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The Double Take: Dollar Bin Records That Need to Be Owned By Someone!

April 30, 2010 Leave a comment

I sift through many a dollar bin and find upteenth tons of absolute junk.  I’ve already described a few instances here and here, but there are even MORE examples of vile filler that detracts from my perceptive attention.  However, there are a few classic gems that make me take note and cause me to wonder “hey, what’s the deal here?”.  Folks, it’s easy to determine why someone would have tossed their nineties R&B single collection, or even why they let that All-4-One classic drivel go.  However, the toughest part of the job of a music rummager is trying to determine why someone would willingly allow great records to drown in mostly worthless quagmires of dollar bins.  I am here to stand up and defend some excellent records that I saw in a cheap bin recently and felt that they deserved better than the ol’ push off the table.

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Wolverine Brass – Wicked Witch

April 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Auxiliary Records, 2006

I suppose with a dollar one can find a reason to buy anything.  This particular record stood out not just because its cover art was pleasantly simple with brown hues, but also that they included the word ‘wolverine’ in their band name.  I had never heard of them and their song titles didn’t give me much of a clue what they sounded like, so I considered this a shot in the dark type of purchase.  Okay, yes, it had high risk for tossability, but so do half of my random pickups.

A group of four guys in the Kentucky area formed Wolverine Brass to make loud, pain-ridden music.  Or at least, I think it’s pain-based.  I couldn’t really tell because the duo of Billy Bisig and Stephen George trade off unintelligible vocals from song to song, sobased on their strong, scratchy tones I assume these guys are going through emotional issues.  Some songs just sound awful with this approach, like “Leviathan” and “Percolator”.  The former just gets too carried away with divergent sound and poor vocals whereas the latter not only is too slow at the beginning of the record but is lacking in a spark of interest.

Where the band actually excels are heavy-edged instrumentals, for “Wolverines of Ambient” is an excellent tune that harnesses the hardcore element while setting a mood.  It is apparent with this tune alone that these guys can play, even if they can’t sing.  “Outdated and Overrated” starts off as if it will be a debacle, but the band rebounds during the middle with a chorus that trickily combines raw volume with catchy riffs.  The third tune that I found to be promising is “Prayer”, which could actually be considered the prettiest hard rocker of the entire bunch.  This is not only due to the heavy and light dual guitar work on the chorus, but also to the fact that the vocalist decides to sing-speak the song at a middle tone.  I know this goes against their in-your-face mission, but the vocals sound much better when they’re not trying so hard to be anguished or vulnerable.  Apart from the instrumental, this is likely the best tune on the short record.

Check them out on MySpace if you want to have a listen:  Wolverine Brass

I have mixed feelings about this record.  This is due to the fact that I believe that half of it is noisy, confused junk whereas the other half has some good potential.  Since I don’t tend to listen to the screamy loud stuff all that often, I propose that those who enjoy a little more chaos in their rock to give this record a listen if they can find it.  Unfortunately, anyone who becomes a sudden fan of this group will be sorely disappointed that they were one and done with this record before moving on.  Reading some information from their MySpace page tells me that they have all been prone to hop around from band to band, so perhaps we will see these guys separately somewhere else soon.

Categories: TheRest Tags: , , ,

Super Furry Animals – Rings Around the World

April 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Epic Records, 2001

If you’ve read a few of my reviews, I may seem very hip.  In fact, you may even think I was part of an outlandish hard rock cover band in 2001 with a one hit wonder and now I’m writing all of these reviews with my experience in the music business in mind.  But no, I am not that hip.  I was not a member of Alien Ant Farm either.  In fact, I’m so unhip I hadn’t really heard much of the music by the Super Furry Animals before I picked up this double disc edition of their fifth album.  I know, who hasn’t immersed themselves in hairy mammal music by now?  This guy.  I was too busy listening to show tunes back around 2001 … I know, spare me!  I wear a leather jacket though, so I hope that gets me back in the cool for as long as you read this review.

If one is not familiar with these guys like, er, myself, then one might believe they’re a spacey, soft pop band as the opening track “Alternate Route to Vulcan Street” might suggest.  A very pretty piano intro and a soft cloud of a tune welcome the listener to this record and immediately sets a tone of relaxation.  I have never gotten achieved such a level of comfort since Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place”, so I think this one would certainly go on a cool out mix that I have yet to create.  The quiet peace gets eradicated quickly, however, with a very enjoyable “Sidewalk Serfer Girl” that has some strong pop effects.

