26.4.10

Album Review: The Abominable Iron Sloth - The Id Will Overcome


Formed as a side project back in 2004 by four members of a Sacramento hardcore punk outfit called Will Haven, the Abominable Iron Sloth now return with The Id Will Overcome, the anticipated follow up to their self-titled debut. Fans of Will Haven will immediately feel right at home with lead vocalist Justin Godffrey, who has a very similar vocal style to that of Haven's Grady Avenell, However, since Iron Sloth is a doom-metal band, the instrumentation itself is quite different, as there is now less emphasis put on the usual verse/chorus structure and much more emphasis on creating a certain mood.

The Id Will Overcome is sure to please fans of trenchant doom-metal, especially if they like it slow, sludgy and stupid. The guitars are ridiculously down-tuned, almost to a pointless degree; what notes you can make out are usually drowned out by massive amounts of feedback and unintelligible vocals. Lead singer Justin Godfrey's voice is the absolute picture of a tormented mind. Too bad it's so difficult to understand what he's so upset about.

The album does “rock” pretty hard though for those that do the enjoy the occasional head-bang. “Two Black Helicopters” does move at a solid pace, and perfectly expresses whatever angst-y, paranoid expressions that it apparently aims for. The same could be said for many of the other tracks on Id because for the most part, they are virtually interchangeable aside from some changes in tempo. Breaking up the monotony is the very, very odd instrumental “Heterodox Nonconformists,” which creates an unsettling, eerie atmosphere with a sequence of spooky thuds and distorted sound effects.

As gloomy as the vibe of the music may be, you can tell by some of the song titles (“The timely death of Billy Mays” comes to mind) that these guys are having fun. Furthermore, The Id Will Overcome is actually quite breezy for having 12 tracks. It's just going to a appeal to a very small niche of metal fans, namely those who want to piss off their parents or their neighbors or anyone over the age of thirty. If that isn't the goal, Id is eminently skippable; there really isn't much here that hasn't been done more interestingly or competently elsewhere.

28.3.10

Review: Wu Massacre



Don't call it a comeback: the Wu never really went away. Regardless of demand, members of the legendary rap outfit have been consitently releasing music since their classic debut in 1993. Ever since last year, when Raekwon released the much celebrated follow up to his classic Only Built for Cuban Linx (the cleverly titled Only Built for Cuban Linx II) it signaled a sort of rebirth for the group, and subsequent releases by individual Wu-tang members would seem to suggest that we are in the midst of some sort of a "Wu renaissance". Makes sense then that the three 'lead' members of the group, Raekwon, Ghostface, and Method Man are striking while the iron is hot by repackaging themselves as a super-group called Wu Massacre.

With Meth, Ghostface, and Raekwon doing an album together, expectations are understandably high. Wu massacre unfotunatley falls a bit short, mainly due to some of the production. The album seems rushed, and even with it's short length, plauged with filler. The other issue is that it seems obvious that the wu knows the formula for success and sticks to it so arduosly here.

One of the many instances of them going back to well is the album opener "Criminology pt. 2.5" in which the sample a different break from the same Black Ivory song as the original. It's a strong opener but nothing amazing. "Our Dreams" which features Alicia Keys along with its echoing guitar wahs and wind chimes just sounds hollow and sentimental. It slyly recalls Ghost's classic "All that I got is You" and seems to exist just so they can check "Jackson 5" off their list of tropes to trot out once more.

Wu massacre even includes a couple skits that it could have done without. "Ya mom's' in which Method Man and Raekwon play the dozens, follows Meth vs. Chef pat 2 (yet another sequel). Tracy Morgan, (or is it Chico Divine?) implores to a woman to start turning tricks for money on "How to Pay Rent." It might be worth a few listens if the skit were actually funny.

While it is nice to hear new material from these three, and make no mistake,the punch lines are still there, Wu Massacre just seems to exist to keep interest up in the group while sleepily rehashing what has made them popular over 15 years. The lack of change will no doubt be pleasing to some, however it's also clear that these guys are just going through the motions. At this point in their career, Wu Tang has proven that they still have some suprising tricks up their sleeve. You just won't find them here.

Interview: Alan Parsons


Alan Parsons had a successful solo career with his band The Alan Parsons Project in the 70's and 80's, but is also very well known for being the man behind the music on classic albums like The Beatles Abbey Road and Pink Floyd's Darkside of the Moon, which he contributed to as a brand-new engineer. Parsons took a few minutes to tell us about how he got his start in the music industry as well as his latest release Eye to Eye - Live in Madrid.

You started producing at 19. How did that come about?
It really semts from my passion for music and passion for technology. I actually began engineering at 19, and I didn't actually produce until I was into my twenties.

So you did you have an internship or something like that?
Well, it wasn't classified as an internship, that's the way Abbey Road engineers trained. They just went straight into the deep-end, on the job; they operated tape machines and learned from the [other] engineers. We were "tape-ops", or second-engineers, and we just watched and listened and learned. That was formal education in those days.


Were you aware of the kind of artists that you would be working with? 
Well I knew the Beatles had a history at Abbey Road, but when I got the job there I didn't know I would be working with them within six months of starting work [laughs]. That was quite a day.


Can you walk me through what that day was like?
Well, I was sent down to the beatles own studio, at Apple, where they had just built their own new place, and they supplied it with equipment that didn't work. Abbey road engineers were brought in to loan them equipment that did work.  They were in the middle of filming the Let It Be movie. They hadn't actually taken on a tape-op for their own studio, so they asked Abbey Road to send one and that was me. So I ended up tape-operating on the Let It Be sessions, and that included the roof-top sessions at the end of the week.


Even being so young, you were obviously able to bring a lot to the table when working with established artists like the Beatles and later on, Pink Floyd. What sorts of things did you learn about music from the people that you produced?
It was a constant learning process, really. Every day you leanred something new; something about engineering, or something about sound, or somethng about musicians, something about guitar playing or whatever. It's constant learning.


So for example from working with David Gilmour [of Pink Floyd]..
Yeah I picked up some guitar technique from him. I had been a musician when I started working at Abbey Road, but I kind of let that lapse as I became more enveloped in the engineering arts.


Do you consider yourself a pioneer of Progressive Rock?
I wouldn't say that. That would be for you to say.


What do you think about music today. Are there any current artists that you like?
I'm liking Coldplay, Radiohead, Sheryl Crow.


What do you think about the record business as it is today, with the advent of the internet and the ipod and that sort of thing?
Well, it's made life for songwriters and artists quite difficult. Perhaps it's good for up and comng artists, because they have a new means of promotion. But for someone who was used to selling large quantities of their catalogue on a constant basis, that's certainly changing.


Tell me about your new album. What can we expect from Eye 2 Eye – Live in Madrid?
It's a concert recorded in Madrid. It's coming out both as a CD and as a DVD. Thanks to technology of today we were really able to capture the sound of the old Alan Parson's Project.


If you werent doing music what do you think you would be doing?
Probably another branch of entertainment; maybe tv or radio. I think entertainment is in my blood, it's in my heritage as well. My mother was an actress, my great grandfather was a famous actor. His name was Herbert Dearborne Tree. He was a contemporary of Oscar Wilde.


Anything else that you'd like to get across to your fans?
I've got another current project called 'The Art and Science of Sound Recording' It's a documentary which I have been working on for two years. The website is www.artandscienceofsound.com. It's a documentary all abotu recording. It's about 7 hours long and that's coming out on DVD in April sometime and is already available for donload on the website.

7.3.10

Oscars: My Picks


I'm not so good at making predictions, and my gambling record is a clear reflection of that (go Vikes!). However, I still have some opinions about how the Oscars will/should go and after tonight those ideas are going to be moot. So for without ado (or provocation), here are my picks for the best movies of 2009:

Best Actor:
I haven't seen A Single Man yet, but Colin Firth is a huge contender for an award for that film since he portrays a gay dude, and the academy seems to like that. In Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges was almost completely unrecognizable as traveling country musician Bad Blake, so I am going to give it to him as my personal favorite.
My Pick: Jeff Bridges

Supporting Actor:
Stanley Tucci did a fantastic job portraying a sicko child molester in The Lovely Bones, and was argubaly the best thing about an otherwise boring movie. Unfortunatley, that might ultimatley work against him since his character was so despicable that it was hard to watch him on screen. He literally made me cringe. So I am going to have to give this one to Christopher Waltz, who played the also terrifying yet charming Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds. That's a bingo.
My Pick: Christoper Waltz

Supporting Actress
I will admit that I didn't see The Blind Side (mostly because I felt like I didn't need to), and it's inclusion in this year's Oscars is a real head-scratcher. The only movie that I caught in this category was Precious, and if Gabourey Sidibe walks away with the award it would be absolutely amazing; however premature her Oscar may be. I have a feeling we won't see much more of Gabourey after this year. Also, I'll be really happy if I never have to type her name out again.
My Pick: Gabourey Sibide

Supporting Actress:
Both featured actresses from Up in the Air will competing against each other is this category, however neither of them were overwhelming enough to really deserve it, in my eyes. I've also never been impressed with Maggie Gyllenhaal, so I am definitely rooting or Mo'Nique with this one since she surprised a lot of folks, including me. Especially after being subjected to Soul Plane.
My Pick: Mo'Nique

Animated Feature Film:
Didn't see any of these, but I'm going to say, oh, Fantastic Mr. Fox. I heard good things about that one, and the visuals that I saw in the theatrical trailer were pretty impressive. Either that or Up, since this the category that it really belongs in.
My Pick: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Art Direction:
I don't know if massive CGI can be counted as “Art Direction,” if so, Avatar should definitely win. However, I was also impressed with the set pieces in Sherlock Homes and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Still, I think Avatar will take this one.
My Pick: Avatar

Cinematography:
The Hurt Locker is a major contender in this one. The shaky hand-held style was a tension-building character in itself and was one of the most noticeable things about the movie. One will have to consider how much computer animation should factor into this category for Avatar to be taken seriously.
My Pick: The Hurt Locker

Costume Design:
Parnassus all the way. That movie crazy.

Directing:
As much as I loved Inglorious Basterds and the work of Quentin Tarantino, I think the Directing award should go to Precious. I thought some of the acting in Basterds was a bit cheesy and over the top, namely Brad Pitt's Waldo "The Apache" Raine. Precious was a great movie that would have fallen apart without competent direction to the actors and actresses.
My Pick: Precious

Sound mixing/Sound Editing:
I really don't know what these are for, so even though I have seen most of the movies that've been nominated for this category I can't call this one. However, I think Avatar is going to win most if not all technical categories that it has been nominated for, so I pick Cameron's sound people for both of these trophies.
My Pick(s): Avatar

Visual Effects:
Avatar. Duh.

Writing: (Adapted
I thought the dialogue from In the Loop was fantastic and am glad to see it nominated here. In the Loop is my pick for this category, with Precious as a close second. I'll be happy if either of them win.
My Pick: In the Loop

Writing (original):
Did I mention I love Inglorious Basterds? Well I did, yet I actually want to nominate another picture for this category, since the writing in Basterds wasn't as taut as it could have been. A Serious Man had some great dialogue accentuated by the deadpan delievery with which it was given. The Hurt Locker did a great job of adding dimensions and shades of light and dark to its characters, however the writing didn't jump out at me with that film. The Messenger, however, had some fantastic writing that took a daring look at the effects of war on not only the soldiers but they ones they love as well.
My Pick: The Messenger

Best Picture:
I saw Inglorious Basterds three times while it was in the theater and I definitely enjoyed it more than any other movie this year. However, I just don't see it winning unless the academy wants to make up their boo-boo of snubbing Tarantino's Pulp Fiction back in 1994. I also thought Precious was an amazing film, but it wasn't exactly the feel-good movie of the year and I don't think many people saw it. The main contest this years seems to be between James Cameron's Avatar, arguably the biggest movie ever even if only for the box office receipts, and his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow's portrayal of an american bomb-squad working in Iraq in The Hurt Locker. I think Hurt Locker is gonna take it. If Avatar's visually stunning yet hollow epic wins the Oscar for best picture it will only confirm how increasingly meaningless the academy's golden statuette really is. I'm not mentioning any other films because they aren't worthy of a mention and I personally believe they were added to the list just to pad out the nominee list to attract viewers. Another dirty trick from an academy which just loves to pull the old bait-and-switch.
My Pick: Hurt Locker
(My Hope: Inglorious Basterds)

3.3.10

Review: Gorillaz - Plastic Beach



A well known yet unspoken adage of the music business is 'With great success comes great experimentation.' Or at least that would seem to be the case in 2010 more than ever, where we've already seen a couple high-profile pop stars tinker with proven formulas. On the heels of Lil' Wayne's baffling rock album Rebirth comes Gorillaz latest (and more artistically successful) offering Plastic Beach, a concept album which is named for, and subtly mocks, a landscape of cultural garbage. It's the furthest reach this band has made thus far into new territory, which is saying a lot.

Plastic Beach works and it doesn't. For one thing, producer and lead singer Damon Albarn (credited once-again as cartoon frontman "2D", along with Jamie Hewlett's "Murdoc") still knows how to construct a melody with the greatest of ease. However, you won't find anything with quite the gravitas of “Dirty Harry” or “Feel Good, Inc.” here. Instead what you'll find are spacier than-usual jams replete with head-scratching cameos from the likes of Lou Reed and Bobby Womack. Indeed, hearing Womack's dominating contribution to a Gorillaz record on “Cloud of Unknowing” is somewhat akin to hearing Pink Floyd's "Great Gig in the Sky" for the first time. Much like the rest of Plastic Beach, it requires some time to digest before it can be fully appreciated.

The album also includes contributions from Snoop Dogg on the post-intro opener “Welcome to the World of Plastic Beach” where his laid back rhymes and typical subject matter fit in surprisingly well with the funky Gorillaz oeuvre. Mos Def is the sole vocalist on the alarmingly indulgent “Sweepstakes;” the results of which aren't quite as awe-inspiring as one would hope or as Mos himself might think they are.



Even with experimentation clearly being the main focus, there is plenty to like on Plastic Beach. "Rhinestone Eyes" features Albarn's trademark "over-the-phone" vocals a beat which suggests disco on dextromorphan. The lead single “Stylo” puts less emphasis on it's involvement with Mos Def, to it's credit, and has another oddly explosive turn from Mr. Womack. The song does nicely incorporate a wicked bassline (somewhat reminciscent of LCD Soundsystem's “Get Innocuous”), and works very well; however without the stunning visual aspect of the video (featuring a lovely ham-fisted performance from Bruce Willis) it may come across as lacking some immediacy at first listen.

To be honest, much of the album sounds like yet another Damon Albarn pet project rather than a worthy contribution to the Gorillaz' cartoonish legacy. Make no mistake, the strong smoky melodies and sizzling synths the Gorillaz have come to be known for are still in tact; however, in an unexpected twist, much of the head-nodding menace of the previous albums (Demon Days, Gorillaz) is almost completely abandoned for what seem to be sentimental ballads and lush ambience. Some very good songs make up the majority of Plastic Beach; just don't expect to shake the proverbial butt before letting them grow on you first.



Grade: B

3.2.10

Review: Lil Wayne - Rebirth



Last year, Lil Wayne's No Ceilings mixtape, in which he took ownership of 2009 hits such as "Run this Town" and "Throw it in the Bag" away from his contemporaries, was highly regarded by critics and fans for its complete lack of auto-tune as much as its clever punchlines and obtuse metaphors. Wayne's newest release, as well as his first studio recording since Carter IIIRebirth is sort of an extension of the experimental side that was hinted at on that album and his other recent work. It's sort of like his inverse answer to Chris Cornell's Scream; it's am answer which no one asked for though, and sadly the ending result makes the comparison between the two albums uncomfortably appropriate.

Admirably, Wayne is anything but shy about taking his brand in various unexplored directions on Rebirth, even doing his own instrumentation in some areas. However whatever novelty-factor that remains of hearing Lil Wayne singing thrash-metal or playing a guitar is quickly drowned out by its own outdated sound, running the gamut sonically from watered down and cheesy mid 1990s alternative radio jams to pre-Appetite For Destruction hair metal ballads. Production-wise, Rebirth is able to boast names such the The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and Travis Barker as well as other contributors, which makes it all the more disappointing that the songs seem to just run together.

Except of course for all of Rebirth's meddling excursions into new territory, which meet a similar level of mediocrity. The tragically corny “Get a Life” does a punk-polka dance in the dead middle of the album that doesn't need to be heard too many more times than once. “One-way-trip” has a light industrial influence and features a seething keyboard riff which sounds like a  rehash of something from The Fragile.

The worst part is that all the monotonous clutter makes very little room for any standout tracks. One of those being “On-Fire” in which Wayne croons over an Amy Holland sample that any fan of Scarface or Grand Theft Auto 3 will instantly recognize. However its the anxiously-overworked drums that qualify this as a long standing club favorite. “Drop the World” features a dauntless Eminem, whose double time flow is a welcome relief from whatever Wayne is doing for the rest of the song-even if his verse is only about “walls closing in” and various other long clich├ęd subject matter. If anything, its a reminder of how out-of-place Wayne sounds with this material, and how uneven the rest of the album is.

Grade: D

25.11.09

Interview with Evidence of Dilated Peoples



Evidence, best known as a member of the celebrated west coast hip-hop outfit Dialated Peoples, is also the newest addition to Minneapolis hip-hop record label Rhymesayers, where he will be dropping his second solo album Cats and Dogs. We caught up with Ev at the 5th element record store in Minneapolis during a record release party for Us, his labelmate Brother Ali's latest album. Ali and Evidence are currently traveling the United States for their 'Fresh Air Tour,' where they will be joined by Toki Wright and BK-One.


How did the deal with Rhymesayers come about?
I was standing right here [at 5th Element] in 2006 with Little Brother and Dilated Peoples, doing an in-store. Slug [of Minneapolis rap group Atmosphere] was standing here also. The name Atmosphere has been popping up my whole career with Dilated Peoples. Even though I wasn't familiar with their work. So I finally got the chance to meet Slug, and I was like 'let me take a photo with you.' So I took a photo and I put it on my myspace page, and that picture caused more shit, than all my other pictures put together. People started talking about how us working together would be dope to see. A lot of girls, too. I could see that something was sparking. So I just sort of kept a loose relationship [with Slug]. In 2007 when I started working on the Weatherman LP, I just got on the phone and just cold called him. Everyone on my album, I know well. I just called him and asked if he wanted to be on my album, he said yes. I asked him how much, and he said "Just make a donation in my name to this foundation". I never heard that before. So I called my label and I told them to contact him and find out what that foundation is. And, God willing, it happened. [laughs]

So, I put him over an Alchemist beat, which is something that no one had ever heard before. So I was like 'you know what, his label is working out, dude's got a following like crazy.' I called him again a few months later and told him that I was interested in looking for a home for my second record. Weathermen LP had been out and doing really good, getting put on a lot of album of the year lists...so after putting out the Layover EP, I hit slug on the text message and said 'Do you wanna do my album, check yes or no. [laughs]

So the reason I am doing this is because Slug allowed it to happen. I think they saw my work ethic and I think they thought it would be beneficial to put me in the mix, and it happened. The greatest thing out of all this is Brother Ali called me to be on this tour before having any knowledge of me being on Rhymesayers.

Really?
Yeah, just totally natural. He had all these people he wanted on the tour who weren't really working out, so he was like 'can you do this?' and I was like 'I can.' So a week or two later I called him back and was like 'Yo, I'm actually on Rhymesayers now,' and his exact quote was 'that makes this so much more dynamic!' [laughs] That was his quote. So that's really how I'm here. I had four offers from four other labels, 2 of which for more paper. But I took the right deal for the right situation because it was right. And I'm very proud to be here. Its kind of like Kanye when he joined Rocafella, you know? It's like 'Wow I'm part of something powerful and all seems to fit.'

So I noticed your albums seem to have a weather theme..
Yeah, my next one is Cats and Dogs. More rain. I'm just a gloomy person, I guess. I'm from Southern California where they say it never rains. I don't do gangster rap. I just really figure, like, the weather, where I'm from, erases misconceptions. I live in a place that's very much a facade. We have palm trees growing everywhere but we are not tropical. So, if we stopped watering those trees, they would all die. It's like an illusion where I live, like a glorified resort. And the weather is just raining on all that shit.

So it's more of like a rain theme, then.
Exactly.

So how do you spend your rainy days?
Well, I always tell people if you're from Cali, you understand how not to get sidetracked by nice weather. So I can spend a perfect 85 degree day with no clouds in a darkroom all day. When it rains, I find myself going out more than I usually would [laughs]. It doesn't happen very much so I just like to be out there.

How many albums are you doing for Rhyme sayers?
I'm going to definitely do two, and hopefully do three.

It's been a pretty good year later for hip-hop, there's been a lot of good releases coming out lately. Do you have a favorite of those, like the new Raekwon, Jay-z, Kid Cudi etc?
My favorite release of 2009 was Exile's Radio. It's an instrumental album. He only sampled radio frequencies; so if he wanted good drums he would go to the mainstream stations, and if he wanted something dirty he went to an AM station. It's only radio frequencies for every single sample. It's such an amazing album that what I decided to do was take this album and make Evidence Radio: tribute to Exile, and make the unofficial vocal version of it [which is upcoming].

So how is the Step Brothers album you are doing with Alchemist coming along?
We are about 7 or 8 songs deep right now. That's just my best friend, we hangout every day regardless of we're making music or not. I look up to him and he's learned some things from me. I think we just give each other a good balance, and I feel like that record is gonna be something special. We don't want to rush it because in the big picture it's important to get it right. We have a song called "Just Step" out there that's leaking that's major, we have a song on that Evidence radio called "It's coming down." We have a a song called "So Fresh" which is on my Layover EP. So there's a lot of stuff leaking that's out there already.

Do you think that there's a difference between the Stepbrothers stuff and collaborations that you've had with Alchemist before?
Yeah, we're doing this thing where we're not focusing on choruses. Just a lot of rhyming and if a hook happens, it'll happen. Like, if you get a DOOM record, you don't want to hear DOOM and Mary J. Blige, you know what I mean? [laughs]