Archive for the 'concert reviews' Category

First Ever Live Music Festival Webcast on YouTube: San Francisco’s Outside Lands

Outside+Lands

There has been a lot of talk lately about live music. Some of us have noted that concert sales are thriving despite the recession, and there seems to be almost a revival of festival-going going on. The Taking Woodstock movie is coming out, which is sure to conjure up some nostalgia and fuel some fires that have been laying dormant. One of the more notable festivals on the West coast is definitely San Francisco’s Outside Lands, which is taking place this weekend.

For those of you who live in or have ever been near the Bay Area in August you know it’s a big deal. The historic Sunset District of San Francisco plays host to this 3 day festival in Golden Gate park, which includes an incredible lineup spanning just about every genre and showcasing both big names and lesser known gems.

Fans who were looking forward to the Beastie Boys headlining will have to shake it off and get excited about Tenacious D jumping in instead. Hopefully, M.I.A. will be able to do the same. She was none too pleased about the change.

In addition to being highly interactive and social media friendly, Outside Lands has taken it a step further and is going where no concert has gone before. It is being broadcast live on YouTube! While we’re doling out the accolades, let us also mention that they are doing their part to keep it green.

Planning on going? Have you seen all the tools out there to help you get organized? First of all, you can stay up-to-date via twitter. (Please note that it’s a “twitterbot for people going to Outside Lands Fest. Send tweet to @osl to broadcast back to everyone following osl.”) Also, you might want to download the iPhone app, try using Ranger Dave’s Magic Scheduler, or hop on to CrowdFire (a place to add your photos, videos, and tweets.)

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Blue Scholars to be Re-Released on Duck Down

I received an email today announcing the release of Bayani Redux. When I saw this, I was under the impression that we were going to get a release of B-sides and remixes for the sophomore album by Seattle based Blue Scholars, Bayani. For anyone who has followed Evolving Music for a length of time, you’ve seen the concert reviews and album reviews for the duo of Sabzi and Geologic (aka Prometheus Brown.) And yet, I still find trouble reconciling myself with how talented they are and how little mass exposure they have. Granted, some of the best music falls through the cracks and gets chewed up by the massive grinder of the music industry, but I hold out hope that the word of mouth on some of the best underground artists will reach surface and flip the industry on its head.

I feel like the music industry is caught in a bad dream. That dream where you keep running, turning corners, opening doors, all to get away from something, and yet you can’t. Every time I turn on the television or flip through the radio dial, it’s like I’m opening a door in the dream and finding myself in the same place, listening to recycled music from the past twenty years, sometimes infused with a new trick like auto-tune, sometimes not. But people keep buying, and therefore, labels will keep re-packaging. This is an old rant of mine, but one that came back to the surface after reading the release details for the second coming of Bayani.

When Rawkus Records released Bayani on June 12th, 2007, it was the second album from the duo and one that promised an enormous amount of future material based solely on the progression of the artists between it and their eponymous debut. However, in reading the re-release article, I come to find that only 20,000 copies of it have sold. That’s 10,000 per year in the two since its release, which averages out to about 28 albums per day. That’s not too bad, until you think about the fact that Flo-Rida probably averaged 28 single downloads per minute for his crap and the current iTunes chart topper is Miley Cyrus.

What do you need to do to expose people to good, quality music these days? 2007’s Bayani is a far stronger album than Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, yet that went Platinum with 1,000,000 sold in just three months and we’re talking two years later at 20,000 for a better hip-hop CD. Is it the lyrics? Are lyrics with depth and intelligence, as pushed out by Geologic and the majority of his underground counterparts, too much for radio listeners? Is it that any variety making a beat sound like something you haven’t heard in every Top 10 song for the past 5 years is frightening? Personally, I’m not sure. But what I can tell you is that while Kanye West walks around making an ass out of himself with all of the money the pop-hypnotized public gives to him, quality artists like the Blue Scholars are trying to figure out where the inspiration for and money to produce their next album will come from.

So do yourself a favor. Turn off the radio, stop watching MTV, and do something other than Shazam the latest club track you heard last night while you were drunk off your ass. Check out Indiefeed, your local independent record store or any vast number of music blogs and resources online and find something new, something different, and in many cases, something more artistic.

Bayani Redux comes out with three previously unreleased tracks on September 1st.

MixMatchMusic Artist Update

Summer concerts are in “full steam ahead”, “pedal to the metal”, “all systems go” phase at this juncture of the earth’s trip around the sun. Festivals are in full swing and summer concert tours are movin’ and shakin’. Speaking of, two MixMatchMusic artists in particular are sweeping the nation, rasta styleeee. John Brown’s Body and Slightly Stoopid are showing these fine states how summer can really be enjoyed, just chillaxin. I had the pleasure of checking out both in the last two weeks. Observe…

John Brown’s Body

John Brown’s Body took over Federal Hill at the 8×10 Club in Baltimore. The house was packed with people of all ages. No joke, I saw a variety of teens, 20 somethings and a handful of parental units decked out in tie dye having a blast. The crowd was friendly, excited and down to bounce to rasta beats. I gotta give it up to the opening act, Passafire who incidentally have a couple of local VA/MD boys in the band. I downright dug their style. It was more of an upbeat, rock/punk/particularly reggae mix. Each song was pretty different so I can’t really put them in one complete category. The keyboardist especially had a ton of energy, as did the whole band. They were a great set up for John Brown’s Body who completely blew me away as well. I was pleasantly surprised by how full their sound was. The band includes a trumpet, sax and trombone player which would bring great vibe to any venue. The lead singer has a captivating voice that puts you into a trance. Also, I’ve never seen a dude half bald, with dreads, kill a mic. I highly suggest checking out this tour if it comes to your city and you like reggae in the least bit. Find future dates HERE. They’ll even be in the UK!!

John Browns Body in Federal Hill, Baltimore

John Brown's Body in Federal Hill, Baltimore

Passafire, killin it!

Passafire, killin' it!

Slightly Stoopid

I’ll go ahead and say it, I’m stoopid for these guys. (Sorry, I had to go there.) I’ve been streaming them a lot lately and honestly, I’m digging the 2am remixes. But, uh, back to the lecture at hand, the Blazed and Confused tour, a whole different scene from the previous concert attended. First of all, the concert was at a beautiful outdoor venue tucked away in the trees of Colombia, MD called Merriweather Post Pavilion. LOVED attending a concert there. They had a great variety of drinks, food and entertainment on top of the actual concert. There’s a club on site for 21+ to get away and grab a drink as well as a music themed pinball arcade, waaaay cool. Second, I’d say the average age was a bit lower than what I’m used to. Slightly Stoopid/Snoop/Stephen Marley, keepin’ it real with the young’ins! As usual, Marley started it off with a crucial reggae style set to open the show. Then… Snoop D-O Double Gizzle hit the mic. He did a bunch of old school stuff which was exactly what the crowd (and myself) was hoping for. Also, Lady of Rage got on the mic and did an Afro Puff segment. Totally took me back to the good ol’ 90’s. Definitely a highlight of Snoop’s set as well as his official smoke break.

Blazed Individual

Blazed Individual

Snoop D-O Double G

Snoop D-O Double G

Slightly Stoopid came on stage with quite the set up. They had 2 large skulls on either side of the stage, lit up totem polls, a hazy Polynesian night themed backdrop, and an array of lighting that gave off a pretty stellar stony ambiance. The crowd was diggin’ their vibe and they often kicked it up a notch with some punk. These San Diegans definitely know how to please a stony crowd. Also, it’s pretty cool that they are headlining the tour.

Stoopid Set Up

Stoopid Set Up

Slightly Stoopid Set Up

Slightly Stoopid Set Up

Slightly Stoopid, kickin it up a knotch

Slightly Stoopid, kickin' it up a knotch

Enjoy the rest of the ’09 summer concerts! Please, you’re welcome to post your comments especially if you’ve checked out either or all of these artists!

