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.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

New York's Alright If You Like Saxaphones

I'm in New York, staying in the East Village. It's my first time here - I've spent most of my 36 years avoiding/hating/being envious of New York. It always seemed to crazy, too busy, too big, too harsh, too full of itself. It's all of those things, but it also the Ur-city, the city that all others are modeled after and aspire to be. I've only been here twenty four hours and already I am overwhelmed and half want to move here and half want to take the next plane home. It's an intense, crowded, exciting place.

And I've had that Fear song in my head. Fear wrote it in their asshole West Coast way, mocking New York for being full of arty gays. I think it's funny because it doesn't seem like that much of an insult. As my friend's friend said to us today, "welcome to Chelsea, one of nine gay districts in Manhattan.

My impressions of New York are mostly from music and film, and are mostly out of date. The Lower East Side when it was dangerous. Manhattan when it was more working class. South Bronx when it was an abandoned, bombed-out war zone. Things have changed. From my limited view, it seems a lot less sleazy than it used to be, and a lot safer and more homogeneous. I joked with my wife that we could easily spend the entire time eating at chain restaurants and shopping at chain stores. But in between all that are hundreds upon hundreds of unique stores and restaurants, and millions and millions of people. Another telling sign - i've seen a ton of DVD places, but no record stores.

So maybe this is a better theme song for my trip:

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Kurt Cobain shot himself seventeen years ago. I heard about it when I was at my friend/bandmate Matt's parents house in Roseville. I was sad but not surprised. There was so much misery in his music that it was obvious that he was deeply unhappy.

Kurt Cobain meant a lot to my friends and I. In some ways he was an idol: a sensitive freak who had made good, shown up all the jocks and gone on to transform the record industry and our culture. I tried to drum like Dave Grohl, my bandmates tried to sing like Kurt Cobain, and everyone aped their loud-quiet-loud aesthetic. Before Nirvana broke in '91, the music industry was DIRE. The only interesting music was coming out of hip-hop - mainstream rock music was all hair bands and garbage, with the exception of Guns and Roses. Nirvana took the rawness and realness of punk and made it melodic and palatable to the masses. Cobain's lyrics were obtuse, but any teenage kid recognized some of their own frustration and confusion in his tortured yowls.

His death marked the end of the grunge movement, and the decline of music. Most of the bands that came up with Nirvana were actually good: Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, the Smashing Pumpkins. By 94, the second generation of grunge bands was coming, and they watered down the sound and turned it into generic rock. By 95 I had gotten totally bored of all of it - the dirty production, the downer vibe, the navel-gazing subject matter. I moved on to other things.

Luckily, Nirvana doesn't hit me the same way they did when I was 19. However, I still love many of their songs, and I think most of them hold up pretty well twenty years later.


Those wacky kids in Spank Rock have come up with a new side project, Mobroder. It's Italo-disco in the vein of Giorgio Moroder, who is perhaps best known for writing and producing Donna Summer's "Love To Love You Baby," Irene Cara's "Flashdance...What A Feeling," and Berlin's "Take My Breath Away."

And his epic mustache.

If you go to their website and give them your email address, they will send you an hour long mix. Some of it seems to be original, but a lot of it is older material. I recognize some songs from Miss Kittin's essential mix Radio Caroline. Man I love that album. I don't listen to very much electronica these days - partially because my partner doesn't like it and partially because it's not in tune with where I am at this moment, but I still like it in small doses.

Here's a video they did. It makes you either want to do coke with models in the bathroom of a neon lit club, or play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I'm opting for the latter.

Scion A/V Presents: Mobroder - Rush (Nile Delta Remix) from Scion A/V on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

What's Wrong With Being Sexy?

In the two weeks since I wrote my Odd Future review, there has been several articles on the internet criticizing the crew's rampant misogyny. The Troy blog has a nice round-up. I've spent just about all the time I want to analyzing them, but I do want to say a couple things. One is something I learned too late in life: if you are an offensive asshole as a joke, you are still an offensive asshole. Just because you say you are joking doesn't mean it isn't funny, and if you have to have an elaborate explanation as to why you aren't really a total fuckhead, then it's not worth it. In short, if you are defending why it's ok to say you are a rapist, you've lost the argument already.

Second, it's ironic that as Odd Future was being lionized at SXSW while rapping about killing and raping women, Ben Weasel of Screeching Weasel saw his career basically end when he hit a woman who had thrown a beer at him (a description of the show and video can be found here). Sort of a double standard, although I suppose Odd Future haven't done anything to anyone (and there DJ is a woman, so it's all good, right?) .
I'm done.

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