Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rockaliser Radio

The Pazz & Jop poll came out a few days ago, but here's what you've really been waiting for: our first Rockaliser End-Of-Year Radio Rockcast (Feat. Polite Convo, Minor Disagreements & Technical Incompetence). Broadcast from the offices of alternative media collective Radiohive, Aaron Mendelson and I discuss our Top 10 lists, share the love for Grinderman and Big Boi, compare the relative merits of Trill OG vs. Bun B on other people's albums, laugh once more at the stupidity of Kanye's album titles, and throw in a few easy barbs at Eric Clapton for no discernible reason:

You can download the show here. My list in written form is here; Aaron's is here. Bonus: list number-crunching.

Thanks to Juell S. for sharing the Radiohive studio and my esteemed colleague for editing numerous cuing mistakes and long, uncomfortable silences. To our readers: would you like to see more of this in the future? Let us know--we do have the technology.

In case you're wondering, my voice does sound that distorted in real life.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Retconned Out Of Existence: Café Tacuba's "Revés"

I have no love for Warner Music Group, the gargantuan family of record labels that has accused itself of copyright infringement, but I've felt particularly rankled by one of the label's recent decisions. It's a reissue that demonstrates greed, foolishness, or ignorance, and maybe all three.

Café Tacuba, the Mexican rock band, are one of my favorite groups. Since 1992, when the band released their first album, los tacubanos have crafted some of the richest, most engaging music on the planet. Their relatively recent Sino took on classic rock, and they typically fuse art-rock with traditional Mexican music. I've seen the group compared to Beck, The Beastie Boys, Talking Heads, Radiohead, and The Beatles. It's a credit to Café Tacuba's eclecticism, evolution, and stature that all of these comparisons have some merit.

Anyways, in late 2009 the Warner subsidy WEA Latina reissued the group's 1999 disc, Yo Soy. The single-album reissue was a strange move, since Yo Soy was originally released as one half of the double album Revés/Yo Soy. The reissue appeared to celebrate Yo Soy's tenth anniversary, and came with new album art and the requisite remaster. But that seemed idiotic--why no Revés?

In the past ten years, the Revés/Yo Soy CDs have become a collector's item--in mint condition they can fetch $200, and it's pretty difficult to find even a shitty copy for less than thirty bucks. How this came to be I can't say. Online vendors claim that it's rare, but I'm skeptical--I assume it was mass-produced, by earth's largest record conglomerate, in Mexico and the U.S., barely ten years ago. Revés/Yo Soy was reviewed in Time magazine, and won a Latin Grammy, but has somehow become scarce enough to justify a three-figure asking price.

Maybe WEA rushed out Yo Soy to fill this void, but retconning Revés out of existence was the wrong way to do it. While the two discs are substantially different, and originally arrived in separate jewel cases, their very titles ask for them to be considered as a piece. Revés translates as reverse, and Yo Soy is a palindrome, spelled the same forwards and backwards. The CDs actually identify themselves as disc one and disc two of the same set. And Yo Soy's "La Muerte Chiquita," a minor hit in Mexico, reappears as "M.C." on Revés.

The difference between the Revés and Yo Soy versions of the same song illustrates another point: the halves of the double album are quite different. Yo Soy contains the pop songs, breezy and subdued. There's some weird stuff, for sure--the lovely "Bicicleta" is 2 minutes and 36 seconds long, but split into 26 seamless tracks, and a few of Revés' motifs make an appearance--but it's the Warner-neglected disc that's really far out.

Revés is 50 minutes of instrumental music. It eludes easy description, but the playful experimentalism of Café Tacuba is on full display throughout. The planes of sound on opener "11" (most song titles are arbitrary numbers) fit together like one of Diego Rivera's Cubist canvases. On "2," Café Tacuba appropriate the ambiance and Carlos Alomar guitar of Bowie's Berlin-era instrumentals, infusing them with their jumpy melodicism. Aggressive drum circles appear throughout the album--"10" features nothing else, save for some whooshing effects and a vocal sample towards the end. Songs take idiosyncratic turns: acoustic guitar will be joined, then overwhelmed, by airy backdrops, and the abrasive passages and percussive breakdowns approximate the electronica of the day. "M.C." doesn't even feature Café Tacuba--it's a cover of "La Muerte Chiquita" by The Kronos Quartet.

Revés isn't Café Tacuba's best album, but it's a rich listen. It illuminates not just Yo Soy, but also points towards the stranger moments on 2003's Cuatro Caminos, sometimes called the group's Kid A. And Revés could stand on its own, were it ever released that way.

Artistic intent and fidelity to the original release aren't everything, but I see no reason why WEA Latina would neglect Revés, which is not commercially available in 2010, even on iTunes. Here's an instance in which a major label forces fans to illegally download an album simply to hear it. To which I say: fuck Warner Music Group, fuck WEA Latina, fuck the botched Yo Soy rerelease. I'm going to go listen to Revés/Yo Soy.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ears To The Street, Eyes To The Sky: Nathan's Favorite Albums of 2010

My personal favorite moment of 2010 music-related esoterica was while watching the Olivier Assayas movie 'Carlos,' when "Sonic Reducer" by the Dead Boys blared over Red Army terrorist Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann's (aka Nadia) car radio as she tried to outrun the Swiss border police. Anyway, here are my ten favorite albums of 2010, with apologies to worthy candidates like Gorillaz, Sleigh Bells, Liars, Neil Young, etc. I also still haven't heard 'Apollo Kids' amongst thousands of others so this list is as always subject to post-publication grafting.

1. Gil Scott-Heron,
I'm New Here
A decade in and out of Rikers on cocaine charges has evidently failed to hinder the great poet's capacity for adventurous, cutting lyrical commentary, even as I'm New Here seems immediately and evidently a less political, more personal beast than many of his 70s funk classics. Everybody these days seems to be combining blues, jazz, rap and electronica, but Gil jumbles these elements as a means of evoking a specific locale--New York--exploring what the city used to be, what it is now, and what it could be, in dreams. As a recent NYC transplant, I find it sings with the expectations of an exhilarating, enlightened materialist take on urbanity. I'm New Here is brave in its sequencing: it ranges from acoustic Smog covers to tracks of brief recited verse to torch songs, all of which add up to a virtuoso deconstruction of popular American music, hip-hop, and basically everything else on the remainder of this list.

2. Janelle
Monáe, The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)
I've spent a lot of 2010 belaboring the point that The Archandroid is meant to contain the second two suites out of a total of four, so I don't know if it's exactly fair now to bestow such accolades on an ostensibly uncompleted work. But everyone must know by now how good The ArchAndroid is, and the level of energy and creativity that goes into potent genre-crosses like "Cold War," "Locked Inside," "Wondaland," and 15 others would be staggering enough even if Ms. Monáe wasn't already perhaps the greatest live performer in the world.

3. Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty
Confession: Were it not for the lugubrious Jamie Foxx-assisted slow jamz business "Hustle Blood," this would be #1 on my list. Having scrutinized every errant Big Boi mp3 for years as Jive and Def Jam battled for this album's soul, it's wondrous to discover how deep and how virulent a strain of ear-crack this still is, no matter how old some of the tracks are. Song-for-song and verse-for-verse, Antwan Patton has improved his delivery and increased the breadth of his subject matter, and he demonstrates heretofore unnoticed insane skills as a producer. Andre 3000 may be our Prince, but Big Boi is our George Clinton, with the longevity and next-level rhyming skills (peep "The Train Pt. II") to match.

4. Caribou, Swim
Dan Snaith, aka the best Math PhD in the biz, has never done anything as awash in different forms of tension (something that dramatically sets him apart from his dance-y peers) as Swim. A track like "Leave House" starts off in DFA Land but veers into something scarier, more minimal; a track like "Kaili" messes with the parameters of balladry and atmosphere in a way that seems...well, mathematical. And, as my colleague intimated, "Odessa" has the opening firepower of a "Born Under Punches," which is to say this is a finely-tuned audio experiment, every note and motif carefully applied, that also happens to be enjoyable to listen to.

5. Nü Sensae, TV, Death and the Devil
Vancouver is one of many hubs in Canada for some of the best hardcore punk being produced in the world today, but what separates
Nü Sensae from heavyweights like Fucked Up is that they bring a simplicity that outstretches even the earliest conceptions of the form--no epic guitar overdubs here, just distorted bass and drums and some searing lady vocals on top. Almost every track on TVDATD provides a different kind of amphetamine rush despite/because of this simplicity. This album isn't diverse, it's obverse--every idea the band has, they throw it in your face.

6. Freddie Gibbs, Str8 Killa EP
Gibbs, as far as I know, is the first rapper of note to come out of Gary, Indiana (apparently the Hoosier State has traditionally been short on lyrical talent), and the perspective he lends, coming out of a city with the highest percentage of African-Americans in the country (to say nothing of a significant pop dynasty), is unique--but that alone doesn't sum up why the 35-minute Str8 Killa sounded so much better than most longer players (in both senses). Gangsta Gibbs has the flow and deep register of a young Tupac, and songs like "Str8 Killa No Filla" and "National Anthem (Fuck the World)" are direct and high-energy examples of no-bullshit hardcore hip-hop. At EP length, this is a chaff-less debut from a unique, perhaps needed new voice.

7. Grinderman, Grinderman 2
Grinderman and Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, respectively my favorite albums of 2007 and 2008, still hold up better as collections of discrete middle-aged ramblings, but neither hit as hard as Grinderman 2, which takes the Nick Cave persona down unpaved paths of absurdity and self-flagellation as the band truly masters the idea of fuzz-as-feeling ("Worm Tamer") and makes occasional lapses into California stoner rock (see: the last half of "When My Baby Comes").

8. Marnie Stern, Marnie Stern
Up to now, one could enjoy Marnie Stern's music without really understanding what she was trying to do. Is this experimental mathcore, just intense rock tunes with insane drumming, or what? Her new self-titled release helps simplify what we should have known all along: Marnie Stern makes guitar records, and Marnie Stern is a great guitar record, and (on an unrelated note) Marnie Stern is the best guitar player in America. Quote me on that if you want, or just listen to the first twenty seconds of "Nothing Left," and see if it doesn't give you goosebumps like the end of "Cinnamon Girl."

9. OFF!, The First Four EPs
I found it hard to listen to The First Four EPs at once without unconsciously comparing the furious hardcore within to Black Flag's collection The First Four Years, which featured all of the early material recorded when Keith Morris was the singer. Now Morris, who formed OFF! with former members of Redd Kross and Rocket From The Crypt, is doing basically the same thing he did with Black Flag and Circle Jerks, and yet OFF! never sounds like a throwback. But that's the beauty of early 80s hardcore, in a way--elements can be appropriated and diluted by all the pop punks in the world, but the original core sound is always conjurable, and always compelling.

10. Cee-Lo Green, The Lady Killer
If the tunes weren't this good, I would complain that Cee-Lo needs to rap more. And he does, but The Lady Killer proves his cartoon soul croon to be just as mighty and flexible an instrument. "Fuck You" was deservedly a big hit, impassioned and thoughtful enough to bypass some (but not all) of the music industry's censorious forces, but the other soul homages, stretching from the North Philly sex-beat of "Fool For You" to the aggressively hooky Motown "It's Okay," are just as criminally relistenable, one after the other. Even the Band of Horses cover at the end has the air of a slow jam classic, and I still listen to it all the time.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Aaron's Favorites, 2010: Always Never Not Giving A Fuck

With apologies to Let's Wrestle, who's fantastic In The Court Of Wrestling Let's has been deemed ineligible, Aaron's 10 favorite releases of 2010:

1. Beach House, Teen Dream
A diffuse, gorgeous sound world. Listening to Alex Scally's guitar unfold over Victoria Legrand's vocal and keyboard melodies is the most enveloping, elegant narcotic on the market.

2. Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty
Big Boi just wanted to make an album. Label trouble delayed it for years and kept Andre 3000 away. Whenever it was released, Sir Lucious Left Foot's virtuosic mic acrobatics were never really in doubt. But who could have predicted an album this joyous, this gleeful about the possibilities of funk?

3. Crime In Stereo, I Was Trying To Describe You To Someone
On their swan song, the Long Island group construct a violent, fractured punk. This is "melodic hardcore," but there's little melody here. I hear only fury--in the controlled explosions of the tempo, in the anguished dual vocals, and in the eviscerating guitar textures.

4. Caetano Veloso, zii e zie
The Brazilian master, now 68, cracks open his skull and lets us take a peek inside. The contents--languid, martian jams, which Veloso has termed transambas--are no surprise, and yet he makes each moment sound like a revelation.

5. The-Dream, Love King
The synthesizer symphonies of Love King are a letdown after last year's genius Love Vs. Money, but only just. Dream's music remains the platonic ideal of contemporary R&B--effortless, immediate music, with quirks and charms still revealing themselves months later.

6. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
A fascinating and uneasy mix of West's egocentric philosophizing and terrible humor with the collective ennui of the group vocals, always popping up to comment on the action, as in Greek tragedy. The production is, of course, next level--dizzying, colorful collages of sound that pulse and thump with tenacity.

7. Das Racist, Sit Down, Man
Overheard on Sit Down, Man: "We just like rap, we don't even need rap." Maybe so, but rap needs Himanshu Suri and Victor Vazquez, at once laconic and whip smart, and surely the first hip-hop group to make eating nachos and reading critical theory sound ill as hell.

8. Grinderman, Grinderman 2
This unholy alliance of Nick Cave and a trio of the baddest seeds don't yet rival their day job band, but damn if they're not coming close. The Grinderguys pound out a strain demonic blues-scuzz you thought they didn't make any more.

9. No Age, Everything In Between
All indie-rock should sound like this: flurries of fuzz and hooks. The album gets stuck in an ambient ditch for a few tracks, but No Age can shred and transcend at will, and even sneak in a couple mid-tempo stunners.

10. Tame Impala, Innerspeaker
A big, groove-oriented psychedelic record in a year when even Dungen disappointed. The reverberations and acid-tinged flow of Innerspeaker aren't just retro signifiers though, they're the building blocks of 2010's most immersive sound.