Monday, November 30, 2009

Paul & Linda McCartney - Ram (LP, 1971)

Paul McCartney's early solo work is such a weird mix of different styles. It makes for some great, great records. Unfortunately, I've only got a few of 'em. I could have sworn I had his first solo album, but I must have been making that up. It's nowhere. The important thing is, I do have this one. And it's good.

Paul's always good for a solid opener, and needless to say, "Too Many People" - whether you believe it's a rock & roll diss track or not - is an awesome song. The springy acoustic intro, the rolling bass line (duh), the falsetto - it's all fantastic. "3 Legs" is a fun blues number, and "Ram On" is just wacky enough to work. Of course, it's all lead-up to the combo of "Dear Boy," "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," and the sweet Beatle-ness of "Smile Away."

The second side keeps it coming: "Heart of the Country" is acoustic and a little bit fancier than it lets on. And Paul's vocals sound great. "Monkberry Moon Delight" isn't quite as nutty as its title, but the prominent background vocals make sure it stands out regardless. "Eat at Home" is a mix of classic rock and 50's rock, something that McCartney's great at. At this point you should be used to Linda singing in the background. Thought it may not prepare you for her vocals on "Long Haired Lady." I'll leave it at that. "The Back Seat of My Car" sounds like it belongs on a Wings album, though it's not quite that syrupy, I suppose.

What can I say? Paul's my favorite Beatle. Re-listening to an album like this doesn't dissuade me from that opinion. This record, especially, is when Paul was happy, but still holding onto some of his pissiness left over from the split of the Beatles. Great era for him.

"Heart of the Country"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ray Manzarek - The Whole Thing Started with Rock & Roll Now it's Out of Control (LP, 1974)

This one slipped away from me. Sorry it's slightly out of order.

As I've made plenty clear in this blog, I was a huge Doors fan in my youth. When I found this terribly-titled record when I was about 15, I was excited. The driving force behind the Doors sound goes solo, only a few short years after the Doors disbanded! However, I had heard Manzarek sing lead on a few Doors tracks, and I wasn't immediately sold on the idea of listening to him croon for the duration of an LP. But, I thought there might be something of substance here.

And while I wasn't completely off base, I've definitely held onto this record more for its novelty than for its music. Manzarek is a damn fine keyboard player, and he makes that abundantly clear through this album's eight tracks. And while he's a decent songwriter, he just can't hack it vocally. His voice is deep and without much movement, which clashes with the fancy arrangements on a lot of these songs.

Fittingly, it's the instrumental tracks and extended jams on here that are the most likable. Still, this was a weird time for rock, and hearing Manzarek toss in traces of disco-ish slink and thin funk is just hard to accept. On top of that, the lyrics are a rough mix of social commentary and flower-power idealism that have not aged well.

Of course, he finds a way to get Jim Morrison in on the act, which would become a constant theme for the rest of his life. On the jazz-funked, cat-scratchy "I Wake Up Screaming," he gets a reverb-buried Patti Smith to recite one of Morrison's old poems. It doesn't work.

Still, there's something interesting about this album. I think I've always been fascinated by the way the surviving Doors carried on after Jim passed away. So this is as least good for that.

"The Whole Thing Started with Rock & Roll Now it's Out of Control"

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Stallion Alert at the Movies: My Dinner With Jimi (2003)

I forgot to change my address with Netflix before I moved last month, so I had to wait almost four weeks for this DVD to make its way to me via the address change I made with the post office. The funny thing is, that was just additional waiting tacked on to the months I had been waiting for this thing to even be released on DVD. I'm pretty sure I put this in my Netflix queue back in April, when I was going through a short-lived Hendrix phase that directly coincided with my writing about his albums for this blog. Anyway, it finally came out on DVD (Rhino, of course), and after what looked like some rough travels through the postal service (the DVD pack was borderline tattered), I finally got to see this movie that I could barely remember why I wanted to see in the first place.

Then I remembered: I like The Turtles (Flo & Eddie, really), and I like Hendrix. And this sounded like an interesting idea. Howard Kaylan (Eddie), lead singer of The Turtles, penned this script, a true story about The Turtles' first trip to England in the wake of their monumental success with the single "Happy Together." It also tells a bit of the story of the pre-fame Turtles, specifically their travels through the Sunset Strip in L.A.

I will say this for this movie: the script is great. But when you try to get actors to portray Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and all four Beatles (among many others), you've got your work cut out for you. Now, if you're one of those people who isn't bothered by weak caricatures of well-known rock stars, then this probably won't bother you. I made a point to just not get too worked up about any of it after the disastrous performance of the dude who played Morrison, and it worked to my benefit.

The guy who plays Hendrix is decent, and it's this scene - a late-night dinner between Kaylan and Jimi - that provides the apex of the film, and it's strong. In fact, the whole movie is fairly strong - though not in the budget department - it's just that some of the performances aren't. Still, the story is a great one, and if you're a fan of 60's rock (and aren't afraid of finding out that the Beatles were total pricks), this ends up being a fun little movie.

My Dinner with Jimi Trailer

Friday, November 27, 2009

Masta Killa - Made in Brooklyn (LP, 2006)

There's no skits, but there's also no beats by RZA. That's a rough trade-off, and as a result, this album's not quite as strong as Masta Killa's debut. Still, his lyrical style can make iffy beats seem better than they really are, and his nonchalant delivery can be hypnotizing no matter what's backing him. But, the music throughout this disc ends up being uneven, and it's a shame.

Still, this is far from a bad album, and though it starts slowly (what's up with that first track?), things pick up in the middle as soon as the other Wu dudes show up. Rae and Ghost take the generic beat on "It Is What It Is" and make it work. And when U-God, RZA, and Method Man bust through on the supremely dope "Iron God Chamber," shit really gets moving.

You'd think a remix of "Pass the Bone" would feature GZA, and you'd probably also think that "Older Gods Part 2" would feature Ghost, Rae, or GZA. You'd be wrong on both counts, and that just adds a little more confusion to this already strange album. The songs themselves aren't terrible, but the concepts are a bit strained. GZA does finally show up (with Inspectah Deck) on "Street Corner," and though the beat is slow and a little lackluster, the flows are there.

Ultimately, it's the spotty beats and flurry of no-name guest spots that clog this thing up and prevent it from equaling Masta's debut. That, and the embarrassment of "Lovely Lady," the last track on the disc. Just a sad song.

Still, it's always good to hear Masta Killa shine on his own, so I don't mind getting down with this one.

By the way, if you've never seen Masta Killa's ads for PETA, they're worth checking out.

"Iron God Chamber"

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Masta Killa - No Said Date (CD, 2004)

At a time when the Wu was digging deep into one of their trademark slumps (Tical 0 was released a month prior), this album was more than enough to keep the hardcore Wu fans from becoming too despondent. The fact that this album had been delayed for so long actually ended up helping it: we all thought it was a throwback to the "real" Wu shit, when in fact, it just was the real Wu shit.

Masta Killa is the soft-spoken member of the clan, and always an ace at guest spots with his Wu brethren. I gotta tell you: I wasn't sure how a full album of his slow and steady drawl was going to work out. He might have had his doubts too, because this thing is packed full of well-placed guest spots. But, he approaches them in an interesting – and in my opinion, very smart – way, by backloading 'em. The first five tracks are pure Masta, and you know what? He slays it. Dude could have rocked the whole record by himself and it would have been great. But, by bringing in his boys for the second half, he makes it an almost-classic.

"D.T.D" features Raekwon and Ghost, and the beat is sleazy, slinky, and perfect for the trio. (Of course, I'm partial to Otis Redding samples.) Rae and Ghost sound enthused, and the track is dope without going nuts. Street Life and Prodigal Sunn show up on the bouncy "Whateva," and I shouldn't have to tell you that they nail it. "Secret Rivals" brings together Masta, Killah Priest, and Method Man, and there's no way that's not going to be good. The beat is awkward, but it doesn't matter. It's hollow rawness that makes it work.

RZA really shines on this record, providing the beat for the dope-as-fuck title track, and hooking up some soul samples for the ODB-laced "Old Man," which his probably the funnest track on the album. RZA drops a verse on that one, and also shows up on "School," which is sheer hollow RZA weirdness. I dig it.

I dig this whole record. It could have gone so many different ways, but Masta Killa delivered the solo debut we knew he was capable of. Skip the skits, and you're in for some real-deal hip hop, Wu-style.

"Old Man"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Marley Marl - In Control, Volume II: For Your Steering Pleasure (CD, 1991)

Like a lot of early-90's hip hop compilations and soundtracks, this album's only real flaw lies in the inclusion of some bullshit R&B songs that have no place here. One minute you're listening to Chuck D going nutso on the awesome "America Eats the Young," the next thing you know you're listening to Portia (?) singing a song called "Check the Mirror" off-key and fucking everything up.

There's a few more tracks like that, which suck, and then there's Heavy D doing his ragga thing, which is always annoying as shit. But, there's also some really solid straight-up hip hop tracks, with unexpected guests like LL Cool J, Chubb Rock, King Tee, and Def Jef. There's also "The Symphony, pt. II," which is almost as good as the original. Speaking of "pt. II," props to Marley Marl for calling his first LP "Volume 1" and then actually following it up with another one. Looks pretty bad if you don't.

Anyway, if you skip the R&B songs and the Heavy D mishap, this is a pretty sweet collection of tracks featuring some dudes you know and dudes you've probably never heard of. Overall, there's more variety on this one, more songs, and a lot more going on. I get the vibe that this CD didn't do shit when it came out, but if you ever come across it in the bargain bin (that's where I found it!) and you're in the mood for a highly decent early-90's rap comp, make it happen.

"The Symphony, pt. II"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Marley Marl - In Control, Volume 1 (LP, 1988)

I have a repressing of this LP, and Cold Chillin' really didn't do this thing much justice: the audio quality is ass. But, the music is diggity dope. If you need a quick lesson in '88-style hip hop or want to know why the Juice Crew was the greatest rap crew to never put out a proper album, it's all right here.

Craig G. is all over this thing, so if you're not a huge fan of him (I'm not), then parts of this record might be a little rough for you, but when some of the other Juice Crew-ers show up, it's on. "We Write the Songs," Biz Markie's duet with Heavy D, is slow, steady, and fun as shit. Masta Ace (here called "Master" Ace) has a few tight tracks, and even M.C. Shan get down the best he can.

The crowning achievement here, of course, is "The Symphony," one of the best posse cuts in the history of hip hop. Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap join Masta Ace and Craig G. and just wreck shit. Which is great, but it also serves to remind us how absent Kane and Kool G are from the rest of this album. It's frustrating, because their two verses easily slay any of the other dudes on this LP.

This record could have been the Juice Crew album that almost was, and instead it's just a tease. The beats are dope, but the raps aren't up to the task. I still love it because it's Marley Marl, but this album could have been SO much better. But, it's Marley Marl in '88, so, you know, it's the real shit. Except for the Roxanne Shanté track that closes it out - that's just garbage.

"The Symphony"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Maritime - Glass Floor (CD, 2004)

You'll find out here pretty quick (when we get to the P's) that I'm an unapologetic fan of The Promise Ring. I don't like their straightforward pop as much as I used to, but it got to me at a point in my life when I was more than ready for some, ahem, "emo" rock in my life. Anyway, I'll legitimize that when we get to it. For now, just know that The Promise Ring's last record, 2002's Wood/Water, was the album I always thought they were capable of making, the one that proved they had more in them than just the poppity-pop-pop. Of course, they broke up directly after it was released. So, when I heard that two of the key members (lead dude Davey von Bohlen and drummer Dan Didier) were teaming up with badass bass player Eric Axelson (from the then also recently-defunct Dismemberment Plan, one of my other guilty sensitive-rock pleasures), I was excited.

