Friday, July 24, 2015
The Pharcyde – “Passin’ Me By (Fly as Pie Remix)” from Sold My Soul: The Remix and Rarities Collection (2005 Funky Chemist)


The Pharcyde, in case you don’t know, were one of the greatest things to happen to hip-hop during its golden age, a total bohemian West Coast outfit. In fact, their song “Runnin'” may well be the greatest hip-hop track ever recorded.

That will have to wait for another day, though. “Passin’ Me By” is today’s track, and was the second single the Pharcyde released on their debut record Bizarre Ride II the PharcydeIt’s worth nothing the Pharcyde came on to the scene at the exact moment that gangsta rap, while hardly new, began to really rule the day. Even so, the group, along with contemporaries like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and a host of others, proved to be incredibly successful forging their own “alternative” path within hip-hop. Context: a record called The Chronic came out in 1992.

It’s also worth noting that this particular track purports to be a remix, though, given the fact that the vocals are a completely different register, unless there was some kind of Quasimoto situation happening in the studio, I’m going to go ahead and say that this is just a different recording. All the same, it’s pretty great. Where the original relied on scratchy vinyl and organ vamping, the “remix” sounds more like the kind of shopping mall Muzak one might have heard in the 1980s. Both utilize a house beat pretty handily.

Lyrically it’s a song about pursuing love and failing, which is probably a pretty universal theme. It is, unfortunately, not without its misogynistic moments — talking about sneaking a touch and calling women broads, things of that nature. We chalk that up to being the nature of hip-hop and then move on like it’s nothing, and I wish we didn’t do it. I get why we do it; we don’t want to stop listening to the Pharcyde. Still, though, I wish that stuff wasn’t so pervasive.

Maybe, if we really want a workaround, we could say that these guys are employing some kind of Junot Diaz style subtle critique of patriarchy, a structural rebuke at the sub-atomic level (after all, the protagonists end up broken and alone, their despair “pelagic”), but that may be something of a stretch.

Too bad, because the Pharcyde were really great. I’m not entirely sure I understand why so many of their songs were remixed so many times, but then again, I’m not complaining — it’s nice to see these songs enjoying such a long lifespan.



Thursday, July 23, 2015

Lately I’ve found that I’ve really been wanting to curate collections of music to share with people. I really miss making mix tapes, but I understand that that’s not where we are anymore (whether I like it or not). Last night I stumbled across and decided to play around with it. Here’s my first offering:


Wednesday, July 15, 2015
The Walkmen – “New Country” from You & Me (2008 Gigantic/Fierce Panda)


I should begin, I suppose, by making a few things very clear: 1) I have never used heroin 2) I cannot in any way condone heroin use 3) I do not have any reason to believe that the members of the Walkmen are heroin users.

Okay, having acknowledged as much, let me say that there is a certain, let’s say, opiated quality to everything the Walkmen do. I listen to their music and think, “huh, this seems like maybe what all the best parts of being high on heroin are probably like.” At some point this blog will be so lucrative that I’ll be able to hire someone to check whether or not I’ve overused certain adjectives like “languid,” which, incidentally, would be a perfect way to describe the Walkmen’s music. It’s a lot of slurred, blurred edges.

But that’s a lazy description that makes it sound like their approach to songwriting and rock and roll in general is lazy, when in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Listening to the Walkmen, if I’m really listening, that is, I feel like I can hear pages from just about every era in what we might call the American songbook. Okay, so maybe there’s not a lot of funk or hip-hop represented in their offerings, but suffice to say that the Walkmen have tapped deeply into the vein of Americana.

As to their approach of rock and roll, I think it could best be characterized as one of sneaky defiance. It’s the reverb, it’s the vocals, it’s definitely the drum arrangements, but everything about the way these songs are structured is at once a harkening back to the past and a reimagining of the way things could be.

Or maybe I’ve just been taken in by it all.

“New Country” is simply guitar and vocals, and recalls something out of the Ozarks by way of something more classical, maybe John Fahey, except for that everpresent Walkmen reverb. The simplicity of the song structure betrays a greater complexity at work, and lyrically it is a song about new days, new opportunities, about stepping out into the sunshine and taking advantage of everything life has to offer.

It is optimistic, it is beautiful, and for me, it is a welcome excuse to revisit the Walkmen catalog and appreciate anew everything that they bring to what they do.


Saturday, July 11, 2015
Dizzy Gillespie – “Oro, Incensi0, y Mirra” from Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods (1975 Pablo)

Dizzy Gillespie 1960 Gilles Pétard Collection

Dizzy Gillespie 2016:
Running whether he gets the nomination or not.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance Dizzy Gillespie had on the world of jazz, pioneering as he did the Afro-Cuban jazz sound in his 1940s collaborations with Chano Pozo. The lore around that time is absolutely electrifying (not to mention his later adoption of the Bahai faith and his rhythm stick). I picked up Lady Be Good in a discount bin in my days as a nascent jazz fan.

I picked up other albums later on, and none captured my attention quite as well. I think for me Diz was at his best during that early period, before wandering into what I would call (to the chagrin of many, no doubt) schmaltzy big band territory (see Maynard Ferguson, for example).

That’s sort of what’s happening here. “Oro, Incenso, y Mirra” is a fifteen-minute odyssey that sounds like what might happen if the Fania All-Stars and Weather Report got together to cook something up for the big band hour on your local community jazz radio station. Which is to say that, despite my reluctance to go all the way there with the big band thing most times, there are some real incredible moments here, sometimes involving the horns, sometimes the real heavy-ass percussion, sometimes the synthesizer (an instrument that, apparently, Diz hadn’t been in the same room as prior to recording this track), but there are some real transcendent moments buried in this thing.

This from

Here we have a summit meeting late in the careers of the pioneering titans of Afro-Cuban jazz: Dizzy Gillespie fronting the Machito orchestra on trumpet, with Mario Bauza as music director, alto saxophonist/clarinetist, and organizing force, and Chico O’Farrill contributing the compositions and arrangements. This could have been just a nostalgic retro gathering 25 years after the fact, but instead, these guys put forth an ambitious effort to push the boundaries of the idiom. The centerpiece is a 15-minute trumpet concerto for Gillespie called “Oro, Incienso y Mirra,” where O’Farrill melts dissonant clusters, electric piano comping, and synthesizer decorations together with hot Afro-Cuban rhythms into a coherent, multi-sectioned tour de force. Gillespie, who had apparently never been in the same room with synthesizers before, is magnificent as he peels off one patented bebop run after another over Machito‘s band and in the gaps between. There is also an equally sophisticated suite of O’Farrillpieces grouped under the title “Three Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods,” which mixes rock elements into the rhythms. Parts of “Pensativo” sound as if O’Farrill had been carefully listening to Santana, the teacher learning from the student, as it were. It adds up to a paltry 32 minutes of music, yet one can forgive the short length, this being all there is of a historic recording session.

I’ll confess to you that I don’t know the first thing about either Bauza or O’Farrill, though I suspect that the recoring session alluded to above was for “Manteca.” I will say that the moments in this recording which are not transcendent are stark reminds that this was, in fact, recorded in 1975, and that can get distracting. The other moments, however, make it worthwhile.

It’s not the vintage Gillespie that I always want to go back to, but, being Gillespie, one could hardly call it garbage.


Friday, July 10, 2015
The Who – “Heinz Baked Beans” (1967 Track, Decca)


This particular track (or album, for that matter), is probably not the greatest introduction to the genius of The Who, unless, in seeking that genius, one is far more interested in sign posts of British humor than in rock and roll relevance.

Of course, The Who were (and, I dare say, continue to be) an extremely relevant force in rock and roll.

Wikipedia would like you to know the following about the origin story of Sell Out:

By the end of 1966, the Who had achieved commercial success owing to the mod movement that made up a significant section of the group’s early audience. However, the movement was fading, and the TV show Ready, Steady, Go that had boosted the group to fame, had been cancelled. The group started touring the US the following year, and started to achieve success with their live act. In summer 1967, the group’s managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp suggested the band could create a concept album based on pirate radio and structure it in the same manner as that, or a typical US AM radio station.[4]As pirate radio had been influential to mod, it was felt particularly appropriate to pay tribute to it. As well as the music, the inter-song announcements and jingles were a key component of radio, so it was decided to include a selection of humorous asides on the album.[7] The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act came into effect on 15 August, outlawing all pirate stations and strengthening the album’s effect as a tribute.

I would like you to know about middle school sleepovers that centered around rentals of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, during the same period that I purchased Young M.C.‘s debut album on cassette (an album which contained the “More Music” outro from this track, and about how my tenth grade English teacher had a hi-fi in his room with giant speakers through which he often played The Who records and went on and on about the genius of the individual members, particularly the late drummer Keith Moon (a man who had died the year my class was born).

One way or the other, this is a goofy track – no getting around that. See for yourself below.


Thursday, June 18, 2015
Beach Boys “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” from Pet Sounds (1966 Capitol)


Much has been written about Pet Sounds in the nearly fifty years (!) since its release. Rolling Stone ranked it #2 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. What many people may not know, however, is that Brian Wilson originally wanted to give the track “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” another name: “Shut Your Pretty Little Stupid Mouth (And Show Me Some Affection),” but singer Mike Love put his foot down.

Okay, that’s probably not true, but it does occur to me that a feminist critique of Pet Sounds is an idea whose time has come, especially in light of how vaunted the album continues to be so many decades after its release. Seriously, I tend to operate under the assumption that if I can think something up, the internet has already taken care of it, but my own casual googling on this matter suggests that there is a graduate level dissertation just waiting on a silver platter for some enterprising young person.

The lyrics, which I’ve included below, are at first blush pretty innocent — let’s just spend this moment together silently, enjoying each other’s company, except, I don’t know, it isn’t phrased that way. It’s bossy. And given the context of every other Beach Boys song I’ve ever heard, I’m given to believe that its object is a woman. The idea, then, of a man telling a woman that he’s more interested in cuddling with her than listening to her, seems pretty fucked up:

I can hear so much in your sighs
And I can see so much in your eyes
There are words we both could say
But don’t talk, put your head on my shoulder
Come close, close your eyes and be still
Don’t talk, take my hand and let me hear your heart beat
Being here with you feels so right
We could live forever tonight lets not think about tomorrow
And don’t talk put your head on my shoulder
Come close, close your eyes and be still
Don’t talk, take my hand and listen to my heart beat
Listen, listen, listen
Don’t talk, put your head on my shoulder
Don’t talk, close your eyes and be still
Don’t talk, put your head on my shoulder
Don’t talk, close your eyes and be still
Don’t talk, put your head on my shoulder

Oh, but it was a different time, I can hear someone sighing, and I can hear so much in those sighs, mostly about how I should focus instead on the song’s “elegant pacing.” Okay. It’s a beautiful song. I have it on repeat right now, and have listened to it maybe a dozen times while siting here. Its placement on the album is smart, and the orchestration, like that of the rest of the album, is masterful, a product of the intersection of Wilson’s mental illness and penchant for LSD.

But is that enough? Maybe I wouldn’t be grinding this particular ax so hard about another album, but given Pet Sounds’ undeniable influence on American culture, I don’t mind being the grump in the corner prattling on about feminism. Far more insufferable pedants than I have ruined far lesser works than this.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Ahmad Jamal – The Second Time Around” from Poinciana (1963 Argo)


Taken from a live 1958 engagement at Washington DC’s Spotlite Club, Poinciana is a brilliant jazz trio record from one of the genre’s most underrated pianists. “The Second Time Around” is a reworking of a standard that was not quite a standard yet, in that it would be made famous by its inclusion in the 1960 Bing Crosby comedy High Time., celebrating the fifty year anniversary of Poinciana in 2008, wrote the following about Jamal’s playing:

Jamal had a fresh conception of the jazz keyboard that stood out from the pack in 1958, and still sounds invigorating in 2008. His playing revolutionized the use of space and time in jazz; Jamal knew when to hold back and when to go for the big effect, and he took chances on both extremes. He is usually (and rightly) praised for the subtlety of his playing, but Jamal also deserves recognition for his ability to hit the home run, his knack for pulling out some grand, dramatic effect at just the right moment in a performance.

This seems especially apt here: “The Second Time Around” is extremely laid back, well-suited for a hotel lounge. In this recording, glasses can be heard clinking in the background. Jamal and his band play that up the lounge aspect to great effect, approaching the melody as more of a series of vamped chords than as one might a proper tune. They lay back, until they don’t, at which point Jamal is hammering chords up the keyboard at double the speed and volume at which he had been playing. It’s as if he is saying, pardon the interruption, folks, but we are more than mere background entertainment over here, because LOOK AT WHAT I CAN DO NO SERIOUSLY LOOK, and then it’s back to playing with incredible restraint again as if nothing had happened. It’s quite remarkable.