Sunday, August 31, 2008

Stallion Alert! - Eric Drew Feldman

I actually know very little about Eric Drew Feldman. I always thought he was one of the main guys in Pere Ubu. He wasn't. But I do know one thing: when he teamed up with Frank Black, they made some great music together.

And for that, he is a stallion.

Some people might remember him as the hirsute dude who's not a member of the Pixies but is in their video for "Alec Eiffel." I'll always remember him as the trollish looking guy who manned the keyboards the first time I saw Frank Black live. He stood in the back like this mad scientist (I have a memory of him using computer discs, though that could be apocryphal), barely visible above his stack of machines. I realized that while FB was certainly heading into some new territory, branching out on his own, it was this guy who was responsible for a good part of his "new sound."

The Pixies sound different on Trompe Le Monde, their last album, and it's the keys. It's Eric Drew Feldman. Then, he went on to play on and co-produce Frank's first two (and best) solo records. If I really needed to explain to anyone why Teenager of the Year is FB's best solo work, not to mention my favorite record of all time, I would certainly say the songs. But I'm not sure if the songs would have been as good without the keyboards, the synths, and the arrangements. That's gotta be EDF, because he left, and Frank immediately lost something.

He came back, and Frank got better. It can't be a coincidence. I'll always like Frank Black when he's doing the straightforward guitar rock thing, because he does it as well as anyone. But I've realized that my favorite music he's ever made has been the stuff that's laced with those sweet keys.

So here's to you, Eric Drew Feldman. You are a stallion, and one of my favorite names to see jumping out at me in liner notes.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Frank Black - 93-03 (2xCD, 2007)

Yep, I'm a completist.

The record companies know that there are plenty of people like me out there, too. That's why, when they decide to release a "best of" compilation, they don't just throw together a collection of previously released tracks. No. Because I already have all those, and I'd have no use for it. So, they make it a double-discer and tack on a short live set, knowing that fanboys like me will be forced to scoop it up. And scoop, I did. This was, however, another one that I waited to find used. I mean, I'll pay eight bucks for it, but fourteen? No way. That just wouldn't make sense.

These are the sad rationalizations that I make to myself. It's a struggle.

I was curious to see what they would put on a collection like this, because aside from "Los Angeles" and "Headache," which were very minor radio hits for ol' FB, it's not like he had a ton of widely popular tracks to choose from. So, they did pretty much what I would have done: the first twelve tracks are from his first three albums; the last ten are from the other six. Teenager of the Year is wisely represented with more songs than any of his other albums, though distilling the 22 tracks there down to five leaves a lot of good stuff out.

Heck, distilling that many songs from that many albums down to the 22 songs on this collection just isn't fair. But, they're sequenced chronologically (good), all of his pre-Honeycomb records are represented (good), and it makes for a decent overview of his post-Pixies output (good). So, while I would hesitate to recommend to anyone that this would be a good place to start with Frank Black, I think the folks who put this together did their job.

The bonus live disc is full-band style, so after the live acoustic stuff that was on Christmass, it's not overkill. Plus, it features a really random collection of songs, though it is odd that "Ten Percenter" is the only song represented on both discs. Still, the track listing is bound to make the harder-core fans happy. It worked on me. If you're going to put some live tracks on a disc like this, might as well make 'em ones that some of us don't already have recordings of.

With as much output as FB had during the decade encompassed here, like I said, it's near impossible to really get all the good stuff on one disc. I don't have any major qualms with this one (both "Calistan" and "Speedy Marie" are here), but I could find some if I tried. But I won't. But, if you want a really good introduction to Frank Black, just buy either his eponymous debut or Teenager of the Year.

If you need more after that, I'll make you a mix. If you ask real nice.

"Los Angeles"

Friday, August 29, 2008

Frank Black - Christmass (CD/DVD, 2006)

I feel like I used to know the whole story behind this one, but now I can't remember it. It was released right before Christmas, so I guess that explains the title.

It's an odd compilation: a collection of studio tracks ("studio" being a loose term here) and live songs, some new, some previously released. There's twenty tracks; I think seven of 'em are new ones, or at least aren't available anywhere else. Of those seven, five are studio recordings, and two are live. And six of the seven are credited to Black Francis in the liner notes, while all the other songs (aside from "Cactus," "Wave of Mutilation" and "Where Is My Mind," which are all Pixies songs) are said to have been written by Frank Black. So, there's some weirdness there. It would make more sense when he would release a Black Francis album shortly after this.

The studio tracks here were recorded on the road, starting in hotel rooms and maybe ending up in a studio for some overdubs. They don't sound shoddy, in fact, the new stuff here is great. The new and more formally recorded songs are interspersed with live tracks from various shows in 2006, all just Frank doing it solo style. They're fine enough, the recordings are actually pretty good, and the songs are a mix of really old and (mostly) really new. I love the Pixies, but I could probably never hear "Where Is My Mind?" again and be OK with it. When FB started working the Pixies stuff back into his live shows, I was disappointed (I'm a purist, people!), and when I realized he would only be playing about three of their songs (the three here), I became even more disappointed. The version of "Cactus" on this one is ultra-weak: Frank's sleepwalking through it and you can hear the drunkies singing along. No good.

But, this album is worth owning for the new tracks and the accompanying DVD. The CD starts off with "(Do What You Want) Gyaneshwar," a song that is, right off the bat, catchier than anything on his previous two records. The next studio cut is "She's My Way," a song that starts off like it's just going to be Frank and his guitar, but about a minute in, a string section kicks in. Not something normally heard on his cuts. It works. "Demon Girl" is another great one that sounds like an attempt at some 50's sounding pop/soul. In that format, the corny title works perfectly. "Radio Lizards" is easily the oddest of all FB's properly recorded material. Completely a cappella, the track is thick with nothing but harmony. And it's a nice little number.

The DVD that comes with it is a two-camera shoot of Frank and his guitar, doing 13 tracks at a small live show in Sacramento, sometime in 2006. I wouldn't make anyone who's not a fan sit through it, but I think it's great. Some good banter, and a career-spanning set.

I forgot how much I like this little collection.

"(Do What You Want) Gyaneshwar"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Frank Black - Fast Man Raider Man (2xCD, 2006)

This is easily the Frank Black album I have listened to the least. Why, do you ask? First off, it's one of his newer ones, and on top of that, I put off buying it until I found it used. After Honeycomb, and after finding out this was basically more of the same, I was hesitant. I knew I'd still pick it up, I just wasn't in a hurry. Also, it's a double album, so there's just more music to listen to. That is an incredibly lame excuse, and I feel like an ass for even saying that. Don't judge me. In fact, forget I typed that.

Anyway, I have listened to it, just not enough to feel like I can make any huge statements about it. It is a lot like Honeycomb, but the sound is generally bigger and Frank seems a bit more confident with the vocals. The whole thing sounds more confident, and just more put-together. So that's not a bad thing. But since I didn't really like Honeycomb all that much, this one isn't one of my favorites, either. There are some good songs, but I never listened to Frank Black to hear this kind of stuff. So, one album is a nice departure, following it with a double CD of more of the same is also fine, just not something I'm going to force myself to enjoy when, in my heart of hearts, I really don't.

So that's my admission of guilt, truth, whatever you want to call it. Good for him for making a collection like this, but I'm not going to act like I ever go straight to this CD when I'm clicking through my iPod. At the same time, I've put it on when I'm just hanging around, and I never feel the need to yank it from the CD player. So really, it's one of those albums. It's there. It's nice, and it's there.

And it will always be there, sitting on my shelf with all my other FB CDs. Speaking of, I'm glad I'm not including singles in this first go-round. We'd be spending the next month on this guy...

