Sunday, November 03, 2013

Danny Brown and London Posse reviews

I reviewed Danny Brown's Old on RapReviews a few weeks ago. I'm into it. It's drug music that captures how terrible drugs are.

I also reviewed London Posse's Gangster Chronicles. They were a British group from the 90s who were pretty good.

Saturday, November 02, 2013


I've been on a Kiss kick lately. I got into them in college, at first because they were so silly, but then because they have some genuinely catchy songs. Stupid, but catchy. The band's early records owed a lot to the Rolling Stones and maybe a tiny bit to the New York Dolls, although Kiss had none of their edge. They did have some good moments, like "Parasite":

Or "Firehouse." 

The band were always shamelessly opportunistic and commercial. They went disco in the late seventies when that was cool (but I guess so did the Stones, so what are you gonna do). In the eighties, they found their brand of hard rock replaced by glam bands that they had inspired. Some of Kiss's most amazingly terrible music came out of the eighties in their bald-face attempt to ape trends. The result was a string of mediocre albums, and some terrifically shitty songs, like "Heaven's on Fire." 

It's basically an AC/DC song, only less meaty. And it has one of the best double entendres ever "Baby don't stop/Take it to the top/Eat it like a piece of cake." What the fuck is that even supposed to mean? I'm assuming he's talking about blow jobs, but the analogy doesn't work. 

Gene Simmons is a giant asshole, and I've never been into his schtick. Paul Stanley, on the other hand, is my hero. For one thing, he is so flaming in this video. So, so flaming. He has kids and has been married twice, so he's probably not gay, but you would never guess that from this video. Because he is prancing around in make up. And wearing chaps. And hanging out with a fat guy in leather pants and a perm. It bums me out that he isn't actually gay. That would be so much cooler than just being a straight sleaze bag who is kinda effeminate. 

Stanley also has some great stage banter I admire his energy and showmanship, although sometimes he sounds like your dad doing a "cool black guy" impression. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Ghostpoet/Danny Brown/Superchunk

I reviewed Ghostpoet's sophomore release on RapReviews.  I liked his debut, but I was less into this album. It was a little too formless for me. It does have some good songs, like "Meltdown":

I'm working on a review of Danny Brown's Old. It has some of the craziest songs of his career, embracing club rap in a way he hasn't done before. And lots of songs about drugs.

I've also been listening to Superchunk's new album I Hate Music. It's really good, and I don't think that's just nostalgia talking. I liked 2010's Majesty Shredding, but I think this album is even better.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Juicy J/In Utero

I reviewed Juicy J's Stay Trippy last week on RapReviews. It's sexist and mindless but fun. Sort of the hip-hop equivalent of Motley Crue.

It has also been twenty years since Nirvana's In Utero came out. That album was the first album I ever bought the day it came out, and was the soundtrack for my first year of college. Like all Nirvana records, In Utero has its share of issues. Bleach wallows too much in tuneless Melvins worship. Nevermind is overproduced and oversaturated. Incesticide has its share of B-sides that rightly never made it onto an album. And In Utero is a little too obsessed with how icky fame is. (Is there anything more boring than listening to a successful artist bitch about being famous? That's why I've avoided all of Drake and Kanye's output.) What all Nirvana also have in common was that they were an incredible band who managed to channel Kurt Cobain's suicidal depression into incredibly powerful music.

Revisiting In Utero has reminded me of just how good it is. Not all of it, mind you. I think "Heart Shaped Box" is one of their worst songs, "Rape Me" is embarrassing to listen to, and it is a little too self-conciously abrasive and uncommercial. But it is still an incredible album. If you want pure energy, you have the noisy stomp of "Scentless Apprentice" or the rage-ahol of "Tourette's." If you want their more sensitive side, you have "Dumb," "Pennyroyal Tea," and "All Apologies." My favorite song is "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle," which masters Nirvana's loud-quiet-loud formula, and has the crushing chorus "I miss the comfort of being sad." Nirvana songs never make a lot of sense, but Kurt was great at producing memorable one-liners. "I think I'm dumb/or maybe just happy," "What is wrong with me?," "I'm so tired I can't sleep," and my favorite, "If you ever need anything please don't/Hesitate to ask someone else first/I'm too busy acting like I'm not naive/I've seen it all I was here first." That last line, from "Very Ape," encapsulated the indie rock holier than thou attitude of 1993.

One song that I had totally forgotten about in the fifteen years or so since I listened to In Utero is "Milk It." It's another heavy Melvins-type track, full of grinding guitars and not much melody. Kurt sings in an agonized wail, and the lyrics sound straight out of Naked Lunch. It's an incredibly weird and dark song for the one of the biggest bands in the world to have made. The shitty band I was in in college used to play it at practice.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Music for Little Girls Part 2

I'm back at work after four months off. What did my daughter and I listen to for most of the summer? Black Sabbath and a lot of it. Not "Black Sabbath" or "Iron Man" or any of the scarier songs, but most of their early stuff was basically heavy blues.

I finally bought Sleep's "Dopesmoker," after listening to it on Spotify. It's definitely a headphone album, and one you need to sit with. It's an hour long and all built around the same riff, but it gets heavier and heavier as it goes along. It's a well-deserved classic and has made my commute more bearable/deafening. The lyrics are friggin ridiculous - all about science fiction stoner stuff, like marijuanauts. Whatever, dude.

As part of my metal kick, I got Windhand's latest album. They are a Virginia doom metal band who are very, very heavy.

I've also been listening to Juicy J's Stay Trippy. Every song is about paying strippers money to strip and fuck. EVERY. SINGLE. SONG. Except for the two about robbing and killing. It's ignorant as all hell, sexist as shit, and yet I kind of love it. I can you not like a guy who'll rap "you're baby mama ain't a ten but when I'm drunk she's close enough?"

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Other F Word

I watched Andrea Blaugrund's documentary The Other F Word last night.

I had a lot of hope for the movie, a documentary about punk rock fathers. It ended up bumming me out. For one thing, it is really hyperbolic and myopic in its description of punk. It acts like punks were the first and only rebellious youth movement, totally ignoring jazz, the beats, and rock n' roll. How did those guys become fathers? How did Pete Townsend or Miles Davis make the transition to adulthood?
I also am not a huge fan of most of the bands profiled. They are almost all Epitaph bands whose idea of punk is very different than mine. Their idea is much more rooted in suburban rebellion, getting fucked up and saying fuck the system. For me, punk was less about nihilism and more about a progressive alternative to America's shift towards conservatism in the 80s. It was about being anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, and pro-women and gay rights. It was about trying to find an alternative to commercial culture. That punk ethos isn't really analyzed at all in the movie. Instead, it's basically about how hard it is to be a dad when you tour constantly in a rock band. That is interesting, but it's not really about punk rock dads per se. And they aren't really very rebellious. Jim Lindberg, the guy from Pennywise, acts like it is the height of rebellion to get his daughter's name tattooed on him. Newsflash: tattoos are no longer rebellious. Every square-ass in finance under 40 has a tattoo. Every frat boy has their greek letters tattooed on them. It is more rebellious to not have tattoos, or go Lars Frederiksen's route and get "Skunx" tattooed on your forehead in shitty prison style. Lars drove me nuts, because he was so self-marginalized. He dressed like an anachronistic clown, and then acted put out that people looked at him funny. You are dressed like a punk extra from an 80s action movie: of course people are going to look at you funny. Bondage pants have been out of style for at least two decades.

That's the thing: punk isn't really rebellious anymore. You look at a Total Chaos video and they are basically like a hair metal band, with more power chords.

The women's voices are also pretty silent. Sure, it's hard to be on tour 200 days a year when you have three kids, but what is it like trying to take care of three little girls by yourself while your husband is gone?

I could definitely relate to some aspects of the movie. I was never really a punker, but there is a part of me that identifies with punk, and it's hard to reconcile that with being a parent. There's a part where Lindberg describes how he used to be against the system, and now he is part of it. I struggle with that too. I have the house and the mortgage and a gardner and a cleaning service, and all of these trappings of upper-middle class life that I used to scoff at. I had a realization a few years ago that you can't fuck the system, the system fucks you. The best path forward is to try to play within the rules of the game while hanging on to your decency and integrity by what Buddhists call right livelihood and right action. I try to treat other people with respect and not get addicted to money and stuff.  So I went back to school for management, and I worry about my earning potential, and how I can best provide for my family. It's a weird shift to have to make, and there are times when I become painfully aware that I have become what so many kids mock: safe, suburban, middle-class. But I don't think living hand to mouth in squalor sounds like a great idea. I'd rather be boring than irresponsible at this point.

But I'm rambling. My main point is, The Other F Word is disappointing. Lindberg wrote a book on being a parent that I might check out. I also recommend reading Rad Dad, which is about how radical and activist dads. It's often a little too lefty for my tastes, but it is still an interesting take on alternative approaches to fatherhood.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

When Rich White People Imitate Poor People of Color

I want to chime in real quick about the reaction to Miley Cyrus's twerking on the VMAs. I've read a few articles written by black women about their reaction to Miley, and the general tone is: Fuck Miley and her cultural appropriation bullshit. People are pissed that she is using blackness to be cool, using black people as props, and

As Jacqui Germain wrote on Racialicious, "expressing your sexuality at my expense isn’t okay. You don’t get to claim sexual freedom while simultaneously perpetuating the oppression of another body. When you feel the need to express your sexuality by turning my body into an accessory, the black feminist in me—two identities which I refuse to separate—can’t have your back anymore."

On Jezebel, Dodai Stewart wrote "Miley and her ilk need to be reminded that the stuff they think is cool, the accoutrements they're borrowing, have been birthed in an environment where people are underprivileged, undereducated, oppressed, underrepresented, disenfranchised, systemically discriminated against and struggling in a system set up to insure that they fail."

(Rush Limbaugh said that the media wouldn't have cared had she twerked on a woman, since evidently the media hates heterosexual sex but loves teh gays. "Obama might have called Miley to praise her for her heroism had she twerked with another woman" he opined, ignoring the fact that she was being sexual with women in the act as well as Robin Thicke. Also, fuck Rush Limbaugh).

First off, let me say that the opinions of actual women of color about Miley's co-opting of black culture and how it makes them feel should be weighed much more heavily than my opinion. But there was something about those responses that rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe they sounded too much like the pearl-clutching outrage of an old white person: "Well, I NEVER!" Maybe it's that they were defending twerking as if it were some sort of high art that Miley was sullying, when it's more like the cultural equivalent of two sorority girls making out to turn on their frat brothers. 

There's also the fact that I think Miley was the one who looked the fool on stage, not her backup dancers. She's also been co-signed with a number of African-American rappers and producers, who are all too happy to work with this crazy white girl in order to have a chance at some of her money and exposure. I think the Juicy J's, Mike Will's, and backup dancers Miley works with are smart enough to know what they are doing. I don't think they are being played. Yes, Miley is slumming it in order to get cred, rebel against her goody-two-shoes past, and prove that she is a sophisticated young lady. But I'm guessing if you go to most clubs in the U.S., they will be full of white girls shaking their asses to hip-hop.

The debate around Miley twerking is part of a larger story that has been going on for years with African-American culture: blacks get shit on, they make art as a release and/or reflection of the pain of being shit on, and then the people indirectly or directly responsible for shitting on them consume that art as being authentic, unlike their privileged lives. Because shitting on people offers much less opportunity to make great art than being shit on. 

In my review of Chief Keef's Finally Rich, I wrote, "there is something inherently sad about the fact that Keef has gotten huge by celebrating the traumatic, disfunctional world he comes from. Half his fans love his music because it reflects the world they know, and the other half love it because it shows them the edgy, "real" world that exists outside the safety of their parents' suburban homes. I don't know which is more depressing. Equally depressing is the fact that there is a high possibility that Keef will fall victim to the violence he came up in, and an almost certainty that he'll end up in jail for parole violations."

Benjamin Nugents book American Nerd noted that one thing that separates most white nerds from the popular crowd is the fact that they don't use hip-hop slang or embrace hip-hop culture. Their hyperwhiteness separated them from the rest of society. Young privileged white people are all about calling their friends "homie," bumping hip-hop, and safely embracing elements of a culture that they would never want to interact with face to face. The same kids dancing to Juicy J at a club in San Francisco's wealthy Marina district stay far, far away from Hunters Point or the Bayview, where the actual poor blacks live. 

In other words, the racial problems that plague society are reflected in our pop culture, and years of black coolness hasn't done a lot to make African-Americans more equal in society. Black music may dominate the pop charts, but black men are still disproportionally represented in the prison systems. I think it is a step in the right direction that music is no longer as segregated as it was in the 1980s, but it is worth reminding ourselves that liking hip-hop or R&B doesn't cure racism.

(image from Getty, stolen from the Huffington Post)

Lee Bannon and Steve Arrington and Dam Funk

I reviewed Lee Bannon's instrumental ep this week on RapReviews. It's a hip-hop take on British electronic production, yet another example of hip-hop producers embracing ambient music.

I also reviewed Steve Arrington and Dam Funk's album Higher. It's an interesting slab of 80s funk, but is a bit unpolished.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Feminist Oi

My daughter and I have been listening to Hard Skin's Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear all week. Hard Skin are an oi band that have been around since the mid-nineties. The band plays in the vein of classic oi/street punk bands like Sham 69 and the Angelic Upstarts, while both celebrating and taking the piss out of skinhead culture. From what I can tell, the members both sincerely appreciate early street punk, but also realize how ridiculous it often is, not to mention the latent chauvinism and racism of the scene. (Most street punk bands describe themselves as "apolitical," but they tend to be apolitical in the same way that Tea Party Republicans aren't racist.)

Hard Skin's lineup includes members of 90s punk bands Wat Tyler and Thatcher on Acid, and their original drummer was in 90s shoegaze band Lush. Their first album was called "Hard Nuts and Hard Cunts," and contained songs like "Oi! Not Jobs!" and "Bunch of Pissed Up Cunts." They have the mix of punk rock, pub rock, and glam rock that are the cornerstone of oi, complete with shoutalong choruses and hooks. Lots and lots of hooks. For their latest album, they've released two versions. The first, Hard Skin on the Balls, contains twelve songs with Fat Bob's gruff vocals. The second version, Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear, contains the same twelve songs with a rotating lineup of female vocalists singing instead of Fat Bob. It's pretty amazing.

First off, the vocalists range from obvious (Beki Bondage, who's band Vice Squad was part of the original wave of Oi in the 80s), to really surprising (folk singers Joanna Newsom and Alela Diane).  The female vocals soften some of the rough edges of the songs, and add an ironic twist to the lyrics. Some of them are kind of stunt-ey: Joanna Newsom doesn't totally sell herself as a cockney punk, for example. But most of them are spot on. Veronica Falls singers Marion Herbain and Roxanne Clifford's sweet voices work perfectly with opener "Council Estate," the one millionth street punk song about council estates. Lush's Miki Berenyi proves that she could have been a punk singer on "You Still Here?" My favorite song is "Another Terrace Anthem," sung by Fucked Up's bassist Mustard Gas. Her vocals have a tunefulness that Fat Bob's version is missing, and add a lot to the song. It's not that the female vocals make the songs softer, it's that they offer another opinion, another take, another example of what it feels like to be pissed off about being marginalized. Diversity has become a cliche, but it is important not because it is politically correct, but because it makes life richer and more interesting. As illustrated so beautifully by Hard Skin.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Oh Miley, Up Yours!

It is traditional for young women who have come up through the Disney machine to slut the fuck out when they come of age as a way to show the world that they are no longer innocent little girls. Cristina did it with her Dirrty video, Britney did it over and over again, Vanessa Hudgens leaked nude photos of herself, and then starred with Selena Gomez in Spring Breakers. But no one has slutted out quite like Miley Cyrus. The former Hannah Montana star first raised eyebrows for her video for "We Can't Stop,"  which showcased her newfound love of molly, black people, and strippers. Then during the MTV self-congratulatory strokefest Music Video Awards Sunday, she danced like a gakked out 19-year-old who just had her first lesbian experience at a strip club in the bad section of Baton Rouge. This has gotten the internet all worked up. Her dad is convinced that she is possessed by the devil, liberals are proclaiming her act as a "cultural appropriation at its worst" (to quote the Guardian), while Fox called her act a cheerleading squad for hookers. 

If Miley wants to do a bunch of drugs and ho the fuck out, that's her business. Go have some threesomes. Dance like a stripper. Slap some asses. Kiss your girlfriends and make out with a dude you just met. Try lesbianism. Go crazy. That's what being 19 is for - to act like an ass and explore your sexuality. Some people have said she's too young to act like that, but I think if she was much older she'd be too OLD to act like that. And let me be clear: as long as people are being safe and respectful of their sex partners, I don't care how many people they sleep with. I think labeling a woman as a slut because she likes sex, or thinking a woman can't have self-respect if she chooses to be sexual is bullshit.  Some of the strongest, most together women I know had phases of major promiscuity. A woman can be sexual and not have self-esteem or daddy issues. She can just like sex. So if Miley wants to sleep with hella people, go for it. That's a perk of being young, beautiful and rich.

And if she wants to appropriate black culture to rebel, whatever. Yeah, it's problematic yar yar yar, but she didn't invent the rules, she's just playing by them. She's not the first white kid to embrace hip-hop as a way to freak her parents out. Hopefully she is genuine with her black friends, but if she's treating them as tokens I'm sure they are smart enough to know whats up and are doing just fine with letting the white girl buy the drugs and booze in exchange for being cool by association. I'm a little concerned that she's such a terrible singer and dancer, given that has been her job for years, but that's nothing new either.

What really bothered me about the event, beyond the fact that everyone was freaking out about something so calculated, is the fact that there you had Miley, in her undies freaking on anything that moved, surrounded by half-naked women, while the three dudes on stage were fully clothed and not sexualized at all. What the fuck is up with that? THAT is what I hate about mainstream pop culture, and especially mainstream hip-hop and R&B. The girls are all in booty shorts gyrating while the guys are in their fucking football jerseys acting like they couldnt' give a shit. I'm not offended by the half-naked women, but let's make the stakes even, for crissakes. Robin Thicke coulda taken his shirt off, at least, or did some Magic Mike stripper moves with Miley. THAT woulda been amazing.

What's ironic is that before the VMAs MTV released a video of Grimes and Kathleen Hannah talking about what it means to be a feminist musician. Grimes had a wonderful point in which she said that she never considered herself a  feminist when she was starting out in her insular scene because her gender didn't matter. It was only when she got out of her liberal, supportive bubble into the terrible world and all of a sudden her gender was the ONLY thing that mattered that she started getting pissed off about how unequally she was being treated, and got into feminism. How rad would it be if Miley's next move was quoting bell hooks and doing a duet with Peaches?

Friday, August 09, 2013

Zomby Review

I reviewed Zomby's latest at RapReviews this week. With Love is a two-disc set that combines drum n bass, techno, ambient and Southern trap instrumentals. I've heard that trap was the latest EDM fad, but I hadn't heard much of it. In my head, EDM/trap sounds like With Love: moody ambient music with rolling hi-hats and snapping snares. In reality, it sounds like your typical bombastic techno only with a some hi-hats.

I can imagine Juicy J or Rick Ross rapping over "The Things You Do."

Compare that to the stuff on Into The AM's list of best trap artists of 2012. It sounds to me like it is hitting the notes that all stadium dance music hits. I think that is amazing if you are gakked out at a club or festival, but there is no subtlety or artistry to it at all. It's like watching hardcore porn - all sensory overload, no nuance or thought. Awesome if you are 20, not so great if you are a 38-year-old dad. I'll settle for Zomby.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In Praise of Green Day

Summer 1994. I had just gotten my first apartment (paying $400 a month to live in a two-bedroom townhouse in Park Merced near San Francisco State University), I was working at a record store, I thought I had it all. And then I got my first heartache. My first serious girlfriend broke up with me in a sort of shitty way, but then there aren't ever good ways to break up with someone. I was devastated. Even though we had only been together for only about four months, I was madly in love with her, and had no idea that our relationship would end. She was a quirky indie girl who looked like Bjork. Her ex was the comic book artist Adrian Tomine, whom she left for me, who wrote a strip
about it.

It was my first serious relationship and serious breakup, and I did not know how to handle it. I had invested so much into the relationship and it suddenly went up in smoke. I shared things with her that I never told anyone else. She had talked about getting married and having kids. It seemed so unfair. I talked about it endlessly for months. I called her for weeks on end trying to understand why she broke up with me. I didn't understand the impermanence of young love, and the fact that things fade. Or that the more that I acted like a pathetic weirdo, the worse off I was. I did understand that wallowing in my misery was a losing proposition, and I knew that the gloomy, downer grunge music I had been listening to was not the right thing to help me get over my heartache. Luckily, I discovered Green Day about that time.

Green Day and Jawbreaker were the first local punk bands I listened to, and the first local scene I felt a part of. By 1994 I had been listening to punk for about six years, but always as an outsider, listening to bands from L.A. or DC that had broken up already. The East Bay pop punk scene was going strong in 1994, and I got to be a part of it. I saw Green Day at Slims that year, right after their major label debut Dookie had been released, but before it had sold millions of copies and gotten endless play on MTV and the radio. I liked Dookie well enough, but my favorite Green Day album was and still is their debut CD, 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, which collected their first album and two early EPs. Green Day were three high school drop outs who made pop punk songs about crushes, and that early album perfectly captures teenage romantic angst. The album opener "At the Library" is a brilliant song about trying to talk to a cute girl at the library:

Then there was "Don't Leave Me," an impassioned plea to an ex:

My favorite song was "Going to Pasalaqua," which showed a songwriting maturity that was leagues ahead of anything else anyone in the East Bay scene was doing.

What I loved about Green Day was that they were fun and positive and happy, while wallowing just a little in being screwed up. Compare that to the Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana, the two other bands I was really into at the time. Their music was intense, it was emotional, and it was mostly based on feeling depressed and miserable. That's not what I needed when I was depressed and miserable. I was also 19, I was living in San Francisco, and I knew that the world was my oyster if I would only try to grab it.

My interest in Green Day waned pretty quickly. By 1995's Insomniac, I was over them. I won't accuse them of selling out, because they've taken their sound to millions of people, had their music adapted to a Broadway musical, and taken their poppy sound much further than I ever thought possible. I may not love their post-Dookie output, but I can't begrudge a band whose music has meant so much to millions of young people. I sold all their CDs ten years ago when I was purging my collection, so now I listen to them on Spotify from time to time.

 I managed to get over my ex by the end of 1994, and soon had another girlfriend (who also broke my heart). I've never found my ex girlfriend online to see how she's doing. I'm sure she's doing well, and I hope she doesn't cringe too much when she thinks of me.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Castle and Joey Bada$$ Reviews

I reviewed Castle's new album Gasface this week on RapReviews. It's pretty good, and has the virtue of being one of the few rap albums I've actually been able to pay money for.

I also reviewed the new Joey Bada$$ mixtape.  Makes me wish I was in New York.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Peeps Review

I reviewed Australian rapper Peeps' latest EP at RapReviews last week.  Wasn't really my jam, but it's available for free if you want to check it out.

Run the Jewels has a video for "36" Chain," that is buddy cop meets grind house. It made me better appreciate the brilliance of the album. The whole thing is meant to be ridiculously aggressive, like a Tarantino movie put to wax.  In an effort to get their kidnapped squirrel, they beat up a hipster, tear a homemaker's eye out, kill a grandma, and blow away an entire surprise party.

I also found the first three Black Sabbath records for super cheap, so I've been enjoying them. My daughter, not so much.

That got me in the mood to revisit some doom/stoner metal, so I listened to Sleep's hour-long "Dopesmoker," which is pretty amazing.

And Noothgrush, a crust/doom band who I guess are still playing. This video was from a show last month at Gilman, which is like three miles from my house.

Of course, none of this works for a six-month old. With her I've been listening to old show tunes and dance music.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Half Time

Given that the year is a little over half done, it seems like a good time to look back on the albums released so far in 2013.

The Good

There are several albums that have been in heavy rotation at my house, including:

James Blake, Overgrown
Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap
Disclosure, Settle
Rhye, Woman
Run the Jewels, S/T
Savages, Silence Yourself
Tree, Sunday School II

I've enjoyed but had a harder time getting into:

Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
Deerhunter, Monomania
Laura Mvula, Sing to the Moon
Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, We the Common
Wavves, Afraid of Heights

And I conciously avoided the new Jay Z album, since it has been years since Jay has had anything interesting enough to say to fill an album, the new Kanye, which has lyrics as terrible as the beats are great, and the new My Bloody Valentine, because I'm not shelling out twenty-six bucks to hear them do the same thing they were doing 22 years ago.

Burzum and faux edginess

Vlag Vikernes, the man behind Burzum, was arrested and (subsequently released)in France on terrorism suspicions. He's already served time in jail for murdering a member of the metal band Mayhem and burning three churches. I saw him interviewed in the documentary "Lords of Chaos" on Norwegian black metal, and he came off as a charismatic psychopath. His website has all manner of vile screeds about how the jews are taking over and pagans need to fight back, and how immigrants and Jews were responsible for a recent train crash in France. Vile, horrendous stuff. I'm not even gonna link to his site because it is so hateful, fucked up, and wrong.

Vice ran an article by Zachary Lipez about people wearing Burzum and Skrewdriver shirts "ironically."  I've definitely seen Haight street crusties with Burzum shirts and patches. The excuse is that Burzum's music is amazing, and his music isn't overtly political. I'm not a fan of black metal, so I can't speak to Vikernes's musical genius, but the conversation around him makes me miss the uber-PC days of my youth. Back when I was tangentially involved in the punk scene, from 1993-2001, racist music was verbotten. Stores couldn't stock white power bands, musicians with racists pasts wouldn't get reviewed in Maximum Rock N' Roll, and basically being on the record as a racist would make you a pariah. There were no ironic Skrewdriver shirts back then, and while people whispered about how good musically their first record was, they wouldn't admit that in polite company. Even dubious "apolitical" oi bands like Combat 84 were looked upon with derision and suspicion. And that's the way it should be. To co-opt the title of a straight edge comp, some ideas are poisonous. In my mind racism, and especially the violent, conspiracy theory racism of Vikernes, should be as taboo as incest and cannibalism (I'd add murder, but that hardly seems very taboo anymore). It's just as damaging to the human race. I'm not proposing that anyone who ever expresses any un-PC ideas be publicly shamed and ridiculed, but I don't think racism should be considered an acceptable or excusable point of view.

And racism definitely should not be considered "edgy," unless by edgy you mean you are on the edge of being a total and complete asshole. Flirting with neo-nazi ideology isn't edgy. It's not challenging the existing social order and stodgy, hypocritical bourgeois values. Racism caters to the existing status quo, and is as old and played out as the religions that Vikernes is raging against. Making gross generalizations and stereotypes about an entire group of people is the kind of thing the counter-culture should be completely against. You know what would be really edgy? Treating all people with love, respect, and kindness, and trying to see people as individuals and not stereotypes.

As I wrote in my earlier post/rant on asshole art, I think you can and should engage with art by people who have different opinions than you, to a point. Burzum crossed that line years ago. If Vikernes was just a right-wing windbag who made music about Norse gods, I wouldn't have a problem with people listening to him. I think you can enjoy Ted Nugent's music without being a total gun-loving conservative. But the fact that Vikernes has translated his twisted views into action, and encourages other people to do the same, taints everything he does. There are thousands of black metal bands. Go listen to one of them. Stop pretending that flirting with a neo-nazism is edgy or counter-cultural.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Remz, Run the Jewels, and keeping it mellow

I reviewed Run the Jewels last week at RapReviews. It's the El-P/Killer Mike collaboration. It's aggressive, noisy, and a lot of fun. El-P is the loosest he's been on record since his Company Flow days. The two rappers seem to be invigorating one another, and it's great to hear.

I also reviewed an EP by Remz, an Australian rapper. It's aggressive battle rap, done well enough but not really my jam.

I haven't listened to the new Kanye. I'm interested, and from what I hear the production is interesting. I am not a fan of Kanye's rapping, and his oversized ego makes it hard for me to love him. I'm outright ignoring the new Jay-Z album. I think he jumped the shark a few records back, although he does usually manage a good single or two.

I'm more excited about the new Colleen album, The Weighing of the Heart. Colleen is Cecile Schott, a French musician who has released several albums of ambient acoustic music. This is the first one I've really listened to, and it seems to combine the mellow introspection of ambient music with the warmth of folk music. Kind of like a female Hauschka. I'm into it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Daft Punk Review

I reviewed Daft Punk's new album for RapReviews this week. I originally intended it as a hit piece on how boring the album was, but the more I listened to it the more it grew on me. I still think it would have been better had it been punchier, but it's still good. They really capture the super sounds of the seventies, and it's great to hear Chic's Nile Rodgers again.

I've been listening to the new Disclosure album. They are a UK garage duo that have gotten a lot of hype.  Rose and I have been having dance parties to it, which she seems to be into.

We've also been listening to the new Boards of Canada, which basically sounds like Boards of Canada.  It's good mellow morning or evening music.

And then there is Run the Jewels, the new collaboration between El-P and Killer Mike. It's basically a continuation of Killer Mike's El-P produced "R.A.P. Music." Loud and aggressive and maybe not what a five month old should be listening to.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

DJ Mustard and Tree Reviews

I reviewed two albums last week for RapReviews. The first is DJ Mustard's Ketchup mixtape. He's an L.A. producer known for his ratchet club beats. I liked his minimalist club sound, but the I couldn't hang with the rappers, who rap exclusively about partying.

I also reviewed Tree's Sunday School II album. He's a Chicago rapper who describes his style as "soul trap," and it fits. It's a combination of raw and soulful, street and conscious. It's the second amazing free album from a Chicago rapper that I've heard in the past month, the first being Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap. The year started off with Chief Keef's high-profile release, and Kanye just dropped his crazy, noisy new album, so Chicago has been all about it this year. You should go to Tree's website and download Sunday School II now.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Asshole Art

There's a great article this week on the Gameological Society's website by Bob Mackey about whether to support art made by people who hold views that you strongly disagree with. Mackey discusses a Kickstarter campaign by Doug TenNapel, the creator of Earthworm Jim, to fund a sequel to one of his games.  The problem: TenNapel is also very homophobic, as expressed in the dumbest possible terms in a comment thread on his webcomic. Granted, TenNapel has the right to be a homophobic asshole, but if you disagree with him, should you be supporting him monetarily? Or is it wrong to declare that every artist subscribe to your ideological views? In TenNapel's case, his art isn't about his beliefs, at least not directly, and he's not a huge supporter of anti-gay organizations. He's a jerk. Whatever. As opposed to, say, Chic-Fil-A, who use their profits to directly support suppression of gay rights.

At the same time, rapper Action Bronson's latest project Saab Stories, which was just released, has the most offensive cover art I've seen in a long, long time.  The second I saw it, I thought "Fuck that dude, I'm never supporting anything he ever does ever." I'm done, seriously. His persona sucks.

I do think it is important to expose yourself to viewpoints you might not agree with, and to listen to people who have political or religious views other than your own. I don't think it is healthy for our society if liberals just read Mother Jones and the Nation and listen to Democracy Now! and conservatives just watch Fox and listen to Glenn Beck. However, I wouldn't expect a conservative to listen to Democracy Now!, and I am sure as hell not going to waste my time listening to Beck. I read the Economist, which skews further right than my views, and I think a conservative would do well to read the New York Times or NPR news, which skews slightly left. I have friends who have religious and political views I disagree with. I still value their friendship. We just don't talk about certain subjects.   Your views on gays or abortion or the size of government don't make you a good or bad person, necessarily. Misguided and wrong, perhaps, but bad, no.

And like all good Americans raised on 1984, I don't want the government to control what I read or hear. I don't like the idea of things being suppressed or censored by the government. But. However. Here's the thing. Not all ideas are worth expressing. Not all ideas are worth defending. Not all ideas deserve air time. Not all ideas need to be put out there. If you are advocating oppressing and denying rights to an entire group of people, then go fuck yourself. Your ideas are not just bad, they are harmful, and I'm not going to support you. Feel free to express yourself, but don't be surprised when you experience a harsh backlash from people who find your views abhorrent. Freedom of expression doesn't mean freedom from consequences, and it doesn't mean you get to be a dick with zero repercussions. Put it this way: if you publicly state how much you love popping ecstasy or smoking weed, you can be sure that there will consequences. Bye-bye any job with an organization that has a strict anti-drug policy, which includes a lot of corporate jobs and government jobs. It might be hard to get a gig working with kids. You might get asked to leave the nonprofit board you are on. There are consequences.

Whenever people get upset about rape jokes or songs about wife-beating, the other side raises the specter of censorship. I agree that I don't want the government to tell me what I can or cannot hear, and I think that the hysteria around offensive media is often out of proportion and misplaced. Much of the hysteria about violent video games came from people who had never played the games and were exaggerating or misunderstanding what was going on in them - like calling the brief soft-core sex scenes in Mass Effect a "Sex Simulator," ignoring that the game was built around deep campaigns and that the brief sex scenes were only achieved when you had built relationships with your crew members. Or that the game was intended for adults.  I want politicians to protect kids by making sure they have access to education, healthcare, and food, that their parents have access to decent jobs, and that their communities are safe and they aren't treated like de facto criminals.

Still, I get annoyed by how the conversation always turns to defending peoples right to say terrible, terrible things, as if the threat of censorship outweighed all other concerns. Reducing the amount of rapes in this country and the world is more important than a comedian's right to joke about it like it's no big deal. The huge and terrible impact of domestic violence is more important than a rapper's right to rap about beating up his girlfriend. Dude can still rap about it, but the rest of us have the right and duty to call shenanigans. I love Ice Cube, but "Black Korea" is a despicable song, and the line about kicking a pregnant woman in the tummy was way out of line.

I also don't necessarily want to get into a situation where anytime someone says something un-PC they are automatically branded a heathen and castigated. One thing I found really irritating about the white liberals I went to university with was their glee at pointing out how racist/sexist/agist/transphobic/anti-vegetarian their fellow white liberals were. It was very much a purer and holier than thou attitude that I didn't find helpful at all. It made any conversation impossible, and I think more than anything it gave those who held "un-PC" viewpoints power. It made them feel righteous and let their ideas fester unchallenged. So much of the vitriolic talk radio is couched in the guise of "telling it like it is," saying the stuff the liberal media doesn't want you to hear. If we engaged more with these conversations instead of making so much stuff taboo, maybe we could defuse some of the more toxic ideas. Or maybe we'd be giving assholes way more air time than they deserve.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Music for Little Girls

It's my first week as a stay-at-home dad, and I'm trying to find music that I like that my four-month-old daughter will like as well. She doesn't directly react to music yet, so a lot of it is finding music that seems to put her in an ok mood. Anything too aggro, angry, aggressive, or stressful is out. Add to that pile anything really noisy or offensive. I don't want her first word to be "bitch." What I've settled on is dub reggae, which has a mellow rhythm, some electronica, old jazz, and classical. I've also decided that 70s dance music is where its at: disco and disco like substances. It's fun, it's simple, and she seems to like it. I also think that some of the Ramones and Sweet catalogue could work - basically bubblegum punk music. And then sometimes we just listen to NPR.

In terms of hip-hop, it's trickier. A lot of the stuff I get excited about is either super vulgar, which is no good, or too aggressive. I love El-P, but it's not the kind of vibe I want to set for my baby. Not that I think it will damage her, but it's not the energy and emotion that she needs right now. Let her get into that when she is older and more cynical and jaded.

Jah Thomas Review

I reviewed a reissue of Jah Thomas's 'Stop Yu Loafin' this week on RapReviews.

Carry on.

Saturday, June 01, 2013


Sometimes the hype is dead on. Savages are fucking amazing. This all-female quartet from the UK combines elements of early-80s post-punk (Joy Division, Gang of Four, Siouxsie and the Banshees), and kill it. They are angular, angsty, dark, and pissed off. Best of all, their lyrics present a feminist perspective that you rarely see in music. And they are rumored to be amazing live.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Strangelove and Sizzla Reviews

I did two reviews this week, while my kid was napping.

First up is a quickie of Strangelove's "Purple" EP. You can listen to it or download it here.

Then I reviewed Sizzla's seventieth LP, The Messiah.  I have issues with some of Sizzla's political and religious views, but I enjoyed this album nonetheless. Sizzla nicely mixes hard dancehall with roots reggae, without trying to be R&B or smooth jazz.

In other news, I've been listening to the new Daft Punk, which I am having a hard time getting into. It's sort of easy listening disco. It's interesting, but I can't decide if I like it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Snoop Lion Review

I reviewed Snoop Lion's new reggae album Reincarnated at RapReviews this week. The good news is that some of the production and guest spots aren't half bad. The bad news is that Snoop is not very good as a reggae singer. "Here Comes the King" is a good track, and there are a few others, but for the most part Snoop sounds like a high school stoner who just heard Bob Marley and now thinks he's a reggae star.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Acid Rap

I reviewed Chance the Rapper's Acid Rap this week on RapReviews. Really good stuff.

That's all I got.

Incidentally, I heard on Shots Fired that Jeff Weiss spent three days reviewing this album. I spent two hours. Read his review at Pitchfork and tell me who did a better job.  (Hint: it's Weiss. I guess taking time to write actually produces better writing. Huh.)

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Kreayshawn Review

I reviewed Kreayshawn's Something 'Bout Kreay for RapReviews this week. It's less a review of the album as an examination of why it did so poorly.

I've been listening to a lot of music. The new Deerhunter came out, which is noisy as hell. I also got the new Savages album, which sounds like early Souixsie and the Banshees. The new Killer Mike and El-P album is coming out soon, as is Danny Brown's new album. What do all four of these albums have in common? I can't really listen to them around my daughter. Hm.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Homeboy Sandman, TeeFlii, and Ratchet R&B

I reviewed Homeboy Sandman's Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent EP this week for Rapreviews. It's a collaboration with producer EL RTNC that is a throwback to early hip-hop. I'm constantly on the fence about Homeboy Sandman: I like him in theory, but in practice I sometimes have issues with his delivery, but this EP is solid.

He did a video for "Peace and Love":

I also reviewed TeeFlii's AnnieRUO'Tay mixtape. It's a concept album about drinking, popping molly, and having sex with groupies in the VIP area. In other words, it has about as much to do with my life as "Game of Thrones," and yet I love it. It's totally ridiculous, but kind of amazing. Sort of like a younger, more ratchet R. Kelly.

Which got me listening to R. Kelly's 2007 album "Double Up," which is amazing. R. Kelly is sort of like Lonely Island or Flight of the Conchords, only serious and he can sing. The title track is a tasteless ode to threesomes with Snoop Dogg that is so awful I love it.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Yellowman Review

I reviewed Yellowman's Young Gifted and Yellow perspective last week on RapReviews.
I was into it.

I also deleted about five albums from my "to review" folder. They were all self-released albums that I wasn't totally feeling, and given the little time I have to listen to and write about music, I don't really want to waste it on stuff I'm not feeling. I have reviews of TeeFlii and the new Homeboy Sandman submitted, and I'm not sure what I got on my plate for the coming weeks.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Boldy James Review

I reviewed Boldy James' new EP, "Grand Quarters," this week on RapReviews. He's a Detroit rapper following in the tradition of the Clipse.

I've been on an electronic music kick. I've been enjoying Sepalcure's 2011 debut album, which is sort of dubstep meets house meets downtempo. Good late night listening.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


I've been busy with fatherhood, so I haven't had time to update this blog in a while. I have written a few reviews including:

A review of the Lions album.

A review of the new Shlohmo EP.

A review of the latest Pitbull album.

A review of the latest Pusha T mixtape.

A review of the Heliocentrics album.

I've been listening to the new Wavves, the new Rhye album, the new Devendra Banhart, Boldy James' new EP, and Prince Douglas's Roots of Dub. Mostly, though, I've been either at work or trying to spend as much time with my kid as possible.  So there's that.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pusha T Review/What I've Been Listening To

I reviewed Pusha T's new mixtape on RapReviews this week. 

I've also been digging Grimes' 2012 album Visions, which I was late to. It's sort of Goth dance music. 

I'm trying to get into the new Thao and the Get Down Stay Down album, which came out on my daughter's birthday, but so far it hasn't grabbed me. I loved their last album, and I want to be Thao's friend, but I just haven't gotten into this one yet. 

I've also been listening to the Lion's album. It's guys from Hepcat hooking up with OG reggae musicians to make OG reggae music. Sort of what the Daptones did for R&B. pretty good stuff. 

I'm also trying to digest the Heliocentrics new one, which is no easy task.

I also bought the two English Beat albums I didn't own, Just Can't Stop It and Special Beat Service. Both albums totally hold up, by the way, even though they are thirty years old. 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Etana and Kevin Gates Reviews

I did two reviews this week. First up is a review of Etana's new album, Better TomorrowShe's a reggae singer with a gorgeous voice. The production can get a little adult contemporary for my tastes, but there are some good songs on the album.

The other review is for Kevin Gates' The Luca Brasi Story mixtape. He's a Baton Rouge rapper with sing/rap style that seems destined to be huge.

I'm currently listening to Pusha T's Wrath of Cain mixtape, the Underachiever's mixtape, and a lot of reggae and dub. I have a theory that the mellow, repetitive riddims of reggae are just the thing to soothe a newborn. It seems to be working so far with my daughter. Oh, and Andy Stott's hypnotic Luxury Problems.

Friday, February 22, 2013


It's been a month since I've posted here. I've been too busy tending to new life to keep up the blog, but I have done a few reviews in the past month. Including:

Disco and Spence's Heatwave EP. 

Phace's Plozart.

Nosaj Thing's Home.

Disposable Heroes' Hipocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Quanstar and Outsiders Review

I reviewed Atlanta rapper Quanstar's latest, Yo Soy La Mierda, as well as the Outsiders album. Quanstar is an independent rapper who has put out ten albums, done a documentary, written a book, does a web show about cooking, and makes Android apps. The Outsiders make Christian club rap. Neither were my thing, but they were both sincere and committed to their craft, so props to them.

I've been listening to a lot of downtempo electronic music. Nosaj Thing just came out with a new album, Home, which I've been listening to. Burial has a new single which I'm enjoying. In a similar vein their is Andy Stott's album Luxury Problems, which is dark and moody.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Chief Keef

I did a review of Chief Keef's Finally Rich at RapReviews that is up now. I'm not that proud of it. I think it is more of a rant and a put-down, two things I don't think you should indulge in very often, and certainly not publicly. Given that I'm not Keef's demographic, I am not sure I should have written about it in the first place. I now wish I had spent less time on his backstory and more time talking about his actual music. I stand by my opinion, that his music is terrible, but in some ways my review is like an old man telling the kids to get off his lawn. At least I'm not Jim DeRogatis, who's review of the album, which links it to the Newtown massacre, has gotten a lot of derision. I think critics are hating on DeRo unfairly. He wasn't saying that Keef is to blame for Newton,  he was comparing the gun murders in Chicago to the Newtwon tragedy, and saying that if we think it would be tasteless to glamourize Newton, why is it ok to glamourize the gang violence in Chicago.

I think Keith can rap about whatever Keith wants to rap about, and if kids connect to it, so be it. What bothers me about Keith's music is the way that it is being celebrated by Spin, Pitchfork, and the New York Times by white guys in their 30s. Here's a 17-year-old kid making monosyllabic street rap, and he is being made out to be some sort of savant genius by critics.  I'm not saying he's an idiot-you don't get to be a label head and get a huge record contract by being stupid - but his music is about fucking, getting wasted, wasting haters, and spending money. Full stop. There's nothing more to it. There is no self-reflection or self-awareness. And, in case I haven't mentioned it before, he can't rap.

Maybe I'm like the jazzheads in the sixties who thought rock was noise, or the rockers in the 80s who thought hip-hop was noise, or the people who don't like dance music because there's no lyrics. Maybe I'm missing the point or an old fart who just doesn't get it. But, while I can accept that hip-hop will continue to change and evolve, there needs to be some sort of ability or craft to what rappers are doing.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Best of/JJ Doom Review

My year-end best of is up at

I did it alphabetically, which is cheating. If I was forced to do it ranking, the order might be
1. El-P
2. Kendrick Lamar
3. Burial
4. Killer Mike
5. Brother Ali
6. Death Grips
7. Oddisee
8. Apollo Brown
9. Brother Ali
10. Quakers

Or something like that.

As is my review of the JJ DOOM album. Meh.

My review of Chief Keef is up as well, which I'll post next week.

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