Summer Albums for Oh-11

I’m up early on this muggy Wednesday morning waiting for my daughter to decide she’s ready for the day. Since my new rumble on turntables isn’t quite finished I’ll share some of the new music that’s piqued and old music that’s re-piqued my interest. These are the songs that’ll become my soundtrack for the next few months. Since I’m in the right kind of mood, I’ll call them Summer “Jams” for Oh-11. If you don’t get why I find that amusing, you might be someone that says the word “jam” sincerely. Maybe you still listen to Jock Jams.

Delta Spirit – Ode to Sunshine

Delta Spirit - Ode to SunshineSome might consider the sound produced by this Long Beach band grunge played by Bob Dylan if Bob Dylan liked to dabble in garbage-can percussion. Okay, that might be my very own assessment. But a quicky search of the Interwebs supports this theory. It also supported the theory that people like to compare anyone to Bob Dylan. In fact, there are so many Bob Dylan comparisons out there that the entire analogy has become watered-down apple juice. And nobody wants to drink watereddown apple juice. Yuck. However you compare it, Delta Spirit plays the soundtrack of any summer. Grilling? Delta Spirit. Drinking? Delta Spirit. Jarts? Delta Spirit. Horse Balls (read: Ladder Ball)? Delta Spirit. If Delta Spirit could just move into a backyard tent for the entire summer, I’d be cool with that. “People C’mon” stirs up every great party memory you’ve ever had and releases that euphoria directly into your brain. 2010’s follow-up History From Below broadened the band’s range and provided hope for more great things to come, but it couldn’t match Sunshine. Get both, but keep History From Below on the shelf for those winter months.

Availability on Vinyl: Limited

We/Or/Me – Sleeping City

We/Or/Me - Sleeping City

We/Or/Me is Bahhaj Taherzadeh, a Chicago-based singer/songwriter who not entirely unlike me (though much more talented) found himself, after the arrival of fatherhood, in need of a re-acquaintance with the world. From these sleep-deprived sessions Bahhaj creates soaring, orchestral (if one man with “some occasional help” can be orchestral) ballads that demand your attention, like being slapped with a two-ton feather. Purchase We/Or/Me HERE here on CD or in your choice of digital formats. If you want a sample, listen to the epic “Tell Sarah” from the 5-song EP Ghostwriter from 2008. If you’re not hooked, you might be a little dead inside. Sit down with these in the dark; Bahhaj pulls you into the sadness and beauty of a night spent with nothing more than your regrettable thoughts to keep you company. Even the riotest summer needs a slow jam.

Availability on Vinyl: N/A

My Morning Jacket – Circuital

My Morning Jacket - CircuitalShedding the impenetrable cloak of curious genre shifts worn on Evil Urges, Jim James and My Morning Jacket return to something closer to home. And by home I mean Z. And by Z I mean somewhere in the general vicinity of what we might have expected the follow to Z might have been if Evil Urges didn’t exist. Stripped down and laid back, but with a driving purpose — Jacket doesn’t pen no slacker jams. James still can’t shake the tendency to slip into lovelorn weepies or curio interludes like “Holdin on to Black Metal” but when Circuital hits, it bruises on cuts like the title track, “Movin’ Away” and the acoustic “Wonderful (The Way I Feel).” My Morning Jacket is still the “it” indie band (and yes, maybe they are a little over-hyped) but even their missteps make for good listening and everyone always wants to talk about the new Jacket record. And by everyone, I mean that buddy of yours that always wants to tell you about the hot new indie records like he’s delivering a  message from the gods.

Availability on Vinyl: Hip to the Revolution

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness BluesI’ll go from one “it” band to another. Fleet Foxes are omnipresent. Or maybe that’s just because I can’t stop playing the damn album. Happiness Blues makes a strong case for closing the album of the year competition early in 2011. We won’t, but for the sake of hyperbole, let’s leave that on the table. Helplessness is accessible when it should be pretentious, danceable when it should be morose. Fleet Foxes doesn’t radiate awesomeness or coolness and they won’t earn you any street cred when you walk down Penn Ave. with your boombox blasting some folk rock 60’s-era groove like “Sim Sala Bim.” And don’t be surprised if your parents request a copy of the CD. Pitchfork probably said it best when Larry Fitzmaurice in their review of the album said “it’s familiar in the most pleasing way, lacking conceit or affectation.” The best music isn’t purely innovative. Perhaps the best music is derivative in the most innovative and earnest ways.

Availability on Vinyl: Readily

Paramore – All We Know is Falling

Paramore - All We Know is FallingSince releasing this album Paramore has gone on to achieve a small measure of success. You know… a feature in Rolling Stone, a Grammy nomination, a tour opening for No Doubt, a platinum record and a headlining single for the soundtrack for the Twlight movie. Locally the Pittsburgh Penguins skated out to “crushcrushcrush” for a good measure of their 2009 championship season, earning Paramore a permanent locker in my Jock Jams Hall of Fame right next to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” I should feel anywhere between benign dislike and outright distaste for this band. In reality, after checking that damning “most played” list on iTunes, I found that I spin Hayley Williams and Co. as much as bands I openly claim to love, even among mixed company. Damn you, digital footprint. The most recent album may be a bland(ish) pre-manufactured corporate hit machine (two band members left late in 2010 claiming similar sentiments), but this debut album hits all the right inconsistencies to maintain the “punk” in their “poppy punk” genre label, trolling happily in the shadow of Jimmy Eat World. That a red vinyl edition of this record was just released (but now, apparently, sold out on their website) doesn’t hurt its status. I can spin that closet pleasure on the safety of my turntable, a contraption that doesn’t feel the need to remind me how many times I’ve played “Misery Business.”

Availability on (Red!) Vinyl: Get ’em now before they’re gone

Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters

Herbie Hancock - Head HuntersAs the hazy, humid evening gives way to debaucherous night so too must the playlist adjust accordingly. Herbie Hancock can no more be played at noon than Ode to Sunshine be played after midnight. When the long day of fraternizing forces its worshippers to the living rooms or lax patios and the tiki torches burn overtime to keep mosquitoes at bay… thus rings in the Herbie Hancock hour. His biggest mainstream hit, “Rockit,” has been put in a precarious situation: a monument of experimental sound sacrificed to the 80’s and the rigors of mass consumption. I throw around the phrase “it’ll change your life” with a kind of flippant hedonism, but Herbie Hancock quite literally changed people’s lives. Hancock worshiped modern technology — the synthesizer — at the sacred alter of hard bop. So we will acknowledge “Rockit,” but we will consider it anything but jazz. Instead we will spin Hancock’s fusion masterpiece Head Hunters, an album that is still fresh and funky and changing lives. It is everything and jazz. I rediscovered this album for the first time after a Six-Degrees of jazz binge: Art Blakey to Freddie Hubbard to Herbie Hancock to Herbie Hancock (or specifically Ugetsu to Hub-Tones to Maiden Voyage to Head Hunters). Critics of Hancock’s later synth-fury still malign anything that came after Blue Note, but don’t let that stop you from sampling the future sounds of 1971.

Availability on Vinyl: Available and Enhanced!

Fitz and the Tantrums – Pickin’ Up the Pieces

Fitz and the Tantrums - Pickin' Up the PiecesMy final summer jam comes from another band shamelessly playing music your parents would love. Like Fleet Foxes, they do it without the wink-wink nudge-nudge of most retro bands. With “Breakin’ the Chains of Love” the album kicks off with a mid-tempo Stax or Motown B-Side straight out of Smokey’s vault and carries that momentum right through the infectious “Moneygrabber,” a song you’ll be singing for days after only one listen. Unfortunately (fortunately?) for all of us, “Moneygrabber” has begun appearing in everything from This Week in Baseball to Criminal Minds, hell bent on earworm global domination. Is it Indie Pop music without guitars? Is it Neo Soul? Does it matter? Spin this record in June before your friends tell you they “discovered” Fitz and his Tantrums on Grey’s Anatomy.

