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RZA – The RZA Hits

July 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Sony Music Distribution, 1999

Being a middle class suburban book-readin’ gangster, I have heard of RZA.  I know he was one of the more influential hip hop figures in the nineties and he was a member of that Wu-Tang Clan.  See?  I’m protecting my cred neck here.   However, if it can’t already be discerned I am not fluent in what you would say hip hop anthems (not counting “Hip Hop Hooray”).  Therefore, this compilation of Wu-Tang tunes was a must grab to improve my collection’s standing.  Once I finish reviewing this disc, I’m going to slot it next to my other hip hop discs like the Black Eyed Peas and Lauryn Hill.  Yeeeauuuhh.

This compilation of popular hip hop hits contains many familiar tunes by the Wu-Tang as well as the likes of Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.  After three or four songs, the RZA inserts himself and explains what some of the songs were as if he were a disc jockey.  Not an entirely unwelcome interruption, as the RZA does provide some details as to where the song comes from and sometimes speaks casually about how the group put certain songs together.

Wu-Tang classics like “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit” and “Protect Ya Neck” are here, as well as the excellent, piano-hooked “C.R.E.A.M.”  I love the raspy delivery of Method Man on his eponymous song, especially the part where he simply spells his own name.  I know, simple, but it’s just catchy enough.  Of all the rappers here, Ghostface Killah definitely comes off as the one with the most force behind his words, as his cameo on Raekwon’s “Ice Cream” is quite impressive.  Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s staggered delivery of “Brooklyn Zoo” illustrates how tantalizing he was when he delivered his lyrics, even if they weren’t always perceptible.  Since there is practically zero filler here given the Wu-Tang Clan’s influence more than a decade ago, this album is chock full of tunes that hip hop fans should just have on hand.

After the main part of the disc concludes with the RZA talking about Wu Wear, surprise, there’s a bonus track about wearing Wu Wear with Method Man and Cappadonna.  I suppose its inclusion makes a lot of sense given that these guys might as well market their own stuff while they have our attention, and I admit, I considered a Wu Tang sweater that resembled a Boston Bruins jersey design.  However, the song itself is not likely going to make a long-term impression for the listener.

RZA even has a MySpace page, but perhaps you’d like to just go directly to Wu Tang’s website for some serious tunes.

This disc, by default, is an automatic keeper given its excellent historic account of some of the greatest hip hop tracks from the nineties.  Obviously, it deserves the Golden Dollar.  As most hip hop fans know, the RZA and the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan are still busily putting out records here and there.  The remaining members have already planned a reunion tour in England with Cappadonna and Streetlife, so if you’re over there sipping tea within the next few days, go check ’em out.  It might cost you a coupla dollar dollar bills, thoooough.

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The Pink Spiders – Teenage Graffiti

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Suretone Records, 2006

This album cover is excellent in its presentation.  How can one not think that these guys are going to come at you fast and hard?  Okay, okay, sure, there’s pink everywhere.  The drummer is wearing a particularly light pink t-shirt with, er, pink drums.  If one replaced “Pink Spiders” with “Barbie House Band” at the top then it could be believable.  I figure these guys were pop punk all the way, so I had to pick this record up just to see if they were really obnoxious or only sorta obnoxious.  I also wanted to know if they had information in the liner notes of where I can get a black and pink striped body suit like the singer.  I’d be all the rage at those Barbie collectible conventions I go to.

So yes, the Pink Spiders rip into a bevy of energized pop punk throughout the entire record, but one would think they were more of a garage rock band based on the opening tune of “Soft Smoke”.  It’s got the heavy and steady guitar riffs before getting a little high-pitched during the chorus.  It’s a good choice for an opener, as it sets the tone for the rest of the album full of songs exactly like it.  “Saturday Nite Riot” is more typical of what the Pink Spiders prefer to bring, for it has a cutesy pop element to it that one can envision legions of teenagers singing along to at a flashy concert.  It’s an exceptionally catchy song about a girl conflicted about her image, so I would be surprised if it hadn’t already made its way on an MTV reality show.

Some of the stronger tunes on the record are “Modern Swinger” and “Little Razorblade”, the latter of which actually slows the pace of the record down slightly as the band combines electronic elements with heartbreak.  “Nobody Baby” could be considered their strongest rock ‘n roll tune that doesn’t feel saturated with teenie ooze.  With this and “Soft Smoke”, it just makes one wish that the band decided to stick to the rumbling rock music that one can clearly see they can pull off well.  It’s clear that the Pink Spiders were going to stick with the popular music flavor at the time based on the rest of the output on this album, so the better tunes are more of an exception to their inevitable future.  The bouncing piano introduction and singalong of “Adalae”, as well as the short, personally pianofied “Secret Song” at the end, seal their fate.

Check these guys out at their Bandcamp page, which seems to stream the entire record.  Very cool.  That is, unless you hate it.

There’s a place for these guys in today’s music because, ah, that’s what the mainstream “rock ‘n roll” sounds like.  So, I suppose if you’re a jaded, college radio-listening music enthusiast you are more likely to wish these guys would go away.  Given the fact that there are too many of these pop punk bands with debatable lyric talent already, the Pink Spiders may very well split the scene soon enough.  However, for this record, they’re great for a quick pick up of one’s current state.  For a few quarters (or less), this record gives me a feeling that the 2000’s weren’t a total waste of pop punky attitude.

Categories: TheRest Tags: , , ,

Various Artists – Shortbus soundtrack

July 12, 2010 1 comment

Team Love Records, 2006

This is one of those movies that I have had a casual interest in seeing, but since the significant other has already seen it, how does one spin it so that it can be rented again?  “Hey babe, ah, you know … you know that movie you saw?  The one with lots of sex and emotional relationships .. yes, yes, the nudity, yes … well, so … I dunno, how about we rent that one since I haven’t seen it?”  She’s an understanding one, but I doubt that we’ll be getting this one anytime soon, especially since “Calendar Girls” and “Boys On the Side” are very high in our her queue.  Well, dammit, if I’m not going to see the movie soon then at least I can listen to the soundtrack!  HA!

The movie is about a sex club called “Shortbus” where people are allowed to be sexually free beings.  There are emotions, conversations, and relationship challenges … and some of that sex stuff, okay.  But regardless, since this is sort of a serious movie (or a movie that takes itself seriously), the soundtrack is obviously going to contain some of the more lighter fare.  This music provides quirky, sometimes upbeat background music to whatever is going on in the film.  Without having seen the film, I can’t tell you if certain music is during a truly graphic scene or if it’s of someone walking down the street, so I’ll just talk about the music itself.

Scott Matthew starts the soundtrack off with a kind of Magnetic Fields-sounding ukulele tune which includes vocals that sound utterly forlorn.  If that sounds like a great listen to you, then you’re in luck, for he shows up five more times on the soundtrack with varying degrees of pained singing.  While tunes of well known bands like Yo La Tengo and Animal Collective appear here, songs that really stood out are the upbeat “Beautiful” by Lee and Leblanc, the busily paced “It’s Not Safe” by Gentleman Reg, and the sensual dance groovin’ “This House” by Jasper James and the Jetset.  Considering that many of the songs on the soundtrack are solo efforts with varying degrees of emotion, these few tunes particularly stood out as songs that could stand on their own without the soundtrack.

One of the softer songs that worked for me was “Boys of Melody” by the Hidden Cameras, which despite having violins and plinking piano, didn’t sound forcibly trite.  Yeah, I imagine this was a getting busy song somewhere in the movie.  If I were to guess a few more movie scenes based on the songs, John LaMonica’s wretchedly quivering “Kids” must also be during a sex scene.  I say “wretchedly” because he has that voice that so typifies a forcibly fragile male singer along the lines of Iron and Wine … which I can’t stand.  But yes, sex scene.  The Ark’s excellent party tune “This Piece of Poetry Is Meant to Do Harm” seems dead on as a background track for a sexually free dance scene at the Shortbus club.  Finally, Justin Bond and the Hungry March Band’s eight minute epic “In the End” is clearly the last scene heading into the credits.  Bond’s ragged drag queen voice has the wilting nature that sounds like something is about to end, likely with characters in slow motion and looking at each other as a conclusion.  (By the way, I looked this up later and ho ho, I was spot on.  I should be a soundtrack director!  What am I doing writing blog posts, man?!)

Since he shows up frequently on the soundtrack, I figure a link to Scott Matthew’s MySpace page would help one get the gist of what they’ll mostly hear on this soundtrack.  Have a listen!

As a soundtrack, “Shortbus” is a pretty good listen from beginning to end.  There’s nothing that sounds outright terrible and a few songs are strong enough on their own to garner a repeat listen.  Perhaps it’s the low key sound that permeates throughout that makes the soundtrack inoffensive by definition, so I suppose one really couldn’t complain about much except for the safe choices.  I suppose that’s only fair, though, since I’ve heard the movie more than makes up for the lack of punch from the soundtrack.  Speaking of which, “Shortbus” is now on its way to my house.  Woah, hey, I wonder how that happened …

Castanets – In the Vines

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Asthmatic Kitty Records, 2007

A rather plain, bleak cover with what look like weed shadows is what this album presents as a ‘come buy me’ strategy.  Hmm.  The even more plain back cover simply lists the song titles (yo, withOUT track numbers, man) and leaves one to ponder why anyone should take a gamble on this one.  It had to be something that involves a sad singer and a guitar, perhaps with a banjoing band or sorrowful piano.  It definitely doesn’t say ‘disco’.  Well, like anything that looks like a dollar can be thrown at it, I gave in.

The record begins with the pensive strumming of Ray Raposa’s guitar on “Rain Will Come”, with his nasally vocals sounding similar to Bob Dylan in the back of a echoic garage somewhere.  Suddenly, some kind of electrical feedback screeches into the tranquility for the remaining four minutes of song.  Ah, whatta intro.  It was a great song up that point, though.  I had to wonder at this point if this was going to be some sort of turbulent, experimental folk ride.

Nope, turns out it’s a slow indie folk kind of album.  There’s lots of pretty slide guitar in the background as well as a very, very minimal amount of drum … machine.  It definitely sets a certain tone.  Since all of the songs on the record are of the snail’s pace variety, so one has little choice but to pay attention to the lyrics to see what they’re about.  That’s where Raposa apparently stores the energy, for the lyrics seem to contain a real personal insight about Raposa’s thoughts about life, etc.  Since I can be a bit thick, and there’s nothing in here that sounds like boozing it up and wild dance parties, it was all lost on me.  Oh well.

After awhile these plodding tunes start to meld together, but “Sounded Like a Train, Wasn’t a Train” has a steady guitar strum that is oddly riveting.  Even with Raposa’s vocals penetrating the starkness of the song, the moody prettiness can get one mesmerized.  With that feeling, however, one also can miss the impression of each individual song.  Is that what Raposa wanted?  Background music?

Here’s where you can listen to some Castanets, especially if you plan on going to bed soon: MySpace or RcrdLbl

I have to admit, Castanets aren’t my usual choice of music to throw in and listen.  I know there’s some kind of musical value here, and I’m probably just an ogre and am totally missing it, but yeah, it’s there.  I just can’t imagine sitting down and wanting to play this whole thing repeatedly, especially when I’ve got -the- Bob Dylan in the stacks nearby.  However, I guess if one wants a more modern take of that folky sound, this record is a good place to find it.

If you like this kind of music, you can rejoice (quietly, with feeling) at the fact that there’s been a few more Castanets releases since this record was put out.  I imagine if you listen to a couple of these Castanets releases back to back you’ll eventually start crying.

The “I Need That Record!” Documentary Review

July 6, 2010 Leave a comment

I sort of dabble with reviewing other mediums from time to time for Blogcritics, especially when certain material presents itself that I figure would be interesting. Brian Toller created a documentary about the rise and fall of independent record stores entitled “I Need That Record!: The Death (Or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store”. Considering I write a blog based on record store finds, this was important to me.

The review article was first published as DVD Review: I Need That Record!: The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store on Blogcritics. I would definitely say it’s at least worth a rental when it comes out at the end of the month.

Sugar – Besides

July 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Rykodisc Records, 1995

Ever since my belated enjoyment of Husker Du’s “New Day Rising” I’ve tried to give anything a chance that Bob Mould has put out.  This includes Sugar and all of their albums and EPs, for there are still traces of that Husker Du sound in some of the heavier tracks by his post-Du group.  Granted, one has to wade through a lot of lighter pop fare that can sound a bit dated fifteen or so years later, but it’s usually worth it.  When I saw this record in a dollar bin that most likely contained other Sugar albums, I built up enough imagination that convinced me the album contained a secret hard rock tune that Mould felt didn’t fit the Sugar sound.  I guess I should’ve just taken the font size of the band’s name as blatant evidence that, really, this is just Sugar.

I believe that if one is a heavy fan of a band, then that fan is very likely to pick up anything related to that band even if they are songs left off any album.  Sugar is not one of my favorite bands, so there is a risk in listening to castoff songs from a band that may or may not have needed to release a B-side record.  For the non-live tracks on this release, the quality can feel a bit lukewarm.  The first song off of the collection is “Needle Hits E”, which is a dead-on Sugar tune from Mould’s vocal approach to the all encompassing guitar sound.  It is rather shocking that it never made “Copper Blue” or any of the other main releases, for it could easily have been an excellent early track or possible single for any of Sugar’s records.  At least it made this collection, which I guess is sort of like saying it won the Best of the Ignored award.

“Try Again” sounds like a typical slow and emotional Bob Mould pop song, which one either likes for its underlying feeling or hates because it is nearly five minutes too long.  Unfortunately, whether it was through boredom or through some kind of symbolic emotional gesture, Mould chooses to end the serene tune by scratching out some lengthy feedback at the end.  Well, toss that one out.  Punt “Frustration” too because that is a really, really tedious tune to get through thanks to Mould slowing the guitars (and his voice) down to creeping levels.  “Going Home” is as amped up a Sugar as song as one is going to get, and considering it was a b-side for “File Under: Easy Listening“, I think this was a grievous non-inclusion error on the band’s part.  As decent as that record is, “Going Home” would’ve given it a lot more needed edge.  I’m sure there’s some production-related reason that this armchair music producer just wouldn’t understand, though.

Seven of the songs on this collection are live versions of songs found on the band’s studio albums.  While they are appreciated and sound similar to those studio versions, they shouldn’t be the main reason one feels the need to buy a b-side collection.  They turn out to be some of the better aspects of the record, however, since they consist of stronger Sugar tunes like “After All the Roads Have Led to Nowhere” and “Explode and Make Up”.  One small benefit to a listener who hears these live tracks is that he or she will be reminded about their original positive impression of the band.  Unfortunately, since these live tracks consist of nearly half of the tunes on the album, it is obvious that Sugar didn’t have a whole lot of extra, halfway decent originals lying around to include here.  Depends on what you’re looking for, I guess.

This guys knows (and writes) quite a bit about Sugar:  Saltyka and Sugar

The only thing that keeps this release from getting labeled as a Bust is the strength of the live tracks.  If one likes Sugar enough, this record will sound pretty good from beginning until end.  The energetic live tunes are spaced out well so that they keep the listener awake enough despite a few sleepy moments.  There is no way that a prospective Sugar listener should start with this record, as that would obviously be “Copper Blue” and “Easy Listening…” in that order.  For the future Husker Du/Bob Mould fans that may be willing to revisit the Sugar era, this album is worth a spin or two at the end of their discovery period to see if there’s anything to fill any last gaps of interest.

Categories: TheRest Tags: , , , ,