Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Year End Best Of

I wrote an article about Fucked Up's David Comes To Life for Blogcritics. And with that I am officially done writing about that album. P.S. it's awesome.

I also did my best hip hopalbums of 2011  for RapReviews. 

1. Danny Brown XXX
2. Death Grips Ex Military
3. Has-Lo In Case I Don't Make It .
4. Random Axe
5. Pusha T Fear of God II
6. J Rocc Some Cold Rock Stuf
7. Tanya Morgan You and What Army?

My honorable mentions were:
Deadverse Massive The Takeover
Oyoshe Bring Da Noise 2
Serge Severe Back On My Rhymes Greneberg, S/T
The Aztext: Who Cares If We're Dope? 1-4

If I was going to list my non-hip-hop favorite albums of the year, the list would include:

Jessica Lee Mayfield Tell Me
The Babies S/T
Little Scream The Golden Record
TV On the Radio 9 Types of Light
Sugar Minott Hard Time Pressure
Iceage New Brigade
The Field Looping State of Mind

Some random thoughts:
I was incredibly busy this year, and most of the albums that resonated with me were either mellow or really aggro. Something to either smooth out the stress or match my hectic mood.
There is so much more amazing music made each year than is humanely possible to listen to that it is discouraging.
One of the most popular albums of the year, the Adele record, was actually pretty good.
The Bon Iver record is so boring it makes me angry.
I've gone from not caring about Kanye West to actively disliking him.
I started listening to electronic music again.
Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Ten Favorite Songs of 2011

Here are ten songs I loved in 2011.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, "Senator"
In a year of total political disfunction, the chorus of "I know what the senator wants/what the senator wants is a blowjob" was the greatest thing ever.

tUnE-yArDs, "Gangsta" Merril Garbus moved to Oakland right around the time Oscar Grant got killed, and saw the aftermath of that as well as Oakland's high black-on-black homicide rate. "Gangsta" is a reaction to that, with lines like "If you move into my neighborhood you'll never make a sound." Ironically, there are no black people in the terrible video she made for it.

Fucked Up, "Queen Of Hearts" I love this band, I love this album, I love this song. It manages to be both uplifting and tortured at the same time, and is surprisingly poetic underneath its harsh exterior. "All we needed was something to give/the dam is broken, we suddenly live."

Jessica Lee Mayfield, "Our Hearts Were Wrong" This album was world-weary, heartbroken roots music done with production by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. This song sums it all up. "I know how you work/I am just like you/No matter what you say our hearts are wrong."

Danny Brown, "30" Danny Brown sounds on the edge of losing switching between clowning and getting scary real as he raps about turning thirty over a drunken Skywlkr beat. "Came a long way from extension cords in the window/borrowing neighbor's power just to plug in the Nintendo"

TV On the Radio, "You" I was too sick to see them live. I asked my wife how the show was, and she said "noisy." I really wish I could have seen them play this live.

Spank Rock with Santigold, "Car Song"  Way bitchin' 80s, yo.

Waters, "For the One" One half of Port O'Brien channels Neil Young and Kurt Cobain as Waters. I'm pretty sure drugs were involved in the making of the video.

My Morning Jacket, "Outta My System" I wasn't in love with this album, but this Beach Boys-ey song about getting your wild days out of your system stuck with me.

Has-Lo "Everything Is"  This is a devastating song about doing the accounts on your life and realize you are coming up short.

 "When your money ain’t right it seems like everything’s wrong 
‘cause everything is 
When your love ain’t life it feels like everything’s gone 
‘cause everything is 
And you search for it, and you hurt for it 
And you promise each other you’ll work on it 
And you might have to let it go free ‘cause it never was yours 
But that’s everything. 

Tanya Morgan and Spank Rock Reviews

I reviewed two albums last week for RapReviews. First up is Tanya Morgan's new EP, You and What Army?
I'm a fan of TM, and this is another solid release by the group, who are now down to just Von Pea and Donwill. Ilyas saw God and went off on his own.

Then I reviewed Spank Rock's Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is A Fucking Liar. There are some great songs, but the whole thing is merely ok. I love "Nasty," with Big Freedia.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Field Review

Swedish musician Alex Willner has been recording as the Field since 2005. The Field’s 2007
debut, From Here We Go Sublime, was built upon loops and repetition of electronic elements that burbled along pleasantly. His 2009 follow-up, Yesterday and Today, followed the same template but got a little funkier. He’s perfected his formula for his new album, Looping State of Mind.

This record works on several levels. First of all, it works as a dance record. The beats are bigger and heavier than on the previous albums, the synths louder, and the overall feel is of trance done really, really well. However, Willner’s goal is not to blow MDMA-addled ravers minds, but to experiment with sound.

For this reason, Looping State of Mind works as a piece of avant-garde composition. Willner obviously owes at least some debt to Steve Reich; The Field’s music is built on the same principle of repeating and slightly shifting patterns as Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. A prime example of this is “Arpeggiated Love.” It starts off with a clacking beat not unlike a train. Slowly another pattern is built on top of it, and then another, and another, until all of the patterns are interacting and intermingling with each other. The song shifts subtly with the addition or subtraction of various instrumentation and elements. What seems like the beat at one point becomes something else entirely over the course of the song's 10 minutes. Despite the fact that it takes so long to build, the song is consistently rewarding and never boring. The beat is hypnotic, and each new pattern or shift opens the song up in a new and unexpected way. It is like viewing a painting from an extreme close-up and then slowly panning out, realizing as you do that what you thought was the image was something else entirely.

Looping State of MInd is most importantly a beautiful record. Its songs are gorgeous, and despite the head-nodding beats, this is soothing and relaxing music. I listen to it on my commute home in the evenings and it never fails to make my crowded bus ride bearable. A wall of calming sound that is as calming as it is electrifying, Looping State of Mind is the Field’s strongest record yet, and one of my favorite albums of the year.

Article first published as Music Review: The Field - Looping State of Mind on Blogcritics.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nocturnals and Strictly the Best Reviews

I did several reviews for RapReviews this week. First, I reviewed the Nocturnals ....To Be Continued album. It's available for free at their website. Left-field hip-hop on an Aesop Rock/Anticon kick.

I also reviewed the reggae compilations Strictly the Best 44 and Strictly the Best 45.

I'm working on a few more, and starting to catch up on albums I missed for my year-end list.

Scott Solter - One River

As a producer and mixer, Scott Solter has worked with Superchunk, Okkervil River, the Mountain Goats, Pattern Is Movement, and the Court and Spark. One River is a re-release of an ambient album he made in 2005.
Ambient music is by nature intangible, meant to evoke sensations and feelings rather than the structure and explicitness of most music. I started listening to One River after visiting the Rothko Chapel in Houston, and I immediately saw the connection between Rothko’s monochromatic paintings and Solter’s washes of sound. Neither is meant to be appreciated in the same way as traditional art. There is no subject matter in Rothko’s paintings just as there is no verse-bridge-chorus structure in Solter’s piece. Instead, both artists are concerned with creating emotions in more subtle ways than does traditional art. What ambient music and abstract art offer is an opportunity to experience art that isn’t trying to define the listener/viewer experience. You aren’t distracted by the form, and so can better experience the sensation that the art evokes in you.

One River is meant to be listened to as one piece, and it slowly ebbs and flows over its 33-minute running time. There are processed guitars, synthesizers, and subtle percussive elements. It pulses and runs like the river it is named after, and the end result feels natural and organic despite the digital tools used to produce it. The overall mood is peaceful and reflective. It never veers into new age cheesiness, and doesn’t contain any unsettling or dissonant moments. I love Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume 2, but there are several tracks on that collection that are truly unsettling; and I was happy that One River avoids getting creepy.

