Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Cold of the Winter Sun

Out My Window
(Stones Throw)
During the past year critic types enjoyed pointing out that the Stones Throw label was branching out. Let's be honest, the seeds of that growth have been there all along. For all the Guilty Simpson, James Pants and Baron Zen, there's always been Koushik.

The Canadian-born DJ/producer has a couple EPs, a few singles (the transcendent "None In Mind" from Chrome Children), remixes and production work under his belt. Now his debut full-length arrives just as autumn unfurls. Perfect timing.

Koushik's gauzy music swirls together the dreamier asides from '60s sunshine pop and psychedelic soul with stealthy hip-hop rhythmic elements. The vintage and modern elements don't bump up against one another for the effect of high contrast and clever juxtaposition. His collage-artist touch is so light the songs fold over onto themselves with a sort of blissed-out dream logic.

He favors birdlike woodwind warbles, tender guitar picking and watercolor washes of keyboards, but gives obvious nods to the musical era he's mining with "Lying In the Sun." The back-masked wheezes and sucked-in percussion that start the track eventually encounter Magical Mystery Tour horns. However, the horns seem to come from a brass band marching in a parade several blocks away.

"Buttaflybeat" and "Welcome" provide the most Stones Throw sounds here, and wouldn't sound out of place on a Quasimodo record. But the rest is all Koushik's world, especially when he sings. His voice, buried in the mix and smeared in echo, peeks through the instrumental clouds but never blares outright. That might ruin the daydream.

Reference materials: Tons of 1960s soft-psych (The Lovin' Spoonful, Fifth Dimension, Friends of Distinction) with Joe Meek's Bluemen style percussion ("See You") and the true sound of Nino Rota in love ("Ifoundu") -- therein lies Koushik.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Beat Beat Beat
(Sound Shack)
A fifth LP of one-man dub-reggae creations from Slade Anderson, a metal dude gone to seed. It's all solid, if unremarkable, dub and roots music in the vein of Ticklah and McPullish, two more one-man dub plate makers of the modern age. Like other musicians working in definitive genres inexorably linked to the era in which the music was first divined, Anderson's dub can't top the first and second generation dub wizards. That he's doing it well is what matters.
Standouts: "Sproing-a-Dub" and the ska outing "Manuka Skank"
Released: August

... mixing
(Sonar Kollektiv)
Prefab mixes from crate diggers usually offer a new discovery or three that leads to further investigation. And done well, the completed collage can surprise in terms of what a given DJ wants us to hear when their choices are documented this way. But here's something weird. This entry in the Sonar Kollektiv Mixing DJ series, from Dego of the German nu-soul duo 4Hero, bears an eerie resemblance to The Typing Monkey's own record collection. That's not a boast -- just, what are the chances? Our only regret is the promo copy is unmixed and we want to know how Dego transitions between a few of these cuts.
Standouts: Raymond Scott's "Lightworks" and the SA-RA remix of Roy Hargrove's "On the One"
Released: Aug 12

Twelve Steps
(Plant Music)
A Baltimore DJ/producer who squeezes a tiny bit more from his hometown's brand of dance music, known as "gutter." Tittsworth crafts his own boozy rhythmic repetitions, ending up with an aggressive blend of techno and hip-hop that actually encourages dancing. Pity the MCs and vocalists he enlists don't do much more than the usual calls to getting drunk and copulating. (Not bad goals, mind, but there are more creative ways to state those intentions.) As a consequence, the instrumentals leave a more pleasant aftertaste, and don't remind anyone over the age of 25 that hangover and regret are the ultimate destination the rest of the album is headed toward.
Standouts: "4:21" and "Bumpin'" ... Kid Sister and Paserock do well by "WTF" too.
Released: Aug 12

Bonus review!
The John McCain Mix
Offered as free download when Twelve Steps was released, McCain Mix won't beat Diplo or Girl Talk at their own 12-bar cut-up game. Tittsworth executes a few actual remixes, versus the common gutter practice of doubling an existing club beat with overdriven drum machines (ahem, Aaron LaCrate). A tweaking of Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go for That" gives the best evidence yet that gutter is a close relative of those high NRG mixes of '80s hits. The closing mash-up of Lil Wayne's embarrassingly unerotic "Lollipop" and the Wham! slow-dance chestnut "Careless Whisper" manages to add a tiny bit of class to the former without disgracing the latter.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Semi-improvised experimental electronic duo. If reading that phrase caused involuntary eye-rolling, please stop reading and scroll on to the next item, or click on one of the "Monkey Love" links and forget this ever happened.

BFF has nine tracks of stuttering drum machines with flighty programming that halts most of the fluidity of what might have been electronic funk, and tosses in some organic elements including trumpet and voice. At times it approaches cubist smooth jazz. Brad Bowden and Alana Rocklin, the people behind the name, know what they're doing, as it can't have been easy to program some of the rhythms. Then again, maybe the joke's on us.

Standouts: "Yup 1" has moments of comparative beauty.
Released: July 22

We Started Nothing
This is the album that gave birth to what could have been the summer song of 2008 in the United States. But "That's Not My Name" didn't hit as big as it should have. What's left beyond that pristine, elementary single is a collection of forgettable-to-good tunes that lift from Blondie, The Flying Lizards and New Order but lyrically aspire only to Lily Allen in casual wear.

Standouts: "Traffic Lights" allows Katie White to stop the cheerleader shouts long enough to demonstrate that her sugar-wafer singing actually works in the right context. But they can't top "That's Not My Name."
Released: June 3

Friday, September 19, 2008


[Full disclosure: The Typing Monkey's familiarity with hyphy leaves much to be desired.]
Oakland's "King of Hyphy" forces the listener to pay attention. Keak fits into that tier of rappers who have instantly recognizable voices, and who spit good, if typical, stories about the daily ins-and-outs of being a hustler (see ODB, et al.). But dang if it ain't nearly impossible to tell what the man is saying.

Between his dense regional slang and that voice -- sounding as if he spikes his blunts with Ajax and chases them with shots of Tabasco sauce -- the uninitiated have but song titles and a patient ear to rely on. Most of the 23 tracks on the MC's new LP fall in line with hyphy's rubber kick drum, floor-to-ceiling spongy bass contrasted by helium-light synth hooks that bob and weave. Reaching the end is an exhausting achievement.

Somebody loves this much Keak, but the hyphy king's unique voice is best employed as a guest rapper, such as his appearance in the genre's biggest mainstream hit, E-40's "Tell Me When to Go."

Standouts: "Stock With Game" and "Go Dumb, Go Stupid"
Released: June 10

Monday, September 15, 2008


The Bake Sale
(Chocolate Industries)
Since when are 10 songs an EP? By rap standards apparently -- which stands to reason since most rap albums have been clocking in at ~23 songs for the past 15 years. Clever lyrics and production from a Chicago/Detroit duo who accurately recall hip-hop’s golden age, even if they could lay off the vocal-samples-as-instruments trick. By declaring themselves the “new black version of the Beastie Boys” they alternately acknowledge and take a friendly jab at those who will ostensibly be their largest audience. For all the sparse 808 beats, the instrumental backing stays busy.

Standouts: “One Two” and “What It Is”
Released: June 10

The Jealous Girlfriends
(Good Fences)
A straightforward indie-rock quartet from Brooklyn that doesn't belabor its lyrics with obscure historical and literary references, or make up for a lack of songwriting skills with annoying genre stunts. The band members probably smell nice too. Holly Miranda’s the more engaging vocalist, but the male/female division of labor isn’t hurting them. Quality noise-pop songs that do what they’re supposed to do -- which could mean The Jealous Girlfriends are doomed to be The Darling Buds of the ‘00s.

Standouts: “Organs On the Kitchen Floor” and “Roboxulla”
Released: May 6

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation (Part I)

Upon returning from his summer-long bender -- this year spent in the air conditioned luxury of a chain motel somewhere near Butte, Montana -- Typing Monkey publisher S.L. Kreighton threw a royal hissy fit about the stacks of CDs that had piled up in the office.

So we made the new intern, Francine, sort through the discs and pick a dozen or so that she thought looked interesting. These selections were based on cover art alone, so we can’t guarantee the quality of anything she chose.

The next few entries will be short reviews based on the frenzied listening party that ensued.


Rocket Surgery
(Reluctant Recordings)
A new EP by the (mostly) vintage-keyboard and drums duo who make pop with a tissue of psychedelic spookiness draped over it. Fun while there, and probably a good live show, but not hugely memorable once the six songs are over.

Standouts: The jazzy "Huh What" is good and "Ghetto Treat.
Released: April 12

Miles of Smiles
Twenty more imaginary soundtracks from the multi-instrumentalist. Lee’s biggest hurdle is the abundance of legitimate library music from the '60s and '70s currently reissued on CD (and probably easily downloaded if you hate America). The Moog-y spacecapade "Greekout" makes the well-executed, if pedestrian, genre exercises sound weak by comparison. Judicious editing could reduce this to a dozen winners. In the right mood (a party, iPod shuffle), this is just fine.

Standouts: "Prague Rock" and "Dinosaur Island." (Jazz flutes are go!)
Released: May 6

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Singularly Absurd

Remembering Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle"

The Typing Monkey picks a hit single from the past to dissect, inspect, discuss and analyze. Specifically, we will seek out the hits that sound especially odd to modern ears -- songs that are frozen in time, trapped by the eras that created them. Sometimes these songs became hits despite the standards and expectations of the time. All of them sound, to today's listener, singularly absurd.

Song: "Welcome to the Jungle"
Artist: Guns N' Roses
Released: 1987
Label: Geffen

Anyone who saw the The Dead Pool during its original theatrical run during the summer of 1988 might have noticed "Welcome to the Jungle" in the soundtrack.

In what's likely the last Dirty Harry film, a pre-fame Jim Carey plays hair-metal superstar, Johnny Squares, whose murder prompts Clint Eastwood to launch an investigation that leads to various car chases, shootings and general ass-kickery.

Given Carey's Hollywood grotesque of a rock star, viewers unaware of the existence of Guns N' Roses are forgiven for assuming the song was a studio creation -- those odd imitations of popular music that usually pollute television shows with budgets too small to acquire actual pop songs.

However, "Jungle" had already been out for a year and was building steam as the welcome return of rock & roll with a little hair on its chest. No matter how gruff sounding GNR were at the time, that song was pure, unadulterated pop-metal.

Context clues
In the late '80s, American Top 40 radio was giving up on British new wave and synth-pop, MOR American rock, and the Prince and Michael Jackson knock-offs that most of us identify the decade by.

As the Reagan era slid into the weak epilogue that was Bush I, three genres suddenly dominated pop radio: rap, mall pop, and pop metal.

Pop-metal acts such as Mötley Crüe, Poison and Cinderella dressed up simple rhythm & blues riffs with spandex, eyeliner and hairspray and rode the gimmick through the bank and into rehab.

Fans of Guns N' Roses insist the band was more meaningful, muscular and musical than its teased and lipsticked contemporaries. We'll grant them muscular, especially in contrast to the likes of say, Winger or Slaughter. But "Welcome to the Jungle" could not have been a hit if our appetites weren't already whetted by a legion of Mick Jagger caricatures.

"Jungle" may be the smartest pop-metal single ever written though. The tune snarls and buzzes loud enough to convince listeners that it's something other than a soundtrack for pounding beers and trying to get with the ladies.

The evidence
The cascading guitar that opens the track sounds more menacing than say, Crüe's "Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)." But anything less would be inappropriate for a song about evils of the Big City.

"Jungle" is the flip-side of all the high-kicks and bacchanalian delight that other pop-metal bands promised. The song is obligated to at least give the impression of seedy, back-alley muck.

The key to understanding why "Jungle" is pop/hair metal and not just plain hard rock or actual metal (or whatever genre ownership champions of Guns N' Roses insist on) lies almost entirely with the only member of the band who remains in the line-up today: W. Axl Rose.

As Slash and the gang blast away, Axl Rose tries his best to sound threatening. But try not to laugh when he wails "nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-knees" and later refers to his boy bits as his "serpentine."

Sorry Axl, but such an obvious genetalia reference outside of hip-hop or pornography means you can only be one thing: pop metal. The (unintentional?) humor doesn't even require ironic perspective or the comedy provided by distance and time.

Other pop-metal singers performed variations on, or combinations of, Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, Ziggy-era Bowie, David Johansen and David Lee Roth. Axl Rose is pure Jim Morrison, and nothing could be more silly than believing your own hype as much your fans do.

Fashion-wise, GNR's rhythm section avoided the neon-bright palette preferred by their preening counterparts, though the hairspray remained. Lead guitarist Slash drew attention to himself by swiping Marc Bolan's Slider look. (Somehow Slash looks more Muppet-like than Bolan, which is an admirable achievement.)

Then there's Rose, with his bandanas, scarves, jeans, bicycle shorts, football jerseys and flannels. Axl Rose dressed for the stage the way most pop/hair-metal fans dressed for work or school. His schtick was dressing up by dressing down. That's calculated pop-metal showmanship.

Finally, we must not forget that the band would never again hit big again with such thunderous, sleazy material. "Paradise City," "Sweet Child O'Mine" are mid-tempo rock, while "Patience" is one step away from Scorpions' "Winds of Change" and that's right next door to Mr. Big's "To Be With You."

Of course, the best evidence in this case is Axl's hair in the video for "Welcome to the Jungle."