Our favorite things this week include Holy Ghost!, Private Collections, and "Mo' Meta Blues."
Questlove's Blues: In the Spike Lee film Mo’ Better Blues, Denzel Washington plays an old trumpet player purist angered at the black community’s apathy towards the jazz he loves until a young saxophonist, played by Wesley Snipes, responds that the community is uninterested because Washington’s style is outdated and irrelevant. In the recent book Mo’ Meta Blues, Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson wrestles with this theme, discussing the maturation of his music tastes (several chapters are devoted to his favorite albums throughout the years), the invention of neo-soul, and struggling to stay true to the art in a growing, sales-focused industry.
The most fun sections of the book are what make any nonfiction interesting: the stories. Roller-skating with Prince. Partying with Tracy Morgan. Sitting behind Nas during the controversial 1995 Source Awards. Much like The Roots' music, Quest’s book challenges the conventional. Its structure is filled with emails from the editor and footnotes from his manager, who essentially (and frequently) calls him out on his bullshit. Most importantly, Quest alerts readers to the fateful direction of hip-hop. No longer is it a music that listeners can relate to, he says, and tales of drugs, women and rock star lifestyles have replaced the lyricism and social commentary that once defined the genre. (Will Halmon)
The Ghost in the Disco: While sitting at the McDonald's on South Claiborne enjoying my extra-large dose of obesity, I scrolled through my phone's Facebook app and let out some sort of audible sound that suggested life-ending horror. It was a status update from LCD Soundsystem, a group that was essential to developing my musical tastes. Mastermind James Murphy announced that LCD Soundsytem would cease to exist after a farewell blowout at Madison Square Garden in 2011. For the first time, I was truly depressed by a band breaking up.
Since then, I've spun LCD on repeat for months of my life, been foiled by scalpers who kept me from going to that final show, and shed actual tears while watching the documentary about it. It's safe to say a disco-rock-whatever-you-wanna-call-it void has carved out a cavern in my ears, maybe even my heart. But said heart skipped a beat when said ears first heard Holy Ghost!'s "Dumb Disco Ideas." Holy Ghost!, is signed to Murphy's DFA Records, and he is a constant collaborator. Despite an impressive catalog of singles, remixes and a debut album, I've lingered on "Dumb Disco Ideas" throughout the summer, perhaps because it does what I miss most about LCD Soundsystem. Holy Ghost! takes time on "Dumb Disco Ideas" to let everything build while crafting ear-worm melodies, and it's refreshing to come across an 8-minute song in 2013 that doesn't have an ambient anti-dance break. "Dumb Disco Ideas" isn't innovative, but it and the single "Teenagers in Heat" give me hope that the duo's second album, Dynamics, due out September. 10, will turn some heads. That's hardly a dumb idea. (Brian Sibile)
Kid Stuff: Recently, the Digital Daily News tracked the precipitous decline in sales of Jay Z's new Magna Carta … The Holy Grail. The album moved 1,528,424 copies the first week ("moved" because a million of those were giveaways to Samsung mobile customers), then sold 129,453 the next and 77,061 the next according to Nielsen Soundscan. The point was to show how short the shelf life for an album is these days. Daft Punk's Get Lucky had a similarly explosive opening week and also imploded the next.
In our house, Jay Z gets love, but in lullaby form. Our daughter is three months old today, and she listens to Rockabye Baby's Lullaby Renditions of Jay-Z, which presents Hova's classics as if they were played by a music box. The melodies are broken down to single, percussive, mechanical notes, reducing them to their essentials, often revealing that energy isn't as essential as you might think. Clara responds to "New York State of Mind" (who doesn't?) and "Young Forever," but gets restless and needs a pacifier during "Show Me What You Got" and "Run This Town."
I knew from a story I did on The Imagination Movers that there's an entire subset of the music business made for parents who want music for their children that they can endure, and the Jay Z album introduced me to Rockabye Baby's extensive catalog of lullaby albums of songs by The Beatles, The Cure, The White Stripes, Prince, Kiss, Bob Dylan, Queen, U2 and Nirvana to name a few. My wife thinks the lullaby version of Rush's "Tom Sawyer" is a travesty, and I'm amused by Blur's "Song No. 2" with all the charge drained out of it, but so far, the target audience in the house responds far less critically. (Alex Rawls)
Private Dances: August in New Orleans is an acquired taste. There are things about living here that we enjoy most of the year - things that many other cities can't claim that we lean on heavily to get us through the syrup-y slow hot month ahead. For me the constant companion that is WWOZ is essential. A good soundtrack can get me through almost anything. This month, in collaboration with Euclid Records, WWOZ DJs appear outside of the studio at "Private Collections," a Sunday evening happy hour at Siberia. This weekend, The Problem Child (whose Friday afternoon "Blues Breakdown" show is one of my favorites) and George Ingmire will spin records from 6-9 p.m. A percentage of bar proceeds (there's no cover, so drink up!) will go to the station. It might be the only reason I'll leave my house to brave the hot streets. (Amie Marvel)