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Logan Martin

Logan Martin has 3 articles published.

Put Thundercat and Sun Ra in your music blender

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Thundercat

bass player/song writer/singer from L.A. mixing funk, hip-hop and jazz all together in a psychedelic blender.

I’ve been pretty fascinated with Thundercat ever since I saw him play “Them Changes” on the former Comedy Central show, “Why with Hannibal Buress.” In my opinion, Bruner is the best bass guitar player out there right now; he does it all on a six string in a style with a lot of classical jazz guitar influence. He also happens to have a pretty solid voice that he tends to layer in his songs.

Stephen started in high school going on tour with Suicidal Tendencies, who I actually saw recently (it was a really fun show). I wouldn’t really put anything on Thundercat’s new release “Drunk” under the label of punk, but there is some punk influence here.

The new record from Thundercat called “Drunk” may be the best thing I’ve reviewed this year. One thing I really love about “Drunk” is that it feels like Bruner is just becoming more of himself, funkier, sillier.

It’s also nice to see Thundercat collaborating with some bigger names on here even if that work didn’t come out so well. Wiz Khalifa on “Drink Dat” felt like a forced pop song, which I just found obnoxious. Thundercat just doesn’t make pop music, and he really shouldn’t ever do this again. Pharrell’s vocals on “The Turn Down” are the worst part of the song; it just sounds like garbage. It’s boring and flat like a bad Nicholas Cage movie. The really good track features on here are the ones with Kendrick Lamar on “Walk on By” (also probably one of my favorite songs) and “Show You the Way” with Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. “Show You the Way,” one of the teaser songs, has this cheesy ’80s love song thing going on, and I’ve listened to it a lot just because I love the Michael McDonald part.

I was a little confused as to why “Them Changes” was put in here because it was on Thundercat’s last release, “Where the Giants Roam.” Although I’m not really going to complain about hearing it again, it feels like it was just there to fill time.

While I liked “Where the Giants Roam,” it wasn’t quite so interesting as “Drunk.” The absurdist theme, usually seen as non-emotional, fits into Thundercat’s sound without a loss of emotion. An example would be the bubbling basses in “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song II)” backed by a chorus of absurdity and cat noises. Some of Thundercat’s work is just full-on silliness like “Tokyo” with lines like “This all started when I was a boy. I went to the dentist and he gave me a toy. It was Dragon Ball Z, a wrist slap bracelet. Goku fucking ruined me.”

My favorite song on here is probably “Friend Zone,” a song about a guy who wants to get closer to a woman but is lost in the friend zone (which isn’t a fun experience). This song is crazy salty which I think is pretty funny; the song also just happens to ooze funkiness with some pretty crazy synth going on in the background.

Really everything on here is worth listening to and something you haven’t heard before. I feel like I should point out “Captain Stupido,” “Jameel’s Space Ride” and “Bus in These Streets” as good examples of what Thundercat is capable of.

I really like “Drunk” if that hasn’t been made obvious. I like that it’s not overly serious, but it still showcases a lot of talent. I think this also ends up being Thundercat’s most accessible record so far, and right now my favorite one, which is weird because those two never line up.

Sun Ra

I think it’s a crime that people can listen to hip-hop, or jazz, but not know who Sun Ra is. Sun Ra was Funky 15 years before funk was even a thing, Sun Ra also has a lot of silliness just like Thundercat. Everything about Sun Ra is absurd except for his ability to make music.

Sun Ra has a sci-fi theme to a lot of his work; he dresses as if he were a person from another world in a movie with a costume budget of $200. His music though is jazz with an injection of Sun Ra’s off-kilter personality.

I honestly haven’t done as much listening to Sun Ra as I would have liked, so I’m going to focus on just a few albums I’ve listened to. That would be “Super Sonic Jazz,” “The Futuristic Sounds Of Sun Ra,” “Space Is The Place,” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

“Super Sonic Jazz” is pretty tame as far as what he would go on to make. “Super Sonic Jazz” was really important because he was using electric pianos before anyone else in the jazz genre; this was before the Rhodes was ever made. The only song that really pops out much to me is “India.” Besides that the rest is a lot of improvisation and experimentation that is definitely worth listening to. The personality is here, but Sun Ra hasn’t quite come into his own yet.

 

Ten records and five years later, we have “The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra.” He’s obviously moving forward towards something better but again doesn’t quite break molds like he does later. There are some vocals thrown in, the production value is better, and it’s not so dependent on the electric piano.

From what I know, “Space is the Place” is the record where Sun Ra really became himself. The drums are funkier, there are more vocals, it just feels human. The first song is a 20 minute jam with the same name as the album; it’s definitely the best thing on here. The second song goes back to being normal jazz, followed by a song which is chaos, fun to listen to, but nothing I’m going to go back to. The record ends with “Rocket Number Nine,” which is really chaotic, but I think it’s memorable because of the weird synths and rushing vocals. This record was also extended later on to be the soundtrack for a movie called “Space is the Place” which is about Sun Ra trying to take the black people of earth to a different planet through music.

In my opinion, the best record Sun Ra made was “Sleeping Beauty.” It’s just really peaceful, while still fitting a lot of funk and personality into it. I would also say this is the only Sun Ra record I will go back to, for each song on it. The first song “Springtime Again” is just so relaxing that I love it even though it doesn’t do much that is all that interesting. “Door to the Cosmos,” which obviously affected a lot of hip-hop, is nonchalant yet punchy within a dreamy space. “Sleeping Beauty,” the last song on here hits on a lot more real themes than most of his music, talking about how “without prince charming there’s nothing black beauty can do.” It points out how people will wait for some leader to save them, in this case from racism.

Sun Ra’s importance depends on the music you listen to. If you like country or pop, he had no influence on what you listen to. Sun Ra affected hip hop and funk mostly. He’s been sampled by Doom, Death Grips, and a bunch of other rappers I really don’t care about. Sun Ra hasn’t really been well known, so a lot of his influence was indirect, but he did lay down the groundwork for hip-hop and funk. I think he’s really interesting, and worthy of being seen at least alongside the other jazz greats of the era.

 

 

Music Notes

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Ty Segall and The Sonics

The point of this column is to discuss a recent music release or show, and then look for something similar or related to recommend. This week’s column focuses on Ty Segall’s music style.

 

Ty Segall – Ty Segall

Ty Segall’s new self-titled album is out. Ty is an experimental indie rock fellow. You may have heard his other project “Fuzz” with a common collaborator Charles Mootheart. I like that Segall seems to get bored with sounds and seems to constantly move things around, even if it doesn’t always make something totally original.

The new record has a very jammy feeling, but most of his stuff is though. What I really like about this record in comparison to the other ones is that it sounds like he’s putting more work into the writing, adding more range of emotion, but he does actually keep that jam sort of feeling. The song “Warm Hands” really shows that range. It’s a ten minute song with a lot of different parts, and they all sound very different, but they kind of melt together. However, I do think that the first song “Break a Guitar” was a little lazy for Segall. It’s not that I didn’t like the song, it was just a little more predictable than I had expected. “Talkin” is a little bit of a country style. I think the lyrics are mostly interesting; they talk about how sometimes our criticisms of others are reflections of our own problems. “Thank you Mr. K” is a lot more punk than most of the other songs, and I like that. “Orange Colored Queen” is probably my second favorite song on the album, and is the most psych-sounding track on the record. “Papers,” and “Take Care (To Brush Your Hair)” are funny, lyrical concepts that I don’t think bring much more than humor. The untitled track at the end is a little pointless, with two power chords followed by nothing.

Segall’s album is easier to listen to than his earlier effort “Emotional Mugger” which was more creative, and I liked it more. “Emotional Mugger” was also more raw; it didn’t feel like anything was held back there. The new album is so much more relaxed.

For new Segall listeners, I recommend starting with “Orange Colored Queen” off the self-titled album.

On its own, Ty Segall’s newest record is actually really good. It’s chill, jammy and just really fun to listen to, but if you’re looking for the album to copy the dark psychedelic chaos of “Emotional Mugger,” it just isn’t there.

 

The Sonics

The Sonics are the earliest band I can find with as much of a punk vibe as Segall. What the Sonics did was take rock in the era’s most successful (they started in 1960), and push it as much as they could at the time.

Sonics wouldn’t make a record until 1965, with the release of “Here Are The Sonics.” To me, this might be one of the most important records ever released for the eventual rise of punk. Everything, from their distortion to the theme of witches and drinking strychnine, was unnaturally dark for its time. “Strichnyne” is my favorite song on here – it’s so raw, and I really love the piano behind the guitar. “Have Love, Will Travel,” which is definitely top four on here, is generally the one that will pop up if you Google the Sonics.  “The Witch,” and “Psycho” are also really good songs.

“Boom” was the last record the Sonics would release for about 50 years.  Besides “Cinderella” and “Shot Down,” most of this record just didn’t have the punch that their first one did. I’m not saying that it’s not worth listening to – it’s really good music – just not quite so adventurous.

 

The latest record released by the Sonics was “This Is The Sonics.” They obviously didn’t lose their ability to play, but it just couldn’t be like what they had released half a decade before. I did really like “Bad Betty” though.

Music Notes

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Foxygen, Getting into Beefheart

The point of this column is to talk about a recent release, or show, and then look for something similar or related in history to recommend. There is a lot of really good music that people don’t know about, really important stuff I probably still don’t even know about, but I don’t stop learning. There’s so much to learn, explore and enjoy in the world of music.

Foxygen – “Hang”

If you aren’t aware of Foxygen, they are a psychedelic pop/rock band out of Westlake Village, California. The duo of Jonathan Rado and Sam France have been doing this since they were in high school in 2005. They’re touring Europe next month, so I’m going to assume they’re doing well for themselves.

What I’ve heard before has been that really common modern indie rock sound, and I’m really excited to see them diversify their sound; not because I hate that sound, but because I’m intrigued to see something new out of them. I’ve really felt like Foxygen had a lot of creativity, but they kind of got in that trap a lot of indie bands do of finding a sound and just going with it. They pulled out a lot of the reverb they had been using to make room for a 40 person orchestra composed by Matthew E. White which is used in just about every song. I’m not sure was really necessary for every song; however it really fills out the sound and makes something pretty awesome.

The record becomes darker the more time you spend with it. The cover is an abstract painting of a person being carried by a dark figure away from what looks like a burning town. The music itself, however, starts off fairly happy sounding with the first couple tracks which are some of my favorites off Hang. The tone of sarcasm becomes more and more apparent, the most obvious one is the song ”America.” “America “has a heavy brooding feeling as the sarcastic vocals set the tone. The song has an almost Tim Burton feel to it, but I’m guessing it’s a song symbolizing modern American politics, in which case I think it’s a pretty solid comparison. It even pokes at religion in politics: “I cry, Lord, to have used you. How could I, of all, to have used you.” There’s a lot of silliness here, too. I get a small Zappa vibe off of this record; definitely not as on the nose as Zappa though. I think it makes sense because Zappa was making fun of the sounds of the 70s, and I feel Hang is making fun of the modern emulation of that sound (Uptown Funk for example).

Overall I really like this record; I think it’s lovably absurd and theatrical.

Captain Beefheart

In the spirit of silliness and sarcasm and because he was a friend of Frank Zappa whom I mentioned, I want to talk about Captain Beefheart. If you know who Beefheart is, there’s two reactions you’re probably having: either why do people even like that guy? or (if you’re like me) lets spread him around like a religion. In general Beefheart is divisive. Very few people have weak opinions on him. His music was experimental blues and R&B, mixing it in a blender with some freeform jazz elements, creating something entirely irreplicable.

The first record was more just eccentric blues; it was called “Safe as Milk” and is a pretty good place to start as it’s really the safest he ever was with music; after that the sound moved to the more recognizable Beefheart on “Trout Mask Replica.” This record sounds very 60s especially “Zig Zag Wanderer” and “I’m Glad.” ”Electricity” kind of showed the direction the band would head in the future. I would say it’s worth it to hear the whole thing through; it’s just really good.

“Trout Mask Replica” was made to make you uncomfortable and has a very disconnected sound. The themes are very dark, like in “Dachau Blues..” At times the music just uses pieces of random imagery to create a sense of chaos. The record was written and recorded over the course of a year when the whole band lived in the same house pretty much stuck there by themselves. The record was actually funded by Frank Zappa since Beefheart had been dropped by Buddha records.

The first two are the really important Beefheart records, but right after Trout Mask Replica was “Lick My Decals Off Baby.” The 70s weren’t great for the band. They kind of tried to commercialize for a while, and it didn’t work, and the only one I really listen to after “Lick My Decals Off Baby” is “Ice Cream For Crow.”

Beefheart definitely isn’t “accessible,” and even people who really like him sometimes take a few listens before they “get it.” The music isn’t something to listen to while you do something; it’s an experience of its own demanding attention. The most important thing to understand is that a lot of it is just sarcasm, and maybe it is best taken a little less seriously.

Revised February 8th 2017 – added links.

 

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