Top Five: Shows of 2017

I went to a shit ton of shows last year.  Because I’m a soon-to-be-graduated graduate student with teaching and course pressure, I unfortunately lacked the drive and, well, simple energy to write out reviews.  The passion just wasn’t there.  I got…myself to feed, damnit!  Now it’s back. So, sorry, but not sorry.

Okay, time for a more coherent lead.  I attended and indulged mostly metal shows last year with the exception of Loufest (a trust fund Coachella clone) a couple indie rock/electronic shows, a post-punk show — speaking of which, we probably should’ve warned Ian McCulloch of notorious, trash smelling St. Louis summers — and started off 2018 with the radical punk extravaganza, Propogandhi.  Fuck the border!

Have a taste of my experiences and enjoy your vicarious skimming because here is a list of my top five shows (in no specific order). Oh, and disclaimer — I guess — I’m employing full bias, because people apparently care about that shit.

Gojira

These guys tour.  A lot.  I saw them twice last year, once at Indianapolis’ Egyptian Room with Opeth and the Devin Townsend Project, the second at Pops, supported by Code Orange (meh) and Torche (cool stoner dudes).  Unfortunately, I was unable to jump into the Indy pit.  Not to mention I was the only person headbanging.  That was just a generally unfortunate experience (I’ll get into why during the Devin Townsend Project fanboysturbation).  The Pops show, on the other hand…Let’s just say my ankle still pops and I still find sticky shit in random places.  Yeah, Pops is gross, but perfect for an explosive metal atmosphere.  Wall of Death, circle pit, St. Louis had it going!  What a show.  What an experience.   Also, the post-Code Orange karate was kept to a minimum.  St. Louis metalheads, I salute you.

Karate.jpg

Find me this shirt in an XXL.  I need it.  Also, go to a Havok show.

Gorguts

This was my first show at Fubar STL and it certainly won’t be the last.  The beer is cheap, the stage close and intimate, if a little sticky (apparently that’s a trend in St. Louis). If you attend a Fubar show, pay the ten bucks for parking in the lot across the street. The, um, guard(?) is a super nice and friendly guy who knows St. Louis, in and out, and will get you woke.  Back on topic.  The pit was brutal.  And I’ve been in a Slayer pit.  At 270 plus, I was thrown around like MDMA at an EDM festival.  +1,000 points for the analogy/acronym/alliteration combo.  Gorguts played an extensive set, including cuts from The Erosion of Sanity, the avant garde bomb, Obscura, before closing with a full rendition of the 30+ minute epic, Pleiades Dust.  Just…holy shit.  Luc Lemay is so fucking cool.  I’m just going to leave it at that.

Amon Amarth

What do you get when you mix viking-themed melodeath, booze, drinking horns, and…Colombia, Missouri?  Closure.  Wait…wha??  I look at this show as a kind of personal redemption.  My first experience with the bearded Swedes occurred during a particularly hectic semester of graduate school.  At some point, right before “Guardians of Asgard,” I decided to leave early to finish an essay.  Yeah.  The things I will do for an opportunity-spare Masters degree.  Life decision rant aside, let me just say that Amon Amarth live performances are the definition of tastefully excessive showmanship, complete with smoke, giant phallic hammers (yep, went there), fireworks, topping it all off with a horned-helmet drum platform design (pun intended).  Definitely one of the best live metal acts out there.  Raise your horns!

By the way, the Viking horned helmet is a myth.  Jus’ sayin.

 

Devin Townsend Project

As previously stated, I saw DTP twice last year.  I’m gonna rant a little on The Egyptian Room real quick.  To those who scheduled stage times, please start future shows at the scheduled time.  I drove five hours, almost got stuck overnight on the highway due to a horrendous semi/car wreck (yeah, I know, super inconvenienced. My condolences to those involved in the wreck), and showed up at the scheduled DTP showtime.  And, of course, I missed almost the entire show because DTP started almost an hour early.  So yeah, fuck that place.

