s / s / s /Serengeti
The Diverse Moods of Serengeti
s / s / s: Beak & Claw (Anticon)
Serengeti has long been fascinated by the upper-middle class arty-farties David Brooks once tried to lampoon as "bobos." But though he's always been wittier and smarter about bourgeois bohemians than Brooks, collaborators like Tony Trimm and Polyphonic have seldom provided the eclectrobeats his jokes and ideas deserved. This one-off EP with singer-songwriter cum symphonist Sufjan Stevens and semiclassical drum'n'bassmaker Son Lux is different, because the primary function of his raps is to ground the beautiful musics his collaborators contribute. Stevens's Auto-Tuned apostrophe, Shara Worden's soprano harmonies, the layered chorus hooks and electro-percussion‑-all would float into the arty-farty ether without Serengeti stumbling through his fictional misunderstood life, and that confluence is the point. Croons Stevens: "If I could figure out what it was all about." Repeats Serengeti: "I had the world figured out beyond any doubt." Both are lost‑-but touchingly and even nobly. A MINUS
Serengeti: Kenny Dennis EP (Anticon)
A surprise comeback EP from the long-silent Grimm Teachaz crew may be for Kenny Dennis fans only, but he deserves more of them. Who knew from the likes of "Dennehy" that this superfan could speed-rap like on "Flat Pop"‑-and also, who knows what he's saying when he does? Kenny never falters as he disses Shaquille O'Neal, goes to bat for shamed Cub fan Steve Bartman, and packs a Ruger as he smacks down a loud kid, helps a stranded motorist, and tears up his parking tickets. The beats are as basic as in classic Teachaz, only modernized with extra effects, and the rhyming remains prime: "I'm Charles Bronson, I'm from Wisconsin/Chicken MCs call 'em Swanson/They get grilled up like a porkchop/Catch 'em on the street right in front of their bus stop." A MINUS
"Unlike Sonic Youth, they had no arc — no determination to make anything better over time."
But that's not true. Dial 'M' is unlike anything in their oeuvre. With Dial 'M' they asked, "hey, what would happen if we disturbed the textuality of our records by highlighting their status as recordings?"
Warning: contains flute
But that's not true. Dial 'M' is unlike anything in their oeuvre. With Dial 'M' they asked, "hey, what would happen if we disturbed the textuality of our records by highlighting their status as recordings?" (And as brainy types, they would've definitely asked such a question.) So they really make you aware of what you're listening to as something laid down on tape, as one choice amongst an infinite number of horrible sounds. But, and here's the key, they still rock the fu(k out. Even their tape fu(kery is funky sexy cool. They are the-thing and not-the-thing simultaneously.
The Pussy Galore reissues elicited only a faint ripple of interest from me ("Oh yeah, didn't they do that one ripping tune about Horror Jones? Oops, no, that was Royal Trux.") Back in the day I felt if I pushed a little harder, dug a little deeper into their releases -- got the live-for-Japan vinyl and everything -- I'd break through the cold wall around them. Never quite did. Like them a smidgeon more than Bob does, but have to agree they're more of a noisy theory than a clamorous artwork.
On the Brazilian music front, a couple sprouts from the visit to Sacramento ...
Guitar Masters of Brazil on the El label -- which has an interesting background:
Most captivating, graceful collection I've ever heard, highlight tumbling over highlight. Warning: contains flute (on two tracks).
The other find was Arthur Verocai's S/T from 1972, his only solo release. Crate-digs from other countries are always more promising these days and Arthur Verocai is a sturdy cult album -- second-tier prime-period Milton Nascimento without his forest-spirit voice to pull it together. Only real problem: it's shrimpy, not quite 30 minutes long. Here's an NPR segment that introduces the next item:
This 2009 concert is available as CD/DVD on the Mochilla label. Cheap it's not, but generous it is, with almost twice as much material as the album with a mob of players that are better recorded if a bit shallower and slicker than those on the original set. (Haven't checked out the DVD.) I'd start with the original release.
Speaking of filling gaps in the historic-rock collection, I remember how flummoxed I was when I began exploring the Animals (you know, the Brit Invasion bunch led by Eric "The Only Way I Could Be More Full of Myself Is To Be Taller" Burdon) right after high school. WTF is this -- hacked-up versions of songs, lumpy LPs brought to a crashing halt with some misguided Burdon-or-band faceplant, mishmashes with different personnel ... arrghh. For ages I settled for the anthology LP with the psyched-out-art and almost never bothered with more than the full version of "House of the Rising Sun."
Things improved a couple-three years ago with a retrospective collection that went up through "Spill the Wine," and it remains the most tolerable presentation of the later years when Burdon scrambled up, down and all around like a sh!thouse mouse. But at last I've found the Animals anthology I'll pull down and play --
The Most of the Animals is a reference to producer Mickey Most and it covers only 1964-66, before Burdon fired the original band. And you have to be careful to pick up the right version, because there's at least three releases with this name. The original set came out in 1971, but four crucial tracks were added for the 1992 CD reissue (including must-haves "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and "It's My Life"). It's now on EMI Gold. Picks the right Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, leaves out the bad John Lee Hooker, includes the not-truncated "House" as well as the B side "I'm Gonna Change the World" (which should have been the extent of Burdon's pop-song art aspirations) and lets our frontman turn droll with "Club A Go Go." It also brims with the now-vanished '50s and '60s sense of rock-and-roll as party music.
Final quick notes -- the soundtrack to Pina on Wenders Music is close to wonderful as the documentary itself, diverse but unified in a way you don't hardly ever hear yep yep. And in optimistic preparation for getting through Geoff Dyer's meditation on Tarkovsky's Stalker, I picked up a welcome reissue of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic. Have a seat.
Pussy Galore's Right Now
A band I wanted to love but never quite could, maybe because their punk aesthetic was more cauterize than open up and bleed...
Great titles, though: "White People," "Pig Sweat," "F**k You, Man."
So I started today by re-reading Bob's excellent 2009 long piece on him which struck me as really poignant and now am listening to him--starting randomly on Spotify with Family and Friends which sounds great. I guess it's his very talky delivery that has kept me away but today I'm hearing him as being in some relationship to the Streets--another act I haven't had much access to until trying again recently.
Those of you who are deep into Serengeti, I'd love to hear if you have particular tracks or albums that have been go-to ones for you...
Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis
i said i would go to this every year i lived in Nashville and never did. heard it was awesome though. i said i would go to bonnaroo every year too and never did... although i diiid go to manchester, tn several times during non-bonnaroo weeks for work-related business, and i'd like to think those visits were every bit as awesome.
also heard that getting a hotel close to Beale Street will bring most fun. if you've got the change, check out the Peabody Hotel, where at 11 am and 5 pm a group of ducks march out of an elevator and into the fountain in the lobby. of course that's if you're up by 11. or 5...
',,,, er ,,,,'
Look, Cam, if you want a thing...
Big KRIT sounds nice; I need to listen to it moar. If Xgau doesn't review Minaj, I'm pretty sure something's wrong with him!
(Since 5+ people are autistic, I was joking on both counts.)
Petey Pablo – Diary of a Sinner: 1st Entry
Slimm Calhoun – The Skinny
Examples of two hip hop records that I had never heard of …….until I reread some old Xgau reviews and bought them over past couple of months. Both were inconsistent but the highs were as good as any rock/pop records I’ve listened to over same period. I found out I like Southern rap. Who knew.
The other great thing about Fleetwood Mac is this: No Jack Bruce.
Thanks also to Milo for helping me with an inexplicable black hole I had in my musical brain about Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac. I got my hands on Sony’s miserably annotated The Essential Fleetwood Mac, which contains a huge chunk of the studio output from this era; Milo’s recommended BBC sessions; and the first 2 Boston Tea Party discs that got this whole party started for me.
I’m sure there is a right way to listen to the studio work from this version of Fleetwood Mac and that The Essential Fleetwood Mac probably isn’t it, but I could cut the 32 tracks here down to 20 or so and have a festive time. The songs are pretty evenly split between Elmore James slide blues and B.B. King-on-shrooms anthems. “Jigsaw Puzzle Blues”? You bet. You also get the classics: “Black Magic Woman” and “Albatross”, which were on FM radio when I was growing up, and they still rip up the joint. There’s a wacked out single-CD here that I’m happy to program.
The BBC sessions allow the band to open up, but to my ears that works in both directions. The blues jams (“Preachin’ Blues”! “Like Crying Like Dying”!) get to the spiritual realm in a way that eludes the studio recordings. But there is also a lot of the curious Jeremy Spencer-led Buddy Holly reverence that was done better on Kiln House (since Christine Perfect pitched in) and better still when Fairport Convention alums did the same thing as The Bunch, giddy school kids behind their parents’ backs and Richard Thompson’s spiritual/sexual take on “My Girl In The Month Of May” included. Sexual, not so much for Fleetwood Mac and these particular geezers. The next geezers, you bet.
So what is really killing me is the first two volumes of the Tea Party shows. The rooster-strutting “Rattlesnake Shake” finds every place to go underneath a moonless night. “The Green Manalishi” is deep musical hash. But here’s the deal: This Fleetwood Mac isn’t the Grateful Dead: They don’t have the lightness of being, and they don’t quite have the tunes either. Neither are they like the Allman Brothers, there’s no uncanny sense that they wrote the classic O.P. tunes they mutate in some temporal anomaly disclosed by their bluesy jouissance. But the Mac are equally headspinning. The fury of their “I Can’t Hold Out” only lets out at the end but takes the song into a rip tide moment where you can’t figure out how to get to shore once it’s over. The Little Richard covers turn sexual swagger into a desperate white-knuckles carnival ride.
I’ve always wanted to hear this band without knowing it but what I listened to instead for too many years was Cream. The other great thing about Fleetwood Mac is this: No Jack Bruce.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.