Of course, this record didn't end up being anything like what I hoped it would be. Instead, it feels like a rewind to the heart of The Promise Ring: overly poppy songs that really challenge me to like them because they're so goddamned corny. Songs like "A Night Like This," "I'm Not Afraid," and "If All My Days Go By" are just as hammy as their titles indicate, and I feel like a joker when I listen to them.

There was a time when I tried hard to love this record, and there was a time when I convinced myself that I did. Listening to it now, I realize it hasn't aged well for me. The Promise Ring had some cornball restraint (it was hard to find, but it was there), and this doesn't.

I have to be really cheery to identify with this one, and that doesn't happen too often.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Real Emotional Trash (2xLP, 2008)

I knew Malkmus was moving towards longer, epic-guitar-jammy compositions, but I never thought they'd reach this level of epic-ness. And I really never thought I'd like it so much.

This is currently my favorite Stephen Malkmus solo release, and I would normally say that could be because it's the most recent. But I've played this thing into the ground, so it's not like I haven't given myself the opportunity to get sick of it. And gotten sick of it I haven't. In fact, I think I like it just as much as I did last year when it came out. So far, this is Malk's crowning achievement, a certifiably huge record that should drag in spots, but doesn't. Instead, it moves swiftly from song to song, varying the length of the tunes nicely and, best of all, being more nonsensical lyrically than any of his other work, which is an accomplishment unto itself.

This is, like a lot of his other records, one that seems to either click with people or turn them running in the other direction. The title track is a solid ten minutes long, but might be my favorite track on the album. I could also see it being viewed as excessive, but given the method with which the song is crafted, I think that's a lazy dig at the running time and nothing else. The song moves with agility, never getting lazy or wanking off for the sake of self-indulgence. The same can be said for this record as a whole. If you're willing to write it off as spaced-out jams, I just don't think you're listening hard enough. There's so much more to it.

Of course, along with the five-to-six-minute sprawlers, there's also the signature three-minute catchy-as-hell rockers that intersperse and add a lot to the album as a whole. "Cold Son,""Gardenia," and "We Can't Help You" are proof positive that Malkmus can still write genuinely weird and wonderful pop songs, no matter how odd and abstract they sometimes get.

I could go on for days about this record. It's easily one of my favorite albums that's been released in the last five years, and at a time when I'm not super excited about new releases current groups, it gives me hope. And already has me looking forward to his next one.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Stephen Malkmus - Face the Truth (LP, 2005)

The songs just keep getting jammier and jammier, looser and more classic rock-influenced. And they keep getting better, too. Face the Truth is another one that is initially a little tough to tackle, but once you do, it's incredible.

This record contains a few of my favorite Malkmus solo tracks, the guitar-rific "It Kills" and the uncharacteristically smooth and beautiful "Freeze the Saints," which is, for me, as close to perfect as any song can come. Those are big words, and I'm sure I'm overstating it, but seriously - it's an amazing tune. The rest of the album isn't as straightforward as those two cuts, with the exception of "Baby C'mon," which is one of the more single-ready tunes in the Malk catalog.

There's another lengthy one here, the eight-minute "No More Shoes," which sounds like it came straight out of 1971. The recording is dusty and rough, and the melodies are folk-y yet geared towards the more electric side of rock. It's a positively huge song, and though it feels long, it doesn't drag. Always a good thing.

This is another one of those bridge albums, one that, in retrospect, contains the first concrete signs of a whole new phase in musical direction taking place. On Malkmus's next record, it all comes out. But this record shouldn't be viewed as any less than his other ones. It's just as good, and gets better the more you listen to it.

"Baby C'mon"

Friday, November 20, 2009

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Dark Wave EP (CD, 2003)

Another reason I love Malkmus: Whether with Pavement or solo, his singles always feature unreleased tracks, or like in this case, turn into an EP.

Other than the title track, which is taken from Pig Lib, there are five unreleased songs here. Three are studio cuts (originals, as far as I can tell) that apparently didn't make it onto Pig Lib (though they could have), and two wild and very un-Malk-like live covers. All in all, a solid import-only EP.

The three studio tracks are all quite different, with "Dynamic Calories" featuring a slinky guitar tone and busy drums that make it differ from any other solo Malkmus track I can think of. "Fractions & Feelings" is more straightforward, riding a huge riff and a pushy melody. "Old Jerry" is the most Pig Lib-ish of the bunch, a slow builder that takes some patience. It's slight hollow and works well.

The two live tracks are chaotic. "The Poet & The Witch" is a Mellow Candle cover, and "Shake it Around" starts rambunctiously and gets wilder before it disintegrates.

Nerdy info: The songs here are the same ones that came with the original first pressing of Pig Lib, which was a two-disc set. Also: people are charging way too much for this on Amazon and other sites. Be patient, and you can get a cheap copy on eBay. That's what I did.

"Dark Wave"

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Pig Lib (LP, 2003)

Malkmus has put out some challenging music during his career (Pavement's Wowee Zowee comes to mind), but this record may be one of the more tough to crack. Less slick and a lot less polished than his debut, this record is a loose exploration of odd (even for Malk) lyrics and warbly guitar parts that are turnoff-ish until you get used to them.

Once you do, this record is effing fantastic. (I feel the same way about Wowee Zowee.) It took me a while with this one, but it's turned into an LP that I think is as good as any of his other solo efforts. The songs are filled with twists and stop-starts, but that's nothing new for Malkmus. And a lot of the songs don't sound unlike his debut structure-wise, but they differ in the production methods. It seems like maybe he got his wall-of-sound ya-ya's out of the way and he's back to remembering why the sparsity in a lot of his songs worked in his favor.

Tracks like "(Do Not Feed the) Oyster" and "Animal Midnight" show him leaning towards the classic rock thing that he's now fully taken on, and they're both incredible tracks. "Vanessa from Queens" is as good as any single song in his solo career, and "Dark Wave" is an oddity that echoes with madness. In a good way.

"1% of One" is the really portentous cut here, an almost ten-minute jam that shows Malk really stretching shit out. It was this song in particular that had me feeling wary when this record was released, and though it's still not my favorite, I've learned to like it. Soon these long-players would become standard Malkmus fare; I just wasn't prepared for it.

So yeah, don't start with this one. But don't forget about it, either.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stephen Malkmus - Stephen Malkmus (LP, 2001)

Before I start fawning over Stephen Malkmus's solo records, I want to state my position clearly so there's no mistaking how important I feel this guy is/has been to rock music.

I think when people talk about the sick beast that is indie/alternative/whateveryouwanttocallit rock, there should be a few names that rise to the top above all others, for both their contribution to the form and their consistency through years of output. We could talk forever about what constitutes indie rock, but I'm talking mostly guitar-driven un-mainstream rock here. The people who immediately come to mind for me are Black Francis/Frank Black, Thurston Moore/Sonic Youth, and Pavement/Stephen Malkmus. They're all similar in a lot of respects, and I won't go into it, but just know that I think Malkmus deserves as much credit as those guys for putting out some of the best and most important music of the last twenty years.

So, yeah, that's where I'm at. I'm a fan. Not obsessive, but I listen to Malkmus and Pavement a lot. In fact, I wish we were going through Pavement's records first, but alphabet be damned. Regardless, it seems that Malkmus and his music are divisive. I know plenty of people who can't get past his singing style or the fractured (seeming) randomness of some of Pavement's more exploratory jammers. I feel bad for those folks, because Malkmus is a great artist to be a fan of. Dude's consistent, releases tons of albums/songs/singles, and is just a brilliant songwriter. And he's still going.

