Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Rest Of 2008 (or, There Aren’t Enough Hours In A Day, Nor Days In A Year)

So, it’s almost 2009 and I’m feeling a little burnt out. The general holiday pressures notwithstanding, trying to squeeze the rest of my 2008 “talkabouts” out this month, hoping to further shape my much “anticipated” Best Of list, was a bit tiring. I’m not Mick Jagger: Time is NOT on my side.

So, in the interest of making sure my unfortunate stragglers get SOME due, here’s a list of what I failed to cover. My apologies to the following:

Man Man
Rabbit Habits
Released: 4.8.08

Rating: 9.25 out of 10

“You think you’re so slick/I seen her lipstick ‘cross your dillsnick…”

Juvenilia definitely penetrates the otherwise vibratory rush of xylophone that pushes through Man Man’s “The Ballad Of Butter Beans.” But the Philadelphia-bred outfit’s tripping sailor music, a pop-ilicious combo of Waits-ian oceanic travelogue and Zappa lampooned avant-progression, is the work of musicians that take what they do very seriously. Rabbit Habits, their third album, crosses manic aggression (“Hurly/Burly”) with inebriated piracy (“Big Trouble”), piano balladry (“Doo Right,” “Rabbit Habits”) with gypsy gospel (“Poor Jackie”), making for an eclectic mix that stays its course and, somehow, makes sense.

Probably one of the year’s best albums.

Video for “Mister Jung Stuffed”

Bad Dudes
Eat Drugs
Retard Disco
Released: 4.22.08

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Eat Drugs, an amusingly titled album from badly named Bad Dudes, sounds like a mix tape. Not a bad one, but far from unified.

Bad Dudes, evolution of So-Cal band, Miracle Chosuke, is a talented, but very ambitious, progressive act with well-honed math rock mechanics. Ping-ponging between space age instrumentalist Devo explorations like “Mjölner” or almost-metallically intro’d rock progressions like “Secret Protector,” at times Bad Dudes seems like it doesn’t understand what it wants to be, or what it’s aiming for.

It’s unfortunate, because the songs are good, the skills are indisputable: They know how to incorporate time signatures into otherwise British-invasion garage rockers like “Heterosaucer” and pull some slick stringed jazz fusion moments into post-punk songs like the album’s title track. Even the very So-Cal bubblegum pop punk of “Suez” goes above and beyond the ease of filling in its paint-by-numbers template. Closer, “Preteen Wolf,” erupts from its tightly wound opening into a loud and fast percussive attack.

Sort of killing the momentum, they experiment with unnecessary electro-dance beats (“Better Than Nature”) and lackluster late 90s filler (“Cabana Boyzz, B.C.).

Some focus would do these guys a lot of good.

Video for “Eat Drugs”

The Roots
Rising Down
Def Jam
Released: 4.29.08

Rating: 8.25 out of 10

Possibly the only hip-hop group in the mainstream that really WANTS to make a difference? Nah, maybe not, but I don’t think that’s too broad a generalization.

Continuing from where they left off with 2006’s Game Theory, The Roots’ eighth album, Rising Down, further exhibits the band in editorial mode, keyboardist Kamal Grey acting as the thickening agent for an otherwise minimalist presentation.

Having almost completely forsaken the jazzy mix that established them as a breakthrough act in the late 90s, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter continue to find ways to remain relevant and fresh, possibly sacrificing some of their charm for the sake of sounding “hard” but at least maintaining a level of intellect that puts The Roots ahead of their radio-friendly cookie cutter contemporaries. And, while my lips are still fastened to their asses, the record’s pretty good.

Singles “Get Busy” and “75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)” illustrate Grey’s low-end static, darkening the tonality of otherwise headknocking couple songs. Emotional territory is breached with “Criminal,” a song about racial profiling, and the slow and atmospheric “Singing Man,” which is as haunting as you can get.

Talib Kweli lends his distinguished voice for “I Will Not Apologize” and the electric and intense “Lost Desire,” while rappers Mos Def and Common help out with the album’s eerie title track and the victory march of “The Show.”

The Roots lighten the mood just in time for closing track, “Rising Up,” really the only party you will find herein.

Video for “Get Busy”

Released: 6.3.08

Rating: 9.75 out of 10

I admit to being late in the game with Opeth, and too ignorant of their catalogue to really offer any “expert” opinion on how this album measures up. But whether or not that’s the case, I can’t ignore the fact that Watershed, the band’s ninth album, is a remarkably constructed masterpiece of sublime horrors and impassioned and moving beauty.

From the second I hit PLAY I was awestruck, engaged by the heavily involved and theatrical mix of demonic intensity (“Heir Apparent”) and the powerfully rendered (“Burden”), not to mention its progressive elements, which really do catch you by surprise (“The Lotus Eater”).

Maybe not as rhythmically aggressive as Mastadon, but Watershed is an impressive 7 song feat.

Video for “Porcelain Heart”

Sigur Rós
Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
XL Recordings
Released: 6.24.08

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, fifth album by Icelandic melody makers Sigur Rós, translates to “With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly.” It definitely has that kind of playful vibe, an “I’m so happy to be alive” whimsy coursing through the tribal percussion of opener, “Gobbledigook” and the celebratory trumpet of the following, “Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur” (Within Me A Lunatic Sings).

