Friday, February 17, 2012

LINER NOTES: New Directions

New Directions playlist.

Let's begin with a word about the name: yes, I've seen Glee. Considering how many eps I've seen, I could justifiably use the present tense. I opt to use the past tense mostly out of saving face. In my defense, I've opted to stop watching the show b/c I have seen (more than) enough to understand the show's appeal and form an opinion.

See? All in the name of "research."

I'm not particularly upset that Glee's New Directions choir is a model for t(w)een expression, teamwork and friendship. Sure, it's saccharine and delusional, at times. And that garish Broadway sheen makes Celine Dion appear comparatively subdued. But there is a tremendous amount of irony in Fox unwittingly endorsing a progressive view of copyright and gender/race relations. So, if the show inspires a few kids to embrace their voice and find a new way to spin an old tune, I'm for that.


I enjoy finding new ways to listen to familiar music. An easy way is to change the context: move a song from the bedroom to the car; remove the headphones and bang a joint out at a BBQ; place Cash after Timbo instead of Cash after Paycheck; and on and on and on. Perhaps my favorite approach is to hear individual tracks of a recording -- thank you, multi-tracks! I started my serious voyage into music with an instrument in my hand, so instinctively I am compelled to return to the individual instrument. Let me hear Duane Allman's solo. Now let me hear Slowhand's solo. Now let's put them together.


I started collecting a cappella versions of songs for the same reason every other hip-hop/club-style DJ does: to use as DJ tools. Blend a Rakim verse over fill-in-the-blank flavor-of-the-week beat, scratch a KRS line, etc. They're useful, they're fun.

I've always had a hard time making out voices in music. I can sit with instruments endlessly -- I'll patiently loop a fragment of a Coltrane solo to figure out a 4-note lick. But going back and repeatedly listening for an indecipherable lyric? I get stuck. Only then do I feel that backing arrangements become an interference. I, literally, cannot hear the words.

Which is probably why I find a cappella versions so useful. They strip the parts I naturally gravitate towards and force me to pay attention to the elements of music I pay the least attention. 


No surprises then that much of the set contained verses by rap gods, beach boys, and covers of the Beach Boys. Surprising myself, I remembered the brutal English folk and turn-of-the-century murder ballads I've been coming across lately, which made for a lovely bridge to UGK's hood blues.

I'm far less familiar with choral music. That version of "Clair" was picked up simply to hear how Jay Dee/Dilla flipped it. And who would pass up the Amandla! soundtrack? But these tunes, along with the odd Van Halen end helped give the night a bit of variety. So, be you a rapper pining for your teacher, a smart alec with grand, royal references, or a rocker with a penchant for slide whistles, there was something for everyone.

I wanted this set to culminate with the "highest" use of the voice: the voice as substitute for an instrument. I'm not talking about scat or Bobby McFerrin bleep blops. I'm thinking Meredith Monk. Or Bjork (weirder still that I should actually tip the hat to Todd Rundgren instead of Bjork b/c he got the jump on Medulla's all vocal approach in the '80s). We ran out of time, so I wasn't able to use much of this, but Rundgren's Hall-&-Oates-ish "Something to Fall Back On" made it in, which tickled me to no end.


Next session, we'll come back to an old familiar: Effaman! (if you don't know, get the knowledge) Consider it the post-V-day m-finger antidote.

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