after all, sounds that build a musical composition. Spank Rock sounds no more “authentic to me” than the synths in the Lil Jon produced “Yeah”.
As far as emptiness in material goes, Spank Rock does indeed mention that they “accumulate money from state to state…(and something about a) Bentley…”Briefly, is Lil Jon’s need to “Fuck those pussy ass niggas” any more primal than Spank Rock’s need to “Put That Pussy On Me”?
I’m in the park now and it’s getting dark so I should go. Forgive any grammar mistakes, etc.
It's tough, the life of a rocker. Between all the drug-taking and the shagging, one has to squeeze in copious amounts of time being interviewed by doltish journalists, making sure makeup is carefully applied, mincing about for videos, etc. Oh, right and making some music, too. Anyway, shit gets stressful. So what do you do?
Well if you're Robert Smith of the Cure and Steve Severin of the Banshees you rent a hotel room, take copious amounts of LSD, watch a million bad horror flicks, book some studio time and hack out an album's worth of psychedelic exotica with an untested ex-TOTP dancer singing lead. In the Spring of '83, Smith & Severin recorded the one and only album by The Glove (named after the baddy in Yellow Submarine), Blue Sunshine. It's long been a fan curio and widely regarded as, well as what it is, which is about 50,000 times better than The Top.
As part of their ambitious and somewhat over-stuffed Cure reissue campaign, Rhino wheels out a ridiculously enormous 2 disc version of the album today, along with the next batch of Cure reissues - the aformentioned The Top, The Head On the Door and Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, which was already too freaking long, but whatever.
The point, though - right - the point kids is that this one is really worth it. Why? Well, if you don't have the Glove album yet (which you really should), then you need it and if you DO then you still need it - unlike the half-baked and laughably bad demos and extras that watered down most of the earlier reissues, the second disc here is what we call "tit." Featuring the whole album sung by Robert instead of Landray, as well as some odds n' sods, the demos are high quality (drum machine a bit loud though) and worth a listen. Something like a strange Cure mini-album between "Let's Go to Bed" and the rest of the "Fantasy Trilogy" emerges, simple songs that show Smith working towards the perfect pop he would soon master.
Now, I'd love to share some of these with you, but I've been told that the promo copies of this set are encoded with a special device that enables the good folks at Polydorwarnerrhino to find me, come to my house and punish me for my temerity, most likely via hanging me upside down and flogging me. So instead you get this lovely video for the near-ambient instrumental "A Blues in Drag" :
Fellow funkyfunky 7-er "heightsy" and I were having an interesting discussion the other night about what he calls the "synth rap revolution".
Without reiterating too much of the conversation here, "heightsy" feels that the style of synths used in songs like T.I.'s "What You Know" and Rick Ross's "Hustlin'" is really great (so great that he hails those 2 songs as "tracks of the year. bar none."), and I'm just really not feeling it *at all*.
Now this is probably mostly a style preference thing-- while our tastes cross paths a lot of the time, when it comes down to specifics he prefers much heavier, brooding-type rap to my girly, cute, poppy rap preferences. He loves Can-Ox, I love Blackalicious. His love of Dipset vs. my love of Dizzee. He prefers Bazooka Tooth to my preference for Labor Days. Etcetera.
So it would be simple to say, "oh I don't like that T.I. song because it's too heavy". Which, yes, it is a lot heavier (and duller!) than what I'd prefer to listen to for the most part. But what irks me about the song (aside from T.I.'s over-emphasis and needless sustaining of his thick sloppy southern accent) is how over-used the synths are in it. Mister Heightsy points out, "it's a producer saying, 'man, lemme fucking play this keyboard'. the synth rolls in that TI song are total hip-hop producing regime change."-- which YES it is a lot of synth, and a lot of very active synth at that (in that it's moving constantly as opposed to calculated sparse blips here and there), which *is* a bit unusual for rap production as of late. But I think it's *too* synthesized, if that's even possible. I mean, when the piano chords enter in during the chorus- even the PIANO sounds bright, electric, and completely fake. And this all boils down to personal preference again, probably as a result of my background in classical music resulting in a semi-purist nature when it comes to sampling, but fake sounding strings, piano, chorales, etc, especially if they're intended to sound real but just don't quite, grate on my nerves.
