Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The recent Bob Marley live album MAY be Worth It.

Oddly enough, Surfing in Babylon has never really considered Mr. Marley, even though he's a cornerstone of the Babylon Symbol Repertory. This PopMatters review does little to correct that, but it may provide food for future thought, if indeed Surfing in Babylon ever gets back to studying Babylon songs. Sample paragraphs:

And for those who’d complain that Marley sings everything the same way—well, that’s sort of the point. He delivers the tender “No Woman No Cry” with the same stern deliberation he gives the militant rhetoric in “War”. “No Woman” is maybe a little more legato, but the briskly enunciated “cornmeal porridge” line and the chanted “everything is gonna be alright” belong to the same worldview as H.I.M. Haile Selassie’s powerful “War” speech. You buy Marley’s messages of hope because they don’t turn him all lovey-dovey. He remains a clear-eyed revolutionary, a powerful dude you don’t wanna mess with even when his lyrics and band are giving you a musical hug.

Marley’s straightforward messages gain depth through juxtaposition in the setlist. “Everywhere is war” is one thing, but it becomes something else butted up against “we don’t need no trouble; what we need is love”. And that medley becomes something else again as a prelude to “Zimbabwe”, a call for armed revolution in the African nation. Six months before this show, the revolutionary leader Robert Mugabe had been elected prime minister of Zimbabwe, and the song sounds like a thoughtful celebration. 30 years later, Mugabe has a reputation for incompetence and brutality, but Marley’s songs sound as true as ever. The lesson for you kids: write songs, protest, but don’t go into politics. Seriously, have you looked at the news lately? EVERYWHERE is war.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

This new Fania Records comp is almost Totally Worth It!

If you're ever stuck trying to buy me a gift, I'll cheerfully accept Fania album cover t-shirts! I'm pretty sure they're all great.

Fania Records had it all: salsa, soul, jazz, grooves, horns, Chopin, subway imitations, and a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for urban America. Read more about it -- "it" being Strut's compilation Fania Records 1964-1980: The Original Sound of Latin New York -- in my PopMatters review. Here's the beginning:

Music geeks like to call New York’s Fania Records the Motown of salsa music. That’s not completely accurate, because Fania wasn’t exactly Hitsville, but you can boil the comparison down to three factors:

1. Like Motown, Fania created a sound all its own.

The genre of salsa music didn’t exist before Fania invented it in mid-’60s NYC. Fania’s bands were happily mixing up exotically named Afro-Cuban styles—son, charanga, guaracha, bomba—that sounded intimidating to gringo audiences without access to Wikipedia. Fania co-founders Johnny Pacheco and Jerry Masucci created “salsa” as a catch-all marketing term.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Last Month (sheesh) in Jukeboxing

There's a couple controversial, discussion-garnering songs currently up at Singles Jukebox, and chances are they'll occupy places of prominence all weekend. Brad Paisley: could be a racist! Katy Perry: definitely sux, and probably a racist! EMA: still need to listen, but she may be the best thing ever or she may suck. I don't THINK anyone's calling her a racist, though. Anyhow...

Le bien:
2Pac ft. Nate Dogg and others: All About U 
Hearing Pac next to weaker MCs from the same milieu, you realize his greatness was a matter of focus and command. Those Outlawz guys go crazy, stringing assonances together, referring back to Nate’s hook, and in their desperation they end up rushing the beat. Pac, on the other hand, is in charge from the start. His swinging syncopations fit well on Death Row, but he doesn’t lay back here. He places every syllable precisely on its (off)beat, and the resulting verses flow with nonstop good humor and rhythmic interest. During Verse 1 he cracks open his flow at two key spots. On the word “TIPsy”, Pac packs a whole evening into a hesitation; whatever happened “last night”, its memory is the only thing that can break his concentration. And the pause in “life’s hell for a black… celebrity” shows that the pressure of speaking for his audience still weighs on his mind. Also, now I’m gonna go around singing Nate’s hook for a week.

...le mal:
Katy Perry ft. Kanye: E.T.
Wife: “I bet you think this is too monochromatic.” Me, staring skeptically at the TV: “Kind of — it’s more just dumb.” Wife: “I was talking about my outfit.” Me: “Oh, I meant the song. Yeah, that’s a little monochromatic.” She turns a scarf into a belt; fantastic. Katy: “EX. TRAterrestrial.” Wife, mocking: “EX. TRAterrestrial!” Me: “She’s like Alanis.” Kanye talks some shit about Mars, cars, bars, jars, alien sex, disrobing, and probing; I destroy my copy of College Dropout. Wife: “See, he turns into an alien at the end.” AS MUST WE ALL. To sum up, somewhere in this mess there’s a melodic line she likes, so I acknowledge that it is possible to derive pleasure from “E.T.” Some things transcend human understanding.
[0] le mot juste:
Justin Bieber ft. Jaden Smith: Never Say Never 
Bieber walks through fire and climbs towers and runs across the sea! I must have missed something — did he turn into some kind of cross between Jesus and KITT? That’d make for a bitchin’ 3-D movie. However inspiring his meteoric rise to overworked child laborer, this song is so obviously about said rise that it has absolutely no pretensions of speaking to regular kids’ regular powers and frustrations. Whatever; kids are scrappy, they’ll figure out how to use it. And anyway, I will never change the radio on this song until I hear Jaden say “push comes to shove” over nothing but a big old handclap beat.

Brad Paisley: Old Alabama [7]
Ronnie Dunn: Bleed Red [2]
Young the Giant: My Body [4]
Oh Land: Sun of a Gun [6]
Jamie Foxx ft. Drake: Fall For Your Type [6]
Gorilla Zoe ft. Lil' Jon: Twisted [2]
Foo Fighters: Rope [6]
Willow Smith: 21st Century Girl [5]
Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, & Nate Dogg: The Next Episode [8]
Dr. Dre ft. Nate, Snoop, & Daz: Deeez Nuuuuuuts [7]
Gil Scott-Heron ft. Jamie xx: I'll Take Care of You [7]
New Boyz ft. Cataracs & Dev: Back Seat [6]
Talay Riley: Sgt. Smash [6]

New Glasvegas: NOT /// WORTH IT \\\

Look at that - Geraldine's real!

Beware: there are no social workers on Euphoric /// Heartbreak \\\, the second album from Scottish romantics Glasvegas. No obnoxious boozy fathers encourage their kids to fight, the Baltic fleet is not up anyone’s arse, and singer-songwriter James Allan no longer feels guilty about all the things he said to his Mum when he was ten years old. Pretty much anything that was unique or charming about Allan’s lyrics on 2008’s Glasvegas is gone. There’s even a troubling dearth of f-words.

In place of all that, we get big sweeping generalities, as though Allan is standing on top of a mountain, singing to the back row of THE WORLD. He stretches out his anthemic nothings to their breaking points: “The world is youuuuuuuuurs!” “Shine like staaaaaaaaars!” “Youuuuu! Youuuuu! Youuuuuuuuuuu!” (That last one’s an entire chorus.) These aren’t lyrics so much as marketing slogans for God knows what. Mountains, maybe, or the World Cup. The lead single, “Euphoria, Take My Hand”, seems to be selling an actual emotion.

Read the rest of my illustrious review, which uses the phrase "charming as fook", at PopMatters!

Friday, April 01, 2011

Live ELP is NOT Worth It.

Geez Louise, the show really NEVER ENDS.

Everyday mediocrities may be swept away by time, but great atrocities must never be forgotten. So in the spirit of the Shoah Foundation, Shout! Factory has unearthed this two-disc 1978 ELP concert, that its horror may live afresh. The sound, “meticulously mastered from the original analog tapes”, is terrible—thin and watery with a murky low end. These songs simply didn’t transfer well to a stage free of overdubs. The song selection is hit or miss (“Pirates” = ARRRRGGGGHHHHH). Indeed, the only thing that’s truly exceptional here is keyboardist Keith Emerson’s ego. From his liner notes: “This particular performance proves what a defining influence ELP had over classical, jazz and folk musicians all over the world.” Please. If you want your local jazz musician to quit in disgust, tell him he plays like Keith Emerson. A few lessons of Emersonian self-reliance: Pitch bend and laser fire effects sound awesome, no matter which song they interrupt; quoting the Close Encounters theme is even funnier right after you’ve quoted the Star Wars theme; and punchy Aaron Copland tunes are in no way derailed by a bunch of aimless diatonic noodling. To be fair, the cheering crowd seems to lap it all up; but as my friend Kyle points out, they were probably enjoying a light show on acid.

(All of the above ran at PopMatters. Hateful comments about church musicians may start appearing in their comments field at any time.)

The Asphalt Orchestra is Worth It!

Their faces have literally stopped traffic.

Asphalt Orchestra is a giddy band camp fantasy brought to life: What if the section leaders formed a marching band that was actually cool? They’d play only the music they listened to in the parking lot between rehearsals. Stuff like Frank Zappa, Bjork, and Swedish metal band Meshuggah would be in; showtunes and “The Horse” would disappear completely. Well, thanks to a Rockefeller Foundation grant and the Bang On a Can new music organization, the dream is realized. And the result is… a little geeky.

That is what I said in this review at PopMatters. Read more there! Here's one more paragraph:

Don’t get me wrong, the Asphalt Orchestra can blow. Listening to the insane repeated notes of their take on Meshuggah’s “Electric Red”, my band director wife was impressed: “They really know how to use their tongues”. They also know how to count. Zappa and Meshuggah belong to an elite musical club: they’re widely known for writing songs with shifting meters, or with different instruments playing in different meters at the same time. “Electric Red” has passages in 23/16 or something. If you’re tempted to figure it out, you’re probably one of those maniacs who likes to complete Sudokus in your head.