Monday, January 17, 2011

A List of Bad Asses & Hot Lips

NUMBER, the First
In a very particular order by which they enter my brain-hole, I begin: Étoile de Dakar is the greatest band I've run into in a long time. They are unknown. Except in West Africa, so I hear, but there's really no way of telling beyond what Westerners tell me on the inner tubes. I hear they were huge. They invented the mbalax genre, or rather so Youssou N'Dour named it when people outside Étoile's home of Senegal began asking him what "his" music was called.

I do not take it lightly to call a band the X-est of anything, let alone with the particular X above, or given the music, its close second "intense." Nor consequently will I lightly or at all attempt to describe it, besides pointing out that it's as rhythmically complex as anything I can recall, as if every band member is playing in their own time signature and tempo. You should hear it. Everyone should hear it. They started an entire genre and revolutionized a country's music scene! That's like someone not knowing about Germany & Kraftwerk, England & the Beatles, Zaïre & soukous, America & James Brown.

Gander: Afro-Cuban influences ran rampant across, to the best of my knowledge, much of sub-Saharan Africa. It was huge in Senegal, before & after its 1960 independence. It was huge in Dakar, the capital and main center for clubs and music. And so to celebrate this independence, some totalitarian asshole with a lovely taste in music began a band called the Star Band of Dakar, which, inundated with firings of various degrees of appropriateness, ended up splintering and giving birth to a group called the Étoile de Dakar, "étoile" being the French for "star," French being the bastard language of Senegal, then and now. And so master-mind guitarist Badou "I took the rhythms of the drums and put them to the guitar" N'Diaye, gorgeous vocalists Youssou "so world famous you've heard of him even if you haven't" N'Dour & El Hadji "ended up right back into the poverty he began his musical career in" Faye & Eric M'Backe "the Latin singer" N'Doye, the most erratically careful and jumpy bassist Kabou Gueye, and crucial Tama talking-drum player Assane Thiam, plus others, obviously, started playing the music that took Dakar then the nation then West Africa by storm. And for two years between 1979 and 1981, the year the rivalries Youssou's unnatural fame brought about splintered the group once more, this band reigned supreme. Shit, they still do.

Get their greatest hits. Buy the albums so you get the liner notes and support them. Don't be fooled by titles like "The Rough Guide to Youssou N'Dour & Étoile de Dakar," cuz this was as much everyone's band as it was Youssou's, gorgeous though his voice may be (and gorgeous it is). The tama playing, the bass playing, the rhythm guitar playing, the singing, it's all superb.

I don't even know where to begin with their songs. Here's one. Here's another. Here's an exciting one. Here's a moving one. It goes on, but w/better sound quality if you buy the CD's. On headphones for all the dynamics or on a tape deck as it was first & loudly disseminated, it's all good.

ITEM, the Second
Speaking of Afro-Cubanism & revolutionizing genres, have you heard of Zaïre, currently known by some long official title concluding with the word Congo? (there's another Congo bordering it) It's the really large country in the dead center of Africa, coincidentally also a French colony, and perhaps also coincidentally another heavily-Afro-Cuban-influenced country. And while mbalax is very intense, soukous is the diametric opposite, a complex "easy-listening" that might soothe a weary soul, keep a studious book-worm studying, or leave millions of potheads sinking in their seats if not melting into someone else's body. Or at least that's the soukous of Tabu Ley Rochereau, business-conscious professional and band leader with a voice lighter than the music. And while mbalax most definitely took over at least West Africa, soukous took over the entire continent. And no one's the worse for it!, except Tabu Ley's musical contemporaries, Franco excluded.

There's a (fairly comprehensive?) greatest hits called The Voice of Lightness, spanning almost two decades from 1961-1977, featuring songs, jams, more songs, more jams, and something totally different.

SOME THING, the Third
It's interesting how one culture's experimental music is another's tradition. There are some 5 million Tuaregs living across the Sahara, Arabized in religion only, still speaking Berber tongues. The information about them is thin. Very thin. But there's something about living in the desert that really, really teaches one how to trance. These are apparently love songs sung by young men & women. This is Fadimoutou Inamoud:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Waitresses

I was watching that Simpsons episode where Lisa cross-dresses so she can get into the boys' math class (good episode), and someone, probably a super-hip chick or a feminist dude, decided it'd be a good idea to play a song clearly entitled "I Know What Boys Like" while Lisa outwardly becomes a boy. (it definitely was a good idea)

So naturally I find the song and see that it's from a 1982 album called "Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?" by a band called The Waitresses, brainchild of Chris Butler, with Patty Donahue, a waitress/pro-am vocalist on the pro side here, as frontwoman:

Every critic and reviewer laments likewise: "They're so much more than their singles; why the obscurity??"

There is a reason for this. There are a few misses here and there, but there is no weak track, and no clear winner (although there is a clear single). Much like buying London Calling for the apocalyptic title track and realizing a collection of gorgeous, lively-if-lyrically-striking pop gems makes for a much better album, here you find the single (youtube), with its ennui & snarl, is much unlike the rest of the bouncy, supremely catchy, feminist tracks.

Buy it and shove its greatness in every friend & acquaintance's face.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Secret Pleasures

This little album's been with me since high school. Instead of becoming interesting and knowledgable, not to mention cool, through listening to Broken Social Scene or Conor Oberst or somesuch others, I alienated myself entirely by getting into heavy metal, a subgenre of rock so militant its press and the rest of the world's do not at all meet, except for the latter to poke fun at the former. Emperor, Mayhem, Burzum--these motherfuckers burn churches & slit their wrists & aren't even that gifted (but they sure as hell are principled).

But Electric Wizard, well, these dudes just rock. At the time of Dopethrone, the fine album I'm pitching today, it was three late-20-somethings, apparently super-stoners, using a detuned, fuzzy bass, a detuned, almost superfluous guitar, and a most-likely-detuned drumset to make very heavy, very slow rock. The lyrics are best explained by the album cover:

Ah yes.

Anyways I don't expect people to like this album, or even be interested by it. Nor am I claiming that Jus Onborn, the sole songwriter/singer/guitarist, has all that much in terms of musical talent or even ideas, at least no more than, say, a rabid lover of Black Sabbath muck might gain by taking said sound to its natural limits. So as an experiment in heavy rock haze, this is the fucking cat's pajamas. Get it now and listen to it at once.

Check out these track lengths:

There's a 3' opener which feels like pop in comparison to the rest. The second track is nine minutes long and it's worth the entire wait just to hear the same riff get faster & faster & heavier & heavier. The third is 15', split up conveniently into a 5 minute song, a 5 minute riff, and 5 minutes worth of feedback fuzz named 'Altar of Melektaus' (I suggest splitting up the song in GarageBand, these latter two really press the patience).

Then there's a 6'30" standard fare riff-rocker, an 11' snoozer, a 0:47 bass riff w/guitar-accompaniment that is the very highlight of this entire genre & mood, another 5' standard riffer, and finally a 10' closer featuring the title (and heaviest) riff, followed by another 10 minutes of silence before a hilarious radio encounter in hushed Satanic tones. I transcribed it a while ago cuz I felt like it:

- That's terrifying, and that's.. no, look, if this happens to your kids, or if you look at this and you have children and you say, 'Could this happen to my child, out of some kind of rebellion?' how would a parent be aware?
- Many youngsters are into it, uh, teenagers and younger, and the..the..the clues are there, the satanic symbols, 6-6-6, if you see that written on your child's notebook, if they're into heavy metal music, if they're associating with strange characters or drifting off to ceremonies and not explaining where they're at, it's well worth it for parents to look deeper and ask, 'What exactly are you up to?'
- And with whom!
- Because this is serious...
- It could be harmless. It could just be a diversion. But it could also be DEADLY serious.

The phrase "drifting off to ceremonies" never fails to crack me up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cripple Creek Ferry

A while back I kinda really liked Neil Young's second (or third?) album, After the Gold Rush..

It's a real peculiar album, even peculiar in why it's peculiar, cuz it is, after all, kinda conventional (I guess?) It's a strange sort of somber. It's slow, but not in that complacent way, rather slow but still going strong. It's mighty pretty, but it doesn't connect like it is, cold-like.

Now I'm not saying all this as if it's a bad thing, I'm saying it like it's an interesting thing. But there is one song which continually hits me, viscerally, the "you feel no pain" kind of hit Marley's talking about, Cripple Creek Ferry. I think the only way I can accurately describe it is, it's like the Beatles wrote it. You know how the Beatles basically do no wrong and you don't even question it at some point? Where just about every album they did is among your all-time favorites but you don't even need to include them cuz it goes without saying?

Yeah, I feel like the Beatles wrote Cripple Creek Ferry. It does no wrong you see--I can always sing along. It grooves. Slowly, but it grooves. I've munched it up 22 times over a couple of weeks, in 5-6 song bursts I think. You should partake instantly.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Replacements - Let It Be

It started with Androgynous—piano and voice with spacy production and a sound so pained you’d think Westerberg was talking about himself. Of all the way-acclaimed albums the ‘Mats had (as it goes, the critics love them all), only “Let It Be” remained, due to this one song.

A year of that, and I guess “Sixteen Blue” must’ve come on shuffle one day, cuz there’s no reason I would’ve been tinkering around with this album otherwise. A gorgeous mess of notes, that song, and a dozen or so listens afterwards, I put the whole album on and noticed its entirety is a gorgeous mess of notes.

On the second run-through, I was finally hooked for good with the end of “Seen Your Video.” I guess albums don’t usually have climaxes, but this one’s is marvelous. “We don’t wanna know, We don’t wanna know, We don’t wanna know”—it’s about music videos but basically he’s shouting “We don’t give a shit,” in context (and out). There is no punk out there more pissed off, defiant, and somehow at the same time so anthemic.

And so give or take 30 plays into the album, I’m still not tired of it. I hope it’s got the longevity of others that have taken me so by storm, or maybe it’s just a raucous mood I’m in (key point: these drunks fucked up their chance at success because, well, they got drunk too often). If no song is like another; if the notes are so interesting they belie the simple chords changes; if the playing is so loose-perfect you wonder what side of the pro-am fence these dudes are on; how can I get tired of the sound?

I can’t encompass something this good. I can only hope someone else feels it the way I do. And so to help with that, let me just say, “Gary’s Got a Boner” works best in sequence, between the climax and the sweetest song on the album; don’t forget “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” has more mock-snarl attitude than anything else on the album; and a Kiss cover remains a Kiss song, no matter who performs it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right - Bob Dylan (1963)

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t matter, anyhow
An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on
Don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
That light I never knowed
An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway
So don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
Like you never did before
It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
I can’t hear you anymore
I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’ all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem (2005)

the first track on each of the album's two discs references Daft Punk. of course this is a great album.

this is one of the few albums (up there with the White Album, Drukqs, etc.) that i think truly deserves to be two discs long. like the Beatles and Aphex Twin, James Murphy (he basically is LCD Soundsystem) just had too many things to do. the Beatles wanted to do surf rock, punk rock, folk rock, and even weird sound experiments. Richard D. James wanted drum & bass, eerie minimal piano pieces, ambient techno, and even a 30-second sample of his parents wishing him a happy birthday.

what does Murphy want? he wants to make you dance. there's slow stuff, fast stuff, soft stuff, hard stuff. something for everyone, as long as everyone likes to dance. an acid disco garage house pop psychedelic punk rock medley, LCD Soundsystem's debut/self-titled album is an electronic dance music masterpiece, still the best LCD five years later.

i'm not going to say anything about the music though. i'm not really going to say much anything actually. i just want to share some of this album's amazing lyrics, usually the least important factor of any music to me.

i'm really easy to please lyrics-wise. you can repeat "ooh baby the music sounds better with you, love might bring us back together" for seven minutes and i'll be in ecstasy. this doesn't mean i can't tell the difference between that kind of trite (though strangely elegant) couplet and, say, the poetry of Bob Dylan.

Murphy's lyrics fall everywhere between the two extremes. the lyrics for the song "Yeah" are pretty much just "yeah yeah yeah yeahyeahyeahyeah yeah. yeah hey hey hey hey" and "everybody keeps on talking about, no one's getting it done" (what the fuck is it?). the first track gets a little more complex. here's the first verse:
well Daft Punk is playing at my house, at my house
i'll show you the ropes, kid, show you the ropes
i got a bus and a trailer at my house, at my house
i'll show you the ropes, kid, show you the ropes
it's a song about Daft Punk playing at his house. what more would you expect? you gotta PA the house, Sarah's girlfriend is working the door, the robots descend from the bus, etc. etc. oh yeah Murphy loves singing about music, though he usually takes it a step further:
beats on repeat, beating on me
from every car in the street
there's constant repeat on repeat
of your paranoid, heartbreaking beats
on repeat

