Monthly Archives: April 2014

How Lil Jon Made Me Feel Old

 

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This May will mark the 10th anniversary of my graduation from college. I tried not to think about it, because that milestone means I’m officially getting old. I didn’t really think about it too much, because I don’t necessarily feel old. 32’s not old right?

But in those 10 years, trends have come and gone. Even in college, I was aware that many of the things I then liked would be deemed irrelevant. No one really thought that The Darkness’ “I Believe In a Thing Called Love” would be a stone-cold classic, but we all sang it at the top of our lungs at each party.

I just assumed that the same thing would happen to Lil Jon. His famous bark and “What?” catch phrase seemed to only exist for the moment. We all knew he was ridiculous and the absurdity of his presence was tripled by Dave Chappelle’s now infamous parody.  “Okaaaay” and “What?” were catchphrases built for one summer and one summer only. Their presence – and Lil Jon – was perfectly suited for a fleeting moment.  They’re a perfect marker for a generation. Say any of those 2 words exactly like Lil Jon and people of a certain age will know exactly what you’re referring to.  Anyone younger than 27, probably has no fucking clue.

And that’s pretty much what happened. Lil Jon milked his fame for all its worth.  In 2004, he seemed to be all over every hit single.  2006’s “Snap Yo Fingers” was the last time he actually had a hit song. Until this year.

So, imagine my surprise when I heard him barking some unintelligible lyrics over a dark and sparse EDM beat while driving my car.  This has to be an old song, I thought.  There’s no way they can resurrect this dude for a new song.  That can’t be possible.  So I pushed the info button on the radio dial and there it was:  “Turn Down For What” – Lil Jon and DJ Snake.

I sudden wave of depression hit me. Oh great, the last time this guy was really popular was when I graduated college.  Now, I suddenly felt old.  Yes, Lil Jon made me old.  It wasn’t the countless baby photos on my Facebook feed or the receding hairlines of old friends.  It was fucking Lil Jon who had turned me into an old man.  10 years have gone by, and now we’ve come full-circle so that Lil Jon can be popular again? I secretly wished there were some younger kids around so I could tell about when Lil Jon was originally popular.

As for the song, it was horrendous.  The EDM-heavy track is basically just a vehicle for Lil Jon to spew out the title of the song repeatedly over some weird beats. That’s it.  It’s so bad that one can’t even find the humor in it.  (Believe me, I tried.)

But kudos for Lil Jon for finding yet another way to infiltrate music once again.  He has essentially deconstructed his catchphrase and bought down it to its bare essence.  We should have known it was only a matter of time before a song was built around only that. In era where everything is truncated already, having Lil Jon say anything more than a slight variation of “whaaaat?” would be superfluous and excessive.

With “Turn Down For What” I’ve finally accepted the idea that I am now of the age where I don’t or won’t get what the kids are listening to.  That’s ok.  I’ll revel in being cantankerous. But I do have to wonder what kind of world we are living in where Lil Jon is popular once again.

New Music: “All The While” – Thee Idea Men

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Thee Idea Men’s “All The While” seems tailor made for the moment when the clocks strikes midnight, and the everyone in the bar is still ready to party.  “All The While” is fueled by a bluesy riff and a rhythm section that swings as much it rocks.  There’s a mid-section break-down that seems destined for a drunken sing-along.  Thee Idea Men may not groundbreaking, but they do a really good job of bringing new life into a style that may seem out-dated.  In that sense, they seem totally fresh and exciting.

Their sophomore album, New Level Shoes is set to drop in May.

Check out “All The While” below:

New Music: “Paia” – Wild Ones

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Wild One’s “Paia” sneaks up on you.  Half-way through the synth-heavy track, you’re pulled in by singer Danielle Sullivan’s haunting vocals. “You are the only one to do it right,” She coos in a distant voice over sparse beats and synths.  “Paia” is a soft and laid back track, but there’s a push and pull between the human and electronics.  The music is cold, but Sullivan’s voice turns the song into something truly organic.  It’s the kind of track you’d want to listen to with headphones on during a rainy day.

Wild Ones recently released the EP, Keep It Safe and have recently been featured  NPR’s All Songs Considered and have also received great reviews from Spin and Time Magazine.

 

Check it out “Paia” below:

http://wildonestheband.tumblr.com

New Music: “Golden Dust” – Kin Ship

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The shimmering riff in Kin Ship’s “Golden Dust” provides the song’s hook and heart.  The repetitive chords conjure up the feeling of an easy summer night. It’s a nice contrast to the rhythm section which is faster and slight more aggressive.  It’s truly the sound of a band who still are knee deep in the world of garage rock, but are also looking elsewhere for inspiration.  “Golden Dust” is short and sweet and that’s part of its charm: it doesn’t over stay its welcome and leaves you wanting more.

Check out “Golden Dust” below:

 

For more info on Kin Ship check out their web-site.

New Music: “The DJ Stayed Home” – Beautiful Small Machines

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Beautiful Small Machines’ “The DJ Stayed Home” is a gorgeous piece of piano-based folk pop.  The song begins modestly enough with a pounding piano line matching singer Bree Sharp’s crystal-clear voice.  As it continues, it morphs into a Wall of Sound-style production (complete with trumpets) that gives sweet release.  It’s the perfect song for late spring nights when the air is warm and summer is just right around the corner.

For more info on Beautiful Small Machines, check out their web-site.

New Music: “Take It Or Leave It” – A Million Pieces

 

The key to a great dance-rock song is having a good bass line. The bass-line in A Million Pieces’ “Take It Or Leave It” propels the song forward.  The pulsing rhythm gives leads vocalist Graham Fenton plenty of room to show off his R&B tinged chops.  The band slides easily into a chorus that will instantly get stuck in your head.

“Take It Or Leave It” can be found off the group’s latest EP, Supernatural out now.

http://amillionpiecesmusic.com/

“The Punk Singer” – Review

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“Where’s Kathleen Hanna?”

That was my first thought when I read the articles about Nirvana’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction performance. Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic wisely chose some amazing performers to sing Cobain’s songs including Kim Gordon, Joan Jett and St. Vincent. (I’m not a fan of Lorde, and I was mad that all the headlines focused on her.)

No disrespect to Joan Jett – I love her and she’s great – but it would have been a nice touch to have Hanna on board singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” instead of Joan Jett.  After all she was not only friends with Cobain but also the inspiration behind “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  She famously spray-painted the words “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” in his apartment and the rest is history.

It seems only fitting that Hanna would be linked to perhaps the biggest musical revolution since the British Invasion, because at the same time that Nirvana was blasting in the stereos of kids everywhere, she was creating her own revolution with the Riot Grrrl movement. Its importance can’t be over-stated, but too often it gets left behind in the story of Rock History.  Ironically, it’s probably due to grunge’s over-arching cultural influence.

That story mostly gets rectified in the documentary about Hanna titled The Punk Singer. At the center, the movie is really about her. But it is more than that, it highlights a social change that was taking place. The groups that made up the Riot Grrrl movement crushed most pre-conceived notions about how women could and should sing about. If Cobain wrote songs that captured the social zeitgeist, these groups actually demanded change.

I’ve liked Bikini Kill for a while, but I didn’t know much about Hanna until I watched the film.  It was really wild to see footage from their early days and see how fearless of a performer Hanna actually was. Here was a woman singing about real issues that women deal with the wild abandon of Iggy Pop.  But she could also command too.  Demanding that the women in the audience move to the front and the guys move to the back, is one of the bravest and most amazing things I’ve ever seen a performer do.

It’s a shame that Hanna doesn’t get more credit or accolades. But I’m not sure that she would necessarily want it. She’s never been about fame, but rather just about the message and the art. Bravery is a a word that defines Hanna, from her unapologetic lyrics and attitude to her recent battles with Lyme disease.  The Punk Singer should be required viewing for any serious music fan.

