Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Went to a Show: Supersuckers 20th Anniversary Show (November 29th, 2008 - Seattle, WA)

I first saw the Supersuckers in 1991, when they were opening for Gas Huffer at the Keizer Lions Hall, right outside of Salem. I was in high school, quickly becoming obsessed with the burgeoning NW rock scene, and as wide-eyed as they came. From the first time I heard the band blaze through all 35 seconds of "I Say Fuck," I was hooked. I went out and scooped up all the 7"s I could find by the group, and made a point to see them whenever and wherever I could. Songs like "Ron's Got the Cocaine" and "Retarded Bill" spoke to me in a way that I wasn't sure was right. But these four dudes reeked of rock, and I liked it.

What they didn't reek of was a band who would stay together for two decades, release countless records, and become an ongoing part of my life that is really only trumped at this point by immediate family and a few of my closest friends. I've been listening to the Supersuckers four times longer than I've known the girl I'm getting married to. In an era when bands break up routinely, this is a big deal. The Supersuckers are, for me, a constant.

So, when they announced they were doing a 20th anniversary show (they formed in Tucson in '88), I knew I had to be there. I asked the old lady to accompany me, she agreed, I got us a couple of tickets, and when the time came, we hit the road for the three hour drive to Seattle. We got there on Friday night (the day before the show) and at some point she mentioned that the band was doing a "signing" at a record store in town during the day on Saturday. I, being an idiot, had missed this post on their website. When we got to our hotel, I hopped on the ol' laptop and gave it a look. Sure enough, they were scheduled for an in-store at Sonic Boom records at 2:30 the day of the show.

We drove over to Market St. Saturday morning, dicked around for a while, and eventually saw the band's van and trailer pull up. The dudes in Sonic Boom set up their stage, and pretty soon, the Supersuckers were up and semi-rocking.
As you can see, they're utilizing a sort of stripped-down setup. Dan "The Steak" Bolton, usually guitar player stage left, was playing bass here while Eddie Spaghetti handled the acoustic. They did a few songs from the Must've Been High record ("Roamin' Round," "Roadworn and Weary"), "Good Livin'," "Creepy Jackalope Eye," "Born With A Tail," and "Breakin' Honey's Heart," which is from their new album. There may have been a few others. Pretty short set, but great to see them in a tiny little record store. There were probably about 40 other people there, so it wasn't too crowded. Eddie introduced his mom, who was standing right next to us. There were video cameras everywhere, too. Maybe we'll be on the next DVD.

After their set I picked up the Live in Orange County DVD/CD, planning to have the band sign it, but when I purchased it, they gave me a Get It Together poster, so I had the band sign that instead. Rontrose Heathman chatted with me briefly, and when I told him I was from Portland, he reminded me that they're playing a New Year's Eve show at Dante's. Yeah, I'll probably be going to that. I wanted to talk to Dan Bolton, Age 40, more than I got to. But he was really nice about signing my poster. Yup, when it comes to the Supersuckers, I am a fanboy. Eddie was drinking a Corona and talking with some folks, but he was happy to hear that I was coming to the show later that evening. Scott Churilla, the only guy in the group who's not an original member, had the pleasure of getting cornered on the sidewalk by me for his signature. He was cordial. Fanboy plan complete.

We made it to the Showbox a little before 8, and I'm glad we did. The show was sold out, and there was a line curling around the block of people waiting to get in. The doors hadn't opened yet. We got stuck next to to 22 year old fuckwads in line who wouldn't shut their holes about partying and giving the band drugs, you know, all that cool shit. I managed to keep my mouth shut. Anyway, we finally got let in a little after 8 and the show commenced shortly thereafter.

Gerald Collier, who you may remember from my Best Kissers in the World posts and the one about one of his solo records, opened the show.
He made it clear when he came out that he wouldn't be playing for very long, and he didn't. But damn if he didn't make good use of his 20 minutes. He and his band ran through about five songs, they were all great, and his voice sounded fantastic under the high ceilings of the venue. And, much to my surprise, the notoriously rowdy Supersuckers fans weren't dicks about the slow songs he played. It was reassuring.

Next up was Zeke, a band that have a history with the Supersuckers, though I've never figured out why. I'd seen them once before, about eight years ago, opening for the Supersuckers at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. They were terrible then, and they continue to be a suckfest today.
They came out, did their little thing where they insult the crowd, acted like they were doing the Supersuckers a favor by showing up, sped through a bunch of their shitty songs, and sounded every bit as pointless as they are. We get it guys: you're old and you suck.

Mudhoney had been originally scheduled to perform at the show, but at some point the slot had changed to feature Green River. An odd reunion to say the least, but a wise one. The crowd was freaking out when they took the stage.
(This picture sucks, but it was the best I could do while I was getting knocked into by countless dudes.) I expected them to be shaky at best, but they were dialed in. It was weird to see Mark Arm sans guitar, but clearly, he knows how to handle himself. Seeing a couple of the Pearl Jam dudes onstage with a couple of the Mudhoney dudes would have scarred me for life in '93, but in this capacity it was somehow really fun to watch. They put on a great show, and between my internal fits of 90's (80's really, in their case) nostalgia, I realized I was seeing one of the best live sets I'd seen in years. I'm still a sucker for "grunge," if that's what we have to call it.

Not much banter, but Mark Arm made light of the Supersuckers being together for 20 years (he mentioned he distinctly remembered seeing the Black Supersuckers at the Vogue in '88 - probably not true) while Green River were celebrating having not been together in 20 years. And then at the end of the set when he was thanking the other bands, he referred to Gerald Collier as "The Best Kissers in the World," which was random and made me chuckle. To reiterate: they were really good.