Remix Slightly Stoopid in the “Blazed and Confused at 2 AM Remix Contest”

BlazedTourBanner

If you haven’t heard yet, there is a phenomenon happening right now that warrants your immediate attention. King of the West Coast, Snoop Dogg, has teamed up with San Diego’s genre-bending Slightly Stoopid for a mind blowing collaboration. They’ve thrown modern reggae great (and son of Bob), Stephen Marley, and seedy pop newcomer, Mickey Avalon, into the mix too. What we have here folks is the Blazed and Confused Tour (don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook). Here’s a little sneak peek:

Rick Florino of Artist Direct notes that at the Irvine show “Snoop closed off a fantastic set chanting ‘Peace and Love.’ There was something very ‘Woodstock’ about the whole set… There’s no segregation at a Snoop Dogg show and he delivers something for everybody. What’s more rock n’ roll than that?”

Each of these artists/groups has a unique sound and message, and yet their vibe and mindset is one and the same. Bob probably summed it up best with “One Love.”

As part of the tour, Slightly Stoopid is hosting a remix contest for their song 2AM, a summertime reggae classic that will sooth your soul! Slightly Stoopid has loaded the stems to 2AM into MixMatchMusic’s Remix Wizard, and now all you pro and amateur musicians (and even nonmusicians) have the chance to create your own kickass remix of the song and share it with the world.

You have two options for making a remix: you can download the stems for free and use any software you want; or you can click on the MixMaker button on the widget to make a remix in MixMatchMusic’s simple online music editor. If you’ve never experienced remixing before, or just want to see how 2AM was made, check out the MixMaker! Either way, make sure to you upload your remix to the widget so that others can listen to, vote on, and share it. The contest starts July 15, 2009 at 2:00 AM and ends August 21, 2009.

There will be ONE winner picked by Slightly Stoopid, who will receive:

A set of the new Slightly Stoopid branded headphones, an autographed Stoopid poster, 2 tickets to the next Slightly Stoopid concert in your area, a limited edition Slightly Stoopid branded glass pipe, CDs of Slightly Stoopid’s entire discography & Chronichitis vinyl, and the Slightly Stoopid Live in San Diego DVD! Also – the winning remix might be posted for streaming on Slightly Stoopid’s Website, MySpace, thesixtyone, and Facebook (subject to Slightly Stoopid’s approval). Not bad, eh?

To get your creative juices flowing, here’s the official video for 2 a.m. Roll yourself a blunt and have a look and a listen. Then, enter the Blazed and Confused at 2AM Remix Contest here.

Best of the Live Acts

While fans will listen to CDs, turn on talk shows and read reviews to get to know more about their band, one of the most important facets of the music industry for any group is the live concert. Not only is it one of the largest revenue streams for artists, above the music royalties (although, if you think about it, this is about as twisted as paying 16M a year to Barry Bonds while a teacher or fire fighter makes under 100k), but it’s one of the most seminal ways for an artist to grow their reputation and fan base. Of course, what you hear on a CD that has been produced, mixed, mastered and tweaked by any number of sound professionals isn’t necessarily what the group will be able to present during a live performance, so it makes the judging criteria even tougher for listeners.

Take Hip-Hop for example. 75% of all hip-hop shows I have seen are garbage. Rather than fully rehearsing songs, artists will perform the first verse, maybe two of a song before launching into the next radio single. More often than not, the back-up singers are there because the rappers constantly forget lines and need someone to fill in the gaps for them. Furthermore, rather than put on a show that gets the crowd moving and dancing through sheer enjoyment of the music, most artists will constantly fall back on crowd gimmicks, “Put your hands in the air, wave them back and forth,” and other involvement tools of that nature, forgetting that if they rip the microphone, the audience will do what it feels, which is way more important than having them wave one finger in the air.

