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Cloud Nothings “Attack On Memory”

Cloud Nothings

“Attack On Memory”

[Carpark; 2012]

Rating: 8

Steve Albini is the Greg Popovich of music (or vice versa).  This comparison goes beyond the obvious fact that they are both curmudgeons whose impenitent honesty has been known to ruffle feathers over the years.  While both have been hugely successful, they both enjoy downplaying their impact.   Albini has been known to insult the bands involved with some of his best work as a producer. He said the only reason he worked with Nirvana on “In Utero” was for the money, and he once called his work on “Surfer Rosa” with The Pixies “a patchwork pinch loaf from a band who at their top dollar best are blandly entertaining college rock”).  Popovich isn’t one to mince words either, victimizing the people who have helped seal his place in basketball history: the media, the league, and his players (he’s quoted as once saying of his best player “Tim Duncan doesn’t have to say much. I haven’t liked him for a long time”).

But what truly ties these men together is not their venomous assault on anything and everything – it’s their ability to take the one-dimensional and make it multi-faceted.  Popovich has been successful at this for years, making defensive players offensive threats (Bruce Bowen), picking players late in the draft that others have ignored and helping them become all-stars (Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker), or culling players from the depths of the D-League/CBA and making them productive cogs within his basketball machine (Jaren Jackson, Gary Neal).  Albini has  worked much in the same manner, helping bands refine their sound and then blow it up with distortion.  Despite both entering the second half of their life, they continue dominating their field. Popovich’s Spurs are currently 3rd in the Western Conference with an aging Tim Duncan and a sidelined Manu Ginobili, and Steve Albini’s fingerprints are deeply pressed into every nook and cranny on his latest work with Cloud Nothings.

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Menomena “Mines”



[Barsuk; 2010]

Rating: 7.5

Last week sports writers began releasing their mid-season picks for front-runners in the NBA’s yearly awards races. The hot names of the season were featured on everyone’s lists (Blake Griffen, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Tom Thibodeau).  What you won’t find on these glorified popularity contests is one mention of the San Antonio Spurs. Despite having the best record in the NBA, you won’t see any Manu Ginobili’s for MVP, no Gregg Popovich for Coach of the Year, no Richard Jefferson for Most Improved Player.  Yes, once again the Spurs are the elephant in the room that somehow continues to get no respect. I guess that’s what you get for being perpetually good.

The same can be said for Portland-based band Menomena.  Menomena came out with “Mines” in 2010, and despite critical praise, I have yet to find it on any year end lists. Then again, I can’t point fingers.  I got “Mines” back in August and listened to it one time. Once. And the one time I gave it a chance it was at 6:30 in the morning during my morning commute (that’s code for “zombie drive mode”). As a result, my response was “Eh”. Not hate, not love, just “eh”.

Then a couple of weeks ago I ran across a news story saying that mulit-instrumentalist Brent Knopf was leaving Menomena.  It didn’t strike me as shocking because of Brent Knopf – I don’t know who he is nor do I know how much influence he had on the band’s music – but the sight of the band’s name made me realize, “Holy crap. Menomena came out with an album last year.”  I’d completely forgotten about “Mines” after my driving-dead listening session.

Last weekend I gave “Mines” my second listen, and midway through the first track “Queen Black Acid” I wanted to pound a pick ax through my skull.  How had I let this golden nugget slip down the shaft? Maybe it was the year of incredible music that overshadowed the subtler sounds of Menomena? (At least that’s what I’m telling myself.) “Mines” isn’t going to beg you to explore and enjoy it’s confines like their last effort “Friend and Foe” did, pulling you by the shirt tails on a rumpus amusement ride. This time around, you have to commit to entering it’s dark corridors with an open-mind and a focused ear.

And once I gave it the attention it deserved, a new world opened up to me as “I walked right in through the rabbit’s door and walked right into the rabbit’s hole” (“Queen Black Acid”).  In their past work the band has succeeded at presenting multi-faceted songs filled with surprising twists and turns.  The twists are still here, but you’ll miss your turn if you’re not paying attention, whether it is the spooky owl hiding behind the stalactites of “Dirty Cartoons” or the endless echoing reverb of “INTIL”. It’s no longer about finding the next way to embellish a song; the band’s focus is now simply on the song (the rest is only there to fill in the shadows).

