May 31, 2005

The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir

At times resembling Enya and at others more akin to Medúlla or a choral group under the baton of Philip Glass, this Slavic folk music project has wetted the panties of flocks of late 20th century composition enthusiasts. The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir pant saw its most strenuous release schedule between the mid eighties and early nineties. They’re best known for their series Le Mystčre des Voix Bulgares, which has been sampled by many an ambient techno goober. Upon first hearing the series, I was surprised to find out the choir members sport traditional Bulgarian garb, since the music (to me) sounds decidedly nontraditional. It stems from the region’s ancient oral customs, which are highlighted by a particularly bouncy, spastic female timbre. Quite a few writers have used the word “haunting” to describe the sound, and well, I’d say that’s right on the money. The following are selections from the abovementioned series.

Kaval Sviri, from Vol. 2
A Seńora Novia, from Ritual
Nazdrave Ti, Chorbadjiio, from Ritual
Sedenkarska, from Vol. 3
Pilentze Pee, from Vol. 1
Ovdoviala Lissitchkata, from Vol. 2

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May 27, 2005

Stuart Heritage is the co-founder and editor of, the entertainment news channel that strides the globe like a pissed off dinosaur.

Korean hip hop is a lot like American hip hop, only with far less references to guns and bitches. Actually, that might be a lie. I can’t really speak Korean very well. What sticks out about these songs is the rhythm of the flow. And the bits where they break into English to say things like “Everybody in the house clap your hands.” But for anyone with an open enough mind, these songs can provide more than a slight distraction.

DJ DOC - Street Life

This was all over Korea last year. DJ DOC started off as a K-Pop group, but drifted into hip hop. This song samples a disco tune, so it’s as cheesy as you’d probably expect it to be. But what’s better - cheesy pop that you don’t understand or cheesy pop that you do? At least this bunch aren’t rocking the traditional boyband “Higher/fire/desire” rhyming scheme.

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Dynamic Duo - Excuse Me

Formerly of Korean group CB Mass, Choiza and Gaeko broke away to form Dynamic Duo in 2004. Their big hit was ‘Ring My Bell’, but we’ve done the disco knock-off already, so you can have this. ‘Excuse Me’ isn’t as frantic as the DOC track, it’s based around some Jackson 5-style piano. Lyrically, who knows? I think the chorus is quite polite, and I made out the Korean word for ‘ass’ somewhere in there, as well as a reference to the ‘rock, paper, scissors’ game.

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Drunken Tiger - Omji Songarak

Drunken Tiger are the veterans of Korean hip hop, and this is the closest thing to traditional fare here. It’s easy to dismiss a group who claim to be so groundbreaking when they’ve only been around for six years, but Drunken Tiger genuinely did help liberalise Korean culture. This song, if you can get over all the references to ‘the hood’ (Which hood is that, anyway? The Apgujeong hood?), is something to do with thumbs.

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May 26, 2005

I’m afraid I don’t know all that much about Colleen, aside from the fact that Colleen’s real name is Cécile Schott and she hails from France. Actually, all I really know of her stems from Yancey Strickler’s email exchange with her. Two years ago, Everyone Alive Wants Answers (Leaf) seeped out from the undergrowth, a small debut that snuck in to give off a nimbus kin to Susuma Yukota in the Pop Ambient world. A song like “I Was Deep in a Dream and I Didn’t Know It” tucks all her motifs under a single snug blanket. Naďf plonks warmed by analog hiss (or is it by her breath, with just a hint of violet?), slowly accruing a drone, yet none of the elements quite distinct. Dreams of course, grasps loosened before surfacing, all intangible.

Her second record appears this month (on Leaf as well), The Golden Morning Breaks. Don’t interpret the ‘Breaks’ in the title as some sort of harbinger of a new trip-hop mindset. It’s instead a quote from John Dowland, who wrote lute songs around the time of Shakespeare. There are no words to accompany Morning Breaks, and yet Colleen’s reverence to Dowland reminds me of another instance of Dowland’s songs, in Philip K. Dick’s late-period virgin-birth reimagining, The Divine Invasion. Herein his protagonist, Herb Archer, is obsessed with an intergalactic pop sensation, singer Linda Fox, who vocalizes Dowland’s lute songs some centuries later in an expanded world of spaceships, colonized planets, psychotronic information-transfers, casual discourses on the Tetragrammaton, futuristic mix-tapes, and the second coming in the form of a little boy. The young messiah even tells Archer at one point: “She is not real. Linda Fox –she is a phantasm of yours. But I can make her real…it is I who makes the unreal into the real.”

No doubt Colleen is real, and yet the phantasmal, ungraspable aspect of her music is its most elegant quality. Glean the instrumentation, identify the lute, the harmonium, the chimes, the guitar and organ, the effects of reverb and delay, and still the cumulative effect eludes, the impact of these miniatures far more subtle, almost unnamable. I’d rather not delve into aspects of these songs (it’s nearing naptime). These words are but written on the sand when it comes to “Bubbles Which on the Water Swim” or the gentle notes and reversed chimes of “I’ll Read You a Story.” As if Colleen would, in Dowland’s words, “yeeld to that which reason is.”

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Andy Beta is a freelance writer for a variety of publications, including The Village Voice and City Pages.

The styPod | 8:00 am | Comments (3)

May 25, 2005

Lifter Puller- Let’s Get Incredible

So Stylus has been pushing a lot of pixels towards the Hold Steady. Which is as it should be. And it’s a trip to trace the age in Craig Finn’s voice from Lifter Puller to now. He’s singing more, sure; it’s not just that, although there’s a weariness now that the singing points up. When he tells me (I’m the addressee cos it’s my post) that he hasn’t been with my little hoodrat friend, he comes across as cagy, defensive. If he’d said the same thing on Fiestas and Fiascos, he’d be saying it dismissively, like she’s just not down enough to be with. I’m simplifying, sure, but listen to the grumpy grandeur of “Let’s Get Incredible”. It’s myth and mockery, tribute and detachment. And it rocks. Hard.

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The Gaynotes- Bye-Bye Blues

The Gaynotes came from a barbershop scene that sprang up as a reaction to the grim verity of 1930s Oklahoma. Partly as an inexpensive diversion, partly as a reconnection to simpler times, a fleet of quartets sprung up in the Southwest, of which the Gaynotes were one of the best, winning the 1958 International contest in Columbus, Ohio (which they drove to in order to save the $76 train fare). I chose this track for the first half and its bag of tricks: the languid pacing & the way the four vocal lines create something aching, especially the way they wring out “tell my blues good-bye-eye-eye”. The second half is standard malt-shop fare, but it’s still fun. There’s two discs full of snapshots like this I’m still working through.

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The Mekons- Take His Name in Vain

Great vocals. Backing, lead, male, female, lyrical, wordless. All-around great. Lead singers are a dime a decillion, but the Mekons have a pubfull of evocative, emotional folks. God save the Mekons.

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May 24, 2005

Volume, gaudy fishes and all, was quite the shit in the early-to-mid ‘90’s. On a somewhat quarterly schedule, a digipak-sized full color magazine was released with a compilation disc. Generally, each contained at least 17 tracks: finished work from forthcoming releases, alternate mixes, demos and the occasional outtake. At over 100 (small) pages, there were lots of glib interviews, photo shoots with minimal styling, and frequently puerile British humour. It came off as less calculated than the broadsheets, and produced a pretty solid sampling of what was hitting the independent chart in the UK. Much of it’s dated, but the quality was higher than most of the other magazine comps. And, having said so much here, I’ll leave the individual songs blurbless. They’re all stripped down, giving you a clearer structural view of songs you hopefully know. If not, you should track down the full versions.

Suede- My Insatiable One (Piano Version)

Belly- White Belly (Original Version)

Disco Inferno- Second Language (Demo Version)

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May 23, 2005

On their debut album Morning Kills The Dark (on Pop Up Records), Biirdie performs stylish chamber pop, full of nuance and restraint. Just off a US tour, member Jared Flamm’s current listening tastes reveal new discoveries of old music that at first glance seem to be unlikely picks.

Steve Miller Band– Circle of Love

Richard [Gowen, also of Biirdie] turned me on to this song a few months ago. It’s from the 1981 album of the same name and it isn’t included on Steve’s popular Greatest Hits package. I’ll take this over “Jet Airliner” any day. Retro lyrics and manipulated vocal harmonies set up a massive and wandering guitar solo that essentially makes up 80 percent of this song. This song will definitely make it into the Biirdie set. If you are able to track down the Circle Of Love album you will also be rewarded with the excellent “Heart Like A Wheel” and “Macho City”, the lone 16-minute cosmic disco track on side two.

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Warren Zevon– The French Inhaler

From Warren’s self-titled 1976 album that was produced by Jackson Browne and like Morning Kills The Dark, is very much a tribute to Los Angeles. This album was given to me years ago though I’ve only recently become obsessed with it. I listen to it all the time. Start to finish, there is not a bad song on the album. Warren asks at the top of “The French Inhaler”, “How you gonna make your way in the world / When you weren’t cut out for working?” A question that unfortunately, I much too often am asking myself.

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Bloom– Jet Set Silhouette

I co-wrote this track with Devin [Moore, Bloom bassist/vocalist] for Bloom’s new and magnificent O Sinner album. I had written the original lyrics to the chorus as “I used to love before it was cool”, and of course, he changed them to “I was too loud before it was cool”. I’d say that’s on par and pretty typical of our relationship. Iąd like for Biirdie to record and release a version of this song soon.

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May 20, 2005

Crambe Repetita- Study 03

A new sample mix for your pleasure.

Jeff Samuel - Endpoint
Patrice Baumel - Mutant Pop
Heiko Voss - You Can Call Me Now
Alex Smoke - Don’t See The Point
Wighnomy Brothers - Wurz and Blosse
M.I.A. - River
Markus Guentner - Soften Edges
Lawrence - Swap (Carsten Jost Dub)
M83 - Don’t Save Us From The Flames (Superpitcher Mix)
Annie - Heartbeat (The Field Mix)

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May 19, 2005

Joe Tex is never the first soul guy to spring to mind. He lurks behind giants of the field, names like Otis Redding, James Brown, Al Green, Solomon Burke, hell, even Wilson Pickett, in the national unconsciousness. His rustic Southern soul rarely gets revived on oldies stations, and aside from his barked-stomp of “I Gotcha” busting out on Reservoir Dogs, he’s hardly even been on the urban pop culture radar for the last three decades. But he had a string of 33 Top 40 hits starting in 1963 and stretching into the seventies, and in that gruff locution of his, that sly humor, that amenable drawl, it’s not hard to parse those other Southern voices (think Mystikal, BigBoi, Mannie Fresh, Bun B, and so on) that done raised up-in the words of his 1972 album-from the roots of the rapper.

Down-home wisdom, clucking-tongue tales, chuckleworthy yarns, counsel for couples both young and old, grunts and gospel shouts, all abide on that gravel road of his throat. They frame his stories of small-town America, his voice acting as their own. Tex explained it once: “People are my most important product. I spend over half of my time observing people, all kinds of people, and this is where I get my material from.” For “Buying A Book,” the title track from his most succinct depiction of rural America (still more Mayberry than Peyton Place, but touching on social tensions, from segregation to sex), Tex got prudence and gumption for the ladies and gentlemen. He recreates his conversations and sermons expertly. I can never get over how “Miss Lady” responds to his preachy nattering: “Son, oh son, ya dippin’ in my bizness.”

Or else check the sermon and consolation of a troubled female fan in “That’s the Way,” how he assuages and soothes with his sage-like words. The real world advice (for both ladies and men) tucked among the glissading guitar licks, the Memphis horns punctuating his subtle statements.

“I’ll Never Do You Wrong” appears on the surface to just be a little ditty about love, and even has insipid, simpleton rhyme schemes to match: “fly/pie/eye” and “so’e/elbow/toe.” As it play itself out though, the backing gently nudging towards a climax, the words give way to something deeper beneath the soulful pop surface. It’s about love, sure, the promises of love, a love that secretly acknowledges that pain, and it comes to light that what happens to the lover also happens to the beloved. Superstitious perhaps, in that if he did anything wrong, his own body would receive that payment, but Joe hints at something more profound, the true art of devotion, of that art thou.

Around this time in 1968, Joe Tex accepted the Muslim faith, and Joseph Arrington, Jr. became Joseph Hazziez. Even with such faith to steady him through a decrease in performances and the changing tide of soul music into disco, Joe’s final years were tumultuous, heart-breaking, and ultimately tragic. But he still kept his perspective till the end, as this quote from Peter Guralnick’s excellent Sweet Soul Music book puts it:

“It’s been nice here, man. A lot of ups and downs, the way life is, but I’ve enjoyed this life. I was glad that I was able to come up out of creation and look all around and see a little bit, grass and trees and cars, fish and steaks, potatoes…And I thank God for that. I’m thankful that he let me get up and walk around and take a look around here. ‘Cause this is nice.“

Amen, Joe Tex.

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Andy Beta is a freelance writer for a variety of publications, including The Village Voice and City Pages.

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May 18, 2005

The Left Banke- She May Call You Up Tonight

If there had been The WB in the 1960s, it’s a safe bet that the Frog would’ve raided the Left Banke’s catalog for any number of ready-made themes. That’s not a knock, either; the discography of Steve Martin and co. is young angst done right. A mid-tempo pop-rocker (no baroque pop here) rooted in piano, Martin’s trademark mix of ache and wistfulness elevate “She May Call You Up Tonight” into a proto-power pop stunner. Add great high harmonies and a ringing backing guitar, and you can trace the lineage to the Banke’s grandchildren in Zumpano. As pitiful as Martin’s narration can sound on paper, it’s when you hear his keening tenor, pushed to the bounds of its register, that you really get the resignation: “She may call you up tonight; then what could I say that would sound right?”

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The Crystals- Girls Can Tell

Cinematic, galloping, pedantic. Dig the percussion: castanets. Ringing kettledrum. That drummer pulling up stakes at the end. Mourn the state of modern pop production. Hear the studied yet joyously heartrending shout: “I gotta kiss you one more time! I gotta hear you say you’re mine!” One of Mr. Spector’s many, many highlights.

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Eddie and Ernie- Standing at the Crossroads

Phoenix’s soul heroes in their best form. From the 2002 Lost Friends reissue on Kent; I don’t pretend to be a classic soul wonk, but material like this makes the idea (becoming one, not pretending) tempting. Everything comes up aces on this song. Structually, it’s perfect, with plucked strings and woven horns building tension from verse to pre-chorus to that explosive, gorgeous chorus, where the two men’s harmonies create a canyon of regret. This should have been 1971’s biggest r&b track; it was released on Buddah, but I guess the label figured Melanie was a safer bet for promotion. Everything else I post may be shrugged off, but I swear this is a keeper.

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May 17, 2005

Sometimes, the truth hurts. Sometimes, the truth heals. Sometimes, you aren’t quite sure which one it is doing. In any case, here are a few different takes on the subject.

The Go-Betweens- A Bad Debt Follows You

Our poor narrator is starstruck and clearly is deeply in love. He has also been made some promises, and as the chorus of, “I won’t stand/I won’t wait” bubbles up, it becomes clear that he is growing increasingly wary that said promises are not going to be kept, or perhaps even that they were lies. When the song finally climaxes with the rush of the lines, “You told me stars would fall/You told me ice would melt/You told me everything/Now and again” it isn’t anger or impatience he’s putting across—just simple, heartbreaking disappointment as the truth of the situation finally comes into focus for him. Goddamn, I feel for the guy. What a supremely well-constructed song.

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The Wedding Present- Be Honest

“This is all because you didn’t like my Mum”—one of my favorite opening lines ever! The album this is taken from—1989’s Bizarro—is all angry guitar clatter and jealousy and confusion and miscommunication and distortion pedals and lover’s spats and bumping into exes and impossibly fast strummed guitars. Yet it’s here, in the quiet aftermath of the album’s final track, with the begging plea for short, brutal honesty that the emotional impact finally hits home with a sickening silence. Tear it off quick, like a band-aid. It won’t hurt as much that way. Have mercy and just tell me now.

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The Kinks- When I Turn Off The Living Room Lights

Sometimes, brutal honesty can be loving and absurdly sweet, and here in the deft hands of Ray Davies, it is also hilarious. You know he loves his wife—but he can’t be bothered to lie to her now, after all this time, so he pads the truth with darkness and excuses (my favorite is, “It helps to keep me cool”) and perhaps a bit of desperate need. The message that I get? Love conquers all—even the ugly truth.

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The styPod | 8:00 am | Comments (2)

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