Friday, October 27, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 34: The Beastie Boys - Check Your Head

Album - Check your Head
Artist - The Beastie Boys
Key Players - Michael Diamond (Mike D), Adam Horovitz (Adrock), Adam Yauch (MCA)
Produced By - Mario Cataldo Jnr and the Beastie Boys

Release Date: April 21, 1992

What caused me to blow off the dust? Not even really sure honestly. There were other "easier" picks from the Beasties to write up but this cd seemed to really grab me and call my attention to them in the first place.

Overview - This album came out three years after the (now) classic Paul's Boutique. The band had taken up playing their own instruments on the record as well as doing the usual hip/hop rapping. This cd is also a turning point for the "older/wiser" version of the Beastie Boys. Around this time the band would begin to take up world causes most notably "Free Tibet". The album would eventually go double platinum (2million + sold in USA)

FDF Comments (aka the songs) - The cd starts off with a sample from
Cheap Trick's Live at Bodokan. The rump shakin bass of Jimmy James set the tone both musically and lyrically for the record. The silliness of Pauls Boutique now a few years gone the band locks in to a solid direction. "Funky Boss" is the first track that has the listener hear what the band do with their own instruments. The band shines with solid jazz influenced riffs and bass progressions. "Pass the Mic" still a live show staple has that juicy fat bottom bass you can use to pump up in your car and roll the windows down to let the passersby know you have a kickin system. "Gratitude" fires off with a heavily distorted bass guitar and some conga drums. The band settles back to their very early punk rock roots on this track
"Ligthen Up" is a terrific track that showcases the bands musical prowess. Its heavy on the jazz fusion side and its something you'd swear you might have heard one time while sipping an overpriced drink at the latest trendy nightspot. "Finger Likin Good" is a really fun song to bob your head to. Dylan and Sly and the Family stone samples are used on the track and the name checks the band uses are great. Come on.."I got more spice that the Frugal gourmet"! That's gold. "So What'cha Want" was the lead off single for the record. It did not chart very well but the video helped solidify their name. The Biz vs. The Nug has rapper Biz Markie do the intro (did you just link over to Markies page?? you did didn't you?) and the sample is of course none other than Ted Nugent. Pretty easy song title to create one has to imagine. Its also one of those overly annoying "skits" that seem to have made it to every single rap album. Its 33 seconds long..and totally skippable. "Time for Livin" is really out of place on the record. Basically a full on punk rock song you have to wonder when the last track ended and this began. It sticks out, not like a sore thumb, but you'll wonder if your cd just shuffled off to another cd. "Something's Got to Give" is lyrically slow and their are heavy effects on the vocals. The vocal track would remind you of Led Zeppelins "No Quarter" with that warbled effect. "The Blue Nun" is another 32 second "skit. Skip it. "Stand Together" has always been a hidden gem of Beastie Boys tracks. If you own the cd, record, tape whatever, toss it one and wonder along with me why this song was never on commercial radio. "POW" is another fun live instrument track. If you are longing for more stuff like this check out The Insound from the Way Out. Great stuff (the track "Groove Holmes", as well as "In 3's" appear on that release as well). Fast forwarding to "Professor Booty" is another fun hidden Beasties gem. "Whats another word for Pirates treasure..boooooooooty boooty"

Where are they now? - The Beastie Boys are still at it. Their most recent release was the 2004 "To the Five Boroughs.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) - I have only seen the Beastie Boys live one time. That was August 3, 1994 as part of the Lollapaloosa Festival. The band is engaging live and do play their own instruments. The show was spoiled though due to some of the most horrific traffic ever trying to get to the venue.

FDF Overall Take - Over the years the novelty of the band has lessened which is both good and bad depending on your view. The band could have settled in to a groove and made campy, obnoxious and honestly, "typical" rap records. They chose not to do that. Starting with this record their voices and popularity soared to greater heights and they used their fame to call attention to causes that meant a lot to them. They organized a few benefit shows for their Free Tibet organization as well. For most Beastie Boy fans its easy to go with the frat rock "license to Ill" or some of the widely popular recent albums. Let this one sneak in under your radar one day, the overall reward worth it and you can hear a band a pivotal crossroad.

Friday, October 20, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 33: The Prodigy - The Fat of the Land

Album - The Fat of the Land
Artist - The Prodigy
Key Players - Keith Flint (vocals/dancer) Liam Howlett (keyboards), Maxim (vocals/dancer)
Produced By - Liam Howlett

Release Date - July 1, 1997

What caused me to blow off the dust? - A few co-workers and I were discussing this very album and it was suggested I take a stab at it. Lets see if they read and comment...

Overview - This was the third album released by the band. Keith Flint (the one that most people probably think of when they think of the Prodigy) had done a drastic make over to himself and the band was "harder" than ever before. The band found mainstream success with this record in both the US and the UK. The videos became staples to MTV and the songs were club hits. The band would grace the cover of Spin and there was talk for a bit of "techno" being the next big genre after grunge. The album would become the fastest selling album in the U.K at the time and garner the band a grammy nomination.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) - The album opens with one of the bands most infamous songs "Smack My Bitch Up". The band was slagged in the media for its supposed derogatory language directed towards women but the band has said it was a poke at "gangta rap" and also slang for doing something "wild and crazy". At a festival show in Europe the Beastie Boys implored the band to not perform the song live, they did anyway. With heavy synth, electric drum beats and swirling vocals towards the end you will be reaching for a tab of ecstasy and a glow stick before you know it. "Breathe" was the first proper single off the record in the US. What drives this song, like most "techno" songs is the bass. Even with the treble all the way up you still can feel the kick. The video also put faces to names and Keith Flint did not miss a beat with his horned hair and running mascara. "Diesel Power" and the intro alone could be and should be used in every vampire film from this day forward. The song has a very fluid beat and there is more a straight up "rap" approach lyrically, the biggest reason is the vocals were done by Ultramagnetic MCs member Kool Keith. The band had used a sample from Ultramagnetic MCs "Give the Drummer Some for "Smack My Bitch Up" so the Prodigy had Keith sing vocals. "Funky Shit" opens with a sample of The Beastie Boys song "Root Down" speaking those very words it then sounds like a lost track from the Blade Runner sound track. "Serial Thrilla" follows and is the true hidden jem on the record. With a heavy sample lifted from the UK band Skunk Anansie the band allows the sample to be the driving portion of the song rather than a sample dropped in on occasion. Filled out with simple keyboard parts and distorted vocals the band just do not back down. "Mindfields" starts of slower than the previous tracks but after a few bars has a haunting keyboard part similar to what you'd hear on a modern version of the Halloween motion pictures. The song is not as urgent as other tracks on the record this works well as the track proceeds to "Naryan" which also happens to be the albums longest track at over 9 minutes. This is a rare feat for any band, let alone a techo/dance band. Barring some chanting that takes place about 6 minutes in to the song they are not really breaking much ground. "Firestarter" gets the listener right back in the groove of the record. With the hardest hitting down beat you'd be hard pressed to not bob your head or slam your fist down right along with the band. On a critical listen of this track and a life long fan of The Cult I am convinced that there is a guitar part lifted from them as a sample. I can find no proof of this in the liner notes or on line..the song does credit a Breeders track called "S.O.S". Still I am gonna go with the Cult as being on there. "Climbatize" has an intro that sounds a lot like a digitized "Baba O'Reilly" that is until the tribal drum beat comes in. It is also the only fully instrumental track on the album. "Fuel my Fire" wraps up the record on a downer. Its not a slow song, but its kinda an ehh way to end a record this fun.

Where are they now? - The band is still together although it seems quiet. The did release a few records after this (the dirtchamber sessions was a DJ mash up) while the album Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned was released in 2004. It was not even close to the success of the the Fat of the Land on the US shores. The band is working on a new record due in 2007.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) - Never saw the band live. Although the energy is probably there, there is something about a "techno" live show that does not bode well with me personally. Leave a comment and express your agreement or disagreement.

for a while techno was going to be the next big thingin music

FDF Overall Take - For a while this techo/electronica phase was going to be the next big thing after grunge. There was a smattering of releases by various bands that did their best to make the genre debatable as less than a fad but that never materialized. For an intro to driving techo, and or the Prodigy this is one that most would reach for and rightfully so.

Friday, October 13, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 32: The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta

Album - Zenyatta Mondatta
Artist - The Police
Key Players - Sting (bass and vocals), Andy Summers (guitars), Stewart Copeland (drums)
Produced by - The Police and Nigel Gray

Release Date - October 3, 1980

What caused the dust blow off? - I read recently that Sting was going to release a new album of 12th Century Lute music or something...I had to go back to what once made him relevant and cool.

the album still won two two grammyawards

Overview - This was the third album released by the Police. The album, often regarded as one of the finest from the band, was recorded in a short period of time and the members have gone on to say it was not their best work as it was "very rushed". Even with this, the album won 2 Grammy Awards and contains many Police "staples".

FDF Comments (aka the songs) Leading off with "Don't Stand So Close to Me" a song Sting had written that reflected on his time as a teacher. The perfect album opener that is a great launching point for the record. "Driven To Tears" starts with Copeland rat-at-tatting on the snare and then some ride cymbal work. Sting lays down a basic but smooth bass while Summers tosses in the classic "chiming guitar sound" "When the World is Running Down you make the Best of What's Still Around" follows. We are three songs in and so far these are all "best of" album collection worthy. The guitar work is never complicated with the songs but perfect none the less. Sting finds his groove and pushes the song "Canary in a Coalmine" this would be the silliest name for a song on the record had there not been "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da". The rapid fire lyrics and overall musicianship make this song one of the album standouts. On a rare occasion this song finds itself on the radio it gets turned up and a good sing along ensues."Voices in my Head" is considered to be an instrumental track but the band does repeat the song titled. This is really an amazing track when you get down to it, Copelands work on the drum kit are awe inspiring. His fills are just so over the top but perfect for the track, listen what he does after the "cha cha" chorus part...goose bumps. "Bombs Away" continues Copeland's magnificent drum work. The simple guitar work yet urgent vocal attack give the song some punch. "De Do do Do Do, De Da Da Da" follows, and as noted has a rather silly name. "Hey lets just sing this and call it the same!" How do people get away with this. "Behind my Camel" is another instrumental written by Andy. Sting didn't care for the song at all and didn't want to play on it. Andy convinced Stuart to record it with out Sting. The track actually ended up winning the band a Grammy award for "best instrumental". It is really not a very interesting track when you get down to it."Man in a Suitcase" follows and the band shows some "island feel". They had recorded a series of albums on the island of Mont Serrat. The guitar riff recalls a feel and sound from a Bob Marley record. Sting sings a little out of his range on this track hearkening back to the higher chorus' from "Roxanne"."Shadows in the Rain" is not an overly exciting track. It really doesn't have the "hooks" we have been used to getting from this record. The album concludes with "The Other Way of Stopping" which is the third instrumental on the record.

Where are they now? The band never formally broke up, but in 1984 each member went off to do their own thing. Sting
has gone on to release a series of solo albums. Each more pretentious than the last..his upcoming album is going to be lute "works".
Stewart Copeland has worked in film scores as well as side projects "Animal Logic" and Oysterhead. He has recently started a new band called Gizmo. Andy Summers has also done movie score work, released 10 solo albums, and still plays an occasional live show. The band did a quick "reunion" in 1986 for Amnesty International. In 2003 the band was inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Copeland hit the drums so hard that night he broke the head of his snare drum. That drum head is now on display at the Rock Hall. Finally, in 2006 Steward Copeland released Everyone Stares a movie he made on super 8 video while in the Police.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the live experience) - Another band I was a little too young to see. My oldest brother saw them on the Syncronicity Tour at Foxboro Stadium. This was their final tour. I have seen Steward Copeland as part of Oysterhead.

FDF Overall Take - The critics loved this record and it is a terrific record start to finish. It holds up well now being 26 years old and it plays almost like a "best of". There are many great tracks that are easy to digest for the newest of fans. When you listen to this record its easy to see how amazing all three members are. Personally I find that Stuart really is the 8 armed drummer and he drives this band to great places. They really were and are a super group.
A terrific pick to start off any Police collection.

Friday, October 06, 2006

FDF Volume 1 Issue 31: Patty Griffin - Living With Ghosts

Album: Living With Ghosts
Artist: Patty Griffin
Key Players: Patty Griffin - vocal/acoustic guitar; additional guitar (and arrangement) on “Let Him Fly” by Adam Steinberg; high string guitar on “Time Will Do the Talking” by Ty Tyler
Produced by: Steve Barry

Released: May 21, 1996

What caused me to blow the dust off this record? To be honest, I whisk dust off this CD often. I fell in love with Patty Griffin’s songs due to this album, and she is one of the best songwriters alive - a petite, forlorn songbird. I further confess that I know these songs by heart; I’m surprised the CD still functions. It is great driving music, or perfect for kicking back with a lonely nightcap.

Overview: Looking into the album’s history, it is ironic this album leads a cult following. I am merely speculating, but it may be Griffin’s least favorite record. The songs were first recorded with embellished arrangements by producer Malcolm Burn. Griffin loved both the production and her own artistry, but A & M disagreed. Instead, Griffin graciously offered to release her demos as an album, and this time A & M was pleased. Her vocals were polished with minimal production, so restrained you can even hear outside passing sirens on “Let Him Fly.” The album was a massive success, a magnet for loyal, drooling fans, but it incorrectly portrayed Patty Griffin as only a folk artist. She never felt like a folk singer, and vocals plus guitar do not equal folk only.

FDF Comments (a.k.a. the songs): I remember the first time my ears drank Griffin’s voice. While living in Austin, I left work, pulled onto Lamar St., and turned on the radio. I flipped to KGSR and heard her whisky voice and raw guitar. She belted out “Every Little Bit” which was so moving that my heart shifted to a new position of my anatomy. I was in a folk-only listening phase, and I admired the spartan sound of her voice and guitar, but she did not sound like an average folkie. I drove literally mesmerized by her voice, equal to any rock star’s wailing. I heard intensity alternated with vulnerability. My heart throbbed with empathy of her pain, and I could not forget such an epiphany of genius songwriting. The next day I sped to Waterloo Records and purchased Living With Ghosts.

The songs are lyrics of poetry, demanding red wine, two bottles at least. “Moses” opens the collection using Biblical imagery to sing angst. She starts with confident volume quickly escalating to screaming pleas:

Diamonds, roses, I need Moses
to cross this sea of loneliness,
part this Red River of pain.
I don’t necessarily buy
any key to the future or happiness,
but I need a little place in the sun sometimes
or I think I will die

Women pour another glass of wine to dull their own similar pain, but men love Patty Griffin’s sad anger, too. Sensual songs and visceral vocals are very attractive, as in the aforementioned “Every Little Bit:”

I can chew like a cannibal I can yell like cat.
I even had you believing I really, really like it like that,
but there was never a moment, not a moment
now you know, now you know, now you know,
you ever got within a hundred million miles of my soul.

I spit, I spit in the eye, I tear, I tear out my heart,
and I scatter the bits,
I stay unseen by the light, I stay untold by the truth
I’m sold by a lie,
By this I am able in all my travels
to make these memories quit
But tonight I clearly recall every little bit.

Griffin’s sensitive side is is also exposed, proving she’s not completely comprised of bitterness and anger. Redemption is found in “Forgiveness,” and compassionate charity in “Poor Man’s House,” a song based on her grandparents. All the while, her guitar prowess matches whatever sentiment she sings. There’s an innate symbiosis to her songwriting, and even she said, “Songwriting tends to come out of what I need to sing -- the sounds that need to come out of my body; it's the feel of the thing, the way it feels to sing.” I assume the way she plays proceeds from the way she needs to sing. She softly strums on the tragic lullaby-story “Not Alone,” and beats her guitar punk-style at the close of “Poor Man’s House.”

Where is she now? Patty Griffin is living in Austin, TX, and since Living With Ghosts, she released several stunning albums: Flaming Red; 1,000 Kisses; A Kiss in Time; and Impossible Dream. She is currently in the studio recording new songs, much to the delight of all.

FDF Personal Comments (a.k.a. the live experience): I am fortunate to have seen her twice; at the Texas Union Ballroom, and an upstairs bar, The Parish, on 6th street, both in Austin, TX. The show at the Ballroom was for the punk-rockish Flaming Red, and I further fell in love with her ability to easily vacillate between acoustic sound and electrified rock ‘n’ roll. Her show at The Parish was for 1,000 Kisses and she charmed everyone by singing “Mil Besos” in Spanish backed by Latin percussion. She is pretty much the coolest living female - from her songs down to her classic vintage clothing and shoes. I think I speak for most women: we want to be Patty Griffin.

FDF Overall Take: I find it hard to believe Living With Ghosts could ever be forgotten, but perhaps it is unknown to Patty Griffin newcomers. If you are a Griffin novice, invariably you must seek out Living With Ghosts. It is her classic, never-tiring album. It does not require a “best” label, but any fan of Patty Griffin reveres Ghosts on a musical altar. Once it gets you, it may slip your memory, but in God’s Providence you will remember, almost as if each song is a ghost, a musical apparition, friendly like Casper, whispering in your ear.