Categories
Interviews

Mice Parade

Mice Parade

“I don’t think it took that long,” Adam Pierce says over the phone, referring to the making of an anagram that turned his name into the moniker for his band. Adam Pierce literally is Mice Parade. The polyglot band sprung from the nimble-limbed Pierce, who took on drumming duties, guitar, and other, more exotic tools (the band is famous for building meandering, propulsive song structures with instruments like the cheng, a Chinese harp) to craft polyrhythmic and poly-melodious instrumentals, weaving Eastern sounds and loose structures in a post-rock palette that came to fashion with bands like Tortoise. “Not my idea,” Pierce tosses off. “A crazy old friend of mine back in the day, when I was trying to figure out what to call [Mice Parade’s first] record, he said, ‘Make an anagram.’ Then we sat down and made an anagram.”

An overzealous writer can come to the conclusion that the innate complexities at work in the band name, album titles (that first album was called The True Meaning of Boodleybaye), and song structures are purposeful riddles and not at all accidental to the experience of making music. Yet, talking to Pierce, that all seems wrong.

Junko Otsubo

“Yeah, there’s no mission plan [laughs], or plan in action.” Prior to Mice Parade, Pierce was holding down the drum kit for the Dylan Group, a distillation of vibraphone-led post-jazz; fitting neatly beside music by bands intellectualizing highly percussive and divergent world musics like tropicalia, gamelan, and afrobeat. But Pierce’s Mice Parade is instinctual. While tons of influences co-mingle (a wash of My Bloody Valentine’s woozy distortion layered over fevered flamenco guitar) and rhythms overlap, Pierce finds his way by feel more than by force — particularly on the new record, What it Feels Like to Be Left-Handed. “The process of recording the album was trying to go back to the original process of the first Mice Parade record, which was not writing anything and just going in and doing stuff… improvising a bit as you go a long and just seeing what comes out… being surprised by it all.”

And there are a few surprises. The album opens with “Kupanga,” an upbeat track riding Pierce’s signature fidgety percussion. Into the mix comes a lively kora, and Swahili singer Somi puts a light yet urgent vocal on top. It’s familiar as Mice Parade, but with a slightly new twist. “The tune was actually started off with the idea of Rokia Traore [Malian singer and guitarist] singing on it, and we were in discussions about getting that to happen, and it looked like it was going down. Then she got held up in Mali and the scheduling didn’t work, so that was one of the last tunes done. An old jazz bass player I worked with at Bubble Core (Pierce’s old, self-run label) called Alex Blake, who did a record with Pharaoh Sanders, he plays with Randy Weston. Somi was a recommendation that came through [Weston].”

As much as Mice Parade grows out of Adam Pierce, collaboration is a vital part of the process. The band includes a revolving cast from an impressive constellation of bands: HiM, June of 44, Macha, The Swirlies, mum, The Dylan Group, Stereolab, Codeine, and Diamond Nights, among others. That’s mostly Doug Scharin (drums), Dan Lippel (guitar), Dylan Cristy (vibes), Caroline Lufkin (vocals), Rob Laasko (guitar), and Josh McKay (keys), with others like Laetitia Sadier and KristÃn Anna Valtýsdóttir both adding vocals to the mix over the years. “I always try to get as much from other people as possible. We had people come up here — like Somi and Abdou the kora player. Meredith [Godreau] from Gregory & the Hawk recorded her vocals live here. Doug played drums on one of the songs. He lives out in California, so he just recorded them and emailed them to us. Our main live singer, Caroline, also sings on several songs on the record. She lives in Japan these days, so she did the same thing. So, there’s a lot of sending parts around, but everybody in this band also has really busy schedules. There are a lot of parts I have to just go and get done myself when people aren’t around. To me, everything is all about collaboration or just people getting together — basically, the live experience.”

Mice Parade takes the show on the road at the end of the month. As a musician who feeds off of the audience and other musicians, it’s part of the fuel that drives his process. “Getting to hang out with our friends together as a band, our little family, that we don’t get to see each other very often… I love it to death. If we could do it more, we probably would. I have aspirations of reaching deeper back into our instrumental catalog and bringing along the Chinese harp, but I don’t think we’ll have time to learn it all because we have some new members. We might not have the time to re-learn everything. I don’t know what we’ll get to, but I have aspirations of knowing how to play over 20 songs in our catalog. A long time ago we brought two drum kits and I was on one of them, like, half the time. Then, over the last few years, we mostly did one drum kit gigs, and I might hop on it for a second, but I’d stay mostly on the guitar and the cajon [Latin percussion instrument]. And now, for this tour, we’re definitely bringing the two kits. I won’t be up there half the time, but I’m trying to get like three or four songs under my belt to make it at least worth bringing the kit. In the US, for the first ten days, it’ll be with Les Shelleys, which is a project that is basically Tom Brosseau and his friend Angie. Tom Brosseau has a new record on Fat Cat where they do these old public domain tunes, duets. Gorgeous stuff. We’re very honored to have Laetitia Sadier from Stereolab, she has a solo record coming out, and she’s going to support the Europe tour, as well as Silje Nes, who is another Fat Cat artist.”

Pierce now runs the US branch of Fat Cat Records (after running his own Bubble Core), and is as enthusiastic about the roster of artists as he is about his own music, if not more so. “It’s fun because it’s the music industry; you deal with and listen to music all the time. I consider it a noble cause to try to help musicians — not that it always does, but at least it’s a noble cause to try. I don’t mind the administrative part of the job. The drag is the pitfalls of the industry. It’s just knowing what sells a record and having to avoid thinking about that when dealing with your own shit. We have a lot of bands that sell a lot of records, we have some bands that don’t sell so many records, and I know exactly why. The people who don’t sell a lot of records, on our label, are just as fucking good as the people who sell a lot of records. It’s a really narrow fucking tunnel. It moves in waves, but the Williamsburg, Pitchfork era has a certain tempo, there’s a certain number of members in each band, there’s a certain look, it’s like, come on. It’s a great label. Hauschka, which is amazing stuff, has a record coming out. Gregory & the Hawk has a record coming out. Silje Nes has a record coming out. All these artists are great. David Karsten Daniels’ record just came out, you know? Nobody bought it; it’s an amazing record. We have a new We Were Promised Jet Packs album, which will be a big record for next year. They’re most likely going off to Iceland to record it in a few weeks. There’s a new Twilight Sad record as well, and the demos for that are amazing; different from what they’ve done before, which is exciting. So, it’s always exciting and I love the label, so it’s definitely good.”

Mice Parade: www.myspace.com/miceparadeband

Categories
Features

Fela Kuti Lives

Fela Kuti’s Chop n’ Quench

Re-opening the “Shrine” of Afrobeat

Bernard Matussiere

With a bio-pic in the works at Focus Features, and Broadway’s Fela! getting glowing reviews with the theater crowd, Knitting Factory Records saw an opportunity to re-release Fela Kuti’s catalog to a new generation of fans. “The Kuti family had a license with Universal which was expiring. Knitting Factory did a deal directly with the Estate for the next 11 years. It seemed like a great time for the Knitting Factory to re-launch the catalog,” Brian Long, Label Manager of Knitting Factory said. “Our goal is to re-release the entire CD catalog this year.” A commendable, if highly ambitious task. That’s 45 albums, 26 CDs — a huge chunk of West African musical history.

The legacy of Fela Kuti — the creator of afrobeat — stretches back more than 40 years, criss-crossing the globe from his time spent studying music in London to his compound in Lagos, Nigeria, where he fought contentious battles with the Nigerian government while making some of the most kinetic music on the planet. To get the full story, Knitting Factory would definitely have to go back.

Back before 2002’s Red Hot + Riot compilation, featuring Fela’s musical admirers — from Dead Prez to Taj Mahal. That album brought his ouevre to the attention of the masses in the west, although DJs and musicians (everyone from Brian Eno and the Talking Heads to Ginger Baker, a friend and collaborator) have been playing, sampling, and riffing off his ideas for decades. Back before 1997, when the cantankerous and controversial Kuti succumbed to the complications of AIDS/HIV, an event that made plain the mortality of a man who lived like a demigod or Emperor on his compound, Kalakuta Republic, where his band rehearsed, performed, partied, protested the government, pushed for pan-African unity, and suffered the tyranny of Nigeria’s various corrupt governments. Back before adopting the name Anikulapo, which means, “he who carries death in his pouch.” Back before his embrace of traditional tribal custom resulted in the 1978 marriage to 27 of his back-up singers. Back before the tragic death of his mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, during a 1977 raid on the compound which ended with Fela brutally beaten and his mother thrown out of a window. Before campaigns for the presidency of Nigeria and his provocative pro-black political messages inspired by a trip to the United States in 1969 where he discovered the philosophies of Malcolm X. You go back to the mid-’60s, to Fela’s days playing the popular big band music of Nigeria and West African nightclubs, highlife, and his first bandleader gig with Koola Lobitos.

Chop n’ Quench includes The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions, London Scene, Shakara, Open & Close, Live! Fela Ransome-Kuti The Africa 70 (with Ginger Baker), Music of Fela – Roforofo Fight, Afrodisiac, Gentleman, and Confusion.

The L.A. Sessions was actually the first Fela Kuti album released in Nigeria,” Long says. It’s something of a compilation of Fela’s 1960s work with the earliest incarnation of his band Koola Lobitos (the foundation for Nigeria/Africa ’70) and diverges the most from the fiery, muscular sound he would hone with Africa ’70 and Egypt ’80. Jazzier with more major key melodies and a less prominent rhythm section, the music is polished yet unspectacular. Fela’s lyrics are mostly repetitive, dancefloor scats — far from the scathing indictments of Nigeria’s political leadership, organized religion, and military he would deliver in playful pidgin English and Yoruba sing-speak on tracks like “Zombie” and “Coffin for Head of State,” or sly twists on traditional Nigerian sayings like “Water No Get Enemy.” Only “My Lady’s Frustration” crosses the 7-minute mark into signature Fela-extended-jam territory.

Bernard Matussiere

Afrobeat began as a fusion of the uptempo, big-band dance music of highlife infused with traditional African percussion and a distinctly American funky bottom-end that heavily echoes the sound of James Brown and the J.B.’s. Much like the Godfather of Soul, Fela Kuti could be accused of revisiting his signature sounds over and over again. But critics who make this argument miss the point — one that should be considered before delving into a collection of almost 50 songs and multiple hours of music. Unlike other forms of pop music that digest sounds and move on in an insatiable need to be progressive or cutting edge, Fela Kuti is after the intrinsic and fundamental root, a hypnotic pulse that Kuti continually turned inside out with variation after variation of African rhythm and swing. Similar to some of Miles Davis’s experiments with funk in the 1970s, Kuti’s band often hangs in one mode or chord, exploring the tumultuous depths of drummer Tony Allen’s groove more than its breadth — not dissimilar to traditional African musics that don’t change rhythms as much as they add layers and dimension.

It’s a mistake to be preoccupied with the sameness of the music when it is a much more rewarding experience to let the snaking guitar, thunderous plucked basslines, and shuffling polyrhythmic drum patterns lift you into the call-and-response choruses that spell out a complex life of protest, ego, quest for freedom, and self-expression that only winds itself tighter and tighter with each new track.

That’s not to say that the music is all cut from exactly the same cloth. The first album, The Los Angeles Sessions, is definitely the most unlike the others. But the soft and smoldering “Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am” (Roforofo Fight) is more inclined to get your lighter in the air than your derriere, while “Gentleman” shows off Fela’s chatty saxophone solos (which he’d only recently begun playing in the band at the time of its composition) over an irrepressible Allen beat.

Much of the material here is already available elsewhere. What makes these re-issues unique is the emphasis on a multi-media approach to delivering a complete Fela Kuti experience to the listener. Through the Knitting Factory or Fela Kuti website, you can purchase the Chop n’ Quench collection as 320kbps MP3 digital downloads or go all the way up to the “Deluxe Package,” which includes 6 digi-pack CDs with the original artwork, the authorized biography of Fela, This Bitch of a Life by Carlos Moore, and a Best of the Black President album cover screen print. Long points out the mentality behind this strategy and what else is in store: “We are compiling and creating multi-media to help us marketing the catalog. We videotaped interviews with Gharioukwu Lemi who painted many of Fela’s album covers and Tunde Adebimpe from TV on The Radio, who is Nigerian. They will be shared later in the spring. We will be doing release parties quarterly at the Knitting Factory. The first was a huge success with lots of dancing in the bar…but that’s the magic of Fela, isn’t it? Every October there are “Felabrations” to celebrate his birthday set up around the world. A big event is being planned for Lagos this year. We coordinated about 18 of them last year in the States. I’ll bet there will be even more in 2010.” It’s this kind of re-thinking of album releases that give fans customizable options for how they want to consume the music, centered around events that connect them with other fans that may present a new direction for record companies and their artists.

“Our goal is to introduce Fela to a new generation of fans and to make the music generally more available than in the past. Part one of that is showing the connection of Fela and Afrobeat to hip hop. There is a video currently circulating on the web of ?uestlove [drummer for the Roots] discussing this.”

And so, Fela lives. Like all legends, the true legacy begins when people come to terms with the fact that there won’t be any more music. Into the void come many new artists who will interact with the music in different ways. Ozomatli and Antibalas wouldn’t exist without the blueprint of Fela, while Common’s entire album Like Water for Chocolate is composed with samples, interpolations, and the influence of the late composer. TV on the Radio is taking the influence in one direction while Zozo Afrobeat go in another, both bands based in NY with Nigerian members. Kuti’s progeny carry on his legacy, with Femi Kuti and his Positive Force almost a living tribute to his father, and Seun Kuti bringing a new fire and approach to afrobeat, fronting his father’s band and taking it in a contemporary direction.

Knitting Factory’s re-release of Fela’s albums will no doubt initiate a new wave of inspiration that will bear fruits in the months and years ahead.

The next installment of Knitting Factory’s Fela Kuti re-release project is the 14-album collection Na Poi, coming May 11, that highlights the mid-’70s artistic peak of Fela Kuti and Africa ’70: Alagbon Close/Why Black Man Dey Suffer; He Miss Road/Expensive Shit; Excuse-O/Monkey Banana; Noise For Vendor Mouth/Everything Scatter; Kalakuta Show/Ikoyi Blindness; Yellow Fever/Na Poi; Unnecessary Begging/Johnny Just Drop (J.J.D.)

Knitting Factory Records: www.knittingfactoryrecords.com

Categories
Features

Fela Kuti Lives

Fela Kuti’s Chop n’ Quench

Re-opening the “Shrine” of Afrobeat

Bernard Matussiere

With a bio-pic in the works at Focus Features, and Broadway’s Fela! getting glowing reviews with the theater crowd, Knitting Factory Records saw an opportunity to re-release Fela Kuti’s catalog to a new generation of fans. “The Kuti family had a license with Universal which was expiring. Knitting Factory did a deal directly with the Estate for the next 11 years. It seemed like a great time for the Knitting Factory to re-launch the catalog,” Brian Long, Label Manager of Knitting Factory said. “Our goal is to re-release the entire CD catalog this year.” A commendable, if highly ambitious task. That’s 45 albums, 26 CDs — a huge chunk of West African musical history.

The legacy of Fela Kuti — the creator of afrobeat — stretches back more than 40 years, criss-crossing the globe from his time spent studying music in London to his compound in Lagos, Nigeria, where he fought contentious battles with the Nigerian government while making some of the most kinetic music on the planet. To get the full story, Knitting Factory would definitely have to go back.

Back before 2002’s Red Hot + Riot compilation, featuring Fela’s musical admirers — from Dead Prez to Taj Mahal. That album brought his ouevre to the attention of the masses in the west, although DJs and musicians (everyone from Brian Eno and the Talking Heads to Ginger Baker, a friend and collaborator) have been playing, sampling, and riffing off his ideas for decades. Back before 1997, when the cantankerous and controversial Kuti succumbed to the complications of AIDS/HIV, an event that made plain the mortality of a man who lived like a demigod or Emperor on his compound, Kalakuta Republic, where his band rehearsed, performed, partied, protested the government, pushed for pan-African unity, and suffered the tyranny of Nigeria’s various corrupt governments. Back before adopting the name Anikulapo, which means, “he who carries death in his pouch.” Back before his embrace of traditional tribal custom resulted in the 1978 marriage to 27 of his back-up singers. Back before the tragic death of his mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, during a 1977 raid on the compound which ended with Fela brutally beaten and his mother thrown out of a window. Before campaigns for the presidency of Nigeria and his provocative pro-black political messages inspired by a trip to the United States in 1969 where he discovered the philosophies of Malcolm X. You go back to the mid-’60s, to Fela’s days playing the popular big band music of Nigeria and West African nightclubs, highlife, and his first bandleader gig with Koola Lobitos.

Chop n’ Quench includes The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions, London Scene, Shakara, Open & Close, Live! Fela Ransome-Kuti The Africa 70 (with Ginger Baker), Music of Fela – Roforofo Fight, Afrodisiac, Gentleman, and Confusion.

The L.A. Sessions was actually the first Fela Kuti album released in Nigeria,” Long says. It’s something of a compilation of Fela’s 1960s work with the earliest incarnation of his band Koola Lobitos (the foundation for Nigeria/Africa ’70) and diverges the most from the fiery, muscular sound he would hone with Africa ’70 and Egypt ’80. Jazzier with more major key melodies and a less prominent rhythm section, the music is polished yet unspectacular. Fela’s lyrics are mostly repetitive, dancefloor scats — far from the scathing indictments of Nigeria’s political leadership, organized religion, and military he would deliver in playful pidgin English and Yoruba sing-speak on tracks like “Zombie” and “Coffin for Head of State,” or sly twists on traditional Nigerian sayings like “Water No Get Enemy.” Only “My Lady’s Frustration” crosses the 7-minute mark into signature Fela-extended-jam territory.

Bernard Matussiere

Afrobeat began as a fusion of the uptempo, big-band dance music of highlife infused with traditional African percussion and a distinctly American funky bottom-end that heavily echoes the sound of James Brown and the J.B.’s. Much like the Godfather of Soul, Fela Kuti could be accused of revisiting his signature sounds over and over again. But critics who make this argument miss the point — one that should be considered before delving into a collection of almost 50 songs and multiple hours of music. Unlike other forms of pop music that digest sounds and move on in an insatiable need to be progressive or cutting edge, Fela Kuti is after the intrinsic and fundamental root, a hypnotic pulse that Kuti continually turned inside out with variation after variation of African rhythm and swing. Similar to some of Miles Davis’s experiments with funk in the 1970s, Kuti’s band often hangs in one mode or chord, exploring the tumultuous depths of drummer Tony Allen’s groove more than its breadth — not dissimilar to traditional African musics that don’t change rhythms as much as they add layers and dimension.

It’s a mistake to be preoccupied with the sameness of the music when it is a much more rewarding experience to let the snaking guitar, thunderous plucked basslines, and shuffling polyrhythmic drum patterns lift you into the call-and-response choruses that spell out a complex life of protest, ego, quest for freedom, and self-expression that only winds itself tighter and tighter with each new track.

That’s not to say that the music is all cut from exactly the same cloth. The first album, The Los Angeles Sessions, is definitely the most unlike the others. But the soft and smoldering “Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am” (Roforofo Fight) is more inclined to get your lighter in the air than your derriere, while “Gentleman” shows off Fela’s chatty saxophone solos (which he’d only recently begun playing in the band at the time of its composition) over an irrepressible Allen beat.

Much of the material here is already available elsewhere. What makes these re-issues unique is the emphasis on a multi-media approach to delivering a complete Fela Kuti experience to the listener. Through the Knitting Factory or Fela Kuti website, you can purchase the Chop n’ Quench collection as 320kbps MP3 digital downloads or go all the way up to the “Deluxe Package,” which includes 6 digi-pack CDs with the original artwork, the authorized biography of Fela, This Bitch of a Life by Carlos Moore, and a Best of the Black President album cover screen print. Long points out the mentality behind this strategy and what else is in store: “We are compiling and creating multi-media to help us marketing the catalog. We videotaped interviews with Gharioukwu Lemi who painted many of Fela’s album covers and Tunde Adebimpe from TV on The Radio, who is Nigerian. They will be shared later in the spring. We will be doing release parties quarterly at the Knitting Factory. The first was a huge success with lots of dancing in the bar…but that’s the magic of Fela, isn’t it? Every October there are “Felabrations” to celebrate his birthday set up around the world. A big event is being planned for Lagos this year. We coordinated about 18 of them last year in the States. I’ll bet there will be even more in 2010.” It’s this kind of re-thinking of album releases that give fans customizable options for how they want to consume the music, centered around events that connect them with other fans that may present a new direction for record companies and their artists.

“Our goal is to introduce Fela to a new generation of fans and to make the music generally more available than in the past. Part one of that is showing the connection of Fela and Afrobeat to hip hop. There is a video currently circulating on the web of ?uestlove [drummer for the Roots] discussing this.”

And so, Fela lives. Like all legends, the true legacy begins when people come to terms with the fact that there won’t be any more music. Into the void come many new artists who will interact with the music in different ways. Ozomatli and Antibalas wouldn’t exist without the blueprint of Fela, while Common’s entire album Like Water for Chocolate is composed with samples, interpolations, and the influence of the late composer. TV on the Radio is taking the influence in one direction while Zozo Afrobeat go in another, both bands based in NY with Nigerian members. Kuti’s progeny carry on his legacy, with Femi Kuti and his Positive Force almost a living tribute to his father, and Seun Kuti bringing a new fire and approach to afrobeat, fronting his father’s band and taking it in a contemporary direction.

Knitting Factory’s re-release of Fela’s albums will no doubt initiate a new wave of inspiration that will bear fruits in the months and years ahead.

The next installment of Knitting Factory’s Fela Kuti re-release project is the 14-album collection Na Poi, coming May 11, that highlights the mid-’70s artistic peak of Fela Kuti and Africa ’70: Alagbon Close/Why Black Man Dey Suffer; He Miss Road/Expensive Shit; Excuse-O/Monkey Banana; Noise For Vendor Mouth/Everything Scatter; Kalakuta Show/Ikoyi Blindness; Yellow Fever/Na Poi; Unnecessary Begging/Johnny Just Drop (J.J.D.)

Knitting Factory Records: www.knittingfactoryrecords.com

Categories
Interviews

Gaby Moreno

Gaby Moreno

Still the Unknown

Gaby Moreno

Shanila Menendez
Gaby Moreno

With her easy charm, soulful voice, and love of traveling, Gaby Moreno is well-armed to make something of her debut album Still the Unknown. Inspired by the great blues and soul of a bygone era, Still the Unknown is an album made by the best of friends [drummer Sebastian Aymann is her husband; bassist Leslie Lowe her closest bud] in one day in the cozy confines of a California living room. Despite the quaint setting, Moreno’s expansive talent has the album skipping effortlessly from upbeat slinky tunes like “Greenhorne Man” to a version of the Spanish traditional “Amapola” featuring indie vet David Garza. Moreno’s guitar bursts with full-bodied chords while her seductive vocals recall Fiona Apple and Nora Jones, remaining understated and direct. By the time you get to the ethereal and heart-tugging “Since You Came Along,” you’re buoyed atop a tinkling bed of vibraphone and haunting vocal and floating off into a dream. Ink 19 caught up with Moreno on her recent tour with Ani DiFranco to talk about life on the road, her surprise involvement with TV’s Parks & Recreation, and upcoming projects with her band and Van Dyke Parks.

How’s the tour going?

Playing in these beautiful theaters, it’s great. The driving… I really enjoy it, actually. You go through these beautiful towns, see different cities. It’s just a beautiful experience.

You’re touring with Ani Di Franco and you toured with Tracy Chapman last year. What have you learned by touring with such seasoned artists?

It’s a bit more hard work. I’ve learned to be more organized with things. Especially because I have to go out on my own. It’s been like that for these last two tours… I’ve been doing it on my own. I have to book all the hotels and do all these things that before I had never done, and the multi-tasking…

At one point you were signed to Jive. Your debut album is self-released?

Yeah. We recorded it with some friends of ours at their house. It was independent without any help from any label at all.

Do you feel liberated from some of the non-musical things that go on at a major label?

Absolutely. I don’t think I’d be able to make this record if I had been at a major label. [Being independent] you have way more creative control. You don’t have an A&R behind you scrutinizing every one of your songs. It’s more like you go with your guts, what you think is right. That’s what it should be like. Labels have their own agenda. They want to try to mold you into something and steer you in a certain direction. That’s something I was really happy to do without any label.

When you don’t have a big record label behind you does touring become more important?

Yeah, I think that’s crucial. That’s how they’re going to hear about you. Unless you’re lucky and get your music in a commercial or a TV show — that’s what they’re calling the new radio, you know? For us, I think the most important thing is to tour.

Gaby Moreno live.

Todd Parsons
Gaby Moreno live.

Speaking of TV, you wrote the theme song for the sitcom Parks and Recreation. How did that come about?

I just received an email from my manager saying they were looking for the theme song for that show and they sent us a description of the show and I just gave it a shot. Grabbed my guitar and wrote a little intro in 5-10 minutes and I took it to my friend [Vincent Jones] cause I just wanted it to sound more orchestral. He had all these great sounds with his keyboard and we submitted it. Then a week later I got a call from my manager saying, “Hey, you made it to the semi-finals.” A few days after that I got a message saying “OK, we chose yours.” I was in shock.

How long have you been working on the album?

The whole recording process took a few days. Some songs were older, written four or five years ago and some of the songs I had written that year. The recording process was so, so easy. We just got together in the living room and played it live, it was like recording a little live concert. I was playing and singing at the same time. Then later we did some overdubs. We invited some friends over to come and play some other instruments. It was just very organic. I had been wanting to do a record forever but I never got the chance, you know, because I was with all these labels and it was not happening. Then they would make me write with a bunch of different producers. Then the songs would be all over the place because they had me working with all these different producers. Finally this friend of ours, Jay Bellerose [noted drummer/percussionist who’s played with Robert Plant & Allison Krause and B.B. King], we just decided he’s going to produce [the songs] and it’s all going to have one coherent sound.

What are your musical inspirations?

As far as artists go, it has always been Nina Simone. I love her. Also I’ve been listening a lot to old Latin American music, like, I’ve listening to this trio called Trio Los Panchos, and I also love The Beatles, you know?

You have a love and interest in blues and music from other eras. Do you think you would have enjoyed the experience of making your debut record 50 years ago with the equipment they had back then?

Oh yes, yes, absolutely!

What would the experience be like making this album back then?

It would have been nice to be in one of those old studios back then, like the Capitol Studios but I think the process would have been pretty similar. Just having fun and getting in a room and playing live. I would love to have a string section or horn section you know, all live, and obviously analog, cause that’s how they did it back then. We did Still the Unknown digitally.

Recording live with one mic in the middle of the room definitely has a unique vibe. It makes the music feel like one whole piece and not a puzzle where the pieces are put together afterward.

Right. Like, “Here’s a guitar track, now sing to this.” It shouldn’t be that way. That’s why I like it cause what you’re hearing on the record you’ll hear it live. There are no surprises there.

A lot of the songs on your album are in English but a couple of the songs are in Spanish. Is the songwriting process different for you when you write in Spanish?

Not really. When I think about the music I decide right on the spot [whether it’s going to be in Spanish or English]. What I don’t do is write in Spanish and do a translation into English. I don’t really like that. If I’m writing about social matter or political matter… I’ve done that more in English. In Spanish I tend to get a bit more poetic because it’s my mother language, I understand it better, and I think I have a more extensive vocabulary in Spanish. What I love so much is when I’m playing live, if I’m singing in Spanish, the American audiences respond to it and they really seem to enjoy [it] even though they don’t understand what the words are. Something about the music moves them.

What plans do you have for future albums?

We’re hoping to get our second album by this year, some time in the fall. I’m also going to be going to Europe to do some shows over there. That’s what keeps us going. When we get out on the road and bring the music to the people.

I’m also trying to do a record of old Latin American music with this great composer/arranger Van Dyke Parks. He’s amazing. He’s done work for the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan. He just recorded a song with Ringo Starr for his latest album. He’s an unbelievable man and he really loves the old Latin American music so together we’re going to try to get cracking on that sometime, I don’t know… late this year.

How did you make the connection with Van Dyke Parks?

I was playing some shows in L.A. at this club called Largo with my friend David Piltch — also an incredible upright bass player. He has played with Van Dyke Parks before. He invited him to one of the shows and Van Dyke sat in.

How are you going to go about choosing what songs to do on that album?

It’s already been in the process for a year. We’ve been trying to decide which songs. We wanted a bolero, a tango, and bossa nova… just to go through all the different styles that Latin America offers. There are about twelve songs that we’re going to do and maybe a live concert to go with it. We are hoping to have a live string section and even some Latin players.

New album with your band. Same way, same producer?

Maybe this time instead of recording it in his house we’ll record it with Ryan Freeland. He’s the guy who mixed the record. He does Joe Henry… he’s a great musician himself so we may actually record the album with him and have him mix it.

Are there any new sounds you’re interested in since the last one?

Some of the new songs just have more rhythm [to them]. A lot of songs on the first record are a bit slower, there are more ballads, so I think on this one we’re just going to step it up a notch and do more of the old soul.

Your tour wraps up on February 8. What’s been the best part about traveling this time out?

Maine is just the most gorgeous state. I’ve never seen snow on the beach and that is so exciting. We went to this beach called Old Orchard Beach and we just ran around in the snow and it was so much fun.We are really excited about every place that we’re going to, taking it all in and enjoying the ride. It’s just like a fun road trip, plus we get to play. How cool is that?

Gaby Moreno: www.gaby-moreno.com

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Print Reviews

Confessions of an Ex-Doofus Itchyfooted Mutha

Confessions of an Ex-Doofus Itchyfooted Mutha

by Melvin Van Peebles

Akashic Books

Trust the zodiac. When you were born really matters, man. If you are a child of the ’80s, the Van Peebles name means faux-hip, comic gumshoe Sonny Spoon and possibly a string of B-level Black films like Posse and New Jack City (alright, New Jack City was a classic). But if you’re a child of the ’70s, the Van Peebles name means Sweet Bad Ass Songs and riffs on race, politics, and the arts, told through the medium of a neo-Harlem Renaissance. Mario Van Peebles is the offspring who played the bumbling Sonny Spoon character for NBC while his father, Melvin Van Peebles, is the badasssss.

Emerging during a fertile time in Black empowerment in the late ’50s/early ’60s, Melvin Van Peebles ushered in the Blaxploitation genre, popularized by films like Superfly and Dolomite with Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song. An artistic omnivore, Van Peebles is a talented actor, director, musician, and playwright who blazed an unconventional, do-it-yourself path through film, stage, and music. Sweetback… heavily inspired Quentin Tarantino while Van Peebles’ obscure 1969 Br’er Soul LP was heavily sampled by Madlib for his Quasimoto albums — a planned Brer Soul Meets Quasimoto album has yet to materialize.

Determined to be relevant in every genre and every decade, Van Peebles has produced Confessions of an Ex-Doofus-Itchyfooted Mutha, a graphic novel which is basically the storyboard for a movie script (the Confessions… film was released in August 2009) that tells the coming-of-age story of a precocious vagabond who emigrates from Van Peeble’s native Chicago to New York City, sails the Atlantic, and eventually returns to the love of his life — yes, there is a love story in here among all the quixotic questing. Along the way there’s also AARP pimping, gorillas, and dangerous employ with the merchant marines. The artwork is rendered in an interesting hybrid of photography and illustration that suits Van Peebles’ eclectic vision; the prose swings and lilts as it veers from poetic verse to song lyrics, to expository dialogue (Van Peebles’ jazzy, colloquial pen is sometimes overlooked for his more bawdy and kitsch eccentricities).

This is storytelling in the great oral tradition that relies on a charismatic narrator’s presence to bring it all to life, and Van Peebles is that avuncular yarn-spinner who could mesmerize you for days. But this isn’t a live reading or barbershop chit-chat. As a graphic novel, Confesssions’ slight narrative and uneven visuals don’t stack up to the best of the genre. Still, it’s not hard to imagine this as a step in the process of bringing a film to life, and Van Peebles’ fearless and coy DIY ethic shines through with character and panache. In that regard, it’s an interesting glimpse into the process of an artist still pushing his ambitions well into his seventh decade.

Akashic: www.akashicbooks.com/confessions.htm

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Print Reviews

Steal This Music

Steal This Music

by Joanna Demers

University of Georgia Press

Many music writers make the case that artists like Dr. Dre, Timbaland, and Aphex Twin might be the modern equivalent of Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, and the like. Maybe so, maybe not, but the argument is so charged with political and intellectual biases that a civilized discussion of whether artists who appropriate from other artists — or rely heavily on computers for composition — are legitimate musicians is almost impossible. Joanna Demers is brave enough to take a crack at it, and I congratulate her on the effort.

Steal This Music weaves together disparate dialogues and disciplines — philosophy, music theory, sociology, and economics — at the same time as it deconstructs copyright law. Demers’ language is clear and fluid, her writing moving effortlessly from one discipline to the next.

As deftly as a DJ would ride the fade and blend a rock song into a techno track, Steal This Music transitions from African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. to rock icons The Replacements and Tom Waits, to the licentious 2 Live Crew. An assistant professor of music history at University of Southern California, Demers’ scope extends beyond the typical music critic. Avoiding the tacky egoism of the rock journalist, Demers embraces the scientific approach of academia. That’s not to say she doesn’t have an opinion. Her thesis is built around the idea that copyright law has always been a poor fit for music, and is only falling further out of step as technology outpaces bureaucracy.

Demers traces the history of copyright from its early application to sheet music, to its current attachment to digitally recorded audio snippets (samples). The most ironic and ominous undercurrent of the narrative is that while musical composition has morphed and evolved to accommodate the shift from the harpsichord to Harmon Kardon speakers, one thing that has not changed is how publishing companies reap profits from restrictive copyright laws, supposedly put in place to protect the artists who create the music in the first place. Steal This Music is full of interesting anecdotes about artists’ entanglement in complicated and stifling copyright laws.

Yet, there’s a quiet call to arms here, suggesting the underground may yet force major labels to rethink their practices. It can’t come a day too soon. It’s no stretch to say that corporate powers have little interest in artistic progress. So little, in fact, that some ass-backwards executives probably think Dr. Dre should have written The Chronic on a harpsichord to prove himself to be a bona fide musician and not a plagiarizing pirate; Danger Mouse should have composed The Grey Album on a sousaphone so it could be sold in stores; Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals… you get the point. If more thinkers like Demers and the musicians in her book can connect, there’s hope yet for music.

(Originally published in Altar Magazine.)

University of Georgia Press: www.ugapress.uga.edu

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Print Reviews

Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth

Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth

Edited by Peter Wild

Harper Collins

Trading on the reputation of your artistic peers is a risky move, but everything in the publishing world is a risk in the Internet age. Thousands of pages of good fiction have been playing needle in the haystack as far back as the printing press can remember, but these days — when books have literally been reduced to Kindle-ing – it’s that much harder for a short story collection to stand out. So, Peter Wild’s idea to assemble a short story anthology inspired by the music of Sonic Youth is a smart way to attract readers. The risk is that Sonic Youth’s fan base will have high expectations of any book bearing the band’s name, whether it comes with a Lee Ranaldo introduction or not.

From the early sturm und drang of their dismantled rock trash to their melodic second act — defined by the double album masterpiece Daydream Nation — Sonic Youth can be both dissonant and gorgeous. Their songs are populated by characters who are ambivalent, fiery, disenfranchised. Their New York aesthetic is cool and disinterested, they live for the mystery and noise of the human heart as well as the squall of the urban sprawl. It is this spirit fans expect to encounter in Noise.

With the myriad of approaches Peter Wild could have taken to curating this anthology, it’s dumbfounding… the roads he left untraveled. Wild could have assembled writers in the spirit of Sonic Youth — “noisy” experimentalists defying traditional narrative and structure; Ben Marcus comes to mind. Yet, there aren’t any pieces that deconstruct the short story the way Sonic Youth deconstructs rock and roll. Only Shelley Jackson’s absurdist, “Jabberwocky”-esque jibberish “My Friend Goo” is truly subversive. Noise could explore the real life characters who populate Sonic Youth’s songs: The Charles Manson Family of “Expressway to Yr Skull/Death Valley ’69,” Anita Hill (“Youth Against Fascism [Hate Song]),” Madonna (subject of the entire Ciccone Youth project), or New York City itself. Tom McCarthy’s springy prose presents the kind of fractured America that Sonic Youth’s protagonists populate, with his micro-biography of Patty Hearst during her time with the Symbionese Liberation Army in “Kool Thing; Or Why I Want to Fuck Patty Hearst.” The other authors toil in the playground of mostly anonymous misanthropes who inhabit many of Sonic Youth’s songs, but this approach is indistinguishable from most contemporary literature. Legendary science fiction writer William Gibson inspired songs like “Pattern Recognition” and Philip K. Dick, author of A Scanner Darkly, inspired the album Sister, yet there’s no nod to cyberpunk storylines or steampunk narratives.

Each story includes an introduction explaining why the author chose to write each story. In the prelude to “Bull in the Heather,” Scott Mebus confesses: “Unlike most of the authors in this book, or the majority of you reading this right now, I actually don’t know all that much about Sonic Youth.” Mebus’ admission makes his story about lesbian lovers and the prosthetic “bull” in an actual Heather feel more like a writing exercise than anything to do with the band’s gender politics. Emily Carter Roiphe goes one step further by admitting she dislikes the band. Fine, but the people most likely to buy this anthology do enjoy Sonic Youth’s music. There’s something off-putting about trying to sell them a book that includes authors who lack this same appreciation.

Of the authors who are fans, many discovered the band well into their career. This means very few writers tangle with their earliest material. Only six of the 21 stories in Noise take their titles from songs prior to Goo‘s release in 1990. It would be interesting to see what Mary Gaitskill — author of Bad Behavior, which includes her well-known story of sadomasochism, “Secretary,” — could do with “Confusion is Sex” off Sonic Youth’s debut album. However, the emotive, stormy dream she conjures in “Wish Fulfillment” is spot on.

To his credit, Wild takes on one of Sonic Youth’s most compelling titles “Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style.” His story includes divergent time lines, the MC5, and a conflicted rebel of a stripe that may surprise readers. Wild’s narrative dissonance is a worthy parallel to the band’s sonic dissonance.

As fiction, Noise is strong in places but it’s hard to believe this is the best Wild could do in compiling work “inspired” by Sonic Youth. Too many dead end stories with no apparent connection to the Sonic Youth mythology. Others, such as Steven Sherrill’s “Flower,” give such cliched references — a punk teen singing along to “Panty Lies” on headphones — that the shoehorned homage could be left out altogether without the story ever missing it. Yet, Eileen Myles’ poetic dedication to life and dogs in “Protect Me You” harbors crafty lyrical turns that reflect Sonic Youth’s unexpected melodicism; Laird Hunt’s crisp, abstracted prose in “Kissability” is buoyant and pleasantly ambiguous; while Rachel Trezise’s “On the Strip” is a literal sweep through the streets Kim Gordon sings about: empowerment reared by tragedy, repugnant in its raw transcendence. Noise is a maddening experience for anyone looking for a deep bloodline between its stories and the band. This anthology is best left to fans of contemporary short fiction with a passing interest in the music of Sonic Youth.

Harper Collins: harperperennial.com

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Print Reviews

Watchmen

Watchmen

by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

DC Comics

Watchmen is a narrative tour de force. It’s a Greek tragedy, slathered with comic book schmaltz and effects, that explores human politics (personal and collective), ethics, morality, and character through the superhero paradigm. In the last twenty years, many titles have followed some aspect of its blueprint. Books as varied as Uncanny X-Men and Transmetropolitan have borrowed from its world, and titles like The American Way and The Authority virtually turned Watchmen into its own genre.

When it was first published in serialized form in 1986-1987, no other writer (except for maybe Frank Miller, whose Dark Knight Returns was hitting shelves simultaneously) had taken such a profoundly psychological look at the superhero genre. During this Bronze Age of Comics, writers were turning to naturalism, but the fascism that we read into Batman’s caped crusader, and the fetishism inherent in Wonder Woman were still only the repressed id of the genre’s writers and readers; it was not yet spelled out as motivation for regular people to put on spandex and fight crime. The trauma of our collective youth manifesting itself in exhibitionist and sado-masochistic fantasies all fed the bigger narrative, but Moore was one of the first to explicitly acknowledge these perversions as plot points and character motivation.

While Watchmen is an analysis of American pop cultural psychology, it never sacrifices its densely interwoven plot: When the Comedian, one of a loose confederate of superheroes, is murdered, his contemporary, Rorschach, sets out to discover if someone is killing “masks.” The story then slips back and forth in time, and across two generations of superheroes, following the narratives of six superheroes and the interplay between their personal lives and public images.

The emotional center of Watchmen is the relationship between Nite Owl, kind of the traditional comic book geek as superhero, and Silk Spectre, the eye-candy heroine, who is pushed into the family business as her mother’s successor. The Comedian represents the über-soldier and patriot — Captain America with a truly sadistic twist. Rorschach is the tormented and dark vigilante who narrates the murder mystery, and whose head we’d most desperately like to escape. The super-genius, Ozymandias, hovers somewhere above morality. Dr. Manhattan (his eerie yet tranquil blue skin is at least a subliminal allusion to the Hindu god Shiva: Destroyer of the World), created from man’s scientific fumblings with nuclear energy, has powers that warp the future of the entire world, and whose sudden disappearance starts the clock ticking toward WWIII.

It’s amazing how effortlessly Moore manipulates time and genre: Watchmen is built on a noir murder mystery overlaid with a romantic love triangle, crossed with a thriller and wrapped in a satire. It’s all those things, and it works due to the sheer brilliance of its seamless construction. Moore avoids expository burnout by telling backstory with newspaper clippings, psychologists’ notes, letters, and excerpts from an autobiography, making Watchmen as dense as it is dazzling. Moore never loses a narrative strand as his characters play out their personal dramas over the backdrop of murder and escalating geo-political tensions, moving back and forth across four decades.

Artist Dave Gibbons creates a 1986 New York straight out of Blade Runner; its purple, green, and brown color palette creates something both murky and vivid. Gibbons must have been inspired by Moore’s literary symmetry, because his panels blend effortlessly from one scene to the next. His mirror-image tableaux lend a cinematic vibe, keeping us abreast of where we are in time. These overlapping narratives and images flex and stretch the capabilities of the comic book format. Moore admitted that Watchmen was meant to be a showcase for what the comic book form was capable of. He and Gibbons definitely succeeded.

Without taking too much away from Moore and Gibbons’ symbiotic masterwork — a true watershed in comic book history — Time Magazine‘s naming of Watchmen as one of the 100 best novels since 1923 (how arbitrary is that?) seems facile, of-the-moment, and overreaching. It is still a comic book and, after all, isn’t a comic book cheating a bit? The traditional novel relies only on the imagery of wordplay to create pictures. Besides, even though Moore explores the kinkiness of grown people dressing up in leotards to fight crime with the right mix of cheekiness and depth, he still can’t resist the occasional dorkiness of comic book dialogue, overcooked inner monologues, and overuse of deux ex machina common to the genre. It’s also hard to tell if Moore is satirizing the misogyny of comics or reveling in it, as every female character seems to get her comeuppance in some way. The satire often walks a line where the reader is left wondering if Moore knows how absurd his story really is.

Rorschach tells a “joke” about a man fraught with depression. The man’s doctor suggests he cheer himself up by going to see the clown Pagliacci, to which the man replies, “I am Pagliacci.” The irony is that this could apply to the author as well: Moore cannot truly laugh at the comic book world because he is trapped inside of it looking out.

Still, Watchmen has many poignant things to say about the hysteria and nuclear proliferation of the Cold War Era (which are, not surprisingly, poignant today), American nostalgia for a past that never existed, and the slippery morality and self-absorption of brilliant people who fancy themselves demi-gods, but Moore never wholly escapes the inherent geekiness of the genre. In other words, the book’s central characters, like Rorschach, still have relatively by-the-numbers origin stories that aren’t nearly as creepy as they want to be. Dr. Manhattan’s creation, by way of mad science experiment, is less interesting that Moore’s unique take on what happens to the soul of a man who basically becomes a god.

But Watchmen’s flaws are part of what endears it to readers. A comic book that doesn’t acknowledge its humble roots as pulp and whimsical child’s play can seem pompous and heavy-handed. A satire on comic books by someone outside of comic book-dom would be condescending. Watchmen tackles some of the weightiest issues in our world by rummaging through a child’s toy box for protagonists, antagonists, and storyline. These toys of the innocent, when married to the failures and neuroses of grown-ups, collude to create an unsettling moral resolution. The story’s conclusion is a shocker, to be sure, that reverberates long after the toy box is closed.

DC Comics: www.dccomics.com/sites/watchmen

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Music Reviews

Madvillain

Madvillain

Madvillainy 2

Stones Throw

Imagine this mindbender: Heidi Klum walks into Nip/Tuck, talking about drastically changing her landscape. She wants to look like Halle Berry. What? OK. Technically, there’s no reason to start cutting, but you can’t really argue with the end results.

Now apply the metaphor to Madlib’s landmark collaboration with MF DOOM, Madvillainy. Probably not as pleasant a snuggle partner as Seal’s baby mama, but Madvillainy proved a revelation — Madlib’s blunted, swap-meet-boom-bap, was perfectly tailored to DOOM’s alliterative, Sesame Street nonsense. On Madvillainy 2, Madlib breaks out the scalpel and grafts all new music to MF DOOM’s signature verses.

Why start in with all this cutting?

The minute the Madlib/MF DOOM collab was confirmed, backpackers cheered the no-brainer. Each had the cure to the other’s disease. Since walking away from the traumatic wreckage of golden era underground legends KMD (there’s an alleged new album in the works), DOOM’s dusty beats were serviceable sketches of the wackiness only Madlib had the imagination to pull off. And after Madlib’s eccentric genius outgrew his childhood rap group Lootpack, Madlib’s mic skills lacked the quotables and punch lines to give even the slightest lip service to traditional hip-hop (helium-voiced alter-ego Quasimoto may be transcendental, but he’s the cat to hip-hop’s doggy, the oranges to its apples).

Critics and fans knew the union was a perfect fit, but what makes it stand beside College Dropout as the best hip-hop album of 2004 is that it was even better than people expected. Avoiding his tendency to get overly tangential, Madlib’s beats on “Curls,” and “All Caps” are so hook-laden you could go fishing with the instrumentals, while DOOM drives his charismatic, pun-heavy one-liners straight up the middle with minimal fluff. People expected quirky potential, maybe flawed greatness… anything but coherence. Yet, here it was, 23 tracks that all seemed of a piece; two dozen tracks of eccentric beats and absurdist raps that seemed strangely conceptual. Madvillain: the antagonist of hip-hop conformity.

So, putting Madvillainy (1.0) under the knife to make Madvillainy 2 is technically sacrilegious, except we know only good can come of Madlib locking himself in the Bomb Shelter with the Madvillainy master tapes and his Wizard of Oz record collection (where Frank Zappa is as likely to get sampled as Lonnie Liston Smith). Besides, fans who frowned on the idea of tampering with oddball hip-hop’s Holy Grail softened as DOOM becomes even more enigmatic and elusive, and the possibility of a much-hyped follow-up to Madvillainy slips further and further away.

It’s impossible for a classic album redux to be better than the original. The order of the universe won’t allow it. Nobody dare speak it. But Madlib definitely hasn’t tarnished Madvillainy’s reputation. He brightens the corners with a steadier hand on the beats, the grooves are peppier and more varied: tracks like “Heat Niner” with its lurching, Morphine-esque sax loop, and “Roller Coaster Riders” that sounds just like its title, show Madlib truly has no ceiling as a producer. “No Brain” and “Boulder Holder” are just as likely to have you hustling to the dance floor as originals “Figaro” and “Money Folder” had you hallucinating in your living room. “Borrowed Time” maintains the sallow creepiness of “Accordion,” and “Cold One” turns “Rhinestone Cowboy” over to moody ’70s CTI jazz.

With the exception of a couple tracks — “Space Ho’s Coast to Coast” (“Space Ho’s” from the MF DOOM + Danger Mouse album DANGERDOOM) and “Butter King Jewels” — DOOM’s vocals are lifted straight from Madvillainy, but the new background brings freshness to his clever flow. “Monkey Suit”‘s ode to the cubicle drone brings new focus to internal rhymes like: “Tussle the hustle you’re dank with dirt/ Won’t be in the club with no muscle tank shirt/ You could find him in the pub with the grub stain/ Chugging on a small tub of pain to his bug brain/ Sane, some say he plum crazy/ Amazed at how he still get paid but dumb lazy;” lines betraying their nonchalance with incredible intricacy. There’s enough variance here to consider Madvillainy 2 its own release, and it’s worth the re-up if you already own Madvillainy. If you’re hardcore, the box set will satisfy both the collector and Madlib’s money clip ($125: CD + “One Beer (Drunk Version)” 7-inch + Madvillain demo version cassette + t-shirt + All Caps comic book? = Yes, I’m bitter that I don’t have one).

The album successfully re-invents a classic, but the potential this re-working represents will only make fans hungrier for the “proper” follow-up to the original Madvillainy. There may be a purpose to this nip/tuck after all.

Stones Throw: www.stonesthrow.com

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Print Reviews

Bee Thousand

Bee Thousand

by Marc Woodworth

Continuum

The documentary Watch Me Jumpstart took on the whole pre-Alien Lanes Guided by Voices in 60 minutes. Marc Woodworth unspools just one album — the admittedly fantastic Bee Thousand — in no less than 156 pages. But then, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Writing about a book that’s written about a record is like the Ouroboros — the snake eating its own tail. It’s an echo chamber of ideas that becomes a deafening feedback loop of new ruminations on old ideas, all at once, both a tidying up and deconstruction. In this way, the exercise becomes a neat metaphor for the album, itself composed as deconstructions, ruminations, and feedback loops of old ideas. Woodworth goes to great pains to illustrate this, with his deeply philosophical look at the work, brazen enough to observe that primary GBV architect Robert Pollard’s own words don’t satisfy the hungry enigma that is Bee Thousand.

Woodworth’s obsession with his subject is inspiring, and can stand alone as the album in book form. Highly manic and literary, Woodworth’s writing suffers a little for its breathiness. He piles on dependent clauses and struggles to articulate why this album is so important that it merits his scrawling out 156 pages of ink, getting lost in micro-examinations of simple statements such as Pollard’s response to an invitation from Matador Records to make an album. Pollard’s simple answer, “I think I can make something happen,” gets a full two pages of exploratory prose.

However, if Woodworth is occasionally overwhelmed by the magnitude of his undertaking and sometimes struggles with brevity, his literary account of a very slippery album is fantastic for being just as cut-and-paste and brilliantly rag-tag as its namesake. By intercutting his own essays with interviews with the band members, listener responses, and an excerpt from a fantastic academic dissertation on GBV, he creates a book that is dizzying in its detail, while commendable in its devotion.

33 1/3’s Bee Thousand is accurate in fact, but also poetic in its fiction, weaving together a tale from disparate statements and false starts — much like Pollard does when he writes lyrics out of fragments of conversations. Exhausting but worth the effort, whether you’re a Guided by Voices fan or not.

Continuum: www.continuumbooks.com