Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Gang Starr - Hard to Earn 2xLP 180g Vinyl


Respect the Classics/Virgin (2014, Reissue)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for 25+ years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

For two albums, Gang Starr could arguably be designated as the greatest hip hop group of all time.  Daily Operation and this album, Hard Two Earn, comprise one of the hardest one-two punches in rap history.  While I think that Daily Operation is ever so slightly a stronger overall record, Hard To Earn has higher highs and is home to most of my very favorite Gang Starr songs.  One of those songs is the first I heard from the album, "Dwyck."  Dwyck was released as a video and single way before the full album did and I remember being kind of confused as I couldn't figure out where it came from.

I grew up in a rural town in northwestern New Jersey.  We couldn't get TV or radio over the air because we were way too far away from the local affiliates broadcasting out of New York City.  We had to have cable in order to get TV.  What I did was I spliced off the cable from my 9" television in my room and fed it into my stereo.  For reasons I can't totally explain, this allowed me to get all of the NY radio stations.  This is how I would listen to the Kool DJ Red Alert Show on KISS FM. During one of Red's shows, I managed to tape "Dwyck" off of the radio and for the longest time, that was the only version I had.  Even today, when I listen to the album version, my brain starts to hear the mixing and segue into the next song that was present on my tape.

"Dwyck" is but one of many incredible tracks on Hard to Earn.  "Mass Appeal," "Tonz o Gunz," "Speak Ya Clout" or "Now You're Mine" would probably be the best tracks on just about any hip hop album of the era, but on Hard To Earn, they're all fighting each other just to be the second best song on the album.  The best?  Well for me that has to go to "Blowin' Up the Spot." Over arguably the greatest beat of DJ Premier's career, Guru just blasts through word bending lyrics building rhyme on top of rhyme in a structure that probably doesn't make sense on paper, but in the song itself is essentially a masterpiece of self aggrandizing bravado.

1994 was the year that I started to fall out of love with hip hop as I was getting more interested in indie rock and punk rock.  But between this album and Casual's 1994 classic Fear Itself, the year definitely had two all time greats to help close out my participation in the golden era of hip hop.

Gang Starr - Hard to Earn (Youtube full album playlist):

Monday, April 27, 2020

Seth Anderson - We Could Be LP - White Vinyl


Snappy Little Numbers (2020)

I am immediately leery of an album done by a single human being rather than a band.  The stench of singer/songwriter nonsense from the late 90s and early 2000s still lingers with me and I've never been the biggest fan of that sort of thing.  There are exceptions of course and I'm not going to disregard an album simply because of how the artist is named on the cover, but I go in with more trepidation than I would if it was just the name of a band.

That brings us to Seth Anderson.  Going through this album is interesting.  While the songs are mostly backed by a full band, he does hit on some rootsy singer-songwriter tropes that I'm not typically super into.  There's a bit of a Tom Petty thing going on sometimes, and I can certainly get behind that.  Then there's a song like "Don't Stop" that sounds like a really slow Snow Patrol song.
Other times there's more of a Springsteen/Gaslight Anthem sort of vibe that I can't say works all of the time.

As you get older, you're supposed to mellow out and appreciate the slower and quieter things in life.  For me, that doesn't seem to be the case.  I still want punchy pop punk hooks and big fuzzy guitars.  There are times when I can get behind a mellower album, but with Seth Anderson, there's just not enough new and interesting sounds or ideas to keep me particularly engaged.  It's well done for what it is, it's just not the sort of thing I want to listen to.

Seth Anderson - We Could Be:

Friday, April 24, 2020

OUTOFSTYle - 追分e.p. CD


No, She Rode (2018)

OUTOFSTYle is a band that has been releasing records since 2004 and yet I somehow have only heard of them pretty recently.  This 6 song EP is the first release of theirs that I've gotten, but after playing these songs on repeat for a while, I really want to get my hands on the rest of their catalog.

