The Two of Us Forever

August 23, 2009

Lets clear the air…

I love Japanese movies! I love them. I also love Swedish films, but once you sift through the films of Ingmar “Boogerman” Bergman, there isn’t much movement left. Japan gave birth to more than a few brilliant directors that tend to have more than a few classic films under their belt. I started safe, with Kurosawa, and I made my way to the new wave from there. Its interesting that Japanese new wave is hardly discussed. I find it superior to the french new wave. There are probably some arty kids out there who would like to disagree, but I’m not too concerned. They still think their life can be breathless. I like french films, don’t get me wrong. I like Jean-Pierre Melville and I like Jean Cocteau. Uhh, a couple Godard films are OK? Tirez Sur La Pianiste is the best Truffaut/only good Truffaut movie? Anyways, I love Japanese movies! I watch whatever I can find available on DVD or on internet. Today I will talk about one I saw recently, that is the subject of some controversy, or at least was. I don’t think people care anymore, with the advancement of times and the loosening of censorship.

On Sunday night, I was with my girlfriend Kait, and my friend Joe. Sometimes in life we make decisions. I gave Joe a choice: We watch The Burmese Harp by Kon Ichikawa or we watch In the Realm of the Senses by Nagisa Oshima. He chose the latter. These things happen…

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So we watch. It just received the criterion treatment, which is always a treat. This movie was a feast for the eyes I tell you. I usually dislike 1970’s film due to the way it translates on screen, but there are exceptions (Such as Days of Heaven, a perfect example of beauty in all its 70mm glory). The colour was striking, the sets almost looked expressive, as if constructed on a studio stage instead of using something outside which would probably be easier. The attention to detail definitely had me hooked, not to mention the movie itself.

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The plot is based on the true events of Sada Abe and Kichizo Ishida. I will not recount the actual tale, but the one drawn from the film. I’m almost positive that not many liberties were taken from the source material. Sada Abe works in a restaurant as a maid, formerly a prostitute. The owner, Kichizo Ishida takes a liking to her and they enter into a sexual relationship, without his wife’s knowing. The sexual energy they draw from each other is strong. The feelings Sada Abe feels turns into an obsession and jealousy, while Kichizo concerns lie more in the realm of devotion to her. They take a trip to a restaurant hotel, where they arrange a marriage ceremony. The sex scenes we see up to this point are all real. Definitely unsimulated. While the scenes almost seem harmless, the consummation in front of the geisha’s is what takes this new wave film into some avant-garde territory. We see two of the geisha’s strip the other and start performing sexual acts to her, which ends in an orgy-like display involving all 5 of them (including our two lovers*).

I felt like there were many layers to this love story. Or at least, it was more than just what we saw. There is such a buildup through the second half of the movie leading to the end, which is the death of Kichizo Ishida. Sada Abe doesn’t allow for sleep or rest. She is constantly hungry for love from her partner. She can’t get enough of it. She refuses to have the room cleaned that they inhabit, because she loves the smell, even if others are offended by it. Its the smell they make, so its value goes beyond simply sentimental. The exhaustion Kichizo Ishida feels comes right off the screen and affects you. It was almost torture watching this man. Constantly yearning for rest but refusing to in order to please his partner. The practice of auto erotic asphyxiation doesn’t help. Leaving him in pain, he tells her if she does it again, to just keep going. He is willing to sacrifice his life for his lover’s pleasure, her need to climax. It was the ultimate conclusion to a man who just wants a peaceful sleep. With his death, Sada Abe commits what she made as earlier threats if he were to ever make love to his wife again. She castrates him, and places his penis and testicles inside her, suggesting that they be together forever. This lasted for about four days. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is. One of the most moving scenes is Sada Abe having Kichizo Ishida make love to a geisha in her late 60’s. To me, it was a little hazy as if we were supposed to take her reactions as jealousy or simple pleasure. The camera focuses on her mouth, biting her lips.

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Nagisa Oshima does owe a lot to the french for this film, since it was a co-production, so I guess French cinema isn’t completely useless. They had lifted any restrictions on pornography, which helped in making this film possible. You should not be quick to dismiss the idea of Pornographic Film. In no way am I an authority on the subject, seeing that my experience with films containing legitimate sexual acts is limited. But movies like this, Thriller: A Cruel Picture, and Pink Flamingo take the taboo subject of explicit sexuality and incorporate them into film well. I can’t really understand why it would be frowned upon. Assuming the proper age bracket is viewing this, how is it different than what you do with someone of the opposite or same sex behind closed doors. This method is easily effective in the retelling of real events, and displaying the relationship that leads to the self destructive nature of Kichizo Ishida and Sada Abe’s love turned obsession that drives her to mad acts.

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The political side of this story sort of went by me unquestioned or thought much about. Its sort of when I read Milan Kundera. I read to learn about these characters, more real than most people we know, and the political side is needed but not pursued by myself to the same degree. I guess this does go against what Japan government would approve of. A woman, formerly a hooker, becomes a waitress, soon to become a mistress who makes money for her and her lover by turning tricks once again. The army marches by Kichizo Ishida, as he walks by with almost a scowl. Their life together is in contradiction to everything around them. Insects eat, sleep, defecate, procreate. These two sort of just procreate and eat rarely. Now, I’m not saying the people around them are bugs. That would be mean, and mildly racist. The idea of working, living in a stable outfit, and properly socializing and integrating themselves into everyday society just doesn’t jive with these two. This movie is still banned in Japan.

I’m going to start adding movie entries to this blog. Also on a side note, I watched The Burmese Harp last night. Moving, sad ending.

Like Fucking Clockwork

August 19, 2009

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If you’re going to set out and make a fast paced, action packed, crime drama in the early wake of when the 1980’s abandoned any hanging threads of the 70s and truly came into its own that would drive Michael Mann up the wall, you’re going to need a soundtrack that rivals Jan Hammer. Enter Wang Chung.

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In 1985, director William Friedkin released To Live and Die in L.A, a fine piece of cinematic action, and one of the nicer slices of crime film in a time when originality started to wear thin in this genre. I would go as far to call it Neo-Noir. The plot is simple. A hard-boiled anti-hero secret service officer, Richard Chance (played by William Petersen) is out to bust counterfeiter/tortured artist Rick Masters (played by Willem Dafoe). This is driven by the death of his former partner, who died at the hands of Masters with only a few days left til retirement. Spare me the statement of the plot sounding run of the mill. This is 1985, not 2009 when studios are still churning this out but without much of any goodness to it. Richard Chance is easily one of the grittiest cops I’ve seen on the screen. He definitely brought a new meaning to playing by your own rules.

This came out during the first or second season of Miami Vice. A lot of similarites can be drawn, and I heard it royally pissed off Michael Mann. If you know me, you know I love Miami Vice. Well, the first two seasons. Miami Vice’s legacy should always be strong. It took the idea of sophisticated drama and without dumbing it down, made it an excellent exercise in style. The show takes more than enough time to enhance the setting, making montages of beaches, resorts, the clubs, and the streets of Dade County. The choice of colour on the screen is key. The rule “No Earth Tones” is definitely sworn by, and the payoff is priceless.

The direction in To Live and Die in L.A is exceptional, and there is a stark contrast from Vice when it comes to photography. Done on a low budget, this film just looks hot and bleak. The sky looks polluted, almost a constant orange or bright sky, that is reinforced from the beginning throughout. The houses are dank, save a few shots, the bars are dingy. Definitely far from the sleekness of Dade. Some similarities can be drawn between Richard Chance and Sonny Crockett. The main thread is that they are doing whatever its going to take, whether its by the book or not. The difference is the extremity to which they’ll go to abide by this belief. Richard Chance will do whatever, even kidnapping someone in order to come up money to go through with a sting operation. Crockett knows when to say no. Crockett has a sense of humor. Chance doesn’t have time for one. Chance is an asshole. Crockett can be nice.

I watched this movie with my friend Joe, and I was blown away. The following day I was talking with my Dad about it and he said, “Oh yeah, I have the soundtrack by Wang Chung”. This was so funny to me for a few reasons. First of all, my Dad hasn’t seen the movie, and secondly, Joe and I kept talking about how good the music is and how we needed the soundtrack for our I-pods. I went through my Dad’s records, pulled it out to see the cover was exactly what it should be, and went to my room and threw it on.

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This brings me to the other main comparison of L.A and Vice. The music. Vice relies on Jan Hammer, one of a kind composer, and lots of new wave artists and other popular songs as part of its angle, since its geared towards the MTV generation. Wang Chung would seem like a good bet to counter both of these factors. Listening to the title track off of the soundtrack and looking at their catalogue of hits, Wang Chung have a good balance of being able to construct well-written songs and knowing how to write songs that will dominate the charts (Everybody Wang Chung tonight, and Dance Hall Days), and this soundtrack is effective in accompanying the movie with proper music that fits the time period as well.

On the back of the LP, there is a tiny essay by William Friedkin:

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“It will come as no surprise to anyone who has listened to Points on the Curve that Jack Hues and Nick Feldman are two of the move innovative musicians around.
It might also come as no surprise to listeners of their music that while their sound is contemporary, their musical orientation is classical….Strauss, Wagner, Schoenberg, Stravinsky.
Their work stands out for me from the rest of contemporary music, which is why I asked them to create an original score for the film To Live and Die in L.A.
What they finally recorded has not only enhanced the film — it has given it a deeper, more powerful, dimension.
While mixing the sound track I was struck by the inseparable flow of one musical piece into another.
Listening to the album, just now I discovered, to my surprise, that each track also stands out on its own — and delivers its own statement.
For me this is not only an exciting film score, but a fine piece of modern music.”

This film is dated. So is Miami Vice. They’re both dated. Its why I love them. These will always represent a slice of the early 1980s. Some people love things for their timelessness, but I have always loved amazing representations of a moment in time. This movie hands you the whole cake.

“Let me tell you something, amigo. I’m gonna bag Masters, and I don’t give a shit how I do it”.

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In the 80s, metal was growing and new things were happening. Thrash was popping up on both coasts of the US, and over in Europe, mainly in Germany (refer to Teutonic Thrash and what it can do for you). Venom had already released their 2 Slop-drop craptastic classics, “Welcome to Hell” and “Black Metal” and people were scared. Now we know Venom was all make belief, but it helped pave the way for what would down the road become an established form of the extreme that we call Black Metal. Black Metal is good. If you block out the kids you see all over wearing Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir shirts, and you listen to A Blaze in the Northern Sky and not want to rip shit apart, then you should turn back now. While Venom was more of a gimmick that ended up having a lasting impact, there were bands such as Bathory, Celtic Frost, Tormentor, Sarcofago etc etc who were taking those ideas of playing sped up Discharge and Motorhead and adding the much needed touch of Satanism, Paganism, and other evil ism’s to it. While this tradition of raw and thrashydeath style black metal would be carried on in its early pioneering days in Norway in the early 90’s it would soon make a drastic shift towards incorporating melody and sympohnic and almost operatic elements into the music. Bands that pulled this off would be bands like Dissection, Emperor, and so on, along with a gradual increase of the importance of atmosphere, which one of the best BM bands, Burzum helped shape and lay down the groundwork for future bands. But when we look at the first wave of black metal and see a dirty and raw approach we wonder how did the idea of melody and structure really find its way into this genre? The answer, in my opinion lies in this 1984 album:

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Don’t Break the Oath by Mercyful Fate. How awesome is that album cover? Hailing From Denmark, The Fate cut two full lengths before going on hiatus, or breaking up for the first time. Their sound was a mix of NWOBHM and elements of thrash. All depending on who I am talking to, I usually describe them as an “Extreme Metal” band. To Black Metal fans, I tell them they are the best BM band, usually to see them wince. To other’s I describe them as, “its like if Maiden and Judas Priest were satanic and didn’t suck”. I’m not sure which of their two LP’s is considered the better. I would like to think this one. Their first record, “Melissa” has some jams, but suffers too much from not sounding “Evil” enough. When King Diamond would record his vocals, he would have the lights off, and candles lit, with a shrine with his fractured skull “Melissa” before him. If you ask me, Mercyful Fate is one of the most challenging metal bands of the early 80s to listen to and fully appreciate and its due to King Diamonds talent. His voice is that makes or breaks fans. He can reach a register one thought was impossible, and can bring it back down in an instant.

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The overall tempo of this record is midpaced. Its never “fast”, sometimes slow. No complaints here. The songs are well written, the solo’s are nice, not overblown, nor do they drag. The harmonic parts between Shermann and Denner are cooler than maiden or any other band that did this because they’ve abandoned the rushing aspect, and just let the notes take a nice slow course. Some of the riffs for the time definitely have an evil sound, such as the intro to desecration of souls, or the recurring riff through “Gypsy”. This album also contains the much needed acoustic interlude, which doesn’t take away at all but it comes near the end of the album, which I think works better. I almost forgot to mention, the opening track has one of the most catchy groovy mid paced guitar riffs. Such a crunch, totally moshable.

Also, the lyrics reflect satanism from a much more mature perspective. Instead of crude lyrics about Satan coming to either rape of brutalize virgins or people in general, theres more of an acceptance of Satan into your life and doing thy bidding. What do you think they mean by “Don’t Break the Oath”, Taking a snippet from the sort of title track “The Oath”, King Diamond projects:

I deny Jesus Christ, the deceiver
And I abjure the Christian faith
Holding in contempt all of it’s works

As a being now possessed of a human body
In this world I swear to give my full allegiance
To it’s lawful master, to worship him
Our Lord, oh Satan, and no other

In the name of Satan, the ruler of Earth
Open wide the gates of Hell and come forth from the abyss
By these names: Satan, Leviathan, Belial,
Lucifer
I will kiss the goat

This was a record where I first started listening to it, and thought “okay, I can’t get past the vocals”, but I couldn’t switch bands. I just had to keep listening, and soon enough it grew like an untreated infection to the point where I listen to them almost daily. If not a whole album, just choice cuts from either album. From an outsider looking in perspective, a lot of black metal bands are sped up versions of The Fate with shrieking vocals, and maybe slightly darker riffage. I’ve yet to check out any of the King Diamond albums, and I’m not in any real rush to. I think I can get my dad into them…

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No. But let me back up first:

Skipping over the legacy known as Blowfly, during the golden age of hip hop, there was a group we’ve all come to know and love mainly for the hilarity they provide. We call this group 2 Live Crew. 2 Live Crew dropped a few half rate albums that are so well regarded due to fusing the miami party bass pumping flavour with sexual related lyrics, which we’ve come to call Sex Rap. There aren’t many sex rap groups that really matter here to talk about save two. Those two being 2 Live Crew and No Face. Both provide the humour that you’re guaranteed and definitely have tones of misogyny that we all appreciate in our music.

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2 Live Crew have 3 albums that matter. Move Somethin’, As Nasty As They Wanna Be, and Banned in the USA. Each album is the same sort of deal. Well produced tracks with sexually explicit lyrics. Why am I even bothering to blog about this? Because my beef is some of these beats are great! I love the upbeat miami style packaged into a listenable group. Its not like listening to DJ Maggatron where we’ve just got 8 minute long songs of cut ups and multiple samples. My only beef is that the sex lyrics get a little tired after a while, and the novelty can wear off quick, but we can’t deny the influence. Just like gangsta rap of the east coast, this group definitely pushed the envelope in the right direction and came under fire and fought against censorship. This kind of music is the equivalent to Hustler or Penthouse magazines. Its the kind of thing that should be kept on the top shelf but it should be there nonetheless. Songs like Face Down Ass Up, Move Somethin’, C’mon Babe, you wish they could have erased the lyrics and had another group make these into more user friendly party jams, but I suppose thats part of the appeal. You want to hear all the different ways 2 Live Crew can talk about getting blown and getting it on.
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It bums me out sometimes, but the production on the album “Wake Your Daughter Up” bums me out even more. That album has some of the best hip hop samples in my opinion from the time. The album is definitely well regarded across the board in the underground hip hop community. Its definitely more geared towards being a comedy record, almost a parody. It features 2 Live Crew on a song or two (or maybe just one, I can’t remember). The kind of beats on this LP are part of the appeal for me. I can legitimately listen to this record but sometimes the vocals get a bit under my skin. “Fake Hair Wearin’ Bitch” is a prime example of this. The rough gang vocals, and one of the members yelling his lyrics like he is quite ticked about girls giving him the run around. This kind of abrasive delivery is continued on the song “At the Movies”. I touched on this album a bit before in a post about slow jams. Musically, this slow jam could have been up there with the jams from the first two big daddy kane records, but as you can guess, the lyrics kill that potential. This is a kind of song that screams parody, which I get. I’m well aware of how cheesy slow hip hop songs, but I can still enjoy them secretly. The closest we get on this album to having a user friendly song is “Half”. Half is a jam, I think they might have made a music video for it. “Stole My Shit” is another example of a fine song. “Your System” is a refreshing kickback to the beats of early hip hop or NWA and the Posse. Lastly we get “Assit”, the much needed House/Club track. Thats the end of that. So in conclusion, listen to it merely for the production and cheap laughs it will provide.

So is sex rap the pornogrind (see Anal Cunt, Meat Shits etc etc) of Hip Hop? No, because Pornocore is the Pornogrind of Hip Hop.

Ok, Ok. I don’t know a whole lot about this sub-subgenre called Pornocore except it was invented by Kool Keith. Yes, Kool Keith. The same Kool Keith that fronted The Ultramagnetic MC’s, a hip hop group responsible for “Critical Beatdown”, one of the finest pieces of Golden Age history. Critical Beatdown is one of my favourite albums. The beats are tight, the lyrics are top notch and has one of the partiest party songs, “Travelling at the Speed of Thought”. Somehow from this he moved onto Dr.Octagon. I don’t know how you feel about Doc Oc, but I don’t like it. The album is some sort of concept album that would be one of the first instances of him moving into this sort of explicit sex-related lyrics with the character Dr. Octagon fronting as a woman gynecologist and having sex with his patients. After this record, he released “Sex Style”, which is when he started using the term Pornocore, I’m pretty sure. The title track covers all the sexual ground you could expect: Regular sex, anal sex, golden showers, BDSM, and other related sexual acts that might even be a bit too perverted for regular sex rap, hence the more hardcore title for the genre, pornocore.

Hey Kait, how are you?

Adam, watch out for a mega mix of hip hop. I’ll email you the link possibly tonight, whats the best address to get at you?

So I thought it’d be fun to dig through the crates of my cranium and bring out 3 of my first cassettes that I owned. This would have been around 1993-1995. I can definitely recall listening to these tapes, and I think its sort of neat to look back on the content of them and how I haven’t really changed from these tastes, I’m just a bit more seasoned.

So here is the first tape I can recall having and thinking it was one of the coolest things:

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He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. If I can recall, my Mom got this from a good friend of hers. The friends husband was way into hip hop, and maybe they had given me this since its a user-friendly curse-word free album. Not to mention, its awesome. I always loved Fresh Prince of Bel-Air growing up and I can still laugh my ass off at most episodes. So here I was, 6 or so years old, listening to this tape in my room, thinking it was so damn cool. This album was huge when it came out, and Parents Just Don’t Understand is still one of the best radio friendly joints that have been produced. Listening to this record now, it totally reeks of the phila flavour sound, which makes sense seeing as they were from there. You can definitely tell the influence that Will Smith exerts, such as Slick Rick, Kool Moe Dee, Heavy D, and Philadelphia acts such as Steady B, Cash Money and Marvelous, etc etc. Some of these songs still hold up, and its fun to hear Will Smith’s voice before it lowered the last bit (which can totally be heard on Homebase and whatnot). Its nice to hear records that are just fun, without sucking. They are one of the only acts to pull that off. As a kid I thought the Nightmare on Elm St. song was so dope, but now as a slightly Heavier D, I will pick the fat boys track over this one. Have you ever seen the video for the fat boys track? Not to mention I’m much more appreciative of DJ Jazzy Jeff’s tracks on this album. His slicin’ and dicin’ is tasty. As a kid, I had this one tape. Now I’m an adult and I have it on vinyl.
Stand Out Tracks: Time to Chill, Lets Get Busy Baby, Rhythm Trax-House Party Style, Charlie Mack

If you really want a treat, watch this video of one of their best songs from their catalogue, which was one a bit of a poor album. Appearances by Don King, Alfonso Ribeiro and the one and only, Iron Mike.

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Next One is one I didn’t really recall until doing extensive search of the releases of Cold Chillin’ Records. I love Cold Chillin. The first real wave of their releases is almost untouchable. I find theres a common pattern in artists like MC Shan, Big Daddy Kane, and Biz Markie, where their second album is better than the first. That isn’t to say because artists like Kane and Markie started using Marley Marl sparingly, because I back Marley Marl to the very end, but I think with the growth of the overall hip hop sound the samples became much more well produced and explored for an overall full and more catchy sound. So while doing my extensive research in my spare time (I have lots of spare time), I came across some release that totally hit a fuse in my brain. The eponymous and only release by CANADIAN young pop rap group, TBTBT. Too Bad To Be True. I can’t remember exactly why I had this tape or where I got it. My mom sort of just came home with it. Maybe it has to do with the same friend as above. Here was another pop rap/new jack swing group that would be more geared towards someone like me. The kids in this group ranged between 12-15. I peeped the video for their single “One Track Mine” and thought “Man, this brings me back. Now I remember this”. There is no denying that one track mind is a banging hit. Its not great, but the production is stellar, and its fun to hear kids rap sometimes when its not the worst thing you’ve ever heard in your life. I can’t remember much else from this album, but I bet there were some def slow jams. Now I think about my taste and how I love rap geared towards a poppy new jack swingy sound like the 2nd and 3rd Heavy D record, and Cake and Eat it too, and being able to dig Keith Sweat but not telling anybody about it. Could this be why?


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Lastly for today, we will talk about a compiltation. Well, more like a movie soundtrack. The Batman Forever soundtrack. When this came out, it was huge. Seal won three grammies for kiss from a rose. I never liked that song and always fast forwarded over it, but I still remember the video of him singing the song on a roof with the bat signal, and having some silk shirt blowing about. What happened to Seal? He is still around with his hot wife, he is still talented. Looking back on this tape, it had some great bands. It makes sense why I dug it then and how I dig some of these groups now. It had Massive Attack(Featuring Tracey Thorn from Everything but the Girl), Mazzy Star, Sunny Day Real Estate, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, and some other decent acts. I remember not being huge on the U2 song. I’m still not. I never knew what I was really listening to, because I had lost the case, but I remember loving most of the songs by the artists I just mentioned. Kinda neat considering my ongoing admiration for said artists, and my near obsession with Nick Cave’s body of work. This movie is really terrible, but the soundtrack still has some hold up songs. Its sort of like the soundtrack to “The Saint”. The movie is garbage, but some of the songs are by artists of this similar vein. Its just weird to think when I was a kid, I knew a song by Sunny Day Real Estate. Do you remember the SNES game? Do you remember how bad it was?

If I ever do heroin…

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It will be to Steely Dan’s “Can’t Buy a Thrill”. Let me back up for a second. Never have I or will I do heroin. I have a definite anti-drug and alcohol stance, due to the caused loss of self control and it is one of the most fleeting ways to spend and lose money. But, if you know any heroin addicts, you should give them a copy of this album.

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I guess it is safe to say I’m a Steely Dan fan. I’m a pretty stupid Steely Dan fan. I don’t like Pretzel Logic and find myself willing to skip over at least one or two tracks on every album I claim to love. What draws me to the Dan is their tight studio production, their passion for perfection and their overall smoothness. The songs that tend to “Rock” or sound booming are ones I can definitely do without. Starting off as a tight early 70s hybrid of rock and jazz, they made their way into the realm of smooth mainstream jazz, abandoning almost all rock elements. But we’re here to talk about their first record, the one you should have handy when you decide to become a junky. Can’t Buy a Thrill.

Taking the album name from a line from a Bob Dylan song (bummer), this album can be summed up in one word: Sleaze. Its the Married with Children of pop music. From the album cover to the opening track, “Do it Again”, you’re covered in it. You’re sucked in, and you hear a kind of sleaze that almost sounds unintentional. It makes sense that this is a great heroin record, because Fagen and Beckett were addicts. This is the kind of music Santana tried to make credible but failed. He is still alive playing the same solo for pop artist’s, its almost heartbreaking to watch him.

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This album paints a perfect picture of Los Angeles and New York City in the early 70’s. This is the album that makes you think of those gritty 70s movies, whether they were well produced or just raw exploitation movies. Either way, I’m hooked. The lyrics to the opening track “Do It Again” accompany this image perfectly, with lines about murder, love and lust, and gambling. These ideas almost cover the whole theme of the album, theres a certain struggle within the lyrical content of these songs. A song like “Only a Fool Would Say That”, a statement about the cost of everything in life. “Dirty Work”, a song about falling back into the bad habit of loving a women you can have when her husband isn’t there. “Turn that Heartbeat Over Again”, a closing track on crime and drinking. This album makes me think of orange skies and grainy images.

The one flaw to this album is David Palmer and Jim Hodder. These two handle lead vocals on three songs and it just isn’t the same as Fagens unique voice. I can’t remember if Fagen thought he didn’t have what it takes or didn’t think he could do it live, but either way, its good he handled it for the rest of the band’s career.

The best way to listen to any Dan LP is with a pair of great headphones and the vinyl copy of whichever album you decide to pick. I’d say stray from The Royal Scam and focus on this record along with Katy Lied, Aja, Gaucho. I can’t think of any records that are produced as well as these ones. The massive attention to detail, the attention to placement of instruments in the mix, everything is boiled down and every little bit counts, and thats what makes this band probably the best studio band.

Steely Dan would never top the sleaze that they achieved on this record, but its because with each record they just keep reinventing and building on their already well established style and sound. But there is one shining moment on their second album “Countdown to Ecstasy” with their song “Gold Teeth”. Listen to that and not think of some B-Level Crime Flick from the 70’s. I think thats one of the keenest points of their sound, is that its timelessness yet it’s a great representation of the time in which is was written. It does a much better job than any 70s bad rock band you hear on Q107. If you like Doctor Wu from your minutemen double nickels album, then listen to the original by the Dan, featured on “Katy Lied”.

Now on to personal matters, I’ve been working a lot which is good because I need to finish paying my visa off which will be done with my next paycheque, and I’ll scoot up to see Kait on Monday which I can’t wait for. I miss her a bunch! She is not a believer when it comes to Steely Dan, but she listened to Gaucho, which is good but Katy Lied is overall better, same with Aja.

This is going to be a special Similar Haircuts. We’re gonna take a walk down memory lane with this one and take a sort of break from hip hop for this entry:

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When I was in High School, I had a secret admiration for the Dave Matthews Band. It was something my friends knew about and surprisingly did not judge over. Even Joe sort of likes the song “Satellite”. It was something that I was almost forced to keep secret, due to his fan base when you’re a high school student. The other people that like him are bros. We all know about bros, we’ve all dealt with them, its not fun. Live shows consist of bros, and people above 30. Then me. There was just a lot to appreciate in his music I found. I enjoyed that he played cool things on guitar, and when everyone in the band can offer up a few heaping helpings of talent, you are usually in for a real treat. My liking of this group really came into fruition in my grade 12 year. For my birthday I received a ticket to see him in concert at the ACC. I went alone but didn’t mind. It was a good time, a handful of great jams, and a drunk mother with no ring on her finger kept bumping her hips into me. A 17 year old boy couldn’t ask for more. My girlfriend at the time had beef with his words because she thought they were too sexual, because of songs like “Rapunzel”, where the first chunk of lines is totally referring to cunnilingus, which I thought was fun. Clearly, my ex was a silly. I saw him a second time a few months later in the spring at the Molson Amphitheater and it was a nice time. Again, went by myself. After this, time went on and after noticing weight loss, I sort of fell out of listening to him on a regular basis. I still keep tabs, I still listen to the odd song here and there. Anyways, his latest album “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King” dropped, and after listening through some of it, I’m not feeling it. Its getting great reviews, which is good for the band for sure. Listening to the first full song on the album I noticed something troubling which brings us to tonight’s Similar Haircut:

Shake Me Like a Monkey by Dave Matthews Band and…

Word Up by Cameo

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Yes. You read right. Dave Matthews Band have ripped off Cameo. Now the whole song doesn’t rip off Word Up, but one of the main riffs, that is played through the chorus is Word Up without a doubt. Do you remember the first time you heard Word Up? I do. Let me tell you about it: When I was in Grade 4, I recieved some sort of Toronto Raptors mix CD that had songs picked by the teammates and that banging track by Cameo was on it. I won’t lie, I like it. I still like it. Its so goddamn catchy, but c’mon, do you think no one in the studio noticed the similarities. Even the horns make it sound even more like Word Up. The song by Dave Matthews isn’t even good. Its so “rock” sounding, and usually when Dave Matthews tries to rock out, it ends in tears.

So I guess if we have to declare a winner, the winner is Cameo. His came first which gives him an edge, not to mention his song is untouchable. There are instances when one hit wonders can be untouchable. I mean you can’t “U Can’t Touch This” by the Hammer, and you can’t mess with Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” which probably got half its success from Michael Jackson doing Rockwell a favour and singing the main hook. Whatever happened to Cameo? Who cares, Word Up!

My Down Colorful Hill LP came today. It came after waiting for less than a week. No complaints from me, its great. Plays like a dream. I’ve listened to it twice today, and will probably end up spinning it once more.

Similar Haircuts #2.5

June 2, 2009

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Okay, here we go. I was gonna space these out, but they’re really fun to write and this one I already know is gonna be a no contest, and due to the inevitable shortness of this post, we’ll label it #2.5:

The Sample in Question: “Resuce Me” by A Taste of Honey

Contenders: “I Got a Man” by Positive K and “Movin’ On Em (Remix)” by Two Kings in a Cipher

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Two Kings in a Cipher: I can’t say a whole lot about em, an afrocentric duo comprised of D.O.P and the Noble Ahmen-Ra. They dropped this one LP, “From Pyramids to Projects” and I think its one of those overlooked LP’s that actually contains a couple gems. The lyrics are your standard run of the mill for groups like this. Islam, History, theres some Egypt references which I can always dig on. They ended up going on to produce for successful acts (well Bad-Boy related artists which are pretty snore for the most part [and yes I’m aware Biggie is part of that group, but you and I both know hes a biiiiit over rated.]). Overall though, this is a fine album but there are many “would rather listen to” records i’d stack on top of this.

pos k
Positive K: “Grand Puba, Positive and LG” and “Wanna give a shout to my man Pos K” were my first exposures to Positive K. Positive K released this one record called “The Skills dat Pay da Bills”. Not amazing, groundbreaking, and until you reach “Carhoppers” the album sorta blows, but once you hit that, you’re in for a treat until the end pretty well. Positive K is responsible for some of the funnest 90’s jams. After this album he kind of dropped off the face of the Earth and as far as I know, he hasn’t released an official record since but was planning on a comeback I believe.

Ok, you got a bit of info, lets get into it, but I know this is gonna be a no contest. I’m gonna break this into a one paragraph argument, or a couple, we’ll see:

Two Kings in Cipher use some scratching and some horn riff through parts of the song and it sounds gross. This song reminds me of “Its Time to Party” by EPMD in the sense that you’ve got this bumpin beat with these relaxed guys rapping over it, except when EPMD did it, it worked. This doesn’t work, especially when you compare it to Positive K’s “I Gotta Man”. You’ve got that bumpin beat with Pos K convicing a girl to get with him and to toss her current guy aside. We get some reaction and feedback from the girl which helps keep this track fresh but the coolest part about that is that the girl voice is actually Pos K, using studio magic/technology to alter his voice and its perfect. I couldn’t even tell, but maybe with some of the pronounciation and rhythm of lines it makes sense. I could care less about the lyrical content in the Cipher track, because Positive K wins this. His use of the sample is responsible for the best party hip hop song of the 1990’s. The lyrical content helps this, and doesn’t try to be anything more than it should be. I remember hearing this and listening to it non stop and just having to show people. Positive K on this track/the video reminded me of an old buddy Andrew, who would stop at nothing to get with a girl. Persistence!

I knew I didn’t have much to say, but I thought I’d throw it out there. Take Positive K seriously, and stop listening to Wu Tang.

I can’t embed it but here is the link to check out I got a Man

Similar Haircuts #2

May 31, 2009

JC

Number Two! I’ve got a couple lined up in my head, but I thought I’d drop this one tonight:

The Sample in Question – Funky President by James Brown

The Contenders: To the Right by Brand Nubian and Duck Alert by Craig G

Background Info

BrandNubian
Brand Nubian are pretty much one of the best things to ever happen to hip hop. Well, lets bring some more focus and narrow that statement. “One For All” is my favourite hip hop LP. What I think is so neat about this record is its one of those gems that bridges the end of the golden age and helps introduce alternative rap (this record, the first De La LP, the first Tribe record etc etc). Definitely an aware and self conscious group, the first album has a lot of 5 percenter material, but some straight up fun jams. Fuck, I spent over 20 bucks on their first 12″ single for the b-side track (Feels So Good) because its not on the vinyl copy of One For All, one of my most prized LP’s. I remember finding this record. I was in Toronto on a hot day record shopping with Rick Ta Smith, and he asked if I wanted to go to Cosmos because they had some cool hip hop vinyl. I had never been there, and when I walked in, I pretty much lost my shit. I found the first Big Daddy Kane LP, a Heavy D LP. the Hip Hop Hooray 12″ (album cover and all), and a couple other cool things, but there I saw sitting on the shelf, the first Brand Nubian LP. I didn’t even hesitate. I snatched that up and knew the day was more than a success. The secret to this record is simple : Grand Puba. The more I think about it, the more I think he could be my favourite lyricist. His references and pattern can be not only overly intelligent, but straight up hiliarious. This record has everything I could ask for. Tight production and catchy samples, conscious and well thought lyrics, and enjoyable MC’s. I told Kait we couldn’t date if she didn’t like Concerto in X Minor. She likes the whole album overall if my mind serves me right. Some of the samples are very jazzy but they don’t ignore the golden age funk using James Brown more than once or twice on this record. Stop.

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What can I say about Craig G? Not a whole lot. My first and some of my only exposure to this MC is due to Marley Marl’s “In Control Vol. 1”. Craig G left his mark as an exceptional battle rapper and the opening track of In Control, “Dropping Science” is definitely one of the highlights of the album and it can be seen why this guy deserves credit. You don’t hear much talk of him. You don’t hear much talk of his records. Mainly because, they’re not that great. Even though you have this well regarded battle rapper and one of the best producers from their time, it just doesn’t work for a full album. Fun Fact: He wrote most of Marshall Mather’s battle rhymes for the movie “8 Mile”.

Okay, lets drop math on this:

Overall Use of the sample: Marley Marl doesn’t do anything real fun to spice up this quick cut from the original track. Along with a bit of scratching, thats all there is to it. It kind of gets annoying. The percussion behind the brand nubian is much nicer on the ears, and the extra “go!”‘s and those repeated “ah” vocals and the “Hey!” and the “Funky” definitely breathe more than enough life into this sample to beat out Marley Marl/Craig G. Winner : Brand Nubian

Intro/Outro- Not Applicable, so this will be scratched from the overall decision.

Lyrical Content: Duck Alert serves as a total beef-track for Craig G. He seems to be dissing someone named Duck Alert. I can’t find much on it, and with sort of good reasoning. The lyrics are definitely half rate at best. If this was an on the spot diss caught on tape, I’d admire this much more. The words don’t have much movement and nothing worth quoting. The lyrics in To the Right are all about skinz aka fly girls and other somewhat related things. There seems to be this theme of hip hop as their job and life, which I dig. Some of the highlights of Puba’s lyrics go like this:
“And if I’m Uptown I’m back downtown
All the skins I’ve been in I gets no frowns
You see doo-doo MC’s, really think they can outlast..
I smell gas
As a yung’un I was thefty, born as a lefty
The rhymes I drop, somethin more than hefty
Roll like a Ranger, Puba’s no stranger
For those who try to diss me – uh-oh, danger
Used to drink the Olde E, coolers, just be goldie
When I played soccer with the dreads that play goalie”

Winner: Brand Nubian

Sadly. this is where I wrap this up. The winner without question is Brand Nubian. Maybe I’m doing this with a slight bias, since I don’t think you can’t do much wrong with One for All, with some little exception. I could probably make multiple posts about Brand Nubian.

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Expanding on my epic post about an epic album (Rollercoaster), Side 4 is overall a pretty epic selection of audio from this bands overall catalogue. If Mark Kozelek was David Lean, this side of the record would probably be his Lawrence of Arabia. While Mother isn’t a favourite of mine, its sprawling 14 minute length and the second half 7 minute build up definitely makes it deserving of a couple listens at the least. This record to me is probably some of the most darkest things they’ve churned out. Granted, The first 4 songs on Down Colorful Hill are among the most depressing and brooding of their material, but Mother is up there for some of the most eerie and borderline disturbing of material they’ve put out. The lyrics for the most part are just straight up uncomfortable.

“i want to be mothered
i want you to give
attention to my belly button
mother
i want to have
boddy pins stuck in my ears”

I will give them that, when they played it live, it was easily one of the loudest moments of their live performance over the whole span of their playing shows. It was the one instance where they ended a song with a bang, rather than a whisper. Maybe one exception would be River or Make Like Paper. I love how the first half of the song doesn’t really build up much. It stays stagnant through and through, then fades out, then the second half really steps it up. I’m not really bringing anything new to the table with what I’m saying. But I’m just using this as a platform to talk about Strawberry Hill.

If you think Strawberry Hill is a good song, you’re on the right path. What you need to do is listen to the demo version and you’ll love it a whole lot more. I have serious issues with the version from the demo. Its too fast. The thing about the LP version is how it drones with the military style drumming Anthony provides on more than one song but gets it definitely right on this one. The pacing of marks vocals on the demo version are sucky, for lack of a better word. And he sings the whole song with a strain and is too expressive. He does it perfectly on the LP. Starts off small and gets big. The demo version has bad piano lines and these awkward parts with talking and strange instrumentation and noises that make it sound like some quasi-pixies experiment gone horribly wrong. While a lot of Kozelek’s lyrics are statements of the pain he is feeling, this one is one of the more autobiographically driven. It sounds like something he might have written early in his rather permanent stay on the west coast. I always liked this song, sort of related to it. I know what its like to want to stay in your room, and yes I am in fact afraid to drive. It doesn’t stray too far from the other songs about pain, there is definitely a woman figure in this song. There is someone who wants to help or maybe more than one.

On to more pressing matters, I won a copy of Down Colorful Hill. Do you know what this means? I’m one 12″ EP away from having all of the 4AD releases. Shock Me is gonna be a tough on to find, it hardly surfaces and does when I’m more broke than the dvd player in my Mom’s basement. I made Kait listen to the last 2 songs on DCH before bed, and she liked them. I’m not sure if it was willingly or begrudgingly but I’ll take it either way. They’re slowly growing on her, she stops making gross faces at the sound of their name. She’s at work right now, and I’m here alone with two dogs, and there’s some cut tofu in the kitchen but I’m not hungry enough to eat it and there’s laundry that needs to go into the dryer, and another load to go in the washer, and this bed needs to be made and the floor needs to be mopped and I have to break 100,000 points on Donkey Kong (Arcade). I’m close too, I can get 90,000 on a good run. That third elevator will be the death of me. I’m not good enough yet to do serious point pressing. I just enjoy that Mame offers a good replica of the Cabinet version. The NES version can go to hell. Kait has made claims of making apple crisp with me if I find a vegan friendly recipe. She watches Japanese movies with me, but good ones, not J-Horror. Thats for Joe and Payson (J-Whores). She treats me well.