Ahem, DTP at the Ready Room? Hell yeah.  If Amon Amarth are the masters of tasteful excess, Devin Townsend holds the PhD.  Fuck, I really need to tone down the academic puns.  If I were to summarize the show in two songs, I’d have to say, “Deadhead” and “March of the Poozers.”  “Deadhead” put the crowd into a meditative, emotional trance, while “March of the Poozers” brought out laughter and smiles; that, my friends, is all you need to know.  At one point you will cry, the next roll your eyes as the  comedian/metalhead/singer/guitar virtuoso moves through his extensive, non-genre specific discography.  What else can you expect from the guy who shat in Steve Vai’s guitar case? I guess you could call him…

*puts on glasses

**pauses

…a shit show.

depressed-disappointed-elderly-23180.jpg

Explosions in the Sky

There’s something about this band’s sound that stands out from the typical quiet intro –> loud climax postrock standard.  No lyrics.  Completely instrumental.  That’s pretty typical, is it not? But, unlike, let’s say Mogwai or Canadian anarchists, Godspeed You! Black Emperor — who have their groundbreaking postrock foundations, don’t get me wrong — Explosions in the Sky is somewhat accessible.  And by accessible, I mean instantaneously engaging.  I’m not discrediting Godspeed, but ya gotta be in a specific, fuck the world mood to listen to them, ya know?

During their St. Louis stop at the Pageant, Explosions in the Sky thrust listeners through waves of emotive passages, accented and emoted through an impressive light show and charismatic-but-silent stage presence.  Okay, you know what? Stop here.  Go to Youtube.  Type in “Your Hand In Mine.” Now, imagine that shit being played in a concert hall, while you enjoy a couple drinks.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Return of the Gangsta, Thanksta…The Gorge, Seven)Suns and Cleric (Live Review)

After an extended break due to graduate school, teaching and writing academic things (woo!), I have decided to return to the game…of unpaid, thankless blogging.  Such competition.  Much fun.  Okay, bad meme and misconstrued references aside, I’m glad to be back.  These past couple years have been filled with concerts and various musical adventures, so strap in! It’s going to be…a ride.

Skateboarder

Because apparently we’re about to go punk.  And that means skateboarding images! Because I’m one of those “damn millennials.”

I’m going to call these past couple years, at least from my super relevant perspective, the United States era of sludgy, grimy and depressing as shit doom, funeral doom, and stoner metal.  Pallbearer, Bell Witch (Mirror Reaper is album of the decade, change my mind), Mastodon, Sleep (new tour!) and all those masturbatory Black Sabbath startups…each have pulled, or continue to pull, the boundaries of metaldom back to its slow, riff driven blues and stoner roots.  Specifically, in St. Louis, there is an interesting development of punk attitude and grungy, working class, almost Birmingham-esque live trend, providing a widening space for road warriors Weedeater, Corrosion of Conformity, Eyehategod, Black Label Society and, most recently, Pallbearer.  Because, when the levee breaks…

Okay, so, in this scene, where does the jazz, the technicality, the Djent! belong?  Apparently in the St. Louis, Cherokee coffee house, Foam.

“What a transition!” — Nobody

I had the pleasure of attending the Cleric headlining tour, opened by tech metallers, The Gorge, and string quartet, Seven) Suns, at the Foam coffee house in St. Louis.  That’s right,  a coffee house.  Metal and hipsters.  Fuck yeah!  The venue is intimate — I couldn’t think of a better word for small — and run by some fabulous baristas/bartenders.  I only wish I got their names.  Poor journalism on my part, but oh well.  What’s important is the beers were cheap, the coffee hot, and the atmosphere warm, inviting.  Perfect for some twisted, weird ass metal.

Disclaimer: A major label needs to sign The Gorge.  Seriously.  If some Nuclear Blast intern is looking for some mobility, here’s a tip: put The Gorge on the executive’s table and drop that fucking mic in your new office space.

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Did I mention this was at a coffee house? Look at that face…

I’ve been following The Gorge for about a year now.  I saw them open for Weedeater back in, I believe, August 2017.  I’m too lazy to look so just take my word for it.  The Gorge adds some melody to the djenty meshuggah framework, all the while maintaining a jazz-conscious feel for groove.  Their live performance is cathartic, culminated in politically-driven and emotionally jarring lyrics.  I mean, their album art for Thousand Year Fire is a drawing of the Cahokia Mounds!  How else to bring attention to the voices of a colonized and destroyed culture than through some djenty, emotionally jarring metal? So, in a postcolonial perspective, besides the album being written and performed by a juxtaposed personality of bearded and clean cut white dudes, The Gorge brings some cultural and political significance to the table.  Told ya I’ve been in academia for a hot minute.  Don’t be surprised when I go there, metal bros.

