July 1998- Monthly Mixtape
Michaelangelo Matos is a freelance writer who contributes to the Minneapolis City Pages, the Chicago Reader, and the NY Press. Every month he will dig through his stacks--recent acquisitions, new albums, old favorites--compile a 100-minute tape, and delineate the contents for Perfect Sound Forever.
- Neutral Milk Hotel: "The King of Carrot Flowers Parts 1, 2 & 3" (5:06) from In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (Merge, '98). Jeff Magnum sounds like heís on a rocking chair on the front porch of a large country house, screaming to the world. First he (literally) discovers sexual pleasure, in the middle of a Roald Dahl childhood scenario; then he discovers something even more liberating, which turns out to be religion. When his big, battering, lone acoustic guitar is joined by harmonium as he discovers his own capacity for love, itís enough to break your heart. I donít know how well In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is selling, but itís getting around: this is one of those albums that people tell their friends about, the kind that people bond over. Itís exquisitely personal, but it never quits reaching out- even at his most despairing, Magnum shouts until he can speak, and whenever I hear him doing so I like to think that the world is listening back.
- The Apples in Stereo: "Silver Chain" (4:01) from Tone Soul Evolution (Sire, '97). Neutral Milk Hotelís poppier brother-band in the Elephant 6 collective, the Apples are arch, cutesy, self-referential; theyíre as overly dependent on the 4B influences (Beatles, Byrds, Beach Boys, Big Star) as most of the look-ma-I-wrote-a-bridge crap that too many former/current college-radio dorks think of as Advanced Songwriting. So I resisted hard and fell face-first, weak-kneed and trembling, smiling like an idiot and feeling lighter than air, when I heard the fifth song off the album I hazarded. The words are so indecipherable the band themselves (supposedly) couldnít make them out for the lyric sheet, but itís irrelevant, because these guys/gals/college-radio dorks have achieved heart-stoppingly geeky, indie, collegiate beauty. And when those horns honk in along with the crunching guitars on the choruses, you have all the evidence you need that Brian Wilson lives.
- The Byrds: "Eight Miles High (alternate take)" (3:19) from Fifth Dimension (Columbia/Legacy, '65). If the single version is the takeoff, this original take is midflight, so high up whatever fears you had about the journey have dissipated and youíre just marveling how puny everything looks from above. Its guitars are less crystalline, more surging and rocket-fueled, a bit edgier. And it fits in the middle of a mini-set of recent psych-oriented/influenced rock like a tab under a tongue.
- Cornershop: "7:20 AM Jullandar Shere" (9:46) from Womanís Gotta Have It (Luaka Bop, '95). Calling up John Lennonís vocal on "Tomorrow Never Knows"- that laid-back power, that I-could-chop-down-a-mountain-with-my-larynx-if-I-could-be-bothered swagger that Oasis have never gotten close to- Tjinder Singhís finest moment is this towering slab of hypno-rock. Even more than "Brimful of Ashaís" buoyant Loaded bounce, this is the reason these guys are the best Velvet Underground descendant in years.
- Marlui Maranda with Uakti: "Tchori Tchori" (3:28) from The Rough Guide to Brazilian Music (World Music Network, '98). The weird, effective concept here is that a Brazilian vocalist/musicologist hires a percussion ensemble and distills Steve Reichís hour-long Music for 18 Musicians into three and a half gorgeously rippling minutes. She adds words, too, and creates the most entrancing record Iíve heard so far this year.
- Tricky: "Broken Homes" (3:34) from Angels with Dirty Faces (Island, '98). Edgy and sumptuous- a wonderful radio song.
- Salamat: "Mambo el Soudani" (4:04) from The Rough Guide to the Music of North Africa (World Music Network, '97). Because you ainít heard shit until youíve heard mambo from Egypt.
- Dave Barker & the Upsetters: "Shocks of Mighty" (2:46) from Lee Perry & the Upsetters: Some of the Best (Heartbeat, '88). The current Scratch revival is certainly welcome, but I wonder when someoneís gonna get around to resurrecting Barker, who possessed the most earth-rattling scream Iíve heard from Jamaica. This version of his sweet-voiced "Set Me Free" has him tearing his throat like a saner James Brown- only he doesnít really sound sane, which makes him suspicious.
- Stevie Wonder: "Boogie on Reggae Woman" (4:55) from Fulfillingnessí First Finale (Tamla, '74). The slipperiest of the great funk stars, Wonderís music slurs more than that of anyone else Iíve heard- even P-Funk at its most out was more tightly focused than this. Which lest we forget was, from the ground up, tightly controlled by one guy and his overdubbing machines. Strange to realize such organically weird music was so popular back then- the early '70's must have been a really strange time. Here his eccentric syncopations are joined by a vocal that sounds like it was recorded shortly after a visit to the dentist, when the novocaine hadnít quite worn off yet.
- James Brown: "Bodyheat" (9:20) from Dead on the Heavy Funk 1975-83 (Polydor Chronicles, '98). Long overlooked, and of his greatest: the hi-hat bobs like a ball on a fishhook as the clavinet traces the skeletal melody line and the band stops on a motherfucking dime.
- Michael Vinerís Incredible Bongo Band: "Apache" (4:51) from Kurtis Blow Presents the History of Rap Vol. 1 (Rhino, '97). A breathtakingly audacious roller-coaster or a record. My friend Jon Dolan says that within James Brownís "Funky Drummer" is contained the history of R&B, but my vote for that substantial claim goes to this wild-ass groove, which also covers Afro-Cuban jazz, and has been sampled left, right and center by every hip-hop DJ who can lay hands on it. The number of records that have either the level or the quality of life this one does are few and far between; Iíd kill to have been in the room when it was recorded (in Jamaica, apparently). I could write a fucking book about this song; right now, itís my single favorite track of all time.
- Booker T. & the M.G.ís: "Time is Tight" (3:40) from Beg, Scream & Shout: the Big Olí Box of Ď60s Soul (Rhino, '97). If "Apache" is an all-encompassing forest fire, "Time is Tight" is the match to the middle of the map at the beginning of Bonanza in slow motion: burning ever outward in a tight, perfect circle.
- Elvis Costello & the Attractions: "Temptation" (2:32) from Get Happy!! (Columbia/Rykodisc, '80). A blatant "Time is Tight" ripoff, and good-better than good, great, because it contains some of the most heartfelt singing Costello ever delivered, and some of the best of his fabulous backing bandís surprisingly grooveful interaction.
- New Order: "Temptation" (6:59) from Substance (Qwest, '87). Two songs, one title (part one). Indirectly, this led to...
- Rhythim is Rhythim: "Strings of Life" (6:55) from Derrick May: Innovator (Transmat, '97). Like "Apache," listening to this even now is like being present at the moment of conception: extremely exciting, with the promise that it could lead to anything.
- Jeff Mills: "The Bells" (4:40) from Purpose Maker (Axis/Purpose Maker/Watts, '98). More directly, what "Strings of Life" led to, or at least a specific tentacle of it. Mills came up shortly after May, and given a couple years his legend will stand equally tall. His legendary DJ sets are what heís best known for, and deservedly- heís the best live DJ Iíve ever witnessed, and his Live at the Liquid Room, a React import, is one of the most incendiary CDs Iíve heard this decade. While his Axis compilation The Other Day is often-intriguing soul balm, Mills is at his best when his shit kicks your ass into gear, and this track from a new, domestically available compilation will do just that.
- The Originals: "The Bells" (3:07) from Soul Hits of the 70s: Didnít It Blow Your Mind! Vol. 2 (Rhino, '91). Two songs, one title (part two). Marvin Gaye wrote and produced this sublime slice of wedding cake in 1970, somewhere between Tammi Terrell collapsing in his arms onstage and his stepping out of the assembly-line and forth with Whatís Going On. The arrangement is half '60's Motown, half hints of what was to come, so for the Gaye fan I suppose this is useful as documentary value. But thatís not why itís on here. Itís on here because itís heart-stopping- particularly the drumming, which is loose-limbed and skin-tight.
- Victoria Kings: "V.B. Pod Wamol" (4:55) from The Rough Guide to the Music of Kenya & Tanzania (World Music Network, '96). Kenya seems to have more consistently good music coming out of it than any other African country, if the handful of compilations Iíve heard are anything to judge by (probably not). This call-and-response delight might be the best thing Iíve heard from the continent since Daniel Kamauís ridiculously great "Mumbi Ni Wakwa" was anthologized on Guitar Paradise of East Africa on Earthworks in 1991.
- Aceyalone: "The Guidelines" (4:47) from A Book of Human Knowledge (Project Blowed, '98). Three years ago, this fabulous MC released an album called All Balls Donít Bounce that made a handful of criticsí top-ten lists and vanished from the racks, all but unnoticed. For the hip-hop underground, his newest (on his own bedroom indie) is something to believe in, and for us interested bystanders, it serves a similar function. For one thing, he can fucking rap-dizzying internal rhymes, griot-like multiple narrative, memorable lines and refrains galore ("You can play the sidelines/write rhymes in your spare time"), breath control like Sinatra or Coltrane. The album is a bit uneven, but at its highest Aceyís rhymes and Mumblesís immaculate production provide more pleasure than, for example, that fucking Bulworth song that rips off Kenny & Dolly (which is the worst thing Iíve heard all year).
- Hawd Gankstuh Rappuh Emsees wid Ghatz: "Am Goin tí Jail" (7:15) from Subterranean Hitz Vol. One (Wordsound, '96). Pure and simple, the best hip hop parody ever made- nothing comes close. You have to hear it to believe it- two gravel-voiced rappuhz and a slow-and-low talker assault the listener with the most outrageous set of threats ever assembled. My favorite among many: "Just like an Indian thatís doing a rain dance/I jump up & down on your head/And do a brain dance."
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