I got a twofer out of my iPod the other day that reminded me of a really enjoyable album, “Dummy,” by Portishead. Portishead is a 3-piece that released 2 albums in 3 years in the nineties, took 6 years off, and then got back at it in 2008. An engineer who works with the band is sometimes mentioned as a 4th member, which makes sense, since the production figures prominently in their sound.
Most of the songs have guitar and laid back percussion. There is also a lot of keyboard – often synthesizer – and pretty and emotional vocals proviced by their female singer, Beth Gibbons. There is a fair amount of post-production gimmickry, but they don’t get too heavy-handed with it. In fact, they strike a nice balance of sparse songs and atmosphere. I have had “Dummy” in the mix behind a few parties and it’s pretty good late night music for when some of the guests have gone but the die-hards are sitting down for some funny conversation. It might even inspire a hook-up. Who knows?
In any event, listen to my 4 favorite tracks off this, their debut album.
- Mysterons – A sparse guitar riff and percussion that is snare and kick drum only back an oozy and heartfelt vocal performance. A little synth and scratching give it some color. Cool track.
- Sour Times – More laid back percussion, clean guitar, and some jangling stringed instrument back another smoky groove. They added some gentle horns at the chorus so I would like it more.
- Wandering Star – Gibbons uses her expressive voice to good advantage in this song that features their signature simple percussion and sparse mix of instruments to create a soothing groove.
- Pedestal – Gibbons’ voice has an effect on it that makes it sound like it’s coming through an old radio, the percussion rides the cymbal, and they scratch through the bridges, creating a great chillout vibe. I love the jazzy muted trumpet solo.
- Glory Box – This track reminds me of a Zero 7 song. It oozes through the verses but the choruses are big and dirty.
I often wondered what a Portishead was. I figured it was something clever or psychedelic. Turns out it’s just the town near Bristol in Somerset, England where the band is from. No more clever than “Boston” or “Kansas,” though perhaps cooler.
I wrote up “Stereotype A” by Cibo Matto back in April. It was a great album that featured some cool beats and beautiful melodies. The band didn’t put out a lot of work together – just 2 albums and 2 EPs – so I started looking for work the artists put out after the band broke up. In addition to the prolific and well-connected Yuka Honda and the son-of-a-Beatle Sean Lennon, the band featured the talents of Miho Hatori. Hatori has done some interesting projects, like showing up as a character on an Xbox game and voicing the character Noodle on Gorillaz’ eponymous debut. She released her only solo album in 2005, an interesting project called “Ecdysis.”
“Ecdysis” is full of music that I almost want to call ambient or electronica, but the instruments are so often organic that it doesn’t fit. The percussion in particular features handclaps, bottles, and other natural sounds. The whole project reminds me a little of early Bjork, in that the arrangements are often sparse and the melodies are dreamy, but the singer’s voice is so beautiful, strange, and compelling the package works very well. There are several ballads on the album and a few up-tempo pieces, but the album hangs together well without any jarring transitions. If you liked Cibo Matto, you will not be disappointed by Hatori’s solo release. Listen to my favorites.
- A Song for Kids – Hatori sings this in Japanese which just makes it more appealing to me. We get vibes and some keyboards, but Hatori’s voice is the star.
- Barracuda – I wish I had found this video for my Halloween mix. It’s mostly dark and creepy, though it ends happily enough. The instrumentation is typically spare, but I love Hatori’s harmony vocals.
- Today Is Like That – This song is delicately constructed with what sounds like gentle accordion and percussion played on bottles and put lids. Despite the mix of instruments, Hatori’s voice makes this pensive track beautiful.
- River of 3 Crossings – Hatori’s voice is hypnotic as horns, piano, and vibes noodle occasionally behind plodding percussion. This one in particular reminds me of a Bjork tune.
Now if she would just get back into the studio and release a few more.
I saw The Book of Eli a few weeks ago. I didn’t have high hopes. I’m not a huge Denzel Washington fan and although I like the idea of post-apocalyptic films, a lot of them have sucked. It was actually pretty good. The cast was all great (I didn’t realize Gary Oldman was in it and he is always watchable) the cinematography was beautiful and effective, the story was cool, and the action was exciting. Good stuff. The reason I mention it here, though, is that throughout the movie, I consistently noticed the music.
