Saturday, February 19, 2011

Midnight World Pop Scout-2: Cats on Fire, Natty, Vieux Farka Toure, Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas

This weekend feature is to bring you music, usually from outside the US, that you may not have heard before. There won't be much analysis; this is late night quick hits, and you can decide whether you want to investigate further.

Cats on Fire is a Finnish four piece that I'm very high on. Their ten-year output includes a few EPs and two full lengths. Their 2009 LP, Our Temperance Movement, was one of my top-rated albums of that year. Here is "Tears In My Cup" from that album:

Lead singer and songwriter Mattias Bjorkas' voice will remind the listener of Edwyn Collins or Morrissey, and the songs have a C-86 quality like the Orchids, Flatmates or Razorcuts. Bjorkas is a Finnish teacher, but writes in English. And he writes well. Here is an incisive put down of a leaving lover from the song "Horoscope":

You say you don't belong here
Because someone once said
you look like a star
Another drunk man who saw a chance

Cats on Fire Myspace page

An artist that is new to me is Natty. He was born in San Francisco but grew up in London. His music encompasses reggae, folk and hip hop.

Recommended song "Bedroom Eyes"

Natty on Myspace

One of the best guitar albums I own was release a couple of years ago by Vieux Farka Toure. His father was a guitar legend, and the son will be as well.

Vieux Farka Toure Webpage

Finally, everyone, and I mean everyone, should want to know that there is a compilation called Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas, bringing you Brazilian psychedelic rock music.

Eux Autres: New video for "You're Alight" from Broken Bow

Here's another one from the late 2010 files I'm just getting around to checking out... Eux Autres. Yes, they offer a pronunciation guide on their website: "ooze oh-trah", as well as a translation: French for "them others". And they have a real nice sound, with a bit of a Neko Case reverb sound on the vocals. Here's their new video for "You're Alight":

And here's the song "Go Dancing":

And, finally, a link to their Bandcamp page where you can download or check out more music.

They're currently touring in Europe.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Old Stuff Friday - The Soul Corner - In the Midnight Hour

No less an authority than Jon Landau once said that Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour" is "not a classic, it's an epic." Greil Marcus said of the backing band here that this performance was "perhaps Booker T. and the MG's finest hour." [The backing band in this video did not play on the record nor even on this lip synched video either.] John Lennon always called it one of his favorites and it had a permanent place on his home jukebox (slot no. 14 to be exact).

Not much I can add to any of that except let's get it on; so here for your weekend pleasure is 2 minutes and 19 seconds of pure musical perfection:

Can I get a ruling on the oldness of Ikara Colt?

They're not around anymore. Does that count for anything?

My brother gave me the CD for their first full-length, 'Chat and Business', right around when it came out in '02. Word had it that they were "London art school chums" or some such, so, you know, as far as expectations go, there was that. It was just a bunch of loud guitar (kind of like a more-distorted Gang of Four -- so you know you'll hear someone call it "angular") and pissed off vocals in a nasally English accent, doing the 'repeat stuff ten times' thing that Bloc Party came along and did a couple years later. To sum up in two words: pretty damned awesome. And the guitar player's name is Claire. So that album was great, and couple months later they put out an EP called 'Basic Instructions' that also was great, although I didn't find that out until a couple years later when I bought it. They put out another full length before calling it quits in the middle of the decade.

Pretty old, if you ask me. I generally like to post live videos if they sound good enough, but there's not a lot of good live stuff out there by Ikara Colt. The bottom video, "Rudd", is live, and a nice version of one of their best songs.

Friday Old Stuff: Long and Throbbing: Reggae Discomixes and 12" Singles

While reggae is no stranger to the 3-4 minute format, the producers also released a vast amount of longer tunes. Two common formats were discomixes and 12" singles. Click on the link below and continue reading:

This song is Assemble Not Thyself by The Terrors and produced by Roy Francis for Phase One. The song consists of the original song with the "dub" appended on to it to make one long song. The transition point, which is about as smooth a job as you will find, is at about the 3:35 point. Thereafter, you get the "dub", or instrumental, of the song with various additional drum, bass and echo effects added. The resulting song provided a longer and more popular version for the dancehall. It also provided the producer of a third way to make money off of the original song (the song, the dub, and the discomix).

