Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Eclectic and interesting pop from Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse

I have been a fan of Danger Mouse (born Brian Burton) since I picked up the Danger Doom project, “The Mouse and the Mask,”  a concept album inspired by Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming on which he collaborated with MF Doom. That album inspired me to seek out “The Grey Album,” a brilliant mash-up of The Beatles’ “White Album” with Jay-Z’s “Black Album.” I was tickled when I then found Danger Mouse’s project, Gnarls Barkley. He has been nominated for a Producer of the Year Grammy and is just generally involved in lots of interesting projects.

Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse combine to form... Minilamb.

2010 was a busy year for Danger Mouse. In addition to producing the Black Keys latest album, “Brothers,”  and releasing an album with his rock band, Broken Bells (which I only discovered today), he released an album with respected alt-rock band, Sparklehorse, called “Dark Night of the Soul.”

You may know that Sparklehorse front man Mark Linkous killed himself in March of 2010. “Dark Night of the Soul” was his last release. He had written a bunch of songs he was not comfortable singing and when he talked about it with Danger Mouse, they came up with the idea of recording the songs with a series of guest vocalists. So the album features an enormous cast of guest vocalists, most of whom were given a great deal of creative input into the songs they sang.

Guest personnel on “Dark Night of the Soul” include James Mercer of The Shins, The Flaming Lips, Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, Frank Black of the Pixies, Iggy Pop, Nina Persson of The Cardigans, Suzanne Vega, and more. There are a bunch of great performances on the album and, as you might expect with such a wide variety of performers helping write the material, it ranges around in many styles. Danger Mouse is a musical chameleon, so this presented no difficulty for him.

Here are my 3 favorites:

  • Star Eyes (I Can’t Catch It) – Film maker David Lynch is the guest on this one and he actually does a beautiful job crooning this slow and ethereal ballad backed by almost calliope-like keyboards, guitar, and ringing percussion.
  • Insane Lullaby – James Mercer of The Shins lends his talents to this track. The vocal melody sounds like familiar Shins material, but the instruments behind him are a cunningly mixed mélange of bells, strings, and some unidentifiable scratching or feedback.
  • The Man Who Played God – Suzanne Vega is back and apparently hasn’t lost a step. This is a beautiful, largely acoustic track with a really appealing vocal melody sung in Vega’s familiar breathy, sexy lilt.

It’s always sad when someone takes their own life, but the loss is multiplied when that person clearly still has so much to contribute and so much pleasure he or she can still bring to other people. Of course, one hopes Linkous rests in peace and that his friends and family can find peace as well. And he left behind a legacy of music.

Meanwhile, I continue to be impressed time and time again by the varied and brilliant work of Danger Mouse. I will look forward to hearing Broken Bells, when I can lay my hands on a copy, and anything else he puts his own hands to in the future.

August 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Weird and melodic New York / Japanese rock from Cibo Matto

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.

Domo.

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.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | Electronica, Hip Hop, Popular, Rock, Uncategorized, World Music | Leave a comment

Challenging but appealing experimental music from Anata Wa Sukkari Tsukarete

‘Sweetness and Light is an experimental EP from Anata Wa Sukkari Tsukarete (Japanese for “You are completely tired”), a multi-national trio comprised of artists Gnomefoam, Bunny, and _. From the opening moments of the first track, “Forsake,” you know it is going to challenge your ear. A synthetic voice (a la Stephen Hawking) and cricket noises greet you before the song is taken over by heavily echoing noises and arrhythmic percussion. “Forsake” never gets easier, remaining mostly noise and atmosphere.

You are completely tired.

You are completely tired.

The second track, “Cataract” is a bit more musical, with keyboards and vocals picking out a meandering melody while scratching percussion and buzzing guitar keep things from getting too grounded.

‘Sweetness and Light’ is like this throughout. Anata Wa Sukkari Tsukarete are uninterested in traditional music forms, beyond how they can use and distort them to serve entirely new purposes. They compose pretty melodies to use as backdrops to atonal sounds and use traditional instruments mainly to twist their voices to new purposes. The effect can be haunting and even beautiful, but don’t expect to put this disc on with a roomful of friends and have everyone enjoy it – unless you and your friends are under the influence of some heavy psychedelics.

The first movement of the third track, “Bearskins,” features recited poetry and some demented keyboard work until it gives way to a more traditional New Age sounding synthesized song. It still shifts rapidly between musical sounds and effects until the third movement, which is a dreamier and even more melodic – beautiful, actually – than the rest of the song. This 8 ½ minute song is my favorite on ‘Sweetness and Light.’

The fourth track, “Sweetness and Light” is mostly solemn piano and distorted vocals. The melody is pretty and the vocals give way to effects as the song progresses, adding color and depth to the track. The lyrics that I could understand were dark, but it was still a pleasant and pretty song.

The closing track, “My Drive” uses an out-of-tune piano to start us out on a jarring, atonal note. Whispered, distorted vocals are sometimes accompanied by and sometimes obscured by synthesized effects. It definitely sets a mood, but the track is slow and not much happens, making it probably my least favorite.

It took a couple times through before I began to get this disc more. I have said before that the #1 thing I ask of musicians when listening to their music is don’t bore me. There were a few times on ‘Sweetness and Light’ that Anata Wa Sukkari Tsukarete lost me, but even then I was never bored. I did enjoy most of this disc and if you find yourself bored with the traditional music forms of Rock, Pop, and even Jazz, this disc will expose you to some new ideas that might even make their way back into popular music.

I was able to get this entire release here free yesterday. I found a link to this download while I was looking for a track listing (the copy I got to review for AltSounds wasn’t factory and had no track listings). I don’t know if the free download is supposed to be here or not. I figure if you hear it and like it, you may go purchase some of their other music so have at it.

http://www.myspace.com/awsts

September 28, 2009 Posted by | Alternative, Indie, New Age, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More inspired Reggae covers from Easy Star All-Stars; this time it’s The Beatles

So back in February, I wrote about The Easy Star All-Stars. They are a Reggae band that specializes in Reggae-ifying entire classic albums. Their first release of this nature was ‘Dub Side of the Moon,’ which was fantastic. Then they released ‘Radiodread,’ covering ‘OK Computer,’ which was not AS good, but still had some real winners. I told you then they had announced they were working on ‘Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band.’ Well, it came out in April and I have had time to thoroughly digest it.

Like the original, but smokier.

Like the original, but smokier.

I mentioned in my last review that the reason ‘Dark Side’ worked so well is that Pink Floyd is like Reggae music in a lot of ways: songs with dark lyrics about struggle and suffering buoyed by joyful, triumphant music. People have said a lot of things about The Beatles, but no one has ever called them dark or brooding. John would occasionally pen some dark lyrics, but Paul never had a dark day in his life. Or at least, he never wrote a song on one of his dark days.

On the other hand, The Beatles did produce a lot of joyful music and it is in these tracks that The All-Stars really make it work. Like on ‘Radiodread,’ there are some songs that just don’t work in the Reggae style. “She’s Leaving Home,” for example, should probably never be covered by anyone and it certainly doesn’t work here. “When I’m Sixty-Four” also doesn’t make the transition very well. Still, I pulled 6 tracks off this release. Some of the songs on this album are fantastic, obviously, but I’ve heard John, Paul, George, and Ringo sing them hundreds of times. It’s nice to hear a new version of some that I had never heard covered before.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hears Club Band – The Reggae beats, horns, and Jamaican accent are cool to hear in this familiar ground and they don’t lose any of the joy of the music.
  • With a Little Help from My Friends – This is a great song and I always like to hear someone other than Ringo sing. (Sorry, Ringo. I always thought you were a good drummer, but they should never have given you a mic.)
  • Fixing a Hole (Extended Dub Mix) – They make this much spacier than the original with heavily reverbed vocals and some dreamy harmonica. This is one of the better versions of this song I’ve heard.
  • Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! – Well, this was always my favorite song on this album (or tied for first with “A Day in the Life”) and they got Ranking Roger into the studio to lend his inimitable style. They also play some of the same studio tricks George Martin broke out on the original album. This is the second best song on the album.
  • Within You Without You – I like this better than the original. I always thought this track was incongruous on the original album. It’s way too slow and sleepy and it’s preachy besides. On THIS version, however, they turn up the tempo so the album doesn’t lose its energy and Matisyahu – clear-voiced and spiritually-minded – is a perfect choice to deliver the vocals. It’s still preachy.
  • A Day in the Life – “Woke up. Fell out of bed. Dragged my fingers through my dreads.” They do a really nice job with this, though they don’t change it all that much. They use a  Reggae backbeat and horns instead of strings but they don’t mess with arrangement at all. And yes, they do end the album with the “Never could be any other way” weirdness.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds comes off pretty well, too, but A) I’ve heard this song covered many times and a few better, and B) the way Frankie Paul enunciates “diamonds” gets on my nerves.

