Saturday, December 13, 2008

Selected Retrospective: Ghostface Killah | Fishscale

"You ain't been hungry since Supreme Clientele," a raspy voice imitating Mickey the trainer from Rocky tells Ghostface Killah. He's right. Ghostface's albums between Supreme and this his fifth album were often uninspired and lacking his fevered need to get on the mic. Fishscale, produced by MF DOOM, Pete Rock, J Dilla, among others, isn't a return to form. It greatly surpasses his previous best effort and firmly establishes him as one of the best rappers alive.

Proof isn't hard to come by. Dig "Shakey Dog," the first track off the album. Lyrically, it's a first-person account of a drug heist gone terribly wrong. The level of detail in the lyrics ("Back seat with my leg all stiff...tartar sauce on S Dot kicks") is worthy of the strongest crime fiction. Rapnoir, anybody? But the tune's structure is what freaks me out. Ghostface raps for 64 straight bars without pausing for a hook or chorus. Given that the standard hip-hop verse is 16 bars long, this is extraordinary. Absurd thoughts crossed my mind listening to the narrative: Does Ghostface breathe? If so, has he learned circular breathing? Is it possible this is a freestyle, no pen-and-pad, rap? Just when those thoughts began to interfere with paying attention to the song, something uncommon happened with the horns and the loping bassline -- tonal modulation. "Wait," you say, "he raps for 64 bars nonstop and the song changes chords too?" Yeah, that's right, homie. 12 bars in the A sections and four bars in the B sections. That's how Ghostface rolls, though the structure is loosened up the first time around. For good reason, it took me quite a while to get to track two. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that "Shakey Dog" bests "Nutmeg" and "Run" as far as prime Ghostface Killah jams go.

Fishscale, slang for uncut cocaine, mostly focuses on coke slanging, or "pyrex scholars," as Ghost says. "Kilo" introduces the metric system while Ghost and Raekwon cook coke, "Big Girl" cautions ladies to lay off the nose candy, and "Crack Spot" spotlights the dangers of paranoia. When Ghost's next album drops, I hope he's as hungry as he is here.

NOTE: In "Whip You With A Strap" Ghostface samples a J Dilla song off of Donuts, the last album Dilla cut while alive. The song he sampled is called "One for Ghost." Glad Dilla was keeping an eye out.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Selected Retrospective: Ghostface Killah | Supreme Clientele

Four years after Ironman and a stint at Riker's Island, Ghostface Killah proclaims on Supreme Clientele that he doesn't mean to harm anybody, but that it happens when he encounters wack MCs. At first glance, this seems like another prideful boast in the hip-hop "I'm-the-best-and-you're-wack" continuum. Yet after digging the whole record, it becomes apparent that far from boasting, Ghostface was stating his mission.

The first five songs are about as unsurpassable as Ghostface gets, culminating with the unforgiving horns n' strings of "Apollo Kids." It's hard to understand how this was only his second record. True, he collaborated with some of his Wu brethren before, but that can't account for Ghostface going form solid to outstanding, can it? On "Nutmeg," Ghostface raps,
Scientific, my hand kissed it
robotic, let's think optimistic
you probably missed it
watch my dolly dick it
scotty watty cop it to me
big microphone hippie
hit Poughkeepsie crispy chicken verbs
throw up a stone richie.
Abstract, to say the least, but hard-hitting and unrelenting in its rhythmic pulse. In "One," the rhyme scheme for more than half of his second verse is based on the sound "ash" and its variations. He moves the accents of the rhyming words from the end to the beginning of lines, and sometimes the rhymes are only internal. Add his bewildering, spontaneous reversal of "supercalifragalisticexpialidocious" in "Buck 50," and it's all too clear that nobody else raps like this or would know how to. Wack MCs beware.

