What represents hip-hop? A lot of you probably have a mental list of what it is and what it isn't. Let me ask another question: what represents Hawaiian hip-hop? Do any of you know what Hawaiian hip-hop is? For Creed Chameleon, he knows what hip-hop is for it represents him, where he's from, and who he associates with. It's what he wakes up to, what he lives, and hopefully the second to last thing he says good night to. Creed, like many in the 808 State, is a representative, and with Siq Of Lazy (Siq) he continues with the path he began on previous efforts and takes it to the top, looking over and helping people reach his level. I'm not talking an egotistical "I am the supreme MC" level, but merely a level of quality rap music done by someone who knows how to write and communicate well.
Siq Of Lazy has Creed talking about life on the island of Oahu, from the parties he goes to, the friends that call him a friend, along with the struggles of the island that aren't promoted by the tourist industry. You might see beauty, you might see green mountains and blue oceans, but what you don't see are people who are working themselves to the bone simply to live. Just as Redman and Juvenile are known to get into the inside of their neighborhoods, Creed observes not only as a spectator but as someone who has been there. In tracks like "Perry And Price" (a reference to the two radio talk show hosts), "Hell", and "Much More To Say", Creed carries himself as if he's on a mission and he's not going to stop until he gets to his destination. It's unabashed and sounds like the kind of music that could easily be associated with the likes of Heltah Skeltah, Blackalicious, Company Flow, and Atmosphere, and if hip-hop is being thrown into the fire (as special guest Joe Dub talks about in "Radio Kill"), Creed and friends are ready to go in and save it.
Wit and humor, it's something that I look for and this can be appreciated by any hip-hop fan. Creed is very much a storyteller, while he could do abstract lyrics with ease, listeners can picture his tales vividly just as the best hip-hop has always been able to do. This is most evident in "Invisible", and with an instrumental produced by Slapp Symphony you're put into the metaphorical battlefield Creed describes, you're pretty much listening to an artist from the inside out. His brand of humor doesn't overshadow his abrasive side, his sarcasm doesn't dominate but is present if you follow his lines and verses, and the sentimental side is balanced with the challenges of reality. By doing this, he shows a human side that sometimes gets ignored in what hip-hop is supposed to represent. Creed Chameleon is one of many who have made Hawai'i's hip-hop scene what it is today, and Siq Of Lazy is the ambition of not only an MC with a talent to create powerful music, but a scene whose exposure to the rest of the world that is long overdue.
(Siq Of Lazy is available from UndergroundHipHop.com.)
The big buzz album of September has no doubt been the return of Metallica. The band haven't gone anywhere, but anytime a band takes a break after a previous album and tour, people are curious as to whether or not they can return to the landscape and conquer any current bands that may have dominated. Let's face it, look at all of the bands who have come and gone in the last 27 years since Metallica, from the countless thrash and speed metal bands of the 80's to the alterna-trendoids of the 90's. Limp Bizkit? Pfftt. My Chemical Romance? Eh. The Jonas Brothers? Say what you want, but Metallica has little to no competition, which makes Death Magnetic (Warner Bros.) a wake up call to all bands. It's not about competition, it's about brother and sisterhood, all in the name of heavy metal.
For years, the Metallica tradition has been to open the album with a banger. Look at their history: "Hit The Lights", "Fight Fire With Fire", "Battery", "Enter Sandman", "Ain't My Bitch", "Fuel", "Frantic". For album number nine they do it with "That Was Just Your Life", beginning with those solemn guitars James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett are known for, with slight classical touches and a sense of doom. All of a sudden, the tempo picks up and you think you're comfortable and you know something is about to come. All of a sudden, Lars Ulrich locks in and the lords of thrash are back. It's also great to hear bassist Robert Trujillo on a full album, for his work has always one of the best elements of each artist he's worked with. But Metallica is now home, and he continues the heaviness once created by Cliff Burton and Jason Newsted. As for Hetfield, when you hear his vocal performance in "That Was Just Your Life", this is far from the same man who did "Trapped Under Ice", "Disposable Heroes", or even "Nothing Else Matters". While a lot of metal singers tend to lose their strength, he has managed to fine tune his voice and with age it sounds and feels perfect, or at least you know that voice and you know where it belongs.
