Kendrick to Bono: “Great stuff. We’ll be in touch.”

KUNG-FU2

“Thank you for your interest, Bongo. Please take a number.”

Selected notes on recent rap music moments (excerpted from e-mails/texts to my sister).

Okay, so, the new Kendrick Lamar is 100% certifiably the balls. And, just incidentally—did this m.f. just get U2 to pop into a song like 2/3 of the way through, have Bono croon a chorus ONCE and then just stop tape and peace out before the second chorus is even OVER? Did he just HIRE the most giantest band in the world to be some jobbing session guys like he’s some kind of new-era monster boss the likes of which Kanye is sweating so hard Kim’s telling him to towel off beFORE he comes to bed?

Seriously: It’s a 4-minute song. U2 don’t even get to step in until Kendrick’s been going for like 2:30. Lamar lets Bono do a chorus (which, I mean, incidentally—“drum & bass”? That’s your “heavy, man”/insightful cultural touchpoint for America in 2017? Okay; catch you at the Apple Store, granddad👌), kicks it a little while longer, then cuts Bono off before he can finish the second chorus. I take pride in having a U2-free household, but this baller-ass, boss-ass move makes me proud to add this exception to my library.

Overall: TPAB was a big deal, high-impact statement of a rap album. It was iconic, large-scale and loaded with meaning and purpose. It was intentionally a moment and it succeeded in being all that as well as a lastingly engaging, listenable and powerful record overall. DAMN. is the perfect followup: nothing momentous; just a really great rap album. There’s a lot going on lyrically, but it’s not the moment/statement record TPAB was; and that’s fair. Why should it (have to) be? It’s just a skillfully crafted album that, in its deceptively effortless expression and execution, actively raises the bar for what we can (and should) expect from rap music/ians in this era.

__________________

And now: The new Hov.

Verdict: Surprisingly good! It’s actually genuinely interesting throughout. I wasn’t sure he had it in him to put out a non-Jay-Z album (i.e., exploring/experimenting along the lines of Kanye or Kendrick, say); and he truly may not. But he does know his role/lane better than anyone and, within it, has put something together that sounds like a Jay-Z album (beats, flow, production), but lyrically has a lot more going on than anything I’ve heard from him in years.

Plus, at 36 mins., it’s a tight, cozy little package.* No dead weight, minimal guests and concise tunes that make their point and don’t overstay their welcome. It’s not rewriting anything in rap, but it does add some new pages and depth to the Jay-Z persona/icon/character/corner-dealer-to-corporate-hustler mythos. I’m honestly impressed at the level to which he allows himself to concede ground to recognizing and grappling with emotion and status in some of these lyrics.

I mean, it’s not Elliott Smith or Joni Mitchell or anything (ugh, I should pick examples I actually like), but he’s clearly taken some cues from people like Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar (I assume, just for example; along with various other new jacks) and integrated them credibly into his own creative aesthetic while maintaining its own integrity.

All very flowery, but the tl:dr version is: Good record! It’s no Butterfly, or anywhere near it, but it’s not trying to be—and it’s also nowhere near that Magna Carta garbage fire, either. Conducive to summertime drive-/dick-around enjoyment and with a ratio of riches to rags that lets the floss highlight the humanity as the earnestness/sincerity frames the grandstanding more appealingly, all while leaving the listener with food for thought beyond Jay’s familiar tropes.

(Now, if only these new-era “business models” supported actual album credits, I could talk about who did what beat, etc.; but that kind of effort/awareness/importance/obligation has officially plummeted over the cliff. Started with iTunes and continues to be the m.o., despite the deep lack of respect and common courtesy it reflects back on the artist(s)/label(s)/streaming service(s) who present these albums to listeners.)

And with all those thoughts poured out into your eyeballs, I have to get back to work. Because, yeah: Procrastination don’t keep the lights on and there ain’t no late pass to the hustle.

Keeping it real af up in these Berkshires,

Andrew

 

* See also: Natalie Portman

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A Wintry Mix for a Snowy Night

It's the berries!

Well, then! It’s been a little while since I last posted anything, and a Prince remembrance is a tough act to follow. But this has a chance, at least, of doing the trick.

If you would like to click here, you will initiate the downlizzle of a four-hour mix that I made the other day. It was meant as an “audition” for my DJ services at a semi-local joint, but I figured that since it went so long (editing has never been my strong suit), it was worth sharing outside of that narrow avenue.

[EDIT: Updated the link; it’s good for another week or so, which should catch everyone. If you missed it, drop me a line (and if you know anywhere on the internet that I can stash a file that comes up to just a shade under 500MB for free, please do the same)…]

This post also will serve, at least, to unveil my new DJ name: Officer Nasty. Where did this name come from? Good question. In advance of any idle googling this name may inspire, I will tell you one thing: Not from Family Guy. Never anything from Family Guy.

I made the mixxx using Mixxx, which allowed me to select all the songs, Auto-DJ them and record the mix without having to manage much after pressing Play. It’s a decent app, but not the most intuitive when it comes to the above usage. (There is no “Play” or “Record” button, for example.)

(Side note: I only DJ from vinyl, so the playlist consists strictly of records I actually own and would/will play in a live set.)

As always, let me know what you think. (If you’re reading this, you know how to reach me.) What do you like—and what don’t you like? Equally interested in both!

Say; let’s try adding a playlist—real small, so it doesn’t take up the whole page.

