Aloha, and welcome to the 200th edition of The Run-Off Groove. I am and remain John Book.
The fanfare. Ask any writer and they will tell you that it is a thankless job. Don't take that wrong, I do get a lot of great feedback from not only fans but artists who like what I had to say, it makes me feel good to read their comments, especially when it goes further than "I like the review". To all of you, I say thank you.
I would like to write for a magazine or two again, perhaps for a newspaper or a bigger website. Looking for a music supervisor for your next television show or movie project? Work with me, I'm the perfect one for the task. Put me to work.
Here's what you will not find in The Run-Off Groove. My column is on Blogspot/Blogger.com, but you will not find any links to full-length albums. Those of you who know how to get them, you do what you have to do. But with each review I include information on where you can pick up the CD or the MP3's. Whenever possible, I do include links to "legal" MP3's within or after each review so you can sample their work. Like it? Show support and buy a copy. The only time I will include a full length CD in my column is if the artist says it's okay. But please, show support. If you like the music, head to a local show, buy a T-shirt.
I don't know what the next year will bring, or the next four years. Will I be doing this column in four years? I honestly don't know, I take it on a year... no, monthly basis. 200 is a lot of writing, and i want to keep on writing. I do want to concentrate on some book projects too, and I hope that by doing this column and contributing to others, I will have more access and opportunities to cover what I want to cover in my books.
On top of that, I want to finish my album and also release a series of EP's, on CD or in digital form. I haven't had new music out in years, and it also means I have to do the superhype all over again. But it's worth it, so with my ego in front of me, listen to my music on my MySpace page and catch a bit of Crut-ness.
Away from me and onto you, the reader. This is a new column, so let's begin with a brand new album out this week.
It has been said that to start a review with the word "I" means you're not working hard enough. Therefore, I will begin my second sentence in this review that way.
I don't know how hardcore fans keep track of the music from Slug and Ant, the two guys behind the group Atmosphere, although I say this as someone who doesn't go out of my way raiding blogs to hunt down Rapidshare links. I do know this. The last time I heard these guys in full was with the great album You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having (as reviewed in The Run-Off Groove #75), and I had said the album is an important piece of music that in a better world would make teenage girls burn their Avril Lavigne T-shirts and want to rock some Atmosphere gear. Slug had also released another Felt project and then when they were to go on tour, they released tour-only EP's. I missed most of those but I'm still playing that album like crazy, it has become a personal favorite, one of the best of the 21st century thus far.
A few months ago I heard the group wanted to promote their new album in a unique way. Their promotional tactic was that they weren't going to send out any promotional copies of the album, that if you wanted to hear it, you had to be invited to a listening party. I honestly thought that was great, but not everyone lives in NYC and LA, so I wasn't able to attend (read "wasn't able to collect that many aluminum cans to pay for a plane or Amtrak ticket). Then it was announced the album was going to be released as a deluxe edition, with a hard cover book and a bonus DVD. Damn, I want that! The reason for them not wanting to send out advances was because they wanted to prevent it from leaking early, feeling that a good portion of the leaks may be coming from journalists. Slug himself posted on a board I used to frequent, and I told him that not every writer leaks an album, some hold to the unwritten code ethic. Even though he understood that, I and other non-threatening parties weren't an issue, but those who did. With no promos, it went back to a time when you heard the album on the day or week of release. But, copies were sold at indie stores and a week before its official release, one could find the album online. Not surprisingly, this is how I obtained the album for review. I hate reviewing MP3's because it removes a good part of the sound quality, which I always take into consideration in this generation of clock radio bullshit. But this was Atmosphere, two guys whose music I respected so until I buy my copy, I have to deal with the inferior MP3's. Here I am.
When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (Rhymesayers) has Slug and Ant doing their thing again, but the first listen may make you think that Slug and Ant aren't as hardcore or in your face as they have been in the past. There are moments on this album where it sounds as if they're trying to cash in on the current trends by creating synth-heavy production, lightweight beats, and a lot of singing. That's right, Slug sings and while I was initially taken aback by that (only because the guy is a great rapper), he's not that bad. Yet what I found was that when he did sing, it almost seemed like he did it for parody, in a Flo & Eddie or Frank Zappa manner where the hooks sell but...
That's the key point right there, the "but..." If one takes a deeper listen to these new songs, Slug is still the same guy condemning the ills of hip-hop culture while describing a day in the life of the B-I-G, D-A-double D-Y S-E-A-N. The album seems to be divided into three distinct segments, beginning with "Us". The album opens with "Like The Rest Of Us", where Slug speaks over a laid back, abstract jazzy groove (think Ahmad Jamal) on the evil that men do, and the evil he occasionally puts himself in from time to time, when he has to open that bottle, swallow that friend just like every other person. What I like is that immediately he sets himself on the same level as everyone, he's not Slug, he's himself, but it's just a bere primer for what's to come. "Puppets" is about manipulation, whether it's by others or ourselves into believing what isn't there, and the lyric that hit too close to home are the last two lines in the chorus: barely trust 'em, they're all puppets/love is nothing, scared of success. The second segment, begins with "You", and this time Slug places the target on fucks and low life's. "Painting" sounds like Pink Floyd on 45, and with its soothing yet eerie slide guitar, it's almost as if he's looking at another as a way of him looking at his inevitable self:
Ain't no color paint gonna cover the stains
The pictures on the wall will all remain
And even though he's home now, sound and safe
Surrounded by the faces that he places his faith
The images visit from the past, he witnessed
Can't stay away from the memories, sticks with
Each detail, embedded in stone
Like he chisels those condition into his bones
The progress stops and pauses
Spits and sputters like the basement faucet
And it's obvious he's lost in his regrets
You can smell it on his breath
Ain't no color paint gonna cover the stains
But now the alcohol is gonna mother the pain
Tuck it away, no complaints, just laying on his
Back, on his backyard under the rain
Take tomorrow, but doesn't know how though
For every swallow, there's another to follow
He weaves his way throughout the story
Looking for a new missing piece or a door key
Spirits used to be for celebration
But now they just take him away from the hell that's waiting
Re-up until there's three sheets up
And pick a place for the skeletons to lean on
"Yesterday" is a personal talk with someone who meant a lot to him, and it's his way of saying thank you for what he used to ignore or take for granted, and when it's revealed who the person in question is, it's a very touching moment, especially for those who have ever lost a loved one.
When the album reaches the "Me" segment (with the song "Me"), Atmosphere begins to sound like the group of old, or at least it has all of the touches they have been known for: funky beats, obscure samples, and a more hip-hop approach. Up to that point, it sounds like an album that probably would have been recorded in the early 80's, before hip-hop would take over the world. In fact, the album is less about hip-hop and its bravado and pride, and more about a world without it. A post Lesson 6 world? Is it the idea that hip-hop is long dead, but you still think and comprehend in a hip-hop manner? "In Her Music Box" has Slug speaking to his daughter about what she sees, teaching her good from bad and hoping she'll never have to go through some of the things he did. The music box is the sound that opens the album, and at this point we realize that what we've been hearing is not only a bit of self-examination, but the music box in question. It's lessons from an elder to a youngin, and it is then you fully understand the title When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold. Maybe we are all lemon squeezers, but it doesn't mean one has to take in that tart tang day in, day out. It's almost a way of saying "I see a white surface on that subway train. I see it over and over. But I got a can of paint and I'm going to make it nice, add a bit of me on that train, show the world what it's like to see something new and different. When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is new and it is definitely a different Atmosphere album, but it seems the group have always delivered what the fans want and love. This time they offer a challenge to see if they can figure out what's going on. This album is just a derivative of Slug and Ant's masterplan together, and it's grown hip-hop that's can be listened to as a guide us through the second half of life.
(The standard edition of When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is available directly from CD Universe.)
Atmospheric. Trippy is what I call it, or at least that's what some call the lyrics of Aamir, whose debut album, Underwater Regions (Siq) is a display of a rapper with character and a resistance to bullshit. His music goes back and forth between sample-ridden tracks with manipulated instrumentation, and within that he speaks about how I am a descendant of Adam, tampering with ridicule/fascinated by language, I label myself passive ("Teach Me"), and song after song he just oozes with this kind of mental power that is unlike the majority of rappers out there. "Recovering Satellites" has him speaking in double time while the instrumental is a Diplo-like instrumental moving at a down-tempo pace.
Upon first listen, Aamir is not the kind of MC that you may understand (or want to understand) at first. His words are much more deeper than what's on the surface, maybe a more comprehensive Divine Styler with the best elements of Chali2na. When the lyrics are direct, they are meant to be (listen to the attack of each verse in "Breath Of Fire") but within the understandable are puzzles where you'll have to type it or print it out and then look at it from afar. He's not a simple line-after-line, song-after-song rapper, he plays around with composition and song structure. The rhyme emphasis may be within a line, or he'll rhyme 4+6+4+2 instead of just 4+4+4+4, and it caught me off-guard at times because I have expectations of what a song should sound like, but rhymes are his playground and he's not just going to let anyone join in. He's not complex just because he wants to be, in fact all of his songs are easy to take in, but it's the execution that impresses me.
(Underwater Regions is available directly from Siq Records.)
Hella resilient is what The Grouch calls himself in "Favorite Folks", and it is just one of many lyrical gems and schemes he offers on Show You The World (Legendary Music). The album cover has him holding up his daughter on his shoulders, with a star-filled background and a pink butterfly in the distance. While the world he will show her will be sharp and bitter, there is also the positive things as well as the reality of reality. True to form, he offers the kind of wisdom and composition that he has been doing since his last album came out in 2002, and has it been worth the effort? Indeed it is.
The Grouch remains one of the best storytelling MC's out there, and perhaps it's less about storytelling and more about an MC that stays true to telling stories, rather than bulletin board Post-It note lyrics. He's not a notepad rapper, but a notebook rapper, as he shows in "God Bless The Elephant" (his duet with Abstract Rule). "Yardwork" is a piece of the puzzle that may or may not have began with De La Soul's "Potholes In My Lawn", where he speaks metaphorically about maintaining his yard while avoiding the potholes in life, be it biters or fraudulent people. In the title track he speaks about traveling around the world as he speaks about his goals and dreams through the eyes of a hip-hop fan, as he speaks to his daughter, cousins, nephews, and nieces. Raphael Saadiq handles background vocals on this one and helps The Grouch out on making sure everyone achieves their goals. That rapping nut known as MURS rips into the scene in "The Bay To LA", where they both get into a hyphy crunky snap-type track that could be perfect for the club if people in unsterile rooms would be willing to consume a bit of fresh air. MURS' pakalolo-influenced performance is a highlight of the album.
Another highlight is hearing a brand new version of a song The Grouch did with edIT last year (which I reviewed in The Run-Off Groove #169). "Artsy" is redone with a more abstract style of production where the beats are varied, and Grouch's vocal track has even more pep and attitude to it. The rest of the album is packed with quotables, but the one that moved me the most was the one that hooked me from the title alone: "Mom & Pop Killer"
I heard you bought your whole style off of eBay
They even selling everything now that we say
Sally furnished her apartment at Best Buy
But Target got the best buys, and that's why
I'm gonna do a Wal-Mart Exclusive
With Hallmark rhymes, and Fisher-Price gon' produce it
Oh, you ain't heard weak lyrics? That's the new shit
Like all over print ain't and telling the truth is
Even though he's dropping name brands as if it was... wait, it is part of the norm, it also refers to Sally whom modern hip-hop fans aren't going to recognize but should, for she has been part of the fabric of rap music for the last twenty years (from Stetsasonic to Diamond D) and now it seems Sally's world is dominated by recognition and devoid of self-identity.
It's confusing, but it's the world we live in today, but it's a world worth exploring, and passing along to an unaware younger generation who will hopefully improve and uplift the conditions of today.
(Show You The World is available from AccessHipHop.com.)
The Grouch continues to seek the path with his crew, Living Legends, and they've returned with the 7-track The Gathering (Legendary Music), and if you've been a fan of Aesop, Bicasso, Eligh, Sunspot Jonz, MURS, Scarub, and Luckyiam, then you will no doubt hearing the flows and chemistry they have, all in the name of MC un-supremacy and rap music. They talk about being laid back, occasionally (!!!) high, and having the itch to take on every twist of the hip-hop Rubik, including some songs that sound more new wave and video game-ish than "true" hip-hop, but if artists today aren't making true hip-hop, perhaps it gives more people license to twist that Rubik's cube one more time.
The Gathering is about family and a group of friends, or maybe this gathering is what people would be talking about and celebrating while reminiscing over hip-hop, which is dead. Dead? Well, not quite and if it ever went into cardiac arrest, you can bet these guys would be the lyrical IV's.
(The Gathering is available from CD Universe. MP3's can be downloaded from eMusic.)
The majority of so-called hip-hop heads out there don't realize the greatness that can be found in rap music from the Pacific Northwest. While most should know of Sir Mix-A-Lot, most have never heard of Source Of Labor, Boom Bap Project, Blue Scholars, Turntable Bay or Mr. Supreme (and I'm almost certain the majority of my readers have no idea who Vitamix is and if so, learn). The underground and indie scenes have always been filled with top notch artists, but for whatever reason they have only enjoyed regional success. With luck this will all change with Animal Farm, whose The Unknown (Focused Noise) album is easily one of the more exciting hip-hop albums of the year. This Portland group features members of The Cleveland Steamers, Soundproof, and Money Shot, if you are familiar with any of these groups then you know what they're capable of doing. Those capabilities are put to the test immediately in the opening track, "We Came To Rock", where the hard booming beat and "hip-hop" vocal chants become as meditative as Nyabingi rhythms with the command forget these shiny new rims, let the rhyming begin and then the battle for sonic domination is underway with such bitter blows as A dope amount of rappers turn sweeter than metrosexual/Porcelain cats shatter when I knock them off the pedestal and 'Cause I defeat MC's that challenge me/See you won't wanna fuck with this cat like bestiality/A street mentality need a beat to balance me/Like a schizophrenic with plenty of personality.
They get humorous but their rhyming ways are no joke, they know how to outwit and outlast more effectively than Eliza Orlins, and whether it's the jazzy ways of "Ragtime Gal" or the Wu-type blitzkrieg of "War", they have a sound that is very reminiscent of the creativity heard on albums by The Beatnuts, Tha Alkaholiks, Jurassic 5, and Blackalicious. The key word in that last sentence is "creativity" and it's nice to hear people who put a lot of emphasis into their words and music and not in making fashion statements or strengthening their shoe endorsements. It goes back to a time when discussion about rap music always lead to talk about the "artform" and not about who is dating whom and becoming Hollywood's favorite group. Now go get a dozen donuts at Voodoo and make sure to pick up a bacon maple bar or two or a Dirty Snowball.
(The Unknown will be released on May 20th.)
DL Incognito isn't someone who has to hide in order to get his lyrics across, the guy is there in the open ready for confrontation if need be. A Captured Moment In Time (Nine Planets Hip-Hop/Urbnet) is an album that comes from a rapper who has a lot of heart, where it's for his family, friends, the world, or hip-hop in general. Throughout the album he goes out of his way to tell stories that you'll want to listen to and remember, wanting to recite and share to everyone in your vicinity. He has a commanding voice not unlike Pharoahe Monch, and has a way of being intensive with his words without your really knowing it until you sit and think about it.
It's a well produced album with the kind of production that will make you go "oh damn, I have that beat in my crate right now, and I was about to chop that hi-hat up too", courtesy of such collaborators as T-Wrecks, Techtwelve, Kelakovski and DL himself. Again, it's an album with a lot of heart, and at a time when people say that hip-hop and anyone who listens to it is heartless, bust this out and show them how it's done. As the great Samson S once said, this ain't Kid or fucking Play.
(A Captured Moment In Time is available directly from Urbnet Records.)
School Of Beats are a production team from the East Coast (Walk On is from DC, Laid Back from Delaware) who are out to make an impact with their well crafted beats, and find some of the hottest upcoming rappers who also want to be heard as well.
The beats are very much in the nature of 9th Wonder, Blueprint, and Evil D in the sense that they find some of the prime funk and soul, and then twist, chop, and slice it beyond recognition. Basslines seem to move forward, only for it to move backward and somewhere else entirely, and you can tell these two know what they're doing, it's a love for beats and having a craft to find new ways to manipulate the known and unknown. With guest spots from Shak-C, Big James, Laelo Hood, Ice Da Villain, K-Ruck, Freddie Thumps and many others, together they're creating a sound that defines them as a collective, a group of friends, and of course as individuals. It may be a simple compilation but it also works as a resume, in the hopes that everyone will get a chance to work and collaborate with others.
The sound is very professional, although there were two or three songs that sounded like rough demos compared to the polish of the rest of the tracks. I like rough, don't get me wrong, but maybe (keyword "maybe") a bit of uniformity would have helped those tracks just a pinch. It's not a big deal though, the big deal is the production, and they're ready to conquer whatever and whomever is sent their way.
(Lesson III: The Progress Report is available from CDBaby.)
The CD arrived in a simple yellow CD envelope with the name of the group, the album title, its release date (4/1/08) and record label information. The Camp are signed to Commonwealth Records and they just released The Campaign. Without an album cover to rely on I couldn't make any assumptions or form any expectations. I played it, and what came out was some of the most clever, funniest, freshest, dopest, messed up rap lyrics I've heard in awhile. Are these guys a bunch of smart asses who fully understand what could happen if their music started influencing others to do the same? I'm not sure if these guys really care, at least from the outside. Deep down, it's all about business, and they're in the business of tearing up microphones in a manner that could put them in the crazy house.
Grime Da MC , Excetera, Dese, and DJ Hevan are The Camp, and the album starts with some obscure 60's R&B tune with a familiarHoneydrippers breakbeat and with the appropriate vocal "ladies and gentlemen" we are welcomed into a very insane world. You smell the alcohol, you sense hashish, and then you hear My dick's so white, I got the gift like Christmas night/Don't be pissed, a'ight, I only hit your sister twice. With a chorus that goes All I know is booze and ho's, they speak about "Gentleman Needs", referring to everything from rhyming right to needing a comfortable couch to crash on. "Calm Down" has them wanting to bring a ruckus but are being told that they should relax as they talk about being biracial, personal conflict, and holding grudges on the world. "Little Story" may start out as a raw sex rhyme until they realize they each know the woman who has a love for white liquid very well, throw in an STD and it gets ugly from there. Each of the MC's in the group have their own voice and it reminds me of what The Procussions were doing recently, but with much more partying and unpredictable drunken antics. They write individually but it's great when they seem to write with a unified theme, it might be easy for any one of these guys to step out on his own but there's that bond between friends that can't be defined and they have "it". They want to joke around, they rap about it, if they want to talk shit about each other, it's all done in fun. When they get serious, it's direct and to the point and they go in for the kill each and everytime, knowing that when their verse is over, the microphone smokes. If The Camp are truly on a Campaign, I can only imagine what the sound of victory will be like.
(The Campaign is available on CD from UndergroundHipHop.com, and digitally from Amalgam Digital.)
Jean-Philip Grobier performs as Kites, and his brand of music is pop beyond. Yeah, maybe not an original term, but the music you're hear on his self-released EP You and I In The Kaleidoscope is definitely the kind of music that is the start of what will become his own sound. The guy has the lush vocal harmonies, the pop finesse, the guitar riffs, and most of all the guy has songs, whether it's a nice folky-ballad or something that could lead people into the world of hard rock without Jon Bon Jovi smiles. "Daylight" has verses that you want to pump your fist to, and when the chorus hits it will move you to do the Chris Cornell-styled Jesus Christ pose. I enjoy hearing the layers of different sounds that are on here, all of which are played by Grobler, and there are moments where it might sound like a long lost Brian Wilson masterpiece, or it gets brutal enough to resemble a more pop friendly Sunny Day Real Estate. There's guitars, there's distortions, there's ancient pianos, there's fat Moog-y synths, there's victory and power. Kites is ready to conquer the world if he had the power to do so, but I do not think the world is ready for this kind of melodic power pop. You know what, too bad, because this guy could become huge with enough fans and support from them. If anything it moves me, it's someone who wants to take his influences and not just say thank you, he wants to say "come along, we're going to pile everything on".
(You and I In The Kaleidoscope is available directly from the official Kites' MySpace page, or you can go through iTunes.)
This Is Ivy League is the name of a duo who create quirky indie pop, as if Simon & Garfunkel hung out with Calvin Johnson and Al DeLory. Their self-titled debut album (Twentyseven) is a pleasant listen, especially for those who like their pop music a bit dreamy, but it's not too lofty. They have the hooks, the musicianship, and these guys (Ryland Blackinton and Alex Suarez) know what it takes to make good music.
It's "indie worthy" but is it worthy of being heard outside of that audience? I think it is, but listeners have to step up to the challenge of accepting these guys. Take them on.
The bio says Biography Of Ferns are three friends from Seattle, and they love late 70's British punk/art work, and wave. Connection to grunge? Well, they actually sound like a lot of early 80's Seattle bands, more U-Men than Mudhoney. Forget the grunge thing.
This trio have a love for that twisted pop that has a little more balls to it, accepting their love of thrift store records while respecting the craft that pop music has. Pastel Gothic (Tellous) have a spirit that shows they love rock, and that rock is very much alive. It's good music that would work well in a nightclub but will today's kids get it? I think so.
The cover has Bill Prouten casually playing a tenor saxophone, eyes hidden behind the brim of the hat, as if it's just another night on the town. But the music on Low-down, No-good... (self-released) is just as intimidating as the title suggests, only because his casual stance on the cover is replaced with someone who plays with such ferocity that at times I caught myself looking at the cover and going "where does this guy come from?"
First, the basics. This Canadian musician resides in the Toronto area, and has played with a number of musicians in both Canada and the U.S., heading into the studio and touring whenever possible. He is also an instructor, so his music and committment to it is a serious one. What I hear on the album is someone who plays with a lot of intensity, and not just someone who can play Giant Steps forwards and backwards, but is someone who is confident about his playing enough to explore at any given point of a melody or a solo. When he does it, there's still a bit of subtlety but when it gets intense, one can only step back (or move more comfortably in their listening chair) and be in awe. The awe (without shock) can be heard in "Billy's Bossa", "The Brightest Moon", and the nine-minute "Unbalanced", which I could easily listen to for another nine. He and the band (Ted Warren on drums; Mike Downes on bass; and Robi Botos on piano) get down and dirty in the opening song, "Low-down, No-good Downright Nasty Blues", where the full title is revealed and the group as a whole reveal their mission for the album.
I point a finger to the group as a whole for while this is very much Prouten's time in the spotlight, his backing band are equally as powerful and competent as the leader. In jazz you often come across references to classic trios, quartets, or quintets, a group of musicians who seem to play incredibly well as a whole even when there's an unspoken competitive force that helps move each other to where their playing needs to be. The songs have a familiar feel to them, and that only comes from having respect for musicians who can play. I state this because all of these songs are Prouten originals, and when they want to lay down a low-down funk they can do that in "Low-down, No-good Downright Nasty Blues", or in the romantic "An Aire For Claire", where Prouten's playing comes close to sounding a bit like Hank Crawford.
What also appealed to be was the fullness of the sound captured, it feels as if you're about five tables back at a jazz club and you can feel the breath and mental activity of everyone in the room. When Downes plays his solo in "An Aire For Claire" you can almost smell the steel and wood as fingers touch the neck and strings. This is due to the work of engineer Jeremy Darby, mixer David Travers-Smith, and mastering engineer Peter J. Moore, all of whom did an incredible job transferring the music of Prouten and his quartet from studio to mixing board to compact disc. It's hard to believe that this is Prouten's debut album as a leader, but I am certain he will release many more in the future. It may be with these set of musicians or with others, but I will be following their musical progress from this point on.
(Low-down, no-good... is available from CDBaby.)
It had taken a few consecutive listening sessions for me to listen to Out Of The Blues (self-released), an album by The Thom Rotella 4-Tet in full, only because I was listening to it within a hectic schedule. It was an album that I kept returning to not because I had to finish the entire album before I did a review, but because I was intrigued by what and how Rotella (guitar) was playing.
Good guitar jazz always moves me, bad guitar jazz pops up all too frequently and fortunately Rotella happens to be on the good side. He plays without a pick so he has that Wes Montgomery style that somehow always signifies class, and he shows this in "Who Dat?", "The Dr. Is In", and "I Hear A Rhapsody". The bluesiness he and the band (Roy McCurdy on drums; Luther Hughes on bass, and Llew Matthews and Rich Eames trading piano duty throughout the album) immediately sets up the vibe they create. It's bluesy, but the title of the album is Out Of The Blues so with an album cover that shows shades of green and orange, it is trying to step out of the known imagery towards creating new ones.
One thing I like about this album is the recording, you can imagine the musicians being right there but you can also try to capture what were going on in their minds when they played these songs, or how a crowd would react if Rotella and the 4-tet were playing. "Never Say Goodbye" sounds like sensuality and anticipation, while the brush strokes in "The Way You Look Tonight" might bring to mind certain Santana songs from his Marathon album. The evenness of the musicians are also a major plus, I can't stand when the bass (be it stand-up or electric) is pushed in the background or the guitarist hogs up everything, as if the listener didn't know he was the leader. Rotella isn't an ego player, but instead uses the music as a guide and then his band follow him as he creates a soundscape for all to play. There's no indication in the liner notes on how the album was recorded or mixed, but Out Of The Blues has the right touch of everything that makes this an album you'll want to hear in small doses or in full many times over.
(Out Of The Blues will have a national release on June 1st, but can be ordered from CDBaby.)
To Kill A Mockingbird (Zoho Roots) by The Malchicks features the kind of blues rock that made the crossbreed feel so exciting back in the early to mid-1960's. In this case it is done by two teenagers (vocalist Scarlett Wrench and guitarist George Perez) who sound like they come from a time before the existence of heavy metal and hip-hop, it's very primal and very nice to hear. The album was the first project to be released last year from Côte Basque Music, a label who are dedicated to creating music, "not information storage", and do this by recording the entire project in analog from start to finish. Everything was recorded live, no multi-tracking, and done on old microphones and equipment that in the end helps give the music a bit of character. Wrench's voice still has a bit of delicate innocence, and at first it may not sound right singing songs rich with experience, especially "Little Bird", but when you listen to it as a whole you get a chance that she is very much perfect for songs like this and the guitar work from Perez. They work together very well in "I Put A Spell On You" where you can almost imagine the heat slowly crawling up your back.
I also like the fact that everything was done in analog, and I wish more artists would record like this. Teenagers singing music that is more than twice their age, singing songs that are still relevant today, even though people of their generation may not be listening. Turn off American Idol or any Idol-oriented program that may be on, the future of music belongs in the hands of The Malchicks, who respect the hard work of the past by offering again to a world starving for musical nourishment again.
(To Kill A Mockingbird will be released in the U.S. on June 10th through Zoho Music.)
The music of Chin Chin is a bit like polished soul with disco elements, basted with a funky groove that sounds like late 70's all night entertainment at parties Chin. Their self titled debut (ITS Music/Definitive Jux) sounds like a cross between Money Mark and Jamiroquai, as WIlder Zoby (keyboards and vocals), Torbitt Schwartz drums, percussion, geetur, synth and vocals), and Jeremy Wilms (bass, guitar, keyboards, and vocals) look for a groove and try to stay in there as best as they can, with accompaniment from a horn section and other musicians who make the song much more filler. Sometimes the music comes close to sounding like Afro-rock, perhaps taking hints from Antibalas.
The only thing that slows them down is the amateurish qualities of some of their vocals, and when it becomes cringe worthy it's hard to tell if they're being serious or they're hoping everyone will get off on the joke. It's not a joke, but I think if the guys in Why? (the Anticon-related band) were to get funky and outward instead of folky and inward, they would pull it off better. It borders on mockery, and even those who have made fun of that falsetto in soul music (Beck Hansen and Mike Patton are great examples) didn't insult it. It's like Remy Shand on crack.
The music is great and I could listen to these guys if they just stuck to playing. The singing is irritating as hell, and maybe things sound better in a nightclub under the influence of vodka and a can of Bush's bourbon & brown sugar Grillin' Beans but... I'm not quite feeling this one.
(Chin Chin will be released on April 29th, and you can pre-order it through CD Universe.)
What's the saying, if it ain't broke don't fix it? In the case of The New Frontiers, they are a band I've never heard before but they establish a solid sound on Mending (The Militia Group) that combines rock, pop, folk, and blues sensibilities that has them sounding like a cross between Wilco, toad the wet sprocket, Radiohead without the headiness, and Death Cab For Cutie. They do this without being ashamed, and it's nice to hear a band that can do it with a smile on their faces. "Black Lungs", "Spirit And Skin", and "Who Will Give Us Love?" is the kind of music that sounds like the soundtrack to hope, the promise of a new day that Paula Abdul failed to deliver, and it comes through with great vocals, background vocals, and the kind of playing that sounds like freedom, and just a true love for the music. "The Day You Fell Apart" may sound a few shades away from Coldplay, with Nathan Pettijohn's falsetto vocals sounding a bit familiar, but when you hear a piano melody mixed in with a slide guitar that sounds like the entrance of what you've been looking for, all you can do is gawk in amazement. The New Frontiers play edgy pop that manages to stick to your ribs when the song moves to the next one, moving you to press back and play it again. A lot of the songs could easily become someone's summer soundtrack.
