Wednesday, December 23, 2009

posted by O.W.

Besides being able to share music, the other great joy of working on is the process of discovery for myself. I have this big crate of "songs I mean to post about" but inevitably, these get pushed out of the way based on "stuff I just discovered" and it's almost always the case that my year-end review of my favorite songs are comprised by songs that I found-along-the-way; 2009 was no different.

Irma Thomas: Hurt's All Gone
From 7" (Imperial, 1966). Also on The Jerry Ragovoy Story -- Time Is On My Side

The path to how I heard this song actually begins with a different song written/produced by Jerry Ragavoy - "Stay With Me, Baby" by Lorraine Ellison which I first heard after watching The Boat That Rocked/Pirate Radio. I think Matthew Africa then recommended the Ragavoy anthology, on which I discovered the Irma Thoamas song and promptly fell in love.

Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson: Find a Way
From Suite for Ma Dukes (Mochilla, 2009)

The more I've sat with this, the more I admire the subtle ways in which Niño and Atwood-Ferguson capture the melancholy beauty of Jay Dee's production. As I originally wrote, I was concerned this could come off as kind of corny but instead, what they compose here isn't remotely cloying but moving and magical.

Otis Redding: Papa's Got a Brand New Bag
From In Person at the Whiskey A Go-Go (ATCO, 1968)

The Emotions: As Long As I've Got You
From Songs of Innocence and Experience (Stax, unreleased from 1972)

Gotta show love to Funky Sole's Clifton; I think he's the one who played the Redding single at an early spring party and instantly turned it into a staple for me. Otis and his band just murder this cover in the best ways possible.

And I have both Hua and Mao to thank for turning me onto the Emotions song. It's hard to outdo the Charmels' original and I think the Emotions do an incredible job here of understanding what worked about their version and then found ways to put their own signature on it. The fact that this was never released in the 1970s is astounding.

Laura Nyro w/ Labelle: The Bells
From Gonna Take a Miracle (Warner Bros, 1971)

At least at this moment, if I had to pick my favorite song I heard in 2009, it'd be this one. Surprisingly, I never posted about it originally, opting instead for the livelier "Jimmy Mack," but over the course of the year, "The Bells" keep (you knew this was coming, right?) ringing in my head over and over. Sublime.

Johnny and the Expressions: Now That You're Mine
From 7" (Josie, 1966)

Mayer Hawthorne: I Wish It Would Rain
From A Strange Arrangement (Stonesthrow, 2009)

There's quite a few other similar singles that I considered plugging in here, including the Mandells' awesome "Now That I Know" (and I still need to write up the Falcons' "Standing On Guard") but this song is such a perfect mix of deep and sweet soul, it deserves to be heard again. And again. And again.

And since we're on the slow jam tip, I have to give a nod to Mayer Hawthorne's excellent "I Wish It Would Rain" - easily my favorite song by him behind "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out". I wouldn't think too many songs would want to risk confusion with the Temptations song (since Mayer's isn't a cover) but he puts down a strong claim to that name with this superlative effort.

Ohio Players: Ecstasy
From Ecstasy (Westbound, 1973)

Technically, I heard this song before but I didn't pay enough attention to it until this year. Once I did, it now makes me wanna go, "uh huh huh."

Spinnerty feat. EP and Czar Absolute: Feels Like Rain
From 7" (Trazmick, 2008)

I don't have much to add to what I said before except to re-emphasize. This is really really really good. Oh wait, I did say that before. You catch my drift though.

Bitty McLean: Walk Away From Love
From On Bond Street (Peckings, 2005)

Johnny Holiday: Nobody Loves Me But My Mama
From 7" (Bold, 196?)

I was about to sing the praises of these again (and they definitely are two of my favorite of the year) but I'd rather talk about each artist's other songs from the same releases (see the forthcoming part 2).

The Noisettes: Never Forget You
From Wild Young Hearts (2009)

I admit, I did kind of tire of this after keeping it in heavy rotation but here's what I know: I'll go a year without hearing this and then hear it again...and it will still sound incredible.