But Hip-Hop isn’t the only genre where live performances come up flat. Wide is the range of artists who just can’t translate themselves in a live setting in any way that resembles the studio work that they’ve patched together with the help of numerous technicians and producers. Songs come out unrehearsed, or the band is incapable of reproducing the sound. Even worse is when artists, dealing with personal excess or some sort of stage fright, get completely obliterated with substances on stage and turn into a mess by the end of their set. But who puts on the greatest live act? Is it the group that can seamlessly reproduce their album note for note, or the group that can take something stationary and make it into something much more on stage?

Take for example the Rolling Stones. They’ve been touring for around 40 years now, and I’ve seen them in concert twice. While the crowd is into it simply from a historical and pop standpoint, and I think the energy these guys give, even past their prime and middle age is solid, it doesn’t come off as anything I couldn’t hear by listening to an old recording of theirs. On the far extreme are groups like The String Cheese Incident and Phish, which jam and improv so much in their concerts that one is left to wonder if they even have a CD with tracks on it. But let’s not forget consistency. If you go see three shows by a group, a great group will give you three different shows that were all excellent. But some of the best artists happen to be inconsistent on stage. Take Del the Funky Homosapien for example. He might be one of the most talented lyricists and freestylers in rap, but all the times I’ve seen him, he’s hit or miss. Either he’s on that night and no one on the stage can come close, or he’s not and he fades into the background.

So what makes an incredible live band? In my mind, it needs to be a group that brings energy and presence to the stage. Anyone could get up and sing karaoke on a track, but can you bring that true sense of musician and celebrity to the set? Beyond energy and presence, the group needs to be well-rehearsed. A concert that ends up coming off as un-prepared as an elementary school talent show isn’t giving the fans what they paid to see. There needs to be set diversity (unless someone is doing a full album, but I’ll get to that later.) And finally, they need to be able to present their material in both studio form and a live, extended format.

And all of those things are a lot to live up to. When you consider the fact that these groups go on two month or more tours where they need to pull out all of those factors night in and night out, the type of money made touring starts to make sense. With these things in mind, here’s a list of some of my favorite groups to see live, what makes them great and what could make them better.

GZA: A member of the Wu-Tang Clan, GZA a.k.a. Genius is most known for his solo album Liquid Swords. Knowing this, GZA will, on occasion, do tours where he performs the entire album from start to finish. This is an example of an exception to the set diversity rule in that most people have come to see that entire album. When I saw GZA do this at the Independent and the sound glitched 5 seconds into the second track, he was so intent on giving the audience the full version performance that he had the DJ start over from track one. While his delivery and stage presence isn’t the greatest in this bunch of performers, his preparation and ability to go through an entire album in order is nothing short of impressive for a performer in a genre where most live acts shrink and cut their music as much as possible.

Blue Scholars: This rap duo out of Seattle performed at the same show as GZA and offered a stark contrast in what hip-hop performances can be without lowering the bar. Focusing on a diverse set list derived from their two albums, Blue Scholars brought more stage presence and energy to their set, getting the crowd involved through good music and verbatim vocals. Many rappers seem to forget this when in concert, but most fans know the words to their songs. If they don’t, or they try to change the words, the fans inevitably lose interest and focus. While GZA was flawless through the album, he lacked the same energy that the Scholars brought. This enthusiasm, combined with faithful representations of their work made them an excellent hip-hop show.

