Archive | December, 2011

Day 306: Atmosphere – Seven’s Travels

31 Dec

Trying To Find A Balance

While at a writing program last summer, I ran into a lot of people with wicked-awesome taste in music.  Amongst the many music-fueled conversations that occurred over those three weeks, Atmosphere, a white boy hip-hop duo from Minnesota, came up a lot.  With this, followed the always-annoying debate of “real” vs. “fake” hip-hop.  While arguments of this nature are usually nonsensical, and utilize a whole ton of circular reasoning, I have come to think of “fake” hip-hop as anything that sounds like Soulja Boy.  I was pretty shocked when one person claimed that Atmosphere is fake.

How?  I pointed out that they have great beats, awesome rhymes, Slug (who has a pretty sick flow), and rely fairly little on samples, preferring to really make their own music.  While I never got a straight answer on why Atmosphere isn’t “real,” I was presented with some purportedly “legit” hip-hop artists.  Names like Tupac, Biggie, and Dr. Dre were dropped, as I was left fairly confused.

One listen to Atmosphere’s Seven’s Travels should convince anyone that these guys are just as “real” as any other act.  I was also told that Aesop Rock is “fake” during this program, so I definitely think that race is involved.  That’s a whole other entry, so I won’t go into it here.

But what do those “real” rappers do?  Rhyme about their lives and problems, for the most part.  Sure, while Atmosphere does have their fair share of commentary of every nature, there’s plenty of life-venting on everything I’ve heard by them.  Haters are bound to hate, I guess.

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Day 305: El Guincho – Pop Negro

30 Dec

Ghetto Facil

Yeah, it’s a tad late.  Believe it or not, even I, the king of meeting deadlines, get a little behind schedule every now and again.  Cut me a little slack, it’s Day 305, after all.  Not going to lie, with Day 365 on the horizon, senioritis is starting to set in.

Plus, to make things worse for me, I’m supposed to be up and in a lift line in less than seven hours #firstworldproblems.

Anyway, it’s past one in the morning where I am, and you wouldn’t really think that a record in a different language would fly with me at this moment.  Knowing me, nothing should fly with me at this moment.  I’m putting the haterade aside, though, as even at this late hour, I am able to realize that El Guincho’s Pop Negro is awesome.  Now, before y’all get all offended, you should realize that in El Guincho’s native language (Spanish…I checked this time), “negro” means “black.”  Maybe I should rephrase that.  “Negro” is the word for the complete absence of light.  Oh Swole Ear…always PC.

Thanks to my six years of Spanish classes, I was able to understand a few of the lyrics on this record.  Just thought all of you should know that.  I mean, none of them are all that interesting, but I wanted you to realize that I’m a boss like that.

What this album really reminds me of is that Tropicallia 2 thing that I listened to a few days back.  It’s in that same vein of sample-fueled-pop-rock, with plenty of horns mashed up with synthesizers and drum machines.  The clear focus on vocals gives it that pop tinge.  To close, it sounds good.  I would listen to it again.  G’night, I’ll be thinking of y’all when I’m shredding it up later today.

Day 304: Slow Club – Paradise

29 Dec

Two Cousins

If you’ve heard Slow Club’s debut record (the awesome Yeah So) then you know what I was expecting coming into this album.  That record is packed to the brim with catchy guitar riffs, engaging vocals, and a fun back-and-forth routine performed by the band’s two members.

Sophomore efforts are frequently disappointing, and understandably so.  Years and years of work often go into debut albums, while the second record—if the first did well enough—is sometimes written and recorded in the back of a tour van.

Unfortunately, Slow Club follows this annoying trend.  Paradise just doesn’t pack all that much of a punch, with only a few tracks that I would consider listening to again. It doesn’t compare to Yeah So, which, for the most part, is really good.   

The album opener, for example, had my lady-friend and me saying “what the crap?”  “Two Cousins” is a catastrophe of a song that goes on for about three minutes and 50 seconds too long.  Perhaps I’m being a little too judgmental here, but you can’t start off an album with a song that really should be filler.  In this ADHD-tastic society, bands need to open things up with a bang.  Or a whimper, that slowly turns into a bang.  At the very least, a whimper that leads into a bang of a second track.  “Two Cousins” does none of these things, and the rest of the record follows suit.

It’s never a good thing when you’re bored while listening to a record.  Unfortunately, Slow Club was unable to keep the magic going, as Paradise falls flat on its face.

Day 303: Steel Pulse – True Democracy

28 Dec

Your House

Maybe I’m being extra ignorant right now—it wouldn’t be the first time—but I can’t take politically-charged messages in reggae music seriously.  Throughout the entirety of Steel Pulse’s True Democracy, for some reason, I found myself thinking things along the lines of “that’s cute, but I’m going to go back to ignoring the lyrics, and writing this post now.”  I guess I do that with pretty much every genre that I’m not familiar with, though.  I can really only focus on one thing at a time while writing these gems, and that one thing is definitely not going to be the politics of a record.

And this music still sounds pretty sweet, even when you ignore the messages within.  Considering that my only exposure to reggae other than The Lonely Island’s “Ras Trent,” has been one or two albums for The Swole, it’s a sound that hasn’t lost its initial novelty to me yet.  Will I like it after that wears off?  I can’t say.  But for now, I’m pretty happy.

My favorite thing about reggae is its consummate even temper.  Steel Pulse never feels the need to go on a musical tantrum by throwing out a two minute song at 400 beats per minute.  Conversely, nothing ever gets to that too-slow-to-listen-to level either.  Everything is always at this perfect, sunny, kind-of-quick tempo, with these calm vocals that make you wish you were chilling by the beach.  Maybe it’s better for me to keep ignoring the lyrics—ignorance is bliss, after all.

Day 302: The Pretenders – Pretenders

27 Dec

Brass in Pocket

Does this count as a self-titled record?  My dad and I have actually had an argument about that, in similar situations involving band names and really close record titles.  I think it does count—it’s so close, and pretty clear that the title is borrowing from the band’s name, or vice versa. He sees things in a little more literal of a light.  He says that if it doesn’t match exactly, you can’t call it self-titled.

Personally, I like referring to records as “self-titled.”   It just sounds kind of cool, so I’m going to keep on doing it.

This self-titled debut by The Pretenders, assigned to me for this week’s installment of Dad-Rock Tuesday, is not at all what I expected.  See, all I’ve ever really heard by the Pretenders is the Guitar Hero II cover of Tattooed Love Boys, which doesn’t do the real version justice, or convey the high degree of frontwoman Chrissie Hynde’s badassery.

It seems like she’s shouting at you for the entire duration of this self-titled album.  You, specifically.  It’s kind of cool.

The instrumentation is pretty sick, too. Every band member minus Hynde on this self-titled record is originally from the U.K., and it’s a known fact that they play instruments better over there.

Being pleasantly surprised by a piece of music is always nice, especially when it comes on a doubtful Dad Rock Tuesday.  On an unrelated note, I just learned that the band’s second record is called Pretenders II.  That’s where I draw the line, just in case you were wondering.

Day 301: Beastie Boys – Check Your Head

26 Dec

Pass the Mic

So I was browsing through the cheap bin at Reckless Records a couple of weekends ago, when I came across not one, but two copies of Beastie Boys’ 1996 album, Check Your Head.  I can’t turn down a two-dollar record of white dudes rapping, so I snagged a copy and checked it out.

I learned something tonight.  Beastie Boys records should not be listened to in full.  Well, Check Your Head shouldn’t, at least.  These guys are good in small chunks.  Hell, I can even handle a couple of their songs back to back, but when you put twenty of them in a row and feed them through my headphones, we’re going to have a bit of a problem.

Beastie Boys have always been gimmicky.  Most of their songs sound the same—they’re all pretty catchy, some of them are fairly funny, but they’re all pretty low on creativity.  But, would I go to a Beastie Boys concert? Absolutely.  You definitely don’t have to know all of their songs by heart to enjoy yourself in a situation like that.

Plus, this record has the problem that oh-so-many hip-hop albums have.  It’s not just that there are way too many songs, it’s that there are way too many pointless instrumental tracks.  Let’s be real here, this is the Beastie Boys, no one is looking to zone out to a chill beat when they pop this record in.  It’s not like the guys had to stretch out the album to compensate for a lack of material; this album is more than 50 minutes long.  Overall, this has been a rather disappointing experience.

Day 300: Insane Clown Posse – Bang! Pow! Boom!

25 Dec

To Catch A Predator

Wow, Day 300 is on Christmas.  This Jew couldn’t have planned that any better.  Somehow, it all seems fitting that I’m writing this monumental post about an Insane Clown Posse record, listened to through laptop speakers (I forgot my headphones) in a Southwestern Illinois Holiday Inn.  Ho, ho, ho, bitches.

If you spend any time on the internet, you’ve seen the music video for “Miracles.”  No description of that monstrosity/masterpiece can do it justice, so I won’t even bother.  Check it out, be part of the zeitgeist.  That very video served as the inspiration for today’s pick.  Insane Clown Posse have been known for making terrible and violent horrorcore music for years, so that track came as a shock to everybody.  Why on earth are these morons in face paint rapping about positivity and beautiful feats of nature after more than a decade of tracks about violently murdering people?  Not a single good answer surfaced.  I hoped that listening to the full record would clue me in as to where exactly this change of heart came from.

I am just as confused now as before I listened to Bang! Pow! Boom!, but I must admit, that it’s a confusion with more direction; a little less chaos.  Now, “Miracles” makes complete sense to me within the context of the album.  But, when I begin wondering about the album as a whole, I just get a crazy headache.

The conclusion that I’ve come to is that there’s absolutely no reason for this stuff to exist.  Whether considering “Miracles” or “To Catch a Predator”—ICP’s gruesome, murder-filled take on the popular Dateline series of the same name—I can’t come up with one purpose that this record, band, or genre of music serves.  However, it’s out there, and its chart performance shows that it’ll be around for a while.  So, within the idiotic world of Bang!, “Miracles” doesn’t seem all that out of place.  Instead of two morons rapping about doing things with human entrails, it’s two morons rapping about Niagara Falls.

Day 299: Muddy Waters – Hard Again

24 Dec

Deep Down In Florida

I don’t want to touch that album title.  Hopefully, it’s referring to the hard times that Muddy Waters frequently discusses on this record.  Even if it is, there’s probably a second meaning to it too.  That’s really clever.  Muddy Waters is the stuff of legend, so he can get away with terrible album titles.  Anyway, the title isn’t really what matters—it’s the music that counts.  And Muddy Waters really has some great music.

Hearing a real blues album is usually a strange experience for me.  So much of my favorite music borrows heavily and unashamedly from the genre, that I think I’ve kind of forgotten that this stuff came first. Who knows what Jack White, for example, would be doing if it weren’t for Muddy Waters. Every aspect of this music sounds familiar, from the tinny guitars, to the downtrodden and direct lyrics.

Listening to an album like this really reminds me just how good blues is as genre, which is pretty easy to forget in this era of disposable electronic music.  Sure, some of the guitar sections may be reused, and the lyrical structure/delivery don’t vary all that dramatically, but that’s all excusable because this music has such a cool sound.

Then again, I’m not sure that I could point out a bad blues record if I heard one—they do all kind of sound the same to me.  It took years upon years of close listening before I was able to become the indie rock expert that I am today.  I just don’t have that same skill when it comes to the blues.

Day 298: Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma

23 Dec

MmmHmm

Do you have any records that you’ve been meaning to hear for ages, but just haven’t had the chance to? I do. I have, almost literally, hundreds of these albums. I thought that this site would help me out with that problem, but for every record that I cross off the list, ten seem to be added. Anyway, Flying Lotus’ Cosmograma has been on the list for a while now, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t even really know it. All I knew was that I wanted to listen to that record with the crazy eclipse artwork. Recently, Cosmograma was suggested for me, and it was only when the album had been added to my iTunes library that I realized it was that record.

Unfortunately, Cosmograma and I did not get off to the best start. This is entirely my fault, I know, but it has effected my ability to enjoy this album. See, when I first pressed play, I didn’t realize that both my iTunes and computer’s volumes were turned all the way up. The harsh bleeps and bloops of opener “Clock Catcher” should never be heard at full blast.

My ears have hurt since then, putting me in a fairly bad mood…perhaps this is one of those albums that I need to come back to. In all honesty, though, Cosmograma seems a little busy to me—there’s just way too much going on here. If you’re looking for some nice, soothing, chill-out instrumental hip-hop, turn away now. Flying Lotus layers the effects on unashamedly here, creating unnavigable jungles of noise and more noise. Even on the slower tracks, there’s just a little too much going on to make sense of. I can’t lie. I don’t get it.

Day 297: Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso – Tropicalia 2

22 Dec

Cada Macaco No Seu Galho

I’ll be honest with all of y’all…I know pretty much nothing about what I’m currently listening to. I tried to do some research on this record, I really did, but with no Wikipedia page, and less than specific info readily available on both of its creators, I’m just kind of going with the flow with Tropicalia 2.  I have learned a bit about Tropicália, a weird little Brazilian late-’60s rock movement.  I’m sure that we’ll all be getting a massive history lesson in the comment section, so I won’t even try to tell the story behind the movement.

Instead, I’m going to stick with what I do best—butchering descriptions of music.  To quote the brilliant Sean Bonnette of Andrew Jackson Jihad, “Hate[rs], rain on me.”

So let’s start off with the obvious:  this stuff sounds like Vampire Weekend.  I know that these guys did it thirteen years before good ol’ Vampy Weeks, but it’s about all I can hear on this record.  Well, that’s not entirely true—there’s also a bit of Why? in here as well, especially with the mostly-talked tracks like “Haiti.”

The point that I’m trying to make here is as follows: perhaps a bunch of the music that I regularly listen to may be influenced by this style.  If not by Tropicalia 2 in particular, then by the movement that inspired it as a whole.  Sure, the stuff that I usually play isn’t in Spanish, but how much does that even matter?  It still sounds cool, and that’s all that should be important.  I am waiting to be educated about this stuff, though, so bring it on, Chops.