[Note: Order may be slightly different from actual mix, for reasons too boring to divulge.]
01. Poliça – Dark Star
02. Glass Candy – Candy Castle
03. Leftfield – Original
04. Aïsha Devi – The Saviour On Spilled Blood
05. Akkord – Channel Drift
06. Chromatics – I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around
07. Mylo – Paris Four Hundred
08. M83 – Graveyard Girl
09. Party Bros. – Heartstones
10. M83 – Midnight City
11. Dangermouse – Tom’s Diner/In Da Club
12. Betty Davis – Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him
13. Benji Hughes – Why Do These Parties Always End The Same Way?
14. Ghostface Killah – Be Easy (ft. Trife)
15. 8 Ball & MJG – Buck Bounce
16. Kelis – Milkshake
17. Bigg Jus – This Is Poor People’s Day
18. Company Flow – Patriotism
19. David Banner – Choose Me (ft. Sky)
20. Agallah – Crookie Monster (instrumental)
21. Downtown Science – This Is A Visit
22. Beastie Boys – Shake Your Rump
23. Chromium – Haunted Disco
24. Chromeo – Momma’s Boy
25. Chic – Happy Man
26. C.J. & Co. – Devil’s Gun
27. Bionic Boogie – Stop The Music
28. Brother To Brother – We Love To Party
29. Cocoa Brovaz – Super Brooklyn (Instrumental)
30. Dr. Octagon – Blue Flowers
31. Chromatics – I Want Your Love
32. Gayngs – Crystal Rope
33. Leftfield – Dusted [Howie B Vocal Remix]
34. 50 Cent – How To Rob An Industry Nigga
35. Evian Christ – Drip
36. Erykah Badu – That Hump
37. Empire Of The Sun – Swordfish Hotkiss Night
38. El-P – Tuned Mass Damper
39. 8 Ball & MJG – Pimp Hard
40. Eightball – Ball And Bun
41. The Bug vs Earth – Boa
42. Earth – Coda Maestoso In F [Flat] Minor (Autechre remix)
43. DJ Spinna – Watch Dees (ft. Eminem & Thirstin Howl III)
44. DJ Shadow – Dark Days (Main Theme)
45. Desire – Don’t Call
46. Cloud Boat – Wanderlust (Old Apparatus remix)
47. Clams Casino – Realist Alive [Lil B] (instrumental)
48. Chromatics – I’m On Fire
49. Burial – Loner
50. Bowery Electric – Floating World
51. Blockhead – A New Day
52. Bilal – Restart
53. Benji Hughes – Where Do Old Lovers Go?
54. Balam Acab – Motion
55. PPP – On A Cloud
56. Sa-Ra Creative Partners – Glorious
57. Arcadia – Election Day
58. Grace Jones – Love Is The Drug
59. Tiombe Lockhart – Escape From Stinktown

Leaving Prince everywhere.

BRdeath

When Bad Brains proclaimed their “P.M.A.,” they meant, “Positive Mental Attitude.” Which—obviously—is a good thing to have. For me, today, P.M.A. also stands for “Prince’s Music Around.” Which—obviously—has always been a good thing to have, but right now, more than usual.

When Prince proclaimed the internet to be over, he was more than likely basing his contention on my old band’s version of his stellar song, “When You Were Mine.” I mean, it’s not stand-out lousy or anything; but if Prince ever heard it, that could easily have been the straw that broke the internet, for him.

Anyhow, I’ve loved this song ever since I first heard it. I see it (based purely on my own imagination and what I’ve read about Prince here and there, over the years; nothing more) as his casual swing at the mainstream pop that was on the charts at the time. Like, “Oh, you want some downtown new wave white guy synth-pop like the Cars and whatever? Sure—hell, I can do that with my guitar tied behind my back.” And people were all, “Oh, word?” And Prince was like, “Yeah, but I’m gonna sing it like a girl, so just enjoy it like that.”

And, of course, Prince’s “casual swing” is going to A) be better than the vast majority of songwriters’ worked-up and sweated-down efforts, and B) sound like nobody else.

It’s a similar feeling to the one I get listening to “Run, Run, Run,” from the first Sly & the Family Stone album.* I picture Sly saying, “Oh, you want some flower-power, hippie-type white folks sunny-day pop like the Mamas and the Papas and whatever? Yeah, I can do that. In general, I’d rather not—but since it’s our first time together, sure—let’s not get too heavy too quickly, baby.”

Prince, man. Too bad, too young, too soon, too much. Tip your bottle, Tipper.

* Not linking to Amazon or iTunes here; you know how to find them. Amoeba’s a great store and if you’re not into spending $21 (free shipping!) for these five all-killer, no-iller Sly/Family albums (all with sweet unreleased bonus tracks), you should take a minute to sit quietly somewhere and re-evaluate your choices in life. (“Underdog,” alone, has given me well over $21 worth of ebullient joy. The harmonies, the drumming, and that hook…!)

How to Box in Your Right-Wing Friends

BiLoveAmerica

Want to hear a really great song? Check out “I Love America,” by Patrick Juvet. It’s fun, upbeat and catchy—sure, the chorus isn’t on, like, a Stevie Wonder or Brian Wilson level, but it will probably be stuck in your head all day.

Anyhow, to celebrate Super Duper Tuesday, why not share this with your friends considering casting their votes for any of the republican candidates? They’ll have to like it; A) it’s an awesomely fun song, and B) it’s called “I Love America.” I mean, I think republicans/ conservatives are morally and philosophically obligated to defend any song called “I Love America” with any and all guns in their possession, right?

The point is, you’ll have introduced them to a song they can’t hate—even though it’s a disco single made by a bisexual Frenchman. So it’s win-win, really.

This song will be my soundtrack as I walk into the voting booth today. If anyone wants the MP3, holler at a m.f.; I got you!

(Extended 13-minute remix version, yo.)

Bye Bye, Glenn Frey

glen-frey

Lemmy: Whoa.

Bowie: What?!

Alan Rickman: Come on.

Glenn Frey: …Huh.

With the standard Joe Walsh exception, I’ve never found anything particularly interesting or appealing about the Eagles, as a band. As people, they seem either unexceptional or like generic, cardboard-cutout rock star assholes. (I mean, just for starters, there’s Frey’s co-writer culpability for “Get Over It,” Don Henley’s awesome rich-straight-white-guy-splaining anthem; check the YouTube comments for a sweet litany of liver-curdling Mr. Me-Toos.)

Having said that, I will paste the following, which I found a few years back on the Wikipedia (and on the clock, I might add) and which is my favorite thing about the Eagles I‘ve encountered so far.

