Return to 2007 #10 – Mos Def – Tru3 Magic

danieltalsky | Albums,Best of the Year,Reviews | Friday, October 31st, 2008

I'm returning to 2007 to see how my Best Albums of 2007 list has fared this year before tackling the best of 2008.

My review from the tinyblog:

Normally I hate songs like There is a Way, for just the reason Mos Def says at the beginning of the song, "This song only has four lyrics," but then he says why he would make such a song, "but this is what we really need to be singing right now." The lyrics, in case you were curious are:

There is a way, no matter what they say
and
Don't give up, don't give in.

He sings it like he means it. Just like the Beatles Let It Be where they sing those words probably 50 times. They make every time count. I tried to sing it in karaoke one time and let me tell you, it's harder than it sounds.

I had given up on Mos Def a little, although I always loved his voice, probably one of the straight-up loveliest in hip-hop. But Mos Def is a smart guy and I shouldn't have written him off. Almost everyone I gave music to this year (who likes hip hop) came back to me later and said: hey, I really liked the Mos Def.

It's not too hard to see why, because this album MOVES. His rhymes are good, his singing is amazing, and he zigs where a lot of hip hop zags. Not too much hip hop is so pretty and still makes you think. He stumbles a little in songs like Thug is a Drug, but makes up for it in great songs like Sun, Moon & Stars, and his Liquid Swords tribute Crime and Medicine. It's hilarious to hear him crooning softly GZA's impaired slogan, "To snort cocaine, and act insane" so sweet and regretfully.

Oh, and the 3 is because it's his 3rd album. I like the minimal packaging too… a soft plastic case with no paper, just the CD. Pretty damn good album, but it's at #10 for a reason. On the whole it's not a masterpiece, the whole album doesn't quite rise above the sum of its parts. Still, Undeniable and Sun, Moon and Stars is going in my permanent party rocking list.

My Sweet Snob Commentary, a year later:

To be honest, if I'd known about Yeasayer – All Hour Cymbals, or Okkervil River – The Stand Ins, or Stars of the Lid – And The Refinement of Their Decline, this album wouldn't have had a chance in hell of making the top ten.

It is a solid album by a solid artist, and it's true, Sun, Moon and Stars is a fantastic mellow party-rocking song.  Mos Def has a voice sweet and smooth as grade A maple syrup.  And There Is a Way could have been the Obama campaign theme song.  But it's not quite a top tenner in retrospect.  C'est la vie!

It's worth hearing the aforementioned Sun, Moon and Stars:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/10-sun-moon-stars.mp3]

And There is a Way:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/09-there-is-a-way.mp3]

Best Albums of 2007 / Best Albums of 2008

danieltalsky | Uncategorized | Friday, October 31st, 2008

Last year, on the tinyblog, I did a countdown to the top 10 albums (according to the not-yet-developed Sweet Snob) released in 2007.  Now, it's almost the end of 2008, and there's been some really spectacular albums.  It's almost time for this year's best of, according to, yes, me.

In honor of this, and in honor of the sweet snob, I would really like to have the best of 2007 posts here on The Sweet Snob.  Over the next few days I'm going to be re-posting the tinyblog reviews of my top 10 of 2007, but with the added snob bonus of: listenable tracks and an updated "how is this album still fareing in late 2008" report.

Plants and Animals – Parc Avenue

danieltalsky | Albums,Reviews | Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Oh my god. My little sister (the nun) just left me a little voicemail, singing a line from Plants and Animals – Bye Bye Bye:

Oh, today I saw a flower
And I had the feeling there would be another
One in the wintertime and one in the summer

And she said, "I've had it my head all day."  I almost cried from the sweetness of it.

I'm careful not to give my sister much music.  That's not really what her life is about now, and she's definitely prone to obsession in music in a way even I can't match.  But when I last saw her at the Reiser-Cohen Wedding, I burned a bunch of CD's for us to listen to in the rental car.  (While I was there, I missed Plants and Animals playing in Seattle!)  My mom bought a little CD case and we sent all the CD's home with Elisabeth.  She didn't like Plants and Animals too much on first listen, but I encouraged her to give it another try.  Her little plaintive verse was her way of sending a sweet little acknowledgment that this is, in fact, a really awesome album.

I ignored it for several months myself, after a couple of cursory listens, until it hit Pitchfork's Overlooked Records of 2008 list, and I decided to give it a few more listens.

Oh, am I glad I did.  A warmer, more lovely, more sincere rock album could hardly have happened in 2008.

