Wednesday, June 30, 2021

EPMD - Strictly Business 2xLP


Priority (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.

The first four EPMD records are stone cold classics and in my opinion are pretty mandatory records to have in any respectable hip hop collection.  I'm on record many times stating that my favorite of the bunch is their fourth, Business Never Personal, but each of them has something unique to offer.  For their debut, Strictly Business, from 1988 the most revelatory piece is how full and forward thinking their production was.

This was back when sampling was still the wild west and at times it feels like EPMD managed to cram their entire record collection into the beats on this album.  Of any hip hop record that came out in 1988 or earlier, I think you could make a really strong case for Strictly Business having the best beats.  Maybe you give the edge to It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, but EPMD is neck and neck on the production side.

For me, where this album falls short is the actual rapping.  While Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith would very quickly grow into incredible MCs with a dynamic back and forth style, on their first outing they sound pretty subdued.  The rhymes themselves are strong, but the delivery is so lackadaisical they almost sound bored at times.  Now, this was the early days and the album itself is so forward thinking that I definitely don't detract for the vocals too much, but that's the main reason this is probably my least favorite of the four key EPMD records.

Things improved dramatically on the next record Unfinished Business and by the time they hit with Business as Usual, it was pretty clear that they were among the very best of the golden era.

EPMD - Strictly Business:

Monday, June 28, 2021

Quaker Wedding - Russian Hills - Lathe 7"


Not Tapes Not Bombs Tapes Lathes (2021)

Quaker Wedding popped on my radar last years with their excellent full length In Transit.  They're back with a two song, lathe cut 7" and as much as I liked that LP, these songs may be even better.

My major complaint about A side "Russian Hill" is that it's way too short.  It's such a good song, I'm betting it to continue for another two or three minutes.  Hell, I'd be fine if it was one of those songs that just flat out repeated the verse just to pad the run time a little longer.  It's an upper mid-tempo rocker that feels like Jawbreaker somewhere in between 24 Hour and Dear You.

B side "Running List" slows things down a little bit, but still brings forward an energy that feels like it could explode at any moment.  The vocals are full and impassioned without drifting into cornball territory and the chugging guitar chords set the perfect tone.

I really, really dig this 7" and I hope that there's more Quaker Wedding material being worked on.  They are quickly becoming one of my favorite new bands.

Quaker Wedding - Russian Hills - Lathe 7":

Friday, June 25, 2021

Kara's Flowers - The Fourth World LP - Blue Vinyl


Music On Vinyl (2020)

In 1997 I was writing reviews for my college newspaper and was spending an inordinate amount of time hanging out at Flipside Records in Pompton Lakes, NJ.  In addition to all of the great punk and indie records that were coming out at in the mid 90s, it was also the pinnacle of the failed major label band.  There were so many great bands that put out an album or two on a major label, sold essentially nothing and then ended up as cutouts or promo CDs hanging out in the used bins of record stores across the country.

Kara's Flowers were one of these bands.  Now, I am pretty sure that Reprise sent a copy of this record to me to review at my paper, but it is just as likely that I bought my CD as a promo for two dollars from the Flipside used bin.  I was (and still am) taken by the fuzzy pop brilliance of album opener "Soap Disco."  The rest of the album cools off a bit after that, but is a consistently good listen from start to finish (though "Oliver" comes pretty close to the high point of "Soap Disco").  I can't say that I consider The Fourth World an essential listen, but it's a CD I've been carrying around for almost twenty five years and when I found out they finally put out a vinyl version all these years later, I just couldn't resist.

Now, the weird part of all of this is that several of the guys in this band went on to be in Maroon 5.  I can't say I know much of anything about them other than giving them a quick listen about a hundred years ago when I heard the were 'ex-members of Kara's Flowers.'  I thought the new version was pretty bad and moved on with my life.  They are famous now, and I think it's funny that they're embarrassed by their record from 1997, but I thought it was fun back then and it's still a good listen now.  There's no accounting for taste.

Kara's Flowers - The Fourth World:

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde 2xLP - Blue and Yellow Vinyl


Delicious Vinyl / Craft (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.

This Pharcyde album is one that probably took longer to add to the collection than it should have.  I'm not sure why I waited so long, but of course once I did decide it was time to buy it had gone out of print again and took some effort to track down at a reasonable price.  Luckily I did and was even able to get the cool version on colored vinyl.  But I'm quickly learning that as these old school hip hop records get reissued, they go back out of print just as quickly.

Anyway, I've have this CD forever and before that I had the "Passin' Me By" cassette single.  That's the song that caught my attention on Yo! MTV Raps and made me a fan of the group.  Though the album came out in 1992, "Passin' Me By" wasn't a single until 1993.  And even though they predated Souls of Mischief by a bit, I always tie this song and the Souls' track "93 til Infinity" together.  They just exemplified the sort of laid back, effortless rap that was a big contrast to some of the more hard hitting albums I was listening to at the time.  To this day, I'll put "Passin' Me By" up against almost any golden era track.  It's unbelievably great and has aged like fine wine.

I never felt the album as a whole could ever quite live up to the expectations of that one track, but it is still pretty great.  Lots of innovative beats and interesting rhyming.  There's some skits that I don't care for, which is a common theme with a lot of hip hop albums of the era.  The album also has a few questionable turns of phrase here and there when it's looked at with 2021 eyes, but again - nothing that is unusual for a lot of albums from this era.

As far as I can tell, there just isn't any hip hop coming out these days that sounds like this.  If I'm wrong, please educate me.  I would love to hear more albums that have that upbeat crack of the snare drum in the beat and rhyming that's pushing the limits without becoming so off beat that it's unlistenable.  The Pharcyde did a tremendous job of making an album that's flat out fun to listen to.  And then "Passin' Me By" comes on and elevates everything to that next level.

The Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde:

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Christmas Bride - Dark Romance Of A Midnight Wanderer Cassette


Snappy Little Numbers (2021)

I eagerly await packages from Snappy Little Numbers.  In addition to the pretty consistent quality of their releases, my favorite thing is how some records just come out of left field and are not the sort of thing I would have discovered if they were not coming out on a label I trust.

Case in point is The Christmas Bride.  This is an album that doesn't fit neatly into any preconceived classification.  The record is all kind of over the place, though it is bound together by pretty strong hooks in every song.  Maybe in parts it has a pop punk vibe, but the guitar playing is out of this world with crazy riffage and leads that would really be more at home on a heavy metal world than how they're being used Dark Romance Of A Midnight Wanderer.  

The other thing that I can't get out of my head is how I keep thinking a lot of these songs wouldn't be out of place as a non-parody song on a Weird Al record.  Not that they're overly silly or humorous, but there's this energy and dynamic feeling about them that remind me of the sort of pastiches that Al has been perfecting over the last forty years.

Man, this has been kind of a shitty description of the album.  Sort of pop punk, sort of Weird Al with heavy metal lead guitar?  That sounds terrible, but this tape is not.  It's a fun and interesting listen with songs written by an extremely talented guitar player and bristling with energy.  That's the intangible quality that's so hard to capture but always makes me go back to an album again and again.

The Christmas Bride - Dark Romance Of A Midnight Wanderer Cassette:

Friday, June 18, 2021

Pollen - Peach Tree LP


 President Gator (2021, Reissue)

I have to be honest, I'm shocked beyond words that there is demand for a vinyl pressing of this album.  I'm happy there is, and obviously I bought a copy, but if you were asking me about 90s records I thought would be reissued, I don't think I would have ever mentioned Pollen.

For me, Pollen was another one of those late 90s bands kind of major label bands that probably spent a lot of time in cut out bins.  They were on Wind Up who was distributed by BMG so the promos flowed plentifully.  I got my CD copy when I was writing for my college newspaper.  The band had released two earlier records on Grass, but that was the first time I had personally heard of them.  The record is good and just listening to the vinyl the other day, I was kind of surprised just how well it held up.

You have the big crunchy guitar sound that I love, catchy choruses and slightly gravelly vocals.  The Stevenson/Egerton production credits were always pushed, but I never thought Pollen sounded too much like All or Descendents. For me, they were more melodic and were never playing super fast, trying to race to the finish of the song.  

As much as I think the record holds up ("Almond-Coated" in particular is just such a killer song) I still laugh at the chorus of "Tiny Shoes" every time I hear it.  It's a good song, but the lyrics in the chorus repeating "Tiny shoes for tiny feet" always struck me as being beyond goofy.  I also remember to record label promo item of wind-up walking shoes that was given out, but I don't think I ever actually owned one of those.

Anyway, minor lyrical criticism aside, I do still enjoy this album and I think it's one that probably under the radar for a lot of folks.  It's worth a listen if you didn't check it out in 1997.  And for the one thousandth time, someone please put out Onehundredpercentfreak by Alligator Gun on vinyl.  You can't possibly convince me there's more of a demand for Pollen reissues than there is for AG.

Pollen - "Almond Coated":

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - Road to Riches LP - Yellow w/ Purple & Blue Splatter Vinyl (/300)


Omerta (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.

Road to Riches originally came out in 1989, but I never heard it for whatever reason.  I was well aware of Kool G Rap's reputation of being one of the best lyricists in hip hop, but I don't recall seeing many, if any, Kool G Rap and DJ Polo videos on Yo! MTV Raps.  Most of what I knew about them was from what I read in the source.  At some point over the years, I listened to their third album, Live and Let Die, but I don't really remember thinking it was anything special, so i didn't dig any deeper.

