>Middle class white boy discusses music from da streetz

>First blog in a little while and I’m going to keep on with the Five choices format. Today’s choice reveals me as a massive cliché but so be it.

Hip Hop

I’m well aware that arguments continue to rage over whether a distinction exists between rap music and hip hop music. For the purposes of this blog there isn’t – as you will notice from my choice I am far from a purist in this area and will happily embrace the mainstream when the results are good. I won’t divert to a tangent but quite honestly I haven’t heard a genuinely exciting mainstream hiphop album for as long as I can remember. Not even the return of Jay-Z has challenged my view that the genre is in a rut as despite good moments even the ‘greatest of all time’ has failed to recapture the brilliance of times gone by. In light of this my choices may appear a little dated and undoubtedly reflect a time when hip hop was far more prominent in my musical consciousness than it has been in recent years.

Fu Gee La by The Fugees
This is where it all began for me. A football mad, Oasis obsessed early teen sat down to watch a basketball show and was blown away when NBA 24/7 spent five minutes focusing on a trio of rappers who were making waves in the states. The track they focussed on was Fu Gee La and I was immediately hooked. I remember chatting excitedly at school to my good friend Joe who had long since embraced the hip hop/basketball culture and was good enough to humour me as I rambled on about my ‘discovery.’ Everything about this song is exciting – the subdued intro crashed into by Wyclef demanding attention, the simple yet hypnotic hook, the complimentary yet dramatically different lyrical delivery and of course THAT chorus which once in the brain never lets go. The crucial element of any rap song is the lyrics and it was the subject matter that most excited this thirteen year old British white boy from a northern backwater. It is safe to say that Brit pop tales of Mancunia or Essex surburbia never included lyrics like ‘Stevie Wonder sees crack babies becoming enemies of their own families.’ The confirmation that this discovery was going to have a huge impact on musical palette was my Dad’s furious reaction when I put The Score on in his car. I am proud to have inherited my Dad’s musical taste and was fortunate to have a musical upbringing of Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Despite this though every teenager is keen to find their own identity and distinguish themselves from their parents – Lauren, Pras and Wyclef had shown me the way.

That’s your lot, please comment whether praise or criticism.

>Mr Sparkle!

>As stated in my Pavement review, I suffer from considerable guilt over bands I should really be familiar with yet no little about. Sparklehorse are one of those bands. The first experience I had was of their collaboration with Danger Mouse and David Lynch (Dark Night of the Soul) which is one of my favourite albums of the last year. It seemed natural therefore to dip into the history of this band; sadly there will be no future as Mark Linkous tragically took his own life earlier this year.

Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot – by Sparklehorse

The album I chose as my introduction to Sparklehorse was there first from 1995. It is revered in American Indie circles and it was with lofty expectations that I approached listening. It was a distressing experience for me to discover the cover as I have a deep fear of clowns as a result of my caring if misguided father’s decision to choose It as a family film when I was about eight. He went on to repeat the trick less than a decade later as we all sat down to American Psycho. My theory is he likes watching films on his own. Anyway I digress, the origin of Viva is an unusual one as it was recorded primarily by the band Cracker for whom Linkous was a guitar tech and occasional collaborator. From unorthodox beginnings has emerged a terrific album. I was anticipating a darker tone to the album as I didn’t realise Linkous’ overdose came after the release of Viva. The real strengths of this album are the way simple, quite old fashioned songs are delivered in a variety of styles; from stripped down, Wilcoesque backing on the incredibly charming love song Saturday to the rambling experimental interlude Little Bastard Choo Choo which wouldn’t be out of place on the White Album. As a great lover of The Strokes I admire a band who refuse to make room for self-indulgence and the way in which songs are brought to a swift conclusion adds to the rhythm of the album. Personally the highlight of the album comes on the seventh track ‘Most Beautiful Widow in Town.’ The acoustic backing is minimal so as not to detract from the magnificent imagery of the tale of unrequited love which really made me sit up and take notice of why Linkous is so highly rated.

many years later
the glassy month of December
I stood with my hands in my pockets
trying to avoid
a shiny wedding portrait
hanging on that old woman’s wall
‘cos I knew you’d be wearing a smile
that’d be too painful to look upon

Maybe it is the theme that made me make the connection but 29 by Ryan Adams came to mind when listening. It would be wrong to identify Linkous as possessing a show-stopping or even unique voice but the delivery is tender and seems to invite the listener into his very private world meaning Linkous is a great communicator of emotion and as a result this is a great album. I look forward to discovering the rest of their back catalogue and it is a great thrill to embrace an artist who has influenced so many of those I adore. Listening to Viva is like listening to the roots of Willy Mason, Ryan Adams, Ben Gibbard and Ben Kweller and on that basis alone it could be destined to become one of my favourite albums.

8 1/2 out of 10