REVIEW: “I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-70″

 photo SlyStoneStoneFlower_cover_zps6c6adf35.jpg Over 15 years ago, I had an idea I suggested to Rhino Records that came from me spotting a 45 I found on Stone Flower Records. The Atlantic-distributed subsidiary was short lived but was a label given to Sly Stone as a way for him to record new music. In truth, it has been said that Stone wanted to come out with new music outside of his Epic Records soundtrack so as he was putting together what would become his There’s A Riot Going On album, he went into the studio to release a lot of material. I had learned that Little Sister, which featured Stone’s sister Venetta Steward, had recorded a full album meant for release, but remained in the tape vaults at the last minute when Sly finished the Family Stone album form Epic. So I knew more music existed. I figured Rhino Records would be the label to contact since it’s a Warner Bros.-related label, Atlantic is distributed by Warner Bros., it wouldn’t be difficult to come up with the masters. I did not get a response from Rhino, and I thought it would be a way for fans to hear music I felt already had a potential audience, and collectors would go nuts over it.

15 years later, Seattle’s Light In The Attic have released a compilation that is very much exactly what I wanted Rhino to do so what became Rhino’s loss is now LITA’s gain. I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-70 features the four 45’s Stone Flower Records released, plus a wealth of songs that had remained unreleased until now. If you are a fan of Sly Stone, then you have definitely heard Little Sister’s “Somebody’s Watching You”, “Stanga”, and “You’re The One (Parts 1 & 2)”. If you are a Stone collector, you most likely picked up or heard of 6iX and the song “Just Like You”. You may have even heard of an early version of “Life & Death In G & A (Parts 1 & 2)” by Acaba Dream, released by A&M but was Sly & The Family Stone incognito with Hicks on vocals. In Hicks’ own version, it’s much slower, sleazier, grittier, dirtier but very much sexier. In truth, while the vocalist on these songs were by others, all of the music was entirely played by Sly Stone, and all come off as skeletal elements of what would become There’s A Riot Going On, consider this a deep deluxe edition in a way.

What you also get on hear is the single Hicks released through Scepter Records, “Home Sweet Home – Part II” and “I’m Goin’ Home”. Both had Stone involvement and the label said it was a Stone Flower production, so it seems Stone was trying to find yet another label to release his music. If there are any major highlights on an album that is a highlight in itself, it’s the songs credited solely to Sly Stone, including an early version of “Africa”. One gets a sense that he was getting deep into himself as he was putting these together, but arguably this may have been the seeds of what happened when Stone started to lose himself as well. The man was a wizard in the recording studio and understood the roles he played inside, so what we’re hearing is a master that was up there with people like Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren, Paul McCartney, and Stevie Wonder Stone deserves to be ranked up there with the musical geniuses, and is example of the shadows someone like Madlib is in with his great production techniques.

In a greedy matter, I would have loved to have been an executive producer for a project like this had Rhino Records given the go-ahead. Today, I look at Light In The Attic Records as a label that came up with the idea too and did I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-70 properly. For me, this was long-awaited and fortunately, they did it right. Job well done.

REVIEW: Puddle Splasher “Poor Planning”

 photo PuddleSplasher_cover_zps99ad74d2.jpg Poor Planning is a new 4-song EP by Puddle Splasher that play some pretty good rock, the type that you rarely hear on the radio these days or see on TV, but have to search for, which is how you discover the best music these days. I think these guys are pretty good, but so far I’ve mentioned the phrase “prety good” twice, and that was the third. It left me wondering if they’re able to do anything more other than hit the popular cliches that other bands of their ilk can do and have done better. The song I was won over with was “You Will”, and that’s probably due to the fast tempo and the delicate moments the group went through in the song. What I like is that the songs are good and easy to remember and it didn’t make me want to switch over to the next song. I wanted to hear more than the four songs featured here, which means I’ll wait around until they come up with a full length album, then we’ll go from there. I’ll be anxious like the young kid on the cover.

REVIEW: Happy Diving’s “Big World”

 photo HappyDiving_cover_zpscd30dbb4.jpg Upon listening to the opening song on Happy Diving’s new album Big World, it lead me to wonder how they’re going to keep up the massive flux of distortion they’re placing in the song. I love distortion and there’s a lot of harmonies going in the playing but can they keep it up? They do with their next song “Space Ooze” and I have to prepare for the massive punch these guys are going to supply. They don’t lighten up their intensity until the half way point when “Sad Planet” begins, only to realize the verse are the sensitive part, the choruses (or what they call choruses) is a much bigger punch into the gut. They repeat the formula on the second half of the song, keeping things low and to the floor until the 10th and final song, “10”, and then they bathe in walls of feedback. In between this, they sing songs of strength, power, loss, love, and wonderment, and they may do it in a way that some may overlook due to the velocity of how loud they play (or how bold the music is mixed). Fortunately, the album is mixed nicely, it doesn’t sound terrible by any means, it’s something that can be handled if you can tolerate the loudness. I happen to love it and when it comes time for the band to take a breathe, they do it nicely before they suffocate until the album properly ends.

