Friday, November 23, 2007

[022] Odelay

Album: Odelay
Artist: Beck
Release Date: June 1996
Label: DGC/Geffen
Producers: Beck & The Dust Brothers (Mike Simpson & John King), with Mario Caldato Jr., Brian Paulson, Tom Rothrock & Rob Schnapf

“I can’t believe my way back when
My Cadillac pants going much too fast
Karaoke weekend at the suicide shack
Community service and I’m still the mack”
- from “Hotwax”

The 1990's were the decade of attention deficit disorder, with the complete entertainment takeover of the MTV-style jump-cut edit, ruining a portion of a generation of youth with trouble getting through a magazine article, let alone a book. Information was scattered out to the world in compressed snippets with skewed angles, and the surface became more commercially essential than the substance. At first glance, Beck was the best artistic representation of this cultural movement (which has only increased in power since), but he thankfully had way too much depth to stay the peg in that hole. With the record label feeding frenzy that blew up in the wake of Lollapalooza and Grunge, and the subsequent rise of the Alternative Nation, the world was faced with a new age of One-Hit Wonders, ones that weren't necessarily faceless studio Pop creations. You had 'real' bands that were tasting fleeting success that disappeared faster than anyone predicted, and Beck, like fellow demented-genius survivors Radiohead, looked like he'd be the next discarded new face after Mellow Gold's other singles didn't follow "Loser" to the Top 40. So when Beck started to throw Odelay together, he realized that there were some key adjustments he was going to have to make in order to stick around and really make his 15 minutes last.

He saw the increased emphasis placed on the exterior, the glamour, so he ditched the bum/busking folk singer look from Mellow Gold, and reinvented himself as a thrift-store fashion plate, the coolest guero in the barrio, the funkiest man-boy you ever seen bust a move, sliding onto stages worldwide doing the robot, decked out in western shirts with ascots, or seersucker suits, or sequenced cowboy get-ups. He also knew that if he wanted people to get on his side, he needed to play up the fun quotient, so he re-molded himself as a cross between "Cold Sweat"-era James Brown and a televangelist, busting his mad moves with abandon whether he was embarrassing himself or not, giving high fives to the Catskills and shouting out denim kingpins of the 80’s (“Ooh-la-la Sassoon! Sergio Valente! Jordache turns it out!) He took himself out of the role of the inadvertent frat-house-approved Loser with a one-stop shopping angst anthem, did a twirl and a Soul Brother #1 split, and transformed himself into the ultimate party starter for anyone who wanted to shake what their momma’s gave ‘em; but more than that, it was a gift to the kids, the freaks on the fringe, stuck in a time when everything on their radio was gray – Beck brought the Technicolor.

The word on the development of Odelay is that it was originally going to be a somber collection of folk songs inspired by recent deaths in Beck’s life, produced by the Mellow Gold tandem of Rothrock & Schnapf, but he ditched this template to go in search of a more upbeat sound, saving only the elegant “Ramshackle” to close the album. When he met and immediately clicked with Cali production duo The Dust Brothers, famous sonic architects on the Beastie Boys’ underappreciated opus, Paul’s Boutique, Beck knew they would be the men to help him captain his ship to a new land that rejected no artistic impulse. Witnessing the Beastie Boys’ resurgence and rebirth into being as much a cornerstone of the Alternative world as the Hip-Hop one, Beck and the Dust Bros. used the Boys’ taste for eclectic styles on Check Your Head and Ill Communication as aesthetic guidelines, and begun crafting an album that was a natural progression from Mellow Gold, instead of a holding pattern of Anti-Folk and novelty Rap breaks. Right from the starting line, the bluesy riff of “Devil’s Haircut” is more in sharp focus than Beck had ever been, with the broken rhythms slipping in a vague air of the Swinging London of the mid-to-late 60’s that Austin Powers would parody just a year later.

On the surface, riding in with the fanfare of Brady Bunch choruses and choreography, pimping the bassline from The Beatles’ “Taxman” to set the roof on fire, it could be misconstrued as kitsch and gimmick for kitsch and gimmick’s sake, but this was the “New Pollution”, as they put it, a movement of people itching to hang that flannel in the back of the closet and get down, people that grew up with short attention spans, who craved new aural pleasures and didn’t care what part of the galaxy they came from. Odelay was the perfect album for its time, songs that could best be described as junk music, the percussion of the apathetic “Derelict” sounding like just a bunch of shit rolling around in a trunk when a car hits a bump in the road, Beck and the Dust Bros. cast as vultures scavenging the remains of music and culture for tasty morsels to satisfy their insatiable appetites for the type of sounds that make you want to jump up and down in glee. The filthy funk of live highlight “Novacane” is a battle rap at its core, but couldn’t have been made without the Pixies or Sonic Youth either. Special mention must be made of the live band that Beck drafted for the lengthy Odelay tour. They had his back for all his Looney Tunes antics, whether it was animal masks or popping and locking or the electric slide. The airtight rhythm section of drummer Joey Waronker and future Ima Robot bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen were the motor of one of the best live bands of the decade, and the multi-talented Smokey Hormel on guitar and Roger Manning Jr. on keyboards didn't hurt either.

Beck wasn’t the only artist like this, he was just the most visible and the most devoted to the Pop craft of it; he moved in time with artists such as Tricky, Björk, DJ Shadow, Moby, Perry Farrell, and The Chemical Brothers (who originally called themselves The Dust Brothers in tribute), following the lead of chameleons like David Bowie and Prince, coming off like the post-Hip-Hop Bob Dylan, packing Odelay with every quick left turn he could make, from the warped chitlin circuit Soul of “Hotwax”, complete with distorted harmonica, slide guitar, and, um, polka accordion, to the lazy meditation of “Readymade”, blending discordant indie guitar with flecks of Bossa Nova and a Roots Reggae gait. Even the psychedelic Funk of the “Hotwax” outro can expand your mind, “the enchanting Wizard of Rhythm” performing his magic in only 30 seconds.

Beck has yet to make an album this broad in scope again; he mostly resigns to filter all his songwriting for one period through a single, stylistic portal derived from the a songs on Odelay, whether it be the Parsons/Stones Country of “Lord Only Knows” or the stripped-bare Punk of “Minus”. It’s hard sometimes as an artist to try and live up to the special things you might have created in the past, and I for one wouldn’t want to be Beck trying to make another “Sissyneck” or “Where It’s At” or “Jack-Ass”. “Sissyneck” is basically a blues song plastered with surrealist post-Beat poetry (like most of the record), a grimy breakdown of a beat, and a redneck twang just to keep it interesting, Beck funking in up, trying to tell you something about smoke machines, a rhinestone life, and everybody knowing his name at the recreation center, offering a masterful summation of Odelay’s genre fusion. A glistening, Summery ballad, “Jack-Ass” is one of those great Pop recycling jobs, like The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” or Jay-Z’s “Takeover”, built entirely from the scraps of another song, in this case, Them’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. Beck drifts along, just as he says, singing plainly that “it’s a strange invitation”, then drifting back out on his burro, playing his harmonica. When he returns, he flies on the wings of the epochal “Where It’s At”, building its megaphone fiesta for no boundaries and all parties, the jigsaw jazz and the get-fresh flow melting over smooth electric piano and horns, Beck putting his show-stopping foot forward, rocking the party, and proving that, while two turntables and a microphone are good to have, all it takes to get through to an A.D.D. nation is to speak their language.

01. "Devil's Haircut"
02. "Hotwax"
03. "Lord Only Knows"
04. "The New Pollution"
05. "Derelict"
06. "Novacane"
07. "Jack-Ass"
08. "Where It's At"
09. "Minus"
10. "Sissyneck"
11. "Readymade"
12. "High 5 (Rock The Catskills)"
13. "Ramshackle"

"Devil's Haircut" [live at the 1997 Bizarre Festival]

"The New Pollution" [live at the 1997 Bizarre Festival]

"Where It's At" [live on Saturday Night Live, 01.97]

"High 5 (Rock The Catskills)" [live at the 1997 Bizarre Festival]

- BONUS: "Devil's Haircut" [video]
- BONUS: "Devil's Haircut" [live on French TV, 11.96]
- BONUS: "Hotwax" [live on MuchMusic, 06.96]
- BONUS: "Lord Only Knows" [live in London, 09.03]
plus some "Hot In Herre" and "One Foot In The Grave"
- BONUS: "The New Pollution" [video]
- BONUS: "Derelict" [live at the 1997 Bizarre Festival]
- BONUS: "Novacane" [live, 11.96]
- BONUS: "Jack-Ass" [live on Sessions At West 54th, 08.97]
- BONUS: "Jack-Ass" [live at the 1997 Bizarre Festival]
- BONUS: "Where It's At" [single edit - video]
- BONUS: "Where It's At" [live on MuchMusic, 06.96]
- BONUS: "Where It's At" [live at the 1997 Grammy Awards]
- BONUS: "Where It's At" [live on Austin City Limits, 2002??]
with The Flaming Lips on the back-up
- BONUS: "Minus" [live at the 1997 Bizarre Festival]
- BONUS: "Sissyneck" [live on MuchMusic, 06.96]
- BONUS: "Ramshackle" [live on MuchMusic, 06.96]

Thursday, November 22, 2007

[Special] Homework, Part 2

As I didn't actually write a "real" entry, and instead went the theme route, for Daft Punk's Homework, it was a pleasant surprise to get this email from my brother Ian, the same who was featured in the original entry, and was the person to inspire the album's inclusion. He's written a brilliant piece that I am now considering an official part of the list; look at it like a guest appearance, my hit duet. Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving.

