Hip-hop has a beginning, and despite the naysayers, the music and community are far from dead. According to Malicious, music started somewhere too and in his case, Music Stars With M (OdoubleF).
The thing about rap music is that when someone asks about what's good, you can't just offer five suggestions and go. People want specifics, and the more specific they get, sometimes the further away it gets from what they originally were searching for. Malicious offers the kind of music that people have been looking for for years, and continue to look for because of one simple aspect: a skill in spitting lyrics. Yes my friends, we have a lyricist here, and not just a casually thrown out tag just because he speaks over music, I'm talking about a pride in wordology, a talent in verses, a... yeah, this is that cat you thought would be left in hiding somewhere in the back of the demolished record store. No.
On this 18-track album, Malicious (or Mr. Malish to some) proves again that when it comes to proving that you have what it takes to be an MC, you don't need to costumes or endorsement deals. What you need is intelligence and a knowledge of how to structure songs. Song titles like "Yuk", "Breakfast", "Now", "Reign", "Pimp", "Gameday" and "Walk Alone" seem very basic from the outside, with primarily one or two word titles (two tracks have three words). That gift of gab that fans are hungry for are to be found inside, with such tentative gems as The use of my language is labeled outlandish/Devour tracks whether I'm full or I'm famished/Each grip can eclipsed one verse and you banish/Faster than Jared and a Subway sandwich ("Top 3").
For anyone who is a fan of true rappers, and not just people who speak because they can, this is an album worth investigating. Musically he covers a lot of ground, where tracks might band like M.O.P., have sped up samples in the vein of Kanye West, shades of the South and the West, there is truly something here for any and all tastes. Malicious also had a hand in most of the production, so this is someone who know what's he want out of his music and knows how to execute a great performance. In fact, as I listened to the album a number of times, I can already sense that he knows how to rock a crowd, make great jams, and how to move his music to an anthemic level. This is that MC you've been waiting for.
(Music Starts With M is available from CDBaby.)
Witchdoctor is part of the ATL massive known as The Dungeon Family, which has featured some of the best MC's out of Atlanta. Wtichdoctor has been around for a long time but has not had the attention he deserves. That has changed with the release of The Diary Of An American Witchdoctor (Williams Street/Adult Swim), an album that has the integrity of a major label but at times has the feel of a polished demo circa 1995.
The album begins with a prayer of sorts, before it moves into some of the rawest hip-hop you've heard in years. It's not fake, it's not about being blind from the shine of the bling, although it refers to the riches, plastic people, and the downside of living rough and rugged. Yet with its Southern sensibilities, there's always a bit of optimism through gospel-tinged background vocals and funky basslines that may remind people of the backyard parties of yesteryear. Witchdoctor talks about eating cheap to save on money, and handling your own business because it's either that or go in for the kill, literally. As someone who has been a longtime fan of the Atlanta hip-hop scene, you can still hear what put ATL on the map, the mixture of strong lyrics and music with a solid soul and funk backbone, and that's heard throughout the album. The fact that this album may not blow up in 2008 is a disgrace, but for those who see Atlanta hip-hop for much more than who and what is popular, this is an album that shows a bit of that family vibe that has always made the music feel like a home cooked meal. While eating, Witchdoctor talks about a need for money like oxygen (as heard in "Oxygen") while warning people about friends who will fuck up your friends on the drop of a dime (""Jake Got Ya Body").
In Witchdoctor's world, life would be good if things were better, but all that glitters isn't gold as they say, so sometimes you have to do what you have to do. The cover photo of three kids standing underneath a tree while one kid on his bicycle (perhaps Witchdoctor himself) smiles from ear to ear shows what it was once like, but the 666 on the license plate perhaps was a sign of what was to come. Smile occassionally, keep one eye open, but stay true to yourself. The backcover has a modern day Witchdoctor, a bit worn from life experiences but still standing, still surviving. That's an MC from Atlanta in all of his glory, that's Atlanta, and that's hip-hop.
(The Diary Of An American Witchdoctor is available through CD Universe.)
With a group consisting of such members as WeeDee G, V-Tech, and Dope Nutz, Daily Chores may come off as a joke at first, especially if you take one look at the cover for Don't Get Crazy! (Soldiers Of The Cause), featuring a cartoon cover with the faces of fifteen lunatics. Or perhaps they were influenced by former classmates or current neighbors. Play the album and you'll find something quite different.
Not that you're not going to find any silliness on here, in fact these guys are serious in the way they rap and write, but are open to poking fun at the world and themselves. By not seeing their photos on the cover or in the CD booklet, there is a slight mystery as to who and what they are. Head over to their MySpace and you'll see that they are nothing but a bunch of guys who like to party and have a good time, and have a love and respect for hip-hop. Some people will see them and go "oh no, white guy alert" but pull that opinion out of your ass and take a serious listen. As their MySpace page stages, they rap about what they know and live, so you're not going to hear about any fake gangsterisms. While they do mention their love of good times, these guys are really into it and write in a way that would please admirers of Chino XL, Eminem and early Jay-Z. The music doesn't rely on samples, which might be a change of pace for some at first, but they pull it off well. Add to that some well written rhymes and one may be able to really a bit of their originality. On the surface, people may also compare them to every other white rap group, whether it's Young Black Teenagers or Atmosphere, but that's only surface. Take a listen and you may find that the future of hip-hop is not so bad after all.
(Don't Get Crazy is available from CDBaby.)
Each member of the group have different side projects, and V-Tech is one half of Dominant Intelligence, which may sound like a very bold statement but it works quite well. The other half goes by the name of Homeboy Face (yeah,I don't know either), and on Balance Of Power (Soldies Of The Cause) both of them not only rap but contribute their productions to the cause, which feature dusted samples from the crates of the unknown and their own instrumentation. This one leans more along the lines of Slug and Eminem, and what I like about them is that they not only drop verses but will do a bit of passing-of-the-mic. The humor here is kept to a minimum, as they hit a bit harder lyrically with tracks like "Terrorists In Office", "Through Whose Eyes", and the title track.
