Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #228. I am John Book, welcome to a new era in American history. Old with the mold, and in with e ku’u morning dew.
Also, each review features links to the artist’s home page or MySpace page, so if you want to hear them, you can do so easily. Links are also provided to make a vinyl, CD, or digital purchase, since your local mall probably doesn’t have most of these titles. If you would like to buy the compact disc, click the icon that looks like this:
If you wish to make a digital MP3 purchase, you can click the digital player icon that looks like this:
Vinyl junkies, you are in luck too:
Now, the column.
Educated Consumers were favorably reviewed by me a few years ago with their awesome Write/Hear album, and they have returned with a brand new EP that seems to be a temporary hallucinogen before they offer up a major pill to overdose on again. The appropriately titled The Waiting Room is a 7-song EP that shows the next phase of t.E.C.K. and Seezmics, as they get deeper into their own defined sound which involves carefully written lyrics and composed sound pieces. Some might say it sounds like the recent works of Atmosphere but those who enjoy the recent works of El-P, Dilated Peoples, and Blueprint will dig this album immensely. Seezmics is very lyrical in every sense of the word, from the structure of the voices, the strength of the choruses, and just an overall attitude that shows confidence and pride towards his craft, and that’s so nice to hear, as one word leads to another, which plays with the next, which prepares people for what happens in the next line, which may refer to something to come in the third verse. This is very much of the “pen and paper” variety, or to say that this sounds like it had taken time and effort to write these songs where you want to hear the bulk of the verses and the choruses are just a brief time out to the next adventure.
With t.E.C.K. on the beats, you are able to hear someone who does not want to make his songs sound like the one before, check out the string sample in “Swallow Your Pride”, which at first reminded me of the ‘ukulele in Sunday Manoa‘s “Kawika” (listen to the last 20 seconds):
Then you check out some of the other tracks, and he’ll get neck deep into a Meters-type groove, or then make something that will make every one head nod until they snap. Even though this is an EP, and EP’s generally carry the stigma of being “not worthy as an album”, it is a recording that was made with the utmost attention to fine detail, it’s not a toss-off release by any means and it’s more of a shock that they decided to release this for free. Fortunately if they keep offering music like this to their fans as freebie, they can’t resist buying other projects when they are made available. Educated Consumers are very much about their name, hoping their fans are the same as they look for hip-hop recorded and written with the utmost respect. Get these guys some tour dates so they can eat too, gunfunnit.
Chaos: 1978: 86 (Em) is a compilation album by an obscure Washington, DC funk/soul band called Wicked Witch, fronted by Richard Simms. The CD I received didn’t arrive with a booklet so I can’t provide any extra information but this is what I can come up with.
One of Simms’ first bands was Paradiagm, whose “Vera’s Back” from 1978 is represented here. They only released one album that was a mixture of funk, soul and jazz, and it’s the jazzy/fusion side that should have been their bread and butter, right alongside Return To Forever and Weather Report. They were very much of the time, but for whatever reason, Simms gave that up and wanted to venture solo, which included writing and playing everything in his music. Perhaps Prince and Rick James made an impact on his life, as that would become the sound of Wicked Witch. The album actually starts out with what sounds like a rough demo mix of “Fancy Dancer”, which sounds like it came from an nth generation cassette dub. I had hoped that this wouldn’t be how the entire album sounded, but fortunately it isn’t, as “Erratic Behavior” and “X-Rated” both sound like professional recordings…almost. Simms himself mixed “Erratic Behavior”, with Nick (no last name, but he is credited as playing the Synclavier III) engineering it, but you almost can’t hear the vocals that are buried deep in the mix. It sounds very clustered, if not sloppy, and it leads me to believe that these are not from the multi-tracks, as it would have been easy to tweak it. “X-Rated” fares a lot better, with vocalist Michelle McCoy letting everyone know that she would like to do X-rated things, and perhaps would like to have X-rated things done to her. It seems so innocent, even during a time when someone like Millie Jackson wasn’t afraid to talk about her sexuality in music. 1984’s “Electric War” fares a lot better, with Simms doing his best to emulate the Prince/Rick James sound, so had they ever worked together on a full album, with Bootsy Collins sitting in, it would sound exactly like this.
It’s quirky and yet still funky in an “ooh damn, can’t believe I’m hearing this” fashion. It’s not as tight as their contemporaries, in fact it’s very loose. While these tracks were primarily recorded between 1983 and 1986, there’s no sign of DC’s go-go sound. What I wished this compilation had was more from Paradiagm, as I feel the 12-minute “Vera’s Back” will become the primary reason people will want to hear this CD, it’s a lost gem that should have been on a major label and mixed in quadraphonic. Not sure of any more songs were recorded or if those multi-tracks exist, but if they do, it deserves to be released on Em with the same standards they’ve had for previous releases.
Scotland’s The Magnificents sound like what would happen if David Byrne joined Echo & The Bunnymen. It’s melodic, rootsy new wave rock punk hybrid things, and with Year Of Explorers (self-released) they offer a sound that’s loud and ballsy without having to wear suits. In other words, it doesn’t sound like corporate schlock, and with songs like “Cant’ Explode”, “Learn One Thing”, and the ugly yet tasty “No Dialogue With Cunts”, it’s safe to say they’re also not catering to the Wizards Of Waverly Place crowds either.
Even in a studio setting they seem to be unpredictable, as they like to change style and tempo in each song and also add different effects and textures that add to their plate. These guys need to be massive, even bigger than Peter North. Fist off, fuaka!
If Damon Dash had been a rapper, I’d like to think he would make the kind of music A. Pinks makes. He created Will Rap 4 Food (self-released) along with DJ Dutchmaster, and it’s a mix CD featuring an assortment of tracks that show what he’s capable of doing. He can handle the club tracks, but he’s a lot better doing stuff that’s a bit more street friendly, or perhaps Kanye West without the sarcastic ego. He also handles songs with a reggaeton feel, so he’s not afraid to crash down boundaries to let people hear what he does. He can be smoothed out in his flow, even as he confronts the grimey Canibus in “The Illest”.
Since this is a mix CD (and a free one at that), one can only hope he’s upping his game with a proper album, and I can see that one killing people immediately.
When Decomposure released his last album, Vertical Lines A, I felt it was one of the best albums of the year. His creative way of combining natural sound with electronics, done systematically, methodically, and perhaps mathematically, made me an instant fan and I’ve been wanting to know what he would come up with next. The answer is here in the form of Humanity Patient Guide (Blank Squirrel), where Decomposure, a/k/a Caleb Mueller, is at it again combining pop, hip-hop, electronica, and folk songs (twist it in any combination) to create the kind of thematic music that should rightfully either make him a superstar, or a devoted artist for fans of the isolated and humbled.
For this album, Decomposure gets happy, shy, and dark all at the same time, sometimes within the same song, in an album that features no proper song titles but is divided into 12 distinct pieces. Some tracks, such as “Excerpt 3” and “Excerpt 4”, dig deep into nine inch nails/Rise Robots Rise territories, and yet turn around and sound as delicate at Jandek, and within the same sound it may sound like a mean ass Mike Shinoda remix. The sound of a piece of equipment feedbacking on itself will segue into something that sounds like a wooden piano played in a log cabin, and before you know it, you discover the sound of Justin Timberlake taking ludes given to him by Donald Fagen. The ingredients alone may leave some to think it’s going to be an audio clash, and you would be right. However when they are mixed together, you get sound flavors that you never expected and you want to come back for seconds, thirds, and sevenths. Decomposure is music done without fear, so may the fearless surface and bring elation to those who thought it had been lost years ago.
The Naked Hearts are a duo who some have called “pop grunge” even though they are more pop rock with an edgy side than grunge, it makes believe that those who call it “grunge” didn’t get what grunge was about.
Anyway, The Naked Hearts released These Knees (self-released) this week, and sound more like a cross between Soul Asylum, The Pixies mixed in with Luscious Jackson and a pinch of Lush, due to the powerful vocals of Amy Cooper, whose first two solo albums got a faithful buzz from those who heard about her, and Noah Wheeler. As singers, songwriters, and musicians, they combine their talents to create an EP with songs that speak about their hopes, fears, and dreams in a way that seems oddly inviting. Then again, why should I say “oddly” since that’s why they do what they do, and that’s why we want to hear it. It’s a touch of pop/punk mixed in with addictive verses and addicting choruses, and while CMJ felt they are minimalist, I felt they packed a lot of audio information within their own self-made limitations, not quite My Bloody Valentine but definitely not Beat Happening either. “Only For You” comes off like a skeptical love song, resisting the temptation to open ones self before being consumed by the tentative inevitable. It’s effective, because while the lyrics may be about the clash of the minds (and emotions), the song isn’t. Harmony through alternate tunings? Mmmaybe.
If one listens to this EP carefully, you’ll note the openness of the recordings since it was recorded and mixed in analog from start to finish. Diehards will love the fact that this is coming out on vinyl too, making the analog experience complete.
Mark Mallman is a guy who could make huge pop/rock anthems if he wanted to, and perhaps with the old regime behind us, he will be someone people will be open to enjoy and worship (in a musical manner of course).
As I listen to Loneliness in America (Best of 1998-2008) (Badman Recording Company), I remember a time when music like his was all over MTV, a cross between The White Stripes, Nick Lowe, Rockpile, Ben Folds Five and Split Enz. It’s bigger than pop, but it’s not as loud or bold as System Of A Down, Slipknot, or Tiny Tim, he’s that guilty pleasure you never want to be ashamed of liking. His pop sensibility is incredible, going back to the Brit-pop of the 1960’s, the new wave abrasiveness of the late 70’s/early 80’s, and at times a knack to be bold and confident in an Elton John/Billy Joel manner. “Butcher’s Ballad” could easily be a Thin Lizzy stadium rocker if it wasn’t for the fact the song consists of piano and vocals. You may hints of Queen and Squeeze in this too, and perhaps this Mallman has studied his collection enough to know this type of music inside and out. If they ever made High School Musical 4: The Drop-Outs, Mallman should be consulted to do its soundtrack. If you’re a fan of daring pop music, get this.
The Acorns‘ Finding Roots (Candlewax) sounds like the kind of raps I used to when I rapped over my own tracks, but slightly off.
What I mean to say is, Finding Roots sounds like it was done cheaply in a basement and they gave it their all to rock the mic and make some beats, even though some of the beats are slightly off. Mad Squirrel sounds like a cross between Milk D. of Audio Two and MC Paul Barman, with much less of the novelty factor. I’ll admit that at times it’s hard to listen to because while I tend to like monotone voices, his is on the high end of things and it had taken awhile to get used to. As the album goes on, his rhymes get tighter and the beats of Blake 9 seem to dig much deeper into the dust crevices of the crates, with some obscure beats that made me smile. Plus he has a 9 in his name, an omen of greatness to many of the sub-9 world.
I wasn’t sure if I could take hearing this all the way through because the slightly off-tempo beats and nasaly vocal tones is not something I regularly listen to, but I allowed it to simmer, enough to make me want to play this a few times more. The Acorns can get fairly gritty, and it would be interesting to hear them collaborate with others for future tracks to see how much they can stretch themselves in a Joanie Greggains-type manner.
Reviews should not start with the word “I” because I feel that it immediately distracts from what you’re trying to review, and places the spotlight on the reviewer. But you are reviewing this column, a slightly different scenario and to make a long story short, I feel it’s better to start the second sentence or paragraph with “I”, and I will choose the latter.
I wanted to give Meryl Romer the benefit of the doubt, as her story about being someone who never had courage to sing or release a CD until now is respectful. Her So Sure (self-released) is decent, it sounds like the kind of jazz I would hear at a lounge if Holiday Inn had decent lounge acts, and that’s not exactly a bad thing. The band, featuring Brian McRae (drums), Robert Kyle (tenor sax, flute), Bill Kopper (guitar), Marc Dalio (drums), Erik Deutsch (piano, organ, accordion, glockenspiel), and Jonti Siman (bass), are really tight and they would work very well together, I would buy their CD’s immediately.
I think Romer’s voice is pleasant, and at least she keeps herself in tune, unlike some of the other jazz vocalists I’ve heard recently. The arrangement of “Lady Is A Tramp” shows promise, at least musically, until they steer it into a jazz motif. Yes, I understand that’s the whole point but I think it would have better suited her voice if they kept the arrangement to how the song is played during the intro. Overall, she’s the kind of singer you would prefer listening to at a bar or club and not at home, and maybe that’s not a bad thing either.
(So Sure will be released on April 7th.)
Basement hip-hop is a great thing, or at least it sounds like it was done at the spur of the moment with the same intensity, if not more, as a major label release. Flux will be known by fans of the Binkis Recs crew, and as he puts together a full length, he has put out a free EP in the form of Wondabat… Where Out Thou? (Domination). Here is shows how true he is to family, friends, and hip-hop, and his dedication is obvious in each of the 9 songs on this album.
Flux is a guy who isn’t afraid to speak or let his views be known, and he does it in a manner that ranges from aggro-fucked up punch hoogy to half-drunk/half-stoned but still stable enough to pounce on your head from the upper balcony, as he offers “metaphorical charms” (which is how Flux decribes what he does in “Yo!”.) He sounds at times like a less-abstract (and arguably more cohesive) Cappadonna, and in “Relay” (produced by DJ Pocket) he rhymes over a beat that could have easily been turned into a romantic/sexual track, but here Flux talks about making it out in the world to make an effort and impact:
this is my story
only 20 years and I’m in it for the glory
call me selfish or sellout but hell’s out hunting
and my hands are feelin’ helpless
plus my lungs are steady pumpin’
The track he did with Madlib, “Don’t Get Confused”, is a low-end reconstruction of a bit of that Architectual Abdabs cash flow, and the only bad part of it is that the track is a mere 1:19, I hope there’s a much longer version ready to be released later in the year. Other producers on the album include Ras, DJ Static, King Lenario, Willie Evans, and Zo, and what they all do with Flux is make him rap and rhyme with open eyes and ears, there’s a youthful vibe to it but you also hear someone who carries on the traditions of his elders, and that to me shows how dedicated he is in making serious music that isn’t afraid to be fun and creative.
Linda Presgrave is a pianist that I’ve never heard before, and I was almost afraid to listen to this when I saw the cover but as they say, “never judge a book by its cover”, right? I assumed it would be another ugly vocal jazz turd, I never know what to expect, and as someone who doesn’t read album biographies until after I’m done (I try not to let a bio influence my reviews, so I avoid them unless necessary), I really didn’t know what to think. I hopped in Inspiration (Metropolitan), a 10-track album and just expected for the dreck to begin. It begins with “Insomnia”, and the intro is nice. I’m hearing the rest of her band on the album (Allison Miller on drums, Todd Herbert on sax, Stan Chovnick on sax, and Harvie S on bass) and they are playing incredibly well but I’m hearing no voice. I’m waiting for it, and… nothing. I’m getting lost in the playing, especially that of the piano. I should also say that I did not know who played the piano on this just yet, I didn’t read the credits until about three minutes into the song and it was then I discovered Presgrave is not only the pianist, but an arranger and composer. While she sounds nothing like her, the first person that came to mind was Pamela Hines in terms of fluidity and space with her playing, and I looked at her and the other musicians credited: no vocals. I want to hear more.
Inspiration is the kind of album all young pianists and jazz musicians should hear in order to know what to play and how to play it. With the sax work of Chovnick and Herbert (who play on 4 and 2 of the songs respective), one senses an old John Coltrane vibe circa Ole or Black Pearls, but Presgrave is the one making sure everyone plays in the appropriate sounds, going down the path she wants the listener to go to. Her own “Struttin’ In Manhattan” sounds like a walk in NYC circa 1956, because we don’t want to see Times Square without seeing the cast of High School Musical jumping 25 stories above me, it sounds carefree and dare I say magical. I think I almost sensed a few keys from “We’re In The Money” during the song’s first minutes, but maybe that’s just me. She can easily play something that’s melancholy and somber, while other tracks are full of power and may make you want to dance, but she is someone who brings out a lot of (or puts in quite a bit of) emotion in her playing and arrangements. For a bit of blues, listen to “Don’t Explain” where she takes the song solo and if you know the song, you feel a bit of that joy and pain that Billie Holiday spoke of in her version. She ends with a song that is the epic of the album, “Rome”, where she allows the other instruments to play almost in a meditiative manner, almost as prayer before they join in as one a minute into the song. While she does it throughout the album, drummer Miller shines in this one and shows of her skills in a way that shows how she commands the drums by playing every part of her kit before maintaining things. When she adds a little extra inbetween, it feels like you’re hearing a classic jazz album from the past, this isn’t a drum machine, Sears keyboard, and a soprano sax. What I also like about it is Presgrave’s performance, which is subtle but lets the listener knows who is the boss of these sessions. Inspiration represents the things that move Presgrave to play and perform, and after hearing this, I hope she is inspired to continue her musical journey. Don’t miss this.
Inspiration will be released on February 17th through Metropolitan Records.)
Putting together clarinetist
Eddie Daniels and pianist Roger Kellaway may be a no brainer, and if so, good. The both of them got together for a live performance that ended up becoming A Duet Of One (a href=”http://www.iporecordings.com”>Ipo), signifying the fact that when the both of them play together, it is as if they are one being, and that is definitely true here.
Both of them at times sound worlds away from each other, but it has the feel of other similar jazz duo albums where the listener is able to place an emphasis on just two musicians, jamming and having fun. When you hear the 8-minute “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”, it reminds me of two best friends getting out of band class after being stuck in there for hours without an instruments. What you are also hearing are two musicians who know these songs inside and out, but are free to paint out of the picture which doesn’t change anything from the original piece. You’re also hearing appreciative audiences who accept this and can’t be nothing but amazed by what they’re hearing and seeing. As they go through “New Orleans”, “I Want To Be Happy”, “After You’ve Gone”, and the touching Daniels piece “We’ll Always Be Together”, it’s much more than friendship and love of music between the two, and while it may be just that, the knack for them to go in and out of the comfort zone of these songs throughout the album is too irresistible to ignore. If you’ve ever seen a Daniels/Kellaway show in the last twenty years, you know what to expect. Or maybe “you know not to expect the expected” is a better way of putting it. This is of the moment, spontaneous jazz that makes you wish all jazz was this moving.
