25 February 2006

coldplay and immy for a saturday night

white shadows : morgan page bootleg remix : coldplay
click on the image below to listen. 8m 24s

My first and probably last Coldplay post. The anti-Chris Martin campaign has infiltrated my brain. I think Mr. Paltrow has a really annoying face and can't shave to save his life. Besides that, I really have no strong feelings about the band. I liked the first album, listened to the second a few times, and couldn't get myself to pick up the third. It was only the completist in me that finally made me buy X&Y a couple of weeks ago. Blah, tired and tiresome. Which is why I'm excited to share this remix with all you wonderful people. Morgan Page is a brilliant young DJ from Los Angeles, and Cease & Desist is his latest work of bootleg remixes of big-name acts, from Coldplay and The Kills to David Bowie and Morcheeba. Morgan's claim to fame is the remix of the song Angel by Wax Poetic, featuring the vocals of Norah Jones. The band and the singer loved the mix and put in a good word for him with Atlantic Records. Morgan has since recorded legitimate mixes – he has a few EPs on sale on iTunes – but still does bootlegs, and with White Shadows, he makes Coldplay listenable again.

hide and seek : morgan page bootleg remix : imogen heap
click on the hiawatha headdress below to listen. 6m 04s

At 24, Morgan has only a good future ahead of him. His mixes ooze with confidence. Every song in Cease & Desist is so polished and fluid that it's impossible to tell it's not the work of an industry veteran. Where Morgan excels is in his unpredictable choice of materials. The Kills! Tegan and Sara! Sam Phillips! I like what he does with Hide And Seek, an electroacappella – yeah, I made that word up – by British artist Imogen Heap, because like all of Cease & Desist, it's innovative, fresh, and original, which is kind of an odd thing to say about a bootleg remix. And what does Morgan have to say about it? “Actually, looking for permission to remix other people’s music is usually the worst thing you can do,” he tells The Boston Herald. “I admit I was concerned about a legal backlash at first, but I got so much positive feedback about these mixes – which were basically just taking up a lot of space on my hard drive – I felt like I had to release them. Nowadays, remixes are more of a marketing crossover tool than anything else.” Damn right. Tracks from Cease & Desist are playing on a number of radio stations, including KCRW.

Obviously, the album isn't available for sale, and you can no longer download it from Morgan's website. (It was such a hit that the downloads exceeded his bandwidth.) But you can sign up on his website and he'll e-mail you the whole album. I think. I actually found out about it when Morgan e-mailed me a link to the downloads. (So apparently he had visited this site...which shows how much good taste this guy has.)

19 February 2006

sinéad and matisyahu : two white takes on marley

war : sinéad o'connor
click on the image below to listen. 4m 06s

It wasn't a surprise to me when Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor came up with a reggae album late last year. In one of the earliest interviews of hers that I read – and this was way back in 1990 when she burst into the charts, thanks to her cover of Prince's Nothing Compares 2U in all her glorious baldness – she said that Bob Marley was one of the people that made her want to be a musician. For a woman known for being daring, there was never any doubt she could and would do something reggae, and Sinéad hinted at it around 1995 when she lent her vocals to the song Empire, written by Rastafarian dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah and produced by Bomb The Bass, a.k.a. Tim Simenon. And let's not forget when she sang War by Marley a cappella on Saturday Night Live in 1992 – a performance more remembered for her tearing a picture of Pope John Paul II and delivering the infamous line, "Fight the real enemy."

Sinéad has regeretted the act, so don't count on Pope Benedict being given the same honor should Sinéad ever perform the song in public again. In Throw Down Your Arms, her first album since her second retirement, Sinéad finally makes a proper tribute to reggae, and she fittingly caps the 12-song cover album with a new version of War. It's a faithful tribute, with near identical instrumentation flawlessly swirling around her never-do-wrong vocals. She changes the lyrics a bit, substituting "sisters in Africa" for "brothers in Angola" in the third verse. A feminist and human-rights advocate, Sinéad probably did that to stress not just the usual abuse that women everywhere suffer, but also to address female circumcision in some African societies, a practice done to suppress a woman's sexual desires and perhaps to also symbolize a woman's faithfulness to her husband. That slight change gave to me a new meaning to the phrase "sub-human bondage" in the same verse. Mad props to Sinéad for this work. I'm forever a fan.

chop 'em down : matisyahu
click on the image below to listen. 4m 03s

When you hear a lanky 26-year-old Hasidic Jew from New York singing reggae with beat-boxing and hip-hop twists, you can probably say you've heard it all. Matisyahu is Matthew Miller, who had had a non-Orthodox upbringing until he went on a school-sponsored trip to Israel. A big fan of Bob Marley with dreadlocks to prove it, Miller ended up staying for two years to deeply immerse himself in Judaism. He returned to New York at 19 with a big idea: to marry the sound of reggae with rhymes from his faith. It sounds like a joke, but Miller mastered it in a few years, and last year he announced his arrival with a new name and a debut ablum, Live at Stubb's, which received rave reviews. His new album, Youth, will probably take him mainstream. Look beyond the idea of a white man effecting a Jamaican accent (thanks to Sting, the association hasn't been positive) and you will find that his voice is not only powerful but also soulful. Like his onstage performances infused with madman vigor, Matisyahu's singing is compelling. Reggae has always been associated with resistance and dissent, but neither seems to be the subject of Matisyahu's music. In Chop 'Em Down, from the live album, he tells the story of Moses and Joseph, two unlikely people – both strangers in their kingdoms – who cleared their own paths to become leader or savior of their people. I love this line: Strange ways running through the maze, strange ways always lost in the desert trying to find your place. Matisyahu flies straight in the face of today's reggae artists, and that's a good thing. Watch an 11-minute short film on Matisyahu here, and an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live here.

16 February 2006

the evolution of david gray

lately : david gray
click on the image on the left to listen. 4m 13s
january rain : david gray
2m 44s

It took a while for me to fully appreciate David Gray's latest album, Life in Slow Motion. I bought it last October and had not listened to it again until about a week ago. Here, Gray eschewed recording in his basement as he had done for his six albums prior, and hired producer Marcus deVries, who has worked with Björk and Rufus Wainwright, to deliver this wannabe epic. The result is 45 minutes of music to scratch your head with and wonder what the hell happened. His formula of unadorned acoustics rolling with a drum machine worked for him very well. But probably because the air space for guitar-hugging singer-songwriters is getting crowded, Gray decided to go for the antithesis: a highly dramatic orchestral arrangement where his voice could soar higher than before. He drives this point with the funereal opening song, Alibi, which makes me draw some parallels with Agnus Dei, the opener of Wainwright's Want Two. Lately is probably the only song in Slow Motion that harks back to the old formula, which also makes it my favorite track. And just for good measure, I'm also posting the heart-tugging instrumental January Rain from his Lost Songs album. I think it was also used in Serendipity, the movie that helped popularize Babylon, from White Ladder.

07 February 2006

cover your head

every little thing he does is magic : shawn colvin
click on the couple below to listen

Okay, so we are still in the covers phase. Listen to this one by Shawn Colvin from her 1994 album Cover Girl, which came two years before she hit the big time with A Few Small Repairs. The original by The Police is still eminently better, but I like the simple, unpretentious arrangement of this version. In fact, it would take a major fuck-up for me not to like a professional cover of this song, which I love for its lyrics. I can even specify which line is my favorite: It's a big enough umbrella, but it's always me that ends up getting wet.

I find that line very graphic, and I take it almost in isolation from the rest of the lyrics. This may not be the intended meaning when Sting wrote it, but I think that line is a great analogy for someone who gives so much in a relationship but still ends up getting the raw end of the deal. And yet there he is, devoted as a dog. Another line I like from this song: I resolve to call her up a thousand times a day, And ask her if she'll marry me in some old fashioned way. I thought that was maddeningly obsessive, and I thought I was the only one who thought so, so imagine my surprise when that line was actually uttered by a stalker in a movie. Remember Conspiracy Theory? The paranoid Mel Gibson character recited that line to Julia Roberts in a train station, if I remember it right. And yet, it's Every Breath You Take that came to be known as "the stalker song."

02 February 2006

'tis the month of luuurve

Someone said in a comment here many months ago that most of the songs I post are full of depression and anger and I don't necessarily disagree. So for this month (um...maybe until the 14th) the theme of this blog is love: music for moments when your heart skips a beat. Starting with:

thinking of you : paul weller
click on the teddy to listen

It's a bit surprising to me that the prolific former singer and songwriter for punk-rock legends The Jam would turn to a Sister Sledge song for a pop ballad he could easily have penned himself. It's a good complement to You're the Best Thing which was a big hit for Weller's 80s band, The Style Council. Like any Top 40 cheeseball, this song is laden with clichés and cookie-cutter platitudes and promises – the part about his love being "fully equipped with a lifetime guarantee" always makes me laugh. But I like it. It actually makes for a good wedding song, which is sort of why I rediscovered it – a friend who got married last month asked me for song suggestions to play at his wedding. Enjoy the song.