Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mr. White's Aeroplane EP

Mr. White, the Memphis, Tennessee based geezer whose vocals graced Larry Heard’s “The Sun Can’t Compare,” has a new record out as a joint release between Black Market in the UK and Heard’s Alleviated imprint. This is Mr. White’s first solo production, with Larry Heard providing mixing duties. It’s a three tracker with a nice acidic house edge on all the tracks. It’s hard to pick out a favorite as all three are strong, but you can't deny the charm of the title track, "Aeroplane." It's cute and lysergic all at once as White sings about flying around in a plane because the person he fancies remains indecisive about his amorous advances, while a metallic acid groove undulates underneath. And I love the little acid surges that robotically mimic “Jingo” by Candido.

“Inside Your Mind (This House Is Home)” will have you reaching for that old E-Smoove EP on Future Sound as it displays the same kind of driving, dark acid vibe that works so well deep into the AM. And finally “You Don't Answer (When I Call)” comes in like Murk colliding with Italo disco, before taking a trip down the same organ paved route as Jaydee’s “Plastic Dreams.” And lest I forget, Mr. White’s vocals on all these tracks are stellar and are evocative and soulful. Hercules and Love Affair should have a listen because this is house without the retro pomp, it’s understated like all the best house was. It’s out now on vinyl and in digital form. Keep yer ears peeled. And you can scoop the wax here, and the digital version here.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Loud E's Loudefied Collection

Even though I’ve been a bit of a disco evangelist for a long while — since the early ‘90s and I remember hearing some of the genre first time around when I was knee high to a grass hopper, in fact I recall “I Feel Love” had an almost addictive effect on my childish psyche at the end of the ‘70s (as did “The Lone Ranger” by Quantum Jump) — and I will never pass up a disco nugget should it present itself to me, all the retro is beginning to wear on me significantly. It’s a combination of really wanting to hear some new dance music that’s not house, minimal techno, Italo, disco, boogie, dubstep or any other pasture that has been well and truly strayed over multiple times.

Basically the rule of thumb with this situation is, if you feel that way perhaps it is time to make your own music. Far be it from me to disparage or criticize the young team from going doolally about music that I have been going nutty about for years myself, I don’t have four enormous ceiling high shelving units devoted to disco, house and italo for nothing, and so if you’re all about the stuff more power to ya. I’m delighted that there are really good blogs devoted to uncovering the gems in all these genres and then some. I read them, I enjoy them thoroughly and I enjoy hearing tunes from way back when that I missed, or simply have never heard or heard of.

Going out and hearing a killer set of tunes you’ve never heard before is the perfect antidote to the unending wave of clubs where it’s top 40 dross all night. It baffles me why people who listen to this dung all day on their I-pods, in their cars, on the telly; every fucking where, have to hear it when they go out to a bar or club too. All that said I am waiting to hear some new stuff that just blows my socks off, but I might be waiting a while.

In the mean time one of the kings of truly obscure disco, Holland’s Loud E  just released a full CD of his special edits. It’s being released on the ever collectible Ambassador’s Reception label, and so far it seems that it’s a CD only item. It’s eleven tracks of rocking good stuff injected with that devilish Dutch sense of humor and containing more than a coupla two or three reworked tunes culled from the glut of material that Loud E deems to be below his standard. So he chops em up and makes them more usable for the dance floor.

Who am I to complain? And who are you to complain too, especially if you’re a disco, italo, cosmic or boogie nut? If you fall into any — or all — of these categories then get out and grab this little gem when it drops. It’ll work the party in your Saturday evening living room as it will the club or after hours spot. A keeper.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Wooden Shjips, Ezeetiger, Hank IV at Eagle Tavern.

Last night I went to the Eagle Tavern on 12th street, mainly to check out Wooden Shjips — and another beautiful, tall, but not so wooden form, which was sadly absent from the horizon. It was a grand night, I ran into some friends, an old friend whom I hadn’t seen since 2001 and good sorts all round. I’m embarrassed to admit it but this is the first time I’ve been to the Eagle, but it won’t be the last after last night’s events.

