Monthly Archives: October 2010

In Memoriam: Gregory Isaacs, 1951-2010

Gregory IsaacsHello, Noise Narcs massive! The passing this week of one of my all-time favorite singers, reggae legend Gregory Isaacs, is a sad but appropriate subject for my long-overdue first Noise Narcs post.

My first introduction to Gregory Isaacs was back in 2002 when I discovered that the Penn State library had a trove of Heartbeat Records reggae reissues and compilations ripe for ripping. Rip I did, and pretty quickly I realized that the Gregory Isaacs stuff was among the best in the Heartbeat catalog (matched, in my mind, only by Dennis Brown). Known as the Cool Ruler, Gregory is most closely associated with the romantic “lovers rock” style — soulful lyrics of love and longing backed by lilting beats. This was the first Gregory song I remember hearing; I loved it immediately:

Gregory Isaacs, “My Number One” (version feat. DJ Trinity)

His voice, ever-so-slightly nasal, was gentle, clean, crisp, and intimate, and he was a master at conveying romantic longing or aching heartbreak with just a few syllables.

Gregory Isaacs - Cool RulerGregory Isaacs, “Party in the Slum”

Recorded at Channel One with that studio’s matchless house band, the Revolutionaries (anchored by Sly & Robbie), Gregory’s 1978 album Cool Ruler features some slightly harder-edged themes backed by the band’s signature aggressive, driving “rockers” style. Turn up the bass!

Gregory Isaacs - Slum in DubGregory Isaacs, “Slum”

Sound engineer Prince Jammy remixed the tracks on Cool Ruler, producing Slum in Dub, one of my favorite dub records.

Gregory Isaacs, “Night Nurse”

Gregory Isaacs - Night NurseReleased on Island Records, 1982’s Night Nurse, with the Roots Radics Band, introduced the singer to a wider audience. Gregory was heavily into cocaine and crack around the time of the album’s release and subsequent success, and a veteran Jamaican musician once told me that Gregory’s “night nurse” was, in fact, his crack pipe. Regardless, the entire album is great. The synths are used tastefully, making the album sound less dated than a lot of ’80s reggae (see below). Other highlights include “Cool Down the Pace,” “Material Man,” and “Stranger in Town.” Also, note that he weaves his own name into the lyrics. Which brings us to…

Gregory Isaacs, “Red Rose for Gregory”

Last Sunday morning, as news of Gregory’s deteriorating condition spread, DJ Jeff Sarge of WFMU dedicated a portion of his weekly three-hour reggae show to the singer. One tune he played was “Red Rose For Gregory,” a late-’80s number that I wasn’t familiar with. Beyond the trappings of ’80s reggae production — cheesy synth leads, orchestra hits, synth bass, synth drums… synth everything really — it’s a really sweet song about a secret admirer, and features Gregory in his best and most familiar role — the aching lover. Plus, I love that his name is in the title. Try to imagine writing a song in which you refer to yourself by your proper name.

I wrote a little reggae tune this summer (shameless plug). It was my first songwriting attempt, and it’s a pretty blatant Gregory Isaacs rip-off, down to the bass line, which is somewhere between “My Number One” and “Native Woman.” But now that he’s gone, I’m especially proud of that fact — my own tribute to one of my favorite singers.

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Guest Post: Inside MOG's Cozy Galaxies

We first introduced Noise Narcs readers (and ourselves) to Cozy Galaxies [Facebook, Myspace] via our post about Philladelphia’s Bloktoberfest. Despite long lines and a plenitude of beers, Cozy Galaxies pierced through the beer fog. And, after having first only given a few songs a cursory rush-to-post listen, their self-titled album is actually one of the finest releases Philly releases of 2010 in an absolute bumper crop. Finely-crafted, swirling Pavement-meets-My Morning Jacket dreampop. Bassist Andrew Mattey graciously offered to send an album over, but we had already been listening to it via the magic that is MOG’s music streaming [free trial here,, by the way]. Even better, he offered to do a guest post, on the horrors of losing your music collection (something I wake up in sweats worrying about) and the panacea that MOG offers. But not, unfortunately, the epic weirdness that must have been their opening spot for Beatles almost-ran Pete Best. Read below and by all means, check out Cozy Galaxies, available now [Buy].

MOG offers eight million streaming tracks, and dries your eyes after your music collection has been stolen

Starting at age six, I began collecting music. Dozens of cassettes at first, then 100s of CDs, and finally there was an epic amount of mp3s. At the time of its theft, my 60 gig iPod was nearly full with music. And because my computer was also stolen earlier that month, the iPod was holding everything. Just like that, my sixteen years of collecting music had come to a brutal end. Sure I still had plenty of CDs, but most were purchased during my early teens and no longer fit my tastes. Also many were scratched, and many of my favorite CDs were gifted to friends. I did get another mp3 player and supplemented my music when I could, but had the sad realization my collection would never return to its former glory.

When I first discovered MOG, which offers unlimited and on-demand access to an enormous library of music for $5 and unlimited mobile downloads for $10, I saw a very interesting innovation in an industry which has seen declining profits over the past year, and also a service that seemed perfectly catered to me. I subscribed to the service almost immediately.

One of my first thoughts about the site was that this type of service is going to put serious pressure on iTunes, the dominant player in the digital music industry. However, the more I think about it, the less this may be true… at least in the immediate future. I currently own very little music, so I am more than happy to pay just to have access to it. But would I be as willing to subscribe if I still had my incredible collection intact? Probably not, and this is the situation that most music collectors find themselves in.

However, it is very difficult to argue against the economic sense of such a service in the long run. For instance, say a consumer wants to buy three new albums, but only has money to buy one. It just makes more sense to pay for the price of one and have access to all three through a service like MOG, rather than just buy the one album from iTunes.

So why hasn’t services like MOG been able to better compete with iTunes, is it because consumers still want to own their music? No, consumers will never own the music that they buy; the label/artist/publisher already does that. When they sell you a CD or mp3, they are just selling another way to access that music, which MOG can do more efficiently. MOG’s main problem right now is visibility, most people don’t know about it. I didn’t know about it myself until David here at NoiseNarcs informed me that it is where he’s been listening to my band’s new album.

Unfortunately for MOG, Apple will most likely unveil a similar service before MOG’s is really able to take off; and their iPod-holding, dancing silhouettes will probably do a better job selling it. But in the meantime, the site is definitely worth checking out, whether your looking to listen to albums that you’ve lost or discovering new music. They are currently running a 14-day free trial.

Cozy Galaxies, “Aquajog”
Cozy Galaxies, “Clean Yourself Up”

Andrew Mattey is the bass player in the Philadelphia-based Cozy Galaxies. He also holds a B.A. in Economics and Politics from Temple University. Cozy Galaxies is available now [buy].

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This Is Also Philadelphia

Okay, sure, it was weird that yesterday’s posted Sun Airway video made me miss a city I currently live in. But at least I’m not the only one. “Philadelphia” by the UK’s Standard Fare is a lovely pop ditty on missing this city’s stubborn non-travelling residents. But really: why would we travel? [via Philebrity]

Standard Fare, “Philadelphia” [Buy / Listen on MOG (FREE TRIAL)]

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This Is Philadelphia

If the number of posts I’ve written about Philly’s Sun Airway makes me seem like a bit of fuanboy, so be it. Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier drops this week and it’s available on MOG (free 14 day trial) right now. Back in March, I called it my most anticipated Philly release of 2010, and it’s been worth the wait: a stunning debut. Let’s say for comparison’s sake that Radiohead’s millennial music evoked the coldness of the technological age, then Sun Airway’s music is the age’s warm, swaddling embrace.

And this video for “Put the Days Away,” perfectly captures the beauty of a homecoming bike ride in Philly’s dark streets. Somehow makes me miss Philly, even though I’m in Philly as I type. It’s that kind of video: negative capability-inducing. Also: pretty girl on a bike.

Sun Airway, “Put the Days Away” [Buy]

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Singles Mixer II: I like dreams, except when they're scary.

If, as mine is, thy life a slumber be,
Seem, when thou read’st these lines, to dream of me…
–John Donne

I haven’t had much time for posting lately, so I thought I’d throw a bunch of tracks at you at once.  Today’s theme is: Dreams.

