Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sing It Motherf*cker, Sing It!

RIP JBThere's a gazillion other JB tributes out there - many of them YouTube videos (I defer, as always, to O-Dub), which is easy to understand, given that the man was as much a visual experience as he was a sonic one - and I don't have anything more authoritative to add. I always liked this little story from the recording of Live At the Apollo though:

"As the show went along I started noticing little things and filing them away in my mind. Every now and then the band made a mistake or the Flames were a half tone off. Sometimes I hollered where I usually didn't in the song, and some of the audience down front was too enthuasiastic. A little old lady down front kept yelling, 'Sing it motherfucker, sing it!' She looked like she must have been seventy-five years old. I could hear her the whole time and knew the overhead crowd mike was right above her. Mr. Neely had strung it on a wire between the two side balconies. Most times none of those things would've mattered, but we were recording and I was thinking, 'Oh Lord, this take's ruined.

"During a quiet stretch of 'Lost Someone' the woman let out a loud scream, and the audience laughed right in the middle of this serious song. I thought 'Well, there goes that song, too.' Then I thought I had better try and fix it some kind of way so I started preaching: 'You know we all make mistakes sometimes, and the only way we can correct our mistakes is we got to try one more time. So I got to sing this song to you one more time.' I stretched out the song, hoping we could get something we could use; then I went into 'Please.'

"Mr. Neely brought the tape into a back room between the first two shows and played it for us on a little tape recorder. As soon as we heard the little old lady, we all busted out laughing. He didn't understand. All he could hear was her high piercing voice, but he didn't really understand what she was saying even though it was as clear as a bell. Finally somebody told him. Then he understood...

"He was getting all worked up, while all the cats were listening to it over and over, laughing, having a great time, and getting other cats to listen to it. After a while, watching everybody carry on, Mr. Neely settled himself down and said, 'Hey, maybe we've got something here.'

"He found the lady down front and told her he'd buy her candy and popcorn and give her $10 if she'd stay for the other three shows - he didn't tell her why. He moved the overhead mike so it wouldn't pick her up so strong. We were using two-track, which meant practically mixing as we went along. She stayed for the next three shows and hollered the same thing every time I did a spin or something she liked. It was like it was on cue. I think the shows got even better as the day went along...."

(from The Godfather of Soul by James Brown with Bruce Tucker)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Obligatory Update No. 2, with more to come, a'ight?

I've got another post on the slow-burner (read: EZ Bake slow), but 'til then, here's that Rosie vid that Angry Asian Man more than succinctly describes as "ching-chong-ery":

Given Rosie's own sensitivity to the Kelly/Clay shizz, her reaction to this has seemed a little hippo-something something. I'm not typically oversensitive to these types of joke, but if she's gonna talk the talk...(yeah, there's an open joke there - go ahead, take it!)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Tale of Two Administrations

I'll get right to the obvious when it comes to Jay Z's Kingdom Come ("Jordon, Wizards" etc.) and Diddy's Press Play ("Press Skip" etc.): Johnny Pate's the biggest winner of them all, with thousands (more) now rocking "Shaft in Africa" on their iTunes, in that way that I'm sure thousands rocked a rose in their lapel in Trudeau's prime. See - the Man (Men) work for the little people.

That said, the Jay Z administration's been taking a hit otherwise. Flickers were lighting as to the crummy job he's been doing o'er at Def Jam (Russell now everybody's favorite yoga Governor-General), only to be fanned into full-tilt flames with a relatively ho-hum comeback in Kingdom Come. It's true, what the people say: the Prez hasn't come back from the mountain high with anything remotely close to the Ten Commandments. It wasn't as though the Hova was the best of rappers, but he was one of the more charming ones, and if that strong asset's gone, as it largely is on Kingdom, then we've got problems in the polls.

It's not that Kingdom's a boring album, it's just that it's not interesting for the right reasons. It's a no-brainer by now that Jay Z should've spent more time working on a comeback that would've had everybody realizing how missed he was in the 'game' (is it still a game when you control the board?). That's not, however, the same as saying that Kingdom isn't without merit.

The thing that makes Kingdom interesting is precisely how lacklustre it is. This is the definitive statement of hip hop's two feet firmly planted in MOR. Kingdom is to Jay Z as Wings was to McCartney (no "Live and Let Die," though). For a genre that has been intimately connected to urban, and moreover, youth culture, it's fascinating to see its forerunners completely disconnected and, at times, scrambling as to what to do. Kingdom's largely a failure because it's utterly ridiculous for Jay to still pretend he's a rep of the streets - once you enter office, there's only so many of your old friends you take with you - and it only succeeds where Jay finally acknowledges it (see "Lost One")(that said, Jay Z - and Diddy - has got to stop rhyming "Life is but a dream." Seriously, that shit is for high school papers). Kingdom is interesting in that it shows Jay Z at his most conflicted, but it's a failure because it's unintentional.

Which is the reason why Diddy's Press Play is so much more enjoyable to listen to. It's like enjoying Jimmy Carter or Al Gore much more now than when they were in office. Sure, it helps that no one quite expects the same from Diddy as they do the Hov, but that doesn't quite explain why Play is so much more listenable. Diddy's always been about the bling, and he's always sounded more comfortable with it, perhaps because Diddy, unlike Jay Z, knows to revel in the inanity of it all. He makes no bones about the ghost-writing, and he's chosen to model the album after two other successful ones: the first half follows the same Jesus-myth as Jay Z's Black Album, and the second (and more interesting) half follows Andre 3000's A Love Below. He's not quite as successful as either: no one will ever quite believe that Diddy was ever of the streets, and no one will ever quite believe that Diddy is quite that sincere (though Kim Porter must be the most patient woman on Earth). It sure helps, then, that Diddy's got hotter beats, and that the second half shows that Diddy's got a great hand at producing RnB.

Thoughout Play, Diddy comes across as a ham, but a loveable ham, and that's what matters. It's a much more rounded picture that Diddy paints, and it's a bit more obvious that Diddy's not only more comfortable with the show, he understands it a bit more, too. If Jay Z's buddying it up with Chris Martin, Diddy's going after Bono. If Jay's gonna stay in office, he better ditch the grassroots and learn to love the spin as much as Diddy.

Note: Yammering aside, I'm gonna take a note from Jay Z and search for the beach chair. We're on "vacay" for a week

Friday, December 01, 2006

Obligatory Update, many apologies

I generally find the Decemberists kinda boring, but not this online argument between Chris Ott and Meloy's gf, Carson Ellis. I suppose you had to expect some boosterism on Ellis' part, being Meloy's babymama and all, but honestly....

Thursday, November 23, 2006

And Will.I.Am Still Looks Alot Like K-OS

Amidst all the Hova backlash, there's been something new cropping up: Black-Eyed Love. Yes, the group that Okayplayers loooooove (loooooooooooove) to hate are getting the props!

While "Humps" probably is one of the worst songs ever written and JJ Fad probably isn't getting any royalties from "Fergilicious" (though Nardwaur took them to task), it probably helps that Will.I.Am's finally taken over music. Just ask O-Dub, who wrote this Inside Bay Area piece extolling his not-quite-as-good-as-Timbaland virtues.

But it's this LA Times piece that proved most intriguing (courtesy Angry Asian Man). As it would turn out, "Bebot"'s become a Filipino hip hop anthem (a community whose love and understanding of hip hop can't be denied: see Q-Bert and the other Bay Area Filipino DJs, Canadian-equivalent DJ Pump) and guys like the TrackBastards popping up in every city), with Allan Pineda's grassroots campaign to put the video on heavy rotation on MTV. I haven't seen this sort of representation in mainstream media since the Ewoks learned Tagalog (and, apparently, nomadic Chinese).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Crit as Detritus

Can't say I fully subscribe to Dahlen's Pitchfork column re: sad state of criticism nee death of criticism, tags not seeming all that more appealing than what he's railing against, but I did like this sentiment: "We're not focused on judgment, so much as discovery." (BTW: who came up with "unfuckwithable" and why is it used everywhere now?) I'll leave the counter to Stylus, more out of laziness than anything else.

That said, I did like the Chicago Reader post about internet leaks, it being all gushy and nostalgic and me being all how-much-shit-have-I-downloaded-and-not-listened-to and what not. Again, I don't necessarily agree with the premise, but yes, the barrage of sub-par MP3s to sift through is mind-boggling. Buyer's remorse was probably more fun, though I doubt it.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Black Comedy Week: Refrederator

I've always been quite fascinated by animation's sordid history, particularly when it comes to the presentation of now-shocking ideas in what is typically seen as an innocent medium. These then-accepted, now-offensive cartoons (often in the Looney Toons camp) aren't exactly readily available (Disney's never going to release Song of the South on DVD), but thanks to the Internet, a little digging reveals a goldmine.

Thankfully, alot of people do the hard work for us. Emru Townsend, guest-blogging on Refrederator, posted a week's worth of what they've coined as "Black Comedy Week," from Tom and Jerry doing blackface in "Plane Dumb" to Bugs in playing dice in "All This and Rabbit Stew" to "Little Black Sambo." All of the cartoons are downloadable in their full, uncensored glory.

I'd post links to Asian stereotypes in past cartoons, but there's just way too many WWII-era cartoons to sift through. But feel free to leave links in the comments.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Da Capola

The annual Da Capo Best Music Writing is out, and it's much improved over the last. I've been buying the anthology over the past few years (in vain attempt to see if I'll ever make it...sob, sob...fucking Klosterman...) and have been increasingly disappointed (though pacified overall) by the selection. After a few years, you could always bank on one Greil Marcus piece (the guy's like the Skratch Pikels of music criticism, though it'd be unfortunate if they retired him from competition), an obligatory blues piece, at least one Eminem piece (or other 'sad state of hip hop' type affair), and a kitschy piece from the Vanity Fair music issue, with increasing focus on online-only pieces or blog writing. It was getting a bit formulaic, and the sequencing had been a bit off (which is odd for an anthology of music writing, assuming, of course, every rock crit might be a failed musician, but a kick-ass mixtape producer).

I'm about half way through this year's installment, and so far, so good. The picks have been interesting - two opera pieces! - and there's a logical progression between them, with a subtly heightened emphasis on the female experience in music (though there hasn't exactly been a dearth of it in past installments). There's a strong emphasis on online pieces, many of which still remain online. This blog's compiled links to most of them, and a search through Technorati reveals *gasp!* that most of these writers have blogs of their own.

As a final note, was I the last person to find out that you could download entire issues of the Fader for free? Interesting concept. I'm guessing they're betting that most people find on-screen reading a tortuous affair. With that said, I'm off to take a couple Tylenol and a better eyeglass prescription.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Spoonful of Seahorses Makes the Medicine Go Down

I get nervous when the Globe runs stories like this. On one hand, it's good for people like Zhang Gongyao to question the status quo, progressing science along the way it always has been. This is particularly so if the practice of traditional Chinese medicine has been mythologized beyond its scientific roots; if the evidence ain't there, it ain't there.

However, it'd be folly to think that a practice that has so many years of history behind it would be entirely made up. While certain facets of it might be out to lunch, I highly doubt that all of it would be, and I get nervous at the all-or-nothing implications that this Globe story has. I get nervous that people who tend to be afraid of anything different might seize upon this for different reasons (there's already a number of 'those crazy people use bear claws!' and some such; I'm waiting for the gremlin comments), keeping in mind that this is the same country wherein one lady, Elizabeth Magner, sued her Chinese neighbours for the smell of Chinese cooking emanating from the house, claiming that the odour was carcinogenic.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

World Leader Pretend: Why I Choose REM Over U2

I've left a few artifacts at my parents' house. In my bedroom, there's a burnt CD of the old REM Christmas singles, which, if memory serves, includes a version of "Country Feedback" or "Low" with Wilco. On the main floor, in the living room, there's an old VHS press kit from New Adventures in Hi Fi wherein Michael Stipe moons Bob Dole. On the top floor, in the computer room, there's the old Jim Greer biography on the band, where Greer asks one of the guys what they wished the three letters of the band actually stood for: "Rest Easy Mom."

When Dan Kois wrote this Slate column on the REM v U2 debate - who was the best rock band in the 80s - it wasn't too hard of a question to answer. I've always been a steadfast REM fan, obsessively following the band's details throughout adolesence. I'm younger than Kois: by the time I had listened to REM, it was well past their 80s college rock hey-day, and in the tail-end of their first backlash (people didn't seem to take too kindly to Michael Stipe's newfound enunciation). By that point, Nirvana had clearly taken the lead, Bono wasn't too far off with his "the Fly" schtick, and any attention paid to REM's 80s output was purely archival.

At that stage of adolescence, it was odd to pit REM against U2. The latter had gone through its Americana pissing match with Rattle and hum, and into its uber-machismo rock god mode of Achtung Baby. REM, though now much more audible, were as sullen as ever. As with any awkward teen, REM's outsider appeal was much more attractive to me, with U2 being much too normal, that nice popular kid that you had no reason to dislike but did anyway.

Instead of pitting REM against U2 for rock-band-of-the-80s, it made a lot more sense to compare them with the Smiths. The classic rock kids latched onto U2 and the Tragically Hip, both providing that sort of rock anthem that didn't take a lot of guess work or, as Kois might put it, self-searching. The more angsty of the bunch had Nirvana, and those of us that were more passive-aggressive about it had either Morrissey or Michael Stipe to look to. Morrissey wasn't without his charm, but his fans had that same pompousness that male Bono fans did, albeit in a much more well-read sense. Stipe was just an odd ball, much less inclined to explain himself, though just as much of a showboat. Despite all the terseness and plain incomprehension in Stipe's lyrics or antics, however, it always seemed that Stipe was as sincere as anything else, and while Morrissey was busy being all clever and shit, Stipe just seemed that much more relatable. I can certainly understand why the Brit-Pop fans ultimately chose the Smiths over REM, but those reasons are also exactly why I chose REM over the Smiths.

That's always been Stipe's charm, and thus REM's charm. They're less antagonistic than the Smiths; they're much more 'everyman' than one would think, but not in the traditional sense that U2 have grown into. U2's grown and redefined arena rock; REM's content to sell t-shirts in the parking lot. And for that underdog charm, I'll always stick by REM.

Here's Stipe with chef Mario Bateli, as they take in a U2 concert:

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Predicting the Unpredictable: How I Was Right For Once

Some of you might remember my previous post on how the hell Michael Jackson can save his sorry ass. It ain't rocket science: the man's his own worst enemy.

But being used to my own brand of stupidity, I was a bit surprised when I found out I was right on one end: Mike left Dubai, and he's messing with Will.I.Am. 'Course, he didn't take my advice to stay out of the media, but it's a start. Here's the Access Hollywood interviews:

Part 1

Part 2

I particularly love it when he starts messing with the digital camera like he's going to buy it on the spot. If you've read this NY Times piece on how Mike squandered his fortune, it makes it that much funnier more sad.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Letting It Sink InIt Sunk

I hadn't heard about Christgau getting fired, nor had I witnessed this blog, which reviews records/shows/etc in graphical format (providing further proof of the schtick known as mathematics). Both serve to remind me that brevity was never my strong suit, but here's an attempt anyway:

LCD Soundsystem's 45:33
James Murphy et al, hipsters du jour, who singlehandly made blazers in the dance club the new standard of dress, release a Nike-commissioned piece for 45:33 minutes of running, reminding us all again that they're fucking LCD Soundsystem, and we're all the fat kids that were never in shape. Negating the fact that LCD may/will succumb to the call to split this into shorter singles, the piece in its entirety works well as a long reminder that LCD are the coldest, most soul-less (and the most pragmatic) rock band around, and while that might sound like a diss, we still fawned over it like those poseurs in "Losing My Edge."

Quantic's An Announcement to Answer
Quantic's umpteenth release of the year sees him purposely getting sloppy to effect that funky looseness that's evaded his previous work. It doesn't entirely work - meticulous precision was something that benefited, not hindered, the older albums - and at times it sounds a little too 'worldbeat'-ish (and thus too average) for Quantic, coming across more like a lite Up, Bustle and Out. And, let's face it, Quantic hasn't ever been that great at producing beats for rappers, and guest Ohmega Watts ends up sounding flat.

K-Os's Atlantis:Hymns For Disco
Canada's hip hop renaissance man provides further proof that, in this post A Love Below hip hop world, merely rhyming just isn't enough. K-Os proves he's got one of the best musical ears of any genre, though he's relentlessly distracted in the notion that he's a lot more controversial than he really is - the guy's a friggin' teddy bear, no matter how much PE referencing he might do. K-Os' lyrics are only slightly better than Will.I.Am's (to whom he also bears an uncanny physical resemblance), even if he's proven to be a better musician, with better pop sensibilities than most. Atlantis continues K-Os' trend of releasing the country's best albums of the past two decades. Take heed: that "Saturday Night/Sunday Morning" song will be the ubiquitous autumn/winter hit.

