Monday, June 29, 2009

Howie B - "Another Late Night" (LP Review)

Sometimes the total is less than the sum of the parts. I like Howie B, and I like DJ mix LPs -- I probably own at least a dozen from the various Another Late Night/Late Night Tales, Back to Mine and DJ-Kicks series as well a handful more outside of those series (e.g., see my review of DJ Shadow's "Funky Skunk").

Unfortunately, Howie B's entry in the Another Late Night series does not come together. In fact, this is probably my least favorite DJ mix LP -- Howie B just goes through the motions, playing the tracks one after another (almost all of them in their entirety), with little feel for transitions or even an attempt to mix them. It has the following tracks (lifted from wikipedia.org):

  1. "What It Is?" - The Undisputed Truth
  2. "Love's Theme" - Love Unlimited Orchestra
  3. "Twilight" - Maze featuring Frankie Beverly
  4. "I Changed My Mind" (Stereo MCs Rattlesnake mix) - Lyrics Born & The Poets of Rhythm
  5. "Uplink" - Stratus
  6. "Mirage" - Santana
  7. "Walking In Rhythm" - The Blackbyrds
  8. "Summer Hot" - Curtis Mayfield
  9. "Contrazoom" (featuring Alison Goldfrapp) - Spacer
  10. "Respiration" - Black Star
  11. "Work The Angles" - Dilated Peoples
  12. "Heavy Tune" - Gong
  13. "Under The Boardwalk" - Howie B
  14. "Violets Don't Be Blue" - Herbie Mann

Only the transition between "Work the Angles" and "Heavy Tune" has the semblance of a mix, the rest sound like the work of a radio DJ and not a club DJ. The track listing is suspect too: "Love's Theme" is obvious -- no points awarded there (you might as well sample "Funky Drummer"). The requisite rap tracks are good ("I Changed My Mind", "Respiration" and "Work the Angles") as is "Uplink", but the rest of the tracks are dominated by too many meandering 1970s fusion jams ("What It Is?", "Mirage", "Twilight", "Walking in Rhythm", "Summer Hot", "Heavy Tune"). They're not necessarily individually bad (ok, "Mirage" is pretty bad), but how many do we really need?

The biggest head scratcher is probably Howie B's version of "Under the Boardwalk" -- it sounds like a midi version suitable for karaoke. I mean that in the worst possible way. Including some of your own work in a mix is de rigeur, but Howie B insults us with this throwaway track.

If this was your first DJ mix LP, you might not ever purchase another one. A more skilled DJ could salvage this song selection with innovative mixing. Or, minus the mixing, a more thoughtful track selection would have been ok. To fail at both is unforgivable.

Standout Tracks: "I Changed My Mind", "Respiration", "Work the Angles", "Uplink", "Love's Theme"

Skip 'em Tracks: Pretty much the rest.

Final Score: 4/10. You might enjoy some songs individually -- this score reflects the presentation as a mix LP.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Specials - "Ghost Town" (forgotten song)

"Ghost Town" is a 1981 non-LP single from The Specials, the last release from their original lineup. Unlike "Rat Race" which I vividly recall from early MTV, I have only a vague memory of seeing this video on MTV. Perhaps because this song sounds so different from others in their oeuvre it is easy to forget. It features only a few ska elements, instead matching the lyrical material with a vast, desolate sound.

I don't recall it getting radio airplay in the US at the time, but it was #1 in the UK and has been featured in several movies, including "Natural Born Killers" and "Shaun of the Dead". It was also sampled in the Gorillaz song "Slow Country" from their 2001 self-titled LP. You can't help but wish the original line up of The Specials had managed to stay together for more than two LPs and a few singles.

"Ghost Town" - official video, Top of the Pops version.

B-side bonus links: "Why" - YouTube; "Friday Night, Saturday Morning" - YouTube;

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sky Larkin - "The Golden Spike" (LP review)

"The Golden Spike" is the 2009 debut LP from the UK trio Sky Larkin. I discovered them on Wichita Recordings YouTube page, a place from which I've discovered many great bands (including The Cribs and Peter Bjorn and John) in the last year or two. Wichita Recordings is signing amazing bands and doing a great job of promoting them via the web (many are in the queue to be reviewed).