(Mending is available from CD Universe.)
When I first looked at Sylvia Bennett's Songs From The Heart (Out Of Sight) CD cover, I thought it was actress/singer Gloria Loring (a/k/a Robin Thicke mom). But Bennett is a smooth and cool jazz vocalist who revives the classics and does so with Three Tenors, not the opera singers but three respected tenor saxophonists: Boots Randolph, Kirk Whalum, and Ed Calle. Each of them get a chance to "duet" with Miss Bennett in such songs as ""Ain't Misbehavin'", "Here's That Rainy Day", "and "You Make Me Feel So Young", as she waxes poetic in a way that might remind listeners of Cheryl Bentyne or Karen Carpenter if she had been a jazz singer instead of a pop one.
For fans of the saxophone, this album is definitely more than a treat, more like a feast. Each of these musicians have their own roots ranging from country, jazz, pop, and gospel, and yet when they play it becomes a language anyone can understand. Bennett's performance in "My Funny Valentine" is very seductive, and Calle responds to each of her lines in a way that perhaps he only knows. The highlight of the album is in "Since I Fell For You", where all three saxophonists get a chance to shine in one song to the point where you might get emotional as the song comes to its inevitable end.
Well produced, well performed, and of course well sung, Sylvia Bennett's interpretations of jazz standards would be welcome in any home, and saxophone fiends will be putting this one into rotation for months.
(Songs From The Heart is available from CDBaby.)
Like Tanya Morgan, Eli Jones is not a person, but a group, in this case a groovy sounding funk/soul band out of Chicago. Vocalist Stefanie Berecz mixes up grit with sensuality to come up with a voice that is a cross between Nicole Scherzinger, Teena Marie and Nikka Costa. Some of the background vocals have a heavy late 70's vibe to them, as if she has been brushing up on her Seawind, but that comparison also leads to the other members of Eli Jones: Frank Check (drums), Tyson Ellert (drums), Jeremy Schmidt (bass, guitar), Max Neeseman (guitar), and Brendan O'Connell (vocals, guitar). They are incredibly tight, and when they incorporate a horn section (as they do in "Disco Smooth", "Make It Right", "Candlelight and Satin Sheets", and the silky "Finally Did For Me") they could easily be this generation's Ozomatli, North Mississippi All-Stars, or Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, because when they want to drive it home, they do so with finesse. When O'Connell handles the vocals, they sound like the kind of band that one might find at a jamband festival alongside Ben Harper or Donavon Frankenreiter, and it is here where the Seawind comparisons can be heard, or at least they play that smooth funky soul that one might find on CTI.
Eli Jones aren't a band with one defining sound, which may turn off those who want variations of the same song over and over. These guys are a vibrant band with a lot of life in them, and by switching back and forth with male and female lead vocals it only widens the perceptions (and maybe wipes away the misconceptions) of what they are about, could be or should be.
(Make It Right is available from CDBaby.)
Not sure about you, but to me pop music has been going in the wrong direction for the last... oh, decade or two. When I am in a pop mood, I like it to have a bit of adventure even though one might argue that pop music is not about the adventure, but the need to be accessible to everyone. Sometimes the pop formula is as old as grandpa's bran muffin farts, and one needs to throw in a few new elements to catch the ear of a new generation, or at least my ears.
Peter Daily is someone who understands the love of pop, but wants to be able to establish his own identity and not just be someone who carries in the tradition of others. We find out how he does it in Who Is Peter Daily? (Sideshow Media Group), where he throws hints of Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, and even Elton John in the addicting "Hear Me This Time":
Day after day, I go on living
But I don't
Searching for that missing piece
That completes my soul
I thought that you noticed
My shirt, my shoes, and my tie
But that went right past you
Because you saw the frown down deep in my eyes
All I'm saying is just hear me this time
What I like about this song is how it's played out, it's not nice seven or eight words in a line, line after line, he does it almost like a dialogue and that intimacy and immediacy can be appealing. Musically it sounds intimate too, as if everyone in the studio is close to each other just creating something they feel everyone will get into . Daily himself also handles synths and drums in some of the songs, so perhaps the self-containment I hear may come from these songs originating as solo tracks. Hearing them open up with the help of other musicians give the song more depth, although they are so well written and arranged that I think he had a good sense of how he wants his music to be heard. Miho Hatori (ex-Cibo Matto) gets another chance to share her style of soul in "Without You", and when her and Daily sing together in circus mode, it sounds perfect.
The EP (8 songs clocking in at a little over 25 minutes) was mastered by Deeskee, who has done a lot of underground hip-hop over the years and always manages to bring out the best in the final versions of his work. The drum sounds are a plus, and I'm sure mixer Blake Knight had a hand in how the final drum tracks sound, as they go from sounding straightforward to a bit of added compression to where it almost has a slight golden era hip-hop feel to them. It's not a pop album with hip-hop breaks or any weird hybrid, it's emotional pop music produced and mixed the way I like to hear it. Edgy yet very accessible, I hope people will give him a chance and finally discover who Peter Daily really is.
(Who Is Peter Daily? is available directly from Sideshow Media Group.)
With a name like Herd Of Mers one might bring to mind the family vibe of Parliament/Funkadelic or some kind of Sun Ra Arkestral voyage, but this herd is a duo. Karen (Reindeau) Orsi sings and also plays guitar and bass, while John Orsi handles drums and percussion. That's it, that is their formula, and one may be reminded of Mecca Normal where all you hear are the sounds of two. They do not overcompensate or underestimate their sound, what you hear is what is meant to be heard, and on Aurora Caught Napping (it's Twilight Time) is the sound of a slow paced world that everyone seems to be racing through in order to get to the non-existent finish line.
The sounds are very easy going, with fuller arrangements they might sound well as rock, indie rock, country, or blues rock songs, but instead Herd Of Mers play music that sounds as simple as it is: plug in a guitar or bass to an amp that has some electricity, have someone play drums, and record. Some of the lyrics come off abstract at first, or if you take a closer look at the idea of the song, it's nothing more than them expanding, widening, and exploring the song in unique ways. "Walls" is about making and building walls, or walls existing, it depends how one interprets the lyrics or places the emphasis of the words. "Keep" is about having personal fears and how a lot of them would not exist if one kept their eyes closed, which may or may not be Beatlesque depending on understanding the reference.
It's that basic, it's that simple, but it's what Karen & John Orsi are able to do with that makes it work. You hear the lyrics and try to piece them together in your mind (perhaps it's best that a lyric sheet isn't included). The music is just drums and guitar or drums and bass, with a few extras thrown in the mix for the hell of it. You hear them taking the music to its penultimate limit without turning into wailing cachophony, one can sense the limits created and they just push it as far as they can go. One might hear shades of The Breeders, L7, and Kim Gordon, but Herd Of Mers manage to sound like none of them. It's not an album for everyone, but those who partake in the listening experience will be caught up in the emotion and power in what they've created.
(Aurora Caught Napping is available from CDBaby and directly from it's Twilight Time.)
Soul Messages From Dimona is a brand new compilation from The Numero Group, and this time the label centers around soul and funk recorded between 1975-1981 in Israel. According to the bio information, a group of American ex-pats took the native sounds of their Detroit and Chicago homes, combined them with the messages of the Israeli Black Hebrew culture and declared Dimona the center of their spiritual universe. What you hear is the heavy influence of Detroit and Chicago from the early 1970's, especially the mixture of Funkadelic electricity and Jackson 5 vocal harmonies, but the lyrics are far from love songs for rats and dancing machines.
What you hear are a group of Americans who were fed up with the American system, and their songs are based on their new-found spirituality and looking for opportunity that couldn't be found at home. "Our Lord And Savior" by The Soul Messengers sounds like it could have been performed by Osibisa or The Emotions but once they reach the chorus you realize you're hearing a variation of Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)", but done disco style. Tonistics seem to be their version of Jackson 5, but in "Holding On" they are talking about ignoring the devil and going for self, while in "Dimona (Spiritual Capital Of The World)" they sing about how Israel is better than weaker nations and the reasons they are there.
Some of the bands here play the kind of funk one might expect to hear on Tower Of Power, Brass Construction, and B.T. Express albums. In Sons Of The Kingdom's "Modernization" they question the need to be an advanced society when everything we could ever want as humans has been in existence for years, stating High level apartments, tower in the sky/What kind of people desire to live so high and perhaps I'll think I'll stay on the ground, one level house is all I'll use, but it also goes further than ones habitual habits:
Water, water, water to drink
What do you call this stuff coming out of my kitchen sink
A competition in the sky, the first man on the moon
Artificial ingredients, he keeps putting in my food
It's left of center only because we have come to expect fun and good times from soul and funk, and those who were spoke on social problems were often the outcasts. The collective of singers and musicians on this album knew this and moved around the world to find a better way to live, eat, and breath. Over 25 years later, attention towards these problems are at an all time high with no sign of improvement, and while they may have been viewed as the outcasts, today it seems that everyone else were the fools, or at least those who chose to ignore the social and economical ills of yesterday. They also speak of the spiritual ills that they were once a part of, and rather than enforce their beliefs, they simply sing about it and it sounds as proud and happy as those who struggled with a smile 10,000 miles away. Bottom line, the music is incredible and it showed what a group of people did when struggling for a common cause was not enough, and perhaps the reason a lot of R&B today is so weak is because there is no promise to look forward to. Take heed.
(The CD and MP3 files for Soul Messages From Dimona will be available directly from The Numero Group. The album as a 2LP set will follow.)