Leimert Park--Mama Records (555 E. Easy St., Simi Valley, CA 93065)
Mama Records is apparently some sort of nonprofit corporation devoted to recording and distributing noncommercial works by noncommercial artists. Spoken-word artist Kamau Daáood's album Leimert Park certainly falls into that category, being largely a combination of tributes to fallen jazz heroes John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Art Blakey, and Lester Young, and localized pride in the Leimert Park district of Los Angeles that provides the album title and subject of the other tracks. Daáood's delivery recalls the Last Poets, only laid-back, and his semi-improvisational musical backing is provided by well-recorded, skilled jazz musicians. Obviously this sort of thing isn't for everyone--it wouldn't be a noncommercial work if it was, now would it?--but there's plenty here to reward the careful listener: Daáood's depth of feeling about his subjects is clear both from his carefully assembled words and from his convincing, confident tone of voice and delivery.
dälek - Negro Necro Nekros CD (Gern Blandsten)
Much like punk rock, hip-hop once seemed to offer a vehicle for creative expression in a marketplace dominated by vapidity and soullessness, but as the profit margin moved up the substance and content went down. The situation in both genres today borders on critical; despite the dollars, they're also infested by the dullards, who drag them down to the lowest common denominator time and again in their futile search for the big payday.
Dälek attempts to inject some life into the moribund rap scene with his genre convention-cracking Negro Necro Nekros , weaving five lengthy tracks into a forty-minute tapestry combining your basic beats with intelligent (but not pretentiously so) raps, sympathetic guitar lines, "appropriated" William Burroughs dialogue ("Images...millions of images, that's what I eat"), and other surprising twists. What begins as a relatively traditional, Eric B. & Rakim-sounding track dissolves into a bongo percussion jam. Vocal tracks are subjected to jarring level shifts, pushing them so far up in the mix they distort, then snapping back to 'normal'. Co-producer 'the OCTOPUS' doubtlessly helped assemble this collage, but the creative force here seems to be dälek himself, who often lays the vocal track back in the mix, letting the music do the talking. When was the last time you heard that on a rap record? Recommended for anybody who still holds out hope for 'hip-hop nation' that's looking for an ingenious variation on the formula. -Aaron J. Poehler
dayinthelife... CD (Building Records/TVT Records)
This band was formed by two ex-members of NY hardcore act Mind Over Matter so it's no surprise to find their eponymous debut album chock-full of time-signature shifting chukka-chukka-chukka with angry-sounding bellowed vocals. They seem to be attempting to leaven the burdensome nature of hardcore music (translation: lots of people find the shit too hard to take) by adding heavy Soundgardenesque grooves to the rhythm section and Zeppelin riffs with the guitars, while adding a layer of resonance and the illusion of depth in the studio with digital echo and reverb. This formula makes for apt comparisons between dayinthelife... (lowercase d, wordsallruntogetherlikethis, don't forget the ellipsis--wonder how they pronounce it...) and Jane's Addiction, whom they vaguely resemble; this album's less whiny, though, and meatier on the bottom end, somewhat akin to the Rollins Band. In the end it's all about the grooves, the heavier the better, and the singer's just there on top of it all thinking someone cares what he's yelling about--and he's nearly right during "Killer In The Workplace". Yeah, it gets tiresome after a few songs, but dayinthelife... would make an excellent transition band between Rollins Band and the latest Jane's revival when the Lollapalooza gravy train gets rolling again. Look for the early 90's revival around, oh, say 2002. –Aaron J. Poehler
The Dayspring Collective
Spark--Fragrant Music (7095 Hollywood Blvd #606, Los Angeles, CA 90028)
It all looks so simple on the front cover of the Dayspring Collective's debut Spark--one assumes the Albuquerque-based 'Dayspring Collective' is the group name for the three people comprising this artistic project: J. Scott G., Jason Blum, and Shawn Parker. But oh no, the 'Collective' three collaborate amongst themselves as Deepsky, Trinity Sight, Avatar Carriage, and Desert Sol, each name signifying a different configuration of the three, each track assigned to a name under the Dayspring umbrella. Too bad none of their various band names is any good or they might have settled on one--that's a lot of names for three people. The whole thing adds up to 78 minutes of shimmering techno-electronica music, the kind that's better suited for dancing than it is for listening at home. The Dayspring Collective produces a fairly bland, consistent product that gets tedious fast, but probably serves its function of entertaining tripping dancers stuck out in the New Mexico desert. Despite the name game the contents of Spark are pretty homogenous regardless of the assigned moniker and the album is not even particularly striking within its genre, so unless you happen to be a DJ searching for repetitive beats to keep the dancefloor hopping or fresh material for your next rave (do people still do that?) you can probably pass The Dayspring Collective by without worrying about missing anything.
Dead End Kids
Something For The Sickness 7"--Elevator Music (PO Box 1502, New Haven, CT 06506)
This 7" presents three tracks of basement hardcore, divided into 'Homoside' and 'Suiside' and wittily proclaiming that "Hitler Was Never in a New Wave Band". Anti-nazi proclamations are always in style and appreciated from the hardcore scene, but unfortunately that's about as far as the cleverness goes here. Dead End Kids' primary influence seems to be the Dead Kennedys--not too surprising considering that their name is practically an anagram for Jello Biafra's old band's name; "Gypsy Girl" sounds in parts like a cross between Kennedys classics "Holiday In Cambodia" and "We've Got A Bigger Problem Now". The record isn't bad, but it's kind of clusmy and amateurish--since it was recorded in the band's own primitive studio it seems like they could have spent some more time and come up wth tighter takes and slightly clearer sound. One pet peeve: why doesn't anybody ever seem to list the playing speed on their 7 inches? Since they used to be called '45s' I pretty much assume that 45 rpm is the default speed, and since there's no notice to suggest otherwise, upon playing the first side of Something For The Sickness I was greeted with the sound of Mickey Mouse fronting a hardcore band.
Plastic Surgery Disasters/In God We Trust Inc., Frankenchrist, Bedtime For Democracy, Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death, Mutiny On the Bay (Dead Kennedys Live! From the San Francisco Bay Area)
RockinNReelinInAucklandNewZealand, Smell Of Female, A Date With Elvis, Stay Sick!, Look Mom No Head!, Big Beat From Badsville
It’s funny the coincidences that pop up it the record biz sometimes; here we have two of the U.S.’s seminal, unarguably preeminent punk bands’ catalogs being given the remaster-and-reissue treatment right about the same time. The Dead Kennedys were probably the most important U.S. punk band (depending on whether you’re the type to count the Stooges and the Ramones as ‘punk bands’ or ‘punk ROCK bands’ , of course), spawning DK-logos on everything one could draw a logo on as an essential badge of punk recognition; the Cramps, nearly as influential, bridging the gulf between raw 50’s rockabilly & psychedelia and new-when-they-started punk rock as everything from the Beatles to the Pistols never happened.
The difference here is less obvious than the uninformed might suspect, though: the Cramps’ catalog (well, much of it, anyway) is being reissued on their own, Cramps-controlled label Vengeance Records, through Mordam distribution. The Dead Kennedys’ albums (well, much of it, anyway), after an over-20-year history of being issued by DK vocalist Jello Biafra’s record label Alternative Tentacles & distributed by Mordam, are being reissued on Manifesto Records under the direction of the other three DKs, who have greivances over the way the band’s music has been handled. Purely as a listener there’s probably no reason for you to give a fuck either way; point blank, all these discs, both the Cramps’ and the DKs’, sound better than I’ve ever heard them sound. The Cramps’ albums tend to have a few bonus tracks tacked on, which sweetens the pot, and while the DKs’ discs don’t have bonus cuts they were really in dire need of remastering—for years it seemed that Jello’s antipathy towards CDs was borne out by Alternative Tentacles issuing thin-sounding, trebly discs, and frankly I haven’t heard this music sound this good since then. Plus, the DK’s first-ever official live album, Mutiny On The Bay, is a complete treat—I’d honestly given up on ever hearing any new Dead Kennedys music (the Cramps promise a new album to be issued through Vengeance sometime soon).
Honestly, though, I have to admit that some of the issues behind the DKs catalog reissue kind of bother me...I don’t know, on one hand it’s just internal band politics, and to think that any band doesn’t have them is to be utterly naive. On the other, it was always part of the whole DKs ‘thing’ to me that they issued their discs themselves, on their own record company—that really meant something to me. Now that’s gone, and to not see that Alternative Tentacles logo on these records throws me off every time I look at them. I don’t know, if you didn’t grow up with this stuff it probably wouldn’t ever enter your mind, and I don’t presume to know enough about the situation to say “Jello’s in the right” or “the other guys are in the right”. It’s just sort of bothersome, that’s all.
Am I Wrong? CD (Hollows Hill Sound Recordings)
Gitane DeMone was keyboardist and backing singer for Christian Death for much of the eighties; in 1989 she quit and moved to Amsterdam to embark on a solo career doing more cabaret and jazz-influenced material. Recently she's moved back to Los Angeles and formed a new band, but Am I Wrong? was laid down before the move and thus consists almost entirely of Gitane, with the occasional bass or guitar added to accompany her keyboards, synthesized percussion lines, and singing. Taking her history into account as well as the fact that the releasing label is called Hollows Hill (you know, like the Bauhaus song "Hollow Hills") it should be no surprise to find the musical contents of Am I Wrong? are gothic keyboard numbers with lots of wailing, self-conscious 'soul-searching' and chock-full of dramatics. It's basically a half-assed, watered-down version of Jarboe's work in and outside of Swans. I would never listen to this when I could listen to a genuinely threatening Jarboe album like Sacrificial Cake instead. The lyrics are pretty turgid and overwrought, unredeemed by Gitane's singing. Even at its best, Gothic music walks an extremely fine line between atmospheric darkness and corny, pretentious indulgence--this CD comes down firmly in the latter camp. –Aaron J. Poehler
Little Plastic Castle--Righteous Babe Records (PO Box 93 Ellicott Station, Buffalo, NY 14205)
Let's face it: if you're reading this, you've probably heard about Ani DiFranco by now--a lack of publicity is not among her weaknesses. Her main weakness, as she said herself in interviews promoting her previous double live album Living In Clip, is that "a lot of my albums really suck". Little Plastic Castle is Ani's new studio album, issued as always on her own Righteous Babe label, and regardless of quality will be lapped up by her rabid following who often don't seem as concerned about the quality of the music as her ethics, gender, and sexual preference, though the rest of us generally require well-written songs in our folksy stuff. Consistent work and determination has polished DiFranco's songwriting skills to a mostly acceptable level of professionalism with a few gaffes here and there: a few lines in Little Plastic Castle elicited groans from me, and indications abound that Ani takes her whole image thing more than a bit too seriously--several songs seem to revolve specifically around this topic, and it's these that come off the most as addressed specifically to her 'following' and lend the whole project an 'in-group and out-group' feel. The ambitious fourteen-minute concluding suite "Pulse" demonstrates a greater level of comfort and expertise with studio techniques, to her credit, but also goes on more than a bit too much and gets pretty repetitive and boring. The longer DiFranco goes the more assured her music becomes but the more she seems like a less theoretical but less rewarding Laurie Anderson, whose records I enjoy for their ideas but which also sit on my rack gathering dust after a few digestings. DiFranco's greatest strength is her immediacy, the ability of her record company to keep fresh Ani product coming and distributed so the listeners don't get bored, but the analogous problem with journalism is that it goes out of date the day of release, so inevitably the only proper response to Little Plastic Castle can be, "Well, that's OK--now what?"
DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid - Riddim Warfare CD (Outpost Recordings)
I think it's time we officially declare that the idea of the 'electronic revolution' is dead. Back in the good old days for the genre (last year), every new magazine carried a story about how electronic music was the next big thing, how turntable wizards were the new guitar heroes, how studio geeks were the new rock gods. Don't hear so much about it anymore, though, do you? No one's as willing to stick their neck out that the big payday is coming, or to put such blithely confident predictions about the future. Well, the future is here, and electronic music is just where it's been ever since it popped up--in the dance music ghetto, backing up singers whose personalities sell the records, and in the occasional crossover single remix by already-established artists. The big mass-market just never bit, although a lot of gullible distributors, journalists, and record companies did (granted, those are three very easily fooled groups), and the fallout is likely to be brutal on the less-renowned practitioners of the style. After all, you can't play electronic music on the street for quarters.
