Saturday, May 31, 2008

Albums You Should Own Pt. II

Black Flag
My War
SST, 1984

Black Flag were formed in SoCal (I can't remember the specific area, and I'm one of those people who refer to everything south of Santa Barbara and north of San Diego as "Los Angeles") in the late 70s by Greg Ginn (who is a cousin or brother of artist Raymond Pettibon, who designed the Black Flag Bars). Their early incarnation featured Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris on vocals, and was straight ahead hardcore. Their 1978 EP Nervous Breakdown is essential early hardcore punk.

They went through a revolving list of singers and musicians before finally settling on a young Henry Rollins, who jumped onstage to sing at a show in DC. Rollins brought his own element of angry, tough-guy alienation to Black Flag, and purists often say he ruined the band. Personally, I was a huge fan of Rollins, and I much prefer Rollins-era Black Flag to the earlier stuff. The band had some label drama after they released 1981's Damage, which resulted in them not being able to put anything out for three years. When the embargo was lifted, they were insanely prolific, putting out SIX albums between March 1984 and October 2005. My War was the first.

The album marked Black Flag's shift from a hardcore punk band to a Sabbath-inspired metal band. The first side of the album contained heavy punk songs, but the entire side two is just three long, slow dirges. Again, purists freaked out. Where were the two minutes blast of angst? Who needs a six minute metal blues jam with Rollins screaming lyrics like "I might be a big baby/But I'll scream in your ear/until I find out just what it is I am doing here?" Well, I did. As a 13-14 year-old, I thrived on Rollin's brand of alienation. The entire lyrics to "My War" are essentially "My war/you're one of them/you say you're my friend/but you're one of them." That is pure teen angst. Fuck my parents! Fuck the popular kids! they're one of them!

I listened to My War endlessly as a teen. It was heavy, it was angry, it was awesome. It had a huge influence on my as a kid, how I viewed others, and how I viewed myself. Music in general, and Black Flag specifically, were this oasis where I could retreat to. They echoed a lot of the feelings I was having, they acted as a surrogate for emotions I couldn't express, and they validated all the dramas and traumas I was going through, from the minor to the major. It's tough being a kid, and being able to look up to these burly older guys who were screaming their heads off was incredibly therapeutic.

I downloaded My War from emusic the other day, and I have to say that while it is still awesomely heavy, the lyrics don't quite move my soul the way they used to. For example: "My life's a piece of shit that got caught in my shoe/and i've been grinding that stick in the dirt for a long time now!" At 14 that sounded awesome, at 33 it's just kind of embarrassing. It's shocking to think that My War is twenty-four years old. It is an album that has loomed large in my life since I first saw its iconic cover in a Cymbaline record store in Capitola circa 1987. It remains one of my favorite album covers of all time. I think Raymond Pettibon's art is genius. I've considered buying a t-shirt of it, but I feel like I'm too old. I still have a soft spot in my heart for My War, and I'm looking forward to burning copies for my nephew when he comes of age. Although hopefully he will be a much better adjusted kid than I was.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Albums You Should Own

Come On Die Young
Matador, 1999

Mogwai are a Scottish band who formed part of what is sometimes known as the “post-rock” and slow-core movements. To paraphrase/plagurize Wikipedia, post-rock is essentially non-rock music created with rock instruments, and slowcore is along the same lines. Think Slint, Sigur Ros, Tortoise, etc. Basically, they make long, slow, intricate instrumentals using bass, guitar, and drums. It’s influenced by shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine, and lots and lots of depressants.

Come On Die Young is actually mellower than Mogwai’s other stuff, which is kind of why I like it. I have to admit that the first few times I listened to it, I was really unimpressed. It sounds like three dudes got together, chased some vicodin down with some pot, and jammed. Only after repeated listens did I really get the subtle beauty of the album, and the intricate patterns and structures in the songs. My favorite track, “Cody,” is the only track with vocals, and it is stunning. My other favorite track is the ten-minute-long "XMas Steps," which slowly builds to this incredible crescendo.

It is the perfect sleepy late-night album: This is driving at 3:00 AM music, when the world is still and quiet and you’re not quiet sure that you aren’t the last person left on earth. It’s painfully beautiful, sad, and lonely, and you should probably own it.

Emusic Roundup

Here are some of the albums I’ve downloaded off Emusic in the past six weeks.

Radiohead – In Rainbows. Is awesome.

Atmosphere – You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having.
This came out a few years ago, and I figured I’d check it out since they don’t have his latest one. Atmosphere does a sort of hip hop Springsteen or something. It’s emo rap with slightly cheesy lyrics that are wholly redeemed by amazing beats and MC Slug’s heartfelt understanding of what it is to be underpaid and overcharged in the U.S. of A. The perfect example is “That Night,” a track about a young girl who got raped at an Atmosphere show. It just skirts being kind of lame and manages to be pretty heartbreaking, while having a pounding, funky beat.

Dodos – Visiter. SF indie folk band who are pretty great.

The Drift – My old roommate Safa is the bassist for this band, who do mellow instrumentals. They are interesting, if a little obtuse. A little like a jazzier C.O.D.Y. - era Mogwai.

Neu! - Neu! Were a German band who were a big influence on Stereolab. I’ve been hearing about these guys for years, and I sort of feel like I arrived too late to the party. In 1995, I would have loved this album (which came out in 1975, the year of my birth). Now, I just can’t get into it.

El Perro Del Mar – I downloaded this for my girlfriend. She’s not excited about it, and neither am I. maybe it will grow on us.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Music With Friends Vol. 1

Music With Friends, Vol. 1.

Sankofa is an indie rapper out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I reviewed his 2007 album “Tortoise Hustle,” which I really liked. This is a free download that isn’t quite as strong, but still worth checking out.

Review here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My New Favorite Song or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Emo Rap

I've never been a huge fan of white rappers. Hip hop is such an idiomatic genre, and so heavily rooted in African american musical and linguistic traditions that when white people do it, more often than not it just doesn't work. They are either trying to imitate black performers, and failing miserably, or they put this pop spin on it that just kind of sucks.

I've always resisted Atmosphere and their brand of emo rap, and I've always written Slug off as a white rapper. Then I heard "Guarantees," off of their new album. The song is just Slug rapping over a bluesy guitar, without a beat, and it perfectly sums up the struggles of the middle-turned-working classes under Bushenomics:

No overtime pay no holiday
Months behind on everything but the lottery
Winter round the corner guaranteeing that my car died
Wifey having trouble juggling both the part times
My cup aint close to filled up
We trying to build up so we can have enough
And when I finally get the color
There won’t be nothing left to paint on
My friend tried to kill himself to the same song

I firmly believe that hip hop is modern blues, and this song is evidence. He comes up with clever, heartbreaking turns of phrase like "Can't save no nest egg in fact this nest is rented
In fact that rent is late, wait." You can download that track and their mixtape Extreme Leakage from I just got his 2006 album "You Can't Believe How Much Fun We're Having," and it's pretty awesome. I'm thinking I may shell out 16 bucks for the deee-lucks version of his new one, "When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold," which comes with a bonus DVD and children's book. Turns out that Slug is only half-white, too, which just makes me feel like a big old racist dumbass.


The Short List
Illect Recordings, 2008

This is an instrumental album by this hip hop producer. It’s ok, but way too mellow for my tastes. Very downtempo. He did a beat tape using Jose Gonzales’ Veneer album that I’ve been listening to.

Review here.

Or here:

Battlehoggs Mixtape

Review here.

Aussies actually make pretty ok hip hop. They got the beats down, at least. Lyrically, it’s mostly about drinking, girls, and life in the city. Not brilliant, but not bad.

Everywhere At Once

Lyrics Born
Everywhere At Once
Anti/Quannum 2008

This was the featured review last week on rapreviews. I liked it, although it isn’t exactly my type of hip hop – a little too colorful for my tastes. Still, it’s fun, funky album with only a few crumby tracks, and I’m excited that I got it as a promo. Survey says: worth checking out.

Review here.

Or here:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

He’s Just A Rascal

I first heard British Rapper Dizzee Rascal on the Basement Jaxx’s “Lucky Star” in 2003. I found his hiccupy flow kind of irritating, but was eventually coerced into buying his debut, Boy In Da Corner, when it received obsequious praise from the critics. Dizzee was part of the grime movement, which was basically London gangsta rap over garage beats. It combined hard-hitting rhymes with hard-hitting beats that were more techno than hip hop. Grime is thus named because it is so dirty and grimey sounding.

Boy In Da Corner is a good album, and it has some great tracks on it. Dizzee offers up a sound that is totally unique and unlike American hip hop, while still being true to the spirit of hip hop. His beats are punishing, and his aggressive but staccato flow is lethal. Unfortunately, he is also kind of difficult to listen to for long periods of time precisely because he is so punishing. I’ve never listened to Boy In Da Corner in it’s entirety. 2-3 track of Dizzee is thrilling, 14-16 tracks is annoying.

I didn’t really hear his follow up, Showtime, and when Maths and English was released as a download-only last year, I took a pass. However, when Def Jux re-released it on April 29, I decided to support Dizzee and the label and bought it. As with his debut, there are some brilliant moments on this disc, particularly “Where Da G’s,” featuring Texas duo UGK rapping “Dizze Ras’ and UGK/You know we stay connected/ Trill recognizes Trill.” The track has a whining synth mixed with Dizzee’s signature garage thwump, and like several other tracks on the disc (“Wanna Be,” “G.H.E.T.T.O.”), “Where Da G’s” asserts Dizzee’s street cred while calling out phony gangstas. “What’s with all the fake aggression?” Dizze asks. “I can see that it’s not true/I know killers/ I know gangsters/ and they never heard of you.” “Wanna Be” features a chorus by Lilly Allen, which is pretty awesome. Another brilliant track is “Driving With No Where to Go,” which has a Kraftwerk-like beat. Lyrically, Dizzee deals with staying trill, being paranoid, and basically dealing with the drama of fame. He also gets a little light-hearted at points, but for the most part this is a pretty tough disc. So tough, in fact, that I can’t really listen to the whole thing all in one sitting, and several of the tracks (“Sirens,” Suck My Dick”) must make me feel old. Still, it’s worth listening to, even if it doesn’t come with "Pussy’ole", the best track off of the UK version. I’m pretty sure there were licensing/sampling issues, because the only version I can find is a remix riffing off Rob Base’s “It Takes 2.”

The Roots

The Roots
Rising Down

I want to like the Roots more than I do. Their 1999 album, Things Fall Apart, is considered a masterpiece, and they get constant praise from the critical community. They do angry but positive hip hop grounded in live instruments, and they are said to be the best live act in hip hop. Unfortunately, they kind of bore the hell out of me. I’ve listened to Things Fall Apart a million times, and while it’s ok, it just doesn’t excite me.

I bought their new disc, Rising Down, after hearing “75 Bars.” It is exactly that, 75 bars of Black Thought spitting absolute fire over a hammering, funky drum beat. I always wonder why more rappers don’t create their own funky breaks rather than paying a million dollars to sample them, and producer/drummer ?uestlove does exactly that on this track – he lays down the funkiest, dirtiest break this side of the Funky Drummer.
Black Thought also wins awards for most uses of the word “nigga” in a song:

I'm a modern day saint; I'm a modern day king My definition I can finally explain Cold smooth like that dud Sean Connery was playing I just got to be the man, I'm the father figure and When I spit it's something like a psychology exam If you stand where I stood, you could probably understand How that mic feeling like a million dollars in my hand It's the silence of the lamb, go and cop another gram And twist with your zanny, work your set, work it down What's your net working plan? You better look alive Cause them niggas outside looking desperate again nigga And the blunts and liquor killing our lungs and liver The asthmatic drug addict I function with it I put a rapper in a hole where the dust will sit For spitting played out patterns that once was hitting I got news for you all, let me show you how to ball See the legendary fall? I ain't heard of that Y'all niggas is off the wall like Aresnio Hall I'm a put you right back where the dirt is at 450 fahrenheit on the thermostat Somebody starving like a white girl? that But she not a earner yet, she couldn't put in no work, Not earning that, the black microphone murder vet

The rest of the album is strong, although it can’t maintain the fire of the first few tracks. Some of the guest rappers are less than genius, and there are some cheesy moments. Still, it’s worth the price of admission just to hear Mos Def spit fire on the title track. The boom bap of “Get Busy,” the sinister funk of “I Will Not Apologize,” Talib Kweli’s guest verses on the hard hitting “Lost Desire,” and Wale’s guest appearance on “Rising Up.” I don’t know that Rising Down has converted me to being a hardore Roots fan, but I am starting to understand what the fuss is about.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Radiohead part 2

A few months ago, I wrote a snarky post dissing Radiohead, mostly prompted by the obsequious praise they get from the press, and the hype surrounding their release of “In Rainbows” as a pay-what-you-want download. I have a few things to say RE; Radiohead:

1. “Hail to the Thief” is a shitty album
2. Before everyone disses record companies and praises Radiohead’s DIY approach, remember that they got where they are by all the support and promotion from their record label (and being one of the more amazing bands of the last fifteen years). If “In Rainbows” was the debut album by an unknown group, absolutely no one but the Pitchfork crowd would give a shit.
3. “In Rainbows” is pretty awesome. It is much more human than their past few releases, incorporating actual songwriting into their experimentation.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Keith Murray review

Keith Murray
Intellectual Violence
Legion of Doom, 2008

Review here. It was the featured review on rapreviews last week.

I was impressed by his old school skills, but this album suffers from the same fate as the last Ghostface record – he’s on overdrive all the time, and it grates. The thuggery gets old quick, too.

Survey says: meh.

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