By Andrew Pina,Music Editor
Mix albums are always precarious endeavors. You run the risk of burying certain artists under the debris of others, especially if most of the artists are underground or otherwise lesser-known. Making sure there is a consistent mix and a fluid track order, while still capitalizing on the cache of more talented artists, can be problematic. Two hip-hop mix albums released this summer, Constant Elevation and Soundbombing III, show the right way and the wrong way to make mix albums.
Constant Elevation looks promising at first glance. The beats-heavy album features EL-P of the vaunted production outfit Definitive Jux, Chief Xcel of Blackalicious fame, whose latest album, Broken Arrow, received positive reviews this summer, and production virtuoso Madlib, who seems to be working on 20 projects right now. Sadly, those are some of the few acts that stand out. “Crab Lice,” by the Anti-Pop Consortium, features generic rhyming over an annoying beat that contains EKG-style beeping.
Omid produces three tracks on the album. One, the philosophically titled “SchrÃ¶dinger’s Cat,” is a fine drum-and-bass cut that is clearly misplaced on this hip-hop mix. “Crazy,” by the Freestyle Fellowship, with Omid on production, again displays substandard emceeing and the most consistent killer of hip-hop tracks, the wack hook. Few tracks rise on this album. Omid shows his talent on “Wading Venus,” the best pure beat track single on the album, with a fluid core beat and uncomplicated changes throughout.
PB Wolf and Madlib work well together on “Rawcore,” liberally sampling from Madlib’s Quasimoto project, including Madlib’s hallmark of completely switching up the beat mid-track. And EL-P’s “Day After Day After Day” starts the album with a strong, raw beat. But this album, like many compilations, feels like hastily thrown together leftovers from other projects.
On the other hand, Soundbombing III is a more focused effort and feels like a cohesive album. This Rawkus Records project features prominent hip-hop artists like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, Method Man and Q-Tip. Styles P. and Pharoahe Monch open up the album with “The Life,” which should be familiar to those who’ve seen the show on ESPN with the same title. Mos Def flips out hard-rock style on “Freak Daddy,” with full accompaniment of his new band, the porn-star-esque-named Black Jack Johnson. The creative powers of Mos Def are not to be underestimated, and here he again goes further than most hip-hop heads may be willing to follow, with a rap/reggae/rock track that would embarrass acts like Papa Roach in any showdown.
Jonell, Method Man, Kool G Rap (another guy who seems to be everywhere) and Pharoahe Monch get your head noddin’ on “Round & Round (remix),” an adaptation of the hottest track from Hi-Tek’s last album. Cocoa Brovaz go off reggae style on “Spit Again,” and Talib Kweli and DJ Quik (where have you been?) put up a smooth party track with “Put It In The Air.” The Roots, the best live hip-hop band around, create a new anthem with Kweli on “Rhymes and Ammo.”
Soundbombing III isn’t all good though. The two skits on the album feel like wasted space, and the trouble with “The Trouble Is … ,” by the Beatnuts, is another occurrence of wack hook disease. Whoever thought, “The trouble is he’s crazy/The trouble is he drinks,” would be a good chorus really needs to go back to Hip-Hop 101. But overall, Soundbombing III, is an excellent compilation and will hold over any hip-hop heads until Mos Def, Talib Kweli, the Roots, et al, release new albums (hopefully) this fall.
Contact Andrew Pina at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Brandon Wright
There is no denying one simple fact about the production team of The Neptunes: These cats know how to make radio-friendly, Soundscan-driven hits. Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo have laced beats for everyone from platinum-plus-selling Jay Z (“I Just Wanna Love U”), to grimy thug N.O.R.E. (“Superthug,” ‘Nuthin'”), to pop princess Britney Spears (“I’m a Slave”) to scream-king Mystical (“Shake Ya Ass”). And after dropping their debut In Search of … in March, The Neptunes surfaced again with the first act signed to their Star Track label, Clipse.
Riding the strength of their banging single, “Grindin,'” Clipse’s Lord Willin’ is a solid debut effort from the Virginia duo of Malice and Pusha T. One listen to the thunderous claps and tumbling bass of “Grindin'” will have necks subconsciously snapping to the infectious beat. Williams’ signature falsetto on the hook perfectly meshes together the stripped down, old-school feel of the simple breakbeat concocted by The Neptunes. “Lord Willin'” also has two remixes, one featuring N.O.R.E. and Lil’ Wayne and the other with Sean Paul.
But one song does not a classic make.
Lord Willin’ does have some solid tracks, most notably “Comedy Central” featuring Fabolous, the string-heavy “Gangsta Lean” and the hometown anthem “Virginia.” But what weighs down the disc is the over-the-top drug-selling references. While the delivery of Pusha T and Malice combined with The Neptunes tracks makes for a deft mix, the content of Clipse’s rhymes create the stumbling block.
By Andrew Pina
You are a great guitar rock band, and the most important indie band ever, but you’re getting a bit long in the tooth. You are in your 40s now, so screeching guitars have perhaps taken a backseat to screeching toddlers. Your fans still love you, but maybe they are in search of something new. Then the van carrying all your guitars is stolen in broad daylight. And then terrorists demolish the two tallest buildings in your city, the greatest city in the world. What do you do? If you are Sonic Youth, you go out and make the most beautiful album you have ever made.