DJ Spooky is probably at the top of the list to come through with his name intact, given that he received as much publicity as any of the nouveau electronica artistes--I think he was on the cover of Option--and has a major-label deal. His new album Riddim Warfare is among the less tedious electronic albums to float my way in the last year or so: he layers dozens of samples together, introducing them into the mix and then removing them before they get too boring, so in theory the ear is continually hearing something fresh. At least, it would be fresh if it wasn't something we'd heard a million times--the problem with sampling-based music is, of course, source material, and the inventiveness with which it's combined. What characterizes rap's evolution better than the point at which everybody switched from constantly ripping off James Brown licks to lifting from George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic grooves? Listening to Riddim Warfare I was struck by the fact that I used to love it when Public Enemy would hand Terminator X the spotlight for a track or two--but then a strong rap performance was usually right around the corner from his DJ instrumentals, making them a refreshing break. DJ Spooky's record is all break, waiting for a hook, a song, or a striking performance that simply never comes despite a long list of guest contributors ranging from Arto Lindsay to Kool Keith to Thurston Moore (quickly shaping up as the alternative-rock Ron Wood). After about a half-hour the listener realizes that what we have here is essentially of compilation of intros, drum breaks, and outros that never really develops into anything of its own. After the full 73-minute playing time of the disc, one wants never to hear a sampled breakbeat again. The word is tiresome--I can't stress it enough. This music is fucking boring to listen to by itself. It doesn't matter how quickly the samples are changed, because they're not actually stitched together into new pieces, they're just brought in because the last sound was getting old. Certainly Spooky is a skilled craftsman, and when we get down to needle-on-wax flash his cutting can be impressive, but not enough so to create effective entertainment (let's not even bring up 'art') out of his source material. So let's bring down the curtain on the illusion of energetic, creative, groundbreaking artistic forces at work in the electronic milieu, and admit that what we generally have is engineers, record collectors, remixers, and editors who have gotten a bit ahead of themselves in the ego department and whose work is completely steeped in the past (continually referencing it via samples), dependent on manufacturers' technological advances, lacking in cultural resonance, and more often than not emotionally bankrupt or neutral. -Aaron J. Poehler
DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid
(Thirsty Ear Recordings)
At first blush, electronic music and jazz may not seem the most compatible partners: much electronic music is notoriously dependent on the tyranny of the beat, the central, necessary impulse to impel listeners to dance; conversely, good jazz depends on the musicians being able to play around with rhythms in ways that definitely are not constrained to the thudding repetition prevalent on most dance floors. Common to both, however, is the sense of surprise—that moment when the music when the music takes off somewhere totally unpredictable.
Such moments are plentiful on the new DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid disc, Optometry; though credited nominally as a DJ Spooky release, it’s more of a collaborative effort, featuring contributions from cover-credited musicians Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Guillermo E. Brown, and Joe McPhee, as well as a host of others. Optometry is a seductive listening experience: beginning with what sounds like a straight jazz session, DJ Spooky (Paul D. Miller to his friends) mixes in sampled beat loops and twists the final product into something that doesn’t fit easily into any traditional categorizations of music. The result is a pleasant surprise around every turn; Shipp’s sparkling piano runs and Parker’s bass often call to mind elements of prime-era Miles Davis records like Kind Of Blue, while simultaneously Miller will add head-spinning sounds that would be more at home on an Orb or Chemical Brothers CD.
Though Optometry is perhaps not a disc suited to the dance floor, there’s certainly no shortage of play-by-numbers DJs around to fill that incessant niche: Optometry is itself a dance of the mind, a space where jazz, disco, rap, and rock blend, crossing seemingly ironclad borders so casually it makes one wonder if they were ever really there at all.
Dolph Sweet - Puttin' The Kids In The Pool CD [Morphius Records (PO Box 13474 Baltimore, MD 21203-3474)]
This is one of those records covered in pictures of the band dressed up in wacky costumes, masks, and wigs, playing guitar naked, guzzling what's presumed to be copious amounts of alcohol, brandishing toy rayguns, etc. etc. etc., all of which looks to be a lot more fun than actually listening to the music. It's nice that the guys in Dolph Sweet (I guess I should point out that this is a group rather than an individual, otherwise this sentence takes on an entirely different meaning) have banded together and found an excuse to act out and have fun, but the music comes out on the amateurish side, and not in a good way. The guitar playing is far and away the best element here and deservedly tops the mix in most places, flowing along in a kind of jagged cross between the Butthole Surfers' Paul Leary (minus the trippy effects) and Flipper's Ted Falconi (minus the creative feedback and all-out abrasion). None of the rest of the guys are really doing anything too notable, although the drummer keeps up with the guitar playing fairly ably, like a low-budget counterpart to Mitch Mitchell's role backing Jimi Hendrix (which made both sound quite a bit better than they might have otherwise). Obviously Dolph Sweet is basically a bunch of buds getting blasted and kicking out the jams for their own amusement, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that--hell, nobody else needs to enjoy this music but the five guys involved for it to be worthwhile. Hopefully, guitarist 'Munster' will go on to form a more ambitious or interesting group after Dolph Sweet's inevitable demise; after all, the party never lasts forever. -Aaron J. Poehler