Archive

Posts Tagged ‘hip-hop’
10 Feb

Week 196: “Yeti’s Lament” by Berry Weight

berryweight

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Bandcamp.
iTunes.

As the album’s title suggests, the songs on “Music For Imaginary Movies” are very good at evoking mental images. And they’re more than just mental images. They’re the kind of animated mental pictures that float through your head as you drift in and out of a light sleep. The images that cross your mind when you’re on the bus, and you zone out for a while.

But it’s not just the music that is evocative. The song titles themselves are sometimes enough to spark your imagination. Magician’s Assistant…The Way of the Dodo…The Day Nothing Happened. If those were real movies, I’d go see them in a second.

Of all the tracks, however, no imaginary movie is as intriguing as “Yeti’s Lament”. I can picture it now: our abominable furry friend trudges through the snow, pondering the meaning of his existence, lamenting the loss of…whatever a yeti might lose.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The opening clarinet. Mental image: the yeti looks at an old photograph and lets out a snowy sigh.

2. The turntable scratches at 0:53. Mental image: a panicky mosquito gets trapped in the yeti’s fur.

3. The way the two clarinets harmonize from 2:05 to 2:16. Mental image: the yeti frees the mosquito from his tangled fur, and realizes that he can make a difference in the world, no matter how small.

Recommended listening activity:

Drawing your dreams.

20 Jan

Week 193: “Song 2″ by DJ Krush

Dj-Krush-Jaku

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Amazon.
iTunes.

Have you ever found yourself staring at a particular word over and over again, re-reading it so many times in your head that it stops making sense? It starts to look wrong. It starts to sound strange. Is it even a word?

From what I understand, this type of intense focus on something simple is part of the idea behind incorporating a chant into the process of meditation. Known as ‘mantras’, these chants can be words, short phrases, or even nonsensical syllables; it doesn’t really matter what the sound is, as long as it is repeated a specific number of times.

The most common number for repetition of a mantra seems to be 108. This number may sound random, but it has plenty of significance. Tibetan Buddhist rosaries have 108 beads. Ayurveda counts 108 pressure points on the body.  Stonehenge is 108 feet in diameter. In Japan, Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times to welcome the new year. 108 shows up all over the place.

Music, of course, is often associated with meditation. I find sample-based music to be particularly meditative. The word ‘mantra’ itself can be translated as ‘instrument of thought’, and to me a sample is like a musical mantra: a short phrase, plucked from its original context, repeated and repeated over a new beat.

Of all the great sample artists, few produce music as meditative as Japan’s legendary DJ Krush.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. It’s very simple, with only three main components – the thumb piano, the flutes, and the drum beat. This makes me think of the number 108 again. Its three digits can be thought of as representing the universe; 1 representing existence, 0 representing nothingness, and 8 representing infinity.

2. From 4.09 to 4.23, the drums drop out, and the strictly-kept time of the song is suspended, leaving the flutes to soar for a few moments.

3. Just for fun, I decided to count how many bars long this song is. Counting the stop-time section noted above as one bar, the song comes in at exactly…you guessed it…108 bars.

Recommended listening activity:

Breathing deeply.

28 Oct

Week 181: “Skipping Rocks” by Oddisee

oddissee

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Bandcamp.
iTunes.

Do you remember the first time you learned it was possible to skip rocks?

I bet you probably do. The first time someone shows you how to skip rocks, it’s like a kind of magic. You’re having a lazy day at the cottage, at camp, at the beach, or wherever, and somebody whips a stone across the surface of the water.

Your jaw drops. They might as well have levitated the rock using their minds.

This is a rock. Something heavy. Something that’s supposed to make a single splash before sinking to the bottom. But instead, this wizard of the waterfront has turned the rock into some kind of hovercraft. Instead of making a splash, like all the stones you’ve ever thrown, this one leaves a trail of expanding ripples in the water, like a jet leaving its vapors in the sky. Amazing.

Living in the grown-up world, sometimes you’ve got to seek out the things that pull you back to that kind of amazement. Maybe this song will help bring that feeling back.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The stuttering rhythm shared by the bass, piano and drums is the perfect instrumental representation of a stone gliding across a pond.

2. The horns really open things up as the song hits the 1-minute mark.

3. The strings in the background make sure that the horns don’t party too hard.

Recommended listening activity:

Well, obviously.

07 Oct

Week 178: “A Maze” by Freddie Joachim

joachim

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Bandcamp.
iTunes.

Every once in a while, a song will enter your brain via your ear, set up camp, and stay there for a while. Usually, this is an annoying experience, an experience that leaves you feeling infected, as if the song is a flu that you can’t shake. The worst is when the offending piece of music is something you never liked in the first place, like “Love Shack” or “Mambo #5”.

“A Maze” by Freddie Joachim was playing on repeat inside my brain for pretty much the entire month of August, but not in an annoying way. It would start playing as I poured my morning coffee, and I’d be happy to know it was still there. I’d stir the sugar in time with its laid-back beat, open the front door and skillfully pick up the paper with my foot, do a little dance while brushing my teeth. It made my mornings feel way cooler than they normally are. Like I was the Golden Boy from those early-90s Golden Grahams commercials.

In other words, this song is the soundtrack for the beginning of a kick-ass day, and you probably won’t mind if it gets stuck in your head.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The drum sample is big without being overbearing.

2. The “B” section, which happens for the first time about 40 seconds in, is so perfect that I can’t even think of a suitable metaphor.

3. There’s lots of percussive elements; vibraphone, glockenspiel, even the organ sounds percussive. But it’s not headache-inducing. It’s pleasantly percussive, like a tap dance recital performed by teddy bears. Hmm. Maybe I should give up on descriptions for today.

Recommended listening activity:

Sliding around the kitchen in your socks.

10 Jun

Week 161: “Natural Green” by Blazo

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Bandcamp.

You’ve been inside too long. Go outside.

Go.

Go take a walk.

Bring this song with you.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The opening laid-back jazz sample turns into a full-out groove. The musical equivalent of a long winter turning into a sudden spring.

2. After the drums come in, you can still hear the brushes of the original jazz drums in the background.

3. It’s shorter than you want it to be, begging you to put it on repeat all morning.

Recommended listening activity:

Practising the ancient art of dance-walking.

06 May

Week 156: “Fighters” by Lupe Fiasco

thecool

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Amazon.
iTunes.

In the 1980s, rock and roll had become ridiculous.

Or at least, the most popular bands were ridiculous. A genre that started out as something rebellious, grassroots, and political had become a parody of itself. The outfits. The huge hair. The songs about partying and girls. Overly sanitized production and lyrical emptiness that took the heart out of the music. There is certainly a place for that kind of music, don’t get me wrong. But as the 80s turned into the 90s, mainstream rock was not doing anything new.

Meanwhile, a new kind of musical culture was emerging. Hip hop was rebellious, grassroots, and political in the same way rock had been a few decades earlier. I remember buying my first hip hop record and feeling immediately connected to something exciting.

Fast forward to the present day. I would argue that hip hop has evolved in the same way rock did. Most mainstream hip hop today gives us very little in the way of rebelliousness or political statements, but is more concerned with partying and girls, just like mainstream rock was in the 80s.

Which is why artists like Lupe Fiasco, and albums like his 2007 release, “The Cool”, are so refreshing. He’s a reminder that hip hop is doing fine, as long as you’re ready to search beyond what makes it to radio, and the generic, watered-down suburban mall rap that is currently occupying the mainstream.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The percussion is really light and crackly. It almost sounds like a needle skipping at the end of a record that someone forgot to take off the turntable.

2. Guest vocalist Matthew Santos has an interesting voice. The way he articulates his words reminds me of Feist.

3. With each chorus, there’s a bit more harmony. Except the very last chorus, when everything else fades out, and we’re left with a single vocal line.

Recommended listening activity:

Giving something a second chance.

15 Apr

Week 153: “Chrometrails” by Vanilla

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Bandcamp.

Vanilla is a producer from the UK who makes delicious soul-inspired beats. If I were a rapper, I would immediately hire him to make beats for my upcoming platinum-selling release. But since I’m quite clearly not a rapper, I will instead encourage you to listen to the title track from what I believe to be his strongest album, “Chrometrails”.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. Sparkly piano. Hip-hop thrives on low-end, but a lot of beatmakers forget that they key is having something nice and shiny in the high frequencies to complement the bass.

2. Off-beat percussion. Can’t tell if the kick is a bit behind, or if the snare is a bit ahead, but it gives the track a laid-back, Flying Lotus type of groove.

3. High-def vinyl crackle. Especially when those strings come in. Like the fabric-fluff sound you hear when you plunge your face into your favourite pillow.

Recommended listening activity:

Riding the bus through your favourite neighbourhood at night.

