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The Friday Writers’ Bloc: June 27th, 2008

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Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE

Michael-Bradley’s Pick

1. Crystal Antlers – A Thousand Eye

Fun psych rock straight out of Long Beach, CA. Produced by Ikey Owens-keyboardist of the Mars Volta, this song is the 3rd song off their 3rd but self-titled EP- Crystal Antlers. Ikey seemed to be able to harness CA’s balance of rocking grooves and psych tangents in an edible song size, in such way The Mars Volta have rarely been able [surely consciously though] to do. I first started hearing these guys on the local hours on indie 103.1, but seems like the press has spread.The Crystal Antlers seemed to just have blown up all over the place in the past few months. Now Pitchfork can have a love affair with a new Crystal [Castles]. You can very well catch them in a city near you too, while they travel their butts off: http://www.myspace.com/crystalantlers

2. Monotonix – Body Language

I never really heard much of these Israeli rockers until I became re-obsessed with videothing.com and their daily documentation of the Fuck Yeah Fest Tour (including the Crystal Antlers) as they travel around the country in a vintage school bus fed on vegetable oil. These guys seem to rock harder then anybody live (you must go to videothing.com and see Monotonix destroy North Carolina), frequently pouring garbage on each other, throwing the nearest garbage can on the drummer, pouring beer all over band members while performing, and the lead singer’s propensity for spreading his ass cheeks to both the audience and his microphone. Performance aside though, these guys rock-blending 70’s Zeppelin-like fuzz with noise rock and a punk outlook. It’s pronounced HUMMUS.

3. The Mae Shi vs. Miley Cyrus – See U Again

I wrote about these guys recently-but this really deserves it. I dare you to listen to this song, and not listen to it again. I dare you. This song is thoroughly stuck in my head. That’s the contagious factor of a good pop song. These spazz-punk-pop rockers one-upped Miley Cyrus, perfecting her own pop ballad (she didn’t write it right, it was totally some 40 year old ghost writer?). The arpegiating keyboard loop in the background – the perfect amount of auto-tune. The digital unwinding in the middle is the perfect reminder that this actually the Mae Shi. Brilliant. Now if only I could keep a lid on me singing “I’m just being Miley” in public….

Jonathan’s Picks

1. Colby O’Donis – She Didn’t Go, She Did Leave

I promise you this song is not nearly as awkward as its title. In fact, it’s actually quite good thanks to a slightly syrupy, dark, synth-heavy beat contributed by Timbaland. While O’Donis’ debut single “What You Got” certainly grabbed the attention of many in the pop and R&B communities, it also managed to garner the attention of Billboard’s Hot 100 and U.S. Pop charts, peaking at numbers 14 and 15 respectively. “She Didn’t Go, She Did Leave” seems less likely to do so: though the Internets were filled with rumors that the awkwardly titled track would be O’Donis’ follow-up single off his forthcoming album, Colby O, this week the infinitely more pop-friendly “Don’t Turn Back” was released as O’Donis’ newest single, leaving “She Didn’t Go, She Did Leave” to remain merely an Internet and record pool release. Whether or not it will appear on the album is unknown. Now, I have to admit I don’t really like the idea of O’Donis — he looks like a fourth Gotti brother (he is from Queens, after all) and could easily have played a starring role in the YouTube sensation “My New Haircut” — but his non-threatening sound and baby-faced look have helped the 19-year-old land a deal with Akon’s Konvict Muzik imprint, and an impressive first single. Although it may not be released, “She Didn’t Go, She Did Leave” is actually a better song in that it relies less on pop appeal and more on its own unique sound. Oh, and it doesn’t have Akon on it. So that’s always a plus.

2. Fabolous – A Milli Freestyle

So I guess this pick is a little bit unorthodox since it’s really not an official track of any kind. Regardless it’s good, and that’s what matters. Fabolous jacks the beat from Lil Wayne’s second single, “A Milli,” off Weezy’s new album, Tha Carter III, and pretty much just goes to town on it. It’s worth mentioning that right now most people are probably hearin’ and feelin’ Jay-Z’s subtle, yet clearly big boss-like, spin on “A Milli” with his one-upping (actually, make that his one thousand-upping) “A Billi” freestyle. And I’m feelin’ that too in a big way. But getting much less attention is Fabolous’ take on the original track. I’m not really a big Fabolous fan when when it comes to actually rhymin’ — he’s often a little soft in terms of any real lyricism — but I gotta give him his due on this freestyle. So I don’t really know what happened with him, but for some reason he just kinda blacks out on this one. (Maybe he actually did black out?) In any case, it’s as if the “F-A-B-O…” character died and came back to life as a serious rapper with some serious verbal chops. So leave the preconceived notions at the door and give the improved Fabolous a chance. Cuz I’m impressed.