How did “Dirty Cartoons” not make my Best Tracks of 2010 list? I’m ashamed:

It’s not just the music that requires you to focus. Menomena’s lyrics on “Mine” are filled with strange imagery and emotional confessions that most would hide away in their inner catacombs until death. Take “Tithe” for example, a song that at one moment is both hilarious and unique with Justin Harris singing “spending the best years of a childhood horizontal on the floor like a bobsled minus the teamwork and the televised support” and then moments later as you think it’s all fun and games he shifts gears, ominously repeating “and nothing sounds appealing”. But Harris is at his most heartfelt and candid on “Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such a Big Boy” where he battles with old age and a cold heart:

“I’m not so brave
and I fear, oh I fear, I’m showing my age
All my life I’ve run away
from those who’ve begged me to stay
All your love is not enough
to fill my half empty cup”

I now realize I shouldn’t be upset with the talking heads of the basketball world.  Just like me with my first listen to “Mines”, they see highlights of the Spurs and think “Eh”, but if they’d give them the attention they deserve, they’d see the genius that is Gregg Popovich, the creativity that is Manu Ginobili, and the rock solid asfsf that is Tim Duncan. Once I listened to this album the way it was meant to be heard, I realized that Menomena has created a solitary confine for listeners to hide within for 50 minutes. Let’s just hope that all Brent Knopf is taking with him is his multi-instrumental playing of the cowbell and the kazoo.

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Best/Worst Rap Moments in NBA History

I love this time of year. Not because of the blossoming blue bonnets or the serene South Texas weather. No, I love it because it’s playoff time, more specifically – NBA playoffs.  I know the majority of America despises the NBA and its gangsta, free-styling flare, but I dare anyone to find as much passion, teamwork, and pride in any other professional sport.

In any honor of this momentous time of year, I decided to scour YouTube in search of the NBA’s musical talent.  I quickly discovered that beyond David Robinson’s robotic saxophone/piano playing, Vin Baker’s semi-soulful voice, and Wayman Tisdale’s smooth bass lines, most of the NBA’s stars explore their musical interests in the world of hip-hop.

Despite his Weather Channel stylings, Wayman was the shit.  Mad respect (1964 – 2009):

I decided to re-focus my blog, looking only at the rappers who have graced the professional basketball courts over the years. As I searched, listening to horrid rap after horrid rap about cross-over dribbles and jump shots, I realized rapping and basketball mix like oil and water (although some believe Rashad McCants is a true talent; I just don’t see it).  Despite this lack of real MC skills in the NBA, I did find that some of the lyrics had me laughing and decided all was not lost.  As a result, I give you, the top ten worst/best rap moments in NBA history.

10. Allen Iverson “A6” commercial

10. A.I. is single-handedly responsible for the downfall of the NBA. Before The Answer (ironic), the NBA was filled with family friendly All-Stars who presented themselves as athletes first (although Karl Malone had some strange truck-driving fetish).  Look at the roster of the 1991 Dream Team and try finding an unlikeable guy (Christian Laettner doesn’t count).  I know A.I. wasn’t the first tattooed bad-boy of the league, but it was his thug life mentality that changed the public’s perception of the Association.  Before Iverson, athletes were able to hide their past behind a glossy, publicist-made image. But A.I. flaunted his jail time and troubled past unapologetically.  With Allen’s perpetual chip on the shoulder, other incoming players clinged to the gangsta persona and soon the league was riddled with a sea of corn-rows and blood-shot eyes.

This commercial for shoes perfectly reflects the mind-set of the NBA during this tumultuous time.  My favorite moment in the song is when Allen begins to rap, starting off with the line, “Trying to build a team, I’m the player you need.”  Really?! The guy who is notorious for missing practice? The guy who, at various points in his career, has refused to play in games? The guy who demanded to be traded from every team he ever played for? The guy who said he’d rather retire than come off the bench?  (You get my point…)

9. Rasheed Wallace “Untitled”

I love Rasheed Wallace, and I’m not sure why. Most of the players that I enjoy in the NBA are the straight and narrow guys who respect the game (Tim Duncan, Chauncey Billups, David Lee), but there is just something about Rasheed.  I guess it comes down to his passion. With all his attitude and anger, he holds nothing back – verbally or physically.  Even in this rap song, you can tell there is passion within his words. Sure, they aren’t the most poetic verses, but Rasheed is fully committed. The song may even be passable if it weren’t for the shoddy production value. The bass line sounds like the music from the Atari game “Pitfall”, and the vocals are muffled.  This is the case with much of the NBA hip-hop I found.  With all the money these dudes make, they can’t splurge on a producer?  With some handy work in Pro-Tools, Rasheed could have a hit on his hands in the form of a song called “Both Teams Played Hard”.

8. Brian Shaw “Anything Can Happen”

This track put me in awe. Brian Shaw was never seen as a thug. In fact, if you were to choose a player off of the 1990s Lakers that would be most likely to become a rapper, the straight-laced Brian Shaw would come in last (yes, even behind Vlade). Instead of ruling the streets as he claims in the song, Shaw is now an assistant coach for the Lakers, always sporting a suit on the side-lines. A rapping coach? Yes, Brian, anything can happen. While most rappers talk of their mom being addicted to crack or their dad dying in a gun fight, Shaw opts to describe how his family died in a car crash. Now that’s gangsta.

7. Shaquille O’Neal “Tell Me How My Ass Tastes”

Shaq is the most successful recording artist in NBA history (notice I didn’t say “most successful rapper”).  While most of his songs are harmless fun, I find the most joy in this clip that gained popularity a few summers ago. In it, Shaq disses Kobe a week after the Lakers got embarrassed by the Celtics in the finals.  The famous line of the song is “Kobe, tell me how my ass tastes”.  On face value, this sounds like a twist on “kiss my ass”, but there is so much more going on here. This is The Big Aristotle afterall.  Let me break it down for you: Shaq either hooked up with Kobe’s wife or one of his mistresses (rape victims not included).  This female, whoever she was, tossed Shaq’s salad at some point. As a result, when Kobe kissed her at a later date, he was in a sense, tasting Shaq’s ass…I didn’t say the outcome was pretty.

6. Tony Parker “Freestylin”

There are tons of videos online of Tony Parker’s rap offerings, but I had to choose this freestyle session during the 2005 Championship celebration due simply to nostalgia for happier times as a Spurs fan (I take joy in the fact that Steve Nash left the series this year looking like the Toxic Avenger).  I was actually in attendance to see this performance live, but all my friend John and I could hear in the upper deck was “voo le voo le voo le voo le voo!”  Watching the video now, I realize we heard his rhymes correctly. Rapping in french must be pretty easy considering every word seems to end in an “ooo” sound (I’m offending french-men everywhere).  In this case, Tony Parker’s embarrassing performance is saved by Brent Barry’s dance moves…

5. Jason Kidd “What the Kidd Did”

“What the Kidd Did” starts with whispering vocals pleading, “They wanna know!” and I agree – we do want to know. To be more specific, we want to know what the hell Jason Kidd is. With skin the tone of silly putty and his hairless features (I swear he has alopecia) it is hard to decipher what J Kidd is.  Black? White? Sea Monkey? If he does have some black in him, there must not be much of it in him due to his complete lack of rhythm and soul for that matter.  It’s almost like he’s trying to prove he’s a homeboy, but with lines like “I’m like a high school tutor”, it’s hard to give Kidd the street cred he’s begging for.

4. Kobe Bryant and Tyra Banks “K.O.B.E.”

Who is more arrogant, self-serving, and unlikable than Kobe Bryant? You guessed it: Tyra Banks. This song is the ultimate match of egos, combining their overbearing, haughty grandeur to form the ultimate alliance of arrogance. I’m not sure who’s worse on this track. Kobe sounds like he has marbles in his mouth (or the taste of Shaq’s ass), yet Tyra’s sing/talk approach resembles a possum being eaten alive by maggots.  The downfall of both these shit-bags is the fact that they will always be striving to be America’s sweethearts, but they will invariably be despised by the majority due to their pompous, presumptive, pretension (alliteration is in full effect).

3. Chris Mills “Sumptin’ to Groove To”

Never heard of Chris Mills? Well, based off his lyrics you should have. He boasts “I’m a big ball player, a nice rhyme sayer”, but in actuality he’s neither. He never  had “a nice jay” and rarely did he “dismiss opponents”.  He was a bench player, plain and simple.  The fact that he wrote an entire song boasting his greatness is straight up laughable.

2. Ron Artest “I Cry For Mike”

Ron Artest rapping about Michael Jackson’s death? Wow. It doesn’t get much better than this. In this tribute, Artest connects with Michael on the fact that they’ve both dealt with controversy. Punching fans during a game seems a bit different from sexually assaulting kids, but then again, maybe I’m being picky. The fact that he refers to MJ as “my nigga” throughout the song is also questionable, considering the fact that the King of Pop was actually white when he died. Maybe “Michael your my whigga” would have been more fitting.

1. 1987 Lakers “Just Say No!”

When the Lakers were presented with the idea to perform “Just Say No!”, they should have done exactly that. There is not a moment of dignity in this classic that makes “The Super Bowl Shuffle” look respectable. The song gets better and better as it goes, even pulling in a choir of children near the end. When Magic jumps into the mix, I can’t help but think of all the unprotected sex he must have had the night before.  This clip gained the number one spot due simply to one moment. Near the end of the song, as the record scratching goes wild,  Kurt Rambis tosses a baby in the air.  Now that is having something in common with Michael Jackson.

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