I am an Easy Star fan and at this point I’m interested to hear what they are working on next. Some Rolling Stones? Zeppelin IV? Hotel California? I’ll listen to it, whatever it is.

http://www.easystar.com/

August 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Quirky but mainstream Pop from The New Pornographers

I recommended a New Pornographers song once before in one of my Friday mixes. Today, I’m going to recommend you check out one of their albums. Who are the New Pornographers? Well, I started doing a little research, as I usually do before I write a post, and I saw them called an “Indie Rock supergroup.” Awesome. I love that stuff. Who has played with who and who they’re working with now. Music is an incestuous business and I love to see the connections, hear the similarities and influences.

So I looked at the band members and their other bands… I had heard of just two of them, Neko Case (who was awesome at Bonnaroo two weeks ago), and A.C. Newman (I love Miracle Drug) and none of the other bands. Maybe you know some of the others.

  • Dan Bejar of Destroyer and Swan Lake
  • Kathryn Calder of Immaculate Machine
  • Neko Case, solo artist, also of Maow and Cub
  • John Collins of The Evaporators
  • Kurt Dahle of Limblifter and Age of Electric
  • Todd Fancey, solo artist (as Fancey) and Limblifter
  • Carl Newman, solo artist (as A.C. Newman), also of Superconductor and Zumpano
  • Blaine Thurier, independent filmmaker
That's super!

That's super!

Maybe I don’t listen to enough Indie Rock, but… define “super group.” Anyway, I suppose you could call them super based on the great music they create together. Their first three albums made The Village Voice’s top 40 in the Pazz & Jop year end music poll, including Twin Cinema from 2005.

Make no mistake this is center lane Pop. It’s not bubble gum Pop, but the hooks are fat (if not phat), the harmonies feature lots of major thirds and fifths. Very accessible music. Still, it’s hard pop that rocks out a bit (they’ve been compared to Cheap Trick, though I’m not sure I hear it) and the lyrics and themes challenge you a bit. Check out these four tracks.

  • Twin Cinema – Three minute radio hook #1: Title Track. A bouncing guitar riff and everyone singing harmony. This is my second favorite track on the album.
  • Use It – The piano work adds a lot of interest to this track. It’s very catchy. This video is strange (but just wait) and I believe one of the “puppeteers” is David Cross.
  • Sing Me Spanish Techno – Newman (the main songwriter) cites Brian Wilson as one of his main songwriting influences and it shows in this song. I like this bizarre video. Does that make me gay?
  • Three or Four – This is the most musically original song on the disc, in my opinion, and it’s my favorite. The guitar crunches out a mean chord progression and the vocal line is unusual. Sadly, YouTube has only live versions with shitty sound, so here is a sample.

Their edgy but accessible sound has gotten them a lot of play on TV and movie soundtracks. Credits include Queer as Folk, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, The Office, Weeds, Waiting, Heroes, Rock Band, Numb3rs, and more.

http://www.thenewpornographers.com/

June 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Inspired instrumental Folk / Rock / Jazz from Dirty Three

Dirty Three are a trio from Melbourne, Australia who play amazing, evocative instrumental music. The band has ties to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, having performed with him and having shared Warren Ellis, Dirty Three’s violinist (who also plays piano, bouzouki, guitar, flute, and mandolin). Their sound is all their own, though. The songs are mostly patient, pretty, and emotional – almost melancholy. They range from mellow Folk to energetic Rock and there is a heavy Jazz influence to most of what they do.

I don't know what the disc title, cover art, and music have to do with each other.

I don't know what the disc title, cover art, and music have to do with each other.

I have to confess, I am not familiar (yet) with their early work, which I understand was more experimental than what they’ve done recently. I found and love their latest album, Cinder, from 2006. In addition to being a gorgeous album, it’s a good value as a purchase. Some of the tracks are short, but there are 19 songs on the album and they total over 70 minutes of music.

Here are five that live on my iPod. Sadly, none of the Dirty Three songs on YouTube are ones I picked from Cinder. Here are links to samples on Amazon.

  • Ever Since – The guitar work is steady, but the drums and violin swell and sink throughout the piece.
  • Dream Evie – A slow and pretty melody featuring plucked acoustic guitar that almost sounds like mandolin, an easy beat, and heart-breaking violin work.
  • This Night – This has a similar feel to the last one, but it feels more like a summer Sunday afternoon to me. Though I guess they were shooting for a summer night.
  • Ember – The guitar here is electric, but gently strummed and undistorted. The chord progression and the energetic violin work have an almost heavy feel to them. The song builds for most of its two minutes. It’s a powerfully evocative song.
  • Doris – An unexpected rocker on this album that features a jangling guitar riff and bagpipes, believe it or not. In fact, this is probably the only song featuring bagpipes I have ever recommended.

You may be familiar with the band Low. They play what is called “slowcore” music and it truly is slower than the coming of spring. In 2001 Low and Dirty Three released a collaboration called In the Fishtank that was a great blend of their two styles. I’ll briefly recommend you check it out today, but it may get its own post in the future.

http://www.anchorandhope.com/

June 23, 2009 Posted by | Folk, Jazz, Rock, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Friday Mix: My favorites from New Age pioneer Jean Michel Jarre

Even if you’re not a fan of New Age music, read on for a moment before you bail on this post. Jean Michel Jarre has been making music for 40 years and for most of that time, he’s been at the cutting edge of synthesized and electronic music. His spectacular outdoor concerts draw hundreds of thousands – and on a few notable occasions 1 to 3.5 million – people. In fact, he holds the record for the largest outdoor concerts.

One of his city-wide concerts, here projected over most of the Houston skyline.

One of his city-wide concerts, here projected over most of the Houston skyline.

I have heard his sound imitated everywhere from Rock music to car commercials and every time he releases a new album, I sit down with a pair of headphones to check it out. You may not like New Age music; lots of people don’t. This guy is pretty much the acknowledged master, though, and I’ve been following his career since I was 14 so here’s a sampling of his work.

  1. Arpegiateur – The Concerts in China
    This one was never released in the studio, but this live version is fantastic. Great syncopation built around a cool melody.
  2. March 23rd – Sessions 2000
    This is a very accessible tune. If you like Chillout music, there is nothing too outside about this. Some nice trumpet, cello, and some atmospherics.
  3. Oxygene IV – Oxygene
    This is probably his most famous song, released in 1976. He produced this album in a modest home studio on a small budget. After having some initial trouble even being published, the disc went on to sell over 12 million copies.
  4. Chronologie Part 5 – Chronologie
    I couldn’t decide between this and Part 8 from this album. The first movement of this track is two minutes long, then it kicks in.
  5. Night in Shanghai – The Concerts in China
    When the British embassy gave Radio Beijing copies of a couple Jarre albums, they were the first pieces of foreign music to be played on Chinese national radio in decades. A series of concerts followed, recordings of which were released in 1982. This one is pretty cool.
  6. Equinoxe 2 – Equinoxe
    This one is from the follow-up to his breakthrough album Oxygene. It’s a patient, oozy, ambient tune that highlights his skill at creating an atmosphere.
  7. El Dorado – Images: The Best of Jean Michel Jarre
    Jarre is able to add such color and texture to simple melodies that they’re interesting to hear. The video’s a bit goofy, but then I’m not sure who made it.
  8. Miss Moon – Metamorphoses
    A steady but cool tune. Again, it’s a simple melody but the stuff he adds in production is fantastic and lets it hold up to repeated listens.
  9. Oxygene 11 – Oxygene 7 – 13
    21 years after the release of Oxygene, Jarre released a sequel to the album. The goal was to create a seamless composition of all 13 songs. Amazingly, he succeeded. He used the same instruments and sounds and created a disc that flows perfectly when played after the first album. This is my favorite cut from the newer release.
  10. Fifth Rendezvous (Ron’s Piece) – Rendezvous
    A tragic history to this song. Jarre was invited to play a concert in Houston. He was inspired by the city’s skyline and history of space flight and wanted to integrate it into his show and the album on which he was working at the time. Astronaut Ron McNair had taken a saxophone with him on the Challenger shuttle mission to play this composition during the concert via a live link. Of course, the shuttle exploded and McNair was killed. The concert went as scheduled, but with Kirk Whalum on sax. The song was retitled Ron’s Piece.
  11. Tokyo Kid – Revolutions
    Funky percussion, foggy atmospherics, and occasional muted trumpet make this a great song. Industrial Revolutions off this album is also great, but I could only find live versions and covers on YouTube.
  12. Ethnicolor I – Zoolook
    This is by far his weirdest album, and that’s saying something. Most of the sounds on this disc are modified recordings of human speech and song. There are a few exceptions. Chicago beat poet Laurie Anderson provides vocals on a couple tracks. The bass in the second half of this song is played by King Crimson’s Adrian Belew (though not in this video). Here is an edit of four live versions that sounds remarkably like the studio version.
  13. Magnetic Fields Part III – Magnetic Fields
    This is not my favorite track but it is a good one off my favorite Jarre album. The transition between tracks 2 and 3 (of which you hear the very end in this clip) is actually my favorite, if you ever get a chance to listen. It’s creepy, then uplifting before an abrupt change to this up-tempo synth piece. This is a representative track from the album, though