"I'm Not Dead (I'm In Pittsburgh)"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Frank Black - Honeycomb (CD, 2005)

I mentioned in earlier entries that the change in Frank Black's approach to his music (namely the addition of pedal steel and his penchant for traditional structures) was leading to something.

This is it.

I don't know if the Pixies reunion had garnered him enough cash to finally pull off a project like this, or if it was just a random idea that turned into a full album...who knows. What we do know is that FB headed to Nashville, hired a bunch of session dudes, and made a polished album that, while a nice change from the two track recordings he did with the Catholics, feels slightly self-indulgent and isn't that fun to listen to. I'll go to the wall for Frank, but this one was pushing it. I've listened to this album quite a bit, and I've found some things that I like about it, but it will never be one of the first ones I reach for when diving into his catalog. Still, it's certainly not all bad.

"I Burn Today" was a song that I latched onto early on with this record, but I lost interest in it pretty quick. I still enjoy "Lone Child" and "Dark End of the Street," but that one's a cover. I don't know, the songs are slick, Frank's vocals aren't super great for this type of music, and the whole thing just seems to trudge along. Of course, he was out on the road playing songs he vowed to never play again, so this was probably a nice change for him. And I'm sure playing with seasoned session musicians was a welcome treat after sharing a stage with Kim Deal for weeks on end. Who knows.

I'll put this one on for some pleasant background music, but I hate to relegate a Frank Black album to that duty. So this one hurts me a little bit. But, the dude's got nothing to prove. Let him have some fun. There's always some winners in there if you take the time.

"I Burn Today"

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Frank Black and the Catholics - Show Me Your Tears (LP, 2003)

Even after releasing two albums in 2002, FB and the C's were right back with another record in 2003. So, there was hardly time for anything to change, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I've mentioned that they got better and better with the live-to-two-track recording method as the records kept coming, and this is no exception. With the first two Catholics albums, you could tell there was something raw about the recording. By this point, an untrained ear wouldn't suspect a thing. It allowed them to add more guitars and organs and feel confident they wouldn't be lost in the mix. Or so my theory goes.

This record is as twangy as the three that preceded it, and the use of pedal steel and organ had become so commonplace that it no longer seemed like "The New Frank Black Sound," it just was what it was. This record in particular benefits from it, as the melodies are more defined and memorable, and the little licks that echo them really drive the point home.

"Nadine" is the lead track on the album and was considered one of the singles, though I'm not sure why. It's a fine song, but it's more reminiscent of "The Marsist" from The Cult of Ray than anything on this record. Still, a good song, and any full-on rock was welcome during this period. The other single, and in my opinion, the better song, was "Everything Is New," a great little number that embraces some of the twang but is built around a melody that is anything but standard Americana fare. It's a morose narrative that keeps coming back to a whisper-sweet chorus-a great combination.

The remainder of the album keeps with the same formula. The songs are good, but tracks like "When Will Happiness Find Me Again?" and "This Old Heartache" were tough for me to get behind at first. To see an artist who had been so iconoclastic in the past starting to lean on derivative was frustrating. By stepping back from the album and letting it sit for a while, I've been able to go back and rediscover some of the great songs here without risking them getting lost in the rest of his prolific output of the era.

I recently found it on vinyl (thank you Ranch Records of Salem!) and it's helped heal any wounds that I may have been carrying due to my increasingly acerbic disposition. I'm constantly moving towards a better me. I tell myself the slabs of wax help me.

"Goodbye Lorraine"

Monday, August 25, 2008

Frank Black and the Catholics - Devil's Workshop (CD, 2002)

The second of the two albums released simultaneously in 2002, this one is about half as long as Black Letter Days, but otherwise feels about the same. Why these records weren't divided more equally, I don't know. It doesn't really matter, but for me, it makes this one seem like more of an afterthought to the other. The songs aren't quite as strong, but it's still a good little collection.

The albums starts unexpectedly with "Velvety," a song that the Pixies played as an instrumental years earlier. It's restructured here with vocals, and works surprisingly well. The original electric guitars are toned down with acoustics and give the track a much more melodic feel. Obviously, the vocals help in that respect, too. "The Modern Age," a track that had popped up as one of the "Kitchen Tape" songs from the import edition of The Black Sessions is given a proper go-round here, and it works well enough. But again, it makes this collection feel like it might be stuff that he wasn't sure about including on the other release.

"San Antonio, TX" is one of my favorites on this one, a fast-paced number that starts with some chaos and eases into a sweet melody that is accented by some even sweeter guitar licks. "The Scene" is another good one, a distortion-heavy short-but-sweet rocker that keeps it bitter and a little dark. It's followed by a song that keeps with some of the traditional sounding stuff from its sister disc, but stays with the heavy feel of this album, "Whiskey In Your Shoes," a track that lives up to its great title.

The whole thing ends with "Fields of Marigold," and it seems to consciously wrap it all up:

"Goodbye, I'm blowing a kiss to you
So long, wonderful being you
Goodnight, we'll soon be sleeping on the Fields of Marigold"

It's a big sing-along chorus that probably wouldn't work well any other place on either album, but it's good for some closure here. The whole band seems like they're barreling towards the end, and while it's a very un-FB-ish cut, it serves a purpose in this instance.

And if you listen to these two in a row, it wraps up what is a very long set of some great music. Maybe a little too much to handle all at once? Maybe. But not really. I was listening to this while driving on the freeway today and it was a solid soundtrack. So, you know, road trip it if you have to.

"Whiskey In Your Shoes"

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Frank Black and the Catholics - Black Letter Days (CD, 2002)

In the summer of 2002, FB and the boys did something that the rock world hadn't seen since...Guns 'N Roses? They released two separate albums on the same day. This one's first alphabetically, so we're running with it.

This record shares a lot with Dog in the Sand, but with a more prevalent acoustic guitar presence, it takes it a step further and ends up being even better. Feldman's still there making sure it all happens, and the rest of the gang just keep getting better and better as a band. This is a fantastic collection of songs, leaning ever closer to what FB was eventually getting to (we'll get there, too), which is his own distinct brand of trad/Americana/roots rock. Even that's not a completely accurate description. Anyway, there's still plenty of rock to be absorbed here. It's a solid mix of styles that never strays too far from what you'd expect from 'em. And the songs are just great. I was obsessed with this record for quite a while.

This album is bookended by two different versions of Tom Waits' "The Black Rider," and they're fine enough, but maybe not as consequential as they were meant to be. The first one's hard and heavy, the second one ends the album on a somewhat playful note. I guess it makes sense. But the real album starts with "California Bound," a terrific song with a terrible name. Right off the bat it's clear that the band has mastered both the recording process (live to two-track again, if that wasn't clear) and feeling the songs out as a unit. If these songs really are live run-throughs, it's really impressive.

"Chip Away Boy" is another one of my favorites, and it follows "California Bound"'s ending racket with a piano intro that sounds very uncharacteristic of the Catholics, but once it gets going it all falls into place, riding a super-strong chorus and plenty of guitars doing plenty of different things. The record takes off from there, picking up momentum and slowing it back down and opportune moments, never falling out of rhythm.

My favorite track on the record is almost smack-dab in the middle. "The Farewell Bend" works off a traditional (not that I really know what I'm talking about, but it sounds familiar) progression played on acoustic guitar that chugs along, constantly feeling like it's building towards something. The drums that you might expect never kick in, but some screeching electric guitar adds a heavy background that provides texture but also a jagged juxtaposition to the emotive and strangely soft vocals. At the risk of overstating it, I'd have to say it's another under-appreciated FB classic.

This CD is 18 tracks, clocks in at over an hour, and it feels like it. In a good way. It's song after song of great melodies and lyrics that, like the music, are starting to feel a bit more traditional and a bit more timeless. It's something to get used to, but I realize now that he really does ease us into it.

I'm OK with it.

"Cold Heart of Stone"

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Frank Black and the Catholics - Dog in the Sand (CD, 2001)

Eric Drew Feldman returns. And what a difference it makes.

They're still rocking the live to two-track recording method, but by this time they've got it down to a science, and with Feldman adding keys to the songs (plus the addition of pedal steel and some extra percussion), this record has much more depth and feel than the previous two. Joey Santiago even comes back, adding some strong guitar to the opening track, "Blast Off," which at over seven minutes seems a little gutsy, but FB's got nothing to prove at this point.

This album has always struck me as darker and more serious than the stuff that preceded it, but it might be because of the cover, which is a welcome change after the bizarre artwork that adorned the first two Catholics records. The songs are at least more involved, and with the aid of the new instrumentation, they come across as more rehearsed and less jammy. I like it, because I think it combines the best parts of the studio records with the best parts of the rawer two-track stuff.

The pedal steel really signifies a shift in FB's songwriting style. It dominates tracks like "Bullet," which is one of his most decidedly twangy songs up to this point. I never would have thought I'd be on board with it, but it's a great song. Frank lets the vocals hang all the way out, and the standard guitar screeches, offsetting the clean lines of the pedal steel.

While that one gets a little worked up, there's a good number of songs here that bring it down quite a bit. "Stupid Me" is poppy but fairly lite, and "The Swimmer" is another one that works the pedal steel into the forefront and keeps it slow but steady. "I'll Be Blue" does the same thing, riding the minor chords and finding FB proving that he can still get lilting with the melodies when he wants to. Conversely, he can still yelp, as he makes clear on the clamoring "Hermaphroditos," and then again on one of the album's best tracks, "If It Takes All Night."

The album proper wraps up with the title track, another country-ish slow-paced number that's a nice enough one to end on. It's followed (at least on the copy I have) with four acoustic demos of amended versions of songs from the album. They're recorded well and were definitely worth including. But that's coming from me, and I have a huge boner for bonus tracks.

Frank Black is always shifting directions (like any good songwriter, I suppose), and this is a solid record that certainly showed the first signs of how his sound was going to take shape in the coming years. Think it might have been a deal breaker for some people. I was in too deep already. In for the long haul.

"Hermaphroditos" Live in 2001

Friday, August 22, 2008

Frank Black - Oddballs (CD, 2000)

I saw Frank Black and the Catholics at Berbati's Pan in Portland on Saturday, March 4, 2000. This must have been when I bought this CD, though I could have sworn it was at a show at the Crystal Ballroom.* It matters not. The point is, this is a semi-rare CD that was only available at shows and possibly online for a short period of time. In physical form, at least. I think you can still download it.

It's a self-released collection of rarities and b-sides, mostly recorded between 1994-1997. A lot of the tracks are on singles, a few of 'em aren't. So, as a "hardcore" fan, my hands were tied. I'm glad I bought it, because I never saw it again after I swiped it up at the merch table. This is a good collection, but it may be best suited for serious, or as I said, "hardcore" fans. It's a must for any completist, not a good place to start for someone who's never heard the man's music before.

I'm rather forgiving, so I like pretty much everything on here. "Baby, That's Art" is a Cult of Ray-era b-side that could have ended up on the album proper. What a song title. "Everybody Got The Beat" is a 2-minute race through a peppy pop number that borders on punk. I can't understand all the lyrics, but I like the ones I've managed to decipher.

"Jumping Beans," one of the songs on the "Kitchen Tapes" section of The Black Sessions is given proper treatment here, and where it sounded like a whole lot nothin' on that version, it ends up being a really great song once it's all flushed out. "Just A Little" is a sweet cover of an old 60's pop number, one of my favorite covers that FB's ever done. "You Never Heard About Me" is another song that could have been on an album and not seemed like a super weak link, so it fits right in on this collection.

The CD ends with "Man of Steel," a song that first appeared on Songs In the Key of X, a weird soundtrack-ish like thing for the X-Files TV show. It's spacey and about a minute too long, so it's another one that works well here.

I hadn't listened to this one in a while, and now that I'm going back and rehearing it, I'm realizing how much I like a lot of these songs. Of course, it's one of those annoying collections that doesn't include all of his b-sides, but it includes stuff that isn't available elsewhere. One of my pet peeves (on both counts), but I'll go the extra mile for Frank.

*Edit: I now realize that it WAS at a show at the Crystal Ballroom, and it was on May 15, 2001. (Thank you Gigography)

"Man of Steel"

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Frank Black and the Catholics - Pistolero (LP, 1999)

I was down on Pistolero for a while, and now I don't remember why. Listening to it tonight, I'm only remembering all the things I liked about it when it first came out. Apparently it's aged well. Or, I've been listening to a lot of Frank Black recently, and it's all sounding pretty good. Probably a bit of both.

This record is basically the self-titled debut: part two, except Lyle Workman has been replaced by Rich Gilbert on lead guitar, and FB seems considerably more agitated. And that's a good thing. The songs are a little more lyrically ambitious, and the straight-ahead approach that bogged down some of the middle of the previous record is all but gone. A song like "Billy Radcliffe" is a steady jam, but the jaunting melody and the slightly bizarre narrative that comprises the lyrics keeps it interesting.

I hated "I Love Your Brain" the first time I heard it, but I learned to really like it. I was quick to dismiss it as obvious pandering, but I think it goes a bit deeper than that (though not much), and underneath the lyrics, which I may have been paying too much attention to, lies a catchy song that isn't trying to be what I has hoping to make it into in the first place. If that makes sense.

There's some other winners on here, too: "I Switched You," while possibly being a minute too long, is effectively choppy and hard-hitting where it should be. "Tiny Heart" is saved from being a standard FB one-off by its slow pre-chorus that make the entire song. It's followed by "You're Such A Wire," a western-ish number that is a little timid, but short enough to work. And that's a great song title.

Things get a little muddled towards the end, with songs like "I Want Rock & Roll" seeming oddly misplaced and forced. But what the hey, it's loud and chaotic, and that's not a bad thing, especially after following the supremely decent "I Think I'm Starting To Lose It." The album ends fairly strong, with "Skeleton Man," a song I always liked, and "So. Bay," a track that starts off with a distinctively Pixies-ish bass line which quickly gets drowned out by a mess of guitar. Another one that maybe goes on a bit too long, but I always thought the lyrics were pretty sharp.

I know some will disagree with me, but I think I have perhaps judged this record a bit too harshly in the past. Like I said, there's some speed bumps, and it might not be his strongest effort, but I forgot how much I like some of these tracks.

Pistolero Promo

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Frank Black and the Catholics - Frank Black and the Catholics (CD, LP, 1997)

This is the same band Frank used on The Cult of Ray, so apparently he felt they stuck around long enough to deserve a little credit. I didn't really care for the name at first, but I've grown accustomed to it.

With a new band name came a new recording approach: live to two-track. It makes for FB's rawest sounding record yet. While his first two solo albums were extremely polished (and his best stuff, in my opinion), his third was a little more rough around the edges, but I never thought it was leading to this. It's a warts-and-all approach that takes some adjusting to settle into, but by about the third track, you get used to it. Or at least I did. The phrase "stripped down" gets thrown around quite a bit, but this is really about as bare-bones as you can get with a full band. There's basically a guitar in the left channel, a guitar in the right, and everything else in the middle. And it's just them running through the songs.

Speaking of the songs, there's some really good ones on here. My brother has recently rediscovered this album, and he was telling me how he never realized what a great song "All My Ghosts" is. It's the first track on the record, and maybe the best song as well. There's some other really good ones: "I Gotta Move" is solid, and "I Need Peace" is just begging for some proper studio treatment. Of course, I feel that way about all of these songs. Really though, if he was going for a roots rock feel here, he picked a good set of songs to do it with.

At the same time, this was probably the first FB record where I finally had to admit that he was showing some chinks in his armor. Recording an album in this manner almost guarantees that the fidelity of the whole thing doesn't stray far from the inevitable limitations of the setup. So aside from the loud-quiet-loud approach, this is sonically a bit stagnant. And while I was willing to look past "I Don't Want to Hurt You (Every Single Time)" on the previous LP, I couldn't do it for "Do You Feel Bad About It?" on this one. It's a lazy song, especially by Frank's standards.

But, like I said, there's plenty of good stuff here. The songs are, for whatever reason, in alphabetical order, so "Suffering" and "The Man Who Was Too Loud" (which we talked about previously) get a bit lost, tucked away at the end. But, it starts strong, so it may as well end strong, right?

As for that cover, I don't have anything nice to say, so I'll zip it.

"Dog Gone"

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Frank Black - The Cult of Ray (Limited Edition) (2xCD, 1996)

Frank Black was going to have a hard time following up his masterpiece, and in what I now realize was a brilliant move, he took things in a completely different direction. He was on a new label (apparently Teenager didn't fare too well commercially, go figure), he hired on a new band of younger guys, and he gave Eric Drew Feldman a break and produced the record himself.

The Cult of Ray (the Ray here is Bradbury, as FB is a notorious sci-fi geek) sounds uneven compared to the inescapable draw of TOTY, but when standing on its own, it's really a fine album. UFOs again take center stage, not only with the implication in the title, but also with the lead single, "Men In Black." (Please remember that the movie Men In Black had not come out yet, and as such, this was actually a really cool title for a really cool song.) It's a great tune: catchy, punchy, a real go-getter. Nobody cared.

This really seemed like the time when everybody just wrote off Frank Black. There were still a ton of people at his shows (at least the ones I went to, and I saw him on this tour), but I'm not sure if I met anybody at the time who was listening to this album at all, let alone with the same excitement that I was. It's understandable. The record starts slow, with the lumbering drone of "The Marsist" giving the impression that it's never going to get going, and when it does, it's not what you expect. Things get a lot more interesting from there, but the stark digression of "Punk Rock City" is a bit awkward at first listen.

"You Ain't Me" contains one of the album's best lyrics: "Standing in the light you're so self-congratulatory/ So I guess you have the right to be so masturbatory." That's a stinger. "Jesus Was Right" is a solid and semi-chaotic rocker that fuses soft with hard, fast with slow. It works, but it's jarring. And that seems to be the consensus with a lot of the songs here. They're harsh for some reason. The guitar tones are a bit abrasive, and FB's vocals seems a lot more reverb-y than usual. It makes for a dark sound that borders on cavernous and hollow at points. So, songs like "The Creature Crawling" might be a bit hard to digest. Whatever.

The second CD in this limited edition contains four b-sides that are as good as any of the songs on the actual album, just not as polished. "Baby, That's Art" is a great song, with a great title.

If anyone were to ask me for a FB album to start with, this probably wouldn't be it. But that's not to say it isn't good. It's great in that it stands out sonically from the rest of his records, again affirming that he's moving forward with his sound. And the songs are really great once you give in to that pretense a little bit.

"The Marsist"

Monday, August 18, 2008

Frank Black - The Black Sessions Live In Paris Plus The Kitchen Tapes (2xLP, 1995)

Is that title long enough for you? I wish I could remember where I got this record. I don't think it was from eBay, I feel like I lucked out and found it in a shop somewhere. It doesn't really matter.

What we've got here is a live recording of Frank Black and his early backing band (Lyle Workman, Eric Drew Feldman, and Nick Vincent) on the Teenager of the Year tour. They did a French radio show called Les Black Sessions, and apparently decided to release the recording. This isn't a bootleg, though it does kind of look like one. But FB does liner notes on the back, and it's got the 4AD logo is on there as well. And it sounds much better than your run-of-the-mill mid-90's bootleg.

This is a great record, a great recording, a great show. Frank plays a fair amount of songs from each of his first two records and a handful of random tracks. Eric Drew Feldman plays on this, but he's doing bass duties, so any keyboards that were included on the original recordings aren't on the songs here. It's pretty sweet. They open with "Two Spaces," a track that rides the keys hard on the album version, but instead it just rides a guitar riff here. It's strange to get used to at first, but once you accept the sort of raw feel of all of it (the live setting helps), it's really an enjoyable album.

Apparently this is the UK version, as FB mentions in the liner notes that the label (Anoise Annoys) asked him to include something special for the "UK release." That's where The Kitchen Tapes come in. It's a hissy recording of Joey Santiago and Frank jamming out a couple songs, "Jumping Beans" and "Modern Age." It's low quality, but it's a fun way to take up space on the fourth side of the LP.

As I've said, I was obsessed with Teenager of the Year in 1994, and have always been bummed that I didn't get to see FB on that tour. I never saw an ad, never heard a thing. Checking this extensive database, I finally can confirm what I had always hoped was true: they just never came to Oregon. So, this record will have to suffice as the next best thing.

Here's Frank playing "Whatever Happened to Pong?" solo about a week before this record was recorded. Not the version included on this LP, but great nonetheless.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Frank Black & Teenage Fanclub - The John Peel Session (CD, 1995)

I've always liked this little 4-song EP, and not just for its novelty. I love a good Peel Session, and I also like Teenage Fanclub, so combining those two elements with Frank Black is fine by me. But the songs on this one are really good, too. There's only four of 'em, so we'll break the tracks down one-by-one.

"Handyman" - This is a cover of an Otis Blackwell song (thank you, liner notes), a single that was originally released in the 50's, but was eventually put out a few more times. In his notes, FB states that they do the song "a la 1977," so it's apparently more of an homage to the James Taylor version. This version sounds old and new at the same time, and the vocals are great.

"The Man Who Was Too Loud" - This is Frank's tribute to Jonathan Richman, and it's a track that would later end up (via a different recording) on the Frank Black & The Catholics album. I actually like the version here a little better, it seems a bit more urgent and I think the other version might be more drawn out. I was obsessed with this song when I first got this CD. Still love it. The "Johnny is a rich man" line should be hammy, but it's not. Great song.

"The Jacques Tati" - I was at a Frank Black show around this time where he explained this song, but I don't really remember exactly what he said. Something about this filmmaker deserving his own dance, so Frank decided to give him one. And that's what this song is about. It's a good song. Good enough for an EP like this, maybe not good enough for an album.

"Sister Isabel" - This is a cover of an old Del Shannon song, and it's the darkest track on this EP. I've never heard the original version (I don't think...) so I don't know if they've taken it another direction or what. It's a good one to go out on here, though.

Overall, a solid little CD, maybe geared a bit towards the harder-core fans of Frank, but that's what's fun about it. They must have re-released this, because I'm seeing different covers than the one I have when I search for images. But you know, it's mean ol' world where the future meets the past. Maybe I should dance the Jacques Tati.

You can listen to "Sister Isabel" here.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Frank Black - Teenager of the Year (2xLP, CD, 1994)

I have, on many occasions, declared this to be my favorite album of all time.

I have various explanations for this, which I will list now.

