Monday, November 28, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 6: Notorious B.I.G (and 2Pac)

Eh, fair play.

As noted way back in this series (as measured by time; the link is Volume 1; production slow), I kept current on rap (going with that over “hip hop” per a distinction heard made in this (awesome) mixtape (also, more)) in a vague sort of way, but without mucking around so much in the innards. That had a lot to do with why I knew about rap’s greatest all-time beef – 2Pac vs. Notorious B.I.G - while really knowing nothing at all about it. Still, I picked up B.I.G’s Ready to Die barely thinking about it, and, because I was going to review that, I figured that made sense of catching up (going with) The Beef.

Like most…going with white people here, even if that’s a little broad, the whole thing felt like a waste to me. Two talented dudes shot dead months apart for nothing more than talking shit about one another sounds plenty dumb; with a better appreciation of both artists’ bodies of work, it feels even more pointless. After putting in a little research on it (won’t lie; very little research), I picked up the time-lime, and learned a (weird) thing or twenty along the way – e.g. that Tupac’s Black Panther mom, Afeni Shakur, had her bail money paid in part by Leonard Bernstein and Jane Fonda, or that Tupac picked up Tony Danza as a pen pal while in prison.

As for the details, the most earnestly thorough (mildly typo-ridden) account I’ve so far read went tipped The Beef in 2Pac’s favor, and on the fairly sound metric of units moved and posthumous reputation. (It also puts the blame for 2Pac’s death on Suge Knight, founder of Death Row Records, and holder of a sizeable adverse position to the label 2Pac founded, Makaveli Records (of which, catchy)…what? Yes, yes, I know that the overwhelming majority of people reading this already know the story better than I ever will; I’m way behind, admitted as much; this is for my education, please bear with me.) Then again, the author of that post comes at the whole thing from a place of declaring 2Pac the victor, but he’s also pretty decent to B.I.G, only musing about why he didn’t say more when The Beef heated up (ew…phrasing).

Another one of my sources, a 2011 article in (what?) The Guardian (yep, that The Guardian), comes down on the same side that I did in the end. An uneasy part of my mind keeps whispering, “not a coincidence,” in my ear, but, since I made the mistake of reading that article, and since their phrasing both captures and improves upon any formulation I arrived at so far, I’m just going to quote it:

Thursday, November 17, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 5: The Pixies

Gets at the tone pretty cleanly...

The first song I heard by The Pixies was “Debaser.” This makes linear sense in that someone dropped the needle on Doolittle, and that was the first song, so…

It was love at first listen. I was just…18 (? - look, I’m shit with linear time), I knew nothing, and still know nothing about Luis Bunuel, I don’t know what Un Chien Andalou is accept a corrupted lyric (I think The Pixies phrase it “Chien Andalousia,”), but the hyper-drive drumming and thudding bass with that soaring guitar hook playing over it hooked me right away. I went on to listen to the rest of Doolittle – probably several times over the next week – to figure out what it was about it that hit so cleanly. Later, I went back to Come on Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa, the first an EP, the second a full album (maybe?). Back when that sort of thing happened.

The Pixies made for a fantastic companion for life after high school. They covered all the big ones - sex, art, relationships (or, rather, artistic sex, creative violence, and fraught relationships) – and with the right portions of ambiguity and a sort of saucy, disarming humor. Better still, they droned those puzzling lyrics over actually superb compositions. On top of that, they added sneaky-clever little chop-cuts (see, the adorably relatable lead in to “I’m Amazed” and the goofing around before Surfer Rosa’sVamos,” which, tragically, doesn't make YouTube's video) that sounded enough like stuff you did with your friends. It hardly hurt that, at that time, just about everyone in the places where I lived either were in bands or wanted to be. (Related: If I can figure out a way to explain/do justice to Pullman, Washington’s tidy little rock scene, I will.)

“Debaser” gets at the way The Pixies leaned into “art” concepts, but without getting too far from traditional rock/pop approach and structure; I think the word/backhanded compliment for that was  “accessible” back then. Their sound lurked on the “poppier” edges of the college rock scene – which may or may not have been what people called the genre back before people started using the grab-bag vague term “alternative rock”; forgive the faulty memory – which made it stand out from the heavier stuff breaking through around the same time (think grunge, which would soon swallow too much), but without being music that everyone could tolerate or listen to. Against a subculture on persistent high alert against selling out, that mattered too. Even if it shouldn’t have.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 4: The Rolling Stones, Less Hot Rocks

What is that...has a really strong fiber note...

The greatest hits album, the Cliff Notes of a musical act’s career, the gateway drug to said act’s oeuvre. It takes some amount of relevance plus time in the cultural spotlight to merit a “Greatest Hits” album. Only bands of a certain stature and longevity receive the pop music world’s commercial equivalent of a Lifetime Achievement Award: multiple greatest hits Albums.

When it reaches the rarefied air of the retrospective, a musical act achieves godhead, presumably, but that’s neither here nor there. Here.

For this volume, I want to talk less about The Rolling Stones – because I’ll do that later – than to talk about what I’ve always regarded as one of the greatest, greatest hits collections of all-time, Hot Rocks. But even that’s just a path to that collection’s famous sequel – and I mean sequel in every meaning of the word – More Hot Rocks. Just like any actor who picks up a life time achievement award, a band that’s lingered long enough to be worthy of serial releases of greatest hits albums has, frankly, squeezed out some amount of shit while pushing out the good stuff (graphic; sorry; it’s what came to me). Like the sawdust that pads your cat’s food, it has a purpose; it’s just that your cat isn’t eating that and thinking, “I taste the pork, but, oh my god…is that sawdust? C’est magnifique”!

The Greatest Hits Album falls into some neither-here-nor-there category between shortcut and advertising. By that I mean a lot of people buy a band’s greatest hits album and stop there, maybe even more people than most. Honestly, I have no idea; but that’s the “shortcut” iteration – i.e., a long introduction that leaves everyone with good memories, but not deep attachment. On a commercial level, though, I have to believe that at least one mission of the greatest hits album tracks the same logic as Discover Weekly does for Spotify, only it’s a much more specific pitch. Either way, the idea is the same: here are a bunch of songs; if you like that, why not roll over here and buy “Band X’s” other albums/get more eyeballs on our app.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 3: Ty Segall (and his various inspirations)

Just wanted to go with something grotesque. That wasn't the album cover.
I used to frequent a site called It was mostly an outlet for (my understanding of) EDM (electronic dance music, yes?), or it might actually have been nothing more than a space for remixes of popular pop songs. I never read the site’s mission statement and resentment that I had to get on Facebook to download their content formed the strongest thought/emotion I had for it, but I’ve bent all kinds of dumb ways for free/cheap music. Anyway, amidst all the Skrillex and Deadmau5 and DJ Bahler (hey, it was 2012, Year of Mayan Death), I came across Ty Segall. Or I might have found his song, “I Bought My Eyes,” on Pitchfork, back when that site offered up more free downloads. Again, I’m very, very cheap.

“I Bought My Eyes” led me to Slaughterhouse, the album it came from. When I plugged in my earbuds to get reacquainted with it, I realized that I’d never actually got acquainted with it before. I picked it up based on that one song, which is pretty good if you ask me, but then I listened to the rest maybe once and never went back again. If you’ve ever got too ambitious on collecting music, this shouldn’t sound strange at all – I mean, who hasn’t over-bought at some point (or, in the modern era, over-subscribed)? – but things got (mildly) weirder after. I hopped over to Spotify to confirm that I could find it there, because why (intentionally) tell you about something you can’t find and listen to (then again, youtube)…only I couldn’t find it. Spotify has plenty of Ty Segall stuff – good stuff, too – but Slaughterhouse didn’t pull up. From there, I went to The Lazy Man’s Encyclopedia (Wikipedia) to see if I couldn’t figure out why. So I read his entry, and, like most music stuff, it’s interesting, lousy with other avenues to explore, both with Ty Segall, in particular, and his related projects, etc.

As I read, though, something caught my eye:
"Segall has stated in interviews that his favorite band of all time is Hawkwind.”
I only mention to explain the delay between volumes in this series.