Totem Pole, from West Palm Beach, FL, released an EP titled Caves and Tunnels, Mountains and Stairs (streamable and downloadable here) way back in July, but for some stupid reason I’m only finding out about it now.

Totem Pole, “Voyeuristic Tradition”

Nothing too scary about that.  In fact, it’s sort of soothing in a psychedelic, early Pink Floyd-meets-the Beach Boys kind of way.  But that’s about to change.

This next track is off the Resident’s 2008 release, Bunny Boy.  Like every Residents’ release, it was a weird concept album.  Bunny Boy is about a Non compos mentis friend of the Residents, who enlists the band’s help to track down his apocalypse-obsessed brother, Harvey, who may or may not actually exist, but whom Bunny Boy claims has disappeared on the island of Patmos, where St John of Patmos authored the Book of Revelations.  I saw this album performed at the Trocadero in 2009.  It was…a trip.

The Residents, “Fever Dreams” [Buy Bunny Boy]

Sleep tight; don't let the bedbugs (thanks a lot NYC) bite. (Image from an episode of The Outer Limits, "The Zanti Misfit".)

Pretty weird.  Fortunately, the next track isn’t scary, exactly.  If I were Jennifer Lopez in The Cell, there would definitely be worse dreams to walk into than Gary Wilson’s.  It would be a pretty awkward scene, though.  Wilson released You Think You Really Know Me in 1977, but never made much of a splash until Odelay-era Beck cited him as an influence.  Since then he’s developed a significant cult following, and in a surprise twist is now poised to release a brand new album, Electric Endicott, in November.

Gary Wilson, “When You Walk into My Dreams” [Buy You Think You Really Know Me]

He’ll be performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon this Wednesday, Oct. 27, backed by the Roots.  I’m pretty excited for it.

Lastly, because it’s the weekend, here’s a Billy Ocean classic.  Decide for yourself whether it’s scary or not.

Billy Ocean, “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” [Buy Billy Ocean – Greatest Hits]

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The Paranoid Style in American Music

Google wishes Dizzy Gillespie a happy 93rd

The current issue of New Yorker has a fascinating tracing of the paranoid, anti-government strain of the Tea Party and Glenn Beck cohort to its roots in 1950s anti-communist paranoia, especially the infamous John Birch Society. A highly suggested read.

But, pathetically, what most caught my imagination was not the historical or political import, but this tidbit: “Trumpeter [Dizzy Gillespie], whose actual name was John Birks Gillespie, made a humorous run for the Presidency in 1964, organizing John Birks Societies in twenty-five states.” According to Indiana Public Media,

[Gillespie] said that he would rename the White House “the Blues House” and proposed a presidential cabinet with Duke Ellington as minister of state, Max Roach as minister of defense, Charles Mingus as minister of peace (“because he’ll take a piece of your head faster than anyone I know”), Peggy Lee as minister of labor, and Miles Davis as the director of the CIA. He also suggested having racist Mississippi governor Ross Barnett serve as U.S. Information Agency director in the Congo and earmarked Alabama governor George Wallace for deportation to Vietnam. Black Muslim leader Malcolm X was to be appointed as Attorney General, “because he’s one cat we definitely want to have on our side.”

Sounds pretty good to me, at least better than Goldwater. As does his campaign song, “Vote Dizzy,” a remake of the classic “Hot Peanuts,” with vocals by Jon Hendricks, from the 1963 Newport live disc, Dizzy for President. Especially fitting that this would all come together today, on what would be Dizzy’s 93rd birthday. Google Doodle and all.

Dizzy Gillespie, “Vote Dizzy (Salt Peanuts”) [Buy]

Bob Dylan, communist co-conspirator

Bob Dylan also joined the anti-Birch wagon, producing a somewhat middling song called “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.” “Talkin'” was an improvisational blues style developed by Woody Guthrie (see “Talking Fish Blues“), that Dylan used in other songs to better effect (“Talking World War III Blues,” “Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre”). But “John Birch” itself has an interesting back story. Originally slated for release on Dylan’s sophomore effort, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, CBS objected, possibly as a response to Dylan attempting to play it on Ed Sullivan. “John Birch” and three other songs (including the fallout shelter themed “Let Me Die In My Footsteps”) were dropped from the record. Dylan, although crushed, instead included “Girl from the North Country”, “Masters of War”, “Talkin’ World War III Blues”, and “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” Given that the first two are undeniable and major classic (see NoiseNarcs’ take on Jim Hall and Bill Frissel’s version of “Masters of War”) and that the other two are excellent, we at Noise Narcs are forced to take a Birchian view and conclude that CBS colluded with Dylan under the guise of censorship to further his communist plot of changing popular music forever. Very clever, you communist pinkos, very clever. Not so clever is the way they tip their hand with this week’s release of Dylan’s The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964, which reveals their plot by including “Talkin’ John Birch Blues” and a slew of early Dylan demos.

Bob Dylan, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” [Buy]

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Generating Excitement

It’s a writing day, and what better than a N.E.R.D. leak from their upcoming album Nothing (available Nov. 2) to put me in the writing mood. Here’s “Nothing on You.”

And as for music I’ve been listening to while writing, I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Library Tapes, a Swedish post-rock/ambient outfit whose music is frustratingly not all easily available through Amazon. Fittingly, I learned of Library Tapes through a friend whom I was interviewing for my dissertation, which involves the writing process. Mog.com does have a few albums available for streaming, and the band seems to have a new release slated for 2010. Hopefully, they’re not writing at the same pace I am. And since I couldn’t post the song I wanted to post, I’ve linked to a vid below, for “Skiss Av Trad.”

N.E.R.D.: “Nothing on You”

Library Tapes: “Cold Leaves For The Violent Ground”

You can pre-order N.E.R.D.’s album Nothing here.

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How many Skyroads must Seeland and Computer Magic walk down?

If you pressed me for my favorite video game and I wanted to “impress” you with an “original” answer, I’d hem and haw and mention, somewhat disingenuously, SkyRoads, a highly addictive spaceship jumping game from Estonia for MS Dos, circa 1993. Yes: originality of favorite video game is something I think could “impress” people. And yes, I’m mega-excited to find out that there’s now a clone version available for Windows, Mac, and Linux called Tasty Static. And yes: it’s a miracle I’m not single.

But if you were to ask me about my favorite music from a video game, I wouldn’t have to be disingenuous at all: Skyroads takes the cake by a sky-mile. Luckily, creator Bluemoon has a page with all the music from the game. Here’s “Road One,” complete with the “running out of oxygen” warning sound at :44 that still makes my palms sweat.

Ott M. Aaloe, “Skyroads Road One”


Given my (only vaguely poseur-ish) love of all things SkyRoads, it should be no surprise that whenever I find a sonic analogue I’m prone to fall in love. I ranked the debut album of Seeland, an offshoot from the beautifully icy Broadcast, as one of my notable albums from 2009 in no small part because opener “Burning Pages” fit right into SkyRoads’ palette. They have a new album, not quite as strong but still good IMHO, which you can stream to the right.

Seeland, “Burning Pages” [Buy]
Seeland, “Black Dot, White Spider” [Buy]

Newly released “Get a Job” from Brooklyn’s one-woman Computer Magic (unsigned for what I suspect is a very brief moment) also fits into the SkyRoads universe. Her Soundcloud is full of great tracks, all “demos” at this point. And really, computers are magic. Fact. Does not hurt that she’s just a shade on the foxy side. Skyroads + Foxy Lady = Swoon. Whom am I kidding? Skyroads + Anything = Swoon. “Victory Gin,” although not very SkyRoads-y, is also excellent.

Computer Magic, “Victory Gin”

Get a Job by Computer Magic

Video game nerd bonus: If Tugboat‘s 8-bit versions of hip hop hits doesn’t make you glitch out, well, then, you, sir, are probably not a virgin.

Tugboat, “Remix Medley” [via Bridging the Verse]

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Bloktoberfest > Gentrification

Shiloh Baptist Church, courtesty of lb_philly

For you outsiders, Philly is a city of neighborhoods. Last time Noise Narcs’ Material Lives came to visit, she said that she would probably hate Philly if she didn’t have a local to take her to all the (walkable) awesome ‘hoods and was instead bounded by the tiny boundaries of the tourist circuit. One of those formidable hoods is Graduate Hopstial (which I’m still calling it despite the hospital’s renaming and residents attempts to go by SoSo for South of South), an area south of tony Rittenhouse Square. Graduate Hospital had become a predominately black neighborhood by the 1920s, home of Philly’s contralto pride Marian Anderson, and for many decades was one of the arteries of the heartbeat of Philly’s musical scene. But in the 1980s and 1990s, the neighborhood fell on tough times, setting the stage for the inevitable gentrification flow from nearby Rittenhouse. I won’t bore with you my conflicted feelings here, the inevitability of market forces and neighborhood change, cities’ struggles with providing sufficient affordable housing, our historical guilt for the sordid past of redlining which prevented African Americans from buying houses (this Plan Philly article does a good job at detailing the area’s gentrification). But, anyway, suffice to say both gentrifications’ good and bad sides have reared their heads in Graduate Hospital.

But Bloktoberfest is pure good. On the 20th Street block of Christian Street sits Shiloh Baptist Church, a mammoth and beautiful church that once housed Philadelphia’s largest African American Baptist congregation. And in an attempt to bridge the gap from the gentrfiying to historical residents, the neighborhood has been hosting Bloktoberfest, a celebration of craft beer (33 varieties at bargain prices), food truck cuisine, and music, all in support of Shiloh Baptist Church. And it’s free to attend. The ‘fest’s previous year was marred by rain, but was still a truly remarkable time. This year promises to be even better. Plus, how often do you get a chance to tour a gorgeous church drunk?

A selection of Bloktoberfest’s bands:

Budos Band: My Staten Island friends have been talking for years about the excellence of their borough’s afrobeat revivalists with good reason.
Budos Band, “Chicago Falcon” [Buy Budos Band III]

The Love Language: Recently signed to Merge, these guys walk the same swirling paths that My Morning Jacket used to tread.
The Love Language, “This Love Is Our Own” [Buy]

Allo Darlin’: Philly’s heart belongs to twee and so does this London quartet’s.
Allo Darlin’, “The Polaroid Song” [Buy]

Cozy Galaxies: Née Major Leagues, these Philadelphians (along with Dr. Dog) make a case for Philly’s defining new sound as mix of The Beatles and bar rock.
Cozy Galaxies, “Dreamer” [Buy]

And for the honor of the hood, the inimicable Marian Anderson:
Marian Anderson, “My Souls Been Anchored in the Lord” [Buy]

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Monday Music: The other Portuguese edition

#15 in the field, but always #1 in our hearts...

My brother and I have a tendency to make lists.

In younger days, discussions often came down to naming the top Pirates pitchers (Doug Drabek), the best WWF matches (Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon), and the best Ghostbuster (Egon).  But as we grew older, and dreams of athletic glory and paranormal activity passed, our lists began to focus on things a little more immediate. (best beers, top Arrested Development episodes, etc.)

So when we decided earlier this year to make a trip to Chicago for Lollapalooza, questions quickly turned to “What are the top five bands you must see?”,  “What’s the #1 conflict on your schedule?”,  and “What’s the first can’t-miss song of the weekend?”

To the final question, the answer was a quick, and unexpected, “The Rat.”  Even though I hadn’t put the Walkmen near my top 5 must-see bands, “The Rat” elicited such careening, uninhibited chaos, that seeing that song performed toward the very start of the festival just had to be a harbinger of the raucous weekend imagined to come.

“The Rat” kicked-off a festival that, while not always raucous, was appropriately careening.  Joined alongside it were two excellent tracks from the new album Lisbon, “Angela Surf City” and “Stranded.”  I haven’t had the opportunity yet to purchase the rest of the album, but if the two songs were any indication, the Walkmen are quickly approaching top-5 territory.

The Walkmen – The Rat (purchase Bows and Arrows)
The Walkmen – Stranded (purchase Lisbon)

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