There are 22 songs on this record, and they are all great. This isn't a double album (it's a double LP, but it all fits on one CD), so some of the songs are a bit short, but that does not mean they aren't fully realized. Every single song on this record is flushed out and complete, produced flawlessly by Eric Drew Feldman, who also plays keyboards, bass, and is just generally awesome. This came out a little over a year after Frank's eponymous debut, and the fact that he had this many songs that were this good speaks volumes about where he was at during the time: he was writing the best songs of his life. This is a solid hour of brilliance.

This is the peak of FB's songwriting. It just never got any better than this. People who tell you that they didn't like Frank's solo stuff are usually saying that because they heard somebody else say it, and that person never bothered to actually listen to the records. FB wrote all the songs for the Pixies. This is the same dude. He's a few years older and is finally able to realize, by having complete control and playing with better musicians (sorry, Kim), all the songs he had been wanting to write. These are not simple songs, and with the help of Feldman, he found a way to make an extremely intelligent record that is indelibly catchy. It's really hard to believe this all started in the head of one guy.

Lyrically, this record is untouchable. Who else could write a song called "Thalassocracy" and not have it come off as pompous posturing? Check it:

"You're spraying in the windy
And I'm just pissing off
I'm literally deaf down here
From your canned philosoph
Softly can you hear me
Through the sucking of your quaff
I'm thallasocracy
And you're just Romanov"

I mean, really. Holy shit. I could quote any song off the album, and easily find more lines that echoed the ambition and general headiness of those. It's one big poem.

I have listened to this album more than any other record I own. Ever. I can't say for sure that that's true, but I'd wager it probably is. And I'm still not sick of it. And I don't see myself getting completely sick of it. Sure, I'll put it away for a while, but I always come back. I have to. It's there. Ask any of my friends (especially the ones I used to drink with), they'll tell you. I played this hard for almost a decade straight.

The bridge and end of "Speedy Marie." It is one of music's perfect moments. I point to it often.

"Juxtaposed in each moment's sight
Everything that I ever saw
And my one delight
Nothing can strike me in such awe
Mouth intricate shapes the voice that speaks
Always it will soothe
Rarer none are the precious cheeks
Is the size of each sculpted tooth
Each lip and each eye

Wise is the tongue, wet of perfect thought
And softest neck where always do I
Lay my clumsy thoughts
She is that most lovely art
Happy are my mind, and my soul, and my heart."


I am incredibly tempted to break this record down, song by song, and tell you why you suck for not owning this album. Maybe later. But I could. That's the sign of a great record, a record that doesn't remind you of a certain time or place because you have listened to it a lot while living in different houses in different cities while hanging out with tons of different people. I do remember the first time I heard this album, but it's such a stupid high school drug-induced story that I don't want to retell it here. So I won't. I don't even know why I mentioned it.

But I do know this: if you can listen to "Calistan" and tell me it's not one of the best songs you've ever heard in your life, then you are lying to yourself and to me. And you should stop it.

And you should make this record a part of your life.

3 songs, live on MTV in 1994

Buy at Amazon

Friday, August 15, 2008

Frank Black - Frank Black (LP, LP, CD, 1993)

After the awkwardly nonchalant breakup of the Pixies, the rumors immediately began spreading of a Black Francis solo project. Really, they were just mumblings, and given that the Pixies breakup was so matter-of-fact and really didn't seem like a big deal to a lot of people (I'll never understand why), I felt like this wasn't as highly anticipated as it should of been.

I couldn't wait for it, and in the spring of '93 a friend at school told me he had been down to the record shop, and it was out. "He's calling himself Frank Black now," he said. Seemed weird to me, but it wasn't the craziest thing I'd ever heard. It's not like Black Francis was his real name. I hit the store and bought the bejeezus out of it. It was him, alright. Strange photos lined the inside of the CD: multicolored shots of Frank (it took a short while to adjust to calling him this) draped in various outfits and rocking a fu manchu in all his portly glory.

I'm sure I was still hung up on the last Pixies album (Trompe Le Monde), so I had high expectations for this one. It did not, and does not, disappoint. I'll never be sure why people even bother to compare this album to any Pixies stuff, it seemed clear to me from the get-go that this was a departure. There's a lot of keyboards on this record, and though Joey Santiago and the songs about UFOs are still there, the tone is nothing like a Pixies record. It's more mature, a tiny bit more subdued, and a lot cleaner sounding. And don't let anyone tell you different: the songs on this record hold up with anything the Pixies ever recorded.

"Los Angeles" was the first single from the album, and it appropriately leads it off. It's a great track, showing us that Frank is still obsessed with South America, and still writing lyrics better than anyone. While this guitar heavy cut is a bit reminiscent of the Pixies' sound, the next track, "I Heard Ramona Sing," is nothing like that. The album does this over the course of its 15 songs: there are some heavy rockers, but they're usually offset by cleaner pop numbers that showcase melody perhaps more than he ever had before.

I have listened to this album too many times to count, and I can still listen to it. Songs like "Czar" and "Parry The Wind High, Low" just don't get old. Really, none of 'em do. Even "Brackish Boy," a song that should sound out of place with its acoustic frenzy, totally works in the context of the album. And if you ever need a mood-altering cut as a denouement on a mixtape, "Every Time I Go Around Here" is always a fine choice.

And yes, I own this on two different LPs and also have the CD. I have the limited edition weird flappy cardboard version of the LP and the regular one. Because I am awesome. And because I'm a completist fanboy. Speaking of fanboy, I should also mention that I was front row center at Frank's first solo show ever, on May 27, 1993 at the WOW Hall in Eugene. Yep, I'm something. this post I mentioned that Frank Black covered a Beach Boys song on his first solo album. That's on this one. He made a sweet video for the song, and it's here. Alright.

"Czar" Live in Texas, 1993

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Stallion Alert! - Scoob Lover

He was Big Daddy Kane's right-hand man for most of his career, a cat whose tall-ass flattop almost overshadowed the fact that he was a multifaceted performer. Though he was often thought of as simply one half of Scoob & Scrap, the backup dancers that flanked Kane during a lot of his early performances, he also traded verses with the Big Daddy on the majority of his albums, as well as administering haircuts to the whole crew.

He's Scoob Lover aka Big Scoob, and he's a stallion.

Scoob first showed up on "On The Bugged Tip" from Long Live The Kane, doing a back-and-forth sort of laid back rhyme with Kane, but it's this sing-songy intro to the raps that has probably left the most lasting impression:

"You like the stylish clothes we wear,
and you like our flattop style of hair.
It's just those bugged out things we do
that make the girlies wanna stare"

Yeah, Scoob. He next appeared on the follow-up, It's A Big Daddy Thing, on the sex-rhyme fest that was "Pimpin' Ain't Easy." Scoob's still confident, and it's still thanks to his flattop:

"Tip-tip-toein', Scoob Lover's out ho-in'
Braggin' to the fellas how my flattop was growin'"

He hits the mic again, sandwiched between Kane and Scrap Lover on the fantastic "On The Move." Flattops anyone? Of course. This chant starts the cut:

"Well, here we are,
United just for you.
Our flattop cuts are new
Because we're on the move"

Yeah you are. He gets plenty of shout-outs throughout the rest of the record, even when he's not actually on the songs, and we learn from the liner notes that his zodiac sign is Sagittarius, and his code name is "Strong Nose." Solid.

Scoob keeps getting better and better, gaining confidence on the mic as his verses grow longer and more intricate. On Taste of Chocolate, he brings it big time on the posse cut "Down The Line." He gets in a few lines about his hair ("Let me see I’m slim, my hair is well trimmed") and stands out amongst the other guest MCs on the track. After being conspicuously absent on Prince of Darkness, Scoob comes back bigger than ever on Looks Like A Job For.... Kicking off the hyper-than-hype "Chocolate City," it's clear that he's been in the lab polishing his skills:

"A mic, a stage, a crowd, and I won't stop
I set it off and get live like an alarm clock
People thought Scoob and Scrap was just a nickname
Now that we rap, we sell more records than cocaine
Aw, shucks, now I'm back from the down-low
Here comes Scoob with the curly afro"

And it wouldn't be a Scoob verse without an update on his hair. He shows up again with Scrap and Kane, kicking it heavy on "Here Comes Kane, Scoob and Scrap." It's clear some of Kane's style when approaching the mic has rubbed off on him when he starts spitting some slick and witty similes: "I can get funky like a high school locker room."

By the time Daddy's Home rolled around, Scoob had changed his handle to Big Scoob and adopted a nasally style of speak that sounds like a more calm and calculated B-Real. It threw me off at first, but I learned to like it quite a bit, as it offsets Kane's deep voice and he was a good enough rapper at this point that it didn't matter. He's all over this one, playing big parts in four of the tracks on the album, and delivering on every one.

Scoob has put out some singles over the years, and it looks like he's still doing the damn thing:Here's to you, Scoob. You're a stallion of the purest form.

Check out Scoob's MySpace here.

Check out the all-Scoob Lover Stallion Alert Muxtape here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Big Daddy Kane - Veteranz Day (CD, 1998)

Four years after the release (and apparent commercial failure) of Daddy's Home, Kane, with very little fanfare, released this, a 21-cut return to form that managed to slip by just about everybody. As usual, it's a shame, because there are some great songs on here. Kane keeps it as lyrically dense as ever, and though some of the beats aren't fantastic, none of 'em are bad. If the music's guilty of anything, it's being forgettable. But with the King Asiatic spitting fire over the top, it doesn't really matter. He's always been able to throw a standard beat on his shoulders and carry it to the promise land. He does a helluva job of it here.

The same can't be said for the eight skits (or "interludes") included on the disc.

I could write pages on how the "skit" has infected and distorted the modern hip hop album, but I'll spare you. For now. But c'mon. You know and I know that they're rarely good, and even if they are, you don't want to hear them more than once. Kane had hardly ever succumbed to such trendy moves in the past, and I have to say, it's my big disappointment with this album. In reality, there are 13 songs here. Which is fine. The skits, while short (although the 1:27 "Ole Tyme Bluez" feels like an eternity), are largely unnecessary, and just give you the strange feeling that Kane's been hanging around with Method Man too much. "Fish Tandoori" is the only one that's kind of funny, but it's a tad racist and a bit too much.

Anywho...the songs are good. Not all are great, but like I said, that's more due to the innocuous beats than Kane's rhyming. Though he did produce the majority of the songs, so I suppose he is ultimately the one to point the finger at. But we need not point fingers. The beats hit hard and give BDK ample room to kick the verses. While he spends a bit too much time reminding us of his past accomplishments, he doesn't dwell on it, and cuts like "Definitely" and "La-La Land" could easily stand side-by-side with any of his work.

My favorite song, and one that serves as an additional reminder of why the Big Daddy will always be my favorite rapper, is "Do U Really Know?," a song that calls out the gangstas and poseurs of the hip hop world, asking them to think about the examples they might be setting for the youth, especially their own children. It's a song that could have come off as a heavy-handed lesson from a guy who's seen it all, but Kane handles it with precision, both pointing out the ridiculous and the obvious. Yup, he gets my vote for being one of the only "real" rappers out there. Seriously.

So yeah, this didn't spark a Kane comeback, but you almost get the vibe that it wasn't intended to. It's like he just poked his head back in, let everyone know he was still a way better lyricist than they were, and then just waited for the Hip Hop Honors to call him. And they did.

And I'm stuck sitting here, still waiting for the official follow-up to this one.


There was one song of Big Daddy Kane's that I meant to squeeze in before we made it through all his albums, but I never got to. It's a track that only made an album appearance as an oddly placed live version on It's A Big Daddy Thing, but I feel like it just sums the man up perfectly. Here's the studio version. It's a single from early in his career. It's the best kind of hip hop out there. It's "The Wrath of Kane."

Buy at Amazon

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Big Daddy Kane - Daddy's Home (CD, 1994)

Although It's A Big Daddy Thing will always hold a special place in my hip hop heart when it comes to Big Daddy Kane albums, I'd have a hard time choosing between that one and this, an oft-bargain binned LP that shows Kane moving with the times and proving, once and for all, that he has to be considered one of the greatest MCs to ever touch the mic.

From front to back, this record is more or less flawless. Kane once again hooks up with some outside production, and with a diverse mix of beats and more guest MCs than usual, manages to find a tone that stays true to his nature but also sounds right at home (yeah, I did that) in the mid-90's.

After setting the stage with the smooth front-runner "Daddy's Home" (you thought he wouldn't kick the album off with the title track?), Kane barrels through two single-worthy cuts with some help from Scoob Lover (who's re-dubbed himself Big Scoob by this point), "Brooklyn Style...Laid Out," and "In The PJ's." They both seek to reaffirm his allegiance to his neighborhood and his roots, and they pull it off without a hitch. BDK was never one to exaggerate his street credentials, and he doesn't have to. He grew up in Brooklyn, he'll tell you about it, and he'll throw some solid rhymes in while he's at it: "And for those who just don't know how it go/ Play like a substitute teacher and act like you know."

The DJ Premier produced "Show & Prove" follows, and it's the biggest and best posse cut Kane ever put together. Teaming up with Scoob, Sauce Money, Shyheim, Jay-Z (although he's credited as J.Z. in the liner notes of this bad boy), and Ol' Dirty Bastard(!), Kane steps back and lets some newcomers briefly steal the show, though he makes sure to kick a great verse himself. It's just a damn fine song. (The album version is over six minutes long, for some reason they chop it down in the video.)

The momentum carries through the rest of the album, and even the song for the ladies, "Sex According to the Prince of Darkness," doesn't kill it. He wisely lays off the R&B and sticks to the witty raps that he knows so well, all laid over a beat that hits hard enough to keep the vibe rolling. "Somebody's Been Sleeping In My Bed" might be his only anti-female song (as long as we're not counting the potty-mouthed "Pimpin' Ain't Easy" from It's A Big Daddy Thing), a fast-paced tale of Kane's wife running around on him. The story seems unlikely, but it makes for a great scenario in the context of the song.

I could go through all the tracks here and explain why they're great. I won't. But keep your eyes open when you're scouring the discount racks. This is worth way more than a few bucks.

"In the PJ's"

Buy at Home

Monday, August 11, 2008

Big Daddy Kane - Looks Like A Job For... (CD, 1993)

The Big Daddy finally waited more than a year between records, and it worked in his favor. This is the return of Kane, a record that finds him taking it back to the roots in both the content of the songs, and the image he portrays inside the CD jacket and on the cover. Yeah, those are projects lurking in the background as Kane surveys the scene, eyes scanning from beneath a brow furrowed under a black hoodie.

There's no fucking around anymore.

The songs aren't as rugged as the imagery on the cover, but that's a good thing. This is Kane being Kane, concentrating more on the ways he can disassemble your whole crew in one verse than ways he can actually kill you. Though he does get a little violent with the braggadocio on "Chocolate City," one of the standout tracks on the album: "I don't need no hoodie to be hard, shoot/ I kill a nigga in a three-piece suit." But the song's so bouncy and fun, the lines pass by as much more a threat than a promise. And this is about as "hard" as Kane gets. He'd still much rather slay the weak on the mic.

