Friday, December 19, 2008

Year End Lists: Ooh...That's My Song!

As the new year approaches and the year end lists start multiplying, it's time for us at Two Day Old Shit to take a look at our iTunes' play count and decide which songs truly made '08 so musically great. You may find that many of these songs come from records featured on our top albums of the year lists, but since we are equal opportunists here at 2DOS, some of these picks were the solitary bright spots on otherwise disappointing and embarrassing records. That's just how we roll.

So, here are our Top 5 Songs of 2008; the jams that we played repeatedly, considered using as ring tones (but didn't because we didn't want the magic to wear off and wanted to pretend that we are adults) and listened to so much that they drove roommates, family and friends completely up the wall (my number one pick led my sister to call me "thirsty").
Enjoy! And please, let us know what your favorite songs from the past year were.

Isabelle's picks:

5. 88-Keys f. Bilal "M.I.L.F."
My favorite part of Adam's saga, this second to last track on the brilliant Death of Adam (a "punani concept" album) has the magical and totally weird Bilal (I swear he is an alien) cooing about baby mama drama and the ins and outs of unplanned parenthood over twinkly piano. Getting baby trapped NEVER sounded this good before.

4. Erykah Badu "Honey"
The last song on her spectacular New Amerykah, Part One (4th World War), "Honey" doesn't exactly fit with the rest of the albums tone, but that's why it was placed last on the track list; it's a bouncy palette cleanser to a record heavy with politics, death and reflection. And the video is hilarious.

3. Jazmine Sullivan "Bust Your Windows"
This tangoish scorned woman lament is way more interesting once you consider that she admits to feeling worse after she destroyed her cheating man's shit. I like a little bit of emotional struggle in an angry relationship song. 'Cause let's be real: no one feels 110% great about spray painting their man's Basquiat painting.

2. Al Green f. Anthony Hamilton "You've Got the Love I Need Babe" All the elements of this tune are amazing on their own, and together, they make Southern soul greatness: Al Green. ?uestlove. James Poyser. Anthony Hamilton. Dap-Kings. Spanky Alford. The fluttering guitar arpeggios Spanky plays are just beautiful (especially the one that fades out at the song's end, where Green goes "won't you play that one more time?") and the punchy horn soaked chorus is so Hi Records.

1. Estelle f. Kanye West "American Boy" Holy shit, do I love this song. So catchy, so breezy, so R&B disco charming. It's the ONE thing did right all year (will the Brazilian consulate PLEASE take away this man's visa?). The sample for "American Boy" comes from's terrible song "Impatient" (which incidentally, makes me feel like I am shopping in a Zara in Ibizia) but with Estelle's sexy and coy vocals (and Kanye's amusing little rap) it got turned into one of the best club tracks ever.

Ben's picks:
5. Los Campesinos! “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed”
This band’s first album (also released this year) was a much more fun release, but their best song lies in the second package of songs they gave us this year. The band coasts on Gareth Campesinos!’s verbal stops and starts until he goes into full-on, over-caffeinated threats: “You said he got his teeth fixed/I’m gonna break them.” The best part? He sounds fucking delighted at this prospect. This song gets extra points for featuring the ultra rare indie rock spoken breakdown.

4. Santogold “Say Aha”
Surf-techno-hip hop? Yes please.

3. Black Kids – "I’m Not Going To Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You"
This song, all gawky synth lines and Robert Smith-aping vocals, boils down all the best synth pop tricks into one of those indie jams that you can’t tell if you’re supposed to dance to or not. I think you are. Too bad this is the only thing worth listening to by this band (so far).

2. MIA – "Paper Planes"
The best, most innovative, banging beat to come out all year. Kala (which actually dropped in 2007, though the “Paper Planes” single was released this February) is nowhere near as strong as 2005’s Arular, but this track stands as the greatest of MIA’s career thus far. “Straight to Hell” + MIA’s swagger = unfuckwithable jam.

1. Estelle f. Kanye West – “American Boy”
Looks like Isabelle and I are on the same page here. Much as I thought I’d be sick of this one, somehow I never tired of the grinding synth pulse of this new classic., who I will go on record as saying I think is one of the best producers working today (though I concede this is only true half the time) takes one of the most terrible tracks from his truly awful solo record and makes lemonade.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Soul America

Tonight wrapped up Nelson George's Soul Cities, an excellent Vh1 Soul production, which showcases a different soul steeped American city each week. It debuted in November with Philly (here George chatted with ?uestlove, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff) and it's finale found us across the country in L.A., (on the way there were stops in Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans and the Bay area) where George ate Roscoe's House of Chicken 'n Waffles with Angie Stone, shopped the aisles of Amoeba and caught up with Babyface. If you haven't seen this delightful half hour show, do check it out On Demand (or just tune into Vh1 Soul, they repeat like crazy). Nelson George (pictured above with Goapele from the Bay episode) is awkward on camera, but extremely enthused, and watching him take a trip down memory lane while he digs through vinyl and eats delicious soul food is very enjoyable. And very enviable, may I add. Hosting this show would be my dream gig as it allows a platform for spotlighting my three loves: soul music, meat and record stores.

My only complaint? I wish it was longer.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Growing Pains

I was planning on coming in this morning and penning a post about how ridiculous, how truly beyond disappointing, the Kanye performance on SNL was. It was baffling. But then I saw the fine folks at the Vulture blog beat me to the punch:
Standing in front of a huge plasma screen that made him look like Coldplay's iTunes commercial, he dispensed with the Auto-Tune, improvised new lyrics for "Heartless," and generally sang in a way that would turn even the most well-behaved household pet into an ungovernable killer.
Surf on over there for a clip, if you must. I don't hate the album, but if this is Kanye's new sound (turns out that 808s & Heartbreak is NOT an elaborate practical joke, as I originally assumed), he needs to find a new approach to the live performance.

Kanye Responsible for Funniest SNL Moment in Weeks

Friday, December 12, 2008

Year End Lists: The Two Day Old Specials

Here at 2DOS, we respect the fact that what's newest isn't always best, and that sometimes coming to a record or an artist after their buzz has had some time to wear off a bit can be more rewarding than being the first on the block to rep the latest buzz band. Sometimes the two day old shit is just the hardest stuff out there. Sometimes you have to go as far back as the '50s.

It is with that in mind that we bring you our first in a series of year end lists, this one focusing on albums and songs that returned to heavy rotation after extended time apart this year, or things we discovered behind the curve. Enjoy, and please let us know what you rediscovered during 2008 in the comments.

Isabelle's Picks:
5. Tony! Toni! Toné!'s House of Music
New Jack Swing favorites Tony! Toni! Toné! supply three of my favorite '90s jams on this superb album: "Thinking of You," "Let's Get Down" and "Lovin' You." And DJ Quik's collabo with the Oakland trio is still the blueprint of how R&B/rap duets should roll.

4. Ray Charles' Modern Sounds in Country and Western, Volume Two
Unlike the first installment of Modern Sounds, this volume offers two sides: one gives us schmaltzy string ballads and the other brings the swinging up tempo magic of Brother Ray's take on "You Are My Sunshine" (the fantastic duet with growling powerhouse and Raelette, Margie Hendrix). Although this was never released on CD, the tunes can be found on The Complete Country & Western Recordings: 1959-1986 an awesome Ray box set.