Michael Jackson: We Got a Good Thing Goin'
From Stripped Mixes (Universal, 2009)

I can't find much more to say than I already have; Michael Jackson's untimely death is one of the defining musical moments of the decade, in my opinion, in terms of how much it compelled me to reexamine his catalog and learn to appreciate his work in a whole new light. It seems apropos to offer up this deconstructed version of one song I only really discovered this year - "We Got a Good Thing Goin'" - that appeared on the suspiciously well-timed Stripped Mixes album. I didn't think all the stripped down versions worked but it was perfect on this one, especially in honing things down to all the best parts of the original's melancholy mood and charm. It's not meant to be an elegy but I can't but help but hear it as one.

The 2010 Rewind songs.

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posted by O.W.

A few weeks ago, I put forward a challenge to folks to try their hand at remixing Bobby Reed's "Time Is Right For Love" and so far, we've had three folks step up.

These are all "works in progress" so be nice with your comments/feedback but so far, I like where it's all heading.

Bobby Reed: Time Is Right (Choplogic Remix)

Bobby Reed: Time Is Right (Prince of Ballard Remix)

Bobby Reed: Time Is Right (Flip Edit)

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

posted by O.W.

I was on WNYC's Soundcheck again last Friday, talking about hip hop in the '00s. Part of what I was asked to do, ahead of time, was submit my 3 top hip hop albums of 2009 and I'm not going to lie: I couldn't come up with three actual albums. In fact, none of the three I submitted were, technically, albums.

To be sure, I can't remotely claim to have heard much of what was released this year and the stuff I did hear just didn't move me to really admire them as albums. Sure, I liked some of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 but overall, I found the album overly long and kind of anemic for it. I admired Jay's Blueprint 3 but more for its calculated choices than anything inherently pleasurable about the CD as a listening experience. I jumped in and listened to about 50 Gucci Mane songs in a row (his Cold War mixtape series + the new album) just to see what the deal was and while I get his appeal, I'd rather re-listen to individual songs rather than trying to sit through any of the mix-CDs/albums as a whole. I'm not going to put this on hip-hop (well, not entirely). I could do a lot more to "stay current" but now that my writing has become more personally-driven (what I like) vs. professionally-driven (what I should be writing about), I just don't find much about today's hip-hop that speaks to me. People in my demographic aren't really who today's young rappers are aiming at. Either way, I've learned to catch my pleasures when I can, usually in single-servings, and I've learned to moderate my expectations as I recognize that the older I get, the distance between contemporary hip-hop and my tastes grow.

But for all that, I still leave myself open to crave those moments when a song will absolutely knock me on my f---ing ass, demand my attention and compel me to keep coming back to it. If you had told me that would be Jay Electronica, with a radio rip that skips, I would have laughed you out of the room but that's before I actually heard the song and once I did, all I could think was, "wait, this is that same dude who made this?" I was never checking for him before this song but after it? I'm thinking "Third Coming".

So yeah, this made my Top 3 even though it wasn't an album because frankly, I found the experience of listening to this more profound than most of the albums I actually did hear this year. And who knows - maybe his album (if it ever comes out) won't live up to this moment but I actually want to hear what he has to bring and that sense of anticipation is like water to the desert of my expectations.

So what's so good here?

Begin with the fact that it's the first unqualifiably incredible Just Blaze production I've heard in at least two years. There's the loop itself of course (more on this in a moment) but listen past just the actual sample. The added string arrangements don't just play off the main melody but they're also used to build tension as a second set of strings tick upward in a crescendo effect - all in key - so that by the peak moment, everything is aflame...only to start all over again for another 10 bar cycle (the 10 bar loop is also unusual since it plays against where you'd normally expect the progression to go). Pure intensity.

And yeah, Just was brilliant in playing with this Billy Stewart song:

Billy Stewart: Cross My Heart
From 7" (Chess, 1967). Also on The Best Of...

I confess that I had never heard this before but damn, what a great Stewart song, no? It opens like "Sitting In the Park" (I mean, exactly alike) but then when you get to hook - "lord, why don't you, send her to me?" is some magic, especially when followed by, "this fat boy is gonna love her!" Not a lyric you hear every day.