An addendum to Daft Punk's Homework:

In the history of electronic music there have been noticeably few acts to gain any serious recognition. (Seriously, try to name 30 great electronic acts and you will be pulling for straws and including instrumental composers like David Axelrod, or sound collage artists like DJ Shadow, who are inappropriately categorized as electronic). That doesn't mean that electronic, or more generally "dance", music hasn't become ubiquitous, and reached a high standard of quality, in recent years. Its just that the genre is dominated by one hit wonders and complete nobodies - I have personally googled the names of several artists' (who had a great song on a mixtape) only to find no record of their existence outside of the track listing for album on which I found their song. The result is what you find on the shelves of record store dance music sections; thousand of mixtapes, with hardly a familiar name among them; personally I have never known how to choose between them (the names are normally so completely retarded, e.g. Ultra Trans European Free Energy Mix 6). I have relied upon "listening station" previews more for electronic music purchases than for any other genre.

There are a few simple explanations for this phenomenon. First, that the DJ's capture so much of the limelight. Second, and related, that the electronic musician is almost never performing the track live (the dance floor and DJ replace the club and live band). Third, that some artists gravitate towards electronic music in search of success with anonymity (the subject band also being desperate to protect their true identity). The point is, if you were to assemble a list of the top 100 electronic songs of all time (or the last 20 years as the case may be) it would be populated with names who are associated only with that one great song. (This is likely true of other genres as well... but not like this). If you STILL think there isn't much to my point, type "top 100 dance songs on itunes" into google and see how many artist names you associate with a body of work. You will, however, recognize the names of the songs... and probably the fact that you haven't heard of the band since they released it.

I propose an alternative, if not freakish, explanation for this phenomenon; that so many of the greatest electronic songs of all time are accidents. More specifically, so many of the best electronic songs of all time are the result of someone accidentally touching a button, or twisting a knob, and having some unbelievable noise they could never have actually thought of, coming out of their sampler ("Dude, tell me you were recording that... loop it!"). If you think back to the many electronic one hit wonders, you will rediscover so may of these accidents. One catchy loop, one great noise... a blip of brilliance, probably set within a mediocre song... and alas, an act never to be heard from again. Dirty Vegas - "Days Go By", Eiffel 65 - "Blue", Darude - "Sandstorm", Iio - "Rapture", Alice DeeJay - "Do You Think You're Better off Alone", Faithless - "Insomniac"... all chart toppers... all forgotten acts.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing negative about these kinds of accidents. The thing is that they are very difficult to replicate (intentionally), and so most acts only get one... maybe two if they are lucky.


Daft Punk gained its most early notoriety with a track that, at the time, must have seemed like just another happy accident; not that it stopped people from heading to the dance floor. As legend tells it, "Da Funk" made its way into the Chemical Brothers' (then Dust Brothers) weekly DJ set at The Social in London in 1995 and gave the band its first taste of success. The second half of that legendary track features what I personally regard as the greatest noise ever recorded in the history of electronic music; among those who know the track, reference to "The Sound" is generally sufficient to reach an understanding. Without "The Sound", this might just be a really good song. It would probably make its way onto a lot of mixtapes... and you probably would have never heard of it, or Daft Punk. With its legendary "Sound" looping for the final 3 minutes of the track, however, it is not only great, but one of the most famous electronic songs of all time (you could argue it the best and get respect). I guess the question is whether the sound was just a happy accident? You'd probably think so if you died not knowing what happened next.

The success of "Da Funk", and another early single "Rollin and Scratchin", were sufficient to raise interest and funding for a full length album. In accepting the challenge of doing an LP (which many an electronic artist have turned down, see the wikipedia entry on Daft Punk side project Stardust), Daft Punk was to be put to the test. Was the "sound" a one-time lucky use of a low-pass filter and TB 303 (thats the recipe by the way)... or an intentional grasp for immortality?

Answer: Either Daft Punk was somehow 16 times as lucky as any other band in history (getting 16 legendary happy accidents in a row, without a miss), or they are the greatest electronic band of all time. If you saw their tour this summer you know. Its all intentional. There is no luck here. The only reason some of Homework's more obscure tracks are not thought of as historic blockbusters in their own right is that an album only gets so many singles. If the 5 least of Homework's tracks had been the singles I am confident the album would have achieved nearly comparable success.

"Da Funk", the track which so perfectly encapsulates why this electronic band is superior to all of their competitors, contains all of 10 noises total. Think: The bass, the loop that introduces the song, the rhythmic synth chord, The Sound, and about 5 drum sounds... Thats pretty much the whole recipe. It conjures greatness from this bare nothing... leaving no chance for any sound to be anything less than the perfect sound in that moment.

The rest of Homework, which need not being discussed at length, is similarly capable. Count the number of independent samples in any of Homework's songs and they hardly surpass a dozen. There is hardly any sequencing (verses, chorus) to speak of. No guest stars. Pretty much the same drum sounds (the TR-909) on every song. No song attempt at a real "song" with a vocalist. Hardly any drum breaks. Very few samples (organic sounds they didn't produce) of any significant length. Yet, somehow, when you get to the end of the 6th minute of "Around the World", you are thankful its a 7 minute song.

(Now would be a good time to call that friend who thinks he is gong to produce electronic music with that new $2,000 keyboard... the one with 1256 instruments, 990 drum kits, 87 effects, and built in recording capabilities... And ask him if he knows the greatest band in the history of electronic music used no more than 12 samples per song, and the same drums on all, in their first and greatest album to date).

Re-read the paragraph where I list the things that Homework doesn't include or attempt to do (it begins with "The rest of Homework..."). What is left? What is it? Why can't you make a song that good? Why can't the 1,000's of kids who spend every pay check on new vinyl, and to whom you are losing your edge, make a song this good? You know that the piece of shit $20 dj-electronic music program they sell at Target, or Best Buy?... the one on the same shelf as other forgettable computer crap like "The Sims" and "iPod Doctor"... the one you don't buy because you don't believe learning will allow you to make anything of value...? That piece of shit program is more than capable of producing this album. Said otherwise, Daft Punk is so good that they could have produced this album on that commercialized kiddie techno piece of shit program. And the rest of us keep saving up for that new $2,500 Moog...

I give up. Other than being understood as pure and utter genius, this album defies all logical explanation.

(That this band has proved capable of translating the above referenced simplicity into what is the greatest live act in the world, as of this writing, is further evidence of the phenomenon that is Daft Punk).
[Ian Rasmussen]

Just for Ian, "Da Funk" from the show he attended this past August at Brooklyn's Keyspan Park. I can tell you that having gone to see Ted Leo only a few days later, the aftermath was incredible. It wasn't just overheard conversations and dozens of DP t-shirts, it was Ted Leo slipping "One More Time" into his set. 2007 was Daft Punk's year for sure - "Close Encounters of the Daft Punk Kind. Concerto for Human and Robots in Electro Major."
"Da Funk" [live in Brooklyn, 08.07]

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

[023] Disintegration

Album: Disintegration
Artist: The Cure
Release Date: May 1989
Label: Elektra
Producers: Robert Smith & David M. Allen

"Disintegration is the best album ever!!"
- Kyle Broflovski, from the South Park episode "Mecha Streisand"

The sun actually peaked itself out from behind the gray sheet today. Lately, New York has been looking a lot like London, and I can tell you that it’s affected my work. Did you see how late that Outkast entry went up yesterday? Let me tell you, Robert Smith didn’t help either. I climb in my car to go to work yesterday, already in a down mood, everything is cold and damp and misty, and I pop Disintegration into my car stereo. Man, I looked like Eeyore by the time I got to work (and that’s only fifteen minutes drive-time), shuffling into my office and barely mustering a weak “Mornin’” to my co-workers. As far as the sort of gloom that The Cure are known for, they really couldn’t be from anywhere but the UK. It’s just in the bones. And what’s funny is that the paramount of the ‘Cure sound’, the moist, oh-so-Anglo moodpiece Disintegration, is a sore thumb on their resumé. After 1982’s Goth-fest, Pornography, Smith’s songwriting kept moving towards playful Pop even as he was painted as the Goth poster boy; from singles like “Let’s Go To Bed” and “The Lovecats”, to “Close To Me” and
“Inbetween Days” on Head On The Door, then “Why Can’t I Be You” and the perfection of “Just Like Heaven” from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. And after Disintegration, he was right back at it on Wish, which featured the downright pleasant “High” and “Friday I’m In Love”. So what the fuck happened, Robert?? You can’t tell me all this misery comes from staring down 30, or from having to sack Lol Tolhurst, the only other original member left in the band. Either way, I think it points to the obvious – Robert Smith is a genius with heartache, cuz whether he puts it in the lyrics or not, it comes through in everything, from his infamous pained vocal delivery, to the icy downpour of Roger O’Donnell’s synthetic string sections, and the waves of guitars from Smith and Porl Thompson.

Why is Disintegration like the 2001 monolith, dropped on an unaware world, driving us to drink or look for the razors? OK, maybe I’m overdoing it, because there are a few flashes of light on the album, but they’re fleeting, and the album is a very expansive 72 minutes. Musically, “Love Song”, still the band’s biggest US hit, could be a lost Doors ballad, but Jim Morrison was never this humble, with Robert Smith producing one of the saddest vocal performances of his 30-year career, his devoted chorus betrayed by the pure despair dragging him down. The intertwining guitar formations of “Fascination Street” tower above the propulsive bass of Simon Gallup, the linchpin of The Cure’s rumble and blast, obscuring one of Smith’s most explicitly sexy prayers; beneath the shimmering blizzard of six-string snow, he lasciviously purrs “If you open your mouth, then I can’t be responsible for quite what goes in, or to care what comes out.” The Kafka-esque surrealist horror of “Lullaby” opens as dour as the rest of the songs until you listen to the clipped rhythm, uncharacteristically clean and sharp in contrast with the rest of the record, with faint hints of new Rap curiosity, and brilliantly “plucked” synth strings courtesy of the ARP String Ensemble, that most special of synthesizers. The SE, made by Sonoria in the late 70’s, was made famous by Pink Floyd, Herbie Hancock, and Elton John, but The Cure uses it the way Joy Division used it; it may house a full orchestra in its 49 keys, but they like it for its full, yet frigid chime, not unlike side two of David Bowie’s Low. It’s actually fitting that the slow, deliberate “Plainsong” opens the album with chimes and breaking glass, sounding like freezing rain hitting steel, recalling Joy Division’s gorgeous “Atmosphere” - Disintegration isn’t just The Cure’s best album. It’s the possibilities of Joy Division’s legacy fulfilled, through the veiled obsessions and finality of the elemental “Pictures Of You”, and the organic longing and regret of “Untitled”; Disintegration is the classic album Joy Division might have made if Ian Curtis had stuck around for another decade.

