Sunday, May 2, 2010

Writer’s Jukebox – The Very Best and Beyond

My favorite part is the fish on the wall. Unless you’re willing to fully engulf yourself in an artist, Best Of collections are generally the best way to introduce yourself to their work (especially if they’re a rock group from over twenty years ago).  I once nabbed the Greatest Hits albums for Journey and Rush at the beginning of an eight-hour sojourn to my institute of higher education, and the trip was all the better for it (except when I popped in the second Journey disc – don’t do that).  Compare this to my lackluster time spent with Bon Jovi’s debut album a few years back, a record I’ve since deleted save the chart-toppers.

Andrew’s digesting Foreigner in this fashion, and it seems to be working for him.  On the non-Best-Of front, Rob’s jamming to Mos Def and I’m sampling FantomenK and Broken Bells. 

Could we be any more eclectic?

Andrew – Can’t Outgrow Foreigner

I bought a used copy of Foreigner: The Very Best... and Beyond for a few bucks four or five years ago. At that point my interest in the group was mostly ironic, perhaps spurred by that one episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force with the Foreigner belt.

I've outgrown quite a few things since then. Aqua Teen Hunger Force is one of them, and liking things ironically is another. My love of Foreigner, however, has only bloomed.

Consider the simple-yet-effective dichotomy of "Hot Blooded" and "Cold As Ice," two Foreigner songs which inextricably link love and temperature. Consider party favorite "Jukebox Hero," or the wacky saxophone in "Urgent," or the driving riff of "Soul Doctor." Consider, if you will, singer Lou Gramm's golden pipes. This stuff is some of the best arena rock to come out of the 70s and 80s, and it wipes the floor with Journey any day of the week ("Don't Stop Believin'" notwithstanding).

It also helps that Foreigner's song titles are pretty easy to work into casual conversation - I'm not playing head games. I used to think the band was a joke, but that was yesterday. I've listened to The Very Best... and Beyond plenty of times, but every time I spin it up it feels like the first time.

Rob – Most Definitely Mos Def

The mercury is rising in Southern Delaware. Tourists have come crawling back to their summer homes, and I can’t find a goddamned parking spot anywhere. Must be time for Mos Def.

You might call the association tenuous, but there’s something gratifying about prowling the streets for parking while “Twilite Speedball,” a particularly insidious track from last year’s The Ecstatic, thumps out of my subwoofers. Well-heeled families on their way to a fish dinner have frowned at me. I’ve lauded The Ecstatic elsewhere, and I’ll take my time now to do it again: this album is amazing. It has the rough edges and loose demeanor of an improv session, but all the brains of a more premeditated effort. The overall tone is very post-Bush 2, laden with sonic and lyrical references to the Middle East and the Iraq War. Take “Auditorium,” which closes with a monologue from the perspective of an American soldier in Baghdad.

Besides taking frequent trips back to Def’s 1999 classic Black on Both Sides, I’ve been enjoying him in BlacRoc (see “Nothing Like You (Hoochie Coo)”) and even Gorillaz’s most recent single, “Stylo.”

Craig – A Touch of the Epic

In honor of our new podcast theme, I decided to fire up some FantomenK.  Moments after “CPU Mood” breaks into its frenetic groove, I began to have Audiosurf flashbacks.  I immediately started digging through the back catalogue of my weekly rides, only to come up empty-handed.  Where had I heard this before?  Maybe I hadn’t, but the quality convinced me I surely must’ve.

The key aspect of FantomenK for me is his aggressive interpretation of the chiptune genre.  Every note shares roots with its 8-bit predecessors but isn’t tied down by an adherence to nostalgic technology.  The rich bass tones filled my car’s stereo speakers, and by extension the entire cab.  “The Massacre” follows a similar path.  It’s high-octane, high-fidelity techno with enough buzzing melody and fuzzy bass to satisfy a retro-music stalwart.

I’ve also been strutting around to the angsty beats of Broken Bells, the collaboration between Gnarls Barkley’s Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) and James Mercer of The Shins.  I’m not in love with the entire record (some of the songs are a hair too Shins-y), but the duo shines when matching Mercer’s voice with Burton’s moody, swelling beats.  The lilting piano on “October” is catchier than any of the song’s lyrics; I sometimes find myself just listening to the first thirty seconds to hear that little phrase.

And, oh man, the trumpets!  The horn ambles into the end of “Vaporize,” repeating the melody with just enough variation to accentuate the pensive line.  Think Cake’s Vince DiFiore but less showy.  And the slick “Mongrel Heart” wanders into a mini Morricone score towards the end, lending the end of the album a touch of the epic.  My experience with Gnarls Barkley having informed my ear, epic is exactly what I was looking for.