Friday, 20 July 2007

ZUMMER


Hi kids!

I recently made a summer mixtape for a messageboard I frequent, where it was virtually ignored (nothing to do with quality mind, just my imprecise timing). Umm, i mean.. no of course its always been an exclusive for all you Plastic Floor fans out there (hello! .......ECHO..............echo)

So here it is, presented for your personal delectation. The definitive summer playlist for any intimate barbecue, celebrity shindig or windows down car-bumpage you might be engaging in over the coming months (presuming the weather is better on your side than mine)

Its not perfect. Personally, i think the ending is a bit rushed and inconclusive, and the general flow could do with some work. But don't take my overly critical view of it. Whatever the formula its got some superb stuff on there, and who knows, you might find something you really like.

And any attention towards it would make me feel like I'm not completely wasting my life

Here's the tracklisting:
1. Sly & the Family Stone - Luv N' Haight
2. The Meters - Little Old Money MAker
3. Herbert - Something Isn't Right
4. Quasimoto - Real Eyes
5. Edan - The Science Of The Two
6. Dungen - Gor Det Nu
7. Jane's Addiction - No Ones Leaving
8. Black Mountain - Modern Music
9. Stereolab - Spark Plug
10. Prince - The Ballad of Dorothy Parker
11. Burning Spear - Marcus Garvey
12. Faust - I've Got My Car And My Tv Part 1
13. Faust - I've Got My Car And My Tv Part 2
14. Steely Dan - Parker's Band
ENJOY

Monday, 16 July 2007

Edan - Beauty and the Beat



Do you know what I generally dislike about leftfield rap? In their attempts to distort and intellectualise hip hop, they often seem to forget what it is that makes rap music such a vital and powerful force. Its all very well being cerebral, but if your flow is poor, your beats unimaginative and your lyrics unusual but impersonal and lacking in resonance.. well, its probably not going to be that appealing. I’m all for the pushing of genres to their boundaries, but if you lose sight of the bases of the style of music you’re destined to fail. Or at least irritate me slightly.

With which I bring along Edan. He’s leftfield (don’t expect to hear Trevor Nelson playing him anytime soon) and he’s definitely geeky and cerebral (lanky be-afro’d Caucasian who attended music college). But this guy knows his hip hop, and he certainly knows what makes hip hop great.

Witness his song Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme from the album Beauty and the Beat. A heavy boom-bappified history of rap music in three minutes, where he pays homage to the people who’ve informed his style with great deftness and skill. Basically, it proves Edan is not a know-nothing pretender. He understands and loves hip hop.

And this obsession is shown throughout the album in his rapping. To be fair, he isn’t the most technically gifted rapper, occasionally straying behind the beat and adopting a slightly one sided tone. But he certainly comprehends the rhythm and flow of great hip hop lyrics, often performing superbly (and his slight errors aren’t that noticeable).

Lyrically he’s an incredibly vivid vocalist, cramming a thought provoking and amusing couplet in at least every few lines. And almost every other line is great at worst. There are a few lyrical missteps here and there which stray a bit too close to the ’embarrassing’ line (“scientists explain that we no longer know things, a dog takes a shit on the floor and grows wings” being my least favourite couplet by far). But come on, even Dylan dropped a few clangers amongst his best work. And there’s more than enough to make up for any less favourable parts. He is a little bit geeky in his lyrical content, his preference being the wordy and technical, but its all done with such finesse and skill that its difficult to put down. And any of his more bookish tendencies are countered with superb examples of (often tongue in cheek) braggadacio. My personal favourite is “I gotta chill though, whilst thinking bout sex, cos its risky for my third leg, or should I say the second neck”.

But Edan isn’t simply a talented imitator of hip hop past. The thing which really makes him stand out as a rap artist is his backing music and the production that goes into it: as a producer, I think he’s almost second to none (on this album at least). His drums may stick to the typical reverent sounds of old-school boom-bap, but they have a perfect tone and crispness, never too sharp and always fitting with the rest of the music perfectly. And they’re always superbly funky and rhythmic.

But the music behind the beats is something else. Swirling organs loops , heavy funk guitar, encompassing bass, backwards loops.. The main reference point for this music is the 60s and 70s, and not just 70s funk breaks. This is deeply psychedelic music in the classic sense, with touchstones in 60s pop and 70s rock. And its all pulled together perfectly.

