Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Yer Mam!'s Guide To Essential Summer Listening Part IV: The Compilations

I've been meaning to write something about this for an absolute age. As usual, the Cosmic Disco lot beat me to it - and offered forth more insight and information than I ever could - but I thought I could still chip my two penn'orth in now that it's actually available in the shops.

Anyway, Disco Italia: Essential Italo Disco Classics 1977-1985, to give its full title is the latest in Strut's hot streak and it's arguably the best yet. This isn't Italo music in the high energy, synth-powered way that you might think (for the most part, at least), but Italian disco music in the sense that it adds a distinctly Eastern Mediterranean flavour to the hedonistic disco sounds that were emanating from New York around the late-70s. In all, there are more strings, horns and live percussion here than synths (although Kano's superb 'Now Baby Now' more than takes care of the latter), replete, of course, with charmingly cod-English vox.

As I said, the Cosmic Disco boys offer more than enough colour and historical context than I could, so let me just point you in the way of some of the compilation's highlights. Red Dragon Band's 'Let Me Be Your Radio (Part 1)', with its feather-headed shouted vocals and clattering drums is a favourite, as is Kasso's classic 'Brazilian Dancer' (robbed nearly wholesale a couple of years back by Manhead for their 'Birth School Work Death' single). Kasso's Claudio Simonetti pops up again with Easy Going and their sex-funk groover, 'Do It Again'. Best of the bunch is the peerless ersatz Chic-ery of Firefly's 'Love (Is Gonna Be On Your Side)', which with its NY attitude and reverb-soaked chorus vocal would have fit like a glove onto Murphy and Mahoney's recent Fabriclive mix.

I'm at risk of becoming a bit of a Strut Records cheerleader but as they seem to be improving with every release (Grandmaster Flash retrospective to come!), then I'm happy to keep on carrying the Strut banner for now. Viva Strut!

Firefly - Love (Is Gonna Be On Your Side) (mp3)

Kasso - Brazilian Dancer (DJ Version) (mp3)

Red Dragon Band - Let Me Be Your Radio (Part 1) (mp3)

Tribute albums are fraught with the massive stumbling blocks of over-reverence and pointlessness, so it was with some trepidation that I approached Life Beyond Mars: Bowie Classics Reworked. Brought to us from the same people that compiled the Radiohead tribute album a couple of years ago, Exit Music, Life Beyond Mars is a hodge-podge of intrigue, failure and unalloyed triumph that frustrates and dazzles often at the same time.
One thing that Life Beyond Mars has going for it is a marvellously eclectic bunch of cover artists. The list here includes such names as Joakim, Matthew Dear, Carl Craig, Kelley Polar and The Emperor Machine amongst others. Also, their choices run pretty much the whole gamut of Bowie's career (minus the early folky stuff), or as much of his career as you can cover in twelve songs at least. So we get overly faithful run-throughs of 'Sound And Vision' (Matthew Dear) and 'Golden Years' (Susumu Yokota), alongside dull takes on 'Oh! You Pretty Things' (Au Revoir Simone) and 'Be My Wife' (Richard Walters & Faultline).
It's where the coverers add something of their own personality into the mix that Life Beyond Mars excels though. The Emperor Machine turn 'Repetition' from Lodger into, well, an Emperor Machine song (in a good way though). Joakim & The Disco's version of 'A New Career In A New Town' gives the song a veneer of grotty, tech-y disco (natch). Then there's Kelley Polar's 'Magic Dance', from the soundtrack to Labyrinth. It's totally head-wrong, bizarre and brilliant and is the best thing here by a million miles. So much better, in fact, that it just highlights how good this compilation could have been had the rest of the artists had the balls and psychosis to really go for it in the same way Polar has.
Not a total failure then as the inherent curiosity of hearing modern electronic acts take on one of their major influences pulls you through for the most part, but it's only Polar's contribution that will linger on after the curiosity value has waned.

And now to a remix album so we have all bases covered. Delicious Vinyl, the eminent hip-hop label, decided that the best way to celebrate 20 years in the game was to hand over some of the best tracks from their back catalogue to some hot new remixers (although the words hot and new don't really apply to any of these, especially in the cases of Peaches (!) and Eminem (!!!)).
As with all remix albums, it's pretty difficult to see the point in this, especially when you consider the quality of some of the re-takes here. Peaches' interpretation of Tone Loc's 'Wild Thing' sounds exactly like you'd expect a Peaches remix of 'Wild Thing' to sound like and is therefore rubbish, Aaron Lacrate & Debonair Samir's lazy-as-fuck, B-more-by-numbers rerub of Young MC's 'Know How' is also completely uninspired and Mr Flash's, tres Ed Banger mix of Masta Ace's 'Sittin' On Chrome' is both terrible and doesn't fit the source material in the slightest. God knows what he was thinking.
It's not all bad though, as there are some real diamonds in the rough. Hot Chip turn Pharcyde's 'Passin' Me By' into a downbeat electrosoul hymnal, while Cory Nitta turns in two fabulous reworks under both his Pink Energy and Philippians guises for Brand New Heavies' 'Never Stop' (didn't even realise Delicious put this one out) and Pharcyde's 'Runnin'' respectively. Also Breakbox's inventive summery version of Fatlip's 'What's Up Fatlip?' is one for the coming months. Not too shabby then, if you skip past the dross.
Back later with some dates for your diary this week,

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Anonymous mike said...

My musical tastes have always leaned towards guitars, pop music and the like, from The Smiths & New Order in the 80's, to Britpop & indie rock in the 90's and more indie & alt rock in the new millenieum. I've always been selective about my hip hop and r n' b tastes but the 90's in particular really was a goldmine. "Never Stop" and "Passin Me By" are classics of the period - I just had to grab those tracks you're offering. Thanks.

4:37 am  

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