Monday, May 31, 2010

Liz Phair - Exile in Guyville (CD, 1993)

Oh, if only we could have frozen Liz Phair in 1993. She was perfect. Exile in Guyville is such a stupidly good record that it's amazing it even exists. I fear that her semi-recent idiocy has forever tarnished her standing with some of the folks who held this record so dear, but it still deserves to be discussed when you're talking about the most important records of the 90's.

And the thing is, people wouldn't be so damn pissy about Liz Phair "selling out" if she hadn't meant so much to people in the first place. It wasn't only the incredibly personal shine of the songs on Exile (though there is plenty of that) - it was Phair herself. She famously started out recording little handmade cassettes of her Girly Sound project, fell in with the Chicago indie-rock glitterati (Nash Kato, anyone?), and scored a record deal without even having to meet the Matador people. She was frail, stricken with crippling stagefright, and just vulnerable as all get-out. She could also write a melody that would get stuck in your head for a year. It's no wonder every girl in the world wanted to be her, and teenage boys like me wanted to have a hard makeout session with her.

Spin dubbed Exile in Guyville Album of the Year for 1993, but I think I had purchased it even before that. They had hyped it so much that I just had to see what the deal was. It was not what I was expecting. It was way better than what I was expecting. Phair's voice was shaky and took some initial getting used to, but once you got past that, it was just a matter of realizing that every damn song on this thing is good. I am, for whatever reason, not a person that listens to a lot of female artists, but this one hit me in a way that no other had or has since. And I'm still not sure why that is. Every girl I knew around the time this came out immediately adopted it as their go-to album, and that didn't surprise me. The fact that a track like "Divorce Song" brought up actual emotion in me - and still does - was something I have little explanation for.

And I'm not sure I care how or why this album gets to me the way that it does. It just does, and it's the same way Sonic Youth's Goo gets to me or the Pixies' Surfer Rosa gets to me. It just makes me feel like I might vomit awesomeness. And very few records can do that.

If you think I'm laying it on a little thick, think again. This record is every bit as good as everyone says it is, and I'm one of those everyones. This record also, in every cheesy way you can imagine, takes me back to what I perceive to be a simpler time in my life, and does it in a big way. Again, not sure why this one in particular really reminds me of my senior year of high school (when I was listening to forty other tapes on the regular), but it's right up there with Doggystyle for memory-jogging. Quite a pair, huh?

This record seems to get remembered for "Fuck and Run" and "Flower" - the naughty songs! - and that's a shame. Because some of the deeper cuts - particularly "Explain it to Me" and "Shatter" - are just as vital to the whole scheme of things. Man, those songs are sparse and huge at the same time - tough to do.

So forget about what Liz Phair's doing now. And forget about her claim that this is a song-for-song answer to Exile on Main Street, because that idea barely holds water. Just listen to this record and like it. Because it is good. That's what I do, and it's been working out for me pretty well.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

I Went to a Show: Henry Rollins at the Aladdin Theatre (May 29, 2010)

Great picture, huh? Well, at least you can tell I had a solid view. I think I was one of maybe five people who didn't have somebody sitting in front of them. I lucked out. The place was packed. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Through my sweet job, I was able to get the wife and I two free tickets to see Henry Rollins do his spoken word thingy on Saturday night. I saw Rollins Band play the Roseland back in in '97 (my friends and I taped their performance of "Starve" on SNL and became obsessed with it - we had to go), but I had never seen him speak in person. I used to watch his Talking from the Box VHS when I was a teenager and I have a few cassettes of his spoken word stuff (great for road trips), but I never took the plunge to see it in the flesh. I'm glad I did.

Before we got there, I was wondering out loud to my wife if he was going to say anything about the recent passing of Ronnie James Dio and Dennis Hopper. As we walked in and Dio was playing over the theatre speakers, I became fairly certain he'd be touching on Ronnie James, at least. (Rollins has always been an proud fan of Dio, so that's sort of why I was expecting it.) He said a little bit about Dio and explained that the music was a mix CD he had made of Dio's music. He then told a little story about Dennis Hopper and said a few nice things about him. A cool move, I thought.

Then he dove into his material, and once he got going, he didn't stop. Apparently he had me locked in, because he spoke for almost three hours and it felt like about one. Trying to go over all the stuff he talked about wouldn't do it justice, but needless to say, it was awesome. I didn't see him take a drink of water until the whole thing was done. Yes, he remains a lunatic, the only guy who can make a spoken word engagement an intense endurance ritual for himself. And I loved every minute of it.

I'm definitely seeing him the next time he's in town, even if I have to pay for it. Certainly a unique experience, and a good one for us aging rockers who like to sit down for their entertainment.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pedro the Lion - Achilles Heel (CD, 2004)

I was listening to this in my car the other day, and my wife goes, "What the hell is this? Coldplay?" Fair enough.

Somehow this is the only Pedro the Lion album I own (though I do have a caseless copy of Control that drives me mad with its caselessness and therefore doesn't count for our purposes), and I don't think I even bought it. I'm fairly certain a friend gave it to me. Listening to it recently, I remembered why I never really got into it. It doesn't exactly sound like Coldplay, but it is lacking some of the darker moments of their earlier work. "Discretion" almost gets back to it, but not quite.

There's also the slight current of Christianity that runs through these songs, and that just doesn't work for me. Ever. So maybe that's skewing the whole thing for me. But maybe not. Control still sounds pretty solid to me. This was the band's (or just really David Bazan, I guess) last record, and it sounds like that. Sort of the last stab at something lighter that doesn't really work.

I'll keep it because maybe I'll change my mind. Maybe I'm missing something. Though I don't think so...

"Foregone Conclusions"

Friday, May 28, 2010

Peanuts & Corn - Factory Seconds (CD, 2001)

I picked up this CD at the same time I bought the Park-Like Setting album, when my brother and I saw mcenroe and Pip Skid live many years ago. Apparently I had both of them sign this one. mcenroe wrote, "mcenroe is kar-oké king!" and Pip scrawled (with an arrow pointing to mcenroe's signature), "this guy is a genius!" And then he circled a dollar sign and signed his name. So hard, those two.

So this is a collection of P&C odds and ends that I have not listened to in years, and now that it's almost a decade old, it's even cooler. Lots of random stuff from the main dudes on the label, and I'm always a sucker for unreleased tracks. And it includes the "CD-ROM" (remember that?) version of Pip Skid's "Hypochondriac" video.

Not too much else to say about it, because I really have not heard this in forever. But if you're a fan of the label (and you should be), this is obviously essential listening. So get on board.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Pavement - Slow Century (2002)

If you're a Pavement fan, you already own this. Or you've at least seen it. Or you haven't seen it and you're an idiot. If you're not a Pavement fan, you'd probably still enjoy the 90-minute documentary that makes up part of the first disc of this set.

It's actually a pretty straightforward documentary of the band, containing both old and new interviews, some rare footage, and tons of random stuff. Sadly, no current interviews with Gary Young, but you can't have it all. I have watched this documentary at least once a year since it came out, and it always welcomes me back with open arms. It's just that nice. And because it's a music documentary, Thurston Moore's in it. So there's that.

The second part of the first disc contains all of the band's videos, along with alternate versions for three songs. Pavement's videos reflect their music nicely, by being both witty and frustrating at once. It works. The videos also have commentary by some of the band members, but I haven't listened to those in a while. Can't remember if they're any good or not.

The second disc is one full live show and one partial live show, both sets being from their final tour. Each of the concerts are shot with two (maybe three on one of 'em?) cameras, and you get to use your "angle" button - or whatever it's called - to control which camera you see the show from. Pretty cool use of that DVD feature, which rarely gets taken advantage of. The live shows are great, though it's towards the end of the band's existence, so you sort of get the vibe that Malkmus doesn't want to be there. Still, he tears through some nice guitar work and definitely seems enthused in parts.

