Saturday, March 01, 2008

Musical Journeys

As I explained a while ago, I don't listen to the radio anymore. I go mostly for independent artists and, in general, music that's off the beaten path and remains raw and mostly untouched by the distortion of record corporation hands. My search for new music feels at times like a journey around the world as I discover new artists, new instruments, and new sounds from man different places.

Here are some of the artists that have been making their way on to my MP3 player. Warning: acquired tastes ahead. :)

Asian Dub Foundation
Our first stop takes us to England. This band has so many interesting elements and influences it's hard to categorize. Musically, they blend reggae, dub, electronica, breakbeats, ambient music, punk rock, folk music, and ethnic instrumentation. Lyrically, I feel they're almost on par with the cutting socio-economic and cultural commentary of Rage Against the Machine. And their basslines... man, I wish I could write basslines as groovy and melodic as theirs.
Rachid Taha
Now we cross the Mediterranean to Algeria. In an age where the popular media associates anything Muslim with terrorism and fundamentalism, here you have an artist that sings in Arabic about democracy, altruism, and religious tolerance. Taha's music is based off of traditional Raï music, but it incorporates modern instrumentation and rock/hip-hop styles to create something unique. If you've seen the movie Black Hawk Down you've heard his song "Barra Barra" as it plays near the beginning of the film as the U.S. forces are after the informant's convoy.
  • Barra Barra: Video / Translation- Live version of the song from BHD, which is a song about the effects of war and famine on a civilian populace. The word "barra" means "outside".
  • Ya Rayah: Music Video / Live video / Translation - A modernized version of a traditional folk song about the homesickness immigrants feel for their homeland.
  • Rock El Casbah: Video / Translation- Live cover of the Clash classic, including the Clash's guitar player
Musical Trivia: In the first two videos, the 8 string guitar-like instrument played by the guy standing stage-left is an Oud, a relative of the European lute. The hand-drum played by the sitting percussionist, also on stage-left, is a Doumbek (a variant of the goblet drum).

Mount Fuji's in the distance, so we must be in Japan now, home of this downtempo hip hop artist. He's most known in the states for the soundtrack to the excellent anime Samurai Champloo. The genre is "downtempo hip-hop" - basically, music with a nice beat that's easy to chill out to. Whether you're working, cooking, or whatever, his instrumentals and occasional vocal tracks make for some mood-enhancing background music.
  • Song of Seasons: Video - The end theme of Samurai Champloo. I love the flowing bassline in this song.
  • Feather: Video - A slideshow of Japan to his music.
  • Luv Sic: Video - Another slideshow set to his music.
Yoko Kanno
Yoko Kanno is one of the premier television and film composers in Japan today, with her talents for creating audio soundscapes in high demand. In the states, she's known mostly for her amazing soundtrack work for anime series such as Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, Macross Plus, and Vision of Escaflowne. Whereas traditional composers such as John Williams and James Horner use mainly conventional orchestras to create their film scores (mind you, to great effect), Kanno uses anything and everything. In one soundtrack, she'll have pounding industrial anthems, gentle ballads, funky pop, militaristic themes, dynamic electronica, murderous fear music, and orchestral compositions. There's simply nothing the woman can't do well.

  • Rise: Video - The theme from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Season 2.
  • Inner Universe: Video - The theme from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Season 2.
We've crossed the Pacific and gone "feet dry" over the western United States. Jon Crosby formed his band VAST in the late 90's and had a couple singles make it onto the radio: "Touched" and "Pretty When you Cry". However, he fought with his parent company over his 2nd album's musical direction and was subsequently dropped from the record label after its successful release.
Stories like his are the reason I don't listen to the "compose by committee and focus group" music that's on the radio today. He dropped off the music industry's radar, but has continued to release new music under his own record label.
  • Touched: Video
  • Pretty When You Cry: Video - One of the creepiest videos I've seen in a while...
  • Free: Video
  • Take Me With You: Video - A happy cheery song. :)
  • Thrown Away: Video - LOL, he's packed on the pounds since his earlier stuff.

Coming into land in New York City (hopefully La Guardia's got an arrival slot), here's a band that I've been following for a while.
They combine two of my favorite things: industrial rock music and a seductive female singer. :)

No comments: