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Subhumans: Same Thoughts Different Day (2010) September 25, 2010

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
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Same Thoughts Different Day

Subhumans: Same Thoughts Different Day

Back in early 1982 I bought the album Incorrect Thoughts by the Subhumans, the punk band from Vancouver who’d formed a few years earlier (before the UK band with the same name). It was, by turns, savage and funny, a powerhouse of an album that was pure punk but undeniably rock as well. I’d heard of them a couple of years earlier; they were part of the same scene as Canadian punk rock legends D.O.A. I managed to find the Subhumans’ Death Was Too Kind EP in the next year or so, and several years later found a bootleg reissue of a single of theirs, and that was it for a long time. I never saw them live, though singer Brian “Wimpy Roy” Goble joined D.O.A. for a while, and he was with them the first time I saw them.

Anyway, unlike D.O.A., whose leader Joe Keithley (a.k.a. Joey Shithead) has soldiered on through countless lineups, the Subhumans seemed to disappear from view for a long time. And so did that first album of theirs. I occasionally looked for a digital version of it but all I found were mp3s of an unusually wrong version of the record: different tracklisting, extra songs, different mixes of the familiar songs. It just wasn’t right. Turns out an unscrupulous American label put out a version of the album, and despite its dubious legality, the band hasn’t had the money to take the label to court. (Other bands have been screwed over by the same label.)

So, when the Subhumans returned from their lengthy hiatus a few years ago, with a strong new album solidly in their classic style, interest in Incorrect Thoughts was revived. And the band decided to do what a few other artists have done: they rerecorded the songs, added a few previously unreleased/unrecorded songs, and gave it the title Same Thoughts Different Day. So how does it compare? Well, I won’t lie — I still love the original LP. But given a choice between the unauthorized release and this new version, it isn’t just fannish loyalty that makes me put the new CD out in front. It’s well recorded and well played, with as much passion and energy as ever. It kicks ass and it sounds great. Not bad for a band with three out of four members of the classic lineup, thirty years later.

And lo, it came to pass a week ago that I finally got to see the band play live. And damn, it was fun. There were a few of us old farts in our late 40s or above, and a lot of young punks in their 20s, maybe a few in between, and we all enjoyed it. It was a small club, should have been a bigger crowd, but the beer was good and the music was loud. Got some stuff by one of the local opening bands, too. Now to see who I can get to go see D.O.A. at the same club in a week or two…

Janelle Monáe: The ArchAndroid, Kelis: Flesh Tone (2010) September 25, 2010

Posted by sjroby in Music.
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ArchAndroid and Fleshtone

Janelle Monae: The ArchAndroid and Kelis: Flesh Tone

It’s been a good year for genre-defying afrofuturist R&B singers. Or for music listeners intrigued by that sort of thing, anyway; I have no idea how well these albums are selling. At any rate, Janelle Monáe’s first full solo album and Kelis’s latest are two very different albums that both come from singers associated with R&B while really not having much to do with that at all. And they’ve both got science fictional lyrics, too.

I’m of the opinion that The ArchAndroid is the better of the two albums, because while Flesh Tone successfully reinvents Kelis as an electro/house dancefloor queen, The ArchAndroid is an epic work that takes on a dozen or more musical styles and genres and wins. If you heard it playing somewhere and weren’t listening closely you could easily think you were listening to someone flicking between different radio stations. There’s some retro soul/hiphop crossover moments, some alternative rock, a track going for an almost punk feel, an orchestral instrumental intro, psychedelia, a song that sounds like some kind of folky easy listening tune from 1970 before going triphop, another that sounds almost like something 1950s arranger Gordon Jenkins (who did some strings-heavy torch song albums for Sinatra) might have worked up, another that sounds like the kind of easy listening exotica that inspired a lot of Stereolab songs. But when you listen more attentively, it flows surprisingly well, no matter the changes in genre or in Monáe’s singing. If the album has a flaw it’s that it’s too long. But it doesn’t run out of ideas or resort to as much filler as other wildly ambitious and long albums like Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. It’s more like some of Prince’s classic albums: fearless, experimental, genrehopping, and fun. (The SF concept involves androids in the far future; you can pay as much attention to that aspect of the album as you want, because it works fine with or without it.)

I’m not so sure what the concept is behind Kelis’s album, but it’s a striking contrast to Monáe’s. It’s inventive and fresh and enjoyable, but the musical focus is much more on dancefloor sounds, particularly house and electro. Not a style of music I’m intimately familiar with, but I can say that it reminds me at times of Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor, only less obvious and less self-indulgent. It’s a much shorter album than Monáe’s, though, so the comparative stylistic unity doesn’t get to be too much. And though it’s dance music there are interesting interludes between tracks and some solid hooks that catch the attention of people who aren’t very likely to find themselves out clubbing. Like me, for example. I may not have as much to say about Flesh Tone as I did about The ArchAndroid, but there’s nothing wrong with an album that does a couple of things very well indeed.