Friday, October 31, 2008

The D.O.C. - No One Can Do It Better (CD, 1989)

The D.O.C. has always been considered a founding member of NWA, but he only appeared on one song from Straight Outta Compton, (though he is on the cover) and by the time their second record rolled around, he had been rendered virtually voiceless by a car accident (but I think that's him on "Don't Drink That Wine"). So while he may "officially" have been a member of NWA, he's usually considered by fans to be a member of the NWA posse.

This record dropped after Straight Outta Compton and before any other NWA records had been released. It's also notable for having the last song (I think) to feature Ice Cube when he was still a member of the group. Dre does the beats, Yella does the cuts, and The D.O.C. does a great job of both repping NWA and positioning himself a little to the side of their hardcore image.

While The D.O.C. could get a little foul-mouthed here and there, this record isn't big on the profanity. Which is fine, but when I was a 13 year old kid buying this cassette, I was hoping for some street talk. You don't get that, but you do get a young dude dropping some great lyrics over some early and equally great Dr. Dre beats. While the NWA guys were decent lyricists, that usually took a back seat to the shock value. D.O.C.'s out to prove he can get by without that noise - and he can.

Tracks like "Whirlwind Pyramid" and "Portrait of a Masterpiece" are my favorite kind of hip hop: fast and witty, with sparse music during the verses that breaks loose in the chorus. Late 80's hard-driving shit you can barely keep up with. I love it.

It wraps up with one of my favorite rap songs ever, the indelible "The Grand Finale," a song that, as I mentioned, features Cube-era NWA at their absolute peak of performance, over a beat that is incredible. It also features the classic Eazy-E line (no doubt written by Ice Cube): "Fuck a car, I'll do a motherfuckin' walk-by." Undeniable.

This is an oft-forgotten classic from the golden era of rap and the true beginnings of real gangsta rap.

"The D.O.C. and the Doctor"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

D-Nice - To Tha Rescue (CD, 1991)

Look out, D-Nice has got a fresh new look. What a difference a year makes.

In 1991, NWA released Efil4zaggin, and it debuted at #1 on the pop charts. So, that should give an idea as to where hip hop was at at the time. Hence D's hoodie and lyrics in the first track about smoking some pot and washing it down with a brew. It's not a complete 180, though. "Rhymin' Skills" sounds like it could have been from his first record, and once you get past KRS-One's annoying raga yelling, it's a pretty good song.

"Time to Flow" features Naughty By Nature, and when Treach trades verses with D, he makes him look like a rookie. The beat is pure piano-laced Naughty, and it's possibly the best song on the record. In a bizarre move, "Time to Flow" shows up again six tracks later, as a remix (barely, and it's not listed as such) with Treach's verses omitted. Maybe D knew that he was getting shown up. Still, weird. (Especially considering there are still two songs after it.)

"Check Yourself" is a duet with Too $hort, and it's really not good. "Fuck a bitch and that's the goddamned truth"? Brilliant, Short Dog. The beat's not great either, and that's a problem with a few of the tracks on this one. In his attempt to be "harder," a lot of the more melodic loops have been replaced with heavy drums and static bass, and his voice just isn't enough to make up for it. But, that's only on a few cuts, and most of this album is good enough. It's just odd to hear this guy all of a sudden tossing the eff word around and coppin' some 'tude.

It must not have worked, as this was D-Nice's last solo record. I know he had a falling out with BDP, maybe that queered the deal. Who knows. Shit, dude's not even 40 yet. I'll hold out for a comeback.

"25 Ta Life"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

D-Nice - Call Me D-Nice (CD, 1990)

Hey, we made it to the D's.

In 1989, I picked up a cassette single for a Boogie Down Productions song called "You Must Learn." I realized quickly that I didn't really like KRS-One's preachy bullshit, but I did like the last track on the single, a tacked-on preview of the upcoming D-Nice LP, a song called "And You Don't Stop." I ended up fast-forwarding the tape to that song more than listening to the BDP tracks.

I don't remember exactly when I picked up this CD, but it wasn't until years later. D-Nice's sound is very 1990 hip hop, which is a good thing, but it tends to sound more dated than a lot of other rap from the era. Though he never obsessed about being on the positive tip, his raps do sound a little soft. For me, the subject matter's not a problem. But, his rap style leans towards being a little simple sometimes, and kicking rhymes about rocking the party wasn't exactly the hottest angle in 1990. But, he did have some success with this one. (Being uber-hyped by KRS-One probably didn't hurt.)

It's also worth mentioning that he was barely 20 when this was released, he produced the entire record by himself, and the beats are, while not super complex, really catchy and make good use of the huge samples they use.

D-Nice refers to himself as the TR-808 (the name of the drum machine he programmed his beats with), and that moniker gets a little old after a while, and songs like "Pimp of the Year" just don't match up with that senior portrait-looking nice guy on the cover. So, he's still finding his footing. I was excited to see that "And You Don't Stop" makes an appearance on this record, rounding it all out. He just changed the "Fresh for '89" line in the beginning to "Fresh for '90," and he was good to go.

I really need to get this on vinyl. Add it to the list.

"Call Me D-Nice"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cut Chemist - The Audience's Listening (CD, 2006)

I'm not a huge fan of "turntablism," (though that's probably not technically what this is) but I read some good things about this record, and when I found it misplaced on the three dollar shelf at Ranch Records last year, I figured I'd give it a shot.

I've only listened to it a few times, because I apparently have a hard time getting into this sort of hip hop instrumental stuff, even though there are some lyrics on this one. Musically, it's pretty impressive, and I know that I need to give it more time to grow on me. It's jagged, and I think the intention is to be a bit challenging to the listener. Fine by me, except when I feel like bumping something that holds a sequence for more than 15 seconds.

But that's me, I'm finicky and intentionally hard to please. But as I sit here listening to this, I realize I don't dislike it all. I just really haven't given it all (and there is a lot) a chance to properly sink in.


Monday, October 27, 2008

David Crosby - If I Could Only Remember My Name (LP, 1970)

I was watching VH1 Classic last year, and for some reason I was sitting through a vintage acoustic performance by David Crosby and Graham Nash. Not typically my favorite kind of music, but if it's live (and old), I don't mind it. Plus, I read David Crosby's autobiography some years back, found it quite interesting, and hoped to at some point gain an interest in his music.

It wasn't really working for me, but when it came time to wrap up the performance, Nash coyly asked Crosby if he would perform a new song he'd been working on. Crosby seemed sheepish (I guess that's what you call making a series of alien noises), though I'm sure this was all planned, and he agreed to do it. It was called "Traction in the Rain," and about 30 seconds into it, I realized I loved it. It's a mostly empty number, just some vacant chords and a stirring melody. The lyrics are strange but make perfect sense in the context of the structure, and Crosby's voice is eerie, flighty, but dead on. Impressive, especially considering he seems stoically zooted during the performance.

I rewound it a few times, found it on YouTube after that, and developed a little thing for it. I put it on my always-crowded mental list of records to look for when I'm out shopping, and of course, had a hard time finding it. I figured it'd be cinch. I didn't try hard (didn't want to resort to eBay for this one), but a few months went by and I had yet to see it. I eventually found it at Everyday Music in Bellingham, Washington, when I was up there for a visit. Since then, I've seen it at least five times since, selling for less than I paid for it, and missing the tear mine bears in the top left corner. This is the way it works.

Calling this a "solo" record is completely inaccurate. There's about twenty guest people on it: members of the Grateful Dead (ick), Joni Mitchell, Nash, Neil Young, and a bunch of others. So, it unsurprisingly delves deep into some drug-induced hippie bullshit that I just can't get behind. But, there's a few good numbers other than "Traction."

If I was cripplingly stoned in 1970, this would surely be my soundtrack when I wanted to "mellow out."

"Traction in the Rain"

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Green River (LP, 1969)

This is another one of those Hong Kong LPs I mentioned in one of my earlier posts about Johnny Cash. I really don't know why I've held onto this record. I never listen to it. But here's the thing: I think I secretly like CCR. I mean, I couldn't get deep into it, because Fogerty's voice has got to induce involuntary hair-pulling at some point, but I really think they're a pretty badass band.

Still, I don't know why I have this album, and only this album. It does have "Lodi" on it, which is a sweet song. But, it has "Bad Moon Rising," which I could go without hearing for the rest of my life, and be fine with. And really, my favorite song of theirs is "Fortunate Son," and it's not on here. I should probably get the one with that song on it (Willy and the Poor Boys). We'll see if that happens.

As it stands, this is my only "Creedence" album, and I'll have to live with that. It's one of three they put out in 1969. Not bad. I guess it helps when they're all 30 minutes long, but what the hey.

Let's get twangy.

"Green River"

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Crackerbash - Crackerbash (LP, 1992)

Crackerbash were one of those NW bands in the early 90's that was as good as a lot of the groups that got major label deals, but for whatever reason, they remained on the fringe. Maybe they wanted to. It wouldn't surprise me.

I may have seen them more than once during those magical 90's (oh, how I've romanticized the era), but I only clearly remember seeing them once. I drove down to Corvallis with my girlfriend (this must have been in '92), where we located a ramshackle warehouse type operation that was hosting a rock show. It was the Supersuckers (that's why we were there), Drive Like Jehu, and Crackerbash.

The ceilings were low, and Crackerbash's lead singer Sean Croghan was spazzing out, leaping all over the place, stomping back down, screaming in the general direction of the mic and sometimes hitting the mark. It was impressive. I remember they had a big fat drummer, a guy who sweated his ass off, looking like Tad and really beating the shit out of the drums.

I bought this on CD shortly after, enjoyed it, eventually gave it to my brother, and ended up regretting it. I found the LP at Ranch Records in Salem last year, and I'm happy to have it back on my shelf. These songs probably aren't for everybody, but if you can get into Croghan's vocal delivery (you can't understand a word he's saying), this is some hot shit. "Human Alarm Clock" and "Jasper" are the initial standouts, songs that could make it onto any legitimate best-of-the-NW-90's comp. But some of the deeper tracks are just as good, taking some weird chances and always paying off.

Some great yelping, too.

"Orion" (This isn't from this record, but it's the same era, and the only thing I could find.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Goodbye Cruel World (LP, 1984)

Man, my copy of this is rough. I have no recollection of when or where I bought this. It could have been ten years ago. Listening to it now, I remember why my beat-to-shit copy has been sitting on the shelf, idle, for years.

This is Elvis Costello not sounding anything like Elvis Costello. There's bad 80's sax, hammy keys; it's a mess. The songs are OK, but while most of Costello's work is fairly timeless, this one is very 80's sounding. It could be much worse, but considering his string of great stuff before it, this one must have sounded extra rough upon its release.

Daryl Hall does backing vocals on "The Only Flame In Town," the first song on the record.


And I think that's where it ends for my Elvis Costello albums. A sad denouement. But still we press on.

"I Wanna Be Loved"

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Imperial Bedroom (LP, 1982)

My good friend Colin Mahoney (where are you, Colin?) was my source for realistic appraisals of Elvis Costello albums, because while he was a huge fan, he was definitely opinionated. So when I asked him what his favorite Elvis Costello record was (this was years ago), and he said this one, I kept the name locked away in my head, always planning to buy it, but never actually picking it up till last week.

As such, I (again) don't have a whole lot to say about this one. I've spun it twice, and its striking me as a lot "bigger" than his previous records. There are a lot of horns and a lot of things that seem to have "arrangements."

The songs are great, from what I can tell, and I can definitely see why it was a Colin Mahoney favorite.

"Kid About It"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Trust (LP, 1981)

I bought this record three days ago, and am sitting here listening to it now, for the first time.

I like what I hear so far...though I guess I can't really say a lot otherwise.

He keeps crankin' 'em out.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Elvis Costello - Taking Liberties (LP, 1980)

Elvis Costello was prolific enough in the late 70's to warrant a b-side compilation after four albums in under four years. Not bad.

I don't know this record very well, though I have owned it for years. It is a b-side compilation (though it does include a few other odds and ends), so the songs clearly weren't seen as fit to be "album material." But, they're nothing to scoff at.

The previously unreleased "Clean Money" is a nice opener, and "Radio Sweetheart" has an odd 50's swing feel to it. Nice to see him mix it up with a strange stylistic choice, but you can see why it wasn't included on an album.

There are 20 songs here, and while a lot of them are short, none are misplaced throwaways. An interesting mix, and certainly a treat for what I'm sure were the large group of hardcore Costello fans at the time.

"My Funny Valentine"

Monday, October 20, 2008

Event Attendance: Portland's Semi-Annual Night Owl Record Show

Yesterday evening at 5PM, myself and a few hundred other record-obsessed hopefuls packed into the Elks Lodge on 49th and SE Hawthorne for the twice-yearly Night Owl Record Show.

This was my first time attending, and I was looking forward to it. I planned to go in April, but the day of the show rolled around at a terrible time, and I didn't have a dollar to spend on vinyl. So, rather than showing up and torturing myself by browsing through records I couldn't purchase, I opted out, deciding instead to wait for the Fall show. I didn't miss it this time: I was in line with the rest of the stale-smelling elite, right at 5, two bucks in hand, ready to get my fingers dusty from the flippin'.

The room was tiny and the place was packed. The Elks has a small meeting room that's connected to a bar where apparently they specialize in non-stop deep frying. So, every once in a while, a breeze would waft through carrying a scent that combined fries, b.o., cigarettes, cheap beer, and other indistinguishable items that were also being deep-fried. Combine this with the inimitable scent of old records and being sandwiched between a couple of obese and hirsute sweaty dudes, and you've got yourself a party.

I roamed from table to table at first, picking up a few quick things but mostly just surveying what was up for grabs. It was hard to get a good spot at a lot of the tables, so I spent a good portion of the first hour jockeying for position and looking for small windows of space in which to squeeze through and command a crate. Pretty soon I had a healthy stack o' wax tucked under my arm, and eventually took an elderly dealer's offer of a double-bagged plastic sack to corral my loot.

I lasted about two hours, after which a lot of the dealers were getting drunk and annoying, and my patience with a few of the crazies who had shown up was wearing dangerously thin. I had spent my limit anyway, and felt good about walking away when I did. I looked through all the crates I wanted to get to before I got out of there. Here's a (most likely incomplete) list of what I got:

Whodini - Escape
Whodini - Back In Black
Whodini - Open Sesame (sealed!)
Aweome Dre and the Hardcore Committee - "Frankly Speaking"/"Executioner Style" promo 12"
N.W.A. - Eponymous debut (Note: this is not the NWA and the Posse record. It's before that, and though it has the same picture on the cover, it only has songs by NWA, and features both "radio" and "ruthless" versions. I had never seen this record before.)
Afu-Ra - Body of the Life Force
Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud - Girls I Got 'Em Locked
Big Scoob - Champagne on the Block 12"
Beastie Boys - She's On It 12"
Run-DMC - Tougher Than Leather
Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True
Elvis Costello - Trust
Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense (limited edition with 12-page booklet)
Frank Zappa - Waka/Jawaka
Frank Zappa - The Grand Wazoo
The Mothers - Mothermania
Time Zone - World Destruction 12"
Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP (I'm slowly replacing all my CDs with LPs)

I know there's more...

I saw two copies of the Melvins' Ozma; one was 40 bucks and the other was 60. I couldn't do it. Also wanted a couple of super rare Talking Heads bootlegs from the late 70's, but they were in the 35-40 dollar range as well. I couldn't do it. There was a copy of Bukowski's Hostage record, too. 60 bones. 20 and I probably would have pulled the trigger.

Anyway, that's how it went. I hate everyone, but if I'm going to be in a crowded room full of people I hate, being immersed in a sea of record nerds would probably be my first choice. Great conversations and lots of looks of terror and satisfaction.

I love it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Armed Forces (LP, 1979)

I think I may have spoken too soon. In my haste to love the shit out of This Year's Model, I fear I forgot how much I love this one. So, I think we have a new front-runner for my favorite Elvis Costello record.

The first three songs on this one are about as good as the man gets. It goes without saying that "Accidents Will Happen" is a classic. But damn, I really flaked on recalling what a fantastic song "Senior Service" is. Another two-minute Costello Classic. Those two are followed by the equally great "Oliver's Army," a song that takes a turn towards the serious lyrically, but maintains all the catchiest aspects of the two songs that precede it.

The record just goes from there. If you ever wonder where They Might Be Giants stole the melodies for at least three of the songs from Flood, just take a listen to "Green Shirt." And that's not a knock on Elvis or TMBG. It's a great song.

The second side doesn't relent, offering up songs that are just as passionately catchy (and how doesn't love a reggae-tinged tune called "Two Little Hitlers"?), finally wrapping everything up with "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," a song that we all know. It's not one of my favorite Elvis Costello songs, but it works great as a coda on this collection.

Costello's pulling a Cars: cranking out a great record every year, starting in the late 70's and barreling towards the 80's. Let's see where it goes. (Though I should mention it won't go a whole lot further, because I am sufficiently short on later-era Elvis Costello. But I've got a few more in store.)

"Oliver's Army"

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Elvis Costello - This Year's Model (LP, 1978)

I've always wanted to be a huge Elvis Costello fan. I'm very capable of enjoying his music, and whenever I pick up one of his records I don't already own (of which there are far too many), I'm never disappointed. But, his music has never been able to fully elicit that all-consuming obsession I've seen in many people, including my friends.

This record is as close as he's come for me. I was late to the Elvis Costello game, not really getting into this LP until my early 20's. I think this was the first full album of his I owned, and I liked it so much that I was afraid to get another one. I've since overcome that fear (as we'll see in the upcoming entries), but I don't think any of his other records have surpassed this one for sheer likability. There's not a bad song on this one, and since I have the US version, it includes "Radio Radio" as the last track, which is a favorite of mine. (I know, real original, right?)

This record's short, a little over a half hour, and it's another album that benefits from brevity. A song like "No Action," the opener, is powerful, but the fact that it's not even two minutes long makes it pack even more of a punch. These are songs that could be construed as cynical, but they're also fun: I can't imagine how many parties "Pump It Up" was played at, well into the early 80's.

Costello was blessed with a voice that is unmistakable, and it makes his presence, aided by fantastic lyrics, immense in these songs. Combined with that lurking organ that pokes through over the purposefully thin guitars, it makes for a sound that is unique, and to some, probably a bit off-putting. But once you learn to like it, it makes perfect sense. His nasally singing makes his jealousy and thinly veiled semi-whining seem endearing.

It also makes his anger in "Radio Radio" only noticeable if you're paying close attention. It's one of those amazing songs that was based clearly in protest and serious frustration, but if played in a top 40 format, could easily fit in as a peppy little pop number. Tough to do that.

I can't believe I own this but not his debut (this is his sophomore LP). Add another one to the list... (EDIT: got it. See below.)

"No Action"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True (LP, 1977)

I just bought this one, so I may not have a huge amount of substance with which to discuss it. But, some things can certainly be said.

It's a monumental album, if for no other reason than it's the beginning of what would become one of the most celebrated music careers of the last 30 years. Fittingly, you don't need to strain to hear the potential here; these songs are as well-crafted as you'd expect them to be. They're also full of what would become Costello's trademark: dire bitterness disguised as pop-laced love songs.

Of course, this is exemplified exceptionally in one of the tracks his name has become synonymous with (and the one from which he lifted the title of the LP): "Alison." It's too easy to suggest that the titular line from the song indicates his wanton urge to commit murder, and really, I think that's a stupid summation of the overall theme of the song. It seems much more likely that it's another Costello classic: a beautiful song about love lost and chances blown. Either way, that's how I choose to listen to it.

"Watching the Detectives" initially struck me (this was years ago) as a sinister song, telling the tale of a murderer returning to a crime scene. A closer listen dispels this theory pretty quick, but it might still be a testament to how coolly intricate and unnerving the lyrics are. And what a bizarre melody. I used to watch people famously stumble over this one in karaoke. It's deceptively difficult to get the whole thing right. Another indicator of what a great song this is.

Was this record the first popular use of the term "Less Than Zero"? That's a pretty sweet cut, too.

"(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Coral - Magic and Medicine (CD, 2003)

My brother put the song "Liezah" (track 3 from this CD) on a mix for me a few years back, and I fell in love with it. Found a punched-out-barcode copy of this a while later, and picked it up.

I never dove too deep into the Coral (sorry), but I always enjoyed it for a casual listen. They take their arrangements more seriously than a lot of other pop-ish bands, and their lead singer is very distinct in the voice department. I could see some people really liking this band, but I could never get fully immersed in it. But, I still love "Liezah." Great mixtape song.

The copy I have also includes their weird semi-follow-up, Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker. I'm not sure if I've ever even listened to it, as I always forget it's in there.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gerald Collier - Gerald Collier (CD, 1998)

You remember Gerald from my various posts on Best Kissers in the World. This is his first solo record, a great little album that finds him bridging the gap between the Kissers and what would eventually become more of a country sound. I hate the term "alt country," but wouldn't say parts of this record don't exemplify a lot of the traits associated with that term.

That's a good thing: his voice works perfectly over guitars that are more twangy than distorted. "Whored Out Again" is a track that wouldn't have been out of place on the later Kissers stuff, but here it's given a bit of a slide guitar treatment and might be a little more reserved than it would have been with his former group. Great song.

The subject matter on this one is a lot like the Kissers stuff as well, but given the country-ish backing tracks, the feel transfers over without a hitch. He's heartbroken, swearing a little bit, writing lyrics that are consistent with themes of love lost, but his approach is way more ambitious than that. On "Truth or Dare" he says "I'd like to sleep around, but no one calls anymore." It then trembles into some dreamy guitar lines that echo the sentiment flawlessly.

Damn, listening to this reminds me of his other solo records I don't own. Another thing to add to the list. This is another Collier work that sadly resides in a lot of bargain bins. Snatch it up, it's more than worth a few buckaroos.

"Don't Discard Me"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


If you want to hear some serious abstract rap lo-fi bullshit, you should really check this out. Tell everyone how much you like it. It'll make you look super cool.

I bought this on the recommendation of a friend (she has great taste in music, and knows my tastes, or so I thought), and immediately regretted it. I don't know why I still have it. This is one of those records that people who will buy anything given over a 7.1 on Pitchfork just fucking love to say they listen to. Self-indulgent and pointless.

And fIREHOSE beat them to the lowercase letter first trick by many a year.

"Apt. A (2)"

Monday, October 13, 2008

Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury (CD, 2006)

I'm not going to lie. I used to watch the video for Clipse's "Grindin'" every time it was on TV in 2002. I didn't really care for their raps, but that empty beat just really worked for me on some level. I thought about buying the record, never did, and eventually moved on.

When this one came out, they were all over the place again. I kept reading about how it was easily the year's best rap record, some sort of masterpiece, etc. I randomly found a used promo copy of it shortly after its release, and since the price was right, I figured I'd give it a shot.

It's just not my thing. I can see why people like it, and while I initially wasn't turned off by it, it just seemed (and still does) like it's one long song. One sparse, slow, drone-ish song, either about how much coke they move or how they got fucked by their label.

Some of the beats are cool, but they border on formulaic about halfway through. And honestly, I just can't get behind songs like "Ride Around Shining." While this is better than a lot of the shit that passes for popular rap these days, it's nothing new. And I'm still trying to figure out why everyone was acting like it was.

"Keys Open Doors"

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Clash - Combat Rock (LP, 1982)

Pretty sure I picked this one up, bargain cassette style, when I was about 14. Perfect timing.

The Clash were one of those bands I constantly read about in rock magazines (for a long time, London Calling was widely considered the most important rock album ever by both Spin and Rolling Stone), so it was an inevitability that I would end up checking them out. I started here, which is a bit of an odd choice considering it's their penultimate album, and the last one with the original lineup.

While "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" and "Rock the Casbah" were immediately appealing to my young ears, it was always the deeper cuts that could be listened to repeatedly. "Overpowered By Funk," as corny as it is, really got a hold of me with its bizarre rap interludes and staunch repetitiveness. And "Atom Tan" is two and a half minutes that I may never get sick of.

I don't have to tell you what a classic record this is. Taken into consideration next to some of the more "pure" Clash records, I can see why some might feel they compromise a bit of their edge on this one. But fuck it, they had earned it. If they wanted to bring some horns in and dick around, more power to 'em.

