Sunday, 21 December 2003

The best albums of 2003

25. Evan Dando – Baby I'm Bored
The kind of shambling confessional that only Evan Dando could come up with.

Best track – Waking Up

24. Adam Green – Friends Of Mine
On first listen silly and goofy, Green's first 100 per cent studio album is actually much cleverer than you'd think. That he manages to mesh ballads with rockabilly and songs about Jessica Simpson just demonstrates his offbeat genius.

Best track - Bluebirds

23. Grandaddy – Sumday
As a snapshot of modern existence it falls short only of their 2000 masterpiece The Sophtware Slump.

Best track – I'm On Standby

22. Peaches - Fatherfucker
Filthy, low-budget fun that's actually as profound as it is profane.

Best track – Kick It

21. Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts Of The Great Highway
Mark Kozelek takes everything that was great about the Red House Painters and turns it up a notch or two. Moving, graceful and flat-out beautiful.

Best track – Carry Me Ohio

20. Mars Volta – De-Loused In The Comatorium
A brain-achingly ambitious, sprawling and audacious statement. Mesmerising, complex and cryptic, it raises the bar for any modern rockers wanting to try their hand at prog.

Best track - Televators

19. Radiohead – Hail To The Thief
Someway, somehow Radiohead have made five truly great albums in a row. Hail To The Thief is their darkest, most frenetic long-player yet but it gives little indication of where they're heading next.

Best track – There There

18. The Strokes – Room On Fire
At 32-minutes, Room On Fire is a blisteringly quick collection of precision perfect tunes that's just as sleek and sexy as their debut.

Best track - Reptilia

17. Outkast – Speakerboxxx / A Love Below
Okay, so it loses the incredible vocal chemistry between Andre 3000 and Big Boi, but that's no price to pay for hearing two of hip hop's most intrepid and imaginative sonic explorers wow us with their totally undiluted visions.

Best tracks – Ghetto Musick / Hey Ya!

16. Patrick Wolf – Lycanthropy
This scrawny, skinny and unfathomably posh teenager who's as accomplished with accordions, lutes, violins as he is a laptop made one of the year's best albums and had probably the year's best live show.

Best track – Bloodbeat

15. My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves
Only three albums into their career and My Morning Jacket are already showing all the hallmarks of true greatness.

Best track – Mahgeetah

14. Sufjan Stevens – Michigan
The start of Sufjan Stevens' 50 States project is a charming and depressing homage to his home state.

Best track – Flint (For The Unemployed And Underpaid)

13. Kings Of Leon – Youth & Young Manhood
A rollicking cocktail of rock, country and gospel that captures the sound of growing out and growing up as well as any band ever has.

Best track - Trani

12. Metallica – St Anger
Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than some clowns would have you believe. So it's not Kill Em All or Ride The Lightning, it's a thunderously aggressive metal album that's as savage and visceral as any of their 80s masterpieces.

Best track – Frantic

11. King Geedorah – Take Me To Your Leader
Not content with rejuvenating hip hop with his MF Doom persona, Daniel Dumile has dropped a cold, murky and dense album that supersedes anything ninety-nine per cent of rappers will ever attempt.

Best track – No Snakes Alive

10. Greg Ashley – Medicine Fuck Dream
Ashley's solo debut is a masterclass in shaggy and rough acid-folk that wins extra points for being recorded in his parents' garage.

Best track – I Said "These Are Lonely Days"

9. Daniel Johnston – Fear Yourself
Like all of Daniel Johnston's albums, Fear Yourself is sad, pretty, funny and touching but it's Mark Linkous' production that gets the best any producer ever has out of Daniel.

Best track – Love Not Dead

8. Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain
Leaving production duties to his buddies like RJD2, Doom is able to spend the entire album delivering the most vital, twisted and focused verses of his career.

Best track – Vaudeville Villain

7. Jay-Z – The Black Album
Jigga's retirement album might have been forced to the sidelines by 50 Cent's ubiquitous debut but it was Jay-Z who released the best rap album from the US. Now, let's see how long he actually stays retired.

Best track – 99 Problems

6. Dizzee Rascal – Boy In Da Corner
Boy In Da Corner is the kind of once in a blue moon debut that makes every other British artist looks dull and uninteresting.

Best track – Fix Up, Look Sharp

5. Coachwhips – Bangers Vs. Fuckers
Like a supercharged White Stripes, Coachwhips strip rock n' roll down to its dirty, fuzzy, scuzzy core. Turn your speakers to 12 and enjoy.

Best track – Evil Son

4. Damien Jurado – Where Shall You Take Me?
Jurado's most accomplished album to date is a masterpiece of dark storytelling. This generation's Nebraska.

Best track - Abilene

3. The Weakerthans – Reconstruction Site
This mature, literate, intelligent album is not only the highlight of John Samson's career but an effortlessly perfect collection of wonderfully poignant songs.

Best track – One Great City!

2. The White Stripes – Elephant
A truly phenomenal record that ensures Jack and Meg cement their status as honest to goodness rock n' roll gods.

Best track – The Hardest Button To Button

1. Rufus Wainwright – Want One
Camp, opulent and melodramatic, Want One was the lush and luxurious opus that Rufus always threatened to make. If it's sister album, Want Two, is half as good, then we already know what the best album of 2004 is.

Best track – Go Or Go Ahead

Monday, 10 November 2003

Bush wants to close London

"American officials want a virtual three-day shutdown of central London in a bid to foil disruption of the visit by anti-war protestors. They are demanding that police ban all marches and seal off the city centre."

Aren't we supposed to be allies to this jerk?

Link

Wednesday, 29 October 2003

Fox sues Fox over Simpsons

Fox News is threatening to sue Fox Entertainment over a fake news ticker that was used in an episode of The Simpsons.

"The alleged row centred on a parody of Fox News' rolling news ticker, which included headlines such as "Do Democrats cause cancer?"

Mr Groening said the news channel backed down because it would have caused Fox to bring a lawsuit against itself.

"Fox said they would sue the show and we called their bluff because we didn't think Rupert Murdoch would pay for Fox to sue itself. We got away with it," Mr Groening told National Public Radio in the US.

"But now Fox has a new rule that we can't do those little fake news crawls [tickers] on the bottom of the screen in a cartoon because it might confuse the viewers into thinking it's real news," he added on NPR's Fresh Air programme."

Link

Wednesday, 22 October 2003

Elliott Smith commits suicide

Elliott Smith has died aged 34.

It looks as though he took his own life by stabbing himself in the chest. 

He had battled depression and alcoholism for a long time and had made, as far as I'm aware, at least one attempt to kill himself previously.

The world has lost an incredibly talented, hypnotising song-writer.

Link


Wednesday, 24 September 2003

Gallery of magic posters

Here's a wonderful gallery of vintage magician posters.

Link

Monday, 22 September 2003

Album Review: Our Turn To Cry

Our Turn To Cry offers up an array of ballads – from the big city numbers to the deepest of Southern soul, not a single track on this collection is anything less than mesmerising. Fans of soul will be absolutely enchanted by the lost classics on offer here.

The compilation begins with the breathtaking What Can You Do When You Ain’t Got Nobody? by the Soul Brothers Six - one of the most heartbreaking songs ever written. Hailing from Philadelphia, The Soul Brothers Six had a very stripped-down sound, only two guitars, a bass and drums which allowed their gospel-drenched vocals to soar to the heavens. On this track, Willie John Ellison’s lead vocal is absolutely explosive and compares favourably with many of soul’s greatest performers. It’s unbelievable and almost criminal that more people have not heard this track.

The late James Carr may just have been the finest singer to ever grace the Earth and his track Hold On is one of the stand out tracks on this compilation. While later in his career, Carr’s voice would fade and although he was still releasing records in the 1990s, his vocals clearly weren’t what they once were. Here though, Carr is at his best, offering a majestic baritone rendition of Tommy Tate’s little-known classic. Hold On is probably the finest track in Carr’s metier.

I’ve Got Enough Heartaches by Florida native, Mighty Sam is just an awesome prospect. Sam’s powerful, fiery vocals are backed by a mass choir and a glorious rhythm section, which make this track sound unlike any other on this collection. As the track builds to its grandiose crescendo, I defy even the coldest heart not to be deeply moved.

My three favourite tracks on the collection are just the tip of the iceberg though. While not necessarily as immediately brilliant as some of the other tracks, Mike Williams’ Vietnam-era tale of woe Lonely Soldier, Johnny Adams’ bravura performance of The Temptations I Wish It Would Rain and What Can I Do by Bobby Marchan are all wonderful. Elsewhere, Burt Bacharach’s delightfully penned Please Stay (which was originally a hit for The Drifters) receives a touching overhaul from Lou Johnson, the almost unknown How Can You Baby-Sit A Man? by Ned Towns offers a lo-key sermon on love and Ed Robinson opens his lungs on The Knight Brothers classic Temptation’s ‘Bout To Get Me.

Twenty-six tracks and every single one of them is a bona-fide five-star classic. How many compilations can you say that about?

Saturday, 20 September 2003

Album Review: Want One

Rufus Wainwright’s previous albums have flitted between almost every genre of music from pop to cabaret to folk to opera. This, coupled with his unique voice, means that you will either love or hate his work. While impressed with his two previous albums, I've unashamedly fallen in love with his latest effort.

