Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Comments on Odd Future

If you've been all up on the internet and such you've probably seen something about Odd Future in the past few months. If you haven't, take a peek at some of the videos below: they're pretty good. It seems, however, that most people are focused on the appeal/repulsion of their lyrical content. And yes, talking about rape is not something to be brushed off easily, but I think if we've come to grips with people like the Dipset practically glorifying misogyny, then it shouldn't be a problem when the horrifying lyrical content is clearly meant to be horrifying, rather than worthy of jealousy. If we're going to see the content portrayed in hip-hop as similar to a fictional conceit, it is easy to see that this is a situation where this concept is very applicable.

More importantly, focusing on this aspect as their most notable really only focuses on certain songs with a particularly scary sound. While other songs have similar lyrical content, their sound does not necessarily betray an attempt to frighten. Seeing this group as a reinvigorization of gangsta rap, as many have written, is pretty near-sighted. Part of what makes OFWGKTA so appealing is their versatility, being capable of making new twists on gangsta rap with songs like "French" and "Splatter", remixs with songs like "Drop" and "Orange Juice", and story raps with songs like "Super Market" and "Luper", all with a certain amount of energy that makes them all believable in their own way. Their best tracks, like "Assmilk", are basically everything, a mix of humor, absurdity, terror, and just plain weirdness. Even when they are clearly falling into a particular genre, its in a particularly ridiculous way. No other rapper, for example, has gotten a hand-job from Jesus at a Justin Bieber concert. And despite their versatility, all of their music has a particularly unsettling, chaotic quality that is their signature, which is part of the reason they get pegged as gangsta rap or horrorcore so often, even when the song, overall, betrays other aims.

So what really makes Odd Future a good group of musicians is that they are truly and intriguingly unique, as are the other rising artists of this year, like Waka Flocka Flame and Yelawolf. They have an ability to be experimental while still making songs that knock. The collective is, however, very much a product of the times, being more self-aware than basically anyone but Kanye, acknowledging the downfalls of their own sound and audience in their songs and understanding their own fictional roles in a very transparent way, often pitting themselves purposely against each other. And if they are ever being derivative, its clear that they are aware of it. Domo Genesis knows he's at least part stoner rap clone, and Tyler realizes that he has to make post-Kanye acknowledgements. When they have a childish "say sorry" fight in the middle of a song or Tyler stops the song to say "i'm not gay, faggot," its pretty clear that they know we're not going to take these things at face value. Everything they do is under their own scrutiny as well as ours, which is part of the reason why their choice to rap about rape is so stark, but also a good reason for us to take it with a grain of salt.

Most importantly, however, they have DRIVE. They clearly define themselves against an adult culture that they find unsavory. In recent months, I've become a little wary of rappers attacking phantom enemies in song, most notable recently in Jay-Z's verse on "So Appalled". While it can sometimes work, a lack of real enemies shows a lack of real innovation and spark in verse. When the members of Odd Future say "Fuck Steve Harvey", however, we can believe they mean it. And they have real enemies. Notable blogs like Nah Right and 2Dopeboyz have chosen specifically not to post about bedroom rapper-producers like Lil B, Young L, and Odd Future. Thus they choose to define themselves against an older black culture, one they see as not having treated them properly. They're not inspired by the drug trade, but the psychoactive drugs their very parents have given them. This inspiration is particularly nuanced, showing itself in multiple and unexpected places, in Earl's calm yet powerful verses and Domo's spaced-out fantasies as well as Tyler's terrifying growl. Overall the group's thirst for success has made their music into a sort of crucible, where all members compete against one another, making everyone stronger and more aware of his own particular talents. These guys are, frankly, the perfect combination for making good music in these times. They have talent, awareness, and a reason to use both.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Making Eminem influences as absurd as they sound.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Hands fulla coke, mouth fulla crack musak"

If you're not up on OFWGKTA you should be, even if you eventually find them highly offensive. More on this in the future. In the meantime, all their music is free.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Comments on "6'7'"

Is Lil Wayne getting philosophical? With hits a like "A Milli" and "Lollipop" Wayne has proven in the past that you don't have to really say anything or even make sense to make Hip-Hop that everyone can enjoy. With "6'7'" I think he's really turning his own eyes on that ability and what he thinks it means.

"Word to my mama, I’m out of my lima bean/don’t wanna see what that drama mean, get some Dramamine/llama scream, hotter than summer sun on a Ghana queen"

Cory Gunz really takes the idea of contentlessness to the extreme here with a ridiculously long string of amas, anas, and eens. Other than that, this line is pure nonsense. And its beautiful, Hip-Hop as nothing but music.

"Life is the bitch, and death is her sister/sleep is the cousin, what a fuckin’ family picture"

But Wayne really takes the cake when it comes to making a statement. This line is an almost aggressive attack on the power of metaphor. By taking these lines from Illmatic to their logical conclusion, he shows us how much nonsense they can be. Here "sleep is the cousin of death" is a joke, rather than a lucid statement about life.

"Bitch, real G’s move in silence like lasagna"
"I got through that sentence like a subject and a predicate"

So instead of language reflecting life, life reflects language: Wayne becomes the language he uses. More than just virtuoso statements showing his knack for wordplay, these lines only show cohesion on the level of commenting about language, rather than commenting about life. His point, in other words, is not to say that real G's move like lasagna moves. His point, is rather to say that language is both meaningless and powerful, not in a way that's revealing, but in a way that's manipulative. If you are language, you can become anything.

"I speak the truth, but I guess that’s a foreign language to y’all"
"So misunderstood, but what’s a World without enigma?"

So it doesn't seem like Wayne is actually calling rap out for being nonsense. He's not saying that language can't represent truth, but just that it doesn't do it in the way we expect, not mirroring life but instead embodying truth by embodying nonsense as an essential part of the world. Nonsense is the power to exist.

Even so, all the above shit is just speculation. For the most part, this song is great because it shows that Lil Wayne is eager again. What distinguishes it from being another "A Milli" is that he refuses to relax, and for good reason: he's been in jail for the past year. Because of which, he finally has something to prove again, which is good, because that usually means good tidings in the music world.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Trite and Incomplete Best of 2010

Seeing that publications are beginning to name their best of lists for the year, I thought I might weigh in as well. I don't listen to nearly enough new music to really have a valid opinion about this, but these are some songs that I really enjoyed this year.

Note: "Runaway", "Power", and "Shutterbugg" are purposefully absent from the list. They've really gotten enough attention already, even though they are all deserving of high praise.

9. "Sprawl II"

It's pretty surprising when a band that has only recently made forays into the now dwindling post-punk revival (e.g.:James Murphy's retirement) is capable of capturing so roundly the essence of said sound. So many bands have represented a particularly whiny side of privileged ennui that such an unapologetically and deeply spirited call back is damn refreshing, even if it is, in the end, also about privilege.

8. "Infinity Guitars"

Alright, so Alexis Krauss's vocals are probably the worst trait of this entire album, and if there was one thing I would change about Sleigh Bells, it would be that. "Infinity Guitars", however, is one of the tracks where they work best. Much of the initial appeal of the song is its intense build and release, but I know as well as anybody that the noisy shock of a song can wear off pretty quickly. What saves this track is, believe it or not, nuance and songwriting. The ending is more than just a punch in the face, but a crossroads where all the song's elements finally meet, most notably, Krauss's rising chant at its least obnoxious. The same goes for the sound. What could be, and has been, seen as gratuitous noise, is actually quite crafted and unique. The noise, surprisingly, reminds me alot of The Microphones, its fuzz revealing huge vacuums of negative space behind it, most notably in the drums, less resonating than sucking in the noise around them.

7. "You Ain't No DJ"

Yelawolf has been all over the web recently, and for good reason: he's a great new voice in hip-hop. As Jesse Thorn has said, his highest talent is in giving us the willies, just really creeping us out, and this track looks remarkably like his coronation as the next king of a long line of creepy southern rap in the vein of the Geto Boyz and Goodie Mob. Andre 3000 lays down a terrifically ominous beat and Big Boi knows to just get out of the way, allowing Yelawolf's slight, Alabama, Deliverance-style persona to really seep through.

6. "Makin Love to the Money"

I've often heard people dismiss Gucci Mane as "ridiculous" not realizing that his cartoonish character is a large part of his appeal. This song shows Gucci at his most overblown, literally talking about having sex with money. And yet, this isn't a Weird Al style parody. Despite its humor, the song actually comes off as remarkably heartfelt and sad. Why? I don't think we will ever know, but this is just one example of a complexity that can often go overlooked in piles of seemingly cookiecutter Lex Lugerish mixtapes, and of an art-form that is intriguingly moving more and more into something that we might call transparency.

5. "Throat I"

Noise music always seems to run into the same paradox. Attempts to grab the listener's attention with volume or surprise tend to become tiresome in large doses. Even bands like Sunn O))), some of the most arresting music available, can become white noise with rapidly repeated listens. Bands have a number of strategies for combating this problem. Bands like Lightning Bolt, for example, present dynamism in periodic and drastic changes in pattern. Little Women, however, have somehow moved themselves outside of this dialectic. Movement is so fundamental to every note of this music that its hard to imagine ever getting used to it. Even the solitary notes of a sax on softer tracks are ridiculously and eerily dynamic. Instrument and musician really seem to melt together here, and that could be part of the secret: the song's intensity really seems to come directly from the artists, most applicably, from the throat, where the body is translated into noise in its most raw form.

4. "The Joy"

With all the talk this year from big names like DJ Premeir about Kanye's supposed return to basics, MBDTF really was a surprising turn, even with the majority of its tracks already out and about. This particular track is most notable to me because it sounds like what Premo was talking about (soulful, classic, and 100% Kanye) and would have been incredibly out of place on the album. As much an elegy as it is a celebration of this type of music in the mainstream, this track is a small but deftly chosen all-star game of mid-90's New York Hip-hop, with Jay-Z on one side and Pete Rock on the other, finally working together even if it is fifteen years too late.

3. "All I Want"

While much of James Murphy's music seems to always leave me a little cold no matter how well made it is, there is always one or two songs on his releases that blow me away. "All I Want" is that track this year. A large part of my attraction to this song is its element of tribute to Bowie's "Heroes", a song very close to my heart. But also, what makes this track really appealing is a surprising inclusion of a little bit of chaos and uncertainty. For someone so well known for attention to detail, this track is at least made to sound sloppy, and this sloppiness allows the song to come to a deliriously uncontrolled yet cohesive climax, where a bleepy cloud of synths seems to break the track apart just as Murphy's voice reaches its most appropriate volume and intensity, producing an effect I would almost be tempted to compare to the whirling tornadoes of Sly and the Family Stone's "Luv n' Haight", even if the Murphy's song is infinitely more crisp, for better or for worse.

2. "Devil in a New Dress"

That this is the track on the album where sampling is most obvious really shows how much Kanye has changed since The Blueprint. The sample is so thin it borders on pure atmosphere, practically dissolving in the album around it, only held down by a high-hat and a bass-line, and the line between live and sample is equally hazy. As far as lyrics go, say what you will about Kanye's rapping, but he knows when to hold himself back. Regardless, the track really comes to a point with Rick Ross (probably the most appropriate collaboration you could have on this album) giving us a verse with the perfect amount of balls to finally bring the track out of the haze.

1. "Colouring of Pigeons"

I've had this track pegged as my favorite of the year ever since it came out in January, and I have to say it has held up incredibly well. Its reputation on the blogosphere has really been sullied by the bafflingly bad studio recording that later consumed it, but if there is anything that could potentially salvage what seems to be The Knife drowning in a sea of pretension, it would be this song. Regardless, this song is so complete, Tomorrow in a Year doesn't even have to be addressed. It almost reminds me of a of a round or canon piece from my cello playing days, with The Knife really exploring every corner of a chord progression that is pretty much perfect, both self-contained and self-perpetuating, so much so that the duo has to end the song with a nearly three minute, brain-wiping drone from a single cello string: nothing else would be capable of truly resolving such a strongly repetitive piece of music. At the same time, the final note really stands to reinforce the song's incredible cohesiveness, tying up almost every theme introduced throughout the song, be it the bending drone or the operatic vibrato, in a single ecstatic knot. This is, seriously, one of the few pieces of music that I would sincerely call inevitable. There is really no way it could be better.
Lil Wayne is back: Track sounds like a mix of "A Milli" and "Jesus Walks", which is a good thing. Not outside his comfort zone, but really, who cares.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

They need to do an album together

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010