Noticing the music in a move is rare for me, particularly when it is just a score that backs up the action and doesn’t figure prominently in the story. “The Book Of Eli Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” is varied, richly textured, and evocative throughout. Beyond just setting a mood and achieving a consistent feel, the soundtrack ranged from beautiful to ominous and featured an interesting mix of instruments, though I suspect most if not all of them were synthesized. I suppose this release would be shelved in the new age section of your local record store because of the use of electronic instruments and the ethereal quality of much of the music. New age or not, the music is cool.
Atticus Ross is a British musician who has worked a lot with Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) as a producer and programmer and with other folks like Perry Farrell, Korn, and Coheed & Cambria. Given the heavy nature of a lot of those artists, you may be surprised at the richness and patience of this work. Listen to these, particularly the first one.
- Panoramic – The title track is at once ominous and hopeful. Synthesized strings, electric guitar, occasional piano, and periodic industrial percussion set the stage for the film. You can see the windswept wasteland when you listen.
- The Journey – Vibrating ambient synthesizers give way to tribal drums and a wandering piano melody. Eventually, wailing harmonica and more synthesized strings come in and the song gets pretty big.
- Amen – This is a short piece, but the heavy brass of the beginning sounds like angry whale song before anxious percussion fades in and finishes up the song.
- Safe – The eerie opening swells to a pensive chord progression, but this is a transitional piece from the movie and is only a minute and a half long.
- The Passenger – Synthesizer, piano, and a little Middle Eastern flavor mark this dreamy two-minute piece. I could actually hear this piano line as the backbone of a Nine Inch Nails song.
There are other good tracks on the soundtrack, but some of them I probably like because they remind me of a movie I enjoyed. Check out the film and you will likely want the soundtrack too.
Thirty-five million Americans and I are all looking for a job. I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for a couple years, but I’m trying to get back into the market. As you might know, it can be a disheartening and frustrating process. I can tell you that the only thing worse than having a job is looking for one. On the plus side, I have lots of time to write a music blog. This week’s theme occurred to me as I was submitting resumes to open jobs and working my Linked In contacts. These songs all deal with work. Do you know anyone looking to hire a good technical writer?
- Working for Vacation – Cibo Matto
Ah, the quirky and brilliant Cibo Matto, whose lineup included Miho Hatori, Yuka Honda, and Sean Lennon. They did some strange and wonderful work, and this is a prime example.
- Love on a Farm Boy’s Wages – XTC
My love of XTC is well-documented. Who else writes songs about the difficulties a farm boy faces paying for a wife?
- I’ve Been Working – Van Morrison
I wrote this song up a few weeks ago but I chose it again today because I haven’t been working. This is from “His Band and Street Choir” and it is a vintage gem.
- Walk to Work – Viriginia Coalition
VACO plays accessible, good-time pop. This one is funky and fun.
- Barnaby, Hardly Working – Yo La Tengo
This is a sweet and quiet song like they released on “And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out.” I actually prefer the outtake version from “Prisoners of Love” that is more of a long, noisy exploration.
- Finest Worksong – R.E.M.
“Document” was the first R.E.M. album I owned and it has a special place in my heart. This song kicks off the album and the first few blaring seconds always take me back to high school.
- I Go To Work – Us3
“Hand on the Torch” came out in 1993 and remains a favorite of mine to this day. They took a bunch of samples from the Blue Note Records archives, remixed them, and rapped over them. Fantastic.
- At Home, At Work, At Play – Sparks
Sparks is a fearless and influential band my uncle turned me on to back in the early 80s. Here is a live performance that couldn’t have been recorded very long ago. As an added bonus, you get the incredibly weird 23-second ‘Propaganda’ before ‘At Home At Work At Play’ starts. They still sound great.
- Workman’s Comp – Mos Def
From the insanely brilliant “The Ecstatic,” (read my review of this album on AltSounds) this one discusses the perils of shagging your boss.
- Dream Job – The Dears
I am reminded of some of the slow, pretty work by Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star) or, more recently, Cat Power, except that it’s a guy singing.
- I Would Be Your Slave – David Bowie
Breathy synthesized percussion, gentle strings, and Bowie’s quiet wail make this song quietly compelling. The chord progression takes some surprising turns.
- Earn Enough for Us – XTC
XTC again, and I didn’t even use ‘Senses Working Overtime.’ Here is Partridge again, singing about making enough money working to pay for his girl.
- Five O’Clock World – The Proclaimers
The original song by The Vogues is great, but I really like the energetic version The Proclaimers dropped in 2004. This link will take you to the samples from this album, but you’ll have to click on track 8 yourself.
Enjoy this mix with a hard-earned cold beer at the end of the day. Have a great weekend.
Last week I put together a travel mix for my friends who have been on the road. Those songs were about the act of traveling. I had songs about airplanes and hailing taxis and driving. I have a different take on it this week. The titles in this week’s mix are full of places you can go. These theme mixes don’t always hang well as a mix and I haven’t made an effort to sequence it, as I often do. However, all of these songs are on my iPod and I like them all. I hope you do too.
- Expo in Tokyo – Alan Moorehouse
Jazzy Hammond organ and guitar playing that classic “oriental music” riff all the cartoons used when we were kids. This is a cool tune.
- Pay Back Africa– Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra
From “Who Is This America?” This is the original song that TV on the Radio had Antibalas play on ‘Things You Can Do’ from “Return to Cookie Mountain.” In fact, I thought TV on the Radio had ripped this song off, until I learned Antiballas was playing with them. Stick around for the end of this sample. That’s what most of the song sounds like.
- Fake Tales of San Francisco– The Arctic Monkeys
The Arctic Monkeys play some extremely cool music. This is a simple guitar riff, but there is a lot going on lyrically and there is enough energy to power a city block for an evening.
- Mauritania – Ben Allison & Medicine Wheel
This is a smooth track from my favorite Ben Allison album. You can hear a bit of African flavor in the theme. Horns and flute play a pretty melody, but the soloing work is virtuoso. Ben’s bass solo explores odd corners of the groove; the trombone solo is nasty and beautiful; the flute soars and flutters.
- Oklahoma – Bob Schneider
Schneider is an incredibly prolific pop singer/songwriter who I have been following for decades. He actually dated Sandra Bullock for a minute (she likes bad boys). I like the syncopated percussion, the lyrics, and the kind of hopeful, inspiring chord progression in this song about the end of the world.
- Walking to New Orleans – Buckwheat Zydeco
An absolutely classic zydeco recording but it’s about as slow and deliberate a zydeco tune as I have ever heard. In spite of its plodding pace, it’s a joyful song.
- Seven Years in Tibet – David Bowie
If, for some reason, you stopped listening to Bowie, keep listening. He never quit writing interesting music or taking chances in the studio. Listen to the oozy verses and powerful, industrial chorus in this song. Dude is older than my dad and still writing kick ass rock ‘n roll.
- Can’t Go Back to Jersey – G. Love
This is about a douchebag (sorry, G, if this is autobiographical) who pocket dialed his girl while flirting with someone else. She is kicking his ass out and he’s faced with being homeless and having to go back to Jersey.
- California – Gomez
Gomez takes two full minutes to get this song going, but man it is worth the wait. The funky percussion fits perfectly with the busy guitar riff and harmony vocals. I love this song.
- Amsterdam – Guster
This video gives us a pretty literal take on the line, “Are you getting somewhere or did you get lost in Amsterdam.” I always thought “Amsterdam” was a metaphor for drugs in this song.
- Little Japan – Los Lobos
If all you know of Los Lobos is “La Bamba” you should really dig deeper. Check out this sophisticated but appealing love song.
- Sailing to Philadelphia – Mark Knopfler (feat. James Taylor)
OK, Taylor AND Knopfler? How bad can it be? It’s one of Knopfler historical songs, this time about Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, who mapped the Mason-Dixon line to settle a border dispute. Add Taylor’s honey sweet voice to Knopfler’s perfectly expressive guitar work and you have gold.
- Nebraska – moe.
Click the link and listen to the first few seconds of this song. It’s a great intro for a cool song.
- Syracuse – Pinback
There is something mathematical about their approach to pop. Not that it has complicated time signatures, like math rock. I just think they play very precisely and hit the downbeat most of the time, rather than syncopating anything. That doesn’t mean it’s simple, just clean.
- Houston – Soul Coughing
I still like Mike Doughty, but I was sorry he left these guys. Their music was edgy and weird and all of them were monsters on their instruments. Here’s a strange minimalist groove with Doughty’s cool as hell lyrics.
- Shanghai Noodle Factory – Traffic
I listened to a lot of Traffic in college and I always liked this track. The footage is interesting here, too, of a chef actually making noodles. I didn’t realize there was so much body English involved.
- Santa Fe – Virginia Coalition
VaCo plays sunny, candy-like pop that reminds me of some of Blues Traveler’s most broadly appealing songs. It’s not dark or complicated, but there is definitely something to be said for the pure pop song.
- Birmingham – The Wolfgang Press
Aspects of this remind me of Soul Coughing. The band is a three-piece, and the guitarist adds depth to the sound by playing atonal and rhythmic noises. In fact, if Lou Reed played with Soul Coughing, it might sound like The Wolfgang Press.
Enjoy this mix with kumis or something else you can’t get where you live. Have a great
As I listen to music in my car, I occasionally tag songs on my iPod as something I want to share with readers. Then, the next time I synch with iTunes I have all these songs with a 5-star rating to put in mixes. Lately, I’ve been getting into a lot of chillout and electronica and that is what I found today when I synched and started looking for a mix theme. If you usually just read on Fridays, try following some links today. I love this stuff.
- Misunderstood – Common
Great use of a Nina Simone sample. Common’s flow is outstanding and whoever mixed this one for him has a gift. It’s tough to know for sure because no less than 8 guys got a producer credit on this album, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this one was mixed by Kanye West.
- In a Silent Way (DJ Cam Remix) – Miles Davis
Miles Davis was a pioneer throughout his life. He continued stretching himself and staying relevant until his death in 1991. This remix reminds me of the music from his last release, the hip-hop-oriented “Doo Bop.”
- 9×9 – Marco Benevento
This dreamy chillout piece is in 5/4 time and features some cool percussion as a result. Check out the sample above, or this live performance to hear the whole thing (the song starts about a 90 seconds in).
- Big Calm – Morcheeba
It takes a minute for this song to get rolling, but when it does the whining synthesizers, jangling guitar, and shuffling percussion come together behind a smooth but pretty profane rap.
- 3 Libras (All Main Courses Remix by 3D of Massive Attack) – A Perfect Circle
Remixing this song was inspired. 3D did a great job of it too, taking away the mathematical structure of the original and making it eerier and more challenging to the ear.
- Slip Inside This House – Primal Scream
The percussion and piano combine in this song to create a nearly irresistible dance groove. I’m reminded a little bit of the Stone Roses.
- You Make Life So Good – Rashaan Patterson
You may wonder what such a poppy R&B track is doing on this mix. I don’t have an answer for you beyond it seems to fit. This hook caught my ear and I just love it.
- Poetry – The RH Factor
I have written this disc up in the past, but if you missed it, check out this smooth, jazzy tune on which Roy Hargrove gets some help from Erykah Badu AND Q-Tip. I would like to have been in the studio that day.
- About Her – Malcolm McLaren
This one comes from the Kill Bill soundtrack. The original was cool, but I like this update much better.
- Tinsagu Nu Hana Dub – Ryukyu Underground
Here’s a little world music vibe for you. This is from the “Rough Guide to Music of Okinawa,” which has some strange stuff on it. This, though, is very Western-accessible chillout dub.
- Chica Bonita – Shaggy
Sometimes Shaggy lays it on a little too thick for me, but the muted trumpet and Caribbean vibe is fantastic on this track.
- Puppy Toy – Tricky
The piano riff is great and Tricky’s trademark throaty whisper is cool, but neither can hold a candle to the dirty guitar and Alex Mills hollering at the chorus .
- UNKLE (Main Title Theme) – UNKLE
This might be the coolest song on this mix. This is from UNKLE’s first album, when DJ Shadow was in the band. Check out the crazy list of samples used in this song.
