Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Halo Benders - Don't Tell Me Now (LP, 1996)

Ah, who could construct an awkward sophomore album better than The Halo Benders?

I always think I don't like this record much, then I realize it's that I don't like "Bomb Shelter Pt. 2," which is way too long and right in the middle of the album. I don't know the story behind the song and I don't really care to. And I wouldn't mind it if it was way shorter. As it is, it's just mad boring.

Otherwise, there's some roughly recorded gems on this bad boy. "Phantom Power" is a propulsive opener, a track that reminds me of some punk rock song that I can't think of right now. They also pull the sweet move of putting their theme song ("Halo Bender") on their second record, which is always a good call. (They Might Be Giants trumped everyone by waiting till their third–now that's just crazy.) "Mercury Blues" may be the most instantly catchy song on this record, and it's one that I still like quite a bit.

I didn't play this record into the ground like their first one, so I still get plenty of mileage out of coming back to it. It's not a whole lot different than their first one in sound and structure, and they make for a good back-to-back listen. "Volume Mode" has a sweet melody that wonderfully muddled by Calvin backing up Calvin on the vocals. That's a whole lotta Calvin, folks. It ends up being a fine song, though.

The second side of this record is where things get really good. "Inbred Heart" is one of the best tracks on the whole album, and possibly the most "Built to Spill" sounding. Rarely are the Benders so tightly wound. It's pretty sweet. "Magic Carpet Rider" is another fun one, if you can get past Johnson's nutty lyricism. When Martsch kicks in with the backup vocals, things get good real quick. It's followed by "Blank Equation," initially one of the more pensive tracks on this album, and another one that sounds like Calvin and Doug wrote separate parts and then just used 'em both. It builds up and gets a little wild and totally works.

"Crankenstein" is the last track on the record, which is a good place for it. It's hard to tell if Johnson is just free-associating on this track or not. It's sloppy, but good-sloppy. Sort of like the rest of the album, but that's one of the most likable things about this group.

"Blank Equation"

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Halo Benders - God Don't Make No Junk (LP, 1994)

Ah, don't we all miss the days of the indie rock supergroup?

I would think The Halo Benders probably looked simultaneously like a brilliant and terrible idea on paper. Having Calvin Johnson and Doug Martsch handling lead vocals (with plenty of overlapping) is like pairing Barry White with Prince. (Well, not exactly, but you see what I'm getting at.) And while they certainly weren't everybody's cup of tea, I don't think anyone could have predicted they would have been this good, or that they would end up releasing three full LPs.

If you can't handle Calvin's style of singing (it took me a while the first time I heard the guy), you're going to have a hard time with this. Martsch's vocals are haphazard at times, but always slight and delicate in his inimitable way. Johnson's are heavy and ostensibly lazy, deep-throated and initially jarring in their static delivery. The closest he ever comes to deviating from this method is on the brilliant "Will Work for Food," and even then, there's only a slight inflection shift in his vocals.

If you can get past everything that feels initially awkward or uncomfortable about the sound of this band, you'll quickly realize those same things that troubled you are the aspects that make it great. When Martsch and Johnson really tag-team the vocals on songs like "Snowfall," "On a Tip," and "Big Rock Candy Mountain," the juxtaposition ends up being the stuff that real pop genius is made of. On a few of these songs, they obviously both wrote separate parts, put 'em together, and just let it ride. While it does feel a bit cluttered the first few times you hear it, there becomes a nice middle ground after you make peace with it. It is weird, but it's a really warm and pleasant weird.

"Don't Touch My Bikini" may be the most well-known song on this record, but it's also the one that wears thin the quickest. The rest of the album rates incredibly high on the replayability scale, especially when you consider the whole thing is barely a half-hour in length. Honestly, that's been my only beef with this LP over the years. It's just not long enough. But, I think they did a good job of keeping the tracks at a nice length (this was before Doug Martsch became the long-song king of the NW), and like I said, it makes 'em hard to get sick of.

Yep, this is probably another one o' them love-it-or-hate-it bands. But if you love it, you'll love the shit out of it.

"Don't Touch My Bikini"

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Daryl Hall & John Oates - Daryl Hall & John Oates (CD, 1975/2000)

I put two dates up there because this is the 2000 reissue with a couple of bonus tracks tacked on the end. It matters not; nothing can stop this from sucking.

I picked this up for a few bucks a couple years back, partly because it has "Sara Smile" on it (which I actually like), but also because one of my ex-roommates had this record and I had a strange memory of liking it. I was way off. Turns out I just liked the cover, which is silver, heavy with man-makeup, and features a nude photo of Oates on the inner sleeve. Now I'm not sure I ever even listened to the record.

As I said, "Sara Smile" is a fine tune. The rest of this is brutally awful, dated-sounding 70's puss rock that I mercifully gave a chance to over the last few days, a decision I immediately regretted.

Well, now I know.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Guns N' Roses - Appetite for Destruction (LP, 1987)

Yep, I own this.

I listen to Appetite for Destruction about once a year, always with headphones on, and always from start to finish. Sometimes it's when the mood strikes me; sometimes something will set me off. Last year it was because I was reading a lot of Chuck Klosterman. This year I'll probably see some news about Steven Adler going to prison. Then, boom! I'm into it.

There's really no point in dissecting Guns N' Roses, so I won't do it. But this is easily the best "hard rock" album that came out of the 80's, and it really is a pleasure to listen to. Tracks like "Nightrain" and "Out Ta Get Me" must have made Nikki Sixx want to curl up in a ball and cry.

And I'm all for that.

"Rocket Queen"

Friday, March 27, 2009

Gravediggaz - The Pick, the Sickle, and the Shovel (2xLP, 1997)

This album is at least notable for having one of the sweetest covers and titles in 90's hip hop. So, you know, it looks good on my shelf, even if I haven't listened to it in years.

I never had a copy of the first Gravediggaz record (though I had certainly heard it), so diving right into this one was a little rough for me. I was in the midst of my Wu-Tang obsession, so I was leaping to purchase anything the RZA had to offer. This record turned out to be unlike the first Gravediggaz album or anything the Wu was doing at the time, and while that threw me off and probably disappointed me initially, it's made it a great record to come back to over the years.

It's thick with lyrics, weird with the beats, and just dense as shit. So, while it's not really a record you'd put on when there's a lot of people around, it's a great one to drive alone to or clean the house to, etc. There's a lot to take in, and processing it all is sometimes a chore. For some reason, I have fond memories of listening to this while driving in the dark on the freeway in the rain. It's quite effective in that scenario.

The real gem here (no pun intended) is "Twelve Jewelz," one of the finest RZA-vocals-only songs in his personal history. Witness:
"Buy wholesale never retail
Get females in deep spells
If you eat well, you sleep well
Send enemies to hell
What makes hair skin epidermis fingernail"
Now that's something.

There's an intro and outro, but no other skits, and at about an hour, this is album feels pretty long sometimes. But there's some solid tracks towards the end, like "Repentance Day," which features guest spots from Killah Priest and Hell Razah, and "What's Goin' On?," a spooky track with a sweet beat by RZA.

It may not be for the casual listener, but there's some great stuff to be found here if you have the patience. Oh, and I'm still trying to figure out what Prince Paul did on this record.

"Dangerous Mindz"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Grandmaster Mele-Mel & Scorpio - Right Now (CD, 1997)

I've been racking my brain, trying to recall why in the hell I ever would have purchased this CD. I have a vague recollection of buying it, but I have a clearer memory of getting it home, putting it on, realizing my air-brained mistake, and thinking, why would I have even considered the possibility that this would be good? I'm pretty sure I paid a dollar for it, so that makes it a little less painful, I suppose. But still. A real flub on my part. It wasn't the first, and it won't be the last. I've been known to get caught up in the moment.