String quartet, Seven)Suns, added discomfort to this cathartic atmosphere.  One of my biggest complaints regarding the venue is the layout.  There is no “stage,” but who can blame em? It’s a coffee house. However, it’s kinda hard to see the performers, especially when the audience, including myself, are mostly around or over six feet tall.

A toast for the short folks and those who would rather sit at the bar! 

String quartet, Seven)Suns has worked with Dillinger Escape Plan, and have an energetic live presence, breaking dissonant and melodic runs with passionate grunts that do not feel out of place or forced.  Each string could be heard, and I’m not gonna lie, I have a soft spot for the cello.  Its sound is just too damn beautiful for its own good.  If I were to describe Seven)Suns’ stage presence, it would be creepy.  Beautifully unsettling.  A nice transition from The Gorge’s brutality into Cleric’s…I don’t even know.

I’m not gonna lie, I only started listening to Cleric earlier in the day.  I heard their name cast around in internet forums of the most obscure and pretentious sort, but, as usual, I cast them into a general, maybe later part of my brain.  But, Fuck, was I blown away.  As soon as Larry Kawartowitz set up his fucking obnoxiously large china symbol, I knew the room was in for an experience.  Drum lord, Lars Ulrich, would faint at the sight of that behemoth.

I can hardly describe Cleric’s sound.  A little Gorguts here; a little Frank Zappa there.  And a large helping of general holy shittery that is just Cleric.  Keyboardist, vocalist, second base, guitarist — pretty much everythingist — Nick Schellenberger took full advantage of the space.  His dual microphone rig and passionate stage presence brought even the sound guy (mustachio’d, dressed, roller bladed, and fuzzy hat guy, you the best) to the front, headbanging and bouncing.  This band is tight, folks.  Think of a metaphor for tight and Cleric will shatter it with two synchronized doom chords.  The bass (Daniel Kennedy) and lead/rhythm guitarist (Matt Hollenberg) were synched perfectly with the drums, casting aside count downs in favor of good ol’ fashioned, felt nonverbal communication.  And, punctuating the evening, Cleric played an extremely emotive rendition of, I believe, “The Treme,” a nine minute piece transitioning from technical what the fuckery to an existential sense of doom.  Incredible work from everyone involved.

Again, this venue creates and maintains community.  The openers, the staff, the small, but passionate crowd, were caught in Cleric’s strange, chaotic apocalypse.  Check out their groundbreaking underground album, Regressions sometime for a general feel before the record goes out of print.  Also, make a trip to Foam if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

Next week:  Weedeater (Round Two)

Final Verdict:  I’m done assessing shit.  Just take what you want from the review.  The venue was accommodating.  The show was kick ass.  

 

 

 

 

The Fall of the Album

Analyzing the music industry is a lot like analyzing a cat.  You think you understand its movements, coordination, communication, but you end up realizing it’s all manipulation for its own personal gain.  Music is a breathing entity, and like normal “entities,” it needs some cash to stay afloat.  Bare bones, that’s basic business. So, what garners cash more than riding trends in the music industry? Behold the radio single, the masterpiece and libation of studio production.  With a single marketable track, musicians possess, and possessed, the ability to forsake consistent quality.  Sure, classic artists such as Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles released single promotions.  Those artists, however, also released Master of Reality, Dark Side of the Moon, and Revolver. What timeless album has Ke$ha produced? Think about it.  We can’t blame it all on the radio single, however.  Unfortunately, as modern artists take advantage of the digital marketplace, the album has become an afterthought, more of a token of gratitude than a fleshed out experience.

