DJ Spinna and BBE Back At It

DJ Spinna - Strange Games Vol 5 DJ Spinna & BBE Soundsystem
Strange Games & Funky Things Volume 5 – Smoking ’70s Soul and Rare Grooves
(BBE) 2010

Purchase: Amazon

Back on the hunt for the forgotten gems of 1970s soul, DJ Spinna and BBE craft another compelling exploration of hip-hop and R&B’s roots.

Best known for the Beat Generation LPs by J Dilla, Pete Rock, and DJ Jazzy Jeff, boutique British label BBE is firmly established as a premium purveyor of instrumental releases and breaks compilations for crate diggers everywhere. Their Strange Games series of 1970s soul compilations dates back to 1997.  Volume 5 is the first to feature DJ Spinna since 2001’s critically acclaimed Strange Games and Things, and it is a worthy successor.  Times may have changed, but Spinna and BBE’s common focus on the forgotten gems of ’70s soul has not, and this consistency keeps them from being forgotten gems themselves.

According to BBE, Strange Games “represents the blueprint for modern R&B and rap music” and “joins the dots between ’70s soul, ’80s rare groove, and ’90s mass market hip hop.” A few beats will be instantly recognizable to the average rap fan, namely “Faded Lady,” famously sampled by Diamond D and Busta Rhymes, but most of this will be virgin territory for all but soul, disco, and world music experts, and of course hip-hop producers. Other than the notable exception of War, details on many of these songs and artists are frustratingly scant on the web, making this an excellent jump off for your own explorations of these genres.

The first highlight of many is the opener, “Get It Up for Love” by Ned Doheny. A blue-eyed soul singer-songwriter who developed a following in Japan, Doheny is barely remembered stateside.  For fans of Philadelphia soul, the subject of many quality compilations in its own right, check out “I Ain’t Got the Love (Of One Girl on my Mind)” by The Ambassadors, a long out-of-print tune that’s 1998 re-release went largely unnoticed (update: I recently became aware of Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s “I Ain’t Got the Love”, which makes excellent use of this sample).  Other highlights like sampling favorites “For The Love Of Money” by the Philly Armada Orchestra and “Ashley’s Roach Clip”  by the Soul Searchers  are much funkier and feature no vocals at all. The juxtaposition of these two styles, and often the combination of them, is indicative of the overall sound of the Strange Games series.

The Strange Games vibe is laid back but fun, and as one might guess, this is an ideal mix for an after party. DJ Spinna does a great job of highlighting the best grooves and keeping the vibe steady, and his cuts are remarkably unobtrusive. If you would like the tracks in their entirety, there is also a second, unmixed disc included, a common practice by BBE that has further endeared them to beat junkies. The additional disc is perfect for the shuffle-heavy habits of digital music listeners but does have five fewer tracks.  Unfortunately, Merry Clayton’s stellar cover of “Gimme Shelter” does not make the cut.  You are not likely to run out and buy the entire discography of any artist featured here.  In fact that would be rather difficult to do.   Yet this is a solid compilation from front to back, an excellent addition to late-night playlists, and a worthy entry in this series and the BBE catalogue as a whole.

Rating: 7/10

(This review was originally published on PopMatters on October 29, 2010)

All Girl Talk, All Week

Girl Talk - All Day

It seems like the music media has been in a Kanye West trance this fall, but last week we were treated to a brief respite courtesy of mashup maestro numero uno Mr. Gregg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, and the surprise release of All Day, his fifth and most ambitious album to date. Of course with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy coming out today, on the heels of a 10.0 from Pitchfork no less, this moment was short lived, but that’s how it goes in the world of post-Twitter Kanye.

Girl Talk’s week in the spotlight started last Monday as news that All Day was available for FREE on the Illegal Art website quickly went viral. In a recent interview with Vulture, Gillis claimed that the free download wasn’t a legal decision, but a marketing strategy to build his fan base because if something online “is not free, or in your face, you might not be interested.” Well, people were clearly interested as reports of downloads failing were widespread, and it took many hours to get in some cases. You can download it here if you haven’t done so already.

All Day is quite good, the best Girl Talk effort to date in my opinion, but what’s really been remarkable is the way the web has consumed it. The album’s Wikipedia entry was created seemingly within minutes of its release and quickly filled up with an exhaustive list of its samples, 372 of which have been identified as of this writing. While collaborative editing is cool and all, this is 2010, so naturally a sweet visualization wasn’t far behind. Head over to Mashup Breakdown to watch the samples light up in real time as the songs play. It’s a bit of a time suck, but very helpful for identifying the songs you’re sure to be downloading in a drunken stupor late this Thanksgiving Eve. Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” anyone?

The Roots Are Still Right On

The Roots

The Roots are high on the list of artists I’ve seen live the most times.  My first time was in high school at Drew University during the Things Fall Apart tour, and most recently I had the pleasure of catching one of The Roots Jam shows at Highline Ballroom this past summer.  The realization that these shows were well over ten years apart was a bit disconcerting (via feeling old), but I took comfort in the fact that I was out past 2 on a weeknight!

The Highline show was the day before the new album, How I Got Over, came out and it was killer.  They played very little of the new stuff, which is always fine by me, and gave me my jamming fix after a particularly poor Phish show at Saratoga a few days earlier.  The Roots have been called the best live band in hip-hop for years, and rightfully so, but their live show is on a whole other level these days.  If you’ve seen them once or twice, or at a festival, and are thinking “been there, done that,” do yourself a favor and get to a show.

I’ve had a little time with the new album, and it’s quite good, but one track really stands out, “Right On” which features and samples Joanna Newsom.  Newsom’s appearance, along with Monsters of Folk and Dirty Projectors, have led many to point to the influence of their new indie rock friends from the Fallon show, but “Right On” is straight classic 90s hip-hop.  Heck, it sounds more 90s underground than The Roots actually sounded during that time.  I think it’s telling of the profound influence the late J Dilla’s work has had on them that last few albums, as the beat reminds me of Dilla’s production on Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifornia.

Give it a listen over on Famous Sounding Words

So This Happened

LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening LCD Soundsystem
This Is Happening
(DFA) 2010

Purchase: Amazon

So many great new albums have come out since my last post I barely know where to start, but a good place would probably be This Is Happening, the new LCD Soundsystem album that came out May 17.  If you don’t have a copy yet, that’s an error I suggest you correct as soon as possible.

This Is Happening, the follow up to their 2007 masterpiece Sound of Silver, is an amazing achievement in its own right and a serious contender for my favorite record of 2010.  As many artists tend to do when following up an album many deemed “perfect,” they try to rise to the occasion by expanding their sound and taking creative chances.  And as often happens, the resulting record is not as consistent as its predecessor, but its high points exceed almost all of their creator’s previous successes.  “I Can Change” and “All I Want” are textbook examples of these highs, and currently my #1 and #2 favorite songs of the year.

Another cliché of the follow up album, “the polarizing lead single,” is also in play with “Drunk Girls,” the lyrically quotable, but musically annoying “jock jam” that has expanded the group’s popularity with the bro set but become the central focus of those claiming the album’s inferiority to previous works.  I don’t dislike “Drunk Girls” or “One Touch,” the second and third tracks on the album, but in light of the genius that transpires from track four on, their inclusion is a bit suspect, especially so early on where it derails the momentum set by magnum opus opener “Dance Yrself Clean.”

Continue reading “So This Happened”

Jay Electronica Channels Biggie Smalls

jayelectronica

If you’ve read a music magazine any time in the last two years, you’re probably aware that Drake is the hottest new rapper in the game right now.  If you’ve read a music blog any time in that period, you may also be aware that the man pictured above, the elusive Jay Electronica, is the hottest new emcee in the game, and depending on who you ask, he just might be the savior of hip-hop.

You can read about his curious methods on Wikipedia, but here’s a few key details.  He’s from New Orleans.  He likes to rap over movie scores.  He’s released most of his material via posts in random web forums and his mysteriously disappearing and reappearing MySpace and Twitter accounts.    He just had a baby with Erykah Badu.  He has produced for and toured with Nas.  There is intense speculation as to when, if ever, he will release a proper debut album.  And oh yeah, he can rap his ass off.

Continue reading “Jay Electronica Channels Biggie Smalls”

Super Tuesday – Broken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

The New Pornographers isn’t the only Canadian indie rock supergroup with a new album out today. Broken Social Scene is also back with Forgiveness Rock Record, their fourth proper group album and first in 5 years. BSS is best known among indie fans for 2002’s You Forgot It In People, their seminal indie rock opus that Pitchfork placed at #23 in their Top 200 Albums of the Decade. They are best known to everybody else for the solo success of group member Leslie Feist, aka Feist, whose single “1, 2, 3, 4″ was one of those ubiquitous iPod ad songs in 2007.

Forgiveness Rock Record is getting a lot of love in early reviews, including a Best New Music rating from Pitchfork. Several songs from the album have been available on the web for weeks, including “World Sick,” which they released as a free download. You can download it below and you should because it’s freaking epic.  You can also check out the rest of the album with the official embeddable widget of the album. Hopefully artists will be doing more of this with Lala biting the dust at the end of the month.

Broken Social Scene – World Sick

Super Tuesday – New Pornographers

The New Pornographers - Together

This week is a pretty big one for new releases in the indie rock world with new albums from genre mainstays like The Hold Steady, Broken Social Scene, and, of course, The New Pornographers.  It’s the Canadian indie supergroup’s fifth album, and first since 2007’s Challengers, but they haven’t been inactive, as last year saw the release of well-received solo albums by frontman A.C. Newman (Get Guilty) and female vocalist Neko Case (Middle Cyclone), who was nominated for two Grammys.

The new album, Together, out today on Matador, is receiving very positive feedback, including this glowing review from Aquarium Drunkard, where I picked up free downloads of two tracks.  The songs, “Your Hands (Together)” and “Crash Years,” are classic New P’s and seem to support AD’s viewpoint that this is a return to form after Challengers, which wasn’t bad, but wasn’t on the level of their previous work.  Check out the two tracks below and make sure to pick up a copy of the album.

The New Pornographers – Crash Years

The New Pornograpers – Your Hands (Together)