Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Return of The Blue Nile

I was quite pleasantly surprised to see that The Blue Nile had a new record coming out today - their first since 1996 - because I hadn't heard anything about it. This Scottish trio are the masters of understated, mellow, melancholic electronica. I was a fan from the get-go, having bought their debut 12" Tinsletown In The Rain 20 years ago. The key to their musical approach is minimalism - the arrangements, the vocals, the lyrics and the melodies are all very minimal. I love Paul Buchanan's croon - his quivering delivery fits so well with the music. Soul Boy is a typically mellow tune, with languid guitars and atmospherics laid over an almost hip hop beat - a nice way to update sound their unique sound. It's fantastic, and after 20 years in the business that's pretty impressive. Their minimalism may not be for everyone, but it's worth a listen anyway...

Monday, August 30, 2004

The Girl From UNCLE

Due to the kindness of a friend I was able to score a copy of the ultra swanky soundtrack to The Girl From UNCLE. Composed by Terry Randazzo, Dave Grusin and Howard Shores, it's a great combination of exotica laced lounge music - sultry horns, tropical rhythms, spy theme strings and the kind of vocals that usually accompany one of James T. Kirk's encounters with large breasted, green skinned alien vixens. If you've ever heard Dimitri From Paris' 1996 album Sacrebleu you will be familiar with both Out Of The Frying Pan Girl From UNCLE, because he bases two songs around the predominant riffs from these tunes. The first is a bass and bongo driven riff that features big horns and harpsichord and those vixen vocals - classic spy music. The second is a mellow bossa nova, once again with the vixen do-do-do's and fantastic strings, and also a classic Stan Getz styled sax solo. Grab a cocktail and your cigarette holder and get your swank on...

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Finns. Lali Puna, Neotropic & Wagon Christ

The Finn Brothers' Homesick is from their new LP Everyone Is Here. You aren't getting anything ground breaking or new from Neil and Tim - these guys have always crafted intelligent, melodic rock that your parents might like. This tune is has a bit of country rock flavor - it features some nice steel guitar, lovely piano and a big string accompaniment, as well as the usual expert harmonizing.

Lali Puna's Alienation is a track from their latest remix EP (for the song Micronomic). Anticon recording artist Alias handles the remix of this track, and instead of abstract hip hop he crafts a nice bit of glitchy ambient pop - hand-clappy beats, mournful keys, Valerie's vocals floating in and out of the mix. It's a nice little EP, also featuring a remix from Boom Bip.

Neotropic's Riz Mazlen has been at it for about a decade now, releasing a bunch of records on NinjaTune's now defunct side label nTone. Her latest LP White Rabbit is out now on Mush Records - it was a very pleasant surprise to learn that the album was largely recorded here in the Twin Cities, and features several key players from the local post rock scene including Dosh's Martin Dosh and Lateduster's JG Everest. Inch Inch is a lovely guitar and piano driven tune that drifts prettily along until it fades into a couple of minutes of noise and hiss. Watching Riz go from the hardcore electro and beats of her earliest stuff to the mellow, more organic tracks she does now has been cool. A very nice record.

Wagon Christ's Kwikwidetrax is from his latest album Sorry I Make You Lush It's Luke Vibert's 3rd album in a year (following Yoseph and Kerrier District) and some people might think he's stretching it a bit thin. Personally I really dig what he does with his different personas, and on Kwikwidetrax he does the loopy sci fi hip hop thing. The tune starts off with a thumping house tempo bass drum and some toasting and suddenly melts into a bumping hip hop beat, then slowly starts adding squelchy jazz funk synths and the usual odd vocal samples - the clincher for me is the deftly cut string sample he uses - it's a beauty. Yeah, it ain't nothing new, but damn it sure is funky.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Funky Friday - Bill Withers & Randy Crawford

Today at work I played the sound track to Quentin Tarentino's Jackie Brown. As with most Tarantino movies the music is great, and this one is no exception. It features a lot of funky tunes from Bobby Womack, Brothers Johnson, The Delfonics and Minnie Ripperton. Seeing as how I've made Fridays a day to feel the funk around here, I want to share a couple of my personal faves from the record. Bill Wither's 1972 hit Who Is He (And What Is He To You) is a classic, slow burning groove about unfaithfulness. The man has a great, soulful voice, and the riff is very memorable. Meshell N'degeocello's cover of this tune is also worth searching out.
The other tune is Randy Crawford's 1981 smash Street Life, written by and recorded with soul-jazz greats The Crusaders. It's a breezy strut, beautifully orchestrated (love those horns and strings!) and features Randy's uniquely quivering tone. Feel the funk...