Their characteristically angelic and ethereal waves of stringed atmosphere are largely absent this time around, though they still manifest slow and poignant odes to aural bliss (“Góðan Daginn” (Good Day)) and layered piano balladry (“Með Suð Í Eyrum” (With A Buzz In Our Ears)). The album is no less beautiful, nor is it less illustrative of the Sigur Rós sound. They just concentrate on different instruments this time around, using less and somehow creating more.

My only complaint with the album is that it’s uneven, the entire second half of the album devoted to balladry. It’s as if the band got cold feet, committing only some of their experimental departure to the first half in the hopes that an abundance of “slow and touching” would make up for it. A guilty conscience for trying something new or different? Not to say that in some instances that isn’t warranted, but Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust isn’t such a vast change of direction and if experimentation was the goal, they probably could’ve gone further.

The almost ten minute epic, “Festival,” begins as a somber organ-driven school boy solo and then launches into a pounding and explosive mass of sonic beauty. Another beautiful song, another gorgeous album.

Video for “Við Spilum Endalaust”

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Freddie Hubbard (1938-2008)

Jazz trumpeter, Freddie Hubbard, died Monday at the age of 70.

Only being somewhat familiar with his work, namely his work with Coltrane in Africa/Brass and Ascension, and on Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz album, it's probably best to let this video clip speak for him.

Here he is in 1982 playing alongside two of my heroes: Drummer, Tony Williams and bassist, Ron Carter.

R.I.P. Mr. Hubbard.

Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, December 26, 2008

Whatever you may celebrate...


...hope you all have an enjoyable holiday season.

Letters From A Tapehead

Sunday, December 21, 2008

12.21: Happy Birthday, Frank

68 years old today. Hope you're celebrating where ever you are.

Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pretty Folking Good...

Between The Pine
Friends, Foes, Kith And Kin
Supply & Demand
Released: 12.16.08

Rating: 9 out of 10

I must be depressed, because I really like this.

Typically, someone like James Diotte, also known as Between The Pine, would be subject to my folk music magnifying glass.

A couple days ago, I was having a conversation with a friend regarding folk music. She’s a fan, I’m usually not too receptive; reason being, folk music takes no prisoners. You don’t get more naked than folk music, even with a band behind you, and with the whole genre basically following only three or four shining stars, it’s seems very prone to monotony. Facsimiles of Elliot Smith, Nick Drake, Damien Rice and Sam Beam are everywhere it seems, flooding the video hits market, making the chicks swoon…distinctive folk acts are hard to come by. Basically: If you live by the acoustic, if your drawers are filled with flannel shirts and your guitar looks beat-up to symbolize your world-weary poetry, you better be fucking good, because we’re running out of “roads to nowhere” for you to sing about.

Well, James Diotte, or Mr. The Pine, is very good.

Friends, Foes, Kith And Kin, Between The Pine’s second release, is a highly emotional and gorgeously structured piece of experimental folk brilliance that isn’t so much distinctive as it is well-written and well-sequenced. More than just a mere arrangement of acoustic strings, Diotte prudently infuses an eclectic mix of other genres, tying in an assorted array of bits and pieces to his overall mood. The album never gets dull, but it stays beautiful. You can get lost in it.

Video for “Coca Cola”

Diotte does stray into Elliot Smith territory, his melodious whisper an overall element. He manages though to avoid direct and easy association, experimenting with instrumental interludes and allowing his music to speak louder. The song “Coca Cola” will never leave your head, its light flute and haunting instrumentation a pure draw. Slicing the title track in half, Diotte establishes banjo-propelled melancholy, only to bring the mix up with heightened mood and percussion.

“People We Were Before,” “Cut the Crap,” and “My Voice Is A Splinter,” (a duet with his wife), are mostly atmospheric folk jams utilizing slide guitars or accordions, relying on more than just guitar strings to carry them. “I Know You Can Hear Us” is the album’s rocker, but not so bold it feels out of place, while “Enjoy Yourself” and “We Should Not Be Allowed,” experiment with acoustic-trance rhythms and synth pop indie constructs. “The Wall And The Moon” closes out the album with a waltz, an almost fairytale-like majesty about it. The music fades and leaves an interlude to close it out.

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Don’t Listen to Brian Wilson On A Bad Day…

Brian Wilson
The Lucky Old Sun
Released: 9.2.08

Rating: 6.25 out of 10

Love letter to L.A. Whatever.

Cubicle bound on a cold and grey December afternoon, confronted with an infuriatingly long commute amidst an abundance of retail-hungry Christmas shoppers keeping me frozen in a line of traffic, keeping me from going home, Brian Wilson’s latest foray into California rock operatic cuteness, The Lucky Old Sun, is tantamount to a denture-impediment of a “nyah nyah.”

Is it somewhat of a slap in the face that Wilson morphed a 1949 blues song, (originally written by Beasley Smith and Haven Gillespie), perfectly illustrating the desire to be anyone, or anything, else in the face of backbreaking hardship, into this ridiculously upbeat ode to Los Angeles, interspersing reprise after reprise before and following banally conceived spoken word narratives and otherwise inconsequential and sentimental crap? Think SMiLE II, with emphasis on the “II:” an unrealized attempt at duplicating a masterpiece.

