Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pharoahe Monch - Desire

If you haven't read this article from Slate today it is highly recommended. It has to do with indie rock going away from classic rock's roots in blues and other originally black music. While it points out that examples given are chosen carefully the overall article gives some great facts about the progression of the indie scene, in terms of ethnomusicology.

Pharoahe Monch, from Queens, NY is best known in hip-hop circles for his complex delivery, internal and multi-syllabic rhyme schemes and has gone relatively unnoticed until recently. His debut, Internal Affairs, debuted in 1999 and over the next 7 years released singles and tracks for movies. He kept himself in the game by creating successful singles, and ghost-writing tracks for others such as Diddy. The long layoff between albums is interesting and at the same time curious. Without being familiar with the debut album, it's easy to hear the latest release with fresh ears and not expect to hear something similar to 8 years ago.

On Desire, Pharoahe Monch creates an album that is laced with his signature lyrics and flow, while using authentic gospel, deep funk, and silky soul. With all of this thrown into the stew Monch has an crisp, tight feel that track-to-track is one of the best hip-hop released in the last year. These tracks are bold, brash, bright, insightful, and occasionally brilliant. While the vast schism in time between albums would take most off their game, Pharoahe Monch has come back stronger and clearly has honed his craft. The production throughout the album is varied and inspired. It's not fractured or all over the place, but rather demonstrates various influences, while staying true to Monch's style and interests. One of the best lyrics comes from the title track below where Monch spits "Slave to a label, but I still own my masters." Stating clearly that he is independent at the end of the day, and will make music the way he sees fit. One can only hope it doesn't take another 8 years for him to concoct another albums worth of original material; although at this rate it would be well worth the wait.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew - Spirit If...

Broken Social Scene is a fantastic indie chamber pop group that typically has anywhere between 8 to 20 musicians performing at a given time. One of it's founding members Kevin Drew has never been the most marketable individual to emerge from the Canadian gang; that has been left to Leslie Feist, Emily Haines, or Amy Millan. With their solo careers burgeoning, Mr. Drew concocted a plan to eventually showcase the members with the help of the rest of the band. Essentially allowing each lesser-known member to step into the spotlight. Kevin Drew grew up in Toronto and got his creative start attending high school at the prestigious Etobicoke School of the Arts where he also met future friends and BSS members Ms. Haines and Ms. Millan. The best description of how BSS typically sound is a collection of all the members influences which are too numerous to name, but they tend to have an enormous sound, complication orchestrations, unique song structures, and interesting (to say the least) production from David Newfeld. They employ violins, guitars, horns, woodwinds, drums, keys and everything else but the proverbial kitchen sink.

As a Kevin Drew coming out party, Spirit If... really sounds like a BSS album, as should be expected. While not quite as beautifully chaotic as previous BSS works, Spirit If allows Kevin Drew the freedom to direct and arrange things how he would like, rather than yielding to the whims of the masses. While this is merely supposition, the album speaks for itself. Mr. Drew is at the forefront of almost the entire album and with his name plastered on the album art it's safe to assume he took great care in presenting this as solely his idea backed by his friends and bandmates in BSS. Recorded over the course of two years with members flying in and out to record various pieces, it's pretty astounding that this pastiche of sound making can be puzzled together to create such an excellent expanse of music. In addition, the 60+ minute length should be celebrated as it has become a rare sight to have bands fill more than half of a typical 80min. cd. While the amount of music is not necessarily indicitive of quality, Kevin Drew allows himself the freedom to experiment with songs ranging from 3 to 7 minutes depending on his message (no matter how convoluted it may be). While his lyrics occasionally make little sense, the choruses are almost always blunt and elementary. For example, on "Bodhi Sappy Weekend" mind-bending lyrics include, "With our clothes on fire/ I guess we both can wait/ I built an ark for sure," while the refrain explains, "please don't scratch me out" which is heart-breaking in its candor as it brings the song back to Earth. All in all, Kevin Drew has essentially created another great BSS album in which he can finally receive credit, where credit is due. Album reviews from Pitchfork, AMG, and Stylus.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dizzee Rascal - Maths + English

The 22-year old, Mercury Prize-winning, East Londoner Dylan Mills was at the forefront of bringing the genre of "Grime" to public consciousness. Otherwise known as Dizzee Rascal, Mills was born and raised in Bow, East London by his single mother. Without much success in school, Dizzee found his calling in a music class that saw him making and experimenting with productions on a classroom computer. He made these early off-kilter tracks for personal use to MC over due to the fact he didn't find suitable tracks in the garage scene. His unique vocal style is exemplified by his thick accent and fast delivery to the point where his lyrics are sometimes difficult to decipher. His production now is still equally disjointed which is juxtaposed to his lyrical flow. It's not typical hip-hop in the least that is easily danceable. With eclectic elements ranging from garage, metal guitars, drill and bass, and music samples from all over the world Dizzee Rascal albums have a sound all to themselves.

While his coming out party was made clear with his smash Boy in Da Corner (2003), his follow-up Showtime (2004) was not quite the same hit as it's predecessor. It was with great anticipation that he released Maths + English (2007) with quite a few collaborations in tow. The production on this newest album is more eclectic yet more accessible than his previous efforts. While not as monumental a success as Boy in Da Corner, this effort was nonetheless nominated for the Mercury Prize and has received very positive reviews from both Pitchfork and AMG while Stylus wasn't as happy with it. Stylus' main point is that it's "inconsistent" since there are more collaborations than on previous Dizzee Rascal albums, but these performances show an artist growing and expanding his horizons. This is an understandable progression for such a unique artist. One such collaboration with UK darling Lily Allen is below.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Explosions in the Sky - All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone

Upon listening to Explosions in the Sky you'd think the band would be perfect for scoring a movie. You would be right. In fact, they composed the soundtrack to the film adaptation of Friday Night Lights. Before doing this, the kids from Austin, Texas gained a grassroots reputation for their intense live performances where their staple is the magnitude of emotion in their act. They defy most conventions with instrumental rock since they are incredibly dynamic. While not every song is a hit (and some can be quite boring), they have the ability to really strike emotional chords with listeners. While it may seem corny or cheesy that instrumental rock could have such emotive power, it certainly says something about the skill and breadth of the band. What they seek to demonstrate is mostly that beauty requires tension prior to being resolved, and can be discovered within apparent chaos.

On their newest effort All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone (2/20/07) they hit on their normal style of swirling guitars and heavy snare and symbol drummed rhythms. Their maturity shines through this album which requires patience from its listeners. With tracks ranging from 4 to 13 minutes in length, songs are allowed to grow, fester, rattle, and reach their zenith organically. Their sound is definitely distinctive, with their particular guitar timbre and and sometimes frenetic drumming. One of the things that makes the music emotionally compelling and successful is Explosions' mastery of the crescendo. Few bands have such dramatic and perfectly timed rises in both volume and intensity that Explosions manages to carry out. Some bands get very quite only to come back blaring the speakers, but within the gradual dramatic increased volume allows them to accomplish varying degrees of emotion. While some may find Explosions in the Sky boring or tedious or uninteresting, their music is nonetheless interesting. They manage to create emotive instrumental soundscapes, which is rare in the world of rock music and should be applauded.