Out In Worship – “Sterilized”

outinworshipPortland’s Mississippi Records always yields some gems when I visit, and last week was no exception.  The cover of Out In Worship’s 1998 release Sterilized is what initially piqued my interested in this record – it’s a hand cut/torn/glued collage of random clippings from newspapers, magazines, and books, and a little bit of online research suggests that the vinyl version is a limited edition of 500, each with a unique cover collage design.  So that’s kind of interesting.  It looked weird enough to take a chance on, and as always at Mississippi, the price was right, so into the pile it went.

Out In Worship was comprised of Doug Scharin (formerly of Codeine) and Joe Goldring, and the pair brought in various other musicians to help them out with this project.  As near as I can tell Sterilized was their only release, available both on vinyl and CD.  And given what they put together, it’s too bad there isn’t more Out In Worship out there.  This is some strange stuff.  The double record has one platter at 33 1/3, with each side consisting of one 15+ minute song, while the second record is at 45 rpm and has three total tracks.

Sterilized is hard to pin down.  The rambling nearly 20 minute title track is ebbs and flows through various styles, from acid jazz to middle eastern to trance and back again, going around and around.  It took me a couple of minutes to get into the groove, but once I did it was easy to let myself be carried away as the pace quickens then slows, never getting “fast” but instead moving like liquid, sometimes water, sometimes mercury.  The flip side, the almost 16 minute “Navajos,” is more up tempo, lacking the middle eastern influence and giving a more trippy atmospheric electronica feel, though it does bring the funk at times as well, and even has some turntablism.

The second record opens with “Nut” which is, frankly, hard to describe, but continues with the overall electronic sound.  “Shift” is just that, a pretty substantial shift, in that it adds female vocals right out of the gate, very echoey, with lots of reverb on the guitar parts.  The other side consists of “Jam Jar Superstar,” which is pure electro-funk that would be right at home in a 1970s blaxploitation film.

Sterilized is a great groove record, pure and simple.

Shabazz Palaces – “Lese Majesty”

The first time I ever encountered Björk in person was at a Shabazz Palaces concert.

That sentence seems impossibly weird when I re-read it.  But it is, however, true.

It happened at Iceland Airwaves 2012 when I hung around after a show to buy some vinyl from the Agent Fresco guys, and as a result I was late getting out of there.  By time I got my record I had to haul ass, against the wind, and uphill (of course) back to our apartment so I could drop off the record, which I did, and then immediately turned around and fought the wind again (downhill this time) as I rushed to KEX where Holly was already waiting to see Seattle’s own Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction.  By time I got there I was a sweaty mess, and the place was packed.  While I got close to where Holly and our friend Norberto were standing, I was still a few feet away, and for a brief period was standing next to a really short chick with dark hair.  Holly kept looking over at me but I couldn’t figure out why.  It wasn’t until after the show that I found out I’d been standing next to Björk for a couple of minutes.  Some brush with fame.  (I encountered her again at Airwaves last year.  I was flipping through some of the vinyl at Lucky Records waiting for a band to start playing, looked up, and she was flipping through the bin directly across from me (and she smiled), which is a much better story really.)

All of this really has nothing to do with Shabazz Palaces per se, at best only in the most ancillary of ways.  But they did put on a great show that night, which got me listening to their Black Up CD for a while, and it’s really good.  So of course I needed to go pick up their new album, Lese Majesty today to see what they’re up to.  Turns out, quite a bit.

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Shabazz Palaces defy categorization.  Is their music trance or ambient or house or hip hop…?  Vocally there is a strong hip hop component in how the vocals are articulated, but there’s some singing here as well.  Hell, it’s not even easy to figure out where one song ends and the next begins.  Lese Majesty is a stream of consciousness, with low and slow beats, samples, and just pure flow.  It defies efforts to describe it with words – they simply don’t seem up to the task, just as one can’t sing about a sculpture or paint about a book and hope to somehow capture the essence of the art you’re trying to describe.  To write about it would require a lot of technical knowledge (which I absolutely do not have) and words and would reduce the whole thing to a lifeless academic exercise.  Well, screw that.

With 18 songs spread out over two records, technically Lese Majesty is a double album… though side D is actually a decoratively etched non-playing surface, so really we’re getting three sides of music.  Side A is straight up chill, slow and deep, musically lush and vocally flowing.  Side B breaks that mode somewhat, seemingly with more tempo changes and idiosyncrasies, most notably on the wandering “Ishmael,” with it’s section of bottom-of-the-ocean sounding vocals and more abrupt musical shifts, and a pair of sub-one-minute tracks, “Soundview” and “Divine of Form.”  The side closes with “#Cake,” which is one of my early favorites after only a few listens.  Side C is a bit more like side A, though “New Black Wave” has a bit of funk to it, a track with a solid grooving beat.

Lese Majesty is certainly one of those “this won’t appeal to everyone” kind of albums, but one of the things I really like about it is that you can listen to it cranked way up and get into it, or just as easily turn down the volume a bit and allow it to create a background for whatever else you happen to be doing.  And that’s not an easy balance to strike, but Shabazz Palaces got it done.

Hustlers of Culture – “Bump”

hustlersofcultureI didn’t know anything at all about Hustlers of Culture when I picked up this test print of their 1994 12″ Bump.  They’re billed as acid jazz, and maybe that’s apt… but there’s a pretty heavy hip hop feel to it as well.  The record consists of four songs, but two of these are instrumental tracks that immediately follow the version with vocals.  The MC is quick and maintains a fast pace, and the grooves are funky with horn samples. “Rocksteady” and “Nasty” are both solid songs that would fit perfect in the club, whether you were looking to dance or just hang out and drink your cocktail.  “Nasty” has a particularly fast pace and quick beats that make it almost impossible to not move your feet.

“Acid: Mysterons Invade the Jackin’ Zone” Compilation

I’ve mentioned my utter lack of experience with electronic music before.  Unlike my friend Tristen who was hitting up cool parties and becoming immersed in the ways of techno while in high school and college, I was wearing flannel and listening to Led Zeppelin II for the ten thousandth time.  Not that I have regrets, mind you.  But in hindsight it would have been nice to have been broadening my musical horizons when I was younger instead of waiting until, oh, I don’t know, I had a mortgage and a car payment.

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Well, I’m trying to make up for lost time.  Recently I read Simon Reynolds’ book Energy Flash:  A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture.  I was particularly intrigued by the early Detroit and Chicago techno sounds, so when I came across this new two record release Acid:  Mysterons Invade the Jackin’ Zone that covers Chicago house from the 1986-93 period I thought it was a good opportunity to take my first listen to some of that early material.  And, as an added bonus, it came with a download card… and I’m a little embarrassed to say that even though I’ve probably listened to the album five times now, I still haven’t put the needle to the vinyl.

The tracks are a mix, some purely instrumental and others with vocals, either sampled or actual singing, which is nice and kept my attention.  A lot of the songs get pretty repetitive with their beats, but it’s still some good dance material and certainly kept me bouncing around the house as I went about my business.  My favorite track right now is Risque Rythum Team’s “The Jacking Zone,” with it’s vocal samples that remind you that you are in fact in the jacking zone, lest you forget.

Can’t tell you much more than that, other than I like Acid:  Mysterons Invade the Jackin’ Zone and it’s going to keep getting plays on my iPod (and hopefully at some point on my turntable!).

Brooklyn Funk Essentials – “Cool and Steady and Easy”

I’ve had a copy of Rickey Vincent’s book Funk:  The Music, the People, and the Rhythm of The One laying around for about a month now, and it finally made it’s way to the top of the pile.  Coincidentally I spent a few hours hanging out at Silver Platters Records in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood last Friday and spied the double album Cool and Steady and Easy by Brooklyn Funk Essentials.  It was like it was meant to be that I’d pick up this album at the same time that I cracked a book on funk.  Serendipity.  Perhaps a cosmic alignment.  Or maybe just coincidence.  I don’t know.

To call Brooklyn Funk Essential’s music “funk” would be to put it into too small of a box.  This is acid jazz – electronic but with horns, sometimes instrumental but sometimes hip hop, and sometimes even reggae and soul.  What is it?  It defies explanation.  Just listen to Cool and Steady and Easy‘s second song, “The Creator Has a Master Plan” with it’s jazz opening followed by male reggae vocals that give way to female soul singing; it’s a microcosm of the entire 1995 album.

When I looked this album up on Discogs I only found a listing for the 63 minute, 12 song CD (also available on iTunes for $8.99)… nothing at all about the two 12″ vinyl version I found in the DJ Masa collection section at Silver Platters.  Was the vinyl version a DJ only promo?  Maybe… given the plain black jacket with just a sticker on the front, this may have never been released commercially on vinyl.  So I’m particularly glad I found this version… because this is music that belongs on vinyl.  It’s just right.

Stylistically Cool and Steady and Easy is all over the place.  From the opening jazz instrumental “Take the L Train (to B’klyn)” to the previously mentioned reggae/soul “The Creator Has a Master Plan” to the jazzy, reggae scat-like “The Revolution Was Postponed Because of Rain” that comprise side A, you’re being taken on a musical journey that weaves in and out of different styles and sounds, with just the jazz horns to anchor you.  Bottom line is it’s brilliant.

Brooklyn Funk Essentials’ collective approach and large number of musicians ensures that no matter what a song needs, there’s an expert to step up, and nowhere is that more evident in the horns which are the key to their sound.  Acid jazz is great chill music, and Cool and Steady and Easy takes it a step further by layering other styles over that jazzy base in a way that keeps a steady vibe but ensures that each song sounds unique.  If you like jazz, you need to check this out.