Tuesday, May 31, 2011

MP3 Tuesday: Joy Toujours and the Toys du Jour

Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2011 at 9:43 PM

1musicklo.jpg

Greetings!

Yes, it's Tuesday, and this is a Monday feature. Were you hitting refresh on your browser all day yesterday while FFW>> was cooking out and remembering our fallen soldiers? Sorry boutcha.

This week's free MP3 download comes from Joy Toujours and the Toys du Jour. It's a pretty, subdued little folk number, and I quite like it, to be honest with you. The track is brand-new, and is called "Tonight Is the Night." Download and enjoy!

Some words on the passing of Gil Scott-Heron

Posted on Tue, May 31, 2011 at 4:58 PM

"The first time they told me there was trouble in the Middle East, I thought they were talking about Pittsburgh" – Gil Scott-Heron (from his appearance on 1985's "Let Me See Your I.D.")

Gil Scott-Heron passed away on Friday, May 27 at the age of 62, though his legacy lives. His words can be read in five published books, his music heard on 15 studio albums as well as several live albums and compilations. Gil's music conveys a feeling -- the struggle of overcoming.

My earliest experience hearing Gil Scott-Heron was courtesy of my father's record collection. Growing up in the '90s and being enthralled in hip-hop music, my father always pushed me to explore the roots -- jazz, blues, soul, etc. For my high school senior project I did a 20-some page paper aptly titled "Hip-Hop Music." To explain the art of poetry and MCing, I printed out the lyrics to Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." While I may not have fully comprehended the song at the time, it still resonated with me in understanding the limitless possibilities of one man's voice and words. It was honest, and unique, and the subject matter wasn't being presented in the classroom.

It was that summer, 2005, that I first heard the Pieces of a Man album. The third cut, "Lady Day and John Coltrane" blew me away. The fast tempo and uplifting lyrics were great, but for me it was always the tone and range of Gil's voice that gauged my attention. Also, "When You Are Who You Are" has been a favorite from that album. This record inspired me to listen to his entire catalogue.

In recent days, since Gil's passing, I've revisited his music. Each studio album got a minimum of one listen in full, most got more than two and several tracks were put on repeat. Some songs worthy of an instant replay were "Everyday" (from the 1970 debut album Small Talk At 125th), "Vildgolia (Deaf, Dumb and Blind)" (from 1977's album Bridges), "Angola, Louisiana" (from 1978's Secrets), and "Not Needed" (from 1980's Real Eyes).

Below are comments from several Pittsburghers who have been influenced by Gil's work: activists, artists, DJs, poets, and writers. Tomorrow we'll post words from several more.

Luqmon Abdus-Salaam, poet:

I was on the same bill as Gil Scott-Heron in 1996 at the Philadelphia African Arts Festival with him and the Last Poets.

I saw him give a great performance. One of the most underrated singer songwriters, let alone poets, of our time. I also saw him in Pittsburgh, PA at the old Rosebud, again an excellent performance; this was around 1997.

He made me feel in the performances like a legend presenting his treasured work that is a timeless presentation. His deep baritone voice actually expresses the pain and celebration of black people and had the true humanity of an artist.

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" made me feel like this was the call for oppressed people of America and if there was a challenge to the system this song would be the soundtrack.

Jay Malls, DJ:

It's funny because I've been thinking about how I first heard him. My friend in high school's dad was a fan and he used to let me borrow his records. He turned me onto Gil Scott-Heron, Last Poets and all kinds of other stuff. And I'd heard that stuff via various hip-hop, but I had no idea who those artists were at that point. Then I started finding my own copies ...

The first Gil Scott LP I heard was The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. It's fucked up because I'd never had my own copy for whatever reason until a few years ago. I was at a record convention somewhere in Pennsylvania and I found a copy and then the friend who I mentioned called me (while I'm still at the record show) and told that his dad had passed away. So anyway, that album was amazing to me because I'd never heard anything like "Whitey on the Moon" before, which blew my mind. And then the title track resonated with me because I was familiar with it through BDP using it on Blueprint of Hip Hop.

I think I found some of the later Arista [albums] first. They all had some pretty good stuff on them. I was more into the earlier ones with Brian Jackson. There's one called Bridges that J. Rawls sampled for Black Star "Brown Skinned Lady." That album's great. Winter In America is awesome. That one has "The Bottle." There are tons of different versions of that, covers. Great tune that's really socially relevant, but it had cross-over dancefloor appeal and it's definitely a classic. I still play that a lot.

I think my favorite stuff is the really early releases on Flying Dutchman. That was Bob Thiele's label. The first album is all spoken word and the releases after that are just amazing. Pieces of a Man is probably my favorite and then The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, etc. Johnny Pate is conducting and that's where Brian Jackson comes in playing keys. It's all jazz guys, Pretty Purdie plays drums, Hubert Laws, Ron Carter, etc. It's all stellar, very sincere, heart-felt stuff. I think his appeal is really in his honesty. [He was] definitely too honest for him to ever achieve any real mainstream success, and certainly very radical for the time.

Bonita Lee Penn, poet and journalist for the Soul Pitt Quarterly Magazine:

[Gil's] lyrics were and still are a constant inspiration; a call to duty to anyone who considers themselves a real black poet. He along with other Black male poets of the Black Arts Movement, such as LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) and Don L. Lee (Haki Madhubuti), lit a fire to being Black. Gil was strong and fearless with his messages demanding Black Pride, Black Thinking, "get off your ass and do something" Black people themes. I fell in love with his message. Black was beautiful and it was on the radio.

When I first heard "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" I was a young teenager living the good life in the suburbs, but at that same time being confronted with the invisible racial division in my community. I felt isolated from the Blacks in the larger cities, I wanted to be a part of the movement, so I started making statements, one being the first Black student to wear a Dashiki to school. But I wanted to express what I was feeling through my poetry and when Gil's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was broadcast over the radio, my feeling of isolation disappeared and I began to write revolutionary poetry because Gil's words woke me.

Through his music I found my cultural identity and my reason for writing poetry. Whenever I attend a writing conference or sit and discuss poetry, Gil Scott-Heron's name always comes up. My thing is, who will take his place? His music/lyrics live on, but who will continue to light that fire under black folks' asses?

Paradise Gray, activist and member of the X-Clan:

I saw him perform a couple of times. He was incredible. He comes from the jazz tradition, he did spoken word over jazz and blues ... People that [would] go to see him, they knew what to expect when they got there. He's a legend. He's a prodigy. He's been incredible as a musician, and as a poet, his whole life. So, his reputation precedes him. Most people that go to see Gil Scott-Heron can spit his words like Rakim fans ... like Biggie fans, when they go to see Biggie they know what it is. You go with that mindset that you're the student going to learn something as well as hear something. You're not just going to be entertained, you're going to be inspired ...

In the South Bronx when hip-hop was being developed, Gil Scott-Heron was living in the Bronx. So we were aware of him and his poetry and what he was doing with his music ... Gil Scott-Heron himself, he didn't accept that he was one of the founding fathers of rap and hip-hop. He proclaims that he's more from the blues and jazz experience than the hip-hop.

We did a few different festivals as X-Clan, and many times we'd be booked aside Gil Scott-Heron. He was a highly intelligent dude, very artistic, and a great musician, not just a poet but a musician also. He prided himself on his music, rather than just his rap ...

The first time I heard "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" I thought it was incredible. I come from an era where we had legend, after legend, after legend. Our elders are some of the most creative and incredible people that ever walked this planet, especially the elders that created music during the '70s and '80s, when they made real music and creativity was celebrated rather than stifled like it is in today's music industry in general ...

He was an incredible artist who got caught up in a lot of things in life that a lot of our elders got sidetracked with. But I won't judge him as a man, judgment belongs to God alone. As an artist, he's one of the best there ever was. I want him to rest in peace. I'll always remember his contribution.

Monday, May 23, 2011

MP3 Monday: The Cynics

Posted By on Mon, May 23, 2011 at 8:07 PM

Howdy!

This week's MP3 Monday offering comes from longtime local garage legends The Cynics. The band releases its eighth studio album, Spinning Wheel Motel, next week, but we're giving you a preview RIGHT NOW.

The track is the first on the album, and it's blistering, and it's called "I Need More," and it's got a sweet video on Youtube right up in here, and, here: download it, OK?!

They're going on a tour to Spain soon, then when they get back they're promising an acoustic-duo release show locally.

PS: For extra credit, read Aaron's feature from a couple years ago on The Cynics and Get Hip Records.

Review: Distal at Garden of Earthly Delights (Brillobox)

Posted By on Mon, May 23, 2011 at 12:05 PM

Distal at Brillobox - COURTESY OF BRIAN HOLTON
  • Courtesy of Brian Holton
  • Distal at Brillobox

Friday the 13th, night of superstitions and all around strange occurrences, oh-so aptly marked the return of the Garden of Earthly Delights party hosted by DJ James Gyre at the Brillobox. The lineup included Lazercrunk resident Keeb$, followed by the party's host and headlined by special guest Distal (Atlanta/Embassy Recordings) with visuals provided by Jocklaw. It was a bill of heavy yet beautiful bass accompanied by a rainbow of trippy technicolor visuals.

The current climate of bass-heavy music has been dominated by brostep sounds proffered by the likes of Skrillex and Feed Me: all earsplitting screeches, high-pitched vocal samples and dirty, face-melting bass lines. The MO of some DJ's seems to be: play the dirtiest, wobbliest bass music possible, stuff that's often just plain too hard for human ears. Crowds go wild for it, which makes the pretty stuff -- the dubstep with substance and intricacy, weird time signatures and playful organic samples -- a straight-up risk to book.

There is, however, a sweet spot in dubstep that combines party jams with otherworldly, boundary pushing bass music. It's a challenging craft to sculpt a set that keeps the dance floor poppin' but isn't afraid to take the risks that often end up leading the dancers to new sonic terrain. The ever-elusive party-rocking dubstep sweet spot was certainly brought by Distal that night. From the moment he dropped Plastikman's "Spastik," a complex techno flavored track of pure, unadulterated percussive ecstasy, it was obvious that he wasn't going to let the dance floor occupants relax into a bob of mainstream bass concordance. He took techno, house, raw sound samples, emphasized the low-end and what came out was something akin to an aquatic spaceship, futuristic and weird but oh-so danceable.

Some highlights of his set included the tune "Typwriter Tune," a collaboration between Distal and Vancouver based producer Hxdb. The track was a symphony of the simple mechanical sounds of a typewriter mixed with aquatic "glubs," pieced together to make a fun catchy track. Also addicting was the track by Clicks and Whistles called "Cranberry Goose," which was released on Distal's label Embassy Recordings. It moves from elongated, throbbing synths that get blended into a quirky percussion layer featuring squeaks, yes squeaks, all to a chorus of 'Get loose, cranberry juice.'

The night ended at Istanbul, where Jason Burns treated the crowd to his recent XLR8R featured release, "Back 2 You"; an encore set by Gyre that dripped with his signature tendencies towards the elaborate sounds of Amon Tobin; and finally a shockingly unique set by FUZZ! resident Depth One that strayed from the straight up drum 'n' bass he so often spins into a grimier street-style that proved he's got some range behind the decks. Numerology and superstition be damned; no bad luck at this party, just really good bass music.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Idea of Fun prepares for the Rapture

Posted on Fri, May 20, 2011 at 6:36 PM

I don't know long your "Things To Do Before (Maybe?) Being Raptured" list is, but I suggest making a little time for My Idea of Fun. The Johnstown-based artist collective is celebrating the Glorious End of Days by releasing everything they've got –older recordings by Hit or Miss Engines and Higher Fives, new stuff from Narrow Berth, visual art from Jacob Koestler and Olivia Locher and lots o' other stuff -- via their new online store, which goes live May 21st.

If that's a bit too much media to consume on your last earthly day, sample from the My Idea of Fun Blog. Daily posts over the last three weeks have served as an apocalyptic count down, and a showcase for the various musicians, artists, and writers who fall under the MIOF banner. The countdown may seem a bit thematically loose at first, but Koestler explains that, as people who tend toward the esoteric, "it was our first crack at being informative, our first attempt at not being cryptic." While there are some brand new items, some of the more perplexing posts of yore are re-posted, and explained. I, for one, am glad I can cross "find Endless Mike's secret recordings" off my Rapture list.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

This week in punk news: White Wives sign to Adeline, CMNH scientist names bird after Greg Graffin

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2011 at 4:38 PM

Here are two unrelated, except in that they both deal with local things and punk rock things, pieces of news for you to digest:

-- The local band White Wives announced today that their forthcoming album, Happeners, will be issued June 28 by Adeline Records, the label run by Billie Joe and Adrienne Armstrong. The band's previous EP was released by the local Lock & Key imprint; look for a release show June 24 at 222 Ormsby.

-- In a tangentially Pittsburghian punk rock story, it was announced today that a team of scientists, including Carnegie Museum of Natural History's Matt Lamanna, discovered a to-this-point-unknown bird, long extinct, described as a "three-dimensionally preserved enantiornithine bird (Aves: Ornithothoraces) from Gansu Province, northwestern China," and named it after ... Greg Graffin of Bad Religion. The punk rocker is, as you probably know if you follow Bad Religion at all, a Ph.D. in zoology/evolutionary science, and, according to a report on Epitaph's website today, and is lecturing this fall at Cornell.

Review: Last week's FUZZ drum n bass night at BBT

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2011 at 2:47 PM

The Bloomfield Bridge Tavern was packed early, uncharacteristic for a Wednesday evening. The weekly drum 'n' bass night hosted by FUZZ! 412 DnB DJ collective can always draw a crowd of the faithful, but on certain nights, with certain headliners, they can pack the little dance floor with raging bass junkies who get in early and stay 'til the very end.

Last Wednesday was one of those nights as they hosted London-based drum 'n' bass producer and DJ Klute for their 11th Anniversary celebration. The bartenders handed out pizza in lieu of pierogies to an appreciative crowd as one of FUZZ!'s resident DJ's, Depth One, opened up with some classic techstep. The atmosphere wasn't necessarily celebratory as it was just keepin' up with tradition.

FUZZ! is the longest-running electronic music event in Pittsburgh and stands out on a short list of longest-running in the country. Hearkening back to the late '90s and early '00s, the weekly platform for drum 'n' bass has moved venues a few times, tweaked its name, and seen its audience shrink and swell over time. Throughout the past 11 years it has remained steadfast and adamant about bringing quality drum 'n' bass to the Burgh both by cultivating local talent and by bringing world-renowned producers in to grace the stage of the BBT.

Resident FUZZ! DJ and local veteran of the ravey drum 'n' bass formalism days of yore, Geoff Maddock (Cutups) says of the group's collectivism, "We put all the money from the weekly nights into a pot so that we can afford to lose money bringing guests. It's just a sign of the love and dedication that the crew has for this music."

As a genre, drum 'n' bass has seen historical moments of ballooned underground acceptance as in the rave days, when raves were not the same as today's all-ages parties that feature hardstyle DJ's; a veritable sonic onslaught that often leaves those who saw the inception of rave culture scratching their heads in confusion. It has also seen moments of homelessness, and an interest and continuation by only a dedicated few who hung on to the fast-paced tempo while other purveyors of electronic music slipped into a more mainstream jazzstep sound.

But here, and now, 11 years after it's inception as a consistent event in Pittsburgh, FUZZ! has made the point that drum 'n' bass is entirely too vast of a genre to be broken down and their choice of a headliner in Klute does everything to prove that interest remains.

Klute's set was constantly in conversation with the speedy, intricate percussion lined drum 'n' bass that could now be considered 'classic,' and a more minimal, smoothed-out languid sound. He vacillated between hard-dark-speedy and soft-glistening dub with ease. His set was like dance floor time-travel, pulling up the sounds from the past and pushing them into the future. Pretty much the mentality that could give FUZZ! 11 more years.

Belated review: Arlo Aldo and Big Snow Big Thaw at Club Café

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2011 at 1:53 AM

Arlo Aldo - COURTESY OF BRIAN TAYLOR
  • Courtesy of Brian Taylor
  • Arlo Aldo

Hey there!

Sorry I've been missing for a while; next week's issue is SUMMER GUIDE! and that means I've been busy writing a huge lists of all the concerts ever, and reading other huge lists, or other summer goings-ons. But here I am, to write about a show I attended last Friday at Club Café.

Big Snow Big Thaw's Jim Sabol - COURTESY OF BRIAN TAYLOR
  • Courtesy of Brian Taylor
  • Big Snow Big Thaw's Jim Sabol

The event was Arlo Aldo – a somewhat-recent local – playing with Big Snow Big Thaw, whom I've blogged about, and given extraneous commas, before. It was the late show (10:30 sharp), and it was on the South Side, and I live on the East End, and *weep* I had to cross a bridge and *whine* I had to find parking on the South Side and it was Friday night and I was tired. But I made it happen, as did my photog buddy Brian Taylor (on Twitter @brianmtaylor).

Arlo Aldo is the project of David Manchester and friends; Manchester and his wife moved from Baltimore to the ‘Burgh a little less than two years ago. (David, who has also lived in Portland, has high praise for our city – or was he just buttering me up? Who's to say, really? I'll accept compliments for Pittsburgh regardless.)

Manchester also performs with Kadman, but Arlo Aldo is his newer project – his guitar and vocals backed up by keys and drums. It was tough to really concentrate on the music at this show, to be honest: This is where I note that the crowd, while enthusiastic and not problematic, was rather talk-y, and Club Cafe is a small room – there was a constant buzz in the room.

That having been said, Arlo Aldo's tunes were mellow and easy, quietly personal but not boring. The band's dynamic was relaxed but not inattentive. The tunes were clean and nice, and I found that – on a Friday night, when I started the evening tired and dogged and rather annoyed about being a music critic – I was having an OK time.

The crowd noise didn't go down all that much for the headliner, Big Snow Big Thaw. But what was satisfying on this particular night was that both bands were operating fine in spite of it. Sometime in the middle of Big Snow Big Thaw's rollicking good-time bluegrass (not kitschy, not self-conscious), I realized that this show was just ... fun.

Big Snow Big Thaw's David Meyer - COURTESY OF BRIAN TAYLOR
  • Courtesy of Brian Taylor
  • Big Snow Big Thaw's David Meyer

Here we were in a small-ish room, some of us standing, some of us sitting, some of us taking pictures, some of us stomp-clapping in an abysmal fashion, but we were all having fun. Not overthinking it, but not settling for second-rate tunes either.

On a level, it calls to mind questions about what I want from music, what we want from music, what I want from live music as opposed to recorded music. Not to say that I don't want to jam recorded music by these two bands; I do. But neither is, and maybe neither ever will be, my daily commute music, my car-ride music.

Big Snow Big Thaw's Dani Buncher - COURTESY OF BRIAN TAYLOR
  • Courtesy of Brian Taylor
  • Big Snow Big Thaw's Dani Buncher

Friday night, though, they were all I wanted: an excuse to come out, to see friends, to hear pleasant songs, to see folks having a good time playing music and other folks having a good time listening. Perhaps I was contrasting it with the chip I observed on Mike Ness's shoulder Wednesday at Stage AE; perhaps I've grown (given the nature of my work) to think of music as too often disposable, and too much about establishing oneself on the vanguard as a consumer. But Friday night I had a positive musical experience that had nothing to do with all that, and Arlo Aldo and Big Snow Big Thaw are to credit.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Suavity's Showcase, and other show announcements

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2011 at 6:38 PM

As the weekend begins, some disparate notes for you to keep in mind:

-- The experimental art rock outfit Suavity's Mouthpiece -- until recently unknown to me -- announced today its second "Suavity's Showcase" show, co-presented with Drusky Entertainment and a U.K. media outlet called Independent Music News. It's taking place July 11 and features, in addition to Suavity's Mouthpiece: The Feel-Good Revolution, M. Bellaire and Luxe. Tickets go on sale Monday; you can find more about the three-piece, led by the loquacious J. Trafford (and featuring collaborations with many local artists) at their website. I think they have sort of a post-Industrial-music take on Red Krayola going on. Or something like that?

-- Word is that tonight's Donora show at Stage AE -- the Pittsburgh Marathon kickoff party -- has been moved indoors, but is still on. Check it out!

-- Also tonight, at Club Cafe, see Big Snow Big Thaw along with Arlo Aldo, a recent Baltimorean transplant.

-- Also, The Frick announced its summer music series today. In a nutshell: Greg Abate Friday, June 3; Daphne Alderson Friday, July 1; Marley's Ghost Friday, August 5; and St. Petersburg String Quartet Friday, September 2. More info here!

Have a good weekend!

Review: In Flagranti et al. at Istanbul

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2011 at 6:12 PM

People say disco is dead; VIA begs to differ. Last Saturday's show, held at what is becoming one of the best places for parties in the East End, Istanbul Grille on Butler Street, staged a lineup of artists that were all wildly different but whose sounds all held some tangential connection to the disco days.

Edgar Um started off the music with an expertly crafted string of tunes that hearkened anywhere from the early '70s to current underground treasures. He pulled out the deep cuts from bands like Goblin, The Alan Parsons Project, and The Rolling Stones with smatterings of present day bass artists like Boxcutter and Africa Hitech. The visuals, provided by Scott Andrew, were keenly in tune with Edgar Um's breadth of sonic diversity, humorous and visionary. Edgar's opening set and the interludes between artists acted as a segue from the '80s flavored opener to the nu-disco headliner smoothing all the dance happy disco jamming into a solid party.

Michael Ice's performance transformed the Turkish milieu of Istanbul into a dark dark New York City club of yore, like something located in Alphabet City in the '80s; the throbbing glow of his visual component, a set of red lights on either side of him, synced up with the synth sounds emanating from his keyboard that were dripping with influence from The Cure, Depeche Mode, and New Order. He was a one man powerhouse of '80s tinged energy complete with a floppy blond 'do and black jacket.

Majeure followed Edgar Um's interlude with epic space rock that turned the dance floor from '80s club to '80s sci-fi phantasmagoria with the dark, danger forewarning arpeggiated synths that dominated his set. His sounds were truly encapsulating, the dance floor inhabitants no doubt dreaming of electric sheep as Theo Leung's visuals of mesmerizing video montage reminiscent of the Qatsi Trilogy flashed behind him. A veritable blend of organic and futuristic, both on screen and transmitted through the speakers.

By the time In Flagranti took the stage, Istanbul had been transformed into a present day Studio 54, the crowd composite of trannys dressed to the nines and vogue hip kids who trickled in from the Dirty Ball that happened earlier in the evening. In Flagranti's set was all of the expected dance inducing sleazy disco remixes with visuals to match. It was an expressive array of soft core sex all melded together and reinterpreted to create a mediated randomness of electro beats and deep disco-house that just went instantly to the dance floor, no waiting around to find a groove, they just dished it out straight up.

So yeah, disco certainly isn't dead. It's alive and well and you can pretty much find it at the core of any dance music. VIA didn't even need a disco ball to remind us of that.

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