December 31, 2009
The year 2009 has come to a close. As the end-of-the year and/or decade lists pile up in the blog world, it’s hard not to wonder which musicians have been overlooked. As much as we try to follow our intuition and stay on the cutting edge, sometimes we can’t help but feel like we’re in the middle of a pack of lemmings, all hurtling in the same direction at cyberspeed. That’s why we thought this story seemed fitting as a sort of atypical end-of-the-year post. It reminded us that it’s hard to say which of our favorite bands of 2009 we’ll want to revisit in ten, twenty, thirty years, and it’s exciting to think that a group we’ve overlooked this year might get a break long after we thought that time had passed.
Chicago’s Walter Smith, Cliff Frazier, Brad Donaldson, and Keith Donaldson (along with Brad and Keith’s brother, David, now deceased) recorded in the sixties and seventies as the Green Berets, High Society, Walter & the Admerations, and, with Andre Williams, as Velvet Hammer. They started singing soul music together in their early teens, and like so many young artists, they came away from the studio with no money and none of the rights to their records. Because they were all drafted during Vietnam – just as one of their records began to chart highly – the Green Berets could never fully take advantage of their shot at stardom. But in the forty years since their studio days, the Green Berets’ records have become much-desired by collectors, selling for up to $5000, and in June they were contacted by Bob Abrahamian to conduct an interview on his Chicago-based radio show, WHPK’s “Sitting in the Park.”
As the story goes, Richard Lewis of Dig Deeper heard them singing on the show and just had to get them out to New York to perform in concert. Richard, and Michael Robinson, the other man behind Dig Deeper, track down their favorite soul singers, many of whom have fallen off the radar for decades, and bring them to Brooklyn to perform in their monthly Dig Deeper concert series. JezebelMusic.com recently talked to Richard and Michael about what it means to them to get an opportunity to see these artists perform their own songs live, so we decided to talk to the artists, too, to see what this comeback show of sorts meant to them. Erin Sheehy sat down with the Green Berets just hours before their Dig Deeper show at Southpaw in late October. You can also read her interview with the Dig Deeper guys here.
More on Green Berets
December 30, 2009
Piglet | Lavaland
Honest question: how many people outside of Chicago have heard this band? Among my Chicago friends, who still take math-rock seriously (obligatory reference to Noumenon, who will finally release their debut EP in two months, and coined the term “party-math”), Lavaland has maintained something of a revelatory status, indisputable for its finger tapping and bat-shit time signatures. For those of us outside Chicagoland, Piglet is one of the only easy steps in to Chicago math: blistering in its technicality, but approachable enough to share a couple Old Styles in the back of the house show.
by Max Sebela
Bustin’ Melonz | Watch Ya Seeds Pop Out
This album is available for download on plenty of blogs, but it’s hard to find out much about Brooklyn’s Bustin’ Melonz, who sorta dropped off the map after 1994’s Watch Ya Seeds Pop Out. The production is simple and scrappy, as is the MC’ing, but the album’s full of these cool understated moments, like when the beat drops out just for a second under “Walkin on air in my Airwalks./ People talk when I walk through the streets of New York” in “Don’t Big Up.” With its staticky skits between songs and its minimal jazz riffs, Watch Ya Seeds Pop Out sounds like something you’d play on the stoop when the sidewalk’s steaming and you can’t wait to hear that Italian Ice cart jangling down the block.
by Erin Sheehy
More on Hidden Gems
News is as slow as the circulation in our extremities in this weather. Instead of scouring blogs for news, sit down by the fire, and read the New Yorker’s profile on Vampire Weekend, the Ivy League’s finest output in the last 15 years (take that Mark Zuckerberg. You may own our web, but you will never own our hearts).
Elsewhere, R.I.P., Vic Chestnut. You’ll be missed.
by Max Sebela
ART OF SONG
Don’t Fear The Reaper [Holy Ghost’s B-Live Mix]
2009 | BACARDI B-LIVE Free Downloads
The year is drawing to a close. I can’t speak for you (though oh, how I try!), but I’m getting ready to put on my sparkliest outfit and go out to some lame New Years party where I will inevitably drink too much and end up trying to kiss too many people when the clock strikes midnight. That’s how I roll.
Do you know what’s as earnestly convoluted as my New Year’s intentions? The Holy Ghost remix of Van She’s cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” (See, I told you it was convoluted.) But as convoluted as this mixture seems (a remix of a cover) it’s really quality. The work and care is present, hence the earnestness of this equation. This wasn’t Van She just crapping out a cover, and Holy Ghost deciding they’ll fuck around with it a little. There appears to be actual effort here, which is something I can certainly appreciate.
A fairly mellow remix (to be fair, “Don’t Fear The Reaper” isn’t exactly a booty-shaking jam), I would imagine this would enter the New Year’s party rotation after the ball dropped, when people are still going, but not with quite the enthusiasm they were previously. A collective breather, if you will.
Van She doesn’t really take too many risks with this cover, instead going with the flow and sticking to the roots of the original. Holy Ghost throws in enough of a backbeat to keep you moving. And it intensifies, hitting the first peak around 1:50, throwing in some swelling piano in the background to add a little drama.
More on Van She | Don’t Fear The Reaper [Holy Ghost’s B-Live Mix]
LOCAL SPOTLIGHT NYC
You wouldn’t be wrong if you called Richard Lewis and Michael Robinson show promoters, record collectors and DJs, but oftentimes these guys sound more like detectives. For the past two years, Richard and Michael (DJ Honky and Mr. Robinson when they’re behind the turntables) have been tracking down their favorite soul artists and bringing them to Brooklyn to perform at a monthly night called Dig Deeper. It’s harder than it sounds. Often you’ll find that the people behind some of the best mid-sixties soul records, from the heavy hitters like Don Gardner and The Mighty Hannibal to total unknowns like Eula Cooper, have become nearly untraceable. But Richard and Michael scour the earth, from illegal blues clubs in Sweden to the projects of East New York, to bring these musicans to the fans they might not even know they have, and to introduce them to a new set of converts. Check back soon for our interview with October’s Dig Deeper artist, The Green Berets, and if you want to see what Dig Deeper is all about, head over to Southpaw on January 23 to catch Darrow Fletcher.
JM.com: When or how did you become a big fan of soul music?
Michael: Well I go back a little further than Richard. Back when I was a teenager I was already DJing in London, back in the early eighties. The music at the time was horrible in England. It was called jazz-funk. Unfortunately it’s still kind of popular now. It filled me with horror, it really did. Around that time there was a thing in London called acid jazz, and although there were contemporary bands recording stuff like that, I was buying a lot of Prestige late sixties 7000 series, and then mixing in what I didn’t really know was James Brown’s backing band. The J.B.’s had a great LP, Doing it to Death, with like a ten and a half minute track called “La Di Da La Di Day,” which I would still play now cause it was time to get two drinks and have a chat with a pretty girl in the front of the bar. People used to sell soul packs: twenty records for two pounds. This was when I was living on ten or twelve pounds a week as a student, I’d buy the extra-thin turkey slices, sixteen in a pack, they were like, wafer-thin – you could see light through them! And I had two a day – I mean it was ridiculous – because you know, I had to buy music. It kind of took on a life of its own to the extent that by the time I was 24, I moved to America, because this was where the music came from. I got off the plane here not knowing anyone in the city. And then my very first weekend one of my all time favorite singers was playing. I got to pretend to be a journalist from a blues and soul magazine, got backstage, got to have him dedicate a song to me. So the first person outside of work who knew my name in New York was a singer called Chuck Jackson.
More on Richard Lewis and Michael Robinson of Dig Deeper
December 27, 2009
Welcome to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1998, the misery that was caused by Van Halen III, Barenaked Ladies rise to prominence, and John Popper’s paradoxical conservativism. For earlier installments, go here.
Last week, I sang praises for Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, for its display of restraint in an era of nihilism and excess. Today, I can think of no greater example of that nihilism and excess than 1998’s Van Halen III, the pretty-much universally unloved post-Sammy Hagar effort by the brothers Van Halen, Michael Anthony and former Extreme singer Gary Cherone.
Is there a less-apt name for the group responsible for the 1991 syrupy ballad, “More Than Words?” Yeah. “Awesome Cool Dudes” is one. “The Kickass” is another. “Shit Hot, Crazy-Good Rock Band” is another (all but the latter are real band names of farily good bands, by the way).
Have I heard Van Halen III? Only once. My roommate at the time, Bryan, was obsessively into VH, and bought III the day it came out. It sounded, even at the time, like the most over-distilled, generic crap typical of what dominated the radio and MTV in the latter half of the 90s. I doubt Bryan even listened to it a second time – certainly not while I was around.
This is yet another example of greedy, overpaid and out of touch rock musicians not knowing when to exit the realm of contemporary hit-makers and start on track toward retirement. The first indicator that you’ve been around too long is when your band is on its’ third lead singer. If you’re in a rock band so dysfunctional that it can’t keep a consistent front man, it’s time to pack it in. Period.
