Monday, 22 June 2009

Dose 21...Stunts, Blunts, and Hip Hop

1)Vitamins by Elzhi, Dwele, and Lacks

Detroit is one of the few places, outside of New York, Houston, and Chi-town, with a real claim to breeding the best underground hip-hop. Just think about her notable alumni: Eminem, J Dilla, Slum Village, Guilty Simpson, Black Milk...the list goes on. Furthermore, it doesn't seem like this trend is changing. D-town continues to be a fertile environment from which new MC's and producers are burgeoning.

With all of this competition in the big city, it can be pretty hard for lesser known, but equally talented, artists to make their mark. As is often the case, it seems as though a grassroots campaign is best adapted for such a climate (Obama '08?). When hard working, skilled artists get together to start a movement, there is no stopping them. This is definitely the case with The Breakfast Club EP (2001). When Detroit natives Lacks (formerly LacksiDaisyCal, now MC Ta'Raach) and Big Tone recognized the immense talent in the city's underground scene, yet the inefficacy of each artist in completing his own project, they teamed up to assist in producing, sequencing, and mixing. As Lacks said on Platform 8470, "The Breakfast Club was an artist support group started by myself and Big Tone then later Elzhi (Slum Village). It was never really a rap group." By enlisting Elzhi, 87, and Dwele (he's the soulful guy on "Flashing Lights"), the collective was formed and the team became much more than the sum of their parts (Synergy!).

Although the group recorded constantly, they were really interested in helping each individual member release his own solo project. Despite this ethic, the guys would put on shows in Detroit together, all for the public's enjoyment. This warm reception instigated them to sequence some of their unreleased tracks and therein lies the birth of The Breakfast Club. 20 or so cassettes were sold locally but, as Lacks continues, "the craze hit and muhfuckahs in Japan, Germany and everywhere else had a copy. Last I remember copies of the original tape on CD where selling for $80. I guess we did something people loved." Truth...

The Breakfast Club EP (2001)

(The sound quality on this unreleased album is lacking, as it was ripped off a cassette, but the 192kbs creates a pretty cool aesthetic)

2)Stress by Jazz Addixx

I often wonder, "What the fuck happened to hip hop"? This bastardized music we listen to on the radio (Hot 97 and Power 105, for me) just isn't cutting it, especially when so many real artist and talented musicians are being slept on. In this age of the global recession, wherein Harvard grads are struggling to find employment, should Jeremiah seriously get recognition for a 3 minute blumpkin of a song, entitled "Birthday Sex". Our world is one where former chiefs of industry are driving taxis and delivering pizzas, while a no talent ass-clown like Drake sits atop iTunes hip hop chart with his "hit" ("pardon me, I had to laugh at that" -Jay Z), "Best I Ever Had". Honestly, something ain't right!

Unfortunately, the parties that profit are far fewer than those which suffer. Not only does the public have to sit back and watch as the music industry implodes due to its own decadence, but we must also live with the fact that our children (none for me... *knock on wood*) and their children are being indoctrinated in this drivel. Moreover, artists with even a smidgen of talent are being overlooked for their more pop-friendly (dare I say, Dumber!) counterparts.

America, let's look at ourselves as the cause because the people on the radio tend to reflect what we desire out of music. With regards to hip hop, in the 1980's our society needed change. There existed a yawning dichotomy between the rich and poor and grave social injustices were plentiful. As well, the lingering effects of the country's inherently racist doctrine were coming to light. To all this, we called on figures like Chuck D, Run DMC ("Wake Up" is like a hip hop "Imagine"), and NWA to expose the hipocracy in statements like "equality for all mankind" and show that there was a sector of the population being exploited. In the early-90's, gangster rap emerged to explore the manifestations of legislation employed to keep blacks in the lower class. It showed that what whites feared in blacks was really a monster they themselves created. By the mid-late 90's (at the time when I was first "allowed" to listen to rap) the themes had changed once again. As the unofficial apartheid began to lift, rappers began to think, not only in terms of keeping up with whites, but rather in exceeding their wealth and power. The game, thus, changed from one of equality, to one of narcissism, opulence, and power.

Then, somewhere in the late 90's and early 2000's, there occurred a Gestalt switch. Suddenly hip hop became everyone's music, and little white, brown, yellow, and purple kids were allowed into the club (metaphorically speaking). As such, the music's aims became universalized. Every kid, then, became infatuated with the themes of money, glory, and power. As evidenced by our culture (think Pacino's famous Scarface line, "In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women."), sex was a natural corollary. Thanks to this dissection, we can now understand the climate we have created, and how these talentless people became our icons. But what to do?

The change from good hip hop into its evil counterpart did not occur overnight. That said, any reformation will take time. In order to be part of the change, we can't play into the hype and idolize these figures any longer. Instead, we have to work to find better music and patronize it, thus creating an incentive for musicians to return to the "art".

Listening to Jazz Addixx', Oxygen (2005), is a breath of fresh air and a step in the right direction...

Oxygen (2005)

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Dose 20...Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas

1)Fake Palindromes by Andrew Bird

On the six and a half hour ride (if you take I-95) from Tallahassee, Florida to Charleston, South Carolina, most of us would relax by taking in the scenery, listening to music, and gorging on rest stop knick-knacks (I prefer Sour Patch Kids). However, the true genius, it seems, instead spends his time concocting lyrically surreal fantasies...or at least that's how the story goes. In an NPR interview, sometime back, Bird confessed to having devised "Fake Palindromes" while on just such a journey, in an effort to amuse himself. He also explained that the lyrics are centered around a particular 'singles-ad' that interested him, as it was different than most others that he had encountered.

Bird opens the piece with chaotic electric violin swells, creating the imagery of a ship on rough waters (perhaps drawing comparison to the treachery of singles life). But, it isn't until the folk singer-songwriter chimes in with his lilting, though reserved, vocals that we get a chance to understand complexity of Bird's creation. Utilizing his lyrical prowess, which would baffle even Chomsky, he begins nimbly unloading his artillery of cryptic shibboleths over the heavy cadence. (My dewy-eyed Disney bride, what has tried/swapping your blood with formaldehyde?) As interesting as what Bird says, is how he says it. His voice carries with it a faint Rufus Wainwright-esque murmur (this is very apparent on "Masterfade"), while his mouth seems wired shut ala Kanye West ( sounds as if Bird is actually singing with his teeth clenched).

Though the song contains no actual palindromes, the theme may be much more subtle. Perhaps the notion of a palindrome, a phrase that works from either direction, can be seen as synonymous with opposites which are, in reality, the very same. Extrapolated, this metaphor works pretty well with the idea of finding love. As the song is named "Fake Palindromes", the title seems to suggest Bird's pessimistic sentiment towards singles-ads. Just a thought...

Don't stop here. Listen to the entire album. Andrew Bird is extraordinary, and this was my gateway into his brilliance.

Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production Of Eggs (2005)

2) If I Had A Hi-Fi by Bottin

Bottin, or William Bottin, or Guglielmo Bottin, is a Venetian musician, producer, and sound designer (an Italian designer...sounds reliable) who specializes in downtempo and trip-hop. His music very much resembles that of Kruder & Dorfmeister, but carries with it an aura of artsy-ness. Unlike K&D's G-Stoned (their only really worthwhile album), Bottin seems less reliant on single instrumentation. The focus of Bottin's music is never centralized to a single soloist (sample, of course), but instead meanders frantically creating a soundtrack to some alien dream world.

So why Bottin over any other DJ/Producer? Honestly, it's because he's the only guy with 3 palindromic song titles on one album.

I know! I'm stretching my credibility here, right? But come on. You knew today's theme when you started reading. I guess you're gonna have to forgive me if you thought there was something much deeper.

If I had a hi-fi

Also, here's a list of some other songs, whose titles are palindromes...
I'm a lasagna, Hang a salami (credit to Jordon Wolosky for inventing this one)

Friday, 5 June 2009

Dose 19...Darwinian Music: An Evolution in Sound

1)My British Tour Diary by Of Montreal

Perhaps it's the nostalgia of having just left the UK, or the sheer fractalized bliss this album emotes, but recently I haven't been able to get enough of Satanic Panic In The Attic (2004). Though the album's sound is a dramatic divergence from their previous works, this seems to indicate an evolution in the band's method of production. Rather than working with his entire ensemble, Kevin Barnes took the reins on this project and saw it as testing ground for new sounds and arguably his most eccentric, though introspective, lyricism (at least until 'Alter Eagle Whoa'). The result harnesses the same psychedelic cheerful exuberance the band was always known for, but limits it to specific tracks, thus varying the sound throughout the album and intensifying the kaleidoscopic euphoria on particular songs.

Satanic Panic In The Attic should really come with an advisory sticker...Beware: This album is a drug that causes addiction!

Satanic Panic in the Attic

2)Harlem Country Girl by Olu Dara

It is a grave injustice that Olu Dara's fame should have been eclipsed by that of his son Nasir (who appears on 'Jungle Jay'). Prior to 1994, and the released of Nas' Illmatic (still, in my opinion, the best hip-hop album ever created), Dara was primarily renowned for his skill on the cornet. His proficiency was vindicated by the illustrious jazz musicians he kept as colleagues. He recorded several albums with saxophonist David Murray, drummer Art Blakely, The Henry Threadgill Sextet, and even pianist Don Pullen. That said, although Dara was in good company, he yearned to leave the avant-garde jazz scene in search of a more bluesy sound.

In 1998, he took hold of this opportunity, recording and producing In The World: From Natchez to New York. The title was meant to reflect the growth of this creole boy from Natchez, Mississippi (right off Highway 61, on the border of Louisiana) into a man, and illustrate that as we age, we bring with us our lifetime of experiences. As such, the sound on the album is deeply steeped in African roots (because, after all, we are a manifestation of our ancestory) while maintaining the tradition of folksy-blues so integral to creole culture. Precocious as ever, Dara adds the ingredients of his newly found fluency on guitar, as well as his raspy but endearing voice, to prepare his own particular southern gumbo (Highway 61 Revisited, if you will). Thus the evolution of Olu Dara, from backing group member to band leader, was completed.

This is a rare one.

If you want it, get it from...

Monday, 1 June 2009

Dose 18...ἀπόκρυφος

In ancient Greece, secretly guarded writings were the sole method of transmitting profound sacred knowledge between pedagogues and disciples. These texts came to be known as 'apocryphal', and were widely regarded as keepers of transcendental truth. This system (of honoring lesser known texts, music, 'kai hetera', in lieu of their more popular counterparts) has pervaded most of our history ever since; but as secrecy has waned in importance, rarity has waxed correspondingly. This is why Greco-Roman royalty wore Tyrian purple while the common man wore plain white togas (Spoiler Alert: this historical piece may be bullshit).

In fact, this mindset is exactly what motivates some people (pretentious ones in my opinion) to see themselves as '-heads'. These pompous bastards are so self-indulgent, that in many cases they stoop 'so low' as to condescendingly share their appreciation of these once-privately applauded works with a world that couldn't care less (see:

That said, I have a couple juicy (and positively secret!) nuggets for everyone.

1)I Just Wanted To Say by My Morning Jacket

Google the lyrics to this song...I dare you! You won't find anything but forums abuzz with bloggers and stoners alike discussing the hypocrisy that is US Medical Marijuana law (perhaps I shouldn't have used the pregnant keywords: I just wanted to say MMJ). In all seriousness though, the internet is a huge place and scouring for a song with only the fainest notion of the melody is a monumental task...ok let's backtrack for a second.

Three years ago, as a budding rock climber (not so geeky anymore, huh?), I would make regular visits to my local rock wall at odd hours. This was the price I paid for my bashfulness as a 'shoobie'. Nonetheless, in the absence of my prodigious friends (who I am still somewhat intimidated to go with...oh god, save it for therapy), I would climb and listen to a seemingly ancient mixtape made by a member of the mountaineering club, years before I joined. As I would strain for various indentations and features on the granular surface of the gym's bouldering wall, an optical lens would face a similar struggle in reading the 'pits' of the badly defaced CD-RW (a perfect microcosm), to reproduce some semblance of the tracks burnt onto it so many years before.

On this CD, one particular track stood out. Now I could guess it was a My Morning Jacket song, but because Jim James often sings as though he is the last contestant in a Homeric game of 'Chubby Bunny' (Disclaimer: We do not avocate the gleeful enjoyment of this high-glucose "game of death"...facts!), it was quite hard to disentangle any of his potentially meaninful verses. Unfortunately, as I planned my sessions with the intent of solitude, I had no one else to verify my hypothesis of MMJ or to enlighten me as to the track name. So I was stuck with the one line I had mistakenly deciphered as, "I just wanted to be, just you wittle paht of yo chee", and a dwindling number of resources.

At the time, the iTunes Store had 180 songs by the band (mind you Evil Urges only came out in 2008), but I remained undaunted and searched and searched and searched...180x... until finally, at my wits end, I found the tune. This ordeal was my form of pledging, a trial by fire wherein my travail paid off (though I often wonder why I never just stole the damn thing) and I was inducted into a brotherhood of MMJ fans...nay, devotees!

This all came to light as effete soon after though, as one of my climbing buddies (one whom I had avoided during my self-conscious "training-wheel" phase) had apparently had the entire MMJ album, Does Xmas Fiasco Style (2000), all along. Arrgghh!!!

Either way, here it is...

Does Xmas Fiasco Style (2000)

2)Gonehead by Asamov (now The AB's)

Isaac Asimov is a total dick! I'm not saying that because he wrote some nerdy book about "robo-psychology" and how we can't trust technology. And, I am also not saying it because Will Smith was cast as Detective Del Spooner in the biggest waste of my $10 in 2004 (keep in mind, Shark Tale came out that same year...come on Big Willy!). Anyhoo, my grievance arises over the fact that even after recieving royalties on the $120 million summer blockbuster, the Asimov estate still sought litigation against a similarly monikered hip hop quartet, Asamov, in 2006.

Now this burgeoning ensemble, whose release And Now (2005) blew up in the underground hip hop scene, was destined for big things that year. Their debut album was an acclaimed success, their fanbase was growing well out of their homestate of Florida, and their lead single "Boombox" was featured on iTunes 'Back to School' free music project. Unfortunately, having just come upon fame, they had neither the energy nor the financial fortitude to confront this behemoth of an aggressor. Thus the ultimatum was set and, as anyone in their position would do, they opted to change their name. This disruption caused their record label to halt the production and sales of their first LP. Ever since the, retitled, AB's have worked on putting together a follow up as enjoyable as their original album.

The rarity of And Now (Original Press) surely makes it a must have (leaving aside, for a moment, their verbal finesse and jazzy laid back production). Cling on to this piece of apocrypha, for if you don't, it truly will be lost in the sands of time.

And Now (2005)