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LITERATURE» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
MUSIC» The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
MUSIC» Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
First up this month, something Glaciers overlooked last... Recently, things have been looking up for the Wu-Tang Clan and all its affiliated members, after years of relative garbage. Solo artists like Ghostface, Masta Killa, and GZA have been keeping the torch aflame by releasing quality albums true to the gritty spirit of the Clan that made them so damn loveable. An unlikely new addition to the Clan comes from Dutch member Cilvaringz with his new album, I (Babygrande). He's pretty much got it all - beats, rhymes, and a general sense of scrappy independence that made albums like Iron Man and Liquid Swords so classic. RZA shows up to produce a bunch of tracks here, even resuming his Prince Rakeem moniker in the process. The album is sort of a beautiful, untamed mess, and feels like a sequel to 1997's juggernaut Wu-Tang Forever - see the track "In the Name of Allah," featuring RZA, Method Man, Masta Killa, Scientific Shabazz, and Killah Priest; it's like an updated "Triumph" or "Reunited." Cilvaringz does dabble with some dubious politics, as on the irate "Death to America," a weak political tract in which he basically offers some justification for 9/11 and borders on anti-Semitism (he knows some good Jews, but they are the exception to the rule). To be clear, of course there are reasons why Muslims across the world are pissed off, and much of it is indeed due to American military presence, neo-petroleum-colonialism, and a lack of a homeland. But this track just feels shortsighted and more bark than bite - listen and decide for yourself. The music is banging across the boards - Killarmy's dope appearance on "Blazing Saddles," "The Weeping Tiger," and the Michael Jackson tribute "Forever Michael" all bring the motherfucking ruckus. At over an hour, less would have been a bit more and there are some glaring mistakes, but it's worth the journey, epic as it is. The album comes with a DVD full of concert footage, interviews, and many other bonus tidbits.
French producer DJ Cam, originally more associated with the burgeoning trip-hop scene of the early '90s, has long immersed himself in hip-hop. His new project takes cues from artists like Pete Rock, as he recruits a variety of talented MC's to rhyme over his beats. The group is called Bounce Crew and the album, Xtasy for Ladies (Templar Label Group). Guests include Frank-N-Dank, who put in a spirited effort on the richly-textured "Smokesum," MC Eiht, on the West-Cost-style (of course) "Lowrider," and Buckshot, who appears on the reggae-electro "Ganjaman." Unfortunately, the album feels a bit listless, mostly due to Cam's uninspired beats. The ideas are there, but many of them feel more like imitation bangers than the real thing. Chin up, Cam, we know you got it in you.
The mega-prolific Madlib has returned with his Yesterdays New Quintet jazz project. Yesterdays Universe (Stones Throw) is another foray into free jazz, fusion, funk, and space shit, almost entirely performed by Madlib himself (he does have several guests join him for this effort). Once again, he dips deep into the catalogue of classic jazz as well as performing his own compositions. The results are always engaging, especially since the work has a very unpolished, almost demo-like feeling at times. A combination of live instruments and programmed sounds give new life to songs like Miles Davis's "Bitches Brew." This is a must-hear for those familiar with Madlib's incredible hip-hop production but not his more experimental work.
But the Jackson family has more in store for you this month. 'Lib's brother, Oh No, an accomplished producer and MC in his own right, is back with the psychedelic Dr. No's Experiment, also on Stones Throw. It's good to see these brothers making albums like these, obviously more for the joy of experimenting with music than to sell records. Stones Throw general manager/DJ, Egon, gave Oh No access to his collection of rare vinyl from a variety of countries, and he went to town. This collection winds and weaves its way over a large amount of relatively short tracks, as No finds ways to craft hip-hop out of the most unlikely sources. It would take a quick-tongued MC to hold his or her own over these instrumentals, but Oh No always manages to anchor them in solid hip-hop beats, keeping them accessibly interesting.
DJ Z-Trip's hip-hop/rock hybrid beats have long seemed perfectly suited for the frenetic energy of a video game. His breakbeats, mashed up with a healthy dose of rapid-fire bass lines and distorted guitars, would seem to compliment the ADD eye flickers of any action game. All-Pro Football 2K8 is the sort of lucky recipient of Trip's soundtrack, joining the ranks of the NBA's gaming franchise with its hip-hop backdrops. Z-Trip collaborates with Rakim and metal band Chevelle on the updated "Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em 2007," a stereotypical rock-rap fusion song, and more fruitfully with Lateef and Slug on "On My Side," a song heavier on blips than power chords. The record really does mostly fall into the dubious territory of Linkin Park-esque fusion, elsewhere combining the talents of rockers and rappers like Dead Prez, the Deftones, Dub Trio, and Gift of Gab. This testosterone-ridden album will surely fuel virtual touchdowns and chest thumps with teenage boys across the nation.
Straight out of Orange County, Ariano's debut, Music2breakup2 (Phantom Domestic), doesn't exactly sound like what you'd expect from a hip-hop vocalist who's collaborated with West Coast luminaries like Kokane, Daz, and RBX. Ariano replaces the toneless meanderings of artists like Nate Dogg with personal, introspective, soulful songs, like the excellent, "Don't Let Me Down," on which he proves he can hold his own as an MC as well as a singer. The record does sound a bit like a demo, due to the slightly muddy sound quality. But there seems to be potential beyond what is presented here, and one can only imagine what he'd be capable of with a little voice coaching and a couple of ill producers.
Anticon's DJ Mayonnaise has a new album of typically dark and twisting instrumentals, par for the course for the collective/label's experimental approach to hip-hop. The record comes a scant eight years after his debut. Not sure what he's been up to in the meantime, but tracks like "Strateegery" (featuring MC K-The-I???) herald a triumphant return for Mayonnaise. Still Alive is dreamy and ethereal, but its moments of cogent beat science make his talents unmistakable.
Some summertime West Coast magic has arrived from lyrical genius Kurupt and producer J. Wells in the form of Digital Smoke (Bonzi). The lead single, "All We Smoke," is no guilty pleasure, even for those of you not totally into the stylistic descendent of G-Funk. A syrupy beat rides under Kurupt and Wells' words of wisdom, augmented by a slinky falsetto chorus. The album does get kind of tired at times, as Wells' digi-funk beats could use some creative injection, but the two are joined by excellent MCs including Roscoe, Bigg Gipp and the rest of the Goodie Mob, and Tha Liks, to turn this into an album that rivals Snoop's best work.
A new artist on the Shaman Work label is New Jersey's K Banger, whose debut, Truth Be Told, will be released digitally this month. Label head John Robinson shows up to help out on the breakbeat-infused "Without Soul," over which Banger spits his bass-heavy, rapid-fire rhymes. This release is a precursor to his forthcoming album, which should be interesting - Banger seems to bring a darker, harder take to the Shaman Work family, a good label that normally focuses more on experiments than street anthems. Banger seems to have his sights set on both worlds, and his statements come across nicely, thanks to the excellent production work by Invizible Handz and K Dubble, among others.
Los Angelese MC E Reece, who cut his teeth at open mic nights in the DC area, has a new record out, A New Breed (EMH). Overall, it's a solid effort from this underground rhymer, who has performed at The Rootdown club night and on the Lyricist Lounge mixtape, among other places. Besides, the misstep that is the heavy metal-sampling beat of "The Get Up," Reece has crafted a complete album of no-nonsense, no-frills hip-hop. At times it feels like he needs to lighten up a bit in his delivery - not suggesting he get silly, just loosen up a bit. But this is still a promising steppingstone in his trajectory.
And that's all for this month. Until next time… e-mail with thoughts and insults, and send me yer shit! I'll listen to it. Glaciers is ghost like Casper.
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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