Another thing-- the production quality gives each of these songs a false sense of being epic. It's almost like the producers felt they HAD to go all out and make the music as dense and awe inspiring on purpose to make up for the fact that the rappers' flows in each song are hardly impressive (and at times, even embarrassing). But when people hear the massive production, the sweeping fake strings, the catchy as hell and carefully-composed-to-intoxicate-you synth melodies... before you know it, everyone's brainwashed to think that T.I. and Rick Ross are dieties of sorts. I mean, Rick Ross's Hustlin' ringtone is the most downloaded single prior to the release of the debut album EVAR! Over a million people in this world have their cell phones ringing to Hustlin' right now, which even further adds to the force-fed repetition the record company hopes for in order to sell more albums. And that kind of carefully planned brain manipultion through music is nothing new, dating back thousands and thousands of years. In fact, we even have computer programs now to help our lovely record executives make more money off of tricking our brains into liking shit we're force-fed on the radio. Shit, even I was starting to doubt my original disgust for the T.I. track after the 200th time I heard it on the radio, but fear not, the disgust still remains.
So yeah. To sum up, it's not synth rap I dislike. Hell, my favorite album of 2006 thus far is the Spank Rock joint, so I've got some pretty severe personal/mental issues going on if I were to declare hate on the "synth rap revolution". It's more the way the synths are used excessively in some cases to disguise extreme mediocrity in the rap artists, and the overbearing forceful nature and false ego these songs also embody that I'm not to keen on. And, well, I have a slight negative bias of T.I. because Scarface doesn't think he's gangsta. And what scarface says is always right. So there.
You know how you like an artist and you want more, you can't wait till they come out with more music because you just love that last album. Then you get it and its exactly the same as the last one and you're really disappointed. Yeah, that's Ratatat's Classics.
I've been a fan of Ratatat from the first listen of their self titled debut. They fill a wired niche as post-rock's answer to electronica or vice versa. Their Remixes Mixtape was thoroughly impressive and, like indie kids everywhere, it helped prime me to accept a new serving of hip-hop into my musical diet. So, needless to say I was pretty eager for the new Classics album coming out in late August.
I got my hands on it a couple of weeks ago and I've tried listening to it several times but I couldn't ever finish it. The album just doesn't seem to catch your attention at any point. They seem to have developed a formula for how their songs are structured and made an album base off that.
The album's opening track, "Montanita," is a tropical-flavored copy of "Spanish Armada." "Gettysburg" gets repetitive, with not enough breaks; especially considering that the builds are too short with not enough release. "Wildcat" uses a wild cat's screech a little too much. My jaded indie rock sensibilities (an oxymoron, I know) tell me that you should not be so literal in your music. Either don't name it "Wildcat" or cut the Spank Rock sounding sample out.
A few highlights do exist. "Lex" and "Nostrand" are standout tracks in the mostly boring album. And their appreciation of / experience in hip-hop production shows through a little in "Tropicana's" beats and "Kennedy's" drums and bass.
Their debut was in no way an energetic album, but they seem to have lost even that. Basically, the album is a sequel. More of the same without any ingenuity, without any growth. They lost most of the drive and complexity that made one appreciate Ratatat. Classics will probably be anything but.
NPR's All Thing's Considered ran a feature on Houston's own Kashmere Stage Band last week. I'm not going to say much else, because I am requiring each and every one of you to go and stream the 8 minute segment on the webpage and listen to it. You will hear interviews with the Kashmere band-leader, Conrad O. Johnson, various bits and pieces of their performances, examples of their music being sampled by DJ Shadow in "Holy Calamity", and a whole lot of history about the band itself and how their music has evolved.
One thing-[spoiler!]- it warms my heart TO NO END to know that band director Conrad O. Johnson's entire inspiration for the stage band was fueled entirely by none other than Otis Redding. Seriously- my heart is near-boiling at the moment, it is SO WARM WITH HAPPINESS OVER THAT FACT.