Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Bernie and Clinton

With the Democratic presidential race getting heated, it is surprising to note another, entirely separate Bernie/Clinton feud. The Bernie in question here is Bernie Worrell, keyboardist and songwriter in Parliament and Funkadelic. The Clinton in question is George Clinton, lead singer of same.

Together with bassist Bootsy Collins, these men made up the songwriting core of the two groups for most of the 1970s and early 1980s. Their accomplishments are of course legion and not worth discussing here at length. Suffice to say that while Parliament and Funkadelic had dozens of members, those three men (plus Eddie Hazel) were the most restless sonic innovators.

Today, Clinton still tours and performs often with a Bootsy and Bernie-free version of Parliament/Funkadelic (now just a single band). He still records music fairly often (most recently this collaborationwith Kendrick Lamar and Ice Cube) and enjoys his status in many documentaries and awards shows as an elder funk statesman. Even more recently, he has become a crusader for musicians’ rights and digital rights protection.

Worrell, by contrast, has lived the last decade in relative obscurity and bankruptcy. In January of this year, his wife Judie wrote on Facebook that Worrell was suffering from fourth-stage lung cancer. The note mentioned that he was rejecting chemotherapy and going on an expensive treatment plan, but seemed hopeful that Worrell was in good spirits and still able to play occasional gigs.

As usually happens with the deteriorating health of older legends, the music press ignored the news until celebrities rallied to the cause. So it was that on April 4, Pitchfork and Stereogum reported on the news of a benefit at Manhattan’s Webster Hall. Bernie attended, and in addition to the Black Rock Coalition house band, guests included Rick Springfield, Paul Shaffer, Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli, Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison and David Byrne, and P-Funk head Meryl Streep.

Also attending and playing were George Clinton and Bootsy Collins. Clinton and Collins came on stage together, Collins presenting Worrell with a psychedelic melodica present while Clinton hugged the keyboardist. They played through a weird jam version of “I’d Rather Be With You” with Bootsy on drums, then continued with “Flashlight” (always one of the best showcases for Worrell’s playing). A general spirit of conviviality and joy, in spite of Worrell’s illness, seemed to be the main feeling in the crowd.

So it was odd for me to see that night, posted just hours before the concert began, this Facebook note:

The note (not written by Worrell, but by his wife) makes a number of claims that go against Clinton’s persona as a crusader for musicians’ rights. The first claim is that Clinton called Worrell’s bankruptcy claims “fictitious.” This seems odd for someone who fought so valiantly for musicians instead of labels to own the rights to their music. I searched Google for “Bernie worrell bankruptcy” and found nothing (it is here that I might humbly defer to my esteemed colleague, who is an actual journalist and might know how to look up these things). I see no evidence of Clinton denying or dismissing Worrell's legacy or contributions in any interview.

The other main claim is Clinton’s “outright theft of everyone’s royalties.” If true, this outright theft isn’t mentioned by other surviving members of the P-Funk clan, including Bootsy, Michael Hampton, and others. We know a large portion of their catalog is credited to “Clinton/Collins/Worrell,” and we also know that Clinton has had a long legal battle with the firm Hendricks & Lewis, maintaining that his signature was forged on various agreements that gave up copyrights to his songs. Has Clinton since negotiated a new deal with the owners of his catalog that gives him more money and rights than his former partners?

There doesn’t seem to be clear information on the Internet about this either. It is downright mysterious. Judie then responded to a fan accusing him of “appearing on stage with him and ripping [Clinton] apart in a fbook post.” She responded:

Judie Worrell’s description of the moment (where Worrell did his best to ignore Clinton) does seem contradict actual footage that shows the men, well, hugging each other. Maybe Worrell was hugging back out of politeness, but the genuine camaraderie between Collins, Clinton, and Worrell at that moment seemed real (at least, according to eyewitness accounts). There is nothing more sad than the spectacle of musicians who clearly hate each other doing the reunion racket (Hey, Slash and Axl Coachella 2016). Think about any time David Gilmour and Roger Waters step on a stage together. This…didn’t look like that.

So what is going on? Judie promises that Bernie’s upcoming autobiography will tell all. Does it have something to do with the fact that George Clinton goes on the road as “George Clinton & Parliament/Funkadelic”? Is it because George Clinton is a more well-known and beloved musician today? What caused the rift between the two men, and why? Neither seems willing to acknowledge a problem exists.

If we had an actual music press, they might want to consider asking: is George Clinton really shortchanging his bandmates? If so, how? And why is no one reporting on it? Professing on one hand to battle for the rights of musicians, while at the same time diminishing the accomplishments of one’s band members, is the kind of two-faced move one might expect of a very different Clinton. Let us hope it is not true.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Nathan's Favorite Records, 2015

1. Tame Impala, Currents
Great psychedelia is intoxicating and messy. It should lead your imagination toward one place and then zig when you expect it to zag. Which is to say this album is a rabbit hole of “holy goddamn, how did they think of that?” songwriting.  

2. Kamasi Washington, The Epic
A muscular, form-defying three-hour jazz odyssey from the saxophonist in Flying Lotus’ cutting-edge stable. From Coltrane to Sun Ra to funky fusion, Washington channels every permutation you can think of and add a few more.

3. DāM-Funk, Invite the Light
In a time where retro is king, the man means to carry his namesake forward. Layers of synths grind and sputter into something grand. It takes a few listens to fully access the many levels of this record.

4. Dr. Dre, Compton: A Soundtrack
The retirement album of a master, who to everyone’s surprise had something new to say. Yes, Compton is as self-serving a cartoon as the movie that inspired it. I could knock the hustle, but the beatsmithing and guest verses are up to normal exquisite standards, and there’s something else too, new to Dre: a sense of playfulness.

5. Destroyer, Poison Season
Kaputt from 2011 could never be imitated, and luckily, Dan Bejar does not try. Heavy on orchestration but light on groove, quality still shines through these lonely symphonies.

6. Blur, The Magic Whip
Damon Albarn’s track record continues almost unblemished, and here he returns to the band that made him famous. An older band less interested in showing off, and better for it.

7. Dawn Richard, Blackheart
Taking a page from Janelle Monae’s multi-album conceptual journeys, Richard composes a sequel to Goldenheart that is, as she would say, “on that new shit.” She defies pop rules as cannily as she invents new R&B sounds.

8. Deerhunter, Fading Frontier
This is the first Deerhunter album I felt was seriously extraordinary. A mixture of pleasing classic rock and noise, it's quite the collection of weird anthems.

9. Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone
Slight? Maybe slightly. This was an unexpected pleasure Badu dropped out of nowhere, with a satirical edge I never expected. Beyond the takes on Drake and the Isleys and the Andre 3000 verse, even at 36 minutes, it still feels smooth and complete.

10. Jay Rock, 90059
West-coast rap was too rich to believe in 2015. Yet somehow this brisk, uncompromising entry in the nu-rap canon was regarded as a disappointment. I defy anyone to listen to “Money Trees Deuce” or “Gumbo” and tell me Jay-Rock is somehow lesser than Kendrick.

Favorite Songs*
A$AP Rocky Feat. UGK and Juicy J, “Wavybone”
Boogie, “Oh My”
Cashmere Cat Feat. Ariana Grande, “Adore”
Drake, “Hotline Bling”**
Freddie Gibbs, “Fuckin’ Up the Count”
Ilovemakonnen Feat. Migos, “Whip It (Remix)”
Mutemath, “Used to”
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, “All the Gold in California”
Young Thug, “Best Friend”

*No reason to limit myself to just singles or radio hits
**The heart wants what it wants, and the ear likes what it likes

Friday, January 1, 2016

Aaron's Favorites, 2015: Music In The Year Commas Got Fucked Up

1. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly
You can live at the mall, or you can groove to Kendrick Lamar Duckworth’s funk odyssey of limitless ambition and acumen. K Dot is our Gil Scott.

2. Destroyer, Poison Season
Bejar reaches a little further back to find his melancholic haze this time, but continues to make the only thing he’s capable of: a Destroyer record.

3. Jessica Pratt, On Your Own Love Again
A moonlit blur, our generation’s I Often Dream of Trains.

4. Low, Ones And Sixes
A freezing blast of Duluth intensity, from a band writing some of its best songs in decade number three.

5. Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone
Badu tries on the styles of the moment, sounds ten times more comfortable in them than actual young people. The technology she could do without.

6. A$AP Rocky, At.Long.Last.A$AP
Didn’t expect 2015’s trippiest album to come from Pretty Flacko, but here it is. He had good taste, but he’s turning that into vision.

7. Blur, The Magic Whip
A reunion album that finds the band where they are, not where they were. Basically Albarn’s world-weariness in widescreen, with brilliant details from Coxon and crew throughout.

8. iLoveMakonnen, Drink More Water 5
He teaches you how to whip it, warbles about heartbreak, lies to his Mom about selling drugs and dispenses solid advice about staying hydrated. What’s not to love?

9. Vince Staples, Summertime '06
A claustrophobic rumination on one summer in the rapper’s teens. No I.D’s no-frills productions are about as far away from West Coast as it’s possible to get, but it all feels true to Vince.

10. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, Surf
Chance—even while ceding the spotlight to his friends, rapper and jazz trumpeter alike—radiates a shamanic positivity. Just drink the kool aid.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rockaliser Radio: Rockcast V

For year five, Nathan and Aaron reconvene for the immense, 3.5 hour fifth installment of the Rockcast.

Who favors 19-minute noise epics more? What parts of the country might good rap music come from? Is Black Messiah the first great post-John Entwistle album?

Listen to find out the thrilling answers! You can stream above and download the podcast here.

And for good measure, here are Nathan and Aaron's lists:

Aaron's 2014 favorites:
1. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Piñata
2. YG, My Krazy Life
3. Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots
4. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah
5. DJ Quik, The Midnight Life
6. Lee Fields & The Expressions, Emma Jean
7. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Wig Out at Jagbags
8. Ex Hex, Rips
9. ILoveMakonnen, ILoveMakkonen
10. New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers

Nathan's 2014 favorites:
1. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah
2. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Piñata
3. The Underachievers, The Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium
4. Kimbra, The Golden Echo
5. Schoolboy Q, Oxymoron
6. Boris, Noise
7. Goat, Commune
8. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
9. Big K.R.I.T., Cadillactica
10. Run the Jewels, RTJ2

Friday, January 2, 2015

Everyday Be Listening to Nathan's Favorite Records, 2014

1. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah
Out of nowhere, D'Angelo and his appropriately-named backup group cast a spell of hypnotic jazz-funk-hard rock-flamenco-Great American Songbook-Beefheart-There's a Riot Goin' On jams so potent that they make up for 14 years of silence.

2. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Piñata
Culled from years of relaxed sessions between the Gary, Indiana emcee and former Stones Throw's vinyl virtuoso, Cocaine Piñata (the semi-official title) finds Gibbs smoking Madlib's best-laid rhythms like they were nickel bags. A soul sample lover's paradise.

3. The Underachievers, The Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium
As the title suggests, this LP is all about linguistic beauty unrelated to meaning. Issa Gold and AK have the endless back-and-forth energy of a young OutKast, and like that group, their tightness reinforces each other's skills.

4. Kimbra, The Golden Echo
With her stunning musicianship, ace choice in collaborators, unlimited vocal range, and twin allegiances to the groove and the avant-garde, the New Zealand pop star is in a class with only one other artist: Janelle Monae.

5. Schoolboy Q, Oxymoron
Schoolboy is the edgiest, nerviest, most unpredictable rapper in the Top Dawg roster and perhaps on the entire West Coast.  Oxymoron is a gangsta/confessional record that is alternately a scary, hopeful, and thrilling window into the mind of a restless thinker.

6. Boris, Noise
Another year, another Boris album with a so-generic-it's-audacious title, another set of explosive churning stadium rockers that never go anywhere one expects. "Angel" is the 19-minute monster of the year.

7. Goat, Commune
Do I care about Goat's devotion to Swedish vodou traditions and communal mysticism? Not really. But their music is enveloped in pleasure, bursting with dozens of uncharacteristic influences (afrobeat, psychedelia, drone, Beatlesque melodies) that will dizzy the listener who attempts to identify them.

8. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
The psychedelic qualities of this record are overstated--this is outlaw country-rock in the Kris Kristofferson, Gene Clark mode that is stronger because it demonstrates Simpson's authentic songwriting before lightly breaking the Nashville sonic mold (unforgettable album closer "It Ain't All Flowers").

9. Big K.R.I.T., Cadillactica
No one seems willing to anoint Big K.R.I.T. "king of the south," so he made this 15-song case. This time, he leaves the production to others and refines his songwriting and hooks. Is there a better rapper in America?

10. Run the Jewels, RTJ2
Best listened to divorced from thinkpieces on Ferguson, etc. (as if Killer Mike and El-P were the first rappers ever to protest police brutality), I prefer to think of RTJ2 as the best rap-rock record since the Judgment Night soundtrack.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

On A Jape I'm Returning: Aaron's Favorites, 2014

1. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Piñata
Madlib paints with different colors than the rest of the game. He’s sui generis, way off the map. Gibbs, on the other hand, is a supremely gifted classicist. Their pairing shouldn’t work, but together they’ve produced the great lost blaxploitation soundtrack.

2. YG, My Krazy Life
Not the first Compton bildungsroman, but one of the very best. A workmanlike MC, YG fights through every bar--with some big assists from a certain producer friend. Praise Mustard.

3. Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots
Understated and stately, constructed on top of a heap of scrapped-together rhythms, Robots is Albarn’s missive from a monochrome planet. Not so gray, however, that it won’t let a quietly brilliant album slip through.

4. D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah
The shapeshifter is back, meditating amid soul of such richness and complexity that it should last us another 14 years. If the album title was about him, would you really object?

5. DJ Quik, The Midnight Life
A tour through Quik’s ultra luxe LA rap, with a series of low-key legends riding shotgun. Too funky? Pretty much.

6. Lee Fields & The Expressions, Emma Jean
A soul footnote contends with life, love and mortality, makes case for his own legend.

7. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Wig Out at Jagbags
Crooked melodies, golden jams: Jagbags dishes out a jambalaya of everything the guy’s been cooking. May he never stop.

8. Ex Hex, Rips
Sometimes you just wanna rock the fuck out. Mary Timony feels you: these twelve garage tracks are vicious.

9. ILoveMakonnen, ILoveMakkonen
Makkonen contorts his voice six ways from Tuesday, ends up somewhere between “stream-of-consciousness rapper” and “warbling R&B singer”. He seeks shelter in molly, the club, Brianna, Sarah and watches, doesn’t find it.

10. New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers
Slinging the hulked-out harmonies that hooked you in the first place, cutting them with a few new flourishes.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Review: Jimi: All is By My Side

[Note: This was a film review first published on Joyless Creatures here.]

Like Deep Impact and Armageddon, right behind the James Brown biopic Get on Up is Jimi: All is By My Side. Starring Andre Benjamin (better known to many as Andre 3000 of OutKast), All is By My Side vividly recreates the slang and fashions of 1966 London, while only rarely falling into the trap of rock nostalgia clichés and, in fact, ends up becoming a celebration of the purity and fearlessness of Hendrix’s approach to music.

There are a few films that stand out in relation to Jimi: All is By My Side.
One is the 1995 film Backbeat, which covered the early, pre-songwriting
days of the Beatles, therefore avoiding mammoth Lennon/McCartney licensing
fees. The Hendrix family estate, which is notoriously protective of Jimi’s
catalog, refused to allow any songs in All is By My Side. Subsequently the
 film has to skip over some musical bits when showing the recording of the
 first album Are You Experienced? but otherwise the lack of Hendrix
compositions is not a major flaw in this film.

The other film this reminds me of is Velvet Goldmine, where David Bowie
notoriously forbade any of his songs on the soundtrack, marking a keen
absence in a film that is basically about his life. Like Velvet Goldmine,
Jimi has a narrative threadbare quality and does not shy away from the
ugly side of its subject’s behavior.
The movie is also distinguished in that it gives almost equal time to female
roles. Imogen Poots is Linda Keith, the teenage model who first discovered
quiet guitarist Jimmy James playing backup for Curtis Knight & the Squires
to an audience of a dozen people. Keith, then the girlfriend of Rolling Stones
guitarist Keith Richards, tries to enlist the help of their manager Andrew
“Loog” Oldham, who pronounces him “rubbish.” Keith is tenacious and goes
through every connection she has in the music industry. No one is interested
except Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), bassist for the Animals, who is
planning to quit and manage some new acts. He knows the blues and realizes
 that Jimi is something special. Before long, he has managed to convince a
reluctant Hendrix to go to England, where white audiences are more receptive
 to black blues players.

Jimi and Linda have a connection, but it is promptly cut off when Kathy
Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), a hairdresser, enters the picture. Theirs is a
romance that has its shares of troubles. Director John Ridley does a great job
making each of these women full, rounded characters—yes, Kathy is portrayed
as sometimes frivolous and in love with her partner’s rock n roll stardom, she is
also acutely human, capable of warmth and understanding, not always jealous or
mean-spirited or soul-sucking as these types of roles tend to be. Atwell does a great
job inhabiting the part.

The main acting accolades, of course, have to go to Andre, perhaps my
favorite musician of the past 20 years. He had been rumored to be working
on the role longer than a decade ago, and now at 39, he is a great deal older
than the part—a decade and a half at least. But being far past Hendrix’s age
was probably a minor challenge, compared to other difficulties.

One thing about Hendrix that makes him so amazing to watch, and one of the
few guitar geniuses that no one can really imitate, is that he was left-handed,
but played a right-handed guitar upside down. Benjamin is right-handed and
switching to a left-handed guitar is no easy thing, let alone playing it upside
down. According to Benjamin, who actually is a guitar player (of limited skill,
by his own admission), it took months of grueling practice to mime the parts
in this film. He is not actually playing, but he did master the fingering to look
like a reasonable facsimile, and that by itself is almost as difficult. Imagine
being asked to play exactly like Mozart, but on a piano whose keys are inverted,
while hanging upside down. That should give you a general idea of the level of
difficulty here.
Then there’s the additional factor that Hendrix played these difficult guitar parts
 with such ease and confidence. Making all of his performances look natural and
unrehearsed must have been the hardest part. Benjamin even kept in character
during the entire Dublin shoot, speaking to Ridley and his fellow actors in Hendrix’s
 dated hippie-dippie slang. All of this is Daniel Day-Lewis-level commitment and far
 more than I ever expected from 3000 as an actor.

This fan of Hendrix’s guitar-playing appreciates that so much time was put into
making Andre’s fretwork look authentic. Often in music biopics, the actors, no
matter how much they embody the part, look less than convincing playing
instruments onstage. Benjamin’s past as a charismatic rapper and performer
comes in handy here. Considering Hendrix was so dedicated to pushing forward
 the guitar as a sonic instrument of infinite variety and capacity, it makes sense
that the film would put so much care into making the playing look and sound authentic.

Overall, it’s an uncanny impersonation, not just because Andre looks the part
somewhat. There are some things that even Benjamin cannot emulate—he
doesn’t possess Hendrix’s giant hands, for instance—but he changes his entire
voice, losing the nasal southern tones we associate so heavily with OutKast,
and replaces that with Hendrix’s pacific northwest gilt, his protruding lower
lip, and his overall soft voice and booming tone. Late in the film there is the
famous performance of the Experience doing an almost punk version of “Sgt.
Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” two days after the album release, in front
of an audience that included the Beatles. I have seen this performance many
times in various rock documentaries and was amazed at Benjamin’s
impersonation, his commitment to the moments I remember like moving up
the fret board with the palm of his hand, telling the audience to “cover your
ears,” the part where he throws the cigarette down just before singing—
overall, it was an uncanny recreation of the television experience. You can
see in this scene how Hendrix and Benjamin, though very different types of
artists, approach their music with a similar purity of intention.
This is normal subject matter in biopics, but Ridley does a great job illuminating
 his subject’s flaws while not ever treating them as the unfortunate but necessary
 affectations of the “genius artist.” Ridley portrays Hendrix as inarticulate at times
 and sometimes too quick to resort to stock hippie phrases like “when the power of
 love overcomes the love of power,” at one point rambling about aliens to a groupie.
 Race is not a major factor in the film, but it does come up a few times as Hendrix is
 accosted by British police and meets with radical drug dealer Michael X, who
describes the history of segregation in London and asks the guitarist to be a symbol
 to the black British as Hendrix tries to demure, saying “that’s not my bag, man.”
The subtext here, as is common throughout the film, is Hendrix’s relationship with
white women and his unease with African-American audiences.

In fact, Ridley’s script goes deep into Hendrix’s psyche. There is of course the matter
of his absent mother, which fed his idealized conceptions of the women he slept with,
as well as a distant, terrorizing father. Ridley also implies that Hendrix might have had
depression, social anxiety, acute fear of conflict, as well as violent mood swings and
dependency (both chemical and physical) issues. On the other hand, his generally mild
demeanor belied a lot of confidence about his guitar skills (as well it should). This is
most hilariously expressed in the scene where Eric Clapton invites Hendrix to play
Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” (a song he would later massacre at the Monterey
Pop Festival) with Cream onstage, and unplugs his guitar and walks out upon
realizing he is no longer needed.

The film is meandering at times, focusing on intimate and small moments in
 Hendrix’s everyday conversations with women, while other parts are formula
 biopic, such as when Jimi’s Monterey Pop Festival gig is put on notice after he
 spends an entire performance tuning his guitar. Thankfully, by only spending a
 year early in Hendrix’s career, we are spared the common narrative of his
drug-fueled spiral and eventual death. In fact, All is By My Side ends on a happy
 note, as Benjamin-as-Hendrix tries to explain to his audience his pure and
transcendent love for music, and how he hopes it has the power to inspire
others. Maybe it’s not the note of realism that a typical biopic would choose to
end on (that would be a scene of Hendrix asphyxiating on barbiturates), but it
honors the musician’s spirit perhaps more than any other ending. For once, a
musical biopic is as much about the music as the man. I can dig.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Stones on Film: A Quick Break

We will be pausing our feature Stones on Film briefly in order to finish the remaining few installments. In the meantime, the Minneapolis film blog Joyless Creatures has been posting some of the highlights of this series, including Sympathy for the Devil and Gimme Shelter. In non-music related matters,  I have recently begun reviewing films for the site, here and here. Back shortly.