Better then 36 Chambers?

•December 13, 2007 • 1 Comment

 Just the idea alone will have die hard Wu fans slinging samurai swords. Trust me, Wu Tang Fans aint nothing to fuck with.

            But seriously, this new Wu record is defiantly the best cut we’ve heard from them in a while. On their 5th studio album 8 Diagrams, the Clan attacks again with the classic gritty rhythms and kung fu samples yet on this record RZA’s production seems to have gotten even better with a much more refined sound and smooth transitions between artists. The record’s feels more laid back then past joints and the lyrics reflect a more mature sound. This might also be due to the pound of weed smoked in a seven day recording session.

            Either way the disc has a lot to offer for both die hard fans and new comers.

With huge anticipation from the hip hop and music communities the album is worth the wait. One stand out track is the first single, “As My Heart Gently Weeps” which samples the Beatles song, “As My Guitar Gently Weeps” and features Erika Badu, John Frusciante of The Red Hot Chili Peppers and George Harrison’s son Dhani Harrison.    

            The track Wolves features strange improves by the Prime Minister of Funk himself, George Clinton. Each song demonstrates a definite group effort musically; RZA’s beats seem to compliment the styles of his fellow Clan members seamlessly.

            In a genre ran by artists who were just turning ten years old when C.R.E.A.M was released it’s dope to see a classic group like the Wu Tang Clan evolve to compete yet still stay true to the style that made them the Clan.    

Dust it off and give it a try.

•December 12, 2007 • Leave a Comment

My tastes in music vary widely.  There are times when I love stupid music, like Quiet Riot or Kid Rock, other times when I want something sort of revolutionary. A lot of mid 80’s rap fills this need, specifically Public Enemy (for obvious reasons). Sometimes I want to spend an evening with Yo Yo Ma or Pavarotti, other times I want to listen to jazz—even Mexican ranchero music has a place in my library.  The one that I love, the one that fills a need in me that none of the others quite fit, is old labor music.

This music tells a story.  I don’t mean that each song tells a story, although they often do, but that the music itself is a soundtrack to struggles and strivings that we often gloss over in our history classes and in our consideration of their contribution to our lives.  It’s easy for us to forget because the events they talk about, riots and strikes and long term struggles, aren’t sexy.  These events aren’t directly tied to WWI or WWII. We don’t see it reflected in the faces of our grandparents or parents.

These songs were often used to try to rally the people on the picket line or to recruit more union members.  Often they borrow the tunes of old hymns or ballads people already were very familiar with, be it the song “Solidarity Forever” borrowing the tune from “John Brown’s Body”, also known as “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, or “Union Maid” borrowing from the tune “Red Wing”, an old folk tune.  It’s said that at one time it was popular for people to try to muffle a union protest by inviting the Salvation Army to sing at the location.  This is the folk origin of the practice of changing songs, specifically hymns, into labor songs.  Probably the most well known example is “Pie in the Sky” by Joe Hill, which is based on the tune “In the Sweet By and By”.

These songs are tunes that we can relish.  Most people know the tunes to many of them, and we can all feel something of a resonance with them.  We all like to identify with underdogs, right?  Especially ones that accomplished some fairly lofty goals, flying in the face of power and saying with a loud voice filled with tunes and songs, filled with a defiant, “NO!”

If this interested you in labor music in general, feel free to do some exploring on your own.  I would also recommend visiting the song section of the American Labor Studies Center website, located at http://www.labor-studies.org/laborsongs.php.

-Michael Drennan

Album Review – Scissors for Lefty – Underhanded Romance

•December 11, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Scissors for Lefty
Underhanded Romance

Eenie Meenie Records
Listen if you love/Avoid if you Hate: OK Go, Pulp/Jarvis Cocker, Hot Hot Heat
Rating: 3.5/5

San Francisco-based Scissors For Lefty ‘s latest album, Underhanded Romance, always makes me feel like some Mission Hipster. It’s an album you’d think about after leaving a Helio Sequence show at the Rickshaw: it’s midnight, and everybody is coming over to your place. It’s the sort of music you’d put on, push the coffee table out of the way, and start dancing around in your socks. Flirt with that cute girl with no makeup and skinny jeans beneath her skirt. Jump up and down in step with the Jew’s Harp on “Mama Your Boys Will Find a Home”.

While it’s an addictive, fun, insouciant album that makes a happy dancing afternoon an awesome dancing afternoon, it’s not the sort of album to uplift anyone’s spirits. It’s got some great bounce-around-in-your-chair tracks, like “Lay Down Your Weapons”, and “Nickels and Dimes”, but it tends to get shy and loses you with tracks like “Save it Cory” or “Marsha”.

Recommendation: Get it for Christmas.

online track:
Christmas Intentions


Video (in Hot Color!) for “Ghetto Ways”:

-Liberty Young

A Flash Back Joint? Nope, A Brand New Video from the Cool Kids.

•December 11, 2007 • Leave a Comment

 

 

 

This Chicago duo has risen from hip hops underground in what seems a matter of weeks. They played with A-Track (Kanye West’s DJ) at New York’s CMJ festival, they’ve been featured as a Rolling Stone artist to watch and they made an appearance in a new Rhapsody commercial. They were also on MTV2 for their retro B-Boy fashion style. Oh and they have a new video about BMX bikes that’s putting the fast car videos to shame.

The Cool Kids have just been signed to Chocolate Industries, former home to rapper Lady Sovereign. Unfortunately we are going to have to wait until late January for their LP The Bake Sale and somewhere around the middle of next year for their full album.

But until then enjoy their new single, “Black Mags”.


 

Bryan Lindgren

Music to Take to the Moon

•December 11, 2007 • 2 Comments

 

Pretend you get one album for your trip to the moon.

It’s just you and that wild, neurotic monkey stuffed into the liquor bottle shaped capsule for weeks on end.

One album.

One chance at sanity.

When your mind has barreled away and your muscles wither from atrophy trust me, your going to need it. When you get sick of sleeping standing up, you’ll be glad you have it. When those strange physiological vultures peck at the very thread that binds your judgment, trust me, it will be nice to escape.

If I were you I would take Space Age Bachelor Pad Music.

It’s not a guaranteed savior from intergalactic insanity but you’ve got a shot.

The record is by the king of space age pop Juan Garcia Esquivel. Or just simply Esquivel. Its jazz meets lounge meets imagination. The disc is very dynamic from track to track but it’s his fundamental exotic rhythms and dancing piano keys that make his style so entertaining.

The album hits with “Harlem’s Nocturne” which is a seductive composition of horns and eerie vocals. From there it progresses, each track delivering vastly different moods and symphony arrangements. Any fan of the music that rose from the 1960s will greatly appreciate the depth of the record. It has a certain edge to it; it’s the kind of music that makes you feel classy and confident but also slightly mischievous. Like its 64’ and you’re lounging around the Flamingo Lounge, rum strung with an eye for adventure. It’s all of that rolled into an exceptional jazz record.

 

What’s amazing is Esquivel finds a way to mesh elements of fundamental American jazz with quirky pop and Mexican song arrangements. This makes for a unique and definitive sound. He uses more then a dozen percussion instruments merging these with Chinese bells, mariachi bands, and whistling. So if winter is hitting to hard and you need an escape, try this record on for size.

Bryan Lindgren

5 questions for Gordon Withers

•December 10, 2007 • Leave a Comment

 

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself and your musical background.

I’ve been playing cello since I was nine. I’ve always loved classical and rock music equally, and started playing cello (along with guitar) in bands in high school. In college, I studied classical cello while playing with Boston indie-rock band Betwixt on the side. We recorded two albums and toured a bit — it was a fun time. After Betwixt disbanded in 2000, I’ve been a mostly freelance cellist, while selling my soul to Corporate America during the day.

2) This is your first solo album. What made you choose to do an album of covers?

When I originally arranged Jawbox songs for cello quartet (a college project in 2000), it was a nod to the amazing Finnish cello quartet Apocalyptica , who started out doing cello versions of Metallica. When I heard about about Cal’s condition last year, I decided that re-recording those Jawbox arrangements as a proper tribute album would be the best way to help. However, I expect that the next recording I make will be mostly originals — and probably more guitar-driven. I miss the excitement of playing in a loud band.