- The Margretville Dance – The Prize Fighter Inferno
You don’t get to hear the chorus in this sample, but you do get a sense of the quiet, keyboard-centered groove.
- Regiment – Brian Eno & David Byrne
When these two met to collaborate, I’m surprised they didn’t collapse into some singularity of weirdness. There IS some weird stuff on this collaboration, but they managed to keep it together for this song at least with just some Qawwali wailing and cool rhythmic work on bass.
Enjoy with an ice-cold dirty martini or something else refreshing but a little edgy. Have a great weekend.
I was a huge fan of Jane’s Addiction. Their second album, “Nothing’s Shocking” would have been the soundtrack to a movie made about my freshman year in college. Their next album, “Ritual de lo Habitual” was also very strong with a lot of great music. The band broke up after that with members spinning off in various directions. Jane’s lead singer Perry Farrell and drummer Stephen Perkins stayed together and released a couple albums with Porno for Pyros. The first was great, the second was OK, and then they too broke up in 1998.
By the time Perry Farrell released his solo debut, “Song Yet To Be Sung” in 2001, he had been spinning records as a DJ for a while and was getting into more electronic sound. This album features a lot more synthesizer and drum machine than I have heard from him before or since. He also spends less time wailing. He still does wail on this album, but he does some gentle crooning too, always in the service of the groove. Perry Farrel is Jewish (he was born Peretz Bernstein but picked his stage name as a play on ‘peripheral’). The lyrics on “Song Yet To Be Sung” are inspired by Kabballah, a discipline concerned with mystical understanding of the Torah. So you get the occasionally deep and esoteric lyrics you expect from Farrell. You also get some simple melodies dressed up with a lot of accompaniment, which you would also expect from Farrell. The production throughout this disc is great and the whole project just showcases another side of a talented and growing artist.
I have read reviews of this album from people who didn’t like Farrell branching out and moving away from his rock roots. This project completely works for me, though. Farrell shows remarkable versatility, great melodic sense, and a flair for experimentation. You might have trouble laying your hands on it, but give these tracks a listen and you will want to make the effort.
- Song Yet To Be Sung – Here not just the lyrics, but the melodies and harmonies are inspired by Jewish traditions, though this song has a thoroughly modern sound. Ominous synthesizers and tribal drums ooze behind Perry and lots of background vocals.
- Did You Forget – This song starts slow and strange. It stays a little weird, but about a minute in, the percussion kicks in and Perry starts wailing the way you remember from Jane’s Addiction.
- Our Song – A very bouncy, bright, and danceable song. This one almost always lifts my mood when it comes on.
- Say Something – This follows ‘Our Song’ perfectly on the CD. It’s mostly drum machine and layers of vocals, though there is a little synth in the background. Sadly, this sample plays you the bridge, not the verses or the chorus.
- King Z – Oozy percussion and a pleasing piano riff are eventually joined by eerie violin and screaming guitar as Farrell sings another Jewish-inspired melody.
Farrell is a remarkable fellow. He founded Lollapalooza. He has worked with a great many people in a wide variety of styles all over the world. Read about some of his philanthropic work. My only complaint about Farrell is I seem to have had really bad luck when I see him live. I saw a Jane’s Addiction show that was cut short when Farrell was hit in the face by some debris thrown from the audience (understandable). I saw a Porno for Pyros show in Denver that lasted 90 minutes and the band took 2 breaks (inexcusable). I won’t go see him live again, but I will buy anything he releases.
I’m a fan of the bands that have a couple of DJs / producers as regular members and they work with a wide variety of artists in one-off collaborations. I’m talking about bands like Zero 7 and Theivery Corporation. It often makes for inconsistent albums, but you usually get a few gems on every one.
Today, I’m turning my attention to Basement Jaxx. The band is Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe, a duo out of London that has played and spun house music in a variety of clubs there since 1994. They released their first album, “Remedy,” in 1999 and since that time have had a lot of success, getting tracks included in some movie soundtracks (Bend It Like Beckham, Tomb Raiders) and commercials (Coca Cola, Nickelodeon) and winning the very first Best Electronic/Dance Album Grammy for “Kish Kash” in 2005.
In 2009, they released their 5th studio album, “Scars.” I have listened to other releases by Basement Jaxx and ripped a track or at most 2 off of them, but I found 4 winners on this album. The first half of this album was full of tracks that were weird, too frantic, or felt like bland Europop to me. I was disappointed. But then the second half of the album came on strong.
- A Possibility (feat Amp Fiddler) – The haunting guitar riff at the heart of this song may have been sampled from some 60s R&B love song and the vocal performance is just right for that. The complicated production around the key elements keeps it interesting to the ear.
- Stay Close (feat Lisa Kekuala) – The minimalist percussion and instrumentation in this song is a little strange, but Kekuala’s vocal performance anchors the track and the overall effect is beautiful.
- D.I.S.tractionz (feat Jose Hendrix) – Vibes, strings, synth, and gentle percussion back Hendrix’s quiet vocals (sung in Spanish?) and this track is gorgeous.
- Gimme Somethin True (feat Jose James) – I had to listen to this one several times before I was sure I liked it, particularly because there is a repeating tone that sounds like my cell phone vibrating. I do like it, though. There is sort of a complex bossa nova / Europop / hip hop thing going on that ultimately won me over.
“Scars” was originally intended to be half of a double album. Instead, they released “Zephyr” as an EP immediately after “Scars.” Together, they were supposed to be one disc of mellow, ambient music and one disc of more house oriented dance music. Presumably, “Zephyr” is the mellower, ambient music. I’m going to lay my hands on a copy and I’ll let you know what I find.
I am fascinated by Japan. I love their food, their music, their art… OK, and their porn. Clearly I am not alone either, as proven by the popularity of shows like Ninja Warrior, Iron Chef, and Death Note. You don’t see shows from Turkey, Brazil, India, Kenya, China or anywhere else, really, broadcast in the States. Just Japanese TV. Japanese manga, books, and even music survive occasionally hilarious translation to be popular in America as well.
Though the culture boom of a few decades ago is largely over, the Japanese still have a fascination with things American, too. American food, for example, is widespread in Japan. Major American movies and music still get some play in Japan as well. I find the cultural affinity interesting. I don’t know what it is about our two peoples that gives us so much in common.
One such Japanese export that I absolutely love was the duo of Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda, who in 1994 became Cibo Matto (Italian for “Crazy Food”). Their sound is hard to categorize. You can hear trip hop, Japanese rock, a little jazz, and a smattering of other world influences (Brazilian?). You kind of have to hear it. They rap, they croon. Some songs are beautiful, some are brutal. An LA Times article explains that the group was never very popular in Japan and their first full-length album, ‘Viva! La Woman,’ sold more than 3 times as many albums in the U.S. than it ever did in their native country.
Their second LP, “Stereo * Type A,” came out in 1999 and is the subject of my post today. Not all of the disc is good, and a couple of tunes are frankly awful (Blue Train, Sci Fi Wasabi), but I have ripped half of the album to my iPod and I have never gotten tired of any of those.
- Working for Vacation – Spacy keyboards and a weird rap make up the verses, but the harmony vocals in the chorus are fabulous.
- Spoon – This is probably my favorite song on the disc. Everything is working: a catchy beat, great vocals, pocket bass work, tasteful keyboards, a cool acoustic guitar solo, a funky horn arrangement, and great production. All in all, it was a fine moment in the studio.
- Flowers – Hatori and Honda harmonize very well together and make this relatively innocuous pop song really sparkle.
- Moonchild – My daughter loves this beautiful song about a breakup. “Moonchild still within my heart. Can I ask you something? Is your life better now?”
- Speechless – The ladies flash a little more hip hop on this track. It gets a little weird, but it’s engaging and the horns are excellent.
- King of Silence – I found a really good live recording of this love song on YouTube from 1999. Check it out; they sound great.
- Stone – This is just a sweet little groove that once again hangs on the pretty harmony vocals.
Interestingly, they were joined on this album by Sean Lennon, who played bass and subsequently toured with them. That got them a lot of press, naturally. Sadlly, the band broke up in 2001. Both founding members continue to work in music. Honda has played with The Beastie Boys, Tricky, Los Lobos, Yoko Ono, and many others. Hatori has also collaborated with many musicians and was the first voice of Gorillaz member Noodle.