Let me try to be brief. The opening act was Ezee Tiger, which is one guy, a set of drums, a mic, a geetar, a bass and a multi-tracking device. The music constructed by this collection of gear, and the person with it, is at times noisey, abrasive, driving, percussive, unruly, hypnotic and rousing and that was just the first song. Enjoyed this, it woke my ass up and was wildly entertaining, all from one dude who bears more than a striking resemblance to Dave Grohl. Has anyone noticed this?

Next up was Hank IV, another SF based act and a motley crew to boot, some youngsters and some more seasoned dudes knocking out rock n roll that stylistically swerved between The Fall, early Talking Heads, Television, Volcano Suns and the Stones. Lead singer Bob McDonald comes across animated and salty and looks not unlike Jello Biafra in a grueling collision with Pere Ubu’s David Thomas and Mark E Smith. Good front guy, tight band, zippy little bass player.

Last up were SF’s own psychedelic rangers, Wooden Shjips, who I want to see every time they play in the city. I loved their self-titled five track mini LP from 2007, and gave it a very positive review around its time of release and after seeing them live last night for the first time I love them even more. If you like Spacemen 3, Kraut Rock, early Floyd, Suicide and The Doors, then you’ll like these guys. And though they look like imposing and serious musos, which they are, their drummer and bass player lay down a mean groove that makes you wanna get up and dance. The guitar player and vocalist looks and sounds great — his voice and instrument — and the keyboardist adds some great textures, sounds and licks.

I’d love hear someone like Weatherall, Padded Cell or Tensnake doing kicky remixes of a few of their tunes so that Euro types can get acquainted with their name and sound and buy their records. I’d also love to hear them at a face meltingly loud volume with a gang of heads frugging out to their menacingly groovy sound. An SF band to watch, I’d watch out for all three of these acts in fact.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nothing in particular.

To quote the Beastie Boys, “The Hiatus Is Back Off Again.” I was suffering from a little bit of a block, and I was wading through new promos (some of which I haven’t downloaded yet) and dealing with labels and publicists etc. to make sure that I have cool gear to write about, And sometimes that admin stuff and having a mountain of music that you want to write about — and don’t know where to begin — can have a muddling effect on the scribe’s psyche that dwells deep in the recesses of my cranial area.

And there is plenty to write about, from new stuff that’s about to drop, like the upcoming solo album from The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson and Mr. White’s cheeky Aeroplane EP to the stupendous first volume of Brazil Classics, which David Bryrne so deftly compiled back in 1989. And let's not forget the upcoming compilation of tracks that Massive Attack have sampled and covered.

Elvis Costello once said that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” but when he said that I don’t think he ever took into consideration that if it wasn’t for writers informing people about his music that he may not have sold as many records or become as popular as he did. The words of rock stars, like those of politicians, should never be construed as a key to living successfully, or living period. Keep plenty of salt handy, my skeptical Scots Irish heritage is replete with salt and saltiness, thank god.

And though writing about music may be second best to playing it, someone has to do it, so I might as well. And anyway when you spend so much time scrambling around with music, new and old, sometimes you get kinda lost in it, like Sister Sledge. Let’s say I’ve been lost in the music for the past week; my head has been swamped by Tropicalia classics, The Bird And The Bee, Burt Bacarach and more new and classic dance music than you can wave a stick at. Disoriented? Maybe just a little, but fueled up with more material to write about. Be prepared!


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Rex The Dog's hecka cute vid and other thoughts.

Though I get pulled in the direction of indie rock, infectious pop, classical music, jazz and punk (in its halcyon late 70s British form and the intense and beautiful American interpretation of the ‘80s) I am always pulled back to the orbit of dance music. Currently there aren't enough good toons out there, and though my ears and feet flirt with ‘70s soul and disco, Italo, and the 2 Step garage of the early noughties (2000s) my heart will always have a big place for late ‘80s and early 90s NY garage and for Detroit techno.

To me tech house in its perfect form — this is something I wrote about while I was techno editor at XLR8R in ’96 — would be a fusion of the best Detroit techno and the best, funkiest and most abstract NY dubs, with the odd vocal thrown in to ease the tension and prepare for the next wave of electronic confusion. Bliss!!