3. D'Angelo's Live at the Cirkus, Stockholm, Sweden
OK, if you are lucky enough to locate this via torrent, eBay (sup Sweden!) or a sketchy Berklee College of Music connection, then thank your lucky lucky lucky stars 'cause this is one of the BEST live albums ever captured. The year is 2000, the tour is the Voodoo extravaganza, ?uestlove is the band leader/musical director, and Pino Palladino is the bass man. Oh, Anthony Hamilton (pre-fame) sings fierce background vocals and the star of the show, D'Angelo, is a force of nature; part James Brown, part Marvin Gaye, a dash of Sly Stone and a shit load of gritty and sexy funk.

2. Camp Lo's Uptown Saturday Night
Look, anybody who has the balls to use Dynasty's "Adventures in the Land of Music" successfully gets my vote. "Luchini AKA This Is It" is a classic and the rest of the blaxploitation love letter album follows suit: "Black Nostaljack AKA Come On" and "Coolie High" feel as if they are straight out of a Pam Grier film, and kudos go to producer Ski (he contributed to Reasonable Doubt). Even the cover is a nod to that special musical time and place, the '70s: it's a direct homage to Marvin Gaye's I Want You album art.

1. Willie Hutch's The Mack: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Speaking of blaxploitation, here is my number one rediscovery. I would like to start off by saying I first saw this legendary 1973 film at the age of 8 (great parenting Deb and James). It's about a pimp and stars Max Julian and Richard Pryor and is set in Oakland. Besides a killer score and soundtrack by Willie Hutch, this film has given us so much culturally: not only did UGK sample the brilliant "I Choose You" for my favorite song "International Players Anthem (I Choose You)" BUT thanks to the classic Annual Players Ball scene in the flick, we got the title for OutKast's first tune and this, the greatest sketch of all time:

Ben's Picks:
5. Voxtrot's self-titled LP
This was one of the buzziest bands of 2007, right? I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying attention. I first heard them at the end of ’07, when the buzz was already starting to subside. But this year, I could not stop listening to the band’s debut self-titled LP. Their early EPs are also very good.

4. Sonic Youth's body of work
This was always a band I was more interested in as a cultural force than musicians. That’s how I came to read Goodbye 20th Century, David Browne's excellent biography of the band that convinced me to give some of their records another chance. The seemingly inevitable drop-off in quality as the band hits their 20-year anniversary is virtually nonexistent: in retrospect, their 2004 LP Sonic Nurse is as great a record as the middle period breakthrough Sister (1987) was. This music is some of the most rewarding in all of alt rock, if you have the discipline to listen to it. That sounds obnoxious, but SY can be like homework in that way.

3. Cloud Cult's Advice From the Happy Hippopotamus and The Meaning of 8
Alright, I had 2006’s Advice From the Happy Hippopotamus on my iTunes for a long time long before I fell in love with Feel Good Ghosts, their latest LP. That new one inspired me to go back and retry both Happy Hippo and 2007’s The Meaning of 8, and now Cloud Cult are truly one of my favorite bands of all time—they strike the fine line between emotionally confessional and totally obnoxious, and between being adventurous and getting lost up your own ass. Also their show this November was the best one I saw all year.

2. The Rentals' Return of the Rentals
Matt Sharp, original bassist for Weezer, recorded debut The Return of The Rentals as a side project, and I never listened to it much til this year. Is it better than the Blue Album? The Blue Album wins by a hair. Is it better than everything Rivers Cuomo and co. have put out since Sharp left the band (after 1996’s Pinkerton)? Most definitely.

1. George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass
So this dropped practically the minute the Beatles called it quits for good, and yet it still remains the greatest solo work by any former Beatle. It didn’t hurt that George had the largest catalog of solo tunes to choose from when the band disbanded, and it definitely doesn’t hurt that the band backing up George on these songs is essentially Derek and the Dominoes, not to mention Billy Preston, and a young Phil Collins (wtf). Okay, Phil Spector’s production is at its most treacly and overdone here, but the songs and the playing are more than strong enough to overcome that fact. Bonus points for “Wah Wah,” one of the greatest shut-up-you-fucking-baby songs of all time.

So, readers, what was it that you came (back) around to over the last year?

This One's a Two Parter

Has anyone been watching Spectacle, the new show on the Sundance Channel hosted by Elvis Costello? To tell you the truth, from the outset I thought it sounded kind of lame, and the ads I see for it on the subway look cheesy and thrown together. I'm not sure why I was worried though, as nearly everything Costello involves himself with is interesting, smart, and intensely enjoyable. Spectacle is no exception. It's like Inside The Actor's Studio, but with established musicians instead of movie stars.

Also, instead of wanting to murder the host, he is one of your personal idols. Okay, maybe not everyone is as stoked on Costello as I am, but he seems to get great interviews out of his guests and the interviews are broken up with plenty of jamming to keep things moving. The Lou Reed episode was especially enlightening; Costello really got the usually closed off artist to open up; the two men really got into the ins and outs of their creative processes, sharing more than a few fascinating stories. At one point Julian Schnabel came out (he directed Lou Reed’s Berlin concert film), but that’s why they invented DVR. I can't wait until next week: guest Bill Clinton. God I hope they jam!

Also: the commercials on Sundance are weird, and long (there's usually only one per break) but they can be kind of good. I know that Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave) and Timbaland make me want to scream, and the news that they are now collaborating on an album together just sounds completely misguided, but it's kind of interesting seeing them in the studio together during one such ad:

A few random thoughts: first off, those guys are in shape. They totally go to the gym together. And they're working on an hourlong music piece? And now Timbo thinks he is a composer and will be calling himself such. Alright dudes, whatever you say.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Can I get a bottle of fucking gin?!"

Yes, Darnell Martin's Chess Records biopic is riddled with flaws and oversights (like um, mentioning Phil Chess' existence, but the story of the blues is shrouded in mystery and mythic tales, right?) but the good news, and in my opinion, the most important element to any music bio flick REGARDLESS of script, plot and Hollywood romanticism, is that the music is fantastic. Jeffrey Wright (Muddy Waters) gets my "panties off" vote for his rendition of "Hoochie Coochie Man" and Mos Def's duck walk and twangified lilt pay Chuck Berry his proper dues. Columbus Short (Stomp the Yard) goes toe to toe with Wright for the film's best performance, playing the troubled and destined for tragedy harmonica man Little Walter. Do I think Cadillac Records is a good movie? Not really. But is the music worth the fictitious bullshit? Definitely.

Normally, I would be pissed that they had Little Walter die in Muddy Waters' girlfriend's arms, the only woman who ever cared (when in reality he died in his sleep at the home of one of his own girlfriends), but that's movie magic at it's heart string tugging best. Leonard Chess was NEVER as big of a babe as Adrian Brody played him and his never consummated (except for a passionate make out post an OD) deep love for Etta has never been substantiated. Trite and trumped up for story sake, but who knows, maybe there is an ounce of truth to the romantic notion; after all, Chess really did deed Etta's house back to her right before he died of a heart attack (he had it put in his name so she wouldn't lose it). But nevertheless, when he is holding a heroin addled Etta in his arms in her empty house (which was about to get repo'd) you can cut the sexual tension with a large imaginary knife (side note: Beyoncé's performance as a drug addicted Etta is great, nervous junkie sway and everything. When she mumbles "he fucked up my hair" after Muddy shoves her under the bathtub faucet to wake up, I realized that B's chance of being a real actress is greater than most give her credit for).