I was so excited about "The Golden Spike" that I ordered the UK copy as soon as it was released -- I couldn't wait for the US version that was to follow a few months later. Prior to the release of TGS, Sky Larkin released two singles from the LP. The first, "Fossil, I", is a good song but the second, "Beeline", is an infectious indie pop song tour de force. I can't imagine why this song has not received more buzz. Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Ones" received well-deserved radio airplay -- why not "Beeline"?

Nestor Matthews (drums) and Doug Adams (bass) are a good rhythm section but it is fair to say that the band's unique sound is defined by Katie Harkin, both as a vocalist and guitarist. Harkin perfectly captures the lo-fi, indie sound -- the closest comparison I can think of is Juliana Hatfield (updated by 15-20 years).

My only criticism of this LP (and it is a small criticism) is that at this point Sky Larkin seems to be a better singles band than LP band: the songs work a bit better one or two at a time than 12 (or 13, counting the hidden track) in a row. There are no bad songs on the LP, but they're not all at the level of "Beeline", "Matador" or some of my other favorites.

Standout Tracks: "Beeline", "Matador", "Fossil, I", "One of Two", "Molten", "Antibodies"

Skip 'em Tracks: none.

Final Score: 8/10.

2009-10-19 Update: I found this short interview with the band discussing Wichita Recordings, making the "Fossil, I" video and other tidbits on the "BenevolentShadows" YouTube Channel. It closes with a sample of this live version of "Matador".

2012-12-16 Update: More acoustic versions of "Matador": 2010 Bandstand Busking version, free mp3 version on soundcloud (unknown date)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jim Ingram - "Drumbeat" (the song remains the same)

Sometimes you discover things in reverse. I'm a big fan of The Chemical Brothers, and their excellent 2002 LP "Come With Us" features a song called "It Began in Afrika", whose heavily processed vocal sample of the phrase "it began in Africa" sets the mood for a driving, frenetic track. Although the sample helps make the track, I had never really thought about its origins.

I just recently picked up a copy of 2003's "Ultimate Lessons, Volume 3" and it also has a track called "It Began in Africa" by Fatboy Slim. The "Ultimate Lessons" series I'm reserving for future reviews, but they appear to be low-volume bootlegs of DJ mixes of questionable legality due to uncleared samples (Volume 1 had the original Double Dee and Steinski recordings from the early 80s). They're released on Starchild Recordings, which seems to exist only to release this series. After searching the web further, I found that this song was originally released in 1988 by the Urban All Stars, which is apparently one of the many aliases of Norman Cook (known to most as Fatboy Slim).

Intrigued by the similarity, I searched further and discovered that both versions of the song are based on a track called "Drumbeat", from the 1974 LP of the same name by spoken word artist Jim Ingram. Whereas The Chemical Brothers sampled just the phrase "It began in Africa", the UA version is a mix of "Drumbeat", the Jackson Sisters - "I Believe in Miracles" and Maceo & the Macks - "Cross the Track".

Good luck finding the original Jim Ingram recording -- it does not appear to have been re-released or even bootlegged. Fortunately, someone was kind enough to upload it to YouTube. The versions by The Chemical Brothers and Urban All Stars are not quite cover songs in the conventional sense, but it is always interesting to hear the original sources after hearing the sample. Presented in the order of my discovery:

The Chemical Brothers - "It Began in Afrika": YouTube.

Urban All Stars - "It Began in Africa": YouTube.

Jim Ingram - "Drumbeat": YouTube.

Monday, June 8, 2009

(Various) - "Until the End of the World" (LP Review)

Julee Cruise covering an Elvis Presley song. Elvis Costello covering a Kinks song. Duets with Kate Pierson & Michael Stipe, and Jane Siberry & k. d. lang. Artists like Neneh Cherry, U2, Depeche Mode, Can, Patti Smith and the Talking Heads recording with the same "sound." If these things sound intriguing to you, then you should love the "Until the End of the World" soundtrack. I saw the film once at the Naro Cinema (probably in 1992) after I already had fallen in love with the LP. I can't honestly say I understood the film (I suppose I should give it another try), but fortunately the soundtrack does not depend on the film.

