Grab Bag: December 2007

By: Chris Pacifico

Album of the Month:
Various Artists: Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label (Numero Group)
In the early to mid '60s, the majority of America's fascination with R&B and soul music was focused on one of two enterprises. In the upper Midwest, you had the Motown label in Detroit releasing shimmering, sugary pop with an emphasis on multipart harmonies and catchy hooks. Down south in Memphis, Stax Records was cutting discs with a greasy jazz and blues grit that wasn't shy about dipping into some honky tonk and juke joint grime. Centered somewhere between the two was the Prix label in Columbus, Ohio, and while their artists rarely became household names their young, driven musicians encompassed a whole different raggedy edge of soul music. On this compilation, it's obvious that Eddie Ray was hands down the label's flagship singer with a voice that's sweet and nutty as butterscotch hard candy. Ray showed that Ben E. King wasn't the only one to experiment with a spicy flamenco twist on "Spanish Harlem" with the cha-cha delight of "You Are Mine." OFS Unlimited's interracial lineup was lively and bears some resemblance to Sly and the Family Stone. While Prix boasted only one female led group, Penny and the Quarters, Marion Black was their voice of consciousness with the slow storm ballad "Listen Black Brother," where he croons with sincerity on the state of the racial status quo, and showing his vocal versatility as he scats and grunts like Bobby Byrd and James Brown rolled up into one on "Come and Gettit." Unearthed soul compilations are a dime a dozen but Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label is a diamond in the rough.

Runner Up:
Dub Sonata: On The Arm (Illest Rated)
A young buck from L.A. has consolidated himself as one of rap's most prolific and overlooked beat crafters. This debut album is strewn with guest spots from the crème de la crème of underground emcees, most of whom rhyme with a tight knit flow and lyrics on socially conscious platforms. Dub Sonata's beats are composed from soaring and stoned grooves; deeply ornamental and reflective of harsh urban realities while wholly vicarious of each track's subject matter. "Murderers" is a standout where Rich Mo describes his grandmother's battle with emphysema in graphic detail - "I call it legal murder because I doubt that anybody was anybody was gettin' time if they're still givin' out packs/ And y'all worry about crack/ A hit is 5 bucks/ A pack is 7.50 and that's without tax/ Yeah how bout' that/ Yet its legal to sell but if we do it than we goin' to jail." Mo rhymes explain the hypocrisy of laws designed to stamp out drug dealing but allow corporations to rake in money from substances are just as, if not more, deadly. On the other hand, "Revolution" has Double AB coolly venting his chagrin over what a giant fuck-up of a society America has become in the post-Katrina and post 9/11 days of the Bush Administration, venting at their erosion checks and balances while leaving the poor to rot. The beat is chilling with roots reggae loops and a sample of a keen soprano singer marking "Revolution" as the one-and-only hip-hop song that matters in 2007.

Madlib: Beat Konducta, Vol. 3-4, Beat Konducta in India (Stones Throw)
Madlib's musical output is so frequent that it's a wonder he has time to watch the films with the scores that inspire his beats and tracks on his Beat Konducta series. He released the instrumental Vols. 1-2: Movie Scenes, boasting a plethora of 70's soul samples, sensual loops and cooled down hip hop that served as the score to a fictional post-modern noir Blaxploitation flick. He's gone a bit further to the East this time, drawing inspiration from the Bollywood films of India for Vols. 3-4. Film music buffs will see how he connects the dots between underground hip-hop beats and rhythmic Eastern music. This instrumental banger is a cut-and-paste collage of Indian film music spliced with cool talkin' hip-hop samples and the lifted resplendent resonance of tablas, sitars and hissing strings, which stew up in a mulligatawny of curry spiced dapperness.

Mac Lethal: 11:11 (Rhymesayers)
Mac Lethal is the next big thing to put Kansas City on the map since barbecue sauce. Having been recognized as one of the nation's top freestyle emcees, the only thing "backpack" about Mac is the one he carries slung on his shoulders filled with thick textbooks to whack pretentious scribes who drop the "emo rap" tag on his steez. The winner of Scribble Jam 2002, Mac's debut 11:11 reps beats that are smooth, flurried and, at times, lackadaisically frolicsome. His logically scoffing outlook on basic society and the entertainment world make him the one-man Steely Dan of rap with a bit of good old fashioned Irish piss and vinegar tossed into the mix.

Tarentel: Ghetto Beats on the Surface of the Sun (Temporary Residence Limited)
The album's title tallies up the vibe to some degree but this San Francisco collective, now entering their second decade, is going forward through a double disc black hole of fragmented space sonance. From dripping noise to humming feedback, Ghetto Beats is a semi-improvisational foray through sideswiping drum patterns that sneakily lurch into the spacious instrumental nooks of chilling post rock. It all comes down to Tarentel's ambitiousness for hemispheric tumults that weave themselves into the listener's psyches.

The Dragons: BFI (Ninja Tune)
Times were hard for those struggling to become a respected, established recording act in the '60s. The brothers Dragon (Doug, Daryl and Dennis), multi-instrumentalist sons of an opera singer and symphony conductor, cut most of BFI during late night hours at Sunwest Recording Studios. The end result was neon glaring, psychedelic blue-eyed soul with a lazy day semblance and silky, minimal jazz instrumentation. Their relaxed melodies were saturated in swanky film score hedonism and the shiny bossa nova pop of Sergio Mendes. However, the music biz bigwigs didn't see The Dragons as a commercially viable entity so the brothers closed up shop and went on to be part of the Beach Boys' backing band. Recently DJ Food's Strictly Kev stumbled across some of their songs during one of his never ending vinyl pilfering missions and got in touch with the brothers to see to it that they get their due over 35 years later. Better late than never.

Zoroaster: Dog Magic (Terminal Doom/Battle Kommand)
With Dog Magic, doom metal is sucked deep into the future only to come back as a hideous ogre steeped in misty riffs and psychedelic secretions. Having made fools of a good deal of the bands that they've warmed up for, Zoroaster is now ready to sink their teeth into establishing themselves as the magistrates of a new, lawless metal tundra. Led by the arid voice of singer-guitarist Will Fiore, Zoroaster's songs are filled with a novel, complex level of ambient experimentation stemming from the use of Moog and Theremin. But, Zoroaster always retains a heavy frost blanketed around the oozing, stark, vivid madness they play with.

Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators: Keep Reachin' Up (Light in the Attic)
By now you've probably gotten your paws on a copy of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings fabulous 100 Days, 100 Nights but be sure not to forgot about Nicole Willis, another late blooming soul diva. The Brooklyn born Willis spent the better part of the '80s in London involved in various projects including collaborating with the late great Curtis Mayfield, touring with The The and cutting a track with experimental house pioneers Leftfield. Keep Reachin' Up, her long awaited debut, was cut in Helsinki with the Finland's Soul Investigators, who dish out funky "mod soul" with grooves that glide like Deep South roller skating rink in the '70s. Willis is a class act whose voice conducts her backing band with shimmy and strut.

Pieces of Peace: Pieces of Peace (Quannum)
The Quannum label has long been at the forefront of hip-hop, pushing it and its cousin genres into the future. All one has to do is look back at the old wax platters from the Solesides Collective or slide on any release from Latryx or Blackalicious. It's a delight to see them look back by reissuing the 1972 debut from the Pieces of Peace crew. These Windy City bucks epitomized the sound of Chicago Soul (and so much more) with songs perfect for sweet, hot lovin' or for strutting your ass at a project party until dawn. They even knew a thing or two about a thing or two when they peppered their songs with a spicy Afro Cuban sizzle full with conga and bongo elation. Pieces of Peace had all the talent to own the '70s but they disbanded after their first major tour. Here's to hoping that the love revealed on this gem 35 years later gets them back in the saddle.

Rockford Kabine: Italian Music: 31 Invalid Movie Themes (Combination Records)
Rockford Kabine wins the award for musicians who wear their admiration for the film scores of Ennio Morricone on their sleeve. Known to describe their music as "acid smurf," RK doesn't simply mimic the works of the great, if not the greatest, film score composer ever, but keep it steady rolling with molecular rock proclivities smoldering into opaline specks of creaks, blips and bubbles. Italian Music skulks on the imaginary line of primitive electronica and syrupy rock & roll schooled by early Can but strikes one as a contemporary neurotic experience inspired by two mediums. Dario Argento needs to keep Rockford Kabine on retainer.

Modeselektor: Happy Birthday (Bpitch Control)
As Modeselektor's Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary enter the world of fatherhood, they've thought of no better way to celebrate than by making one of the best albums of their careers. Modeselektor has been pissing off the powers that be since performing at illegal raves in early '90s Berlin, which established them as one of Europe's premiere live acid house acts. Over a decade later, they've got no cobwebs to shake off. They're keeping techno raw and cockeyed through all of it's morphing stages such as the crackling two step of "B.m.i." and "The White Flash," a collaboration with buddy Thom Yorke that goes deep the caverns of ambience.

Film School: Hideout (Beggars Banquet)
Last year, Film School's self-titled release was such a lukewarm Gothic exhibition that the listener could almost catch the aroma Robert Smith's hairspray seeping through their speakers. Now, this San Francisco band has turned over a new leaf, creating one of the year's psychedelic zeniths on the magnificent Hideout. The guitar infusions are never less than scintillating and the tracks hover like dreary pixie dust. Haunted melodies perch atop lucent feedback and reverb as the tension in the pitched whir of singer-guitarist Krayg Burton's voice veers closer and closer. The songs structures soar, which makes the album a gorgeous glide of fuzz and mist from beginning to end.

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[Published on: 12/29/07]

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Chaloupka starstarstarstarstar Tue 1/1/2008 12:40PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Dig Madlib!