Monday, June 30, 2008


So there's this online meme going around where you're supposed to shuffle your iPod and see how long it takes for a song to come up that would disqualify you from successfully campaigning for President. I figured this could go one of two ways:

A) Near-immediate disqualification, because my iPod contains 38 albums by Los Tigres Del Norte, who are dirty Mexicans always singing about drug smuggling and illegal immigration (in Spanish, no less), and the entire discography of Cannibal Corpse, who write songs like "Fucked With A Knife" and "Stripped, Raped And Strangled," or

B) A long stretch of seeming innocence, since my iPod also contains hundreds of jazz CDs, almost all of which are entirely instrumental - it's much more likely that it's gonna spit out something real pretty by Miles Davis or John Coltrane than, say, Archie Shepp shouting about Malcolm X.

So I gave it a shot just now, and I made it to six songs. Here we go:

1. Tigger, "Boombastic" (King Jammy's Selectors Choice). Dancehall, but the lyrics are free of "slackness" (sex talk), so it's OK.
2. The Ramones, "I Want You Around" (Rocket To Russia reissue). The Ramones, yes, but it's a love song.
3. Bad Brains, "I Luv I Jah" (Bad Brains, aka The Yellow Tape). Risky, this one. On the one hand, it's a reggae song about loving Jah. On the other hand, the cover art is a giant lightning bolt striking the Capitol dome. Call it a toss-up and leave it to the judges. I'm gonna move on, though.
4. ZZ Top, "Blue Jean Blues" (Fandango!). This one could actually win me votes in Texas and other states. ZZ Top are national heroes. Moving on...
5. Motörhead, "Capricorn" (No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith). One of the very few Motörhead songs not about war, the lies of politicians, or sex. Whew!
Finally, we get to the deal-breaker:
6. Black Flag, "Forever Time" (My War). Again, scary/objectionable cover art, and then there's the lyric - "It's time to look into my eyes one last time." Can't have presidential candidates with songs about killing one's girlfriend/lover on the ol' iPod.

(Note: Song #7 was "Controlling," by Shitstorm, from the new This Comp Kills Fascists, and #8 was "Mouthful Of Grass," by Free, from a best-of. Oh, well.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008


A record company unearths African music's forgotten past

In the early 1970s, Nigeria was ready for its close-up. The African nation had just prevented its eastern province from seceding and was experiencing a boom in its oil industry. Life was good, the people were ready to party, and across the country, bands sprang up to provide locals with a soundtrack.

Thirty years later, the U.K.-based Soundway label has unearthed a bunch of these recordings on a trio of new compilations: the two-CD Nigeria Special, and two single discs, Nigeria Disco Funk Special and Nigeria Rock Special. [Read the rest here, with the caveat that the sentence about Vampire fucking Weekend was not in the article as submitted.]

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


That's a quote from Michael O'Donoghue, but all of a sudden it seems to apply quite well to, a frequently brilliant web version of an old, substandard MAD ripoff. They run lots of listicles, some of which are quite funny. But a while back, they ran What Is The Monkeysphere?, one of the most mind-wrenchingly awesome satires of human existence ever published online. Now the same writer, David Wong, has headed back into essay-land again, with a look at The Next 25 Years Of Video Games. This guy's some kind of genius, and frankly, he scares me a little.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I've got a big (4500 words or so) feature on Bill Dixon in the July 08 issue of The Wire (it's got Mark Stewart on the cover). As an online-only bonus bonanza, you can visit their website to stream MP3s of my entire 75-minute phone interview with Dixon. Each question and its answer is a separate MP3, so you can listen to as much or as little as you like. Snazzy! The link is here.


All the Kings on my iPod (not including Elvis):

King Ayisoba Feat. Kontihene, Kwabena Kwabena & Kwaku-T
King Crimson
King Culture
King Curtis
King Everald
King Jammy
King Kong
King Nando
King Stitt & The Dynamites
King Sunny Ade
King Tee
King Tubby

Monday, June 16, 2008


Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz Funk In 1970s Nigeria

Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump - Original Heavyweight Afrobeat Highlife & Afro-Funk

There's more new music being produced now than at any time in the past, but most of it sucks. So the hip and jaded are forced to dig through the dustbin of history for long-forgotten hunks of awesomeness. This has led to a sizable reissue-and-compilation industry, and lately the Nigerian music scene of the mid-'70s is the hot zone of choice. If you're only familiar with Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade, get ready for an avalanche. Between 1970 and '75, Nigeria came out of a war with Biafra and enjoyed a boom in its oil industry - consequently, people wanted to dance, party and rock out, and bands all across the country sprang up to soundtrack the revels.

As its title implies, Nigeria Rock Special is loaded with fuzzed-out guitars, cracking snare drums and Westernized rhythms - "Another Man's Thing," by Joe King Kologbo & His Black Sound, is practically garage punk, and Ofo The Black Company was Nigeria's answer to Funkadelic circa 1972. Nigeria 70, a sequel to an out-of-print 2001 set, is funkier and more focused on lilting highlife grooves (plus some reggae on Chief Checker's "Africa Irie"), but tracks like Eric (Showboy) Akaeze & His Royal Ericos' 10-minute "Wetin De Watch Goat, Goat Dey Watcham" will put you in a hip-swiveling joy-trance. These sets' compilers deserve a Nobel prize.


Kuvapukti DVD
Blast First Petite
I remember being underwhelmed by Pan Sonic back when their name still had two 'a's in it. Their chilly Finnish art students' version of techno had little of the kick of the stuff actually played in clubs, nor was it noisy enough to satisfy the Merzbow-loving side of me.

I saw them live in May 2000, opening a Wire reunion show at New York's Irving Plaza. I recall two silent men onstage with a tabletop's worth of electronics that looked hand-built (as advertised in rapturous press clippings from the time of Kulma, the album I'd bought and which had so disappointed me). They flipped this, twisted that, fiddled with something else, and the club was filled with a roar that seemed almost visible - and had it been visible, it would have been gunmetal gray and solid as a wall. The sound changed tremendously over the course of their time onstage ('performance' seems a wildly exaggerated description of what they did up there), with waves of click and swoosh and zap running over an audience equally divided between the rapt and the jaded.

At first, I didn't think I was getting the point of it all; the austerity felt a little forced and a little contemptuous. Were these somber Finns just having us all on? When Wire took the stage, though, the double bill's complementary nature revealed itself. Wire stood frozen in place with near-Kraftwerkian impassivity, cranking out mechanistic run-throughs of the old songs - as aloof as their Finnish tourmates, but in the service of arty punk rather than artsy techno.

The raw material for this DVD was filmed on a Pan Sonic world tour, one year before I saw them in New York. Presumably the Irving Plaza show wasn't a fluke, because there's almost no actual performance footage offered here; instead, it's a continuous flow of staticky swirls and zooming electronic clusters, all in lush black and white, strobing and pulsing (there's a warning to epileptics on the package) in time with the music and occasionally adding an element to it. But iTunes' Visualizer function already does this, so the only real selling point of this is the ability it offers to view portions of the program from multiple angles. That's nice, though I couldn't find the correct button on my remote control to make it work.

Ultimately, what I took away from Kuvapukti (Finnish for cathode ray tube) was a greatly increased appreciation for their music, which is much funkier and more compelling than I recall it being in a live context, eight years ago. The rhythms made my head nod, the squelching, staticky synth riffs and forceful zaps held my attention, and the droning hums that provided a foundation were sustaining rather than soporific. Perhaps, then, this DVD's audio content will sell some CDs. Its visual content, though, feels almost like an afterthought - ignorable, at any rate.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