Breakup: 1980

On July 31, 1980, in Long Beach, California, tempers boiled over into what has been described as the “Long Night at Wrong Beach.”[33][34] The animosity between Felder and Frey boiled over before the show began, when Felder said, “You’re welcome—I guess,” to California Senator Alan Cranston‘s wife as the politician was thanking the band backstage for performing a benefit for his reelection.[35] Frey and Felder spent the entire show telling each other about the beating each planned to administer backstage. “Only three more songs until I kick your ass, pal,” Frey recalls Felder telling him near the end of the band’s set.[36] Felder recalls Frey telling him during “Best of My Love,” “I’m gonna kick your ass when we get off the stage.”[33][37]

So: Goodnight, funnyman. Fare thee well, blues smuggler. Vaya con dios, desperado. I can’t tell you why, new kid in town, but there’s gonna be a heartache tonight—I know.

Take it easy.

Bye bye, Glenn Frey.

(Hello, Spotify.)

Pitchfork: The Year in Constipation

B-B kingz

The following excerpts are taken from Pitchfork‘s year-end wrap-up of significant quotes from 2015. Feel free to share with any similarly afflicted friends and/or family.

__________________

This year’s collection of our favorite Pitchfork interview quotables features wisdom on navigating the #branding era while keeping your soul intact, fighting against the Internet’s isolating tendencies, how streaming is changing the way we listen to music, the joys of fandom, the ambiguousness of faith, and the eternal embarrassment of talking about constipation.

“I have spent so long lying around in bed being miserable and hoping for something interesting to happen, and then when interesting things do happen, I get freaked out and wish for that quiet place again.” — Courtney Barnett

“I disagree very strongly with people saying ‘that battle is over.’ If you’ve started a battle, I don’t think it ever ends.” — Jenny Hval

“Life’s too short to be shoehorned into a box that isn’t for you.” — Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry

“We are becoming really disconnected from our planet and our bodies. The technologies around us conspire to distract us from what really matters—community, the environment, love, joy. The thing-ness of reality is very important, and if I have a lifelong goal, it’s to try to help people stay aware of being in this world, in a body, for the very short time that we’re here.” — Robert Rich

“I want to support young girls who are in their 20s now and tell them: You’re not just imagining things. It’s tough.”
— Björk

The real cost of Adele.

 

i want my adeleRight up front: Adele’s music is not for me. This is not about loving or hating her new album, 25; it’s about streaming music—in particular, the entitled attitude that supported its rise as a platform and sustains it as a business.

And it’s about this New Yorker piece, by John Seabrook: Who is Really Paying for Adele?

Let’s start with the phrasing in the title. “Who’s really paying for Adele?” Seabrook begins by framing the discussion as though it’s our tax dollars going toward torching orphanages. So dramatic, so entitled, so misguided. This is pop music, not climate change.

If you are an Apple or a Spotify subscriber (I am both), you are faced with a quandary over what to do about “25.”

No, you’re not. You’re faced with an inconsistency in the steady stream of music that you’ve engaged for your listening pleasure. It’s not a quandary; it’s an anomaly: if I subscribe to HBO and Showtime has a movie I want to watch, do I get to complain to the manager? I guess so—but that doesn’t mean the manager has to take me seriously, because I clearly don’t understand the basic premise. I signed up with one platform—by definition, that means I may have to face the fact that content may appear outside that platform. Quandary? No. Life in the world? Yes.

[Let’s just skip lightly over the more relevant quandary of supporting an artist by actually paying money for their product vs. supporting your music appreciation habit by paying not very much money for a system that pays almost every artist almost nothing.]

In the old days, you would have just gone out and bought the album. But streaming complicates the picture. You don’t want to buy the record because that would be giving in to what feels like a heavy-handed attempt to make us purchase the music twice—to pay another ten dollars on top of the ten-dollar monthly subscription… for an album that will show up on streaming sooner or later.

But how long do you have to wait? It could be a couple of weeks, it could be a year, or it might not be until Adele gets her diamond. How long can you wait? At least with DVD rentals, you have a pretty good idea of how long it’s going to be. But Adele and Taylor are making up the sales-to-streaming rules as they go along.

No, they’re not. The music industry is making up all the new rules as they go along; Adele and Swift are responding to these arbitrary, exploitative practices in ways that they believe will better serve them. This is not something you can reasonably object to. It’s them doing business their way, in a notoriously shady business.

Is that wrong? Is it any worse behavior than that (historically and/or currently) of the major label record industry? Or is it just an inconvenient glitch in the business model you’ve decided to buy into? Beta vs. VHS, Blu-Ray vs. HD; if one platform doesn’t meet all your needs, are you entitled to recourse? Sorry; no. You’re not. You’re entitled to gripe, sure—but it’s not a good look, homes. Whining ≠ winning.

[And, “a heavy-handed attempt to make us purchase the music twice”? Come on, man: If you spend $13 on the Adele album, she gets that royalty amount. If you spend your monthly $10 “again” on your streaming service, she gets next to nothing, while you get her album, plus a million other albums. This is apples and… unicorns?]

Anyhow, speaking of whining, let’s discuss this gem of a closing line; does Seabrook realize how pathetically self-important and greedy it makes him sound? Just because he might have to buy an album this year?

The way things are going now, only Adele wins.

No, she’s not. Not entirely, anyhow. Because, well, “the way things are going now,” when an artist makes the radical decision to choose the more profitable route, she’s getting this kind of criticism and risks alienating her fans. (Never mind that even having the power to make this decision, as a woman, in that industry, is a feat in itself.)

And—sorry—again: how is it wrong or bad or unjust or unfair, if “only Adele wins”? She comes out ahead because millions of people have bought her album—but Seabrook makes it sound like it’s some kind of short-sighted misfire; a harbinger of worse things to come. How is this any kind of ominous doomsday premonition? Only in a world where a dude doesn’t get everything his way, is as close as I can figure.

Whether he wrote it or not, the caption under the piece’s photo helps to clarify Seabrook’s conclusion a bit:

In pursuing a strategy of inflating sales by keeping albums such as British singer Adele’s “25” off streaming services, could the record business be choosing short-term profits over long-term growth?

Yes! Of course it could! That’s pretty much the only thing it’s been doing for the last fifteen years; basically, since Napster. The industry clearly recognizes that long-term growth (at least, in terms of the record business as we/they know it) is a fantasy. And yet each one of the haphazard, blindly optimistic toothpicks they keep adding to prop up their business model somehow manages to support it for just a little bit longer. But for how long? When will it finally crush its struts and settle into the dust? And what will the John Seabrooks do for content then?

