If I had the energy and the time, I would definitely turn this into a post praising the entire oeuvre of this Philly-based doom-psych institution, but as that would take far too long, I'd like to focus on a particular song that has been the center of my obsession with this band, the late-period jammer from 2006's Ticket Crystals album entitled "Isle." A lovely ballad that begins with some gorgeous acoustic guitar and flute interplay before heading into the expected torrent of riffs and fuzz, it's a rather apt approximation of the band's abilities on both the more pastoral and their more archetypal heavy fronts. The studio version is great in and of itself, but the version the band did for John Peel's show in 2004 slays the studio take, amping up the crescendo to salivating levels of distortion. Yeah, I'm sure some may find this soft-going-loud ploy is a cliche in much heavy rock, but Bardo Pond work that angle with great poise and restraint. Additionally, I've included a solid live version from a show in 2011 in the UK. Superb stuff all around:
All hail Hijokaidan! Infamous pioneering Japanese noise destructionists centered around founder Jojo Hiroshige, the collective in various forms have used volume, cacophony, and narry a hint of "musical" sound to bludgeon their audience into a masochistic submission. Below, a collection of some very delightful live performances, most featuring regular members Junko and Toshiji Mikawa of the similarly demented Incapacitants. More noise, less music: bring forth the melee! Someone get them back for a stateside show already.
Earlier this week, I came across some amazing live go-go videos from the late 80's and early 90's on YouTube. Growing up near D.C. (I lived an hour away), I can remember as a kid on one particular occasion seeing a flurry of kids in go-go bands playing on every corner, homemade junk percussion in tow and some insanely intense, rich grooves. It's the sub-genre's distinctive rhythms that drive the music into something focused almost purely on the percussive interplay and call-and-response participation; describing the sound is difficult to put into words, but once you hear it, you know what go-go is.
The style has been intensely regional, very rarely breaking through to the mainstream outside of D.C., save for maybe E.U.'s "Da Butt" being used in Spike Lee's School Daze or Amerie's 00's R&B hit (and best pop song of the last decade, in my opinion) "1 Thing." I was a little oblivious to go-go as the 90's and 00's wore on, but looking back and listening/watching these performances, I'm struck by just how intensely gritty and funky these bands were in the genre's prime. Enjoy:
A couple weeks ago a friend of mine hipped me to a track by hyped up-and-coming MC Danny Brown based around the rather unconventional sample choice of This Heat's "Horizontal Hold." While in theory this is the sort of thing I'd generally freak over, the finished product for me is a bit of hit-and-miss. I'm still not sold on Brown as an MC deserving of his copious hype; his mannered "offensive-absurd" "outsider" schtick rings as way too calculated, though at least this track in question proves that it's very possible to rock "Hold" as a break, even if I keep wishing for someone of Pharoahe Monch's caliber to rip the song to shreds.
And then there's the rather lazy novelty of it all. It's cool that Brown and producer Paul White are forward-looking enough to chance this interesting juxtaposition, but the rather mundane nature of the whole affair underestimates just how inventive a lot of hip-hop production has been in terms of utilizing unexpected and/or obscure samples, especially in the 80's and 90's heyday. The best of the best MC's have been rocking over ESG's "UFO" (flipped on the wrong speed no less) for eons, not to mention proto-metal gods Mountain seeing a live version of their "Long Red" becoming a standard break.
For the curious, the website Who Sampled provides an indispensable user-edited database of sample sources that can easily tune one on to just how diverse and ingenious many of hip-hop's best producers have been in their re-contextualization of cross-genre catalogs as the basis for their distinctive beatscapes. One interesting case I wish to address is the use of Canterbury prog-fusion legends The Soft Machine in the canon of 90's hip-hop. These following three notable 90's tracks went into the band's early catalog as a means for crafting the sort-of head-nodding, neck-breaking boom-bap snap that a plethora of hip-hop purists worship and lament.
Craig Mack - "Get Down (Q-Tip Remix)"
Many still overlook just how incredible Q-Tip was as a producer in the 90's, not only in terms of being responsible for the vast majority of the beats on his group A Tribe Called Quest's first three classic albums, but also for all-too-infrequently outsourcing his skills behind the board, with this work thus appearing on such classic albums as Mobb Deep's The Infamous and Nas' Illmatic. A little more overlooked was Tip's overhaul of early Bad Boy signee Craig Mack's underrated second single "Get Down," this remix of which not only included a new third verse courtesy of Tip, but more notably an ingenious flip of some minimal, sparse organ chords that dabble about during the introduction of the Soft Machine's "Facelift," the opening side to the band's fusion masterpiece Third. It's the kind-of obscure snatch that maybe the most patient and attentive of listeners may spot, but putting the remix and its source back to back proves conclusively that Tip had a brilliant ear for hearing something funky in this notably abstract bit of improv.
Thankfully in this transition from analog to digital to Internet, we have kind souls archiving a lot of rare tapes that might have been lost in the shuffle, or even impossible to come by during the years in which they were sold/traded. Here we have an indispensable VHS documenting the early years of absurdist noise geniuses Nautical Almanac entitled 19994-20003. Originally released on the act's label Heresee, this tape includes a bevy of live performance footage, including some from the earliest days of the group when it consisted of mainstay Twig Harper along with future Wolf Eyes growler Nate Young banging out something closer to an anti-rock/no-wave deconstruction rather than the bent electronics and fractured cacophony that came about with the addition of Carly Ptak to the fold, as well as some strange short films and other similar chaos. This a must-see for fans of the group, or for any connoisseur of bizarre music or noise at its most gleefully maladjusted:
I recently sang the praises of San Francisco's Burmese's grinding, ugly Lun Yurn album on this blog, but the band's continually underrated status in spite of their near 14-year existence means the call is out for some further celebration (the band's Facebook page includes an exhaustive history of the band's various, ever-changing formations).
Burmese are a vicious, hideous band, in that there's nothing comforting or subtle about their attack. While the noise-rock tag has been thrown at any band with the slightest hint of fuzz or whatever constitutes "edge" these days, it's beyond refreshing to see an act in this sphere use sonic confrontation in the most repulsive way imaginable. The dual-drums/dual-bass onslaught is absurdly gargantuan, and now with the incomparable Tissue on vocals, the grindcore/power violence/death metal/power electronics monstrosity they've worked themselves into has seen no equal. Why aren't these guys bigger? Probably because there's no safety net here, just pure, vile antagonism, which, it should be said, is what one should demand from "noise rock" these days.
These are absolutely terrifying, insane times we're living in, and Burmese seems to sonically channel that turmoil fantastically. Don't believe me, check the live attack:
Continuing from my post from last week, I take a look at some more highlights from J. Dilla's career into the 00's, including some posthumous gems. All of these tracks provide more proof as to why James Yancey was one of the best producers we'll ever see in the hip-hop world.
Bilal featuring Mos Def and Common - "Reminisce" (2001)
Dilla always had a knack for seamlessly utilizing his talents behind the board to mingle with the realm of R&B and soul without ever straying far from his roots in the hip-hop world. While early-to-mid 90's rappers had a contentious relationship with more commercial-minded R&B dominating the airwaves at the time, at least until the mainstreaming of hip-hop as the decade wore on made the two uncomfortably inseperable, Dilla instead looked to the neo-soul classicism of the late 90's/00's as his inspiration, melding the staunchly nostalgic movement to his own whims and crafting a concotion that was as natural as it was commandingly funky. Neo-soul crooner Bilal proved an adept fit for Dilla's rich tapestry of slick 70's groove motifs, and if the hip-hop skeptics needed some more convincing, Mos and Common offer further incentive.
It's dismaying and bittersweet that the week in which we celebrate the birthday of celebrated hip-hop producer J. Dilla (February 7th), we also have to reconcile the fact that it was only a few days later that the legend passed away from complications related to lupus (Feburary 10th). In the years since his death at the maddeningly young age of 32, Dilla's cult has grown significantly, but this posthumous appraisal is definitely not without good reason. It was even while bed-ridden in a hospital suffering from the disease that would take his life that Dilla crafted the exquisite opus Donuts, a superb statement that focused on Dilla's rabidly growing innovations as a beatmaker and a forward-thinking master of craft who's artistic career was cut infuriatingly short. Thankfully, Dilla left behind a strong body of work stretching back into the 90's, one which has been evaluated in the ensuing years as one of the most distinctively consistent and inventively soulful in the pantheon of hip-hop. Like his friend and colleague Madlib, Dilla was one of the most visionary of the post-90's golden age of beatsmiths, with both using their worship of giants like Pete Rock, Large Professor, DJ Premier, and the DITC crew (Diamond D, Showbiz, Lord Finesse, Buckwild) as a starting point for a distinctively original and personal sonic template that shined as the obvious progressions from this revolutionary era of hip-hop. His drums and his basslines have a legendary funk that made his singular work a perfect fit not only for many MC's within the hip-hop community, but also for a good handful of soul and R&B acts as well. Dilla was one of the last great hopes for hip-hop in a period marked by an increasingly commercial crassness, where big business and trend-chasing began to stifle the progressive spirit set forth in years past. His passing was beyond unfortunate, but thankfully, a strong backbone of fans indebted to his work keep this genius's body of work visibly lauded for what is sure to be years and years to come.