Zion I: Hands down the best performers I’ve seen in the hip-hop genre. What’s even better about this rap duo is that they’ve slowly progressed their stage presence. When I first saw them, they were a two man gig, beats and raps. However, as they’ve evolved their sound, they’ve evolved their show and now feature a live drummer, vocalist and keyboard player. They’ve been creating music for the last 10 years, and show incredible set diversity. They use material off their newest album to form the backbone of the show, while sprinkling in old favorites that keep the long-time fans happy. Their energy on set is supreme, with Zumbi rapping with every part of his body and Amp creating every imaginable sound. But more than other hip-hop acts, Zion I isn’t afraid to improvise. Both on beats and lyrics, every show has at least a portion of freestyle, and it doesn’t come out weak. While every hip-hop group I’ve seen has one or two of the characteristics of a good set, only Zion I brings them all together in a hip-hop show that feels more complete than the competition.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones: This group is a wonder to see in concert. Between their wacky instrumentation (Banjo and Drumitar) and their incredible improv skills, no two concerts are ever the same, and every one is always amazing. But with the range of material they have, it can be hard for the new fan to get involved without knowing some of the songs. The group often does a good job of getting around this by introducing songs and making them accessible, but it can be a bit daunting. More importantly though, these four (Béla Fleck, Futureman, Vic Wooten and Jeff Coffin) are incredibly tight on their instruments, and unbelievably well rehearsed. They can feel the music as they play it, and the result is a palpable energy in the audience.

Dave Matthews Band: If there was ever a band that showed the power of concert revenue and touring in order to engage fans and enlarge a fan base, it’s this one. There’s a lot of back and forth on DMB. For starters, their live shows always pack an energetic crowd, and they always play longer set lists than most live acts (always over 2 hours.) Furthermore, there’s a great mix of songs that are played straight up as they appear on the album, and the improv songs that end up extending upwards of 20 minutes. This not only shows their ability to reproduce the album sound, but also the talent of the musicians that is sometimes constrained in studio recordings. But if there’s one drawback to this group live, it’s that the studio recordings have lost some of their luster in recent years, and the set lists are becoming slowly more filled with new material that is honestly a bit weak. The band doesn’t seem to know this though, putting new songs that sound like shadows of their former creators next to amazing catalog songs that show the band as they were in their prime. It is this drawback, the inclusion of too much new music, that remains this group’s one fault live. It should also be noted that the group tours more than almost any other, and has consistently set records for concert revenue.

Radiohead: Where the Flecktones might improv too much, and Dave Matthews Band relies on old material too little, it is my firm opinion that Radiohead does their shows just right. Old material and new material all find their home in a Radiohead set, and pieces of studio coexist with pieces of improv, demonstrating a remarkably well-rounded band. Radiohead routinely employs some of the most advanced lighting systems in their stage show, bringing both visual and aural entertainment with the price of admission. The Flecktones let their chops do the talking for them, Dave Matthews Band likes to let the Dave speak for them, but Thom Yorke and Radiohead prefer the method of pure, unadulterated energy. Every member of the band is fully engaged, and their energy comes out in their instruments. Old cuts sound re-booted and the new songs rip with electricity, and the preparation of it all oozes through the crowd. In short, when it comes to all of the factors that make a live performance, Radiohead manages to find and balance the important parts of all of them.

In the end though, every fan has a different moment of enjoyment in a live set, and a different set of standards that they hold their bands up to. Some will be happy as long as they play every radio single, while others won’t be happy unless they hear that one song from an album five years ago. Some fans don’t want to know what’s coming next, while others are bored if an improv goes on too long. One thing is certain: it’s only when musical ability, preparation, energy and presence come together on stage that a performance transcends the idea of “concert” and fully realizes the ideal of “live act.”

Bienvenido a WMC – Here are your condoms.

MixMatchMusic’s first appearance at the Winter Music Conference and they send me, LG?? Uh oh… trouble!! Honestly, not being much of a techno/electro queen I really hadn’t heard of the conference. Well, I’m definitely the a-hole. Little did I know that this thing is of epic proportions! It’s a monster. Literally takes over Miami completely and has for something like 15 years. From the conference to the nightlife to the Ultra Festival, there’s something for everyone between the ages of 13 and 102. Ok, maybe 102 is a little old and a 102 year old probably doesn’t really get into the whole DJ thing. Still, there’s something for everyone that likes music and likes to party. Basically, every venue has something going on. DJ line ups, pool parties… the works. The conference itself was an incredible networking opportunity as well as a big eye opener. Plus, your badge gets you into several events all over Miami including the Ultra Festival which alone is a pricey ticket. All I gotta say is, thank goodness the panels didn’t start till noon everyday.

First of all, I arrived at the Miami Beach Resort and Spa after a long day of travel to be greeted by tons of Red Bull, DJs, complimentary Alize, digital music & DJ influenced displays and friendly conference workers dancing and registering everyone into the event. As soon as I walked in I knew this was going to be a long yet very fun week. I received my WMC complimentary bag that was full of fliers promoting events, DJ and music magazines, a copy of The List and condoms. Gives you a great idea of how things go down during WMC week which I so brilliantly named after seeing the condoms, “F+ck Fest ’09”. The resort is on the beach and has a very large pool area so I went to check it out. There was a stage set up, several chicks in bikinis and hooker heels, a DJ on stage getting everyone pumped up, a bar, deck and beach. Beautiful. I got a drink and instantly started schmoozing.

The 2nd day was the Digital Distribution panel where yours truly was representing the one and only, MixMatchMusic. I was SUPER nervous. All the heavy hitters were sitting on the panel as well. Juno, IODA, Beatport, Groove Media, Jamvana, Symphonic, Broken Records, Mubito and us! The panel was a huge success and packed to the brim, standing room only. All the panels were interesting, informative and well worth the time.

There were 2 hot spots this past week. One was Remix Hotel hosted by Beatport. The Remix Hotel events were held at The National. It’s literally in the heart of all of the most popular hotels and party spots in town. The pool was inundated with people partying in their swim suits and DJs spinning from overlooking balconies. Just beyond the pool was a large stage hosting DJs all weekend amongst palm trees and bars. Just beyond there was immediate beach access. It was a week long mega party.

What I believe to be the second biggest spot was the Fontainebleau. Even though it is a bit off the beaten path… the place was SWAMPED every day with partygoers. Some nights the door was as high as $80 a head! All day Thursday they had a crazy pool party hosted by Bacardi. It was open bar and DJ Jazzy Jeff was on the 1’s and 2’s. Unreal. Pic below.

Then… there was Ultra Fest. Oy! Add teenagers with glow sticks here. The line up was insane and the actual festival itself… ran beautifully. Considering how many people were there, I never felt like I had to fight for a bathroom, food, space or my life (which all contributed to an unfortunately horrific experience that I had at Outsidelands Festival last summer). The only thing is that it was too loud! I’m not a grumpy old person who doesn’t like music and is making a blanket statemement here. Honestly, the loudest event I’ve ever been to. My friends texted me before I arrived and pleaded me to buy ear plugs. In the cab on the way to the festival we could feel the bass from a mile away. LOUD!

As stated before, I’m not a techno/electro queen. Glow sticks just aren’t my thing anymore and there was a lot of that going on. Honestly, there were moments I had to slap myself and remember that it wasn’t 1999. I was genuinely looking forward to the Ting Tings, Black Eyed Peas, Perry Ferrel and Bloc Party sets (who didn’t show!!!). Surprisingly enough, I did learn about a drum and bass group that I can definitely get down with. Pendulum was incredible. I had heard of them before but never really understood the magnitude of their awesomeness. They’re metal meets drum and bass. Way cool. A metal band with a DJ. Talk about MixMatching!! Their concert was amazing, full of energy and it was nice seeing instruments on stage!! It’s hard to go stage to stage, watch a new DJ and really get into it. I’m so happy to have seen Pendulum… I now have a new band to follow. Also, props to David Guetta. His set was pretty impressive as well.

