Saturday, March 12, 2011

Midnight World Pop Scout-5: G-Corp and Big Youth, Don Letts/Dan Donovan, Kid British, The Surf Coasters

Mergers and Acquisitions: Electro-Reggae Remixes

Traditionally, artists made music, and producers and engineers recorded it. Technology and tastes have stretched that dynamic. Now some artists create music with studio tools, or use studio tools to create music from other recordings. While this development has touched rock (for example, electro-rock, dub rock), nowhere is it more important that in dance music and reggae. In fact, the reggae producers have been doing it since the late '60s. Inevitably, they meet to joyous results.

This track takes "Waterhouse Rock" by great reggae DJ Big Youth, which is itself a version of the rocksteady "Rockfort Rock" with the tall guy toasting over the rhythm, and gives it the remix treatment via the UK's G-Corp (also known as "Groove Corporation" and "Groove Corp").

What's different than the original version as produced by King Tubby? Stripped and looped vocals, additional effects, and boosted bass and percussion.

G-Corp is an top notch remix outfit specializing in remixing and creating reggae and dub. I highly recommend that you check them out.

Website: G-Corp

Remember the guy with the long dreads from Big Audio Dynamite? He also was the reggae DJ at The Roxy -- the club frequented by The Clash when they were starting out -- and later was the video historian for The Clash. His name is Don Letts. Among his career producing videos and directing at least one movie, he founded the Dub Cartel. In this cut, he and his sidekick Dan Donovan create a great dance floor number by taking Prince Alla's King Tubby produced "Dub Stone", with some added vocals borrowed from Pablo Moses' "One People". Give it about 20 seconds to really start the groove.

Kid British

Kid British, a ska/indie pop band from Manchester. Their first album was titled It Was This Or Football. A single off of that LP was an update on "Our House" by Madness, titled "Our House is Dadless".

Websites: Kid British Myspace and Facebook

The Surf Coasters

I know that some of you were hoping that I'd bring some more stuff from Asia to follow up on last week's Moscow Olympics. Here are The Surf Coasters, a surf band from that well-known home of the laid back surf culture -- Japan.

Websites: Surf Coasters Official Website and Myspace

REVIEW: Robert Pollard - Space City Kicks

I'm a little late reviewing this one. While Waving at the Astronauts grabbed me immediately, this one took a little longer to get its hooks in. But it did. One of the amazing things about the way Pollard makes music is his ability to combine the four P's, switch among them from song to song or within the same song. If you've followed him, you know that some of his greatest songs consist of combinations of shorter songs, but then sometimes he leaves the smaller songs to stand on their own. Space City Kicks is a great example of that.

This album consists of 18 separate songs, only one of which is longer than 2:30. While he's great at putting together masterpieces like "Over the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox" that combine shorter pieces into a cohesive song, Pollard excels at short but complete songs... when it's done, it's done. That's what we've got here.

The first song, "Mr. Fantastic Must Die" (video below), is a psych overdose that takes about a minute to complete...

Then we're hurtling immediately into a driving rock track, "Space City Kicks," with prog breaks--Bowie influences are well-represented here, and well-played. The third song is a real beauty: "Blowing Like a Sunspot", a pop gem with sweet vocals, melodic guitar and a nice chorus to finish. In the cleanup spot is "I Wanna Be Your Man in the Moon", which combines a Who-style bass line, punk backbeat, deep vocals, a sweet-sounding chorus and a great power-pop guitar solo, all in 2:15.

Then it gets real prog with "Sex She Said": sparse, simple lyrics and heavy instrumentation, chanted vocals, a little jarring. Then another pretty guitar/vocal track: "One More Touch," another prog changeup "Picture a Star", and then we get to the centerpiece, the best song on the record, for my money: "Something Strawberry". Bob's taken us from Roky Erickson to Bowie to Beefheart to a true Pollard classic (believe me, "Something Strawberry" will make the GbV/Pollard mixtape), and we are only halfway through the record. You can imagine what happens next (no, he doesn't fix the cable, he throws ten more songs out there).

If you've never listened to GbV or Robert Pollard before, go download the pop songs: "Something Strawberry", "One More Touch", and marvel at how a man could create hundreds of these, some in no longer than it takes to record a demo... but if you've never listened to GbV or Pollard before, I'd wonder what you are doing here. For Pollard fans, this is a must.

Website: Robert and Bob on Facebook

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Old Stuff: The Jangle, part 2: The Shop Assistants, Primal Scream, the Flatmates, the Pastels, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, The Dentists

For the second consecutive Friday my "Old Stuff" post is clips of old bands, mostly from the '80s C-86 era, known for their jangly guitar sound. And as was the case last week, some of these bands are not well known. And again, there won't be any reviews or analysis because there isn't much to say. You either like this sound or you don't.

The Shop Assistants are criminally under appreciated. They combined some of the best elements of the noise pop of The Jesus and Mary Chain and the DIY of groups like the Pastels. Perhaps my favorite line from this song is when "I don't want to be friends with you" followed by "if you leave me, I'll scratch your eyes out". You've been warned!

Primal Scream, before they became the Primal Scream that most remember:


The Pastels. A Glasgow group influential in the DIY indie pop scene. They helped the venerated The Vaselines.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. Lloyd was English but formed the band while attending college in Scotland.

The Dentists. Just like getting the gas mask without the drill.

Old Stuff Friday - The Soul Corner - James Brown

How many weeks into the Soul Corner now without anything from the Godfather, the hardest working man in show business? What was I thinking?

All the attention on R.E.M. at our blog this week led me to the great state of Georgia, which sent me straight to the soul source. Soul brother number 1.

Usually I just put up one song, but JB deserves more.

Some good live footage from 1971. If this doesn't help you head into the weekend with a better attitude, well friend, I can't help you:

No live footage here but this song knocks me out every time. I'm mad...I need some get back! One of my very favorite JB songs, love how he breaks it down, his ace band at their peak here:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Generationals: New Video

Since our blog's founder is fond of Generationals, I thought I'd curry favor before quarterly bonus time and post their new video which was just sent to me (and probably thousands of others) by their crack PR firm:

Ten-Twenty-Ten by Generationals from Jubadaba on Vimeo.

Listen, watch and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I have my hand raised, please call on me! Beach Fossils and Human Television

Sometimes good bands get overlooked, or at least don't enjoy the attention their efforts deserve, because their style is out of favor with the dominant tastemakers, or because their particular field is so crowded with similar bands that it is more difficult to stand out against the bands with better hype, or just better luck. An example of the former problem is one of my favorite bands of the 2004-2006 period Human Television. An example of the latter is the difficulty that Beach Fossils had in standing out in 2010 relative to The Drums, Dum Dum Girls, Best Coast, Surf City and Surfer Blood. And in my opinion that is a shame, not because those other bands aren't fine bands -- they are and they released fine albums -- but because Beach Fossils deserves attention.

The band has followed up its 2010 full length, Beach Fossils with a seven track What A Pleasure EP that I think reveals a tighter band with a cleaner delivery. But is still delivers the jangling guitar sound over a clean drum pattern and a bouncy bass line. From the new EP:

It isn't complicated music, but music need not be complicated to be evocative (Was Howlin' Wolf complicated? Did he evoke emotions?). In my view, the album's goal isn't to deliver a message, it is to create a mood. While arguably lo-fi, it isn't, despite the band's name, really surf music and it isn't trading on nostalgia. It is straightforward indie rock without gimmicks or pretense at anything else. And I think it will well serve you as one of the soundtracks for your life for a good while.

Beach Fossils Myspace

Beach Fossils Facebook

And I brought up Human Television above not just to support my thesis, but because I want to take this opportunity to create a few new new fans out of the millions of WYMA readers. The band started out in Florida, then moved to the Northeast, finally settling in New York and signing with Brooklyn label Gigantic Music. They released an EP entitled All Songs Written by: Human Television in 2004 and an LP entitled Look At Who You're Talking To in 2006.

"I Laughed"

"Mars Red Rust"

I'm not aware of an announcement that the band disbanded, although one of the guitarists set out on his own a few years ago. But there also hasn't been any new material in almost five years and Gigantic's website lists them as a band formerly signed to the label.

Human Television Myspace

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

REVIEW: R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now

R.E.M., rather than playing it safe or resting on their laurels, are still pushing themselves to make edgy and interesting new music. There's been very few bands that could be said about 30+ years into their career and after they've been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That instinct to keep pushing boundaries hasn’t been the easy road in the latter stages of their career when many fans kept waiting for Murmur 2 while R.E.M. issued experimental and cooly received records like Up and Around The Sun.

Collapse Into Now, their 15th full release, manages to capture many of the elements that have made the band so beloved, without sounding like a throwback or safe journey on familiar ground. While the R.E.M. signature is stamped clearly on this effort -- pop melodies, big choruses, mysterious content, Michael Stipe’s distinctive vocals backed with prominent harmonies from Mike Mills, and Peter Buck’s chiming, infectious, signature guitar lines – the songs are so strong and varied that it sounds like they have something to prove. This is an experienced bunch that knows exactly what they are doing, and Collapse Into Now is a sophisticated effort, representing a great band furthering a significant legacy.

It being a varied collection of songs, more than some of the recent R.E.M. records that made more of a thematic or sonic single statement, we'll review them one by one in order. Since John and I bonded more than decade ago in no small part due to our mutual love of R.E.M.’s music, we thought it would be fitting and fun to celebrate our collaboration on John’s blog by each writing a little bit on each song. (Jim Desmond).

Trailer for making of the record here:

“Discoverer” –

JD: R.E.M. is generally thought of as a pop band, but they have written some great rock anthems like “Finest Worksong”, “Orange Crush” and “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?". Add “Discoverer” to the list. This picks up where R.E.M.’s last record, the hard driving Accelerate, left off. Except that this song is as good or better than anything on Accelerate. And “discoverer” is a terrific word, evocative in meaning and appealing in sound. “Discoverer” is a reminder of what a unique and effective lyricist Michael Stipe is. Who can't relate to this line: "Just the slightest bit of finesse, might have made a little less mess." A great opening track.

John: Yes, this is better than anything on Accelerate, and it certainly brings to mind those earlier songs that you mention. Their glam tendencies are well-represented on this disc, this being the first and probably best example.

“All the Best” –

JD: What a one two punch out of the box! This song is pure rock’n’roll, a joyride. Love Stipe’s staccato vocal and the driving guitars of Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey (longtime collaborator and de facto 5th member). One of the best rock songs of their career. Simply wow.

John: To me, this song assumes a spot very high on the list of favorite R.E.M. songs, and I've only heard it three times! I think it's wonderful, and a terrific counterpoint to some of the more, uh, serious material on here...

“ÜBerlin” –

JD: The record was partially recorded in Berlin, a city with a rich art and rock’n’roll recording history (Iggy Pop, Bowie, U2 etc.). This inspired mid-tempo song follows the 2 kickass rocker openers and changes things up perfectly, signaling a bold record not afraid to take some sharp turns. Beautiful acoustic guitar with strong electric bass lines, gorgeous melody, mysterious content. Then Buck throws his own curve with a noisy electric guitar bridge near the end. This one has grown on me tremendously since I first heard it, simply a terrific R.E.M. song.

John: To me, songs like this, where the acoustic guitar dominates but is embellished by rock instrumentation, have been highlights of R.E.M. records since "We Walk" on Murmur and "Seven Chinese Brothers" on Reckoning: is it a ballad, a rock song, are they channeling Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed or Jimmy Webb? Answer is "yes".

Watch Video for Überlin

“Oh My Heart” –

JD: This song continues the subtle travelogue feel of this record. When we first met the protagonist of this song in its prequel “Houston” on Accelerate, she had been evacuated from her New Orleans home and relocated to Houston. Now she has come back to New Orleans, as has R.E.M. who also recorded much of this record in the Crescent City where they have worked before. “I came home to a city half erased.” A heartfelt, beautiful and tender song with a New Orleans feel to it (accordian etc.). It conveys a strong sense of place and captures the gravitational pull of home. “This place is the beat of my heart.”

John: This song would not be the least bit out of place on Automatic For the People, and I mean that as a compliment... a very evocative and personal ballad that will elicit a reaction from everyone who hears it.

“It Happened Today” –

JD: R.E.M. has a knack for occasionally capturing lightning in a bottle, coming in from left field and taking a risk that pays off big time (“End of the World”, “Feeling Gravity’s Pull”). This song stops all lyrics half way through to repeat a huge vocal chorus chant (Stipe, Mills, guest Eddie Vedder and perhaps others) that builds, soars and knocks you out - a hymn, R.E.M.-style, irresistible and moving. It has a vaguely New Orleans marching band funeral march feel, with great drums lines by Bill Rieflin. It’s not clear what’s happening here. The lyrics are first person and the 2nd line tells us “This is a terrible thing.” Soon after, a death is perhaps suggested: “I have earned my wings.” Terminal illness, sudden death, suicide? In any event, the life in question is honored, celebrated with joyous feeling. Fantastically well executed and deeply affecting. And wow does this sound great played loud in a car.

John: I don't get the sense that a death is suggested, but I'm just going on the overall feel of the song, which takes me back to some of my favorite R.E.M. songs throughout the years, in which you nearly overdose on gorgeous guitar lines and vocal harmonies. I almost see "earned my wings" as a reference to It's a Wonderful Life... so maybe it's an "almost death" that happened today. Either way, there's a celebratory feel to the song for sure...

See a film made for "It Happened Today" at NY Times Website

“Everyday Is Yours To Win” -

JD: This record is smartly sequenced. That huge harmonic crescendo of “It Happened Today” leaves you exhilarated but emotionally spent, and thus a tough act to follow. They slow it way down with this almost lullaby. A fine composition, a bit reminiscent of “Everybody Hurts”, and a nice change of pace to the rockers and pop songs with huge harmonies that dominate this record.

John: This has a real nice intro, reminiscent of VU songs like "Candy Says", but of course R.E.M. makes it their own with Stipe's vocals and trademark lyrical passages... just the way he sings "the road ahead of you" overcomes all the disclaimers throughout the song (the sardonic "if you buy that I've got a bridge for you" and "with the war and the wounds and the subterfuge") and leaves you with a sense that, yes, every day is yours to win. There's a real artistry to the way Michael Stipe sings and this song is a perfect example. Nice fuzzy guitar break about halfway through, too, with, of course, some pretty harmony vocals.

“Mine Smell Like Honey” –

JD: This song has every element I ever loved about R.E.M. -- fast and furious pace, killer chorus, Michael Stipe's voice, Mike Mills’ harmonies, Peter Buck’s distinctive guitar stylings. As an early reviewer once famously said about one of their first live tours: “like the Ramones pistol-whipping the Byrds.” Count me in for more of that. But I’m held back here (perhaps a sign of middle age fuddyduddyism?), finding “Mine smell like honey” to be anything but the lyrical hook that a great pop song demands. I’m not requiring anything profound mind you, just appealing, say for example: “Do you believe in magic?; California dreaming on such a winter’s day; If you believe they put a man on the moon; Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with?” This might have been one of my favorites on this record had they just gone with something like “Mine fly like airplane” or “Mine sound like Buzzcocks.” I want to hear Michael sing this one in Italian so I can quit my stupid bitching and just go with it.

John: Well, I have no idea what he's singing about, but this song does sound great and I can see myself driving along singing made-up lyrics, just like I did way back when... "Dig a hole, dig it deeper and deeper", does that not remind you of "Jefferson I think we're lost"? Just one of those soaring choruses you can sing over and over while Mills and Buck seamlessly carry you home?

“Walk It Back” –

JD: Have we stated what a great singer Michael Stipe is? His voice is showing signs of age, but it is taking on more gravitas and character. Exhibit A: this mid-tempo, amazingly well sung song. An emotional dive into regret, reflection and forgiveness, with a perfect melody. I love everything about this song and keep hitting the repeat button every time it comes on. I could listen to this vocal all day long. And there's a really cool, high note, short vocal and keyboard harmony that sneaks in there too. An instant R.E.M. classic.

John: Very pretty song, certainly because of the vocals but also in no small part due to the keyboards. R.E.M. have always been good at using piano well, not overdoing it... and sometimes putting the piano right on the beat, even in a ballad like this.

“Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter” –

JD: Damn, does this one rock. Iggy Pop meets the B-52s. Great guest vocal by Canadian extreme artist Peaches who hits it out of the park. And what a guitar sound – Peter Buck is on fire, joined by Lenny Kaye whose crazed psychedelic guitar flourishes take this track over the top.

John: I will echo what you said earlier and applaud R.E.M.'s sequencing on this record... we kind of needed a rocker at this point, didn't we? Of course, Iggy did once record with Kate [I stand corrected], so you've got a point of reference. Mashed potato, alligator, just having a little fun and throwing a little psychedelic dance music out there, right?

“That Someone is You” –

JD: Another fast rocker, flirty and fun. I love the idea of R.E.M. updating and channeling the Ramones and Buzzcocks. I'm always all in when they go big on the Mike Mills harmonies. And how can you not love a song that includes this rhyme: “Sharon Stone Casino, Scarface Al Pacino, ‘74 Torino.” Cue the go go dancers! But why is this song just a minute and a half long? I feel cheated.

John: Of course, if you're channeling those two acts, you'd get past 1:44 and say "What the heck are we doing? This song is OVER!" And they did. I love the transition within the chorus and have always loved the way Stipe and Mills sing together.

“Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I” –

JD: Mandolin, keyboards, a bit meditative, mysterious. I can tell this one is going to grow on me. Much less obvious than most of this record, and a solid song.

John: This is a real pretty song with a nice country-rock feel, not so much in the mandolin (which is beautiful) but something else. Maybe a little bit of reverb on the acoustic guitar? Honestly, it reminds me a bit of "Wichita Lineman" and again, I mean that as an extreme compliment.

“Blue” –

JD: I hate to end on a negative note, but this is the only song here that doesn’t work for me. It is so different and striking though that I suspect many people will disagree with me. Stipe delivers a rapid pace spoken word vocal through something that sounds like a megaphone with Patti Smith prominently helping out. The guitars are noisy, the sound discordant. It sounds a bit like “Country Feedback” which I like, and "E-Bow the Letter”, which I don’t (inexplicable since I like Patti Smith a lot). The album then closes with a cool brief reprise outro from “Discoverer” (listen closely and you can hear Eddie Vedder singing). In my perfect world, say I were the, er, man on the moon or king of birds, I'd have saved "Blue" for a later B side and ended the record with a 4 or 5 minute version of "That Someone is You". But this is a quibble in the grand scheme of a very special record from R.E.M.

John: I swear, this didn't start out as "point/counterpoint" because JD and I agree on much more than we disagree on, but this song works for me. Maybe I'm a little more willing to follow on this strange tangent because I'm so happy with the fact that R.E.M. has just given us an album with 11 great new songs... if they want to take us out with a bit of Stipe/Patti Smith NYC street art, I'm going along. Nice of them to reward us with the outro, yes.

Parting thought: R.E.M. have made an old school record album in the sense of a full collection of great songs that hang together as a whole that adds up to even more than the sum of its parts. So longtime fans should do an old school thing and get to their favorite record store this week and buy this CD (Grimey's in Nashville for John, and Music Millennium in Portland for JD)... or find a CIMS or AIMS store near you.

Website: R.E.M. HQ

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cloud Nothings: "Understand At All" from Cloud Nothings

Sounds like another good lo-fi garage pop band... these guys are from Cleveland, this is a crazy video and I hear they are real good live.

Here's a video for an untitled song from a session they did recently for LaundroMatinee, which looks like a cool website...

Cloud Nothings - Untitled from LaundroMatinee on Vimeo.

Here are their websites, looks like you can listen to songs on MySpace but their 2011 tour dates are up on Facebook, so check both out.

Website: Cloud Nothings on MySpace

Website: Cloud Nothings on Facebook