14/06/2019: “Free (Mood II Swing Extended Vocal Edit)” by Ultra Nate

Are there any more songs more filled to the top with euphoria than this?

Certainly, there can’t be many more. As great as the original mix is, it’s hard to deny that the Mood II Swing magic touch, subtle as it is, really elevates the song into a masterpiece.

The sounds remain largely the same, but the changed order shows the power of a good edit to draw out the best elements of the song. This one also demonstrates the catchiness of the original; the edit spans 12 minutes without getting tired!

Mood II Swing are the production duo behind the song and Ultra Nate is the vocalist who helped make it such a big hit. The edit is much more orientated towards hardcore house fans and DJs, whereas the original mix is very radio friendly.

The song was released in 1997 on the classic Strictly Rhythm label, and reached number 1 on the U.S. dance chart and number 2 on the U.K. dance chart.

Sublime!

05/06/2019: “Catch A Bad One” by Del The Funky Homosapien

The title of this artist is often styled as Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. But make no mistake, there aren’t many rappers sharper than him.

Apart from being Ice Cube’s brother, Del’s affiliations are to the Hieroglyphics crew, which he founded.

“Catch A Bad One” is a cautionary tale not to mess with him, in classic 90s hip-hop style. The main melody is a very short and slowed down sample from a 1970 Eric Dolphy Jazz song called “Mrs. Parker of K.C. (Bird’s Mother)”, injecting a nice swung jazz feeling into the track.

This is augmented by a sub bass, which echoes the original double bass in the sample.

The lyrics are full of interesting wordplay and roll on from one line to the next, keeping the rhymes coming in fast.

The song was released on No Need For Alarm, released in 1993. 

22/05/2019: “Modjadji” by Chicco

Film soundtracks are very often carefully curated and interesting collections of music, containing songs selected for a variety of moods.

Even the most unlikely of films can serve to popularise otherwise obscure songs, or introduce the songs to wider audiences.

Here, the tacky 2016 Sacha Baron Cohen comedy “The Brothers Grimsby” finished with a classy piece of South African disco, and I’m glad that it did because I might not have discovered the song otherwise.

The song is joyous and catchy, led by a chorus of vocals which mingle with the relaxed Afropop beat. More instrumentation follows, a rich smorgasbord of African percussion and westernised dance patterns.

Although the song is very much driven by the vocals, the marimba part could probably sustain the song by itself.

Chicco is the stage name of Sello Twala, a producer from Soweto who was very popular in the 80s.

“Modjadji” was released in 1995 on an album of the same name.

A true gem!

09/05/2019: “The Dark Stranger (Origin Unknown Mix)” by Boogie Times Tribe

The original mix of The Dark Stranger is a fantastic hardcore tune, paranoid but still with healthy dose of euphoria.

The Origin Unknown remix ramps the paranoia to nail biting levels, stripping back the sound and adding the trademark beeps of the type heard on their textbook drum & bass banger, “Valley Of The Shadows”.

This eerie arpeggio is coupled with a sharp breakbeat and a deep, smooth bassline, creating a dark and nervous soundscape.

The synths in the second half of the song add another layer of fear and sonic texture, and all the elements come into their own.

The song was released in 1993 with a Johnny Jungle Remix. There was also another version called the Origin Unknown Re-Remix, which is less stripped back.

As to all the main versions and remixes of the Dark Stranger, it’s hard to say which is the best. They are all different styles, except the Q-bass remix, which is by one of the two guys in the Boogie Times Tribe.

Drenched in fear!

03/05/2019: “Papua New Guinea” by The Future Sound Of London

Not many songs from the early U.K. rave era can claim the same sort of longevity as this one!

It’s still widely regarded as one of the best songs of its kind, a landmark rave track, and shows a particular mastery in blending ambient soundscapes with a heavy bassline and smooth breakbeat.

The bassline is lifted from the Meat Beat Manifesto’s track, “Radio Babylon”. There’s undoubtedly a big sampling element to the tune, but there aren’t many tunes which sound like “Papua New Guinea”…

The ominous, tribal vocals are from “Dawn Of The Iconoclast” by Dead Can Dance, released in 1987. This creates a huge contrast with the sweeter vocals from 1989’s “Shelter” by Circuit.

As a finished product, it’s hard to argue with the effect. There’s a trancelike, otherworldly feeling emanating from the exotic quilt of samples, far beyond what any of the sampled songs themselves could ever muster.

The song was released as a single in 1991, and reached number 22 on the U.K. Singles chart. It also featured on the 1991 album Accelerator.

Timeless!

02/05/2019: “If It Really Is Me” by Polygon Window

Polygon Window is one of the better known aliases of Aphex Twin, along with AFX and The Tuss.

“If It Really Is Me” is a great example of the natural melodic touch that Aphex Twin has, which often gets sidetracked by glitchy weirdness. There is still a definite touch of Richard D. James to this, but at the same time, the piano riff is positively mainstream by Aphex standards…

The track is quite lowkey, with a 4 to the floor kick drum providing the bass. One section has some echoing snares, which mesh perfectly with the splashy hi-hats. Rhythmically though, it isn’t too out there.

It feels like a techno track rather than “IDM” or strange ambient musings, and acquits itself magnificently on that score!

The trademark Aphex twin touch is the expansive, slightly discordant synth which provides a second melody at various points in the touch. The synth puts you in mind of slowly drifting clouds, warping and twisting in the wind.

The song was released in 1993 on the album Surfing On Sine Waves, which has garnered excellent retrospective reviews.

Stupendous!

27/04/2019: “Down In A Hole” by Alice In Chains

If you say “Seattle” and “Grunge”, most people will naturally think of Nirvana. But there was a whole scene, and one of the other bands to break out in the early 90s were Alice In Chains.

In fairness, Alice In Chains as a band had more of a metal lineage. This makes this song more unusual. When guitarist Jerry Cantrell came up with this, he thought the band might not like it, because it was a bit soft, written as it was for his girlfriend…

However, the band decided to do it, and they did it well. It’s a strange song because it is both depressing and uplifting at the same time. The late Layne Staley is the lead vocalist, but they sing together really well.

The main guitar riff is a simple, yet slightly unnerving progression, adding to the slightly paranoid feeling of the song as a whole.

The song was released in 1992 on the album Dirt.

This song shows their class.

25/04/2019: “Guess Who’s Back” by Rakim

Like many hip hop hits, the instrumental is heavily based on another song. This one samples Bob James’ “Shamboozie”, released in 1982. The sample is immediately evident; it’s the infectious progression of horn stabs at the start of both songs.

The short and sharp nature of the hits composing that hook gives it a lot of impact, like jabs from Mike Tyson!

The lyrics are a celebration of the Hip Hop Golden age, and a reflection on Rakim’s own success. It’s a song which is enjoyable more than deep, but sometimes songs like that are needed.

Rakim shot to fame as the MC of MC/DJ duo Rakim and Eric B (usually the other way round!) in the late 80s. The fact that he still found success even as hip hop changed dramatically in the 90s is a testament to his ability.

“Guess Who’s Back” was released in 1997 on the album The 18th Letter, a reference to the letter R, and therefore Rakim.

Feel good vibes!

23/04/2019: “Calling All Stations” by Genesis

Genesis have produced their fair share of stadium filling epics, of which any would be worthy of inclusion on this blog. But this particular song came from a Genesis that was on the way out, devoid of direction and lacking the talismanic presence of Phil Collins.

This is the title track of an album that regularly gets 1 or 2 stars, and is panned by fans and critics alike. In fairness, 1997’s Calling All Stations is a bit of a messy and indulgent affair, trying hard to escape from pop but not really capturing the innovation and brilliance of the early days.

Nevertheless, I really like this song. It threatens to lose its way in the middle, with a frankly embarrassing keyboard section, but then roars into life again courtesy of a soaring guitar solo. It’s undeniably a lush track, and showcases the dark, gritty vocals of Ray Wilson.

The start of the song is an ominous, hard hitting dose of paranoia, crashing into life with a powerful drum beat and a distorted, deep guitar riff.

The lack of success the album had led to the breakup of the band, but I feel that Ray Wilson was never given a chance…

16/04/2019: “Bike” by Autechre

This is probably one of Autechre’s more accessible songs, amid a sea of ambient electronic musings and IDM weirdness.

The duo make music in a similar style to Aphex Twin, inimitable though he is. But really, like him, they are best classified as being Autechre, rather than trying to pigeonhole them too much.

“Bike” is built around an arpeggiated synth, which echos delicately. The bassline is a sinister sounding undercurrent, which fleshes out the soundscape considerably. The drums are soft and nimble, almost dubby in their presentation.

It’s a fairly slow paced song, which rewards you if you pay attention more closely. The drums are especially subtle, and the main synth is fluid and hypnotic throughout the track.

The song was released on the classic 1993 Incunabula album on Warp records, which was intended by the musicians as more of compilation than a made-for-purpose album. It is their debut album, regardless.

English techno brilliance!