The digital music marketplace is a wonder.  Radiohead, with their innovative record In Rainbows, was one of the first albums to exploit this venture, adopting a “pay what you can” strategy.  According to Music Ally, the album was number one in the United Kingdom and the United States in its first three months.  And this was when you didn’t even have to pay for the damn thing.  Now, if you download an album for free, record companies shit their pants and sue you for everything you own.  Everything!  To contest torrenting, Spotify, Pandora, and other streaming services started their print in the digital world, providing an additional avenue for artists.  Album streams have transcended expectations, but sales? That’s a different story. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly moved over 300,000 copies in its first week.  Yet, it was streamed over 9 million times. So, yes, To Pimp a Butterfly sold well for a modern, popular album, but its streaming numbers prove that the popular marketplace desires “entertainment” at little to no price. Albums are just too expensive to make and nobody wants to pay for them.

Hence the live production.  It’s well known that rock and metal outfits bring in more from touring and merchandise sales than album sales.  Take it from Jim Root, guitarist of Slipknot, one of the highest selling metal bands of the decade.  Oh wait, it’s past the nineties.  Highest selling metal outfit two decades ago, how does that sound? The band has sold over five million records, but when it’s all said and done, they brought in pocket change compared to the industry’s golden age(s).  Production, label, marketing, distribution, and retail costs all contribute to an album’s lowered value.  Not to mention less popular outfits.  If you’re below a sellout headliner, try for a charting single or get used to bars because, if Metal Sucks has anything to say about it, you’re shit out of luck. So, in this regard, the album has become nothing more than a tour promotion.  Useful in the right context, yes.  Inspired? Depends on how much the artist cares about his or her “art.”  Damn, I tried to stay objective.

Here we are, the beloved commentary on musical quality. Let’s face it, music isn’t what it was during the 60’s through the 90’s.  As I said, radio singles were more of a marketing strategy to boost album sales.  Albums were the norm; albums were the desire of the popular market.  How many of you have that old family member who boasts about his or her extensive record collection? Personally, I envy them. Back then, when attention spans — i.e. boredom — were at an all time high, albums were cool, man.  Besides the recent Indie and hip hop movements, timelessness is nonexistent, replaced by the iPod shuffle.  Before, musical quality was paramount to an artist’s success. The radio single brought in sales, but bands had to wow listeners because their consumers had to buy their entire output. Thanks, internets! Why waste time and money on a consistent record when you can make millions off one track? If I’m a pop musician or executive looking for cash, I know the route I’d take.

As the music business evolves, more nails are driven into the album’s coffin.  This dramatic metaphor can be attributed to the digital market, production cost, and radio single.  However, to those grinding away in the production dungeon to create that groundbreaking album, I salute you!

Disclaimer:  All rights, content, and properties of the featured image belongs to Adam Fagen at https://www.flickr.com/photos/afagen/2119323310. I have, in no way, used said image for profit.

Live Review: The Rolling Stones – Dallas Texas

The Rolling Stones hit Dallas, Saturday, with a worthy setlist and age-defying performance, continuing their multi-decade tenure as the best live band around.

There isn’t much that could pull me into the not-so-humble abode of the Cowboys.  As an Eagles fan, I would spit on the stadium before even thinking of going inside.  However, as I was visiting Dallas and acquired some last minute tickets for The Rolling Stones…who are the Cowboys again?

Credit:  Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

Yes, Jagger, I’m a Fool to Cry for letting petty football rivalries obscure my judgment.  Okay, so, The Rolling Stones.  I’m what you would call a casual listener of the band.  My music library suffers from a lack of Stones records, instead burdened by two “greatest hits” cash grabs.  40 Licks, I think they’re called? I don’t care enough to look.  To me, if there’s anything worse than reissues, it’s the dreaded “greatest hits,” or even lower, the “acoustic” record.  I’m looking at you, Pain of Salvation!

So, in that regard, I’ll admit that I don’t know as much about the Stones as, say, Radio Rich — right, St. Louis peeps? Yeah, just said peeps — but I at least know the hits by heart.  And that’s all I needed for this show.  The band’s Zip Code Tour is a greatest hits show done right, a complete, powerful performance between the band — which still surprises me — and its backup performers, including a rousing opening set from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. As I want to keep this review under novel length, I won’t go into the openers, but I at least wanted to give them a shout out.  Here’s to you, Grace Potter!

The Stones came out swinging with one of their more recognizable tracks, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” I didn’t know what to expect going into this show. I mean, these guys are 70 years old, you know, the time when the vocal chords disintegrate and arthritis kicks in the ol’ wrist.  I must say, however, Mick Jagger is the Hugh Hefner of rock n’ roll.  He even held his own vocally, using just enough echo effect to hide decades of wear and tear. But that’s to be expected, especially during demanding tracks like, “Gimme Shelter,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Can’t Always Get What You Want.”  Age stands as an afterthought to these guys, something to stand in front of than behind, as evident in Keith Richard’s smooth-as-eggs stage presence.  Sure, Captain Jack Sparrow was most likely high as the fucking universe, but his style, the fashion he deconstructed and redefined classic riffs, looked so…easy. He may look like a paper bag, but the man still has his trademark, no nonsense, sex, love, drugs guitar feel.  Adjectives, galore.

Just look at that guy.  How does he even know where the stage is?  Richards and Ronnie Wood — who took on most of the lead phrases — played off each other through the set, occasionally allowing room for improvisation in performances of “Happy,” “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It), “Gimme Shelter,” and “Brown Sugar.”  The Stones and guitar solos were always hit and miss with me, but when the band delved into jam territory during “Sympathy for the Devil,” I realized just how tight their live performances are.  Utilizing a combination of blues and straight up rock n’ roll feel, the band pushed and pulled with the “woo woos,” throwing down some complex solos courtesy of keyboardist Chuck Leavell and the band’s guitarists.

As predicted, “Gimme Shelter,” stands as the pinnacle of the Stone’s Dallas stop.  As my favorite Rolling Stone’s track, my expectations were sky high to the point that a botched performance would ruin my evening. Lisa Fischer, backup singer extraordinaire, thrust her voice through those expectations and ripped my soul out in the process.  Overall, Dallas’ audience was substandard — what can you expect from a bunch of Cowboy’s fans? — but when Fischer belted out “Shelter[‘s]” iconic midsection, everyone, probably even Jerry Jones, was standing and cheering. What a performance.  Her vocal contribution is a testament to the band’s entire backing staff, from Chuck Leavell’s praised keys, to the horn/sax combo, to Fischer’s backing partner, Bernard Fowler.  Each member added their own unique flavor to the setlist, throwing in some new, musical approaches to help move along the band’s shakier sections, no pun intended.

Anyways, back to “Gimme Shelter.”  We’ll call it the setlist’s energy booster, a precursor to the band’s climactic conclusion in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and then — who’s surprised — “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” The University of Texas – Arlington made an appearance during the former performance and, I must say, I could feel goosebumps on every arm in the stadium.  That’s almost a million arms. Take that into the feels perspective.  Then, Jagger’s voice came in and I couldn’t help but kick back and forget that I had to write this review.

Overall, The Rolling Stones continued to stamp their name in Rock and Roll history, laying down a timeless performance at the AT&T Stadium in Dallas, TX. Although the setlist felt a little on the shorter side, the band never looked tired.  Maybe lost, but not tired.  Jokes aside, the production, band performance, backing performance, and Jagger dance moves operated seamlessly, showing that, after 50 years of drugs, sex, and alcohol, The Rolling Stones still have it.

RATING:  5/5

Disclaimer:  All rights, properties, and content of the featured image belong to the owner.  Image found on http://blog.ticketprocess.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/800x400xrolling-stones-presale-tickets.png.pagespeed.ic._349NKIoJ1.jpg.  All rights, properties, and content of body image 1 belong to the owner. Image found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mick_Jagger#/media/File:Rolling_Stones_09.jpg.  All rights, properties, and content of body image 2 belong to Ricky Brigante on Flickr.  Image found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/insidethemagic/5705168314/in/photostream/.  I have, in no way, used said images for profit.

Local Lookout Review: Corner Kings (STL) – Chosen Few

Credit:  Corner Kings

Credit: Corner Kings

Local music acts.  You know, those guys that go out there and bust their ass every night for a shitty gig, all for the hope that one day they’ll get noticed. St. Louis corrals these musicians, from rock groups trying to get to the sticky floors of Pops Nightclub, to hip hop groups/MCs walking the Loop in search of someone to listen.  While I sit behind this keyboard, writing for some blog, a local act fails because nobody listened.  I don’t know if it’s a stigma generated by the hip hop industry, but mix tapes are generally viewed as give or take. A lot of take.  Some are too Nas, others sickeningly Soulja Boy-esque nonsense stinking of overproduction.  Yet, as a reviewer, I need to listen.  When it comes to reviews, I can’t help but feel conflicted.   There’s validity in just the “act” of sending out a mix tape or EP for exposure.  Every track is a piece of livelihood.  That kind of vulnerability can only be respected.  Here’s to you, local artists.  Let’s go!

