29 January 2008

"boom swagger boom" || murder city devils || 1996

Even though we're way past the punk rock era, the genre still, to this day, continues to forward itself in ways that are often exciting (even if they aren't always new). Since the late 1970s, punk has existed in the rock scene in some form or another. It's a genre that simply will never die.

Why? Simple. Because youth will always have something to be pissed off or excited about.

The Murder City Devils are one of the many, many, many youthful punk bands that emerged onto the scene, made some noise, then disappeared. It's almost textbook, really. They did make some fun music, though, so that's why they're here today.

"Boom Swagger Boom" sounds like it came from a '50s themed Broadway musical that was written by a demon of some kind. It sounds like a song that zombies would have some sort of co-ordinated dance to before they munch your fucking head in.

A staple for Halloween mixtapes.

Listen to it here.

28 January 2008

"i think i'm paranoid" || garbage || 1998

Garbage is one of those bands that got lost in the sea of alternative rockers and grungers that was abound in the '90s. However, I maintain that they deserve their own cruise liner to stay afloat.

This Scottish-Wisconsin band is something special. As I noted, their music is a very healthy blend of grunge and alternative rock, and Shirley Manson has a very unique set of pipes, which takes their music to a new and exciting level. If anything, one might refer to is as "fem post-grunge," because that's essentially what it is: Their lyrics have the cynical grunger mentality of failed relationships and a bleak world, but their music strays from the grunger form and becomes very "hard candy," which to me qualifies them as alt rockers.

Shirley Manson is downright sexy. There is simply no way around it. I have no idea if its her unusual voice, her abundance of eye makeup, her dark image, or her angsty lyrics, but my goodness...she turns me on.

I chose this track because I think it's their most accessible, which is interesting as it wasn't their biggest hit. Everyone in the US seems to know "Stupid Girl," which is a fantastic track in its own right, but I think this one is much more intriguing. It begins in typical grunger fashion, with minor-key lyrics, melodies and chorus, but then turns suddenly into a bridge that is so upliftingly alt-rock that it almost brings tears to the eyes. It's almost as if Shirley goes straight from defiance to suddenly pleading with a lover whom she wants so badly that she'll change herself in any way they wish. The final verse is angsty and defiant, yet it still sounds like she's pleading, which leaves us feeling a little paranoid ourselves.

Garbage might win my all-time award for Most Under-Appreciated Band. Think about it. You knew who they were before you started reading this post, didn't you? You could name at least two of their songs, right? You knew that Shirley Manson was the lead singer, right?

And now you're going to give them another listen, right?

As a side note, this song was a fantastic choice for inclusion in the video game Rock Band.

Listen to it here.

27 January 2008

"hello" || the beloved || 1993

Remember that Wings song "Let 'Em In"? You know the one I'm talking about: "Martin Luther, Phil & Don, Brother Michael, Auntie Gin, etc."

OK, take that song, and combine it with the new beat sensibilities of EMF's "Unbelievable," and you'll have today's track.

This song is such a sign of its time. This is the early '90s in a nutshell, folks! In fact, I'm willing to say that this takes me back even more than the hip-house tracks that I've posted do (but not as much as New Jack Swing does; we'll get to that glorious goodness soon).

Turn this one on, smile, and see lots of pretty early '90s colors. Think about white shorts and cutoff jeans and tye dye and overalls.

Listen to it here.

26 January 2008

"spacehead" || the primitives || 1988

The Primitives' 1988 album Lovely is one of music's finest examples of indie rock. It's perky, definitely has a punk influence, and is glorious in its ability to be sung-along with. The lyrics are also very well constructed, which is a staple of indie rock.

It's probably safe to say that many Americans recognize the song "Crash" from the Lovely LP thanks to the film Dumb & Dumber. "Crash" is, to me, one of the most perfect songs ever written, so I'm saving my rantings about it for another post. My point in bringing it up here is to assure you that you're more than likely familiar with this group, even if their name doesn't strike a chord right away.

"Spacehead" is the only song I've ever heard that I thought might be about me. I hear people say that sort of thing all the time (usually they're intoxicated), and I just roll my eyes, because usually the song doesn't apply to them at all. After I heard this track, though, I stopped the eye rolling. The song is about a guy who walks around singing to himself, and who is seen by the singer as someone whose head is, quite literally, up in the clouds. Aside from the fact that the guy in this song lives in a van, I'd say we have a winner here.

The Primitives are great because their guitars are spry, as are Tracey Tracey's vocals. Incidentally, she also pulls off a really cool pseudo-Marilyn look on this album.

This album isn't one that you pick up if you see in a bargain bin. This is an album that you track down purposefully and purchase, because anyone who loves rock music needs it in their library.

Listen to it here.

24 January 2008

"romantic" || jo joe || 1987

This may be the second-most mysterious artist I've encountered in all my musical journeys (Q. Lazzarus is still tops).

I've been unable to track down any information about Ms. Joe. I bought the 7" single of this song from a record store in Germany, and was pleasantly surprised to open the package and find a picture sleeve with a little picture of her glaring right back up at me. She looks young, probably not over 25. I can't tell her nationality from her voice on the song. She was new to Discogs when I submitted the Prime Cuts single on which she appears.

The only lead I have on this chick (and it's a pretty crappy one) is that the people who produced her song also produced this record, which has a suspiciously similar title. Unfortunately, I can't track down a clip of it to hear exactly how similar the songs are, and really, even if I did, it wouldn't tell me anything about Jo Joe.

She'll just remain a mystery in this blog for now.

As far as the song, it's absolutely fantastic. It's downtempo and it's funky as hell, the kind of song that makes your ass move completely independently from the rest of your person. The song is also very defiant. It's sung by someone who is tired of being trapped in a failed relationship, and I'd venture to say that you can hear the grating irritation in her voice (even though she didn't write it). Hey, if nothing else, she's a good actress; she carries the pain of the songwriter well, without distracting our dancing.

Maybe that's what she's up to now.

Listen to it here.

23 January 2008

"everywhere" || cranes || 1993

A friend of mine inspired today's post by bringing up Shoegazer music in conversation earlier today.

For those who don't know, Shoegaze is an interesting little blend of ethereal rock, indie rock, and mellow, droning vocals. My friend referred to it as a musical release of "burning teenage angst."

OK, so that could probably describe a lot of indie rock. But seriously, this stuff is something different. It hit its peak in the early 1990's, right before grunge and alternative rock took over the college mainstream. The sound is very early '90s, which is pleasant for anyone my age, as well know that those sounds can easily bring to mind childhood memories.

Cranes got attention when they toured with The Cure back in 1992. That's really all I know about them. The singer has an extremely juvenile quality to her voice, which adds an unusual element to the Shoegazer style.

One final note: Fans of this group are very insistent that the name is simply "Cranes." No "the"!

Listen to it here.

22 January 2008

"bad, bad boys" || midi, maxi & efti || 1992

Part two of today's double-shot of ragga hip hop.

Midi, Maxi & Efti are three soul sisters from Sweden. Well, they're as soulful as Swedes can be, I suppose.

This song is really bouncy and groovy (yes, I think that word applies here), but goodness, they sound like they need a shot of espresso. They don't even look excited in the video clip! Hey, I'm not pointing any fingers, but if I got signed to Columbia Records to release a goofy song about "bad boys," not to mention having said song appear in a movie with Christian Slater & Marisa Tomei (Untamed Heart -- worth a watch), I'd probably be a little more excited than these chicks appear to be.

The thing that drew me in about this track were the lines that go "just be positive, don't be negative." They made me smile.

Listen to it here.

"mary's got a baby" || maxi priest || 1999

To make up for my lack of posts over the last few days, I'm doing a double-shot of ragga hip-hop today.

First up is Maxi Priest, who made a bit of noise on the pop scene back in the '90s. In fact, I think he made the perfect amount of noise; the average American can recognize his name but probably can't name a single one of his songs.

His most well-known track is almost certainly 1996's "That Girl," on which Shaggy did some rasta-vocals, which no doubt helped propel the single. The provocative video with crotch shots of women pushing shopping carts helped too, I'm sure.