Mark and Laura Solter created a film called Twins and Wives to accompany the re-release. While it is an interesting visualization of the music, I prefer to listen to One River without the visuals. Part of my enjoyment of the album is what images and feelings it brings up. It taps into an area of the brain that most music doesn’t touch.
I really enjoy this album, and I’m thankful that Perth-based Hidden Shoal Recording chose to reissue it. It’s gotten me to explore more ambient music, and has been a wonderful contrast to the majority of music that I listen to. One River is an excellent album that fans of ambient music won’t want to miss.

Article first published as Music Review: Scott Solter - One River on Blogcritics.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Twin Perils Review

I reviewed Twin Perils new album, Speak and Destroy, this week on RapReviews. So not my bag.

I'm more excited about the new Tanya Morgan EP, "You and What Army?" which I may or may not review this coming week.

I've also been meaning to review the Beat Street soundtrack for months. I have the review half-written and everything. The problem is, it's sort of a terrible album. The only real highlight is the Treacherous Three's "Christmas Rap," which is amazing.

In totally unrelated news, there are stencils going up all over Haight Street that feature a sad-looking emo kid and the words "you can't kill me because I'm already dead." This is probably proof of what an old man I am, but it drives me fucking crazy. You are already dead? Really? You are a middle class kid from a good home in one of the wealthiest cities in one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country in the world. Quit feeling sorry for yourself and your pathetic first world problems and start living life and doing something positive. Jesus fucking christ.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kandy Korn Rituals

This is why the internet is ridiculous and amazing.

I've been extremely busy at work. The other day I was jamming, trying to get a handle on the mountain of work I needed to finish, and I suddenly decided that what I really needed to do was find out what that Unwound song was that my old housemate Shannon had on vinyl.

I soon figured out it was "Kandy Korn Rituals" EP. That song is a minute and  a half blast of chaos, with the band sounding like a hardcore band who listened to too much Sonic Youth. It's not sung so much as screamed, and has an unhinged quality that they toned down for later releases.

The song I REALLY love from that EP, however, is "Against," another burst of hardcore noise. Amidst squealing feedback, singer Justin Troper screams "Against all time/against all space/against all matter/what's the matter?" It's a gorgeously ugly song.

I finally found it online, only to realize that I have a copy of it on a collection Honeybear records put out a while ago, when they were still around. That's why the internet is magic.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Aphex Twin

I've been listening to Aphex Twin lately. His Selected Ambient Works Vol. II has been my go-to chillout album since I bought it in 1999. To this day, when I am stressed out or overwhelmed I put it on.

Aphex Twin is an Irishman by the name of Richard D. James. He went to music school, so his take on electronica has more theory and talent behind it than your average e'd out 90s producer. As a result, his music is less groovy and more disturbing than other producers of the same era. His music falls into the irritatingly-named category IDM, or intelligent dance music. In general I haven't been impressed with the few IDM artists I've come across, but Aphex Twin is a different story. He's a little like a drug-addled 90s Brian Eno, using electronic instruments and studio engineering to take music in directions that few other people have dared to go.

I've been getting through his 1995 Richard D. James album. There are a lot of glitchy drum'n'bass beats, but it is tempered with interesting and often beautiful compositions. I've listened to it a few times and so far enjoyed what I've heard. I also bought his last album, 2001's Drukqs. 

 His videos are always incredibly weird. He did several in the late nineties with Chris Cunningham where his face is prominently featured. In the 10 minute long video for "Window Licker" there are a whole series of video hoochies with his face. It's the stuff of nightmares.

Chris Cunningham later did a video called "Monkey Drummer" set to Aphex Twin's "Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michaels Mount," off of Drukqs.

It's not the kind of music you can just sit down and listen to, but when I'm in the mood for something that pushes the envelope and is a little disturbing, I turn to good old Richard D.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

MC Zulu and Pusha T Review

Two weeks ago I reviewed Chicago dancehall artist MC Zulu's new album, Electro Track Therapy.

Last week I reviewed Pusha T's new album, Fear of God II.

I really liked the Pusha T album. One of my favorite songs was "Alone In Vegas," and the video captures the loneliness and creepiness of the song. It's Pusha kicking it in Vegas alone after killing a dude in the desert.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sugar Minott and 3:33 Reviews

Between work, school, and life, I haven't had a lot of time to think or write about music. I did manage to write two reviews last week for RapReviews. The first was for a Sugar Minott box set, which I really enjoyed. He was a reggae singer in the line of Horace Andy, who did soulful roots stuff.

The other was 3:33's Live from the Grove, best described as horror soundtrack hip-hop instrumentals. Creepy as hell. I can't decide if it was also good or not. Here's the trailer.

I'm currently excited about listening to the Field's new album, A Looping State of Mind. I liked their 2007 debut, missed the album they put out a year ago, and I love this. It's built on loops and repetition, and is really hipnotic.

The other thing I've been listening to a lot of ion Spotify is Southern rap. It's a genre that seems super ignorant and simplistic at first glance, but there are some interesting things going on if you scratch the surface.
Like Paul Wall's "Sittin' Sidewayz." On the surface it's a mediocre song about being the king of the parking lot. But it has a wicked beat, and Wall peels of the inconsequential verses with ease. When I was in Houston last weekend, this was the song that was in my head.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Black Soul and I Wayne

I reviewed Madlib's Medicine Show #10: Black Soul this week at RapReviews. An 80 minute disco mix. Good stuff.

I also reviewed I Wayne's new album Life Teachings, a solid reggae album.

Yesterday I went to the opening of Richard Serra's drawing retrospective at the SF Moma. I had seen the same show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (my sister in law curated the show), but it is even better at the Moma. The pieces are better placed, there is more light, and they've included some of his sculptures. It is very sparse, minimal stuff, but interesting. I particularly like the piece below. Sort of punk rock.


Tenement, Napalm Dreams

Appleton, Wisconsin band Tenement are unapologetically anachronistic. In interviews, singer/guitarist Amos Pitsch admits that he doesn’t have Internet access, and is more likely to listen to music on cassette than MP3. The cover art of their album recalls the collages that Winston Smith used to make for the Dead Kennedys, right down to the ironic use of images of happy 1950s families. The music is vintage 1991: chunky guitars, punk distortion hiding 70s-influenced pop, and ironic, sarcastic lyrics.
The album opens with a squeal of feedback before the sloppy, distorted chords of “Stupid Werld” begin. The drummer pounds his set like Dave Grohl, the bass emits a sinister rumble, and Pitsch's strained vocals are somewhere between singing and yelling. Beneath all of the noise lie strong hooks and strong songwriting. Like Superchunk, Tenement write pop songs disguised as punk songs.

The drunken swagger of the vocals disguise an unexpected sensitivity in the lyrics. A lot of the songs deal with love in an oblique way. On “Dreaming Out Loud,” Pitsch sings “I’m retracing all my steps/ Falling in love again/ Break my knuckles open/Glue them back in place.” There are also several references to broken homes, like “Father pissing on the Christmas tree,” in “Spitting in the Wind.” There’s a more damning line in “Earwig,” where Pitsch sings “Two parents who didn’t care/ And a life they could never live/ Even if they would have dared/ ’Cause nothing ever works out.”

Listening to this album gave me the same feeling I got watching Superchunk play last year: rather than dated, the songs seemed timeless, and proved that the decades-old formula still had value and relevance. Alt-rock’s good name was besmirched by the legions of half-assed copycat bands that followed in Nirvana’s wake. Bad rock with distorted guitars is still bad rock, and there were hundreds of forgettable albums released by labels hoping to cash in on the success of Nevermind. Napalm Dream points to an alternate universe, where bands keep true to sound and ethos of bands like Husker Dü and the Replacements, rather than going the way of Nickelback. It doesn’t break any new ground, but it does prove that punk pop has legs.

Article first published as Album Review: Tenement - Napalm Dream on Blogcritics.

