Sunday, June 28, 2009

Throwback Sunday: In Which We Filter a Couple Jazz Re-Issues Through the Lens of the United States' Confederation Cup Loss

"And the pain.... was tremendous..." - Bill Cosby

So, after watching an oh-so-beautiful two-goal lead slip away from the U.S., who ran themselves out in the first half of the Confederations Cup final to Brasil, I needed to listen to something a little calming. So what better time to take a listen to a couple of recent jazz reissues?:  

• Oscar Peterson, Soft Sands - Originally released in '57, this is much more easy-swinging than a lot of Peterson's later work. Laidback piano and string arrangements, with an old-school oohing and ahhing chorus behind him. Very exotica lounge, and the reissue comes with a ton of bonus tracks, although on this particular day, I'd have to say that the samba swing of "I've Never Left Your Arms" is making me a little bitter after the 3-2 Brasil win...

• Count Basie, Fiesta in Blue - Looking at the title, I was worried that I'd picked the wrong two records to listen to today, but the jump and jive of "Honeysuckle Rose," the opener off this best-of compilation. It's all toe-tapping, classic Basie, with some slow-swinging slow numbers ("Going to Chicago," "Harvad Blues") mixed in.

Good for lifting the spirits, all in all. And let's be honest, ever since they beat Spain, the U.S. soccer squidder was playing with house money. It was a little disheartening to see them let a 2-0 lead get away, but it looked to me like Brasil just let 'em run and run and run all first half, and figured they'd be able to make the goals up once the U.S. players had run themselves out. The U.S. had the most trouble with their transition offense; getting the ball ACROSS mid-field and keeping possession. But they just looked kinda gassed in the second half. The Brasil goal in the first couple minutes of the second half took the wind out of the U.S., and the Brasilians just floored it from there.

Still, though, very, VERY respectable showing, and damn good practice for the return trip to South Africa next year.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Wu Ain't Through: 'Chamber Music' Review

It's hard not to root for a new Wu-Tang album to be great. Then again, it's also difficult to not compare it to their best work from previous years. Whether that's unfair or not, you be the judge. All I know for sure is that Chamber Music has the potential to be great, and at times, it definitely is, but it is also frustratingly short, and much of its most interesting instrumentation is tossed off on interludes.

There are only eight actual songs on this 17-track album. The rest are skits with RZA waxing rhapsodic about various facets of the Wu philosophy.

That said, almost all of the songs are killer, but their most interesting feature is their simplicity. As opposed to the RZA productions in the mid-'90s that had six or seven samples mashed up in them, these tracks are mostly very straightforward. "Kill Too Hard" is an organ hit and a string fill, "I Wish You Were Here" is a melancholy soul loop and "Ill Figures" is little more than than a neck-cracking beat and a mid-range bassline.

Guest shots from Masta Ace, Sean Price, Cormega, Sadat X, Havoc and others keep it from being the strict Wu-Tang affair that past clan records have been, but everything works.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Jesus, Johnny Depp, You Can Be One Creepy-Looking Motherfucker

Johnny Depp hasn't looked this creepy since Edward Scissorhands. Below, a sneak preview of his Mad Hatter getup for Tim Burton's 3-D production of Alice in Wonderland. This is like Elijah Wood meets Carrot Top crossed with a pedophile dressed as a clown... see Helena Bonham Carter's Queen and Anne Hathway as someone else at

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

128 Oz. of Haterade: 'Dopium,' by U-God, a.k.a. An All-Out Deathmatch for the Title of Wu-Tang Clan's Most Useless Member

"Yo Ghost, you think you could kick off the first verse on my new solo record, so people might forget that it's really by me? How 'bout that, god? Maybe we could also do a few inexplicable dance remixes and tag that shit onto the end..."

Once upon a time, there was an MC who went by the name of Masta Killa, and for quite some time - pretty much all the way up to the release of his first solo album, No Said Date - he was the Wu-Tang Clan's Useless Member. You know, like the kid with the fake braids in N'SYNC, or the Asian kid from the Neptunes. 

Then, suddenly, No Said Date heralded a new MK, one who was actually a half-decent MC and not just some ashy-voiced dude mumbling 5 Percent wisdom obscurity [and definitely not actually rhyming]. If you don't remember what I'm talking about, recall this gem from "For Heaven's Sake":
Now all pay tribute to this entity
A spark that surges through the undergrowth
overwhelmin the populace from the entry
The Wu-Tang Dynasty, has emerged
from this elite fleet
I was appointed to strike the vital nerve
Mouths tend to utter and speak empty words
Observe the magnetic attraction as we breathe
Seeds of MC's at these fake ass industry niggaz
feed off, the chrome mic tend to squeeze off
and spray, an array of shots
that travel downwind, just respect pyrhiffic pen
as I send, the minds of the weak
To rise and take power I blew tower-ing over the land
as we stand, expanding our C.R.E.A.M.
A dollar to every grain of sand
Let the mind use the physical as planned
Or gaze in fear and wonderment at his verse from "Triumph," which is what I was originally thinking of when I remembered that first verse:
The track renders helpless and suffers from multiple stab wounds
and leaks sounds that's heard
ninety-three million miles away from came one
to represent the Nation, this is a gathering
of the masses that come to pay respects to the Wu-Tang Clan
As we engage in battle, the crowd now screams in rage
The high chief Jamel-I-Reef take the stage
Light is provided through sparks of energy
from the mind that travels in rhyme form
Givin sight to the blind
The dumb are mostly intrigued by the drum
Death only one can save self from
This relentless attack of the track spares none
Now... there are words that rhyme in both of those, but they is by no means raps. Anyway, it doesn't matter, because his solo albums made up for all the badness. 

Subsequently, there's now a power struggle for the title of Useless Member, and it is between U-God and Cappadonna. While 'Donna splashed onto the scene with hot verses on Ghost's "Daytona 500" and Wu-Tang Forever, his solo debut was pretty bad and his latest, whose title escapes me at the moment, wasn't much better. U-God, however, made a great case for himself with the towering mountain of shame that is "Black Shampoo."

But luckily for Golden Armz, Dopium kind of redeems his lackluster legacy a little... or maybe it's his audition for a comedy-based band, I'm not sure. It's a bit disjointed, without question; there's no consistency to any of the beats, unlike most Wu solo records. But there are some bangers: the opener, "Train Trussle," tops a driving beat with strings, horns, and Ghostface; "Lipton" is a nice bit of lyrical handiwork, and the title track rides a heavy soul loop.


...we then come to "Hips," which I presume is "the club jawn." And that's fine; it's got an old-school wah-wah synth bass as its bedrock... but if you play this for a girl, she's gonna get creeped out. It's just got a sort of sketchy-guy-in-the-club vibe to it. It actually sounds like it should be an Incredibad song, with a few humorous lyrical tweaks.

And then.....

...we arrive at the bonus tracks, three inexplicable dance remixes of album tracks, which definitely sound like Incredibad. I can see Andy Samberg chanting "Stomp da roach!" right now.

So if anyone knows whether Samberg and the fellas are looking for a token black guy, tell them to throw on the Felix Cartel "Hips" remix, pop some Ecstasy and then give him a call.

ADDENDUM, 6/29/09: I'm coming around a little bit on this album. I think the initial shock of the techno-house remixes got the best of me the first time around. As a production guy, I really like almost all of the non-remix beats. And while U-God has a neat voice, I think his full-lengths suffer from the same problem as the Chali 2na solo joint... the voice is great from time to time, but after 40 minutes, it gets a little tiring.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

128 Oz. of Haterade: 'The E.N.D.,' by Black Eyed Peas

This post was SUPPOSED to be about the E.N.D. of the Black Eyed Peas... but damn if this isn't a pretty good album that puts an interesting spin on techno-dance music.

I want to hate the Black Eyed Peas. I want to be able to write a mega-vitriolic post about Fergie as the new-millennium Yoko Ono. But here I am nodding my head to "Boom Boom Pow" and saying to myself, "That's actually a redeemable and half-decent use of Auto-Tune," which is pretty rare for me.

Don't get me wrong. I still can't stand Fergie - and as to my girl's constant assertions that she is mad yay, I would give her a 5 out of 10 on My Scale of Women Who Vaguely Remind Me of Bullfrogs And/Or The Chick Gremlin from Gremlins 2. But despite her annoying contributions,'s reasonably-consistent musical excellence just refuses to allow the Peas to be dragged down to her level.

That said, The E.N.D. is a techno-dance record thinly disguised as hip-hop. Nothing wrong with that; it's just the way it is. To his credit, Will's version of techno is much more involved and interesting than most of what I'm used to hearing. While I'm a much bigger fan of the tracks that lean more toward hip-hop ("Imma Be," the old-school Bambataa-style backing of "Ring-a-Ling"), straight-up dance tracks like "Rock That Body" and "Rockin' to the Beat" are definitely infectious.

My main problem with the second incarnation of the Peas is that they essentially became a vehicle for Fergie which, from a commercial/sales standpoint, I totally get. It's just that I thought they were plenty good before she came along. This sort of third incarnation, though, as a modern dance-music group, achieves a nice balance between the mega-pop Peas and the indy-minded hip-hoppers they started out as. It also has a lot more of the sounds that used to excellent effect on his Beat Generation instrumental album, which is probably my favorite of all the Peas-related work.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Who'd Have Ever Thought They'd Say 'Red and Meth Should Stick to Buddy Comedies'?!?

Meth: "What happened to the grimy beats we both used to rock back in the day?" / Red: "Well, Erick Sermon made like a dozen fuckin' beats with the same bassline on Doc's Da Name 2000, RZA went all Bobby Digital and shit, and that was about the end..."

Hip-hop heads already knew Redman was funny as hell from verses on all his albums - not to mention being one of the few rappers with half-decent skits on their records - and that Method Man was, too, from his part on the "torture" segment of the first Wu album.

Then the rest of the entertainment world took notice on Redman's fucking hilarious Cribs episode - the only enjoyable segment of the whole series, in my opinion. Meth's turn as NYC-hitman-cum-phony-ass-player Ike Love in Belly got him in the cinema spotlight, and then came a movie I never thought could possibly be good (and yet turned out to be one of my all-time favorite stoner comedies), How High.

And while both of them have retained their respective lyrical edges, their albums since about '98 have been pretty lackluster, including Meth's overly-lengthy sophomore album and Red's Doc's Da Name 2000, where Erick Sermon completely abandoned any pretense of creativity and farted out at least a half-dozen beats with the exact same bassline, a funk he stayed in until the "React" single.

Blackout! 2 comes a full decade after the kind-of-good original- 

(and with that, I come to the horrifying realization that it's been 10 years since I graduated from high school... damn... let's pause for a moment of slight depression at my loss of youth... alright back to the matter)

-and it's just as mediocre as you might expect. My hopes were raised a little by the first single, "A-Yo!" But then again, the exact same beat has been used already to fine effect by [I think] A.G. on his solo album, The Dirty Version.

I never thought I'd say this, but Red and Meth should stick to buddy comedies if they're not going to branch out and get some better production. They definitely have a hilarious tag-team chemistry.

Hot Shit (Or Not...), Mark Madden is Back on the Air (Dozens of Months Too Late Edition)

I had my dad posted up on Mark Madden Watch back in the 'Burgh ever since he got booted from ESPN for making a Ted Kennedy cancer joke. I knew it was only a matter of time before he was back on the air, and sure enough, I was right. He's been on WXDX in Pittsburgh now for quite some time.

However, it doesn't seem that he's nearly as vitriolic as in the past, and quite honestly, a Mark Madden that isn't belittling stupid callers, challenging intelligent callers to good sports talk and baiting the public with outrageously ridiculous sports hyperbole isn't a Mark Madden I really want to listen to. And quite frankly, considering the just-as-offensive-yet-completely-boring drivel that Alan Cox used to spew, I don't understand why they don't just let Madden have his way. He was a ratings meatgrinder in the Pittsburgh sports market, and while his old ESPN afternoon drive-time show runs circles around its replacement, Paulsen, Logan & Crow, I think I'd rather listen to them nowadays.

Not to mention that The X makes him play a mid-'90s alt-rock song between two-minute talk segments and a glut of commercials. At least that's how the netfeed of the show goes.