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Friday, Jul 25, 2008
Wendy Ho -Bitch, I Stole Your Purse

I first heard the homemade stylings of Ms. Ho in a song with the chorus “cocaine makes my pussy pucker, mother fucker”.  I have a weakness for this kind of reform school girl hoetry.  I know its kitsch, I fully understand that it’s quality is non-existent, though it’s certainly enjoyable as a joke and as a dark expression of our repressed desires to see Ho Heroines beating up rich bitches for their expensive accessories.  There comes a time to relax your critical faculties and enjoy a novelty act that, unlike a lot of mainstream pop, at least has novelty on its side. 


But the reason I really enjoy this kind of d.i.y. profanity is that is shows how much conservatism there is in the uniformly dull and dreary world of hip hop crime and sexuality.  Even the misogyny is boring, with the women stuffed in to clothes that look like punishments gyrating in front of expensive toys.  I guess the point of misogyny is not the desiring of women, but their potential easy, coerced accessibility.  Again, boring.  This is not to suggest that misogyny is bad because it’s not entertaining, just that people like Wendy Ho and other outsiders like the queer hip hop community have far more verbally expressive persona.  I think this sexual reserve in a lot of straight men rapping (What the hell does hittin’ it entail?) displays a lack of imagination when it comes to fucking coupled with a puritanical fear of the pussy.  Get on this, people, and unpack your adjectives.


Tagged as: wendy ho
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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2008
The Hoosiers, The Black Keys and Manu Chao...

I’m beginning to feel a bit guilty—and geeky—getting to see episodes of Live from Abbey Road before they air and playing them over and over. I’m like a kid in a candy store! Show six (Sundance Channel, Thursday, July 24 at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific) features a selection of several of my favorite varieties of auditory confection and might just be the series’ Best. Episode. Ever.


First up, the Hoosiers, with a perfect blend of self-deprecating humor, witty banter, smart lyrics, sharp hooks (and sharp shoes!) close harmonies, bright horns and power-pop keyboards all wrapped up in ribbon of irresistible rhythm! And these guys really have fun with the whole affair, there are far more interview bits cut into this episode than last week’s, there are the obviously great songs (Two hits off of last year’s The Trick to Life and a brilliant rearrangement of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” that you’ll have to see to believe!) and, of course, there are the costumes (to appeal to everyone’s inner geek). It’s the whole package!


 

 


Then, the Black Keys step into the echo chamber to talk “ham sandwiches” and studio lore (did you know that all the studio equipment at Abbey Road was once—and perhaps still is—rebuilt, repaired and maintained entirely within the building? That’s so cool! But, maybe I’m just geeking out on little details like that.). Sometimes it’s hard to believe the Black Keys is only two people, but seeing them facing each other in this setting, looking, momentarily, almost like a standoff between guitar and drums, it’s doubly easy to be impressed by the music they create from such a spare and simple setup. One is tempted to throw out exclamations like “incendiary!” and phrases like “power-duo”, with absolutely no irony (but, again, I may be geeking out a bit).


Last in this episode is Manu Chao, bringing poly-rhythmic, poly-ethnic, politically-charged, punk-infused music from around the world to St. John’s Wood. He’s another incendiary artist (and yet another to thank Joe Strummer for bringing to my attention), but one who, although he has best-selling albums and legions of fans who follow his live shows in Europe and South America, is lesser-known in the UK and relatively unknown in the US and Canada. This is a travesty, for there’s no other artist I can think of right now with his finger so truly on the pulse of the people, so on the beat of the music of the streets of the world. During one interview segment, Chao says, “[When you are] a long-time musician… you have to be able to improvise any time, you know? I think that’s the meaning of music.” It could be said that it’s also the meaning of life (and, if I were still geeking out, which I am, I’d point out that this must mean music and life are one in the same. I knew it! Music is life!).



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Tuesday, Jul 22, 2008
Sincerely, Jane - Janelle Monae

One of the most offensively sexist critical crutches is the diminishing addendum of “protege”  applied primarily to female artists subtly hinted to be be ventriloquist dummies for more talented Father-Miyagi male musicians. (see also M.I.A. as Diplo’s protege)  Though Janelle Monae has built a resume as producer, vocalist, writer and arranger, her work with Andrew 3000 and Big Boi apparently makes her their understudies.


I wish the sound quality of this clip could convey “Sincerely, Jane’s” orchestral bombast. Unlike other uses of classical music in songs steeped in the hip hop tradition (where piano loops or violin shards suffice), the song is actually structured in grand movements with Monae displaying an acrobatic range in what amounts to a scalding litany of misery, blistering accusation and disdain for humankind.  In short, it’s fantastic.  Think Shirley Bassey having Marianne Faithful put a cigarette out in her eye.  I also love the crazy clash in her onstage image:  equal parts Grace Jones aggression and small-framed Anita Baker swaying. 


I’m cautiously optimistic about her debut.  Monae reminds me of Macy Gray and Imani Coppola (whose new project Little Jackie is my othersummer obsession) in that she borrows from several genres and the chemistry is either pop perfection or simply dull dilution.  Macy Gray in particular embodies the pitfalls of having a voice with no vision, resulting in songs that generically clip the tips of various fads and frenzies.  I think Janelle has more talent, style and depth, but for every successful genre alchemist there are dozens of Cree Summer’s, Rosey’s, and Nikka Costa’s.


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Tuesday, Jul 22, 2008

You’d think that a single 49-minute track where the songs bleed into each other, layered over one another, with some of them nothing more than snippets (as if some invisible hand is spinning a radio dial) would be the most annoying thing ever. Turns out, though, that it might be one of the best releases of Paul Westerberg’s solo career. 49:00 hit the Amazon MP3 store on July 19 (or June 49th, as Westerberg puts it) for the low, low price of 49 cents. Even if there were only one good song in the whole digital mess, it would be a bargain. But some of these songs (who knows what any of them are called, you give up after a while and just accept the sound collage flow) represent some of Westerberg’s best work since the Replacements folded (the one with the “devil raised a good boy” chorus is certainly one of his fiercest).


Thankfully free of Folker-esque bleating, 49:00 is of the same comfortable, cozy basement cloth as Stereo/Mono—heck, it might even be more ragged than even that wonderfully scruffy release. Ramshackle Faces-inspired rockers blend with sensitive ballads, jangly workouts, snippets of cover songs, Westerberg’s patented put-downs of new men in ex-flames’ lives, jokes about his cleaner lifestyle (“please don’t ask me about my liver”), and what might even be his son yelling over a vintage Westerberg rock riff. 


Listening to 49:00 is just a lot of fun (heck, it might even be Year’s Best material if its staying power holds up). It feels like being on a road trip where you’re flipping between two or three great radio stations—always missing the names of whatever you’ve just heard—that play solid song after solid song. For much of Westerberg’s solo career, it sounded like he needed a foil in the studio to kick him in the pants when his ideas weren’t up to snuff. Maybe all he really needed to do was relax. That said, it would be great if some of these songs got an “official” release as songs. Some of them are just too good to remain buried in this tasty blend of music.


Tagged as: paul westerberg
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Sunday, Jul 20, 2008
Track eight...

Testify


I find it disappointing that a lot of reviews from other publications have called this out as one of the album’s weaker tracks, like Nas’ whole purpose here was to condemn his suburban white fans for not truly supporting his cause. In my review of the album, I called Untitled Nas’ Blood on the Tracks. I didn’t mean that so much in terms of concept but in terms of career context. If we talk in terms of concept though, “Testify” is this album’s “Idiot Wind”. It’s the frustrated, mournful breakdown of an artist in the midst of an emotionally complex situation.


Tagged as: nas, untitled
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