Finally, the men of the hour were set to take the stage. The Supersuckers came out looking excited but overwhelmed, which is not something you often see in them. Eddie referred to the size of the crowd as "retarded," and Rontrose Heathman asked where all these people had been for the last 20 years. Then they busted into "That is Rock 'n' Roll," a semi-obscure b-side that seems to be their opener of choice these days. It was time to, as they say, "rock."
When Eddie explained after the song that the rest of the evening was to consist of a chronological history of the band, I may have achieved a slight bit of wood. This is a dream come true for a Supersuckers nerd. He then said they were going to play the first song they ever wrote together, Dan "Thunder" Bolton started in on the opening chords to "Poor," and I was happy as heck. They followed it with "Luck," "Girl I Know," and "Mudhead." Nice.

They then went into Smoke of Hell-era tracks, playing "Coattail Rider," "Tasty Greens," and "Hot Rod Rally." La Mano Cornuda was next (Eddie would preface each group of songs with "This brings us to 1993..."), and they rocked through "On the Couch," "Seventeen Poles" (featuring Eddie telling the origins of the song), "How To Maximize Your Kill Count," and their loungy-then-fast version of "Creepy Jackalope Eye." Sacrilicious was sadly barely represented, with the only nod given to "Bad Bad Bad."

At this point the acoustic guitar came out, and they reverted to the same setup they had used earlier at the in-store.
They played pretty much the same set, too (which screwed with the chronology of the whole thing, much to my chagrin), though Eddie did a solo version of "Marie" that was fitting and really pulled off well. By the time the electric shit was strapped back on and the first chords of "Supersuckers Drive-By Blues" were played, people were ready to rock again. Dudes started back in with the annoying slam-dancing and some of the hugest assholes were even crowd surfing. Fucking dopes.

The group ran through a sampling of the rest of their records, doing sweet versions of "Dead Meat," "The Evil Powers of Rock 'n Roll," and "I Want the Drugs" from the Evil Powers of Rock 'N' Roll record, and the standard selections from Motherfuckers Be Trippin'. They ended on "Goodbye," did the Patent-Pending Supersuckers Fake Encore, followed it with four songs from the new record, and wrapped the whole thing up with the always crowd-pleasing "Born With A Tail" finale.

After all was said and done, they had played for over two hours. It was a tremendous show. A major highlight also worth mentioning:
Ol' Dirty Bolton's white suit jacket. He's still got it.

I got my 20th anniversary shirt, managed to not get knocked into too hard, and was glad (damn glad) that I made the trip up to see the show.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Dismemberment Plan - Change (CD, 2001)

This remains my favorite Dismemberment Plan album.

I'm not sure what that says about me. Maybe I prefer my production a tad slicker, my songs more straightforward. Though I don't think that's it. So maybe it's because this is the one I've listened to the most, and the one that took me a while to warm up to. But when I did, when I got it, I couldn't shake it. I listened to this album roughly a thousand times in 2002 alone, and I can still throw it on today and listen to it front to back, no problem.

There's something initially off-putting about this record, and I've never been able to figure out what it is. If I knew anything about time signatures, I think I might be able to put some stock in a theory revolving around the odd ways in which the beats hit on this thing, but as it is, I don't know what I'm talking about in that realm.

What I do know: "The Face of the Earth" is one of my top three favorite Plan songs, one that I keep waiting to get sick of. It was the last few lines of this song that, after repeated listenings that always left me uncomfortable, finally gelled with me and made the rest of this record fall into place instantly:

It's been a couple years and I guess I'm fine about it
It's not like we were married it was 3 or 4 months
And nothing's really different
Though it seems like I've spent my life in planes
Which is kinda strange, but I don't know

Admittedly, it doesn't look mind blowing when it's set out alone like that. But, wrapping up a song that is so wrought with wrenching cluelessness, it's a summary that couldn't have been penned any more poignantly. This album is the first time Morrison has seemed actually unsure, and his fright manifests itself in ways that most of the rest of us wouldn't initially go to. He latches onto a series of mild defeats, looks for a bright side, and if he can't find it, he throws his hands up, turns, and moves away. For me, it's both admirable and a brilliant centerpiece for a record that feeds off its own shiftiness and mortality.

But it's not all morose and shaky. "Pay for the Piano" is fun as shit, and "Following Through," though not an ultimately happy song, features verses that are bright and hopeful feeling, especially after following the dark and stripped-down "Automatic." A lot of the rest of the album flows like this; there are palpable shifts from song to song and sometimes within the song themselves. Overall, this record has always left a dark taste in my mouth, and, forgive me if this sounds corny, has always sounded better to me when it's raining outside.

The record wraps up with "Ellen and Ben," an incredibly catchy narrative that sounds very un-Plan like, and makes for a great end to their proper album career. The bridge on this track is probably my favorite moment in the history of the band. (Download the song from the band's site here. You will love it.) Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: they broke up shortly after this record was released.

You know how it goes.

"Time Bomb"

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Dismemberment Plan - Emergency & I (CD, 1999)

Ask most Dismemberment Plan fans, and they'll tell you this is their magnum opus, the record that defines the band. They're right. Even though I prefer their next one, I'm not sure I can unequivocally say it's a better album than this one. When you listen to Is Terrified and this one right next to each other, the difference is stark. It reminds me a bit of Radiohead going from The Bends to OK Computer. You go from "Wow, this band is great" to "Holy. Fucking. Shit." Same deal here.

Listen to "What Do You Want Me To Say?" and there's no doubt: they've hit their stride. It's like "The Ice of Boston" fully realized and trimmed of any fat that was getting in the way of it ruling. It goes from there. "Spider in the Snow" sounds like Death Cab but better; "I Love A Magician" echoes back to the first two records, but the swirling screeching in the background is much more deliberate and way, way better. And "The City" is just a great, great song.

Like I said in the previous post, Morrison holds back on the quirk with his vocals this time around (though he reverts a bit in "Girl O'Clock"), but if anything, it's just made room for lyrics that might plunk a lump down in your throat if you read them after a bad breakup. I have been kicking my own ass for years for not discovering this right when it came out. I said the same thing about their first one, but I really could have used this one.

