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Thank you, thank you, ladies, gentlemen, and other freaks of the industry.
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This week's column is a special one. Well, not really special, but with it being winter in the Northern Hemisphere, it seems someone has passed me a bit of the flu, so I'm feeling kinda bleh. However, the real reason you're here is to read my reviews and perhaps one of them will move you to buy a CD or MP3's. Sit back, relax, and... well, read the reviews and support some of these artists. See you at the conclusion of this column, I'll be right back.
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Rex Rey has made an album that comes off like a beat tape, the kind made by a number of producers so fans and potential clients can decipher the music, use it, or whatever. The Raw Deal Vol. 1 (self-released) is a collection of music he has done in the last five years, combining solid beats, mysterious spoken samples, and Rex Ray's own instrumentation, which incolves electric & double bass, keyboards, and guitar, along with help from a few others.
Despite its "beat tape"/"beat CD" appeal, it will be appreciated by fans of Madlib, 9th Wonder, Cut Chemist, and Dilla for the way it gets eclectic and funky at the same time without losing any of its power. I hope people will listen to this guy and hire him for work. He makes it so easy, and anyone who goes into their own music wondering if it's all worth it, listen to this CD and then rethink your process. Rex Rey is catching up.
The Raw Deal Vol. 1 is available from CDBaby.)
K.S. Flow are a duo consisting of rapper Knowledge Medina and producer Soul Theory, and together they make the kind of music that most duos find difficult to make. You got to have a bit of harmony, chemistry, and respect for what the other guy does, and I'm sure both of these guys would like to continue to work on their own in the future, but for now what I'm hearing is incredible music from start to finish, which is why they're proud to say they're On The Come Up (S. Theory Entertainment).
These guys call Miami home, but they do not sound like the Miami hip-hop of the present or the past, nor do they sound like your typical Southern group. Instead, what I hear are guys who were influenced by Pete Rock & CL Smooth, 9th Wonder, and Kanye West, as I hear a great combination of well written lyrics spoken with a confident voice, and instrumentals that are polished and ready for the rest of the world to hear. While their promo material boasts that they were able to sell 300 copies of their album before the official release date, I am positive that with more awareness of their music and a push on their part, they are able to add about three zeros to this number. While going the major label route would suit them perfectly, I think they are capable of holding on to their integrity by staying indie and working all angles to become a success, although if I was a music supervisor I would to use one of their songs. I'm also certain that these guys will make an impact in the next ten years. Watch this space.
(On The Come Up is available from CDBaby.)
Quann Love does everything homemade style, from an album burned on a Verbatim CD-R to a cover he put together on a computer, printed on his own so the printing quality looks cheap. But upon listening to this music, you can hear that a lot of effort was put into it with what he was given, so cheap this isn't.
(Once Upon A Grind In Amerikkka is an album that at times sounds unfinished, as the production is very sparse. A lot of these tracks consist of nothing but Quann Love rhyming over drums. Yeah, it's that stripped down and raw, but what he says and how he works it is very impressive. On one hand, perhaps other producers could add their own sounds to it and come up with an infinite amount of different sound textures. As is, Quann Love is a rapper who speaks about hustling in order to survive, the hazards of the streets, and what it takes to make it in this country. I really like what I hear, from the songs that have decent instrumentation ("4 Where Ever (I'm Resten) Remix", "U Know (U Wrong)") to the stuff that's just a voice and drums. The guy sounds like a warrior, but I'm feeling it. I hope he'll do more albums like this, but I also hope people will work with this guy to give him some recognition, as I feel he deserves it.
(Once Upon A Grind In Amerikkka is available from CDBaby.)
It takes a lot to call yourself Noyeek The Grizzly Bear, but it also takes a lot of effort to make sure that name identifies with something, be it good or bad. Noyeek is a good MC, and as he says on the opening track of Face Crunch (self-released), he is offering a "Breath Of Fresh Air". The truth is in the music, and anyone who remembers the first time they heard Organized Konfusion or just the energy of Pharoahe Monch will get into what Noyeek is about, as he talks about creating mood music that will get you high ("Groove With It (Remix)"). One hears him and you want to anticipate good rhymes, and he succeeds each and every time. He's an expressive lyricist who is open to rhyming over a wide range of styles, from songs with a Latin flair to heavy tracks with funky samples from unknown sources, to that original boom bap that will please hip-hop listeners of all ages.
Or at least hip-hop listeners who know what good hip-hop should sound like. Face Crunch is that good hip-hop, and an album that will become a certified classic in ten years time. To say it's an instant classic now is too much, I don't want the guy to get that big headed just yet. He should keep himself grounded and continue to make music like this, but come back in 2018 and with luck a lot of people will be saying "you remember that album by Noyeek? I still play it on a regular basis."
As you should.
(Face Crunch is available from CDBaby.)
The illustrated cover looked interesting, kind of a low-budget Pedro Bell-type drawing with turntables, jewelry, marijuana, mushrooms, beer bong, and a map of T. Dot. For those who don't know, that means Toronto. The guy behind the album goes by the name of Shiznick, which made me wonder what this guy was about. I open the cover to Prince Of Thieves (self-released) and I see pictures of the guy in question. He's a white guy, standing in a supermarket in the "Crackers" section, wearing a McDonald's shirt as a kid, and photos of him that are ballsy to put up on your own album, especially if this is your debut.
Let's get to the music. His bio states that his style ranges from comedically ridiculous to deeply intellectual and political, and I wanted to be able to hear that, anyone who adds humor to music is someone I want to hear. The intro to the album has him in a scenario that sounds more appropriate on an Ice-T or Rick Ro$$ album, where you hear dramatic music that leads to a gunshot. Sounds silly, but it's only the intro and he gets more intense in the other tracks. "Just To Die" touches on the stupidity of war, and what kind of pride can have in fighting for oil. "Title Holder '07" has him speaking about his creative use of metaphor and humor, and why he feels hip-hop has changed for the worse, all done with a great drum break. He then does tracks where he's rhyming over a Mike Jones song, and the CD is credited as featuring Jones and Ludacris. No, they both didn't fly up to Canada and do a track with him. Things go down a notch when he does a romantic song over Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes", which would be fine if the audio quality didn't sound like it was an MP3 made from an MP3 made from an MP3.
One might say that Prince Of Thieves is an appropriate title if all he's doing is taking stuff left and right, but who doesn't do that? If the audio quality was consistent throughout, I think it would have worked much better. What I did like was how he is able to mix the humor and serious side to create his Shiznick persona, because it is indeed possible to talk about partying and getting high while still talking about social and political ills. He does it fairly well, but I'd like to see it fine tuned to where the negative aspects are overshadowed by someone with a stronger master plan to his music. It sounds more like an album for family and friends, but now he needs to take the best aspects of what he does and create something worldly.
(Prince Of Thieves is available from CDBaby.)
Jazz guitarist David Joel has been doing his thing for many years, not only in jazz but also making himself known as a classical guitarist. For his debut album Spiral Sky (Turning Point), which is performed with his Quartet, it's the kind of jazz which will bring to mind the best works from John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, and Larry Coryell.
What I hear in Joel's music is his ability to play and embrace all kinds of styles, to the fluidity of the playing itself. Judging from the song titles and the liner notes, it seems Joel is a very spiritual player, and he brings that to the forefront. In "The Dance Of Life" it truly sounds like what the song title implies, a dance where one has to go and explore this existence and try to find our reason for being here. His playing is subtle but it works beautifully. Then there's a two part track beginning with "Eastern Truth", where he and the band (Dan Monaghan on drums, Paul Gehman on bass, and John Stenger on keyboards) play with the kind of aura that is reminiscent of many of Herbie Hancock's Warner Bros.-era albums, or the Eastern mysticism that was a part of a good portion of jazz fusion in the late 60's and early 70's (especially Coryell). You hear Joel and Gehman comminucation with each other as if they're trying to convey a message to the listener. After this great 11 minute track, they devote another 11 minutes to "Western Lies", and it seems obvious what they're trying to say. It takes awhile, but then out of nowhere Joel begins a solo that sounds fierce and wicked, perhaps his anger being conveyed in the music, and suddenly there is a major shift in tone for the rest of the album. One might wonder if he is touching upon the downward spiral of the world, and perhaps the best thing to do is find a way to look up to the "Spiral Sky", which he does in the 11 minute title track.
Joel's Quartet touch on everything from hard bop to bebop, smooth ECM-styled tranquility to incredible fusion, and they do each of them with equal passion, and that comes from musicians who are in tune with the music and each other. He's a guitarist that guitar heads will love, because he can be cool, calm, and collected on one part of the song, and then he brings all of these euphoric emotions to where you can feel the intensity, only for him to hold back and allow the band to shine, which is what all great jazz bands are about. This is a great jazz band, all great musicians in their own right, helping out a guitarist who has to be heard to be believed.
(Spiral Sky is available from CDBaby.)
The Jet Age create a themed album of sorts with What Did You Do During The War, Daddy? (Sonic Boomerang), where the concept is explored in three acts. However, this isn't Disney's High School Musical. The concept touches on a guy who seems to be an armchair critic of the war, and suddenly he has an urge to get involved and make his views known, to where he is willing to die for the cause and lies that are the basis behind all wars.
The Jet Age are an incredible power trio (Pete Nuwayser on drums, Greg Bennett on bass, and Eric Tischler on vocals, guitars, and keyboards) who play with the same kind of revolutionary angst that made bands like Soul Asylum, The Replacements and The Wipers so powerful in their day. There is a raw sound that sounds like it was recorded in one room, not distinctively mixed but enough to where it would sound good on a 45 rpm single.
What Did You Do During The War, Daddy? is an album that would normally get a lot of attention in today's marketplace, but for whatever reason isn't. Let's change that. People considered Green Day for being bold with their American Idiot album, and they were. Years after its release, there's still a war and social riots going on, and there's still a need to talk about those frustrations, even as a metaphor of what could be done if one went to the extreme.
(What Did You Do During The War, Daddy? is available directly from Sonic Boomerang Records.)
I am a fan of natural recordings and found sound, I've dabbled in it over the years but not seriously. I enjoy hearing what someone is able to capture, sometimes releasing it as is, or manipulating it with razor blades or by a lot of intense digital editing. The folks at Room 40 have put together a great 2CD compilation called Airport Symphony, which is not a symphony in the classical sense, but more a cacophony of sound done by a wide range of sound archivists.
The idea was to simply record sounds one can hear at the airport, be it inside of a terminal or outside on the runway. It might sound simple enough, but the sounds captured are incredible. In some pieces, you will hear the sound of birds and leaves from nearby trees, only for a plane to be heard in the distance and make its way above the recordist. It seems like an unnatural interruption, one that we have all participated in at one point in our lives to the point where we take it for granted.
There are pieces here described as being "United Airlines - Safety Instructions And Cabin Ambience" (as recorded by Christopher Willits), and it's the sounds recorded as is. Others involve a bit of cutting up, and it's interesting to have these sounds manipulated in a fashion that could be something to dance to, even if it's just noise. Then again, what's noise?
Airport Symphony represents sounds of the past, as we travel towards the future to a new world, new existence. These sounds may one day become how we used to move around from city to city, country to country, and there may be a time when recordings like these (or at least the practice of making these recordings) are a thing of the past. I hope that isn't true. If you have an audio room at your apartment or home, play this before family or friends come over. Play it loud, and they'll ask you "what in the world are you playing?" You can say that since you're too broke to travel during that time of the year, you want to immerse yourself as if you were able to bring your couch to Gate 9.
(Airport Symphony is available from Room40.org. An online "virtual terminal" edition with slight variations can be found here)
...AND NOW, SOME STUFFS:
Labba - Do It (produced by DJ Denox)
To make things more interesting, Domer is making the acapellas for the songs available so that producers can mix and mash him up as they feel fit. You can go here to download the files.