Monday, October 30, 2006

New Found Civic Pride

Despite having settled into everyday life, there's still a few things about Vancouver that catch me off-guard and really make me glad to have moved here.

For instance, who knew that they let people buy fireworks during the last few days of October? I'm a bit of a fireworks virgin - you couldn't buy them readily in Calgary - save for the odd Roman candle when I was in high school. That said, I bought $40 worth of fireworks, with great names like "Cherry Blaster" and "Widow Maker."

The other great find? This logo:
Aside from the fact that it's for a chain of pizza/omelette joints, the logo is a friggin' VOMITING Pac-man. Too many power pellets, it'd seem. God, I love this place.

(Bonus: Anybody remember the 80's Pac-man cartoon? Here ya go.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

It's Only Rock n' Roll

The NY Times joins in on the plethora of "let's save rock and roll" articles, mish-mashing commentary on the Killers, My Chemical Romance, and whatever-the-hell-that-Blink-182-guy-is-doing. To be fair, I haven't (and probably won't) listen to a single one of these new albums, and thus can't and won't comment on the bands themselves. If My Chemical Romance is questioning the state of rock and roll, it might be a fair statement that the kids are more fickle these days, but that's me saying it as an outsider and thus a crochety old man (though I would've thought that every adolescent girl would want to be Karen O, and thus have something to get behind)(it probably also doesn't help that there's little notion of rebellion or danger to mainstream rock these days, unless rampant existential angst gone unchecked counts). If these bands want to write The Great American Album, far be it for me to get in their way - if anything, I'll get out of their way. We all know, however, that there's always something I can be an asshole about.

For instance, wtf with this thesis? "Now that rock ’n’ roll seems more than ever like a niche genre, a handful of bands are reaching for grandeur. In an age of weightless mp3’s, they want to make weighty albums (whatever that means). Conscious of a rock ’n’ roll power vacuum, these bands are trying to fill it."

A little surprising from Kelefa Sanneh, who I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) was acutely tuned to the "rockism" thing. The statement isn't 'rockist' in the least, but I would've expected Sanneh to know that there's no shortage of rock these days. To extrapolate Sanneh's initial statement, every genre is now a niche genre, and most people can only hope to be a generalist. Though hip hop/pop/all else might have blocked out rock's stranglehold of past decades on the Billboard Hot 100 (though I highly doubt this), the Billboard Hot 100 Chart might not actually mean a whole lot next to the genre-specific charts (well, maybe not to youth culture). If what Sanneh means to say is that there's no one new rock band that we all look to nowadays, it's because we're too busy looking everywhere at once.

For every Kayne heating up the charts, there's seemingly ten emo bands to fill in the gap. Last time I checked, there was no shortage of white adolescent males now dyeing their hair black and toying with eyeliner. There might not be any obvious contenders for 'the greatest rock and roll band alive' in that U2 sort of way (save, perhaps, for Radiohead, if only Thom Yorke could tap into Bono's unwavering optimism), but that's out of glut rather than the disparity that Sanneh surmises. There's a "power vacuum" only in so far as there's just that many more bands vying for the title, and they're all falling in the middle of the pyramid.

It doesn't help that easy accessibility on the Net and otherwise has basically made every teenager a de facto archivalist. Only a short time back, those of us outside the big cities had a hard time finding articles about older bands outside of the rock canon, much less any back catalogue (Punk Planet was as hard to come by as, say, any of the Can albums). Now that anyone with mouse in hand can become an expert in tropicalia overnight, the expanse of the niche audience is staggering. There's no dearth; there's more competition. If My Chemical Romance or any other band - or, perhaps more accurately, their record labels - feels the need to beat the glut and grasp that brass ring known as universality, I suppose the only fail-safe plan is this: go big in Japan first.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

You Want It, I Got It, Oh Yeah - More Vids

These weren't too hard to find, but I hadn't seen or known about these old Woody Allen videos:

(1) Hot Dog: This was a Saturday morning kid's show that Woody hosted with Jonathan Winters and Jo Anne Worley in 1970-71. The show was apparently an educational "how do they make _____" type affair. Couldn't find actual clips from the show, but here's the opening/closing credits:

(2) This is from a television special that Woody did, apparently from the 60s. Here's Woody interviewing Billy Graham:

Here's part 2:

(3) Here's the famed Jean Luc Godard - Woody Allen interview, Meeting WA:

Beat that, Soul Sights.

The Golden Yellow Age of Hip Hop: Yellow is the Colour of Sunlight

Now that I've been linked by the venerable Soul Sides, I considered hanging up my blogging hat: there's just nothing left to achieve (Soul Sides! Me! Holy shizz!).

After I woke back up from nearly passing out in excitement, it dawned on me that many of the writers I read concentrate on soul/funk/jazz/hip hop/etc, and a good majority of them are Asian. O Dub, Hua Hsu, Jeff Chang, Junichi Semitsu (more pop culture than music, save for the Dixie Chicks), etc. A growing number of influential hip hop artists are Asian: members of the Skratch Pikels, Kid Koala, Dan the Automator, the entire country of Japan breakdancing their asses off, etc. Seeing as how none of us would ever dream of ending up in the media save for becoming a Survivor contestant (my theory is that they'd never let us on Fear Factor because, well, we eat everything - I swear I saw an episode where the challenge was eating a Chinese 1,000 year old egg, which we all know goes well with pickled ginger), just wtf are we doing in the media at all?

I don't have any clearcut answers to this, apart from it being sheer coincidence, and I'm certainly not equipped to launch into any exploration of race politics. I posited the question to Frank Litorco, fellow Asian journalist:

"Here's the conundrum: The Asian MCs, DJs, even the breakdancers don't want to really talk about it, and the Asian writers don't want to really write about it. Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos - you name it, they're all representin' in wicked ways. The funny thing is we may very well be in this golden age of "chopstick" hip hop, but who's going to say anything? (Yeah, I know - Filipinos don't really use chopsticks.)"

Leave yr theories in the comments.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Video Dance Party: Stones Throw's 10th Anniversary Tour

Hate to say it, but hip hop shows are boring. With all the various shout-outs, braggadoccio and general hyping taking up five to ten minute between songs, your general hip hop show is a very stop-go-stop affair, negating any sense of flow (this, of course, is with exceptions).

It's a rare to have an MC be capitivating or entertaining enough to keep the crowd going, but Percee P managed to do so. Now, I can't pretend to know much about P's history, but no matter: P spent most of his set convincing us of the illustriousness of it. P reminded us of all the various guest-rhymes he's had since the early 90s, sprinkled songs from his upcoming albums when he felt it necessary to do so (in front of a very nonchalent J Rocc, who could barely must up enough energy to press play on his Macbook. Though his set ended up being more like an extended soliloquy than an actual set, P's earnestness to have us burn his name in the annals of hip hop history ultimately proved charming.

I suppose this sums up my general thoughts of Madlib, who I generally associate with Stones Throw. I tend to think of Madlib as the Lou Barlow or Robert Pollard of hip hop, with a knack to package 1-2 minute gems amongst many more minutes of filler, as though Madlib had too short of an attention span to see an idea through and needed to document all other ideas before they vanished (this is largely why I prefer J Dilla, who was more gifted in the execution). Listening to Madlib is generally chaotic, tracks ending just as the groove is starting to settle, but with a determination and earnestness that charms us throughout the scattershot. (The Madlib comp Mind Fusion vol.4 sold on the tour serves as an example.)

Madlib, of course, didn't attend (his grandmother passed away shortly before); Peanut Butter Wolf became the de facto headliner. I've appreciated PBW's funk mix, 16 Corners, but his hip hop set blew me away. The selection, largely early to mid 90s hip hop from the so-called "Golden Age," was one thing, but the actual format was the spectacle: PBW was mixing video! Each track's video was projected onto a screen above, with each scratch in the set corresponding to a 'scratch' in the video. I thought it was via Serato but there wasn't a laptop on-stage; I'm completely uncertain as to how this was done. Watching the videos flow and hiccup into each other proved to be the most entertaining part of the night, though it became more like watching a fucked up MuchMusic than a live show (as a side note, I had completely forgotten how corny hip hop videos were at the time, and was completely astounded as to how well the Skinny Boys still stands up.)

It should come as no surprise that, despite PBW's video being entertaining, J Rocc proved to be a much better mixer. J Rocc followed the same preferred DJ format that most crate-diggers prefer: play the track, play the underlying sample, mix out. It was just more of the same, however, with little to set it apart from other sets and other DJs. Though J Rocc had the flow more constant and rocking than any one else that evening, it was the inconsistencies of the night that ultimately proved more captivating, and although hip hop shows generally fail because of inconsistency, the Stones Throw 10th Anniversary show succeeded because of it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

the Coctails' Book of Images

Out of God's good grace, I stumbled upon the Coctails' Book of Images at the bookstore yesterday. The Coctails have always been one of my all-time favorite bands, and I've always been dismayed that they disbanded before I was old enough to see them live, and even further dismayed that they were doing reunion shows everywhere I wasn't. To come across new merchandise from them and, better yet, affordable merchandise from them (the Presspop 12" figures were priced at over $250 for the 4), well, it's a miracle.

Book of Images is exactly what the title implies: it's a collection of old gig posters, ads, etc. of the Coctails. Most are designed by Archer Prewitt, all of the same whimsical golden age/Jim Flora etc type of illustration.

The book continues Prewitt's ongoing relationship with Presspop, the Japanese company responsible for all things great as of late, producing products of various 'underground' comic artists, like the Chris Ware "Jimmy Corrigan" and the Dan Clowes "Little Enid" figures. There's A LOT of Prewitt's Sof'Boy merchandise to be had here, crucial for those of us that don't live in Chicago.

And it doesn't end there: there's NEW Coctails' material! When the band reunited to open for the Pixies in '04, they recorded some new material to sell in Japan. The new songs are avail on Let's Enjoy..., and is the first new material we've heard from the Coctails since the Hello EP from the defunct They Might Be Giants imprint.

Here's an image to summarize:

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Let's Be Absolutely Clear: This is Total Bullshit

I could give or take the Killers - that "boyfriend/girlfriend" song has its fleeting charm - but this new Rattle and Hum-era Bono schtick has got to stop. We don't need another John Cougar Mellencamp, sincere or ironic.

And to be totally clear, this Slate review is shite too. When Jonah Weiner writes, "there's something a bit silly, and obnoxious, about such naked rock ambition, but the Killers didn't annoy anyone when they were obsessed with David Bowie and Robert Smith," he's absolutely wrong: there's enough of us that are completely tired of superficial glam/New Wave re-treading. I'm absolutely fine with mining Americana - what I'm not fine with is the martyrdom the Killers have associated with it (when Flowers whines about their treatment in Europe because of American foreign policy, bejeezus...). When he concludes that "the band's great talent is that, despite their style juggling, they don't come off like smirking ironists or glib dilettantes," he's forgetting that they do come across as third-tier Brit-pop melodramatics. When you trade in image like the Killers do, at least own up to it - the sensitive every-man song and dance is as much hooey as the eyeliner.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Grossly Inadequate

Two doses of inadequacy from the weekend:

1: Saw Ladytron/CSS this weekend. Apart from being a model and in a mid-sized indie rock band, the Wikipedia entry for keyboardist/vocalist/resident-Nico Mira Aroyo had this to say: "[Aroyo] has a DPhil in molecular genetics from Oxford University." I must've piddled away my time....

2: Went to see a townhouse development called "the Willow," on Willow Street (natch!) and about 33rd Ave W, which I suppose would make it close to the Van Duesen gardens. 35 townhomes, arranged as rowhouses around what would have been approx. 3 or so old lots. Prices ranged from mid 600K to high 700K, 1200-1500 or so square feet. There was a sale centre and a show suite, and I'm not sure if an 'unveiling' of sorts was planned or not, but there was a line-up of around 30 people when we got there, it took each person roughly 45 minutes or so to get in, and there was a coffee bar outside. People made offers on the spot. In a market that's supposedly going to 'crash' (pessimists) or 'correct itself' (optimists) shortly, that's a pretty odd sight.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Can't Be Bothered: The Questionability of Perseverance

It's true: I'm washed-up, can't write about the latest fad, the latest movie, the latest band, and, moreover, can't muster up the energy to care. Can't pass judgment on today's kids no more, as I've got no clue on what they're even doing, save for looking much better dressed than I ever did at that age (and even that's not particularly true; gentlemen, a blazer can't save a wardrobe).

An example: Can I tell what the hype is about CSS? It's not that difficult, and the equation is unbeatable: bunch of Brazilian girls, none of which seem older than my little cousin Zoe (one even looks like her - the one with the striped shirt), playing dance rock on instruments they hardly know their way around, brash and sassy as you'd think. If I had cut up my socks and wore them on my wrists, I'd be all over it (even more so if I had legwarmers). My age doesn't preclude me from appreciating it, I'm not old enough to dismiss it. In fact, I don't have a reaction to it, whatsoever.

It's this non-reaction, this apathy, that's become disconcerting. It's far from being disconnected to youth culture - that distance has proven to be rather inconsequential - but being disconnected to music in general. In speaking to a fellow music aficionado at work, it became clear that this wasn't my individual decline, but a phenomena that, from our discussions, seemed tied to age (this guy's got decades on me, and propels cynicism into an interstellar level)(more on him in other posts).

Afterawhile, some of our conversations segued into your typical nostalgic 'music was better when...' type discussions, and it became disorientating. I've bitched enough about the new 18 year olds - was I becoming Jack Lemmon to his Walter Matthau? Is our reaction to music so overtly subjective that nostalgia prevents us from enjoying the new?

I can't remember the last time I listened to an album that floored me, old or new. The ones that stay with me, that I know every note, beat and lyric to, tend to be those albums I listened to in my late teens to early twenties. I can't pretend that many of those albums still stand up - a visit through the first series of posts on this blog will prove that. Will music never have as much personal impact again? Is it me, or is it the music?

I sent this sentiment and question out to a few of you for observations. Here's the sampling:


"I agree re: albums that don't stick. Songs, maybe, but not full albums. I keep hearing a lot of stuff that just makes me go, "meh." I think there's about three to five albums released
each year that get me excited. I can only do top 5's now.

"Worse for me are all the old faves who I keep expecting to sustain their excellence, and who fall far short of that expectation (I'm talking to you, REM).

"I don't know that it's age. Although, maybe. One of the guys at work calls me a hater b/c I don't like most recent stuff. I think, having heard more and more of the canon of modern pop music, I realize how much has already been done. Really, after the Velvet Underground, what else new is there that a 4-piece rock band can do?

"And I don't think music is less important - I think there's just more that's becoming increasingly important.

"I think part of it is that there's a far, far larger volume of music at our fingertips now. So you have new releases by old faves competing with the flavour of the week competing with that unheard gem. For me, one of the joys of the old VOX days was finding records you knew almost no one had heard before, and being able to discover and fall in love with that record, and then try to tell the world about it. Now, most rock writers are lazy. Reading reviews, there's not a lot of good criticism going on, almost no real thought going into things (which is why I love the concept of the 33 1/3 series).

"I'm listening to the new Beck right now, by the way. I think that's relevant. I do try to listen, even if briefly, to New Music of Importance. I keep digging because when I do find those gems - like Novillero - it's absolutely worth it. A record I can listen to and get lost in. Such a great feeling, still."


"Check this out: David Moore's piece, "The Sad Death of the Album". I think a comment below the article touches on an interesting point - that today's artist really doesn't care as much about creating an album as a whole, but rather focussing on catchy singles and a smattering of so-so filler.

"Personally, I can't remember the last time I could recall every nuance of an entire album - the lyrics, the hooks, the vocal inflections, everything. (Oasis's Morning Glory, maybe?) Yeah, I'm getting older and more jaded. And, yeah, music doesn't have the same meaning to me as it did when I was in school. That said, my passion for music still exists in a huge way, and as much as I like my favourite albums of the past, there are times when I don't feel like listening to them. I want something new... that's as good as my faves. But unfortunately the artists that I have time to pursue and listen to - and this is key in this digital age where SO MUCH STUFF is accessible than at any point in the past - are not stepping up to the plate.

"Will there ever be another tremendous music explosion like in the late 70s or early 80s? Perhaps. Am I hoping for one? Hell, yeah."


"I feel like I've actually been re-discovering 'the album' after years of hounding singles and one-offs. I now feel that I'm a bit more removed from the whole dj culture, and now with Serato, I'm buying way more cds than vinyl. I don't care what people say, CDs are a way better way of enjoying an album (who wants to switch sides/records every 3 songs?). Actually, the fact that I have Phrenology on vinyl is probably part of the reason I didn't like it as much as other Roots' albums. I just didn't listen to it as much.

"Which brings me to my next point. How much I listen to an album usually has a direct relationship with whether or not I think it's a masterpiece. I'm just as gullible as the rest of the public who decide they like a song after hearing it 30 or 40 times. when i think of the landmark albums of my youth (Illmatic, Nation of Millions, People's Instinctive Travels, Three Feet High, etc..), man, I listened to those albums (tapes) over and over and over again, until I knew every song, every beat, every word. When's the last time you did that? But I even did with the stuff that I don't consider as classic: Brand Nubian, Digital Underground, Special Ed, Kish, whatever... With the amount of music I've been going through recently, it often seems I don't have the time to do that anymore. But within the last few months, I've been making a concerted effort to do so. I put 5 cds in my carousel, and I listen to 'em. Track after track, cd 'pon cd.

"I've actually come to the realization that contrary to logic, the more music I listen to, the less likely I am to come upon a landmark/masterpiece album, because nothing actually has time to stick. So this year, while listening, really listening to fewer stuff (but sampling an inordinate amount, and making snap judgements based on that sampling), I've actually got a couple things that kind of stick out. The Dilla Donuts/Shining combo. Arctic Monkeys (my rediscovery of
rock'n'roll. Probably fitting then that I like a band whose audience is mostly comprised of teen internet geeks also discovering rock n'roll for the very first time). Little Brother, Chitlin Circuit (probably my most listened to album of the year, even though it came out 2yrs ago or so. But I bought it at the same time as The Minstrel Show, but preferred their earlier effort). That Roots album may yet stick, I'll have to see. Latest People Under the Stairs came very close.

"The thing is, also, I know that these may not be universally heralded albums, and lots of people won't agree... and I don't care. These are my personal picks, for better and worse."

Friday, September 22, 2006

Snowed In - The Lessons Taught by Snow Patrol

I've got no hesitation in admitting that I've completely lost touch with popular music. Apart from new albums from artists I've always kept track of (e.g. the Roots, Basement Jaxx, Tortoise, etc), I've got no idea what's going on in rock and roll nowadays. According to the commercial radio station I listen to in the mornings (the annoyance of morning shows wake me up quickly, and the university radio station here doesn't seem to understand block format), the mainstream's consistent mainly of the Pussycat Dolls, Fergie, JT, and Gnarls Barkley (more on the latter later). A flip over to the other commercial stations reveals that rock and roll's mainly slipped into a constant state of emo, with varying shades of new wave cum Franz Ferdinand, with the odd shock of Nickelback to make sure that, uh, we're not overly sensitive fags or somethin'.

Thus, seeing the crowd absolutely swoon over Snow Patrol took me aback. I knew Snow Patrol were popular, but I had no clue as to HOW popular they are. A glance through the crowd saw at least 2/3 mouthing along with the lyrics, 1/4 shooting videos with their camera phones, and, more surprisingly, me recognizing at least 85% of the songs.

Or so I think I did. Snow Patrol's got 90s brit pop down solid. Each song's a well-crafted britpop guitar surge, cultimating in some sort of release that finds itself universal response amongst the fey cardigan-boys, the complex frat-boys, the indie flick girls and the aging hipsters. Each song sounds like that-song-that-you-just-can't-name, 'cause Snow Patrol are either brilliant at writing songs that sound just like another song you like or brilliant at writing songs that other bands have tried to copy. I can't be sure which one it is, but I do know that I at least think I recognized every song, which is much more than I can say when I hear your average rock hit on the radio (who is this 30 Seconds to Fallout at the Disco?).

It's interesting to see this whole new genre of bands that can seemingly be lumped into bands-in-Zach-Braff-movies-or-at-least-an-episode-of-Gray's-Anatomy-or-the-OC. They might not all sound the same (though they're typically guitar-based power pop with the now constant keyboard player in the mix), but a good majority are indie bands that have now crossed over into playing larger venues, and if they're anything like Snow Patrol, the growing pains are there.

Snow Patrol would've sounded amazing in a tiny club, sounded good at tonight's small arena (approx. 1000-1500 capacity, I'd say), and will probably sound tiny in any larger venue. They're a club band whose fan base demands a larger venue, even if their sound doesn't quite match. It's close - that guitar surge, backed by light show (light show!) serves for great arena antics - but it certainly won't propel Snow Patrol further, until they're able to write that song that every single person has committed to their memory, whether willingly or not, and can burn on the mixtape of their lives. Put it simply, Snow Patrol's a good band at being slightly above average, but certainly not a band that will go down in the canon, which is typically where massive arena bands end up. Snow Patrol very well might end up being the Journey or ELO of our times.

Return to the thesis statement of this post, though, and you'll hear my caveat: I've got no clue what's going on music nowadays. The last few albums I have downloaded all date back before 1985. This Slate article on Gnarls Barkley has pointed out a strange phenomenon, though: "Crazy" is entering the musical canon and we're all witness to it. So far I've recognized it as an amazingly affectious song with little to nothing wrong with it, see that it's got the same mass appeal as "Hey Ya," but haven't thought much further than that. If the Slate article is right, would I have thought "What's Going On" or "Move On Up" were merely good summer hits?

Probably...but I hope not. Hindsight's easy, and it's especially easy when you've got all the force of rock criticism behind you. But then again, I've got no idea what's going on...and that's probably easily retroactive, too.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Commenting on Comments: Re-reading the Globe and Mail

For most of us in the Canadian centre-left, there's only one newspaper of choice: the Globe and Mail. The paper's probably shifted itself in the conservative day and age we live in, but when the other options range from the right-to-far-right National Post (who recently ran an op-ed piece on how globalization saved the post-9/11, whatever) and its other regional companions to the more tabloid-y regional papers (Calgary Sun, Vancouver Province), the Globe's still the most reliable mainstay.

It's odd, then, to read the comments on the online version of the Globe. Without getting into the sheer mind-fuck of how a commenting feature changes how one reads the news (depending on my mood of the day, it might serve as an example of over-inclusion), reading the comments is a bizarre experience, capable of providing back context to published stories or of a modest sampling of national opinion, though neither result has proven to do much more than churn my stomach.

If one were to poll through the various comments on the more political-orientated of the Globe's stories, you'd think that most public opinion swung right of centre. That, in itself, isn't a horrible thing in itself - people are entitled to their political views and, like or not, there does exist the Conservative Party and its various supporters. Political diversity's one chooses to express it, though, is another matter.

I check the comments every day, and it's not an over-generalization to say that most conservative comments are, for lack of better terms, assholish beyond belief. Take today's online interview with Liberal leadership candidate Hedy Fry for an example: most range from ill-mannered to intolerant, and whatever your opinion of Fry is (I don't have an opinion on her either way, btw), she surely doesn't deserve a comment like "go back to academia -- where your radical thoughts can be foisted on unsuspecting young minds and leave the real world to the rest of us."

More specifically, the rest of us don't deserve comments like these. I can respect a good criticism of any politician, but when that criticism tries to paint huge segments of the population into the same light because they're more likely to support Fry than, say, Steven Harper, then I've got problems. Can I respect that many right-of-centre conservatives are educated, white-collar individuals sick of paying for over-inflated governments? Sure. Should they respect that many left-of-centre liberals are pragmatic realists in the same white-collar work force? They better.

These comments prove a bit more disconcerting given what I've assumed to be the Globe's readership. Granted, many of us are simply too lazy to dilute these comments out with more level-headed ones, but I would have assumed that there's be a 60/40 split given what I've assumed to be the Globe's leftist readership. The sheer volume of these often mean-spirited comments serves to color the stories they connect with, and it gives what aims to be neutral (whether it is or not - I realize the sheer subjectiveness of journalism) such an odd slant in another direction that it makes reading the online Globe a little disorientating (as a disclaimer, I'd be equally intolerant of leftist comments of this nature, and have just as much disdain for comments trying to paint all conservatives into some sort of hillbilly Cleetus inbreeding picture). I like the interaction between the story and the comments, would've loved it ten times more if the comments were informative and provided greater factual context, but given what I read on a daily basis in these comments, it's more disinformation than not.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Okay, A Few More....

It's amazing what one can find on Youtube if you put your mind to it. Focusing on heroes past, here's a crazy assortment:

1. Fela Kuti - Live!

2. Tom Ze - a documentary of sorts, but in Portuguese (there's 3 parts). Still an amazing find.

3. Bill Withers - live performance of "Grandma's Hands" and "Use Me"

4. Timmy Thomas - "Why Can't We Live Together?" I'm not sure why, but they've interspliced his live performance (which I'm not all together sure is live - it sounds lipsynced) with a girl dancing in a bikini and fur boots.

5. Curtis Mayfield - live performance of "Keep on Keeping on." Was actually pretty easy to find, but here ya go:

6. Nina Simone - somebody went and uploaded a full show of her's from 1962. "I Loves You Porgy" always makes me want to openly weep, and I've never heard this extrapolated live version before.

That should keep you folks busy. Hep me up to more in the comments.

Obligatory Lazy You-Tube Post

I know, I know. It's been awhile since I've last posted. Chalk it up to too-much-time, but-not-enough-to-say.

I was working on a kick-ass Black Eyed Peas analysis. I even came up with a line graph:

I threw that idea out the window when I realized that "London Bridge" was kinda catchy, albeit a complete MIA throwback.

I also contemplated reviewing the new JT and Thom Yorke side-to-side, considering they're both poster children of some sort, he of the grown-up teeny-bop and he of the jaded indie hipster (you can pick which is which), and I still probably will, if I ever get around to listening to either on anything other than shitty computer speakers.

I do realize I've committed myself to keeping this thing kinda current, and thus, the obligatory lazy YouTube post. Did you know that Prince was on the Muppet Show? Well, he wasn't. But he was on that 90s incarnation of the Muppet Show. Here's the proof:
Part 1 (wherein he partakes in a Hee Haw skit)

Part 2 (wherein he performs "Starfish and Coffee")

Part 3 (wherein he performs "She Gave Her Angels")

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

What, Me Worry?: the Roots' Game Theory

I might be part of a dying breed: the new Roots album Game Theory is out today, and I'm destined to buy it (as soon as pay day rolls around, that is), despite having downloaded it already over a month ago.

I've given the album multiple listens, tried to scrutinize every little detail of it despite the shitty stereo in my car, and the sad truth is this: I like the album, but I don't love the album. Given all the hype that has been circulating about the album, whether contained to Okayplayer or not, I was expecting a grandiose, no holds barred achievement, and instead all I've heard is a very good - but not great - album.

And I'm STILL going to buy it.

I'll continually list the Roots as one of my favorite artists, not merely because of their output but because of what I perceive them to stand for - the furtherance of hip hop. Despite what seems like the collapse of a second revival Native Tongues movement, I still look to the Roots and all their various colleagues (Common, Talib, Mos, Erykah et al) for some sort of sign as to where hip hop, now in its middle-age era, can go. To me, there has been no greater achievement in hip hop in the past few years than Outkast's A Love Below/Speakerboxxx, the Roots' Phrenology, and Common's Electric Circus (don't get me wrong, I loooove plenty of albums other than those), all of which push the boundaries of the genre to overlap with and expand beyond other genres.

Which is why the Roots' output since then has been disappointing. Phrenology was challenging because of what it contained and pointed towards; Game Theory is challenging because it doesn't point towards much beyond self-concern. The Roots had opened the door previously, but don't seem quite ready to go through it. Instead, we have a band that seems too concerned with outside perception and criticism to finish the job they helped to start.

It also explains their recent campaign to validate Black Thought. In response to review after review pointing to Black Thought as the weak link, Questo's resigned himself to blaming lazy journalists and Okayplayer's started a microsite as some sort of quasi election campaign for Black Thought-as-Best-MC-Ever. It doesn't matter so much that Questo's kinda right (Pitchfork's got way too much sway in the game for what it is: an overblown website of indie rock cranks), or that Black Thought is, pound for pound, a great MC - the Roots should never let such criticism sway them, because being on the defense has preoccupied them from getting to where they should be.

And I'm STILL going to buy the album.

Because, if Questo's posts on Okayplayer are any indication, the Roots are concerned with establishing themselves through sales first and foremost, with their backs-up against the rock crits as part and parcel of the same thing. That's not, in itself, a bad thing - everyone's got to eat, and it'd be a sad, sad world if the Roots had to still keep day jobs. The Roots should be one of the most profitable bands in the world, if artistic talent had anything to do with commerce. It's still grossly disappointing that they didn't take the carte blanche the HOV was seemingly willing to offer them to release the most-progressive-hip-hop-album-ever. The Roots are still the most important act in hip hop today, even if it's more for sheer potential than actual product. If they're worried that Def Jam has them on a short leash in terms of sales, well, I'll do my part.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

One F^%$ing Great Summer

Apart from all the other amazing, wonderful things of this summer, one of my favorite items of the season has been Terry Callier. I've heard odd songs of his through the years but hadn't ever really gone back to really listen to the albums until now, and What Colour Is Love is now up there amongst my top 10 soul albums of all time (which is no light thing to say, considering I only have five or six albums in said list thus far).

Thus (it's amazing what you can find on youtube):

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Food & Snicker, Snicker

Am I the only person that thinks this album cover is the funniest fuggin' thing they've seen in awhile? It seems like a few people have a hate-on for it. It's so over-the-top that I can't take it seriously, even if it does seem to run smack into the face of Lupe's backpack image. Shiz, the guy's got his own clothing line, and I'll give anyone that name checks Lupin the Third a hall pass. Haven't made up my mind on the actual album yet (what I've heard has been decidedly lacklustre), but whatev - the music's secondary nowadays, anyway.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Weeds Keep Sproutin'

Heard lots 'bout it, finally done gone watched it: we rented the first season of Weeds (btw, since the good folks at Showtime have decided to block all non-US residents from accessing their website for the show (kind of a feeble attempt, considering you can still access it via Google's cached site feature), I ain't posting any links to nuthin', bitches!), watched it in two days (there's only 10 half-hour episodes). It's addictive stuff, no pun intended.

As with most of our favorite shows, it's a friggin' bitch to finish a season only to have to wait for months for the new season to start. We were lucky to finish Weeds just as the second season was starting in the States, and figured it'd be easy to find as a torrent.

Lo and behold - somehow someone's gone and uploaded four episodes of the new season, before they've even aired in the States! Having been used to being a day or so behind, at best, with our other shows via Tivo-crazy torrents (cough, cough, Project Runway), it's somewhat mind-blowing that we're-actually-ahead-of-the-States on this one (well, not really, but it feels like it).

All looks good for Nancy et al ahead - the first two episodes already features an awesome vomit scene, which is always an added bonus. The Malvina Reynolds - Pete Seegar theme song's been covered by Elvis Costello and Death Cab respectively, and the next few episodes are slated to feature covers by Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley fame), the Polyphonic Spree dude, Regina Spektor, Englebert Humperdinck(!), McGarrigle Sisters, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and Ozomatli. This is all part and parcel with Joey Santiago (think Pixies) scoring and supervising the show, as he does with Entourage. Would there be any other reason why the Mountain Goats would sprout up on cable tv? Probably not. Weeds have a habit of cross-fertilizing, I guess.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Bored or Something? Think like Mike (Michael Jackson, that is).

In the spirit of revamping this blog into something a lot easier to update and thus more random and, let's face it, crummy, I thought it'd be good to open up the posts beyond revisiting my CD collection to revisiting other ideas as well. If we all write-what-we-know, then it's only inevitable that this thing gets more chaotic, superficial and laxidasical, open to positing unfounded arguments with little in the way of basis (or rebuttal, depending on your usage of the comments feature).

Case in point: I've been wondering if Michael Jackson could still cut a hit album. Don't know why I should be concerned about this, but for whatever reason I spent an hour thinking about it in the early morning one weekend. (Could be that a True Hollywood Story on the Jacksons had some influence in that).

Mike! Lay off the make-up!I've been a Michael Jackson fan since I was in elementary school. I was about 5 when Thriller came out, didn't like the title track to Bad but enjoyed the rest of the album, hated most of the material since (although that lead single off the last album was alright), and Off the Wall's been a constant fave since my late teens. It might be nostalgia, but I still think Mike's still got it, and it's been helpful to know everyone from Gondry to the Neptunes (it's widely known that many of the Neptunes' tracks on JT's first album were originally written for MJ) to Ian Brown to Cornelius to...the list is endless, really (well, not Paul McCartney).

It's easy for me to say that I think Mike's still got a hit album in him, then, but it's another thing for me able to say that it'd actually happen. It ain't true that there's no such thing as bad publicity, and he's the prime example (that said, the R Kelly issue never really got resolved, but folks are leaving him alone 'cause he's been racking up hits since, even if "Trapped in the Closet" is just about as bonkers as anybody could ever get this side of Napolean - I particularly like when the midget is trapped under the kitchen sink).

The worst thing that ever happened to Michael Jackson is Michael Jackson. Dude's his own worst enemy, and, criminal charges aside, his egomaniacal nature hasn't helped his image or his music any. From those crazy statues to self-producing the last batch of albums (save for Teddy Riley here and there), he ain't helping himself out, and it's time someone else stepped in and did it for him.

Thus, here's my plan for USAthe Clutterer for AfricaMike:
1. Mike, stay out of the press for a year! The SPCA can take care of the Neverland animals, the lawyers can take care of, um, the lawyers, and the money stuff can be dealt with outside of the press (if Enron could do it, so can you). If you could do this and leave the Howard Hughes setup you got going in Bahrain, all the better.

2. Mike, let some one else produce your album! If the last few albums are any indication, it's that Mike either ain't in the know or he's over-estimating his own talents. This isn't uncommon - Prince could do with a little third-party-editing himself. Hits are needed, and there's nothing that says "hit" these days like Kanye, the Neptunes, Timbaland (though I doubt Mike could pull that off), Just Blaze, Richard Harrison. Maybe throw in a Quincy track for old times sake. If you really want to do it up, go for the hit AND spare yourself from the critics, do NOT hook up with DawG-Unit.

3. Mike, don't do publicity! Like I said, the worst thing Michael Jackson can do is associate himself with Michael Jackson. Stay out of the press shots, don't do interviews, and stay out of the videos! You got Gondry on your side, use him!

Voila - easy as pie. This had me all in a tizzy last weekend, and I emailed my friends (all two of them!) about it for their opinion, and noticed that Okayplayer had a coincidental post going on their boards a few days later.

Here's what Frank had to say:
"Thriller was the pinnacle of his career because the paranoia was in his lyrics and nowhere else. If he's gonna do an elvis '68, then he's gotta get some hypnosis to forget all his problems 'cause he's got mo' problems than Cobain ever did. (Not to sound racist, but why do them black artists attempt/commit fewer suicides than their white counterparts? overdoses are one thing, but hutchence, ian curtis, kurt, gahan, et al., well, you get the picture.) He needs to forget the bankruptcy, the custody battles, the lawsuits, disintegrating nose, clown makeup, etc. and get focused on actually getting women preggers, knife fights and halloween. Hire the best hip hop producers promisory notes can offer. Thriller the sequel = hit. Bad (or subsequent record) the sequel = miss. And then maybe he can get another monkey.

"It's almost a no-win situation for him. Maybe Gondry can make his video, maybe Jonze, Matt Groening (!), or even Herb Ritts (from beyond the grave) with nothing but nude supermodels. But you're only as good (bad) as your last boneheaded move or self-inflicted controversy, which people seem to remember with greater clarity than the music or his voice. While other artists have the ability to let these things slide, MJ puts it in his music. "Leave Me Alone," "Scream" and other blunders do not help. Forget what the press says, forget what the people think. Write songs from the perspective of a regular joe, and not some hounded celebrity. This may be a little bit of a reach for him, but i'm thinking they've got mood-altering pills nowadays for whatever's ailing him, and hypnotherapy may just get him out of (or into) his funk just one more time. And for God's sake, keep that surgeon's mask on!"

For the record, I really liked "Leave Me Alone." I think it was the Elizabeth Taylor montage in the video.

Here's what Marco thought:

"MJ is (now) irrelevant. Music these days is all about image, and his is f'd. I don't think the general public would support his music, no matter how good it is."

I asked my sister too, who's a publicist, for her professional opinion. She sez:

"Are you bored or something?"

Friday, July 21, 2006

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Today I Drove Behind A License Plate Frame That Said "Pass Da Mic"

Seeing as how I (i) haven't had time to post anything new, (ii) don't have anything remotely interesting to say, and (iii) can't muster up the energy to get past the ennui preventing me from having anything remotely interesting to say, I'm a-gonna let others do the talkin'.

It Takes a Nation of Millions is in the press a lot again, lately. It's the __th anniversary of said album, and there's yet been another hip hop album (or an album from any genre, really) to match the denseness both musically and politically.

This issue of WaxPoetics features a piece on the Bomb Squad and the making of Nation of Millions, which had two interesting bits: (i) the Bomb Squad made intentional errors in production to give the album a certain vibe, much along the lines of ?uesto playing continously off-beat on many of the Soulquarian albums, and (ii) since the crackdown on sampling (which was due in no small part to the Turtles v De La Soul case - which I happened upon this morning solely because I was trying to place a sample that En Vogue used in "Ooh Child" that De La had used eons ago, a sample so obvious that I'm embarrassed not to know it), hip hop albums have been set in a Dre blueprint, riding on a "groove" pattern of Da Chronic rather than the "music collage" pattern of the Bomb Squad (which, at times during Hank Shocklee's interview sounded alot like Phil Spector's Wall of Sound)(Shocklee also comes across like Brian Wilson sometimes, constantly referring to "the frequencies" and man's base/bass vibrations).

Here's another piece on the album by Soul-Sides pal Hua Hsu from The Boston Globe, and the Stay Free article much referenced in WaxPoetics.

My question is this: given the seeming non-regard for copyright nowadays with the popularity of internet-only remixes, mash-ups, and the old school hip hop mixtape/cd/dvd, what's stopping some underground folk from doing something along the same lines as the Bomb Squad? Lemme know if I've missed the boat on something.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ray Barretto's Acid

I first heard about Ray Barretto from the inimitable
Soul Sides site, which had claimed Acid to be one of the premier latin soul albums of all time (I'm paraphrasing very loosely here). I take that kind of commendation from Mr. Wang very, very seriously - the guy's an encyclopedia - and sought the album out immediately.

I'm not the best equipped to judge this stuff. My cursory experience with latin/Brazillian music has been purely through the Nu Yorica stuff, a bit of Airto, Brazillian tropicalia. I can pick up the glaring differences between Candido and Tito Puente (the ass shakes in a completely different way), but haven't had time to get into the gritty details between Celso Fonseca and older Caetano material (I'm thinking there's something in Fonseca's pastiche that sounds more romantic and less urgent).

Acid's not hard to sink into, though. The album's fusion of soul and latin groove is pretty immediate. Barretto's various breaks and conga solos are dizzying; the man's got more sense of rhythm and timing than most, without overwhelming the pop element of the composition. It's because of this that I find Acid more appreciable for Barretto's playing than for the soul element of it: the vocals are great, but Barretto's playing is so meaty that the vocals become dressing to Barretto. Being this is Barretto's album, I suppose that's the point.

Monday, March 27, 2006

the Beatles' White Album

Y'know, I've always been more of a Stones fan than I was a Beatles fan, and, in hindsight, I've really only ever listened to the Beatles out of feeling obligated to the 'canon,' much like one might feel obligated in reading Pound before one reads Eliot or watching Happy Days before Joni Loves Cha Chi.

It certainly doesn't help that I had heard the Clash drum on and on about "phony Beatlemania" well before I had heard Abbey Road. Conversely, it also doesn't help to have the Beatles propped up on a throne by generations before and by classmates that thought Don MacLean's "American Pie" was some sort of fraternal opus. It took me years before I could get around all that sentiment, good and bad, and just listen to the Beatles as the Beatles, as some band out of the UK that have a lot less records (but a lot more compilations) than one would assume.

My first impression upon really listening to the Beatles was that they were an incredibly dorky band. There's really only so many "serious" hits, certainly a lot less than the Beatles' mythical status might imply, and it can be surprising at first as to how much pure bubble-gum the Beatles churned out.

For whatever reason, that's one of the main reasons why the Beatles' early catalog turns me off completely. The sheer fluff of "She Loves You, Yeah Yeah Yeah" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" seemed so sterile (especially considering Mick and Keith were regularly sodomizing each other - even if only in a musical sense - by the same point) that I still can't really bother with it (which could also explain why I hate the Ringo songs with such passion).

But with the latter half of the catalog, it somehow, all of a sudden, seemed a little more forgiveable, especially considering that the fluff got cryptic and complex at the same time. I mean, "Happy Birthday" might really just be, um, about somebody's birthday (maybe it isn't), but it really doesn't matter. There's enough meat behind the fluff to make it worthwhile, enough perfect power-pop to make it palatable.(That's not to say some of it isn't self-serving wank. "Piggies" is pretty tortuous to listen to, and let's face it, "Revolution 9" ain't exactly revolutionary either forty years after the fact (was it even at the time, outside of a pop cultural context?))