Here is the sublime Desperate Times by The Chantells, which also was produced by Roy Francis for Phase One. The transition point in this discomix is at about 3:24, and is followed by a bouncy, almost playful, dub.

Another version of a discomix is for the original song fused with a dub version (perhaps with some original vocals) over which a DJ or toaster has provided his own lyrics. Keeping with the high quality of Francis' work for Phase One, here is The Chantells' Children of Jah with Time to Unite by DJ U Brown. U Brown's version starts swinging at 3:39. Embedding was disabled, but I strongly recommend clicking the link, both for the Chantell's sweet harmony and U Brown's classic Jamaican toasting.
Children of Jah/Time to Unite

If you like these songs, a great album is The Chantells and Friends - Children of Jah, on the wonderful, and now defunct, Blood and Fire label.

A 12" single shares a 6 minute plus running time with a discomix, but is a different beast. A 12" is a 33rpm single on 12 inches of vinyl rather than the standard 7 inches. This gave producers more room to be creative with echo, bass and other effects. Is was a popular dancehall item, and gave the producer a chance to sell a second version of the song without needing to pay the artists to do anything more. The producer reworked the original song into the 12" creation. This example of a 12" single was an effort by three popular reggae artists --- Home T, Cocoa Tea and the gruff Shabba Ranks.

This 12" single was by popular artist Gregory Isaacs, and is the Gussie Clark mix of his single Rumors. Note that at about the 3:45 mark the song becomes an interplay of bass riffs, drums and keys, with echo and some vocal effects.

If you like 12" singles, the Greensleeves label started a 12" Rulers series. Since there were various artists and producers each had their own style, Greesleeves grouped the songs by producers. I'm aware of four albums, one each for the work of Gussie Clark, Henry "Junjo" Lawes, Linval Thompson, and Jah Thomas. By the way, both of the 12" cuts above are from the bass-heavy production efforts of Gussie Clark.

Let's close with a song that is called a discomix, although it was created as 12" single, not reproduced from an original shorter single. The root song is a 1968 Studio One cut called Funky Donkey, that later was updated in a version called Death In The Arena. U Brown and Linval Thompson used the underlying rhythm from Death In The Arena to create Train To Zion (U Brown and Tony Welch of "Socialist Roots" produced the track):

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stop me if you've heard this one...: The Blakes

Stop me if you've heard this one--

Two brothers from Maine walk into a Seattle coffeehouse in 1999. They meet a barista who happens to be a drummer and the three of them form a kickass power trio named The Blakes. What's the punch line? Click on the link to hear it and keep reading.

The Blakes are Garnet Keim, Snow Keim, and Bob Husak. The Keims had been busking their way around the country and writing songs before their meeting with Husak. The trio worked on songs some more and self-funded a tour. After moving back to Seattle they cut a few EPs and caught the attention of Seattle's KEXP. Then they were picked up by the ultra cool little Seattle label, Light In The Attic. The Blakes and Light in the Attic remastered the existing material, added some new material, and released The Blakes' first LP, entitled The Blakes. Which brings us to punch line number 2. This is the punch line of choice for those with commitment issues.

The Blakes released a second LP, Souvenir, in 2009. My wandering around the internet suggests that we may get another LP in 2011. Here are punch lines 3 and 4, from Souvenir.

The sound? By now you can assess it as well as I can, I suspect. If I had to describe it in a short elevator ride I'd say it covers the range of swaggering, emotionally vibrant and somewhat scuzzy powerpop with a bit of British invasion flourish. And it gets a top recommendation from me.

The Blakes' Website

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Holy Soul

Do you ever ask yourself, 'hey, I've got a bunch of music -- probably more than I can listen to and get tired of from here out (according to actuarial tables) -- so why don't I just save some money and listen to what I have henceforward?'

