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Swet Shop Boys “Cashmere”

Swet Shop Boys

Cashmere

[Customs; 2016]

Rating: 8

It is officially time to start wetting our pants – Donald Trump will be the President of the United States in mere months. The thought of that orange faced, mentally ill galoot running the most powerful country in the world is reason enough to be nervous, but his hateful rhetoric of bigotry and oppression has been even more appalling. Expressing this panic and anxiety as a white man feels a bit like empty venting in comparison to those who actually have something to fear in the Trump dictatorship.

Enemy #1 seems to be anyone of Muslim descent. Threats of a Muslim registry and even internment camps have already been floated by the Trump camp, and one can’t help but feel helpless to a Republican majority that might just appease the mad man’s wishes. Swet Shop Boys, a hip-hop duo comprised of Heems and Riz MC (both of Muslim descent), might just be the soundtrack of angst and hope that we have all been looking for in these trying times.

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Mike Watt “Hyphenated-Man”

Mike Watt

“Hyphenated-Man”

[Clenchedwrench; 2011]

Rating: 7.5

Mike Watt has finally found his way back home. 25 years ago his friend and band mate D. Boon died, and ever since this punk rock Odysseus has been on a quest, venturing out away from the familiar environs of The Minutemen and their 2-minute bursts of punk rock anthems.  While he’s produced some pretty unique and interesting albums along the way (both solo and with his band fIREHOSE), nothing ever came close to the shores of The Minutemen’s distinct sound.  To clear his mind and heart of those experiences, he’s said in interviews that he couldn’t bring himself to even listen to Minutemen albums for over 20 years.  It seems Watt needed some time away with his thoughts, years and years to find out who he really was without his skipper by his side.

In 2005 when The Minutemen documentary “We Jam Econo” came out, Watt finally had to face his past.  In what he describes as a therapeutic experience, Watt returned to those albums that made him who he is today (“Double Nickels On the Dime”, “Post-Mersh”, etc). This experience must have brought him ease. Not only is his latest album “Hyphenated-Man” jam-packed with 30 two-minute songs in the vein of classic Minutemen, but Watt made the conscious decision to write the entire album on Boon’s old guitar.  As a result, you can’t help but feel the spirit of Boon hiding within the ether of reverb on tracks like “Wheel-Bound-Man” and “Antlered-Man.”

“Antlered-Man”: 

But “Hyphenated-Man” isn’t simply a “return to form” album.  Watt used the songwriting process as a way of analyzing himself, not only about who he was as a young man with the Minutemen, but also personal demons he’s faced over the past two decades, whether it be marital issues or his life threatening infection in early 2000.  In the same way Sufjan Steven’s used the art of Royal Robertson to analyze his own life on “The Age of ADZ,” Watt found his muse in the paintings of Renaissance artist Hieronymus Bosch.  Exploring the grotesque depictions of heaven and hell in Bosch’s paintings, Watt pinpointed characters he found within the imagery and wrote songs about 30 of them, each representing another fragment of Watt himself.

The New York Times did a great slide show looking at some of the images that inspired Watt:

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/02/27/arts/02272011_WATT.html?ref=music

As a result of this exploration of Bosch’s artwork, the track listing for the album resembles a roster of end bosses to a Mega Man game: Bird-In-The-Helmet-Man, Hollowed-Out-Man, Finger-Pointing-Man, Frying-Pan-Man, Shields-Shouldered-Man, Cherry-Head-Lover-Man. I could go on and on with this list of men to bring my point home, and you would think my 1980s video game quip would end there, but it doesn’t.  On the first listen, before I’d even looked at the song titles or researched background on the album, I found myself thinking that the songs sounded video-gamey.  Yes, I just used the adjective “video-gamey”.  Not “epic”, not “catchy”, not “brash”. Video gamey. This is album is so video-gamey I couldn’t help but wonder if a member of The Advantage had joined forces with Watt.  Just take a listen to the following few tracks and try telling me you don’t get the itch to play some “Contra”:

“Funnel-Capped-Man”:

“Confused-Parts-Man”:

“Beak-Letter-Holding-Man”: 

“Own-Horn-Blowing-Man”:

“Fryingpan-Man”:

As a result of this video-gamey quality to the songs, I’m a little up in the air with some tracks.  By the time you get around to “Man-Shitting-Man”, track 29, you might feel the same burnt out reaction to playing 5-straight hours of “Castlevania.”  While the short bursts of energy don’t feature the same pop-sensibility that Minutemen pulled off so well (probably what D. Boon brought to the table), there is still enough fun surprises here to keep you listening.  Without the comparison to his work with The Minutemen, I have to respect Watt’s effort here. “Wheel-Bound-Man” brings it all home, creating a final image of a painter, holding all the characters in his hand. Watt is the artist, looking back at all his creations, found within himself, and he is finally setting them free after all these years.

My favorite moment on the album, “Wheel-Bound-Man”:

(Final Note: How great would it be if someone created a 30-level game set to Watt’s music on “Hyphenated-Man” a la Mega Man?  It could be called “Mega-Watt” and it could have a little Watt running around shooting lasers from his bass while his music blares in the background. This is probably the best idea I’ve ever had.  Who wouldn’t want to see a face-off between Mega-Watt and Man-Shitting-Man?!  I’m thinking along the lines of what Sabzi did for Das Racist’s “Who’s That? Brooown!”  .   Unfortunately I don’t have the skills to make this happen. If you’re interested in pursuing my idea, let me know and I’d be glad to post your creations on BDWPS.com)

This is just a glimpse of what could be with just a little help.

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Top 100 Tracks of 2010 (50-26)

 

50. “Real Love”

Delorean

For a song that is supposed to be about “Real Love”, it sure has a bittersweet sound. The lyric “Will we ever meet again?” doesn’t help things.

 

49. “Bang Pop”

Free Energy

I had a summer love relationship with this song. I couldn’t get it out of my mind; I listened to it any chance I had.  But now, I can’t stand the sound of it. I destroyed my adoration by loving it too much. It should probably be higher on this list, but my current feelings for it have hindered its position.  Like the Delorean song “Real Love” discussed at #50, maybe this song and I will meet again five years from now and our love will be rekindled.

 

48. “I Used to Do”

Clogs

The Clogs 2010 release “The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton” is all over the place. One song features what resembles a choir of whooping birds, another is a simple folk song featuring Sufjan Stevens, and others resemble baroque love serenades. Despite all these textures, my favorite song is the most unassuming. “I Used to Do”, an instrumental swell of sound, catches you when you least expect it and builds off of that emotion. Don’t be surprised if you hear this in an episode of “Friday Night Lights” next year.

 

47. “Heaven’s On Fire”

The Radio Dept

The introductory audio of Thurston Moore raging against “the bogus capitalist process” would lead you to believe you are about to hear either a passion-fueled punk rock song or an ambient build-up a la Mogwai. But neither happens. Instead, out of Thurston’s rant arises a happy-go-lucky love song about Heaven being on fire.  This combination boggles my mind…yet I love it.  Maybe it comes down to the fact that Thurston’s dream won’t happen until Hell freezes over, so we might as well love like Heaven’s on fire.

 

46. Joanna Newsom

“Good Intentions Paving Company”

While Joanna’s 2010 release was a little self-indulgent (3 CDs!), it has its moments with “Good Intentions Paving Company” being Joanna at her best: great lyrics about the journey of a broken relationship, Newsom’s endearing, warbling voice, and a melody that survives the eight minute journey unscathed.

 

45. “Who’s that? Brooown!”

Das Racist

A song dedicated to another song?  It would have to be a pretty damn good tune to deserve such recognition. Well, it is. Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” to be more specific.

44. “It Happened Before Our Time”

Jeremy Jay

“It happened before our time.  They disguised themselves as pirate invaders. They set out to sea and threw their love lockets overboard, as the salty air sweeps their hair.” Now that’s a romance novel I’d read.

 

43. “Fot i hose”

Casiokids

When I was eight I would have liked this song because I would have thought the bass line sounded like a dwarf farting….wait – that’s why I like it now.

 

42. “Let Spirits Ride”

Black Mountain

Somewhere Rob Halford is smiling.

 

41. “F Kenya RIP”

Highlife

What? You think this song is simple and repetitive?

Then why are you still listening to it?

And now you’re singing along to it?!

Hypocrite.

 

40. “Texico Bitches”

Broken Social Scene

This would have been the #1 song in America if they’d only gone with “BP Bitches.”

 

39. “Younger Us”

Japandroids

I like to listen to Japandroids because their energetic punk rock anthems brings me back to my carefree youth.  And now they’re singing about the yearning to be young again? Double whammy.

 

38. “I Walked”

Sufjan Stevens

“I Walked” is an auditory “choose your own adventure” book.  You have two options: be happy or depressed. If you choose to be depressed, listen to the lyrics of a  man walking away from a relationship knowing that without his lover he’ll be lost and won’t get very far.  Or you can choose to be happy by listening to this sugary-sweet pop song and block out the lyrics by shouting, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!”

 

37. “No Barrier Fun”

Liars

“No Barrier Fun” is about a man (or a beast), trapped (or hiding) in a basement (or a dungeon).  He hears (or imagines) the footsteps of a girl (or a woman), which makes him decide to emerge (or escape) from his dark hell (or heaven) to meet (or murder) her.

 

36. “How I Got Over”

The Roots (featuring Dice Raw)

Over the past few years a lot of bands have been trying to recreate the funk/soul sound of the 70s, utilizing a variety of retro-recording techniques and employing large horn sections.  Then in one full swoop The Roots come out with their own recreation of the classic sound with “How I Got Over”, and in the process they show everyone else up.  If that won’t lead you to not giving a fuck, I don’t know what will.

 

35. “Let’s Go Surfing”

The Drums

Having your song featured in a commercial is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it gives you the opportunity to gain new listeners that you may not have reached otherwise. On the other, you alienate those who love your music by beating your melody over their head and cheapening their affection. For me, the endless loop of “Let’s Go Surfing”s whistling on car commercials has moved me to revulsion, when only months ago I couldn’t get enough of it.

34. “Machines”

Mason Jennings

My favorite documentary of the year was probably “180 Degrees South”, although I’m not sure how many other documentaries I actually saw in 2010. Throughout the film, glimpses of Mason Jenning’s “Machines” emerge, but the big pay-off comes when Doug Tompkins reaches Patagonia only to find that industrialization has scarred the majestic terrain. The lyrics support this message with Mason singing an outro of “The machines are gonna cut us down!”

33. “Butt-House Blondies”

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Of any song this year, “Butt-House Blondies” is the one I sang the most around my apartment. Not a day goes by that I don’t stroll around my humble abode singing, “Butt-house Blondies! She used to care!”  For the first month, my roommate would always ask what song I was singing. Eventually, he figured out it was Ariel Pink and learned to ignore me. But one day he returned to his questioning ways asking, “What is a Butt-House Blondie anyway?”  I hadn’t thought about it.  Then, after reading the lyrics of “She used to be a square at 16; now all she knows is she can breed” I figured it out. This song is about Jodie Foster’s character in “Taxi Driver”!

32. “Excuses”

Morning Benders

“Excuses” has a dreamy, innocent 1950s sound, but I doubt Ricky Nelson ever sang about taping his “tongue to the southern tip of your body.”

31. “White Sky”

Vampire Weekend

What if instead of Africa, Paul Simon recorded “Graceland” in Super Mario World?

30. “Answer To Yourself”

The Soft Pack

I recommended this album to you back in June, and I also included the same video clip below for the best song on the album “Answer To Yourself”. If you still haven’t bought The Soft Pack’s 2010 release, you can answer to yourself why you’re so lame.

29. “Pimpin’ Chipp”

Method Man, Ghostface, Raekwon

Me, me, me, me, me. These days, that’s all rap is about…that is except for the members of Wu Tang who still understand the art of the narrative.  In “Pimpin’ Chipp” the three MCs create a comical story of a pimp, his hoes, and a run-in with Ray Charles.

28. “Real Life”

Tanlines

When Michael Vick wins the MVP this year, I’m hoping NFL films has the foresight to play “Real Life” over highlights of him.  Just look at the lyrics and tell me this isn’t Vick’s swan song in 2010:

“For a minute I was lost,
I looked away
Trouble was, I was alone,
Trouble was, I was alone.
You might think I’m still that way.
It’s only natural
It was a past life thing-
It was a past life thing-
It wasn’t anything at all.”

