Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Picks for the Top Twenty Albums of 2010.

Huh. I went from thinking I might have trouble coming up with ten, to having twice that. These are, more or less, all of the new albums I listened to and liked this year (or at least the ones that could be considered "mainstream-ish"), so I figured I'd just write 'em all up. Somehow, I did not hear the newest Ice Cube record, and that is lame. But I did hear all this stuff. Please argue in the comments.

20. The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger - Acoustic Sessions

I am a sucker for Sean Lennon, so I was pretty excited when I heard about this project, which is a stripped-down collaboration with his model girlfriend. I wasn't excited about the girlfriend part, but the dude is always stingy with the output, so I was eager to hear it. In the end, their lovestruck-ness may have blinded them when it came to the viability of a few of these tracks, and some of the lyrics are high-school-poetry-level faux-intellectual garbage, but their voices do sound nice together. But, man - is it mellow. Have to be in the mood for it.

"Jardin Du Luxembourg"

19. Kurupt - Streetlights

I started out really keen on this album, and then, as usual, tracks like the idiotic "I'm Drunk" and the base-level "All That I Want" (spoiler alert: all they want is to bang chicks and never see them again) brought my enjoyment levels down to where I feared they might end up. Still, tracks like "Face Down" and "I'm Burnt" feature the Young Gotti spitting nutso lyrics over click-clack beats that he doesn't usually mess with, and the resulting sound is dope. The long-lost Xzibit even shows up on "In Gotti We Trust," and it turns out he can still rap. Snoop Dogg phones in his guest spots (shocking), but it's good to hear him and Kurupt on the same track regardless.

"Face Down"

18. Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier

The shortest song on this record is just over four and a half minutes, and the longest - the epic closer "When the Wild Wind Blows" - clocks in at eleven. Maiden has set the bar so high for themselves at this point that a beastly, meticulously crafted track like the monstrous "Isle of Avalon" doesn't even sound particularly challenging. As usual, if you strap the headphones on and take the time to listen to what each individual member is doing, it's mind-blowing. Bruce Dickinson has sounded more enthused on previous efforts, but this record is really more about the instrumental breaks that he affords the band. And they can still get the job done.

"Isle of Avalon"

17. Klaxons - Surfing the Void

Clearly, this record wins album cover of the year. Heck, that's why I listened to it. I remember hearing Klaxons a few years back and not really giving a shit about them, but this one hooked me. I can't rock it repeatedly, but cuts like "Echoes" and "Flashover" are solid jams that work well on all sorts of levels. Apparently I was never aware that this band was so noisy. I dig the fuzz, the rumbling, and the loud-ass drums that drive the whole thing. It ain't for everybody, and honestly, I'm surprised I like it. But I do.


16. Inspectah Deck - Manifesto

At this point, wondering if Deck is ever going to put out the solo album we all feel he's capable of isn't an argument worth having. It's not going to happen. He's notoriously unable to decide on an angle from which to attack, and it's repeatedly dampened the effects of his previous joints. The good news here is that he seems to be tired of trying to cross over, and these 20 tracks are more or less just-don't-give-a-fuck straight rapping. There's a few suspect cuts thrown in ("Luv Letter," anyone?), but hard-ass tracks like "Gotta Bang" and "9th Chamber" more than make up for it. Get pissed, Deck. Get pissed.

"The Champion"

15. Robyn - Body Talk

I saw Robyn doing "Cobrastyle" on Letterman a few years back and thought it was crazy awesome madness. I heard a few more of her tracks at the beginning of this year, and thought they were solid enough. I finally downloaded the entire record for my wife and ended up liking a lot more songs than I ever thought I would. Her duet with Snoop Dogg on here ("U Should Know Better") is hilarious and badass, and songs like "Fembot" and "Don't Fucking Tell Me What to Do" are just too ridiculous not to like. And I like to watch her dance. Take that as you will.

"U Should Know Better"

14. Nocando - Jimmy the Lock

Nocando did a guest spot on Busdriver's last record, and I thought the dude was a nut then. After hearing this record, it's confirmed. The dude's a kook. Though you can tell he cut his teeth freestyling - his style has that one-step-ahead feel to it - the lyrics on this record are too crafty and sharp to be spit out nonchalantly. Though you can't always be sure what he's talking about when he starts out, he almost always comes back around, and even kicks some linear verses that mix the whole thing up. It's almost unintentionally abstract, and it all feels effortless. Cool shit.

"Two Track Mind"

13. K-X-P - K-X-P

When it comes to albums I shouldn't like, this one has everything going for it. It's instrumental. It's electro-ish. It features some serious warble and wave when it comes to the synths, of which there are many. But I'll tell you: If you're looking for a great instrumental record to rock in your headphones while you're putting in work, dicking around on the internet, or driving in the dark, this one really makes a damn fine soundtrack to whatever spaced-out shit you might be mixed up in. Layers and layers of sound, and nothing seems to stop it.

"Mehu Moments"

12. Atmosphere - To All My Friends, Blood Makes The Blade Holy: The Atmosphere EP's

I Thought When Life Gives You Lemons was a bit of a stinker, and though this record continues to hammer on the same hardscrabble tales of woe that that record overworked, it's also evened out with tracks that aren't so damn dark and depressing. I fully understand why Slug wants to go to that place, and he's damn good at wrenching feeling out of tracks like that, but it's really nice to hear some upbeat bounce beats on this album. Not my favorite thing they've done, but I think it's getting back to the shit of theirs that I really dig. And "Until the Nipple's Gone" is not only a great song title, it's also a sweet-ass track.

"The Best Day"

11. Method Man, Ghostface Killah, & Raekwon - Wu-Massacre

If this album wasn't borderline EP-length, the fact that it sounds like a work-in-progress might not matter so much. As it stands, it has its shortcomings. It also has three of the best MCs in the world busting raps over roughneck beats that mostly work well together, and other than two pointless skits that reek of marijuana-induced inclusion, the whole affair is surprisingly filler-free. What's here is dope as shit. And I guess that's all that matters. I hope they do another one of these, because this thing needs finishing, proper.

"Our Dreams"

10. Eminem - Recovery

I was going to be pissed if Eminem never made another record like this, and for a while there, it seemed like he wasn't going to. Relapse remains one of the oddest comeback records ever committed to wax, and if that's what he had to get out of his system in order to get to this batch of songs, then who are we to poo-poo his scatterbrained serial killer fantasies? That shit's nowhere to be seen on this record, and neither is that grating accent that never made sense to anyone. Get this: dude just raps his ass off on this thing. Not sure why it took him so long to figure out that that's all anyone ever wanted. This LP's not on par with his early stuff, but it's his best record since The Eminem Show, easy.

"Cinderella Man"

09. Teenage Fanclub - Shadows

It'd been a while since I'd checked in with the Fanclub, but I guess that's partially because they've only put out two records in the last decade. Not surprisingly, their approach hasn't changed a whole lot, and also not surprisingly, their ability to write hooks that get lodged in your noggin for afternoons on end hasn't declined a bit. These tracks are mostly soft on the surface, but like all of their best songs, it's more about the relationship between the melody and the chord changes than what kind of vibe they're going for. The fact that this band has three songwriters has always astounded me, because they never sound out of sorts. But come on guys: three songwriters and you only drop a record every five years? Get it together.

"Baby Lee"

08. The New Pornographers - Together

Being the most reliable band in indie rock seems like it would be a cross to bear, but The New Pornographers just keep cranking out records that, if they weren't so damn good every time, would have a much bigger deal made about them. Aside from the always-annoying Dan Bejar contributions ("Silver Jenny Dollar" practically screams "b-side"), this record is pop-rock the way it should be done, with big - but not too big - arrangements carefully placed around a couple of lead vocalists who will never be mistaken for anyone else. A.C. Newman may never get enough credit for all the damn fine songs he has written. Don't get me wrong: he's gotten plenty. But the dude needs more.

"Your Hands (Together)"

07. M.I.A. - /\/\/\Y/\

Still trying to figure out why people had so much beef with this record. Yeah, it doesn't sound much like her first two, but if you were looking for predictable, this clearly wasn't the lady to be placing your bets on. Admittedly, it took me a few listens to figure out what the hell was going on with this thing, and honestly, I may still be piecing it together. But after listening to it twenty times, I realized, if nothing else, I've just never heard an album like this before. It's so heavily fractured in parts and so sweet-poppy in others that it all feels on the brink of collapsing the entire time it's playing. But mostly, I just love the shit out of the beats on this thing. They're flat-out crazy, and I hear new bits every time I listen to 'em.


06. Vampire Weekend - Contra

The backlash is in full swing with these guys, but blah blah blah. People wouldn't have so much to talk about if there wasn't so much depth to these records. There. There's another thing you can dispute. Seriously: whatever. I can see why folks don't like Vampire Weekend, but I also think those people are missing out on some really fun rock music that probably doesn't deserve to be overanalyzed as much as it is. Who gives a shit where these guys are borrowing sounds from? The songs are intricate, the lyrics are smart as shit, and the whole thing is caked with preppy weirdness that is just far too over-the-top to be the least bit genuine. Yes, "Holiday" is a bit ubiquitous. But when you're getting sued for your album cover image, you gotta pay them lawyer fees with some car commercial dough. And I still contend it's a great song. And come on - they hang with RZA!

"Giving Up the Gun"

05. Sleigh Bells - Treats

Well, this one caught me off guard. But as soon as I heard the opening fuck-all machine gun hammering that leads off "Tell 'Em," I was intrigued. As the record progressed, I became genuinely interested. Now I've listened to this thing fifty times and I still enjoy the shit out of it. This is another one of those I-can-see-why-people-hate-it sort of bands, and that's cool. There is some dirty hipster bullshit element to this, but I find myself not caring. A good song is a good song, and if blaring noised gets mashed up next to pretty vocals and it all works out, I'm never against that. Describing this band has proved impossible for all rock critics, too, and that's always a good sign.

"Tell 'Em"

04. The Soft Pack - The Soft Pack

Four dudes with guitars and some really great songs. I enjoy that. They're also conspicuously devoid of any sort of fashion sense, and that's always a good sign. "Answer to Yourself" is one of the best songs I heard all year, and though it threatens to become a little too feel-goody, it never crosses the line, instead opting for a vibe that's more insistent than the friendly-advice angle that it seems to initially be pushing. This is a strangely forceful band, and though their sound is really nothing new, they're damn good at what they're going for, and that's more than most bands can say. Just a damn fine record. Still pissed I missed them when they came through town semi-recently. I will regret that.

"Answer to Yourself"

03. Superchunk - Majesty Shredding

Where in the hell does this band get off taking a break for a decade and then returning sounding like they never left? This album is, first of all, awesome for just existing. No one would have blinked had there not been a Superchunk record this year. But it's mostly awesome for being a tremendous addition to an already stellar catalog. Songs like "My Gap Feels Weird" and "Crossed Wires" sound like they could have been recorded in '98, and in this case, that's a really good thing. Mac sounds almost exactly the same, and the rest of the band sounds just as noisy-melodic as they always have. Rock solid.

"Digging for Something"

02. Ghostface Killah - Apollo Kids

Wait, so, when is Ghost going to start sucking? I wasn't a huge fan of last year's Ghostdini, but it wasn't terrible. Now he's back with another record that is flat-out awesome. Jesus, even Busta Rhymes can't bring this thing down. In fact, his verse on "Superstar" is actually pretty good. Yikes. The Game and Joell Ortiz allow the quality to dip a little on "Drama," but when you hear U-God, Raekwon, and Cappadonna wreck shit on "Ghetto," all is forgiven. No skits, no filler, just wall-to-wall beats and rhymes. Ghostface is unstoppable. And if you don't follow him on Twitter, you're missing out.


01. Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty

The only thing that could have made this record any better would have been the inclusion of Andre 3000. And since that was apparently some unavoidable legal hogwash, Big Boi gets a pass there. And while I don't really care for Jamie Foxx and whoever that is doing the hook on "Follow Us," nothing can really stop the rest of this madness. Big Boi is such a unique voice in hip hop, and though I'm not sure that he's been necessarily overshadowed by Andre in the past, he's definitely always been categorized as the "streetwise" one, or maybe even painted as the straight man. Fuck that. Big Boi's a nut too, and he gets all sorts of crazy on this thing, busting raps that no one else could even begin to come up with. Speakerboxxx was one thing, but this is in another league. Beats, rhymes, the whole deal. Well worth the wait. I can't stop rocking it.


Monday, November 1, 2010

I Went to a Show: Pond at Satyricon (October 23, 2010)

Dreams really do come true.

Pond, one of the most tragically underrated bands of the 90's (see my gushing here, here, and here) broke up 13 years ago, and since then, they've played one reunion show, which was at the Crystal Ballroom about five years ago. (It was a Portland 90's bash - the other bands on the bill were Crackerbash, Sprinkler, and Hazel.) We were shocked that they played that gig, and were positive it would be a one-time thing. It's not that their breakup seemed particularly acrimonious, or that they clearly had beef with each other, I just always got the vibe that the band was something that the individual members were looking to put behind them. The first reunion gig was brief shining light, and we bathed in it while we could.

It's a shame that it took Portland's legendary Satyricon club closing its doors forever to bring the band back from the dead one more time, and in a perfect world, that certainly wouldn't have been part of the deal. So, am I glad Satyricon is closing? Absolutely not. I've seen some really memorable shows there, and even played a few myself. I love(d) it there. Am I glad that Pond got back together for one more night? You have no idea. So, yes, the air was thick with bittersweetness that evening, but while the band played, it was nothing but goodness.

My brother was in town from AZ specifically to see the gig, so it felt like even more of an event to us. We got there promptly at 9, and the place was already packed. Thankfully I had will-called the shit out of some tickets, so we strolled right past the poor saps waiting for last-minute tix in the rain, and made our way inside. Good timing. Fellow old-school Portland sorta-weres M-99 opened the show about 10 minutes after we stepped inside. I'm not going to pretend like I'm familiar with any of their stuff. Never saw them back in the 90's. But they put on a fine show, and as the length of their set grew, it made me more and more hopeful that Pond would be allowed (and utilize) the same amount of time.

