Sunday, January 29, 2012

Crowd Lu | Seven Days

When your comments field gets overrun by bitter expatriate trolls wasting away in the middle east and your stat counter reveals that visitors are coming to your blog via Google searches for “i used megaupload” + “prison,” it’s a sure sign that it’s long past time to get back to the music.

My hope this evening was to upload the entire discography of my all-time favorite Taiwanese pop star, Crowd Lu. But, considering the fact that I’ve got a day job to get to early tomorrow morning, that’s not very likely to happen. Instead, I’ve uploaded CL’s second full-length album, Seven Days; you can get his first album, from 2008, 100 Ways to Live, here.

Crowd Lu is the closest thing pop music has ever had to a superhero. After having been seriously injured as a college student when a truck ran over his legs, Lu spent his recovery time learning to play guitar and writing songs. Not just any songs. Really incredibly fabulous pop songs, at the level of Jonathan Richman or Nick Lowe.

The year before he released 100 Ways to Live and became one of Taiwan's most popular singer-songwriters, he became a YouTube sensation for this video, where he imitates Russian operatic singer Vitas:

That humor and exuberance can be felt on every EP and full-length album Lu has released over the last four years or so he's been active. I found this CD--indeed, everything of Crowd Lu's that I have--at P-Tunes and Video, the little shop on Chrystie Street featured in this blog's header image.

Listen to "Oh Yeah!!!"

Get it all in glorious 256kbps here.

And let me know what you think. If you like him, and like him lots, I'll likely upload the rest of my collection.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Guilty until proven innocent?

It's hard to measure the full impact of the FBI shutdown of Megaupload. The site was responsible for a reported 4% of all internet traffic, with millions of registered, paying users happily up- and downloading everything from wedding pics to the complete Lady Gaga discography. 

God knows how many of them were trafficking in crappy Hollywood films or dreck like the latest Chris Brown or Adele. All shit that will be footnotes some day in some knowing culture studies textbook look-back on the early part of this inglorious century, but otherwise forgotten, and thankfully so. As far as I'm concerned, people who up- or download any of that sludge should definitely be fined or sent to jail ... but not for copyright violation. They should be fined or sent to jail for disseminating the corporate roach-vomit that constitutes most of contemporary American pop culture. You don't even want to know what I think should be done to the people who create or publish that shit.

But, seriously. Should Britain have allowed Iran to extradite Salman Rushdie for his blasphemous Satanic Verses? Because that's basically what we're looking at here. One culture's laws trumping everyone else's.

That said, I'm not here to argue in Kim Dotcom's defense. I'm here to lament the loss of countless music blogs, the loss of the communities they fostered, the loss of the evidence of otherwise forgotten expressive culture(s) that they brought to the surface and shared.

Most notably, Owl Qaeda's Holy Warbles, which first had its Megaupload content stolen by the FBI action. As if that weren't enough, no doubt freaking out over the Megaupload action, Blogger simply shut his blog down, claiming multiple instances of copyright infringement. Of--we should be clear--expressive cultural artifacts that were either long out of print (and never to be reprinted) or so obscure as to be readily unavailable to anyone whose head is not a giant interactive encyclopedia.

The last thing I downloaded from HW was a rare, completely out of print album by Marie Jubran, a Syrian artist who recorded mostly during the 50s I think and who doesn't even have so much as an English-language Wikipedia page. I have a lot of Arabic music from the period and a couple of related books, and I'd never even heard of her before visiting Holy Warbles. That is the sort of thing we're talking about. Gone now. Not just the music, mind you, which is lovely. But an artifact that is now once again unavailable for, say, anyone studying the region and period. 

Holy Warbles, and blogs like it, are--for all intents and purposes--libraries. That, really, is their function. Libraries that store things that not even the NYPL or Queens Borough Public Library have. (I should know; I've ransacked both for their CD and other media collections, which I--yes, you guessed it--immediately download to my computer. Will the FBI be visiting our libraries next?)

Another casualty in the FBI's completely unethical shut-down: Madrotter. Run by Henk, a self-described "Dutch guy living in Bandung since 1996," the site links to, or used to link to, some 2,000 out of print Indonesian records. Henk isn't giving up. "As long as I can find an upload service that still works Imma keep giving you people great music," he writes in a recent post. Again, not just great music, but a library. A library that was being accessed by more than 40,000 people a month.

The carnage hardly ends there. The wildly popular Mutant Sounds and Global Grooves were both significantly spavined as well. Then, there's my absolute favorite music blog of all time: The Vault: Japanese Music Junkies Unite, a semi-collaborative blog that housed more than 5,000 Japanese records and tapes, most completely out of print, was also more-or-less wiped off the map. In a very real sense, it's like the Library of Alexandria burning down x 1,000. Or 10,000. No one really knows.

And this, we must assume, is just the beginning. How long before Awesome Tapes from Africa, Moroccan Tape Stash or Monrakplengthai are wiped out as well? Again, we're not talking about shit you throw onto your iPod before heading off to the gym; this is serious cultural evidence. These are, I can't stress it enough, libraries. And thoughtless, good-for-nothing corporate asswipes who supply rat-diarrhea-producing mental aphids like the members of MGMT and Bright Eyes with, like, cocaine-spending money are, essentially, destroying them.

As Lily Tomlin once put it: "I resent losing the ozone just so we can have PAM."

NOTE: Thanks to Jessibird for alerting me to this.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Malika El Marrakechia | Malika El Marrakechia

When I was in Morocco a few years ago I picked up a couple of CDs by this woman, who, I guess because I kept seeing her merch everywhere, I just assumed was the hottest thing going in Marrakech at the time. This may or may not have been true, of course; what is true is that hers were my favorite CDs I found there. This one, especially.

I'm almost certain that this is an example of Moroccan chaabi, though Tim could correct me if I'm wrong. I'm also reasonably certain that you're going to love it.

Listen to the second track on this CD

Get it all here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Kazim Al Saher | Aghsilly Bilbard

Listen to the the whole thing

Get the whole CD here.

[Another of my "house-cleaning" reposts; the first time I posted this it was at 128kbps and you had to download each song individually. Here it is now in 192 & a single zip file. It's one of the most sonically rich albums I've posted to date and I can't recommend it highly enough. I think it's Al Saher's all-time greatest album.]

I found this CD many, many years ago at Princess Music on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. The last time I stopped by Princess Music their doors were closed. I've since called the number on the awning a number of times and always get nothing. They were the last of some half a dozen Arabic music places in the area that I used to haunt; now, it looks like they're gone with the others.

Kazim Al Saher, born in 1957 in Iraq, is perhaps the Arabic world's biggest living superstar. I have maybe a dozen of his CDs, most of which are heavily Western influenced. "Aghsilly Bilbard" is an exception.

Unlike many Arabic singers, Kazim Al Saher composes most of his own music. I don't think there is any question that the man is a genius. But more importantly, every time I listen to "Waneen," the first track (of only three) on this CD, I get terribly misty-eyed. I think it's one of the most moving pop songs--if it can actually be called a "pop" song--ever recorded.

While you're waiting for this thing to download, read this interview.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Silvio Rodriguez | Mujeres

Ten years ago today the first prisoners were locked up at the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. To mark this inauspicious date, here's a CD by Cuba's most famous protest singer, Silvio Rodriguez, one of the giants of "Nueva Trova" ("New Song").

I found this gem--the third of Rodriguez's albums, originally released on vinyl in 1978--at a sort of street fair thingy in a huge parking lot near Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.

I don't know what the fuck we are doing still holding hundreds of people there indefinitely without charging them of anything. I'm sorry, but ... what happened to the president I voted for who said he was going to shut it down?

Listen to the title song

Get the album here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Archives de la Musique Arab - Vol. 1

Here's something for all of you Excavated Shellac fans: The first CD in the Ocora / Institut du Monde Arabe's Archives de la Musique Arabe series, including recordings from the middle east from ca. 1908-1920, with most of them hovering around 1910. 