This is his first post-Pavement solo effort, and I view it a lot like Frank Black's first post-Pixies solo album. It's certainly different, but Malkmus (like Black) was the main songwriter in his previous band, has a unique singing/songwriting style, and didn't waste too much time in between projects. So while it doesn't sound like Pavement, it doesn't not sound like Pavement. There's more interplay with the guitars (even though Malkmus is playing all of them), and just a more steady vibe in general.

As usual, Malkmus covers all the bases. "Black Book" opens with dark, thick, rock; "Phantasies" follows it with a peppy jangle and a catchy-ass falsetto hook; "Jo-Jo's Jacket" is a straight-ahead driving rocker with awesome lyrics about Yul Brynner. The record just builds up steam from there, running through the undeniable sweetness of "Discretion Grove" to the uncharacteristically linear "Jenny & The Ess-Dog."

Tracks like "Pink India" and "Trojan Curfew" (which sounds like Terror Twilight-era Pavement) take some patience, but if you've got it, it's worth it. "Deado" is a great closer, a song that finds Malk sounding more like Beck than he ever had or would. And I'm OK with that.

A great start to a solo career, I gotta say.

"Discretion Grove"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Maldoror - She (CD, 1999)

The year is 1999. I am buying anything on the Ipecac label, especially if Mike Patton is on it. The Maldoror CD comes out and I have no idea what to expect. I buy it, listen to it twice by myself, realize that there will never be an opportunity to play the album (which is filled with blood-curdling screams and cartoon noises) when there is another human being present.

I shelve it.

I keep it because the artwork rules.

It is the only pink-cased CD I own.

It remains, to this day, a very "challenging" listen.

If you want people to leave your party, this is the CD you should put on.

Patton fanboys unite. This is more music to make sure you never kiss a girl.

"The White Tears of the Maggot"

Monday, November 16, 2009

MC Serch - Return of the Product (CD, 1992)

It must have driven Serch crazy that this record didn't make him just blow the fuck up. Because this album is great. And yeah, I'm saying that as a fan of 3rd Bass and early-90's hip hop, but this is a collection of songs that deserves to be mentioned in any conversation about the best that hip hop had to offer between '90 and '94.

Serch is out of his head with lyrics throughout the 11 songs here, and the beats (as much as I hate to admit it because they were put together by "Epic" Mazur, the Crazy Town dude) are full-on unstoppable. "Here it Comes" is one of the best lead-off tracks on any hip hop album in that decade, and Serch uses its force to barrel through the rest of the record with a momentum that doesn't relent.

While some of the tracks slow down a bit and some get a little bogged down with Serch's socially conscious gusto, it still doesn't stop him from running shit. With Serch, you know you're going to have to sit through his anti-racist tirades, and as long as you realize his heart's in the right place, they aren't too intolerable. But he always come back to the real-deal hip hop, and by the time the title track kicks in halfway through this LP, you know he's only getting started.

Shit gets even deeper in the second half, but the beats are so dope that Serch couldn't possibly hinder the rush, and he's too on point to drag it down anyway. Tracks like "Social Narcotics" and "Scenes from the Mind" almost get ahead of themselves, but Serch reins 'em in.

This is MC Serch at his peak, and I'm not sure if enough people realize that. Pick this up on the cheap and get served, foolios.

"Here it Comes"

Sunday, November 15, 2009

MC Ren - Ruthless for Life (CD, 1998)

It's a damn shame that this is the only MC Ren album that I have on CD or LP. I'm pretty sure I still have my cassette copies of Kizz My Black Azz and Shock of the Hour, but I have yet to pick them up on more legit formats.

And it's not that I don't dig Ren when he's on the solo creep. I just dig him more when he's with N.W.A. When Ren made music with Dr. Dre, there was always that little something extra in both his delivery and his content. When left to his own devices he's a fine straight-up gangsta rapper, but he has trouble getting much farther than that. (For more on this phenomenon, see Snoop Dogg.) Still, dude's got a great voice and knows how to put together a song. His solo stuff just never has the same "oomph" as the shit he did with Dre.

