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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!
As usual let's begin this month's edition of Glaciers of Ice by catching up on some we missed last month…
GZA's latest, Pro Tools (Babygrande), was probably one of the most anticipated (and delayed) hip-hop albums to come out this year, even more so than 8 Diagrams or Digi Snacks. So does it live up to the hype? Well, mostly, yes, but sometimes no. First of all, the production is back to the simple but effective arrangements that have made his past work so dope. Arabian Knight, Bronze Nazareth, and the RZA all provide excellent backing beats. But for every "Pencil" there's a "0% Finance," which poorly apes Eminem's "Lose Yourself" with a chugging guitar. But the lyrics are the thing. You've probably heard GZA spit on the single, "Alphabet," but have you heard him wax poetic over a quirky Gary Numan-sampling beat on "Live is a Movie"? Or the G-Unit diss track, "Paper Plates"? It can be said that Pro Tools offers more of the same, but when you're dealing with GZA, the same is usually good - unless of course, we're talking about a record like Beneath the Surface. So let's rewind - GZA remains one of the top-tier MC's of his generation, but his albums will never equal Liquid Swords, so can the comparisons. Pro Tools is an energetic, grimy journey into his dark world of crime, chess, and boom-bap, so let's enjoy it for what it is.
Another month, yet another release from the extended Jedi Mind Tricks family. I've said it before, I'll say it again: I just don't get the appeal for pretty much anything Vinnie Paz, JMT, or Army of Pharoahs-related (Ill Bill/Non-Phixion excluded, of course). King Syze is the latest member of the crew, with The labor Union out on Babygrande last month. Sure, it's capable, underground hip-hop with a hard edge and pseudo-metaphysical jargon. But I find it intensely boring. I challenge one of the legions of JMT fans to prove me wrong.
West Coast veteran Ras Kass is down, but not out. Currently in jail, he's managed to record a new album, Institutionalized Vol. II (Babygrande). Don't expect your typical prison album, recorded over the phone to throwaway beats. Well, some of the beats sound like rush jobs, such as the intro track, "Victory (We Shall Overcome)." But the rest of the album holds up pretty well. "Eyes Don't Lie," as much as Ras wouldn't like to acknowledge it, has a vocal-sampling beat reminiscent of The Alchemist's work, as Ras mournfully rhymes about life lessons. And "Ironman Thug" employs an interpretation of the Black Sabbath classic to do its dirty work. But it's a song like "Behind the Musick" on which he is at his lyrical finest, rapping about being locked up and his music industry trials and tribulations with a fever heard last on his verse on Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture. He's an expert at breaking down the world of corporate conglomerations while still sounding gangsta.
The surprise hit of the summer belongs to Elzhi, whose The Preface (Fat Beats) is an unmistakable celebration of hip-hop. Elzhi has been marking his time as a member of Slum Village over the past few years, but he's struck out on his own, and it's clearly a good move. Produced almost entirely by the equally talented Black Milk, The Preface plays as a cohesive, carefully thought out album. Guests including Royce Da 5'9" and Guilty Simpson step up their game, attempting to match the intensity and lyrical dexterity that Elzhi displays throughout. Tracks like "Brag Swag" show his Slum Village roots, but the album is a statement of Elzhi's own unadulterated, uncompromising voice.
Ise Lyfe is a Bay Area poet and spoken word artist, but as an MC, his talent falls a bit short. His new album, Prince Cometh (789 Music), is big on ideas and inspiration, but it reaches too far. Track after track, he employs a different style of hip-hop, from electro to "conscious rap" to booty bounce, and the record's cohesiveness suffers as a result. He's being touted by some in the press as the next Mos Def, but they must mean the Mos of The New Danger, not the Mos of Black on Both Sides. I think Ise should take a cue from Saul Williams' failed attempts at hip-hop and head back to the drawing board.
The Evil Genius, Green Lantern, was commissioned to create the soundtrack to the insanely popular video game, Grand Theft Auto IV. Liberty City Invasion (Future Green) features his usual collaborators - Busta Rhymes, Juelz Santana, Uncle Murda, Maino, and Fabolous, amongst many others, rhyming over Lantern's typically hard bangers. Since I've never played the game, I can't say for certain, but it sounds like these songs would fare better while shooting hoods and setting cars on fire.
Now on to September…
Paris is back with Acid Reflex on his own Guerilla Funk imprint. As usual, his hardcore politics and slinky West Coast funk isn't for everyone, but it's not for lack of creativity or skill. Paris is a beacon of true independence, able to rock his fanbase on his own terms and without compromising his beliefs. Whether this particular brand of hip-hop speaks to you has much to do with aesthetics - while I'm not a fan of his style, I respect his game.
Another Bay Area MC, PZ has a new album out - 2Blessed 2Bstressed. It's a mediocre affair at best, buoyed by some Godfather samples - hey, at least it's not Scarface, right? Guests include Mistah F.A.B. and Zumbi of Zion I.
Doomtree Collective may have made Urb's Next 100 list, but their latest, Doomtree (Doomtree Records), sounds an awful lot like "underground hip-hop head exhibit A" to me - this is cookie-cutter indie rap. They are diverse, intelligent, eclectic, and down with Rhymesayers, but they also maintain the same grim, self-serious demeanor so familiar to fans of this type of music.
Koushik's first proper release for Stones Throw arrives this month. Out My Window is a dreamy, hazy, psychedelic affair, a rock-solid bed of breakbeats anchoring Koushik's breezy vocals and '60s-era samples. And somehow, it fits right in with the Stones Throw roster, always eclectic and always funky. I wouldn't be surprised to hear MED or MF Doom rhyming over some of these tracks at some point, perhaps beefed up by a Madlib remix treatment.
Seattle hip-hop group. Common Market, is back with another release, Tobacco Road (HYENA/MassLine). The duo, consisting of RA Scion and Sabzi, are hip-hop scholars and students of the old school, judging by the no-frills Golden Age-influenced rap they produce. They are also members of the burgeoning Seattle/Pacific NW scene. But Tobacco Road feels listless at times, the product of musicians sapping all the fun from hip-hop and putting too much emphasis on keeping it real.
Josh Martinez's new album might have a silly name, but on The World Famous Sex Buffet (Camobear), he takes his beats and rhymes very seriously. He draws from the same well as Will.I.Am, combining funk, rock, r'n'b and hip-hop tilted towards the pop end of the spectrum, but Martinez manages to pull this off without making music that's completely stupid. I hope you're listening, Will, because this is proof of the power of simple pop music when it's done well. Guests include the always entertaining Moka Only, who shows up on "Underground Pop," and the always amicable Devin the Dude, who makes "Hurricane Jane" shine.
New Duck Down signee and Wake-Up show resident mixmaster, DJ Revolution, releases his new album this month, King of the Decks. As expected, the guestlist here is huge: KRS-One, Sean Price, Jazzy Jeff, Special Teamz, and Planet Asia are just some of the MC's who grace Revolution's cuts. When Rev steers away from the melodramatic strings in favor of eerie funk tones, such as the Guilty Simpson/Royce Da 5'9" track, "Do Your Thing," the album really takes off.
Finally, Brooklyn Academy's Bored of Education (Gold Dust Media) gets off to a quick start with the help of Jean Grae talking some shit over a fantastic beat. MC's Pumpkinhead, Mr. Metaphor, and Block McCloud make up this group, all of who have been involved in hip-hop in some form or another for a long time. When this record works, it really works - check the whirlwind-style chorus of "We Don't Play."
OK, that's all for now, so until October… 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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