Availability on Vinyl: A Wax Necessity

Embrace the Chaos

Kids today wouldn’t understand why we’d willingly listen to music laced with imperfections. The pops, the crackles, the static hiss when needle meets vinyl. Digital music is brushed free of all imperfection. Nothing but perfectly reproduced digital audio downloaded right to your iTunes library. The digital music revolution has done great things for remastering and other technical wizardry of which I’m probably grateful, but not particularly aware. But therein lies the greatest flaw in all those perfectly aligned zeros and ones:  benign and unholy imperfection. Consider your favorite writers, authors that reach a balance between logical progression and unpredictable improvisation. The greatest novels, like the greatest jazz compositions follow logical and regular musical patterns that frame illogical solo improvisation. Consider the music of Coleman Hawkins or the inimitable Thelonious Monk. Consider Colson Whitehead. His novel Sag Harbor was, at its heart, a standard coming-of-age story, but the details of his

Good Morning Vietnam
Just play it loud!! Okay?
protagonist’s experience leapt off the page in vibrant three-dimensional color and shape because life, like the protagonist’s experience, doesn’t rise steadily until reaching an ultimate and resolving denouement. Life is chaos, a series of regular routines flanking wild seat-of-your-pants improvisation. Digital music, while it satisfies our innate (but very contemporary) desire to be better, faster, newer — it contradicts the imperfection that makes us human. Vinyl records, in all their humility, awkwardness and frailty echo our own wanting souls. They are our siblings from another mother (or in this analogy another Thomas Edison). The response to a phonograph is visceral, primal perhaps, whereas we recognize with a certain about of sonic intellectualism why digital media sounds “better.” It sounds better because it sounds cleaner. It sounds better because it is more convenient and travels in the brains of thumbnail-sized iPods and doesn’t consume rooms with milk crates. It sounds better because it can be played in Dolby Digital 7.2 surround systems at excessively loud volumes without much distortion. But when you get right down to comparing the sound of vinyl against the sound of a compact disc (forget compressed audio) which sounds more real? That more accurately recalls a time and a place at a subconscious level? Which medium reproduces the sound that echoes life, that sometimes gets interrupted by a hairline imperfection, that skips and repeats and needs regular maintenance and attention? Without that maintenance and attention we slip into sporadic bouts of anxiety, depression and first world
Sonic Boom
Sonic Boom?
malaise. I do not mean to denigrate digital media entirely; I only aim to point out that progress isn’t always a full step forward. More often than not progress proves to be a lateral sashay. There’s a place in our collections for both because we carry out our first world modern lives in two worlds. In the so-called real world we are increasingly forced to be more timely, more exact, more beautiful than is our nature. We also need our media scrubbed clean and portable. People need alarm clocks loud enough to emit sonic boom (yes, this really exists because Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me told me so) just to get out of bed in the morning because our tendencies are toward sleeping in, being late, missing that 8:00am conference call. Our tendencies are toward imperfection. We float through this world projecting, feigning perfection; it is only at home, with our turntables and sweatpants that we can be honest with ourselves and embrace the chaos.

 

Thom Yorke and Doug E. Fresh: The World’s Greatest Entertainers

Braggadocio used to be the impetus for 90% of all rap songs. This number is thoroughly researched, I assure you. Just listen to some of the cuts from the Queens/South Bronx rap rivalry between Marley Marl and the Juice Crew (chiefly MC Shan) and KRS-One’s Boogie Down Productions. If you don’t care to revisit the lyrical jabs, the following is a summary of the “Bridge Wars”:

Juice Crew: We’re great. We’re from Queens.

KRS-One: Not only are we better, but South Bronx is the real birthplace of hip-hip.

Juice Crew: Idiot, that’s not what we meant. Sidenote: we’re still better.

KRS-One: I told you the Bronx created hip-hop.

Juice Crew: Your name sounds like a wack radio station. Now go away.

KRS-One: Um… you suck and no.

Juice Crew: Fine. But we’re still better.

Like some old fashioned WWF, both sides played up the feud in the name of self-promotion. Later, it would be revealed the whole thing began because a Juice Crew-affiliated producer (Mr. Magic) called an early KRS-One track “wack.” And to that we now must intone “Oooh. Burn,” (with the appropriate amount of sarcasm) because, well, it all seems so childish. But this is about “rep” and “cred” and many other things with which we most likely don’t have to concern ourselves. When KRS went on to form Boogie Down Productions he took out his frustrations on the more popular Juice Crew by fueling the rap rivalry to sell BDP records.

Early rap wasn’t primarily about guns, drugs, hustlers, pimps and hoes (though there was certainly a smattering of all that). Old school rappers were more concerned about their stage reputation as innovators and entertainers. While BDP and the Juice Crew played out their public rivalry in call and response lyric banter, another early pioneer of the genre soldiered on, proclaiming himself to be the greatest without significant recourse. I am now speaking of the original human beatbox – Doug E. Fresh.

Doug E. Fresh
Doug E. Fresh: The World's Greatest Entertainer

From Doug E. Fresh’s 1988 album The World’s Greatest Entertainer, “Greatest Entertainer” opens with the lyrics:

Got more juice than you get in your container
But to say fresh, as we are fresh
And leave everyone with a smile
I thought the proper thing for me to do is to come back doin’ the beatbox
Harmonica Style… Bust it…

Shortly thereafter, Doug E. Fresh fell out of favor. His 1992 effort Doin What I Gotta Do became a commercial failure despite being a solid record with moderate critical success. The hip-hop world had left the human beatbox and his unique skillz in the 80s. It wasn’t that Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew had lost their game or their desire to proclaim themselves to be the best; it was that 1992 marked a demonstrable shift in the rap universe. Gangsta Rap had appeared in the mid-80s under Ice-T and NWA but had never succeeded in crossing over into the mainstream until Dr. Dre’s The Chronic flipped the entire industry on its head with “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang.” Braggadocio just wasn’t enough to sell records any more. The old-school pioneers had to change their game or get left in the 80s… like Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew.

Radiohead, The King of LimbsIt just so happens that the same day I received my vinyl copy of The World’s Greatest Entertainer (which sadly isn’t a particularly easy record to track down), Radiohead finally delivered their Limited Edition Vinyl “Newspaper” package for The King of Limbs to my doorstep. And after sifting through the swag contained within I’ve come to the conclusion that Thom Yorke also believes himself to be the world’s greatest entertainer.

the world’s greatest entertainer cannot be capitalized or italicized. Thom Yorke would never proclaim himself to be the world’s greatest anything. The rules aren’t the same for indie rock bands as they were for classic hip hop. Modesty, ambivalence and obscurity rule the day. Doug E. Fresh could get up on a chair and challenge anyone to a beatbox-off right then and right there. And clearly he’d be the greatest. He’s Doug E. Fresh. And he had the Get Fresh Crew to back him up on that incontrovertible fact. Thom Yorke doesn’t have that luxury. Radiohead must assert their greatness through alternative venues. Like selling their “Newspaper Album” package for The King of Limbs or offering In Rainbows for whatever you wanted to pay.

Sell Your House and Buy Gold
Okay. I'll do that.

Contained within the package I found The King of Limbs newspaper. The Early Edition, if you were wondering. I don’t know if it’s meant to make me feel like I’m living in a George Orwell novel or not; but I’m concerned someone’s monitoring my thoughts, scanning my most guarded and secret opinions. I’ll be exposed as a fraud, a false proponent of music that is good and worthwhile. As I’ve already confessed to finding a certain illogical appeal in Captain & Tennille, I presume I have nothing more to fear from the thought/speak police. Clearly, I can be trusted with brutal honesty. Therefore, I’m just going to come right out and say it. I’m not sure about the new Radiohead record and I don’t get the point of the swag: the newspaper, the artwork, the sheet of hundreds of tiny little perforated pictures.

King of Limbs swag
What am I supposed to do with this?

Doug E. Fresh on the other hand I understood. He asserted his greatness in his lyrics. He just came out and told me. And he said it in a way that I totally believed. In the good old days I’d listen to The Bends or Kid A and Radiohead used to bring the same kind of Doug E. Fresh confidence. Even In Rainbows reached out, took me by the throat and told me it was the best goddamn record of the year. The music spoke for itself. Now, however, we’re subjected to The King of Limbs. Still a great record. But it’s not taking me by the throat; it’s showering me with reverb and inexplicable artwork. The newspaper tells me “Sell Your House and Buy Gold” among many other things. As a collector the two clear vinyl 45s tickle me in all the right places, but the rest of the package is trying to impress me with its inaccessibility, like modern art or Thomas Pynchon novels. With this release Thom Yorke just got up on the chair, referred to himself in the third person and challenged the world to an indie-rock off… or not, you know, because he doesn’t really care either way. He then played The King of Limbs vinyl on a turntable shaped like a narwhal while reading aloud the pages of his newspaper in falsetto. After he’d flipped or changed the record for the third time, he kicked over the narwhal to a stunned silent crowd and exited the room. No Q&A necessary. Before leaving Jonny Greenwood proclaimed Abingdon, Oxfordshire to be the birthplace of glitch/ambient/intelligent dance/orchestral/post-modern/new-wave/guitar rock. And all those other phony glitch/ambient/intelligence dance/orchestral/post-modern/new-save/guitar rockers can suck his nuts… or not, you know, because he doesn’t really care either way.

Narwhal on a turntable
You really can find anything on the Interwebs. Courtesy of DJ Narwhal.

And it was all done in the name of self-promotion. The less I understand, the more I’m supposed to admire it, the more I’m supposed to talk about it, the less Radiohead has to call attention to themselves because we’re doing it for them.

So after a full day with my two greatest entertainers, I just have one final thing to say: I’ve got more words in my little finger than you’ve got in your senior thesis. Thirty Hertz Rumble is the birthplace of the bl-g and all you arbitrary bloggers are just jealous of my frequency (though probably at least as qualified and able to bl-g). Word to your female parental figure. Also sign up for my mailing list to await the official announcement of my Canasta Chicken Limited Edition Vinyl Collection: a 5 LP set of unpublished short stories on yellow vinyl (read by a really cool guy named Vernon who does a great Foghorn Legorn impersonation), accompanied by a sheet of sixty pinhead stickers depicting me in the various stages of a Canasta game and instructions on how to turn a $1 bill into an origami chicken with George Washington’s face. Consider the gauntlet thrown… or not, because either way I really don’t care.

 

Dollar bill origami chicken
Bl-ggers, consider yourself served.

I drive a Volkswagen. Change drives a creepy van.

Free Candy Van
Change comes for us all.

Change is inevitable. This is what we tell ourselves while we cling to the things of our past – the music, movies, cartoons, trappings of our youth, or at least more youthful years. The things that just aren’t made like they used to be and never will be again. Change is the driver of the creepy van with spray-painted art on the side and no windows. Change tells you to get in. At first you resist, but he is persistent and makes convincing arguments about progress and evolution. And he just won’t take “no” for an answer. Change is like Bono telling you to give the next U2 record a chance.

Bono: You know you want it. It’ll be grand. Rolling Stone called it the best since All That You Can’t Leave Behind.

Me: No, really, thanks for the offer but… [sigh]… fine, it’ll never be as good as Achtung Baby or Joshua Tree or even October or [sigh] Pop… but here’s a twenty. Just keep the change.

Bono: How about a few extra quid to save starving children in Rwanda?

Me: Fine. Actually, here’s my bank PIN #. Take whatever you want and send me the Deluxe Vinyl Edition with the acoustic outtakes from Rattle and Hum.

This is what we do. We march forward, but not without taking certain things with us, whatever we can carry. Others get left behind in the 90s, like Boyz II Men. We’ve accepted their fate, the temporary nature of their existence even when one of them pops up on a reality TV series and the quartet books a date at Heinz Hall. Since I am no longer 15, I will consider attending in passing, to acknowledge the whimsy I might still possess and acknowledge that at one point in my life I knew all the words to every song on Cooleyhighharmony. But we change. And we evolve, sometimes motivated by self preservation but more often by absolute necessity. Continue reading I drive a Volkswagen. Change drives a creepy van.

Huey Lewis and the News – Sports

Huey Lewis and the News
Huey Lewis and the News – Sports

Year Released: 1983

Huey Lewis and the News Discography:
1980 – Self titled
1982 – Picture This
1983 – Sports
1986 – Fore!
1988 – Small World
1991 – Hard at Play
1994 – Four Chords and Several Years Ago
2010 – Soulsville

Track List:

Sports - Track List

Is it possible that the most memorable conversation about Huey Lewis and the News takes place during a brutal axe murder in the excellent but flawed adaptation of American Psycho? (I’m unable to embed the video but I’ve inserted a short little sound clip without the blood below.) Over the years it seems as though the band has slipped into a punchline for a joke that nobody told. Was it because of Huey’s purple suits? Current and future generations may only remember their contributions to the soundtrack for Back to the Future — if at all. Really. I know some of these kids. They haven’t seen Back to the Future and they couldn’t identify John Cusack in a lineup. And then there’s always the scene from American Psycho. Continue reading Huey Lewis and the News – Sports

A bl-g about classic and not-so-classic movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick