Vinyl find: 24-7 Spyz, Harder Than You

[24-Spyz - Harder Than You]

When I spotted a vinyl copy of Harder Than You in the bargain bin at Jive Time Records, it had been close to 30 years since I first heard of 24-7 Spyz.

Living Colour was all over the radio with “Cult of Personality”, but the music press pointed out Vernon Reid and company weren’t the only rock band with black guys around. Fishbone would release its second album, Truth and Soul, that year as well. Bad Brains had been around since the start of the decade.

24-7 Spyz tapped into the same creative vein as Living Colour — brutal guitars, funk bass lines and punctuating drums. In some ways, Harder Than You and Vivid are nearly interchangeable. Each album even includes a cover, although the Spyz driving cover of Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” is truly transformative.

Harder Than You, lacking the commercial polish Ed Stasium gives Vivid, comes across rawer and, well, harder.

I remember Pulse! magazine plugging the hell out of this album with prominent advertising, glowing reviews and more than a few blurbs about the band. I don’t remember seeing the album itself in my local Tower stores, however. Its release on an independent label just about guaranteed it wouldn’t reach Honolulu.

24-7 Spyz would eventually sign to a major label, by which time the line-up that produced Harder Than You had changed. The work from this brief era can be found on streaming services, but the band’s early output remains offline.

If you find this album in the used bin, pick it up.

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Reconsidering the year in music 1992

[Wayne Horvitz/The President - Miracle Mile]

Back in 2008, I wrote a series of entries detailing my favorite albums from various decades. For the longest time, I held an incredibly dim view of 1992. Compared the years preceding and following, 1992 felt like a creative malaise had spread throughout the music industry.

Bands that used to be underground found themselves to be popular, and under this newfound, wide-scale scrutiny, some of them cracked.

Or so I thought.

I had only turned 20 years old, an age when the dopamine hit from discovering new music left a neophyte intoxicated. I wanted every album to matter, and the ones that didn’t received a harsh judgment.

Twenty-five years later, I’ve got more of an education on where 1992 fit in the larger scheme of things, and of course, I got it wrong. This old entry details all the ways I got it wrong. So let’s make it right.

Here’s a revised list of the Favorite Edition 1992.

  1. Wayne Horvitz/The President, Miracle Mile
  2. Máire Brennan, Máire
  3. Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 3 (Dawn Upshaw, David Zinman, London Sinfonietta)
  4. k.d. lang, Ingenue
  5. Sade, Love Deluxe
  6. En Vogue, Funky Divas
  7. Prince and the New Power Generation, 0(+> (Love Symbol Album)
  8. Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers, At the Ryman
  9. Kronos Quartet, Pieces of Africa
  10. Robin Holcomb, Rockabye

Honorable mention

  • The Sugarcubes, Stick Around for Joy
  • Faith No More, Angel Dust
  • Sonic Youth, Dirty

The original list stopped at five items, with a longer list of albums accompanied by explanations for why they weren’t favorites. In some cases, I’ve completely changed my mind.

At the time, Love Deluxe was such a drastic turn for Sade that I thought something went wrong. It would take another 18 years for Love Deluxe to reveal itself as the start of a new creative era, one marked by extreme pauses between albums. This early ’90s album shares more with its successors in 2000 and 2010 than it did with 1988’s Stronger than Pride.

I also got a chance to revisit Ingenue after the entry was written, and it’s place on the favorite list is well anchored.

Other albums would not have appeared on the list at the time it was written. Prince was unexplored territory for me in 2008, so I wouldn’t have even thought to include the Love Symbol album. En Vogue wouldn’t have gotten past my raging rock snobbery.

The rest of the albums on the list could have only been included after much research. Dirty makes a lot more sense if a Sonic Youth novice also considers Sister and EVOLAt the Ryman would not make sense to someone who’s only exposure to Emmylou Harris was Wrecking Ball.

I’ve even had a change of heart regarding Faith No More and R.E.M.

So it turns out 1992 wasn’t as bad as I remembered. It just took 25 years to reach that realization.

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The ones that nearly got away: Spice Girls, Spice

[Spice Girls - Spice]

It was the start of the century, and I volunteered to work behind the scenes at the Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Crowd control during screenings meant a lot of standing around, waiting for something to happen. Another volunteer with incredibly fashionable shoes started singing a vaguely familiar pop song.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“Spice Girls!” he answered, aghast someone who would identify as gay would not know something so basic.

Unbeknownst to him, I had been familiar with Spice Girls at one point.

