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Archive for the ‘Prog Rock’ Category

What’s a Goon to a Goblin Sample?


When the Swizz Beatz-produced “Gucci Time” showed up on Gucci Mane’s most recent mixtape Jewelry Selection, the big disappointment was that it had nothing to do with Schooly D. Thing is, “Gucci Time” is far more interesting than a reference to Schooly D’s “Gucci Time,” it’s a flickering, A.D.D beat wrapped around an incessant sample of Justice’s “Phantom Pt. 2.” And now, there’s a Chris Robinson-directed video and it’s more than just a mixtape track, it’s the first single from The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted. That means this is the second time in less than a year that Swizz Beatz dipped into Justice’s for a rap beat (previously: Jay-Z’s “On To The Next One” which sampled “D.A.N.C.E”). It’s also the third time Swizzy’s sampled something from a French house crew, having used parts of Daft Punk’s “Technologic” for Busta Rhymes’ “Touch It.”

As far as first singles go, “Gucci Time” is better than “Spotlight,” but it isn’t great either. Maybe this was some major label attempt to remake the skittering, brilliantly annoying “Lemonade”–a un-hedged Gucci song that also had pop appeal—but there’s not really anything for Gucci to lock-in on and really rap; it’s just annoying, there’s no brilliant part. Also, Swizz Beatz’s production here’s projecting a sense of menace that never been part of Gucci’s rap persona. That’s not to say Gucci isn’t threatening or doesn’t rap threatening things, but his worldview is one that’s full of laughing into the void sadness mixed with street-kid pragmatism, so even his violent lyrics just roll-out like inevitabilities. A simple loop, with no break or pause just doesn’t work for Gucci, he needs more to tiptoe his rhymes around. Notice how the first verse is classic Gucci because he’s just ignoring the sample and following the drums.

Really though, “Gucci Time” just pales in comparison to “On To The Next One.” Swizz Beatz’s take on “D.A.N.C.E” was brilliant: the kind of obsessive, sample-tweaking and slicing that results in a broken shards of a song bumping into one another and making some totally new. It was one of those samples that you may not even hear at first, and less because it’s a relatively “out there” sample source and more because Swizz did such a great job destroying it and rearranging all the pieces. For “Gucci Time,” Swizz is just flat-out looping a piece of a Justice song–a piece that’s already a looped sample (Goblin’s “Tenebre”).

Sonically, Goblin sit somewhere between the go-for-broke propulsive energy of Giorgio Moroder and the chintzy dread-filled atmosphere of John Carpenter, so their best work is bold and silly and strangely danceable and um, therefore tailor-made for dance music and hip-hop, right? But Justice pretty much slowed the original down and digital glitched it all out, and Swizzy unfortunately, continues in that safe direction. The only defense is that Swizz is about as creative with his Justice sample as Justice were with their Goblin sample, which is to say, not very and moving into into crappy DJ edit territory.

The only thing about this whole endeavor that matches Goblin’ skin-crawl, absurd level of awesome is the beginning of the “Gucci Time” video. This kinda makes sense as Goblin’s best work, like “Tenebre,” was made to accompany visuals. Above is a clip from Dario Argento’s Tenebre (1982) which uses the song sampled by Justice, who were then sampled by Swizz Beatz. The clip’s all tension and then, reckless release, but there’s a lurching choreography between Argento’s roving camera and Goblin’s stunted, disco-opera score–and director Chris Robinson grabs onto just a tiny bit of that “Gucci Time.”

The beginning of the “Gucci Time” video shows Gucci casually walking down the street and stopping to check his watch while two 90s rap video gigantic explosions whirl around him. As the explosions begins to dissipate and the “Gucci Time” title appears, Goblin’s identifiable, skronky, vocoded demon moans kick-in and for a moment there, it’s got the same visual/sound interplay of an Argento flick. That same sense of the mundane (a random street corner) and the outrageous (a giant fucking explosion) meeting, anchored by the slinking, scary sounds of Goblin.

*you can also read this post on Tumblr now, golly!

Written by Brandon

September 10th, 2010 at 8:24 am

Indie Disrespect Goes Beyond Hip-Hop…

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Something I stumbled upon over the weekend tangentially got me thinking about the ever-present debate of relatively uninformed white writers and their connection to rap music. For the most part, I haven’t gotten too much of this kind of criticism myself, I’m more apt to recieve moronic accusations of disrespect from “Veteran” bloggers- which means guys blogging for three years as opposed to me, blogging for one year- but I’m keenly aware of the debate and if the pussy veteran types and pussier commenters didn’t take so many cheap-shots, I might even side with them…

It was this Pitchfork review of some new EP by Battles, wherein the reviewer made an uninformed generalization about progressive rock, that got me thinking about the typical “indie”-type fan, respectably entering out of his area of comfort, and talking straight-out of their ass because well, they don’t know much about what they have chosen to discuss. I want to look at the example and see where this writer went wrong and also to tell my readers- most of whom are rap fans- that they need to drop the rap-martyr complex a little bit and realize that white, indie kids show the same amount of disrespect to any number of marginalized, musical subgenres…

How I even got to a review of Battles I don’t know, I’ve only heard the song that had a video on MTV2 and don’t have the slightest interest in their music. They really only pop-up on my radar when some sorta-informed music fan friend of mine tells me they “think” I’d like them because their music is “proggy”. Battles are not “proggy”, nor are Wolfmother or Lightning Bolt, although The Decemberists actually sort of are, but rarely is that adjective ascribed to them…anyways, it was the first paragraph of this Battles review that really killed me:

“No band has marked indie’s prog revival more definitively than Battles: Their debut, Mirrored, took rock for a set of puzzle pieces, but was ultimately defined by its pictorial sensibility– each song felt like a cartoon soundtrack– and the incorporation of jokes into the most historically humorless music in the known world.”

This struck me as frustrating because prog rock is not one of the most “historically humorless” sub-genres of music and only a total fucking outsider who listened with nothing but irony and third-hand knowledge would say that because see, Prog is the well-known musical genre of nerds, like real nerds, like what nerds used to be, before being a “nerd” became a way to get pussy. They were into Tolkien and Dune and Dungeons and Dragons and Vaughan Bode and all kinds of other truly nerdy shit. As a result, the sense of humor on progressive rock albums is more the kind of stuff Dwight Shrute might find funny or super-conceptual (like everything with prog) humor that you gotta kinda be within the prog-culture to understand or “get”.

When YES called an album ‘Tormato’ and it has a cover of a windstorm of tomatoes, they know that is retarded and it’s funny to prog fans and musicians to make tedious music with loosely conceptual themes and so many prog-albums have a few throway joke songs (personal favorite: ‘Are You Ready Eddie?’ by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer). Of course, prog isn’t all a big ironic wank, it’s just, in-part, nerdy and self-deprecating, and outsiders, especially modern rock critics who hate pomp and theatrics, don’t dig that too much, so they assume there’s no joking going on; one can take one’s shit very seriously and very un-seriously at the same time, you know. The guy who wrote that Pitchfork review and a lot of Battles fans (and maybe even the group themselves), are much too cool and boring to get into Camel because there’s nothing overtly cool about first and second-wave prog. People who invoke Battles’ “proggy” aspects are people who like dumber, less engaging versions of a genre, the same way people like ‘Grindhouse’ but don’t know about and wouldn’t enjoy the films of Larry Cohen. It’s not that they aren’t allowed to like Battles or ‘Grindhouse’ it’s just that they feel an obnoxious need to connect it to an older genre or tradition it has very little to do with anymore. The embrace of certain aspects of prog without going full-speed ahead, of course, connects to the ongoing nerd-chic in the culture; people want to be un-nerdy nerds, just as they like edgeless controversy and teethless satire like ‘The Daily Show’…

What this does in connection with rap is show the tendency for indie types to condescend to any number of genres and not just rap, proving we rap fans need to chill a little bit; it’s not so much a race issue as it is an issue of co-opting anything obscure or outside their culture. Rap fans only notice when writers provide their genre with “disrespect” but the fact of the matter is, this disrespect is commonplace for almost any genre that isn’t rock, punk, or “indie rock”. It also goes the other way, as most rap fans and rappers are equally stupid and closed-minded and makes equally fucking retarded judgments on rock music. See Chuck D’s mixed-up history of 60s rock in his joke of a book ‘Fight the Power’ or listen to Kanye West talk about Franz Ferdinand like they weren’t third-generation rip-offs of Joy Division or Wire.

My point is, the same uninformed white boys writing bullshit about rap are writing about prog and other genres and subgenres of which they know little beyond a superficial history. It is more symptomatic of a growing lack of passion amongst music writers, mixed with increased availability of music due to the internet, than it is a racial or cultural issue. It is this lack of passion that is mentioned by Carl Wilson in this Slate article (which I found through Richard), which it seems Wilson, like so many others, gleaned from SFJ’s kinda sorta infamous indie rock and rhythm tirade. Wilson’s main point, to remove any nuance and to conflate it with my own, is indie fans and indie rockers themselves, increasingly come from privleged backgrounds and so their disinterest in musical miscegenation is more because of “class” than “race”. The musicians and the fans of the music have very little to lose and play it safe, so they could never get really into rap or even really into prog…This moves toward explaining my connection between indie disrespect of prog and indie-type disrespect of rap; it’s more of an elitist thing, as prog is percieved as arty and pretentious and therefore, “falsely intellectual” and well, shit, rap is just dumb and funny, right? The same level of fun, sincerity, and the right kind of irony is going on whether it’s a rap cover designed by Pen N’ Pixel or a dragon-filled cover painted by Roger Dean…

In terms of indie and class, I might have been better to have chosen indie’s recent embrace of metal, a typically working-class, wonderfully aggressive, non-mannered genre, but that seems a little too easy and obvious. See, what indie types take-up in their embrace or prog, metal, rap, or whatever, is any and all types of “the other”. As indie types are generally white and upper-middle class (the fact that an “upper middle class” was created, proves the point about the wealthy’s increased interest in elitism and anti-elitism, at the same time) or plain ol’ upper-class, pretty much everyone becomes “the other” to them. Long-haired metal nerds, corpse-painted black metal dorks, dark-skinned hip-hop heads, and even hyper-intellectual D & D players, they are all exotic and fun to pick and choose cultural aspects to temporarily adopt. Rap fans need not get it twisted, the white working class has long been condescended to by indie types as well. The only difference is at some point in kinda recent history, the culture of complaint skipped-out on white people and so, even working class whites themselves feel self-concious about complaining about being fucked over, for they are not darker-skinned (although often equally poor and disenfranchised). The indie embrace of Pabst Blue Ribbon and faux-interest in sports, be it fake-fan or fashion and even moustaches, comes from a irony and reverse idealization of blue-collar, white culture. If indie types were sincere or real about this appropriation, they might even go deer hunting. There even seems to be a weird level of redneck co-opting going on, as rat-tails and other “bad” haircuts pop-up at hipster bars…when I saw Daft Punk’s ‘Electroma’, a guy in front of me had a redneck-ish ‘do and actually smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in awhile! Now that is a weirdly sincere devotion to being ironic…

So, what is really going on in music is just the upper-class by way of indie rock, ironically embracing another variation on “the other” which you know, as economic disparity widens, slowly becomes everybody that isn’t them. To get too worried about the simple co-opting of other cultures is a waste of time, for it has always been the case the wealthy who have the time, lack of worries, and obnoxious sense of privelege to condescend. Any history of the upper-class or aristocracy in any country (including ones led by brown people) will show the same level of elitism. A favorite example of mine is the Hellfire Club, a group of English Aristocrats who, in the mid-1700s got together to have mock-religious orgies! Now, I know liberals arts college now teach us that religion is horrible and therefore, we’re allowed to mock the religious for being so stupid and blah blah blah, but this is pretty much the same kind of mock appropriation of a sub-culture now found when some jerkoff ironically wears a Pittsburgh Pirates hat and sports a moustache. So, rap fans, don’t hog all the indie kid hate, plenty of other people deserve to be pissed off just as much.

Written by Brandon

November 5th, 2007 at 5:04 am

Posted in Indie, Irony, Prog Rock