Sunday, July 22, 2012

Just Browsing: Free stuff on Soundcloud ... Part Two: Kill Paris

Another guy putting loads of free stuff out there on Soundcloud is popular Beatport artist Kill Paris (aka Corey Baker), an LA-based DJ and producer.

In the studio, his remixing and wider production work has helped transform Funk classics like Patrice Rushen’s ‘Forget Me Nots’ and Prince’s ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ (among many others of the same ilk) into works of modern musical art. He’s not been shy about applying his own slightly twisted take to more recent works either – his polishing up of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Without You’ being one recent case in point … even if I’m not quite so keen on that one personally.

Kill Paris has also nurtured a strong following as a live/touring DJ, having supported the high profile likes of Benny Benassi, while regularly touring across North America in his own right. It’s very difficult to pin a label on Kill Paris; some electro, techno, straight up disco, all with something of a dubstep bent.

Have a listen and decide for yourself 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Just Browsing: Free stuff on Soundcloud … Part One: Willow Beats

I’ve been spending a fair bit of time on Soundcloud recently. Exploring different genres, listening to remixes, learning what’s apparently “hot” and what’s not. I love nothing better than scrolling through the tracks on offer, being selective, keeping a beady eye out for the free download option (most files at good quality 320kbps). Generally the site is a breeze to use and has terrific search functions. I tend to release the little speech bubble on most tracks to instantly rid myself of the comments (not unlike those pesky ads on Youtube); there’s only so many times you can read the words “sick track” and other similarly generic or inane comments before a small ball of vomit starts to form in the back of your throat (perhaps that’s just you? – Ed). But the download function is straightforward enough and the site’s vast range of active contributors means there’s always something fresh and interesting to catch the ear. Almost too much, in fact.

So concentrating on Soundcloud first and foremost, I thought it might be fun to document a few of these discoveries over a series of posts (as and when). Whether the artists/producers are signed, unsigned, or merely a gifted bedroom boffin, I’ll try to use this space to help put their work out there. I’ll stick to works that many of us would have been only too keen to fork out real cash money for not so very long ago … ah, the musical joys of the interweb.

Starting with … Willow Beats

One particularly observant Facebook friend turned me on to Willow Beats today, announcing them as “kids from Melbourne” …  before doing the linky love thing to hook me up with the Willow Beats Soundcloud and Bandcamp pages (see links below) – and a free download of the self-titled March 2012 five track “EP” release. 

Willow Beats is effectively Narayana Johnson, a 23-year-old Melbourne-schooled producer with a ton of compositional talent. Johnson’s default setting appears to be steppy electronica – almost glitchy in nature at times – and while the EP reveals a rather large size nine placed firmly in the dreamy ambient camp, there’s a genuinely rich dubstep feel to the whole thing.

Johnson’s collaborator on the EP is the honey voiced Kalyani Ellis, whose nonchalant other-worldly approach to the art of vocals blends perfectly with Johnson’s dark bass driven vibes. The result is something instantly delicious and accessible.

All five tracks on the Willow Beats EP are worth checking out ... and hey, it’s all free and accounted for!

Here’s Willow Beats claiming a lovely slice of Bowie’s eternal classic ‘Space Oddity’:

Album Review: Dub Pistols – Worshipping The Dollar (2012)

Over the course of the past 15 years or so, the eclectic London-based collective the Dub Pistols have firmly established themselves as a leading live act throughout the UK and beyond. Their sixth and latest album, Worshipping The Dollar, was released earlier this year.

Effectively the brainchild of club identity Bill Ashworth, the group’s wider family has in the past included Terry Hall of The Specials fame, while the current line-up includes reggae kings Red Star Lion and Dan Bowskill, UK hip hop star Rodney P, Ms Dynamite’s brother Akala, plus regular dub MCs TK and Darrison … among others.

 Worshipping The Dollar is the first album of fresh material since 2009’s Rum & Coke, and its release coincides with a heavy schedule of touring and festival gigs throughout the current Northern hemisphere summer. And just like the group’s live performances – the Dub Pistols were voted the UK’s Best Live Act at DJ Magazine’s 2011 Best of British Awards – the studio album doesn’t disappoint. Just as you would expect from a group equally renowned for its soundtrack work.

I’m not sure if dub hop is an actual musical genre or merely a figment of my fevered imagination, but if it is a genre then the Dub Pistols would surely be considered one of its leading purveyors; this is dub music with a hip hop vibe to it; the various vocalists either toasting inna reggae stylee or rapping in a more conventional sense.

But the beat is mostly about the bass, and despite some heavy subject matter lyrically, this is all about the groove and getting those hips swaying. This is dance music with a slight conscience – most of it focuses on the darkside (politics, poverty), while other parts are rather more throwaway … but it always feels relevant and never fails to get its skank on.

Worshipping The Dollar blends reggae, ska, hip hop, and electronica, the sum of those parts being a fully formed whole, a skip-free listen in one sitting, and more generally the album is a thoroughly enjoyable bass-centric journey into state of the art dub, 2012 style.

Highlights: ‘Alive’ (feat. Red Star Lion), ‘Rub A Dub’ (feat. Darrison, Sir Real, and Dan Bowskill), ‘Countermeasure’, and ‘Give A Little Dub’ (feat. Bunna).

Have a listen …

Monday, July 16, 2012

Album Review: The Clean - Compilation (1987)

I probably should have done this as a token nod to New Zealand music month back in May, but I’ve been rediscovering one of the world’s great lost bands in The Clean, and after revisiting one of the band’s earliest compilations, I decided to have a quick rant about what has become a true Kiwi classic:  


Short of going the whole hog and getting The Clean’s rather more extensive Anthology (2002) set, which compiles just over two decades worth of the band’s work, this album, the very aptly titled Compilation (The Clean are nothing if not straightforward) from 1987, offers as near perfect an overview of the band’s earliest (and arguably best) output as you’ll find anywhere. Er, that is if you can actually find a copy of this album anywhere (the Anthology album having stolen its initial thunder somewhat).

The Lo-Fi darlings of the “Dunedin Sound”, as championed by NZ independent label Flying Nun Records, The Clean – with the mainstays being the brothers Kilgour, David and Hamish – is now into its fourth decade as a going concern – albeit as an on-again off-again venture; a brief mutation into The Great Unwashed (see what they did there?) and the occasional “solo” project notwithstanding.

The content on Compilation consists mainly of the band’s much-coveted early singles plus the key tracks off its now near-mythical ‘Boodle Boodle Boodle’ EP, which provided The Clean with a hugely unlikely yet still relatively sustained commercial breakthrough in New Zealand. These are the tracks that helped establish the band’s reputation as a major influence on any number of today’s Indie contenders, and the most amazing thing about these songs is the fact that they were recorded using only the most basic of technology (I’m fairly certain they are all eight-track recordings, which is quite remarkable even by early Eighties standards).

Long-time advocates of the K.I.S.S. principle of music making (keep it simple stupid), whether that was deliberate, a necessity, or purely accidental, the band’s capacity for clever lyrics, jangly guitars, and dated whirly keyboards was a little at odds with everything else going on at the time – the Eighties being more about big production, nothing lyrics, and the application of high gloss to every last living thing! The Clean however stuck to its guns, kept faith with its own modus operandi, and has largely out-lasted the vast majority of its peers. Terrific stuff from one of the best “unknown” bands the world has never seen.

I really love the fact that my copy of this album is a grotty old bedsit-quality cassette tape, one that has been suitably thrashed over the years (purchased brand new upon release), as opposed to anything remotely flash or digital. I wouldn’t have it any other way, as it fits so well with the very ethos of The Clean and everything the band unwittingly represents.    

Best tracks (in order of preference): ‘Anything Could Happen’, ‘Point That Thing Somewhere Else’, ‘Beatnik’, the debut single ‘Tally Ho’, and ‘Getting Older’.

Album Reviews: a Beastie trilogy - Licensed To Ill (1986), Paul’s Boutique (1989), The In Sound From Way Out! (1996)

As something of a belated tribute to recently deceased Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, and ultimately the demise of the group, I have decided to post a short compilation of album reviews – featuring three key Beastie releases from 1986 to 1996 … all albums being landmarks in their own peculiar way ... and each one being a firm personal fave.

Licensed To Ill (1986)

Snotty nosed NYC punks turned snotty nosed metallic rap merchants – this is the sound of pubescent white-boy Hip hop crossing over, the sound of raging teenage hormones committed to vinyl, and the soundtrack for one particular rodent infested excuse for accommodation I endured in late 1986, early 1987. The Beasties’ full-length debut, Licensed To Ill, is in fact one of the most enduring and critically acclaimed Hip hop albums of its era. With good reason.

By blatantly ripping up the Dummies Guide To Political Correctness handbook and by embracing the write-about-what-you-know template to lyric (and rhyme) construction, the Beastie Boys unrepentantly provide us with a set of tunes about rebellion, sex, partying, and about adolescent life in mid-Eighties downtown NYC in general. You’d think this sort of stuff would appeal to only a niche (debauched) few, but the sales charts would tend to tell a very different story – this being the best selling Hip hop album of the Eighties and the genre’s first No.1 on the Billboard album charts.

Part of its crossover appeal, I suspect, is the way Licensed To Ill throws a whole raft of different musical influences into the mix, before blending it all together to come up with something fresh, exciting, and genuinely innovative for its time. Of course, producer Rick Rubin and the Def Jam crew deserve immense credit in that regard; Rubin’s recruitment of Slayer guitarist Kerry King and sampling of the likes of Led Zeppelin went a long way towards giving the album its trademark heavy/Metal feel. Something that was also a feature of Run DMC’s output during the same era (Run DMC being Def Jam’s other major player and onetime tour-buddies of the Beasties. See also – LL Cool J).

 So yeah, when you consider the plethora of decidedly average rap/rock try-hards and imitators we’ve been lumbered with today, Rick Rubin and the Beasties certainly have a lot to answer for.

If even just a couple of these newer bands/acts could produce lyrics and rhymes half as clever as those found on Licensed To Ill we’d have much less to complain about. I think that was another key ingredient in the Rubin/Beastie Boys formula – they actually composed well-structured, frequently funny, and invariably intelligent raps. It sounded like these guys were skipping school, yet based on the sick-notes they were able to compose, you had to question the need for them to be there in the first place.

Highlights include … ‘The New Style’, ‘She's Crafty’, ‘Posse In Effect’, ‘Fight For Your Right’, and ‘No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn’.


Paul’s Boutique (1989)

It is difficult to believe that the Beastie Boys’ second album, Paul’s Boutique, is nearly 25 years old.

One of the main problems with reviewing older albums – for argument’s sake let’s say anything with a release date of over a decade ago – is how to place the work in its correct context. How did it relate to its time? Where did it fit in alongside everything else going on around it? … etc. With a genre like Hip Hop, which has advanced considerably since taking its first tentative steps not so very long ago, the speed of its evolution means the task of providing context becomes all the more difficult. If a decade in Hip Hop terms is a long time, and it most certainly is, once you’ve added advances in technology and an enormous swing towards the mainstream to the equation, a period of 20 years must be considered a veritable lifetime.

I’ve read and heard this album being described as “timeless”, but clearly that is a misnomer. To me, “timeless” implies something that can’t become dated. How can this album be timeless when it couldn’t possibly be made today, or made ten years ago even, due to major changes in recording industry copyright law? Far from being timeless, its content ensures it will always be associated with an incredibly creative, less restrictive, and far more innocent age. This was essentially (but not quite) free-for-all sampling’s last great hurrah.

After the success, not to mention novelty, of merging Rap with Metal on their 1986 debut Licensed To Ill, the Beastie Boys took things a step further on Paul’s Boutique, swapping New York, Def Jam, Rick Rubin, and Rock (temporarily, at least), for a little bit of LA technicolor, and something approaching a genuine kaleidoscope of sound.

The last part was achieved by convincing the (soon to be) legendary Dust Brothers to lay down the grooves for some clever, occasionally pubescent, but always highly entertaining lyrics/raps. The production was certainly ahead of its time with the duo piecing together more than 100 different samples to effectively transport the listener on a whirlwind journey through time, and vast swathes of popular culture itself.

Somewhat ironically, it was not rated upon initial release; critics struggled with it (as I myself did at the time, after being a fan of Licensed To Ill) and record stores failed to shift it in any great quantity given that it was so different to what Beastie fans were expecting, even after the long sabbatical, and the small matter that its own label was evidently happy to see it sink. However the album has blossomed in subsequent years to be seen these days as one of ‘the’ pivotal early Hip Hop releases. It is a testimony to its quality that it should eventually overcome those early setbacks and the reputation that preceded it.

Perhaps time has provided its own context after all. If Hip Hop is art, and the Eighties effectively a blank canvas, then Paul’s Boutique – thanks to three MC’s, a couple of brilliant producers, and a supporting cast of hundreds – is about as close to a Jackson Pollock as popular music gets. But then not everyone appreciated him either.

Highlights: ‘Shake Your Rump’, ‘High Plains Drifter’, ‘The Sounds of Science’ (“I’m kicking with the Kii-nowledge” – priceless), ‘Hey Ladies’, ‘Car Thief’ and ‘Shadrack’; I’m not so sure about the 13-minute finale which can come across as a series of incomplete ideas if you’re not suitably zoned.

Non credited contributors include, but are not limited to: everything from The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix; to the obligatory James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Sly & The Family Stone, Cameo et al; then right on through Hip Hop’s formative years with the Sugarhill Gang, Afrika Bambaataa, and Kurtis Blow; to second wave contemporaries like Run DMC and Public Enemy; Nobody is spared. So far as iconic cultural reference points go, add Johnny Cash and Bob Marley to the mix (literally). Hell, the Dust Bros even got to sample the Beasties.

Paul’s Boutique was listed among Rolling Stone’s 500 all-time Greatest albums, The Source had it as one of Rap’s all-time 100, TIME magazine had it as one of its 100 Greatest of all TIME (see what they did there?), while those shrewd old dogs over at Pitchfork rated it the No.3 album of The Eighties.


The In Sound From Way Out! (1996)

Wow. The In Sound From Way Out features 13 tracks of premium quality minimalist instrumental Jazz-Funk from the self-proclaimed original party boys of Hip Hop. Abandon all preconceptions; let your mind and body groove.

Something of a one-off from the Beasties, and unlike any other album they’ve done. Well, I suppose this is essentially a compilation, but it’s one that showcases their talents as musicians and composers - as opposed to their rather more obvious skills as lyricists and rap artists.
Not a rhyme nor heavy guitar riff (ala Slayer providing the backing to their initial run of “hits”) in sight, and a major departure from their Rap/Metal roots.

Here they sound like they’ve set out to provide an audition to become James Brown’s backing band – or at least a softcore variation thereof. Move over the JB’s!

Highlights include: ‘Groove Holmes’, ‘Pow’, ‘Eugene’s Lament’, and ‘Lighten Up’.

Very Smoooove work fellas, you got me hooked.