I mean, if you want to know the real story of Chess, check out the BBC's The Chess Records Story, which is narrated by Marshall Chess, Leonard's son. Did I feel Q-Tip's cameo as a contemporary rapper who uses the blues as the foundation for his music necessary? No. But then again, neither was the choice to cast the doe eyed and painfully boring Emmanuelle Chriqui as Revetta Chess, Leonard's long suffering wife (bummed that Etta gets all her hubby's attention AND he leaves mid-anniversary love making session to rush to OD'd Etta's side).

Some people are annoyed that the film doesn't use original recordings and the criticism is often aimed at Beyoncé Knowles, who co-executive produced the film (she donated her entire paycheck to a rehab center) because people are cry babies and are offended on Etta's behalf or something. A lot of "but Angela didn't sing Tina's songs when she played her" comments are floating around, but guess what? Angela Bassett can't sing the way Beyoncé can, and this next bit came as a shock even to me, who loves and respects Ms. Knowles: not only are her versions of "I'd Rather Go Blind" and "At Last," the number one wedding song of all time, chill inducing, but I like them BETTER than the originals. Blasphemy, you say! Get the villagers and the torches! Meet me in the internets' town square with those torches and I will tell you to fuck off because if you don't feel the grit and genuine blues in Beyoncé's voice when she snarls the line "something deep down in my soul said cry girl, when I saw you and that girl walking around" then you don't get the blues. The blues, the mother tongue of all popular American music, is about interpretation. Stories and emotions handed down orally. And Beyoncé's version of James' classics do more than honor and respect the originals, they become their own in the most organic and emotive way possible. So. Go for the explosive musical performances, stay for Beyoncé screaming "can I get a bottle of fucking gin?!" in an empty restaurant after her (white and supposedly, pool player Rudolph "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone), birth father refuses to admit paternity.

And guess what? A.O. Scott agrees:

“Cadillac Records” would be worth seeing for the music alone. Mr. Wright’s renditions of Muddy Waters’s signature songs are more than respectable, while Ms. Knowles’s interpretations of Ms. James’s hits — “At Last” and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” in particular — are downright revelatory.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Scrub It Clean, Spit It Back Out

"I happen to know for a fact that she was an American version of me. She was signed by my label in America as, 'We need to find something controversial and kooky like Lily Allen.'" —Lily Allen on Katy Perry

This explains a lot. I don't see the similarity all that much, unless I put on my major label executive goggles, in which case it makes perfect sense. Those are also the goggles that make Duffy look like Amy Winehouse.

Incidentally, does anyone know why Lily Allen talks so much shit on her label? I love her first record, and her second one should be pretty good (I like the first video), but as far as I'm concerned she should be thanking her lucky stars (and MySpace, and Mark Ronson) that she got signed to a deal in the first place.

via [Vulture]

Gho$tface Releases... Something

Can we take a moment to talk about this album title and cover artwork?

GhostDeini the Great. And you will note that Ghost is now spelling his name with a dollar sign.


(Seriously though, you know I love you, Ghost. I have a poster of you cutting open an enormous fish in my cubicle, after all. And I have nothing but respect for an artist who has put out something like a half dozen records in the last five years while some of his peers struggle to get out even one.)

Audio: Ghostface Killah "Slept On Tony" [okayplayer.]

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Getting Down in London and Paris

Otis Redding was one of the greatest soul singers who ever lived, and his untimely death (he was only 26 years old when his plane crashed) is one of the tragedies of popular music. With such a short recording career, there are not too many albums of Redding's work to be had, although there are at least a dozen greatest hits collections. Well, there's a new record to add to the essential Redding listening, released this month by the Concord Music Group's recently revived Stax imprint. Live in London and Paris is a CD containing two sets from the spring of 1967, when Otis was on the road in Europe as part of the Stax/Volt Revue tour. His backing bands here are none other than Booker T. and the MG's and the Mar-Keys, another fantastic Stax backing band. The first set, from London, comprises 8 tunes with originals ("Respect," "Try A Little Tenderness") and some key covers ("(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "Day Tripper") thrown in for good measure. The songs differ greatly from their studio versions, with the energy level amped up to 11, but what is truly amazing is how the Paris set, comprising the same 8 tunes plus 3 extras, also differ greatly from the previous versions on the same album. Just hearing the Booker T. Jones play behind Redding's introduction to "Try A Little Tenderness" is worth the price of admission alone. All in all, this could be the best reissue I've heard all year. If you have any interest in the man, pick up a copy of Otis Redding: Live in London and Paris. Giving us half the album, just one of these sets, would be short but worth it; the fact that they're both on there is not only added value but also ups the historical value of the release to nerds like me. Even better, you can get it from the link below at eMusic, the preferred online music retailer of 2DOS.

Otis Redding: Live in London and Paris [eMusic]

Grammy Nominations announced, I continue watching Top Chef reruns

The 2009 Grammy Awards Nominations list was announced today. Not that it really matters or anything, because getting a Grammy is now the equivalent of getting the "Most Unique" award in junior high: pointless, slightly embarrassing and about as special as a gold star on your social studies essay on hunter gatherers. Say what you will about the film industry and their award shows, at least they have certain accolades that still mean something. I mean, I know there is no point in getting my panties in a twist about Lil' Wayne's eight (yes, you read that correctly) nods, but I think it's epically fucked up that the Jonas Brothers and fucking Duffy are in the Best New Artist category and Estelle (who is nominated for "American Boy") is not. And Best Album of the Year is like a slap in the face to good taste: Coldplay, Weezy and Ne-Yo all earned a spot while the Rev. Al Green, who had quite possibly one of the greatest albums ever, gets a conciliatory Best R&B Album bone thrown in his legendary and magnificent direction. And forget about ?uestlove's Producer of the Year wish. That honor will probably go to or Nigel Godrich (interestingly enough, Godrich has one produced album he is considered for, In Rainbows, while all the other nominees in that category have at least three) and maybe the engineers who worked on Lay It Down can get the Best Engineered Album award, which is an honor; but only a handful of music nerds (Hi, nice to meet you, my name is Isabelle and my favorite guitar arpeggio this year came from the late Spanky Alford) and audio engineers actually pay attention to that category. And if I'm not mistaken, it probably gets the rolling credit style mention that the Best Tejano Album gets. Oh, and by the way, Katy Perry was nominated, because it's really funny to pretend you're a little bit gay.

Well, the good news is that my new favorite Philly jawn Jazmine Sullivan got a few kudos and veteran producer and singer Raphael Saadiq got some respect for his very good album, The Way I See It. Also, Janelle Monae's dope tune, "Many Moons" was shown some love.

But I think the real underdog story of the 51st Annual Grammy Awards is Wayne Brady. I mean, his cover of "A Change is Gonna Come" is just SO soulful. And thanks for nominating Nas' song "Nigger (The Slave and the Master)." It's always good to reward once decent artists for being boringly provocative for the sake of attention/the opportunity to argue with Bill O'Reilly.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I try to jack off, he ask me who is you playin' wit? But I know he love you, he told me you was his favorite.

Peep my Q&A with John Legend in Boston's Weekly Dig:

[defend yourself]
By Isabelle Davis

He used to be a session musician for Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys and Kanye West. Now, he's like Liberace, only much more attractive and talented, with ladies simply losing their shit at his concerts. The man is currently on the first leg of a huge North American tour to promote Evolver, his first full-length studio album in two years.


[laughs] Well, it woulda been that way anyway, but we have a lot of couples more than anything. A lot of couples come to the shows.


Well, I'm glad to know that, I never heard that before, I'm very glad to know that!


He's focused on a lot of different things, I think—his acting career and all that. But you know, he loved the song and he wanted to do it. He just got inspired and tried it when he heard the song and the beat. And felt like it was just something he wanted to be a part of.


There's so many great artists out there and I've already worked with a vast majority of them. I haven't worked with Beyoncé; I haven't worked with Amy Winehouse yet; Feist maybe would be cool, too.


[laughs] I don't think people do that panties thing anymore. You would think they would do it at my show if they still did it. I don't think it's the normal thing to do anymore.

[John Legend with Raphael Saadiq. Tue 12.2.08. Orpheum Theatre, One Hamilton Pl., Boston. 617.482.0650. 7:30pm/all ages/$46-$70.50.]

defend yourself: John Legend [Weekly Dig]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hack/Genius/Both: Kanye's Breakthrough

Kanye's album 808's and Heartbreak is out this week, and I for one never thought I'd be writing this post. The album does not suck. Kanye West's career trajectory has been anything but promising. After producing almost all the tracks on Jay Z's The Blueprint, one of the greatest hip hop records of all time, and one of the most timeless, his 2004 debut College Dropout was a fun if all-over-the-place collection, lacking focus but bursting at the seams with five-star jamz. Following that up was 2005's Late Registration, co-produced by studio genius Jon Brion. This record, while more cohesive, was nowhere near as strong. That being said, the songs were more fleshed out and at the time I thought they pointed to a more cohesive direction for Kanye. Boy, was I wrong: Graduation dropped in 2007 and had a few excellent tracks (I think "Good Morning" could go on a list for my favorite of all time), but the album as a whole sounded tired and phoned in.

So when it came to light that Kanye's next album, 808's and Heartbreak, would be an Autotune -heavy breakup album, my hopes were not high. Sure, it sounded interesting, but I thought Kanye was gonna blow it. Hard. I held out a miniscule amount of hope that Kanye's take on Autotune would take the tool beyond gimmick to valid studio tool. Someone's got to take this fad and make it worthwhile, right? Well there is good news and bad news about 808's and Heartbreak. Bad news: Kanye's use of Autotune doesn't look like it's broken any ground. Good news: it stands up as a cohesive concept album and a break with the style that seemed so damned tired on Graduation.

The sad state of hip hop is something I've posted about before. Good things happening in the genre seem to get buried in the underground, while sub par performers are hailed as saviors of the form. I think it's great that Lil' Wayne appeared on something like 1,674 songs over the last two years, but if those songs range from boring to grating are they really worth the words that so many critics write about them?

It is the responsibility of artists already in the canon to branch out and try new things. Not all of these experiments are going to work. Some of them are going to be outright failures. But anything is better than more albums that don't stand up to the hype. Kanye's album is not one of my favorites, but here's hoping other producers and emcees of his caliber take his cue and start pushing more boundaries.

808's and Heartbreak stream [; you have to dig around but it's there]

Photo courtesy The New York Times

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Simply Beautiful.

So this was originally published in Boston's Weekly Dig, my former stomping grounds, yesterday. But I wanted to wait until the extended interview was up and running online to post it on Two Day Old Shit. So here it is. Ladies and gentlemen, the most important professional moment of my life, the greatest opportunity I have ever been handed by any editor (thanks again, David Day) and the most personally satisfying and meaningful interview I have ever conducted. The legendary Reverend Al Green.

[defend yourself]

By Isabelle Davis

Extended Interview: Web Exclusive

The greatest Southern soul singer of all time. The man responsible for many conceptions. The 62-year-old reverend with a flawless falsetto. The crusader of love and happiness. The legendary Al Green.


I don't know.




Trying to get reregulated back to American time.




Sold out.


OK. Number one.




Did you like it?


No, I mean did we do a good show?


It was like this trance thing they was talking about overseas, "He goes into some type of trance or something performing these songs." But I mean, I don't mean to, but the songs themselves have a transcendental type of motion, of movement to them or something.


Well, those are nice words you're using now Ms. Davis, but I don't know, I don't do anything. I didn't give it to me, so I don't really know how to keep it. All these songs I didn't give it to me either, so I kinda, like, don't know. I know they were talking about me walking, prancing, back and forth, backstage, walking from end to end of the dressing room before you go on, I just get, it's not upset, I'm just nervous. I have a lot of emotion, I guess, pent up on the inside and I'm trying to just, while they're getting prepped, you know, ready to call you on, I'm trying to, I'm just a total wreck. And I'm trying to—and then when I get out there, then, slowly it goes away.


Ohhh! See! I shoulda thought of that. See, stage fright, that's what it's called.


I mean, I guess I still've got it, because it just amazes me. I don't know, I don't call it that. I'm just nervous before, well, you know.


That's amazing because, we kinda like, didn't plan it. We planned to do a duet album. That was a plan. But who, was to do, who was Al gonna do the duets with? That we didn't plan. And the people that we had wrote down in the car on the way to the studio was either, well, one was Justin Timberlake—he was in Australia so he couldn't do it—there was other folks that we had—they were on tour in Canada or someplace so they couldn't do it. And the very people that we didn't think could do it, like John, just so happened to be in New York and heard about the album and came over to hear one of the tracks, John Legend, and he liked "Stay with Me (By the Sea)". And there you go, it's weird stuff, I mean, it's just kinda weird, we didn't plan it, Anthony Hamilton came to the studio, brought his wife, he heard the song "Lay It Down," he said, "Hey, man, lemme put some background vocals on it," and we already, me and Corinne, had already put background vocals on it, so we told him, "Go on and put 'em on there" and he put it on there and we used it, it turned out to be the background vocals for the song. I don't know. It's me and Anthony singing. I don't really know how this stuff came to be, but it's very miraculous how it did come out, you know, because we're all kinda amazed that it came out as well as it did. Free-for-fall, like free-for-fall, not planned it.


I don't know what the differences is because if you see the video on the quick clip—


It's just, like, everybody's gathered around, Al's sittin' on the floor, with 10,000 papers scattered around everywhere, and everybody, the bass player you know, Adam Blackstone, all these people are gathered around, the organ player, all these people are gathered around him in the center of the floor, we were writing these songs.


Yeah, it's like on an inspiration. You just do something on inspiration. I'm not planning it. [It's not like], "These eight songs we done had in the trunk for 50 years." I mean these songs we just wrote in February.




No, I was on tour when they were doing that part [laughs], but I'm telling you the whole thing, I mean it's weird—when they did the mixing, I wasn't even up in New York, I was on tour, and you know, all the musicians were calling me telling how it was turning out and it was like, "Oh, OK fantastic, can you send me a cut of it?" They would send me maybe a cut. But I wasn't really there to tell them to take this out, put this in, trim this down. I wasn't there to do that, no.


Oh, I'd love to.


Oh, it's uh, it's uh, you can't just go into a studio that's costing you four or five thousand dollars a day, and you got all these musicians that you gotta pay, studio session costs, and you don't know what you wanna say [laughs]. No, you know what you wanna say and we wrote this, but the design is like, "Take me to the river, wash me down, cleanse my soul, and put my feet on the ground."


Right, it could. How could anybody say, for instance, if you use it metaphorically, "Take me to the river, wash me down," cleanse me, and then they said "cleanse my soul." Well how is a person gonna cleanse your soul and put my feet on the ground? That's like I'm talking to somebody that's gonna be higher than somebody who just simply says, "I love you and I'll see you after dinner." Of course the songs have a meaning. "Lay it down" means, a secular connotation, it means, you know, like what Al says on the stage, he say "lay it down," he say "lay your love down," it's intertwined like that because he has a design he wants to follow and he has a desire to follow a certain design and he's leaving himself space and room.


Yeah, I would like to hang her. [laughs] No, she's a sweetheart and she's got a beautiful voice and the girls, Valisa too, is a friend of hers, and they just do a great job and I'm real proud of them.


Yeah, I mean, that's Dad, and on the road I just, I kinda let her and Valisa handle a lot of things I don't have to do on the road. Because this is my daughter, and this is Valisa, and Valisa is a member of the church also, and my daughter is a member of the church also, and I'm the pastor of the church also, and therefore we on the road also, singing "Love and Happiness" also. So it's kinda like a trip, it's far out; I mean people are out here. I mean I don't know if He's trying to draw people to a certain idea. I'm trying to draw people to a certain lifestyle. A better lifestyle.


Guns and drugs and this and that and violence and shooting and killing and cutting—I'm trying to draw people to a "Love and Happiness," yeah, you know, right, right.


Well, I live in Memphis. So living in Memphis, people give you your space. But [laughs] they'll follow you to a restaurant. They love you and [are like], "I don't wanna impose, but could you sign the back of my T-shirt?" And I'm like, "You got the T-shirt on!" And the lady says, "I don't care! Al, just sign it!" And I just laugh and hug her and sign it for her because I know it ain't about nothin' man, it ain't about no big thing, man. I mean, I been living here 26 years so I mean, everybody know me and they know me, but still, [they're like], "I don't want him to think I'm just starstruck, but still, I'm drawn to him and I love his music and I love the songs that he's made and he's still making." And it's kinda like that, yeah.


Thank you, Ms. Davis, it was a pleasure talking to you.

[Al Green. Fri 11.21.08. Showcase Live, 23 Patriot Place, Foxborough. 781.461.1600. 8pm/all ages/$80-$175.]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Girl, lemme talk to you for a minute...

So my iPod was on shuffle as I walked home tonight, and one of my all time favorite songs popped up: Alicia Keys' "You Don't Know My Name." Produced by Kanye, the song features gorgeous background vocals from a then relatively unknown John Legend, a baller Main Ingredient sample and best of all, a fabulously executed spoken monologue mid song. Now, for those of you who don't listen to old school soul and R&B, perhaps you aren't familiar with the origin of the random spoken breakdown. A staple in '70s and '80s slow jams, the spoken breakdown is a rare and hilarious musical nuance that when done properly, really takes a song from good to great in no time. When done wrong, it is painful and awkward. And it's become nearly extinct. And I am not talking about intros or outros on songs, because trust me, those are in no danger of going the way of the polar bear (too soon, my b). I'm talking straight up "baby, let me explain" speeches and "come over and let me rub you down" pleas. You know what I mean: Jodeci, Teddy Pendergrass, Bobby Womack, Boyz II Men, Barry White...the soliliquies that made you stop singing along and just go, "hmm mmm, I know that's right." Or laugh, really, really hard.

In spirit of a lost art form, I have compiled a list of my favorite, desert island top five monologues. Feel free to comment and add your own. I hope to everything sacred I am not the only person under the age of thirty who holds these special addresses close to my heart.

5. Boyz II Men "End of the Road." Michael McCary, the Philly group's bass harmony (or the dude with the cane) was ALWAYS on the monologue tip. He couldn't dance because of his scoliosis, and his voice was so Barry White deep, that he was the natural candidate for the vocal breakdown. But even as a 3rd grader I was like, this motherfucker has NO self respect. I mean, come ON dude. You have a cane and a bad ass voice. You should not be using your spotlight moment to say things like this:
"Girl, I'm here for you. All those times at night when you just hurt me and just ran out with that other fellow, baby, I knew about it, I just didn't care. You just don't understand how much I love you do you? I'm here for you. I'm not out to go out and cheat all night just like you did baby, but that's alright. I love you anyway and I'm still gonna be here for you, till my dying day. Baby, right now I'm just in so much pain baby, because you just won't come back to me will you? Just come back to me."
GET A GRIP man. You get the doormat prize and come in at number 5.

4. Lenny Williams "'Cause I Love You" Alright, not only is this one of the better sample sources that Kanye sped up, but it has one of the greatest breakdowns. Lenny cries throughout the whole damn song, and it culminates in this:
"You know, one time things got so bad until I had to go to one of my friends and talk to him. And I told him, I said, “You know, I’m having problems with the woman that I love. It seems that I call her on the phone and I just can’t get her to answer.
And then I went to her house and I saw a car parked in the driveway
I knocked on the door, but still my knocks went unanswered.
And then I went home and I watched television until television went off.
And then I played my records until I just didn’t want to hear them anymore.
And finally I went to bed, but I found myself waking up a few hours later.
And the tears were running down my face." And my friend told me, he said, “Lenny,
You just oughta forget about her." But I told my friend, I said, “You know, maybe you’ve never been in love like I’ve been in love. And maybe you’ve never felt the things that I’ve felt." But this is what I told my friend, I said, “You know, sometimes you get lonely. You get lonely, you get lonely."

I didn't even know television went off.

3. Alicia Keys "You Don't Know My Name" Well, this is the song that sparked this post and one of my all time favorite R&B tunes. Kanye West didn't become famous for nothing and the lush production coupled with John Legend's beautiful cascading harmonies and Alicia's coquettish charm make this a killer "unrequited crush from a far" jam. And when Keys says "Wait, my cell phone breakin' up" I lose it. Oh, and Mos Def is a BABE in this video.
"Well, I'm gonna just have to go ahead and call this boy.
Hello? Can I speak to -- to Michael? Oh hey, how you doin'?
Uh, I feel kinda silly doin' this, but um, this is the waitress from the coffee house on 39th and Lennox. You know, the one with the braids?
Yeah, well I see you on Wednesdays all the time
You come in every Wednesday on your lunch break, I think
And you always order the special, with the hot chocolate.
And my manager be tripping and stuff, talking 'bout we gotta use water
But I always use some milk and cream for you, 'cause I think you're kinda sweet.
Anyway, you always got on some fly blue suit 'n your cuff links are shining all bright
So, whatchu do? Oh, word? Yeah, that's interesting. Look man, I mean I don't wanna waste your time but, I know girls don't usually do this, but I was wondering if maybe we could get together, outside the restaurant one day? You know, 'cause I do look a lot different outside my work clothes. I mean, we could just go across the street to the park right here- Wait, hold up, my cell phone breakin' up, hold up. Can you hear me now? Yeah. So, what day did you say? Oh yeah, Thursday's perfect, man."

2. Prince "Insatiable" I couldn't leave this one out, despite the fact that Prince kind of talks his way through out the whole song. He gets really nasty and makes me feel uncomfortable towards the end and this is basically sonic sex. But really I just wanna know who "Martha" is and why he chose that name, because it's about as sexy as "Mildred."
"OK, so all U do is push the little red button
And I belong 2 U in your little video box
Nah, don't look at the clock, yeah
It's 2:45, we got all night
First, U gotta tell me what U want me 2 do...
Do U really want all my clothes off? (Yes)
What are U gonna do 2 prove it? (Ooh)
Aren't U afraid we're gonna be found out? (No)
Well, let's get on with the show...
Doesn't my body look good in the shadows?
Ooh, baby knows what 2 do
Have U done this before? (I don't know)
U say U want my hips up in the air (Yeah)?
Oh no, I don't care...
I know I could be nasty with U."

The video is edited so his royal nastiness can't truly be conveyed.

1. Teddy Pendergrass "Come and Go With Me" And here it is. This gets the number one spot for two reasons. First of all, it's the flip side: this time it's the object of the song, the lady he sets his sights on, giving us a piece of her mind. They go back and forth, but obviously she goes home with him, but only because he agrees to buy her drink and drive her home after. My kind of girl. And secondly, Teddy Pendergrass was one of the originators of the slow jam spoken word. He has to be on my list. So here's to you Teddy P. The clip is a live one.
"Come on over to my place
(No, not tonight, no)
You see it’s not far from here
(I believe you)

Would you just take a minute and think about it?
(Oh, man)
Would you just think about it, think about it? Yeah...
(I’m thinkin’ about it but I really have to say no)

Come on and go with me
Come on over to my place
(No, I know)
You’re sittin’ here, you’ve been sittin’ here for quite a long time
(Yeah, I’m slightly bored, I hate bein’ bored)

See, I’ve been watchin’ you
(I’ve been doin’ the same thing)
I’ve had my eyes on you
(I’ve been checkin’ you out all night long)
You look so nice and you look so sweet
(Oh, thank you)

Come on and go with me
(That was sweet)
You look like you oughta be with me
Come on, over to my place
(Yeah, but what are you gonna with me? That’s the problem)

Seems that you feel the same way I do
(I think it would pretty interesting)
It seems that you need some company, too
(Oh, boy)

Come on and go with me
(You said your car is right outside, right in front)
Come on, over to my place
(And you’re gonna bring me home after)
But would it be all right with you?

Come on and go with me
If we left here and we went somewhere else, baby
(Come on over to my place)
Somewhere where it’s nice and quiet, nice and quiet
(That’s nice, yeah, that sounds a little better than this place)
Where we could sit down by a cozy lit fire
We could sip a little wine, work things out
(Oh, yeah)

Come on and go with me, work things out
(Well, I cannot stay long)
Come on over to my place
(We got an hour, no more than that)
Lady, you won’t be under any kinda pressure
(Please, I cannot stand pressure)

I wouldn’t do that, baby? No
(Okay, well, would you get my coat?)
See, I wouldn’t do that, baby
See, I just wanna sit down
And get to know you a little better
(Okay, just for a little while)

I swear you look so good to me
(Are you gonna pay for my drink?)
Come on over to my place
You look so good to me."

Monday, November 17, 2008

You Got Me.

Alright. I wasn't even going to do a post about this but...

Everyone from Gawker to stereogum are blogging furiously about Thursday's rather shocking announcement that the Roots are going to retire (Forever? Forever ever? The band is staying mum for now.) from touring to be the house band for Jimmy Fallon when he takes over Conan's seat in 2009. The news was broken via a video interview (that has since been pulled, as well as the okayplayer update about the band's decision) during the Philly outfit's Chicago pit stop last week. And while everyone who has access to the internets has been commenting about this blow to the live music scene, what naysayers, haters, Debbie Downers and trick ass marks forget is this:

The Roots tour non fucking stop. Almost 350 days a year or something outrageous like that. I saw them twice in a two and a half week span. That's nuts. Sure, they love playing live and love playing music with each other, even after twenty years. But guess what? Touring blows. Hard. And these are grown ass men. With families, significant others, friends, homes, side projects and real lives (longtime bassist Hub left the group last year to pursue a film scoring career and to spend more time with his family). They have been on the grind for two decades now, and are just starting to get the mainstream respect they deserve. So they want a steady gig, a place to hang their ridiculously talented hats. So what. So fucking what. Who cares that Jimmy Fallon is a dick cheese? I don't. Good for them. Seriously and completely. Not only will this make me want to watch late night TV again, but it will raise the house band bar (also, I do want to see Fallon trade riffs with ?uestlove. He's no La Bamba.). If they had the chance to do a Celine Dion style Vegas run I would hope they would take it too. These dudes deserve all the opportunities in the world. They deserve stability and financial security. The right to do something different. And hello, they said retire from touring, not retire from music making. So quit hating. Musicians are real people. They're not your friends. You can be sad about their choices, but you have no right to be angry. They aren't promoting child molestation or anything. So shut up.

And for those of you who haven't had the honor and privilege of seeing this legendary group live, that's your own fault. You blew it. Kill yourself now, because live music does not get any better. You had your chance. In fact, you had plenty of them. I've seen them 19 times and I'm only 22.

Besides, musicians change their minds all the time. And if you're that bummed, fly to fucking Europe and be one of the lucky few at their last tour.

The Roots To Be Jimmy Fallon's Band; We Are Old And Sad [Gawker]

I Give Up

I haven't paged through this week's New Yorker yet, but apparently it contains some stuff I'd rather not hear about Prince's religious and political beliefs. Gawker's Ryan Tate has a post today with the following excerpt:
When asked about his perspective on social issues—gay marriage, abortion—Prince tapped his Bible and said, “God came to earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough.’
Wait, what? This is beyond homophobic. While I wouldn't encourage this kind of proselytizing, I do think that it is impressive that even in a league of bat-shit crazy zealots (the anti-gay marriage camp) Prince still manages to out-crazy everyone. Still, some questions remain:
  • What will Wendy & Lisa think?
  • And does this mean I can't play "Little Red Corvette" at my wedding when I get gay married?
  • Why am I giving Prince the attention he is so clearly seeking by blogging about this?
  • Prince isn't gay?
Gotta go for now, I have longstanding marriages to de-sanctify and kids to make gay.

Prince Says God Against Homosexuality [gawker]
Soup With Prince [the new yorker]

Those Meddling Kids

There are plenty of artists working in hip hop who are really into cartoons and comic books, but I don't think they take it far enough. You know who does? MF Doom, the metal mask-wearing emcee who has based his entire persona on Fantastic Four villain Dr. Doom. Exhibit A: "Hey," a song from his debut solo LP Operation:Doomsday, a track built entirely on Scooby-Doo samples.

MF Doom - Hey! [youtube]

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Roots + Cee-Lo, The Vic, Chicago, 11.13.08

Quite possibly one of the most fun Roots shows that I have ever attended (and that's saying a lot since this was show 19 for me.), the Miller Genuine Draft "Genuine Flow" show at the Vic was, despite the MGD name drops every 6 minutes (which none of the artists could take seriously, case in point, Cee-Lo must have been reminded back stage to name drop the beer and since he could give less of a fuck, told us that "my voice is scratchy. I need something cold, something refreshing. I need...a Miller Genuine Draft" and then burst into laughter with Black Thought) all about genuine musicianship and genuine camaraderie. DJ 33 1/3 kept the mostly older and black crowd (which was very refreshing to see, a Roots show that wasn't all bros) excited by playing what everyone wanted to hear: De la Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, ODB and straight up classics. WGCI's Tony Sculfield played MC and after his tired jokes about weed smoking and how Obama is going to have a DJ spinning at his State of the Union address (you, know, cause he's black. Get it?), the legendary Roots crew took the stage around nine, filing out in processional fashion, ?uestlove wearing a kuffiyeh like a hipster and Black Thought wearing a Cosby sweater looking blazer, and kicked off a nearly two and a half hour set in which goof ups, laughs, inside jokes, two-stepping and the soul machine Cee-Lo Green would all be a part of.

Their set was very similar to the set I saw at the Congress a few weeks back, but the beauty of the Roots, and one of the many reasons that I consider them to be my favorite band and favorite live act, is that no two shows are the same, regardless of set lists and current tricks they have up their sleeves. The subtle nuances, the tempos, the riffs, the solos, the impromptu joints, all change in various degrees, and the organic nature of their show always feels real. So, when "string assassin" Captain Kirk took over for his standard "You Got Me" operetta, he not only turned his scatting into "Sweet Child O' Mine," as he had done at the last show I saw, but he threw in a very Ike Turner move: sexualizing his strings and turning their high pitched moans and sighs into "Love to Love You Baby," which he sang beautifully, because his falsetto is terrifyingly woman like. ?uestlove missed his vocal cue during the Fela tribute, and Black Thought just started laughing at him, which made the whole band laugh at him, and the genuine bro love they all have for one another was beyond endearing. Last night, more than ever, was evidence of the fact that these guys play together every single night, but still love doing it, and still love each other.

Midway through the set, Cee-Lo emerged with his very unnecessary hype man, looking more like a regal Buddha than ever (he was not wearing the outfit shown above, unfortunately). The Roots backed his set, which included "I'll Be Around," an amazing reggae tinged slow burner version of "Crazy," that had everybody doing the dutty wine (it then morphed into a quite excellent cover of "Seven Nation Army" before going back to it's dance hall vibe) and a pretty straight ahead "Who's Gonna Save My Soul." The usually reserved Black Thought told us that "Cee-Lo is one of the few people in hip-hop I love and respect" and they recounted first meeting back in the Goodie Mob days. It was all very, "late night jam session"- just a few close friends hanging out and being fabulous - and the small atmosphere of the Vic was perfect for it. And then, my favorite part: after leaving the stage, ?uestlove urged him to come back out, and off stage we could hear his Atlanta drawl: "well, I don't wanna wear out my welcome and shit, but..." and he treated us to an epic a cappella (well, almost, Knuckles provided minimalist percussive snaps) version of the song that introduced us to Cee-Lo: OutKast's "Git Up, Git Out." He then left the stage, telling us not to spend all of our time trying to get high. Just "some of our time."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Top Five: Reasons I'm Not That Mad At The Beatles

In the interest of Not Whining Too Much, and in light of my last post about the Beatles, I thought I'd run down five things that don't suck about the Beatles.

5) Ringo Starr has discovered YouTube:

...although he appears to be using it for evil, not good. No, I don't know what the story with this is either. Moving on...

4) The films A Hard Day's Night and Help! released in very nice double-disc sets. It's nice to see these again; I watched them a lot when I was little. A Hard Day's Night really holds up, though while Help! was certainly fun to revisit, it didn't have the energy or cultural cache of its predecessor. Don't get me started on the most overhyped rock movie of all time.

3) The Beatles Anthology, both the documentary and the companion albums. The DVD is a pretty comprehensive, if at times biased, look at the complete history of the band. Sure, it smoothes over some of the rough edges of the story, but it also lets us see how much of a dick Paul can be. Exhibit A: what kind of schmuck would think it a good idea to record his documentary testimony from the steering wheel of his yacht? The soundtracks, six discs in total, gives us maybe our only glimpse so far of the wonders that lie waiting in Apple Corps' archives, if they'd just open them up.

2) The Capitol Albums rereleases. These box sets packaged the first eight Beatles albums as they were originally released in the United States. They're shorter, and they sound different: much more trebly, with the vocals higher up in the mix. Why exactly they were altered is something I'm not going to get into (for that, I urge you to pick up a copy of Dave Marsh's The Beatles' Second Album, which tells the story contextually and compellingly as a war between rock 'n' roll and the status quo of pre-Beatlemania America). Sure, they prey on the nostalgia of those who grew up with these versions, and they are overpriced and underpackaged (the box looks kind of cheap and rushed). No, these are not the albums the Beatles intended to release. But who cares? These are the records my parents lost their minds to and I can feel them in my blood, even if I never heard them until this set came out a few years ago.

1) The albums. Sure, the sound quality could be better. But regardless of that fact, there is no stronger catalog in the history of popular music than that of the Beatles. The crappiest 8th-generation blank tape copy of a poorly compiled Beatles best-of would STILL be one of the crowning achievements of rock music. Abbey Road? Revolver? Meet the Beatles? Sgt. Pepper's? Even the aforementioned Beatles' Second Album, clocking in at just under 30 minutes with only 4 original tunes (the rest are covers) is completely unfuckwithable in every way.* I'd love to have remastered versions, really I would, but I'm not rushing to burn these copies anytime soon.

*It's one of my favorite albums of all time, despite the naysayers.

I Am...Ann Powers

Back in October I wrote a defense/review of the two new B singles (and B as a pop artist in general) from her impending I Am...Sasha Fierce. I just got a chance to hear the whole album (well, just the normal release, the deluxe edition has a few extra tunes per personality and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition circa 1997 inspired cover art) and the two sides of Ms. Hov.

So, I am never embarrassed when I am wrong and have no problem with admitting errors in judgment. Lucky for me, I wasn't completely overly hopeful about the overly ambitious double album: it has some classic Beyonce cuts ("Single Ladies" most notably) and the Sasha half has a sass and sexual aggression that suits the club jam aspect of Sasha's party girl rep well. But in my earlier post I guessed that the Beyonce "ballad" portion would be akin to B'Day's "Resentment," a gorgeous and slightly disturbing song about broken trust, an adulterous relationship and um, a thinly veiled real life experience softly and gut wrenchingly sang over a well chosen Curtis Mayfield sample ("Think" to be precise). And that wishful hypothesis was very very very wrong. I Am...Sasha Fierce's ballads aren't terrible. They are just songs that I never want to listen to again. And would be better suited to Carrie Underwood.

L.A. Times pop guru and my adolescent hero, Ann Powers, has an excellent take on the split diva's record. The best review I have read so far. Pay special attention to what she says regarding the "racial undertone" that separates the two Bs. Very very very spot on and intriguing. The article after the jump.

In the news release for her new, ambitious, somewhat befuddling double album -- the deluxe edition, with extra tracks, is currently streaming on her MySpace page -- Beyonce Knowles discusses her newly revealed alter ego, Sasha Fierce. "She's the party girl, she's Bootylicious," says the singer-songwriter-movie star-mogulista. "She is but I'm not. She's my alter ego. I'm finally revealing who I am."

The contradiction built into that brief comment says much about Beyonce's artistic predicament. A child talent-show winner molded into a pop star by her notoriously driven father, she is a creature of the stage, like Britney and Christina, the pop stars with whom she might have continued to be lumped if her father-figure husband -- and, more important, her own "rapperly" vocal gifts -- hadn't helped her secure a spot in hip-hop's firmament. Yet because the world of hip-hop soul expects its divas to be "real," she's often criticized for seeming distant within her own performances and refusing to expose herself.

For Beyonce, to say that an identity she is not can also "reveal ... who I am" is not a contradiction. As an artist, she is a role-player first -- a brainy, often showy interpreter instead of a gut singer on ballads, and a brilliantly varied rhythmic innovator on her club hits. "I Am ... Sasha Fierce" shows her further refining both of those tendencies, and it's full of interesting choices. But her misplaced worries about authenticity cause Beyonce to make some unfortunate missteps (mostly into the puddle of excess) that often afflict artists in mid-career.

Her first mistake, noted in other early reviews, was to separate "Beyonce" from "Sasha" and give each lady her own disc. Dispensing with the idea that the one sharing her name is any more genuine makes it clear that Beyonce has accepted standard thinking about what "real" is for a woman.

For T.I. (the other hip hop star who recently tried this schizophrenia thing) real-versus-fake meant thug-versus-pop-star, and ultimately the two were inseparable. But that's the male rapper's version of this struggle -- the ascendant entrepreneur trying to reconcile with the streetwise, marginalized youth still fighting for control of his psyche. (That's also the Jay Z story, so B knows it well.)

Might as well quote B herself (or whoever wrote the lines -- she had many collaborators, as always) to define the split she makes. "My heart used to be cold 'til your hands laid on my soul," she intones in "That's Why You're Beautiful," in which she compares herself to a diamond that finds its sparkle only when bought. This is the "real" Beyonce -- romantic, interdependent, brought to life by love. Her modus operandus is the power ballad.

Then there's Sasha, whose manifesto is the Lil Wayne-inspired "Diva," anchored around the line, "Diva is the female version of a hustla." She is nobody's baby, and if she finds love in the club, she's not necessarily dirtying her apartment with it after closing hours.

Her motif is the club banger -- electro elements optional. When she does go into mid-tempo territory -- say, on the R. Kelly-meets-Rihanna vocal workout "Hello," or on "Ego," in which B shows off the spunk she developed playing Etta James in a movie (much to longtime James supporter Christina Aguilera's chagrin, we're sure )-- Sasha's still all about sonic complexity and challenging singing, rather than the cleaner, more open style of the Beyonce tracks.

The weirdest thing about this split is its racial undertone. The Beyonce ballads fall into that soft-rock zone that incorporates elements of crossover country, Celine-and-Whitney style divadom, and U2-derived guitar hymnody. They're vehemently not R&B, and Beyonce enunciates them in a firmly post-racial style, in the same ballpark as her multi-culti rivals Alicia Keys and Leona Lewis. ("Halo," written by the hip hop world's latest rock crush, Ryan Tedder, was originally intended for Lewis.)

There's also the clear influence of Beyonce's idol, Barbra Streisand. The cowriters on these songs are mostly white, though Babyface, long soul's ambassador to soft rock, makes an appearance. The unrelenting uplift of these tracks conjures thoughts of transcendence, and that universal tone is vehemently not grounded in a "black" sound.

Sasha Fierce, on the other hand, knows where her home is. Enlisting top urban music producers including Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, Sean Garrett and Jim Jonsin (who's white, but a veteran of Flo Rida's dirty rap scene), she stars in songs that manically reference the current lingo of the dancefloor and the mixtape.

As a vocalist, Beyonce seems more comfortable in Sasha's stilettos. Her performances on those cuts feel unforced and fun, like she's thinking on her feet. Stretching for deep meaning on the Beyonce ballads, she risks sounding ponderous -- communicating thoughtfulness weighs her down. Still, when she finds the right balance, as on the first single "If I Were a Boy," she can be exquisite -- accessing the timeless quality she's clearly bent on mastering.

So consider "I Am....Sasha Fierce" Beyonce's Obama album. Through it, she is imagining a pop sound that doesn't foreground race, but which still respects its roots in the black community. She's not there yet, but the effort is fascinating, and hopefully she will keep on this path. After all, the Obama that Beyonce invokes with the name of her alter ego is still only a child.

--Ann Powers

Snap Judgment: Beyonce's 'I Am...Sasha Fierce' [The L.A. Times music blog]

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Best New Band: Los Campesinos!

Los Campesinos! are a band out of Wales that came out of nowhere in the beginning of summer only to completely knock my socks off. Like Belle and Sebastian hopped up on more speed than their twee brains can handle, their debut LP Hold On Now, Youngster... is sure to come out very near the top of my best of 2008 list, and it's been on heavy rotation on my iTunes since I first downloaded it off of eMusic. Songs about teenage angst and teenage love thrown in with a good sense of humor and dueling boy-girl vocals, it's a high energy affair from start to finish, with exclamation point heavy song titles like "This Is How You Spell 'HAHAHA, We Destroyed The Hopes And Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics,'" "Death to Los Campesinos!" and "You! Me! Dancing!" It was the kind of album that seems to pop up so randomly it feels like a little gift from the music gods. See for yourself:

So imagine my surprise when perusing the interweb this morning, I learned that Los Campesinos! have released their! second! LP! entitled We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. That's two in well under a year. Quality rules over quantity, I know, which is why I'm happy to report on first listen that this LP is just as much fun as the first one, albeit a bit more laid back the energy level is down from 18/10 to a more reasonable 12 or so). Thanks guys! I'm so pleased that I'm going to go ahead and call my Best New Artist way ahead of year-end-list season. This one's for you, Los Campesinos! Now come back to America so I can see you live, kthx.

UPDATE:  Either I have great luck, or Los Campesinos! care about me way more than I thought.  Not 24 hours passed from this post before the band announced a slew of US dates!  Check 'em out if you get the chance. I missed 'em last time, but I'm sure its gonna be a helluva show.  

Los Campesinos!
We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed [eMusic]
Hold On Now, Youngster... [eMusic]

When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You: The Anthony Hamilton Edition

So idolator picked up on Southern soul man Anthony Hamilton's new (kinda) single "Cool" today. The post is entitled "Anthony Hamilton, R&B's Tough-Luck Story" and bemoans the fact that he gets the music industry's back burner when it comes to video rotation (besides Vh1 Soul and mtvU) and airplay outside of urban stations. The tone is all, he's so great, he has gold and platinum albums and his new video clip is so "charming" so why does he get snubbed when it comes to exposure on mainstream video channels? Well, Dan Gibson of idolator is right; the video for "Cool" is charming and should get more attention. And yes, Hamilton is good. But good shouldn't mean boring. And that's what Hamilton is slowly becoming. Very. Boring. And it hurts me to say that, because his voice is so amazing. He has always been a vocal throwback (in a good way), to Al Green and Otis Redding: his voice drips with feeling and grit. He's great live too. But the best part of an Anthony Hamilton song should never ever ever be a David Banner (yes, that David Banner) rap. 

The song is all about love providing everything this couple needs and the video follows suit: they have no milk for their coffee, their TV breaks, their car overheats and Anthony gets hit by lightning while fixing it (with the assistance of Mr. Banner, who drops the hilarious line: "we can call our white friends up and drink our Miller Genuine Draft/then kick 'em all out of the house, take us a bath") but through it all they laugh and shake it off because they have each other. Sweet sentiment and all, but sonically, the bouncy banjo hydraulics are way played and it is so repetitive, I feel like I'm listening to a snippet on loop. It sounds like a Nappy Roots song from like, 5 years ago. This bums me out. When did Anthony Hamilton become so derivative? His 2003 album Comin' From Where I'm From is so beautiful and textured with his gravelly and gut wrenching vocals ("Charlene" makes me cry, "Float" makes me wanna take my pants off and the James Poyser co-written "Cornbread, Fish & Collard Greens" is one of my all time favorite tunes) and every single song sounds rich and layered with Muscle Shoals like complexities. His 2005 "sophomore" effort (he's had a few compilations, a barely recognized 1996 debut and some re-releases too) Ain't Nobody Worryin' isn't my favorite but it had solid production from the likes of Raphael Saadiq, ?uestlove and James Poyser and garnered major critical acclaim. But if this single is indicative of the rest of his upcoming The Point of it All (which is slated to drop this December, after being pushed from it's original summer release), I'm even more concerned about him than I was when he sang the chorus on Nick Cannon's plea to save the babies. And Dan is right again, Hamilton has been around for a minute and deserves a great amount of success (fun fact: he sang back up for D'Angelo during the Voodoo tour) but I'm not rooting for this "tough-luck" story until the new album drops. Oh, and your contribution to the Soul Men soundtrack is NOT helping. Hamilton, you're on notice.