28/02/2019: “Brand New Revolution” by Guts

This song feels like it could have been made in the 80s. It’s got the fresh funky magic of that era, after all.

However, it’s actually only 7 years old. And far from being backwards looking, it feels new and exciting.

There’s a number of fantastic elements in this. The vocals, although simple, are super catchy, and are sampled from the excellent 1980 funk song “Ah Wo (Brand New Revolution” by Bro Valentino .

In fairness, the main beeping melody is sampled from the original as well. And the bassline. And the trumpets. But I do prefer the beefed up modern version, even if the sample seems at times as if it’s been squeezed in.

The spirit of the 80s version remains intact, only with a bit more of a dance weight.

The Guts version was released in 2012, on the album Paradise For All. The song was featured on GTA V, which had pretty amazing radio stations in my opinions, bringing it to a wider audience, as the YouTube comment will attest to!

Awesome!

27/02/2019: “African Ting” by Toyan

I suppose it is possible for people to dislike a song like this. I can’t think of a single reason why, but it’s always possible. Some people only like very specific types of music.

Anyway, I love it, and I think it’s one of the best reggae songs of all time. I’ve exulted Toyan’s flow on here before, but it’s worth just re-iterating that he possesses a special kind of lazy flow, perfect for a sun and rum soaked riddim like this.

And what a riddim this is! It’s a hot take on the Jacqueline Riddim, produced here by Volcano records’ legendary Henry “Junjo” Lawes.

The bassline is laidback but powerful, with the drums following suit. The hi-hats have a pleasing little shuffling shake to them as well. The main instrumentation of the riddim only appears sporadically, keeping the focus on the bass, drums, and vocals.

The song was released in 1981 on the album How The West Was Won.

Wicked!

26/02/2019: “I Wanna Be Down” by Brandy

Ideally, this blog would have a complete range of genres, with no preference given to any.

However, that is not how it works in practise. I have recently noticed that there is pretty much no 90s or 00s R’n’B, which is a shame because it was a hugely significant thing, and there were a lot of talented singers involved.

Brandy was one of the biggest stars of that movement, becoming one of the best selling female artists ever!

“I Wanna Be Down” was her debut single, and shot her to success.

It’s a great example of a 90s Contemporary R’n’B track, although the beat is pretty heavy, with a deep bassline. The rest is sultry enough, with a light and funky synth, perfectly complementing her wonderful singing voice.

The song is about love, and her attempts to win over a guy. This doesn’t make it stand out from the crowd in terms of 90s R’n’B, as you might expect!

The song was released in 1994, ahead of her self-titled debut album.

A great tune.

25/02/2019: “It’s Oh So Quiet” by Bjork

Bjork is a very interesting musician. With a background in punk, she has a powerful, very expressive, and quite unique voice.

The way she sings utilises a big dynamic range, with some unusual lengthening of certain syllables, and explosive changes in volume.

She also has a tendency to sing over quite avant garde instrumentals, usually electronic.

This is actually a bit of a disappointment for her, because it’s a cover of a 1951 song by Betty Hutton, which in turn is a rendition of a German song.

The reason why it is a disappointment for her is because it’s quite different from her other stuff, both in terms of the style (very upbeat, and with a heavy 50s tinge), and the singing (also quite 50s and relatively conventional). But it was her most popular song, whereas she really wanted to champion new music.

However, it’s a great song. Bjork’s Icelandic accent makes it even more intriguing, and her unique style of singing lends itself very well to the up and down nature of the tune. The verses are almost whispered, and the choruses are very loud!

Bjork’s version was released in 1995 on the album Post.

What a voice!

24/02/2019: “Atlantis (I Need You)” by LTJ Bukem

Technically, this is a remix of a hardcore track, the superb “Return To Atlantis” by Apollo 2, of which LTJ Bukem was a member. That song samples the bleeps from “Surkit” by Reel by Real, a 1990 techno banger.

It’s one of the most iconic tracks of the “Intelligent” sub-genre of Drum & Bass, and provides a master class in atmospherics. LTJ Bukem is a versatile producer, but this style finds him at his best.

The syncopated 808 bass hits deep, providing much of the dancefloor appeal of the track. The drums are programmed exquisitely, with a fluid and interesting breakbeat.

The intro is dreamy, which sets the tone for the song as a whole. There’s an otherworldly, yet reassuringly relaxing feeling to the song.

There’s also a spread of conga drums for the middle section, where the relaxing feeling intensifies.

The song was released in 1993 as the B side to the Apollo Two version, although it is arguably more famous than the original.

A glorious track!

23/02/2019: “Strange Brew” by Cream

Cream are arguably the world’s first super-group . Consisting of Ginger Baker on the drums, who bought a Jazz training and a new way of playing, Eric Clapton on the guitar, and Jack Bruce on the bass, the group was a big part of the wave of psychedelia that rocked the West in the 60s.