Veronica Falls

Veronica Falls:

I’m a cynical person by nature, so most happy music makes me skeptical. How can you possibly sing about everything being all sunshine and rainbows when there is so much trouble and strife in the world? By the same token, the older I get, the less interested I am in listening to music that simply wallows in misery. It seems like a waste to spend so much time on feeling bad. Veronica Falls ride the line between optimism and pessimism, making happy music with heavy hearts.

Veronica Falls are a co-ed foursome from Glasgow via London. The band consists of singers/guitarists Roxanne Clifford and James Hoare, bassist Marion Herbain, and drummer Patrick Doyle. Their self-titled debut collects several of the well-received singles they’ve released since forming in 2009, as well as new material.

The band mixes punk chords, sixties pop, and dark lyrics into a concoction that is gloomy and peppy at the same time. Album opener “Found Love In A Graveyard” is a nice summary of their sound. Elements of surf rock, garage rock, and Elizabethan folk songs combine into a melancholy jangle, the morbid lyrics contrasting with the gorgeous male and female vocals. “I’m broken-hearted/ Dearly departed,” they sing, mourning a lost love.

On songs like “Right Side of the Brain,” they recall Tiger Trap’s masterful take on feminine pop punk, but there is little twee about Veronica Falls. The competing male/female vocals are reminiscent of the Mamas and the Papas, although Roxanne Clifford sounds more like Lush’s Miki Berenyi than Michelle Phillips.

Despite the depressing nature of most of their lyrics, there is more joy than ennui in Veronica Falls' music. They capture the delicious pain of young love. On the upbeat “Misery,” they sing “misery’s got a hold on me,” as if it were the best thing in the world. These juxtapositions between optimism and sadness, between punk and pop, and between male and female vocals are what make Veronica Falls such a strong act. From the surf punk of “Beach Head” to the pop shimmer of “The Box,” Veronica Falls is a wonderful bummer, guaranteed to make your worst moments bearable.

Article first published as Music Review: Veronica Falls - Veronica Falls on Blogcritics.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Cymarshall Law and Ragga Reviews

I reviewed Cymarshall Law's Hip Hop In the Soul II last week for Rapreviews

And the Biggest Ragga Dancehall comp.

But mostly what I've been listening to is mellow ambient and classical music. Part of being stressed out. Maybe the change of seasons. Including Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, which has some very mellow moments balanced with some really disturbing ones.


This all got started because I am working on a review for Scott Solter's One River, an ambient album from a few years ago that is getting a rerelease. It came at a time when I was super stressed out with work and school, and it was the perfect music to get my mellow on.

Which led me to Hauschka, a German composer who makes interesting stuff. I downloaded two albums by him, one called Snowflakes and Carwrecks that is mostly piano, and one called Foreign Landscapes that incorporates some cello.

Another similar artist I stumbled upon is Max Richter, who makes similar music. He has several interesting albums that I want to check out.

I don't know if I'm at the point in my life where all I want to listen to is avant-garde classical and ambient music, but it is nice to explore music that I am relatively unfamiliar with, and that is totally different to the stuff I normally listen to. Plus, it fits with the colder, darker days.

Finally, a ridiculous videos for one of my favorite songs ever, if only for the line "You're wack, you're twisted, your girl's a ho, tha kid ain't yours an' errybody know!"

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Oh well, whatever, nevermind

Twenty years ago Nirvana's Nevermind came out. The album sold less than Creed, N'Sync, and a lot of other shitty albums, but it changed so much. Pre-Nevermind, rock was dominated by hair bands like Skid Row and Warrant. Mainstream, middle America didn't listen to cool or edgy music. We were still coming out of the Reagan 80s hangover.

Nirvana took the angst and ferocity and sincerity of punk and married it to chunky riffs and strong melodies. It was punk music your dad could listen to, Minor Threat by way of Fleetwood Mac.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" was their first big hit, and it perfectly captured the zietgeist of the era. Teenage boredom and frustration. An entire generation of kids grossed out by the materialism and commercialism of the times, not content to be mere customers anymore. As Fugazi howled on a song released at the same time, "You are not what you own."

I listened to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" over and over and over, until I could no longer listen to it. I still can't That song hasn't held up very well. The rest of the album has. "Lithium" is the perfect distillation of teen boredom and dissatisfaction. "Come As You Are" is a creepy pop song with ominous lyrics. My favorite track, and one of my favorite songs period, is "Drain You." Here Nirvana nails their melody, rage, noise, and  suggestive but obtuse lyrics.

After Nevermind, everything was different. You could no longer tell the hip kids by their record collection. All the effort I had put into defining myself by the music I listened to was negated. Jocks were rocking out to Fugazi and Nirvana. Punk became cool.

Cobain managed to last three years before he crashed and burned. "Grunge" lasted a little longer. Soon there were waves of shitty rock bands with distorted guitars riding the wave that Nirvana started. The sincerity and realness of Nirvana was cynically coopted by record execs and business men eager to sell gen x an identity. By 95, I was tired of being bummed out and started listening to Britpop. But from 91 to 94, grunge was kind and Nirvana were the rulers. I'm not sure any artist could shake things up so much in this fragmented media landscape, where even kids in the stix have access to everything ever made.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ed Sheeran Review, aka I'm Sorry I Compared You to Justin Bieber

I reviewed Ed Sheeran's + for RapReviews this week. I compared him to Justin Bieber, which may be a little unfair. What I meant was that he did pop R&B in a style not too different from the Beebs. It wasn't meant as a harsh dis. There are a couple songs on the album I liked ok. Including "A Team."

I also reviewed Reggae Gone Country, which is covers of country songs by reggae singers. An odd but interesting CD.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Review Wrap Up

I did a few reviews in the past couple weeks that I forgot to post, including

The Ultimate Soca Gold Collection, which I liked more than I thought I would.

I also reviewed a reissue of one of the first dub albums, Java Java Java Java.

And Greneberg, a project between Oh No, the Alchemist, and Rocky Marciano.

Also bought No Age's last album, mostly on the strength of "Fever Dreaming."

The album so far is pretty incredible. Noisy but melodic at the same time.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Other Shoe

Fucked Up released the second video from David Comes To Life, for "The Other Shoe." I don't like the video as much as the one for "Queen of Hearts," but it is one of my favorite songs off the album. Musically, it's got a chunky guitar riff that builds and builds into a melodic explosion. Lyrically, it taps into a sense of impending doom that resonates in these crazy times. "We can't be comfortable when the whole thing's about to fall!" screams singer Pink Eyes, followed by the chorus of "We're dying on the inside."

The album is a rock opera about a factory worker in 80s England who falls in love with a radical named Veronica, only to lose her to a bombing and....I'm not sure what else happens. I can't follow the story, in the same way I couldn't follow Tommy or Quadrophenia.  What I love about the album, and the first third especially, is how it channels the feeling of falling in love and losing love. Having your spouse die is one of the worst things you can imagine, and Fucked Up manage to convey that feeling on this album.

The other think I love about David Comes To Life is its mix of power and beauty. It's full of loud guitarists and a singer who sounds like he's gargling glass, but it also contains strong melodies and some moments of genuine tenderness, albeit delivered like a freight train. It's a trick first mastered by Husker Du - the sound and fury of punk backed with actual melodies and emotions that went deeper than wanting to fuck the system. I'm sure Fucked Up's hardcore fan base is upset that they are mellowing out, but they are better for it. I've listened to that album so much I'm starting to burn out on it, which rarely happens to me these days.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gregory Isaacs and CSC Funk Band Reviews

I did two non-hip-hop reviews at RapReviews recently. The first was CSC Funk Band's debut. They are a funk band made up of people from varied backgrounds, including Gwar and noise rock. They are a little noisy at times, but no doubt great live.

I also reviewed a tribute to Gregory Isaacs. Here's a video of him playing live in 85.

