Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Public Enemy (damn right, I reviewed it!!)

So, you may be asking yourself, is there anyone in the USA less qualified to review PUBLIC ENEMY's new album than a suburban white guy with three kids, drives a white Minivan with those stick figure decals of his family, and whose most recent posts included DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE and DEPECHE MODE? But I will counter with four specific anecdotes as credentials;

1) I have actually played pool with FLAVOR FLAV. At the release party for their Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age record at the Hollywood Athletic Club. He kicked me ass by the way.

2) I have interviewed Professor Griff for my defunct radio show in college. He was not what I expected and, to this day, his intelligence and thoughtfulness is still somewhat shocking.

3) Chuck D signed my copy of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back without questioning why a geeky kid like me even owned the record in first place.

4) I was present for their opening act stint for U2 in Arizona when they played two songs and walked off the stage. I think I was one of maybe twenty people in the audience who knew why they did it.

(shout out to my friend Scott who was present for all four of these events.)

So now that we have established my cred, here are my thoughts about Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp, PE's first record in 5 years. From the opening salvo of "Run Till It's Dark" it is obvious that even 25 years into their career, Chuck D is still one of the fiercest Mc's on the planet. The vitriol and the anger are present just like they were all those years ago. The title track recycles a phrase from prior work and hints of some older beats to reclaim Public Enemy's mantle as the sound of old school hip hop. The first single, "I Shall Not Be Moved", takes a simple bass line and live drum beats to give D room to hit the lyrics hard. Yes, he's older, making references to working the senior circuit, but Chuck still has the right tone for his message. Musically, the group has expanded it's sound to include more live musicians since Terminator X, the architect of their original sound, is no longer with the group. There is a lot of funk references throughout, including the groovy "Get It In" and the horn driving "Fassfood". The album closer is the truly odd "WTF?" which takes a pretty straight forward guitar lick and rock structure and gives Chuck a new tone to work with. Here the rapper attacks the Tea Party and other government structures to address the still huge gap between the have and have nots.

The biggest difference between this album and other Public Enemy records is the noticeable absence of Flavor Flav. Relegated to a side man, Flav seems to be the odd man out of the record. Normally, he would get a song or two to lead the charge (most notable "911 Is a Joke"), but maybe his reality star career got in the way. "WTF?" is the closest to a showcase but even his verses seem lackluster. Flav, you used to be a sly comic, now your slipping. Work harder son, work harder.

There is a lot to like about this album is you like Public Enemy's previous work. Rumor has it this is the first of two albums to be released this year. If that's true then even after 25 years, Public Enemy is still going strong. And all of us are better off for it.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Perfect Pop Song (Part 23)

My wife and I were lamenting the loss of music videos the other day. With MTV and VH1 no longer featuring music, videos are now almost exclusively an on-line phenomenon. This is a shame since you might miss out on videos that are unique and interesting. Here is one I missed that would have been a huge hit if they still played them on TV. One top of that, DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE'S 'Underneath the Sycamores" is a great pop song:

Friday, July 06, 2012

Fionna Apple is Back to Break Our Heart

FIONA APPLE markets crazy better than anyone we have encountered in a long time. As famous for her idiosyncrasies as she is for her music, Apple has re-emerged from her cocoon to produce a new record of pain and catharsis entitled "The Idler Wheel..." (The whole title is 23 words long). What is undeniable is Apple's talent as a singer and songwriter.

From the opening piano strokes of "Every Single Night", Apple establishes the mood of the record as one of late night lamenting of lost love and the pain that comes with it. "Daredevil" is an open letter to herself as she goes back and forth about returning to her lover who has clearly wronger her. The way Apple stops and starts the music as a shift from the verse to the chorus is a jarring effect that deepens the mood. "Valentine" opens like a funeral dirge with Apple warbling just above a whisper like a late night torch singer in a half empty piano bar. "Jonathan" is full of scratches and scrapes in the background as if the author is stuck in the street gearing up to say all the things she has kept pent up for years. The centerpiece of the record comes with the almost traditional sounding "Werewolf", which is the most pop thing on the album. "Werewolf" is the trademark Apple sound all grown up but eerily similar to NORAH JONES in sound. Lyrically, the song lays out the destruction of a relationship and how it's probably best they go their separate ways. The listener is so emotionally spent by the time the closer "Hot Knife" comes, one wonders if this is a record that can only be absorbed on occasion. "Hot Knife" is a little more upbeat than the rest of the album but even it's off kilter drum patterns and school children backing vocals can't escape the despair.

Apple is so unique that getting an album from her every five or so years is just about right. The journey is so specific to her world and her vision, that more output would spoil our view of her. We need her to go away long enough to forget just how special she is.

(mp3) Fiona Apple -- Werewolf     

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy 4th of July

Fireworks are the best. Here DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE put on the best display I have ever seen live!!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Returning to the Mission of Burma

Some bands get famous long after they have gone. Some bands get famous then go away, come back and get more interesting. Then there is MISSION OF BURMA, who were interesting, got famous after they broke up and then got back together to make great new music.

Coming from Boston in the the late 70's, Mission of Burma blasted onto the punk scene with distorted greatness that ushered in the post-punk, more experimental era of underground music. they had a minor hit with "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" and released one brilliant ep and one epic album before calling it a day. But a funny thing happened on the road to oblivion. Late 90's artists as diverse and NIRVANA and MOBY started name dropping these guys as influences. Voila! the band was reborn.

Rather than trade on their limited cache as Alt Rock godfathers, the foursome strarted recording new records in 2002 and have now unleashed their latest "Unsound" on the world. Mission of Burma sounds are not for everyone, if you have any sort of pop sensitivity then stay the hell away from this. But if you like the sound of bands living on the edge between rock and chaos, then snap this record up quick.

Whether it is the clattering noise collection of "This is Hi-Fi" or the dark bass heavy mediation of "Semi-Pseudo-Soft Of-Plan" the Burmas have clear idea of how to incite emotion in their music. When they do settle for some melody, as in the almost hooky "Second Television", it is almost shocking. This set of songs doesn't have the polish of the other post punk legends WIRE, but does have similar vitriol. It's as if the band is trying to set all the neophytes straight about how to create experimental music. BLOC PARTY aspired to this sound on their first couple of records before succumbing to their dance instincts, which is a shame. Most bands wish they could construct music this edgy, such as the anthemic "Part the Sea", but don't have the guts. MISSION OF BURMA don't care about selling records, they have already established themselves as one of the best bands few people have heard of. Take the risk, get the record, and revel in the madness.

Dust-Devil can be downloaded for free via Soundcloud.