Saturday, December 25, 2010

Harmonia - "Dino"


This collection of music appreciations would be incomplete without something on the German bands from the '70s loosely grouped together under the label "krautrock." Rather than highlighting an obvious masterpiece, I feel like picking out a perfectly generic track to draw out a few things about why this retroactively reified genre rules so hard.

This is from the debut of Harmonia, which was two the dudes from Cluster and Michael Rother from Neu! (who was also an original member of Kraftwerk) cloistered in a studio making side project recordings that often exceed the considerable excellence of their primary bands. The track fades in and and out, and in fact these recording sessions sound like an extended summoning of a mood, rather than a conscious laying down of a "piece," much less of a song -- I suspect that each track on the album is culled from a much longer jam. The mood summoned captures, as well as anything in the krautrock corpus, a perfect balance of mechanical propulsion and pastoral beauty. The three musicians (jamming live and overdubbing, I imagine) tightly weave together simple synth and guitar parts so that none is ever quite in the lead -- the entire lattice of sound is at the forefront in way that I don't think is too farfetched to call baroque. Every phrase marches along, or enters and exits, cleanly and clinically, as though assembled on a cost-efficient music assembly line. The miracle of the thing, though, is that it does this without sacrificing warmth. Maybe that's not much more complicated than the musicians having a bunch of really sweet analog synths. The only thing that doesn't sound pre-programmed is Rother throwing in some short subtle guitar phrases that color in the spaces but pass up the chance to take the stage and solo.

At the root of the thing is the interlocking of drum machine in dead-simple 4/4 and bass in lightly syncopated 7/4. This groove make the track downright danceable if you're the sort of person who likes to dance to rock music. I'm not one of those people, but I'm in luck because this track -- along with the rest of the album -- can be heard as pure ambient music as easily as it can be heard as music to move to.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Busta Rhymes & Ol' Dirty Bastard - Woo Haa!! Remix

I don't have to tell anyone who was alive in the '90s about the original version of this song, but it's my experience that most people don't know this remix. It's also my experience that this might be the weirdest act of rapping committed to tape. If that's not true, I'd love to hear what's weirder.

The track starts almost identical to the original, just a notch slower, but wait. . . what's going on in the background? Yes, buried in the mix, hollering and howling like a drunk singing in the subway, it's the Ol' Dirty Bastard. This anti-intro hardly prepares the listener for the insanity that follows once we can mostly make out what ODB is saying, and once we can clearly hear his positively Beefheartian vocal melodies. He turns Busta Rhymes's song -- which, with its tritone bassline and eerie "yaa yaa yaa" chorus, was already pretty cartoonish and irreverant -- into something that can hardly be heard as pop music.

Busta opens telling us how dominant his squad is, to which ODB responds that "we on some outerspace shit like you watch Star Trek." It's pretty clear from what follows that "we" might just be ODB and his various personalities (Big Baby Jesus, Dirt McGirt). Each free associatively nasty ("I had a wet dream that I was boning Jody Watley") or crazed line is half-rapped/half-sung/half-shouted in a different psychotic voice, and many are elongated long in to the next line as though the rapper is too drunk and high to realize that something else is going on. One could in fact speculate on the state of the Wu Tang maestro's consciousness, but whatever was going on the recording studio that day, it must be acknowledged the advanced musicality involved in taking rapping to this level of experimentation.

If you don't buy that, take a listen again to the third minute of the song. After a trippy bridge where several of the sounds play backward and both men rap simultaneously kind of like they don't want you to hear what they're saying, Busta seems to try to bring the song back to earth with a verse of fairly conventional content and meter. ODB will have none of it, though, as he comes in at 2:59 with a half unintelligible verse (what does he say about a "fungus bowl"?) that's based around a short melodic phrase that has nothing to do with the rest of the song, and is laid down with a rhythmic sensibility as free any free jazzman's. The verse ends with two seconds (3:18-3:20) during which he sounds like he's choking on his tongue. . . then spits out that phrase one more time.

Oh, and the video's pretty weird too.