1. El Michels Affair “C.R.E.A.M.” – I felt that the playlist needed a chill intro track this week, and who better to lay down a mellow groove than the originators of the cinematic soul sound, the Brooklyn-based El Michels Affair. After the release in 2004 of the much buzzed-about Sounding Out The City LP on his own Truth & Soul Records label, EMA founder and musician Leon Michels was approached by Scion Motors about a collaboration with Wu-Tang Clan lyricist Raekwon as part of their Metro concert series. The combination worked so well that it not only led to a tour with Raekwon but also to a full-length EMA album of instrumental funk/soul versions of classic Wu-Tang tracks called Enter the 37th Chamber. Devoted Wu-Tang heads will no doubt recognize the track featured here, but even those who don’t are still welcome to enter this chamber of chill.
2. Brazilian Girls “Homme” – I’m still feeling the chilled out vibe after that opening track, so I’m gonna head down this chill path a bit towards a favorite of mine by the beguiling Brazilian Girls. Incorporating reggae, jazz, bossa nova, pop and electronic styles into their infectious grooves, the Girls are actually made up mostly of guys…and not a single one of them is Brazilian. Fronted by multi-lingual vocalist Sabina Sciubba, they’ve been keeping the groove going from dance floors to boudoirs since 2004. Their self-titled debut album contains one of my favorite dance tracks of all time, “Sirenes de la Fete”, as well as two of my favorite chillout tracks, “Lazy Lover” and the track featured on this week’s playlist. Sung completely in French, “Homme” is about the motivations of the heart and the lies we tell each other (and ourselves) to justify those motivations. Très humain.
3. Goldfrapp “A&E” – If you’ve ever felt like you needed to be rushed to the emergency room after a bad breakup, you’ll understand exactly where Alison Goldfrapp is coming from on this track from her 2008 album, Seventh Tree. This emotional track was inspired by Goldfrapp’s own trip to “accident and emergency” (the British version of the ER), where a high dose of painkillers altered her reality and opened the door for this metaphor of a song. It’s honest, it’s beautiful, and it’s here for your enjoyment in both its original form and remixed by Hercules and Love Affair for those who prefer to dance their blues away.
4. Kool Keith “Master of the Game” – There aren’t too many brothers walking around in Elvis wigs, worshipping the color green, and waxing poetic about outer space. In fact, there’s probably only one, but that’s all we need. One of the weirdest characters in hip-hop and owner of one of the best flows in hip-hop, Kool Keith was a founding member of seminal hip-hop group Ultramagnetic MC’s and later went on to create and portray many oddball characters, including Dr. Octagon (check out the very cool “Blue Flowers” from 1996’s Dr. Octagonecologyst), Ultra, Dr. Dooom and Keith Kong alongside such notable names as Dan The Automator, DJ Qbert and Ice-T. Whatever alias he records under, Keith’s albums are always thematic and always a trip. Cover to cover, there aren’t many avant-garde hip-hop albums better than 1999’s Black Elvis/Lost in Space, where this playlist track resides. Prepare to get weird.
5. Mindless Self Indulgence “Bitches” – The only way I can describe MSI’s debut release, 2000’s Frankenstein Girls Will Seem Strangely Sexy, is to call it insanity on a disc. The 30 short tracks, arranged in alphabetical order, are literally the only orderly thing about this group; their musical style, song structure, album art and fashion aesthetic are wacked-out, wild and completely over-the-top. Even singer Jimmy Urine’s vocal style is all over the map, a crazed combination of melody, naughty little boy and banshee over a kaleidoscope of rock, punk and electronica over hip-hop beats. Many NYC folk (myself included) have a special place in their hearts for MSI because of manager/producer (DJ) “Saint” James Galus, who manned the decks at Mother and others in the Meatpacking District and the LES in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, before yuppies and high-end retailers took over the neighborhood. But more importantly, bitches love them ‘cause they know that they can rock…and, because they sample Siouxsie on killer tracks like this one.
6. EMF “Search and Destroy” – This week, I’m giving double props by selecting a killer cover done by one of my favorite underappreciated bands, of a song originally recorded by a legend headed for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the one and only Iggy Pop. EMF (aka Epsom Mad Funkers) are best known for the so-so mid-90’s smash “Unbelievable”, but believe me when I say that absolutely every other song they ever did was 100 times better. This particular track is rare and only available on a greatest hits compilation, but those who are down for a trip back in time to some unexplored territory should pick up EMF’s 1991 debut album, Schubert Dip – and anyone wondering where Muse got their sound from should look no further than EMF’s unbelievably good 1992 release Stigma, which has a permanent spot in my top ten favorite albums of all time/all genres.
7. Gang of Four “I Love A Man In Uniform (rerecorded version)” – Formed out of the musically fertile art school scene in Leeds, England in the late 1970’s, at a time when political undercurrents in song lyrics were as common as choruses, Gang of Four were outspoken icons of the post-punk movement. Their landmark 1979 debut release Entertainment! was unlike anything that had been released before it, combining elements of punk, funk, dub and reggae, and it placed Gang of Four at the forefront of a new sound rising out of a generation of Brits raised on poverty, depression and the threat of cold war. Originally released on 1982’s Songs of the Free, “I Love A Man In Uniform” offers a tongue-in-cheek tale of a man who joins the military not out of a sense of duty or honor, but because he thinks that it will make him seem more attractive and confident to his woman. I’ve selected my favorite version from Gang of Four’s 2009 rework, Return The Gift.
8. V.A.S.T. “Pretty When You Cry” – Another of my top ten favorite albums of all time/all genres, V.A.S.T.’s 1998 debut Visual Audio Sensory Theater marked the beginning of my love affair with a band that makes me fall in love all over again with every album they release. The brainchild of singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jon Crosby, V.A.S.T.’s signature sound is rock-based but with layers of goth, ethereal and classical styles over Gregorian chants and assorted devotional vocal samples. Their sound has changed and grown a bit over time with excellent releases like Music For People, Nude and Turquoise & Crimson, and with Crosby side projects like Generica and Bang Band Six, but the V.A.S.T. foundation is always there. I’ve seen V.A.S.T. in concert four times, and every V.A.S.T. fan I come across (which, strangely, always feels a bit like finding a soul-mate) loves them as much as I do. I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite V.A.S.T. song, so I’ll give you the one that recently got me free drinks for the evening when I spun it in earshot of a surprised and grateful bartender.
9. Joy Division “Leaders of Men” – A candle burns eternally in the heart of every goth and post-punk fan for this beloved British band, whose singer died far too young at the insistence of his own internal torment. The late Ian Curtis and his bandmates (who would later become seminal new wave group New Order) left behind many memorable tracks despite their brief career, my favorite of which is featured on this week’s playlist. In the wake of the passing into law of healthcare reform legislation by a government that did not ask the wishes of the people it represents, it seemed fitting to select a track that questions our personal identity, the choices that are made for us, and how quickly things can get out of control. Speaking of control, after you’ve checked out every Joy Division song ever recorded, take a walk in Ian’s world by watching Anton Corbijn’s stark black and white 2007 biopic Control, based on the memoirs of Ian’s wife Deborah.
10. The Damned “Absinthe” – In the latter part of an on-again, off-again career spanning over 25 years, punk-goth-rockabilly-cabaret chameleons The Damned released the extremely rockin’ Grave Disorder (2001). An ode to la fee verte, “Absinthe” begins with a sampled intro of Gary Oldman’s Count Dracula speaking passionately about the wicked green elixir. I couldn’t possibly put it any better than Damned singer Dave Vanian does when he croons, “Come taste this lunacy / You’re blinded by the Green Fairy / Creeping out of your glass into your mind, then you can’t really see / I can take all of your fears / Transform the way you feel / Welcome to the spirit world where all your dreams are real…”. Grab a spoon, a spigot and a sugar cube and drink up, children. (p.s. For a great spooky trilogy, play this track with Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” and The Animal’s “House of the Rising Sun”.)