Danny Brown Review

I reviewed Danny Brown's XXX for RapReviews this week. It's pretty amazing. Brown manages to be offensive and witty at the same time, and also drops some deep tracks later in the album. Not safe for mixed company, but definitely worth the download. 

Someone did a video for "Monopoly" using footage from "Repo Man." This has my favorite line in the album: "I'm a smart n%%a that does dumb shit."

Here he is performing the title track live.

Danny Brown - XXX - Die Like A Rock Star - BYOBBQ - BK NYC from Brook Bobbins on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Outside Lands

"Is this the way the future is meant to feel/Or just 20,000 people standing in a field?"

I went to Outside Lands last Sunday. It was my first time going. I am not a huge fan of outdoor festivals, but being as it is within walking distance of my house, I figured I should go.

We got there just in time to see Tune-Yard's set. I have been meaning to check out their stuff for a while, and I'm more convinced than ever. It was an amazing set, a mix of indie rock with heavy African rhythms and some serious vocal chops. The crowd was loving it, and a pit was started with a group of people doing interpretive dances. There were several thousand people watching her, and was great seeing so many people getting into it.

We sort of wandered around for the next couple hours, watching a few minutes of !!!'s set, seeing a little bit of Josh Ritter, a song or two of Little Dragon, before finally settling down to see Major Lazer at  4ish. I was really excited to see them, but instead of doing a Jamaican DJ set, ie toasting, they did an American DJ set, ie spinning MP3s and twiddling knobs on a laptop. Their was a huge crowd (larger than the crowd who came to see Girl Talk, the headliner from the night before). It was nice seeing the crowd jumping in one massive throng, but I wasn't close enough to get into it, and I ended up feeling let down by the whole experience.

Incidentally, Beyonce's new single "Girls Who Run The World" samples Major Lazer's "Pon tha Floor."

Next we headed to the main stage to watch the Decemberists. I am not a fan of them, but they were good live, and Colin Melloy had some good English professor stage banter. I went to check out Beirut at another stage during their set, but was so far back we couldn't really enjoy it. This was the major issue with the festival: it was so crowded that it was hard to get anywhere near the stages, so you ended up in the back surrounded by people talking and half paying attention. It wasn't optimum enjoying conditions, and there was no set we saw besides Tune-Yards that wouldn't have been much improved in a more intimate setting.

There were two headliners: Arcade Fire and Deadmau5. We opted to see the Arcade Fire, who put on a great show, although being so far away we missed a lot of the effect. When I saw them at the Greek a few years ago, a lot of the power of the show was seeing their ten-strong band interact. Instead, we saw whatever close ups the camera men chose to project on the giant screens above the stage. I saw clips of the Deadmau5 show, and it looked pretty amazing. I'm not a fan of his music, but in context, with the light show, it's killer.

We left twenty minutes before the encore, not wanting to fight our way out with sixty thousand people. We managed to catch a 71 that wasn't uncomfortably full, and got home fine. I don't have a burning desire to go to another festival anytime soon, but I'm glad I went.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Husker Du Take Two

Bob Mould, ex-Husker Du ex-Sugar, was on Sound Opinions recently, promoting his new book. I used to be a big Bob Mould and Husker Du fan, but lost my love for them in recent years. Underneath his Midwestern nice guy facade, Mould seems like an egotistical jerk. I really didn't like Sugar, and I've found his post-Husker Du output less than impressive.

 I wrote about Husker Due three years ago on this blog and called them bad rock.  I would like to correct that statement. I found a used copy of their 1983 double concept album Zen Arcade at Amoeba recently, and I was blown away by it. I owned a copy on cassette in the 80s, and I liked it, but I had begun to think of it as cheesy and underwhelming, something that wasn't very good taken outside of the context of the time.
Then I listened to the entire thing again for the first time in almost twenty years, and I realized how amazing the record is. It straddles hardcore punk, folk, psychedelic, and pop-infused songwriting in a way that works as a cohesive whole. Even more surprising, the whole thing was recorded in 40 hours, with almost all of the 22 songs being cut after just one take.

It starts off with "Something I Learned Today," a blast of negative energy that adds melody to the hardcore blast.

"Chartered Trips" is one the better pop songs that Husker Du recorded, and proved that they could operate at a slower speed without losing their power.

My favorite song on the album, and one of my favorite punk songs ever, is "I'll Never Forget You," one of the most emotional and passionate songs cut to vinyl.

Seeing them play it live, they almost match the intensity of their early hardcore days, before their music had any discernible notes, much less melodies.

I also found a cheap used copy of Husker Du's last album, Warehouse: Songs and Stories. I had remembered this album being kind of terrible, but it's held up better than I thought. By this point they had totally abandoned punk, going more for a second-rate REM sound, but there are some gems on the disc.

In my earlier post on Husker Du, I had criticized Grant Hart's drumming, which I said lacked a bottom. Seeing them play live made me realize that he plays like a jazz drummer. It's not my favorite sound, but it compliments the music perfectly.

So the point here is, the critics are right: Husker Du were an amazing band. I may not love Bob Mould's later output, but it's hard to argue with the records the Huskers put out.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Chosen Few Crew and Wugazi Reviews

I have two new reviews on RapReviews.

First up is the Chosen Few Crew's Scarlett Letter MCs. They are a positive crew from Las Vegas. On the border of being Christian rap focused enough on hip-hop to make them rappers first.

What won me over to them was the videos on YouTube of them performing live. There are all of these clips of them playing to apathetic audiences in less than optimum conditions with nothing but a prerecorded track and they are giving it their all. Those kids got moxie and I admire 'em for it. Definitely recommended if you are looking for positive, old-school leaning hip-hop.

I also reviewed the Wugazi album. It's worth a download for hip-hop fans who like Fugazi.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fucked Up and Trash Talk at the Independent, San Francisco

Fucked Up
Trash Talk
The Independent
San Francisco
July 25, 2011

The last real punk show I went to was I think a Cripple Bastards show at a squat in Milan in 2001. It's been a while. But when I saw that Fucked Up were playing a short cab ride from my house, I decided to go by myself to experience them. I saw my financial adviser and hung out with a four year old before the show, which is pretty much the opposite of punk.

Trash Talk opened the set. They are a hardcore band from Sacramento who do the growly screamy thing. I was standing at the edge of the pit, and had just got my eight dollar Makers Mark and was about to take a sip when this big burly dude ran across the room and slammed into me, spilling my drink everywhere. At first I didn't understand what was happening. Why did that guy run into me? What's his problem? Then I remembered - riiiight, I'm at a punk show. Their were a handful of Trash Talk faithful doing their best to keep a ferocious pit going. The rest of the crowd backed off, which caused the lead singer to ask the moshers to drag people into the pit. I can appreciate Trash Talk's frustration with aloof SF crowds, but all I could think of was how uninviting a pit full of buff dudes hitting each other was. If I wanted to be surrounded by that many sweaty male bodies I'd go to a beer bust at the Midnight Sun. There was a nice moment at the end of their set when the singer said "I want you to rush the fucking bar as soon as this song starts! Those fuckers have just been standing there all night. Everyone rushed out of the path of harm. The singer also kept saying "If you know the words, help me the fuck out!" and then would proceed to sing songs that went "Blrallaawwrrrarrararrarar arjararrrraaaarrrra!!!!!!! Their fans dug it.

Fucked Up went on at 10:30. Three guitarists, a drummer, a (female) bassist, and Damien Abraham, a big, somewhat overweight, and very hairy dude. I've always liked him in interviews, and he was great that night. He came off as approachable, funny, and sincerely thankful that we were there. I watched the pit for the first song, realized that it was fully of other wimpy nerdy dudes, and decided, fuck it, I'm going in. So for only the second or third time of my life, I joined a mosh pit, pogoing and swinging into people and yelling into the mic when he raised it over the crowd. At one point he staged dived on me.

It was the most fun I've had at a show in years. It was so cathartic to be screaming and jumping along to the lyrics. When I listen to Fucked Up on my iPod on my way to work, I always want to start jumping up and down, and I got the opportunity to do so without looking like a tool. The crowd was friendly and into it, pulling me up when I fell, keeping stray feet from hitting peoples heads, and having a great time.

I left at 11:30 when they played their last song, missing the encore. I felt like I needed to get back home to sleep. One post script: I woke up the next morning feeling like I had been hit by a truck - my knee and hip and back were killing me. I ran six miles Sunday and felt great after. I pogoed for an hour Monday and felt like shit. What can I say, I'm an old, old man.

Here's them playing "The Other Shoe" live in Germany. A similar scene to what went on last night, only we were more lively. There was something really powerful to be screaming "We're dying on the inside!" along with a hundred other people.

Friday, July 22, 2011

If the 60s Were the 90s

That's the title of a Beautiful People song I've never heard, but it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. This September marks the 20 year anniversary of the release of Nirvana's Nevermind, for one thing. Spin released a collection of covers, and listening to them I was reminded how revolutionary that album felt at the time. A lot of the things they were singing about: feminism, atheism, questioning masculinity, kissing each other in public - those were simply not done in 1991. There weren't mainstream artists promoting gay rights or singing "Never met a wise man/if so it's a woman." Nirvana opened a lot of doors, and Nevermind remains a classic album. I don't listen to it much today, but "In Bloom" remains one of my favorite songs of all time.

My sister pointed out to me recently that the 90s are to kids today what the sixties were to us as kids: an era twenty years back that we felt no real connection to. Strange to think of it like that.

I've been listening to and writing a review for Wugazi, a mash-up Cecil Otter and Swiss Andy did of Fugazi instrumentals and Wu-Tang acappellas. Which made me go back into my Fugazi records. Especially Steady Diet of Nothing, their 1991 release. Also 20 years old. It was less punk and aggro than their earlier releases, and at the time I found it a little boring, but I love it now. "Reclamation" remains one of my favorite songs, presumably about the abortion debate. "You will carry out your noble actions - we will carry our noble scars."

I'll probably mention this in my review, but listening to the Wugazi album, I was struck by the different approaches each group took to making raw, aggressive music. The Wu took a "fuck all y'all" attitude, reacting, while Fugazi were much more empathetic and sensitive. The Fugazi vocals sound positively wimpy compared to the rough, rugged, and raw delivery of the Wu.

Exhibit A: "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" (from whence the title of this blog comes):

And still, I relate more to Fugazi than to the Wu-Tang clan, at least in terms of the emotions they are delivering. No doubt because I have more in common with Fugazi than the Wu - middle class white guy and all.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Diplo Review/Dre Dog

I reviewed Diplo's reggae mix Riddimentary at RapReviews this week. It's a decent collection of 80s reggae. I was particularly into the dancehall tracks. Not as good as Diplo's Major Lazer stuff, though. Who I'm seeing later this summer.

I heard an interview with Noz from on  the Sidebar at Soul Sides  and learned where the name of his blog came from: Dre. Dog (now Andre Nickatina)'s 1993 song "Smoke Dope and Rap." I checked out his 1993 album The New Jim Jones, and it is crazy. It's all about doing drugs, having sex, and being as evil and anti-social as he can possibly be. Hard to defend, yet kind of amazing. He's from SF and still making music.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


My new favorite album is the Babies self-titled debut. The Babies are a collab between a lady from the Vivian Girls and a dude from the Woods. It's jangly, distorted pop, circa 1994. Totally infectious, totally amazing. Sort of like Best Coast only rawer.  You can hear and download "Run Me Over" here.

I also picked up Lee Perry's Dub-Triptych last week. It collects Cloak and Dagger, Blackboard Jungle, and Revolution Dub. I'm most excited about Revolution Dub, which is a rare and amazing set from 1975. It's dub before the cliches of the genre became embedded. There's echo, there's reverb, there are instruments stripped out, but it's more melodic and interesting than a lot of what came later. Excellent studying music.

Oh yeah, I reviewed Daretta's Heavy Mental last week on RapReviews.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Oyoshe Review

I reviewed Oyoshe's Bring Da Noise 2 this week at He is a rapper/producer from Naples, Italy who teamed up with some of the East Coast's finest to deliver sixteen tracks of true school rap.

Here's the video for "Deal With It" with Blaq Poet, which is shot in bella Napoli.

I was intrigued enough by Oyoshe to check out some of his other projects, including the first volume of "Bring Da Noise," which is all in Italiano/Napolitano. I've only listened to a few tracks, but so far it is good.

I also ran across a crew from Florence who are doing Odd Future-esque stuff, meno lo stupro. I've given Daretta's "Heavy Mental" a few spins, and I'm liking it. I'm trying to bone up on my Italian, so perhaps listening to Italian rap is a good way to go!

Sunday, June 26, 2011


There's an interesting article in the NY Magazine on Oakland rapper Kreayshawn. I hadn't paid any attention to her, but here's the short version: she's a skinny white girl with a hood pass who may or may not be bisexual, whose mom was in the punk band Trashwomen, and who has directed videos for some local Oakland street rappers. The controversy surrounding her has to do with whether or not she is authentic, and whether or not she used the n word (in a non-racist context). Part of this is that boring game that white people play where they try to say that other white people more racist and less authentic than they are. White people LOVE that game. It's fucking boring and hypocritical. I'm not saying that white people should go around dropping n bombs, even in non-racist ways, but I also think that black Americans who use the word need to realize that if you refer to black people as niggas ever other second, you can't be that offended when someone outside your race does it.

Frankly, I think the world needs more art-damaged bisexual rappers. Too bad her music is so awful and vapid.

And of course she gets signed to a major label, because what will sell is a cute, quirky white girl rapping. Sort of like a hip-hop Lady Gaga, with music about as interesting. Which is to say, not very.

In totally unrelated news, I saw Tree of Life last night. It's amazing. You should go see it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Madlib/David Comes To Life

I reviewed Madlib's Medicine Show Vol. 11 this week at RapReviews. It's a collection of random beats and collaborations, many of which are pretty good, but that don't add up to a cohesive whole. One of my favorite tracks is Madlib's rap on this unreleased Jaylib track.

In unrelated news, Fucked Up just released the first video from their new album, with a children's choir singing instead of Pink Eyes. It makes you wonder what the band would be like if they had someone singing instead of shouting. It seems like it is part of a larger movie that the band is making for the album. Brilliance.

Bon Iver's self-titled album came out today. I'm not totally excited about it, mostly because I'm mellow folked-out right about now.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lil B and General Monks

I reviewed two albums last week for RapReviews. The first was General Monks' Each Step Becomes Elevated. It is a collaboration between Planet Asia and Tristate that is sort of a backpack version of the Wu-Tang's street/kung fu hybrid, only substituting Buddhism for the kung fu. The message wasn't totally coherent, but it's a solid disc. And free. Here's the video for "Trouble," one of the better tracks on the album:

I also reviewed Lil B's Red Flame mixtape. I've heard a lot of hype about Lil B, and I gotta say, while I understand why people like him, I'm not a fan. My new philosophy is that time is the most valuable commodity most Americans have, and wasting people's time is disrespectful. Lil B doesn't edit himself, records five songs  a day, and this mixtape is a waste of time. It's entertaining at times, though. Here's "I'm Miley Cyrus." You can actually hear him making up the words as he goes along.

I'm reviewing a Christian rap EP right now. Which makes me wonder: what if Paulie D found Jesus? This:

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

David Comes To Life

I was in a funk today, and I'm pretty sure it has to do with looking at old family pictures and listening to Fucked Up's new album, David Comes To Life. It's a rock opera about a British factory worker named David who hates his life until he falls in love with a women handing out Leftist leaflets named Veronica. They have a brief period of happiness, then she dies, and..I haven't made it that far into the album. The first few songs are killing me. Just read the lyrics to "Under My Nose."

The wind has changed and now it's brought all the sweetest smells he'd forgot. Not the faintest stench from the old days as it all finally drifts away. Damn those skeptics, harbingers of doom; negative epidemic, followers of Hume. He understands all her needs, and for that she loves him eternally. Syncretism is so natural and they're experiencing something so actual. "My sun is shining, how about yours? It's kind of blinding, burn my eyes pure." It's all been worth it. Now he looks forward to waking up, she's unstuck him from his rut. He couldn't wait to run off and go to sleep and let all his problems make their retreat. "Used to wake up screaming, stolen from our dreams; now I wake up beaming and the world just gleams." With a sense of impending doom that it's all going to end too soon, it's all too good to be true, where the fuck is the other shoe? It's all been worth it

The other shoe he is talking about is her imminent death, referenced in the next song, "the Other Shoe," which begins with Veronica singing "We're dying on the inside." Melodic post-punk, layers upon layers of sounds, and a vocalist who sounds like he's been gargling glass.  Listening to that, looking at pictures of my dead relatives...fuuuuck. 

There are two antidotes. One is garage rock by aging ex-junkies about sexual frustration.
Exhibit a:

The other is 70s reggae. Particularly the combination of wicked groove with pissed off lyrics. Exhibit B, I'm like a walking razor don't you cross my path I'm dangerous.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What I've Been Listening To

I'm back on a reggae kick after a few months of not listening to much reggae at all. I'm not sure what motivates these changes in the music I want to listen to. What does it say about my state of mind that I mostly want to listen to seventies dancehall and roots reggae? As always, it's a slippery slope to go down, because there are literally thousands of records from that era, which means a lot of gems to uncover. I downloaded Prince Alla's Only Love Can Conquer, which is great roots music.

I was sick two weeks ago, and had a sick dream in which Amoeba closed. That dream made me want to give the ailing record store some of my hard-earned scratch before it goes the way of 8-tracks and affordable health care. I bought the Abyssinian's Satta Massanga Deluxe Edition, which collects their debut album (which was not originally called Satta Massanga) and some other tracks. "Satta Massanga" the song was a massive hit, and has been called reggae's national anthem. They were essentially a Rastafari gospel group, and most of their songs are heavily religious and practically sacred. Most reggae artists in the seventies were Rastafarian, but the Abyssinians were the real deal. To be honest, I'm not a fan of "Satta Massanga," but the rest of the album is pretty good, mellow reggae. I'm actually not a massive fan of this vocal group style of reggae. I've had trouble really getting into the Congos, Culture, and Burning Spear for the same reason. Something about the vocal harmonies doesn't quite sit with me. Not to say they aren't geniuses, just that they aren't quite my thing.

What I'm more excited about is far less noble: dancehall. Basically, a dude chatting over a version of an album, usually in a patios that is totally incomprehensible and dropping references I wouldn't understand anyways. One of my favorites is General Echo, one of the original 70s DJs. I came across an album he did as Ranking Slackness called, appropriately, The Slackest LP. "Slackness" means dirty talk, and in the 80s and 90s this came to mean the dancehall equivalent of x-rated gangsta rap. In the seventies, it was more like songs about seeing your dad naked in the bathroom. It's potty humor to the extreme, super childish but also funny in a stupid way. I got a collection of his non-slack reggae called Teacher Fi De Class which is pretty great.

I've also been going back to Jessica Lea Mayfield's Tell Me, which has some incredible moments, and TV on the Radio's 9 Types of Light. Both are really heartbreaking and sad.

Speaking of, Gil Scott-Heron died this weekend. He was sixty-two. He had been struggling with drug addiction for years, and it got the best of him. Sad end to a great musician.

IAME and Scrilicon Reviews

I reviewed two albums for RapReviews this week. The first was Scrilicon's 2 Steps Left of Center. It's an indie release featuring Silicon Valley rappers Scrilla V and John?Doe. I wasn't feeling it, but you can check it out on their bandcamp page and see if it's more to your liking.

The second album I reviewed was IAME's Lame. Think of him as Portland's answer to Atmosphere. It's a solid, ambitious album, best summed up by the video for "Thy Will."

IAME - Thy Will from Wordsmithjr on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Acid Reign Review

I reviewed Acid Reign's Diversity last week for RapReviews. Positive hip-hop from Project Blowed alums. Not to be confused with THIS Acid Reign:

Or THIS "Acid Rain"

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mobb Deep

There is an excellent interview with Prodigy of Mobb Deep on the Sound of Young America this week. He just got out of jail on weapons charges (the downfall of so many rappers), and he talks about his upbringing, how his father was a jazz musician/heroin addict who would take him on heists, and how sickle cell anemia made him hate God.

Mobb Deep's 1995 album The Infamous is considered a classic. It's dark, cold-as-ice New York gangsta rap, sort of like a more realistic and cold-blooded Only Built For Cuban Linx. It's so dark and dreary and hopeless that I have a hard time listening to the whole thing, although it's powerful in small doses. It came out when they were 19, and they seem like babies rapping such sinister lyrics.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Vast Aire and the Aztext Reviews

I reviewed Vast Aire's OX 2010: A Street Odyssey this week on RapReviews. Vast Aire was/is one half of legendary underground NY crew Cannibal Ox, who released one classic album,a  few eps, and not much else. They've been threatening to make another record for five years. This disc is solid, and will please his fans.
Nomad is one of the better songs on the album.

I also reviewed the Aztext Who Cares If We're Dope Volume Three EP. This time the duo is working with XPL, and is trying out some slower jams.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I was obsessed with Hole's 1991 debut Pretty On The Inside when I was in high school. It was dirty, nasty, druggy, and nightmarish, a muddy wave of grinding guitars and Courtney Love's banshee howls. A tormented mix of ugly noise and tormented screams and hints of melody. Brilliant.

Love was ugly in a way that few females were in 1991. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth was tough and cool, but Courtney went one further, laying it all out there. While still being sort of sexy. Kate Bjelland of Babes in Toyland (terrible name, not much better band) accused her of stealing her babydoll style, but Courteny worked it better.

I liked Live Through This, the follow up, even though it lacked the edge of Pretty On The Inside. When punk loses its rawness, the result is often bad rock, which definitely showed its face on Live Through This. "Ms. World" seemed calculated to play on MTV, and it did, and Hole made it big.

Love has always wrestled with demons, and has often been a train wreck that everyone like to watch and laugh at. After melting down post Live Through This, she cleaned up, got made over, and got her shit together. The resulting album, Celebrity Skin, wasn't great, but the title track is one of my favorite songs.
She's rocking a new look, working the crowd like a pro, and seeming more like a rock star than a punker.

I stopped following Love at that point. She's released solo albums, Hole has reportedly rejoined, I don't care.
I briefly got excited about the Distillers six years ago, when it seemed like singer Brody Dalle was following in Hole's footsteps. Then I lost interest. I still dig out Coral Fang every once in a while. Like scratching a scab, in a good way.

All of this led me across a rare live video of seminal riot grrrl band Bikini Kill doing "Orange Julius" live in Nebraska. I love this song. Reject All American and their collection of singles are both pretty amazing. And they have some good song titles.

"I believe in the radical power of pleasure, babe, I do I do I do."

Friday, May 13, 2011

An old story

I wrote this seven years ago and just found it on an old blog I had. Some details have been changed and names omitted to protect the guilty.

My friend M had skin cancer that metastasized and spread all over his body, so he ended up in St. Mary’s Hospital on chemotherapy and all that and his friends decided to throw a benefit for him and for their other friend who had a brain tumor. It had a tumor theme and M designed the flyers, but didn’t make it to the party because he was too sick. When I was young and 21 and drinking too much and staying out too late, no one mentioned brain tumors or cancer. Our worst problems were hangovers, and even those weren’t as bad as they are now, and our idea of being broke still allowed us to go out three or four nights a week.

I had met M through my friend C at a party in the South of Market that we went to that was kind of disappointing, but we didn’t really care because we were all pretty drunk on booze and camaraderie and singing Judas Priest songs. Me and M had grown up on punk rock, and we would reminisce about seminal bands like X and the Minutemen, who on second thought weren’t really that seminal because no one really sounds like them because no one really listened to them, which is probably why we like them so much. M had this slow, staggered way of talking, and had kind of a California twang, because he was raised in Berkeley, and he would say things like “Wohl, fuckin’, like, Fear were like, fuckin’ the ultimate punk band.” Marcus also had dubious taste in movies and so I was suspicious about his recommendations of both the Fight Club and the Matrix, but I liked them both.

He did animation and dated a beautiful 19-year-old, even though he was 34, and once drew an anime chick on the message board of my old house during a party, next to notices to pay Shannon for the electricity bill. He had a lot of tattoos and used to have a drug problem so we forgave his overindulgence in the drink as the lesser of two evils.

He was all into Burning Man and had these friends who were part of a something called the Space Cowboys who put on an event called Space Lounge which I never went to because I wasn’t really into that kind of thing, I mean the bleep-bloop music and everyone being so fucking happy and the drugs. I was more into going to shows and complaining about how derivative and lame they were and how stupid scenesters were.

It was the Space Cowboys who threw the benefit party. It was in an old church in the Mission, right around Halloween 2001. I was still freaking out about September 11, and it was the first time I had really gone out since all that badness happened; The planes crashing into buildings and our reaction to it, Bush preaching biblical revenge, and the liberals being totally ineffectual and that horrible feeling that something really really bad was happening, and losing faith in my country and not being able to do anything about it.

The night of the party I was tired and felt lazy and didn’t want to spend the 20 bucks to get in, but I knew it would be worth checking out, and I had invited this cute Australian girl, so I dragged my sorry ass out. There was a live fire show out front, but we waited in line to get in.

I went for the retro look, wearing my rust colored plaid jacket and brown hat. I knew I didn’t have any appropriate clothes, and so opted to totally not fit in rather than try to and fail miserably. The crowd was typical of those kinds of events in those days; ecstasy-damaged graphic designers and computer programmers and webmasters who walked that fine line between artist and dork, yuppies with better taste in drugs and music than their khaki-wearing brethren clogging the bars of the Marina, foreign-exchange students, party girls, and aging hipsters, we being in the latter category. Girls dressed as sexy nurses sold cheap drink tickets, and all the organizers were dressed as mad doctors. Some of the crowd had decided to dress in theme. There were tons of dj’s playing house music, but both of us were more into dancing to rock or old soul, so we went outside to watch people smoke and be able to hear ourselves talk.

C and I were both in grad school as a way to put off getting a real job, he in the humanities and I in history, and we would talk about music like we were writing our graduate thesis on it. We couldn’t just think that, say, X’s “Los Angeles” was a great song. We had to deconstruct it and analyze it within the context of L.A. at the time and the racism there and the white flight. Which would lead us to Fear’s homophobia and Quentin Tarantino’s bogus use of the word “nigger” as if racism never happened. I think it scares the uninitiated, those people who have the audacity to just like the music they like without considering its past and future and its place in the history of popular music and youth culture and the politics of the time and take it all with a seriousness that probably belies some gnawing emptiness in our lives.

A friend of C’s from Berkeley was there, and he was married and had a kid, which was weird for us because neither of us were even self-sufficient, much less organized enough to take care of another sentient being. But it was also kind of cool, especially in the environment of the party, because we felt like we were part of a new, alternative generation, one full of nice, good people who weren’t part of the shitty, greedy, consumeristic and stupid mainstream who were plastering American flags on their cars and pouring out their French wines and eating freedom fries and voting on American Idol. It was a world miles apart from all the embarrassment and horror that greeted us when we watched the news.

In a lot of ways the party was a very punk rock thing, or at least was the kind of thing punk rockers would aspire to do, only if they did it the music would have been suckier and everyone would have had to pretend it was lame and there wouldn’t have been as many cute girls and they wouldn’t have been dressed as well and everyone would have been drunk on cheap beer or fucked up on speed rather than drunk on vodka tonics and fucked up on E.

 (I went to a hardcore show in Milan a few years ago, and all the crusty anarcho-punks [called “punkabestia” in Italian, literally “Punk animal”] were staggering drunk and dressed the same and had the same dreads and the same type of mutts on the same rope leashes and I asked myself, “so this is the revolution?”)

By two a.m. me and C were drunk and tired and wanted to go home. Both of us felt too old and too tired and we had things to do the next day for school. Which we wouldn’t end up doing anyways.

So I left as everyone else was just coming, and went home four hours before the event ended, to sleep fitfully and wake up feeling tired, elated, and a little disappointed, because something great could have happened to me that night but didn’t.

M died a year later, and I didn’t go to his informal wake, which was held at the Wherepad in the Mission, because I felt like I didn’t know him THAT well, and it would be fake, and C wasn’t around to go with me. I had only been to one wake in my life, and I didn’t like it. My reaction to being sad was to get angry at the rest of the mourners, and when I wasn’t doing that I was breaking down and spilling tears in my coke. But now I regret not going because even if M wasn’t my best friend, he was still a good guy, and I find myself missing him.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

What I've Been Listening To

I have an 8 gig iPod mini, so what I choose to put on it says a lot about what I'm into at a particular moment. Right now hip-hop is winning out with 220 songs. I've been listening to a lot of hip-hop lately. I have the new Vast Aire (of Cannibal Ox fame) to review, and I'm also working on reviews of the new Aztext ep, and have been meaning to review Open Mike Eagle's Unapologetic Art Rap and Madlib's last album for about three months. I also got Pharaoh Monche's new album, which has convinced me that I respect him more than I like him. Maybe if I listen some more.

The album that has been getting heavy rotation is Has-Lo's In Case I don't Make It, which I reviewed last week. I complained in my review of how it was a downer and dragged towards the end, but it has stuck with me. He's a great if understated album, and it is a heartbreaking album. In the same vein, I bought OC's Word...Life. He was a contemporary of Big L and part of the Diggin in the Crates crew, only where Big L excelled at bravado and wicked one liners, OC is a much more thoughtful rapper. I've only given it a few spins, but already I love it.

I'm also loving Big L's Lifestylez Ov Da Poor and Dangerous. I wrote about it a while ago, but it has stayed on heavy rotation. It's classic 90s East Coast gangsta rap in the vein of the Notorious BIG or Nas, but without the remorse. Big L is rude, crude, and raps about robbing and killing people in the most creative way possible. Here are just a few choice lines:
"This ain't Cali, it's Harlem, nigga, we do walk bys"
"Me bein' a virgin, that's idiotic/cuz if Big L gots the AIDS every cutie in the city got it"
"I wasn't poor, I was Po'/I couldn't afford the O-R."

On a less offensive note, I have also been listening to the new TV on the Radio. I had decided I didn't like them that much after I lost interest in their last album, Dear Science. My problem with them is that they are too complex, and there is too much going on in their songs. Which is an idiotic thing to complain about. Nine Types of Light is a mellower album, but their instrumentation, songwriting, and sound is so rich and rewarding. I'm a fan.

Here's a video someone made for my favorite song on the album, "Keep Your Heart."

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Deadverse Massive and Has-Lo Reviews

I reviewed Deadverse Massive's The Takeover for RapReviews this week. It's dalek's crew, an underground rapper I never messed with because I thought he was weirdo art rap. Instead, this is grimy East Coast circa 1995. I was into it. You can find a fan video for their first single here.

I also reviewed Has-Lo's In Case I Don't Make It. It's a heavy, somber record that drags in places but is totally worth it for tracks like "Everything Is."