While I was listening to an episode of the Take It Personal podcast (which I recommend if you want to hear some old school 90s style mixes) they played this amazing song with an excellent piano sample.  They didn't identify it at the time, but I went back to try to figure out what it was.  It was the opening track to this album and I love it.

So, next step was to track down a copy of Road to Riches.  I ultimately got it from Discogs at an OK price, but with the shipping it certainly wasn't cheap.  I'm not sure why so much of the good hip hop reissues are on labels based out of Europe.  But, once it arrived I found out it wasn't just the title track from this record that was worthwhile.  Pretty much everything was great with it feeling pretty ahead of its time for 1989.  I'm probably going to give their 2nd album a try to see if I like it as much as their debut, but if nothing else Road to Riches is pretty much a stone cold classic that I really wish I had heard back when it came out.

Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - Road to Riches:

Monday, June 14, 2021

Autogramm - No Rules LP - Clear with Blue & Green Splatter Vinyl


Nevado (2021)

I wrote about a 7" that these guys put out a few years ago and even though I used the word 'synth' while describing them, I still actually liked it.  Probably because the easiest touchstone for me to reference was The Cars, a band I have enjoyed since I was a child.  Now I have a full album of Autogramm songs to listen to and the question is; can they hold my interest for a full album as opposed to a single?  For the most part, the answer is yes. 

I say for the most part because when the band is playing faster tempo songs, I tend to get into them and really dig what the band is doing.  The opening title track has the energy of a new wave blast with some keyboard work that reminds me of Adventures of Jet.  "Bad Day" is a power pop blast with a great hook. Songs like "Jody Is a Cop" and "Shut Up" have punchy drumming and a frenetic energy that would make Zebrassiers proud.

When things mellow out a little bit on a song like "Mantra" or "Future Primate," it all gets just a little to 80s for me.  I don't want to say they're mall-rock necessarily, but you get the feeling that the hip kids in Fast Times at Ridgemont High would have these songs playing in their cars.   Whatever stupid 80s reference you want to make, the bulk of the music from that decade isn't something I look back towards with much nostalgia.  When Autogramm is rocking, I dig it.  When the sort-of-ballads start, I kind of check out a bit.

Autogramm - No Rules:

Friday, June 11, 2021

Pavement - Shady Lane 7" - Lathe Cut (/25)


Fellaheen (1997)

Pavement is one of my very favorite bands and they are among the most influential that I've listened to over the years.  I discovered them early in my initial toe-dipping into punk rock and indie rock in the mid 90s and they have remained a favorite ever since.  It's their first three (four if you count the Drag City Westing compilation) albums that hit with me the most.  Brighten The Corners is still good, but I just never connected with it quite the same way as the others.  Shady Lane is a song from that album.

In Australia, several Pavement records were released on a label called Fellaheen.  For the most part their versions seem to just be the Matador version with a different logo on them, but they did a few weird things.  When the band released the Pacific Trim EP, Fellaheen didn't release a standard 7".  They did a lathe cut version that was limited to only 100 copies.  I was very lucky to have acquired one of those many, many years ago.  Aside from the copy I have, I've never seen another for sale.

When it was time to do the Shady Lane single, Fellaheen decided to do another lathe cut, but this time they only did 25 copies.  How the hell was I supposed to get one of these?  I don't have every single Pavement variant in the world, but I do have all of their 7"s.  If there's different artwork, I consider it a different version and need it in the collection.  This was the only hole I had that wasn't a vinyl color or a record label logo variant.

Well, amazingly one popped up on Discogs a few months ago.  It was about $100 shipped and even though that's more money than I should be spending on a one sided 7" right now, I knew I would never have another chance to get my hands on this.  Thank goodness for credit cards.  Getting it here was a little adventurous as the seller initially gave me an incorrect tracking number and I was terrified to see it delivered to a California address a week or so ago.  Luckily it was just a clerical error and my Pavement 7" arrived safe and sound this week.

I'll probably never play it.  There's really no reason to.  Let's be honest, there's really no reason to even own it.  But something in me is broken and I find the uncontrollable need to hunt down these weird trinkets so my collection feels more complete.  Can't really explain it.

Pavement - "Shady Lane":

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Ultramagnetic MC's - The Four Horsemen 2xLP


Wild Pitch (1993)

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.

A few weeks ago I wrote about picking up a bootleg version of the second Ultramagnetic MCs album, Funk Your Head Up.  It was spaced out on two LPs and sounded much better than the old single LP version I've been dragging around for a while.  That motivated me to start looking for a newer version of the Four Horsemen LP.  I had this already, but my copy was a little bit worn and didn't sound so hot.  I had bought it off eBay or Discogs or something like that quite a while ago, but the condition just wasn't up to par.

