This week: David Axelrod; Clinic, Nas; Various Artists; All Girl Summer Fun Band.
Axelrod looks like a cross between Copernicus and Brian Wilson, but don’t think he’s just another crazy old dude. The much-lauded composer from the ’60s and ’70s sounds quite rejuvenated on this eponymously titled album.
The story behind it is worth retelling: In 1968, Axelrod cut a record of which an acetate was made and subsequently shelved because of label bullshit. Somehow, despite the proficiency of the playing, the album was left in a vault for over 30 years. In 1999 these recordings were found and Axelrod was urged to complete them.
Two tracks feature vocals from hip-hop/R&B heads Ras Kass and Lou Rawls, but all include lush string and horn arrangements. The final product is so late-60s L.A. it’s almost scary. The trumpet and funky grooves on “Jimmy T” recall Miles and Curtis Mayfield, while “Fantasy for Ralph” feels like the predecessor to Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day.”
Somehow everything old is new again.
Walking With Thee
“Art Rock” is a dirty word no longer. On Walking With Thee, Clinic make a case for intelligent, mysterious and driven music with more skill and expertise than any other band producing today.
It’s sparse enough to give listeners room to move, but never escapes the relentless rhythm of anxious yearning found within every song. Utilizing organs, bells, drum machines and the most nervous sounding vocals ever captured on tape, Clinic push and pull you through one song, only to let you be caught in the entrancing groove of the next.
Walking With Thee clearly does not sacrifice energy for craft. From the forced restraint of “Harmony,” to the dirty garage rock rage of “Pet Eunoch,” Clinic capture an urgency not easily discovered in much of today’s music, or yesterday’s for that matter. They’ve created an album of manic energy filtered through the fears and apprehensions of the modern times. From the first listen, Walking With Thee is music you wish you had heard long ago. The world is a better place with it.
-Robert James Algeo
The prodigal son has returned. Whether you know him as Nasty Nas, Escobar, or even Nastradamus, the man named Nasir Jones has finally decided to live up to the expectations bestowed upon him nearly a decade ago, after the release of his seminal debut, Illmatic.
Once proclaimed as the savior of hip-hop, a succession of lackluster projects have seen Nas described by many as having “fallen off.”
Enter a highly publicized beef with Jay-Z. On “Ether,” possibly the hottest track of 2001, Nas verbally slices him to pieces, damaging the credibility of the supposedly invincible Hova in one fell swoop.
While “Ether” is certainly the record’s highlight, Stillmatic is no one-trick pony. “You’re Da Man” and the DJ Premier-produced “2nd Childhood” are reminiscent of the Illmatic-era Nas, and “Rewind” showcases the versatility of his flow, as he tells a story backwards.
On “One Mic” he quickens the pace of his rhymes as the tempo increases, and on “Destroy and Rebuild” he flawlessly imitates the style of the legendary Slick Rick while bashing fellow Queensbridge, New York natives Prodigy, Cormega, and Nature.
Possibly the most courageous songs on the album, however, are not the diss tracks. On “Rule,” “My Country,” “What Goes Around,” and “Every Ghetto,” he addresses political issues and social conditions. Nas shows that he is still the best lyricist, with the ability to create a masterpiece whenever he feels like it.
This not The Blueprint was the best album of 2001.
Ryde or Die Vol. III:
In The R We Trust
The first Ruff Ryders compilation, Ryde or Die Vol. I, was a good idea. It featured many talented guests as well as the fledging label’s own artists, such as DMX, Eve and producer Swizz Beats, who at the time was the hottest in the industry. With the success of the first album, it made sense to try a second. Although Volume II did not fare as well, it had popular singles and was by no means a flop. Such cannot be said for the third attempt in the series. It features throwaway tracks from some of the label’s best artists (“Keep Hustlin'” by The L.O.X., “Friend Of Mine” by DMX) and poorly conceived collaborations (“Dirrty,” with Drag-On and Petey Pablo, and the lead single, “They Ain’t Ready,” featuring Jadakiss and Bubba Sparxxx). Ruff Ryders helped pioneer the idea of pairing East Coast and Southern emcees on the first compilation, but it’s just not working anymore. This compilation seems to be geared toward exposing the less-popular artists on Ruff Ryders, as recent signee Fiend and the disappointing Drag-On are heavily featured. The most frustrating fact is that very rarely are the label’s better artists given a chance to show their talents.
All Girl Summer
All Girl Summer Fun Band
Filling the void of sweet indiepop left by wonderful outfits like the Bartlebees and Cub, All Girl Summer Fun Band is exactly what it’s name indicates. Featuring Jen Sbargia of the Softies, along with three other lovely ladies, the 13 tracks on this debut are ecstatic romps through the minds of 20-something-year-old women. The joy of having a cool boyfriend, being in a band, and crushin’ on boys who turn out to be gay are all explored themes. Though the album gets off to a rocky start with the mediocre “Brooklyn Phone Call,” truly engaging tracks like “Cut Your Hair,” “Theme Song” and “New In Town” give this debut a good name. “Somehow Angels” is an unassuming Dashboard Confession-like ballad as interpreted by Hello Kitty fanatics.