There's a few easter eggs with some bonus live footage, and all in all, this thing is long as shit. I have watched all of it way too many times. It's actually one of my favorite music DVDs. Shocking, I know. Seriously though - if you like the band and you haven't checked this out, you're a sucker. Get with it.

Sweet clip here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pavement - Live Europaturnén MCMXCVII (2) (LP, 2009)

For Record Store Day 2009, Matador pressed up 2500 copies of this, another live show from Pavement in 1997. The cover was the same as the one from the previous year (though a different color), but the back of the sleeve on this one contained a bit more text (but not much more information).

As usual, I was late to get out of the house for Record Store Day, but I still managed to snag one of these - the last one on the shelf at ol' Jackpot! Records. I got lucky.

This is of the same era (duh) as the one that preceded it, but it's not from the same show. Still, there's a handful of songs that appear on both. But, it's a different show, the songs have slightly different vibes, and you could give me recordings of every show from the tour and I'd be happy.

And again: vinyl-only, limited edition, Pavement. These are all things that make me happy. Now I just have to get that limited edition version of their greatest hits that they put out this year for Record Store Day... eBay prices are going down. I've just gotta bide my time a little longer. I can do it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pavement - Live Europaturnén MCMXCVII (LP, 2008)

Matador does a thing called Buy Early Get Now for certain forthcoming releases, where they encourage you to preorder the album in exchange for not only being able to stream the whole thing as soon as you pay for it, but also more extras when the album hits stores. I've done it a few times: once for Stephen Malkmus' Real Emotional Trash (for which I ended up getting a live recording of a show that I was at, which was sweet), and again for Pavement's Brighten the Corners: Nicene Creedence Edition.

The Brighten the Corners deal was a scorcher. Not only was I able to listen to the entire thing a month before it came out (only on my computer, but I'm in front of this damn thing all the time), but they also dished out two rare tracks that didn't make it onto the final release (an alternate take of "Westie Can Drum" and a great live version of "Transport is Arranged"). On top of that, they included - in my mailbox the day it dropped - a live LP of a Pavement show from 1997, a poster, and, of course, the two-disc set that was the initial reason for the whole thing anyway.

The live LP is vinyl-only, and as far as I know, only available through this deal. (Though I think I've seen it popping up here and there since.) And, if you haven't put it together, it's the one we're talking about here. And it's pretty great.

In typical Pavement fashion, the cover art is more form than function, with the song titles only being listed on the actual LP, and even then, some of them use completely different titles and the other ones use alternate spellings. Whatever. If you know the band you'll know these songs, and it's a nice offering of stuff from everything except the last album, which hadn't come out yet.

There's a great version of "We Are Underused" (here inexplicably titled "Joe Boyd (Stringband)"), and rousing takes on "Stereo," "Loretta's Scars," and "Shady Lane." I'm not sure that it's an entire show, but it makes for a great little live recording. And anything that's a limited edition and "vinyl-only" makes me so, so happy.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pavement - Terror Twilight (CD, 1999)

This is Pavement's final album, and the only one to have not yet seen a deluxe edition re-release. There's apparently one in the works for this year, though no track listing has surfaced yet. I'm really curious to see what's going to be on it, because some of the b-sides from this record were included in the bonus material for Brighten the Corners already. I think there's still some stuff left over from the "Major Leagues" single/EP thingy, but I'm wondering if they're going to be able to pad this one out enough to make a double disc. We shall see.

This is the oddball of the Pavement catalog, not only for being their final studio release, but also for the way it sounds. Nigel Godrich (best known as Radiohead's producer) took to the boards on this one, and the sound he got out of the band is decidedly different than anything they'd attempted before. It's cleaner, fuller, and just way bigger and more defined. I have a feeling this is a point of contention for some Pavement faithfuls, but I've never heard too much griping. It probably helps that this is a really great set of songs.

"Spit on a Stranger"
is the opener here, and in classic Pavement fashion, a beautiful melody and breathtaking arrangement are saved from any chance of real radio success by lyrics that betray the music behind them. A sweet move, and an incredible song.

"Major Leagues" and "Carrot Rope" were the other singles from this record, and while I think "Carrot Rope" is one of the band's best songs (and a perfect one to be the last track on their last LP), "Major Leagues" has never been one of my favorite tunes from the group. It's a fine song, but they'd tackled the same idea on earlier albums with stronger results ("Father to a Sister of Thought," "Shady Lane"). Still, an un-fantastic Pavement single is still bound to be pretty good, and it is.

But it's the deeper cuts on this record that always come back to get me. The trio of "Billie," "Speak, See, Remember" and "The Hexx" that come towards the end of the record (right before "Carrot Rope," actually) is a fantastic batch of songs, and begin what is a great closing for the whole thing. In fact, "The Hexx" may be my favorite song on this entire album. It starts slow, builds, and just busts shit wide open by the time it's done. I like songs like that.

Like all the other Pavement records, this one was definitely my favorite for a while. While I definitely prefer their sloppy goofiness, I'm glad they made a record like this before they called it quits. Ultimately, I don't think the big-budget studio sound agrees with the band, but it definitely agreed with the songs they (or Malkmus) were writing at the time. They never made a bad album. Not even close. And that's tough to say about a lot of groups. This one may not float everyone's boat, but if you start with the catchier tunes and work your way around, it's really worth it.

So get with it. While I go stare at my Pavement reunion tickets that are magneted to my fridge. September can't come soon enough.

"Carrot Rope"

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pavement - Brighten the Corners: Nicene Creedence Edition (2xCD, 1997/2008)

I went through a phase where this was the only album I listened to for like a year. Or at least it felt like a year. Maybe six months. Whatever the length of time was, it was significant. I fell hard for Brighten the Corners, and I've never looked back. If you catch me in the right moment, I might even argue that it's their strongest record.

In the whole scheme of things, this is usually viewed as the "return to form" record after the weirdness that was Wowee Zowee. I don't really see it like that, because much of Brighten is just as goofy, warbly, and scatterbrained as the record that preceded it. But, it somehow feels more focused, and really does work better as a whole record.

This is Pavement after the fast start, after the rollercoaster ascension, and after the awkward album that may or may not have been intentionally so to scare off fairweather fans. Wowee Zowee seemed to wipe the slate clean, and Brighten the Corners finds the band sounding more comfortable than ever. "Stereo" is about as playful (it seriously borders on dicking around) as they ever got, and used as the opener here, it seems to want to set the tone for a freewheeling collection of songs. "Shady Lane" is almost as fun-loving, but "Transport is Arranged" is thick and semi-dark, a song that threatens to trudge but never does. I love that song.

Two of my other favorite Pavement songs of all time are on this disc, the explosive "Embassy Row" and the shatteringly beautiful "We Are Underused," which features a melody that I can never shake. The lyrics are as spaced-out as ever (this was the first record where a lot of Malkmus' lyrics seem to make no sense no matter which way you spin them), but it makes no difference. The song is huge, and ushers in the last third of the record, which is always better than I remember it being.

Spiral Stairs has two tracks on this record ("Date w/ Ikea" and "Passat Dream"), and they're both pretty good. His voice just can't always hack it, and though he tries to sound as intentionally fuck-all as Malkmus, it never quite works as well. Whatever: his songs are upbeat on this record, while Malkmus is often in slow mode. "Type Slowly" and the wonderful "Old to Begin" are both slow-but-awesome, and so are a lot of the other tracks on this album. Awww - Pavement was growing up.

