February 2000- Monthly Mixtape
Michaelangelo Matos is a music writer for Seattle Weekly and contributes to City Pages, Request, Chicago Reader, The Wire and Creative Loafing Atlanta.
This is actually an excerpt from my now-available publication, Greatest Hits: a Mixtape 'Zine, available via mail-order for $3 a copy or $12 for a one-year/four-issue subscription (distribution is currently pending). If you're interested (the first issue includesng selections from PSF's Jason
Gross, To Live and Shave in L.A.'s Tom Smith, Great Pop Things' Colin B. Morton, novelist Camden Joy and others), drop a line to GreatestHitsZine@hotmail.com for ordering details. .
Side A (46:24):
- Sonic Youth: "The Simpsons Theme" (:45), from Go Simpsonic with the Simpsons (Rhino). "Whee-whee, wah-wah WOOONG-WOOONG-WOOONG!! wah-ngeeewww-ngeeewww [KKKRRRREEE!! KKKKKKRRREEEEE!!]," etc....
- The Hang Ups: "The Queen" (2:41), from Second Story (Restless/Clean). The first time I confronted this group of Minneapolis ur-wusses (in the flesh, opening for Built to Spill) I was primed to hate them: I'm no tough guy myself, but something about their blithe, lithe sound and oh-OK-sure-that's-fine-whatever song titles made me extremely suspicious about giving them a shot at anything more than the half-hearings and furtive glances at CD covers I'd steadfastly confined them to. I'm sure you can guess what happened next: forced to watch them by a friend, my guard stayed up for about half a song before I stopped denying that they'd drilled their way directly into my pleasure center. I play Second Story a hell of a lot for an album that isn't a masterpiece, and this is my favorite song off it: the most generic, the sneakiest, and in the end, the most gratifying.
- Quasi: "The Skeleton" (1:40), from Field Studies (Up). Poor poor miserable he- are we supposed to feel sorry for Sam Coomes or identify with him? Not entirely sure, but anyone whose keyboard riffs are so consistently chewy deserves some kind of hug. Telling, though, that my favorite thing on the new record is also the shortest.
- Hou'z Neegroz: "How Do You Love a Black Woman" (6:51), from NYC Underground Mix: in the Mix with "Little Louie" Vega (Road-runner; originally released 1992). The title is one of the great, unanswerable pop (or, in this case, house) questions, and after about 347 reiterations of the title, complete with catchy organ ostinato and deep beats-n-bass, we get the answer, too: "Like this!"
- Pet Shop Boys: "New York City Boy" (5:15), from Nightlife (Sire). Once pop's most snittily repressed man, Neil Tennant has become one of its most ecstatic celebrants, and this might be his highest moment- that men's chorus! That filtered disco hornline on the bridge! The triumphant moment where gay, 45-year-old Brit Tennant shouts "That's the bomb!" If this doesn't become the city's official pride song starting immediately...
- Armand Van Helden featuring Duane Harden: "U Don't Know Me" (8:06), from 2 Future 4 U (Armed). ...then this lip-smacking, loud-and-proud (and just as out, though not as specifically so) anthem, one of three gigantic Van Helden smashes from '99 (the just-as-good others are "Flowerz" and "The Boogie Monster") will do just fine.
- Innerzone Orchestra: "Bug in the Bass Bin" (5:32), from Programmed (Planet E/ Astralwerks). Though the album wasn't quite the techno-jazz summit meeting you might have hoped for, its best moments came close enough to hold out some glimmering hope, and certainly Craig's calling in of actual (i.e. actually good) jazz players like Francisco Mora, Craig Taborn and Rodney Whitaker to play with rather than lounge saxists to program beats under is a refreshingly clear-headed step in the right direct-ion. This track, a remake of Craig's excellent (though slightly overrated) 1992 single (where he debuted the Innerzone name, if not the concept Programmed brings to semi-fruition), ends the album and is the best thing on it: a dynamite, no-holds-barred headfirst dive into choppy, exhilarating terrain that doesn't quite have a name yet.