NOTE: The Bootsies for
Supreme Clientele also apply to Ironman.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Selected Retrospective: Ghostface Killah | Ironman

After superlative solo records by Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon (Only Built for Cuban Linx...) and Genius/GZA (Liquid Swords), it was Ghostface Killah's turn. His debut Ironman, released in 1996 and also billed to Raekwon and Cappadonna, makes its den in old soul samples and ripe tales of drug deals gone bad ("260," see video above), violent misogyny ("Wildflower"), and well, everyday gangsta shit. Wu-Tang architect RZA produced the whole album and his trademark hard bass drums and crisp snares, rolling basslines, eerie keys, and razor-sharp samples abound (see "Camay" and "Motherless Child" as ideal examples.)

Ghostface Killah here is beginning his assent to MC superiority. At his most unleashed, Ghostface is a free-associative MC, searching for words and phrases that might rhyme but will seldom make logical sense. No matter though. His kinetic, freeform rapping style is only matched by his barely controlled enthusiasm and the level of detail in his rhymes ("Grab the pliers for the channel/fix the hanger on the TV.") His gangster alter ego, Tony Starks (note the alternate spelling to the Iron Man comic book hero) would continue to reappear on future records, often concocting morbid tales of coke-slanging. It would be another four years until his sophomore record Supreme Clientele would be released to widespread acclaim.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Grateful Dead biopic in the works

Steve Parish's recollection of thirty years on the road with The Grateful Dead, Home Before Daylight, is reputedly the source material for a Dead biopic. Jonathan Demme, Oliver Stone, and Sean Penn are among the filmmakers in the mix for directing duties, according to producer Stephen Emery. Neil Young and Bob Dylan have already agreed to perform on the soundtrack, with Bob Weir acting as musical director.

Mr. President, Barack Obama!

It's about time. Barack Obama, elected 44th President of the United States. Unbounded joy is an understatement. Every kid of any race or ethnicity in this country can now feel like anything, truly anything is possible. Including becoming President. Amen to that.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bombass Groove of the Week #4

Some songs smack you across the face and say, "Heyo, drop your shit and listen to me!" "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "The Message" fall in that category. Other tunes just creep up on you. They might sound pedestrian at first, the aural equivalent of driving past a rolling green field. But upon revisiting it, you begin to appreciate how the wind unfurls itself on the blades of grass, how small birds surf that same wind, surrendering their internal GPS to the fates. Enter "Paper Planes," a single off M.I.A.'s second album,

Musically, the song opens by busting a hole through reality. The Clash's "Straight to Hell" guitar and bassline are the main skeleton of the jam, with some 808-style snare and bass drum hits courtesy of producer, Diplo. The rhythmic bottom of the tune is thick with G-Funk synths, finger snaps, and hiccuping hi-hats. Add The Clash's sample on top of that, and you have one of the illest beats of 2008. Part of me wishes Ghostface Killah would use the instrumental for one of his cokedrama tunes.

The chorus must be considered holistically, not just sonically or lyrically. M.I.A. sings: "All I wanna do is [four gunshot blasts]/And a, [cash register sounds] take your money." If that chorus isn't a straight descendant of Public Enemy's Bomb Squad, nothing is. My cousin Jeremy and his wife Alex were upset about the glorification of violence, which was amplified by the chorus of kids singing the chorus and the poppiness of the melody. I can understand that. Kids who listen to the tune might sing along and think everything's all good, without realizing that, A), violence is bad; and B), what the song is truly about.

M.I.A. is a London-based Sri Lankan immigrant, whose dad used to be (or is, if he's alive) a Tamil Tiger. Life as immigrants, in England or anywhere else, is closely linked to how they are viewed by others - read: non-minorities. She suggests fake visas can be made in a jiffy; drugs are looking to be sold; and both can be delivered, no problem. It can be interpreted that the verses are from the immigrant's point of view and the chorus is the xenophobe's view of the immigrant. In the ending hook, she sings, "Some I murder/some I let go." No matter what or what for, she might kill somebody; or, then again, she might not. Moral ambiguity in the age of xenophobia isn't the exception, it's the rule.

