Friday, May 27, 2011

DA CRUZ-Sistema Subversiva (Six Degrees, 2011)

My friends at Six Degrees Records have a thing for Brazilians living abroad (they are the ones who ten years ago introduced us to Bebel Gilberto and Zuco 103, remember?). Well, I happen to have a thing for Brazilians living abroad too. I'm not saying that I prefer them over Brazilians who stayed home (many of my very favorite artist were born and still live in that country) but as it usually happens, when artists migrate to other countries they gain a fresh perspective of their native culture and let go of many of the tacit inner restrictions of the local scenes, hence they are more likely to experiment with their roots and take them to a whole different level with very interesting results.
Mariana Da Cruz is a Brazilian singer who lives in Switzerland and there she hooked up with this producer called Ane H. and together they became Da Cruz. I haven't heard their previous work (although now I'm intrigued, so I'll probably end up downloading it soon) but this one here, I know I'll be playing it in my DJ sets for sure. It has some incredible funky beats. And I'm talking some dope ass futuristic funk here. Not the retro-funk of Paula Lima or Ed Motta, and not the booty-centric baile funk of Rio's favelas either. Although there're elements of both those styles.
My only issue with it, is that I can't tell if these tracks were aimed to the dancefloor or the lounge. You see, the tracks start with this hard hitting funky breaks and the synths push the groove forward and you are like ready to start dancing your ass off, and then she starts singing... Don't get me wrong, Mariana has a really nice and distinctive voice, I'm not criticizing her singing skills here. It's just that the melodies of her songs that are too mellow and her vocal style lacks the energy and edge to keep up with the up-tempo tracks. It's an odd mix. I still haven't tested Da Cruz on my sets but I will tomorrow at a Brazilian party (for Brazilians living abroad) that I'll be DJing at and then I'll see if they work as peak-of-the-night dancefloor tracks to go along with Salome de Bahía (another Euro-based Brazilian) or they should be restricted to the warm-up period. Either way, I will play them for sure.
Now with such amazing beats this album is begging for remixes and I know DJs and beat-producers will love to get their hands on this shit.  So I'm looking forward for a potential Sistema Subversiva Remixes (on vinyl would be asking too much?), oh and I wouldn't mind if they released the instrumental tracks either. For those of you who don't care about DJing and just wanna listen to good music on your headphones, don't sleep on this one when it comes out next month.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

WHISKEY BARONS-Nuggets#11 (BSTRD BOOTS. 2011)

The Whiskey Barons have released a bunch of memorable reedits of Latin soul classics that are a must for every DJ who appreciates finely crafted soulful beats. In this occasion, however, they went for two obscure reggae covers of classic Jamaican tunes done by virtually unknown Latin American artists (not credited on the label).
Now, I'm not particularly a reggae lover, but I do like a lot of dub music and dancehall, and even some old timey ska and of course, I also like a lot of reggae en español.
There's plenty of good original reggae being produced in South America well more than enough to avoid the formula of the translated cover of the imported hits. In fact, that formula is pretty much outdated.
Back in the day, people in Latin America were doing a lot of covers of contemporary Anglo hits badly translated to Spanish and this happened in all genres, from early rock 'n' roll, to funk, disco and reggae. Eventually people started writing their own songs in those same styles, adding them a little of their local flavor and making the themes more relevant to their listeners and the translated cover that reigned supreme during the '60s and big part of the '70s started to be widely regarded as inevitably cheesy.
Nowadays, however, there's a whole new market for this old covers. There're some Latin DJ/diggers who rescue these forgotten gems and display them through the prism of ironic nostalgia and then there's some gringo diggers who mainly just see the novelty factor in these tracks. They like the fact that it's a familiar tune in a language they don't quite understand and it sounds slightly different than the original, almost like a sort of remix. I don't think they get how cheesy this translated versions are or how horribly bad are the translations, and they don't really care about that.
I wonder what would be the effect if this phenomenon happened the other way around. If, for example, you had Z-list American bands doing covers of Argentine cumbia villera top hits with the lyrics clumsily translated into English; would they get any sort of cred in their local scene? And more importantly, would people in Argentina laugh their asses off while rolling on the floor when they listen to it? I know I probably would, but I probably couldn't stop listening either...
Anyway, don't mind me, I'm rambling today. This 45 here has a re-edited cover of Desmond Dekker's "Shanty Town" (re-titled "Buena Suerte") and a twisted version Gregory Isaac's "Night Nurse" in primitive Spanglish. I'll probably be spinning the first one a lot more on my sets, since the slow tempo of the second one puts me to sleep. Still, even if it's just for the novelty factor, it's a record worth adding to your collection and it represents more good news for those who share with me this inexplicable fetish for Latin 7'' vinyl records.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

101 THINGS TO DO IN BONGOLIA (Electric Cowbell, 2011)

My wife once asked me, not long before we got married, how did I envisioned my professional future. You know how this is, no matter how much they say they love you, they don't wanna marry you if you're completely delusional in your bohemian aspirations and plan to make a living as a DJ for the rest of your life. 
Anyway, I told her that in an ideal scenario, where the money issue was taken care of miraculously, my dream job would be to run a home-based record label that only presses music that I like, exclusively in 7'' vinyl. 
Yeah, I know from the top of my head who'd be the first ten artist that I'd sign, all people that I personally admire, who made songs that I wish I was able to play in my vinyl sets if it was available in that format. 
Pressing 7'' vinyl is a whole statement in itself. Like the 7 Inches blog wisely puts it "It's safe to assume if you're pressing 7" vinyl, you're not in it for the money." It's implied that you do it for the love of music. The money to be made in such a tiny market is insignificant in comparison to the investment risk. Plus, only a real music lover would prefer to listen to music in this uncomfortable format, that forces you to stay right next to the record player, or at least within a ten foot radius, because you have  to change it or switch sides every four minutes, or less. Most people don't care about music that much, they just want something to play in the background, they would never just sit in front of an audio device and pay attention to a whole song, they don't dedicate the time to actually listening to music, they just want something to hear. Multi-CD changers first and MP3s later, changed those listening habits forever. Now music is something that's just there, in the background, we take it for granted, we get it for free, from the internet, and we let it play in shuffle mode. 
So, playing 45's, besides being a hip anachronism it is, at least for me, a statement of how much you love and care about music. I have the feeling that this was the main motivation behind the New York-based label Electric Cowbell. They opened doors just over a year ago with an explicit motto: press exclusively 7'' vinyl of music they love, regardless of the genre. Amongst their impressive catalog, they released a couple of really good Latin 45's that I've reviewed in this blog and played on my sets and mixtapes
The fact that the music was only available in that format, for me, was like the ultimate fuck you to the obsolete CD. Oh, you don't have a record player? I'm sorry, get one! Some are way cheaper than an Ipod and I bet you have one of those, right? You wanna really support the artists you love, buy their music in a format that cannot be bootlegged!
Anyway, the Electric Cowbell guys just released a compilation of their catalog's bests... in CD! I have to admit I was greatly disappointed at first. Like if they had just betrayed everything we were standing for. So what if you aunt can't listen to your music because she doesn't have a record player? Fuck your aunt! 
But then I understood. The Electric Cowbell guys probably thought that that same ideal scenario that I was fantasizing about when my wife asked my about my future was a real place. That there's actually a parallel reality where running an only-vinyl record label is a viable, profitable enterprise. While the truth is that we, 7'' record enthusiasts, are a niche within a niche and that yes, we need to cater to your aunt too. 
Oh well, talk about popping my bubble. Of course I had to tell my wife that my plan was going back to school and get a diploma of some sorts and find a decent job. And of course, Electric Cowbell now releases CD's too.
101 Things To Do In Bongolia includes, besides many of the Electric Cowbell tracks that I previously reviewed here some really good remixes and bonus tracks worth having. As usual, I'd recommend people to purchase the originals in vinyl. But I realize a lot of you fuckers, and aunts, don't give a shit about my beloved old-school format. So there you have it, you can buy the CD now, or the digital download, whatever fits your lazy-ass music listening habits the best. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

TOY SELECTAH-Mexmachine (Mad Decent, 2011)

I've been very impatiently waiting for this one to finally drop for two main reasons. One, my old friend Toy Selectah has apparently been touring a lot lately or keeping himself busy with other projects and not releasing too much. I miss the times when we'd get a new Toy/Sonidero Nacional remix every other week. What happened to the prolific producer that two years ago delivered The Mexmore collection of remixes on Mad Decent and a memorable vinyl EP on Bersa Discos pretty much back to back?
For the past year or so, the maximum patriarch of this global ñu-cumbia scene has been very quiet, keeping us guessing about his next move and then they finally announced he was coming up with an official Mad Decent release, (on vinyl!), and I was like I want it now! Like the time when I was like 9 and I first saw the Battle Cat action figure on the window of a toy store and I knew I had to have it because there was absolutely no way I could play with my Masters of the Universe figures ever again if I didn't add that amazing green and orange tiger to my collection.
Which leads us to the second reason behind my impatience, it's been like two months since they announced it, a digital bootleg of the album leaked to the blogsphere long time ago and the EP that supposedly was gonna drop on April 12th didn't ship out until a whole month later. And I was one of the dumb fucks who pre-ordered it! So it's been a whole month plus four days of checking the mail every single day with the illusion of getting a package from Mad Decent and finding nothing instead. It's like if my uncle bought me that Battle Cat figure that same day (which he did, thanks uncle!) but then my parents wouldn't let me open it until the night of my birthday (which they actually didn't do, but it would've been hella fucked up if they did, right?). How dare you Mad Decent fuckers play with the illusions of a kid like that? And you didn't even send me the fucking "free sticker with every order" that you announce on your site? What's up with that? Not that the sticker would make up for the delay, you should've sent some free records instead. Dude, just a couple of weeks ago I bought some records from some other label and there was a two weeks delay in their delivery... I've got a free t-shirt and a CD! And I'm not even one of those who will be expecting free shit just because I write about it, I don't mind paying for stuff I like, like this. But this got me really pissed off, you know? I'm glad Toy Selectah is the only artist in Mad Decent I care about and that he's been releasing new stuff so sporadically lately, because I'd hate it if I was forced to buy stuff from these cats more frequently.
Anyway, the album is great, go and buy it here now that they finally have it in stock.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

EMPRESARIOS-Sabor Tropical Remixed Vol. 2 (Fort Knox Recordings, 2011)

This type of shit always happens to me for doing such lousy job as a journalist and not properly reading the press releases I get. I just download the album, listen to it once, write a review with my first impressions and post it... and then I get in trouble. What did you expect? I mean, I do my serious research when I write articles for publications that pay me, but here I only do it for my own amusement, nobody pays me, they don't even thank me for my work, so I don't put too much thought into it. I mostly just improvise.
So, just yesterday I posted a review of Empresarios' Sabor Tropical Remixed and at the end of it I was wondering if there was going to be a volume two because that one was like missing all the good songs, or my favorites at least. And right away I've got a comment from someone at The Fort saying "yes, there's going to be a volume two you lazy fuck excuse for a critic, didn't you read the press release all the way through?" (I'm paraphrasing here so those might have not been the right words, but that's exactly how they echoed inside my head). Soon after that I've got another press release announcing the second volume and fulfilling all my requests!
Yes, the Nickodemus remix of "Cumbia" will be there, of course. But there're also many other gems that you can't afford to miss. There's two great remixes by DJ Sabo, one by Los Cosmico Bandidos (make a mental note to watch out for these guys) and the Kinky Electric Noise remix that we found out about through the comment of this blog months ago. There's more, but you see, I didn't have time to listen to it all (and once again I'm not doing my job right).
Well done Fort Knox, you double surprise me in just two days. Now it's just a matter of waiting patiently for the vinyl releases of these two beauties.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

EMPRESARIOS-Sabor Tropical Remixed (Fort Knox Recordings, 2011)

Just yesterday I was listening to an MP3 preview of this upcoming Fort Knox release when the mail man called me to the door. He had a big package that needed delivery confirmation: it was a box full of vinyl records from my favorite record label ever, Fort Knox Recordings!
It included, amongst other awesome stuff, the Sabor Tropical LP which I didn't even know was available on vinyl already and was one of my favorite albums of 2010 (even though it was officially released in 2011, I reviewed it here in December so it made it to last year's top 11).
Sabor Tropical Remixed will also get vinyl treatment apparently, but it's coming out first in digital format in a couple of weeks. It includes multiple remixed versions of a handful of the original tracks including a super funky remix of "Happy" by Telephunken and a great upgrade of "Space Selectah" by the Fort Knox Five themselves. Just for those two tracks, it's a record worth acquiring.
Unfortunately it does not include any remixes of my personal favorite, "Cumbia," which was already remixed by Nickodemus and as far as I know that mind-blowing version was only released digitally (I mixed it on my Barbarie megamix). I don't know, maybe the vinyl will have a different track listing than the digital release, but I think it's a sin releasing a collection of Empresarios remixes without even one version of what in my opinion is their best song. Or, who knows, maybe that number one on the cover means that there's going to be a number two later on, with remixes of the rest of the songs, including "Cumbia."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

JOAQUIN "JOE" CLAUSELL: Hammock House, Africa Caribe (Fania, 2011)

Whoever is that lucky motherfucker that recently bought Fania Records catalog is doing some very wise moves and has my total support. Pressing vinyl reissues of hard-to-find classics was probably their best decision but opening up the Fania secret vaults to allow today's top DJs and producers to remix some of that stuff, legally, for the first time, from the original tapes... man, that's like every DJ/digger's dream come true right there.
This new series of Fania releases called Hammock House goes beyond the basic remix and each one gives a DJ the opportunity to go through Fania's hidden gems and rework them into a mixtape of sorts, more like a  conceptual long set. The first one was put together by Latin house legend Joaquin "Joe" Clausell and let me tell you, whoever has to mix the next one, will have an extremely hard act to follow.
Joaquin did a great selection of deep Afro-Latin jazzy soul, giving them respectful reedits and stretching out the percussion breaks and then mixed them together with some added live percussion arrangements on top. The house grooves are subtle and smooth and the salsa is almost completely absent, so I loved it.
Now the best part of this: the CD set comes with two discs, one with the aforementioned mix and another one with the "unmixed" tracks and that's where the real fun comes in, because you can play DJ and try to replicate the set with Clausell's reedits. Plus, remember when CD boxes used to come with carefully put together books filled with great photographs and complete liner notes? This one even included the story behind each selection written by the DJ himself. I know nobody buys CDs anymore, it's an obsolete format, but this one actually makes sense to own and even makes me wanna start collecting CDs again (but I'm putting all my hopes in Fania releasing the "unmixed" disc soon on vinyl, they must). Now if you're one of those who hasn't set foot on an actual record store in like a decade, well, it's not the ideal option, but you can go ahead and purchase the digital version here.