Helean Lee

Since I moved to Chicago just slightly more than seven years ago, Helean and her (not really) better-half Robb have been my closest friends. We all met working in a restaurant, and so for several years food was the primary connecting tissue among our group. There remains a pronounced culinary bent to many conversations and outings, but music has become the preeminent topic in recent years, especially since their record player has gained dominance over their living room. While she has had to play some "catch-up" with those of us who've been music nerds since pre-pubescence, Helean's enthusiasm for learning about new music has quickly transformed her into a tastemaker in her own right. On many Sunday mornings those with the internet have the great fortune to hear her DJ for several hours on CHIRP, a local community-based radio station that she recruited me to and remains super involved in. A torrential tornado of a talker, she is at heart a true "hip-hop head" in the old school mode. Like all good friends, she remains a great teacher and a great student. Enjoy!

Harry Belafonte – Banana Boat Song (Day-O) I recently hit up the Dusty Groove garage sale.  Robb, James, and I got there bright and early (some of us more hung over than others) and stood in line.  We even brought tote bags for our spoils.  In short, we were ready to dig through some crates.  (Kudos to Dusty Groove for learning from last year’s free-for-all and making this year’s event easier to navigate.)  I ended up scoring a couple gems—Chicago’s Greatest Hits album (see below) and Harry Belafonte’s Calypso, each for 50 cents.  (For the record, Robb scored an original Paperback Writer 45 for a GD quarter.)

This song takes me back to being a kid and watching and re-watching the movie Beetlejuice.  It also makes me think of Otho… oh, Otho… (BTW, Catherine O’Hara was recently on WTF with Marc Maron, and the interview made me want to re-watch all her movies.)

Chicago – 25 Or 6 To 4 Chicago is heavily featured in Larry David’s new HBO movie, which, for the record, I still have not finished.

This song is seriously up my alley.  Heavy riffage.  Steady high hat.  Bitchin' guitar solos throughout.  Horns galore!  And oh, the harmony.  There ya go—that’s all it takes for me.  Blast this shit on LOUD.

Also, Josh stole this track from me and put it on his August playlist.  And, for the record, Josh is ornery all the time.

Lovage – Stroker Ace Truth is, I’ve got Del on my mind.  Deltron will be coming to Chicago soon, and I am super excited to see the show.  This excitement is doubled when you take into consideration that the last time I saw Del, he was solo at the Abbey Pub—this time, he will be at House of Blues Chicago as Deltron with a 16-piece orchestra.  So yes, I’m a little excited.  However, allow me to stray from Del just a little and present to you, Lovage.  Lovage is a joint project involving Nathaniel Merriweather (that’s Dan the Automator to you) and Kid Koala with Mike Patton (of Faith No More and other projects) and Jennifer Charles on vocals.  I decided to digress from Del to Dan because it seems to me that not a lot of people know about Lovage.  So here’s my nod to this great band no one’s ever heard.

And if you’re down with Dan the Automator, check out “You’re So Pretty” by Pillowfight.

Oh Sheit, It’s X - Thundercat (not available on spotify) Co-produced by Fly Lo. “Oh shit, I’m fucked up.” ‘Nuff said. Plus, the music video is Fritz the Cat, so you know, double whammy.

Here’s the music video: 

**Bonus** watch this for fun ----->

Can – Vitamin C I don’t even remember where we were—at some bar or restaurant—when this song came on.  I immediately fell in love with the percussion and asked no one in particular who plays this song.  Without missing a beat, James said, this song is called “Vitamin C” by Can.  I can listen to this song on repeat, ad infinitum.  Also, it turns out that I really dig krautrock.

Souls Of Mischief – 93 'Til Infinity 20 years ago, hip hop as we know it blew the EFF up in 1993.  This NPR music article  (though it addresses Bay Area hip hop, specifically) does a great job of exploring what was going on that year. 

So this song is in celebration, but it’s also just because.  Just because Hiero.  Good enough for me.

(Surprisingly, NPR has recently been covering rap/hip hop with a thoroughness I did not expect—they’ve even got Twitter covered—follow @NPRHipHop to see for yourself.  And check out this link for a broader overview.)

Adrian Younge – Chicago Wind Adrian Younge was recently on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.  I put the podcast on the back burner because I had no idea who the guy was.  When I finally got around to listening to the interview, I realized that I was familiar with his work after all—Younge produced Ghostface Killah’s most recent concept album, Twelve Reasons To Die, which I came across in rotation at CHIRP.  After I made this connection, I was much more interested in the interview.  In the interview, Younge talks about his record store in LA, which I quickly realized was a record store I visited on my last trip to LA this past June.  Younge’s record store is a hair salon/record store in J-Town, and It. Is. DOPE.  I can’t lie—while Robb wanted to hang out at the record store longer, I initiated leaving the store because it was so hot that day.  Wish I had stuck around now.  After all, Adrian Younge himself was talking to us while we browsed!  Oh wells, we’ll re-visit the shop next time around.

Check out the Fresh Air interview for more about Adrian Younge.  However, based on interviews and his music, I can tell you that what I dig about him is not one thing in particular, but his overall aesthetic.  It’s Ennio Morricone meets Curtis!, and I don’t know about you, but I dig both very much and am happy to see them meet.

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes – Don't Leave Me This Way If you collect vinyl, and you do not own this record, I can give you a copy. Seriously. I bought this record in LA on my previously mentioned trip this past June.  We stopped at this great record store in Silver Lake called Vacation.  I might have paid a couple dollars too much for this record, but I have no complaints.  I picked up the extra at the Dusty Groove Garage Sale and decided to buy it for 50 cents because I knew I would one day come across someone who needs a copy.  (Vacation has a very healthy metal section in case you’re ever in LA and searching for some metal.)

Just listen to this guy sing.  There is so much soul in his voice.  Also, the percussion leads me to think you might even be able to call this proto-disco…

DJ Madlib – Slim's Return What happens when you take one of the world’s most talented DJ/producers and give him unfettered access to the Blue Note archives?  Shades of Blue.  This album is gold, and this track is the bomb.  (NB: Sounds even better in headphones.)

The Monkees – Valleri They just sound so good… oh, the harmony…

D'Angelo – Brown Sugar D’Angelo was supposed to perform at the House Of Blues in Chicago recently.  Sadly, he ended up canceling the show last minute.  I was devastated—I hadn’t yet bought tickets, but I was ready to shell out big bucks to see him perform.  I did get to see photos and receive a first-hand account of a performance by Questlove and D’Angelo in Brooklyn, but I am still waiting for my chance to see this amazing artist perform live.  After the show was canceled, I went on a D'Angelo google rabbit hole.  This guy is a savant.  Read about him.  Anticipate his comeback.  Until then, enjoy the Wurlitzer, man.

Sly & The Family Stone – I Want to Take You Higher I just started reading Mo’ Meta Blues by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.  In it, he talks about how he files his memories according to the music that was coming out at the time.  Sly & The Family Stone comes up a lot.  I like this song.  And lamp.

 Dilla – Love feat. Pharoahe Monch Because Dilla.  You get it.

Samples “We Must Be In Love” by The Impressions, which is awesome on its own.

Boo Williams – Snare Tappin Ok, this was a total random find.  I was going through the CHIRP DJ database and this was listed to me at random (we have a retrieve “random” function that is meant to replicate going to a record shelf and seeing a dozen or so albums at a time).  It had a local artist tag on it, so I checked it out.  I am personally not a huge fan of house music, EDM, dubstep, or whatever else the kids are listening to these days.  However, if this is what EDM sounded like today, I would probably be a house head.  This is Chicago house music at its best.

Fiona Apple – Pure Imagination So, this made quite a few ripples upon its release.

Objectively: Fiona Apple’s voice is gorgeous and pitch-perfect; the arrangement is excellent; the animation is dope.

Personally: I enjoy Chipotle quite a bit.

Confession: when I feel like I deserve a treat, I treat myself to a Chipotle burrito.  (I know I know… we can discuss my issues with food another time.)  I used to feel guilty (clearly not guilty enough to put the burrito down) about this penchant for fast food, especially back when it was owned by McDonalds.  However, calorically, if you order well, you probably consume less at Chipotle than you do at other fast food chains.  Furthermore, Chipotle is actually much more socially responsible than…

Ok, that’s enough.  Clearly I have my own food/calorie issues and qualms with corporate social responsibility.  However, allow me to get to the more important conflict: Gene Wilder’s performance of “Pure Imagination” gives me chills and in my mind, the song was written for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory only.  From the twinkly percussion to the flourishing strings—it all comes flooding back.  The twinkle in Wilder’s eyes.  Charlie Bucket’s anemic and undernourished face.  A chocolate freakin waterfall?!  Oh, sacred childhood memory.  So the fact that Fiona Apple would cover the song, and for Chipotle no less, seemed like a disservice to widely held childhood nostalgia.

That being said, Apple’s rendition gives me chills on its own, and you gotta admit that the animation is pretty spectacular.  I gotta move on…

Depeche Mode – Policy Of Truth - 2006 Digital Remaster Violator is awesome.  I got to see Depeche Mode live a couple weeks ago, so they’re on my mind.  This is my favorite song from the album.  Oh, and, as expected, they put on an amazing show.

Jackie Wilson – (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher Another find thanks to the “random” function at CHIRP.  It also stuck out because of its local artist tag.  Unfortunately, I was not familiar with Wilson’s name until stumbling upon it in our CHIRP database.  Needless to say, I am happy to have discovered him.

Regina Spektor – You've Got Time You should watch Orange is the New Black.  Well, I’m not telling you what to do, but I think this show is a quality production.  The acting, the story, the character development, even the opening credits—it all contributes to an amazing program.  I really love it when a TV show puts some effort into their opening credits, and this opening sequence is excellent, largely thanks to the song.

The Main Ingredient – Everybody Plays The Fool I scored Bitter Sweet at Hyde Park Records.  You can read about our trip to this particular establishment here.

Baby Huey & The Baby Sitters – Listen To Me Just listen to this.  You’re welcome.  Also, outstanding album cover.

Chance the Rapper – Favorite Song (ft. Childish Gambino)  &  NaNa (ft. Action Bronson) (also not on Spotify)

So maybe I’m getting a little homer-ish here, but I am really digging Chance the Rapper.  In fact, I think Acid Rap is the best rap album of the year.  Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy Yeezus and Magna Carta Holy Grail.  However, while those two bing bongs are rapping about designer labels, priceless original works of art, idol (ego) worship, Porsches, croissants, and massages, Chance keeps it real. He’s also just much more endearing.  Plus, just think about it—millions of dollars went into the production of Yeezus and MCHG.  Literally Millions.  Chance did not have big record label money, yet he stands on his own when compared with rap giants Ye and Jay.  The album with no money (it’s a mix-tape, y’all!) and no label behind it is better than the industry vets’ work?  Keep your eyes on this guy, Chance.  He’s going places.

(Unintentional added homer-ism: peep hometown hero, Hannibal Burress in the NaNa video. He co-starred in and directed the video.)