Listen to brief samples of the songs here.

Get the whole thing here.

I've imported this CD--which itself dates back to 1987, nearly 25 years ago, which seems like the Jurassic Period for music burned into polycarbonate plastic--at a whopping 320 kbps (my usual is 192), given how much surface noise there is from the original 78RPM-to-digital transfer.

Does that mean anything? Are you happier? Honestly, while I can tell a difference between things I've downloaded at 128 versus 192, I'm not sure I'm hearing any real diff above 192. Am I wrong? Should I be uploading at 320 as a general rule? You do know it takes forever to upload at 320, yeah? I mean, I'm happy to blog less but at higher bit-rate if that's going to make you extremely happy.

I feel like I need to do a survey or something to find out what ya'll expect/want/desire/need. How am I blogging? What could be better. Should the CD cover be bigger? Do you need track lists? Am I a terrible excuse for a music blogger for withholding track lists?

In the absence of any real context for any particular CD, are you okay with me just rambling about talking with the bodega owner who sold it to me? Should I just shut up? Would you like more description of the music? More samples? Do you like videos if they're available, or could you care less?

Seriously, I'd love to know what you think.

I found this CD, by the way, at Rashid on Court Street in Brooklyn, a legendary Arabic music shop and former music publisher that closed a year or so ago.

Thái Thanh | Thái Thanh 5

Several years ago I attended a work-related conference in Montréal--sweet deal for me, right? Well, yes and no. It was, after all, a conference and I worked all day and many evenings. 

One evening after the workshops and other events had ended, I decided to walk back to my hotel rather than get on the subway. I thought it would be a nice way to explore a bit of the city. As it turned out, the route from the convention center to my hotel took my right through Montréal's Chinatown, on the edge of which was situated one of the largest Vietnamese video and CD stores I've ever seen.

Naturally, though I was exhausted and starving, I wandered in. And spent what probably seemed to the shop keep like hours poring over the CDs. Before long the shop keep, a woman who seemed to be about my age, began asking me the usual questions:

"You like Vietnamese music? You speak Vietnamese?" Yes, no. We talked a bit--I explained that I was a tourist from New York, which seemed to be provide her with enough explanation as to why I'd walked into her store that she loosened up and began to make suggestions. She also told me a bit about her family, who were part of the first wave of Vietnamese immigration to this continent in 1975.

I returned to the store every evening thereafter until the end of the conference and the shop keep each night would recommend several other titles for me to try. She would provide some context for each recommendation, talking about the specific importance of this or that singer, and who they might be similar to in western culture. 

If I remember correctly, she described Thái Thanh as a kind of "blues-y, jazz-y" singer along the lines of a Sarah Vaughn--a description that, actually, was fairly apt. I'm almost certain she recommended Thanh as a personal favorite. In any event, I'm really grateful for her recommendation: this is the only CD I've yet managed to find by this particular singer, and her voice is decidedly fabulous.

Listen to "Mot Mai Gia Tu Vu Khi"

Get it all here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tito Rodriguez | Mama Guela

Get it all here.

My first job in New York, summer of 1997, was secretary to the head of the history department at Columbia University. It was an easy gig. The pay was negligible. Our union went on strike about a month after I took the job, making my first months here a living financial hell.

But I got a lot done. A year and a half into the job, I started Readme, one of the first large-scale online magazines of poetics. (It was mostly interviews and essays; I wasn't yet convinced that the Web was such a great place to publish poetry.)

And, at some point while I was there, I remember walking along Amsterdam Avenue above 110th Street and seeing a single line of CDs over the head of a cashier in a tiny bodega with a single aisle. I went in. I saw the cover above, asked how much it was--I think $7 or $8--and bought it.

Tito Rodriguez was one of the most popular Puerto Rican bandleaders of all time. (That said, his father was Dominican, his mother Cuban, and he did most of his recording here in New York City.) I had no idea who he was at the time, but when I popped this thing into my ghetto blaster at home, I was determined to find out. Sadly, the music in this collection--recorded in NYC from 1949-51--may well be the best material he ever recorded. Certainly it is the tightest I've heard by him and, believe me, I've picked up everything else I've managed to find.

More than a decade after finding it, it remains my all-time favorite Latin music CD.

Monday, January 2, 2012

80s Ladies

LMF (大懶堂) | Absolutely Fxxker: The Ultimate_s...Hits

Listen to 10 songs from this 3-CD album
Get it all here.

Visiting my favorite Video/CD store in Brooklyn's Chinatown last year I noticed an odd-looking VCD I'd never seen before: "Dare Ya!" which was described as "A daring documentary on the Hong Kong's most controversial hip-hop band, LMF (LazyMuthaFuckaz)." I noted the "Category III" triangle in the bottom right hand corner. ("Category III" = X, or adults-only, rating.) I assumed it was going to be either really awesome, extremely embarrassingly bad, or some sort of parody, a la Daniel Wu's Heavenly Kings.

It turned out to be fairly good. (You can watch the entire documentary, with English subtitles, below.) But nowhere near as life-changingly awesome as the 3-CD "best of" compilation I discovered a week later in a Manhattan Video/CD place on the corner of Bowery & Canal.

That's the place on the left, with the white awning with orange trim

Listen to the playlist above and though you'll hear a little of their range--hip-hop mixed with soul, thrash, rock, etc. I'll be blunt: I love, love, love, love, love this band. Seriously. While you download, watch the documentary:

LMF documentary, "Dare Ya!" part 1, includes English subtitles

"Dare Ya!" part 2

"Dare Ya!" part 3

"Dare Ya!" part 4

"Dare Ya!" part 5

"Dare Ya!" part 6

Sunday, January 1, 2012






UB Pic

Mona Lisa Intifada


Farid & Asmahan | Asmahan & Farid

Listen to "Ya Habibi Ta'al Ilhaqni"

Get it all here.

[Originally posted in 2010, before I was linking to complete CDs. For the month of January, I'll be reposting a number of those early posts, this time with links to zip files of full albums. Enjoy!]

In the spring of 1997, the year I would leave St. Paul, Minn., for New York City, I went out east to visit friends in Boston, Mass. It was an eventful trip in many ways, but perhaps the most fortuitous was our stumbling upon Daff and Raff Books & Music ("A Gateway to Another Culture," was their ambitious motto), an Arabic book and CD store in the heart of Cambridge (52-B JFK Street).

It was a small, somewhat cramped store, with the CDs lining one wall. I'm almost certain that the photo above is the building, though it is obviously now a different store. (I remember trying to find Daff and Raff on a later trip to Boston, ca. 2000-2001, and it had disappeared. Google only returns relevant pages from 1997 and 98.)

I knew literally nothing about Arabic music, and picked up several CDs randomly, mostly gravitating toward covers that looked "promising." (Whatever that means.) For reasons that are obscure to me now, something about Farid & Asmahan's simple red and yellow layout (to say nothing of the extra-groovy lettering) drew my attention.

My attention was greatly rewarded. Asmahan was, of course, one of the most celebrated Arabic singers of all time, credited with bringing a "western" influence to her singing style. Born in 1918 to Druze parents in either Syria or Lebanon (I've read conflicting reports), she moved with her brother, Farid al-Atrash, to Egypt, where both went on to become wildly popular film and music stars:

She died in 1944 when a car she was in with another woman passenger crashed into the Nile. The driver escaped; Asmahan and her companion drowned. Conspiracy theories regarding her death--by British intelligence or the Gestapo, take your pick--abound.

She is one of a mere handful of artists I've posted music by on this blog who has actually had a book written in English about her life and work: Sherifa Zuhur's Asmahan's Secrets. Highly recommended.

thai pic


Beirut 2