Moby Performs ‘We Are All Made of Stars’

we_are_all_made_of_starsListen to this track by diminutive techno-nerd, DJ, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter Richard Melville Hall, more famously known as Moby, that name taken from a character in the novel of his ancestor, Herman Melville author of Moby Dick. It’s his 2002 hit “We Are All Made Of Stars” as taken from his album 18.

When I first heard this song, with its Bowie-in-Berlin textures, and straight-ahead songwriting, I was both delighted as well as surprised.  Moby had put out his defining record in Play a few years earlier.  It was defined by its sample-based material, pulling from field recordings of blues and worksong performers, mixed with beats and pads, but also guitars.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that Moby would drift even further away from his pure-dance roots with this tune.  He’d hinted at it with songs like “South Side”, and of course his 1996 Animal Rights album which was a straight-ahead punk-metal record right on the heels of his early techno heyday.  He’d always held the rock world and the techno world in balance.  But, with Play,  his 1999 album, he managed to bring them together, and generate momentum for the follow-up record and this song, too.

Needless to say, despite the fact that it looked as though Moby had embraced commercialism by licensing so many tracks off of Play to various ad campaigns and movie soundtracks, it seems that he was still interested in exploring different sounds, and building upon what had come before.  And this effort paid off , with this song reaching #11 on the UK charts, and #4 on the billboard charts.  I love all of the phasing Robert Fripp-esque guitar, gauzy electronic textures, and Moby’s monotone and detached lead vocal that suits it perfectly.

Whether or not Moby actually pulled from David Bowie’s work as mentioned earlier, the two managed to strike up a friendship by the early 2000s, first by being neighbours in New York City, and later by touring together.  Who knows how these things develop, whether Bowie and Moby referenced each other’s styles on their songs before or after they had a neighbourly chat over the fence in their bathrobes.

For more information about Moby, investigate Moby.com

Enjoy!

The Orb Spin “Little Fluffy Clouds”

the_orb_-_adventures_beyond_the_ultraworldListen to this track by 90s ambient dub-centric comedown kids The Orb.  It’s their 1990 hit single “Little Fluffy Clouds”, eventually appearing on the full-length The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld LP, which was released the following year.  The song would be re-mixed and re-released a number of times during the decade, a fast favourite among the raver set.

The lead voice you’re hearing on this track is a head-cold afflicted Rickie Lee Jones, she of “Chuck E’s In Love” pop chart success, among other releases.  In the song, she describes the striking childhood visions of Arizona skies, festooned apparently with the aforementioned little fluffy clouds.

Her voice is hypnotic, soothing, perfect for a comedown theme.  And the samples that The Orb, and guest producer Youth from post-punk band Killing Joke have chosen create a sort of sonic pillow that make it a singularly comfortable listen, as as well as a great track to dance to. In short, this was the perfect single for the dance floors of the early 90s, particularly powerful as post-rave dawn approached.

Despite the chilled out groove, behind the scenes there was some drama where this track was concerned. It seems that Rickie Lee Jones wasn’t happy with her involuntary appearance on it.  So, she sought legal action against the band’s label, Big Life Records.   This was a bit of a comedown, of sorts.  But, so much for chilled out.

Eventually, of course, it was all settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.  And, ultimately this song was a success for the Orb for years after its initial release, scoring #10 on the UK charts in 1993 when it was re-released.  That’s a lot of mileage for an unassuming little number that caused such a stir to the owner of the lead voice on it.

Enjoy!

Mint Royale featuring Lauren Laverne Perform ‘Don’t Falter’

on_the_ropes_mint_royale_-_cover_albumListen to this track by British dance outfit Mint Royale along with Sunderland-born DJ, TV presenter, and former frontwoman for punk-poppers Kenickie, Lauren Laverne.  The song is taken from the group’s 2001 album On the Ropes.

This song was a big hit in England, all over the radio during the last summer I spent there.  Therefore, it holds something of a special place in my heart.  And what  a song it is; just a burst of youthful vigour and the optimism of young love that makes it a classic slice of summery pop.  One of the things that makes it is how strongly Laverne’s perkiness shines through, and as such it has miles and miles of personality along with being highly danceable.

As mentioned, Laverne had made a name for herself as the lead singer and guitarist of the mostly-girl punk pop band Kenickie who had a few hits in the end of the 90s, including ‘Punka’ and the irresistible ‘In Your Car’, It was clear that even though the band was short-lived, it wasn’t for lack of charm.  Laverne and her cohorts had that in spades.  And it’s the charm she exudes which really makes this song shine.

More recently, Laverne has secured a gig as a TV and radio presenter, known for a quirky and ironic style.   Among many shows, she’s presented coverage of the Glastonbury festival, the NME awards, and the British Saturday morning pop show CD:UK, and the London XFM breakfast show .

With those lucrative gigs in broadcasting, it’s unlikely that she’ll continue to develop a solo career  as a pop singer; kind of a shame for those of us who don’t live in Britain, and who (like me) find her to be a breezy, and unaffected pop singer in an age where personality and pop couldn’t be farther apart.

Enjoy!

Bedouin Soundclash Spin “Until We Burn in The Sun”

bsc_street_gospelsListen to this track by roots-reggae-meets-dance-meets-pop-meets-Middle-East outfit from Kingston Ontario, Canada – Bedouin Soundclash.  It’s “Until We Burn in the Sun (The Kids Just Want a Love Song)”.  The song is taken from the group’s 2007 record, Street Gospels.

I think taking music from various traditions and melding them together into something new, while making sure the seams don’t show , is a tricky thing.  Pulling together music of different cultures often means a kind of cash-in, an obvious attempt to try to capture a niche. And sometimes, it comes off as sounding dishonest.  It’s a difficult trap to avoid, and then come off with something artful in the end.  But, on this track, Bedouin Soundclash have managed it with seemingly very little effort, evoking reggae and club music to great effect.

From the rubbery basslines, to the Beth Orton-esque vocal, this music is on the same level as Massive Attack and Primal Scream for moodiness and emotive sounds against a danceable beat.  And I think too, it mirrors something of a growing concern of the millennial generation for the state of the world, without being too heavy-handed about it.

Speaking of this last point, Bedouin Soundclash have made no secret as to their interest in environmental issues, closely working with the David Suzuki Foundation.

For more information about that, and about the group in general, wander on down to the Bedouin Soundclash Website.

Enjoy!

Royksopp Spin Their Song “Eple”

Here’s a clip of Norwegian dance outfit Royksopp with my favourite track off of their 2001  Melody A.M. album.  There are some pieces of music which practically force you to move.  This is one of them.  You’ve been warned.

Royksopp

As mentioned previously, dance music and electronica has been unfairly burdened with the tag of disposable music.  It’s music designed for a specific purpose, with no real depth.  At least, this is the case in the minds of some.  But, like any genre, dance music is diverse, just as rock music is.  Some of it certainly is disposable.  But, not this track.

There’s something of the epic in this song.  It’s definitely widescreen.  Yet, it’s fun too, not imposing despite its size.  It has personality – kind of cheeky, a bit sexy too, but mostly it’s just celebratory. This is true of the whole album, which has a solid melodic element to it, as well as being highly danceable.

This tune reminds me of a certain group of friends I have in London, bopping their heads back and forth and giggling to this song as they were wont to do.  As much as I love this piece,  it makes me miss them.

For more about Royksopp, check out the Royksopp official website.

Enjoy!

Le Tigre Perform “Deceptacon”

Here’s a clip of post-feminist dance-punk band Le Tigre with performing their 1999 track “Deceptacon”.  The track was featured on their debut album Le Tigre.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, it seemed that a number of new bands were discovering the wonders of early-80s post punk and electro-pop.  Yet Le Tigre brought in some of their own brand of retro-80s dance-punk, simply by adding something of the early 90s riot grrrl scene to the proceedings, as well as a hint of Japanese pop flavourings as well.   They come by the former pretty honestly of course, given that frontwoman Kathleen Hanna’s earlier outfit Bikini Kill was a part of that influential 90s scene.

I really like the idea of the riot grrl movement, because it places women in contexts where they have been mostly tolerated and rarely celebrated in the mainstream.  One such context would be one of rocking out, playing their instruments, and going beyond the idea of woman-as-eyecandy while on stage.

But, what I appreciate even more is the idea of bringing in the ferocity of punk to music that is clearly designed to be enjoyed by a dance audience.  And in this song, I love that when you really strip everything back, you’ve got an insistant central riff and a droning chord structure that is as sexy as any John Lee Hooker stomp.  Take away the synths, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find the Blues.

Despite a few line-up changes, Le Tigre are a going concern.  Check them out on the Le Tigre MySpace Page.

Enjoy!

Yazoo AKA Yaz Perform “State Farm”

yazoo_you_and_me_bothListen to this song by 80s British soul-synth duo Yazoo, known on these shores as ‘Yaz’, with their 1983 song “State Farm” as taken from their second, and last, album You & Me Both.

Yazoo was an amalgam of two separate approaches to pop music.  Fresh out of leading Depeche Mode and then departing after their first album, Vince Clarke was still interested in the possibilities of European synthesizer music made by the likes of  Kraftwerk.  Alision Moyet was a dyed in the wool R&B singer.

In some ways, it’s a very odd pairing until you hear a song like “State Farm”, which is one of my favourites, or even their more well known hits “Situation”, “Don’t Go”, and of course their take on “Only You”.  All of these tunes pushed them to the top of the charts, with their first album scoring top ten in both their native UK, and in North America.

Yet, as successful as this band was, it would only prove to be something of a way station for the duo.  Moyet’s interest in soul would draw her out of the band, and she would enjoy a successful solo career by 1984.  Clarke would also flourish with a new band, Erasure and with a new singer in Andy Bell – who to my ears sounds a lot like Alison Moyet!

Recently, the pair have reunited for select shows, playing material from this album as well as from their first album Upstairs At Eric’s. They’ve called it the Reconnected tour.

For more information about Yaz(oo), and more music, check out the Yazoo official site.

Enjoy!

The Chemical Brothers Spin ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’

Here’s a clip of British big beat champions the Chemical Brothers with their giant-sized rave-up ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’, a central track off of their 1997 record Dig Your Own Hole.

Before hearing ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’, electronica and dance music and I weren’t too close.  Most of the stuff I’d heard up until then was thin, lifeless backbeats deviod of any real sonic depth. It was meant to be  functional, not listened to.  It’s hard for me to say a lot of the time why I love or hate a certain piece of music or even entire genres, but nine times out of ten, if the music is designed to do something without having a life of its own outside of that thing, it sucks. Music is its own thing.  It doesn’t need to be for something other than itself.

But, when I heard ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ I was forced to reassess my preconceptions about what electronica and dance music actually is, and how to judge it as music in relation to my rockist point of view.

The piece is a collection of samples, yet the juice from the performance (Schooly D’s “Gucci Again”, among others) once removed is retained.  That central riff is a bass guitar played high up the neck, and the beats are borrowed from real drums.   The Chems left something of the warmth of a real performance in.   And where the raver kid doesn’t notice perhaps, the rockist like me does.  I think this is a part of what made them such a prominent force in dance music from the mid-90s onward.  They understand subtlety, and attention to detail.

And this may explain why someone like Noel Gallagher – a bigger rockist you’ll never find – worked with them on their subsequent single ‘Let Forever Be’.  They knew that sampling is as much a part of rock history as the blues is, and Noel Gallagher knew this from being a Beatles fan, the band that made the song to which the Chemical Brothers owe a debt – “Tomorrow Never Knows”created  it using tape loops.

‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ opened things up for me, and where I’m still a boring old rockist for the most part, this track and many like it from outfits like Underworld, Orbital, Royksopp, and others still have the ability to give my ear something to chew on while I’m shaking my butt embarrassingly around the room.

For more about the Chemical Brothers, check out the Chemical Brothers Website.

Enjoy!

Michael Jackson Sings ‘Rock With You’

Here’s a clip of former Jackson 5 frontboy Michael Jackson with his 1979 disco-pop radio smash “Rock With You” as taken from the superlative pre-Thriller , pre-superfame, pre-Whacko Jacko album, Off the Wall.

This song is quite simply one of the most joyous pop records ever made.

It’s one of those songs which contains an entire world inside it – a world of innocence, fun, and freedom, characterized by an ethereal beauty beneath its infectious dance grooves.  This is the fantasy world of late night disco parties, yet free of the jaded self-indulgence. This is the purity of youth, of young love, and the power of movement and music that brings it all together.

There are songs which are of their time, and this is certainly one of them.  Yet, in this case, its being of its time is not a detriment to how well it’s aged.  It’s more like something which is preserved in amber; a time, a feeling, a state of being that can not be repeated, yet can certainly be celebrated every time it’s heard.  When Michael says ‘rock with you’ he really is talking about dancing.  In this, we get the good side of Jackson’s gravitation towards childhood; a time when all intentions are pure, and everything said is as honest as it will ever be.

This is Michael Jackson in a transitional period in his career, barely into his twenties and already a veteran recording star.  In this, he carries himself as the relaxed pro, hitting each tone as it should be hit, and certainly getting inside the material and making us believe it.  Some how on this record, you just know this guy has the moves.  You don’t have to see him dance, you just know that he’s as good as his word.  If Thriller put him into the stratosphere and into the realm of insanity at the same time, this was the sound of Jackson as the singer, the entertainer, and not as the self-styled pop Messiah of later years.

For me, this is the Michael Jackson  we all want him to be; the consummate performer, transporting us to a world of dance floors and young love as easily as a spirit moving over the waters.  It’s a cruel irony that the very thing that made him great would also be his undoing.  Yet, when I hear ‘Rock With You’, the pale tragic figure that became a self-parody couldn’t be further away.

Enjoy!

Tom Tom Club Perform “Genius of Love”

Here’s a clip of Tom Tom Club’s infectious 1981 dance floor filler “Genius of Love”, taken from their self-titled debut album. This is the sound of early 80s dance music at its best, folks: funky, sexy, yet somehow more innocent than the dance music of today. To me, it’s the sound of adolescence.

Tom Tom Club, 1981
Tom Tom Club, 1981

The group is actually an off-shoot project as led by bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz, both of Talking Heads, expanding on the more funk-oriented interests of that parent band, along with an exploration of early hip hop textures. The ‘band’ Tom Tom Club was initially more of a collective than a traditional group, with Weymouth and Frantz acting as musical fulcrums for the contributions of guests.

It is important to note that on the New York club circuit in the late 70s-early 80s, dance music was the leader of the pack, and punk coming out of CBGBs, a scene in which the ‘Heads flourished, was just a stray pup trailing behind in comparison. Needless to say, this is a very New York track, as much as any music coming out of the punk clubs of the time. The world which this track typifies is where a young and hungry Madonna would make her name, and build her initial sound.

And of course, then there was the nascent hip hop scene, in which this track would play an important role too. It would be sampled heavily by disparate artists in that genre, starting with Grandmaster Flash and Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde. It would later hit the mainstream in the 90s, when it was sampled for the Mariah Carey track “Fantasy”. That’s what I call a groove with mileage, despite what you may think of Mariah Carey.

Through the life of the Tom Tom Club ‘vehicle’, Weymouth and Frantz would release a number of albums spread out across the decades from ’81 to the 21st century, with the project becoming their main focus when Talking Heads broke up officially in 1991. They kept their eyes on the urban scene, using it as a sort of stylistic horizon while adding in influences from other genres. The project remains to be a going concern for the pair, recently playing shows with Devo, their early 80s classmates. Yet, this song marks their biggest mainstream success.

For more about Tom Tom Club, boogie on down to the official Tom Tom Club site.

Enjoy!