Want One is a staggeringly ambitious album with an emotional complexity rarely seen in music; a timeless masterpiece which deserves a place in the history books as one of the greatest albums ever made.

The album’s opening track, Oh What A World is a reinterpretation of Ravel’s Bolero. Wainwright’s sense of humour is highlighted in amongst the soaring strings and pounding drums as he quips, “Men reading fashion magazines / Oh what a world it seems we live in / Straight men.” The humour, decadence and flamboyance combine to make this perhaps the definitive Wainwright track.

I Don’t Know What It Is is the most unashamed pop song on the album. The theme of the track is being lost and not knowing it, something that probably emerges from the demons that Wainwright has had to battle since 2001’s Poses. The melody is simple yet powerful and the arrangement is left relatively uncluttered, save for some refined strings and horns which emerge in the second chorus. It is frankly, stunning.

Where I Don’t Know What It Is is the most poppy song on the album so Movies Of Myself is the most immediately appealing. It marks the album’s energetic peak. The track is propelled by a driving drumbeat, an acoustic guitar and the standard Wainwright four-part harmony. Here Wainwright admonishes a lover for fleeing from commitment (“Start giving me something, a love that is longer than a day / Start making my heart sing something that it doesn’t want to say”). Elsewhere Beautiful Child is an infectious Afro-Latin rave about redemption and the glories of growing old. For those concerned that Wainwright’s passion for theatre has waned, fear not; both album closer Dinner At Eight (an open letter to his father Loudon Wainwright III) and the riotous honky tonk session that is 14th Street would befit the most memorable musicals.

Vibrate provides a brief moment of levity as Wainwright jokes about his mobile phone never ringing, electroclash karaoke and Britney Spears. It’s inclusion on the album is a little at odds with much of the material here and on the one hand it may considered to be the one track which prevents Want One being truly timeless; on the other, it is a lavish description of the embellishments of modern living. Meanwhile,11:11 has Wainwright offer a fitting tribute to the 9/11 disaster.

While the album is of incredibly high quality throughout, its zenith is reached on track six with the utterly majestic Go Or Go Ahead. It's a moment of sheer song writing genius and one of the greatest pop songs written in the last decade. It is a hushed acoustic number that doesn’t play its hand until the two and a half minute mark, when it erupts into a grand epic of charged guitars and a near literal Greek chorus. Wainwright’s towering vocal charges the track with yet more power as he spouts tales of mythology (“But Medusa kiss me and crucify / This unholy notion of the mythic power of love.”).

Rarely does an album as magical as this appear on the shelves of music stores. Wainwright’s previous albums (as well as his superior lineage) suggested that he had the capability of making one such album and with Want One he does just that. Want One is an absolute masterpiece. Its sister album Want Two is due next year and if it is anything like its elder sibling it will be entirely spellbinding.

The references in Paul's Boutique

This site has pulled apart Paul's Boutique by The Beastie Boys and listed all the references and samples.

""Like Sam the butcher, bringing Alice the meat" - two characters from The Brady Bunch, Sam was Alice's boyfriend.

"Ben Franklin with the kite gettin' over with the key" - a reference to his famous experiment which established the first link between lightning and electricity.

"My mind is kinda flowing like an oil projector" - an oil projector is a lighting effect, producing fluid colored blobs, used mainly in the '60s for psychedelic rock shows and movies."

Link

Saturday, 13 September 2003

Disney truefans

Well here are a bunch of people who put me to shame: Disneyland truefans.

These guys visit Disneyland almost every day. And, yeah, they're a bit obsessive but this LA Weekly article is a little mean to them. I mean, Disneyland is awesome, after all.

"Benji is 20, a student at UCLA. He has messy brown hair and a serious mien. He wears a Mickey Mouse T-shirt and a jacket bearing the Disneyland logo; a kind of Donald Duck–bill mask hangs around his neck. His clothes are rumpled and askew; he looks like a distracted physics major with an unusual attachment to cartoon animals. At first, he's not particularly friendly. He offers me a limp handshake when we meet at the entrance and then walks quickly ahead, never slowing down if I want to look at something in detail. He doesn't look at me when he talks, and most of the time he doesn't talk. We just walk together, and I keep asking what he sees that I don't see. He asks no questions about the notes I'm taking or what I think of Disney, but I get the strong sense that he doesn't trust me. He doesn't want anything bad written about Disneyland."

Link

Friday, 12 September 2003

Johnny Cash RIP

Johnny Cash has died at the age of 71.

A collosal talent and one of the few true outlaws, The Man In Black will always be one of my heroes.

I don't know what else to say.

Link

Optical illusions

I've just spent hours fucking my eyes up staring at this stuff, so now you're gonna have to too.

Link

Monday, 8 September 2003

Warren Zevon dies age 56

Warren Zevon finally lost his battle with mesothelioma yesterday, passing away aged 56 at this Los Angeles home.

Zevon was diagnosed with cancer a year ago. Far from retreating away from the spotlight, Zevon chose to mark the diagnosis by entering the studio and recording the deeply personal, critically applauded album, The Wind.

It's his pair of mid-70s albums that stand out to me, though. His self-titled second album features Carmelita, one of the most heartbreaking songs I can think of, and the follow-up, 1978's Excitable Boy features, amongst other bundles of genius, the rollicking Werewolves Of London.

Link to New York Times obituary 

Sunday, 7 September 2003

Album Review: Youth And Young Manhood

Not since Is This It was released in 2001 has a debut album arrived to such a fanfare. By the time you read this, you’ll already know that the Kings Of Leon consist of three brothers (who are the sons of a preacher man) and a cousin. You’ll also know that they are incredibly young (the oldest member being just twenty-three) and they exhibit a nice line in beards. Underneath this needless info and the lashings of praise heaped upon it lays an aggressive, horny, energetic and dirty album from a band who appear to have the potential to be absolutely huge.

From the incredibly exciting opener Red Morning Light with its “Hey hey, another dirty bird giving out a taste” chorus to the tale of depravity and debauchery that is Trani, this is a sleazy and largely unpleasant album, which makes it all the better. Should the listener be in any doubt as to this, they need only to listen to Joe’s Head; where the protagonist murders the guy who is sleeping with his wife. Then murders his wife. Then lights up a cigarette to honour the moment. All is clearly not well in the mind of Caleb Followill. In fact only Johnny Cash and Nick Cave have written about murder in such a celebratory way.

While it has drawn criticism from some quarters, lead singer Caleb’s voice is a revelation. It has the scowl of Liam Gallagher at his peak and the shriek of Bon Scott. When he opens his throat and yells as he does most notable on Red Morning Light and Genius, it seems as though the gates of Hell have opened. Then when the pace slows, he captures the listener like no one has done since Willie Nelson; listen to Trani or Dusty if you need proof.

Most of the criticism levelled at Youth and Young Manhood has suggested that it fails because it doesn’t sound modern. Far from being a failure, this is the album’s biggest triumph. The Kings of Leon take us back to simpler times; the bearded 60s (Lynyrd Skynrd and The Band spring to mind) and the drug crazed 70s and meld this history with an incredible sense of youth and, you guessed it, young manhood.

It’s not hard to see why the Kings of Leon have excited the world as they have. There are few bands who are able to write and live such hard-drinking, hard-rocking songs and sound exciting and boisterous rather than drunk and boastful. Youth and Young Manhood leapfrogs Make Up The Breakdown, Keep On Your Mean Side and Fever To Tell to become the debut of the year so far and nestles just in behind Elephant to become the second best album of the year overall, which can be hardly considered a failure.

Friday, 5 September 2003

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad derails, 11 injured

The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at Disneyland has derailed, injuring 11 people, one critically.

Link

Monday, 25 August 2003

Album Review: Dookie

After two low budget punk albums, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool finally secured a major label deal to release Dookie on Reprise Records. Despite many accusations from supposed hardcore fans suggesting that the band had sold out, Dookie sold in massive numbers. Those who found Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana a little too off-centre turned to Green Day to deliver a more obvious and direct approach to punk. They weren’t the only band peddling this kind of dumb-Californian-punk-lite, but alongside Offspring, Rancid et al, it was Green Day’s star that shone the brightest.

The major theme recurrent throughout the LP is that of boredom. The very first line on the album is, “I declare I don’t care no more / I’m burning up and out and growing bored.” Armstrong’s lyrics, despite not being intelligent or particularly insightful somehow resonate perfectly with disillusioned and bored teens everywhere. Later on Sassafras Roots, the repeated use of the line, “Wasting your time” is a remarkably accurate description of many young adults. It seems so obvious with lyrics such as these that Dookie would manage to capture the affections of disaffected teenagers everywhere. In fact the album’s anthem Basket Case has Armstrong wonder whether he is paranoid or merely stoned. While it was Basket Case that kept MTV viewers entertained the most, it is arguably live-favourite She that offers the best summary for apathetic youth, as Armstrong asks, “Are you locked up in a world that’s been planned out for you? / are you feeling like a social tool without a use?”

While boredom and disenchantment are the cornerstones of the album, they aren’t the only teenage concerns that get covered. Somewhat inevitably adolescence forms the subject for the bulk of the remaining tracks. The single, Welcome To Paradise (which was originally released on Green Day’s second LP, Kerplunk) is a summary of leaving home. The vaguely dull, In Then End is a slightly too-typical tale of teenage love. Elsewhere, Pulling Teeth unusually covers the topic of girl-on-boy domestic violence. In contrast to some of the more gloomy subject matter the closing hidden track (entitled All By Myself) is a Tre Cool-penned ode to, well…. having fun with himself. This Beavis & Butthead humour is what always made Green Day so appealing, and it has never been highlighted better than on Dookie.

It’s obvious from even the title that this is not an album that is meant to challenge the listener. Dookie is an album made by young idiots for young idiots; and to date there hasn’t been an album that supersedes it. Dookie remains the pinnacle of California punk-lite.

Friday, 22 August 2003

Wesley Willis RIP

Outsider recording artist Wesley Willis has died at the age of 40.

Reports are suggesting that his death comes as a result of complications from chronic myelogenous leukaemia.

A diagonosed schizophrenic, Willis recorded hundreds of simple, witty songs from 1990 up until his death. Willis' stream-of-consciousness lyrics were typically yelled over a one-note autochord feature on his keyboard. Highlights in his catalogue include Rock N Roll McDonalds, Casper The Homosexual Friendly Ghost and Suck A Cheetah's Dick.

Link

Tuesday, 19 August 2003

Album Review: Where Shall You Take Me?

Where his recent excursion with his Gathered In Song collective, I Break Chairs was a slight blemish on Jurado’s immaculate track record, Where Shall You Take Me? has the Seattle songwriter back to his miserable best. I Break Chairs will have concerned fans that Jurado had finally cheered up, and had dropped his acoustic guitar for a more electric sound. Thankfully Where Shall You Take Me sees Jurado as depressed as ever.

The opening lines of album should mislead no one, “First came the scream / and blood on the floor.” Amateur Night is a sullen acoustic opener that becomes so much more when it reaches its dizzying keyboard finale. Elsewhere Intoxicated Hands, with its eerie guitar creates an odd tale of love gone horribly wrong. Perhaps most terrifying of all though is Abilene, a story of a 19-year-old girl whisked away by a “man without money”. Whether she is being taken against her will or not is never made clear, which makes the track all the more menacing. In fact, this lyrical ambiguity is something Jurado makes a habit of.

While Jurado’s voice carries the tenderness and fragility of Jeff Buckley or even Thom Yorke, the inclusion of Rosie Thomas on a few tracks is inspired. Thomas’ input is most notable on Window, an Appalachian hymn so pure it could have been recorded a century ago. Her glowing vocals also brighten Jurado’s tale of life on the American road on Omaha.

Only Texas To Ohio recalls the slightly heavier work of I Break Chairs, but unlike some of the bland material on I Break Chairs, this track is mangled with some muffled vocals that recall Dirty-era Sonic Youth and a swirling keyboard sample. By the time the album closes with Bad Dreams though, Jurado has returned us to unremitting despair. The sparse piano and strained violin take lyrics like, “And I have bad dreams / done so many bad things / so come save me from this fire” and stretch them further into darkness.

On Where Shall You Take Me? Jurado proves that he is truly in a world of his own.
But a world this dark, few brave souls will want to join him.

Saturday, 9 August 2003

Album Review: Let's Get Free


Once intertwined, it now seems that politics and hip hop are as different as leather and lace. The works of Ja Rule, 50 Cent and P Diddy could not be further from the politicised lyrics of Chuck D and Ice Cube. Dead Prez’s much-lauded debut sought to renew the days of NWA, Public Enemy and Ice T. In their own words, Dead Prez fall somewhere in between NWA and Public Enemy and with Let’s Get Free they attempt to snatch hip hop back from the clichéd stories of guns, girls and dollars. For the most part they succeed.
The album begins with a snippet of an address by the Chairman for the African People’s Socialist Party, Omali Yeshitela. The content should leave nobody in any doubt of how political Let’s Get Free will become and this listener, for one, was left wondering how they would follow this awesome opening salvo. I needn’t have worried.

The opening four tracks are as good as those found on any hip hop album. I’m An African has Stic and M1 reclaim their African roots. The two MCs proclaim, “I’m an African / never was an African-American” over a furious fusion of gun shots and thunderous beats. They Schools is a tirade on the American school system’s perceived favouritism towards white history and therefore white students. While these tracks are outstanding it is the debut single Hip Hop that is the high point. Dead Prez reclaim hip hop and ask their audience some pertinent questions, “Would you rather have a Lexus or justice? / A dream or some substance? / A Beemer, a necklace or freedom?” Behind the highly intelligent lyrics lies one of the most extraordinary basslines of recent years making this one of the best hip hop tracks of the last decade. The track’s remix at the LP’s conclusion is hugely merited.

Sadly after this tremendous opening bombardment the momentum is lost by the time Behind Enemy Lines arrives. The first half of the album peters out with the rather bland Assassination and Mind Sex. Unfortunately this slower pace plagues the second half of the album and it is nowhere near as potent as the first. Be Healthy is the hip hop equivalent of a dentist’s poster. “I don’t eat no meat, no dairy, no sweets / Only ripe vegetables, fresh fruit and whole wheat.” From a group who seemed determined to change the world a few tracks ago, this comes across as an extreme contrast, and all things considered, incredibly weak. Elsewhere, Happiness is like an update of Will Smith’s Summertime, which is, as you might guess, a real disappointment.

However, just as the listener is wishing the album had finished after the first five tracks, Dead Prez bring in two of their best tracks. Hidden at tracks forty four and forty five are Propaganda and The Pistol. Propaganda is vaguely reminiscent of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy classic, Television. It should surprise no one that the backing track is not as good as the lyrics. An acoustic guitar some odd chanting and a female vocalist going through her range is not quite upto matching the enraged stories of conspiracy theories and black rhetoric that M1 and Stic are spitting here. The Pistol is an absolutely incendiary and wholly fitting end to the album; however, once again Lord Jamar’s production doesn’t quite do the lyrics justice.

All things considered, Let’s Get Free is a very competent debut from a very exciting group. However, we're left to rue what could’ve been one of the all time great hip hop albums. Stic and M1 are unquestionably two of the most gifted voices in hip hop today, unfortunately the production on the second half of the LP is so dull it really detracts from an incredible start.

Wednesday, 6 August 2003

Album Review: Boy In Da Corner

Anytime an album like Boy In Da Corner arrives it seems to cause no end of consternation amongst the music press. Always happy to pigeonhole artists for the sake of marketing, hacks seem to struggle when credible UK ‘urban’ music arrives. It happened with The Streets and now Dizzee Rascal looks set to suffer the same Garage tag.

Make no mistake; this is no garage album (whatever that means anyway). Like Mike Skinner before him, 18-year-old Dylan Mills has taken the basics of a genre that is currently laying face down in the water and transformed it into something far, far more intriguing. Where Skinner took games of darts and the midnight munchies as his inspiration so Mills takes estate violence and teenage pregnancies as his.

This is a far darker proposition than Original Pirate Material though. Dizzee sees himself as an outsider; the opening track makes this abundantly clear. On the opening line of the opening track, Sittin Here Dizzee tells us, “I’m sitting here, I ain’t saying much, I just think / and my eyes don’t move left or right, they just blink.” For 18 years, Mills sounds remarkably mature, and sounds almost like an elder statesman of the streets when he whispers memories of playing football in the streets, before he yields to the feeling that there will be, “no positive change.” This feeling of hopelessness rears its ugly head again on Brand New Day. Over a dizzying wind chime sample, Dizzee reminisces, “We used to fight with kids from other estates / now eight millimetres settle debates.”

Though just shy of an hour in length, Dizzee manages to cram in a huge assortment of topics. Besides the tales of catching and delivering beatings, the inflammatory single I Luv U is a breathtaking synopsis of a young couples and teenage pregnancies (“Fifteen? She's underage!"). This theme is revisited on Round We Go – a tale of an endless cycle of loveless sex told by a narrator who has learned his lesson.

Elsewhere Fix Up, Look Sharp with its pounding drum, Billy Squier sample and eardrum-destroying bassline is an immense proposition. Dizzee sounds almost demented as he spits the lyrics. It isn’t the only track that defies sonic definition. Jus A Rascal has the most bizarre operatic chorus ever heard, which is totally at odds with the light speed rhymes Dizzee spits on the verses.

Original Pirate Material and Boy In Da Corner share the fact that they are the two best albums to come out of the UK in a long, long time. With Boy In Da Corner, Dizzee Rascal has joint the likes of The Streets and Roots Manuva as urban British artists with something interesting to say, besides American hip hop cliché.

So what is it? Garage? Hip Hop? Whatever genre you choose to pigeonhole this album in, I’ll choose to call it one of the best albums of the year.

Saturday, 2 August 2003

Fonts from videogames

Here's a website that offers downloadable versions of the fonts used in some classic videogames.

That's SNES classic, Secret Of Mana over there, lest you ain't know.

Link

Friday, 1 August 2003

iTrip banned

Uh-oh! I'm a criminal.