From here, not surprisingly.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I've reached something I'm gonna call, for lack of a better phrase, "iPod critical mass": I now have so much music in my 160GB iPod (and with 17GB or so left to fill) that I can no longer keep track of it in my head. With all my previous iPods (I've had a 30GB, a 40GB, and a 60GB before this one), I was able to more or less remember what I had. But this one has so much storage capacity, and I've done so much Rapidshare downloading - where the previous three were filled entirely from my CD collection/hard drive - that I find myself flipping through it on a semi-regular basis and being confronted by stuff I totally forgot I had in there. Just today I realized I have albums by Nortt and the Wipers that I obtained in the last month or two, stuffed into the iPod like papers into a drawer, and promptly forgot about. How it happens is, I download stuff on impulse, frequently late at night - "Hey, I always wanted to listen to that album...wonder if it's on some blog somewhere." It sure is. So I grab it, put it in there, and then go to sleep, and by the next morning I've got a dozen CDs arriving in the morning's mail that I import into the iPod for work-related listening (gotta review 'em, gotta assign reviews to others, whatever). The stuff I thought I just had to hear a mere 24 hours earlier vanishes into the background, and I never think about it again until I'm scanning for something to listen to and say to myself, "Oh, fuck, wow, I have the first four Jon Spencer Blues Explosion albums (or the first five Curtis Mayfield albums, or the entire Cannibal Corpse discography, or five discs by Bong-Ra) in here! I forgot all about that!" And then I can't remember what I thought I wanted to listen to when I first started scanning through the "Artists" menu in the first place, mere moments earlier. My iPod is damaging my brain, and fundamentally altering the way I think about music...not for the better.

Am I alone? I doubt it.


Awesome PSA from the Red Cross Eye Bank.

Monday, June 09, 2008


I'm gonna start by saying that the recent wave of '70s Africana compilations (starting roughly at the turn of the millennium with 2001's three-disc Nigeria 70, but really kicking into high gear in the last two years with Lagos All Routes, Lagos Chop Up, Ghana Soundz vols. 1 & 2, World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's A Real Thing, the three volumes each of Golden Afrique and Nigeria Special and now African Scream Contest, plus a bunch of others I'm not aware of, I'm sure) are awesome, and have been kicking my ass for a couple of years now. But some of the most recent compilations have been, I think, a little deceptive in their packaging.

The traditional "world music" audience isn't interested in a compilation of '70s Afro-psych-rock. They prefer the relatively genteel side of African music - Youssou N'Dour, Salif Keita, folks like that who are entertaining but never raucous or wild. The kind of stuff you can put on in the background while you enjoy a nice bowl of tofu stir-fry. (This isn't just me being a snide jackass; I recently interviewed Miles Cleret, head of Soundway Records, who said pretty much the same thing.) So if you're gonna dig this stuff enough to try to sell it to other people (as Cleret does - Nigeria Special and Ghana Soundz are both on his label, as is the earlier Afro Baby), you've gotta know your target audience, and in this case it's young (mostly white) hipsters, folks who come from a background of punk and garage rock and might potentially be willing to hear those same sounds played by Africans.

Which is where the packaging comes in. And frankly, some of these recent discs don't look like they sound.

African Scream Contest is the most egregious, to my eye. I just heard it this morning, and the title and cover art (at left) really don't reflect what's actually contained on the disc. You would think, for example, that there'd be lots of, you know, screaming - harsh, James Brown-esque vocals on top of hard funk grooves with scorched acid-rock lead guitar. There's a little bit of that, but for the most part African funk and rock just isn't as crazy as the artwork implies. I mean, look at the cover to African Scream Contest - it's like a cross between an early Fat Possum release and a Stooges bootleg. The songs, though, are uptempo funk with punchy horn charts and call-and-response vocals - the usual African thing.

African Rock Special closes the gap between sound and image a little better; songs like the Hygrades' "In The Jungle" or Joe King Kologbo & His Black Sound's "Another Man's Thing" have all the Afro-punk-funk zap you could want. But they're the exceptions, the harshest tracks on what's generally a funky album with some distortion around the edges. So again, the cover art seems a little excessive - it looks like a Mikey Dread/Clash single or something.

Granted, the Analog Africa and Soundway people are using existing photos, and they're not exploiting anyone monetarily - I have it on good authority that everyone gets paid. So why does this image-making bug me? I don't know - in a way it's no different from the way old rockabilly tracks are reissued in packaging that makes it seem like every redneck who found his way into a recording studio in the 1950s was some kind of Benzedrine-crazed killer who put down his switchblade just long enough to bash out a three-minute lust-rant. That's no more true than the idea that '70s Lagos was full of acid rockers who could have given Funkadelic a run for their money. Ofo The Black Company aside, that's just not the way things were. And like I said, these are awesome records well worth anyone's attention who feels like checking them out. Just don't come in expecting proto-punk from African Scream Contest, or a Yoruba version of "Super Stupid" on Nigeria Rock Special.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Simon Reynolds roped me into this online meme:

"List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to."

I don't pay much attention to mainstream radio, and MTV hardly ever plays videos anymore - most of the videos I see are on mun2, the local Latin channel. So let's see...

Akwid, "Ombligo A Ombligo" (Mexican-American twins who rap and produce their own beats; on this one, they've got norteño group Los Tucanes de Tijuana singing the chorus - through a vocoder)
Kumbia All Starz, "Rica y Apretadita (Feat. Melissa Jiminez)" (the track is generic Latin dancefloor stuff, cumbia thoroughly disguised under a wall of technotronica, but the chorus sounds extremely Bollywood to me, and that's what holds my attention)
Los Tigres del Norte, "Jaula de Oro" (this one's a classic; the title translates to "Golden Cage," and it's about a Mexican immigrant who's succeeded in America, but feels himself losing touch with his Mexican side, especially when it comes to his kids, who don't speak Spanish and don't share any cultural references with him - at one point the voice of his teenaged son is heard saying, "What? I'm not going back to Mexico, dad, no way!")
Black Sabbath, "I" (Rhino's putting out a box containing all the Dio-era albums, and this non-single cut from 1996's Dehumanizer is absolutely crushing, featuring a mind-destroying Iommi riff and one of Dio's greatest lyrics ever)
The Hygrades, "In The Jungle" (a psychedelic hard-rock instrumental from a 1970s-era Nigerian band I've never heard of before and expect I'll never hear anything else from; it's on the Nigeria Rock Special compilation from Soundway, a must-own)
Prostitute Disfigurement, "Killing For Company" (I blame John Darnielle)
Soundmurderer & SK1, "Bad Sound" (from 2003's amazing Brick Smack compilation, which I just heard this week)

OK, who's up?

Hank Shteamer
Phil Nugent
Steve Smith
John Darnielle
Adrien Begrand
Ned Raggett
Leonard Pierce

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Miles...From India
Four Quarters/Times Square

With the recent passing of Teo Macero and Joel Dorn before him, the pool of producers willing and able to push jazz musicians - and listeners - beyond the familiar and into realms of genuine sonic adventure shrunk substantially. Perhaps the last three standing are Hal Willner, Bill Laswell, and Bob Belden.

Belden, who's been exposing the working methods of Macero and Miles in his position as curator of the electric-era Davis boxes, takes the opposite tack here. He gathers alumni of various Miles bands and combines their reworkings of tunes from "So What" to "Spanish Key" with contributions from Indian classical musicians and vocalists. The results are surprising, in both good and bad ways.

Opening a two-CD set with a 19-minute version of "Spanish Key" is a clear signal that a journey of some depth is commencing. Wallace Roney's trumpet is, from the start, competing for space with Indian instruments, synthetic and live percussion, electric guitar, and Indian vocals that fall somewhere between qawwali and scat. It's a dense, ever-shifting sonic landscape, more akin to what Miles was doing in 1972-73 than in 1969, when "Spanish Key" was recorded. But Belden is also clearly aware of drum 'n' bass and laptop music, and he mixes it all accordingly. It's a good start.

Unfortunately, the next track, "All Blues," with sitar playing the melody, sounds like something you'd hear on a third-tier Putumayo compilation. And those are sort of the poles between which all the music here shuttles. Some of it is brilliant, electronic-meets-global sonic stew, and some of it is weak pastiche. But wildman guitarist Pete Cosey and thunderous bassist Michael Henderson are all over it, scorching the earth like it's 1975 again. So you could get it for them alone and be very, very happy.

Monday, June 02, 2008


RIP Bo Diddley, "500% More Man."