I pretty much picked one song from each of his albums I own (I believe there are a few I don’t have). There are no Jarre albums on which I like every track, but all the albums have several outstanding songs. Perhaps start with Oxygene or Magnetic Fields if you’re interested in exploring his catalog.

June 19, 2009 Posted by | New Age, Uncategorized, World Music | Leave a comment

Accessible Indie Rock from Doug Martsch and Built to Spill

Doug Martsch is great with his band...

Doug Martsch is great with his band...

Doug Martsch is a talented Indie Rock songwriter and musician with a unique voice and a very successful band. I’m going to recommend a couple works by him today. First, his band, Built to Spill. If you go to see live music — especially at festivals — there’s a decent chance you could have seen them. They’ve done Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, South by Southwest, and other dates totalling over 100 shows a year for a long time. Since 1993, they have released 7 studio albums and 4 EPs. Every release I have heard has good music on it, but one of my favorites is Ancient Melodies of the Future from 2001.  I liked 6 tracks enough to put them on my iPod:

  • Strange – This song doesn’t sound Indie to me at all. This is straight-ahead, fat-hook pop complete with broad, major guitar chords, Johnny-beat percussion, and even tambourine.
  • The Host – Sounds like a cross between Widespread Panic and The Flaming Lips to me, in that it‘s the kind of patient but heavy groove you would get from Panic but it has the colorful flourishes and vocal performance reminiscent of Wayne Coyne. Great production on this song too. I love the keyboard sound and string arrangements.
  • Trimmed and Burning – Martsch has a talent for writing cool vocal lines. I really like the sung melody in this song.
  • Happiness – The very mellow guitar intro gives way to a dirty rock guitar riff and pounding drums. I’m not sure what’s with the comparisons today, but this song reminds me of Fleetwood Mac.
  • You Are – The beginning and end of this song would make a pretty, quiet ballad but they bookend a towering guitar bridge that takes up the middle half of the song. A beautiful composition.
  • Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss – An entirely danceable song with great lyrics. “And in this ritual you take command and lose control. And in this situation, find an ocean, sell your soul.”
... and very good as a solo artist.

... and very good as a solo artist.

The year after Ancient Melodies was released, Martsch took a break from Built to Spill to record a solo album in his hometown of Boise, ID. Now You Know is full of folky acoustic songs, though he does plug in a few times. The album is very unified in its sound and is great to listen to all the way through. If you’re looking to cherry pick, however, I think these are the three most catchy, accessible songs on the disc.

  • Offer – This is a haunting melody with great acoustic work.
  • Gone – The acoustic work is similar, but the melody is more joyful. I was walking around singing this song for a week after I got this disc. Couldn’t get it out of my head.
  • Lift – Another happy electric/acoustic number that he seems to toss off effortlessly.

If you get a chance to see either Martsch or Built to Spill, try to go do it. I saw them at Bonnaroo and they put on a very enjoyable show.

http://www.builttospill.com/

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Indie, Popular, Rock, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Perfect Pop from Jason Falkner

You may not have heard multi-talented musician and songwriter Jason Falkner’s name before. I would almost guarantee, however, that you’ve heard his music.

For starters, you may be familiar with Jellyfish. Their 1990 release, Bellybutton, saw some airplay. The single, Baby’s Coming Back (one of my least favorite tracks on the album), hit #62 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Other singles included “That Is Why”, “I Wanna Stay Home”, and “The King Is Half-Undressed.” All great songs you may have heard. Falkner left Jellyfish before their second release, Spilt Milk. (Incidentally, several members of this band have gone on to make great music in other bands and as solo musicians. It was quite a collection of talent.)

Falkner then wound up with The Grays. This 90s pop super group was only able to keep it together for 1 album but it was brilliant and got some radio play as well. I was frankly stunned to discover today that this album is currently out of print. It is available used and you should get it immediately, if you don’t already own it.

Wow. I have the same painting in my living room.

Wow. I have the same painting in my living room.

Since that breakup, Falkner has worked with Eric Matthews, Brendan Benson (now of The Raconteurs), Susanna Hoffs, Air, Aimee Mann, Travis, Beck, and Paul McCartney. All of this establishes his musical pedigree. What you came here for, of course, is the music itself.

Falkner’s first solo album, Jason Falkner Presents Author Unknown, was released in 1996. The reason Falkner has been so successful and sought after for so many years is he is a very talented songwriter and plays a bajillion instruments. On this album, almost every instrument you hear is played by Falkner (Simultaneously! OK, not really.) with the exception of the strings and one guitar overdub. The songs are catchy and alternately beautiful and powerful – and sometimes both. I ripped 8 to my iPod. You should too.

  • I Live – Having one guy doing everything certainly unifies the working parts toward his vision of the whole song. This is very tightly crafted power Pop.
  • Miracle Medicine – Great harmony vocals and multi-layered guitar dubs. This has a strong guitar hook at the chorus, too.
  • Hectified – A very cool and self-deprecating song. He makes writing songs this catchy seem effortless. Listen and you’ll hear what I mean.
  • Don’t Show Me Heaven – I like the thought provoking lyrics that are typical for Falkner. “Don’t it make you wonder which came first: the insatiable hunger or unquenchable thirst. Doesn’t matter at all once you check out of here.”
  • …Nobody Knows – Layered jangling and buzzing guitars, harmony vocals and an infectious hook.
  • Follow Me – The distorted guitars hammering behind the bouncy melody wouldn’t be out of place on a Weezer album.
  • Afraid Himself to Be – I’m not sure who he is flinging these accusations at, but I would hazard a guess that this song came out of the break-up of Jellyfish.
  • Untitled – A very pretty closer that ends by transitioning into an even more beautiful mini-song at the end. “You may not have been able to change the world but at least you’ve changed my mind…”

More at http://www.jasonfalkner.net/ and http://www.myspace.com/jasonfalkner.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Popular, Rock, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Tight Latin influenced Hip Hop from Ozomatli

In the summer of 1999, I saw the brilliant Ben Harper at an outdoor venue in Cleveland. We hurried to the arena to get there on time and were disappointed to realize there was an opening band. We got a beer and settled in to possibly endure but hopefully enjoy the opener, a band named Ozomatli.

A few minutes later, we heard drumming, shouting, and police whistles coming from the back of the auditorium. A small parade of guys carrying horns, guitars, and percussion was jumping, drumming, and dancing toward the stage. They climbed up, plugged in, and launched into an incredibly tight set of Rock, Hip Hop, and Latin music. Sometimes a song focused on one or two of these three styles, but usually, the songs blended all three. That many musicians can produce a wall of sound. Each was individually talented and they played in lock step as an ensemble. We were absolutely blown away.

Ozomatli is an Aztec god of dance, fire, the new harvest, and music. Thanks, Wikipedia!

Ozomatli is an Aztec god of dance, fire, the new harvest, and music. Thanks, Wikipedia!

Ozomatli consists of 7 to 10 musicians (membership fluctuates) and has included Jurassic 5 members rapper Chali 2na and turntablist Cut Chemist. They have released 4 studio albums to date. I have three, but today I want to take you back to their debut release, on which they were touring when I saw them.

Released in 1998, the self-titled Ozomatli is a fiery blend of styles. The production is first rate and the songs are strong throughout. I still break out the CD and put it on from time to time, but 6 tracks from this release are on my iPod (I also picked 5 more from 2004’s equally good Street Signs, but that is for another day). Give these a listen.

  • Cut Chemist Suite – I recommended this song already on my party mix. It is my favorite Ozomatli song.
  • Cumbia De Los Muertos – This song is sung in Spanish except for the Reggae-inspired vocal break by Chali 2na. My wife loves this song.
  • Eva – More Latin feel. The energy of this song is unbelievable and features some stunning horn work.
  • Super Bowl Sundae – Do you like a little sitar with your Salsa-Rap? Ozomatli is there for you. This song is 32 flavors of cool.
  • Aqui No Sera – This has a mellow, tradtional Latin feel complete with Spanish guitars, accordion, and violin.
  • Coming War – The contrast between this song and the last one shows their range. This song has very little Latin feel. Instead it is straight up street Hip Hop with great scratching (and the machine that goes “Bing” from the Star Trek sick bay).

I saw them again at Bonnaroo last year. Their great concert energy allowed them to thrill the large audience watching at the main stage. Pick up their music, if you can, and absolutely do not miss any chance you have to see them live.

March 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment