A TRIBE CALLED QUEST – The Low End Theory (1991)

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

 

I was teen-ager too, you know. And pagers were truly hip for a while but the world has changed so drastically since the time I went to school and was vaguely aware of that thing called “hip hop” (I knew it involved baggy pants) that I am not even sure it happened in the same life anymore. So I listen to this Tribe called Quest in hopes to get, you know, reminded of the glorious 90s. Or possibly even understand what was happening in the world when I was too young to understand anything.
 
A Tribe Called Quest are cool. They have a really cool name. They have cool verses. They have cool beats. They have a cool flow. They fuse jazz atmosphere with hip-hop attitude in a real cool way, if you are to believe the allmusic take on this record. They are just all-around cool.
 
So remember that comment about baggy pants before? Yeah, most of my peers grew on diet export hip-hop and some local examples. I kinda didn’t. I didn’t even suspect it qualified as music. I thought it was just for the kids with baggy pants who wanna act tough, yo! So in a way it is delightful for me to hear just how cool and even demanding respect a bunch of former teenagers without pagers can actually get.
 
What I am trying to say is that you can treat this record as a cool backdrop for your evening, something to jam to or even treat it as a research-worthy artefact of another time (and in my case another culture). If you want a more insightful take, I suggest you go read yourself some real reviews but really, why on earth would you reading about this thing instead of listening to it? The product is dope, I promise.
 
[Note: This album was assigned to me way back in February because I betted incorrectly that Leo will get no Oscar this year either]

SPECIAL TRIBUTE REVIEW: NEGATIVLAND – These Guys Are from England and Who Gives a Shit (2001)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Dedicated to the memory of Richard Lyons


I’m not sure if this is currently in print or not. This stuff has been legendary since Island records forced them to take it off the market in the early 90’s. As you already know from reading other reviews, this is the infamous Negativland collage of the U2 song “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with a tape of radio celebrity Casey Kasem letting out a litany of four-letter words during the taping of “American Top 40”. This CD contains various versions of the basic theme, including a “radio friendly” version which has the expletives bleeped out by sound effects like car horns, etc., which is still quite funny.

Even listening to it all these years later it’s still very effective. One reason is that the subjects open themselves to ridicule as much as they do. To quote a reviewer on another website (don’t remember who, sorry!), making fun of U2 never goes out of style. Casey Kasem’s voice is so instantly recognizable, and his style so candy-assed, that it’s totally hysterical to listen to his profanity-ridden tirades. Kasem’s comments actually help mock U2’s preposterousness. Introducing their song he rattles off their names, and when he gets to “The Edge” he breaks off and says “this is B.S.! Nobody cares!”, and then states the title of this CD. I think that echoes a lot of people’s reaction to the guitarist’s stupid monicker.

This is being promoted as “semi-legitimate” or “bootleg”, with Negativland’s label’s name modified to “Sealard”. I’m not buying it. Keep in mind these are the same guys who circulated the fake news story about a kid killing himself after listening to “Christianity is Stupid”. These guys are savvy media pranksters. Nevertheless, given the previous hullabaloo over this recording, you’ll want to pick this up before it ends up on someone else’s Bonfire of the Vanities.

This review is also posted on Amazon here.

SPECIAL REVIEW PROJECT: 2015 IN REVIEW – Best and Worst Albums of 2015

2015 IN REVIEW
By Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

Every time a year ends, music websites and publications all around the world publish lists that feature what they consider the best albums that were released on that year. These albums come with great compliments and, usually, intriguing names and cover arts, tantalising me. This has always been a sort of shame to me, as I felt that I was missing on good music, year after year. So, I’ve finally decided to do something about it, and on February 2016 I started a sort of “Project 2015”, in which I would listen to a bunch of critically-acclaimed albums from last year, and decide which of them I liked and which I didn’t.

At first, it was more of a personal thing, just me writing on an excel file which albums I thought were worthy of further attention after a first listen. However, with the chat of the Only Solitaire group, it ended up getting bigger, as people would suggest me albums, or would ask to see my excel (this made me make it prettier and more comprehensive). By the time we did group-listens of some albums from the list, it was clear that it turned into more than that, and I decided to “publish” it on this blog post, as well as on my facebook account.

Throughout February and in early March I listened to 73 albums released in 2015. I didn’t listen to all of those from beginning to end, but I made sure to listen to each of them long enough to be able to make my opinion. I also want to make it clear that this is meant to be my personal reactions to these albums, shaped by my taste in music, and nothing more than that. Those albums got inside the list from many sources, most of them figured in Brazilian and international best-of-2015 lists, but some came from chat suggestions, and some came from stuff I happened to find and thought were interesting to be listened to. I didn’t get everything I saw on those lists either, only things I thought seemed promising to my taste.

On the excel tables, I did a small description of the sound of each album, and I gave each a one-line review, which was painted green for a positive reaction, yellow for a neutral reaction and red for a negative reaction. I also selected, like the (in)famous Pitchfork website, a few albums to receive a Best New Music award.

Of all the 73, there were only 7 albums which received a negative verdict, including the much acclaimed Kamasi Washington album, The Epic. I guess I just don’t like jazz, but I found the length of it personally offensive, it’s more than three hours long! The worst of the bunch, however, was Defeater’s Abandoned, which started with clichéd dramatic pianos, then a pathetic screaming started, and I couldn’t take it anymore.

22 albums got a neutral reaction. Cidadão Instigado, which is sometimes appointed as one of the best Brazilian rock bands of the XXI century, is yet to be able to touch me, their Fortaleza wasn’t bad but nothing that I would want to spend time listening to. Another disappointment was Frevotron, which promised a modern electronised update on the frevo genre, but sounded like anything but frevo. On the international side, Father John Misty sounded half as good as Elton John on his good songs, and was utterly boring on the others, coupled with pretty bad lyrics. I really wish Robin Pecknold would return to music, because the rest of the Fleet Foxes are nothing without him. The biggest waste of a cool cover belonged to this category, Kelela’s Hallucinogen EP, which was just one more album that followed this recent trend of beautiful arrangements and instrumentation coupled with a lack of good vocal hooks. Bike, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Passo Torto & Ná Ozetti were also guilty of that.

A special mention goes to albums that felt genuinely deep and intriguing, but just weren’t suited to my tastes, like the weird schizophrenia of Oneohtrix, the ambience of Nicholas Jaar and Mount Eerie, and the noise-plus-religious-chants duo between Cadu Tenório and my admired Juçara Marçal.

The last and largest category consists on albums I gave a positive verdict, 44 out of 73. Among those, it’s worth mentioning the great moment Brazilian music in general, and hip-hop, specifically, is living. Searching for inspiration in folkish afro-traditions, the 70s post-tropicália or on the sleazy brega, artists are mixing genres and producing unique albums. If one listens to Ava Rocha, Melodia Preto Bendi, Jonas Sá or Johnny Hooker, they would get an idea of how diverse and vibrant the Brazilian scene is.

International music, however, seems very fragmented, and the only visible tendency is a reduction on the use of guitars. But even those were put to good use by Courtney Barnett or Viet Cong. Many well-established artists did not disappoint this last year, with Magma, Joanna Newsom and Tame Impala releasing good follow-ups that add nicely to their discographies. Modest Mouse, on the other hand, disappointed me with their forgettable Strangers to Ourselves, which included a semi-rap-song with lyrics about cleaning his pistol!

Among the 44 positive albums, there were 12 that I considered the finest of 2015. Two were electronic pop: from the Brazilian state of Pará, Jaloo mixed pop with carimbó to make a very catchy and diverse album; while from overseas, Canadian Grimes wrote, sang, played and produced by herself a kaleidoscopic masterpiece. Still on the electronic world, but far more avant-garde, was Holly Herndon’s Platform, with dazzling vocals that reminded me of Stockhausen’s Stimmung. 

The last two foreign albums that figured on this top 12 were both very personal, although they had very different moods. Sufjan’s Carrie & Lowell might not be as good melodically as some of his previous albums, but is incredibly touching, and pretty much bares his soul. To Pimp a Butterfly stands out for the stunning amount of different “voices” Kendrick Lamarr has.

Back to Brazil, Elza Soares’ Mulher do Fim do Mundo is also very personal, and through her coarse 70-year-old voice, and great arrangements, entrances the listener in her world. Great arrangements are also a feature of banda-fôrra’s debut EP, which left me with great expectations for their future. Bixiga 70 gives us another dose of great afrobeat, perhaps their finest.

Finally, on the hip-hop front, I loved particularly four albums. Or rather, three albums and one EP, as Senzala Hi-Tech amazed me with a new kind of afro-vodoo-hip-hop with 90s Native Tongues influences, and they only needed 6 tracks to do so! The Instituto collective called so many great artists to perform on the collaborative Violar, it just wasn’t possible for it not to be awesome. Rodrigo Ogi’s RÁ! is worthy of the capitalisation and exclamation, as it has great grooves, great lyrics, great hooks and a great variety of moods.

Last, but definitely not least, the album I consider the best of 2015: Emicida – Sobre Crianças, Quadris, Pesadelos e Lições de Casa…It can be touching, it can be scathing, it often is both, simultaneously, it is simply marvellous! One of those albums where I just felt the wonder that it music, and on the first listen!

SPECIAL TRIBUTE REVIEW: DAVID BOWIE – Lodger (1979)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Dedicated to the memory of David Bowie

This is the last of 3 albums Bowie did with Eno (his “Berlin” period, although this one was not recorded in Berlin. This is my favorite one of the three, and possibly my favorite Bowie album period. This one has no instrumental pieces, like on “Low” and “Heroes”. The first half of the album has a vague “travel” theme to it. In several songs Bowie mixes in bits of African drumming or arabesque sounding string synthesizer sounds. These are all rock or pop songs, but they are all “deconstructed” pop songs, because everything from the instrument sounds to the songs’ construction is turned on its head, at least that’s how it seemed in 1979. This album features Adrian Belew on guitar making sounds that were basically unheard of at the time. “DJ” and “Boys..” are highlights – absolutely brilliant, and Belew truly uses his guitar like a weapon on his solos. The only really weak song is “Red Money”, which is the music from Iggy Pop’s “Sister Midnight” set to different (inferior) lyrics. Fortunately it’s at the end, so it’s easy to skip that tune, but the rest is highly recommended.