Friday, April 29, 2005

Funky Friday Fink

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One man band Fink released his LP Fresh Produce on NinjaTune's now defunct ambient imprint Ntone back in 2000. It's a record that actually fits better/belongs among NinjaTune's best known releases - you know, the Coldcuts, the DJ Foods, the Herbalisers. It's a heady brew of beat experimentation, with luscious downtempo and abstract hip hop grooves, jazzy licks and hefty helpings of r'n'b, as well as odd vocals and plenty of quirky samples. I played the record to death at the time, and couldn't believe how people appeared to be sleeping on it. I offer my two favorite examples of it's brilliance on this funky Friday - Ever Since I Was A Kid (Part 1) warmly tells the story of a jazz music junkie's never ending quest for fresh new vinyl - "I'm spending all my money on records" - something that really strikes a chord with me and probably a lot of you too! Good Day For Hippos has such a splendid name that you just can't go wrong, and luckily the tune is just as ace as the title - warm Rhodes keys, watery splashes, and a real '70's kid show theme kind of feel to it. To the best of my knowledge he has yet to record a follow up this record, although he has released some records under the name Sideshow - they are more on the house and techno tip than the stuff here. A much slept on LP that needs to be heard.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Big, Stinky Serving Of (Digitally Remastered) '80s Cheese

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I was at the record store this week when I saw it on the list of new releases floating around the counter - The Power Station's one and only self titled album, given the remastered reissue treatment, with 7 bonus tracks and a DVD with a few vids and a live performance from SNL. They were a mid '80s "supergroup" that put together two Taylors from Duran Duran, bassist John & guitarist Andy, the drummer from disco legends Chic, Tony Thompson, and the vocals of blued eyed soul boy Robert Palmer. They made a brief splash with the hits Some Like It Hot and a cover of T.Rex's Get It On (Bang A Gong). When the record proved to be more popular than was expected, they decided they'd need to tour. Robert Palmer was not down with that and he promptly mutated their sound into his own and forged ahead as a solo artist - wiht the greatest successes of his career in Addicted To Love and it's follow-ups. The rest of the guys soldiered on for a while with replacement vocalist Michael Des Barres, but he was no Palmer, and they called it quits.

Anyway, back at the record store... I asked the dude behind the counter to let me check it out. Ah, that crazy '80s cover with it's big breasted dominatrix. The extra tracks are mostly a bunch of remixes of the afore mentioned hits. Do I really want this? I did really enjoy the record at the time, and have only ever owned it on a prerecorded cassette. I gave it back to the guy - "maybe some other day". Then he told me my total, I realised it was less than I thought it would be, and I made him put it back in the stack. So I chumped it. But damn if it doesn't sound pretty good - in spots. It's produced by Chic's Bernard Edwards, and it's pretty clean. It is kinda chunky, and there's plenty of gated snare action, as well as some cheesy sounding keyboards (played by Rupert Hine and Wally Badarou) but somehow it moves me. I think I mostly chalk it up to the class vocals of Robert Palmer, always so smooth and sophisticated. Instead of giving you the hits I've dug deep into the album and am giving you a couple of the funkier moments. Lonely Tonight is loping electro funk with a big hair guitar solo, and Robert growls his lines perfectly. Go To Zero has a popping John Taylor bass riff, tight horns, and more big hair guitar riffing. Listening to the album made me cringe a little bit, but it put a smile on my face several times too - aaah, memories! I deem that value for money.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Do The Whirlwind

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A few weeks ago I posted an Out Hud song and drew comparisons to the Tom Tom Club. This prompted a reader to inform me that she agreed. She then took the comparison one step further and said she thought that the new Architecture In Helsinki single sounded a lot like them too. Who?! said I (having never heard of them before). Turns out they are an 8 person band from Melbourne, Australia, and they have just released their second LP In Case We Die in the US on Bar/None Records. It's a fabulously entertaining listen. They're like a funkier, looser Fire Arcade, or a more shambolic Stars. There are some 40 instruments listed on the album, so you know you're in for an orchestrated treat. There are lusciuos strings, peppy horns, great new wave rock riffs, some lashings of boppy synth pop, some goofy kid's toys sounds and even power tools get a credit. And yes, there's also a big ol' helping of the Tom Tom Club, especially on the groovy first single from the album, Do The Whirlwind - loose disco beats and girly girly vocals plus horns plus sitars make for a bunch of sunny, warm fun. I have to admit that I'm totally captivated by this album - it's gotten played every day, and it's creativity and genre mashing and that feeling that you-never-know-what-might-come-next always keeps me entertained. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Control Your Area

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Nice Nice are guitarist Jason Buehler and percussionist Mark Shirazi. Their speciality is beat-based rock music - free form, abstract and often improvised. They have a new EP called Yesss! coming out June 21st on Audraglint Records (Portland, OR based indie-tronica label, home to releases by Tarwater, Fontanelle, Kid 606 and Charles Atlas). The new EP, in the words of it's press release, bears more resemblance to production heavy modern r'n'b than to the noisy, free jazz stuff they've been doing. You can definitely hear the polish on the new record, and the results are pretty cool - "a pile up of lysergic machine funk" indeed. Every time I listen to Control Your Area I keep expecting Missy Elliott or M.I.A. to start rapping - it's got the stuttery hip hop riddims, crazy space noises and great squelchy bits. It also carries a bit of the Talking Heads afro-experimentation vibe with it's poppin' bass and scratchy guitars. There are some nice remixes on the EP by Caural, DJ/Rupture and Stars As Eyes. All in all a very entertaining listen. Visit their website for three older mp3s that are a taste of where they've been, then check out Headphone Sex for another track from this new EP.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

All Things Fixable

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Indie hip hopper Alias recently released a record called All Things Fixable on his own imprint, Goodwithmoney Recordings. It's a collection of tracks recorded between 2002 and 2004, all of them on CD for the first time. A stop-gap release until his next Anticon release later this year, it's a set of mostly instrumental tunes that combine finely chopped beats, washes of synth action and an occasional guitar. There are a couple of vocal tracks, one featuring rapper Sole and even a nice little folky guitar based jam. I love this guy's sound - that Boards Of Canada/BoomBip/Four Tet vibe - and enjoyed his recent remix of Lali Puna's track Alienation. While musically adventurous like those other acts, he always keeps his beats tight. The title track All Things Fixable is a pretty good indication of what's on offer - spacy keys, a fat beat, a lovely melody and a little bit of glitch. A nice record to keep your head nodding.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Funky Friday - Time For Change

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Change were an early '80s r'n'b group based in Italy. The brainchild of Italo-Guadalupean business man Jacques Petrus, they put out four albums of American styled r'n'b. Jacques was not a musician, so he relied heavily on hired studio help to create the music, and relatively unknown American singers provided the vocals. The earliest recordings were helmed by his Italian partners Mauro Malavasi and Davide Romani, and featured the vocals of soon-to-be legends like Jocelyn Brown and Luther Vandross (whose debut solo LP had not yet been released - at this point he was known best for his backup vocals for people like David Bowie and Chic, and for doing radio and TV jingles). I owned several of the albums over the years, but ended up getting rid of them - a few good tunes amid a lot of so-so stuff. I kept this one 12" tho', because it puts together 3 of their greatest songs. Searching highlights the smooth-like-velveeta croon of Luther over a very seductively pulsing electro groove. Lover's Holiday has to be one of the best Chic songs that Chic never wrote - it's such a perfect copy of the trademark sound you'd swear it was Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards playing those guitar and bass riffs. It is a gloriously uplifting track. In 1984 Jacques' relationship with his Italian partners was over and he hired a pair of then up-and-coming song writers and producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The single Change Of Heart is typically Jam & Lewis - the stacatto drum program, the keyboard run at the beginning of the song, the chunky syn-bass, the multiple vocal parts and that ability for crafting a catchy melody and chorus are all present. It's as good as any of the stuff they did with the S.O.S. Band around the same time. The musical project known as Change ended after one more album, but I will always love them for these three stellar tunes.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

An Animated Description Of Mr. Maps

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The Books are a duo out of NYC, Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong. They have released their third album Lost And Safe on German electronic label Tomlab. I hadn't heard of them until recently when I encountered some of their songs out in the music blogosphere, and, intrigued by the "blipworld, speedblues, country & eastern and post-anything" music (their label's description), decided to investigate them a little further. The CD credits state "sounds/words, found/written, performed/recorded, mixed/mastered by the Books at home in North Adams, MA and New York, NY". It gives you a good idea of what to expect - odd field recordings and found sounds, blended with guitars and banjos and cellos and glitchy beats. Reviews have generally stated that this set is a more structured, conventional recording than their last two - I haven't heard the others (yet!) so I can't comment on that. I do know that I like what I hear. It's quirky, charming, and pretty unique sounding. I particularly dig the gigantically crushing beats of An Animated Description Of Mr. Maps - a track that features "a metal file cabinet implanted with subwoofers". Wacky sure, but an awful lot of fun too.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

An '80s Obscurity

West India Company were a side project of Blancmange (see my last post for more on them). A collaboration between the duo and Indian songstress Asha Bohsle and percussionist Pandit Dinesh, their sound was synth pop + classic Indian music. I don't think they recorded more than a couple of singles together - I've never seen an album and Google doesn't have much to offer. The 12" that I have was released in 1984, and is for the lovely tune Ave Maria (Om Ganesha) - a bumping beat, fantastically soulful back up vocals, and Asha's drop-ead gorgeous voice singing what is a wierd cross pollination of the hymn Ave Maria and some Hindu music celebrating the Indian god Ganesh. The 3 other tunes on the 12" are variations of this musical theme, with some nice slower moments to balance the dance-y stuff. It sounds a bit dated today due to the sound of that era's synths, but I still find it pretty entertaining.

Monday, April 18, 2005

God Ain't In My Kitchen

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Blancmange - a duo comprised of vocalist Neil Arthur and intrumentalist Stephen Luscombe, part of the early '80s UK synth pop scene. They started out as experimentalists, then embraced a more pop-tastic direction. This led to a handful of clever, catchy, humorous pop songs that mixed synth pop's electronics with organic percussion and guitars. They had instant success with their debut LP Happy Families and it's hits Living On The Ceiling and Feel Me. The next couple of records sold less and less, and then it was over. I always loved these guys, and thought they should have been bigger than they were - they seemed like they were having a good time when so many of their peers were moody and gloomy. I also loved their blend of instumentation - to me they were like an UK electro version of the Talking Heads. Here is their first single on London Records (a double A side - catalog # BLANC 1, produced by Mike Howlett)

I've Seen The Word is plaintive and moody, with it's wistful melody and Neil's croon.

God's Kitchen - cool scratchy guitars, rudimentary beats, and a very David Byrne-sy vocal delivery make this one of my personal fave moments from these two.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Classic California Soul On A Funky Friday

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Today's tunes come from the 2001 remastered reissue of Shuggie Otis' 1974 LP Inspiration Information. Son of r'n'b bandleader Johnny Otis, the kid was a musical prodigy who started making music in his mid teens. He played all the instruments himself, just like Stevie Wonder. He wrote what is, IMO, one of the greatest songs of the '70s, Strawberry Letter 23 - a huge hit after it was covered by The Brothers Johnson. Musically he's all over the place - funk, rock, pop, blues and spacy free jazz all make appearances, and he also used what were then the lastest technologies, drum machines and synths. You can hear echoes of Hendrix, Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder and you can hear his influence today on people like Prince and Money Mark. I have to admit that prior to this 2001 release I had no idea who Shuggie was - when I discovered that he wrote Strawberry Letter 23 I was amazed - after all those years of loving this song to hear the original version blew me away. His version is not as slick as the Brothers Johnson version, and lacks the cool guitar solo of that cover, yet I still find it to be stellar. Aht Uh Mi Hed is a beauty, built on a little drum machine rhythm and a truly memorable melody - so sweet and soulful. The reissue includes 4 bonus tracks, one of which is the funk rock gem that is Ice Cold Daydream - it rocks just as hard as it funks, and gets me grooving every time. It's all good - everyone who loves the music of those names I've listed here needs to have this record in their collection. The record was a commercial failure - nobody knew what to make of it's heady brew of genres, and apparently Shuggie lost interest in dealing with the music biz and dropped off the radar. There is another nice reissue available that combines 1970's Here Comes Shuggie Otis & 1971's Freedom Flight if you want to get hold of some more of this tasty stuff.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Qu'est-ce Que C'est Que Ca?

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Yesterday I was listening to a bit of Pete Shelley's solo LP from 1981, Homosapien. Produced by Martin Rushent, it melds the mighty synth-pop and Linn drum programming of The Human League's Dare with Pete's punk-rocker leanings - altho' it's miles away from the Buzzcocks. It's amazing how distinctive Martin's production touch is - if you know the Human League album you'll hear the similarities - and it is his production "sound" that made me search this out back in the day. Of course, Pete's record has guitars on it, which the League were still avoiding at the time. Qu'est-ce Que C'est Que Ca? is one of my faves on the album - a perky beat, bouncy synth bass, catchy melody and a nice guitar solo all make it work for me. It's mostly interesting to me because it's so different from what he had been doing with the Buzzcocks - from punk rock to synth-pop. It hasn't aged as well as the Buzzcocks stuff, but it's still a pretty fun listen.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Open Season

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British Sea Power are back with a fantastic new album called Open Season, follow up to 2003's debut The Decline Of British Sea Power. The debut was a loud and raucous post punk record with a few real gems hidden in the rough. The follow up has jettisoned all of the pointless noisy bits and focused on songs - catchier than hell songs. They continue to draw from indie rock bands of the early '80s for inspiration, and as such remind me a lot of a cross between the Psychedelic Furs and Echo & the Bunnymen. Singer Yan's voice is very Richard Butler - which means it's also very Bowie, because Butler always did Bowie almost as well as Bowie. There are also moments that evoke the jingle jangle of The Smiths - more for the Johnny Marr guitar than the Morissey vocals, although lyrically they do make use of a lot of not-very-rock 'n' roll words - elegiac, ventricles and arrhythmia are all used. I had a hard time deciding which tune to share because so many of them are good - Be Gone is one of the more Bunnymen flavored tunes. Listen, love it, and go and buy it!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Lost Classic Of The Early '80s

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I don't have a lot of time today so it's a short post. A softly ticking beat, some gorgeous, chiming guitar riffs and moodily pretentious melancholic vocals all make The Passions' I'm In Love With A German Film Star one of those songs that should have been huge - number one for weeks. Of course it wasn't - fickle record buying public. The song still sounds great to my ears all these 20 some years later. A beauty of a tune that puts me in a trance every time I hear it.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Funky Friday - Old Skool Vs New School

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Today's selections come from the 1999 compilation Still / The Joint - Sugar Hill Remixed. It's a 2 CD set of remixes of some of the classic Sugar Hill Records songs - you know, Grandmaster Flash's The Message, Funky 4+1's That's The Joint and Troublefunk's Pump Me Up. The list of remixers is pretty diverse - from the obvious hip hop peeps like Roots Manuva, Deckwrecka, Nightmares On Wax and Scratch Perverts to leftfield electronic acts like Coldcut, Freddy Fresh and Junior Cartier. These are two of my faves - Plaid's remix of Grandmaster Flash's Scorpio brings the electro flavor big time with it's old school beats and vocoders. Bumping yet quirky. Two Lone Swordsmen's remix of The Sequence's Funk You Up is also kind of quirky, but in a darker, dubbier, squelchier fashion - full of little clicks and parps (parps being those farty synth noises you keep hearing).

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Jazzy Beats To Move Your Feets

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Verve Remixed 3 is out and continues the course set by it's predecessors - the venerable Verve label's back catalog given the remix treatment by today's hot electronica talent. So you get people like Bent, The Postal Service, Lyrics Born, Junior Boys and Brazilian Girls all adding their thing to songs by Nina Simone, Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan and Jimmy Smith. This volume also continues the hit and miss tradition of the others - I don't really care for a few of the tracks. But there are a couple that really make me groove - RJD2's remix of the lovely Astrud Gilberto's The Gentle Rain is bumping hip hop with sweet beats and cool, rolling piano riffs. It sounds very akin to the stuff on his latest album. I also dig the Sugardaddy (Tom Findlay from Groove Armada & Tim Hutton) remix of Shirley Horn's Come Dance With Me - a nice house-y disco beat, jazzy piano riffs and Shirley's lovely vocals. Overall a decent set of tunes with a few duds.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

'64 - '95

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After about a month of listening to it I've started to come around on the new Lemon Jelly album '64 - '95. It's their typically quirky style of lush electronica, though this time around they've decided to make some of it actually rock. As a result you get a tune that's built around an old Kyuss sample, or '79 AKA The Shouty Track which is built around a big chunk of the tune Horror Show by early '80s Scottish post-punkers The Scars. The result is a lurching, rumbling track which sounds like it could soundtrack a horror show. Even tho' I like the rock experimentation, it's always been the breezy, chill tunes that I've liked best on previous records. '95 Make Things Right definitely fits that bill with it's dreamy easy listening vocals and midtempo funky vibe - nice and lush.

New Music From Tosca
For some more dubby downtempo go HERE to stream the new Tosca album J.A.C. which comes out next month. Very nice!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Lost Souls Forever

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I heard a track by Kasabian last year on a Q Magazine sampler and thought to myself "that sounds pretty interesting". Reviews I read compared them to Primal Scream and some of the bands from the "baggydelic" era - Happy Mondays, Stone Roses and the like. I'm down with all of that, so when the record got it's US release a few weeks ago I picked it up. It's an allright record - derivative of all those bands mentioned, sure, but not as bad as some reviews in the blogosphere might have you think. I particularly enjoy L.S.F. (Lost Souls Forever) with it's loping beats and it's catchy, sing-song melody. It's a pretty groovy tune that is also a fair indicator of what the album is all about. I guess I can see why the haters have hated on this, but for me it works.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Britfunky Friday

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I Level were a trio comprised of Jo Dworniak, Duncan Bridgeman and Sam Jones. Their first single was Give Me, and it was a hit in both the UK and the US (top 5 of the R'n'B charts at the time). They released a couple more singles, then an album, but none of it found the success that the first single had. After a second album in 1985 failed to sell they disbanded. Their music had it's own thing going - a blend of US funk, Brit white boy electronics and the West African vibe that singer Sam's voice brought. Give Me (US Remix) is a John Luongo remix of their first single that can be found on the B side of their second single Minefield. I've always loved the bass line and the blippy keyboard riff on this, and Sam's reggae tinged vocals are fantastic. A very groovin' tune that still sounds pretty unique today.