Posts Tagged ‘review’

Quick Hit or Miss – ATCQ’s We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

November 16, 2016

we_got_it_from_here_thank_you_for_your_serviceI’ll admit I was skeptical when I heard the rave reviews of Tribe’s new album.  When a legendary group puts something out after such a long absence, critics usually take one of two paths:  savaging the new material as not living up to the old stuff or a triumphant return to form.  I became less skeptical when I saw no drop off in the comments from friends.  Now having listened to the album a few times, I’m going to join in and proclaim this one a Hit.

The album starts off on fire with several tracks that could work their way into a top 10-15 ATCQ track list for me and I think this album might possibly move ahead of their debut in my personal rankings of their albums.

I was trying to pinpoint how to describe the difference between the sound of “classic” Tribe and this album.   It boils down to this: the “classic” albums, particularly Low End, have a laser-focused consistency that was comforting. You knew you were getting a fat boom-bap beat coupled with sweet jazz samples.  And all was good.

The new album certainly retains most of the boom-bap anchor and there’s still some jazz style, but it spreads into other areas not really explored before in the classics. Electric guitars (We The People and several Jack White shreds on the latter third of the album ),more collage-style samples (opener Space Program), and  some R&B (Enough!!) to name a few. This could be a disaster, but I think it mostly works and is a more interesting listen than if they just tried to recreate Low End.

Obviously the other element here are the raps. Both Q-Tip and Phife (R.I.P.) still bring it. And to come back after 18 years (which in hip hop years is like 50 I think if my math is right) with the same mix of dexterous wordplay, humor and braggadocio is special. Never one to shy from confrontation with social issues, and they realized in 2015-16 stakes is high, they come right out the gate with some of their most political songs ever.

They bring along more guests than on the classics, though nothing hits Scenario heights. Speaking of, Busta Rhymes is all over this and I have nothing bad to say about that; he can still hype up a track with the best of them. Andre 3000 makes a few appearances and he remains a national treasure when it comes to guest verses. And nodding to the new generation, Anderson .Paak and Kendrick Lamar, fit right in.

There’s not a bad song in the bunch, I think the last track on Disc 1, Enough!!, is probably the weakest and I won’t begrudge them for the obvious Phife tribute Lost Somebody, but I think the album’s last track, The Donald, is a more fitting tribute to him.  He (and Q-Tip) drop their final verse as A Tribe Called Quest and Phife goes down swinging, ready to take on all comers: “No doubt, I’mma set it, dudes best be ready/off top on the spot, no reading from your Blackberry/Leave the iPhones home, skill sets must be shown/i’mma show the real meaning of the danger zone.”

Leave you with a link to a guy who gets it, jamming to album highlight We The People…

Quick Hit or Miss – Catch Up Edition

July 18, 2016

I mentioned in my last post that I had some albums I wanted to write about. Here’s a few newish albums and my hit or miss thoughts:


1. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool. To cut to the chase, this is a Hit. Radiohead seems they can put out a cohesive and musically interesting album in their sleep. This goes in the top half of their canon for me, though it’s not without its small faults. Radiohead could always put out songs that had soaring orchestral feeling while using traditional rock instruments. Here they actually have quite a bit of real orchestration, starting with the strings in opener Burn The Witch and continuing throughout the album. It seems unnecessary in some places. My favorite track is Ful Stop with its menacing bassline and spacey effects. Identikit is also a standout and one of the more “traditional” Radiohead tracks here. And overall, even with those orchestral additions, this group of songs hews closer to earlier records than some of the more knob twiddling of recent efforts.


2. James Blake, The Colour In Anything. I give Blake and his producers credit for putting himself up front and center in his music and he usually delivers. The skittering, clattering beats and music that back him most often take a back seat to Blake and his nice vocal range. The album has a consistent sound throughout, which works to a point. But at 17 tracks, I feel like it’s a few tracks too long. The funny thing is several of my faves are in the back half; after opener Radio Silence, my two other standouts are  tracks 11 (I Need A Forest Fire with Justin Vernon) and track 15 (Modern Soul).  I’d give it a qualified Hit.


3. Parquet Courts, Human Performance. They still have a sense of humor; opener Dust becomes the go-to indie rock song to sweep to. They still can tell a good story in the span of a 3-4 minute song. They still hold the stranglehold on being the NYC-est rock band out there. They still throw in a few curveball weirdo songs. They are America’s Kinks. So, yeah, Hit.


