December 7th, 2010 | Albums

DJ Spinna and BBE Back At It

DJ Spinna - Strange Games Vol 5 DJ Spinna & BBE Soundsystem
Strange Games & Funky Things Volume 5 – Smoking ’70s Soul and Rare Grooves
(BBE) 2010

Purchase: Amazon

Back on the hunt for the forgotten gems of 1970s soul, DJ Spinna and BBE craft another compelling exploration of hip-hop and R&B’s roots.

Best known for the Beat Generation LPs by J Dilla, Pete Rock, and DJ Jazzy Jeff, boutique British label BBE is firmly established as a premium purveyor of instrumental releases and breaks compilations for crate diggers everywhere. Their Strange Games series of 1970s soul compilations dates back to 1997.  Volume 5 is the first to feature DJ Spinna since 2001’s critically acclaimed Strange Games and Things, and it is a worthy successor.  Times may have changed, but Spinna and BBE’s common focus on the forgotten gems of ’70s soul has not, and this consistency keeps them from being forgotten gems themselves.

According to BBE, Strange Games “represents the blueprint for modern R&B and rap music” and “joins the dots between ’70s soul, ’80s rare groove, and ’90s mass market hip hop.” A few beats will be instantly recognizable to the average rap fan, namely “Faded Lady,” famously sampled by Diamond D and Busta Rhymes, but most of this will be virgin territory for all but soul, disco, and world music experts, and of course hip-hop producers. Other than the notable exception of War, details on many of these songs and artists are frustratingly scant on the web, making this an excellent jump off for your own explorations of these genres.

The first highlight of many is the opener, “Get It Up for Love” by Ned Doheny. A blue-eyed soul singer-songwriter who developed a following in Japan, Doheny is barely remembered stateside.  For fans of Philadelphia soul, the subject of many quality compilations in its own right, check out “I Ain’t Got the Love (Of One Girl on my Mind)” by The Ambassadors, a long out-of-print tune that’s 1998 re-release went largely unnoticed (update: I recently became aware of Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s “I Ain’t Got the Love”, which makes excellent use of this sample).  Other highlights like sampling favorites “For The Love Of Money” by the Philly Armada Orchestra and “Ashley’s Roach Clip”  by the Soul Searchers  are much funkier and feature no vocals at all. The juxtaposition of these two styles, and often the combination of them, is indicative of the overall sound of the Strange Games series.

The Strange Games vibe is laid back but fun, and as one might guess, this is an ideal mix for an after party. DJ Spinna does a great job of highlighting the best grooves and keeping the vibe steady, and his cuts are remarkably unobtrusive. If you would like the tracks in their entirety, there is also a second, unmixed disc included, a common practice by BBE that has further endeared them to beat junkies. The additional disc is perfect for the shuffle-heavy habits of digital music listeners but does have five fewer tracks.  Unfortunately, Merry Clayton’s stellar cover of “Gimme Shelter” does not make the cut.  You are not likely to run out and buy the entire discography of any artist featured here.  In fact that would be rather difficult to do.   Yet this is a solid compilation from front to back, an excellent addition to late-night playlists, and a worthy entry in this series and the BBE catalogue as a whole.

Rating: 7/10

(This review was originally published on PopMatters on October 29, 2010)

November 23rd, 2010 | Downloads

All Girl Talk, All Week

Girl Talk - All Day

It seems like the music media has been in a Kanye West trance this fall, but last week we were treated to a brief respite courtesy of mashup maestro numero uno Mr. Gregg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, and the surprise release of All Day, his fifth and most ambitious album to date. Of course with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy coming out today, on the heels of a 10.0 from Pitchfork no less, this moment was short lived, but that’s how it goes in the world of post-Twitter Kanye.

Girl Talk’s week in the spotlight started last Monday as news that All Day was available for FREE on the Illegal Art website quickly went viral. In a recent interview with Vulture, Gillis claimed that the free download wasn’t a legal decision, but a marketing strategy to build his fan base because if something online “is not free, or in your face, you might not be interested.” Well, people were clearly interested as reports of downloads failing were widespread, and it took many hours to get in some cases. You can download it here if you haven’t done so already.

All Day is quite good, the best Girl Talk effort to date in my opinion, but what’s really been remarkable is the way the web has consumed it. The album’s Wikipedia entry was created seemingly within minutes of its release and quickly filled up with an exhaustive list of its samples, 372 of which have been identified as of this writing. While collaborative editing is cool and all, this is 2010, so naturally a sweet visualization wasn’t far behind. Head over to Mashup Breakdown to watch the samples light up in real time as the songs play. It’s a bit of a time suck, but very helpful for identifying the songs you’re sure to be downloading in a drunken stupor late this Thanksgiving Eve. Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” anyone?

