Archive for July, 2010

I am the Walrus…of Lurve – Barry White

There are few artists who can be said to sum up an emotion, but that is precisely the case with Mr Barrence Eugene Carter, aka the late, great Barry White. Utter his name to anyone, afficionado or casual music lover, and you will likely get the same reaction. Barry White’s music is synonymous with romance, with love in all it’s glory, and with sheer sensuality. Helped of course by that trademark voice, that most deep of instruments that would send shivers down a million spines. But there is so much more to Barry White than as a metaphor for a cheesy kind of loving, for as a musician, composer, arranger and performer he was truly outstanding, and has left behind some of the most sumptuous recordings of all time. And perhaps none moreso that the spell-binding proto-disco classic “Love’s Theme” by his Love Unlimited Orchestra.

This 1973 cut is exceptional in all sorts of ways. Not only did it pre-empt the disco explosion that took over the globe throughout the mid to late 1970s, but it did so in such a fashion as to render everything that followed almost sub-standard in comparison. I’m not saying, of course, that there are not absolutely incredible disco tracks that follow this benchmark, and many have merits over and above “Love’s Theme” in all sorts of facets.
And yet there is something in the ambition of this record, in the scale of its production, in the simple swell of joy and delight that it produces on every listen, that for me sets it apart from its contemporaries and descendants. That it was made with little or no precedent to follow in terms of it’s musical construction is further proof of course that here is a sensational record. But also, it seems to me that “Love’s Theme” transcends the genre almost before it has even been established, and as such it is up there in the very rarest of airs, a truly seminal offering in musical history. An orchestral masterpiece, it is still one of the only fully instrumental songs to top the US charts, and is notable of course for it’s establishment of the sweeping strings and wah-wah inflected guitar chops on which disco would be built, and a generation of club-goers would whirl to under crystal cut mirror balls. With regards the arrangements of strings special mention here should go to longtime White collaborator Gene Page, himself well worthy of our attention, but that is for another time.

“Love’s Theme” is also interesting for gracing two albums simultaneously, White’s own absolutely outstanding 1973 player “Rhapsody in White”, a must-have for any collection, but also his phenomenal side-project Love Unlimited, of whom his orchestra of course provided much of the backdrop to. Their own worthy album appearing in that year was “Under The Influence Of…”, and kicks off with “Love’s Theme”, while White’s solo project ends with it. And so in a sense these two monster albums can be seen as a double album extravaganza of the highjest order, with “Love’s Theme” the impossibly brilliant hinge upon which it balances. On one side the solo soul of White and his orchestra in full flow, and on the other his delicious female trio laying down their own brand of soulful excellence. So, while there is much to say about each of these artists, in singular fashion, and together, for now let us simply marvel at the wonder of one of their joint moments of greatness, when the music came together to create something magical, the soundtrack to all our lives. Love itself.

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Twelve Bar on July 28th 2010 in Music

You asked me did i like Arsenio… “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”

We love the new, the old, the classic, the undiscovered, the forgotten here at Twelve Bar. You know it’s all love for the music that inspires us everyday. And this is why we are bringing you a series of classic anniversary reports on albums that have risen above their humble beginnings to become true classics. And having just seen the 20 year anniversary of its release (twenty years…really!?! damn!) none could be better to kick start the parade than Ice Cube’s seminal “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”.

It is difficult to describe just how much of a monster this album is. Rising from the ashes of the acrimonious dissolution of NWA, Cube delivered a surprise critical and commercial smash, proving his credentials as the true lyrical powerhouse of the group, and bringing real social commentary to the West Coast. True he wasn’t the first, but there was something about his unashamed brashness, his no-holds barred messages, even his radical choice of production house in The Bomb Squad that screamed out that this was an important record. And yet at the time few saw it coming, or at least predicted how seminal, or indeed prescient, this record would prove to be.

Put very simply Ice Cube in the early 1990s was Gangster Rap. To me he is ground zero, the big bang, the very genesis of the sentiment that actually came to dominate the rap game, but in many ways the commercial music game itself. His is a true jumping off point, and while i actually prefer follow-up “Death Certificate”, if we are talking seminal offerings then this is the only possible contender.

People may diss him now for following his acting muse and to some selling out. They are haters. The man is an entertainer, he can make the choices he wants. But as a young man he was an entertainer with something real to say, and a platform to say it, and he damn sure made the most of that privilege he had earnt. It is timeless, building on NWA’s recent legacy, a legacy he himself created, and taking it to the personal level, vividly recounting the truth of life in inner city LA, and in doing so creating a template which remains unbroken to this day. There is not a dud song, a dud sample or a dud line. Still most wanted, period.

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Twelve Bar on July 23rd 2010 in Music

The Long Good Friday

The Long Good Friday is a British gangster film starring Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren & a number of now familiar faces.. It was voted at number 21 in the British Film Institute’s list of the 100 favourite British movies of the 20th century….

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Twelve Bar on July 21st 2010 in Music

Stone’s Throw Records – The symphony

Stone’s Throw Records. We don’t have the words for how much Twelve Bar love they get and are deserving of. True independent spirits with the good of the game in the blood. And for a reminder of why, and a reminder if it is ever needed of the higher plane that J Dilla stepped on, here’s a reprise of last year’s orchestral take on Dilla’s opus, the “Suite for Ma Dukes” EP. Simply takes the breath away. Music = emotion squared.

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Twelve Bar on July 20th 2010 in Music

Midnight Marauders…Wait…I think somebody shitted

Question. Is “Lyrics To Go” the best track on “Midnight Marauders”? Answer: Quite possibly. Though if you are like us the re-sequencing of the tracks on this album in order of preference and perceived greatness is something of a constantly Sisyphean task anyway. Just as you think you have nailed it, the sands shift and your brain cries, wait, hold on, how can “Electric Relaxation” not be the obvious top choice? Come to that, clearly it is neither of these tunes, but actually “Steve Biko (Stir it Up)”. Argument settled. Hold on though, where would you place “We Can Get Down”, “Clap Your Hands”, “Award Tour”, “The Chase Part II”……? See, it is an unwinnable challenge. That’s the price of perfection I suppose. Or maybe we just have too much time on our hands.

But back to the original point which is that “Lyrics To Go” is undoubtedly one of the choicest cuts the Tribe ever laid down, and in part this is down to its exceptional sampling of Minnie Riperton’s “Inside My Love” (from 1975’s equally exceptional “Adventures in Paradise” album). The re-working of the beat from Riperton’s exquisite ode to deep love is precise and expertly executed, making a tune that exists originally as a poetic deep funk into an urgently paced roller of a beat, with snapping snares propelling the beat throughout. Whether the original or the sampled giant, however, it is a killer. And yet, to our surprise, another take on this killer loop has now emerged which manages to take the tune in a different direction still. We know next to nothing about New Zealand outfit Electric Wire Hustle, but we do know that they have taken the “Inside My Love” sample and cut it every which way to produce a gem of a down-tempo funk fest on their tune “Perception”. We know also that they recently destroyed the party at London’s seminal “Deviation” club night, documented no less by our own favourite scene snapper Fatsarazzi. We’d like to know more about them, which is possibly a first for a New Zealand band. No offence, but Crowded House and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa never quite did it for us previously. You can see the evidence of Electric Wire Hustle’s takeover at or Fatsarazzi’s own lovely website and we’ve included all three of the tracks we speak of below so you can do the comparisons yourself. One tune great into three great tunes. That’s good maths by anyone’s standards. Music to go, it’s all love.

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Twelve Bar on July 19th 2010 in Music

Thieves In The Night

So here’s what happens: You leave the office one evening and there’s a wall that you look out at every day which is completely white with nothing on it. Then you come back the following morning, open the windows and are greeted by this:

We aren’t wild about the imagery – not really our style – but some of the typography is insane and you have to give credit to whoever it was who caned this wall from dusk to dawn on the street that is Fairfax Ave.

Kinda like thieves in the night.

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Twelve Bar on July 16th 2010 in Music

Ohio Players – Sleeve dreams are made of these

The death, or perhaps long drawn out death throes, of vinyl is of course a sad and tragic thing for too many reasons to go into here. But we make absolutely no apology for being slightly obsessed with classic album cover art. It is like a virtually bottomless treasure trove of inspiration, motivation and excitement. There is still a visceral thrill to be had from dusting off the vinyl shelves and delving in for a musical expedition, with the sight of a memorable cover as indelibly marked in our heads as a favourite chorus, intro or melody, and the unveiling as thrilling as the crackle of the needle itself. See how wistful we get! And while we could wax lyrical about graphics, typefaces, concepts and illustrations, sometimes we have to just appeal to our baser instincts. And in this regard there is perhaps no better album cover art than that provided by the funkiest of groups, the Ohio Players.

I’d wager that there is barely a hip-hop fan alive who doesn’t have a vinyl copy of “Honey”, the archetypal Ohio Players sleeve which actually won the cover art Grammy on release in 1975. But their lascivious, lustful and downright sexy artwork is consistently brilliant for their entire output. And while it may appear to be flagrantly objectifying of the female form, a cheap excuse to flash some flesh, there is often much more too it. Yes the sleeves are suggestive and overtly sexual, downright sexist to some especially when dropped at the heights of popular feminism, the sleeves were also about fun, about seeing the sex in the music itself, but also about black empowerment and identity. The clearest example of this is in the bald-headed model who adorns the “Pain” or “Climax” albums.

Is it objectifying these beautiful black women or idolising them? Is it innocent fun, or reinforcing the chains of inequality? Is the power in these images with the model or the fetishist art director or viewer? In these times of sexual saturation and no real line in popular culture and imagery between suggestion and outright explicitness it is easy to forget how striking these images would have been, and perhaps that is their point.

They make people think, discuss, question. Or perhaps. Like us, you just love seeing carefully constructed, beautifully produced images of near naked women, wrapped around music of pure bump and grind. Sometimes you’ve just got to go with your gut reaction, and I don’t care how much porn and nudity there is around us, these album covers are amongst the sexiest images I know. It’s almost a reassuring thought, no?

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Twelve Bar on July 15th 2010 in Music

Damien Marley/Nas, Speak patois, i can speak rap star

It shouldn’t work, but it looks as though it might. Usually the words rap-reggae collaboration would have all of us heading for the exit. Awesome in solo measures, but despite sharing so many influences, patterns, sentiments and cultural touchpoints, very rarely a good combination. But for some reason there is no rush for the exit here, if first single from the Damien Marley/Nas partnership album “Distant Relatives” is anything to go by. “As We Enter” sounds fresh, original, tight, and with flow terrific, the two lyricists swapping line for line with panache, drive and intent. The album title suggest they understand the key is not to force a combination, but to find the true point of convergence and nail it. One love indeed.

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Twelve Bar on July 13th 2010 in Music

The Montalban Summer of Soccer

If you are in LA this weekend, there’s only one place to be watching the World Cup Final. Just do it.

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Twelve Bar on July 10th 2010 in Music

Masters At Work = Masterful

How good is that feeling when a song that you haven’t heard for a long time comes drifting out of a passing vehicle, an open window, a colleague’s PC, and you find yourself uttering that oft-repeated phrase, “oh, I LOVE this tune!”. How good is that feeling when the sun is shining brightly and it happens to be a Masters At Work tune of exquisite vintage that has re-entered your consciousness? But of course, the icing on the cake of this exquisite rush of nostalgia comes when the tune in question is MAW’s La India vocalled “To Be In Love”, simply one of the moist stunning house tracks of all time. Liquid happiness and affection dumped on vinyl by the masters of the uplifting dance number. There is too much good to say about Masters At Work, and plenty also about the stunning figure of La India. But that will have to wait, because for now the seed of the tune has already been planted in your head. Play, smile, lose yourself in happiness. Repeat.

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Twelve Bar on July 8th 2010 in Music