Monday, November 30, 2020

Music From G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero LP


Universal/Hasbro (2020)

I love 80s cartoons and toys.  They're just part of me as a person at this point.  Sitting at my desk now I'm surrounded by Star Wars, Voltron, He-man, Godzilla and much more.  When I saw that Hasbro was going to release the soundtrack for the G.I. Joe cartoon, I figured it might be something worth picking up.  After all, I do like collection records.  But I am also trying to cut down on the number of records I have that I don't actually play.  But, the collector won out and I picked up a copy.  

I went with the standard version as opposed to the Barnes & Noble colored vinyl exclusive. Typically, I pretty much always will go for the limited variant if I have the chance, but in this instance it would have cost almost ten dollars more than the one I was able to order from Amazon.  Plus, the standard version has better artwork.

When I put this on the turntable to listen to, I was actually shocked how much I enjoyed it.  The score of this show is pretty incredible, with rousing military themes that remind me a lot of the sort of thing you'd hear in those middle era Showa Godzilla movies.  Not necessarily the tried and true Ifukube themes, but some of the other composers that tackled his adventures in the late 60s and early 70s.  This sort of music is upbeat, bouncy and time and just feels so triumphant. The other thing that I like, though I'll concede others may not, is that the version of the opening theme on this LP is without the vocals.  I vastly prefer it this way, even though it's not specifically what I heard on my TV as a kid.

Even though I had mainly purchased this as a 'collectible,' I have a feeling I'm going to end up listening to it a lot more than I had originally planned.  Just wish it had come with a download code as well.


Friday, November 20, 2020

Gentlemen Rogues - Do The Resurrection 7" - Black & Clear Split Color Vinyl


Snappy Little Numbers (2020)

Gentlemen Rogues are skipping to the front of the line when it comes to SLN releases that I haven't written about yet as I have many years of history listening to the bands of singer Danny Dunlap.  I first encountered his music when he was in Jill, an excellent mid 90s pop punk band that probably should be remembered more than they are.  Danny has bounced around in several bands since then, but Gentlemen Rogues have been his project for the past seven plus years.

While neither song is brazenly 90s pop punk that sounds like Jill, it does sound like the sort of warm, glorious power pop that a dude who used to be in a band like Jill would be making twenty five years later.  I hope that reads like a compliment, because it is.  After all, I'm the sort of listener that likes warm, glorious power pop having listened to bands like Jill twenty five years ago. The A side is "Do The Resurrection," and it hits all of the right notes for me with big, crunchy guitar chords and melodic hooks.  Danny's vocals have always had a hint of Billie Joe in them, but luckily he's using them for the forces of good as opposed to whatever it it is that Green Day is doing these days.

On the B side we have an interesting experiment.  It's a cover song medley built primarily off of the Lemonheads song "Rudderless."  Where it gets interesting is that chunks of "Destination Ursa Major" by Superdrag and "When You Sleep" by My Bloody Valentine are worked in to the song as well.  Now, I will admit that of those three, I'm significantly more familiar with the Superdrag song than the others, so when that chunk pops up it does hit me hardest.  That said, the transitions are seamless and it all feels like one song, unlike something like "With or Without U-2" which, while fun, was pretty much a mess.  If Gentlemen Rogues do this sort of thing again, I think they should work in parts of the Quimby version of "Knerd In Shining Armor."

Gentlemen Rogues - Do The Resurrection 7"

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Group Home - Livin' Proof 2xLP


Get On Down (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 twenty-five plus 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.

Group Home is yet another one of those 'missed it by that much' groups in hip hop for me.  As this album originally came out in 1995, it was pretty much off of my radar when it was released.  By '95 I was deep into punk rock and indie rock and frankly, I didn't have the time or money to keep up with the increasingly few interesting hip hop records that were coming out. Had Livin' Proof been released in 1993 or even 1994, it would have probably hit me in a completely different way.

I heard Group Home for the first time within the past two years.  I really didn't even know they had ever released an album.  My only knowledge of them was from their affiliation with Gang Starr and being collectively shouted out on my favorite track of theirs, "Blowin' Up The Spot." When I found out that they did have an album and it had been produced by DJ Premier, I figured it was worth going after, and for the most part it was.

Like all Premier releases from this general time period, the production and beats on this record are quite excellent.  As good as Hard To Earn? Probably not quite there, but easily on the level of The Sun Rises In The East.  As a crew, Group Home hold their own reasonably well on the microphone.  There's no real stand out to me and when pressed, I can't even think of any lyrics that are particularly noteworthy, but they fill out Premier's beats evenly enough.  

Every time I listen to Livin' Proof, I always like it, but it does often feel a little bit long and there's no one that has the sort of charisma or lyrical dexterity that you'd find in Guru or Jeru. That said, it was cool to be able to find a record of this quality and be able to hear it for the first time in 2018 or 2019.  That's not something I get to experience very often.

Group Home - Livin' Proof (YouTube Music full album playlist):

Monday, November 16, 2020

Swami John Reis - Ride The Wild Night 7"


Swami (2020)

While Swami John Reis has released music under his own name in conjunction with The Blind Shake and Metz, this two song 7" marks the first release where he's not working with another established band. With John having been responsible for some of my favorite records ever released, I was interested to see how this 7" would differ from say Rocket From The Crypt, Hot Snakes or Night Marchers.

A Side "Ride The Wild Night" is built off of a fast paced acoustic guitar riff that reminds me a little bit of the Rocket cover of "Love Is Lies."  It's not as obviously pop as that cover song is, but it has a similar feel with John & co using that riff as a foundation to layer on the electrics and blast into a chorus that I can't wait to scream at the top of my lungs once shows are a thing again.

On the B side we have "I Hate My Neighbors in the Yellow House."  It starts off with a heavy synth riff and that caused me concern for a brief moment as I am not typically interested in 80s synth sounds.  But, the synth is just the backbone that all of the the guitars and rhythms are constructed around.  It's the noisier of the two songs and I don't think it would have been too out of place on the second Night Marchers LP.

These two songs are from an upcoming full length album.  Said album was supposed have been released this year with a supporting tour, but of course 2020 must be consistently terrible.  I'm looking forward to hearing more from this and I hope the album doesn't get pushed too far into 2021.

Swami John Reis - Ride The Wild Night 7" (YouTube Music full album playlist)

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Blues Brothers - Everybody Needs Some Body To Love 7" (French Version)


Carrere (1992)

I managed to track down one of the very few picture sleeve Blues Brothers 7"s that wasn't already in my collection.  This one came out in France in 1992.  I'm not entirely sure why 7" of this would be released as late as the 90s, but based on the year and the artwork, it's obviously in conjunction with the 1992 Atlantic records collection album, The Definitive Collection.

I remember when that CD came out when I was in high school.  I bought it right away even though I had all of the songs on it already.  I think one of the main reasons I got it was so I could write a review of it in my high school newspaper, which I did.  I remember it vividly as one of the editors suggested using the word "amongst" in it.  I loved it and added that word to my writing toolbox immediately.

The B side on this 7" is "Gimme Some Lovin'" and like "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" it's from the Blues Brothers movie soundtrack.  There's not going to be much that this record does other than sit in my 7" collection.  But I am now one 7" away from having every Blues Brothers picture sleeve variant.  I need a version of Soul Man from the Netherlands, but once I have that it'll just be a matter of upgrading a couple of sleeves that have condition issues.

The Blues Brothers - "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love":

The Blues Brothers - "Gimme Some Lovin'": 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Gang Starr - Step In The Arena 2xLP


Virgin (2019, 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 twenty-five plus 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 me, Daily Operation and Hard To Earn are the quintessential Gang Starr records.  They are the two I had in the 90s and the ones that I have listened to far more than anything else.  Over the intervening years I have picked up more of the Gang Starr catalog.  While I haven't upgraded everything to vinyl, I did decide that it was time to add their sophomore album Step In The Arena to the collection.

While there is nothing on this record as good as the material on the two albums that followed, there is a lot to love about Step In The Arena.  This is where DJ Premier really started coming into his own, beats wise.  The production on this album is ten million miles ahead of anything on the group's debut No More Mr. Nice Guy.  

Plus, the vast, vast majority of the record is just Premier and Guru.  One of the things that drove me crazy about the Gang Starr records Moment of Truth and beyond is that they were so crammed full of unneeded guest appearances that they hardly felt like Gang Starr records.  I know that an issue with hip hop records as a whole and isn't limited to Gang Starr.  I don't mind two or three tracks with a guest verse, but when you're relying on others for more than half of your album, it just feels watered down to me.

That's not an issue issue with Step Into The Arena.  You get Guru emerging as one of hip hop's great MCs and laying the foundation for the two certified Gang Starr classics that were next in line.

Gang Starr - Step In The Arena (YouTube Music full album playlist):

Monday, November 9, 2020

Headsparks - Working Parts CD


Fixing A Hole (2020)

I was a little late to the party and didn't realize that Andy from Gan/Donfisher had been putting out albums with his most recent band Headsparks until their third album Vs. The Metric System came out.  I then tried to make up for lost time and gather everything else they've released (though I stupidly didn't pick up a copy of their first CD when I ordered this new one from their Bandcamp page).  Anyway, Working Parts is the first album by Headsparks that I'm getting right as it is being released and I'm glad I did because I think it's their best yet.

Working Parts sounds like it could have come out in 1995.  And I mean that in the absolute best possible way.  It's not that I think the record sounds old or out of date, it's that it's a record every bit as good as some of my very favorites from the 90s.  This is UK melodic punk rock in the vein of a Hooton 3 Car or a more mature Donfisher.  And while Headsparks doesn't play quite as fast as those comparison bands, they capture the same sort of energy and write songs that are endlessly catchy and stay lodged in your head for days at a time.

It's like they cherry picked the best sounds of that scene, refined and matured them every so slightly and then unleashed them into the world as the band's best record. Not only is this a high water mark for Headsparks, but as far as 2020 releases go, this is without questions one of the top two or three records I have heard all year.  The only thing I can say that could maybe be a negative is that I just wish that there was a vinyl release available.  Working Parts is way too good of a record not to deserve the vinyl treatment as well as the most excellent Japanese CD.

Headsparks - Working Parts:

Friday, November 6, 2020

Hot Snakes - I Shall Be Free 7" - Pink Vinyl


PU (2020)

I consider myself very lucky to have found Rocket From The Crypt in the mid 90s.  It led me to the Atomjack email listserv when I was in college which led to the RFTC phorum and the Swami forum.  All three of these places are gone now, but the friends I have made in Swami land over the years have stuck around.  Be it on Twitter, that Swami group on Facebook or directly texting with friends made along the way, I am very thankful to be part of this community.  I've been to a lot of Rocket/Hot Snakes/Assorted John Reis shows over the years.  I've often heard him bantering on the stage about the people at the show being family.  I believe every word of that, I have acquired a second family along the way and they are all the fucking best.

If not for said family, I would not have been able to get my hands on this 7".  It was sold at Hot Snakes shows (Remember shows? They were like records only louder with the sound coming out of people instead of the vinyl) and that particular tour didn't make it out east.  Luckily there are kind hearted folks in this world and I was able to add this to my collection.  It was supposed to be the second of four 7"s, one for each of the four seasons (this one is spring) that would lead into the next Hot Snakes full length.  Who knows what happened to that plan with the world being as crazy as it is right now.  As I type this sentence there's one of those fire alarm/air raid sounding sirens going off in my town.  Totally fits the 2020 vibe.

The record itself is great as always.  Hot Snakes doesn't write songs I don't like and both of these fit neatly into their existing catalog while making me hungry for more.  I don't expect shows to start up again anytime soon.  Selfishly, I hope that we don't have to wait for the pandemic to clear before we get more Hot Snakes music, but I also know that it's likely a bummer to put out a record and not be able to tour it.  Chaos all around us.  Hopefully we can get through it soon.

Hot Snakes - "I Shall Be Free":

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Redman - Dare Iz A Darkside LP


Rush (2015, 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 twenty-five plus 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.

Following up on last week's Redman debut LP update, I also managed to acquire a copy of his sophomore album Dare Iz A Darkside.  One thing that I have noticed is that a lot of classic hip hop LPs have been rereleased over the past ten years, but most of them went back out of print pretty soon after that repress.  There have been several occasions where I had to hunt just as hard for a three year old reissue as I would for an original 90s pressing.

Dare Iz A Darkside falls into this category.  I have been hitting up all of the usual stores as well as keeping an eye on eBay and Discogs.  Funny enough, I finally found it by going several pages deep into a Google search and came across a record store in Costa Mesa that said they had the record in stock.  I wasn't confident it would actually show up, but I ordered it anyway. Figured the worst that could happen is I'd end up with a refund.  I can happily report that a few days later a brand new sealed copy of the lenticular cover version showed up.

I didn't have this record when it originally came out.  1994 was a turning point year where I started listening to more punk rock and less hip hop and I imaging this album slipped through the cracks as a result.  I only heard if for the first time years later.  While I don't connect with it quite the same way as I do with the first Redman record, there is a lot to like about this followup.  The beats are still rugged and hard hitting and Redman proved early on that he was a lyricist a step above many.  

It is a great album and it's actually the only other Redman record I've ever listened to aside from the first one. Are any of the others worth checking out? I tend to be leery of anything that came out after 1995, but maybe it's time to explore Redman's discography a bit more.

Redman - Dare Iz A Darkside (YouTube Music full album playlist):

Monday, November 2, 2020

The Animal Steel - Smooth Jazz Chords Flexi 7"


 Snappy Little Numbers (2020)

I haven't seen many flexis in a really long time, but it looks like Snappy Little Numbers is bringing them back.  Hey even though there are limitations to the format, I like them better than tapes.  This flexi is by a band called The Animal Steel and I am disappointed to find out that there isn't anyone in the band named George. But the disappointment ends there.

There's only room for one song on this flexi, but it's a doozy clocking in at five and half minutes long. If I'm being honest, I think they could probably trim off a chunk of the intro and tighten things up a little but, but once the main chunk of "Smooth Jazz Chords" kicks in, there's a lot to like about it.

It's kind of an odd combination, but it works.  There's chunky, Jawbox style guitar work that's slightly dissonant, but still keeps the song catchy and moving forward. Vocally, there's more of an Iron Chic/RVIVR vibe, earnest and powerful and the backing vocals in particular play well with the dynamic guitar work.  I like it.  It's only one song, but it definitely makes me want to hear more.

The Animal Steel - Smooth Jazz Chords: