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Staff Picks: February 18 2021

Staff Picks: Daniel

Alice Coltrane: Ptah, the El Daoud 12” (Impulse, 1970)

Last week we picked up an interesting collection that had a few items I couldn’t resist keeping for myself. I imagine I’ll be writing about others in the coming weeks, but today I’m going to highlight Alice Coltrane’s third solo album from 1970, Ptah, the El Daoud, whose title refers to the Egyptian god of creation.

I have a few other Alice Coltrane albums like Journey in Satchidananda (her most famous solo album) and Universal Consciousness, but Ptah is harder to come by. I think copies may have come through the store once or twice, but this was the first time I gave it some attention. Journey in Satchidananda is a brilliant record I return to often, but even that didn’t prepare me for Ptah. While Ptah has the ethereal vibe I associate Alice Coltrane’s music (her trademark long arpeggio sweeps on the piano and her harp playing are all over this album), what struck me was how easy it is to listen to.

A lot of what we now refer to as the “spiritual jazz” of this period has strong currents of dissonance and disharmony, making records like John Coltrane’s Meditations, for instance, something of a bitter pill. However, Ptah keeps a tranquil, meditative feel throughout. That isn’t uncommon in jazz, but Ptah doesn’t sound boring or “ambient.” It’s music that is, at its core, tranquil, but still imbued with the complexity of the most out there experimental jazz. When I listen to this album, it absorbs my attention, but leaves me with energy and liveliness. There isn’t another release in my collection that does the same thing, and for me that’s a true mark of a keeper album.

Staff Picks: Dominic

Hey there Sorry State gang, I hope we find you well and thanks for reading our newsletter.

This week my pick is a record that as an original I have still not secured as part of my personal collection, although I have a reissue and we also have a decent reissue in the store.

Eugene McDaniels: Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse. Atlantic 1971

I’ve seen an OG a few times over the years, but it has always been too expensive for me to snag. A copy in nice shape will easily cost $100 but probably closer to $200. In recent years there have been reissues and you can find those for around $25-$35. My particular copy came out in the late 90s and is probably a “fan club” pressing and possibly a needle drop recording, but it sounds pretty decent. I remember scoring it at a WFMU record fair bargain bin box for $5.

So why all the fuss? How come it’s a difficult record to find and why do we care? Good questions, which I shall attempt to answer.

Firstly, it’s a record which many of you will have heard but not even known about. Reason being, it’s a sample heaven and has been used by hip-hop producers since the late 80s-early 90s. Pretty much every track has a sample. For most of us we would have heard it through its use on records by A Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys, Eric B. & Rakim, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Jungle Brothers and more recently Earl Sweatshirt. Of these, Tribe’s use is the most noticeable and high profile and are what caused the record to become sought after in the 1990s during the golden era of sample based hip-hop and the rare-groove scene. As soon as people worked out what record producers used, an entire army of crate diggers hit the streets looking for these elusive gems. Some were easy to find—check your parents’ record collection—others not so much. Headless Heroes was a case in point, and there are reasons for its scarcity.

A bit of back story, all of which you can read about in more detail on-line, of course, so I’ll keep it brief. Gene McDaniels had been writing, producing, and performing music since the late 1950s and had a sizable hit in the 1960s with One Hundred Pounds Of Clay. A solid performer himself, his real strength was in his writing. The protest song Compared To What was his and was made famous by Les McCann & Eddie Harris but covered by many including Roberta Flack and more recently by John Legend & The Roots. Although written in 1966, it still holds up. McDaniels had a close working relationship and respect for Roberta Flack and wrote other songs for her, including her hit Feel Like Makin’ Love. Compared To What put McDaniels on the government radar as an anti-establishment type.

After Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, McDaniels left the U.S. and lived in Scandinavia for a little over two years. When he returned to America, he had renamed himself Eugene McDaniels and went by the performing name of Rev. MC D.

The first record he released on Atlantic in 1970 was called Outlaw, and it features a cover that you just know must have had the old white establishment’s knickers in a knot. A black man in a cowboy hat, clutching a bible standing next to two women, one black, one white, who are holding guns and striking revolutionary poses. Yeah, that’ll do it. The record itself is excellent and has many highlights. Not as good as Headless Heroes, but a companion record for sure.

Our record came out the next year in 1971, and the story goes that Nixon and Agnew had a reel-to-reel playback of the album in the Oval Office and were offended by what they heard, resulting in Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun receiving a phone call from the White House instructing him to kill promotion for the record and to pull McDaniels from their roster. The truth of this story is hard to confirm, but whatever happened it would go a long way to explaining why original copies are so hard to find and why, when they do surface, they are typically promo copies.

Although career wise, McDaniels still had income from production royalties, it would have been interesting to see whether with proper promotion the record could have had a bigger impact when it was first released and how it could have changed the minds of those that heard it then and how those ripples would have changed future heads. As it was, the record slipped into obscurity and remained that way until rare-groove DJs and producers picked up on it almost two decades later.

As for the record itself? My words can’t do it justice. Please listen to it. Lyrically it is so on point and was relevant then and just as so now. Songs about life, love and religion over tasty drumbeats, psychy guitar bursts, punchy bass lines and cool keyboard lines. It’s a Soul-Jazz album par excellence. A tough listen if you are “The Man” or even Mick Jagger. He takes a verbal beat down from McDaniels on the track Jagger The Dagger. This was one cut sampled by A Tribe Called Quest on their People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm album. The song on Heroes is about how Jagger had/was profiting on his borrowing of black culture. Another fave track is Supermarket Blues, which is a proto-rap classic. Definitely listen to that. Last track The Parasite (For Duffy) is a song about Native Americans that starts off in a head nodding groove but takes a darker turn as you listen to the lyrics. Sometimes the truth hurts. It did back in 1971 and it still does in 2021. This is a record for the ages. It has held up and may even be more relevant now.

Listening to the words of the title cut brings that home. Here’s a snippet.

Nobody knows who the enemy is

Cause he never goes in hiding

He’s slitting our throats

Right in front of our eyes,

While we pull the casket he’s riding

Better get it together,

Better get it together,

And see what’s happening

To you and you and you

See what I mean? A perfect example of music and records being like newspapers and books, carrying vital information for those seeking knowledge. Plus, a dope AF cover with duelling Samurai warriors.

Here’s a link to Eugene McDaniel’s website where there is a lot of information about his career and music http://eugenemcdaniels.com/

and I’ll leave a link to a couple of key cuts for you to check out, but I would encourage a full listen to the entire album. Dig it.

https://youtu.be/vk5qT-BYjTY - Supermarket Blues

For those local, stop by and snag the reissue copy we have in the store.

Cheers everyone. Thanks for reading. I love you all.

-Dom

Staff Picks: Usman

I can’t remember where I first heard this tape, maybe through Sickhead Records? They did the Malaysian pressing last year. I didn’t realize there was a Ukrainian pressing also til just now haha. Anyway, I heard Instinct? and thought it was fucking killer, so I reached out to see if they had a US version and they did not, yet... This might be cheesy for me to write about a cassette my label is releasing, but whatever.

I don’t feel like this style is easy to pull off without being boring, and it’s not so common in the USA either. Of course, yes, this band sounds like Doom. But to me there are other obvious influences, namely Japanese 90s crust/HC. I don’t mean metallic crust, but the punishing kind. While this band plays fast, they don’t fall into the “crasher crust” category. But they sound similar to bands like Abraham Cross, Crocodile Skink, Deceiving Society, etc. Those bands are some of my all-time favorite Japanese bands, so I think Instinct? fucking rules. In my opinion, bands like Abraham Cross are distinguished by their clear Discharge and käng influences, but their influence is like next level and seriously amplifies all sonic elements of their homage in the most brutal fashion; no metal, no funk, no death...

On Friday, February 20th, BPDT will release this Instinct? cassette alongside another cassette from our homies, Tizzi. You can check out both the jams tomorrow (2/20/21) here https://bunkerpunks.bandcamp.com/, of course SSR will stock copies soon too. I’m busy and tired, so this one will be brief. Thanks for reading my words, ‘til next time..

Staff Picks: Rachel

Laurie Anderson - O Superman

This single is super weird, but I listen to it way more often than I thought I ever would. Something about the minimalist synths and the vocoder vocals.

I first learned about Laurie Anderson from an art history perspective in a class about technology in modern art. It surprised me to learn this song charted and was popular for a while when it came out because it’s so simple. Not to mention weird. It’s a super weird song with super weird lyrics.

At first listen it doesn’t sound like much going on… a conversation? A poem? Anderson bases the song structure on an 1885 aria. The different vocal treatments create some sort of conversation with... god? America? There is a very noticeable political undertone to the song and the music video that still feels relevant today. The song came out in 1981 when there was a lot going on with politics, technology, art, and the world at large. O Superman tackles a multitude of issues from the time that are, again, relevant to today.

As I mentioned, I learned about this song and music video in an art history class about technology and art and I feel like this is the perfect example of worlds colliding. This is one of the first times I learned about popular culture colliding with art, and I think that wouldn’t be possible without adding things like video and modern techniques and instruments. I love how this song is using the advent and integration of new technology in art to critique the state of technology and the world. Today, we’re no stranger to synthesized vocals and sounds in the charts, but in 1981 it was met with mixed feedback. This song charting at all shows a turning point in both art and pop culture. Today they are heavily integrated; sometimes it’s hard to discern the two. And that brings up a whole discussion I could go on forever about. One benefit of loving fine art AND shitty reality tv shows.

Anyways, if you have any interest in weird music technology, fine art, the political climate of the early 80s, or just weird synthy songs, O Superman is a great track to check out.


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