On Saturday (3 More Sleeps!) I will be departing Vancouver on an epic road trip to visit my friend in Los Angeles. There is much to be excited about: Seeing Kat, More sunshine and less rain, record shopping, Mexican food, and just as certainly, preparing music for the long drive. Here are a few albums I’m excited to listen to while driving south – but I have to drive back to, so feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments below. Oh, and if you want to check out any of the albums, their picture to the right will link to a Grooveshark stream. In the order of backwards chronology, enjoy!
The Only Place – Best Coast, 2012
Reviewers everywhere raved about this record, and the truth is, I still haven’t listened to more than one or two Best Coast singles, so it seems that now is the time. Plus, we have so much in common: I’m going to L.A., via the coast – the band is from L.A. and called Best Coast; I’ll be on the road – this album was written while on tour; the bear on the cover is hugging a map – I’ll likely be doing some map hugging myself. It’s pretty much destiny.
Vows – Kimbra, 2010
Kimbra sounds like she’s having a really good time on her funky debut album, Vows, and it’s hard to imagine not having fun while it’s playing. I am planning to save this record for a much needed dance break, or perhaps as a celebration for crossing over a state line. The song I’m most looking forward to is absolutely the bonus track, called “The Warrior,” for which I just found this Luchadore-themed music video:
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes, 2008
Back when I was writing a list of what I thought were the best albums of the “ohsies” decade (2000-2009), Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut was my number 5, but I put off writing about the album because I was convinced they were best heard while on the road. This road trip seems like the perfect chance to put my own theory to the test, and maybe come home with a blog ready to publish.
Funeral – Arcade Fire, 2004
Another one of my favourite albums from that decade, I have plenty to say about it here. This was unquestionably the album I spent the most time listening to in 2005 – particularly in the first few months of moving into a basement in Vancouver and beginning a grad program. This is one of those albums that I know all the words to, but can’t remember ever trying to learn them. So, for the sake of loud singing in the car, Funeral will be my go-to. Not to mention, it will be good to have some Can-Con to remember the music of home.
At the music store that I work at, we found a copy of this in print form in the clearance bin, and ever since, we’ve had it on display right across from the tills where we take yo money. The cover art alone is enough to transport me back to high school… all of those classes so full like sardines’ tins… no just kidding. The music is nostalgic, and although I went on an early Beastie Boys kick earlier this year when Adam Yauch died, I still haven’t really returned to Hello Nasty, even thought it was one of my favourites.
Janet – Janet Jackson, 1993
Why Janet? Well, I love Janet Jackson for nearly any occasion – especially when she’s produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis – and the truth is, I came across the CD in my room and realized that it had been a while since I put it on. I rarely listen to it as a full album in iTunes because of all the interludes and whatnot that are often unchecked, so having to put it on in its compact disc format might actually have a advantage.
Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill, 1991
This road trip would be incomplete without some L.A. bred rap music. I’m considering making an L.A. Rap playlist, that will be chalk-full of Dre and Snoop and Eazy E, but this self-titled, early 90’s classic seems like the right choice for a Vancouver (which has an actual Cypress Hill) to Los Angeles drive. At the very least, I’ll be nodding my head to this one:
Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman, 1988
“Fast Car,” is on this album, and it’s a classic road trip song for obvious reasons: “Is it fast enough for us to fly away?” But instead of just moving the one track to a playlist, I thought this album might be a chill break from the tunes that are meant to keep me awake and moving. Tracy Chapman might be just what I need to reflect and rest as we watch the scenery pass by.
(IV) – Led Zeppelin, 1971
Led Zeppelin is perfect for driving to, and this technically untitled record is not only one of their best, but also has “Going to California.” As an added bonus, “Stairway to Heaven,” will take up a whole 8 minutes. I’ve had Led Zeppelin in my mind all week because of this amazing website, The Bonhamizer, where you can add John Bonham drum tracks to any song you want to upload. It’s a lot of fun, but I’d rather drive to L.A. listening to Bonham how he was intended to be heard.
Saxophone Colossus – Sonny Rollins, 1956
Bet you weren’t expecting this one? I will likely need some jazz at some point, so why not one of the best saxophone soloists who ever lived, playing some of his all-time best solos ever recorded? No biggie! I have loved this record ever since my high school band teacher gave us homework to go buy some jazz, and as a result, Saxophone Colossus was the second jazz album I ever spent my own money on (right after Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue). Anyway, it’s catchy and awesome and I like it.
So, there are 10 albums that represent some of the diverse music that will be providing soundtrack to my epic adventure. The problem is, if I count it up, this music will only last me about 8 hours, and the way there alone is roughly 25! So, feel free to let me know what albums you’d be listening to on trip along the west coast in the comments below – I’m welcoming suggestions!
I’ve been trying to find a way to re-organize my records, so, today I decided to go through them all and try to let go of a few. For the record (pun a little intended), this is one of the hardest things for me to do. Come to think of it, this blog is evidence of that, since I have virtually given up on my original project. I was on an 80’s pop kick – listening to Ric Ocasek, Corey Hart and Jennifer Rush – when I found I was in need of a break. Most of my vinyl is chronological, so I flipped over to my records from the 70’s. The first record I saw was Joni Mitchell’s Mingus staring me down, with Mitchell’s abstract paintings of Charles Mingus. From the moment I set it on the turntable, I knew I would be out of commission for a bit.
The record is a tribute to and collaborative project with composer and bassist, Charles Mingus, who would die just months after Mingus was finished recording. Mitchell writes and sings lyrics over Mingus’ instrumental compositions, and intersperses the tracks with cassette recorded clips, each labeled as a “RAP”. The record allows Joni to delve into her love of Jazz in an authentic and curious way, while also offer a memorial to an amazing man of Jazz. Mingus was not always met with positive reviews, but I find to be professional respect and admiration in action. Plus she gets to work with a pick-of-the-litter rhythm section, that certainly deserves a shout out: Jaco Pastorious on bass (he also worked with Joni on Hejira), Peter Erskine on drums, and Herbie Hancock on electric keys. Oh yeah, and no bigs, but Wayne Shorter is playing sax. It’s 1979, and they’re not fooling around, but it’s also important to not bring too many expectations to this record. It doesn’t sound like a Joni Mitchell album, or a Charles Mingus album, or even really like most Jazz. I think that’s where a lot of critics got stuck.
The whole album opens with a clip of Joni and friends singing him the traditional happy birthday, complete with Charles arguing about his age with his wife. It turned into quite the tribute, really. “God Must Be A Boogie Man” is probably one of the most effective lyrical-music connections. Joni sounds playful as she thoughtfully tackles the strange theology of the trinity. The final verse is my favourite:
“Which would it be Mingus, One, Two, or Three; which one do you think he’d want the world to see? Well, world opinion’s not a lot of help, when a man’s only trying to find out how to feel about himself! In the plan, oh the cock-eyed plan, God must be a boogie man.”
Jaco shines on this track, with is melody-filled bass lines running all over the place, especially in the beautiful long intro. The smooth sense that comes from Jaco’s bass and Joni’s voice is juxtaposed with a raw, off-key, repeating response of the title line. I can’t find any video of them recording or playing this live, but here’s the audio in video form:
Next, another “RAP” takes place, where Mingus is talking about his future funeral, over jazz playing in the background. “A Chair in the Sky,” seems to be the logical choice to follow such a conversation, which is one of three new songs by Mingus for this particular project. At times, “A Chair in the Sky,” moves between its usual low tempo reflective feel to an up tempo swing. I just wish it did that a bit more often. Still, the track showcases Herbie and Wayne a little more. “A Wolf that Lives in Lindsey” finishes off Side A, and is a little more Joni Mitchell-like, except for some Wolf howls. Yeah, it’s not my favourite, but Joni reminds me that’s she’s really quite underrated as a guitar player. Overtones are everywhere! They should replace the fake wolves!
Side B opens to the best “RAP” so far, with a short scat between Mitchell and Mingus, but it too quickly goes into “Sweet Sucker Dance”, another track written for the album, that I think embodies a bit more of Mingus’ fun and creative style than “A Chair in the Sky”. I actually wish I could hear it without Joni, since the interaction between keys and bass leaves so much up to the imagination and interpretation. Still, the best new track, “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines” is saved for nearly last, and is just a whole lot of fun. It doesn’t sound a lot like Mingus, but it does sound like what you would expect from the musicians present in a good jam session. The last lyric of “But the cleaner from Des Moines could put a coin in the door of a John, and get twenty for one. It’s just luck!” goes straight into a “Lucky”, another short “RAP”, before Mingus closes with Charles Mingus’ own tribute to saxophonist Lester Young. The most well-known track on the album, Joni’s lyrics can be heard as direct lifts from the original solos recorded on Mingus’ Ah Um. This, along with the opening, I think are the best collaborative Mingus/Mitchell tracks. Mingus well remembers and loves its namesake, and I have just had a wonderful afternoon thanks to all the musicians that took a risk on this project.
Now I suppose I should get back to purging unnecessary vinyl. Or simply finding some more old gems I’ve forgotten about.
For Valentines Day this year, my household is planning on having a dance party as part of the One Billion Rising movement (http://www.onebillionrising.org/), which is basically attempting to get a lot of people dancing while raising awareness that violence against women is still a gigantic planet-wide concern. Naturally, I’ll be DJing, so rather than playing some really obvious female-empowerment theme-songs, I’ve given myself two main rules: 1. No Chris Brown, whatsoever, and 2. A larger-than-usual amount of boss female-made dance tracks. M.I.A. was literally my first thought.
I’m sure this is at least partially due to the fact that I recently found a second-hand, but quality-condition copy of her debut L.P., Arular. I have to admit, I was a little late to the M.I.A. party, so much that I didn’t even include this album in my initial list of best 2000’s albums. What was wrong with me? Well, I think I was pridefully reacting to a negative experience which I too closely connected with M.I.A.’s music. I was aware of Arular in 2006 because of a good friend who fell in love with the line in “Sunshowers”, “I salt and pepper my mango”, which I have forever since had lodged in my head. I thought that the music was certainly original, but at the time, I didn’t have the patience for the loud and often violent rhythms of the record. (It was also during a phase in my life when I was listening to a lot of Sufjan, Coldplay and Stars). What really turned me off however, was a bad DJ at a house dance party. This was actually a fairly important turning point in my life, for it was during this experience that I learned how anal I can be about music selection in social events and settings. Basically, I went to this party that was pretty great at first. Then they dropped M.I.A., and I got pretty excited because it was “Pull Up the People” , and that song is an excellent blend of revolutionary lyrics over some of the most fun and contagious beats ever produced. Then what happened was curious indeed. The selector followed it up with one song after another… from Arular. They played an entire album at a dance party. I get that this record is fun to dance to – you should see me do dishes with it on – but dance parties should never have only one artist played. From that day forward, I was so angry with that particular person for clearing the dance floor by playing an L.P., that I stopped listening to the record. It brought too many painful memories to mind, I guess.
I couldn’t tell you when I finally got over it and made her a go-to dance/world/hip-hop artist, but I did. Although it took some time, I was soon able to appreciate it not only for what it had done to me personally, but also for what it stood for musically. Arular is the sound of our shrinking planet, and only someone as multi-cultured as Maya Arulpragasam could have supplied. M.I.A.’s music is a fusion of every rhythm-based musical culture, and has made it’s way into the center of American pop music. Having been thematically inspired by the controversial revolutionary group, the Tamil Tigers, of which M.I.A.’s father is a part, Arular holds the conflicts of various politics, faiths, and worldviews colliding. M.I.A. calls into question the labeling of any use of violence as terrorist activity, while calling a large population that hold this notion to get up and dance to her music.
Listening to Arular on vinyl at high volumes has only continued the process of redemption. On record, Arular is divided up by sides, the first three all beginning with a “skit”. This is probably primarily because the shorter tracks are easier to fit on a side that has already been filled up with full length songs, but I feel as though they end up creating a marker, or a buffer zone between each record flip, giving me a chance to ease back into the intense experience of M.I.A.’s music. The one exception is the final side (d), which begins with” U.R.A.Q.T”., which has a similar feel to the other skits in its video-game music quality. I have to admit that one of my other favourite parts of owning this album on vinyl is the larger cover art. Before rocking the world of pop music, Arulpragasam was a visual artist, and she includes her repetitive and colourful patterns along with lyric samples and militaristic images on the record sleeves. This woman is so cool. She also makes use of her visual art in the music video for “Galang”. Oh look, here it is!
This is one of the few records that I get equally excited for each individual side as well. On side A, “Pull Up The People” and “Bucky Done Gun” are great tracks to start with (other than the “Banana Skit”), because either of them are a fantastic example of what M.I.A. does best: a great club track with words of revolution, such as “You no like the people they no like you, then they go and set it off with a big boom”, or “I’ll fight you just to get peace”. Side B has the catchy and childlike chorus of “Sunshowers”, a song about gun culture and racism, and that single’s b-side, “Fire, Fire”, which I find super motivating around the house. Also “Amazon”, which I didn’t love until recently, but which is able to set up the ideal imagery of a tropical paradise in tension with the danger of M.I.A’s character being held hostage. Oh yeah, and here’s the “Sunshowers” video:
Side C boasts of Bingo (a track that uses a bunch of Cricket imagery over steel-drums and weird laser sounds), Hombre, which I mostly love for its instrumentation (made up of Indian toys and cell phone noises), and 10 Dollar, which dives into the theme of prostitution in developing nations, telling a vivid and too-common story of a girl, referencing Lolita, and still making us dance. What WHAT?
After the final flip of a record, there isn’t a lot I have to say. U.R.A.Q.T. carries a sample from the Stanford & Sons theme, of all things, giving it a very light and playful sense that goes well with the use of text lingo. The line that I usually sing in my head when I think of this song is, “U.R.A.Q.T. Is your dad dealer, cause you’re dope to me”. Then the album comes to a close with the first big single that made this album possible, “Galang”, which has become a standard party track wherever I go, because we all love to sing “slam galang galang galang”. Meanwhile, this guy has also turned it into an actual jazz standard:
The album ends with a hidden, untitled track with some great lines as well, like, “You can be a follower but who’s your leader, Break that cycle or it ill kill ya”. More of the same, but in a good way. In hindsight, after listening to this record three times through, if any album should be played in its entirety, Arular should be it. So, random music selector at that party near the Drive approximately six years ago, I forgive you. You had great taste in the midst of your poor taste.