Friday, July 27, 2007

...What You Been Listening To? #5

"Long time, we no have no nice time..." - Bob Marley.

Okay, I guess I'm back from a self-imposed hiatus. I've been pretty unmotivated as far as writing's been concerned, no "real" posts for quite some time. Let's just say I've been battling with this thing called creative doubt and as such it puts up huge obstacles in the way of dreaded writer's block. So now that I'm coming up and out of all that, I'm getting back to writing.

First, may I present you with this essay?

Writer's Attempt At Self-Criticism*:
Every now and again I get all geeked on a record and feel that it's worthy to be written about, however; some of these bands take a very temporary shelf life with me. I'll be really into it for a few weeks and suddenly it just falls out of favor with me. I'm not going to name any names, there are several bands I've mentioned and don't necessarily like them all that much anymore. So my self-criticism is aimed at one central point: if I can jump the shark and go ahead and dig on a band and then within a few weeks have almost forgotten about them, are my actual in-depth album reviews really any good?

Yes and No.

Yes: because I live with these albums for a good 3-4 days before I review them, listening to every album at least 6 times. I feel 5 good listens and then another listen while you write about it. It gets in my head, and the residual effect is that I end up liking something that initially, I'm like, "yeah, this is good, maybe even great..." and sometime I can over- (or even under) evaluate a record.

Now, the No response: bands that I like are going to get a better score simply for the fact that I always expect them to do something that resembles their previous body of work, which is the whole reason you become a fan of a band; you just
like their music.

Not always true right away in my case, because I also consider myself a Bloc Party fan even though I kind of trashed their new album a few months back. Upon further review, it's a pretty decent album and I'm a jack-ass because after a week with that record I found it near-unlistenable. Maybe 18 times in 7days. Math: I was the new Bloc party album for 925 out of a possible
10,080 minutes, taking up about 9.2 per cent of my week. Factor in "awake" time, 6,720 mins; it's actually almost 14%.


Formal Apology to Bloc Party: I initially gave you a rating of 66, but I'd like to amend that to a 76. I feel my judgment was clouded. Silent Alarm fucking rules. But you guys want to do something different and that's cool, too. There are some stellar songs on this album, and I'm going to go ahead and give a nomination for Song Of The Year to The Prayer. So, in summation: Dear Bloc Party, sorry.

* - turns out this has become more of a defense than a criticism. These answers are short and somewhat glib, maybe even a little pretentious. I like what I like so I write about it. That's pretty much it...

Er, uh... I'm sorry for putting you through that. Now, the music section.

So, what you been listening to? Here's my list-slash-capsulized reviews:

When I graduated from high school, one of my favorite bands (which are all still my favorite bands) was Pavement. And recently I've jumped back into them full steam. Not that I ever forgot them, but recently I've been playing their entire discography and just sitting and listening for hours. For real. Maybe because I rented the DVD Slow Century a little while ago and my interest was piqued yet again. I had another big shot of Pavement about a year and
a half ago, after the first time I saw the DVD. So there you go. Pavement's kind of a big deal, and I'll tell you why: there's a whole bunch of bands right now that are spawns of the Pave. Whenever I hear Modest Mouse, I can hear them. Likewise Tapes 'n Tapes, Menomena, now-defunct The Unicorns and off-shoot band Islands, and even to a lesser extent, I hear a bit in The Shins.

80's reggae
Precisely, the birth of the "computer riddims", that all-digital drum and bass reggae that bridged the gaps between roots, dub and dancehall. Barrington Levy, Tenor Saw, U-Roy, Sister Nancy, King Tubby, Gregory Isaacs, Wayne Smith, and Lee 'Scratch' Perry all had a hand in there somewhere...

24 Hour Party People (DVD) - released August 9, 2002
Steve Coogan is Tony Wilson
, and only the Lord knows this about him: why the fuck did he never sign the greatest band out of Manchester, UK, The Smiths to Factory Records? If you love The Happy Mondays, you'll love this flick. If you like Joy Division and New Order, you may only mildly like this flick. It sort of portrays New Order's manager, Rob Gretton in bad light, and Ian Curtis as a violent douchebag, but I guess Tony outlived them all, so it's his story, eh?

Mississippi Sea
Hezekiah Jones just may be my favorite songwriter currently, and this may just be my favorite song at the moment. I often quote lines of this song to complete strangers around Berkeley.
It's like a Kurt Vonnegut novel; "...I spent 17 years in the woods I did hide, from oh-eight - two-thousand twenty-five... on the Mississippi Sea, I got myself time-share property, we can spend July there, just you and me...", and that pedal steel accompaniment is just so perfect.

75 Or Less
Great music website with record reviews in 75 words or less. Hell, I need at least 75 words in the first paragraph. But in an extraordinary way, more is done with less, call it an economy of words.

Here's my stab at all the un-reviewed albums that I promised going back to April.

Dntel - Dumb Luck, released April 24, 2007, SubPop Records
(73 words)
The album's opener is absolute murder, one of the worst things I've ever heard. Yeah, way to introduce yourself Jimmy Tamborello, now please: shut the fuck up! On track 2, Grizzly Bear's Ed Droste sits in for an ambient wash-out, could've been a great song and th
e only saving grace is Jenny Lewis' offering, but this album drags on with no-names until it finally dies at 42 minutes. Oh, yeah: Conor Oberst, too.
Overall rating: 75

Charlotte Gainsbourg 555, released April 24, 2007, Vice /Atlantic Records
(57 words)
Whenever Air releases an album, guess who gets to sing on some of them tracks? Serge Gainsbourg's daughter, the co-star of that awesome movie, Science Of Sleep, that's who. It doesn't suck. There's some good tracks: Little Monsters starts along a trip-hop path and Night-time Intermission has a pretty nice bass and piano line. Pass this up...
Overall rating: 69

Feist - The Reminder, released May 1, 2007, Cherrytree/Interscope Records
(62 words)
Posers listen to Norah Jones. Real Music People listen to Leslie Feist. No one else's voice melts me quite like hers. The way it breaks, the way her vocals always sit upon the music perfectly, her timbre, Ooh la la,
je m'aime certains Feist. Quelqu'un a dit à moi, écoutent ceci. Je suis dans l'amour, vous dupe ! Et c'est le sain...**
Overall rating: 92
** - Holy fucking shit, I li
ke me some Feist. Somebody said to me, listen to this. I am in love, you fool! And this is the sound... (This asterix doesn't count towards the review's word count, it's just a translation.)

Deerhunter - Fluorescent Grey EP, released May 8, 2007, Kranky Records
(61 words)
This is a cut-to-the-chase EP.
No ambient tracks here, which dominated Cryptograms, which is already one of my favorite albums released this year. Atlanta's favorite freak-band is back with a concise 16 minutes of "b-sides" from Deerhunter's preceding release back in January. This is some really trippy shit, and if Anton Newcombe is reading this, "your band could've been this good!"
Overall rating: 89

Voxtrot - Voxtrot, released May 22, 2007, Beggar's Group Records
(62 words)
A late-80s, twee-soundtrack homage for a John Cusack project that has been lost for almost 20 years. It's a bit on the sugary side, sort of like a lo-fi Panic At The Disco. Anyway, song 3, Ghost, has a very similar piano line to that mega-hit from The O.C. by Phantom Planet. I hear these Voxtrot cats have quite a following now.
Overall rating: 72

The National - Boxer, released May 22, 2007, Beggar's Banquet Records
(44 words)
Another album similar
to Voxtrot's, but with an edge and a heart that makes it less abrasive. Excellent piano, great lyrics delivered with a smooth croon by Matt Berninger. I'm also taking this stage to nominate Slow Show for my Song Of The Year.
Overall rating: 87

Pelican - City Of Echoes, released June 5, 2007, Hydra Head Records
(75 words)
Scouring your eardrums with the predictable and played out drop-D tuning is Pelican, who
really fucking rocked me on their last offering, The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw. Eh, I guess Mastodon can hold the fort down until Pelican finally gets their act together. Or can Austin, Texas' By The End Of Tonight save Prog-Metal from obscurity? Basically, Pelican are disciples of ...and You Shall Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.
Overall rating: 59

The White Stripes - Icky Thump, released June 19, 2007, WarnerBros Records
(61 words)
I honestly haven't listened to The Stripes in like a year. Okay, Jack and Meg are getting heavier. Basically, I'll reiterate what I always say about this band: if Led Zep had
been born 30 years later, were from Detroit and went all Prog-rock on us, and happened to be brother/sister/husband/wife? Icky Thump is a bit more bottom-heavy than previous offerings.
Overall rating: 77

Now for a full-length review:

Beastie Boys - The Mix Up (Capitol Records, released 6/26/07)

This is all new, straight-up instrumental funk, just like the soundtrack from one of those Blaxploitation films starring Pam Grier or Fred Williamson, circa 1973. If Curtis Mayfield was still alive, he'd be proud of these three Jewish boys from the five boroughs, well, only two actually (Brooklyn and Manhattan). And Mark Ramos-Nishita, aka Keyboard Money Mark, does some exceptionally fine work tickling the ivories on this new album.

Remember when the Beasties put out that instrumental album, The In Sound From Way Out!? It was basically tracks cribbed from Check Your Head and Ill Communication, with help from producer and keyboardist Mario Caldato, well this blows that away. Completely.

No samples. No words. Just funk of high quality.

The opening track, B For My Name recalls the dopest of all-out porno-funk excursions. Way too wicky with a side of bam chka bam bam for all you sex addicts out there, this is something to throw down to (in the bedroom, of course. If you like it funky...) Moving on to 14th Street Break and that sweet-sounding Hammond B3 organ; this is weeded out to the fullest and the break-down is sublime.

Suco De Tangerina sounds as if it's been ripped from the Puerto Rican Day Parade and run through Lee Perry's Black Ark Studio days while producing dub plates for The Upsetters. Next up, The Gala Event, recalls the band's stylings back to a simpler time, when tracks like Lighten Up, from the fantastic classic Check Your Head. This is exactly when the Boys first started to showcase their funk-a-tronic excursions, moving away from the sample heavy Paul's Boutique and into the early-nineties, making people sit up and take notice that Yauch, Diamond and Horovitz are serious musicians and a force to be reckoned with.

Electric Worm sounds like exactly that; MCA's bass line worms its way under AdRock's wah-heavy guitar chops. It's the first "dark" track on here, making use of those sour-sounding minor chords, giving it a texture similar to Gumby's skin, real squonky...

Freaky Hijiki may or may not be some bad-ass Japanese seaweed, but those subtle congas (by Alfredo Ortiz, by the way...) that rise into the mix are so right on, giving way to hand claps and a sick drum break by Mike D, whose playing has improved immensely since the days of Groove Holmes, POW, and Sabrosa.

If funk was made in space, then Off The Grid would be the soundtrack to interplanetary travelling. Probably the tightest arrangement on here- it's making me wonder, are these composed from loose jams or did the Beasties write these exactly as they sound? The intro cribs a bassline similar to Mayfield's Pusherman, possibly one of 1970's greatest funk moments. Here, it's possibly become an ode to that one night in New York City, back in August of '03, when the whole city lost power for 24 hours and they had massive street parties and just an amazing show of brotherhood. Back to the song, it gets real tight and heavy at about 1:52, and the outro is the best piece of music the Boys display on the whole album, maybe their entire career.

The Rat Cage has some of the best keyboard work on the album, swirling and whistling above the bouncy bass and dancy drums. Has a darker feel to it, but it fades into a cacophony of hand whistles like we was ravin' back in 1996....

The Melee is by far the messiest track on the album, and it has a dance-a-delic quality to it, like Medeski Martin and Wood tried to eat a pound of mushrooms and rehearse, and then the newly sober John Scofield tried to jam with them, and he went home because the funk tasted like drugs...

Dramastically Different has some of the nicest bongo and sitar work, which eventually gives away to the dopest breakdown on the record, but far too short, basically ripping shit up from 3:22 til the end...

...oh, but wait, that theme is expanded upon during The Cousin Of Death, a rollicking and heavier jam, slightly differing from the feel of the rest of the album; this is the song I'd want to roll out to if I was a boxer, ready to beat some poor fool's ass. Remember the movie Snatch? When they were about to feed that fat guy to the dogs, down in Brick Top's pit? That was Massive Attack's Angel playing. Well, this is the Beastie's homage to that jam, it's a bad-ass stomping song. If this song's in the background, and you step to me, the sun will not rise for you tomorrow, my friend. Be warned...

This brings me to the album's closer, The Kangaroo Rat, think Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer, the "I kicked the habit" refrain towards the end. So I broke into an impromptu freestyle over the lyric-less funk, it went a little something like this: "I kicked the rabbit, kicked the rabbit, kicked the rabbit, son, public enemy number one. five-oh said freeze, and I got numb, but should I really tell 'em that I really never had a gun? But it's the wax that the Terminator X spun!"

Part of the Beastie Boys' enduring mass appeal is that they can really do it all. From hardcore punk (Heart-attack Man off of Ill Communication) to hip-hop masterpieces (Paul's Boutique entire album) to funky (this album) to jazz (Check Your Head's Something's Got To Give) to stunning visual displays (the video for Sabotage is probably the greatest ever made, thank you Spike Jonze!) to sentimental ballads (I Don't Know, off Hello Nasty) and back again.

You may rest assured that as the Beasties age, so does their reputation, serving to give themselves a timelessness that few other bands, albeit 20-plus years in the game, can afford themselves like these guys have.
Overall rating: 84

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