Archive for January, 2010

Don’t block the shine

The release of Big Boi’s solo joint “Sir Luscious Leftfoot Saves The Day”, mooted repeatedly in 2009 but apparently no closer to arrival here in early 2010, is threatening to become the biggest nonsense since the Brass Eye special (Chris Morris fans will get the reference). Whatever the case, it seems likely that we will have the whole album leaked to us bit by bit before the labels get their act together to release it officially.

And they wonder why the model of distribution threatens their very livelihood. But if it is internet leaks we must seek and the piecing together of this work like an aural jigsaw then so be it, because the by hook or crook we will hold in our hands this fabled and much anticipated offer. For there is little that Big Boi does that disappoints. We all know that with Outkast he is always impeccable, and that Speakerboxxx was the truly great half of their famed double pack. We also know that Sir Luscious, in whatever format we get it, is living up to the hype that surrounds it, not least the wonderful “Shine Blockas”, featuring the love-him-or-hate-him-but-can’t-deny-he’s-hot-right-now Gucci Mane on support.

Built around Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes’ slicker than a buttery crumpet soul-fest that is “I Miss You”, “Shine Blockas” is just southern fried funk of the highest calibre. Production is tight, verses are cockier than a rooster race, and the entire offering is just audaciously on point. And this from an album that has been ready to go for months now. If that doesn’t scream “ahead of the game” I don’t know what does.

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Twelve Bar on January 27th 2010 in Music

She shoots colours all around

It may have been hijacked recently by both Apple and Sony for TV ads, but that shouldn’t diminish one iota from the brilliance of the Rolling Stones’ 1967 track “She’s A Rainbow”. Taken from the psychedelically challenging but actually quite fantastic fork in the road of The Stone’s more easily categorised recording career, 1967’s “Their Satanic Majesties Request”, this is a song that to me is awe-inspiring in its beauty, and mixture of depth of texture and seeming simplicity. The album itself divides opinion almost entirely, a masterpiece or folly depending on your view. I’m in the former camp, and in many ways “She’s a Rainbow” sums up why.

The lyricism from Jagger is quite stunning in its poetry and construction, weaving a rich tapestry of fairy tale-like wonder without being twee. But it is the music that really shocks, led of course by the brilliant piano track of celebrated session man Nicky Hopkins. The Stones are renowned for picking good keyboard additions as honorary members and long-time collaborators, from the funk and soul licks of the brilliant Billy Preston, to the rock chops of Ian Stewart, and then balladry and classical leanings of Nicky Hopkins. Famed for laying down tracks with little or no preparation, Hopkins has graced far too numerous a selection of classic records of the late 1960s and 1970s to mention here. But on this track he brings sheer beauty to the studio and magic on the keys.

The opening always sounds to me like the template for the pop orchestration that would bring global fame to Abba a decade later, but this is far from a criticism. Rather it belies a genius of accessible and beguiling melody. But it is when the track explodes into guitar swirls, strings, mellotron, and the quite fantastic drum performance from Charlie Watts always the greatest of the Stones firmament) that the track truly takes off. Up and down in tempo, quiet in places and at times bursting uncontrollably with joy, this record seems to capture the colours of the very best bits of the Summer of Love. It is the folkier end of their sound, touched on only occasionally in other songs such as “Ruby Tuesday” or “As Time Goes By”, but I think an under-appreciated element of their work away from the standard blues-rock.

“Their Satanic Majesties Request”, to my mind, is ahead of its time, not Sgt Pepper or Forever Changes lite, but a stunning record of its own volition, The Stones doing psychedelia as only they could, and finding hidden depths and embellishments to an already heavily-mined style. The first album to be produced by the band themselves, and even featuring a pre-Led Zeppelin John Paul Jones on string arrangements, it is Keith Richard’s song writing in particular at its most creative. That it was followed by 1968’s return to hard, driving blues riffs in the equally brilliant but completely different “Beggar’s Banquet” suggests it was an aberration, but I still think it was key. Proof that they could match the best of their contemporaries on any ground they chose, an indulgence perhaps, but not one taken lightly. As a soundscape it is lush and one to dive straight into the middle of. And if ever a song sounded like the thing it describes it is “She’s A Rainbow”. Vibrant, beautiful, mysterious, but never ever black and white.

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Twelve Bar on January 25th 2010 in Music

Album Cover Of The Day – The Roots Game Theory

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Twelve Bar on January 24th 2010 in Music

Album Cover Of The Day – DJ Krush Strictly Turntablized

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Twelve Bar on January 22nd 2010 in Music

Phoenix from the flames

I have spoken on these very pages, quite recently in fact, about the brilliance of Air’s “Moon Safari” album, and also of the genius of legendary French producer Cerrone. However, at the risk of revealing myself to be a raving Francophile nutter, I wanted to put my camembert, model eiffel tower and string of onions down for a moment, take off my beret and stripey top, and pause briefly to mention another Gallic offering which takes pride of place as perhaps my favourite French record. (Don’t we all have favourite French records? No? Aah. Bit awkward*).

Anyway, I would probably go so far as to say that this record is more than that, it is simply one of my favourite tracks of all time, and melts my hard old heart on each repeated listen. And the track in question? Phoenix’s disco-tinged and soulful slice of aural sunshine, wrapped up in a housey ribbon of pure joy, 2000′s “If I Ever Feel Better Love” from the equally great “United” album. There is nothing overly sophisticated about this tune, nothing particularly innovative in its aspirations, and yet for some reason I just love it. There is an incessant quality to the beat, up-tempo and uplifting and yet somehow mellow in its mood, and the filtered sweetness of the vocals is just like an aural spongebath from a stunning French maid. Except it is sung by a man who sounds like he has just stepped out of the Californian surf circa 1973, and in an accent that defies categorisation. And yet it works so beautifully.

It is seductive and winsome, it is warm and drenched with the best type of love-based sentiments as to induce unadulterated fits of swooning. Perhaps that is just me again. But the point remains that Phoenix are a unique band who are capable of producing music that comes from an incredible diversity of influences and reference points, and yet make it sound so coherent, so accessible and so different, but still with quality and verve. The debut album that this song of choice comes from, 2000′s “United” is an absolute belter of a record, marrying these influences, from country to house, and from riff-tastic 1980′s rock, to hip-hop and soul, to create an album that shines from start to finish.

The title says it all really, uniting and knitting together strands of musical history to make a colourful pullover of aural brilliance, but one which screams “Parisian sophistication, cool and savoir-faire” rather than “Granny’s unwanted Christmas present”. Phoenix started life as Air’s studio band, and also have strong links to Daft Punk, but such is their pedigree that they are correctly seen in their own right, as opposed to a footnote to other French successes, or riding on the bandwagon of nu-wave filtered French funky disco. It is almost like the best compilation album that you never received from that cool French chick you never met on a school exchange programme when you were fifteen (remember the one you actually spent with some spotty librarian-type dude on the outskirts of some industrial French town pretending to enjoy smoking and wondering when the family food would become edible). Anyway, “United” is a brilliant album and well worth checking out at any time, but particularly as the spring turns to summer and heart-warming melodies seem to make balmy evenings last forever.

Cheesy as a Frenchman’s larder, yet as cool and laid-back as their wine-cellar, for me it remains the best example of disco-tinged pop rock country soul with a funky house undertone that I own. Just because it is the only one is irrelevant, because even if my whole collection was of records meeting this crazy criteria, “United” would still stand proud at the top of the pile.

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Its All Love on January 10th 2010 in Music