The album is quite polished as is, although a few of the songs would be a bit better to me if it had a bit of grit to it. When I hear a song of anger or protest, I don't want it to sound like Lil' Jon like. Contradictions can work, but here it's one of the few weak spots on the album. This is how they do it in Santa Cruz, and I hope to hear more from all of them in the future.
(You can find out about Balance Of Power by going to the Dominant Intelligence MySpace page.)
Now here's something interesting. It's a four-men crew called Oct., and Outta Control (Fullout Productions) sounds like a throwback to the early 90's, which is a good thing. How good? Well, say what you want about Young Black Teenagers but they had some good songs. Some looked to them solely for their Bomb Squad connections, but they were good at what they did. As for Oct., they take a bit of the old YBT formula and do them one better, and I like that. When they all met (they have roots in Michigan, Illnois, and New York), they were originally going to be a band. Their love of rap moved them into trying it out before making the move to do it seriously. There are a few songs where they do play, such as "The Crunch", and it lowered the momentum of the album a bit. They're not bad musicians, but they set up a good vibe to where it's unnecessary to divert in that direction. When they do, things tend to go downhill and I want to say "no, take it on that funky level and keep on exploring there."
In other words, it has its good and bad points. When its good, the album's title represents their style quite well. When it's bad, it sounds worse than a karaoke video made at a country fair, and it's not fair to them, or to anyone who has to hear it. Trim the crap, fine tune the better elements, and these guys may be able to make it to the surface.
(Outta Control is available from CDBaby.)
I had reviewed an album last year by Chris Schlarb that became one of my favorite albums of 2007. His label, Asthmatic Kitty, passed me another CD by a group I had read about before, Land Of A Thousand Rappers. I was under no obligation to review it, I was just told "take a listen and let me know what you think". The word "rappers" is in their name so I knew I had to find a way to review it, good or bad. I downloaded some sample MP3's and I was not sure what to make of it. Do I take it out of context, or do I wait and consume their music in full. I went for the maximum full dose.
Vol. 1 - Fall Of The Pillars is hip-hop music for the abnormal. I do not want to use the word "alternative" when it comes to "hip-hop" because I don't believe in that. But of course I referred to it, which must mean that there's a reason for combining them. The music they do is not the traditional boom bap, the trademark hardcore, the overrated gangsta, or anything that even resembles anything currently playing on the radio today. Which might make some to ask the question, is this hip-hop with an electronic edge, or electronic music with a fearless respect for hip-hop?
I'm going to say it, this is some of the most fucked up music I've ever heard, and that's a good thing. Take bits of Reaching Quiet, early Beck, Ween, Hawd Gankstuh Rappuh Emsees Wid Ghats, and Kool Keith, and what you get is a nutty dose of the unpredicitable, where music reference everything from rockin' Hammond organs to Merry-Go-Round sounds, oceans to radio distortion, and there's a track where everything leads to one of the best moments of the album: the sound of a turkey gobbling! SHIT YEAH! I laughed so hard I almost made some doodoo driblets.
This is not music for those who want to have a predictable good time. Oh no, this album is quite good, but this is music where everything is scattered all over the place, tempos and time signatures change on a regular basis, voices are never the same from track to track, and no navigational system will help you get from here to there, you just bust out your board or scooter and wait until you see light at the end of the tunnel. A few of the songs do not make any sense, so what's the craft in that? It's how the nonsense works within their musical circus, and yet as I began to listen to it over and over, it made more sense than Cappadonna. The Kool Keith comparison comes from simply writing in a way where it appears to sound abstract but when looked upon from a distance, there is continuity in what they do, even if it's not obvious upon first listen. It takes a lot of risks and succeeds in the process. Whether or not they start the movement of including turkey samples in hip-hop is another story, but I'm all for it.
(Vol. 1 - Fall Of The Pillars is available directly from Asthmatic Kitty.)
Sean P does not play the fool, although some might take him as second rate just because. The guy is from Texas, and as the saying goes, you don't mess with the state, and I dare you to mess with Sean P. The guy has been making music since the turn of the century, being fascinated by various DJ's and MC's that moved him to contribute to hip-hop by making his own music. The guy has not one but two CD's, which show both his skills as a rapper and as a DJ/producer.
Stiles For Miles is the MC side, and on this album he shows that he is more than worthy of being in the studio and on stage, for the simple fact that he has something to say and he wants to share those stories. My favorite track on the album is "Move Ahead", where he talks about someone who had ambition but because of hatred and fear, the guy looked inward and struggled to get himself out into the world again. The one thing that I like about his songs is that it sounds genuine, there's nothing on this that sounds out of the ordinary or far fetched, although he could create a character for himself and start doing the MF DOOM thing. But comic book fantasies these aren't, it's more about standing positive, being true to yourself, and taking your time to do things right, which some might find shocking when so much hip-hop in the forefront is about backstabbing, breathing stale club air, and putting another bitch on the cabinet. Sean P isn't like that, he wears his emotions on his sleeve and yet doesn't come off weak, which I think is a testament to having to prove himself four times as hard just because.
Sean P's Costume Jewelry is the DJ/producer side, where he features a mix of original mixes and remixes of well known tracks, and the guy knows what he's doing. I think in a way, he does it to say "if I had a chance to work with these guys, this is how I would do it", and for a few of the tracks they are a lot better than the originals.
Don't believe me? Find out for yourself.
Stiles For Miles and Sean P.'s Costume Jewelry are available through his MySpace page.)
Nomar Slevik has been making music since the mid-90's, and in that time has combined various sound textures and influences into something that comes off as a hip-hop hybrid of whatever you want to throw at the guy, or perhaps it's more appropriate to call it a hip-hop sponge. The spirit of the boom bap is all over Sasquatch: The Great Dying (Siq), and in each of the ten tracks, where he goes back and forth from rapping to singing, he shows the kind of confidence that comes from putting a lot of time and effort into making music.