The rest of the album was the new sanctuary of misery for the heavy-eyeliner set, a place to get swallowed by the shadows and hide from the world. One of The Cure’s best songs, “Prayers For Rain” starts the second half of the album with a wash of layered synths, O’Donnell scoring hopelessness and deterioration like the tender moments of a Terminator film; his strings divebomb each other, flying kamikaze into ringing guitar phrases and backward organ gloss. On
“Closedown”, he erects dominant keyboard statues only the 1980’s could love, leaving only enough room for one verse from Smith, but revealing the slow-motion power of this edition of The Cure, all the whirlpool beauty you could ask for. “Homesick” makes it past the three-minute mark before the lyrics hit, allowing the bluesy piano and guitar static to stretch out like the webs of the spider in “Lullaby”. With the tar-pit-pace of the 9-minute “Same Deep Water As You”, Smith presents the centerpiece for Disintegration’s water and drowning theme, immersing the listener in the same blue-green world that Robert himself dwells in on the album’s cover; he comes up out of the abyss for air, only to sink back, moaning, “the very last thing before I go…” You can just imagine the colored lights cascading around the arenas of the US in the following months, thousands of new, transfixed fans witnessing the triumph of a band that was basically the anti-Guns N’ Roses. And maybe that’s why Trey Parker needed to call Disintegration the best album ever on South Park; because before this album, The Cure’s fanbase tended to skew to the feminine, but you put a loud guitar band in an arena, and the boys come running. Thankfully, Robert Smith had the songs and the smeared lipstick to suitably blow their minds. The bleak, downward spiral of the title track would be a top contender for the band’s greatest song, with Smith’s knotty infidelity narrative twisting itself into one of the greatest break-up songs of all time. This is why The Cure mean so much to so many people – because they know how it feels to hurt, and most Rock stars don’t own up to their pain. Robert Smith does though, and he puts it into great songs like the ones on Disintegration, and helps you to not feel alone, so you can remain until the sun comes out again.

01. "Plainsong"
02. "Pictures Of You"
03. "Closedown"
04. "Lovesong"
05. "Last Dance"**
06. "Lullaby"
07. "Fascination Street"
08. "Prayers For Rain"
09. "The Same Deep Water As You"
10. "Disintegration"
11. "Homesick"**
12. "Untitled"
** Not on the original vinyl version

"Pictures Of You" [live at Wembley Arena, 1991]

"Fascination Street" [single edit - video]

"Prayers For Rain" [live in Berlin, 2002]

"Disintegration" [live in Berlin, 2002]

NOTE: All the Berlin videos are from the Trilogy DVD, which features Disintegration, 1982's Pornography, and 2000's Bloodflowers all played in their entirety.

- BONUS: "Plainsong" [live in Berlin, 2002]
- BONUS: "Pictures Of You" [single edit - video]
- BONUS: "Pictures Of You" [live in Berlin, 2002]
- BONUS: "Closedown" [live in Berlin, 2002]
- BONUS: "Lovesong" [video]
- BONUS: "Lovesong" [live on the Curiosa Festival Tour, 2004]
- BONUS: "Last Dance" [live, 1989]
- BONUS: "Lullaby" [video]
- BONUS: "Lullaby" [acoustic version - video]
from the acoustic bonus disc of the 2001 Greatest Hits
- BONUS: "Lullaby" [live at Wembley Arena, 1991]
- BONUS: "Fascination Street" [live in Berlin, 2002]
- BONUS: "Prayers For Rain" [live in Switzerland, 07.02]
- BONUS: "The Same Deep Water As You" [audio]
- BONUS: "Disintegration" [live in Germany, 1990]
- BONUS: "Untitled" [live in Berlin, 2002]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

[024] Aquemini

Album: Aquemini
Artist: Outkast
Release Date: September 1998
Label: LaFace/Arista
Producers: Outkast, Organized Noize, & David "Mr. DJ" Sheats

"Thanks to them niggas that thank you soft
And say y'all be Gospel rappin'
But they be steady clappin'
When you talk about bitches and switches
And hoes and clothes
And weed - Let's talk about
Time travelin'
Rhyme javelin
Somethin' mind unraveling
Get down!"
- Andre Benjamin, from "Return Of The 'G'"

"Niggas in The South wear gold teeth and gold chains
Been doing it for years, so these niggas ain't gon' change...
You might slang a rock or two just to pay the rent
Five dollars for a table dance, so now your money's spent
You listen to that booty shake music in your trunk
As long as there's that tic tic followed by that bump...
You might call us country but we's only Southern
And I don't give a fuck, P-Funk spark up another'n"
- Big Boi, from "West Savannah"

If you ask a Hip-Hop fan what the most important period in the music’s history is, most might say some time in 1987 or ’88, or possibly sometime in late 1993 or 1994. But the correct answer is September 1998. That month is the official commercial arrival of Hip-Hop, its transcendence from a (very mainstream) niche genre to being a major player in the musical business. The first reason why was the release of Lauryn Hill’s first solo album, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, which blurred the lines between Hip-Hop, R&B, and Pop music, and was the first Hip-Hop album to win the Grammy award for “Album of the Year”. The second reason is the sales week beginning Tuesday, September 29. There were three major Hip-Hop albums released on that day, and when the sales figures were in six days later, those three albums debuted in the top three spots on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. That was something that had not happened before. Outkast’s third album, Aquemini, debuted at #2, nestled between Jay-Z’s massive breakthrough, Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life at #1, and the farewell from A Tribe Called Quest, The Love Movement at #3. Of the three, Aquemini is by far the best album, and as time went on, it became the most significant. Admittedly, this wasn’t the Atlanta duo’s chart emergence, as their previous album, 1996’s ATLiens, had also debuted in the 2-spot, but that was mostly on the strength of their South-Eastern following. This time out, the whole country was listening. Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and Andre Benjamin were smart enough to predict this though, slipping in a perfect sample at the end of the album’s closing track,
“Chonkyfire”. Taken from the 1995 Source Awards, that infamous award show where the Death Row/Bad Boy feud popped off, the sample was of the perplexed presenters giving the award for Best New Rap Group to “Outkast??”, Andre assuring the crowd that The South had something to say. On Aquemini, they said it all better than they had or would.

Aquemini is both the tipping point for Outkast as a creative entity, and for Southern Hip-Hop as a whole. Up until this point, the center of Southern Hip-Hop had been Houston, Texas, home to Scarface & The Geto Boys, UGK, and others. Luke and 2 Live Crew had also been kicking around Florida for a minute. But since late 1993, The Dungeon Family - Outkast, Goodie Mob, and others – had been making in-roads to Hip-Hop’s national consciousness, recalibrating Atlanta, GA as the headquarters of Dirty South Hip-Hop. Aquemini blew the doors off the hinges, putting Southern Hip-Hop firmly on the map as an art as opposed to just as dancefloor filler. Most any Southern rapper in the last decade will tell you that Aquemini was that moment when they knew it was all possible for them, their whole region; it's the record that they all have in their collections. Outkast is very much related to Southern Hip-Hop the way early Allman Brothers is connected to the Southern Rock they inspired, pioneers so far beyond the rest of the field. As they celebrate The South, they also pick apart all of its flaws, and therein lies the great theme of Aquemini. It’s a dark, brooding record for the most part, with a hard and worrisome core, “sweating out all the problems and troubles of the day”, as Andre puts it on the album’s best track, the 7-minute
“SpottieOttieDopaliscious”. That song itself sounds like The South, humid funk dubbed out to rattle your trunk, the city-boy cousin to the Allmans’ rural classic “Dreams”, fitted with marching band horns, the boys telling tales more so than rapping (he says later, “Niggas on that Gil-Scott dope, hint hint”), and Sleepy Brown putting down one hell of a Curtis Mayfield impression. Big Boi’s effortless verse glides from dreaming of his baby’s mama to the complex responsibilities of being a parent:

One moment you frequent the booty clubs
And the next four years you and somebody’s daughter
Raising y’all own young’n – now that’s a beautiful thang
That’s if you’re on top of your game
And man enough to handle real life situations that is
Can’t gamble feeding baby on that dope money
Might not always be sufficient
But the United Parcel Service and the people at the Post Office
Didn’t call you back because you had cloudy piss
So now you back in the trap, just that – trapped
Go on and marinate on that for a minute.

They address these types of issues in a local way, knowing that even though they might be speaking on it so their Georgia folk can relate, the problems are age-old in the ghettos and lower-middle class areas of Anytown, USA. In attempting to approach those everyday problems from ‘round the way, Outkast revisit the socially conscious Soul of the 1970’s; the heyday of Curtis Mayfield’s debut and Superfly, the jazzy, orchestral soul of Marvin Gaye's What’s Going On, the synthesizer excursions of peak-era Stevie Wonder, and even the earthy rebellion of Bob Marley & The Wailers. “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” remains one of the duo’s essential statements, sonically and lyrically, always overlooked in favor of the hits – you know ‘em – but none of them other hits namecheck Big Daddy Kane’s “Set It Off” or describe their girl’s fragrance as “smelling sweeter than a plate of yams with extra syrup”. Say word!!

It’s the first of a few tracks that are evidence that Outkast was definitely checking out the Trip-Hop sounds coming from the UK. The most obvious examples are the 9-minute “Liberation” and the title track, the latter all echoing rimshots and shimmering jazz-funk guitar; the song also succeeds as the perfect bridge from the cold space explorations of ATLiens to the new, more damp Outkast sound. The resilience and individuality mission statement of
“Liberation” sounds like a sequel to Massive Attack’s “Protection”, but substitutes Tracey Thorn with the spiritual fire of Cee-Lo and Erykah Badu; there are so many vocal lines dancing around each other, it’s good to have the jazz piano in there to anchor the track. “Return Of The ‘G’” is soaked in depressed hum, adorned in harp, while the two part “Da Art Of Storytellin’” proves just how far the duo’s class has come; on the first part, Andre tells the tragic overdose story of “Sasha Thumper” over a irrepressible bounce, while the gothic second part features Andre comparing Mother Earth to a rape victim and Big Boi growing paranoid, fearing for his family’s safety now that he has money. On the kinetic “Skew It On The Bar-B” and “Synthesizer”, Outkast reach back to early 80’s Electro, with George Clinton revisiting his Computer Games period.

Even on what could be the lesser tracks, Outkast pull something special out of their many guests. “Slump” could be just another faceless party rap, but they lay down a melodic funk groove reminiscent of The Isley Brothers, and point the way towards their Idlewild future, with Big Boi pushing Backbone and especially Cool Breeze to excellent verses, Breeze promoting putting his earnings back into the neighborhood. “West Savannah” moves backward, revisiting their debut, but it remains a highlight just from the way Big Boi lovingly gives a crash course on being a young black man in The South. “Mamacita” collides Massive Attack’s
“Bristol Sound” with hints of Houston’s “Screwed” scene, painting the dozens of grill-flashing fools around today with, at least, hopelessly short vision. The rappers that love the album are mercilessly revealed as the caricatures they are, even as Outkast has continued to host a lot of them on their albums over the years. The hilarious record store skit illustrates the ignorance of even the duo's fanbase, their preconceptions smashed by the groundbreaking hoedown-in-space of "Rosa Parks", the other best song on the album. Besides probably being the first time you ever heard the word 'crunk' on MTV or the radio, the song blasts the stagnant originality in Hip-Hop with its backwoods bounce, harmonica breakdown, and hydra-headed guitar arrangement. And on the closer,
“Chonkyfire”, the Hendrix-fried riffs are welded to the beat, pointing directly toward Stankonia and its opener “Gasoline Dreams”. Andre says that it “gets no weirder”, and ha, how little did he know how weird it was about to get. But Aquemini is where Outkast woke up, a beast unleashed from an underappreciated region; Big Boi even says on the Dungeon Family posse cut “Y’all Scared”, that “even though we got two albums, this one feels like the beginning”. Outkast galvanized The South’s hopes for equality in one 70-minute statement, and oh boy, did they get their wish in spades?

01. “Hold On, Be Strong” [interlude]
02. “Return Of The ‘G’”
- Record Store skit/interlude
03. “Rosa Parks”
- "Skew It On The Bar-B" intro
04. “Skew It On The Bar-B” [feat. Raekwon]
05. “Aquemini”
- "Synthesizer" intro
06. “Synthesizer” [feat. George Clinton]
- Expensive Weed skit/interlude
07. “Slump” [feat. Backbone & Cool Breeze]
- "West Savannah" intro
08. “West Savannah”
- Weak Game skit/interlude
09. “Da Art Of Storytellin’ (Part 1)”
- Grandmama interlude
10. “Da Art Of Storytellin’ (Part 2)”
11. “Mamacita” [feat. Masada & Witchdoctor]
- “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” intro
12. “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” [feat. Sleepy Brown]
13. “Y’all Scared” [feat. T-Mo, Big Gipp & Khujo]
14. “Nathaniel” [interlude]
15. “Liberation” [feat. Cee-Lo, Erykah Badu & Big Rube]
16. “Chonkyfire”
- Back to the Record Store skit/interlude

"Rosa Parks" [video]

"Skew It On The Bar-B" [video]

"Da Art Of Storytellin' (Part 1)" [single version - video]
same as the album version, but adds a guest verse by Slick Rick

“SpottieOttieDopaliscious” [audio]

- BONUS: "Return Of The 'G'" [audio]
- BONUS: "Aquemini" [audio]
- BONUS: "Synthesizer" [audio]
- BONUS: "Slump" [audio]
- BONUS: "West Savannah" [audio/fan video]
- BONUS: “Da Art Of Storytellin’ (Part 2)” [audio]
- BONUS: "Mamacita" [audio]
- BONUS: "Y'all Scared" [audio]
- BONUS: "Liberation" [audio]
- BONUS: "Chonkyfire" [audio]

Monday, November 19, 2007

[025] Slanted And Enchanted

Album: Slanted And Enchanted
Artist: Pavement
Release Date: April 1992
Label: Matador
Producers: Pavement

"Can you treat it like an oil well
When it's underground, out of sight?"
- from "In The Mouth A Desert"

Honestly, what made Pavement so special?? Was it simply the stars aligning? Yeah, it kinda was. I mean, sure, they had amazing songs disguised as rough sketches, and Stephen Malkmus looked like a less vampiric Tom Verlaine, recasting the Punk Rock poster boy from the NY Bowery to the sunny hills of Cali; but there wasn't much difference between them and Sebadoh or Guided By Voices, off following Sonic Youth and R.E.M. and Hüsker Dü and The Replacements down the long American underground highway. It was an amazing case of right place, right time, that specific moment when the glory days of the 80's were breaking down like so many used tour vans, all the big names signed to major labels, leaving the independent labels mostly empty. They needed a new standard-bearer, and Matador stepped in, placing a call to the Pavement Batphone in that hallowed Stockton, CA garage. The infamous promotional cassette of Slanted & Enchanted got passed around to the right people during the summer of 1991, before Nevermind mind you, and from an enraptured Spin review more than six months before the album’s release, their legend was born, the new rumor of the post-hardcore newly-minted Alternative landscape. By the time the album actually came out, Pavement had a small but devoted audience waiting patiently for their sloppy genius.

Me? I was uneducated for all this time. I've owned Slanted for years, ya know, for completist sake, one of those "classics you must own", and I pulled it out time to time, and never really got it. And then one day, I did, and it was like a whole world had opened for me. It’s nice to know that this album can still have the same effect that it had way back then. It’s like I was saying when I was talking about TV on the Radio – I don’t have to freak out in a record store for a while, because now I can go back and buy all of Pavement’s albums and EPs and singles. That should keep me occupied for a bit. Surely their legendary status is helped by their belief in the vinyl collectors market, dropping 45’s and 10” mini-albums on your ass, hoping to be that whisper, like the 90’s version of The Sonics or The Count Five. But Slanted & Enchanted was too good to not get noticed; instead of being a one-hit wonder, Pavement made an album so good that it was like the classic Nuggets compilation was made by one band, a dusty, obscured spinning disc of mysterious, fucked-up Power-Pop that sounded like it was recorded on a cassette in a boombox.

Admittedly not being an expert in Pavement, this blog afforded me the opportunity to learn about one of the most loved bands of the 90’s. They were the definition of the “Slacker” aesthetic, which nowadays sounds like an insult, but it was still kind of a genre buzzword back in the day. I mean Stephen “S.M.” Malkmus and Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg were guitar nerds in too-big hand-me-downs, and their drummer, Gary Young, was basically a fuckin’ burnout from the 60’s, and everything you read about the band will tell you this, like it described their sound, and it sorta does. I mean I think back to my time at college radio, around 1995, and all the Pavement fans I worked with were kinda geeky but not bookworms, and they were kinda potheads but not hippies, and they were just super laidback, and so the band was definitely attracting fans like themselves. It spoke to spirit of Pavement, their style, at least better than all the critics who wanted to toss references to The Fall around. Seriously, I cracked six fat books and read a bunch of websites for this album, and every one mentions The Fall. OK, seriously, I hear it…a couple times…but fuck, calm down and come off your hipster high horse. Pavement weren’t a rip-off group. They were at least as original in their own right, if not more. And here’s a secret – Pavement was fun and Pavement had melody. Yeah, sorry, but I’d say S.M. and Spiral Stairs were listening to the Buzzcocks and Wire’s Pink Flag as much as anything by Mark E. Smith’s collective. Shit, I’d even say The Monkees and The Archies were as big an influence, and in an unironic, unsmarmy way, so suck on that, really. At the end of the day, This Nation’s Saving Grace is good and all that, but the world is going to love Pavement more, as it should be.