Of course you don't. First of all, you don't phrase questions to yourself as run-on sentences with legalese prepositions. Secondly, it's a stupid goddamned question. Because if you ever did such a thing, you'd miss great new bands who understand the basics of visceral rock and roll. Bands like The Holy Soul.

It's just past noon here as I get ready to hit the post button. I waited 'til now on purpose, based on the perhaps fanciful notion that someone would read this early in their day. Because I swear if you listen to these three songs below, by the middle of the second one you'll feel that unmistakable tap on your shoulder. It's the call of the brown demon, and by the end of the third song you're likely ruined for anything productive for the rest of the day.

By the way, they're from Sydney, and they've toured with the Drones. What more does one need to know? Here's "Train"

"Dream Last Night" (from an older EP)

and "Love Has Left the City Limits" -- from the same EP. This is a pretty standard blues tune played by a thousand bands, with a thousand sets of lyrics -- here distinguished by great vocals and guitar sound.

Their myspace page has some excellent newer songs. Check them out and buy their music.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine's Day gift from the Drive-By Truckers

Free download of a fine song from their soon to be released album. "Everybody Needs Love". Who can argue with that today, or any other day for that matter?

Sounds from one listen that Mr. Hood is more than a bit inspired by all the great Muscle Shoals soulful music his Daddy played on.

That old Minneapolis sound.

Yesterday I was running, and had a shuffle going on the ipod. 4 of the first 10 songs were from "Zen Arcade". Pretty weird. The playlist is about 600 songs. So I started thinking about the only time I saw Husker Du -- at University of Chicago on their last tour (no one knew at the time - well, I guess the band did) in October 1987. Soul Asylum opened. I was never a big Soul Asylum fan. The whole Winona thing was pretty bragable, but I think she must have been a fan of ballads or something.

I saw Sugar play several times over the coming years. I also saw Grant Hart's band, Nova Mob, play the Cat's Cradle in the early 90s. It was at the previous location on Franklin Street, and maybe 25 people showed. I played pool with Grant, and he was pretty cool. My friends and I also threw the frisbee in the parking lot with the opening act, another Minneapolis band called the Magnolias. They were hilarious, and had that certain innocent Minnesota je ne sais quoi that makes Minnesotans generally pleasant to be around. I think we had a twelver in our car as well.

The guys in the Magnolias didn't give off the vibe that they just might incinerate the place with their 40 minute set, but that's pretty much what happened. They played a few of the jangly late-Replacements vintage guitar pop songs, but most of it was just straightforward garage punk music.

At the risk of earning the opprobrium of my blogmates for not being able to wait to Friday, here's a great example of the latter:

and an insanely catchy specimen of the former:

Frontman John Freeman re-made the band in 2007 and it looks like they're still at it. The tunes on their myspace page are really good. Check them out.

Happy Valentine's Day: Ballboy

I'm one of those guys who is more attracted to an off kilter or downbeat love song than a bouncy happy one. Maybe that makes me a mope. But it also leads me to my Valentine's day offerings from Scotland's Ballboy. Ballboy's head man is Edinburgh schoolteacher Gordon McIntyre, who sings, writes the lyrics and plays guitar. Other members are Nick Reynolds (bass), Katie Griffiths (keyboards, backing vocals) and Gary Morgan (drums).

First is Let's Fall In Love And Run Away From Here. Nothing says "love song" to me like a song that starts out:

You used to play piano,
for a living,
You stand six foot three in your heels
Now you're table dancing,
for a living,
and your world has gone to hell

And on the gentler side, a truly nice (lost) love song -- I Lost You But I Found Country Music:

Donald In The Bushes With A Bag Of Glue:

And we'll close with I Wonder If You're Drunk Enough to Sleep With Me Tonight:

So why work on Valentine's day. Let the gang from Ballboy serenade your loved one--what could possibly go wrong?
Ballboy website
Ballboy on Facebook