Two decades ago, new albums from Buddy and Julie Miller, Goodie Mob, Armand Van Helden and others were spinning away in my portable CD player. Here’s what I had to say about them back then (with some minor editing):
This is the end, beautiful friend. This is the end, my only friend, the end. Or not. Frankly, when it comes to Y2K, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the world will grind to a shuddering halt at midnight. Maybe it won’t. I only know one thing: If it does, the last sound millions of party-goers hear is Prince whooping his way through 1999. And I know what you’re thinking: Hey, if not having to hear that song again is part of the deal, technological apocalypse might not be so bad. But since it’s the end of the world as we know it, why not send your houseful of revellers out feeling fine? Here are a few party-friendly dance tracks that might be just the thing to make your millennium bash the dance party to end all dance parties. And you still have a few hours to hit the CD stores before they say two thousand zero zero, party over, oops, out of time:
Armand Van Helden
In Britain’s house music scene, New Yorker Armand Van Helden is master of his domain. And rightly so; as 2Future4U’s dozen tracks make breathtakingly clear, he has a knack for crafting addictive, thumping backbeats and insistent melodies. But for a dance floor guru, Van Helden is one helluva songwriter, slicing, dicing and stitching those grooves together in innovative and hummable ways that engage your brain even as you’re getting down with your bad self. The robotic funk of Boogie Monster and the otherworldly funk conspiracy of Alienz have all the personality of Fat Boy Slim — and as Quentin Tarantino taught us, personality does go a long way — but with a bit more self-restraint. One word of warning: You might want to save the lascivious, bilingual sex rap Entra Mi Casa for a more private party.
Leap Of Faith
What do you get when you cross a Cuban-Canadian, a Brit and a sampler? One nation under a variety of very funky grooves. Big and swirling, slow and dreamy, dark and deadly, smoky and simmering, loping and slinky — just about any other combination you could come up with, chances are Christopher Andrews and Ashley Bates already have. And on their auspicious 12-track debut Leap Of Faith, they let you sample all 31 flavours— and add a few molecules to the Chemical Brothers’ patented Big Beat formula, gussying up sample-driven vibes with live instruments and proving they don’t need off-kilter vocal samples to hold your attention. “Together, we are unstoppable,” goes the chorus in Cross The Line. It’s no idle boast.
DJ of the moment John Digweed must have more frequent flyer miles than a Middle Eastern diplomat — in addition to being a spinner-in-residence at ultra-hip New York danceteria Twilo, he regularly spins at his weekly Bedrock night back home in London’s Heaven club. The two-CD set gives you a chance to take in both without leaving the living room. And without having to touch the stereo for most of the evening: Taking 20 tracks by as many different artists — including Sandra Collins, Danny Morales, Slacker and Digweed himself — John weaves a sparsely hypnotic, 140-minute dance mix that takes you on a night-long spin around the floor. If it had Auld Lang Syne at the end, it could be the only disc you need tonight.
Want a little CanCon for your all-night dance party? Easier said than done: Decent made-in-Canada mix albums come around as often as decent CBC sitcoms. Luckily, there’s MC Flipside. This Toronto mixmaster and double-duty DJ — he spins on radio and in clubs — has been representing the Great White North since ’96 with his Trippin’ CD series. Volume 3 has 15 tracks of high-calibre jungle and drum ’n’ bass, beginning with Junior Sanchez’s Be With You and Phunkie Souls’ The Music, and ending with Breakbeat Era’s stunning Ultra Obscene. Between, there are some Canadian grooves from Troy Brown, Soul Grabber, Naked Souls and DJ Ruffneck, plus the occasional freestyle from Flipside himself.
This time of year, plenty of folks are making resolutions and trying to get a new start in the new millennium. Including, it seems, oddly named Atlanta hip-hop crew Goodie Mob. This formerly sweet, lightweight outfit has obviously vowed to turn itself into a lean, mean rhymin’ machine to compete with all the gangsta thugs and hustler-playas out there. So on World Party, the backbeats are neck-snapping, the choruses are kicking, the raps are rapid-fire and rambunctious and the vibe is vibrant. Finally, a millennium party we all can get into. Now, if they can just do something about that handle …
2Pac & Outlawz
Still I Rise
Another day, another posthumous album from a slain rapper. Two weeks ago it was Notorious B.I.G.’s Born Again; this week, it’s Tupac Shakur’s turn. Like Biggie’s release, the 72-minute Still I Rise consists mostly of leftovers and half-baked tunes — a thug-life verse here, a chorus there — fleshed out long after Shakur went to that big afterparty in the sky. Still, it hangs together better than Born Again did, for several reasons: 1) Shakur’s leftovers (at least here) are of a slightly higher quality, so you get more bang for the buck; 2) He could also sing, adding another dimension to some tracks; 3) His career lasted longer, so producers had more good material to choose from; 4) Instead of pairing him with big-time guests that steal his thunder, the low-key collaborations here keep ’Pac the star of the show; and, most importantly, 5) Puff Daddy was not involved whatsoever. That alone almost makes Still I Rise worth buying. Almost.
… And Then There Was X
Ever heard a talking dog? Well then, how about a singing one? The old dog of gangsta rap, Earl (DMX) Simmons, shows off a few new tricks on his third solo CD, introducing plenty of catchy melody and even crooning most choruses in his rough, R&B-ready rasp. Heck, there’s even a sincere, spoken-word prayer. But don’t think for a second this pup is housebroken. DMX is still as tenacious as a pit bull, growling, howling and barking his way through 18 thuggish tracks about robbing a liquor store and killin’ folks, becoming a hit man and killin’ folks and playing tiddley-winks and killin’ folks (OK , I made that last one up, but trust me, it wouldn’t be out of place). In other words, the big dog can still hunt.
Eye Of The Hunter
Call it Dancing With Himself. After a 16-year musical partnership, Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry had a falling-out in 1998. Now, hot on the heels of Gerrard’s acclaimed soundtrack album to The Insider, Perry has returned with his first solo CD. Fans of DCD won’t feel lost; although Eye Of The Hunter is a more stripped-down affair, eschewing lush arrangements and instrumentation for simple folk balladry, it still has the same gloomy atmosphere, glacial landscapes and rich sound of his previous work. The biggest change by far, of course, is the vocals: With Perry’s unpolished baritone front and centre, Eye Of The Hunter packs all the maudlin gloom of Gordon Lightfoot Goes Goth. Admittedly, it works wonders with a cover of Tim Buckley’s I Must Have Been Blind. Next time, I’d love to hear what he could do with Sundown.
Maybe it’s the down-home music. Maybe it’s all those duets. Whatever the reason, country has always had more than its share of great, independently talented husband-and-wife teams. Think Johnny Cash and June Carter. Think George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Now think about adding Buddy and Julie Miller to that list. Plenty of others already have — folks like Steve Earle, Jim Lauderdale and Emmylou Harris, all of whom guest on Buddy’s striking third album Cruel Moon. Not that he needs help. With a voice rich in rootsy twang and tinged by a touch of nasal yodel, Miller creates rough-hewn tales of heartbreak and regret in a style that straddles the unvarnished honesty of Earle and the songcraft of John Hiatt. Cruel Moon is easily one of the top roots releases of ’99. And Julie’s Broken Things isn’t far behind. Her unusual, unforgettable little-girl voice can be as fragile as Victoria Williams one minute and as sassy as Wanda Jackson the next — as can her songs. Buddy may pack more punch, but since both of them write and play pretty much everything on both these discs, you really can’t miss with either release. I just hope this family that plays together stays together.
Pee Wee King
Ol’ Pee Wee really was the last guy who shoulda been a country star. In reality, he was Frank Kuczynski — a Polish kid from Milwaukee who played the accordion. How did he become a cowboy legend? Well, by writing classics like Tennessee Waltz and You Belong To Me, that’s how. The bad news is you won’t find those on the two-CD set Country Hoedown. The good news is you’ll find 50 other tunes just like ’em, all unreleased and taken from early ’50s radio broadcasts that captured King’s stylish brand of squeezebox boogie — a cross between Bob Wills’ sophisticated swing and Louis Jordan’s suave jump-blues, with a dash of Spike Jones’ zaniness for flavour. How King ended up in the Country Music Hall Of Fame, I’ll never know. I’m just glad he did.
The Very Best Of …
Ever since John Hiatt went soft in the mid-’90s, there’s been a opening for a top-notch, smartalec roots-rocker. Well, looks like the position has finally been filled by Chicago wiseguy Robbie Fulks. This insurgent country-rocker has an impressive resume — two first-rate indie CDs (Country Love Songs and South Mouth) and one equally good major-label disc (Let’s Kill Saturday Night). None of which, by the by, held any hits — which brings us to The Very Best Of Robbie Fulks (did I mention he’s a smartalec?). These 14 tracks, all either new or unreleased, feature Fulks’ cleverly sardonic, laugh-out-loud funny takes on romance (Sleeping On The Job Of Love), the music biz (Roots Rock Weirdoes) and political correctness (White Man’s Bourbon). The capper: His ode to ’80s pop tart Susannah Hoffs, That Bangle Girl. Clean out your desk by Friday, Mr. Hiatt.
First In Last Out
“I wish I had a gun so I could get wasted,” pines Stroke singer Jason Kelly. Obviously, he’s a man who knows how to have a good time. And at the stylistic surprise party that is his London quintet’s debut album, he’s the host with the most, dishing up a hearty smorgasbord of sounds — grandiose Britpop, industrial aggro-rock, tense trip-hoppy electronica — and joining in the mischief by breaking into the odd chorus of Born Free. “I’m not peculiar … I’m twisted,” he screams by way of explanation, shredding his vocal cords like Roger Daltrey gargling with napalm. I couldn’t agree more — even if, at other times, he manages to sound just a little too much like Sting for his own good. First In Last Out isn’t quite a work of genius, but most assuredly a stroke of originality. Come early, stay late.
And The Days Are Short Again …
Slo’ Tom & The Horses— Heroes
Liquor’s My Lover
Now that the music biz is ruled by 15-year-olds and Latin lovers, what’s a band of fun-loving thirtysomething hosers to do? Well, if the band in question is veteran indie-rock trio Furnaceface, there’s only one answer: Fuhgeddabowdit. So, on their fifth album — and the first release from their own indie label — this long-serving trio carries on doing what it does best, churning out another crop of witty ditties (I’m Getting Fat), rousing rockers (Lucky #7) and classic pop gems (first single Heartless). And of course, what’s the point of owning your own label if you don’t use it to issue your goofy, drunken side projects? I speak of Slo’ Tom & The Horses— Heroes, the booze-addled country outfit led by of ’Face bassist Tom Stewart and drummer Dave (Deadly) Dudley. With a tear in their beer and three sheets to the wind, these Heroes pour on the heartbreak with 100-proof originals like Liquor’s My Lover and well-aged covers from fellow imbibers like Willie Nelson (Gotta Get Drunk), Kris Kristofferson (Sunday Morning Coming Down) and, best of all, Ozzy Osbourne (Crazy Train, done like you’ve never heard it before). That calls for another round.
Brad Jones’ AKA Alias
Mario Pavone & Nu Trio
In the same way that all jazz trumpeters have been influenced at least a bit by Miles and all sax players can’t help but have some Bird in their sound, all jazz bassists owe a small debt to Mingus. What separates the innovators from the also-rans is whether they take that influence and run with it. Brad Jones and Mario Pavone are way ahead of the pack. There aren’t many folks who can say they’ve worked with both Ornette Coleman and Sean Lennon. Jones has, in addition to his long tenure with the Jazz Passengers. Here, he steps into the driver’s seat, leading a smooth quartet and guest vocalists through 10 tracks with mellow arrangements offset by his fat, rich slabs of sound. Think Mingus gone uptown. Pavone, meanwhile, stays way downtown on Remembering Thomas, his tribute to late pal and reed player Tom Chapin. On these edgy tracks, Pavone’s piano trio colours outside the lines of post-bop, hanging big, ringing piano chords above his thrumming, low-slung style and the drummer’s propulsive swing. Charles would approve. So will you.
Most music is directed at your ears, feet or booty. Otomo Yoshihide aims for your cerebral cortex. This Japanese experimentalist’s creations are closer to abstract sound sculpture than anything you’ll hear on the radio. Actually, if you did catch tracks like Modulation and Cathode on the air, you’d think your radio was on the fritz. The former probes the tonal differences between traditional Japanese instruments and sine waves. The latter rearranges snippets of music in seemingly random order, at various speeds. Both tracks differ depending on volume and your position. The sound? Well, it’s somewhere between alien classical, the chaos of 12-tone composers like Varese, and horror soundtracks. The point? As near as I can surmise, it’s about perspective, relativity and how no two people hear the same piece of music exactly the same way. In other words, art, like beauty, is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder.
DJ Me DJ You
Nothing in L.A. is as it seems. Hollywood Boulevard is full of sleaze. The palm trees are full of rats. The starlets are full of silicone. Stumbling out of Spaceland with a studio tan and blinking like two bind mice in the plastic sunshine, remixmaster duo DJ Me DJ You — aka Craig Borrell and Ross Harris — compress all of Tinseltown’s avarice, artifice and bad acting into ’60s acid-trip electronica sprinkled with plenty of B-movie dialogue and arrangements, sound effects record snippets and enough sitars to score the Bollywood remake of a Russ Meyer movie. Welcome to the jungle, baby, they got fun and games. And all they wanna do is have some fun, until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard. Simplysuperb.