M-99 played for probably about an hour, and they were fun to take in. But we were antsy for the main attraction. When they finished up and Pond drummer Dave Triebwasser started setting up his drums, we were certifiably giddy. Triebwasser looks about the same as he did in the 90's, though he was peering out over some glasses, which made him look comically elderly. Good stuff. Charlie Campbell and Chris Brady followed, and they too have yet to be severely ravaged by age. Not that it would matter, but it's nice to see the Pond guys still looking spry. Anyway.They attempted to start the show by barreling into "Van," and that would have been super-sweet had Brady's bass not been cutting in and out. So, they had to start it over, and they eventually got through it, though it was a bit timid. Their second number was also hindered by minor technical glitches, but after that, they rolled hard into the old favorites and, for a band that's played twice live in the last 13 years, they sounded fantastic.

I'm terrible at remembering setlists, so I'm hoping some of my faithful readers can help me recreate it. Usually I nerd out and type it into my phone, but I could barely move. Snapping these shitty photos was dicey. This I do know: They played "Twins," "Spots," "Sideroad," "Young Splendor," "Glass Sparkles in Their Hair," "Spokes," "One Day in the Future," "Grinned," "Moth," and "Agatha." You guys will have to help me with the rest.

Everyone expected them to close with "Filler;" they did not. No one ever expected them to play "Moth;" they did. It's little things like that that make shows like doubly fun. You never know what the band's going to come out and do. I didn't expect to see Chris Brady taking pulls off a fifth of Jim Beam during the show, but there he was, chugging away. I didn't know that the Trieb drummed barefoot, until I saw him putting his shoes back on at the end of the set. What a Stallion.

I could have watched them all night. Unfortunately, they played for about 45 min. But it was a wonderful 45 min., and when they played "Agatha" and let all the fanboys sing the outro, it was a damn fine thing to be a part of. I'm really happy this show happened (again, wish it were under better circumstances), and I'm really happy I got to be a part of it.

And now I'm even more happy, because I just found this YouTube channel that has what seems to be video of the entire show. I love these times we live in. I guess that takes care of my setlist problem. Whatever.

We can discuss all this further in the comments. Let the praise begin.

Oh, here's the setlist dude has listed on his YouTube page:

Perfect Four
Young Splendor
One Day In The Future
Glass Sparkles In Their Hair

Sound right?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Event Attendance: Portland's Night Owl Record Show - October 23, 2010

Big Saturday.

My brother was in town from Arizona, and though the Night Owl show was to be our main record-buying attraction for the day, we hit a handful of other stores around town during the afternoon to get ourselves warmed up. Think we started around noon and left the Night Owl show around 7. Almost a full workday of digging through stacks. By the time it was all over, our hands were dirty, our money was spent, and my car was weighed down with wax. And after that, we got to go downtown and see a fantastic rock show. But that's another post.

It was a rainy day (October in Portland, go figure), but it didn't get us down. Pre-Night Owl, we hit Exiled Records, Crossroads, CD/Game Exchange, and Jackpot! - all on Hawthorne. Exiled is one of my new favorite spots. It's small space, but they do a good job of keeping the crap to a minimum, so almost everything they stock is something of note. They've also got a nice bargain bin full of stuff that is a step up from just-get-this-out-of-here, and a fat collection of cheaply priced 7"s. Crossroads continues to be the best place in Portland to kill four hours and fifty bucks. You never know what you'll find. CD/Game Exchange is weak on vinyl but strong on CDs and DVDs, and Jackpot! is becoming more and more pointless as the years go by. For new vinyl, it's the place to go. Other than that: meh.

I was telling my brother before we went to the Night Owl show that I was glad he was here for the autumn edition. There's nothing stinkier. Between the rain-dampened clothes, the musty aroma of old LPs, the general lack of hygiene from record collectors/vendors, and the fact that they sell fried food and booze in the venue, it's an olfactory smorgasbord like no other. The show, as usual, was crowded, loud, and a bit overwhelming. But we had fun, and I plan to keep going back as long as they keep putting them on.

Want to hear about my haul for the day? The list is long, and I'm just going to toss in all the stuff I picked up, though most of it was from the show. Here we go.

Hazel - Lucky Dog CD: This is the promo version for Hazel's Toreador of Love record. Apparently this was the original title. Nothing different about the record, except that track one is listed as "Where Are the Babies?," and on the eventual release it wasn't listed as its own track, which, if I recall correctly, caused a discrepancy between the running order on the label and the songs on the CD. Found this at Jackpot! for a buck.

Beck/Sonic Youth - "Pay No Mind"/"Green Light" 7": This was the Record Store Day exclusive single that these two favorite-artists-of-mine put out last year, and I was always pissed I didn't get a copy that day. Got one now. Hearing Kim Gordon sing "Pay No Mind" seems straight out of some burrito-induced dream I would have.

House of Pain - "Shamrocks and Shenanigans" 7": This is such a weird one. Mostly because it's on the Sub Pop label. Well, I guess it's actually a split between Sub Pop and Tommy Boy. It's on green vinyl, and contains two different ass-rock remixes of "Shamrocks." Neither are very good, but I always wanted to have this in my collection, and now I do. Though the copy I have reeks like cheap cologne. Seriously.

Fugazi - 3 Songs 7": Yeah, somehow I didn't have this already. Fixed that.

Everlast - "I Got the Knack" 12": I don't know why I find Everlast's pre-House of Pain work so infatuating. Maybe it's because it's so bad. This single has a non-album cut called "Pay the Price." So that's something.

Big Daddy Kane - "Very Special" 12": It's rare that you see Kane records floating around, so you gotta buy 'em when you do. This one's for a track from the Looks Like a Job For... LP. Features an exclusive "Edit Without Female Rap." Now that's a new one.

Beck - "Loser" 12": Thought maybe the version of "Steal My Body Home" on the b-side of this would be different than the album version. Doesn't appear to be. Still happy to have found this.

Prince Paul - A Prince Among Thieves: Not the rarest record in the world, but definitely one that you don't see in bins too often. Found it for a good price, and it's a great album. Highly underrated.

Busdriver - "Avantcore" 12": Six-track single with some sweet remixes of the title track and two other album cuts. I will buy any Busdriver stuff I don't already own.

Naughty by Nature - 19 Naughty III: I can't believe it's taken me this long to get this damn thing on wax. Truly one of the greatest hip hop records of the 90's.

Urge Overkill - Jesus Urge Superstar: I went through a little UO phase about two months ago, and realized that this was one of two of their records that I don't own on vinyl (the other being Exit the Dragon). I set up a saved search on eBay, and was just waiting to find a cheap copy. Found this one at the record show with a $2 price tag on it, and while I was looking at it, the slightly tipsy dealer whose record it was told me I could just take it. And it's in great shape. Boom.

The Beatles - Introducing...The Beatles: The guy who sold this to me is a chap that I've purchased a bunch of records from at the shows over the last few years, so I chose to believe him when he told me it's not a bootleg. I hope he's right. The Beatles' first US offering, and I've been waiting for a decent copy. Found one.

The Doors - Strange Days: My Doors vinyl collection is sad, and it really shouldn't be. Working towards changing that. Found this first pressing for a solid price, and it's in great shape. Great album, too.

The Beatles - A Hard Day's Night: The U.S. version. Not the greatest copy, but it's an original and it's more an issue with the cover than the vinyl. So that's cool. I was in desperate need of this one.

Snoop Doggy Dogg - Doggystyle: Original single-record version with the announcement for the Dr. Dre/Ice Cube Helter Skelter record on the back. Been waiting to find one of these.

3rd Bass - "The Gas Face"/"Wordz of Wizdom" 12": Still in the shrink. Features some remixes. Stoked to have found this one. The same guy had a copy of The Cactus Revisited but it was in shit shape. Shame.

Sonic Youth - Dirty: Original 2xLP copy. The cover's got a little bit of wear, but the guy cut me a deal for this one. Tough-to-find record, and I'm very happy to have it.

godheadSilo - The Scientific Supercake LP: I watched somebody in front of me pick this out of a crate at the last Night Owl, and I was bummed. This time around, I got my copy. Great shape, with original insert. Let's get loud.

fIREHOSE - if'n: Pretty sure this is a reissue, but I don't care. This is the one fIREHOSE record I don't know at all. Looking forward to changing that.

Happy Mondays - "Wrote for Luck" 12": This was in the bargain bin at Exiled. Three bucks. Best Happy Mondays song ever. Features remixes and a non-album b-side.

Urban Dance Squad - Mental Floss for the Globe: I was obsessed with this record when I was a teenager. It sounds dated now, but it's still fantastic. If you've never heard the Squad, it's not too late.

Oy, Longest blog post ever. Impressive haul though, eh?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Event Attendance: Portland's BIG Music Collector's Show & Sale - September 26, 2010

This picture makes the show look more sparsely attended than it actually was, but the reality of the situation wasn't far from what's represented here.

I don't know if they just did a bad job of advertising this thing, or if everyone's holding out for the always-reliable Night Owl show later this month or what, but this event wasn't the rager that I thought it might be. Of course, now I'm wondering if the Night Owl show just seems nutso-busy every time because the room they hold it in is so damn tiny. All the same dealers that are at that show were at this one, but the room was like eight times as big. Honestly, that was probably it. Because there were people at this show. Just not a ton.

It was the first time I'd ever seen dealers packing their shit up four hours before the show was supposed to close. Like they had anywhere else to be at 2PM on a Sunday... (I kid, vinyl vendors, I kid.) Anyway, that's all a bummer for the organizers and the dealers, but for me, it meant less wedging in between fat dudes, and more time to browse LPs without feeling like someone was looking over my shoulder, waiting for me to move along. I stayed for about three and a half hours (I really had nowhere else to be), and by the end of the day, I had a solid haul in my record-carrying satchel.

Want to know what I got? Of course you might. So here's the breakdown:

Beck - "Cellphone's Dead" b/w "O Menina": The only 7" I picked up at the show, and it's a good one. The cover is basically a replica of the one from The Information, with a full sheet of stickers tucked inside, along with an inner sleeve that matches the outside one. Extravagant for a 7". And only five bucks.

Bongwater - Double Bummer: Aptly-named double LP from a band that I like most of the time. This is their first full-length, and it is over-the-top wacky. There is a time and a place for Bongwater, and it used to be when I was really, really high. Not sure when it will be now.

Heatmiser - Cop and Speeder: I had been meaning to buy this for about ten years, so I was happy to find it used, and on blue vinyl no less. It is not rare by any means, but I knew it existed on colored vinyl and just wanted to make sure I scored that version. I did. So that's something.

Pavement - Brighten the Corners: Finding original issues of Pavement LPs anywhere other than eBay (in Portland, especially) is damn-near impossible, so spotting this one in the wild was a rare treat for me. Lyric sheet intact, cover and LP in great shape - boom. Still need to decide if I want to buy the deluxe edition on vinyl. I bet I will at some point.

Pavement - Quarantine the Past (Record Store Day Version): This one includes a great story about record-collectin' nerds looking out for each other.

The last time I saw my pal Robi was on Record Store Day back in April. It happened to fall on the same day as the last Night Owl record show, which is where I saw him. We ended up leaving at the same time, and while we were heading to our cars, I was bitching about how I slept in, thus missing my chance to pick up the limited-edition version of Pavement's newest greatest hits comp, which featured not only different artwork, but a completely different (and better, if you ask me) tracklisting. It was completely my fault: I slept way late, hit the stores anyway, but knew I'd come up short. And I did. After checking the eBay prices over the next week or two, I was really pissed at myself.

I ran into Robi at this show, and he told me that he found a copy not long after I saw him last - in a store and for retail price, mind you - and that he had it in his car. Did I still want it? Yes I did. And never have I been so glad that I put off buying something on eBay. It even still had the download card in it. Boom. Robi, you understand how this vinyl-collecting game works. And I respect the shit out of you for that. Thanks again.

Unwound - The Light at the End of the Tunnel is a Train 12": Late-ish EP-type thing from a band that I should have loved a lot more a long time ago. It's never too late. My Unwound collection grows more decent by the year.

Method Man & Redman - Blackout!: Been meaning to buy this one on wax for a while now, but kept waiting to just find it used when I least expected it. It finally happened.

Method Man - Tical 2000: Judgement Day: Same deal with this one. Can you believe this is the only Method Man solo joint that I have on vinyl? Shame on me for not having a copy of Tical on my shelf. (Though I do have it on both CD and cassette.)

Nirvana - "Lithium" 12": German 12" single from 1992, in such beautiful shape that I want to cry. I am really excited about this one. NOT the picture disc version. Just the straight-up maxi-single with the picture sleeve.

Del tha Funkee Homosapien - I Wish My Brother George Was Here: Thought this was an original issue, but closer inspection revealed it to be a mid-2000's reissue. For the price I paid, I'm fine with that. And it came with a poster. I used to have this cassette, but lost it a long time ago. Happy to have it again.

L7 - Smell the Magic: Sub Pop, mid-90's, cheap price: I'm in.

Steel Pole Bath Tub - Tulip: Original insert intact. This is one of the SPBT albums that I've spent very little time with, and I'm looking forward to changing that. Let's get noisy.

Cat Power - Jukebox: I don't know if it's because of the fancy-ass packaging or what (gatefold, really thick vinyl, silver sheen), but this record retails for around 30 bucks, and I just never wanted to pay that much for an album of covers. Finally found it used and in decent shape. Holding out for a few years can eventually pay off. Every once in a while.

Sunz of Man - The Last Shall Be First: Not sure how rare this one is, but I've definitely never seen it before. It was filed in with a couple of Killarmy records that I know almost regret not buying, but I've always been more of a fan of this group. Original insert, and the whole thing is in great shape.

Wu-Tang Killa Bees - The Swarm: Another great random Wu find. Either this one is missing the insert or it's just a victim of really shoddy packaging, because there is no info about who performs on what song - not on the back, and not even on the LPs. Thankfully, it's already in my iTunes.

Not a bad group, eh? As usual, there were a bunch of Melvins records that I had to pass up because of their $50-$75 price tags, but I'm used to that at this point. Looking forward to seeing all the same dealers in a few weeks at the Night Owl show. Better start saving.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Went to a Show: Pavement at Edgefield (September 3, 2010)

I felt like I bought the tickets for this show ages ago, and waiting for it was becoming excruciating. But, I knew the payoff would be worth it, and damn: it was.

