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Archive for the ‘The Roots’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE ROOTS feat. JILL SCOTT-“You Got Me” (1999).

I’ve wanted to listen to more from The Roots ever since I was exposed to them on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.  But as typically happens, I’m listening to other things instead.  So this seemed like a good opportunity to check them out (based on Samantha Irby’s rave below).

One of the best things about this recording (and The Roots in general) is Questlove’s drumming.  In addition to his being a terrific drummer, his drums sound amazing in this live setting.

Erykah Badu sings on the album but Jill Scott (Jilly from Philly) who wrote the part, sings here.

It starts out quietly with just a twinkling keyboard and Scott’s rough but pretty voice.  Then comes the main rapping verses from Black Thought.  I love the way Scott sings backing vocals on the verses and Black Thought adds backing vocals to the chorus.

Midway through the song, it shifts gears and gets a little more funky.  Around five minutes, the band does some serious jamming.  Jill Scott does some vocal bits, the turntablist goes a little wild with the scratching and Questlove is on fire.

Then things slow down for Scott to show off her amazing voice in a quiet solo-ish section.  This song shows off how great both The Roots and Jill Scott are.  Time to dig deeper.

[READ: November 1, 2020] Wow, no thank you.

This book kept popping up on various recommended lists.  The bunny on the cover was pretty adorable, so I thought I’d check it out. I’d never heard of Samantha Irby before this, but the title and the blurbs made this sound really funny.

And some of it is really funny. Irby is self-deprecating and seems to be full of self-loathing, but she puts a humorous spin on it all.  She also has Crohn’s disease and terribly irritable bowels–there’s lots of talk about poo in this book.

Irby had a pretty miserable upbringing.  Many of the essays detail this upbringing.  She also has low self-esteem and many of the essays detail that.  She also doesn’t take care of herself at all and she writes about that.  She also doesn’t really want much to do with children or dogs.  And yet somehow she is married to a woman with children.

From what some of these essays say, it sounds like she is married to this woman yet somehow lives an entirely separate life from the rest of the house.  It’s all rather puzzling, although I suppose if you are already a fan, you may know many of the details already. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK THOUGHT-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #7 (April 9, 2020).

?uestlove is (in my mind at least) the heart (or at least the face) of The Roots.  So it’s easy to forget that Black Thought is the man behind the voice.

This video is fascinating because Black Thought is sitting in a comfy chair, legs crossed, casually sitting as he raps the hell out of these songs.

While our culture adjusts to the New Normal, artists are revealing the threads of our common humanity as they find new ways to bring their work to virtual communities. In this installment of Tiny Desk (home) concerts, hip-hop wordsmith Tariq Trotter, aka Black Thought of The Roots crew, took the occasion to premiere three new songs.

On “Thought Vs. Everybody,” Thought calls for unity in response to the conditions of an encroaching dystopia.

It’s really fascinating that he can sound so powerful while chilling in his chair like that.  I also love that it starts with a sample saying “introducing the most powerful black man in the world.”

Thought talks about the Streams of Thought project that he’s been working on.  It started as a Steams of Thought mixtape/EP series he started in 2013.  “Thought Vs. Everybody” and “Nature of the Beast”  will appear on Streams of Thought Vol. 3.

Although the second song, “Yellow,” easily one of my favorite rap songs in years, is not on this EP.

“Yellow,” is song from his upcoming off-Broadway musical Black No More, an adaption of the 1931 Afrofuturist novel by George S. Schuyler, set during the Harlem Renaissance.

He is writing, producing and starring in the Broadway musical.  He says the plot is hard to summarize, but essentially, the main character a black man has decided he’s over the black experience.  There’s a machine that can turn black people white in an attempt to change the racial landscape of America.  Now this man wants everything yellow: yellow money, yellow women, yellow taxis.

Thought says that as a proud black man it challenged him to write from this perspective and to connect with feeling’s he’s never felt.

It is a fantastic song with a great 1920’s jazz score and although the lyrics are tough, he delivers them wonderfully (although I don’t really care for the chorus just repeating the word “yellow”).

He closes with “Nature of the Beast,” a collaboration with Portugal. The Man, who pop up on screen from a remote location.

This song has a really catchy singalong chorus.  I wonder how much of the music was from Portugal.

[READ: April 18, 2020] “The Media”

This was a real challenge to read and honestly I’m not sure what happened in it even after reading it three times.

It begins with Ben walking at dusk recording “this prose poem on his phone.”

He calls someone to ask about their trip–asks the person to call him back.  He’ll be around “until late nineteenth century, when carved wood gives way to polished steel.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ENDON-Through the Mirror (2017).

Endon’s Through the Mirror is one of the most punishing musical experiences I’ve ever had.  They opened for Boris a few months ago and their live show was incredibly intense.  It’s no surprise that their album is, too.

When I was looking at their merch, this guy came up behind me and said, that their debut album, MAMA made him want to kill himself.  But this album was different, more enjoyable.  I thanked him for saving my life.

Endon hail from Japan and call their music “catastrophic noise-metal.”

The first song is the five and a half-minute “Nerve Rain.”  It is, simply put, a wave of noise.  The guitarist plays a loud distorted guitar–very quickly.  Non-stop for 2 and a half minutes.  It is accompanied by fast pounding drums.  In the background there are all kinds of warbling electronic noises.  After two and a half minutes the noise ends abruptly.  It starts again exactly the same after a few seconds.  This continues for the rest of the song, stopping and starting at more frequent intervals.  It is relentless.  Somebody please put the entire Republican party into a room and play this at them for 24 hours.

The second song, “Your Ghost is Dead” introduces a singer, Taichi Nagura.  The drums are twice as fast, the guitar is also incredibly fast and when the singer comes in, he uses a complicated mix of cookie monster vocals, screams, wails and desperate lashing out.  I have no idea if there are any words to these songs or if he’s just making noise.  Sometimes he’s buried under the rest of the noise.  Interestingly there’s even a cool somewhat mellow guitar riff in the middle of this song–if you removed it from the noise surrounding it, it would be very catchy.  About half way through the song, the noise stops, the riff comes through clean and then Taichi Nagura can be heard crying.   And then it all takes off again.

“Born in Limbo” slows things down with an interesting drum beat.  But the bulk of the song is manipulated sounds and effects–primarily screams, from both tapes and the lead singer.  In fact Taichi Nagura’s screams are rhythmic and strangely catchy.  There’s a Mike Patton component to this song for sure.  The middle of the song even has a somewhat traditional (wailing) guitar solo.

“Pensum” is only 90 seconds long and it is 90 seconds of pummeling noise.  It’s followed by “Postsex” which is more of the same with extra focus placed on Taichi Nagura ‘s vocals which are varied and run through a gamut of pain.

“Perversion Til Death” is 10 minutes long.  It opens with some crazy fast drumming and a slow melodic guitar melody that’s more or less buried under a wall of noise.  This song is a lot slower and more ponderous than the others, with some heavy drums, squalling guitars and screamed vocals just done at a different pace.  Until the final two minutes which are just heavy pounding.

“Through the Mirror” has some interesting guitar ideas buried under a wall of squealing feedback.  Just before the song turns into a breakneck hardcore pace there’s a ten second respite with an interesting riff and nothing else.  And then pummel.  Around three minutes the noise drops away and you get super fast drums with some electronic sounds and Taichi Nagura all-out screaming but in that strangely melodic way again.  It lasts for about 30 seconds before ethe breakneck noise (and growling takes over).  The song slows down with him weeping as pleasant guitars take over.  While these pleasant chords continue playing through, he starts screaming at the top of his lungs in mortal pain.

“Torch Your House” ends this disc with a 9 minute epic.  The song begins quietly, with some pretty guitars and gentle washes of sounds.  They explore chords for about 2 and a half minutes before the drums and noise take over,  but the guitar solo is able to pierce through the wall of noise.  Taichi Nagura screams throughout in bursts, but the guitars stay largely guitar-sounding not noise-making.  Around five-minute the whole things turns into a rocking metal song.  For the last minute or so, it all mellows out with an acoustic guitar playing the melody.  Until the last 30 seconds when the noise returns over and a five-beat drum pattern as the song crashes to an end.

Musical endurance.

[READ: September 23, 2017] “Who’s Laughing Now?”

I have enjoyed most of Tom Bissell’s writing in Harper’s  He writes about a wide array of things, including entertainment.  A while back I read a lot of his older articles and it was enjoyable to read things hat were not current anymore.  And that may be why I didn’t enjoy this article as much.  It is too current.  Too painful.  I can’t believe he hasn’t been impeached yet.

Bissell suggests that trump and SNL were made for each other.  He was the rare novelty guest to have hosted twice.  Once in 2004 to promote The Apprentice and again in late 2015 to soften perception of a presidential campaign widely seen as alarming.  Some would accuse SNL of normalizing him after this (although his being a celebrity of three decades certainly had something to do with it).

Both Times he was on ratings were great so… who used whom? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKJUST SAY NOËL: A Gift for You from Geffen Records (1996).

This is a weird mix of songs.  I purchased this all those years ago because I loved the Sire Records Just Say series, and this seemed like a fine addition.  But this album really pushes what might have been anticipated in a Christmas collection.

Look at the names!  Beck! Sonic Youth! (when they were riding high), Elastica! But man, this is just a crazy mix of stuff.

BECK-“The Little Drum Machine Boy” (NSFC)
This is like 7 minutes of drum machine nonsense from Beck.  There’s mention of the Hanukkah robot funk.  Gonna drop some Hanukkah science.  And then 7 minutes of Beck’s nonsense lyrics.

AIMEE MANN with MICHAEL PENN-“Christmastime” (NSFC)
This is a little mopey because Aimee is always a little mopey.  The Michael Penn parts are a bit more upbeat.  They sound great together, but “all alone at Christmastime” isn’t really much for holiday cheer.

SONIC YOUTH-“Santa Doesn’t Cop Out On Dope” (NSFC)
I had no idea that this was a cover.  Martin Mull recorded this back in 1973.  That explains the spoken word part that doesn’t sound like something Sonic Youth would construct.  But after the spoken intro, they turn the end into 2 minutes of utter noise.  Thurston sings the actual song almost a capella with strange noises in the background and twinkling bells.  The last 40 seconds are just squelching noise.  And they end with Thurston saying “Merry Christmas, David Geffen.”

THE POSIES-“Christmas” (NSFC)
This song is downbeat and sad (“you made me for the last time.  That’s okay Christmas means little to me”).  The chorus is kind of pretty though.

THE ROOTS-“Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa” (NSFC)
I had no idea that this was a cover.  And never would have guessed it was originally by The Roots.  It is shockingly about incest. The Roots version is even darker (and the recording features an echoed voice making it even harder to hear the words).

SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS-“Merry Christmas Baby” (NSFC)
This version is bluesy and slightly funky in a very white way.

REMY ZERO-“Christmas” (NSFC)
This is muted and mopey and I have literally no idea what its about.

ELASTICA-“Gloria” (NSFC)
This is without a doubt the best song on this record.  Although as far as I can tell aside from chanting (and playing) the melody from the Christmas song “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” there is no connection to Christmas whatsoever.

WILD COLONIALS-“Christmas Is Quiet” (NSFC)
This is six-minute mellow folk dirge.  Her voice is pretty, but good lord, six minutes?  Even a build up and backing vocals doing la las can’t rescue this.

XTC-“Thanks For Christmas”
Obviously, I love this song as I have mentioned elsewhere.

THE MUSICAL CAST OF TOYS FEATURING WENDY & LISA -“The Closing Of The Year”
The Toys song is such a weird inclusion–clearly it’s only here because they own the rights.  But it’s a really pretty song and it should be played more at the closing of the year, for being a lovely optimistic song.  Even though I like this version, I’d like to hear a cover from someone else with a strong voice (and not necessarily Seal, or whoever that is, joining in).  I’ll bet it could be done really well.

TED HAWKINS-“Amazing Grace”
Hawkins has a low gravelly voice.  This is a lovely cover of just him and his guitar.

So overall, this is a disappointing collection of songs.  Most of them can’t be played in a festive way.  But there are a few rocking standouts.

[READ: December 12, 2017] “Announcements”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This was a fun, light-hearted look at Wedding announcements.  And of course, as with any fun, light-hearted look at something, there were undercurrents of seriousness that made the story even better. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ROOTS-Tiny Desk Concert #665 (October 30, 2017).

This Tiny Desk starts out with The Roots walking into the area, sousaphone playing a fun riff and everyone clapping.  Questlove takes his seat behind the drums.

He introduces: This is Jeff Bradshaw and Brass Heaven.  Let’s get into it.”  They play a great big dancing brass melody singing “Just give me some more.”   There’s a fun trombone solo which starts with him playing a really long note and bending it and then just going to town.  It’s very James Brownish and utterly belies the intensity of the next song.

After 3 minutes they switch tempo completely and Bilal and Black Thought come out.  They play “It Ain’t Fair,” a thoughtful, powerful piece that I absolutely love.  I was unfamiliar with Bilal before this and his delivery is just fantastic.

He sings with a classic 70s style of raspy intensity.  There’s a great chorus: “the well is running dry / racial tensions running high / under 21 is far too young to die.”

The song builds up somewhat and then Black Thought raps a harsh counterpoint.

Justice is never color blind, never gun shy
For one crime, you may never see the sun shine
We know of one times, giving you the finger
’round hearing me, fuck you, it’s not the number one sign

then its back to Bilal

Some people say, “Let Jesus take the wheel”
Others say, “Thou shall not kill”
But that old time religion ain’t gon’ pay my bills

At the four-minute mark the whole band just goes nuts playing a cacophony of sound and then stopping silent at Questlove’s direction.

When they start Bilal absolutely wails the final verse.  It is utterly fantastic (and I think better than the performance on Fallon with the full orchestra).

Armed with the incredible vocalist Bilal, The Roots performed the signature track from Detroit, a film about the race riots in 1967. “It Ain’t Fair” glares unflinchingly, takes a knee and raises a fist against the societal construct that has systematically denied equality of experience to those “presumed inferior,” to quote one of Bilal’s verses. And it achieves all this while covering its heart with its right hand. This reflective hymn tenderly yanks your heart strings and offers a window into the ethos of those who would like to stand for the flag but cannot in good principle, lest these same evils continue to exist.

Those lucky enough to be in the Tiny Desk audience witnessed masters at work. Black Thought is truly one of the most intelligent emcees ever, and his razor-sharp lyricism was on full display. Questlove, a musical and cultural historian nonpareil, was both a metronomical and moral anchor. It felt like the culmination of decades of academic rigor and boom-bap sessions, fittingly backed by a seven-piece horn section. Bilal’s falsetto-laced vocals and warm resonance evoked powerful messaging reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield’s “Don’t Worry,” delivered with the eccentricity of Prince.

The band: Curtis L. Jones Jr (Trombone), Arnetta Johnson (Trumpet), Hiruy E. Tirfe (Sax), Richard L. Tate II (Sax), Joseph Streater (Trumpet), Norman J. Bradshaw (Trombone), Damon Bryson (Sousaphone), Ahmir (Questlove) Thompson (Drums), Tarik (Black Thought) Trotter (Emcee), Bilal Oliver (Vocals)

[READ: April 19, 2017] Captain Marvel: Alis Volat Propriis

The previous book in the series was pretty goofy.  So I was pleased that this final book was a bit more intense.  The title is the motto of the state of Oregon (probably not why it was used).  It translates as “She flies with her own wings” (which probably is why it was chosen).

As the book opens, Lila and Carl transport to her ship.  But once again something is amiss.  Harrison is offline totally and there are aliens closing in.  It is only through some quick thinking they are able to escape them until they can flee.

When full power is restored, Carol and Harrison decide to find out where Tic and Chewie are.  The baddies have a head start, but they take a shortcut through “The Endless Envelope.”  Once they get in this pocket they realize that it is bigger on the inside than the outside and their shortcut will take five times as long to traverse.  They encounter enemy ships and a phenomenon called a Warp Bear.  There’s some good humor in this section in which Carol tries to communicate with Harrison the ship. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN LEGEND-Tiny Desk Concert #320 (November 16, 2013).

Recently John Legend acquired some humorous publicity when his name was misspelled at the Golden Globes.  But his career has been pretty impressive up until now.  He has impressive collaborated with Jay-Z, Kanye West, and The Roots just to name a few.  Nevertheless, I didn’t actually know what he sounded like.  But clearly I’m the only one, because the room is just packed with people.

The blurb tells us that he “achieved the kind of statesmanlike musical-ambassador status usually afforded to artists twice his age. He is, in short, the sort of star who doesn’t usually perform behind desks in offices.”

Though he recently released a fine new album titled Love in the Future, from which “Made to Love” and “All of Me” were drawn for this set, Legend took special care to provide the backstory for “Move,” which he’d recorded for the soundtrack to 12 Years a Slave.  Legend executive-produced that soundtrack himself

For these three songs, he plays piano and sings in a very soulful and understated way.  “Made to Love” is a slow, pretty soulful ballad.  It’s quite romantic with the chorus: “we were made to love.”

He tells a very powerful and personal story relating to 12 Years a Slave for which he recorded “Move.”  The album version was recorded with U.K. musician Fink.  But here there is no piano, just a guitarist.  It has powerful lyrics.  The end of the song features a clapping section which seems strange for such a down-cast song.

The final song is “All of Me.”  It is a lovely song, especially when he gives that gentle falsetto in the chorus.  Legend really is quite the performer–understated and with a great voice.

[READ: September 5 2016] “Fiber Optics, Holy Places”

I haven’t read any Barrodale before.  I don’t know if her stories are typically cryptic, but I found this one to be very cryptic.

The story begins “after they made love…” he told Ema that he’d been reading an old book by Sloane Newam.  It’s a great book, although it ruined her career.  But he says, “she’s funny.  She reminds me of you.”  At the airport the next day, he gave her a copy of Sloane Newam’s memoir and said, “Read it and you will see.”

Although writing that book ruined Newam’s career.

On her flight home, he gave her a copy of the memoir.  Confusingly, in the next sentence, Barrodale writes: “Halfway through the novel [it said memoir above], while flying over Missouri, she came to a fight between Sloane Newam and her boss.”

But I did really enjoy this bit:  While flying she says to the person next to her: “It’s pretty, huh? Out the window.  It’s Missouri. Get it? Mis-uh-ry? Misery. It’s like — I’m so happy, I’m over misery — Missouri.”  And this reaction: “The woman seemed embarrassed and turned away herself.”

Ema bought both books on Amazon, on for a penny, the other for $109.

The first book was about her lifelong affair with a married man…something that Ema could relate to.  But she thinks that made her guy never read these novels, something seems off. (more…)

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39SOUNDTRACK: THE ROOTS-“Lovely, Love My family” (2009).

miaThe Roots are known for many many things–most recently being the house band for Jimmy Fallon.  They do intelligent hip hop, but they also play “neo-soul” and this fun sorta-ska-like sweet song from the first Yo Gabba Gabba Music is Awesome CD.

It’s 2 minutes of poppy happiness. It’s fun to see ?uestlove bopping along, and to see the whole band in front of these bright colors.

This song is utterly catchy, with smart fun lyrics that are easy to sing along to And unlike some of the Yo Gabba Gabba songs it’s not terribly repetitive.  It’s even got a tuba solo.

Check it out:

[READ: May 6, 2014] The Dead of Night

I was pretty excited to get into this third book of the series, but something about this book burnt me out a bit.  It may have been because it was increasingly dark.  Or maybe that Atticus was in trouble from the get go and had to do a lot of work by himself–that seemed somehow more difficult to read than Dan and Amy working together.  It also seemed to have a bit less humor than the other books–like this one was all down to business, or that the stakes were higher or something.

Indeed, the book opens with Atticus in the back of the truck being taken away by the evil Wyoming kids.  They know he is a Guardian, even if he doesn’t know quite what that means. They are taking him somewhere in secret–which involves an airplane.  How is he ever going to notify anyone of where he is?  But it turns out that Dan and Amy aren’t the only techie kids, and soon Atticus has a way of signaling his friends that he has been taken to Turkey.

Meanwhile Amy is feeling especially guilty for everything that has happened–she’s supposed to be the senior family member in charge.  And Jake isn’t helping with that.  At the same time Dan keeps getting texts from AJT–the man he believes to be his father.  And they are making his mood even darker. (more…)

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