Corner Kings, a hip hop group from St. Louis, recently handed me their EP, Chosen Few.  And, production and consistency aside, I’m actually quite impressed.  The group consists of four personalities, Chief Capo, Krash, Ty3rdEye, and Easy $tackin to create a complete hip hop experience. A psychedelic, somewhat old school, introspective atmosphere surrounds the tracks, complete with Jekyll/Hyde-style lyrics caught between spiritual subject matter and street lifestyle.  Let’s say Corner Kings possesses the duality of Outkast with flavors of Nas — yes, I know I just dogged groups sounding like Nas, but what’s a Reviews From the Other Side review without a good dose hypocrisy?  Anyways, you’ll get your chill tunes; you’ll get your hardened street tunes; you’ll get your Andre 3000-esque philosophical commentary, and that’s what makes Corner Kings an interesting group.  Not groundbreaking, but enjoyable nontheless.  And that’s what music’s about, son!

Since I’m more of a cerebral guy — surprising, isn’t it? — “Building Visions,” courtesy of Ty3rd Eye’s acid-laden flow, stood out to me.  Lyrically, the track deals with spiritual enlightenment.  Ty3rd Eye succeeds in his use of wordplay, how he calmly eases the listener into a trance.  Hence the hook:

Stay true to the game and don’t fuck with them lanes/finessing my brain and creating my lane.

Ty3rd Eye, Building Visions,” Chosen Few (2015)

How can you not kick back to lyrics like that?  Corner Kings succeeds with their lyrical maturity.  The MCs all have something to say, and as the EP moves, their styles evolve.  Krash, with his natural talent, comes out of the gate with purpose on “Act 1,” while Easy $tackin and Chief Capo play off each other seamlessly in “3 Kings.”  I wish I could say that for every track.  Going back to “Act 1,” Chief Capo introduces himself in poor fashion.  This is not a dig on his talent — because, hell “3 Kings” testifies to his skill — but a question for the musical decision making. After interrupting Krash’s smooth, social commentary, Capo spins the track’s lyrics towards pussy, pistols, and other personal hype.  I can only think of A.Z. when I hear Capo’s vocals, with his distinct, energetic, overpowering tone. He serves better as a track opener, you know, someone to get the listener going before delving into the deeper shit.  Capo is the group’s energy.  Use that energy to move the album, guys!  I mean, he spits the album’s best lines in “Taj Mahal”:

Ain’t no common ground around us/Can’t get comfy/Ain’t no comfort when you come from nothin’/Nothin’ comin’/We the second comin’ comin’.

Chief Capo, “Taj Mahal,” Chosen Few (2015)

I see why they muted the track during those bars.

Unfortunately, the EP’s production brings down its value.  I’m all about vocal layers, but when the vocals become muddled and distracted due to these layers, the songs ultimately feel contrived.  With some stronger production values — i.e. less vocal layers — the EP would feel more coherent, taking some of the load off the performers’ shoulders.  Oh, and a little immersion helps when you’re trying to get on the map. Also, compression.  There are tracks, such as “Taj Mahal,” that suffer outright from production.  An album, whether an EP or LP, needs to sound cohesive.  The volume, the sustain, the EQ, everything needs to sound whole.  Corner Kings fails in that regard.

With their debut EP, Chosen Few, Corner Kings seeps into the hip hop market with their distinct, lyrical flow.  Stay tuned for more local reviews.

P.S. Album art, Chosen Few needs it.  At least something more reflective and less derivative than the current cover.

RATING: 3/5

Disclaimer:  All properties, content, and rights of the featured image belong to the artist. Image found on https://soundcloud.com/cornerkingsradio/sets/corner-kings-chosen-few. I have, in no way, used said image for profit.

Review: Danny Brown – Old

Danny Brown shocks in his 2013 LP, Old, spinning listener’s heads with complex lyrics while staying firmly grounded in Detroit’s streets.

My discovery of Danny Brown is embarrassing, to say the least.  I owe it to ICP.  I won’t even spell out their name.  Born and bred in Illinois, I sometimes delve deep into the state’s underground music movement because I’m a masochistic son’ buck.  If you’re from Illinois, you’d understand that’s an understatement for the sake of…hell, here we go.  You see, there’s this little music “festival” that occurs every year in Cave Rock called The Gathering of the Juggalos.  Where, you say? Exactly.

Illinois treats the festival like a rich father treats his drug dealer son.  You know he’s there, and you know he makes money, but like hell if the neighbors found out! Anyways, vicarious as I was, I decided to watch a documentary on the festival.  Sure, the people looked friendly and so on and so forth, and the music wasn’t too cringe worthy — minus the annoying “woot woots” and juggalos jerking off to “family” philosophy — but then the camera cut to a performance by Danny Brown. I was just getting into Hip Hop at the time, more old school than modern, but that’s personal taste.  I don’t even know what song he performed, but I do know that, at that moment, I searched for Brown’s latest gem, Old.

I was pleased.  Very pleased.

Danny Brown brands himself with two identities:

1. His psychotic, turn-loose party persona.

2. His introspective, serious commentator persona.

Old follows XXX through its use of duality. Whereas XXX reached for seriousness as the tracks progressed, Old fades deeper and deeper into madness.  At one moment, he may rap about his horrific upbringing, and at another moment, jump around the club accompanied by schizophrenic beats. The music even follows this trend, travelling time in the old school vibe of “Danny Brown (Old),” tapping societal issues in “25 Bucks” and then exploding into “Smokin’ and Drinkin’.” There’s a lot of material on this album.  And I mean, a lot.

“Torture” stood out with its lyrical sincerity, how Danny beats the listener over the head with tales of drug use, street crime, domestic abuse and general disgust with an honest delivery.  In the background, producer OH NO lays down a haunting, atmospheric beat that accents Danny’s lyrics for maximum impact.  Emotional, that’s how I would describe the album’s A side. Yet, Danny Brown’s emotion leaks through every track on this album.  “25 Bucks,” with its social commentary, follows Old[‘s] concept as a “wake up” piece.  Danny’s lyrical awareness and storytelling ability shines in this track:

Now I’m trapped in the trap and the devil ain’t forgetting/Wanna see me dead or locked in a prison.

-Danny Brown, “25 Bucks,” Old (2015)

Of course, Old doesn’t consistently keep up with this introspective, serious subject matter.  Done poorly, inconsistent songwriting is an album’s crutch, especially at RFTOS.  However, for some reason, the club-centered tracks follow the album’s concept of regression.  Hell, this probably isn’t even a concept album and I’m just filling your heads with bullshit.  What is a review without some bullshit, though?  This is the music industry!  As the album delves into its “madness,” the party anthems surge loud and proud, punctuated by scattered production values.  I won’t dock points for the lyrics.  Think, sex and drugs explained creatively, with some serious “what the fuck?!” moments.  That’s not too far from a description of Rock n’ Roll, come to think of it.

Danny’s flow is as unique as it is chaotic.  As previously stated, his overarching flow moves in two directions.  For faster paced beats, he explores his higher pitched, nonsensical timbre.  Meanwhile, “Torture,” and the album’s more serious tunes bring a vocal drop. Yet, there’s constant rhythm and movement in Danny’s voice, a refreshing use of energy without being consumed by said energy, if that makes any sense.  Production wise, the beats are well crafted and succeed in their lack of distraction.  A solid effort from all involved.

With his third LP, Old, Danny Brown attached emotion to his trademark flow, creating an interesting album of multiple perspectives.  Truly, a classic in the making.

RATING:  4.5/5

Disclaimer:  Featured image and all its content, properties, and rights belong to the artist.  Image found on http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Entertainment/important-things-danny-browns-debut-album/story?id=20433997. I have, in no way, used said image for profit.

5 Days of Rush! Day 4

2. Hemispheres

Is that not the most prog album art ever conceived? I mean, you got a naked guy pointing longingly at another guy in a suit and cane, both standing on a brain. Deserts, brains, and an Eastern-style logo. What else could you ask for from prog pioneers, Rush?