He spends the majority of this record doing exactly that. It seems like he knows he's got something to prove, but he comes off as more annoyed than concerned that anyone might be whispering behind his back that he's lost it. He addresses the issue in the title track, which, of course, kicks off the album:

"Many people tried to say I fell off
He went R&B, now his rap is all soft
But if you say that on stage, I'll prove you wrong
And wax that ass, rappin' off a love song
'Cause with the street in all battles I'm still hard
Like a mallet, servin' competition like salad"

From there he just moves forward. "How U Get A Record Deal" intelligently breaks down the idiocy of label execs, with the Big Daddy making flash in the pan rappers come clean. Scoob and Scrap show up on a few tracks, and so does his brother Lil Daddy Shane. There's a tacked-on remix of "'Nuff Respect," a track that originally appeared on the Juice Soundtrack. It's good, but the original might be a little better. It doesn't matter, by that time he's inflicted plenty of damage, and proven that he's still a force with the lyrics.

Some things never change, so there's the requisite middle-of-the-album love song to slow things down a tad, but it's the least vibe-killing of any so far. "Very Special" still goes on about a minute too long, featuring Spinderella duetting with Kane, and while it's not exactly intriguing, it's a much better concept than BDK singing or teaming up with Barry White. And it's followed by the super-dope "Here Comes Kane, Scoob and Scrap," a posse cut that really brings it.

Wait, so who's the committee? Oh yeah, Chocolate City. Are you with me?

"How U Get A Record Deal?"

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Big Daddy Kane - Prince of Darkness (CD, 1991)

This is commonly considered to be Kane's weakest album, and while it may be, there's still plenty to like. But many of the aspects that were merely hindrances on his previous efforts become full blown problems here. As you can see, he's again posing on the cover as the Smooth Operator, and at this point it had to be wearing thin with the hardcore hip hop heads. And if he had been held back by ballad-y love songs before, they almost bring things to a standstill on this one.

The album kicks off with two formulaic shout-outs to the lovely ladies: "Prince of Darkness" (Kane has a thing for starting albums off with the title track) and the drippy, R&B-laced "The Lover In You." The third track is the strangely lackluster "Git Bizzy," a slowed down jam that finds Scoob and Scrap calling out the title and managing to sound like they really don't care.

From here, things pick up speed as BDK steamrolls his way through three fast-paced and dance-worthy cuts that easily make up for the three that preceded. He gets goofy but keeps it real, spinning some incredibly complicated and tongue-twisting rhymes over horn-heavy beats that just scream '91. Then, like clockwork, the train derails.

"I'm Not Ashamed" is probably Kane's worst song ever, a six and a half minute slow jam that features the Big Daddy doing his worst Barry White, and killing any momentum he had worked to build up. See a pattern? This was a mistake that Kane made on every single one of his albums thus far, but this was the most egregious example yet. Couple this with his '91 appearance in Playgirl, and you can see why he was losing steam with male hip hop fans.

He works hard to get things back on track (sorry for all the train metaphors) with "Troubled Man," a PE-inspired track that kicks hard and moves fast, but things cool back off with "TLC," another half-baked love song with a weak groove. Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes bring some solid verses on "Come On Down," and the hidden gem "Death Sentence" is two minutes of classic Kane. The album wraps up with a '91 remix of "Raw" and a tacked-on few minutes of Mister Cee dicking around ("D.J.s Get No Credit") that just eases the production into fizzle-out mode.

So, Kane at his worst is still not that bad. Especially considering it's his fourth album in four years. The man was working hard, and it does show on this one. Thanks to modern technology, I can leave songs like "I'm Not Ashamed" off my iPod, and tell myself they never happened.

Is that denial?

"Groove With It"

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Big Daddy Kane - Taste of Chocolate (CD, 1990)

The Big Daddy just kept 'em coming. His third album in as many years, this one finds him continuing to work the same formula he used on his previous two, and maybe that's why it's not as fondly remembered as those. That's all I can figure, because for the most part, this album is just as good. But, to an untrained ear, the lead single "Cause I Can Do It Right" probably does sound and feel a lot like "I Get The Job Done." But when the Prince Paul-produced "It's Hard Being The Kane" kicks in right after it, blaring horns and a beat that hits just right, it's hard to deny the dopeness.

So maybe Kane's not bringing anything new, but he's still damn good at what he does. But, it's with this album that we begin to see the cracks in the man's armor. While Kane has always fancied himself a ladies man, that seemed to always have taken a backseat to his skills when he was on the mic. As you can see from the cover of this record, the scales may be beginning to sway.

It's a sad reality that hip hop has always bred and (whether people want to admit it or not) embraced a tough guy image that has often included visible levels of misogyny and even homophobia. How tough (not to mention "un-gay") do you look buying the record of a dude with his shirt off who's staring broodingly into the camera under the words "Taste of Chocolate"? I think, and I mean this honestly, that Kane would have sold more copies of this album and created a more potent legacy for it if there would have been more of the girl on the cover, and less of a shirtless him. Just a thought.

It's along these same lines that Kane makes his other big misstep: "All of Me" featuring Barry White. It's six minutes of some of BDK's worst work, a slower-than-slow jam that finds him mixing words with Mr. White in the tackiest and least hip hop way possible. The fact that it's placed smack-dab in the middle of the record makes it twice as bad, assuring that the mood has been compromised for some of the great songs that follow. And just when the record begins to recover, we get "Big Daddy vs. Dolemite," a waste of almost five minutes that finds Kane trading sex rhymes with Rudy Ray Moore in a format that would have worked much better as an interlude.

It's rough, because the rest of the album, as I said, is classic Big Daddy. "Put Your Weight On It" narrows it down to just Kane and a drum beat, going back to the raw sound he rocked two years earlier. "Down The Line" is a solid posse cut, once again showing us that while Scoob Lover may not be the best rapper, he's definitely more than just a backup dancer. And of course, Kane delivers the lyrical goods. On "Keep 'Em On the Floor," he lets you know:

"I specialize in fun/ And I must know what’s happenin' 'cos you’re dancin' like Rerun"

Yeah, Kane.

"Taste of Chocolate"

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Big Daddy Kane - It's A Big Daddy Thing (CD, 1989)

This is Kane's masterpiece, a 76-minute magnum opus which insured that hip hop could hold its collective head high while proudly stomping into the 90's. This one's got a little something for everyone, and it's a real testament to BDK's growth over the course of a year. The beats are smoother, he's more confident (not that he needed a whole lot of help in that department), and while his previous effort certainly succeeded in being a great collection of songs, this one really sounds like an album. The songs are skillfully placed and executed with a flawless ease that never allows you to doubt the King Asiatic for a moment.

Some of the sounds are new, as Marley Marl stepped way back on this one, only contributing music to a few tracks. Kane handles production duties on a lot of the songs, with key help from Prince Paul and Mr. New Jack himself, Teddy Riley, on a handful of singles. But, some of the familiar elements make an appearance as well. There's plenty of fast-raps about how Kane will take you out ("Rappers are so full of shit, they need Ex-Lax," he states on "Mortal Combat"), a track on which the DJ can get his ("The House That Cee Built"), some socially conscious numbers ("Children R the Future," "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now"), and this time around, even more songs for the ladies ("Smooth Operator," "To Be Your Man"). It's only the latter that threaten to derail the locomotive that Kane works so hard to bring up to full speed. This will soon become a thorn in his side, but we'll leave it alone for now. However, it's worth mentioning that the almost six-minute long slow jam that is "To Be Your Man" is easily the low point of the record.

Other than that, there's not a whole lot of bad things you can say about a record as monumental as this one. I may be a bit biased, as this served as my formal introduction to the man and his music. As a young boy of 13, I picked this up on cassette at the local Fred Meyer (must've hidden the girls-in-bikinis cover from my mom) and rocked the shit out of it, Walkman style, while walking my paper route in the morning. I loved it, lost track of it for a long time, and found that getting back into it years later wasn't a struggle at all. This is always one of the first albums that pops into my head when people start talking about "real hip hop" or the "golden age/era of hip hop." This is a textbook definition of either of those terms.

This record's deep, in both running time and content. Kane was always lyrically three steps ahead of everyone, adept with the witty jargon and a master of rhythmic cadence. And who else could drop a line like this:

"My name ain't Keith, so could you please stop Sweatin' me."


"I Get The Job Done"

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Big Daddy Kane - Long Live The Kane (CD, 1988)

Folks, I present to you my favorite rapper ever - the man who's also known as Dark Gable, the King Asiatic Nobody's Equal, and sometimes Black Caesar - Big Daddy Kane.

Why is he my favorite? Because he's endlessly smooth. The most consistent. The smartest. And just the fucking freshest. And that's a word I use sparingly. There's an MC or two who can give Kane a run for his money (we'll talk about a few of 'em later), but if I had to name one, he's it. If you consider the time period when BDK was doing his best work, there was nobody else on the East Coast coming close to him. He was 20 years old and making LL Cool J look like Kurtis Blow all over again. All while rocking the dopest high top fade in the world (next to maybe Scoob Lover, his friend, dancer, and occasional MC).

This is Kane's auspicious debut, a record that came together after he had been kicking around the hip hop scene with Biz Markie for a little while. Marley Marl (who I can never say enough good things about) handles the beats, and they sound a bit more dated than some of the rest of Kane's catalog. They're heavy on the drums and rough with the recording quality, something that Marl would clean up considerably in the year or two that followed. In the end it only adds to the raw vibe that courses through the ten tracks here, and gives the whole album an irreproducible old-school fingerprint.

Kane's still finding his footing as far as making a complete album goes, but a lot of his trademarks are already here. The majority of the songs are about how he's better than everybody, but he covers plenty of ground that he would come back to on future releases: there's one specifically detailing how he would treat a lady ("The Day You're Mine"), he gives his DJ a whole track to shine on ("Mister Cee's Master Plan"), and he shows plenty of love to his roots ("Word to the Mother(land)").

This isn't Kane's best album, but it's definitely one of his most important. He establishes himself as the most multifaceted rapper out there while also planting the seeds for what he's about to grow into: a rapper who will help hip hop grow in innumerable ways.

"Ain't No Half-Steppin'"

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Best Kissers In The World - Yellow Brick Roadkill (CD, 1996)

It's one thing to get dropped from your label. It's another thing to go into the studio, record an album, mix it, master it, have the advance copies sent out, and then get dropped from your label and never see the album get an actual release.

This is the fabled tale behind the Best Kissers In The World album that is, but never really was. Lucky for us completists, some of those advance copies are still floating around. I think I got mine from eBay. And I'm damn glad I did, because it's a great album, probably better than Been There. Some of the grit has returned, and Collier pens some of his best lyrics since their debut EP.

The opening track "Hit Parader" is just the right kind of bitter rocker you would hope for from a band who's spent their entire career being dicked around by the corporate monstrosity that is (was) the music industry. "I Suppose" is more polished but still a bit harsh, and it leads into the poppier "They Give Each Other Diseases," which is probably my favorite track on the album. Again, it seems like the old Kissers: semi-dirty lyrics and a really memorable hook. And there's even another prescription drug inspired track, the super catchy "Countin' Out Dexedrine."

"I Fucked Up Again" is, in hindsight, a precursor to Collier's alt-country solo career that quickly followed the breakup of the band after this album was shelved. Despite its blunt title, the song is actually sincere in its own way, a slightly twangy ballad that keeps it sparse but solid. "One of These Daze" ends the album, following suit with the musical format but keeping the lyrics a bit lighter. Like any good 90's album, this last song is followed by a minute of blank space and then blares into a chaotic mess that almost resembles a song.

Somehow, it's a fitting end for the band.

Check out "They Give Each Other Diseases" on the Stallion Alert Muxtape.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Best Kissers In The World - Been There (CD, 1993)

I guess this and Puddin' were both released in 1993. I'm assuming the EP preceded the full-length, but I don't know that for a fact. So if the chronology has been compromised, I apologize. I strive for perfection.

This is the group's first proper album, and it's a solid effort. I probably didn't pick this up until about '97, when I randomly found it used for a few bucks. I've seen it too many times since then, as it's a staple in many a discount rack or bargain bin. And that's a shame, because, if I haven't mentioned it before, I really don't think this band ever got the respect they were due. I don't know the real story, but I think it's safe to assume their experience with a major label (MCA, in this case) wasn't a pleasant one. They were a tough band to categorize, and it probably made them susceptible to being lost in the mix of all the alt rock that was clogging the air waves at the time.

Collier's whip-smart lyrics are still going strong here (and it's nice to see a bottle of Vicodin giving a nod to humble beginnings in the inner photos) and the songs are strong and diverse. I really get a kick out of this record, but it's not hard to see why the general public may not have. The mood of the songs switch gears quick, going from a peppy pop track like "Present At Your Party" to the unexpected punk of "Bitch Can't Sing." Possibly a bit jarring, but what the fuck.

The production is slicker than ever, and I can't help but think the restrained tones of the guitars undermines the intended feel of some of the tracks. But that's my interpretation, and it could be way off. I'm not trying to play the "I liked their earlier stuff better" card. Though I have been known to play that card quite a bit. Anyway, overall it's a solid record, filled with rock songs that aren't afraid to unabashedly kick into high-gear pop mode.

Nothing wrong with that, especially when you've got song titles like "Four Letter Name For Lame" and "She Won't Get Under Me Till I Get Over You."

"Miss Teen USA"

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Best Kissers In The World - Puddin' (CD, 1993)

Best Kissers' relationship with Sub Pop was a short one, beginning and ending with that single EP. After hammering out a couple of 7" singles in '92, the major labels came knocking (as they were prone to do if you were from Seattle and holding a guitar at that time) and the boys were poised to hit the big time. Apparently that involved releasing one more EP.

Puddin' is another five-songer, and it comes off as a tad uneven in comparison to their incredibly strong eponymous debut. No matter, it's still a great little collection of songs, and it's certainly more polished than the previous effort. But, Gerald Collier makes sure to throw in a smattering of f-words to make sure that you know they haven't crossed the line; any visible major label sheen wipes clean off in a jiffy.

"Pickin' Flowers For" leads of the album, as it was the single being pushed in conjunction with this release. You can hear why. The song is driving and catchy, careful not to get too repetitive while still featuring a huge chorus. The guitar work is big as well, riding the hooks but also slipping in some squeals to let you know they don't care that much. This track really emphasizes what was great about Collier's songwriting with this band: sure, he loves the ladies, but he's really only willing to go so far. And if you're not on board, he's got other shit to do.

"60 Seconds" is a solid rocker, but it suffers from being sandwiched between the anthemic opener and the indelibly catchy third track, "Melanie." It's songs like this that I can point to as solid proof that this band should have been way bigger than they were. A song like "Melanie" is as good as anything that got any serious radio play back then. It's terribly catchy, guaranteed to be rattlin' around the ol' noggin for hours. And using a specific name is never a bad touch.

Things sort of fizzle at the end, and even though "Smoke Rings" provides some sweet riffage, it's followed by "Laughable," a track that takes some time getting started and then branches out into some slightly mathy breakdowns that, while ambitious, just sound out of place on an album this peppy and short. So, maybe not my favorite song of theirs, but I think that's mostly due to it's inclusion with these other songs.

I'm pissed. I know they did a video for "Pickin' Flowers For" and I can't find it...

Whatever. You can hear that song and "Melanie" here.

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