Opening rhetorical: If Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise a kid then why are we talking about manned missions to that rock?
No runner-up this month. These releases reverberated with such intensity that they deserve equal top honors. All three albums share a passion for their craft that's right there in every note. Some folks are put on this earth to make music and the few included here are among them...
Album of the month #1:
Granola Funk Express:
Bigger Than It Really Is
G.F.E. deliver the funk with a big hemp cloth bow around a box that smells all danky and nice... and what was I saying? Oh yeah, the crew comin' straight outta Asheville, North Carolina ups their ante on their second full-length. After the upward climb of solo efforts from Agent 23 and Foulmouth Jerk, one had a sense of something special on the horizon. Hard, precipitously clever word play rides a live band sound, a humping nod back to Funkadelic's metal roar and long struttin' legs. Open your mind to the rhymes that they shine and you may find your hands inexorably raised towards the rafters. They are proof positive that "conscious rap" need not be the stiff soapbox most others make it. They are the true inheritors of a mantle Gil Scott-Heron has been holding onto for years, waiting for the right young lions to snatch it. This latest harnesses the incendiary force of their live presence to a wide array of moods. Hip-hop may be the bedrock but they find time for some Specials' style Two-Tone soul ("Lamp Oil"), a Jah love hidden cut and trippy space travel ("Bio Diesel"). Don't even get me started on the pass-the-mic magnificence of Adam Strange or how Kyle Colcasure's bass takes me away like Calgon. The godfather his own self, George Clinton, anoints the session on the spark 'em up anthem "Everybody Get High." G.F.E. confirm the notion that hip-hop is no longer about where you're from. There's no one litmus test for authenticity and an open-minded listen to this should convert skeptics. If half the rap out there had this much creativity, this much free-swinging style, then the genre would be a livelier spot. Present enough to talk politics and back-in-the-day enough to understand why Donnie Hathaway always included slow burners on his albums, Bigger Than It Really Is bumps with the best of them.
Album of the month #2:
Julian Cope: Rome Wasn't Burned In A Day
Brain Donor: Too Freud To Rock 'N' Roll, Too Jung To Die
Mistah Cope has been a busy boy. Very quietly, as far as the mainstream he once swam is concerned, he's used shriveled gods and sacred overdoses to concoct sounds guaranteed to defibrillate old rock's heart. He takes us out there and by that I mean places we wouldn't find without sunshine daydream dowsers like Cope. Rome is equal measures acoustic and electric, words found written in dew on a leaf or something a mushroom wandered up and mentioned. It could be a gem unearthed from the psychedelic golden age or maybe a British Isle relative to Japan's Acid Mothers Temple. A fuzz-like spring fruit lays over everything. We enter in on a freakout already in progress and then depart for the source of the swirling lights in the sky. Practical advice slips in without warning ("Don't concrete over your garden. Don't shit in your backyard"). It can make you sigh brightly ("The-Way-Luv-Is") or it can throw loose power lines in the road ("King Minos," which chugs like the Animals minus the machismo). The Brain Donor collection moves Cope over to bass and revels in a barely contained abandon worthy of the Stooges, Detroit City rock by way of Motorhead, burning rubber on a chemical highway, a trio mélange of distorto-vocals, abused guitars and bone-on-boulder bang. It's just so 'eavy, man! Brain Donor play with the monosyllabic rightness of the Fugs or Troggs. "Messages" is an '80s metal epic built around the fewest words in the sub-genres history. "U-Know!" is the Who's maximum R&B and feels so vintage you'll swear you've heard it before. Sheets of sheer blinding white-hot noise pour down especially on the live disc (which also includes a righteous cover of Van Halen's "Atomic Punk"). Wild ass weirdness also rules the bonus disc that comes with Rome where we get a taste of future cult freakers Sunburned Hand Of The Man and Vibracathedral Orchestra amongst others. Julian Cope is going his own way, so much so that he's got his own record label to get this stuff into the world. He enlivens rock's ongoing conversation in the most delightful ways. I've got my spoon and I'm ready. More please, sire...
A partially successful hip-hop experiment, sort of. After the shaking inspiration of their debut one hoped the follow-up would be equally bugged-out brilliant. This sounds like someone let Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey cut a record after hearing his "Daisy" demo. A steady pulse beat makes everything feel samey despite all the wooden men and women, outer space whodunits, and small girls with cages full of goats. Even with this much acid-laced talent it may be, like a lot of underground beat science, too clever for its own good. If I want cute and clever I'll rock some Gilbert and Sullivan. The opaque distance of their first set served them much better than this more upfront approach. There's a teaspoon of madness, monkeys playing Magellan and Damo Suzuki (Can) language abuse, but the strong emphasis on unison singing is, well, no Jurassic 5 (really it sounds more like the Three Stooges crooning with Kraftwerk). As clearly creative as Doseone, odd nosdam, and why? are, there's not a lot here to draw your spaceship to their solar system.
Ric Menck: The Ballad of Ric Menck
The ballads of the Easy Rider and the Thin Man may be more familiar but not for lack of merit. For 15 years, Menck has been the skin-pounder for pop joyfuls the Velvet Crush. Along the way he's also banged out some killer singles under pseudonyms like Choo Choo Train and the Springfields. This reissue gathers together those singles and some odds-and-sods that didn't make the original release on the Rickenbacheriffic Summershine label. His sorta high, sorta nasal voice is crammed full of ache and rainbows and clever dust motes sent spinning by a lazy finger lying in the fresh green grass. A line on the back cover about this collection containing "all of Ric Menck's smash hits!" has the same playful sarcasm of Michael Nesmith calling one of his last albums for RCA And the Hits Just Keep On Comin'. Neither dented the charts but on God's jukebox these are bonafide platinum. There's the same ringing satisfaction to Menck's tunes one finds in the first Lovin' Spoonful album or the Raspberries' "Go All The Way," incitements to turn it up and ease down on the worry wrinkling your brow. It's dandelions and couples running in slow motion montage, a sprinkling of untarnished happiness that does its job in two minutes and change. A wistfulicious cover of madcap Syd Barrett's "Golden Hair" seals the deal with a nod towards one of the voices one hears off in the distance. The liner notes are full of their own small stories and Menck is baldly honest about his output, which makes you like him all the more. Bang up stuff.