Tags: , ,
01 Apr

Week 151: “Underground Vibes” by DJ Cam

Underground+Vibes

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Amazon.
iTunes.

Sleeping is one of my favourite things to do.

I’m not trying to imply that I’m lazy, but nothing beats a really good sleep. Especially when it’s punctuated by a really good/bizarre/realistic dream.

One of the coolest dreams I ever had was…well, like all cool dreams, it’s almost impossible to explain. But basically, it involved commuter trains that transformed into rollercoasters whenever I wanted them to. They functioned in slow-motion, and I could control everything about them; direction, speed, even when I wanted to feel weightless. I only had the dream once, but for years I tried to fall asleep while thinking about rollercoasters, just to try to trick my brain into doing it again.

But that’s the crazy thing about your brain: even though it creates your dreams, you can’t tell it to replay one. And when it does replay one, it’s probably a dream you didn’t particularly want to experience again, like the one where you’re trying to recite tongue twisters while naked and dizzy in front of every ex you’ve ever had.

Anyway. This all comes to mind because I’ve recently been listening to DJ Cam. He was France’s main contribution to the trip-hop craze of the mid-90s, and his jazzy samples really set him apart from the sea of Portishead clones that the era gave us.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The opening sample. It’s eerie and inviting, the opening bars to the dreaminess that’s about to come.

2. The vibraphone. So clean and clear compared to the gritty sampled drums.

3. The quote at 3:17. A great and paradoxical quote to include in a song built out of samples. The speaker is Eric Dolphy, and although he’s talking about music, he might as well be talking about dreams.

Recommended listening activity:

Daydreaming.

25 Feb

Week 146: “Bag Lady” by Erykah Badu


Amazon.
iTunes.

There are two versions of this song, and I couldn’t decide which version to post, so we’re going to do this the “choose-your-own-adventure” way. Here’s the situation:

You’ve just gone through a difficult break-up, and are worried that the emotional baggage you’ve been left with won’t allow you to move on with your life. Do you skip work and spend the day curled up under a blanket with a bottle of wine and a trashy novel? Listen to version 1: 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Do you dance your anger away while throwing out anything that reminds you of your ex? Listen to version 2:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. (Version 1) The soft but militant marching-drum. Smooth and purposeful at the same time.

2. (Version 2) The harmonies and handclaps. Feels like you’re partying with at least 5 Erykahs.

3. (Both versions) The repeating guitar line. If I hear it in the morning, I’m whistling it all day.

Recommended listening activity:

Having a two-course meal in which both courses are dessert.

04 Feb

Week 143: “A Touch of Jazz” by DJ Jazzy Jeff

rockthehouse

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Amazon.
iTunes.

1987 was a big year for hip hop.

Looking at a list of hip hop releases from that year, it becomes obvious that this was a genre struggling with the fact that it was breaking into the mainstream, but not sure whether doing so would harm its authenticity as an artform.

Rap was heading into a lot of directions all at once; Public Enemy pushed the political side, NWA was building the foundations of 90s gangsta rap, and the Beastie Boys were…well, white. A comment in the liner notes of Kool Moe Dee’s 1987 album “How Ya Like Me Now” hints at how apprehensive many experienced rappers were of hip hop’s sudden appeal: “The Beastie Boys: We rappers have worked very hard to get rap to the level it’s at. Don’t mess it up.”

One of my favourite hip hop songs of 1987 is “A Touch Of Jazz” by DJ Jazzy Jeff. When I first heard it, I hadn’t even considered the fact that you could make a hip hop song without someone rapping, and it really made me listen to the way he blended samples to make something new. It was the beginning of my love affair with sample-based music, and the soundtrack to many a solo dance session in my room.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. His choice of samples. Jeff earned his nickname by sampling outside of the standard roll of funk breaks that DJs were sampling in the 80s. The jazzy, spacey vibe he accomplishes sets him apart, and makes his songs interesting enough to stand alone as instrumentals.

2. The sample at 0:51. It comes out of nowhere and totally changes the direction of the song.

3. You can tell it’s mixed live. This is one guy with two turntables. Sometimes the cuts are just a bit off the beat, something that wouldn’t happen nowadays, as everything would be done to a click track and edited with computer software. But the fact that he’s not metronome-perfect reminds you that it’s a human manipulating various records on the fly. That’s real DJ-ing.

Recommended listening activity:

Developing a secret handshake with a friend.