October 22nd, 2010 | Tracks

The Roots Are Still Right On

The Roots

The Roots are high on the list of artists I’ve seen live the most times.  My first time was in high school at Drew University during the Things Fall Apart tour, and most recently I had the pleasure of catching one of The Roots Jam shows at Highline Ballroom this past summer.  The realization that these shows were well over ten years apart was a bit disconcerting (via feeling old), but I took comfort in the fact that I was out past 2 on a weeknight!

The Highline show was the day before the new album, How I Got Over, came out and it was killer.  They played very little of the new stuff, which is always fine by me, and gave me my jamming fix after a particularly poor Phish show at Saratoga a few days earlier.  The Roots have been called the best live band in hip-hop for years, and rightfully so, but their live show is on a whole other level these days.  If you’ve seen them once or twice, or at a festival, and are thinking “been there, done that,” do yourself a favor and get to a show.

I’ve had a little time with the new album, and it’s quite good, but one track really stands out, “Right On” which features and samples Joanna Newsom.  Newsom’s appearance, along with Monsters of Folk and Dirty Projectors, have led many to point to the influence of their new indie rock friends from the Fallon show, but “Right On” is straight classic 90s hip-hop.  Heck, it sounds more 90s underground than The Roots actually sounded during that time.  I think it’s telling of the profound influence the late J Dilla’s work has had on them that last few albums, as the beat reminds me of Dilla’s production on Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifornia.

Give it a listen over on Famous Sounding Words

July 12th, 2010 | Albums

So This Happened

LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening LCD Soundsystem
This Is Happening
(DFA) 2010

Purchase: Amazon

So many great new albums have come out since my last post I barely know where to start, but a good place would probably be This Is Happening, the new LCD Soundsystem album that came out May 17.  If you don’t have a copy yet, that’s an error I suggest you correct as soon as possible.

This Is Happening, the follow up to their 2007 masterpiece Sound of Silver, is an amazing achievement in its own right and a serious contender for my favorite record of 2010.  As many artists tend to do when following up an album many deemed “perfect,” they try to rise to the occasion by expanding their sound and taking creative chances.  And as often happens, the resulting record is not as consistent as its predecessor, but its high points exceed almost all of their creator’s previous successes.  “I Can Change” and “All I Want” are textbook examples of these highs, and currently my #1 and #2 favorite songs of the year.

Another cliché of the follow up album, “the polarizing lead single,” is also in play with “Drunk Girls,” the lyrically quotable, but musically annoying “jock jam” that has expanded the group’s popularity with the bro set but become the central focus of those claiming the album’s inferiority to previous works.  I don’t dislike “Drunk Girls” or “One Touch,” the second and third tracks on the album, but in light of the genius that transpires from track four on, their inclusion is a bit suspect, especially so early on where it derails the momentum set by magnum opus opener “Dance Yrself Clean.”

Continue reading “So This Happened”

May 5th, 2010 | Artist Spotlight

Jay Electronica Channels Biggie Smalls

jayelectronica

If you’ve read a music magazine any time in the last two years, you’re probably aware that Drake is the hottest new rapper in the game right now.  If you’ve read a music blog any time in that period, you may also be aware that the man pictured above, the elusive Jay Electronica, is the hottest new emcee in the game, and depending on who you ask, he just might be the savior of hip-hop.

You can read about his curious methods on Wikipedia, but here’s a few key details.  He’s from New Orleans.  He likes to rap over movie scores.  He’s released most of his material via posts in random web forums and his mysteriously disappearing and reappearing MySpace and Twitter accounts.    He just had a baby with Erykah Badu.  He has produced for and toured with Nas.  There is intense speculation as to when, if ever, he will release a proper debut album.  And oh yeah, he can rap his ass off.

Continue reading “Jay Electronica Channels Biggie Smalls”

May 4th, 2010 | Downloads

Super Tuesday – Broken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

The New Pornographers isn’t the only Canadian indie rock supergroup with a new album out today. Broken Social Scene is also back with Forgiveness Rock Record, their fourth proper group album and first in 5 years. BSS is best known among indie fans for 2002’s You Forgot It In People, their seminal indie rock opus that Pitchfork placed at #23 in their Top 200 Albums of the Decade. They are best known to everybody else for the solo success of group member Leslie Feist, aka Feist, whose single “1, 2, 3, 4″ was one of those ubiquitous iPod ad songs in 2007.

Forgiveness Rock Record is getting a lot of love in early reviews, including a Best New Music rating from Pitchfork. Several songs from the album have been available on the web for weeks, including “World Sick,” which they released as a free download. You can download it below and you should because it’s freaking epic.  You can also check out the rest of the album with the official embeddable widget of the album. Hopefully artists will be doing more of this with Lala biting the dust at the end of the month.

