Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Best Pratt Sounds of 2008

One Librarian's Media Advisory

Inspired in equal parts by my friend Chuck, a library regular who writes the music blog Pratt Songs (which features reviews of the records he checks outs from Enoch Pratt's Central Library), and my former co-worker Tyson (who ordered many of the records lauded in Pratt Songs), I decided to jump on the end-of-year "Best Of" bandwagon and list my personal picks for the best records I checked out of Pratt Central's Sights & Sounds Department last year.

I List It Myself

These aren't necessarily new albums released in 2008, merely the best ones I checked out from the Pratt's impressive music collection. They are listed in no particular order and serve as my attempt at a listening Reader's Advisory for those occasions when a patron asks me, "What do you recommend?" or "What have you heard that you like?" (It happens.)

Best Pratt Sounds 2008

  2. (Spoon Records, 2007 reissue)
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    Tago Mago is arguably the best album by Krautrockers Can and certainly their most experimental, with two songs clocking in at 17 and 11 minutes each. It was was originally released on vinyl as a double LP in 1971 and was the first studio album featuring "vocalist"/frontman Damo Suzuki (who replaced the nervous-breakdown-bound Malcolm Mooney). Pratt also owns Can's follow-up to Tago Mago, 1972's Ege Bamyasi.

    (Soul Jazz Records, 2007)
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    This great compilation from the fine-taste arbiters at Soul Jazz Records takes a look at the UK's DIY movement, an independent music genre that flourished in the post-punk era. Its 22 tracks span the years 1977 to 1986, and while a few are obvious or familiar names (Buzzcocks, Scritti Politti, Swell Maps, Throbbing Gristle, Thomas Leer) the rest were complete unknowns to me - but pleasant discoveries, like Kleenex's "Ain't You" and Patrick Fitzgerald's "Babysitter." Sonically, it's a mixed bag, from primal low-tech punk doodlings to to experimental synth noodlings, with funk, dub, electronica and synth-pop to boot. I blogged about it previously (and in more depth) in "Forward Into the Past."

  6. (Hotpie & Candy, 2000)
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    This is easily the blackest, baddest, funkiest, sweetest soul music I've ever heard. But it's by the whitest of whitebreads - Germans!. Hotpie & Candy was a small German label (a subsidiary of Soulciety Records) that released a series of singles between 1992-1995. All of these releases were by a band from Munich called The Poets Of Rhythm whose members included the very un-soulful-sounding Teutons Jan Whitefield, Max Whitefield, Boris Geiger, Till Sahm, Malte Müller-Egloff, Wolfgang Schlick, and Michael Voss. This German funk band (consider that oxymoronic term: German Funk!) recorded under various pseudonyms (Bo Baral's Excursionists, Bus People Express, Karl Hector & The Funk-Pilots, Mercy Sluts, The, Mighty Continentals, The, Neo-Hip-Hot-Kiddies Community, New Process, The, Organized Raw Funk, Pan-Atlantics, The, Polyversal Souls, The, Soul Sliders, Soul-Saints Orchestra, Soul-Saints, The, Syrup, Whitefield Brothers, The Woo Woo's), releasing albums in the guise of "compilations" by "Various Artists" between 1992 and 2002. Ha! Don't be fooled like I was. Despite their tighter-than-James-Brown sound, the Poets remained relative unknowns outside of Deutschland until they were discovered by DJ Shadow in 2001; Shadow helped bring them to the attention of London's Ninja Tune records, where their Define Discern release reached a broader Western audience. For more info, see my blog post "Kraut Funk."

  8. (Astralwerks, 2006)
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    For the longest time I ignored this CD, until I realized it was affiliated with James Murphy of the very clever LCD Soundsystem. In fact, DFA Records is the New York City-based independent techno/electronica record label founded in 2001 by Murphy along with Tim Goldsworthy and Jonathan Galkin. (According to Wikipedia, the label's original name was Death From Above Records, but was changed to DFA following the September 11, 2001 World Trade center attacks - for obvious reassons!). Because DFA has an distribution deal with EMI, they get to remix a number of major label acts, including the Chemical Brothers, Le Tigre, Hot Chip, Gorillaz, Goldfrapp, Nine Inch Nails, and Fischerspooner. I thought this was going to be nothing but same-sounding techno babble, but it's surprisingly good and full of variety.

  10. (Astralwerks, 2006)
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    DFA's follow-up remix edition is even better. Listening to Le Tigre's "Far From Home" while chugging coffee really gets my engine running during the morning commute.

  12. (Minty Fresh, 2006)
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    I love this record of snappy French pop-punk sung by the very skinny, very sassy, very sexy chanteusse Isabelle Le Doussal. I thought they were relatively obscure until I saw a TV commercial using "Je Ne Te Connais Pas" to sell BMWs! Advertisers must like this Prototypes-for-commercial-success band because their "Who's Gonna Sing" was previously used to hype the Apple iPod Shuffle. My fave tracks are "Gentleman" and "Danse Sur La Merde" ("Dance On the Shit"). If you like Plastic Betrand, perky pop or sexy French girls (and who doesn't?), you'd like this album too.

  14. ( Soul Jazz Records, 2002)
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    Rather self-explanatory: Reggae meets Disco. And it works, especially on Blood Sisters' "Ring My Bell" and Carol Cool's "Upside Down." Plus Reggae meets Hip-Hop with Xanadu & Sweet Lady toasting away on "Rapper's Delight" and Reggae meets R&B when Derrick Laro and Trinity give Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" the dancehall makeover. Good times, mon, good times!

  16. (Soul Jazz Records, 2004)
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    This is "disco" before it became a pejorative term associated with John Travolta, polyester pants and wide open collar shirts. Yes, there was a time when it was cool (and more R&B/Soulful)! In fact, Gallery impressario Nicky Siano - Studio 54's most famous DJ - preferred the terms "dance music" or "house party" for the legendary underground soirees held at his SoHo loft. Artists represented here include Genie Brown, The Temptations ("The Law of the Land"), The Supremes ("I'm Gonna Let My heart Do the Walking"), The Trammps ("Love Epidemic"), The Isley Brothers ("Get Into Something"), The Bar-Kays, Bill Withers, Gloria Spencer, vernon Burch, Loleata Hollway, (Delaney-less) Bonnie Bramlett (!?), Brenda and the Tabulations, and Exuma and Zulema (the latter of which sound like skin diseases). Oh, and a Pointer Sisters song "Yes We Can Can" which pre-dates Barack Obama's slogan by some 25 years!

  18. LIVE AT THE OLYMPIA, PARIS 1971 (Polydor, 1971)
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    Listened to this while stuck in a monstrously long line at the vehicle emissions center and it helped me overcome my stuck-in-park road rage. This live concert captures the Godfather of Soul at the height of his powers, with a tight band (including Bootsy Collins on bass!) and hilarious band interactions. Standout tracks include Phelps "Catfish" Collins' scorching guitar solo on "Ain't It Funky Now" and JB's vocal mania on "Sex Machine" (why this classic, with its invocations to "Get on up! Get on the scene like a sex machine!" hasn't been used in Viagra ads is beyond me - too subtle perhaps?). I was giddy by the time the technician hooked up my exhaust pipe, and not from the fumes.

  20. (Columbia/Legacy, 2005)
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    The soundtrack from Martin Scorcese's definitive Dylan documentary. Exactly the kind of exhaustive musical retrospective you'd expect from fanboy Marty.

  22. RARE AND UNRELEASED 1961-1991
    (Columbia, 1997 reissue)
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    Being a Dylan devotee, I already had this, but I was happy to see the library get all the Bootleg Series releases. This 3-disc one is the best (I especially love "Mama You Were On My Mind" and "Suze (The Coughing Song)," an instrumental punctuated only by Dylan's phlegmatic hacking at the end, of which he comments "That's, uh, the end"), which is saying a lot considering subsequent Bootleg Series releases include the 1964 Philharmonic Hall concert, the legendary 1966 Royal Albert Hall show (which elicited the famous cry of "Judas!" when things turned electric), and the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour.

  24. (Warner Bros., 2003)
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    Sometimes you need some relaxing, ambient background music to chill down with after a long day at work. This is that music. I hadn't explored Metheny's back catalog until I saw him on Elvis Costello's talk show Spectacle, but I figured that if Elvis vouched for him, he must be OK. Once again, Elvis did not steer me wrong. Instead of the jazzy fusion stuff for which he is better known, this is straight ahead acoustic virtuoso material. Dare I say it? It's beautiful.

  26. (Rev-Ola Bandstand, 2007)
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    I had only heard of Mickey Baker thanks to my friend Kenny Vieth, who played me Baker's 1950s Mercury Records session work when he was backing Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five - the standout track was "Caldonia '56," a remake of Jordan's '40s hit that transformed the jump blues original into pure, unadulterated rock 'n' roll. It was one of those guitar sounds that, the minute you heard it, you knew it was the work of a stylist, someone different from the pack - like the first time you heard Hendrix, or Carlos Santana, or Roger McGuinn. A sound unlike all others. Unique. "Caldonia '56" is rightly included here, along with selections representing Baker's work in a number of genres, including country, blues, R&B, rockabilly, rock 'n' roll and, of course, his 1957 Top 40 hit as Mickey & Sylvia "Love Is Strange" (a tune written by Bo Diddley and featuring Sylvia Vanderpool, who would go on to be an '80s rap proponent at Sugar Hill Records).

  28. (EMI, 1996)
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    I'm just glad the library has at least one Hawkwind record (thanks Ty!). The Space Ritual Alive in Liverpool and London was the UK space rockers 1973 live album, which famously features "Sonic Attack" (written by sci-fi author Michael Moorcock and narrated here by Robert Calvert) and an iconic LP cover by radical Brit graphic artist Barney Bubbles that looks like something out of a Kenneth Anger film. You gotta love a record that has songs/concepts like "Orgone Accumulator" on it!

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    I'm still exploring this one, but right off the bat I was fascinated to hear something other than the usual samba and bossa nova beats coming out of Brazil. Apparently there was a pretty happening post-punk scene in Sao Paulo in the '80s (does this mean there was also a punk scene in Brazil? If so, I also missed that the first time around), including acts like As Mercenarias, Patife Band, Gang 90, Chance, Harry, Akira, Gueto, Cabine, Muzak and Smack. And I had to hear what a band that calls itself Fellini sounds like (the answer: Fellini-esque!).

    Here's how the Soul Jazz Records site describes this release:
    "The Sexual Life of The Savages" traces the story of a set of Brazilian groups who took their inspiration from US groups such as ESG, Liquid Liquid, Arto Lindsay (himself a Brazilian) and DNA, James White and The Contortions as well as UK groups such as A Certain Ratio, The Pop Group, Joy Division, Gang of Four, Cabaret Voltaire and New Order. With groups like LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, Chicks On Speed, Le Tigre, Liars, Radio 4 and other contemporary punk/dance bands taking their influences from this period, the music of these groups (all of whom have remained unknown outside of Brasil until now) will be a revelation. The title from the album relates to the complicated relationship Brazilian musicians have with the music of the US and their ironic perception of how Brazilian music is seen outside the country."


  32. ANTHOLOGY 65-73(Trojan, 2005)
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    I was never really a fan of formulaic Reggae, but Ska's a different matter, and this is pure '60s ska. "Storm Warning" is the signature outstanding song, but fun TV and movie-themed ditties like "El Casino Royale," "Batman," "Napoleon Solo" and "Top Cat" also stand out on Disc 1, which is dedicated to Trinidad "Rock Steady" guitarist Lyn Taitt's work with the Jets. Disc 2 anthologizes his later work with other ska and Rock Steady artists.

  34. (Daptone Records, 2007)
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    I had never heard of Sharon Jones until I saw a short film at last year's Maryland Film Festival about the aftermath effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (Ben Mor's Help Is Coming) that had a smokin' soundtrack that seemed to fit the city's musical heritage perfectly. The spunky funky song I remember liking was by none other than...Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings! I subsequently learned that the Dap-Kings were Shanghaied by Amy Winehouse to be her backing band in the studio and on the road. This is sassy and brassy neo-soulful fun, sung by a woman whose Old School voice knows from world-weary experience, with "Tell Me" the standout track for me.