Murray Street, released in June, is Sonic Youth’s most accessible album to date. And that is saying something because SY drops albums like the Devil Rays drop fly balls. They have made around a dozen full studio albums, not to mention numerous EPs, live albums, foreign releases, solos and collaborations.
The emotion in singer-guitarist Thurston Moore’s voice on the first two songs is halting. “The Empty Page” introduces the softer edge of Murray Street, with lines like “sing out loud/there’s no other way.” “Disconnection Notice” is even more stunning, perhaps rising to the pantheon of great SY songs like “Teen Age Riot” and “Bull in the Heather.” Moore has rarely sounded like this before, full of the passion of a wounded town, but hopeful, as well.
“Rain on Tin” starts out with 40 seconds of powerful lyrics alluding to the attacks, “We all hope to signal kin/Rays of gold/Now rain on tin.” Then the song leaves its lyrics behind and goes on a journey of the guitar rhythms that Sonic Youth is legendary for. Seven minutes later, after a number of changes, the song ends with the most uplifting guitar loop.
On the final song, “Sympathy for the Strawberry,” the band ends the album with some of singer-bassist Kim Gordon’s best singing since the early ’90s. She’s as sensual as ever, with a tone that mellows out the hefty guitar intro, starting her lyrics a full three minutes into a nine-minute opus. The lyrics here, and throughout Murray Street, are full of caring and thoughtfulness that Sonic Youth hasn’t shown in some time, raising the album above some of their more recent works.
In only seven songs, Murray Street enriches listeners with uncommon guitar beauty, melding rhythms, melodies, loud-enough guitars, and strong lyrics into a capsule of an album. Just put it on and let it go.
Don’t Give Up on Me
By Wade Tatangelo
Elements of 1960s soul music continue to be incorporated into today’s pop; however, appealing updates by its pioneers are rare. Luminaries Sam Cooke and Otis Redding were snuffed out years ago by untimely deaths, and others, like Wilson Pickett, witnessed their talents fall by the wayside. Although Solomon Burke notched enough R&B hits during the early years of the genre to warrant membership in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the crossover success of his above-mentioned contemporaries eluded him.
For four decades, Burke has continued making purist-pleasing soul records – both secular and sacred – for tiny labels, while juggling other jobs such as preacher, undertaker and father of 21. On Don’t Give Up on Me, Burke’s debut for the more resourceful Fat Possum imprint, the singer is paired with unreleased nuggets by Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Brian Wilson – just to drop several of the big names on the credits list.
In addition to offering a ballad on par with the album’s more famous tunesmiths, Joe Henry handles the production reins and oversees the infectious, mostly acoustic drum/bass/piano/guitar instrumentation that is rounded out by sparse backing vocals and spot-on tenor sax. Burke’s home-church organist, Rudy Copeland, provides an authentic gospel foundation throughout the album. Daniel Lanois makes a welcomed cameo with some gritty electric guitar licks and the tent-revival chorus courtesy of The Blind Boys of Alabama on “None of Us Are Free” stands out, as well.
What makes the album stick is the astounding way in which Burke projects himself into each varied composition. Burke’s resilience as a singer has not waned since he cut his first sides for Atlantic Records in 1961. Added to the voice behind those early hits is a balmy, lived-in quality that’s only acquired through years of trial and tribulation. Henry’s finest accomplishment as producer is keeping the musical accompaniment out of Burke’s way and making room for the full-bodied vocalist to maneuver.
Whether begging on the title track or berating on the misogynist blues groove “Stepchild” Burke hits the mark with balanced aplomb. Granted, no new ground is being broken here. However, few revivalist efforts have been more satisfying in recent memory.
By Andrew Pina
Dear Kim and Kelley Deal,
Nine years. Wow, has it really been that long since we’ve seen each other? I mean, when I heard “Cannonball” in a Nissan Altima commercial last year, I thought to myself, whatever happened to the darling Deal twins? You girls used to be so much fun, all happy and bouncy, with enough edge to make everyone know you two were for real. And then you two were gone, apparently forever. I thought I would never see you again, but then, this past June, I was walking around Virgin Records in Boston, and I saw you, right there, between the Backstreet Boys and Busta Rhymes. I didn’t know what to say. You just sat there, and you looked lonely, so I just sat there next to you and listened to everything you had to say. I listened to you talk about your good days, like on “London Song,” when Kim says “Misery’s fun, I’m kissing everyone/I gotta hold my tongue.” And like on “Son of Three,” where you “got an empty case of Wip-Its/No time on the meter,” you remind me of the good times we had on Pod. You told me about the tough times, like on “Sinister Foxx,” when you told me that “No one break for me/I just got life/I’m in beer class/every Thursday night.” Kim, you still sound great; I know you’re getting up there, and you’ve done a lot of “stuff” since our Last Splash, but your voice is still strong, if only a little edgier. And dearest Kelley, you’re still the greatest back-up vocalist around. You two still sound great together, and you’re even experimenting with more instruments now, like Kim on “The She,” where she plays upright bass and something called a farfisa. I also appreciate you getting Steve Albini to record Title TK exclusively in analog, eschewing all this digital nonsense. And then you ended your talk with “Huffer,” where Kim sings some of the best “da da das” and “na na as” I have ever heard. Kelley even gets into the act, adding a subtle “F– you” at the end of the second verse. I hope it’s not for me.