The rest of the beginning of this record is really quite good, for “It’s Not the End of the World?” reminds me of a soft pop track that the Beatles could have developed in their later stages.  “Receptacle for the Respectable” continues the pop celebration that Super Furry Animals are obviously trying to build up within the listener.  However, Super Furry Animals decide at this point that enough is enough with the usual.  The catchy yet moody instrumental of “(A) Touch Sensitive” features a catchy build up of what sounds like edited clips of a female enjoying herself during, ah, a close relationship with a partner.  It’s got a smooth groove and doesn’t stick around too long, but it definitely sticks out as something dissimilar from the earlier tracks.  The best track on the record in my opinion is “Juxtaposed With U”, which has a seventies pop feel and is exceptionally catchy with its chorus.  Great, great tune.

The rest of the record sounds fine but it really shuts down in its energy overall, which is too bad.  As a whole the main record is an excellent pop collection that is a fine introduction to the band.  If you happen to score the bonus disc version of this record then be prepared for an eclectic b-side time with some louder and diversified songs like “Happiness is a Warm Pun”.  This particular version of the album is worth seeking out if you particularly like the band, which I’m still deciding on.

“Rings Around the World” is considered one of the bands better records that isn’t named “Radiator”, so I feel lucky that I happened to have found it available.  Since they are still a bit popular I feel that Super Furry Animals records won’t be found in many dollar bins, but if you happen to find them affordable somewhere you probably won’t be disappointed in picking one up.  And by the way, yes, I do feel that much closer to hip right now.  As a matter of fact, I’m going to slot this record in my CD tower right next to the B-52s.  Hot Lava!

Radio 4 – Gotham

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Gern Blandsten Records, 2002

I vaguely knew a little bit about Radio 4 based on what I had heard what they were about, and that was post-punk.  Somewhere I had read that they were a good modern substitution for Gang of 4 and that “Gotham” was their best record, so I made a mental note to be sure and check them out.  Sure enough, the very record in question has appeared a few times in dollar bins in various parts of the country, so I was eager to check them out to see if they were worth the quarters.  As it turns out, my research proved fruitful.

Although the dull, dual-colored cover wouldn’t show it, Radio 4 bring a lot of aggressive burst.  The first few songs illustrate that as “Our Town” chugs in with a heavy guitar riff and a jarring chorus.  What Radio 4 does a little differently than their previous post-punk counterparts is that they utilize some electronics to fill in the gaps.  “Start a Fire” and “Eyes Wide Open” follow and refuse to let up in their tempo and catchiness.  The band actually doesn’t let up in the slightest until a swinging “Calling All Enthusiasts”, which is five tracks in and probably much needed after the early rush.

The first song that truly stands out is “Save Your City”, if only because its unwavering guitar riffs charge the entire song without pausing for a breath.  Anthony Roman’s vocals are merely a supportive assistant to keep the rush going, so at a little more than three minutes this song steps in just long enough to rile you up before departing.  Unfortunately, it departs into some kind of spacey song that steps far, far from what one had just heard from the first half dozen songs.  “Speaking in Codes” is a total misstep, so unfortunately the band didn’t capitalize on the excellent catapulted projectile of vigor that “Save Your City” launched.  Bands make strange decisions sometimes.  They do pick up with the excellent “Certain Tragedy” and thankfully finish the record with the sound that they are known for.

Have a listen to a few Radio 4 tunes on Last.fm.

There are a few choice songs on this record that I would highly recommend one to check out, but Radio 4 mostly dish out a good rock record that sounds fine in its entirety but doesn’t really deliver a song that will bowl one over.  Still, it’s a great record and should be gotten for cheap by anyone that sees it.  Radio 4 are still together and touring after a decade of work, and with a new record on the way according to their website, one can look forward to something from them if they liked this record.  At least Radio 4 is channeling the right bands for their music, which can’t be said for those who rely a little too heavily on the nineties to get their rock n roll going.  I know, I sound bitter, but maybe I can wash some of that away as I look forward to these guys coming to town sometime soon.

Categories: TheRest Tags: , ,

Nicolas Matar – Latitude 40 Degrees

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Journeys By DJ, 2001

I’ve mentioned it before, but despite all of the edgy tattoos and scars that I currently don’t have adorning my body (but in my mind, I do) I sometimes pose as a chic clubber (also in my mind).  I did used to go to a few clubs back in the day and shake it until 3 or 4 in the morning, which may seem laughable to the young tykes these days but hey, those were fond times remembered.  It has been some time since I’ve actually sat down and listened to some trance/house/electronica/whatever you call it, but I have been known to give such music a chance when presented because I have been pleasantly surprised in the past.  With its cool, simple design and songs like “Cafe Soul” and “Jazz Room”, I figured a compilation of songs mixed by Nicolas Matar might be decent enough.  Plus, if the disc ended up sounded great I could tell people that I first heard about the guy when I was clubbing in Ibiza by way of Goa.  I travel a lot (in my head) for dancing, by the way.

At nearly a decade old, this music still has the pulse to get a dormant listener up and active.  The first tune of Smurf & Perry’s “Lovin You” is a great start, though one could argue that it’s a pity that it’s too short even at just over five minutes.  However, that’s what DJs do; they can’t have you getting too comfortable with one song when there’s plenty of others to intertwine for a mix.  I don’t know whether it is Smurf or Perry, but the female vocalist sounds great on this one when she smoothly delivers the line “Lovin you/is all I do”.   “Starlite (Soul Vocal mix)” has a great background guitar intro before breaking into, indeed, another dance song with a female singer. She doesn’t have the same husky soul as the previous singer, but she does add even more pep to the already bouncing tune.

The aforementioned “Jazz Room” incorporates a rather erratic bass line before slipping in what sounds like cow bells and piano.  This track in particular sounds like it could be the background for a lounge scene that you might see on television somewhere.  The “Musica (Original mix)” is quite invigorating and amidst a long line of four-to-five minute similarly sounding tracks it stands out as something that could probably get a group of people dancing.

As the songs proceed, they all start to blend in together as one might expect from a mix by a DJ with a particular ear.  I will say that after awhile I do feel like I’m listening to a nineties dance mix, but I really can’t pinpoint why.  Perhaps the electric keyboard sounds remind me a little too much of something I might have heard from C & C Music Factory or Crystal Waters.  A few songs also give the impression that they could be used as backgrounds for a feisty Weather Channel presentation, which is probably not what Matar was aiming (and probably hates me) for.  Still, whatever hints of old sound that Matar develops is of little consequence because all of these songs, when played from beginning to end, provide a nice soundtrack to whatever gathering or work you have to accomplish.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find very much music to stream of Matar’s, but I did find his booking website that has a mix one can download:  DJ Nicolas Matar.

This release was part of a relatively large release of discs from Journeys By DJ records, so I really don’t know how this one compares to the rest of them.  It has a great vibe to it and it never got boring, so despite some sounds that might seem a little outdated, I thought it was a solid dance mix that would be quite good for any party or mood-setting occasion.  Sometimes indie pop or jazz just doesn’t cut it when it comes to inspiring an upbeat mood, so if you’re willing to experiment a little bit and take a chance on an established DJ, go pick up something by DJ Nicolas Matar.  I can’t say he’s better than everyone or anyone else, but at least it’s a starting point.  I, for one, think this was quite the bargain to pick up even if it only complements the rest of my guitar and drum music collection.

If you, like me, are seriously considering spending more money on house and electronica music and leaving the verse chorus verse stuff behind, you should be warned.  There’s so many DJs, mixes and compilations out there that want your attention in their claims of great party or mood music.  You really could choose any of them and probably get something that would be decent.  You could also spend too much money on something that looks great but sounds boring.  In my opinion, the best way to experience a DJ is at a live setting where you can let the music consume you while you’re dancing at a slick club.  This would at least give you a better feeling as to whether a DJ can truly inspire you to let loose.  Therefore, next time you’re in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco or all of Europe, make sure you find yourself a great club or two and dress like you’re the center of attention.

Various Artists – Fear of a Black Hat soundtrack

April 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Polygram Records, 1994

At some point during an evening where I was procrastinating something yet again, I flipped on the Independent Movie Channel and stumbled upon this rap mockumentary entitled “Fear of a Black Hat”.  It turned out to be something along the lines of “Spinal Tap” where three guys start a rap crew and have varied levels of success, inner turmoil, and wayward side projects.  It actually turned out to be quite funny and some of the borrowed songs in it were amusing in their ability to match the originals.  I likely recommended the movie to a few friends but thought nothing of it afterward.  As luck would have it, the soundtrack of the movie was found in a dollar bin not too long after I saw the movie, so I figured if I wasn’t going to get the DVD for an expensive three bucks, I could go for a buck and be satisfied.

Usually soundtracks are best heard not long after seeing the movie since one has a better chance of remembering the scenes the songs were featured in.  If you hear the soundtrack when your memory of the movie has faded, your fondness of the songs is sometimes hindered because you spend more time analyzing if you like the song at all on its own instead of recreating the movie scene it represents.  I don’t own too many soundtracks for this reason, but the songs for “Fear of a Black Hat” defy that scenario because the tunes do well in representing themselves separately from the movie.

Written mostly by Rusty Cundieff and Larry Robinson, the rap songs on the soundtrack all resemble comedic versions of originals from that late eighties, early nineties era.  “Ice Froggy Frog” is an amusing spin on Snoop Dogg’s “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” and essentially details a story about a thuggin’ frog.  Cheeky lyrics like “I never hesitate to give a dragonfly his last” and “Polly gets what Polly-wogs/the frog with the biggest log” is what you’re going to get throughout.  “Granny Says Kick Yo Black Ass” is obviously based on LL Cool J’s tune that featured him confronting his critics.  The movie echos the original song’s intent as one of the characters tries to split from the group, so when he rants “When my foot goes in that posterior/you’ll taste it in your mouth’s interior” you know he’s a dangerous butt kickin’ dude.