It's enjoyable stuff, to be sure, but does the White Album actually belong in a canon? Would it be sacrilegious to assume otherwise? Take the time context out of it (in terms of resulting influence, effect, etc), and it's unclear. There's not enough going on to reward the listener with each and every listen (in the same way that Pet Sounds might, for instance); there's not enough being said to alert or shock the listener with each and every listen (in the same way that It Takes a Nation of Millions) might, for instance); there's not enough emotional or spiritual departure to overwhelm the listener with each and every instance (in the same that A Love Supreme might, for instance). What one's left with, then, is a very infectious power-pop album, with few misses (if any), and while that it itself is difficult feat, I'm not entirely sure if, Beatlemania aside (phony or not), this should still cut it. It might have formed a mould, but what broke the mould afterwards might be better in the long run.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Beats International's Excursion on the Version

I like the guy, and thus I hate to say it, but Norman Cook hasn't been able to churn out much without it sounding incredibly dated. Be it the Housemartins, Fat Boy Slim, or this early 90's project, the Beats International, all of it comes with an early best before date, with only the odd occasional single here and there being able to stay current for longer than five years.

One of those odd exceptions was Beats International's "Dub Be Good to Me" from the debut album Let Them Eat Bingo, which was Cook's cover of the SOS Band's "Just Be Good To Me" mashed with the Paul Simenon's bassline from the Clash's "Guns of Brixton." That was effectively a no-brainer, seeing as how both of those singles in themselves proved timeless.

Unfortunately, then, Cook couldn't produce anything remotely as catchy on Excursion on the Version (I bought the album because I couldn't remember the name of "Dub Be Good to Me" when I was shopping at the used record store). The album follows largely the same formula as all of Cook's post-Housemartin output (i.e. sample obscure songs to death), but focuses heavily on reggae/ska vibes, all in that sort of late-80's/early-90's filter that makes everything sound overly produced, overly polished, and overly plastic (it's as though that time period forgot about bass altogether and pushed everything through tweeters). It's all very bicycling shorts/Dwayne Wayne sunglasses/faux dreadlocks, if you catch my drift. This might have sounded good at the time (though I somehow doubt it, when compared even to Cook's better project at the time, Freakpower), but its done nothing but bloat in excess fifteen years after the fact.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

the Bar-Kays' Best Of...

There's no shortage of praise I can heap onto Issac Haye's Hot Buttered Soul - it's clearly one of my favorite albums of all time. Backing Issac Hayes on that album was the Bar-Kays, who had miraculously survived despite having most of its founding members pass away in the same plane crash that claimed Otis Redding (the Bar-Kays had since replace Booker T and the MG's as Redding's backing band, becoming the second rung house band for Stax Recrds). For whatever reason, though, I didn't pick up on the Bar-Kays until much later, and, to be honest, I haven't listened to this compilation in any substantial way until this past week.

This is mostly because I had a severe avoidance for late 70's, early 80's funk/rnb when I had bought this compilation, decidedly concentrating solely on late 60's, early 70's funk ala the JB's and the like. This compilation, comprised of the Bar-Kays output on Mercury Records, is '76 onward (thus ensuring the absence of "Soulfinger," the Bar-Kays only unabashed hit).

It wasn't until a little while back that I'd really come to appreciate funk/rnb from that time (eg Zapp & Roger, Lowrell, Heatwave, etc) as anything other from novelty, and thus I've only just begun to give this Bar-Kays comp a fair shake. For the most part, they're not as way-out as Funkadelic/Parliament or as West Coast synth as Zapp & Roger were, and mostly reflect the post-disco funk that the Isley Brothers and Rick James were putting out around the same time. It's solid stuff, but still somewhat unremarkable, and thus most of the tracks side with the glut of the output from that period of time. There's a few gems ("Hit and Run," "Shake Your Rump to the Funk," etc), but nothing so earth-shattering so as to make any of the material essential...much like the Isley Brothers etc output from the same period. It's perhaps telling, then, that funk really didn't progress beyond this or past Prince.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Basement Jaxx's Kish Kash

It's easy to dismiss club music as weightless, but it's really some of the most utilitarian music around. Many get lost in trying to find hidden depth or meaning to the genre, overlooking it's primary purpose: it's music to dance to!

Granted, there's a horrible amount of shite out there that's so undigestable that it deserves rampant criticism, but it's still rooted to that primary purpose. That glut of horrible club music is horrible for the fact that it's so cheesy that no person with any shame would feel comfortable dancing to said music. When club music is good, then, it's good solely because, man, you really, really want to shake ass to the shit. When club music becomes excellent, then, it's excellent because, well, you really, really want to _____ to this shit.

Basement Jaxx have always been forerunners of the genre because, for the most part, they understand this objective completely. It's rare to find a single that doesn't have its adrenaline ramped up to steroid-dependent level, while somehow avoiding the druggy and relatively aggro sound of the more revered Chemical Brothers. This might because the duo rely so heavily, particularly on Kish Kash, on 80s Prince, updating it with post-Outkast beat programming, wherein each beat sounds overly anxious to get to the next. The programming is where Basement Jaxx deserves much credit, as the two are forward thinking enough so as to achieve a rarity in club music: their albums don't sound overly dated.

The Prince homage gets particularly heavy with the only slow songs on Kish Kash - indeed one of the few slow songs in the Basement Jaxx catalog - "Feels Like Home," featuring MeShell Ndegeocello, who's been having a habit of turning everything she appears on to gold. The song's been often panned for being too blatant of a Prince rip-off, but let's face it, we're not talking about D'Angelo or Andre 3000 here, and relative to both Basement Jaxx and the genre, it's a huge achievement.

Kish Kash, like all of Basement Jaxx's output, is solid fun, and that's a huge achievement as well. It's hard to do fun without achieving the juvenile as well, and Basement Jaxx does so. It might not be earth-shattering stuff, but when one can finally put everything else aside and just friggin' dance, it's excellent.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Big Star's #1 Record and Radio City, Chris Bell's I Am the School

Starting the 'B's with trepidation, tackling an elephantine presence from the get-go.

When I first started writing at ___ magazine, the Big Star/Posies thing had just released the Columbia live album, and a huge flowchart of the Big Star history, tracing through their latter disciples (often 25 years after the fact), graced the walls. This chart weaved around every important band of the past thirty years, broad enough to capture underwhelming 70s bands and overblown 80s juggernauts, each hinging on the theory that a few arpeggio chords could cross the gamut.

And it really did: Big Star's cult status (what with a lack of real commercial success, even to this day) is of massive proportions. Those jangling arpeggios generated some of the most perfect power pop in history. Aside from Emitt Rhodes, it's difficult for me to really think of any other American entity that really perfected the post-McCartney/Lennon power-pop in the 70s (I await someone to challenge me with Cheap Trick).

I received #1 and Radio City as a Christmas gift (thanks James!), both contained on the same CD. For whatever reason, I've always listened to #1 a bit more, and remember it quite a bit more clearly than Radio City. Once one reaches "The Ballad of El Goodo," hears Alex Chilton sing "I've been trying hard against unbelievable odds," the harmonies coming in shortly after, one gets hooked. The opening half of #1 is immediate and drawing, addictive. Bell and Chilton alternate between classic rock riffs, and sweet, almost naive ballads (Chilton has the cockiness of an adolescent when he sings "tell your dad what we said about the Rolling Stones" on "Thirteen"), with "India Song" being the only real dud (it's perhaps telling that it's one of the songs on the album that the Chilton/Bell team didn't pen). #1's got all the hallmarks of an amazing debut: broad, almost a little too ambitious.

Radio City, then is the excellent follow-up. With Bell having departed from the band due to depression or what not, Radio City is all Chilton, and it certainly helps that Chilton's one of the more intriguing personalties in rock and roll history. Radio City's more biting, the songs more ascerbic. Even when Chilton's heavily in love, it can still sound like he's sheerly bewildered at such an accomplishment. Radio City lacks the innocence of #1, making it perhaps a more mature album in theme, and probably a bit more cohesive, though Chilton's just conflicted enough to still capture the schizophrenic beauty of #1.

It's not overly surprising, then, to find that Chris Bell's I Am the Cosmos is a sweeter, nicer affair. Though Bell might be the Lennon of the duo in regards to sound (maybe Harrison is more accurate), he's more the McCartney in terms of theme and lyric. If Chilton's the realist, Bell's the dreamer; if Chilton is conflicted with you, Bell is conflicted with himself. Though released post-humously (Bell died in a car crash in '78), I Am the Cosmos still sounds fully realized. It's a bit less 'American' (I suppose living in Memphis will do that) than Chilton tends to be, a bit more clearly evolved from latter Beatles, and thus perhaps a little less immediate in terms of huge guitar riffs and what not. It's still just as beautiful, though, and it's a shame that this will be Bell's only testament.