February 21, 2017

Hot Boys - Guerrilla Warfare (1998)

Yes, it's been decided. This is my favorite Cash Money album. Flaming out of control. I used to say Chopper City In The Ghetto was my favorite from the label, but I was in an exceptionally great mood the first time I heard it and my judgment has been riding on nostalgic feelings since then. While I still think the solo Hot Boys joints are classics and up there in my personal rankings, nothing has quite held up over the years for me like Guerilla Warfare. In my eyes, there is not a better collection of Mannie Fresh beats and the Hot Boys give what might be the best Louisiana rap performance of all time. Get It How U Live is exceptional, but second time around proves best for this young crew as they've had time to really nail down their flows and interactions. I've now joined Jody in saying Tha Carter is Wayne's best lyrical showcase, but check this though, as much as I love Wayne, I have to admit his delivery is tiring to my ears. Nothing wrong with Wayne, just how it wears on me personally (E-40 and even Juvenile are the same for me). Since that's the case, it is nice to have Weezy neutralized by a skilled supporting cast who each represents a unique style. I don't know, I have nothing more to really say because I've described the Mannie Fresh style a million times (as a million other people have); just wanted to say I think this is the best from the Cash Money crew.


Guerilla Warfare

February 19, 2017

Donald Byrd - A New Perspective (1963)

A New Perspective features an eight person gospel choir singing wordless vocals behind the septet. 1963 was the year Blue Note released Solomon Ilori's highlife album, African High Life, and Grant Green's collection of spirituals, Feelin' The Spirit, so I guess they saw no reason as to why their trusted bluesy trumpet player Donald Byrd couldn't give a crack at a semi-gospel record. The choir is a nice, somber backdrop that puts the fire and mood behind this band, but the instrumentalists aren't doing anything past their usual hard bop jams. Donald Byrd puts a lot of soul behind his lines; coming off comparable to Miles Davis with his use of simplicity albeit a duskier sound and with a stronger blues backbone. Byrd employs his trusted piano partner, the young Herbie Hancock (Hancock got his start in the recording industry by playing with Byrd), and A New Perspective is one of those albums early in his career where he just takes control of the band's sound. Hank Mobley and Kenny Burrell never jumped out me, especially not on the quicker tracks here Elijah and The Black Disciple (very solid on Beast of Burden and Cristo Redentor). Thankfully the rhythm section keeps everything here in tiptop shape and, like a good band leader should, Byrd links the soul of the choir to the band wherever he's involved. I think A New Perspective would benefit from more vibraphone involvement because Donald Best (unheard of outside this album--think he studied with Byrd at some point) is skilled and the instrument would only add to this mood. Impressive music throughout, but I think this could have been better if Mobley and Burrell were cut out.


A New Perspective

February 14, 2017

Grant Green - Feelin' The Spirit (1963)

My favorite jazz album of all time. Straight up the most easy going, swinging, memory evoking, and personable jazz I've ever heard. There are those sessions when you can just tell that the bandmates are clicking on some higher level; a quality completely intangible, and I think this album is the greatest example of that phenomenon. Feelin' The Spirit is made up of five negro spirituals and Grant Green, perhaps the bluesiest player Blue Note ever signed, lets loose a jazz guitar performance that will never be touched--he's walking on air here. Is he displaying more musicianship than Wes Montgomery? Hardly. Is he doing anything different than his usual blues flares? No. Is he, or any other member of the band, blowing shit out of the water? Nope. It's all about soul communication here, straight up groove, feeling. Now onto the accomanying pianist, Herbie Hancock. All of the praise I just gave Green can be multiplied by five for Hancock on this album. He calmly fills up every space Green leaves, soaks up everything like a sponge--like how Miles Davis describes him in his autobiography. Thankfully Green and Hancock are the only two lead instruments and they line up like two sides of a zipper; the back-and-forths are unstoppable. Tracks one, three, and five are exceptional for the pacing and atmosphere of this album, but the twin peaks here are Joshua Fit Da Battle Ob Jericho and Go Down Moses. On both of these songs Hancock unleashes a level of funk which was never, and will never be matched in acoustic jazz. The smoothness of his left hand chords on Joshua is no doubt the greatest thing ever played on a piano, and I mean that. Glen Gould? Well Tempered Clavier? nah. Herbie on Feelin' The Spirit, all day long. I'm taking away from how much dopeness the rhythm duo of Butch Warren and Billy Higgins lays down, as they were pretty much a part of the formula for any great groove-based Blue Notes from 1963 and 1964.

You know, I originally got this CD as an after thought. I ordered Ornette On Tenor off Amazon in highschool because it was hard for me to find a download link for that album through my school's highly restricted internet. I figured I would get something else to make the shipping worthwhile and tacked Feelin' The Spirit on since I noticed it was the only classic Blue Note Grant Green studio session that I didn't have in my digital library. It's amazing how that works. When I clicked 'add to cart' I had no idea what was in store.

Sample (YT quality is bad for all of these tracks)

Feelin' The Spirit

Sun Ra - Lanquidity (1978)

Lanquidity is one of the three most well-known Sun Ra albums along with Space Is The Place and Sleeping Beauty. I also think that it is the easiest to get into. I can't think of another album, in any genre, where dissonance comes off this smooth. There are points when the compositions reach far out, but the meat of the album is built on groove and oddly melodic solos. The music is distinctly Sun Ra--I mean, how can it not be, but he melts a wide range of styles into this LP. Where The Pathways Meet is on some experimental big band tip comparable to Charles Mingus. The following track, That's How I Feel, is constructed around a vibe set by Sun Ra's Fender Rhodes playing which is obviously inspired by the likes of Lonnie Liston Smith and Herbie Hancock. Only the most transcendental musicians can execute the styles of other influential aritsts (at the same level or arguably better, in this case) and rewrite the styles into their own signature. Lanquidity is soothing, but it is not a dreamy snoozefest either. Don't get me wrong, this album can put you to sleep if you so desire, but the wide grooves and strange intersecting solos and chord backdrops from Sun Ra are are too invigorating for one to completely loose their grasp on the music. I've also got to give a shoutout to John Gilmore, Sun Ra's staple tenor saxophonist, for some of the most perfect solos ever put on wax, simply out of this world.

February 8, 2017

Mack D.L.E. - Level 6 (1993)

I have a vague memory of listening to either the first few tracks from Level 6 or Level 7 and not really getting down because of how basic the music was (also I'd probably listened to like 10 underground Memphis tapes beforehand that same day and was most likely just worn out). I think the album has found its way into my heart now though. It is halfway through my miserable spring break, the weather is getting hotter and hotter with no air conditioning, and about the only thing I really want to hear at 11pm (before I start my long night sitting in front of my computer doing nothing) is the lovable dryness of one of the most ghetto hip hop tapes out there. Mack D.L.E. is no Skinny Pimp or C-9 on the mic, but he's actually pretty charismatic with these simple beats. The rings on these 808 kicks are actually dope through the shit recording/dub quality. The extra simple synth lines and vocal samples are well placed and keep this super underground tape jumping the whole time. Level 6 kind of reminds me of the early DJ Glock and DJ Sound tapes, maybe not quite as original, but still dope as hell. Overall a pretty rhythmic tape with Mack D.L.E. helping develop the Memphis flow Lord Infamous, Eightball, and Skinny Pimp started which would take over the city in the following years. This tape seems like it may have been pretty influential and people look it over.

February 4, 2017

J Mascis - The John Peel Sessions (2003)

My favorite post-1988 J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr) album. Then again, I haven't heard the two Fog albums in like 5 years, so maybe my opinion will change once I hear those again. Dinosaur was never absolutely awful, but they sure came a long ways down from their noise rock kinghood by the late 1990s. A constantly changing lineup was probably the source of a lot of Mascis' problems after the other original members of Dinosaur departed. By the early 2000s his creative output stablized once he secured Mike Watt (former bassist of Minutemen) and Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine mastermind) as creative partners. These recordings are warm with distortion and generally easy-going, somewhat of a departure from the noisiness I think I remember from More Light, and set a precedent for the sound Mascis would pursue in his 2007 reunion with the original members of Dinosaur. Like most Peel sessions, the music seems quickly assembled and mastered and allows for the truest spirit of the band to shine through. This atmosphere works to J's benefit as he already stands as a master of making personable and relatable music. The second half of the album is a quality collection of Mascis solo tracks tacked on to get this project to a proper album length. If you're a fan of 80s alternative rock then you can't really go wrong with checking this out if only for the overlapping of Kevin Shields, J Mascis, and Mike Watt. Shit, it's worth checking out for the exceptional medley cover of Everything Flows by Teenage Fanclub and Range Life by Pavement alone.


The John Peel Sessions

January 29, 2017

John Prine - German Afternoons (1986)

German Afternoons is an undersold John Prine album. When people in my age group look back on John Prine, they probably won't look any further than his first three albums and that's kind of sad to think about because the guy was a fountain of brilliant songwriting and musicianship. I sure wouldn't have peeped this album, or anything after Sweet Revenge for that matter, if I wasn't perplexed by his legendary duo version of Speed of the Sound of Loneliness with Nancy Griffifth. The rest of the album follows suit, making for a soft listening experience that's probably great to hear while drinking alone (that album cover though). The music is no doubt americana and folky, but there are some flairs of 80s reverbing production thrown in there at points; sort of like a British counterpart to Richard & Linda Thompson's Shoot Out The Lights in that regard. A lot of people won't like that, but I enjoy the easiness of the style, especially when it's mixed with some dope slide guitar. Prine is older so he sings with a bit of softer voice than he does on his first three albums from the early 1970s. He also minimizes his sarcastic wit and sense of humor for this album (not sure if that was common for his other 80s material too), so he doesn't put as much of a point on some of his lyrics as he once did. I don't have much of a problem with this because I prefer the melancholy John Prine songs (Far From Me, Sam Stone, Hello In There) to the humorous stuff, even though I appreciate both styles. If you're a fan of country-folk and need an alternate to Here Comes a Regular to listen to while staring at the bottom of a bottle of bourbon, then this is a good choice.


German Afternoons

January 28, 2017

Apoc Krysis - Volume 2 (2017)

Apoc Krysis debuted his first solo material late last year and has already become a dope sensation in Memphis hip hop revivalism. I've finally started to grow an appreciation for the phonk scene (my definition of phonk is dark, odd trap with heavy bass and plenty of references to 90s dirty south rap and g-funk), but even so I gravitate more towards the rawer shit as true to the 90s as it can be without flat out biting those artists--Apoc Krysis brings just that. He generally doesn't shy away from keeping his hi-hats and snares loud in the mix and I that's step one in achieving the old dirty atmosphere. I'm not sure if he did a real clean tape rip to get the throwback underground quality or not, but his distortion levels come through nice as fuck; especially on that whistle synth riding through the track with Frost and Holocaust. Those two featured rappers come real clean and have both shown huge improvements since the last time I've heard either of them. Mista Frvst always sounds fresh on muddy beats and Holocaust finds a sick rhythm to roll with for his verse. Apoc Krysis' kicks-n-bass roll real nasty whether he's on some Shawty Pimp-type bump or the heavy DJ Paul bass synth progressions; that's the bread and butter for making these kinds of tapes catchy and phonky and you best believe he delivers 100%. I would have loved to hear him let these individual mixes ride out longer. It seems he prefers that J Dilla - Donuts type of thing to keep the tape moving. Y'all know I'm all about that Niggaz Ain't Barrin That/Purple Thang kind of repition and that's the only reason I say that he should let them ride out a few minutes longer. I think these concise mixes can also benefit from some spamming of shorter, one to two word vocal chops as well just to keep it jumping a little harder, but that's my personaly preference. The bottom line is that Volume 2 is some raw and trill ass shit you go to at midnight when you're crossfaded as a motherfucker. He makes it obvious how talented he is with arranging, melodies, and effects and I'm hype to hear more of what he's got in the future.

Volume 2

January 27, 2017

Cocteau Twins - Heaven Or Las Vegas (1990)

I'll throw the 'magnum opus' tag on Heaven Or Las Vegas. It's not everybody's favorite, but it is Cocteau Twins' most up-front accumulation of all the sounds they explored in the 80s--perfected with quite the accessible stride. A parallel to The Cure's Disintegration in those regards. If you're any bit a fan of the 1980s pop aesthetic, then this music will have you drooling at the heavy and spacious layering of analog synths. It's all a perfect setup for Elizabeth Fraser's dreamy vocals. I had to look up these lyrics the first time I heard this because I was so convinced she was speaking in some shit like a niche ancient form of Welsh, but no--that's just a sort-of stylized voice with a Scottish accent. Still, to my American ears, this sounds like some beautiful long-lost romance lanuage instructed by God himself to be heaven's official language. Sometimes I wish that I could understand what she was saying so I could mumble along in the car, but the sacrifice is well worth the extra-smooth vocals. All of this combined with the best, most seamless vocal overdubbing in musical history makes for a lyrical opiate more potent than fentanyl. Thankfully, the album isn't just a long, aimless river of ethereal madness either; most tracks are ruddered by confident bass and drum programming/playing. The upbeat tracks in particular have a kind of groove that might make you draw connections to New Order or even Pet Shop Boys.

Heaven Or Las Vegas is very consistent, but the tracklist is undeniably dominated by the epic title track. This song always, without fail up to this point, induces goosebumps for me. Like, if I was ever doing a soundtrack for a film and there was a dramatic ending scene where the troubled main character tragically overdoses on heroin, I would use this song (I'm nearing the end of House M.D. right now and it better fade out with this song or else). Seriously, this song is the musical equivalent of cloning yourself a hundred times and turning into a angel fairy or some shit--with the ability to feel all of your clones' pleasures while they had sex with and shared simultaneous orgasms with a hundred Tinkerbells... ...all portrayed by Daisy Ridley. That's right mothafucka. If you haven't listened to Heaven Or Las Vegas, I hope that those overexaggerated descriptions of the title track don't ruin the song for you or draw you away from how consistent and impressive this whole album is. I'm not really big into dream pop in the first place, but Heaven Or Las Vegas is way up there in my theoretical rankings and far-and-away better than anything else I've heard from the genre.

January 26, 2017

Alan Shorter - Orgasm (1969)

Alan Shorter is the brother of legendary tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter. I first heard him years ago on the final track of The All Seeing Eye (composer credit and flugelhorn contribution). I never bothered checking out his Verve album at the time because there were dozens of jazz classics which caught my attention first and before long I forgot about this album. Orgasm follows in the same vein as The All Seeing Eye with its odd, primordial explorations--not really matching its title at all. This is hidden pretty deep in shelves of history, which is kind of surprising given Alan's sibling relationship to Wayne and the intriguing lineup choices of Gato Barbieri and Rashied Ali, two of the most iconic free jazz musicians from this era. Barbieri and Shorter's exchanges and melodies are super inspired by Ornette Coleman's compositions (Charlie Haden plays on the first and last track on here, by the way), so if you're a big fan of 60s Ornette, then there really isn't a reason for you not to check this out. Not the most amazing jazz album ever, but there is a lot to love about this earthy and brooding atmosphere. Maybe I would push this album up a little higher in my personal rankings if Gato's shrieking didn't detract so much from the ambience. It's a shame because he was very talented and had a great tone, but I just can't put up with that harsh noise on small group stuff like this (see my review for Dollar Brand - Confluence). I'm left a little disappointed knowing there is very limited Alan Shorter material--as he was a more than capable composer who could skillfully mix great textures with great timing and a good sense of musical space.