However, at the moment I’m finding the music of Rex the Dog quite blissful too, and the video above is too cute and clever for words, as is the tune with it’s blatant Yazoo sample — doesn’t Alison Moyet have a banging voice? Anyways, I thought I would share this with you and the video too. Keep movin’ on, keep pressin’ on.


Monday, January 12, 2009

The Bird and the Bee - Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future

The Bird and the Bee, the Los Angeles based duo of Inara George and Greg Kurstin, has a new album coming. It’s called "Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future" and it’s due on January 27th. I’ve already listened to it quite a few times, and though the commonly held belief is that a band’s sophomore release is usually a lesser effort than their first I believe this album breaks the mould and shows a significant improvement in lyric writing and arrangement.

Like the first album, Ray Guns is a perfect record, full of sugary pop that has been drizzled with ‘60s Brazilian nuances, and little touches of Bacharach, Gainsbourg, The Beach Boys and Dusty Springfield. Then this heady and infectious concoction is melded into modern electronic genres like house and hip-hop. If you’re a fan of AIR, Pizzicato Five or Thievery Corporation, then this record will really grab you.

In fact, if you were charmed by Gwen Stefani’s dalliances with Japanese youth culture on her Love.Angel.Music.Baby. album, or the aforementioned AIR’s “Cherry Blossom Girl”or “Mer Du Japon” then “Love Letter To Japan” will resonate with you positively. If all that wasn’t enough, the sterling craftsmanship of multi-instrumentalist Kurstin fills the whole record with beautiful and uplifting choruses that whirl around the stereo field, and your head…for days.

Stand out tracks? Wow, the record is full of them; “Polite Dance Song,” has the most life affirming hook and message about music (and in the music) and its groove effortlessly glides over rolling funk drums and oscillating, glassy keys. While “You’re A Cold,” reflects on a bad boyfriend who is still indispensable while honkey tonk tinged piano conspires with playful electronics and sassy, girlish and clever lyrics.

There are eleven more tracks of similar quality, which display moods that swing between elation, melancholic regret and wide-eyed amazement. If you have given up on pop music then "Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future" might put your faith back in the idiom again. Why? Because Greg Kurstin’s arrangements are so solid and infectious and Inara George’s vocals are velvety, varied, soulful, playful and timeless. Simply put this album is awesome. Keep an ear cocked and an eye peeled.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

True love, disco and herpes.

Just in case you can't read the quote under the heading 'Disdain' on this jpg, it says "I Feel the same way about disco as I do about herpes." Fightin’ words indeed from Hunter S. Thompson, and though I would definitely agree with the man on many points, especially his attitude towards Nixon, I have to disagree with him on this one. There are a lot of music forms that generate a similar feeling in me, but disco is not one of them. And though there is a serious glut of disco revival goin’ on at the moment, which essentially follows on from the attention paid to the genre all through the ‘90s, it’s influence on contemporary dance music cannot be diminished. And as much as the British music press has attempted to stamp a genre every single strain of beat driven music that emerges, in some ways all modern dance music is really just a continuation of disco.

There’s a famous quote by legendary New Jersey dj, Tony Humphries — whose residency at the Zanzibar club in Newark is as important to the formation of house. garage etc. as those of Larry Levan at Paradise Garage, Ron Hardy at Music Box or Frankie Knuckles at The Warehouse or Powerplant — in which he states that he didn’t spin house, he played uptempo r&b. And really what is disco other than uptempo r&b, though not all great disco tracks are uptempo.

The thing that galls me the most about people bad mouthing disco is that the genre was killed off at the height of its popularity, when it was kicking rock n roll’s ass in sales and was popular in demographics where rock got a lukewarm reception at best. If disco got the chance to really flourish it may have become a monstrosity but it never got the opportunity as it had its life cut short by a cabal of paranoid, racist, homophobic and greedy radio djs, label execs and other misanthropes who couldn’t deal with the fact that it was more fun than Emerson, Lake and Palmer and had a strong appeal with women and gay men.

It’s these artificial ways of directing the music market that really annoy me, these ways of — to quote Chomsky out of context — manufacturing consent. I see the same thing with modern rap, and especially r&b. If you have the most recent copy of the SF Weekly, read Ben Westhoff’s scathing, yet accurate, overview of modern r&b on page 39.

The question is, how did black music get narrowed down to such specific and easily recognized genres, by musical evolution or by the stifling direction of the major labels? I’d opt for the second option. Isn’t Detroit techno a black music form? But it doesn’t get any attention as it’s too cerebral and hard to market, perhaps. Get it simple and keep it dumb (and crass, sexist, misogynistic and ultra materialistic).

Yeah, I know I’m missing the fun, irony and fantasy of the music and its message, but the whole gangster, pimp thing is getting very, very, very, very old. Like Outkast said, …”spittin all that bourgeoise, my watch, my car, I'm a star — I'd rather be a comet by far…” And perhaps disco offers what has been forgotten, the star gazing sci-fi element in black music that was espoused by Parliament and Funkadelic, Sun Ra, Model 500, Lonnie Liston Smith and X-Clan.

So even though we’re knee deep in disco revivalism, it ain’t such a bad thing at all, for sometimes you have to take a step back in order to take two steps forward at a later date. And you don’t have to be R. Kelly to take those two steps.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Outlaw tonight!!!

If you’re going out tonight in San Francisco and you want to hear good dancing music across a range of genres played by people who know what’s up, look no further than the little shindig detailed on the flyer above. Lawrence “Foxee” Petty is throwing the do, and if you don’t know who he is darling then you need to put down that Crookers mp3 (???!!!) and read up a little. Lawrence has been around for a minute — he claims that 2009 is like 1988 (shite but on the cusp of excellentyness againz) — and used to be a staple on KMEL with local garage mainstay David Harness

David plays US garage not fucking “gay house,” (Christ I hate it when people call vocal, NY type house that). Given that house music pretty much grew out of gay club culture in NY and Chicago, calling it “gay house” is like calling Heavy Metal “heterosexually inflected rock.” Stop calling it “gay house,” you sound like a pro Prop 8 Mormon, or moron, or merman even.

Anywayz where was I? Lawrence is joined by another veteran, Mike Bee, a man who has spun IDM, Jungle, 2 Step, Broken Beat, house and much more, run his own label, has written for XLR8R and stocked Amoeba’s electronic sections on the regular. And rounding out the line up is Chris Brennan, a talented and polite young man who is given to spinning classic hip-hop, taking kicking photygraphs, dating very attractive young ladies and falling off his skateboard with disastrous results. He’s also fond of mucking around with that Jamie Jams geezer, whose monthly Debaser party gives the young team the chance to crowd surf over each other's heads all fucking night to “Freak Scene,” while sweating profusely and indulging in all manner of joyous behaviourz.

Thank you Lawrence for booking a line up that reflects thinking outside the box of “I’ll just book my friends and people that other people book duh.” It's the same mind set that will marvel at the fact that a deep house track is sitting next to Dinosaur Jr. on the gorgeousful playlist under this here blog post here. It's also the same frame of mind that makes me want to go back to the deepest Irish countryside so I can be around people who are more open minded (no shit), it's also called being a myopic suburbanite who proclaims loudly on how liberal they are but still acts and thinks like a hick. We know SF is a small city, stop turning it into a fucking village with your narrow, cliquey ways.

Go and dance at this party you fuckers, it’ll be fun, I guarantee it (yeah like that beardy guy on the Mens Wearhouse ads. And I’ll keep using this analogy until I grow fatigued with it).


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Interview: Lucky Dragons

Luke Fischbeck and Sarah Rara have been creating art and performing together under the name Lucky Dragons since the late 1990's and have produced some twenty recordings since 2000. Their work centers around mixed media collaborations. Having been to one of their shows in late 2007, I was entralled by the sights and sounds. It was unlike anything I've ever seen before, so I remembered this when writing my thesis in art history. In an attempt to understand visual art's role in the music world, I investigated their multi-media concert experience. Luke and Sarah were kind enough to indulge me with the following interview.

Bananaspam: How would you describe the aesthetic of your visual installations? How long have you been creating them?

Lucky Dragons: We work in many forms, but we often exhibit videos and musical instruments/interactive sculptures together. the videos I would describe as Californian, fast, colorful, and hypnotic--with some very basic special effects like greenscreen. The videos are non-narrative, cyclical, and often center around the performance of a specific human action like spitting, falling, or embracing or a use of landscape as a repeating pattern of interwoven images. The instruments are made from bits and pieces of homemade materials linked with electronics--cardboard, yarn, and braided aluminum. We've been working in this vein for 5-8 years, though sometimes we do shows/installations that are entirely drawing based. We organize a collaborative drawing group called sumi ink club, that is the drawing equivalent of lucky dragons.

Bananaspam: What is your process for creating visual art? What programs do you use?

LD: The programs we have used in the past are pretty standard commercial software: Final Cut Pro, Photoshop, MaxMSP/Jitter, Pro Tools... though we're trying to move towards using programs that are open source such as audacity (sound editing) and pure data (multimedia).

Bananaspam: What is the difference between a Lucky Dragons show with visuals and one show without visuals? In other words, what do they add to the performance? Do they change the performance? How essential is the visual aesthetic to the perception of your music?

LD: There is always something to look at as well as to listen to or touch during the performance.
Many of our instruments have a sculptural quality to them--and in preparation for the show I often lay everything out in a very specific and often bi-symmetric way. The coils of the touching wires are knitted into colorful stripes and spirals and we often incorporate a pile of stones from the area surrounding the site of the performance. These repeated visual motifs are either part of a ritual or a game depending how you look at it.

There is always a balance to the aural and visual information that we present--rather than the music or art component becoming dominant, ideally what arises is a unifiying social interaction, a connection formed between members of the audience, that becomes the most prominent aspect of the performance. The social component is the thing that remains in my mind long after the music is shut down and our bags are packed.

Bananaspam: In your opinion, why is there a disconnect between the study of music and art history?

LD: there is a separate discipline devoted to the study of music history, with its own specific methods and language... i think it is similar to the study of art history in some ways (as a technological history, perhaps, or as a cultural history). The main reason i can think of that music is left out of most art-historical discourse is that it is looked at as a craft, or a tradition, or a social economy, not an end into itself (a "fine" art...). perhaps there is a confluence of craft / tradition / economy / technology that is taking place in contemporary art, that widens the discussion a little bit to include music as a fine art... hopefully so!

Bananaspam: Why do you suppose concert visuals have never been analyzed historically?

LD: I suppose it is difficult to pin them down as something discrete, with their own identity outside of the performances... do you look at ballet or opera stuff? it seems like there are some roots in the collaborations that have taken place in those fields... with historical analysis to boot...

Bananaspam: What filmmakers or visual artists inspire you?

LD: Niki de St. Phalle, CoBrA group, Bruce Conner, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Paper Rad, Harrell Fletcher, YAYOI KUSAMA, cory archangel, frances stark, dexter sinister, chris marker, rose lowder, jack smith, peter kubelka, nick relph + oliver payne, amanda ross-ho, joan jonas, bruce nauman, allan kaprow, lygia clark, helio oticia, and on and on!

Bananaspam: Do you ever find visual accompaniment to be a distraction from a music performance?

LD: Definitely, this often occurs for me when violent images or images that create a gender divide are projected during a performance.
I remember playing at a festival in which I was the only female musician performing, and noticing that all the other bands had visuals that included bad things happening to women. Perhaps that's more than a distraction--but a reminder that the visual image creates a context for the music, and molds it's meaning, The music and visuals together create a public space that either creates an open community or has the power to alienate.

Bananaspam: What are your favorite marriages of live performance with visual accompaniment?

LD: Extreme Animals and Hecuba are two groups that always pair sound and image in a very astounding way. Extreme Animals incorporates animations into the live show and Hecuba works with costuming, dance, and gesture--almost like Kabuki theater.

Bananaspam: Could you accomplish visual accompaniments to your music without the use of computers or projection technology?

LD: If you can imagine anything you can make it happen. In many ways the computer approximates things that have an analog partner like reverb springs or certain film techniques. We use a computer to move swiftly and cheaply from one idea to the next.

** Lucky Dragons' other projects include a weekly collaborative drawing group called "Sumi Ink Club," and a small internet press community called "Glaciers of Nice."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Animal Collective's new album

The new Animal Collective album came out yesterday in digital formats and on vinyl. It’s called Merriweather Post Pavilion and is released on the ever reliable Domino imprint. I’m fairly new to this band I’ll admit, I got introduced to them last year when a friend of mine hipped me to Panda Bear’s solo album, Person Pitch. There were several things I loved about it; the Beach Boys feel, the deep ambience, its cut and paste aspect and liner notes that give props to Cat Stevens, Moodymann and Biggie, amongst many others Furthermore it seemed dense and difficult to pin down in terms of production, I mean to say I couldn’t quite fathom what he was doing, but it sounded good.

Ditto with the new Animal Collective, I can’t put my finger on what they are doing and I don’t want to wax metaphorical about it just to seem clever and knowledgeable. Perhaps ignorance is really bliss, or perhaps mystery lives inside ignorance too, like back in the days when you would read about some obscure record in a magazine and there was no internet to hear it or buy it immediately. The lack of access created a mythology around it and if and when you found it was momentous.

I’ve had this experience with many of the seminal house and techno records that I read about in British magazines back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but I could never find them or I missed the boat on them when I tried to mail order them from stores in the UK. But when I immigrated to America I suddenly started finding those records, even the ones on mix tapes that I didn’t know the name of, suddenly one day you’re in a record store and you pick up this unknown record to listen to it and there it is, it’s that tune on that tape that you used to listen to it in 1988. Perhaps when you have to struggle hard for something it becomes all the more precious.

Consumer pontification aside, the new Animal Collective is another towering mass of noise, hefty bass, angelic vocals and beautiful arrangement, which doesn’t follow the tried and tested song structures that we have come to expect. Psychedelic rock conspires with drifting ambience and tough techno style beats — check “Summertime Clothes” for this heady amalgam — yet the mélange still manages to retain a strangely pastoral feel that is imbued with a pop inflected naivete; technologically augmented music for luddites?

Merriweather Post Pavilion is a musically open ended sojourn though forests and cities built of pure imagination and glistening sound. A record to get lost in, so let’s get lost.


Friday, January 2, 2009

Grace Jones - Williams Blood (Aeroplane Mix)

There’s been quite a bit of fuss about this one since it started doing the rounds as a promo. And after much anticipation it was released in the UK, December 8th,  on Wall of Sound, and in mainland Europe on Play It Again Sam. As Grace Jones’s performance on Later With Jools Holland proves, she still has the chops and the gusto. However, Aeroplane, the Belgian electronic act, take the track into a new dimension. 

Some will, of course, tag this Nu Disco — everything must be put in a sub-genre in order to allow consumers to make the right consumer choices, and we are all consumers aren’t we? But let’s just say that it is forward looking, electronic dance music that contains the right amount of melody and arrangement in order to generate movement and emotional content on the dance floor. It is the perfect antidote to minimal techno tyranny and linear house tedium and is a band wagon that will jumped on when both of those genres have been effectively flogged to death — like now.

Not that any genre needs to be flogged to death, in fact if it’s mixed with other styles of music it can retain its freshness. Look at how djs like Ron Hardy and Larry Levan played classic Salsoul disco cuts ten years after their release and mixed them up with the newer, more electronic dance music that was being released in the ‘80s. I can’t quite deduce the difference between Balearic (in its new generic context) and Nu Disco, but I’m sure that arcane mystery will be unfolded to me at some point in the near future.

In the meantime, before that undoubtedly startling revelation, enjoy this transcendent little groover. And let’s hope there’s more to come from Aeroplane. I’m sure there will. And thanks to Kevin McKay at Prestel Records in London for sending me this banging little number at such short notice.