Great Ballers of Music – Mohammad Reza Shajarian
The Living Legend.
The single greatest living singer, and possibly greatest singer in history.
We Ball Harder is not all about catchy, dancey pop music or the masterworks of Jamaica. Today we honor possibly the greatest singer in human history, Mohammad Reza Shajarian, of Mashhad, Khorasan, Iran. His voice is the most expressive I’ve ever heard, both on record and in concert. His complete mastery of the vocal form of Persian classical music (radif) is second to none, but beyond the technical and artistic achievements is the intangible quality of his singing, which touches the depths of the soul. His longtime collaborator Hossein Alizadeh has stated that voice, rhythm, and melodic instrumentation are of equal weight in Persian classical music, but there is no mistaking that when Shajarian is in town, concertgoers want to see HIM foremost, despite how good his accompaniment may be.
Hip Hop’s 40th Birthday with DJ Kool Herc
More reasons New York kills every other city in the US – up there this weekend, and randomly find out that DJ Kool Herc (sometimes billed as Kool DJ Herc) was playing a free (!) party yesterday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the birth of hip hop culture, which most agree occurred on August 11, 1973, in the party room at the now legendary 1520 Sedgwick Avenue apartment block in the Bronx. This was his apartment building, and it was his sister Cindy’s back-to-school party, DJed by the 16 year old Clive Campbell, aka DJ Kool Herc. In attendance were none other than Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and KRS-One, future giants of hip hop, as well as Coke La Rock, Herc’s buddy and hip hop’s very first standalone MC. Nearly everyone in attendance that night was blown away and there is no doubt that it was the defining event in the explosion of hip hop.
Yesterday’s party, at the 5 Pointz graffiti and art center in Long Island City, was a tribute to the legendary DJ and his role as the father of hip hop music, as well as a throwback to exactly the sort of party Herc used to throw in those early days. DJ Kool Herc created hip hop by extending and looping the breaks of hard funk tracks from the likes of James Brown, the Incredible Bongo Band, and others, creating what he called “the merry-go-round” – several minutes of intense beats that drove the b-boys and b-girls (a term he coined) wild and helped to develop breakdancing. You don’t hear this anymore, but it was clear yesterday that people still love it! Seriously gat-damn funky! Acting as MC was Marley Marl, a legendary producer and MC from the Golden Age of Hip Hop, responsible for massive hits by luminaries such as Eric B & Rakim and especially LL Cool J (he produced “Mama Said Knock You Out!”).
(Incidentally, Herc and his family are immigrants from Jamaica, where he lived until age 12. He’s been quite open about the Jamaican roots of hip hop – what he pioneered in New York as a teenager had been done for 15 years in Jamaica by the sound system DJs – playing special instrumental “versions” of popular songs, “chatting” over the track, and acting as their own hype men – driving dancers wild. Herc did all these things, albeit with James Brown cuts rather than the Paragons versions.)
YouTube user pristafari has uploaded a series of videos from yesterday’s party, and for your convenience, I’ve made you a playlist of them, but here’s one of the best:
Long live Clive Campbell, DJ Kool Herc, and may the spirit of 73 live on forever!
Song of the Day – Faithless – “Insomnia (Monster Mix)”
Here’s the real sound of 1995, a rave anthem if there every was one. Wait for the synths to kick in around 6:30, now that’s a fucking drop.
PS – hi, good to see you too!
Song of the Day – Giorgio Moroder – “Racer”
First off, I swear WBH is not turning into a music-only blog. Promise.
Secondly, while listening to epic synthman Moroder’s epic live set , one song stuck out, at once familiar and brand new – early 80s sounding with 21st century atmospherics. I could swear I’d heard it before, but couldn’t place it at all. Apparently I was so caught up in the hype of Random Access Memories that the fact that GIORGIO HAS A NEW SONG OUT!
Once again, utter ace, tip top. Just what you’d imagine GM to sound like in 2013. It’s actually the “soundtrack” to Google’s Chrome experiment, Racer. Google Shmoogle. MORODER IS BACK WITH A VENGEANCE AND THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS. LONG LIVE GIORGIO!
Giorgio Moroder’s Live DJ Set from Brooklyn
Disco, electro, and general dance music legend Giorgio Moroder (as in “Giorgio by Moroder”) recently performed at Deep Space in Brooklyn, apparently his first ever Stateside live DJ set. It’s funky, old school, vintage synth heaven, with some Italo-Disco classics with a modern sensibility and persistent mid-tempo robotic dance beat. Hands down the most interesting DJ set I’ve heard since seeing Madeon a while back. Without this man there would be no house, no techno, no trance, no electro. And at age 73, he’s still got it.
Listen and download here![audio https://jshare.johnshopkins.edu/cfranck1/Giorgio%20Moroder%20Live%20%40%20Deep%20Space%20%28First%20Dj%20Set%20Ever%29%20.mp3]
Download link (right click and save)
DAFT PUNK RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES STREAMING ON ITUNES RIGHT NOW!
Open in iTunes, click listen. Enjoy.
Phoenix Live Video: 4 Songs from Bankrupt!
Video: 4 Songs from Bankrupt! Live
From Spin’s site, taken from Jimmy Kimmel’s show (whatever) last week. They sound pretty good live!
The WBH Philosophy on Buying Music
It’s 2013. We have Spotify, Grooveshark, Pandora, and a host of piratey options that have been around for a while. Nobody, except me on occasion, it seems, buys CDs. It’s just stupidly easy to get music for free now, but at WBH we feel that if you REALLY like a band and their work, some appreciation should be shown, whether it’s spreading the good word, buying the album on iTunes (or elsewhere, or indeed a physical copy), or attending a concert (which puts VASTLY more money into the band’s hands than record sales). You’re not a bad person if you don’t. WBH doesn’t judge, and doesn’t consider it “theft.” If you’re of the internet generation, you often expect such things for free, and bands (and movie studios, etc) should expect that people will gain access to their product for nothing. Indeed, if it were not for file sharing, songs posted on Youtube, Grooveshark, and elsewhere, nobody would know about so much good music that’s out there. But if you really care about something, it’s worth supporting the creators. I don’t buy many CDs, but I always will for my top tier bands, and I always try to see them in concert.
PS: hell with Lars Ulrich and the RIAA!
Phoenix – Bankrupt! – WBH Declares it Rich
It’s FINALLY here – Phoenix’s Bankrupt! – the most anticipated album of 2013 (except maayyybe for that Daft Punk thing coming out in 4 weeks…), the long awaited follow-up to 2009’s utter masterpiece Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. So how is it? (rating at the end)
If any of you Phoenix fans are fans of MGMT, then you might remember the anticipation, hype, and disappointment that Congratulations was to its brilliant predecessor Oracular Spectacular. Effortless, electronically-tinged, catchy pop, followed by bizarre experimentation and a rejection of everything that made MGMT good. The good news for Bankrupt! is that it’s not like that! It is, like its comparator, a bit more experimental, less immediately catchy. A bit more deliberate feeling, as opposed to WAP‘s effortlessness. But the hooks, synths, brevity, and sense of cool that made Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix such a work of art are still there.
In Phoenix’s feature-of-the-month, cover story interview with Spin , they mention that the success of WAP means you’ll probably give the new one 3 listen-throughs by virtue of the hype and expectations. There’s some truth to that – when they released it streaming over iTunes, I listened to it at least that many times, and with each time grew fonder and fonder. Indeed, the same thing happened with Wolfgang. Although Bankrupt’s tracks aren’t as effervescently poppy as its predecessors, I didn’t really think that about the last album until a few listens through. What Bankrupt really portrays is diverse musical texture and layers (lots of new sounds and key changes), and a more grown up, at times even psychedelic sound. Don’t worry, by the way, the vocals make just as little sense as they did on Wolfgang, but singer Thomas Mars delivers again.
