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City Paper Review: Jesu ‘Why Are We Not Perfect? EP

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“After last year’s Conqueror, there’s not much more Justin Broadrick can do with Jesu’s mix of indie-rock emotion and hard-ass heaviness. So it’s not a surprise that his recent work strays from that signature sound. But when the music on Why Are We Not Perfect? and a split with art-metal outfit Envy eschews oppressive guitar for electronics, it’s hard to not be a knee-jerk fan and freak out.

Perfect’s opener, “Farewell,” and the titular track kick off like the ethereal intro to so many other Jesu songs, but without crunching riffs or some kind of release–the songs go nowhere. Along with slightly heavier “alternate” versions of those two tracks, “Blind and Faithless” is the most effective, with guitar layers and an odd fried-wire synth surge throughout. Most of the time, though, this new Jesu sound recalls such lame industrial-pop bands as Filter or something. That’s sort of cool in theory–art-metal God makes embarrassingly sincere alt-rock–but Jesu’s appeal was, in part, the ragged disconnect between Broadrick’s whiny vocals and the oppressive mass of crunching guitars. Sissy singing accompanied by sissy electronic accompaniment makes too much sense.

Things work out a little better on the Envy split. The Jesu tracks rumble but also approach danceability. Still, Envy’s contributions are most memorable. Its stuttering microhouse jam “Conclusion of Existence” beats Jesu’s attempts, and on “A Winter Quest for Fantasy,” Envy does crushingly heavy better, too. “Fantasy” starts off light and Chris Isaak-sexy, then explodes into a crescendo of searing guitars and cathartic noise. In short, it’s doing what Jesu should’ve done all along.”

Written by Brandon

August 27th, 2008 at 4:15 am

Posted in City Paper, Jesu

The House Next Door: Music Video Round-Up (Lil Wayne & Kanye West)

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This is my first article in what will hopefully be an ongoing series/column type thing where I talk about music videos for the film blog ‘The House Next Door’:

“Just in time for the Olympics—and hey, even Michael Phelps is a Lil Wayne fan—comes the “Champion” video, featuring muppet Kanye going for gold. Mr. West’s king-of-everything bit got old like, two albums ago, but when a puppet version’s shown working-out, leading a group of fans equal parts fit and chubby on a glorious jog through L.A., flopping around on an American flag, and winning it all, the egomaniac schtick goes down a lot easier.”

Written by Brandon

August 26th, 2008 at 4:05 am

Sunday Links Party & Bullshit


Party because you know, that’s what I call these things. Bullshit because I’ve been slacking on actual content lately.

-“Little Brothers Talks Sex Jams” by Grayson Currin for The Raleigh Independent

Little Brother opened for Boyz II Men at NC State on Friday and this article from Raleigh’s Alternative Weekly ‘The Independent’ thought of a really fun way to promote the show: Have Phonte from LB talk about a bunch of sexy, slow jams! Complete with video of his reactions and all. The best part is how Phonte’s real about which one of these he liked, still likes, and still listens to.

-“Producer Series Mix #10: The TrackBoyz” by Al Shipley from Narrowcast

“In this space, I tend to spotlight hip hop producers from the past 10 years that could be considered both overrated and underrated: guys that maybe had a couple hits, but are far from household names, or even considered cool in an underground way. The St. Louis duo the TrackBoyz really epitomize that kind of uncomfortable middle ground, and I’d really planned to do one of my first posts in this series about them, back a couple years ago when I first started it, when they still had a little bit of buzz. Now that I’m finally getting around to it, though, it’s been years since their last major label placement and it feels like the TrackBoyz’ moment of relevance is ancient history already, which, in a way, is a more interesting vantage point from which to go back and look at what I liked so much about their beats to begin with.”

-Soulja Boy’s “Rich Nigga Shit” YouTube Series

Okay…so these videos are actually hilarious but they’re more hilarious because one can imagine ten years from now when a crack-eyed, skinny ass, dirt-poor Soulja Boy is interviewed and clips from this video are intercut. Dude’s gonna be broke by like Wednesday if he buys another Segway or Ric Flair-esque robe with his dumbassed name on the back. I usually don’t concern myself with ignorance in rap but this…

-Wax Poetics Issue 30: The Rock Issue Is Out Right Now!!!”

If I had more money–or really, didn’t spend too much of my money on comics, records, and Arby’s sandwiches–I’d buy ‘Wax Poetics’ every month, but this month’s is too good not to pick up. Based around rock music, it’s got a great profile of Bad Brains, an article on Elvis, a really fascinating discussion of Prince & The Rebels, something about Ernie Isley and lots more.

-“My Year Of Flops, #116 Case Files And A Mule Edition: Bamboozled” by Nathan Rabin from The Onion AV Club

It’s great to read a positive review/reconsideration of what’s really, the best Spike Lee movie. However, I disagree with Rabin’s thesis a great deal. It didn’t take the past couple seasons of ‘Flavor of Love’ for the movie to have its impact. What makes ‘Bamboozled’ work is that it begins with a covering-its-ass definition of satire and invokes like, the Neoclassic Satire of Swift and stuff, so when everything’s just insanely over-the-top and outrageous, it has context and intellectual tradition. See, the reality is every Spike Lee movie is as melodramatic and goofy as ‘Bamboozled’–pretty much every Lee movie since ‘Do the Right Thing’ has at least five too-many sub plots–but here, it works because the movie’s entire context is of this out-there, angry, spitting it all back-up attack on media. It’s also full of really good or interesting performances, especially from Damon Wayans, Mos Def, and Paul Mooney and I absolutely love the muddied, worse-than-shitty digital cinematography.

-“I Overheard This Last Night In Wawa” by Zilla Rocca from Clap Cowards

Just click on the link. Actual LOL there…

-aquarius records new arrivals list #299

Aquarius Records does these crazy-huge updates of new music on their website every other week and there’s always a few things I never heard of, some stuff I didn’t know was coming-out or being re-released, or just really interesting, out-there music. The staff–who seem to be wonderfully discerning but incredibly open-minded too–compiles the lists and then writes about a pretty significant amount of the releases. Fifteen years ago, this would’ve qualified as like, a classic ‘zine.

-“Superman’s Hidden History: The “Other” First Artist” from

“It’s relatively common knowledge that in 1934 Jerry Siegel approached other artists besides Joe Shuster to be his collaborator on Superman. One of these artists was Russell Keaton, who had been ghosting the Buck Rogers Sunday pages. Siegel and Keaton maintained a brief correspondence over the character, with Keaton eventually deciding “not to gamble on such a young and inexperienced writer.” Instead, a few years later Keaton launched his own newspaper strip, Flyin’ Jenny.”

Album For The Week: Music From ‘Marble Madness’ for NES

I’ve been playing the shit out of this game the past few days and it’s just as frustrating as it was when I was fucking five years old, but the music’s really incredible. Just listen:

Movie For The Week: “Moebius Redux: A Life in Pictures” directed by Hasko Baumann (2007)

A pretty cool documentary about the totally legendary French comics artist.

Written by Brandon

August 24th, 2008 at 5:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Asher Roth Is A Problem

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Asher Roth’s a goofy white rapper with a passable flow, who’s sort of clever, but has gained a lot of his “fame” courting outdated notions what hip-hop is and isn’t, and really harping on his “suburban” roots. Dude’s apparently been praised by Andre 3000, Jay-Z, and Akon, he’s been signed by Steve Rifkind, and he’s in the ‘Show & Prove’ section of this month’s XXL saying bullshit like this: “I’m representing the 80 percent of kids who actually buy these rap albums but, really, can’t relate”. Maybe that title should read “Asher Roth Is Problematic”.

Although he has originals, for now, Roth’s gaining his fame rapping over big, giant, pop-rap beats while eschewing the grotesque message and materialism of those songs in his rhymes. The idea’s hardly innovative and unknown rappers rapping over other people’s hits always seems kinda cheap, but Roth’s raps over “A Milli” or “Roc Boys” seem downright vampiric. Every rhyme reminds listeners of his suburban roots, his whiteness, and the gross materialism of most hip-hoppers, as if any of these ideas—that most rappers like money or that a white kid can rap—are a surprise in 2008. It’s as deep as aged dumbasses who joke about how the world’s changed because “the best golfer’s black and the best rapper’s white.”

In raps and interviews, Roth pushes the very square, rockist sense that rap is all self-serious (something always stated by fans of actually self-serious groups like U2 or Pink Floyd). As the quote from XXL would suggest, Roth either believes or feels okay exploiting the myth that white kids are buying all the hip-hop CDs, pushing it so far as to suggest that the rap he and his fellow whiteboys buy is something they can’t “relate” to or understand, as if understanding is that superficial.

In his video for “Roth Boys” however, Roth invokes the nerd appeal of Fatlip’s “What’s Up Fatlip” video and the current background to his MySpace has to be a homage to Devin the Dude’s first album. Given the superficial connections between Roth’s music and Fatlip or Devin’s, would it be safe to assume the dude’s heard them and relates?

One can see what Roth means when he suggests rap’s not the music he and his friends can relate to, but that’s more a testament to Roth’s categorical thinking than some inherent flaw in hip-hop. However, Roth’s entire persona is based on these although-popular, very incorrect notions of what rap and race are and are allowed to be. Only a non-rap fan would see even the dumbest hip-hop as exclusively guns, money, and hoes. Rap is a genre based around saying one thing and meaning another or saying one thing and meaning many other things; you’d think a guy who has decided to rap would know this.

It’s never explicitly said—because if it was, he wouldn’t even be afforded the minor fame he has right now—but Roth’s rapping is not an alternative to mainstream hip-hop or capitalistic corpo-rap, but an alternative to blackness. It’s not entirely clear if Roth even realizes this (probably because he’s not thinking as hard as he thinks he is), but his contempt for most rappers mixed with statements about how he’s the kind of guy buying the music—again, and therefore not black people—sound contemptuous.

His version of “A Milli” contains ‘Intro to Peace Studies’ aphorisms like “self-centered humans are the root of all evil” and a constant reminder that the money made should go to “charity” and not to gold because “sick kids need it more than I need a necklace”. It’s a contempt that occasionally stumbles into the geopolitical landscape when he invokes gas prices or something, but it’s always superficial and nowhere near as pointed as his comments to necklace-buying hip-hoppers. It’s easy for a kid from “the ‘burbs” to have such an altruistic and ideal view of how to distribute wealth, but it conveys a fundamental misunderstanding of how and why people conspicuously consume. If Roth’s comments were more intelligent and not you know, aimed only at black rappers, he’d be some kind of no-nonsense, un-PC political rapper but their muddled nature and again, how much his own whiteness pervades his raps, makes his “A Milli” sound more like the rants of an aging Dixiecrat or something.

His cloying whiteness also meets a certain, too-calculated savvy about blackness that feels just weird. Roth’s always qualifying his comments, or wisely invoking the burbs instead of whiteness when it might make him come off as offensive. Additionally, he never directly says anything negative about black people—its always rappers. In the video for his “Roc Boys” remake, “Roth Boys”, he’s seen in an Obama shirt—which although sincere, should rub any thinking viewer the wrong way—and moving through a frat party with a respectable amount of black dudes attending. Arguably, the presence of black dudes at the party is just a stab at realism but again, there’s some sense that this white rapper’s noticed how uncool other white rappers look when black dudes aren’t nodding their head in the background. For all of his Roth’s rap-rants about not being like those self-obsessed rappers, his every action feels calculated. In a kind of reverse “real”-ness that is Roth’s gimmick, his MySpace lists him the uber-burbs-sounding town of Morrisville, PA and not Atlanta, GA, where he was discovered and you know, one of the best places to go right now if you want to be a big-time rapper.

The most confusing part of Roth however, is is almost obsessive focus on whiteness. The key problematic line in “Roth Boys” is, “this is the same thing that happened on ‘Renegade”, a rap-nerd reference to Eminem’s debatable murking of Jay-Z on his own track. Roth however, has re-contextualized the line to not being about how one legendary rapper beat-out another legendary rapper on his own track, but as somehow being about a white rapper killing a black rapper on his own track, which has never been the rap-nerd debate about “Renegade”.

Inevitable comparisons to Eminem work because Roth’s a high-pitched white nerd who’s vaguely self-deprecating, but also because like Eminem, Roth constantly reminds listeners of his whiteness and implicitly, his difference (and alternative-ness) to most hip-hop. But Eminem’s use of his whiteness came from a desire to prove himself in spite of the unfortunate reputation of white rappers that came before him, not some strange sense of privilege because he’s the person actually buying rap CDs.

Written by Brandon

August 15th, 2008 at 3:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Isaac Hayes (1942-2008)


When Isaac Hayes became as well-known for being a voice on ‘South Park’ as he did for his funk-soul compositions, it didn’t negate or overshadow his musical contributions as cynics and snobs like to suggest. Rather it made explicit the weird tension between sophistication and willful goofiness that had always been a part of his persona. Late in his career, Hayes often performed outdoor venues and free festivals with a band that wasn’t perfect, but didn’t reek of super-clean studio bullshit, still did 10-minute plus versions of his hits, and also found a place for “Chef’s Chocolate Salty Balls” in-between “Walk On By” and “Theme From Shaft’”.

As he sang about his uh, balls, he did it in the same voice he was just singing about “foolish pride” and he sort of had this shit-eating grin on this face because he was getting away with it and because he was having fun and not racing through the hits. That same grin was probably on his face when he aggressively titled his album ‘Black Moses’–and meant it in a way, right?–or made goofy album covers like that one for ‘Chocolate Chip’ or ‘JuIcy Fruit’. And the grin was wider because he knew the albums themselves weren’t goofy love jams, but music that had its roots in popular genres like soul, funk, and R & B–there’s some psychedelic rock in there too–but also moved into far more unexpected areas of arrangement and composition. Think of those regal strings on “Walk On By” and how they quickly become terrifying and back to regal again. Or “Cafe Reggios” from ‘Shaft’ which balances being the kind of cornball elevator jazz played in a place called Cafe Reggios and being a signature Hayes composition full of subtle details…a guitar that gets thicker in sound as the song progresses or the perfect interplay between immaculate piano and warm keyboards throughout.

Hayes was basically a jazz musician in the sense that he relied heavily on improvisation and group/band interplay and understood that covers and reinterpretations were actually less restrictive than original material. And like the best jazz musicians, Hayes understood that music needed that tension between raw immediacy and mindful intellectualism. It’s actually not that hard to make “pop” music “sophisticated”–every few years some new rock band discovers electronics or an orchestra and dummies go crazy in ‘Spin’ or ‘Rolling Stone’–but it’s harder to find Hayes’ understanding of the high and low, and their merger (because he’s smart enough to see there’s not a difference) because his work never screamed out “I’m a genius composer who just happens to sing lots of songs about fucking over top baroque soul symphonies!” This is what made it not only okay but just logical that he’d also end up as The Duke in ‘Escape From New York’ or as a sexy chef on a cartoon.

Along with Hayes, the only other soul-based musicians that really seem to fully grasp this weird tension I’m babbling about are Donny Hathaway and Philly Sound pioneer Thom Bell. Hathaway understood the immediacy of a good hook but he also explicitly flirted with classical music. In the liner notes for ‘Extension of a Man’, Hathaway confidently but modestly discusses the “Romantic Period” influence on his own soul-suite “I Love the Lord: He Heard Me Cry Pts. 1 & II”–and adds “My writing was also inspired by George Gershwin”–and it’s a song that probably maybe wouldn’t exist without the work of Hayes a few years before. Thom Bell’s strings too, have as many roots in classical as they do the studio experiments and production flourishes of pop and R & B of the 60s. Bell himself cites one on his biggest influences as the booming string music from Gladiator genre pictures of the 50s and 60s. In 1971 of course, Isaac Hayes would score a genre movie himself, the “blaxploitation” movie ‘Shaft’ and elevate it to mainstream popularity and Hollywood recognition with an Oscar.

“Walk On By” off ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ (1969): This song’s been sampled plenty of times, most effectively on “I Can’t Go To Sleep” by Wu Tang, so I thought I’d highlight a few other excellent uses of the song.

-‘Walk On By’ by Pete Rock: It’s pretty telling that Pete Rock didn’t even change the title of this beat. Maybe it’s out of respect or some sense that no matter what it was called, those stirring strings would still be super obvious. As expected, Rock flips it well, giving it a more upbeat feeling than the original and subtly using Hayes’ breathy vocals for like, a half-second in the loop.

--”Dead Bent” by MF Doom off ‘Operation: Doomsday’ (1999)

Doom uses those super-identifiable strings but he takes advantage of the wobbly, disturbing stir of them instead of the elegant, catchy intro string-part. Like most of the ‘Operation: Doomsday’ productions, it’s cheaply or strangely looped–at least from a conventional musical perspective–and so, the strings bump into one another and whine, but that works because more than any song that swipes from “Walk On By”, “Dead Bent” feels the most like the original in terms of feeling on-edge.

--”Dead Presidents” directed by the Hughes Brothers (1996)

You can hear “Walk On By” faintly at the beginning of this clip from the climax of the Hughes Brothers’ ‘Dead Presidents’ as it scores the fucked aftermath of the characters’ bank robbery, and it comes back to score the final moments of the film, particularly the fate of Larenz Tate’s character Anthony. Setting the end of their movie to ‘Walk On By’ makes it clear that Isaac Hayes was making movie score-ready music way before ‘Shaft’.

‘Dead Presidents’ is the Hughes Brothers’ most realized and singular movie, even as it grabs from plenty of 70s American and 70s black cinema it feels more like it’s informed by those movies than it is totally paying homage. It’s over-the-top and clearly not that researched in its war scenes, but it has a kind of comic-book feeling that heightens the emotions and the political and message-oriented aspects of the film. That it ends with Martin Sheen of ‘Apocalypse Now’ damning Larenz Tate’s post-war actions is super-obvious but effective because it’s so obvious. It’s also brave enough to take on the failings of Black Power and the church and their roles–in addition to a government that had no interest in its soldiers–in moving the Tate character–and implicitly, the many Americans in the same boat as him–towards the fate-sealing bank robbery of the film’s climax.

“Man’s Temptation” off ‘Black Moses’ (1971)
-“Unknown Track” by J Dilla off ‘Pay Jay’ (Unreleased, 2001)
-“Animal Planet” by the GZA off ‘Legend of the Liquid Sword’ (2002): Producer Bink, best known for his Roc-a-Fella work, sampled “Man’s Temptation” for a beat that presumably first showed up on Dilla’s solo album back in 2001 when it was supposed to get a release, and then showed up on GZA’s ‘Legend of the Liquid Sword’ from 2002 when Dilla’s solo got shelved? I think my favorite part of this beat is how Bink occasionally uses Hayes’ keyboard plinks every few bars.

“The Come On” & “Light My Fire” off ‘Live at the Sahara Tahoe’ (1973): Sorry if the quality of this isn’t great, I couldn’t find it anywhere online so I had to rip it from my LP. Basically, a long-ass cover/interpolation/reworking of The Doors’ “Light My Fire”–also covered by Al Green around the same time on 1971’s ‘Al Green Gets Next To You’–that never ends up sounding much like the original but that’s more than okay. It’s technically two tracks and each part got it’s own groove on the record but I just made it one track because who the fuck knows exactly where “The Come On” ends and “Light My Fire” begins.

“The Come On”s just this epic, wah-wah chase music jam with a really incredible sonar-pling sounding keyboard workout before sort of turning into an actual cover. What’s additionally interesting about it–and shows the extent of Hayes’ musical brilliance–is the way Hayes ties all these not-so-apparent musical threads together between the Doors and his own music. Hayes’ voice sounds similar to Morrison’s infamous croon (and of course Morrison himself got a lot of his vocal and physical theatrics from 60s soulsters) and The Doors’ music is heavily influenced by jazz and fusion and soul, so there’s this interesting sense of borrowing and returning going on between the original and Hayes’ “cover”.

“Hung Up On My Baby” off ‘Tough Guys OST’ (1974)
-‘Tough Guys’ Radio Spot: Obviously, the sample used for Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” and probably one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. The guitars shimmer and glow, the horns wander along, and it’s all kept together by a really simple beat. Also, just for fun, here’s a radio spot for ‘Tough Guys’.

Isaac Hayes At the Movies
In addition to ‘Tough Guys’–which is sort of hard to find and only half worth-it–Isaac Hayes has been in a lot of really cool and interesting movies. He’s the star (and again, composer) of ‘Truck Turner’ which is a really solid action movie. The main thing I recall about it are the fight scenes which were sort of hand-held and shot with a really wide-lense which looked really cool. Hayes is a really fun and naturalistic actor who always seemed to be enjoy his roles. The same way he would use his deep voice and tone in music, Hayes did the same in acting, to both dramatic and comedic effect. Listen to him mumble “hey…” in the ‘Truck Turner’ trailer below and then say “i got some beer…”; it’s really funny and self-aware but vulnerable too.
In ‘Escape From New York’, he’s genuinely intimidating and scary and its a role where his fame and image work perfectly because he’s playing this weird, near-mythic Duke of futuristic shithole New York and Hayes’ stage persona is similarly appealing but commanding. Everything in ‘Escape From New York’ has this weird balance between being campy and over-the-top but somehow realistic too and Hayes dives into it with lots of sincerity.
And finally, Isaac Hayes as comedic straight-man to Chris Rock’s goofball jean-vest and yellow T-shirt-wearing cheapskate:

Written by Brandon

August 13th, 2008 at 12:58 am

Posted in Isaac Hayes, RIP, Sampling, soul