Outkast’s Legacy Is Secure Thankyouverymuch

 

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Is Outkast’s legacy secure now that they gave a lukewarm performance at Coachella this past weekend? I’d say that their legacy was pretty sure from the very moment they released Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik back in 1994 and changed the course of hip-hop. They practically invented an entire genre of their own, made it acceptable for the South to  have a voice in hip-hop. Without Outkast paving the way, there would be no Lil Jon, Ludacris or Lil Wayne.

With each subsequent release, Outkast continually expanded what a hip-hop group can do. ATLiens took the aesthetic of their debut even further drawing upon soul and gospel influences.  “Extraterrestial” further pushes the boundaries with the absence of a drum-beat. It’s akin to “When Doves Cry” – stripping a genre of its foundation and signature sound and creating something new in the process.  Aquemini contains “Rosa Parks” which is still probably the only hip-hop song to contain a Harmonica breakdown.  Then of course there’s Stankonia which propelled the group to the mainstream.  That all came before SpeakerBoxxx/The Love Below which solidified their place among musical royalty.

But of course you wouldn’t know that based on any headlines from their performance this past weekend at Coachella.  Social media cried foul at the group’s first “reunion” performance and almost every News Organization ran with the story. The crowd wasn’t into it!  (Oh no! A crowd that wasn’t their core audience is disinterested – shocker!) Andre 3000 turned his back on the audience! (The horror!) They didn’t open with a “hit”! (What the fuck?  “B.O.B.” was a pretty huge song in 2000.  I remember it playing on virtually every single radio station, thanks.)

Unfortunately for Outkast, they probably should have seen this coming. Reunion shows can be tricky, especially at a place like Coachella where music is secondary to being seen there. Unlike say Bonnaroo or Lollapolooza, every year it seems that Coachella has turned into a gathering place for the rich and famous. Almost all of the headlines that weren’t dealing with the so-called backlash focused on which celebrities were in attendance. If Outkast had opened with “Hey Ya!” I’m willing to bet there would be an entirely different narrative to this whole thing.

From the videos I’ve seen  of the performance – Big Boi and Andre 3000 mostly nailed it.  It may have been a bit spotty in places – the setlist seemed to lag in the middle – but they managed to keep their lyrical dexterity in spot. Big Boi was especially tight.  I’d hardly call that embarrassing or a detriment to their legacy. (Let’s be honest – Idlewild is way more tarnishing to their legacy than any bad performance.)

Instead of griping about their performance, we should be celebrating the fact that one of the greatest hip-hop groups is together again. Hip-hop hasn’t been as imaginative, creative or weird without them.  Welcome back guys.

11 Songs That Clock In Under 2 Minutes

 

“Mystery Dance” – Elvis Costello

A burst of punk energy mixed with ’50s rockabilly, “Mystery Dance” is one of the highlights off of Costello’s debut My Aim is True.  It’s also a great showcase for Costello’s biting lyrics which fly off his tongue at lightning speed.  In Costello’s world it’s often been written that the word dance is euphemism for sex.  And “Mystery Dance” is filled with sex. There’s Costello admitting that to his girl that “both us were willing, but didn’t know how to do it” in the second verse.  Later when he’s under the sheets looking at magazines he wonders, “what’s the use of looking when you don’t know what they mean.”

“Fell in Love with a Girl” – The White Stripes

A lofty claim, but I think that “Fell In Love With a Girl” is the closest that the 2000’s had to a song like “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.   Its biting guitar riff cut through everything else that was on the radio at the time, destroying everything in its path. Its wordless chorus is still infectious 13 years later.  Before the song was even over, you could tell that there was a change in the air and the White Stripes were on their way to start a musical revolution.

“Sister” – Prince

Dirty Mind is full of dirty songs, but “Sister” takes the cake with its tale of a teenager who sleeps with his sister. The subject matter would be dirty enough, but Prince naturally pushes the boundaries with his explicit lyrics about blow job and whips.  Its shock is enhanced by its length.  By the time you have a chance to really ask yourself if that’s what the song is really about, it’s over.

“Lukin” – Pearl Jam

This 1 minute song pretty much tells the entire story of Eddie Vedder’s stalker problem that occurred in the mid-’90s.  Much of No Code was inspired by Neil Young and finds Pearl Jam experimenting with all kinds of musical styles. But “Lukin” stands out in contrast to the rest of the album: its direct, fast and loud.  Pearl Jam play the song fairly often, usually at twice the speed of the recorded version making it nearly impossible for Vedder to scream out the lyrics.  On occasion, he’s been known to just yell, “Fuck it!” when he realizes he can’t finish the lyrics.

“There Goes My Gun” – The Pixies

I chose this over “Something Against You” because it’s a great showcase for the vocal harmonies between Black Francis (or Frank Black, whatever) and bassist Kim Deal.  When people talk about the Pixies, they usually refer to the noise that they make.  But “Here Comes My Gun” show another side to them that is rarely talked about: the use of space. The openness of the song allows for Black’s hallowing scream to take center stage. When I saw the Pixies on their Doolittle Tour in 2009, and “There Goes My Gun” was definitely one of the highlights.

“Here She Comes Now” – The Velvet Underground

Technically this song’s length is 2:03 but it fades out at 1:56, so I’m going to include it.  “Here She Comes Now” is probably the prettiest song in the Velvet’s catalogue and acts as a bit of relief from the onslaught of noise that permeates the rest of White Light/White Heat.  It’s  album full of dirty sex and “Here She Comes Now” is the Velvet’s at their sexiest.

“White Riot” – The Clash

Which version of “White Riot” you like better is kind of superfluous. The version included on the US version of The Clash (with the siren at the beginning) is the most well-known while the original version is even more ragged. Either way, both versions of the song are a rallying cry and a punk manifesto.

“Ingrid Bergman” – Billy Bragg & Wilco (Woody Guthrie)

I’ve always wondered what this song would have sounded like if Guthrie had recorded it. The lyrics show a different side than the Guthrie most everyone knows. He’s not admiring  Ingrid Bergman for her acting skills. “You´d make any mountain quiver,” Billy Bragg slowly over his acoustic guitar. “You´d make my fire fly from the crater.”  Hey, even activists have a sexual appetite.

“Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” – The Vaccines

It’s very rare that a song comes along and the first time I hear it I think it’s a classic.  “Wreckin’ Bar” is one of those songs.  It’s impossible not to get caught up its mix of punk energy and infectious hooks. The fact that’s it’s over so quickly only adds to the song’s charm: it leaves you wanting more. I first discovered the song during the credits during an episode of Girls. Thank Lena Dunham.

“Hit the Road Jack” – Ray Charles

“Hit the Road Jack” is probably one of the best examples of the vocal interplay between Ray Charles and the Raelettes.  When Charles pleads to let his girl him stay, vocalist Margie Hendricks rebuffs with him with the famous line: “don’t care if you do, cause it’s understood, you ain’t got no money, you just ain’t no good.”  For his part, Charles makes his signature “what you say?” line seem angry, hilarious and demanding all at once.

“Cretin Hop” – The Ramones

No list of short songs is complete without the Ramones. (Surprisingly, “Blietzkrieg Bop” is actually over 2 minutes long.)  Leave it to the Ramones take an insult and make it into something worth celebrating.  The song is signature Ramones: Johnny’s buzz-saw guitar, absurd lyrics and a mid-song count off from Joey.

New Music: “Perfectly Flawed” – Marla Joy

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“You know I’m perfectly flawed,” Marla Joy sings in the chorus of her latest song, “Perfectly Flawed”.  That description fits Joy’s soulful singing.  Her voice cracks throughout the song, but it’s the passion behind the voice that captures your attention. In an era when many female singer seem intent on singing all the right notes, Joy counters that by giving a performance that may not be technically perfect, but one you can actually feel.

The song harkens back to the days of 70s R&B. Its a real treat to hear Joy ride the soulful groove of the song.  The band is wise enough to never overshadow Joy, giving her plenty of space to reach deep.

“Perfectly Flawed” is the title track off of Joy’s latest album which is due out in May.  Check out the song below.

http://marlajoy.com