Enough generalizing! Track-by-track review:
1. “Entertainment”, the big first single, huge synths, Chinese-sounding main melody, oddly has echoes of “Armistice”, the fantastic closer of WAP. One of the catchier tracks, also the most upbeat by a significant bit. I suspect this will get a lot of airtime this spring and summer.
2. “The Real Thing” takes the drums straight out of Prince’s epic “When Doves Cry”. Synth pads, soft vocals, and a sick chorus chord progression. Good music to chill to in the afternoon on a warm day.
3. “S.O.S. in Bel Air” – Very Wolfgang-y upbeat verse, ethereal, dreamlike chorus, overall great song.
4. “Trying to be Cool” – Reminds me a bit of In Ghost Colors era Cut Copy, or Empire of the Sun. Medium-tempo jam, with detectable guitars beside the synth pads. More banger chord progressions in the chorus and a huge, effective key change towards the end.
5. “Bankrupt!” – Let’s be upfront, this is this album’s “Love Like a Sunset” (the epic 7:39 mostly instrumental synth epic from Wolfgang). The comparisons are just too easy, at nearly 7 minutes, with synth chirps and warbles, a slowly building beat that suddently shifts to a quick piano line, then into nearly Baroque-sounding square-wave synthesized arpeggiated goodness. Mars and guitars return at the end, much like “Love…”, but in an achingly beautiful minor key minor key that may be the vocal highlight of the album. Excellent.
6. “Drakkar Noir” – sounds like it could have been a hit in an alternate universe mid-80s, if only the 80s had the Phoenix touch. Strong track, typical Phoenixy synths, typical Mars vocals riding atop the Phoenix beat. This shows a very strong link to WAP, and wouldn’t have been out of place if it were released in 2009 – dare I say it has elements of “Lisztomania?”
7. “Chloroform” – again a bit 80s sounding. The critics seem to love this song, but apart from the occasional beautiful blooms of synths, the highlight of the song is the last minute, where the instrumentation changes (softer sounding synth pads and melodies, synth bass, and another key change) and Mars shines again.
8. “Don’t” – An upbeat rocker, more classic tried-and-true Phoenix sound, though without any guitars – More Wolfgang-esque material but with arpeggiators. This song gets better with each listen. Another of the catchier tracks, this one is another highlight, and I can easily see it released as the next single, and it has great live potential.
9. “Bourgeois” – a brilliant repeated synthesized harpsichord motif opens, then the rest of the band comes in before a scratchy acoustic guitars and Mars perform a quiet duet,,before everyone else comes back in and the song really kicks off. It’s not especially catchy, but the melody certainly beguiling and captivating, and it has the most balanced instrumentation on the albums, mixing guitars, real drums and bass with their synthesized counterparts beautifully. A beautiful, under-the-radar track.
10. “Oblique City” – forget what I said about Baroque sounding earlier, the opening keyboard line to this one is straight up Bach. But that ends quickly, transforming quickly into an upbeat rocker, with some pretty crucial instrumental/key/time changes. The acoustic guitar ending is especially pretty. Another one that I’m sure sounds great live.
So, it should be clear that I generally like Bankrupt! As I said, none of the tracks jump out the way nearly EVERY song on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix did, but if Phoenix managed to pull that off, they would be superhuman (or they’d be robots…like…well you know). Standout tracks include “Entertainment”, “S.O.S. in Bel Air”, “Bankrupt”, and “Don’t”, with “Drakkar Noir”, Bourgeois, and “Oblique City” coming right behind them. So that’s 7 of 10 songs as either very good or really quite good. The remaining three, while not my favorites on the album, have their own redeeming features, mostly in the form of tempo, key, and instrumental changes that highlight Phoenix’s self-declared “experimentation” on this album. This is really the first full album review on We Ball Harder (not counting my mini review of the Raveonettes), so there’s my attempt at methodology. I’d say Bankrupt! warrants an 8/10. Very creditable, more mature, more diverse musically, and pretty solid tunes. It’s no Wolfgang, but it’s no disappointment. Well done, Phoenix! Allleeeezzz!!!
PS – yes, I bought another CD, just like I did with Observator by the Raveonettes. These things are hard to track down these days!
Song of the Day – Daft Punk – “Get Lucky”
Because a full-length version* is finally out. Oh yes it is. They should call it “Get Funky”: dis shit NAAAAIIISTY!!!![audio https://jshare.johnshopkins.edu/cfranck1/Get%20Lucky.mp3]
*EDIT April 18, 11am-ish – this appears to be a radio edit, the full album version is about two minutes longer. So what? It’s still sweeeeet!
Song of the Day – Phoenix – “Armistice”
The last track on the aforementioned BRILLIANT Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and maybe one of the more underrated songs from the album (if it’s possible to underrate a song from that masterpiece). It’s just perfect, from the dark, moody guitar arpeggio at the start, to the beautiful chorus and Thomas Mars’s catchy but not-quite-sensible lyrics, to the 1960s psychedelic bridge and uptempo climax and outro notes. Perfect.
Stream Phoenix’s New Album Bankrupt Free on iTunes!!
Yes, that link is real. Phoenix’s new album, Bankrupt, due to be released next week, is streaming for free in its entirety on iTunes today. Not sure how long for, but as of right now, it’s happening. Their last album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is one of my top albums of all time, and this one is showing promise too. Check it out!
Song of the Day – Sergio Mendes + Brasil 66 – “Mas Que Nada”
Yeah, it may be overplayed, but it’s awesome, perfect for the summer heatwave that’s hit us now, a dose of rio, beaches, and sexiness as DC swelters. Funky cool beats meets samba and sultry female vocals, laid over Sergio’s groovetastic piano. This video is special too – the uploader took live footage and replaced the audio with a remastered studio version, cleaning up and enhancing the voices. Good stuff.
Song of the Day – “Re-Make/Re-Model” by Roxy Music
Remember the first music post on We Ball Harder? About T Rex and the birth of glam rock? We come back full circle to some of Marc Bolan’s contemporaries: Roxy Music, one of the pioneers of glam rock, if not the very first – with an artier, more eccentric edge, at least while synthesizer bad boy/future production genius Brian Eno was with them, looking like a feathered, glammed up Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “Remake/Remodel” is the first song from their first album, and hands down my favorite. It has everything: a driving beat from drummer Paul Thompson and bassist Graham Simpson, scorching guitar from Phil Manzanera, off the wall sax playing by Andy Mackay, Brian Eno’s bizarre synthesized squelches (all of which get solo time), and of course frontman Bryan Ferry’s signature wail and killer opening piano chords. Recorded in 1972, this song is a mashup before mashups existed, and it fuckin’ rocks!
Studio version first, then live version (which is great cos you can see everyone freaking out onstage)
Song of the Day – “California Dreaming”
Come on spring, yalla already!
“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey /
I’ve been for a walk on a winters day /
I’d be safe and warm if I was in LA /
California dreaming on such a winters day.”
RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES – DAFT PUNK – MAY 17th
Click for a funky preview!
Or 21st if you live in the Unfunky States of America. Daft Punk’s fourth studio album shall be released. And we shall party. That is all.
Song of the Day – “Ada Sahillerinde”
Time to reveal one of my favorite genres to listen to when deep in writing – Türkü, Turkish folk music, which can come in several forms, but I like them for working as I can sort of ignore the lyrics (since my Turkish isn’t fluent by any means), and let the music drive me and concentrate in a way that more hypnotic and entrancing genres like Qawwali and Persian classical don’t allow. That’s not to say Türkü isn’t great on its own merits though – today’s song of the day is one of my favorites, “Ada Sahilleri,” AKA “Ada Sahillerinde Bekliyorum,” “Adalar Sahilinde,” or several variations (“The shores of the island,” “I’m waiting on the shores of the island,” and “on the shore of the islands,” respectively), referring to the Prince’s Islands, simply known as the “Islands” in the Marmara Sea just off the coast and within sight of Istanbul. This is, then, one of the more famous Istanbul türküs, about waiting on the shores of the island, and among other things, watching over the lover’s travels, and asking to be made happy and later remembered as he passes away.
Being a folk song, there’s no definitive version, so here are a couple of the better ones. İyi çalışmalar! -work well (for the weekend is nigh!)
Song of the Day: Rodrigo y Gabriela – “Diablo Rojo”
Paco de Lucia meets 1980s Metallica – two Mexican metalheads gypsyfy their style, with brilliant results. Total roller coaster of a song by one of the more original and captivating acts out there – check out the rest of their stuff ASAP!
Song of the Day: Death from Above 1979 – “Little Girl”
As a nod to the great nation of Canada, responsible for one the best breeds of dog in the world* and home to both my favorite city and brewery in North America**, today’s choon is from my favorite band from the Great White North, Death from Above 1979***. The best two-person band in history [eat it, White Stripes] – Jesse F Keeler (later of MSTRKRFT) on the most distorted, aggressive, riffy bass, and Sebastian Grainger on pounding drums and punky vocals. Formed in 2001, broke up in 2006, and only one killer full length album – but what an album – joyful, earsplitting noise in the best possible way. The band has reunited and is working on a new album, and I can’t wait. This one’s one of my favorites from the old days:
live in the pre-breakup days
the MSTRKRFT edition, a brilliant remix from Jesse’s next outfit.
*the Labrador retriever, based upon the St John’s water dog, from Newfoundland. I had a great one before, and just got a puppy today:
**Montreal. Really. Go if you haven’t been, it’s starting to thaw out. Also, Unibroue.
*** Or, just Death from Above, their original name. James Murphy, the overrated fuckwit behind LCD Soundsystem and manager of Death From Above Records engaged them in a legal dispute, and they chose to add “1979”, because, to quote Grainger, “1979 is the year of my birth, 1979 is the year of Off the Wall, 1979 is the year of The Pleasure Principle, 1979 is the last year of the last cool decade, 1979 is scratched into my arm, 1979 is scratched into my arm, 1979 is scratched into my fucking arm.” DFA’s reaction to James Murphy and his label also was the only thing on the band’s website for a while, and here it is, verbatim:
“FUCK DFA RECORDS FUCK JAMES MURPHY WE DECLARE JIHAD ON THEM HOLY WAR ENDING IN THIER [sic] DEATH AND DISMEMBERMENT… james murphy is a selfish piece of fuck that will burn in the flames of a specially dedicated rock and roll jihad. if i had the resources i would fly a plane into his skull.”
Rock on brother Jesse and brother Sebastian!
Song(s) of the Day: Leslie – “Tes États d’Âme Éric”; Teki Latex – “Les Matins de Paris”
What a song to kickstart the weekend, all oppan party style. Pull back the top of your convertible and blast off, hit the club hard, or just rock out to this catchy , ultra-upbeat French pop, whose title is a pun on the French for the USA, “États [Unis] d’Amérique”, by Leslie (imagine a French Rihanna) and Teki Latex, the most unlikely rapper ever.
PLUS! We have a bonus from Teki himself, featuring Belgian 80s pop legend Lio – for a song to get you going tomorrow morning: “Les Matins de Paris” – “the mornings of Paris”, a huge pop hit from 2007. Get ready for one of the most infectiously catchy songs ever, even if you don’t speak French. Six years on and this song is still in constant rotation.
Song of the Day: “Tradicional a lo Bravo” by Tego Calderón
Like reggaeton? Like horns, congas, and traditional Latin-Caribbean sounding music? Like dancing and oddly catchy songs? Today’s song is “Tradicional a lo Bravo,” a huge choon from that Puerto Rican superstar Tego Calderón. Depending on where you are (in the Northern Hemisphere), spring is either finally here, or winter is in its final assault and you can’t wait for it to start getting nice. In the first case, celebrate with this jam, and in the second, escape to warmer climes, to a land of palm trees, rum, beaches, old forts, and dance halls.