"There are no restrictions on its use in the US, where people can use it to listen to songs stored on the iPod on a home or car stereo.

But in Britain, using it is akin to setting up your own pirate radio station.

After discussions with the Radio Agency, A M Micro concluded that using the gadget would mean breaking the law."

Link

Saturday, 26 July 2003

Album Review: Holding His Breath

Another year, another label for Damien Jurado. That's five labels in four years now, for the Seattle-born songsmith. This time he has elected to move away from North America and has relocated to Spanish label, Acuarela, taking with him his stylish tales of the macabre.

I Am the Greatest of All Liars delivers a first-person list of iniquities such as, "I'm the blood upon your sheets / I'm the air you cannot breathe," over a primitive piano and simple drum for less than two minutes. Jurado's manner is off-the-cuff, proving again that he's right at home with such morbid subject matter. Dark as it is, at just under two-minutes, it is quick and painless.

Now You're Swimming ("Now you're swimming / it don't even feel right"), employs the same haunting balance of sparse, lo-fi acoustic architecture to frame a quick, bleak, personal narrative that we've come to expect from Jurado. It's this kind of song that Jurado has built a career around, so it should come as no surprise that this is the standout track. While Jurado didn't write it (it's a cover of 764-Hero), he quite easily could have meaning that his murmured vocal sounds right at home.

Oh Death Art With Me and 'Big Let Down' sound like Waters Ave S.-era Jurado. Oh Death... has Jurado in typically depressed mood, as he mutters, "The Devil just wants your soul / he's had his eyes on you since the day you stepped in this world." Jurado excels at the macabre, and this track is terrifically gloomy. Long time collaborator Rosie Thomas performs backing vocals on Big Let Down, a track highly reminiscent of Parking Lot from Jurado's seminal Ghost Of David LP. The track is a whispered tale of a relationship in disrepair. The final track, Butcher's Boy is a cover of a Peggy Seeger song. Here, Jurado further cements his standing as one of the finest singers around as he captures the heartbreak of the song with his trademark unaffected style.

While the five tracks mesh fairly well together, it isn't as cohesive as any of Jurado's albums; but few EPs are. And while the harshest critics may accuse him of treading all-too-familiar territory, the rest of us will continue to enjoy Jurado's uniquely bleak and isolated tales.

Sunday, 6 July 2003

Mini-Kiss

Mini-Kiss are a Kiss tribute band.

Oh, and they're all dwarves.

Link

Thursday, 26 June 2003

Marc-Vivien Foé dies during match

This is some properly sad shit.

Cameroon international, Marc-Vivien Foé, who spent last season on loan at Manchester City has died during a football match.

"The 28-year-old fell to the ground unchallenged in the 72nd minute of a Confederations Cup semi-final against Colombia in Lyon.

He was treated on the pitch before being stretchered off and receiving further treatment, including mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and extra oxygen."

The cause of death has not yet been determined but this has really shocked me.

Foé came to my attention when he was on the verge of a transfer to Man United in 1998. A broken leg scuppered that move and now this.... the poor, unlucky bastard.

Link

Wednesday, 11 June 2003

Classy Freddie Blassie dies aged 85

WWF Hall of Fame inductee Freddie Blassie has died of heart and kidney failure at the age of 85.

He's probably best known for being name-checked in REM's Man On The Moon ("Mr Fred Blassie in a breakfast mess") but Blassie was an absolute master at antagonising wrestling audiences and is regarded as one of the most successful and influential heels ever.

He wrestled his last match in 1985, he was 67.

Link to the Independent's obituary

Saturday, 24 May 2003

Album Review: Tical 2000

Time hasn’t been particularly kind to Method Man’s sophomore effort. Recorded in 1998 during the pinnacle of the Millennium Bug end of the word hype, much of the album is now pretty redundant. The Intro, for example, now just sounds embarrassing. We were nowhere near to the apocalypse and Meth’s predictions seem a more than a little off-kilter.

It was Meth’s ability to mix wit with menace that made Tical special. Here, he tries in vain to find the same balance. The joker in Meth makes an appearance ten seconds into the first track as he parodies Sly Stallone’s Rocky, by yelling “Adriannnnn” – it’s pretty funny, but totally out of place. Elsewhere, the Chris Rock skit, You Play Too Much is admittedly hilarious.

Where his contemporaries Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Gza each give their own spin on criminal life, Meth meekly treads over ground he already covered in his debut. “Brain is punctured and drained through the nasal," he drawls on Spazzola in a nod to the intro to his anthem, Method Man. There are a couple of instances he just recycles verses from earlier releases, most notably on the sterile Killin Fields.

Perhaps predictably the production is uninspired. 4th Disciple, True Master, Inspectah Deck and the Rza each fail to set the album alight. Surprisingly, Eric Sermon’s contribution Step By Step is no better. Given the talent behind the production desk, it seems odd that Method Man would produce the best track himself, Judgement Day is the focal point, and indeed the most dazzling track on the LP. The production successfully straddles the line between cinematic and being a decent head-nodding track, but it is proceeded by 50 seconds worth of nonsense and one of the verses is recycled from Method Man’s collaboration with Texas. The fact that it is the best track is a pretty damning indictment of the overall quality. The only other track worth noting is Break Ups 2 Make Ups, D’Angelo is as silver-tongued as ever and he and Method Man make a respectable pairing.

Overall, it’s just not good enough and there are several criticisms to level at Tical 2000. Frankly twenty-eight tracks is far too many; eleven of them are skits, which itself ridiculous. The very notion that Meth has included as many skits as most artists have tracks is crazy. Those Wu fans that remain blind to the Wu’s least inspired albums will no doubt lap this up. But anyone more discerning should consider the meagre praise contained in this review as pretty generous.

Saturday, 17 May 2003

Radio 4 doc on Celebration

Fan. Fucking. Tastic Radio 4 documentary about the Disney-made town of Celebration.

"How would the world look if it were run by the Disney corporation? In the alligator-infested swamps of Florida is a town built and founded by Disney. Celebration was founded in 1994, and sold to Americans as "a place of caramel apples and cotton candy, secret forts, and hopscotch on the streets". Thousands of Disneyphiles came from across the USA to resettle in the town and live the Disney dream. In winter, the town's managers blow fake snow into the streets, and in Autumn, they provide fake leaves. But there is increasing dissent in Celebration at Disney's authoritarian rule. Dylan Winter travels to Florida to hear both sides of the story."

Link

Thursday, 15 May 2003

June Carter Cash passes away

June Carter Cash has died at age 73 due to complications following heart surgery.

The world has lost one of the great female performers of all time.

Poor Johnny, he's lost his soulmate.

Link

Friday, 2 May 2003

Album Review: Soundbombing Volume II

While the first Soundbombing mix album was a brilliant summary of the works of the Rawkus label, it was slightly blighted by DJ Evil D’s insistence in reminding the listener of his name every few seconds. The third in the series was released last year and sadly was of pretty average quality. In between the two came (predictably) Soundbombing II, a collection of wonderful mixing, intelligent MCs and mind-blowing production.

The track that most people will want to hear is Any Man by Eminem. All the hallmarks of an Eminem track are present: he disses his mother, raps about STDs and his daughter Hallie gets a mention. While the lyrics are pretty standard, Da Beatminerz production is superb making this Mathers’ best work to date.

Elsewhere, Pharoahe Monch’s tale of a renegade cop on the rampage on Mayor is simply awesome. Monch plays the part of a rebel policeman who goes on a murderous rampage in revenge for his father’s suspension from the force, “My last minutes on earth / drop say a prayer / fuck it if I’m gonna die / at least I shot the Mayor.” It’s a wonderfully weaved tale and the atmospheric strings make it all the more cinematic. The other standouts include 1-9-9-9 by Common and Sadat X, Brooklyn Hard Rock by Thirstin Howl III and A B-Boy Document 99 by The High & Mighty. The truth is though, there is not a single bad track on this collection.

While the tracks by Eminem and Mos Def will be the most listened to by fans of more traditional hip hop, there is one track on the album that overshadows all others. Company Flow’s Patriotism is frankly one of the most insane things I have ever heard. Reminding, yet again, exactly how much of a shame it is that they split after only two LPs. It’s a messy piece of conspiracy theory rhetoric, as Big Jus and EL-P bring the US government to task on several issues, "You don’t even know the chemicals you’ve ingested / urine tested / beat innocent man til he confesses” EL-P declares during the second verse. The light-speed rhymes are severely at odds with the hypnotic, “left, right, left, right” hook and the EL-P production is typically obtuse. Needless to say, fans of Company Flow really need to hear this track.

Soundbombing II is certainly the best of the three in the series. It is a perfect showcase of the Rawkus label at the height of its power. Not only are the tracks all great, special mention must be given to the Beat Junkies for mixing the tracks so well. Soundbombing II is a near-perfect mix album and one of the most impressive works in the Rawkus canon.

Miss Elizabeth RIP

Elizabeth Ann Hulette aka Miss Elizabeth has died at the age of 42.

Hulette became famous as the valet for Macho Man Randy Savage in the 1980s but had a real-life relationship with Lex Luger later in her life. Just a month ago, Luger was arrested for assaulting Hulette in a domestic dispute.