So, I stumbled across this copy on eBay that was still sealed.  The cover art was a little beat up (and unfortunately the art on my other copy is a cut out, so it's only marginally better), but having two pristine slabs of vinyl was something I just couldn't pass up.  And man-oh-man does it sound wonderful.

It's hard to rank those first three Ultramagnetic albums.  They're all so different and have elements about them that are superior compared to the others.  I probably will always like Funk Your Head Up more, because I heard it first, but Four Horsemen is definitely a more consistent album start to finish. This is an album where these guys are just embracing their weirdness, making no play at all for crossover appeal and just throwing down off kilter rhymes over tremendous beats. 

In my opinion you really need to own all three of the first Ultramagnetic MCs albums.  They're all perfect in their own way and it's kind of a crime that the second two have been out of print for about a thousand years now.  A new, fancy version of Critical Beatdown just came out (Yeah, I'll be writing about that one pretty soon).  Hopefully that will spark demand for equally fancy reissues of their other golden era classics.

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Stools - Live At Outer Limits 12-28-19 LP - White Vinyl


Big Neck (2021)

The Stools aren't a band name I was personally familiar with when I popped open the package from Big Neck Records that contained this LP.  On top of that, it was a live album, which I'm typically not really a fan of to begin with (Aside from the notable exceptions of Bum - Shake Town! and Leatherface - Live In Oslo).  I wasn't sure this album was the ideal way to introduce me to a new band, but you know what...this might be the best way to hear The Stools for the first time.

What I really like about this record is the blistering energy it is able to capture.  The band just sounds like they are on fire plowing from one blues influenced punk stomper to the next.  It reminds me a little bit of the first Black-Eyed Snakes album, at least in the way that the pounding drums keep things pushing along.  That coupled with the fuzzed out, soulful guitar riffs makes for a magic combination.

I can't say that the vocals are my favorite thing in the world and since it's a live album I can't be sure if it's just a recording issue or if the band's vocals typically sound this way.  Lots of distorted shouting for sure, but it doesn't over power the huge rocking band behind them.  

The Stools - Live At Outer Limits 12-28-19:

Friday, June 4, 2021

Radioactivity - Erased 7"


Wild Honey (2019)

My love for The Marked Men is well documented and in particular I've been such a huge fan of Jeff Burke's songwriting for many, many years.  When he started up the band Radioactivity, I dove right in.  I thought i had been keeping up on all of their releases, but apparently this 7" snuck out in 2019.  Luckily I noticed it in a Green Noise email blast and grabbed a copy.

It's a familiar one-two punch.  The A side "Erased" is fast and hooky with the hyper drumming and chord progressions that feel familiar, but always take a slightly unexpected turn. Things calm down a little on B side "Fear," but Burke has an uncanny ability with vocal melodies and I dig this song every bit as much as the A side.

Again, I don't know exactly how I missed this 7" for two years.  I don't know if it's a lack of paying attention or a lack of reliable places to get information about these types of releases.  I'm pretty sure I'm subscribed to the Wild Honey email list, but this one still slipped past me.  I'll blame old age.

Radioactivity - Erased 7"

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Czarface & MF Doom - Super What? LP


Silver Age (2021)

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.

Most Wednesdays I write up something about an album from around 1988 - 1994, what I consider to be the best time for hip hop.  Lately I've been finding the occasional record that was released as late as say 1995 that I hear for the first time or rediscover.  Those are momentous occasions.  But today we go even crazier.  This album came out this year.   And I like it.  Will wonders never cease.

Czarface and MF Doom have collaborated on an album before, but Super What? is my first time dipping my toe into that pool.  I've never listened to Czarface before as I knew Inspectah Deck from Wu Tang was involved and I've never been a Wu Tang fan to be honest.  As far as MF Doom goes, I love his work with KMD from the 90s, but his other work is more hit and miss for me.  I'm not sure what made me go take a listen to this new release, but I'm glad I did.

My biggest beef with modern hip hop is that I find the beats to be weak and uninspired.  I can't really get down with minimalism in hip hop as I need the big bass lines and boom bap snare cracks to connect.  Super What? has the sort of production work that I really can get behind weaving in classic 90s vibes that Czarface (mostly) and MF Doom (here and there) lay down colorful verses and interesting rhyming patterns.  You're going to get my attention if you drop a lyric about pro wrestler Orange Cassidy.  It's a short album, maybe even too short.  But the quality that they maintain from start to finish is quite astounding.

Not only is this the best new hip hop album I've heard in years and years, I'm impressed enough that I plan on seeking out some other Czarface albums to see if this was a one off anomaly, or if there's finally new hip hop I can pay attention to.

Czarface & MF Doom - Super What?: