Grizzly BearIt says it all. I recently got to see them live in Ann Arbor a few weeks ago and it has become my favorite concert that I have been to, ever. They use reverb like it’s going out of fashion and more people sing in the band than CSNY, well they’re tied. Anyway they have a very unique sound and I am very excited to see where they will be going in the future.

I highly recommend them, and I would start with songs like “Two Weeks” and “Knife.” If you like, then try some deeper cuts like “Little Brother” (Yellow House or Friend EP are both wonderful) and “Colorado.” I don’t care how you listen to them, just do it!

For all you Twilight fans, they will be appearing on the New Moon soundtrack with a new song “Slow Life” with a guest appearance by Beach House singer Victoria Legrand (Who also appeared on “Two Weeks”). I have heard a little sampling from the page and I already lie a lot had them play two songs from their most recent effort: Vectatimest. Both of the songs are quite beautiful, Now Listen!

aaaaaaaArtist: Kid Cudi (ft. Ratatat)

Album: Man on the Moon: The End of Day

Released: September 15, 2009

Label: Universal Motown Records

I have been following Ratatat for some years now and they are one of the most under appreciated entities in rock, hip hop, and electronic circles.  Kid Cudi is an up and coming rapper who has a knack for melody as well as some really lyrically intriguing material.  A rare combination in the rap industry.  Ratatat’s two mixtapes have created a lot of commotion in the online community and their production skills are unquestionable.  They also produced Kid Cudi’s hit “Pursuit of Happiness,” which will no doubt achieve an “overplayed” status soon enough.

This track does not include MGMT, who are almost more of a distraction than they are a worthy addition to “Pursuit of Happiness.”  “Alive” is less catchy vocally than the aforementioned hit, but it is bass heavy, melodic though dark, and practically hypnotic.  It is everything I would expect from producer/musicians like Ratatat and increases my interest in Kid Cudi.  His will be an exciting career to follow.  Now listen.

Artist: Santigold

Album: Santogold

Released: April 2008

Label: Downtown Records

I think I have found my weakness as of late. Pop music. Granted the “pop” music is not as popular as Billboard top 100 but I do feel that much of it is based on those lyrics and hooks that pop music was born with. Anyway the song that I has been stuck in my head is no exception. Santigold’s Lights Out is catchy and I dare you to listen to it just once.

I’ll be honest, I am not the biggest fan of Santigold, I dismissed her as a record label’s attempt to jump on the M.I.A. bandwagon of woman singers who dress crazy. A few of her other songs I just can’t get into. However this song is very good.

Anyway check out the song, its crazy good, almost as crazy as the video.

Out of the Blue

Artist: Electric Light Orchestra

Album: Out of the Blue

Released: November 1977

Label: Columbia

So my lack of dedication to this blog has been quite substantial however I would like to make up for it by returning with some new songs and albums to show off. I’ll be taking the plunge with a song that I have been enamored with for the past few days. ELO’s (Electronic Light Orchestra) Sweet Talkin’ Woman is one of my favorite more poppy songs by the Group. If you have never heard of Jeff Lynne (singer, guitarist and chief song writer) now is your chance. All of your favorite ELO tunes, you have them even if you don’t know you do, were written by Lynne. Tangent: Lynne was also in an 80’s supergroup called The Traveling Wilburys which included some good company being that Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, George Harrison and Roy Orbison were all making sweet music babies together but I digress.

Sweet Talkin’ Woman came on to my FM the other day and it inspired me to buy ELO’s Greatest Hits; I know a greatest hits, how daring. But nevertheless after one listen I needed that song at my fingertips. Coming off of the 1977 Out of the Blue among many other singles off of the album. The song itself uses effects on vocals better than Cher or Kanye ever did and like all ELO songs the string section adds so much. But what really gets me each time I listen to the song is the chord progression. Well, don’t take my word for it here is a live version with all of ELO’s hair glory.

Amplified Review

September 5, 2009

d80162l0j8tArtist: Q-Tip

Album: Amplified

Released: November 23, 1999

Label: Arista

I have talked about A Tribe Called Quest Before, and this is a solo effort by one of the group’s three members.  Q-Tip, Kamaal the Abstract, and sometimes referred to as simply “the abstract rapper” followed A Tribe Called Quest’s 1998 breakup with his debut album Amplified a year later.  I use the album as my primary running music, but friends are skeptical as to that use.  I like to groove with my music while running instead of using it to push me forward forcefully, but to each her own.

Amplified personifies Q-Tip’s laid back abstract style masterfully with its cavernous grooves and staccato beats.  The first track “Wait Up” is aptly named, melding Q-Tip’s smooth flow with a faltering drums and jazz-reminiscent piano.  “Higher” takes the groove deeper and shows the rapper’s skill in both abstract material and classic hip hop swagger.  “Breathe and Stop” offers an even trippier and heavier beat, while “Moving With You” takes that confidence to the romantic level.  “Let’s Ride” offers an extremely intelligent jazz guitar riff that underlies Q-Tip’s chill atmosphere and lives up to its name as a cruising song.

The well-travelled hit of the album is “Vivrant Thing,” and is a true and tested hip hop ode to one amazing woman.  As a long time friend of A Tribe Called Quest and Native Tongues, Busta Rymes makes his appearance for “N.T.” a decidedly more intense song than the rest of the album.  “End of Time (ft. Horn) uses a strange fusion beat that makes it very difficult to describe and closes out Amplified on a note of new things to come from Q-Tip.  There’s also a hidden track, but I won’t spoil that surprise completely.

The combination of disjointed beats and the suave flow of Q-Tip are a perfect mix that was never captured on his two later albums, and although both are solid albums, neither one reached the level of Amplified.  Whether he was still coming off his high with A Tribe Called Quest or just on his game, this is one album any Tribe fan should own.

FolgateArtist: Madness

Album: The Liberty of Norton Folgate

Released: August 18, 2009

Label: Yep Roc

Madness was responsible for filling much of Britain’s billboard charts during the early 1970s to mid 80s.  In fact, they hold the record – along with UB40 – for most weeks spent by a group in the 1980s UK singles charts: 214 weeks.  Arguably one of the greatest ska bands ever, this goofy ensemble was also the author of the international hit “Our House,” which was so popular it inspired a musical by the same name.  The group broke up while recording a new album in 1988 citing artistic differences, but continued to reunite for their Madstock festivals and several other events.  In 1999 they released Johnny the Horse to moderate success.  Then in 2007 Madness announced a new tour and the result of their last two years together is a masterpiece.

The Liberty of Norton Folgate is an intimidating 2-disc testament to the evolution of Madness.  Although still arguably within their 2 Tone style, the album is breaks largely from their old sound and defies easy genre identification.  The Liberty of Norton Folgate begins with an overture almost reminiscent of Mussorgsky, but transitions smoothly into “We Are London.”  That second track pulses with heavy bass and keyboards, punctuated by the horns’ flashing melody.  “We Are London” makes it clear that the band found a new sound, but retained their skill and arguably improved on it.  “Forever young” provides a whisper of the old Madness and moves into “Dust Devil,” which sounds the most like their older work.  Guess what?  It’s their single for the album.  But since being radio friendly is no crime and the group’s former niche, it is carried out with a grace befitting their experience from bludgeoning the radio industry with hits during the 70s and 80s.  However, “Dust Devil” still fits snugly into The Liberty of Norton Folgate along with stranger songs like the title track.

“The Liberty of Norton Folgate” finishes the first disc with an astonishing 10 plus minutes of ska.  Topping the glorious vocals of “On the town” with its sweeping piano, and “Clerkenwell Polka” with it’s insane beat and shouting, the title track of the album is probably the most epic piece of ska ever written.  This is not a word that is generally applied to ska music either, but this track earns it.  Pictures of London streets are painting in Madness’ dark and haunting music.  This is not the madness of youth, but the madness of a wild age and a city of split personality.  Breaking into whistling and a piano having a romp through the song, Madness sings of the freeing effect of the “Technicolor world” most people live in.  The track picks up momentum and carries on its opus into a confrontation of immigration in Britain and the fears of its inhabitants.  Strings and a chorus back up the singer’s description of the conditions immigrants fight through and their need to belong and seek freedom.

As bands grow and mature, especially the more popular ones, the pattern seems to be to write increasingly more contemporary music.  Once that plateau is reached, the group continues to write skillfully, but they succumb to the influence of experience and the almost homogenous synthesis of the vast amounts of music they have come to know and play.  After years of residing within nostalgia and even cover concerts under the band name The Dangermen, Madness have reinvented themselves and produced an album of true craft.

12424-we-are-beautiful-we-are-doomedArtist: Los Campesinos!

Album: We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

Released: 2008

Label: Wichita Recordings

N. Smith has been rather busy of late, so I’m hijacking his usual feature. Today’s Song of the Week comes from a spastic indie rock group out of Wales. The sound of Los Campesinos! is Architecture in Helsinki meets the Shout Out Louds meets the Arctic Monkeys. The group consists of seven members who play surprisingly conventional instruments aside from the glockenspiel (Gareth Campesinos!). Translator’s note: Los Campesinos means “The Peasants” or (“The Farmers” in Spanish).

“We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” is the title track for their second album and features an intro of synthesizer combined backed by some slick percussion on the part of (). After the guitars creep in minimal strings emerge and the singer starts to kick out the first verse. The singer’s second line is corny sounding enough to make the listener grimace, but is immediately followed by “As you squint and you grimace, we both know your heart’s not in it,” which may just be lampshading, but is never-the-less effective. The speaker is “trying to be sexy” and his feeble attempts at it seem to make him increasingly disillusioned. A harsh message for all you hopeful romantics out there, but well delivered.

The verses display his “realist” views, but the chorus retains a raw emotion throughout the entire song. The singer’s half spoken verses vary the style and the shouting choruses build until the song explodes with all the instruments pounding. If you have trouble understanding the lyrics, by all means Google them — it’ll be worth it. Have a listen:

For the official single “You! Me! Dancing!” off their first album, check this out:

i34867er0apArtist: Yndi Halda

Album: Enjoy Eternal Bliss

Released: Jan 23, 2007

Label: Big Scary Monsters

Yndi Halda is a post-rock group much in the same vein as Explosions in the Sky and Caspian.  The group hails from Canterbury, UK and is characterized by what may be called a more positive thematic than many other post-rock groups.  As opposed to the guitar heavy landscapes of Explosions in the Sky, Yndi Halda paints its panoramas with seas of strings, punctuating their pieces with guitar and banjo among other instruments.

With only four tracks “Enjoy Eternal Bliss” clocks in at an impressive hour and five minutes long.  These aren’t songs you should listen to on a quick drive to get milk, but don’t let the length of the pieces intimidate you.  The album begins quiet and wavering until guitar, drums and a single violin kick in a couple minutes through.  One of the last things this album is, is rushed.  The song gradually picks up momentum as the guitar intensifies into searing high notes and the violin follows the dynamic.  Short pauses in the song keep the force of the music fresh and allows it to gain more power every time it intensifies.

Halfway through the track, the power ends and you are left with only intermittent melodic guitar chords.  The second half of “Dash and Blast” builds in much the same way as the first, but then becomes a driving piece, powered by the drums as well as two guitars trading harmonic pickings.  Finally, a clarinet appears above the wall of music and guides it into a grand chorus that concludes with an expected and welcome quiet guitar outro.

“A Song for Starlit Beaches” features wistful stretches of strings and a banjo, slowly and wistfully being plucked.  The piece assembles more instruments including piano and guitar and moves gradually higher.  The song builds toward several crashing crescendos like an ocean in unfavorable weather, but always avoids becoming a squall.  In between the two thunderous upsurges is a point where only quiet piano guides the work, until a violin takes up a poignant melody before rejoining the other strings as a guitar tears the piece into another culmination.  The track is brought to a close through a reemergence of banjo, which is then joined by a ear-piercing slide guitar and finally the strings.

“Enjoy Eternal Bliss” functions as well as a whole album as it does within the ambitious songs it contains.  Perfect for a rainy morning, or strangely, a bright sunny afternoon, this album is sure to help you reach a pensive state that can break your writer’s block or spur you to take out that instrument you have neglected.

ATCQ-TheLowEndTheoryArtist: A Tribe Called Quest

Album: The Low End Theory

Released: September 4, 1991

Label: Jive

A Tribe Called Quest is: Phife Dawg, Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad.

There is no way I can express the importance of this album sufficiently.  If you like rap, and confess to it, then this album must be sitting on your CD rack at home.  Otherwise it’s like producing the American Dollar without backing it… hey, wait a minute.

Jazz and rap have never been combined so well.  Jurassic 5 even went so far as to name what is in my opinion their best album, “Contact,” after a sample taken from the final track on this A Tribe Called Quest album.  In the 90s when many of the commercially successful tracks were gangsta anthems (Straight Outta Compton, etc.), A Tribe Called Quest prided itself on provided intelligent and abstract lyrics.  In fact, “The Abstract Rapper,” or Q-Tip, has that spirit imbedded in his moniker, referring to their sense of intelligent rhyme.

“Show Business” is about exactly what it sounds like, the struggle for fame, and its downfalls of attaining it.  ATCQ assert that you have to play the game, but make it plain they are above it.  Rapping about the breaks is nothing new and Kurtis Blow was doing it eleven years earlier, but not like this.  “What” strings together a list of questions that illustrate what things would be without, um, other things.  And the answer is: nothing.  ATCQ is all about the love, and this record predates the East Coast – West Coast rivalry that consumed hip hop later on.  It’s about the music and the rhyme, and is often referred to as true hip hop.  As the Abstract Rapper said, “Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop.”

This is an album that has only increased its appeal with each listen I give it.  If you are an avid rap listener, but are not familiar with “The Low End Theory,” then brace yourself – afterwards you will see throwbacks to this record constantly.  Maybe in albums you have owned for a long time.


May 12, 2009

I would like to offer the readers of Funguy and the Music Mushroom an apology for the lack of material being sent your way. The great exodus from college that is graduation has caused nothing but confusion as well as heartburn. Anyway as soon as I get settled in my new home there will be post, oh yes, there will be.

-N Smith