Following Elizabeth's death, Luger has been arrested on drug possession charges.

Link

Thursday, 1 May 2003

Album Review: The Dirty Story

Russell Jones’ story is certainly the most rock and roll of any living artist. He was always slightly crazed, but in 1999 Jones’ managed to evade the FBI for several weeks (including jumping onstage during a Wu Tang Clan concert and performing a few verses before escaping back into the audience) before getting caught outside a McDonalds because he thought that they were autograph hunters. His work has always divided opinion, even some hardcore Wu Tang fans remain unsure of his blathering ways. He is the most entertaining living solo artist as far as I’m concerned. It is always hard to pin down the best work of someone as wildly creative as ODB, but the eleven tracks here are among his best.

Shimmy Shimmy Ya remains ODB’s piece de resistance, but Brooklyn Zoo isn’t far behind. Fittingly it is these two songs which begin the collection. Both have ODB at his incoherent best. On Shimmy Shimmy Ya he drawls, “Oh baby I like it raw” over a funky piano sample and pounding bassline. Brooklyn Zoo is ODB’s most vitriolic mission statement so far as he declares himself, “the one man army.” Following these two tracks comes Dirty’s most commercially successful track so far, Got Your Money. There’s not a lot more that can be said about the track that put Kelis and The Neptunes on the map and gave ODB the fame he richly deserves.

The first three tracks are the most commercial on the album (the Fantasy remix excepted), what follows is probably a more realistic summary of Dirty’s work. On each of the eleven tracks Dirty rambles at some point, but it is Dirty Dancin where he meanders the most. The lyrics which are barely audible go something like, “mza mza, my name is the old dirty bas / my game is to kick you’re ass / dnuh dnuh dnuh dnuh.” ODBs blathering means that Method Man is relied upon to carry the traditional hip hop part of the track. The production by the Rza is a little bland, but the track remains one of Dirty’s most entertaining. Elsewhere Recognise and I Can’t Wait have Dirty at his most bizarre, especially the latter where Dirty offers a shout-out to munchkins, Eskimos, submarines and himself.

The only slightly out of place track is the remix of Mariah Carey’s Fantasy. While the original song was the usual trite that Carey pumps out, ODB does deliver a suitably bizarre couplet, “me and Mariah go back like babies and pacifiers.” The Puff Daddy production is better than one might assume, but it is ODB who brings the track hurtling out of mediocrity.

In between the tracks the listener is treated to some insight into ODB. The standout moment is when Dirty lists his favourite artists. At the beginning of Cold Blooded he proclaims that, Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye are good, Otis Redding is like one of the best but Rick James is something out of the ordinary.

The music on offer here is amazing, however, it is hard not to be cynical about an artist releasing a greatest hits collection after only releasing two studio albums. Also, the album is a little short. A collection weighing in with eleven tracks at just over forty minutes is not enough to do ODB justice. Anyone wishing to hear ODB should use this collection as a starting point, but fans will probably already own everything on offer here.

Wednesday, 30 April 2003

Album Review: Keep On Your Mean Side

That a stylish, bluesy, cross-gender pairing is automatically compared to The White Stripes should surprise no one. If there’s one thing the music industry likes to do, it’s make statements like, “if you like band X you’l love band Y.” Well I guess there is some truth to the statement this time round. Fans of The White Stripes will find a lot to like about The Kills, but the meekly sum up Keep On Your Mean Side as a wannabe White Blood Cells doesn’t tell half the story.

So after their critically lauded but commercially ignored Black Rooster EP comes this, The Kills debut LP. The music press have been harping on about The Kills for a long time now and aside from The White Stripes comparisons, they always mention how good The Kills look. Granted, aside from this record they seem to have a lot going for them: both VV and Hotel are achingly cool, the pair simmer with sexual tension, they use a drum machine and most importantly of all they have ‘the’ in their title. But the most important thing about The Kills right now is that Keep On Your Mean Side rocks with a vengeance.

The opening guitar chug of ‘Superstition’ sets the scene perfectly, recalling Rid Of Me era Polly Harvey. Future single Cat Claw is just astounding; it’s a bone-shaking rock n roll record with an awesome hook. Pull A U robs a Jimmy Page sized riff from Kashmir and plies it lavishly across its three minute running time.

Like most debut records, you can’t help but think that maybe The Kills are trying a little too hard to impress at times. As VV sneers, “Fried my little brains” on the track of the same name. To put a track entitled Fuck The People on a debut record takes some balls. After the Beautiful People-esque drum sample at the beginning, it grows to become the best track on the album.

It’s rare nowadays for bands to live up to the hype lavished on them but The Kills may just achieve it. For they are close to being a complete act after only one LP and the future looks absurdly bright for them. Take the voice of PJ Harvey, the guitar of Royal Trux, the mystique of The White Stripes, the cool of The Velvet Underground and you have The Kills. Fans of any of the above should consider this an essential purchase, and I defy anyone to be massively disappointed by Keep On Your Mean Side.

Album Review: Murder Ballads

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds might be the most consistently under appreciated artists of the last decade. Cave has constantly released utterly amazing LPs and yet receives little praise from the record buying public. The fact that he sounds more like a mortician than a pop star belies the fact that he is possibly the finest songwriter to have ever walked the earth. Murder Ballads is Cave’s ninth album and his first stab at something resembling a concept LP.

Murder Ballads is certainly the best example of poetry set to music of the last decade. Death might sound like a boring premise; but a subject as broad could never be dull in the hands of someone as talented as Cave. From sad tales (Kindness of Strangers) to the macabre Song Of Joy to the downright grotesque Stagger Lee the listener is treated to the different faces of The Bad Seeds on this Murder Ballads.

The opener, Song Of Joy is astoundingly atmospheric. The story is a chilling tale of murder where clues as to whodunit are cleverly woven into the lyrics. Only a thorough knowledge of John Milton’s work will allow the listener to fully understand it (or you can simply read the liner notes).

Where the opener is complex and clever so Stagger Lee is downright gruesome. Instrumentally the track is reminiscent of Cave’s earlier classic Red Right Hand but paints a much more monstrous picture. While it is a remarkable aural experience, it doesn’t seem quite the same without the video of Cave prancing around in a pink Take That tee shirt.

The album’s highlight is the incredible O’Malley’s Bar. The track certainly has the highest body count on the album. Cave plays an unknown rampant local maniac who slaughters the patrons of his local bar. Musically it remains suitably threatening until its climax and as Cave yells lyrics - the listener can be nothing but in awe. Similarly chaotic is The Curse Of Millhaven. Here Cave plays the part of a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, however Baby One More Time this is not. Cave’s character Loretta is a deranged young lady who takes pleasure in the decapitation, burning and drowning of the other inhabitants of the town of Millhaven. The track is yet another example of Cave’s uncanny knack of mixing murder with substantial wit.

Somewhere in amongst these maniacal tales come some moments of tenderness. The single Where The Wild Roses Grow probably continues to be Cave’s most well known moment, if only for the inclusion of Kylie Minogue. Similarly Henry Lee substitutes Minogue for PJ Harvey, for a slight reworking of the traditional song.

With Cave adopting the persona of a crazy teenage girl one minute and a homosexual homicidal maniac the next, Murder Ballads can make for uncomfortable listening, but I’ve certainly never heard anything like, and I dare say you won’t have either.

Tuesday, 29 April 2003

Hail a cab with your mobile

I dunno how anyone would have trouble getting a cab in London since there are millions of the buggers all over the place, but anyway.....

"When a punter calls Zingo from their mobile, location-based technology pinpoints where they are. 

At the same time, global positioning satellites identify Zingo taxis in the area that are free.

Then, punters are automatically connected to an available cab driver in their area before the prospective passenger tells the cabbie exactly where they are. Bingo.

The charge for the Zingo service is £1.60 a throw, which is added to punters' fare."

Link from the Register

Wednesday, 23 April 2003

Madonna hacked

Ha fucking ha!

A few days ago Madonna diluted her own trademark by planting a few fake tracks on P2P networks, somebody has hacked her site and posted .mp3s of the entire album before it goes on sale.

Tuesday, 22 April 2003

Nina Simone RIP

Nina Simone, one of the great voices, has died at the age of 70 in her home in the South of France.

Wednesday, 16 April 2003

Album Review: Iron Flag

With yet more below average Wu solo albums sandwiched in between The W and Iron Flag, feelings were mixed at to whether this would be the first bad album to carry the entire Wu Tang Clan.

Despite some below par performances from the Wu's big-hitters recently (stand up Rza, Method Man and Gza), when the Wu have a family get-together they continue to produce some of the finest hip hop around. Their previous LP, The W was an attempt by the Wu to retread the mystic hip hop that they perfected on their debut. I think it was a terrific album, the record buying public didn't and The W suffered at retail. Iron Flag is unmistakably a more commercial effort than their last release, but perhaps strangely, it doesn't suffer a jot.

By 2001, Ghostface Killah had unquestionably stepped up to become the Wu Tang empire's most valuable commodity. He is simply untouchable on every line of every track. On Rules Ghostface gets in his two cents on the 9/11 attacks, "Who the fuck knocked our buildings down? / who the man behind the World Trade massacres, step up now / where the four planes at huh is you insane bitch / fly that shit over my hood and get blown to bits." Later he sensibly suggests, "Mr. Bush sit down, I'm in charge of the war." In fact Rules is one of the highlights on the album, featuring a rejuvenated Method Man chanting the, "How the fuck did we get so cool?" chorus line.

Another highlight, Pinky Ring, really shouldn't be a decent record but somehow is. Taking the sample from Sesame Street it somehow manages to remain credible. Pinky Ring follows Gravel Pit's lead by being a Wu track aimed squarely at chart domination. It didn't set the UK singles chart alight, but it remains a club favourite two years after its release. Other stand out tracks include the (Ann Peebles-featuring) haunting Babies and the international bonus track The W.

Dashing is a little too bland for the rest of the album, and despite Gza's best attempts to rescue the song from mediocrity with an excellent final verse, it remains the dullest track on the album. Elsewhere, Chrome Wheels is a little too orthodox to be an outstanding track. Apart from that, the lyrics of In The Hood a little cliched.

Another (albeit one which is forced on the group) problem is the lack of ODB. His wild, unintelligible ramblings have always been a highpoint of Wu albums for me. However, on Soul Power Flava Flav steps into the void left by ODB's absence admirably ("Without me having my finger in the plug / I'm getting shocked anyway"). If nothing else it is always good to hear Flav's voice on record.

Ultimately Iron Flag is a very good album but slightly shy of the usual five-star excellence that Wu Tang Clan albums provide. What is most noticeably missing is a little of the mysticism that made the Wu so original. There are a lot more verses dedicated to girls and money than there have been on previous Wu Tang Clan LPs, which is a shame, and there is a lot less of the kung-fu nonsense that made the Wu so endearing when they exploded on the scene around a decade ago.

Monday, 14 April 2003

Great Sasuke wins office in Japan

Despite being elected, he won't take off his mask because it would weaken his 'superabundant power'.

"This is my face," the wrestler -- known as "The Great Sasuke" -- was quoted by the Nikkan Sports newspaper as saying of his black and white full-face mask with bright scarlet streaks and golden wings by the eye holes.

"I won support from voters with this face, and to take it off would be breaking promises," the 33-year-old wrestler, whose real name is Masanori Murakawa, said of his victory in conservative Iwate prefecture, some 460 km (290 miles) north of Tokyo."

Link

Sunday, 13 April 2003

London at night

Not a cluster of galatic light but a photo of the lights surrounding London.

Beautiful.

Tuesday, 1 April 2003

Album Review: Lapalco

Six years after his debut One Mississippi, New York resident Brendan Benson returns with a charming, witty and heartfelt twelve-strong collection of songs. Those who enjoyed One Mississippi will know that the basis of Benson's charm is his simple lyrical innocence coupled with a home-grown musical sophistication, his love of rhymes that can make you groan and smile simultaneously.

Benson's odd addiction to rhyming is what makes this album so delightful. Never is this better highlighted than onFolk Singer where Benson reminisces, "Every girl that I made in the shade of the Esplanade / I've saved in a song that I play when I'm afraid of a full-scale air raid from the choices that I've made." The chorus is equally ludicrous, "Every single day at eleven I'm home in bed in sleep heaven alone, cos my girl leaves at seven / Ain't got time for my bed-in, she said stop pretending, you're not John Lennon." All nonsense of course, but delivered so well, it becomes charming and not annoying.

The album begins with the very catchy Tiny Spark, co-written with friend and studio whiz Jason Falkner. It's a fine example of the naivety that endears Benson to the listener. The upbeat tempo is at odds with the lyrical bewilderment, yet the contrast works from the very first listen. Elsewhere What is a winning track that tells the tale of a man usurped by another who sees his ex laugh at the same jokes and fall for the same tricks that he once used. Eventually examines the way that relationships alter our behaviour, as Benson ponders what he has wrought upon his girl, yet he still makes a plea for her to stick with him through the promise that things will get better.

Personally, the stand out track on the album is the heartbreaking Metarie. Here Benson plays it straight as he meditates on a lost love. It's the only track on the album that has Benson truly depressed as he confesses, "If I had a life, I'd put it in my song." There is a pared-down version of the track lurking after the album has finished, which while more intimate is slightly less powerful.

Other highlights include the synth-driven You're Quiet, which gives another illustration of Benson's witty choruses, "I've been a little bit down on my luck / I think you know where I'm coming from / I need a pickup and I don't mean truck / I think you know where to get some." On Good To Me Benson discusses the merits of his humble but reliable car (a 1980 Volvo he tells us, not a vintage Cadillac), his amplifier (A beat-up Supro amp not a Fender Tweed Deluxe) and, somewhat predictably, his girlfriend. I'm Easy is an immaculate upbeat guitar-driven rocker.

Benson concludes the album with Jetlag, a candid lashing out against the whole showbiz thing. As is the case with most of Benson's work, this is obviously written from his experiences with record labels as he tells us sarcastically that, "the boy has got the magic touch and he can't ever lose."

Benson's style is difficult to appreciate immediately, but given repeated listens, Lapalco is an entirely refreshing bittersweet collection.

Sunday, 30 March 2003

A case study of the band Weezer

Jeff Rosenfeld wrote his dissertation (at Harvard, no less) on Weezer. Good lad.

"In the pages that follow, I investigate these questions by establishing a model of how the artistic merits of rock music are appraised. Utilizing the institutional framework and terminology Pierre Bourdieu establishes in his “Market of Symbolic Goods,” I frame rock music as a middlebrow art that regards itself as possessing certain elements of highbrow “legitimate” art – namely “symbolic value” beyond a work’s value as a market commodity. 

I then use this institutional framework and aesthetic ideology to investigate the process by which Weezer’s reputation changed dramatically over time. Examining data from several sources: an original survey of 150 music writers, an original survey of 20,000 Weezer fans, original interviews with music writers and editors, and an analysis of a sample of 2000 articles and reviews mentioning Weezer, I argue that a strong fan following led to a reconsideration of Weezer’s artistic merits by the music press and altered the vocabulary used to discuss the band. I ultimately conclude that a number of parties play a role in deliberating claims of artistic value in rock music: music writers, artists, fans, and the commercial interests that employ writers and artists."

Link

Monday, 24 March 2003

Album Review: Wu Chronicles Volume 1

Essentially Chronicles is a collection of sixteen tracks that feature Wu members but that were originally released on other artists albums. Some of the tracks were originally featured on Wu-Tang solo albums, but others come from releases by artists such as Notorious BIG, Tha Alkaholiks and Mobb Deep.

The collection begins with4th Chamber', which is lifted from Gza's peerless Liquid Swords LP. It remains a superb track. The fuzzy guitar meshes uncomfortably with the razor-sharp beat making the track one of the Wu Tang's crowning moments. Cold World is also lifted from Liquid Swords and its Rza remix is included here. In truth it isn't too far removed from the original, the production is slightly sharper and there are now added gunshot samples as well as an added verse from soul crooner D'Angelo. The ensemble track, Wu Gambinos, lifted from Raekwon's seminal Only Built 4 Cuban Linx album also finds its way onto this collection. It is another timeless piece of Rza production and it sounds just as fresh today as it did in 1995.

The What was previously found on Notorious BIG's debut, Ready To Die. The track features BIG back when he was actually a decent rapper, not the wheezing asthmatic he would later become, along with an on-form Method Man. It's hard to believe that the track is nearly a decade old. The combination of Biggie delivering his best ever line, ("Biggie Smalls is the illest / your style is played out like Arnold when I'm what you talking bout Willis") over an atmospheric beat joined by some vinyl crackling serve to make The What an all-time classic hip hop track. Other highlights include, The End which was released on Ras Kass' slept on debut album Rasassination and features the Rza and Ras Kass delivering some decent black political rhetoric. Elsewhere, The The Alkaholiks and ODB carve up a typically raucous slice of hip hop on Hip Hop Drunkies over a funky piano sample and some decent scratching and the previously unavailable 96 Recreation has Cappadonna, Rza and ODB drop weighty verses over a typically minimal beat. The track is only a demo and the accompanying tape hiss only adds to the track's austere feel.

Unfortunately, it's not all of such a high standard. The Cocoa Brovaz are unusually ordinary on Black Trump and the accompanying sample is highly annoying, making it the worst track on the album. Killarmy continue their track record of creating only mediocrity on Wake Up and Young Godz by Shyheim is incredibly bland. Overall though, the quality of the tracks is above average.

It's a hard collection to give a grade to. The music is generally good, but most hip hop fans will own most of the tracks already. Certainly there is a degree of convenience to be had in having these tracks on one CD and the artwork is amazing, but it is a fairly redundant purchase for all but the most hardcore Wu Tang enthusiasts.

Wednesday, 19 March 2003

Album Review: Tical

It seemed likely that Method Man would be the Wu Tang member most likely to find commercial success. Not least because he was the only member to have a track named after him on the group's debut release. There was more than though, his languid drawl made him stand out from the other MCs on 36 Chambers. And so Tical was to be the first solo album to come out of their Shaolin headquarters.