3) $10 from each sale of your album goes toward a fund to benefit Cal Robbins. What can you tell us about the cause and what moved you to get involved?

Aside from the incredibly strong connection to Jawbox’s music and its impact on my adolescence, I was particularly moved by the Robbins’ financial situation in the face of Cal’s diagnosis. J. makes a living doing what a lot of semi-famous musicians end up doing after years of playing in bands — they become producers, helping the next generation craft their art. In the Robbins’ case, J’s production work is their only source of income, and his single-payer health insurance is almost useless in the case of such a debilitating and expensive disease as Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The fact that Cal has been able to make some progress with alternative therapies, and has the best medical equipment available for SMA children is largely due to the enormous outpouring of support from the independent music community. In January ’08, Cal will be 2 years old — over 50% of children with Type I SMA never make it to their second birthday. However, no matter how much therapy he has, Cal will be confined to a wheelchair for his whole life, and will need expensive medical treatment indefinitely. I am hoping that sales of this album can keep up the community’s awareness of Cal’s plight, and perhaps make a dent toward these future expenses.

4) Who do you look to for inspiration?

My parents, who were always very active with Habitat for Humanity and other causes. Musically, I am inspired by anyone who writes or performs uncompromisingly with their own voice — people who could never be anyone but themselves. That list would include Jawbox (and other DC contemporaries like Fugazi and Shudder to Think), Danish punk band The Ex (who recorded with cellist Tom Cora, incidentally), cellist Pablo Casals, Adam Franklin of Swervedriver, Sonic Youth, and dozens of lesser-known pioneers in my own generation, like Andy Wagner or Shae Kripinsky.

5) Five artists you would sell your soul to collaborate with?

Thurston Moore, Adam Franklin, Jim O’Rourke, Ulrich Schnauss, Radiohead.

Album Review – The Decemberists – The Crane Wife

•December 9, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The Decemberists
The Crane Wife
Capitol
Rating: 4.5/5

Okay. I’ll admit it. I don’t usually win music game. I generally listen to what people give me or what people tell me I should check out, and it’s usually much later than everyone else has found it, after they’ve moved on to the next thing. My best friend has been telling me for a good solid year “You have to check this band out, they’re like sailing-creepy-pirate-gypsy-SCA minstrels that sing stories instead of songs” and I kept telling her that if she wanted me to check a band out she’d have to stop pushing it on me and find a more attractive descriptor.

So, cue the end of summer and I’m in Best Buy with a birthday gift certificate, waiting for my husband to stop drooling on some video game so we can head off to lunch. I decide to peruse the music section, and I find several selections on sale by The Decemberists. Wait, was that the name of that gypsy-pirate-minstrel band my best friend has been raving about? I picked up The Crane Wife and popped it into the car’s CD player. By the time we hit the restaurant for lunch, we were hooked. Tracks like “The Island” soar and race and at the end creep silently (a song done in 3 separate parts, it tells 3 separate stories about the same place).

“The Perfect Crime” has an electric thrum and a plot that has you rooting for the theives while picturing the cover art for Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. The song styles range widely from poppy and catchy (“O Valencia!”) to quiet and creepy (“Shankill Butchers”), to winsome accordian and string filled ballads (“Summersong”) to loud deep anthems (“When the War Came.”)

As is their trademark, most of the songs on The Crane Wife are melodic and melancholy, bordering on creepy, but with such beautifully crafted lyrics and amazing range, the quirk factor gets buried by the fact that these people are just amazing musicians. I’ve never heard of some of the instruments they use, for instance, the bouzouki (which is apparently a Balkan long necked string instrument similar to a mandolin) or the Moog (Which is apparently a generic term for a group of synthesizers), but that doesn’t stop me from really enjoying listening to them.

Besides, any album that can replace TOOL in my car CD player and still makes my husband turn his ear and say (instead of bitching about Maynard being vetoed) “You know, I just don’t think there’s enough good accordian music nowadays, and not enough pump organ, either,” is the win in my book. Ok, so I’m not in the first wave at the “The Decemberists are t3h rad” party. At least I showed up fashionably late. With albums like The Crane Wife I’ll keep coming back for more.
-Stephanie Oppelaar