Who did Van Halen III serve? The people in the band and the people making their living off the band. III was nothing more than an extremely expensive excuse for the band to mount ANOTHER summer stadium tour. Nothing more than that. It’s important to note, too, that Van Halen have issued no further studio effort since III, though the band has continued to tour (now with David Lee Roth back in the fold, as well as Eddie Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang, on bass).
More on #15: 1998
Hello! I’m your booty nurse. Listen, we need to talk. You’re having a booty crisis and you need help. Honey, all that sad energy stored in your tukkus is making your bottom unhappy. What you need is a booty-cation on Planet Rump. So, get ready to blast off!
Nurse Jezebel: Under any circumstances should anyone get butt implants, wear underwear that sculpts your tush, or wear butt pads? How about those new Skechers that are meant to firm your glutes?
Miss Strawberry: No!
DJ Tantric: Hells no! I saw a tranny once with butt-plants – it was horrible. I love trannies, though.
Nasty Ness: Hold up! It’s OK if these things help you reach self-booty love! So many people are afraid of their booties. Except butt implants. That might be too much.
I blasted off to Planet Rump this weekend and caught up with Miss Strawberry, DJ Tantric, and Nasty Ness at B-Side on Avenue B, a nice little nook for bottom worshipers. The problem from Earth I brought to these glute gurus: there are a lot of self-conscious bottoms out there, which are afraid to shake their dukes. These booty shamers sour parties and spread rotten energy. What are we Earthlings to do?
More on Alphabet City: B is for Booty Crisis!
December 26, 2009
THIS WEEK IN HIP HOP
In terms of rap music, 2009 has been both utterly depressing and magnificently awe-inspiring. Through the years, music has slowly become more and more diverse but also more and more fragmented. That fact has never felt more palpable than now. Think about it: in 2019, what will we think of 2009? A decade from now, what song from 2009 will we be able to say “Now THAT was our song”? What song will come on the radio unexpectedly in 2019 (if we still even have radios by then) and unite us all in head-nodding, booty-shaking, lyric-mouthing merriment? It’s a scary thought to think that 2009 might not have contributed anything more to the collective hip-hop canon (if we still even have that by 2019) than Drake’s “Best I Ever Had.”
On the other hand, this fragmentation has led to a ton of really great music. Since we aren’t buying records en masse anymore, most artists kind of stopped giving a fuck about scoring radio hits and have taken rap into bold new territories. DJ Quik busted out the world music crates. Mos Def crafted a cohesive album with approximately one and a half hooks altogether. Gucci Mane came up with 1,000 synonyms for his jewelry. Ghostface Killah formally legitimated the art of “Rap & Bullshit.” Some kids from LA revived hyphy while doing the Running Man backwards in bright skinny jeans. Fuck, even Soulja Boy started experimenting with backpack rap. Yes, God exists. And he’s got his swag turned on.
But before we jump into this “Best Of” list, an editorial note: this is one moonlighting critic’s personal taste in rap, which carries with it plenty of limitations. Not the least of which is time and energy. Try as I might, it takes special circumstances for any one person to really keep up with rap. This is not at all a definitive list. It’s merely a jumping off point to share good music with you. Actually, I’m hoping fellow Jezebel Music rap head, Matt, tells me I’m completely full of shit and then clues me in on everything I missed. And I hope you do the same for me too. (For “The Best Rap Albums of 2009: Part 1” go here.)
5. Juicy J | Hustle Till I Die
For Three 6 Mafia, 2009 was the year that the group went back its horrorcore roots (after all, “Three 6” = “666”). DJ Paul released an album called Scale-A-Ton. Juicy J dropped Hustle Till I Die. Imagine about 15 variations on the main theme from The Exorcist. Then set that to Southern rap drum programming. That’s the meat of Juicy J’s album. This is dark, heavy gothic crunk full of dissonance, minor chords and keys, ominous strings, and a level of aggression that, rather than letting up, usually only intensifies. Juicy J is an extremely dynamic producer. His beats frequently mutate mid-song into more exciting – albeit more grotesque – abominations. “My Niggaz” slows from an energetic bounce to a menacing, sledgehammer-like thump. The minimalistic “Purple Kush” consists of little more than some tinny drums, pulsating bass, and incessant chanting…until the second verse when guest rapper Gorilla Zoe raps through a bass-heavy voice filter…and then the third verse when grim church organs creep in, turning a relatively fun weed track into something wholly unsettling. Hustle Till I Die will get you amped to beat the crap out of someone and use their blood in a demonic ritual.
More on The Best Rap Albums of 2009: Part 2