  36. (Downtown Records, 2008)
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    Thanks go to my gal pal Bridget for recently turning me onto this one. I had repeatedly looked at the cover - which featured a woman of indeterminate ethnicity (African-American? Hispanic?) spewing gold out of her mouth - and wondered what it was all about. But it took Bridget burning me her copy to clue me to its wonders. I don't know how to classify the music much beyond the library catalog's own generic designation of "underground dance music." There's some dub, some electronic beeps and buzzes, some rock, some pop. And the lyrics to the lead-off single "L.E.S. Artistes" ("You don't know me/I am an introvert, an excavator") were inspirational enough to provide Bridget with the name of her blog. I'm so hopelessly out of it as far as new music goes...I subsequently learned what everyone else in the world already knows: that Santogold is the stage name of of Philadelphia singer Santi White and that her songs have already been deemed democraphically hip enough to be used in commercials for Bud Light Lime, VO5 hair products and video games. Santi White has a great voice - she sounds unlike any other contemporary singer to these ears - and her music is what I imagine Beck would sound like if he took female hormone pills. This is fun and upbeat pop ideal for commuting.

  38. (Hollywood Records, 2006)
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    I usually hate these popular TV show soundtracks that are filled with tracks by the type of soundalike indie rockers that make up college radio playlists, but this one stands out for including Go Set Go's "I Hate Everyone" - the best song I heard all year and the one musical manifesto I would claim as my theme song for life ("Some stupid chick in the checkout line is paying for beers with nickles and dimes/And some old man clipped some coupons and argued whenever they wouldn't take one/And all I wanted to buy was some cigarettes but I couldn't take it so I just left..."). And this is just the "clean" radio version! As I listened to more of the album, I also starting digging Ursula 1000, the lounge music project of DJ Alex Gimeno, whose "Kaboom" sounds like Pizzicato Five sampling Serge Gainsbourg's "Comic Strip" with Japanese singer Izumi Okawara (of J-popsters Qypthone) doing her best Brigitte Bardot impression. Another DJ turned pop star, Anya Marina, sings like Ginger on Gilligan's Island in the way-clever "Miss Halfway" ("All my friends in LA got jobs on Melrose Place/I play Replacement songs and sigh "Waitress in the Sky"). Also delighting my ears were KT Tunstall's acoustic "Universe and U," blue-eyed soulster/Target pitchman Jamie Lidell's evocation of Otis Redding on the rhythm-and-bloozy "Multiply" and The Chalets' "Sexy Mistake," which conjured up memories of Veruca Salt singing "Seether" (too bad these Irish chicks disbanded last year: Erin Go Blah!)

  40. (Interscope Records, 2008)
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    Last, but certainly not least, is Beck's latest to round off my Top 20 year-end countdown. Thanks go again to my friend Bridget for clueing me in to this return to form by the world's only cool Scientologist. Don't get me wrong - I love Beck, but his last couple of releases were hit-or-miss affairs to me (sorry, I missed hearing The Information other than "Nausea," which the local college radio station played ad nauseum; everytime I tried to grab it somebody else checked it out), with nothing approaching the sweep of such flawless albums as Odelay and Midnight Vultures (the two Beck works I find myself most enamored of to this day). But this one is solid, Jackson. Modern Guilt, produced by Beck and Danger Mouse's Brian Burton, features two collaborations with Cat Power and standout tracks in "Orphans", "Gamma Ray" and "Youthless" and the moody "Chemtrails." And the title song may just be my secondary theme song ("I have modern guilt/I'm ashamed of what I've done" pretty much describes my days as a public access TV producer!). OK, I'll backtrack and try out The Information now (hey, I finally caught up with Lost by watching four seasons in the last two months) so I can once again be engaged with Contempo Pop Culture.

Related Links:
Pratt Songs blog
introverted excavator blog


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