Thursday, December 25, 2008

2008 Year End List: Hip Hop

It's been said before but I'll say it again, hip hop in 2008 was fucking dismal. Yes there were a few solid releases but there wasn't an album that helped guide the limping genre into a new direction. Things were so slow this year that I couldn't even compile a full top ten. Most of my hip hop listening in 2008 has been almost strictly aimed at re-issues and/or finding and revisiting lesser known classics of the past, and there have been plenty to unearth.

So, what the hell was worth defending this year? Below are the albums and tracks that kept my head noddin' in 2008.

1. Flying Lotus "Los Angeles"
This one took a few listens before it ever "clicked," but, man, it was well worth the effort. I'm actually a little hesitant to even out this in the hip hop category, but this section needs all the help it can get. Though the bass-heavy beats are of the classic head bobbin' variety, the execution of the album and it's heady, in-depth production makes it much more than a mere hip hop album. The fact that it came out on Warp is indicative of this being much more than that. My ears hear the last fifteen years of Warp distilled through hip hop, dubstep, funk and (I hate to say it) downtempo. The oft-used Prefuse 73 comparison is warranted but it's hardly the only influence worth noting. Though I do note the technical bravado of early Prefuse 73, I also can't help but hear the psychedelic warbled warmth of Boards of Canada, the static drenched beatwork of Chiastic Slide-era Autechre, and, heck, there's even a hint of the playfulness of mid-90s Aphex Twin thrown in there for good measure.

I recommend snagging this one on vinyl, which is housed in a beautiful and slick gatefold with even slicker picture sleeves. Get it while you can because Warp tends not to keep their vinyl in print for long...

"Roberta Flack (Feat. Dolly)"

"Auntie's Lock/Infinitum (Feat. Laura Darlington)"

2. Onra "Chinoiseries"
I already wrote a review of this for Color, so I'm just gonna be lazy on this one...

Now that damn near every soul, R&B and jazz record have been mined for their precious samples, the forward-thinking producers in hip-hop have had to look elsewhere for their beat sources. Onra, a French-born DJ of Vietnamese descent, went back to his motherland of Vietnam and scooped up as many records as he could take back to France. The self-proclaimed vinyl junky took the few dozen records, scratches and all, and made beats out of material he was "completely unfamiliar with". The end result is Chinoiseries, a collection of 32 short (only two tracks break two minutes) instrumental hip-hop vignettes made up of old, dusty and scratched up Vietnamese pop and traditional records, which were then chopped up into tiny snippets and molded into unique and otherworldly hip-hop beats. Strings, woodwinds, and indecipherable traditional Vietnamese instruments hop along a bed of crackle and are backed by classic boom-bap drum breaks. Madlib’s Beat Konducta In India album and J Dilla’s Ruff Draft seem to have provided the inspiration for Chinoiseries, but Onra’s unique collection in Chinoiseries prove he’s an innovator and not just a mere copycat.


"The Anthem"

"Relax In Mui Ne"

"Boundless Boundaries"

3. People Under The Stairs "Fun DMC"

Though this can hardly be considered their best album (I'll reserve that for O.S.T.) it sure is far superior to their disappointing 2006 release, The Stepfather. The duo are back in their prime here and have strung together a worry-free album that reeks of the sunshine from their home state of California. Nope, you won't find any typical complaints about street life here, instead are songs about BBQ's, chasing girls, playing video games, making beats, and living the laidback life of an LA b-boy who's world revolves around hip hop. This is a hip hop album for the heads who need to put their worries aside for an hour.

"Step Bacc"

"Ste. For Peter Pt.1 -The Fun-"

This next one is my hip hop track of the year!
"Ste. For Peter Pt.1 -The Grind-"

4. Dr. Dooom "Dr. Dooom 2"
The hip hop comeback of the year award officially goes out to Kool Keith, who, after releasing the dreadful Dr. Octagon 2 and several weak solo albums, dropped Dr. Dooom 2 on to the weary public. The production is courtesy of long-time associate Kutmasta Kurt and features some of his starkest material since the first Dr. Dooom album, which dropped almost ten years ago. Filled with quick-cut, low-end piano loops, Dr. Dooom 2 is a dark album which shows the cutting side of Kool Keith that's been missing on records for a looong time. He wastes no time in cutting down inferior MC's (his specialty), calling out Simon Cowell (?!), boasting (see God Of Rap below), and even takes out some time to mock himself by killing Dr. Octagon...again. Definitely not the strongest Keith release but it's easily his best since 2000's Matthew album and a welcome return to form.

"The Countdown"

"The God Of Rap"

5. Subtle "ExitingARM"
The third album by these ex-Anticon superstars is also the final in their trilogy that revolves around Hour Hero Yes. I would fathom to say that most fans wouldn't even know the last 3 albums were part of a trilogy as Doesone's hyper and nasally flow would make any storyline difficult to follow. I've always found the story to take a backseat to the incredible inventiveness of all 3 Subtle albums, so it's never really been much but an afterthought when listening. Though this album isn't quite the achievement that the first two have been, and see's the group treading very similar water as the previous two full lengths, it's still a breath of fresh air in an increasingly stifling airspace.

"Exiting Arm"

Honourable Mentions
Mike Ladd "Nostalgialator"
This was originally released in Europe in 2004, and thanks to the folks over at Def Jux, this overlooked album finally gets a domestic release. Nostalgialator came out a year after his triumphant Majesticons LP and has a very similar vibe in the production. However, this time around the lyrics are overtly political compared to the tongue-in-cheek party anthems of the Majesticons album. Nostalgialator should hold you over until the Trusticons album is released to complete the Infesticons/Majesticons trilogy. This is definitely the sleeper of 2008...and 2004. Sleep no more.
"Wild Out Day"

Personal favorite track: "How Electricity Really Works"

Daedelus "Love To Make Music To"
Though most of this album leans towards Daedelus' heart warming electronica, there are two standout hip hop tracks featuring unknown MCs that are definitely worth your time. I'll just let them speak for themselves...
"Touchstones (featuring Paperboy & Taz Arnold)

"Twist The Kids (feat. N'fa)

Over the next week or so I'll be dropping the rest of my lists, including my favorite albums in drone/ambient, garage/psych, reissues, singles and maybe a few others...Tune in laterz

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hip Hop Fridays: Saturday Hangover Edition--The Coup "Kill My Landlord" (1993)

Doing this one on my lunch break, so we're gonna have to make it quick.

Posted below is a download of the first album by The Coup, which was release in 1993 on the formidable Wild Pitch record label. The group was a three piece at the time but have since shrunk to a duo, consisting of Boots Riley (on the far left) and Pam The Funkstress. E-Roc would leave the group after their second album, Gin and Genocide. The debut is actually a little better than the last two highly profiled and well regarded records. I managed to snag this from Reckless Records in Chicago for a decent price, though the album has been seen to go for a small fortune on ebay. Anyways, I noticed a sample on a track called Funk that was taken from Superstar by The Overton Barry Ensemble. I recognized the track instantly because it was used in an old skate video that my friends and I watched to death--Toy Machine's Welcome To Hell. I had long forgotten about the track but after hearing the sample I just had to find it. Below is a YouTube video of the TOBE track which, even if your not a big hip hop fan but have read this far, must be heard. I highly recommend you take the three minutes out to peep it. You won't be disappointed. Also below is the video for Funk and the above mentioned segment from the Welcome To Hell skate video.


The Overton Barry Ensemble "Superstar"

Welcome To Hell Satva Leung section

The Coup "Funk"


The Hospitals

Special request from the bloggers over at COD Music, who, thanks to Thee Expressway, had their minds blown by The Hospitals' Hairdryer Peace and just had to hear some of the earlier jams. Not much time to get into the gory details here, but these first two albums are almost entirely different beasts than the one encountered on Hairdryer Peace. Hairdryer Peace is some Year Zero shit for The Hospitals and see's the band veering away from their blown-out and assaultive garage rock and plunging deep into psychedelic dementia. There are a few moments on Jocks and Jazz that hinted at things to come, but, for the most part, Hairdryer Peace was a pleasant and shocking surprise. So anyone who's heard Hairdryer and doesn't know these first two albums, well, here's yr chance to catch up on one of the more exciting garage groups of the last 5 years.

Fun Fact: John Dwyer (Thee Oh Sees, Yikes!, Coachwhips and Pink and Brown) and Mike Donovan (drummer for Sic Alps) both played on various sections of I've Visited The Island Of Jocks and Jazz.

s/t on In The Red Records (2003)

I've Visited The Island Of Jocks and Jazz on Load Records (2005)

Again, big shout out to COD Music, who have been relentlessy posting some hard to find albums almost everyday for two years. Make a stop by

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nu Sensae In Discorder

My first full length article for Discorder has recently been published, and since they take forever to post articles on their website, I've taken the liberty to post it here. Anyone who actually read the article has probably noticed an error where it says that Kat Bjelland of Babes In Toyland was also the lead singer of Le Tigre. FYI: This was an error on the part of the Discorder editing team and definitely not my mistake. I guess they figured that Kat Bjelland and Kathleen Hanna are the same person. Anyways, below is my original edit. Many thanks go out to my man Brock Thiessen, who helped me through this one. Above photo by Alex Turgeon. Artwork at the bottom is courtesy of Andrea.

PS. I couldn't figure out how to get those damn umlats into Nu Sensae. Can anyone help me on this?

In many ways, Nu Sensae are a punk band. Sure, newfangled tags like
"noise punk" and "weird punk" are constantly hounding the group and
their cohorts, but c'mon, punk is weird and noisy by definition. No,
for Nu Sensae, punk will do just fine.

Now this isn't to say the Vancouver duo are exactly what you'd call a
classic punk band, but rather a group that take snippets from the many
rungs in the continuously growing punk ladder. Bassist/vocalist Andrea
Lukic's guttural screeches can be traced back to riot grrl
predecessor/punk rock scream queen Kat Bjelland of the underrated
Babes in Toyland. Drummer Daniel Pitout also takes a few cues from one
of his teenage loves, namely, the tribal thump of X's drummer D.J.
Bonebrake. Add in the duo's own twisted brand of theatrics and their myriad of other influences, and they come out making a unique racket in a city full of punk bands bent on rehashing the past.

The pair takes all these elements, wraps them up and hurtle them full
throttle towards unsuspecting audiences — a tactic that sends some
listeners careening for the exits, while holding others captive with
the duo's self-proclaimed "voodoo punk" vibes. "People have said we
have a dysphoric quality. It makes people feel uncomfortable or they
say we have bad vibes, an eerie feel," says Pitout. "Voodoo punk just
sounded funny to us. It fit."

Nu Sensae began like many bands: as a mere thought in the minds of two
high school friends. But upon graduation, Nu Sensae went from daydream
to reality. After their first group Maggie Gutwrath dissolved, Lukic
and Pitout jammed on their own and found they only needed a rhythm
section and Lukic's vocals to pound out the dark punk sound incubating
in their heads.

Soon after—on March 24, 2007, to be exact—Nu Sensae had their first
show, playing with Mutators, Shearing Pinx and Modern Creatures at the
infamous Alf House. The show, in their minds at least, was a disaster.
Though the crowd and other bands didn't see it that way and encouraged
Nu Sensae to keep playing. Determined, the duo practised often and
played any gig they were offered, including an early Emergency
Room show. The band have since become a staple in the ER scene and
went on to record three tracks on the Emergency Room LP compilation.

Their close-knit ties with the already burgeoning underground noise
and punk scene in Vancouver soon helped solidify their DIY leanings
and made the community that much stronger. "There is a really strong
community here. All of us are friends, all of the bands: Shearing
Pinx, Twin Crystals, Mutators, etc., with Fake Jazz playing a major
role," says Pitout. "The scene now has more direction and people find
it easier to get into now."

However, the duo have started expanding beyond Vancouver's borders as
well. They recently completed a West Coast tour in the U.S. that was
booked entirely on their own. Thanks to groups like Mutators, Twin
Crystals and Shearing Pinx, who have all helped carve a path down the
coast, Nu Sensae had no problem setting up shows that draw large
groups of kids out to see the latest Vancouver punk band — no booking
agent required.

After playing an average of a show a week for most of 2008, taking
part in several underground compilations and split cassettes, and
releasing their debut 12-inch LP, Nu Sensae show little sign of
slowing the pace. The group's first 7-inch is soon to be released by
newly launched Critiscum label, run by local noise mongers Josh Rose Ian Gregory James. The group also have a brief North Western U.S. tour lined up.

For those looking to get a piece of the band right now, you can nab a
copy of their debut full-length LP (errr half-length — the LP is one
sided), which was paid for by saving the money from a year's worth of
shows. Released on the local punk/noise/drone/everything label,
Isolated Now Waves, the album was recorded in a single day by close
associate Nic Hughes of Shearing Pinx, and for art, the band
silkscreened all the covers themselves.

Even if Vancouver hasn't been the most accommodating city for the
noisy underground, Nu Sensae and their brethren refuse to let this
stop them and have created their own opportunities, whether that be
playing and setting up illegal venues or self-releasing their own
albums. And as the crowds expanded with every show, it seems the rest
of the city is finally catching up to what has been bubbling

"Vancouver's music scene is pretty diverse; it's noise, it's punk,
it's everything," Pitout says. "I think this is because it's a small
community of bands who are really into making music and playing with
one another, and I think the crowds respond to that."

"If these [illegal venues] ended tomorrow the bands would still be
playing music and putting out records. Everyone is great about doing
things for themselves and not waiting around for things to open up. I
think this says more about the bands than the venues."

Monthly Cassette Reviews (All Vancouver Edition)

It took some time, but the all local edition of my Monthly Cassette reviews is finally complete. The cassette culture in Vancouver has been pretty strong the last 4 or 5 years, so it wasn't really an issue culling together 10 or so releases to cover. Unfortunately, outside of buying directly from the band or label, there really isn't any way to get a hold of these releases. Zulu and Solder and Sons carry some local cassettes, but there has yet to be a shop that carries a wider selection. Maybe some day. I would suggest copping these from live shows or just heading to Fake Jazz to see what's for sale, where there is usually a table of local handmade goodies ripe for the pickins.

Seagull "Gorgeous Calf" (Smoke Filled Casket)

"Cold Dreamin'" (Smoke Filled Casket)

"The Buffalo Dying On The Vine" (Smoke Filled Casket)

Three new tapes by Seagull (aka Michael Piercey) landed in the inbox last month and, boy, are these ever heavy. All 3 tapes are 10 minutes of pure, uninterrupted harsh noise. No build up, no release; just straight and brutal assaults on the ears and mind. Think these could be out of print already, as Michael usually does really short runs. Get at him here. And here. He also has a some beautiful looking and brutal sounding new releases on CDr's/3"CDr's, which are highly recommended. Get 'em while you can. Anyways, these are great appetizers if yr next listen is this one...

The Rita/Body Collector "s/t" (Ecstatic Peace)
The Rita, whom I've written about here before (and also for Discorder) dropped this one earlier in the year via Ecstatic Peace. The Rita side, much like those Seagull cassettes, start off with harsh white blast which ceases to relent. This is a full torrential force of frying electronics that, to the untrained/unfocused ear, sounds monotonous. Further and deeper listening reveals wires of electric fire springing loose and flailing under the jet engine assault that dominates the mix. Intense and relentless, yet very very satisfying. Sorry, kiddies, this one is out of print. Reach him here.

Sex Negatives "Stalker" (Cassette Or Die!!!)
Sex Negatives has a tendency to divide audiences, and it's no wonder why when they always seem to end up on non-noise bills. The free-aggro-stomp of this uncompromising cassette is unlikely to win anyone over. For the noise nerds who just can't seem to get enough of the duo/trio, Stalker should be enough to tide you over until the next show or the eventual release of their next 7 inch (due out early '09!). The A-Side is a two-piece tease between drums and guitar with the two seemingly challenging one another like two dragsters on the start line. The B-Side sees the two dualing in a frantic almost-Lightning Bolt-esque skipping that could practically cause some sort of epilectic hearing seizure, if one were to actually exist.

Workbench & Magneticring "Live In A Room With All The Windows" 2xCS (Rundownsun)
Coupla' confounding newish releases on the Rundownsun label, who have also released a live document of the seminal late 70s/early 80s Vancouver noise/power electronics outfit Tunnel Canary. Very recommended stuff indeed. Anyways, finally found the time to catch up on these two cassette releases from earlier this year and have been scratching my head ever since. Magneticring (local psych-meister Josh Stevenson, who, by the way, started a half-year long psych/folk/acid/outsider internet mix. Check it here) duals against Workbench (aka Mike Bernstein of Double Leopards and Religious Knives, and also of the Heavy Tapes crew) in an understated improv synth battle. Most of the two cassettes veer from submerged bubbly synth scribblings all the way to blackened and bleak electronics, then right back into the synth weirdness. The second cassette I found the most interesting, with one of the sides ending in a full on oscillating drone-out. Packaging on this one--as is the M.O. for Rundownsun--is well crafted. Double-wide cassette case with textured paper sleeve and pro-printed labels. Still available. Snag it quick.

Ian Gregroy James "Castle" (Rundownsun)
It seems as if Rundownsun has almost completely removed itself from it's penchant for harsh noise and has shifted into the sound art world. Here we have a solo release by Ian Gregory James, who is one-half of Blouse and one-third of the mysterious Robed and Allied. This C92 is a true test of patience on the end of the listener and, well, Ian as well. Slow rising tones rise up, fade away and leave large gaps of silence in their wake. It eventually gains a bit of steam until we have several low pitch tones buzzing and whirring against one another until a full tonal barrage is achieved. Nab it if you see it. Should still be some copies out there.

Shearing Pinx "Ammugammu" 2xCS (Isolated Now Waves)
It wouldn't really be a local cassette review without delving into a few of the Isolated Now Waves/Shearing Pinx-related releases, now would it?

First up in the INW camp is the Shearing Pinx "Ammugamu" double cassette release. The idea behind it is reimagining Pink Floyd's "Ummagumma" but fashioning it to Shearing Pinx punk/noise leanings. One side for Shearing Pinx and a side each for Les Beyond (Erin), N. 213 (Nic), and Mongst (Jeremy).

The Shearing Pinx side is a different dynamic from the already chameleon-like group. It sounds like Erin is playing and looping several spindly guitar lines while Nic builds up a modern day Sonic Youth guitar orgasm. Jeremy's propulsive drumming keeps the band moving over the ten minute side towards the white heat goal line. Not the best recording on this side but definitely worth releasing for posterity.

The Les Beyond side is a nice come down after the intense SHPX side. Lovely layers of looped and quivering guitar rubbings start the tape off. Soon the side builds up into a swirling, hazy ice cave of drone. Immense and quite beautiful.

N.213 starts off the third side, and it really captures the many vibes of Nic's alter ego. Switching from oddball tape manipulations to weirdo bedroom synth folk to noise, all in the span of ten minutes.

Mongst finishes up the final side with some vaccuumed garbage electronics that alternate between repetitive and blown out beatwork to harsher crashing noise. Over a little too soon for my liking, but that can only be a good thing, right? Always keep 'em wanting more.

N.213 & Jesse Taylor "15 Minutes/Soft Disco" (Isolated Now Waves)
Continuing along the INW freeway, we have this exciting new split cassette from N. 213 (Shearing Pinx) and Jesse Taylor (Twin Crystals), who both play(ed) together in the recently resurrected Channels 3 and 4. Both sides reveal their inner synth pop leanings that have had to remain mostly dormant in their other bands.

N. 213 starts off the tape with an echoed sample from Lost Highway. Soon, thumping bass kicks in accompanied by some deep bass and warbly toy keyboards. Once the warped melee comes to fruition, Nic jumps in with his unmistakable vocals, which are totally blown out and warped. Some of the tracks feature slow, distorted bass that almost creeps into Wolf Eyes terrortory, but rather than using it to frighten, it's used to entice. N. 213's side is very danceable and shows that there's a dancepop creep just waiting to cut a rug with you. Also features a Modern Creatures cover!

Jesse's side is a bit of a departure from his other band as well. Featuring drum machine, long notes on a buzzy junkyard keyboard and Jesse's instantly recognisable vocals. Soft Disco plays like Twin Crystals but at half speed. Much more sleepy-eyed than the immediateness of his other band, but there are still hooks'o'plenty to keep you coming back. This cassette has had more spins in the deck than any of the other releases listed above. Highly recommended.

Les Beyond "E.C.G." (Isolated Now Waves)
Packaged in a soft little pillow, Les Beyond's latest cassette on INW is easily the best thing I've heard from her. The first side is made up of two tracks that showcase her layered guitar twinklings to perfection. The flip is a live at Fake Jazz set recorded earlier this year. This ten ten-minute track is the guitar squeal version of her normally languid guitar lines. Once again, the lines are played then looped...over and over again until you lose count of the layers and become fully entranced in the ensuing dream weaving. The pillow should come in quite handy for this one. Dream on...

Feel free to contact me or any of the above labels/bands for info on how to get a hold of these. Most should still be in print.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hip Hop Fridays: Common Sense "Can I Borrow A Dollar?" (1992)

Yes yes yaaaaa'll. Another Friday, another hip hop upload for ya'. This week is Common's debut album, Can I Borrow A Dollar? Dropping to minor acclaim in 1992, CIBAD? helped put Chicago on the hip hop map back in a time when NYC and LA dominated the airwaves. Common (or Common Sense, as he was referred to on the album) showed little sign of the conscientious lyrics that dominated every record released since, instead we have a clever young man reveling in his carefree youth. Some of the tracks, including The Beatnuts produced Heidi Hoe, are pretty cringeworthy in their direct misogyny, but we'll forgive him for his lack of forsight and discretion. Heck, the man went on to drop two classics of the late 90s/early 00's (One Day It'll All Make Sense (1997) and Like Water For Chocolate (2000)), so we'll have to let it slide. Funny enough, Heidi Hoe has some of the best beatwork on the album, courtesy of a then unknown Beatnuts. The rest of the production is courtesy of 2 Pc Drk Productions, who keep the beats swinging at an understated jazzier level. Not nearly as good as those later records but still much better than those last two pieces of dogshit he plopped out.

Fun Fact: Breaker1/9 contains a sample of the Isley Bros. late career hit, Between The Sheets, which was most famously used in Notorious B.I.G.'s smash hit, Big Poppa. Check it below and spot the sample.


"Soul By The Pound"

"Breaker 1/9"

"Take It Easy"

Favorite track: Charms Alarms

Heidi Hoe

Original cover with the "Sense" still intact:

Much better and more in depth review over at, written by Matt Jost:

"It is a remarkable coincidence that in 1992 two rappers out of Chicago made their national debut who are still around today, well over a decade later. Back then, both rappers carried slightly different (and arguably more telling) monikers: Twista was Tung Twista and Common was Common Sense. The former changed his name voluntarily, the latter had to for legal reasons. Apparently, 'common sense' can be turned into a trademark, a fact which all too clearly reveals the lawmaker's lack thereof. Call it poetic justice that these days Common fares quite well with his abridged alias. Musically, he may not represent the 'common' procedure in hip-hop, but thematically, Lonnie Rashid Lynn has a knack for topics the common man and woman can relate to, giving his name an ironic and a true ring at the same time. Still, let's not forget that he began as Common Sense, a highly symbolic name in its own right. As a rap name, Common Sense may be best fulfilled in "Resurrection," the classic follow-up to this here debut. Still, a young, aspiring artist picking such a name speaks of a certain frame of mind, if not an entire masterplan to inject rap music with always needed native good judgment. Or maybe not. Ironically, Common's debut radiates the cogency of common sense the strongest in its only interlude, when KRS-One's compelling "No defense against common sense" line is cut up during "No Defense." Before and after, "Can I Borrow a Dollar?" is not particularly concerned with common sense in the strict definition of the term. The Southside native seems too distracted by rival rappers and the fair sex to do much reasoning beyond calling the aforementioned out. "Can I Borrow a Dollar?" is an eruption of juvenile exuberance, as Com frolics around the beats like a filly on a bright early morning in spring. Chances even are that he adopted the name Common Sense at some point between recording the first tracks and finishing the album, as he repeatedly refers to himself as Peetie Wheatstraw (originally the name of a St. Louis-born blues pioneer). The majority of the tracks also mention a collective named the UnAmerican Caravan, with which Com must have been affiliated in some way: "UAC is family, much tighter than the Waltons." Other crews that are mentioned are Dem Dare and The Late Show. These and/or UAC may or may not have included the album's main producers, Immenslope and Twilite Tone. Who Common experts should recognize as the musical masterminds behind "Resurrection," No ID and Ynot, respectively. Particularly for more recent Common fans, however, "Can I Borrow a Dollar?" may pack a few surprises. This is where the later posterboy for conscious hip-hop comes the closest to a negative role model, who defines stealing as earning money "the old fashioned way." Two out of three album artwork pics show him with a forty, and no sooner than on the opener "A Penny For My Thoughts," he begins to wet his whistle: "My crew's a strange brew; a drink a day'll keep the shrink away / We been through AA, but hey, what can I say?" Throughout the album, alcohol is Common's companion. "I'm in a state where I've had too much eightball," he confesses on "Take it Ez." "I'm just another one of the nigs, take a swig" he toasts himself on "Just In the Nick of Rhyme." And the final moments of the album see him relieving himself, reinforcing the impression that, among other things, you just witnessed a drinking binge. Much more problematic is young Common's attitude towards women. "Fuck the bitches who dissed us and the hoes who wouldn't give Rash' the play," he defends himself on the closing "Pitchin' Pennies." Leading up to that excuse are a number of statements that can only be considered as demeaning to women. Some are even downright misogynistic. The least offensive is the single "Breaker 1/9." Recounting romantic misadventures, "Breaker 1/9" is funny, but not solely at the expense of others. Not so "Heidi Hoe." Over an early Beatnuts production, Sense spews: "What up, bitch! I'm Petey Wheatstraw and you don't stop with the Heidi Heidi Hoe Hi hoe, or bye hoe, if you're lookin' for a sucker (What are you?) I'm just another muthafucka Pucker your lips, do flips like Mary Lou Just because I fucked you doesn't mean that I'ma marry you Bury you, I will do, after I bill you Kill you, cause your shit smells like mildew [...] Much disrespect goes out to you and your parents, too, for havin' you Haven't you been introduced to a douche? I guess you said fuck footloose and got pussyloose [...] For recreation givin' up the body is her hobby I'm tellin' Santa Clause you been naughty Hoe-hoe-hoe, Merry Christmas Hey yo JuJu, I just had to diss this Heidi Heidi Hoe" You can attribute "Heidi Hoe" to the times, but fact is that in terms of strong language and hard feelings it stands out even among choice cuts such as "A Bitch Is a Bitch" and "Bitches Ain't Shit." At least on "Tricks Up My Sleeve," his then-girlfriend Rayshel is given the opportunity to pay him back with a verse of her own. Still, the Common Sense of "Can I Borrow a Dollar?" is a repeat offender, so bitches get dissed on the regular, even on the supposed black solidarity cut "Soul By the Pound." If released today, a song like "Puppy Chow" would most definitely rub Common fans wrong, not just because of its "Just dog the bitch" chant, but because Common overcame this phase for all of rap with 1997's "Retrospect For Life," where he reflected upon the responsiblity of parenthood. Keep that in mind when you follow his reasoning on "Puppy Chow": "After a while I'ma wanna get buckwild and 9 months later I'ma say it ain't my child I'm sterile, girl, we ain't never did nothin' cause only you and I know that the Common Sense is bluffin' Little Miss Muffett, that's how the ball bounces Sorry you gotta bounce the ball, 8 pounds and 2 ounces" To tell the truth, it is hard to be mad at "Can I Borrow a Dollar?" Common. That has nothing to do with the amount of time that has passed, or his many meaningful contributions to the artform since. It has everything to do with his youthful expression. He's like that child that is always forgiven because it's so damn adorable. And that's exactly the reason why in a retrospective review such as this one, he shall not so easily be forgiven, why it is indeed necessary to ring the "Charms Alarm." The good thing is that a song like "Charms Alarm" not only presents a smart aleck, but also someone who really has something to say. Foreshadowing the "I Used to Love H.E.R." sentiment, Com addresses what was wrong with hip-hop in the early '90s: "Everybody wanna, wanna rock hard; before you wasn't hardcore / [...] / Elvis Presley junior tryin' to be somethin' that you ain't / No doubt y'all are hoes / you go on stage and take off all your clothes / then you strike a pose / You knows and I knows that's how you sell your record / Because your shit is butt you gotta get naked." Lyrically, wordplay was the order of the day, and playful was Common's entire approach to rhyming and rapping. 1992 was a boom year for pop culture references in rap, and "Can I Borrow a Dollar?" is one of the prime exhibits. What set Com apart was his enthusiastic, eruptive delivery. Utilizing a hard-to-contain flow that ever so often exclaimed in what can only be described as baby squeaks, Common was part of new generation of MC's that used rap as their personal playground, experimenting with inflections, impressions, tempos and tongue twisters, (sometimes clumsily) following in the footsteps of innovators such as Kool Moe Dee and Big Daddy Kane. On that note, I seriously question the accuracy of the current Wikipedia entry on "Can I Borrow a Dollar?" which states that the album was 'originally recorded in 1988, but not released until 1992.' Not to mention the claim that 'the album went platinum in three European nations.' I'll bet my bottom dollar neither is true. In hip-hop, 1988 and 1992 are worlds apart, and not even Com's most promoted full-length to date, "Be," made it anywhere near platinum status in Europe. A glance at the cover reveals that as a Midwesterner Common Sense was worried about getting heard at all. Surrounded by sketches of NY and LA street maps left and right, holding a mug with Chicago written on it, he virtually begs for a piece of the rap cake. While close to the East Coast in style and sound, No ID and Ynot make it a point to deliver a well rounded package, laying down smooth, thumping tracks that pack an early '90s punch that would soon be a thing of the past. Just compare "Breaker 1/9" to Chucky & Puffy's "Big Poppa" (the single that helped bring Biggie to mainstream attention), both relying heavily on their "Between the Sheets" sample, but where "Big Poppa" fully banked on the smooth string section, "Breaker 1/9" adds an extra set of booming drums, inspiring more than just a switch of the hips. "Big Poppa" was hip-hop to sip champagne to (without spilling it), "Breaker 1/9" was hip-hop for the jeep beat collective. The most surprising production on "Can I Borrow a Dollar?" might be the No ID/Ynot joint effort "Just In the Nick of Rhyme," which abruptly jumps from a faintly jazzy backdrop to some kick-ass Latin-tinged boom bap. The Beatnuts hit the hardest with "Heidi Hoe," while the Chi-Town team has a tendency to smoothen even the more rugged tracks ("Blows to the Temple"). "Charms Alarm," "Take it Ez" and "Soul By the Pound" all anticipate the soulful simplicity of the second album, although the latter might be more famous in its "Thump Mix" reincarnation, as heard on the 1993 "Soul By the Pound" single and in the accompanying video. On a sidenote, the "Soul By the Pound" remix also replaced Common's clearly voiced discontent with the increasing presence of whites in rap with freestyle lyrics that weren't liable to hurt anybody. "I ain't out here tryin' to be a bully / nor am I proclaimin' to be a two-shoes goody," Common Sense says somewhere on his debut. Which, in regards to his own role, might be the most sensible thing he says. Fresh off achieving Source Unsigned Hype status in October of 1991, Common had yet to find his destiny as soul brother #1. Looking back, it is evident that the best was yet to come. But even with a maturing process ahead of him, "Can I Borrow a Dollar?" is consistent with Com's later catalog, as the undeniable charm and charisma are already in full effect."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Zulu/Discorder Top 10 of the Year

In no particular order, here is my top 10 of the year as seen on the back of this month's Discorder. This is not the definitive year end list for me. The nerdier lists will be dropping in the next few weeks. In the meantime, you can nab some of these titles at Zulu and get 10% off the price. Unfortunately, a bunch of these appear to be out of print or were never distributed through Zulu. I encourage you to seek out the ones you can.

The Hospitals "Hairdryer Peace" LP (self-released) Out of Print

Lazy Smoke "Corridor Of Faces" CD reissue (Arf!Arf!)

Daniel Menche "Body Melt" LP (Important) Out Of Print

Onra "Chinoiseries" CD/2xLP (Label Rouge Productions)

Thee Oh Sees "The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In" CD/LP (Castle Face/Tomlab) CD only, LP is near impossible to find. Try Aquarius Records.

Wavves "s/t" CS/LP (Woodsist) I will have wholesale LP's of this available by the end of the year. Contact me for more info.

Sutcliffe Jugend/Prurient "End Of Autumn" 2xLP (Troubleman Unlimited) This hasn't come back into the shop since it first arrived. This may be out of print or very close. 800 copies pressed. Try here. Snag it here free via New Noise.

Nu Sensae "s/t" One Sided LP (Isolated Now Waves) Available at the shop and any other decent record shop in town. The band will also be selling some at shows. But you better get it quick, this sucker is almost done and the band will be on a brief hiatus at the beginning of the year.

Magic Lantern "s/t" LP (Woodsist) and "High Beams" LP (Not Not Fun) Long gone from Zulu, but I have multiple copies of both. Contact me for more info.

Twin Crystals "Two Girls" 7 Inch (Summer Lovers Unlimited) Should be available all over town, including from the band. There is also copies of a brand new full length LP out there somewhere. Jeremiah was expecting them last week, so here's hoping they've landed.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Wet Hair w/ Temptation, Peaking Lights and Aerosol Constellations@The Sweatshop

For the most part, Thursday night's show at the Sweatshop went off pretty well. Aerosol Constellations did an unusual set where they began with their usual intricate droning, but after about a ten minute build up, launched into a thuggish/sludgy punk jam. Jeremy bellowed the vocals and hammered on the bass while Bill thumped away on the drums. Slowly, the duo brought things back into the drone. Quite a different set from these guys. I'd love to see them do the hardcore act on it's own.

Temptation, who seemed very promising on their myspace page, seemed to have a meltdown on stage and weren't able to complete their set. The band consisted of six members: Two dudes on electronics (including NVH of Six Organs and Comets On Fire fame!) and four gals on drums, bass, guitar and vocals. The first song seemed to go over well, but then the drummer just faded out and couldn't keep time, causing some of the members to become visibly pissed. They stopped playing about halfway through the third track and then left the stage. Bit of a bummer, but Peaking Lights more than made up for it.

Peaking Lights, comprised of a husband/wife duo, sat behind a wall of electronics and synths and proceded to blow the crowd away. Indra Dunis rocked some simple watery synth lines and cooed her vocals through a wall of submerged delay. Meanwhile, Aaron Coyes played guitar that seemed to be run through a literal tower of electronics, creating a swirling haze of warm guitar drone. Did I mention the dub beats? The whole set was backed up by midpace dub beats, which explains the reggae fascination that the duo have on their myspace and blog. "Pocahaunted with dub beats" was how it was described during the show, and I would have to agree. One of the best sets I've seen all year.

Wet Hair's duo of Shawn Reed and Ryan Garbes (ex-Raccoo-oo-oon) definitely brought the tribal vibe of their previous band Raccoo-oo-oon. Shawn rocked a table of electronics and energetically chanted his nonsensical vocals, while Ryan mostly manned the drums. I can't help but compare their set to the Raccoo-oo-oon albums I've spent so much time with, but I found Wet Hair to be more of a stripped down and backwoods version of their former group. They also had a bit of the erratic dub element that Peaking Lights had, making them excellent touring pals. If they are coming to a town near you, I advise you not to miss out on either of them.

Here is a two part full set I found on youtube of Wet Hair playing earlier this year...

Part 1

Part 2

Peaking Lights in Iowa City earlier this year

Friday, December 5, 2008

Hip Hop Fridays: Schoolly D "How A Black Man Feels" (1991)

For the uninitiated, Philadelphia's Schoolly D is one of the original gangster rappers, with some even claiming that he is the first. Ice-T and 2 Live Crew credit Schoolly with directly influencing their style and helping pave the way for the many freedom of speech battles they would end up. Albums like 1988's classic Smoke Some Kill had city officials across the United States demanding record stores remove the album due to it's harsh content. Unfortunately those city officials and many in the media took Schoolly's lyrics for face value rather than seeing them as a reflection on the black urban violence and drug problems that plagued his surroundings in the inner city. Rather than glorifying street crime, Schoolly was more concerned with using his realistic tales as warnings. Schoolly was quite adept at recreating his dark underworld, and, due to this uncompromising stance, his early records were quickly banned.

By 1991, well after Schoolly had paved the way for then massive groups like NWA and 2 Live Crew, he had been pretty much left in the dust by his peers and the press. The media was on the hunt for the next outrageous new rap group, and Schoolly's gritty tales just didn't bring the controversy they were looking for. I guess that rapping about selling coke just didn't have as much edge as it once had. Due to these circumstances, How A Black Man Feels, Schoolly's fifth album, was largely ignored, which is too bad because the record still manages to pack a punch 17 years after it's initial release. Jagged and quick funk samples (funk samples were always the priority for Schoolly albums) back up Schoolly's vivid tales of street life gone awry. Admittedly, this is not Schoolly's best album (see Smoke Some Kill), but it is a unique portrait of an hip hop originator doing his best to stay relevant and doing a decent job of it.

King Of New York

Where You Get That Funk From?


Great interview here

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wet Hair w/ Peaking Lights, Temptation and Aerosol Constellations--Thursday, Dec 4, 2008@The Sweatshop

This year's announcement of the demise of Raccoo-oo-oon was definitely a bummer. The group seemed to be getting mentioned in all the right places, and each album was better than the preceding one. Fortunately they have their last statement pressed to 2xLP vinyl (courtesy of Not Not Fun) and CD (courtesy of Release The Bats). Wet Hair features ex-Raccoo-oo-oon members, Ryan Garbes and Shawn Reed, who, outside of Wet Hair, also run the Night People label and are the central figures in the expanding Iowa City noise underground. The pair have even put on shows for touring Vancouver bands like Modern Creatures and Mutators, but have also housed dozens and dozens of other like-minded bands who make the trek to unsuspecting Iowa City. Everyone has had something great to say about them.It seems as if Vancouver will get it's first taste of Iowa City noise this Thursday and, I assure you, this is not to be missed.

Peaking Lights (featuring a member of Rahdunes) of Spring Green, California, who, after listening to some tracks on their myspace, seem to have a drone-pop or a Cluster/Eno vibe--but with vocals!--are tagging along. Temptation from San Francisco round out the bill with their damaged space-synth sound. Their myspace and homepage look and sound pretty promising. Aerosol Constellations round out the bill.

Assuming they can bring it across the border, this show should be packed with merch. Night People, particularly Shawn Reed, have put out quite a few tapes, LP's and t-shirts over the last few months--most of it silkscreened and handmade. Bring some extra funds to this one, folks.

I'm putting this show pretty high on the hype-o-meter. So, you can go to the show or merely read about it here a few days later. Your choice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A.H. Kraken w/Sex Negatives and Love Tan

Sex Negatives opened the night up and ripped into a set of start-stop grind 'n' skronk that came off much better than some previous sets I've seen. As mentioned here, Sex Negatives really can be hit or miss, though, for me, they usually do hit. I thought they hit it that night as well. Also nabbed a new cassette of their's released on Justin's Cassette Or Die label. Limited to 50 copies! Get it while it lasts...

Love Tan, who've released one of my favorite 7"s of the year, played a decent set of heavy Jon Spencer-style garage blues, but funneled it through the lens of an amphetamine-addled Mark E. Smith. The duo were entertaining and, for the most part, pretty tight, but they played much too long, well, for my liking at least. Could've done with a half hour set rather than the almost hour long one they performed. Rippin' cover of Lennon's I Found Out, though. Coulda' been a perfect ender to the show. Next time...

A.H. Kraken shot out and exceeded all expectations. Their recordings have usually leaned pretty heavily towards bare bones, blown out garage-punk, but they came out with a tightly wound set of--yeesh--post-hardcore?! Inebreation had definitely set in by this point (it was about 3am when they got on), so the minor details are a bit fuzzy. It was not quite what I expected, but much better than anticipated. Managed to scoop up an LP copy of the bass player's other band, The Feeling Of Love, which has a twangy Intelligence vibe to it. Pretty fucking good, in other words.

Sex Church were supposed to play last, but I'm not sure they were able to get on. Anyone stay long enough to find out?

The above photos are courtesy of moi. For some professional shots, visit here and here.