The band was formed because Baker and Clapton thought they were wasted in their own bands; Bruce and Baker had been in the same band and had fallen out, but Clapton was impressed with Bruce.

“Strange Brew” is typically psychedelic in content. The song uses a few obscure metaphors and references, but centres around love, magic and drugs.

The song itself is very bluesy, but has the ambling feeling typical of the psychedelic rock genre.

It has been noted that the song is very much like Albert King’s “Oh, Pretty Woman”, a sign of the heavy influence Clapton was drawing from the blues.

It is based on an older song by the band called “Lawdy Mama”, and was released in 1967 on the album Disraeli Gears.

Definitely a trippy one!

22/09/2019: “Limit To Your Love” by James Blake

James Blake is a much feted electronic artist, combining soulful singing with production that can usually only be described as “experimental”.

In my opinion, “Limit To Your Love” is the most accessible and the best of his older stuff. These days he is making a wide range of cool music, but some of the very coolest sounds he made are from the period where he was often tagged with the nebulous “post-dubstep” label.

The song is actually a cover of “The Limit To Your Love” performed by Feist, a woman from Canada, written by her and Chilly Gonsales and released in 2007. Blake’s version is much darker and more stripped back.

Dubstep makes it’s influence felt strongly on this. His slow piano playing and singing would make an engaging and emotional ballad by themselves, but he combines this melodious core with a sparse, echoey halftime drum beat, and a shuddering bassline which is unusually low and heavy by any standard, and makes a fascinating addition to a song like this.

The latter half of the song becomes even more dubstep based, with the bass resolving into an altogether more pleasant and traditional sub bass. The last minute of the song could literally be a dubstep dance track, if not for the rather unnecessary cymbal.

What really makes the song a winner is the piano and vocal combo; but the bass heavy pedigree really sets it apart from pretty much anything else out there.

The song was released on James Blake, his self titled 2010 debut album.

No wonder he won a Mercury Prize…

Brilliant.

21/02/2019: Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile) by Santana

Carlos Santana has a way of playing the guitar which is almost a fingerprint. There are certainly other smooth, Latin influenced guitarists out there, and many of the other top guitarists would be able to play the stuff technically speaking.

But he has his own style, a smooth and slightly exotic sound crafted for a South American sunset.

Santana is the name of the band he has most often played in, and it’s there where the Latin influence tends to come in, through the skilful use of percussion.

“Europa” is a very beautiful song. As it’s an instrumental, it really brings Carlos Santana’s guitar mastery to the fore, such that the rest of the song becomes a warm and buttery support structure for the dulcet tones of the guitar.

The latter half of the song is much faster, and the various elements of the song click into place. The bass jives confidently, the organ remains steadfastly harmonious, the drums kick into another gear. It’s an epic piece of work.

The song was released in 1976 on the album Amigos.

Extraordinary!

20/02/2019: “Gary’s Theme” by Bill Evans

This is such a delicate song. The opening piano notes are played with such tenderness, it’s as if the keys were made of fragile glass.

The bass joins, tentatively, so as to leave the tranquillity of the piece undisturbed.

The drums are barely used here, and when they are, it’s only to add a shimmer of the cymbal or the light tap of the tom.

“Gary’s Theme” was originally written by Gary McFarland; an interesting thing to do, naming a song after yourself!

Tragically, McFarland died of poisoning in 1971 and never got the chance to record his own version.

Since Bill Evans himself died in 1980 as a result of years of drug abuse, and the album on which this was released was only released a year after his death, the song has a bit of a morbid history. The album was dedicated to his brother, who had committed suicide.

Nevertheless, the song is very beautiful, perhaps because of this.

The song was recorded in 1977 for the 1981 album You Must Believe In Spring.

Magnificent.

19/02/2019: “Kernkraft 400” by Zombie Nation

For some reason, this has become a football chant. In fairness, the reason isn’t entirely mysterious. The main hook is a fantastically catchy piece of work.

The little beeping solo is also an amazing thing to hear.

The song is perfectly executed, with a lo-fi and industrial texture which is instantly recognisable as being German. I had a feeling the song was German before I checked; they excel at this sort of gritty techno trance, somewhere in between the two genres (both of which are strongly Deutsch themselves!).

The melody sits at the end of a chain of fairly dubious borrowings and re-imaginings. The first link in the chain is the weird 1980 “It Happened Then” by Electronic Ensemble.

That melody is slightly further removed from the next link, which is instantly recognisable as the jagged saw synth in “Kernkraft 400”.

That song is the 1984 Commodore computer game soundtrack song “Star Dust” from Lazy Jones. So really, the song is more of a remix.

“Kernkraft 400” was released in 1999, and reached number 2 on the U.K. Singles chart, and is certified Gold in the U.K.

An anthem!