Sunday, June 30, 2013

CX KiDTRONiK - Black Punk Podcast

Kanye’s been getting all of the attention lately for incorporating industrial and acid house into his music, but lots of people have been doing similar things for years. Death Grips and Shabazz Palaces are the most prominent of this bunch, but CX KiDTRONiK is grinding in his own lane and not getting much attention for it. He just quietly released an installment of the Stones Throw podcast called Black Punk. CX describes it best: “It's some black punk rock, Pure Hell, HR & Holy Rollers of DC. Hardcore! Lots of Brooklyn MC's from my block in Crown Heights: Half-A-Mil (RIP), Banga Shine, Ruste Juxx. NOT FOR BITCH ASS EARHOLES. And with some comedy. There is a soft moment at the end with a song by Minister Louis Farrakhan. I tried to keep it as offensive as possible, so I hope y'all actually use it.” Patrice O’Neal, Death, Sean Price, the Beastie Boys, State of Alert, Bad Brains, M.O.P., and tons more slam against each other over the course of one of the most satisfying hours the ST Podcast has had in years. People have been sleeping on CX KiDTRONiK, and his new album Krak Attack 2: Ballad of Elli Skiff should be getting much more attention. Too many Stones Throw “fans” like to ignore anything that the label puts out anything that isn’t by Madlib or Dilla, but the ones who are willing to give Stones Throw the benefit of the doubt get to be treated to Homeboy Sandman, Duppy Gun, Jonwayne, Leaving Records, and of course CX. If you want to listen to a podcast that makes you want to flip cars and punch your grandma, then get Black Punk right here.

Review: Kanye West - Yeezus

Do we really need another review of Yeezus? The zeitgeist surrounding this album hasn’t been paralleled by any one album since, well, Kanye’s last album, 2010’s over the top, overrated, more-is-more opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. A lot of the Yeezus reviews have been absolutely absurd, with many sites putting up glowing or spiteful (but rarely middling) reviews within 24 hours of the album’s leak, and tastemakers racing to see who can blow the most smoke up Kanye’s ass while sidestepping some of the record’s more troubling qualities (I’m looking at you Pitchfork). The unwillingness on the part of many critics to really grapple with the album’s problems and the inability of many fans to accept the sonic direction that Kanye took here are equally troubling.

In a recent Pitchfork feature on seven of the many Yeezus collaborators, engineer/producer/mixer Noah Goldstein reveled in the divisive response that the album has gotten, saying “I really like the fact that people are loving this album or they're like, ‘This is trash!’ I don't really like up-the-middle music, because where's the opinion in that? I'd rather have people hate it than be in the middle.” Goldstein is half right. Music designed to be middle-of-the-road, to not ruffle any feathers, to quietly move units only to be forgotten a year later is the least worthwhile type of music, but being excited that most people are unable or unwilling to form complex opinions about an album you spent months working on is an unfortunate point of view to take.

Pixies - "Bagboy"

I admittedly don’t know the Pixies as well as I should. Songs like “Here Comes Your Man” and “Where is My Mind?” have been inescapable for as long as I’ve been old enough to make my own decisions about what music to listen to, and Surfer Rosa, Doolittle, and Bossanova have been on my iPod for as long as I’ve had one (nearly ten years). And while I know that they’re one of the great bands of my lifetime and I do love those albums, I almost never listen to them and none of them are sitting on my shelf among the rest of my vinyl. In fact, I think I’ve listened to the Breeders’ Last Splash more than I’ve listened to any Pixies record, which probably qualifies as blasphemy in some circles of rock fandom.

Now there’s a new Pixies single, their first in nine years. It’s very good, but it feels out of time. “Bagboy” does not sound like it was recorded in 2013. It could be an outtake from Bossanova or Trompe le Monde, and it makes me worried for the Pixies’ future. A band that hasn’t put out an album in 22 years is unlikely to create anything lasting by strip-mining their old material for parts. Take My Bloody Valentine. mbv, their first album in (coincidentally) 22 years was good in the same way that “Bagboy” is good. It sounded like the work of the same band that recorded Loveless, and it was supremely exciting when it first came out, yet it lacked the spark that drove the band’s best work and they sounded like they were on autopilot. Now is anyone still listening to or talking about mbv? How many best of the year so far lists has it shown up on? By trying to reproduce their masterpiece, My Bloody Valentine only succeeded in making a good but underwhelming album, and mbv won’t find its way into the canon in the same way that Isn’t Anything and Loveless have.

If there is a new Pixies album coming, and “Bagboy” is an accurate representation of what that album will sound like, then it will suffer the same fate as mbv. It will dominate the internet for a week or two and then disappear into the ether. My Bloody Valentine deserved and was capable of better, and the Pixies should aspire for better as well. Besides, the Pixies without Kim Deal, even with the Kim Deal sound-alike backing vocals that the band produced for “Bagboy,” isn’t really the Pixies. Like any Pixies fan or rock fan in general, I am eagerly awaiting new Pixies music, but “Bagboy” only leaves me somewhere between wary and cautiously optimistic for the future.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

BYG Actuel 03: Sunny Murray - Hommage to Africa

There are probably arguments that could be made against this claim, but Sunny Murray is free jazz’s first truly free drummer. Instead of simply keeping time, Murray’s playing is purely expressionistic, pouring his entire being into a cacophony of textural percussion. Considering his place in the free jazz pantheon, it is unsurprising that he cut his teeth in the Cecil Taylor Unit and then in the Albert Ayler Trio and Quartet, three of the most important groups in free jazz’s development. While his playing on albums by these groups, and especially on the Albert Ayler Trio’s fiery Ghosts, is rightfully lauded by fans and critics, his work as a bandleader is too often overlooked. He recorded two great ESP-Disks—1965’s Sunny’s Time Now and 1966’s Sunny Murray—while still a member of Ayler’s band—along with the transitional Big Chief for EMI/Pathe in 1968 between his stint with Ayler and Archie Shepp’s invitation to join him at the Panafrican Festival at the start of the next summer. While Murray’s first three albums as leader are very good, Murray’s voice is still very much tied to his work with Ayler. Murray’s time with Shepp and his experiences recording for BYG Actuel freed him of these stylistic constraints and allowed him to find his own voice as a writer.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

BYG Actuel 02: Art Ensemble of Chicago - A Jackson in Your House

Even though I think all of the group’s members are incredible players and a few of their group albums are free jazz masterpieces, I still really struggle with much of the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s music. A good portion of their most early work as a group sounds to me like collections of interesting elements thrown together in a haphazard way. They eventually honed in on what they were trying to do and became fairly consistent at tapping into that, but their early stuff, including their debut album A Jackson in Your House from 1969, is more noteworthy as a look into the group’s evolution than as a standalone recording.

Prior to A Jackson in Your House, the members of the AEC had collaborated on several albums by the group’s individual members starting with the Roscoe Mitchell Sextet’s brilliantly iconoclastic Sound in 1966. While these albums are great, they each clearly have one leader steering the group’s music, whether it be Mitchell (on Sound and Congliptious) or Lester Bowie (on Numbers 1&2). Their first recorded forays under the AEC name and their BYG albums especially show their first attempts to perform truly leaderless music. It took a few years to really work out the kinks in this democratic approach to their art.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Rare Madlib Transmission from the Lost Gates

The second Madvillain album. The third Quasimoto album. The Supreme Team and Professionals albums. Rock Konducta. Dozens of jazz projects. Cocaine Pinatas with Freddie Gibbs. I could keep listing announced Madlib projects that have not as of yet seen the light of day, but a longer list would just make me sadder. Since the release of the thirteenth installment in Madlib’s mostly underrated Medicine Show series a few years ago, things have been mostly quiet from his camp. He’s been holed up in his four-room studio space for the last few years, working on new stuff that he doesn’t particularly care to release.

Now, in a rare interview with the Bad Kid, the fans are getting a whole bunch more upcoming albums that can make us sad when they never come out. According to Lib, every few years he goes through a year-long period where he just listens to jazz records and plays a bunch of instruments. He just finished up one of those years, so a ton of new Yesterdays Universe records are on the way. He’s also producing a lot of songs on the new Mos Def record and working on some other hip-hop projects that he doesn’t name. He’s almost done with the third Quas album, finally. On the Madlib getting weird tip, he said that he’s got some “early Kraftwerk-type stuff,” and that he listens to Throbbing Gristle and other industrial music. Based on well how his forays into jazz and broken beat have gone, a Madlib industrial or minimal wave album is an exciting prospect. Little bits of a new Mos song, a great Busta remix, and what could be some of that Kraftwerk-type stuff from his recent performances in London can be heard in the video too. Oh and he mentions an unreleased J Dilla jazz record and electronic record. He’s probably put a few dozen albums’ worth of new material to the side over the last few years, and it sounds like a few of those might actually see release this year. Most won’t.

Spray Cans Vol. #012: MHz - "World Premier" b/w "Camu"

MHz - "World Premier" b/w "Camu" (Fondle 'Em Records, 1998)
Just over a week ago, May 25 commemorated the fifth anniversary of the death of Camu Tao. He was thirty, and he had been battling lung cancer for three years. His debut solo album King of Hearts was left unfinished, and the record label that his friend El-P had signed him to, Definitive Jux, was struggling financially and on its way to folding. The King of Hearts demos got an official release two years later, but compared to the rest of his catalog, they sound spare and unfinished. Unfortunately, the rest of Camu’s catalog consists entirely of work with other groups, a few featured verses on other artists’ projects, and three 12” solo singles. For a rapper as distinct and exciting as Camu to have so little recorded music is a shame.

Fortunately, the recorded career that Camu had was pretty consistently great, dating back to his first appearance on MHz’s “World Premier” single in 1998. MHz, composed of Camu Tao, Copywrite, Tage Future, Jakki tha Motamouth, and RJD2, is probably the best rap group that ever came out of Columbus, Ohio, and Camu was the immediate breakout member. After a landmark appearance on WKCR’s Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito Show on February 19, 1998,[1] Bobbito signed the group to his Fondle ‘Em label[2] and prepped the “World Premier” single for later that year. Since the MHz were more of a collective of like-minded artists rather than a full-fledged group,  Tage and Jakki don’t appear on this first single at all, and rather than handling the beats himself, RJD2 only gets coproduction credit on one of the two songs.[3] Instead the focus is on Copywrite, who handles the first verse on the a-side, and on Camu, who finishes out the a-side and has the whole b-side to himself.