Archive for April, 2009

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 12

For the new music recommended in March, click here.

Hard to believe it, but this is the 1 year anniversary of the “What I’m Hearing” posts. Last April, I embarked on a mission to bring quality music, both mainstream and not, to readers looking to expand their musical vocabulary beyond the monosyllabic songs pumped ad nauseum from radio towers across the nation. As has been the trend, this month is no exception to the rule as I found a good number of fantastic new artists. As always, all of these artists can be found on iTunes for purchase. This month’s iPod update consisted of 63 songs spanning hip-hop, DIY and electronic. Enjoy!

Brother Ali, The Truth is Here: Originally introduced to the underground hip-hop scene by Slug of Atmosphere, Brother Ali has worked with producer Ant and had his albums released by hip-hop stalwart Rhymesayers. A converted Muslim and Caucasian albino, Ali frequently faced questions of his race early on due to voice, delivery and moniker. On The Truth is Here, his fourth studio album, Ali uses alternatively jazzy and bumping Ant produced beats to explore issues of race, social and economic divides and his adjustments to life in light of his growing success. While 9 full length tracks, this album is billed as an EP preceeding a full album release to come this fall. One thing is certain, the disc doesn’t listen like an EP. Thoughtful, introspective and lyrically deft lyrics keep the listener entertained while Ant’s production of top-notch songs outshines the cookie-cutter beats saturating mainstream hip-hop. Ali’s style varies from aggressive spitting on tracks like “Philistine David ” to laid back delivery on the album’s opener, “Real As Can Be.” Beyond all of this, Ali’s scope encompasses a variety of questions with universal significance. When he asks, “Can you tell me, what language do you laugh in?/The human reaction of smiles and cries/what language are the tears when they’re falling from your eyes?” it is not a question intended to divide in the style of Babel, but rather to point out the similarities we share as humans. An intelligent, varied and musical foray into hip-hop. Don’t Sleep On: “As Real As Can Be,” “The Believers” (feat. Slug) and “Good Lord.”

Filastine, Dirty Bomb: Formerly a member of ¡Tchkung! out of Seattle, Grey Filastine, upon the break-up of the group, has gone on to explore global sounds in experimental electronica. On his February release, Dirty Bomb, Filastine mashes glitch, hip-hop and industrial with sounds from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, including cameos from overseas musicians. The textures are dense and layered, sheets of sound that have no one city of origin, making this album a true global citizen. Hand drums, zithers and traditional chants find themselves side by side with throbbing bass lines and electric blips, all finding their places here in the hands of a producer adept at finding harmony between cross-cultural sounds. While some of the tracks can become repetitive, the majority are well fleshed out and driving. In “Singularities,” the beat is built up, deconstructed and then slammed back down in grimy fashion, an example of excellent production that runs throughout the album. Don’t Sleep On: “Singularities,” “Strategy of Tension,” and “Bitrate Sneers.”

Harmonic 313, When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence: Under the pseudonym Harmonic 313, producer Mark Pritchard has released an album of spacey and electronic music. Interesting about the tracks here is that they range greatly from straight ahead ambient electronica to tracks that sound like J Dilla beats blended with Kraftwerk’s Trans-Atlantic Express on acid. Using sonic pulses, computer blips and beeps and thick bass, Pritchard crafts an album that sounds almost entirely machine created, as if a hard drive rather than a human is behind the composition. Even vocals go hardwired on “Word Problems,” where a children’s spelling computer game serves as the spoken medium. Don’t Sleep On: “Call to Arms,” “Falling Away” (feat. Steve Spacek) and “Köln”

Peter Björn and John, Living Thing: Following a two year hiatus after 2005’s Writer’s Block, punctuated only by a digital only release limited to 5,000 US copies in 2006 (Seaside Rock), PB&J have returned with the March release of their 5th full length album. It has been a busy 4 years for the group as they climbed the ladder of musical notoriety through the ubiquitous hit “Young Folks.” They’ve gone on to be featured on hip-hop mixtapes and make all sorts of late night talk show rounds. While there are no comparable tracks on this album, it nonetheless provides more of the same feel. Tracks range from optimistic up-tempo to slow and melancholy utilizing various levels of production quality. The positive is that the success of “Young Folks” hasn’t spawned an album of copycats. These are original and show the trio expanding their sound, bringing in slightly more electronic drum programming at points. The album’s clear winner, “Nothing to Worry About,” is an about-face from “Young Folks,” female vocalist replaced with a chorus of distorted children at full volume and a funky bass line complimented by drums echoing off the inside walls of the song. A solid outing without going stale. Don’t Sleep On: “Nothing to Worry About,” “Just the Past,” and “It Don’t Move Me.”

Röyksopp, Junior: Big since their debut album in 2001, the fittingly titled Junior is only the 3rd release from Röyksopp in 8 years. And, given the shift in style between Melody A.M. and The Understanding, what happened next was of a great deal of interest. Turns out, the duo has managed to find a middle ground between the two, with various tracks exemplifying the more mellow and sugary aspects of Melody (“Happy Up Here”) and the more polished and electro-heavy Understanding (“Röyksopp Forever.”) The album retains the precision and vision of the duo’s work, bringing in female vocalists, chill melodies at times and electric tweaks that made “Eple” so popular. Don’t Sleep On: “Happy Up Here,” “Vision One,” and “Silver Cruiser.”

The tUnE-YaRds, Bird Brains: DIY. A term that, in an age of bloggers, home studios, and rising costs in all sectors has come to be a badge of honor and distinction. But there’s DIY music, and then there’s the unreal, experimental and phenomenal Bird Brains from The Tune-Yards (capitalization varies depending on site), aka Merrill Garbus. If what I’ve heard is true, Garbus crafted this entire album using small recorders and computer programs available through shareware. The result is a gritty, honest and surprising album that takes lo-fi to a new level. With a distinct and quirky voice, Garbus backs herself with drums and percussion sounds like something being slammed against a hard surface, ukulele and an entire arsenal of found sounds like kids playing in a park, birds chirping outside a window and conversations with a child. At times, the recording equipment’s range is tested as you can hear it clip, but this only adds to the allure of the tracks. Take Björk, mix her with Seu Jorge’s acoustic live recordings for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and then juice the entire blend with a sense of creativity large enough to view the world around it as an instrument and you have the Tune-Yards. Nothing is out of bounds here. Spoons on glasses, discussions of blueberries, and steps on wooden stairs are just some of the interesting sounds turned music. One can only hope that follow up efforts will be equally beautiful in their range and direction. Don’t Sleep On: “For You,” “News,” and “Little Tiger.”

So that’s it for April. Chubb Rock and Wordsmith, new Del the Funky Homosapien and a ton of other new music is coming in May, so stay tuned, and keep your listening intelligent.

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Lonely Island’s “I’m On A Boat” (ft. T-Pain) = Stress Relief

Man, people are really freaking out right now. Recession, swine flu… Yes, there is a lot going on right now that you can get stressed out about. But do yourself a favor and take a deep breath. Now, exhale (just not on me).

Sometimes we need to remember to relax and not take everything so seriously. Sometimes it helps to watch a Lonely Island music video. Especially “I’m on a Boat”. Now take a walk down that big blue watery road and chill the #*$& out.

Slang Metaphor or Stupid Misogyny?

[Disclaimer: The following is a lyrical discussion and analysis that looks at gender roles, gender attitudes and diction choice within hip-hop in general and Aesop Rock‘s song “Daylight” in particular. If you are uncomfortable or in any way close-minded to an honest dialogue about any of these issues, please do not read any further. The full text of the lyrics to the song are at the bottom, and a link to the song is here, should you want to examine and listen for yourself.]

I sent out a quote yesterday and was surprised to see a Twitter follower I had conversed with many times on a variety of subjects unfollow me as a result. As I had blocked out the profanity in the lyric, I was curious as to what prompted the disconnect. Her response when I asked what happened was:

“I didn’t want to read misogynistic rap quotes on my Twitter, like I don’t get those messages everywhere else. :P”

A pretty harsh thing for me to hear, especially given that I try to take a good deal of care in acknowledging that my audience comes from all backgrounds and walks of life and I like to be, unless consciously trying to be otherwise, non-offensive to the widest cross-section possible. I think what I should start with first, when about to engage in a discussion of this extent, is a simple definition… let’s look at the accusation of the quote:

Misogyny: hatred, dislike or mistrust of women
Misogynist: a man who hates women

At this point, you must be wondering what kind of filthy, horrendous, patriarchal and utterly degrading line I must have sent out. Surely something along the lines of the song that I love to hate, “superman dat ho” or the massively inappropriate and inescapable club track “Lollipop.” These are songs that show some serious hatred and lack of respect for women. The quote:

“Life’s not a bitch, life is a beautiful woman, you only call her a bitch ’cause she wouldn’t let you get that p***y.” – Aesop Rock

And it got me to thinking… what about this quote is misogynistic? For starters, the quote isn’t about a woman or women at all. The lyric is based on the popular metaphor, “Life’s a bitch.” Now, the argument can certainly be made (and I would agree) that this popular metaphor is misogynistic. It’s a colloquialism used to equate the negative parts of life with a derogatory term for women derived from the noun for a female dog. This is, of course, if you choose to take the word literally. Some would argue that the movement to slang of the term (see “bitchin'” as a good thing) softens that blow, but for the purpose of this analysis, we’ll assume the harsher meaning is implied.

So to start we have a misogynistic metaphor for life as the basis of the lyric. It’s a negative and pessimistic metaphor, but one could argue that in the context it is most often used, it looks more spitefully towards life than towards women. Of course, going back to the “harsher meaning is implied” baseline, the implication would be that the phrase is hateful to both life and women equally.

However, in the quoted lyric, the misogynistic (i.e. hateful) message of the metaphor is flipped. Aesop in this line is not saying life is a bitch, he’s saying the exact opposite: that “life is a beautiful woman.” In the song, his anger is reserved for those that don’t treat life with the respect it deserves, and therefore by extension of the lyric, the respect he feels women deserve. He mentions “the result’s a lowlife counting on one hand what he’s accomplished,” and his greatest disdain comes at the end when he’s asked by someone who hasn’t seized their life if he has seen their “little lost passions” and he responds, “yeah, but only when I peddle past ’em.” In these lyrics, Aesop is hateful not to women, but to those who disrespect their life enough to call it a misogynist term.

Of course, we have to look at the full quote as my reader saw it, and it does end with “she wouldn’t let you get that p***y.” I’ll point out here that in my quotation, I did and continue to block out the majority of that word as I recognize it as one that can be felt and interpreted in a pejorative context. Were I to have no sensitivity to the use of the word, I would have written it out. While it is simply street slang for “vagina,” it does have a derogatory connotation that was clearly recognized in the censoring. The intent of the use of the term becomes the question, and for that it is a case of context.

Were the lyrics to be referencing a woman or sex, the word would most certainly be misogynistic in value. However, the word here is tied to the earlier metaphor and in this case used to denote the joys and pleasures of life to someone who is complaining of their failure to achieve and experience them. At this point, it becomes a question of an individual’s personal feelings towards the word, but also more importantly their feelings towards the context and how they interpret the author’s use. The thought that gnaws at my brain is whether this person read and understood the quote as Aesop Rock meant it, or if simply seeing that word was enough to cloud the meaning of the rest of the quote for her.

It also brings to mind the question of Twitterability. When limited to 140 characters, is it smarter to stray away from something that takes too much explanation? Keep in mind, in order to respond to the accusation of misogyny I had to step far outside 140 so I didn’t come off as disrespectful of her concern and opinion. “All due respect, but I think you’re wrong,” isn’t the path to a clear and open communiqué. The quote, especially when coupled with the chorus of “All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day/put the pieces back together my way,” has always left me feeling hopeful, respectful and fervently energetic towards life.

Would the quote have made more sense and been therefore less offensive had the entire stanza gone out?

“Life’s not a bitch, life is a beautiful woman,
you only call her a bitch ’cause she wouldn’t let you get that p***y –
Maybe she didn’t feel y’all shared any similar interests,
or maybe you’re just an asshole who couldn’t sweet talk the princess.”

With the next two lines, the before ambiguous intent of the original quote becomes more clear. By addressing the person who is calling life a bitch as an “asshole who couldn’t sweet talk the princess,” the entire context of the p-word is altered. Not only is life a beautiful woman, but in the second portion life gets upgraded to princess. Revered as such (again – life, not women – must remember we’re talking metaphor here), that the asshole would set such a crass, base and lustful goal devoid of any real commitment is in the end disrespectful only to himself because it is the foundation of his personal failure. The lack of commitment is furthered by the “sweet talk” nature employed, rather than a serious and respectful approach. While the metaphor is life as female, if one were to want to examine them in the context of relationships, my analysis would be that Aesop Rock here is promoting a respectful and thoughtful approach rather than the commonly held hip-hop view of women as objects.

Unfortunately, a simple breakdown of that stanza and the reasons why I don’t feel it should be taken as misogynistic may only scratch the surface of this reader’s reaction. It is a direct interpretation of the words and the way I analyze their meaning within the song, grammatically and metaphorically, as ones that do not promote hatred of women. While this is literal and I believe to be analytically correct, it does not take into account the entirety of my education and therefore the possible reason this quote might have been viewed negatively by my reader. In the larger picture of Feminist theory, it could be the very personification of Life as female, thereby ascribing gender, that my reader read as misogyny.

Within a language construct framed by patriarchy where gender is indoctrinated in the way we learn to speak, delving to the deeper reading of the basic articles can be beyond the thought of some. But it’s there, this grammatical gender divide, every day, from the things we teach children to the way we address our possessions. Take for example Mother Nature and Father Time. Or simply the way someone talks about a car saying, “She’s a beauty.” A car is an object and yet is often referred to as a female object.

I’m not bringing this up to get into a drawn out explanation of how the very influential nature of gender within the English language helps further shape and extend ideas of patriarchy (which it does.) I bring it up merely to demonstrate that even if the quote is taken as a positive description of life and the respect that it deserves in the form of a “beautiful woman” and “princess” as opposed to being viewed as “bitch,” another perspective found in Feminist theory would view it as, at the least questionable, and on the other end despicable, that life needed to be tagged with the gender to begin with.

Finally, I’m left to wonder whether, knowing all of this, and recognizing that I had thought it out to such an extent, this particular person would have still unfollowed me. Would the recognition of the censorship and perspective that I take all of these theories into account brought deeper thought about what those 140 characters contained? Who knows. But I’m glad it got me thinking this evening. I hope it did the same for you. And maybe, just maybe, upon depth and analysis added to the quote, I might even convince my lost reader to follow me once more.

One thing did sting… the passing off of Aesop’s lyrics as rap. Of course, while Aesop Rock is certainly of the rap and hip-hop genres, I think most people would agree that his lyrics have more in common with poetry than what you expect to hear on a rap album. Here are the lyrics to “Daylight.”

“Put one up for shackle-me-not clean logic procreation.
I did not invent the wheel I was the crooked spoke adjacent,
While the triple sixers lassos keep angels roped in the basement,
I walk the block with a halo on a stick poking your patience.
Y’all catch a 30 second flash visual
Dirty cooperative med platoon bloom head-trip split ridiculous
Fathom the splicing of first generation fuck up with trickle down anti-hero smack. Kraken.
I pace me game for zero hour completion cretin, splash.
Duke of early retirement picket dream,
American nightmare hogging the screen.
I’ll hold the door open so you can stumble in if you’d stop following me ’round the jungle gym.
Now it’s honor; and I spell it with the ‘H’ I stole from ‘heritage’
Merit crutched on the wretched refuse of my teaming resonance.
I promise,
Tempest tossed bread with a bleeding conscience
See, the creed accents responsive but my spores divorced the wattage.
And I’m sleeping now (Wow!)
Yeah the settlers laugh…
you won’t be laughing when your covered wagons crash,
you won’t be laughing when the buzzards drag your brother’s flag to rags,
you won’t be laughing when your front lawn’s spangled with epitaphs,
you won’t be laughing.
And I’ll hang my boots to rest when I’m impressed ,
so I triple knot ’em and forgot ’em,
His origami dream is beautiful but man those wings will never leave the ground,
without a feather and a lottery ticket, now settle down.

All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day, put the pieces back together my way.

Slacker bound intimate tabloid headline with a pulse shimmy ‘cross the centerfold,
Enter dead time engulfed; divvy crumbs for the better souls,
When 7 deadly stains adhere the blame to crystal conscience,
the result’s a lowlife counting on one hand what he’s accomplished.
Link me to activism chain, activate street sweep,
Plug deteriorating Zen up in pen dragon
I hock spores coursed by the morbid spreading of madmen (Alley Gospel)
Sinking your Lincoln log cabin and Charlie Chaplin waddle
I could –
Zig, Zag, and Zig ’em again before the badge gleam sparked in my brick wall windows,
Another thick installment of one night in Gotham without the wretched
‘Houston we have a problem,’
Attached to the festive batch of city goblins
Who split holiday freaks on a box cut cinema high road bellow;
head gripped watch red bricks turn yellow.
Sorta similar to most backbones at camp Icarus
where all fiddler crabs congregate and get pampered for bickering.
Life’s not a bitch, life is a beautiful woman,
you only call her a bitch ’cause she wouldn’t let you get that p***y.
Maybe she didn’t feel y’all shared any similar interests,
or maybe you’re just the asshole who couldn’t sweet talk the princess.
Kiss the speaker wire,
Peter pacifism peggin’ threshold
Stomach full of halo kibbles,
Wingspan cast black upon vigils,
Here to duck hunt ticker tape vision and pick apart the pixels.
I got a friend of polar nature, and it’s all peace
You and I seek similar stars but can’t sit at the same feast
Metal captain
This cat is asking if I seen his little lost passions,
I told him ‘yeah, but only when I peddled past ’em.’