And speaking of lyrics - maybe it's just the acrobatics of it, but I can easily say that Jay's "call me Jay Electronica, f--- that, call me..." verse is probably the most jaw-dropping thing I've heard all year (except maybe for that Tiger Woods' voice mail message) and what leads up to there is pretty damn good too (loved the verse that immediately precedes it - it's not often you can hear Run DMC, Marcus Garvey and Nikola Tesla name-checked within three seconds of one another and it all makes sense.

Now where's the damn album?

As for my other favorite hip-hop moments of 2009, here's a sampling of Top 10 in reverse chronological order):

Jay Electronica: Exhibit C
Edan: Echo Party
Big Boi feat. Gucci Mane: Shine Blockas
Lupe Fiasco: Fire
Lil Wayne: Death of Autotune freestyle
MOP: Bang Time
Raekwon feat. Method Man and Ghostface: New Wu
The Cool Kids: Popcorn
Bambu: 2 Dope Boyz
Young Jeezy feat. Jay-Z: My President Is Black (remix)

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

posted by O.W.

For the music-minded out there, a few suggestions for possible gifts for the season, regardless of what you're celebrating.

For the charitable...

Rhythm and Blues Foundation

All material objects aside, helping support musicians is a gift that gives back. Also see this.

For the musical adventurer...

Mulatu Astatke: New York Addis London -- The Story Of Ethio Jazz 1965 to 1975

There's been other Mulatu comps in the past but this is as definitive as I've seen and a wonderful primer to the master of Ethio-jazz. Once you take a taste of this, you're not going to easily let it go. (Also see this).

For the mixologists...

Edan: Echo Party

Bugged and brilliant; pretty much what we've come to expect from Edan but as his first major project in four years, Echo Party is a dizzying, 30 minute sonic slip n' slide. Once you start, you can't jump off until the end but you'll be glad you took the ride.

For the MJ fan...

Michael Jackson: Hello World (Motown Solo Collection)

There's a gazillion MJ-related gifts one could cop but this boxset - eerily timed to come out this summer, before his death - is a definitive look at Jackson's solo catalog on Motown. You couldn't call it obscure but it's part of his career that easily goes overlooked in favor of his massive Epic releases or the hit Jackson 5 years. Don't sleep on these songs/albums though; no appreciation of MJ is possible without soaking in some of the sublimeness he put out in this teen years.

For the South Sider in all of us...

V/A: Light On the South Side

Even for Numero Group, they've outdone themselves this time with their 33rd release, combining an incredible 12 x 12 photo book of shots taken around South Side Chicago in the mid 1970s plus 2xLPs filled with some of the best funky blues to ever have emerged from the Midwest.

For those in need of a soul primer...

Peter Guralnick: Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom

There's many histories of soul and you should never limit yourself to just one but if you need a starting point, I don't think you can do better than Guralnick's history of Southern soul in all its musical and social splendor.

For record nerds needing new threads...

T-shirts from

Your favorite record label logos + t-shirts = 88 Strong. Where else can you rock your love for De-Lite or Lizard (Paul Humphrey fans, holla)? Or, for that matter, this t-shirt, whose cartoon I may have start linking to every time someone post a superfluous "hey, this has been sampled!" comment.

For the amateur audiophile...

Grado SR-80i Headphones

For $100, this is one of the best bang-for-the-buck headphones you can buy. Yes, it's more expensive than those cheap-ass white ear buds you currently own. And no, you probably don't want to DJ with them (I recommend these instead). But for at-home listening, you're going to put these on and wonder what you've missed hearing all this time before.

For the budding producer...

Stylophone synthesizer.

A pocket-sized synthesizer that performs pretty damn good for what looks like a kid's toy. Don't front, just flow. They make a beatbox version too.

For the 7" addict...

Aluminum 45 adapters from 45central

Because you can't keep using these and because few things look cooler than spinning 45s with a dome adapter (though I find that the cone design is actually more practical). They're about $30 a pair to ship to the U.S. but c'mon, how often do you need to replace them?

For kids (and adults who act like kids) who like to bang on drums...

Mix Stix.

So genius you wonder why no one thought of this before (or maybe they did, I don't know): Wooden spoons that end in drum sticks.


posted by O.W.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles: Get Ready
From Pocket Full of Miracles (Motown, 1970)

Smokey Robinson and the MIracles: Get Ready (O-Dub Edit)

Controller 7: Get Ready for the Young Folks
From 7" & 12" (Token Recluse, 2007)

Of the classic '60s Motown catalog, few songs are as guaranteed dancefloor gold as The Temptations' "Get Ready" - the horn/bassline openeing already pushes you into motion before the drum roll even comes in and once the whole thing kicks into gear, you'd have to be catatonic to resist its charms. For over the last year, I've been very fond of playing out Little Eva Harris' incredible medley/cover of the song (last written about in Nov '08). I was spinning with DJ Soul Marcosa earlier this fall when he dropped the Smokey and the Miracles version on me and I couldn't believe 1) how frickin' good it was and 2) that I had never heard it before despite it being from the Miracles (notably, Pocket Full of Miracles doesn't seem readily available on CD (if it ever was).

If Harris blended together "Get Ready' with Stevie Wonder's "Uptight," the Miracles instead choose to throw in some licks of "Sunshine Of Your Love," which goes together brilliantly here. There's also the matter of a short but sweet little breakbeat that comes in after two bars and this whole thing clearly embraces the funk aesthetics resonant at the time. Personally, I wanted to create a version of the song that was just a bit more DJ friendly and noticing that the song's breakbeat was panned in the left channel, and using some super amateur editing skills (thank you Sound Studio!), I isolated and extended that break into four bars, following by two more with the "Sunshine" riff moved underneath before cutting back into the song. I played it for a friend who thought he could imagine the strains of Can's "Vitamin C" coming in here but the more I listened to it, what I kept imagining was Kool and the Gang's "Hustlers Convention" theme popping in (intrepid re-remixers, take note).

Lastly, if I'm going to write about blends involving "Get Ready," I have to show some love to Controller 7 who, two years ago, put out this slick mash-up of the original "Get Ready" accapella over Peter, Bjorn and John's "Young Folks." It is eerie how well the arrangements line up with one another (coincidence or not?).
(BTW: If any digi-DJs out there want a higher quality version of my "Get Ready" edit, drop me an email)

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posted by O.W.

As promised, my Aretha Tribute Mix is now up for download. DJ Phatrick's link already hit its limit so I just decided to host it as a podcast instead.

Here's the tracklist.


To listen:

Option 1: Direct link/download
Option 2: Soulcast Feed (click here, then click on "Subscribe With iTunes" or just copy and paste this link into iTunes --> Advanced --> Subscribe to Podcast)

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

posted by O.W.

Benny Johnson: Visions of Paradise
I Just Got To Know
Give It Up
From Visions of Paradise (Today, 1973)

Apologies for the slow down, between end-of-the-semester grading and the fact that I'm packing up to move at month's end, stuff is just a little busy right now. And heck, this post is about two years over due!

I first came upon the 7" of Benny Johnson's "Visions of Paradise" a few years back. I instantly was taken with that great horn intro on the song and when Johnson's vocals come swooping in, he comes with this powerful, "clean" tone (reminds me a lot of Jerry Butler) that wasn't like the lot of the more post-Otis soul singing I was used to. When I started digging deeper, I learned about the LP the song is named for. Like Matthew Africa, who just wrote about it the other month, I never quite understood why this LP sells for $100+ but lucked into a less expensive copy. Having sat with it, I can say that the LP is far from a one-tracker and while I'm still not sure what makes it as $ as it can be, it's certainly worth having if you can get it on the cheap.

I don't know a ton about Johnson - this is the only album I know him being connected to but looking over the credits, I realized partly why this album sounds as good as it does is thanks to Julius Brockington and his United Chair - the album's main producer. Brockington's an interesting guy; I've been up on his records for a minute (this 7" being a favorite) and I'm sure there's a longer post to be dedicated to him somewhere.

