Let the Beat Build #16: March 2014
Spotify playlist: http://open.spotify.com/user/karlward/playlist/4xeHN3Y8LB8Bpt5M4kXRIX
Diversions playlist: http://open.spotify.com/user/karlward/playlist/37rndDgdJtOy3aAGZ4d8k1
1. “Bleak Blake” - King Krule
KW: I’ve been listening to King Krule and De La Soul almost every day for several weeks now. They’re all restless genre-bending music nerds. Maybe that’s why I’m especially on the lookout right now for the innovators. What you got on my forty?
2. “Little By Little” - Radiohead
JW: Let me just get this out of the way now. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I think they were not only innovators in the 90’s, but innovated with each new album. Is this rock or something else? Electronica or folk? I don’t know man. If they had Atoms for Peace I may have played that. But I’ve loved each new Radiohead album as much or more than the last for the past 20 years. Talking about them being innovators is like talking about Jimmy Page being a dope-ass skiffle player.
3. “Love is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix)” - David Bowie with James Murphy
KW: I actually laughed out loud the first time I heard this, I was so surprised by the intro, and then again at the big change. Murphy is a goddamn genius. His remixes are usually radically left field and always interesting. But he raised the bar with this one. I think he sees boundaries like rock and disco and “new music” (e.g. Reich), but then gets inside those boundaries and stretches the fuck out of them.
4. “High 5 (Rock the Catskills)” - Beck
JW: His rap flow is somewhere between Debbie Harry and Everlast. The turntablist ethic in his production skillz is akin to the Beastie Boys in the Check Your Head/Ill Communication era, yet wilder. This “ooh la la Sassoon” moment is less Malibu’s Most Wanted, and more Michael Cera rapping Too $hort. And just to throw it back to track 2, In 1994, I NEVER would have guessed that the artists behind “Creep” and “Loser” would have wound up doing what they’ve done. And not to be undone, after Odelay came Mutations. That was like Beck’s Season 2 of the Wire. Back to Midnight Vultures, then off to Sea Change. In a way, Beck is an ultimate crate digger. How did we miss that? KW: I was just listening to Beck’s new album and thinking the thing I miss most in his new music is the irreverence and willingness to play with styles and song forms and subjects. Odelay is unstoppably good.
5. “Oblighetto - Remix” - Brother Jack McDuff with J Dilla
KW: Dilla had that same willingness to play with styles, but combined it with an overt reverence for what he was working with. Dilla’s mom said he was more proud of his work on this remix than any awards he might have gotten.
6. “Hallo Spaceboy” - David Bowie
JW: I have to throw it back to #3, which really is a James Murphy track more than a Bowie track. David Bowie really is kind of from another planet. The freedom from staying on a linear musical has to really be his signature style. His response to “What are the kids doing these days?” is so wholly non-contrived. There was this weird thing where by the 3rd album Busta Rhymes started getting guests on the record who were doing what was selling, and he was trying to match them at their style. Nas did it too around that time. “Oh Mystikal is hot? I can rap fast.” Or, “Puffy is a taste-maker, let’s get him on a track.” But that’s not what Bowie does. He doesn’t record a radio-friendly hit with Rob Thomas. Or record a Bar Mitzvah favorite with Black Eyed Peas. MAZEL TOV! He says, “ooh rock and roll gets my vas deferens pumping. Here’s how I respond to that.” His experimentation with drum and bass, with electronica as electronica was rising. These are the things that make his malleability great. It was a hard choice between this album, Outside, 1, and Earthling. Beyond the critical reviews when they came out, no one really talks about them that much. But they’re amazing. You can hear all sorts of artifacts of Bowie history in these. From Let’s Dance to Low. I went looking on AllMusic.com to explain what I had heard about the making of this album. The reviewer’s critique of Bowie and this album makes sense, I guess, though I don’t fully agree. I have listened to this album many times and may just be too close to it. And I don’t have the Pitchfork snark chops to retort to Stephen Erlewine’s dismissal of Outside and Earthling. But I think the concept of this album, in an era when we were very used to David Lynch giving us dark, incomplete pictures, was much easier to digest. At the very least, Bowie is making efforts to challenge himself. It is logical to connect that to the economic reality of “staying relevant” and sellable, but I think that’s incomplete. Of all my favorite albums of all time, I can’t think of one (or many) that I like top to bottom. The albums I think are flawless are never the best of all time, just succinct and complete. KW: Fuck yeah, “Little Wonder” blew my mind when it came out.
7. “Cape Canaveral” - Conor Oberst
KW: Perennially innovative and surprising, willing to take big risks, and racing down unknown streets just once before getting back down to it. That’s Bowie. It’s also Conor Oberst. I’ve always wanted to blow off the Interstate at full speed down an exit ramp, through the intersection, back up the next entrance ramp, and back onto the highway like nothing happened. I like to think that’s what happens when either of these guys close their eyes.
8. “Shooting Star” - Elliott Smith
JW: It’s funny thinking about disparate music trajectories happening at the same time. 1993 not only gave us Ace of Base, it also gave us Wu Tang Clan. In 2003, I was listening to Ludacris, The Black Keys and The White Stripes. I wasn’t listening to “Lo-Fi, Indie Pop, Sadcore”. And I didn’t get into Elliott Smith until my buddy James Weir shared From a Basement on the Hill. Like Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I kind of got on the train late at the most broadly accessible time. But it was the gateway drug for me look at different genres and feelings and expressions from what I was spending most of my time with. There’s some Beck in here. Some Mott the Hoople. Some White Album. Some late Chili Peppers. Dare I say, some Malkmus? But it rocks. I picture him playing in the back of a dingy lounge in Atwater Village, looking like a Denny’s during the Blitzkreig. Adam Goldberg is in the booth next to me, looking like Huey Newton. Ugh, I never should have drank that slushy syrup.
9. “Sailin Da South” - DJ Screw and E.S.G.
KW: When the chopped and screwed scene started in Houston, I was like “what the fuck is this?” My friend Paul was like “no you don’t understand, people are drinking codeine syrup and banging this.” I was like, oh, OK, I didn’t know that was a thing. Then Screw died from an overdose and I figured that was it, another Houston scene almost broke out but faded. But fast forward a few years later and chopped/screwed is back. If you didn’t hear it back in the nineties it might not sound that unusual, but this was and is some wild shit.
10. “Ruthless Villain” - Eazy E, MC Ren
JW: Before GFunk, there was straight Gangsta Rap. Schoolly D will tell you it started in Philly. Ice T would tell you it started with Iceberg Slim. But N.W.A. put it on the map, and was the big bang that launched the careers of Dre and Cube, and paved the way for Snoop, Nate Dogg, The Game and really anything non-New York. From Hyphy to Dirty South the voices and expressions of the streets, regardless of how varied and localized, got their license to push boundaries from N.W.A. To challenge censors, to challenge boundaries, to challenge the distribution and commodification of the record industry. N.W.A. was the Sex Pistols of rap. Maybe of American culture?
11. “Pearls” - Madvillain
KW: I watched an interview with Doom where he talked about how his writing style is mostly about luring you into what you think is going to be a typical rap, but then swerving to the unexpected. His collaborations with Madlib, who happens to be one of the most innovative musicians of our time, are always incredibly rewarding.
12. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” - Bob Dylan
JW: That’s a hard one to follow. You can see that by the multiple personalities of the things I put on the Diversions List in the past day or so. Pink Floyd, The Roots, Living Colour, Fela Kuti, James Brown. Dylan’s roots and influence are well known and omnipresent. He ripped no less folk and blues standards than any other great musician in the 60’s. But what makes his music innovative is the way he pushes and pulls it. If Oberst and Bowie are tearing up the frontage road without a care, Dylan is piloting every car in a figure eight demolition derby. And that’s just the music! Layer on top of that these lyrics which are kind of like folk-rapping. And he’s saying so much all at once. John Donne, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Allen Ginsberg(?). If Dylan were rapping now, he would be the two-headed Orthros, Madvillain. Wait, quick, get Dangermouse on the phone. I’ve got an idea… Gilt Chamberlain. (or MF Dyllain?)
13. “The Grind Date” - De La Soul
KW: Two heads? Three is the magic number. “The meek shall inherit the Earth, but don’t forget, the poor are the ones who inherit the debt.” I’m excited to see what De La does next. Damn they put out some great jams. JW: “...He hates drivin’ the bus, but he loves five kids. You feel me?”
14. “Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)” - Craig Mack (feat. Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Rampage)
JW: You know who loves five kids? Puff Daddy. This is one of the most fun multi-feat. tracks that is not Wu Tang. Not a month goes by that I don’t hear, “...Flavors in your aaaaassssssssss-crease…” But that’s just the kind of household we have. Sadly, Craig Mack didn’t leverage too many other stunners. But this is timeless. KW: Every time I hear Puff Daddy talk on a record I die a little inside. Roopa did that project where she removed all the misogynistic lyrics from hip hop songs--man someone ought to do that for all the meaningless drivel Puff Daddy says. I don’t want you to think I don’t like this track--I do--but damn it gets to me.
15. “First of All” - Japanther
KW: Ah, the stage full of motherfuckers, we keep coming back to it. Japanther is the opposite, just two dudes going fucking nuts for like two minutes, shouting and singing in unison, falling off the stage, yelling “fuck the police!” Maybe they’re not so different.
16. “3 Boroughs” - X-ecutioners
JW: And somewhere in the middle we have 4 turntablists, sounding like an army. AllMusic.com says they were one of the first all DJ acts to get a record label contract. Invisibl Skratch Picklz were also among the first. Like Rahzel, it’s easy to lose track of who is doing what and at what time. But it’s just as easy to lose yourself and pretend it’s one great dj and a stage full of performers. This would be a compelling argument for comparing A. turntablism to orchestral arrangements and B. the notion that sampling is neither “Art” nor “an art”.
17. “Mountains Fall Down” - Michael Haaga
KW: The X-ecutioners, like most DJ crews, are all about where they’re from. It reminded me of Houston’s Michael Haaga, leader of one of the most important Houston bands (Dead Horse), one of my personal heroes. A few years ago, Haaga put together this all-star Houston record called The Plus and Minus Show. Everyone on it is famous in the local scene--a scene the he not only helped create, but has been dedicated to for his entire career. Haaga comes from this deep thrash metal background, but blows out into so many directions.
18. “The Obvious Child” - Paul Simon
JW: “Pass me a cigarette. I think there’s one in my raincoat.” There was a time when Paul Simon was a bohemian, an adventurer, a hipster. Then, eventually, he bought a turbo diesel, wore loafers and blazers with t-shirts. But he wasn’t done yet. The 80’s were the days when all the rawness, exploration and kavorka was blanched out of the hippies and iconoclasts of 1968. I don’t even mean the artists as much as the music lovers. Careers, responsibilities and wealth had inspired a whole generation to like, ney, desire such a thing as “Adult Contemporary”. They must have, because there was a market for it. Or the market made them soft, and they let it. Whatever the case, they have a serious debt to repay. But there were a few artists who continued to lead the way (Peter Gabriel and David Byrne come to mind), blazing trails while still staying fundamentally likeable. This may not be a compliment, that’s really in the eye of the beholder. But whatever the case, Paul Simon kept things kind of live by seeking out harmonic and rhythmic influences from around the world. When he came out with Graceland, it seemed everybody was listening to it. I was about ten, and it was one of the only albums, besides Good Morning Vietnam Soundtrack that my parents would let me play in the car. That success seemed unrepeatable. But in some ways, Rhythm of the Saints is a superior album to Graceland. It certainly delivers the rhythm. KW: I hadn’t heard this song until now. I am wondering aloud whether “Sunny,” a song I did with my old band (written by my bandmate Adam Chimera), was influenced by this song.
19. “(Mr.) Spaceman” - Busman’s Holiday
KW: I met this band while they were busking on the street in Austin. I bought their EP from them but haven’t seen anything new since. Looking now I see they have a new album coming out in a few days. Nice. I loved their arrangements, their melodies, and their sense of rhythm. It doesn’t have the expansiveness of, say, Graceland; rather it’s like listening in on a band playing a house show in a living room in Indianapolis. In fact that might be exactly what it is.
20. “American Music” - Violent Femmes
JW: I would like to see the Violent Femmes in a living room. They’re so emblematic of that type of American, what? Garage band? High School band? They’re like the best of the first-band-you-were-ever-in bands. And they were not young when they were making the music I was listening to in middle school and high school. Funny thing about Indiana… I was in South Bend, Indiana when I first saw “Freedom Fries” on a menu. They had taped the words on top of “French”. Everyone was smoking. Now ain’t that America? KW: I read a great interview with one of the guys in Violent Femmes not too long ago, about how two of the members hate the other, who has licensed their songs to some fast food chain. Sounds American to me. Third favorite Violent Femmes story. What the second, you say? How I could find their greatest hits CD in absolutely everyone’s CD collection in college. Still not sure why that was true. Just today my wife said “why are we listening to Violent Femmes--you know, college music?” But my most favorite Violent Femmes story was when I was in high school and I happened to see them perform on MTV. Just then my dad walked through the living room, stopped, and said “what is that?” Like he was looking at a high speed collision of things he lacked the terminologies to describe. JW: My third favorite Violent Femmes memory is from 7th grade, listening to the 8th grade girls I was friends with sing Blister In The Sun at the top of their lungs. My second is having them explain to me what the song was about. The first? My dad had a short stack of Penthouse magazines in the house when I was just the right age. In order to add one layer of security around the possibility that I would find them was to leave them open to an article. I think he thought if I saw something that required reading, then I’d stay far away from it. The open article on top was always an interview with the Violent Femmes. He was right. I never read it. BUT, it did put it back flipped to that same page. Every time.
21. “Cold Irons Bound” (Live 2004) - Bob Dylan
KW: I’ve been waiting for a release of the live version of this for a while. They shot a live video where they just rocked the living hell out of it, I think this is it. His fucking amazing band is pretty much the opposite of the Violent Femmes. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Alternate pick: Dylan covering Zevon’s “Mutineer.”