This is everything that I love about Japanese pop punk. The songs are fast and rough around the edges, satisfying my punk rock needs.  But they are also melodic and catchy, showcasing great mastery of crafting a lasting hook that keeps me coming back over and over again.  They remind me of some of the glory days of Snuffy Smile.  Sort of like Blew, but a little gruffer, though not as gruff as say Sprocket Wheel.  I think they're somewhere int he middle of those two bands if I had to try to place them somewhere.

I love all six songs on this EP and once again, I am bowled over by a Japanese band playing the exact kind of punk rock that I want to listen to.  I've not been able to get a new pack of records from Japan in a while.  I really hope that things turnaround in the world and I can start buying some records again.  While I know in the grand scheme of things record shopping is not as important as some other things in life, but songs like these bring that spark of joy that only music can provide.  I have plenty of records to listen to, but there's something special about that next great discovery.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Brand Nubian - In God We Trust 2xLP


Traffic/Elektra (2004, Reissue)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for 25+ years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

In God We Trust was the second Brand Nubian record and their first after the departure of Grand Puba.  Despite losing their best lyricist, Brand Nubian was able to to pump out two pretty strong records during a very competitive and innovative era of hip hop.  It speaks volumes about the talent of Lord Jamar and Sadat X.  They really stepped up to the plate when the spotlight was shone directly on them.

The main single from this album was "Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down" and it was a staple on Yo MTV Raps in '92 and had some different verbiage in the final verse than the album version has.  Putting aside some ill advised slurs, it is a song with a solid beat and strong vocal interplay between the two MCs.  It's the song that made me buy the album in the first place and I still have nostalgic feelings towards it despite some problematic verbiage that hasn't aged well.

The rest of the album is strong when it's upbeat.  Even though this is the shortest of their first three albums, it still feels like it goes a little too long and probably could have benefited from a slightly shorter track list.  I know I would be fine with cutting a few of the interludes.  After All For One, this is the second strongest Brand Nubian release as a whole album.  Even though my favorite Brand Nubian song is from their third album, that's the one where things started to move in directions I wasn't into as much.

Brand Nubian - In God We Trust (Full album playlist):

Monday, April 20, 2020

Sista Brytet / Popterror Split 7"


Luftslott (2015)

I had picked up this split 7" a while ago, back when I ordered a couple of other Sista Brytet releases.  Popterror is the band that came with this split 7" as a bonus when I bought it for the Sista Brytet songs.  That's one of the things I love about split 7"s, the opportunity to hear a new band while already supporting one you already like/. It's usually a win-win.

I can't say I was familiar with Popterror prior to listening to their side of this record.  They're pretty fun and their song "Dyrt Att Vara Fattig" is catchy with horns in the background and a pretty poppy vocal melody.  The way the horns interact with the rest of the music has a RFTC quality to them, but this isn't a band that sounds much like Rocket aside from that.  I like the song, but I can't say that I'd be too inspired to hunt down more by the band.

Systa Brytet was the main reason I picked this up.  On this release they have guitar riffage that reminds me of Idle Hands quite a bit and they also have the same knack for big catchy choruses.  While these aren't my favorite songs by the band that I've heard so far, both are upbeat, energetic and have the intangible energy that all good punk rock has.

Popterror - "Dyrt Att Vara Fattig":

Sista Brytet - "Huvudvark" & "Lat Det Brinna":

Friday, April 17, 2020

Rocket From The Crypt - Rocket Queen 7" (Blue Cover)


Speedo's Classics (1995 - Bootleg)

In my never ending quest to track down every single variant of every single Rocket From The Crypt release, I do have to contend with a handful of bootlegs.  The most well known of which is probably this four song Rocket Queen 7".  This reared its head in 1995 claiming to be limited to five hundred copies only.  I will never believe that to be true, there must be a ton more of these out there as I've seen this thing floating around with a decent level of frequency over the past twenty-five years.

When this was released, they printed them up on a bunch of different colored sleeves.  Over the years I've been picking up these different colors when I see them for reasonable prices.  I'm not willing to pay a ton of money for them, but I do want to catch them all at some point.  Recently the blue covered variant popped up on eBay and I grabbed it for pretty cheap.  This may actually end up being the last record I buy for the foreseeable future.  I have a few preorders that were already paid for, but the world has changed a lot and my budget for record buying has had to be diverted elsewhere.

As far as this 7" goes, it contains three songs culled from the Japanese version of the All Systems Go compilation CD and a live Misfits cover.  I've always liked the three main songs and I had my first copy of this 7" (pink cover) before I had tracked down the Japanese CD, so this was my first exposure to them.

"Ballot Fire" (an incorrectly named "Ball of Fire") has always been a favorite and is very much in line with a lot of the 92-93 era Rocket single releases of the time.  "10 Forward" was also a hit for completely different reasons, showcasing Rocket's louder and crazier side.  "Call it a Complex" is a slower, droning song with vocal effects and again is very much a song of that era.  The live Misfits cover never did much for me and still doesn't to be honest.  It's a neat thing to exist, but was never anything I listened to all the much.

Once Scream Dracula Scream came out, Rocket didn't really delve into these types of noisy interludes as often.  There's something magical to me about these songs which is surely in no small part because this is the time period I first became a fan, prior to the release of SDS.

Rocket From The Crypt - "Ball of Fire":

Rocket From The Crypt - "10 Forward":

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Boogie Down Productions - Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop LP


Get On Down/Jive (2017, Reissue)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for 25+ years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

When I discovered Boogie Down Productions, it was primarily based on the song "My Philosophy" appearing on a Yo MTV Raps compilation combined with videos being played on the daily Yo TV show.  I have strong memories of playing By All Means Necessary non-stop and I have equally vivid recollections of their fifth full length Sex and Violence being released as the 'new' BDP album.  The time in between those events are a little fuzzy.

I'm not sure exactly when I added my original CD of Ghetto Music to my collection, but I'm fairly positive that it was part of one of the Columbia House or BMG Music scams I would take part of in late elementary school/early high school.  I used to sign up for the ten CDs for a penny gimmicks.  Then, they would send you a monthly mailer that said 'unless you opt out, we'll be sending you then new Heavy D CD at full price as part of your subscription thing.'  What I would do is not reply to that  mailer and get sent the Heavy D CD.  The next step would be to write 'Return to Sender, I didn't order this' on the box and stick it back in the mail.  It usually only took a couple of those before I received a notice that my account was suspended.  Then I'd start all over again.

As for this album itself, like all BDP albums, I love it unconditionally.  While I probably don't listen to it as often as some of their other albums, there are many incredible tracks.  "The Style You Haven't Done Yet," "You Must Learn" and "Jack of Spades" (as featured in the excellent I'm Gonna Git You Sucka) are among my very favorite BDP songs.  This fairly recent reissue sounds and looks great.  I'm not ever going to make the move from hip hop CD to vinyl without adding every Boogie Down Production album to the pile.  They're way too great and far too important to skip.

Boogie Down Productions - Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop (Youtube full album playlist)

Monday, April 13, 2020

David Quinton - Overlook Road LP


Secret Mission (2019)

Secret Mission is a label that I always look forward to receiving a package from.  I'm not exactly sure how my website ended up on their radar, but I'm glad it did and am grateful to get a handful of records from them every so often.  They tend to mine jewels from sectors of music I have very little familiarity with.  When they put out a record by a Japanese band, it's always one I've never heard of, despite my passionate interest in Japanese punk rock.  The other scene that they tend to release a lot from is from 80s power pop musicians that I'm not familiar with.

This David Quinton record is a prime example of the latter of these groups.  While the bio references his work with Stiv Bators, David Quinton is a name that I'm uncertain I've heard before.  In listening to Overlook Road, it surprises me that he isn't significantly more well know.  This is an album filled with ultra catchy power pop.  In some instances it reminds me of The Cars and certainly has that jangly, punch guitar sound that I would associate with middle-era Ocasek productions.

What is consistent song after song are the stellar vocal melodies that weave through this album.  They are instantly hummable and play nicely with the aforementioned guitar jangle.  Even though the cover artwork might make you think of the older brother from Mr. Belvedere, this is a great listen and certainly one that would appeal to folks that are super into 80's power pop.  I'm just a sometimes visitor to that scene and even I can get down with this album.

David Quinton - Overlook Road"

Friday, April 10, 2020

Spells - Stimulants & Sedatives LP - Purple Vinyl (/200)


Snappy Little Numbers (2020)

I find it impossible to believe that it's been nearly four years since the first Spells full length came out.  That's an album that really jumped out as something special at the time of its release and, to me, it's only gotten better as I've listened to it over the years.  There's been a bunch of singles and songs making their way to the masses in the interim, but it's nice to finally have a brand new full album from this band.

The record is broken up into two sides, Stimulants on side A and Sedatives on side B.  The Stimulants side is fast with loud catchy songs and the sort of RFTC era Rocket From The Crypt style singalong backing vocals that I love.  "Nose Dive" and "Down Every Road" stand out as my favorites of the bunch.  They're catchy and just brimming with energy.  When this band is on, they're really on.

The Sedatives side doesn't really sound all that different from the Stimulants side to be totally honest.  Yes, in general the songs are a little slower, but it's not like the band has decided to break out power ballads or anything weird like that.  I'm also just a very shallow and unobservant man, so there may be a very striking artistic statement going on that I'm too dumb to see.  All I care about is that this side of the album still showcases a band cranking out great songs, with the sort of vibe that makes you want to go to one of their shows, grab the stranger next to you around the shoulders and just jump up and down screaming along to the lyrics all night long.

Spells - Stimulants & Sedatives:

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Ice Cube - Kill At Will 12"


Priority (1990)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for 25+ years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

I can't be positive, but I think the first time I ever heard Ice Cube was from one of the videos released from this EP.  If it wasn't from that, it was probably his guest appearance on the Public Enemy song "Burn Hollywood Burn."  The song from this EP that I remember super vividly from the Yo MTV Raps era was "Jackin' For Beats."

The fist thing that caught my ears was that the song starts off using the same music as the D-Nice song "Call Me D-Nice."  It then moves through beats of other songs of the era including sections that include Public Enemy, Digital Underground and others.  It wasn't a concept that made a ton of sense to me as a kid, but it made for a hell of a song and I really liked it even if I didn't totally understand what Cube was up to.  It holds up extremely well all of these years later and it really makes me think that D-Nice probably doesn't get as much credit as he deserves for his first album.

The rest of this EP is a mixed bag.  There's some interesting remixes of a couple of tracks from Ice Cube's debut album. There's a track of nothing but shout outs and a thirty second skit.  The next most famous song from this LP is "Dead Homiez."  It's a serious track, that is slower than a lot of what Cube was doing at the time.  It's not one that I ever really gravitated to.  Lyrically it's pretty powerful, but the delivery is so laid back that I think it loses some impact.  The other standout to me on this album is "The Product."  It's fast and Ice Cube is fierce on the mic.

To me, the best era of Ice Cube is Amerikka's Most Wanted, this EP and Death Certificate. There's a few good moments after that, but his first three releases are pretty untouchable.  The Kill At Will EP is definitely part of that really important era and I still would probably say "Jackin' for Beats" is my favorite Ice Cube song (at worst, it's a very close second to "Steady Mobbin").

Ice Cube - Kill At Will (Youtube full EP playlist):

Monday, April 6, 2020

Engine 88 - Clean Your Room LP - Red Vinyl


Caroline (1995)

Engine 88 is one of those weird bands that always seemed to be percolating under the radar, yet they were always on a label with pretty solid distribution.  What I remember most about them in the 1990s NY/NJ record store scene was that their albums were always very reliably in the used CD box at whatever store you were perusing.  That's not a knock on them either.  Some of my very favorite bands of that era were kings of the used CD box (I often wonder if anyone ever bought a Fig Dish CD that didn't have a punched out bar code).

Even though the band never really achieved big time notoriety or enduring memories as one of those great smaller bands that folks reminisce about,  they put out a body of work that holds up well listening again all of these years later.  Clean Your Room was the only one of their full length albums to get the vinyl treatment and as it wasn't in my collection, I was pleased to see one pop up on Discogs not too long ago.

Musically, they are a guitar focused rock band, like a lot of bands in the 90s were.  They know their way around a hook and have that big, crunchy guitar sound that I like so much.  When Engine 88 leans towards the poppier punk side of the spectrum, they're up there with the best of them.  When they get a little more out their and dig into some of the noisier and off center songs, I can't say the results thrill me quite as much.  That said, within the context of a complete album, it's nice that the band changes things up and isn't just cranking out the same song over and over.  This is an album worth seeking out if it didn't come across your turntable or CD player twenty five years ago.

Engine 88 - Clean Your Room (Youtube full album playlist):

Friday, April 3, 2020

G-Whiz - Eat At Ed's LP


Tim Kerr (1992)

I never heard G-Whiz back in the 90s.  They were pretty much wrapped up when I was really discovering what I loved about punk rock and they're one of the bands that I didn't go back to at the time.  Hearing them when I got a bit older, I've always appreciated the music, but never really felt that they stood out during a crowded field of bands that were churning out some pretty incredible music.

The only reason this record even ended up in my collection is because it was given to my by my buddy John before he moved out to California.  I've spent some more time with it since then but I still always come to the same conclusion; this is a good record, but it's not really a great one.  There's nothing bad to say about it and every one of the songs has a solid hook and is well constructed.  But there's never that moment where the band transcends and is really creating something unique that stands out.

They very much follow the path of Cruz records denizens with Big Drill Car being the most obvious comparison.  But for me, if I want to listen to a band that kind of sounds like Big Drill Car, I'll probably just listen to Big Drill Car most of the time.  I may be selling G-Whiz a little short with this type of comparison, it is after all a fun record and if you are into bands like Pollen or All, I can't imagine that you're going to dislike it.  For me, it's just one of those albums that I think is pretty good, but will inevitably languish in my record collection.  Maybe if I heard it in 1992, it would have had more of a chance to get its claws in me.

G-Whiz - "Boomerz":

G-Whiz - "Hegdes":

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth - Mecca And The Soul Brother 2xLP - Clear Vinyl


Elektra / Get On Down (2016, Reissue)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for 25+ years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

I was so completely on board with this record when it came out in 1992.  The single "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" was on non stop repeat on Yo MTV Raps.  With its jazzy horn hook, laid back groove and dynamite lyrical flow, it was one of those songs that resonated with the underground while still bubbling up to infect some mainstream outlets.  It's a great song, but you have to understand how much it got played back then.  It was played a lot.  To the point that it actually started to get a little annoying.  Even nearly 30 years later, while I appreciate it as a great song, I don't really need to hear it that much.  I had my share in 92 and 93.

But the good news is that the rest of this album is every bit as strong as its most famous single, with the added bonus of not having been played into the ground.  Right from the opener "Return of the Mecca," you know the sort of journey you'll be on throughout the album.  Jazzy, soulful beats that don't necessarily sound like Tribe Called Quest, but live in the same general area.  Mid tempo without sounding sleepy and forceful without sounding comically aggressive.

Another track I want to highlight is "It's Like That."  It stands out as being a little different with the scratchy washboard percussion mixed in with the bass and horn loop, but still fits in perfectly with the rest of the album.  C.L. really showcases a faster delivery here, laying down a flawless flow that makes you wonder why he isn't a bit more lauded as one of the great MCs of the era.  Listening to Mecca and the Soul Brother in 2020 doesn't feel like a throwback to me.  This doesn't sound like old music.  While this sort of hip hop isn't what is popular these days, to me it sounds as fresh and innovative as ever.  Though that just might be me getting old...

Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth - Mecca and the Soul Brother (Youtube full album stream):