Introducing the We Ball Harder Song of the Day
Long time, chaps. Hereby I introduce a new feature to We Ball Harder, the Song of the Day, the Quotidian Choon, or whatever else you’d like to call it. Each day I’ll post a link to a song on Youtube or elsewhere (or otherwise upload an MP3) that I’ve been really feeling. It could be old, brand new, or anything in between. Rock, reggae, electro, Persian classical, rap, whatever. But I guarantee it will be a massive track – so enjoy!
Today we have “Grounation” from Count Ossie & the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari – a half hour masterpiece of Nyabinghi drumming and chanting in an Afro-Caribbean gospel style from the man who brought the genre to the attention of the world and had a huge role in the evolution and explosion of Jamaican music, starting with “Oh Carolina,” a collaboration with Prince Buster and the Folkes Brothers that had a big part in kickstarting ska. Anyway here’s the track. Groove out:
See you tomorrow!
It Was Fifty Years Ago Today*: Why the Beatles Still Matter
*give or take a few weeks…
October 1962. The Beatles, then a relatively unknown band from Liverpool, have just released their first major label single, “Love Me Do,” recorded at Abbey Road Studios, and later make their first TV appearance. History would never be the same.
But wait, isn’t this We Ball Harder, the home of the cutting-edge, underground, and hip? Yes it fucking well is. It’s not all Light Cycles, Madeon, and desert rock round here – anything hard-balling is saluted, and musically and culturally, nobody had a bigger, harder-balling, longer-lasting impact than the Beatles.
Observator – The Raveonettes’ New Album Out Today (And it Rocks!)
I actually bought a CD today, a physical compact disc. What could prompt such ludditery? Well, the dark Danish duo have done it again and released another quality album (their sixth, or in my count, seventh) shortly on the heels of the last one. Observator, released today, showcases the mature Raveonettes in a more emotional, stripped down mood. Recorded in a week in LA, after an apparent down period in Venice Beach for Sune Rose Wagner, the album and its title translate his many reflections into music. In his own words:
“This album rose from such a dark place but ended up illuminating the gloominess and restlessness in a way I never thought possible. I honestly never thought this album would see the light of day, all the turmoil, all the craziness, all the sleepless night but in a single burst of spontaneous madness it came to be. I’m so thrilled for people to hear this new album in its entirety, it’s quite a dark ride.” (quote from NME interview)
That said, when have any of the last several Raveonettes albums not had a dark side? Well, quite.
Musically, Observator has a back-to-basics sound, with the same lush melodies and some noise, as always. It opens with pure, melancholic vocal harmony, and ends with a wall of sound. Familiar territory? Sort of, but it’s by far the cleanest, purest, warmest Raveonettes album, with fairly unaltered guitars, simple beats, and some monstrously heavy piano, especially on “Observations,” the first and best single from the album.
Some of the other songs sound like distilled versions of classics from their last three albums, and they work very well (“Sinking with the Sun”, “She Owns the Streets”, and “You Hit Me (I’m Down)”.)
Others have a more original sound that makes for an interesting deviation. We end with “Till the End,” possibly the best wall of sound, harmonic noise-epic the Raveonettes have ever done – a song that could sum up their entire career. Tight melodies, punchy beats, chimey guitars, and waves of noise. It’s the Raveonettes at their best, and for me the best track on the album.
It’s hard to believe that Sune and Sharin could put out yet another quality album just a year after releasing the achingly beautiful Raven in the Grave, but then they’ve never gone more than two years without an album. I don’t know how they do it, but they so deserve the Great Ballers status I accorded them with earlier. Observator keeps the ball rolling.
Bonus: listen to Observator in its entirety streaming at Rolling Stone
Bonus part 2: The Raveonettes are coming to DC on October 6, playing the Black Cat as they always do. If you live in the area, go!