Tuesday, October 30, 2012

JL Murat | Lilith

Listen to "Le Cri du Papillon" from disc 1

Listen to "Emotion" from disc 2

Get both discs here.

Born Jean-Louis Bergheaud in 1952, JL Murat spent much of his youth with his grandparents in Murat-le-Quaire, the village in Auvergne that presumably inspired his pseudonym. Though he began playing music with his father at an early age, he didn't record his first album until 1981, when he was nearly 30, and waited to go on his first real tour a dozen years later, then in his early 40s. When this double CD was recorded in 2003, he was 51; by the time I discovered it for 25 cents at the Alliance Francaise booth at Bastille Day on 60th Street in Manhattan this summer, he was 60.

According to one English-language webpage about Murat's life and work, this double album is his tribute to Neil Young. I totally don't hear it. What I hear is Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen. And, in some of the longer, complexly orchestrated pieces, like "Se Mettre Aux Anges," Scott Walker.

This record is all over the map in a way that continues to surprise, thrill and delight me. Oh, god, wait--did someone hit me over the head and now I'm writing music reviews for Time magazine or something? Whatever. The samples above, though I enjoy each of them, don't really do the full breadth of this record justice. If you're stuck indoors like me post-Sandy, take some of the time you've got on your hands and give it a listen ...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ceza | Med-Cezir

Listen to "Meclis-I Ala"

Get it all here

Please, mighty Allah, please grant me this opportunity to add to the hundred and fifty billion ga-thousandy x infinity FB, Twitter and blog posts filling the airwaves this evening about FRANKENSTORM SANDY! Please.

I promise to work it in subtly: "Well, here I am after hours in the ol' Bodega, just hangin' out and restackin' the Goya shelf as, heh, it's gonna be a looooong night ahead as it looks like the New York City subway system has been shut down as of 7:00 p.m. what with of the impending--"

Can we talk? First of all, I'm sick of hearing about the storm. (Admittedly, I made the mistake of switching on NY1 earlier this evening--my bad.) Secondly, okay: like, I discovered that I hadn't yet upped this really divine album by Ceza, Turkey's Número un rapero (de Turquía)? And I listened to it, really for the second time since I bought it at Uludag Video in south Brooklyn eons ago, and I just thought it was beautiful and that you should have it. 

It's very different from Rapstar, which I added to the shelves here two-and-a-half years ago. Ceza's rapping style is the same: a slightly-to-very-much sped up version of Eminem. But the use of music and samples is very different, less about creating a jangly, perforated soundscape for the rapper to weave and bob through than it is a kind of lush, at times celestial, tapestry against which the rapper "throws" his voice (oh, shit, I forgot that that word also has to do with ventriloquism) like Jackson Pollock throwin' down alkyds, acrylics, vinyl-acrylics, polyurethanes, polyesters, melamine resins, epoxy, and oil.

Get beyond the Aerosmith loop in the sample above, and you'll see what I mean. Hope you enjoy it. And, yeah, sorry; all out of peanut butter, water and candles.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

An Open Letter to Edo Maajka

Хеи, хов аре иоу доинг, Едо? Yeah, good? Great, man; me, too.

Except, you know what? Dude. I received an email from Blogger (which is owned by Google, who own everything around here) explaining that my post on your CD, Spomen Ploča, was taken down, and that if I put it back up again with the live links to the CD in place, it would count as a violation on my account. 

Let me back up a moment. I know you're a huge star in the Balkans; the single most sought-after rap artist in the area. But until last April, when I happened upon a Bosnian bodega in my neighborhood--Astoria, it's part of Queens, which is one of the five boroughs of New York City--I had never heard of you. No one I knew had ever heard of you. No one I would ever have met, in the few decades I have left on this Earth, would likely ever have heard of you. This is America. Or, more precisely, the U.S.A. We don't get out much. And we like to think we invented everything. And in your case--rap and hip-hop--we sort of actually did. 

That said, I'm a bit obsessed with international pop music. I spend most of my weekends on the prowl in Queens, Manhattan, Bronx and Brooklyn looking for immigrant-run bodegas and media stores, where I buy cut-rate CDs, many of which are forgettable crap, some few of which are utterly sublime, and most of which are listenable-to-pretty good. I post anything I deem pretty good and above here. This is my bodega. It's virtual. If it was real, it would go quickly out of business. 

I maintain this virtual bodega for one reason and one reason only: because I believe American pop culture (specifically U.S. pop culture) is more or less in decline. The movies, the music, the writing, the art and performances worth experiencing all seem to mostly be coming from other places. Have you tried to read Jonathan Lethem or listen to Bruce Springsteen or watch a Sofia Coppola movie recently? It's horrifying how bad the shit we produce really is these days. Okay, granted, I just posted a link earlier to a piece I wrote about Breaking Bad, an American television show that, I admit, is pretty great. We haven't totally lost it.

But, still. We mostly suck. And that's where you come in. You and artists like you all over the world. Artists who are doing unconscionably fabulous things but, because you haven't yet proven you can move more than 12 copies of whatever it is you might possibly sell here, you haven't been written about in Spin, Rolling Stone or Pitchfork. And because our mass media ignores you, our collective understanding of the pop music field beyond our borders is basically M.I.A., Bob Marley, those Buena Vista Social Club guys, Bjork and "Gangnam Style." Which pretty much ensures that we're going to suck very hard for a very, very long time.

Where was I? Oh, right: You. And your music. Which you had Google come sit its huge stinking fat corporate ass on my face to ensure that I'd forever remove it. Good for you. Not only have you stopped "rampant" piracy, helping you not receive precisely the amount of no money whatsoever that you would have never in a million years received anyway, but now, the only way anyone in the U.S. is going to stumble onto you is through this post

One last thing, and I'll let you go. The sample song I had posted on that no-longer-extant page, "Jebo Vladu" ("Fuck the Government"). I just want you to know that I still love that song, even more so, and precisely now for the irony of your having used the U.S. government (in the form of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) to erase the sole source of English-language sentences singing your praises on the entire worldwide web that anyone in this country, or the rest of the English-speaking world for that matter, was ever going to find.

The Extreme Poetics of Breaking Bad

An essay I wrote exploring the poetics of Breaking Bad, with a beautiful video by Dave Bunting, just went live on IndieWire's PressPlay, here.

For a contemporary cinematic experience as visceral and visually arresting as Breaking Bad, audiences must look abroad, to Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, or further, to films coming out of Thailand, Japan, and South Korea. ... Vince Gilligan’s series puts U.S. cinema to shame, not just in terms of story, but in its execution: The direction, the dialogue, the acting, and—as is evident from the video essay above—the cinematography are, quite simply, of a higher order of intelligence. An intelligence that is extremely, at times obsessively, self-aware.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Anita Mui | Days of Being Wild

Listen to the "Days of Being Wild"

Get the Bodegapop exclusive Anita Mui mix here.

If you're a fan of Wong Kar-wai, you probably remember the sample song above as the music accompanying the closing credits of his film of the same name. You may not have known (a) the singer, Anita Mui, or (b) that it is a version of Xavier Cugat's "Jungle Drums," but with lyrics.

Mui's rendition wasn't the first time Cugat's song made it into Hong Kong cinema. In 1957, it made an appearance in "Our Sister Hedy" (see the video here). I'm fascinated by the international popularity of Cugat's tune, which strikes me as a case of ersatz "exotica," the likes of which the great music critic David Toop wrote about in his 1999 book Exotica: fabricated soundscapes in a real world, the single most influential bit of music writing on your friendly Bodega proprietor. (See, for instance, this talk.)

Wong Kar-wai, whatever else he does, traffics in a kind of cool, knowing exotica, which is, I would argue, why he was so popular in the United States at the turn of the century. A reasonable person might ask: Why didn't Wong Kar-wai just get Faye Wong to record the song, considering her presence in more than one of his films? Because, I would argue, Anita Mui, among Cantopop singers, was by far the most self- and media-exoticized superstar the genre ever birthed. Often referred to as "The Madonna of the East," a more appropriate reference, had she been around in the 90s and aughts, is Lady Gaga. (A Google image search may give you a quick sense of why I say that.)

I've long wanted to post a mix of Anita Mui's cooler, more dance-y exotica, but I was waiting to find a copy of her last album, the ironically titled I'm So Happy, recorded before her untimely death at age 40 from cervical cancer. Alas, I haven't yet found it and, as I'm not sure when I ever will, I've gone ahead and put together what's here now, which draws heavily from her 1999 album Larger than Life, where she does (in that instance) look more than a bit Madonna-esque.

Anita Mui got her big break in 1982, beating out over 3,000 other contestants in that year's New Talent Awards; she began recording soon after, causing almost immediate controversy with her 1985 hit "Bad Girl," a song that you probably have to understand the lyrics to appreciate (I didn't include it in this mix). When she toured mainland China she held off singing the song until her final night and then reaped the negative-publicity benefits of the shit-storm that followed.

Although I'd appreciated her acting for many years (she was especially terrific in Stanley Kwan's Rouge), I had no idea she was a singer until I found the aforementioned Larger than Life CD in a Hong Kong media store on Bowery and Canal several years ago--from that moment on, I became obsessed with her as a singer, although admittedly, I couldn't stand most of the music I was picking up. What I do like, I've included here. She is, I will say this, unique in Cantopop, not simply because of her hyperexoticized stage presence, but also for her contralto voice--husky, deep, and serious, though (I assume) fairly knowing.

I'd love to know what you think.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hoang Oanh | Souvenir 08

Listen to "Mua Gat Moi" 

Get it all here.

Born Huynh Kim Chi on January 27, 1950, in My Tho Province, Hoang Oanh (which means "Golden Songbird") grew up with five sisters in Saigon. Her father taught singing and, by the age of eight, the fledgling songbird gave her first performances on stage. A mini-breakthrough came in 1964 when she was 14 years old and was asked to give concerts in Hue, a coastal city about 50 miles north of Da Nang. According to one Vietnamese webpage I Google-translated: "Due to complaints and often poetry recitation before singing, she has made ​​a difference for her performances throughout her career and was rated as 'good enough song immersion.'" In other words, one assumes, she didn't bore the shit out of everyone by reciting a bunch of poetry before kicking out the jams.

Seriously? I have no idea what that really means, although I suspect it does point to a shift in the live performance of Vietnamese popular music. And a shift for her as well, as she graduated from the University of Saigon with a BA in literature and briefly considered a career as a teacher. 

On April 28, 1975, the Golden Songbird flew out of Vietnam for New York, New Jersey and, ultimately, San Jose, Calif., where she lives to this day.

I plucked this fabulous CD from the stacks of an intimidatingly vast Vietnamese media store on Argyle Street in Chicago, where I also found the other two CDs I have from this series. Unlike 75% of pre-1975 Vietnamese pop music currently in print, the songs have not been altered in any way (e.g., no cheesy Casio tracks have been threaded into the mix), allowing the listener to experience it all as it was meant to be heard in Saigon before the fall.

PS: I'll make another push for readers to take the survey to the right before the deadline passes tomorrow evening.

Hoang Oanh | Souvenir 06

Listen to "Tua Canh Beo Troi"

Get it all here.

I was surprised this morning while flipping through the stacks to find that I hadn't yet shared this absolute gem, a collection of pre-1975 tunes by one of the most popular Vietnamese singers of all time.

The album is rich and various, with more traditional Vietnamese songs and instruments sprinkled in among more pop-y and blues-y pieces--including the mournful yet slightly funky guitar you hear in the sample above.

If you like this album--and I can't imagine that you won't--be sure to get this one as well, if you haven't already.

Oh, and before I forget: There's still time to weigh in on the poll at top right, but today I believe is the final day. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Soumeya Abdelaziz | Chante Nazem Al Ghazali

Listen to "Tihi ala Araji al Wouroud" 

Get it all here

Half of me believes I found this CD at Princess Music on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; the other half is convinced I plucked it from a CD stall in the Jamaa el Fna in Marrakech. Where I found it changes not one iota the hair-raisingly gorgeous voice of this Moroccan singer, born in 1957 in Salé, the oldest extant city on the Atlantic. This album was recorded in 2005, when the singer was, what--48? 

Feeling lucky, punk? Ask yourself: How badly do you want your ass kicked? Do you want, like Ernest Hemingway, to spend the next few nights writing your brilliant but pared-down short-stories standing up? Then, you go right ahead and download this CD, champ. Because you aren't going to be comfortably sitting down any time soon after you listen to it.

Nazem Al Ghazali, whose songs Abdelaziz updates here for the 21st century, was a Baghdad-born Iraqi singer who lived from 1921 to 1963 and who is considered to have been one of the most popular singers to have ever come out of Iraq. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Oum Kalthoum | Ghanna el Rabea

Get it all here.

NOTE: Please take the survey to the right if you haven't yet done so.

Yet another CD plucked from the shelves of Nile Gourmet Deli in Astoria, several blocks from my apartment. I've only listened to this album once (I admittedly plucked it just yesterday), but it is a hair-raisingly gorgeous winner. There's a qafla about 10 minutes or so in that sounds like she has broken off the song in mid-, excruciating, sob.

Maybe I'm wrong, but the orchestra sounds lighter than normal here. And, to my ears, more colorful, with lots more stuff going on in the interstices. That, and the really expressive stuff she's doing with her voice here, sometimes with lips fully closed, almost always sounding like some form of hyper-distressed weeping, for instance, between the 16 to 17 minute marks, makes me wonder if this song might have been a particular influence on Asalah Nasri.

It's a cold, gray, wet day here in New York; I woke up feeling more lethargic than President Obama during the debate (sigh), but this CD, when I popped it in the player, was like someone had surreptitiously poured a shot of espresso into the cheap deli coffee I was sipping.

May it brighten your day as well.

Oum Kalthoum | Raq el Habib

Get it all here.

Note: Please take the survey to your right if you haven't already.

Virginia Danielson, in her scholarly book The Voice of Egypt, cites "Raq el Habeeb" (or, her transliteration, "Raqq il-Habiib") as an example of Kalthoum's use of varying qafalaat, or cadences that served as endings for lines, phrases or sections, for maximum dramatic effect.

It's true: This is a particularly dramatic performance; there's a section near the end when Kalthoum really lays into one repetitive passage that is one of my all-time favorite moments in all of recorded music.

I picked this up, along with most of my Oum Kalthoum collection, at the Nile Deli on Steinway Street. 

Can't wait to listen to the song? Check out this video, which also has a lot of really great photos:


Friday, October 5, 2012

Oum Kolthoum | Awatt Eny

Listen to the first track

Get it all here.

NOTE: Please take a moment to take the survey to the right. I'll be taking your suggestions to heart.

The tracklist, should you want it:
1. عودت عيني مقدمة
2. عودت عيني الجزء الأول
3. عودت عيني الجزء الثاني
4. عودت عيني الجزء الثالث
5. عودت عيني الجزء الرابع
6. عودت عيني الجزء الخامس
7. عودت عيني الجزء سادس
8. عودت عيني الجزء السابع
9. عودت عيني الجزء الثامن

But it's basically 1. Eyes Accustomed Intro; 2. Eyes Accustomed Part I; 3. Eyes Accustomed Part II; and so on. I'm not certain of the accuracy of "Eyes Accustomed," but that's all I got for ya at present.

This is a live recording of "Awatt Eny," I'm not sure from which year. It sounds rather old to me, but that could simply be the recording quality. I just started reading Selim Nassib's I Loved You for Your Voice, a French-language novel told from the point of view of Ahmad Rami, who wrote 137 songs for the singer over the course of her career. It's a marvelous book, and the perfect companion to Virginia Danielson's scholarly The Voice of Egypt

I've been meaning to share my Oum Kolthoum collection with you for a while, and now that I'm reading this book, it seems like the perfect moment for that. This disc was found at the Nile Deli on Steinway Street, several blocks from my apartment in Astoria. The excitement of the audience is palpable throughout the recording.

Here's a video of the diva singing a portion of the song:

The Best Cup of Coffee In New York

Click here to read a Calvin Trillin-esque profile I wrote about Jing Wang, Beijing-born barista/owner of Hooloo (previously Hulu) Cafe.

Hooloo is my go-to pick-me-up place on days when I've been wandering around Queens in search of CDs to stock the old Bodega. And, seriously, it's the best coffee I've ever had in this city.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Khmer Rap Boyz | Da Homeboyz LP

Listen to "Toul U (Whatever)"

Get it all here.

NOTE: If you have a moment, please take the poll to the right.

I first came upon this video:

in late 2007 while curating an "around the world in 80 days" kind of global music video trip for my previous blog. I think the phrase I typed into YouTube's search engine was either "Khmer rap" or "Cambodian rap," and I remember watching this thing, totally mesmerized. I loved the sound of it, right down to the Carly Simon sample (that is Carly Simon, no?), and I periodically checked YouTube and other places, hoping to hear more.

Well, several months ago, using Filetram, I finally found a whole album online, what I'm guessing to be the Khmer Rap Boyz's first, and possibly only, full-length recording.

I admit that I was disappointed at first that the songs I'd grown to love by them ("Baeuk Chak," in the video above, and "Sexy Sexy," which you can watch here) were completely remixed and had shed their raw funkiness for something more--golly--what? What's the hip hop word meaning "hardcore"? Well, let's put it this way: I listened to the album once and promptly forgot about it. The cover, with the KRBs in the most ridiculously "hip hop"-coded outfits, striking the most ludicrously "hip hop"-coded poses, says it all. (Word up, Boyz: What makes any particular example of international hip hop successful is not how properly coded the shit is; it's how awesome it rocks. And, really, if it's street cred you're gunning for on that cover, isn't your neighborhood--bombed by the U.S. and turned into one of the most horrific nightmares in Planet Earth's history by Pol Pot--far more "impressive" or whatever to have come from than, say, Compton?)

Okay, where was I? Oh, right. Fast forward to a couple of months ago, back when I was putting together this mix. While looking for hidden gems to delight my visitors' ears, I went back to the Khmer Rap Boyz's album, no longer saddled with the expectation of hearing the older stuff, and could now hear the LP for what it was: A genuinely rock solid contemporary hip hop record. (Despite the lame-ass cover.) And, where the nature of hip hop in the hands of some international artists (think PSY) is to grow increasingly pop-y, the Khmer Rap Boyz went from a sort of bright, super-charming funkiness to a dark, chunky, pou-pounding oomph. (That is what the hip hop kids are calling it these days--"pou-pounding oomph"--right?)

And you know what? I totally love it. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Two Lao Guys | Pink Album

Listen to a sample track

Get it all here.

Yet another smile-inducing Lao CD found in the Dallas suburbs last weekend.

I heard from about half a dozen readers in response to my question: Should I change the blog format? It was unanimous: Everyone said "No!" 

Thanks so much for chiming in, all who did--it's nice to know you care enough one way or the other. I'll keep the format as is and, should I ever happen upon something that strikes my fancy, of course I'll run it by y'all first!