27. “Castles in Snow”

Twin Shadow

“You’re my favorite daydream. I’m your famous nightmare. Everything I see looks like gold. Everything I touch turns cold.” So yeah, not only does it sound like a 1980s song, but its lyrics could have easily been pulled from the journal of “American Psycho’s” Patrick Bateman.

26. “King of the Beach”

Wavves

I like to sing along to this song, but I change the chorus lyrics to “Bash at the Beach!” and giggle to myself, imagining this as a theme song to an old WCW pay-per-view.

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Future of the Music Video

I thought the age of the music video had passed us by.  I understand that you can still view videos on the web, but the days of music television are obviously long gone.  The ancient classics like “Headbanger’s Ball”, “120 Minutes”, and “Yo! MTV Raps” have since been replaced by “Jersey Shore”, “Teen Mom”, and “The Hills”; each being equally devoid of both music and intelligence.  But this isn’t a blog about the cesspool that is MTV and VH1.  This is about a new day in the genre of the music video.

Simply putting video footage to music is no longer going to cut it.  Just like any other web gem, it now requires that the video have a buzz about it; something that is going to keep viewers coming back for more, until the song has been engrained into your brain.

OK Go wouldn’t be around anymore if it wasn’t for their ingenious video “Here It Goes Again” which utilizes the art of the treadmills. It’s basically a poor man’s Jamiroquoi:

In the past couple weeks two bands have emerged with a new approach to the music video format that may revive the dying art form.  Last week Arcade Fire released their interactive video for “We Used to Wait”.  In the personalized video powered by Google Chrome, you are prompted to enter the address to your childhood home and then go on to watch as clips of a hooded stranger running to the beat are spliced with swooping Google Earth images of your old stomping grounds (unfortunately, my childhood home is located in an area of the United States that Google Earth seems to ignore, so I was forced to enter other addresses I’ve lived at over the years).

Soon after, a blank canvas appears, and you are asked to use your mouse to write a message to your younger self. As you write, the letters magically transform into a tree like font with branches sprouting for crows to perch upon (I would like to believe these are time traveling messenger pigeons).  By the time I first watched/interacted with the video, I’d already heard the song “We Used to Wait” and the album “Suburbs”, but I had never really felt the same bond I had with Arcade Fire’s “Funeral”.  But when I entered this video/journey/reflection, I found myself connecting with the lyrics on an entirely new level. By the end of the experience, I gained a better understanding of myself and my past; something I never got from old Radiohead videos, as visually stunning as they may have been.  The experience forced me to return to “Suburbs” and give it a much more reflective ear, eventually finding that the album is just as intense and thought-provoking as anything the band had done prior. I don’t know if that connection with the album would have ever happened without the interactive experience.

Try the video out here (if it doesn’t work, you’re probably from Northwest Iowa):

http://www.thewildernessdowntown.com/

I understand that all bands don’t have the funding or connections to create a Google Chrome Experiment, but Das Racist’s latest interactive video proves it doesn’t take the assistance of Google or the help of Pixar to move into this new form of media.   For their song “Who’s That Brooown”, das Racist created a playable Nintendo style video game that references classic NES games ranging from “Frogger”, “Elevator Action”, “Tetris”, “Double Dragon”, and “Skate Or Die”. I’ve never been a fan of Das Racist, but just like the “Super Mario” theme is forever running through my mind,  by the level two fight scene in the subway, Das Racist’s fun lil’ diddy was already running on a loop in my head. Not only is the song catchy, but it works as the perfect background to the tongue-in-cheek nostalgic gameplay. In fact, their lyrics of “Larry Bird”, and “Mel Gibson” even add more depth to the retro-experience. Through the game, I found a new appreciation for the band’s 80s nostalgic lyrics and old school beats.

You can try the unbeatable game here:

http://dasracist.net/whosthatbrown.html

Or just watch the video that shows all the various Nintendo-inspired scenes:

A simple music video is no longer going to cut it. All the Christopher Walken cameos and bootie shaking will not be enough to draw the attention of our easily distracted masses. What Arcade Fire and Das Racist have done goes beyond creative marketing; this is about connecting with your audience on an entirely new level.   I used to love the music videos of Beck, Radiohead, and Bjork because they were either funny, thought-provoking, or mind-boggling, but never did they take the piece of music to a higher level, to take it beyond the television set.

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