Overall, to put it into 2 words… I’m exhausted! It’s a full week of keeping up on where the best parties are, moving your tush event to event, meeting and schmoozing with industry peep, being on your best behavior when necessary and using as much as the day and night as possible. Dearest WMC… there is only so much going to bed at 6am with techno in my head and waking up at 11am to a techno party at your hotel that one person can handle. I think I’m going to take a nap now… for a week! Can’t wait till next year. 🙂

Zion I – The Take Over Review

In 2006, Zion I released their album Break A Dawn, an album previously released only in Japan and brought stateside following the release of their collaboration with The Grouch, Heroes in the City of Dope. And then, radio silence. Without question the group was staying busy with live performances, interviews, AmpLive’s foray into remix work with the Rainydayz Remixes of Radiohead’s In Rainbows, but the gap between Break A Dawn and tomorrow’s release of The Take Over has been the longest drought of new Zion I material since the gap between 2000’s Mind Over Matter and their sophomore 2003 release Deep Water Slang. And the good news? The Take Over shows what ten years of maturity, musical comfort and genre influence can do to two people dedicated to their craft. The bad news? It clocks in at under 50 minutes, and when it ends, you can’t help but wish there was more.

While The Take Over doesn’t carry with it the same continuity of thought that made Mind Over Matter an intro to outro listen, it does bring the most eclectic genre influences into the music since that album. AmpLive’s creativity with his hip-hop and stunning ability to incorporate other genres helps create a musical backdrop for Zumbi’s lyrics that transcend plain hip-hop or rap. Following the intro, “Geek to the Beat” kicks off the album with a mixture of tribal drums and background chant sounds that are mingled with electro synths and heavy 808s. While it would be very easy for other artists to fall into the trap of using one of these sounds at the expense of the others, Amp has managed to find the balance, alternating between the very simple beat and chants during the verse and then bringing in a heavier electric feel for the chorus. The video below has a snippet of the song performed live on Friday night in Oakland.

“Takeover” follows “Geek to the Beat” and provides a much more traditional hip-hop sound. Amp brings in a boom-bap beat with simple keys in the background and a cut up sample that creates a feel of building in the song while you shrug your shoulders to the sample and then feel the beat come back underneath. Zumbi sounds effortless in his lyrics, and as it goes to chorus, the “takeover” sample mixes with undulating synths and a soulful sounding male vocalist sample. As the song fades and goes to outro, Amp’s musical skills are once again on showcase with a funky electro sound that sets up one of the singles off the album, “DJ DJ.”

This track is certainly one of the more out there cuts on the album as it uses techno and fast paced electro sounds with a chorus snippet in Spanish provided by Deuce Eclipse. Amp on here pays homage to his craft by sprinkling in something of almost anything he can find, including 80’s synth work that could have worked in almost any dance hall. What is perhaps most exciting about this track is that it goes in so many different directions, yet the potential for the evolution of the song is further enhanced by the fact that the group has released the stems to the songs online for fans to remix their own versions. Below is a brief clip of their performance of “DJ DJ” from Friday night.

This goes into one of the most solid songs on the album, “Antenna” featuring Amp’s main collaborator on the Radiohead remixes, Codany Holiday. On this track, Holiday’s refrain of “make me feel brand new” sounds at once both current and retro, a heartfelt line used more as hook than as chorus. What’s fantastic about it is that Zumbi appears to have felt it too as he structures his verses around Holiday’s hook, the simple and in places sparse beat and Amp’s synth work which here sound like falling sheets of rain. The result is a reflective song about Zumbi’s current situation and thoughts, with ascending vocoder sounding samples through the chorus. The electro remix and distortion at the tail end of the song helps to break it down before leaving you with the full beat and hook as it trails out. Video of Friday’s performance of the beginning of this song below.

From there we go into the track duo of “Caged Bird Pt. 1” featuring Brother Ali and “In the Mornin’ (Caged Bird Pt. 2).” These two tracks work as contrasting pieces. The uptempo and refreshing strings provide the melody for a moving and full sounding hip-hop track with a sample-heavy chorus complete with scratch effects and chop up by Amp. The lyrics focus on the idea of something better, and the feeling of the song as a whole is that the street and the cage provide the lyrics, but the music helps open it up and make flight possible. The easy, soulful and bluesy transition to the beginning of pt 2. then gives way to a grimy and deep sound with a much heavier beat. Pt. 2 sounds a bit less hopeful and upbeat than pt. 1, as if pt. 1 is meant to help the caged birds sing, and pt. 2 takes a view of the grind that creates the cage. What’s amazing here is that using the same melody and samples, Amp weaves two completely different songs together with such precision that the split between them is virtually invisible.