Still, this album is good for what it is. And when Ren recruits other rappers to do guest spots with him, it seems to motivate him to step up his game a little bit. So, the tracks here with Eightball & MJG and Ice Cube are solid. And when he doesn't get too hook-heavy, the rest of the album ain't bad either. It's just rough trying to get too excited about tracks like "Who Got That Street Shit" and "Pimpin' is Free." Ren's covered the topics before, and he doesn't have a whole lot more to say about it.

Still, it's Ren. And I love Ren. So I give him the benefit of the doubt.

"Ruthless for Life"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

MC Paul Barman - Paullelujah! (2xLP, 2002)

After dropping a pair of stellar 12" singles ("How Hard is That?" in 2000 and "Cock Mobster" in 2001) as quick follow-ups to his debut EP, MC Paul Barman was poised to blow us away with his long-awaited full-length. I was ready. Ready to declare it album of the year.

I couldn't do it. While Paullelujah! has moments of brilliance that served to remind me of why I was growing ever more fond of Barman as an MC, there were also many moments that just left me befuddled. The album starts strong, with the title track and "Cock Mobster," and keeps going fairly steady with the easiness of "Old Paul" and the comparative chaos of the fine "Bleeding Brain Grow."

Things get progressively disjointed after that, with Barman sounding like he's trying to squeeze his flows into beats that aren't very well suited to him. By the time the record ends, he's doing this free-form beatnik shtick that is frustratingly devoid of rhymes or any other reason to listen to it more than once.

I don't hate this record. In fact, I still listen to it from time to time. My mistake was expecting so much from it. I've learned to like it for what it is, and I actually think it sounds better now than it did when it came out. Maybe it's a testament to Barman's skills that it's taken this long to grow on me. Maybe I've just gotten over my initial disappointment with it. Either way, I'm happy that he put out a full-length at all. He's supposed to have another one dropping soon. Be on the lookout.

"Bleeding Brain Grow"

Friday, November 13, 2009

MC Paul Barman - It's Very Stimulating (LP, 2000)

When I started reading the stories in the music rags in 2000 about a Jewish kid from Brown University who had done a rap song for his thesis, hooked up with Prince Paul, and was set to drop his debut EP any minute, I was just waiting for the damn thing to come out. I was so curious about what this dude was going to sound like, what in the heck swayed Prince Paul to hook up with him, and just who the fuck he thought he was. As soon as I saw this EP, I snatched it up.

Turned out, he was something that nobody knew how to properly describe. Music critics were hoping for a new Prince Paul progeny, and got a nerdy kid who stacked rhymes on top of rhymes, always kept it smart, and sometimes got crass just for the fuck of it. Now, Paul Barman's not for everybody, but I can safely say he's for dudes like me. He doesn't take himself or his subject matter too seriously, but he takes language very seriously. His rhymes are intricate, precise, and a goddamn mouthful.

Either you get it or you don't. And I respect that. But those who poo-poo hip hop just because it's not deadly serious are the people who I can't have conversations with. But I'd love to have a conversation with Paul Barman. Because he's pro-wordplay, anti-idiocy, and he loves all the good stuff about hip hop. I can get with that.

And the fact that Princess Superstar shows up on "MTV Get off the Air Pt. 2" on this disc doesn't hurt a bit.

"The Joy of Your World"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lync - These Are Not Fall Colors (LP, 1994)

Ah, Lync. Just one of the many NW indie rock bands that should have done so much more but probably did themselves a favor by getting in and getting out. Now they are legends. To like twenty people.

I've had this record for quite a while now, and I listen to it here and there when the mood strikes me. I didn't get into it until well after it was released, and that's a shame. But it still sounds great today. Loud, odd, messy but crazy melodic. It's hard to compare these guys to anybody, and reading on their Wikipedia page that they influenced Modest Mouse doesn't seem quite right to me. Mostly because Modest Mouse is terrible and these guys aren't.