If you ever wonder why this band had some of the most hardcore fans out there (or at least it seemed that way when I saw them), listen to this record. It's every bit as good as people tell you it is. Even almost ten years later.

And yes, the terrible artwork continues unabated.

"You Are Invited"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Dismemberment Plan - The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified (CD, 1997)

This is one of those records that, in hindsight, we can look back on as the link between the post-punk Plan and the Plan that most people think of when they talk about the band.

Still jagged and confrontational, this one features vocals and melodies that are creeping carefully towards more complex (and even more serious!) subjects, and the result is a record that feels just as supercharged, a little more mature, and smarter. Never a bad combo, and since I'm an unabashed fan of the awkward sophomore album, I've always liked this one. The songs are intricate while simultaneously filled with a don't-give-a-fuck spirit that equals some splendid ass-kickery.

The biggest sign of the band heading in a new direction is the fucking fantastic "The Ice of Boston," a song with lyrics that I'm not sure I understand, but I know I love. It's absurdity that should suck (it wouldn't look good on paper), but the chorus is the biggest and best hook they'd put together up to this point, and it just works in almost every way.

I was listening to this record in the car this weekend and my old lady piped up after about the third time through it: "I really can't stand this guy's voice." I can see that. But for me, Travis Morrison's style of speak is half of what makes the songs so strong. So maybe it's a deal breaker for some people, and they're never going to like this band. That's fine. He takes it down a notch by limiting the talk-singing a bit on the next few records, and he focuses more on melody as a result. We'll get to that.

Also worth mentioning: The Plan's penchant for terrible album art continues!

"The Ice of Boston"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Dismemberment Plan - ! (CD, 1995)

I was a little late to the game with The Dismemberment Plan, but once I got there, I jumped in hip-deep. Of course, they broke up shortly thereafter, but I managed to see 'em live once, and from what I remember of it, it was a great show.

This is their debut, an album that shows slight hints of where they would eventually end up, but this is, as it should be, more aggressive and ragged. But the matter-of-factness in the lyrics is still there, and that would never leave. And make no mistake, I dig the shit out of this album. The songs are chaotic and just fucking fantastic.

I was obsessed with "OK Jokes Over" for months, maybe years. That's what I meant to point out: if you are feeling bitter, this is a good record to embrace. Lots of angst on this one, and it's usually quite focused, which is how I prefer my angry sarcasm, especially when it's yelled. If that makes sense.

I get the vibe that this isn't a popular album in the catalog of the Plan, and I guess that makes a little bit of sense, but man, I've always thought it was sorely overlooked. I wish I would have discovered this right when it came out. It would have been a fabulous rotating collection of personal anthems for me at the time.

Now it just seems to be taunting my lack of feelings. Eh, I'll take confrontational over ineffective any day of the week.

"Onward, Fat Girl"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms (LP, 1985)

This ain't a bad record to keep on the shelf.

If you weren't around or fully cognizant in the year 1985, you'd have a hard time fathoming just how much the "Money for Nothing" video was played on MTV. As low-budget and cornball as it looks now, in '85, I wasn't even in double digits in age yet, and it blew my fucking mind. The kids on drugs must have been shitting their pants. Whenever there's a special about the early days of MTV, or MTV in the 80's, they always show that video. This will never change.

That song is the odd one out on this collection, and it's got to be a bummer for Mark Knopfler that that's the song his band's always going to be associated with. It's not representative of their sound at all. But really, neither is "Walk of Life." But, if going outside their comfort zone aided them in the selling of a jillion copies of this record, I'm not going to say it was a bad idea.

I don't listen to this album often, but I always enjoy it when I do. Some of the songs have some egregious 80's sax that really sounds dated, but "So Far Away" and the title track never disappoint. And really, "Walk of Life" is as catchy as they come.

Another selling point: you can find this in any record store in any city on any day of the week. Probably for a few bucks. Don't be ashamed. It's OK to like this.

"Brothers In Arms"

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dinosaur Jr. - Where You Been (LP, 1993)

I have no recollection of buying this record. I know it was in the last ten years, at least five or six years ago. Probably a random pickup. Felt like I should own a copy of this album. And I should. And I do. And it's the only Dinosaur Jr. record I own. And I think I'm OK with that.

To be honest, I've never completely connected with J Mascis in a way that other people have. I really like Dinosaur Jr.'s music, but I also get tired of it pretty quick. I listen to this record a few times every year, and that's about all I need. And this might be their most "grunge" record, so maybe that's why I enjoy it so much.

You've probably heard "Start Choppin." It's a damn good song. So is "Out There," and so is the strangely sentimental "What Else is New." If you can put up with some squealing solos (I actually expect them and enjoy them from the group), this is some cool shit. Of course you may have to overlook some weird strings and some of the overproduction that gets a little distracting on this one.

Whatever. "On the Way" still rips shit.

"Get Me"

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Digital Underground - The Body-Hat Syndrome (CD, 1993)

If there was ever any doubt that Shock G's certifiably nuts, it was squashed with the release of this album.

I'm not exactly clear on what a body-hat is (it's been a while since I've gotten deep into this one), but I think it might be some sort of metaphorical body condom. Whatever, it doesn't really matter. The concept album focus here is loose, so there's plenty of room for thick beats that seem more preoccupied with having a good time. This is where DU shines, and this record ends up being impressive. Weird as shit, but impressive.

It's long, lyrically dense, and the drums hit hard. It's Shock G sounding more "West Coast" than ever, without giving in to the obvious repetitiveness that hounded some of his colleagues from the Bay. And Money-B holds it down as usual. And yeah, we get it Shock, you're a freak.

This was probably the last great Digital Underground album, but that's coming from a guy who wasn't willing to follow Shock to Jonestown like some of the more hardcore fans. That's also coming from a guy who owns Who Got the Gravy? on cassette.

"The Return of the Crazy One"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Digital Underground - This is an E.P. Release (CD, 1991)

While this EP is often best remembered for "Same Song," which features the debut of a young Tupac Shakur, there's more to it than that. This is actually a fairly worthy continuation of Sex Packets, with songs that share a lot with their predecessors. Some of 'em are remixes, so that goes without saying.

"Same Song" is a good one, and it deserves all the attention it gets. Shock pulls the sweet move of letting the beat ride for the last two minutes, which is both unnecessary and hilarious. "Tie the Knot" is a piano-random song that gets its charm from sounding completely out of whack. The remix of "The Way We Swing" changes up all the lyrics, keeping the basic format but making a looser version of the track.

"Nuttin' Nis Funky," at almost ten minutes long and largely instrumental, is trying. But the reworking of the beat from "The Humpty Dance" is interesting if you can afford them some extreme indulgence. The remix of "Packet Man" is strangely New Jack, likable as a novelty but not close to being better than the original. "Arguin' on the Funk" is the "Rhymin' on the Funk" beat with Shock and Humpty arguing with each other, only interesting because they're the same guy and he pulls it off pretty well.

So, considering that this was most likely a quick release to cash in on the Digital Underground name before America's love affair with Humpty Hump went south, I think it does its duty.

"Same Song"

Friday, November 21, 2008

Digital Underground - Sex Packets (LP, 1990)

So many memories.

If you were anywhere near MTV during the summer of 1990, you saw Digital Underground's "The Humpty Dance" video. A lot. If you were me and my friends, you couldn't get enough of it. We were mesmerized by the fake-nose wearing nutjob who was fronting the band. (Of course, it took me 200 viewings of the video to figure out that Shock G and Humpty Hump were the same dude.) This was some new shit. And the song was great: guaranteed to haunt your (my) teenage mind for an entire school day, just so you could go to your friend's house after school (we didn't have MTV) and see the video three more times before dinner.

That summer, my friend and I went to the mall, on the hunt for new music. He ended up picking up Sex Packets, and when his mom saw it in his hand when she picked us up in her minivan, she seemed a little weirded out by it. I can't even imagine what she thought a sex packet might actually be. As a 13 year old boy, I thought I knew what it was, but given my sexual inexperience and the fact that sex packets aren't real, I think I was probably more confused than anything. I had my friend dub it onto cassette for me, and I rocked the shit out of it, Walkman steez. It didn't last long: one night I was playing "Freaks of the Industry" on my home stereo when I thought my mom wasn't paying attention, though I quickly found out she was. The tape was quickly confiscated and disposed of. And rightfully so, but I was pissed. I must have found some other way to listen to it, because I remember it being around.

Anyway, there was a reason, other than "The Humpty Dance," why I wasn't going to be able to live without this one: it's great. This is an involved album, a collection of songs that work as a loose concept record, but calling it that puts it in a category it doesn't belong in. Any of these songs can stand up on their own. But, listening to 'em in sequence makes them even better. The one-two punch of "The Way We Swing" and "Rhymin' On the Funk" makes for an incredible opening. (This is where you start the album after you eventually get sick of "The Humpty Dance," which is track one.) From there, it just keeps going.

The songs are long, but most of them don't feel like it. I always forget that "The Way We Swing" clocks in at almost seven minutes. And if you've never partaken in the full nine minutes of "Doowutchyalike," than you're not really living. The title track is the only one that drags a little bit, but given the consistency of the rest of the record, it doesn't really matter.

One more reason this album is a classic: Money-B. Shock's sidekick is the better rapper, an unintentional show-stealer who just rips shit every time he's on the mic. It's a pleasure to hear him work.

This is one of those albums that I'll always have a copy of.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Digable Planets - Blowout Comb (CD, 1994)

I'm not even going to pretend that I've ever listened to this.

I have a vague memory of purchasing it in the last year (I couldn't have paid more than two bucks for it), but once it made it home with me, it got shelved and apparently that was the end of it.

I bet it's probably pretty good.

"9th Wonder"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Neil Diamond - Stones (LP, 1971)

Neil Diamond has been ruined. By Saving Silverman; by frat dudes; by exorbitant ticket prices; and by the ubiquitous "Sweet Caroline," a song that never needs to be played or heard ever again. Drunk douchebags everywhere have compromised it to a point where it's no longer salvageable. Fuck those guys.

Because Neil Diamond, when used in moderation, can be a great thing. I should know: this is the only album of his that I own. And really, I only own this because it has some slight sentimental value (not to be explained here) and it's the only record I own that is packaged in a manila envelope type enclosure, complete with the string that wraps around the cardboard disc. A strange and terribly inconvenient way to design an LP sleeve. You have to unwind the damn string every time you want to listen to it. Lucky for me, that's only every eight to ten years, so it's not a big deal.

This is the record with "I Am...I Said" on it (which is probably my favorite ND song), and aside from the title track and the slightly less popular but wonderfully titled "Crunchy Granola Suite," the other songs are covers, which is an oddity for a Neil Diamond album. So, yeah, this is sort of a weird one all around. Doesn't take much to make a Neil Diamond record weird, though.

Now I'm going to go put this back on my shelf until 2017.

"I Am...I Said"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dexy's Midnight Runners - Too-Rye-Ay (LP, 1982)

I just took this record out of the sleeve (which has a .50 CD/Game Exchange sticker dated Sep 13 of '03), and upon inspection, the vinyl is Year of Sunday by Seals & Croft.

Is it possible that this has been sitting on my shelf, unplayed, for five years?

And even worse, I've had a Seals & Croft record in my possession for those five years?




I could have sworn I listened to this at least once.

Proud moments.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Descendents - Milo Goes to College (LP, 1982)

Well, if I'm only going to own one Descendents album, I think this is the one to have.

15 songs, 22 minutes. An incredible display of coffee-fueled teenage rage, harnessed briefly for our enjoyment. Any kid who starts a hardcore-influenced band in high school (do kids still do that?) can only dream of writing songs this good. And if they could, they'd quit high school post-haste. Songs like "I'm Not A Loser," "I'm Not A Punk," "Catalina,"–heck, really every song on this record–does such a good job of summing up young man angst that it would be hard to improve on it.

This is another one of those albums (I've mentioned a few others) that I feel any self-respecting fan of rock music should own. Whether they know it or not, all the mall-punk bands that are hot shit right now owe a great deal to this little record.

At this point I'm pausing the CD so it doesn't end before I finish this. It really zips by.

I don't know what else to say about it. Milo is a pure stallion of the highest degree. These songs are more complicated than they sound. And coming from kids as young as they were, it makes it even more awesome. And I should really invest in more Descendents albums. Add it to the list.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Del The Funky Homosapien - Both Sides of the Brain (2xLP, 2000)

First off: I love this record.

I picked this up a few months after it came out, and bumped the shit out of it all summer. The beats are catchy as all get out, and Del is a man on a mission here. He's constantly cutting in and out, adding backing tracks all over the place, and he never lets up. It might be a tad too long, but that's about all I've been able to find wrong with this one.

After "Time Is Too Expensive," "If You Must" kicks in and it's on. I was convinced this track was going to be solid summer hit, but no such luck. Apparently the world's not ready to rock a track about people who stink. Their loss. "Jaw Gymnastics" is exactly what it sounds like: straight rapping. I'm not a huge Casual fan, but he teams up with Del on this one and rips it. El-P provides another sweet guest spot, showing up on the dark and strangely awesome "Offspring."

Like Del himself, I don't have any trouble understanding why this LP didn't turn out to be the commercial hit I thought it deserved to be. The middle third of this record gets dense, and it can be a lot to handle. I'm not trying to sound like an elitist when I say that; there really are some trying parts. Some of the songs remain fairly light, and as a result, they're usually fun. "Style Wars" and "Fake as Fuck" are a good time. But, it's not all playful: "BM's" and "Skull & Crossbones" both get into Del's battles with alcohol, and "Soopa Feen" tells the story of a half-dead crack smoker.

The best part of the record ends up being the last third. "Signature Slogans" is a dope cut, and "Catch All This" is the best song on the entire record. Fast, relentless; right up my alley. By the time Del teams up with Khaos Unique for "Proto Culture," a love song about video games, it's tough to deny the lyrical prowess that Del has put on display. He wraps it up with the solid "Stay On Your Toes," with a little help from A-Plus of Souls of Mischief. Nice one to end on. Smooth.

No skits, no filler, just a dude grabbing the mic and getting abstract over some fantastic beats. A classic in my book.

"If You Must"

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Del The Funkyhomosapien - No Need for Alarm (CD, 1993)

I had this CD (and by CD, I probably mean tape) back around the time it came out, along with Del's debut, I Wish My Brother George Was Here. I don't know what happened to 'em. Anyway, I just re-bought this CD a few months ago. In fact, it's another one I forgot I had. But, I do, so here it is.

Now that I'm listening to it, it's coming back to me a little bit. "Wack MC's" and "Catch a Bad One" were definitely favorites from back in the day. And the title track is a slick one, too. This CD coincided with the origins of the Hieroglyphics crew, and back in '93, the sound they were whipping up was the shit: thick bass lines that the rest of the beat crowded around, and lyrical smoothness that was smart without getting into the dumb stuff.

Del's got a voice like nobody else, and I guess you either love it or hate it. I can see why people don't dig him, but it's easier for me to understand why people think he's one of the most original voices in hip hop. He's clearly a little bit unstable, or stoned all the time, or both, and it just adds to his nutty style of speak.

This is the kind of loose hip hop I love: frenetic, off-topic, but lyrically fun and always interesting.

"Catch a Bad One"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Defari - Focused Daily (CD, 1999)

I went to see Outkast in Los Angeles in 2000, maybe 2001. Ludacris opened (this was before he was big time), and Xzibit played after him. I'm not a huge Xzibit fan, but he put on a pretty good show. The thing I noticed most was his hype man/secondary rapper guy. Dude was flying around the stage, and when it was his turn to kick a verse, he fucking nailed it. While all the other hangers-on were swinging towels and hitting the Courvoisier way too hard, this cat was all about the performance. It was really something to see.

I can't remember if I figured out his name at the show or determined who he was later. I feel like my brother helped me narrow it down, and I decided I should check out his solo CD. This is it. It's not one of my favorites, but I've never thought about getting rid of it in the seven or eight years I've owned it. He's all about lyrics. And that is fine by me. But, the songs are long and the beats are fairly empty, so it can get a little tedious after a half hour. But, if I'm in the mood for some solid hip hop from a dude who is far from corny, this is a good one.

He's smart as shit, and it comes through in the songs. He's almost got too much to say. Better that than resorting to the same ol' shit. He steers clear of the cliches, doesn't really swear that much, and has a strong delivery.

This is the "real hip hop" you hear people talking about. Heh.

"Focused Daily"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Death Cab for Cutie - The Photo Album (CD, 2001)

I was given this CD a few years ago by a friend who was moving, and getting rid of most of his earthly possessions. I thought I hadn't listened to it more than a few times, but as I listen to it now, I realize I must have had it my car, dubbed cassette style, for a short time. Because I do know these songs.

And they're OK. It just doesn't have the same "oomph" as their first one. It's cleaner, and the guitar is much more defined and precise. Maybe that's a good thing, I don't know. It doesn't do much for me.

But, I do like "We Laugh Indoors" and "Why You'd Want to Live Here." They're a little more ragged, a little more urgent than some of the other songs. But they're moving, going towards something bigger, something that doesn't really work for me.

