Monday, March 31, 2008

Superchunk are Superfly

I came late to the Superchunk party. I had heard about the Chapel Hill group, but dismissed them as just another slacker grunge band cranking out half-assed melodic punk and trying to cash in on Nirvana’s success. Finally, in 1998, I bought their 1991 CD “No Pocky For Kitty,” which remains a favorite. What I love about Superchunk is that they combine awesome hooks, the energy of punk, and lyrics that are both snotty and poetic. The album opener “Skip Steps 1 & 3” has the refrain “you’ve been sucking wind so long it makes you feel full,” while on “Seed Toss” they prove that even at their brattiest, they have a literary flair:

“you better memorize this face you better stay right in your place i draw the lines here from now on and your picture's already drawn and this movie goes on to long and this coffee's a little to strong and i think that i'm running on well i guess that i'm running”

While the band excels at blistering melodic punk, they could also slow it down a little, and two of my favorite tracks on “No Pocky” are the slow numbers. “Sidewalk” is an ode to a dead-end town, or a dead-end life, with lyrics like:

“Well you say you feel trapped Yeah I bought you a map And I think you'll find In any other sidewalk It's the same old cracks”

“Throwing Things” is a brilliant, haunting song about love, which has some beautiful, poetic imagery:

I'm blowing up the street like a leaf I skin my back a few times you'll see Head over heels, my hands on my heart I'm making a promise, and that's a start You're leaving a trail for me I see you up in the tallest tree (You're) throwing things down at me I'm starting to climb, well I'm starting on my knees Somewhere along the way Dusk it turns back into day The sky is orange The trees lie down against it”

Ah…It kills me every time. I’m starting to go through their discography, money and time permitting, and so far, four discs in, I haven’t gotten a stinker. They don’t have the angst of Nirvana, but they got those mad indie hooks and sad sack lyrics that make me melt.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Erykah Badu part two

My Erykah Badu review for Rapreviews

(complete with a few typos)

A blurb of my (very enthusiastic) review is on Metacritic

In my defense, i'm not the only reviewer who gave it a 9 out of 10, and I think it deserves it.

Red Ants

Red Ants
Omega Point
Urbnet, 2008

This is some evil sounding music. Like El-P minus the bothersome emotional complexity. The production is amazing, fusing industrial beats and hip hop into something that is dark and awesome. I'd almost give it repeated listens only it is so dark it kind of freaks me out.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Michael Stipe Is Gay

For reals. He told Spin in an interview this month. Holy shit. They also reported that chocolate tastes good, and water is hydrating. You heard it here first.

I respect his right to have never publicly discussed his sexual orientation before, even if it was pretty obvious. However, it may have been helpful if he had come out in 89 or 90, at the height of REM's cultural relevance. He would have been a good role model for a lot of young queer kids, and a powerful cultural ally. Of course, that’s probably why he didn’t come out – who wants their private life to be part of a political battleground?

Their new album is supposed to be awesome, by the way.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

90's Indie Rock Nostalgia

I traded in a bunch of stuff I’d reviewed yesterday and got three classic 90s indie albums.

Promise Ring “30 Degrees Everywhere” Jade Tree, 1996

I originally had this on vinyl, but picked the CD up for five bucks. I recently heard “Everywhere In Denver” on my Husker Du Pandora station (and Pandora is awesome, by the way). The Promise Ring were one of the first emo bands to really take the genre into it’s current wimpy and whiney manifestation. They were formed in the ashes of pretentious punk band Cap’n Jazz, and combined journal writing, design, passionate yet out of tune singing, and a lot of chord changes and unusual song structures to create indie pop that was poetic and bland as hell. Sample lyric: "If I put my hands to your stomach, or put my lips to your hand. Birmingham has gone to motors. Take me home, keep your eyes on the road [..] I’m convinced you’re from mars.” High school poetry run amok. I still love "Everywhere in Denver", but the rest of the album makes me kind of angry. Not worth the price of admission.

Sebadoh “Bubble and Scrape” Sub Pop, 1993

This is where Sebadoh stopped being a noise band and started writing sublime pop songs. My favorites are “Soul and Fire” and “Sister.” I originally had this as a cassette dub of my friend Jaime’s copy. This totally reminds me of Sacramento in the summer. Good times. Sebadoh’s next album after this, 1994’s "Bakesale", is one of my favorite album’s ever.

Superchunk “Foolish,” Merge, 1994

I never heard this until now. I got into Superchunk in the late 90s, after hearing fIREHOSE cover their song “Slack Motherfucker.” Their 1992 album “No Pocky for Kitty” is one of my favorite melodic indie/punk albums ever, right up there with Jawbreaker’s “24 Hour Revenge Therapy” and Sebadoh’s aforementioned “Bakesale.” “Foolish” is a breakup album, and as such is kind of a downer. I’m 5 songs into my first listen, and it’s not rocking my world. Maybe with repeated listens.


I’m a big fan of Emusic. It is sort of an indie itunes, but on a subscription basis, and with no DRM. That means that you get actual MP3 files, not the bullshit Apple audio files that you can only put on so many computers. They also allow you to redownload whatever you paid for again for free, which makes it really easy to transition between your home and work computer. I pay $14.99 a month for 50 downloads, which works out to be about four albums. They have a somewhat limited selection, in that there isn’t any major label stuff, but they have a ton of indie music, and I’ve downloaded some classic, hard to find albums like the first Freestyle Fellowship record.

I use Emusic to download stuff I’m interested in, but not necessarily enough to spend fifteen bucks a CD on, like old soul, old hardcore, or the Wild Style soundtrack. I also use it to plug in the gaps in my hip hop heavy music diet, rounding it out with other forms of music. Most importantly, I use it to download stuff onto my girlfriend’s computer that we can both agree on, no small feat considering she hates punk, hip hop, and anything noisy and angry.

This months purchases were:

She & Him “Volume One”
Normally I don’t go for actors trying to be singers, but I dig She & Him, which is Zooey Deschenal and M Ward. She’s got a great voice, and it is a lot of fun. I was sold after hearing “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here” on KEPX’s Song of the Day podcast.

Neutral Milk Hotel “On Avery Island” If you don’t own Neutral Milk Hotel’s “The Aeroplane Over the Sea,” go buy it now. If you do own it, go buy “On Avery Island.” If you own both, go listen to them. I got turned on to these guys in 1997, and I immediately made all my friends listen to them. They combine folk, psychedelic rock, indie rock, and general awesomeness. So what if singer/songwriter Jeff Magnum hasn’t done anything since. He’s done enough with these two amazing records, and has contributed much more to the musical landscape than all the Nickleback albums combined.

New Buffalo “Somewhere, Anywhere” AKA iTunes commercial/Grey's Anatomy music. This is mellow female indie pop, and I dig it.

Bratmobile “Ladies, Women, and Girls” Their first album was too primitive to be enjoyable, but their amateurish singing and playing work perfectly on this 2001 (2002?) record. It’s bratty punk meets beach rock meets girl group fantasticness. I first heard “Gimme Brains” on a comp some years ago, and fell in love with it’s combination of sass and hooks. Nothing else quite matches the level of brilliance of that track, but a lot comes close.

Now to find time to listen to all of this!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Husker Du

(The first in what threatens to be a series on me reminiscing about bands from my youth, unless it's not).
One of the few band shirts that I still own is a Husker Du shirt. It features the cover of their Land Speed Record album. It is a black and white picture of soldiers accompanying the flag-clad coffins back of the first eight soldiers to die in Vietnam. I got it when I was fifteen through a catalogue I ordered from the back of a Rolling Stone. I was attracted to the jagged logo of the band, the harshness of the photo, and the fact that it seemed both a critique of the horrors of war, and in a weird way a tribute to my father, who was a Vietnam vet.

The album came out on SST in 1981, and is from a live show. It is 26 minutes of blistering hardcore punk. It took me about ten listens before I could discern things like melodies and song breaks. They did the songs one after another, Ramones style, and they blend into a deafening blur. There are tracks that deal with Stooges-esque teenage boredom and angst (“All Tensed Up,” “Don’t Try to Call,” “I’m Not Interested”), songs that deal with the violence and paranoia of the era (“Push the Button,” “Guns at My School,” “Data Control,”) and even some humor (their cover of Gilligan’s Island features the line “I wanna fuck Ginger under a tree”). In short, it’s fucking awesome.

Husker Du formed in Minneapolis in the late seventies, and were comprised of Bob Mould on vocals and guitar, Grant Hart on drums and guitar, and Greg Norton on bass and mustache. Mould and Hart shared songwriting duties, and typically didn’t collaborate – Hart sang the songs he wrote, and Mould sang his contributions. They had several heavy, melodic hardcore albums in the early 80s, before toning down their hardcore sound into something that became the archetype of grunge, and later, emo. They were one of the originators of the melodic punk, loud/quiet/loud sound perfected by the Pixies and Nirvana and capitalized on by thousands of imitators.

In 1984 they released Zen Arcade, a double album punk rock opera that told the story of a runaway who joins the hari krishnas. Fans were pissed that they were writing acoustic songs, but the album remains seminal and revered. It taught a lot of young punk and indie musicians to think big, and helped inspire other classic double albums like the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime and Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. Zen Arcade also contains one of my favorite Husker Du songs, the abrasive, chaotic “I Will Never Forget You,” an out of control rant at a former friend (or lover?).

Zen Arcade and its follow up New Day Rising got a lot of critical acclaim, and major label attention. Husker Du ended up signing to Warner Brothers and releasing Candy Apple Grey in 1986. This is my favorite album by the trio, and to me it sounds like a punk rock Beatles. It starts of with the harsh “Crystal,” in which Mould sings “Crystal glass lined up in a row/ Watched over by the GI Joes/ Sugar in your coffee doesn’t feel quite right/ Feeling the effects for a hundred thousand nights.” It also has the single “Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely,” the psychadelic pop of Eiffel Tower High”, and the deeply depressing “Too Far Down” and “Hardly Getting Over It.” It’s the perfect realization of their punk background and pop leanings, and I like it better than the meandering Zen Arcade.

By this time the band was at each other’s throats, and after recording 1987’s “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” they broke up. Warehouse is yet another double album, but this time the punk sheen was gone, replaced by pop songs that I never found very interesting.

Part of it has to do with Husker Du’s two biggest problems, in my eyes: for one, I don’t like the drum sound on their recordings. There is no bottom end, and instead it suffers from that eighties disease of sounding almost digital, but in a bad way. Second, while Mould and Hart wrote some great songs, they are a few steps from genius, and as a result they could also veer into Bad Rock territory (a constant failing of punk songwriters). I’ve been listening to parts of Zen Arcade this past week, and it doesn’t completely hold up. It’s one of those albums that you need to know the context of to truly appreciate. Incidently, I never liked Sugar, his post-husker side project, either, and I haven’t been blown away by the tracks from his new album that I’ve heard. Maybe I’m just not meant to be a Mould lifer. We had a moment 18 years ago, and should leave it at that. I still have the t-shirt.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Project Gampo

Project Gampo
Alamoyard/Beatchefs Productions
(I originally submitted this to RapReviews, but someone beat me to it. Annoying at times, but not bad That said, I'm still kind of pissed that I listened to it for two weeks straight for nothing. It ain't easy being a critic. Plus, the spinal tap reference is really clever).
Nigel Tufnel, guitarist for the faux heavy metal band Spinal Tap, explained in the film “This Is Spinal Tap” that their amps were specially designed to go to eleven. “You see,” he explained, “most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?…Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do? Eleven. Exactly. One louder.”

Like Spinal Tap, Prof is firmly set at eleven, one louder than your average rapper. Imagine if Ludacris were a white suburban kid from Minnesota, or if Lil Wayne were gakked up on uppers and red bull rather than syrup and weed. Prof takes the Southern art of the one-liner and injects it with a Northerner’s hyperactivity. Granted, neither Luda nor Weezy invented the one-liner or goofy non-sequitur, but they have perfected it, and there is no doubt that Prof owns a copy of “Word of Mouf” and has downloaded at least a few Wayne mixtapes. He even nails the potty humor. On “Run Game” he raps:

“I’m over your head like I was in a hot air balloon
Don’t worry or hurry it will be your time real soon
Buy them tickets, bitches, I’m the meanest
I’m ahead of the game like I was the first pitch
I’m so hot, when I shit in a toilet
(Ploop) It drops and boils it”

Later, as if in answer to Lil Wayne’s “Ima fuck around and barf” line, Prof exclaims “I’ll freestyle vomit in your kitchen sink.” He also throws in cartoony exclamations like “WOW! RADICAL DUDE!” doing a kind of Eminem-meets-Robin Williams. The overall effect is like a double espresso with redbull back: exhilarating and a little overwhelming. Prof can be funny, but he can also start to feel like the guy at the party who talks a little too loud and laughs too much at jokes that aren’t that humorous. There were points were I felt like figuring out ways to get up and leave the room without seeming rude, and when I got to the obnoxious “I Dry Heave” I was ready to leave him lying in his own puke.

Prof’s over-the-top flow is matched by the equally ADD beats of Southern producers the Beatchefs. The beats feature samples from Austin Powers and sixties pop, sped-up soul, and frenetic scratching from DJ Fundamentalist. It’s all ON, all the time, cranked to eleven, and while it’s banging, it gets cacophonous. They do slow it down a notch on tracks like “City of Lakes” which features a freestyle over a human beatbox, and on “Rolling Stone,” a sleek and funky cruising anthem. “Ooh Baby” balances out Prof’s horndog rant of “Jump on my bed/and throw your back out/and break my mattress” with a gloriously slow beat.

Prof takes after Lil Wayne in another important way: he pretty much owns the mic. The boy might be a spazz, but he can rap, and when he’s not busy acting like an ass, he’s pretty damn good. He can also sing, and his does all of his own hooks. On “Down Dirty” he offers up a nice bluesy rap, making an explicit connection between hip hop and the blues. He even offers up a heartfelt tribute to his mother on “Mother,” admitting “I wonder if I can ever work as hard as a woman.” It is one of the more insightful and thoughtful songs a rapper has done about his mom.

He may be irritating, and he may copy some out of other rappers’ playbooks, but Prof brings an impressive amount of energy, humor, and skill to the mic. He’s found the ideal partners in the Beatchefs, and “Project Gampo” is definitely worth the price of admission. Hide your daughters, lock up your liquor, keep an eye on your medicine cabinet, and turn your stereo up to eleven, because Prof is one louder than your favorite rapper.

Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Total Vibes: 7.5 of 10

Solid Entity

Solid Entity
Born Sick
Silver Wax Records, 2007

My review is here.
Survey says meh.

Friday, March 07, 2008

New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)

Erykah Badu
New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)

I don't really listen to much contemporary R&B, but I was intrigued enough by Erykah Badu's new album to pick it up, mostly because it features production by Madlib, and also because Sound Opinions gave it rave reviews.

I like this album for two slightly contradictory reasons: it references classic soul and funk, and it embraces modern hip hop. I guess that's not really that contradictory, especially since she works with hip hop producers who are well-known for mining the crates and reworking dusty funk and jazz records. Madlib's work is understated and blunted out as usual, and both "The Healer/Hip Hop" and "My People" develop musical ideas/samples he unleashed on his first "Beat Konducta" album.

The funky breaks wouldn't be enough if the songwriting wasn't up to snuff, and it is. She's dealing with violence, war, poverty, and getting older. She is at turns down to earth and totally out there, playing up both her Billie Holiday comparisons and her more recent stoner witch manifestations. It is a trippy, challenging records, switching from the Funkadelic-like opening track to the neo-soul of "Soldier" to the freaky ""Cell." If I have one complaint, it is that it isn't always a smooth listen, and can be jarring at times. Just like most good art.

It's also sold a ton of copies, which is impressive. I'm always happy when good music is also popular.

She is supposed to release the follow up later this year, which is a little soon considering she released her last full album eight years ago. Whatever- as Lil' Wayne has shown, when you are on a creative tear, you just have to go with it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

NY's Finest

Pete Rock
NY's Finest
Nature Sounds, 2008

Review here.

Solid, if not mindblowing. Unfortunately, I just got a shitty review copy with no artwork, and an annoying voice saying "C'mon guys! This is just the beginning!" every thirty seconds. I hate when they do shit like that. So while I enjoyed listening to it, I'm not gonna blow fifteen bucks on my own copy.

Dream, Extinguished

I'm not going to repost my RapReviews reviews anymore, but instead link to their original posting. I want to direct as much traffic to the site, and I just realized that this site comes up pretty high on Google searches. So....

My review Daniel Swain's instrumental album Dream, Extinguished is here:

Final verdict - it's interesting, worth checking out, and unreleased.

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