Check these guys out. I heard about them on NPR the other day and finally decided to look them up. So funky! I’d like to see them live someday.
Monthly Archives: August 2010
A few years ago I discovered an amazing concept album called Unsavoury Products, a collaboration between electronic artists Black Dog and spoken word artist Black Sifichi. I knew based on a few songs I’d heard on the web (they used to be on Epitonic.com, anyone remember that site?) that it was going to be challenging, and it was, but the more I play it, the more I enjoy it.
Black Dog supplies beats, textures and soundscapes, while Black Sifichi gives rambling, hallucinatory spoken word pieces on subjects like insanity (“Mental Health Hotline”), consumerism (“If I Were King”), music theory (“Let’s Talk Music”), communication (“What Do They Want”), rebellion and cynicism (“Dear Ron”) and awful detachment from reality – a man who thinks he’s turning into a dog (“Dogbite”), fear of being hexed (“Someone at the Office”), being buried alive (“Wishing Well”).
You get the idea of someone who’s been irreparably damaged by drug abuse, while at the same time achieving some kind of inner wisdom that may or may not apply to the rest of us.
The album cover gives a clue of what’s to come, with photos of rotting steaks and a sticker that gives a “use by” date of 1967 and a “display by” date of 2525. The label states, “contents may unsettle.”
Contents do indeed unsettle — and make you think — if you listen with an open mind. In fact, if you aren’t willing to listen, there’s no point in messing with this album. It’s no good playing it in the background while doing other things or in the car, driving down the freeway. Devote some time to Unsavoury Products and it will pay off as Black Sifichi’s wit begins to soak into your brain.
The album was originally supposed to be a collaboration between Black Dog and Naked Lunch author William Burroughs. However, Burroughs died before the project could be completed. Instead, the artists discovered Black Sifichi and decided to make a tribute to the spirit of Burroughs. Disturbing, intelligent, witty, slightly unhinged from reality, world weary… I think they pulled it off.
Below is a student film someone made, illustrating “Mental Health Hotline” from Unsavoury Products and a couple of other Black Sifichi pieces.
You might recall Lacrymosa (Caitlyn Pasko) from TheSixtyOne, where she did very well with several of her songs from the album I Was Once (Oh), especially “Weltschmertz (The Smitten Song),” a big favorite of mine. I bought Caitlyn’s album and made a blog post about her a while back: Lacrymosa – ‘Whimsical Forest Music’ from a wonderful new talent.
Lacrymosa’s new album, Selah has been in the works for a while and is about to come out on Sept. 5. Till then, there are several songs available on the ModCloth blog: New Artist to Watch: Caitlin Pasko of Lacrymosa
Also, check out this teaser video for the gorgeous new song, “Simple Questions.”
P.S. Check out her website which features a new video: http://iamlacrymosa.com/
Had an interesting experience yesterday, going through some mp3s. I heard a killer a song by one of my favorite classic rock bands and couldn’t figure out who it was at first. I loved Cheap Trick when I was a kid. I played my Dream Police 8 track till I just about wore it out and did the same with a cassette of greatest hits later on. They seemed like a twisted version of the Beatles. Rick Nielson just looked so demented with his bowtie and baseball cap. They rocked hard, but with a great sense of melody. They also had just a smidge of punk and new wave about them. “Elo Kiddies” from their debut album (never got that one but it looks like I need to remedy that) demonstrates that pretty well. At first I thought of Adam Ant. Love that drum cadence.
Last Saturday I went to the 6th annual Batfest in Austin. They closed off the Congress Ave. Bridge (now the Ann Richards Bridge, though I’ll probably never learn to call it that) and filled it with folks in booths trying to sell things, bounce houses for the kids, plenty of food & drink, and at each end of the bridge there was a stage. The south end had Mexican and Tejano music; the north end was all about the rock ‘n’ roll. Free admission. Just pitched in a dollar donation for Bat Conservation International.
It gave me a chance to do something I hadn’t done in a long time: watch the bats fly out from their famous colony under the bridge. And something I’d been meaning to do for a long time: check out a really great local band called Deadman. I also got irresponsible and ate carnival food: turkey meatball curry (which I spilled on my shirt) and a funnel cake. At least I refrained from getting the chicken fried bacon. And I saw a good band called Los Autenticos de Tierra Caliente that I thought might be from Mexico that turned out to be from Cedar Park, my current stomping grounds.
I’ve been a fan of Deadman for a long time, but in the years since I first discovered the group, it has evolved into something a bit different. It used to be the project of Steve and Sheryl Collins, who at one time lived in McGregor, near Waco, and had a little cafe. They divorced and Steve moved to Austin, where he now performs as Deadman with a group of excellent musicians. Sheryl, whose last name is now Segrest, is performing in Fort Worth.
The first version of Deadman, at least based on the two CDs I bought, Paramour and Our Eternal Ghosts, was what I would call alternative-country in the same vein as the Handsome Family. Very atmospheric. Made me think of Daniel Lanois and The Cowboy Junkies.
What I heard Saturday had a rootsy, bluesy, country rock aesthetic. Although there was an obvious Neil Young influence (one of the songs Steve said was an attempt to capture the style of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s Rust Never Sleeps), the main influence I heard was The Band. There was also a country gospel sound. Some songs in fact had definite Biblical themes: “Brother John” and “Oh Delilah.”
It was definitely enough to make me want more, and since Deadman is now based in Austin, playing frequently at the Saxon Pub, I don’t have a lot of excuses.
Here’s a video to give you idea of Deadman’s sound:
Hmm, I still hear some Lanois in that…
Check out the band’s website: DeadmanOnline.com
And more on the first band I heard when I first showed up: Los Autenticos de Tierra Caliente: Very good. Mostly fast-paced stuff, merengue with a Mexican spin, plus conjunto and norteno type music. They substituted keyboards for the bass and accordion, which I kind of missed, but that’s fairly typical of north-of-the-border Tejano bands. They had a couple of really good trombonists.
Check them out on their MySpace page.
Also look at all the people down by the Austin American-Statesman office waiting for the bats to come out. The crowd of people who turn out for the bats is probably more of a trip for me than the animals themselves. That was early too. Lots more were on the grassy knoll and on the bridge rail by the time the critters went out to feed.
Oh and… Also saw Batman:
I learned about the Pharcyde thanks to 89.9 KTSW, the college radio station from Texas State University, then known as Southwest Texas University (still a great station). They used to play “Passing Me By” a lot back in 2002 and it blew me away. I actually thought it was a new song. A couple of years later I tracked down the album it came from, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, and was even more impressed. Not only did it become my favorite hip hop album, it became one of my favorites of any genre. I go through periods where I play almost nothing else for days. Puts me in a great mood every time I hear it.
Which category does my favorite hip hop album fall into, profane or principled? As you can probably guess from the symbolism on the album cover, there’s a fair amount of sexual humor within. So maybe still profane. There’s no doubt about it though, The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde is a totally different animal than the last hip hop album I wrote about, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic.
While the Chronic also has its share of humor, it’s more of a mean-spirited, vicious kind of humor. Bizarre Ride is just plain fun. Listening to it all the way through feels like being at an awesome party with all your best friends, where the only worry is how you’re gonna get home without being pulled over for DWI, not whether a rival gangsta might pop a cap in yo ass.
J Swift’s grooves and samples are jazzy as well as funky. In fact, I’ve seen Pharcyde songs included on acid jazz compilations. MCs Fatlip, SlimKid 3, Imani and Bootie Brown are rude, politically incorrect, funny, good-natured jokers who take turns on the mic and basically sound like they’re having one hell of a great time. They’re not rapping about gang culture or gritty street scenes. These are guys who go to school, get jobs, get married, get divorces, smoke a bit of weed (maybe more than just a bit) and have a lot of fun. The kind of guys I can identify with.
You might hear songs off Bizarrre Ride and think “Oh, these must be guys who got tired of the gangsta rap of the ’90s and wanted to do something different,” or you might wonder if it came from the pre-gangsta rap days. But no, this album came out in 1992, the same year as the Chronic. And it also came from the West Coast. Really unique album.
Check out a couple of songs and see if you don’t agree:
And check out KTSW. Guaranteed to turn you onto something awesome: 89.9 FM KTSW
Found something cool that I’ve been enjoying quite a bit the last few days, an online station called Dandelion Radio, inspired by the late British DJ John Peel.
The station plays a very eclectic mix, full of obscure indie music, world music, experimental noise, you name it. I’m not crazy about everything I hear (now and then he plays rave music. Blech.) but mostly I love it, and I’ve come across some great discoveries. In particular, I really liked The Crocodiles’ cover of Deee Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart,” which puts a shoegazer Jesus and Mary Chain type spin on the hit. Barely recognized it at first. I was also impressed to find that they were playing “The Groupie Song” by The Venopian Solitude, the young Malaysian singer/songwriter I featured previously on this blog. In fact, that’s how I found the station. Did a web search and she turned up in his playlist. I figured that was a sure sign of good taste and an adventurous musical ethic.
Check him out when you get a chance: DandelionRadio.com
And get a load of The Crocodiles version of “Groove is in the Heart.” I saw some YouTube comments bashing them for sounding too much like JAMC, but I don’t think so. Kind of a surf thing going on in it that I don’t remember from that band.
I’m a white guy who was weaned on rock ‘n’ roll. It took me a long time to get used to the idea of hip hop….
At least that’s what I’ve been telling people, but you know what? I’m not exactly sure if that’s accurate. Was there ever really a time when I hated the stuff? Maybe there was, but when I think back, I remember liking “Rappers Delight” from the Sugar Hill Gang and “Rapture” by Blondie in the ’80s. I remember Yo MTV Raps coming on and me not turning the channel when I heard NWA’s “Express Yourself.” I even bought 2 Live Crew’s Nasty as They Wanna Be just to see what all the court cases and fuss were about. I guess I grew accustomed to rap over the years, liking some of it, disliking some of it, pretty much like the whole country did. The whole world in fact.
When I hear someone, usually someone white, say they have learned to appreciate hip hop after years of thinking they hated it, it usually goes something like: “I just discovered [fill in intellectual/socially-aware rapper] and found out rap isn’t just about drugs and killing and hating women.”
I don’t say that at all. I can listen to the most socially obnoxious hip hop and it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I now get a kick out of the West Coast gangsta rap that got all the civilized folks so upset back in the early ’90s.
Lately, I’ve been listening to The Chronic, Dr. Dre’s solo debut featuring Snoop Doggy Dog, Warren G and others. It’s got it all: profanity, liberal use of the “N-word,” drugs, violence, misogyny, homophobia, glorifying gang culture and all kinds of creative insults and death threats.
Today, The Chronic is considered a classic album by all kinds of folks, black and white. It wasn’t quite so unanimous when it first came out. Songs like “The Day the Niggaz Took Over,” which glorifies the L.A. Riots, scared white people — some of whom were also fascinated. It was a glimpse into a completely different mindset, before rap became such a multi-racial phenomenon, before Eminem, a white guy from Detroit became one of the most popular rappers of all time. Vanilla Ice was around, but nobody took him seriously.
For some reason instead of offending me, The Chronic makes me smile. For one thing, it’s an extremely well-crafted album. The beats, raps and singing fit together perfectly. Would I have liked it in ’92? Not sure, but right now I find it downright irresistable. Also I guess it comes across as so over the top that it’s almost like satire, even though they didn’t mean it that way at the time. You know people can’t really live the lifestyle described on that album for very long without either winding up dead or in prison. You can’t just go around 187ing everybody just for the hell of it.
I almost can’t believe people took the stuff so seriously — rappers getting letters from the FBI about their lyrics, rappers threatening to kill each other (and possibly actually doing it), record store employees getting arrested for selling 2 Live Crew albums. It seems silly to me now, and nostalgic. Now Dr. Dre is a respected producer and Snoop Dog and Ice Cube are actors.
The Chronic might not be shocking or surprising today, mainly because it influenced so many other albums, but it still sounds pretty darn good. Definitely helps liven up the old morning commute.