P.S. A big thank you to Stereogum and Catchdubs for linking to me yesterday...

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Hot Chip versus Scissor Sisters

Hot Chip decribe themselves as "a modern day pop group with the spirit of Brian Wilson, the passion of Public Enemy and the niceness of the Neptunes" - and add a big old helping of Prince on top. I've heard a few tunes from their debut Coming On Strong and have dug what they're doing, so I was pretty psyched when I came across their remix of the Scissor Sisters hit Take Your Mama Out. In it's original form it's a rollicking rocker that owes a huge debt to Elton John, circa the mid to late '80s. Hot Chip's remix uses just the vocals, and they construct a whole new backing track - military marching drum rhythm, strangled guitar riffs, all sprinkled over glitchy synth-pop. It's the definition of what a good remix should be, unique and original.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The Twilight Singers Cover Mary J. and Bjork
I have been a fan of Greg Dulli's for over a decade now. I loved how The Afghan Whigs were able to put a little soul into their rock 'n' roll, and now with The Twilight Singers' new LP of cover versions, She Loves You (out today on One Little Indian US) he goes one step further. Among the songs by Marvin Gaye, Mazzy Star, Gershwin, Coltrane and Martina Topley-Bird is a cover of hip hop diva Mary J Blige's Real Love. It's a typically Dulli-fied rendition - featuring he and guest vocalist Mark Lanegan's soulfully gruff crooning over a lapsteel driven mid tempo rocker. It ain't funky like Mary J but it's a pretty sweet rendition. Also covered on this record is Bjork's Hyperballad - again a smouldering mid tempo rocker featuring Mark Lanegan. It's fascinating hearing this rendition - those lyrics you know so well over such a different backdrop. I've had a chance to listen to this record a couple of times today and I dig it - it's pretty ambitious, but it seems to work.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Digging In The Crate - Volume 3

It's time for another bunch of tunes from the crate of '80s 45's...

Paul Gardiner was the bass player in Gary Numan's band Tubeway Army. Stormtrooper In Drag was a 1981 solo single that featured Gary on vocals (as well as a co-writer credit). It's a mellow, hypnotic bass-riff driven tune with Gary's mouth-full-of-mush drone delivery helping give it that extra oomph. I've always loved this tune - my brother and I used to mock the vocals on it all the time, but I still think that it's a great "lost gem" of the new wave era.

Endgames were a Scottish four piece formed in the early '80s and featured former Simple Minds drummer Brian McGee. Their debut single was We Feel Good (Future's Looking Fine), a pop tune in the vein of what bands like ABC and Haircut 100 were doing. Featuring some nice piano and horns and a big catchy chorus, it failed to make a dent on the charts. They had a hit with the song First, Last, For Everything and went on to record 2 albums, but never achieved much success.

Way Of The West I can tell you nothing about - and neither can Google. Their debut single was Don't Say That's Just For White Boys. It's another catchy, funky new wave pop tune that has a cool sax infused ska breakdown in the middle. I thought at the time that it was worthy of chart placement, but of course it didn't make it. I bought the follow up single See You Shake but it too failed to make the charts and I never heard of them again.

Kirk Brandon is best known for his band Spear Of Destiny, with whom he still tours and records today. Before SOD he was in Theatre Of Hate, a blistering political post-punk band in the vein of Killing Joke (and featuring future Cult guitarist Billy Duffy). Propaganda was the b-side to their near hit single Do You Believe In The Westworld and features a blazing punk riff and Kirk's typically grandiose vocals. I actually prefer this song to the A side - it packs such intensity. Also of note - this recording was produced by Mick Jones from The Clash.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

A New Name In Downtempo - kmotiv

I'm pleased to introduce a new name on the downtempo - electronic music scene. kmotiv is 20 year old Kevin Kelsey. Born in Arizona and now based in the college town of Fayetteville, Arkansas, he says music has always played a big role in his life. Upon discovering electronica he was hooked, and has been writing and producing since then. His biggest influence? "Portishead. Without a doubt, they have been my biggest influence. In a way, they opened my eyes up to electronic music, and showed me that it doesn't have to be cold and emotionless. It can have as much variety and feeling as any other genre. It's all about how much you put into something, you'll get the same amount out." As for some of his other favorites, he lists Amon Tobin, Massive Attack, Dntel, Metric, The Dust Brothers and Deathcab For Cutie. When I asked about dream collaborations / remixes Amon Tobin came up again - "I'm thinkin' Amon Tobin, Rob Dougan or Faultline. They're all incredibly innovative musicians that are constantly pushing the limits of their own respective genres. I feel that I could learn a great deal working with any one of them!" I'm always curious about what people's fave records are, so I asked him to name some of his - "In no particular order as I cannot judge one above another. They all fit in different contexts of my life: Weezer - Self Titled (blue album), Massive Attack - Mezzanine, Deathcab For Cutie - The Photo Album, The Crystal Method - Vegas, and Mandalay - Solace."