The thing that I like most about Maxi Priest is that he seems like a classy dude. I think that's why I found "That Girl" a bit awkward; it just seemed too "dirty" for him. "Mary's Got A Baby" seems much more appropriate for him. It's an interesting message: Dude wants to help chick who just had a baby (not his), not because he has the financial faculties to do so, but because he knows it's the right thing to do.

What a classy guy!

Maxi's voice is smooth, and the ragga-raps by Beenie Man add a nice rasta feel to the song.

Listen to it here.

17 January 2008

"popcorn" || m & h band || 1987

I noticed while passing a bulletin board today that it's "National Popcorn Day," so I'm paying appropriate tribute.

"Popcorn" has one of the richest histories of any song you'll ever hear. It was written by Gershon Kingsley in 1968, and he was also the first artist to record it. Four years later, a group called Hot Butter re-recorded it and released their version, and it became a minor radio hit. Theirs is arguably the most well-known version of the song.

Since then, over 60 different covers of the song have been recorded. Don't believe me? It's all detailed on this intensely cool webpage, complete with sound samples of nearly every mix of every version.

I chose M & H Band's version as today's track because it fits my style, and it's my personal favorite version of the song. It's notoriously miscredited to Kraftwerk on peer-to-peer file sharing networks, but to my knowledge Kraftwerk never did a version of this song. The advantage of writing a song with a simple yet memorable melody is that it really can be recorded in just about any style. The Hot Butter version is very leftfield and skiffly, and this version is straight-up Italo Disco. There have been house versions, pop rock versions, ambient/experimental versions, and many other styles as well. Browse the site for a while and I'm sure you'll find a favorite!

Listen to it here.

"boogie woogie bugle boy" || company b || 1989

I find something intoxicating about swing music. It's got a very lighthearted spirit, and carries a tone of youthful jubilation that conjures images of 1940s youth cavorting wildly with one another in dancehalls.

One of my favorite songs from that era is the Andrews Sisters' 1941 track "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." The song tells the story of a young man drafted into the army who had a jazzy, funky way of blowing the morning reveille, which in turn forced his captain to "draft a band." Campy '40s humor indeed, but it has to make you smile.

Fast forward 45 years. A girl group called Company B, named after the song, releases the greatest dance song of all time: a single called "Fascinated." They have a mega-super-ultra club hit. After a few more freestyle-oriented releases, they decide to pay homage to the song from which they took their name.

Company B's cover of this song isn't really a genre crossover. If anything, it updates the '40s "swing" sound and brings it to more of an '80s "jazzdance" sound. The result is pleasing, and this one no doubt provided the soundtrack for many a young lady's dance recital in 1989.

It's a neato throwback and a respectful homage.

Listen to it here.

14 January 2008

"the dominatrix sleeps tonight" || dominatrix || 1984

One of my favorite songs.

"Dominatrix" will forever be a club classic because of its infectious, oddball beat and its remarkable chanting. The track almost sounds like a harbinger for Michael Cretu's work with Enigma in the 90's. It's exotic, it's sexual, and it makes you want to move all around the room (or the dance floor).

The original Streetwise 12" single of this song (the one you should look for) includes two mixes of the title track, along with an a cappella version called "Chants" and an instrumental track called "Beat Me." A staple in any DJ's or fan of club music's collection.

Sounds best when played at a very high volume.

Listen to it here.

13 January 2008

"you should hear how she talks about you" || melissa manchester || 1982

Apologies for the lack of posting for the last few days. I was in a car accident on Thursday, but everything is (mostly) back to normal now, and the traxx must go on.

I thought this would be a nice follow-up to the Louise Tucker track in the last post. Melissa, like Louise, has a powerful voice, but uses it in a different style of music. She's very much of the "soft rock" vein of music, which is cool because she totally does rock.

Most people have probably heard her song "Don't Cry Out Loud" (I'm quite sure it's been in a movie or two), but this song blows that softcore ballad about domestic abuse right out of the water. The subject material here is something quite happy: Guy likes girl, but isn't sure if girl likes him back, and singer is assuring guy that girl has him on the brain. It's a really cute notion, something that sounds like it should apply to middle school students.

I think the beat in this song is unique, because it's the only time that I've ever really wanted to dance to a soft rock song. Melissa's band uses a really cool kick drum that I've never heard replicated on another track, or at least in the way that it's used here.

And, as a closing note, I would like to extend my thanks to all those who have read this blog thus far and given me feedback of some sort. Thank you for your ongoing support as this blog graduates into its sophomore stage of life. Srsly...you should hear how I talk about you guys.

Listen to it here.

09 January 2008

"george" || louise tucker || 1983

Today we examine a track that truly defies genres.

Louise Tucker is from Bristol, a town in the southern UK, where she studied opera before meeting producers Tim Smit & Charlie Skarbek. The three of them collaborated on a project that became Louise's first album, Midnight Blue, released in 1982. It was a completely new idea: The fusion of Louise's operatic vocals and downtempo synthpop music. The result was a frothy, almost gossamer album of easy-listening synth music.

Don't get me wrong, though. This album may be filed under "easy listening" in the (most likely few) iTunes libraries in which is appears, but it rocks. When I play Louise through a powerful amplifier and hook up some refrigerator-sized speakers with 15-inch woofers to it, she could blow down the Astrodome. Her voice is one of the most powerful that I've ever heard in any genre of music, and although it's extremely bizarre to hear it with all of the synths, the output is undeniably fantastic.

The follow-up album, 1983's After The Storm, was more of the same frothy goodness. It almost could have been released as a double set with Midnight Blue, in fact. Many artists who create something wonderful and unique with their debut album completely screw themselves over by trying something totally different on the second LP (see: MC Hammer). Louise, however, avoided that plague. She made another solid record of this ooey-gooey-synthy goodness, and then disappeared into complete obscurity.

The last track on After The Storm is a lengthy number called "Bluesy," which is little more than Louise's voice with a faint, ambient synthesizer and a more prominent drum machine. When it ends, we as listeners are practically begging for more, and it seems almost criminal that her final album ends on this note.

The track that I've chosen for today is just a personal favorite of her repertoire. It's a waltz that sounds like it merits being played on "a liner that is cruising the Atlantic," but it rocks hard enough to crank in your car while driving around town, dramatically yelling the title of the song as it's barked in the lyrics. It also features a bridge that's borderline histrionic, as it sounds like it's lifted from a death scene in a Rossini opera.

You'll laugh, you'll dance, and you'll most certainly "GEORGE!"

Listen to it here.

07 January 2008

"murder on the dancefloor" || sophie ellis-bextor || 2002

Here's another modern club track that I'm certain will become a classic.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor weaves a tell of felony and flamenco over a creamy house groove with a disco overtone. How cool is that? I mean, disco is so dated, but when you mix it with house music (which some would argue is dated too), it masks it enough to make you forget that you're listening to disco. And life is groovy again.

So rarely do I agree when I hear people refer to things as "groovy." Especially when those "things" are hemp necklaces, Henna tattoos, Phish albums or anything with a mushroom on it. (OK, I have no idea where that came from or its relevance to today's track, but you get the point.)

This song IS, in fact, "groovy." It's a groove. It makes you feel groovy, and even if you don't know what it means to groove, or if your definition of grooving differs from another person's, it doesn't matter as you can both groove to this song.

The video is hilarious, which is just icing on the groovy cake.

Listen to it here.

06 January 2008

"overdose" || tomcraft || 2001

Back in the later 80's, ravers had acid house music to listen to at their parties. This same crowd still exists today, but most of them seem to listen to trance. Trance music has a massive following all over the world. Trance DJ's (and listeners too) seem to have been quite successful in creating a subculture that surrounds their hypnotic tunes.

I'll be honest though; the stuff doesn't do a lot for me. I find it machinist and repetitive, which, from what I can tell, are the same qualities that trance fans adore about this music.

It's hard to say why this one trance tune struck a chord with me, when no others have ever been able to. It's sexy. It's macabre. It also tells the story of a girl who suffers a fate that's probably due to a lot of people who live this trance lifestyle. It's an amusing thought that people hear this song in clubs and more than likely don't take its story to heart. They just keep moving their bodies to the trance groove, dancing the night away.

There's something sickeningly pleasing about a song that warns of the dangers of a certain lifestyle while providing its soundtrack at the same time.

Listen to it here.

05 January 2008

"magic carpet ride" || bardeux || 1987

Alright, I'll admit it: I'm having a love affair with Hi NRG music, and what's worse; I'm emotionally attached. I often think about it before I go to sleep at night, or while I'm on a long car ride. Sometimes I think about its absence from today's music scene and I have to watch Seinfeld reruns to make myself feel better.

Okay, so it's ot quite that extreme, but you get the point. I love the stuff. It's my favorite style of electronic music. The structure of the beat in Hi NRG is what I find so fascinating. If you listen closely, you'll hear two distinct rhythms to which you can dance: a quicker, "high energy" beat (if you shake every beat, on the beat), and a slower, sexier groove (if you shake every other beat). That subtle amalgam of dancing and sexual energy is sublime.

Bardeux were more than two pretty faces; they were two extremely sexy faces. Actually, by the time they broke up, they were a total of four sexy faces. Stacy "Acacia" Smith (the blonde) was the only one who remained with the group through both of their albums. Her first partner in the duo was Tairrie B., who sang only on the single "Three-Time Lover" before leaving the group (in what would eventually surface as not-so-good terms) and pursuing other musical interests. Lisa "Jaz" Teaney then stepped in and sang the rest of the tracks on Bold As Love with Acacia. For Bardeux's second album, 1990's Shangri-La, Acacia sang with Melanie Taylor.

Acacia continued working as a producer of dance music into the 1990's. Tairrie B. went on to record a gangsta hip-hop album called The Power Of A Woman, on which there appears a track called "Ruthless Bitch." In the song, she takes several shots at both Acacia and Jon St. James, the group's producer (and a member of SSQ). She then fronted the hardcore death metal band Manhole / Tura Satana and is currently the lead singer (if you can call it that) of My Ruin. Jaz faded into complete obscurity, and Melanie Taylor appeared in liner notes as a vocalist as recent as 2001.

Bold As Love and, more importantly, today's track represent Bardeux as they were at their prime. They're youthful, extremely attractive, full of energy, and offering an irresistible dance floor invitation. Watching the clip below will give you a window into what it looks like to HAVE FUN making music.

Listen to it here.

04 January 2008

"fred vom jupiter" || die doraus & die marinas || 1982

The beautiful thing about new wave music was that the listener really never had any idea what he or she was in for. "New Wave" might indicate a nice chip off of the post punk block, with gnashing political lyrics, hard guitars and a minor key. It might also indicate machinist, robotic synthesizer music with disharmonious (or sometimes eerily harmonious) lyrics about the bleakness of life.

It might also indicate complete fucking ridiculousness.

Which brings me to today's track: "Fred Vom Jupiter."

Do you even have to hear a single note of this song to know that it's going to be ridiculous? Of course not. (That's the beauty of new wave.) I would rate this song near the absurdity level of Nina Hagen's "New York / N.Y."

I don't speak German, but I did run the lyrics through an online translator. From what I can gather, Fred was a very dapper alien who came from a star near Jupiter and swept the Earth ladies off their feet with his golden hair, much to the dismay of the fellas in town. Sounds sort of like the plot to Earth Girls Are Easy, doesn't it?

Any way you look at it, this song aims to please, and does so in a quiet, simple manner.

Listen to it here.

03 January 2008

"goodtime romeo" || price jones || 1985

I stumbled across this song completely by accident, and it turned out to be one of the coolest results from any accident I've experienced. I found the 7" single of it while cleaning up around the stereo shop where I work, and threw it on a console I was testing just to hear some music. I fell in love with the song and asked my boss if I could take it home to make some MP3s. Within a week or so, I offered her two bucks for it, and Price Jones was mine.