"Straight To Hell" has recently gained exposure from that hacky M.I.A. song that doesn't even bother to get any more creative than just looping the first 10 seconds over and over, but if we can act like that never happened (and we should), we're left with one of the most beautiful songs to ever be produced by a band that was ever considered "punk." I would have put it at the end of the record, but when you hear "Death Is A Star," you realize there's nowhere else that one could have gone except the very end. Plus, this was still in the age of vinyl, so "Straight To Hell" does the next best thing and closes out side one.

This record helped me through a lot of high school. My first band even did a horrible cover of "Know Your Rights."

"Overpowered By Funk"

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Ciccone Youth - The Whitey Album (CD, 1988)

Touted as a collaboration between Sonic Youth and Mike Watt, this is really just Sonic Youth, with one stray cover (of a Madonna song, of course) by Watt. This differs from some of SY's other experimental stuff mostly due to its incongruous use of drum machines and dance-y samples, which is probably also the reason for not using their actual name on the project.

While songs like "MacBeth" and "Children of Satan/Third Fig" wouldn't sound out of place on a standard Sonic Youth b-side comp (or select LPs, even), tracks like "Hi! Everybody" and "Tuff Titty Rap" are not borne of any brand of Sonic Youth known before or since. Hearing Thurston Moore rap is good for 30 seconds, but they were wise to cut it off. Kim Gordon's karaoke cover of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" is, for some reason, one of my favorite songs on here, even if it's solely due to its overriding novelty.

I think maybe it's the same thing I like about the other less "Sonic Youth-y" bits on this album. It's great to see a band that spends so much time on their records being serious cut loose a bit, even if it is in the realm of thick, thick irony. "March of the Ciccone Robots" is a great combination of both; a noisy guitar wail with some sampled elements tapped in and out.

While I don't really care for Watt's cover of "Burnin' Up" (I guess it's kinda fun), the cover of "Get Into the Groove" (here appended with a "(y)") is straight up sweet. Throwing in actual samples of Madonna's version is gutsy, but hearing her voice next to Thurston's is just too good.

One major beef: the second track is a full minute of silence. They just have to throw those little jabs in there, don't they?

"Addicted to Love"

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Charlatans UK - Some Friendly (LP, 1990)

I was an impressionable youth. All it took was a cool band photo and some encouraging words from Spin magazine, and I was sold.

So it went with the Charlatans UK, a band that served as my formal introduction to Brit rock and, more importantly, the "Madchester" sound. I tried around this same time to embrace Inspiral Carpets, Primal Scream, and especially The Stone Roses, but it was always this record that really did it for me. I liked the Happy Mondays, too, and though they may have been geographically related to these bands, their sound was very different.

The Charlatans were the dictionary definition of a "buzz band" at the time, a group who had barely been together for a year, scored a hit single, and quickly churned out an album. If they rushed through any of this, I certainly couldn't have heard it in the early 90's. I loved (and still do) every song on this record. I think their liberal use of organ appealed to me because of my Doors-heavy upbringing, but the thing that really sucked me into this record was the melodies. Tim Burgess never struck me as the best singer, but his vocal lines were so defined and so deliberate, it was almost like he was intentionally restraining himself, holding back lest he become too enthused. (Liam from Oasis would later do this, much more blatantly and far less successfully.) It was strikingly nonchalant and endlessly cool.

As with any great record, the songs here that clearly represent "the singles" are the weakest of the bunch, or at least the ones that grow tiresome the quickest. Tracks like the almost seven minute "Opportunity" or the uncharacteristically bass-heavy "Flower" have much more staying power. They also smartly pack the middle full of two of the best songs on the record: the one-two punch of "Polar Bear" and "Believe You Me" at tracks seven and eight keeps the flow from ever coming close to stalling out.

I bought an EP they released after this, loved it, lost it, and by the time they released their proper follow-up in '92, I was deeply immersed in the NW rock scene and, though I stared at the bananas on the cover of Between 10th and 11th many times in many different record stores, I knew there was no chance it could live up to this one. It's a tall order: I've been rocking this one for 17 or 18 years and I can still enjoy it, beginning to end.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cex - Being Ridden (CD, 2003)

At some point (I think it was on the record between this one and Oops), Cex decided to start rapping. It's a huge change from the previous two albums I wrote about here, clearly. Not only has he gone from full-on instrumentals to tracks that are filled to the brim with vocals, but he had to change the music to allow ample space for the words.

The shift in direction is actually a likable one. I can't bring myself to love this record, but I do like it. His rhymes are odd and ambitious, and this really has very little to do with traditional hip hop. The production is intricate without being too busy, and though this should come off as pretentious (he's got that air about him), it really delivers a feel that is more fun than anything else.

Tracks like "Earth-Shaking Event" are the closest he comes to working some obvious nods to old school rap into the proceedings, but it's smart enough in its jocularity that he doesn't need to legitimize it. The breaks are filled with plenty of electronic elements to remind us who we're listening to.

