Retro Reminiscence: Digable Planets Old Skool Kool

Digable Planets are a class act old school hip hop group whose Rebirth of Slick burnt up the airwaves on the charts and music TV back in the early 90s.

Here’s a performance of the funky syncopated groove track 9th Wonder (Blackitolism) live on some show starring Jon Stewart in 1994. Something about Ladybug’s live delivery of her memorable phrase-turns “ninety three million miles above these devils… A alike, B alike…” makes them snap for me and really brings home the street poetics in a way the recorded version doesn’t… but that’s just me… And doesn’t Jon Stewart look like a spry young lad?

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Grunter’s Pick: The Ting Tings

I don’t have a TV – I haven’t had one for years and my family never had one when we were kids. Dad used to read to us and we’d listen to the Sunday morning radio show which had fare ranging from Bad Jelly the Witch to the Matchstick Girl (such a morbid tale for kids).

Anyway! The point of that rambling nostalgia trip was that the only thing I miss about TV are the music channels; I had a TV for years after I moved out of home and it was always set to the music stations (except when certain people wanted to watch Shortland Street >_<). NZ’s had some great channels (yay for Max and C4!) – not all MTV pop – and I discovered great music during the years that I had a TV.

Now that I don’t, I have to rely on my main Eye on the Choob – Grunter. A man of varied tastes, Grunter’s given me the heads up on songs from Disturbed’s latest metal anthem to the alt-pop of the Ting Tings. After checking out their latest video I found this acoustic version of “Great DJ” (which I prefer), performed on Yahoo’s music channel. (Thanks Grunter!)

Note: replaced with live at SXSW video as other vid has been removed

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Angus and Julia Stone launch a Paper Aeroplane

It’s an oldie, but brother and sister duo Angus and Julia Stone are Aussies and I’m gearing up to my NZ music post with some neighbourly action xD (and here’s an interview wherein you can hear their charming aussie accents : ).

The quiet, folky, acoustic number really appeals to me and they do it so well; both are singer / songwriters and each has their own style but their writing method (each composes alone, then brings the song in for help with structure and harmonies) ensures they retain a cohesion to their sound. I like it, yo.

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Retro Reminiscence: Aah Shaddapp-a You Face

Joe Dolce’s classic 80s song “Shaddap You Face” is the most successful Australian-produced single in Australian music history for 28 years straight with sales of over 350,000 copies. It brings back memories of a crowded house full of cousins, uncles and aunties all singing the chorus punch line: “Aaah shaddap-a you face!” at the top of their voices xD.

Style-wise it’s a bit of a departure from the norm but it proves the efficacy of a sing-a-long style with a funny, universal concept xD. And whilst this live version from Countdown is a good enough performance, Samuel L. Jackson’s “spoken word” version is better, if you ask me ; ).

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The Stills channel U2

Canadian art students The Stills evince shades of U2 with their song: “Being Here”, from their latest album, Oceans Will Rise. For an indie rock band they’re sounding remarkably pop : ) (AllMusic describes Oceans Will Rise as “uplifting, anthemic rock”).

Oi! according to rumour, the band recorded a few early tracks on a four track recorder that they bought to help a friend who needed drug money.

I like this live version for its slightly dirtier feel (reminds me of classic practice room syndrome where the song sounds great before you take it to a studio and the Producer flicks the “glam” switch) but you might prefer the recorded version for its clearer production.

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Lonely Soul

Phew… a quick drop today/tonight as it’s 3am and I’ve just finished installing Vista xD Good times!

One reason I’m making the move to Vista is “Assassin’s Creed”. Marketing teams for the AAA games titles are getting savvy with music now (especially after the atypical Gears of War trailer using Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for Fears “Mad World”) and to celebrate my pending elation at being able to play the DirectX 10 version of Assassin’s Creed ; ), here’s a live performance of the track that Ubisoft used at one point to market the game: Unkle’s “Lonely Soul” featuring the vocal talents of The Verve‘s Richard Ashcroft.

It was a great choice for the game with its title and its dark air and Ashcroft’s voice fits the bill just nicely.

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5 unusual ethnic vocal styles

I’ve blogged already about the power of the voice as an instrument on its own – although the focus in that post was primarily on percussive styles. This post is about the incredible diversity to be found in expressive vocalisation from different cultures around the world – it’s powerful stuff, man!

I was introduced to a good deal of awesome world music through Peter Gabriel’s Real World label and some of those artists are featured here. (The 2000 compilation: Voices of the Real World is a great place to start if you’re looking for more of the same.)

This press review from New Age Voice (USA) sums it up perfectly:

“‘With so many sounds that at first seem so different, what becomes so obviously common is the impact of the human voice. The communication of ideas and emotions are transmitted despite language barriers and presentation…Quite simply, the most innovative and moving instrument may be the one that we’re equipped with at birth.’”

Tenores di Bitti

This wonderful sound – four male voices in polyphonic bliss – hails from Bitti, Sardinia. A traditional folk band and successors to 3000 years of musical heritage, Tenores di Bitti recorded their album S’amore ‘e mama in their home town, retaining the sounds of the ambient locations – the churches, pubs and fields of Bitti.

At the risk of sounding like a pretentious blowhard I have to say that it’s almost a shame to see them in a concert hall with microphones in their faces. How awesome would it be to come across them in the narrow alleys of their home town, voices booming from the walls? Or in the fields of their countryside, warm harmonies washing over the landscape? Uber-licious awesome, say I.

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Loituma – Levan Polkka

Loituma are a Finnish folk band whose song “Levan Polkka” was made famous by the Loituma Girl internet meme (if you know what I’m talking about you’ll be sick to death of this clip).

One of the interesting things about their music is that they often improvise, breaking into a collection of rhythmic melodic gibberish; apparently they do so in the fifth and eighth stanza of this song (I can’t hear the difference from the rest of it to be honest xD).

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Tuvan Throat Singing

I couldn’t pass over this famous style of vocalisation from Central Asia. In throat singing, or overtone singing as it’s also known, the vocalist “manipulates the harmonic resonances (or formants) created as air travels from the lungs, past the vocal folds, and out the lips to produce a melody.”

In the common parlance: they sing more than one note at the same time, yo.

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Konnakol – Indian vocal percussion

Lori Colter’s not from the race, culture or gender that immediately springs to mind when you hear the phrase, South Indian Vocal Percussion, but she certainly has the skill to lay it down. Her performances of this indian vocal art are accomplished and impressive; she manages to disappear inside the sound completely – her culture, gender and skin colour forgotten.

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The Art of Yodel

When it comes to the beauty of ethnic music and the seeming global commonality of its spiritual connection to nature, we here in the west – with our loud, brash rock music and electronic noise – are often the poor cousins. But we have artists like the DeZurik Sisters.

Yodeling may not be the exclusive domain of the west but the southern US popularised their own peculiar brand in a big way, through the country and bluegrass styles of music. Besides the beautiful harmonies throughout this song, the DeZurik Sisters yodel in an amazing way – not unlike the birds they tried to emulate at home on the farm in Minnesota.

Give the song a chance before you shut it down in horror : ) – it really is impressive: the sisters twitter, chirp and warble in an astounding effort to copy and ultimately connect with nature in their own personal way – just like their cultural counterparts around the world .

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Honorable Mention

The power of the voice: sometimes it makes us cry with emotion; sometimes it makes us laugh for joy. And sometimes it makes us laugh til we cry.

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Ronny Jordan acidizes Miles Davis

I’ve been engaging in some Miles Davis reminiscence thanks to an excellent blog post from mental_floss “explaining” the genius of the godfather of modern jazz. Check it out for an insightful read and a great reminder of the power of Miles Davis via a collection of compelling clips from throughout his career.

Ronny Jordan’s cover of Miles Davis’ “So What” was my intro to the wonder of Davis. Yes, my jazz education was sorely lacking in my youth – in fact, I hated it… Acid Jazz changed my mind with its hip hop sensibilities and generally more pop oriented structures (instead of 45 chord changes a minute, acid jazz often comprised little more than a strong verse and chorus hook).

US3′s “Cantaloop” had a supermagnet hook but was a bit simplistic to hold the attention for very long – Ronny Jordan’s “urban” style embraced the importance of the pop song structure and the elusive hook, yet exemplified the complexity of jazz in Jordan’s free form guitar playing and sophisticated chord choice. 1992′s “The Antidote” had me hooked and introduced me eventually to a range of artists from the Brand New Heavies to Guru and Gang Starr and – certainly not least of all: Miles Davis.

So here’s Jordan’s cover of “So What” – a great take on the Miles Davis original. Jordan makes the guitar a fluid, dynamic instrument and whilst he may not capture the “cool” of Davis completely, he makes a fine tip of the hat to one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

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Calexico Alone Again… or…

I was looking for a way to blog about Calexico – indie rock, mexican style (their new album’s due out in September) – when I came across this great little cover of 1967′s Alone Again Or, originally by psychedelic folk-rock proto-punk band Love (phew… thanks to Wikipedia for that description xD). The original made it onto Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time: “The essence of the song is the contrast between the positivity of the tune and the bleakness of the lyrics, with the chorus “And I will be alone again tonight, my dear.” – [Wikipedia].

Oi! Co-producer and Band Leader of Love – Arthur Lee – added the ‘mysterious’ “Or” to the title of the song which was originally called Alone Again (by writer Bryan MacLean). Lee and co-producer Bruce Botnick also remixed the track to bring Lee’s harmony vocal to the forefront… Was a certain someone trying to shoehorn in on someone else’s work…? ^_o

Calexico kicks off with a great little spanish acoustic guitar intro and rocks into the classic mexican-style riff. Gotta love those mariachi trumpets!

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311 smoke up the Cure’s “Lovesong”

311′s version of the Cure’s “Lovesong” is a surprisingly effective, groovy, reggaefied chillout version of the song Robert Smith wrote as a wedding gift to his childhood sweetheart, Mary; the original is one of my favourite Cure tracks.

Oi! 311 (pronounced “three-eleven”) got their name from the police code for a citation against their former guitarist who was charged in a skinny dipping incident. Then they started getting flak from people who thought they were supporting the KKK… (311 is used as a symbol – particularly in prison tattoos – for the Ku Klux Klan, due to K being the 11th letter of the alphabet). Vocalist Nick Hexum wrote the song “Electricity” (originally titled “F*** the KKK”) as a response.

I’m not one to say a cover could ever be better than the original but there are many covers that are not even a worthy rendition, either because they miss the artistic point of the song completely or they fail to prove that the cover artist had a compelling enough reason to do a new version of the song. (I’ve bleated about this before.)

There are, however, covers that stand on their own against the original and this one, imo, is one of those. 311 take the song out of its earnest, brit-angst, pop-tempo and turn it into a laid-back, plaintive, caribbean groove.

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