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Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: I Learned The Hard Way
If you’ve watched last year’s Up In The Air, then you’ve probably heard Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ swanky rendition of ’This land is your land'. Their song is a cover that bears no resemblance to the slice-of-Americana original; to call it merely a cover would be dismissive of the Dap’s talent. What comes as a shocker, though, is that this groovy ballad wasn’t recorded decades ago in a better time as its nuance suggests; it was actually recorded in 2005.
Sharon Jones is an unglamorous diva in her own right. The 54-year-old started singing at a young age, often imitating her idol James Brown. By her twenties, she was a fixture on the funk and disco scene in New York . Unable to land herself a record deal, Jones performed as a backup vocalist for other recording artists until this diamond-in-the-ruff was rediscovered. By the early 2000s, her friends assembled The Dap Kings as her backup band.
I Learned The Hard Way opens with a roar that proclaims it an instant classic. ‘The Game of Love‘ is a heartfelt diatribe against the hardships of love, and that notion is echoed throughout the record, from the title track, ’Without a Heart‘ and ’Give It Back‘, just to name a few. Jones is upfront and confessional, and her lyrics are effortless and full of ghetto candour; yet beneath that tormented crust is a very invigorative filling that will lift you up.
The soul and funk sensibilities employed by the groovy bunch are not just a nod to the Motown days; it’s a full-blown obsession. The band turned their back to digital recording and constructed their own studio with vintage analogue equipment to create their textured hard-hitting sound. It’s by no means a gimmick; the production of the album sounds crystal clear without the digital artificiality.
The album plays more like a greatest hits anthology and is a great antidote to the panicky strides of FM radio. Just pop it in and enjoy the smooth ride. And to anyone who ever complained that they just don’t make them like they used to anymore; Jones and her daps are about to prove you wrong.
Do you find yourself missing the good old days when you’d sit in front of the TV wasting away time and brain cells playing your Nintendo? If you’re an old-school gamer, you probably miss the 8-bit music playing in the background while you were saving princesses or shooting aliens.
Ash Eskrett, better known as Sabrepulse, is a video game music producer who has recorded several tracks for a number of today’s handheld games. Known as one of the pioneers of the chip-tunes music genre, this producer has finally made his music available for commercial purchase via iTunes.
Famicom Connection (aptly named after the ancient Nintendo gaming console) is his latest album to be released on iTunes and was actually recorded in 2005.
This album has a collection
of over twenty varying songs, but the approach is analogous, featuring 8-bit
effects and wickedly high bpms (all elements of the genre). If you’re not
into electronic music or video games, the tracks may sound all too similar.
The trick is not to listen to all of Famicom Connection in one go or the tracks will wash over you like background music in a video game, something that you should avoid since this album has several gems.
‘Ocean Bay’ utilises little vocals and a whole range of effects to create a summery beach feel, which it does excellently: you’ll be looking for your bathing suit and flip flops in no time.
The track ‘Dot Matrix Hero’ manages to incite the feeling of being at the circus and dreaming in bed at the same time. With constantly changing bpms and effects, this song will fill you with a heavy measure of 8-bit nostalgia.
‘I <3 Voltage’ starts off slow and picks up the pace almost instantly, producing predictable, catchy melodies that you won’t be able to stop clapping or nodding your head to.
Borrowing certain happy hardcore and drum n’ bass elements, this album can only be described as feel-good music. Trust us, you’ll have a hard time frowning when listening– just make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into; or you’ll hate it.
Judging a beat-maker’s album is a little unconventional. It’s harder to judge composition and technical aspects of musicianship, especially when sampling and computers are involved. But as music has evolved and changed throughout history, so have the means to critique them.
Beat Sketches Vol. 1 is a collection of one-shot singles and other specifically written songs made by Australian producer, TA-KU, in homage to the late Jun Seba – better known by his stage name, Nujabes.
TA-KU draws heavy inspiration from Nujabes’ style, blending together hip-hop beats, full and round kick drums combined with crisp snares and claps, with sampled elements of jazz to create an ambient and chilled-out vibe that is carried very nicely throughout the album.
One of the biggest challenges in this type music is making sure all elements of the tracks sit well within the mix. This is, of course, bearing in mind that these elements are, more often than not, compiled through sampling vinyl records which creates a stark difference in sound between it and the digitally created sounds made by the artist. At the same time no producer wants to lose the vintage sound of a vinyl record in his samples.
With all that said, TA-KU does an exceptional job of making everything sound his own. The art of sampling can easily be seen by an outsider as stealing someone else’s composition, but the true skill behind it isn’t extracting segments of audio off a record, but rather manipulating that extract until it becomes your own.
With ten tracks off the album, each individual track leads you very smoothly into the next. Never losing the broken, triplet-infused hip-hop beats that give the songs their movement, but at the same time, never jeopardising the soulful strings, brass, pianos and jazzy bass lines.
Fans of the late hip hop legends J Dilla and Nujabes will love this album. Both being huge inspirations to TA-KU, you can really feel the elements of their approach to instrumental hip-hop come to life throughout Beat Sketches Vol. 1.