I think you can definitely put this down to his list of influences, and Edan’s tastes certainly don’t begin and end with hip hop. As well as being a trained musician he’s obviously a fan of such far reaching touchstones as King Crimson, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Talking Heads (all of which are mentioned in Rock And Roll, amongst numerous others). And its not only the analogue sounds of such bands which inform Edan’s music. The flow of the album is particularly reverential, each track going perfectly into the next with the superbly subtle fluidity of an old school vinyl psych lp. And the consistency between each track.. Seriously, this guy knows his shit. The album is also a very sprightly 35 minutes, not falling prey to the overextended indulgence many of hip hop’s detractors use as their second line of attack (misogyny/violence being the first of course). But not a single second is wasted here.

Upon its release (in 2005) the album was lauded by every rock critic doing the rounds. As a cynic, you might say it was because Edan attached himself to a lot of rockist touchstones, made a nice analogue sounding record and didn’t take the sexist/violent lyrics anywhere past mildly tongue in cheek. And since ALL critics are stuck in the past/hate ’real’ hip hop this is why they like it.

But as anyone who’s actually heard it, you can say the mass love for Beauty and the Beat is because it’s a supremely good album which is certainly one of the best rap records in recent times.

Word

http://www.fileden.com/files/2007/7/12/1260366/03%20I%20See%20Colours.m4a

http://www.fileden.com/files/2007/7/12/1260366/07%20Making%20Planets%20%28Ft.%20Mr.%20Lif%29.m4a

http://www.fileden.com/files/2007/7/12/1260366/11%20The%20Science%20Of%20The%20Two%20%28Ft.%20Insig.m4a




Thursday, 12 July 2007

The Mothers of Invention - Freak Out!


Thinking about what to write my first piece on I came up with a number of permutations and possibilites. Something easy and concise, something I’ve explored to the fullness of my capabilities, something which isn’t going to expose my weaknesses as a writer. But then I thought “no, now is definitely the time for symbolism, fuck the consequences”

So here it is: My critique of an audacious, sprawling and overreaching debut album, one which isn’t quite the best the artist has to offer but which definitely sets out the stall and hints at most of the avenues later pursued. See the parallel I’m drawing here?

By now, you might have gathered that this wasn’t exactly the most obvious choice. Though saying that, the choice of a Frank Zappa album for my first post wouldn’t be completely out of the blue. I certainly consider him one of my favourite artists (whilst being familiar with only a fraction of his musical output), and various of his other albums definitely occupy high spots in any “BEST ALBUMZ EVAH!” lists I may partake in. But up until very recently, this debut didn’t do very much for me at all. Admittedly, listening to it after a while apart it just clicked, but before that I had a definite aversion to it.

I suppose I’d better explain this.. Freak Out! is the first album by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention (here under the moniker of The Mothers of Invention, though Frank Zappa is singled out as the “leader and musical director” in the sleeve notes). Its a sprawling double LP (apparently one of the first) containing numerous diversions into cheesy doo-wop, garage rockers and avant garde sound collages. What’s not to like, you might ask?

Well, the cheesy doo-wop was probably the thing which most put me off at first. Not that I have anything against doo-wop as a genre, but it seems to be lacking in one of Zappa’s most appealing features at this time: humour. One thing I love about Zappa is his mastery of almost all forms of music, and his incredible ability to twist these structures and sounds into something which both satirised the music in question and their various conventions as well as paying reverential homage to it. Now, this sort of tactic is definitely present in Freak Out!, but particularly in the pop numbers the emphasis seems to be too much on reverence over dissection. These songs see the band playing “the straight man” too often, and just making replica versions of the songs they are satirising with no real distance from them. And when they do make their mocking a bit more overt.. Well, I just don’t find the gags particularly funny.

One could definitely say this is them being subtle, or that they wanted to get the label interested in them as a prelude to more freaky stuff, and as an early Zappa apologist I might be inclined to do so. But whatever your opinions on these points one thing cannot be argued with: As examples of pop music these songs tick a hell of a lot of boxes. In terms of songcraft they are perfectly formed, sliding in between the standard verse-chorus-bridge structure with precision and true skill: The Mothers really knew their way around pop music, and certainly knew how to reproduce the best pop songs to perfection., and as well as this they were able to place abstract or intellectualised sections into these otherwise commercial sounding songs, with off key melodies and bizarre neo-classical sections mixed in seamlessly with the rest of the pop. Basically, as musical songs they are exemplary. The only area where they fall down (and it’s a big drop) is in the lyrics: self obsessed teenage romance worries about your girl not calling you, your girl going off with some other high school hunk, nobody caring if you live or die. And boy, are they cheesy!

But of course, that’s the entire point. The Mothers’ intention was to send up these tired clich├ęs, the sort of things featured in the commercial music which surrounded them at the time. My main concern is that large portions of the album would be nearly indiscernible from the music they were mocking.