- Gender Wayang Pamarwan: "Langiang" (2:31), from Between Heaven & Earth: Traditional Gamelan Music of Bali (Music Club), and
- Macha: "The Nipplegong" (6:03), from See It Another Way (Jetset). Odd, and rather inappropriate, that the best thing on Music Club's nicely enlightening gamelan comp is the shortest-maybe because it's the prettiest, or the most pop (well, that's probably just me). Anyway, it's a nice setup to the Athens group, who've been getting mucho press for their lap-yourself-upside-the-head-for-not-thinking-of-it-first hybrid. Get a storming brew of gamelan going, and then play rock on top of it; simple, no? So right, it's completely obvious and not unheard of to layer guitar-bass-drums over weird rhythmic pulses (if Macha had a singer who actually enunciated I'd love to hear 'em try their hand at "Baba O'Riley"), but like Moby's deep-south appropriations, it's smart and heartfelt enough to come across as more than just a gimmick. Interesting that some of this track's weird screeeees, courtesy of the Javanese instruments utilized, remind me of mid '80's Sonic Youth.
- Cinematic Orchestra: "Durian (Vocal)" (7:00), from Motion (Ninja Tune). J. Swinscoe may not be Teo Macero yet- for one thing, he lacks a genius figure, a Miles, to really go to town with. But he's heading in the right direction: most of the stuff on his debut CD, including the attention-grabbing opening cut included here, succeeds due to how Swinscoe messes with his source material as much as the material itself, which is soundtrack-jazzy without slipping into schlock before moving into (and, I'll admit, dipping some with) blaxploitation funk. I love the way the bass and drums of the first part are looped-that cymbal cut off just as it's sizzling out altogether, the lurching motion of the thing. Not quite on a par with anything off Endtroducing..., but that should give you the idea.
Side B (45:13):
- Michael Watford: "Reach on Up" (5:35), from Speed Garage Anthems 99 (Global Tele-vision UK). This is what the British call bog-simple: three piano notes descend and then, once the vocals come in, say fuck it and skip the second, from "Dah-dun-dun" to "Dah...dun." Meantime there's this looped guitar strum that forms a wall of noise you barely even notice and weird, wigged-out strings in there too, but most of all there's one of those gospel-derived black male vocals whose entire purpose in this context is to make you scream as loudly and with as much joy as the vocalist. Truncated but killer melody, particularly when Watford lays back on the lines "Keep on rippin'!" and "Comin' to getcha!" before coming back full-throat and politely tearing your fucking head off. Tuff Jam, who are threatening to turn into the new Masters at Work, produced.
- Handsome Boy Modeling School: "Look at This Face (Oh My God They're Gorgeous)" (1:59), from So...How's Your Girl? (Tommy Boy). Dunno that this album is any kind of masterpiece, even a minor one (can you say "unnecessary guest stars"?), though for sure it's highly enjoyable. No way anyone would call it anything but the goof it is had it not been for Prince Paul's real, actual, major album earlier this year. But nobody in hip-hop goofs like Paul, including HBMS partner Dan Takemura (every-body else who thinks Dr. Octagon is massively overrated lemme hear ya say "Ho! Ho!"), but given both of their declared fandom for naming Chris Elliott's all-time paragon of brilliant stupidity, Get a Life, from whence this sprang, their favorite sitcom of all time, I'll sample anything they wanna serve up.
- Franco & O.K. Jazz: "Motindo Na Yo Te" (3:08), from Originalite (RetroAfric; originally released 1956) and
- E.T. Mensah: "Nkebo Baaya" (2:32), from All for You (RetroAfric '98; originally released 1952). Frisky and smart-stepping, the Franco comes from The Sun Sessions of Afropop, 20 wonderful tracks that profoundly changed the face of popular music without seeming to strain a muscle. Mensah wasn't quite as major a figure, but he came close enough, and his breezier music may be easier to approach for Western ears: tunes that absorb in on first listen, straighter rhythms, arrangements that hew closer to '30s and '40s dance band music.
- Muddy Face: "Mukima Wangu" (3:04), from Zimbabwe Frontline Volume 3: Roots Rock Guitar Party (Stern's/Earthworks). Approached leisurely, the percolating rhythms and sturdy tunes of the dozen gems on this comp saunter gracefully into focus; listen hard, and their dizzyingly melodic latticework guitars reveal a sweet, hard bite. This one is the oldest, and probably the choppiest, and definitely the giddiest, and more than any of the others it made me jump up to check the label.
- Brenda Fassie: "Vuli Ndlela" (4:21), from South African Rhythm Riot: the Indestructible Beat of Soweto Vol. 6 (Stern's/Earthworks). Usually Afro-gone-electro smells suspicious-tepid at best, often worse than that. So this definitive meld of township and Jamaican "pepper-seed" rhythms, indestructible melody/vocal and cute little synth effects, is some kind of miracle. No wonder Fassie is the biggest female singer in South Africa: old meets new, and gets the funk dooowwwn.
- David Byrne + Caetano Veloso: "Dream-world: Marco de Canaveses" (5:05), from Ondo Sonora: Red Hot + Lisbon (Red Hot Organization/Bar None). Personally, I wanna hear these guys doing "The Girl is Mine," and Veloso is a big enough Michael Jackson fan for me to hold out hopes of it actually happening: "Caetano, she told me I was her forever lover, don't you remember?" "Well after loving me she said she could never love another," etc. But this'll do for now.
- Arto Lindsay: "The Prize" (3:58), from Prize (Righteous Babe). "When did I empty/My empty mind?/Did you see me let go of myself? ...Bite marks and scratches/Elbows and knees/In our dollhouse the furniture's capsized." No, nothing sings the language of love quite like a Zen koan, does it? Arto doesn't look like he's about to quit making these great bent Bossa records anytime soon, either-good old skronk guitar, fetching string arrangements, nice thick rhythm track, singing better than ever.
- Luna: "Sweet Child o' Mine" (4:09), from The Days of Our Nights (Jericho/Sire). Growing up in a suburban apartment and watching late-night television (as well as making weekend forays into the city to spend nights at my great-grandaunts' house) made me an eternal sucker for the kind of urban afterhours languor this band's sound just about epitomizes. So of course I love the shit out of 'em. And I'll direct skeptics to this, their already-legendary Guns n' Roses cover. You'll gasp. You'll double-take. You'll sing along in perfect time within the first three lines (because you'll have figured out exactly how the rest of it sounds by then). And if you have ears at all you'll be forced to agree with me that when he's really on, Dean Wareham is the sexiest male singer in rock.
- Handsome Boy Modeling School: "Modeling Sucks" (1:02), from So...How's Your Girl? (Tommy Boy ). "I'm a model...not a prostitute!" Over Beethoven's fifth and a beat. Right, right- this is genius.
- Cut Chemist and Miles: "S.N.T. (Live at Peacepipe)" (5:14), from The Funky Precedent (Loosegroove/No Mayo '99). Who knows why, but the sonic constructions of Lucas McFadden, a.k.a. Cut Chemist, have more shape than almost any of his peers. My guess is some combination of many hours listening to the Double Dee & Steinski tracks he's provided sequels to-"Les-son 4: the Radio," off Return of the DJ, or the immortal "Lesson 6: the Lecture," from both the Jurassic 5 EP and Deep Concentration- and his involvement with a pair of semi-"traditional" bands, Ozomatli and Jurassic 5. However he acquired it, this most recent jam, a collaboration with cellist/guitarist/bassist Miles Tackett, shows no signs that he's losing his knack for memorably screwy, uncluttered funk.
- Blackstreet featuring Dr. Dre: "No Diggity" (5:06), from MTV: the First 1000 Years-R&B (Rhino; originally released 1996). Still thrilling after all these years, still the highlight of whatever mixtape or radio show it appears on, still the best thing either Teddy Riley or Dr. Dre ever put their name on, still the best R&B single of the decade, still one of the best reasons to keep believing that while mainstream pop may not have all the answers, sometimes it's got all of them that matter.
(All tracks/albums from 1999 unless otherwise noted)
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