Saturday, April 30, 2011

J Rocc and King Louis Reviews

I reviewed King Louis's Hits In My Sleep mixtape for RapReviews this week. I'm not a big fan of these kinds of mixtapes, but I liked King Louis well enough to write about him.

Here's "Yo":

I also reviewed J Rocc's Some Cold Rock Stuf. It's a great instrumental hip hop album, mixing elements of trip-hop, electronica, old school, and latin funk into the mix.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eric Dolphy

Madlib titled one of the tracks on his Advanced Jazz mixtape "Dolphy," which got me investigating just who this Dolphy character is.

Turns out he was a multi-instrumentalist who worked with Coltrane (among others) before branching out as a leader, producing several amazing albums, and then dying tragically young.

I got Out There, which I really enjoy, but it's Out To Lunch which is his true masterpiece. Take "Hat and Beard."

It's starts off as standard bouncy sixties jazz, complete with vibraphone. But something is off: the drums seem to be keeping their own beat, and the whole thing is off kilter. When his sax comes in, it's doing the scree thing that Ayler and Coltrane and Coleman and Sanders were experimenting with. The whole thing is accessible yet  freaky. No wonder a lot of traditionalists dismissed his music.

I can't tell you how much I love this album. I have been listening to it incessantly for the past two weeks. I got it at the same time I got Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, and I like Out To Lunch more.Not that Kind of Blue isn't genius in its own right, but Dolphy's avant weirdness is much more interesting to me than Miles's restrained cool.

The picture, by the way, is stolen from here, which has a great bio of the man.

Animal Farm and Quanstar

I did two new reviews for RapReviews last week. The first was for Animal Farm's Culture Shock. They are a positive hip-hop crew from Portland doing music in the vein of Ugly Duckling and Jurassic 5. I wasn't totally feeling it, but fans of the aforementioned bands should check them out.

The other review was for Quanstar's 4/11 ep.He''s an indie rapper who self-produces his stuff, and raps grown man raps over quiet storm beats. Interesting.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kyle Rapps Review

I reviewed Kyle Rapps Re-Edutainment EP on RapReviews two weeks ago.

Good positive hip-hop, modeled somewhat after BDP's Edutainment album. Which I owned but sold.
Like this video, the album is colorful and a little corny.

"Love's Gonna Get You" from Edutainment:

Charles Mingus Review

Originally posted on at

Charles Mingus, Black Saint and the Sinner Lady

 I came of age when music was still purchased in physical form at brick and mortar stores, and my relationship with music is different because of it. I used to go to record stores and sift through the bins looking for an album I wanted or one I didn't know I wanted. There was a thrill in finding a rare CD in the bargain bin, or finding a new record used, or coming across something I didn't even know existed.

I used to buy maybe four albums a month - I couldn't afford more. I'd go home, reading the liner notes on the bus, and listen to the albums back to front multiple times. I'd listen to an album for a week straight, catching every nuance and change. Some of my favorite albums were those that required multiple listens to truly appreciate and discover: "Fear of a Black Planet" by Public Enemy, "Sandanista!" by the Clash, "Paul's Boutique" by the Beastie Boys. I knew every inch of every album. To this day I'm still discovering songs that were sampled and referenced on early Ice Cube and Public Enemy records.

Then high-speed internet became more widespread and we entered an age where you can find almost any album ever made simply by searching for its name and "download" (Madlib's "Blunted in the Bombshelter" being one exception). I went from listening to four albums a month to four albums a week, and sometimes as many as ten. The trickle of information became a flood, something this gig as a reviewer only exacerbates.
I no longer listen to an album for a week straight. I'm lucky if I listen to it twice in a row before moving on to something else. Instead, albums go on steady rotation, and it might take weeks or months or years before they begin to click with me. I burned a copy of Coltrane's "Giant Steps" two years ago and only now am giving it a real listen, and I just went back to Percee P's "Perseverance" after forgetting about it for four years. I also never listen to the end of a song - I know how all 2,000 songs on my iPod start, but I don't have the patience to get to the end of any of them.

In some ways I love the fact that I can hear so much music. In the past few years, I've been able to explore and delve deep into African music, reggae, jazz, and hip-hop. If I'm in the mood to experience any genre, I go to Pandora and set up a "Salsa" or "Dirty South" radio station and get my fix. There are few albums so obscure or so rare that they aren't available somewhere online, either legally or illegally. Indie artists that have a decent computer can record, mix, and post their music online for a fraction of the time and cost that it used to take. Small labels can sell digital copies of their catalogue long after they've lost the resources to maintain physical copies.

We are losing some things with the death of the album and the death of the record store. One is the social element of buying records. I had friends and acquaintances that worked and still work at record stores: Asa at Record Finder on Noe (now a dry cleaner), Gabe and Galen at Streetlight on Market, David at Amoeba on Haight. I'd talk to them about music in the store and over beers when I ran into them at a bar. They'd turn me on to things, I'd turn them on to things, and it made the process of shopping a social experience sorely missing from clicking "Buy" on iTunes or Amazon.

Another thing we've lost in the transition away from the album is the context and the power of an artists complete, fleshed-out thought. I listen to music in snippets now, and it is rare that I take the time to experience the breadth of what an artist has to say at a particular moment in time. I listen to track two then track three then track five of a totally different album. Any intentionality in the arrangement of songs on an album is totally lost.

Which brings me to Charles Mingus' 1963 masterpiece "The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady." I bought album five years ago, new, for $15,98 at the soon to be defunct Border's in downtown San Francisco. I had been told that it was a classic, a must-own record, so I decided to experience it first-hand. After an initial listen, I wasn't impressed. First of all, it's not an easy listen. It takes a while to build, and it is full of changes, contrasts, and discordant elements. It's not nice background music. No one will play it at their wedding reception, but then maybe that's the mark of good jazz. The album is four songs in about forty minutes, less music than I was used to paying so much money for. I later learned that the whole point of the Impulse label was to treat jazz as art and charge a premium for it. The records were expensive in the sixties and seventies when the label was active, and the reissues are expensive today.

Part of that money goes into the packaging, and for this reason you need to buy a physical copy vs. a download. It comes in a gatefold digipack like the original vinyl, with complete liner notes by Mingus himself and his psychologist. Mingus's liner notes set the context for the album: what he was trying to do, how he went about doing it, the fact that it is essentially a song cycle about himself. The notes open up the music in the same way that the description of a painting in a museum catalogue can open up a painting, giving you a sense of the time and place it was created, and why it matters. You wouldn't get the same experience from four lonely MP3s sitting in your iTunes playlist.

And the music? You need some time with that, too. This is an album that you can't enjoy in small bursts. You can't have this on shuffle. The songs all work together with themes and melodies and rhythms and ideas repeating themselves over the course of the disc. It's a symphony, albeit a funky, groovy symphony. There are wailing horns, flourishes of brass, even some Spanish guitar interludes. It is celebratory, mournful, angry, happy, and as complicated and conflicted as the man who composed it. For experienced jazz fans, the album contains a multitude of nuggets, gems, and unexpected compositional choices that have ensured its place among the canon of essential jazz albums. For the casual jazz fan like myself, it is just challenging enough to be interesting while still being enjoyable. It pushes the boundaries of what I am used to, but isn't so freaky or annoying or obtuse that I can't listen to it.

For hip-hop fans who are interested in exploring the background and back story of their favorite music, "Black Saint" is worth purchasing. This, along with Coltrane's "Love Supreme" and Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue," was the pinnacle of African-American music fifty years ago. The ambition, creativity, and talent that went into "Black Saint" can be seen in later hip-hop masterpieces like "Fear of A Black Planet," "Speakerboxx/Love Below," and "Liquid Swords." "Black Saint" is an album that pushes both the artist's and the listener's comfort levels, aiming for greatness and largely succeeding.

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