May 1999- Monthly Mixtape
Michaelangelo Matos is a freelance writer who contributes to the Minneapolis City Pages, the Chicago Reader, and the NY Press. This edition of the Tape will see us revert from the 100-minute format to the more widely-popular C-90. The reason for this? I can't find the fucking things anymore. Apparently Maxell & co. are now banking on the 110-minute format as their next "longer than 90-minutes" bonanza, and every store I go to that sells blank tape as more than a curiosity has tons of the things. They're paper-thin, they snap easily, they don't last, and they suck. Anyone wish to join me in a letter-writing campaign?
- Sebadoh: "Love is Stronger" (4:45) from The Sebadoh (Sub Pop '99). These guys recently broke their longtime bad-luck streak for Minneapolis shows, not by playing a fantastic 100-minute set, but by first opening for themselves. Donning long black curly wigs and black t-shirts and letting their roadie diddle on guitar, Guitar Mountain (as they dubbed themselves, complete with Sharpie-drawn "tattoo" on one forearm) put on the funniest rock show I've seen in some time. Sebadoh itself's new album continues the streak began with '94's Bakesale- good songs, good band, in fact as well as theory. This cut may be cut from the same cloth as every other one of Lou Barlow's "I'm nothing without you" moves, but it's still a damn effective formula--got a problem with that?
- Gal Costa: "Baby" (3:30) from Gal Costa (Polygram Brazil import '69) and
- Os Mutantes: "Baby" (3:39) from World Psychedelic Classics Vol. 1: Everything is Possible- the Best of Os Mutantes (Luaka Bop '99; originally recorded 1970). One of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard, in two wildly different (Portugese and English, string-swept and acoustic-picked, high-drama and coolly-crooned) versions.
- Huun-Huur-Tu: "Ezertep-Le Bereyin Be (Do You Want Me to Saddle You?)" (4:00) from Where Young Grass Grows (Shanachie '99). I don't think these Tuvan throat-singers are referring to their horses (though their first Shanachie album was called 60 Horses in My Herd, so who knows?), but either way you don't have to be an ethnomusicologist to dig their sound. For one thing, it's frisky- there's drone galore, sure, but it's undercut by a galloping beat and a weird, dry sense of humor: these guys seem to think it's absurd that anyone would actually want to hear this music they've been making on their own for god-knows-how-many years now, and there's a sense that they're trading goofy looks and inside jokes with each other as they're singing. What fun.
- Los Lobos: "Mas y Mas" (4:42) from Colossal Head (Warner Bros. '96). Who'd have figured these guys would age more gracefully than maybe any rock band ever? Think about it--while every other roots performer either hones their craft so finely that only adherents could give a shit or carry the torch so boringly that only adherents could give a shit, Lobos just get weirder every time out. No, I haven't heard the new one yet (it's out in July), but if this album and the two Latin Playboys albums are any indication, we're talking about a band who have just kept cresting as they pass forty. Who else beside Sonic Youth can you say that about?
- King Tubby: "Stealing Version" (2:49) from Dub Like Dirt 1975-1977 (Blood & Fire '99). Another good dub cut from another good dub album from Blood & Fire. This is a pattern so consistent it's almost boring- good thing B&F only put out 3-4 albums a year, otherwise we'd be ruined.
- DJ Spooky: "Soon Forward" (5:30) from Asphodelic (Asphodel '99; originally recorded 1996),
- Le Gooster: "How Many DJ's" (4:37) from The Shadow Masters: the Best of Shadow Trip-Hop (Shadow '99),
- Escape Mechanism: "Theme" (1:16) from Escape Mechanism (www.detritus.net/escmech '98),
- Moby: "Run On" (3:45) from Play (V2 '99), and
- Ian Pooley: "Disco Love" (6:57) from Electric Ladyland II (Force Inc./Mille Plateaux '96). The thing about trip-hop compilations is that they're usually only good for a couple good cuts each, if that. So imagine my excitement when I got The Shadow Master- here, finally, at last, was an album purporting to contain the best tracks from the extensive catalogue of a label that went back some, and that was patchy at best. The one album I'd ever need from that label- yes! And then imagine my disappointment when it turned out (you guessed it) to contain a couple good tracks and nothing more. What's more, its title was completely misleading: instead of being The Best of Shadow Trip-Hop, it was more like A Sampler of Shadow's Current Releases. Big fucking deal. So here's the one great cut; if you're after nine more tracks of filler, by all means, buy and enjoy. Otherwise avoid.
No such problem with Asphodel's recent semi-homonymously-titled label-sampler: though it runs out of gas toward the end, Asphodelic is a damn consistent album, highlighted by a DJ Spooky track I'd never heard before. Friend and fellow critic Keith Harris recently noted that it's becoming something of a joke- everyone's always surprised whenever Spooky actually does something good, and since he actually does a lot of good work, there shouldn't be any surprise. So fine- he's a good artist, and this is a great track.
Ditto Ian Pooley, at least from the handful of cuts I've heard of his. The whole Force Inc./Mille Plateaux family are fast becoming favorites of mine, in fact: even though the three volumes of the Electric Ladyland series that I've heard (2, 5 and 6) are inconsistent as hell, they're bursting with ideas, and the same goes for the other V/A F.I./M.P. comps I've heard as well. "Disco Love" is gorgeous stuff, watery-eyed and limpid and all manner of other Simon Reynolds-style adjectives.
The other two cuts aren't on comps, but they fit in fine anyway. Escape Mechanism is the pseudonym of Jonathan Nelson, a Minneapolitan whose self-released CD is an often-inspired cut-up party that at times reminds me of Endtroducing; you can judge for yourself by ordering it from his website (link above). And Moby- well, his new album is wonderful, and "Run On," a collision of acapella pre-war gospel and post-hiphop beats 'n' production, is my favorite thing on it.
Side Two (44:15):
- DJ Tonka: "Old Skool" (6:07) from Disco Subversion (Force Inc. '98). What's attractive about house and disco (and disco-house, of course) is that they're propulsive; my favorite tracks rock as intensely as, say, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and though the tracks' construction makes them ultimately less satisfying as home-listening fodder it doesn't mean you can't adjust yourself to it: just because there isn't a killer hook opening or closing it is no excuse for excluding yourself from the pleasures that await. This cut, from one of the smartest house producers of recent years, is a prime example: if you can resist the "Pumpin' bass keeps stooooomping!" soundbite repeated endlessly or the mindlessly simple synth riff underpinning the "You can feel it" reiteration, well, I don't think we can party together, my friend. More good stuff from Force Inc., too- though you don't want to play Disco Subversion all the time, there's certainly more than enough wonderful moments on it to warrant ownership for anyone interested in disco, house, or both.
- Deejay Punk-Roc: "My Beatbox (Les Rythmes Digitales 'As de Pique' Remix)" (6:30) from Paris is Sleeping, Respect is Burning Vol. 2 (Astralwerks '99). Stomps like a giant crushing a grape. And, god, who can resist a good vocoder hook?
- Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band: "Bongo Rock" (3:05) from Ultimate Breaks & Beats Vol. 3 (Streetbeat '86; originally recorded 1973),
- The Honeydrippers: "Impeach the President" (3:20) from Ultimate Breaks & Beats Vol. 11 (Streetbeat '88; originally recorded 1973),
- The Winstons: "Amen Brother" (2:35) from Ultimate Breaks & Beats Vol. 1 (Streetbeat '86; originally recorded 1969),
- Manu Dibango: "African Battle" (2:35) from Africafunk: the Original Sound of 1970's Funky Africa (Harmless import '98; originally recorded 1975),
- Zacks Nkosi: "Soso" (3:39) from Freedom Blues: South African Jazz Under Apartheid (Music Club '99; originally recorded 1975), and
- Harlem River Drive: "Idle Hands" (8:27) from Nu Yorica! Culture Clash in New York City: Experiments in Latin Music 1970-77 (Soul Jazz import '97). I admit it: good, obscure funk really whets my whistle. So a recent trip to Chicago yielded five of these treasures, thanks to a trip to Dusty Groove (check their catalogue at www.dustygroove.com for more). Sure, the store has way too much (half-) acid jazz and turtleneck coolout funk for anyone in their right mind to bother investigating; sure, I'm suspicious of collectorama for its own sake. But Africafunk is another story altogether: thirteen jaw-dropping pieces of evidence that James Brown really is the greatest musician of the 20th Century, and that his influence was felt everywhere. Nu Yorica isn't as amazing, but there's plenty of good stuff on it, topped by Harlem River Drive's "Idle Hands," a laid-back chunk of groove that sounds like prime Curtis Mayfield. (HRD was salsa legend Eddie Palmieri's Latin-funk project, and featured the great R&B drummer Bernard Purdie.) And I've long salivated over the prospect of owning my own Ultimate Breaks & Beats set; I now have four of the 25 volumes, and can't wait to get the rest. By the way, when the hell is Rhino going to follow-up their seminal Kurtis Blow Presents the History of Rap Vol. 1- not with Vols. 2 & 3 (they did that already, with old- and middle-school hiphop classics), but with the CD-ification of the Ultimate Breaks series we all want and need? For sure "Amen Brother" and "Impeach the President" deserve digital, and as for Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band--well, the day the original Bongo Rock album is finally reissued will be a grand and glorious one indeed, if its title track and "Apache" are any indication.
- "John Cage Musicircus" (7:57) from Resonance Volume 7 Number 1 (free CD with Resonance Vol. 7, no. 1; www.l-m-c.org.uk). Didn't like this comp of radio and government-funded performances at first: too arch, didn't sound good while I was cleaning my room. So a couple weeks after my initial listen, I tried again on headphones, and lo and behold--this stuff gets way better when you pay attention. This found-sound sculpture is atmospheric in the best possible way: rather than the chaotic, random mess you might expect, it's smartly constructed, and whets my appetite for more.
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