Okay!  Now, as I stayed up last night thinking of which Rush album deserved first place, I came to a crossroads between my two picks.  Not spoiling the top selection — you’ve probably already guessed it, anyways  — I threw out standards because, let’s face it, reviews aren’t about standards.  Reviews are about how much you like the damn thing!  So, to be the most unprofessional as I possibly can, Rush’s 1978 LP, Hemispheres, ranks above Permanent Waves because I just like it more as a cohesive whole.  The album is a progressive masterwork, hinting towards future projects, but, overall, reflecting the peak of Rush’s ambition.  Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart kick off on all cylinders from the get go, and conclude with one of the best instrumentals ever recorded.  Yes, I went there.  Let’s go!

“Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres” explodes with guitar chords before entering a complex march.  Lee’s bass dominates this track, complementing Neil Peart’s accents nicely. This, behind 2112, is the album that defined the prog epic, where we get not one, but two tracks surpassing the 8 minute mark.  If I had one complaint for the progressive genre, I’d bang my head over the never ending noodlery.  I’d say wankery, but that’s been overused on RFTOS.  Many bands, especially modern prog bands, suffer from too much freedom.  Instead of composing songs, they craft dueling solos and nonsensical, extended passages, sacrificing direction for vanity.  A little guidance would help, along with a little “hey, we need to get this moving” attitude, but that’s not the case with Hemispheres.  The band members utilized their ambition, but never deviated from the songwriting process in favor of glorified jam sessions.  “Cygnus” is the culmination of this process.  And it’s a hell of a track, displaying the band at its best, with spacey keyboards, complex guitar chords, and adventurous lyrics.

The next two tracks, “Circumstances,” and “The Trees” add accessibility to the album.  I’ve always thought “Circumstances” as under-appreciated.  I don’t blame the fans and critics.  It’s easy to forget a hard rocker when said track is surrounded by three musical juggernauts.  Fans of Geddy’s higher, mouse-like voice should jump for joy during the track’s chorus, with its stand-up-and-shout chorus.  It’s just a catchy song, a breath of fresh air from the complexity of the previous number.  Meanwhile, “The Trees” bends genres, adding folk elements to the band’s repertoire.  Now, I’ll admit, I cringe every time at  “The Trees” lyrics, which is a commentary on social status, all told through a grand metaphor of oaks and maples.  Maybe it’s Geddy’s delivery; maybe it’s the metaphor.  Either way, the vocals walk the line of ridiculousness.  It’s so Canadian, it makes me want to cry maple syrup and apologize for the mess.  The music, however, is absolutely outstanding.  Peart smashes his drums on this song and shows he’s not only precise, but powerful.  During the midsection, he even explores more percussive avenues.  I’ll admit it, when I heard those wood blocks, I smiled like an idiot. You can tell he’s really passionate about those poor maples.

The band reached its absolute peak, songwriting-wise, with the album’s closer, “La Villa Strangiato.” A micro and macro instrumental accomplishment, the track challenges each member’s creativity.  This is Alex Lifeson’s song. Opening with Spanish-style guitar, the guitarist throws down some of his most thoughtful licks and riffs. “La Villa” then descends into a moody section, and it is here where Rush’s guitar reaches its absolute peak.   Lifeson builds from a Gilmour-esque moan to a bombastic, heart wrenching climax. This is, without a doubt, the guitarist’s greatest achievement.  Subtle, expressive, but technical all the same. What a sneaky bastard, you are! The track moves quickly, transitioning between sections flawlessly, and never feels nine minutes long.

Hemispheres explores all of the musical avenues and lyrics from Rush’s previous albums.  On the album, you’ll hear 2112, you’ll hear A Farewell To Kings, you’ll even hear some Fly By Night, but what separates this album is the band’s disregard for its own standards.  Peart, Lee, and Lifeson weren’t quite at their most mature, but they were definitely at their most ambitious.  And that solidifies Hemispheres spot at number 2 on 5 Days of Rush.

Rating: 4.75/5

Disclaimer:  Featured image found on http://jestormbringer.blogspot.com/2011/09/rush-cygnus-x-1-duology.html. All rights and content of the image belong to the artist.  No profits have been made from said image.