Politic, ditto: First-Quarter Rap Music in ’08

ghost-face-1.jpg
Ghostface’s skullcap gets really sweaty

Here is some guidance through these troubled rap times…….

LISTEN to The Big Doe Rehab. It’s still good. Ghostface’s umpteenth critically lauded solo record isn’t a novel thing to write or read about, I know, and just typing the words “Ghostface” into a WordPress blog feels vaguely wrong in some way at this point — I’m joining a chorus that’s already kinda deafening — but this record still sounds fresh and immediate. NO ONE who was making rap music in 93 can say the same about their current output.(Wait, is that true?? Nerds/fruitflies, if you’re out there, come correct me!!) The only rapper who comes frustratingly close is Nas — Nas rapping will always, always sound good, despite being his being a ponderous blowhard and all. (At least Ghostface reserves his old-guy bellyaching to interviews.)

Seriously, though. This is a stupid point — I’m going to make it anyway, but it’s a stupid point — but I’m always just astonished at how many WORDS there are on a Ghostface album. THe man has rapped the great social realist/postmodernist novel of the 20th century — and he’s not even done yet. Like any great storyteller, he repeats himself without repeating himself. “Yolanda’s House” on Rehab is a great example of a song he’s done a million times — the break-in, the panicked chase through the projects, the quick and unceremonious seduction — and yet Ghost comes to it all fresh, as if he’s never, ever rapped about this stuff before.

Plus, every word that escapes his mouth feels torn from a man who just arrived on foot from a murder scene. That helps.

MP3: “Walk Around,” people.

LISTEN to Clipse We Got It For Cheap, Vol. 3 as well, but don’t pay too close attention — you might risk realizing that the Clipse are masters of a cheap art, the punchline hocus-pocus. Still, their needle-sharp voices — Tal Rosenberg provided the most eloquent description when he noted they were “high but weighed down” — are still a pleasure, and you still get “Ill with the composition I’m Mo-ZART/You don’t want the fifth to start spittin’ so don’t start” and a thousand others. Pour it in a punchline-heavy blender with Lil Wayne’s exhausting/awesome Da Drought 3 for a particularly grueling treadmill run.

Oh, and keep listening to Liquid Swords. The answer’s in there somewhere…..

13 Comments

Filed under blogosphere echo chamber, Posted by Tyco, RAP MUSIC, Stream

Taking Sides: Boat Shoe Core

Quickly, before we start, a Google search:

Results 1 – 10 of about 28,500 for vampire weekend boat shoes. (0.31 seconds)

doorknobs: i’ve almost exclusively listened to vampire weekend today
doorknobs: i think i’m officially ostracized from cool kid club
Tyco Nightglow: guh
Tyco Nightglow: I bet you’re feeling very happy and twee
doorknobs: not particularly twee, but happy, yes
Tyco Nightglow: to me that’d be like eating nothing but lik m aid all day
doorknobs: man, what an asshole i am
doorknobs: haha
Tyco Nightglow: they really do just sound like guster or dispatch to me
Tyco Nightglow: not actively TRYING to be a grouchy hater
doorknobs: i know yr not
doorknobs: maybe i didn’t listen to enough guster or dispatch, but i don’t hear it
doorknobs: diff strokes/folks i guess
Tyco Nightglow: just artificially sunny
Tyco Nightglow: in a squint-inducing way
doorknobs: what makes it artificially sunny?
Tyco Nightglow: maybe I hate the sound of “happy”
Tyco Nightglow: haha
doorknobs: hahahahaha
doorknobs: yeah maybe
Tyco Nightglow: something about the tone of the voice, the tone of the guitars, and most importantly, the tone of the songs themselves just feels…..guh. Words are failing me on this one
Tyco Nightglow: it’s what one calls a “visceral dislike”
Tyco Nightglow: they seem like assholes and I hate them
Tyco Nightglow: there
Tyco Nightglow: is that concrete enough?
doorknobs: you see, i was with you when you were talking about tones of instruments and feel, and then……….
Tyco Nightglow: hahahaha
Tyco Nightglow: their music feels like music made for and by assholes
doorknobs: ok
doorknobs: i shouldn’t have brought this up
doorknobs: sorry
doorknobs: haha
Tyco Nightglow: haha
Tyco Nightglow: no I’m enjoying myself
doorknobs: clearly
doorknobs: :–(
Tyco Nightglow: 😀
Tyco Nightglow: :-*
Tyco Nightglow: 😛
Tyco Nightglow: aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand
Tyco Nightglow: :-X
doorknobs: hahah
doorknobs: there ya go
doorknobs: never to be spoken of again
doorknobs: however, i AM thinking about corner bistro tomorrow
Tyco Nightglow: YES
Tyco Nightglow: this I am down with
Tyco Nightglow: FEY
Tyco Nightglow: that is the word I am looking for
Tyco Nightglow: something horribly fey about the tone of the songs and the playing itself
Tyco Nightglow: all of Stephen Malkmus’s worst spoiled-prince tendencies married to little toy-keyboard shuffles that no weight or viscera
Tyco Nightglow: I viscerally react to a lack of viscera
Tyco Nightglow: this Nitsuh review, who I really really like, nails what he likes and what I dislike: Koenig, the lead singer, is a “happy observer who never bores you with how he feels”
Tyco Nightglow: he just sounds smugly, airily entitled to me, which I wouldn’t care about if he made music with some semblance of grit or life
Tyco Nightglow: okay, now I’m done
Tyco Nightglow: that was a tad more articulate, though, no?
Tyco Nightglow: though I do really like this Nitsuh review
Tyco Nightglow: I tend to like his writing more than the records he enthuses over, I find
Tyco Nightglow: RESPOND TO MY TORRENTIAL OUTPOURING
Tyco Nightglow: haha
doorknobs: hahahhaa
doorknobs: this is a great and studied and NOT DUMB response
doorknobs: thank you
doorknobs: “i think they’re assholes who make music for assholes” somehow wasn’t cutting it for me
doorknobs: haha
doorknobs: i ❤ nitsuh
Tyco Nightglow: hahaa
Tyco Nightglow: yes, I like nitsuh too
Tyco Nightglow: hey
Tyco Nightglow: think this could be an IM post?
doorknobs: mayhaps!
doorknobs: it might feel a bit one-sided w/o me saying why i actually LIKE these fuckers
doorknobs: haha
doorknobs: but
Tyco Nightglow: so….why do you like this????
doorknobs: lemme paraphrase myself from a different convo
Tyco Nightglow: please do
doorknobs: nothing that’s gonna convince anyone
doorknobs: but
doorknobs: thassok
doorknobs: i think it’s fun and well written and sincere and smart
doorknobs
: people may disagree with sincere, or take “smart” to mean the wrong thing (note: the loadedness all of a sudden of equating smart and COLLEGIATE, RE: nitsuh review)
doorknobs: but that’s how i feel
doorknobs: also, on a simpler note: i think the songs are really strong
doorknobs: and, as you know
doorknobs: i also just kinda think the arguments that are about their sweaters or what college they went to or saying the afro-pop part is “contrived” or whatever…it’s just so lazy and annoying to me
Tyco Nightglow: I think the Afro-pop isn’t so much “contrived” so much as another example of their giggliness
Tyco Nightglow: for lack of an actual word
Tyco Nightglow: haha
Tyco Nightglow: but I hear the general point
Tyco Nightglow: also: pretty much when people say that an indie rock band is “smart” or that their lyrics are “smart” this ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS means “collegiate”
doorknobs: yeah true
doorknobs: but when i first wrote that out, i meant smart as like “smart songwriting” or, like, smart/interesting arrangements, etc
Tyco Nightglow: right
Tyco Nightglow: that I buy
doorknobs: but the COLUMBIA/etc. connotations are too prevelant to ignore i guess
doorknobs: i also think they are distinctly different from, say, the decemberists, RE: smart/collegiate
doorknobs: and way way less willfully obscure/potentially annoying
Tyco Nightglow: hmm
Tyco Nightglow: I don’t know
Tyco Nightglow: here’s what I was going to say, but it took me too long to type it haha:
Tyco Nightglow: (it’s no longer relevant)
Tyco Nightglow: cuz lyrically “smart” usually means stuff like “What she asked of me at the end of the night/Caligula would have blushed” more than “Cops come blocking the
ave/I put the glock in the stash/slabs and tops in the trash/still stop and i laugh, ma put
them rock in your ass/ the rest twat in ya bag, dag, hop in a cab”
Tyco Nightglow: but yes
doorknobs: oh totally, i know what you mean
doorknobs: i’m not disagree w/that at all
doorknobs: i mean, it’s weird to say this considering how much we’ve talked about it, but i think the key to my enjoyment has been UNDERthinking and kinda gut enjoyment…..it worked for me and against you, in terms of enjoying it
doorknobs: but like
doorknobs: i think the first sentence (regardless of the rest of this mumbo jumbo i’ve typed out) just kinda sums up my take on them
doorknobs: and why i dig it
Tyco Nightglow: also, you’re an asshole
doorknobs: also, it’s hilarious that this could be an IM post
Tyco Nightglow: ZING!
Tyco Nightglow: cut, print, post

2 Comments

Filed under blogosphere echo chamber, IM, Posted by Doorknobs, Posted by Tyco, rock/roll

I’m Bad. (I’m Back.) I’m Mad. (I’m Strapped.)

rawws.jpg

Yup.

This will be the second time this blog has incorporated or mentioned fat sayer-of-words Rick Ross. Which is a little weird since tonight represents the first time I’ve actually sat down and listened to the man. (Yes, this is what I am doing at 11:05PM on a Monday night. At age 26. I’m listening to Rick Ross.) I just got a tentative deal to review the man’s sophomore effort and am sitting down to listen to his blindingly overproduced first album, Port of Miami.

The general consensus on this man is that he is a big fat lucky moron who bought one of 2006’s best novelty tracks and proceeded to rhyme “Atlantic” with “Atlantic” over it. Even Tom Breihan, widely considered the Gene Shalit of rap critics, called him a terrible rapper. I certainly don’t disagree — I’ve heard enough of his alarmingly heavy-breathing “freestyles” on the terrible mixtapes I used to buy five at a time from the corner bodega to have no illusions about the man’s rhyming abilities.
And yet when I sit down with this album, I’m surprised right away. No, it isn’t “good” — though the first third is decent — and Rick Ross is not someone I could call a “good rapper” and look at myself in the morning. But he’s at least competent. On “Push It” and “Blow,” he tosses vowel sounds around in a nimble-for-a-fat-guy way, like seeing your dad hustle to scoop a ground ball at the company softball game . I mean, “I handle coke like a vandal off the banana boat/Bananas in the rifle, no ciphers, I’m just a man of note” certainly isn’t worthy of Rakim, but its better than the line “Mo’ trucks (mo’ trucks, mo’ bucks, mo’ freaks, mo’ butts” would suggest he’s capable of. By my count, at least, there’s more wordplay in the first four songs of Port of Miami than on 50 Cent’s last two studio albums. And that’s a really damning statement…..about me, mostly because it implies that I’ve listened to enough Rick Ross and 50 Cent to make the comparison.

To be sure, Rick Ross has nothing resembling “flow;” he just kind of mumbles all his words before the beat hits and hopes all the pieces fall into place. He also never varies the tone of his voice. And yet there’s something oddly hypnotic about his wounded-rhinocerous cadence, especially the way he punches in the lat two syllables of EVERY LINE. This is borne, of course, of his inability to string together two lines of the English language back-to-back, but the odd emphases created by this technique are ear-catching. Say what you want about this guy, and plenty of rap critics have lobbed some pretty toxic spitballs, but he has taken the rudimentary tools available to him and created a language all his own, like rap’s Nell.

nell.jpg

Taaay iiinna WEEEEEEND.

Or for another comparison, take this verse of “Hustlin,” where he rhymes “twenty-two” with “twenty-two” SEVEN TIMES IN A ROW, punching the words in at the end like a watermark every time.

Don’t tote no … (punch-in): “TWENTY-TWO’S!!”

Magnum cost me ... (punch-in):”TWENTY-TWO!!”

Tatted on the … (punch-in): “TWENTY-TWO!!”

Birds go for … (punch-in): “TWENTY-TWO!!!”

Lil mama super thick, she say she … (punch-in): “TWENTY-TWO!!!”

She seen them … (punch-in): “TWENTY-TWO’S!!!”

We in room … (punch-in): “TWO TWENTY-TWO!!!”

Rawwss understands repetition’s ability to create slack-jawed, glassy-eyed obedience at least as well as this guy (LOL TOPICAL).

Sigh. There. I can now say with relief that while I am regrettably not done thinking about Rick Ross, I am at least done thinking about him FOR FREE.

Kisses.

8 Comments

Filed under Posted by Tyco, RAP MUSIC, Re-assess, Scraping the Crust off of the underside of the bottom o

News Flash: Some rap dork likes the new Ghostface record!

I’m not even sure what I need to say about the new Ghostface that five hundred other white bloggers will not helpfully offer over the next two weeks. I mean, it’s incredible in all the ways that every Ghostface record has been — hungry, vivid, with beats that are both slightly outre and viscerally satisfying — much like Ghost’s rapping itself. A lot of people are rightfully expressing disbelief at the statistical improbability of a rapper entering his forties dropping his seventh solid-to-classic album in a row; it seems like everyone is waiting for frailty to set in. Ghostface is just not having it. Despite his evident discomfort in the commercial sphere, (see his recent, disheartening rambling about “ringtone rap” and the lack of lyricism in Southern hip hop) he has stayed lean and hungry. If anything, he sounds hungrier now; his voice has grown even more strident and unhinged over the years.

But like I said, what on earth can I offer that will make this little late-night rant about Ghostface worth your click? You’ve got a lot of other places to be, and I’m sure right now Tom Breihan is busy chaining together adjectives in a clumsy effort to re-re-describe Ghost’s voice.

I mean, these days, liking Ghostface is to rap as liking Miles Davis was to jazz in the sixties, or liking Ray Charles was to rhythm and blues was in the fifties; everyone knows to do it. Any aspiring hipster who is hoping his CD collection just might help him get laid knows to proudly declaim his love of Ghost. The man’s reputation, at this point, needs no further burnishing.

But here I be, listening to Big Doe Rehab, and marveling at the storytelling abilities, the images, both gruesome (after shooting a man point blank in the head: “Oxy Clean for a week around the chest area, right hand side/I’m plucking off little pieces of meat”) and hilarious (see the fishsticks n’ foreplay saga of “Yolanda’s House”), but always uncannily vivid. Not to contribute to the ongoing fetishism of this incredibly hard-working artist, but he is starting to assume the qualities of a force of nature. We Can’t Be Stopped, and all that.

So go buy it when it comes out. But of course, if you’re even here, you’ve already downloaded the leak. The enemy is us.

NEXT UP ON THE MOST CUTTING-EDGE RAP BLOG EVAR: LIL WAYNE’S LYRICS ARE OFTEN QUITE SURREAL, NO? ALSO, YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD, BUT THERE’S THIS GROUP CLIPSE THAT RAPS ABOUT DRUGS!

3 Comments

Filed under blogosphere echo chamber, Posted by Tyco, RAP MUSIC

8 Diagrams: Mostly Awesome 3/4 of the Way through the First Listen


If you don’t know: 8 Diagrams.

Turns out we say dude a lot.  And laugh at our own jokes.  Shockah!

drillteamalex: god this “gently weeps” track is SO BEYOND UNNECESSARY
jaychampvinyl: hahaha
jaychampvinyl: ft. erykah badu
jaychampvinyl: =the kiss of death
drillteamalex: + john frusciante!!!!!!!!!
drillteamalex: uuuuuuuuuugh
jaychampvinyl: hahaha
drillteamalex: they get right back to it on the next track though
drillteamalex: “shot right through yr hovercraft”
drillteamalex: hahah
drillteamalex: OK DUDES
jaychampvinyl: hah
jaychampvinyl: gives me warm fuzzies to hear Meth and Ghost back-to-back again
drillteamalex: YES
drillteamalex: and ghost tones it down!
drillteamalex: and it doesn’t suck!
jaychampvinyl: I’d begun to forget that Ghostface was ever anything but a solo artist anymore
jaychampvinyl: yeah agreed
jaychampvinyl: beat on this one fairly nondescript tho
drillteamalex: first track?
drillteamalex: yeah it’s fine
jaychampvinyl: yes
drillteamalex: but it’s not, like, stupid
drillteamalex: which is good
drillteamalex: haha
drillteamalex: plus, dude
jaychampvinyl: haha
drillteamalex: KUNG FU SAMPLE!
drillteamalex: hahah
drillteamalex: durrrrrrrrrr
jaychampvinyl: right
drillteamalex: but yeah it’s good to hear
jaychampvinyl: Wu Tang fer DUMMIEZ
drillteamalex: i really like the next track
jaychampvinyl: yeah this is good
drillteamalex: and fuckin “rushing elephants”
jaychampvinyl: Raekwon fucking sounds good no matter what
drillteamalex: it’s true
jaychampvinyl: that voice
drillteamalex: there’s already a fucking detailed wiki on this
drillteamalex: gawd
drillteamalex: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8_Diagrams
drillteamalex: “Rushing Elephants”
* Verse 1: Raekwon
* Verse 2: GZA
* Verse 3: RZA
* Verse 4: Masta Killa
* Produced by RZA

drillteamalex: oh man
drillteamalex: that’s what i’m talkin about
jaychampvinyl: ahaha
drillteamalex: rza produced or co-produced every track on here
drillteamalex: or should i say
drillteamalex: # “Sunlight”
* Verse 1: RZA
* Produced by RZA

drillteamalex: THAT’S what i’m talkin about
drillteamalex: hahahahaha
drillteamalex: ugh sometimes i feel like they really need the resist the “let’s have an r&b hook” urge
drillteamalex: like all the time, basically
jaychampvinyl: hahaha
jaychampvinyl: they DON’T NEED IT
drillteamalex: srsly!!!!!!!!!!!
drillteamalex: come on dudes!
jaychampvinyl: if anyone can fucking survive without a terrible R and B hook, it’s Wu
drillteamalex: yr not gonna score a hit with the ne-yo set!
drillteamalex: YR JUST NOT
jaychampvinyl: hahaha
jaychampvinyl: right
drillteamalex: ohhhhhhhh man
drillteamalex: rza’s flow is sooooooooooooooooooooo awkward!
drillteamalex: it’s so apparent when he has a “solo cut”
drillteamalex: haha
drillteamalex: dude.
drillteamalex: w
drillteamalex: t
drillteamalex: f
jaychampvinyl: what??
drillteamalex: “i’ve been / misunderstood by those who met us”
drillteamalex: “they had / ears of corn and heads of lettuce”
drillteamalex: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
jaychampvinyl: HAHAH
drillteamalex: COME
drillteamalex: ON
jaychampvinyl: RZA?
drillteamalex: YUP
jaychampvinyl: yessss
jaychampvinyl: U-God
jaychampvinyl: thoughts?
drillteamalex: he is the gertrude stein/wesley willis of rap
jaychampvinyl: hahahaha
jaychampvinyl: okay
drillteamalex: not u-god
drillteamalex: rza
jaychampvinyl: I was gonna say
drillteamalex: u-god is like the campbell’s tomato soup of rap
jaychampvinyl: U-God is, um, forgettable
jaychampvinyl: hahaha
drillteamalex: looks like they pulled streetlife away from his bag boy grind at the safeway long enough to put down a verse
drillteamalex: sweet
jaychampvinyl: HAHAHAHAHAHAHH
jaychampvinyl: dude
jaychampvinyl: that’s a fucking quotable and a half
jaychampvinyl: that statement is a blog post in and of itself
drillteamalex: nah right should have our IM convos on fuckin RSS feed son
drillteamalex: holla at yr IT specialist

3 Comments

Filed under IM, Posted by Doorknobs, Posted by Tyco, RAP MUSIC

Devil got my head in a vise…

“Was terrified of death but I don’t fear it now/Was blind, dumb, and deaf but I hear it now.”

beans.jpg

No one. I mean NO ONE. Does world-weary paranoia like Beanie Sigel. No one rages more bitterly against life’s indignities. And no one sounds more like Scarface in his raging, shivering, powerless prime when he’s on.

All the proof you’ll ever need of any of this should be here.

But Beanie has given you more. “Judgment Day” samples “War Pigs,” and is as good as — nah, better than — I imagined it to be. Beans attacks the track with an astonishing ferocity and fills the verses with vividly bleak imagery. Some immediate quotables (I can barely type fast enough to catch them as they strafe by):

“Satan’s whispers got me back on my dark liquor/That firewater killin’ my liver/ The snake hisses in my ear, he’s a natural born killer.”

“I wake up with my sheets soaked, half-asleep/Hearing Tupac’s voice screaming blasphemy.”

The delivery is vintage Beans — every single line spat through gritted teeth, the sound of barely contained murderous impulses. He raps like his soul’s at stake.

Here. I’m sure I have more to say, but fuck that all for right now. Just listen. I’ll be back for more later…

1 Comment

Filed under Posted by Tyco, RAP MUSIC, rock/roll

Yikes, Trae’s music is really fucking depressing.

trae1.jpg

Also, every single album cover looks exactly like this.

For those of you who don’t know (read: anyone/everyone but me, Doorknobz, Tom Breihan, Noz, and prolly Jon Kalmuss-Katz) Trae is a Texan rapper who sounds like he has the world’s worst head cold. Seriously, when he mutters “yeah,” it sounds like “byeahd.” He can hardly talk. He’s like the guy one of those ads for nasal spray where the whole head turns into a giant nose. His plugged-up mumble a fascinating instrument, and like a lot of circa-2007 rap dudes (Jeezy, obviously, but also East Coast weirdos like goblin-gangsta Peedi Crakk or yelling donkey-bray gangsta Freeway) he knows exactly how to use it to maximum effect.

Trae raps on every song exactly the same way: double-time, with his already overwhelmingly thick voice doubled so that it cuts through EVERYTHING, kinda the same way Sabbath piled/compressed their guitars in layers and layers until the sound was so thick it was like a lumbering beast. Trae has no range: his singular mode of expression is the sullen mumble. However, he’s elevated sullen mumbling into about as high an art form as it could ever be.

About two weeks ago, he released Life Goes On, the followup to last year’s unrelentingly dark and magnificently sad Restless, to almost zero fanfare. None of the places that repped for Restless last year have uttered a peep about this record, so I guess it falls to come-latelys like me to rep for the album while they rep for, um, Mitchy Slick or Wiz Khalifa or something.

First off, it ain’t as good. Like, the middle section is straight boring, and the song he does with 2Pac’s dessicated, rotting corpse is terrible. Production-wise, whereas Restless made a virtue of monolithic uniformity, this one just sounds flat in places. The sound of Restless boiled all of Houston rap’s sonic signifiers — slow, creeping basslines, chopped and screwed vocals, towering synths, piano plinks — down to an essentialist sludge, so that the album practically exuded Rap-A-Lot records in general and Screwed-Up Click in particular. In its rigorous formalism, it reminds me, oddly, of how DJ Premier honed and perfected mid-90’s East Coast rap’s signature sound to the point that he now partially embodies the era. Life Goes On gets a lot of the same Houston-rap notes right but somehow misses the music; many of the productions just sound rote.

Still, there are enough flashes of brilliance that the album shouldn’t be immediately consigned to the one-hot-album-followed-by-ummm-WHATEVER bin. Case in point: “The Truth,” a song that pretty much defines what Trae does best — again, sullen mumbling — and takes it to its logical extreme. There are no choruses or hooks on “The Truth” — just one long, pained rant, made even more affecting by its impotently under-the-breath delivery. He’s not confronting anyone with his endless list of grievances — he’s muttering them to himself in the corner. Trae, if his lyrics are any indication, has led a horrifically difficult life, haunted by death, and it shows here: “I know my brother Dickey sittin stressed/First his gal got killed, then his baby mama next/He been gone since ’92 for somethin he didn’t do” he says at one point, and then later: “I got a call about ten, I can’t go through this again/Terrell’s momma just died to be an angel in the wind.” The song doesn’t end; it just fades out, with Trae in mid-verse: “Damn, it’s like I’m out of breath/Praying through the night I can bring my niggas back up out of death.” God knows how long he went after the fader was brought down.

The goods: The Truth

BONUS TRACK: Smile ft. Jadakiss and Styles P

6 Comments

Filed under Posted by Tyco, RAP MUSIC

Picture yourself in a living room: The Spoon Post

So I’ve been thinking about writing this post for days (UPDATE: weeks) now, and fear (UPDATE: know) that the initial inspiration may have drained out of me. But I’m cracking my knuckles and giving it a shot anyway, dammit, cuz this blog needs a post! Our readers need constant, updated entertainment! (ALL of them!) Keep shovelin’ motherfucker! Must feed the gaping maw of the Internet!

So here’s what I’ve been thinking, for days now, about Spoon.

…. giving you a second to cue your favorite Spoon record ….

needle11.jpg

Ok …..GO:

Spoon are one of the many indie-rock bands overlooked by Sasha Frere-Jones in his bizarrely generalized critique of indie rock a few weeks ago in the New Yorker, in that they generally understand the combust

ive power of rhythm, of restraint and abandon, of booming bass frequencies and sharp percussion, and other qualities generally ascribed to “black” music. The best Spoon songs introduce a simple, rhythmic figure, often on piano, and then punctuate it with small, striking elements – well-placed handclaps, for instance, (the chorus on “The Way We Get By”) or a melancholy two-note doodle of a melody surrounded by space (see: Everything Hits At Once, at the 1:03 mark). This oft-remarked-on use of space is what distinguishes them from pretty much everyone else in indie rock (Interpol understood it for a minute or two there as well), and it’s why their music shares some (SOME!) DNA with Timbaland, whose music is often so spacious as to feel cavernous. Every band member contributes to this sensibility, but it’s Jim Eno’s drumming — arguably the greatest drummer in indie rock — that pretty much embodies Spoon’s musical philosophy.

But that’s not even what interests me most about Spoon: that’s just what attracted me to them initially, and what most critics gravitate towards when writing about them. (Either Mike Powell of Stylus said it best, with his review of “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” — “Spoon has made a career out of being terse” — or it was Sasha Frere-Jones, in a much more characteristic — read “excellent” — piece).

No, what makes me return again and again to Spoon is the lurking spectre of Britt Daniels’s concealed hurt, which broods beneath the music’s swagger. It’s the subsumed hurt of a 50’s-generation male, the kind Tommy Lee Jones portrays so beautifully in No Country for Old Men. (He achieves this largely by standing around being baggy. Method acting at its finest.) Emotions never coalesce into words; they just swim around until they find an outlet, whether appropriate or no. Cue “The Fitted Shirt,” a song from Girls Can Tell that expresses both Daniel’s veneration of his father’s generation and his uneasy sense that he will never measure up in their eyes: “When I was growing up, and Dad head off to work/He put coat and tie on/over fitted shirt/Nothing else would fit right, or seem so directly applied/the fitted shirt hung on me.”

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De Niro as Jake LaMotta as self-flagellating Modern American Male. (Remember, this post is about SPOON.)

Fitted shirts aren’t the only by-products of malehood of that Daniels fetishizes. In “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case,” he sighs the words, over and over: “It’s just my/Japanese Cigarette Case/Bring the mirror to my face/Let all my memories be gone,” and I picture him clutching the little case tightly as if it were a talisman that could ward off weakness or self-doubt. Then there’s “The Underdog,” in which the bright, cheery horn section is undercut with Daniels wistfully singing: “Picture yourself in a living room/Your pipe and slippers laid out for you.” Your PIPE AND SLIPPERS? Now we’ve bypassed James Dean and headed straight for Ward Cleaver. Even with this uninentionally comical image (where’s the dog bringing a newspaper in its mouth?) the longing is clear, and affecting. Daniels imbues these inanimate objects –the fitted shirt, the pipe and slippers, the cigarette case — with a profound sense of moral authority, of the stoic wisdom of his father’s generation.

Then there’s the messier, more stereotypically “feminine” side of his persona, which finds its way out in moments of arrogant, wishful denial (“I turn my feelings off/made my untouchable for life” he insists in “I Turn My Camera On“) or in startling moments of open-hearted confession. The clearest example of this is in “I Summon You,” perhaps the most emotionally raw moment in Spoon’s catalogue. Over a simple acoustic-guitar shuffle, Daniels mournfully surveys a wrecked relationship, which climaxes in the devastatingly succinct line “How’d we get here? It’s too late to break it off.” If the terse, indirect nature of his other music is to be believed, Daniels and his other probably “got here” through mutual misunderstanding — “the signals have crossed” — that Daniels tries to cut through with a simple, pleading directive: “I summon you here, my love.” Then, silence, as he waits and the guitar ticks off the seconds.

There’s a lot more out there, but not sure I’m ready to tackle it all. Consider this an installment. (Ah, the privileges of blogging. Imagine doing this with a paper?) Till next time, dearies…..

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Filed under post-millenial manhood, Posted by Tyco, rock/roll

Cass: Wist, Doom and L.A. via Baltimore

Safe to say I like Cass McCombs significantly more than anyone else I know. Not counting shadowy internet personalities, ‘course. I’ve had a Cass post somewhere in me for the last six months+, so it’s a bit odd/unsettling to just sit down and try and puke one out w/o a clear “thesis” or whatever. But I guess sometimes (okay, most times) that’s gonna be the only way to get something (ANYTHING) from digital ink to digital scroll.

Immediate heresy out of the way: I’m gonna focus mostly on A, Cass’s debut full-length, here, with probably a cursory stab at deflating Dropping the Writ, his latest, and almost completely fly by Prefection, the sandwiched LP. This is partly for sanity’s sake (I clearly need to feed my will bite-sized morsels) and also partly because the chinked-armor, basement looseness of A serves as the better contrast to the morning-sun-in-L.A., Devendra-as-the-Eagles milquetoast-ness of Dropping the Writ. Stay with me here (I’ll try the same).

Almost all of A drags. The drums are loping and aggressively drowsy; you could probably count the number of times the hi-hat gets hit on one hand. The sonic stew is essentially standard issue: guitars (clean electric, acoustic), bass, acoustic piano, keys, drums. It’s not like dude is e-bowing an electric violin or some shit. Even the stand-out elements – drone-y/buzzy keyboard, the super left-panned distorted electric guitar ripping on “Gee, It’s Good to Be Back Home” – are subtle-at-best.

Cass’ voice itself is a slightly off-kilter indie wheeze – it does well to be perma-brushed with reverb. Still, it’s affecting, and adds equally to the understated task at hand, wherein all these unremarkable things (standard instrumentation, dirge-y pace, post 90’s indie dude vox, general folk-rock) create an ENCOMPASSING sense of sincere emotion and doom.

There’s something in the repetition of A. There’s a paranoia and a DRONE to it – even when there are moments of swinging or lilting or gentleness, it’s almost MENACING. Even a determinedly passing look at the lyrics/themes (and believe me, I more determined to pass ’em by than anyone) seem to paint an anguish, a desperateness: “I went to the hospital / they put me in a bed / I may soon be gone / To pluck on our hearts”; “You ain’t gonna pin it on me / I don’t wanna hear your sermon / You spit like hypodermics”; heck, the entirety of “Meet Me Here At Dawn.”

Sure, from a distance there’s a teetering on WISTFULNESS or, like, indie MOR or somethin’, but this isn’t a fuckin’ soundtrack to yr post-work camomile, believe. These tunes (and YES, there are FER REAL TUNES on here) are enveloping and patient and HARROWING.

At this point, I’d almost rather not delve into Writ – a second installment perhaps. As way of a preface, just know: there is a dynamic shift more than anything else. There’s twinkle and vocal swells and some occasional (and occasionally welcome) sweetness, but what there AIN’T is MENACE. A minor, odd gripe I suppose, but there it is.

I Went to the Hospital [mp3]
Meet Me Here at Dawn [mp3]

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Filed under Beatific sadness, Posted by Doorknobs, rock/roll

Cassie: This Ain’t Yr Daddy’s Rhythm Nation


Oh hai there.

So…r n’b. I’m not a popist or anything, but I’ve crawled out of my hate hole far enough to appreciate (and even OBSESS OVER) some of the neighborhood dudes n’ divas. Usually it’s the hit single, or whichever-album track-Rich Harrison-produced jams that shine through (you know: “1 Thing,” “Ain’t No Other Man,” every Ciara single ever, “Gotta Make It,” “Let Me Love You,” etc.) I’m not, like, pouring over Keisha Cole b-sides or anything, but its worth taking the collective finger off the mute button if you like pillowy synths n’ shit.

Considering all that, it’d be really really tempting to file Cassie neatly under “had one great track due almost entirely to its pansy/pounding production” (“Me & U”) like a lot of the highlights of contempo r n’b, but GUESS WHAT the album is actually pretty fuckin’ good!

First oddity out of quite a few: production consistency. R n’b (and rap, largely at this point) production tends to be all mercenary style (*guys in suits at Arista* “let’s get Scott Storch, Jazze Pha, Timbaland, The Neptunes and seven guys no one has heard of and add one reggaeton remix as a bonus track”). Which is fine n’ dandy and usually produces 1.5 good singles or so and then a lot of cookie cutter stomps and DRIPPY BALLAD CRAP. On Cassie, Ryan Leslie has produced just about every fake snare hit and vocal burp. At the risk of insulting all the Golden Age nerds, it’s an easy comparison to the Bomb Squad/Public Enemy or Primo/Gang Starr days when there were simply variations on ONE sonic palette. Obviously this dude isn’t Dr. Dre or something, but Ry Ry proves enough of a unique MIDI keyboard knob twiddler to make Cassie swing.

If there was any confusion, SONICS is mostly what I’m eyeing here. Cassie herself is basically a breathy alien supermodel. Which could be pretty compelling, but mostly is just kinda servicable here. The “lyrical themes” or whatever are boilerplate ’00s r n’b: “Look at me I’m hot, u want me, LOL”, etc. If anything, I occasionally daydream about how many imaginary points better this album would be with Ciara singing/monotoning all over it. The important VOID that Cassie shares with Ciara, though, is a total lack of show-offiness, which means no buzzkill wonky melisma (see: Mariah, Xtina ballads). YES, it might be because she just doesn’t have the pipes for it anyway, but, ummmm, THAT’S OKAY.

In any case, Cassie the SINGER is not really why we’re here, I’ll try and stick to the plot from here on out, starting with the most immediate slug-in-the-chest thing about the album: the SYNTHESIZERS.

The thing about the synths on Cassie is, it’s not just synths-as-keyboards. EVERYTHING is synthesized. The bottom-end of “Me & U” (a complete monster) is a synth’d CELLO. Elsewhere you’ll hear some processed harpsichord. Normally such upfront THIS MUSIC IS SUPER FAKEness might be a red flag for cheesedickery, but there’s something about the depths plumbed here that sells me. I mean, this album actually heavily features FLANGER. And it sounds GOOD! Every surface is polished and cold; it sounds mechanical, but it’s still FUN, which is pretty miraculous, indeed.

With all the processing, it’s a bit of a surprise that there’s such a MINIMALIST feel to a lot of the production, particularly the percussive elements. It’s lots of syncopated odds n’ ends – snaps, claps, shakers, TRIANGLE fer chrissakes. It all sounds super SHARP and clipped; there’s basically NO reverb. The production on Cassie sits way outside the Harrison/Just Blaze/Timbo axis of cascading snares/big horns/funk samples/etc. I kinda hate myself already for saying this, but the production here is the Suicide of contempo r n’b. Maybe a little less repitition and, like, cyberpunk-ness and whatnot.

In any case, the first five tracks on Cassie are immediate standouts, especially the ones with goofy r ‘nb spellings (“Me & U,” “Long Way 2 Go,” “Call U Out”). The second half dip dangerously into “No Scrubs”-y lite-ness. There are some neat sonic moments (fake dulcimer and harp on “Not With You”) and the songs never hit ballad rock bottom, but some of Leslie stretching his stylistic wings here falls flat. Thoughts:

– “Ditto” is like Annie by way of AARON CARTER.
– “What Do U Want” borders on popstress guitar pop ala Kelly & Avril (even has a “Girlfriend“-y breakdown); wait, wait, FLANGER AGAIN?!?

Cassie ends with the Basement Jaxx Jr. of “Miss Your Touch” – a funkier moment than any other on the record. It’s not a revelation or anything, but it’s a fun, flitty ummer bounce and its a decidedly welcome flittiness after an album of Big Dark Sounds.

A taste?

“Me & U” [mp3]
“Call U Out” [mp3]
“Miss Your Touch” [mp3]

5 Comments

Filed under Pop, Posted by Doorknobs