Archive | January, 2013

Hot Routes: Conference Edition

18 Jan

NFL Playoffs: Conference Week

Even though there’s only two games this week, we didn’t want to go light on the musical offerings.  So instead of hot tracks, you get two hot albums to go with your playoff picks.  Hot cuts from today and yesterday.

 

 

AFC Conference:  Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots

The Pick:  Ravens (+9)

The Album:  Foe by Man Without Country

Man Without Country’s album Foe came out a couple of years ago, so they’re not exactly a brand-new discovery.  They are, however, building up some momentum as 2013 begins, and may very well start to follow the same gradual-then-explosive path of cultural ascension that M83 took in 2011-12.  The reference to M83 is not a casual one – MWC’s music shares a lot of sonic similarities with the French artist, and they were also an opening act on several legs of the M83 headlining tour last year.  With Foe, MWC also made one connection to M83 very clear – both groups are capable of making stirring records that find beautiful noise amongst the collisions between pop, rock, and electronic music.

Much of Foe is drenched in synthesizers, and there’s a heady electronic pulse beating throughout the album.  Many songs feature rhythms and hard-edged beats that any dancehall producer would be lucky to have, and it’s clear that MWC understands how to rock a fucking party.  That’s not the only thing they’re able to do, though, and it’s not the most striking thing about Foe.

Underneath all the shiny effects and lazerbeam synths, MWC have the immediate and dynamic sound of a well-honed rock band.  This allows them potential access to the grand-scale soundscapes that powerful bands can hit – the kind of soaring, heady, climactic moments in which the artists create, fill, and destroy entire arenas within your speakers.  In other words, they have the potential to get on some next-level shit.

On Foe, they manage to grab hold of that potential at points, and the results are excellent.  The album closes with “Inflammable Heart” and if that song is any indication of where MWC is going next, they’re going to be the ones headlining world tours sooner rather than later.  It demands to be seen live, preferably coupled with other expansive high points featured on tracks like “Puppets” and “King Complex.”

Foe is not a perfect record, and there are times when the limitations of a young band show through.  There is a lot of room to grow.  But the ceiling is incredibly high, and MWC appears ready to climb.

 

 

 

NFC Divisional: San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons

The Pick:  Falcons (+5)

The Album:  Tical by Method Man

Method Man was one of the most visible members of Wu-Tang from the group’s beginning; even within a hip-hop collective stacked with head-spinning singular talents like Ghostface, Raekwon and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the laid-back, deceptively simple flow of Meth compelled an irresistible interest whenever it appeared against another RZA backdrop.  The Clan knew this as much as anyone – Meth was given one of only two solo tracks on 36 Chambers, and that gesture was underlined by naming the track simply “Method Man.”

It’s not a coincidence that “Method Man” is one of the most enjoyable tracks on that classic album, and that Tical, Meth’s solo debut, is one of the best records to come out of that heady early-Wu period.

There are some clear reasons why Method Man was a critical and fan favorite as soon as the Wu landed.  First, Method Man’s delivery and lyrics seemed uniquely suitable for the grimy and multi-layered production aesthetic of group mastermind the RZA.  The Wu beats were dirty in the best possible sense – the bass hits weren’t clean or shoved to the forefront, but they got down and hit a primal level that few other hip-hop artists could touch.  RZA’s sound had a deceptive, made-in-the-basement feel to it; the lack of polish on the production belied the multi-layered craftsmanship working swiftly just below the surface.

Meth’s flow shared these production qualities and thus ran rampant all over the beats RZA gave him – his raspy voice and delivery put words to the dark, weird, hard, and always entertaining feel of the music, and his just-relaxed-enough lyrical tempo hid a brilliantly deft lyricist who shifted signatures to his whim and crafted undeniable hooks wherever he pleased.

It was often easy to hear the wicked glee in Meth’s lyrics, as though every time he stepped into the booth he was in the midst of one big, enjoyable house party.  On all of Meth’s early collaborations with RZA, most notably Tical, it sounds as if the fun in the vocals booth was infectious – RZA couldn’t help but match the energy with some of the tightest and most darkly enjoyable productions he’s ever laid down.  When two visionary artists can get on the same level like that, classics are made.