Pepper Announces Remix Contest Winners

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Pepper has been a very busy band lately. In between being on tour with Pennywise and releasing their new live album, Kona Gold (on Law Records), they’ve been reviewing the 50 remixes that were made for their “Freeze” Remix Contest. Well, the results are in and Pepper has picked the winners. Big ups to IceHouseIndustries, Brendan Dane, and Santiago for their superb remixing skills!

IceHouseIndustries is the grand-prize winner, and will get to hang out with Pepper at their next show in sunny socal. He will also receive a copy of AmpliTube Fender and the T-RackS 3 Deluxe Mastering Suite from IK Multimedia. If you haven’t heard his remix, it’s a sophisticated blend of soulful and laid back sounds tied together with a driving electronic groove. His remix was definitely our favorite, and you can listen to it here. IceHouseIndustries is a very prolific remixer, and has a vast catalogue of remixes for you to enjoy on his website.

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The 1st runner up prize goes to Santiago, who threw a fat hip-hop beat over Freeze and turned it into a warm hip-hop jam that he rapped and sang over. Check out his remix here. The 2nd runner up prize goes to Brendan Dane, who cranked up the dub effect in his layered and trippy Freeze n’Dub remix. While the contest is over, you can to listen to all of the remixes, whenever the mood strikes, in the MixMatchMusic gallery.

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Grooveshark – Listen & Be Listened To

For Fans

For Artists

It’s my favorite way to stream music. In my opinion, way better than Pandora. Groovesharkers can browse through their library of music, add music they find to their streaming “queue” or “auto play” letting Grooveshark pick their upcoming music based on their choices. The best part is that streamers can “favorite” the music they like and come back to it another time or add it to a play-list. Another great feature is the ability to share music links through various social networks like twitter. Way cool. Beyond streaming, Grooveshark hosts an artist section that focuses on “do it yourself” (DIY) and emerging bands getting their music played. Here’s how…

They Create and Convert Fanbases

Grooveshark Artists gets your music to the ears that matter. Choose similar artists and they’ll play your music after they get played on Grooveshark, thus creating fans organically via Autoplay. At the same time, why not target them with an ad every time your music is put on?
Quality Control
It pays to be honest. Once you’ve targeted some artists to match up with your music, fans start hearing your music. If your targeting was inaccurate, inappropriate, or simply bad, fans will vote it down -automatically taking the tune out of rotation. Play nice and get fans, play mean and get nothing.
Appease Your Inner Control Freak
If you’re as compulsive as they are at Grooveshark, you’ll love that no detail of your music life goes overlooked. Edit both your own metadata as well as metadata from fan-uploaded files. Keep album art in check. Submit lyrics. You can even sell your music + merch on tons of their partners’ sites.
Blending AdWords and Radio

Grooveshark employs a very simple song placement technology to ensure that you’re heard by those who already dig your style of sound. Promoted tracks– whether country, jazz or rock– will only be played after the artists within the genres you select.

Ads as Calls to Action

Almost every musician throughout the world performs at concerts, sells merchandise, and needs potential fans to actually listen to their music. With Grooveshark, not only are standalone ad campaigns sold at a discount to artists, but they’re provided free of charge alongside any ‘Get New Fans’ campaigns.

Goodies Galore

Embed your tunes with a widget on every website you love. Get short URL links directly to your songs. Watch your buzz grow with the easiest (and newest) way to keep your digital life grooving. Tinysong, Twisten.FM, Widgets, and Facebook ShareSong allow you to do all sorts of cool things–at no cost. They’ll take care of everything.

Give it a whirl, test it out, let Grooveshark know what you think!! In the mean time, I’d like to share one of my play-lists with you.

Happy Earth Day 2009

What would you do to help?

Royalty-Free Samples from Prime Loops

Exclusive Loops from Prime Loops

Do you ever find yourself searching far and wide for high quality, royalty-free loops that you can use in your music? If so, Prime Loops will most likely have what you’re looking for.

Prime Loops is a music production team based in the UK that meticulously crafts audiolicious loops and stems for you to use in your songs and remixes. They make pristine loops in almost every genre and format imaginable, and package them into libraries of fat and flexible samples that you can instantly download after paying a few bucks. After that, they’re royalty-free, which means that you can use them in anything you want, at no extra cost. You can even use them in songs that go on actual CDs, if that’s your kind of thing.

To give you an idea of how silly dope these loops are, Prime Loops and MixMatchMusic have partnered to bring you an exclusive set of loops on MixMatchMusic. They’ve uploaded over 50 loops for you to listen to, mashup, and get down with. Each loop is intricately created and individually mastered. Download them from MixMatchMusic, and if you need more, go to Prime Loops’ website and check out their massive collection of loops, tutorials, and studio tips.


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