category: Music

Getting My Columbia House Records, 28 Years Later

I was flipping through an issue of Song Hits magazine from March 1985 today. For those that don’t remember (almost everyone), Song Hits was a magazine that, if it existed online today, would show up in every Google search for “lyrics” and would have a bunch of malware attached to it. Its primary focus was lyrics to songs that were popular on the radio six months earlier. There were also articles and album reviews as well as a nice dose of ads.

Among that issue’s ads was one of the ubiquitous Columbia House “11 for 1 cent” promotions:

Columbia House - March 1985

When I looked closer, I realized nine-year-old me had filled out the form, but never sent it in. Ignoring the fact that I wrote in album names instead of the ID numbers, as instructed, I decided to build a quick Spotify playlist of all the albums I would have gotten (on vinyl, take note) if I’d mailed the form in with $1.86. Only two albums (Rockwell’s Somebody’s Watching Me and The Stray Cats’ Rant N Rave were not available on Spotify).

(Another interesting bit: all selections except for classical or jazz albums were available on 8-track, even in 1985. This is because “1982 was the approximate year the 8 track tape disappeared from record stores yet Columbia continued to release new titles in the format until 1988″ (Wikipedia). That’s why it is possible, though difficult, to find some hip-hop on 8-track today, if you look hard enough.)

RIP Sluggy Ranks

Peggy from Reggae Report indicated yesterday she’d seen reports that reggae singer Sluggy Ranks was killed in a car crash. If it turns out to be true, it’s a real loss, even though he wasn’t a household name for most.

Sluggy was a dancehall artist who came into his own in the mid-1980s, after he’d come to the United States from Kingston. His voice was unique and his mess was conscious and positive, in contrast to many of his dancehall contemporaries.

I thought I’d share three of my favorite tracks Sluggy’s been involved in. I’d love to hunt out more of his work, but much of it is hard to come by.

First is “Ghetto Youth Bust,” where Sluggy takes shot at the gun culture that’s been prevalent in dancehall and among Jamaican youth for decades:

“Progressive youth must try, / kill dem with positive vibes! / It’s nothing but conscious style. / Just tell me who a go hold it back, hold it back, / hold back the youths from buss!”

Sluggy reused the “Ghetto Youth Bust” hook when he teamed up with Trenton’s Poor Righteous Teachers and X Clan’s Brother J on the fantastic “Conscious Style” from PRT’s third album, The New World Order:

My favorite Sluggy track, “Ethiopia,” comes from his work with the Easy Star label on their debut 1997 compilation, Easy Star Volume One. The track is called “Ethiopia” and really captures Sluggy’s talent.

More here (with some inaccurate info re: his involvement with Easy Star).

Seen, Heard, and Read, vol. 3

Seen

Confessions of a Superhero

A touching (and ever-so-slightly exploitative) look at the mere mortals behind the superhero characters on Hollywood Boulevard. With Superman, Batman, and the Hulk, you can sense that this is probably a spot they’ll be in for a while, despite all their best efforts. While Wonder Woman’s story isn’t overly sad, you can sense she’s destined for bigger and better things (since the movie, she’s had bit roles on Party Down, True Blood, and New Girl).

Heard

Miles Davis: Get Up With It

Like anyone else who’s ever spent any time in a college radio station, I went through a heavy Miles Davis period when I was starting to get into jazz. Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew were, of course, on heavy rotation, but I tried to dig into some of the lesser-known Miles albums from various points in his career as well. Somehow, I missed Get Up With It, a double-LP of super-electic electric recordings from 1970-1974. Even if you’ve heard his other electric-era recordings, you’ll be surprised over and over again with Get Up With It.

The two most notable tracks are the 32-minute “He Loved Him Madly,” a dedication to the recently deceased Duke Ellington, and the supremely bonkers “Rated X,” a fiercely funky assault on your senses. The latter is particularly ahead of its time, sounding a lot like the intense electronica-infused jazz we’ve seen coming out of Poland in the last decade (a la Pink Freud, Robotobibok, etc.). (The live version on the Miles Davis In Concert album isn’t as good.)