I can't really explain why this song has such a hold on me, but it definitely does. It's a blues song, but it's still got a deliciously electronic undertone that makes me tingly. I also appreciate the fact that it probably sounded exactly the same when played live as it does on this record.

And, yes, I'll go ahead and say it: It would make an awesome stripper song.

This is one of the many singers I that listen to that I know virtually nothing about. I know that she didn't fade into obscurity after this single was released, as I have a full album of hers from 1993 called Oooz N Oz. It's much more traditional in its performance of the blues than this record, which to me doesn't make it quite as special.

Jones is a talented songwriter, though, and it's a shame that I can't even locate an album that "Goodtime Romeo" was on. Nevertheless, the single lives on, and it continues to make me smile.

Listen to it here.

02 January 2008

"chelsea" || stefy || 2006

Why was this not a bigger hit? Am I missing something here?

We have all the makings of pop perfection:

  • Easy-to-sing-along-with vocals
  • Memorable synthesizer hook
  • Relatable subject matter (bitch stole my man)
  • Goofy outfits
  • Hot lead singer chick
  • Adam West in the music video

What more does America's youth WANT?

People, this is how pop music SHOULD be. This group has nothing to hide. There is no image. There's no pretense. They're making music, and they're having fun doing it. They were even ballsy enough to make their first album a concept album! Sure, the concept is just a color, but it's getting a tip of my hat!

Okay, I'll admit it, they completely lose me with the song "Orange County," but that's probably because I'm not a rich white kid from Orange County. Hey, the rest of the record freaking rocks. "Hey School Boy" was definitely a perfect follow-up to this one.

"Chelsea" will make you dance right from its opening measures, probably thanks to the sample of the bassline from Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)." Crank it up...they're about to be your new favorite flavor of the month.

Listen to it here.

"shake the house" || misa || 1990

Just a few entries back I promise more hip-house music in future writings. This evening I'm cashing in that promise.

This song is everything that hip-house should be: It's lighthearted, the vocals are crisp, the hook is memorable, and the bass is so intense it could literally carry out the promise implied in the song's title.

Misa seems at first glance like a harbinger to Icy Blu (who would show up the next year), but she's got something that Icy doesn't: more than one or two other good tracks. As far as I know, Misa never cracked the charts with anything but this song, but I must say that with the right exposure, she damn well could have. This won't be the first time we hear from Misa in this blog, as I'd like to spotlight at least one other song on her album.

Today, though, we shake the house. If you loved anything about the early 90's, then you will love this song. And you'll probably end up like I have, with it landed somewhere in your top five most played songs in iTunes.

Listen to it here.

01 January 2008

"synthicide" || ssq || 1983

I can't believe I've made it this far in this blog without writing about SSQ.

The word "brilliant" doesn't even begin to describe this band for me. I find myself in the position of trying to describe an entity that I find beyond any greatness that words could possibly describe. Their music is the soundtrack to my life. It was after my discovery of SSQ in 2005 that I started to listen to more interesting music. They started it all for me.

They are, to me, an immaculate musical machine.

SSQ began as a smaller operation called simply "Q," named after the James Bond gadget man. Producer Jon St. James was embarking on a new project in 1982 when he met Stacey Swain, a dancer and former circus performer in her early 20's. Although he brought her into the project as a producer, he ended up asking her to sing on the group's first recording, a track called "Sushi." After that, she was the group's official vocalist and eventual focal point.

Jon & Stacey added a few other members to their entourage, and by 1983 they were the mighty SSQ -- a synthpop powerhouse, set to write music that would change my life 22 years down the road. They released only one album, entitled Playback.

Today's track was the only song off of Playback that really got any radio attention, which is extremely unfortunate, as every song on the record is perfect. The cassette version even has two additional tracks of perfection: An early, instrumental version of "Synthicide" called "Synth Samurai," and an extremely killer cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" that employs synth quite liberally.

I wish for everyone reading this that you discover your own SSQ in 2008. I hope you discover a band that, to you, is so brilliant that you find them indescribable. I hope you discover your own life's soundtrack.

Listen to it here.