Below are some highlights, many overlooked, from Dilla's 90's career (then producing under the name "Jay Dee"). Part 2, looking at the 00's, will follow next week.
1st Down - "A Day Wit The Homiez" (1995) Although the Payday imprint was responsible for such cult hip-hop classics as Showbiz & A.G.'s Runaway Slave and Jeru The Damaja's first two albums, they seemed to drop the ball when it came to the early careers of some eventual hip-hop legends (see also Mos Def's trio Urban Thermo Dynamics having their solid 1995 album for the label scrapped in spite of two singles being promoted). 1st Down was the duo of Detroit stalwart Phat Kat and Dilla himself (then going by the pre-Jay Dee moniker of John Doe), who saw this 12" pressed on the label and then....nothing. It's a shame as "Day" is a wonderfully smooth lost gem with Dilla making deft use of both a loop of Joe Sample's familiar "In All My Wildest Dreams" (most famously sampled on 2Pac's "Dear Mama") and some added flavor from The Brothers Johnson's "Tomorrow." An early notable glance of greater things to come.
The La Vie Eletronique series of triple-disc collections archival material from German synth wunderkind Klaus Schulze has beautifully compiled the man's various live and unreleased sides, painstakingly compiled in chronological order. Me being a fan especially of his symphonic and texturally dense soundscapes indulged during his "Berlin School" phase, I've been particularly taken by the fifth volume, from which this following performance appears. Seeing Schulze control such a meticulous accumulation of equipment is a site in itself, and something that certainly puts a lot of the less driven also-rans in the recent synth-revival to shame. Essential viewing....
Here's a strange television piece on Swedish psychopaths Brainbombs in the 90's, centered around what may possibly be one of the best band interviews ever. Tongue-in-cheek discomfort reigns in abundance, which may help take a bit of the edge off the band's absurdly anti-social m.o. Be sure to click the Closed Caption button on the video, unless you're fluent in Swedish.
Found this tonight, an excellent television profile from Toronto on elusive and legendary British experimentalists Zoviet France. Another band, along with The Shadow Ring, criminally overdue for some kind-of re-issue campaign:
While you slowly wake up out of your post-holiday food/family comas in time to prepare for whatever New Year's Eve debauchery you have on the agenda, here's an indispensable Hanson Records "promo" video circa 1997 uploaded straight from the label's mastermind, the great Aaron Dilloway. This collection features some extremely rare performance footage of defunct Michigan projects, both featuring future superstars/mainstays of the 2000's noise underground, Mini-Systems (Nate Young of Wolf Eyes and Anthony Miller, a.k.a. HZMT) and Isis & Werewolves (Dilloway with Steve Kenney, later of Demons, and Andrew W.K., who I believe sits in on drums here) as well as some wonderful homemade films from Beast People (Dilloway, Young, and Twig Harper of Nautical Almanac), Ron Of Japan, and perhaps most fascinatingly to many, an early short film from Andrew W.K. (then going under his full last name of Wilkes-Krier) documenting the absurdist rocker/cult pop figure's uncomfortably bleak early travels through the dirges pof Michigan noise.
I first came across the sadly defunct Florida-based noise nihilists Boy + Girl when their founder/mastermind AG Davis sent me a demo for release on my label. An inspiring fifteen-minute blast of heavily-edited grind-noise juxtaposed with excursions into severely-damaged electronic melodicism and out-of-context field recordings, I heavily dug this short burst of mayhem I was given, the overall album reminding me in the best possible way of some of Sissy Spacek's re-appropriation of their early grindcore demos. I eventually asked Davis to design the logo for my label, to which he happily obliged, and we've since kept in touch through the power of the Internet, but my one regret is not having been able to witness Boy + Girl in its live incarnation. While the various B+G CD's and cassettes jumped between the harsh, meticulous gabber-churn to even nauseatingly unbalanced pop jingles, Davis and co. turned B+G into something else entirely live. A delirious, wonderful mess of the most id-driven factions of noise, free jazz, hardcore, and whatever else you may gather from the ensuing muck, the players in these incarnations (always with Davis on vocals it appears) definitely hit upon a homemade, chaotic freedom sorely missing in a lot of noise performance these days.
Industry Rule #4080 was still in effect throughout the 90's, but for at least a brief period during this time, there seemed to be a slew of fascinating label acquisitions that saw a rather wide-breadth of talented MC's and crews that nevertheless went nowhere commercially. Before shiny suits and thug cliches became an easy cash-cow for rich label execs, a more open-minded attitude regarding hip-hop personalities made for an interesting landscape of talent that at least left some great material behind before typical industry incompetence and/or bad luck befell their careers.
