Wednesday, 24 December 2008

A Christmas Double Shot (Bonus Beat)

It's late, and I've still got presents to wrap, so I'm off. All you need to know about this is that it's Donny Hathaway, and it's one of the best Christmas songs ever. Have a good one, and don't forget to tell the people you love that you love them.

Donny Hathaway: This Christmas (single, 1970)

A Christmas Double Shot (Part 2)

Primal Scream are a band it isn't always easy to like. Their near-fundamentalist adherence to the tenets of The Rock'n'Roll Lifestyle can sometimes make them appear little more than a bunch of dicks suffering from an advanced case of arrested development rather than a group of people with a sincere belief in the redemptive power of music. Yet both live and on record, they're often capable of shoving such doubts right back down the throats of those who hold them. One of the best live shows I've ever seen was their performance at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool in April 2000. So often you'll hear bands say how they're influenced by this or that, or that their new direction is like X meets Y, and when you actually hear the end product, you wonder what the fucking hell they were talking about. But if Bobby Gillespie had said in 2000 that the new Primal Scream sound was like a Krautrock Stooges scrapping in a pub car-park with Sun Ra's Arkestra, Charles Mingus, My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth...well, after that show, I'd have believed him, because that's exactly what they sounded like, and it was fucking astounding. I've seen them three times since, and they've never come close to matching the thrilling, terrifying, remorseless racket they made that night. They divided our party right down the middle and all; half thought it was near-transcendent in its magnificence. The other half thought it was a load of shite. Well, so long as you get a reaction, eh?

The album they were touring back then, XTRMNTR, is, for me, probably their best. I've never entirely bought the argument that Screamadelica is one of the great creative touchstones of late 20th century rock music, although I do like it. What's interesting when you play those two records alongside each other is just how radically different they are. Essentially, it's the same band on both albums, and this is the thing I admire most about Primal Scream; they don't stay in the same place for too long and, for a band that supposedly once typified the intensely conservative indie ethos of the 80s and 90s, this is pretty remarkable if you ask me.

They've also long been market leaders when it comes to mucking around with dance-music idioms, drafting in DJs and remixers like David Holmes, Andrew Weatherall and Jagz Kooner to not only remix their material, but to produce it as well. As a result, those less conventionally rock'n'roll/dancefloor aspects of their sound never give the impression of having been bolted-on as an afterthought for marketing purposes, as was often the case with some of their peers, back when "indie dance" was the buzzword of the day. Consequently, what you end up with is dance music which properly rocks out, and rock'n'roll with the kind of pilled-up, hip-twitching groove that today's pop kids are really diggin', daddy-o! Jagz Kooner's Spectre Mix of Swastika Eyes is absolutely fucking brutal. Imagine Neu! if they'd grown up on a Salford sink estate listening to nothing but Belgian techno from 1990 and Fun House by the Stooges. If you can't, then I suggest you play it as loud as you possibly can and find out what such a thing might have sounded like.

Primal Scream: Swastika Eyes [Spectre Mix] (single, 2000)

A Christmas Double Shot (Part 1)

I've been slacking off, and I plan on slacking off even more over the Christmas period, but since there wasn't an MP3 of the Week last week, I'm doubling up this week and throwing in an extra treat for Christmas.

In the spirit of the season, me and a few fellow internerds recently did a seasonal CD pool, whereby we divided ourselves up into groups and each person made a compilation for everyone in their respective group. In some cases (mine, for instance) it wasn't so much "seasonal" as "seasonally affected disorder", but it was interesting to learn a bit more about some of my friends' musical tastes, and it was fascinating to see where and how often they overlapped with my own. Not only that, I ended up with a lot of good music I mightn't have otherwise heard, and, all things being equal, hopefully they did too.

Anyway, although she wasn't in my group for the purposes of this lark, my friend Niki posted her compilation up on the net. Now Niki is an amazing woman, one of the most remarkable people I know; strong, fiercely intelligent, with a mind as big as God, and a heart to match. However, like many people when in the company of hardcore music geeks, she sometimes feels as if she needs to apologise for not having especially esoteric tastes. This is no big deal as far as I'm concerned, because I know she has good taste anyway, and one of the best things about this whole "make a CD for a few random friends" idea are those moments when you hear something you hadn't heard in years, in a way you'd never heard it before. So it was courtesy of Niki that, while wandering through the Covent Garden Xmas shopping chaos last weekend, "Let Me In" by the Osmonds came up on the iPod, and I really wasn't expecting it to have the kind of effect upon me that it did. I hesitate to use terms like "Proustian" to describe my reaction, but as I heard the song's opening line, followed by the strings playing a slow falling arpeggio with a warmth and richness worthy of Van Dyke Parks, I suddenly became...a little overwhelmed, shall we say. I was 13 again, and back in a world of unspoken teenage crushes, long summers and somewhat simpler (if occasionally guilty) pleasures.

The Osmonds got a bit of a raw deal in the 1970s. Even though they were enormously successful, and adored by countless teenage girls, it was clear they longed to be taken seriously as musicians and to receive the kind of critical plaudits that their immediate peers, the Jackson Five, were already enjoying. "Let Me In" was the lead single from "The Plan", a somewhat misfiring attempt at a prog-rock concept album, and was a much bigger hit in the UK than in the States, where their popularity had perhaps reached a plateau. When I hear it now, and its chorus swells to its gorgeous, heart-bursting peak, I no longer think about how fatally uncool it would have been at the time for a teenage boy to admit liking a song by the Osmonds, nor do I give any thought to what was then the hipster consensus, that it was all just saccharine MOR schmaltz. Instead, I hear something which doesn't contain the faintest trace of cynicism, and which wears its heart on its sleeve in a way that pop music rarely dares to do anymore. A little gem, in fact.

The Osmonds: Let Me In (The Plan 1973)

Friday, 12 December 2008

Bricks Are For Kids.

Over at hip-hop website Format, someone has been inspired to recreate twenty classic hip-hop album covers via the medium of Lego. Whilst I happen to think they're stretching the definition of "classic" almost to breaking point ("Stillmatic"? Common's "Be"?? Jedi Mind Tricks???), and some of the figures are, er, less than anatomically accurate, this is still a great idea. I've posted a few favourites below, but follow the above link for more of that good-good.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

MP3 of the Week - The Mahavishnu Orchestra: "You Know You Know"

I'm sure I'm not the only person to have discovered the Mahavishnu Orchestra via their appearance on BBC2's In Concert series in 1972. Not knowing much about music at that age, I was impressed more by the speed of their playing rather than what it was they played, and the combined musical pedigree of the various members didn't really register much with me either. Still, the performance was enough to have me seeking out their second album, Birds Of Fire, pretty much upon its release. There are a multitude of clips from the broadcast on YouTube and, while the term "ground-breaking jazz-rock-fusion" alone will be enough to send some people running, screaming, to the hills, it has to be said that, along with Tony Williams' Lifetime (of which Mahavishnu John McLaughlin was a member), they more or less wrote the book. They ended up becoming victims of their own somewhat unprecedented success, though, and the original line-up dissolved in 1973, due to internal strife which bassist Rick Laird later described as "too many chiefs and not enough Indians".

What I like about their stuff now, which I didn't get at all at the time, is its intensity and euphoria. Sure, it's incredibly complex on a technical level, and a lot more structured and disciplined than it might sometimes appear but, at its best, you do get the sense of a group of musicians genuinely aiming for something transcendent. Their instinctive jazzer's tendency towards improvisation could easily have led them into a world of jam-band tedium, something that disciples of theirs such as the Mars Volta occasionally fall foul of. Even now it can sound a little too full-on sometimes, but quite a lot of their stuff has held up well, as the good stuff generally does.

This tune from their debut album "The Inner Mounting Flame" is amongst the easiest to digest for non-believers - a simple circular melody over a spare, funky groove, which steadily builds in intensity without over-complicating itself, and is a great example of how effective they could be when they took their foot off the gas for five minutes. Fans of Massive Attack may like to pay particular attention at the 1'54" mark...

The Mahavishnu Orchestra: You Know You Know (The Inner Mounting Flame, 1971)

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Brazil, Nuts.

It used to be that, as far as Brazilian music was concerned, my familiarity didn't extend a great deal further than Sergio Mendes, "The Girl From Ipanema", the handful of Jobim tunes everybody knows, the correct pronunciation of "batucada" and who Bebel Gilberto's dad was. Thanks mainly to guidance and suggestions from numerous friends, or DJs like Gilles Peterson, Patrick Forge and Jez Nelson, and Soul Jazz's superb "Tropicalia" compilations, but particularly to the sterling work of the good people who maintain blogs and websites such as Loronix, Um Que Tenha, Brazilian Nuggets and Sabadabada, this is no longer the case. I now know a bit more about the differences between MPB, Tropicalismo and Jovem Guarda (or even that there is a difference), or that the Roberto Carlos who played full-back for Real Madrid isn't the only famous Roberto Carlos to have come out of Brazil in my lifetime. I can even tell you which track from the first O Terco album was sampled in Madvillain's "Untitled". Oh, well done, I hear you say. Bully for you. We're supposed to be impressed by this why, exactly? Well, you're not, not really. But you might be impressed by DJ Nuts. Nuts is a native of Sao Paulo, has been a key player on the city's hip-hop scene since the early 1990s, and is considered to be the leading turntablist in the country. In short, this fella is pretty much the Brazilian equivalent of someone like J-Rocc or Babu, with skills to match. Except that he also has an ace or two up his sleeve, the nature of which may become apparent from this clip.

Now, while I was busy acting all pleased with myself a paragraph ago, I neglected to mention that I hadn't even heard of DJ Nuts until a few months ago, much less heard any of his astonishing mix CDs. Then I discovered that Nuts can haz blog, whereupon he'd posted half a dozen of the bleeders. However, he'd chosen to host them on Zshare, which used to be a reliable enough host, but has become increasingly shonky in recent months, so unfortunately you can't download them from there until Nuts fixes the links. However, thanks to the efforts of another Sao Paulisto who posts on the Soul Strut messageboard under the handle MoogMan, I can now share a few of them with you, and trust me, you've never heard Brazilian music played like this. Being that Nuts is essentially a hip-hop DJ, he plays the music of his home country just as you'd expect a hip-hop DJ to play it - Disco e Cultura Vol. 2, for example, features sixty-three tracks - and the breaks-heavy, ADD, quick-mixing style he often utilises, particularly on 2004's face-melting Cultura Copia, may not be for everyone. Similarly, if you download any of them in the expectation of an hours-worth of variations on "Mas Que Nada", you might be disappointed. But if you can set those considerations to one side, then not only are these mixes great fun, but they also feature plenty of fabulous and often quite beautiful music.

Cultura Copia comes partially tagged, with a full tracklisting in the zip file, but Disco e Cultura Vols 1 & 2 (both 2005) are untagged, and 2006's Disco e Cultura Vol. 3 (which is chocka with classic Brazilian dancefloor jazz) is just one big file, so please be aware of this when opening them in iTunes or wherever. All come with gorgeous artwork, should you want to burn them to CD. If I happen upon full tracklistings for any or all of the Disco e Cultura volumes, I'll post an update as soon as. In the meantime, get stuck in.

DJ Nuts: Cultura Copia (2004) - 105mb

DJ Nuts: Disco e Cultura Vol. 1 (2005) - 142mb

DJ Nuts: Disco e Cultura Vol. 2 (2005) - 142mb

DJ Nuts: Disco e Cultura Vol. 3 (2006) - 171mb

MP3 of the Week - Iggy & the Stooges: "Gimme Some Skin"

This record cost me a (then) prohibitively expensive £1.50 on a French Skydog import when I bought it from Probe Records in Liverpool during the summer of 1977. I can't remember whether the person who actually sold it to me was a future pop star or not, but Probe being what it was around that time, the odds are it probably would have been.

If you're anything like me, you're probably sick of reading a seemingly endless stream of absolute guff about how this bunch of herberts or that shower of slumming Tristram Trustfunders are this week's Living Embodiment of the True Spirit of Rock'n'Roll - they're dangerous, they're wild, they bunk taxis, they date fashion models, they appear in the gossip weeklies, and they all look exactly the fucking same. Invariably, when you hear the music, it sounds just as you'd imagine from a band who've probably hired a PR company first and built everything else arse-backwards from there. It therefore becomes difficult to imagine that any such band would ever - indeed, could ever - make a record as terrifyingly, psychotically good as this as long as they had holes in their arses.

Recorded sometime in 1972 by my favourite Stooges line-up - Iggy, Ron Asheton on bass, his brother Scott on drums, and the great, great James Williamson on guitar - but unreleased until around five years later, "Gimme Some Skin" sounds less the work of a rock band than it does the end product of supplying musical instruments and studio time to a gang of delinquents, sociopaths and sexual perverts. Iggy's vocal sounds depraved, becoming ever more hysterical to the point where he's almost literally gibbering by the final verse. Scott Asheton pounds the kit like he just caught it robbing his stash, and Williamson's primitive, slashing riffs are closer to threats of violence than to music. It probably cost about $50 to record, and it sounds completely out of control. There was a particular reason the Stooges remained at the fringes of the music scene for as long as they did; they disgusted people, and it isn't difficult to hear why. Every time some knobber has tried to convince me that, say, "Appetite For Destruction" is a great rock'n'roll record because it supposedly signalled the death of Corporate Rock - as if a record that sold 28 million copies could signal the death of anything - I'd have loved to have played them this. Over thirty-five years after it was recorded, it still sounds as if you could catch something unpleasant just by listening to it.

Iggy & the Stooges: "Gimme Some Skin" (1972)