What I’m listening to

July 16, 2010

Divided into groups so you can skip the parts you don’t care about:

ROCK and/or ROLL

Jamie Lidell – Compass

Technically Lidell is a former electronica square-pusher who is now doing R&B and funk.  But he has time for other genres too, including this folky title track from his third album.  Here it is paired with visuals from the game “Red Dead Redemption,” which it played a key role in.

Jose Gonzalez – Veneer

Speaking of “Red Dead,” this summarizes why the game was so absorbing to me, and why my girlfriend probably considered hiding my copy.  This is what happens in the game when you first enter Mexico.  (This song isn’t on “Veneer” but it gives you a taste of the beauty of Gonzalez’s music.)

Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

For indie rock this is pretty high-profile.  I beg your forgiveness, but frankly I don’t have the energy to read the reviews in Alternative Press every month any more.  But here’s what matters: it’s a damn good album.


Big Boi – Sir Lucious Leftfoot… The Son of Chico Dusty

OutKast fans can rejoice because half of that classic group finally released something, after several years of label drama and non-music-related BS.  Hip hop fans can rejoice because this right here is the best rap album of the year… and it’s only July.

Homeboy Sandman – The Good Sun

This cat is just weird.  Video below isn’t from this album, but from his previous one – however, I find the video so low-rent charming and his flow so bizarre in this song that I just had to throw this up.

Roc Marciano – Marcberg and AG – Everything’s Berri

No video here, but let me just say this: if you miss old school boom bap with grimy production and sedate flows, and above all that immersive, cinematic quality that made “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” a classic, check out both of these.  I especially dig “Snow” off of “Marcberg” and that very-70s cover art for “Berri.”  Both albums are nice.


Busy Signal – D.O.B.

Excellent album in general (though his debut “Step Out” remains his best), but this dark, poverty-focused track with Bounty Killer is the high point for me.

There’s also, rather weirdly, a few semi-covers of popular hit songs.  This one really works for me and I couldn’t even explain why.  I only wish Busy would get past the autotune trend – his voice is so effective without it.

Black Dillinger – Love Life

This track is so huge, reminding me of old Sizzla cuts such as “Like Mountain.” The digital version of “Love Life” has been out for a spell (since January or so) but the CD still doesn’t exist, which is a shame.  Anyway, give this a listen.


Hooded Menace – Never Cross the Dead

Death metal mired in sludge, taking one horrible crawling step at a time in your direction.  Hooded Menace’s concept is based on the sleazy, cheesy Eurohorror “Blind Dead” series of movies:

…and the music is SO fitting to that premise.  Also: best metal cover art of 2010, without question.

Sabbath Assembly – Restored to One

Sabbath Assembly is Jex of Jex Thoth – a sonorous-voiced woman who sounds imported from both the 70s and a Frank Frazetta painting – along with Dave Nuss of the No Neck Blues Band and a guy who produced Sunn O))).  The concept behind the album is to take a bunch of hymns of the Process Church of the Final Judgment (key excerpt: “They were often viewed as Satanic on the grounds that they worshipped both Christ and Satan. Their belief is that Satan will become reconciled to Christ, and together will come at the end of the world to judge humanity, Christ to judge and Satan to execute judgment”) and realize them with fleshed-out arrangements and a serious evil hippie, Manson cult vibe.  It’s 60s flower rock meets 70s doom metal meets seriously weird religious fanaticism, and if I thought they believed in what they’re singing, I’d be a little concerned.  But as is, it makes for really interesting listening, almost like an alternative reality soundtrack to “The Wicker Man.”


Free stuff (not mine)

April 1, 2009


When someone makes a really good album and proceeds to give it away, I have to share it with friends such as yourself.  Feed your underground (but high quality) hip hop monkey – this here is the debut album from U-N-I and Ro Blvd.  There’s a kinship to (early) Kanye and so-called “backpacker” heroes like Talib Kweli, Little Brother, and others; also, on certain tracks, to harder stuff such as El-P and the rest of the Def Jux roster.

Basically, it’s rap, and it’s good, and it’s free – so go get it before they wise up and start charging.


News break

January 19, 2009


Writing long, self-indulgent soliloquies on how great I am is a little taxing, as you might imagine.  So today we’re taking a break from that to touch on all the arts and entertainment news that I’ve been ignoring in this space.

1. The Arizona Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl. Get out.  No really, get the hell out.  You’re lying to me.  What year is this?  How many drops of that sleeping potion did I drink?

All football fans should be happy for the Cardinals fanbase right now.  If anyone deserves this, it’s them.  For non-NFL people, this is the football equivalent of the Cubs going back to the World Series, or of season 4 of “Heroes” suddenly and unexpectedly being awesome, and making sense.

And sure, there’s another team playing in the ‘Bowl (the Steely McBeams, I think?) – and sure, that team is probably going to squish the Cards like a real steel beam would squish a real Cardinal.  But still.

2. “Lost” season 5 is almost here! Ah god!  Holy crap!!!  Ahhhhh sweet merciful fuuuuuuck!  …I have nothing intelligent to say.  I’m just kind of excited.  Just have to slog through two more days of work and shitty “Two and a Half Men” re-runs, or whatever is on when “Lost” isn’t.

3. OutKast are supposed to finally get off their asses and release some proper new material. This has been long-blathered-about in the hip hop community.  Big Boi has a solo album in the can, and it’s ostentiously titled “Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty.”  (The man does like a pseudonym or two.)  Dre is supposedly working on a solo album also, which is due out in 2009, at some point.  Late ’08 rumors had it coming out by the end of the year, or “early next year” (meaning early this year, meaning… ah, screw it).  My guess is that we’ll be lucky to get it this summer.  And then supposedly a new, true OutKast record will be out in the fourth quarter of 2009 – and my guess about THAT is that we’ll be lucky to get it by NEXT summer.

But hey, this is some kind of news, and at least it appears they’re working on stuff.  I just hope that A. Dre gets back to more rapping, not that his pitch-inconsistent crooning isn’t delightful; and B. all of these releases are a little better and a lot more coherent than “Idlewild,” which was a letdown, if an enjoyable one.

Consciousness goes mainstream in hip hop

July 31, 2008


Here’s a strange new trend: popular rappers who sell millions of albums (even after the bottom dropped out of the industry) releasing tracks with a… waddayacallit?… a MESSAGE.  Interesting. 

In this corner, we have Big Boi and Mary J. Blige with the lead single from Daddy Fat Sacks’s forthcoming solo record.  Message: the economy sucks and is killing folks.

And in this corner, Nas hits us up with his pro-‘Bama single, “Black President.”  Message: cautious optimism about the possibility of Obama getting elected.

And as long as I’m linking new hip hop with a message, check out this track from Killer Mike and Ice Cube, even though Mike isn’t a big name and therefore this has only a little to do with the point of this post.  Message: uh, I don’t think I’m qualified to sum this one up.  But it’s a damn heavy track.

In retrospect, I think Kanye telling us that George Bush doesn’t care about black people might have been some kind of spark.  We can probably also thank the recession and bubbling political climate we’re in.  It’s a very positive trend, to me – so much mainstream hip hop of the last few years (hate to say it, but basically since the South took over) has been completely substance-free.  We need more artists stirring the pot and – to borrow a Pharcydeism – kickin’ somethin’ that means somethin’.

The sincerest form of flattery

June 11, 2008


I’m going to skip the usual rambling preamble and get right to it.  This is a short list of established artists stepping away from their own style and copping moves from other established artists.  Feel free to throw some others into the comments, if you have any. 

~ David Bowie, “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson”  Bowie has always been a slithery chameleon, but rarely has he so blatantly appropriated a single artist’s whole aesthetic.  In this would-be late career rejuventation, he and longtime collaborator Eno stole Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails schtick lock, stock, and barrel.  It’s a little weird hearing the pasty one croon over this music, and ultimately the song is a bit of a mismatch because Bowie just isn’t immature or one-dimensional enough to do the seething angst thing Reznor made his trademark.  I’m not much of a NIN fan (in case you can’t tell), but there’s no denying that “Closer” is the song that “Filthy Lesson” wants to be.

~ The Rolling Stones, “Their Satanic Majesties Request”  This was before the Stones really became THE STONES, and certainly their early works were, shall we say, a little more obviously derivative than the mid-period classics.  But this album earns a special place on this list by basically announcing itself as a Sgt. Pepper’s wannabe.  It’s one of the most infamous examples of a big band following another band’s lead, and it gives ammo to the Beatleistas out there who think the Stones were merely the top of the second tier.  On the plus side, this album does include the great “She’s A Rainbow.”

~ Madonna, “Bedtime Story”  Our list’s second slithery chameleon was never shy about borrowing ideas from anyone and everyone, but this is one of the only times I can think of that she flat-out sounded like someone else.  Bjork gave Madonna a demo of this song, which her team of writers spruced up and prepped for her to take a run at.  The effect is a bit bewildering – it pretty much sounds like Madonna covering a lower-rung Bjork song – and ultimately one feels like Madonna is a little girl tottering in her mommy’s heels.  It’s made even more delectable when you hear the story that Bjork intended the lyrics as an indictment of Madonna’s shallow aesthetic.

~ MC Hammer, “The Funky Headhunter”  Hammer wasn’t the only guy who heard “Fuck Wit Dre Day” and “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” and decided that his career too could be revitalized by whiny synths, P Funk rhythm sections, and a Cali gangsta delivery.  (Ice Cube was another prominent example, dropping “Lethal Injection” – a decent slice of derivative g-funk but ultimately the beginning of the man’s long tailspin.)  But what elevates Hammer above the others is how ri-goddamn-diculous he sounds doing it.  “Oaktown” has a signature Dre synth and burbling bass track, and Hammer intoning beauties like, “Do you know about my city?  The city of Oak!”  “Gapped teeth in yo mouth, so my dick’s gotsta fit” it ain’t.  The highlight is the semi-hit single “Pumps and a Bump,” which I have long resisted analyzing, because the title and chorus are so idiotic that it is truly one of life’s purest pleasures to listen to.  Please, Hammer, don’t hurt ’em.

~ Modest Mouse, “The Devil’s Workday”  Even for the Mouse this is an aberration.  It’s plop in the middle of their commercial breakthrough album, “Good News for People Who Love Bad News,” and yet it diverges as far as possible from both the buoyant sound of the first few tracks (including “Float On”) and also the standard, spiky Modest Mouse approach.  Instead, it sounds exactly like Tom Waits: 50% “Bone Machine,” 50% all of his other (post-balladeer) albums.  It’s not bad, but I feel like they could have comfortably left this one for the inevitable rarities compilation.  (Probably spent some label dollars on that horn section though, and thus were forced to include it.)

~ The Eagles, “One of These Nights”  This is a strange entry for this list because the artist it so clearly resembles – disco-era Bee Gees – didn’t really come into being until the same year this song/album came out.  It seems unlikely that the Eagles went forward in time a couple years and decided to go back and make a “Saturday Night Fever”-style hit; more likely, the Beegs and the Eags were listening to the same shit (r&b, early 70s soft rock) and came up with the same conclusion.  It’s just that the Eagles did it once, and the Bee Gees turned it into a modus operandi.  Still, it’s weird to hear this on the radio and think to myself, every single time, “This is a Bee Gees song, right?  Oh wait…”

~ Dave Barry, “Big Trouble”/”Tricky Business” (token book entry)  Dave Barry does basically one thing, which is a genial, goofball humor column with nothing offensive about it, bejewelled with a handful of stylistic tics that were initially funny and have since been run into the ground.  But what happened when Dave wanted to do a second thing?  It ended up being a couple of Elmore Leonard-lite novels.  Reviewers were obliged to describe them as a hybrid of Leonard and Barry’s own sense of humor, but in truth these books are only about 20% more comedic than their inspirations, and in most other respects are pretty much Xerox copies, right down to the Miami setting.  Even the “Big Trouble” movie looked a lot like an adult contempo version of “Get Shorty.”

~ Steven Spielberg, “AI” (token film entry)  Spielberg famously took Stanley Kubrick’s long-fussed-over script for “AI” and wanted to carry on the master’s last project as a sort of tribute to him.  It sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t.  Spielberg uses a lot of Kubrickisms throughout, subverting his own natural tendencies, until the awful ending that feels a lot like the director just couldn’t take it any more and was forced to compromise his own material, lest his soul be swallowed into the same black nether-pit that Kubrick’s had gone down.  Interestingly, I feel like Kubrick could have filmed the exact same ending and made it seem much more dark and pessimistic (see: the soldiers singing the Mickey Mouse song at the end of “Full Metal Jacket”).  In Spielberg’s hands, though, it feels like an essentially optimistic man searching for any ray of light he can allow into the pervasive darkness.  (He did a much better job letting the material resolve itself with “Munich.”)

Goodies from the underground

January 22, 2008


Sorry for the two posts in one day thing, but I’m in a hip hop mood, and you should be too.  So let me help with that. 

First of all: the guys in School of Beats are giving away their new album, in download form.  Check it out; this is some pretty amazing and well-made stuff for a group you have undoubtedly never heard of.  I recommend you start with track 2, “Still Here.”

Next: the true heads have been all abuzz over Blu & Exile’s album, “Below the Heavens.”  The buzz is right on: this was the best rap record of 2007.  Amazon has the hookup if you want to hear some of what this sounds like.  Oh, and even though the CD is hard to track down (Blu got royally screwed by whoever is handling his distribution), Amazon also sells the whole album in DRM-free, high quality .mp3 files for only $7.  Consider that a strong endorsement.

Finally, I wanted to mention that I was inspired by this post to add my first non-post content – a sidebar with a few albums I’ve been playing lately, and a brief description of each.  I hope that the people who find my eclectic musical tastes interesting will check it periodically and maybe find something new to listen to.  As such it’s not going to include that new Britney Spears album (which I’ve got on HEAVY rotation, let me tell you) or whatever other well-known music I actually listen to; instead it will focus on stuff around the fringes of the collective consciousness.  So – there’s that.

Tiny news explosions

December 12, 2007

1. One of our agents in the field reported the following regarding the forthcoming “Christmas Cottage” movie:

The film is part of an intended three-picture deal between Lionsgate and Kinkade. The next two films, also planned with Padalecki as Kinkade, will be based on other paintings and reflect different points in Kinkade’s life.

Yikes!  (And thanks, Jen – now we can all start hording water and batteries in preparation for the impending collapse of civilization!)

2. Said “Christmas Cottage” will also involve Chris Elliot in some way.  Gaaarrrr.  Dummmmoffffllll.  Plop.

3. New Ghostface album fucking rules.  This is not news so much as me telling you The Truth.  Go get it, fellow part-time heads.  Haven’t heard the new Wu yet but hopefully soon.

4. The alleged deal allegedly coming up in the non-alleged writer’s strike was a bunch of crap, and probably a PR move on the part of… somebody.  Eh, who can keep up with all the PR moves.  Anyway, after a week of negotiation, the fatcats walked away from the table without extending any kind of olive branch, and the writers are going to be standing on the sidewalks and depriving us of “Lost” for a while longer.  Suuuuuuuck.