Trailer for the release of That Lucky Old Sun

Being been brought back to his old home at Capitol Records, Wilson, with the aid of Van Dyke Parks (co-conspirator for SMiLE) and Scott Bennett, his conceptually epic outlook now constant thanks to his success with 2004’s SMiLE, basically looks back at life before his mental shutdown and spews. That Lucky Old Sun has the feel good reminiscence of those days when it was all about surfer girls and sunshine, before Wilson became a frustrated arteeest.

Granted Wilson’s dependable in the harmony department, the choral aspects always on point. His band? They’re definitely a competent unit, able to layer the small and the large, crafting those minute details into the mix with imagination and flair. So, what’s my problem? It’s the sentimentality. Honestly, Wilson’s upbeat ambition is as acidic as the oranges that overwork the album’s almost unreadable cover. Something as “Summer, sixety-one…” as “Forever She’ll Be My Surfer Girl,” is a regression for Wilson, a corny pop song being worked into a format that calls for something more progressive. “Oxygen to the Brain,” more of a one-man Broadway show tune full of life lessons, is likely an honest portrayal of Wilson’s many ups and downs and his gratitude for being alive. But, the cynic in me hears the following: “Ready steady, California/I'm fillin' up my lungs again/And breathin' life.” And thinks this: “Breathing life in California? With all that smog?”

“Going Home.” “Southern California.” It’s possible that something as personally triumphant and over literal as The Lucky Old Sun is lost on me because its content feels too simplified to appreciate. SMiLE’s biggest strength, admittedly, was its story: its almost 40 years as an unfinished byproduct of Wilson’s legend. But, the album itself was a full-fledged and brilliantly realized piece of American music history and an important milestone. That being said, SMiLE being Wilson’s ACTUAL victory, That Lucky Old Sun feels unnecessary, especially when its California-centric narratives interrupt its flow:

“Venice Beach is poppin.’ Like live shrimp dropped on a hot wok.”

The Van Dyke Parks-written interludes, possibly meant to aid in Wilson’s endeavors to LOVE his native state, are ultimately what kills the album’s credibility. Evidently, the road to California is paved with good intentions.

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

No Ripcord: Top 50 Albums of 2008 (Part Two)

The top 25 records of 2008 has been posted. I have to be honest, the numero uno wasn't one of the more impressive albums I'd heard this year.

Individual writers' lists and the readers' poll should be available soon.

Also, Chicago Public Radio features a show called Sound Opinions with music critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot acting as hosts. Their recent countdown of 2008's best is online.

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, December 15, 2008

No Ripcord: Top 50 Albums of 2008 (Part One)

So, the year's almost over and all the last minute tallies are being rung up so as to decide how 2008 faired as a music year. Despite being mostly absent around the beginning of 2008, with my daughter being born two months early and family obligations canceling out blogging obligations, I did my best to stay up-to-date and hopefully won a lot of new readers. I also managed to score some extra work with the cordial staff at No Ripcord, who were nice enough to take me on as a contributor.

I will be compiling my own personal best of..., as I usually do, but probably not until early to mid-January. I still have some releases I want to get through, which I will hopefully complete before the ball drops in Times Square.

In the meantime, No Ripcord asked me to summarize four albums for their Top 50:

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!
Marnie Stern - This Is It And I Am It And You Are It And So Is That And He Is It And She Is It And It Is It And That Is That
Wire - Object 47
Fucked Up - The Chemistry Of Common Life

Part One has been posted, with Part Two coming tomorrow.


Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, December 12, 2008

These Drugs Sound Great: Ethereal Desert Meets Sister Rerun and the Overlong Sabbath…

Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O.
Recurring Dream and Apocalypse Of Darkness
Important Records
Released: 5.13.08

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

The Black Angels
Directions To See A Ghost
A Light in the Attic
Released: 5.13.08

Rating: 7.75 out of 10

Take Refuge In Clean Living
Important Records
Released: 5.13.08

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Doomsdayer’s Holiday
Temporary Residence
Released: 10.7.08

Rating: 9 out of 10

So, it’s all about atmosphere, right?

The Grails, a very ethereal sounding presence, reliant on Middle Eastern aesthetics, heavy rhythm and sometimes jazz-based percussion and syncopation. Acid Mothers Temple, in all their permutations formed by its cultish leader Kawabata Makoto, remain a Sabbath-based collective of lengthy, loud and acidic hard rock and under-the-influence haze. The Black Angels, a Texas unit more reflective of the proto punk variety, (think a post-Joy Division, post-My Bloody Valentine take on The Velvet Underground), fits into the realm of indie rock a little better while remaining buried under the weight of enveloping distortion.

Between the three, it really is all about atmosphere, whether it be chemically induced or learned: “I learned it by watching you, Jimi! But, I do sleep on my side after a bender, so thank you for THAT invaluable lesson.”

Only two songs long, but clocking in at 73 minutes, the eerie and doom-laden Recurring Dream and Apocalypse Of Darkness shows Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. as a wild combination of Sabbath-drear and Iron Butterfly tangent-propelled jamming. The creepy spoken tongues that accompany the electric whine of “Eternal Incantation Or Perpetual Nightmare” come in around the 7-minute mark and add dark urgency and malevolence that only seem to heighten as cosmic sounds become abound in the mix.

Eventually, the music goes into an unexpected fit of chaos before launching into an all-out guitar-driven blues onslaught.

The title track is pure and slow darkness, seemingly crying out in broken, metallic despair for 25 of its almost 37 minutes, the last of which are spent in howling waves of buzzing effects and static.

Not exactly an excerpt from the Recurring Dream and Apocalypse Of Darkness LP, this is a live video of an Acid Mothers jam that accurately conveys their search for the evil head trip.

Conversely, Directions To See A Ghost, sophomore album by The Black Angels, doesn’t suffer from a lack of songs, but instead offers a little too much without a whole lot of range.

The first half of the album is just about perfect, delving into some noir-ish and isolated territory with the midnight ring of “You On The Run” and following up with the Kevin Shields’ inspired “Doves,” a gorgeous tonality backing up sporadic feedback and tom-heavy percussion.

Unable to avoid any Velvet comparisons, The Black Angels at least bring the whole psych thing to a different level: Timothy Leary in loner mode, nighttime wanderer, tuned into his own acid-soaked brain matter, reacting to expansive and empty stimuli. Spiritual, but from somewhat of a paranormal sense. Though, content-wise, there’s nothing paranormal about them.

“Science Killer” is an infectious drone, very catchy bassline sort of drawing you in before the Angels try and create a Lynch-ian environment with the Badalamenti rockabilly of “Mission District.” It almost sounds like something Elvis would’ve been into had he done the right drugs.

Joy Division melancholy (“18 Years”) precedes Maharishi sitar (“Dee-Ree-Shee”) and then the Angels do a complete overhaul on “Sister Ray” with “Never/Ever,” the perfect closer to the perfect version of the album.

But, the Angels insisted on four more tracks: “Vikings,” “You In Color,” “The Return,” and “Snake In The Grass,” all of which might’ve made decent B-sides but wind up draining the album, making it almost an effort to sit through, especially with the last track clocking in at a little over 16 minutes.

Video for “You On The Run” by The Black Angels

Having a better idea of what to do with an abundance of songs, Portland quartet, Grails, released two albums this year: Take Refuge In Clean Living and Doomsdayer’s Holiday. Put them together, and you have a mood swing.

Video for “Take Refuge” by Grails

Take Refuge In Clean Living begins with “Stoned at the Taj Again,” a song that sounds like its title. In fact, the whole album feels like it’s under the influence of chemical and spiritual intervention, calling to mind existential journeys over deserted, ethereal plains that take you nowhere physically, but exhaust you mentally. It’s a head-trip of an album, blending together its 5 songs with lush strings, strong rhythm, tribal or unconventional percussion. It’s the album equivalent of an old Sinbad movie, maybe Ulysses, mixed with Oliver Stone’s The Doors.

Promotional video for Doomsdayer’s Holiday by Grails (Contains nudity; not necessarily safe for work)

Doomsdayer’s Holiday, however, emanates from a darker corner of the Grails’ psyche, as the title pretty much suggests.

Its first few sounds are the distant screaming of a woman, followed by calamitous percussion and ridiculously catastrophic Sabbath-bred and dissonant guitar notes. It really is like listening to an updated version of the Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath,” it has the same sincere ring of impending doom.

“Reincarnation Blues” does maintain the Take Refuge headspace a bit, but doom finds its way into the mix, as does heft. With headphones, the screaming appears again in the otherwise calm and beautiful, “The Natural Man.” “Immediate Mate,” maybe my favorite song on the album, consists of reverberating percussion over one solid bassline.

Otherwise, the remaining “Predestination Blues” and “X-Contaminations,” the latter of which starts off with the soundbyte “You can always go back to being weak-willed and undisciplined,” continues to evoke spiritual sounds with a sinister bent. The album’s last song, “Acid Rain,” winds up being the light at the end of the tunnel, shifting the mood to pleasantry.

Now, I know the old adage should be “drugs are bad,” but I can’t help but be glad that SOMEBODY’s doing them, so long as the music’s good. And, even if not a single note found within the confines of these albums can be attributed to drug use, then thank you 60s and 70s for your valiant and creative efforts. For those about to trip, we salute you.

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

“I’m Your Torpedo:” It Seems A Little Serious This Time Around

Eagles Of Death Metal
Heart On
Released: 10.28.08

Rating: 8 out of 10

It’s not as if Jesse “Boots Electric” Hughes or Joshua “Baby Duck” Homme have relented on simplified rock n’ roll. That ain’t the case. Hughes is always primed for attack, throwing his pick across those strings with a Keith Richards sense of commitment and ballsy dominance, his voice a high-pitched homage to 50s doo-wop.

And Homme, a records-only presence and creative super force, is there to aid and assist as drummer or bassist. Maybe his trademark vocals make an appearance or two.

As Eagles Of Death Metal progresses, Homme’s mark seems to permeate what was once an unembellished, unadulterated but super-sweet rock unit, hell bent on shimmering hooks and “Yeah, baby” sentimentality. Heart On is the most Queens Of The Stone Age Eagles Of Death Metal album yet, showing a noticeable growth in songwriting and experimentation, but somehow extracting Hughes’ real gift: his ability to bring on the good times.

As a heavy and explorative addition to the Eagles canon, Heart On is fascinating. Hughes, though true to his guitar sound and essential role, is soulful and almost unrecognizably impassioned:

“I’ll tell you anythin,’ bay-bay, eck-cept the trooh-ooth.”

There’s a statement being made, Hughes’ ever-smiling visage buried underneath that pronounced ‘stash, trying to become someone music needs to take seriously. Like, Homme. Even the more familiar EODM construct of single, “Wannabe In LA,” takes some unexpected turns, layers some interesting sounds and plays around with vocal harmonies. In some instances, the musical growth is subtle. Other times? Obvious.

Video for “Wannabe In LA”

Still, the energy remains. “(I Used To Couldn't Dance) Tight Pants” mostly keeps to type with EODM mechanics, leading into the sexually charged and static-heavy rhythm section of “High Voltage.” “Secret Plans,” also a straggler from earlier EODM albums, hits with “Speaking In Tongues” tempo and a sectional jolt of heightened guitar.

Following the enveloping and romantic groove of “Now I’m A Fool,” “Heart On,” (whose obvious innuendo is amusingly contorted into an actual love song), remains groove heavy, beginning nicely enough only to erupt into an amplified duel of guitar interplay. The slow hard rocker “Cheap Thrills,” the sullen female-spoken hook catching the attention, has Hughes singing through a veritable tunnel of distortion as the song takes some epic turns with a couple thickly conceived jam sections. Southern-fried licks immerse “How Can A Man With So Many Friends Feel So Alone” which is incidentally, and brilliantly, followed by “Solo Flights,” an interesting juxtaposition of feeling lonely as opposed to being alone:

“No one gonna hold my hand/It’s gotta full-time occ-you-payshun…
Close my eyes and pick-sher you/And cut out all the agg-ravayshun…”

Get it?

According to Hughes: “You don’t get it, no/You don’t get it, no…”

“Prissy Prancin’” is a Rolling Stone-gleaned bit of Jagger-swagger heading into, “I’m Your Torpedo,” which leads the album into an industrially chug-heavy climax. “I’m Your Torpedo,” (“Scratch like a cat and bark like a bitch/To let me know you’re mine, you’re mine…”), has Homme’s hands all over it, reveling in his sort of repetitive and lengthy (“I Think I Lost My Headache,” “Misfit Love,” anyone?) assemblage. Even vocally, it feels like pure Queens and essentially “I’m Your Torpdeo” exemplifies the sort of direction EODM goes once Homme steps away from the drum kit. Not to squeeze any value out of the track, because it is pretty cool, but it feels out of place and seemingly defeats Hughes’ purpose.

Heart On, at times, is more interesting as a progression than an album. As Hughes continues to expand as an artist, it’ll be interesting to see where he takes EODM in future releases. As much as I love experimentation and artistic growth, I hope Hughes can keep his music’s smile intact. Without the smile, the purpose seems to fade. Nothin' left but cheap thrills.

Letters From A Tapehead

No Ripcord: Readers Poll 2008

In the interest of possibly letting your voices and preferences be heard, No Ripcord is offering readers a chance to vote for their favorite albums of the year. The deadline is December 14th. I realize that there isn't a whole lot of time left, but... it only just occurred to me to spread the word. I do apologize.

Here's the article. Enjoy.

Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, December 08, 2008

It was 28 years ago today...

Hope you and George are keeping them entertained wherever you are.

"Working Class Hero" by John Lennon

Continue to rest in peace.

Letters From A Tapehead

Beats, Harmony & Artifacts

Released: 11.26.08

Rating: 8 out of 10

There was a point in time when hip-hop’s sound pioneers understood music the same way musicians understand it. Not an observation that holds too much water in mainstream hip-hop these days it seems, as producers/beatmeisters on MTV rotation are happy enough to tweak a knob or two and get away with mediocrity.

I admit to approaching Aether, a.k.a. Diego Chavez, with the same cynicism that led me to write the above observation. I was happily surprised.

Artifacts, Aether’s solo debut, is built upon old school aesthetics, meaning that it has substance, it has weight, it has the power to move and mesmerize. Piano, Latin-flavored guitar notes, mostly rugged beats and sampled vocal loops, sort of evokes The RZA in his prime, back when Wu-Tang were still nuttin’ ta fuck wit.’

His mixture of traditional boom-bap (“To Her”), smooth soul (“It Was”) and even pop rock (The Moody Blues melody of “Autumn Pisces”) seems to maintain a characteristic aura that glazes every track like an atmospheric brand. He strays here and there with the electro-pop of “Orfeu Negro” and the Biggie-flavored, “Forgive Me,” but he mostly keep his mood in place. The beautiful and somber “Variance” and effectively layered “Makeshift Sanctuary” act as album highpoints, providing pay-offs to anything before, after or in-between.

Letters From A Tapehead

If You Seek Parents: Parental Advisory Remains Out-Of-Touch

Parents SHOULD be aware of what their children see or hear. I won’t argue with that. There’s something to be said about the power of hitting a button on a remote control, or turning the dial on the car stereo. There’s something to be said about the power of personal responsibility and the right to exercise that responsibility as you see fit, especially in the interest of a developing and impressionable child. Because, as is always the argument, it’s the children we need to protect from harmful content, right? Isn’t that why PARENTAL ADVISORY is adhered to anything questionable in terms of music, giving parents pause for purchase and giving music consumers the mark of quality?