You couldn’t go to a gay bar without hearing the quintet’s latest single. I had enough gumption to buy the album that didn’t have Geri Halliwell. And yeah, I owned Spice and Spiceworld.

They were casualties of a collection purge after the dot-com bust, and my tenure at Waterloo Records inflamed my rock snobbery. Spice Girls had been washed from my memory.

But like Sugababes’ “Overload”, “Say You’ll Be There” is one of those ear confections that don’t wear out. I could happily never encounter “Wannabe” for the rest of my life but not so with “Say You’ll Be There.”

At the same time, I wasn’t about to drop any more than $1 to bring the album back into my collection. (Thank you, thrift stores!)

Spice is certainly a relic of the late ’90s, but it ages pretty well. The quintet’s girl-power mantra feels sincere on this first outing, while subsequent albums would suffer under the pressure to turn a quick buck.

The album has its share of duds — I’m looking at you, “Mama” — but they’re offset by the likes of “Who Do You Think You Are” and “If You Can’t Dance”. On the whole, Spice is actually a cohesive effort, a pop album shooting for something beyond the top of the charts.

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Looking ahead: October-November 2017

[The Smiths - The Queen is Dead (Deluxe Edition)]

A lot of big releases have been announced for fall, but few of them have much interest for me. I like you, Taylor Swift, but I accept I’m not your target market.

Various Artists, PAUSE ~STRAIGHTENER Tribute Album~, Oct. 18

I haven’t listened to STRAIGHTENER in years, but I can get behind a tribute album that includes ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, THE BACK HORN, 9mm Parabellum Bullet and the pillows.

The Smiths, The Queen is Dead (Deluxe Edition), Oct. 20

I’ll settle for the 2-disc edition with the demos and b-sides. I’m not enough of a fan for the super deluxe edition with a concert recording and a DVD.

Sam Smith, The Thrill of It All, Nov. 3

Please, please be the album In the Lonely Hour could have been.

Cindy Wilson, Changes, Nov. 17

Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson have released solo albums, and Cindy Wilson completes the triumvirate. Honestly? I’m kind of curious what a Keith Strickland solo album would sound like.

U2, Songs of Experience, Dec. 1

I’m a U2 fan, but even I thought pushing Songs of Innocence into my iTunes library was intrusive. I ended up liking the album, but it ranks alongside How to Build an Atomic Bomb and All That You Can Leave Behind in the middle tier of U2’s output. I will listen to this new album regardless. I may even purchase it.

Björk, Utopia, TBD

I love Björk, but her albums aren’t ones you play for casual listening.

Vinyl

Missy Elliott, Under Construction, Nov. 10

I already grabbed an original pressing of this album a while back, but I’m glad to see it getting a reissue.

SUPERCAR, Three Out Change, Oct. 25
SUPERCAR, JUMP UP, Dec. 20
SUPERCAR, Futurama, Dec. 20

Vinyl reissues for the band’s 20th anniversary. 20 years? Really? I’ve already placed an order for Futurama.

 

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Musicwhore.org is taking a break in September 2017

As you all know, I try to write my entries ahead of time, so it’s the middle of August as I write this entry.

Summer has been busy with entertaining visitors and playing tourist. As a result, I haven’t been preparing any entries for September.

So I’m going to let the month go without updates. It probably won’t be till September when I can get around to writing more entries.

See you then!

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Rewind: Sugababes, One Touch

[Sugababes - One Touch]

Rewind takes a look at past Musicwhore.org reviews to see how they hold up today. The albums featured on Rewind were part of my collection, then sold for cash only to be reacquired later.

What happens when you want to write about mainstream pop music without knowing anything about mainstream pop music? You get something that looks like my review of Sugababes’ One Touch.

The then-teenaged trio hooked me in with “Overload”, a single as infectious today as it was back in 2000. I picked up the album on the strength of that song alone, and I ended up liking it.

And as any good music blogging cheerleader should do, I wanted to share that enthusiasm. Just one problem: I was a raging rock snob back then. I knew of Destiny’s Child and TLC only indirectly — I owned nothing by either group, but it didn’t stop me from using them as straw women.

Back then, Disney pop from the likes of Britney Spears, ‘NSync and Backstreet Boys shoved aside alternative rock, which had devolved to Creed and Nickelback. In retrospect, that may have been a blessing. Still, it was tough covering music at the turn of the century when most of what flew off shelves held little to no interest for me.

So I sought refuge in Japanese indie rock and rock en Español.

Nearly two decades later, I’m merely a rock snob instead of a raging rock snob, and my collection now includes TLC and En Vogue. I don’t have any Destiny’s Child, but I do have Beyoncé’s Lemonade. After listening to these groups, the folly of my earlier comparison is writ large.

Sugababes come from a different club culture than En Vogue and TLC. Comparing them would have been as helpful as pitting Perfume against Adele. I do stand by the assessment that the rougher production on One Touch is a softer sell. It’s probably why I preferred Sugababes over American pop acts.

Of course, that reveals a deeper problem. If I knew nothing of American pop music, I would know even less about UK pop music. So I wrote the review I’ve got, not the one I want.

Two months after publishing that review, I lost my job, and Sugababes went on the chopping block when cash got tight. But every so often, I would find myself humming the opening bass line of “Overload”. It reached a point where I found a cutout of One Touch on Amazon and welcomed the album back in my collection.

 

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A wish list of vinyl reissues

[Fastball - All the Pain Money Can Buy]

When you can find a second-hand vinyl copy of Suzanne Vega’s Solitutde Standing for $1, does the world really need a reissue that costs $30? Same goes for the soundtrack to Top Gun — was it really such a cultural watershed?

Vinyl reissues make up just a sliver of recorded music sales, but it’s the only sector experiencing rapid growth. So if Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em by MC Hammer can get a reissue, then nothing should stop the following titles from showing up on wax. From what I can tell, none of these titles have ever been issued on vinyl.

Fastball, All the Pain Money Can Buy

The stars aligned for Fastball on this album, but tensions in the band prevented them from capitalizing on that momentum. It still holds up well after nearly 20 years.

Patty Griffin, Flaming Red

You need look no further than Silver Bell to hear how well Flaming Red would sound on vinyl. Griffin doesn’t usually indulge her rock side, but like the title of this album, she burns when she does.

Freedy Johnston, This Perfect World

This album was in constant rotation on my player back in 1994, and I didn’t care if it storm up the charts. It didn’t, so the likelihood for a reissue are slim.

Hajime Chitose, Hainumikaze

I’ve so far not been impressed by vinyl pressings of domestic Japanese albums. The market is still driven mostly by CDs, so Japanese labels don’t put much care into the sound of vinyl releases. In my fantasy world where they did, I would so want to hear Hajime Chitose’s voice on vinyl.

Onitsuka Chihiro, INSOMNIA

All the ballads on this album should make remastering it for vinyl not insurmountable. Right?

Hem, Rabbit Songs

I’m surprised the only album in Hem’s discography available on vinyl is Departures and Farewells. I would have thought Rabbit Songs had been reissued a long time ago.

Utada Hikaru, Ultra Blue

The last Utada album to be issued on vinyl was DEEP RIVER.

Duran Duran, Medazzaland

The masters for Duran Duran’s most underrated album is owned by the band, so the fate of a vinyl reissue is entirely up to them. Nick Rhodes has mentioned he would love to see it happen.

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Vinyl find: Boom Crash Opera, self-titled

[Boom Crash Opera - Boom Crash Opera]

Between INXS and Midnight Oil, you couldn’t blame a major label artist and repertoire representative for trying to mine Australia for the next college rock success story.

I’m not sure where I heard about Boom Crash Opera, but I suspect it was probably in Pulse! magazine. Similar to Love and Money, I spotted a single for “Onion Skin” at Tower Records and thought, “This looks interesting enough.”

I was expecting Midnight Oil or Icehouse, but I ended up with something funkier and way more boisterous. I thought about picking up the band’s 1989 album These Here Are Crazy Times, but it lost out to many other releases that year.

Boom Crash Opera fell off my radar completely till I spotted the band’s self-titled debut at the Lifelong Thrift Shop. For $1, it seemed worth the risk, plus Alex Sadkin was listed as one of the producers. Sadkin worked with Duran Duran on Seven and the Ragged Tiger.

True to form, Sadkin’s studio wizardry coats Boom Crash Opera with an appealing sheen, but he doesn’t water down the band’s hard, funky sound. If I had been introduced to Boom Crash Opera with this album rather than “Onion Skin”, I might have become a casual fan. The writing on Boom Crash Opera is solid, and while the album’s production is an artifact of its time, it skews toward the era’s better angels.

Boom Crash Opera is still around and pretty much sticks to Australia these days. None of the band’s international releases are in print, nor available on streaming services.

 

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Looking ahead: August-September 2017

[Shawn Colvin - A Few Small Repairs]

Is there even anything left after June and July sucked all the air out of the release schedule?

Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers, At the Ryman, Aug. 4

Nonesuch reissued this live album on vinyl in May, and now this remastered pressing arrives on CD.

Grizzly Bear, Painted Ruins, Aug. 18

I have an ambivalent relationship with Grizzly Bear. Veckatimest was overrated, but I love Horn of Plenty. Everyone seems to like Yellow House, but I prefer Shields. I also think Department of Eagles does a better job at being Grizzly Bear than Grizzly Bear.

Queens of the Stone Age, Villains, Aug. 25

Not that I particularly liked Nick Oliveri, but I haven’t paid much attention to Queens of the Stone Age since his departure. And yet, I still have a crush on Josh Homme.

Living Colour, Shade, Sept. 8

Nobody noticed, but Living Colour’s 2009 album Chair in the Doorway was a return to form. It seems Living Colour runs on a six- to eight-year release cycle now.

Shawn Colvin, A Few Small Repairs (20th Anniversary Edition), Sept. 15

I wondered why this album hadn’t yet received a vinyl reissue. Do you think maybe the labels would do the same for Fastball’s All the Pain Money Can Buy?

Prophets of Rage, Prophets of Rage, Sept. 15

(Rage Against the Machine – Zach de la Rocha) + People who are not Zach de la Rocha. Yes, yes, I know Chuck D is one of those people who is not Zach de la Rocha.

Trio de Kali and Kronos Quartet, Ladilikan, Sept. 15

Kronos sure has been flooding the store shelves with new recordings. I haven’t gotten around to the albums they released in 2016.

Behind the Shadow Drops, Harmonic, Sept. 22

Another solo project from MONO’s Takaakira Goto. Hey, Temporary Residence, how about a US release for Taka’s solo album Classical Punk & Echoes Under The Beauty while you’re at it?

Vinyl

… And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Source Tags and Code, Aug. 11

Conundrum: I found a used copy months ago, but … bonus tracks, etched side.

Midnight Oil, Bird Noises, Aug. 11
Midnight Oil, Species Deceases, Aug. 11

It looks like The Complete Vinyl Box Set is getting split up. I’m keeping my eye out for Redneck Wonderland and Breathe.

Craig Armstrong, The Space Between Us, Aug. 25

A Massive Attack track here, a film score excerpt there, and, oh, Elisabeth Fraser.

Enya, The Very Best of Enya, Aug. 25

I don’t need this compilation on vinyl. I want this compilation on vinyl.

Geinoh Yamashirogumi, AKIRA Original Soundtrack, Sept. 15

Previous vinyl reissues of this soundtrack were bootlegs, so it’s nice to see Milan Records give it an official release. Also available on CD.

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Favorite Edition 2017 Year Half

[Onitsuka Chihiro - Syndrome]

I usually publish this entry at the start of July. Unfortunately, all the releases in which I’m most interested came out in June, and I didn’t want to make hasty judgements. So I held off till I had a few weeks to live with these latecomers.

Labels, why did you all wait till the middle of the year? Couldn’t you have spread some of this joy over the previous  6 months?

  • Onitsuka Chihiro, Syndrome: This album really recaptures the sound and mood of her debut album.
  • Royal Wood, Ghost Light: This album was released in 2016 but limited to Canada. So I’m calling it a 2017 album because of its worldwide release in January. The Burning Bright is so far Wood’s best album, but Ghost Light isn’t a slump for a follow-up.
  • Renée Fleming, Distant Light: I’m not sure Fleming’s sound suits Samuel Barber’s Knoxville 1915, but the orchestral arrangements of Björk songs works really well.
  • RADWIMPS, Kimi no Na wa: I’m pretty much throwing this soundtrack on the list because the movie was amazing, and it’s impossible to hear “Katawaredoki” without tearing up. (You just have to watch the movie to understand.) The English version of the songs came out really well.
  • Sam Amidon, The Following Mountain: Amidon does some strange things with traditional material, but this time around he writes his own songs and lets his jazz side out a bit more.
  • Kronos Quartet, Folk Songs: Kronos takes a back seat to the singers — who include Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens and Natalie Merchant — but these arrangements of mostly traditional songs are far from genteel.
  • Jason Isbell and 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound: Isbell is the kind of songwriter whose music continues to play in your head after it’s finished on the player.
  • Gaytheist, Let’s Jam Again Soon: Oh, it’s loud!
  • Sufjan Stevens / Nico Muhly / Bryce Dessner / James McAlister, Planetarium: I don’t know if this album needs to be 75 minutes long, but it’s a fascinating listen nonetheless.

 

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