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More eMusic downloads March 30, 2009

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Miss Kittin and the Hacker: Two

Miss Kittin and the Hacker: Two

It’s that time of the month when the downloads refresh and I download too much, too quickly. (It’s a subscription site, and on my plan I get 90 tracks a month.)


Miss Kittin and the Hacker: Two. Miss Kittin and the Hacker appeared on my radar briefly during the electroclash moment a few years back, but so much of that scene came across as cynical and contrived that I stuck with Ladytron, the one band that had the right sound and influences (Kraftwerk, John Foxx, and other circa 1980 electronic/new wave stuff) that wanted nothing to do with the electroclash scene, and who survived the electroclash implosion just fine. Anyway, this is surprisingly solid electronic dance pop with some of the same influences, plus some Italo disco and mid-’80s industrial/EBM.

Pylon: Gyrate Plus. I’ve only heard bits and pieces, but this reissue, with bonus tracks, seems to be considered a new wave/postpunk/American college rock lost classic. Though Pylon came out of the same scene as R.E.M., they sound a lot more like UK bands like Gang of Four or the Au Pairs, or New York bands like Television. If I’d actually heard this in the early ’80s I’d’ve liked it.

Steve Diggle: Some Reality. Steve Diggle is one of the founding members of the Buzzcocks, one of the first and still one of the finest (and smartest) pop punk bands from the first wave of UK punk. He tends to get overshadowed by Pete Shelley, who writes and sings most of the Buzzcocks’ songs. On this solo album first released in 2000, Diggle plays a more dadrock/classic rock set of songs that wouldn’t alarm anyone who likes Oasis or Paul Weller. Haven’t heard it enough yet to know if any of these songs will stick with me like his best Buzzcocks songs like “Sick City Sometimes.”

Disrupt: The Bass Has Left the Building. Fun, but maybe more novelty album than regular listening. Imagine a 1980s video game with a dub reggae soundtrack and science fiction movie samples (most prominently from Dark Star).

Caspa: Everybody’s Talking, Nobody’s Listening. I wasn’t sure I’d bother with this, because Caspa’s one of the people making a lot of the more dumbed down dubstep that’s popular on dance floors but not terribly interesting for home listening. But this sounds like a proper album, with a few dancehall, reggae, and grime vocals in the mix. Won’t necessarily supplant Pinch or Burial in my affections, but certainly better than I expected. It’s never a bad thing to be pleasantly surprised.

Tombs: Tombs. This showed up on the emusic main page as part of a group of metal albums influenced by shoegazer, and I like some stuff that draws on those sounds (Jesu, Alcest, Nadja, Angelic Process). Not hearing it so much here, though. Sounds more like metal-influenced modern hardcore. I may like it a bit more on future listens with adjusted expectations.

Max Richter: Henry May Long Soundtrack. Richter gets mentioned when people talk about electronic musicians making sort of modern classical music, like Johann Johannsson. This is a film score and is probably less experimental than some of his other work. Haven’t really listened to it yet, but a couple tracks in, it sounds good so far.


Dubstep part two: looking at albums March 29, 2009

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Kode9 and the Spaceape: Memories of the Future

Kode9 and the Spaceape: Memories of the Future

It’d be impossible to really go into detail about dubstep singles and mixes and podcasts, and for the average music fan with a casual interest, it’d be pointless. Being a product of the LP and CD generation myself, even though those aren’t the main forms of dubstep transmission, I tend to focus on albums rather than singles. There are exceptions, of course; the Hyperdub label is on eMusic, so it’s easy to keep up with their releases, and I’ve used other online stores like Bleep and Boomkat to get singles from a few other respected labels (Punch Drunk, for example) and artists.

But albums give you more to work with. You get a broader perspective of what an artist or the music’s about. In dubstep, there’s a growing number of single artist albums, but there’s also a hell of a lot of compilation and mix albums. You need some of each to really get a sense of the genre’s development. Before I get into some commentary on individual albums, here’s a list from the Dubstep Forum of available and forthcoming albums. Not all of them are available on CD; many are download-only, through sites like Beatport, Addictech, and Digital-Tunes as well as the aforementioned eMusic, Bleep, and Boomkat. A few were simply released as free downloads from artist websites. Several are CDs that were only released as a bonus item with an issue of a magazine. This isn’t authoritative, necessarily, but I’ve done a fair bit of digging, and other forum members have pointed out a lot of other items that have been incorporated into the list.

