Space Cowboy - So You Like What You See/Prove Me Wrong: All of the big Space Cowboy tracks prior to now (I'm thinking "I Would Die 4 U", "Always & Forever", "Put Your Hand In Mine") have this almos religious devotion to the second coming of French House. Religious because they're fervent, but also in the way that the beat will drop out and leave these awesomely cavernous, reverent organ-like synthesisers soundtracking the Ascension of Daft Punk. Real sonic cathedral stuff, you know the score. The endless repetition of "Put Your Hand In Mine" in particular is totally religious; it's the house music equivalent of Hail Mary beads.
So these tracks on the album sampler come as a bit of a shock, junking the former religious purity in favour of a (ha ha) devilish impurism. "So You Like What You See" is Jaxx style schizo-fusion, a sultry Prince-styled disco-pop song groaning under the weight of slithering electro melodies, Indian flutes and an enormous tabla beat that briefly emerges to shine on its own in what must be the most crudely effective breakdown since I don't know when. Basement Jaxx are the obvious reference point, but this feels more like what Richard X might do if he allowed his arrangements to thaw into contact with contemporary sonics - sharing that same love of dense layering as opposed to the (marvellously) oppositional sonic conundrums that the Jaxx increasingly favour.
Prove Me Wrong is simpler and sweeter, an endlessly looped but impossibly shiny sitar flourish providing the impetus for an attempt at sunny hip hop, all nimble clipped beats and huge jungle bass. The UK rapper drafted on board isn't exactly inspired but it's hard to notice when the Scritti Pollitti falsetto coo in the chorus is so gorgeous. Inevitably I'm reminded of similar attempts like Scritti's "Tinseltown to the Boogiedown" and Saint Etienne's "Soft Like Me" - all three tunes are hip hop only in name, the beats and rhymes being somewhat incidental to the aspirations of the song as a whole. Not hip hop but dream-pop, albeit of an unsual execution. "Prove Me Wrong" wouldn't have sounded too out of place on the last Bows album, its choruses primed for a blissful, self-negating transcendence.
Sizzla - All Is Well: I think this is on Rise to the Occasion - anyway, get it if you can 'cos it's more sorta sweet but kinda eerie falsetto-ish dancehall a la "Love & Affection". Also check out Vybz Kartel's "Robbery" on what seems to be the same riddim - yet another slinky eastern number, all this pent-up energy carrying over from bar to bar as can be found in the Wanted and Egyptian riddims (is this what Zemko/Chip/Prima on ILM means when he talks about "throb riddims"?).
Sophie Ellis-Bextor - The Walls Keep Saying Your Name: Sophie's new album is middling to very good depending on my mood. This bizarro Emily Bronte styled goth-house-pop number is probably the best track: clever without sounding like it's trying too hard to be. The general rule with this album is that Sophie is better the more she lets her heart rule her head. See also: the seething "rock" of "You Get Yours".
Mark Ronson - Ooh Wee: I liked this already but then I heard it while out dancing one night and it hit home quite forcibly just how much fun it is. Those strings! Plus Ghostface is a superlative party rapper and should do this sort of stuff more often. Some amazingly agile Jamaican girls absolutely slayed the dancefloor to this and Lucy Pearl's "Don't Mess With My Man" and Budden's "Pump It Up".
Hey everyone, blogger has been playing up so please read down the page for hitherto unpublished posts.
Target ft. Riko - Chosen One Foulplayification continues ahoy! At this stage the best of grime - which Target has a good claim to being - can more than hold its own against dancehall for kaleidoscopic technicolour vividness and samplarhythmic daring. "Chosen One" may be the furthest that grime has taken the insidious viral expansion of eastern influences, constructing a crashing, sharply syncopated garage rhythm out of tabla beats and handclaps, and then swathing this bracingly physical skeleton in swirling layers of "Open Your Mind"-style shimmering Orientalist synths and the popular grime-meme of mournful gypsy strings.
It's intoxicatingly dense, but that doesn't stop Riko from transforming it into something both catchy and uplifting. "Stay calm, don't switch your composure, blud!" he chants in the chorus, and you just know that this is gonna be another motivational anthem straight from the Eastern bloc. What is the significance of tunes like this, "It Ain't A Game" and "Pick Yourself Up"? What is it about this narrative of triumph in the face of adversity that it takes such a central role in grime's oral history? And why this increasingly accomplished, beautiful music to soundtrack the struggle? I don't have the answers at the moment, but "Pick Yourself Up" and "Chosen One" alone (not to mention "Fresh Air" and "Dumpvalve (Remix)" and "Hyperdrive"!) Target deserves canonisation.
Listening to Mystikal's Tarantula again today - what an amazing album! Maybe in the future albums like Tarantula and Trina's Diamond Princess will come to represent a lost moment between the two waves of southern rap attack, when the scene's big stars were no longer certain of what they should sound like and so tried to sound like anything and everything. But while Trina's album is a riot of costume-changes (bhangra! sped-up soul samples! etc.) Mystikal managed to concoct the perfect blend of grunting crunk and sparkling pop-rap; even the track produced by Juvenile is disarmingly fragile, all effervescent synth flutters and agile syncopated beats.
Perhaps it's his commanding presence as bandleader that makes the distance from Neptunes organo-funk to mechanical bounce seem so neglible. What's always heartening though is how the harder gangsta tracks ("Big Truck Driver", "Pussy Crook") are just as captivating and distinct as his Neptunes-assisted James Brown impersonations (although perhaps the better way of putting it is that Mystikal doesn't need the Neptunes to do James Brown, and he brings that hilarious energy to even his most misanthropic, self-consciously baller moments).
As always though, I find myself returning to "Oooh Yeah", a gloriously slinky bluesy sexfest that, if it were ever so slightly faster and harder, would be the dancing song ever. How can you possibly argue with a chorus of "Oo-oo-ooh yeah! Oo-oo-ooh yeah! Clap clappa that clappa that ass clap clappa that clappa that ass that ass! Wop-wobble that wobble that ass wop-wobble that wobble that ass that ass! Oh-oh-oh-ohh yeah, oh-oh-oh ohh yeah!"
If only Ludacris's Chicken & Beer had the same sustained intensity! Or, alternatively: if only Ludacris could pull off his ill-advised soft-soul detours with the same untouchable confidence with which Mystikal tackles James Brown funk. The Ludacris/Mystikal comparison returns to me frequently because the two guys are the great showmen of rap, whose every line drips personality and charisma without any requirement of Andre 3000-style pantomime.
Ludacris's peaks are higher and more thrilling than Mystikal's, I think, but he's yet to make an album as consistently engaging as Tarantula. Chicken & Beer comes as close as his previous albums, but it's frustrating to see that he hasn't managed to dislodge that bar: for every "Stand Up" or "Blow It Out Ya Ass" there's a "Diamond in the Back" (a rather bland Banner-ised country-hop number based around "Be Thankful For What You've Got). Mystikal does well precisely because he can't or won't play around with his gruff but lusty vocal formula; Ludacris by comparison is increasingly diverse but while this allows for variety (Chicken & Beer is if nothing else a saisfyingly wide-ranging album) it also spells unevenness.
But I've run out of time for this post so maybe I'll talk about Ludacris later!
1. Tubby T - Ready She Ready 2. Sean Paul - Head Fi Toe 3. Sugababes - Situations Heavy 4. Le Dustsucker - Love Me 5. Vybz Kartel - Fashion 6. The Rayne ft. Joe Budden - Didn't You Know (Remix) 7. Richard Davis - Bring Me Closer 8. Daluq - Oriental Express 9. Missy Elliot - Hurt Something 10. Elephant Man - Bad Man Holiday
What I've heard of Def Jam's Def Jamaica album conforms to my expectations: everything is better the more dancehall it gets, and the Jamaican DJs slay the rappers. Or maybe it just feels like that: for some reason there's very few rappers who sound good over dancehall beats, and those who do (eg. Foxy Brown, Missy) are a) usually women, and b) not afraid to approximate a bit of patois themselves. Perhaps it's just that, matched with the unceasing equatorial exoticism of the Jamaican grooves, an average hip hop flow sounds slightly conservative, even fun-hating, like a friend who who won't take off his jumper in the middle of a heatwave because he's afraid his arms look pudgy. As a result most of the rappers end up sounding like Clipse (dead-eyed, dead-voiced) whether they meant to or not. Oddly though, US rappers tend to sound great over Indian-flavoured beats. What's the formula to explain this?
The grand exception of the tracks I've heard is Ghostface Killah's duet with Elephant Man, "Girls Callin", whose simple but energetic beat allows both Elephant and Ghostface to ramp up the melodrama with performances now doom-laden, now giddy. Ghostface couldn't be further away from dancehall patois, but his garbled nervy whine is a fitting equivalent, amounting to the same level of expressive urgency using entirely different building blocks.
The Spanish Fly riddim - see Vybz Kartel's "Roll Deep" and Tubby T's "Ready She Ready" especially - sums up pretty much everything I like (or rather, love obsessively) about current dancehall: its slithering, slimy tropicalia keyboards bleeping in and over and under and around the stiff-jointed islander beats, shudderingly and compulsively physical but so sunny and so pop at the same time. I imagine some tropical paradise constructed on a satellite orbiting the earth, tanned-skin revellers smoking joints and sipping cocktails under palm trees while bits of astral rock debris float past. Has there ever been a style of music which sucks up the entirety of popular culture so greedily, and yet remains so resolutely itself?
It's shamelessly retro speed garage, but the bass-explosion of the Deliquent's Remix of Mis-Teeq's "Style" (is this a new non-album single a la "This Is How We Do It" or something? Please let me know!) is totally rushy. Luvvit. Meanwhile, is it just me or does the Skandalous United remix of Kelis's "Milkshake" suggest an (almost) entirely new and bizarre route of oddness that grime might take? Oddly Carribean-sounding percussion, enormous splurgy bass and the most epileptic stuttering beats since I don't know what.
Oh yeah, and let me spell it out: you need to hear Lenky's Dreamweaver riddim, simultaneously the most headwrecking and sweepingly anthemic groove I've heard this year. Check it here while you still can. Listen closely for the two best cuts, Bounty Killer's "Hot Like Fire" and Elephant Man's "Blessed". Vybz Kartel's "Visa" is pretty great too.
All of my (perhaps largely ideological) criticisms of recent dubstep notwithstanding, Kode9's "Spit" (with Daddy G on the spooky spoken word) sounds fantastic, a wonderfully menacing dub-bass pulse fractured by shards of beat action. Not so much a subset of garage as a claustrophobic hallucination of it, the rhythms writhing uneasily and unexpectedly like deviant electric wires. Also reliably great (cos Jess said so) is the dystopian mechabeat of Zinc's "People 4": slamming industrial crunk with the same relationship to garage as The Bug has to dancehall (MC Dynamite filling the role of Cutty Ranks or whoever).
Perhaps these approaches exemplify the approach that dubstep should now be taking - dropping the blind belief that dubstep is still the way forward for garage, and instead watching for hints and suggestions from the scene proper - new directions, incomplete stories, unexplored by-ways - and exploiting these to the fullest. What's nice about The Bug is the sense that Kevin Martin on the one hand clearly loves current dancehall, and yet knows that the best way for him to express that appreciation is allowing it to inform his own quite distinct approach to music.
To say that the best thing dubstep can do right now is become entirely parasitic in a similar fashion is not as much an indictment as it may seem - Basement Jaxx become more parasitic all the time, and are all the better for it. Not every such relationship leads to a Squarepusher-style misrecognition of the host scene's fundamental qualities, and if dubstep can keep half an eye on the dancefloor whilst running with these discarded threads, its future might not be so dim afterall.
...Sadly, the grim procession of Horsepower Productions' "Voodoo Spell" would seem to confirm my worst fears - a repetitive doom-steppa that is almost indistinguishable from '98 era Optical/Jonny L-style neurofunk, except at a draggier tempo; its "edgy" thump-beat reminiscent of Menta's "Ramp" but with all the fun, energy and real menace surgically extracted in favour of myopic abstraction. Whither the frisky zest of "Pimp Flavours" etc? Just listening to this track feels like running down a tunnel and into a dead end.