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Picks – May 5th, 2013

May 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Bleh, another week. I have stacks and stacks of records I want to write about. I wonder how many I’ll actually get through. Next week we have TIME2MOVE at the Que Sera in Long Beach. Special guests FRANKI CHAN (iheartcomix) and the NATIVES (live). It’s my mans Valdez bday. Big up my bruh.

– Plucked from the nooks and crannies of Amoeba, Fingerprints and Resident Advisor.

Kenny Dope Unreleased Project – Pushin Dope (TNT, 1994)

The label reads: “Respect to A Tribe Called Quest and Wutang Clan.” Instantly I knew I had to buy this. Kenny Dope is well known for his role in Masters at Work and Nuyorican Soul, and he’s also had plenty of time of rack up his own solo credentials. Through some of his responses on the MAW RBMA interview I attributed the dancehall/hip hop influence of the MAW productions to him. Masters at Work are typically buy-on-sight records, so seeing Kenny shout out Wutang filled me with uneasy excitement all the way home.

As the needle drops, the record opens up with “That Gangsta Shit,” a dark, slamming hip hop track perfectly suited for the Wu. Centered around a Cypress Hill sample, and what I assume to be one of the earliest Mulatu samples on record, the track has a hook that is both aggressive and hypnotic. I really love the Mulatu lift, but the second half of the track seems to meander a bit, with that vocal sample incessantly repeating.

Dialing back the testosterone, “Get on Down” (above) is the prize of the bunch. Rather simple, it’s carried by a vocal refrain over lilting piano chords and an airy break, but the warmth of analog gear and a gentle swing yield a beautiful groove. It’s one of those tracks where everything has just lined up perfectly to create an ideal aesthetic and sound. “Inside” shares a similar aesthetic, but picks up the pace which gives the track a wonderfully druggy take on a skate jam. A track that I wish would last minutes longer.

At its best, the depth of human emotion drawn through dusty samples in combination with Kenny Dope’s excellent sense of groove bring to mind the work of DJ Premier or Andres. At its worst, these are good golden era hip hop beats. Big win.

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Urban Tribe – The Collapse of Modern Culture (Mo Wax, 1998)

Detroit’s Sherard Ingram has been making music for a long time, first receiving acclaim in the 90s as Urban Tribe, and nowadays as DJ Stingray. DJ Stingray records are usually too in-your-face for my taste, but I have a big soft spot for Urban Tribe. Although the brainchild and vision of Ingram, Urban Tribe was known as a collaborative effort that included Kenny Dixon Jr, Carl Craig and Shake Shakir. Looking at the record in the store, it was actually KDJ that caught my attention before anything, as my copy has a very faded almost illegible cover, and when I flipped it over to the back the word “moodymann” struck me in the face. Quickly realizing this was the first Urban Tribe LP I pulled out the vinyl to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Kinda dirty, but it’d have to do. Not everyday you come across a record this deep.

Although coming from some of the most important names of second wave Detroit Techno, this record is a sublime example of Mo Wax’s blend of experimental hip hop. That influence really comes into play sonically, as the “futuristic” sound palette of techno is the mainstay here, with blocky synths and pixelated drum breaks making up the overarching characteristic of the music. The drum sounds are most intriguing, as airy 909 kicks tend to center things, but the snares and hi-hats are all crunchy metallic objects, brittle yet funky. Album standout “Peacemakers,” (above) is an excellent example of this style, blending lush electronics, a funky electro keyboard motif and a sweet soulful vocal sample that gives the track a really calming, yet vibrant quality to it. By Speaking in the language of techno, taking a lower tempo and working with a hip-hop rhythmic structure, Ingram foreshadows the work of beat scene cats like Daedalus, Flying Lotus, or even someone like Dabrye. Such premonitions are also seen in a track like “Sophistry” with its heavy swagger and filtered atmospherics, still sounding fresh 15 years later.

The influence of dub/dancehall is heavily present as well, as deep subfrequencies form the base of almost every track. Basslines come through and wind, groove, and heave with a slow funk. On a track like “Low Berth,” a crackling halftime break anchors the groove, while a fat writhing bass line is taken right out of the Robbie Shakespeare playbook. Spacey electronics helmed by both Carl Craig and Ingram move through the track, effectively completing the futuristic dub vision of Scientist.  It’s a wonderful sounding record, a bit heady, but I think it’ll see a lot of play on those lazy summer afternoons.

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Dense & Pika – Resident Advisor Podcast: RA353 (Resident Advisor, 2013)

I’m not particularly a fan of techno, although I do dig on the Detroit stuff and other things here and there, but it’s not really on my radar. This mix is billed as a “warehouse techno mix” and although it’s not something I would have checked out on description alone, I wanted to look into it because I always dig the Dense & Pika tracks that end up on other DJs mixes. To preface, this mix has been out for exactly two months now and the only reason I’m writing about it is because I have listened to it almost every day of those two months.

On two turntables, a 909 and Ableton for samples, the duo craft a mix that evenly spreads out its loves and influences, mixing Detroit techno with ghetto house, jungle with techno, acid with electro. Running through about 60 tracks in just as much time, they keep the groove focused, but constantly moving and growing. Snippets of a phantom vocal will pop in for just a few seconds before its gone, percussion will dip in and out, songs come and go, but the rhythm stays steady and new exciting elements are always coming forward. An early banger is one of their own productions, the stomping “Move Your Body Back” and it hits really hard, but also helps set the dark, spacey tone for the whole project. My favorite part of the mix is about halfway through when they mix out of James Ruskin’s “Indirect World” and into Drexciya’s “Birth of New Life.” With Ruskin, they had taken a break from chugging drum machines and began to explore atmosphere, with Drexciya’s otherworldly melodies eventually flowering and coming to the forefront.

What I view to be the real success is ultimately the human quality to both the mixing and track selection. There are a lot of vocals to provide a human element, but more importantly, there are a load of tracks that are purely visceral, conjuring up the words slinky and sensual. Particularly excellent is this “Sweat on the Walls – Clone” thing into DJ Deeon’s “Fuck for Free,” as the energy moves from fairly sadistic into goofy and playful. The inclusion of Special Request’s Lana Del Rey remix is a great thing because I really love that track. This mix pushed me to go out and pick up the 12″. I love this mix; I dance to it, it gets me through long days at work, I’m listening to it right now at 10am smoking weed. Big ups.

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Wiley – Wot Do U Call It? (XL, 2004)

This is frankly one of the most important records to come out of the grime scene; a hugely influential beat by the master Wiley. Frankly, I’m not a huge fan of the vocal version, but the instrumental is really incredible. That string sample, the bass rubs, the wacked out woodblock, the overall energy of the track. Pure bliss. Eski-beat has been making somewhat of a return during this grime resurgence, as heard on the recent all Wiley mix by Royal-T. The sound really is incredible, and so unique. Too bad a lot of the early Wiley 12″s are fairly expensive.

Categories: 2004, 2013, detroit, hip hop, LDN, mix, NY Tags: , ,

The Picks – February 17th, 2013

February 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Things have been hectic lately, passing time marked by sharp peaks and valleys. But thus is life. The first TIME2MOVE party was so great, a huge thanks to Low Limit and Sodapop, and to all the lovely people that came out and partied with us. The homeboy Purple/Image did an amazing set at the Boiler Room the other night with the unbelievable lineup of Nguzunguzu, Kingdom and Inc. I gotta say it was one of the best parties I’ve been to in a while. If you look closely you can see me dancing in the background for most of the Nguzunguzu set. Oh and I smoked out Alex on live stream.Sick. 2013.

Pulled from the vast garbage heap that is the internet, and a certain crate at Fingerprints.

Cakes Da Killa – The Eulogy (Mishka, 2013)

I’ve been following this “queer rap” scene for a minute now and I’m impressed with most of the output from the artists. The music comes across as purposefully dense sonically and intellectually, offering a lot of stuff for journalists to write about. While there have been a few great mixtapes to come out of the NYC subculture, Cakes’ The Eulogy is the only one I find myself coming back to over and over. The common fault of a lot of the material from the scene is the ability to strike the balance between a hot beat and a proficient vocal performance. Le1f, for example, can flow very well, but often obscures his voice to a negative affect or will choose a beat that is too left-field or ill-fitting. Mykki Blanco has struck a bountiful relationship with the rising club don Brenmar, but I would argue Mykki is a much better performance artist than a vocalist. But returning to Cakes, its immediately apparent that he has a lot of talent and some sort of vision in mind. This kid was born to a rap, dropping a dexterous flow both languid and slinky, maintaining of sense of sexuality only sharpened by his abilities. The Eulogy features primarily unknown producers, but each track booms with dark, purple-tinged textures crossing the pantheon of ghetto dance traditions from Dance Mania, footwork, vogue, Baltimore or trap. As an LA native my mind instantly moves to the Fade to Mind crew, a group who share that same penchant for the dark, brash, vulgar and ultimately visceral spectrum of music. Listening to the record I feel like I’m drunk at a good party in downtown LA, weed smoke and sage thick in the air, and everyone clutching a Tecate.

“Keep it Coochie” (above) pops up early on in the record and is an immediate favorite as that beat shudders in like a demented Quasimoto track remixed by a drunk DJ Earl (#teklife). Cakes comes on chatting about this or that, then drops into a fiendish verse full of swagger, potent with a larger than life ego. His flow sashays, strutting like a vogue dancer over that jacking ballroom beat. The horn sample pops and the 808s shake with enough ecstatic energy to appease any one looking for a party.

As I’m sure you know, I’m a bass addict and so Cakes’ love of the sub frequencies is a huge boon to me. Tracks like “Da Good Book,” which revisits the footwork influence, or the chopped and screwed Ha Dance of “Fuck Ya Boifriend” are swollen with bass dropping rumbles that my soul yearns for. The only piece out of place is the relatively straight approach to closing track “The Eulogy,” a typical post-Dilla, Madlib inspired soulful beat with a fairly straightforward delivery from Cakes. “Eulogy” is in no way bad, or is it even a detriment to the cohesion of the album. It comes across more like a sly wink as he walks out the door, both showcasing his talent as a serious rapper, and giving that man behind the curtain moment, revealing himself as a typical rap junkie just trying to make it in the game. Whether a more traditional hip hop approach will surface, or the gritty urban dance traditions remain, Cakes will continue to be someone to watch.

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Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Shame (Stone’s Throw, 2012)

Anyone who has drank with me recently can attest to the fact that I tend to go on and on about how Gibbs is the best rapper out right now. I will admit that I am prone to hyperbole, but frankly Gibbs is an incredibly impressive artist. From Str8 Killer to his mixtapes, Gibbs is a straight up mercenary in a game of  busters. Always outshining any guest MC, whether its Jeezy, Juicy or Gucci, his flow is characteristically confident, syllables rolling out, carried by a rhythmic inertia. It’s hard to imagine Gibbs as anything other than the G’d up persona (and to be real, all the people I know who have met the man will attest to the fact that he’s absolutely legit), but his raps draw closer comparison to the sociological visions ala “New York State of Mind” than anything contemporary. Lyrics and image are similar to the majority of rap output these days, but Gibbs seems less caught up in hero-making and more interested in putting forward a more accurate streetwise image – something like an Iceberg Slim.

I don’t know why it took me so long to pick this one up. The combination of Madlib and Gibbs is one of the most incredible things to happen in music in a while. I’ve been a Madlib fan since Beat Konducta #0, but I have always found his album length projects with other rappers (except Madvillain, duh) to be fairly disappointing. However, when “Thuggin” was released, the immediate strength of the track ensured that this MadGibbs album was going to be the record that would reset the bar in hiphop.

I think the real winner on here is “Terrorist,” Gibbs moves deftly with a rhythmic swagger that dominates the groove of the song – your hips inherently following the directions coming from his blunt deepened voice. He moves at full speed, stopping to breath only a handful of times through the course of the minute long barrage. “Shame” (above) further highlights Gibbs’ gift for vocal groove, heavy rolling funk, and breathless phonetic incantations. And then let me just undo all of what I just said with my favorite line from the track: “Like I slipped on a banana peel and fell in that pussy” haha Gangsta Gibbs….

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DJ Barely Legal – Live on MistaJam’s Show 1/30/13 (BBC 1Xtra, 2013)

I missed the first wave of grime, but I’m making sure to catch up during this second wave. Having grown up in Southern California in the ’90s it was impossible to escape the cultural influence of rap music. Dre, Jay Z and Nas were the early core of my CD collection. The posturing, vocal acrobatics, booming instrumentals and anthropological case studies really struck me as incredibly important and the music has made an unequivocal impact on my life. So as I’m getting older and exploring other genres I’m quick to find the MC-driven music of the world, and the grime scene has proven to be incredibly fruitful. Stylistically the MC style is often more similar to the Dancehall tradition of chatting, as MCs carry on rhythmically with long streams of sound, often balanced with the heavy swagger of an American rapper. The riddims they spit over are absolutely bonkers, originally growing out of a dark garage influence, but Wiley’s eski style’ brought in ice cold hues and the standard 8bar, FL Studio focused template.

It’s proper then that this mix by newcomer DJ Barely Legal opens up with Wiley’s “Eskimo” and Will himself chatting on it. Well, let’s back up, Barely Legal is a rising star of this second wave grime scene and she pulls out the heavyweights from the old guard for her debut BBC 1Xtra appearance. Roll Deep takes the stage with Wiley, Scratchy, Riko Dan and God’s Gift spitting over a mix of old and new beats. These guys definitely have the chemistry of a group who has been performing together for ten years, as they seamlessly weave in and out of bars, Riko reaching into Scratchy’s last flow, each MC anticipating the energy of the other vocalists, but also conscious of the movements of the riddim. God’s Gift is a favorite of mine and he’s on point here, dropping mostly short pieces but with a swagger that leaves the listener hungry for more. Wiley is consistently interesting to listen to, as he projects so much personality into his performance, which clearly points towards his massively proficient carrier. Scratchy is the weak point on here, but even then he really kills it on the second half of the set.

Barely Legal picks out a few new tunes, like that ice cold  Wen VIP that I hadn’t heard. This cold side of grime is really what gets me, it takes a sci fi soundtrack palette with a big love for over-zealous sub frequencies. The classic stuff is a highlight on here as well, like Wiley’s “Morgue” which borrows from the jungle tradition focused on that dread-filled rolling subbass. The beat is heavy, primed for the club/car/back room and is wonderful to hear some of the best MCs in the game killing it. Ruff Sqwad’s brilliant “XTC vs Misty Cold” is also a great addition, as the track brings a sense of dread, but is prevailed by a greater sentiment of romantic nostalgia. Pretty deep shit for a beat made by a 15 year old kid.

Categories: 2012, 2013, hip hop, LA, LDN, NY

Picks 1/14/2013

January 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Saw Moodymann the other night for the LIFT 3rd Anniversary and I’ve gotta say it was one of the best parties I’ve ever been to. An immaculately tuned soundsystem in a small dark room thick with weed smoke and incense, and then my man KDJ drops a few Dilla tracks at about 2:30am. As he would say, “It’s like y’all in my living room right now.”

Gig Friday was poppin’. Geeman’s “Bang’t” sounded incredible in the room, and a huge sing-along to D’Angelo topped it off. Big ups to all my boys, whether on the mic or droppin beats.

Got a gig this Thursday @ MOLAA w/ Clorofila. Pretty stoked, I played with them last year but had to cut out early. This time I’ll be on the floor gettin freaky.

Pulled from the crates, bins and stacks of Amoeba, Fingerprints and Zia.

Donald Byrd – Places and Spaces (Blue Note, 1975)

By now, my deep undying love for all things Donald Byrd should be apparent. Whether it’s his work as a sideman for Hank Mobley or Coltrane in the late ’50s, his work as a leader on Blue Note in the ’60s and ’70s or his almost smooth jazz/R&B in the ’80s, the man has had one of the more worthwhile careers a digger could ever hope to come across. His sound changed with the times, but the music is consistently soulful, melodic, and subtly joyful. Poring over his catalog is like charting the evolution of popular black music in the 20th century, moving from jazz to funk, to disco, to quiet storm and eventually hip hop, as experienced on Guru’s Jazzmatazz series.

This record has been on my wantlist for years, and although I see it occasionally, it always gets passed up because it tends to come with a steep price tag. My brother and I have a ritual where whenever I visit my folks in Phoenix we’ll go out and hit a record store or two. Usually I wont pick up anything because I hate to carry shit on a plane, but this time at Zia was very different. I found this record almost instantly upon walking into the store, and when I saw it priced at $6 for a VG+ copy I almost leaped. I picked it up, found a few other scores and gladly carried them all onto the plane.

The record kicks off with “Change” and it’s an immediate change from Byrd’s prior electric work, which tended to be dark, and even the Mizell produced masterpiece Stepping Into Tomorrow had a nocturnal mood to it. Places and Spaces is very much a summer record, as the Mizell’s love for samba and Caribbean music shines and adds a very sunny and exotic quality to the album. “Change” kicks off with a sense of Carnival-esque excitement, then drops into a wonderfully funky Chuck Rainey bassline with Byrd soaring over the top. The strings are perfectly arranged, elegant but not over the top. This is a real peak time bomb, love it.

Taking the mood down a bit is “Wind Parade” (above) which is a soulful, languid track, perfect for lounging on the weekend or late night on the dancefloor. The track is pleasant and warm, and is a real pleasure to listen to. Opening up the flip, “Places and Spaces” is similar, but a bit on the sweet side. This is pre-quiet storm soul, and is basically some of the best stuff from that genre. Byrd hardly makes an appearance, but I’ve grown to trust the Mizells as much asthe man with the horn.

Ultimately though, this record can be summed up with “You and Music,” a masterful soul track that balances cheesiness with an abundance of human spirit and subtle funk. Kay Haith’s sweet vocals really carry the vibe, and help balance out Byrd’s remarkably unremarkable vocal talents. Not necessarily the greatest Byrd/Mizell jam, but certainly a damn good one. So glad to be able to put this on my shelf and in my crates.

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Yellowman – Zungguzungguguzungguzeng (Greensleeves, 1983)

PA! PA! PA! I flipped when I saw this real clean copy of this classic Dancehall bomb at Zia for the mad low price of $8. Goldenage Greensleeves dancehall records often fetch a pretty price, that is if the records ever turn up in LA at all. This was the diamond in the rough of the whole reggae/world/latin section in the store, but the score was very worth it.

Yellowman was one of the baddest of his day, revolutionizing the genre by making it raunchier, and branding a now familiar thuggish flair. His flow is fast and confident, with the ability to not only ride a groove, but to carry it.  His life has been riddled with strife, but it’s a beautiful thing to hear this man do what he does best.

Zungguzu” is one of the more famous dancehall songs, and it’s been sampled/voiced by everyone from 2Pac, Toyan, Beenieman, Blackstar, Junior MAFIA and quite a few more. The track is massive, especially as the Roots Radics band is incredibly groovy, keeping the riddims simple, but full of dynamic elements. And now is as a good as time as any to mention that the record sounds unbelievable, the mix is clear and the low end is pure subbass heaven. Yellowman is a straight up G, listening to his flow it’s easy to see not only the crossover and popularity of dancehall in NY hip hop of the late 80s, but the enduring influence of his vocal intonations and flow.

Tracks range from the more rocksteady sing-song vibe of “Good, Bad and the Ugly” to the harder, forward-looking dancehall style of “Friday Night Jamboree” (above), but overall the record is cohesive and full of bombs. Everytime I listen to the record I have a new favorite song, but as of this exact second it would be “Dem Sight the Boss,” which features a great contribution from Fathead whose lazy drawl and whine is a wonderful counterpoint to Yellowman’s flow. This is a great example of a slow song that has the ability to absolutely destroy a club – the bass looming and sweeping, ghostly organ and an easy chant to follow along to. Straight up G.

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Kassav’ – Love and Ka Dance (FM/Celluloid, 1979/1980s)

This is one of the better blind (deaf?) buys I’ve had in quite some time; I’d seen it a few times in the Caribbean section at Amoeba, but the laundry list of musicians kept me at a distance as I just assumed this was some typical imperialist culture vulture crap. But no, these guys (at least on this record) are the real deal. Parisian studio musicians applying elements of disco to more traditional music of the French Antilles. I fell in love with the music of Haiti a few years ago and have since amassed a sizable collection of francophone Caribbean music.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been inundated with records for the last month or so, and even though I’ve had this one since before Christmas, I only just put it on for the first time last week. The record struck me right away, the opener “Kassav'” (above) is a no-holds barred, no frills, disco stomper. The track features all the necessary qualities of my favorite Caribbean music: hypnotic rhythms, group vocals, fat basslines, funky horns and a deep sense of trance-like euphoria. At 10+ minutes the track is a rager and fortunately for us DJs, there is a nice little instrumental break in their, which flows into some absolutely mad percussion runs that beg to be played out.

Over on the flip, the rather pop-oriented “Nouvel” does well with salsa-indebted horns and P-funk leaning synth work, but the track is just a little too tame for my taste. The title track, “Love and Ka Dance” returns to disco and is really a huge treat. The track bumps along at midtempo, but the energy is carried with an Afrobeat influence in the horn lines and in the vocals. Lovely purchase.

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Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city (TDE/Aftermath, 2012)

I don’t have to say shit about this record, you’ve heard it, you’ve read about it, danced to it, smoked to it, partied to it, listened to your non-rap friends talk about how amazing it is, and maybe even got naked to it. Yeah, it is the most cohesive, self-conscious, intelligent album-length narrative released in mainstream hip hop in quite some time. Yeah, it is the best hip hop record released in a while. But to me it’s a lot more than that.

The Chronic 2001 was the first CD I bought with lunch money I had saved (and for a fat middle schooler you know that’s a huge feat); I bought it the week it came out and I hid it from my strict parents. I snuck listens while my parents were at work or asleep. Only ever being to enjoy the record at full volume while on my headphones. 2001 was the first record I loved, the first record where I pored over liner notes, knew every word, knew the damn thing in and out. And for the few short years I had a car, the CD was more often than not testing the boundaries of the Camry’s bass range. So like most people with my affliction, I’ve been waiting for the fabled Detox for years (almost 14 to be exact) and with every delay, every setback, every new rumor about the album (“Shit, dog he’s working with the LA Phil!” or “Bishop Lamont gonna be his new Eminem!”) I held out hope, fueled by the rumors and blind desire.

Understandably, Dre has a big challenge to face up to, he’s been the backbone for the careers of NWA, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, the Game, 50 Cent and more, two milestone albums under his own name, as well as lending his production and/or voice to some of the most recognizable rap songs ever. It feels like there’s been a recent swell of artists coming out in defense of the often-marginalized rap producer – spreading a modern message of “give the drummer some.” And to be frank, even if it’s a track by Mike Will Made It or Just Blaze (guys who use tags), the producers behind some of rap/R&B’s biggest hits go under-appreciated by most listeners. Dr Dre is afforded a double edged sword of fame and name recognition that few other producers have ever had the pleasure of holding. I mean, what other producer could headline Coachella?

At this point in his career, why should he release an album under his own name when he’s still got a great ear for talent? If Detox were ever to come out, regardless of it’s objective quality, all scrutiny and criticism will have been magnified by years of waiting. It’s just smarter for Dre to executive produce, crafting masterpieces for other rappers. And get it straight, Good Kid is a masterpiece. Listening to this album, it’s miles away from Lamar’s Section 80; where 80 was juvenile and pretty unlistenable all the way through, Good Kid has that intangible quality of a classic to it. It sounds good, it feels good, it’s heavy with spirit and talent – but most importantly, Dre touched it. Unlike his Black Hippie cohorts whose debut full lengths have been good, but fairly unremarkable, this album is incredibly focused and primed for maximum accessibility.  Dre may not have made every beat (or even most), but you can sure as hell bet he cleaned up a lot of the Pro-Tools sessions, making sure each kick was hard and each string sample clean, making sure Kendrick’s flow sounded exactly how it needed to be. The diligence of Dre in the studio is widely documented, often taking the role of drill Sergeant, commanding all day voicing sessions. With a weaker man at the helm, nobody would be talking about how they’re sick of hearing Kendrick in the club, radio, your friend’s car or on Pitchfork. At the end of the day, Detox may never come out, but thankfully Good Kid did.

2013 shows so far…

January 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Got a few gigs coming up…

– Jan 11th – True World Order @ Que Sera w/ Melzia Dia x NiceguyxVinny, Dez Yusuf, The Natives

– Jan 17th – En La Noche @ MOLAA w/ Cloforila (Nortec Collective)

– Feb 8th – Ritual @ Que Sera w/ Low Limit, Sodapop

 

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Categories: hip hop, House

Picks 1/6/2013

January 6, 2013 Leave a comment

I feel like I’m lying when I say I’ve been busy, but I guess I have been. I still have a huge stack of records (that will grow this week, I’m sure) to get through, but I have some of the choicest material ready for y’all. To those not in the know, I’m putting together a new monthly underground dance night in Long Beach with my man David Valdez. Our first night is February 8th @ the Que Sera and I just confirmed our special guests! More info late this week…

Pulled from the bins of Amoeba, Fingerprints and Chemical-Records.

Geeeman – Bang’t (Jack For Daze/Clone, 2012)

 The term “DJ tool” just doesn’t apply for this one – this is a straight up DJ weapon. Both sides are heavy bangers in the Dance Mania style, which as I’ve said before, is a nice break from all the MK/Kerri Chandler aping going on. This record made it onto a lot of year end lists, and it reminded me that I had heard it throughout the year, and that it really was a killer. A quick scour of the internet stores resulted with no luck, but I vaguely remembered seeing a copy at Amoeba. As luck would have it, I ended up at Amoeba a few days later with my buddy Sean and sure enough there was one sealed copy hiding for me in the House section.

“Bang’t” (above) hardly needs any explanation. Simple and effective, repetitive and memorable. It’s a deep jackin track that works really well for a multiple reasons: 1) that organ riff is pretty fucking dope, hard to deny that 2) the vocal, “balls are bangin” nuff said 3) the percussion is fairly complex and always 100% primed at making your ass shake. I can not wait to play this out at the kick off party next month…

On the flip, “Fire Extinguisher” is an acid drenched stormer, a real barnburner. The track isn’t as memorable as the flip, but that’s what makes it so appealing – it’s a track that can be molded into your set as a bridge track. Again Geeeman/Gerd is absolutely masterful on the rhythms. He pays a lot of attention to detail when arranging, but also feels like he has a lot of fun doing it. For some reason, all I can think is that I’d love to hear this on a boat.

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V/A – Romeo Must Die (Blackground, 2000)

Well, yeah, you guessed it, I am currently obsessed with Aaliyah. When I think of Aaliyah I remember being 12/13 and discovering MTV and TRL – with “Try Again” being a very clear memory of that time. I didn’t really have older people around me showing me music as I was growing up so I just kinda blindly wandered out into the world. But that particular video and song are very clear, I remember how beautiful Aaliyah looked and just how intense the whole video was with all the dancing and kung fu. I wish I had bought this soundtrack when it came out, but I’m sure I appreciate it more in 2012.

I want to start with the Destiny’s Child track, “Perfect Man.” This is ALL Beyonce on here, and at 19 years old, we only catch a glimpse of the complete force she was beginning to become. Her voice is assertive and confident, riding the beat very well and playing the role of diva as if she were born for it. The beat is really interesting to follow as well, the xylophone tones are particularly memorable and this one has been getting a lot of play in my home.

On the hip hop tip, BG absolutely kills it on “Rollin’ Raw” over a funky Mannie Fresh beat. BG’s flow is syrupy and monotone, the hazy beat being the perfect match. However, looking at Timbaland & Magoo’s “At it Again” we find a much more complicated affair. The video is totally worth watching for the Aaliyah and Missy cameos, but it also magnifies the strange turn that this song takes. In my book, Timbaland is an incredible visionary, a producer unique and unparalleled, but really, homeboy’s track record isn’t exactly clean – his sense of humor doesn’t always translate well through the music. About 3 minutes into “At it Again” the track steps into halftime and the video takes a rap-rock approach. As a stand-alone beat I can definitely see Three 6 Mafia rapping over the dark crunk rhythm, but in the context of Timbaland, it’s just a headscratcher. Another example is Aaliyah’s kinda banger “Are You Feelin’ Me” which Timbaland again drops into halftime and then plays hypeman to himself with a whole bunch of “are you feeling this yo?” and “who is the best at making the beats” chants. Timbaland expected my confusion and cuts the track with the statement, “You never saw this coming.”

As of right now, “I Don’t Wanna” is easily my favorite Aaliyah track, and I’ve been playing it nonstop as I’m working on dance steps in my room. Yep. Peep the live video from TRL on Spring Break or something up top (above), Aaliyah brings so much energy from the start. I  really wish I would have been able to see her live. Over the track her cadence is absolutely incredible, she’s got a natural swing to her voice that if represented visually it would look like her thin hips swaying. “I don’t wanna be… I don’t wanna live… I don’t wanna go… Shit, I don’t wanna be alone.” A track for those cold and lonely winter nights.

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Stanton Davis’ Ghetto/Mysticism – Brighter Days (Outrageous/Cultures of Soul, 1977/2011)

Brighter Days is a mythic album in record nerd circles, it’s whispered about with great hyperbole, descriptions sound like Chick Hearn giving a play-by-play. Oh and to top it off, it’s one of Madlib’s favorite jazz records. All I could ever take away from the different blogs, interviews and conversations, was that I would like it and it was guaranteed to be funky. With mythic records like this, I prefer to just dive in and listen to the whole thing front to back like it was meant to be, so I rarely allow myself the pleasures of Youtube teasers. I’ve had this record for a few weeks now and it’s partially the reason why I’m so backlogged; this record is incredibly confounding, yet it is just as compelling. The range from epic spiritual jams like “Play Sleep” (above) to hard funk like “Things Cannot Stop Forever” is incredible, but it’s worth noting that the band was primarily a club band aimed at getting people to boogie.

To be honest, not all of the tracks on here are winners, or perhaps not all of them are as life-changing as I had hoped for. There’s a lot of cheesy vocals on here, taking on a Lonnie Liston Smith or Gary Bartz kind of vibe, best exemplified in a track like “Brighter Days/Brighter Daze.” The instrumental jam is great, but the vocals are just too damn distracting, or rather they fail to offer anymore than the music.

Unquestionably, it’s the instrumentals that do it for me, whether it’s the languid spiritual vibes of “Play Sleep” (above) or the slightly more CTI sounds of “Nida,” the group works well in a jazz setting. Taking the jazz element and adding elements of funk and fusion, tracks like “Space-a-Nova” and “Space-a-Nova Pt 2” are tracks that could work at a dance, while maintaining plenty to offer for the heads as both tracks are bizarre explorations of a samba rhythm, layered in synth fog and atmosphere. Big record overall.

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Moodymann – KDJ 16 (KDJ, 2004)

This is a somewhat mysterious record. Two untitled tracks on single sided vinyl, apparently a lost record from ’97 or ’98. In the youtube posting above the tracks are cut together when there is actually a definite pause break on the record. The first track is an incredible gospel edit, it’s fiery and funky and probably something I will play out a little too often. The second track is more typical KDJ latenight funk – hazy, heavy bass, and strangely seductive. A guitar sample creeps in towards the backhalf of the track and it’s really familiar sounding, but I can’t place it. Another of many masterful, wonderful releases from one of my favorite people making music. I’m stoked to be seeing him next week at the Lift’s 3rd Birthday party.

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Dabrye – Selections: One/Three (Ghostly, 2001)

Dabrye doesn’t get enough respect, the man has been doing his machinefunk hip hop for quite some time, and has been mining techno and other electronic influences before it was cool to do so. And really, he’s had such a tremendous influence on where avant hip hop is today that he should be so much bigger. I’ve been meaning to pick this one up for some time now and I’m really glad it fell into my hands.

The big track is “Hyped Up Plus Tax” and I guess it was used in some phone commercial. It’s a great track, with beautiful string samples and a swagger that still sounds fresh today. It’s one of those tracks that sounds so dope as an instrumental but is begging for a cat like Danny Brown to add some extra murk to it. “Smoking the Edge” steps it up just a bit and that beat is just so fucking hard. Dabrye handles the rhythm really well, breaking it down on a controller or maybe even in the box, but making it sound like he’s juggling it like a DMC champ. Boy got so much swag.

On the flip, “With a Professional” takes the tone back down and offers a bit of sunlight. It’s a very mellow track, handled very well, but still a little dirty and glitchy. For my money, “So Scientific” (above) is the one. The track is funky and hard, all done with a deep bleep influence. Dabrye handles his percussive elements really well and incorporates dense polyrhythmic structures that are wonderful to breakdown and even better to groove to. It’s a complex track that is thoroughly enjoyable for your head or feet. Another one of my favorites from the D.

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Beneath – Illusions (Keysound, 2012)

Beneath was one of my favorite producers to pop up in 2012 (along with Xosar) and this end of the year release on London’s Keysound label was highly anticipated. He has crafted a unique and well-defined sonic identity where the vibe is equal parts UK Funky, Dark Garage and old school Dubstep; a sound characterized by precise percussion, fat swelling bass, eerie atmosphere, and accentuated by pure primal functionality. I’ve been sneaking Beneath into all sorts of sets throughout 2012 and people always dance.

The record kicks off with the eerie industrial gloom of “Prangin‘” which although is a fully-functioning dance track, it has qualities that make it accessible off the dancefloor. It’s atmospheric with a cinematic quality to it, fully-functional and bass heavy, yet it works best as the soundtrack to my bus ride into work on these cold gray mornings. The sample intoning “It comes from the heart” offers a shade of light, and perhaps a view into the very human artistic expression that Beneath is looking to evoke. On the flip, “Wonz” follows suit with a few horror movie piano samples thrown in for good measure.

Illusions” is on side C, and this track is precisely the reason that made Beneath my favorite producer in 2012. While hard and funky, hes incredible at using space and silence as an instrument in of itself. He feels fully comfortable in dropping all sound for a few bars, before bringing that spartan snare back in, that tribal drum derived from a sampler preset or generic plug-in, but when isolated and placed in a thick web of black gauze, draped by fat globs of bass, and a little music box melody coming out of nowhere – all is perfect.

The big track, and the track that has had me salivating from the start is his remix of “Concrete Jungle” (above) which was by far the highlight of his incredible mixes for FACT and Boiler Room. Which, to sidetrack myself, reminds me that I absolutely love Beneath as a DJ. As in, I’ve got his FACT and Daily Street mixes on my 4GB ipod right now. Anyway, what more can I say about “Concrete Jungle” other than I can’t wait to play this out? Big release, looking forward to Beneath’s output in 2013.

Categories: 2000, 2001, 2012, detroit, diva, fusion, hip hop, House, LDN

Picks 12/16/2012 – Beat Swap Meet Pt. 1

December 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Great trip to Beat Swap Meet last week, I’m doing the pulls in two updates – one today, one Wednesday. Elsewhere in my week I played what is definitely the worst set I have ever played, but thankfully it was for a group of senior citizens who would have probably been happier if there was no music playing at all. And Friday was Julio Bashmore’s debut LA appearance with a gig at the typically nutty Rhonda. Despite massive crowds, I had a good ass time: Delroy Edwards played an all vinyl set of powerful ghetto house, Samo Soundboy and Total Freedom were doing a B2B thing and Bashmore was predictably populist and fun. I got to fist-bump Delroy and utter a few awkward fanboy words, and spotted the beautiful Jessie Ware up in the booth with Bashmore. Good week.

Pulled from a trip to the Beat Swap Meet.

Moodymann – I Can’t Kick This Feeling When It Hits (After Midnight, 1997)

 This rare Dutch pressing of Kenny Dixon Jr’s Detroit classic was the crown jewel of my Beat Swap Meet trip. I didn’t spend more than $10 on a single record the whole day – that is, until I found this bad boy. I had one of those moments where I’m digging and I see the record, flip past it and immediately double-back, wound up by disbelief. Wrapped in plastic, I had the guy open it up for me and he acknowledged it came from his personal collection and it just sat unplayed on his shelf for the last fifteen years. Maaaaaaan, you’ve gotta be a digger to know what I mean when I say that this shit sparkled in the waning sunlight.

After Midnight managed to issue a few KDJ tracks in the late ’90s, and Moodymann offered up both an extended mix of “I Can’t Kick This Feeling When It Hits” (above) and two mixes for “Music People.” Now, the extended mix of “I Cant” stretches the track for four more minutes, and really who would complain about that? Moody’s brand of funk is absolutely perfect, he masterfully balances the r&b and soul of his city’s history with the machine funk of his contemporaries. His tracks are elegant, loaded with atmosphere, and laced with a dark sense of romance. Not ever giving consolations to the dancefloor, “I Can’t” starts and stops a handful of times, which really just makes it a total pleasure for home listening. The groove is upbeat and funky, but is subtle enough to lure in the uninitiated. A true masterpiece in the vast discography of classics from Moodymann,

“Music People” is sooooo dope. It doesn’t take long to get started and once that disco shuffle drops and that funky bassline brought in, the dancefloor will be on fire. This is uplifting, soulful music that grew from the hypnotic romance brought by the godfathers of the disco edit, and then balanced by the hard kick of drum machines and a sample bank only a ’90s record nerd could bust. The (Unreleased Mix) of Music People drops the disco affiliation and is pure hard machine funk. Led by the dreamy synth-bell sample at the front of the original, Moody drops the listener into a hard jacking rhythm whose only release is that euphoric sample that refuses to stick around long enough. It’s a dark warehouse track, simply music made to unite the body’s rhythm. Pure loveliness by one of my favorite producers.

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DJ Quik – Murda 1 Case b/w Trouble (Remix Pt. 3) (Bungalo, 2002)

 Dj Quik is probably one of the most underrated rappers/producers in the game, often overshadowed by his more outlandish or commercial peers. Quik worked as both ghostwriter and producer for Deathrow, lending his hand to projects by Snoop Dogg and 2Pac, seemingly satisfied to get paid just for the sake of making beats. Whether crafting beats for himself or for Jay Z, the man has been going strong for over two decades now and his sound in ’91, ’01, or ’11 is consistently fresh, and forward thinking, yet reliably focused on classic Southern California backyard party funk.

Murda 1 Case” is great, but for me it’s all about this remix of “Trouble” (above) on the b-side. This remix is a totally different take than the track on Under Tha Influence – the guitar sample is still the centerpoint of the instrumental, but Quik has given a new voicing and enlisted Chuky Makabee for a hook and both Suga Free and Beanie Sigel for verses. Quik takes the first verse and you can pretty much call it a day after that – his flow is dexterous and fluid, smooth enunciation helps you grab each and every word, but he also bends lines, verbally pitching a flow into half time –  a stunning trick that today sees Kendrick Lamar both biting and perfecting. After Beanie’s mediocre verse, Suga Free comes in and absolutely murders – whipping about raunchy ladies and serving up a fat R Kelly diss. On the instrumental, Quik toned down the vibe a tad bit, giving the track more of a swing than a stomp. This a beautiful, classic Southern California party track. Word up to the 562, 310, 213, 626, 714, 818. “What’s life without a dream?”