Not seeing Pavement in their heyday was always a huge regret of mine, and though I wasn't positive they wouldn't get back together, I wasn't holding my breath. So when they announced their reunion, I was excited. Then began the wait for an Oregon show. It took a while, but they got here. I was expecting more of a Crystal Ballroom-type affair, but the Edgefield it was. Your parents probably saw David Gray there a few nights ago. Anyway. I'll take Pavement wherever I can get 'em.

Turns out Edgefield wasn't a bad place to see a show (I had never been there for live music before). The 6:30 start time was a little confusing - I'm used to shows starting at 9:30, not ending - but once I got past that, I was good to go. I took a good friend and we got there around 6, found some sweet parking, and ponied up near the front of the stage before the show even got going. Boom.

Quasi opened, and when it comes to bands that I have unintentionally seen repeatedly, they are at the top of the list. Pretty sure this was the fifth time I've seen them, and yet I've never gone to a Quasi show to see Quasi. Whatever. They've got Joanna Bolme on bass now, and though it hasn't added some crazy new dynamic to the band, they do sound fuller, especially on the guitar songs. They played a nice short set (finishing up with the crowd-pleasing "You Fucked Yourself"), and made way for the dudes from Pavement. I was giddy.

Just a few days earlier, Pitchfork had named "Gold Soundz" the best track of the 90's, and whether that had anything to do with them opening it with it, I don't know. And I don't care. It ruled, and it kicked off a two-hour show that featured them playing songs from all over their catalog (check the setlist here), though they mostly favored earlier stuff. As a sad fanboy who loves all their records almost equally, there was no way they were going to leave me feeling gipped, so I just rolled with it. And it was sweet.

They even played "And Then," the early version of the "The Hexx," during their encore. If you know what that means than you know why that is awesome. I love the shit out of that song.

I could gush forever. But I won't. I'll just say that this show ruled. Because it did.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I Went to a Show: Busdriver and 6Blocc at Whiskey Bar (August 13, 2010)

What an odd night.

Though it had all the usual features of a typical hip hop show (endless opening groups, a "host," sporadic DJ sets), this turned out to be anything but. Yes, the posters advertised the show as "Busdriver & 6Blocc," but I just assumed that meant they were co-headliners. And when it said the show was going until 4AM, I just figured that meant the bar would be open that late (this is the former Ohm, after all). It was Friday the 13th, for what it's worth. So maybe that had something to do with it.

There were at least four opening acts, including Unified Theory, Elevated Entities (who announced that they are now just calling themselves "Elevated" - bold move), Midas Dutch, and Marv Ellis. They all had their own things going on, and I don't really feel like explaining any of it. Though two of the acts put thump beats over well-known 80's pop songs, which surpassed irony and went straight to laziness. So that was something, I guess.

Anyway, Busdriver finally came out around midnight, with 6Blocc in tow. 6Blocc, it turns out, is a DJ (like the kind who plays in "dance" clubs), though he looks more like a high school math teacher. Not that I give a shit about that - in fact it made me like him more - but it caught me off guard at first. They got things going quickly and forcefully, busting into a electro-bumpy beat that rumbled the whole place. People in front of me and my accompanying friend began dancing like I had never seen people dance before. (In person, at least.) Flailing arms, sweat flying - doing things that made me think they were trying to "feel" the music. I felt like I was in an episode of Law & Order, at a place where people do "designer drugs."

Anyway, the beat was kicking, I didn't recognize it, and Busdriver was jittering around and freestyling over it. Cool. Until a half-hour later, when I realized that was all that was going to happen. The DJ played his beats (which, though I'm not a fan of that kind of music, were quite good), and Busdriver improvised. The kids who were in their own little dance worlds loved it. Me? I wanted to hear dude play some of his songs, or at least kick some lyrics that weren't made up on the spot. Two hours later, I realized it really wasn't going to happen.

I never thought I'd leave a Busdriver show before it was over, but we did just that. It was 2AM, there seemed to be no end in sight, and we walked. I didn't have a bad time, but it wasn't what I had hoped for. And that's my fault: I should have done my research. And who are we kidding? I would have gone anyway. But the $15 ticket price left a sour taste in my mouth. Still, it was an experience. And I like those.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I Went to a Show: Best Kissers in the World at Dante's (July 31, 2010)

It's been a few months since I saw the Best Kissers play their warm-up show at Slabtown, and I was definitely looking forward to seeing them again. This gig was - from my understanding - to be their official "First Big Portland Reunion Show," and they were fresh from playing their "First Big Seattle Reunion Show" the night before.

The band was loose (read: a little tipsy), but it didn't prevent them from putting on a fine show for the devoted fans in attendance. (I was happy to see that this show was more well-attended than their previous one.) Gerald was in high spirits, clearly still amped up from playing the night before at the hallowed Tractor Tavern. He was definitely chatty, I'll say that. But when it came time to run through the tunes, he was all business. His voice was a little worse for wear, but he's still probably transitioning it into rock mode. He'll get there.

The setlist was different from the show at Slabtown, with the band both mixing up the order the songs were played and adding some new ones. (They were pressed for time at their last show, so I assume a few tunes may have been sacrificed at that gig.) They even added and actual brand-spanking-new song to close out the set. Because I am a nerd, I once again jotted the setlist down into my phone. Here's how it went:

"Countin' Out Dexadrine"
"Worried About It"
"Hit Parader"
"Slightly Used"
"Roadside Attraction"
"Broke My Knee"
"?" (Still don't know what this one is - somebody help me out.)
"Royal Pain in the Ass"
"Lonely Enough to Lie"
"Smoke Rings"
"Miss Teen U.S.A"
"They Give Each Other Diseases"
"Pickin' Flowers For"
"Are You Happy Now?"

They continue to play a really cool mix of songs from all of their records, and I think it's great that they're playing a bunch of stuff from the legendarily-shelved Yellow Brick Roadkill. I was really excited to hear "They Give Each Other Diseases," because it's one of my favorite Kissers songs. And "Bleeder," too. That one didn't make it into the set last time.

Ah, but the most exciting thing about this show was the release of a new CD from the band. No new music, mind you, but a new compilation of most of their early stuff, titled Skinned My Heart, Broke My Knee.
The CD gathers together the "Take Me Home" 7", their five-song Sub Pop EP, the "Broke My Knee" 7", and one half of the "Ohio" 7" ("Sweet Pea" isn't on here for whatever reason - maybe because it's a cover?).

I was excited to finally have CD-quality versions of the songs that had only been previously released on vinyl, so I was a little disappointed to find that they were just rips of the records. (Took care of that myself a long time ago.) But for anybody who doesn't want to hunt this stuff down one-by-one, this is a great comp of the band's early work. I was most excited about the extensive liner notes on the inside written by Mr. Collier, which both give a little bit of history about the band, and individual breakdowns of the tracks on the Sub Pop EP. Not going to go into detail about that, because you should just buy this thing and read 'em for yourself. Though I'm not sure where you can do that yet...

Now the band needs to find a way to release Yellow Brick Roadkill. The world deserves to hear it. Though I do secretly enjoy being one of the few who owns a copy of the CD. And, you can find it if you poke around a bit on the internet. Which I normally don't condone, but you literally can't buy it, so I say check it out.

By the way, the band's new official site is here.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Prince - The Black Album (CD, 1987/1994)

The story behind one of the most famously recalled/bootlegged/fabled albums in history is still a little hazy. This much is true: Prince put together an album - this album - that was to be his follow-up to Sign “☮” the Times. And a quick follow-up, at that: the record was supposed to be released a scant nine months later, in December of 1987. At the last minute, after initial copies had been pressed and promos had already been sent out, Prince called it off. He wanted it back.

Stories about why Prince decided not to release it vary, but it usually comes back to him deciding that it was evil, or too dark, or he took ecstasy and had some premonition or something. Whatever the reason, it immediately made the album mysterious and sought-after (the name certainly helped, I'm sure), and through a promo or two that got away, the thing got the shit bootlegged out of it.

I'm still unclear on how many actual copies of the 1987 pressing exist that aren't promos. This one showed up on eBay last week, and as you can tell, somebody really wanted it. (If the link is dead, the auction was for a sealed, longbox copy of the CD, and it went for $3,150.) They're claiming one like that hadn't been sold in fifteen years, but who knows if that's true. Even if it's not, you get the idea: it's probably the rarest and most sought-after compact disc in existence. (Please leave a comment if you know of another one in contention.) You can read a bit more about it on this site, though it hasn't been updated in forever.

I first heard The Black Album (not the official title, btw - it actually has no title) in 1994, when Warner Bros. did an official - though limited - release of it. I picked up a promo copy on cassette from my local record store, which was odd considering that I was way out of Prince mode at that point in my life, but I had heard so many rumors about this record that I just had to hear it.

Of course, like any album that you've built up in your mind as something that is so crazy that it had to be kept from the world, it did not live up to my expectations. I'm still not sure what I expected, but this funk frenzy was not it. I used to listen to the tape here and there, and after a while, I began to accept The Black Album for what it is: a totally decent Prince record.

The good stuff ("Le Grind," "Cindy C.," "Rockhard in a Funky Place") follows up on the party-time funk that Prince had mastered on his previous record. The hip hop shit ("Dead On It," "Bob George") feels forced, and strangely defensive. It's developed more of a context as the years have passed, but they still don't quite work. And the leftovers (The bizarre, mostly-instrumental "2 Nigs United 4 West Compton;" the slick synth-funk of "Superfunkycalifragisexy") feel like B-sides. (Oh, and "When 2 R in Love" is on here, too, but we already knew about that one.)

I still dig this record, and really, it's about as good as Lovesexy. So I guess that makes sense. In fact, if you put the two together, you've got yourself some nice '87/'88-era Prince. And there's nothing wrong with that. Even Prince's weaker stuff from that era is always worth listening to. Dig it.

"Le Grind"

Friday, July 16, 2010

Prince - Batman (LP, 1989)

Prince doing the Batman soundtrack seemed to make perfect sense and no sense at all. I don't consciously remember thinking it was odd, but I must have. They would have been short-lived: as soon as we all heard "Batdance" and saw the video for it, we realized that the dude got it.

In the summer of 1989, Batman was the coolest thing going, so Prince, by osmosis (or whatever) was cool as shit as well. It didn't hurt that "Batdance" was the dopest almost-non-vocal dance track since "Pump Up the Volume," and it certainly didn't hurt that the video looked as high-budget as the film. People were walking around saying "Vicki Vale" all the time, aping the way it's said in the song. I annoyed myself by doing it. I couldn't hear that name without instantly going to that. "I like... BATMAN!" It was nuts.

Whatever it was, it got Prince to churn out a cool little record. "The Future" and "Electric Chair" are both stomping dance tracks, and it's cuts like those that work the best on this record. "The Arms of Orion," a duet with Sheena Easton, is a little too "Somewhere Out There" for me, and "Scandalous" is a decent slow jam, but it lags a little around the fifth minute.

But whatever. Tracks like "Partyman," "Trust," and "Lemon Crush" bump nice and hard, and if Prince was trying to make some sweet dance jams, he pulled it off. Having "Batdance" close the record is a bold move, but of course, it makes sense. That song sounds fairly dated now, but it's still impressive. Prince really could do it all.

It's funny to hear some of the vocal samples on this record. Not on "Batdance" so much, but on some of the other cuts. They don't quite match the ones in the movie. It's hard to explain, but you can notice it if you listen close. Apparently Prince worked with a rough cut or something. This record still feels like a bit of novelty, but it's really not. There are some solid tunes here.

This would pretty much be the end of Prince for me, though that wasn't a conscious decision at the time. 1990 was around when I started getting into other kinds of music, and not relying on the radio so much, I guess. But, you know, "Thieves in the Temple" and that New Power Generation shit just didn't really do it for me. And if you've ever seen Graffiti Bridge (the "sequel" to Purple Rain, then you probably understand what I'm talking about. It's just a terrible, terrible movie. And this was when Prince started hyping Tevin Campbell - it was just no good.

But the 80's were good for Prince. Damn good.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Prince - Lovesexy (LP, 1988)

Yes, the cover is ridiculous. And whether that alone was the determinant in making this one of Prince's least commercially successful releases up to this point is unclear, but it certainly couldn't have helped. It could also be the fact that next to Sign "☮" the Times, this record just doesn't hold up that well. It's still a great record, but it's just not one of Prince's greatest.

Lovesexy holds the slot in Prince's discography where the fabled Black Album was supposed to go, before it was hastily recalled at the last minute. Prince was obviously having some internal battle between good and evil, hence the release of this upbeat record, and hence its underlying themes involving God, Satan, all that mess. Those lyrics don't really interest me too terribly much, but I can tell you that there are some great songs on this record, regardless of goofy content.

The LP starts strong, with the one-two combo of the mighty fun "Eye No," and the rap-dance anthem that is "Alphabet St." "Alphabet St." remains a great song, and at five and half minutes, the album version cleans the clock of the radio/video edit. (When this came out, I had the cassette single for "Alphabet St.," which had the radio edit on the first side, and the remaining part of the song on the second side. Pretty cool.) Such a catchy tune, and Prince really knows how to get the most out of the hook.

It's followed by "Glam Slam," which I've never been a fan of. Prince went so far as to make it a single, which really makes me wonder if I'm missing something with this one. In fact, in my opinion, it's one of the weakest tracks he released up to this point in his career. Maybe this is where Prince started losing me. Either way, a very generic song from the little guy.

"Anna Stesia," the next track, isn't too great either, which may be evident from its cornball title. (Not that that's ever stopped Prince songs from being good.) This is where he starts spouting his "God is love" stuff, and it drags. Thankfully, "Dance On" (One of the stronger songs on the LP) and the title track follow it up, and they get shit back on track a little bit.

"When 2 R in Love" is the only track that is on both Lovesexy and The Black Album, which makes me think Prince felt strongly about it. He should have; it's a solid slow jam with a nice refrain. It's followed by "I Wish U Heaven," which is an okay three-minute pop tune, and was the third single from this record. Makes sense. The album closes with "Positivity," which is seven minutes long and a bit draining.

This is the first record - I'm fairly certain - where Prince mentions the New Power Generation. They weren't officially his band at this point, but he was working towards it. This directly coincides with where Prince starts losing me. That and the 90's, I guess. Either way, he seems to get more and more jumbled after this point, and for the first time, I found it hard to go down the weird-ass roads with him.