When Space Ghost Coast To Coast started airing in the mid-90's, it's brand of off-kilter absurdity went way over my 10-year-old head, but I'm sure if the adult-me had been around at its inception, I would've embraced its genius without haste and in addition, freaked out over their choice of free jazz legend Sonny Sharrock to provide the score. Sadly, Sharrock passed away as the first season was airing, and during the third season in 1996, the show's creators produced an incredibly poignant tribute episode for Sharrock which still kept firmly in-line with the show's gleefully nonsensical universe. A showcase for a few of Sharrock's improvisations set against a phoney emergency and a non sequitur Thurston Moore guest spot, the episode is pretty much 12 minutes of Sharrock at his most fierce.
I still haven't had the time to fully immerse myself in this one yet, but here's the beautifully pastoral film made in 1973 depicting Japanese drone-geniuses Taj Mahal Travellers on tour. A soothing collection of wandering excursions and performance images set to the collective's stark and mysterious improvisations. As good an entry point into their world as your likely to find.
Heavy D was one of the few unabashed "pop" stars in the hip-hop world to nevertheless maintain a universal respect and admiration from all corners of the hip-hop community, even among those who increasingly felt that the prospect of crossing over into the mainstream was a major taboo. It's due to Heavy's unwavering integrity in regard to his talent and affable persona that endeared him to even the most hardcore hip-hop fan: he was an incredibly skilled MC with a deft, enthusiastic flow, and even when Heavy made tracks for the underground heads, he tailored the tracks to his own laid-back demeanor. His diverse musical ambitions made him one of the few mainstream rappers that mattered, and although he may be known more for New Jack Swing/pop smashes like "Now That We Found Love" and "Somebody For Me," he still gave those of us deeper into hip-hop's underground a solid share of classic tracks without the polish of the Top 40:
While her two proper solo albums are just fine, it's been the release of two compilations of live and home recordings (Green Rocky Road and Cotton Eyed Joe) in the past couple years that provide the purest document of Karen Dalton at the peak of her musical prowess. Her voice is still one of the most gorgeously unpolished expressions of weariness and mournfulness among the 60's folk/blues set; her voice's presence manages to overtake its audience in such a way that one can't help but devote all of their focus to what was laid to tape. Dalton was frustratingly under-documented, the case for so many tragically overlooked musicians over the years, and while the incredibly upsetting end to her life might cast a distinct intensity over her recorded work, it all stands on its own as some of the most vital and powerful American music of its time. These videos below (which I believe come on a DVD with the Cotton Eyed Joe set) are Dalton in her most comfortable settings, her music striped of the sometimes intrusive country-rock-flavored production that robbed her two proper studio LP's of a certain intimacy seen here.
First, Dalton performing a stunning interpretation of "It Hurts Me Too," recorded for a French documentary:
Nothing quite amuses in the way that a vintage local news report on those crazy kids and their "punk rock" does, but there's something extra surreal when the dry, patronizing drone of the local anchor follows around the going-ons of a band that actually represents the genre at its most gleefully obnoxious rather than just another new-wave Blondie rip-off. Here's some great footage of underdocumented Texas noise-punks Stick Men With Ray Guns profiled sometime in the 1980's on one such evening news sojourn. Come for the condescending narration from an anchor who just can't seem to believe that these Stick Men, what with their slam-dancing and their angst and their atheism, aren't some junkie thugs lying passed out in a gutter, stay for some pretty excellent footage of the late Bobby Soxx and his cohorts:
San Francisco's Chrome was one of those phenomenally singular bands that's difficult to put into words the peculiar space they inhibited. Proto-industrial-rock gets thrown around quite a bit in regards to their output but that doesn't really begin to crack the surface. Half Machine Lip Moves was my baptism by molten metal, a Stooges-by-way-of-Luc-Ferrari scum-punk masterpiece that still surprises me with each listen. Their subsequent work rests in a more sleazy, post-glam mindset, one where the electronic inflictions of "new wave" actually fell into the gutter its punk predecessors dug out. Most of these following music videos fall in that time frame, "New Age" from the recently re-issued Red Exposure album and "Firebomb" from 3rd From The Sun a couple years later, and the anti-budget, homemade surrealism of their inverted, scrappy films fit Helios Creed's and the late Damon Edge's modus operandi perfectly.
First, the incredibly underrated compilation track "Meet Me On The Subway," sadly left off their proper albums: