Looking back, Big Audio Dynamite were pretty ahead of their time. Their use of sampling may seem mundane by today’s standards, but they were one of the first (if not first) rock bands to actually use the technique and make it an integral part of their sound.
Their 1985 song “E=MC2” contains numerous samples from several different movies, most notably 1970’s Performance. Today, Performance is probably best known as for the movie starring in which Mick Jagger may or may not have been acting when it came to the sex scenes with his co-star and girlfriend of Keith Richards, Anita Pallenberg. Several lyrics refer to the film directly while complete snippets of dialogue are taken directly from the movie and integrated throughout.
None of that would matter however, if “E=MC2” weren’t a catchy and great song. Mick Jones may not have earned the same reputation as his former Clash band-mate Joe Strummer, but some of that band’s best moments were a result of Jones’ pop sensibility.
Big Audio Dynamite might not be as legendary or influential as The Clash, but they certainly deserve more recognition than they got.
Singer-songwriter Kate Copeland’s latest release, Recollection Room is a kaleidoscope of sonic colors and flourishes. These textures aren’t just layers, but rather enhancements to the songs and the arrangements. They make the songs sound big – like a voice from the top of the mountain – her vision is still rooted firmly in the ground.
Recollection Room is the kind of record that uses 21st century technology to conjure up the feelings of nature. The electronic beats, loops and samples are clearly a product of the age when computers can be made to create music, but Copeland uses this technology more like a brush on canvas rather than going for the sounds of a dystopian society. Copeland’s sweet, soft voice drives this point home even further.
Opener “A Simple Word” might be the best example of this. Copeland’s voice is covered in effects that make it sound distant and spiritual. In a way, it’s almost like a siren’s song. Even the songs the more traditional sounding songs like “My Cruel Tongue” still come off like an Impressionistic painting put to music.
Recollection Room is a very strong set of songs, because Copeland has a singular vision that is carried out throughout the entire record. Recollection Room could be great for background music or reading, but it shouldn’t be regulated to that. Otherwise, that would be an injustice to Copeland’s unique style.
Check out the video for “Breaking” below:
The Strokes are hardly an original band, but damn if they didn’t sound fresh and exciting on their debut, Is This It. Even fourteen years after its release, it still sounds incredibly cool.
Besides good songwriting, perhaps The Strokes greatest strength is the way that guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr play off each other. Throughout Is This It, they constantly play against each other, one tends to favor more melodic and slower rhythms while the other aggressively plays beneath. This unique approach creates an interesting tension in Julian Casablancas’ proto-Hipster songs. (I say proto-Hipster, because I’m almost certain that modern Hipster-dom can be traced direct to the success of Is This It.)
This sound is most evident on the album’s centerpiece, “Someday”, album’s sole ballad. Fittingly, Hammond and Casablancas both take a bit of a somber approach. But neither Valensi nor drummer Fabrizio Moretti are having any of it. Valensi’s dirty riff pulls the rug out from underneath the slick surface while Morretti pounds away. The result is one the best songs on an album that is already full of great songs.
Some records automatically make you feel cooler just by listening to them. Instrumental rock-trio Big Lazy’s latest release, Don’t Cross Myrtle is one of those records. With dark, jazzy rhythms and fluid, yet fiery guitar work from leader Stephen Ulrich, Don’t Cross Big Myrtle offers a soundtrack for the seedy American underbelly.
The music doesn’t wallop or stray into wild abandon, but you can still feel the heat. This is a heat that is humid where the only solution is to cool off into a dimly lit bar with a shot of Jameson at your fingers. The instrumental tracks present themselves as slightly nerve-wracking: as in you’d better watch your back because you don’t know what’s around the corner or who’s behind you.
The rhythm section from rock veterans drummer Yuval Lion and Andrew Hall provide a steady yet swinging back beat that leaves plenty of room for Ulrich to texture his songs with sounds that range from elements of Calypso, Blues and pre-Beatles Rock and Roll. On “Low Way” he toggles between a dirty and clean rhythm that hangs warmly over the air. The surf-rock inspired “Human Sacrifice” lives up to its name as Ulrich offers some his most impressive playing, soaked in distortion and blues-rock.
Like most of Big Lazy’s discography, Don’t Cross Myrtle is an ideal candidate for television soundtracks. In fact, the band got one of their first breaks when their debut album Amnesia was used in its entirety on Homicide: Life on the Street in 1996. With that in mind, I’m openly suggesting that Don’t Cross Myrtle be used in some capacity for Netflix’s 1920’s British Gangster drama, Peaky Blinders.
Make no mistake though, Big Lazy aren’t ambient music and shouldn’t be classified simply background music. These are fully formed songs and ideas with rich textures that are worth devoting time to sit and digest. Here’s hoping that Big Lazy don’t go another five years in between albums again.
Check out the video for “Avenue X” below:
Bob Marley may be the undisputed King of Reggae, but the Wailers never had harmonies as good as Toots and the Maytals did. Come to think of it, there are many acts that as good as harmonies as them, except for maybe the Beach Boys.
I was first exposed to this song through the soundtrack for The Harder They Come. If you’ve never listened to it, it’s a fantastic collection of reggae singles from the late ’60s and early ’70’s. With its incredible groove and memorizing harmonies, “Sweet and Dandy” quickly became my favorite song on the soundtrack – which is saying a lot because every song is killer.
If you want a good chill song to listen during the hot days of summer, you could do a lot worse than “Sweet and Dandy.”
Noel Gallagher has described “Champagne Supernova” as the most psychedelic track that Oasis ever recorded. At an epic 7 minutes in length, watery beginning and drug-induced lyrics, that’s most certainly true.
At times, “Champagne Supernova” has been accused of having dumb lyrics, particularly “faster than a cannonball”. In the hands of Liam Gallagher, it hardly matters. He manages to elevate the mundane words and make them sound transcendent. This is especially true when the chorus is introduced in a quieter setting in the beginning. When he delivers the song’s most famous line – “where were you when we were getting high” – there’s a hint of nostalgia. In lesser hands, the lyric could come off as accusing, but Liam is smart enough come off as sympathetic and longing. As the song drifts into closing and Liam repeats, “we were getting high” over and over again, getting stoned has never sounded quiet so romantic.
If “Champagne Supernova” does have a flaw though, it’s the mixing. Oasis were well-known for adding layers of guitar tracks to their record, but during “Supernova’s” guitar solo, it’s almost too loud making it virtually impossible to hear the individual players. But all’s forgiven when the song reaches it glorious ending.
My Morning Jacket’s set at the 2008’s Bonnaroo has become the stuff of legend. Already know for stretching out and long sets, MMJ offered a four-hour show that included numerous classics and off-beat covers by Sly & the Family Stone and the Velvet Underground. You can check it out here.
The title track from the band’s 2011 album, Circuital quickly became one of my favorites upon release. At a little over 7 minutes, it sums up everything that is great about My Morning Jacket: Jim James’ soaring voice, Americana-influenced rock, and wild but tasteful guitar work. Perhaps owing in part to the title, the song is propelled by a circular guitar riff from James that leaves ample room for the best of the band to shine. It rocks in parts (particularly the guitar solo around the 5 minute mark) but is still chill enough to be the kind of song you want to listen to on a hot summer night. You can hear the influence of The Band too, when the piano adds a counter-melody to the song about half-way through.
I’ve tried for years to really like Pavement. They’re one of those bands that I feel I should like. Yet, try as I might I’ve never been able to get into them. “Gold Soundz”off of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is the only song by them that I listen to with any sort of regularity.
Unlike a lot of other Pavement songs, “Gold Soundz” has a pretty discernible melody. There’s also a hint of melancholia in its arrangement too, which I like. The brief guitar solo while pretty, also contains a bit of sadness. Steve West’s slightly aggressive drumming gives the song a bit of a shuffle that ensures the song isn’t too depressing. “Gold Soundz” also contains one of my favorite lyrics too: “You can never quarantine the past.” The band must have thought the line was memorable too as they used it for the title of their best-of collection.
You could argue that “Wild Wild Life” is one of the Talking Head’s cheesiest songs and it’s one of the lone stand out from what is possibly their worst album (True Stories). The sing- along chorus is sugary-sweet and it’s definitely a far cry from the funk-stomp of “Psycho Killer”. Even as The Talking Heads got more pop oriented, they still retained their general weirdness. And that’s what “Wild Wild Life” is: Pop, served Talking Heads-style.
Case in point, not many other pop songs would begin with the lines: “I’m wearing fur pajamas.” There’s also a slight jab at Yuppies when Byrne shouts, “Check out Mr. Business man…on his way to the stock exchange.”
The main draw to the song, is of course the chorus which sounds so effortless which contains numerous variations of “ahhh ahh ahhh”. “Wild Wild Life” may not be one of the Talking Head’s masterpieces, but if there were more straight-up pop songs as good as this, I’d take it.
Rage Against the Machine has a lot of great songs, but “Bulls on Parade” has always been my favorite. Right from the start it’s a total musical onslaught that never really lets up. Even when Tom Morello is given space by the band to play the song’s signature riff, the sound is still unrelenting. Morello’s break is the sound of a coming tempest, one that can’t be ignored. When the band kicks in, adding lift and intensity to the riff, you know the time has come.
“Bulls on Parade” was the first song I ever heard by Rage when I caught the song’s video on MTV as a teenager. Needless to say, I had never seen anything like it. Most of the videos on MTV at the time either attempted to portray a glamorous lifestyle or tried too hard to be artistic. But “Bulls on Parade” presented Rage in full flight amid a haunting backdrop that contained images of oppression and revolutionaries. The whole thing displayed an intensity that was rarely see on MTV.
I was far too young to really pick up on Zack de la Rocha’s lyrics, but I could tell by the images in the video, that this was a band with a lot on its mind. De La Rocha’s performance conveyed that his anger was self-loathing, there was a greater purpose.
I didn’t always agree with Rage’s politics, but you have to admire their convictions. I wish more bands today followed suit.