Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What's New?: 6.28.2011

I don't know, man. I can't explain this combination. . .

Big Boi — Sir Luscious Left Foot. . . The Son of Chico Dusty (2010)

I mean, I get that Big Boi is trying to do something different and establish his name outside of OutKast as his own brand, but this sounds kind of crappy, for the most part. Musically, it's interesting at times, for a synth-heavy production. I guess that's my main problem with it: OutKast used to stand out musically. A groundbreaking swirl of live instruments, samples and electronic beats. The sounds were modern, but natural. But here, it just feels like Big Boi is emulating, instead of originating, sounds. I was actually one of very few people in the world who preferred his half of OutKast's precedent-setting "two solos packaged as group album" Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. In fact, I've always contended that Big Boi's Speakerboxxx was actually, musically speaking, the more boundary-pushing of the two albums. And his tracks on Idlewild (an album that I actually came to admire, despite feeling fairly lukewarm about initially) had an incredible grasp on the pop and "weird" aspects that OutKast's music had always possessed. But this album. I dunno. It feels, at times, like Big Boi doing a send up of the contemporary music climate's obsession with ultra-shiny, somehow retro-80's, synth-heavy production. And granted, his view of this sort of thing is a much more unique and melodically rich interpretation, as an OutKast fan who bought ATLiens on its release date and sat uninterrupted staring at the stereo to take it all in that night, I can't help but feel like he's regressing. Sure, there's grooves and nice little hooks throughout, but where 'The Way You Move' achieved its success because of similar vibes, it felt genuine and humble. Pretty much all of this material seems to strive to recapture that same vibe, but it feels a lot less sincere. All the porno references and juvenile-minded skits just don't sound convincing coming from a guy that's approaching 40. Big Boi just seems to be going through the motions for the most part. There's nothing even as substantial as 'Morris Brown' here and I never thought anything from the OutKast camp would dip lower than the Idlewild album. The only song here that even approaches that old OutKast feeling is 'The Train Pt. 2 (Sir Luscious Left Foot Saves the Day)' which finds Big Boi and Organized Noize in absolute sync in a moment highly reminiscent of Aquemini. I held off on buying this one when it was new. So now, roughly a year later, removed from the hype, I can't even begin to express my disappointment. Sure, for overproduced, crappy modern synth pop, it's top tier. But for someone from the mighty OutKast to stoop to that level and release something as lacking in substance as this, I can't help but feel like a little bit of my musical soul has died. Because most of this music is devoid of just that. I'm baffled by the overtly positive reviews it initially received.

Mark Isham — Miles Remembered: The Silent Way Project (1999)

A recent nostalgic revisit to David Sylvian's Secrets of the Beehive made me listen to Mark Isham's playing and think to myself that I needed some of his own albums in my life. I saw this one for very cheap on Amazon and figured it would probably be the best gateway into his music: I was curious about his playing and I already loved Miles, so it would be a very easy listen. After reading a lot of reviews of Isham's albums and knowing that he was generally classified as a "new age" musician, I have to admit, I was apprehensive. However, if that is the case, this album betrays his other works. Because he is basically playing a very faithful rendition of electric fusion-era Miles. With a couple of surprisingly convincing originals inspired by Miles' fusion era (the screaming, busy fusion of 'Internet' and the outright jaw dropping ambient ballad 'Azael') and a radical reworking of 'All Blues', the source material here is all covers of Miles' 1967-1973 material. A seriously funked up 'Spanish Key' (which really plays up the explosive nature of the tune) and a downright wonderful reading of 'Ife' don't hurt things at all. Honestly, going in expecting new age music, the closest thing here is the rendition of 'In A Silent Way' which he brilliantly medleys with 'Milestones.' But even that double feature has arguably a better grasp on space and ambiance than the original did. Peter Maunu and Steve Cardenas are great on guitars, doing their most appreciative John McLaughlin and Pete Cosey imitations the entire time. Overall, really hard for me to dislike an album of somebody playing music in this period of Miles' career with so much care. Not mindblowing, but enjoyable as heck.

David Crosby and Graham Nash — Crosby & Nash (2004)

It does feel a little bit cheesy at times. Still, knowing that these guys really are just hippie idealists, the tunes come off as light, but having a naive appeal. I am a bit disappointed that, of the two discs contained here, disc one is so top-loaded with songs not written by David or Graham. It should be no surprise, then, that the first truly interesting song doesn't pop up until track three (Crosby's vintage sounding 'Through Here Quite Often' which comes complete with the awesomely naive lyric, "They say don't talk to strangers, I say why the hell not?"). Overall, the production is very samey and unfortunately compressed (say goodbye to all those dynamic harmonies from the old albums!), but the new tunes written just by David or Graham are quite nice, I must confess (in fact, Crosby's 'How Does it Shine?' which closes out disc one is completely vintage and totally good). Very comfortable, folk rock sound. Not amazing, but definitely good for fans of the duo.

Cocteau Twins — Treasure (1984)

Always fun to revisit a classic. I know I've had this album before, but I don't know what made me part ways with it. Anyway, it's a winner, through and through. Everybody seems to love the everloving bejesus out of 'Lorelei' and why not? It's definitely one of the Cocteau's catchiest moments. I've always thought 'Otterley' was a really underrated song. I would like to officially propose it as the starting point for 'Falling Through the Ice' by the Ocean Blue. 'Pandora' is great too, isn't it? Yeesh, what great music. I can't even imagine how unique it must have sounded at the time. Wonderful stuff.


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