Broken Social Scene – World Sick

May 4th, 2010 | Downloads

Super Tuesday – New Pornographers

The New Pornographers - Together

This week is a pretty big one for new releases in the indie rock world with new albums from genre mainstays like The Hold Steady, Broken Social Scene, and, of course, The New Pornographers.  It’s the Canadian indie supergroup’s fifth album, and first since 2007’s Challengers, but they haven’t been inactive, as last year saw the release of well-received solo albums by frontman A.C. Newman (Get Guilty) and female vocalist Neko Case (Middle Cyclone), who was nominated for two Grammys.

The new album, Together, out today on Matador, is receiving very positive feedback, including this glowing review from Aquarium Drunkard, where I picked up free downloads of two tracks.  The songs, “Your Hands (Together)” and “Crash Years,” are classic New P’s and seem to support AD’s viewpoint that this is a return to form after Challengers, which wasn’t bad, but wasn’t on the level of their previous work.  Check out the two tracks below and make sure to pick up a copy of the album.

The New Pornographers – Crash Years

The New Pornograpers – Your Hands (Together)

May 3rd, 2010 | Downloads

Wolf Parade Gives First Taste of “Expo 86″

Wolf Parade - Expo 86

The most famous indie rock outfit from Montreal not named Arcade Fire is back.  Wolf Parade revealed the name (EXPO 86) and cover art (above) of their forthcoming third album a few weeks ago, and earlier today Sub Pop, who released each of their previous LPs, announced the new album’s street date (June 29) and posted two new songs from it on the web.  The two tracks, “What Did My Lover Say” and “Ghost Pressure,” can both be downloaded below.

Lest I offend Spencer Krug fans with my oversimplified, Arcade Fire-referencing first line, I must point out that with this release we’re going on 5 consecutive years of new LPs from either Wolf Parade, or Krug’s other group Sunset Rubdown, who released last year’s criminally underrated Dragonslayer, with no decline in quality in sight.  In fact, these two new tracks suggest this may be the best Wolf Parade album to date.

Wolf Parade – What Did My Lover Say

Wolf Parade – Ghost Pressure

May 3rd, 2010 | Albums

The Best Album of the Year So Far

Beach House - Teen Dream Beach House
Teen Dream
(Sub Pop) 2010

Purchase: Amazon

Merriweather Post Pavilion was released on January 6, 2009.  The year wasn’t even a week old and people were already calling it the best album of 2009.  It seemed crazy, but sure enough, come December the bigger question was where to put it on your  Best of the Decade list.  January 2010 is a tad early to talk about Best of the Decade, but as we entered the New Year something seemed eerily familiar.  A highly anticipated January release, Teen Dream by Beach House, was already being projected as a potential album of the year.

JimmyMorrisTweet

Jimmy Morris is a fellow music blogger that I follow on Twitter (check out his excellent site Head Underwater) and his bite-sized review on the eve of the album’s official release directly addressed a question that, while premature, was definitely on my mind.  I didn’t hear the album until the next day, and I’m still not sure if I agree with his statement, but they are close enough in quality that I think it boils down to taste rather than superiority.  Pink Floyd has been my favorite band since grade school, and I’ve seen Phish more times than I care to admit in a public forum, so it’s safe to say that I’m pre-disposed to loving Animal Collective.

Continue reading “The Best Album of the Year So Far”

May 2nd, 2010 | Music Videos

Video: The Black Keys “New Girl”

The Black Keys - Brothers

Thanks to the similarity in their names, musical influences, hometowns, and number of group members, The Black Keys have endlessly been compared to fellow blues rock revivalists The White Stripes.  But when it comes to career trajectory, the similarities stop.  Unlike the overnight success of their Detroit counterparts, The Black Keys (Akron, Ohio natives Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney), have enjoyed a slower, but steady, rise to prominence that culminated in the release of 2008’s Attack and Release, their critically acclaimed fifth album that debuted at #14 on Billboard.

Two years, one excellent solo album (Auerbach’s Keep It Hid), and one mediocre hip-hop collaboration later (Blakroc), the Keys return with Brothers, due out May 18th on Nonesuch.  That’s the ultra-literal album art above.  “Tighten Up,” which was produced by Danger Mouse (who helmed Attack & Release), was the first track released to the web, but now there’s a video for an additional track, “New Girl,” which I actually like better.  The viral marketing influenced clip features a puppet t-rex chilling poolside, lip syncing the song, while surrounded by babes in bikinis.  In other words, it’s awesome.  Check it out below.