Well, actually, we took one more ride. Wait - maybe two.

"I Wish U Heaven"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Sign "☮" the Times (1987)

The only thing that could have made Prince's best record any awesomer would have been if he released a movie to accompany it. So, because Prince is awesome - and because he probably wanted to wash the taste of Under the Cherry Moon out of society's mouth - he went ahead and dropped this bad boy.

I've been trying to think of theatrically-released concert movies that top this one, and all I can come up with is Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads. And while I'll probably always give that one the nod, Sign "☮" the Times is a very close second. Like I said: Prince was untouchable at this point.

Though there's a few tidbits of a storyline sprinkled throughout this thing (kind of hard to explain), it's really just a straight-up concert video. And though it's not simply footage of a one-off show (much like Stop Making Sense isn't), it's made to feel like one, and that's just as good. Prince is in rare form in this movie, and it's fun as shit to watch. He even gets behind the drum kit, for cryin' out loud.

Prince and his band barrel through 12 tracks from Sign "☮" the Times, and also throw in a short version of "Little Red Corvette" and a Charlie Parker cover. The album cuts are almost all different from their recorded versions, which makes this thing even more interesting. Lots of weird intros, outros, extended jams, and even a few songs mixed together ("Forever in My Life" and "It"). This was during the short-lived Sheila E era, and she's featured prominently in this thing, banging the shit out of her drums. The lady's an ass-kicker. The whole band is full of ass-kickers. And Prince plays plenty of guitar throughout, which is always a good time.

The fact that this movie has yet to see a U.S. DVD release is a real crime. Apparently it's available in Canada, but it's a bare-bones release, so I'm not too intrigued. The word is that a bunch of other songs were filmed and not used, so I'm holding out for the deluxe edition that will probably never arrive. Until then, I'm still the proud owner of a VHS copy. And I watch it every once in a while. And it never disappoints.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Prince - Sign “☮” the Times (2xLP, 1987)

Prince's crowning achievement came at a time when things could have easily gone in a completely different direction. He had just parted ways with most of his longtime band (Dr. Fink stuck around), his latest film had just flopped, and his identity was becoming more and more hazy. The fact that he pulled together an album as flawless as this is just further proof of Prince's genius.

Sign “☮” the Times is not only Prince's best record, it's the best "mainstream" record to come out in the 80's, and arguably one of the greatest albums of all time. It's 80 minutes of non-stop awesomeness, tackling pop, rock, and funk in a way that was both musically complex and extremely palatable. That had always been part of Prince's M.O., but the ways in which he pulls it off on these 16 songs is unsurpassed by any other record in his catalog. This is post-Revolution, pre-New Power Generation Prince, and if he felt alone, his back against the wall with something to prove, then there's no denying that the man works wonderfully under pressure.

There's not a weak spot throughout the entirety of these two LPs, and while Prince had certainly been fairly consistent up to this point, this was a whole 'nother level. Every track on this album is a winner, and though the singles it spawned (the title track, "U Got the Look," "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man") are representative of the album's brilliance, they only tell part of the story. This is a collection of tunes that demands to be listened to from beginning to end, and once you do that two or three times, you'll be stuck on this thing for a year. Yeah, I talk big, but seriously: it's that good.

I'm going to track-by-track this one, just so I don't miss anything.

"Sign “☮” the Times" - Though this is fairly dour lyrically (as far as Prince songs go), the melody and stark drum track are just too dope to let it become depressing. The two little bridge parts ("Is it silly no/ When a rocket ship explodes...") are just too good.

"Play in the Sunshine" - And, here's where the party gets started. If people had been waiting for Prince to get back to some straight-up feel-good shit, here it is. Huge song.

"Housequake" - The first song on the record where Prince uses his squeaky "Camille" voice, this track lets you know that apparently "Play in the Sunshine" was just a warm-up. Hearing Prince yell "Bullshit!" is never not fun.

"The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" - The warbly keys and spazzy drums on this ballad-y cut are abstract, but Prince's clean vocals complement the whole thing perfectly. Contains the classic line "Yeah, lemme get a fruit cocktail - I ain't too hungry." His falsetto on this one is gold.

"It" - There are songs I'll never get sick of, and this is one of 'em. The melody on this song is nerve-wrackingly cutting, and the orchestral stabs in the background are just way too dope. And man, those drums sound like guns.

"Starfish and Coffee" - The most out-and-out pop tune on this record, and it's a pretty one. The shortest song on the album at under three minutes, and it comes at a perfect point in the sequence.

"Slow Love" - The Prince slow jam to end all slow jams. If you can't get laid to this song, turn in your boner.

"Hot Thing" - When a track like this is relegated to b-side status (it was the flip of "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"), it's only another indication of how incredible this record is. The drums slam, Prince sounds pervy, and it all rules.

"Forever in My Life" - Another track with buzzy synths and badass drums, and another one where Prince just slays it with his vocals. You think it's going to build and then he jukes you. Sweet.

"U Got the Look" - Another Prince-doing-Camille cut, and one of the catchiest singles dude ever released. Prince managed to make Sheena Easton cool. Now that's something. And "Your body's heck-a slammin'" remains a classic.

"If I Was Your Girlfriend" - One of the more odd singles that Prince ever released, though it should have been way more popular than it was. Prince - again as Camille - just wants to know why these ladies won't change their clothes in front of him. Fair enough.

"Strange Relationship" - If you're in a tumultuous relationship with a chick, put this one on a mix for her. It'll score you big points. Or get her pissed. Hard to say. Either way: great song.

"I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" - Probably my favorite Prince song, and the album contains the sweet six-and-a-half minute version, which is far superior to the radio edit. Prince absolutely slays it on guitar during the breakdown on this one.

"The Cross" - Love Prince, love his weird religious shit. Regardless of the message, this is a classic Prince ballad.

"It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" - This one was apparently recorded live, but I have my doubts about how "live" it actually is. It doesn't matter. This is nine minutes of sweet, sweet funk complete with Sheila E rapping.

"Adore" - A great closer for this record, this is Prince getting all sultry and smooth, winding things down.

So there it is: the peak of Prince. At least as far as I'm concerned. If you're going to own one Prince record, this should be it. It just refuses to get old.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Under the Cherry Moon (1986)

Proof positive that Prince could do whatever the fuck he wanted at this point.

How about a noir-style cutesy-drama, shot in black and white, directed by and starring Prince, that features only half of one song as a musical performance? Clearly, no one was going to say no to him around this time, but they had to have known this wasn't going to work out.

Aside from the frustrating lack of musical numbers, watching this movie now is actually fairly entertaining. It's certainly an ego-driven mess, but viewed as a document of where Prince was at in 1986, it's so strange that - at times - it's infatuating. Still, do I want to sit through this thing again anytime soon? Nah.

Prince and Jerome Benton (from The Time) star as two money-swindling playboys who apparently play music for a living (though you don't see much of that). They fall for a girl (Kristen Scott Thomas) who's due to inherit a large sum of money, and all sorts of tomfoolery ensues. The film keeps getting pulled between Fellini-esque abstractness and madcap comedy, but they never lean hard enough to either side. There's a loose plot, but the whole thing is based in this weird fantasyland where it's 1940 and 1985 at the same time, and you never feel grounded enough to believe a bit of it.

Still, like I said, watching Prince do his thing is entertaining enough, but you quickly find out that it's way more entertaining when there's the promise of a musical performance ahead. As it stands, a lot of the songs from Parade make their way into the movie, but they're almost all relegated to background status.

If you've got the patience, this thing is worth watching. If nothing else, you can just marvel at the fact that it exists. It really does seem like some strange, Prince-led dream.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Prince and The Revolution - Parade (LP, 1986)

At this point, Prince was in the zone. Parade may not be as fondly remembered as some of his other albums from his classic run in the 80's, but I'm not sure why. It's just as ambitious as his previous record; possibly even more so. But while Around the World in a Day relied on pop when all the "psychedelic" stuff was stripped away, Parade doesn't always follow suit. I'd argue that that's a good thing, but it also doesn't shock me that this album wasn't a huge success.

1986 was the year of Sophisticated Prince, where everything was stark and slick, classic-styled, and more about jazz and orchestration than funk and guitars. It was a sweet move, though one that might have confused his fans a little bit. Remember: this was only two years after Purple Rain (a little less than, actually), and a year before this, Prince was borderline kaleidoscopic. Now he was black and white? It was a lot to keep up with. But if you were willing to stick with the guy, it always paid off. Most people were more than willing to latch onto "Kiss," but I guess the rest of this record didn't hold the same appeal. Of course, like most Prince records pre-1990's, it's aged brilliantly.

The first four songs are all around two minutes in length, and they blend together to form a nice little intro. Each one features big-ass drums, especially "New Position," which is devastatingly catchy. "Under the Cherry Moon" is the classy-jazzy end to the suite, and it rolls into "Girls & Boys," which should have been a huge hit, but Prince didn't release it as a single in the U.S. for whatever reason. "Life Can Be So Nice" continues with the thundering drums, and is a bizarrely blistering tune. It's followed by the sweet little instrumental "Venus de Milo," which finishes up the first side.

"Mountains" begins the second side, and though it doesn't sound like a typical Prince single, it'll grow on you if you let it. I'll be the first to admit that it's one of his most generic songs, but I dig it. "Do You Lie?" is the apex of Prince's classy vibe on this one, and just one more song that sounds like the inspiration for Andre 3000's The Love Below. (Pretty sure he was listening to this record a lot when we was writing that thing - or so my theory goes.)

Parade ends even stronger than it begins, with "Kiss," the smooth-then-rugged "Anotherloverholenyohead," and one of my favorite Prince ballads, "Sometimes it Snows in April." It's a throwback to some of the softer shit on his first two records, but it's way more fully realized. And hearing Prince with an acoustic guitar is always awesome.

This would be Prince's last record with The Revolution, most of whom who had been with him even before he was putting their group name on the records. They had planned one more album, and apparently even recorded most of it, but it never saw release.

Oh, and this album is also the soundtrack to Under the Cherry Moon, but barely. Although the stinkiness of that movie may have accounted for this record's relatively lackluster sales. Anyway, forget the sales: this record is damn good. Pick it up on the cheap if you can. And you can.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Prince and The Revolution - Around the World in a Day (LP, 1985)

The world barely had to wait to find out how Prince would follow up on the mega-success of Purple Rain. Released less than a year later, Around the World in a Day remains one of Prince's most underrated records, and one of the coolest things the dude ever did.

The record was released with hardly any promotion at all. It just showed up in record stores one day. No advance single to build up the hype, no big announcement - just a record in a store. Now, considering that this was to be one of the most highly anticipated albums of the 80's, I think that was a pretty sweet move.

Also a sweet move: the weird-ass album art. The CD versions have gone on to have this little kid holding a balloon with the title of the album and the name of the band in it, but the original LP cover doesn't have him. I think maybe they put this sticker on the shrink, though. Not sure about that. But I do know that the spine is blank, and the song titles and artist/album name are on a strange wrap-around thing that is perforated and goes around the right side of the record cover, where the gatefold opens. (You can sort of see it on the right in this photo.)

Not only did Prince go the weird route with the cover art and the nonchalant release (which must have driven his label crazy), he also made a record that was nothing like Purple Rain. People like to think this record is a bit more psychedelic than it really is, but compared to his previous work, it's borderline experimental. And, of course, Prince totally revamped his look, revamped the look of his band, and reinvented himself when people would have been more than happy to have more of the same. In true Prince fashion, while everyone was going nuts for Purple Rain, he was already recording his next record and moving on to the new shit. Awesome.

And the songs here are awesome. "Paisley Park" should have been a huge hit, and I'm not sure why it wasn't. Prince never really flirted with sounding like The Beatles, but this was as close as he ever came. "Condition of the Heart" is a sprawling ballad that can be a little much, but it's such a weirdly layered track that it ends up being pretty cool. "Tamborine" is frantic, hammering, and just crazy good. This is Prince inching towards his next musical step, and it's great.

"America" is a bit of a funk throwbacker, but not enough to sound regressive. A cool song. And "The Ladder" is a huge, gospel-y ballad that makes it all work. We also can't forget "Pop Life" and "Raspberry Beret," the two big singles from this record. "Pop Life," especially, is just an incredibly infectious tune, and one that seems to sum up some of Prince's thoughts on the current time. ("What you putting in your nose?/ Is that where all your money goes?") The album wraps up with the supremely weird "Temptation," which somehow makes perfect sense.

This is a standalone Prince record that really isn't like a lot of his other stuff, and I've always been drawn to it for that reason. I can see why it's overlooked a bit here and there, but it shouldn't be. Get with it.

"Raspberry Beret"

Friday, July 9, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Purple Rain (1984)

Prince's film debut should be way shittier than it is. I'm sure there were plenty of critics who enjoyed panning this flick, but I'll tell you what: I've seen this movie probably five times in my life, and I never have any trouble sitting through the entire thing, front to back.

Part of that, of course, is the music. A good portion of the film is dedicated to live performances from Prince and The Revolution, and given the quality of the soundtrack and the flimsiness of the script, that was a good move. (Although the live performances are usually just lip-synced versions of the album tracks, but whatever.) Prince isn't a terrible actor in this movie - he ain't great, either - but when the dude's on stage, he's never more at home. So the fact that every song from the soundtrack gets played in its entirety during the course of this movie is not surprising. ("When Doves Cry" and "Take Me With U" are played during montages, but not performed live, however.)

The story isn't great, but when it's constantly being interspersed with sweet-ass songs, it makes it a lot more interesting. It's like music porn, basically. You sit through the piddly story to get to the good stuff. And really, while the story isn't mind-blowing, it's fun as shit to see Prince still living with his parents, writing songs in his lonely bedroom while snacking on Doritos. Seeing him backhand Apollonia across the chops is a little awkward, but I think it's meant to mirror how similar he is to his wife-beating father. Still: a bit much.

You also get a funky-fly Morris Day and his hilarious lackey-boy Jerome, Wendy & Lisa, and Appolonia getting her skank on. These are all good things. I need to pick up the two-disc deluxe edition of this thing, stat. My full-screen one-discer just ain't cutting the mustard anymore.