Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February 2009

Album of the Month

Feed The Animals - Girl Talk

It takes a rare talent to copy something and make it original. But that is just what mash-up experts Girl Talk have done on their fourth album, Feed The Animals. In a direct affont to the music industry, this album consists of nothing original comprising only of several hundred samples, all mashed together into a glorious kaleidoscope of the last 50 years of recorded music. It is a full sized smorgasboard of sound featuring just about every genre of music mashed together into a soundtrack of our musical lives. In all, they mix an estimated (or admitted), 322 different samples into the fourteen tracks somehow managing to grab the best moments of a truly mind-altering number of songs. And I thought I had a big collection of music.

And so what we find amongst the fourteen tracks is a cornucopia of the well known surrounded by less known. There is heavy metal and hair metal, hard rock and cheesy pop, rap and rock, disco and dance. You spend half the album tapping your toes, and the other half trying to name the song where that three note coda comes from. See here for Wikipedia's efforts to catalog some of the samples used.

The modus operandi is mainly the seguing of gangsta rap and hip hop spoken lyrics over familar pop hits. The harsh and provocative musings of black rappers is transcended somewhat when accompanied by the dulcet tones of Come on Eileen. The angry and inciteful language of Public Enemy is somewhat tempered by being intoduced by Heart's Magic Man. Its an intoxicating mixture and if you dont like something, wait ten seconds for the next familiar track to kick in. Its like a rapid fire game of Play Station's Buzz as you try and name that tune.

My personal favourite sample used has to be the drum intro to Rick Astley's toxic Never Gonna Give You Up which abruptly finishes just before Astley gets to sing. Now THAT is a someone who understands music as I always have a notion to stop that track as soon as I hear that drum roll. But to get some inkling of the range of artists, here are the ones used in the first minute of the fourth track "Whats It All About", Beyonce, DJ Funk, Queen, Beastie Boys, Phil Collins, Busta Rhymes, The Police and The Cure. Not a collection of artists you probably listen to on your way to work.

Producer Gregg Gillis paid no royalties on the samples he used, (how could he possibly), striking an extremely liberal interpretation on the 'fair use' principle of copyright law. In turn he has made the music available for whatever you think its worth. Click here to access the download and pay whatever amount you want. Click on $0.00 if for no other reason to see the list of options for reasons why you wont pay one brass wazoo for something so good. Download it now, but how about rewarding his creativity by parting with a few of your hard earned dollars.

The mash-up has developed into an artform in its own right. Like most art it runs the range from magnificent glorious masterpieces to cover-your-eyes awful. Where does Girl Talk's effort fit on that scale? Well if Feed The Animals was a painting, we would be gazing at it in a world class gallery and buying a book on it while exiting the gift shop. Its that good.

Essential Classic Album

It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back - Public Enemy

It all begins here. If you want an insight to understanding the immensity of emotion that rap induces in its followers, put this album on your turntable. Its the essential and only rap album you need. Giving voice to a nation of disaffected youths, it is the soundtrack of a forgetten and downtrodden generation urging, cajoling, nay demanding, that they rise up and allow their voices to be heard. Rarely has a record so accurately captured the provocative and rebellious attitude of an entire race.

Chuck D and Flavour Flav did not invent rap but they certainly focused its power as a political force in its own right. Combining elements of free jazz, funk and hip hop with sharp and insightful lyrics, it is the equivalent of an Inauguration Speech for the other America. Those that arent living the American dream of BBQ's and baseball. Those for whom cops are tormentors, not protectors. Those whose only dream is to live till their thirties.

There are a number of standout tracks amongst the overtly political track list, but my personal favourites are the anthemic, confrontational "Dont Believe The Hype" and then the last track "Party for Your Right To Fight" which neatly encapsulates the urgency and motivation behind the call to arms. Revolutions start with the voicing of dissatisfaction with the ruling elite.

It is twenty years since the album is released. One would guess that its power would be diminished in these slightly more enlightened times when a black kid can actually aspire to become President of the United States. But that is plainly short-sighted and if we cant see, we cant care. The problems they sing about are still issues of the day as blacks in America are still, in large part, a disenfranchised creed. This is their political manifesto reinterpreting and updating James Brown's "Im Black and Im Proud".

The album starts with a quote from Malcolm X, the full version of which is

"It's just like when you've got some coffee that's too black, which means it's too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won't even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep."

It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is thus the lyrical equivalent of that cup of black coffee; powerful, strong, united and boiling hot.

Top Ten List

While writing about Public Enemy, it struck me that there is a difference between the greatest albums and the most influential. Sometimes an album will blaze a trail only for others to successfully follow. Its like cutting a track up a mountain only to see someone else scale that mountain and claim the spoils of glory and everlasting fame.

So it set me thinking as to what were the most INFLUENTIAL albums of all time. Albums that created a musical genre, changed the way musicians play, or simply made a lot of kids want to pick up a guitar. Its an immensely subjective and emotive issue, but here are the Nevstar's

Top Ten Most Influential Albums of All Time

10. Elvis Presley - The Sun Sessions
Its influence cannot be underestimated. You basically had a white country boy with a 'black' voice, steeped in gospel rockabilly and country playing speeded up blues. It was nothing less than the template for rock and roll, which became kinda big.

9. Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks
Music has disappeared up its collective arse in the early 70s only for that comfort to be shattered by four misogynist punks (in both senses of the word). Rock and roll was exciting again, as rock dinosaurs met their very own meteorite.

8. Public Enemy - Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
As above, nothing less than a riotous call to arms. Rappers and their music can change the world.

7. Herbie Hancock - Headhunters
All keyboardists prior to performing probably offer a silent prayer to the master of fusion who changed the way keyboards and pianos would be played forever more.

6. Miles Davis - A Kind Of Blue
Not an exaggeration to say that every jazz album released since owes it a debt. Took musicianship to a whole new level and demanded that jazz players obtain a very high level of competence before practicing their art. 50 years after its release, its still the best jazz album of all time without any question.

5. Led Zepellin - Led Zepellin I
I listed about three or four different Led Zep albums in this slot (II, IV and Physical Graffiti have worthy claims as well), but ultimately it was their first album which provided the template for two dominating musical trends. The launch of heavy rock (which became ultimately heavy metal), and the worship of guitar gods.

4. Kraftwerk - Trans-Europe Express
Again, arguably not their best album, but certainly their most influential. Effectively created the template for all electronica music combining repeating melodic loops with incessant rhythms and understated vocals. Immensely enjoyable and accessible to this day.

3. Bob Dylan - Bringing It All Back Home
That the power of electric rock and roll should return was an anaethma to the flower power folkies; but having one of their own spearhead the drive was too much to handle. Booed lustily after plugging in, Dylan showed us a new direction home and proved that you sometimes need to leave your fans behind.

2. The Beatles - Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles arguably made better albums (Revolver for one) but this was by far their most influential. It is ground zero for two rather important musical trends. The first was the use of the studio as separate instrument. Most bands recorded output was indistinguishable from their live act; The Beatles deliberately set out to create music that could not be performed live using a wide array of studio tricks and techniques. Secondly, they started the whole issue of a concept album which was expanded upon by all manner of 70s acts.

1. Velvet Underground - Velvet Underground & Nico
As the saying goes, not many people bought the album, but those that did, started their own bands. The very definition of influential. In a setting provided by art house supremo Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and his colleagues settled in and recorded an immensely personal and reflective album. Featuring songs pushing the boundaries of social commentary and sexual realism, it is a perfect record. Their recorded output led to everything from punk to the predominance of singer-songwriters.

Honourable mentions:

David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars
Robert Johnson - King of Delta Blues Guitar
Marvin Gaye - Whats Going On
Primal Scream - Screamadelica
Bee Gees - Saturday Night Fever
Michael Jackson - Thriller
Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
Spice Girls - Spice (yes I know, but it set the standard for modern marketing of music abhorrent as that may seem)

Thats it for another month. Hope you have enjoyed the latest Nevstar Music Guide. Leave a comment on any of the above if you want to comment, criticize or compliment, and please forward to any other like-minded music fans.


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