Sunday, January 31, 2010

What I'm Listening To

I'm listening to a lot of stuff right now, including....

The new Beach House album, which is as good as everyone says it is.

The new Fucked Up album, a nice two-disc compilation of their singles.

Toro y Moi's album, which I'm reviewing this week.

Ornette Coleman's 1959 avant-garde jazz masterpiece, Shape of Jazz to Come. My fiance fuckin' hates this, which means it's pretty awesome and noisy.

Wu vs. Beatles and King Tubby

I discovered two Wu remix projects last week. The first is the Wu Vs. the Beatles, in which the Clan's vocals are put over beats made from Beatles songs. It can be downloaded for free from Tea Sea Records. It's pretty good, although it's more rejiggering Beatles samples over beats rather than working a break from a Beatles song. I love the drum sound Ringo gets in songs like "Rain" or "Tax Man," and I wish someone would work those fat drums into a hip hop context.

I also stumbled upon King Tubby Vs. Wu-Tang: Macro Dubplates Vol. 1 at Radio Retaliation. This is Chris Macro's reworking of Wu-Tang rhymes over King Tubby dub songs. It doesn't always work, but when it does it's pretty awesome.

Here's the Wu's "C.R.E.A.M." over Tubby's dub of Horace Andy's "Money Money"


Swift V Gaga

At the gym I go to, they are constantly playing Taylor Swift's "You Belong to Me" and Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance." Both are young female singers who write their own music and are selling a gajillion copies. Gaga is slated to be the new Madonna, and Swift is the new, what, Faith Hill meets Kelly Clarkson meets Miley Cyrus? I want to like Lady Gaga more, because she has such a unique look going for her. The problem is that her music is essentially shitty Euro club music, the same crap that dudes with gelled hair and tight shirts have been rocking out to since Eiffel 65.

Swift on the other hand has this whole other schtick going for her. She's supposed to be the girl next door, and "You Belong to Me" is all about how a guy at high school doesn't realize how great she is, because she's a nerdy girl next door. "She's in the cheer squad and I'm on the bleachers," she pines. The problem with that is, have you seen Taylor Swift? She's not a girl next door, unless you live next door to a gorgeous alien.

I actually kind of like "You Belong To Me." Well, like is a strong word, but it's not god-awful. It's sweet, highly polished country pop. From a beautiful alien. Word.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Analyrical and DJ Signify Reviews

I reviewed Analyrical's First Date on RapReviews this week. He's a MN rapper who is backed by good production.

I also reviewed DJ Signify's Of Cities.
Moody, cinematic instrumental hip hop, a little DJ Shadow, a little Kraftwerk, with some Aesop Rock for good measure. Recommended.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Leif Vollebekk Review

My review of Leif Vollebekk's Inland is up at now.

He's a Canadian singer/songwriter who does quirky folk ala Devendra Banhart.
Here he is playing "Don't Go Back to Klaksvik" live whilst a crowd talks over him. Nice to know that Canadian audiences are as noisy and disrespectful as Californian ones.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Aziz Ansari Review

I reviewed Aziz Ansari's new standup DVD for Blogcritics this week.
He's fucking hilarious. Here's one of the best moments from the video:

Shabazz Palaces Review

 Originally posted on
 Shabazz Palaces, "Shabazz Palaces," Self-Released (
Reviewed by Patrick Taylor

Shabazz Palaces is the new group of Seattle-based rapper Ishmael Butler, better known in the hip hop world as Butterfly from Digable Planets. The whole project is shrouded in mystery, and until recently Butler was trying to stay anonymous. Shabazz Palaces has been germinating for a few years, but they really made a splash last year with two untitled EPS, both of which featured removable patches with Islamic art.  They played their first live show at Neumos in Seattle on January 8, 2010, which is how I found out about them. I got an email from a friend who was at the show and it said simply, "I think the Seattle hip hop is about to blow up. I went to see Shabazz Palaces on Friday night and had my mind blown."

She sent me a link to a review in The Stranger that had some live video. The sound quality isn't great, but there Butler is, in full turban with sunglasses, rocking the mic while simultaneously handling the boards. It looked promising enough, so I went on their website, to see what they had to offer. They're selling both EPS, but charging ten bucks for a download and fifteen bucks for a hard copy. That includes a patch, sure, but charging ten or fifteen dollars for eight songs was more than I was looking to pay, and out of synch with current music pricing structures. Luckily, it was only seven credits on Emusic, so my cheap ass was able to download it without having to fork over what at the time seemed like an unreasonable amount of money for a group I'd never heard.

I put it on in the background and half-listened to it while I was doing something else. It sounded pretty unimpressive to me. Sparse, electro beats over gangsta/bohemian rapping. THIS is what Seattle's getting so excited about? However, I know my friend, and she has excellent taste in music, so I decided to give Shabazz Palaces another try. This time I really listened to it, with headphones and without distractions. It didn't take long for me to understand what all the hype is about.

It opens with "Kill White T..." a pun on both "crisp white t's" and "kill Whitey." The song has a snapping beat, some rattling percussion, and some electronic sound effects. And that's it. It's as stripped down as you can get without going a cappella. I recognize Butler's voice from his Digable Planets days, but he ain't spitting no jazz rap here.

"You hate bitches but you love money
And if you ain't convinced then I can go get my gun and...
I'm on the train where all my folks in
Where the niggas hate love and pray for sin
And if you want satisfaction be a star and spin
And all the babies in the street putting it all in the action
It's midknife's sharp like the clothes on a pimp
You gotta kick it like it don't make sense
I'm on that high where all my folks fly
Where the crowd will make you sky
You just get rich or die"

Before I continue, let me state for the record that Digable Planets were a much better and deeper crew than they get credit for. Their sophomore album "The Blowout Comb" is much funkier and angrier than their debut, which is a stellar album in its own right. They were good rappers, good producers, and it isn't their fault that they got lumped into the stillborn jazz rap movement. They weren't as visceral as the Wu-Tang Clan, and they didn't capture the zeitgeist like the Notorious B.I.G. did, but they deserve credit for their contributions to hip hop. So Ishmael's bona fides are in check, and the fact that he has returned to rap with such amazing project is a gift to hip hop fans. He's not playing a young man's game, he's showing the younger generation how it should be done.

From what I can gather from articles written about the group, production credit goes to local Seattle indie musician Erik Blood, who handled beats, synths, and percussion. Almost all of the songs follow the sonic template of "Kill White T...": electronic drums, a few synth flourishes, and little else. It brings to mind the Clipse's "Hell Hath No Fury" without the crack rap. The music is often deceptively simple. At first listen, it sounds like a lot of other street rap. When you really listen, however, you realize that there is much more to it.  Take "Blastit," which features an African thumb piano over hard-hitting 808s. It's perhaps the best idea of the concept that Butler is going for: music that is unique, immediate, spontaneous, and contains African influences along with it's American roots.

Lyrically, Butler message is equal parts revolutionary, black nationalist, street, and bohemian. He comes off like Kool Keith on a pan-African trip. Anyone familiar with his bohemian jazz cat persona will be surprised by the sharp edges here. While a lot of the excitement around Shabazz Palaces is about the beats, most of the hype around the project revolves around the lyrics. Shabazz Palaces manages to have the hard edge of street rap without the mindless thuggery and materialism, and the righteous anger of conscious hip hop without the self-righteousness. It's unpredictable, it's dangerous, and it's done really well.

The group is looking to put out an album this fall, and is talking to labels and distributors. As much as Seattleites must love having their own little secret band, Shabazz Palaces have far too much potential to be wasted as a cult act. I'm ordering both albums at fifteen bucks a pop, and it feels like a bargain. This is some of the most refreshing hip hop I've heard in a while, and I can't wait to see them live. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Shabazz Palaces, the next big thing of 2010.

Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Total Vibes: 8.5 of 10

Blockhead Review

I reviewed Blockhead's The Music Scene this week for RapReviews. Nice, downtempo instrumental hip hop. He's also got a blog that I quite enjoy.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Saturday, January 09, 2010

My Ipod Is Full of Reggae

I've gotten into reggae in a big way in the past few months. I've always loved ska, reggae's spunky ancestor, but I found reggae to be too boring and happy. Part of that is growing up surrounded by white rastas claiming that jah is really important to them, and using reggae as a way to justify being a stoner. Then as I got older, this negative stereotype was replaced by the image of a fratboy with a backwards baseball hat chilling to Bob Marley while chugging Natty light and slipping roofies to coeds.

I've finally been able to appreciate reggae on its own terms, largely because of it's connection to hip hop and American soul music. Ska developed as a Jamaican answer to American R&B, and reggae has many of the same elements that makes soul music so amazing: lush production, great singers, and lyrics that deal with the downtrodden fighting against the system.

I started with Lee Perry, and started exploring music that he produced. One of those albums is Junior Murvin's Police and Thieves. I love the Clash's version, but Murvin's is even better.

Once I was digging on Murvin's falsetto, I decided to give Horace Andy a chance. I had heard Andy on some of Massive Attack's songs, and at the time I couldn't get into his wavering, high voice. I got his greatest hits, and I'm loving it. Here's an obligatory song about smoking pot:

I got a compilation with producer Joe Gibb's work, and it included "See Them Come" by Culture, off of their 1977 album Two Sevens Clash.

As I got deeper and deeper into reggae, I was amazed by how much of it I was introduced to by the Clash. They did a lot of reggae songs, but also covered a lot of reggae. One of my favorite songs by them was "Armagideon Time," which ends up being a Willie Williams song:

"Ghetto Defendant," off of the Clash's Combat Rock, is a prime example of their own take on reggae. The voice you hear is Alan Ginsberg. There's a line in there that goes "Slam dance cosmopolous." Evidently, when they were in the recording studio, he asked singer Joe Strummer what kind of punk dances there were. Joe answered, "well, you've got your slam dance..." and it made it into the track.

Finally, one of my favorite reggae songs ever, and the first reggae song I remember hearing. It's "007 (Shanty Town)" by Desmond Dekker, and is really more rocksteady than reggae. A friend of mine made me a cassette of the English Beat in 1987, and included a version fo this by a female singer on it. I've never been able to figure out who it was. 

Friday, January 08, 2010

Mukaizake Review

(Originally posted on

The 2000s are being called the decade of indie rock, but the type of music I associate with the term had its peak in the late '90s. That's when bands like Braid, Built to Spill, and Modest Mouse were marrying the angular guitar chords and odd song structures of post-punk with strong melodies. The best indie rock sounded experimental and exciting while still being accessible and interesting. Perth band Mukaizake nail this winning formula on their sophomore EP, Unknown Knowns.

They start off with the propulsive single "Yeah Conditioner," which balances their math-rock leanings and jagged guitars with singer Geoffrey Symons' yearning vocals. "Rule Norse" features a less arithmetically inclined song structure. "Frisbee," with its gentle beauty and absurd/obtuse lines like "there's a parachute inside your soul" recalls The Promise Ring, while "My Friend Flicker" has an Americana feel to it. The EP ends with the ballad "Slack Bees," a perfect indie rock makeout song if ever there was one.

As with many indie bands, the lyrics are deliberately obscure and ambiguous. The meaning of the songs is conveyed in the way Symons sings them and the snippets you can make out. Put on paper, the lyrics probably wouldn't be too impressive, but they work in the songs. More impressive is the tension in all of the tracks between melody and dissonance. Melody always wins, but Mukaizake does an excellent job of adding jagged edges to their songs.

Mukaizake's '90s influence may be due in part to the fact that the band was formed in 1999. That certainly puts them in the age bracket that guarantees that at least some of the Jade Tree Records catalog has ended up in their collections. They put out their debut record, Mapping the Static, in 2003, and waited six years to put out Unknown Knowns. That averages out to a song a year, which doesn't bode well for a prolific future from the band. The upside is that all six songs on the EP are keepers, with no toss-offs or duds. Unknown Knowns hearkens back to a time when indie rock was discovered by buying seven-inches, not downloading MP3s. It is a prime example of indie rock done right, and I can only hope that the band is working on a full-length.

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