Madlib – Madlib Medicine Show #1: Before The Verdict

I’m having trouble keeping up with Stones Throw. It seems as if every product they release is designed specifically to make me reach for my wallet. The first in Madlib’s monthly album series, Medicine Show #1, is no exception. To start things off he’s brought along Detroit MC Guilty Simpson, a precursor to their OJ Simpson release coming later in April.

The vinyl edition of the album is being released in a hand-printed sleeve designed by Jeff Jank and produced by the Hit + Run Crew. I’m enjoying this trend of hand-made album covers and hope it continues. Tonight in L.A. there will be a release party with live screen printing. I wish I could be there. I’ll have to settle for the video produced by ABCNT (top). But if you’re in L.A….

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Download: ♪ Guilty Simpson – “Before The Verdict”

Guilty Simpson
Hit + Run Crew

BTS Radio ReLaunch

After a long hiatus, BTS Radio is finally being relaunched. It’s felt like a long time since I anxiously awaited every show a few years back, providing me with mixes by beatmakers like Jneiro Jarel, Flying Lotus, DJ Mitsu and others (in fact my second post on this blog was about BTS). But it’s great to have it back, especially now that the global beat scene has exploded.

DJ Andrew Meza will be hosting a guest mix every Tuesday and digging up a mix from the archives every Thursday. Of course this will all be graced with art direction by Charles Munka (aka Ques) of LCP United, now also associated with Brainfeeder. Joining the team is Paul Rodriguez, the official photographer who’s work has appeared in Spin, Current TV, Ubiquity and other spots. This week’s mix is by the UK-based production duo Letherette, featuring their beats and a few favorite tracks.

Download: ♪ Letherette – Beat Showcase #003

BTS Radio
Paul Rodriguez

Various – You Don’t Know: Ninja Cuts

Just one of the purchases in my short obsession with record label compilations last year, Ninja Tune’s You Don’t Know: Ninja Cuts, the fifth in a series of collections they’ve released, is a 3-disc package bringing together old, unreleased, rare, remixed and new recordings. Ninja Tune veterans like Mr. Scruff, The Cinematic Orchestra and Bonobo make an appearance, along with newer arrivals like The Long Lost, Cadence Weapon and Yppah. It’s a decent view of where the label has been and where they’re going, especially for those not familiar.

Ninja Tune decided to use a fittingly futuristic Syd Mead illustration of a lush orbiting space station for the cover. Each disc has it’s own artwork, but this is the most interesting. The insert also folds out into a poster, which I scanned (above). Vegetables in space. X-Ray Delta One has a great collection of Syd Mead work on Flickr, three of which are below.

I had the pleasure of hearing Mead speak at my school in 2007. He is famous for his futuristic conceptual work, especially his vehicle designs. His work has appeared in many films including Tron (light cycles!), Blade Runner, Star Trek, Aliens, Turn A Gundam and Yamato 2520. He’s also done designs for a Sega Saturn game I played years ago, Cyber Speedway (below). Not only are his vehicles great, but the music (by the mysterious Bygone Dogs), really made an impression on me back when most video game music I had been exposed to was 16-bit Genesis tunes. Skip to 3:50 to hear what I’m talking about.

Syd Mead
Ninja Tune

Top 10 Albums of ’09

Another year, another list. 2009 was strange for me in terms of music. While 2008 seemed to offer a long list of great albums, ’09 felt more subdued. Of course this could be the result of two key music stores closing in my area, leaving fewer convenient shopping options. So there will be a few albums I haven’t had the chance to hear yet. You’ll also notice that four releases on my list were digital or limited releases. A sign of the times, I guess. But on to the list…


A suprise release for me, sent by emcee Madwreck himself. The ZKPRZ are sort of a continuation of The Others, a hip-hop trio from the now-defunct Third Earth Music. I loved their albums several years ago, so I’m glad to see them return with the same level of quality. It’s free, by the way.

9. SquarepusherSolo Electric Bass 1

I’m always up for a new Squarepusher album. Hearing Jenkinson minus the electronic drum’n’bass noodling sounded promising to me, knowing his appreciation for jazz-fusion and his skillfull bass playing. I honestly enjoyed this as much as last year’s Just A Souvenir.

8. BibioAmbivalence Avenue

Warp Records made a lot of noise this year celebrating their 20th anniversary. In a list of new artists, they also signed Bibio, previously on Mush Records. Known for his atmospheric cut & paste style of electronic folk, this time around he included a bit of J Dilla-esque instrumental hip-hop to great effect.

7. Hyperdub5 Years of Hyperdub

Late this year I started collecting record label compilations, all due to my enjoyment of Hyperdub’s 5 year anniversary collection. I’ve had friends trying to get me into dubstep for a while, so this was a good crash-course on one of the best labels working in genre.

6. ExileRadio

Instrumental hip-hop is still alive. Exile’s Radio is proof of that. Taking radio and feeding it directly through his MPC, manipulating everything from music, voices and even static, he managed to craft not only an amazing set of beats but also include a bit of social commentary.