The song is a cynical indictment of how immigrants and/or minorities are viewed by the majorities. In the video, she rides around in a skull & bones truck selling sandwiches, as she raps about visas and drugs. All the customers, including Mike D and Adrock from the Beastie Boys, pay with jewelry, not cash. That suggests that they've already spent all their money and can only use jewelry to buy the sandwiches, which are a cover for illegal shit. (Note that when she raps "I make 'em all day" referring to the visas, the sandwiches multiply on a cutting board.) Yeah, she's slanging, but people are buying, she seems to postulate. What does that say about you, homie? Or as political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel wrote, "[W]hen resources are so scarce that it is a question of one group or the other surviving, discrimination against outsiders...and insider favoritism are inevitable."

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sarah Palin's First Amendment Rights

In yet another absurd, idiotic moment, GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin said her
First Amendment rights were being threatened by "attacks" from reporters.
"If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations," Palin told WMAL-AM host Chris Plante, "then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media."
Translation: "Mainstream media:" members of the media who disagree with her.

Given that Palin doesn't know what the VP's job is - even though it is explicitly written in the Constitution - it is safe to assume that she also never read the First Amendment, which also protects the freedom of the press. So actually, the First Amendment is what allows journalists to investigate and write reports about public figures without fear of retribution from the government. In fact, the opposite of what she said was true. I'm starting to think that Palin doesn't know how to read.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant?

Bassist John Paul Jones has confirmed that he, guitarist Jimmy Page, and drummer Jason Bonham, have been "trying out a couple of singers" for a possible reunion tour and album. "There's no point in just finding another Robert," Jones said. "You could get that out of a tribute band, but we don't want to be our own tribute band." Good luck with that. Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant is a little like Parliament/Funkadelic without George Clinton.

Sources told Billboard that the frontrunner for the gig is Myles Kennedy, the lead vocalist of Alter Bridge, which is comprised of the non-singing members of...gulp...Creed. If Plant refuses to join, it very well might end up being Kennedy rocking with Jones, Page, and the son of original drummer John Bonham. Here's to Plant coming to his senses.
(Photo credit: Halfin/AT/Getty)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mustache | Le Probleme C'est Toi!


For the men of Mustache, the last great movement in rock n' roll was grunge. They continue that proud tradition with some modifications on their debut EP Le Probleme C'est Toi! ("You Are The Problem!"), crafting an altogether refreshing outlook on angst. Yes, the dual piston pumps of aggression and melodicism are there, but the cynicism is not. What, you ask, is sincere grunge? No, it isn't the antithesis to Seattle's best export. It's riff-crazy rock n' roll with an uncanny ability to nail down buoyant melodies that don't assault or shock the listener's sensibilities. If some of the melodies sail where the lyrics sink, it's a measure of the band's growth and potential.

"Deep in the Ocean" opens the album with a bit of feedback that bursts into two separate riffs, one hard as bricks, the other a spiral. Lead guitarist Rub
én Aybar plays multiple roles in the tune, from joint riffing with bassman Robert Fernández and rhythm guitarist and vocalist Jonathan Schmidt to a slide lead in the fabulous chorus. The various guitar layers are balanced by Rubén's brother, Carlos, on the drum kit, crashing cymbals with chord changes and changing textures with his brother’s licks. If only the lyrics matched the musical makeup. The chorus lyrics (“Deep in the ocean/no one can save you/it’s up to you/to survive”) resemble a survival show voiceover in the Discovery Channel. Schmidt’s vocal histrionics at the song’s end mimic Chris Cornell. And like Matthew Bellamy of Muse channeling Thom Yorke, it’s not a good thing.

The most successful songs of the bunch are and “Connect” and the album-closer, “So Bright.” “Connect” is a lilting ballad that partially suffers from the awkward song title-as-chorus. With hints of Incubus and early Live, the song leaves a lasting impact through Rubén’s stuttering lead and Fernández's spacious playing. Similarly, “So Bright” benefits from being at a slow tempo, which gives the band room to move and breathe, unlike the breakneck, riff-fests of the previous tunes. Schmidt’s voice sounds like his own on this song, too, a deep tenor with restrained emotion. Rubén and Carlos trade syncopated accents in the song’s middle breakdown, before the guitarist lets it fly and creates a synesthetic moment with his trusty slide.

Le Problem C’est Toi! has two phases: pre-“So Bright” and “So Bright.” The song represents the band’s ability to loosen the grip on their influences and take bold, independent steps forward without the use of a rearview mirror. Their next album should thoroughly explore that territory. For now though, with their strong debut EP, Mustache has established themselves as rock n’ roll disciples on a mission to restore order to a genre gone emo on our asses.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

John McCain's "new" stump speech

No, that's not John McCain in drag. That's his mother, Roberta. If anybody thought that us here at What Is Groove? wouldn't stoop so low (or take a chance at a hearty laugh), think again. Oh, and here is McCain's new stump speech. Jon Stewart makes an excellent point at noting that the "new" stump speech is actually THE SAME SPEECH McCain delivered at the Republican Convention. Dig the split screen and audio splicing of the current speech with the convention speech. This is why The Daily Show is such an important program, it revels in hypocrisy and exposes truths through hilarity.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bombass Groove of the Week #3

No podcast this week, but we've got something better. The Dead (sans "Grateful" in honor of Jerry Garcia) played a show on October 13, 2008 at Penn State with the Allman Brothers Band. The lineup included Warren Haynes on lead guitar and Jeff Chimenti on keyboards, complementing Phil Lesh on bass, Bob Weir on rhythm guitar, and Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart on drums, respectively.

The set was basically a greatest hits collection. (See setlist below.) After Barack Obama's prerecorded video speech, which included a hilarious "Touch of Grey" joke, they opened with "Truckin'," which segued into a formulaic "U.S. Blues." The big bust out of the night was "Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin's Tower." The crowd enthusiastically cheered as Lesh dropped his signature opening bass bombs. Initial vocal flub notwithstanding, the performance was spirited and refreshing.  Haynes and the band have a loose rapport, letting the songs lead them down unknown paths, in the hopes of reaching a transcendental moment. See "St. Stephen."

It's a privilege to hear the boys get back together and play for a good cause. Who knows what Jerry would have thought? The Grateful Dead was loath to make political endorsements during their career. Perhaps because there was a possibility of alienating some fans, especially when the point of the band and their music was to unite people in a shared experience. Regardless, here they are, The Dead, live on stage, playing together for a crucial cause. Let's just hope that they reunite for a tour in the near future.

Barack Obama Speech Video 
U.S. Blues
Help on the Way>
Franklin's Tower
Playin' in the Band>
Dark Star
St. Stephen>
Unbroken Chain>
The Other One>
Throwing Stones>
Playin' Reprise
Touch of Grey>
Not Fade Away

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bob Dylan & The Band | "I'm Not There (1956)"


[Don't let the slideshow disturb the song. Slap on some ear goggles and let it play.]

As Duke Ellington said about his favorite music and musicians, this song is beyond category. Recorded in 1967 during The Basement Tapes sessions, "I'm Not There (1956)" is to Dylanologists the ultimate Gordian knot or the Borgesian Aleph that, if deciphered, can uncover the secrets to the universe, or perhaps just to Dylan's brain. Both equal in importance. Greil Marcus wrote that "There is nothing like 'I'm Not There' the basement recordings, or anywhere else in Bob Dylan's career. It was only recorded once; unlike others of the new basement songs, which Dylan rerecorded or continued to feature on stage thirty years later, it was never sung again."

Other than Dylan's strumming, Rick Danko on bass and Garth Hudson on the organ are the most prominent players. Of Danko, composer Michael Pisaro says:
[He] plays as if he knows that all his life this song has been waiting for him to complete it, and that he will only be given one chance.
(The only legal release of this song is included in the soundtrack to the biopic of the same name released in 2007.)

The "(1956)" is part of the song's title, just as much a mystery as the lines, "And I don't bart-believe/it's all bag for tebusing." Or, more specifically, as Pisaro says:
It's almost as though he has discovered a language or, better, has heard of a language: heard about some of its vocabulary, its grammar and its sounds, and before he can comprehend it, starts using this set of unformed tools to narrate the most important event of his life.
It's not that the lyrics are indecipherable, it's that they aren't meant to be deciphered. Part of the song's enduring appeal is that the listener must surrender to it, to the repetitious chord patterns in the verses and refrains, to the made up words and strange syntax, to everything, including the emotion. Dylan's vocal delivery in "I'm Not There (1956)" is undoubtedly one of the most affecting of his career. His voice is soaked in melancholia, nostalgia, and regret. A threnody with only a shadow of a story. Unlike other Dylan songs from this period, the narrative arch is not so much disrupted as it is fragmentary and paradoxical. There are two characters, and something happens, who knows what, but something happens. And simultaneously, the characters are both present and absent. Physically, emotionally, it doesn't matter. When Dylan sings "I'm not there/I'm gone," it's a cosmic statement.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Porter Batiste Stoltz, featuring Page McConnell | Moodoo


Mix some New Orleans voodoo funk with a dash of Page McConnell, what do you get? A little something called Moodoo. Porter Batiste Stoltz are a trio extracted from the current Funky Meters, a post breakup amalgam of the remaining original Meters, the meatiest and grittiest of the heavyweight funk crews. Original bassist George Porter Jr. is joined by post-reunion members Russell Batiste on drums and Brian Stoltz on guitar while keyboardist Art Neville is absent. According to some reports, since this concert was held in Vermont, Page McConnell, the keyboardist from Phish, was attending this show anyway. The guys from PBS invited him onstage, and they jammed together for almost two sets, the highlights of which are included in this disc.

The Meters are the most important New Orleans funk outfit, and their particular style has inspired countless bands and genres. If you thought their sound was spare even with Neville on organ, dig how they sound with no keys on three of the album's nine tracks. In "Comin' At Ya," Porter and Stoltz harmonize on riffs and licks, but when Stoltz pulls away to solo Porter takes off in an opposite direction, hitting the chord changes while also creating new grooves and rhythms. Batiste holds down the fort while his band members take flight. As they say during some stage banter, Batiste is the "guardian of the groove." Amen to that.

After their touchstone cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Check Out Your Mind," the band rips into a medley that incorporates an original Meters track and two covers, one by Sly & the Family Stone and the other by Bob Dylan. In Stoltz's live album Up All Night, the medley begins with "Funky Miracle" and segues into "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." In this concert, they squeeze Sly's "Sing a Simple Song" in the middle. Though the first segue is seamless, the final one is a little awkward. When Stoltz begins to play the song's chords, McConnell drops out. You can hear him realize what song it is about 20 seconds later when he begins playing the song's piano part.

McConnell joins the band in "I Get High," a funkafied strut that begins with the immortal lyrics, "When I'm walking down the street/I love to walk behind you/it's so wonderful to see/that the Lord has been so kind to you." When Batiste is on the ride, McConnell steps up as Stoltz plays some descending chords and Porter fills the middle. Unexpectedly, Porter and McConnell drop out in the first part of Stoltz's solo. With no bass or keys, there is no bottom to the track, which gives the sensation that the band is precariously floating. Ah, but when the whole band jams as an ensemble.  Each member is riffing off the main melody, even Batiste who relies on the melody for his accents; so though the group may sound disjointed and skeletal, they are spectacularly tight and economical. Porter, the underrated bass king, knows exactly where to be at every single instant. Sometimes he's harmonizing with Stoltz, other times he's locked in tight with Batiste, and others he's on his own. Imagine many tetherballs attached to one pole, each tetherball is either McConnell, Stoltz, or Porter, and the pole is Batiste.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Morning Jacket vocalist injured

About 30 minutes into My Morning Jacket's show at the University of Iowa, Jim James "inadvertently stepped off the stage. Upon falling, he suffered traumatic injuries to his torso, and was immediately taken to the hospital," according to the band's statement. [See band's statement below]. We hope he has a speedy recovery.
As some of you may have heard we had to cancel our show last evening in Iowa City.  We were finishing up the last few bars of "Off The Record and just like any other night we were all having a great time.  Jim went to get closer to the audience on his side of the stage, and as he moved forward to step onto the sub-woofer the lights darkened, and he inadvertently stepped off the stage.  Upon falling, he suffered traumatic injuries to his torso, and was immediately taken to the hospital.

Per the doctor's orders, Jim will be off the road and recovering from his injuries for the next two to three weeks. Sadly, we must postpone the two shows in Chicago on Thursday and Friday until further notice.

For those who attended the Iowa City show, we would like to extend our gratitude for your understanding and cooperation.  We take our fans and performances very seriously, and would never cancel a show unless it was absolutely necessary.  Please know that we will be making every effort to return to your fine city.

Thank you so much to our fans for the kind sentiments and well-wishes on Jim's behalf.  We hope for Jim's quick recovery and to be back out on the road soon.

With Love,
My Morning Jacket

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bombass Groove of the Week #2

"Come Take Me" by Betty Davis, from her self-titled album.

Bombass Groove of the Week #2.mp3

Today's Tom Toles cartoon

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sarah Palin: Our neighboring country of Afghanistan

Sarah Palin's ongoing war with geography, the English language, rationality, and plain old "know-what-the-fuck-you're-talking-about" have reached a head. On Sunday, Palin was giving a speech in San Francisco when she referred to Afghanistan as "our neighboring country." In a quip a few hours later, she said she was "just trying to give Tina Fey more material - job security for Saturday Night Live."

I don't even know where to start with those comments. First, Tina Fey doesn't work at SNL anymore. She sporadically contributes now that her program 30 Rock has blown up. Second, what's up with "job security?" It reminds me of the Katie Couric interview where Palin ranted for minutes on as many topics as possible in order to confuse Katie, and then added, very matter-of-factly, that it was all about job security. It appears that the more you repeat your own gaffes, the more people think it's cute.

What follows is a fictional exchange between a male Palin supporter (isn't it funny the GOP ticket is now McCain-Palin?) and a female Obama supporter.

Male Palin supporter: Sarah Palin is so hot. Did you see how she winked at the debate? It made me sit up straight.

Female Obama supporter: She didn't answer most questions, and even when she did, she quoted wrong information, made up names for established political actors, and basically attempted to McCain-ize her arguments (endlessly repeating manipulated, often false information, in hopes of people saying, "Well, if she's saying it all the time, it must be true.")

Male Palin supporter: You are so sexist! If that was a man, you wouldn't say any of the things you just said.

Female Obama supporter: Actually if it were a man I'd say he's an damn idiot. Exhibits A and B: Dan Quayle and George W. Bush.

Male Palin supporter: Those two people you just mentioned are some of the most patriotic figures in our history. You are un-American and unpatriotic. I hope McCain shows that johnny-come-lately what being American is all about.

Female Obama supporter: This is hopeless. For the sake of this country and our place in the world, I truly hope and pray that you lose.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sarah Palin's SNL VP Debate

Queen Latifah stars as Gwen Ifill and Tina Fey reprises her brilliant performance as Sarah Palin. Keep in mind Palin ignored many of Ifill's questions and proceeded to talk about whatever she wanted to. Here is an excerpt of Fey as Palin in her closing remarks:

"I liked being here tonight answering these tough questions
without the filter of the mainstream 'gotcha' media with their
'follow up questions,' 'fact-checking' or 'incessant need to 
figure out what your words mean and why ya put them in that order.'"

I have yet to hear a more transparent interpretation of Palin's bullshit innocuousness.

Unrelated but equally important, the AP reports Palin made a "racially tinged" attack on Barack Obama that is "exaggerated at best if not outright false." 

Axis of Justice | "Alice in My Fantasies"


The Axis of Justice supergroup is comprised of Tom Morello and Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave, on guitar and drums, respectively), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers, bass), Pete Yorn (guitar), and Serj Tankian (System of a Down, vocals/keyboards.) This incarnation of the band is the brainchild of Morello and Tankian, who founded the Axis of Justice non-profit, "to bring together musicians, fans of music, and grassroots political organizations to fight for social justice."

"Alice in My Fantasies" hails from their live album and DVD Concert Series Volume 1. Knowing Morello and Flea's predilection for vicious riffs and hardcore funk, it is no surprise they chose this filthy (in the best sense possible) Funkadelic song to cover. The influence Funkadelic's main verse riff has had on Morello and Flea in their own bands is palatable, like Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude to Rushdie's Midnight's Children, a wise ancestor laying the foundation for future generations. Morello and Flea clearly know what's up. They are deep in the pocket, grooving with and against the riff, while Wilk and Tankian are out of step with the song. Espeically Tankian. Unlike George Clinton in the original, Tankian doesn't relish the nastiness, his adlibs are far from funky, and he only sings one line from the lyrics. Here is the original.

Bootsies Rank Method

What Is Groove? will begin employing a new ranking method to the songs, albums, and books reviewed. There will be a label for all new ranked items. The method is called "Bootsies" and it will work in a one-to-five Bootsy scale. 

One: Zone of Zero Funkativity
Two: Bush-league
Three: Kinda feelin it
Four: Diggin it!
Five: Mothership Status

Prince's Sign 'O' The Times, for example, would get five Bootsies.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Metallica | Death Magnetic

It's fitting that a heartbeat opens Metallica's Death Magnetic, their first album in five years. It might not be a rebirth, but it's certainly a resurrection. Though their previous album St. Anger attempted a return to their thrash roots, there were many omissions and questionable decisions: insulting to most metalheads, there were no guitar solos; the snare drum sounded like a beat up tin can; the background vocals were unnecessary and often intrusive; and the alt-rock melodies didn't jive with anything. Well, you can forget that mess. Bring on Kirk Hammett's molten light solos, bring on the double bass drum hits, the rapid fire triplets, the abundance of rhythmic switches and time signature changes. After all, this is Metallica in their natural state.

There are ten tracks on the album, but the truth is you can multiply that by three or four, and in some cases six. Most songs are multipart behemoths that continuously pile new riffs, licks, and rhythms on top of each other, until those give way to completely new sections. The previous steps are repeated with new grooves, and then Hammett is unleashed. If there's any revelation in these tunes it's the lead guitarist. In "The End Of The Line," after the second or third groove change, there's a short feedback buzz and out of nowhere, a rumbling, lightning-fast mound of notes tumbles in a frenetic wah-wah haze. A groove change later, the band returns to the main riff, which sounds like a variation on Pearl Jam's "Animal," as guitarist and lead vocalist James Hetfield growls the song's title.

A catalogue of metal riffs is included in "All Nightmare Long." If there's any metal band out there running out of ideas, it might be a good call to jack one of these. Somewhere in these heavy as lead textures I'm sure is bassist Rob Trujillo. The fact that he's basically inaudible throughout the record isn't his fault. With all the tussling between both guitars and Lars Ulrich's drumming the listener is basically asphyxiated, never mind having space for bass. Unlike most bands, the lack of a bass presence doesn't diminish the band's fascination with rhythmic invention.

The song whose sole focus is rhythm and texture is "Suicide & Redemption," Metallica's first classic instrumental in years. There are so many meaty riffs that at times the song sounds like a tape cut at a rehearsal. Ten minutes of this is hardly enough. It's invigorating to hear a band tear into every note and beat they play. At last Metallica has looked at itself in the mirror and accepted its reflection: the greatest metal band of the last 25 years.

NOTE: In a sharp contrast to their Napster days, the band has posted the entire, unedited album on their website for free streaming. Click here to get pummeled.