Outside Lands happened in August. It’s now October. But I figured I might as well post some photos from the beautifully situated festival in the heart of San Francisco. I don’t pretend to be a good photographer, but Golden Gate Park is quite photogenic.
“I tried to tell y’all.”
Turns out Damian Lillard, Oakland native and clutch Portland Trailblazers all-star, can rap. He appeared on Sway in the Morning on Sirius XM radio and “spit a little bit” with perfect rhythm and some deep lyrics. Check out Sway’s “pleasant surprise” face at 2:54. Turns out Lillard can shut down on the mic as well as on the court.
Adam Yauch, known on stage as “MCA” and in our ears as the Beastie Boy with the low and raspy voice, died of cancer last week at the age of 47. Besides being a gifted, yet hilarious rapper, he was an all-around good guy who knew what was important. Yauch’s passing is effectively the end of the Beastie Boys, because there’s no way they can carry on with out the heart, soul, and founding member of the group.
I’m just one voice out of the many that have already expressed their feelings over Yauch’s death. Feelings of joy, regret, and nostalgia. But all the stories are personal and unique, rendering every single one of them useful and appreciated. When I was in 5th grade, I owned two albums — The Beatles: 1962-1966 and the Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty. I couldn’t stop listening to “Intergalactic” and was beyond excited every time they played it on the radio (106.7 KROQ, represent). I studied the lyrics until I mastered the whole thing and “performed” it for people at school. They would say “David, rap! Do a rap!” And so I’d bust out “Intergalactic” and probably sounded like an idiot, but I loved it.
It seems weird to get all sentimental about three goofballs who rapped about partying and brass monkeys and rumps. But when something is so inseparable and intertwined with your youth, you can’t help but feel it in your gut when it comes to an end. I’ll never stop blasting the Beastie Boys. R.I.P. MCA.
Levon Helm, legendary drummer and vocalist for the Band, passed away from throat cancer last Thursday. Helm was unique in many ways — not only was he one of a select few drummers who also took over singing duties, but the Arkansas-native’s All-American voice was one in a million. If purple mountains’ majesties and fruited plains could sing, they would sound like Levon Helm.
Below, watch a clip of the Band performing their classic and timeless single “The Weight” from the Martin Scorsese-directed film The Last Waltz, which documents the Band playing their farewell concert in 1976. Then listen to the studio cut of the fun-loving “Up on Cripple Creek.”
The Band – “The Weight” (Live from The Last Waltz)
The Band – “Up on Cripple Creek”
There’s nothing quite like a solid “Night Drive” playlist, whether you’re throwing it on in a city with flashing lights or on some long and winding road. It needs a steady but compelling beat, with an aura of mystery about it. For me, the 90’s classic “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega is a perfect example. For a more indie-electro approach, I strongly suggest you download “Lady” by Chromatics and sync up your iPod. In fact, download the whole album, Kill For Love. It sets the mood perfectly. Two pieces of evidence that prove Chromatics can pinpoint the “Night Drive” aesthetic:
- Their previous album was called, uh, Night Drive.
- Johnny Jewel, Chromatics’ main man, was originally slated to score the entire movie Drive. The one with Ryan Gosling. If you’re one of the 99% of girls and 73% of guys that think Ryan Gosling is hot, well, there’s one more reason to check out this track. No, he’s not in this video, sorry.
Hopefully you’ve been watching the Coachella live stream this weekend. Or maybe you’ve decided to refrain from watching so as not to bang your head incessantly against a wall in anger for not being there. Don’t worry, my bruises aren’t too bad. I caught the tUnE-yArDs set today and it was absolutely incredible. For those that aren’t familiar, tUne-yArDs is the vehicle for Merrill Garbus and her completely unique compositions. Her last record, 2011’s whokill, is both catchy and experimental, with its drum beats, random sax lines, and Garbus’s guttural singing. Here’s the newly released video for the first cut on the album, “My Country,” complete with multitudes of colors and kids.
Seeing tUnE-yArDs on stage though was revelatory. She does all the drum and vocal loops live. Watching her work is incredible, even if you’re not into the music that much. She’ll get to work on a complex drum beat, adding layers upon layers, after which she’ll do syncopated vocal harmonies (remember how I feel about vocal harmonies) until it’s a full chorus and percussion section right there for her to manipulate with the tips of her toes on the pedals. The energy she brings to the show is amazing, as she strums along on her ukulele and yelps in tune with her loops.
No one’s put up a good recording of her Coachella performance, so I’ve posted a Studio 360 performance of “Bizness,” one of her best tracks. It’s weird seeing the audience sitting down instead of dancing, but it looks like the venue didn’t exactly provide for festival behavior. It’s still a great example of watching how Merrill Garbus does her thing.
Are you hesitating? I know what your hold-up is — it’s those darn capital letters, isn’t it? It took months for me to finally check out tUnE-yArDs because I hated those random capital letters. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
Any white guy attempting to analyze Latin American music is prone to rely on Latin American stereotypes. We love to use the word “passionate” in this particular case. I’ll refrain from those types of classifications, but I will say that I’ve seen the electricity that bachata brings on the dance floor, and I’ll leave it at that.
Aventura – “Obsesion”
Bachata has its origins in the Dominican Republic in the early 20th century, combining African elements with Caribbean rhythms (thank you, Wikipedia). The building blocks include a lead guitar, rhythm guitar, electric bass guitar, and most importantly, two percussion instruments — bongos and güira. A güira is a cylindrical sheet of metal with perforations and sounds like maracas when played with a brush. Although the guitar is the most prominent instrument in the genre (especially as the popularity of electric bachata rose over acoustic bachata in the 1990s), to me, the heart and soul of bachata lies in the percussion. When the bongos and güira are going, it’s easy to get drawn into the beat. I love it.
Bachata does have one shortcoming — most songs sound indistinguishably similar. I’ve spent all this time lauding the percussion, but I have to note that the beats and rhythms don’t really vary from song to song. Of course that’s kind of the point — that particular rhythm is what makes it bachata. It’s an essential part of the formula.
The most popular bachata band is most decidedly Aventura — you can find one of their biggest hits “Obsesion” embedded towards the beginning of the post. They were instrumental in bringing bachata into the mainstream by modernizing it and adding some hip-hop and R&B flavor. My favorite Aventura song is “Por Un Segundo,” which adds in some Indian influence as well, to great effect.
Aventura – “Por Un Segundo”
Monchy y Alexandra take advantage of the male/female dynamic, letting the listener in on their conversations. In “Dos Locos,” they sing about being with other lovers, but only thinking of each other. He says “No quiero seguir así, estando con ella y pensando en ti” (I don’t want to keep going like this, being with her but thinking of you), to which she replies “A mí me está pasando igual” (I’m going through the same thing). Then they join together in singing “Que tontos, que locos, somos tu y yo. Estando con otros y amandonos.” (Very loose translation: How stupid, how crazy, it’s you and me. Being with others but loving each other.)
Monchy y Alexandra – “Dos Locos”
I also always liked “Dos Locos” because it was one of the first Spanish songs that I could fully understand without looking up the lyrics. There’s something to be said about singing clearly. I can’t imagine the struggles that foreigners must have with understanding the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Anyway, I digress.
Here’s one by Prince Royce, who appears to be one of the more popular current stars. It’s got a very mainstream feel — you can definitely hear the R&B here.
Prince Royce – “El Amor Que Perdimos”
And now, a bachata version of something you all know. And apparently, according to the always subdued and calm YouTube commentors, he’s standing on John Lennon’s grave and they are not happy.
Prince Royce – “Stand By Me”
One advantage of exploring this one area of a world (Spanish music) that is completely foreign to me is that I can enjoy the merits of bachata in and of itself, without worrying about the “image” associated with it, or its standing among other Spanish genres. That Prince Royce song, “El Amor Que Perdimos,” sounds very much like the Spanish equivalent of a Backstreet Boys song. As much as we try to not let “image” get in the way of our enjoyment of music, it still plays a factor, however small, in our music choices. That’s why we have “guilty pleasures.” Well, I have no previous experience with any Spanish music, so I can fully embrace bachata, and that’s awesome.
Due to the aforementioned fact that I am majorly white, I have no ability nor authority to teach you anything about the bachata dance. You’ll have to go to a club on your own. Or YouTube.