5. The Gaslamp KillerMy Troubled Mind

I’ll just say it; Brainfeeder is the future. Flying Lotus’ camp is pushing hip-hop to it’s limits, and The Gaslamp Killer is second-in-command. He somehow managed to make this 15 minute mini-album feel epic in scale, editing obscure samples and fusing that with more electronic influences. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for a full album from him and anything else Brainfeeder releases.

4. TortoiseBeacons of Ancestorship

After three years, post-rock group Tortoise finally released a new album, rekindling my appreciation for them. The album is as modern and experimental as their other releases, but with an added sense of solidity. It also pushed me to explore guitarist Jeff Parker’s solo work, which I should have done long ago.

3. TriorganicoConvivencia

Now Again was spot-on with this release, a fully acoustic album by California-based Brazilian jazz trio Triorganico. Right as my obsession with Quarteto Novo was at full swing, the trio put together a more modern approach of a similar form. It’s also one of the most relaxing albums I’ve heard this year.

2. DakStandthis

I’ve thought there was something special about Leaving Records ever since their blog went live. Their first release, Dak’s Standthis, is a heavy, experimental collage of beats and sounds that really resonated with me. I still need to hear the recently released b-sides, Standthis (Otherside).

1. Shafiq HusaynShafiq En’ A Free Ka

A suprise favorite by Sa-Ra member Shafiq Husayn, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Shafiq En’ A Free Ka. What I got was the most organic, soulful album I’ve heard this year. The amount of collaboration with other great LA artists throughout the album is what I think attracted me most. This is all-around great music, even overshadowing Sa-Ra’s ’09 release Nuclear Evolution.

Honerable Mentions

Hudson MohawkeButter
Harmonic 313When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence
Sa-Ra Creative PartnersNuclear Evolution: The Age of Love
Quantic & His Combo BarbaroTradition In Translation
NicolayCity Lights Vol. 2: Shibuya
Mos DefThe Ecstatic
Broadcast & The Focus GroupInvestigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age
Madlib – Vol. 5-6: A Tribute To…
The Long LostThe Long Lost
MF DoomBorn Like This

Whitefield Brothers – Earthology

Jan and Max Whitfield, Munich-born founders of deep-funk pioneers The Poets of Rhythm, have returned with a follow up to their once-rare 2001 album In The Raw. The new album continues their signature combination of American Meters-inspired funk and African Afrobeat. This time around they’re bringing guests including rapper Edan, funk-outfit El Michels Affair, Quantic and others. The album is now available digitally in Stones Throw’s online store. The physical release comes later in January.

The artwork and unique type treatment for both the single and LP were designed by Lewis Heriz, an artist that appears to have a knack for creating African and Latin-inspired posters and album covers. This is evident in his work for East London club night Sofrito (below). I also think I recognize a cover he designed for a compilation of tracks from UK jazz label Impossible Ark. You can get a more thorough view of his work in his online portfolio.

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Download: ♪ The Whitefield Brothers – The Gift (Featuring Edan & Mr. Lif)

The Whitefield Brothers
Lewis Heriz
Now Again

Miles Davis – Tutu

I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of Miles Davis’ work during the 80’s. For a long time I’ve been slightly turned off by the overtly synthetic feel of a lot of jazz created at the time, in comparison to my love for the organic nature of the genre in the 70’s and early 60’s. But I also realize that some of the most iconic images of Miles came from this period, including the photograph from his sixth album to come after his hiatus in the late 70’s, Tutu. The photos, taken by Irving Penn, are fitting for a musician often referred to as “The Prince of Darkness”. These two portraits (below) have become defining images of the man.

Photographer Irving Penn died just two months ago at the age of 92. He left behind a strongly consistent body of work. It varies widely in subject matter but almost always keeps with his signature style of black and white photographs displaying simple, strong composition and contrast.

Penn attended school to become a painter. After a period of doing design work for Harper’s Bazaar, he became a fashion photographer for Vogue Magazine, with his photographs appearing on 150 covers for the next 50 years. During his time he also created a striking portrait series of people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Later in life he focused on still-lifes of found objects, including cigarette butts and skulls. This work appears to deliberately contrast with the perfection of the models in his fashion photography, attempting to find beauty in objects and people that otherwise wouldn’t be considered so.

Penn’s work has been displayed in a number of galleries, including the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. You can read a more in-depth article about Penn on The New York Times’ site, and memories from those he worked with collected at Interview Magazine.

Irving Penn
Miles Davis
Irving Penn, Fashion Photographer, Is Dead at 92
From the Archive: Remembering Irving Penn

Daedelus – Just Briefly

British designer Pandayoghurt’s work has been making the rounds recently, blog-wise. But I thought I’d make note of the great album covers I ran across while browsing his portfolio. Included is a cover for a retrospective of Daedelus’ work (above), released on Ninja Tune in 2006. It features what looks to be some sort of deconstructed machine accompanied by appropriately dandy flourishes to the left.

Also in his portfolio are covers for producer Caural’s second Mush release from 2005 (above) and mcenroe’s 5 Years in The Factory from 2004. He has more cover art on his site along with some newly added work that’s worth checking out.