July 1999- Monthly Mixtape
Michaelangelo Matos is a freelance writer who contributes to the Minneapolis City Pages, the Chicago Reader, the Wire and the NY Press.
- Dionne Warwick: "Walk on By" (2:50), from Dionne Warwick Sings the Bacharach & David Songbook (Music Club import '94). The most quietly devastating record ever made--anything made by any proto-Britpop band just doesn't compare. When the piano comes in on "I break down & cry," the effect is something like what most rock bands aim to achieve when they blast the distortion on the chorus, and about twice as powerful as what most of them actually get. I haven't been able to get this song out of my head for about a month, and I don't want to.
- Ike & Tina Turner: "River Deep Mountain High" (3:35), from Phil Spector: Back to Mono (ABKCO 4-CD box '91). This may very well be the most flawed great record ever made. I mean, what the hell could Spector have been thinking giving Tina Turner that lyric? Rag dolls? Puppy dogs? Jesus Christ, how could Tina have kept a straight face through that tripe, much less given the best performance or her or damn near anyone's career? I mean, when it moves from the bridge to the chorus and she just flips the fuck out and then regains her composure it's like watching Jesus turn water into wine or something. The whole thing is, if you think about it.
- The Heartists: "Belo Horizonti" (6:28), from Atlantic Jaxx Recordings: a Compilation (Atlantic Jaxx import '98). Even though Remedy is one of the most hotly anticipated dance albums of the year, and even though it is pretty decent, I prefer Basement Jaxx's compilation from last year, which features twelve excellent-to-killer singles, the best of which is this horny Latin-house extravaganza. Which then dovetails into weird cyber-dub netherworlds, losing some but not quite all of the beat. Scrumptious.
- Fela Anikulapo Kuti & the Africa 70: "Gentleman" (14:52), from Confusion/Gentleman (Barclay/Talkin' Loud import '99). Do yourself a favor: go to the Dusty Groove America site (www.dustygroove.com) and order every single one of French Barclay's ten twofer Fela CDs. Flawed, rambling, endless (songs average between 15 and 20 minutes apiece), these (often short) albums are what groove power is all about. And Fela may not have laid down a finer groove than this, the title track of his 1973 album Gentleman (coupled on disc with '72's Confusion). This song is as close to prime James Brown as Fela got: after the obligatory sax intro, complete with missed notes galore, we enter funk heaven, a track as sharp as, say, "Talkin' Loud & Sayin' Nothing" or "Get on the Good Foot" or "Licking Stick-Licking Stick," complete with tangy, biting horn charts and sinuous trap drumming. The vocals come in at about eight minutes--not that you'd know if you weren't watching the timer--and it's call-and-response every bit as funky and stirring as any in recorded memory. A motherfucker, now as then.
- Banbara: "Shack Up" (6:36), from Blue Breakbeats Vol. 4 (Blue Note/Capitol '99). My recently-acquired obsession with breakbeat compilations (I recently purchased the entire Ultimate Breaks & Beats series, more of which next column) has included finally splurging on all four volumes of Blue Breakbeats, and my worst suspicions have been confirmed: these simply aren't very good albums, of interest mainly to record geeks like me who collect this stuff anyway. Maybe the worst of the series thus far, Vol. 4 features approximately five really good songs, out of 14. This is the best, a two-part (separated with space within the CD track--thanks) early '70s funk cut with nasty, honking bass, crosscut guitar and one of those raw, phlegmy post-blues vocals that dominated the genre before George Clinton made it first OK and then de rigeur for funk singers to sound like cartoons.
- Bossanova: "Rare Brazil" (7:06), from Teenbeat '99 (Teenbeat '99). The best Joy Division song in years, only sprightlier, maybe more incandescent. Bossanova hail from Vancouver and haven't made a full-length yet--an OK self-titled EP is available from 5055 Maple Street, Vancouver, BC, V6M 4J8, Canada, but nothing on it comes anywhere near this cut. A deep punk-disco groove anchors hovering Moogs, rhythm guitar and extraordinarily felt, can't-really-sing-doesn't-really-matter vocals. My favorite track of 1999 so far.
- Pavement: "...and Carrot Rope" (3:52), from Terror Twilight (Matador '99). What a disappointment--where Brighten the Corners was evidence that you slow down as you mature, Terror Twilight just sounds like a lazy crawl. (And if Nigel Godrich gets anymore overrated he's going to turn into the Doors--which, now that I think about it, is what all his productions end up sounding like. Hmmm...) Still, there's salvageable stuff here--it's Pavement, that's what they do--and this final track is the funniest thing they've recorded since the classic one-two punch of "Give It a Day" and "Gangsters & Pranksters" on '96's Pacific Trim EP.
- Tom Waits: "Big in Japan" (4:05), from Mule Variations (Epitaph '99). His best album ever--the bullshit's still in evidence, but so what when the tunes and singing are so humane, so utterly beautiful? And Waits has never been funnier--after six years away he's decided (mostly) to just shoot straight, as with this, a self-deprecating joke about the big time he's never really wanted all that much and, now that he's a certified Legend, is his for the taking. Plus: best junkyard-funk arrangement since the heyday of Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids.
- The Isley Brothers: "Get Into Something" (7:29), from It's Your Thing: the Isley Brothers Story (Epic Legacy 3-CD box '99). I suppose this is generic, but 29 years after it was recorded, it stands up as everything good about its genre, particularly given that it was made at a time when funk was expected not just to get down on the one but to rock while doing it. I also really like the way they give the drummer some.
- Luna: "Dear Diary" (4:07), from The Days of Our Nights (Beggars Banquet import '99). Could somebody please explain to me how the fuck major labels think? OK, here's this band--Luna, four-piece, formed '91, Dean from Galaxie Justin from Chills Stanley from Feelies then later another guitarist then Stan leaves and they get Lee--signed to Elektra. Do four albums, the worst (Bewitched) really good and the best (Penthouse) my most-played album of the '90s. Do a fifth. Elektra pays for studio time, cover design, mastering, prints up promos, sends 'em out to the press, and then drops the fucking band a month before the album comes out. Album delayed indefinitely; comes out in England instead, forcing diehards to go out and buy the import. Which has 12 more really great Luna songs as only Luna can do 'em, natch. This opener rocks in their cocked-eyebrow way and has an irresistible-after-two-listens chorus, and no they'll never be huge, but damn it makes no sense at all that it's not available here. Rykodisc, can you please put in a bid?
- Dr. John: "Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya-Ya" (5:38), from Mos' Scocious: the Dr. John Anthology (Rhino '93). No, I don't blame anyone who distrusts atmosphere, but fuck it--if I wanna hear smoke and fog, I might as well go to a hoodoo man, right?
- King Tubby: "King Tubby's Conversation Dub" (3:10), from Trojan Dub Box Set (Trojan 3-CD box import '98). More good dub from King Tubby. Wow, what a surprise.
- Caetano Veloso: "Soy Loco Por Ti, America" (3:40), from Personalidade (Verve '87). He sounds so irresistibly happy here, so bursting with joy and kind of smartassed. I don't know what he's singing (except "America") but whatever it is it's probably some kind of trenchant yet wry political commentary. What a cool-ass motherfucker.
- Stereolab: "Motoroller Scalatron" (3:44), from Emperor Tomato Ketchup (Elektra '96). This is the most overrated band in the world. I mean, their formula isn't really all that compelling except theoretically, and while I remain open to the fact that they're probably just as good as everybody says they are live, I remain a skeptic. Still, they do have their moments; this is the best one, a sideways-mechanical Velvets organ riff that never stops giving. There's words, too, but who fucking cares?
- We: "12 Diablos" (6:38), from Square Root of Negative One (Asphodel '99), and
- Mu-ziq: "Scaling" (4:14), from Royal Astronomy (Astralwerks '99). For the most part, most home-listening electronica leaves me cold--if I want squiggles 'n' squints I'll usually put something on that's got some beats to it just to keep me centered. Plus so much of it's a bad joke gone hawire--"We're too cool to dance or even want to," that kind of bullshit. So it's always a relief to encounter folks who make seriously good music in that vein without being completely pretentious assholes about it. We's second album isn't quite as wonderful as their first, 1997's As Is, but it's a grower that's building into one of my favorites of the year. Something similar to be said for Mu-Ziq's new one, which is due at the end of July. Exploring the baroque with more real flair than almost anyone out there, the first cut is one of the most purely beautiful--and challenging, and smart--tracks to come out of the IDM ghetto. It sounds like classical music. And who knows, it might even *be* classical music.
- Link Wray & His Ray-Men: "Rumble" (2:25), from Loud, Fast & Out of Control: the Wild Sounds of '50s Rock (Rhino 4-CD box '99). What a great fucking box--perfectly programmed, smartly put together, the whole nine. But the only thing that could have worked on this tape is Wray's ultimate classic, which is still the most menacing instrumental I've ever encountered. "Strum, strum, STRUM!" he does, and if you don't watch out it'll knock you cold.
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