The best song is the most uncomfortable one.  “I’m Only Human” does a great take on P.M. Dawn’s “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” in that it has a similar airy sound of love and peace.  However, the cool toned rapper discusses bodily functions and how no matter how gross the topic we are all human and perform the same functions.  The chorus of “You are just like me/I am just like you/We all stand or sit when we pee” is catchy but it’s hardly the most unnerving.  When the rapper gets into mucus, toilet habits, and earwax one gets conflicting feelings of horror and amusement.  It’s definitely my favorite on the disc for that awkwardness alone.

Other songs mimic the likes of NWA, Public Enemy, Ice T and C & C Music Factory, so there’s bound to be one that you might find amusing if you liked rap from that time period.  Check out some of the tunes at Grooveshark.

It turns out that this movie was the first one that Rusty Cundieff wrote before he went on to write such ‘classics’ like the horror spoof “Tales from the Hood” and “Sprung”.  He then went on to do a lot of television including the Dave Chappelle show, so if you haven’t seen this movie then you probably have heard a few Cundieff jokes somewhere in your media travels.  I liked the soundtrack for certain songs, but if I’m going to recommend anything here it is the movie.  Go check it out sometime and, if you are a fan of mockumentaries like me, I think you’ll find it’s worth a rental.

Wreckx-N-Effect – Hard or Smooth

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

MCA Records, 1992

I distinctly remember an English classmate of mine repeating the fact that all he wants to do is a bazoom zoom zoom and a boom boom.  I’m not sure if my English teacher truly appreciated that nonsense, but Wreckx-N-Effect were pioneers of video booty at the time.  Just picture an MTV with Boyz II Men, All-4-One and SWV singing casually with their squeaky clean escapades just standing around and singing.  Boring.  Then Nirvana came in with cheerleaders and some noise, yet it was still what was expected for rock videos despite its strange gymnasium setting.  Then Wreckx-N-Effect show up with the bikinis, the beach party, and the butts.  Oh dayum.  Needless to say, eighteen years later and I feel that I need to properly review the merits of this group since I’m an established music critic.  For a dollar, it was time.

Just to get past the obvious, just know that “Rump Shaker” is a classic.  All one needs to start a party is that opening saxophone note and everyone already knows what is coming.  In case you don’t know what would be coming and don’t want to be caught unawares at a future party, er, I believe you should be prepared for the naughty dance.  A chick playing a saxophone in a bikini will likely suddenly appear as well.

The rest of the songs following “Rump Shaker” contain a similar party sound, but none measure up to the single.  “New Jack Swing II” has one of the rappers sounding like he’s a member of Kriss Kross, which is miggidy-miggidy-miggidy alarming.  The band then proceeds through a few party songs before they get a little more sensual in “Tell Me How You Feel”.  I imagine its message might be hard for a woman to take seriously after she saw the entire crew in a video dancing with a large group of half-naked women on the beach.  But hey, don’t judge.  The guys want to know some feelings with aggressive rapping and smooth backing vocals.  Oh yeah, and they also want you to drop and do the booty wop (oooooooh!).

There were a couple of catchy tunes like “Wreckx Shop” and “Here We Come”, each of which had a good bit of energy and swagger, but most songs get a little old after the first couple of minutes.  I found it hard to believe that most of these songs were more than 4 minutes long, but I guess the trio had something to say in detail.  Those topics were … well, probably their greatness as well as booties.  I suppose one could have entire lectures about that kind of stuff.

This is where you can find Rumpshaker:  Grooveshark

For the other stuff, it’s here:

I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t any songs that had the same charm as “Rumpshaker”, but I suppose any rap group from those times was happy that any of their songs managed to become a big single.  The rest of this record essentially contains songs that aimed for a similar vibe but fell quite short.  If it weren’t for “Rumpshaker” this record would be a total tosser, but that song saved ’em.  Plus, this disc is like a nineties rap time capsule, where rap started becoming more glitzy and overtly sexual.

As for Wreckx-N-Effect, they didn’t last too much longer after this record and permanently called it quits four years later.  No matter.  They left us men with what we needed to woo women with poetic words and invitations to gatherings.  For example, if you find yourself at a loss for words on how to initiate conversation with a woman so that she’ll respect you and consider a future relationship with you, just ask her to shake it baby, shake it down, shake it like that.  Believe me, those are magic words.