Oh, okay, it's indie rock, but hey, even people who like regular, pretty mainstream rock could get into this album, I think.  Chamber music, classic rock, boogie woogie, soul music… all of these seem like influences in what is an album that I truly think will stand the test of time.  The songs are built around some amazing arpeggio-based guitar playing, but horns, string instraments, and many other instraments make a rich sound for this band out of Montreal.

There's not too many indie albums I hear these days made with such good-humored, light-hearted skill, and this album really is a hidden gem.

Two songs from this one, since they're so different.  The sublime and mellow À L'orée Des Bois, which seems to tell a story of making the album in an apartment:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/05-a-loree-des-bois.mp3]

And the more rocking funk-jam Mercy:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/08-mercy.mp3]

Vios Cafe and Marketplace

danieltalsky | Restaurants,Reviews | Thursday, October 30th, 2008

I've been complaining lately about Greek restaurants.  In case you haven't noticed, they're really bad.  Seriously, at this point, when I see "Greek Restaurant" I can pretty much assume it's going to be the same limp and sad diner food.

Dry-ass gyros (you could get better from any decent gyros stand), cold and hard moussaka, overdone vegetables in a pasty tomato sauce, greasy orzo.  Basically a $13 greasy plate of crap that you need a good, cold Mythos to wash down.

Am I being too harsh?  Probably, but I've noticed that if a "Greek" is code for this kind of diner food.  A perfect example is the overpriced Costas Opa in Fremont.  If it's good, then they bill it as "Mediterranean" and leave the Greek out of it.  There's one of these Greek restaurants in just about every neighborhood of any town.  It serves a purpose I suppose, but I've just about had enough of it for a lifetime.

That's why when Amanda said, "You want to go to the new Greek place by my house?" I was indeed dubious.  As we walked up I noticed that it said "Greek / Mediterranean", so I guess they're splitting the difference.  They serve Mythos, so it's Greek as far as I'm concerned.

But then, I had some of the best Greek food I've ever tasted.

The restaurant lives on the back-side of Capitol Hill, where some of the foodie vibe of nearby Monsoon and The Kingfish Cafe clearly rub off on it.  I don't think anything else has succeeded in this space, but when we walked into the clean, bright restaurant, it was nearly packed on a Wednesday night, a good sign that it's caught on with the very locals.  It's got a big deli-case setup, but the food is priced like… well, humble fine-dining.

We had a couple of simple plates, Salami plate (from the truly spectacular-in-every-way Salumi) and triple-meze plate.  The pita was hot and fresh, and the baba-ganoush and tzatziki were fresh and vibrant and a little chunky just like they should be.

The star was my entree though: a pork stew.  It really was more of a terrine, where vegetables (and in this case, fruit) and meat are braised for a long time in a small amount of thick, flavorful braising sauce.  It was a gentle stew of roasted potato wedges, incredibly soft chunks of pork, and plums slices(!).  I can't tell you how much meat done right pleases me.

That was the only real dish we ordered, but I saw other lovely meat dishes come to people's place, and all looked done with the greatest care.

I think I'm ready to have another look at Greek food.

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain

danieltalsky | Albums,My Favorite Things (Classics),Reviews | Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Do you know what this album MEANS TO ME?  DO YOU?!  Tears have streamed down my eyes as I listened to this album, high on hallucinogenic mushrooms.  Roommates have nearly killed me for listening to the title track too many times ("That song sounds like Spinal Tap's 'Sex Farm Girl'!").  I have told the (dubious) story of its title track to anyone who I thought would sit through all 9 minutes of it and really listen.

I have real love for long-play albums that can realize their full potential in five or six songs (see Joanna Newsom's Ys (see my word record for parenthetical statements in this review (it's like Lisp))).  Maggot Brain is no exception.

First of all, for the totally clueless, who is Funkadelic, right?  I could answer by referring to the song, "Mommy, What's a Funkadelic?" which I bet George Clinton would prefer, but I won't.  Oh the venerable George Clinton, he's still touring, doing both songs from his older Funk/Rock band Funkadelic, and his late 70's horn ensemble funk band Parliament.  I just about guarantee you've heard a Parliament song.

The first few Funkadelic albums are amazing rock albums.  These dudes were stoned out of their gourds and clearly taking some amazing shit, because they were fountains of love, excitement and creativity.  They invented their own sonic worlds and terminology.  Rappers have been biting their style and getting Clinton to come do cameos, and probably will be propping up Clinton's old bones on stage 50 years from now for street cred.

Dr. Dre points at his Funkadelic weed leaf t-shirt in his The Chronic videos from the 90's.  En Vogue had a hit in the 90's with "Free Your Mind and The Rest Will Follow", a sad rip-off of Funkadelic's "Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow".  Countless hip-hop artists have sampled Funkadelic and chanted, "Think!  Think!  It ain't illegal yet!"  But this album came from back in the days when they weren't so influential.

The album opens with a little bit of machine gun sounds in the distance, and George Clinton's low growling chant, that I still play for people sometimes when they're feeling hopeless about the world:

Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time,
for y’all have knocked her up
I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe.
I was not offended
For I knew I had to rise above it all
or drown in my own shit

And then begins Eddie Hazel's nine-minute guitar solo, the story of which goes like this (cobbled from a biography and interviews I've read over the years and totally unsourced but widely believed):

Eddie Hazel and the rest of the band were total junkies by this point and Clinton is having a hard time even getting a decent recording out of them.  Hazel is totally gone on some Orange Sunshine LSD.  Clinton stands him up and says, "Think about the saddest thing you can think of."  Hazel's like, "My mom dying, man." Clinton says, "Okay, play a solo about that."

So Hazel plays this solo that really has to be heard to be believed (don't worry, I'm embedding it!) where the guitar goes through the 5 stages of grieving or whatever, howling, sobbing, accepting, raging, all that.  Clinton was so amazed he faded out the rest of the band and just let Eddie's amazing solo stand.

But that's not all.  "Can You Get to That", just totally changes the whole game with a simple, joyous funk song that warns, "When you place your love on credit, then when your lovin' days are done, checks you signed with the love and kisses later come back sayin' insufficient funds."  Words to live by, people.

The next three songs are just three unbelievably solid funk songs, and "Back in our Minds" is a reconciliation song that features some kind of strange water glass percussion.  "You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks" in particular moved me so much I always thought it would be the perfect song in a film soundtrack.  When I actually heard it in a film soundtrack I was happy but a little disappointed it wasn't what I had in my head.

Finally, the songs ends with another semi-epic, "Wars of Armageddon".  The whole album is kind of about household and family love and war, and Wars is a cowbell and tom-tom peppered noise poem on the topic.  Babies cry, someone shouts, "Shut up, I gotta go to work!"  Sirens blare.  People chant, "What do we want?  FREEDOM!  When do we want it?  NOW!"  Clinton stonedly intones, "More power to the people, more power to the pussy, more pussy to the people, right on!"

The song and album end with a huge atomic explosion and someone says softly, "Revolution!  It's a fat, funky person."  Right, dude.  Then one last funk lick and a mother's heartbeat bring it to a close.  Now that's a goddamn album.

Gotta do two on this one.  Maggot Brain itself:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/01-maggot-brain.mp3]

and Can You Get to That:

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/02-can-you-get-to-that.mp3]

Enjoy!

Ok, I'll Do It

danieltalsky | Self-Referential | Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

I think I'm going to launch today.  What the hell.  If I'm doing all this writing, people might as well be reading it.

Department of Eagles – In Ear Park

danieltalsky | Albums,Reviews | Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

This is two reviews.  One for people who know who Grizzly Bear is and one for those who don't.

For Those Who Know Who Grizzly Bear Is:

OK, yes, this is a Grizzly Bear side project.  In many ways it sounds like Grizzly Bear.  It has the same soft, earnest vocals and harmonies.  It has a similar multilayered multi-instramental approach to folk music, what many would call "freak folk". But, I'd like you to consider the possibility that Department of Eagles is their own band, and what they're doing is possibly more vital and direct and exciting than anything on yellow house.

For Everyone Else:

I love the cover.  It's like a spotlight on a section of trees, in the middle of a dark night.  Every detail of the trees stands out, but it's as if these trees exist in the middle of nowhere.  They are bright and vivid, and they fade to black.  It's a great photo, and really sets the tone for what's inside.

To me this album sounds like some of the best mid-career Beatles.  Where they stopped trying to be a regular teeny bopper rock band and got caught up in the psychadelia of their era, but before they began their post-modern howl of The White Album.  Around Sgt. Peppers, and Abbey Road. I'm taking Maxwell's Silver Hammer, When I'm 64, The End, and A Day in the Life.  Catchy, meaningful songs with beautiful singing and an innovative (for the time) approach to pop music.

Not that Department of Eagles is a Beatles clone.  It's more like what the Beatles might make today if they were still alive and creative and vital… and, humble?  The singer most certainly is more Paul McCartney than John Lennon though.  If you can't stomach that soft-voiced indie singing, this may not be the band for you. It's no The Shins, though.

The main ingredient is guitar, but then all these shades of pastel find their way in, handclaps, trombone, effects, all somehow making it like space folk music come to earth.  There's a range, probably from morose: death and classical music albums that cry because they are unplayed, to truly exciting.  You could kind of compare them to, you know, Grizzly Bear.

I'm including one lovely song, No One Does it Like you, but I recommend you go over to Daytrotter, where they did almost an EP's worth of live recordings, some on the album and some new.  Enjoy!

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/deptofeagles-noonedoesitlikeyou.mp3]

The Last Picture Show

danieltalsky | Films,My Favorite Things (Classics),Reviews | Monday, October 27th, 2008

Peter Bogdonavich, wrote a screenplay from a novel called The Last Picture Show. He was a director with a few stinker movies trying to make his big break. He sees a teenage Cybil Shepherd on the cover of a magazine and says, "Holy Crap, I've got to have that girl as my hot young affai… I mean, leading lady!"

He finds the girl, casts her, has an affair with her, threatens to stop "giving her direction" if she doesn't agree to show her tits on film.  He sequesters the cast from the crew because he wants them to be uncorrupted by the riff raff.

Then he shot the first major motion picture in black and white since the early 60's, in 1971.  He shot it in the actual hometown of the guy who wrote the novel.  He even used one of the local kids who lived there in a speaking role.

Sounds like a recipe for total disaster to me, except the movie is truly a thing of beauty.  The stark, simple setting of a small town on the decline, gives a bunch of young actors who went on to be really big a place to shine, and every still is something you could hang on your wall.

It's not hard to imagine this kind of vulnerability, treachery and love happening in a real small town in the 50's.  Every scene has it's own secret rhythm.

Jeff Bridges' character Sonny walks into a pool hall owned by Sam the Lion.  Sam looks on while Sonny grabs a soda, some little snack, and saunters over to the pool table.  Finally Sam speaks, "You ain't never gonna amount to nothing.  You've already spent a nickel today and you haven't even had a decent breakfast."

It looks like it's going to be a simple, naive tale of a small town, but it's really about taking that small town and showing its little fish bowl of reality.  The town tart shrewdly works every situation for all it's worth.  The gay coach's wife courts a boy just out of high school.  The lady who owns the diner and will "probaby be making hamburgers for your grandchildren" calmly dispenses advice.

You can see it's not easy for someone to make a simple black and white movie with such heat and human warmth.  It's a masterwork, and every scene plays out with perfection and has its own special rhythm.  Each one could be it's own tiny one-act play.  Only one maudlin scene mars its perfection, with one tragic death too many.

I just read this and sadly realized I didn't get across why I love this movie so much.

Fleet Foxes come into their own at the Moore, October 19th, 2008

danieltalsky | Concerts,Reviews | Monday, October 20th, 2008
Fleet Foxes at the Moore October 19th, 2008

Fleet Foxes at the Moore; Photo by Josh Phillips with Permission

This was the third time I've seen Fleet Foxes.

I had seen their name all over town and never knew what kind of band they were, just that they were local and played a lot of gigs.  Then, when their amazing EP The Sun Giant came out and I listened to it almost to the exclusion of anything else, I was like, "God, I need to go see these local boys!"  By then though, they were on a national tour, and weren't coming back to Seattle for months.  As an opener for another band (Blitzen Trapper) no less.

I bought tickets that day, and when the day finally came I was pretty excited.  The club was packed for the Foxes and they played a short opener set with songs from the EP and a couple of the songs from the upcoming self-titled LP.  The sound seemed muddy and they just didn't seem to have that same precision and beauty as on their recording.  Locals turned out in droves for them that night, though, and emptied out when Blitzen Trapper came on, sadly.

Finally, the LP came out, and it was a stunner.  Pitchfork gave it a 9.0 and for a long time it was the best selling album in local record shops for a while, and had a resonable billboard chart position.  The next time I saw them was at possibly their biggest gig yet, the Capitol Hill Block Party main stage.

They kinda sucked.  Pecknold came onstage smoking for the soundcheck and looked like he didn't give much of a crap.  When they came on they seemed not to know how to deal with a big crowd, and their stage banter was pathetically ametuerish, "Wow.  This is a lot of people.  We don't know what we'd say that would apply to everyone here.  Uhhh… we're in Capitol Hill?"  Right.  Uhhh, I don't know… talk about the actual songs?"

Then, Robin barely could hit his notes, the the band sounded sloppy and uncaring.  These are pretty simple songs, all in all, and the feeling of intricacy that comes through on the album is partially from the precision they project in their changes and harmonies.  They didn't really bring it.

But… I had a feeling, when I heard they were playing at the very large Seattle venue, the Moore, an old theater, that they were going to sink or swim.  They were the stars of the show, and they'd had a chance to get used to their sudden fame.  It was a hometown show, and I felt like if they were going to step up to the plate and be the superstars I knew they were capable of being, they would need to step their game up a hair.

Well, I'm happy to report that the Moore show was one of the best live shows I have ever seen.  Gone was the painful self-consciousness.  They seemed to have come into their own.  They bantered sweetly and self depricatingly with the audience, who hung on their every word.  They name-dropped celebrities they now brush elbows with, and then made fun of themselves for doing it for the rest of the night.

They came up with clever bon mot's for just about everything a member of the audience yelled, and gave props to all their grade school teachers in the audience.  Someone shouted at the beginning, "You guys rock!" and Robin said in response, "And we haven't even started playing yet."  It's fair to say they sparkled.  Oh yeah, and they played their amazing songs.

It was a phenomenal performance.  Their recorded precision came through, and Robin sang with a power and fluidity that stunned everyone and actually gave me chills.  To get a sense of Robin's vocal power, he came out alone at first for the encore, and sang a song at the edge of the stage… without amplification.

I was near the back of the first balcony and I could hear him clear as a goddamn bell.

They sounded like superstars.   Please come out with another album, Fleet Foxes.

Nina Simone – Sings The Blues

danieltalsky | Albums,My Favorite Things (Classics),Reviews | Saturday, October 18th, 2008

Artist: Nina Simone
Album: Sings the Blues

I had the chance to see Nina twice before she died.  The first time I had just got into this amazing album and I figured she must be washed up and not that great anymore by now.  When my coworker showed up the next day and told me how amazing she was, I kicked myself and vowed I wouldn't miss her again.  The next time she came, it was to Benaroya hall with $60 tickets that I just. could. not. afford.  There wasn't a next time.  She died shortly after that.

Could this be my favorite album of all time?  It's in the top five for sure.

This was Nina's first album after moving to a new record label in 1967, and she just laid down something so raw and beautiful here.  I just don't think there's any album quite like it.  Under any conditions, Nina is a master at work.  This album is just a power-packed collection of songs, some political, some sexual, some dangerous, but all with a similar potency and a direct and clear recorded sound.  These are simple, strong recordings, with Nina on piano, and able players all around.

I wish there were some way to explain the emotional power that she packs into each song.  You can listen to the best music released this year and I don't think you will hear another singer with the same kind of unique punch.   I've played Nina Simone for people for the first time before, and had them say after 5 minutes, "Is this a man or a woman?"

The key to the album is in how she closes it.  The last two songs are the Bob Dylan cover "I Shall Be Released", and the blues standard "Gin House Blues".   Many talented performers have taken the brilliant works of Dylan, and turned them into something much larger with their voice than Dylan ever could (see: All Along the Watchtower), and Nina Simone is up in that league for sure.  It's particularly intense, because it's a song explicitly talking about the world of men and it's accountability and disappointments, and there's Simone, belting it out like Dylan didn't mean "man" or "woman" when he said "man".  Compared to Dylan's version, it's even more heartbreaking.

She could have left it at that, and it would have been a great end to the album, but she turns it up to 11 and ends with Gin House Blues, singing like a belligerent drunk, "I don't care!  Give me my gin!"

Then there's the album opener, and it's companions, the sexy songs: Do I Move You, In The Dark, I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl, Buck (written by her husband at the time), and Turn Me On.  This is the smoldering suite, and these songs are truly pure, raw, uncut sex.  They have taken my breath away so many times I can't believe they still have the ability to do it.  The very first words of the album are from the Simone original:

Do I move you, are you willing
Do I groove you, is it thrilling
Do I soothe you, tell the truth now
Do I move you, are you loose now
The answer better be yes
That pleases me

That's right.  The answer better be yes.  This album shows her at her absolute best, and her best is pretty damn good.

Nina Simone – I Shall Be Released

[audio:http://thesweetsnob.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/16-i-shall-be-released.mp3]
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