 

Hot Routes: Divisional Edition

11 Jan

 

NFL Playoffs: Divisional Week

Well, the accuracy rate of the Swanky Bowl Game picks from the end of 2012 were downright embarrassing.  Things were looking good throughout the regular season, but the combination of Rumpleminz and White Elephant parties proved to be too distracting for your Swanky correspondents.  Crucial research was overlooked, important intangible factors were ignored, and by the time everything was said and done, our credibility had disappeared along with Notre Dame’s self-respect.

To make up for any hard-feelings, and in an attempt to maybe get back some of that fickle street cred, we decided to heat the Routes back up and ride it through the rest of the NFL postseason.  There’s more than enough great music out there to last through February.

 

AFC Divisional:  Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos

The Pick:  Ravens (+10)

The Song:  Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It by Stars

Stars use synthesizers and other electronic effects to flesh out their live-band dynamic, and what often results are earnest, propulsive songs that strike universal chords of life and love.  “Hold On When You Get Love” lets its intentions be known from the get-go by laying down a simple kick-drum stomp familiar to other anthemic slow-burners – it’s inevitable that things are going to gain momentum from there, and they’re probably going to crest in full-throated sing-a-longs.

As the momentum picks up, the vocals make sure that listeners have a stake by setting up evocative and instantly relatable scenes of getting too drunk, leaving parties at the right times, showing up bastards everywhere, and putting all of your love out there for someone else.  By the time synthesizers and guitars are combining to rattle every visible edge of the song, the listener is right there with the band, running at breakneck speed and proclaiming their love to the empty nighttime streets.

 

NFC Divisional: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

The Pick:  Packers (+3)

The Song:  Minor Cause by Emancipator

Emancipator has a lot in common with Bonobo – they both use instrumental touches more common to jazz and classical music to create hypnotic, mysterious, and moody songs that hit deep, undeniable stretches of groove bliss where movement is almost impossible to resist.  When these artists get going, and they pretty much always do, it is hard to tear yourself away.  They find the common ground between jazz and electronic music, and they dance all over it.

“Minor Cause” is the latest track from Emancipator, and it offers much of the same sounds we’ve come to expect from the artist.  Mournful violin strings float over a nodding beat accented by pounding piano keys, and a swirling, mystical world of sound is summoned up out of nowhere.  Can’t ask for much more.

 

NFC Divisional: Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons

The Pick:  Seahawks (+2.5)

The Song:  Clair De Lune by Flight Facilities

As a lifelong Seattle sports fan, there’s no way I’m going to pick against the Seahawks as they continue this playoff run.  But with this game against the Falcons, I like the Hawks’ chances even after putting the hometown bias aside.  Atlanta’s biggest weapons on offense is their pair of stud wide receivers, and Seattle has been excellent against the pass all season behind their towering and athletic corners.  On the other side of the ball, the combination of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch has been overpowering lately, and there hasn’t been much from the Falcons D to inspire much confidence that they’ll be able to shut those two down.

Not all of the good feelings behind this Seahawks team is confined to on-paper matchups.  There’s a confident and playful edge to this team that makes them incredibly fun to root for.  From Pete Carroll on down, you can see the enjoyment that the entire team finds in playing with each other, and you can see how hard they are competing on every play of every game.  It’s hard to watch a team like this for very long without getting sucked into their energy and competitive fire; after a recent trip back to Seattle, I can safely say that the city hasn’t been this fired up about a sports team since the glory days of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp ran into the heyday of Ken Griffey, Jr.  So no matter what happens this week, the future is bright for the Seachickens.

 

AFC Divisional: Houston Texans at New England Patriots

The Pick:  Patriots (-9.5)

The Song:  Say That by Toro Y Moi

Toro Y Moi is getting set to release his new album Anything In Return on January 22, and based on the sound of some initial track releases, it’s going to be an exciting next step for the artist.  Over his last couple of releases as Toro, Chaz Bundick has put out some deeply laid-back funk that doesn’t hesitate to explore any sonic tangents that may present themselves.  The result has been some very solid records that succeed in creating a very pleasant listening experience, but ones that were not without down-key moments in which the musical meandering felt more self-indulgent than purposeful.  That looks to be changing with Anything.

With tracks like “Say That,” it appears that Toro Y Moi are beginning to beef up their sound – adding an edge to the synth hits, and making the low end hit a little bit harder, amongst other things – while also bringing a focus and relative structure to the songs.  These tracks are strong when standing alone by themselves, and they have the feel of an artist becoming more confident and self-assured as he matures with his craft.  The album has the potential to break Toro to a whole new audience, and that’s a great thing to see.

 

 

Personal Soundtrack

9 Jan

The Song

 

Nuthin’ To Do by Common

In 2013’s world, Common is a suave, well-built character actor with a velvety voice who occasionally lays down above-average rap verses on the side.  That’s a bit of a departure from the Common of nearly twenty (holy shit) years ago, who climbed to the top of the underground hip-hop scene behind hungry, sensitive, and brash verses that found the sweet spots on top of and within iconic beats from the legendary Chicago producer No I.D.

Common’s early records are head-spinning combinations of a warm, laid-back and funky production aesthetic paired with wordy, breathless, and at times frenetic lyrical verses.  The apex of this period is Resurrection, and within the underground hip-hop world at the time of its release, Resurrection was monumental – the match between Common and No I.D.’s vintage productions was a match made in hip-hop Head heaven.

What makes Resurrection so noteworthy, apart from Common’s performance, which is compelling, is the career-defining production from No I.D., who produced nearly all of the record.  For No I.D., Resurrection represents not only the producer’s best body of work, but also a clear example of the producer’s musical signature, and of the aesthetic contributions he made to hip-hop that continues to influence the genre today.

No I.D. is often referred to as the godfather of Chicago hip-hop, and he has long been a mentor and partner with Kanye West.  One listen to Resurrection, and you know exactly where Kanye got the inspiration for many of the production touches he used to propel his stardom and influence the global music scene.

The production of Resurrection sounds almost timeless, forever encapsulated in a fuzzy cloud of old jazz and soul samples, dusty drum hits, and undeniable grooves bubbling from the low end.  Everything comes off sounding like a fresh vinyl record even if the tracks are streaming through a computer.  It’s a warm sound that still manages to hit hard and get heads nodding.

“Nuthin’ To Do” is a standout track on Resurrection, presenting a strong example of the album’s best qualities.  The old-school sample of choice on this track is a smoky saxophone, sounding out and glancing off into the ether while the bass line keeps things tight with the drums and the record scratches at just the right times. This is the sound that Kanye rode to superstardom, and it’s still influencing him today – and the work of every other hip-hop artist out there aspiring to be the next Kanye.

No I.D. was doing it way before everyone else, and he was doing it the best on Resurrection.

The Activity

The mournful bleat of Miles’ horn trickles out through an unknown and unseen window, crawling over brownstone bricks and finding your ear just as you set your head back and close your eyes against the Day.  Right now the Day is earning the mental capitalization you’re giving it with the aggressive heat and humidity it’s tossing around like a statement of purpose and power.  The temperature has hovered just above 100 degrees for several hours, and with the sun sitting firmly in the highest part of the sky, things show no sign of abating anytime soon.  You half-crawled over to this front stoop solely because of the light shade its steps offered; the vinyl explorations of jazz icons is the least of your concerns as the sweat cools momentarily on your forehead.

As you collect your breath and allow your body temperature to retreat from dangerously high levels, the sluggish aura of the city begins to lull you into a hazy state unique to days like these.  Before you know it, the brassy blows from Miles and Co. have taken over every other sound around you and now brush against your face lightly with the force of a light breeze.  Every blast from a sax sets you off even further from reality, a fact that you don’t begin to appreciate until you next open your eyes.

Your first indication that things are not entirely normal comes with the young couple walking hand-in-hand across the street from you.  His denim overall and snap-back combo could probably be overlooked as a forward-thinking fashion throwback, but the distinct patterns of her dashiki and bold beats of her boxy boombox are noteworthy.  The thing she’s holding is enormous, and as you look around your side of the street, is not alone.  There are shiny metallic boom boxes everywhere – in open windows, on front stoops, cradled under arms of every passersby.  And with another blink, you realize that they’re all playing the same music.

Upon the recognition of the deep musical grooves now completely surrounding you, you also start to notice that each sonic beat is accompanied by the appearance of vibrant stripes and squiggles of color on the urban landscape.  These bits of color squirm around, diverging from and bumping into each other with patterns that are completely in sync with the music of the moment.  You haven’t seen anything like this since the glory days of Tribe and Common Sense, and it’s not a bad way to spend the day.