I don't know. They sound like K Records NW rock from the mid-90's, which is exactly what they are. It's smart rock with spotty production, blistering guitars with vocals that get (intentionally?) buried in the mix, so the singer always sounds like he's straining to be heard. It's the kind of music that makes you anxious when you listen to it. In a good way.

If you see this record for a few bucks, snag that shit. My brother urged me to by this when I found it on the cheap, and he was right. It's real good.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monie Love - In a Word or 2 (CD, 1993)

Marley Marl on the beats in '93? I'll rock that shit. Prince doing guest production on one track? I'll seriously rock that shit.

Not to make any statements that may be too rash, but Monie Love may be one of the more underrated female MCs of the 90's. Yeah, she got some love back then, but you don't hear her name come up much anymore. And it should – the lady can drop some rhymes. Of course, she was one of those up-and-comers whose career was done by the time she was 23. But, seriously: for a person that age, she's got a damn fine handle on the social issues of the time (especially those of women), and she's great at putting her concerns into words.

But, as we've learned through the years, conscious rap doesn't sell, so intelligent MCs get kicked to the curb while teenagers like me (at the time) reefed weed to Cypress Hill. We should have known better, but we didn't. I probably wasn't the ideal audience for this record anyway, but I have a fine time listening to it now. Monie's quest to save the world is probably short-sighted, but she means well, and having the benefit of listening to it 15 years later, it seems potent and overlooked. There are songs about pregnancy, songs about AIDS, songs about a woman's role in the world. It's big-time shit, and might have been too heady for the mainstream.

For that alone, she deserves respect. And for the jazzy smooth beats, Marley Marl always deserves respect. So don't clown Monie. She was down.

"Full Term Love"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jason Loewenstein - At Sixes and Sevens (CD, 2002)

I'm doing this one slightly out of order, as I always forget that Loewenstein's name has that pesky "e" in it.

I've been an on-and-off fan of Sebadoh since I bought Bakesale in 1994, and although I certainly enjoy Lou Barlow's brand of oft-timid rockery, I was always drawn to Loewenstein's contributions to the band, especially "Zone Doubt" from 1996's Harmacy. I love that song. I may always love that song.

So, when I randomly came across this solo effort some years back, I snatched it up. And lo and behold, it's chock-full of songs that are a lot like "Zone Doubt." It's home-recorded, dude plays all the instruments, and the songs are solid. My kind of album. Loewenstein could be accused of keeping things a bit 90's, but I actually think that's part of what's great about this record. The guitars are warbly and thick, his vocals are double-tracked and slinky, and the lyrics are great.

He'll always be thought of as the dude from Sebadoh who's not Lou Barlow, and that's a damn shame. This is a ruggedly raw collection of songs, and makes a great companion to the fire he started on Harmacy years earlier. Rock it.

You can listen to "Casserole" and "Circles" here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lords of the Underground - Keepers of the Funk (CD, 1994)

There is no excuse for me not knowing this album better. As I sit here listening to it, I realize it's been a while since I've spun this bad boy, and that's a damn shame.

But like any good mid-90's hip hop, it's not hard to slip right back into it. Lords of the Underground never achieved the level of fame that a lot of folks probably thought they would, but any fan of the "golden era" of hip hop will tell you these guys are dope. This record sounds positively dated now, but whatever. The thick bass lines and snare-happy drums hit hard, and the vocals are delivered with the sort of pressure that can make a slow beat sound frantic.

The Lords – like most rappers – tend to get a little hook-heavy, and the George Clinton guest spot would have been more impressive if dude hadn't shown up on nearly every rap record in 1994, but this album is decidedly dope. The beats ride the drums hard, and at times it sacrifices the melodies in the samples. But, it allows the vocals to ride high, and that's a good thing.

This is the kind of rap I dig. Ostensibly, it's angry and hot-blooded, but if you take the time to listen to the lyrics, it becomes clear that these dudes aren't dummies. And they're looking to drop the knowledge and out-rap your ass, not pull out the nine. I'm not anti-gangsta rap, but I'm definitely pro-smart shit. And this works.

"Tic Toc"