But I remember having a good time listening to this for a while.

"A Movie Script Ending"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Death Cab for Cutie - Something About Airplanes (CD, 1998)

Right before I moved away from Eugene, in the summer of 1998, I met a girl at a party and fell in love with her for about an hour. We were sitting on the back deck of the house where the party was, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer from bottles. (This was a classy party, by Eugene standards.)

We were talking about music, and though I'm sure I was more than a little drunk, I was just astounded by her taste. She liked Frank Black's solo stuff more than the Pixies (me too!) and knew about bands (really knew about them) that girls weren't supposed to know about. I was absolutely impressed, and smitten enough to forget I had a girlfriend. Though I quickly remembered, and the subject matter stayed wisely focused on music. And that was fine by me; like I said, she knew her shit.

She asked me if I had heard Death Cab for Cutie. I had not. She began gushing, telling me how I just had to hear their new record, their debut. She said it was the best thing she had heard in years. Usually, when people I meet at parties give me advice on music to check out, I smile politely while I roll my eyes internally. This time I listened. I don't know how I remembered their name, but I did. The next time I was out record shopping, I looked. I found. I bought.

I expected too much. This is a record that took a good half year to grow on me, but when it did, I finally got what she was talking about. Though they clearly had a boner for Built to Spill, they didn't really sound like them. They didn't really sound like anything. And the lyrics were, to an early 20's me, just fucking fantastic:

"drinking champagne from a paper cup/is never quite the same/and every sip's moving through my eyes/and up into my brain/at half past two; about time to leave/'cause the dj's playing rhythm and blues"

Listening to that song, specifically when I was alone and bleary-eyed drunk, is an experience that sent me into some seriously wuss-filled places that I will never reveal the true extent of. But it was therapeutic in some surely fucked-up way.

I never really got past this Death Cab. I watched them get more and more famous, and became less and less interested. That's sort of my thing, but that wasn't the sole reason. I legitimately love this record, and I didn't want any of their new shit to overtake it. It was a timing thing. I was vulnerable. They got me.

And this will always be my favorite song of theirs:

"Pictures in an Exhibition"

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

De La Soul - Stakes Is High (CD, 1996)

Prince Paul is nowhere to be seen.

Considering that (if I hadn't mentioned it, he produced the previous three records), this record is pretty good. It picks up where Buhloone left off, with the group becoming increasingly pissed at the state of hip hop. While they keep flying that flag, they also fall back on some lazy beats and call-and-response hooks that, even if they're satirical, sound fairly lame.

The lyrics are dope, but if we're looking for a De La record after which they (intentionally or not) couldn't be labeled as outsiders anymore, this is it. They give in to guest spots (Common, Mos Def), let some songs drag a little too long, and allow the whole record to go a little longer than it probably should.

Yes, I gripe. But, there are some good songs. The title track is a fun (but serious) one, and there's a few others. But with beat-dense production that keeps it mostly sparse with accompaniment, it's too much of a shock after hearing the multilayered work of Prince Paul.

Honestly though, for me, the verdict is still out on this one. '96 was an awkward year for hip hop, so I try and keep that in perspective. Considering the shit that was being pumped out around the same time, this could seem brave and brashly rebellious. Which it is.

I think I just miss Prince Paul.

"Stakes Is High"

Monday, November 10, 2008

De La Soul - Buhloone Mindstate (CD, 1993)

After their big debut and the anticipation involved with their sophomore effort, it was probably nice for De La Soul to sink into their third album, and just get back to making music. This is purely speculation on my part, but to me, they sound more comfortable on this one.

The intro's short and entertaining, and then they bust right into it. I've always thought "Eye Patch" was a pretty sweet opening track, if for no other reason than it's weird as shit. "Patti Dooke" is a great song, though it's the most un-De La the group has sounded up to this point. I think it's due to the live instrumentation, and it doesn't really matter. The song works.

Their frustration with the hip hop scene really spills out on this record, and while their raps are still as nutty and unfocused as ever, they certainly sound more mature. For me, that's a minus, but it's understandable.

So, the album starts strong, but it runs into some problems. "I Be Blowin'" and "Long Island Wildin'" are b-sides if I've ever heard one. Put 'em right in the middle of the record, and it makes for a rough patch. They have trouble picking it back up after that, though the record finishes as strong as it starts. "Breakadawn" is sweet as shit (though very Tribe Called Quest), and "Stone Age" with Biz Markie is a great closer.

So, again, my expectations are too high for De La, but I like parts of this one a lot. It gets rocked.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

De La Soul - De La Soul Is Dead (CD, 1991)

By the time 1991 rolled around, I was hopelessly immersed in the NW rock scene that was taking over both my neck of the woods and the world, and maybe that's why I missed this one upon its release. I think it was also partly due to the cover and the title. De La had clearly grown tired of the "hippie" label, and were eager to show the world they were more than that. I would have been happy if they stuck with it, honestly. And really, how were they going to follow such a classic debut?

They decided to get a little weirder, starting with an intro that is at least a minute too long, and interspersing some other interludes that are lazily titled "Skit 1," "Skit 2," etc. The concept behind the skits is a solid one, but they're not as fun as the ones on the first record. Neither is the rest of the record, for the most part.

This one has grown on a lot of people over time, and while I feel like that hasn't really happened for me yet, I do enjoy listening to it. Their views haven't changed much, but there is a slight air of self-indulgence (the record is far too long), and a sense that they may have believed their well-deserved hype.

The last thing I wanted was for De La Soul to start morphing into just another rap group. I feel like this was the beginning of that progression. Or maybe I just don't "get it" like everyone else. I keep trying.

"Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)"

Saturday, November 8, 2008

De La Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising (2xCD, 1989/2001)

Wow. I don't even know where to start with this one. I could go on for days.

First off, I'm listing the date like that because I have the reissue, which came with a bonus disc of b-sides. Not that it really matters, but I like to get specific. Secondly, this is one of the most brilliant and important records in the history of hip hop. And I really, really mean that.

I picked this gem up on cassette when I was 13, and I wish I had a good story as to why I decided to buy it. I know I hadn't heard it before I purchased it, so I think I was just giving it a shot. (Kids: this is something you had to do in the pre-internet days.) The rap section was pretty small at Fred Meyer (it was small everywhere in those days, but really small at Freddy's), so my options were limited. I remember always staring at the same tapes: MC Hammer's Let's Get It Started, Too $hort's Life Is..., Just-Ice's The Desolate One. De La's tape glowed, literally. The thing was neon. My tastes were pretty much encompassed within two genres at the time: rap and classic rock. This cover had rappers and hippie daisies on it. Looked good to me.

When people talk about this being the first rap record with skits, I'm not sure if that's technically true. But, it was certainly the first to integrate them so fully into the music. I can still listen to the game show skits on this record, and I'd miss 'em if they weren't there. They're trying to be funny, but they're also smart, and they're just one reason why this record is so good.

The main reason this record is so good: Prince Paul. Not to take anything away from De La Soul, because they are brilliant in their own inimitable way on this album, but it's Prince Paul who's laying down the beats and calling the shots. And the beats are amazing. The interludes are amazing. There is not a bad second on this record. I have heard so many songs on the radio since first hearing this record, and realized that I am recognizing them from being sampled on 3 Feet High and Rising. This is another one that people point to, much like Paul's Boutique, that simply wouldn't be commercially possible in this day and age. And though the songs are clearly sample-based, Prince Paul makes entirely new compositions out of the material. Songs like "Say No Go" and "Eye Know" make no secret about what they're using, but the method is crafty. It's something that's really missing from hip hop these days.

De La Soul themselves were barely 20 when they made this. It's pretty nuts, especially when you listen to the message they were trying to get across. It's not that they sound world-weary, it's that they care. On some level, this appealed to me just as much as the gangsta raps that NWA were kicking out, but for completely opposite reasons. Ice Cube didn't give a fuck, but Trugoy called himself the Dove. He clearly didn't give a fuck either. It was cool as shit. And while everyone talks about how this record was consumed with hippie tones and cries for peace, it's really not.

It's just fucking smart, catchy, varied, and as close to perfect as hip hop's ever going to get. I'll stop now. I'm getting worked up.

"Say No Go"

Friday, November 7, 2008

Davy D. - Davy's Ride (LP, 1987)

I picked this up a few months ago, a random find at a record store I don't usually frequent.

I don't know a lot about Davy D., though I think he was involved with Run-DMC in some way. Russell Simmons' name is all over this thing, with a blurb on the back and an executive production credit. It also mentions that Davy was a DJ for Kurtis Blow, did some beats for Spoonie Gee, and wrote some songs for the Fat Boys. In '87, these were some pretty tight creds.

As you can see from the cover, this record features Hurricane, who was the DJ for the Beastie Boys at the time. Though it seems like he does some cuts on this one, he also does some rapping, which doesn't suck, but it's not great, either. The music is a weird mix of breakbeats, love songs, and straight up battle raps, courtesy of Hurricane. For all the talk about Davy being a master beat crafter, the beats on this record are pretty repetitive and not all that great.

"Bustin' Loose" sounds like a Run-DMC track that didn't quite make the cut, and "Feel for You" is lame R&B drivel. But, when the beats start hitting and the Hurra starts rapping, it can be fun in parts. "Live on Hollis Day" isn't much more than a drum beat with Hurricane doing angry-raps over it, and it's sort of sweet. But then it's followed by "Ohh Girl," which is an embarrassing love song with some bunk singing.

It's hard to tell what they were going for on this one. It sounds like a poorly thought out mixtape. Scratch-heavy instrumentals and hard raps sound fine next to each other, but the love songs continuously threaten to kill the flow.

"Ohh Girl"

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Das EFX - Generation EFX (CD, 1998)

I think I've maybe listened to this CD twice. Nothing grabbed me; I gave it a rest.

This is late-90's era hip hop, when a lot of groups like this were trying to maintain some relevance in the "game." That means more guest spots, different producers, and apparently an album cover with a bunch of rats on it.

Redman's here (shocker), and so are MOP and EPMD. It's really not that bad, some pretty standard tracks with some decent raps, and then the title track kicks in. When you hear the opening riff from "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor, you know it won't end well. It doesn't. (I think I heard "never rocky like Balboa" in there. Yikes.)

So maybe this one's the beginning of the end. I still let it ride when it comes through the shuffle on the iPod.

"Rap Scholar"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Das EFX - Straight Up Sewaside (CD, 1993)

I have to be in the right mood for Das EFX.

While I like their quick back-and-forth style, it can get tiring if I'm not alert enough to take it all in. When I'm feeling awake and ready to face the world, this album is a good one to rock.

I don't know this record super well; I haven't had it for too long, and I'm admittedly a bit late to the game with this group. While a lot of these songs sound the same upon first listen, once you dig in a little they separate themselves. While they're known for their wiggidy-wiggidy style (or whatever you want to call it), they keep that tongue flexing to a minimum on this one, just rapping hard, strong, and what sounds like angry.

The fact that this is their semi-awkward sophomore album, coming only a year after their very successful debut, makes me enjoy this even more. You can hear a little frustration in their voices, and they're quick to let everybody know they're not here to be pigeonholed. Pretty wise for a couple of young dudes.

And no guest spots, either. Remember when that used to happen?


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Darkness - Permission to Land (CD, 2003)

Wow, I forgot I had this.

Yes, I briefly got caught up in the Darkness hype machine. They were fucking everywhere in the summer of 2003, and I gave it a shot. I liked it, though I could never give myself over to it like a few other people I knew. I still like this album, actually, though I found watching live footage of them on the web to be much more enjoyable.

While songs like "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" and "Get Your Hands Off My Woman" are the most well-known for good reason, there are more than a few other choice numbers on here. If I were into this style of music (unbridled retrofied ass-rock), I would love this. But there's only so much I can take. Still, as I listen to it now, I do remember why I liked it. Tracks like "Growing On Me" and "Holding My Own" are legitimately good rock songs, without falling back on stupid (relatively speaking) lyrics to get the thing going.

At the same time, this has been sitting on my shelf, unplayed, for at least two and a half years. And I never bought their sophomore effort. But, I've heard bad things about it, so I'm intrigued.

Was anyone surprised when this band crashed and burned?

"Growing On Me"

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dana Dane - Rollin' Wit Dana Dane (CD, 1995)

I was introduced to Dana Dane through a K-Tel rap compilation in the late 80's. "Nightmares" spent some serious time in my Walkman, and stood out for a few reasons: the skits within the song were fairly uncommon at the time, and dude was rocking a clearly fake English accent. It was all weird enough to work, and though I was into it, I didn't end up getting a hold of his debut, Dana Dane With Fame until just a few years ago. (I've got it on cassette, so it's not listed here.) It's classic old school shit, a young kid who could hold his own in an era when rap was still coming of age.

Dana Dane stepping full-on into the mid-90's is a mixed bag. He's still sticking with the accent, but he's working it over thick beats that often hint at ill-advised G-funk, an approach that makes it clear he's following trends, and ultimately just doesn't suit his style very well. On his early stuff, the beats were minimal, and when his voice was the focus, it was fun, and that's all it needed to be. He still hits the party songs hard on this one, but with a lot of the tracks featuring an overpowering R&B female singer accompanying him, he gets lost in the mix, and that's no good.

Some of the hooks are rehashed melodies that have been used way too many times before, which not only seems lazy, but also adds to how dated parts of this record sound. But, it's not all bad: "Record Jock" is a cool narrative track that shows Dane doing what he does best: telling a story. "Nina" does the same thing, which is frustrating, because you wonder why he didn't just stick with it. Right in the middle is "Chester," a song about a child molester (get it?) that, while positive with the message, is a bit uncomfortable to listen to.

In the end, there's only a few real stinkers on this one ("Show Me Love" is mostly intolerable sap-heavy R&B), but there's also only a few real strong tracks. About what you would expect from a guy trying to reinvent his style during an awkward time in hip hop.

"Record Jock"

Sunday, November 2, 2008

D12 - D12 World (2xLP, 2004)

Aside from having a lazy title and an equally weak cover, this record surpasses D12's debut pretty easily. They got the radio single completely out of the way with the dumb-but-somehow-likable "My Band," and they spend the remaining 70-some minutes just going nutso. Sometimes it works, and even when it doesn't, it doesn't really matter. It's chaos, and there's always something coming next.

Eminems opening on "Git Up," the album's first track, is so strange, and comes so close to not working at all, that it's impossible to turn away from. And while "U R the One" represents the same sort of "love song with the D12 twist" that they struck out with on the first record a few times, they pull it off here, though not without a terrible verse from Bizarre that almost kills it (he wears a WonderBra!).

The 1-2-3 of "How Come," "Leave Dat Boy Alone," and "Get My Gun" is smack-dab in the middle of this one, and it's probably the strongest section of any of their recorded output so far. It gets a little spotty after that, but if you skip the skits it's tolerable.

Again, Bizarre turns what could be an almost great record into a good one with his lack of skills, terrible lyrics, and dead personality. He's a half-ton hindrance, and only when they kick him out of the group will they realize their real potential.

Oh, and I think "Loyalty" feat. Obie Trice is a pretty cool song.

"Git Up"

Saturday, November 1, 2008

D12 - Devil's Night (2xLP, 2001)

I had low expectations for this disc. So, when it ended up not completely sucking, I felt like I got my seven dollars worth, which is what I paid for it because I waited to find it used.

Here's the deal: Eminem is great. I could explain why I like him, but I'll get to that when we get to the E's. For these purposes, just know this (or at least that I think this): dude's as good a rapper and lyricist as there is out there, especially for the kind of music he makes. It has wide appeal - it's dumb enough for the dummies, while being smart and multifaceted enough for the smarties. Tough to do. Anyway, he's good. Here's the rub: when you put him on the same song with dudes who are good, actually not bad at all, but not great, they sound worse than they really are. When you put him on the same track with somebody who's terrible, they sound like a contest winner who's lucky to be anywhere near the studio.

So, these are the obstacles that D12 face. Eminem owns every track he's on, if not just because he's the best rapper, but because his voice stands out and his delivery always packs in more syllables and backups. But, he works his way onto a lot of songs without completely overshadowing the other guys. Proof, when he's not assuming some growly voice, is a great rapper. And Swifty, Kon Artis, and Kuniva can hold their own pretty easy.

Then there's Bizarre. I can say, without hyperbole, that Bizarre is the worst rapper I have ever heard on a major label rap release. I don't even want to get started, because I could go on forever. He literally can't rap. It's that bad. The idea was that he was the "crazy" one in the group, but all the other dudes are just as "crazy," so all he really is is the one with the tits. Wow, I can't stand him.

So, there are some songs on this one that I avoid at all costs because he's on 'em. And there are some that just maybe shouldn't have made the cut. The record's too long, and once it pushes towards the hour mark, it drags. "Purple Pills" is pretty lame, "Pimp Like Me" is as lame as it sounds, and so is "Nasty Mind." But, "Shit Can Happen" and "Pistol Pistol" are a good kind of juvenile fun, and there's a few more that share the same appeal.

There's also "Girls," Eminem's five-and-a-half minute lyrical dismantling of Fred Durst and Limp Bizkit. That's probably my favorite.

"Fight Music"