Tag: 2000s

 

Known as Juneteenth, Freedom Day,  Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day, June 19, 2020 commemorates the 155th anniversary of Union Army General Gordon Granger arriving in Galveston, TX with his troops and announcing federal orders that all people held as slaves in Texas were free. In reality, those held as slaves in Texas were technically freed two and a half years earlier with the Emancipation Proclamation, which officially outlawed slavery across Confederate territories.

Although Juneteenth is commonly thought as celebrating the end of slavery in the US. it  was still legal and practiced in Union border states until December 6, 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment abolished non-penal, chattel slavery across the country.

Officially celebrations of Juneteenth date back to 1866, initially involving church-centered community gathering across Texas. It spread rapidly across the South becoming much more commercialized, centering around food. Regardless of how you celebrate it, today should be America’s real independence day —  the day in which all Americans were made free. There’s still a lot of work to be done by all of us for all of us to truly be free from fascism, white supremacy, the patriarchy and other oppressive human systems. Let’s keep pushing on.

In the meantime, I wanted to spend today celebrating Black people and Black art. Being Black has truly been the best thing to ever have happened to me. Black is multifaceted. Black is beautiful. Black is powerful and righteous. Black is brotherhood and sisterhood. Black is swagger and flavor. Black is joy in the face of terror, horror and injustice. Black is survival and pride. Black is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

If you’re Black and gay. I love you, you matter to me. If you’re Black and trans, I love you, you matter to me. If you’re a Black woman, I love you, you matter to me. If you’re a Black man, I love you, you matter to me. If you’re Black and non-binary, I love you, you matter to me.

Because of the occasion, I had been thinking of Syl Johnson‘s 1969 full-length album Is It Because I’m Black? Born Sylvester Thompson in Holly Springs, MS, Johnson and his family relocated to Chicago in 1950. Acclaimed bluesman Magic Sam was his next-door neighbor — and Johnson quickly developed a reputation as a go-to guitarist and vocalist, playing with Billy Boy Arnold, Junior Wells, and Howlin’ Wolf throughout the 50s. He recorded with Jimmy Reed in 1959 and made his solo debut with Federal Records, a subsidiary of legendary Cincinnati blues label King Records that year.

Personally, I find Johnson to be interesting because he’s part of that last wave of the Great Migration — and because his work comfortably sits in between blues, R&B and soul.  As for Is It Because I’m Black? It’s a great album that deserves more love and greater attention for its observations and thoughts on being Black in America, Black unity and more — plus it features a Southern fried cover of The Beatles‘ “Come Together” that’s worth the price of admission.

 

 

 

 

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Throwback: Mos Def “Umi Says”/Black Lives Matter

With yet another senseless, televised police murder of a black person, I’ve felt angry and exhausted, demoralized and depressed. When will this nightmare end of unnecessary death end? When will we be free of this? 

It just felt necessary to post one of my favorite Mos Def songs, off an album I turn to whenever racism and injustice seems to hurt me to my very core — “Umi Says,” off Black on Both Sides. 

Simply put, I want all my black people to be free. Black lives matter. All the time. Every single day. 

Throwback: RIP Florian Schneider/Kraftwerk Forever!

Co-founded by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider in Düsseldorf in 1970, Kraftwerk initially began as part of West Germany’s krautfock for a handful of years before fully embracing electronic instrumentation. With the release of their seminal and commercially successful albums 1974’s Autobahn, 1977’s Trans Europe Express and 1978’s The Man Machine, the act honed and developed a self-described “robot pop” sound centered around hypnotic rhythms and minimalist arrangements. Copious amounts of ink have been spilled about Hütter, Schneider and company and their massive influence, including how the act has managed to influence a number of genres and styles of contemporary music including hip-hop, synth pop, post-punk, ambient, techno and EDM.

The fact that Kraftwerk isn’t in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame while Hall & Oates is, is criminally stupid and shows how bankrupt the thing is in the first place. So fuck you, Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fane. 

Personally, Kraftwerk has been the soundtrack during my two trips to Europe. The first flight I ever took was a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt-am-Main — and on that long flight, I played their Minimum Maximum album on my iPod and while on commuter train rides between Frankfurt and my hotel in Bad Soden. Trans Europe Express was the soundtrack of my trip to The Netherlands. And oddly enough, over the past year I’ve been madly obsessed with the Tour De France album. 

Today has been a weird day emotionally. My mom had to have a hysterectomy as part of a course of treatment for uterine cancer. Because of COVID-19, I couldn’t stay at Mount Sinai with her, which had me feeling a deep and unrelenting sense of anguish.  I kept thinking of the fact that she was alone in that hospital. Thankfully, the procedure went well and she’s back home now. Before I picked her up, I learned that Kraftwerk’s co-founder Florian Schneider died after a brief battle with cancer. So I’m also a bit heartbroken. But i wanted to pay homage to Florian and his work; work that has meant quite a bit to me over the years. I stumbled across live footage of the band from the Minimum Maximum. Kraftwerk forever! Florian Schneider forever! 

New Audio: JOVM Mainstay Mark Lanegan Releases a Shimmering and Brooding New Single

Over the past handful of years, I’ve managed to spill a fair share of virtual ink covering acclaimed, JOVM mainstay Mark Lanegan over the years on this site. And as you may recall, the Ellensburg, WA-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter and guitarist’s 11th full-length solo album Somebody’s Knocking continued an incredible run of critically applauded releases but the album’s material found the JOVM mainstay turning to some of his most formative musical influences and profound loves — electronic music.  “I’ve always been into electronic music since I was a kid,” Lanegan said in press notes at the time. “I think the reason those elements have become more obvious in my music is that my tastes have changed as I’ve grown older. The bulk of what I listen to now is electronic. Alain Johannes and I had actually written “Penthouse High” for Gargoyle but then it didn’t really fit on that record. I have been a huge fan of New Order and Depeche Mode forever and have wanted to do a song along those lines for a long time – a blatantly catchy, old-school dance-type song.”

2020 will be a busy year for Lanegan: his memoir Sing Backwards and Weep will be published by Da Capo Press on April 28, 2020 — and his 12th solo album Straight Songs Of Sorrow will be released through Heavenly Recordings on May 8, 2020. Featuring guest appearances from his longtime  Greg Dulli, Warren Ellis, the legendary John Paul Jones, Ed Harcourt and countless others, Straight Songs Of Sorrow is inspired by his own life story, as documented in his memoir.

Reportedly, Sing Backwards and Weep is a brutal, nerve-shredding read, centered around Lanegan’s recounting his journey from troubled youth in Eastern Washington, through his days as a drug-fueled member of Seattle’s grunge rock scene to today with Lanegan finding peace and salvation within himself with unsparing and unadulterated candor. While the book documents his lifelong struggle to find peace within himself, his forthcoming 12th album emphasizes the extent to which he realized that music is his life.

“Writing the book, I didn’t get catharsis,” Lanegan says. “All I got was a Pandora’s box full of pain and misery. I went way in, and remembered shit I’d put away 20 years ago. But I started writing these songs the minute I was done, and I realized there was a depth of emotion because they were all linked to memories from this book. It was a relief to suddenly go back to music. Then I realized that was the gift of the book: these songs. I’m really proud of this record.”  Interestingly, in press notes, Lanegan affirms that each of Straight Songs Of Sorrow‘s 15 songs references a specific episode or person in the book — albeit, some more explicitly than others.

Whereas the previous two Mark Lanegan Band albums, 2017’s Gargoyle and the aforementioned Somebody’s Knocking found Lanegan pairing his lyrics to music written by collaborators, most of Straight Songs Of Sorrow was written by Lanegan — with the exception being the collaborations with Mark Morton. Two other songs have shared credits — and those two songs were cowritten by Lanegan’s wife Shelley Brien. But much like the book that inspired it, the album ends  with its hero overcoming adversity and struggle and turning, battered and beat up, but cleansed, towards a bright new day

So far, I’ve written about the album’s first two singles — the slow-burning, part bluesy lament, part tale of survival and redemption “Skeleton Key.” and the uptempo yet vulnerable “Bleed All Over.” The album’s third and latest single “Stockholm City Blues” is a brooding and spectral song, centered around twangy and looped guitar, a shimmering string arrangement and an achingly plaintive vocal from Lanegan. Evoking the gnawing loneliness of being a foreigner in a foreign land that you can barely understand, and of a man wandering around narrow European streets with his own thoughts and regrets, the song may arguably be one of the most sorrowful of released to date. 

New Video: The Dream Syndicate’s Trippy and Meditative Visual for “Apropos of Nothing”

Over the better part of the past 12-15 months or so, I’ve managed to spill quite a bit of virtual ink writing about the acclaimed Los Angeles-based psych rock act and JOVM mainstays The Dream Syndicate. Tracing its origins back to the early 80s, the band which currently features founding members Steve Wynn (guitars, vocals), a critically applauded singer/songwriter and solo artist and Dennis Duck (drums), along with the band’s most recent members Mark Walton (bass) and Jason Victor (guitar), the members of the acclaimed psych rock act just released their third post-reunion and seventh full-length album The Universe Inside through Anti- Records. 

Arguably one of the most forward-thinking, mind-bending efforts they’ve yet to release, the album marks the first time in their storied history in which every song on the album was conceived and written as a collective group. And the result is an album that sounds unlike anything they’ve done together or individually. Musically, the material draws from each individual member’s eclectic interests and passions: Dennis Duck’s love and knowledge of European avant garde music, Jason Victor’s love of 70s prog rock, Mark Walton’s experience in Southern-friend music collectives, Chris Cacavas’ interest in sound manipulation and Wynn’s love of 70s jazz fusion. Interestingly, the album’s material comes from one completely improvised session in which the band created 80 continuous minutes of soundscapes. “All we added was air,” Wynn explains in press notes. So, aside from vocals, horns and a touch of percussion here and there, every instrument is recorded live as it happened.

So far I’ve written about the album’s first two single. The album’s the sprawling, Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson-era Miles Davis meets prog rock and psych rock-like first single, “The Regulator,” which features The Long Ryders‘ Stephen McCarthy on sitar and Butcher Brown‘s Marcus Tenney on sax. Adding to the lysergic and hazy vibe, Wynn’s vocals were fed through vocoder and ghostly effects — and then buried within the mix. The album’s second single was the brooding and atmospheric “The Longing,” an eerily prescient meditation on mortality and the passage of time that evokes the creeping realization of one’s own morality; the awareness of unfinished business and the gnawing lack of closure or even meaning; and the uneasy feeling of being adrift and alone in a frightening and uncertain world. 

The album’s third and latest single “Apropos of Nothing” continues the album’s lysergic vibes: The song opens with an expansive and trance-inducing introductory section centered around shimmering and reverb-drenched guitars and a motorik-groove and surrealistic and impressionistic lyrics that slowly builds up into the sort of ecstatic catharsis reminiscent of the Sufi whirling dervishes.

“The only verbal cue that came during the entire 80 minutes of improvisation that led to The Universe Inside happened as we started the section that became ‘Apropos of Nothing,’” Wynn explains. “We had been messing around in the key of E on the bits that led to ‘The Regulator’ and ‘The Longing’ and then Stephen McCarthy said ‘Let’s try something in G.’ He started playing the figure that starts the section and off we went. We were so locked in with each other and our antennae were poised for any clues that anyone in the band had to offer.

When I went back to Richmond to finish the record I knew I wanted to sing something on this section.  I went into the studio and quickly wrote the words—it took about 5 minutes—just so I’d have something to sing. I did one pass and said, ‘Give me another track so I can try out a harmony.’ I did that in one pass as well and that was that. It’s really a good sign—and definitely the pattern of things for this particular record—when things happen so easily and naturally.”

Directed by long-time visual collaborator David Dalglish, the recently released video is a cinematic meditation on the passage of time and our potential watery demise. And as the video suggests, what of our things and our world if we’re no longer here to give them meaning? 

New Audio: The Legendary Mavis Staples Teams Up with Jeff Tweedy on a Much-Needed Anthemic Bit of Uplift

Throughout the course of this site’s almost ten year history, I’ve managed to spill quite a bit of virtual ink covering the legendary Chicago-born singer, actress, and civil rights activist Mavis Staples. Going into a deep dive into her career as a member of the Staple Singers and and a solo artist will be a bit gratuitous — but throughout her career, she has received commercial and critical success, as well as a proverbial boatload of accolades. Stapes has received eight Grammy Awards nominations with the Staple Singers, winning one — a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2004. She also received a Grammy nod for a collaboration with longtime friend Bob Dylan. And as a solo artist, she’s been nominated for five Grammys, winning two — Best Americana Album for 2010’s You Are Not Alone and a Best American Roots Performance for  2015’s ”See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”

She also has been nominated for 11 Blues Music Awards, winning nine, including Album of the Year for 2004’s Have A Little Faith, which featured Song of the Year and album title track “Have A Little Faith.” She’s also won three Soul Blues Female Artist Awards — one in 2004 and back to back wins in 2017 and 2018. Staples was also inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Staple Singers in 1999, was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2016 and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017.

The legendary Chicago-born singer, actress and civil rights activist turned 80 last year and with her achievements, it would be understandable if she had begun to slow down; however, over the past handful of years, Staples has been remarkably busy, releasing three critically applauded albums with Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy and last year’s Ben Harper written and produced, We Get By.

Fittingly, Staples’ latest single is the hopeful and upbeat Jeff Tweedy-produced, “All In It Together,” which also features Tweedy contributing backing vocals and guitar. Centered around a shuffling, Chicago blues-like arrangement of twinkling keys, strummed guitar, a rousing hook and Staples’ imitable vocals, the track speaks directly to our current sociopolitical moment, while gently reminding the listener that at the end of the day, we’re all in this together. And that if we don’t get together at this most important moment in our collective history, then we’re all doomed. 

“The song speaks to what we’re going through now – everyone is in this together, whether you like it or not,” the legendary vocalist explains in press notes. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what race or sex you are, where you live…it can still touch you. It’s hit so many people in our country and around the world in such a horrible way and I just hope this song can bring a little light to the darkness. We will get through this but we’re going to have to do it together. If this song is able to bring any happiness or relief to anyone out there in even the smallest way, I wanted to make sure that I helped to do that.”

The song is available on all streaming services and Bandcamp. All proceeds from the song will be donated to My Block, My Hood, My City, a Chicago-based organization that ensures seniors will have access to the essentials needed to fight COVID-19. 

New Video: The Dream Syndicate Releases a Haunting Meditation on Time and Mortality

Over the past year or so, I’ve managed to write quite a bit about the acclaimed Los Angeles-based psych rock act The Dream Syndicate. Tracing its origins back to the 80s, the band which currently features founding members Steve Wynn (guitars, vocals), a critically applauded singer/songwriter and solo artist and Dennis Duck (drums), along with the band’s most recent members Mark Walton (bass) and Jason Victor (guitar), the members of the acclaimed psych rock act will be releasing their latest effort, The Universe Inside through Anti- Records on April 10, 2020. 

Officially, their third reunion-era effort and their seventh overall, the forthcoming album will reportedly be one oft he most mind-bending and trippiest efforts they’ve released to date — and for the first time in their storied and lengthy history. every song on the album is a group songwriting effort. Musically, the material draws from each individual member’s eclectic interests and passions: Dennis Duck’s love and knowledge of European avant garde music, Jason Victor’s love of 70s prog rock, Mark Walton’s experience in Southern-friend music collectives, Chris Cacavas’ interest in sound manipulation and Wynn’s love of 70s jazz fusion. Recorded in one session, the band recorded 80 continuous minutes of soundscapes. “All we added was air,” Wynn explains in press notes. So, aside from vocals, horns and a touch of percussion here and there, every instrument is recorded live as it happened.

Last month, I wrote about the album’s sprawling and epic first single “The Regulator.” Now, as you may recall, the single clocked in at a little under 21 minutes and was sort of seamless synthesis of Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson-era Miles Davis, motorik groove-driven prog rock and 60s psych rock — thanks to droning electric sitar played by The Long Ryders‘ Stephen McCarthy, a sinuous bass line, soulful sax flourishes by Butcher Brown‘s Marcus Tenney. Adding to a lysergic vibes, Wynn’s vocals were fed through vocoder and ghostly effects and then buried within the trippy and funky mix.

“’The Regulator’ is a microcosm of the entire record,” Wynn explains in press notes. “It was just a formless, trippy mass as we all started playing together. There was an early 70’s drum machine—a Maestro Rhythm King, the same model used on There’s A Riot Goin’ On—with Dennis locking in and setting the pace. Stephen grabbed an electric sitar because it was the first thing he saw. Jason and I were kicking pedals on like lab monkeys in a laboratory and Mark was a lightning rod, uniting all of those elements into one tough groove. I collected a list of random, unconnected lyric ideas that I kept on my phone. I tried them all out in random order in my home studio just to see how they would feel and that one-take test run is the vocal you hear! There’s just so much lightning-in-a-jar, first take excitement on this record.”

The Universe Inside’s second and latest single is the brooding and atmospheric “The Longing.” Centered around shimmering and reverb-drenched guitars, a propulsive bass line, jazz-like drumming and Steve Wynn’s imitable vocals, “The Longing” is an eerily prescient meditation on morality and the passage of time that manages to capture and evoke things I’ve personally felt over the past year or two — and that many of us have felt recently: the creeping realization of one’s mortality; the sense that there will be some degree of unfinished business — both professionally and personally; the mournful and uneasy feeling of being adrift, alone and frightened in an uncertain world. 

“A friend of mine once said, ‘You ought to write a song about longing,’” the band’s Steve Wynn says of the song and its title. “This was a few years back but it stuck with me and when I was listening to minutes 20 through 28 of the improvisation that became The Universe Inside I knew that the suggestion had finally found its proper home. This section of music — that followed in real time the part that became “The Regulator” — felt so mournful and lost and adrift and confused, much like longing itself. You think you know where it’s at? The longing is stronger than that.”

Directed by the band’s longtime visual collaborator David Daglish, the recently released video for “The Longing” is a cryptic yet gorgeous meditation on yearning, memories and the inevitable (and unstoppable) passage of time. “Our resident visual interpreter David Dalglish picked up on that feeling for a video that connected hauntingly to that feeling of distance and memory. And now?  Suddenly it all feels very much of the moment. A chasm, sleepless for day and days, rootless, unsettled and alone.  All that’s left is the longing,” the band’s Steven Wynn explains in press notes. 

New Audio: JOVM Mainstay Mark Lanegan Releases a Brooding and Atmospheric New Single

I’ve spilled a fair share of virtual ink covering Mark Lanegan over the years on this site. And as you may recall, the Ellensburg, WA-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter and guitarist is known for being the frontman and founding member of Seattle-based grunge rock pioneers Screaming Trees and for a lengthy career as an acclaimed solo artist, who has collaborated with an eclectic array of artists and bands — including  Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain on an unreleased Lead Belly cover/tribute album recorded before the release of Nevermind; as a member of the renowned grunge All-Star supergroup/side project Mad Season with Alice in Chains‘ Layne Staley and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready; as a member of  Queens of the Stone Age featured on five of the band’s albums — 2000’s Rated R, 2002’s Songs for the Deaf, 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze, 2007’s Era Vulgaris and 2013’s . . . Like Clockwork; with The Afghan Whigs‘ Greg Dulli in The Gutter Twins; as well as former Belle and Sebastian vocalist Isobel Campbell on three albums. Additionally, Lanegan has contributed or guested on albums by Melisa Auf der Maur, Martina Topley-Bird, Creature with the Atom Brain, Moby, Bomb the Bass, Soulsavers, Greg Dulli’s The Twilight Singers, UNKLE and others.

Lanegan’s 11th full-length solo album Somebody’s Knocking continued an incredible run of critically applauded releases but the album’s material found the JOVM mainstay and grunge rock legend turning to some of his most formative musical influences and profound loves — electronic music.  “I’ve always been into electronic music since I was a kid,” Lanegan said in press notes at the time. “I think the reason those elements have become more obvious in my music is that my tastes have changed as I’ve grown older. The bulk of what I listen to now is electronic. Alain Johannes and I had actually written “Penthouse High” for Gargoyle but then it didn’t really fit on that record. I have been a huge fan of New Order and Depeche Mode forever and have wanted to do a song along those lines for a long time – a blatantly catchy, old-school dance-type song.”

2020 looks to be a momentous year for Lanegan: Lanegan’s memoir Sing Backwards and Weep will be published by Da Capo Press on April 28, 2020 — and his 12th solo album Straight Songs Of Sorrow will be released through Heavenly Recordings on May 8, 2020. Featuring guest appearances from his longtime  Greg Dulli, Warren Ellis, the legendary John Paul Jones, Ed Harcourt and countless others, Straight Songs Of Sorrow is inspired by his own life story, as documented in his memoir.

Reportedly, Sing Backwards and Weep is a brutal, nerve-shredding read, centered around Lanegan’s unsparing and unadulterated candor recounting his journey from troubled youth in Eastern Washington, through his days as a drug-fueled member of Seattle’s grunge rock scene to today with Lanegan finding peace and salvation within himself. While the book documents his lifelong struggle to find peace within himself, his forthcoming 12th album emphasizes the extent to which he realized that music is his life.

“Writing the book, I didn’t get catharsis,” he chuckles. “All I got was a Pandora’s box full of pain and misery. I went way in, and remembered shit I’d put away 20 years ago. But I started writing these songs the minute I was done, and I realized there was a depth of emotion because they were all linked to memories from this book. It was a relief to suddenly go back to music. Then I realized that was the gift of the book: these songs. I’m really proud of this record.”  In press notes, Lanegan affirms that each of Straight Songs Of Sorrow‘s 15 songs references a specific episode or person in the book — albeit, some more explicitly than others.

Whereas the previous two Mark Lanegan Band albums, 2017’s Gargoyle and the aforementioned Somebody’s Knocking found Lanegan pairing his lyrics to music written by collaborators, most of Straight Songs Of Sorrow was written by Lanegan — with the exception being the collaborations with Mark Morton. Two other songs have shared credits — and those two songs were cowritten by Lanegan’s wife Shelley Brien. And much like the book, the album ends with its hero overcoming adversity and struggle and turning, battered and beat up, but cleansed, towards a bright new day.

Last month, I wrote about Straight Songs of Sorrow’s first single, the slow-burning part bluesy lament, part tale of survival and redemption, “Skeleton Key.” Centered around Lanegan’s increasingly Howlin’ Wolf-like baritone, which manages to convey the aching despair, hard-fought and harder-won wisdom that comes from living a messy life, full of dissolution, sin, fucked up decisions and fucked up events. “Bleed All Over,” the album’s second and latest single is a bit more uptempo track featuring rapid fire beats, a looping acoustic guitar line, shimmering synth arpeggios and one of the more plaintive and vulnerable vocal performances from Lanegan in quite some time with a subtle Western tinge. A at its core are the inescapable and lingering ghosts of our lives, the weight of our decisions and actions upon ourselves and others — and the desire to escape it all.