Back to Johnson though - I wanted to include "I Just Got To Know," a deceptively simple mid-tempo cut that, to me at least, grew with each passing listen. Again, Johnson really sells me on his vocals here even though I'm not inclined to love his timbre but he knows how to work it well. For contrast, I also wanted to include one of the album's slow jams (featuring some nicely used female back-up vocals) with "Give It Up." Love the deep + sweet notes layered in here.


posted by O.W.

I just launched a new column for Fania's revamped website called "Latin Con Alma." It's part of their regular blog (and thus doesn't have a dedicated page) but I'll update folks here when a new one goes up.

My first three posts are all about the history of Speed Records. I've been researching them for Wax Poetics and wrote these posts as a beginner's guide of sorts to this small but popular Latin soul label. The formatting at Fania is still being worked out so I decided, for this post at least, to reprint what's there:
    The Speed Records Story, Part 1 of 3

    Speed Records was founded by Stanley Lewis around 1967/8 following an exit from Cotique Records, the Latin label that Lewis had run with partner George Goldner. Lewis started Speed along with with producer Morty Craft (who had never worked extensively in Latin prior) and Bobby Marin, the prolific Latin music songwriter/producer. Marin served as label’s informal A&R man and he helped bring aboard the accomplished player, composer, and arranger Louie Ramirez and together, along with bandleader Luis Aviles, they formed the nucleus of the Latin Blues Band. Their Take a Trip Pussycat became Speed’s first LP release and its innuendo-laden jokes about sex and drugs were a sly indication of the group's salacious sense of humor. Even in the cover art, which looked a visualization of an acid trip (but actually hid a naked woman), the album suggested a new team was in town.

    The best-known song off The Latin Blues Band album was “(I’ll Be a) Happy Man,” a fast, late-era boogaloo featuring the funky drum breaks of studio session player Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, a colleague of Ramirez’s. (“Happy Man,” had a curious life span, as it was remade into "Happy Soul," an instrumental for The Moon People’s Land of Love album on Speed, then was remade again as “Happy Soul With a Hook,” this time featuring organist Dave Cortez and then that version was stripped down slightly and released as “Hippy Skippy Moon Strut” by the Moon People, but for Roulette. Decades later, DJ Premier would sample it for Christina Aguilera’s hit, “Ain’t No Other Man.”)

    The second Speed LP is the most enigmatic: Dianne and Carole with the Latin Whatchamacallits’ Feeling The Pain. One of the very few female-lead New York Latin albums of that era, the LP itself offered no details of who Dianne and Carole were (not even their last names) nor who played on it. Marin is credited for some of the songwriting but even he doesn’t remember working on it or who else may have. Subsequent interviews with other Speed artists yielded no other details either. Given that the LP cover was a close-up of an eyeball (the first three Speed LPs were all fairly abstract in their cover art), we don’t know what they looked like. Regardless, “The Fuzz” off that LP has become its best known single; a slinky Latin soul number with vibrant organ and horns.

    Like Dianne and Carole, the Moon People were no less mysterious - or, at least, strange. Though not completely identical, their Land of Love album was essentially an instrumental variation on the Latin Blues Band's album - Morty Craft produced them as well and Louie Ramirez wrote the arrangements. The “Moon People/Los Astronautas” moniker was a Marin invention, reflecting the underlying sense of humor amongst Speed’s principals. The album sounded like a subtly, Latin-flavored version of any number of pop instrumental/exploitation albums, especially with covers of such hits as the Turtles’ “Happy Together,” Little Anthony and the Imperials’ “Going Out of My Head” and The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville.” The album’s most distinctive songs would be the originals, including “Monty’s Harem,” built around a catchy mod-groove. 

    In Part 2, we’ll look at the next four releases on Speed, all from young, up-and-coming bandleaders. In Part 3, we’ll talk about the label’s singles, latter day projects, and the missing-in-action recordings.

    "I'll Be a Happy Man"

    "The Fuzz"

    "The Harem"

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Monday, December 07, 2009

posted by O.W.

Congrats to:


for winning copies of Betty Davis' Is It Love Or Desire?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

posted by O.W.