4. Junior Boys, Big Black Coat. Mostly synth pop harkening back to the 80s with  a few dalliances into house music, this is a fun album. They get a little dark and serious to keep this from getting monotonous. Opener You Say That and album closer Big Black Coat are my two favorite songs, the latter being one of my most played of the year so far.  I give this one a Hit.

By The Numbers: Purple Rain by Prince

April 26, 2016

I did this a few months ago and it seemed like an appropriate time to take back a look at Prince’s 1984 classic, Purple Rain.  My rankings of the individual songs on this album make it one of the few albums where every song has either a four or five star rating.  Not surprising given the album’s status as Prince’s masterpiece, but it does makes it harder to rank the songs.  Basically, we’re dealing with two tiers and you could ask ten Prince fans to do this and you’d probably get ten different combinations, though I have a feeling the top 3 would be the three I chose in some order.

In re-listening to the entire album a bunch of times in the past week, I was struck by the variety of musical styles that the album offers (sometimes within one song), which may explain some of its appeal.  There’s something here for fans of a bunch of different genres, even though it’s often labeled a “pop” album.  He certainly took some chances with this record and the fact that there are no mis-steps or even “average” tunes makes this album even more impressive.  The other thing I noticed was that the sequencing and transitions between songs is marvelous. I certainly think this is an album to be heard in one sitting and I certainly wouldn’t reorder it to match my rankings below.

9. Track 7, I Would Die for U (four stars).  The “worst” song on the album is also its shortest by over a minute. This song is held together by a drum machine beat that holds together the arrangement. Piano, synths, handclaps and snare hits emerge during the chorus, but surrender to the drum machine during Prince’s first two verses. The chorus make it seem like this is Prince singing to a girlfriend/lover and professing that he would die for her. But the rest of the lyrics make it more likely this is God (or Prince on behalf of a higher being) singing to the collective us. “I’m something you’ll never understand”, “if you’re evil I’ll forgive you” and “I’m your messiah” are all not too subtle hints.  Also a little touch that seems odd but works. In the chorus, instead of going right from “darling if you want me to” to “I would die for you” as I’d expect most artists would, he throws in an extra “you” in front of the kicker line that emphasizes that he’s ready to die for YOU. Overall, a very good synth-pop song.

8. Track 2, Take Me With U (four stars).   Was Prince foreseeing Twitter and texting with his insistence on shortening “you” to “U” in his song titles?  Probably.  This tune starts with a slightly ominous synth and tom tom barrage that could have been score music for a dramatic scene in a Miami Vice episode. But instead of a shootout, we get a love scene. A jangly tambourine introduces a song that is a piece of 60s psychedelic guitar rock ala early Beatles. String flourishes and an upbeat, sunny guitar line buoy lyrics about love and wanting to be with be with your lover no matter where they are going.  If he wasn’t such a talent at songwriting,  I could imagine Paul McCartney having given these lyrics to Prince and telling him “I know you can do something better with this than that hack MJ”.  I also love his cadence in the delivery of the chorus, it’s so damn uplifting. Nice touch at end too when he bookends the track with that same ominous intro music and then fades it out on the cheery hook one last time.

7. Track 4, Computer Blue (four stars).  Wendy and Lisa from the Revolution start with a short spoken intro that suggests something kinky is about to happen. Don’t think I’d characterize this song as kinky, but it’s the weirdest song on the album. There’s some screechy sound effects and a little synth line that sounds like it would fit right in on a Todd Terje album. It’s mostly an instrumental track that apparently was part of a larger suite that got pared down for the final album. It still retains that spirit with a middle section that is quite different than the first and last third.  There’s one verse of lyrics, with Prince bemoaning his lack of finding a lover and then cymbals start getting bashed and there’s some guitar wailing that comes to a screeching halt with a snare drum punctuation.  Then a synth brings us down into another groove that’s a little less manic.  Like the last song, he brings back in the heavy drums and guitar for one last reprise, and adds in some Prince yelps worthy of an 80s hair metal leader singer.

6. Track 8, Baby I’m A Star (four stars).  This was the B-side to Take Me With You.  Obviously I like this song better.  This is the closest approximation to some of his earlier hits (say 1999) and the most obvious funk/R&B track on the record and has the feel of a Sly and the Family Stone track.  It’s high tempo throughout, building and building to a horn (which may actually be done with a synth) and synth breakdown and Prince yelping “baby”.  Musically, this sounds like what Mark Ronson was trying to recreate with Uptown Funk.  Lyrically, it’s a pretty straightforward piece about becoming a star, the chorus probably pretty accurately summing up Prince’s prescience  about what was coming with this album, “You might not know it now, baby, but I are, I’m a star/I don’t wanna stop til’ I reach the top.”

5. Track 3, The Beautiful Ones (four stars).  A good example of the genre-blending I mentioned at the top.  This one starts out as the slow jam of the record, with a plinky piano line and velvety synth and some sultry singing from Prince.  Here Prince is playing the one pining for an unrequited love, “don’t my kisses please you right/you were hard to find/the beautiful ones, they hurt you every time”.  Two verses later, he tells her he’s in love with her and asks “if we got married/wouldn’t that be cool?” though the last line he breaks from his falsetto and delivers it in a deadpan, but desperate questioning tone.  Then, the synths start twisting and swirling, giving off an eerie, definitely non-romantic vibe.  Prince is now screaming “do you want him, do you want me, cause I want you” and now there’s a guitar line that’s crept in and the drums are picking up and Prince is now acting as front man for a rock band.  I have to think Axl Rose was taking notes when he heard this.  And then the song dies out into nothingness, as unrequited love is wont to do.

4. Track 5, Darling Nikki (five stars).  This song rises just above the songs already mentioned, but I don’t think is generally mentioned in the same breadth as the three songs left.  Here, Prince’s desires do not go unrequited.  The song matter-of-factly starts with an introduction to Nikki, “I guess you could say she was a sex fiend” and Prince finds her in a hotel lobby “masturbating with a magazine”.  Next thing you know, Prince is back at her castle and after signing some paperwork “Nikki started to grind”.  The music is sing-songy guitar and mellow drums while he sings, and then erupts with crashing cymbal and guitar riffs between verses.  Soft-loud-soft (Pixies anyone?).  Then the double bass drums kick in, a hard synth rises to the front of the mix and a nasty little guitar solo.  The most overtly metal moment on the album.  Then, a weird little outro with some backwards looped vocals that resemble chanting monks and rain sound effects, perhaps denoting the religious experience of being with Nikki?

3. Track 6, When Doves Cry (five stars).  Here’s where we get into the really tough choices. How could this only be the third best song on an album?  Following up the oozing sexiness of Darling Nikki, he goes right in on a guitar solo and settles into a groove made entirely with synth and drums.  To match the subject matter of the lyrics, the entire vibe of the song has a pall over it even as it tries to make you dance.  For such a popular song, the lyrics are some serious stuff.  Prince laments about repeating the mistakes of his parents with his current mate, too bold and never satisfied, and is left standing alone in the cold world.  The lyrics also conjure some great imagery.  The chorus is obviously one, but the verse “dream if you can a courtyard/an ocean of violets in bloom/animals strike curious poses/ they feel the heat/the heat between me and you” is vivid and tangible. The prolonged outro has Prince lamenting through his guitar and assorted wails and grunts, part Jimi Hendrix, part James Brown.

2. Track 9, Purple Rain (five stars).  This is an epic ballad.  You know the lyrics, you’ve sung the chorus out loud in the shower, with your friends, or at a karaoke bar.  You know the guitar solo.  There’s a deliberate slowness to everything about the song, his vocals have an echo, the guitar and drums don’t ever really gain tempo.  After several other songs have shown, you expect Purple Rain to erupt into something different, whether it’s style or speed.  He stays the course here on both accounts.  Snare hits, cymbal crashes, the guitar riffs, and the vocals feel like they are fighting the reins that Prince is putting on the song, and since they can’t go faster, they all just get more intense.

1. Track 1, Let’s Go Crazy (five stars).  The iconic opening song that dramatically sets the stage for the rest of the album.  Beginning with that organ and Prince preaching to his listeners.  It’s basically an album opening skit, a bold move in that skits, as countless hip hop albums have shown, are almost always annoying and break up the flow of an album.  Here, it fits thematically and musically the transition from that organ line to that drum beat and the song proper is sublime.  When I hear this song, I feel it’s the refinement of Prince’s quest for the ultimate party song (see 1999), though it seems Prince’s ultimate time to party appears to be at the end of the world.  The funkiness of 1999 is replaced with a hard-charging rocker that still gets you dancing with a chorus getting to the crux of having a good time “let’s go crazy, let’s go nuts.”  If you happened onto the song as the guitar solo hits, you might think you’re listening to Eddie Van Halen going to town on a VH tune.  I definitely remember rocking out in my room as a ten year old kid whenever I heard this song on the radio.  Thirty-some years later and it still makes me feel like that ten year old, which I think is what Prince would have wanted.

There you have it.  My take on Prince’s classic.  Given Prince’s vigilant  protection of his copyright rights, this video probably won’t be up for long, but here’s a video apparently from the Purple Rain tour of Let’s Go Crazy.  If it’s gone by the time this post is up, do yourself a favor and listen to the whole album.

Quick Hit or Miss – Mayer Hawthorne, Man About Town

April 12, 2016

81Ht6uzTd6L._SY355_I didn’t even know Mayer had a new album coming out until my wife sent a text to me and our friends who used to live in the “valley” here in LA with a new song she’d heard called aptly, The Valley.  This song is one of the highlights of the new record, so makes sense it would get some radio airplay.

After a brief opening track that oddly reminded me of the beginning of Bohemian Rhapsody, this album settles into R&B with an pinch of 80s pop.  A few moments reminded me of Hall and Oates, particularly Book of Broken Hearts.  There’s a few slow jams (Breakfast in Bed and Get You Back) thrown in too.

The Valley has a catchy “oh oh oh” chorus and hand claps that provide a sunny backdrop to a song about a woman trying to escape the “valley” to make it in LA.  My favorite song on the album is the song that comes right before it, Fancy Clothes.  It’s a reggae-tinged song with more horns and guitar than most of the rest of the album.  I think the reason I liked it the most was it stood out as different than the rest of the tracks.

I think that’s my main problem with the album.  It’s good and consistent music with all the songs clocking in between 3:30 and 4 minutes long.  But that consistency can make it a little monotonous on repeated listens.  I’d give it a hit for throwing on in the backyard this summer or cherry-picking a few songs for a summer playlist, but I don’t think this one will keep me coming back.

Here’s Fancy Clothes, one of those songs I’d throw in a playlist:

Quick Hit or Miss – Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, A Man Alive

March 11, 2016

homepage_large.78ae8af7I listened to this album the other day and then immediately listened to it again.  The reason I did that was because I had to figure out whether this album seemed as good as I thought it was.  I’ve listened to it several more times and that feeling I had the first spin is still there.  This is a really good album.

Thao Nguyen takes on the personal subject of her father abandoning her family when she was young and its affect on her through her life. While this subject matter would lend itself to a dour album, I found this album to be vibrant and uplifting. There are certainly some dark spots, and the dichotomy between that dark and light is part of the album’s appeal.

A big part of that vibrancy is the involvement of Merrill Garbus, who produces here.  You might know her better as the artist Tuneyards.  Her mark on the album is distinct.  The first time through one of the thoughts I had was wow, Thao must really have dug the last Tuneyards album.  The rhythm section in the band is fantastic on this album, in a lot of songs guitar is secondary to the bass and drums.  One other comparison I’d make on the overall album is Beck’s Mellow Gold, with the kitchen sink/collage approach to instrumentation. Keyboards, xylophones, hand claps, tom toms, and various basses are sprinkled throughout the album.

The sequencing of the album is really good as well.  There’s a nice ebb and flow between those upbeat songs and the more downtempo ones.  Stand out tracks for me are Slash/Burn, Fool Forever, Give Me Peace, and closer Endless Love.  Lyrically, that last song really hits home on the duality I mentioned above as Thao starts by proclaiming that she has “an endless love no one can starve” but a little further into the song reveals that she “don’t want it, carve it out of me.”

This is a definite hit for me, I think there’s something here for a wide swath of music fans.  Here’s a link to the video for the leadoff song on the album, Astonished Man.



Quick Hit or Miss – Hinds, Leave Me Alone

January 13, 2016

homepage_large.21b15074Garage rock is a crowded genre and has been for at least a decade. Standing out in this sloppy, energetic and guitar-heavy field is hard.  Hinds has a leg up in that respect because the band is all-female in a male-dominated genre. And, they are Spanish, which sets them apart from the glut of American bands doing the garage rock thing, though there are and always have been foreign purveyors of this brand of rock.

There’s an obvious debt to early Black Lips, who they’ve toured with, via often caterwauling vocals and choruses that often seem to be a contest to sing over one another. Which isn’t a knock, but it’s treading on ground much covered.

I preferred the uptempo tracks and the pacing is a little off with an instrumental in the middle that just feels thrown in for no good reason and then several slower songs in the second half. My favorite track was Bamboo, though it seems like it would have fit better on the first half of the album. Closer Walking Home builds up nicely to a rousing end.

Metacritic has this rated at a 75 and its gotten some pretty glowing reviews. For a debut, it’s got its moments and I’m hoping they can stick around because I think they have the potential to do even better. If you’re a fan of the genre it’s worth your time, but overall I’d say it’s a near-hit.

Here’s the video for Bamboo:

You Call That A Shuffle?

January 8, 2016

220px-Beat-konducta-vol-3-4-beat-konducta-in-india 220px-ExperimentalRemixes Massive_Attack_-_Mezzanine

To try and make this blog a little more regular in 2016, I hope this will be at least a weekly post.  The idea is to fire up iTunes, hit shuffle, see what comes up in the first three songs and share it here.  I’ll write a little bit about each song and give my rating I’ve given the song on iTunes.  Here’s my ranking rationale:

1 star = Why haven’t I deleted this song from my library?  The answer, in many cases, is because they are skits on hip hop albums.

2 star = Skippable.

3 star = Background music.

4 star = This will perk my ears up; crank the volume.

5 star = Stop what you’re doing and give your undivided attention to this song.

Without further ado…

  1. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Flavor Part 2 (Beck/Mike Diamond/Mario Caldato Jr. Remix) from Experimental Remixes.  4 Stars.  Look at the names associated with this remix and you have a good idea what this is going to sound like.  Taking the unadorned bluesy punk of JSBX and adding several  layers, this easily could have been a cut that didn’t quite make it onto Mellow Gold, with the slightly echoed vocals, electronic flourishes, straightforward drum beat, and the hip hop vocal sample.  A funky baseline gets added in during the last minute of the song.
  2. Madlib, Dark Alley Incidental Music, from Beat Konducta Vol. 3-4 Beat Conduct in India.  Madlib likes to take on themes with his Beat Konducta series and here, it’s Indian culture.  4 stars. This song starts with thirty seconds of dialogue from an Indian movie (TV show?) and then takes what seems to be a clipped sample of James Brown yelping to introduce a beat buoyed by bass drum and rattling tambourine.  Add in a tingling sitar line that Madlib lifted from a Bollywood movie and you have a very good hip hop beat.  I’d love to hear Missy Elliott rhyme over this.
  3. Massive Attack, Risingson, from Mezzanine.  4 Stars. If Massive Attack tried to do space rock, this is what I’d expect to be the output.  Echoing beats and vocals that swirl among atmospheric sighs (exhortations to “dream on” meld into those sighs) and skittering cymbal hits.  Brings both menace and soaring euphoria.

By the Numbers: Fear of A Black Planet by Public Enemy

May 21, 2015

Fear_of_a_Black_PlanetI’ve been meaning to write about one of several songs from one of hip hop’s seminal albums and a big part of my introduction to rap that wasn’t on Top 40 radio.  I recently read a nice piece at Consequence of Sound that ranked all 20 songs on the album from “worst” to best.  You can see their ranking here, which also has links to each song.  I figured I’d do the same since I like to rank all the songs I’ve got in my iTunes library.  Using the one to five scale on iTunes and weighting based on song length, here’s my ranking.

20.  Track 19, Final Count of the Collision Between Us and Them (3 stars).  The shortest track on the album, this instrumental doesn’t pack the punch of some of the other instrumentals on the album.  A simple beat repeated for around 40 seconds winds down into a lone, receding snare.  A little of a laid back vibe to calm you down before you get to one of PE’s most political, fiery and tight songs.

19.  Track 15, Reggie Jax (3 stars).  CoS mentioned this as an homage to reggae.  I’d say more dub if you don’t put the reverb on the drums.  The slowness of the track, and Chuck D’s  matching delivery, is just out of place next to most of the other songs.  The shout out to Ice-T and Geto Boys at the end is also a bit strange given the type of laid back track this is.

18.  Track 4, Incident at 66.6 FM (3 stars).  PE’s version of the hip hop staple, filler “skit” tracks, is high art compared to most hip hop skit tracks and you know exactly where Ice Cube got the idea for some of his tracks on The Predator.  Taking pieces of a Chuck D interview with Alan Colmes, including callers both praising and lambasting the group.  The most ridiculous is a caller (presumably white) who saw them open for the Beastie Boys and complained about their stage show which included two men in uniform with uzis.  This is an odd criticism given the raunchy nature of the Beastie’s stage show at the time.  No song on the album, even the filler tracks (which is saying something), gets less than 3 stars from me.

17. Track 18, War at 33 1/3 (3 stars).  A testament more to the strength of most of the album’s other tracks than the quality of this one. A good beat with a synth (or is it a horn) sample that sounds like it’s being stretched like a rubber band and the usual staccato, brash raps of Chuck D, is not bad.  But it kind of loses a bit of steam in the breakdown and the song’s too short for that to happen.

16. Track 7, Pollywanacraka (3 stars).  Chuck D takes a look at interracial preferences from both the female and male perspectives doing a spoken word take that appears to be a strange homage to Gil Scott Heron.  Strange because the way he elongates syllables that has a lecherous effect.  Like Reggie Jax, the slowness of the track is a bit jarring and for some reason the sing-song “pollywanna” chorus gets on my nerves.

15. Track 17, B Side Wins Again (3 stars).  A guitar riff turns into a solid beat with an old school “clap your hands to the beat” call and some corresponding old school staple rhymes interspersed in Chuck D’s lyrics as well as plenty of Flavor Flav hyping.

14.  Track 12, Fear of A Black Planet (3 stars). “What’s wrong with some color in your family tree” is another song that looks at racial mixing and the concept of racial “purity” that does it better than Pollywanacraka.  Shows off vintage collage soundmaking of The Bomb Squad.

13. Track 6, Meet the G That Killed Me (4 stars).  At only 45 seconds, it’s a bit of a throwaway and the rather outdated view of homosexuality expressed in Chuck D’s first line is regrettable.  The clanging beat and funky bassline make up for it.

12. Track 1, Contract on the World Love Jam (4 stars). Whereas their first album started with the roar of a crowd and an airhorn, the first track on Fear starts off with something rare on a PE album, silence.  And then a solitary guitar that sounds like something that might start off a Pink Floyd album.  Then, you’re in a PE jam.  Bumping beat, screeching sound effects, and sound snippets.  A solid opening track.

11. Track 16, Leave This Off Your Fuckin’ Charts (4 stars).  Give the DJ some.  Terminator X gets a chance to show off his scratchin’ skills tied around several samples including the perfect lyric for a DJ “who needs a band when the beat just goes/shows”.

10.  Track 14, Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man (4 stars).  The Bomb Squad shows off its versatility with basically a house track with a little funk thrown into it that seems to work perfectly with Flava Flav’s less political leaning rhymes and they abide by Flava’s exhortations to “rock that shit homey”.  A great mid-song breakdown as well.

9. Track 8, Anti-Nigger Machine (4 stars).  This track shows off the confidence PE had.  I don’t know of many hip hop tracks that do a solid instrumental track for about 2 minutes and then drop a mad Chuck D verse on you that throws in sirens, a reggae sample and the introduction to the next song in the next minute and a half.

8. Track 3, 911 Is a Joke (4 stars).  Other than Fight The Power, the most recognizable song from the album  and I’ll admit it’s got a classic video.  But we’re just judging songs here and for some reason this song never resonated for me as much as some others on the album.  Like his other track, the beat Flava Flav gets has a party vibe, but the subject matter here is deadly serious.  An indictment of NYC’s 911 service, from the perspective of his community, with some witty takedowns of the EMS (“i call em bodysnatchers/cause they come to fetch ya/with an autopsy ambulance just to dissect ya”).  But for some reason the chorus falls flat for me, which is why it’s probably lower than most people would rate this song.

7. Track 10, Power To the  People (4 stars).  A classical piano flourish and then Chuck D yells “and you thought the beat slowed down” and well, it certainly doesn’t.  One of the fastest tracks on the album and Chuck D’s chant of “power to the people” and “turn it up, turn it loose” are exhortations for revolution.  And kind of like Track 8 in reverse, the last minute is a instrumental breakdown with clipped Flava Flav vocal samples.

6. Track 13, Revolutionary Generation (4 stars).  There’s so much going on in this beat and the fact that it can’t crack the top 5 is truly a testament to the sonic tapestries woven in this album.  So, just a few of the samples in this song: Parliament, Run DMC, Musical Youth, Diana Ross, and Double Dee and Steinski.  A call to “soul sisters” to join the fight and calling out the disrespect experienced by them.

5. Track 9, Burn Hollywood Burn (5 stars).  Two hot guest verses from rap luminaries that keep up with Chuck D, a hook that I irrationally love, and a seething anger palpable even for PE.  Even the outro’s comedy hits home when it’s announced the film the four rappers have in store at the theater is “Driving Miss Daisy”.  There is some irony in Ice Cube’s parting “fuck Hollywood” given some of his roles in mainstream Hollywood, but I have no doubt at the time it was genuine.

4. Track 11, Who Stole The Soul? (5 stars).  A good bit of soul samples (Sly and The Family Stone, James Brown) is apt given the title and the beat drops a few elements to let Chuck D’s lyrics take center stage and then when the chorus comes back it builds back up.  The Bomb Squad sneaks in a Beatles sample (intentional for sure given the subject matter of the song) and even sample themselves (Bring The Noise).  Flava Flav hits his hype notes just right and Chuck D has some great lines like “Like I want to know who/Picked Wilson’s pocket” and “Over here they’ll go after ya to steal your soul/like over there they stole our gold.”

3. Track 5, Welcome To the Terrordome (5 stars). The top 3 songs in this album are the pillars on which the rest of the album hangs and on any given day I might flip flop on my rankings of these tracks. A sample stating “this is a journey…” is a good description of this song; there’s so much to unpack both musically and lyrically. Similar to Fight the Power, the beat pulsates like a living organism with the chorus adding vocal snippets and various guitar stabs and other noises fitting lockstep with the groove. Chuck effortlessly spits lines like “I rope-a-dope the evil/with righteous bobbing and weaving/and let the good get even/c’mon down/but welcome to the terror dome”. And another example of not following convention, the break between Chuck’s second and third verse is almost instantaneous, and not nearly as musically diverse as the bridge between verses 1 and 2. Maybe Chuck said, I’ve got more to say and I’m not waiting for another bridge.

2. Track 20, Fight the Power (5 stars). No argument from me that this isn’t the most culturally important song from the album, and probably in all PE’s catalog, with its iconic video and placement in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. Out of the top 3 tracks, it’s the simplest beat. Like I mentioned above, the beat pulsates out of your stereo like a bell ringing and echoing into the atmosphere. You know the chorus and you know the takedowns of Elvis and John Wayne too. Flava Flav is on his A-game, throwing in exclamation points to Chuck’s already pointed rhymes. And then the Bomb Squad take you out on some funky stuff, punctuated with a question about the future of Public Enemy, which is left unanswered in a cut-off quote from Chuck D.

1. Track 2, Brothers Gonna Work It Out (5 stars). It’s the hardest beat on the album, that guitar squabble in the background of the beat works so well and the chorus is even stronger than Fight The Power, in my opinion. That’s why I give this the slightest edge as the best song on this iconic album. It encapsulates everything that PE did so well and it doesn’t let up until it suddenly ends and the next track starts.  Don’t think I need to say any more, here’s the video:

Lightning Bolt, Liturgy, May 3, 2015 @ Echoplex

May 6, 2015

After seeing Dan Deacon get the crowd moving at the Echoplex on Friday, I was back to the same venue to see Lightning Bolt do the same thing. Though the way the bands do it and the way people move is quite different.

I missed the first opener, but got there in time to see Liturgy, a metal band that I’d throw into the “doom/black” variety of metal. There was appropriate riffage and the drummer specialized in high speed bass drum kicks that  led the charge on many of their songs. Lyrics kind of got lost in the noise; the lead singer was soft spoken and didn’t say much beyond announcing the name of the band and a perfunctory thanks when they finished their set.  Their new album was supposed to incorporate some elements not found in the genre, like bells, and sure enough there was one song that featured some prerecorded glockenspiel. It worked for me, the bells were a nice contrast to the dark and heavy guitar and drumming.  The crowd seemed to be into it, with a few enthusiastic young guys flipping the bird at the stage in unison with the music. I guess that’s a sign of respect in this genre? I’m out of my element on that one.

Following a short break it was time for the main attraction, Rhode Island’s Lightning Bolt.  I saw them about 5 years ago and my review gives you a good idea what I saw here in LA.  One difference was that Brian Chippendale was much more talkative.  He greeted the enthusiastic crowd and told a story of how they almost didn’t make it to LA from Oakland when he wanted to pull into a gas station to get a juice and didn’t notice the median and curb and launched their van airborne, over the median, and made it back to asphalt without breaking an axle.  The punchline: the gas station was closed.

