Saturday, August 30, 2008

GZA - Protools

Baby Grand, 2008

Here's my history with Wutang Clan member Gary Grice, AKA the GZA: 1995's Liquid Swords remainss one of my favorite albums ever. It is cinematic and dark, and Grice is on fire with his storytelling raps. GZA doesn't freestyle. He carefully composes his rhymes, making sure they make sense, and work as lines. He's from the old school of rappers who try to say something with their rhymes.

Then came Beneath the Surface, which wasn't horrible, but was mediocre enough to make me wary of checking out anything else the GZA did. I did buy the Grandmasters album he did with DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill, which was ok, but contained at least one embarrassingly bad track.

So imagine my surprise when I first heard "Alphabets" off his new album, Protools. It's actually, like, good. In fact, the whole album is pretty good. The beats are crisp, sharp, and offer up that sinister, stripped down funk that the Wu has been developing recently. Wu affiliate Dreddy Krueger offers up several beats on the album, and the RZA himself steps behinds the boards as well on the 50-Cent dis track. GZA comes off like an elder statesman, weaving complex stories over the beats with low-key confidence. Maybe too low-key: he sounds half-awake on a few tracks, and I couldn't help but wonder what was up with him. Is he sick? Going through some struggles? Was he phoning it in? Or is this sleepiness his new style?

I doubt Protools will win over the youngsters. After all, GZA is old as fuck in hip hop years, and he sort of raps like your dad, but in a good way. Wu fans can rejoice that, after the dodgy 8 Diagrams, the Clan is keeping their shit together. GZA deserves credit for embracing his age and experience, and delivering a solid, mature album that doesn't try to pretend that he will ever be a hit with the ringtone set. I'm a fan of Protools.

Alphabets - GZA

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Live MBV

Fact: My Bloody Valentine are one of the most amazing bands ever
Fact: They are touring again
Fact: Someone caught a video of them live at some Fuji Festival
Fact: This video makes me glad to be a human being


Long story short, I didn't go to Outside Lands. Instead, life chose to give my family and I a little kick in the ass, which involved ambulances, surgery, and thankfully, a full recovery. To quote Ice Cube, life ain't shit to fool with.

So instead I want to post different versions of the saddest song ever, "Crying" by Roy Orbison. The first is Roy's version. Then comes a version by the Morning Bedners, and finally, "Llorando" by Rebekah Del Rio (NOT, as it turns out, a porn star) from the movie "Mulholland Drive."

Enjoy, and give your loved ones a call.

Crying - Roy Orbison

crying (roy orbison cover) - the morning benders

Llorando - Rebekah Del Rio

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Emusic wrap up

I downloaded a bunch of stuff in the past month including…

My Morning Jacket It Still Moves This is an older album of theirs. It’s mellow, it’s druggy, it’s fulla reverb. I can’t say it’s not good, but I can’t say I’m into it.

Conor Oberst – The dude from Bright Eyes goes solo (which is odd, since Bright Eyes is basically him). I’m not a big fan of Bright Eyes, and I’m not a big fan of this, either. Not that it is bad, it’s just singer songwritery, aka boring. It’s one of those albums that I need time with, and I don’t think I have the time to devote to it. “NYC Gone, Gone” is pretty awesome though.

CocoRosie – La Maison de Mon Reve This duo is freaky and folky. They have old-timey voices, and do old-timey songs, only they fuck with them, adding found sounds and weird glitches. Sort of David Lynch-ey. Kind of creepy, kind of awesome.

GZA – Protools. The latest solo effort by Garry Grice, aka the Genius. Lame album name, good album.

The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady
Stay Positive
Vagrant, 2008

The Hold Steady are a Brooklyn-by-way-of-Minneapolis band who have been around for about four albums, after rising from the ashes of the indie band Lifter/Puller. I just picked up their latest album, Stay Positive, after hearing an interview with them on The Sound Of Young America, as well as their first single, “Sequestered In Memphis.” They are basically Jawbreaker reimagined as a Springsteen-worshipping bar band. In other words, they rawk in a punky, blue-collar kind of way. Their whole average Joe schlub thing is a bit affected, and from their interview is was clear that their whole normal guy vibe was carefully calculated. “We want to be timeless,” they said. Equally calculated was the first song on their album, which is all about the summer. They knew the album was coming out in the summer, they wanted a summer jam, and voila. As much as I find their classic rawk stylings somewhat calculating, I can’t help but be won over by their riffs and their songwriting. They are one of the few bands who really carry on the legacy of storytelling in rock that Jawbreaker (and the Boss) did so well. I don’t know if this is totally my thing, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

Stay Positive - The Hold Steady

Monday, August 18, 2008


The 8th Day
RAHM Nation

My review on Rapreviews is here.

