Friday, September 30, 2011

This Cheer-Accident album is TOTALLY Worth It!!!

Exactly how many of them ARE there?

At the world-famous PopMatters, I reviewed Cheer-Accident's new album (on Cuneiform Records) and said things like this:

It’s tempting, but possibly meaningless, to say that Cheer-Accident’s gonzo synth-horn prog rock couldn’t have happened anywhere but the Midwest. In one sense, sure—they come from Chicago and its suburbs, and they’ve worked with a whole host of Chicago musicians, including Steve Albini and more than one Flying Luttenbacher. But in the musical sense? Well, maybe some coastal band would’ve eventually hit upon Cheer-Accident’s blend of ‘70s AOR hooks, unfussy chops, stone-faced humor, math-rock time signatures, overdubbed horn lines, collective humility and patient willingness to chase musical ideas to their inevitable conclusions. But probably not. In fact, on their 17th album No Ifs, Ands or Dogs—no highfalutin’ Oxford comma for them!—Cheer-Accident’s music often seems like the inevitable nexus of half a century’s worth of Chicago music, Styx meets the AACM meets SKiN GRAFT noize. I suppose you could call them “post-rock” if they didn’t, in fact, rock.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

This Sergent Garcia album is NOT Worth It.

Bluffin' with his -muffin?

O Sergent Garcia, why you disappoint me so? Here's my review of his/their new album, Una y Otra Vez, at PopMatters. And here is a tantalizing tidbit:

The rest of the songs, though, are basically well-executed genre exercises with exactly zero surprises. The exceptionally detailed CD booklet lists 12 regular members of the band, all of whom sound like they’ve planned their music to within an inch of its life. Whether playing reggae, salsa, bolero, rap, or one of their invented offshoot genres, they are chivalrous, polite, and well-heeled. Solos and fills fall neatly between cracks in the melodies, most of which sound like uninspired first drafts. Even the rhythms, which you’d figure would kick, tend to simply pick one thing and do it over and over.

This is disappointing, because Garcia the lyricist obviously sees himself as anything but polite. He’s an outsider, a rebel. In fact, he is… salsamuffin. This is helpfully explained in the song “Yo Soy Salsamuffin”, where Spanish toaster Supa Bassie sums up the salsamuffin genre: “CUMbia, RAGga, DANCEHALL con SON!” And since he is salsamuffin, Garcia continues, he lives on the corner, he is Tomorrow, and he is Culture. In the French rock song “Chacun Son Combat” (“Everybody Has Their Battles”), he’s a freedom-fighter, hunting “Nazis nostalgiques” and railing against the multinationales that confuse art and money. In other songs he dreams of better tomorrows, where everyone loves and sees beyond the horizon and dances like it’s their last dance. Imagine if Theodor Adorno wrote Disney princess songs.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Recent (ahem) Jukeboxing

Raiders of the X-Crossed Ark

Here are some of my recent blurbs from The Singles Jukebox, which continues to inform and delight. Click on over there and read what other people wrote, too!

Bon Iver - "Holocene"Nice drumming, I guess. Justin Vernon seems like an upstanding Wisconsin homesteader, but his fans speak a different language, or are ruled by different physical laws, or something. I learn from Pitchfork that “Holocene” is a “virtuosic vocal performance”, when in fact Vernon sounds like Peter Gabriel trapped in a cistern. Christianity Today loves his “rich soundscapes” and impressionist poetry, his “palpable vulnerability and reliance on love’s redemptive power”, but I’m pretty sure they hear that stuff everywhere, and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t move me even if Vernon suddenly learned to enunciate. “Hydroponics lifestyle” mag Rosebud says the Bon Iver album makes you “stop what you’re doing and just let your jaw hang” — well, that makes sense. Teen Vogue says the album’s “incredible”, if you can believe it. Most endearing is my wife’s fraternal magazine Pan Pipes, which called the album “a recommended listen if you’re looking for something new and relaxing”, but did complain that the song “Wash” is “a bit too much at times”, with “many things going on at once”. I eagerly await their feature on K-Pop.

Rihanna - "Cheers (Drink to That)"It’s about time somebody captured the depressing slog that is obsessive barhopping. Your mind’s always on your money, everybody just sits around complaining about the bastards at work, and some idiot keeps singing the same line from that stupid Avril song OVER AND OVER. Cheers to the freakin’ weekend.

X-Cross - "Crazy"During my first hapless attempt to transcribe “Crazy” I became convinced I’d uncovered a murder, John Travolta Blow Out style. Coming out of the first verse I heard Mr. X-Cross say, “Hey girl, sexy girl! Dehdehdehdeh deh- deh- DEAD girl!”, and suddenly everything became clear. THAT’S why people are getting shot in the prechorus, and why that damn Crazy Frog voice keeps mocking X-Cross’s lovelorn entreaties as “CRAZY!” It especially explains why X-Cross hit their lovelorn peak singing, “We can make it out, baby, you and I” — the only way they escape this song together is in a closed casket. The lovely pop!gasa website informs me my transcription’s a little off, but even the pop!gasa translation features eyes getting wider, legs shaking, hearts exploding, people turning into dynamite. In 1981 movie terms, it’s the next-to-last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. So, yeah, bom-bas-tic.

Pitbull ft. Marc Anthony - "Rain Over Me"So many good lines! Not in this particular Pitbull song, mind you, but in Mikael Wood’s wonderfully droll Pitbull article in June 17th’s Billboard. He really takes you behind the sausage. “‘We wanted somebody to embody our brand who’s one of a kind — who’s a real pioneer,’ Dr. Pepper director of multicultural marketing Olivia Vela says,” right before Wood lists Pit’s other partnerships with Kodak, Zumba, Sheets Energy Strips (??), and “Voli, a line of low-calorie vodkas” prominently name-checked in “Rain Over Me”. Says one DJ of Pit, “This guy is printing money.” But lest you get too cynical about the music, Pit’s manager assures you, “This was never about calling up RedOne and scheduling an appointment to hook into the RedOne sound.” Yeah — that’s why RedOne’s track for “Rain Over Me” sounds so LATIN. On the other hand, it’s sort of impressive that this inevitable smash, featured on The Today Show, is the bilingual tale of a diet-vodka pitchman who has a threesome with his buddy, recently separated and desperate, and some anonymous but classy broad. It’s the kind of surreal scuzz Warren Zevon might’ve gotten away with. How far we’ve come.

Ke$ha - "Shots On the Hood of My Car"This starts as standard-issue, if pretty, transgre$$ion — K goes joyriding with her friends and jumps the fence to the Hollywood sign, just like when she snuck into the Stones concert with Harold. Only this time — what else? — she’s consumed with a vision of Garveyite apocalypse. She’s 10 miles (or wherever) from the city, watching (Hollywood) Babylon burn, just like Louie Culture and Capleton and U-Roy before her, only with no hint of judgment; she’ll be blown into oblivion with everybody else. All the burbling polyphonic euphoria at the end sounds so communitarian, it’s easy to forget all those suffocating suckers downtown who aren’t blessed with friends and Scotch. But that’s OK — this is the apocalypse from inside the Scotch-haze, and as such, it chokes me up. And here’s the other me-choker: How long can she keep this up? Where “this” equals “exploring wildly different facets and implications of a coherent persona”? I suppose the end-times imagery might be a portent that she’s running out of ideas, because where can you go from there, but at this point point I’m holding my breath with every new Ke$ha song, and “Shots” makes it feel really good to exhale.

HyunA - "Bubble Pop"The beat is hard and severe like a row of brick walls, and HyunA’s job is either to squeeze between each pair of walls or, if she’s on a roll, to soar over the top of the walls and contain them, as though she’s being unfurled by Christo. Also there’s a dubstep interlude. None of this adds to the beat’s forward momentum, but all of it adds to the song’s energy, by turns invigorating and herky-jerkily frustrating, not unlike a real game of Bubble Pop! with a child who INSISTS on always being the bubble-blower and never the bubble-chaser. You know the contortions you gotta put yourself through to contend with one of those bubble guns? “OOH! AHH! OOH-ah-ooh-AH! ooh-AH! OOOOOOOHHHH” sounds pretty close.

Blake Shelton - "Honey Bee"I’d say he misunderstands the particulars of honeysuckle fertilization, but he backs off: “That came out a little Country / But every word was right on the money.” Of course, that contradiction flies in the face of the recent Corbin-Paisley hypothesis that Country Must Always Speak Truth About True Things. My sensible and, it turns out, eight-months-pregnant wife is now explaining to me about poetic license. Herself no stranger to lies about bees, she once suffered a debilitating sting WHILE HOLDING STILL.

The comments thread for Blake's nothing of a song erupts into a conversation about country music and The Voice, largely between Anthony and Brad and Katherine, that is one of the most entertaining things I've read this year.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Sheep & Goats: CDs by Thi'sl, Richard Smallwood, Brad Paisley and others are WORTH IT...


My latest Sheep & Goats column at the legendary Burnside Writers' Collective raves on Christian rapper Thi'sl, Henri Pousseur, Rev. Richard Smallwood, the Drive-By Truckers, Brad Paisley, and Ke$ha's Ke$chatology. They would all make for a very strange mixtape. Since I dig it so much, here's the Thi'sl review in full:

Beautiful Monster
(X Hustler)
Besides all the Jesus talk, there are two basic differences between Thi’sl’s stupendous slap of ghetto noise and comparable epics from Jeezy or Gucci: 1) no cussing, and 2)-count-’em-two Momma songs. Good call — Momma songs sound even better amid a bunch of music that Momma would HATE. There’s a lot of ugliness here, especially in the first half, more ugliness than the bigger-name Christian rappers on Reach Records allow themselves — beats built from gunshots and guttural “HUNH!”s, layers of synth screams offset by chimes and theremins and all sorts of melodramatic hokum. Even Thi’sl’s chorus hooks revel in his worldly trappings: “Let them guns go POW!” “Money! Money! Money! Mo’… / Trynna stack that paper from the ceiling to the flo’!” This is radical stuff for holy hip-hop, but it’s also loose and refreshing, not at all concerned with toeing somebody else’s imaginary line of acceptability.
Over all this noise, X-hustler Thi’sl rasps out gritty details, bloody bodies in the streets and babies searching through rubble for their Moms. His mission is letting brothers and sisters know he’s legit — a tactic that gets old pretty quickly when Rick Ross uses it — and then showing them that Jesus is the way out. And here’s the great thing: that contrast actually helps him aesthetically. It mixes up the light and shadow in his songs, lets them breathe. When the martyrs in his crime stories proclaim, “I signed up to DIE,” their freedom speaks louder than their bravado.
This is Christian music that comes out of the trenches, like Holy Soldier: “We born in the ghetto, we raised in the ghetto / They call us rock stars ‘cause we wave heavy metal.” Thi’sl speaks to the unchurched first, and if the choir wants to listen — well, he won’t wave his heavy metal at them, at least. He might even make them rethink the value of those nihilistic Jeezy and Gucci epics. Like, maybe those secular guys aren’t merely reveling in their hustler tales. Maybe they’re showing us how the hopelessness of the hustle is wrapped up with the revelry, depicting why it’s so easy to get sucked into the game. At its best, gangsta rap is nihilism that lays bare a nihilistic real-world system. It sounds exhilarating, and it can make you feel like some sort of amoral superhero. And Thi’sl’s music is ultimately different for one reason: he found a Way Out.