Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 17

Photo of James Pants

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Recently, I’ve discovered two bands who’ve made me want to slap my mama…out of joy of course. There’s lots of buzz about shiny new bands brimming with spunk and glamour. But for The Kills and The Whitest Boy Alive, dizzying laptop-critic buzz is old hat. I absentmindedly downloaded “Cheap and Cheerful” after hearing journos in the American Apparel media (Nylon, Fader, Pitchfork etc) yapping about the platonic punk pair Alison “VV” Mosshart and Jamie “Hotel” Hince. Can we talk about the rowdy that song is? The pouty vocals, the snappy lyrics and snarly guitars, all kicked off by a phlegm cough from “VV.” Their latest, Midnight Boom, is twinkly lo-fi – moody and spare with moments of spry wit and petulant kick. I thought I was all on the pulse only to learn this is their third album. Drat.

And when I stumbled onto The Whitest Boy Alive I was straight-up sore that no one invited me to the party earlier. The Whitest Boy Alive is actually several (four) white boys (German to be exact) who pump out plucky electro rock. Think the bastard child of Peter Bjorn and John and The Rapture. Sorta like beach music for the city. Sunny jams like “Figures” and “Burning” make their 2006 album, Dreams enjoyable. But the shadowy laments of heartbreak and smoky soul on tracks like “Golden Cage” and “Done With You” make it memorable.

I wish someone had hipped me to The Kills and The Whitest Boy Alive earlier but with the glut of music the average listener is faced with, things slip through the cracks. Here are some newbies whose hype you should believe wholeheartedly. Listen hard when their publicity machine comes grinding in your direction.

Janelle Monae
You may have first seen her in the sunny clip for Outkast’s “Morris Brown.” Diddy got wind of her fabulousness and now she’s on a joint deal between Bad Boy and Big Boi’s Purple Ribbon labels. Tiny and uncontained, the ex-drama kid brings a genuine sense of theater to her performances. Her peppy sound bounces between breezy, plush lounge and something that sounds like punk rock for fairytales. No tired torch songs here just cryptic yet poetic lyrics about aliens and androids – you know, girl stuff. And can we talk about how homegirl keeps a reserve of spankin’ fresh saddle shoes? That alone is worth a marriage proposal.

You should check out: “Violent Stars / Happy Hunting”

http://www.myspace.com/janellemonae

Black Kids
Let’s not pretend that name isn’t a head turner. It smacks of gimmicky desperation. But praise MySpace their skills extend beyond a flair for catchy name-selection. The five members of Black Kids (only two are actually black) hail from Jacksonsville, FL. That may account for the balmy guitar that cloaks the tracks on their 2007 EP, Wizards of Ahhs. Their appeal lies in their irreverent teenaged cool (“it’s Friday night and I ain’t got nobody so what’s the use of a making a bed?”). Only bad thing is that they’re currently soooooo cool that they’ve got a hit song in the UK (“I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You”) and they’re touring all over Europe with nary a stateside date on their MySpace. Boo.

Check out: “Hurricane Jane” www.blackkidsrock.com

Muhsinah
So Muhsinah is a name that has been peppering my favorite media outlets like nobody’s business (check out the power-fawning over at Okayplayer.com). At first listen her appeal is very basic: lots of dreamy soul with liberal use of horns, flutes and dusky percussion. But the DC native mixes it up on her album Day.Break. Bless her for weaving together sensual Bossa Nova with steely beats on “Only and Always.” The project is entirely self-produced, shaming a lot of the children cluttering the Hot 100. Her knob-twiddling style is reminiscent of both Nicolay and J. Dilla and her vocals can be disjointed yet comforting. She’s a bit subtle for the meatheads but that’s always a good sign.

Check out: “Only and Always” www.muhsinah.com

James Pants
James Pants is pretty much my favorite producer, music-maker and funny-picture-taker right now. He churns out splashy noise that at first sounds like a racket but when the melody settles in…ooh chile. Pants is a chubby-cheeked producer-singer based in Washington who clawed his way up from intern to artist at Stones Throw and homeboy has got some soul. His sound is flossy disco topped with a healthy dollop of shimmery tambourine-laced sound effects. Imagine if Gary Wilson wrote and produced for the Bee Gees. His money-hungry single “Kash” came out last year and since then he’s dipped his funky little toe in everything from rowdy garage rock to moody new wave. At this rate, next year he could be doling out hip hop polkas with finesse. And I need to hear that.

Check out: “We’re Through” www.myspace.com/jamespants

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 16

Photo of Muhsinah and Don Will of Tanya Morgan © Dorothy Hong

By Muwase Ziegbe

Hey lovers. Last week was all about the up-and-comers; the young’ns scrapping to the top of the heap with a song in their heart and a MySpace login. Tuesday night I hit up the issue release party for Theme magazine at 70 Greene Street (I love how “random recreation space” is the new “hot downtown spot”) featuring Eric Lau, Kissey Asplund and Muhsinah. Theme has its artful little eye on the deal-makers and rule-breakers making inroads in Asian culture and beyond. So having Eric Lau bring his Britain-based beatmaking skills to SoHo was definitely a good look. Lau flashed his head-nodding finesse on the wheels of steel, dishing out comfort soul from J. Dilla’s blissed-out take on “Think Twice” to D’Angelo’s guttural “Spanish Joint.” After swigging a few glasses of Black Swan Merlot, Kissey Asplund’s splintery, screechy vocals and absent-minded stage presence were disorienting. And Muhsinah is an able beatmaker and I was wicked excited for her performance but her gentle sound failed to connect with the audience. But impromptu performances from hip hop collective Tanya Morgan and rapper Eagle Nebula kicked up the energy a bit.

Afterwards, I upped the soul quotient at Be Easy, a Tuesday night jump-off at Tillman’s in Chelsea. Tillman’s is adorable with a nostalgic décor that reminds me of my rich auntie’s living room; the one who doesn’t want my grubby paws on her mid-century upholstery. But their recession-resistant prices definitely make me feel like an unloved stepchild. And as any night at the T, the people are like, totally beautiful; an after work spot for people whose jobs are obscenely cool – writers, artists, music heads etc. The playlist is powered by a rotating cluster of homies who take turns spinning and keeping the good vibes going. The music ranges from Little Brother to the Brothers Johnson to all the dusky hip hop soul in between. And host even hipped me to T.K. Wonder, a singer who makes buttery electro stuff and happens to slang dranks there. Even the wait staff is cooler than you.

Wednesday night I met the face of excess as Stoli and Wired magazine hosted a night of live digital art and dranky dranks at Hotel Stoli. The “hotel” was really just an expansive warehouse on the Hudson which Stoli tricked out with Ikea-esque rooms representing different flavors like Orange and Razberi. Conceptually the night was a winner: check out some artsy nerdlingers, like graphic artist Jelson Jargon, tinker and create digital art while you take your blood alcohol levels to new and exciting heights. And it was cool to see artists working in 10-minute intervals building upon each others’ work and birthing funky stuff like a radio tower inserted into a retooled photo of a soldier in combat. My only beef was that in such a huge space, there should have been more gargantuan screens on which to watch the magic unfold.

Thursday I saw your soon to be favorite singer, Janelle Monae. In the past month, I’ve seen everyone from Jay-Z to Erykah Badu and she handily threw down the best performance I’ve seen in a long time. She’s small and spry and kicked around the Highline Ballroom stage with trippy dance moves and spacey grooves. Imagine if a paranormal being landed in Roswell in 1957 and instead of seeking mind control over the masses, it just wanted to jam! Add a floppy pompadour and you’ve got Janelle Monae. Thoroughly satisfying.

Saturday night, I stayed up late to check out Korrupt, a party in a Chinatown food court hosted by Bijules and The Retro Kids (I actually missed the Retro Kids’ performance but one of them tried to get in my cab while I was still in it. I feel closer to God). Mussy-haired lost boys in too much day-glo infested the cutesy Chinese banquet room where I caught DJ Wools and DJ XXXChange packing the dance floor. The music was absolutely excellent with everything from choppy B-more club remixes of Curtis Mayfield to the Stardust’s Saturday night staple, “The Music Sounds Better With You.” Neo-disco begats debauchery so I was happy.

So what have we learned this week, boys and girls? The parties of tomorrow will be held in nameless rooms, footed by flossy likka companies where you’ll see MySpace singers before they become MySpace-sponsored singers. And you may feel closer to God.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 15

Photo of ?uestlove and Black Thought at Sutra © Michael July, Natural Light Studio

By Mawuse Ziegbe

This week, I’m summoning my awesome power as an online columnist and declaring Chin Chin your new favorite band. You kids pouting over the loss of Jamiroquai’s squirrelly baselines, buck up. And those who wish they could understand the cheeky lyrics that pepper the slinky disco of Los Amigos Invisibles, calm down. Chin Chin is here with a boatload of soul as their Tuesday night album release at Union Pool demonstrated. All warbling Rhodes disco featuring support from bubbling soul singer, Jesse Boykins. And the lead singer made it work in a satiny kimono. Genius.

Wednesday evening, Pharoahe Monch touched down at SOBs for some fun and games. He launched right into tracks like “Welcome To The Terrordome” “Let Go” “Got You” and “The Light.” About half-way into the set he stepped back and BK MC Talib Kweli bust out with a couple verses of his rally song “Hostile Gospel.” Of course Monch wrapped it up with the crowd favorites: the velvety “Desire” and the menacing, super hit “Simon Says.” The highlight of the show however, was Pharaohe’s backup singer who turned the stage into a pulpit, lighting up the stage with electric, churchified wails.

And bless jaded co-workers who think Erykah Badu tickets are soooo whatevs. On Friday one such co-worker ambled by, waving a ticket and noted, “you like The Roots, right?” Well, no duh. The concert was stunning for a couple reasons. One, I ain’t ne’er been to no Radio City Music Hall so I got a kick out of the vaudevillian drapery that even made the ginormous flat-screens all pretty-like. Two, I ain’t ne’er been to no Erykah Badu concert. She had a little on stage work station complete with a laptop, synth and thermos where she worked her wizardry. Most Erykah fans are madly in love with her and if “On & On” is like the first kiss then “Otherside of the Game” is like the first time you made love. On stage, the former was sprightly, the latter sensual. She also did extended versions of album cuts like “Orange Moon” and “Green Eyes.” And ooh chile, the performance art on “Green Eyes” is worth the ticket alone. Best $100 my co-worker has ever spent.


Photo of Mos Def and Rich Medina at Sutra © Michael July, Natural Light Studio

Afterwards, I checked out the URB Magazine after party featuring DJ Spinna and ?uestlove on the decks at Sutra. I’m really beginning to think there are multiple ?uestloves because in the 30 minutes it took me to get downtown, homeboy was well into a dizzying set of top shelf mid-90s hip hop (Biggie, Guru et al). ?uest took the top floor, Spinna took the basement and between the two everything from Jade (Don’t Walk Awaaay boy) to Janet pumped through the speakers. And it wouldn’t be Spinna party without the never-ending Prince vs Michael debate on the dance floor. Even Mos Def made an appearance. But I think the week belonged to Louie Vega. People were lined up around 5:45 before the 6pm kick-off at the Hudson and Louie wasn’t afraid of no disco heat. He served up sizzling hits like Jackie Moore’s “This Time Baby” and Cher‘s “Take Me Home.” Overness. People just couldn’t keep their feets still. Like this guy:

Photo © Phillip Angert. View more photos.

But our Dancers Of The Week were couples who epitomized the decorous yet sassy partner dances of the disco heyday. The Hustle anyone? Lauren
Passion: Artist
Favorite chunes: Samba

Fauzi
Money-Maker: DJ
Favorite Louie-endorsed Jam: “Supernature” by Cerrone
Photo © Phillip Angert. View more photos.

Herby
Day Gig: Consultant
Jammy Jam: “Time Warp” by Eddie Grant

Lensa
Honest Job: Public Health
Favorite Song: “Any Love” by Rufus and Chaka Khan

Photo © Phillip Angert. View more photos.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 14

Photo © Collin LaFleche

By Mawuse Ziegbe

You know that part in The Wiz when Evelline dies and all the workers unzip their fug suits and reveal themselves to be finely crafted specimens of muscular excellence swathed in cherubic linen? That’s how I felt this weekend. The sun finally dropped its deadbeat ways and while picking out miniskirts on Sunday, I felt like a liberated Oz worker.

The journey to freedom started with an acoustic set featuring Van Hunt at soul haven, S.O.Bs. Van is one of my favorite artists ever. Take a whole mess of grunting, sweaty Prince, mix in the panty-droppin’ falsetto of Maxwell and toss on stage. With no band and just his guitar and piano, he strummed and hummed through songs like “Hot Stage Lights,” “Dust,” “Being A Girl,” “Character,” and “Down Here In Hell.” All the while, he regaled the army of Van nuts with tales about everything from his penniless musician days to getting his dranky drank on. Sadly, he didn’t play his last Blue Note single, “The Lowest 1 Of My Desires” but he did take it back to the Dionne Farris slow jam “Hopeless” from the Love Jones soundtrack.

Friday night, I hit up Madison Square Garden to take in a performance from some rapper named Jay-Z and this rhythm and blues singer, Mary J. Blige. I think they’re big on the internet or something. But for serious, I’d never seen Mary in concert and only one word can describe her performance: Wooo!! Homegirl was squatting and bellowing hits like “Real Love,” “Be Happy,” and “Work That.” She shouted out celeb pals in the audience (Oprah, Jodie Foster) and ended the set with “Just Fine,” replete with hair-singeing pyro. “Lil’ Project Mary J. Blige” – as she charmingly referred to herself – put the “hot damn!!” in the Heart Of The City Tour. Sadly, Jigga was packing more “ho-hum” than heat. His set, although peppered with hits like “Can I Get A…” “H to the Izzo” and “Give It To Me,” withered into tedium. I genuinely screamed when Beyonce swished on stage for a 10-second booty wiggle but that’s only because I was really bored.


Photo © Collin LaFleche

The summer continued to blossom anew as Studio B unveiled its spiffy new rooftop with a par-tay featuring NuBlu stalwarts Brazilian Girls. Getting to the venue was on some ‘ol MacGyver foolery (Dear G Train: Get it together!) but I slid into the B’girls set just as they were in mid-song and the crowd was in mid-rapture. This night had a gang of potential. But, Spank Rock , who always brings sunny, good-natured debauchery, had to bow out due to illness (Curses!). The rooftop we were feting became too crowded (Rats!) and the music was almost amazing. However tinny, crowd-thinning tracks were not mixed out quickly enough (Foiled Again!).

I wrapped up the week with a beer at Habana Outpost, which is basically day camp for Brooklynites. Swiggin’ my draft in the cool night air, I knew that summer, in all its blockbuster tour and rooftop splendor, was finally rolling in. I felt like I could unzip my face and toast to a brand new day. Bring on the flying monkeys.