All the things I liked about seeing them before was on display again.  Chippendale is a human dynamo on the drums, which contrasts with the stoic Brian Gibson on bass.  One thing they both do is create a cacophony that still finds its way to lock into a groove.  And then pummel that groove to death.  Their new album, Fantasy Empire, has been touted as having more of a metal bent.  A good bit of the set was that new material and there was a lively mosh pit and a lot of headbashing.  I had secured a spot right by the soundboard, so I was safe.  While on record these new songs do sound a bit more “polished”, that polish is smeared all over the place during their live show.  There are waves of rhythm coming at you, and every so often, the wave recedes and allows one of them to breathe and let the other start building the next wave.

They came out for an encore with two ferocious takes on two old songs, Dracula Mountain and Ride the Sky.  The mosh pit reacted in kind and even in my “safe” spot we had a couple bodies come flying into us.  A great end to their set.

Here’s a decent video recapping the performances of both Liturgy and Lightning Bolt (LB starts at 3:04).  I didn’t see the first opener Baby Aspirin DVD (there’s a short bit of them in the video too).

Dan Deacon, Prince Rama, May 1, 2015 @ Echoplex

May 3, 2015

I’ve enjoyed Dan Deacon’s new album, Gliss Riffer, and was excited to see his was making his way out to LA this spring.  I’d seen him two other times and they were fun, intimate shows back in DC.  I wondered whether he would still set up his mass of electronics out on the floor among the crowd or play this set from the Echoplex’s stage.  But before that question could be answered, opener Prince Rama played.

I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of Prince Rama before yesterday afternoon.  I read a few things on them and they definitely seemed to fit into the weird category (their wikipedia page says two of their albums have been high on the New Age charts and they are described as “psych-dance”.  A few songs didn’t particularly change that impression; but at least the songs from their last album in 2012 seemed more on the “dance-y” side of “psych-dance”.  I didn’t take any pictures but here’s a representative sample of what I was seeing.  Lots of day-glo colors, big hair, totally 80s.  I remarked to my friend that I felt like I was at the high school dance in an 80s movie.  The songs were percussion-heavy, big, brash and much more conventional than I expected.  The 80s homage was heavy, but it worked for the most part.  The percussionist went out in the crowd during one song to dance (thank god for preprogramming), the lead singer crowd surfed, and the keyboardist seemed happy doing intermittent wide-eyed googling while dancing in place. It was silly and fun and actually a good complement to Deacon’s set.

20150502_070508464_iOSIt became evident that Dan Deacon would be on the stage, and when the curtain hiding his set up came down, there was still the table with his equipment, though it looked more tidy and there was no green skull. RIP green skull.  He had a series of colorful tapestries behind him, which would later come down and reveal a drum set as he was joined by a drummer and bass guitarist for part of his set.  Deacon’s sound has evolved from its messy and experimental beginnings, so it makes sense that his stage show would too.  But, when an artist has allowed you to be so close, to watch him set up his mess of equipment and be inches away while he performs as the fans go nuts and threaten to knock over all that equipment, a small something gets lost when that’s taken away if you’ve experienced it.

All that said, Deacon still connects and tries to involve his audience, even if he is on the stage.  He gave a shout out to a fan who’d brought, for some reason, a vinyl copy of a Steely Dan record; at one point he separated the crowd into two halves and had us follow the dance moves of two designated choreographers (which kinda worked even though most of us couldn’t see what those people were doing); gave a short speech about what’s happening in Baltimore (he lives in the city); had us all grab hands with the people next to us; and released balloons in the audience during one song and then tried to get people to all pop the balloons at once before starting his next piece.

20150502_074115475_iOSHe’s got a lot more material to draw from now and he played a good bit from the new Gliss Riffer, did several parts of his underrated USA suite from America, and two tracks from Bromst and two of my favorites, Wham City and The Crystal Cat, from Spiderman of the Rings.  Those last two songs, with the chipmunk-styled vocals and music that is just as frenetic, are fabulous live. The newer material, with big, bouncing beats did well in the live context.  The energy of the songs propelled the crowd throughout his over hour-long set; the light show (something I hadn’t experienced at his other shows) upped the party vibe and judging from the sweaty fans leaving afterwards, a good time was had by all.