Monthly Archives: March 2010

302. Lupe Fiasco – “The Cool”

Diving into this potentially disappointing second album from Mr Fiasco has been a revelatory experience.

After the first listen I was certain this review would be a rant about the tendency of hip hop artists to produce distancing, indulgent second albums chock full of tales about the pitfalls of being wealthy and famous (with the accompanying irony that such whining served also as bragging).

There are a load of tracks on here that superficially touch upon such topics, evoking memories of De La Soul and Eminem‘s mid-career output.

Further (digital) spins of the album, and much closer listening (plus a little secondary research) reveals the album to more complex than that.  It is purportedly a ‘concept album’ about a character dealing with the  trials of growing up on the street, embracing hip hop, and resisting the temptation to get all criminal on us (unlike Fiasco’s business partner).

Who know?  It aint very obvious, begging the question whether it is really a successful exercise.

Irrespective, what is more apparent is that Fiasco has got adventurous in terms of structuring the music setting for his complex, captivating rhyming.  It’s a little more R&B and less funk than I would like, but he is still a talent.

File under: Lupe Fonzie

301. Lupe Fiasco – “Food and Liquor”

I can’t remember a hip-hop release (especially by a non-pale-faced fellow) getting more attention and praise from indie-rock mags and alternative radio stations than this 2006 release, well certainly not since the halcyon days of Public Enemy and De La Soul.

Album cover Lupe Fiasco & Food and Liquor CDLupe’s backstory is part of the buzz – a politically aware, Muslim son of a Black Panther with a penchant for skateboarding. The music was the key driver, however. He spits out very rapid fire, articulate lyrics, laid out over string-heavy lush arrangements.

This debut effort hits the mark in the same way so many hip-hop freshmen releases seem to. Fiasco sounds different and fresh. He’s probably closest in style (to these undereducated ears) to Kanye West, but with faster rhymes and a more confrontational message. He tackles gangsta posturing head on and derides such behaviours as indicative of the limited options to young black youth.

Fiasco is very, very good at getting his message across and of penning cleverly ambiguous couplets and phrasings. Unfortunately he seems wedded to ridiculously fast beats rather than searching for a riff or other aural hook to get booties shaking. When he gets most creative, and finds a different angle (like the almost  onomatopoeiac Kick, Push) it is worth getting excited:

File under: Kinda believe the hype

300. Ibrahim Ferrer – “Buena Vista Social Club presents Ibrahim Ferrer”

How appropriate that a review with a nice, big round number like 300 should deal with a little man who hit some big numbers himself.

Buena Vista Social Club presents Album Ibrahim Ferrer CDIbrahim Ferrer’s is one of those cinderella stories of success finally coming to someone who had been cruelly ignored much of his performing life (We’ll see various others from the blues domain in later reviews).

Ferrer was, of course, one of the Cuban elders who Ry Cooder had the good judgement to bring together for the Buena Vista SC sessions. He was the guy with the great emotive voice, and the coolest smile, from the associated film.

He reportedly is/was a bolero singer.  Now, I am mightily ignorant of such matters, but I assume this has very little to do with Bo Derek nudity or even those little jackets that pop in and out of fashion.

What I do know is that I am typically mesmerised by his vocals, that everything sounds like burgeoning love or inconsolable heartbreak, and that this CD will continue to get spun around our place whenever we want to seem a little more sophisticated at dinner parties, and when I just want some gorgeous, slow-paced but upbeat soundtrack to my lounging.

Here he is:

File under: Living la vida buena

299. The Fauves – “Footage Missing”

My musical love affairs do have an almost inevitable point where the adoration fades, the once delightful becomes infuriating, and my interests wanes.

This release from the Fauves was the last time I footed the bill for a romantic dinner with said four-piece. No more would we gaze longingly at each through the candle light (I think the whole Earth Hour thing last night has curdled my brain).

Perhaps the decline in adoration was inevitable, but I blame this album.  It starts like another great night with the lads.  Insert Your Life is another pearl, either a specific dig at astrology or a broader treatise on the challenge for artists attempting to speak to the broad human experience.

The encounter quickly becomes dull, repetitive and desperate however.  Old clichés and lazy riffs are trotted out.  Yo-Yo Craze sees the lads getting embarrassing in their attempts to stay fresh for the kiddies.

I can see some glimmers of hope here.  The dirty talk and reminiscing for simpler times on Nairobi Nights grabbed my attention, as did the similarly backward-looking LA ’86.

Alas, it’s all too little too late for us.  To quote the band (and G.Costanza) it’s not you it’s me…

File under: I’m inching away

298. The Fauves – “Thousand Yard Stare”

It’s weird when an album from a decade ago coincides so directly with today’s headline.

This 2000 album from the Fauves includes a track Every TV Star Has A Dark Side… and then we hear that the bloke from ‘Hey Dad’ might have been adding an anguished exclamation mark to the show’s title with his young co-stars.

That is perhaps the only contemporary aspect of this recording. The band made a bizarre leap into the world of clunky keyboard backing, often sounding more like TISM or even Jesus Jones.

Behind the synths and riffs is the usual reliable, erudite and memorable songwriting. Indeed, this is perhaps the strongest set of tracks from the band in terms of lyrical content. Write What You Know, First Day on The Run, Going for my Blue Belt are all clever variations on the usual rock fare.

Alas, there is the stench of desperation behind the more single-like tracks on here, with excessive gimmick use.  It’s a shame, as the Give Up Your Day Job and Medium Pacer would work better unadorned, while Celebrate the Failure was the perfect lead-in track to the impending Sydney Olympics opening ceremony: click here for the very cool clip.

File under: Don’t avoid eye contact

297. The Fauves – “Lazy Highways”

Earlier this month I caught two performances by the reunited US 90s indie icons Pavement.

Immersed as I am now in The Fauves back catalogue, I have been comparing the fortunes of the two bands.

Pavement were received with justified adulation at both shows, and their albums are widely available and showered in praise.  The songs therein tread a neat line between obtuse, sarcastic and overly verbose on one hand, and ridiculously infectious on the other.

The Fauves share Pavement’s musical ying and yang balancing act, although with less angular noodly tendencies and a bit more straight ahead rock.  But, you pretty much can’t buy their back catalogue from anywhere other than the band themselves, and this millenium’s youth couldn’t discern them from Adam.

It really is a travesty.  This album, for example,content is flush with clever and catchy content: comic-book self-improvement (The Charles Atlas Way), Costanza philosophy (Don’t Give Me The It’s Not You It’s Me), a trucking song (Long Load), and a treatise on the merits of Jon Bon Jovi (Campfire King of Course).

And where Pavement mocked the stadium rock of the Stone Temple Pilots et al, The Fauves have a more loving view of Australia’s rock festival history:

File under: Praise thee for your fly ways

296. The Fauves – “Future Spa”

My earliest memories of The Fauves was of a band with a predilection for wrapping themselves in clingwrap and for on-stage nudity (but I may be confusing them with some other Melbourne-based band of the early-90s).

The band then got somehow less marginal and arty, and more radio-friendly.  The breakout singles where on this release.

Singing tunes about the joys of masturbation (Self Abuser), drinking (Tying on One), and dogs (Dogs are the Best People) was bound to tickle the fancy of our national ‘youth broadcaster’.

Thankfully the tracks in question are clever, rocking and bear up under many, many listens.

These guys are students of the rock form, delivering mid-paced indie-rock built around plenty of riffs, and wordy but erudite lyrics.

Thematically this album is all about the joys of youth, and in particular male teenagerdom (and perhaps the arrested development of one’s 20s).  So it’s skateboards, boxing, talking crap about music (Understanding Kyuss, Everybody’s getting a 3 piece together) and the aforementioned odes to recreation. It’s never quite clear whether the band might just be taking the piss out of male foibles, but, irrespective it’s a solid collection of very Australian, very 1990s, very fun tracks. Here’s the one I could find a clip for:

File under: Very luxuriating (if you don’t think about where the bubbles come from)

295. Fatboy Slim – “Live on Brighton Beach”

As someone raised on bands with guitars, drums, mikes etc, the notion of a ‘live’ album from a DJ has always seemed a bit wierd.  But then I have paid to see said artist ‘in concert’ (and I bought this here album), so obviously it wasn’t too much of a conundrum.

Playing live here means DJing, spinning in tracks from other artists plus some knob twiddling. 

The tunes Norman Cook pulls out of his enormous pile of record crates are a mix of the very familiar and the much less so (again, to these undancey ears).

Basement Jaxx‘s Where’s Your Head It sounds as great as always, as does Underworld‘s Born Slippy.

Fatboy delivers the sort of slick mix and ear-catching samples that you’d expect from a world-class DJ.

As I become an increasingly sedentary, wine-supping, comfy-chair-occupying old bloke, I have less and less need for dance music, but this collection still sounds very good pumping out a car stereo (I just don’t have the requisite sub-woofer, bass, spoiler combo of the younger crowd).

File under: A romp comp

294. Fatboy Slim – “Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars”

I certainly haven’t spun this disk as often as its hit-laden predecessor over the past decade or so.

That’s a shame, because it’s a considerably stronger album in terms of consistency of sound and approach. Gone is the (very successful) inclusion of somewhat gimmicky power-tracks padded out with run-of-the-mill electronic doodles.

Here we see Fatboy adopted an approach more a like a happy hybrid of Moby and The Chemical Brothers. We get the funk/gospel vocal samplings of the former, plays the hardcore squelchy electronica of the latter.

There certainly aren’t the big crossover hits of Fatboy’s last effort, but there are a lot more tracks that I’m happy to hear and hear again.  This would much better as a party album, as the diversity of sounds and rhythms keep interest levels high.

His guest vocalists deliver the goods.  Macy Gray performs the most memorable stuff that I can recall from her.  Love Life and Demons are sultry chillout tracks. Unfortunately, Bootsy Collins is wasted (as in ‘not put to good use’… I’m sure he probably fitted other definitions to, but that’s not unfortunate) on the very weak single on here – Weapon of Choice – a track that was inexplicably given a great Christopher Walken vid:

File under: Surprisingly stellar

293. Fatboy Slim – “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby”

The work of Norman Cook (a.k.a. Fatboy Slim among many different recording aliases) was extremely hard to avoid in the late 1990s.

Along with fellow Brits The Chemical Brothers, he produced some of the biggest crossover dance floor fillers, building a huge following for the so-called ‘Big Beat’ sound.

I had a predilection for seeking Cook out, given his past life as bass player for the much under-rated Housemartins.

The similarity between that poppy outfit and his reincarnation as a DJ and pastiche artist rests on his innate knack for finding a very, very catchy hook.  As Fatboy any subtlety is thrown out the window, as he beats us around the ears with ludicrously contagious catchphrases and musical riffs.

The singles on here are true benchmarks in commercially viable dance music, passing that test of working outside the club environs. The opening two tracks (Right Here, Right Now and Rockafeller Skank) are pretty irresistable:

The rest of the album doesn’t engage at the same level.  Praise You is much less compelling without the video.  Gangster Tripping comes closest to the gems, while too many of the others feel only marginally distinguished.

File under: The trip gets a little tiring