Posts Tagged 'Blue Scholars'

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.

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.”

11 Songs to Be Thankful For, Vol. 2

For last year’s 11 Songs to Be Thankful For, click here.

I know you’re in pain. The music industry, no less than last year, is inundated with made for radio pop songs meant to burn brightly in the minds of middle schoolers, sell millions of copies and then fade quickly into the one hit wonder used CD bins. Some will make club playlists and stay relevant for another year or two, but most will be either forgotten or turned into the butt of some future musical joke. But these simplifications overlook a large cross section of musicians from all genres that are producing quality music that not only can get stuck in your head, but won’t make you want to put a loaded revolver to your temple to get them out. In fact, months later, these songs are still gripping and enjoyable.

Thanksgiving is over, but while you’re eating some leftovers, there’s still much to be thankful for in the way of music. For each month, a main song that stood out above the others with the album you can find it on, and a second song that I give honorable mention to for being generally kick ass. But since life isn’t a one man affair, I invited my roommate, who receives the same monthly iPod updates (see the “What I’m Hearing” posts… the links in the month names will get you there), to give her input on what songs grabbed her focus this year. 11 months, 1 main song, 1 honorable mention and 2 recommendations from the roommate will give you about 44 fantastic songs you haven’t listened to yet. I say about because in some cases you may have heard a song, and in others, we picked the same one. Enjoy!

Jan: “Breathe Me (Mylo Remix)” (Breathe Me EP) by Sia. Most people had their first introduction to Sia’s heartbreaking song through the final 5 minutes of the HBO series Six Feet Under. The song, steeped in lament and longing, is nostalgic and only further inundated with emotion from Sia’s haunting voice that at times seems to whisper. On this EP version, Mylo remixes the song by fleshing out a lush electronic sound with bass and digital flourishes around the vocals and speeding up the main melody. The result is a moving and dance-able, yet still emotional track. Honorable Mention: “Way Down in the Hole” (The Wire Soundtrack) by The Blind Boys of Alabama

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Nudez” (Rainydayz Remixes) by AmpLive. “Mushaboom (Postal Service Remix)” (Open Season) by Feist.

Feb: “Campus” (Vampire Weekend) by Vampire Weekend. When this album came out, I positively reviewed the whole thing, and now, many months later, it hasn’t lost its luster for me. With “Campus” the group uses simplicity in the vocals and instrumentation to evoke the feeling of days at college and crushes (if your college crush happened to be a professor.) The staccato lead up to the frenetic chorus is an instantly attainable indie pop that also brings to mind a Killers tune on Xanax. With the line, “In the afternoon you’re out on the stone and grass/and I’m sleeping on the balcony after class” the song takes me back to my own college balcony naps. Honorable Mention: “Weightless” (Lucky) by Nada Surf

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” (Vampire Weekend) by Vampire Weekend. 2) “The Chills” (Writer’s Block) by Peter Bjorn and John

March: “Front Steps, Pt. 2 (Tough Love)” (Absolute Value) by Akrobatik. This song is haunting both lyrically and musically. The solid production includes a piano sample and string overtone that sound like they’ve been submerged in water. The murkiness is then combined with scratches and a bass and drum line that provide it with a depth that comes off simultaneously polished and street rough. All of this is so that Akrobatik can provide an incredible song about the economic and social plight within the project communities, the current state of hip-hop and the need for change within the criminal justice system. He exhorts the youth to avoid the drugs and black on black violence that help oppress them, and strive for something better by offering them his honest take in the form of “tough love.” His lyrics come from a seriously educated perspective as he recognizes that the format of the ghettos allows the upper middle class to ignore riots and financial losses inflicted by them (“And when we riot they won’t care about the dollars lost/they’re sipping cocktails while we’re throwing Molotovs“) and sees the difference between a middle class white education and the education provided in inner city schools. The entire song is filled with lines that are both mentally stimulating and potent in rhyme scheme (full lyrics here). One of the best hip-hop lines of the year comes from this song, “This ain’t a war on drugs, it’s a war on thugs/they supply the guns, we supply the bodies with slugs.” Easily in the contention for my top 5 songs of the year. Honorable Mention: “Live 4 Today” (Break A Dawn) by Zion I

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Opening Act” (Garbage Pail Kids) by Sene and Chief 2) “Muddy Water Stomp” (Garbage Pail Kids) by Sene and Chief

April: “The Things That We Could Share” (Soundboy Rock) by Groove Armada. Here’s one the roommate and I agreed on. In an age of Craigslist Missed Connections and the disconnect between people, this joyous song about the potential connections is a love song for the person you haven’t met yet. Starting with a groove bass, handclaps and “SB” chant, the electronically strained vocals through the verse beg for a balance with another person (“I need a warm hand to cool me down/I need a soft voice to drown me out”) moves into the chorus about a boy on a bus watching a girl, who is simultaneously telling her friend that he doesn’t care. When the bass line undulates and crashes into the triumphant refrain of “the things that we could share,” if you’re not dancing, you’re not breathing. Honorable Mention: “Far Away” (In Ghost Colours) by Cut Copy.

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “The Things That We Could Share” Groove Armada, Soundboy Rock. 2) “Watch As They Go” (Other People) by American Princes

May: “Winds of Change” (The Show) by EMC. Leave it to a super-group of hip-hop mainstays to write a love song to hip-hop that can surely stand as a classic. With an old static laden and sped sample singing, “Winds of change, that blow forever” EMC rips off a masterpiece devoted to the past, present and future of hip-hop, while never forgetting the overall perspective of fleeting life and inevitable change. Subjects like evolving music (MJ to Usher), technology (Beta to DVD), and clothes (Osh-Kosh to Phat Farm) are all well and good, but the highlight of this track is the last verse that takes a sad hindsight view of a hip-hop career from an old age perspective (“Holding the picture frame wishing that we didn’t age”) and the unfortunate decay that it can bring (“At 55 started forgetting lines, mumbling rhymes.”) As the rap moves to talking about freestyling with his grandchild, the song becomes both melancholy in its reminiscence and happy in the remembrance of the experiences. Honorable Mention: “Mathematics” (The Fashion) by The Fashion

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “27” (Butter and Gun$ EP) by Blue Scholars 2) “O Samba Tai” (Carolina) by Seu Jorge

June: “Watch Out (Remix)” (The 3rd World) by Immortal Technique (click here for exclusive interview). Sounding incredibly sharp over a beat that samples from the Apocalypse sounding symphony from the central battle scene in Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith and polished Green Lantern production, Immortal Technique barks through this track that cements his status as one of the most lyrically intelligent and delivery potent rappers around. Starting with his album sales off just a Source magazine quotable and moving onto direct attacks on the music industry (“they push pop music like a religion/anorexic celebrity driven, financial fantasy fiction”) and American government, Tech doesn’t take pause for a chorus here, but why bother when you can deliver like that for two and a half minutes straight? When he ends the song with, “I need more than advancements and a rented mansion,” you know that he means it, and doesn’t care who he pisses off in the process. Honorable Mention: “Let the Beat Build” (The Carter III) by Lil Wayne

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Reverse Pimpology” (The Third World) by Immortal Technique 2) “Dance Dance Dance” (Youth Novels) by Lykke Li

July: “Sittin’ On Chrome (Mr. Flash Sittin on Cr02 Remix)” (Delicious Vinyl: Rmxxology) by Masta Ace. This revamped version of the old school Masta Ace song is given all sorts of synths and electronic overtone. The verses get a video game-like sound backdrop with a fast dance beat. When the hook drops, the whole song slows down and the sample carries it. Honorable Mention: “Built to Last” (Coup de Theatre) by Haiku D’Etat

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Desperada” (Jeanius) by Jean Grae. 2) “GFC” (Como Te Llama?) by Albert Hammond Jr.

August: “Zhaoderen Nana” (Introducing Hanggai) by Hanggai. Another point of agreement with the roommate, Hanggai’s mixture of traditional Mongolian folk music and Western influences gripped us at the end of the summer and made for great lake music. The use of a an upbeat throat singer here and a rollicking strumming are contrasted with moments of full percussion. You’ll have to listen to get it. Honorable Mention: “Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You (The Twelves Remix)” (Partie Traumatic) by The Black Kids

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Zhaoderen Nana” (Introducing Hanggai) by Hanggai 2) “Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You (The Twelves Remix)” (Partie Traumatic) by The Black Kids

September: “Transitional Joint” (The Preface) by eLZhi. (full interview here) Beautiful production and a perfectly placed “just because of love” sample back Detroit’s eLZhi as he dissects relationships and the process of moving on from a failed one. Without ever losing a positive outlook, the lyrics don’t dwell on the past, but always look forward to that next glow. eLZhi acknowledges the sour experience of “rolling snake eyes” without losing sight of the feeling of “missing her like when the summer’s gone.” The delivery from verse to chorus are sensational and the beat is addictive. Honorable Mention: “Ship” (Purpleface EP) by Throw Me the Statue (interview)

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Girls and Boys In Love” (Girls and Weather) by Rumble Strips 2) “Honeybee” (Purpleface EP) by Throw Me the Statue

October: “Please Believe” (unknown) by Longshot. I’d give you a breakdown of this very solid hip-hop track, but you can click on this link and go listen to it yourself! Huzzah! Honorable Mention: “Electric Feel” (Oracular Spectacular) by MGMT

Jessie’s Picks: 1) “Sadie Hawkins” (Doomtree) by Doomtree, (interview) 2) “Electric Feel” (Oracular Spectacular) by MGMT

November: “Trail of Lies” (A History of Violence) by Jedi Mind Tricks. With a South American melody and lo-fi beat, this offering from JMT’s sixth studio album examines lies perpetuated by the government and mass media, among others. The gruff voice of Vinnie Paz and the lyrics about a system in severe trouble make for a socially conscious song steeped in conspiracy theories. Honorable Mention: “Signs” (Intimacy) by Bloc Party

Jessie’s Picks: “Don Julio” (Vulture’s Wisdom, Vol. 1) by Opio 2) “Trail of Lies” (A History of Violence) by Jedi Mind Tricks

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 2

Alright, it’s time for the May update and the second installment of What I’m Hearing. For those that missed last month, this will be a monthly post centered around the new music I’ve put on my iPod. The May update, for those interested in numbers and stats, contains 135 new songs, and they are excellent! Here’s what I’m hearing now…

Atmosphere, When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Shit Gold: After two releases viewed largely as disappointing in musical content, Atmosphere has returned with an excellent set of hip-hop that finds the duo of Ant and Slug returning to the stylistic methods that created their success originally. The beats on this album are tight, with many melancholy tracks for Slug’s introspective and multi-tiered delivery to lilt over. Ant produces an album that ranges from sad slow hip-hop to upbeat party movers, with songs based in undulating bass rhythms as well as melodic piano rifts. Slug, rapping about various people’s personal perspective on life, finds new inspiration for his rhymes by rapping from both a first person and omniscient angle and creating rhymes that could be interpreted multiple ways. Don’t Sleep On: “Yesterday,” “Me,” and “Your Glass House.”

Blue Scholars, The Long March EP: While I have been talking consistently about their self-titled debut and sophomore release Bayani, I just discovered this EP full of previously unreleased tracks. They continue the smooth music and laid back lyricism of the two studio albums and deliver a number of excellent tracks. This may be an EP, but it listens like a full effort album. Don’t Sleep On: “Sagaba (Remix),” “La Botella,” and “27” (technically off the Butter and Gun$ release)

Chicha Libre, Sonido Amazonico: When you pick up this album for the first time, your initial thought is that you’re listening to some 70s music out of South America. The style hails from Peru and in its heyday was an amalgamation of pop, reggae and Latin music. Here, this North American band has picked up the style, dusted it off and infused it with a natural and unforced feeling that also includes some surf music vibes among others. The instrumentation is exquisite, with hand drums and an organ being used to great effect throughout the album. This music is perfect for summer weather and boat trips. Dig it. Don’t Sleep On: “La Cumbia del Zapatero,” “Sonido Amazonico,” and “Popcorn Andino.” Here’s a quote from the group’s website…”CHICHA is the name of a corn-based liquor favored by the Incas in pre-colombian days. Chicha is also the name of a South American music craze which started out in the late 70’s in the Peruvian Amazon. Cumbias amazonicas, as they were first called, were loosely inspired by Colombian accordion-driven cumbias but soon incorporated the distinctive sounds of Andean melodies, some Cuban son, and the psychedelic sounds of surf guitars, farfisa organs and moog synthesizers. The group draws its personnel from barbes regulars Bebe Eiffel, One Ring Zero and Las Rubias del norte.”

Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs: The indie scene has been good to Death Cab, and the release of their new album, written in California, exemplifies the standard sounds we’ve come to expect from the group while also integrating a few new ones. Light piano and guitar, easy melodies and Gibbard’s heartfelt and sometimes falsetto voice form the basis of the album, but the band branches out here with a few more intense segments, heavy drums and wall of sound concepts. Death Cab remains their strongest on the shorter melancholy songs and the ones where the music is just enough to keep Gibbard from sounding miserable, but their radio single of this one, “I Will Possess Your Heart,” is a bit self-indulgent in its 8 minute running time and the long intro seems to go almost nowhere for minutes. “Your New Twin Sized Bed” demonstrates the group’s ability to turn a very sad song into an enjoyable tune. All in all though, another solid installment from the group. Don’t Sleep On: “Bixby Canyon Bridge,” “Your New Twin Sized Bed,” and “Grapevine Fires.”

Immortal Technique, The 3rd World: I can’t say much more about the 3 full tracks and 4 clips I’ve heard in from this album other than what I said late last week in this post. What I will say is that these three tracks (“Reverse Pimpology,” “The 3rd World,” and “The Payback) are all stellar, showcasing familiar Tech topics over a very different set of beats that forces him to find diversity in his delivery. He succeeds and makes June 24th’s release date seem just too far off.

Nine Inch Nails, The Slip: Reznor’s come a long way since Pretty Hate Machine, and the journey has allowed us to watch an angst-ridden young artist develop a genre, spawn numerous imitators, become an incredible global success and then use that success to work independently against the record industry that gave him his start. While Reznor’s success has changed the way the music is approached and distributed, it hasn’t changed what is an obvious hunger within to continue to create. The Slip is the album follow up to the esoteric and instrumental Ghosts I-IV released a few weeks ago, and finds Reznor returning to songs with lyrics and savage musical intensity that were missing on the largely landscape tracks of Ghosts. While I personally feel that the honesty, intensity and pure force of will in albums like Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral will no longer be matched, Reznor doesn’t try to duplicate the formula or make apologies here. The songs are a logical progression of his growth as a musician, and still deliver some satisfying NIN. Distortion, a combination of live and machine drums and heavy guitar saturate this album. Don’t Sleep On: “Lights in the Sky,” “Echoplex,” and “Demon Seed”

Portishead, Third: Following over a decade without a new studio album, Portishead’s Third was widely anticipated, and it was largely feared that they may have remained in limbo for those 11 years, coming back with a 90’s-esque trip-hop sound that would be dated and sedated. So it came as a surprise when the new album came out and, while retaining the haunting vocals of Beth Gibbons, sounded almost nothing like its predecessors. And that’s a very good thing. Here, the trio explores new ground, venturing into the electronic and glitch landscapes that were just starting to exist at the beginning of their hibernation. Don’t Sleep On: “Silence,” “Machine Gun,” and “The Rip”

Seu Jorge, Carolina and The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions: Singer? Sure. Soundtrack writer? Absolutely. Movie star? You bet. Brazilian Seu Jorge does it all, and he does it with flair. You can’t get more MixMatch than that! He appeared as crew member Pelé in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, as well as playing Knockout Ned in the amazing slum epic City of God. Not only acting in Life Aquatic, Jorge also provided a bulk of the soundtrack when he tackled David Bowie covers in Portugese on his guitar. Here we have two very different albums from the man. The first is a rollicking expression of Brazilian samba pop music that occasionally infuses hints of reggae and soul, and the second is a studio version of songs that were originally packaged directly from the film (and most often in outdoor spaces). While the tracks from the movie are spectacular because they really make you feel like Jorge is on a boat next to you playing them, the sound quality could be better. Here, they get the full studio treatment and come out sounding polished. Jorge’s music is fun, light-hearted and extremely listenable. Don’t Sleep On: “Starman,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Hagua”

Various Singles: These songs didn’t get their full albums downloaded, but they’re sweet singles. Check out “Mathematics,” and “Letters From the Ambulance” by The Fashion, “In a Cave” and “Your English Is Good” by Tokyo Police Club, and the studio version of “Business Time” off of Flight of the Conchords‘ freshman release.

Blue Scholars and GZA at The Independent

In all of the concerts of all the genres I’ve been to, hip-hop shows are by far the most risky to go to. More than most genres, hip-hop shows can be extremely hit or miss depending on a variety of factors centered around the music and the group’s preparation. At a hip-hop show, you’re usually more likely to encounter sound issues, poor crowd interaction, truncated songs or artists who just didn’t put enough time into rehearsing their material, sometimes needing to ad lib or cut songs short because they don’t know all the words. Great hip-hop shows consist of a solid mixmatch of a setlist, rappers who know their words and can interact well with the crowd, good music and fantastic energy. Luckily, the past several hip-hop shows I’ve been to have been on the stellar end of things, and Tuesday night’s performance by Blue Scholars at The Independent in San Francisco fit perfectly into this string of solid shows.

For those that don’t know Blue Scholars, you can check out my write-up of their sound and style in Putting Emerald City on the Map. It’s safe to say that they’re one of the most musically and lyrically diverse groups on the hip-hop scene right now, and the combination of Geologic’s in-depth and personal lyrics with Sabzi’s unique and multi-faceted understanding of various genres makes Blue Scholars and Bayani two different and fantastic albums. Of course, having never seen them before in concert, and knowing of the historically wildly unpredictable transformation of hip-hop groups from studio CD to live performance, I went out to The Independent last night not sure what to expect.

What I got was an amazingly positive and energetic set centered around fantastic lyricism and incredibly well put together musical mixes. At the beginning, I was concerned because one of the fastest ways to tank a hip-hop show is when no one in the crowd knows you, and they did not appear to be as enthusiastically received as I would have liked. Being the opener for GZA doing a full rendition of the renowned classic Liquid Swords album, Blue Scholars had their work cut out for them. But from the minute they took the stage, you got the feeling that their energy was going to be a train, and you could jump on or get run down. Visually, the hip-hop of Geologic’s baggy clothes and zip-up hoodie contrasted nicely with the more indie look of Sabzi’s glasses and button-up shirt. It’s a good feeling when one part of a duo introduces the other as “my partner in music.” They started with a song that used the guitar riff most recently heard in Green Day’s “Hitchin’ a Ride.”

They then moved on to “Second Chapter” before going through the entire set including “Opening Salvo,” “The Ave,” “Loyalty,” a spoken word bit, two new songs, “North By Northwest” and “No Rest for the Weary.” Where others stumble over words, Geologic, from the beginning to the end of the set, was simply enthralling with his delivery. Every word was crisp and coherent, on beat and on target, with emotions ranging from the pure joy of rapping and using the beat to a savage rage at economic inequalities and injustice. While these topics permeate the group’s songs, Geologic did a nice job of leaving them there and making his interludes to the crowd more about enjoying music and spreading the word. Sabzi never once let the beat falter, and even in brief interludes made clear his enjoyment of soul and funk music. He also did a great job of keeping the set on track. As Geologic went to start a freestyle over the tail end of a beat, Sabzi cut it off and told him he needed to move on.

While the crowd didn’t know as many of the songs as I would have liked them to, they certainly got into the act by the end of the show. Both artists helped with this as they did a great job of slowing songs down, taking the beat simple, and then gradually building them back up until they let the energy spill over the top and infect the crowd. “The Ave” and “Loyalty” were by far the standouts of the set, but with the way these two performed, I could have listened to the entirety of both their albums live and been content. Furthermore, the diversity of topics in the lyrics and the variety of sounds conjured up by Sabzi showed just how deep these two can be. The material never seemed repetitive or strained, and at no point did you get the feeling that the two weren’t on the same page together in the creation of the music.

Blue Scholars were followed on stage by GZA performing his legendary Liquid Swords album, joined on stage for a time by Killah Priest. They almost started a riot though when the wait time between the sets reached epic proportions and had people in the audience booing the DJ. It’s tough to call Blue Scholars a “warm-up” act when by the time GZA came on, the crowd was cold and pretty upset that they had to wait for so long. The audience was obviously Wu-Tang heavy, and it went nuts when the first notes of the opening monologue filled the venue. For those that haven’t heard the album, it’s a dark and complex piece of rap music, beats produced by RZA and infused with clips from the stark background of the black and white cult samurai movie Shogun Assassin.

But what works as a studio album, and would certainly work with various songs played throughout a set, didn’t quite work as an entire piece. The energy seemed canned, probably due to the consistency you need to find when you’re going to play your entire album cover to cover live, and all of the songs are a bit too similar to hear outside the context of the CD. GZA’s delivery was good, but didn’t carry the same type of force and creativity that Geologic brought to his. But to his credit, GZA’s reproduction of the CD in a live setting was virtually flawless. At one point, having finished a song, something went wrong with the sound and the interlude that played wasn’t the proper one for the album. Rather than put on the right interlude and move on, GZA asked the crowd if they wanted him to start over, which they did, and he had the DJ put the track back to the beginning, performing it from the start again.

It’s a tough line to straddle though…being prepared and rehearsed enough to do an entire album, while also maintaining a sense of energy and spontaneity that an audience needs in concert. Finally, having waited the entire set to hear my favorite song on the album, “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (B.I.B.L.E.)”, Killah Priest tanked it. Not only did he seem to forget a number of the words to his own song, but Priest seemed to be unable to control his breathing sufficiently to get through the entire thing. Several times he had to stop mid-verse to catch his breath, and you started wondering if the album version was done in one take or multiple takes to help him breathe through it. As the song that I find most playable on the album, it was sad to hear it so fully butchered.

While there’s no denying Liquid Swords its place among the top rap albums of all time, and certainly credit is due to GZA for everything he’s contributed to the genre, the delivery and energy of his set couldn’t match that of the Scholars. I’m still glad I saw it, as the album is one that has a number of personal historical ties for me, but I left the venue thinking that I might have been more satisfied if GZA had been the opener and Blue Scholars had closed the show. Either way, I encourage everyone to get out to see either of these groups. With Blue Scholars you can see the idea behind what musically diverse and lyrically socially conscious hip-hop can and should be, and with GZA you can see a lyrically solid artist doing a faithful performance of one of the best rap albums of all time. Here’s two clips from the Blue Scholars song “Loyalty,” one of my favorites. Turn the volume down to limit the distortion as my camera didn’t do well handling the louder portions of the song…

I Quit

After many days spent contemplating, I’ve decided to quit writing for Evolving Music. It’s not to say that the time spent here was not well spent, because it most certainly was, but I just don’t see any feasible way to keep writing when my passion for it isn’t there. For months now, I’ve brought you posts about the music industry, Gnarls Barkley, Radiohead, NIN, Immortal Technique, AmpLive, Blue Scholars and Throw Me the Statue, just to name a few. I’ve ranted and raved against American Idol and the pop music landscape, while attempting to boost an agenda of underground resurgence and backlash against the powers that be.

But it’s just too much now. The pressure of weekly trying to come up with new posts and topics to captivate the mind and soul has taken a toll on me. I’m weary with my struggle and want to go back to the days when I could put a CD on and just listen, not jot down my notes for the album review. I’d like to revisit the days when my friends from MixMatchMusic were just my friends, and not my bosses. In short, I want it to all go back to the way it was.

So I bid adieu to you, fine readers, and in this, my final post, I wish you a very happy April Fool’s Day. Blue Scholars and GZA tonight at the Independent!

11 Songs to Be Thankful For

In a mainstream musical landscape of, for the most part, rapidly declining talent and increasing acceptance of incredibly low musical standards (I mean, you have just read an entire blog about people actually performing and videotaping jack ass Soulja Boy’s song, complete with the lyrics “superman dat ho,” and didn’t think it was entirely out of the ordinary, in fact, you were probably entertained), it’s important to keep somewhat grounded by recognizing the unrecognized…the real musicians and rappers that slip through the crack because they can’t sell or ink deals with the majors. Also in need of recognition are songs of the past that we sometimes discard as the next CD/download comes out.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I give you a newly discovered or enjoyed song from each month of my musical year. Not all of them are new to this year, the month merely represents when I first heard them or came back to them. Some of them you might have heard, some you may not have, but the idea is these are songs that immediately sunk in and made an impression, and can probably offer you three minutes or more of something you’ll enjoy more than taking a hammer to your head (which is what 94.9 makes me feel like doing). For whatever reason, of the 600 or so new/refound songs I’ve heard this year, these stood out and deserve a listen if you’re looking for something new, or a revisit to a song you’ve heard that’s worth hanging on to. Copyrights prevent us from posting the actual songs, but I’m sure y’all are smart enough to do a little research…

January: “Tulips (Club Version)” (Single) by Bloc Party. Actually a 2005 song, but hidden in single format, this one sounds just as relevant as their more current work. With the driving rock mixed with a melancholy edge, the song is at once both energizing and haunting. Honorable Mention: “Classical Hit” (Straight From the Crates, Vol. 1) by Phil Da Agony

February: “Float” (Half Full Ashtrays, Half Empty Glasses) by the Lab Rats. Off their 2006 self-release, “Float” provides some of the most intricate and touching lyrics of any of their songs. This group, independents out of Ohio, usually vent on the struggle of a below middle class life and the difficulties of getting their music conceived, written, produced and distributed. This one though finds a more harmonious tilt and examines the feeling of letting the tide of life come to you rather than chasing it. “Where you are right now is a specific composition of every single decision that you’ve made in the past.” Honorable Mention: “In Love” (The Medicine) by Planet Asia feat. Jonell

March: “4 AM in 4 Parts” (Prox EP) by edIT. Off the 2006 various artist EP, this super glitch song displays edIT‘s diversity as he breaks the song into 4 parts to elicit different aspects and moods of the rave culture. A must listen for anyone trying to get a grasp of what edIT is all about. Honorable Mention: “Mirror in the Sky” (Atlantis – Hymns for Disco) by k-os

April: “Cooter Brown” (To Tha X-Treme) by Devin the Dude. Off his 2004 release, the laid back beat and old sample of this song had me cruising for weeks. His smooth delivery as he examines the issues in his life and his progress through them drift over this melody with a relaxed purpose that make it good for any mood. Honorable Mention: “Pusherman” (Supafly Soundtrack) by Curtis Mayfield

May: “Groundswell” (Moonbeams) by Throw Me the Statue. If you wonder why we keep plugging TMTS over here, it’s because the music is worth the listen and you may not hear it elsewhere. This song, utilizing the same excellent mixture of driving rock, positive sounds and yet still slightly melancholy feel that made “Tulips” stick to me, does it with horns and an acoustic riff that you can take with you. Honorable Mention: “Do It” (Loose) by Nelly Furtado (I’m still dancing to this one, a rare tasty pop treat)

June: “The Killing Moon” (Songs to Learn and Sing by Echo and the Bunnymen. Odds are, if you were born when I was, this song doesn’t remind you of a pop radio hit. But it was, back when we were running around in DARE programs and listening to Bush and Dukakis square off. It came back to me through the repeated watching of Donnie Darko. It’s eerie, fleeting and perfect for a fast drive down a dark street. Honorable Mention: “Got Me Lost/Driving In LA” (Telefon Tel Aviv – Remixes Compiled) by John Hughes

July: “Relax” (Port Authority) by Marco Polo feat. J*Davey. A mellow hip-hop/R&B cut with a Tribe Called Quest sample, this song is lounge perfect hip-hop and nightcap music. Honorable Mention: “Back in Your Head” (The Con) by Tegan and Sara.

August: “Play Your Cards Right” (Finding Forever) by Common. Off his newest album, this track works on your way to or from your evening. The up-tempo throwback sound and Common’s expert delivery work again and again, and the feet keep moving to this one. Honorable Mention: “None Shall Pass” (None Shall Pass) by Aesop Rock

September: “Good Life” (Graduation) by Kanye West. I don’t think I need to break this one down…if you haven’t heard it, it’s very possible you’re living in a cave and not reading this. Sampling a little Michael Jackson, Kanye toasts to his newfound status and keeps it moving. Honorable Mention: “Crunk de Gaulle” (Certified Air Raid Material) by edIT feat. TTC, Busdriver and D-Styles)

October: “Bayani” (Bayani) by Blue Scholars. This one is short, sweet, uplifting and at the same time borne of pain. Honorable Mention: 15 Step (In Rainbows) by Radiohead

November: “Windmills of Your Mind” (Thomas Crown Affair Soundtrack (1968) by Noel Harrison. A fantastic oldie/goodie I hadn’t heard before checking out the original movie. Cut in the echo filled folk sound mold of some of Simon and Garfunkel’s work of that era. Honorable Mention: “Dancing In the Dark” (Born in the USA) by Bruce Springsteen


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