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Duke Ellington and John Coltrane – Duke Ellington & John Coltrane (Impulse, 1963)

It doesn’t take a sleuth to figure out that I’m a huge Coltrane nut and I’m as surprised as you are that this one wasn’t in my collection already. When Creed Taylor left Impulse records shortly after signing John Coltrane in 1961, Bob Thiele took over the imprint and eventually led it to be one of the most enduring jazz labels of all time. Thiele was a big band man and so he A&R’d a handful of records that pulled out veteran jazzmen and showcased them for a modern audience. Some of the records landed, some didn’t. Thinking about the legacies of both Ellington and Coltrane, this record could have been a lot stronger, should have been a lot stronger, but instead we receive just a small taste of what this project could have been.

As with a lot of jazz record dates of the time, this was predominately a blowing session, Coltrane and Ellington each brought their rhythm sections and they had a go at a handful of (Ellington) standards. Had Ellington written charts, or Coltrane allowed more time to immerse himself in the vibe of the group, we could have had a masterpiece on the scale of Coltrane’s work with Monk, or Dolphy’s work with Mingus, but alas this is simply stunning Coltrane in front of a solid quartet. The A-side is pretty weak, but the ubiquitous “In A Sentimental Mood” is very welcome with the wonderful twinkling piano from Ellington and Coltrane’s cool blowing. The side-winning track is definitely “Stevie” (above) as it fully demonstrates the confidence of the work with Coltrane’s classic quartet, but is weighed down slightly by Ellington’s continued sentimental playing.

The flip is more focused on ballad work, and in this mode the pairing is much more fruitful. Ellington has a way of remaining dynamically interesting and vibrant when acting as accompaniment, adding little touches of color to Coltrane’s horn-spoken love story – as heard on “My Little Brown Book.” On “Angelica” the true star is Elvin Jones, who outplays both leaders by a mile, offering up a twisted bossa beat with a funky bounce on the toms that keeps switching up and never skipping a beat. Overall, a great buy and a welcome addition to the ever-expanding Coltrane section on my shelf.

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One on One – You’re My Type (Make Your Body Move) (Virgin, 1989)

I frequently pick up old school house records for $1-2 without having heard it first, just totally hoping it wont be fucking awful cheeseball bullshit. One on One was a short-lived project by Juan Atkins with vocalist Rona Johnson, possibly put together as an answer to Kevin Saunderson’s successful Inner City project. The record features four different mixes by Atkins and one from Master Reese himself, and its this inclusion from Saunderson that sold me on the record. Although I’ve got a lot of love for Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May (as this update shows), I typically find Juan Atikins to be too cornball or dated for my taste. While Atkin’s freestyle-techno hyrbrid isn’t bad (and really, the frigid Detroit R&B of the “Urban Mix” is especially powerful), Saunderson’s mix is the real heat on here.

When I think of Kevin Saunderson the first things that come to mind are ravey ivories and a  knack for crafting really great, big memorable tracks. His mix does not disappoint at all as he turns the track into an electro infused house banger, compelte with huge 808s, stadium claps, a mischievous dose of Kraftwerk, effective use of vocals and an ill synth bassline that will not stop looping in my head. Despite the bass weight, this track is summery and feel-good, captivating and euphoric. Even though its over 20 years old it still sounds fresh and it will undoubtedly make your body move. Tip!

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 Rhythim is Rhythim – Nude Photo (Transmat, 1987)

This is classic Detroit techno from one of the pioneers, and I was stoked to see this (repress) very conveniently priced. Derrick May doesn’t have his name to a whole lot of records, but each one is a classic. This three-track record from ’87 is a prime example of the Detroit sound as it bangs with lots of blocky metallic tones, and washed in epic, pensive grays. It’s a picture of post-industrialism, a black and white photo of a city coping with and moving on from deep depression. This is dark, moody sci-fi dance music that is at once funky and soulful, yet completely alien.

Move It,” over on the B-side, is an industrial jacking track with heavy emphasis on precise percussion and curiously entertaining vocal samples. “The Dance” is the winner on the B-side though, as it manages to balance a fully functional stomp with a sense of loneliness fit for space. This is eyes-down, dark warehouse music that is powerful, but approachable. Despite the moody nature, it feels very inclusive – this is not angry or harsh, it is nurturing body music.

Where the B-side is downcast and tired, “Nude Photo” (above) has life, energy, and a sense of hope. Using the same blocky synths, May crafts a real banger that has a light-in the dark sense to it. It’s not a particularly sunny track, but the synths have color to them, and the vocal snippet of a girl giggling is incredibly welcome. The tension between the darkness and light is constant and May masterfully keeps a sense of gleeful anxiety. What I love most about the track is how involved it is, in that there was a real process of artistic expression involved in its construction, especially in that both Juan Atkins and Thomas Barnett are credited as contributors. With so many elements going into the mix, May deftly toys with the track, giving it a real sense of human spirit behind the kit. A classic cut from one of the originators, much love for the 313!

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Joe Zawinul – Zawinul (Atlantic, 1971)

This is one of those records that has been on my wantlist for years without me having ever heard a note. Diggers hold this record in high esteem, and looking at the lineup it’s hard to disagree: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Miroslav Vituous, Woody Shaw, Hubert Laws, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Hart, Joe Chambers, etc. I suppose it’s because of the reputation of this record that it took a few listens for me to actually hear it. I expected something funky, something wild, somewhere between the experimentation of the Weather Report and the gut-bucket funk of Cannonball Adderly. But noticing the year, I should have been well aware that this period in jazz (’69-’72) was heavily influenced by Miles’ In A Silent Way (on which Hanock, Zawinul, and Shorter appear) and the music became very spacey and atmospheric, more focused on vibe than showing off chops.

It’s immediately apparent that Zawinul is a fantastic composer with a strong vision of what he is trying to achieve. The tracks take their time, the mood is defined by softly bubbling rhythms, soft electronics, gentle piano, and sedate, breathy horns. The group’s rendition of “In A Silent Way” is really excellent, although George Davis gets dangerously close to smooth-jazz territory. Stronger still is “His Last Journey” which comes together with a pastoral image due to the bowed bass and twinkling piano, but what really gets me is when the mood darkens, as the synth bells covet further weight, and the spacey electric piano sidles up front to turn a sunny track into something much more serious, as it invokes a sense of deep anxiety.This evolution from twilight to dark is also heard on lead track, “Doctor Honoris Causa” (which is dedicated to my man Herbie Hancock), as it builds up a light rhythm and eerie horn lines then descends into some dark jazz territory. Woody Shaw is exceptional on the track as he lets his voice be heard, a voice not entirely departed from the school of Miles, but on its way.

By far my favorite track on the album is the strange “Arrival In New York” (above) which lumbers slowly, leaden with blunted percussion, atmospheric synths and processed bowed bass. For its time, it’s a deeply experimental track that is astoundingly beautiful despite such a short run time. One can say the same for the album as a whole, as it does have it’s truly perfect moments that not only sound sonically dark but feel dark. Yet, this isn’t a painful free-jazz exploration nor is it a self-absorbed introversion, this is Zawinul expressing his deepest sense of self to you.

Categories: 1971, detroit, hip hop, House, jazz, LA

Picks 11/18/2012

November 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Not a whole lot caught my ear this week. These two picks are strong though. Stay up.

Pulled from a trip to Fingerprints.


Lukid – Lonely At the Top (Werk, 2012)

I’ll admit it, I’m fairly new to electronic music, any genre. I grew up with the close-minded American punk rock mentality that electronic music sucked. Things change, and in 2010, it was Lukid’s Chord, along with works by Fourtet, Teebs, Flying Lotus and Floating Points that were my gateway drug. Chord is a rough and raw mishmash of hip-hop by way of Dabrye, with dabs of electro and the imminent “bass music” scene. While the album featured fragile, pretty tracks like “Makes,” it was the bass heavy, thorny, filtered floor-shakers and head-nodders that prevailed. Since then, Lukid has excelled on a handful of remixes and truly found a voice across two excellent and defining singles for his own Glum record label. On Lonely At the Top, Lukid furthers his compressed tape-visions, but adds vibrant color and softer edges to both thoughtful beat productions, as well as his dance-influenced tracks.

The guy has shown a lot of growth in his music, and I can see the parallel in my own growth as a listener along with it. Where Lukid’s sound was more “aggro,” he’s now moved into a mode that is just as moody, but more centered and at peace. His sentimental downtempo songs are no longer brittle or cluttered, they now breathe and have life, as heard on “The Life of the Mind.” The atmosphere is thick and his love for shoegaze and post-rock is firmly evident, but what is most striking is that Lukid has managed to make synthesized music feel extremely emotive. The chords dip, the vocal sample coos, the atmosphere has a cloudy bounce to it – a wonderful moment that is over way too soon.

This growth is mirrored on the abstract hip hop track “Laroche,” where he builds a sweet pop melody, a summery type of beat, then brings in crunchy 808’s and skittering high hats for just a few short bars before returning back to his summery daydream. Whether a pastiche of the current taste for “trap” or perhaps a more innocent nod to the style, Lukid demonstrates a restraint that few other producers care to employ. He has moved away from his unrelenting raucous tracks, and shows that the idea of “keep them wanting more” is sometimes the best strategy.

As was the case on Chord, Lonely At the Top’s excellent cover art mirrors both the sound and vibe of the music. The foggy synth tones bleed into percussion stabs to create a soupy industrial funk. There is somewhat of a Detroit low-fi brightness to the chords as heard on “Manchester“, but met with an equal fascination for the poppy pink fog of My Bloody Valentine – as heard on the Dilla influenced “Bless My Heart.” It’s all soupy goodness that is a real delight for the ears, especially if experienced with quality headphones. However, the layers of haze do make it a little difficult to play out, as I played out the electro jam “Southpaw” the other night and it just sounded a bit too muddy.

Lukid is really moving forward and getting closer to the masterpiece that he is capable of. To date this is his strongest work yet, as well as his most complex. He may not yet be as popular or revered as Flying Lotus or Fourtet, but in due time he will be regarded as a formidable peer who explored the same rich influences and crafted his own unique take on experimental electronic music.

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Various Artists – Glücklich II (Compost, 1996)

Maybe it’s the nature of DJ culture in Southern California, or perhaps the key lies in the endless time capsule crates of Fingerprints, but I often turn up great rare groove/latin compilations issued 10-15 years ago still in the shrink. I’ll pull the record, turn it over and try to decide if this going to be some culture caricature or real deal grooves. In regards to hunting “world music,” there’s a couple of easy warning signs to help you spot a whack imitator: 1) If the main artist/songwriter/producer is named something like “Steve Johnson,” it will be so lame 2) If there are elegantly dressed white people dancing on the cover, it will be lame 3) If the record label is American, it’s probably lame –  although changing, historically, most of the good reissue labels tend to be European 4) If the performer is presented as a caricature of either his/her/American culture, it’s definitely lame 5) If there is a write-up on the back by a journalist/musician/musicman, read it, this is the final step and usually the determining factor of lameness.

Glucklich II easily passed all my criteria, and really, with a subtitle of “A collection of European fusion tunes with a Brazilian flavour,” it’s hard to pass up. The banner lives up to its summation, all the tracks were performed by German based musicians, some with latinoamericano lineage, some not. Jazz fusion can very quickly cross the line into unlistenable cheese, but all the groups here take the samba/batacunda vibe seriously and keep the tracks focused and funky. I’m not too knowledgeable about the European jazz scene, so none of these names sounded familiar, but a shout out to both Gilles Peterson and Ubiquity gave the nod that these would be real tracks.

The nine songs can be characterized into being either more jazz based or more samba based, and they split fairly equally, with just the right amount of balance amongst and within the compositions. Joe Haider Trio’s “Tante Nelly” sounds like a lost Sambalanço Trio track, moody and deep while retaining an organic streetwise groove. On the flip we have the incredible “Otão E Eu” by Nicos Jaritz, a rough batacunda track that sets itself apart by deep rolling bass – I can’t wait to play this out every chance I get. It’s an absolutely killer track that is mesmerizing when played loud, as the sound of so much clanging live percussion is truly uplifting. Livening things up with a tropicalia inspired vocal jam, Ximo & Judy’s “Vou Vencer” is equal parts “tristeza” and romance, a track that lingers after it’s gone.

Surprisingly, the track that has stuck most with me is the moonlit vocal number, “Go For the Others” by Sail-Joia. At first listen, the vocal just didn’t do it for me – I thought the English ruined some of the mystery of the music, but I realize now the intended audience didn’t speak English, thus their vision captures the romance of this Tropicalia ode to the pampas. The lightly galloping rhythm and smoky arrangement recalls the cinematic psychedelic work of Marcos Valle. The vocal is haunting, emotive, and cool, but with a sense of knowing. Most interesting is the incredible soprano sax solo by Shawn Bergin, who taps into Coltrane spirituality, but with a mood that would have been at home in Mulatu’s band. A big success.

Categories: 2012, brazil, fusion, hip hop, tropicalia