What does it sound like? If Everlast was signed to Mush Records, it would come close to the edginess found on this EP. The sounds of the Middle East which open "Bunnyman" (produced by Moshe) is the perfect backdrop in a track about searching for someone and one's self., while ":Last Stand On Crystal Lane" (produced by DrNo) and "Electrical Storm" (produced by E9nine) would fit perfectly on a Lyrics Born album, especially with the Bowie-esque sample that helps shape the song's mood. Slevik's flow goes back and forth from the abstract to being direct and to the point, although because of the musical backdrops and singing that he does, it might be considered anything but hip-hop. It's hip-hop, it's indie, it's influenced by electronic music, it's a mixture that ends up being a recipe that can be consumed as whole, while taking in the ingredients if you wish to dissect it layer by layer. There's an undeniable groove that will keep listeners moving, grooving, and maybe guessing as to what direction the EP, and Slevik's music, will go next.
Sasquatch: The Great Dying is available directly from Siq Records
...AND NOW, A LOOK AT MUSIC OUTSIDE OF THE HIP-HOP REALM:
Colorado may not be celebrated as a mecca of great music, but in the past they have provided a lot of good bands, be it Expatriate or Warlock Pinchers, and Schleigho, Fans there support not only local bands, but bands from out of state and trade with each other through websites like Colorado Tapers. Jazz fans are slowly becoming aware of 3ology a trio featuring Doug Carmichael (saxophone), Tim Carmichael (bass), and Jon Powers (drums). Like Medeski, Martin & Wood (and I realize that's too easy of a comparison since they too are also a trio, but bare with me), 3ology take in a lot of different influences and interests and create a sound that's deep, warm, open and... wait, that sounds like a Gianna Michaels video. Hold up one moment. Okay.
Their self-titled and self-released debut album begins with "The Inner Mind", which begins with the kind of swagger one might find on a Prestige or Blue Note album from the 1960's, but with the kind of groove that is very much of the present day. About three minutes in they get locked into that groove as Doug Carmichael starts adding a bit of color into the picture, as brother Tim maintains a foundation while Jon makes sure the paint is forever flowing. The chemistry between these guys is amazing, and anytime one of the musicians throw a curve, they each know where to go at the precise moments. "Gravelupagus" has a nice and smooth Sonny Rollins vibe to it, and just when it begins to feel a bit magical with Doug's saxophone work, he drops out and let's Tim and Jon talk to each other for awhile. Here, Jon kind of gives off that busy Elvin Jones thing where he maintains the main tempo while decorating the place with various hits and crashes which sound spontaneous (it may very well be) but he always gets back on track, into the groove again, Doug entering the picture and making sure to get himself a part of the conversation before the eventual end and final chime. "Mudbutt"... well c'mon, it's called "Mudbutt", there's only one way you can groove with that title. It's a nasty track, slinky, firm, and lush... like a Gianna Michaels video. Here, Tim's bass work (on what sounds like an electric fretless) forms the body of the song, and one can visualize a candlelit room for two, window slightly open, an invitation for what's about to go on inside. Tim's bass almost gets close to that Stanley Clarke groove, and it is THAT type of funk that makes 3am that eternal time, the "zone", the groove, the sway to and 'fro of the magnificent mudbutt (whomever she may be).
With a track like "Mudbutt" they can get very stylized but leave much room for improvisation, so one can assume that they take this a bit further in a live setting. When the three get loose, one never knows what to expect. That in itself might leave some jazz purists to leave them alone but for the jazz adventurous, this is what I'd call "perfect imperfection". In other words, nothing is perfect, but there's nothing like hearing a group knowing how to play and play well, and in the process taking the listener and spectator for a ride. The album does sound like a high quality live album, but it was recorded in the studio. I love the sound captured by Heath Hardesty in this, everything sounds right, you hear the musical qualities and dynamics, and one can almost feel the chemistry and vibe going on. When one feels the vibe, the only thing they can do is see and witness the music themselves. I hope they take their music on the road and gather up a lot of fans in the process.
(The debut from 3ology is available from CDBaby.)
As an artist, Ralph Steinbrüchel creates music and releases it simply under his last name, Steinbrüchel. Basis (Room40 is the assembly of various sounds, layered and mixed together to create something that sounds similar to what some have called click hop, but more along the lines of what came before that. There's a lot of electronic drone slices, and within that he creates these incredible tones and sounds that could be considered electronically meditative, truly becoming more than the ghost in the machine. It's lively, but not in a dancing sense. Hearing the songs here is like watching a plant come to life on film, it takes awhile but you take everything in and things begin to develop in front of your eyes, or at least whatever images are conjured up in your mind. The interludes here are a little over five minutes in length, before it delves into lengthy trips such as "These 1" (going over 17 minutes) and "Falter" (which takes 20 minutes to do). The recordings that are a part of these songs are at times manipulated beyond recognition, and that's a part of the joy of hearing Basis. Perhaps what Steinbrüchel is trying to say is that he has a few sounds that are the basis of these recordings, now let's stretch them to the point of no return.
(Basis is available from Room40.org.)
Melodic electronica? Dreamy new age? A mixture of both? For Spain's Fernando Charro, it was a time for introspection, and he wanted to express some of the things he was going through via paintings and music. Both are blended together in his new release, LiVertad, where he explores the links between himself, the world, the universe, and life as a whole.
This is not electronica, no heavy or booming beats of any kind, but electronic music in the vein of Tangerine Dream, Mike Oldfield, Jean Michel Jarre, and Isao Tomita. The first track, "La Noche de los Tiempo", could easily be mistaken for music from one of Tomita's albums from the early to mid-70's, with that same type of mystery that somehow makes the synthesized sounds speak as if it was a human voice (and perhaps the point). I've always been a fan of this style of music that takes you on a journey. Even though there are ten tracks listed, it could be one song divided by ten, and what I'm trying to say is that while this album can be played track by track, to get a feel for what Charro is trying to accomplish, listen to it in one sitting.
The cover art makes it out as if the music is meant to be listened to in a dream state, or maybe our existence is nothing but a dream. Regardless of the inspiration, LiVertad sounds like a celebration of the mysteries of life, what came before us, and what will exist once we're gone. A very emotional and satisfying piece of work.
(LiVertad is available from CDBaby.)
Cuba is Pedro Alfonso's link to home, and he honors his home and culture through his own music, a mixture of jazz and Latin sounds through the violin. Strings To Your Heart is an album that makes an attempt to pull the heartstrings for the benefit of maximum enjoyment. The guy is an incredible player, at times moving into worlds that would be perfect for smooth jazz, but doing a lot of complex work that would work on the NPR side of things. Inbetween all of this beauty, he offers a political statement of sorts with "Oil For Fools", the title of which should be self-explanatory. If you pay attention, you may hear distant sounds of the Middle East within his playing mixed in with a bit of Americana, and one can only laugh at the fools and hope for optimism in the years to come.
The series finale of The Sopranos has brought to the forefront a renewal of appreciation for the music of Journey, although the group's music has never left us. Here, Alfonso covers "Open Arms" and honors the original with style and grace. Alfonso plays with power with fluidity, never once letting anyone down with what or how he plays, a very remarkable recording.
(Strings To Your Heart is available digitally from iTunes, while is CD may be avaiable through his website.)
Melody Breyer-Grell is a jazz vocalist who honors the music of Gershwin with Fascinatin' Rhythms: Singing Gershwin (Rhombus).
The arrangements are pretty straightforward, but she manages to give it her all and then some with the performances that are on here, including renditions of "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off", "Nice Work If You Can Get It", and "I've Got A Crush On You". The liner notes state that she was originally trained in classical, and you do hear that in some of the songs, as well as the bubbly vibe that comes from performing in musical comedies. I'm sure she does all of this and then some in a live setting, but you can sense she's a grounded artist with a voice that will impress anyone.
(Fascinatin' Rhythms will be released through Rhombus Records.)
Howard Britz's calls his music contemporary acoustic jazz, and at a time when some forms are jazz are watered down to the point of being a Fruit Stripe gum soda, this definitely means something. His statement, or I should say eight statements are made on Here I Stand (Tee Zee), and the declaration: jazz in its truest form while looking towards the music's future.
Britz plays the stand up bass, and like many of his contemporaries before him, he writes and arranges his music, as it should be. His knack for getting into the groove whenever possible, and by doing this being the focal point while allowing his musicians to live and breathe in the music, is a testament to what he is as a musician and artist. The music on here has the feel of jazz from the 50's and 60's, so those who may like their bebop and hard bop traditional will find all of that here. But within these tracks one is able to hear a few ECM influences and the occasional push into something soulful and funky, although it's not as upfront as one might thing. "Oceans", like its name, carries the listener on for a ride that goes from smoothed out to a bit of jazzy commotion, but with everyone on the boat (Sylvia Cuenca on drums, Casey Benjamin on alto sax, David Smith on trumpet and flugelhorn, and George Colligan on piano) navigating as a team, they assist/compliment each other quite well and make sure the song gets to its destination in one piece, without anyone jumping on a semi-secure showboat.
While everyone is on equal terms here, Britz allows himself to shine on his own with the opening bass riff of "Martha's Song", in honor of his wife. Taken in 7/4, Britz sets the listener up for the dynamics that are to come, and throughout the song one can tell Britz is aware of being the anchor, while making sure everyone joins in to bring the album home. The horn section of Benjamin and Smith sound as sharp and polished as any good horn section should, and Colligan's piano work has the kind of style that sounds too good to be true, or as people might say in Hawai'i, "da bugga is mean!" Britz and Cuenca are a team not to be messed with, their union is tight and there are moments where it feels like they are two sides of the same musical brain, quite remarkable. Here I Stand is an outstanding album, and Britz is one of many jazz musicians today who are continuting to break down the time barriers, which is another way of saying that with jazz, there should be no limits.
(Here I Stand will be released nationally on March 1st, but can be purchased through CDBaby.)
Ashia is a singer, songwriter, and cellist. For some that might mean a road to quirkiness, and in Ashia's case it's not a bad thing. Pay To Be Loved (self-released) is a wonderful 6-song EP which shows how expressive she is on the vocals and with the cello, where she can be happy, melodramatic, and dark all within a few minutes.
Her singing tends to be on the Regina Spektor side, where it might sound child-like at first, but becomes much more as you turn every corner with her. While having a cello might seem basic for some, she manages to bring the listener into any motif she feels like creating, be it jazz, pop, classical, or something that might be considered a scatterbrain hop, skip, and a jump to the next song (and that was meant as a compliment). You see her and might think of a variation of a Vanessa Carlton but if this is pop, it's more of the Bjork and Feist variety, not Jessica Simpson
With the range of music she plays here, she could easily do a country song, move right into some light punk, and perhaps do what Elvis Costello did with The Juliet Letters. But she is her own woman with her own style, doing her own thing in her own time, and I hope she'll be able to move up into the world for everyone to hear and appreciate.
(Pay To Be Loved is available from CDBaby.)
It is said that thousands of people moved from the East and Mid-West to the West for a new life, but many stopped on their journey at the point of exhaustion. With this comes a transfer of upbringing, culture, and music. The Grizzly Owls are a duo who take on some of those passed on traditions, but sometimes things get lost in translation, as By Night On My Bed shows.
The eight songs on this EP combine the sharpness of the old country with a need to modernize things with 80's default keyboard beats and Poster Children-type angst. Imagine if Grey DeLisle decided to do some kind of smoky new wave, and you have a good sense of what Jenny Andreotti sounds like vocally. The dark edge comes from the musicianship of Joseph Andreotti, and music like "Jeremiah" and "The Rest Can Go To Hell" sound like long lost tracks from the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me soundtrack. Not quite Julee Cruise but just as eerie.
I think what gets to me is that sometimes their union is offset by the other. The vocals can come off strong but the music doesn't sound quite right. Other times the music is the perfect soundtrack for getting drunk and overdosing at an anonymous motel with multi-colored carpets which are there to disguise the stains, but the vocals throw everything off. Half of the songs here are really good, while others have a few missing piees in the puzzle, or perhaps they have a beginning, middle, and end, but they aren't assembled correctly. If anything, it shows that while some place limits on the definition of country music, Americana has become a place to explore strange new worlds, not unlike America itself. I definitely like the potential of what is being done by this wife/husband duo, and I hope that they will strengthen a few key elements so that a full proper album will make people run for cover.
(By Night On My Bed can be purchased directly from their MySpace page.)
Need more music from couples? Here's another one. Jane Dowe and Hank Hofler call themselves Oh Astro. With a common love for musical creativity and experimental sounds, they create music that sounds right only because it's so fucked up, but in a good way.
I'm a huge fan of artists and producers who fuck up the notion of music by cutting it up in twisted ways. One of my favorite songs off of of the Belle et Fou soundtrack (Sonar Kollektiv) is Forss's "Flickermood", where a jazz song is cut up, stretched, and twisted well beyond it means, so that beats jump from one place to the other, and yet it is still incredible. When I first heard it, I probably played it ten times straight. Oh Astro are that kind of group where what you hear may be what you're hearing, or may not be what you're supposed to hear. It's made for the dance floor, to pump in the car, it could be played to excite children at daycare centers, it could be for those with an admiration for groups like Stereolab and Sukia, it's multipurpose quirkiness, a perfect marriage of mystery and unpredictable moments. The opening track, "Snow Queen" (MP3) sounds like someone throwing in 80's pop with Prince, although with words cut up beyound recognition, at times it sounds like she's singing about gism. But get into "Lucy On The Moon" and it sounds like a haunting song taken from a film from the 20's or 30's, but filtered through an effect that sounds like a synthesized vacuum, or singing into a fan.
Electronic music is an endless world, one in that you never want to escape from or stop listening to, and Oh Astro is definitely an assumption of the future via modern interpretation. You sometimes hear the actual voices of Dow and Hofler, other times it's sources from other tracks (ssshhh) or from friends and collaborators. Off the top it's a bit kooky, but once you find a comfort zone to rest in, there's no end to the delights one can experience from this album.
(Champions Of Wonder is available directly from Illegal Art.)
Sometimes I get albums sent to me and I have to ask myself "what the hell were they thinking?" Case in point: The Terrordactyls. This is what you get when one of the guys comes from Tukwila, Washington. They met during high school on Vashon Island, WA (the other member is originally from Baltimore), and finding a common love of creativity, they decided to add music to their arsenal. Their self-titled debut (Pankof) sounds like a cross between the dorkiness of They Might Be Giants and the nasal vocal twists of cLOUDDEAD/Reaching Quiet, but without the tendency to drop funky distorted beats.
To be honest, it's the kind of quirky indie pop that you can't help but love and embrace, and share to your friends. One guy sounds like he would be on a really cool situation comedy, while the other sings like he belongs on the wrong side of a VH-1 show with lots of soundbites. With their stories of wanting to swim and have dolphin fins, or the wonderment of "Parking Lots", their brand of acoustically driven tales with bright drippy things has just the right amount of weirdness to be huge. Not huge in that "what's that in your pants, an armadillo?" sort of way, but rather in a way that could change lives for a small group of people who will find their brand of humor to be just the thing to make life worth continuing with. Non-threatening, but as warm as inflammation.
(The debut album from The Terrordactyls is available on CD from The Terrordactyls store on their website, where you can also buy custom hand turkeys and pins. Or if you are a digital cheapskate, you can download it free from their multimedia page. You can also view one of their videos here, courtesy of YouTube:)
Brian Grosz is a member of the band Dogs Of Winter, but if you've ever wondered what it would sound like if he got out of those confines, you're in luck. Bedlam Nights (Exotic Recordings) shows the darker side of Grosz and it sounds like he's been listening to a lot of Little Feat, The Band, and The The... now imagine that for a moment. Got it? His bio states he has "the methadone nod of Mark Lanegan, and he does have that, or at least he does in "Lady On The Low", which could easily be mistaken for Billy Idol. Imagine if Jack Johnson had a mean case of itchy boto and had to plug himself in. That's how rugged this album is, where he talks about being too fucked up to drive and passes by the things in life that aren't worth stopping for. With a title like "Won't You Be My Neighbor" you know there's going to be some kind of sarcasm going on, especially when the album also features "Sick Of Your Shit".
Bedlam Nights is definitely a peek into the mental madhouse that is Brian Grosz, who sounds like being in the wrong side of town on the wrong time of day after waking up from the wrong side of the bed. I like it.
(Bedlam Nights is available from Exotic Recordings.)
With a simple name like Project, one might miss them during normal music conversation. It could mean anything, everything, and nothing at the same time. In this case, Project is a 3-piece jazz band consisting of Greg Pattillo on flute, Peter Seymour on bass, and Eric Stephenson on cello. I was introduced to them on a board when someone wanted to show people this jazz trio who played funky and had a guy who was a beat box flautist. In the words of Moe Szyslak, "whuh-whuh-WHAAAAT?"
I did not know what to expect, but I'm watching the video on YouTube and I had to hear more.
Now, I'm not a flute player but I had a dad who was not only a jazz fan, but a huge fan of the late Herbie Mann. We had Memphis Underground, Push Push, and Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty, and his flute playing became a part of my early childhood. I had uncles who were heavy into Jethro Tull and I could hear the sheer power of Ian Anderson. What I always liked in flute-based music, especially rock, was when the guy (or lady) would play and gasp for air. When you hear a pianist, guitarist, or a drummer, unless they're yelling like Charles Mingus or are as loud as Keith Jarrett, you don't hear that. With a flute, you can't not only the breath, but that quick gasp. Don't ask me why, but I still think that's great when someone is doing a solo, and within this melody there's a quick "tthEEH" or "maaAH kkooof EH". Thing of Walter Parazaider in Chicago's "It Better End Soon", specifically Movement 2. Yeah it's silly, but when you hear it enough times it becomes percussive.
What Greg Pattillo has done is something that a lot of musicians do. You are trained to learn an instrument the right way, but when you're practicing or just sitting in a room, you want to try something that people normally don't do. To be honest, flautists have always done interesting things while playing, but within a jazz context, and arguably a soulful, funky, and hip-hop context, it sounds new. The flute has been sampled many times in hip-hop (whether it's the Western flute or flutes from Asia or the Middle East), but one doesn't tend to think of dope beats and a flute. Project is able to incorporate that into their sound.
The group is one of many today who have a love of the traditions of jazz but grew up with hip-hop as their soundtrack. Whereas the jazz of the 1970's expanded on where the groove could go, some jazz of today has that groove looped and chopped. Project aren't a hip-hop/jazz hybrid, in fact most of what they do is arguably traditional jazz, or at least traditional in the late 20th century sense. They also throw in a few classical influences and the strength between the three of these guys is incredible. When they do take on Mingus' "Fables Of Faubus", one can almost imagine the legendary bassist saying "what in the fuck are these guys doing?", while at the same time tapping his feet as silent praise. "Sweet Pea" sounds like the kind of song that would be a cratediggers dream, as it has a funky bass line (done with a stand-up bass and the cello) and the beat box flute that is too irresistible to not mess with (in a sampling sense). It's a headnodder, and one will still look at the cover of the trio and say "wow, this is jazz?" Why yes, it is.
Everything was recorded live in the studio, so anything that may have been of the moment is caught digitally and saved for future generations. While digital recording tends to make some recordings a bit too "pristine" (thank you Mr. Primus Luta), the playing and quality of the recording seems lively, and that's due to Dawn Landis (who recorded and mixed three of the tracks) and Scott Burns (the remainder) doing an excellent job in capturing their sound. Project's sound is a novel approach, and one that works quite well.
(Winter In June is available from CDBaby.)
Phillip Bimstein calls himself an "alternative classical composer", which could mean he's open to flirting with the avant-garde, or simply messing with the notions of what defines music as classical. His style of composition is for the most part traditional, but of course there's an edge to it. For Larkin Gifford's Harmonica (Starkland), one gets to hear this "edge" as he combines real instrumentation with found sounds, with each of them feeding off of each other to create a unique dialogue.
It's a rootsier approach to music not unlike what Coldcut have done, in that he mixes and twists the music to create what he wants, while adding dialogue and found sounds to tell the story, or at least to create an aura of sound that leaves a lot to the imagination. "Casino" is divided into three different tracks, with each of them talking about the lure and drawbacks of Las Vegas, and the real reason why the city never sleeps. Bimstein does this with the work of Sierra Winds, a wind quintet that becomes the gentle side to the song's horrors of eating, drinking, gambling, and sex. The title track is also divided into three movements, whch features harmonica playing from Gifford, mixed in with stories and tales of a yesteryear that is dear to him, perhaps showing the listener a perspective of time passed and time long gone.
In between these pieces are the kind of creativity that will make you want to listen to this repeatedly, to be able to get all of the words and voices and to detect what Bimstein was able to do with the materials gathered to create these songs.
(Larkin Gifford's Harmonica is available from CDBaby.)
Last year I heard the music of jazz musician Pamela Hines for the first time, in a trio setting on the album Drop 2. She has returned again with her trio (John Lockwood on bass, Bob Gullotti on drums, along with Jerry Bergonzi sitting in on tenor sax) for the appropriately titled Return (Spice Rack).
As soon as you hear her play in "Ojos de Rojo", she plays with such a demanding style (as if to say "this is Pamela, I'm going to show you what I have and it's quite good") that you can't help but be floored with the first few notes. Lockwood and Gullotti are doing their thing to mold the song together, and it's great when Hines and Lockwood are playing together in some spots while Gullotti tightens everything before moving on with the song. I myself could just listen to Gullotti play, but again Hines reminds us all that this is her album and again the trio play in beautiful harmony.
It reminds me a bit of Dave Brubeck's style where it's played with power and yet it's light to the touch. She has been compared to some of the best, and for good reason. While you may not hear someone else's exact style in hers, what you do hear is the same passion and fervor that let's the listener know that she is very serious in what she does, both in her playing and how the songs are arranged. In the title track the trio bring in Bergonzi on sax, and he creates the kind of aura that will definitely please fans of Phil Woods and Cannonball Adderley.
As a means of comparison, she has included two takes of "My Heart Stood Still", one running close to four minutes, the other a little over seven. The short take goes through all the emotions, but she and the rest of the group let loose during the longer take. The celebration of jazz continues in the 21st century through musicians like Hines, Lockwood, and Gullotti.
(Return is available from CDBaby.)
Bring Back The Guns is angst and rage just the way you want it: with hints of punk, rock, punk rock, and the subliminal metalesque riffs thrown in sporadically. Dry Futures (Feow) sounds as if someone brought in the best elements of Sore Jackson, Rocket From The Crypt, Trumans Water, Weezer, Flaming Lips, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Treepeople, and poured it into a blender with Tiger Balm and one Naga Jolokia pepper. Their music is primal and ugly, not disgusting, but just the right amount of punch to where jumping off a stage and onto the floor head first is nothing more than a means to melodic punk relief (just don't do that, I know you're not a dumb ass).
Call it math rock, call it complex, call it the ultimate anti-fist banging mania music, this should be the soundtrack to the new revolution for modern day rock. The guitar riffs are fierce, the rhythm section are explosive, and the lyrics are a deliberate fuck you to anything that stands in the way of the oppressed and pissed. As long as they avoid doing a track like "Beverly Hills", Bring Back The Guns are part of a revolution that hopefully will save the world, one garage at a time.
(The CD for Dry Futures is available directly from Feow Records. MP3's can be purchased through eMusic.)
If jazz vocalists were more in the forefront today, Melani L. Skybell would be someone who may be celebrated among the greats. She has released three albums and her fourth, Just A Chase Away, shows why she has what it takes to be a jazz singer, and what it could take to become one of the best if the music scene today had a few adjustments.
Skybell not only sings but writes, as she composed eight out of the eleven songs here, and her lyrics show a lot of strength and maturity. In other words, she could easily be someone out there offering her songs to the world, but through her voice and piano work you get a much more direct feel for what she's trying to say and accomplish. Highlights include "Let's Get Away", "The Stars In Your Eyes", "Dreamflight", and she dips into the standards with a rendition of "I'm Just A Lucky So And So", for fans of Ellingtonia. The production on this is quite nice too.
(Just A Chase Away is available from CDBaby.)
Southern Exposure by Dorothy Doring could have been interesting, especially with a track listing that includes Cole Porter's "I Love Paris", John Coltrane's "Giant Steps", and Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away", but I found myself struggling with this one a bit.
It's not the music or the production, because both is great. I just found Doring's voice to be not to my liking, and I listened to it a number of times to get a feel for it. I just couldn't. Sometimes there's a lot of thrill to it, while other times it just sounds flat, and purposely flat at that. I don't know if that's her intention, or my ears were fatigued but with a title like Southern Exposure I had high expectations. Not really a let down, just disappointing.
(Southern Exposure is available from CDBaby.)
Here's an interesting combo, but not one that hasn't been done before: jazz vocals and banjo. Cynthia Sayer is the lady behind the album, and for Attractions (Plunk) she uses the talent of Bucky Pizzarelli to get her music across. Now, I'm a casual fan of the banjo, when I know someone is playing I really want to hear them play. But in this case, I found Sayer's vocals more exciting than the banjo playing. She can play quite well, and maybe if I see any musician promoting their musicianship, I really want to hear them play, but the majority of the album sounds like nothing but accompaniment.
With that out of the way, keeping in mind "subtlety is key", I found Attractions to be quite good. Musically she goes all over the place too, from blues to jazz,m folk to old style pop, and even her original "Banjo Tango" shows off her skills as a musician (it is also one of my favorite songs on the album). The non-jazz material sounds very much in the vein of No Depression/Americana, and she comes off as a very rootsy, soulful singer who wants to not only tell her stories, but to continue the stories of those before her.
Maybe she's not someone who wants to be a show-off musician, and if so, good for her. But it works as an earthy album full of adventure and tales of times that become memories.
(Attractions is available from CDBaby.)
If Norah Jones decided to dig deeper into her country roots and did something along the lines of Grey DeLisle, Harriet Wheeler or Kacey Chambers, it would sound like Bitter Blue, the debut album from Spokane, Washington's Karli Fairbanks.
What struck me immediately was the voice, which was very emotional, ethereal, and while there is a slight delicate, angelic side to her voice, the lyrics offer a different perspective of things. As she sings in "Canyons", No my heart, it isn't hard/I do feel and I starve/I'll save my tears for something else/I'll cry some more until it helps. It's an open book that's too irresistible to close, and fortunately she allows listeners to peer in. When that steel guitar comes in during the intro of "Tie Me Up", it immediately brings to mind all of those classic songs where that twang from one key to the other may bring a tear or two to the eye, and the entire album is pretty much like that. Bitter Blue couldn't be a more appropriate title for an album so somber and melancholy, and while it is one of those "play this alone, in the dark"-type albums, it would be great to hear this material played live with others who may feel the same things she expresses in these songs, these stories of love lost, love disappearing, time fades because time doesn't wait, but if you stay in one place, you may either miss the one you've been looking for, or miss out on someone looking for you. When the album gets to the end with "Ten Dollar Show", Fairbanks explains that her heart can only hold back so much, and perhaps one day her soul and another will meet and do the dance that they only know.
It's Americana, it's folk, it can easily be adapted to country, and yet it's also trademark Pacific Northwest, with the gloom and doom played in a manner that is a plea for better days instead of bitter ones. The approach of the songs are simple and spare, with nothing but guitar and vocals, with perhaps a slide guitar or accordion coming in and out of the mix every now and then. It's the perfect album to listen to alone as you scream inside for that special someone, realizing that someone is singing the songs you thought no one could ever understand.
(Bitter Blue is available from CDBaby.)
When I played the album by the Washington, D.C. duo known as Chessie, I heard it one way. Because of it, I wanted to hear it differently to find out if there was a difference. Yes, I will explain.
Manifest (Plug Research) is the group's first album in seven years, and fans are certain to say it was worth the wait. As for me, I'm new to their music and upon hearing it the first time, the first thing I said was "this sounds like it's in need of a singer or two". I've heard the complaint before, either from people on board listening to their favorite instrumental artists or critics who hear the music and claim that it would be great, but it's missing lyrics. That's how I originally heard songs like "Take The Lark", "Poughkeepsie Aflame", and "Farewell Diagonal", where some of the instrumentation and electronic textures would make them perfect as backdrops for Radiohead, Coldplay, or even something The Chemical Brothers have done in recent years. If there's one song that I think should have vocals on it, it's "Intercity", where certain musical phrases and chord structures loop over and over and I feel that it would be perfect if someone committed words to them. Stephen Gardner and Ben Bailes create the kind of music that is certainly hit worthy, but it left me hanging. At least upon first listen, and when there are portions where things go on and on in repetition, they're not boring. They're developed to where you move into the vibrant sounds and pulsating drum tracks, but it gets to moments where you wonder if and when the journey will end. At least upon first listen.
Then I listened to it again, without thinking about the need to have a vocalist, and Chessie are like a more electronic version of 65daysofstatic. It was then that I began to hear a lot more expression in their sounds, and essentially the musical voice of Chessie. If The Necks are about exploring their music through improvisation, Chessie are about getting from point A to point B in a pre-planned manner, meaning that every sound heard is meant to be there, no detours of any kind. That doesn't mean the music is boring or formulaic, nor does one expect the expected. Instead, every thing sounds right, even when it does feel free-form (as it tends to do in "Hoosac" and "Long Bridge").
The group have not forgotten their indie rock roots, they have not abandoned their guitars for plug-ins and obscure audio programs. Chessie move forward and look inward to find more ways to expand what their music is about, musically and dynamically.
(Manifest will be released on February 4th, and can be pre-ordered from CD Universe.)
I read the bio for The Shondes, a quartet out of Brooklyn, and normally I don't but after hearing the music I wanted to know a little about them. It states that the group are known for their complex, melodic rock sound combined with rich vocals, and a live show that explodes with energy. Their songwriting fuses the various musical traditions of feminist punk, classical, Jewish, and queercore, while their vocal melodies move effortlessly from anthemic to haunting, textured by the distinct qualities of each of their voices.. The Red Sea (self-released) sounds like a cross between 7 Year Bitch and Red Aunts and musically they would fit in very well on the Sympathy For The Record Industry roster.
Lyrically, they sing about taking charge and not giving up on life ("Don't Look Down"), resisting the right to remain silent ("Don't Whisper"), and romance in the form of "What Love Is". There's a sense of pride as they play and sing, whether it's cultural, political (they are supporters of Jews Against The Occupation, or sexual. Sometimes it's in your face, other times it's simply a need to speak out against the status quo, or at least to not believe in what your parents and grandparents passed down to you. Some have mentioned Riot Grrl when it comes to comparing their sound, and it does have that feel at times but to their credit, The Shondes have much better arrangements and hooks. Or perhaps it can be said this way: if the mainstream had seen and acknowledged the progression of the Riot Grrrl movement, The Shondes would be the Green Day of that movement, but with occasional sloppy drumming.
(For more information on The Red Sea, contact them through their official home page.)
Aranos is an artist who has done his share of traveling, and through observation he has come up with a project that will make people think of their actions and surroundings. It's an album called Tax (Pieros), and just as George Harrison once talked about how everything will one day be taxed, Aranos suggests that we live, breath, and die with tax on our minds, and if there was a way, they would tax the concept of our souls too.
The album looks at the many concepts of tax and the need for money or any type of currency to make the world go 'round. In "I Don't Want To Pay For War" he says Hey Mr. Politician, we paid enough for your ambition/I don't want to pay for any war anymore/the way they use media and teach history in school/telling us to accept that the wars are really cool/everything is resolved by force and violence/we have to spend more and more on so called defence/I don't want any more armamants/No more crazy governments/I don't want to pay for any war anymore. In "I Pay Tax" he gets into a blues motif as he wakes up in the morning to wash his face and brush his teeth, only to come to the realization that everything around him is money meant for someone else. "With Our Killing Costume On" talks about how people put on costumes to kill others with different costumes, for the sake of national security and freedom. Money is truly the root of all evil according to Araon, and through various styles of music he expresses himself in a way that sounds like Ruben Blades meets Tom Waits, with a few Zappa-esque qualities.. Hearing this makes you wish all of us, regardless of country, were more self-reliant, and it's difficult to find a way to get out of that, and not have to pay for murders and wars that happen elsewhere. This is an album that should be sent to every politician around the world. Perhaps Aranos is saying "I dare you to prove me wrong". Music for the people.
(Tax is available from CD Universe.)
M. is not to be confused with M of "Pop Musik" fame, but rather a man named Martin, who creates the kind of psychotic electronic-based rock along the lines of nine inch nails or Ministry. In Absentia (self-released) takes a look at a world with an uncertain future, expressed through paranoid beats, vocals of rage, and various sounds and samples. "Xenophobia 88" sounds like doom at its best, and when the sound of a music box comes into the music, it sounds like we're looking back at a better world long gone. "Alien" is the story of someone who finds himself in a place unknown, only to be taken through a process of anti-identification. and it might make people afraid to walk outside ever again.
It's pretty heady and heavy stuff. M. calls this a "headphone album", although it sounds great without it. Blast this through a nuclear winter and see what comes out of the muck. Maybe your past.
(In Absentia is available from CD Universe.)
American Beat Records are back with a new string of reissues for fans of classic rock, and anyone who is a fan of the following will have to pick these up:
Artful Dodger-Honor Among Thieves
Blue Oyster Cult-Imaginos
Donnie Iris-Back On The Streets/King Cool
Billy Squier-Signs Of Life
Iris was responsible for such songs as "Broken Promises" and "Shock Treatment", but the guy was also responsible for such hits as "I Can't Hear You", "Ah! Leah!", "Sweet Merilee", "My Girl", and the early 80's anthem, "Love Is Like A Rock". Iris came off as the nerd gone cool, kind of like Elvis Costello without the messed up teeth. While other songs from the early 80's have become fodder for commercialism, no one has turned "Love Is Like A Rock" into something to lure customers, at least not yet. It's one of those songs that is about the power of rock'n'roll, the majestic feeling of the guitar riff, and the urges one gets when one wants to "rock". Rock on, Mr. Iris, rock on.
...AND NOW, SOME STUFFS:
1. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
2. Baby Be Mine
3. The Girl Is Mine (with Paul McCartney)
5. Beat It
6. Billie Jean
7. Human Nature
8. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)
9. The Lady In My Life
10. Vincent Price Excerpt (From “Thriller” Voice-Over Session)
11. The Girl Is Mine 2008 with will.i.am
12. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) 2008 with will.i.am
13. Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 2008 with Akon
14. Beat It 2008 with Fergie
15. Billie Jean 2008 Kayne West mix
16. For All Time (previously unreleased track from Thriller sessions)
Yeah, I honestly don't understand what Fergie or Akon are doing on this either, but hey, what can you do.
1. Bury Me an Emcee (freeverse)
2. Looking At You (freeverse)
3. Lost Ones (freeverse)
4. Door To My Life (freeverse)
5. Da Grind (freeverse)
6. Righteous To Go (freeverse)
7. I Don't Know Officer (freeverse)
8. Go Crazy (freeverse)
9. Milk Em (freeverse)
10. Here We Come (freeverse)
11. Lovely Morning (freeverse)
12. Never Enough (freeverse)
13. Throw Some D's (freestyle)
14. Religion Is Rap (snippet)
15. Christ Cypher feat. JC Rymez, Billybo, C-Los & Change
Again, it is free and you can download it right now:
An album will be recorded for release later this year, and she is scheduled to perform at this year's SXSW in March.