Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Analog Brothers - "2005"

Of course, what drew the normally sensitive indie types to Keith's profanity-laced paranoid rants in the first place was the production. Automator's tracks on the Dr. Octagon project gave the knapsackers an excuse to secretly snicker at the often shocking misogyny of Keith's lyrics. And what made those beats so distinctive was Automator's use of vintage synths, which were at the time all the rage in the world of avant-pop. At the turn of the century, Keith made this analog fetishism the centerpiece of the identity of his newest project: the Analog Brothers.

Keith here dubs himself Keith Korg, and his collaborators have similarly inclined handles: Rex Roland, Silver Synth, Mark Moog and Ice Oscillator, also known as none other than legendary proto gangsta-rapper Ice-T. Of course I was termendously excited upon first hearing about it, which happened when I spotted the advance single "2005 A.D." at Beat Street (where else?). It's a good track, fairly typical of Keith's style, but with less of the man himself due to the presence of the band's other MCs. Ice-T is curiously absent.

A few months later I picked up the full-length, Pimp to Eat, and was duly disappointed. Keith is clearly the best MC of the bunch, and it's far from his most inspired work. I listened to the album again before posting this, thinking I might turn up a hidden gem I had since forgotten, but "2005" is the best track. I was also looking for a track with both Keith and Ice-T, and I don't think there is one. The version posted here is taped off the single, by the way, but it doesn't differ appreciably from the album version.

One more interesting note: neither the 12" nor the LP bear a production credit. The whole band, perhaps? According to the group's AMG bio, Pimp Rex was the producer on Keith's previous Sex Style album and, given his position in the album credits, he seems to have some sort of central role in the group; it may be his work.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Analog Brothers - "2005"

Monday, May 28, 2007

Kool Keith - "Girls Don't Like the Job"

Kool Keith. Where to begin?

After achieving notoriety in the early hiphop underground as the stand-out weirdo of the Bronx's Ultramagnetic MCs, Keith became the darling of knapsack hipsters a few years later as the voice of Dr. Octagon, a collaboration with producer Dan "the Automator" Nakamura in which Keith created the character of a psychopathic gynecologist/serial killer from outer space. Dr. Octagon was only the start of arguably the strangest solo career in hiphop history, encompassing dozens of personae and as many albums.

In 1999, following his relocation to Los Angeles, Keith released Black Elvis/Lost in Space, his first solo album for a major (Sony) and the first released under the name Kool Keith. The album is split into two halves, each a showcase for one of Keith's characters: the first is a space traveler, the second the undisputed king of hiphop. The album is worth seeking out for the liner notes alone, in which Keith thanks "Aaron Fuchs, for bringing a tape recorder to my shows, secretly recording them, and bootlegging my live shows"; "all you fake ass wiggers in the music industry acting like you grew up in the projects"; "all my porno star friends"; and "my celebrity fans", who include Bill Gates, Monica Lewinsky and Jerry Seinfeld.

This track is from the latter half of that album. In it, Keith describes his corporate empire, name checking numerous financial institutions, consummating real estate deals with Al Sharpton and founding a new NBA franchise, the Baldwin Hills Spacemen. At one point he can be heard ordering an employee to "fax yourself to China." Ah, the life of a deluded would-be CEO.

I bought this record new at Beat Street, but have never actually heard the album in its entirety. My copy is defective: side 4 is pressed on side 1, so I have two copies of the record's final side and none of its first. I never got around to returning it. The liner notes include a toll-free number for reporting defective merchandise, but it only led to a recording giving an address to which to send the offending product. Fearing I would never hear back if I mailed in my record (this being the days before the Consumerist), I didn't bother. Nowadays Sony still seems to own the number, but the recording just tells callers to complain directly to the retailer. Try it yourself: 1-800-257-3880.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Kool Keith - "Girls Don't Like the Job"

Friday, May 25, 2007

De La Soul - "All Good?"

De La Soul may hold the dubious distinction of having the most albums either marketed or received as "comebacks". The anti-hippie backlash against their brilliant debut precipitated one of the most elaborate identity crises in pop history, resulting in the utterly unhinged follow-up. So their third album was their first comeback. But that one didn't do so hot, so Stakes Is High was a comeback too. The first AOI album was the comback from that and The Grind Date was the comeback from the second. And they're still goin'.

This one's from the first AOI. It's credited as "featuring Chaka Khan", and clearly her vocals forge the song's most immediate impression, but where's the love for Pino? Buried in the album's credits is the name Pino Paladino, and that's probably just where he wants it.

Paladino's resumé is jaw-dropping. He's one of those session guys who plays on a lot of slick, overproduced lite-FM stuff: Sting, Don Henley, etc. He recently played on the new Who album, arguably his highest profile gig to date. And still most music fans have never heard of him.

His bass work here is just what you'd expect from a player of his stature: tasteful, note-perfect and above all deferrent to the track's lead elements, in this case the vocals. Listen closely to the way he keeps subtly mixing it up throughout the track; it's definitely not looped.

Bought this one, again new when it came out at Beat Street. Just fell for the hype, I suppose. You know, brilliant return to form, etc. I remember this album being exceptionally well marketed. Truth is, 3 Feet might be my personal favourite hiphop album of all time and every De La album I've purchased since has just been in futile pursuit of that first thrill. I suppose I'm hardly alone in that respect.

Buy it... on vinyl

From my deck to you: De La Soul ft. Chaka Khan - "All Good?"

I didn't mean for this week to be a requiem for Beat Street, but I can't help it. That's where I bought most of my hiphop vinyl for the past ten years or so. I could keep going with more hiphop tracks next week. Do I... do I need to do Kool Keith week? I mean, do I need to do Kool Keith week? I think I do.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Beatnuts - "Props Over Here"

There's a good reason the Beatnuts are best known for their production work on other people's records: even on their own albums, the tracks far outshine the vocals. Not that they're slouches as MCs, but they're nothing special. The beats, on the other hand?

As far as killer bass lines go, the 'Nuts first EP and first two full-lengths are an absolute gold mine. This cut's off the self-titled one (also known as Street Level). I have no idea whence they lifted it. No sample credited, natch.

Bought this one new at Beat Street as well. I think I have all the Beatnuts LPs from the 90s, and I'm pretty sure I got them all new at Beat Street. You are missed.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: The Beatnuts - "Props Over Here"

Monday, May 21, 2007

Smif-n-Wessun - "Wrektime"

Whither Boot Camp Clik? How did these guys fall through the cracks? Still kicking around, apparently. If their legacy was this one bassline (no sample credited; I don't recognise it but that doesn't mean it's not lifted), that'd be plenty. It's not of course, but still.

Boot Camp's mid-90s heyday was largely overshadowed by the dominance of the like-minded Wu-Tang Clan. But where the Clan found their initial success as a group before branching out into solo projects, the Clik released their individual (actually, smaller group) albums before the big group effort. Which flopped, basically. And that was pretty much it. Oh, they're still releasing albums. But no one's really listening like they used to.

While Black Moon's Enta da Stage is widely considered the cream of the Boot Camp Crop, I'll take Smif-n-Wessun's Dah Shinin' any day. Besides the killer tracks (DJ Evil Dee and Mr. Walt each produced about half; Walt did this one), MCs Tek and Steele are rhythmic savants of the best kind, wandering back and forth over the beat. On this cut they sound as though they're experimenting with different cadences for the refrain and never quite settle on one. Their lyrics reflect a similarly confusing identity: are they blunt-toting thugs or knapsack-friendly consciousness-rap types? Both, sort of, and possibly the only act ever to successfully straddle that particular divide.

Following a threatening letter from a certain firearms manufacturer, T&S rebranded themselves as the Cocoa Brovaz and released a follow-up three years later to little notice. They garnered renewed interest for their illegal-sample-heavy underground single "Super Brooklyn", but never released an album to follow it. They changed their name back and finally put out another record two years ago, but I've never heard it. Still, its makers may have faded away, but Dah Shinin' stands the test of time.

Bought this one new at the mighty Beat Street in Brooklyn USA, greatest hiphop/R&B record store in the universe. R.I.P., baby.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Smif-n-Wessun - "Wrektime"

Friday, May 18, 2007

Charles Mingus - "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress; Then Silk Blues"

Mingus Plays Piano is a curious record, the type that a rock artist could never get away with, but from a jazz artist is a treasure. The title is as literal as you can get: it's just Chazz at the piano, noodling away, playing whatever pops into his head. The mic even picks him up scatting a bit in the background, as though he's just sketching out ideas. Piano isn't even his main instrument and he's still a captivating player.

I included this track primarily to make a point about how silly record collectors can be. It's taped off a double LP entitled Great Moments With Charles Mingus (no doubt), a poorly annotated cheap-o reissue consisting of the indispensible Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus albums in their entirety, plus, just because there was space left on the records, a few tracks from Piano. I can't find any details about the record online; Mingus's official discography doesn't even mention it.

Mingus's Impulse! records are generally priced at a premium, but this one's got a tag for $7.99. I can't remember where I bought it, but rest assured it was purchased somewhere in New York, where either of its primary component records would be considered a bargain at twice that. And there's no way Piano would get stickered under ten either. All of which raises the same question that all premium-priced original-issues hint at: are you collecting baseball cards, or do you just love music?

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Charles Mingus - "Orange Was the Color of Her Dress; Then Silk Blues"

So next week, in honour of Mingus being such a killer bassist, I'll post a few hiphop cuts with killer basslines.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Charles Mingus - "All the Things You Can C Sharp"

"See... sharp!" Get it?

Mingus was never one to shy from a bad pun. Bully for him.

The source here is, of course, Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C-sharp minor", the immediately recognisable piano riff (played by Max/Mal Waldron) in the opening and sprinkled throughout. It's combined with a fairly straightforward bop take on a Hammerstein-Kern standard called "All the Things You Are". Hence the title: was Mingus the father of the mash-up? The tune proceeds with the usual take-a-number solo format highlighted by a calm, confident bass solo from the man himself. Hardly an essential performance, perhaps, but find another jazz tune built around a late-romantic classical piece. Thought so.

The tune was originally released on a 1956 LP entitled Chazz (itself a truncated version of Mingus at the Bohemia) and later combined with the rest of that album and a companion album from the same session called Mingus Quintet Plus Max Roach (that's Roach on drums here and throughout most of both albums). The resulting double LP set is one of several simply titled Charles Mingus in Mingus's convoluted catalog. I picked it up on the same buying jaunt as Three or Four Shades. Price: Fr50. Again, about ten bucks.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Charles Mingus - "All the Things You Can C Sharp"

Monday, May 14, 2007

Charles Mingus - "Ysabel's Table Dance"

Supposedly inspired by a bender in Mexico following the dissolution of his first marriage, Tijuana Moods is something of a forgotten masterpiece from Mingus. (It came after Pithecanthopus Erectus, before Mingus Ah Um.) In 1986 it was reissued as New Tijuana Moods, a double LP with alternate takes of each cut on the original.

The five tracks together tell a story of a weekend in Tijuana, each describing a sight taken in by the revellers: street musicinans, a strip bar, even a souvenir store. I was originally going to post "Tijuana Gift Shop" because of its manageable length, but it's a fairly pedestrian cut. "Ysabel's Table Dance", on the other hand, is ridiculous, so I'm posting the whole thing, bandwidth be damned. It's the alternate take from New, by the way. The rapid shifts in key and time signature encapsulate why Mingus was a notorious nightmare of a boss; one imagines the musicians being miserable rehearsing this stuff, but forced into the best performances of their careers in spite of themselves.

The hand-written price tag comes in at a cool $8.99, but I can't recall the source, other than to say it may very well be the redoubtable Nuggets in Boston's Kenmore Square, one of my all-time favourites and a terrific source for both vinyl and cheap cassettes for your car. If you've never been to Boston but have watched a Red Sox home game on TV, Kenmore is the home of that ratty-ass Citgo sign behind the monster, located a mile or so from Fenway.
Buy it... on vinyl.
From my deck to you: Charles Mingus - "Ysabel's Table Dance (Alternate Take)"

NOTE: Due to the length of the track and limits on file size permitted by my storage site, this track is encoded at 192 kbps VBR, rather than the usual 256. Sorry about that.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Charles Mingus - "Better Git Hit In Your Soul"

If you've got a Charles Mingus album or two, chances are you've got a version of "Better Git Hit In Your Soul" (or some variation on that spelling; there are several). As far as I can find, the song first appeared on Mingus Ah Um, although most of the themes had been previously explored under the title "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting". Mingus added the signature horn riff at the opening (following the introductory bass solo), changed the title, and "Better Git" became one of his best known and oft-revisited numbers. I think I have it on about a half-dozen records, and my Mingus collection is comparatively modest.