Read

Fire Monks coverFire Monks by Colleen Morton Busch

A super interesting look at the California wildfires of 2008 and how the monks of Tassajara (which is connected with Suzuki Roshi’s San Francisco Zen Center) worked to defend their land even with little help from professionals. Really engaging and a fascinating examination of how “beginner’s mind” works under extreme pressure.

Don’t miss this Flickr set with photos from before, during, and after the fire by Mako, one of the five monks that fought the fire from beginning to end.

Seen, Heard, and Read, vol. 2

5 1/2 months since vol. 1. Off to a good start with this “series,” eh?

Seen

A Show, with Ze Frank

Welcome back, sir! And thanks for the inspirational opening video. No, really. I’m filing this one alongside Jay Smooth’s Little Hater and Merlin Mann’s Courageous Sucking as part of the eternal battle to get over the f’ing fear.

Heard

BADBADNOTGOOD

This non-drinking age crew got their initial notice thanks to their jazz treatment of Odd Future tunes last year and has since gone on to release two albums and two more live albums. I was shocked to hear kids this young (those whippersnappers!) could making such innovative, interesting music. It’s dark, it’s complex, it’s the next logical step after nu jazz (or, at least, a parallel step). All their material is available for free via their site or Bandcamp.

Here’s a video of a recent track of them, which features the group eating cereal. And that’s it.

Read

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

My friend Alex turned me onto Murakami a number of years ago and I’ve been slowly working my way through his back catalog. I was especially excited when the English translation of 1Q84 hit the shelves late last year. It was originally released as three separate books in Japan, but the Knopf version combines all three volumes and weighs in at a hefty 944 pages. I’m about a third of the way through the book, which means that at this pace, I’ll finish the book at about the one-year mark.

True to his previous work, 1Q84 presents a hazy, dreamlike tale in a such a fashion that it seems completely plausible that a women would descend a latter beside a highway and find herself in a slightly alternate version of 1984.

I’m definitely enjoying this one so far and look forward to continuing to savor it throughout the rest of the year.

New mix: Hip-Hop Songs That Sample or Reference Sesame Street

This was a topic I explored back in the Attic Beats days, but decided to revisit by way of an 8tracks mix. All songs sample or reference Sesame Street in some way. Most of the samples are pretty obvious, but there are one or two tracks with barely a passing reference (like the Dr. Dooom cut that refers to Snuffleupagus a single time). This mix is NSFW thanks to naughty words.

Hip-Hop Songs That Sample or Reference Sesame Street from laze on 8tracks.

A mix for an awful Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day, I’ve updated my 8tracks.com mix, “Absolutely Awful Hip-Hop Love Songs.” Now, instead of ten terrible tracks, there are 15. If you make it through the entire mix, I’ll send you an e-mail certificate of achievement. Enjoy. Or, rather, “enjoy.”

Absolutely Awful Hip-Hop Love Songs from laze on 8tracks.

What I learned on Twitter today

I was listening this morning to the excellent Genocide & Juice, a 1994 album from The Coup. Shortly after this album, member E-Roc left the group and not much was heard about him. I did a quick Google search and saw a passing mention that he might be “a dockworker.” I wondered if this might tie in at all with Boots’ involvement with the Occupy movement in the Bay Area port shutdowns last month.

My curiosity remained, so I took to Twitter and asked Boots if he knew what was up with E-Roc these days:

@bootsriley Do you know what E-Roc’s up to these days? Listening to “Genocide & Juice” this morning and got to wondering…Thu Jan 19 16:42:00 via Seesmic

Before long, he replied:

E-roc is a Longshoreman in Oakland. We consulted w him right b4 1st port shutdown. RT @supalaze
Do you know what E-Roc’s up to these days?Thu Jan 19 17:50:19 via web

It’s cool to see two former music partners collaborating again years later in this way.

2011 Music Year in Review

For the past five years, I’ve really enjoyed putting together these year-end personal “best-of” lists. I don’t do much in the way of music journalism anymore, so this scratches my yearly “write a bunch about music” itch.

2011 was another amazing year for music. I think I have more in my “best of” category this year (29) than any previous year. With so much music getting released (and, really, so much of it being so good), it can be easy for great albums to get overlooked. It’s impossible to be 100% complete, so here’s this year’s completely subjective rundown on my favorite music of the year.

(See also: 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.)

Everything’s sorted in alphabetical order.

Best of 2011

  • Andrzej Przybielski & Oles Brothers: De Profundis
    Polish trumpeter Andrzej Przybielski passed away earlier this year. While I haven’t heard much of his work, this final album of his is remarkably intricate, moving, and cerebral. See also: his 2009 album with Sing Sing Penelope.
  • Archie Shepp & Joachim Kühn: Wo!man
    Though I haven’t enjoyed Shepp’s albums in recent years anywhere near the level of the fire music he was making in the 1960s, the releases have been good. This duet with German jazz pianist Joachim Kühn is by no means a return to Shepp’s 1960s form, but the interaction between the two is a thing of beauty. The elegant and lush arrangements have a quiet sophistication befitting elder jazz statesmen like Shepp and Kühn. There are five originals and three standards here (Ellington’s oft-covered–by Shepp especially–“Sophisticated Lady,” Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” and Hagen/Rogers’ “Harlem Nocturne”).
  • Atmosphere: The Family Sign
    You know you’re going to get something personal when Slug hits the mic, and this time is no different, with outstanding tracks like “The Last to Say,” “Just for Show,” and “She’s Enough” (which has the year’s most adorable video). Also: great packaging on the vinyl release.
  • Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
    “We were free to get back to our bread and butter: fart jokes.” That’s what Mike D. said about the Beastie’s return to form on Hot Sauce… It truly is amazing at how a group of guys in their mid-to-late-40s can make a record that sounds as fresh and fun as the stuff they did almost 25 years ago.
  • Blue Scholars: Cinemopolis
    A Kickstarter-funded ($62,000 of a requested $25,000) album that answers the question, “How does music influence cinema?” Song titles are all people’s names. “Anna Karina,” actress in many Godard movies, basketball player “Slick Watts” (with an excellent accompanying video featuring Slick himself), and oft-forgotten, the amazing civil rights activist “Yuri Kochiyama.” Sabzi’s production is outstanding and Geo’s lyrics are some of the best of his career. This is hip-hop.
  • Brownbird Rudy Relic: I Am the Juke
    Another great collection of original “holler blues” from the dynamo known as Brownbird. He goes the old-school route once again, recording on a 1950’s Concertone one-track reel-to-reel with a 1940’s era RCA Victor Radio mic in an abandoned Brooklyn loft.
  • Czeslaw Bartowski/Analog Burners: Drum Dream
    Inspired by Polish drummer Czeslaw Bartkowski, Analog Burners’ Mensa-El freaks Bartowski’s work into dope instrumentals.
  • De La Soul & DJ TenDJiz: De La Soulviet
    Classic De La tracks remixed with Soviet jazz samples? Excellent. The beats are well constructed, the samples well chosen, and the overall vibe, very chill.
  • Freestyle Fellowship: The Promise
    It’s been nine years since the last album from the highly lyrical collective. Considering the break, it’s amazing that the result was so a cohesive, funky, enjoyable. The album dips a bit in the second half, but the first half is outstanding. Production is handled by Eligh, Black Milk, Exile, & more.
  • Greg Foat Group: Dark is the Sun
    I don’t even remember how I came across this particular album, but it’s a doozy. Funky UK jazz with harpsichord, organ, and synths that goes beyond just drums and bass. Dark is the Sun is a real gem that will appeal to fans of 70s spiritual-funk-jazz. Don’t overlook this one.
  • Honey Ear Trio: Steampunk Serenade
    Phenomenal release with Erik Lawrence on sax and flute, the always awesome Allison Miller on percussion, and Rene Hart on bass and loops (which are so subtly integrated, I had no idea they even existed). Their take on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is one of the best ever.
  • Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Race Riot Suite
    A concept album about the 1921 Tulsa race riot that’s intense, grooving, and wholly unique. This group’s 21st album in 18 years serves as a reminder that there’s amazing jazz coming from all around the country.
  • Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations: Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations
    Fun, short indie pop songs that are impossible to dislike.
  • KIRk: Msza Swieta w Braswaldzie
    Dark, blippy electronica-infused jazz reminiscent at times of both Pink Freud and Robotobibok.
  • Matthew Shipp: Art of the Improviser
    Shipp gets open on his version of “Take the A Train.”
  • Muzykoterapia: Piosenki Izy
    Very solid nu jazz (damn it, I hate that term, but there it is) from Poland. A nice accompaniment to Nostalgia 77’s album.
  • The Natural Yogurt Band: Tuck In With
    Quirky, funk-library style tunes. Massive breaks abound.
  • album of the year Nostalgia 77: The Sleepwalking Society
    This album got far more rotation from me than any other album this year. German vocalist Josa Peit joins Benedic Lamdin on his latest album as Nostalgia 77. Peit’s sultry voice is the perfect match for Lamdin’s nu jazz (there’s that damn term again), as heard on “Sleepwalkers,” song-of-the-year “Simmerdown,” and “Beautiful Lie.” This is one of the rare albums that I love, my wife likes, and even our 5-year-old daughter requests songs from. The Sleepwalking Society is near perfection.

    Here’s a 30-minute playlist of Nostalgia 77’s videos, acoustic versions, and interviews from this year:

  • Onra: Chinoiseries Pt. 2
    Pitchfork pooped on it, but I loved it nearly as much as the first.
  • Pharoahe Monch: W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)
    Sure, I’d love to see an Organized Konfusion reunion album, but I certainly can’t complain about Pharoahe’s solo albums. Favorite songs: “Assassins,” “Let My People Go,” and the title track.
  • Prince Fatty Meets The Mutant HiFi: Return of Gringo!
    Spaghetti western ska dub, Ennio Morricone meets The Specials meets Augustus Pablo.
  • Priscilla Ahn: When You Grow Up
    Alternating between light, poppy folk and subdued contemplative folk, Ahn delivers a super mellow and very enjoyable album. Favorite cuts: the title track, which is like a breezy spring day and the über-catchy “Oo La La.”
  • The Roots: Undun
    A late-in-the-year contender, this short (for The Roots) concept album is deep and moving. A great addition to their discography. (See John Book’s in-depth review for a great look at the album.)
  • Shabazz Palaces: Black Up
    I hadn’t kept up with the Digable Planets’ Butterfly since he and his crew denied me an interview for the college paper back in 1995 (not that I hold a grudge or anything), but my jaw dropped when I discovered his abstract work as part of Shabazz Palaces. His two EPs last year were very good and this year’s Black Up is even better. Unlike anything else out there and absolutely engaging. Loved (deep breath) “An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum,” “Endeavors For Never (The Last Time We Spoke You Said You Were Not Here. I Saw You Though.),” and “Swerve… The Reeping Of All That Is Worthwhile (Noir Not Withstanding).”
  • Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: Soul Time!
    Sharon Jones has a permanent spot on this list if she releases an album.
  • Shona Foster: The Moon & You
    There’s a clear Tori Amos influence from this singer I found via This American Life (not how I usually find my music because, well, I already know about DJ Shadow), but there’s a little Erin McKeown-esque style thrown in the mix making Shona Foster more interesting to me than her strongest influence. Niceness on “No. 34,” “Queens,” “Bad Intentions,” and “Where We’ll Go.”
  • SuperHeavy: SuperHeavy
    By all predictions, this album should have been somewhere between a confused mess and an acceptible “supergroup”-style album. Turns out it was an extremely enjoyable, “big” album with great performances all around from Jagger, Junior Gong, and the rest.
  • Thao & Mirah: Thao & Mirah
    Quirky and varied instrumentation makes this effort from the somewhat-odd-couple pairing of indie-folk singer-songwriters Thao (of Thao with The Get Down Stay Down) and Mirah one of the most engaging of the year. Favorite tracks: “Likeable Man” and “Squareneck.”
  • Various Artists: passionjunkies.it: Aa.VV. Dolphyn Surround
    Dope instrumental hip-hop from Italian beatmakers. Each track is based on Eric Dolphy samples.

Almost Best of 2011

  • Albert Kuvezin & Yat-Kha: Poets & Lighthouses & Live at the Stray Dog
    Two more strong releases from the Tuvan throat-singing powerhouses. Poets & Lighthouses was officially released in 2010, but not released in the US until 2011. Live at the Stray Dog was graciously released for free on Bandcamp.
  • AWOL One & Factor: The Landmark
    I’ve always been a fan of AWOL One’s left-field brand of hip-hop and this release with producer Factor is a nice addition to his discography. Favorite tracks: “Coming to Town,” “Frenemies,” “Rewind Yourself,” and the excellent duet with Moka Only, “The Wasp.”
  • Bubble Geese: #foamparty
    Offensive, party-friendly hip-hop with enough pop culture references to make Entertainment Weekly blush. Love the way they freaked Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd” on their first single. (Do I have to disclose that my cousin is one of the MCs? There, I just did.)
  • Common: The Dreamer, The Believer
    Common’s late-year contender is his best album in years. Favorite cuts: Ghetto Dreams (feat. Nas), Lovin’ I Lost, Sweet.
  • Elzhi: Elmatic
    I dig Elzhi and think he’s talented, but have never placed him in the top tier. This excellent mixtape had started to change my mind. Very well done with a lot of attention to detail.
  • Evidence: Cats & Dogs
    The self-name-checking weatherman is back with a solid solo release on Rhymesayers. Really dug “Late for the Sky (feat. Slug & Aesop Rock)” and the DJ Premier-produced “You,” which also had an incredibly dope video.
  • Moka Only: Barbecued Horse Contest Instrumental
    Moka is as prolific as they come in 2011. This year alone he’s released at least five original, full-length albums. Do you even realize how insane that is? I didn’t even have a chance to check all of them out, but I really enjoyed this collection of beats quite a bit.
  • Oddisee: Rock Creek Park
    If you still haven’t grasped what Oddisee is capable of as a producer, this album will do it for you.
  • Paul White: Rapping With Paul White
    Very solid album of aggressive tunes, but not absurdly so. Does that make sense?
  • Tech N9ne: All 6’s and 7’s
    Outstanding effort from N9ne. “Worldwide Choppers” is absolutely epic.
  • Tori Amos: Night of the Hunters
    This album is a weird one for me. I’m not a big fan of Tori Amos and I don’t think I’ll listen to this album very frequently, yet it’s a really, really good release. Funny how that happens sometimes.

Best of 2010 I missed until 2011

  • Levity: Chopin Shuffle
  • Jason Adasiewicz: Sun Rooms
  • Arszyn/Duda: ŚĘ (my review)
  • Allison Miller: Boom Tic Boom
  • Shabazz Palaces: Shabazz Palaces / Of Light

My Daughter’s Favorite Tracks This Year

My daughter, now five, has developed an interesting taste in music. Here are her favorite tracks this year (not limited to songs from this year), loaded up in a MOG playlist that we often spin when we’re on the road.

  • Beastie Boys: “Intergalactic”
  • The Upsetters: “Black Panta”
  • Nostalgia 77: “Simmerdown”
  • Dilated Peoples: “Live on Stage”
  • Dilated Peoples: “Worst Comes to Worst”
  • Rakaa: “Observatory (feat. Mad Lion)”
  • Rakaa: “Delilah”
  • Lee Perry & The Upsetters: “Kojak”
  • Beastie Boys: “Sure Shot”
  • Half Pint: “Have a Little Faith”
  • Tech N9ne: “Worldwide Choppers (feat. a ton of people)”
  • Go Diego Go: “Morning in the Rainforest/Diego Theme” (had to get one kids song in there)
  • Scientist: “Steppers”
  • The Upsetters: “Dub Organizer”
  • Nostalgia 77: “Beautiful Lie”
  • Dennis Brown: “Sitting and Watching”
  • Kathy Young: “A Thousand Stars”

Best Tracks of 2011

Here are two mixes I put together at 8tracks.com covering my favorite tracks of the year. I tried to stick to one track per artist and per album. The first mix was put together midway through the year and the second mix I just finished up. Total listening time: 2 hours, 18 minutes, 37 seconds.

Spotify Radio vs. Pandora

Spotify vs. Pandora

There’s a lot of talk right now about Spotify’s new radio functionality that not only greatly improves on their previously lame attempt at “radio,” but also reportedly gives Pandora a run for its money. Though I’m not a frequent Pandora listener, I have found their careful classification to result in pretty darn fine listening.

I decided to run my own comparison using my favorite song of the year, Nostalgia 77’s “Simmerdown” as the base. The song has a very distinct groove and vocal tone, so I was curious to see which radio provided the best listening. (I would have included other streaming services in the test, but none offer radio based on elements of a single track.) Here’s what I heard:

Spotify

  • Nostalgia 77 – Beautiful Lie
  • Kinny – Water for Chocolate featuring Souldrop
  • Lizzy Parks – All That (Natural Self Remix)
  • Sola Rosa – Ready Now
  • Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro – Undelivered Letter
  • Ebo Taylor – Heaven
  • Skeletons – Marathon Man
  • Flevans – Loose Gardener
  • Quantic presenta Flowering Inferno – Cuidad Del Swing
  • Unforscene – Don’t You Worry Feat Alice Russell
  • Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro – Canção Do Deserto
  • Belleruche – The Itch (Acoustic Version)
  • Bonobo – Terrapin
  • Lizzy Parks – Raise The Roof

A number of Tru Thoughts tracks came up (appropriately, as that’s Nostalgia 77’s label) including Belleruche, but there were also some other wonderful songs I’d never heard before, like Kinny’s “Water for Chocolate.”

Pandora

  • Baby Charles – Life’s Begun
  • Bobby Rush – I Am Good As Gone
  • Dave Matthews Band – Grey Street (Live 2007)
  • The RH Factor – Forget Regret (feat. Stephanie McKay)
  • Mindi Abair – Get Right
  • Con Brio – Not At All
  • D-Influence – Shake It
  • JackSoul – As We
  • Ben Sidran – Ballad of a Thin Man

Of this batch, there were two terrible choices that I thumbed-down (thumbs-downed?) after about 30 seconds (Dave Matthews Band and D-Influence) and two that I thought were really good matches in terms of vibe, tempo, and vocals (The RH Factor and Con Brio).

The Verdict

Spotify served up a really solid collection of tracks that were very much in line with the vibe of the original track. I was quite impressed by Spotify’s list, enjoying the entire hour-plus of music. I’m not sure what they’re using to generate the list of suggestions, but their algorithm is pretty darn good.

I was surprised at how underwhelmed I was by Pandora’s line-up, especially when Dave Matthews hit (shudder). I ended up cutting my listening short because Pandora just wasn’t holding my attention. It wasn’t a complete failure, though, giving me two excellent tracks I’d never heard before.

One other difference between the two offerings: Spotify allows unlimited “thumbs down”s while Pandora cuts off at 12 per day for free users (and 6 per hour for all users).

Pandora’s the go-to for smart radio, but Spotify’s starting to make things interesting. (MOG: you should come along for the ride!)

Trenton where we live

I’ve recently gotten involved in a new project that aims to bring back a lot of the old school underground Jersey heads. As a result, I’ve been thinking about some old favorites recently. Stuff I grew up listening to on PRB, music that defined my worldview of hip-hop every bit as much as the music coming out of New York. Though it’s not technically all Trenton (Courageous Chief was from Willingboro, for instance), but here are some South Jersey hip-hop classics from Tony D, PRT, 360 Degrees, The Funk Family, and more. RIP Tony D and Baby Chill (#9).