3. Fabolous Feat. Jay-Z and Uncle Murda – Brooklyn

I’ll be honest, I was gonna choose something else new for my third pick, but listening to, and then writing about, that Fabolous freestlye got me thinking about one of my favorite (and somehow largely unappreciated outside of perhaps a single borough of New York City) hip hop tracks from the last few years: Fab’s “Brooklyn” off his highly-anticipated, but follow-though lacking, 2007 album, From Nothin’ To Somethin’. With an intro by NYC’s legendary Funkmaster Flex (whose website is like a visual representation of his voice) and an absolutely FILTHY beat from producer Versatile (wait, who?) that brilliantly incorporates a sample from Biggie’s infamous MSG freestyle, the song just can do no wrong. I’m not saying any of the verses are flat-out slayers, but that’s about as good as you’re gonna get from Fab, and Jay-Z spittin’ about Brooklyn…..well, let’s just say you can’t go wrong with that either. I’d never heard of Uncle Murda until this track, and I’m not exactly overwhelmed by his wits or skillz, but it’s no shock he’d be the weakest of the three. Be sure to catch the outro on “Brooklyn,” where Fab breezily name-checks each Brooklyn neighborhood (Bed Stuy, Bushwick, Fort Green, Red Hook, etc) by rhyming each individually. This song deserves recognition, dammit.

Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE

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Do TV Commercials Ruin Good Songs? (Yeah, Pretty Much)

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This week I was planning to write about Chicago pop-experimentalists, Walter Meego (the cool guys in the glasses), whose first studio album, Voyager (Sony 2008), was released last month. (Yes, Walter Meego is actually two people. No, neither one is named Walter or Meego). Unfortunately, an unexpected monkey wrench was thrown smack into the middle of my best laid plans.

Here’s what happened: I was watching some soccer on TV over the weekend when a new Heineken commercial promoting their idiotic “Beertender” home mini-kegerator came on. I guess it might not be so idiotic if Heineken didn’t taste like unfiltered Dutch canal water. But it does. So as far as I’m concerned it’s idiotic. Anyway, the song featured prominently in the “Home Bars” ad spot in question (watch the ad here) brought an instant scowl to my face. “Those Heineken beer-Nazi sonofabitches,” I said to no one but the television, “they jacked my fucking song — already.” The song was Walter Meego’s “Forever,” which just happens to be my favorite Walter Meego song. (Listen to it here).

Sonofabitches.

Now, it was ruined. Forever. “Forever” was ruined forever. Or so I felt. My favorite song from a relatively new and largely unknown experimental pop group (what the hell is experimental pop anyway?) had been reduced to nothing more than another cheap cog in the beer world’s mega-marketing wheel of death and societal detriment. Weren’t alternative/indie musicians like Walter Meego supposed to tell advertisers to fuck off when asked to use their songs anyway? What gives?

At first I wished that I had just never seen the commercial. That would’ve made everything okay. Unfortunately my Men In Black “Flashy Thing” has been broken for years. (Except when it comes to finding my keys). So that option was out.

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The Friday Writers’ Bloc: June 20th, 2008

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Michael-Bradley’s Picks

1. Liars – Plastic Casts of Everything

This is the opening track off the the noisey New York rockers Liars’ latest and self titled album. This album terrificly just drudges along, with robust smears of melody and rhythm. Even though I’ve heard comparisons to newer noise rockers Health (who I admit share some styles  occasionally [less so in this album]), this album reminds me more of SF punkers Flipper, in their sludgy sounds. Plaster Casts of Everything is a great opener, setting up momentum that carries through the whole album.

2. Sebadoh – Not a Friend

This may not be the best song to be singing by a friend. But i can’t help myself right now, so I apologize in advance….. Sebadoh is a wonderful band from the 90’s with a sort of post-punk sensibility, that are really important for the development of lo fi and indie music.  Their soft analog distortion used on the guitar is part of that patented Sebadoh sound that had me hooked early on.  Bakesale is I think their finest album, where I think their style really came into it’s own- mixing between real rocking songs, to quieter jams like Not A Friend.  The open writing style of Sebadoh’s lyrics are really refreshing.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a singer talk to you in the way you would to them. The final track off this album, Together or Alone can just melt me down.

3. Suffocate For Fuck Sake – Blue Lights and Sunshine

Woah, right? Either you’re incredibly interested, or you’ve already moved on.  Suffocate For Fuck Sake is a really great band I just discovered from Sweden. This clearly won’t be for most, but I suggest giving the song a whole play through, cause you’re not going to find stuff like this on the radio.  They go from quiet and beautiful post-rock pieces with clips of Swedish talking sound bites (anybody want to translate), to some really heavy stuff! Post-Rock has been a genre that always bothered me. Bands like Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai always just frustrated me. Maybe I could just not appreciate their minimalism, but I found them totally boring. Their music never went anywhere. I always thought Post-Rock would be amazing if you use it in parts, while not being afraid to blast through others. I started finding a few bands like *Shels [sic] [http://www.myspace.com/shels], who did that, but was never satisfied with the results. UNTIL, i heard SFFS, and their brief titled first album “Blazing fires and helicopters on the frontpage of the newspaper. There’s a war going on and I’m maching in heavy boots.” They’ve found the perfect match of Post-Rock and heavy-[something] for me!  Don’t be afraid of the scream.This album is mind blowing. Interesting fact is that they are the poster child of music globalization. Swedish band, with a label and publisher in Mexico? Pretty cool.

Jonathan’s Picks

1. John Legend Feat. Andre 3000 – Green Light

I like John Legend. I’ve liked him since I first heard “Used to Love U” back in 2004. And I continued to like the man and his music through his first two albums, Get Lifted and Once Again. In fact, the first time I heard “Ordinary People” and “Again,” I think I was ready to add them to the pantheon of all-time great love songs. (Or at least all-time great lovers quarreling songs). I never minded the fact that Legend seemed basically stuck in one gear all the time, never venturing far from his R&B/Soul sound, even when it meant some of his material sounded borderline repetitive. But the man is a crooner. He’s old-school like that. And I like that about him. So when I heard the first single off Legend’s upcoming third studio album, “Green Light,” I was confused. Something like: “Wait, this is John Legend? Really? Wow, dude’s really going in a different direction on this one, huh?” And that he is. “Green Light” is a catchy uptempo synth-fest, which still allows Legend to get on his love story tip, yet sounds unlike anything he’s ever done before. And this new, loosened up John Legend is brought out of his shell by a jocular (and literally laughing at times) Andre 3000, whose guest verse appears to slip away from him towards the end, only for him suddenly reveal he’s been freestyling the whole time. Jokester. But Andre’s “throwaway” line directed at Legend as the track rides out really says it all: “Sometimes you gotta step from behind that piano!” He definitely did.

2. Lady GaGa Feat. Colby O’Donis – Just Dance

There’s something I want to say that applies to both my second and third picks: there was a time when “pop” music (aka “popular” music) meant that the music itself was easily accessible and enjoyable to the average listener. But it absolutely did NOT mean that the music had to simplistic, dumbed-down, or mediocre, and it did NOT mean that it was to be made largely by talentless artists with no skills or ideas of their own. The Beach Boys and The Beatles were a far cry from the modern-day no-talent-ass-clownery of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Thus, I want to highlight two new “pop” singers who bring a little more to the table. First, Lady GaGa. Horrible name aside, this 22 year old New York City lifer and downtown scenester actually possesses far greater talent than our average pop singers of today. The girl went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts at age 17 and Tisch isn’t like a record company — they don’t just let anybody in and hand ’em a mic. You gotta have more talent than 99 percent of the population, and Lady GaGa (sorry, but my god I hate that name) certainly has talent — the girl’s got a powerful and clear voice built for tearing down arenas and stadiums (in a good way). Her lyrics are fun, playful, and poppy to be sure, but they’re also slightly wacky and even a little edgy (gasp!) at times. “Just Dance” is the first single off her debut album, and it features rising male pop star Colby O’Donis. It’s just funny because I’ve never noticed that O’Donis had a weak or lousy voice before –and he doesn’t, really — but he is COMPLETELY outgunned and gets COMPLETELY shown up by the overly talented newcomer, Lady GaGa. So just try to forget about the clothes, the hair, and the makeup. That isn’t the point of pop music. Instead just remember the voice.

3. Keke Palmer – Bottoms Up

An even more interesting case of a new pop singer with a little too much actual talent is Keke Palmer, who’s still known mostly for her roles as a child actor in films like Akeelah and the Bee and Jump In!, though now seems to be transitioning into the music world. Now I haven’t seen either of those movies, so I have no idea if she can act. (I bet she can). But damn can she grab hold of song and take it for a ride under her control. And it’s not just that Palmer can actually sing well, it’s that she easily flits back and forth between her singing and some shockingly convincing rapping, which somehow (I have no idea how, seriously) manages to avoid sounding the least bit awkward or forced. “Bottoms Up” is clearly just a fun party track with a better-than-it-has-to-be beat before anything else — the title says it all –regardless of how you interpret the type of “bottoms” Palmer is encouraging us to raise. But here’s the thing: Palmer’s still young. How young, you ask? Very young. So now I ask that you take a good listen or two to “Bottoms Up” before running over to “the Google” to find out just how old the lovely and talented Ms. Palmer actually is. After hearing the song for the first time months ago and doing that very thing, my jaw practically hit the floor. Her self-confidence on the mic and her natural command of the song is utterly incredible for anyone Palmer’s age, so if this girl doesn’t become a star now, she damn well should be one someday.  

JustJake’s Picks

1. Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine

This weeks picks are from my two favorite females in pop (I guess that’s what it’s called). This first one is the title track off Fiona Apple’s extraordinary 2005 album, Extraordinary Machine. Time and again, I keep coming back to this album which has proven that it deserves every bit of credit that it got when it was released. Under the tutelage of superproducer Jon Brion, Apple broke new ground on this record, not only for her but for female pop stars in general. This song, by far my favorite of hers, is just one example of the album’s quirky-beautiful arrangements and Apple’s subtly-perfect timing.

2. Joanna Newsom – Bridges and Balloons

Another opening track to a strange, sensory, and groundbreaking album, “Bridges and Balloons” is a fantasy and a journey. I haven’t really figured out where Newsom and her nymph-like voice is taking us, but it’s somewhere quiet, fluid, and pretty. Her harp is a flurry of beautifully constructed melodies and is the true star of Newsom’s music, although many don’t get beyond her voice. Her style can seem queer or even creepy, but after watching her captivate an entire opera house, with standing ovations to boot, I will defend her magic and its power, however odd they may appear.

roswellmueller’s Picks

1. Vampire Weekend – Oxford Comma

I’ll start off by saying that I do not like Vampire Weekend. While I can sort of understand their appeal, I just really am not impressed in any way by this album – the exception being Oxford Comma. For the life of me I can’t decide why I like this song, I just know that I can’t get it out of my head and have kept it on my commuting playlist for weeks now. It might be the irritatingly catchy lick at the center of the song, or the simplistic drumming reminiscent of Ringo at his most unimaginative, I’m not sure. I just hope I either get sick of the song, or it stops getting stuck in my head sometime soon.

2. Maps & Atlases – The Ongoing Horrible

A month or so ago, Mr. Michael-Bradley put up Maps & Atlases – Trees, Swallows, Houses on Quick Hits. Now, I’ve never listened seriously to math rock but this record completely sold me, unbelievable musicianship. An early favorite (probably because it’s the most accessible from an outsider’s perspective) is “The Ongoing Horrible.” Lacking the frenetic pacing of the albums other tracks, the song highlights Maps uncanny ability to create intricate harmonic landscapes through crisp, meticulous technique and complex rhythmic structures.

3. Peter Gabriel – That Voice Again

I’m currently in the midst of a nostalgia binge, reverting back to some of the old chestnuts from my childhood. Specifically, the period where my parents’ music was still the only stuff I was listening to (I’ll spare everyone the Kenny Loggins and Gordon Lightfoot my dad was partial to around this time period). But, it should come as no surprise that Peter Gabriel was in heavy rotation for as long as I can remember being able to recognize the music that was playing around me. Either by osmosis or on its musical merits, which are considerable, “So” remains one of my favorite touchstone albums to return to every now and again.

Carman’s Picks

1. Lizzy Mercier Descloux – Sports Spootnick

The story of Lizzy is pretty cool actually: hot French chick comes to New York in the ’70s, befriends Patti Smith and Richard Hell, and records cool mutant disco. Mambo Nassau, her second album, was a departure from the sparse sounds of post-punk disco (like the ESG and Bush Tetras I posted before) that she helped establish with her debut album Press Color. Instead it was a globetrotting pastiche of world music that sounded like the Talking Heads on acid. Interestingly enough, it was recorded at the same studio in the Bahamas where Tom Tom Club recorded their debut album and Wally Badarou contributes synths to both Mambo Nassau and the Heads’ Speaking in Tongues.

2. Alice Coltrane – Sita Ram

Alice Coltrane is an unusual and incredibly influential figure in the jazz world whose impact cannot be minimized by the enormous shadow cast by her husband. Not only was one of her main instruments of choice rather unusual (harp), she was one of the primary figures in developing fusion by introducing Eastern spirituality to the music and also emphasised the organ (much like Larry Young and Jimmy Smith, but in a different way) as a lead instrument. On top of all that, her free jazz leanings not only continued to the idea of spotaneous spirituality and expression that John showcased, but also made emphasized the peaceful and meditative qualities of the style with her gorgeous string arrangements. Universal Consciousness, the album from which this cut appears, is her finest of these early records.

Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE

The Early Favorite for “Mixtape of the Year” Has Arrived

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If the album art at left seems vaguely familiar to you, that’s because you’ve seen it before. 

The newest mixtape from D.C. native Wale (probably the best rapper the general public somehow still doesn’t yet know about) is indeed an homage to his favorite TV show, Seinfeld — the original show about nothing.

The only thing wrong with Wale’s logic is that his mixtape is actually about something. A lot of somethings, even. He tackles one tough topic after the next on The Mixtape About Nothing, (racism, the music industry, love, growing up, artistic integrity to name a few) which should come as no surprise considering that before turning his attention to music full-time Wale played football at Virginia State. So just don’t call him a backpack rapper — cuz he ain’t one. But don’t call him a thug either, cuz Wale is about as far from a brainless thug as you’ll ever find in the rap game.

And that’s part of what’s great about Wale. You can’t pin him down as a “type,” paint him into a single-genre corner, or put him in a record company box. He’s too smart for that shit, and far too versatile (both lyrically and stylistically) to ever be defined as just one type of MC. Yeah he wears tight jeans and neon Nikes, but he’s still a street struggler who fought his way to record deals with Mark Ronson and Interscope. And sure he may call a girl “bitch” and his boys “nigga,” but that doesn’t mean he thinks “Obama” is some country in Africa either.

In a musical era where marketing and branding seem to come before beats and rhymes, most rappers are turned into virtual caricatures of themselves by providing (and encouraging) a specific self-image for their audience to hold on to…..

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The Friday Writers’ Bloc: June 13th, 2008

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Jonathan’s Picks

1. Wale – W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E

If you aren’t yet familiar with Wale, you will be soon — not least because I’ll be writing about him next week — because he’s been primed to blow up for two years now, inching closer and closer to stardom. Having revealed that I’ll be bringing you a piece on Wale next week, I won’t reveal too much about the Washington D.C.-born, ex-college football playing MC in today’s picks. But what I am revealing is the year-old gem, “W.A.L.E.D.A.N.C.E.,” which first appeared on Wale’s 2007 mixtape 100 Miles & Running, and says a lot about the artist by itself. For one, it shows Wale’s a lyricist, not just a rapper — his intelligent wordplay covers a wide array of subjects from music and sports to pop culture and fashion. But perhaps equally important is that this track displays Wale’s musically courageous and adventurous nature: he chose to rap over the French electro-pop group Justice‘s international dance hit, “D.A.N.C.E.,” rather than a typical Hip Hop beat. That takes some balls. S for now, enjoy the song, and look forward to hearing more next week.

2. Nas Feat. Keri Hilson – Hero

Look, there isn’t much to say about this song. It’s too damn good. “Hero” is the second single off Nas’ (highly-anticipated would be an understatement) upcoming, though still untitled, album set to drop a month from now. Produced by hitmaker of the moment, my man Polow da Don (aka King of the White Girls — sorry still love that nickname), “Hero” just bangs so hard despite it’s “softer” style R&B chorus sung by the up and coming Keri Hilson (see pick three). I expect this will actually be among the most radio-friendly of the cuts off the upcoming album, even though Nas spits his usual fire and Polow’s beat knocks harder than most (and I don’t care if he made it with GarageBand), it’s got mass appeal and is not as inflammatory as several other Nas tracks off the untitled album I’ve heard recently. But Nas’ flow is flawless and Polow came and “did his muhfuckin’ job,” as Jay-Z might say…..so just, damn.

3. Keri Hilson – Energy

Keri Hilson is someone in the music industry you can actually root for. She’s legitimately multi-talented (a real singer and real songwriter) and has spent years paying her dues by working “behind the scenes” in the industry. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s, um, rather attractive…..you know, physically. (She recently played Usher’s love interest in his “Love In This Club” music video). After seven years of writing songs for other artists such as Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Ciara, Chris Brown, Usher, and Timbaland, as well as singing background vocals on some of them, Hilson has started to get out in front more and more, as a featured guest on Timbaland’s smash singles, “The Way I Are” and “Scream.” Now it’s her time to shine, with a debut solo album, entitled, In a Perfect World, slated for release later this year. And it looks as if all that dues-paying will pay off, as the album is executive-produced by Timbaland himself, has cameos by Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, and Ludacris, and will feature tracks produced by Polow da Don, Danja, and The Runawayz, who produced Hilson’s first single, “Energy” an honest R&B-Pop crossover track with plenty of substance to go with its style. It will be interesting to see if Hilson can carve out her own place on the music scene when In a Perfect World drops since she’s a product of hard work and patience rather than yet another manufactured record company mannequin. If her prior work and first solo single are any indication, I’d say she’s got a great chance.

JustJake’s Picks

1. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Roll Another Number (2003)

Well, it’s that time of year again. As I write this, more than a hundred thousand music lovers are gathering on a farm in rural Tennessee for a long weekend of live music, drug use, and more live music. In honor of Bonnaroo 2008, the mother of all modern music festivals, this week’s picks are taken from live performances from festivals past. The first track is one of my favorite Neil Young songs and even though in 2003 he clearly was not in his prime, this song still roars with rust. Young headlined that year and played in front of about eighty-thousand strong. Many were underwhelmed by his set but I thought it kicked ass. If you ever wondered why they called him the godfather of grunge, this song should pretty much answer that question.

2. Yonder Mountain String Band – Holding (2004)

YMSB, the Colorado-based bluegrass jam band, is almost synonymous with Bonnaroo in my mind. The freedom and happy-go-lucky spirit in their music embodies what the festival is all about. This tune, closing the band’s 2004 set is a cover of the great John Hartford’s awesome tune “Holding.” The song also happens to about trying to find pot, a perfect topic to close a Bonnaroo set with since that’s what a lot of the fans would be doing afterwards. Just a fun song and you can get a good sense of the love that abounds.

3. James Brown – I Go Crazy (2003)

Yes, James Brown played Bonnaroo. He even brought along about a thirty piece ensemble with everything from four guitars, to two bass players, to four backup dancers, to the obligatory dude-who-covers-him-with-a-cape. And what a show it was. Brown, into is seventies, showed that he could still conduct the tightest of bands, dance like only he and Michael Jackson can, and sing with as much soul as ever. It’s tough to hear in the live recording but his horn section was tremendous, all wearing matching rhinestone suits. Needless to say the crowd of music lovers was ecstatic. And that’s what Bonnaroo’s all about: great, eclectic music in a great, eclectic environment.

Carman’s Picks

1. Bush Tetras – No More Creeps

This pick isn’t too far removed from my ESG pick from last time. Just more bare and simple post-funk from the late-70s New York art scene that doesn’t get a lot of attention given how influential and prevalent its style is now. If ESG is what LCD Soundsystem could be, just think of the Bush Tetras as what The Rapture aspire to be.

2. Carsick Cars – Zhong Nan Hai

I had this band described to me as “the Chinese Sonic Youth,” so I’m sure you could picture how skeptical I was at first when I downloaded the album. Amazingly, it was about as spot-on as you could be. Hailing from that great hub of culture that is Beijing, Carsick Cars deliver a brand of indie rock that is the Yoof at their Geffen-era peak. A little bit of Sister-era SY and a good heaping of what were the better parts of Rather Ripped, and you have catchy and noisy indie rock that is great in any language. Naturally, they’ve opened up for Sonic Youth both at home and abroad, and lead-singer Zhang Shouwang is already a veteran of Glenn Branca’s multi-guitar symphonies. Look them up on MySpace.

Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE

The Friday Writers’ Bloc: June 6th, 2008

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Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE

Jonathan’s Picks

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few weeks talking about remixes — their origins, their value, their potential — and how sometimes the remix(es) of a song are just better than the originally recorded version. Today I’m giving you three different examples of this idea, but by picking three different remixes of the same song: Jay-Z’s “Change Clothes,” (listen to the original version here) which was the first single off of his epic “last album,” The Black Album. While I loved The Black Album on the whole, “Change Clothes” is among my least favorite songs on it, and I admit I was moderately horrified when it appeared as the debut single off icon Jay-Z’s supposed farewell to Hip Hop. He’s goin’ out like THIS?? Naw. Can’t be, I remember thinking. Well luckily, as it turns out, he wasn’t goin’ out at all.

1. Jay-Z – Change Clothes (The Pink Album Remix)

The Black Album is probably the most remixed album of all time due to the (intentional) release of an a capella version, which provided all of Jay’s vocals with none of the Black Album beats behind them. This allowed everyone from top-flight producers like Just Blaze, to wannabes and Garageband users the same remixing ability. Though the most well-known of these remix attempts is undoubtedly Danger Mouse‘s The Grey Album (a mash up of Jay’s Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album), I’ve never bought into the idea that it was the best of the remixes. In my opinion, one of the best attempts (if not the best), is The Pink Album. For a long time after it first came out, the Pink Album remained a mystery work by an unknown producer (or producers) — though the Internets were ablaze with speculation (even Kanye West’s name was mentioned) — but more recently the Pink Album has been clearly attributed to the team of Hasan Insane and DJ Mills (though which DJ Mills — there are multiple — is not as clear), as the former is now actually selling cuts off the Pink Album on his MySpace page. In any case, the album is great, and “Change Clothes” is definitely among the standout remixes, as the original version’s Neptunes-produced pop appeal is toned down slightly by a new, smoother, Jay-Z friendly beat.

2. Jay-Z – Change Clothes (The Purple Album Remix)

The Purple Album is another great take on Jay-Z’s Black Album, as it uses tracks and sounds taken exclusively from Prince’s Purple Rain and creates almost entirely new beats with them. I either don’t know or can’t remember who’s responsible for this one, there are just too many Black Album remixes to keep track, though DJ Quest and K12 both come up as possible candidates. Either way, mixing an already pop-oriented song with Prince certainly doesn’t make it any more hood, but it most definitely makes it much better, and a hell of a lot more fun to listen to. This is one of those tracks that when you throw it on a party, half the people in the room (Jay-Z fans or not) will look at you and go, “Where the hell did you get this?” It’s a completely different take on the Black Album, and one that I think works pretty gloriously. As long as you don’t try to take it to seriously. Oh, and if Reasonable Doubt is the only Jay-Z album you listen to, you’re not gonna like this one bit.

3. Jay-Z – Change Clothes (The Black Chronic Remix)

The Black Chronic is probably among the most understandable (in terms of knowing what it is you’re hearing) Black Album remixes. Done by the Bash Brothers, it’s actually more of direct mash up than a remix, taking the rhymes from the Black Album and laying them over all the sick beats from Dr. Dre’s Chronic 2001 masterpiece. In this particular song, “Change Clothes” is mashed with the hard and heavy beat from Dre’s “Fuck You,” and it works out quite well. Unlike mixing the Black Album with a Prince album, mixing it with something that carries the street-cred and street-sound of a Dr. Dre album definitely turns “Change Clothes” into an entirely different song, transforming it from chart-friendly “hip-pop” back into a legitimate hip hop song. Funny thing is, it really does work too. Problem solved.