List of dozens of albums

D’Agostino/Foxx/Jansen: My Secret Life (2009) March 29, 2009

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secretlifeBegun as a collaboration between John Foxx (once of Ultravox) and Steve Jansen (once of Japan), the original recordings for this album reportedly gathered a little dust while Foxx worked on other projects, and it was Steve D’Agostino who reworked and completed the album. Though it’s the work of three people, this is sparse, quiet music. Jansen played gongs, Foxx played piano, D’Agostino added some electronics. It’s ambient music, sometimes leaning a little closer to the isolationist end of the ambient spectrum (i.e., more about noise and texture than melody), but if it’s not as effortlessly pretty as a Harold Budd album, it’s never as harsh as the more extreme isolationist artists.

Foxx’s piano is reminiscent of both Erik Satie and Harold Budd, but it’s only one part of the mix, often not there at all. Instead, there are sustained drones, chimes, and occasional electronic sounds, against which Foxx occasionally places brief melodic passages. It’s very subtle though at times unsettling music. It reminds me a little of some of The Caretaker’s hauntological recordings, in which moments of melody are dimly perceptible through drones and smears of sound, but this is probably more accessible to the average listener.

Jansen’s gongs make this album easily distinguishable from Foxx’s past forays into ambient. Unlike the Cathedral Oceans albums, there’s no singing of any kind, and the feel and texture are very different from those of Translucence/Drift Music, his Harold Budd collaboration. It’s possible that some Foxx fans might find this album harder to get into; I’m not sure what Jansen fans would make of it, because I’m not very familiar with his post-Japan work. D’Agostino is a relative newcomer, but I’d certainly be interested in hearing more from him.

If this album has any shortcomings, the main one would be its length. At only 36 minutes, it’s in no danger of overstaying its welcome, and I would gladly listen to more of this.

Dubstep part one: introduction March 22, 2009

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Various artists: Dubstep Allstars Vol.04 Mixed by Youngsta & Hatcha

Various artists: Dubstep Allstars Vol.04 Mixed by Youngsta & Hatcha

For the last couple of years I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time and money on one UK electronic dance music subgenre: dubstep. And most people I know still haven’t heard of it. But it keeps getting bigger, even as it evolves into new forms (which is what electronic music always does: see the amazing Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music, which will help you figure out the difference between techstep and darkstep, 2step garage and speed garage, happy hardcore and happy gabber — hell, don’t ask me).

The official story, as I understand it, is that dubstep and its sibling subgenre grime were reactions to the more pop/R&B direction UK garage was moving in. Grime became a harder-hitting, stripped down form of British rap, while dubstep became a generally instrumental music form. It also has elements in common with drum and bass, and, often, dub reggae and dub techno. But really, if you want to know more about all this, read the wiki article, which will tell you about syncopated triplets at 138-142 bpm and all that. This CBC article‘s pretty good, too.

What matters is that dubstep at its best doesn’t sound like anything else. It’s dark and atmospheric, but the bass pressure keeps it from drifting into ambient territory (not that some dubstep producers don’t sometimes lose the bass and do just that for the occasional album track). One comparison that sometimes comes up is that it’s like a soundtrack for a third world Blade Runner. Or triphop without the tasteful DJ guy/torch singer girl cliches that that subgenre deteriorated into.

I got hooked on dubstep through albums, though for the dubstep community in general, it’s all about singles. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of small labels pressing 12″ singles or issuing 320s, flacs, and wavs through a variety of online electronic and/or dance music specialists.Then there are all the white labels that haven’t yet been properly released, but have been distributed to various DJs. A fair number of songs end up being heard only in clubs or in radio show broadcasts, podcasts, or mixes made available online. Several websites specialize in archiving this kind of material, like Barefiles and GetDarker, so it’s possible to listen to a lot of dubstep for free. The dubstep forum is another great resource for everything from mixes to news on new releases to endless debates and disputes about the boundaries of dubstep, and what’s good and what isn’t, and sometimes just pure silliness.

Many purists insist you’ve never heard dubstep unless you’ve heard it in a club, where, if the sound system is any good, you should feel your chest rattle from the sub-bass. There are some songs for which I have no doubt that’s true, because there’s nothing musically interesting about them; they’re just beats and bass rumbles, and that’s not the side of dubstep that interests me at all. What matters to me is that there’s some seriously compelling music being made in this genre, and it doesn’t matter how you hear it.

For a subgenre that can be reduced to its tempo and bass levels, dubstep has a lot of variety. You can’t confuse a Shackleton track with a Caspa track, or a 2562 track with a Burial track. When I started getting into dubstep, I went for everything I could reasonably afford; the genre was young, and not much was on CD, so I figured I’d absorb as much of it as I could and eventually figure out which artists or labels I needed to follow and which weren’t so interesting. Now that dubstep’s getting big enough for Snoop Dogg to record a hiphop/dubstep crossover, I’m pulling back and consolidating.

Part two will show up before too long.

John Foxx: My Lost City (2009) March 19, 2009

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John Foxx: My Lost City

John Foxx: My Lost City

After three late ’70s albums as the original leader of Ultravox and four solo albums in the early ’80s, John Foxx seemed to disappear from the world of music for a decade or so. He returned with two albums: an electronic dance music album in collaboration with Louis Gordon, which built on his early electronic explorations on 1980’s Metamatic, and the more surprising Cathedral Oceans, a mostly instrumental ambient recording influenced by church music.

If there was anything in Foxx’s earlier albums that suggested he might produce something like Cathedral Oceans, it was the title song on his second album, The Garden. Though there was some percussion and some lyrics, it stood in contrast to the rest of the album, being a slow and pastoral electronic track, ending with birdsong and distant and distorted voices sounding vaguely like some kind of liturgical chant.

Much of My Lost City, it turns out, is from the missing years, and it’s the sound of John Foxx gradually developing the ideas that became Cathedral Oceans. There are bootlegs of a 1989 concert with some of this material, but My Lost City has the studio versions. And more.

Some of the songs do sound like church music from some other world — Foxx is singing what might be Latin, heavily echoed, as synths provide a minimal background. Others are purely instrumental, like “Holywell Lane,” a piano and synth track reminiscent of Harold Budd, and other more austere electronic pieces. The brief “City of Disappearances” sounds like it was recorded on a church organ.

So, it’s historically significant for Foxx fans. How is it as an album? Pretty good. The Cathedral Ocean-like tracks aren’t as minimalist as the actual Cathedral Oceans albums; some of the pieces are more conventionally melodic than some of Foxx’s other instrumental music. Considering how many reissues and rerecordings have come our way over the last year or two, it’s great to have some new music — well, new on CD, at least.

Is it a good starting place for a new fan? I’m not so sure. It isn’t quite as cohesive as his other albums are. Better to check out a Cathedral Oceans album or the two-disc Translucence/Drift Music album by Foxx and Budd. If you like those, you may well want to explore this earlier effort. However, My Lost City is reportedly a limited edition, and it may not be available indefinitely. It’s available exclusively through Townsend Records, though resellers are already offering ridiculously overpriced copies.

In search of Kate Bush March 18, 2009

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Kate Bush: untitled three-LP bootleg

Kate Bush: untitled three-LP bootleg

Bootlegs, that is.

Over the last 30+ years, Kate Bush has been many things — groundbreaking (she was one of the first people to use sampling), musically adventurous (how many people have worked with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Trio Bulgarka, and Prince?), influential (you can hear her influence in Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan, among others, but ex-Sex Pistol John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon and  Outkast rapper Big Boi have sung her praises, and metal, punk, techno, and folk musicians have covered her songs), and perhaps a bit eccentric. One thing she isn’t, though, is prolific.

Since 1978, Kate Bush has released only eight proper albums: The Kick Inside (1978), Lionheart (1978), Never For Ever (1980), The Dreaming (1982), Hounds of Love (1982), The Sensual World (1989), The Red Shoes (1993), and Aerial (2005.) There’s also been a live album, a compilation, and two albums’ worth of singles, b-sides, and rarities only available as part of the 1990 box set This Woman’s Work, which collected the albums up to that point. Plus a handful of singles and tracks on compilation albums. That’s not a lot of music in more than thirty years. And when you consider that she’s the kind of singular artist who attracts a devoted cult audience, that’s really not a lot of music.

Ordinarily, a fan of someone who’s been around in the music business a long time would be able to expand on the artist’s discography by hunting down bootlegs: live concert recordings, collections of demo versions, unreleased material that somehow made its way to bootleggers, or — the most obviously illegal variety — collections of otherwise uncollected singles and compilation tracks. For the most part, collecting this kind of bootleg is a victimless crime, especially in an era when millions of music fans feel no need to pay for any of the music they like. (Well, sometimes there’s a victim — some bootlegs aren’t worth paying for. At least bootleg trading sites on the Internet can remove some of that risk.)

But there isn’t much to find, bootlegwise, for Kate Bush. There are really only a couple of things worth tracking down. And the bootleg pictured above isn’t one of them now, though it was a great find twenty years ago. One of the LPs is the concert released on video as Live at the Hammersmith Odeon, and released years later on CD. Another is from another concert, but the sound quality isn’t as good and the performances aren’t significantly different. (Since she’s only ever had one concert tour, the pool of sources is small.) The third LP is a really poorly recorded version of the 1979 Kate Bush Christmas TV special, a mix of live and studio recordings with one unreleased song, a duet version by Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel of Roy Harper’s “Another Day” (also recorded by This Mortal Coil, with the Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser singing).

Kate Bush: Cathy's Home Demos

Kate Bush: Cathy’s Home Demos

Really, there are two things worth tracking down, and you may not get the best version at first.

Before signing her recording contract and working on her first album, Kate recorded a number of songs on a tape recorder at home, just herself singing and playing piano. A few of the songs later ended up, properly recorded, on her early albums, but there’s an album’s worth of songs that exist nowhere else. somehow a copy of the tape ended up being played on a radio station, with some listeners taping the broadcast; different bootleg collections reportedly come from either reproductions of the original tape, or from reproductions of tapes of the radio broadcast. Either way, the sound quality leaves something to be desired. Some people have tidied up the songs using noise reduction, and some have also adjusted the speed or pitch of the recordings, which sound a bit too low to many ears.

There are a lot of different versions of these songs floating around. I first heard them by buying a bootleg CD called Cathy’s Home Demos. Other versions include Alone at the Piano, The Phoenix Demos, and Shrubberies. Of the versions I’ve found as torrents, the best sounding is The Phoenix Demos. I found them somewhere as 320kbps mp3s, but if you’re not that concerned about mp3 quality, the easiest way to get them is Bryan Dongray’s website, which has them as 128kbps mp3s — not quite CD quality, but considering the source, more than listenable.

So that’s the first must-have rarity for Kate Bush fans. The second is the high quality version of the 1979 Christmas special. Back in 2006 someone, apparently someone with access to the BBC, made available a top quality version of the special. Another person then tidied up the soundtrack a little, and the whole thing was set up as a PAL DVD file and distributed through certain torrent sites. The picture and sound quality are superb. Though you can find low quality videos on youtube, and though the DVD at 3.29GB may take a long time to download, it’s worth it. You can watch the whole thing or rip the audio track and burn it to CD. If you’re a fan, you’ll find yourself wondering why this has never been released. It’d be a lot easier just to buy it, but you can’t. Try DIME EZTorrent — they don’t allow anything that’s been commercially released, so no one’s being ripped off.

Other than these two items, what’s left is bits and pieces — a couple live songs, a Gershwin cover, a soundtrack tune, an instrumental b-side, that sort of thing — most of them legally released at one point but some of them now hard to find. But the demos and TV special are the big ones. In this mildly obsessed fanboy’s opinion, at least…

Various artists: An England Story (2008) March 17, 2009

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Various artists: An England Story: From Dancehall to Grime: 25 Years of the MC in the UK 1983-2008

There was a time when an album with a subtitle like From Dancehall to Grime: 25 Years of the MC in the UK 1983-2008 would have generated precious little interest around here. My interest in reggae has generally been in roots reggae and dub up to 1980 or so. The whole dancehall sound, with its emphasis on cheap keyboard sounds and Casio beats, not to mention the gruffer almost rapping style vocals and frequently lewd or violent lyrical content, just didn’t have that reggae feel for me.

So I didn’t get into dancehall through its predecessor style. Instead, I worked back from grime and dubstep. I think I first heard about grime five years ago, when Dizzee Rascal’s first album Boy in da Corner generated a lot of buzz in the music press. It was British rap that didn’t try to sound like American hiphop but had a sound of its own. And then came the Streets, and then dubstep, which was grime’s sibling as a descendant of the UK garage scene (or so all the magazine articles and blogs were telling me).

Where this all becomes relevant is that grime had a lot of dancehall influence, and some dubstep artists used dancehall vocalists occasionally as well. Warrior Queen, who appears on An England Story, has also worked with Skream, one of the most well-known dubstep producers. I’d heard her on his album before buying this. So, if I was listening to a bit of grime and hearing the occasional dancehall vocalist in my dubstep (not to mention the influences showing up years earlier in triphop artists like Massive Attack), why not give this a shot? I’m glad I did.

I still haven’t listened to much Jamaican dancehall. This is the UK version, which has been influenced by the Jamaican original but, as the liner notes point out, has also sent some ideas back. Maybe I’m missing some slang or patois lyrics here, but I get the impression that the UK variety is a lot less pornographic and homophobic than the Jamaican stuff, which imho is a good thing. In addition to being British, it’s about the evolution of the MC from reggae through dancehall and hiphop to grime. There’s a lot of variety here.

The album starts with YT’s “England Story,” a dancehall-style track rapped in Jamaican dancehall deejay style, Caribbean accent and all. The next track is the driving and insistent “Somebody” by Suncycle, with male MCs with a blend of Jamaican and British accents and female singers with British accents, a more modern riddim, and not much musical accompaniment, but damn, it’s catchy. And then straight into a recent grime track by Doctor & Davinche, with a Jamaican-sounding man and London girl swapping lines. Then Ty and Roots Manuva’s “So U Want More? (Refix)” mixes Roots Manuva’s UK hiphop with bhangra beats and backing vocals. And then you get Papa Levi’s dubbed out deejay track that could have come out of Jamaica in 1978. Tenor Fly’s “Bump and Grind” is back to dancehall, with gruff ragga vocals. Jakes & TC represent the MC style in jungle/drum and bass. And that’s not even all of the first disc in this two-disc, 21-song set.

Ultimately, what this helps demonstrate is just how far-reaching reggae’s influence in UK music has become — and that’s not even including a lot of postpunk and instrumental electronic music. The MC is the common thread through a diverse set of songs that flow together well and could make for a great party soundtrack. Oh, and the second last track on disc 2 surprised me not too long ago because I’d forgotten who performed it — Estelle and Joni Rewind, Estelle being the rapper/singer whose Shine album I posted about here not too long ago. Tying things together nicely, the song is a 2002 update of Althea and Donna’s “Uptown Top Ranking,” a classic pop reggae song from 1978. I bought Althea and Donna’s album a few years back, so hearing that familiar song in this context helped fit all the pieces together.

If you like reggae but haven’t moved too far beyond Bob Marley yet, you may find it hard to recognize much of this as having reggae roots. But it never hurts to expand your horizons. This is a well-organized two-disc set, with extensive helpful liner notes. And if you’re not really sure… well, the album has its roots in a Blogariddims podcast from a few years ago. The podcast has twice as many songs in a continuous mix, as opposed to complete songs, and  it’s a lot more to take in if you’re new to this sort of thing… but it’s free.

Estelle: Shine (2008) March 11, 2009

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Estelle: Shine

Estelle: Shine

I’m a long way from being an expert on current pop R&B, so I first heard of Estelle as one of the rising British pop stars following the trails blazed by Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen, along with Duffy and Adele. That does Estelle a great injustice. She’s been around for a few years and she’s a rapper as well as a singer. Shine may be a crossover bid, and there’s a song or two here that’ll catch the Amy fans’ ears and one or two there for the Lily fans, but this is really the arrival of a confident new voice who doesn’t need the comparisons.

The album starts with “Wait a Minute (Just a Touch),” pop R&B with rapped verses and sung choruses, but the next track, the more soulful “No Substitute Love,” has Estelle singing the whole song and doing it well. There’s a bit of a retro feel here that may account for some of the Amy Winehouse comparisons; it also appears on a few more songs.

Estelle’s stylistic range becomes clear pretty quickly, thanks to the summery reggae feel of “Magnificent,” featuring Canada’s own reggae-influenced rapper Kardinal Offishall; this is one of the obvious entry points for Lily Allen fans.

“Come Over” is a straight-up lovers rock song, a nice bit of pure pop reggae. That’s followed by the hiphop/dancehall mix of “So Much Out the Way,” the upbeat pop R&B of “In the Rain”… Oh, yeah, and there’s that big international hit song, too, the catchy dance duet with Kanye West, “American Boy.”

Shine has a lot of producers, a lot of styles (rap, R&B, soul, old school reggae, dancehall, etc), and a lot of guest stars, but it flows really well, and is entertaining from beginning to end. If more of the pop music in the charts could be as good as this, I might not spend as much time listening to obscure stuff.

Recent eMusic downloads March 11, 2009

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Once again it’s time for a roundup of stuff I’ve downloaded from eMusic, the independent alternative to Itunes.


Alva Noto: Xerrox Volume 2

Alva Noto: Xerrox Volume 2.  Abstract electronic music, sometimes not much more than drifting drones, other times subtly melodic and dynamic. I gather it’s partly built from samples of electric guitar and symphonic music, but this is a long way from rock and not much closer to classical. It is, however, strangely captivating, and though it comes close to ambient, it’s more likely to startle you with the occasional noise burst or crescendo. “Xerrox Meta Phaser” gets downright abrasive and loud, though other tracks are almost pastoral. Could make good soundtrack music for the right SF novel…

LCD Soundsystem: 45:33. One 46 minute song that’s like a series of electronic dance/disco/funk tunes mixed together, closing with a couple of minutes of ambient tones. has its moments, but not getting a lot of play here yet. It’s followed by a four minute long song that’s not much more than a rhythm track, a little funky, a little dubbed out, but not terribly interesting.

Jay-Z: Reasonable Doubt. I like some rap/hiphop but tend to go for the alternative/underground stuff. Still, when the first album by one of the biggest names in mainstream rap showed up on emusic, I figured I might as well educate myself. Based on a couple of listens, I’m liking this well enough; it has more depth than a lot of the popular gangsta and pop/ringtone stuff coming out these days.

The Cramps: Stay Sick! In honor of Lux Interior (RIP). Great, fun, catchy, B-movie rockabilly noise.

Various artists: An Introduction to Truth and Soul. Truth and Soul is one of the labels that arose after Desco Records fell apart. Desco was a small label that specialized in making new funk and soul records that sounded like something from a lost James Brown recording session; Desco discovered Sharon Jones, who’s become pretty popular lately. This compilation follows a similar funk/soul trail but also adds some Latin-style tunes. I think the Lee Fields songs here are my faves.

Horace Andy: Dance Hall Style. I first heard Andy’s distinctive voice on songs by Massive Attack, and got a compilation album of his music. This album was recommended in the Big Takeover’s top 50 reggae albums list, so why not? Half a dozen long songs, the latter half of each song being basically a dub version. The sound is a bit thin but it’s good stuff.

Joker / 2000F & J Kamata: Digidesign / You Don’t Know What Love Is. Hyperdub is one of the top dubstep labels, and when emusic has a new single from them, I get it. Joker’s is instrumental, with clashing electronic lines (melodic keyboard versus what sounds almost like a 1980 videogame); 2000F and J Kamata are a bit closer to conventional dance music, with heavily vocodered R&B vocals.

