Tagged: trip hop

LTJ Bukem – Moodswings

So, I’ve given up on YouTube recommendations for the moment. But, thanks to something that no algorithm has yet been able to replicate, I’ve stumbled across this, which is absolutely perfect.

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It’s taken from the 1st volume of LTJ Bukem’s excellent Earth series of compilations (long overdue a reissue if any record labels are reading this), which documented that fabulous time when hip-hop, drum & bass, acid jazz & trip hop collided. It reminds me of Photek’s equally excellent Into The 90s, which was included on the era-defining 70 Minutes Of Madness by Coldcut.

And that non-algorithmic method I used to find this little slice of heaven? Serendipity – when Google manage to replicate that, I’m becoming a monk.

Moodswing by Brian Fitzgerald on flickr

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#shfl11: Break Reform – Fractures (U-Neek Dub)

Around 11 years ago I returned from a great year in Australia, though when I got back to the UK I was very happy to be able to find great music without having to wait for a Gilles Peterson tape to be sent by a kind friend. And, so, one of my first buys after returning was the 1st Worldwide Mix by the aforementioned Mr Peterson. Amongst many stand-out tracks, Break Reform’s Perfect Season was, and is, a wonderful slice of modern British jazz; cool, subtle and utterly addictive, it’s, well, perfect.

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Unfortunately Fractures, the title track of the Break Reform’s debut album, is anything but. With a plodding beat, a discordant piano line that sounds like a Portishead off-cut and Nanar Vorperian ‘s beautiful vocals smothered in the mix, it’s only lifted by a Koop-style vibes harmony. All in all it sounds like a bit of very average mid-90s trip-hop.

Thankfully, the track that popped up when I hit shuffle this morning wasn’t Fractures, but the version featured on the remix album New Perspectives, the U-Neek Dub. It’s not often that I’d say remixing a track in a dub-style improves it, let alone makes it more cheerful, but that’s what this version does. The whole song is made more listenable by the dub-lite make-over; it’s like the ska-fairy sprinkled some moon-dust on the frog and made a prince.

Unfortunately I can’t seem to find anywhere to link to the U-Neek Dub remix, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it’s likely to bring a smile to these long winter nights. But thanks to the magic of Amazon, you can at least sample the eternal perfection of Perfect Season right now.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

Stones by icelight on flickr

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#shfl11: Radiohead – How To Disappear Completely

Whilst Kid A, the album that How To Disappear Completely is taken from, may have been named by Pitchfork, Rolling Stone & The Times as the best album of the noughties, I’d guess that for those of us who aren’t music critics or die-hard fans of the band, it doesn’t get anywhere near as much play as other Radiohead releases, probably coming somewhere between their (underrated) debut album Pablo Honey and, its even more abstract sister-release, Amnesiac.

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Kid A is undoubtedly a brave collection of music, with no official singles, and music that bore more resemblance to the output of Mo’ Wax and Aphex Twin than their previous releases. With its sparse instrumentation, muffled beats and angular rhythms, the album certainly wasn’t aimed at the mass market. Nick Hornby even suggested that, similar to Lou Reed’s Metal Music Machine it was an attempt at “commercial suicide”. That review received a lot of criticism, some rather over-blown, but I’d argue that he has a point, even if some of the tracks, such as Everything In Its Right Place and The National Anthem are truly great.

However, even when trying their best to be obtuse & abstract, there is something in Radiohead they just can’t get away from: their ability to write killer tunes. How To Disappear Completely is one of the most ‘normal’ tracks on Kid A and that’s really no bad thing. Although it verges on being Radiohead by numbers, with it’s slow build, epic climax, and haunting melodies, amongst the, admittedly very artistic, insanity that makes up much of Kid A, it’s like an oasis of calm.

How To Disappear Completely may be unlikely to make lists of the best ever Radiohead songs to my ears, it makes a very pleasing break when fighting through the artistic challenge that is Kid A.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

Radiohead image by Wonker on flickr

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20 Essential 90s Albums

In its ongoing bid to have more sub-brands than any other media owner, Absolute Radio recently launched a new niche-station, this time one tailor-made for those of us currently experiencing the dizzying pangs that come with realising nostalgia isn’t just something that happens to your parents: Absolute 90s. And, as part of the ongoing celebrations of the launch, they’re compiling a list of the Essential 90s Albums.

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Now, anyone who has ever read this blog before (Hi Mum!) will know that I love a good list and so, taking Absolute 90s compilation of such a list as a challenge, I thought I’d have a go myself. And here, after much thought, is my 20 essential albums of the 90s. It was hard enough keeping it to 20 (and they’re likely to change) so they’re in no-order other than chronological. I’ll happily admit that it tends to skew towards British music & hip-hop, but it’s not my fault that most grunge was shite.

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Anyway, for anyone that cares (Hi Mum!), here’s my 20 essential albums of the 90s.

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Now, the observant amongst you will have noticed that the list above only has 19 entries.So, I want you to make suggestions as to which album should fill that space and I’ll choose one of the suggestions and add it to the final list of the 20 Essential Albums Of The 90s.

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I should probably warn you now that it’s very unlikely that I’ll add any album that had a picture of a baby chasing a dollar bill on the cover. Just thought I’d mention it.

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What’s The Best Song Of The Decade?

It’s almost as if everyone is determined to make me feel old.

As if to highlight the fact that in less than 4 months time it will be 10 years since I saw in the year 2000 dancing on Bondi Beach, Absolute Radio are asking their listeners to help choose the Song of the Decade. What scares me almost as much as the fact that it’s now pretty much a decade since the Millennium Bug failed to bite (due to the hard work of a lot of people according to my old colleague Richard) is that I’m really struggling to think of any truly great tunes that will come to sum up the noughties as other songs have for decades past.

The Arctics’ ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’? Good, but I’m not sure it’s really great. ‘One Day Like This’ by Elbow? I actually think this might win, but again don’t think it should. To paraphrase John Lennon, it’s not even the best song on that album. Maybe Eamon’s ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)’ or Frankee’s equally charming ‘Fuck You Right Back’. No, maybe not.

It’s strange, and slightly damning, as for the last 4 decades I can easily name the best song. Sometimes I struggle to name just one. So whilst I list off the defining tracks of the 60s, 70s, 80s & 90s (and for me a Song of the Decade has to really define that moment in time, as well as just being the best song released during that period), why don’t you use the comments to suggest what the best song since 2000 might be.

60s:

Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone: This is, for me, the finest song of a very strong decade by a country mile. It seems to encapsulate all the different cultural strands that converged between the deaths of JFK and his brother Bobby, which are probably the ‘true 60s’: the optimism, cynicism, hope & despair that all came together in a psychedelic sexual explosion. And the infamous ‘Judas’ version from the Manchester Free Trade Hall is probably the greatest live track ever recorded.

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The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows: With the release of a new video game and some remastered albums, it really seems pointless to try and write anything new about The Beatles at the moment. But what I will say is listen to this track that they made after abandoning touring for the studio, then listen to ‘Setting Sun’ by The Chemical Brothers and try to tell me that The Beatles didn’t create techno in 1966 at the same time as writing a soundtrack for the original Summer of Love.

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70s

The Clash – London Calling: Though released in 1980 in the US, a year after its British release, this was very much a product of the 70s. From its denunciation of the sacred cow that was The Beatles (phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust) to its searing social conscience, this was the last gasp of punk before it was swallowed up by Thatcher & spat out as a tourist attraction to rank alongside the Pearly Kings & Queens.

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Gil Scott-Heron – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Whilst never a hit on the scale of the disco records that bestrode the 70s like glitter-laden giants, Scott-Heron’s slice of political beat-poetry would prove to be a defining influence on hip-hop, and as such should have its lyrics carved into Mount Rushmore, right alongside Lincoln’s head.

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David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust (1999 Digital Remaster): When he created Ziggy Bowie created the first imaginary global rock-star: The Beatles might have dressed up as Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but that’s all they did – dress up. Bowie became Stardust, and in the process dived into a narcotic nightmare. And in creating this persona he also created a template that rappers & rockers would follow for the next 3 decades. The fact that he also became the biggest British act after The Beatles, managed to invent glam-rock & inspired the New Romantics is all grist for the mill.

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80s

Stone Roses – I Am The Resurrection: Like ‘London Calling’, ‘I Am The Resurrection’ was released as a decade gasped its dying breath, was very much of its time, yet inspired a generation of bands that came after it. With the blend of Squire’s Hendrix-esque guitar, the hip-hop influenced groove of the rhythm section and Ian’s Mancunian drawl, dripping with arrogance, this track is surely the purest example of a band at their peak, blissfully unaware that they’re about to blow it all.

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Grandmaster Flash – The Message: ‘The Message’, strongly influenced by Scott-Heron, was one of the first great hip-hop tracks and would prove to be one that was hard to top: whilst it wasn’t till the 90s that hip-hop truly ruled the world, this record showed how it might change it. Though the band look like failed auditionees for the Village People, the track, with its minimal, electro-influenced tune, shone a torch on life in America’s ghettoes at the start of the Regan years. And what it showed wasn’t pretty. A million miles from P Diddy & Kanye, but something they should probably listen to a little more often.

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Inner City – Big Fun: Reach for the lasers, I said reach for the ****ing lasers! Somehow, music made by weirdoes in Germany influenced rappers in New York before inspiring producers making music for gay clubs in Chicago from where it touched a generation of young Brits discovering ecstasy in Ibiza. House music was born. And before it spawned bastards like handbag, it was amazing. Probably one of the most influential records of the 20th Century, ‘Big Fun’ is also one of the most, well, fun.

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90s:

Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy: Like so many great records, ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ spawned a genre that wasn’t worthy of its name – in this case trip hop. But whilst trip hop was all plodding beats and vague noodlings, Massive Attack created a true soul record: soaring, inspired, epic – ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ still raises the hairs on the back of the neck today, whilst its video is a classic of the genre, shamelessly ripped off by The Verve at the same time as they were ripping off the song.

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Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit: Whilst I’ve come to think that Nirvana are one of the most over-rated bands of the 90s, at the time this sounded like the freshest slice of rock since the Sex Pistols (another over-rated band, more worth talking about than listening to, who have been granted immortality by their singer’s untimely death). By forcing MTV to play indie, or alternative rock as our American cousins would describe it, Nirvana opened the flood-gates for everyone from Green Day to Foo Fighters (yeah, I know) but also, unwittingly, set the scene for Limp Bizkit and a million shite emo bands.

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Dr. Dre – Nothing But A G Thang: Wu Tang Clan’s ’36 Chambers’ may have received more plaudits, whilst Nas’ ‘Illmatic’ may be most commonly suggested as the greatest rap album of the decade, but there’s no doubt that few had as much of an impact as Dre’s ‘Chronic’. Whilst artists & acts from Ice T to Dre’s own NWA could claim to have invented gangsta rap, ‘The Chronic’ was probably the finest example of the genre that has, arguably, shaped hip-hop, and therefore popular music, more than any other over the last 20 years. And in ‘G Thang’ Dre produced probably the best example of the genre; all smooth samples, shocking lyrics and, in Snoop Doggy Dogg (before he ditched the Doggy) the first true rap superstar of the 90s.

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So, the greatest songs of the 60s, 70s, 80s & 90s, or at least the ones that, right now, strike me as being the most influential. Let me know yours, as well as your vote for song of the noughties.

2010 by doug88888 on flickr

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Radiohead – The Rip (Cover of Portishead Track)

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I haven’t bought the new Portishead album, Third, to date because, a: the 2nd album was so disappointing, and b: the first single off of Third scared the living bejeesus out of me.

However having read about Radiohead’s accoustic cover of The Rip from Third, I may have to change my mind. Because the Radiohead cover led me to the original version of The Rip which is really quite lovely. As always Beth Gibbons sings in a voice that makes it sound like the only reason she hasn’t thrown herself out of a window is because she doesn’t have the energy to open it. But the tune that runs behind is kind of beguiling; some lovely accoustic guitar and a weird bit of modulating synths.

The cover version that Thom Yorke & Colin Greenwood do of The Rip makes full use of that accoustic guitar melody, as well as Thom’s rather disturbingly good falsetto. So, two versions of a song I didn’t think I’d like, both of which I love.

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10 Most Underrated Songs Of The 90s: Part 2

I’m in the process of sticking up for the 1990s, a much maligned decade (probably too recent to be cool yet). Here’s part two of the most underrated songs from the 90s..

  1. Teenage Fanclub – Everything Flows: Bandwagonesque was the album that was going to make them stars, topping most Album of the Year charts when it came out (beating Screamadelica & Nevermind in many cases). But this slice of melodic feedback from their debut album, A Catholic Education, with it’s heart-wrenching lyrics, is surely their finest moment to date. Absolutely beautiful.
  2. Happy Mondays – Dennis & Lois: Pills ‘n’ Thrills & Bellyaches was, for me at least, the album of the decade. And whilst (the rather weak) Step On is the track that everyone remembers, this twisted little tale from Shaun Ryder, with its amazing blend of Italian house-style piano, baggy guitars & Carribean rhythm is a truly awesome track. This album saved U2′s career as it allowed them to pinch all the ideas and make Achtung Baby.
  3. Tricky – Hell Is Round The Corner: This probably doesn’t really count as underrated, but it certainly wasn’t as popular as it should have been. Coming out at the same time as Portishead’s track Glory Box (which used the same Isaac Hayes sample), it didn’t get the same amount of acclaim. Yet in many ways it’s much better; more inventive, more soulful, just more! And exactly the same comparison could be made between the respective albums they came from. Portishead’s Dummy – hugely successful, really only one song repetated several times over. Tricky’s Maxinquaye – amazingly inventive, cult hit. Oh well..
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I’ll be back with the final installment of this muli-part post, soon… (part 3 is now here, whilst part 1 is here)

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I Missed My Own Birthday

In all the excitement of moving jobs, I realised that I completely forgot to mark my blog birthday…

Yes – its been over a year since I started blogging. I probably should have commemorated that particular mile-stone somehow, but I forgot. So, in the manner of a belated birthday card (except that it’s to myself), I thought that I would celebrate my anniversary by sharing my stats (in the style of my favourite ‘work’ blog SEOmoz).


As you can see, I’ve certainly gained some new readers since those early days of forcing my wife and various colleagues to read my rantings. And whilst most readers tend to pop-in, never to return, I’d like to thank the couple of hundred regular readers I seem to have found along the way.

In my most recent post, I promised that my next one would be about the music. And so, to keep that promise, here’s the (rather risque) video to Massive Attack’s Just Be Thankful, which was #7 in my 10 Best Cover Versions Ever (which also happens to have been my most popular post ever!)

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The Top 10 Best British Soul Songs Ever

The BBC series Soul Britannia and the accompanying set of concerts at The Barbican traced the growth of soul music in Britain…

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Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy

Soul music has probably effected Britain more than any other country outside of the US or the Caribbean, which probably has a lot to do with our close ties with both these places. The BBC series Soul Britannia, and the set of concerts at The Barbican that went with the series, traced the influence of soul on British culture, and the growth of a very British type of soul music.

As I am myself British, and would say that most of the music I love could be defined as soul, I thought that I would pick out the 10 songs that best meet both criteria – the 10 best British soul songs ever.

  1. Massive Attack – Unfinished Sympathy: A truly ground-breaking record, and one of the 1st that could be considered entirely British in its sound, mixing soul, hip-hop, reggae and just about everything in between. Spawned a genre, a boundary defying career and at least one copycat video. Still sounds fresh today, and more vital than just about anything that’s been released since. The album it came off, Blue Lines, would get my vote for best British soul album of all time.
  2. Cymande – Bra: If not British by birth, they were definitely adopted. Made up of members who had moved from the West Indies, Cymande mixed soul, funk & reggae to make truly beautiful positive music. One of the most sampled bands ever, this track was used heavily by De La Soul and sounds like the best song that Curtis Mayfield never made.
  3. Goldie – Inner City Life: Jungle, or drum & bass as it would become, was the 1st truly British music genre. This epic 12″, mixing sped up break beats, heavy bass and soaring vocals stretched to 7 minutes and, renamed Timeless, a mind blowing 21 minutes on the album version. It’s like a mini-symphony. Never had British dance music had this much ambition – or so much reason to be ambitious.
  4. Atmosfear – Dancing In Outer Space: A tune that proved that the best disco wasn’t necessarily American, Dancing In Outer Space mixes funk, ska and a beat that wouldn’t be out of place on most house records. Probably because it influenced so many of them!
  5. Soul II Soul – Back To Life: Jazzie B’s crew showed the world that the UK could do hip hop influenced music as well as the Americans, if not better. Starting life (like Massive Attack) as a sound system, Soul II Soul produced songs that mixed great beats, sweet strings and amazing (mostly female) vocals. Back To Life was their anthem – and in true disagreeable Brit-style it didn’t even feature properly on their debut album: an accapella mix was included instead – a nod to their sound system days when accapellas came in handy for mixing maybe. And it has been suggested the cover of the album Club Classics Vol. 1 inspired the ads for a certain portable music player.
  6. The Specials – Ghost Town: The Specials took the ska music that their parents had loved in the 60s and mixed it with the attitude of punk. The result? Classics like Ghost Town. A love/hate song to their hometown of Coventry, Ghost Town became the unofficial national anthem as riots tore through Thatcher’s Britain. The band were also a shining example of the easy mix of black & white that was taking place across the country to the disgust of the far right (and in doing so became a template for many of those to come, including Massive Attack & Soul II Soul).
  7. Average White Band – Pick Up The Pieces: Dismissed by many as being little more than pale imitations (literally) the very Scottish Average White Band made a very un-Scottish sound. If James Brown’s backing band The JB’s had come from this side of the Atlantic, this is what they would have sounded like. Pick Up The Pieces is 4 minutes of pure funk, proving that soul is definitely colour blind.
  8. Freeez – Southern Freeez: This was an absolute classic of the 80s soul weekender scene (see the soundtrack to that time here). Mixing a slightly off-beat, an infectiously funky bass and a fantastic keyboard solo, this song still sounds like an entire carnival every time it plays. Jazz-funk has had a bad reputation since the 80s as it was supposedly the music of Thatcher’s south (whilst the North had The Smiths). But this was the sound of black & white Britain coming together, which is more than you could ever say about Morrissey.
  9. The Style Council – Shout To The Top: There is no better example of the unpredictability of British music than Paul Weller’s move from The Jam to The Style Council. Having showed off his love of Britain’s rock history with his 1st band, The Style Council owed more to Motown than The Beatles. Shout To The Top is an amazing blast of strings, soul & style and is another reason why Paul Weller is Britain’s most underrated musician.
  10. Omar – There’s Nothing Like This: It may be dismissed as wine-bar soul, but Omar’s classic again showed that anything America could do, the British could do just as well – but with a twist (and in some ways paved the way for Acid Jazz). Whilst the Americans were in thrall to tinny 80 production, Omar harked back to a golden age- great vocals, beautiful tune and a whole lot of soul. Why he was never able to follow up this hit is a mystery – his recent new album sounds as fresh as those of musicians half his age.
  11. Roots Manuva – Witness (1 Hope): Part of a strong UK hip-hop scene, Roots Manuva’s lyrics, accent, style and sense of humour mark him out as definitely British. With a backing track that owes more to dub than anything else, this cult classic features lines such as the brilliant: Cause right now, I see clearer than most, I sit here contending with this cheese on toast. Not much bling there – or in the brilliant pastiche by Pitman.

Before anyone starts posting disgusted of Tunbridge Wells type comments, I know that I chose 11 not 10 songs (I struggled to keep it under 20!)

I also have to say that I have excluded all those bands who might be considered part of the British R&B/Blues scene of the 60s, and have only picked 1 song from any particular band, even when you might argue that some should have had 2 in this list.

Why not check out the video for the 5th best British soul song ever and let me know what you think I missed, or songs that shouldn’t be in the top 10 (OK, 11).

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Soul II Soul – Back To Life

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Tricky – Black Steel (Cover Version Of Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos By Public Enemy)

Public Enemy’s rap classic Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos was turned into a raging guitar monster by trip-hop genius Tricky, with the help of Martina Topley Bird..

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As a founding member of Massive Attack Tricky was a key player in the development of the Bristol sound that would grow into trip-hop. But on his debut solo album, the genuine classic that is Maxinquaye, the stand out track was Black Steel which has more in common with Mettalica than Massive Attack.

Originally by Public Enemy, from their ground-breaking album It Take A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, the song imagines Chuck D being drafted to fight in Vietnam, and then imprisoned when he refuses to go. Tricky’s version only uses the 1st couple of verses from the original (perhaps that’s why they shortened the title to Black Steel).

But Tricky’s version of Black Steel packs, if anything, more punch than Public Enemy’s. Martina Topley Bird (now a solo artist) sings the lyrics, and does so brilliantly. The stripped down rap sound of the original (which includes samples of Isaac Hayes & Stevie Wonder) is replaced by pounding drums & guitars. Black Steel by Tricky well & truly rocks.

My friends at Shuffle are putting on a night this Saturday commerorating Britpop. Although it doesn’t fall within the strict definition of Britpop Black Steel by Tricky is definitely one of the best pieces of British music from the 90s.

You can see Public Enemy’s original version of Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos below or listen to Tricky’s blistering cover version.

Tricky – Black Steel

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