Here's the deal with this CD, and these are the same reasons it's terrible: First off, these two old school guys decided to go gangsta. Big mistake. If they would have turned on some late-70's charm, thrown it into disco party mode, and stayed somewhat true to their roots, they may have had something. Instead, within the first minute, Mele-Mel kicks out "She mad 'cause I came with my dick in her mouth." Not what you want to hear from the dude who used to hang with the Furious Five. You can't fault the dude for trying to update his sound, but come on. The chances of Mele-Mel (or "Melle Mel," as he was usually known) crossing over to gangsta rap were zip. Didn't we learn anything from The Funky Headhunter?

The other reason this album was destined to fail, and this is one of my all-time biggest pet peeves, is that they put awfully staged 30-second "interview" clips between every song. If you can't see how that would kill the flow of an album, you're either too egomaniacal to listen to listen to reason, or you're just not good at making music. I have to assume it's the former in this case, because the beats and hooks on this record aren't completely terrible.

But I don't think anyone was ever going to be ready for these two guys to come out with songs like "Broke Ass Niggas" and "Stupid Mutha Fuckas."


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Grandaddy - The Sophtware Slump (CD, 2000)

Huh. I guess this is the only Grandaddy album I have. I should have more, but what are you gonna do.

This is one of those records where I look at the track listing and convince myself I have no recollection of what any of these songs are, and then I listen to 'em and I remember every single one. I used to listen to this disc quite a bit, and I still think it's great. I saw these guys live a few times, and their ability to recreate these fairly complex sounds on stage was really impressive. Jason Lytle's voice is really distinct, and so are his lyrics, and the band certainly has their own sound.

Starting this album off with the almost nine-minute "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot" is a bold move, but one that totally works. The song feels like about three different songs, and this whole album really bleeds together, so it doesn't matter. I think "The Crystal Lake" was one of the singles from this album, but it's really one of my least favorite songs here. Tracks like "Miner at the Dial-a-View" and "Jed the Humanoid" are really where it's at. They're slow and stacked in layers, with a lot of shit going on.

Any attempts to decipher the meanings behind the lyrics on this album would be fruitless, so I won't bother. I may not really understand the concepts, but I love the words that are sung. And the melodies that roll with them are just as strong. And the best part: this is one album you and your chick can agree on.

"Hewlett's Daughter"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Grand Puba - 2000 (CD, 1995)

Grand Puba may hold the title of First Rapper to put "2000" in his Album Title. Dude jumped on that train early...

I haven't listened to a lot of Brand Nubian, and this is the only Grand Puba disc I own, so I don't have much to compare it to. I know that I really don't like this album, because it is filled to the brim with slow jams and lots of R&B. He gets six tracks into it before he picks up the pace with the title track, and by that time, it's almost too late. The second half of the album is better than the first, but it's still not great.

'95 was a rough year for the rappers who liked to woo the ladies, and Puba seems out of his element here. And who was posing with a Lamborghini on the cover of their album by the mid-90's? Weird move. You can see where he was trying to go with the soul samples, but they're lazily put together and too sloooow.

But that's me, I like my raps fast. Still, he's got some solid lyrics, especially the ones that aren't pussy-obsessed. It's just a shame there's not more tracks on here that fit those criteria.

"A Little of This"

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Goats - No Goats, No Glory (CD, 1994)

I really wish I would have purchased this CD when it came out.

I can still get into parts of it now, but if I would have had it during the heyday of my reefer-tokin', I think I would have liked it a lot more. As it stands, I only purchased it about a year ago, and songs like "Wake 'N' Bake" just don't appeal to me as much as they may have 15 years ago. The song itself is nice enough, but it's followed by "Philly Blunts" and "The Boom," which are also both stoner anthems.

I don't know, maybe I wouldn't have liked it, even in '94. I already had Total Devastation, and those guys did marijuana raps better than anybody (yeah, Cypress Hill, I know). And while these songs are OK, they're mostly slow and sometimes sluggish, and they just don't have that "oomph" I'm looking for most of the time. Apparently I need to hear their first album, which is something I'm planning on doing. I just haven't done it yet.

The bright spots on this record are "Butcher Countdown" (a funny little skit) and "Blind With Anger," a track that hits a little harder than the others. Still stoney, though. "Revolution 94" is The Goats' take on "Revolution 9," even matching the running time almost exactly. A weird move, and a track that doesn't need to be listened to more than once. Things get a little more exciting at the end, but "Idiot Business" heads down some assy rap-rock roads that are better left untouched.

I've been trying with this one, but it's just not clicking. I'm going to give their first one a shot, and we'll see how that goes.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ghostface Killah - The Big Doe Rehab (2xLP, 2007)

Despite having the worst album cover in Ghost's catalog (I was going to say in Clan history, but Cappadonna's The Cappatilize Project has it beat), this album is musically solid.

After the routinely pointless intro, the album kicks off with an odd choice, the decent "Toney Sigel aka the Barrel Brothers," featuring Beanie Sigel. It's not a bad song, just an odd one to start with. Things get started for real after that, with the great "Yolanda's House," a linear tale featuring Raekwon and the scene-stealing Method Man. "We Celebrate" is a song that's been made before many times, but it makes for an OK club jam, if that's what he was going for. Kid Capri's yelling makes it hard to listen to more than about once a day.

The album keeps it smooth after that, taking the slightly mellow route with "Walk Around" and "Yapp City," on which Sun God and Trife make some sweet moves. "White Linen Affair" almost ruined by Shawn Wigs' stand up routine, but Ghost controls most of the track, so it's not complete crap. The smoothed-out R&B just keeps going after that, with Raekwon and U-God helping out on "Rec-Room Therapy," and "Shakey Dog Starring Lolita" which must have something to do with the track "Shakey Dog" from Fishscale, but I can't figure out what. Odd, but that's Ghost, I guess.

A gang of Wu dudes show up on the sweetly named "Paisley Darts," and Method Man once again outshines 'em all. It's great to hear Cappadonna on this one, too. "Killa Lipstick" is better than the title would indicate, as Method Man works the chorus while joined by Masta Killa for some synthy sex-you-up shit. As usual, the worst track is the last one, and this time it's labeled as a "bonus track" (I guess "Killa Lipstick" is, too) called "Slow Down." It's not terrible, but it ain't great, either.

Ghost kept the skits to a minimum on this one, and it helps the record flow smoother and keep things moving. This is his most mellow album, though he still manages to spaz out in spots. I haven't revisited this one as much Fishscale over the past few years, but it's still nice to go back to.

Here's what Ghost had to say to his fans after the record failed to sell well in its first week. "Whateva whateva."

And that's it for our time with Ghostface Killah. Not a bad ride.

"We Celebrate"

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ghostface Killah - More Fish (CD, 2006)

When Ghost dropped a new album a mere nine months after his previous one (and right before Christmas), with a title that, to me read: The Stuff That Wasn't Good Enough to Make it onto Fishscale, I didn't expect much. Again, I was pleasantly surprised. While More Fish doesn't have the cohesive album feel of Fishscale, it's not nearly as thrown-together as I feared it might be. In fact, I ended up liking it quite a bit.

The record's filled with guest spots and features a gaggle of producers, so it does feel a bit like a collection of b-sides (which I think it basically is), but really, it doesn't suffer as a result. Ghost was establishing himself as the hardest-working dude in the rap game, both capable of churning out the songs and delivering quality product.

As usual, I have a bit of beef with a few things here (I never like to see the names Kanye West or Amy Winehouse in my music collection), but again, nothing too major. But I'll never understand Ghost. He's always making with the skits, but the one time he should credit the skit as its own track (the intro on this disc), he doesn't. So, I'm forced to listen to Tracy Morgan (that is him, right?) ramble on before I get to Ghost's sweet reworking of Rakim's "Juice (Know the Ledge)," retitled and re-chorused "Ghost Is Back." Best line: "My guns weigh more, yo, than Gerald Levert." That's some good stuff.

"Guns N' Razors" brings in Trife, Cappadonna, and Killa Sin, all over a sweet cartoon-y beat from MF Doom. A bit dark, and some cool shit. "Good" is an initially catchy song that beats the chorus into the ground, but it's bookended by a couple quality tracks, and it's thankfully not too long. "Pokerface" rides a pretty sweet beat, but as usual, Shawn Wigs drops the ball. Ghost bails him out, and Wigs steps it up a bit on the fantastic "Greedy Bitches," the next track. Redman proves why he's a better guest rapper than he is a solo artist, dropping a trademark fun-filled verse.

