August 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.
- The Flaming Lips: "Race for the Prize" (4:09) from The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros.). Unidentifiable keyboard object heads for planet with undeniable hook. Wordless hook, I might add. The words themselves, meantime, are cushioned in some of the most beautiful production I've heard in ages. Speaking of the ages, the refrain ("They're just humans/With wives and children") is so plainly humane it's one for them. Pop album of the year?
- Mahmoud Ahmed: "Kulun Monkwalesh" (5:57) from Ethiopiqes 6 (Buda Musique/Allegro). Snakelike--cobraesque, even--this features a slinky-as-hell flute and saxophone figure that slither around a iris-lens wah-wah guitar chop and a nasty little bass part. Ahmed croons, too: love it when he breaks into chant, sounding sweetly possessed.
- Caetano Veloso: "Ambiente de Festival (E Proibido Proibir)" (4:43) from Singles (Polygram Japan import). There's a riot goin' on: as Os Mutantes back him up, Brazil's songpoet laureate launches fireballs against a screaming-for-their-refunds audience and incites a short-lived cultural revolution. Riveting.
- Mongo Santamaria: "Cold Sweat" (7:57) from Skin on Skin: the Mongo Santamaria Anthology (Rhino).
- Byron Lee: "Hot Reggae" (2:54) from 200% Dynamite!! (Soul Jazz import).
- Harry J Allstars: "Don't Let Me Down" (3:35) and
- Augustus Pablo: "East of the River Nile" (5:27) both from Trojan Instrumentals Box Set (Trojan 3-CD box). James Brown is the most uncoverable artist in the Western hemisphere, but damned if Mongo's conga-heavy (dig that break!), sax-voiced remake and Byron's flute-led excursion don't stand up by their bad selves. Of course, the Beatles always did make easier cover material; what's amazing is that the Harry J Allstars' wild, rocking organ-led instrumental of "Don't Let Me Down" is nearly as good as the original, which was the Fabs' finest late moment. (Snicker of the month: the "Songwriter Unknown" credit for the latter. Oh those funny Jamaicans and their nonexistent copyright laws.) Meanwhile, on the same set, we just can't ignore the original rocker by the Original Rocker, dead this March from muscular degnerative disease. R.I.P.
- Luna: "Neon Lights" (5:09) from Superfreaky Memories (Beggars Banquet import). This always-meant-to-be-import-only lead single--which seems slight then sly, nondescript then indelible, in classic Luna fashion--features a killer cover of its own: Kraftwerk's "Neon Lights," as played by a bunch of cockeyed-romantic honeyed-guitarmongers--I mean, who else would even dream of doing it? Underworld?
Note from John Howard: Actually, Love Tractor did a version of this in the early 80's in thier album "Til the Cows Come Home". Probably is not too different from the Luna version. Very wistful.. Too bad I think Luna is boring, I love that song.
- Silverkick: "Voyle" (4:07) from 7-inch (Slut Smalls import). Nutty (in both the sanity and Monk senses) little piano-and-breakbeat excursion underpinned by tinkling noises and a subsumed beat that gets better everytime I hear it.
- Herbie Hancock: "Bring Down the Birds" (1:44) from Blue Breakbeats 4 (Capitol/Blue Note). Cute little side-ender that Deee-Lite swiped for "Groove is in the Heart." Hey, I had two minutes of tape to kill, OK?
- Basement Jaxx: "Red Alert (Steve Gurley Mix)" (5:33) from 12-inch (Astralwerks). Forget house--2-step garage is heading into some seriously strange breakbeat territory, and I'll argue that it's the better for it. This remix of what will probably be the single of the year (it's getting pop airplay, for chrissake!) divvies off chunks of rhythm into neat, squared sections and then lays 'em end to end like bathroom tile, with occasional bass drops acting as the odd insect or ounce-too-much concrete on an otherwise pristine (and disconcertingly odd) surface. Vocal sounds more throaty and breathy and tangibly human than on the original, too, oddly enough.
- Taana Gardner: "Heartbeat" (9:56) from Larry Levan's Classic West End Records Remixes Made Famous at the Legendary Paradise Garage (West End). Discoslowdown: Killer, bareknuckle R&B that grooves, grooves, grooves. But you all know that, right?
- Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock: "It Takes Two" (5:00) from Millennium Hip-Hop Party (Rhino). Eleven years later, it still sounds like the freshest thing since fat laces.
- Tim Dog: "Fuck Compton" (4:16) from Ruffhouse Records Greatest Hits (Ruffhouse/Columbia). Hilarious, but even better, it's the source of the best hip-hop story I've ever heard. To wit: My friend John Smith, a DJ who spins Tuesday nights at a bar called Grumpy's in Minneapolis, has a friend named Dave, who is, as John's and my friend Tigger put it, "One of those white guys who knows way too much about hip-hop." One day Dave reported to John, Tigger and a few others that he'd heard, on a mixtape, a followup to "Fuck Compton" dissing Snoop Doggy Dogg--entitled "Bitch with a Perm"--that had been released only as a 12-inch in France. Naturally, nobody believed him. A few months pass by and Dave moves to D.C. One day John picks up his mail, and there's a tape for him, from Dave, with the song on it. The title of the tape: "John Smith with a Perm." (Unfortunately, I still haven't heard it.)
- Gil Scott-Heron: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (3:07) from The Breaks II (Harmless import). "Hairy-armed women's liberationists" aside, this still has all the bite it originally came with--too bad Scott-Heron's so out of it these days he shows up four hours late to concerts that he mumbles his way through.
- The Chemical Brothers: "Out of Control" (7:19) from Surrender (Astralwerks). Bernard Sumner's greatest moment since "Temptation"--no, really.
- The Flaming Lips: "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate" (5:17) from The Soft Bulletin
- Tom Waits: "Come on Up to the House" (4:36) from Mule Variations (Epitaph). These two belong together: a warning that "Love... is just too valuable/Oh to feel for even a second without it," couched in more of that to-die-for sonic bliss, and maybe the most affecting lyric our broken-voiced ex-sozzler ever wrote, alternating hideous desolation with a warm encouragement to walk in and take a load off.
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