This is the LP that really turned me on to soundtracks as a genre; this is the LP that I measure all other soundtracks against. The most amazing part of this LP is that all of the songs (except for U2's eponymous song) were unreleased and new for this LP, yet it sounds like they were recorded specifically for this LP (many of the songs were subsequently released on later LPs). Despite the range of artists, the songs are united by a hazy, desolate other-worldly feel. Taking the track listing from wikipedia:
  1. Graeme Revell: "Opening Theme" (Revell) (Solo cello performed by David Darling) – 1:59
  2. Talking Heads: "Sax and Violins" (David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth) – 5:18
  3. Julee Cruise: "Summer Kisses, Winter Tears" (Jack Lloyd, Ben Weisman, Fred Wise) – 2:37
  4. Neneh Cherry: "Move With Me (Dub)" (Cherry, Cameron McVey) – 2:58
  5. Crime and the City Solution, "The Adversary" (Bronwyn Adams, Simon Bonney, Chris Haas, Alexander Hacke, Mick Harvey, Thomas Stern) – 5:32
  6. Lou Reed: "What's Good" (Reed) – 5:07
  7. Can: "Last Night Sleep" (Malcolm Mooney, Jaki Liebezeit, Michael Karoli, Irmin Schmidt) – 3:35
  8. R.E.M.: "Fretless" (Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe and featuring Kate Pierson) – 4:49
  9. Elvis Costello: "Days" (Ray Davies) – 4:49
  10. Graeme Revell: "Claire's Theme" (Revell) (Solo cello performed by David Darling) – 0:51
  11. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: "(I'll Love You) Till the End of the World" (Nick Cave) – 4:38
  12. Patti Smith and Fred "Sonic" Smith: "It Takes Time" (Smith, Smith) – 5:00
  13. Depeche Mode: "Death's Door" (Martin Gore) – 3:53
  14. Graeme Revell: "Love Theme" (Revell) (Solo cello performed by David Darling) – 0:45
  15. Jane Siberry and k.d. lang: "Calling All Angels" (Siberry) – 5:11
  16. T-Bone Burnett: "Humans from Earth" (Burnett) – 3:07
  17. Daniel Lanois: "Sleeping in the Devil's Bed" (Lanois) – 3:50
  18. U2: "Until the End of the World" (Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.) – 4:33
  19. Graeme Revell: "Finale" (Revell) (Solo cello performed by David Darling) – 0:58
Only Lou Reed's song, "What's Good", sounds out of place. I'm a Lou Reed fan, and its not necessarily a bad song, but the start to finish enjoyment of the LP is enhanced if you skip this song.

The strength of "The Adversary", probably my favorite song on the entire LP, caused me to spend a good bit of time hunting up copies of two other Crime and the City solution LPs: "Shine" and "The Bride Ship". I remember being disappointed that they were not as good as the song "The Adversary", but I should probably give them another try (I can't seem to find them right now).

This LP also turned me on to artists like Jane Siberry, whose 1993 LP "When I was a Boy" I'll review in the future.

After I had this LP, I purchased a copy of another Wim Wenders soundtrack: 1988's "Wings of Desire". Despite some of the same artists (like Crime and the City Solution), it is not nearly as good.

Standout Tracks: "Sax and Violins", "Summer Kisses, Winter Tears", "Move With Me (Dub)", "The Adversary", "Fretless", "Days", "(I'll Love You) Till the End of the World", "Death's Door", "Calling All Angels", "Humans from Earth" (a slightly different version), "Sleeping in the Devil's Bed", "Until the End of the World" (also a slightly different version). I'm not kidding, they're all that good.

Skip 'em Tracks: "What's Good".

Final Score: 10/10

Thursday, June 4, 2009

2 Skinnee J's - "Riot Nrrrd" (forgotten song)

"Riot Nrrrd" is a single from 2 Skinnee J's first LP, 1998's "Supermercado!". This song is time capsule in many ways. First, the very title is a nod to the early 1990's Riot Grrrl movement. Second, the music is firmly within the 1990's punk/rap/ska sound, including fellow Capricorn Records label-mates 311, Cake, and Everything. Third, droll name checking of John Hughes, Anthony Michael Hall, Underroos, Thundercats, the Island of Misfit Toys, Field of Dreams and Contact leaves little doubt this song is by and for Gen Xers. Take time to explore the lyrics; they are especially funny if you lived it.

This song received a good bit of radio airplay when it came out but seems to have fallen out of favor, perhaps edged out on the local stations by its ponderous cousin, nu metal (ZZZzzzz).

Link: YouTube.

2010-04-15 Edit: The YouTube version linked above seems to have lost its audio track, so here's a version on clip4e.com.

2013-09-27 Edit: Here's a new version on YouTube.