Trife Da God solidifies his spot as Ghost's go-to guy, showing up on a bunch of tracks here and always making it work. "Josephine" and "Grew Up Hard" are both a bit sentimental, but Trife runs shit on both, bringing the hardest aspects of the tracks to the surface.

Again, the end of this one falters, though I'm sure a lot of folks would disagree with me on that. The Amy Winehouse track is completely unnecessary, and though Ghost brings things back up with the solid "Alex (Stolen Script)," Shawn Wigs brings it way back down with the horrendous "Gotta Hold On," a space-filler if I've ever heard one. The "Back Like That" remix is hardly a remix, and Kanye West reminds us why he's the most overrated musician of the last twenty years, biting Ghost's raps and fucking them up beyond comprehension. I'm glad this one's at the end, so I don't ever have to hear it.

But the rest of the record is a worthy followup to the tough-to-top Fishscale.

"Outta Town Shit"

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ghostface Killah - Fishscale (2xLP, 2006)

Turns out Ghost didn't need RZA after all. Huh.

There was buzz around Fishscale way before it came out, thanks in part to a slightly different version (than the final product) floating around the internet in the months preceding its actual release. I have to say, the positive word on the street got me a little excited. Around this time, the Wu was really starting to feel irrelevant. Even Ghost, the reliable MC when the others weren't, hadn't really blown everybody away with Pretty Toney. So when word started to spread that his new record was a return to form, I really hoped that it was.

I hadn't even purchased a new Wu-related album in years at this point, but still held onto some hope that it wasn't over. U-God's Mr. Xcitement (released about six months before this one) wasn't altogether terrible, but some songs on it were, and it was becoming typical of the Wu's output. A lot of the releases were directionless, trying in vain to blend disparate influences, but still managing to retain shards of original brilliance. It was frustrating, and made it hard to want to invest time or money in the dicey albums.

Ghost, much like he did with Supreme Clientele, reinvigorated the Wu faithful and brought some new fans into the fold. While Fishscale isn't on par with Ironman, it's arguably as good as Clientele, and certainly a step forward from The Pretty Toney Album. Ghost sounds excited to be back to his fantasy-driven coke-slangin' life, blazing through the crime scene footage of "Shakey Dog" like he's still jacked up from the rush. When he yells "The moment is here/ Take your fuckin' hood off," it's go time. "Shakey Dog" was one of the best Ghostface Killah tracks in years, and it was a perfect track to kick off this record with.

The coke life continues on "Kilo," where Ghost declares in the prelude that he can't feel his face, before he and Raekwon almost get the vibe back that they nailed on Cuban Linx. While most of us thought the cocaine shit was played, it was nice to hear that Ghost and Rae could make it work again. The record just barrels through after that, with "The Champ" rocking some Burgess Meredith-esque interludes and a huge beat. "9 Milli Bros." is triumphant, managing to not only resurrect Ol' Dirty Bastard, but also assemble the entire Clan, including Cappadonna. "Y'all be nice to the crackheads!" Fucking awesome.

Damn, I'm scanning through these songs, and it's hard to find a real weak spot. "Back Like That" is a blatant radio single, but it's nowhere near as pandering as some of Ghost's other attempts at mainstream success. And it worked better. As usual, there's some iffy skits, but even those are scaled back a bit on this one. This record bangs through the entire midsection, peaking with "Dogs of War," a fierce jam featuring Raekwon and Theodore Unit.

In another "as usual," things peter out a bit in the end, with a few R&B-heavy tracks and an unnecessary appearance from Notorious B.I.G. But really, by that point, Ghost has already made a great record. There are 24 tracks on this, and with this sort of deepness, a few slower numbers to wrap it up almost seems like a nice comedown.

I had this thing jammed in my car's tape deck for the whole of 2006, and I'm having no trouble remembering why. If anyone thought that Ghost had slipped a bit with Pretty Toney (guilty!), this was meant to silence the naysayers (it shut me up).

Apologies to my girlfriend, who was so sick of the sing-songy chorus to "Kilo" at one point that she almost lost it. Sorry, babe. I gots ta do what I gots ta do.

"Dogs of War"

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ghostface Killah and Trife Da God - Put It On The Line (CD, 2005)

I just got this CD a few months back, and the more I listen to it, the more I wonder why I don't invest in more of these mixtape-type discs. While this is a legit release (Ghost released under his Stark Enterprises umbrella), all the signs of label interference or ploys to get airplay are nonexistent. Honestly, this is some of the hardest rap I've ever heard from Ghostface, and Trife's fuck-all attitude is a perfect match for both Ghost and the streetwise beats.

In the end, this is as much a Trife album as it is a Ghostface one, with Ghost appearing on ten of the eighteen tracks and Trife appearing on thirteen. Trife makes a case for being a headliner, continuing where his steady stream of guest spots left off. He doesn't have the distinct voice of say, Street Life, but he's clearly been the star of the Theodore Unit clique, as far as I can tell. Speaking of those dudes, they show up all over this one as well, with a few cuts leaving Ghost out and becoming full on T-Unit joints.

I'm still having a hard time handling Shawn Wigs, and his presence on "Out Da Way" is only saved by Ghost, a solid beat, and a short running time. He shows up again on "Late Night Arrival" with Ghost and Trife, and gets supremely outclassed. Sun God (Ghost's son) kicks a verse on the unfortunately titled "Man Up" after Trife and his pops, and the kid holds his own, though he may have been wiser to go first.

The bonus tracks that close out the album are the icing on the cake on this one, starting with Raekwon teaming with Ghost over a dope old school beat for "The Watch." They do some back-and-forth shit that is both funny and awesome. On "Ghost & Giancana," Kool G Rap and Ghost each kick a verse over a ragged beat that is bizarrely sweet, with Ghost declaring that he "bathes in the tub with guns." And G Rap continues to be one of the most underrated rappers in history. The disc closes with "The Sun," a cutesy song that sounds like a lullaby until Ghost cuts through it with "The sun could never be pussy." Raekwon and Slick Rick kick verses, and an uncredited RZA shows up at the end for a late hook. It's some cool shit.

In fact, this whole disc is some cool shit. And, it comes with a live DVD. Seriously, I gotta get some more of these.

"The Sun"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ghostface - The Pretty Toney Album (CD, 2004)

Yup, no "Killah." Like that's what was preventing Ghost from becoming a top 40 star.

This is probably the Ghostface Killah album I've listened to the least, though as I'm listening to it now, It's coming back to me. When I think of Ghostface, this is not the record that immediately pops into my head. Maybe it's the absence of Raekwon (or really any of the Wu), or maybe it's that this one just never clicked with me. While this isn't a blatant attempt at getting some radio play (a la Method Man's Tical 0, released at roughly the same time), the vibe is there. Not only in the absence of "Killah," but in the corny album cover and the Missy Elliott feature. There's also random guest spots from Jadakiss, Styles P, and Sheek Louch, which don't really go anywhere.

The conspicuous non-presence of his Wu brethren may have seemed, in his own mind, like Ghost was trying the waters on his own, like he was ready to break out as a top biller. It's this sort of thinking that has always made me certain that the members of Wu barely understand their fans. While they're all great MCs on their own, it's their collective mentality and complementing of each others' skills that was always their greatest asset. And I've never understood how they didn't see that. As soon as they started having outside (the Wu-fam) guest on their records, things started going downhill. I don't see how they never put that together. Anyway.

Ghost has never had a problem dominating a song by his lonesome, and he turns in some gems on this one. The 1-2 punch of mini-song "Kunta Fly Shit" and the badass "Beat the Clock" is tough to beat. But after that, things get a little stale. This record begins really strong, and there's some choice cuts towards the end, but the middle (and even some of the second half) is muddled by the fatal R&B bullshit and some too-long skits. I won't go on my skit tangent again, but really, once it reaches the minute mark, it's time to end it.

The song with Missy Elliott is embarrassingly terrible, and the most obvious attempt here for some club love. As a guy who followed Ghost from near the beginning, this shit bothers me (as it did with all the Wu dudes) because we thought they were better than that. We were wrong, and opening up the CD to see order forms for Ghost merchandise and autographed photos made that even more clear.

I guess it goes along with what I see as The Packaging of Ghost on this record, and while I do dig some of the cuts here, I can't say I approve of the record as a whole.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ghostface Killah - Bulletproof Wallets (CD, 2001)

Ghost's third album, also known as the record with the most fucked track listing in history. Not only are the songs out of order, there are tracks listed that didn't even make it onto the record. Someone really should have been fired for this debacle.

Despite these problems (and the iffy album title), Ghost turns in another solid effort this time around. Maybe not quite as good as his first two, but he stays the course, churning out some of his most nonsensical raps and telling, as always, some good stories. Raekwon's on the front cover with him, but actually doesn't feature too prominently on this record. After helping Ghost fail at recreating the classic Cuban Linx beginner, "Striving for Perfection," on the intro, he recedes somewhat but delivers some decent verses on a few tracks.

Also present are members of Theodore Unit, Ghost's posse of hangers-on who actually aren't too bad. The track "Theodore" features one of the funniest choruses on the whole record, though it's not supposed to be. Anybody except Ghostface delivering it would have rendered it useless, but he makes it work. "Flowers" is a solid Wu cut, produced by RZA and featuring Raekwon and Method Man. The Ticalian Stallion again proves that he is the best one-verse man in the game. Easily.

If this album suffers from anything, it's the unnecessary forays into some serious R&B bullshit. "Never Be the Same Again" is almost tolerable, "Ghost Showers" pushes it, and "Love Session" holds the title as worst Ghost song with the worst title to boot. To make it worse, Ghost teases us with "Street Chemistry," a slow but steady track featuring Prodigal Sunn and Trife Da God that cuts off two minutes too early. Eh, it's still a nice little number.

Overall, I consider this a good listen. I've been bumping it for the last few days, and while I cringe every time I hear the chorus to "The Juks" ("Pop your collar/ Get your dollars"), I still dig the verses. That seems to be the case with this album as a whole. Even on those bullshit R&B tracks, Ghost has some solid wordplay, and he makes a good case for sitting through the crummy hooks.

Trying to nail down Ghostface Killah's approach to making a record at this point was tough. He might have developed a taste for mainstream success following his previous effort, but he must have still known he needed to satisfy his most ardent fans. He tries to do a little line-toeing on this record, and the results sometimes seem a little jumbled. But, if you're looking for a Ghostface Killah record to make perfect sense, you're going to be sorely disappointed every time. It's best to just let it ride and take it all in, internally noting the parts to focus on.

At least, that's what I do.

"Never Be the Same Again"

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ghostface Killah - Supreme Clientele (2xLP, 2000)

I always forget how much I like this record. I don't know why. I've always enjoyed it. It's one of those albums where I put it on, and next thing I know I've listened to the whole thing and remembered exactly why my copy isn't in great condition: I've listened to this album a lot over the years, and it's still great to come back to as the turning point in Ghost's career.

Ghostface Killah was in the same spot as the rest of his Wu brethren, having dropped a RZA-fied solo debut that was well received, and then trying to figure out how to follow it up without RZA as the mastermind. RZA does provide four of the beats on this record, and they're each entirely different from the other, and all great. The rest of the production is handled by some familiar (Inspectah Deck, Mathematics) and not-so-familiar (Black Moes-Art, Choo) names, but the diversity in the beatmakers seems to really work on this album. I don't know if Ghost has an ear for beats or if he just got lucky, but the music here (and the sequencing of the tracks, for the most part) is spot-on.

But the real powerhouse here is Ghostface. His approach is less bombastic than it was on Ironman, and his maturity lends itself nicely to the overall feel of the record. He also wisely employs a gang of Wu-related guests, and this allows tracks like "Buck 50" and the essential "Wu Banga 101" to qualify as some of the best Wu-related cuts of the era (again, Method Man just slaying it). This isn't to say Ghost has lost his vigor; far from it. He and RZA go nuts on "The Grain," and it's one of my favorite songs on the record. The same can be said for the completely left-field single featuring U-God, "Cherchez LaGhost," a track that was mildly huge at the time, but should have been even bigger.

"Child's Play" accomplished, for me, what "All That I Got Is You" couldn't, relating a childhood tale that was actually fun to listen to. "Nutmeg" and "One" are great openers, tracks that didn't sound distinctly Wu-Tang or Ghostface-esque, but working really well nonetheless. Ghost also rolls through a handful of sub-two-minute tracks that make for nice little mini-songs.

The only thing to really count against this one are the skits, which are all too long and highly unnecessary. (This is excluding the "Iron Man" cartoon bits that run throughout the album, which are short and fun.) I don't want to go through each one, but this is another record where, if you have the power, I suggest leaving the skits off when you transfer it to your iPod. Nothing can kill a sweet mix like Raekwon's asinine "Clyde Smith."

Raekwon's Immobilarity came out a little before this record, and was pretty much terrible. When Ghost's album came out and was good, there was a sense that things had shifted. Ghost was all of a sudden the Wu member with some staying power on the solo tip, and he was ready to flex it. This was good and bad, which we'll get to in the following entries. But I want to point out what Ghost did on his second album that Raekown didn't do on his, all of which I feel are directly related to his album being unequivocally better:

He got RZA on board, even though it wasn't for the majority of the tracks.

He got a gang of Wu-Tang guys (the real ones, not the American Cream Team) to guest on the record, showing both solidarity and a distinct lack of egotism.

He asked Raekwon to be on the record (Ghost is conspicuously absent from Immobilarity).

He named the album something cool, and chose not to make up a retarded acronym that no one gave a shit about.

If he believed his own hype, he didn't get wrapped up in it, and was clearly out to prove himself again.

And he did just that.

"Cherchez LaGhost"

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ghostface Killah - Ironman (2xLP, 1996)

In the Wu-Tang solo albums chronology, this album was released after Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... and GZA's Liquid Swords. Talk about a triple threat, not to mention the heyday of the Wu. This would be the final Wu-related release before the immeasurably underrated Wu-Tang Forever, and so it wrapped up the legendary first slew of releases from the individual members of the Clan.

I remember the day I bought this LP like it was yesterday. I must have already had a dub of the tape, but I remember desperately wanting the vinyl, and not being able to locate it in Eugene, the city I was living in at the time. I was headed up to Portland to pick up my girlfriend from the airport, who had been in South America for three months. I'm sure she couldn't have been more excited when I told her I had to stop by 2nd Avenue Records downtown to procure these two slabs of Ghostface on wax. But she agreed, and I shelled out the dough for the fancy-pants gatefold double LP. I had been increasingly obsessed with Cuban Linx for the past year (one of the only tapes I've ever literally played until it broke), and had grown quite fond of guest star Ghostface Killah.

Ironman may as well have been titled Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Part Two (speaking of, we're apparently going to see that soon), because it features the same players (Raekwon, Ghost, and Cappadonna), and in that aspect, it can't help but maintain a similar feel. However, through RZA's swift production, this album definitely stands alone as a Ghostface-manned joint, with tracks that blend together well and somehow don't really bleed over too much into Linx territory, though Raekwon is featured on the majority of the songs (even doing "The Faster Blade" by himself).

I always got the vibe that this wasn't received as positively as some of the other Wu solo records, but that might be my own skewed perspective. Cuban Linx was almost impossible to stack up against, and maybe that's why this doesn't get the level of praise that Raekwon's masterpiece does. It could also be a result of this record losing a bit of steam in the final few tracks. But, the opening 3/4's is untouchable, more than making up for the way it slightly sputters in the tail end. Conversely, maybe it only seems to sputter at the end because the rest of the record is so strong. Or maybe I'm analyzing it all to closely.

Whichever way you want to shake it, if Cuban Linx got me excited about the mic prowess of Ghost, this record put him over the top as my favorite Wu MC. Tracks like "Iron Maiden" and "Winter Warz" are legitimate Wu-Tang classics, hearkening back to a day when that term wasn't thrown around with such haphazardness. "Camay" is a bit of a sexing-up-the-ladies cut, but I've always loved the rhyme styles in it. "Wildflower" is just, well, not only a gutsy track to put second in the sequence of the album, but one of my favorite all-time Ghostface stream-of-consciousness verbal assaults.

I could write paragraphs about the perfection that is "Daytona 500." Whenever people ask me what kind of rap/hip hop I like, I don't know why I don't just direct them to that track. It's got everything I like: a fast beat, three dudes trading verses, and a hook that just owns it. I used to know all the words to this song (or my loose interpretation of the lyrics), and have bumped it while driving far too many times. As much as I think the Speed Racer video is kind of quirky-cool, I would have much preferred a clip featuring all the dudes spitting their words. You can't win 'em all.

Speaking of that, when I talk about the end of this album being a little on the weak side, I may be being a little harsh. "After the Smoke Is Clear" isn't a bad song, but it feels a little mild coming right after "Black Jesus." I've never liked "All That I Got Is You," Ghost's hammy recollection of his childhood. The idea is a fine one, but when I saw him faking like he was playing the piano in the video, I had to scoff. "Soul Controller" has always been one of the most bizarre cuts in the Wu catalog, not only for it's extremely long instrumental outro, but for it's cloudy production and total disappearance on later version of the album. A weird one for sure. (Note: I have the vinyl, so it doesn't include "Marvel," the final track on the CD version.)

So while I may cut this one off before it's run its course, I've definitely rocked the rest of it too many times to count. And I will continue to do so.

"Motherless Child"

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Geto Boys - Uncut Dope (CD, 1992)

I don't remember when I bought this, though I know it wasn't more than five bucks. That's about right, as this isn't a well-made or even very necessary compilation. I think it might have been an excuse to release "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta," as that and "Action Speaks Louder Than Words" are the only things I can figure to account for the "Bonus cuts stolen from upcoming album featuring Big Mike" exclamation on the front. Almost everything else on this disc is from either their eponymous album or We Can't Be Stopped, and the tracks are neither chronological or sequenced in any discernible way.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Geto Boys, and it's played out across this disc. I think "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" (incorrectly listed here as "My Mind Playin' Tricks on Me") is an incredible song. I think "Mind of a Lunatic" is a terrible song, for a countless amount of reasons. And so it goes with the rest of this record. I love half of it, and hate the other half.

Sometimes I feel like if I was an upstanding human I wouldn't listen to Geto Boys, but then I realize it's just one of the nutty contradictions that makes me me. And right now, I'm feeling embarrassed that I own a Geto Boys greatest hits collection.

Pretty lazy of me, but unfortunately, collecting the Geto Boys discography is not at the top of my list right now.

"Do It Like A G.O."

Friday, March 13, 2009

DJ Muggs vs. GZA/The Genius - Grandmasters (CD, 2005)

I wish I knew more of the back story behind this disc, though maybe it's nothing more than a couple of dudes deciding to do an album together. I purchased this within the last year, and though I'm not intricately familiar with it, I've been listening to it quite a bit lately.

And here's the thing: I like it, but I don't love it. When you see that two guys who are infamous aces at their crafts have decided to do a record together, you have to prepare yourself for precision. It's odd that this is exactly what this album lacks. GZA's verses, while filled with some lyrical gems, feel rushed and sometimes unfinished. As I've said before, he set the bar so high with his early material, that it becomes all too clear when he's not giving it his all. I'm not saying he's lazy on these songs, but they just don't fit as tightly together as some of his other work.

The same can be said for Muggs' production. The beats seem initially solid, but the majority are just short loops repeated ad infinitum. I always find myself waiting for the next section of the song (or even slight variances in the main beat), and it rarely comes.

Having said that, this record is far from bad. If it was from an unknown duo, I'd definitely be less harsh with my criticisms. The fact that it feels rushed is just, like I said, very incongruous with the rest of their work. (Although, in fairness, I haven't heard anything DJ Muggs has done since the mid-90's, so maybe this is his style now.) It's also strange considering this album has a loose chess thematic, which also feels only half-realized.

RZA and Raekwon show up on "Destruction of a Guard" and "Advance Pawns," which are both strong tracks. And Masta Killa and Prodigal Sunn both turn in strong verses on "Unstoppable Threats." "All In Together Now" might be my favorite track, featuring RZA and an uncredited chorus from ODB. So yeah, there's a lot to like here. There's just not a lot to love to the point of repeated listening.

"General Principles"

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Genius/GZA - Beneath the Surface (CD, 1999)

The second round of Wu solo records all suffered from the same problem: not enough (or no) RZA. But, if anyone was going to pull it together on their own, the smart money would have to have been on the Genius.

Utilizing a mix of producers (RZA is only credited on one track, "1112"), GZA managed to put together a followup to Liquid Swords that was nothing to scoff at. Given what he had to live up to, there wasn't a chance he was going to outshine his previous effort. But he gave it a good run, and this ended up being a solid album. However, I do have beef with a few things on here, so let's get those out of the way first.

The only thing worse than the seemingly mandatory inclusion of skits on hip hop albums during this era was the move towards making them their own tracks on the album. The only thing worse than that was naming them "Skit #1," "Skit #2," etc. The only thing worse than that would be putting two of these lazily named skits right next to each other, like GZA does with tracks four and five on this disc. Never would we have thought he would succumb to such half-assed practices. The Wu always had their kung fu interludes on their records (and even other skit-type things), but they were always tacked onto the beginning or the end of the proper track.

So while there's 18 tracks on this CD, if you take out the four skits and the intro and outro (another unnecessary fad in hip hop), there's only twelve actual songs. (And by the way, if you have the technology, you should take out those six cuts, because they're all worthless.) I could go on forever about this overused and time-wasting practice. Wait till we get to Method Man's Tical 2000, ugh. Anyway.

The other thing that gets me riled about this disc has nothing to do with the music, and is another one of my top hip hop pet peeves. When you fold open the CD jacket, there's credits on one side, but all the other side says (across four panels, no less) is "GZA/Genius The Fourth Album December '99." Now, this record came out in the summer of '99. Holy shit, we'd only have to wait six months for another GZA record?! Nah, try three years. But thanks for the heads up! This was sooo common in hip hop for so long, and must have driven everyone crazy.

(Note to self: start a blog documenting ads inside of albums for albums that never came out. That would be awesome!)

Alright, so that's what I don't like about this record. Keep in mind, this all hurt doubly bad because it was coming from GZA, who was supposed to be the wise one of the group. (I could do a dissertation on the oh-how-the-mighty-have-fallen aspects of the Wu. I think we'd all like to forget this Inspectah Deck video.) But, like I said, don't load those skits and the embarrassing intro and outro into your iPod, and you've got yourself a strong set of songs.

I didn't really warm up to "Breaker, Breaker" at first, as it sort of felt like Liquid Swords Lite. The strings are there, but they're clean and peppy, not dusty and dark. I've learned to see it for what it is (the single) and get behind it. Killah Priest shows up on a handful of tracks, and brings it. Other Wu members get in on it as well, and as usual, Method Man proves that he is the best one-verse man in the history of rap. While the trademark Wu sound is absent, the flows are still there.

The standout tracks here are "Crash Your Crew" and "Feel Like An Enemy." Ol' Dirty Bastard's guest spot on the former is so drunkenly crazy that it couldn't have been done any better. Pressed up against GZA's meticulous flow, it makes for an oddly hypnotic track. "Feel Like An Enemy" has one of the most menacing beats I've ever heard, and dudes with raps just as menacing. Hell Razah and Killah Priest absolutely own it, and by the time Prodigal Sunn barrels through, you don't think it can get any better, but he slays shit. And then GZA...doesn't show up. Odd.

"Mic Trippin'" may be the only song on the record that really isn't good, but it's tucked away at the end, and it's not terrible. As with any Wu album, fans and obsessives could argue about this one for days. Underrated? Maybe. Depends what you're looking for.

Also: My brother and I saw GZA on this tour and it was probably the best hip hop show I've ever seen. So there's that.

"Breaker, Breaker"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Genius/GZA - Liquid Swords (CD, 1995)

Did somebody yell "Wu-Tang!"?

So, I guess we covered a few of the Cappadonna solo records, but I think this is the first album by one of the "original" members of the Clan that I've gotten to so far. Cappa's joints were a nice place to warm up, and this is a great one to dive into proper. Everyone's got their favorite Wu-Tang solo-dolo records, and I'm never surprised when somebody tells me this is the one that tops their list. I wouldn't call it my favorite (I'll leave you guessing as to which one holds my top spot until we get to it), but I can't argue with anyone who says this is as good as it got.

1995 was a huge year for the Wu solo albums, with Ol' Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, and GZA all releasing records. (Technically, this is GZA's sophomore release, following the pre-Clan Words from the Genius.) It seemed they could do no wrong. Method Man's Tical had started the train towards the end of '94, and though some people (including Meth himself) felt it wasn't a strong record, they were wrong. ODB and Raekwon's releases fanned the flames, delivering songs that seemed untouchable. Each record, while holding true to the Clan mentality, had its own distinct feel and approach, and everybody knew GZA's wouldn't be any different. And on some level, we all knew it was going to be deep. But I'm not sure if anyone thought it was going to be this deep.

If you've never understood why people are/were fanatical about the Wu-Tang Clan, then you've probably never really listened to this album. This was something different, something that was smarter, cooler, and just plain better than anything being released by anyone not affiliated with the Wu. Meth was about stoned hijinks and loose wordplay, ODB was just fucking nuts, and Raekwon was playing Tony Montana like no one had before. GZA cut through it all with a brand of sobering precision that made everyone take a step back, strap the headphones on, and study the shit out of it. I still wonder how many rappers simply gave up after hearing the opening cut on this album. They must have known it was over.

While this is, like all the other early Clan solo records, a Wu-Tang collaborative effort, RZA and GZA are clearly at the reigns. GZA doesn't seem to have a faulty lyric on the whole damn thing, and it makes his fellow Wu member step their game up as well. And there's something about the staccato strings and slow bubbling beats on this that just wouldn't have worked as well on any of the other Clan member's records. This is the brilliance of the RZA. This is why people like myself became obsessed with this group. We couldn't believe that these guys had all found each other and they were this good.

I've only seen music truly change a few times in my life, and in the mid-90's, the Wu-Tang Clan changed hip hop. This record is one of the biggest reasons why. It added balance to the group dynamic, and proved that the Genius not only lived up to his name, but was, like they say, on some "other level" shit.

It's almost 15 years later and people are still deciphering the wordplay on this album, and it still sounds as good as it did in '95. Oh, I could talk about the glory days of the Wu-Tang Clan forever.

"I Gotcha Back"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

G-Unit - Beg for Mercy (2xLP, 2003)

I bought this CD while still fully embroiled in my admiration of 50 Cent, and although I really didn't care for the rest of the G-Unit crew (still don't), I ended up really liking this record (still do). There is still a part of me, though it doesn't show itself nearly as frequently as I grow older, that has a hard time resisting some well-made gangsta rap. It's the same reason I liked 50 Cent's first record so much, and it's the same reason I like this one.

Honestly, I think I was just shocked that this album was any good at all. It followed pretty closely on the tail of Get Rich or Die Tryin', and I wasn't going to be surprised if Fiddy had already blown his load the first time around. Turns out he hadn't, and this record, while a bit different than his debut, made for a solid showing and accomplished his goal of introducing the other G-Unit dudes to the world. I've learned to tolerate Lloyd Banks and Young Buck, but I still can't stand Tony Yayo. So, his incarceration during the recording of this record worked out well for me: he's only on two songs.

This is a deep record, spanning 18 songs over almost 70 minutes, with (thankfully) no skits. So yeah, there are a few clunkers towards the end, but the good manages to outweigh the bad. And when I say "good," I have to refer back to my need-for-gangsta-rap statement. This allows me to overlook track titles like "Gangsta Shit," "I'm So Hood," "Betta Ask Somebody," and the handful of other generic names that get reprise on this disc. I'm not looking to G-Unit for originality. I'm looking to them for solid beats under lyrics about killing you in front of your family. And they deliver that in spades.

Full disclosure: this is my go-to album on my iPod when I lift weights at the gym. Feel free to think less of me for that.

"Poppin' Them Thangs"

Monday, March 9, 2009

I Went to a Show: The Von Bondies at Doug Fir (March 9, 2009)

I guess I would consider The Von Bondies one of my guilty pleasures, but I've never been sure why I'm compelled to feel guilty about it. Maybe because they were a much-hyped band about five years ago, and it was then that I really got into to their major label debut, Pawn Shoppe Heart. They had been dubbed a Cool New Band, and I couldn't resist their charms. So maybe that's why I was reticent to admit my affections for these media darlings. I never cared for any of the other bands they were continually lumped in with (The Hives, The White Stripes, The Vines–all that "garage rock revival" bullshit), so I knew I wasn't drifting towards a bad place. I just really dug this one band.

The first time I heard "C'mon C'mon," I was driving home by myself in the middle of the night, and in a rare move, I had the radio on, tuned to the local "alternative rock" station. This has to be the only time in the last decade that I heard a song on the radio and actually wanted to know what it was. The fact that it was playing at four in the morning made me more hopeful that it was something promising, like it wasn't clicking with the daytime crowd and had been relegated to the edgier "after-hours" shows (yes, I'll cling to anything to avoid admitting that I like something popular, apparently). There was no DJ at that time of night, so I had to try and remember some lyrics to Google upon arriving at home. Turns out "Things were good when we were young" didn't really narrow things down too quickly, so I was quickly stalled.

I don't remember how I finally figured out it was the Von Bondies, but I did, and I picked up the record post-haste. Thankfully, the rest of the record was almost as good as that near-perfect single. I've listened to it a lot over the past five years, but never made a point to really keep up with the band, and didn't hear anything. While looking up a different show at the Doug Fir a few months back, I noticed they were coming to town. Then they showed up on Letterman a few weeks ago, with a few new members and a nice new song. I came across their new LP last week, picked it up, liked it, and decided to go to the show.

So, yeah, I did. And it was great. MySpace whores Nico Vega opened, and I didn't hate them as much as I thought I would. In fact, I really liked the set until their last song, which was terrible. But they were fun to watch, despite the posturing and the eye makeup.

The crowd wasn't big, and I began to wonder if the Von Bondies took too much time off, and are now in the position of having to rebuild their fanbase. They didn't seem to care, and after some minor technical difficulties during their first few songs and some awkward banter from the girls in the band, they got down to barreling through a good amount of music. They played "Pale Bride" (terrible name, great song), the single off the new record, early in the set, and with that out of the way they delved into a random smattering of old and new, mixing up the set really well.Lead dude Jason Stollsteimer is an awkward goofball, and his attempts to talk to the drunk crowd didn't go over too well. But, he seemed happy to be there, and went as far as to take some requests from the rum-soaked fat dudes who wouldn't pipe down. They played "C'mon C'mon" last, and while people seemed excited to hear it, it wasn't like they were waiting for it, and that made me happy for some reason. They left after that, but came back and did two more songs before calling it a night.

I bought the "Pale Bride" 7" (yellow vinyl and a non-album bonus track) from the bass player, who had to rush out from backstage, and we called it a night.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I Went to a Show: M. Ward at the Aladdin Theater (March 7, 2009)

This is not a photo from the show, but from a gig about a month ago. However, this is exactly what it looked like, so that's why it's here.

