Friday, May 25, 2007

The Hood Internet: "Doe Boy" With A Backpack

I have to admit, I wasn't a huge fan of the rap/rock infusion craze that took over the past few years. The Linkin Park/Jay-Z collaboration was fine ("Points Of Authority/99 Problems" was my favorite) and the unauthorized Nine Inch Nails/50 Cent "In The Club/Closer" mash-up was a crowd pleaser, but neither were ground-breaking (see trendsetters Run DMC & Aerosmith).

But last week, on two occasions, I read about a forum where indie rock was blended with rap. My new musical passion, combined with the genre I grew up with and promoted countless times, no way? I thought I might have accidentally fell into the rabbit hole and was being messed with. With all the buzz, I had to check out the Hood Internet website. I found that all the hype was justified. Not only do most of the tracks intertwine perfectly, but there are Photoshopped pictures of these supergroups together (Whats not awkward about Project Pat standing next to The Avalanches?). So even if a Modest Mouse/Lil' Wayne album doesn't happen in the near future, at least you can imagine what it would be like if it did.

My personal recommendation (Three 6 Mafia hasn't sounded this classy since the Academy Awards):

Three 6 Mafia & The Hold Steady - Doe Boys And Fresh Girls In America

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Common: Top Of "The Game"

I have pretty much abandoned rap on this blog. Frankly, there isn't much to get excited about anymore. There are an abundance of great producers, old (Timbaland, DJ Premier, Neptunes, Just Blaze, Kanye, etc.) and new (9th Wonder, Danja, RJD2, Hi-Tek, Cool & Dre), who craft eclectic and head-nodding beats, but there is a lull in the MC department.

The past favorites that I grew up with are still around, but their output has waned tremendously. Kingdom Come was better than most of 2006's offerings, but was nowhere near Jay-Z's best. 50 Cent has been basically phoning in his bars since his debut and his G-Unit cronies are just as bad (Lloyd Banks' The Rotten Apple was self-explanatory). Eminem has fell off the map (but due for a comeback), trading in lyrical lessons ("Stan" and "Renegade" to name a few) for club songs ("Smack That" and "Shake That"). Little Brother broke up after knocking out two classic hip-hop records (The Listening and The Minstrel Show). OutKast decided to make movies, instead of groundbreaking albums. Andre 3000's verse on "Walk It Out" is the best guest appearance in years, but just makes me want more. Lil' Wayne, TI and Kanye are leading the charge by gaining credibility and stellar album catalogues. The Carter III, TI vs. TIP and Graduation should only bolster their resumes in 2007.

The new crop of commercial rappers doesn't seem to bring much hope. Young Jeezy is a poor man's TI, with amazing production, but a horrible lyricist. Rich Boy was blessed with hit single (although overshadowed by Kanye's hilarious remix), but the album failed to yield the same results. The only bright spot is Lupe Fiasco, who had one of the best albums of 2006 with Food and Liquor. He is currently crafting the follow-up, with hopes of collaborating with Kanye and Pink Floyd (what?).

But is that it? Was Nas right when he titled his gem of 2006, "Hip Hop Is Dead"?

Fortunately, there is one rapper who has consistently defied that statement, and continues to impress with age. Common, one of Chi-Town's finest, has been on fire since hooking up with fellow Windy City alumnus, Kanye West. Their work on 2005's Be, resulted in one of the best hip-hop albums in years and best of any genre that year. Favorably, they decided not to mess with a good thing and continued their relationship on Finding Forever. Guest includes British songstress Lily Allen, D'Angelo, Will.I.Am, Dwele, posthumus production by JDilla. If the first single, "The Game", is any clue as to what is to come this summer, Common's 7th album could be his best.

Here is the first single and one of my all time favorite songs from Be:

Common ft DJ Premier - The Game

Common - Be

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Feist: A Welcome "Reminder"

Feist The Reminder - 4/5 Narks

Whether she meant to or not, Leslie Feist's The Reminder is more than just a random album title. Budding songstress Feist, more than adequately makes a suggestion as to what mainstream music could be: clever, catchy, thoughtful songs, breezily sung over passionately arranged instrumentation. It doesn't even have to be classified as "indie". With her jump from a small, independent label to Interscope, it could easily be great pop music.

"1 2 3 4" (and its great video) has already jump-started the buzz with a persuasive plea to a past love. With folk guitar (maybe banjo) chords, jazzy piano and choir backing, Feist does her best to playfully woo her admirer. She explains why the relationship didn't work before with the old saying "put the horse before the cart." "The Park" sounds like it was genuinely recorded at that exact location featuring cricket chirps, a subtle wind, and slight vocal distortion (but never threatens the quality), as if you were hearing a well-trained street performer. The bluesy, "Sea Lion Woman" potently tells the story of a lady who has two sides to her, a shady temptress and an ideal wife. Feist's narrative is backed by hand claps and gospel-inspired chants of "She lied" and "She loved" after each bar that serve as warnings to potential suitors.

Feist is at her best when the tempo picks up on"I Feel It All" and "My Moon My Man". On "I Feel It All", her breath-filled approach at singing various lengths of stanzas relates to the moody subject matter (a uneven, if not hurtful relationship). This technique intertwines with the syncopated acoustic strums and returns unconventional, but welcome results. "My Moon My Man" uses the same intermittent, fluttering singing procedure, but with a hauntingly low-keyed piano and bass. Feist cleverly narrates this ode to a beau who has similar habits to a certain celestial body ("Take it slow/Take it easy on me/Shed some light/Shed some light on it please").

Feist's airy vocals are refreshing and a perfect fit for this folk and jazzed-infused treasure. The Reminder should be a hint to the mainstream of what pop music could be.

Feist - I Can Feel It All

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jack Penate - Soon To Be "Star"

Jack Penate is an up and coming musician from Blackheath, London and is gaining steam as he moves up the British music charts. His first single, "Second, Minute or Hour" lead the charge as an introduction to Penate's ska-inspired riffs, intertwined with tales of young love. His latest release, the exceptional Spit At Stars EP, and lively tour across England, continues to ensnare fans and followers (including BBC Radio One DJ Zane Lowe) along the way. The lead track, "Spit At Stars" frantically brings Penate's flair for rockabilly tunes to the mainstream. A jolly keyboard and kinetic guitar strums characterize this catchy ode/warning to pessimists.

Jack Penate - Spit At Stars

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Larrikin Love - "Spark" Lost

London based rockers, Larrikin Love exploded into the indie realm in 2005 and quickly gained recognition for great live performances and strong singles ("Happy As Annie", "Six Queens"). It wasn't long before Larrikin Love was snatched up by Warner Bros. and released the debut album "The Freedom Spark" in September 2006. Their blend of rock, punk, and bluegrass is refreshing and easily keeps the attention of listeners with music ADD. Unfortunately, after a splattering the British music charts throughout last year, the band "amicably" has decided to call it quits.

"Happy As Annie" is quite memorable, as a story turned melancholy warning about a child rape victim. Lead singer, Edward Larrikin spouts off his disturbing findings while on a seemingly meaningless journey turned sour. The violinist (special guest Rob Skipper of the Holloways) steals the show, as this "gypsy-punk" tale echos "Children please beware!/I'm choked with fear/Oh children please beware! /I'm choked with fear." After only one listen, its hard to dissect the social commentary in this jolly tune, infused with bluegrass and punk rock, but well worth it.

Larrikin Love will be missed.

Larrikin Love - Happy As Annie

Monday, May 7, 2007

Editors: Summer Jump-"Start"

The Editors are back with the lead single from their sophomore album, An End Has A Start. The stellar "Smokers Outside Hospital Door" is sure to build anticipation and lure new fans with its grandeur sound and heartfelt lyrics. Similar to "Camera" and "All Sparks" off The Back Room, lead singer Tom Smith commands attention with his larger than life voice that reverberates the speakers over a heavenly beat.

I am interested to see the Editors growth over the past year and am anxious for June 25th, when An End Has A Start is released in the U.K. (a U.S. date hasn't been issued yet). They are one of the first bands I heard when I began my new music quest and was immediately hooked. I was fortunate enough to check them out at The Magic Stick in Detroit last summer and it only furthered my appreciation of their immense talent. Hopefully, they don't avoid Michigan like many of the other bands I have wanted to check out in 2007 (see The Decemberists, Arcade Fire, Kaiser Chiefs, Kings of Leon, etc.).

The Editors - Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Amy Winehouse: "Back" to the Future

Amy Winehouse Back to Black
- 4.5 /5 Narks

I first heard English songstress, Amy Winehouse, on Zane Lowe's BBC Radio One show (where I have found more gems than not), but not because I was interested in her. Ms. Winehouse's breakthrough single, "You Know I'm No Good", featured the only and only, Wu Tang Clan member, Ghostface Killah (the best rap name ever!). Of course, Ghostface held his own in a story of lovers that aren't meant to be, but I was eager to find more from this soulful newcomer.

On Amy Winehouse's sophomore album, "Back to Black", Winehouse elicits her listeners attention with a style that is reminiscent of a '60's girl group with tales of modern frustration and angst. Production was done with the help of her past executive producer, Salaam Remi and renowned DJ Mark Ronson. Ronson's pop appeal (past work includes Lily Allen and Nikki Costa) seems have been the perfect complement to Winehouse's jazz background.

"Rehab" has the kind of sarcastic humor that U.K. belle counterpart, Lily Allen, would be proud of. But this is where the similarities should end. Amy Winehouse defiantly belts out her protests to the call and response chorus, whereas Lily Allen's soft, airy voice would lightly spit this tongue-in-cheek anthem. The song is also fitting with Winehouse's recent allegations of public drunkenness and brushes with the law. The previously mentioned track, "You Know I'm No Good" (sans Ghostface Killah), shines on the album with the Brit's warning to her suitor as to what to expect. Seductively, she states "I cheated myself/like I knew I would/I told ya, I was troubled/you know that I'm no good" over a jazzy, brass-filled backing.

The reoccurring theme throughout the album is relationships gone sour, and Winehouse knows exactly how to evoke those emotions through music. "Me and Mr. Jones (F***ery)" is a rant about an on-again, off-again exchange complete with a Supremes-style doo wop effect. "Back to Black" shines as a scathing jab at a former lover, who ended their affair by returning to his former partner. The track has a menacing bass line with a pulsing piano that effectively supplements the despair she feels. Winehouse hauntingly details her fall into the break-up abyss with the lyrics "We only said good-bye with words/I died a hundred times/You go back to her/And I go back to." The gem of the set has to be "Love Is A Losing Game". With eloquently arranged string and piano sections, you can almost see her pouring her heart out in a swank jazz lounge, under a bright spotlight, while onlookers sip gin and cognac.

The only drawback to "Back to Black" is the short run time of 35 minutes (10 tracks + "You Know I'm No Good" remix). The listener will be asking for more of Winehouse's ability to lace jazz + girl-pop influenced rhythms with stunning vocals and pure emotion (Someone should call Kanye West to arrange a Lauryn Hill/Amy Winehouse duet). Look to hear Amy Winehouse's name come up as one of the starlets of 2007.

My personal favorite:
Amy Winehouse - Love Is A Losing Game