Metallica wanted to work with Rick Rubin for this one, and while some have stated that Rubin is now the fall-back guy when artists aren't sure about which direction to go, anyone who has listened to Rubin over the years knows that's a bullshit concept. The Dixie Chicks certainly didn't need to fall-back on Rubin for musical security, but Rubin has a sense of what his artists should sound like because he treats them like musicians, the hype is left on the back porch. If anyone has to question what Metallica would sound like with Rubin, let's not forget that this was the guy who produced one of the greatest metal albums ever made, Slayer's Reign In Blood. Perhaps the union between Rubin and Metallica was inevitable, and for this album you get to hear a band get a bit more progressive in their approach (not unlike some of the hard rock and NWOBHM bands they all grew up listening to), not unlike early Judas Priest. The instrumental "Suicide & Redemption" has those qualities of becoming epic, including the spark of the lighter during the mellow guitar part, and never during the song's nine minute length does it lose its strength. Even with a few mellow tracks and the inevitable installment of "The Unforgiven" (part 3 in the series), when the band ends with "My Apocalypse" it truly sounds like they are playing as if it's the last five minutes on Earth, and everyone is in the mosh pit waiting for the annihilation to happen. Perhaps it's not so much about the internal feeling that the world sucks, but the reality that these guys are living the second half of their lives, still feeling youthful and strong but understanding what lies ahead in their (and our) own lives:
What makes me drift a litter bit closer
Dead man takes the steering wheel
What makes me know it’s time to cross over
Words you repeat until I feel
See through the skin the bones they all rattle
Future and past they disagree
Flesh falls away the bones they all shatter
I start to see the end in me
See the end in me…
Climb out of this skin
Waiting for that pin
A loser to my eyes
At last accept, deny
Feel thy name as hell awakens
Destiny, Inhale the Fire
But we cross that line
Into the crypt
Suffer unto my apocalypse!
Tyrants awaken my apocalypse!
Demon awaken my apocalypse!
Heaven awaken my apocalypse!
Suffer forever my apocalypse!
If for whatever reason this becomes the last Metallica album, this is the best way to go out of the world. Death Magnetic draws us in to the inevitable, something we can never escape. Musically, this feels more like 1988 than ...And Justice For All ever did, and anyone who has doubted these guys in the past will need to visit them once more. Metal ambassadors they are, and the world will be forever grateful for the impact they will make with this one.
(The CD of Death Magnetic is available through CD Universe. The 2LP (33rpm) and 5LP (45rpm)/CD editions can be ordered through Elusive Disc.)
A lot of people enjoy rock'n'roll with that rip roaring feeling, and if you have no idea what I just said, maybe you aren't familiar with such bands as The Romantics, The Hooters, or Rockpile. You get that feel on an album by The Mojomatics, a two man band who make the kind of music that makes you want to pump your fist for the hell of it.
Don't Pretend That You Know Me (Ghost) mixes up that powerful rock with a bit of pop craftsmanship, so you can hear some of that edginess that makes that kind of music so great, most notable the Cheap Trick-ish qualities of "Hole In My Heart". It reminds me of the revivalist rock that was the thing in the early 80's during the post-disco era. If this is a sign of what's to come, I hope The Mojomatics become one of the prime leaders of the 10's.
(Don't Pretend That You Know Me will be released on September 23rd, and can be pre-ordered through CD Universe and digitally through eMusic.)
With an album title like Never Trust The Chinese (Absolute Motion), I was prepared to bash these fuckers, but the group aren't hurtful and the rock-meets-old school electronic music vibe Mr. Meeble create on the album may please more than it will disgust. Get a grip.
If a group like Black Moth Super Rainbow were more pop accessible and radio friendly, they could easily sound like the guys in Mr. Meeble. A lot of the altered vocals, run through the robotic chambers, would easily be interpreted as T-Pain-like but what you hear is one of the original ways people manipulated their voices electronically. It may be used in a novel way, but these guys are no joke, not when people are comparing them to everyone from Radiohead to Massive Attack. Of course the real question is "does it?" It's emotional lyrics layered over ethereal sounds and occasionally funky beats, mixed in over down-tempo grooves and other things that are being created in the post-apocalyptic area of the world, like Tricky meets Rise Robots Rise with images of latex-clad women and men with glaucoma.
What I like about Never Trust The Chinese is that one tends to wait for the punchline, but you find yourself getting lost in the trippiness of the music and those words become a footnote for the picture at hand that is the music. One song may be jazzy with some early morning spoken word, another song may find itself deep inside the machine with no way of getting out of the pulses. Then with a song like "Dragonfly" it sounds like the kind of soultronica Jazzanova have turned into their own family recipe. It's an album that works because of the diversity, never once sacrificing one thing for another, and when you immerse yourself in what's going on... again, it's an album worthy to get lost in.
(Never Trust The Chinese is available from CDBaby and eMusic.)
Wow. Just wow.
This review begins this way because I thought I would never come across something that sounds like dreck. Maybe I just don't get it. I like pop, I like spaghetti western soundtracks, I like stuff that sounds out of the norm, but it's as if someone tried to take the more accessible elements of Mr. Bungle and shopped it to FOX so it could be used in House or Bones. They're called Spindrift and sadly I just don't get it. The music made me fall asleep as it seemed like they are trying to create momentum, but the music never really got up to that level of excitement. Even if it was an album of ballads, I would have expected something to happen and it... just... didn't.
Let's make this album an immediate target. The guys in this band are fine musicians, they can play, there's decent vocals here too. But it's as if they're controlled by something that tells them to not take it past the level of mundane, as if they're not only holding back, but wanting to throw a cigarette into the gas tank. It's flatline for me. Someone please tell me these guys aren't that boring.
(The West will be released on November 11th.)
Now this isn't boring.
When I reviewed Scarlett Johansson's debut album for Okayplayer, it seemed people couldn't tell if I was joking or if I was the one that was tone deaf. The one thing that people wanted to hear, outside of a voice that perhaps matched the face, was someone who was a delight to hear. Johansson was not the delight people wanted to fantasize about, so her album was shunned and it's a shame because I still feel it's one of the best albums of the year. I mention all of these things because if her album sounded the way Tim Yehezkely does with her band The Postmarks, Johansson would have been able to milk it big time.
Yehezkely has one of those delicate chanteuse-type voices where the listener is moved by the sensual tones, where it can be luxurious and haunting at the same time. The Postmarks, at least on By The Numbers (Unfiltered), enjoy making music that sounds like the kind of songs you'd find on thrift store soundtracks, bathing in its odd beauty and wanting to get nude to it as well. Imagine a St. Etienne if they were more about creating pretty pop music with slight folk touches, and you have The Postmarks, who also go out of their way to perform their covers completely unlike the originals. I'm listening to "Three Little Birds" with the cello and acoustic guitar, I'm hearing familiar lyrics and I had to look at the CD to be sure that it was the Bob Marley song (it is). The way these guys do it is to take songs to its most basic qualities, and built up. It almost comes off like the kind of music other artists would want to cover, even though you have to realize that it's The Postmarks who are doing the covering. David Crosby might truly cry in ecstasy after hearing their version of The Byrds's classic "Eight Miles High". When they reach the final song, the "Pinball Number Count" made famous by The Pointer Sisters for the famous cartoon that was shown during Sesame Street, it seems like a comfortable way to end the album: keep the power of the original low-key and yet the memory remembers the playfulness of the original when we first heard them. That also applies to each of the songs here, and by being able to link them and twist them to the theme they want to create and share, The Postmarks makes you wish you were there too, and in sound you are. A good cover version is just good, but it's great when someone flips it over and cleans the sheets. The Postmarks do that and in return shine a mirror on any and all musicians who should take that same kind of originality to make something that makes the familiar sound brand new. No doubt that originality will be something that they'll carry on with future releases.
(By The Numbers will be released on November 11th, but individual tracks are being made available for free through eMusic for a limited time.)
When you read the bio for Toni Jannotta's third album, Is It Magic?, it states that she is a "Bobby McFerrin wanna be". Red flag. You can cite all kinds of influences but never do you want to make people think you want to be anyone but yourself. Fortunately I kept that in mind as I listened to this jazz singer who carries herself with the kind of grace that, as someone who can shun vocal jazz in an instant. There are moments when it seems she can't reach certain notes (listen to her cover of Paul Desmond's "Take Five" or Madonna's "Borderline") but other times she goes at it smoothly and she sounds silky fresh. This is her third album, and despite some of the flaws I hear in her voice, at least it's not corrected with auto-tune, it's pure uncut Jannotta.
What I did prefer were the musicians who back her on this, including saxophonist Scheila Gonzalez (known for her work with DIVA and recently was part of Zappa Plays Zappa), bassist Pablo Motta, drummer Chris Wabich, and pianist Greg Gordon Smith, and even though she doesn't consider herself a musician, Jannotta does a great job playing the piano in "Ruthie's Themes". Together, the songs that do work are worthy of repeat listens. When Jannotta doesn't reach a certain note, it doesn't fail but it makes me wish she was capable of reaching that note. There are no wrong notes, but the vocals are guilty by association. She's no Janis Siegel, but if Jannotta ever reaches her level, watch out.
My favorite song on the album is a cover of Sting's "Fragile", I'd like to see her do more of that style of singing and arrangements.
(Is It Magic? is available through CDBaby and eMusic.)
Kate Reid is a jazz singer whom I want to hear more of and from, but there may be a lot of people who are familiar with her work since she's played with many bands and has done session work since the mid-90's. It comes as a surprise that it has taken this long for someone like her to record an album under her own name, but if it was time that she needed in order to gain the confidence to do it, I'm glad she waited.
Sentimental Mood shows Reid at her best as a vocalist and pianist, and while a lot of people seem to compare every other jazz singer to Diana Krall, with Reid it fits, at least vocally as they both share that tone that make them seductive and enticing to hear. What I like about Reid is that she truly gets into the music, it's not just some random musician doing her little "doo daa dweedle dee" and going out to Starbucks, this is someone who understands the music inside and out. As a vocalist, she flirts with the music and has fun. As a musician, she unites with her band (including husband Steve Reid on trumpet, Ernie Watts on tenor sax, Steve Barnes on drums, Chris Conner on bass, and Roin Eschete on guitar) and becomes one with them, and they with her, it's a solid band that know how to create a mood, an aura, call it what you want but these musicians are great. In songs like "Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars", "Out Of This World", and "The Face I Love" one can hear a vocalist who gets a joy out of putting herself into the lyric, or at least it comes off that way. If it's a song with bluesy overtones, she gets melancholy and it feels real, as if she's tapping into something from her past. Or at least that's what comes from someone who knows and understands this music, it's not just wallpaper or carnival candy. Sentimental Mood may represent what you hear on the album, an old vibe brought back and dusted off for all to hear, but it's also a great example of how to do vocal jazz properly. There's no right or wrong, but with Reid it's proper. With luck, the confidence she had with this album will make her continue with her love of the craft. A job well done.
(Sentimental Mood is available from CDBaby.)
Brass Bed don't mind being called "sunshiny California-style pop", and it's great because that's what they do on Midnight Matinee (self-released), an album that combines pop rock with twisted tales of the alterna-unknown.
Their love of pop comes in clear throughout the entire album, and they do it with an edginess that is familiar, but there's something different enough in it to make you want to hear more. "Olivia" has gut-wrenching guitar riffs that make it much more than a lovely love song, and "Killer Bees" has a slight Who feel (think "Happy Jack"). Some have compared their sound to that of the The Flaming Lips, and that makes sense since they both share eccentricities and tight music. How far Brass Bed will take it, I do not know but it seems there's a bit of smart ass-itude in their songs that will keep them bathing in their oochiness for years to come.
(Midnight Matinee is available from CDBaby.)
Harry Scorzo's approach to jazz via the violin is similar to that of Stéphane Grappelli or Dave Brubeck, in that they're renaissance man who know their place in the music and how to treat it with respect, not to mention fine musicians. Scorzo had mentioned in his blog that he sometimes feel out of place in today's world of musicians, but taking those old school skills and knowledge, he can only do what he knows how to do, and the results are far from being out of place.
Lazy Thursday (self-released) is different from his work with Vio-fonik, as this one leans a lot on jazz and we get a chance to see him play brilliantly alongside Chris Garcia (drums, Eddie Resto (bass), and Joe Rotondi (piano), especially in songs like "Brakes Are Bad" (a very appropriate title when you hear Scorzo's solo) and "La Venta", where he allows the music to breathe in order for it to feel his presence. For a listen to how Scorzo and his group play as a unit, listen to "Phat Rag", and phat it is as each member is blitzing everywhere, especially bassist Resto who seems to be dancing in and out of every line as Scorzo scatters around before going in towards the finish line.
Whether it's uptempo songs that test their skills or romantic ballads, Scorzo is a musician who shouldn't worry about relevancy. When you're capable of making good music, let the music speak for itself. Lazy Thursday is an album that deserves a wider release, and perhaps with enough recognition it will, but I hope Scorzo will continue to make music as long as his heart inspires him to do so.
(Lazy Thursday is available from CDBaby.)
Flautist Marco Granados celebrates the music and influence of his homeland with the release of Music Of Venezuela (Soundbrush), and it shows that his heart and soul is in the right place.
Fans of Granados may be familiar with this title, as it was originally released with a different cover in 2007. Soundbrush has picked up on the album, given it a new cover, and it seems the label are ready to let people know what this guy has, and it's beyond talent. His music is rooted in the sounds of Venezuela, which not only includes the indigenous music of South America but also its share of European and American influences, and you get to hear that throughout this album in songs like "Confesion a las Estrellas", "La Encantadora", and "Recordando a Tila". For those who think the flute is stuck in the world of Herbie Mann and Bobbi Humphrey, you're probably not a fan of the flute to begin with. Granados plays the flute as if he was a guitarist, with the kind of finger movement and breath control that comes off a bit like John Coltrane or Al DiMeola in terms of fluidity. Listen to "Pa' Oriente Compay" and I dare you to keep up with his playing, it's no wonder his album was noticed by a jazz label.
It should be noted that Music Of Venezuela is not a jazz album in the purest/purist sense, but it will appeal to fans of freedom in their music. The flute may be an underrated instrument for some, but anyone fascinated by its sound and capabilities will know that it's much more than a toot here and there. This guy is an amazing musician, and as I reach deep into the metaphorical cliche bag, allow me to say that his playing and music will truly blow you away. Trust me, you're going to want to buy multiple copies of this so you can give it to friends. It would be interesting to see what would happen if he was able to do an album of Hawaiian music, to show the link between the islands and South America. Until then, a fascinating listen from start to finish, this is.
(Early pressings of Music Of Venezuela are still available on some websites. Soundbrush's pressing will be released on November 18th.)
With a name like Caw! Caw!, they're pretty much saying "we have a goofy ass name, now listen to us. Listen to Wait Outside (Slanty Shanty) and regardless if they call themselves Yoko Ono Chun or Donut Hogs, Caw! Caw! is a band you'll want to keep on listening throughout the duration of their career.
Their EP has the raw power that their hometown of Chicago is known for, unabashed rock with those bits of pop, new wave, and the unknown that helps give each artist their own identity. How to describe them? Their bio says they are a trio who were raised "in an ice cream cavern on a diet of hot chocolate, fried chicken, and ambrosia. And then give them guitars." In other words, their music is played in a momentous fashion, as if they know they want to create something of substance, and they're going to try a little bit of anything to make it happen. There's a trumpet at the end of "Organisms" that sounds so out of place and yet it fits with them, similar to hearing a Mariachi band in a punk song. They know how to crunch those guitars with volume, but still sound refined and aren't afraid to bust out a Neal Schon-ish guitar solo, courtesy of guitarist Steve Kozak. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Tim Tsurutani has one of those voices that you'll want to hear because for me, I found it fascinating that he's able to reach some of those high notes with ease, but still be able to belt it out as if he's screaming for someone to hug him. Can't help it if you consider yourself a band who enjoy playing "Earth songs". Fans of Sunny Day Real Estate, Engine Kid, Treepeople, Foo Fighters, and Sore Jackson will be buying Caw! Caw! T-shirts, or making their own in the backyard shed.
Let me end this review with a grand statement so they can use it in their bios, and I'm being honest about this. People enjoy asking themselves "what to become of music after Radiohead?" They aren't the beginning nor the end, but Caw! Caw! are definitely part of a very bright future.
There. Now buy the EP and hear the proof.
(Wait Outside is available directly from Slanty Shanty Records.)