But as well as these pop songs there are a large number of songs which would sound very out of place on the hit parade, often mixed in amongst the more straightforward pieces. Take for example Who Are The Brain Police?, a superb example of Zappa’s ear for bizarre musical melodies and harmonies (as well as a much more overt attack on the sections of society he satirises throughout). It has sections which sound like drugged out pop, sections which sound like a perverted barbershop quartet, and a middle divergence which could be inadequately described as “spiralling classical noise”. And all of it is mixed together seamlessly with Zappa’s exemplary production techniques. Amusingly, the next song is an OTT doo-wop number, just to greater emphasise the musical juxtaposition of the contrasting styles.

But Who Are The Brain Police? is basically commercialist compared to the pieces which populate the second part of the double LP. If the Mothers were sprinkling abstraction on for the first half, they were pretty much shovelling it on for the rest.

Trouble Every Day, which opens side 3, is easily the most “normal” song of this segment, adopting an enjoyable bluesy groove. But the song has a very explicit political stance, anti-establishment and anti-media, and speaking of social injustice, poverty, race and casual, unavoidable violence (and all without getting too po-faced). It’s a big step on from the more cloaked attacks on ‘plastic’ society in the previous half, as well as being superbly paced and structured and intelligently written. One of the best songs on the album in my opinion.

But from there, things do get progressively more freaky. In essence, a lot of the following music does draw on the mutant harmonies and 60s textures of what had come before it, but its pushed much further away from any sort of pop structure. They aren’t formless as such but are certainly a lot more subtle and unusual as songs, drawing much more on free jazz and modern classical than contemporary pop. The culmination of this is The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet, a side long bizarrathon with nary a melody in sight. Now personally, this song in particular doesn’t do a great deal for me. I certainly don’t mind listening to it, but do find it a little bit dry and uninspiring. And yes, a little dull. But taken within the context of the album its really quite a brave move. I can imagine casual listeners drawn in by the pop of the opening run of songs being.. well, freaked out by it all. And as a band on their first album, they were taking a big chance in alienating all of their listeners.

But that’s one of the things about Zappa and The Mothers that I love most: I honestly believe they could have been the most popular band in the world, being masterful musicians and knowing music inside out. But instead they chose to dance around the fringes of pop music, occasionally throwing out teasing visions of commercialism before tempering it with uncommercial abstraction almost within the same breath. They just wanted to fuck with us. And whilst this album isn’t the pinnacle of their achievements (in my opinion, “respectable” critics like Rolling Stone say its Zappa’s outright best) it does indeed give an impression of where they would later take their music, all while containing embryonic versions of a lot of their trademark techniques. And for that it definitely deserves exploration.

So.. was that sprawling and overreaching enough for you?

http://www.fileden.com/files/2007/7/12/1260366/09%20Any%20Way%20the%20Wind%20Blows.m4a

http://www.fileden.com/files/2007/7/12/1260366/12%20Trouble%20Every%20Day.m4a



Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Introduction & Manifesto

Hello ladies and gents, and welcome to The Plastic Floor.

I'm Zeki and this here is my first foray into the "blogtopia" or whatever you kids are calling it nowadays. I know it all looks a bit sparse and unprofessional at the moment, but being a complete technical amateur means I'm starting from the ground up. Believe me, it will get (moderately) better. And it's the content which counts, right?

Basically, I love listening to music, reading about music and writing about music, so the world of blogs seemed like the obvious way to indoctrinate others. And I was getting a little tired of constantly being chased away from the outside of HMV, my soapbox and megaphone thrown after me.

Yes, this is yet another music blog. Hopefully I'll be able to bring something to the table already overflowing with delicious wares, although what that is exactly is still a little unclear to me. I'm not an absolute authority on all matters musical. Nor am I a crusader for "brand new music" - You'll rarely find me scouring Myspace for the hottest new unsigned bands.

No, I will be covering music which is probably very familiar to people in the know, as well as music which was familiar to people in the know when the band was familiar to people in the know.. Well, you get the idea i think. My plan is just to write about various bands, albums and songs I think are deserving of some discussion, perhaps provoking some thought/interest and hopefully convincing people to give something a bit of time (or to avoid something, depending on my critical stance).

All things being well I'll be providing various mp3s for your delectation, for sample purposes of course. In fact, i'm a strong believer in the purchasing of albums, so if you like something you discover here please go make a purchase. If I'm particularly derogatory about an artist such samples may be unworkable: I'd definitely prefer not having my backside handed to me by the legal profession.

P.S. I realise right now that i have the sum total of 0 readers, but hopefully this figure will grow, Perhaps one day this opening post will be seen as the defining turning point in the history of culture. Hey, it could happen..