Aaron Novik is one of those guys who seems on the edge, which is different from being edgy. What I am suggesting is that through his music, there is a bit of antsiness in his music where if it was possible for him to release 24 albums a year, two a month, it still wouldn’t be enough. The Samuel Suite/Dancing Into One (Evander) is his third album under his own name, and consists of two different suites. He calls it “sad and melodic Jewish avant chamber jazz”, and while that might conjure up an audio picture in your mind, this is how I describe it. You hear the best in jazz and Klezmer, but what Novik does with it when he places it in the sonic washing machine ends up sounding like both and none. It is a bit reminiscent of what Carla Kihlstedt does within the context of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. “Betty” is performed as a 3/4 waltz and may sound more classical than pop or rock, but he dips into those worlds that would be perfect within the Tzadik catalog. When things become drenched in one style, he shakes it off and it turns into something completely different, and things never stay in one place at any given time. The jazz influence is very much there, both in how things are played and how they sound, but in The Samuel Suite anything and everything goes. In “Blackrock Turnpike” it sounds like nothing but the stroking of a string section, but then it gets into this medieval funk, as if someone told James Brown or Sun Ra to head to a renaissance fair and get with it. Outside of the main sounds in the front there are things going on in the back of the song, be it a counter melody or extra sounds, that may lead it to another path and another style.
The Dancing Into One half of the album is more of a classical piece (the bio states it was commissioned by the St. Joseph Ballet in Southern California), and sounds like some of the other work Kihlsteft would be comfortable in playing in. It sounds very different from the first half of the album, but you still hear that on-the-edge emotion that comes from wanting to make beautiful sounds and then taking it further. The drone heard in “Birth” may represent the miracle of life in some fashion, while the saw (yes, as in the type to cut wood) could be the agony of the pain. All of the sounds heard in the track (instruments credited includ bass trombone, bass accordion, and bass clarinet) might be mistaken for something heavier (in a Melvins or Earth sort of way), and the heaviness changes into something more colorful with “Duo”, where the delicate sounds can be heard in jade and red. Once you listen to Dancing Into One, it is then understood what Novik is trying to accomplish, but what that is may be different from the next listener. Once you listen to the album as a whole, one may want to hear what he comes up with next.
Simulacra is a project that Novik put together as a way to, as he describes it, to “share my enthusiasm to the development and proliferation of one of the most widespread and popular of underground American art forms, heavy metal”. Of course you and I know that heavy metal has heavy British origins too, but we take this at face value and see how he does it. One look at the album credits and you’ll know that this isn’t your typical metal album:
Jesse Quattro – voice effects
Aaron Novik – electric clarinet
Cornelius Boots – robot bass clarinet
Matthias Bossi – drums
He then goes out of his way to state “there is no guitar, bass, or keyboard on this record”. So how in the hell is this going to sound? Glad you asked.
A cacophony of sound begins the self titled album (Evander) and oddly enough it doesn’t sound American at all, more like something you’d hear on a Mercyful Fate or Kreator album, although some of the clarinet work sounds like Jimi Hendrix and Possessed, I know I kept on thinking “this is the sound of a clarinet?” But it’s an “electric” clarinet playing in feedback and distortion, and as Quattro sings songs where the lyrics are unintelligible (for now at least), you feel like you’re hearing a mutated version of Blackfoot. It is very much a metal album but not in a stereotypical way, more like Tomahawk and Isis bathing in the sweat of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (which makes sense, since drummer Bossi is from the band). There’s something that sounds like a funky mini-Moog, but it’s probably the robot bass clarinet. It’s electronic, but it’s more about the electronics than anything, and when something is haunting (such as “White Light”), you wonder if that’s how you’re supposed to feel or you want to think it’s cool and play your own mutated music. Some parts may sound like Iron Maiden but you have to keep on reminding yourself that most of the heavy sounds are made by clarinets. It may very well be metal, but it would fit in as prog rock too.
Sooner or later, Mike Patton will approve of these guys, tour with them, and create even more mayhem, but this album is worthy without him, it’s psychotic, loose, and dribbly at the same time. Cry into its heart and hear the sound of self. Make your own Simulacra patches and stitch it on your denim jacket, then scribble their name on your digital Peechee.