Some time in either the late '90s or early '00s, I was at a De La Soul show in the Bay Area. To be honest, for whatever reason, the energy was kind of flagging throughout the whole thing (I had seen some great De La shows in the past, this just didn't happen to be among the more stellar ones).

Biz had been one of the opening DJs and during the De La's set, they brought him out and he sang the chorus to "Just a Friend."

Brought the house down. It was the most energized the crowd had been the entire night. And the thing is - I don't remotely consider Biz to be a one-hit wonder but it is frickin' amazing how powerfully that song has remained in popular culture.

I've always been curious what Freddie Scott must have thought of that phenom.

(One more from the Diabolical).

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posted by O.W.

Revelation Funk: Elastic Lover
From 7" (Gold Plate, 197?)

The Mighty Lovers: Ain't Gonna Run No More
From 7" (Soul Hawk, 196?)

As I learned from the omniscient Dante Carfanga, Revelation Funk was an Ohio outfit that, among other things, was where James Ingram got his start back in the early 1970s. "Elastic Lover," the b-side of "Bear Funk" is supposed to be their "common" 7" though let me tell you, after looking for it for over a year, it certainly doesn't show up as one might expect a common single to. This is all besides the point.

I first heard "Elastic Lover" on a now-infamous Jared Boxx mix-CD from a few years back and partially because it's early in the mix, partially because it is so striking, it went high onto my want list. Once I actually got it and listened to it, it hasn't lost its magic except that I have to say: the hook/chorus is amazing on this song but wow, the songwriting is otherwise terrible. I mean, c'mon:

"tell me why you want to be so plastic/when you know your love for me has to be made out of elastic"

I don't know if that's as bad as rhyming "crouton" with "futon" but it's somewhere in the ballpark. But, that all said, once you hit that chorus, with that multi-part harmony and the way everyone is stretching out the title...they could be singing off a cereal box and I'd forgive 'em.

I had a similar reaction listening - really listening - to the Mighty Lovers' "Ain't Gonna Run No More," which comes Soul Hawk, the same Detroit label that gave us the New Holidays (note: my daughter has gotten into singing the hook for this song too but alas, no sound file for you...yet). I first heard the ML song when Mayer Hawthorne spun a guest set at my weekly last January and it is a totally catchy song - awesome arrangement/production by Popcorn Wylie - and it has a great, great hook (hence why my 4.5 year old can rock it).

But when I actually sat with it, I realized: "wow, this song is all about how he's getting bullied around but now he's got a girlfriend and he's trying to stand up for himself..." Maybe it's just me, but as far as narratives go, it's rice paper thin. It's just hard to get all that excited for someone trying to shore up their manhood just because they're trying not to get punked in front of their girlfriend (unless your name is McFly). But the hook, the hook...the hook. "Ah ah, no no, I ain't gonna run no more." Try it. You'll like it.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

posted by O.W.

Harvey Averne Barrio Band: Let's Get It Together For Christmas
The Black On White Affair: Auld Lang Syne (snippets)
From In the Christmas Groove (Strut, 2009)

It's post-Thanksgiving which means that in the last few days, every time I step into a retail store, I hear %#U*()! Christmas music. Don't get me wrong; I like "Christmas Time Is Here" as much as the next Peanuts fan but if I have to wait through another rendition of "Jingle Bells," I might have to go all bull in a china shop.

Thankfully, the good folks at Strut Records have come with an excellent Xmas-themed funk comp called In The Christmas Groove which - for cover art alone - would deserve props. The tracklisting is aces, including a few rare classics like Milly and Silly's "Gettin' Down for Xmas" and J.D. McDonald's "Boogaloo Santa Claus." I picked out two songs I hadn't heard before, including one I probably should have - Harvey Averne's "Let's Get It Together For Christmas," a random, 45 only track on Fania that is vintage Averne in its funky production style. Makes me wonder if Fania ever cut a dedicated holiday album; which would have seemed like a good idea.

The other song is a really incredible version of "Auld Lang Syne" brought down from the Pacific Northwest by the Black On White Affair. I only included part of the song but it's mostly an instrumental that builds and builds, hitting a highpoint as it shifts into vocals but you really have to soak in the entire song to appreciate its majesty.