I've never been much of a serious jazz connoiseur, but Mingus is one of the few artists in the field I've really explored, and this song might be the sole reason. It's such an unbelieveably catchy hook, you don't need even the most rudimentary understanding of jazz for it to grab you.

The version here is from 1977's Three or Four Shades of Blues, a later album (Mingus succumbed to Lou Gehrig's disease in early 1979) dominated by the guitar work of Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine. In this version, the familiar riff is played on an electric guitar. The arrangement is brief and relatively spare considering the usual boisterous nature of the tune, and Coryell's solo is clearly the centerpiece. The lyrics, absent from most recordings of "Better Git", are fairly straight-forward gospel exhortations, and the seemingly-unrehearsed group vocals booth obscure and empower the words with their ragtag delivery. Once more. For Charlie.

The price tag on this one says "Fr50", which, for those of you too young to remember the pre-Euro days, was about ten bucks. I picked this up along with several other Mingus records in a record store in Paris that was spilling over with jazz vinyl, all for about half what it would cost in New York. I didn't even know it was a guitar record, I was just grabbing whatever Mingus I saw, drunk on the embarrassment of riches. Truth be told, it's not a great album. But worth hearing once, I suppose. Particularly if you're a "Better Git" fanatic.
Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Charles Mingus - "Better Git Hit In Your Soul"

As I mentioned before, I probably have enough renditions of this one song to do a "Better Git Hit" week, but I'll make it a little broader and just do Mingus week starting Monday.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Shockabilly - "Are You Experienced"

If you've never heard Shockabilly before, I can almost guarantee you've never heard anything like Shockabilly. The three-piece emerged from New York's downtown avant-jazz scene in the early 80s, and all three members went on to become fixtures in one way or another. Drummer David Licht continues to play in a Shimmy-Disc band or two; bassist/organist Kramer has produced dozens of records, was in Bongwater and has collaborated with just about every underground musician in the past quarter-century. (Incidentally, he produced a record by the Thundering Lizards, led by Scott Prado, q.v. Monday's post.)

And then there's Eugene Chadbourne.

I first heard about Chadbourne through my fanatical devotion to the music of Camper Van Beethoven. They recorded an album (and a few others since) with Chadbourne in 1987 called Camper Van Chadbourne, which I bought and didn't really get. But it was nothing compared to his solo work, which can most accurately be described as protest free-bluegrass. He plays a banjo and his style is distantly rooted in country conventions, but the end result is far beyond that, drawing inspiration primarily from the scales-and-time-signatures-be-damned ethos of early free jazz. All behind angry/funny left-wing political lyrics sung in a variety of annoying cartoon voices.

Shockabilly was Chadbourne's early phase, before he got tired of rock music. The band's first few records consist almost entirely of covers, mostly of sixties dinosaur hits, which the band proceed to gleefully piss all over. The marvelously-titled Earth vs. Shockabilly includes barely-recognisable renditions of "Day Tripper", "People Are Strange" and "19th Nervous Breakdown", among others. I picked "Are You Experienced"[sic] because it has the most far-out guitar work, but it's pretty representative of the record as a whole.

The price tag says $5.99. I'm guessing I got it at Downtown Music Gallery, which was for many years on East 5th Street. The guy who ran the place was a Chadbourne freak, and I remember him telling me once that he was in contact with all three members and trying to convince them to play a reunion show. Wonder if it ever worked out.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Shockabilly - "Are You Experienced"

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Mahavishnu Orchestra - "The Noonward Race"

I first got turned on to John McLaughlin by Scott Prado, a psychedelic fellow-traveller who's in most of the bands on this label. Based on the band's name and appearance, I expected a bunch of hippie jam-rock, but no, the Mahavishnu Orchestra are serious fusion jazz players with a heavy space-rock streak.

On Scotty's recommendation, I picked up their debut, The Inner Mounting Flame, for $3.99 at Boston institution In Your Ear!, and was duly blown away. McLaughlin himself is a ridiculous player with a sharp-edged sound, but it's really the band's rhythm section that makes them rock. Anything less and they'd be wussy jazz-lite.

"The Noonward Race" is actually one of the few cuts on the record in (mostly) 4/4, so I could have gotten way nerdier here. It's long on the violin and keyboard solos, but there's plenty of guitar as well, especially towards the end. The keyboard player, by the way, is Jan Hammer, who should need no introduction.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: The Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin - "The Noonward Race"

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Van Halen - "Hear About It Later"

Can't do a week of guitar wankery without giving respect to Eddie and the boys, so here it is. There's an interesting heirarchy to Van Halen fanhood:

  • Level Three

    If you're an 80s rock fan, your favourite VH album is 1984.

  • Level Two

    If you're a casual VH fan, your favoutite VH album is the first one.

  • Level One

    If you're a serious VH fan, your favourite VH album is Fair Warning.

It's that simple, and there are surprisingly few exceptions. It's hard to see why; you'd figure a Van Halen fan would be into good-time rock n' roll, and Fair Warning is the band's darkest album by a long shot, from the brutal cover art on down. It still sounds fun on the surface, but the atonal guitar lines and nihilistic lyrics tell a different story. The band reportedly hated each other, more so than they had before or would again until the breakup, during the recording, a blurry fog of cocaine and hard liquor. This is anything but a party record.

"Hear About It Later" captures the overall mood as well as, if not better than, any other track on the album. The opening chords sound vaguely ominous, the arpeggiations in the bridge are sad and beautiful. The lyrics speak of exhaustion and unconfronted tension, the brief guitar solo is a nightmare of anger and confusion that dares you to like it. All this over a backdrop of the usual thundering drums and showtune backing vocals. Granted, there are some even freakier solos toward the end of side two, but this track just seems to have all the bad vibes in place. Very strange, to say the least.

Ah yes, the record. I bought it used online a few years ago, just filling out the VH collection, probably for a few bucks at most. No great story here, I'm afraid.

Buy it... on vinyl

From my deck to you: Van Halen - "Hear About It Later"

NOTE: The vinyl link above does not link to a static page, it runs a search on GEMM. When I ran it, I had the vinyl-only filter on, but an 8-track still managed to slip through. If it's still there... you're welcome.

Okay, next week I'll stick with the theme of guitar virtuosity (and believe me, the Shelf does not lack for wank power) but move away from metal. Till Monday...

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Death - "Forgotten Past"

I think what amazes me the most about metal is the way it constantly re-invents itself, perhaps more quickly than any other genre in rock. Entire sub-genres are developed and cast aside often within the space of, say, eighteen months. In 1987, just as Master of Puppets had, against all odds, taken thrash metal mainstream and Reign in Blood had got the critics on board, an even more extreme movement was already well underway in the metal underground. Death metal's ridiculous tempos and unintelligible vocal roars made acts like Metallica sound tame just when Middle America had barely had time to come around to them.

If you like a good scene-history-type rock book, Albert Mudrian's Choosing Death is pretty good, and certainly made me want to hear more. Two things really jumped out at me: one, this was a scene based entirely on tape-trading. For the Tampa bands, just getting a metal indie like Combat to listen to them was a major victory. Two, the lineups of these bands were ridiculously unstable. Napalm Death's classic early lineup broke up before they finished their first album; future Head of David/Godflesh/Jesu frontman Justin Broadrick only appears on side one.

Death, like most bands of their ilk, had a zillion lineups; the one constant was frontman Chuck Schuldiner, who tragically succumbed to cancer in 2001 at the age of 33. Death's 1987 debut Scream Bloody Gore is widely-considered their one essential album, but for my money I'll take the follow-up, 1988's Leprosy. The playing's tighter and the production's better (Scott Burns was always learning as he went along; later Morrisound albums all sound better than earlier ones).

By the looks of the price tag, I picked this pristine copy up at Generation for a cool $5.99. Generation was the first record store I went to regularly to have a metal section in the used vinyl bins; now even Kim's has one. I'm pretty sure this is the latest-released album I own with a Unipak sleeve (Shellac's At Action Park has one too, but I don't own it). The others I've seen are all from the late 60s. I have no idea why more bands don't use these. It seems like the perfect cost compromise between a single sleeve and a gatefold.

"Forgotten Past" sounds like most of the other cuts on the record, i.e. awesome. I picked it because it has the best guitar solo.

Buy it... on vinyl

From my deck to you: Death - "Forgotten Past"