31/03/2019: “You’re Pretty Good Looking” by The White Stripes

This song is a great example of the grungy, satirical style the White Stripes often pursued.

It’s about relationships where the woman loses financial independence from the man, leading to a rather transactional and capitalistic situation.

It’s not a long song, but drives home its point firmly in the time it has (about 10 seconds shy of 2 minutes).

The song, like many other White Stripes songs, is built around a fairly minimal combination of Jack White’s singing, Meg White’s heavy drumming, and Jack White’s distorted guitar chords.

It’s a winning formula, and the melody is very engaging. It’s a raucous song, which counterbalances the almost pop punk-esque brightness of the vocal melody. Not that Jack White has a pop punk voice, but there’s a certain catchy simplicity to the song.

The song was released on De Stijl, the 2000 album. This means “the Style”, which was an art movement in Holland which the couple were fond of.

30/03/2019: “Archangel Thunderbird” by Amon Duul II

Initially, I thought this song was a bit of a racket. It’s certainly got a lot going on.

But really, a large part of the song’s charm is precisely because of the odd, staggered nature of the rhythms. It’s like the musicians played the first bar of the main riff too slowly and had to squeeze in the rest of the notes.

Make no mistake though; there’s nothing wrong with the musicianship here. It’s just an unconventional song.

Amon Duul II was perhaps the most well known band of the experimental German Krautrock scene. This was essentially Germany’s expression of the 60s Psychedelic movement.

Amon Duul was the name of a commune, and members of that commune formed two bands. Amon Duul II was basically the good band.

The vocals are as chaotic as the rest of the song, zipping up and down the vocal register with an impressive fluidity.

The song is held together, in my opinion, by the drums. They roll forward with the bassline to create an unsteady rhythm.

“Archangel Thunderbird” was released in 1970 on the album Yeti. 

Very ominous!

29/03/2019: “Harvest Time” by Don Carlos

Don Carlos was part of Black Uhuru, and was even part of the re-union in the 90s.

This is a deeply religious song, containing Biblical references such as “separate the wheat from the chaff” and “Woe unto those who say they are Jews when they are not”.

The song is about the inevitability of judgement from God (Jah) and how he will separate the bad from the good.

The actual song itself is a classic vocal roots cut, presenting Don Carlos’ voice in its splendour. The bassline is nice and fat, and the song is quite upbeat considering the dread message.

There’s some nice guitar licks as well, embellishing the organ skanks and tribal drums.

I particularly like the “Woi oi oi woi” parts, which are a big feature of a lot of roots reggae vocalists of this period.

The song is the title track of Harvest Time, released in 1982.

28/03/2019: “Don’t Go Lose It Baby (Stretch Mix)” by Hugh Masekela

Hugh Musekela was a true virtuoso. He is often called the father of South African Jazz, with a career spanning from the 50s all the way up to his death.

He was a prolific musician, publishing over 54 albums!

His main instrument was the trumpet, and the variations of the trumpeter. He had moved to the U.S.A. after the Apartheid regime became increasingly repressive in the 60s.

His music became a conduit for his activism, and indeed he composed one of the anti-apartheid anthems, “Bring Him Back Home”, about Mandela.

“Don’t Go Lose It Baby” is more of a synth pop banger than a Jazz classic. It was played extensively by early house DJs like Larry Levine.

The bassline pops, more of an electro sound than disco. The rest of the song fits so beautifully around that, with lush strings, breathy female vocals, and the occasional flurry of slightly dubbed out trumpet notes.

The song was released in 1984 on Techno-Bush, but the longer Stretch mix was released as a single in the same year.

So groovy…

27/03/2019: “Into The Bloom” by Claes Rosen

Claes Rosen is one half of dubstep duo L-Wiz. However, his solo recordings present an altogether different style.

“Into The Bloom” is a warm and relaxing piece of Balearic heaven. Straddling the line between downtempo house and disco, the song has a strong ambient feeling, given its fullest expression by the dreamy organ-like pad, which drifts ecstatically in the background.

The drums are lively but not frantic, making use of a softer rimshot to keep things from boiling over.

There’s a fairly nondescript female vocal chop and a casually plucked string instrument too, polishing off the song and raising it to extremely high levels of class!

The rest of the synths are suitably reverbed and ready for the next sunset beach party…

The bassline is lowkey, but part of that is because it’s very low pitched. It is most definitely there, adding yet more warmth and weight.

The song was released in 2011 as part of a remix E.P.

26/03/2019: “Fencewalk” by Mandrill

A mandrill is a particularly scary type of monkey. I have no idea why a band would name themselves after one, except that it does sound quite fierce and cool.

The band Mandrill are a funk and soul outfit from Brooklyn, with a lot of Latin members. So although they play a wide range of musical styles, they can be fairly called Latin funk.

“Fencewalk” is probably their most famous song, and compromises 5 minutes of intense musicality. The start and end of the song are more standardly funky, whereas the middle section builds into a busy crescendo, crowned with a wailing guitar solo.

The main melody throughout the majority of the song is provided by a strong brass section.

The rhythm section is notably tribal and syncopated even by the standards of 70s Latin funk.

The song was released on the 1973 album Composite Truth, which reached number 8 on the Billboard Top Soul Albums chart.

Truly extraordinary.

25/03/2019: “Sunshine” by Submotion Orchestra

Submotion Orchestra make some seriously classy music. Most of it can be characterised as jazz tinged with dubstep.

“Sunshine” is a spacious and sultry track, layering washed out reverbed keys with delay heavy horns and the lovely vocals of lead singer Ruby Wood.

The drums are dubby and jazzy at the same time, with a rolling feel.

The bassline is very much a dubstep one, with a heavy sub bass which boils over into a growling wobble at times.

It’s a very chilled out song, showing that it’s not always best to cram as many notes into the song as possible.

That said, the complexity of the song does increase slightly as the song goes on. By the end, the full interplay of the elements is revealed, interlinking and weaving into a tapestry of jazzy stabs and dubby echos.

The song was released on the group’s debut album in 2010, entitled Submotion E.P. 

24/03/2019: “Get Thy Bearings” by Donovan

A wide range of influences can be heard on this song. Jazz and Psychedelic Rock in particular make their presences felt.

The vocal melody is a timeless one, ingraining itself deep inside your brain. The drums are languorous and measured, with a shuffle on the snare.

The guitar and bass are restrained mainly to the background, providing a nice backdrop, and slightly ominous!

The other big hook is the horns, which play out softly and even have an extended solo at the end.

The lyrics are pretty mystical, which makes sense because the album was recorded after a session in India learning meditation with the Beatles…

The song has become a bit of a favourite for hip hop groups to sample, and was covered by the electronic music artist Bonobo.

“Get Thy Bearings” was released in 1968 on the album The Hurdy Gurdy Man.

Timeless.

23/03/2019: “Policeman Skank… (The Story Of My Life)(Freestylers Rinse Out Mix) by Audioweb

The original version of this song is okay, I suppose. It’s a fast and uplifting pop tune, with no shortage of catchy riffs and and fun little breakbeat.

That said, the Freestylers mix is just much better. The song builds in the elements of the song gradually, with the altogether better breaks starting proceedings off.

Then the reggae skank enters the scene, keeping the groove locked down. The horns blare out like the horns of Jericho, warning of the warping dread bassline to follow.

If anything, the remix just proves how much unnecessary sound was clogging up the soundscape of the original!

The sound is much harder, and uses the reggae elements of the original in a much more prominent way.

The original and the remix came out together in 1998. It’s a shame this sort of thing never seems to be as popular these days. The original climbed to number 21 on UK Top 40.

Bring back the breaks!

Wicked business…

22/03/2019: “Raw Hide” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard

Ol’ Dirty Bastard was one of the Wu-Tang Clan’s founding members, and often considered one of their best rappers too.

His career (and life in general) was plagued with drug troubles, legal troubles, and he increasingly became more erratic, being diagnosed with schizophrenia the year before he died of a drug overdose.

However, at his height in the early 90s, he was a gifted MC, and had a distinctive style combined with a penchant for obscene lyrics.

The song shows his slow, melodious style of rapping, over a chilled out yet ominous beat.

Produced by Wu-Tang producer RZA, the song’s name comes from “Rawhide” by Frankie Laine, which is a 1959 Country song. You can hear Method Man’s interpretation of the chorus from there in the chorus of this song…

There’s also a guest verse from Raekwon.

“Raw Hide” was released in 1995 on Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s debut solo album, Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version.

Classic Wu-Tang Style!