Anywho, my friend Nate is playing guitar/keys with M. Ward on his current tour, so he got me and m'lady tickets to see the show at the Aladdin last night, and we had a great time. This was the first of three sold-out nights at the spot on the East end of the Ross Island Bridge, and sort of a short homecoming for Mr. Ward and the group. We showed up around 7:30 (showtime was listed as 8), and were able to get some seats in the center near the back on the floor level. The Aladdin isn't huge, so they ended up being fine spots from which to enjoy the show. It was a diverse crowd: young and old, hip and decidedly not hip. That was nice to see.

California group Port O'Brien opened the show, and they seemed happy to be playing in front of a packed house. I didn't really care for their music, but that's not saying much; it just wasn't something there was any chance of me liking. My knee-jerk reaction was to write them off as "too Neil Young-y," and I think I'm sticking with that. For some people, this would probably read as a ringing endorsement. And sure, if you like Neil Young, you would most likely love this band. I don't really care for Neil Young, so, you know, there you go.

I'm gonna be honest here: the extent of my M. Ward listening (not counting the She & Him record that we bought about a month ago and doesn't qualify) has been his new LP, which I purchased this past Thursday. I'm sure I heard songs here and there, and definitely have known about him for a few years now, but I never took the plunge. I guess it took one of my oldest friends joining his band to put me into action. I liked the new record (Hold Time) more and more every time I listened to it, so I knew the show would be a fine time. Mostly I was excited about seeing Nate in front of that many people.

Here's the odd part: I could barely see him. Or anyone for that matter. You know those shows where it starts out dark and the band does a few songs in the pitch-blackness of it all, teasing you with their shadows until the moment when it all comes crashing in and the lights suddenly flare up, revealing the group onstage? This was like the first part, before the lights come on, for the entire show. Now honestly, it worked really well with the music, but I was a little pissed I couldn't see my friend up there. Something about it seemed really cruel: he's finally "made it" in some capacity, and no one can even tell that's him up there. Of course, that's not the point, and like I said, it worked well in that the focus became entirely about the music. (Some people must not have liked it–we saw a few groups walk out long before it was over.)

And it wasn't pitch black. It looked a lot like that picture up there (though that would be one of the brighter moments). So, you could certainly make out what was happening, just not very clearly. Anyway, the show was fantastic. M. Ward came out by himself in the beginning, playing a crazy flurry of acoustic guitar which segued into a handful of proper songs. The band came out, and they ran through another 15 or so songs in what seemed like record time. I don't know if the show was short or if I was just engulfed in the music, but it flew by.

They did one encore and called it a night. Everyone seemed satisfied, enough to give them a standing ovation (there are seats in the Aladdin). And I got to see one of my great friends be a part of it all. Really cool.

Check out a short video that someone uploaded to YouTube. Yeah, it was really that dark.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Funkmaster Flex - The Mix Tape Volume III: 60 Minutes of Funk The Final Chapter (CD, 1998)

I'm pretty sure I bought this because of a few Wu-Tang tracks that are on it. Though I think I realized quickly that the track listings on mixes like this always make it seem more appealing than it usually ends up being. This is a long disc (they should have called it 75 Minutes of Funk), and sifting through the crap I don't care about must have ended up being more trouble than it was worth, because I can't remember the last time I listened to this CD.

One thing you have to get past when listening to any "mix tape" are the inevitable intros and sporadic shout-outs by the DJ. Funkmaster Flex's voice really grates on me, so when he gets to yellin' on this thing, I'm always more than ready for him to shut the hell up and let the dudes "freestyle." I'm putting that in quotes because, as usual, while some of the verses were clearly made up on the spot, a lot of 'em obviously weren't. In fact, most of the songs have a second track of back-up vocals. Maybe I just don't understand how these things work.

Along those same lines, while it sounds like a cool idea to hear Mack 10 freestyle over Wu-Tang's "MGM," it doesn't really work. Same with the other handful of people that rap over well-known Wu songs. I can see how it would kind of fun to hear it live on the radio, and I think the idea of this is sort of recreate that vibe, but it never really worked for me.

Maybe I'm just not a mix tape kind of guy.

"Wu-Tang Cream Team Line-Up"

Friday, March 6, 2009

Funkdoobiest - Brothas Doobie (CD, 1995)

I've been listening to this album, trying to convince myself that Funkdoobiest didn't fall way off after their solid debut, but I'm having a hard time doing that. I've only owned this CD for maybe a year, and each time I listen to it, I remember why I stopped listening to it the last time I started.

If Sun Doobie had porno predilections on their debut, by this point it was an obsession. Tracks like "Pussy Ain't Shit," "XXX Funk," and "Superhoes" aren't much more than potty-mouthed throwaways that have little to no redeeming value. And while Sun Doobie has some clever lines sporadically placed through the rest of the album, he forgets to bring his finest asset: his sense of humor. I don't remember him dropping too many N-bombs on the first record, but he's all about it here, and the hard-edged bravado just doesn't suit him.

Neither do the stoney beats he's rapping over, as they sound more like unused Cypress Hill interludes than the uptempo tracks that made their debut album so much fun. By the time they break out the solid "Who Ra Ra," the album's over and it's too late to save it.

It's a damn shame to see Sun fall into the same bullshit that everyone else was harping on, especially when he had managed to come out the gate with something different.

So it goes.

"Rock On"

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Funkdoobiest - Which Doobie U B? (CD, 1994)

I'm fairly certain the first time I heard Sun Doobie (the Vocal Avenger) was on "Conspiracy of Silence," one of my favorite cuts from Paris's Sleeping With the Enemy LP. I had no idea who the dude was, but I knew I liked his voice. He showed up again on House of Pain's debut, and I soon figured out that he was from Funkdoobiest, the third group in the Soul Assassins collective (House of Pain and Cypress Hill being the other two).

I was really down with the House and the Hill, and I was ready for the Funkdoobiest album, which was rumored to be dropping "soon" for quite a while. They may have waited a bit too long (for my tastes, at least), because I remember liking this album quite a bit, but never giving it as much play as I had the House of Pain and Cypress Hill debuts. They were certainly down with the patented Soul Assassins formula though. Here's how it worked: There was one main rapper, one hype man/secondary rapper (though he never rapped as much as the main rapper, and he had to have a voice that was the exact opposite of the main rapper), and a DJ/producer (though Muggs pretty much produced for all of 'em). Here, I made a chart:
Yep, it's official: I have too much time on my hands.

Cypress Hill smoked blunts, House of Pain were Irish, and Funkdoobiest...well, they liked porno. And while that wasn't all they rapped about, it became an increasingly bigger part of Sun Doobie's character as the group went on. (Remember that line from Eminen's "Guilty Conscience"? This is what he was talking about.) That bit got old quick, and it was frustrating because Sun Doobie really is a great rapper. Lots of metaphors, lots of character, and a great voice.

On this record, he definitely makes it known he likes the ladies, but it doesn't get over the top until the next one. The beats on this record are great for the most part, and if I'm in the right mood, I can still get into it.

"The Funkiest"

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Full Force - Full Force (LP, 1985)

It must be discouraging for the members of Full Force to be recognized more for being the "I smell pussy" guys from the House Party films than for their music, though I doubt they get recognized much at all anymore. I guess they can keep crossing their fingers for that Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam comeback...

This LP was a gift from my brother (based solely on the cover), and it's always been more fun to look at than listen to. Every time I play this record, which isn't often, I am utterly amazed at how bad it is. And not bad in a strictly dated sort of way (though that is also a problem), but musically, as well. It's some of the most basic music you can imagine, and the fact that it took six dudes to put it together is astounding. It sounds like they just chopped up the drums from Billy Squier's "The Big Beat," fed it into their drum machine, had somebody who could barely play drums make some really basic loops, and then took turns dicking around with vocal parts. It's brutal.

But, like I said, you can't beat that cover. You also can't beat Bow-Legged Lou, and his line from "Unselfish Lover": "I'm comin' inside your love."

It's white slacktastic.

"Alice, I Want You Just For Me!"

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Stallion Alert! - Brendan Canty

I realized about halfway through my dissection of Fugazi's records that I wasn't mentioning their drummer nearly enough. While this is at once a meager attempt to make up for that, Canty is a purebred stallion anyway, so it may have been inevitable.

It's hard to fully explain Brendan Canty's contributions to Fugazi, because I'm not sure we're completely aware of them. While he is an incredible drummer and owed just as much credit for the band's unique sound as any of the other three members, I've always been under the impression that he had a lot of input in the songwriting, too. Maybe we'll never know the whole story on that front, but I do know this: watching the man behind his drum kit was always one of the best parts of any Fugazi show. He's incredible at replicating the intricate rhythms of the songs as they were laid down on the albums, and then taking them a step further while making them twice as good. If that makes sense.

So yes, he's an insane drummer. He always seemed like he was a really nice guy, too, and managed to smile more than the other members of the group, all while beating the shit out of his drums and ringing his bell.

Looks like we've got ourselves a stallion.

"Birthday Pony" with Brendan assaulting the skins.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Fugazi - August 7, 1993 Washington, D.C. (2xCD, 2004)

A few years back, Fugazi released a whole bunch of live shows under the Fugazi Live Series umbrella, and to this day, this is the only one I own. I keep meaning to order more, but then I forget. Chumps have 'em pirated all over the web, but I will not stoop to that level. I rarely do the illegal download thing anyway, but when you're stealing music from Fugazi, it's time to reassess your life, and I'm not ready to do that. So, until I hunker down and make it my mission to own the entire series, this remains my lone entry in the bunch.

Why do I have this one? Because I was at the show. I recounted most of the story in this entry, so I won't rehash it too much. But if you recall, I consider this one of the major moments of my teenage years, and the fact that it was released as Volume 8 in this series made me giddy with anticipation. My brother and I were so blown away by this show that we recanted our favorite moments for years, almost to the point where we weren't sure if we were remembering everything quite right. So, I was looking forward to hearing if the show was indeed as good as we remembered it, and also to having a definite track list.

I'm not going to song-by-song this one, because I've already covered all these songs in their album form. You can view the tracklist here; it should give you a brief overview of how long they played (a solid hour and a half), and what they played (if you care). Like I mentioned previously, In On the Kill Taker had just been released, so they were clearly ready to work those into the set. Eleven of the twenty songs were from that album, encompassing the entire record minus "Last Chance for a Slow Dance." Not bad. Of the remaining nine, they played two from Steady Diet of Nothing, three from Repeater, two from Margin Walker, and two from 7 Songs. You really couldn't have asked for a better representation of their work.

It made for an incredible show, and though the recording on these discs is pretty rough, it all comes across really well. Turns out the things we remembered really did happen: Guy knocked his mic over during "Turnover," and Ian had to pick up his "I'm only sleeping" line, which we thought was about the coolest thing ever, and Ian stuck a little jab into one of DC's finest when he introduced "Great Cop." There wasn't a lot of banter during the show, but the small talk between some of the songs certainly brought back some memories.

There was footage of the show included in the Instrument film, but it was grainy black and white, and didn't include the original audio. I was excited to see it, but also a little let down that there wasn't more. A few years ago I came across a YouTube video that was from the show. It was shaky handi-cam footage, but whoever filmed it seemed to be in the same general area that we were. I don't usually bug people I don't know, but I couldn't help myself. I hit up the guy who had posted the video, asking him if it was his. He said it was, and after he told me he had filmed almost the entire show, I asked him if I could buy a copy. Fifteen bucks later, and I had a bootleg DVD.

Put these together with the photos I took at the show, and I've almost become the unofficial historian for the damn event. Well, not really, but it's nice to have some documentation. The video confirmed what my pictures already had: by the end of this show, there were at least a hundred people onstage with the band, all being cool. I was, and still am, incredibly impressed by that.

"Waiting Room" from the show–the audio's a little out of sync.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fugazi - The Argument (LP, 2001)

The final Fugazi studio LP, or at least the last one before their still-standing "indefinite hiatus." I don't remember knowing that this would be their last go of it, but it did seem they might be winding down. Some of the members were starting (or adding to) families, and they had been at it for a long time. I can't recall when I heard the official announcement they were disbanding, but I remember being disappointed but not upset. If any group had earned some time off, it was these guys.

If this ends up being the final Fugazi record (and all signs are still pointing to the idea that it will be), we can say without uncertainty that they left us on a high note. Released during the immediate post-9/11 turmoil that had the nation in a frenzy, this album seemed almost a calming message from a group who probably found themselves right in the thick of it. Of course, the songs were recorded months earlier, but the subject matter still seemed not only classically Fugazi-esque, but hyper-relevant. But, that's nothing new. While the tracks are among their most intricate, their anger and frustration are still palpable.

This still seems like the perfect Fugazi record for the new millennium, as corny as that might sound. They sound tight, focused, mature, and still head and shoulders above any band you could name. The songs have become longer, and so have the lyrics. This isn't to allow more room to speak their minds necessarily; it's also just what happens when you're writing songs with lots of individual sections. It's another progression by a band that was never happy to make the same record twice. And while this does seem as the next logical step after End Hits, I don't anybody saw the cello coming.

"Intro" - Still not sure why they bothered to list this as track one and not title it, but that's the deal. I didn't mean to make it sound like there's cello all over this record, but you can hear it here, along with what sounds like a TV or radio.

"Cashout" - Is it possible the band had never addressed homelessness before? This track almost sounds like MacKaye read something in the news and was inspired to write a song about it, though it might not even be that complicated. Again, a poignant take on a tough issue. The verses are almost soft, but the chorus ranks amongst their biggest. The cello helps, lending a weird jaggedness to the bulkiness of it.

"Full Disclosure" - Vintage Picciotto, a song that sounds like it could have been lifted from the In on the Kill Taker sessions. The harmonizing and guitar riffage at the end verges on being (gasp!) poppy, but they wrench it all apart before it's over.

"Epic Problem" - This song really threw me off when I first heard it, due mostly to the telegraph-ish lyric scheme ("Congratulations. Stop."), but as soon as I stopped worrying about that, I couldn't get enough of it. The ending is its own little thing, and one of the most memorable little parts of the whole record:
I've got this epic problem
This epic problem's not a problem for me
And inside I know I'm broken
But I'm working as far as you can see
I have no idea what that means, but I like it.

"Life and Limb" - "Hey - we want our violence doubled." Picciotto sways through this song and almost mumbles his words, but it all completely works. The female backing vocals are a nice touch, and somehow don't sound completely out of place.

"The Kill" - Slow and somehow menacing, Joe Lally takes another crack at it, and this time he employs Ian for the chorus. Of course the lyrics are great, and though it's a little long, it's not tedious. It's a really loose song, but I think it works.

"Strangelight" - From the first few seconds of this song, you would never know it's a Fugazi song, but when the guitar comes in, you know it instantly. This is Guy's "slow one," though it eventually speeds and gets a little feisty in the second half. Probably not my favorite song on this record, but I like it.

"Oh" - Picciotto again, and this time he's flexing upset over a bare-bones track. It's not the first Fugazi song to comment on corporations, but it's not a bad one to add to the list. Contains the line "I'm pissing on your modems," which is sweet.

"Ex-Spectator" - I don't know how Brendan Canty gets his drums to sound like that, but damn, it's nice. MacKaye sounds plenty pissed on this one, and he completely makes the song. The hammering pre-chorus guitars sound positively Repeater.

"Nightshop" - A strange melody for Picciotto, as it seems both really straight ahead and stumbling, maybe due to the fact that it doesn't sound like the stuff he usually sings. They lyrics are great, and though I don't love this song, I do like the way it switches directions.

"Argument" - Not nearly as epic as some of Fugazi's previous closing numbers, but a tremendous song nonetheless. As soon as you realize it's not going to completely explode (we've come to expect this over the years), it's pleasant to sit back and enjoy the ride. The track does get a little juiced up at the end, and that seems like just enough to go out on.

So yes, this record is a bit different than the band's previous releases (no songs in the two-minute range?), but that's what makes it great. I fear that it may not have as much staying power as some of their other ones, but it certainly fits into their catalog nicely.

And don't worry, we're not quite done...