If you can get on board with his "your girl loves my style" style, then you're good to go.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cex - Oops, I Did It Again! (CD, 2002)

I could pretty much classify this one as the same as the previous Cex album. Blippy with mutated drums that actually intrigue me a bit because I have no idea how he got those sounds.

Other than that, not a lot to say about it. I'm really out of my comfort zone with music like this, and as I said before, it serves as a slightly high-powered instrumental soundtrack to getting me through mindless work I do on my website.

It's good for the headphones, but I grow weary of it after an hour. But I do like this oddity:

"(You're) Off the Food Chain"

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cex - Role Model (CD, 2000)

I have never been a fan of electronic music, but I got turned on to some decent "IDM" by a friend at work last year, and this was about as far as I took it.

In all honesty, I listen to this disc (and the few other Cex CDs that are forthcoming) only when I need some instrumental music to keep my head filled while I'm doing busy work on the computer and I don't feel like listening to any of my Tchaikovsky records. (I don't know a thing about classical music, but I know I like Tchaikovsky. If that makes me sound pompous, so be it.)

This disc is full of blips and synths, and like I said, it's not something I would normally be drawn to. But this guy's clearly a little crazy, and I don't mind going down that road every once in a while.

Plus, the Dismemberment Plan remix on here is pretty sweet.

"Wall Street Kid"

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cee-Lo - Cee-Lo Green... Is the Soul Machine (2xLP, 2004)

Somebody didn't like the direction of Cee-Lo's first LP. Whether it was Cee-Lo or the label (my knee-jerk reaction is to blame the label, or one of the "suits" somewhere), there was clearly a decision made to make his follow-up a lot more palatable.

You don't even have to listen to a song to see what's going on. When you see the names Timbaland and Pharrel on the back of an LP, you know the deal. Somebody's banking on some hits. Add "featuring TI" and "featuring Ludacris" to the mix, and it's looking doubly true. So, about a quarter of this album is smellin' like it's fresh from the hit factory.

The good news: the Pharrel tracks are actually decent. I've never cared for that dude as a rapper (and especially as a "singer"), but he can put a track together if he doesn't go overboard. The couple songs he produces with the Neptunes here are absolutely fine. "The Art of Noise" works some slight pop angles, but never starts beating you over the head with how likable it's trying to be. And the hook isn't stupid. "Let's Stay Together" sounds a lot like the title, a throwback soul number that makes for a solid cut deep into the album.

"I'll Be Around," the track produced by and featuring Timbaland, is about as crappy as any other Timbaland number. Thinly veiled sexual innuendo, overpowering bass, and melodies that have been used a hundred times. Cee-Lo's raps on the track are dope as shit, but he can't save it. "Childz Play" with Ludacris is about the same, a half-baked club jam that is tolerable until Ludacris comes in and starts sucking all over the place. And TI? Gimme a break. It's embarrassing that he's included on a record as otherwise legitimate as this.

That bullshit makes me like his first LP even more, even if it's strictly for the lack of big name ringers. But, he still gets weird on this one, even if the beats are almost all a lot cleaner. I am always so happy to see Big Rube's name on the back of a record. Dude can rap-talk better than anyone, and for some reason, I could listen to him ramble on about whatever nonsense he's spewing for days. It's why "Scrap Metal" ends up being one of the best songs on here. Rube kicks some knowledge at the beginning, the beat is dark but leaves plenty of room for vocals, and Cee-Lo sounds crazy angry on the hook. It's pretty sweet.

And there's plenty of other songs like that throughout the record. Seems like Cee-Lo gets back to rapping a little bit more, and by letting some other producers in on the action (especially Organized Noize), this record sounds a lot more diverse than his first one. I'm still not sure it's better, but it's different, which is good.

"Living Again"

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Cee-Lo - Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections (2xLP, 2002)

Cee-Lo ended up being the Andre 3000 of Goodie Mob, the guy who grew tired of the confines of Southern rap and wanted to strap on a wig and get freaky. Fair enough.

The dude's got a versatile voice, good for rapping and singing. He does both on this LP, and though it's not quite as good as he wants you to think it is, it's way better than anyone could have predicted. The beats are a mix of old soul and modern-era Dungeon Family, heavy on the horns and hard with the drums. Cee-Lo knows his way around music like this, and when it comes to writing a hook, he doesn't have any problems.

The usual subjects are covered (fucking, spirituality), and though his lyrics are often rehashed versions of classic cliches, he mixes it up by throwing in some straight up weirdness and vamps that are bizarre and entertaining. And, like I said, he can rap and sing. His raps are sparse on this one, and when he gets into 'em, it's a different vibe than he carried with Goodie Mob or his guest spots on Outkast songs. He even says "I am not one of those thug rapper guys" on "One for the Road," a song that seems to both lament and attempt to breathe life into the current state of hip hop.

So, he's sort of all over the place, but honestly, that's what I like the most about this record. Here's what I don't like about this record:

- It's long. Almost 75 minutes. It's a lot to take in.

- There are 21 tracks listed, but five of 'em are "breaks," the longest of which is 22 seconds long. No need to list those as songs. So, really there's 16 songs. That's averaging almost five minutes a song. So, I guess I'm restating my "it's long" point. And I don't mind long records. But some of the better songs on this one are tucked away at the end, and it's a shame.

- "Country Love" featuring John Popper. Really?

- No Outkast. But Big Gipp makes an appearance, so that's pretty good.

Overall, a good record. But, you get the vibe Cee-Lo fancies himself some brand of madcap genius, and at some point, it's really off-putting. He's a good singer, a decent lyricist, and the guy can write a song. Let's not get carried away...

"Gettin' Grown"

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Cat Power - The Greatest (LP, 2006)

I'm not a Cat Power purist, and if I were, I might not like this record as much as I do. Chan took her songs to Memphis, hired some slick studio cats, and polished the shit out of 'em. Sounds like it shouldn't work. For me, it does.

Things start slow, with the title track easing you into the new sound, before things get full-blown on the second cut, "Living Proof." The production is sufficient enough to mask how much is actually going on: there's piano, organ, guitars; a lot more than you'd hear on a "normal" Cat Power record. It somehow sounds right, though. You start to realize her voice is made for this kind of Southern sensibility. A song like "Lived In Bars" has a genuine timeless feel to it.

I'm a big fan of "Could We," a song that is the most blatant in its attempt to mirror the sounds of 60's R&B, and also the most blatant in its attempt at some pop appeal. It's about a minute too short for me, but the running time goes right along with the whole vintage-single feel. Things get a little slow after that, but it comes back around at the end.

"Hate" is out of place on this record, sounding like a lost song from the You Are Free sessions. It's dreary and noodly with the guitar, like a lot of good Cat Power songs. "Love & Communication" is a mix of both styles, taking her initial approach and throwing some small string parts on it.

Like I said, I have no attachment to the "real" Cat Power stuff. So, I don't have a problem going down this road, which I'm sure a lot her fans viewed as a huge sellout. But that's me, I'm without scruples.

"Living Proof"

Friday, October 3, 2008

Cat Power - You Are Free (LP, 2003)

Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I was late to the Cat Power game. I had heard her (Chan Marshall, if I didn't mention her actual name before) stuff before, but this was the first record that I really listened to. My girlfriend at the time had picked it up, and it was on repeat in our apartment for a good few weeks.

I think I was initially drawn in by the infectious hook of "Free," the second track, but once the song ended, I found myself listening to the rest of the disc. "Free" is one of the more upbeat numbers, but it's really no less sad and affecting than the rest of the songs. It's not surprising that the tone is morose, but she manages the difficult feat of having songs that are both depressing and strangely uplifting. Sometimes it's one or the other, but tracks like "Shaking Paper" manage to accomplish both.

I always ended up back at the beginning, and I slowly became infatuated with the first song, "I Don't Blame You." Whether this song is about Kurt Cobain or not (I have a hard time believing it's not, though it's never been confirmed), I found it really hard to resist. My 90's coming of age has left me powerless against any sentiments aimed at Cobain (he still remains one of the only things I cornily hold sacred), and if that is part of the reason I love the song so much, than so be it. It remains, for better or worse, my favorite Cat Power song.

I picked this LP up sometime in the last year, after not hearing it for a few. I've sunk right back into it. But it can leave me a bit depressed, so I dole it out in small doses.

"He War"

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Cat Power - Moon Pix (LP, 1998)

She put out a few records between her debut and this one, so going from there to here is like night and day. The arrangements on this record aren't complicated, but they're clean and well conceived, making a great background for her vocals.

I'm not going to act like I know this record too well, because I don't. I haven't owned it very long, and I've probably listened to it the least out of all the Cat Power records I own. I do know that I really like "He Turns Down," but I couldn't tell you why that one in particular sticks out for me.

So there you go.

"Cross Bones Style"

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cat Power - Dear Sir (LP, 1995)

I was late to the Cat Power game, though I always heard folks (and girlfriends) rave about her. I just never took the time to listen. I caved when I heard You Are Free, which we will get to here pretty soon. So, I'm still in the process of retroactively buying some of her records.

This is the debut, a short collection that is lo-fi, but really likable once you give it a chance. Having the advantage of listening to it after knowing where it's all going, it sounds like exactly what it is: someone finding their voice. The piano is nowhere to be heard on this one; it's all poorly tuned guitars and vocals that alternate from whispers to yelping. It's sloppy, but once you accept that, there's some nice tunes to be found.

"3 Times" and "Rockets" are both songs begging to be fleshed out past their bleak treatment here, but as they are, they're still plenty convincing. "The Sleepwalker" sounds a bit too much like PJ Harvey to me, but it fits the overall mood of the songs well.

This reminds me a bit of The Breeders' debut, Pod. You can hear the promise, but all the details just haven't quite been figured out yet. She'll get there.