So, like I said, there was a time when this was the Pavement record for me. I had such a boner for "Embassy Row" (still do) that I used to listen to this record solely to hear that song. And then I realized that I love every other song on this thing. And then I had to take a break from it because I was listening to it way too much.

But by the time the deluxe edition came out, I was ready to get back into it. And get back into it I did. The bonus material on this one is on par with the previously re-released records, and features some really great stuff. Some of it requires explanation, like, "why are there two versions of "The Hexx" when that song was on their next record, not this one?" and "Why are the b-sides for the "Spit on a Stranger" single included on this release when that song was also on their next record?" The answer is usually the same, and always a great one: The people who put these collections together are incredibly meticulous about keeping things era-appropriate, and they always go by when things were recorded, not when they were released. Man, I love that sort of attention to detail.

The bonus material is a lot to sift through (more radio performances, another Peel Session, a gang of outtakes), but it's almost all worth it. There's a ton of previously unreleased stuff, and again, having all the b-sides collected in one place is great. Matador also did a super-sweet Buy Early Get Now deal for this record, which included two extra tracks and a live LP. You know I got on board with that shit.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

I Went to a Show: Best Kissers in the World at Slabtown (May 21, 2010)

Best Kissers in the World were a band that had come and gone. I had accepted that. I never saw them in the 90's, and I missed my chance. This upset me, because I love the band's music, and it wasn't even like I got into them too late. I bought their first Sub Pop EP and loved the shit out of it. Still: never got to see them live, and the idea of a Best Kissers reunion seemed highly unlikely.

Well, dreams do come true, my friends. The band is back together, and I was lucky enough to see their very first reunion set at Slabtown on Friday night. They didn't go on until almost 1:30, playing last on a four-band bill, and it made for a long evening as the wife and I got there around 9:30 because we wanted to see the opening band (Stan McMahon Band playing as a rare power trio). Of course, they didn't go on until 10:30, and then we had to sit through two other bands who weren't really our thing. (Stan was awesome as usual.)

So, yes, it was late by the time the Kissers finally took the stage. I'm not gonna lie: there weren't a ton of people there. But the people who stuck around were there to see the band, and they knew it. The group seemed really excited to be there, and the show did not disappoint. In fact, it was better than I thought it would be, and I was planning on it being really good.

Best Kissers always had a rotating lineup of band members, with Gerald Collier being the only one who was always there. Still, it's worth mentioning that this incarnation of the band does not have any original members except Gerald. While I usually poo-poo things like this, I don't really care in this situation. (To be honest, I never really knew who any of the dudes in the band were except for Gerald, with the exception of Danny Bland, but that's just because he used to be connected to the Supersuckers.) Here's an explanation I found online from the new bass player:

It's a new Portland-based lineup. Gerald got permission from previous members (now spread about the country with families, careers, etc.) to put it back together with local friends. Lineup is:

Gerald Collier - Lead vocals and guitar
Mark Kent - Lead guitar and backing vocals
Andy Nelsen (me) - Bass and backing vocals
Kevin Byers - Drums

Mark is a Portland boy who has been playing in original bands in PDX for 20+ years. Kevin and I played in a band called Capsule based in San Francisco in the '90s and we were also the original rhythm section for the Mother Truckers, who are alive and well in Austin.

Anybody who follows the band knows that there have been quite a few players over the years and that Gerald is the only constant, but we are all big fans and we love playing together (Kev and I have been playing together for 15+ years), so we are stoked to be playing with Gerald, especially songs we've enjoyed from the outside over the years and the potential we see in future writing.

It's all about rock and roll. If that's cheezy then I'm cheezy. We love to play and we're playing what we love, and that is the extent of the game plan at this point!

So far we have Slabtown on May 21, Tractor Tavern in Seattle on July 30, and Dante's on July 31 with a few other unconfirmed dates we're working on.

So, that's the deal with that. The guitar player could have fooled me. Dude was a beast, and had the solos down, note-for-note. And the rest of the band sounded great, as well. There were a few hiccups here and there, but they were minor. For a first show, it was fantastic.

Because I am a nerd, I kept track of the setlist. Here it is.

"Slightly Used"
"Countin' Out Dexedrine"
"Hit Parader"
"Lonely Enough to Lie"
"Worried About It"
"Broke My Knee"
"Smoke Rings"
"Miss Teen U.S.A."
"Roadside Attraction"
New Song ("Thank You"?)
New Song ("C'mon"?)
"Pickin' Flowers For"

Not sure about those new ones.

That's the best picture I got up there, because my phone has no flash. Better one here that's not mine, and more on BKITW's FB page.

They're playing again in July. I'll be there.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pavement - Wowee Zowee (2xLP, 1995)/Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition (2xCD, 2006)

I've never really agreed with the all-too-common sentiment that Wowee Zowee is Pavement's most "experimental" record. It's maybe their most inconsistent, but they don't really do anything here that they didn't already do (in part, at least) on their first two records. Stephen Malkmus says in the Slow Century DVD that he - and I'm not going to get this word-for-word - "may have been smoking too much grass" during the writing and recording of this record. It's hard to tell if he's kidding or not, but when you listen to this LP, that assessment doesn't seem completely far-fetched.

Over the years, Wowee Zowee has gained the reputation as the most difficult Pavement record to wrap one's head around, but you've got to remember that that's a distillation that's mainly critic-driven, and definitely isn't universally accepted by hardcore proponents of the group. I've heard a lot of Pavement fanatics declare undying devotion to this record, even calling it their favorite. And while Pavement fans are certainly the type to try and out-cool each other, I'm sure there are a good amount who are completely sincere. Also: comparing almost anything to the first two Pavement albums isn't a fair fight. If this had been the band's first album, you can bet that people would have been pissing themselves over it. The group had just set the bar so high by this point, they really had almost nowhere left to go.

So don't let anyone tell you this isn't a great album. Because it is. And while there are some weird-ass songs on here, this album also contains some of the bands most accessible material. "We Dance," "Rattled By the Rush," and "Father to a Sister of Thought" are all catchy as heck, and found their way onto many mixtapes that I made in the mid-90's. And I can attest to the fact that finicky chicks dug it. That's when you know you're doing something right.

Other tracks, like "Grounded" and "AT&T" might not be as immediately hummable, but they'll grow on you quick. Just let 'em. I mentioned before that this was the first Pavement record that I really got into, and though it may not have been the ideal one for my real introduction to the band, it threw so many styles at me that when I went back and listened to their earlier stuff, it clicked with me instantly because it was all much more focused and, by comparison, somewhat cohesive. Wowee Zowee is, for all the great music it contains, jumbled in its execution. For some, that's a great thing. I've learned to enjoy that aspect of it, but this album has been my favorite Pavement record far fewer times than any of the other ones.

As with the previous two Pavement albums that had been reissued at this point, this one is jam-packed with extra tracks. This deluxe edition is a beast, and it contains a lot of stuff from the Wowee era, about half of which had never been released before. Not sure if I mentioned it before, but Pavement were great when it came to putting out singles and including non-album tracks on them. (Stephen Malkmus continues to do this, and it is awesome.) So, there were probably a lot of hardcore fanboys who's collections of import 12"s were instantly devalued when these reissues hit the streets, but for the rest of us, it's great to have all the b-sides assembled in one place.

So there's a handful of cuts from the "Rattled By the Rush" and "Father to a Sister of Thought" singles, as well as some other outtakes from the album's recording sessions. There's also compilation tracks (their version of the Descendent's "It's a Hectic World" is dicey at best), some stellar radio sessions, and a bunch of other randomness of varied quality.

This one is really for the hardcore Pavement fans. The eight-minute early version of "Fight this Generation" alone will make your girlfriend hate you. But as usual, the good outweighs the iffy. There are some real lost gems on this thing, and it's fitting for an album that might be one itself. Don't write this one off, and don't believe everything you hear about it. It's Pavement in the mid-90's for cryin' out loud. How bad can it be?

"Rattled By the Rush"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: LA's Desert Origins (2xCD, 1994/2004)

I long ago gave up on having a favorite Pavement album. I can think of as many reasons why this one is my favorite as I can for Slanted and Enchanted. And for a while, I was convinced that Brighten the Corners was the best one. It really depends on which one I'm listening to at the time.

Pavement's sophomore record is just as good as their first one, and definitely more accessible. The recording quality has improved vastly, and Stephen Malkmus' knack for melody comes through even clearer. Songs like "Gold Soundz," "Unfair," and "Elevate Me Later" are some of the best songs the band ever recorded. This was the golden age of Pavement. Crooked Rain, like their debut, doesn't have a bad song on it. "Fillmore Jive" is a bit much, but as a closer, it works perfectly. It's a nice finish, a great topper for the perfection that proceeds it. Talk about your great sophomore records. If anyone wondered if Pavement was going to be a one-off, they got silenced by this album.

People tend to remember this album for the almost-hit that was "Cut Your Hair" and the Billy Corgan/Stone Temple Pilot disses that overshadow the beauty of "Range Life," but there's obviously much more to it. "Stop Breathin'" and "Heaven is a Truck" are both starkly beautiful songs, and much less straightforward than the band's previous slow-jam, "Here." It's not that Malkmus' songwriting has improved by leaps and bounds - it's more a sensible maturing that continues to this day. Every album he puts out - both with Pavement and solo - seems like the next logical step in his songwriting. And so it is with Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: It still sounds like the Pavement from S&E, but it's not a sequel. It's a whole new thing that retains the key elements of what came before. (They also had a new drummer and recorded the album as a full band this time around.)

I think this album is a great place to start if you're looking to get into Pavement. S&E can be initially off-putting, but on this one, when "Silence Kit" gets rolling, you'll be hooked. Sure, it sounds a lot like "Everyday" by Buddy Holly, but that's part of its charm. And by the time you reach the one-two punch of "Unfair" and "Gold Soundz," there's no turning back. For a lot of people, this is the definitive Pavement record. I don't think it's possible to really pinpoint one to cram into that category, but if you had to, this one ain't a bad choice.

For the consummate fanboy, this deluxe edition is overflowing with extras. I'm pretty sure the entire second disc is previously unreleased material, and there are eight songs on it that were recorded after S&E but before Gary Young left the band. So if you're a Young fan (and aren't we all?), these are some incredible tracks to hear. There's also some early versions of songs that would end up on the next record (Wowee Zowee), alternate versions of songs from Crooked Rain (most with vastly different lyrics), another Peel Session, and just shit-ton of other ephemera. It's a Pavement nerd's dream. Some of it is rough, but I never have any problem listening to this thing all the way through.

My favorite Pavement record? It has been. It could be tomorrow. It's really, really good.

"Gold Soundz"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pavement - Westing (By Musket & Sextant) (CD, 1993)

And you thought Pavement was lo-fi on Slanted and Enchanted.

Before S&E dropped, Pavement released three EP's and the single for "Summer Babe." They put out their first release (Slay Tracks (1933-1969)) themselves, but the other stuff (including Demolition Plot J-7 and Perfect Sound Forever) was released on Drag City. The label collected those releases and ended up making a really nice compilation of Pavement's early output. It's a weird mix of stuff, but definitely essential for the Pavement fan. I need to someday buy the actual EPs on vinyl, but they ain't cheap. And I already have the music. You see my dilemma.

The stuff from Slay Tracks is, while being fairly shittily recorded, great. "You're Killing Me" is notable for not having any drums on it, though there is this weird tape hiss in the background that somehow seems percussion-y. "Box Elder" was the first song that got the band recognized, and it's one of the catchier tracks on this whole comp. The other tracks from the EP are awesomely noisy, and always border on sweet abrasiveness. Feel the angst.

The tracks from Demolition Plot J-7 are blazing noise, but they inch ever closer to what would become the Pavement sound. "Forklift" is probably the best track of the bunch, but that shouldn't take anything away from the spazzy fun of "Spizzle Trunk" and "Internal K-Dart."

Perfect Sound Forever is where shit gets really exciting. "From Now On" is more cohesive than the early stuff, and "Debris Slide" is purely awesome. But it's "Home" that really makes it all come together, and ends up being the last real song (the clanky rattle of "Krell-Vid User" doesn't really count) before everything busts open with "Summer Babe." Like I said, that single is included here, too, but that stuff also ends up on the deluxe edition of S&E.

Though this is indeed the earliest Pavement stuff, you may be tempted to start at the beginning if you've never heard the band before. I would advise against that, but that's just me. The songs here can be rough. But if you like Slanted and Enchanted, you'll find stuff to like here.

"Debris Slide"

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pavement - Slanted and Enchanted (LP, 1992)/Slanted and Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe (2xCD, 2002)

I bought Slanted and Enchanted for my girlfriend in high school. I kept reading in Spin about how great it was, and it sounded like something she would like. Of course, being the selfish and broke teen that I was, I also wanted to hear it myself and this was my roundabout way of getting that done. Man, I was an idiot.

I remember her putting the CD in her little boom box in her bedroom, and when "Summer Babe (Winter Version)" chortled forth, it wasn't what I had expected it to be at all. Lo-fi, rattly, vocals sung-spoke and halfway buried - I didn't get it. And being the finicky 16-year-old that I was, I never really took the time to let it sink in. There was so much other music at the time that gripped me right out of the box, and I think it was easier to just remain in that comfort zone.

I'd hear Pavement here and there for the next handful of years. I remember a friend having a CD copy of the "Trigger Cut" single, and I liked that song. And "Cut Your Hair" ended up being around. I bought a copy of Wowee Zowee on double vinyl (though there were only three sides) in 1997, and it all began to make sense. Turns out I couldn't have picked a more tough-to-crack album to really dig into (I equate this with buying Fugazi's Steady Diet of Nothing before hearing any of their other stuff - which I did), as it still remains the one Pavement record that people insist on referring to as "challenging." But songs like "We Dance" and "Rattled By the Rush" got to me, and became go-to mix tape tracks for me that year.

It wasn't until I moved to Portland in 1998 that I decided to give Slanted and Enchanted another go. I moved in with a guy who had a lot of records I didn't, and I used to tape some of his LPs to listen to in my car during my half-hour drive to work. It was during this time that I made a tape that literally has not left my car since the day I recorded it. On side A: Elliott Smith's XO. On side B: Slanted and Enchanted and the 12" for "Gold Soundz," a song from Pavement's second record. I played this tape over and over, both sides, for years. I'll tell you of my obsession with XO when we get there, but the story here is this: I finally realized why everyone was so infatuated with Slanted and Enchanted.

Talking about the most important indie rock records of the 90's is a fairly stupid conversation to have, but if you're going to have it, you're going to need to remember that the Pixies' Doolittle came out in the 80's, Nirvana probably doesn't count as indie rock, and if you want to act like Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is more significant - or better - than Slanted and Enchanted, than you're an idiot. Slanted and Enchanted remains the record that a million bands have tried to remake, and all of them have failed. But you can't blame them for trying. Pavement's (and particularly Stephen Malkmus') strength has always been their ability to make the complex look simple.

S&E will always be labeled as slack-rock, and indeed, the album gives off the vibe - in parts - that this is just something to do. It probably doesn't help that the drummer (bless you, Gary Young) seems to be the only one who knows how to play his instrument. But, again, that's the beauty of it. The sounds wrenched from the guitars on this record may not be easily duplicated (made-up chords and fucked tunings), but they are methodical in their own way. And while Malkmus' lyrics seem like they're off the top of his dome (and there do exist tales of him changing lyrics from take-to-take in the studio), they always begin memorably and resolve themselves in a fashion that's too damn bright to be off-the-cuff.

The original Slanted and Enchanted is 14 tracks, clocks in at under 40 minutes, and is just as good as everyone tells you it is. "Summer Babe (Winter Version)" remains one of the band's definitive tunes, and the fact that it's the first song on their first full-length is just too perfect. That one represents the wall-of-guitar approach, but it's the melodies that are slipped in all over the place that make it so great. And there's a bunch of songs like that on here: "Loretta's Scars," "No Life Singed Her," and "Fame Throwa" are all great examples.

But it's the more restrained tracks like "Here" and "Zurich is Stained" (my personal favorite) that make the album much more than just wrangled guitars, trebly drums, and deceptively catchy melodies. And super-sweet cuts like "Perfume-V" get the best of both. Eh, I love every song on this record. I don't need to end up naming all of 'em. So, yes, one of my favorite albums ever. That's a long list, and it includes more than one Pavement record, but man, I never get tired of this one.

This was the first Pavement album to get the deluxe edition treatment, and they did it right. On Luxe & Reduxe, the original LP gets a remaster, and they include a ton of cool shit. There's the original 7" version of "Summer Babe," (titled "Summer Baby") along with the b-sides from that single and a few other random tracks from that session, including a much heavier mix of "Here." There's two four-song John Peel sessions, each of which include some great non-album tracks. There's the Watery, Domestic EP, which includes both "Frontwards" and the incredible "Shoot the Singer (1 Sick Verse)," which is one of the band's best early songs.

On top of all that, there's also a full live show circa '92 that features a sweet mix of well-known tunes and some more random ones ("Box Elder," "Baby, Yeah," "So Stark"). For a band that everyone always calls a bunch of slackers, they were prolific. Some of the later deluxe editions are more geared towards superfans only, but this one is a great one if you're a Slanted and Enchanted enthusiast. And if you're not an enthusiast, you should be. Though my wife still hates this record... Meanwhile, I've been listening to it on a weekly basis for 12 years and I still love it.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Mike Patton - Pranzo Oltranzista (CD, 1997)

When compared to Adult Themes for Voice, this CD is downright melodic.

Performed by a five-piece ensemble that includes both Patton and consummate weirdo John Zorn, this album is experimental, for sure, but maybe not quite as experimental as Patton has been known to get. Still, it won't be the soundtrack to your next dinner party.

Some tracks really utilize the instruments (guitar, cello, sax, percussion), while others feature glasses clinking and what sounds like someone biting down on hard candy. Oh, Patton, you goofball.

This thing looks sweet on my shelf, though. And I'm just shallow enough to care about something like that.

Cannot find a lick of audio for this one.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mike Patton - Adult Themes for Voice (CD, 1996)

When a friend of mine told me that he had just picked up a Mike Patton solo album (this was probably around 1997), I was excited. Very excited. My pals and I were all intense Patton devotees, and while the idea of him releasing an album on his own had certainly occurred to us, we never thought we'd see it happen. But it did.

And I've owned it for over ten years and I've probably listened to it all the way through twice.

While the idea of Patton taking a four-track recorder with him on tour and recording weird vocal noises on it in different hotel rooms is intriguing, and the final products is indeed interesting, it's not something you're going to listen to very often. Or really at all, unless you're trying to get people to leave a party. I think I may have done that once.

Attempting to explain what this sounds like is impossible, so I won't bother with that. This is just one of those CDs that I like to have on my shelf. I'll probably keep it forever. If nothing else, the song titles are amusing: "I Killed Him Like a Dog...And He Still Laughed," "Hurry Up and Kill Me...I'm Cold," and "A Smile, A Slap In The Face, A Fart, A Kiss On The Mouth" are among my favorites.

"Pajama Party Horror"

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Park-Like Setting - School Day 2, Garbage Day 4 (CD, 2000)

Man, it's been a decade since this album dropped? Craziness.

Park-Like Setting is one of the earlier offshoot groups from mcenroe's Peanuts & Corn label, and in their first incarnation it featured mcenroe, John Smith, and DJ Hunnicutt. My brother discovered mcenroe through his Ethics EP, when it showed up used at the record store he worked at. He liked it, and soon, he was a fan of everything the P&C label released. It took me a little while, but I eventually got into their music, too.

This album was one of the first ones I really attempted to wrap my head around, and it was a great place to start. It's framed a concept record, and while it loosely is, there's no need to get wrapped up in that aspect of it. (Though the song titles make it a little bit difficult not to.) This is simply some great turn-of-the-century indie Canadian hip hop, and though all the members of the group have progressed greatly in their skills since this point, it's still dope as all get out. A young John Smith ready to take over the world; mcenroe trying his best to make sure the drums hit as hard as possible (those snares are rugged); DJ Hunnicutt sampling shit that nicely reflects his solid taste in hip hop: there's no reason not to like this.

My brother made me a tape of this when he had it, but I always felt guilty about not buying my own. This is as indie as hip hop gets, and I know how that goes. I got the chance to buy a copy from the man himself when my brother and I went to see mcenroe and Pip Skid in Portland many years ago. He was nice enough to sign it for me, and I still have it. He wrote, "Keep it rilly rill." And I did.

Seriously though, if you're not listening to the artists on Peanuts & Corn, you're missing out on some great music. Check out a few other ones I wrote up here and here.

And if you know this CD at all, you've got to check out John Smith's blog about it from a few years back.

You can listen to some samples here, but that's the best I can find, apparently.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Paris - Acid Reflex (2xLP, 2008)

I am terrible at keeping up with when Paris is going to release an album. You've probably got a few artists like this in life. You love their music, but their output is so sporadic that you don't bother waiting for their next album to drop. You figure you'll find out when it's released one way or another, and it'll be a sweet surprise. So it goes with Paris for me.

I received both Unleashed and Sonic Jihad as Christmas gifts from my brother, and I had no idea either of them were out. Amazon has Unleashed's official release date as March 17, 1998. That means I went on with my life for nine months having no idea the thing was out. Sonic Jihad was released in October, so that one wasn't as bad. Still. I never know when the shit's hitting the stores. With Acid Reflex, I just came across it while shopping for other records. Everyday Music in Beaverton had it in a rack near a register, and I spotted it on my way out. A nice surprise.

You might remember that I named this record my third best album of 2008, and I still think that was a good call. Like Sonic Jihad, Acid Reflex is Paris doing what he does best. There's no major shift between the two records, though Paris does seem a bit more laid back here - he is getting older - and it finds him really favoring R&B hooks. There's nothing wrong with that, though on a song like "Get Fired Up," it sort of stops the furor of the track and calms things down a bit too much.

Still, it's tough to stop Paris from getting pissed once he gets rolling, and he's got plenty of anger to get out here. After the Bush-blasting he did on Sonic Jihad, it's nice to hear him go outside of that zone and take on other targets. I still think "The Hustle" is one of his best songs, an anti-religion tirade that is brilliant in its calculation and execution. With so many rappers giving the perfunctory props to god, it's fantastic to hear somebody really dissecting what that means. Yeah, it's heavy shit, but it's what Paris does best.

"Winter in America" features Chuck D (realizing that I said it was "Rebels without Applause" in my best-of post), and though it's not the most stomping track, it's a great cut. And that ends up being able to be said about a lot of these songs. Paris is a master beatmaker at this point, and while he used to just juice the bpm's and bowl you over, he's now just as comfortable laying back a bit and making sure you can understand all he's got to say. And I'm still with it.

"Don't Stop the Movement"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Paris - Sonic Jihad (CD, 2003)

From the mid-90's to the early-2000s, Paris was mostly silent. Yeah, he put out Unleashed, but that was hardly a full-fledged solo outing. After the events of September 11, it wasn't like I was saying to myself, "the world needs Paris now more than ever," but when he popped up a couple years later with this record, it made perfect sense, and reminded me that I was indeed curious about what the dude had to say regarding recent events.

By the time this album dropped (October 2003), it obviously wasn't going to be quite as relevant as it would have been a few years earlier, but you can tell from the cover that Paris was still interested in getting some play out of the still-sensitive issue. (However, when the album shipped, it came in an all-black cardboard sleeve that featured a warning about the "hard truth" contained within. Sure, it was overly dramatic, but it was a good move in my book.) And rather than rush something out, he took his time with this thing, and it ended up being a great record. Saying that it's his strongest since Sleeping With the Enemy isn't saying much, but it was. And more importantly, it proved that dude still had what it takes.

If you thought P-Dog hated the first President named Bush, it quickly becomes apparent that he still had some ire in reserves for his offspring. And rather than resort to the knee-jerk assassination barbs (though he does declare "The return of the Bush Killa" on the first track), he takes the time over the course of this record to deconstruct the then-current presidency piece-by-piece, while also tackling news organizations, pundit-minded celebrities (the Dennis Miller diss was unexpected), religion, the military - you get the idea.

In the end, this album is more a return to form than a mind-blowing reinvention, and that's why I like it. It almost comes across as an updated version of Sleeping With the Enemy, and while that might be a bad thing for some, it's fine by me. After feeling like I knew what to expect from Paris and then being thrown the curveball that was Guerrilla Funk, I realized that all I really wanted him to do was come back with some hard raps, dark beats, and a chip on his shoulder the size of the Golden Gate Bridge. And he did it.

"Field Nigga Boogie"

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Paris - Unleashed (CD, 1998)

Released four years after Guerrilla Funk, this release still remains shrouded in mystery.

This is the only album that's not mentioned on Paris' website, and the first one for which there was no video released. It's also the first album that Paris released after breaking ties with Priority Records, who I'm pretty sure was the umbrella for the Scarface Records label that Paris ran. This album was released on Unleashed Records, which appears to be a part of Whirling Records, which I can find no info about. It has the Guerrilla Funk logo on the back, but instead of saying "Guerrilla Funk Recordings," like his next albums would, it says, "Guerrilla Funk Music Publishing (ASCAP)." These are not the only signs that this was a transitional period for Paris.

Inside the CD jacket, there's an ad for Unleashed Records that announces, "Introducing Jet and Nuttso...The Next Generation Coming 1998..." Yup, Paris was trying his luck with some up-and-comers. A really weird move from a guy who rarely had guest spots on his albums. An even weirder move: giving these guys solo tracks on this LP, with beats that he didn't do. And they're not even tacked on at the end - they're just mixed in with the other songs on the CD. Jet gets two cuts ("Everyday Livin'" and "Same Ol' Same Ol'"), while Nuttso gets one ("Thug Livin'"). All three of the songs are weak, typical gangsta rap, with beats that can't hold a candle to the shit Paris puts together.

Sort of weird but not really: Spice 1 shows up on two tracks on this disc, which would be really odd if they weren't both from the Bay Area and this wasn't the most gangsta Paris album ever. Seriously. P-Dog came out of hiding for what would end up being his only album in an almost ten-year span, and he brings some of the hardest shit of his career. "Blast First," "Record Label Murder," and "Street Soldier" are all badass cuts, with Paris calling out "wannabe G's" with a fervor that he hadn't mustered since '92.

He still gets political on a few tracks ("Root of All Evil" and "Conversation"), and somehow makes a gangsta-type love song (!) work on "44 Wayz." Yeah, this really is the odd Paris album. But I forgot how good it is if you take off the tracks with his little homies. The beats are solid, he sounds as pissed as ever, and "Street Soldier" remains one of his strongest cuts.

A few other things of note:

The Jet and Nuttso albums did indeed see release.

Apparently Unleashed was only released for a short time and in small numbers, and has become a bit of a collector's item. Though Amazon prices can't always be trusted.

I just found out that there's an Italian import version of this CD that features a different tracklisting and six tracks that aren't included on the American version. Strangely, some of the songs on that one use the same verses from some of the guest dudes on the American version, just in different songs.

Weirdest Paris album ever.

"Street Soldier"

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Paris - Guerrilla Funk (CD, 1994)

Up to this point, Paris always struck as me as the sort of guy who didn't give a fuck about trends. He was the hard-ass who just wanted to blister mics and kill the white devil. It was on Guerrilla Funk that I began to wise up to the fact that maybe, just maybe, Paris wasn't exactly who I thought he was. (I've since found out that he's not anything like I thought he was. Not that it matters - I still love the guy's music.)

I go back and forth with this record. For a while, I really didn't like it - it struck me as a blatant attempt to cash in on the g-funk shit that Dr. Dre had already lit up the West Coast with, and a late attempt at that. Paris even samples a few of the same songs that Dre used on Doggystyle. And while the Parliament sound may have been a cool move if used to mix it up on a few tracks, listening to it for an hour straight gets a little tedious. On top of that, Paris just doesn't sound as hard rapping over warbly synths and big-funk basslines. His voice almost cuts through it, but I find myself really missing the ruggedness of his beats.

In fairness, his first two records were fairly similar, so I do respect the fact that he mixes it up here. But then he does a track like "Back in the Day," which is just a weaker version of "The Days of Old" from Sleeping With the Enemy. And "Outta My Life" is possibly the worst Paris song ever. Corny beat, and even his lyrics seem like a half-assed stab at making his own version of "Dead Homiez." That's oversimplifying it, of course, but you get the idea.

Still, there are some bright spots on this record, and I don't want to make it seem like there aren't. "One Time Fo' Ya Mind" lays off the funk and sounds like vintage Paris, and "It's Real," aside from it's way-too-familiar sampling, is a solid opener. Still, this album can't help but sound severely dated now, and even though Paris drops some fine lyrics throughout, the whole thing is overshadowed by the weird P-Funk theme.

Paris must have agreed that it wasn't his finest work, because he disappeared for a while after this one.

"One Time Fo' Ya Mind"

Monday, May 10, 2010

600th Post: The Tide is Turning.

This is not a picture of my actual turntable, but this is the same turntable that I have. I've owned it for years, but for much of that time it's been in semi-working condition and I haven't been using it. The left channel would always cut out, and it made listening to my LPs an exercise in frustration. I finally got it back from the repair shop after a lengthy stay there (think I might have mentioned this before), and it sounds better than ever.

Not sure why I'm mentioning this. Guess I'm just excited about it. It's definitely given me a reinvigorated interest in playing my records, and that's not a bad thing. For anyone interested, it's a Marantz 6100. Fully automatic, and really nice looking. I'm happy. So that's that.

The past and current numbers breakdown, as it relates to CDs vs. vinyl:

At my 200th post, the score was 116-84; roughly 58% CDs to 42% vinyl.

By my 300th post, it was 179-112; about 61% to 39%.

At post 400, it was 217-156, which sent it back to 58% CDs and 42% vinyl.

At the ever-impressive 500th post, the tally was CDs: 250, LPs: 211. That breaks down to 54% CDs, 46% vinyl.

As you may know, because I've mentioned here a few times, I'm always in the process of replacing my CDs with vinyl copies of the same album. I then sell the CD versions and put the profits towards either more records, or - currently - seasons of The Sopranos. So, not only have I been buying new records, but I've been losing some of my compact discs. I spent some time and went back and changed the posts where I now have the LP copy of something that I had the CD version of when I originally posted. The numbers are up to date.

And for the first time since I started writing this blog, LPs have overtaken CDs.

The score is now 266-272, with vinyl holding onto a six-disc lead. 49% CDs, 51% vinyl. And that's rounding the decimals up.

Everything else stayed relatively the same. 90's Rock is still in first, followed by 90's hip hop, with 2000's rock barely edging out 2000's hip hop. 70's rock is still ahead of 80's rock, but only by one album.

Possibly most impressive: I've made 600 posts. Yikes. And we're just starting out on the P's. Still a long way to go.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Paris - Sleeping With the Enemy (CD, 1992)

When I was still in high school - this would have been around 1993 - I used to go down to Eugene and visit my off-and-on girlfriend who lived down there (long story). She lived in a house with a few girls, but there were always random people hanging around. I got to know a couple of guys who were always over there, through various Boone's-drinking, bong-hitting, and music-listening. One of the guys' names was Paul, but everybody called him P-Dog.

One night we were playing this idiotic game that P-Dog liked to play where you took a bong hit, held the smoke in, took a pull from a 40 of OE, ate a cookie, and then blew the smoke out. Seriously: I had to be seventeen to think this was as awesome as I did. Anyway. P-Dog and his friend had great taste in hip hop, and on this night, they were rocking something I'd never heard before. I was extremely out of it, but this music was blowing my mind. I asked them what it was, and they flipped me the CD. Paris. Sleeping With the Enemy. Just then, his voice rattled out of the shit speakers: "P-Dog the Bush killa." Ah.

We listened to the CD on and off whenever I was down there, but I would always forget to buy it. Which was weird, because I loved it. In fact, I don't think I picked it up until a few years later. I can't be sure of that. But I know I had it when I was 19, because I was fucking immersed in it by that point. (I put "Coffee, Donuts & Death" on a mixtape that year for my girlfriend, for chrissake. She hated it, and rightfully so.) Maybe I bought it the year before? It doesn't matter. I bought it, listened to it, and wondered why in the hell it took me so damn long to buy this album. Because it is amazing.

It's frustrating that Sleeping With the Enemy has become more well-known for its cover and content controversy (more about that here) than it has for its music. This is Paris' crowning achievement, an album that, while well-received at the time and still highly regarded in some circles, never got the universal props it deserved. The way this thing flows together as a collection of songs is seamless, and the beats that Paris put together manage to be more diverse, more powerful, and even more catchy than the ones he crafted for his debut.

"Make Way for a Panther," "Sleeping With the Enemy," and "House Niggas Bleed Too" are the first three proper tracks on the album, and they're all insane. Turns out they're just the prelude to the murder fantasy that everyone whined about, "Bush Killa." It's a great song, and that's all that matters. That's all that should have mattered. Anyway, the album starts out in mega-fierce mode (good move), but Paris mixes shit up as it goes along. "Assata's Song" and "The Days of Old" are both mellow and thoughtful tracks, and he pulls them off with ease.

Still, this album is at its best when he comes with the hard shit. "Guerrillas in the Mist" is actually part two of "Break the Grip of Shame" from The Devil Made Me Do It (it uses the same beat, even), and it sounds even grittier than it did the first time around. "Conspiracy of Silence" features Son Doobie from Funkdoobiest (listed in the liner notes as "Sun Dubious") and L.P. (?) and is one of the more bouncy tracks that Paris made up to this point. He also throws in some shorter, interlude-y cuts, as well as some slower knowledge-droppers. Great sequencing, great composition. Great one to listen to on headphones.

Oh, and a fun fact: A young DJ Shadow did some of his first recorded work on this record.

Many years ago, a friend of mine who worked at a record store unearthed an original, sealed copy of this CD, still in its longbox. Needless to say, it remains untouched and is on a shelf in my front room.

"The Days of Old"

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Paris - The Devil Made Me Do It - The Deluxe Edition (2xLP, 1990/2003)

I had had my original CD version of The Devil Made Me Do It for a long-ass time, and I just recently found this Deluxe Edition in a store and decided to upgrade. It's odd in that it doesn't say specifically that it's been remastered, but that it's been "digitally enhanced and reworked, and has provided the artist the rare opportunity to improve on the the initial release by benefiting from advancements in technology previously unavailable." Pretty sure that means "remastered."

And that's what it sounds like. The original issue of The Devil Made Me Do It was, like a lot of other CDs released around the same time, really quiet compared to more recent discs, and the overall sound just wasn't great either. This edition sounds a little better, though it seems that the recording might have been a little budget to begin with. It doesn't matter. Paris is so angry, so pro-black, and so fed up with everything that a small nuisance like pristine sonic clarity isn't going to get in the way of him making his point. And, if you hadn't guessed it already, that point is, "fuck the white man." Fair enough.

And never have I so enjoyed listening to a man rail against my entire race. Paris is really the only rapper I've ever listened to who I genuinely think would be pissed if he knew I was buying his records. Sure, there's a lot of hip hop artists out there who talk the white man down, but come on. It's all part of the shtick. Paris not only lives it and raps about it, he backs up all his claims with historic precedents, to the point where I can't help but agree with him.

So why do I listen to the records of a guy who I know for a fact thinks of me as the enemy? Because the dude's an incredible rapper and producer, and if I'm going to listen to pissed-off rap, I want it to be focused in its anger and I want it to be smart. Paris is right up there with Ice Cube when it comes to pulling that off. And that's a huge compliment.

The Devil Made Me Do It is Paris' first LP, and though the beats sound fairly dated now, his voice sounds as clear and as relevant as ever. And don't get me wrong - the beats are dope as shit. I still love listening to the crazy-fast grooves of "Panther Power" and "Wretched." I still love listening to the rest of this record, too. Paris is political, Paris is outspoken, and Paris doesn't make songs about having fun. My wife hates this record. So yeah, there's a time and place for it. If you've never lifted weights while listening to Paris, I highly recommend it.

The original CD version of this album already contained two bonus remixes, and this one only adds one more. But if you only had the original vinyl version, you'd be looking at five bonus tracks, because it not only didn't include any remixes, it also omitted two tracks ("Brutal" and "On the Prowl") that would end up right in the middle of the CD version. Kind of a weird move.

Paris ain't for everybody. But if you're curious, start with this one or his next one. They're both fantastic.

"The Devil Made Me Do It"

Friday, May 7, 2010

Pailhead - Trait (CD, 1988)

Wow, here's one I haven't listened to in years.

When you're in high school and some punk kid you're sort of friends with asks you if you've ever heard Pailhead - you know, that group with Ian MacKaye singing with Ministry - your first instinct is to think he's lying. Or he's confused. Or he's fucking with you. Ian MacKaye and Ministry? You know both of these artists, and the idea of the two of them teaming up on a musical project seems far-fetched at best. In fact, you have a hard time thinking of two artists who are further apart from each other in both musical styles and general philosophies. Seriously, is this kid fucking with you?

You hear about it from some other people, and you start to think it might be real. You eventually track down the CD, proving once and for all that this thing actually happened, and this recording actually exists. You still don't really believe it for some reason, but when you listen to the CD, it's all there. Industrial guitar rock and Ian screaming over the top of it. You don't really like it that much, but you're so infatuated with the fact that it's real that you hold onto the CD for the rest of your life, never really listening to it, just always knowing it's there, on your shelf, being one of the strangest things you could ever imagine.

