Saturday, April 23, 2016

Prince

Like most human beings with functioning souls, I was sad to hear that Prince died. More because he was too young to die and seemed to be having a bit of a renaissance, putting out albums, touring, and writing a memoir. His current output may not have set the world on fire, but he had such an amazing run in the 80s-mid 90s that he could have never released anything else and it would have been enough.

I loved 1999 and Purple Rain, and I owned both cassettes. Well, I owned 1999 and my sister owned Purple Rain. I have yet to go to a wedding where "Kiss" isn't played. He was incredible. More than that, he challenged a lot of stereotypes. He was a black man who rocked out AND got funky. He had gay women in his band, and he championed female artists. He was hyper sexual and yet wore heels and frills and sang in a falsetto. He was a powerful role model to have in the conservative, homophobic, and racist 80s. He showed a lot of kids a different view of masculinity. And like the Beatles, EVERYONE likes at least one Prince song.

New Music by Old People

I've been listening to two recent albums by musicians who have been around a while.

First is Bob Mould's newest album Patch the Sky. This is the third album he's made since his return to loud guitars, working with two-thirds of Superchunk. I didn't love the first two albums, but this one is resonating with me. My issue with Mould's music is that he can get kind of cheesy, but he's tampering that down here. A lot of this album has to do with his relationship ending and his father dying, and there are some great songs. My favorite so far is "The End of Things," about a break up with the great line "A graduation/Or a gradual decay." It's exciting to hear someone using their skills as a musician to tackle more grown up emotions.

I also got PJ Harvey's new album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, about a redevelopment project in Washington DC. The lyrics to some of the songs are a little clumsy (see all the "justs" in the opener), but I'm into it.

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As an aside, when I was looking up videos of PJ Harvey, I came across this clip of her playing "Dress" live ten years ago. Just her looking amazing and rocking out with only a drummer.

The Replacements

I saw the documentary "Color Me Obsessed" this week, about the Minneapolis legends The Replacements. What was interesting about the doc was how much their mythology sort of capsized the band. The thing everyone remembers about the Replacements is what drunken fuck ups they were. They were frequently wasted on stage, often to the point of being unable to play. An aura of chaos followed the band, the kind of chaos you usually associate with hardcore junkie artists like Iggy Pop or G.G. Allin, although it seems like the 'Mats were mostly into caseloads of beer rather than drugs. The documentary mentioned that, but also mentioned how sad and frustrating it was to see a band with so much potential consistently squander it. Bob Stinson, the drunkenest, most fucked upenest member, was booted in '86 for being too much of a fuck up, and managed to drink and drug himself to death by 35.

The Replacements are also the ultimate cautionary tale for any punk band trying to grow up. Their genius lay in straddling the line between clever and stupid, and when they went for a grown-up sound on their later albums, they lost much of the smart-ass charm that had made them great in the first place. Not unlike Husker Du, they went from being a scrappy punk band to being another boring modern rock act.

 I was never into the Replacements during their existence from 1979-1991. They were a little too rock for my tastes as a younger listener, and their later modern rock incarnation didn't appeal to me either. It's only as I've gotten older than I've come to appreciate them, although I don't own any of their album. I briefly owned 1987's "Pleased to Meet Me," but have since sold it. However, I've been revisiting them a lot lately. They appeal much more to me now.

Their performance of "Bastards of Young" on SNL in 1985 shows a lot of their appeal, and a lot of their problem. It's great in part because it is a shambolic, drunken mess, but it is also a drunken, shambolic mess that got them banned from the show.


What a mess by mmr421

One of my favorite songs by them is "Can't Hardly Wait." , only not the neutered version that appears on "Pleased to Meet Me." It's much better live, or in the "Tim" outtake, which maintains a rawness that got lost in the studio recording. The lyrics are also different. In the official studio version, there are some key lines changed, and the song seems to be about the weariness of touring. The "Tim" version makes it seem like it is about suicide. My favorite line is "I'll be sad in heaven/If I can't find a hole in the gate/Stand on the top of this scummy water tower/Screaming I can't hardly wait/'Til it's over."



Friday, April 01, 2016

How to Ruin A Record Label

I just read Larry Livermore's How to Ru(i)n A Record Label, which details his experience starting, leaving, and watching the demise of Lookout Records.

I came to the Bay Area in 1993, and got into local punk that year. I saw Green Day at Slim's in San Francisco right after Dookie hit but before they blew up. I was an exciting time for music and the scene, even if I was a good three years too late. Lookout was the epicenter of it. They had Green Day, Operation Ivy, Tiger Trap, Crimpshrine, and a host of other local punk bands. Plus, their shabby aesthetic and low prices made it seem like a label run by and for the kids.

Both Green Day and Op Ivy became huge sellers for them. I think they were used to selling thousands of copies, and those bands were selling hundreds of thousands of copies. It infused the label with a lot of money, and they struggled to find a path forward. What struck me reading the book was how short-lived this all was. The label started in 1987, and was effectively done by 2005, although the writing was on the wall sooner, and they officially closed much later.

I've read Chris Applegren's description of how he ran the label into the ground after Larry Livermore bailed in the late 90s. Applegren basically thought that since Green Day went on to become bajillionaires with some serious promotion, any other band should be able to become bajillionaires with the same level of promotion. What they missed was that Green Day was lightning in a bottle, ie not the kind of thing that is likely to come along again. Also, most of the commercially successful punk bands sounded nothing like the shabby pop-punk Lookout! was putting out. The Epitaph sound was much more prevalent as the 90s closed - think Blink 182 or Sum 41.  The band used royalty payments to pay bills, thus stiffing bands, thus losing their catalogue as Green Day and Op Ivy took their records to other labels.

I felt a sense of loss when the label closed, but looking back it seems kind of inevitable. The Lookout! sound was very specific to a time and place. They put out East Bay pop punk records, or East Coast bands that sounded like East Bay pop punk. Their few excursions into weirder punk (Neurosis, Filth) were anomalies. Their attempts to branch out into bands like the Donnas and the Pattern weren't successful. By 1999 pop punk was done and so the label. I have a lot of respect and admiration for what they did, and I love some of those records, but I'm not surprised that it folded. I know Molly Neuman is still in the industry. I'm not sure what the rest of them are up to.

Friday, March 25, 2016

RIP Phife

Phife Dawg, aka Malik Taylor, died this week at 47.

Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory is one of my favorite albums of all time. It got me into hip-hop in a big way. It got me into jazz. I have listened to it regularly since I first purchased it in 1992ish. Midnight Marauders was another album I loved, if not as much. I haven't revisited the rest of their catalogue. Maybe now I should.

RIP to the funky diabetic.

Kelela/R&B

I reviewed R&B singer Kelela's last EP on RapReviews last week. 

I've been digging a lot of the alt R&B that's out there - SZA, the Internet, etc. I have never been much into regular R&B, so I'm happy there are artists approaching the genre from a perspective I can appreciate. I don't know if I don't like regular R&B because it is too "black" or too pop-oriented, or if it is just that the musical/emotional notes it tries to hit don't resonate with me. Kelela's music is R&B from a dance perspective. It reminds me a little of how Bjork would team up with cool producers and make music.





I also loved Letta's Testimony, which I reviewed a while back.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Fluisteraars

Another favorite album of 2016 (although it came out at the end of 2016) is the Dutch band Fluisteraars sophomore album Luwte. They are a melodic black metal band that are epic, intense, and sorrowful. Good music for bad times.



Anderson Paak

One of my favorite albums in recent months is Anderson Paak's Malibu. I had first heard him on Dre's Compton, where Paak was one of the highlights. He does a combination of soul, hip-hop, and rock that works really well. His lyrics are full of love and pain. "When I look at my tree I see leaves missing," He sings on "The Season/Carry Me." "Generations of harsh living and addiction."




It's an album that manages to capture the edge of hip-hop but smooth it out with soul without being cheesy. It's about pain and trauma but also hopeful. In short, the perfect record for 2016.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Music for the ages

I've been having dance parties with my 3-year-old daughter a lot recently. It's one of our favorite activities. A lot of my music curation now comes down to finding music that she might like that I might not hate. Her top jams are "For the First Time In Forever" and "Let It Go" from Frozen, although she loves the whole soundtrack (except the scary non-singing parts). We also introduced her to the Sound of Music and Annie, and "Shake It Off" has become a staple. Recently I dug through some Beatles songs on Spotify to find some that might be especially good for a toddler. I came up with "Good Day Sunshine," "Here Comes the Sun," and "Ticket to Ride."

The Beatles broke up over fifty years ago. I wonder how long their music will continue to resonate to people, and what that will be like. This idea of commercial recorded popular music is relatively new, and I am curious how it will go down in history. I mean, people still love classical music and songs from hundreds of years ago, but you don't hear The St. Petersburg Symphony's 1867 recording of "Waltz of the Sugarplum Fairies." Will the rock music my parents grew up with start to sound dated and run out of favor at some point? Will kids still be getting turned on to Zepplin and Pink Floyd and The Clash and Operation Ivy and Tribe Called Quest 50 years from now?

This has been deep thoughts from an old man.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Murg

I haven't written in a while, so here we go.

I have a love/hate relationship with black metal. On one end, it can be great, on another end it can be super annoying and politically reprehensible.

I can't speak to the politics of Swedish group Murg, but they make the kind of black metal that represents what the genre can do.

The tremelo-picking allows for a fuller sound. It splits the difference between punk distortion, metal precision, and shoegaze guitar washes. The rhythm of the song precedes in quarter notes (one, two, three, four), but all the guitars and drums are in sixteenths (one-ee-and-a-two-ee-and-a-three-e-and-a-four-ee-and-a, which gives it an intensity and sense of propulsion. They are doing four beats for every beat of the song.

It's harsh while still maintaining a sense of melody, and all that noise and blast beats means that the melody that does appear is slightly hidden amidst all the chaos. This gives it more power, paradoxically. The vocals also managed to not be too annoying - more growl-ey than screech-ey. (If I could sing, I'd love to take a stab at recording some of these extreme metal songs with sung vocals - I could see a more post punk vocal take working really well with a lot of this. The screeched vocals often seem to be deliberately alienating, and don't always work in service to the song.)

This is a great album, and one I can't stop listening to.


Friday, January 01, 2016

Best Rap Albums of 2015

Originally posted on RapReviews

My ability to listen to, much less write about, hip-hop was severely diminished in 2015. Work and family left with almost no time to myself. I stopped watching TV and playing video games, and didn’t listen to much besides jazz and the Frozen soundtrack (which I now know by heart, thanks to my daughter’s insistence on hearing in 5 times a day).

Having no time to listen to music actually made me appreciate the music I listened to even more. It has become a  lifeline to a world outside of my office and house. On the rare occasions when I had the house to myself, I’d blast “To Pimp A Butterfly,” which is the album I listened to the most this year. I’d play “Ego Death” while I was hanging out with my family, hoping my daughter didn’t pick up on the swear words. I’d sneak in “Imani, Vol. 1” until my daughter requested we listen to REAL music, like Dora the Explorer.

I completely gave up trying to keep up with what was new and hot, so there is a lot on here that was probably great that I didn’t even listen to. The only albums intentionally left off were ones by Drake and Future, who I have never built up a tolerance for, and Dr. Dre’s “Compton.” There are some good songs on “Compton,” but for the most part it felt to me like a half-assed exercise in nostalgia, and I wasn’t feeling it.

So here are my favorite albums of 2015


Honorable Mention:
Lizzo, “Big Grrrl Small World,”

Freddie Gibbs, “Shadow of A Doubt”

Pusha T, “King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude”

These all came out too late in the year for me to spend enough time with them to call them my favorite.

Favorite albums of 2015:

10. A$AP Rocky, “At.Long.Last.A$AP”

9. Cavanaugh, “Time and Materials”

8. Earl Sweatshirt, “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside”

7. Ghostface Killah and BADBADNOTGOOD, “Sour Soul”

6. Oddisee, “The Good Fight”

5. Blackalicious, “Imani, Vol. 1”

4. Kamasi Washington, “The Epic”

3. The Internet, “Ego Death”

2. Vince Staples, “Summertime ‘06”

1. Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp A Butterfly”
I realize that TPAB is at the top of every single critic’s best-of list. As much as I don’t want to go along with trends, there was no other album that spoke to me as much as this one in 2015, and no other album that I listened to half as much. It’s dense musically, lyrically, conceptually. Kendrick is dealing with reconciling his religious and spiritual beliefs with his fame and with the state of the world and his community. He’s referencing jazz, African music, electronic music, funk and rock and creating an amazing sonic journey. I’ve listened to “King Kunta” several times a week since March, and the video for “Alright’ is one of the best videos I’ve seen in years. He’s making art that matters, but that also moves your ass and speaks to people.

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