Friday, March 23, 2007

Album Review: Jesu - "Conqueror"

I seem to have reached a point in my life where I'm comfortable enjoying the indie rock I learned to love in college as well as the fuzzed-out, pedal-stomping grunge I loved in high school. In high school my favorite bands were basically the ones with the crunchiest, most drop-tuned guitars. I loved Hum, I loved Nirvana's early work (I remember sitting listening to "Sliver" for hours on end, I remember exactly how the carpet felt, pressing against my face while I laid there, transfixed), I loved Jawbox. The new Jesu album (Jesu is Justin Broadrick, former guitarist of Napalm Death) is lighter, in ways, than anything he has done before. It's abysmal yet poppy. I listen to it and, if I ignore the demonic swirling keyboards in the background and pretend that the crunchy guitars are acoustic, it could be as influenced by the Beach Boys as anything. It's hooky, hummable, and catchy - in short, it's nothing I had expected. BUT. It's still 99% dropped-"D" tuning, and fuzzier than a muppet baby. In short, it sounds like Hum. And god almighty, I loved Hum.

Justin's lyrics seem more druggy than ever (or maybe more enlightened, and I'm just less evolved than he). "Conqueror," the aforementioned new album, boasts several songs that have only a few words over the course of 8-10 minutes. The title track, for example, basically repeats "The colors...will always be with us" for the majority of 8 minutes.

If you have iTunes and you like ambitious metal, download "Conqueror." At least try the title track. It's eight minutes of what doom metal could be if it could only stop taking itself so goddamned seriously and learn to appreciate the value of basic song structure. It's doom with hooks. And that's pretty much what I have been waiting for.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"You would tell me if I was crazy, right?": The new El-P album is better than you've heard.

I've been reviewing "I'll Sleep When You're Dead," the new album by one of my favorite Producer/MC's, El-P, for a couple of days now, and its effect is really just settling over me. The first impression is jus how bombastic the damned thing is. El-P has said "this is like a psychedelic Boogie Down Productions record," and he wasn't lying. The drums, the cuts, the soundscape in general just calls to mind old-school hip-hop, but it so filtered, chopped up, and generally murderized that it's obviously not a product of any time but now.

The first two songs that El released to the public, "EMG" and "Flyentology," are the songs that I find least interesting. "EMG" because I've had the song for so long (you could buy it on the Def Jux site starting last July), but "Flyentology" just because it's the most lethargic and least new-sounding of the tracks on the album. El said he set out to make an album that would surprise people and defy expectations - "Flyentology" is exactly how I would have expected the new El-P to sound. Don't get me wrong, it's still a technical marvel, just like every track El produces. But the real surprises are elsewhere. "The League of Extraordinary Nobodies" is my favorite moment on the album, an extremely personal look at how using cocaine can basically eat away at your social circle (you have to hang out with others who use, you never know if someone's really interested in you or if they just want to get high, etc.) and leave you surrounded by drug zombies that you shouldn't and don't trust. A lot of people I love have fought drug addiction at some point and I heard some things in this song more honest than anything this side of Elliott Smith. These lyrics are representative of the album - almost embarrassingly sincere, it's painfully honest.

"I've been noticing the fact that nothing glorious can happen anymore
we run a gambit of our filth
but here I am again, pretending spontaneity exists
with idiots all lifted out their little gills
aren't you disturbed that everything you did tonight
is something that you did before and it's meaning is still nihl?
and all the people in your presence are just weapons
it's as simple as the theory that the dying love to kill."

Not to mention that on a very, very basic level, the beat for "League of..." is one of the most gorgeous sonic compositions I have ever heard in my life. Pianos, synths, horns, screwed-down breakbeats, live studio audience laugh tracks, double-time cymbals, and 808 kicks swarm in and out. The song crescendos at the end. As El asks off-handedly of his listener "You would tell me if I was crazy, right?," all hell breaks loose and what sounds like a french horn run through about 80 effects pedals spazzes out all over the track. The whole experience of this song (especially if you have dealt with this situation in your life) leaves you exhausted, and then something really wonderful happend.

"Poisenville Kids No Wins," featuring Cat Power, arrives. This is the album's dawnbreak moment. The whole thing has gotten extremely dark by this point, and when Cat Power's voice lilts "Nevvvvveeeerrrr aaaaaaaagain...," it just feels like morning.

I've heard a lot of lukewarm and some moderately enthusiastic reviews of the record, but it's better than you've heard. For me, it's the first essential rap album I've heard all year. Granted, I buy like one album a week and it's impossible to keep up with everything, but I've just been left cold my the crack rap/Clipse-mania of recent. I personally just need to hear a little more insight from my rappers than nine million variations of how to cook crack.

The album has an emo quality, I'll admit. It's like a journal entry at times, but fuck, I like reading other people's journals.

"This is stuff that I find hard to discuss
how the fuck do you explain your self-destruction and
still remain trusted?"

The album comes out March 20th, please buy a copy and support independent music.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Great NY Mag story on Kal Penn

The more I learn about Kal Penn, the more excited I am about seeing The Namesake on Sunday. New York Magazine has a great piece on him, revealing that he's currently lecturing at colleges on "Media, Race, and Representation." This from a guy who, in his biggest film to date, got a cheetah stoned and rode it to White Castle. You can't judge a book by it's cover. Here's the NY Mag story.

Friday, March 09, 2007

It's Official: March 9th is Samuel L. Jackson Day in Shreveport, LA

(Note the little kids dressed up as flowers, spelling out "Samuel Jackson." Welcome to the Twilight Zone, people.)

Samuel L. Jackson's surreal visit to a Shreveport, LA Head Start educational program was well-covered by local media. You can read coverage by Alex Kent of The Times here, and see a few of Times photog Shane Bevel's great photos here. But the stranger-than-fiction fact that almost no one is mentioning is that newly-elected Mayor Cedric Glover actually proclaimed March 9th "Samuel L. Jackson Day" in Shreveport, LA (KTBS covers it here). This is amazing news, and should be celebrated as such. We need to celebrate this day in the future with Big Macs ("A Big Mac's a Big Mac, only it's le Big Mac"), $5 milkshakes, gangster suits, s-curled afros, and pistols. Or maybe just the first two will suffice.

I attended Mr. Jackson's appearance and I have to concur with some of my friends in the local media that the event was poorly conceived and executed. There was literally no security at the event (I, for example, just walked right in - pretty scary considering that this is a pre-school we're talking about), but the poor planning didn't keep the event from being amazing, weird, beautiful, and quintessentially Shreveport in every way. The strangest moment came when a dozen or so children dressed up as flowers lined up in front of the stage and sang Samuel L. Jackson a song ("If I Was A Little Daisy"). Weird moments were peppered throughout Jackson's speech, which was fairly brief and off of the top of his head. For example, he cautioned a group of pre-schoolers to "stay out of prison." Pre-schoolers.

I'm including a link to The Robinson Film Center's Flickr account, where you can see some of the photos I took at today's event and more, if you're interested. You kids stay out of prison!