Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Beastie Boys - "The Mix-Up" (LP Review)

Remember listening to "Ill Communication" and "Check Your Head" and thinking "wow, those instrumental fuzzy/funk/fusion/faux-soundtrack jams sure are cool; they should do a whole LP of them"?  The Beastie Boys sort of delivered that with 1996's "The In Sound From Way Out" but that was a just a collection of instrumentals from IC and CYH with a couple of b-sides thrown in.  It wasn't until 2007 when The Beastie Boys finally gave us "The Mix-Up", an LP consisting of entirely of new instrumentals. 

To be honest, the wait was kind of a disappointment.  "The Mix-Up" is not bad, but somehow it is missing the magic hinted at in the earlier LPs.  Is it because the songs themselves aren't as inspired?  Did they wait too long to do this project -- would this have sounded more fresh in 1997 rather than 2007?  Or do the instrumentals simply sound better when juxtaposed with the Beastie's hip-hop (and occasionally punk) tracks?  I will say "The Mix-Up" is better than the similarly-themed 1995 "solo" LP "Mark's Keyboard Repair" from Money Mark, the unofficial fourth Beastie who also appears here.

I think the LP got a pass in many reviews when it came out because the Beasties were elder statesmen by then and we were happy to have anything new from them.  Here's a 2007 track-by-track review from someone who loved the LP, but I'm more inclined to agree with the Pitchfork review.  This isn't a bad LP, but it isn't essential either: just 12 mostly interchangeable background listening tracks that would not have generated much buzz if the name "Beastie Boys" wasn't on the LP cover.  On the other hand, I'm not sure they were trying to make a grand statement either: there is kind of a "just another funky weekend in the Beastie garage" feel to the LP.  With the death of MCA in 2012, presumably The Beastie Boys discography is complete (modulo some unreleased material that might eventually be released) so you have to enjoy what you have.

Standout tracks: none.

Skip 'em tracks: none.

Full LP: YouTube, Grooveshark

Final score: 6/10

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Houndmouth - "Houndmouth" (LP Review)

To borrow from the Tappet Brothers, the last several reviews have been "classic", and by "classic" I mean "old".  Time for something contemporary...

"Houndmouth" is the eponymous 2012 debut by the Indiana-based band, Houndmouth.  This four song EP successfully mines the alt-country, folk, blues, roots music genres: there's not necessary anything new on this EP, but they execute it very well.  Lisa (via Herbert) actually turned me on to this band, kindly dropping the CD in the mail to me a few months ago. 

If you're going to do country music, you need a song about going to jail.  Just in case there was any doubt, the opening song is "Penitentiary":
Come on down
To the Penitentiary
Oh momma the law came crashing down on me
Excellent stuff.  The other standout track is "Krampus", nicely featuring the vocals from Katie Toupin and Matt Myers.  "Houston Train" is also good, with "Oil Spill" being the weakest of the four songs.  I must not be the only one that feels that way since "Oil Spill" is the only track off "Houndmouth" that was left off their 2013 full-length LP "From The Hills Below The City" (which I haven't had a chance to get yet).  A quick search shows that they're booked on a lot of major summer festivals (Lollapalooza, Newport Folk Festival, UTOPiAfest); these guys are poised for success in the future.

Standout songs: "Penitentiary" (studio, live November 2012), "Houston Train" (live UTOPiAfest 2012, live November 2012), "Krampus" (live, live acoustic)
Skip 'em tracks: none.

Final score: 8/10 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Husker Du - "Candy Apple Grey" (LP Review)

"Candy Apple Grey" is Husker Du's 1986 major label debut after four critically acclaimed LPs (and one EP) on Reflex Records and SST Records.  This means there are two general reactions to the LP: many long-time fans accused them of selling out, and major magazines (e.g., Rolling Stone) fawned over the LP in an effort to make up for ignoring their 1982-1985 output.

