Archive for the ‘Hip Hop’ Category

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An Exploration of Indulgence – SkiFree and Lil' Wayne

May 3, 2009

It has been busy here at GWU. And when it’s busy, people get frantic, and when people get frantic, they also get stressed out. Between registering for next semester’s classes, the final studying and the term paper crunching, things can be pretty intense. I had to learn the following college equation the tough way.

sad

But in between the reading, writing and studying, students need time to appreciate the finer things in life. I didn’t need to take six credits in Quantitative and Logical Reasoning to figure out the following.

happy

I find some of the times that I am happiest, most energized and pure in Mad 301 are the times that Dave and I are blasting Lil’ Wayne and playing SkiFree. It has become something beyond roommate bonding, or a ritual of habit, or even a means of relieving stress and a way to get our minds off of things. It has become a sort of aesthetic indulgence, an exploration of our psyches will immersing ourselves in the highest of low art. It is a bit like sampling dark chocolate (no racial implications intended).

I will first explore and evaluate SkiFree, as I believe that it is the element of the process that people will likely be least familiar with. It is a bit of a cultural obscurity, but for a crappy old computer game, it holds a small but memorable place in many Windows-users experiences. Programmed by Microsoft employee Chris Pirih in 1991, it ended up being an inclusion in subsequent Windows Entertainment Packs and was exposed to thousands of users worldwide. The game is simple. You play a little skier dude who skis down a mountain, dodges trees, goes off jumps, etc. You can choose between three games: Slalom (dodge around little posts as fast as you can), Freestyle (do little flips and stuff for points), or Tree Slalom (Slalom in the presence of trees). Or you can just ski down the mountain for fun with no regard to score or time, which is I suppose what most skiiers do, that is, Ski Free.

It is worth mentioning that the player is not the only thrill-seeker on the mountain. There are other skiers, clearly unskilled, blue in the face, and hopeless. I don’t know if this practice was widespread, but what I often did when I was a kid was purposefully knock them on their asses. There are also snowboarders, who go down the hill at an extremely fast pace and inevitably knock you on your ass if they hit you, and you can’t do the same to them.¬† If you stick to the middle of the track, you’ll occasionally see a couple of the dudes riding up the mountain on a chairlift. You don’t really care about these guys. They may be annoying, but there’s just doing what they are told to do.

This is about as simple and limited as it sounds. This was by no means the cutting edge in 1991, a year when Japan saw the release of the Super Famicom (in America, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System), Final Fantasy IV, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, while America got the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) home console and Street Fighter II in arcades. But even comparison to the rest of Windows’ time killers, SkiFree is simply missing something. Jezzball was logically stimulating, Chip’s Challenge was (appropriately) challenging, Minesweeper was better for killing time, Tetris was impressive in how simple it was, and Solitaire was a classic that a lot of people already knew.

SkiFree, on the other hand, is almost transparent in its limitations. Even the game’s setting, a snow covered mountain, is rendered predominantly by blank space. Success in gameplay is mostly determined by luck; placement of obstacles and jumps is about the only factor that makes scores on a game by game basis variable. And only a small ratio of players would even waste their time with a simple game like this enough to fish for high scores. So that leaves everyone else, including a very young narrator, to glide down the desolate mountain taking simple pleasure in going off of jumps and doing little flips as well as entertaining themselves with the mountain’s schlocky easter eggs: little evergreens that move, dogs that woof if you run over them, dead trees that light on fire if you hit them, etc. SkiFree’s gameplay is really anything but memorable.

But what everyone DOES remember is this:

Yeah, if you remember this game at all, this guy was inevitably a source of not only superficial annoyance, but also a deep, unexplainable frustration. Most people call him the abominable snowman, but the game never names him.

By 1,000 meters down the mountain, even the longest of the three game modes are done, and you are left to ski down the rest of the mountain without any specific goal. Any normal player would naturally want to see what happens when you get to the bottom, assuming it isn’t of indefinite length, but at 2,000 meters down the mountain YOU GET FUCKING EATEN.

The abominable snowman is really the only figure of any significance in SkiFree, little skier dude included. He is always on the 2,000 meter line waiting to engorge you, which he inevitably will. You may be able to dodge him momentarily, at which point he will chase after you in a terrifyingly erratic and fast manner and will then eat you, and he always will, because he’s just faster than you, simple as that. Most of any given player’s time playing SkiFree is spent just waiting for that last dreaded moment, where some might try elaborate tricks to evade the menace by launching themselves off of jumps or cutting a path through specific trees. It is all impossible. He WILL eat you, and then do his little dance.

All of this begs for the question to be asked, are there any cheats in this game? Is there any way to actually dodge the thing, even if it means cheating? The answer is actually yes. Pressing the F key in the middle of gameplay increases the player’s speed significantly. The cheat makes Slalom virtually impossible, Tree Slalom more challenging but also more fun, and Freestyle somewhere in the middle (I should note that I don’t really play Freestyle, which is the territory in which Dave has undeniable skill, while I tend to focus most on Tree Slalom). In any case, the increased speed makes outrunning the dreaded creature feasible, but there are other hurdles. Cutting past him and skiing straight down until he disappears off of the top of the screen, too slow to keep up with the cheating player, but then appears right in front of the player’s path, to eat them yet again. I have actually seen situations in which two of them were on the screen at once when either Dave or I get consumed. Yeah, that’s right. There’s more than one.

If you take a diagonal path with the F cheat, for whatever reason you are still slow enough that the creature can catch up with you almost effortlessly fast. The most effective means of escape is to take a diagonal path with a very short angle to the x-axis, which seems to put the player going at their fastest speed possible. But cutting across the stage almost horizontally means that dodging obstacles becomes more of a matter of their height, and it becomes harder and harder to evade trees and rocks and thus truly escape the monster’s clutches. I have never completely outran him. I always get eaten eventually.

For this game to be engaging in any way, you pretty much have to be in an altered state of mind. That doesn’t necessarily imply being drunk or severely blunted, although if I drank alcohol or smoked weed, playing SkiFree would be somewhere below reading Dr. Seuss Books and above playing Scrabble on my prioritized list of things to do while baked. The altered state could be as subtle as intellectually silly; ergo some of the allegorical interpretations of the gameplay Dave and I have drawn (life as a whole as well as on a day-to-day basis, the Abominable Snowman being a figure that represents either death or sleep, respectively, which will ultimately consume every “player” and send them back to the beginning, only to partake once again in trivial goals and try to escape the inevitable). But most of the time, for me, that state is simple forgiveness. I find myself more tolerant in my early adulthood, and more willing to accept the simple pleasures of skiing down a mountain and trying to escape my fate, and having a good laugh about it. And really, when you are playing a game as potentially cheesy as SkiFree, a good sense of humor is drawn out of the player with ease. That is just one of the reasons that this game is one of the most playable of all time despite being so unplayable, so memorable despite being so nondescript, so enjoyable despite being so crappy. In short, SkiFree was shamelessly ghetto fly in an era where the cutting edge was what mattered to people.

Which is where Weezy comes in.

I’m not going to begin to pretend that I’m anywhere near a Lil’ Wayne connoisseur or even a long-time fan; my exposure to his music is pretty much limited to Tha Carter series. I’m also not going to go in depth about how I transformed from a critical doubter, someone who absolutely loathed Lil’ Wayne, around six months ago to where I am now, that is, what I would consider to be a casual fan. What I will say about the transformation is that it occurred mostly due to sheer fascination. I couldn’t figure him out, for the longest time. I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not in his music, if he really did believe that he was the best rapper alive, or if his trashy singles had any real worth to them. His biggest convincing factor is his exposure. Lil’ Wayne is big. Bigger than big, at this point, and probably on his way to being a household name. You can’t really ignore him, even if you hate him. My attitudes toward him mirror those that I have for SkiFree, although on a much more expansive level. Basically, the key to enjoying bot SkiFree and Lil’ Wayne is realizing that that they a.) are consciously aware of everything they do and b.) don’t take themselves too seriously, just like their fans. Maybe those are just opinions, but I stand firmly by them; I can’t think of any other reasons why I would like either thing.

In any case, Lil’ Wayne has a chemistry with SkiFree that rivals that of, say, his chemistry with Kanye West. The relationship is difficult to explain, and I feel that the best way to do it might be through example, namely with the three Lil’ Wayne albums I am most familiar with, namely those in Tha Carter series. I won’t be too critical of anything here. After all, what is the point of being critical of Lil’ Wayne, or really measuring him against anything other than himself? I will start with the Grammy Award winning Tha Carter III, simply because it is the one that has gotten the most reception lately.

It should be obvious for anyone who even has a basic understanding of contemporary hip hop that Tha Carter III is Lil’ Wayne’s most innovative album yet, and he plays all of his cards at once. He clearly feels that he has the right to compare himself to both the Notorious B.I.G. and Nas, artists who have already pulled the kid on the cover trick, and the tracklist is an all-star get-together – Wayne associates himself with a lot of important pop rappers such as Kanye West and T-Pain while also garnering support of old school stars Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes. It is also by far the headiest release in The Carter series, his lyrics more confusing, nonsensical, hilarious and somehow meaningful than ever before (“Flyer than Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice”). Beyond that, it is also stylistically all over the place. He hits club anthems, funk, R&B, and Jazz, and more, while delivering some pretty varied song structures here and there (particularly “Dr. Carter”). In addition to this, the album hits a pretty jarring middle stretch (“Tie My Hands,” “Shoot Me Down,” “Playin With Fire”) which is so unexpected and underhandedly emotive that one has to check to make sure it’s still even Wayne, the gangster rapper that has produced all the hits he has. And he produces those here too (“A Milli,” “Got Money,” and the superhit auto-tune indulgence “Lollipop”), although they seem to be the less accomplished tracks on the album. In any case, Tha Carter III will surely be considered the quintessential Wayne album in the future, because it has just about everything. However, all of those elements come together to make something that is actually quite engaging, and thus not ideal for slaloming or going off of jumps. More often than not, I find myself pretty distracted while listening to Tha Carter III and riding down the mountain, and although it is prime listening, it is a little too heavy for as light of a gaming experience as SkiFree.

In that sense, Tha Carter II is conversely the best Wayne album for playing SkiFree, because as Dave notes, it requires very little effort on the part of the listener. Beats are sugar coated, hooks are flashy, rhythms are walking pace, songs are easy to follow, and there are no surprises. It’s an album made for a mass audience but it doesn’t betray who Lil’ Wayne is. It’s the glittery, superlatively gangster, badass Wayne album, knowingly extravagant and shameless. Although it is the odd duck out in Tha Carter series, being the only one that doesn’t lyrically claim to be flyer than anything (although it does bravely proclaim “Dear Mr. Toilet- I’m the shit”), it is also the one that feels it has the least to prove. Although he definitely does know his course in the music. “I’m so vain its a problem,” he practically sighs on “Money on My Mind.” But he clearly doesn’t care how big of a problem it is, and even if it is a big problem, it’s not big enough to stop him from fucking bitches and getting money. After all, when you name a track “Best Rapper Alive,” you’ve already got the ego necessary to do whatever the hell you want and not care about what anyone thinks. And if what Wayne wants to do is make an easy album, then so be it. Out of the three albums in the series, Tha Carter II is the one is the safest, but also the most assured. Lil’ Wayne is new money, and he’ll fucking kill you if you want to make something of it. In relation to SkiFree, this music takes about as much effort. It’s just as incredibly easy and undistracting to listen to ghetto club anthems like “Fireman,” “Hustler Musik,” “Fly In” and “Money on my Mind” as it is to go off little jumps and dodge around trees. To say it is the best of Wayne’s repertoire would be missing the point. What Wayne wants you to know is that every new album of his is his best, and if you can believe for three seconds that this one is number one, he’d be proud.

But put all the philosophy aside. Are we seriously trying to have an intelligent discussion about Lil’ Wayne? It may be wrong of me to make assumptions about Weezy’s intentions, but if I can make one convincing argument about them it is that on tha first Carter album, he just wants you to shake your booty. For this one, I put aside all my deep thoughts, logic, philosophy, bullshit assumptions. I don’t even care about who Lil’ Wayne is for the extent of this album, or how much he takes himself seriously. The only thing I care enough about with this album to comment on it to any extent is that it is funky, southern hip hop catharsis, and for that reason probably my favorite Wayne Record. The more popular ones including “That’s My DJ” I actually find to be the most overrated, but many of the tracks are downright infectious, namely “On My Own,” “Who Wanna,” and my favorite Wayne track, “Ain’t That a Bitch.” He is at his most instrumentally soulful here, often pulling pianos and funky guitars out of his sleeves. If we’re skiing at the same time as listening, it’s more distracting than II but less than III, mostly just because I get downright cocky while listening to it. It’s the album that challenges you to pull tight turns, to do just another flip. Maybe that’s because it’s so shamelessly self-assured. In any case, failing never feels so good. “Flyer than a motherfucking pelican.”

Life is long, it’s tiring, it’s difficult, and I’m sure I’ve got more than three years left of finals studying, paying the bills, gettin’ the money, hustlin, and inhaling noxious fumes while I slowly disintegrate. When all is said and done, we get fucking eaten. The bottom line is that if we’re going to go down the mountain in the first place, we might as well be cash money millionaires on the way, and this unlikely combination of low culture forces make it that much more tolerable for however minuscule an amount of time every once in a while, regardless of how irrelevant it is.

GIFs courtesy of http://ski.ihoc.net/, the Most Officialest SkiFree Home Page.

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Aesop Rock – Labor Days

February 26, 2009
Aesop Rock - Labor Days

Aesop Rock - Labor Days

One of the things that makes Aesop Rock’s third full album of mystic urban tale-spinning so consistently fascinating is that it seems to narrate the struggles of millions. This is the album that perfectly characterizes your job, whatever it may be. Struggling to get out of bed in the morning, trudging to the subway station, riding the bus, stuck in traffic, driving the steamroller, disintegrating in the cubicle, waiting for the train home, and collapsing in the bed, muscles throbbing. The fact that Aesop Rock was working full time as a waiter during the creation of Labor Days makes its overall concept all that more genuine, but it is the execution of the album that is truly impressive. Aesop’s delivery is stark, uncompromising, funny, intelligent, and without match in flow. Pick a line – “I smoke cigarettes down to filter smoke the filter down to space / now I’m gonna roll this question tight and smoke that shit up in your face / now if you were to alter masks every time fame circus approaches / do you really think your maker wouldn’t notice? (Think about it.)” Aesop’s brilliant, philosophical, often cross referential lyrics seem endless, and are held up by a rock solid albeit rough foundation of production from Aesop himself. The subtle eastern flavor and harrowing dynamics of the music highlights his mystical, burning representation of the plight of the working person. Every song is classic Aesop: the shocking delicacy of “No Regrets,” the dragging heat of “Daylight” and the flowing zen of “Battery” only scratch the surface of the album’s highlights. One would be hard pressed to find a more challenging and rewarding hip hop album than Labor Days, in any era.

Aesop Rock

Aesop Rock

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Space Monkeyz vs. Gorillaz: Laika Come Home

October 7, 2008

In some ways, releasing Laika Come Home, a remix album consisting entirely of dub remixes of songs from the first Gorillaz album, was a good idea, because dub remixes very well might have appealed to the same market that the first Gorillaz album did. However, Laika Come Home was both peripheral and unnecessary. The intention was to make chilled out versions of the songs from the self titled album, but whoever made the executive decision to make Laika somehow forgot that Gorillaz was already a chilled out album, and the cutting edge of modern hip hop. So making a reggae remix album for it was both redundant and pointless. However, it seems apparent that the Spacemonkeyz have some kind of talent. Laika at the very least is quite well produced, and they write some fairly good hooks to accompany Damon Albarn’s work here. However, the album feels like less of a remix album so much as a dub album of its own that samples the Gorillaz every once in a while (and pretty poorly at that). Song selection is also rather scattered. Hard rockers M1A1 and Punk are chosen for the mix, the former simply a bad decision to remix and the latter having virtually no resemblance to the original whatsoever. Also, songs with obvious dub potential are ignored, Latin Simone and Dracula. Beyond these objective facts, Laika Come Home simply is not a fun listen. During a continuous play, the listener will likely either get bored, develop a strong desire to smoke a joint, or simply fall asleep. For that reason, this album will mostly only appeal to reggae fans, and mostly bore the rest of us. But despite these fundamental flaws, there are a few scattered treasures to be found here. Strictly Rubbadub and Crooked Dub are the obvious winners, and a couple other songs can be enjoyable if the listener is in the mood for this kind of thing

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Nas – Illmatic

August 21, 2008

New York MC Nas’ debut album Illmatic is often hailed by critics as well as fans as one of the best hip hop albums of all time for a reason. In that way, it strikes a chord with the critics because little to nothing in mainstream rap at the time was as intelligent or well produced, and it garnered as many fans as it did because it was probably the catchiest, most smooth listen the hip hop industry had ever heard. Both sides of the coin play themselves out equally importantly. The album is loaded with catchy hooks, loops and beats, which are bolstered by the now legendary foursome of rap producers DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock, and Q-Tip. They treat the samples with care, making most of the album sound simultaneously pure and nostalgic (as the cover suggests) with their hazy jazz productions. The backbeats range from dark compositions (N.Y. State of Mind, Represent) to lighter jazz pieces (Life’s a Bitch, Memory Lane), and both modes work effectively. The performance of these producers alone could have been enough to make this album a classic, but Nas remains the centerpiece of the album, with a smooth flow and consistently contemplative lyrics throughout. He mostly raps about what it is like to live in the ghetto, but he does it with sophistication and care, and even when he indulges in self promotion, the results are cool and composed, as opposed to the outwardly ridiculous trash talking of most gangster rap. Even on the rare occasions that the beats slip up short of excellence (One Time 4 Your Mind), Nas keeps his words and delivery solid enough to keep each song solid. But what makes the album particularly surprising is how equally matched the DJs are with the MC. Each song has at least a few memorable hooks, beats, instrumentations, or details, and several instantly quotable rhymes. Leaving the album at a scant forty minutes with no more than ten songs was a smart move too; the brevity leaves the listener that much more fixated on what is there, and thirsting for more. Latter efforts would not be as popular or influential, but at least for the span of Illmatic the world belongs to Nas.

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The Roots – Phrenology

March 12, 2008

Phrenology
When I consider how far my taste in music has come in the past ten years, there is no genre more testing and unclear than rap. Ten years ago, probably about half of what I listened to was rap, and it was shitty rap. It was the rap that you hear on the radio. I hardly need to say anymore. When I developed a taste for rock music, or really music of any considerable quality, mainstream rap was just about ready to run itself of a cliff and down into the jagged rocks where it is today. For that reason, I declared myself a fan of music, which I did not consider rap a part of.
It took me until recently to realize that there is good rap, and it isn’t in small number. The trick is that finding it isn’t easy. The Roots were the big breakthrough for me, in particular the fantastic jazz-rap album that I can’t reccomend enough, Things Fall Apart. It didn’t occur to me that rap could possibly be as tasteful and sophisticated as it is on that album. It’s follow-up, Phrenology, takes a bit of a step towards the mainstream, but not without their usual roundabout approach, and not without breaking some ground in the process.
The first thing I noticed about Phrenology was the drums. ?uestlove has opted for a more bassey, heavy approach, and his syncopation is more funky. These, days, most mainstream hip hop artists strive to make nothing more than a record that will sell, and to sell, you illegedly have to be able to shake your ass to it. Phrenology is riddled with grooves, but not at the expense of the usual quality of the music. The interesting thing about Things Fall Apart was that its melodicism was just as compelling as its words. Phrenology is a step in both directions. The Roots know how to write hooks with longevity while saying something worth thinking about.
Black Thought’s words take on some issues that would endlessly confuse most of the rappers on the radio. Especially riddling is the inward examination of the objectification of women in the industry with The Seed (2.0), which explores the real, deeply psychological reasons for mindless sex that are pursued on every other rap single. It’s hard to say what the intention really was. It’s possible that it is simply self-indulgence, and that The Roots are on a slippery slope, but considering the awareness of The Roots of their own music, this isn’t likely. The irony is that it probably got radio and club play, and it probably went over most everyone’s heads.
Although The Seed (2.0) might be the radio friendly (at least it’s clean version) launching point, the album’s examination of it’s own genre doesn’t stop there. With WAOK Rollcall, the listener is cleverly presented with a radio commercial that spontaneously lists off rap and hip hop artists worthy of praise. It feels like an endorsement, and yet it barrels into Thought @ Work, the most incendiary hardcore rap track on the album. Black Thought expresses his feelings about his own expression with his memorable line “Fuck getting money for real/get freedom.” It’s hard to say what the hell these guys want, or what they are getting.
It makes no sense that an album that features Nelly Furtado, Jill Scott, and Musiq can be as experimental as it is. The album switches between their signature hardcore rap and easygoing, almost boring R&B with little to no provocation, and it’s surprising that the transformations actually make some sense. Just as often we get a taste of something shocking, namely the ten minute long experimental funk-noise epic Water. Like it’s predecessor, Phrenology ends with a wildly experimental send-off, Something In The Way of Things (In Town) which features a speech by Amiri Baraka. Much like with Return To Innosence Lost, The Roots take a step backward and let someone who has shaped their culture do the talking and the damage. It might be the easy or cowardly way out, but Baraka was the right man to feature, and his words don’t preach so much as they raise questions. In any case, this ending, withstanding the untitled hidden tracks, is very memorable and does Return To Innosence Lost justice.
And I think Phrenology does Things Fall Apart justice too. It never had any chance of being as good as Things Fall Apart, but it doesn’t try to be. It is a forward moving album for The Roots, and they take on a variety of genres that were hinted at lightly with it’s predecessor’s clever subtlety. It probably leans a little too much on radio friendly R&B though. If it came out swinging more like it does with Thought @ Work and Quills, it would be more successful. In any case, the album makes sense in the progression of Roots albums. It is a healthy stylistic blooming from the brilliance that is Things Fall Apart, but it also spells the bands ultimate downfall that would be the next album, the horrible, mainstream burn out The Tipping Point. The Roots have since redeemed themselves with the excellent Game Theory in 2006, but they will still never make an album as good as Things Fall Apart, and doubtfully anything better and more forward moving and compelling than Phrenology.¬†Recommended.

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TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain

May 21, 2007

Of all the albums that topped the best of 2006 lists, TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain was perhaps the most challenging and simultaneously rewarding. I was recommended the album simply on a “you would like this” basis, and alternatively the persons brother told me I would hate it. Thus, I decided it was something I needed to hear, but I put it off. I regained interest by the end of the year when I started seeing the album all over the place, in places as innocuous and simple as Rolling Stone, The Onion, and Pitchfork Media (god forgive me). Although I hate giving any more bearing to any musical criticism juggernauts, but it topped a lot of big name lists. TV on the Radio appeared on the front of Spin Magazine due to Cookie Mountain being deemed the album of the year, for one thing, and Entertainment Weekly gobbled it up too (I think it might have also been their album of the year, but I’m not 100% sure). They were on David Letterman and Jimmie Kimmel. The delay in my interest only augmented the confusion that the album gave me on first listen, but I will attest that this is one of the best albums of 2006 and worthy of all the praise it gets.

What I didn’t mention is that by the time I had acquired Return to Cookie Mountain, the album had gained almost mythical praise within my circle of music-loving acquaintances. They treated it as if it was some sort of nearly impassable wall that once traversed broke into paradise or something. Upon first listen, I was more than just skeptical, but turned off altogether. However, months later, when I had given the album numerous listens and understood it fully, I felt completely comfortable with what it was trying to say. The truth is that Return to Cookie Mountain is as much a puzzle as people say it is, and it is one of the most wildly different albums of pop to hit the mainstream in years. In a world where bands tend to get more and more disposable, TV on the Radio reaffirmed their place in the industry with this record and additionally justified all of their other music when they were more of an underground force. What I can say of this style will probably turn most people off at first, but don’t be fooled. I haven’t heard something this original in a long time, and this album sounds like little else you have heard. I can describe it as heavily beat oriented, a mix between hip-hop, alt rock and trip-hop, with distinctly haunting melodies. It’s nothing short of a miracle, or perhaps an almost unbelievably show of skill, that TV on the Radio has gotten as far as it has, because their style is so unique and at times trying.

For that reason, it might be best to work backwards to truly put together all of the pieces. Although I Was A Lover might be one of the albums finest moments, the fact that it comes as a first track is downright discombobulating. The albums “hit” is Wolf Like Me, an upbeat, rocking, dark masterpiece that puts a lot of what the album has to say out on the table without quite digging in. But that doesn’t make it any less amazing. This is the finest example of the groups dynamic lyrics. Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone team up for a wonderful, although not unique, rhythmic vocal style that breaths life into the record and acts as just as key of a role as any other instrument. A good chunk of the albums appeal is actually in the vocals and the lyrics, which are always well focused poetry. Especially breaking are the vocals in Blues From Down Here, “rue the pin/drop it in/let it wash away,” sang in a singsong repetition over a completely destructive backdrop of music. This great line is not unique. The lyrics are just as impressive as the voices that sing them, and the description of a clone in I Was A Lover as well as the momentous Tonight are both highlights.

The continuous blossoming of this album is what makes it so worthwhile, and half the fun is letting it burrow into your head progressively. Every song on the album is key to the overall picture, which I think very few albums can vouch for. Even the weakest track, A Method, is sly and quite infectious rhythm. And what the big picture is could be explained as an urban odyssey of the soul, and an exploration into the psyche of the human mind. This may sound pretentious, but really who am I to judge what this album is really about with lyrics so cryptic and deep? And it never repeats itself either. Every song is singular. The final shoegaze rush of Wash The Day Away is just as shocking as the slamming railroad gospel Let The Devil in midway down the line, and as fun as filled with tension as Playhouses. Sometimes the album surfaces with something a little more positive like I Was A Lover and Providence, but the music is best at it’s darkest, particularly Wolf Like Me, Blues From Down Here, and Hours.

I guess the biggest complaint I have about Return to Cookie Mountain is it is kind of hard to get through in one listen, but no doubt this is in my top five for last year. Once again, you can’t let it slip through your fingers just because of what comes out on the first listen. I did that and it remained under my radar for months. Just try to keep an open mind and let the melodies and great vocals surface. This isn’t easy, but in the end more than worth it.

Also, I did a top fifty albums list on my RYM. Check it out, maybe.

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Girl Talk – Night Ripper

August 1, 2006

There almost seems to be a genre of music that consists entirely of music that thrives on samples. There are several artists who coast on this questionable music. DJ Shadow, Backini, Fatboy Slim, etc. What a lot of these people seem to do is create a beat and compliment it with old samples from vinyl and music that was popular years and years ago. It’s sort of like recycling, in a way, because this old music was most likely never even liked, and when it went through the DJ treatment, it becomes something good, likable, and sometimes even popular. And interesting to listen to as well. People have been sampling old, strange music for years, especially in the ambient genre but also in pop. But this album is something different.

First off, it is completely illegal. Everything about this album was stolen, and stolen without permission at that. Hell, the album was even released on a label called Illegal Art. This guy is just asking to get his ass sued off. And he will, don’t worry. It’s sort of the same type of situation as what Danger Mouse did with the Grey Album, a somewhat passively acclaimed mock up album of Jay-Z and The Beatles. And if an artists can get put in jail for copyright infringement of two artists, how about a hundred? Maybe more? That’s what this guy known as Girl Talk does. But he does it in such a radically different way than say, Fatboy Slim or DJ Shadow because what he samples are songs that you hear on the radio today. He basically melds alternative rock and pop with mainstream and underground rap. And then he does that for an entire album making the beats meld. For that reason, listening to this album is quite fun. Everyone, and I mean everyone, even the musically declined, will recognize samples in this album. You will recognize more if you listen to the weekly top fourty, but you will also recognize a lot of you are a fan of stuff that was popular in the eighties and nineties.

It’s a great party album, as the album sucks up to any given listener. Rap fans will enjoy the beat and the heavy bass, and rock fans will like the sophistication and guitars that constantly make the songs melodic. And fans of both rap and rock will love the samples from each respective genre. The entire album never even really stops until the end either. It’s essentially one big song when you consider how rapid fire the music is, and it is really just a non-stop funfest segmented into different parts, which is good, because if you like songs with certain samples, you can skip right to where you want to go. And if you don’t care and you feel like rap, rock, or both, you can listen to the album nonstop. In retrospect, I can see this album being a revelation of sorts. I can see it being very influential in the future because very few people have made it their goal to blatantly steal from so many people and then make it into something really cool and call it their own. Will it be a revelation? I somehow doubt it. I just can’t see there being any revolutions like that in this day and age. It’s not the seventies anymore, unfortunately.

Anyway, I really did enjoy a lot of the samples on here. I heard The Pixies, I heard Smokey Robinson, I heard Sonic Youth, and all that really pleased me. And then when you put these samples in songs with famous rappers, it’s a very strange but pleasing result. It’s not really an album that everyone will love, but it’s an album that everyone will like. The best track on the album is Smash Your Head, and it is quite the doozie. It really caught my ear because it samples at first rap, and then pairs it up with possibly my favorite track from my favorite band, Scentless Apprentice by Nirvana. I wish I could have seen the look on my face. I know what I was thinking. I know my eyes widened and I had a confused smile on my face, but a describtion can’t do justice to the situation. It’s so simple, yet so classic and perverse. I was tapping my fingers to the beat that I know and love so much not even knowing where it came from, and then the electric squall gave it away. Anyone that can effectively sample Young Jeezy, Nirvana, and a skewed Elton John sample (that had ALREADY been sampled, mind you) all in one song deserves some serious props.

It’s a fun album to listen to. Especially with other people. But it’s just so hard for me to grade this. Half of me wants to put it in the 9/10 range, and the other half in the 7/10 range. When I think about it, this isn’t really that ingenious. People have done mock ups before. And the fact that everything on the album (EVERYTHING) was stolen and only really aknowledged as someone elses in the liner notes is kind of bad. I mean, copyright infringement isn’t cool, but this guy knows what he’s getting into and he seems okay with it. And it’s just generally enjoyable music. I suppose my complaint is that there wasn’t enough alternative rock sampled, because that is my genre of choice, and top fourty pop, rap, and hip hop were sampled a little too much in my opinion. There is nothing cool about the Ying Yang twins besides the fact that they are so bad they are good, so this is a tad too forward on the rap samples. And yet, I don’t even like rap, but I liked this. I have to give it some kind of props, because I did really enjoy it. I know that this guy will be in court for a while if not in jail for a while, and if he finally does get untangled from all that, I can only hope he tries his trade again, because I have heard his earlier work isn’t as good as this, and I’m told he’s just getting better.

On a side note, I’m thinking about doing a feature for this publication. I’m pretty much midway into a project that I’m thinking of calling “Thirty Great Games.” Just thirty great video games that are my personal favorites with describtions of each and why they are good. It’s just an idea I’m throwing out. It’s almost done, so I might post it. We shall see.