It’s hard to believe MTV started as a hosting platform for music videos. Flash-forward some thirty years and the channel is a mere shell of its piloting concept. Reality TV now dominates the slots that were once intended for ‘music television,’ but given our generation’s lackluster videos it may have worked out for the better. In recent years, creativity has taken a back-burner to the generic glorification of riches, bitches and “YOLO” fever. With all the ways to showcase talent, I don’t understand why I see the same stock models rotated around for different videos.
I’m a believer that creative video concepts can amplify a musician’s appeal. Visionary artists who detour from the ordinary will often generate intrigue due to their avant-garde approach. Just take the London-based duo, Chase & Status, as a prime example.
Chase & Status are music producers who have created a fortune by navigating away from the norm. The eclectic pair won ‘Best Video’ for their song, “End Credits,” at the 2010 Q Awards, in addition to several nominations for their original and collaborative mixes. Their 2011 “Flashing Lights” video is now regarded as a sinister success; coupling macabre undertones with a buildup of dubstep, break-beat rhythms.
I found “Flashing Lights” to be the perfect blend of drama and drums, but what’s your opinion? Is this video the new wave of creative expression, or the projection of your nightmares?
It’s clinically proven that the Beatles make life better. Combine the Beatles with the relaxing vibes of reggae, or more accurately reggae’s trippy cousin dub, and it’s quite possible that you could cure cancer. All right, perhaps some research is required before making a definitive statement, but it would not surprise us in the least to discover that a dub Beatles album serves as one hell of a placebo.
A quick Google search revealed a small army of reggae tributes to the Beatles, including another complete album makeover dub-style. Huh, who knew? But none of those other bands matter. We’re here to talk about Yellow Dubmarine, which is comprised of seven of the the most Anglo white men you’re likely to meet. (The only thing their press photo is missing is Damon Albarn, Graham Cozon, a monocle, and a Great Dane.) They sure don’t play like uptight English white boys, though, as this version of “Something” will show. It’s unclear where this will take them career-wise, but it’s a pretty interesting detour at the very least. We bet the Quiet One would have gotten a kick out of it, that’s for sure.
When the Orb first broke through into somewhat mainstream appeal with their 1991 epic The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, some critics immediately drew comparisons between the ambient house outfit and classic prog rock of the 1970s. Both featured sprawling audio soundscapes, both included tracks that dipped well over 10 minutes in length, and both sounded amazing while under the influence of psychedelics. So while it’s kind of surprising that David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame is working with the ambient-house legends, its even more surprising is that it took this long.
The story behind Metallic Spheres is a bit odd. Originally it was going to be a single track collaboration between occasional Orb collaborator Martin “Youth” Glover and Gilmour, but after Orb mastermind Alex Paterson got a hold of the tapes, he decided to turn it into an entire album instead. Its not exactly the most organic or natural way of recording an album, but it’s hard to argue with the results; Metallic Spheres is bloody brilliant, the best album to feature the Orb’s name in well over a decade. Unlike many of the recent releases under the Orb name, Metallic Spheres finds Paterson returning to what he (used to) do best; longform ambient tracks. There are only two “songs” on Metallic Spheres; “Metallic Side” and “Sphere Side” and on the CD version there’s barely a noticeable break in between the two. It’s all one big sonic journey that’s nearly impossible to describe since it goes just about everywhere imaginable. Some portions feature nothing but barely-noticeable beats and layers upon layers of Gilmour’s instantly recognizable guitar work, while some segments turn the record into a dub album, with funky beats and playful synths. It all peaks in an orgy of sliding guitars and vintage synths that sounds like the magical Moog baby of Pink Floyd’s Animals and Vangelis’ soundtrack to “Blade Runner.” It’s all very epic and very awesome. (Columbia 2010)
RIYL: The Chemical Brothers, The Future Sound Of London, everyone on Hospital Records
Barking is the third Underworld album since Darren Emerson left the the duo of Karl Hyde and Mark Smith in 2002, and the first since then that is worth a damn.
A Hundred Days Off was a forgettable mess and the nicest thing that can be said about Oblivion With Bells was that its album title was an apt descriptor of the music. It’s probably no coincidence that this, the first good Underworld album since 1999′s Beaucoup Fish, is a collaborative effort between the group and a series of high-profile and up-and-coming producers.
Drum and bass producer High Contrast contributes the two highlights of the album, the very High Contrast-like sounding “Scribble” and the oddly sedate “Moon in Water,” which features some truly inventive vocal manipulations over a simplistic, but effective beat.
Other tracks are less surprising, but still good. D. Ramirez and Paul Van Dyk both specialize in dance-ready house and trance music, so it’s no surprise that their tracks, especially Ramirez’s “Always Loved a Film,” make Underworld sound like classic Underworld again, with frantic beats and epic synths serving as a perfect backdrop to Hyde’s distorted and manic vocal delivery. Van Dyk’s “Diamond Jigsaw” is so damned uplifting it should be played in rehab centers, and its peaks of Everest proportions pretty much ensures you’ll hear it on every mix by the DJ for the next few years. Minimal techno producer Dubfire is a little off with the slightly-too-slow “Grace” but makes up with it by delivering “Bird 1,” the opener to the album that builds in a way reminiscent of Beacoup Fish‘s “Shudder/King Of Snake.”
The only contributors to seemingly miss the point of the exercise are Appleblim and Al Tourettes, who never rise out of the dubstep doldrums they’re so comfortable in, with “Hamburg Hotel,” a barely-there collection of looping beats and boring bass lines. But hey, it’s dubstep, so you get what you ask for.
Maybe Hyde and Smith need someone else to bounce ideas off of in order to truly be great? Whatever the reason, here’s hoping their collaborative streak doesn’t stop with Barking. They just need to avoid any additional “dubstep” artists. (Om Records 2010)
In this final installment of our recap of Lollapalooza 2010, we cover the stars of tomorrow, or what is known in baseball circles as the Futures Game. Well, most of them are potential stars of tomorrow, anyway. One of them was a big time star of the past, and not even one with hipster cred like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, or Roky Erickson. Easily the biggest blemish on the lineup as a whole. Going a bit overboard in bashing the band, you say? Ha. We’re just getting warmed up.
Foxy Shazam, Friday, Sony Bloggie Stage
Our man Eldred is into these wildly ambitious Cincinnati glam rockers a tad more (which is to say, about a million times more) than we are, but after reading Eldred’s amusing interview with Foxy lead singer Eric Sean Nally, where he swore they could win over any crowd, we knew a bet when we saw one. Sadly, we missed the majority of the set thanks to the new reworking of the grounds (enter at Roosevelt? Dude, that’s a mile from here), but once we arrived, we got their appeal, instantly. And if we didn’t, their closing number sealed the deal. Nally leapfrogged onto the guitarist’s shoulders, who didn’t miss a beat on his solo until Nally started kicking his guitar. The keyboardist is literally stomping on the keys, and not Jerry Lee Lewis-style – more like Dance Dance Revolution-style. Nally then took off one of the drummer’s cymbals and chucked it at the drums before walking off the stage. The crowd went absolutely fucking bonkers. Can’t say we blame them.
Photo by Ashley Garmon
Nally also had the best between-song banter of the weekend, where he spoke of how his father knew John Lennon, which we’re pretty sure is bollocks. Either way, this was the best first performance we’ve seen since Hard-Fi in 2005.
HEALTH, Sunday, adidas MEGA Stage
Our boy Eldred was most impressed with this band, claiming that the blew the bad weather away with pure noise. The former sounds nice, the blowing away the weather. The latter, well, it depends. Are we talking Pixies/My Bloody Valentine noise, or, you know, noise noise?
(*hits band’s MySpace page*)
Ooh, My Bloody Valentine noise. Damn. Sorry we missed this one.
Stars, Saturday, Budweiser Stage
As a means of eliminating accidental bias – hey, we’re human, it happens – we tend to listen to bands knowing as little about them as possible. There are drawbacks to this, of course, especially if you cling to your hipster credibility like an oxygen mask. For example, we had no idea until after we were writing up Stars’ performance that they were all members of the much-beloved Broken Social Scene, which has ties to every Canadian band from the last 30 years. If we had, then perhaps we would have felt an urge to find a better superlative to describe their set than ‘pleasant.’ Ah, but hipster credibility means absolutely nothing to us, so here it is: they were fine, and occasionally great. (Their song “We Don’t Want Your Body” is easily the best track on their new album The Five Ghosts.) But at 2:00 in the afternoon on a steamy Saturday, we were perfectly content to lounge in the wake zone between the northern stages and let the mind wander. Read into that what you will.
Photo by Dave Mead
Skybox, Saturday, BMI Stage
It warms our hearts to see a group of kids play the kind of pop that their parents would have listened to as kids. We can’t imagine that they stand much of a chance in terms of radio success, but they might become soundtrack darlings, and goodness knows that’s a more lucrative career path these days than banking on radio to sell your record. We’re not sure the songwriting is at peak level yet, but they have the right idea, that’s for sure.
Nneka, Sunday, Parkways Foundation Stage
Eldred’s last five words made us glad we skipped her, especially considering she played in the middle of a rain shower with gale-force winds: “Too quiet for a festival.” This same thing plagued Neko Case last year, and we would listen to Neko sing the ingredients to a can of soup. Gorgeous voice, but sometimes the music just can’t measure up to the atmosphere. Props to Perry for trying to inject a little variety (read: color) into the lineup, but he’d be wise to take energy into consideration, especially on a Sunday when everyone is already wiped out.
Ancient Astronauts, Friday, Perry’s
The new Perry’s stage, and the space in front of it, is twice the size of last year’s location, and that’s good because it got really tight there last year, especially when Perry himself made an appearance. We dug the last Ancient Astronauts record, a strange blend of New York hip hop and French sensibility, but what we saw of their DJ set was pretty flat. Aside from a fun mash-up involving “Blitzkrieg Bop,” they seemed trapped in a reggae fugue. We lasted 15 minutes.
Photo by Matthew Taplinger
See that hat he’s wearing? They were inescapable all weekend, and every time we saw one – which was a lot – we thought, “Tool.” Just sayin’. If you own one, put it in the closet. Or better yet, throw it away.
The Soft Pack, Saturday, Budweiser Stage
It’s hard to stand apart from the guitar alt-rock crowd these days, and granted, these guys didn’t do a great job of standing apart themselves, but there was something in their sound that caught our ear. A similarity to Catherine Wheel, perhaps, or perhaps we were just relieved that someone was coming out of the gate bringing the energy, because Lollapalooza isn’t a music festival so much as a grueling three-day death march of music (if you’re over 30, that is). Bands like the Soft Pack at noon on Saturday are the equivalent of a shot of adrenaline to the heart. Once they were finished, we felt kind of bad for them once we saw that they’d be followed by the decidedly softer Wild Beasts. Don’t let the name fool you, they are anything but.
Blues Traveler, Saturday, Parkways Foundation Stage
Blues Traveler has played every even-numbered Chicago Lolla. The only thing we can’t figure out is why.
Modern rock radio hasn’t touched them since 1995. They never played any of the touring Lollas, receiving their first invite in 2006. Granted, much of that was due to the fact that John Popper & Co. were tied up with the traveling jam band H.O.R.D.E. tours until 1998, but doesn’t that alone demonstrate just how much one of these things is not like the others? Yes, there is some crossover between the festivals in terms of artists, but they largely involved the bands that were exceptions to the H.O.R.D.E. philosophy, not the other way around. And since they’ve been playing the festival every other year in the last five years, they haven’t been gone long enough for people to miss them now. For us, Blues Traveler at Lolla is like Homer Simpson reading a Far Side calendar: “I don’t get. I don’t get it. I….don’t get it.”
All right, rant over. Truth be told, we only heard their first two songs, “Runaround” (leading with the hit? Unheard of) and…wait for it…a cover of Sublime’s “What I Got.” Knowing wink, or calculated attempt to wring nostalgia from a moment that doesn’t call for it? You be the judge. We’ve judged enough as it is.
Raphael Saadiq, Friday, Parkways Foundation Stage
This is admittedly another ‘one of these things is not like the other’ situation, but as big fans of Saadiq’s 2008 album The Way I See It, we were thrilled that he brought his pitch-perfect Motown groove to Lolla. (Why they decided to have Mavis Staples play at the same time on the north side, however, was a head-scratcher.) Armed with a crack band – our friend Tim, a drummer, was most impressed with Saadiq’s drummer – Saadiq played a slightly sped-up version of his catalog, and threw everyone for a loop when his all-black band laid down the hardest guitar riff that anyone played all day. Smart move, given the crowd they were playing to were pretty damn white (hey, they were on the stage that Lady Gaga would grace six hours later). We even caught a guy so caught up in the groove that he danced like he didn’t have a care in the world. While our buddy Tim said, “Man, I’m so glad that’s not you,” we were actually moved by his lack of self-awareness. He was completely caught up in the moment; that’s what it’s all about in the end, right?
Big Audio Dynamite are kind of a “lost” bands of the ’80s. Sure, you may still hear “The Globe” a cut from the band’s second incarnation Big Audio Dynamite II, on retro playlists, but aside from that they’ve all but vanished from the pop culture lexicon, not that they were that big a presence on it to begin with. The band’s measured success remains befuddling when you consider it was Mick Jones’ baby, the group he put together after getting fired from the Clash in 1983.
Hopefully this new Legacy Edition re-issue of the group’s 1985 debut will open the band up for re-evaluation. The importance of This Is Big Audio Dynamite has faded over time, but when it came out it was a technological wonder, the first rock record to embrace the sampling movement of rap music and take it to a direction never heard before. While singles like “E=MC²” and “The Bottom Line” may seem a little quaint now, they were revolutionary at the time in how the took samples from movies and other sources and seamlessly incorporated them into the music. It’s a style you saw resurface just a few years later in bands like Massive Attack and Portishead. Ahead of their time back then, it now sounds dated in the most charming of ways.
The bonus disc is what makes this re-issue really worthwhile though, because while the album versions of their singles were always good, the 12” remixes was where the band really shined. Making the package an even sweeter deal are excellent b-sides such as “Electric Vandal” and the forgotten title track, which is a condensed amalgamation of nearly every sample that appeared on the album. Even the goofier bonuses, such as the vocoder version of “BAD” and the beyond-silly “Albert Einstein Meets the Human Beatbox” are welcome time capsules of a bygone era where stuff like this was groundbreaking and cutting-edge. A must-buy for fans of the band as well as fans of dance-punk who want to see where it all started. (Columbia 2010)
A lot of music came out this decade, some might say too much. (Definitely too much. -Ed.) Definitely more than any one person could keep track of. So as a public service, in our ongoing series on Music in the 2000s, here are some of the best songs and albums that you most likely haven’t heard (especially if you live in America). Some of these tracks are by established artists that have waned in popularity, so no one took note of their new material no matter how good it was. Others are by up-and-coming young artists, so hopefully they’ll serve as a solid foundation for which to build a solid fan base off of in the future. But sadly the best of the bunch here has since disbanded, so way to go for not discovering them sooner.
10. Oasis: “Falling Down (A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble Remix)”
Most of latter-day Oasis was okay, but boring. And their last album (if their recent break-up sticks) didn’t really change that. However, this 22-minute remix of that album’s best single was a home run. Done by the guys from the Future Sound Of London, it transforms the simple Brit-pop ditty into a psychedelic freakout of epic proportions. Bring your own acid.
9. Polly Scattergood: “I Hate The Way”
Definitely an artist to watch in the coming decade, Scattergood lived up to her name on her debut, delivering a scattershot collection of piano-based rock that missed the mark as much as it hit it. And nothing on that record fulfilled the promise of this opening number, an seven-minute confessional that tumbles back and forth between “You Oughta Know” anger and “Landslide”-style sadness. If she keeps this up, she could be the next Tori Amos.
8. Division Day: “Ricky” Beartrap Island was a perfectly fine record with perfectly fine songs. It was also boring as hell. The exception being this pulse-pounding trip into paranoia filled about one hell of a dangerous river (or something, it’s kind of vague). Since Beartrap Island, Division Day has changed their sound dramatically, so they’ll never record a track like this again, which is a shame since it’s what they do best, even if they don’t know it.
7. King Biscuit Time: “I Walk The Earth”
Steve Mason from the Beta Band seemingly had so many great songs in him during first half of this millennium that he released some solo under this awful stage name. The best of the bunch was this beautiful, minimalist track, which also had an awesome video. The Beta Band is gone, but King Biscuit Time remains, and Mason is still releasing amazing music under the moniker, but this track from the rarely heard No Style EP remains the best of the bunch.
6. The Young Knives: “Terra Firma”
Man, British nerd rock is way nerdier than American nerd rock. Check out the chorus for this wacky little number: “Fake rabbit, real snake, terra firma terra firma!” Wait, what? Don’t think about it too much, your head might explode. If you know a TMBG fan and you want to get them into post-punk, this track, and Superabundance, the 2008 album it comes from, is the way to go.
5. Ludo: Broken Bride
Ludo is a band on the rise for sure, and their 2008 album You’re Awful I Love You was one of the smartest pop-punk albums in recent memory (and you can read my interview with lead singer Andrew Volpe here). However, they preceded that record with this infinitely bizarre EP, a rock opera about a time-traveling scientist trying to save the life of his wife who died in a car accident in 1985. Instead his invention takes him to the time of dinosaurs, where he has to fight pterodactyls, and eventually to the Rapture. The subject matter is done dead serious and beautiful, if a little impossible to describe.
4. Tub Ring: “Bite the Wax Tadpole”
Mr. Bungle inspired (and produced) hardcore metal about a guy who dreams about a formula for cold fusion but is disappointed with its texture and flavor. It’s twice as awesome as it sounds. This Chicago-based act opens for Mindless Self Indulgence a lot, but they might even be weirder than that lot. Which is really saying something.
4. Bran Van 3000: Discosis
Best known for their minor-hit “Drinking In LA” from their 1997 debut Glee, Bran Van 3000 (aka BV3) really knocked one out of the park for their 2001 sophomore album. There was the brilliantly funky “Astounded” (which featured an unused Curtis Mayfield vocal), the spacey pop of “Speed” and the crazy two parter “Go Shoppin’/More Shopping,” which featured dub-style rap and Pet Shop Boys-style singing all at once. Unfortunately what they didn’t have was American distribution, since their label, the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal, folded right before the record was due to be released.
2. Air Traffic: “Charlotte”
Where the hell did this one come from? Air Traffic’s debut album Fractured Life was good but bland, with the sole exception being this brilliant piece of Brit-pop so good that it not only rivals anything Oasis and Blur did this decade, but last decade as well. This was a hit single in the UK, but not nearly as big as it should have been. In America I think it’s a safe bet that next to no one has heard it. Damn shame, since it’s probably one of the 10 best songs of the decade.
1. Vaux: Beyond Virtue, Beyond Vice
One of the greatest musical tragedies of the 20th century so far is that no one has heard of this now-defunct Denver rock band who truly defied all genres with their brilliant (and entirely unheard) second album. The band was signed to Atlantic in 2005, but the label refused to release the album for reasons beyond me (they must not want to be associated with commercially viable rock music with artistic merit). The album sounds like a hardcore version of Muse’s Black Holes and Revelations, which is really amazing when you consider it was complete (if unreleased) a full year before that record.
Anyone seriously jonesing for new Scissor Sisters material would be wise to check out Litter to Society, the new EP from SS guitarist Del Marquis. Sporting five new tracks and “shadow” versions (think dub mixes) of three of those songs, Marquis unleashes his inner Shriekback – or is it Underneath the Radar-era Underworld? – on the title track, which merges a lyric not far removed from Diana Ross’ “Upside Down” with a bubbly but sinister electro beat. Fans of Marquis’ day job, meanwhile, will gobble up the day-glo “Any Kind of Love,” which could pass for a lost Belouis Some track. Shriekback? Belouis Some? Those are some seriously dated and specific ’80s references, yes, but it’s hard to argue with where Marquis finds his muse when the results are this entertaining. (self-released 2009)
In which the most influential reggae producer of all time – a man who shepherded sessions for Bob Marley and the Congos (not to mention the Clash) – celebrates his 54th release by hooking up with Andrew W.K., the volume-craving lunatic behind such modern frat-rock classics as “Party Hard” and “We Want Fun.” As the late, great Frank Zappa might say: Great googly moogly. The end result doesn’t alter Perry’s sound as much as you might fear (or hope); the production edges him toward machine-made grooves and away from live ones, but when you get right down to it, Lee “Scratch” Perry is always Lee “Scratch” Perry, and Repentance doesn’t change that. Your mileage will vary based on your tolerance for the non-musical (and the skeevy – “Baby Sucker” is easily one of the creepiest songs to come out in 2008), but only the grumpiest of listeners will be able to make it through all dozen tracks without smiling at least once at Perry’s deranged antics; after all, how can you argue with a 72-year-old man who begs Jesus to give him more pussy? It won’t change the prevailing opinion that Perry’s work has been in decline for the last 30 years, but if you’ve got an itch for some off-the-beaten-path riddims, this’ll cure what ails you. (Narnack 2008)