“Radio” takes a page from the “Hey Ya” book in that it incorporates a traditional drum/clap sound and acoustic guitar strum, making it sound like a hybrid of hip-hop and 50’s pop music. Zumbi raps about genres and musical evolution on this track that is really a retrospective of radio music and pays homage to the great artists of the past, from Miles Davis to Jimi Hendrix. And on the following track, Amp attempts to bring in a good portion of this retrospective with “Gumbo,” a brief interlude song steeped in horn work and Ragtime influenced jazz. But careful never to let his genre influence tilt too far in one direction, Amp takes the horns and decomposes them to electronic fluctuations of a space jazz variety.

“Country Baked Yams” featuring Devin the Dude is probably the largest departure from Zion I’s signature sounds on the album. It’s a song that will probably do very well on the radio and will have followers, but for me is a bit off. This isn’t to say that I don’t recognize the attempt at something different here and praise the attempt, I just personally don’t think it works. The track is steeped in bubble gum synths and the vocal alteration to a higher pitch makes it feel almost a bit childish. But the chorus is finely crafted with a simple vocal part and a very nice guitar melody with a nice bass line. It’s certainly closer to pop than I’ve heard from Zion I, but as an exploration and experiment, it shows that they’re willing to cross lines and try new things, which I’m never opposed to, even when the results fall short.

“Coastin” featuring K.Flay follows, opening with and carrying through piano that sounds heavily influenced from Amp’s work on Radiohead’s music. The drum clap gives a background for K.Flay’s smooth and somewhat smoky voice and the lyrics by Zumbi sound like he was without question coastin when he wrote it. Amp mixes in some crowd sounds to complete the track. The result is a driving song, perfect for late night with the sunroof open or mid-day with all the windows down. See the clip below:

The last single of the album, “Juicy Juice” comes next, and is the first song that I actually heard off this album a few months ago. The deep 808s and the hyphy feel come out on this Bay Area track that could easily have been placed as the opening track in place of “Geek to the Beat.” The sing-along worthy track, “Peppermint Patty” follows and has the vocal singalong part backed by horns and an eerie melody behind Zumbi’s lyrics. Next is “Bring in the Light” with a grim outlook on the current state of the world, including the bleak but all too familiar thought in the lines “Killing for oil/protest for peace.” Throughout the track, Amp brings jazz touches in, which go full steam ahead in the last minute of the song as he experiments with digitally distorted samples from the song mixed with a jazz piano and more space jazz sounds. While all of the tracks are solid on this album, the outros and interludes are where Amp really shows what kind of producer he is and how well grounded he is musically. They end the album with “Legacy” featuring Ty and Jennifer Johns, a jazz/lounge/pop fusion that draws on some of the tribal beats that show up throughout the album.

All told, there’s something for just about every listener on this album, whether you’ve followed Zion I since Mind Over Matter or if The Take Over is the first time you’re hearing about them (in which case, which rock have you been living under?) Latin, Jazz, Techno, Dance, Blues, Funk and Rock all find a place here, and even when they may not work for a particular listener, the desire to try and experiment with everything can’t be overlooked and is part of what makes the album great. What’s important to note is that while the song by song break down goes to describing what can be found on the album, it doesn’t do justice to the music here. Zumbi’s lyrics are introspective and conscious enough to get better with every listen, and similarly, AmpLive’s production work incorporates so many genres and layers to the musical tapestry he creates here that it’s hard not to constantly pick up new pieces to the sound that you hadn’t heard before. The Take Over drops tomorrow.


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