Friday, February 24, 2017

One Last Pick Thru the Bins Vol. 15: The Pretenders, and How You Never Stop Growing

Not a perfect analogy, but it's the one I got.
It feels like I don’t need to spend much time introducing The Pretenders. While the band might not fall into the “rock legends” column, a small, random sample of people under 30 had heard of them when I asked. Given that, I want to spend more time picking through things about the band that people maybe don’t know. For instance, raise your hand if you knew The Pretenders put out an album in 2016.

I’ll get to all that, but I should also start by acknowledging that I have only ever owned The Singles, a States-side, sum-of-their-career sort of release that included the bands’ most famous hits. I definitely have some favorites, but I didn’t appreciate the full stupidity of the Desert Island Disc concept until I sat down one recent morning to name a Top 5 from The Singles (in the event you follow me on twitter and spotted that tweet, yeah, this is where it came from). Even after I throw out (what I call) the dross – e.g., “Back on the Chain Gang” and that cover of “I Got You Babe” the Pretenders lead singer, Chrissie Hynde, put out with that dude from UB40 (sorry, UB40 feat. Chrissy Hynde) – the only thing I’m confident about is that whatever I landed on for a Top 5 would change from day to day.

For today, though, I’ll go with “Kid,” “Talk of the Town,” "Day After Day,” “Message of Love” (I’m a percussion nut, and I love what they do on those last two), and…really struggling on this last one…shit, shit, shit, uh, let’s go with “Hymn to Her.” Rather than bore you with the songs that lost out (for today), I’ll just say there’s something about that song that feels like some combination of brave and liberating…even as I sense that it’s not so much a song for me (am I alone in reading that as a feminist anthem?).

Thursday, February 16, 2017

One Last Pick Thru the Bins, Vol. 14: Q-Tip and Tribe Called Quest

Q-Tip was the guy who kept popping up in other act’s songs. When he wasn’t poking his head in on De La Soul’s “Me Myself & I,” he was hogging the spotlight on The Beastie Boys’ “Get It Together.” And every time I heard him, I’d think, “ah, I like him.” Blessed with one of the most disarming flows in the business, Q-Tip had a knack for making his raps sound as personal as a close conversation in a quiet room. Just…relaxed. Almost peaceful.

While I understood those cameos came from his vast, much-esteemed body of work with A Tribe Called Quest (hereafter, “Tribe,” because who wants to type the full name every time?), you can put them down as yet another band I took too long to get to (curse you, indie rock!). I knew a couple songs – “Bonita Applebum” got through somehow (and it's better than I remember) and my wife played “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” enough that I can’t listen to it anymore – and it wasn’t so much about liking them, as recognizing that they deserved respect somehow. I’d heard The Low End Theory here and there, but always too deep in the background to get anything out of it. After that, there’s just one thing: I’ve never heard a single person breathe an ill word against them. And that’s something.

Tribe comes up now because, thanks to the winding road this project’s driving, I got to The Renaissance, a solo album Q-Tip put out in 2013. How’d it get in my bins? Beats me. It just did. For this post, though, that’s the end of the road. I want to start with a question that all but begged itself after just a couple listens to a specific sub-set of Tribe’s oeuvre.

I somehow got it in my head that The Low End Theory was considered Tribe’s masterwork, so, after a couple re-listens to The Renaissance, I moved on to that one. By only the second listen to Midnight Marauders – Tribe’s “junior” project (The Low End Theory was the sophomore effort), something from which I’d never heard even one track – I just…knew that someone, somewhere had measured one album against the other with an eye to declaring a winner.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

One Last Pick Thru the Bins, Vol. 13: Quasimoto / On Indie-Hop

For me, the comparison applies.

Late last week, I think I came up with a good way to draw out what I really like about indie-rap artist/alter ego, Quasimoto. More on the second half of that descriptor later. Which makes sense by way of dawning awareness – e.g., until this week, I had no idea who Quasimoto was, or how he fit into hip hop. Back to it…

Kanye West slipped a long tail on the end of his debut, The College Dropout, with a track titled “Last Call.” It’s sort of an audio autobiography, his telling of his break into the music biz. It’s not a bad song, by any means, but – brace yourself – he’s clearly the hero of his own story, artist and muse all in one. It’s also the longest track on the album. Like, over twice as long as every other song. (Yeah, yeah, cheap shot. Kanye takes time to tick through his idols, and the people who helped him level up. The man is talented.)

Quasimoto slipped a similar track onto his debut, Unseen; he actually sprinkled his album with a couple songs that loosely fit the label/genre, “personal history.” The main one, though, is called “Return of the Loop Digga.” It kicks off with the kind of contrasts you usually get in rap – e.g., “I am awesome, doing stuff no one else does” – and, just like Kanye’s “Last Call,” it touches on his inspirations. And that’s where the difference comes: instead of delving into who he knows and what he did, Quasimoto talks of offbeat genres (jazz, “1970s stuff,” reggae) and mining used record stores for cast-off vinyl (and vinyl, only) that no one else is looking at. The track comes off less as the story of Quasimoto’s life, than a thank you note to the world for giving him a huge goddamn playground of sounds to play in. He echoes his mini-manifesto on a couple more tracks form Unseen – “Boom Music” (hip hop inspirations) and “Jazz Cats Pt. 1” (jazz homage).

To pick up the loose end in the lead, Quasimoto is an alter ego for Madlib, a guy who (to borrow from Wikipedia), “described himself as ‘a DJ first, producer second, and MC Last.’” Madlib is also, as Wikipedia points out, prolific. After connecting Madlib to Quasimoto, I bounced over to Madlib’s discography to see how much they sounded like one another – e.g. did Madlib, say, use the Quasimoto character as a place to drop the jazzy/weird shit? Did he sound more “normal” in his own work? The answer came in two parts: 1) holy shit, that is a lot of music, and unless I want to spend the rest of my life here…moving on; 2) nope, Madlib sounds pretty “Madlib-y” wherever he goes. And that is a good thing.