REVIEW: Trust Fund/Joanne Gruesome’s split 12″ EP

 photo TFJG_cover_zps955e5ddd.jpg If you know of Joanne Gruesome, you’ll be glad to know that they have three new songs for your listening pleasure. If you don’t know who Trust Fund are, get to know them on this brand new split 12″ EP.

Joanna Gruesome’s music may be called an in between release if you wish to call it that, but I simply consider it new music that they felt like releasing. I enjoy the dual vocals between Alanna Gruesome (McArdle) and Owen Gruesome (Williams). as it sounds good and is perfect for one another, you can place your emphasis on whomever depending on your mood. While all three songs are quite good, the one that jumped on me the most was “Coffee Implosion”, I love how it builds up but never to the point of an actual implosion, almost as if they’re saying we can take you there but not on record. Not yet.

Trust Fund also have three songs to discover. They are a spirited band. also from the UK, signed to Reeks Of Effort records and come off a bit like a cross between Weezer and The Go-Go’s, both retaining a pop passion but also not being afraid to rock out with bravery and soul. “Scared” is the second of three sides on their song and that’s the winner for me, although “No Pressure” is the most poppy of the three, light and sensitive but also crisp and strong.

It’s a nice set of indie pop music from two bands who are doing it with class, and I’m glad HHBTM Records put them back to back for this EP.

REVIEW: Joe Jack Talcum’s “Home Recordings 93-99″

 photo JoeJackTalcum_cover_zps2dca5ffb.jpg You may know of Joseph Genaro as one of the members of The Dead Milkmen but he also recorded some material under the name Joe Jack Talcum, who you may be more familiar with. HHBTM Records has released a new compilation of his home recordings called Home Recordings 1993 – 1999, which were recordings between 1993 and 1999. I could easily say “that’s it, that’s my review, I’m outta here” but you want to know what it is. All of them are basically demos of songs he would later do or songs he ended up recording for himself, and this is a different perspective of what he has been able to do throughout his career. Most of these are mastered from Genado’s own DAT’s while one song comes from a cassette so if you want it to sound and feel rough, it’s here in all of its rugged glory. These songs could easily be adapted into new arrangements, or cover them as is and see how far these songs can go. Listen to “Call me A Fool”, “One False Move”, “The Sun Shines Out Of My Asshole” or “Another Disgusting Pop Punk Song” and give renewed life to these songs, as they are doing on this new compilation.

(You may order Home Recordings 93-99 directly from HHBTM Records.)

REVIEW: Crayon’s “Brick Factory” (vinyl reissue)

 photo Crayon_cover_zpsc6625b73.jpg If there’s one thing that Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam did for the Pacific Northwest, it showed that it was a great place to find lots of great. The band thing is that the hype of grunge made countless fans assume that all bands sounded the same and had the exact influences. Not every band was super-polished or had the publicity teams to make them a powerful force. Take for example, a group from Bellingham, Washington named Crayon. They released a small handful of 7″ singles and EP’s before they came up with their debut album in 1994. The spirit of Brick Factory (HHBTM) sounded like a group that were willing to show how new they were, even though they existed for four years. They weren’t too polished or sharp, nor did they want to be. They wanted to twist their style of pop music with a lot of garage rock and noise, as if they wanted to join Sonic Youth, King Missile (Dog Fly Religion), Coffin Break, or Hazel and have a huge party. It was loose punk rock with a poppy edge, and their album sounded like something you’d pop into your cassette deck and just get drunk.

That album is now 20 years old and the spirit lives on with its reissue, which has come out on vinyl for the first time. You might assume that having fourteen songs on an album is too much and would lower the sound quality, but the original album was under 40 minutes, which means the sound quality is excellent. Some may feel indie music from the early 90’s have been lost in time but as far as the fans are still out there and show how much this music moved them, a reissue like the one for Brick Factory will continue being reissued. If you get the digital version of this album, you’ll get seven more songs that are from their earlier singles. Brick Factory may not make you feel as long as you were 20 years ago, but it is sure to remember why these songs trilled you in the first place.

(You may pre-order the LP directly from HHBTM Records.)

REVIEW: Moyamoya’s self-titled debut album

 photo Moyamoya_cover_zps92407880.jpg Whether you call it math rock, progressive rock, or some other compound phrase that balances of the music, Moyamoya are a complex band that utilizes chords, phrases, and perhaps more importantly, time, and display this nicely on their album for Fort Lowell Records. They don’t only play their rhythms in 4/4 time, they’ll fool around with time signatures but doing the math thing is not what will pull listeners in and keep them there. What I also like about these guys is how they play with the sense of time, stopping to play for one moment while the feedback baths all over everyone, before returning. Eventually. Not bad for a band that had taken five years for them to finally record and release their first solo album, but that’s what it is, and the time to do so has resulted in something that I don’t want to call a statement, but it is more of a calling to let people know that a band like theirs exist, and it needs to be listened to seriously. I’m not saying they are serious to the point of being too heady, but they sound like they’re having fun. They just want to concentrate on the situation at hand and get involved in a word that even the press release makes clear: a “groove”. They turn up the guitars and bass to bring the volume up to the limit, anchor it with a solid drummer and just pull things in. The more interesting thing is that these guys rotate what they play, so if one of them wants to play the guitar in a song, he will. If he wants to play the drums in the fifth song, he’ll get there. The group used to have a vocalist but no longer, they wanted to floom through an instrumental shoot and if this is what they’ve ended up with, one only wonders where they’ll head to next. I can already see Moyamoya playing games with crowds when they perform, only for the band to know that they’re just playing for the hell of it and each other. To pull in more fans is a part of their fun, no headiness necessary.

REVIEW: The Good Graces’ “Close To The Sun”

 photo TheGoodGraces_cover_zpsbf91dba4.jpg The Good Graces is a humble product from singer/songwriter/musician Kim Ware, and upon listening to the opening tracks, you may be quick to assume that she is all about keeping to an acoustic basis with music of a folk, country, or Americana nature. As you listen further into Close To The Sun (Fort Lowell), she becomes a bit more than those assumed basics. You can say that Ware cares for the craft of pop music, as the way she develops her songs are intricate yet powerful. The lyrics range from feeling lost or fearful to tunes with stories of love and hope. What I like is how she starts the album with a song called “I Don’t Know Where To Start” before she begins to go through her surrounds and where she would like to be. When she eventually finds a place of comfort, she reaches her last song, “Before You Go”, a song about finding someone she trusts and knowing that she can have one last message as a way to let them know she will always have them in their thoughts. If you are able to think of it, it’s a loosely compiled songs where she goes through the motions and emotions and does it not unlike people like Suzanne Vega or Tanya Donnelly. She even rocks occasionally, which is sure to bring new audiences to her. If you think of it in a different way, while the album doesn’t have a solid concept or a conscious running theme, it is united by the power of something. Maybe metaphorically it’s the sun, or the sun used as a metaphor for the guidance she will keep to herself in her journey. It will help listeners realize that regardless of what one holds as a metaphor, keep to your integrity and you will eventually find your way to the paradise or sunshine you seek.

REVIEW: Ibrahim Electric’s “Rumors From Outer Space”

 photo Ibrahim_cover_zps7b41b356.jpg Rumors From Outer Space (ILK Music) by Ibrahim Electric is music for those who wish to have their rock, blues, and jazz with a sense of freedom that you love and cherish. It almost sounds like these guys just went into the studio, turned on everything and just jammed, and came up with these songs, the kind of music that would’ve been perfect for background music for homemade skateboard or surfing movies. I’m immediately reminded of everyone from Joe Satriani to ZZ Top, Allman Brothers Band to Charlie Hunter for the type of sensibilities that have no sensibilities at all, it’s just “let’s just play this, rock it out and see what happens”. Not bad for an album that features nothing but a guitar, drums, and a Hammond B-3 and sometimes it’s all you need to create the kind of energy that may be played by six people. Whatever these guys had in mind when they were inspired by outer space, I hope they will continue exploring, out in the cosmos or somewhere closer to the ground. I’m loving this.

REVIEW: Diamond District’s “March On Washington”

 photo DiamondDistrict_cover_zps5c04cd07.jpg yU and Uptown XO have easily recorded one of the best albums of 2014, not just hip-hop but all genres, mainstream and otherwise. As Diamond District, their album March On Washington (Mello Music Group) is not only a catch title, by it’s also a plea for help in terms of how to better the state of hip-hop today, that is if you feel that the music is in dire need. What works for me is that yU and Uptown XO rap with messages (both direct and coded) that need to be heard and figured out, although they are easy to understand. It sounds playful and yet are serious at the same time, as it sounds like a classic hip-hop even though it’s only a few weeks old as I write this. If it’s not easy to figure out, maybe it’s for good reason. There was a time when hip-hop spoke in double talk or was done in a way to be heard by those it was directed to, not meant for outsiders or intruders. If the plea is not for help, perhaps the plea is merely a need to be heard and celebrated as it used to be. The production by Oddisee is sharp and he easily places himself alongside the likes of 9th Wonder, Large Professor, and Madlib, choose any song on this album you’ll hear it. When it comes time to evaluate some of the best hip-hop of the decade of the 10’s, March On Washington should be placed on all lists.