Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Album Review - Rome, by Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi

What can be said about Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton that hasn't been said already? He is truly the renaissance producer of the 20th century, and a fascinating study in the evolution of musical knowledge and development. The former hip hop beatsmith has been gradually shifting into the alternative/rock scene, working with The Shin's James Mercer, Sparklehorse, and now U2. Everything Burton touches seems to turn to gold, and his latest project, Rome, is no exception.

Danger Mouse takes a sharp left turn with Rome, enlisting the help of Italian composer Daniele Luppi for a markedly retro interpretation of spaghetti western soundtracks. The result is an album that is contains just as many of the trademark sounds of Burton as the dusted, grandiose scores of Ennio Morricone. Tracks like "The Rose With A Broken Neck", featuring Jack White of the White Stripes, sound like sonic versions of Kill Bill Vol. 2, and who's gonna complain about that? White's voice, which is featured on three songs, contrasts perfectly with the dreamy choruses and acoustics. The combination creates a sorrowful, grim atmosphere that has permeated the last few albums that Burton has been involved with.

The other featured artist on Rome is Norah Jones. Forget all of your preconceived notions of her. She is fabulous on the album, bringing an almost threatening element to the table with a muted snarl on the song "Black", before shifting into a gently rolling croon on "Problem Queen". These songs seem to contain more of the trademark vintage production style of Danger Mouse while still giving Luppi space to work with the carefully arranged chords and flowing sound. It's just about as close as you'll come to a perfect synthesis of the production styles of Phil Spector, Brian Wilson and Ennio Morricone.

Rome is without a doubt one of the best albums of 2011. Everything about it oozes a genuine love for the subject matter Burton and Luppi were attempting to address. They never go overboard though, and the album NEVER feels copied or forced. The length and structure is perfect as well, clocking in at just over thirty five minutes and building up to an excellent climax with the closing track "The World". Romeis a careful balance of obsessive composition, pop-culture and flawless vocal choice.

Score: 4.8/5

Key Tracks

-The Rose With A Broken Neck feat. Jack White
-Two Against One feat. Jack White
-Black feat. Norah Jones
-The Matador Has Fallen
-Morning Fog

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Album Review - Are You Gonna Eat That? by Hail Mary Mallon

Aesop Rock (Ian Bavitz) has gone through a number of changes since hitting the hip hop scene in the late 90's. Buoyed by acclaim from underground legend Percee P, Aes Rizzle was able to break out of the typical white rapper mold with his unique voice and abstract lyricism. After his second and third albums, the Northport emcee began to experiment heavily with his production, sinking deep into the murky, sci-fi inspired sounds of El-P after signing with the Definitive Jux label. It almost seemed like too much to process: Skittering beats that were as complicated and convoluted as the lyrics. The final culmination of this period was Bazooka Tooth, a mess of an album that was simply too artsy for it's own good. 2007's None Shall Pass was almost a return to form, once again calling on Blockhead, the genius behind the subtle nuances of 2000's Float and 2001's Labor Days for a genre bending mix of fuzzed out indie rock and classic boom bap. Since then he's produced a full album for Slug and Murs as well as releasing a slew of free downloads on his arts blog 900 Bats.

Now it's 2011, a full four years since Aesop Rock did anything close to a solo album, and while his new project Hail Mary Mallon isn't exactly a one man show, it's clear that Aes is the undisputed star of the show. The hip hop super group consists of 3 Def Jux alumni: Rob Sonic, DJ Big Whiz, and Rock himself. Released on Slug's Rhymsayers Entertainment label, Are You Gonna Eat That? is a short-but-sweet hearkening back to the good ol' days of the golden era of anti-commercial underground hip hop. Aesop Rock handles the production duties with Big Whiz on the scratches. It's a perfect combo that yields some extremely heavy sounds. These beats are crunchy, loud and marvelously intricate. While complexity was Rock's downfall in Bazooka Tooth, it proves to be his strength here. He seems to have taken all of the good things about El-P's signature style of production and applied his own musical sensibilities to them, incorporating melody and rhythm that was often consciously rejected by the Def Jux founder.

Are You Gonna Eat That?
is just as heavy on the lyrical tip as it is production wise. While it may be hard to pay attention to the subject matter when being blasted with the sonically challenging beats, repeated spins reveal a diverse array of lucid musings on religion, government, corporate evil and tongue-in-cheek humor. "Holy Driver" likens god and religion to cars: a means of transportation that takes you from one point to another, whether on the highway or in life, but often with harmful consequences to health and environment. The majority of the album can be a confusingly metaphorical little package, but the more complex tracks that run the gamut of completely going over the casual listener's head are nicely balanced out with clever hooks and lines such as "tattoo of a scar, half a sleeveless arm shield/beats make your girl wanna put 'em on the glass like Garfield".

While Aesop Rock is the most instantly recognizable emcee on Are You Gonna Eat That? Rob Sonic is a breath of fresh air that sits in stark contrast to his dense, sometimes monotonous flow. Sonic bounces through every track, bringing a sneeringly lighthearted sound to a predominantly dark album.

Apart from the sometimes rambling subject matter, the only other downfall of Rock's latest effort is the length and structure. Even with a run time of 41 minutes, I was left wanting more. Each track seems to slowly build up to a climax, but then suddenly ends before it can be fully realized.

Despite some uneven pacing and the typical overly-abstract lyricism expected from an Aesop Rock project, Are You Gonna Eat That? should please most hip hop heads. Hopefully Hail Mary Mallon will stick together and elaborate on the unrealized brilliance of this strong debut.

Score: 3.7/5

Key Tracks:

-Breakdance Beach
-Mailbox Baseball

Hail Mary Mallon - Smock

Album Review - GOBLIN, by Tyler, The Creator

Unless you've been living under a moderately large rock for the past few months chances are you've heard of the ridiculously lauded Los Angeles hip hop collective, Odd Future. This teenage hype machine has been shoving itself deep into the asscrack of the blogosphere, drawing hate, excitement, admiration and a lot of general confusion from those exposed to their fucked up randomness and genuine glee in just about everything they do. What I've noticed about the majority of those who are made aware of Odd Future is that many have never actually heard the music they put out, which is almost all available for free on the internet.

The public appeal, or disdain, usually derives from the poster boy of the group, Tyler, the Creator, a foul mouthed 19 year old with a penchant for the word "fuck". He's loud, obnoxious, and at first glance could be mistaken for an absolute idiot. Tyler is essentially the definition of politically incorrect and then some. Perfect for the angry tween demographic looking for a way to rebel against their parents without eye liner and skinny jeans.

So there's the surface value of Odd Future, as defined by Tyler. Young rebellious teens who don't give a shit, much like the nasty-ass honey badger. But what about the music?

GOBLIN is the second album from Tyler, the Creator. His debut, Bastard was released for free back in 2010. It went relatively unnoticed by many outside the Los Angeles area, but those who heard it definitely knew that this kid was gonna make waves. GOBLIN follows the same formula as Bastard: Plodding, but well paced delivery with blunted beats paired with oddly delicate piano loops. The production, which is largely handled by Tyler and Hodgy Beats is a downward spiral (in a good way) of broken sounding synthesizers. Tracks like "Her" are insanely minimalist, allowing for Tyler's gravelly voice to steal the show, while other cuts like "Tron Cat" create a vast, flowing soundscape, hitting you with layer after layer of carefully arranged loops.

Lyrically, GOBLIN is Tyler either complaining, being contrary, making fun of people or weaving morbid stories with a twisted touch of humor. Tyler says many of the same things he says in interviews, all with the same kind of raw style. The difference here is that he actually sounds like an intelligent and extremely emotional human being, not like an attention starved teenager. He's not the most technically impressive rapper you'll ever hear, but his almost lazy delivery slurs together in such a unique way that you probably wont care. Tyler takes a queue from many multisyllabic emcees of the past, sounding much like Kool Keith, or Operation Doomsday era MF DOOM. While the majority of songs on GOBLIN have a similar alter-ego vibe, they all seem to be grounded by reality in some sense, and never enter the realm of pure fabrication.

It's odd seeing such a style of rap becoming so popular, especially since it's been beaten to death in the underground scene (I'm looking at you Necro). Acts like Gravediggaz, Kool Keith and Brotha Lynch Hung were doing similar work back in the early 90's and didn't garner even a fraction of the attention that Tyler is getting right now. Even the abrasive production on GOBLIN borrows heavily from the counter-commercial efforts of Def Jux, El-P's industrial/alternative hip-hop label, which was created in response to the wave of overproduced club music spearheaded by P. Diddy and Bad Boy Records in the late 90's. There is no doubt that this decidedly anti-mainstream style catching on has everything to do with the internet, Twitter, and the ease at which artists can put their music out there nowadays. That being said, Odd Future and Tyler are a legitimately interesting manifestation of this blend of social networking and blog facilitated promotion. They aren't doing anything particularly new (say what you will, but Eminem has done almost ALL of this before in one album), but they are bringing back a homemade rawness that hip hop desperately needs.

is one of those albums is more rewarding on a entire listen than a brief dip. Tracks like "Yonkers" and "Tron Cat" are the few exceptions, but on a whole, the record plays out more like a short story than anything else. There will definitely be those who simply cannot listen to the shock-value lyrics, which are the most unrestrained and vulgar I've heard in years. But, for those who can get past the nastiness, there's a genuine emotional quality to the music that can hit deep, even if it is difficult to bear.

Many accuse Tyler of trying too hard. In Goblin he responds, "People sayin' I try too hard/Fucking right I try too hard."

Score: 4/5

Key Tracks:

-Tron Cat

Tyler, The Creator - Yonkers

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hip Hop Time Capsule - Gravediggaz Short Documentary

Gravediggaz, in my opinion, is probably one of the best and fully realized side projects undertaken by The RZA. Dope emcees, dope production, dope concept. Gravediggaz was the birth of horrorcore, and paved the way for such acts as Tech N9ne, Brotha Lynch Hung, Army of the Pharaohs, and a good deal of Kool Keith's later albums after Ultramagnetic MCs broke up. Prince Paul manned the boards, creating an eerie, unique soundscape that meshed perfectly with the frenetic delivery of RZA, Frukwan and Too Poetic (AKA The RZARector, The Grym Reaper and The Gatekeeper). The great thing about Gravediggaz is that they never took themselves too seriously, and there was always a great sense of humor in their songs despite the oftentimes grisly lyrics.

While surfing youtube I found a gem of a documentary about Gravediggaz containing some great footage and interviews about the conception of the group and their creative process. Raw hip hop at its finest! Watch it below (There's also a great piece about EPMD at the end as well!)

Bishop Lamont - The Shawshank Redemption (Mixtape)

School's been hitting hard and I've had literally no time recently to update my blog. I'm gonna mark 'Mcgehrk's return to DoubleFine with a heads up about this excellent new mixtape by Inglewood's own Bishop Lamont. I've never really checked for this guy in the past but the single off the mixtape, titled "Rain" got my attention. It features a killer beat by Dr. Dre and an excellent hook sung by Liz Rodrigues of The New Royales. Check out the video for the single below, as well as a link for a download of the mixtape.

Rain, feat. Liz Rodrigues (Prod. by Dr. Dre):

Download: "The Shawshank Redemption"

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Movie Like No Other

In my 20 years on this planet I can honestly say that I have never seen a film quite like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

With no previous experience with the Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Edgar Wright, who hit it out of the park with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz was finally breaking away from his go-to team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and opting for a totally different type of comedy/action flick from his previous two. Would this radical shift pay off? Wright's directing style and humor is very distinctly British, and I was worried that something might be lost in translation with this Hollywood debut (if you can even call it a typical Hollywood film). Initially the casting also had me slightly put off. I hoped upon hope that it wouldn't be another vehicle for Michael Cera's seemingly endless stream of painfully awkward teen nerd roles. My hopes proved to be only partially destroyed. Cera does play an undeniably nerdy character, but manages to transform his typecast role into a surprisingly awesome badass. He falls for Ramona, a rainbow haired goth girl who has the misfortune of being followed by her "seven exes", all intent on ruining any of her future relationships. Scott must fight them one by one in order to win her as his girlfriend and rise up from his geek status (which is magnified by a seemingly desperate attempt at a relationship with a 17 year old Chinese Catholic school girl). All in all, acting doesn't take center stage in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. The film's actors get free passes however because of their sheer likability. Kieran Culkin and Jason Schwartzman are testaments to this, thriving on the corny one-liners and over-the-top delivery. Deep dialogue is completely avoided in favor of blogosphere/Twitter/Facebook lingo.

While nobody's going to be winning any Oscars here, the action scenes, cinematography and editing are some of the most impressive I've seen in quite a while. Everything moves at a breakneck pace, engaging the viewer at all times. This is where Wright's directing style from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz shines through. Even overblown verbal interactions between characters offer visual entertainment. Environments and backgrounds often change without warning in mid-conversation. Fight sequences occur at the drop of a dime, blasting into high gear among lavishly designed sets that deteriorate and crumble as Scott and his nemeses go toe to toe. The best way to describe these scenes are like live action mash-up of Tekken, Street Fighter and Dragon Ball Z with a little bit of Super Mario and Super Smash Bros. thrown in.

Video games are referenced almost to a fault throughout Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. While there are many nods to familiar games in the pop-culture spectrum such as Super Mario and Zelda, there are just as many obscure ones that only hardcore gamers would recognize. For instance: Someone may recognize an enemy bursting into a pile of coins as a clear shout out to Mario. The same can't be said for the bladed whip reference to Ivy, a character in the Soul Caliber game series, or the likeness of Scott's love interest to the main character from Jet Set Radio Future, an overlooked game that made it's debut on the Sega Dreamcast. It definitely won't be a turn off for those unfamiliar with video game culture, but it certainly gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside when you see someone whip out a pixelated energy blade and recognize it from Super Smash Bros.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
proves to be a dazzling and terrifically put together film. It plays out like the Easy Rider of the social networking/video game/tech generation of young people. Even the 35 and over crowd are likely to be drawn in by the witty, fast-paced dialogue and charm of the characters. There's no denying the sheer entertainment and eye candy that the film delivers. This is definitely one not one to be missed.

Monday, August 2, 2010

More About Nothing.....

Just got the word from Wale's Twitter that his latest mixtape "More About Nothing" is set to hit the interwebz sometime tomorrow. It's a sequel to a personal fav of mine, "The Mixtape About Nothing", which had some brilliant samples from Seinfeld to propel Wale's bouncy flow. File this one under: CANNOT WAIT!