It is Method Man's inherent charisma that initially made him stand out from the rest of the clan; he seemed slightly more charming than his associates. Meth has never been one to take himself totally seriously and on Tical he is as amusing as ever. The title track has Meth squealing, "What's that shit that they be smoking? / pass it over here" in a high pitched voice coming across half rough gangster and half playground bully as he childishly taunts, "Your momma don't wear no drawers / I saw when she took them off" on Biscuits.

When he's not altering his pitch or making juvenile insults, Meth invariably is spitting arrogance or attacking fellow MCs. Release Yo' Delf is an odd track. It's certainly the best example of Meth's bravado, as he declares himself, "as deep as the Poseidon Adventure". The lyrics, however, are slightly at odds with the chosen backing track; an interpolation of Gloria Gaynor's gay party anthem, I Will Survive. The net result should be awful, but somehow it becomes more than the sum of its parts. Method Man fans should check out the Prodigy remix, which gives the track a brutal makeover. Elsewhere, Meth v Chef has Method Man lyrically spar with Raekwon, over a suitably austere beat. It finally is a chance for Meth to up the pace as he tries to keep up with Raekwon.

The commercial breakthrough track on the album is I'll Be There For You; implausibly it samples three songs heavily. It takes Children's Story by Slick Rick, Me & My Bitch by Biggie Smalls and adds it to You're All I Need To Get By by Marvin Gate and Tammi Terrell. Mary J Blige is superb on the backing vocals, and Meth plays the part of the caring suitor to perfection. There is another version of this track earlier on the album, which is far more raw, but fails to find the emotional centre that is on the later version.

The main contrast between this and other early Wu Tang solo LPs is that it sounds more like a collection of radio-accessible singles as opposed to an album. Where Gza and Raekwon set out (with substantial assistance from the Rza) to create very cinematic scenarios with their words and beats, Meth is content to tread through standard rap scenarios. There's certainly nothing wrong with this, and in fact it comes as a decent contrast; but those looking for an intellectual rap album will be disappointed.

Wednesday, 12 March 2003

Album Review: The Cold Vein

The cycle of music causes such things to happen. Those who once were the trailblazers become the establishment. So, while Public Enemy, De La Soul, Wu Tang Clan have all joined hip hops upper echelons, consequently their work has become less important. This transition allows for a new breed of hungry underground artists to come to the fore. Many will cite Eminem and even 50 Cent as the hottest prospects. They are not. Most of them appear to coming out of the ashes of the Rawkus label, but the brightest sparks of all are emerging from the red-hot Def Jux label. Take two of the most intelligent and gifted MCs to emerge for a long time and combine them with the hip hop world's most innovative producer and you end up with not only a remarkable hip hop album but, in this writer's opinion, one of the very best LPs ever made.

Vast Aire and Vordul Megalah introduce a New York that the listener may have forgotten existed after so many bourgeois releases by the likes of The Strokes. As early as three minutes into the first track, Vast Aire gives the listener an idea of the exactly how dire their situation is, "Boy meets world? Of course his Pops is gone, what you figure? / that chalky outline on the ground is a father-figure." It is the grim position that Cannibal Ox find themselves in that dominates the album, on Stress Rap they admit, "You love New York / But New York don't love you." A sample is played mid-way through the opening track reminding the listener that, "You are one of the few predator species that preys even on itself."

However, this isn't a cynical attempt at proving they are from some rough streets in an endeavour to add some B Boy posturing. Cannibal Ox describe themselves, and others in their position as pigeons, feeding off scraps of pizza crust. The metaphor is a fitting one for individuals in such a hopeless position. Despite the squalor surrounding them, Cannibal Ox find time for a little humour. Vast jokes that he "blows heads like that dead clothes designer." There's even room for some humorous self-criticism as Vast Aire admits, "oh shit I said a word twice" and then starts his verse again on Raspberry Fields.

Essentially this is an album about living in New York's underbelly, but scratch the surface and you'll find many more twists in the album. In fact, all but the most robust individuals will enjoy the let up in intensity. Ox Out Of The Cage is perhaps the most traditional rap track on the album with it's "Ladies and gentlemen" opening. But if you think Ox will dumb it down, you're mistaken. Vast Aire spits, "I grab the mic like Are You Experienced / but I don't play the guitar / I play my cadence." Vast then delivers a sermon on modern day relationships on The F Word, "Don't take it personal, I like you a lot but I don't wanna lose what we got / but what we got now is friction / she tellin' me intimacy and friendship she ain't mixing." Elsewhere A B-Boy's Alpha combines Freudian theories with street fighting over a beat reminiscent of a mangled carnival. While all the credit in the world should go to Vast Aire and Vordul for their amazing lyrics, EL-Ps sonic landscape is equally worthy of praise. From the siren that begins Iron Galaxy through the outrageous stuttering beat that furnishes Vein to the majestic guitar that soars as Pigeon takes the album to its conclusion there is not a single misplaced beat or mediocre melody on the LP.

While the album proper ends with the wicked message of hopelessness that is Pigeon, the hidden track Scream Phoenix points to a more fruitful future for the impoverished New Yorkers, "Famine, disease and senseless dying is done / pigeon bird got a breath left / heart beat no more / phoenix bird morph and we live off the G-force." Seventy-three minutes after the journey began, it comes to a fitting end. Scream Phoenix is a message of hope for not only the listener but for Cannibal Ox themselves as the mindless and hopeless pigeons have transformed into noble phoenixes.

This is the real underbelly of New York, and 'The Cold Vein is one of the greatest albums to ever come out of the city. But it is more than that, it deserves to join the realm of 'Pet Sounds', 'Revolver' and 'Nevermind's, as an LP that is regarded to be not only sonically phenomenal, but also culturally important.

It never will of course. But one can dream.

Sunday, 9 March 2003

Album Review: Bulletproof Wallets

The first listen to Bulletproof Wallets ends in disappointment. Recent favourite The Sun, which is included on the track listing, hasn't made it to the final disc. This is a shame because it had the potential to be a big hit for Ghostface. However, what is left is more often than not more than worthy of replacing it.

Maxine gets the album off to a flying start and has Ghostface back at his best. When Ghost ups the pace and rattles through this grimy story of crack addict squalor he truly is amazing; there are few MCs working today who can match Ghostface when he is in this form. Rza should also gain praise for his production on this track. Many Wu fans have criticised Rza for becoming predictable with his production. When the electric guitar is cranked up at the violent climax to Maxine all is forgiven. The track comes to a close with the line, "On the count of three / he landed right in front of the first floor balcony / black brains was splattered / he was dead / and the cops never came."

Elsewhere, Walking Through The Darkness, originally released on the Ghost Dog soundtrack gets a thorough lyric reworking. Theodore with its odd low-key xylophone is an inspired sing-along 1988-style hip hop track. Strawberry is a pornographic tale where the listener gets to know Ghostface more intimately than they probably had wished to - a buzzing sample helps the track from becoming too enveloped in smut though. Also, the story of hotel battlegrounds that is The Hilton is one of the best lyrical works the Wu have released in recent years.

While there are many highlights to the album, there are an equal number of half-hearted tracks. The first single Never Be The Same Again is weak. The story of Ghost dumping his girl and taking the moral high ground is unusual subject matter for the Wu and Ghost's angry rap does not mesh at all with Carl Thomas' soulful crooning. Flowers sadly is equally weak. Ghostface, Raekwon, Superb and Method Man each fail to take this track above average. There are a couple of unfunny jokes like Jealousy and Teddy Skit, which also detract from the album as a whole.

It's an odd LP in many ways; much of it wouldn't sound out of place if it had been released in 1988. And you can't help but feel if anyone else had released it, you wouldn't mind, but Ghostface is one of the finest rappers around, and Bulletproof Wallets never matches the heights that Ironman or Supreme Clientele scaled.

Saturday, 8 March 2003

Album Review: The W

It seems that whatever the quality of the solo albums and the many Wu-affiliated albums, when the Wu have a family get together at their hive, they seem to produce only the sweetest honey. Their debut, the hugely influential Enter The Wu Tang is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest hip hop albums ever, and its follow-up Forever, while perhaps a little long, was another classic hip hop LP. Unlike, the previous Wu Tang LPs though, The W, was released in the wake of some pretty shoddy solo albums from some of the Wu’s key players (Method Man, Gza and Raekwon). This time though the Wu have brought along a few friends (a first for a Wu group effort). Redman, Busta Rhymes, Junior Reid, Snoop Dogg, Isaac Hayes and Nas all lend their support.

After a kitsch kung-fu movie sample is dealt with, Method Man yells, “We’re Back!” at the start of Chamber Music. It’s a strangely cathartic moment, when the horror of his Tical 2000 album is washed away in an instant; and when Method Man (possibly the laziest member of the Wu around the release of The W) means business, you know the rest can’t be far behind. And indeed, they aren’t.

Perhaps due to the critical mauling most of their second solo albums took, or just because the pressure of rapping solo on every track is off, each MC is back to their best. It is Ghostface Killah, however, who most often stands out above his peers. On Protect Ya Neck, he spits, “taught y’all niggers how to rap / reimburse me.” Elsewhere, a pre-incarceration ODB is rambling more untidily than ever on, Conditioner. But for the most part this is a group effort.

Careful (Click Click) is, for me, the best Wu track since ‘CREAM’. It’s a very claustrophobic track; the eerie dungeon sounds, sleigh bells and the sound of an empty clip make it an uncomfortable listening. Those looking for something more commercial should turn their attention to Gravel Pit, the Wu’s first attempt at a truly commercial track. The 1920s swing-era opening is followed by a strangely hypnotic sample aided by Method Man’s constant, “back and forth” couplet.

The single, I Can’t Go To Sleep is horrific and beautiful at the same time and in equal measure. Again, it is Ghostface who makes the song – it is the story of black oppression over the centuries. It marks a much more mature Wu Tang we’re hearing here as Ghostface cries, “I can’t go to sleep / Feds jumping out their jeeps / I can’t go to sleep / babies with flies on their cheeks / it’s hard to go to sleep.” Rza’s string arrangement fits perfectly and he and Ghostface seem genuinely affected as they sing (yes sing, not just rap) the lyrics. The fact that neither Ghostface nor Rza’s voice can cope leaves Isaac Hayes the task of balancing the track. Hayes’ baritone is the perfect partner to Ghostface’s soprano rap and Rza’s hyperactive nonsense.

The running story of the album is the chaos, paranoia and sadness that lies at the heart of the American underbelly. Tracks such as Jah World, Let My Niggers Live and One Blood Under W highlight this perfectly. These tracks allow the Wu, more than ever, to become a cohesive unit as they paint lyrical pictures of inner-city life as an everlasting nightmare. The tracks featuring reggae singer Junior Reid, in particular, allow the Wu to become more pensive and observant than ever. Reid’s calming influence the perfect foil to the troubled rhymes of Ghostface, Gza et al.

After the lazy, uninspired works that have been emanating from the Wu hive recently, each member seems to have brought their best work to the table for The W. The Wu Tang Clan will never be the same group that released Enter The Wu Tang. How could they be? They’ve achieved their goals; they’ve become a legendary, multi-platinum selling rap act. There’s no going back from here. If this LP is the start of a new chapter for the Wu Tang Clan, let’s all hope they can continue in this form. For The W is potent reminder of just how good the Wu can be.

Tuesday, 4 March 2003

Album Review: Uncontrolled Substance

While Inspectah Deck has never been the most visible bee to buzz forth from the Wu Tang hive, he has always been a stable, jack-of-all-trades member. His mic skills, while not exemplary are matched by a certain proficiency behind the production desk. Thus his debut was not awaited with the same excitement that met his fellow Clansmen's debuts. Nevertheless, Uncontrolled Substance has a lot to like about it.

The Rza produced Movas & Shakers is undoubtedly the standout track. In fact, it’s one of the best Rza productions from the 1999-era. Until this point in their careers it was probably the most commercial party track the Wu had released. It’s Inspectah Deck’s commentary on the club scene, “We trip the light, ride to the rhythm of the night / skin tight honeys show me love at first sight / work light crazy legs non-stop body drop / my hip hop drop you to your knees in shock.” It isn’t insightful and nor is it particularly deep, but the beat is such that the lyrics don’t really matter.

One of the other highlights is The Grand Prix. The track is introduced by U-God as a “lyrical grand prix” and has U-God, Street Life and Inspectah Deck battle it out for a supposed three million dollar purse. Predictably it all ends in a draw. It would’ve been more interesting to have someone judge a winner and then hear the competitors argue the case. Elsewhere, the Pete Rock produced, Isaac Hayes sampling and Marvin Gaye inspired Trouble Man is a funky nod to the 1970s. Again, it’s all a bit out of character for the normally moody Wu Tang, and all the better for it.

Unfortunately Inspectah Deck cannot maintain the innovation for the entire album and there are several below-par moments. Lovin You with La The Darkman is particularly bland. The preposterously named, Hyperdermix is an attempt at Gravediggaz-style eeriness, but succeed only in sounding like a poor videogame score. The worst of the lot though is the totally uninspired 9th Chamber. The production by 4th Disciple is capable without being extraordinary but the rhymes are quite poor. The guests, La The Darkman, Barretta 9, Killa Sin and Street Life aren’t up to the job at all merely coming up with turgid, uninspired verses. It sounds like a poor track from the awful Wu Tang Killa Beez offshoot.

Inspectah Deck is not the most charismatic MC the world has ever heard, nor is he the cleverest, he seems to know his limitations and that seems to make his work all the more charming. All in all, while it never reaches the heights of the Wu Tang’s A-List’s debuts (Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Method Man etc), it is a debut to be proud of.

Album Review: The Fine Art Of Self Destruction

New York native Malin’s name has been on the lips of every music know-all for almost a year now since Ryan Adams name-checked him. Having stepped from the shadow of his former project, the appallingly named punk band, D Generation, his debut solo album gives us all a chance to hear what the fuss is all about. A cursory glance of the sleeve notes gives the impression that his is a who’s who of (dare I say it) ‘alternate’ rock; produced by Ryan Adams, mixed by Carl Glanville (who previously mixed The Counting Crows LP) and with guest spots from Melissa Auf der Maur (Smashing Pumpkins), Joe McGinty (Psychedelic Furs) and Adams. However, a talent as obvious and immediate as Malin’s is not easily overshadowed.

The debut single, Queen Of The Underworld will be the most familiar track for most people, but Malin’s metier does not end there. The album’s centrepiece is the immaculate Brooklyn. The song more than deserves its reprise at the album’s conclusion. It’s swirling melancholy is met in equal measure by a hope for better days ahead, “You used to like the sad songs of doom and gloom” Malin reminisces. Elsewhere there is a nod to Malin’s old punk days on Wendy, an outrageously catchy ode to an all-too-chic girl (“She liked Tom Waits and the poet’s hat / Sixties Kinks and Kerouac”).

Malin’s voice is an acquired taste and after several listens, I still cannot decide whether it is up to the task or not. At worst it is a nasal and catarrhal drone and at best a fragile, emotive and expressive drawl. On the first few listens of Solitaire, his voice really began to grate. However, the track has grown to be one of my favourites on the album. It’s a beautiful song; bare and soulful about reluctant loneliness, Malin mumbles, “Got some cigarettes and no real regrets," before yelling, “I don’t need anyone.” You start to believe him when he takes a rather spry approach to Almost Grown, a song about growing up in a broken home.

Comparisons with Ryan Adams are obvious but slightly unwarranted seeing as both artists deserve to be treated equally but separately. But for those who enjoy that kind of thing, The Fine Art Of Self Destruction is just as good as either Heartbreaker or Gold. If grounded, emotive, stylish song writing is what you’re after, with intelligent, witty and perceptive lyrics thrown in for free, as well as no small degree of musical panache, you will most likely not be disappointed.

Sunday, 2 March 2003

Album Review: Heavy Mental

Killah Priest has never been considered a full paid-up member of the Wu Tang Clan, but his contribution to Gza’s seminal Liquid Swords LP didn’t go unnoticed.

Strange for an early Wu Tang LP that Rza doesn’t earn a single production credit. This means that the beats are very simplistic, and the production is never especially dazzling. This is a mixed blessing. Instead of detracting from the album, it allows Killah Priest to be heard and since Priest is considered to be one of the most intelligent MCs around, this is no bad thing. Over the course of the twenty tracks though, this simplistic style can become a chore to listen to. This puts extra pressure on Killah Priest to engage the listener with his insightful words alone.

The first single and opening track, One Step sets the tone, a simple beat is coupled with what sounds like a sample from William Bell’s I Forgot To Be Your Lover. It is the lyrics though that set this track (and indeed the entire album) apart from the raft of Wu affiliated stuff available. Killah Priest sets out his stall to educate and inspire the listener, “Early natives related to the thrones of David / captured by some patriots, and thrown on slave ships / they stripped us naked while their wives picked their favourite / lives were wasted, in the hands of the hated / driven from the garden, now we starving in the martyring Sodom / they call it Harlem.” Elsewhere, B.I.B.L.E has Priest issuing a challenge to the priests who tell us to look forward to a peaceful afterlife while suffering in squalor while on Earth, “Screaming hallelujah / when we hardly knew ya.” It comes across as astute without being overtly preachy.

Other highlights include Cross My Heart (which features both Gza and Inspectah Deck – both of whom match Priest in the lyrics department). It’s Over is a stirring parable, comparing the end of a rapper’s career with the end of the world and Mystic City is another astute apocalyptic tale coupled with some typically barren production from Y-Kim.

There are some outright weird moments within the twenty tracks. The title track is another Priest rant backed by, of all things, a didgeridoo. Fake MCs also comes across as odd, in the presence of so many more laudable verses. The songs itself is decent, and the production (by 4th Disciple) is capable (it steals a snippet from My Little Brown Book by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane). It is the subject matter where Priest calls out, “phoney MCs”, that just seems a little out of place amongst stories of biblical miracles and black oppression.

Ultimately, the album is a good one, slightly marred by some uninspired production. As an MC, Killah Priest cannot be faulted, as an intelligent rapper, he ranks alongside the likes of Dead Prez and Mr Lif for trying to educate and motivate the listener. But unlike those other artists, the production on this album does not match Priest's lyrical ambition.

Oh, and that title... What in God’s name was he thinking?