30/09/2018: “Heart’s Desire” by Don Blackman

Don Blackman has played with some of the biggest names in Funk & Soul, such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament, Roy Ayers, and also did Jazz work with Charles McPherson and Lenny White.

Playing with groups like these, it’s no wonder some of that magic rubbed off. Don’s solo work is stuffed full of pure grooviness.

“Heart’s Desire” is a Jazz-Funk masterpiece, with a huge assortment of grooves and melodies, from the doo bop vocals, the fresh bassline, the slow burning, slightly dissonant piano chords, and some sweet strings that add a final touch of class.

The vocal jam in the chorus is lovely, and elevates the song’s funkiness a lot. In any case, the bass player was clearly given the green light to go for it in this one, with a expansive, free bassline underpinning it all.

There’s plenty of jamming going on, especially towards the end with the piano. The song leans heavily towards the funky end of the Jazz-Funk spectrum, but the improvised feel shows a strong jazz influence.

The song was released on Don Blackman’s eponymous debut album in 1982, and had some commercial success in Europe.

29/09/2018: “Peso” by A$AP Rocky

A$AP Rocky is one of the most interesting rap stars around right now. Although he generally recycles the same rapper tropes as his contemporaries, he has consistently evolved his sound, rapping over beats that could almost be called experimental at times.

“Peso” is very much in line with this Soundcloud rap aesthetic. With its dreamy riffs and hazy production, it conjures up visions of clouds and sunny days, but without sacrificing that gritty East Coast feel that comes from the A$AP Mob’s Harlem roots.

The song samples the first few seconds of The S.O.S Band’s “No One’s Gonna Love You” from 1984, but slows it down from its original twinkle to a spaced out float.

The lyrics are standard for modern rap; mainly it’s girls, drugs and money as opposed to violence, but one of the quirks of A$AP Rocky is that he really loves his fashion. Instead of Gucci or Armani, he gives Rick Owens as a fashion staple. The prices seem exorbitant to me but it’s obviously serious fashionista stuff…

The song is the lead single from the 2011 mixtape, Live. Love. A$AP., and is also his debut single. No wonder he got big so quick.

An instant classic!

28/09/2018: “Looks Is Deceiving” by The Gladiators

The Gladiators are a classic Roots Reggae band, and classic Roots is exactly what this song is.

The subject matter is conscious, with a selection of proverbs and adages used essentially to tell people not to judge a book by its cover. It’s a good message, and although the song is short, it is driven home well.

The song packs a lot musically into its 2 minutes 30 seconds run time as well, with 2 or 3 different sections on rotation. There’s the strident march of the verses, with an emphasis on the vocals of the group. The guitar embellishes the sound wonderfully, plucking fast, and the bass throbs in the classic Roots style.

My favourite section is the short bridge parts where the bass picks up and the instruments play out on their own.

The chorus is where perhaps the voices of The Gladiators shine through the most, with track’s title ringing out strongly.

“Looks Is Deceiving” is from the 1976 debut album of The Gladiators, Trenchtown Mix Up, which remains one of the Roots Reggae golden ages’ best albums.

Fantastic…

27/09/2018: “Serious” by Coki

“Serious” is under the name of Digital Mystikz, the pioneering dubstep duo consisting of Mala and Coki.

However, along with the rest of the album it is drawn from (Urban Ethics), it is produced by Coki.

It’s quite easy to distinguish the two if you know their styles; Coki specialises in huge wobbling dancefloor destroyers, and digi-dub songs like this one.

There’s a couple of other dubby songs on the album, but “Serious” is a pretty unique sort of tune.

It isn’t complicated, with only 5 elements. There’s the drums, with their shuffling, syncopated hi-hats, half time snares, and sparse kick drum.

There’s the flute, which says a lot by the silence in between notes in many ways, by letting the rest of the song  speak. But it’s undeniably the hook of the song.

There’s also the horns stabs, a dub classic, but here used in a minimalist way to emphasise the other parts of the song. Along with that, the guitar skanks on the upbeat reinforce that core dubbyness!

Finally, the bass provides the counterpoint to the flute, with a lovely warm sound that is unusual for a dubstep sub bass. It’s a lively melody in of itself.

Urban Ethics was released in 2010, the second LP on the highly respected DMZ label after Mala’s Return II Space. 

Cracking little tune…

26/09/2018: “I’m In Love” by Evelyn “Champagne” King

Evelyn King’s 1981 hit, “I’m In Love”, was number 1 on the Soul chart and the Dance chart, which is about right.

There’s a distinct R’n’B feel, especially with King’s rich vocals at front and centre, but the framework of the song is really a funky disco one.

The pace isn’t particularly fast; it’s probably this that produces such a soulful feeling.

I especially love that little whistle synth, which adds a whimsical feel to the song.

The lyrics and instrumental were written by Kashif, and the song became one of his biggest hits. It cemented his status as modern producer using new technology, such as the range of synthesizers evident in the tune.

The late 70s had synths, but to use so many was still novel. Something like “I’m In Love” shows that music can still feel natural even if it uses lots of artificial sounding synthesizers.

King’s album was also called I’m In Love, which was specifically produced in a new way because disco had become less popular in the U.S.A. By embracing pioneering new sounds, she managed to avoid sinking into obscurity. Of course, it helps that her singing voice is so luscious…

A lovely tune!

25/09/2018: “Oino” by LA Priest

LA Priest is guy who makes some seriously unusual music. However, there’s no real sense of being too out there. Especially for a song like “Oino”; it’s not a challenging listen or anything like that.

“Oino” is taken off the 2015 album Inji, where it sits alongside a varied mix of electronic sounds.

Even the song itself is a mish mash of different styles, with the electric guitar solo nestled among some funky synths, and the soulful, reverb-y vocals.

There’s a wonky feel to the proceedings, with the drums and main melody staggering about drunkenly. At the same time, the song does have a pop vibe, in its own spaced out way. It’s catchy stuff, and perfectly suited to floating about on a lilo.

The song was the debut single from the album, showcasing the eclecticism of the whole thing.

All the labels and adjectives in the world don’t do it justice…

 

24/09/2018: “Atomic” by Blondie

Blondie are quite a cool band really. Their music is diverse, ranging from  chilled reggae influenced songs, to post-punk, to delightful disco pop hits.

About where “Atomic” fits in that broad spectrum of music, I don’t know. It’s disco-ey, but when you compare it to the famous Xenomania remix from 1998, the original is clearly more Rock based.

The main guitar riff is a killer; that twanging could easily be lifted from an old Western. The bassline is pretty funky as well, alternating between slow and fast. The drums are interesting too, with a shuffling hi-hat, and a snare that is syncopated in the verses, and then switches to a 2 and 4 hit for the chorus.

As is often the case with Blondie songs, the powerful singing from Debbie Harry really drives and uplifts the song. Her unique style lends itself perfectly to the urgency of the song.

The song was released on Eat To The Beat in 1979, and as a slightly different single in 1980.

A cracking tune!

23/09/2018: “A Thousand Trees” by Stereophonics

I had never known that Stereophonics were a Welsh band. Along with Super Furry Animals, they’ve got to be one of Wales’ best musical exports.

In many ways, Stereophonics are the Welsh contribution to the Britpop phenomenon; there’s more than a faint whiff of Oasis to their catchy back catalogue.

“A Thousand Trees” is about inappropriate relationship between a coach and a student, which is has unfortunately become a common occurrence on the news…

It’s rousing 90s British Pop Rock, with none of the cheesiness of American Pop Punk. The main guitar riff is simple but effective, with the gravelly tones of Kelly Jones cutting a rough path through the noisy wall of sound presented by the rest of the band.

The song was released in 1997 on the Stereophonics’ debut album, Word Gets Around. 

If the concept of Britain involves 4 nations, then there’s not many better affirmations of Britain than this!

22/09/2018: “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?” by Moby

I once watched a documentary about how Moby makes music, and the impression I got was that he just immerses himself in the world around him and then in the studio just does whatever he feels. What’s more, he’s clearly got the talent to pull it off…

Typical of many Moby songs, “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?” is a mixture of live instrumentation and sampling, with the groundwork being done on a computer. He’s an Electronica artist, but because that term is necessarily a  broad one, the music he makes draws from a diverse range of influences and crosses genres fluidly.

The main vocal parts of the song are sampled from a 1963 Gospel song by the Banks Brothers, called “He’ll Roll Your Burdens Away”. This is fleshed out by some slow breakbeat drums, with some even slower piano chords providing another solid riff.

The rest of the song is thickly textured, with a subtle yet surprising sub bass, some heavy strings, keeping the feeling sad.

It’s a different kettle of fish to the hardcore and techno he made in the early 90s, but it must be said that this sort of thing is what he’s famous for; the album from which this was taken ( Play, released in 1999) sold 12 million copies and remains the highest selling Electronica album ever…

There’s so much more to Moby than this tune but it’s still a fantastic piece!

21/09/2018: “In Time” by Sly & The Family Stone

Miles Davis was apparently a massive fan of Sly Stone, and in particular this song. In fact, he liked it so much that he forced his band to listen to it over and over again for half an hour so they could absorb some of the vibes. You can see how it could appeal to someone like Davis with a penchant for musical experimentation.

For one thing, the timings on the song are pretty weird. It’s jerky and syncopated, not some smooth rolling funk. That isn’t to say it isn’t funky; it’s supremely funky, with it’s organ noodling, staccato hits of various instruments, the intermittent horns, the wild bassline, the sparse yet crazy drum pattern.

It’s not a pop song, but it’s also catchy in it’s own way. The tune is just so funky. You might consider this the pinnacle of human funkiness. Will the future ever produce such a happy marriage of syncopated rhythms and catchiness? I’m not so sure.

The song came out in 1973 on the album Fresh, which saw Sly & The Family Stone push the boat out in terms of musical innovation and artist development. It certainly paid off by producing gems like this!

This is the funkiest funky funk of all time!

P.S. If anybody knows some good synonyms for “funky”, drop a comment because I can’t express it any other way…