I stole the photo from Random's blog, which is here.

I didn't get the fact that it was released on 8/8/08, has 8 tracks (well, sixteen, but only eight are numbered), and there were 88 copies which sold for $8.88. Whatevs. I was really into the DN3 beats, which were jazzy and sampled live drums. The other beats were pretty good as well. Random is a teacher from Phoenix, and his stuff is more thoughtful than your typical rap release. His last release riffed on Mega Man, and sampled Mega Man beats. I gotta track that down. There should be more rappers like Random.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Audible Landscapes

Audible Landscapes
Crime Scenes: Volume 1

Audible Landscapes do instrumental hip hop. The concept behind this album is that it is intended to be used as soundtracks to as-yet-unmade films. It is certainly atmospheric. I'm not sure I quite understand why so many instrumental hip hop albums are so damn mellow and introspective, but mabye i'm just a philistine who doesn't appreciate challenging music. I wasn't that blown away by Mingus' Black Saint and the Sinner Woman either. I did appreciate the album design and artwork, and I really appreciated that they actually sent it to me. Too many promo albums don't bother with artwork, which is a bummer.

My brief review is at RapReviews here.

You can sample the album here.

Also, they are from Long Beach, which wins them points in my book. It's wierd that this music is so creepy and moody. From my two trips to Long Beach, it seems like a nice little seaside town.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

A to tha Muthafuckin' Zis

Azis is a flamboyantly gay, transvestite gypsy singer that is huge in Bulgaria. This makes perfect sense given how homophobic and racist Bulgaria is. He warbles, he roles around with sweaty men in his videos, he belly dances, he's fucking awesome. He sings chalga, the perjorative term for pop folk in Bulgaria. When I first got there in 2003, I thought that chalga was the worst music ever, but then I learned to accept it. Especially when I realized that all chalga singers were hot, scantily dressed women without last names, like Gergana and Malina and Maria and Maya. And then there is Azis, a scantilly dressed man. Awesome.

obicham te - Azis

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Torche Are Heavy and Awesome

I don’t listen to it a lot, but sometimes i fuckin’ love me some heavy metal. I’m talking about big, evil, thick-ass riffs, backed by catchy melodies and lyrics about wacky bullshit. I’m talking Sabbath, Priest, Maiden, Motorhead, and now Torchehe. Torche are a bunch of alt-headbangers out of Hotlanta. They do heavy, melodic metal, the kind that makes you wanna bang your head and sing along. I downloaded their 2005 self-titled debut on emusic, and it has been making my morning commute a much better experience. They aren’t so much about angst or hating the world. It’s more about smoking a lot of pot, listening to classic rock, and, I dunno, playing D&D or something. I love it. They have just released a second album, the amazingly titled “Meanderthal,” which is getting good reviews. Rock on.

Check them out at

Holy Roar - Torche

Jake Lefco

Jake Lefco
Missing Trooth

To quote the immortal d boon, "real names be the truth." Jake Lefco is a Philly/NY rapper who goes by his government name, and offers up some very sincere and honest rhymes. Happ G provides solid beats. If you are into Atmosphere, check him out.

My review is at Rapreviews here

Cats Out (Remix) - Jake Lefco

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


We Want In

This album was a lesson in the need to do your homework. First I thought it was another mediocre street rap disc, then I was pleasantly surprised by the five or six good tracks on it, and then I realized it was 2Pac's old crew. Who have been around since 1995, and put out a million records, which maybe explains why they are better than your average street rap crew. Half of this I actually liked, the other half was not so great, and the promo I got divided each song into five tracks, so it is going into landfill.

review here.

Thuggin till I Die (Feat. C-Bo And Stormey) - Outlawz

Sankofa - MWF2

I'm a big fan of Fort Wayne, Indiana rapper Sankofa. This is the second installment of his free "Music With Friends" series, available at
He is on a more bluesy tip here, accompanied by live guitar and drums. It is a little samey, but I still dig this. I'm really into Atmosphere's experiments with a live band, and I think more rappers should step away from the boards and try jamming for a change. Go download it, already!