Britney Spears pulled a fast one, apparently, and angered a couple parents. It’s the same story: Unaware mother buys album for young child, young child unknowingly espouses album’s questionable and inappropriate wisdom in front of parent, parent gets outraged, tells world, pseudo-controversial performer goes platinum thanks to publicity thusly exposing questionable and inappropriate wisdom to more ears and defeating the original purpose.

Britney’s latest album, Circus, features a song called, “If U Seek Amy.” Say it out loud and you have, “F-U-C-K me.”

”Love me hate me
Say what you want about me
But all of the boys and all of the girls are beggin' to If U Seek Amy
Love me hate me
But can't you see what I see
All of the boys and all of the girls are beggin' to If U Seek Amy “

Isn’t that so If You In In Why?

In the interest of harming more impressionable minds, you can access the song here.

A feature in Australian music site speaks of parent Leonie Barsenbach, who bought Circus for her 5 and 7 year old children and later figured out the innuendo when she heard her kids singing the song’s chorus. Because the word “fuck” isn’t actually used in the song, Britney was able to get around the ADVISORY sticker, so the obviousness of the song’s hidden meaning wasn’t caught before Barsenbach bought the album.

Because I’m not what you’d call a Britney enthusiast, I’m probably the last guy to defend her music. Most of the time I feel it’s an abomination to the aural passages. But, personal feelings aside, I almost applaud her actions.

Britney’s circumvention of the ratings process allows her reputation to speak for the album and its content, thereby putting parents in the position of having to know about Spears in order to make a decision about how appropriate she is for their children.

Think about Madonna for a sec. During her prime, (Like, you know, when her videos were getting banned and when she had an erotic picture book published called SEX?), was there any doubt about where her songs were going to go? Any informed parent didn’t need a PARENTAL ADVISORY sticker to figure out that Madonna’s albums might be a little risqué, and with Spears’ recent recovery from tabloid entangled exploitation and self-destruction, is it really any shock her songs may feature material less than suitable for a first grader? She’s been a well-known performer for over ten years now, her humble beginnings as Catholic-clad virgin jailbait eventually giving way to the sexually active mom with a propensity for call-it-off marriages, destructive Hara Krishna-ism and keeping her unmentionables mentionable (and visible) to every slack-jaw with a digital camera and a celebrity blog. As much as you wanted to avoid her publicized highjinx, even reputable news sources saw Spears as coverage-worthy.

An album cover that basically says, "Child friendly."

Barsenbach claims, “I feel I have been deceived into believing that this was acceptable content for children but instead it is objectionable.” When exactly was she led to believe that Spears was acceptable for children? In light of all Spears has done over the last couple years, in light of baring a smoldering camel toe from beneath red PVC when the phrase, “Oops…I Did It Again,” sunk its fangs into pop culture permanence, how can Barsenbach validate her claim?

It’s ignorance, a lack of accountability and the need for something and someone to blame for her putting her own children in harm’s way. It’s the same type of ill- or non-informed bullshit that leads to the potential forfeiture of First Amendment rights for the sake of “protecting children” when, in actuality, it’s parents unwilling to monitor THEIR offspring while taking part in the upbringing of everyone else’s. It’s what led Tipper Gore and the PMRC (Parent Music Resource Center) on their crusade to criminalize musicians and push their bored, idealistic and moralistic parameters onto other people’s children and the ears of individuals fully capable of figuring out what they wanted to hear. Once our music, art, literature or movies are left vulnerable to the interpretive and personal opinions of people in power, we risk losing our expression, our voices and our choices, which is something we should take seriously, even if it is currently under the guise of a silly line in a pop song.

In a way, Spears has forced parents to take notice of an album’s content and not be so over-reliant on the PARENTAL ADVISORY sticker, which is evidently leading parents to be careless and lazy about acknowledging the world their children inhabit.

Speaking as a parent with a fairly significant collection of CDs that feature material inappropriate for children, I don’t want parents like Barsenbach making my decisions for me. That responsibility belongs to me and, if my daughter does happen upon material she shouldn’t be exposed to, then I’ll take the necessary actions. But, I won’t be targeting the source. As I have the right to listen, I also have the right to change the channel and take an active interest in my child’s world.

Don’t declare war; just pay attention.

Letters From A Tapehead

P.S.- To any parents that wish for objectionable material to remain relatively unacknowledged, it would behoove you to stop making it attractive by giving it more attention and creating the controversy. Your best bet is to ignore it, otherwise you only aid in the material’s exposure to more “delicate” and “impressionable” minds. Just logic and history. Once again, pay attention.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Danger Mouse: Adventures in Urban Folk and the White Boy Blues

The Black Keys
Attack & Release
Released: 4.1.08

Rating: 7.75 out of 10

Modern Guilt
Released: 7.8.08

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

For DJ/producer Danger Mouse, when it rains, it really, really rains. A wealth of production opportunities either in the works or in motion, the guy doesn’t suffer from a lack of things to do, Gnarls Barkley notwithstanding. This year, he brought unto thee Attack & Release from blues duo The Black Keys and Modern Guilt by folk-hopper extraordinaire, Beck.

Myself somewhat of an over-thinker at points, as has been more than proven time and time again if you read my incessant bullshit, a hip-hop DJ’s involvement with a blues-based rock band from Akron, Ohio and an urban-infused folk act is intriguing to me. From note one of Black Keys’ “I Got Mine,” the unpolished and unabashed blues lick’s presence more or less leaping from within the spiral bound and crinkled pages of How To Rock Like An Allman Brother Vol. 1, (Yeah, that’s a made-up book title), there’s an interesting display of modernized roots rock all being helmed by an modern-day innovator in a modern genre.

With Beck, his legacy embedded into the two turntables’ grooves while devil’s haircuts find him at the crossroads with his battered acoustic, there’s a lot Danger Mouse can work with. Modern Guilt, Beck’s eighth album, is the marriage of his hipster somewhat streetwise self with his introspective artist self; a relatively schizophrenic mix of the over-accessible (“Gamma Ray”) and the experimental (“Replica”).

Video for “Strange Times”

Almost feels universal this processed cocktail of vast influences, beginning with the sad and impassioned souls of Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and Son House, following up with the studious observances and fan-based interpretations of The Rolling Stones, John Mayall, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin, onto the funk and soul of Isaac Hayes, Sly Stone, Gil Scott-Heron and James Brown, and then to hip-hop sound pioneers Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa. Somewhere in there, Dylan and Joni Mitchell made an impact, too.

Anyway, point being, the interaction of roots rock blues, folk-hop and hip-hop is an interesting one, sort of an acceptance and incorporation of art for art’s sake.

Attack & Release was bred out of a collaboration with the late Ike Turner. The album became sole property of The Black Keys out of obvious necessity and, listening to its content, it would’ve been interesting to hear Ike’s take on the material.

Despite being one of the bands that got notoriety during the garage revival, The Black Keys (singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney) seem more of a classic rock outfit, taking Bonham-flavored percussion and heavy blues rock riffs to the task of expression. Opener, “All You Ever Wanted,” has sweetness to it that charges into a pulverizing mix of cymbal and organ, leading then into the energetic monster that is “I Got Mine.” From there, we get the straightforward rock energy of “Strange Times” followed by the subtly layered banjo ditty, “Psychotic Girl.” Tempos change, things stay interesting, but “Lies” winds up sort of slow and lackluster, unsaved by the ghostly vocals in the background or Marc Ribot’s fretwork.

“Remember When (Side A)/(Side B)” is the same song written differently, treated like the vinyl midway; ending in a pleasant tune, beginning with some fast and harsh rock energy. From here, the tempo pretty much stays the same. Ian Anderson woodwind breaks through “Same Old Thing,” they keep it stripped-down for “So He Won’t Break” and then clap some percussion for “Oceans & Streams.” Singer, Jessica Lea Mayfield, duets with Auerbach for the moving “Things Ain’t Like They Used To Be,” which winds up being one of the album’s best moments.

Video for “Modern Guilt”

With Modern Guilt, Danger Mouse continues to add the same ambience and atmospherics as he did with Attack & Release, though it seemed he had more fun with this album.

Modern Guilt is an interesting variation on Beck’s folk and groove roots, taking a lot of liberties, (a LOT of liberties), with percussion and mixing avant elements with radio-friendly pop melodies. Songs like the opener, “Orphans,” “Gamma Ray,” and the title track, fairly reek of Beck’s familiar charm, but layer enough odd elements (syncopated claps, understated and robotic keyboard notes, ghostly background vocals) to integrate them better with other songs on the album which, at times, aren’t as easy to swallow.

“Chemtrails,” for one, is a beautiful and distant sounding piece of psychedelia immersed in light reverb and caffeinated drum rolls. The lovely block of “Walls” and “Replica” (best songs on the album as far as I’m concerned) serves as an understated and creative build up to the harsh beat and amplified noise of “Soul Of A Man” and the immediate rush of “Profanity Prayers.” The two songs most seemingly tied to Danger Mouse, are “Youthless,” a keyboard component of which owes itself perhaps coincidentally to Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” and the slow and steady boom-bap of closing track, “Volcano.”

Two of this year’s better albums. Not the best, but definitely worth the attention.

Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, December 05, 2008

Shopping For Records #9: Flipper’s Generic Is Finally Affordable/Magazine Gets Peel(ed)…

Generic Flipper
Sex Bomb Baby
Gone Fishin’
Public Flipper Limited Live 1980-1985
Water - CD Release
4 Men With Beards - Vinyl Release
Releases: 12.9.08 - CD Release; 3.09 – Vinyl Release

After a couple years of searching and finding laughably unaffordable results for out-of-print Flipper CDs, I was thrilled to find out that reissues have finally been realized. I remember hearing Rick Rubin’s name attached to the project maybe two years ago, but I guess that just wasn’t in the cards. Maybe he got sidelined by Metallica’s recent attempt at relevance. Who knows?

Flipper’s Myspace page had this to say:

”Finally, after way too many years out of print, The Classic Flipper Albums, originally released in the 1980s, will be re-released on vinyl by Four Men With Beards, and on CD by Water, both imprints under the Runt label. Generic Flipper, Gone Fishin', Public Flipper Limited, and Sex Bomb Baby, will begin hitting stores in the US, Canada, Australia, and Japan, on Dec 9th. CDs will roll out first to be followed by the vinyl release in March 09.”

More for my wish list.

The Complete John Peel Sessions
Released: 11.28.08

Ex-Buzzocks vocalist Howard Devoto’s Magazine are yet another essential post-punk outfit. This Peel Sessions album features a rendition of Buzzcocks classic, “Boredom,” a song that Devoto sang on the Spiral Scratch EP. It also features a version of “I Love You, You Big Dummy,” from Captain Beefheart’s Lick My Decals Off, Baby, another out-of-print gem that needs to be reintroduced into civilization immediately.

More of a novelty item than anything else, but it has my interest peaked.

Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Robert Implant and the Harm Wide Open...

This morning, I happened upon an article over at Rolling that made a couple things very clear:

Vomit #1Led Zeppelin may possibly reunite for a tour WITHOUT Robert Plant, meaning that someone inappropriate will be taking over as vocalist.

Vomit #2 — The inappropriate candidate for the tour's Robert Implant is Myles Kennedy, current lead singer for the band, Alter Bridge.

Vomit #3 — For those of you don't know, Alter Bridge is the byproduct of Scott Stapp's decision to leave Creed and embark on a laughable (fuckit, hysterically delusional) solo career.

Vomit #4 — Because of Kennedy's potential obligation to tour as Zeppelin's Robert Implant, Alter Bridge is in talks to reunite with the deflated Stapp, thusly reforming Creed after only four years of appreciated and cherished silence.

Vomit #5 — Add it all together, and Zeppelin is now inadvertently responsible for the reactivation of one of the worst and most overrated bands to seep into a recorded format and a collective pop culture consciousness. Page, seriously, what the fuck did you do!?!

Verdict — Fuck reunion tours. Why don't you guys call it "The Song Remains The Lame?" Maybe Creed could be your opener.

Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Still Wire(d)…

Object 47
Pink Flag
Released: 7.15.08

Rating: 8.75 out of 10

Between Wire’s Object 47 and BauhausGo Away White, this year has seen some solid releases from the post-punk elite, standouts among imitators and validation among skeptics. As far as shaping the modern music soundscape, Wire is one of the most important bands of the present-day and probably the most thoroughly picked for ripe inspiration. With the seminally charged Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154, all of which were released within the first three years of the band’s existence, Wire seems almost as ingrained into the current musical construct as The Beatles, though they get maybe a quarter of the recognition.

Object 47 is the 47th piece of recorded output they’ve released over their thirty-one years since 1977’s Pink Flag and it exhibits a band still fully capable of bold minimalism. Now a trio, guitarist Bruce Gilbert sitting this one out, singer/guitarist Colin Newman, bassist Graham Lewis and drummer Robert Grey, continue their seemingly simplistic, though gorgeously textured, jaunts into synthesized abstraction and dance beat artistry.

The largest element throughout Object 47 is Graham Lewis’ bass, shooting for Jah Wobble prominence with deep lines that are drown worthy. You don’t realize exactly how thick Lewis carries his tone until the mesmerizing “Circumspect,” which doesn’t quite swallow Newman’s fuzztone or Grey’s clean drum sound, but comes real close. Otherwise, as with “One Of Us” or “Mekon Headman,” the bass line moves with a chunky and steadfast pulse, thickening the mix.

Video for “One Of Us”

The quantified “thud” of the first three tracks is lightened by the wispy synthesized whine of “Perspex Icon” and the dark noir of “Four Long Years,” leading into industrial territory with “Hard Currency.” Listening to its factory-like churn, Robert Grey works with a robotic timing as reliable as any drum-machine and as cold as any Kraftwerk-calculable circuit. The percussion for “Hard Currency” could easily have been programmed, but I’m pretty sure that human hands are making that happen.

“Patient Flees,” the most experimental track on the album, ridiculously winds its fat rhythm around highly pronounced surf guitar notes and bell cymbal. Low tempo, a one-note guitar solo enters at the second verse, layered over violently choked strings. Too involved for any trio to pull off live, “Patient Flees” winds up a heavily collaged mass of intermingling guitar solos and haphazard texture. Good pick for headphones.

The album’s only real misstep is the 80s retro of “Are You Ready?,” a severely misplaced testament to plasticity and over-reliance on cold technology. Even the guitar solos sound primed for early-80s MTV cheese.

Closing track, “All Fours,” its fuzz-laden backdrop powering its high level rock energy, provides the album an excitable climax.

The band really continues to show ‘em how it’s done. Granted their seminal impact easily overshadows everything they’ve recorded since they first called it quits in 1980, but Wire was born under some inconceivably attained notion of how music shifts and how to keep up. Object 47 proves that they’re still a creative force, still wire(d) into the grid and still responsible for just about everything you’re listening to. If you have taste, that is.

Letters From A Tapehead

New Selections — Emma Ruth Rundle, Tropical Fuck Storm, Primitive Man, Private Life, Uniform, Erika Wennerstrom, Djrum, Windhand

Starting August off with some new singles. Emma Ruth Rundle:  " Darkhorse " (via Rarely Unable /  Sargent House  / YouTub...