“Summer Babe” is one of those Indie Rock songs…wait, I have to back up. Pavement, to me, are “Indie Rock”. Even before I’d heard them, if someone said the words “indie rock”, I thought of Pavement. And it’s not just because they were on Matador instead or Warner or wherever, but it helps; and I know I’m not the only one that thinks about them like this, so I’d say they’re worth a look just from that point of view, the embodiment of a genre. OK, back to “Summer Babe” – it’s one of those classic fuzzed out Power Pop songs, maybe in an alternate world it was a Jesus & Mary Chain single or a B-Side by The Who from their early days played too slow on the wrong setting. It sets the lyrical tone for the rest of Slanted, continuing the Rock rule that lyrics are better when indecipherable and cryptic, but shit, they give you the lyrics in the liner notes and they still don’t make any sense. Malkmus knows too, cuz right before he lets out that straight-faced bellow of “you took it all”, he chuckles and shows the crack. Here in the present, so many of these songs don’t seem overly special, but that’s because this album has shaped the entirety of the fifteen years since its release. In the bouncy “Trigger Cut”, I hear dozens of young bands plugging in their guitars, and dozens of professional ones changing their minds (I’m looking in your direction, Blur)

That’s the genius of this album – it’s aimed at the kid in you. It’s the devil on your shoulder, “You can do this.” And it’s true, the whole country sprouted garage bands in the wake of Slanted just like with the Nuggets comp. Shit, if you couldn’t play “Conduit For Sale!” you weren’t trying hard enough. You can do it. In some cases you don’t even need a bass. Turn it up to 11 and blast out the lazy, steel-wool-distortion of “In The Mouth A Desert”, or the shoegazing pixie-stick of “Perfume-V”. And it wasn’t just noisy nonsense; as the album went on, the guitar playing got better, and their choice of sounds got more unique and specific. “Fame Throwa” has a bunch of guitar tangents narrowly dodging each other, with Young’s off-kilter thud and some sha-la-la’s. They had some of the best Pop songs, like the regretful “Zurich Is Stained”, the glam stomp of “Two States”, and of course the slacker power ballad “Here”. There were plenty of wonderful, dorky basement moments; the band probably had their Jonathan Richman, Violent Femmes and The Feelies filed right next to their Hüskers and The ‘Mats. Pavement were also the perfect band for your college years, because any younger than 16 or 17 and you weren’t going to get them, and any older than 25 and you were almost too mature for them. But where does that leave me now, as a certified 30-something? Well, as the show-stopper “Our Singer” comes to a close on my iTunes, it jumps to “Spit On A Stranger” from the band’s last album, 1998’s Terror Twilight, and even though it’s clean and shiny and produced in a real studio instead of in a garage, it’s still Pavement; that sun-kissed California sound stayed the same. And it shows that the band can grow with you; you don’t have to be “waitin’…anticipatin’”, like Malkmus is on “Our Singer”. If only he knew, in ’91, where he’d end up; his band would end up special, and totally deserve it.

01. "Summer Babe (Winter Version)"
02. "Trigger Cut/Wounded-Kite At :17"
03. "No Life Singed Her"
04. "In The Mouth A Desert"
05. "Conduit For Sale!"
06. "Zurich Is Stained"
07. "Chesley's Little Wrists"
08. "Loretta's Scars"
09. "Here"
10. "Two States"
11. "Perfume-V"
12. "Fame Throwa"
13. "Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era"
14. "Our Singer"

"Summer Babe" [live in London, 12.92]

"Trigger Cut" [live in Belgium, 1992]

"Here" [video]

"Perfume-V" [live at the 1992 Reading Festival]

- BONUS: "Summer Babe" [live in Cologne, 03.94]
- BONUS: "Summer Babe (Winter Version)" [audio]
- BONUS: "Trigger Cut" [live in NYC, 08.91]
- BONUS: "No Life Singed Her" [live in Belgium, 1992]
- BONUS: "In The Mouth A Desert" [live at the 1992 Reading Festival]
- BONUS: "Conduit For Sale!" [live, 1996]
- BONUS: "Zurich Is Stained" [live, 1999?]
- BONUS: "Loretta's Scars" [live in Belgium, 1992]
- BONUS: "Here" [live in Belgium, 1992]
- BONUS: "Here" [audio]
- BONUS: "Perfume-V" [live video]

Friday, November 16, 2007

[026] Grace

Album: Grace
Artist: Jeff Buckley
Release Date: August 1994
Label: Columbia
Producer: Andy Wallace

"And what do I want people to get from the music? Whatever they want...ya know, whatever you like. Somebody asked me what I wanted to do, and I just said I wanted to...just to give back to it what it's given me."
- from the Grace EPK - see 'Interview, Part 2' below

Jeff Buckley was right; it really is all about what you personally want to take from his music. Grace is such a unique experience that whatever I say about it now doesn’t really mean a thing to how you’re going to hear it. At times, I feel it’s lyrically very much in the hippie mindset, but he tempers it with the fire of 80’s hardcore; it adds up to his own brand of outward romanticism, and anyway, Jeff was against any connection to the past unless it was strictly in the music. Example: every writer under the sun wanted to compare Jeff to Led Zeppelin and Van Morrison and his father Tim, but all those scribes are stuck in the 60’s so that’s what they want to hear; besides the fact that almost every write-up for this album makes a Zeppelin reference, no one can agree on which of these songs actually sounds like the Rock Gods. Like I said – it’s different for everyone. Look, I’ve listened to this album thousands of times, and ditto for all the Zeppelin albums save for In Through The Out Door, and so just because when I listen to “So Real” I hear Sonic Youth, does that mean the critic that hears Led Zep in the same song is wrong? Nope. And I’ve never heard anyone describe “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” as Zeppelinesque, but when I listen to it, I sometimes hear hints of “The Rain Song”, so that’s one thing I personally find amongst Jeff’s stories. I’m too old now to be playing music hipster police patrol, especially with one of my favorite albums, and so I leave everyone to their own interpretations and reactions, because with an album as rewarding as Grace, anything you feel will be pure and genuine and true for you, unmarred by media spin. Grace is a gateway to a new world of music that was never finished because the creator died too soon.

Jeff Buckley was a bard, a nomad; I don’t mean that he literally wandered from place to place like Caine in Kung-Fu, but more that his musical soul was a restless one. His songs were his journeys through new lands, singing his tales of romance and strength of will. He searched for then devoured all styles of music from all countries of the world to feed his voracious appetite, a love for music that was pretty much second to none; I obviously didn’t know the man, but it always seemed like the emotion of music shook him down to the bone, and his performances on record and on stage were spectacles of abandon. Well then, you may ask, why didn’t this translate to the public at large, and I would answer that Jeff Buckley simply didn’t belong. He was a man out of time and out of place. His one official studio album, Grace missed the commercial mark by not throwing itself on the Grunge funeral pyre, but one listen to its perplexing brew explained why. It made the critical rounds, labeled as a throwback to the halcyon days of the late 60’s and early 70’s, but I have a problem with that though, because that sells Jeff so very short. He could sit himself down and sing you some Nina Simone or some Edith Piaf, or maybe go back to the future on some Smiths or Bad Brains shit. He wasn’t the next Kurt that some might have been looking for; he was more the next Morrissey, referring to himself as a chanteuse, alternately fey but masculine with a soaring vocal range that could be dialed back to a coo and a whisper. More accurately, and this is so cliché but true, he wasn’t the next anyone, he was the one and only Jeff Buckley, a Rock & Roll anomaly so odd that you couldn’t be sure it was Rock anymore.

Jeff Buckley was a mysterious inventor. No one knew what this music was, hazy creations drifting from the woods of a studio in upstate New York. The mood of Grace is both varied and cohesive in the same way that The Velvet Underground & Nico can house the disparate likes of “Sunday Morning”, “Run Run Run” and “European Son”. A song like “Last Goodbye” can go down easy, sugar-coated with universal longing and an unflinching bass hook by Mick Grondhal, while the discord of “So Real”, especially its meltdown detour, can be shocking following Nina Simone’s traditional standard, “Lilac Wine”. Buckley plays “Goodbye” straight, knowing he had a winner on his hands – there’s no doubt why it’s one of the songs that hung around from his 1991 demo tape, filled out here by a string section brilliantly arranged by Karl Berger. “So Real” spins with uneven momentum, like wet clay being molded into a new form; Jeff’s admission of “I love you, but I’m afraid to love you” cuts through the abstract poetry of the verses to echo the album’s theme of hesitant romance. He pulled the bluesy skeleton of “Eternal Life” out of his solo arrangement, and built a grungy cyborg, running on the power of drummer Matt Johnson and Grondahl’s choke-on-it low end attack instead of the expected distorted guitars; each progression of the song got harder and angrier, with the “road version” that he played live letting loose, growling about “their rape is the white noise of the world”.

Jeff Buckley was a magnetic shaman; he cast a spell on anyone that heard his voice, attracting one dumbfounded devotee after another. The second you hear “Mojo Pin” for the first time, his voice sliding in through midnight fog, Gary Lucas kicking up early morning dew with his glistening guitar figures, waking the neighbors with startling bursts of ruckus, and you realize that nothing you’ve ever heard sounds like that, you are immediately addicted, trying to figure out how you’ve ever lived without Buckley’s music. When he recorded the caterwauling vocals to the title track, he famously flashed a boyish smile at the end, knowing he had just broken all the molds – even the mad genius has to have a moment to soak in their own greatness every once in a while. He never let his natural blessings carry his ego too high though, down to earth in every interview, on every stage, playing the joker, oozing charisma, taking life as it came. After all the questions he had to endure about the influence his father’s music had on him, which was barely any, and all the Robert Plant comparisons hurled like insults when they rarely sound alike, Buckley was awarded the highest award any musician can ever get: the respect of your heroes. Famous fans like Paul McCartney, U2, Chrissie Hynde, Elvis Costello, Chris Cornell, PJ Harvey, Elton John, and Thom Yorke packed his shows and spoke his praises. Lou Reed wanted to work with him, and David Bowie named Grace one of his 10 ‘desert island discs’. His childhood idols, Robert Plant & Jimmy Page, were fans, with Page saying the album was one of his favorites of the decade, while Bob Dylan called Buckley “one of the great songwriters of this decade.” But all the praise came after he had made Grace; his magic didn’t need help. Only he could imagine a heavenly creature such as “Dream Brother”, a song that manages to crash The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan into each other, closing the album on the same enchanting note that it began with.

Jeff Buckley was a lover, a beautiful man who loved music more than anything else, maybe more than himself. There were always rumors, the white horses and mojo pins, legends of trips down alleyways with a certain Rock & Roll succubus; and who goes swimming with their Doc Martens on, really?? We all have our demons, and for Jeff, he knew that music was his exorcism. He gave himself completely to it, with a look in his eye that part of his brain was always obsessing about the sound of everything, the traffic, the nature, stray conversations. He was receiving information and filing it away for better use later. The tone of his voice could change from second to second, if you listened hard enough with your eyes closed you could see his nostrils flaring, his throat muscles tensing and releasing, his stomach pushing the diaphragm to its limits, mouth wide open or teeth gnashed. He loved and lusted; he felt everything with extra-sensitive sense of existing, and it spreads to the listener. I’d love to know how many mixtapes and CDs that the gorgeous “Lover” has been a centerpiece to over the last 13 years; it must add up to millions, because you can put me down for at least a few dozen. If Jeff’s sense of adventure didn’t let him know where he was going, he definitely knew where he was at in the moment, just being, a channel for the sound of the universe to be broadcast through.

In the end though, Jeff Buckley was just a man with a guitar. His cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has become his most known performance, a 7-minute snapshot of the peak of a human life, and one of the greatest vocal summonings ever put on 2-inch tape. If someone told you that the first time you listened to it, that it was the best moment of that person’s life, whether they knew or not, how would you feel? What did you feel when you heard it for the first time? Did you cry? Did you struggle to pick up your jaw from the ground, trying to figure out how someone could hold a note that long? Did you realize in that moment the true extent of the possibilities of the human race? I did. I held onto the audition headphones in the vinyl room of my college radio station, sitting in the dark, dubbing it onto a cassette tape. I wasn’t listening to Jeff Buckley. No one listens to Jeff Buckley. We all experience Grace.

01. "Mojo Pin"
02. "Grace"
03. "Last Goodbye"
04. "Lilac Wine"
05. "So Real"
06. "Hallelujah"
07. "Lover, You Should've Come Over"
08. "Corpus Christi Carol"
09. "Eternal Life"
10. "Dream Brother"

NOTE: All the Chicago videos come from the indispensable Live In Chicago DVD. As far as I'm concerned, it contains the definitive versions of a few of these songs.

"Grace" [live in Chicago, 05.95]

"Last Goodbye" [live in Chicago, 05.95]

"Hallelujah" [alternate version - video]

"Lover, You Should've Come Over" [live in Chicago, 05.95]

- BONUS: Grace Interview, Part 1
- BONUS: Grace Interview, Part 2
- BONUS: "Mojo Pin" [like in Tokyo, 01.95]
- BONUS: "Mojo Pin" [live in Chicago, 05.95]
- BONUS: "Mojo Pin" [live at the 1995 Glastonbury Festival]
- BONUS: "Grace" [single edit - video]
- BONUS: "Grace" [live in France, 1995]
- BONUS: "Grace" [live on 120 Minutes, 01.95]
- BONUS: "Last Goodbye" [video]
- BONUS: "Lilac Wine" [live in Frankfurt, 02.95]
- BONUS: "So Real" [video]
- BONUS: "So Real" [live in Chicago, 05.95]
- BONUS: "Hallelujah" [like in Tokyo, 01.95]
- BONUS: "Hallelujah" [live in Chicago, 05.95]
- BONUS: "Hallelujah" [audio]
- BONUS: "Corpus Christi Carol" [audio]
- BONUS: "Eternal Life" [live in Chicago, 05.95]

- SUPER RARE BONUS: "Dream #1"/"Dream Brother" [short film]
- SUPER RARE BONUS: Velvet Jungle Concert [live, 1995?]
featuring "Dream Brother", "So Real" & "Last Goodbye" [17 minutes]
- SUPER RARE BONUS: 1994 Tour Diary

Thursday, November 15, 2007

[027] Post

Album: Post
Artist: Björk
Release Date: June 1995
Label: One Little Indian/Elektra
Producers: Björk, Nellee Hooper, Graham Massey, Tricky & Howie B.

"Look at the speed out there
It magnetizes me to it
And I have no fear
I'm only into this to enjoy"
- from "Enjoy"

It seems like every week I write these entries, and I repeat myself. Yesterday, I was talking all about post-this and post-that, and today we have Post; likewise I mentioned Dr. Dre sampling the “When The Levee Breaks” beat, which is also one of the first sounds your hear on Ms. Björk’s sophomore album. Now, this vaguely funnels into my overarching point on Post - I think Björk’s worldly, sponge-like ability to pull influences from a wide variety of sources is what’s appealing about her, and this album specifically; as utterly original as her sound and instinct is, both the personalities of her collaborators and the implications of her personal taste show through on every project. I would venture a guess that this is most of her fans’ favorite album in her catalog because there is a sense of pure joy in hearing that process. Also, I’d say Post is the most flattering, most accessible collection of her songs for the rest of the world to see her in a positive light, as opposed to her in a swan dress or her attacking paparazzi – for the casual fan, I’d recommend this album over any of her other CDs. Post suggested that the wild Icelandic siren pixie whatever-she-is might actually be able to be a Pop star. It just feels like how Björk should be seen in the field of Pop music, an eclectic songbird gliding over electro-Fun.

When Björk went solo after The Sugarcubes and made Debut, I think she just made whatever type of music came to her crazy little mind, but when people tried to get a handle on her as an artist, there was a little confusion. I know I was with her when I saw the wonderfully wacky “Human Behaviour” video – and the song sounded like nothing out there – but had a WTF moment when I saw her dancing on a flatbed truck to “Big Time Sensuality”. She was flirting with the dance club as it pertained to the Pop charts, working with Nellee Hooper, who came out of the Massive Attack genepool and had helped make Soul II Soul hit-makers. But Björk’s version of Pop music isn’t the rest of the world’s version, and that’s a good thing. By the time she moved from Iceland to London to make Post, she was immersed in all the new music trends that were emerging, especially the Trip-Hop of Massive Attack and Portishead, as well as the bright lights of the big city – Reykjavík isn’t a trailer park, but it isn’t London either, especially not the newly re-swinging London of 1994. The choice of cover art even reveals the intent of her new music; Postwas kitschy widescreen neon Technicolor thrown up onto the drab Debut, and the legions of sad-sacks in flannel and Les Pauls wandering around the CD shelves at the time. Her thirst for new sounds and grooves would guide her to being one of music’s greatest chameleons, in the tradition of David Bowie, Prince, and Madonna, but the difference with Björk is that most people see her as way more bonkers, a little tree-nymph from a storybook forest.

Considering this fairytale-like creature that Björk is supposed to be, she appears to be, lyrically at least, dealing with relationships in a distinctly human way. She just picks different words than you would, while letting the music break the molds. “Army Of Me” seethes indictments at a weak lover, demanding “Self-sufficience, please!” from a man lacking a backbone, all over an industrial churn featuring that “Levee” beat – cut for hurry-up offense – and the rolling bass of Massive Attack’s “Safe From Harm” chewed up and turned inside out; it’s probably the heaviest song of the 90’s without any guitar. “You’ve Been Flirting Again” makes its stand on the other end of the spectrum, as fragile as can be over nothing but a string section, with a lyric that examines the eggshells underfoot in the aftermath of infidelity. On the gorgeous heartbreaker “Hyper-ballad”, still one of her finest songs, she is clear and concise in her narrative of a woman confronting her (possibly suicidal) insecurities in a relationship by chucking her stuff off a cliff and watching it soar down to the rocks below, all before her lover wakes in the morning; its laid over a pitter-patter of brushed snares and twinkling stars of synth blips and computer burps. And then the soaring strings swoop in to join the unsure relief of Björk’s chorus, and as the strings lift the song to the heavens, the pulsating house beat crashes down, transforming a spectral ballad into a rave epic, a revelatory classic for all times.

The genius of opening Post with the vortex of “Army of Me” and “Hyper-ballad” allows no turning back from the wonderland of jazzy Trip-Hop and cartoon adventures on the rest of the album. “The Modern Things” skips around like Smurfs, munchkins and whistling dwarves, mumbling something about cars waiting in mountains and dinosaurs. The Betty Hutton big-band cover, “It’s Oh So Quiet” sets further out in this fairytale land, knocking the audience back with cries of Zing! Boom! Wow! Bam!, while “Isobel” is the orchestral centerpiece, a fairytale within a fairytale. The dark, menacing “Enjoy” explores the impulses in loveless sex; a junkyard collaboration with Tricky, the duo punch holes through the overwhelming stew of urban detritus with bright horn stabs. “I Miss You” is the mirror image of “Enjoy”, adorably finding comfort in the discovery of new love, asking “when will I get my cuddle?” – where Tricky’s contribution is downcast and muffled, Björk’s work with Howie B. pushes those bright horns to the fore, sounding like the happiest traffic jam on Earth, pumped up with a buzzing accordion and choppy, propulsive Tito Puente groove. “Possibly Maybe” plays the fence between these two songs, Björk noting in interviews of the time that it was her first foray into darkness. Its sleepy ambience like a peaceful stream running through her dreams, it takes a journey downstream, floating through an entire relationship, from puppy love to odd fetishes to impatience in commitment, leaving the dreamworld Björk to conclude “Since we broke up, I’m using lipstick again; I suck my tongue in remembrance of you”.

Björk closes Post with the minimalism of “Cover Me” and “Headphones” in stark contrast to the preceding circus; the former points to her future, the harpsichord and hammer dulcimer chiming in announcement of the crystalline Vespertine, which wouldn’t come for another six years. The latter, like the rest of the album, requires a good pair of listening earmuffs as she wakes up from her dream by falling asleep, a dozen or so Björks circling around each other. It becomes clear that she is kind of just a regular girl with a big imagination, not a Pop Tinkerbell, although she did sprinkle some magic dust on the world. After Post, everyone wanted to work with her, while Madonna spent the next decade trying to catch up to her, but it was too late, because Björk was now exploring the world of stardom, a whole new world to soak up new ideas, allowing her to stay a few steps in front of everyone.

01. "Army Of Me"
02. "Hyper-Ballad"
03. "The Modern Things"
04. "It's Oh So Quiet"
05. "Enjoy"
06. "You've Been Flirting Again"
07. "Isobel"
08. "Possibly Maybe"
09. "I Miss You"
10. "Cover Me"
11. "Headphones"

"Army Of Me" [video]

"Hyper-ballad" [live on Later with Jools Holland, 1995]

"Isobel" [single edit - video]

"Possibly Maybe" [live at the Royal Opera House, London, 12.01]

- BONUS: "Hyper-ballad" [single edit - video]
- BONUS: "Hyper-ballad" [live at the Royal Opera House, London, 12.01]
- BONUS: "Hyper-ballad" [live at the 2003 Fuji Rock Festival]
Now with Fireworks!!!
- BONUS: "It's Oh So Quiet" [video]
- BONUS: "It's Oh So Quiet" [live on Taratata, 1996]
- BONUS: "You've Been Flirting Again" [in Icelandic; live in Cambridge]
- BONUS: "Isobel" [live at the Royal Opera House, London, 12.01]
- BONUS: "Possibly Maybe" [video]
- BONUS: "Possibly Maybe" [live at the Riverside Church, NYC, 2001]
- BONUS: "I Miss You" [video]
- BONUS: "I Miss You" [live at the 2007 Glastonbury Festival]

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

[028] Return To Cookie Mountain

Album: Return To Cookie Mountain
Artist: TV On The Radio
Release Date: March 2006 [internet] July 2006 [UK], September 2006 [US]
Label: 4AD [UK], Interscope [US]
Producer: David A. Sitek

"It's a broken poem, started up yesterday
And it came true now, mind was on holiday
It's an open road, will we soon see the end
It's an open book, a story to tell the band
Broken plates on dirty highways
Pave the way for alien grace"
- from "A Method"

About once a year, I go into a record store, or a store that sells music, and I have what basically amounts to a panic attack. I start to feel dizzy or overheated, my breaths shorten, and I break into a cold sweat. When my eyes start to lose focus, that’s when I really know it’s time to leave, and I usually go outside and sit on the cold concrete curb for ten minutes. I’ve concluded this happens because I love music too much. More specifically, I started to realize, as I browse the music section, that I own pretty much every CD I would pay (at least) $10 for, and I freak out knowing I’ve run out of options. Recently, my need to spend money on plastic discs (when I could easily just download anything, ever) has merged with my general malaise over the lack of bands managing to be both explorers in new areas of music, and being good at it, putting out albums I actually want to listen to. At this point, there are very few artists that I will slap down my hard earned cash for every time, and not be fearful that I’ll be disappointed – this is the same reason why Spoon recently overtook Queens of the Stone Age as my personal favorite band, because the last couple QOTSA albums haven’t been up to snuff, while Spoon hasn’t let me down yet. I had high hopes for Pretty Girls Make Graves, but they stalled, then broke up. Radiohead are the best band on the planet, but they also don’t wow me as much anymore; same goes for The White Stripes and Outkast and Björk. And there’s dozens of artists who are excellent, but they have their niche, and they hang out in their comfort zone, like, say, Bright Eyes or El-P or The Hives. This brings us to TV on the Radio, the Brooklyn art collective who I first noticed with their 2003 Young Liars EP, a 5-song example of perfection that I would’ve put on this list before I decided to stick with full-length LPs. The last time I had a panic attack I was by the music magazines in Border’s, ranting to my friend Kyle, kind of grinding my teeth on the fact that I was disappointed in the new Go! Team album, which I had set my hopes way too high for, and about how I thought it was time for some Post-Everything music. I started frantically spewing demands that bands start combining all genres, starting an age of post-Hip-Hop, post-Blues, post-Jazz, post-Punk, post-Post-Punk, post-Rock, post-Post-Rock, etc etc, because at this point everything had pretty much run its course. It hit me later that I had described TV on the Radio. They are the only band that blends everything into one unified sound, and that sound is the sound of tomorrow, next week, and ten years from now.

These guys are so good, they play to your musical impulse reactions; the smile you get across your face when a Temptations or Beatles song comes on a jukebox or the radio, the headbanging instinct that comes with the best hard rock, the way you swoon to a gentle ballad, that tingling sensation you get when guitar feedback reaches your eardrums’ pain threshold. They tap into the way music makes you think, the way music makes you move, the way music makes you feel, hitting all the right buttons in the process. The voices of Tunde Adebimpe and guitarist Kyp Malone are creatures you’ve only imagined; Adebimpe has often been compared to Peter Gabriel, but if that’s so, then he is Gabriel raised on Doo Wop, Phil Spector’s girl groups, Gospel, and 60’s Soul. Malone is the kind of singer that scares most people because of the alien quality of his voice; you see him open his mouth, but the sounds that come out, from an angelic falsetto to guttural grunts, don’t seem quite human. When the two sing in harmony, they sound as if they’re one, spooky entity contacting you from the beyond. They form an unerring unit with D.A. Sitek, Jaleel Bunton and Gerard Smith, who make enough commotion to wake the dead. They propose that the route from the claustrophobic Art-Rock of David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy to the decaying industrial of Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral travels through the stark drama of Prince’s Sign ‘O’ The Times, the humid rush of My Bloody Valentine, and the cut-and-paste rhythms of Eric B., Massive Attack, and The RZA. This is immediately apparent on “I Was A Lover”, which juxtaposes the chop-socky beats of Enter The Wu-Tang with the gates of noise on MBV’s Loveless. Sitek is mostly responsible for the noise, having done it all solo when he started TVOTR as a duo with singer Adebimpe. Sitek has a very unique ear for atmosphere, one that he applies to outside productions as well (see: Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Fever To Tell); his style can range from the torrential downpour of sound on “Playhouses” to the late-night lullaby chimes of “Tonight”. The former also highlights the stuttering octopus attack of drummer Jaleel Bunton, who has elevated the band’s sound ten-fold. On their full-length debut, 2004’s Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, TVOTR seemed in search of grounding, and Bunton was exactly what they needed. By filling the band’s sound with his tribal polyrhythms, he allows the core duo of Adebimpe, Malone & Sitek to simplify their songwriting, knowing he’ll color in the spaces; his swirling gallop on “Hours” and “Province” (which features special guest Bowie on backing vocals) makes the deceptively simple Pop ballads more intricate and satisfying, standing up to Sitek and Malone’s wall of guitars and careening pianos. His war drums on “Wash The Day” sound like the coming apocalypse, recasting Gabriel’s prog history against the African drum hollows, garnished with sitar, flutes, sleigh bells, all closing the album on a properly epic note.

With the cacophony that they make, some might miss the details of the vocalists; TV on the Radio is a singer’s band, no doubt about it. In the majority of cases, the vocal melodies anchor the songs, a testament to the singers’ interest in Gospel and Doo Wop and Soul, and even World musics. The percussive sway of “A Method” provides a base for the a cappella barbershop wonders they presented on the past two albums; Adebimpe sings the central lyric as Malone orbits him in the mix. It’s followed by the crumbling building thump of “Let The Devil In”, laced with the Gospel hydra of Adebimpe, Malone, and Celebration’s Katrina Ford, echoing Bowie’s 70’s howl. Lyrically, they’re no slouches either, presenting a poetic examination of the new millennial sins and dangers, the tragic outcomes perpetrated by man’s nature. They wisely don’t beat you over the head with any message at all – “Wolf Like Me” is about werewolves, after all – but there are things strewn about that you could take hold of if you were so inclined. The first line on the album is “I was a lover before this war”, so you can go from there, connecting dots from plastic priest to lenses up skirts, from greenhouses and landfills to diamond-encrusted guns and backseat car-bombs. The vocals, lyrics and music all reach their peak on the Rock & Roll classicism of “Dirtywhirl”, one of the great Soul ballads of recent memory. Combining a seasick tempo, a melody that wouldn’t seem out of place on The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, and flourishes that subtly point towards New Orleans Funk, the lyric spins an erotic yarn of a mesmerizing female that could easily be a metaphor for Hurricane Katrina.

TVOTR’s Return To Cookie Mountain was the best album of 2006 because it touched all the bases, and did it with skill and passion; it was number one by such a large margin, that by May, it was hard to imagine anything coming even near its league. When it leaked onto the internet in March, it was obvious, and it took on all challengers until December 31 when it was official. Earth had not heard an album this good in years. As the pure adrenaline of “Wolf Like Me” crawled out of the file-sharing primordial ooze and into the subconscious of every hipster from Brooklyn to Tokyo, the question was whispered – Is this the best album since…when?? In an incredible cover story on the band in the April ’06 issue of Filter Magazine, the answer was suggested by writer Chris Martins; Return To Cookie Mountain “might just be the best reason we've had for hope - as far as interesting, arty, progressive, well-executed, and mind-fuckingly good music goes - since OK Computer was lodged deep in the throat of the beast”...which was nine years earlier. That’s a long time, and a lot of classic albums had traveled through our ears. But it’s true. This is the best album of the last decade, hands down. And because TV on the Radio are the future, it’s an album for every music fan to take heart in, because it’s what we had hoped would come for so long. As long as they keep making records, I think I'll...I think we'll be alright.

01. "I Was A Lover"
02. "Hours"
03. "Province"
04. "Playhouses"
05. "Wolf Like Me"
06. "A Method"
07. "Let The Devil In"
08. "Dirtywhirl"
09. "Blues From Down Here"
10. "Tonight"
11. "Wash The Day"
26. "Randomness" [interlude]**
27. "Snakes & Martyrs"**
28. "Hours [El-P remix]"**
29. "Things You Can Do"**
**US bonus tracks

When the album was leaked onto the internet, it had a slightly different running order, with the primary difference being an extended "Wolf Like Me" as the opener. If you want to check out how it would sound, play the tracks as such: 5, 1, 3, 2, 4, 7, 8, 10, 6, 9, 11.

"Wolf Like Me" [live on Letterman, 09.06]

"I Was A Lover" [video??]

"A Method" [w/ Subtle; live in Indianapolis, 03.07]

"Dirtywhirl" [live in Seattle, 05.06]

- BONUS: "Wolf Like Me" [video]
- BONUS: "Wolf Like Me" [w/ Katrina Ford; live in Seattle, 05.06]
- BONUS: "Wolf Like Me" [live on Jimmy Kimmel, 03.07]
- BONUS: "Province" [video]
- BONUS: "Province" [live in Brooklyn, 06.06]
- BONUS: "Let The Devil In" [w/ Subtle; live in Indianapolis, 03.07]
- BONUS: "Blues From Down Here" [live in NYC, 10.06]
- BONUS: "Tonight" [audio/fan video]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

[029] The Chronic

Album: The Chronic
Artist: Dr. Dre
Release Date: December 1992
Label: Death Row/Interscope
Producer: Dr. Dre

"Gimme the microphone first, so I can bust like a bubble
Compton and Long Beach together, now you know you in trouble
Ain't nuthin' but a 'G' thang, baaaaaby!
Two loc'ed out niggaz going craaaaazy!
Death Row is the label that paaaaays me!
Unfadable, so please don't try to fade this (Hell yeah)"
- from "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang"

To try and describe what was special about Dr. Dre’s post-N.W.A. Death Row output to someone too old to want to get it, or someone too young to remember, is nearly impossible. In many ways, it’s hard to look past the gun-busting, ‘ho-smacking lyrics that surely painted Compton in a bad light, but the secret is in the gradual development. For N.W.A., the world always seemed covered by a dark cloud. With The Chronic, the clouds parted and the sun came out. The album became as synonymous with the idea of ‘Sunny California’ as The Beach Boys were in the 1960’s. Just think of the music videos Dre put out for this album: dance parties, getting wasted with your friends, cruising with the top down, playin’ dominos, going to see a P-Funk concert, BBQ’s with pretty girls and…is that…I think it could be…volleyball?!! That’s not too gangsta, is it? At least not compared with the video for “Fuck Tha Police”, and other videos of the era (See also: pre-New Jack City Ice-T). I think the moment anyone would realize why The Chronic is special is to just put it on, press play, and turn the volume up. It’s loud as you want it to be, mixed to blow the speakers rolling down the boulevard. It’s that sound, a massive funk pastiche of whatever Funk records Dre had from the 70’s: a whole-heckuva lot of George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic collective, Ohio Players, Willie Hutch, Donny Hathaway, Isaac Hayes, so many others, and of course some James Brown and “When The Levee Breaks” on the beats. The moment the “Intro” hits, you know - the bass shook your soul, the squealing synthesizers challenged your eardrums… It was a whole new world in Hip-Hop. Where there were once shouts and chants there are now choruses. Where there was once dissonance there is now melody. Where there were once thin drum machines there is now full-bodied, arranged music played on instruments. Where there was once brutal nihilism there is now breezy leisure. And there was the voice of one Calvin Broadus, introduced to the world as Snoop Doggy Dogg, talking shit from minute one. Dre’s songs and Snoop’s voice were truly “unfadable”, and changed the world for the better.

Dre had started to develop his signature “G-Funk” sound on N.W.A.’s second album, Niggaz4Life, but no one on the world stage really cared because Ice Cube had split, leaving MC Ren as the best MC in the group, and Eazy-E to steer the ship into even more reprehensible darkness. It’s no wonder the group had to fall apart; no one could withstand pressing that much negativity against their creative mind. Where Dr. Dre went right is that he decided to start having a live band play his songs, whether they were his original compositions or they were covering the funk classics Dre wanted to sample. He would then cut up and play with those recordings, so he got freshly recorded versions of the booming bass and grooves he wanted, which made the music more vibrant. Dre also started to excel at his keyboard skills, with subtle solos all over this album; he was aided by The Chronic’s secret weapon, a man named Colin Wolfe, who played all the classic basslines and shared keyboard duties. Wolfe is a musician that has enriched so many people’s lives, and their house parties, and yet no one has ever heard of him. So I’d like to take this moment to thank Colin Wolfe for his contribution to this classic moment in music. If you put your copy of The Chronic in you player right now, and “drop the needle” in the middle of each track, you’ll hear his Dub/Funk magic. When Dre wasn’t cooling in the sun, he was shattering the menacing template he molded with N.W.A., and that Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs was about catch up to. Dre slams on the gas with tracks like the L.A. Riot chronicle “The Day The Niggaz Took Over”, “A Nigga Witta Gun”, and the caution and regret of the elegiac “Lil’ Ghetto Boy”, and leaves the entire field in his dust.

It was essentially a wrap when Dre put Snoop on the title track/theme song for the soundtrack to the Laurence Fishburne cop-drama Deep Cover, a song so unique at the time, no one really knew what to make of it; I remember being mesmerized by the music video. The world’s introduction to Snoop was such a monumental event in Hip-Hop, but no one ever really talks about it. Snoop made The Chronic what it was, cuz if he wasn’t on it, then it would be just like Nigga4Life. He gave it its light. There’s something about the way Snoop stands and sways in these videos… it probably comes just from the fact that he’s baked out of his muthafuckin’ mind, but it's the way he allows his body to move to Dre’s music that echoes the feeling it gives you. He stands feet planted, and he leans slightly back, and his shoulders roll back alternately. Right at the beginning of the “Dre Day” video, when Dre’s welcoming you in with his “Hell yeah”, watch Snoop almost fall over backward from swaying. Now think of that moment halfway through “Dre Day” when Snoop raps, “You get with Doggy Dogg, oh is he crazy? With your Momma and your Daddy hollerin’, ‘Baby!’” The way he delivers it is that signature Snoop singing-style, which falls right in line with his body language; he never actually sings, but he alleviates the tension, laying back so far in the cut that you know he can’t see over the steering wheel of his Cadillac anymore. Snoop will tell you that he didn’t know what he was doing, and that Dre arranged his raps so that he rode the beat better, but what source material to work with! The way he opens “Nuthin’ By A ‘G’ Thang” is ingrained in my entire generation’s memories; in so many cases, it was that first moment that you loved Hip-Hop, the dribbling bassline, the sighs, the lazy guitar petting the rimshot – And that synth that you could whistle for months. Remember that Snoop is only on half of The Chronic, and his absence from the second half hurts it (though Kurupt swoops in and tries his best to save it); imagine for a moment a world where Snoop rapped on every track, and well, I don’t know if we could handle that much funky goodness.

For any MC, or producer for that matter, that wants to court mainstream success while still looking hard, The Chronic is the blueprint… Wait, what am I saying? That’s the entire Rap industry, isn’t it? Hip-Hop’s been talking about diamonds, mansions, and models for so long, but Dr. Dre actually laid out, musically, how to get there. It’s no surprise that 50 Cent begged for Dre’s beats so hard, cuz look at him now, still posing, rapping about the streets of Queens while he cools in his Connecticut estate. Dre’s gifts with hooks and choruses and melodies and arrangements made Hip-Hop real music; detractors could no longer complain that these weren’t songs, and Dre took the songs and dropped them on the charts, and everything was different from then on. The legacy of The Chronic is one with a very long shadow.

01. "The Chronic (Intro)" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg]
02. "Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg]
03. "Let Me Ride"
04. "The Day The Niggaz Took Over" [feat. RBX, Snoop Doggy Dogg & Dat Nigga Daz]
05. "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg]
06. "Deeez Nuuuts" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dat Nigga Daz & Nate Dogg]
07. "Lil' Ghetto Boy" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg & Dat Nigga Daz]
08. "A Nigga Witta Gun"
09. "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg]
10. "The $20 Sack Pyramid" [interlude]
11. "Lyrical Gangbang" [feat. Lady of Rage, Kurupt & RBX]
12. "High Powered" [feat. RBX]
13. "The Doctor's Office" [interlude]
14. "Stranded On Death Row" [feat. Bushwick Bill, Kurupt, RBX, Lady of Rage & Snoop Doggy Dogg]
15. "The Roach (The Chronic Outro)" [feat. RBX]
16. "Bitches Ain't Shit" [feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dat Nigga Daz & Kurupt]

"Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" [uncensored video]

"Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" [uncensored video]

"Let Me Ride" [full length video]

"Lil' Ghetto Boy" [uncensored video]

- BONUS: "The Chronic (Intro)" [audio]
- BONUS: "The Day The Niggaz Took Over" [audio/fan video]
With footage of the 1992 L.A. Riots
- BONUS: "Deeez Nuuuts" [audio]
- BONUS: "A Nigga Witta Gun" [audio]
- BONUS: "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" [audio]
- BONUS: "The $20 Sack Pyramid" [audio]
In a genre filled with the worst crap you've ever heard, this is the greatest Hip-Hop skit ever.
- BONUS: "Lyrical Gangbang" [audio]
- BONUS: "High Powered" [audio]
- BONUS: "Stranded On Death Row" [audio]
- BONUS: "The Roach (The Chronic Outro)" [audio]
- BONUS: "Bitches Ain't Shit" [audio]