it's a five song repeat, beating on me
your favorite band helps you sleep
and here comes the new stylish creep
from every car in the street
on repeat
on repeat


i wish i could complain more about the rich but then
all their children would line the streets,
come to every show,
no one wants that

i wish i could complain more about the rich but then
all their children would flee the schools,
come to every show,
drugged and unwashed

i wish i could complain more about the rich but then
all their children would line the streets,
come to every show,
unwashed and drugged and
beats on repeat, beating on me
on the radio
on your radio
on your radio
music about music! "Daft Punk is Playing at My House," "On Repeat," "Disco Infiltrator," "Beat Connection," LCD Soundsystem is all about dancing yourself clean and being hyperaware of it.

the best example of Murphy's clever lyrics and super self-conscious irony comes on the first track of the second disc, "Losing My Edge." the song starts with a miminal thumping bass line backed by a couple snares and hi-hats. then comes Murphy's nasally singing. then come more hi-hats and a little flickering guitar. the vocals start whacking out, echoing like there are two James Murphys in the room. the guitar starts creaking like an electronic insect, still minimal. when we hit around 2.5 minutes, cymbals crash announcing a less restrained, more potent bassline, still playing the same old minimal phrase though. it won't stop until the song ends. the drums pick up a little more. the guitar gets a little whackier. slowly, always slowly building to a paranoid, anxiety-ridden, frustrated cry for help at the end: "look at all the good music i know!" here are the lyrics, in full:
yeah, i'm losing my edge.
i'm losing my edge.
the kids are coming up from behind.
i'm losing my edge.
i'm losing my edge to the kids from France and from London.
but i was there.

i was there in 1968.
i was there at the first Can show in Cologne.
i'm losing my edge.
i'm losing my edge to the kids whose footsteps i hear when they get on the decks.
i'm losing my edge to the Internet seekers who can tell me every member of every good group from 1962 to 1978.
i'm losing my edge.

to all the kids in Tokyo and Berlin.
i'm losing my edge to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties.

but i'm losing my edge.
i'm losing my edge, but i was there.
i was there.
but i was there.

i'm losing my edge.
i'm losing my edge.
i can hear the footsteps every night on the decks.
but i was there.
i was there in 1974 at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City.
i was working on the organ sounds with much patience.
i was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band.
i told him, "don't do it that way. you'll never make a dime."
i was there.
i was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids.
i played it at CBGB's.
everybody thought i was crazy.
we all know.
i was there.
i was there.
i've never been wrong.

i used to work in the record store.
i had everything before anyone.
i was there in the Paradise Garage DJ booth with Larry Levan.
i was there in Jamaica during the great sound clashes.
i woke up naked on the beach in Ibiza in 1988.

but i'm losing my edge to better-looking people with better ideas and more talent.
and they're actually really, really nice.

i'm losing my edge.

i heard you have a compilation of every good song ever done by anybody.
every great song by the Beach Boys.
all the underground hits.
all the Modern Lovers tracks.
i heard you have a vinyl of every Niagra record on German import.
i heard that you have a white label of every seminal Detroit techno hit - 1985, '86, '87.
i heard that you have a CD compilation of every good '60s cut and another box set from the '70s.
i hear you're buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and are throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something real.
you want to make a Yaz record.
i hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables.
i hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars.
i hear everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody that i know.

But have you seen my records? This Heat, Pere Ubu, Outsiders, Nation of Ulysses, Mars, The Trojans, The Black Dice, Todd Terry, the Germs, Section 25, Althea and Donna, Sexual Harrassment, a-ha, Pere Ubu, Dorothy Ashby, PIL, the Fania All-Stars, the Bar-Kays, the Human League, the Normal, Lou Reed, Scott Walker, Monks, Niagra, Joy Division, Lower 48, the Association, Sun Ra, Scientists, Royal Trux, 10cc, Eric B. and Rakim, Index, Basic Channel, Soulsonic Force ("just hit me"!), Juan Atkins, David Axelrod, Electric Prunes, Gil! Scott! Heron!, the Slits, Faust, Mantronix, Pharaoh Sanders and the Fire Engines, the Swans, the Soft Cell, the Sonics, the Sonics, the Sonics, the Sonics.

you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
you don't know what you really want.
i know i want to listen to every one of those artists now.