Pinch: Midnight Oil/Joyride. Another dubstep single from another essential dubstep label, Tectonic. Atmospheric techno with powerful dubstep beats. Pinch’s Underwater Dancehall album is one of the best single artist dubstep albums out, and worth investigating.


Asobi Seksu: Hush

Asobi Seksu: Hush. The latest album from a band that’s helped revive the shoegazer sound, this one is a bit more laidback than their past albums, and on a casual listen sounds reminiscent of Lush and the Cocteau Twins.

Zomby / Darkstar: Memories Rmx / Saytar. Another dubstep single. Haven’t listened to it yet, but Zomby and Darkstar have both done some great singles.

Aardvarck: Bloom-01 and Bloom-02. A couple of EPs, dubstep but with much more of a pronounced dub reggae feel than usual.

Neil Landstrumm: Lord For £39. An album of dubstep, dub techno, techno, etc. In other words, electronic music with a lot of bass.

Cannibal Ox: The Cold Vein. Just downloaded this and haven’t listened to it in full. Classic alternative hiphop album from 2001. I think I’m going to like this one a lot.

Kode 9: Black Sun / 2 Far Gone. More Hyperdub goodness from the creator of Memories of the Future, one of the albums that got me hooked on dubstep. But here he’s moving into funky, a newer UK dance music style that to me sounds a little too conventional to be as interesting. Still, it’s Kode 9, so it’s more interesting than some of the other stuff I’ve heard that’s being labelled funky.

Horsepower Productions: Kingstep / Damn It. A UK Garage/2step group credited with being one of the acts who created dubstep in the first place return with a new single. The A side has an Asian feel (with sampled vocals), the B side has more of a Jamaican dub feel.

If anyone’s actually reading this and wondering what dubstep is, stay tuned…

The Streets: A Grand Don’t Come for Free (2004) March 3, 2009

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The Streets: A Grand Don't Come for Free

The Streets: A Grand Don’t Come for Free

I first heard the Streets’ first album, Original Pirate Material, back in 2004, but it didn’t really grab me at the time. (It did eventually.) But the second album, A Grand Don’t Come for Free, was getting a lot of positive buzz. I listened to a bit of it in a local record store and bought it then and there. It’s been a favourite of mine and Laura’s ever since.

You don’t have to know or care anything about UK garage’s evolution into grime, or about UK pirate radio culture, to make sense of A Grand Don’t Come for Free. (That stuff does help a bit with Original Pirate Material.) All you have to know is, it’s a great pop album about a day in the life, a series of songs that tell the story of a series of events that happen to the narrator. (The ’70s punk band Sham 69 did something similar on their That’s Life LP, but that album had actual dialogue between songs; this one lets the songs tell you everything.)

The album begins with the narrator lamenting that “It Was Supposed to Be So Easy.” He returns a DVD… but the case is empty. Goes to a bank machine… insufficient funds. And the thousand pounds cash he’d had by the TV is gone. The song lays out the template for the album: spoken/rapped verses telling the story and a sung chorus (not that Mike Skinner is the most gifted singer, but he’s sometimes joined by someone who actually can sing).

The music is built on UK garage (a form of British R&B) and grime (British rap), but the styles of song over those beats change depending on the song; “Blinded by the Lights” is a trippy tune with female backing vocals; “Get Out of My House” is close to straight-up grime, with Skinner trading verses with a female rapper; “Fit But You Know It” is an upbeat rock song driven by a simple electric guitar riff; “Dry Your Eyes” is a ballad. Through it all, Skinner (whose real accent is apparently a Birmingham accent) uses a rough London accent.

This is a fun and accessible album; I can’t help but think that it helped pave the way for albums like Lily Allen’s Alright, Still. That album lacks the grime/garage pedigree of A Grand Don’t Come for Free, but its cheeky lyrics, mix of pop, ska, reggae, and other sounds, and mockney accent sound just right after listening to the Streets. Better than listening to the Streets albums that followed this one, I’m sorry to say; neither one really grabbed me at all. But at least there’s this and Original Pirate Material. Plenty of artists never make one great album. The Streets made two.