In retrospect, most reviewers feel the truth is somewhere in between (e.g., Punknews, Culture Fusion).  This is a good LP that should be in your collection, but it lacks the intensity and consistency of LPs like "New Day Rising" and "Flip Your Wig".  It is tempting to put the blame on the big, bad major label but apparently the real villain is the increasing rivalry between Grant Hart and Bob Mould.  Perhaps the Warner Brothers deal kept the band together longer than they would have if they had remained on SST. 

Parts of "Candy Apple Grey" would be at home on any of their previous releases: "Don't Want to Know If You're Lonely", "Sorry Somehow", "Crystal".  Some represent a more poppy, college radio sound that hints at their later solo releases, like "Too Far Down", "Hardly Getting Over It", "No Promise Have I Made".  Those songs are fine, but the weakest moment on the LP are songs like "Dead Set On Destruction" and "Eiffel Tower High".  Those two songs, while not terrible, have a kind of awkward self-awareness; I can imagine Bob and Grant saying to themselves "hey, in the next 30 minutes I need to write a song that rocks harder than {Bob's|Grant's}!".

Standout songs: "Don't Want to Know If You're Lonely", "Sorry Somehow", "Too Far Down", "Hardly Getting Over It"

Skip 'em songs: "Dead Set On Destruction", "Eiffel Tower High"

Final score: 7/10.  WB Husker Du pales in comparison to SST Husker Du, but it is still better than most bands.

Bonus link: MTV review of "Candy Apple Grey" (featuring Martha Quinn), complete with May 1986 tour dates in case you invent a time machine and want to catch them live (after killing baby Hitler, of course). 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Stanley Jordan - "Stairway to Heaven" (the song remains the same)

The sale of Virginia Beach's iconic Cavalier Hotel was announced in today's Virginian Pilot.  Despite grand plans for the hotel, I'm betting on the worst-case scenario of razing, as a result of long-term mismanagement and neglect, culminating in a recent law suit with the family members suing each other.  A Southern Gothic family + a developer + the city of Virginia Beach = hard to imagine a positive outcome. 

I think I've been to The Cavalier twice, and the first time was to see jazz guitarist extraordinaire Stanley Jordan, ca. 1991 (I'm actually a little fuzzy on the date).  I've seen & heard a lot of guitar virtuosos, but watching & listening to Stanley Jordan is simply amazing.  I don't own any of his LPs, but that has been by accident more than design.  His concert at The Cavalier Hotel was excellent, but of course the highlight for me was his version of "Stairway to Heaven" (yes, that "Stairway to Heaven"), off his 1988 LP "Flying Home".  One of my favorite memories of all time was watching several 70+ year-old, black, grandfather-types (the audience was mostly older & black; at 21 & white I was a distinct minority) stand in the aisle -- at a jazz concert, may I remind you -- and (sincerely) yell "play 'Stairway to Heaven'!!!".  Yes, my life is fuller because of those memories.

Stanley Jordan - "Stairway to Heaven" (live, late 80s/early 90s judging by the outfit).*

I hope they save The Cavalier, but I'm not counting on it.

* = No, I'm not linking to the original. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Discharge - "Protest and Survive" (the song remains the same)

Twenty four years ago today (June 4, 1989), the Tiananmen Square Protests ended in a brutal crackdown.  Less than a year after that, President George H. W. Bush decided idealism is bad for business and extended China's "Most Favored Nation" trade status.  And less than a week ago, and very close to home, Shuanghui International Holdings proposed to buy local giant Smithfield Foods.  Perhaps economic ties will eventually prove more subversive to China's regime than supporting the protesters in 1989, but I will never forget my bitter disappointment that when called upon, we turned a deaf ear.

From Discharge's punk classic 1982 LP "Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing", "Protest and Survive":
It's up to us, to change the course
Protest and survive, protest and survive
Protest and survive,
Protest and survive  
Anthrax would later cover this song on their 1991 LP "Attack of the Killer B's".

Discharge - "Protest and Survive"
Anthrax - "Protest and Survive (live 1996)"