"Man Should Surrender"

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Deep Crates (2004)

Here's the problem with doing a low-budget music documentary: You can't afford to get clearance to use any of the music that people are talking about in the film. As a viewer, this makes the film an exercise in either having to imagine the songs you know playing behind the person who's talking, or being frustrated because you have no idea what song they're talking about.

This is a really low-budget doc about crate-digging, and while the interviews look like shit (we're talking home video footage here), they do manage to be quite interesting. But when someone starts talking about how a certain sample was incorporated into a specific beat, you instinctively expect the song to start playing in the background. It doesn't, and it really makes the whole thing frustrating. They instead opt to use (at certain points) really non-descript beats that were provided by some random DJ, but even that is only every-so-often, so it's jarring when it kicks in.

The interviews with Lord Finesse and Diamond D are interesting if you have some point of reference for what they're talking about, but without any music (or any visual aids, I might add), this whole thing comes off as a hastily-made student film. That's not to say it's worthless. If you're a hip hop purist and you're interested in knowing about the roots of crate digging, you'll get some interesting info out of this. If you're a novice and just want to see a cool music documentary, this ain't the one for you.

There's a Part II that has Marley Marl in it and looks a bit sharper, so I'll probably check that out.

Watch a bit of Deep Crates here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Outkast - Idlewild (2xLP, 2006)

I can't believe it's been four years since the last Outkast album. Not really the soundtrack to the film of the same name as much as it's an accompanying album, this record was initially challenging for me to get my head around. I've since come to appreciate it for what it is, and now I legitimately enjoy the shit out of it.

While the two members of the group clearly were still working separately on the songs for this disc, they made the wise move of grouping all their individual tracks into one album, and it makes for a pretty sweet mix of music. (And if you don't like it like that, divide the tracks up in iTunes. Since the album is almost 80 minutes long, you can make two nice little mini-albums out of it.) As usual, some of André's cuts can get a little sprawling, but in the whole scheme of what they were trying to pull off here, I think they all work. The notable exception might be the warbly weirdness of "A Bad Note," but they wisely put that one at the end.

While I normally have beef with the sequencing on Outkast records, they really nail it on this one. "Mighty 'O'" is the perfect lead-off track (after the too-long intro), featuring both dudes dropping some solid verses over a click-clacky track that totally works. "Peaches" is sparse with the backing track, but Big Boi fills it out with some uncharacteristically subdued verses. It's an odd cut, but it's grown on me. André's "Idlewild Blue (Don'tchu Worry 'Bout Me)" is one of the handful of singles from this album (along with "Mighty 'O'" and "Morris Brown") that should have been a way bigger hit than it was. He finally found the perfect vehicle for his singing voice, and it's a great song.

The album starts off single-heavy, but the songs that follow and the ones that are interspersed early on are some damn fine 'Kast deep cuts. "The Train" is dope smoothness, "Buggface" is a solid quick one, and all of André's cuts are more Prince-y than ever, which is fine by me. You could argue that things start to lag somewhere in the middle (I could really do without the Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg guest spots), but once you get into the groove of the thing, it moves nicely.

I can still listen to this one because I never burned myself out on it. Revisiting it this week has been nice. Still, I'm ready for some new shit.

"Idlewild Blue (Don'tchu Worry 'Bout Me)"

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (4xLP, 2003)

When I heard that Big Boi and André were going to release solo albums under the Outkast name and package it as one double album, I didn't really believe it would happen. The idea seemed crazily ambitious, and there was just too much that could go haywire. Of course, they proved me wrong, and the album went on to be certifiably mammoth.

"Hey Ya" became the song you loved and then the song you never wanted to hear again for the rest of your life (don't hear it much these days, do you?), but when it was good, it was great. Outkast played SNL right before the record came out, and when André busted that shit out while wearing this crazy green shredded bodysuit thing, I knew the song was going to be inescapable for the rest of the year. I had taped the episode, and I watched that performance over and over. I couldn't get enough of it. The song that Big Boi performed that night ("The Way You Move") was good too, but I always thought it was way too hook-heavy. In fact, I'd argue that it's one of the weaker tracks on Speakerboxxx.

And there's not many. The cut with Ludacris on it ("Tomb of the Boom") is ruined only by the fact that Ludacris is on it, and the track with Lil' Jon ("Last Call") is all kinds of stupid, but it's the last song, so whatever.

Otherwise, Big Boi's half is nothing short of incredible. "The Rooster" and "Knowing" are two of my favorite Outkast cuts of the last 10 years, and should be held up as an example of hip hop done right. If somebody makes a list of the top ten best living rappers and Big Boi's not on it, that list is worthless. Dude should be on there for this album alone. His rap on "Ghetto Musick" is untouchable.

I guess you probably either love or hate The Love Below. Me? I'm in the love camp. I was listening to it earlier today and remembered everything that I love about it: It's meticulously crafted but sounds loose, the lyrics are bizarrely brilliant, and the musicianship is, while not always spot-on, a blast to listen to. I'm just impressed that this thing exists. There had to have been people telling André that it was career suicide to release an album that is long as shit, features him mostly trying to sound like Prince, and has very little rapping on it.

But, the dude pulled it off. The Love Below isn't an album that you're going to have in your car stereo for weeks at a time, but man - when the time is right, it's a great record to listen to. There's just so much to it, and André's singing voice is so untrained and unpredictable that it lends itself to a certain charm. I could see how that - along with the long running time and general weirdness of the whole project - could turn some people off to this thing, but I've always really enjoyed it. I'm also a huge André fanboy, so that doesn't hurt. But I really think it's a smart record. And the hip hop world could use more of those.

This thing's a beast, and it's usually best tackled one album at a time. But if you haven't listened to it in a while, it might be time to check it out again. It's as good as you remember it. It's somehow better than I remember it.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Outkast - Big Boi & Dre Present... Outkast (CD, 2001)

Outkast blew the heck up after Stankonia dropped, so in a rare move in the hip hop world, they dropped a Christmastime greatest hits comp in hopes to capitalize on some of that success. Of course, they put a small handful of new tracks on it too, so the hardcore fans had a reason to pick it up. The whole thing reeked of cash-grab to me, and I don't think I even bought this until a few years ago, when I found it used at a very discount price.

Still, the non-album tracks (there are four, counting the intro) are good cuts, and they're worth owning. "Funkin' Around" sounds very of-the-time, with Dre copping a fake British accent and then busting in with some forceful rhymes. Big Boi, of course, slays shit on his verse. "The Whole World" was a modest hit for them around this time, and it should have been bigger. It's got a huge hook, and the raps on it are dope. "Movin' Cool" isn't big on raps, but it makes a nice outro to this collection. Sort of a soul-funk type thing, with Big Boi dropping some knowledge towards the end.

This collection also features lyrics for all the tracks in the liner notes, and that's pretty cool. There's also a decent recap of their four studio albums.


The ads for the short-lived Outkast clothing line.

The ads for André's artwork, which has "SAMPLE" stamped all over the one-inch-square photos. Yeah, you don't want anyone scanning that and putting it in their wallet.

The especially hacky-looking ad for Big Boi's pit bull kennel business. His own name is misspelled in it.

"Outkast comics coming soon!!!" No they weren't.

They should have included the weird-as-shit "Land of a Million Drums" on it, but instead it went straight to the Scooby-Doo soundtrack a year later.

The tracks aren't in chronological order, and there's only two songs from ATLiens.

I can always find stuff to whine about.

"The Whole World"