Monday, June 30, 2008

Skate Punk

I traded a bunch of stuff to Amoeba the other day and picked up a copy of We Know You Suck, a compilation of Arizona skate punk band JFA's stuff. It's basically their Blatant Localism and Valley of the Yakes albums, with some bonus tracks and live stuff. I had a cassette of their albums when I was a kid, and it was one of my favorite punk albums. They mix 80s hardcore with a slight surf vibe, including covers of "Baja" and "Walk Don't Run." None of their songs clocked in at more than three minutes, and you couldn't really understand a word they said. They thankfully broke up before turning into a shitty hard rock band, although they have reappeared in paunchier form to crank out their old hits to aging punkers on a nostalgia trip. Like myself.

JFA (Jody Foster's Army - how cool is that?) were skaters, like my 13-year-old self, and I first heard about them on Thrasher's "Skate Rock: VOl. 1" comp. I just found a download of that cassette-only release, and I have to say, for how impactful it was on my as a teen, it doesn't really hold up. The highlight are two Skoundrelz tracks, which I guess was Tony Alva's band. They played fast and dirty hardcore, a little like Fishsticks, who none of you have heard of, because they sold like twenty albums.

I originally found the download at some Spanish site, the profile of which was a swastika made out of a confederate flag. So then I ask, do I download it anyways? A: No, because the links didn't work.

Monday, June 23, 2008

J.R. Writer and Plies

There are times when I rush to do reviews because I am really excited about an album, and then there are times when I rush to do reviews because I don’t want to have to listen to it anymore. Plies and J.R. Writer are examples of the latter, both up on Rapreviews now. J.R. Writer is generic crack rap which sounds like all of the rest of the Dipset stuff, ie slick but not very good. Plies is Floribean rap that is a little like a second-rate UGK, which means slick, funky synths and lots of gutter talk. It has one of the most disturbing covers I’ve seen in a while, of him in a ski mask wearing a medallion of him in a ski mask. It looks like a caricature of black criminality from a white supremacist site. Plus I had to skip yoga so that I could crank it out Monday night. Nothing is less hip hop than having to ditch your Astanga class to write about a rapper with songs like “Feel Like Fuckin.’” I tell you, life ain’t shit to fool with. But with those reviews out of the way, I have time to listen to music that is less offensive and shitty, like the new Cool Kids E.P., or the new My Morning Jacket – I’m determined to learn to love it. Nothing is less hip hop than shelving your gangsta rap cd so you can listen to a Southern Jam band.

nyways, the review of J.R. Writer’s Politics and Bullshit is here.

The review of Plies' Definition of Real is here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Evil Urges

My Morning Jacket
Evil Urges
ATO, 2008

My Morning Jacket’s 2005 album Z is one of my favorite records of the last few years. It defies classification – a little jam band, a little southern classic rock, a little indie rock, a little prog, and all awesome. I was excited for Evil Urges in a way that I don’t get excited about music much anymore. What were they gonna do this time? When you make a masterpiece, where do you go from there?

A lot of bands have tried to answer that question. Some, like Radiohead, go off into a radically different direction. Some, like My Bloody Valentine, fall apart, others try to recapture that magic to increasingly diminishing returns, while still others, like …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, try to expand their sound and end up with something closer to mediocrity than genius.

Which brings me to Evil Urges. From the opening chords of the title track, you know the boys are trying to be on some next level shit. Prince falsettos? Funky guitar work? Um, ok. Does it work? Sort of. Is it good? Mmmm….well, it’s not actively bad. How’s that?

“Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 1” is better, and shows the band expanding on their prog tendencies (like having a two-part song). They try to get their rock on on a few songs. “Remnants” sounds a like a Seattle circa flannels and heroin; “Aluminum Park” is a classic MMJ uptempo number. Their biggest stretch, and their biggest failure, is “Highly Suspicious,” which is so bad I didn’t download it.

They also play it mellow and safe, with mixed results. “The Librarian” is a tender love song that has some of the albums best and worst lyrics. No band that isn’t the Bare Naked Ladies should ever use “interweb” in its lyrics. MMJ redeem that party foul with lines like “what is it inside our heads that makes us do the opposite?/
Makes us do the opposite of what's right for us?”

“Sec Walking” and “Look At You” are wailing alt-country that are heartbreakingly great, but their Skynard-esque “I’m Amazed” is hampered by horrible lyrics and sounds kind of like an ad for a big truck.

In the end, Evil Urges doesn’t deserve either the four stars Rolling Stone gave it, or the 4.7 of 10 that uber-snobs Pitchfork awarded it. The truth is that it is pretty good, but hardly fucking amazing. That means that it is worth checking out, but a disappointment coming after Z.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Drapht Review

Brothers Grimm
Obese Records, 2008

Drapth is a 23-year-old MC from Perth, Australia. His melodic delivery didn't rock my world, but he is backed by good beats, and doesn't try to be the hardest guy in the room. My review is here.

Not brilliant, but worth checking out. I especially liked "Money" and "Dreams and Dreamers." Go Perth.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What Does It All Mean?

I reviewed Steinski's retrospective, What Does It All Mean, in RapReviews this week.  Here
His "Lessons" were a pretty big deal, and very rare, since none of the sample are cleared.  You should probably buy this record.  Really.  It's the best of classic hip hop, plus some pretty cool sound collages. You should also check out his blog at
Plus, it's got a really great cover.  Helvetica baby.  Fascist minimalism is the new future!

I also reviewed MC Rentz' 1981.  Here
I was not a fan of Rentz, and it is only out of a sense of duty to give an honest review that I forced myself to listen to the whole thing.  He seems like a nice enough guy, and he has some talent as a lyricist and producer, but I can't deal with his rapping.  100% not my thing.  You can check it out for yourself here.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

When Life Gives You Lemons

When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold
Rhymesayers, 2008

Atmosphere, the Minneapolis rap group headed by MC Slug and beatmaker Ant have been making music for the proverbial hip hop minute. They’ve become known as emo-rap, mostly due to Slug’s confessional, autobiographical lyrics which detail his every flaw, from being an imperfect father and lover to smoking and drinking too much. However, Slug is much more than just another self-pitying rapper, and Atmosphere are clearly angling to be more than just another rap group. They’ve been touring with a live band, and on Ant is starting to move away from his autobiographical lyrics and expand his range.

The result, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, is basically hip hop’s answer to Bruce Springsteen. Slug moves out of the limelight, telling tales in the second and third person. His songs are populated by drug addicts, prostitutes, alcoholics, bad fathers, and homeless people. They are all down on their luck, and they are all victims of Bushenomics and the failed American dream that ends in foreclosure. He tackles his subjects with empathy and sensitivity. Slug understands that no one is perfect, and even the biggest fuck-ups often mean well. “You gotta let people be hypocrites,” he says on opener “Like the Rest of Us.” “Count your blessings and mind your business.”

When it works, When Life Gives You Lemons offers the kind of emotional experience that is rare in hip hop, a genre that is generally obsessed with getting yours by any means necessary. “Guarantees” is heartbreakingly gorgeous in its personification of a warehouse worker on his last straw; “You” offers a you-go-girl celebration of a down-on-her luck waitress; “Shoulda Known” describes a relationship with drug addict; and “Your Glasshouse” is a frightening description of an alcoholic’s lost weekend. On these tracks, and several others, Atmosphere manage to combine compelling beats with stories that are emotional without being cheesy. Ant moves on from his old-school leaning beats, instead offering up several tracks based around pianos, and a few tracks of old synthesizers. For the most part, it works.

There are two issues with When Life Gives You Lemons: the first is that Slug hits that alcoholic/drug addict story two often, and sometimes is maudlin and cliché. The other issues is that this is a drab, downtempo album. On tracks like the sparse “Guarantees” or “Puppets,” it works, but a whole album of depressing, slow songs is a bit much. There are handful of tracks on here that are too cheesy, and try too hard for the emotional punch, like Pay It Forward set to music. “Yesterday” is an example of how Slug can slip into high school poetry mode; Over tinkling pianos, he tells the tale of an unknown person who he thought he saw on the street, reminiscing about this person, and wondering what there up to. The kicker comes towards the end, when he says “but you passed away, dad.” It’s a little painful. There are a few more moments like this on the album, but, I’m willing to forgive them for these missteps – they are reaching as artists, and the payoffs make up for the mistakes. I hope that in future albums, Slug watches not to slip into total cliché mode, and Ant keeps things a little more upbeat. When Life Gives You Lemons is an album that is as good as its title. Paint that shit gold indeed.

As a side note, I bought the “Deluxe” version of the album, which comes in book form with a children’s story, lyrics, and a live dvd. It’s interesting, but not essential. The live DVD proves that they are damn good live act.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Raw Nuts
Poor Pocket Muzik

Review here.

Good East Coast beats marred by some below-average rapping. Nut-Rageous seems like a decent guy, and he has some alright lines, but this just doesn't work for me. It was one of those albums where at first I though it was pretty good, only to realize that it didn't quite add up. Old school East Coast fans should give this a listen, but it's not a must-have.

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