JustJake’s Picks

This week’s picks have been a long time coming. They are all from my hands-down, desert-island-choose-one-and-only-one, favorite group, The Band. Eric Clapton said about the group’s seminal first album: “Back in 1968 I heard a record called Music from Big Pink and it changed my life and the course of American music.” Legend has it that it’s the reason he left Cream. But don’t take Clapton’s word for it, here are three picks (and it’s hard to pick only three) off that record.

1. The Band – Long Black Veil

This song is simply tremendous. Written in the 1950’s and originally recorded by country legend Lefty Frizzell, “Long Black Veil” is a haunting tale from beyond the grave that sounds as old as the hills. The organs, tubas, and harpsichord that The Band uses add to the song’s strangeness and emotion without taking it out of dirt and grit that give it its soul. This album has very few songs on it that sound like anything that came before, but “Long Black Veil” serves almost as a reminder from The Band that it knows where it comes from and cares about its roots.

2. The Band – Chest Fever

As the story goes, Garth Hudson, The Band’s organist, horn player, and musical guru originally had to tell his family that he was giving his fellow band members music lessons instead of playing in a rock n roll band. Hudson was raised as a serious classical musician and even jazz was blasphemous. His talents remain to this day and you can still find him making strange music on strange instruments, sounding part seafaring, part space exploring. Hudson was responsible for much of ornamental details and subtle touches in The Band’s music that ultimately help give it its depth. While on tour, this song became Hudson’s time to play around. For an idea of what that was like check out this grainy but amazing video from Wembley Stadium (1974).

3. The Band – I Shall Be Released

The last song on Big Pink, “I Shall Be Released” is one of three on the album either written or co-written by Bob Dylan, who The Band backed before striking out on their own. Richard Manuel was one of three amazingly talented singers in the group (Levon Helm and Rick Danko being the others) and his falsetto (and piano) on this track is both eerie and beautiful. The space stands out in this song almost as much as the music itself does; there’s a pervasive sense of loneliness, as if the song were recorded in a giant empty cell.

Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE

The Friday Writers’ Bloc: May 30th, 2008

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Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE

Jonathan’s Picks

1. Wyclef Jean Feat. Lupe Fiasco – Fast Car (Fugee Remix)

Unlike last week’s picks, I’m really not going with any particular theme here — these songs are about as unrelated as you can get (one new, one old, one classic). First up is somethin’ new, former Fugees bassist and Wyclef Jean cousin Jerry Wonder’s remix of Wyclef’s “Fast Car,” the second single off Clef’s much-anticipated album, Carnival Vol. II: Memoirs of an Immigrant. Personally, I had been looking forward to the album’s release for months, as I grew up bumpin’ great tracks like “Guantanamera,” “We Trying to Stay Alive,” and “Gone Till November” off Wyclef’s first album, The Carnival, which I thought was amazing. Unfortunately, the newest album failed miserably to meet my already high expectations, and that disappointment extended to the original version of “Fast Car” as well, which features Paul Simon. I remember thinking upon first listen that the song had potential but stopped short of being really good. Needed more bump. Thus, I’m glad to say that Jerry Wonder’s remix has done just that: elevated “Fast Car” to another, greater level. Not only is the remix a good one, but it stands strong as its own entity, with producer Wonder giving the track three different layers of beats and building the chorus into an infectious sing along. Even though the Carnival Vol. II album isn’t as good as I’d envisioned, the “Fast Car” remix is going a long way towards making me feel like Wyclef’s still got it.

2. Clipse Feat. Sean Paul, Elephant Man, Kardinal Offishall – Grindin’ (Reggae Remix)

So this is the old(er) pick, and admittedly the logic that brought me to choosing this track is somewhat convoluted, so bear with me here. I think it’s safe to say that Kardinal Offishall is among the top three Canadian rappers of all time (not that I can name the other two), and I was sad to see that he had somewhat fallen off the face of the musical earth over the last few years. But recently, he signed with Akon’s Konvict Muzik, reinvigorating his career, and just released a hot first single with Akon called “Dangerous,” instantly inserting himself back into the game. Hearing Kardinal spit on “Dangerous” (yes, I admit it’s almost a pop song, but who cares?) immediately brought me back to 2002, and the release of what was the hottest beat I had ever heard at that point in my life and DJ career: “Grindin’” by Clipse (beat by the then en fuego Neptunes). Frankly it might still be the hottest beat today, I don’t know. Regardless, the only thing better than “Grindin'” itself was the reggae remix, which featured Sean Paul, Elephant Man, and of couse, Kardinal Offishall, who absolutely SLAYS the track with his closing (third) verse, and steals the song altogether, despite tight verses from both Sean Paul and Elephant Man. See, “Dangerous” you can find anywhere now. But the “Grindin'” reggae remix?? I don’t know if it even left the decks of New York’s DJs! (Who loved it, by the way). Therefore, I give you what you might not ordinarily be able to find. Behold.

3. Cherrelle & Alexander O’Neal – Saturday Love

Now this one is definitely a classic: 1985, baby. Back in the day, old school R&B style. A duet between Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neal, “Saturday Love” hit number two on the U.S. R&B charts (and number 25 overall) in 1985-86 thanks to Cherrelle’s addictive chorus and O’Neal’s signature silky smooth 80s vocals. What could be better? It’s a classic example 1980s R&B pre-New Jack Swing era, which began to dominate R&B at the tail end of the 80s and into the early nineties. And though Cherrelle may draw top billing on this track (it’s from her album, High Priority) it’s O’Neal who has experienced a bit of an unintentional resurgence as of late. His verse from “Saturday Love” was (very obviously) sampled in 1999 by Italian DJ and house producer Junior Jack for his hit single, “My Feeling.” More recently, however, and perhaps more pertinently, Alexander O’Neal’s equally amazing R&B hit (I could easily have picked it instead of “Saturday Love” for today’s playlist), “If You Were Here Tonight,” — video HIGHLY recommended — was sampled by none other than up-and-coming Swedish rapper and old IDK favorite, Adam Tensta. His track “80s Baby,” which I chose for IDK’s very first edition of The Friday Writers’ Bloc, prominently features both the melody and the chorus from “If You Were Here Tonight” to great effect. So embrace the throwbacks, young people, embrace ’em. And right here’s a good place to start.

JustJake’s Picks

1. Corb Lund – The Horse I Rode in On

I don’t know a whole lot about this guy. He’s comes from a long line of Alberta cowboys and he likes to use civil war cavalry images on his albums and website. He writes beautifully simple songs that seem to emanate from a time out of mind and yet feel oddly familiar. If you don’t think you like country music, try coming to this song with an open mind because it exhibits an honesty and genuineness that has been lost in the glitz of modern country music.

2. Andru Bemis – Huck Finn

Another strange character from the West, Andru Bemis has spent time traveling the country on the rails with his instrument on his back, working odd jobs to support his odd music, which is quiet, solitary, strange, and out of place. This particular song has an irresistible childishness while expressing a very grown-up sense of sadness at feeling out of place in time.

3. Avett Brothers – Salina

Like Lund and Bemis, these guys came somewhere from the fringes of the American musical landscape and create strange and soulful tunes. While in the last couple of years, they’ve moved more towards the center of Americana music the brothers haven’t lost much of their weirdness. This tune, off their most recent album Emotionalism (2007), showcases the Avetts’ superb songwriting talents as well as the catchiness that has propelled them into a growing spotlight.

Carman’s Picks

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Y Control

Somebody once said to me, “I don’t get why people think Nick Zinner is such a great guitarist. All he does is just play the same two notes over and over again.” Obviously the person who said that simply didn’t get it. Not only was Zinner great because of the harsh and sonorous buzz of his guitar, but for his economy. He played those two notes over and over again, sure, but he did it with the driving force of a Wagnerian symphony. We all remember the surprise hit that was the beautiful “Maps,” but the highlight of their debut album was the incredible “Y Control” that immediately followed “Maps” in the track sequence. Following the dripping guitar lines that concluded “Maps,” this song immediately slams you down with Zinner in control. When we look back on this decade, I can only hope that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are remembered with more fondness than they are now. At least before they wrote “Gold Lion.”

2. The Police – “King Of Pain”

OK, so I realize I’m not digging very far into the record collection with my picks today. Last night I saw The Police (with Elvis Costello & The Impostors as the opening act) at the Hollywood Bowl so I’ve been in a Sting mood. The Police are an interesting band because they’re far better than we ever really give them credit for. Yes they had all those hits and are beloved by classic rock fans everywhere so they get credit where credit is due, but they’re far better than just being another flavor-of-the-month borrowed nostalgia trip to the unremembered Eighties for the 20something crowd. They released 5 excellent albums in their brief career as a unit, and made quite an interesting progression from new wave popsters to essentially creating the world music soundscapes that Paul Simon’s Graceland helped to popularize amongst the yuppies. While the concert was good, it was sad to see The Police essentially Synchronicitize many of their early hits (“Next To You,” “So Lonely,” “Message In A Bottle” to name a few) into Sting solo material by sapping all of the energy that was present in those songs. The transformation was imminent as far back as the second Police album, but Sting fully metamorphosed from rock star into scented candle with the band’s 1983 swan song of Synchronicity. It sounds like I’m slagging the album, but I actually truly love it. It’s easily the greatest adult contemporary album ever recorded.

Download this week’s Friday Writers’ Bloc Playlist HERE