Review is here.


Emergence, 2008

My review is here.

I'm a big fan of Invincible. I had heard about this up and coming female MC who had been slated to be the next Eminem, but I was sceptical. I figured the hype had more to do with people wanting to like her rather than actually being into her music. I'm sad to say that this is only the seventh hip hop album by a female MC I've ever owned, and that's if you count Peaches as a hip hop MC. It was only after I heard a few tracks on her Myspace page that I finally relented and bought her debut, Shapeshifters, out June 18 on her own Emergence Music label. Musically, she has great beats and can spit some fire. Lyrically, she is that all-too rare thing in hip hop: an intelligent, passionate MC who uses the art form to break things down and tackle real, complex issues. She's also a lefty, but not an obnoxious, Rage Against the Machine lefty. She deals with the hypocrisy, racism, gentrification, and sexism in the world. She tackles issues of love and depression. She even gets her swagger on a little, but just enough. In short, she's made an amazing record, and deserves commercial success to rival her critical success. So go buy ten copies.

Looongawaited - Invincible

Monday, August 04, 2008


In my work for Rapreviews, I have to rate albums on a ten point scale, judging both their lyrics and music. When I review a more high-profile album, my score ends up part of the Metacritic aggregate, which means that my positive reviews of Lyrics Born and Erykah Badu have helped their latests albums have higher scores. The ten point scale is daunting, and even worse when converted to Metacritic's 100 point scale. Then it becomes a grade, and I'm giving albums a B, a B- or a C. Sometimes I wish I could just use Sound Opinions "Buy It, Burn It, Trash It" scale, which often better sums up how I feel about an album. I either like it, think it's worth checking out, or don't want to waste my time with it. I guess the ten point scale allows for more nuance and fairness.

I taught English in the Peace Corps for a year, with the idea that I would end up being a History teacher when I got done with my two years. It turns out I couldn't stand being a teacher, and grading was part of the issue. It was always such a hassle, and such drama. No one would accept a bad grade, even when they deserved it. As a result, grades end up inflated, and then the truly great students end up getting robbed. If mediocrity becomes the new good, then good is mediocre.

I struggle with my ratings on Rapreviews. I could be accused of inflating my scores, but if that's true, it isn't on purpose. A lot of what I review are independent releases made by artists that are working hard at their music. I factor this into my reviews, and I tend to be more lenient to an independent artist who is actually trying as opposed to an established artist who is doing the same old bullshit. I also take into account the fact that the indie artists don't have access to the production and promotion that major label artists do. When you know a rapper is doing this on top of a full-time job, and will be lucky to sell a thousand copies, you aren't as tempted to rip them a new asshole for not being the second coming of Nas.

I try to lay out what I dislike about an artist, although in as constructive a way possible. I always imagine having to say my review to the artist's face, which keeps me honest. Many of the albums I've given favorable reviews I've never listened to again. Most of them get traded back to Ameoba, or end up in a pile on my shelf gathering dust. Most of these reviews I still agree with, but some of them I regret - there are at least a few I've written that could have been given one or two less points. The problem is that I generally want to like the albums, and I want the artists to succeed, so I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt even when I should be calling bullshit sometimes. I get caught up in the moment, the album grows on me after the twelfth listen, and in a moment of insanity, I give a Six record a Seven.

The problem is that people probably skip to the end of my reviews and see the 7.5 or 8.0, and think, ok, this is a great record, or a so-so record, or whatever. The truth is that there are different 7.5's and 8.0's. I've given two sevens this week. One of the albums had five great tracks and a whole lot of garbage. The other album had great beats, a great message, but mediocre delivery. They both end up with the same score, although I felt differently about both. And then there is the question of taste. I tend to be more into backpackey stuff that is pushing the envelope and doing interesting things musically and lyrically. I'm over melodramatic synths or ice-cold tales of crime, and yet there are a lot of hip hop heads who love this kind of music. Whenever I watch BET I think, this is hip hop? Really? And yet people go nuts for that shit, and then it ends up in my mailbox to review, and I have to find a constructive way to write about it, and judge it on its own merits.

In the end, I hope that my reviews get people interested in the artists, even if they don't agree with my review. I hope that I turn more people on to music than I deter, and I hope that the artists whose albums I don't like realize that I have to be honest, and I'm probably being as nice as I can.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Port O'Brien

Port O'Brien All We Could Do Was Sing I was introduced to Oakland's Port O'Brien when "I Woke Up Today" was the KEXP song of the day. I immediately fell in love. The song is sort of like the Arcade Fire meet Modest Mouse meet the Dodos - folky instrumentation with a hammering beat and shouted lyrics. It's a great song, and further develops and contributes to the catologue of baroque/folk/orch/indie music that has been gaining steam lately. What I like about this new indie folk music is that, while it can be pretentious and a bit affected, it is generally sincere and interesting. In an age of day-glo fabrics, stunna shades, and things moving at the rate of a fast internet connection, its nice to hear music that isn't snarky or ironic, and doesn't try to pretend that we should all be doing coke and sipping jack and coke's at some New York club in 1985. Fuck that, the indie folkers say. We should all be smoking weed and preparing macrobiotic group meals in a yurt in the late sixties. I actually have no compunction to do either, but I'm too old, and have too many bad memories of the 80s having actually lived in them, to want to relive that wretched decade. I'm much more into what the Dodo's, Port O'Brien, the Fleet Foxes, or the Arcade Fire are doing - using old tropes and instruments to make new music. Not everything on "All We Could Do Was Sing" is as great as "I Woke Up Today." There are probably one too many fishing ditties here, but that is as bad as this album gets, and those tracks are only mildly annoying. Elsewhere they do some sublime ballads, and even rock out a little. They also bring in a female vocalist, who rounds out their sound and brings a welcome feminine touch to an otherwise very salty group of boys. I'm excited to see these guys live (although they evidently just left the Bay Area for a US/Canada tour). They do wicked covers of Move Bitch and My Humps live. For real.

I'm Not There

I recently saw Todd Haynes I'm Not There, which looks at various stages in Bob Dylan's life through the lens of six different characters, each played by a different actor or actress, none named "Bob Dylan." There is the sixties electric Dylan, played by Cate Blanchett, the Woody Guthrie worshipping Dylan played by a young African American actor, the protest singer/born-again Christian played by Christian Bale, the celeb Dylan played by Heath Ledger, and the weird America/Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid Dylan played by Richard Gere. It is an adventerous, risky movie that doesn't stick to a clear narrative, doesn't tell a clear story, and doesn't totally make sense. People steeped in Dylan's mythology will get the most out of this movie, as it assumes that you understand the characters it references, but I can't see aging hippies/baby boomers necessarily digging this. It's pretty out there, as out there as some of Godard's sixties work (Masculine/Feminine is explicitly referenced in the film). It's remarkable that Haynes got this thing made, considering it tackles an American icon who is still alive, and turns the life of Bob Dylan into an arthouse flick. The casting is also a little stunt, but all of the actors do a tremendous job, with the possible exception of Bale, who just sort of acts constipated. What I loved about the film was its cinemetography; this is one gorgeous film, with rich colors, and some stunning black and white work. I also loved how it tackled the issues Dylan faced rather than merely relate his life story. It didn't detail his change from protest singer to drug-addled rocker to born again preacher - it examined how he fought against being classified as merely a protest singer, and how constrained he felt by his image, his legend, and the expectations his fans and the media had of him. Even the rock cliche of drug addiction is handled well here: Haynes doesn't bother detailing Dylan's drug abuse, but instead shows how Dylan's amphetamine use is fueled in part by his desire to deal with and makes sense of the pressures around him. It doesn't end with him hitting rock bottom or making a brave comeback - it ends with him being shown as the real human that he is, warts and all. Perhaps the best thing about I'm Not There is that it doesn't pretend to be the truth. Bio pics always play fast and loose with the truth in order to weave a coherent story and make a compelling narrative. By not naming any of the characters "Bob Dylan," Haynes avoids the hypocrisy and deciet of most bio pics. Some may be put off by the lack of a coherent story, but at least Haynes isn't telling the same tired "rise from obscurity, reach success, succumb to sex and drugs, hit bottom, make triumphant comeback" narrative that is the staple of rock bios. (See every episode of "Behind the Music," or Walk Hard). I'm not sure I totally got I'm Not There, especially the scenes with Richard Gere, but it is a beautiful, interesting film, and a worthy tribute to an important musician.

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