In closing: John Seabrook and those on his side of this topic can hold my balls. By participating (as a consumer) in the monetization of streaming services, he’s fully complicit in the self-inflicted downfall of the music industry, yet (as a consumer) he’s still managing to critique its self-serving and exploitative practices as he holds its hand and leaps over the precipice. Fuuuuuck off.

Addendumb/b-roll:

Why should Adele be expected to toe the streaming line and give her album away for free?

“But wait, it’s not free, man—I pay X dollars a month for my streaming services. In fact, I have two of them!”

Sure—it’s not free for you, which sucks, dude. But based on any revenues she (and most artists) can expect, it’s essentially giving it away free for her. How many times can I say, “Come on, man”?

Rich white guy’s death still mysterious.

unsolved

So, I watched the Soaked in Bleach documentary on Netflix the other night. Here are some random thoughts.

1. Synopsis: Famous, semi-interesting crazy lady may have had something to do with the death of her fairly uninteresting rock star husband.

2. Seems pretty clear that the Seattle police botched the crime scene and followup; but hey—what else is new? Cops will be cops.

3. Seems pretty clear that there’s compelling, more-than-circumstantial evidence to support re-opening the case as a homicide, rather than a clear-cut suicide—but, well; referring back to #1, we have to ask ourselves how we define “compelling.” There are quite a few cases that would take priority over this one, if we’re actually going to spend the time and resources.

4. Kind of a shame to see Dylan Carlson implicated fairly heavily as (to be kind) a “person of interest” or (to buy into the doc’s implications) an accomplice. I’m prepared to cut him some slack, though, for the following reasons:

4a. Guilty until presumed innocent, etc. Can’t convict someone on the strength of one documentary.

4b. Guilty or not, with Earth (and on his own), Carlson has made music I’ll be listening to for years to come. The fact that I’m confident that the same isn’t true for Kurt Cobain does not mean it’s okay if Carlson had a role in his murder, but, well—put it this way: I sold Bleach back in the nineties sometime. I’ve had Nevermind since college (OG copy; no bonus track—look for it on ebay soon) and yet it’s never made it onto any ipod I’ve owned. If one of these guys had to go…

4c. Heroin is a hell of a drug, etc.

5. Is Jessica Hopper, the girlfriend of this “Cali” guy, the same Jessica Hopper who now has an impressive career as a music writer? A cursory, superficial Google search is inconclusive, but—

6. yawn

7. Anyhow, RIP and a splash of liquor to the murdered, the gone-too-soon, the died-too-young, the unfairly-taken, the unjustly-deceased and the never-forgotten; among this uncountable crowd: Kurt Cobain. Rock stars’ deaths get more attention than those of ordinary humans, but that doesn’t mean they’re more important. A cursory, superficial Google of the terms, “cops,” “black” and “killed” will readily turn up a grim crateful of cold and still-warm cases that could use a bit of that righteous spotlight.

A small-caliber proposal.

righttobeararmms

So, here’s the deal:

If you have a gun, you can shoot anyone else with a gun.

People who don’t own guns are exempt. Off-limits.

Some specifics:

Gun owners who shoot non-gun-owners are exiled from the country for life; no second chances, no exceptions.

Law-enforcement officials are included in all of the above.

Okay?

That way everyone gets to have their fun. Gun people can go ahead and shoot up whoever, whenever, and pretend the government’s going to take over or whatever; and non-gun people can be a few hundred thousand times safer. (See also: kids.)

Agreed? Any further discussion on this? Not sure why there would be?

Adam Haut: Thank you.

Photo by Matt Carroll

Photo by Matt Carroll

I was a friend of Adam’s. Not a close friend, but close enough to know him and appreciate him, and what he meant to the world, and to his close friends and his family and to everyone who encountered him. This is about what he meant to me and the people I knew and loved when we met.

Back in the late 1990s, when the Nickel Kids had finally all re-assembled and relocated to Boston, we started out playing in the clubs; awkward as it is to admit, our first show was at Copperfield’s. We played the Linwood Grille, the Middle East, the Paradise, TT’s, mostly to pretty small audiences—like, barely cracking single digits.

We played with bands that sounded nothing like us and had nothing in common with us, made a few bucks, spent it back on beers, and sweet-talked a small, rotating cast of friends and co-workers out on Monday nights to get the numbers up, with the goal of being invited back to play maybe on a Tuesday or Wednesday night.

Sometime shortly after Tigger joined the band, we were contacted by Nick (the PMOW) from the House of Suffering in Brighton, who had seen our listing in MRR’s Book Your Own Fuckin’ Life and wanted us to play in his basement. We brought our shiny pop-punk tunes and contrarian attitudes into the musty basement of that house and found ourselves in the midst of probably our best show ever, up to that point. The room was full of people, the beer was plentiful and free, we got handed a wad of cash two or three times as big as we’d ever gotten above ground, and we found ourselves surrounded by the kinds of people we’d been wanting to play with and for.

I don’t know if Adam Haut was at that first show, but as we continued our subterranean trajectory, away from the clubs and into the dusty, dingy basements of Brighton, Allston and those across the river, finding our niche, making new friends and realizing what kind of band we actually wanted to be, we started seeing this odd-looking guy pretty regularly. He had a scattered assortment of piercings and tattoos, a scraggly beard, split down the middle, and his long hair was interspersed with asymmetrical streaks of shaved scalp. On his back was an elaborate and beautiful piece that we eventually learned was drawn from Watership Down.

And he was always in the pit. Whenever he was at a Nickel Kids show (or any other where we saw him), he was dancing—into it on a level that, as a member of the band, was extremely gratifying; and, as a person, was just impressive, and inspiring.

There’s a turning point in the Nickel Kids’ “career arc,” easily identified as the dividing line between, “when we didn’t get naked during our shows” and “when we always got naked during our shows.” And I’m pretty sure—maybe Morgan remembers—that Adam was right there with us at that turning point, on that particular night.

The first time we got naked during a show was at the House of Suffering; mid-set we just stripped down and went for it. The crowd was surprised, amused and confused—all except for Adam, who, as we started the next song, joined us in theory and in practice, shucking his own clothes and dancing naked in the pit.

Adam understood what we were doing and why; maybe better than we did. We were being daring and reckless, stripping down to the nude at a show in a pretty safe place, full of friends, in a scene we trusted. But looking back, it’s clear that Adam had already surpassed us. He was living, daily, the embodiment of the convention-questioning and boundary-pushing that we were acting out in our sweaty nakedness.

At the end of our sets, we would put our clothes back on and go home and ease back into the world. Adam didn’t have that option, with the choices he’d made. He couldn’t untie his beard, slip off the crazy wig and de-piercify for the comfort of the world. He looked, and lived, the way he wanted to, for his own enjoyment.

The point of all this is this: There was a moment in the midst of the Nickel Kids’ transition, from dreaming of getting signed by Fat Wreck Chords to being the band we truly dreamed of being, when I turned to Morgan and said, “If that guy ever stops coming to our shows, we’ll know we’ve made a wrong turn.” Morgan nodded; it was obvious. I don’t remember when this was. It might have been before the naked stage; might have been after. It was definitely before “that guy” became our friend Adam, whose company we would come to enjoy in so many different ways and places over the following years.

Even before we knew Adam Haut, we knew who he was, what he meant; and that he was a crucial part of what we were looking for, who we wanted to be, as a band and as people—even before we really knew what that was. I know we weren’t alone in that. I will always be sad that he’s not here. The world needs people like Adam. They inspire us and make us question and give us reasons to keep doing what we want to do, not what everyone else wants (us) to do.

Thank you, Adam, for being a wonderful person, a fun friend and such a fundamental part of one of the best times in my life.

The Memories Station.

482219749_295x166

I’m no longer in the Boston area anymore. I don’t miss a lot about it, but there is this one thing. A bunch of years back, we stumbled across WJIB (740 AM, Boston; “The Memories Station”) entirely by accident, and we were hooked. It’s like a portal through time to a simpler era. It’s too saccharine even for my mother, who described it as “like drowning in an ocean of syrup.”

But it’s great; the music is classic and timeless (up to a certain very specific point; probably cuts off right at New Year’s Eve, 1980), but the other thing that stood out was the canned interjections from the man who it quickly became clear was the station’s owner and sole DJ, Bob Bittner. The one that stands out in my mind is, “You’re listening to WJIB, the Memories Station. And you know those credit cards in your wallet? They’re snakes, out to swallow you whole.” Or something very much like that. He also solicits listener feedback by e-mail; care to guess? Correct: It’s an AOL address. Early adopt + set-and-forget.

I got the feeling, tuning in to WJIB over the years—always during daylight hours, since the signal disintegrates after dark, due to obscure vagaries of AM broadcast technology and regulations—that Mr. Bittner was a pretty interesting guy; maybe not someone I’d want to spend a long bus trip with, but certainly someone worth interviewing.

And the Boston Globe has just done that. I’d have liked to read more about him and the staion, but to be honest, knowing less about this guy and his life and world is fine. It’s nice to have mysteries and unknowns. In fact, it’s perfectly consistent with The Memories Station’s warm, soporific time-tunnel into a bygone age, when everyone didn’t immediately always know and share everything about everyone and everything all the time.

Here’s the WJIB website. Sadly, there’s no online audio component. (“‘Streaming’? Sure, hippie. It’s around back by the dumpster with the rest of your generation’s contributions.”) Also, color is clearly for crayons and tie-dye. If this guy could, he’d type up a damn website on his old Smith-Corona.

My favorite part, though, is the last paragraph; almost makes me wish I was back in Boston:

Perhaps WJIB’s most interesting show, the unique “Let’s Talk About Radio”, is broadcast every Sunday morning at 11:00. On the show, which began in 1995, Bittner and his guests chat about radio, television, license plates, phone books, and other common interests for half an hour.

Only half an hour. I don’t know how he does it.

Oh, hi, Shafiq Husayn!

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I had half-forgotten how much your album was just the perfect summertime-driving-around and also chilling and grilling record. Deep yet catchy, soulful, bouncy and meaningful, all rolled up into a collection that is unmistakably yours—all original, no filler, and with the kind of unique brilliance that makes someone want to track down everything else you’ve been involved in.

I have been tracking Shafiq and the Sa-Ra Creative Partners since I got Pharoahe Monch’s Agent Orange in the mail on a promo CD single; maybe the last, dying gasp of Rawkus Records. Their “beat” on that track baffled me and I immediately had them on my radar; the next thing I heard by them was “Glorious“—both literally and emotionally—and I was on board for life. Sa-Ra has yet to let me down, whether as a trio or its individual members’ efforts. (See also PPP; aka Platinum Pied Pipers.) Taz Arnold recently turned up with nice production on some To Pimp a Butterfly tracks, while Om’Mas Keith has worked with Frank Ocean and Mark Pritchard and dropped his own solo record a few years back, which is a sweet ride in itself.

But Shafiq is the guy I keep coming back to. His style is so unique; hip-hop based, but with so many diverse and almost-but-not-quite-familiar sounds in his palette. Twitchy but not glitchy, it’s got bass definition but is rich in high end subtleties. He’s got a new one on the way; can’t wait.

Good to keep in mind.

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Lotic is a producer I learned about through my ongoing love for Tri Angle Records. His recent EP release on that label, Heterocetera, has been in heavy rotation, lately. And as of the other day, he’s risen even further in my (so lofty, so precious) estimation.

Over at FACT, there’s an item about his response to a crassly racist comment made by a member of PC Music. The comment was part of “an iMessage review” (so that’s a thing now?) of the Field Day festival for Noisey (always thoughtfully on the cutting edge of where music meets challenging preconceptions of the entrenched and oh I can’t finish; it’s just Vice meets music).

I’m not going to quote the whole thing (it’s on his Facebook page in full, obv.), but a couple of his points are either right in line with the premise I’ve based this blog around, or close enough to being so that I should probably incorporate them into the manifesto or something. To wit:

to me this is more a result of press/club culture over-intellectualizing music and being too curious about ‘mysterious’ producers, congratulating mediocrity and creating false heroes because we’re so desperate to save our clubs. and i get it.

but. you can congratulate pc music et al. for their mystery and ‘clever’ use of ‘irony’ or you can just investigate and realize that it’s merely a vapid art project by a handful of rich kids (mostly male, with female avatars btw) that’s diluting the club pool and that your making excuses for their boring music is part of the problem. you actually don’t have to pretend that anything that’s even vaguely non-conforming is good or cool?

there is so much music being made by incredibly talented queers and people of color that it’s almost always comical to read headlines about straight white musicians. i personally never click on them, and i would actually bet money (of which i have little) that no other queer/poc gave a shit about pc music or ten walls until, like, today.

Chromatics, chopped + screwed.

In honor of the new impending new Chromatics release, Dear Tommy (on the sterling record label, Italians Do It Better, my appreciation for which I have hitherto expressed herein), please enjoy these chopped and screwed versions I did some time back.

Sorry about the 192 rate; these are from way back—I don’t know if I even have them at 320…

Chromatics: In the City (chopped + screwed).

Chromatics: In the City [deeper lean] (chopped + screwed).

The video version. Florida, man.

RIP SCREW

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Run the Jewels: We need more Public Enemies

Detective Comics #440 - Page 67

Some years ago, I put on Public Enemy’s Nation of Millions while making dinner in the apartment I shared with my (then) girlfriend. After it had been on for a while, she said, “You don’t listen to music like this a lot.”

I found that interesting. She’s not much of a rap fan and has minimal background at best in the genre; her observation made me step back and try to hear the album she was hearing. And it was obvious to me—I didn’t (and don’t) listen to music like that a lot, because people didn’t (and don’t) make music like that a lot. From the powerful, densely layered and meticulous yet rough-edged beats of the Bomb Squad (PE’s production team; also its heart and backbone) to the strident, insistent, demanding and confrontational rhymes of Chuck D (and, to a lesser extent, Flavor Flav), Public Enemy’s template was a singular one.

And, as is often true in singular cases like this, their impact was (and is) pervasive, but not always perceptible. Public Enemy influenced a lot of people. Some applied elements of the Bomb Squad’s technique of aural barrage to their own production approach (‘sup, Muggs?); others tried to incorporate Chuck’s authoritatively rendered stentorian delivery into their flow (looking at you, Bushwick). But few people ever really, effectively applied both sides of the coin.

If you read the title and have stuck with me this far, knowing El-P is in the mix here, I know what you’re thinking: Except for Company Flow. But bear with me: I don’t think that’s true.

To begin with, El-P, the production mastermind behind Co-Flow’s “more dusty than digital” (yet still profoundly rooted in the technological) production style, has mentioned more than once that his motivation with the group was based in replicating Run-DMC’s sound and style. [Note: I’ve been digging and I can’t find this specific quote, so take that with a grain of salt. But I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and I know I’ve read at least one interview where he says this.] But even without that caveat/backstory, the fact is, little of Company Flow’s catalog is overtly political. They only really picked up politics near the end of their run (when Bush kind of made it inevitable for anyone with a brain and a conscience); until then, they were battle cats, spilling metaphorically dense couplets over sonically sophisticated beats that owed far less to PE’s classic soul/funk sources than they did to El’s claustrophobic sci-fi roots. Where Public Enemy’s Terminator X almost playfully scratched a line from Queen’s glam-rock soundtrack to Flash Gordon, El-P grimly drew on Vangelis’ technoir soundtrack to Blade Runner.

Chuck D told it like it was—still does, I gather. Not that he draws the attention he used to, these days. Public Enemy were possibly the last of rap’s positive giants; the last figures who could sustain rap music’s intimidating outsider edge by meeting their listeners as thinking equals with the shared goal of shaping a positive route up and out America’s literal and metaphorical ghettos. The wave that came after them, washing them out, played more to the lowest common denominator, shifting rap’s edge from political statements and black power mobilization to the championing of drug sales and pimping.

No double standard here; I love Eightball and MJG and Devin and the Clipse and Cypress Hill. But surely there’s more to rap than this? There used to be. Once-incendiary tracks by PE and KRS-ONE, aimed at stoking the flame of righteous rage in black (and, perhaps incidentally, white) American youth and mounting an urban resistance movement now sound quaintly idealistic, optimistic, old-fashioned and out of step. It’s got to be an awkward feeling to go from being Jerry Lee Lewis to, say, Pat Boone, without ever changing position.

Okay; wait. So, where was I? Oh, right—Public Enemy: “First and Best in the Field They Created.”

Which brings me to a couple of weeks ago. I got an e-mail from the (stellar) PR firm Biz3 telling me that the latest Run the Jewels album, RTJ2 (which has to have a swipe aimed at RJD2 in it, even if it’s just an incidental chuckle from El-P) had been named Pitchfork’s #1 album of the year. On checking the RTJ site, I found that Pitchfork was only the latest to do so; print music mags like Spin, Rolling Stone and Complex had already given it that honor; music blogs like Stereogum and Popmatters had also topped their year-end lists with RTJ2, and numerous other print and digital organs had included it in their year-end best-ofs. The thing is, as much as I’ve enjoyed this new album and their first one, from last year, I think that the success and acclaim RTJ has enjoyed has less to do with how brilliantly awesome they are and more to do with the general safety/comfortability/complacency of rap music right now. The fear and uncertainty and discomfort and shock and wariness and approbation and excitement rap used to strike into the heart of America has been subsumed into the barrel of a gun; gangsta rap has ruled the roost to the point where gunplay isn’t shocking anymore; it’s simply part of the backdrop—just another rapper.

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Public Enemy fought with their feelings. They brought the noise and threw bombs in ways that nobody else would—then or now. And though their imagery packed heat, it was clearly metaphorical; their Security of the First World did on-stage step routines with plastic guns. Their weapons aimed straight at the heart and the brain, but their ammo was strictly verbal. But the in-your-face political rhetoric they pioneered eventually trickled down to become “conscious rap,” which, in the end, had all the edge of a blonde dorm-room dreadlock. The guns went from referential to real, the dealer went from demon to hero, cocaine went from a cause of blight to a source of bling. The rap world flipped the script on Public Enemy, and their prophecies of rage failed to materialize, leaving them a voice on the sideline, dismissed the way we roll our eyes at the guy shaking his cane at the teenagers.

So: Is anyone carrying PE’s potent legacy forward? I don’t know, but I don’t see it. Kendrick Lamar’s album was good and everything, but there were no real bangers on it; the only really hard beat is on “Backseat Freestyle,” and those lyrics are fairly run of the mill. Yeezus has edgy beats (if you don’t get out much), but lyrically, he’s all sound and fury, signifying Kanye.

Nobody’s really throwing bombs, nobody’s bringing the combination of confrontation, truth and aggressive beats the way Public Enemy did. Does rap require this? Is rap the worse for PE’s absence? I’d say no and yes, in that order. Either way, the fact remains that when the playing field is so wide open, you can be the MVP if you swagger to the line and slam the ball down with authority. Which brings us to Run the Jewels. Do they pick up where PE left off? Well, kind of. They incorporate the political, using broad strokes—and, to be fair, Killer Mike truly stepped up when the lyrics got real. But they’re not bringing an articulated political agenda to their work; they’re the guys who show up at the protests and lead the crowds and get everyone all fired up, but maybe aren’t the ones to go to for a plan when the revolution succeeds. And fair enough.

What they are doing is shifting the rap game away from its comfort zone, back to an era when MCs needed to be hard as hell and ready to throw down lyrically, because that was what mattered. That was why rap music was rap music; not because of dealing or pimping or killing—although these elements could be in the mix—but because of the storytelling. Because of the voice. Because of the flow. Because of the beat. Because of the fear it could strike into the mainstream. A bullet can kill a person, but an idea can bring down an institution. Run the Jewels aren’t really bringing that level of noise. They still might, but if they don’t, that’s fine—it’s not their obligation. But they are revitalizing some core elements of rap’s original aesthetic: Confrontation. Reality. Awareness. Honesty. Emotion. And yes—rage.

“The independent representation of what MCs can and should be.” That’s how Company Flow laid down their m.o. back on Funcrusher Plus, their full-length debut that rocked the indie rap scene in the early/mid-90s. Rap that shoves its listeners physically and grabs them intellectually is scarce these days. I admit that I don’t have my ear as close to the ground/street as I have in the past, but I’ve heard most of what’s out there that RTJ would be compared to. It doesn’t take much to realize that they stand out from their broad peer group like a pair of sore thumbs; a sight for sore eyes—and a prescription for sore ears.

Revealed: That voice in Burial’s Rival Dealer EP.

"This is the best way to go."

“…this is the best way to go.”

So, yes: I tracked her down.

I fell in love with Burial’s music inadvertently; unexpectedly—slowly, even reluctantly. But once in, I was (and still am) in. His last EP release, Rival Dealer, had a polarizing effect among fans and impartial listeners alike. I thought it was great. I still listen to it at least once every week or two, a year later.

One of the distinctive elements in Rival Dealer is a woman’s voice, describing a vague, otherworldly visual experience. I was curious about the source of this audio; was it from a movie? Sounded like it; but—what movie?

True to its nature, the internet removed all mystery. And, following suit, I’m doing the same. Spoiler alert: She’s a normal human. So if you want to preserve the illusion with which Burial imbued his music—that of an enigmatic, faceless, ethereal presence, summoning and guiding—read no further.

But if you’re just a curious music lover, like me, here’s a glimpse at the woman behind that voice: Melissa Dawson Higgins.

What’s your role at NASA?
My official title is Earth Scientist, which I am sure leaves much to the imagination. I am with the Earth Science & Remote Sensing group (ESRS), and [I] work with the crew on the International Space Station on a day-to-day basis to acquire imagery of the Earth. Most of what ESRS does is work with scientists and classrooms around the world to acquire imagery from space of a site on the Earth that they are studying. We have also worked with National Geographic and are currently working with IMAX to provide imagery and video for an upcoming movie.

Some of the work you’re involved in is visually breathtaking. It’s not hard to see why it could be an inspiration to someone like Burial—or anyone. What inspires you about your work?
I have been interested in NASA and space since witnessing my first shuttle launch in the third grade. Every tiny aspect about NASA is exciting to me, but viewing our planet from space is probably the most exciting. Some people do not realize that there is an entire collection that compiles imagery taken from space, from NASA’s very first mission to space to their current mission on the ISS. In particular, the time-lapse videos, which I was talking about in the interview Burial sampled, are probably the closest thing we have now for the astronauts to share what they experience from space. These videos, from the aurora to city lights to daytime passes, are stunning. They give an entirely new perspective to how one views Earth.

What do you think intrigues average, everyday people (basically, people who aren’t scientists) about what you do?
I think that space, and discovering the unknown in general, has intrigued people since the beginning of time. [My work] gives people who have always dreamed to be astronauts or explorers a chance to see what those select few who were chosen to go into space try to explain all the time. It is one thing to hear the stories and paint your own picture of what you think they saw. It is an entirely different experience to actually see what they see.

What are your thoughts on recent efforts to raise NASA’s profile in popular culture—i.e., the Mars Rover landing, or the “NASA Johnson Style” video?
NASA has always been a huge proponent of the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), and tries to excite children and adults about those fields. One way that I think NASA has succeeded in that is to recognize popular trends and incorporate them into our outreach programs. “NASA Johnson Style” was an example of that. Our NASA Co-ops and Interns put that video together, and it was very successful, with almost 6 million hits. NASA has also gotten involved in social media so the younger generations can relate to them better.

With the entire internet to draw from, what do you think intrigued Burial, an electronic musician from the UK, about your interview in particular?
I have heard Burial’s songs where my voice was sampled. While it is difficult to know exactly why he used my interview, I would guess that he may have wanted to use it because of the subject and material I talked about in it. It may have also helped that it was a recent interview during the time he was creating the piece, so it would have been easier to find. (Sorry, can’t provide much help on this question.)

How did you feel when you learned that your voice had been used in some UK electronic music tracks? How did you discover it?
I had actually not known about the tracks until I received an email from a Burial fan in Denmark informing me about the songs and asking if it was me in the tracks. Once I told him that it was me, he said that he had a sudden urge to tell me and that he found my voice “incredibly fascinating and beautiful.” Perhaps I should be grateful that [Burial] made my voice sound better! Anyway, once I had found out about the song, I dug around a little and gave it a listen. It was certainly not an unpleasant discovery, but more a perplexing discovery.

Did you tell anyone about it?
I told a few people, mostly to ask if they had ever heard of Burial. I’d say, if anything, Burial had a few more listeners that would not normally listen to his music, only because my friends wanted to check it out for the first time!

Were there any NASA-related repercussions? Did any higher-ups take an interest in (or issue with) this use of your voice?
There were no repercussions on the NASA side of things. All NASA media is funded by the public and is therefore able to be used freely, with the hope that NASA is given due credit. It would have been nice to be given a heads-up that my voice was being used, but it’s open to the public since it was a NASA TV interview.

In one of the tracks, Burial edited your responses to imply that you were saying you’d seen something “come down to us” from space. Was this at all troubling, from a professional perspective?
It was quite strange to have my words shifted around to make it sound like I said “…come down to us.” After I listened to it a couple of times, it became a little funny. Especially since you could tell that several pieces of my interview were spliced together to make it sound like I said that.

What do you know about Burial (if anything)? Have you been in contact with him?
Before I heard the songs that he used in my voice in, I had never heard of Burial. It’s a completely different style of music than I am used to, but it was interesting nonetheless. We have not been in contact, though.

Do you like the tracks themselves? Is it music you might enjoy even if your voice weren’t part of it?
I don’t think I would have found his music if it weren’t for someone telling me I had been sampled. After I had the chance to listen to the entire album, I actually ended up enjoying “Hiders” the most, likely because it was little more upbeat than the other songs. This is just my personal opinion though. I haven’t had the chance as of yet to check out the rest of his work. I did get to read some of his fans’ opinions of Rival Dealer, however, and it sounds like he has a very loyal fan base. I will likely get around to listening to at least one more Burial album before deciding if I would like to follow his work or not.

What kind of music do you like, in general?
A few of my favorite artists [are] Aerosmith, Seal, KT Tunstall, Michael Jackson, Tchaikovsky, Pharrell (literally all over the place). I really do enjoy all types of music, with one exception: country. It’s probably because I grew up on country and started to really dislike it. I especially enjoy classic rock, classical, electronica, soul, alternative, and anything that has a good beat to run to.

Avonmore than this (surely?).

…Nice to see that Bryan Ferry splashed out into the double digits on the cover for his new album.

I wonder if he went with the design team from the CD pressing company? I hear they often offer a package deal.

But seriously, the baffling thing is that the text looks like an apathetic, low-wattage font (Poor Man’s Papyrus, maybe? Crapperplate?), but it’s actually not.

So—the implicit effects of aesthetic ambivalence and penny-pinching are achieved, but closer scrutiny reveals that it was, in fact, done this way on purpose.

Unfortunate, given that this is an artist with a history of pretty thoughtfully-designed album cover art. (Um, although.)

As for the music? Still early days yet; I only just got it. So far, it’s no Olympia, but it is sturdy, well-built Ferry; hard to go wrong there. And it’s nice to see that Nile Rodgers’ re-ascendance is still happening. (His book was a really insightful and fascinating read, btfw.)

The pop bubble.

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In his piece over at Pitchfork, kris ex takes Nicki Minaj to task for being too Nicki Minaj in everything all the time. It’s called “Maybe It’s Time to Stop Caring About Nicki Minaj.”

It’s a thoughtful commentary and he makes valid points, but here’s the thing: Why single her out in particular? Most, if not all, of his observations—about specific lyrics of hers, about general stylistic and thematic choices, etc.—could easily apply to any other Top 40 artist, or at least any other pop rapper (male or female). So maybe the question isn’t whether or not we should continue to care about Nicki Minaj.

Maybe it’s time to simply stop expecting pop music to be more than it is.

Maybe it’s time to stop expecting pop music to be anything other than a reflection of the pop culture that drives it, shapes it, defines it and consumes it.

Maybe it’s time to stop waiting for pop music to grow up, because its primary listenership is, and always has been, students.

(Related side question: Maybe it’s time to stop reading Harry Potter and Hunger Games and high-school books, and start reading like grownups?)

Maybe it’s time to see pop music for what it is: crafted, marketed product, created for profit, where artistic intention and/or innovative creativity is inherently, intrinsically, inevitably incidental to the process.

Maybe it’s time to allow ourselves to think critically about pop music in a broader way; rather than further scrutinizing the minutiae of Swiftian liner-note obscurities or pondering Rick Ross’ or Pusha T’s internal motivation in constructing yet another verse about selling cocaine and having a lot of money, maybe it’s time to take a broader view and look at trends more than tracks—movements more than moments.

Maybe it’s time to admit that a light, escapist pop song might not be able to withstand a barrage of heavy intellectual and critical inquiry because it’s not—nor has it ever been—designed to.

Maybe it’s time to admit that when we apply our own personal standards and expectations and demands to this massively influential yet utterly impartial behemoth, we only reveal our own arrogance and ignorance.

Maybe it’s time to admit that the microscopic attention we pay to so much of this music is dwarfed by the firehose of ambivalence the music has in response.

Maybe it’s time to stop expecting pop music to care about us.

Maybe it’s time to stop expecting pop music to care what we think about it.

Maybe it’s time to start listening to what pop music says to us.

Maybe it’s time to start caring about what pop music says about us.

Hold back the tears.

hotlanticREX

Okay, Mr. Moroder, here’s the deal. The song is for a TV show. Main character in this episode is a young, starry-eyed wannabe pop starlet. Name’s Suzi or Cyndi or something. She’s working the LA club circuit. She’s got looks, she’s got talent—but she just can’t catch a break.

Anyhow, the song’s gonna be performed by Pat Benatar. I know, right? And get this—her backing band is Mr. Mister. They play the song in the final climax scene, where Suzi finally gets her big break opening for Pat on the same night she has to make the payoff to the mob to get her uncle Carl back. But the mob doesn’t know that Suzi found out they were gonna double-cross her, and she’s hired the A-Team to—hang on. Is it the A-Team or Knight Rider?

—Honey, can you get me Sheldon on the phone? Ask him if the song deal is for the Hasslehoff thing or the one with the mohawk guy from Rocky. Thanks, sweetheart.

Sorry about that. Anyway, so: There we are. What do you think, Giorgio—can you write this song?