Saturday, December 18, 2010

What (not) to wear when climbing a mountain

( With a hit tip to Serene, who actually writes a useful blog on running gear )

I'm visiting Montreal for the weekend. The last time I was here was about 7 years ago... from that visit, I fondly remembered taking in great views of the city from Mount Royal (or "The Mountain" / "Le Mont" as the locals call it).

Now, Le Mont isn't a "Mountain" mountain, but as hills go, it's pretty darn big. I decided I was going to take the bus to the summit. This is a pleasure trip after all, and walking up the mountain in the snow wasn't my idea of fun.

I set out and catch bus 1 of 2 for my trip. I almost miss my connecting stop, but don't. On bus #2, everything is looking good. The bus seems to be headed away from the mountain. I check with the driver and she assures me that we're headed up the mountain. She's correct, the bus just has a circuitous route.

After a while, we're headed up the mountain. Up up up we gradually go. I'm enjoying the snowy scene, people out jogging and cross country skiing. Me on the bus. Just the way god intended it! We keep going up and we hit a stretch of road with a great view of the city. I think to myself, "that's beautiful, I can't wait till we get to the top".

The bus makes a stop. Then, down down down we go. I wouldn't say I was panicked, but even though I'm from Illinois I understand the basic features of a hill... I missed the top, doh! I'm thinking there will be another stop soon, but, of course, the next stop is at the bottom of the mountain.

I get off the bus. I eye the mountain, the mountain eyes me. Bring it!

I begin my ascent. Lessons learned:
  • do not bring a laptop when climbing a mountain, unless it's Everest or K2 and you have sherpas with you.
  • do not sling your laptop bag over your shoulder, it pinches off air circulation under your coat and makes you get hotter
  • Slow down! If you try to walk a steep incline at your "level ground" walking pace, you're gonna kill yourself (or at least pass out)
  • Wear layers (I actually did this... I was removing my hat unzipping/rezipping my jackets for a degree of temperature control.. although I was still all sweaty when I got to the top.
I made it to the top. Well, probably not the technical summit... but it was the highest point the paved trails would take you I think. By the lord's sweet mercy, there is a chalet up here (that's right, I switched tenses, I'm like James Joyce, sucka!) so I've been able to get a vending machine breakfast... which reminds me
  • eat breakfast before you climb a mountain
A note about the chalet. There are paintings around the walls that depict the story of the development of Montreal from the "pioneer days". I can't help think of the show Parks & Recreation and their mural depicting the history of Pawnee indiana, a history of forced labor, conquest, and disease spreading, that the city fathers saw no problem with.

Ok, enough communing with nature... off to find a record store.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

So, what do you love about music?

One answer, courtesy of the Movie Almost Famous (which will likely make a "top 5 movies about music" list one of these days)

On the topic of "What is music worth to you?" There's a really good article about album pricing in this week's Chicago Reader.

Friday, April 9, 2010

5 Rock songs that are ruling my world right now

Record Store Day is a mere 6 days away... let the listmania continue!

Lest you think I'm only about R&B and House music, here's a list of 5 rock songs that I'm loving... not all new by any stretch, but new is overrated.

Spoon - Trouble Comes Running

Spoon's been around for a good while, but I confess I didn't know them until Jaguar used "I turn my camera on" for a commercial. There's some consensus that they might be the best rock group in America, they're certainly consistent, and this song certainly rocks. (I'm particularly into the drumming... great vocals too) From the album "Transference"

Bat For Lashes - Good Love

I'd been reading/hearing the hipster buzz about her for a while, but a trusted source got me to actually listen to her (thanks Tonya!) This particular cut is moody, dreamy, and somewhat creepy. From the album "Two Suns". Love it.

Taken by Trees - Watch the Waves

Got hipped to this by WBEZ's world music show, Radio M. I'm somewhat cheating and calling this rock because of the vocalist Victoria Bergsman, who was lead singer of The Concretes and has done stuff with Peter, Bjorn & John. But in actuality, this cut is a great slice of downtempo with a noticeably funky feel, courtesy in large part of the Pakistani musicians she worked with in creating her latest album "East of Eden", from which this track is taken.

Tunng - Hustle

Great little ditty that came to my attention courtesy of Will over at Deadwax Records (thanks Will!) Love the video also. From the album, "And Then We Saw Land"

Dixie Chicks - Landslide

I guess I'm cheating again, as the Dixie Chicks are a country group... I claim an exemption given that they're covering a Fleetwood Mac tune. Lead singer Natalie Maines can sing, period... and this group's vocal harmonies stop me in my tracks. From the album, "Home".

I'd also highly recommend Shut up and Sing a documentary about the backlash against the group after Natalie Maines spoke out against George Bush and the Iraq War.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Top 5 Rap Songs with Piano in 'em

Record Store Day 2010 is approaching soon ( Saturday, April 17th in case you were wondering ) so I pick up my traditon of "Top 5" lists in honor of the occasion.

My first list for this year is Top 5 rap songs with dope piano riffs

I cannot do a rap list without paying homage to the the definitive reference on the subject, Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists if you're a fan of hip-hop and great writing, this is a great book.

Ok, let's get into it:

Top 5 Rap Songs with Piano in 'em (in no particular order):

Common Sense - Resurrection
Producer: No ID
Album: Resurrection

This is just a classic track anyway and probably my favorite of the tunes in this list. Leaving aside Com's lyrics and flow, which were head and shoulders above the pack then and remain so now, No ID's production is the definition of jazzy hip-hop. The piano sample is from Ahmad Jamal's Dolphin Dance

Gang Starr - F.A.L.A
Producer: DJ Premier
Album: Hard to Earn

Guru really says it all in one of his lyrics on the track: "Suckas we wet to the sound of the dope piano..."

The basis of the sample is actually pretty brief, but it's flipped as only Primo can do it... the loop is chopped at an odd point in the phrase, and as it plays alone in the song's intro, it imparts a sense of being off-balance... and then of course the beat kicks in and the neck snapping commences. I'm reminded that Hard to Earn came out around the same time as the first Wu-Tang album... they have a similar sonic palette. I can't ID the sample, and I'm sure Primo would have it no other way!

Marley Marl - The Symphony
Producer: Marley Marl
Album: In Control Vol 1

Features rappers Masta Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap, & Big Daddy Kane. Not sure if this meets the technical definition of a posse-cut, but it's definitely a classic. Marley Marl conducts a clinic on how to make space in the mix... dropping out the piano riff strategically to give each rapper room on the track. Definitely a classic.

BDP - The Bridge is Over
Producer: Scott LaRock
Album: Criminal Minded

Actually a diss-track directed at Marley Marl and his Juice Crew, this is prototypical boom bap from BDP. Consisting of a beat machine, piano, and KRS-One's rhymes... you can't get any simpler. And in the lingo of the day, you couldn't get any more dope.

Jay Z feat. Alicia Keys - Empire State of Mind
Producer: Shux
Album: The Blueprint 3

Interesting to listen to this one right after BDP, you can hear the growth of hip-hop from a raw style into capital-P pop (although some might argue whether this represents "growth"... let's just call it "development" and avoid the aesthetic argument, aight?) For my part, I think this is an awesome cut.

Honorable Mentions

Elliot Lipp feat Jasia 10 - I Don't Know
Producer: Elliot Lipp
Album: City Synthesis

The intro to this one is just awesome. Although not as well known as some the other producers in this post, Elliott Lipp is pretty badass. I love how the piano comes in and out of the track as other instruments pickup the melody. Jasia 10's direct and impeccable flow is a great counterpoint to the track's otherwise airy feel.

Talib Kweli - Get By
Producer: Kanye West
Album: Quality

Must admit I slept on this when it first came out... love it now. Talib's liner notes indicate he was in competion for with Pharoahe Monch and Mariah Carey for this track. I'm trying to imagine what Mariah would have done with this track. I'm glad brother Kweli got it first!

Gucci Mane - Lemonade
Producer: Bangladesh
Album: The State vs. Radric Davis

I think producer Bangladesh might be one of my favorites of the last few years (he also produced the beat for Mario's Break Up, which is just sick). He kills it again with this beat for Gucci Mane. This is a chopsticks interpolation that I'm sure would have Liberace bobbing his head. (note: the link is to the instrumental... not trying to diss Gucci Mane, but the lyrics and flow really don't deserve the beat)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Top 5 DJ sets / What I got for Record Store Day

April 17th - Haight St. - San Francisco, CA

.. Well record store day is finally here, and through quite pleasant coincidence I'm writing this having just come from Amoeba San Francisco... I cannot think of a better place to have celebrated this holy day. In honor of the day, I'm hitting you with a double list

Top 5 DJ Sets I've Seen:

#5 - Lil Louie Vega - Winter Music Conference, Miami - 2001

Lil Louie Vega is a master of House... Great weather, amped Winter Music Conference Crowd. Great Set... on the roof of the Sony Building in South Beach, the location was just insane. Louie played a bunch of old school stuff in his set, including Fantasize Me an old school Chicago classic. It was at this point that I lost my sh!t. Good times.

#4 - Lovebug Starski and Pete Rock - Sonotheque, Chicago - 2007ish

Saw this set with my man Chris... If you ever have the opportunity to see Lovebug Starski spin, do it. You won't regret it. Famously name-checked by Biggie on the track "Juicy", Starski just turned Sonotheque into a straight up party! Rapping and Singing in addition to his spot-on song selection and cutting, he was amazing. After seeing him, I finally understood why so many east coast DJs talked on the mic so much during their sets (Funkmaster Flex, Kid Capri, and the like). Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay is that headliner Pete Rock seemed just "really good" in comparison... and Pete Rock is more than just really good.

3# - Gilles Peterson - Plastic People, London - 2001

I think it was Plastic People... it was some club near Picadilly Circus. Regardless, Gilles Peterson absolutely blew my mind. He provided a master class in song selection during his set, eclectic and wide ranging, but unerringly funky. He didn't mix. Let me say that again, he didn't mix. The idea of rocking a party without mixing songs was just a foreign concept to me. (I guess if I look back at the history of party DJing, it shouldn't be so foreign as it was commonplace before the 70s... but still!) I've also rarely seen a DJ in such control of the room. It was about a 2 hour set I think and no one left the floor.

#2 - Lil Louis - Medusa's, Chicago - 1987

This was the night I heard French Kiss for the first time (that track was officially released in 1989 or so, but Louis would play all sorts of unreleased stuff during his DJ Sets) Also making this a classic was the fact that Medusa's was a juice bar, basically a night club for the under 21 set (try doing that in Chicago today) so the energy of the crowd was just phenomenal. I should also say that Lil Louis was and is an extremely on point DJ. He killed it

#1 - Ron Hardy - The Music Box, Chicago - 1988

Number 1 with a bullet, baby. It's actually kind of interesting, if you listen to recordings of Ronnie's sets today, they have a raw feel to them... in the 20 plus years since he was on the scene, the technique of DJing has advanced and become more polished. Ronnie went beyond technique like Jackson Pollock or something. I've heard many many great sets since 1988, but none has ever captured every ounce of my being in the way that Ronnie did on this night. Mind you, this was just a regular night at the box. The influence that Ron Hardy had on many of the early House DJs and producers... and just lovers of House music... is just phenomenal. The flashbulb memory I have of this night is that after playing ridiculously deep and banging house for several hours, he then proceeds to drop Ice T's L.G.B.N.A.F ... it was just the most unexpected, yet most perfect selection... we all went nuts. He's a big reason why I started DJing and have spent so much time in record stores over the years. Which brings me to...

What I got for Record Store Day

- Amoeba Records Hoodie
- Freeway and Jake One: The Stimulus Package
- D'Angelo, Raphael Saadiq, Q-Tip: Lynwood Rose
- The Oscar Peterson Trio: We Get Requests (thanks to Bobby Newton for hipping me to this)
- The White Stripes: The White Stripes
- Wang Chung: To Live and Die in L.A.
- Anita O'Day: Anita O'Day's finest hour
- Weezer: The Blue Album
- Meshell Ndegeocello: Devil's Halo

Monday, February 15, 2010

Metal Haven... I had no idea...

That a record store is going out of business isn't exactly front-page news these days, but I thought this profile in the Chicago Reader was interesting... mostly because I pride myself on being up on record stores and I had no idea this store even existed!

I guess I shouldn't be too shocked, the store is a Metal specialist and my Metal knowledge is limited mostly to Metallica's 1991 "Metallica" album, the one with "enter sandman" on it. I watch Dethklok on Cartoon Network (unsure if that counts for much). And I've been known to listen to Mastodon, but it ain't my area of expertise.

Still, a store winding down, whatever the genre, deserves a moment of silence... Now where is that Metallica CD?