He's currently recording his debut album (running title The Abstraction Agenda) for release on October 19th. "It's a self released album that will be available through kmotiv.com, cdbaby.com and a few other independent cd shops around the net. There's also a limited edition bonus disc with all preorders of the album. The disc will include several remixes/rarities and collaborations from the kmotiv world. Preordering will be available at kmotiv.com in late September. Keep your eyes peeled..."

Check out some tunes -

Flowing is blippy electro-hop.

Def Thorns is Thievery Corporation style dub.

Where I'm Comin' From is moody instrumental hip hop.

Emergence is some very nice ambient downtempo.

Makeshift is abstract hip hop.

Be sure to check out the music section of his website where he's got about 30 tunes available for download, including a couple of Portishead remixes.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Funky Friday - The Minneapolis Sound

Cherelle released her Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis helmed LP High Priority in 1985. Recorded in Minneapolis using the same crew that worked on Janet Jackson's breakthrough albums, it's a great record of party jams and slow burning ballads, all swathed in that unique Minneapolis sound that her producers (and Prince) can lay claim to. It never quite reached the heights of popularity that Ms. Jackson did, but it really is almost as good as that stuff. Saturday Love was one of the hits from the album and is a duet that features another Mpls. soul singer, the underrated Alexander O'Neal. The song made it to #2 on the R&B chart and #26 on the pop chart. It's a classic, nuff said! The album was remastered and reissued last year, so if you like what you hear go out and pick up a copy.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

A Bit Of Bossa Nova

Sergio Mendes is probably best remembered for pop hits he and his groups Brazil 66 & 77 had in the late '60s and early '70s. They blended the songs and rhythms of Brazilian bossa nova with a touch of US pop - indeed, some of the hits were bossa nova versions of classic Western pop songs by bands like the Beatles. Before he hit the big time pop charts though he was known for his more straightforward jazz renditions. With his Bossa Rio sextet - himself on piano plus bass, drums, trombones and sax he recorded The Beat Of Brazil in 1967. It's full of the classic standards of bossa nova, including the one most people know, The Girl From Ipanema. This is not your lounge cheese version. This is a tremendously uptempo and vibrant instrumental reading, full of deft piano and horn interplay. It's fantastic stuff, and these early records are worth searching out if you are a fan of jazz and/or bossa nova music.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The Red And The Black

In 1981 David Byrne and Brain Eno released My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts to great critical acclaim. That same year the other guitarist in the Talking Heads, Jerry Harrison, also released a solo album. It was called The Red And The Black, and was recorded with many of the same musicians that the Heads were woking with at the time (see yesterday's post for some of the names involved). It fits in very nicely with what his band was doing at the time - arty funk rock with spooky atmospherics, much like Remain In Light. One of my fave tracks from it is Worlds In Collision, which is a buzzing midtempo jam featuring the explosive guitar soloing of Adrian Belew. It would be nice if someday this LP could get the remastered reissue treatment - it's definitely worthy of it!

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads

Today sees the classic double LP live set The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads released on CD for the first time ever. It's two different live sets - one chronicling the era 1977-1979, the other 1980-1981. The first one is just the original line up while the second set is the 10 person strong band, playing the songs from Fear Of Music & Remain In Light. This includes Adrian Belew on blistering guitar, Busta Jones on bass, Bernie Worrell on keys and Nona Hendryx and Dolette McDonald on vocals. It's fantastic - in fact, I prefer this live set to Stop Making Sense. The best thing about this reissue is that Rhino has added a dozen songs that weren't on the original, including two of my personal all time favorites - Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) and Once In A Lifetime. This is the sound of a band at it's creative peak, and they sound amazingly good. Tight and funky and full of cool polyrhythms, art rock never sounded so good!

Monday, August 16, 2004

Heavenly Pop Hit
New Zealand is generally not known for it's rock bands. There have been a few acts that have made a splash on the global scene - The Clean, The Verlaines, Shona Laing, Crowded House (the Finn brothers are New Zealanders) and The Chills. The Chills were the brainchild of singer - songwriter Martin Phillipps, who began making music in the late '70s. Through many line up changes (10 or 11!) the band recorded a handful of records. The 1990 album Submarine Bells was the record that was supposed to break them to the world. The lead off single (and first track on the record) was Heavenly Pop Hit - The Melody Maker said "the aptest title of the week, a ridiculously attractive three-and-a- half minute mix of angelic harmonies and above-the-clouds tunefulness." It's a spot on review, and the tune is IMO a classic little pop tune. It got loads of airplay on alternative radio at the time, but never quite translated into big sales. The band finally called it quits around '94, although they have now reformed and are preparing new material. Enjoy this little bit of pop bliss...

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Dykehouse, dios, Nouvelle Vague & Lizzy Mercier Descloux

Dykehouse's Midrange album has been out for a few months now, and the music blogosphere seems to have largely slept on this great record. Michael Dykehouse's last album was full of electronic instrumentals - very IDM. This new one is a radical departure in style and sound. This time it's all about the dense, shoe gazing sound of the early '90s - lots of huge guitar noise, and Michael sings on most tracks. Lost Holiday is an uptempo rocker that is this year's version of My Bloody Valentine's seminal Soon - dance-y beats, thick buzzing guitars and a similarly melodic appeal to MBV's tune. I highly recommend both of his albums - you'll be amazed at how different they are.

dios are a 5 piece from California who do the blissed out, folky rock thing. Reviews compare them to the Beach Boys, the Beatles and Grandaddy (who they toured with a bunch), and those are pretty accurate comparisons to make. Their 2003 (home recorded) debut has elements of all of those bands, and on You Make Me Feel Uncomfortable they add a touch of Neil Young to the mix - it's the plaintive vocals, the sci-fi keys and a gorgeous melody that make this a big tune. Be sure to check out their website for some twisted fun.

Nouvelle Vague's brilliant album of jazzy bossa nova covers of new wave classics has been getting major airplay on my stereo. It's a superbly conceived and executed record that I've already raved about here before, so I won't bore you with more hyperbole - check out their ultra cool version of Depeche Mode's incredibly catchy pop nugget Just Can't Get Enough.

Lizzy Mercier Descloux was part of NYC's No-Wave movement of the late '70s and early '80s. She blended dance and funk with arty rock and poetry (Patti Smith was once a flat mate), releasing several albums. Her albums of that era have been reissued over the last year by a newly reborn Ze Records. She passed away earlier this year after a year long fight with cancer. Tumour is her amusing remake of the old classic Fever - "when you put your arms around me you give me a tumour that's so hard to bear". It's funky, skronky fun.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Funky Friday the 13th

It's Friday, it's beautiful outside today, and I'm feeling funky, so without any further ado I give you The Gap Band's wickedly groovy hit from 1980 Burn Rubber (Why You Wanna Hurt Me). Put the pedal to metal and burn rubber on me!

Thursday, August 12, 2004

David Sylvian versus Wagon Christ

The last couple of years have seen a lot of remastered reissues of albums by Japan and David Sylvian. I have been getting a lot of them - they are one of my fave acts of the late '70s / early '80s - and it has renewed my interest in some of Sylvian's solo work that I never got around to checking out. I have to admit that after Secrets Of The Beehive I pretty much stopped buying his LPs, and didn't really hear a lot of his stuff. In one of my download searches I came across the 1999 track Godman, as remixed by Wagon Christ. I dig Wagon Christ, and was excited to hear this track. I wasn't disappointed. It's a typically quirky Luke Vibert production, with a hippy hoppy beat, some nice spacy vibes and a chorus with a very kid's sing-song feel to it. I love it - I don't think I've ever heard Sylvian sound so chipper!

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Inspired by my recent forays into the world of vinyl ripping I give you some oldies from my 12" collection...

Set The Tone's Dance Sucker (Francois Kevorkian Remix) is a fantstically crunk punk funk number from 1982 - big disco beats, chikka chikka guitar and a seriously squelchy bass line with major ranting on the vocals. This tune blew me away back in the day and failed to make any kind of impression on the charts - I thought it deserved to be a big hit. It still sounds good today, fitting into the whole post punk dance rock thing. This version is the 12" remix by Francois Kevorkian, who is still successfully at it today.

Robert Palmer is best known for his hits with the Power Station, and for his stretch of solo hits in the mid '80s - you know, Addicted To Love etc.. A lot of folks don't know that he also dabbled in dance floor electronica in the early years of the decade, and You Are In My System is his stomping electro cover of the band The System's signature tune. I own a few of these 12"s from that era, and they are all fantastic and experimental, especially the b sides. This era of his career, between the bluesy stuff of the early years and the more crunchy rock of the latter years is still my fave period.

Felt's Ballad Of The Band is a catchy little number from '86 - it reminds me a lot of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, but with Lou Reed on vocals instead. It's an uptempo guitar pop tune with some great organ, and has that classic Brit pop sound. These guys were one of Creation Records' great hopes at the time, but they never achieved big success.

Edwyn Collins' Seventies Night is not such an oldie - it just sounds like one. This is a remix by Deadly Avenger, and it is typical of his style - crusty as hell beats and big chunky bass. This is a big disco number, and I can imagine people roller skating to this one. Mark E Smith from The Fall provided guest vocals on the original, and they are the only vocals left on this mix. Good, fun mix.

Friday, August 06, 2004

R.I.P. Rick James, Superfreak, age 56.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Act - Snobbery And Decay

After Claudia Brucken left the band Propaganda in the mid '80s she hooked up with electro pioneer Thomas Leer and recorded an album as Act. 1987's Snobbery And Decay was the first single, and appears here in 12" remix form. It's a big synth-funk tune with dry lyrics (you'd expect as much with that title!) - the first half of which is a dubby version of the tune with sampled snippets of dialogue from the old TV show Moonlighting thrown over the top of it - yes, Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd trading their sharp barbs, completely uncredited on the sleeve.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Fatboy Slim, Bootsy Collins and Steve Miller?!?

The new Fatboy record Palookaville is ready for release, and the first single is a cover of the old Steve Miller tune The Joker, featuring starman Bootsy on lead vocals. Now I was a fan of Fatboy until he kept retreading the same old beats, and I'm a fan of Steve Miller too, so I have to admit to being intrigued by this cover. I don't think it reaches the level of coolness that the original did, but it's a fairly decent version - it reminds me a bit of Fatboy's old band Beats International and their late '80s hit cover of the SOS Band tune Love Be Good To Me. Will it spark renewed interest in Norman's career? You be the judge...
The link to yesterday's Brilliant mp3 was broken - I am an html idiot! Thanks to Herr K. for giving me a clue, and the link is now functioning properly so download away!

Monday, August 02, 2004

Brilliant does James Brown

Brilliant were an early '80s group that featured Youth (the bassist from Killing Joke), Jimi Cauty (later of The KLF) and singer June Montana. They recorded an album with the yet to be huge Stock Aitken and Waterman as producers and then promptly broke up to go on to bigger and better things. The album has a few good tunes on it, one of them being their reggae-fied cover of James Brown's It's A Man's Man's Man's World. This was the first single from the record, and the version here is the extended remix from the 12". It's a dubbed out electro-skank version of the tune, quite different from the JB original, and is perfect summer listening. Now that I've has some success ripping my vinyl to mp3 you can look forward to some more cool 12" versions of older '80s stuff in the future!

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Martina Topley-Bird released her solo debut Quixotic in 2003 in the UK to some pretty good reviews. It never got a US release until this last week when I happened to see it at the record store - I hadn't noticed it on any of the upcoming release stuff I check out. It isn't exactly the same record tho' - it's called Anything and it's 3 songs lighter than Quixotic. I really like it - it varies between the kind of beat laden hip hop stuff she did with Tricky (who's on 2 tracks here) and some swampier space blues stuff, as well as a bit of rock flava. Need One is definitely the harder side - it features Josh Homme on guitar and Mark Lanegan handles additional vocals. It's got funky beats,and a great rockin' chorus build up. The rest of the record is very nice too...

Radio 4 are preparing to release their major label debut in a month or two. It's definitely a much more dance oriented affair - a bunch more electro beats and synths. Some people will not like it as much - I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. Rise Up is a non-album track from the first single Party Crashers, and it's pretty typical Radio 4 fare - edgy disco with scratchy guitars and nice percussion.

This week's flashback is a real oldie from Japan. They made their debut in 1978 with the album Adolescent Sex, a blend of glam rock, disco and lots of spacy synth action. If you've only ever heard the band's '80s hits this music might surprise you - it really rocks. David Sylvian's voice is a raw and gruff. Television is a nine minute epic of funky space rock that features a seriously groovy guitar riff, a big synth action break and builds to a screaming guitar solo at the end. The band largely pooh-poohs this early stuff, and it is so different from the music that they had hits with - I think you can hear elements of what was to come. Personally I dig the old stuff, and have really enjoyed buying the reissues of these records that have been coming out this year. They all feature bonus tracks, and most of them have videos too. Fascinating stuff.