Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Are You Listening to Lately (part 6)?

Sorry I've slacked folks. Holidays, film festival, and other stuff (including laziness) conspired to keep me down. I promise I'll get back on track. I swear it.

FrancoAfrican Classics
First disc is a chronological mess, while the second runs more or less in order (with a couple jumps). But the music makes it across the board, and it’s nice for me to pick up my third Franco “Best of” collection with minimal overlap with the other two. And what’s that? Liner notes that not only tell you a little about each piece, but tell you which CD the track is on, should you choose to follow through on some favorites? The amateur ethnomusicologist/collector nerd in me is in heaven! Only drawback for me is that not every track is as killer as on competing best ofs – the great-but-out-of-print The Very Best of Franco or the equally great and still in print The Rough Guide to Franco (or the brand-new Francophonic, just released last week to right the wrong Stern's made when they took Very Best of out of print). But for two in-print, domestically available discs studded with greatness and always delivering joy at a single disc price, it seems foolish if not downright stupid of me to even mention that it’s less consistent. It’s pretty great throughout, and if my taste favors the dancy, guitar-heavy 70’s and 80’s material while this even-handedly represents the rumba-leaning 50’s and 60’s, that’s my problem. Get it if you have the slightest inkling that you’d enjoy it.

Run DMCRaising Hell
More consistent than the debut, though nothing here is as startlingly brilliant as “Rock Box” or “Sucker MC’s.” Even so, it’s brimming with a confidence and verve their sophomore effort lacks and from first beat to last they rarely step wrong. As a crossover move, “Walk This Way” was (and still is) a stroke of genius – or at least it was a stroke to get Tyler and Perry on board for the ride. The song slays – great original turned into great cover, and Tyler sounds as comfortable in this setting as the guys from Hollis (a great shot in the arm for his commercial potential of the day, too). What used to be the A-side is a great sequence – perfect opener in “Peter Piper” to the back-to-back anthems of "It’s Tricky” and “My Adidas” to the aforementioned “Walk This Way” to a slight cooldown with the short, funky hit of “Is It Live” and the totally live-in-the-studio feel of “Perfection.” The former B kicks almost as hard, dipping in quality only on “Dumb Girl” (it’s still funky tho) and letting up the intensity only for the jokey humor of “You Be Illin’,” but making up for any flaws with one of the best and most out-there pieces of music they ever essayed – “Proud to Be Black.” In a way, that song is the statement of purpose of both album and career for these guys, summing up in a few succinct phrases and wild scratches what the braggadocio of not even just their own career, but all of this era of rap had as its unspoken subtext – unspoken until now, of course. Shoulda been a single, though songs with “motherfucker” in them don’t get on the radio often. And the singles here signified plenty on their own. Backed by the deeper album cuts, it makes for a damn near flawless listening experience and what may in the long run prove to be their finest album.

StereolabMars Audiac Quintet
My second most favorite by Stereolab though I’d point out that I’m not really to be trusted since A) I pretty much stopped picking up new albums by them somewhere around the turn of the millennium and B) I think that all their albums except the divine Emperor Tomato Ketchup are of more or less equal quality (high). But some – this one, for example – are slightly more equal and find their way into my listening more regularly than others. This fact is helped along by little strokes like the terrific lyrics of “Wow and Flutter,” the Krautrock influence that puts a fine, artsy, electro-acoustic sheen on things, and the brilliance of “Des Etoiles Electroniques,” a little slice of heaven which just floats above and beyond the rest of the record. A shame it comes in so early – would’ve made a nice linchpin in the middle of the record. But it’s pretty great throughout – more rock-heavy than later albums would prove to be, yet infused with the breathy melodiousness that makes it seem lighter than air, a fact punctured by the seriousness of the lyrics: usually political, always leftist, often in French. It’s one of the best spoonfuls of sugar they’ve created to make their socialist medicine go down.

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