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by AJ Ramirez

2 Sep 2010


You ever have one of those periods where you decide to re-explore a band you haven’t really listened to in years and end up remembering why you loved them in the first place? Right now I’m on a very big Clash kick, something I haven’t experienced since roughly my junior year of high school (my fondest Clash-related memory of that period being cooped up indoors rocking out to the live CD From Here to Eternity during a summer family trip to Florida). Consequently, I’ve been making the rounds around YouTube the last few weeks in search of all things Clash in order to help satiate my renewed hunger for works of the legendary punk rock quartet. Viewing the group’s virtual promo reel, it’s plain that the Clash wasn’t the most conceptual group when it came to making music videos. Aside from the notable exception of the kooky “Rock the Casbah”, the British group’s videography is predominantly focused on performance clips. That’s certainly not a problem, given the Clash’s renown as one of the most exhilarating live groups of its era.

Unsurprisingly, the video for the Clash’s 1978 single “Tommy Gun” (taken from the group’s underrated second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope, a.k.a. “The First Attempt to Break America, via Lots of Hard Rock Guitars”) is a no-frills performance piece, devoted solely to presenting the band playing its damnedest on stage, the only concession to visual flair being a backdrop of assorted national flags.  Fuck the fancy set designs, this is punk rock. Despite its occasionally obscured cinematography (which seems dead-set on avoiding full-body shots of guitarist Joe Strummer as much as possible) and some of the song’s own deficiencies (with all its fits and showboating chord crashes, it’s essentially one long intro, albeit a striking one), all four members of the Clash overcome any flaws the clip contains by virtue of being so powerfully charismatic, demanding the viewer’s attention via the unbridled passion and sheer awesomeness they exude even when miming to a prerecorded track. In short, the Clash show how punks can be proper rock gods.

by Nathan Pensky

1 Sep 2010


Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” is an artistic tailspin from the recent heights of singles like “Bad Romance” and “Telephone”. Pop artifacts that borrow heavily from their forbears must contain some framework of originality; a difference must coincide with the sameness so as not come off as plain stealing. Lady Gaga has not even attempted this with “Alejandro”. She not so much stands as stomps on the shoulders of giants like Madonna, ABBA, and lesser wits like Ace of Base. A long string of cribbed beats and run-together pop references, “Alejandro” is a song truly made up of nothing, not even bothering to revel in its vacuity. Sure, the song is catchy and danceable, but considering the level of work that came before it, a simple pop song is a letdown. A stolen one is a tragedy.

by Jacob Adams

31 Aug 2010


I sometimes fear that the concept of the live jazz performance is slowly fading. While jazz still maintains a presence in major cities, public support for America’s truly original art form is undoubtedly not at an all-time high. With rising concert costs, it is increasingly more difficult for folks of average economic means to attend gigs. These circumstances are truly unfortunate, for nothing else in the music world rivals the vitality of a live jazz set.

Common wisdom states that a recording can never quite capture the magic that happens in a club or on a concert stage. It is curious, then, that a jazz fan’s induction into the music often comes through records. Where would the jazz world be without such masterpieces as Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, or Maiden Voyage, all albums that originated in a studio?  Capturing the energy of a live performance on record is one of today’s major artistic challenges. Given the dire economic and cultural conditions described above, it is good to know that creative and engaging live recordings are still being made. One primary example is an album called Stories and Negotiations, released in April 2010 and recorded live in Chicago’s Millennium Park in August 2008.

Mike Reed, a Chicago drummer and composer, works with an octet—drums, bass, two tenor saxes, alto sax, trumpet, and trombone—called People, Places, and Things. Reed is not only a vibrant musician, but he also presents the music of local artists he admires, as well as dedicates himself to preserving the history of Chicago’s neglected jazz musicians of the past. On his professional website, he lists some of his major musical influences, including artists as diverse as the Impressions, the Beatles, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, and Neil Young. After just one spin through People, Places, and Things’ Stories and Negotiations, all of Reed’s influences and interests are prominently displayed.

by Jessy Krupa

30 Aug 2010


After the success of the “Another Day” single and the Ram album, it was time for Paul and Linda McCartney to release another single. This time, Paul accepted the American method of releasing album tracks, so “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” was issued with fellow album track, “Too Many People”.

Some people are of the opinion that “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” is about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, because of the line “Hands across the water / Heads across the sky” and because of World War II Admiral William Frederick Halsey, Jr. While McCartney has stated that the song’s Halsey was inspired by the real-life Admiral Halsey, the chorus’ lyrics were actually inspired by WW2’s American aid programs. The “Uncle Albert” parts were actually based on Paul’s own Uncle Albert, a man who had the strange habit of only quoting Bible verses when he was drunk. Instead of trying to make a cohesive meaning of the track, it is better to think of it as a combination of several songs. All of the background vocals were improvised during the recording by Linda, thus giving her both a songwriting and a producing credit.

by Dylan Nelson

27 Aug 2010


Photo: Drew Goren / Subwaysleeper.com

There is nothing quite like Super Ape. On first listen, the uninitiated are set up for disappointment—it’s a gateway but also a dead end into the world of dub and psychedelic reggae. There’s a legion of adjectives that fly fast and thick to describe it: dense, lush, and inimitable, it’s a critic’s wet dream. Above all, Super Ape is captivating. It’s one of those rare “masterpieces” that embraces you instead of demanding your concentration. From the irresistible call of the opening drums to the indeterminate farewell of the last, fading chant, the album incarnates a sonic world, a microcosm of rhythm, mix, melody, and toasting that, whatever your personal tastes, stands replete and to itself.

The ape of the title and of the outrageous cover art is meant to represent Lee Perry himself (the original LP was titled Scratch the Super Ape and had a different track order), and though the artist credit goes to the Upsetters. he does loom large over the music of Super Ape. He was never distinguishable from his house band anyway, but here the studio dub thoroughly supersedes the instrumentals. Perry has been praised by many for his skills as an arranger and coach to his session musicians, and this album is manifest proof of his talent for supervising each step of the process with an eye toward the final result. Even when his samples are taken from other completed songs, they feel authentic and utterly natural in dub. The innovative instrumental albums of his past show Perry doing just as much “dubbing” in the studio as he and his peers would eventually do after the fact, working with experimental effects and imbuing his music with an exceptional ambiance. In some ways, Super Ape is the conclusion of that process, a bona fide dub album built from the ground up.

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