Posted tagged ‘2007’

CLASSIC CHAZ: El-P “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” – Music Review

August 5, 2010

It's a bird, OK?!

With this week’s release of El-P’s Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 and my review of it over at Spectrum Culture, I thought now would be a good time to up a review I did of El’s previous album that originally ran in March, 2007 for the now defunct DropMagazine. They had me rate things on scale of 1.0 to 10.0 where this originally received a 9.5, but I’ve modified it to match the strict 1-5 motif of our little playhouse. Enjoy!

“This is the sound of what you don’t know killing you” begins the chorus of “Tasmanian Pain Coaster,” the opening track from MC/Producer El-P’s highly anticipated 2007 album I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. Easily the best publicized independent release of the year thus far, with promotional campaigns involving the likes of the New York Times, iTunes, and the Cartoon network’s Adult Swim programming block, the former Company Flow frontman managed to bright Definitive Jux to the Billboard promised land, debuting at #78 on the top 200 and moving 11,417 units in its first week at a time when rap releases are being outsold by a two-to-one ratio by Dane Cook. With his previous release, 2002’s Fantastic Damage peaking at #198 and the label’s previous highest charter, Aesop Rock’s 2003 album Bazooka Tooth, only reaching #112, it seems the Definitive Jux bulldozer is continuing to roll strongly, picking up new fans with each go-round.

This should come as no surprise as, in the five years between releases, El has remained quite the busy beaver. While some have mistakenly referred to this time as a hiatus, El has been quite active through releasing a jazz album, overseeing the production on albums from flagship artists Cage and Mr. Lif, launching a digital download website for his label, and contributing remixes to such high-profile artists as Beck and Nine Inch Nails. Such efforts, as well as changing times, have seemingly impacted his soundscape. While he retains his trademark wall-of-sound production ethos, the transitions are far less jarring and his song structure, such as the verse-chorus-verse lyrics of “EMG” and “Up All Night,” has evolved to become somewhat more linear.

But it is the very limitation that El places himself in that allows I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead to function as such a wonderfully executed experiment of a record. Painstakingly orchestrated in the format of an actual album, a process forgotten by most in today’s ever-changing digital-music landscape, each of the albums 13 tracks not only maintain, but emphasized the project’s progressive momentum simply by being organized next to one another. And with El-P’s verses, as well as two guest appearances by Cage and Aesop Rock and countless blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameo ranging from Trent Reznor to Cat Power to Slug from Atmosphere to former Company Flow DJ Mr. Len, all mixed as part of the presentation, instead of just at the forefront, and you have an almost daunting finished product that, on realized ambition alone, stands head-and-shoulders over any rap release in recent memory.

One of my favorite promo images.

Such layers gives not only the album a fully flourished final product, but gives the listener several options regarding how to approach ingesting it. At face value, one is treated to vivid storytelling (El encountering a ravaged acquaintance on the subway in “Tasmanian Pain Coaster,” finding love on a futuristic prison ship in “Habeas Corpses”), inspired ranting (taking Mayor Bloomberg and rappers who “went from battle rap to gun talk like we ain’t notice the change” to task on “Smithereens,” listing things more plausible than his participation in military service on “Dead Sirs”) and unpretentious coming-of-age realizations (the pitfalls of a May-December romance on “The Overly Dramatic Truth,” coping with addiction on “Poisonville Kids No Wins”). Further analyzation reveals numerous possible interpretations and gems buried within the soundscape (it took me at least a dozen listens to recognize the distorted Tickle-Me-Elmo laughter in “Tasmanian Pain Coaster”) to the point where those interested in further listening with be handsomely rewarded.

Despite all this album has going for it, there are some flaws. The least of which, is how certain songs only work within the confines of the album itself and fails to stand on their own. Yet, since this album was designed to be listened to as a whole, one can’t hold that against it. Otherwise, after such a tour-de-force, the album’s ultimate conclusion at the end of “Poisonville Kids No Wins” just seems anticlimactic, and not in a manner that falls in line with the rest of the album’s painfully bleak tone. I’d imagine El was going for the effect of having such a complex release slowly stripping itself of each layer to the point of nothing to give contrast and a certain space to breathe again following the journey, but such an ending just doesn’t function perhaps due to it’s rather quick speed after such a tumultuous journey.

Still, that’s truly knit-picking and shouldn’t dissuade you in the least from one of the most important, and enjoyable, releases our genre has seen in quite sometime. The album is intelligent, intellectual, inventive, intentionally humorous, and most importantly sounds great. Truly an outstanding effort on the part of El-Producto that he will no longer have to lose sleep over.

We give I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead a Four Out of Five

So until next time…let’s agree to agree!

I, VALENTINE – Music For Loving Lovers in Love and Sultry Singles

February 12, 2010

Editor’s Note: This is something I wrote that originally appeared “somewhere else” back in 2007. Times were different then, so in order for something so archaic to be comprehendible by today’s audiences I’ve added a few *NEW* elements, which will be signaled by obnoxiously writing “new” in capitol letters with two asterisks on either side.

Hearts, Stars and Horseshoes,

It’s that time of the year again. That day between observing Martin Luther King Jr. and (dead) Presidents when we remember that the person we’re sharing a bed with is pretty alright as well. For singles, this is a day when one either remembers how fortunate they were with lovers past (I see you baby!) or loathe the fact that nobody loves them and spend the evening awkwardly trying to scoop something young, drunk and warm (I see you, baby.)

For me, regardless of romantic condition, it’s a time of eating Sweethearts candies and listening to some of the most inspired musical memories from seasons past. That in mind, I thought I’d post some fitting music to you regardless of your condition this February 14th. What follows will either A) Get you and that special someone in ‘that kinda mood’ to have a night of Valentine Laffy Taffy together B) Get you singles pumped up to pimp it out tonight, or C) just chill and procrastinate on that homework due tomorrow you should have had done last night.

Hey, I have to earn one of those Facebook Wall Gifts somehow, right? Also, you’ll notice a lack of Isaac Hayes, LL Cool J, and Marvin Gaye in this list. I agree that they’re probably the Best Love Summer Jam No. 1 OMGLYLASBBQ muzik eVaR, but do you really need another list telling you how great “I Need Love” is?

And into the Tunnel of Love we go…

Some people call him the space cowboy. Some call him the Gang Starr of love.

1) Gang Starr – “Ex Girl to Next Girl” (1992)

For the Romantically Reflective –

A mixtape favorite of mine for several years, this was the centerpiece of Gang Starr’s 1992 classic “Daily Operation.” DJ Premier’s manipulation of Caesar Frazier’s “Funk It Up” becomes the perfect backdrop for arguably Guru’s finest hour. Never has his introspective vocabulary and everyman delivery suited a song better than this tale of love, loss, and closure. Mature without being pretentious, intelligent without being forced, “Ex Girl to Next Girl” remains one of the genre’s greatest moments. Perfection.

2) Amy Winehouse – “F*** Me Pumps” (2003)

For the Cynical Singles in the Corner of the Club Laughing at Those of Us Who Buy Into this “Hallmark Holiday” –

Before she was on the verge of being the next big import, Amy Winehouse debuted overseas with an interesting genre-bending album called “Frank.” Influenced by everything great about the Wikipedia article about the last 50 years of popular music (as well as some not-so-great things such as improper dieting) the album found her channeling great heartfelt R&B one moment and singing soulfully over Nas’s “Made You Look” the next without missing a beat. The highlight for me was “F-Me Pumps,” a scathing bit of cynicism that sounds like it was recorded in Heaven.

On a personal note, this song remains the single best song I’ve ever been introduced to on one of those “relationship” mixtapes you make for your special someone that they’ll probably listen to once or twice over the course of the relationship*. *NEW* The version that was given to me was a remix known as the Mylo Mix, which I’ve sentimentally thrown up here.

3) Main Source – “Lookin’ At the Front Door” (1992)

For those in Relationships That Plan To End Them as Soon as they Get the Gift and it becomes the 15th –

Arguably the best album to drop on Wild Pitch Records, Main Source’s “Breaking Atoms” is much more than just Nas’s recorded debut. With one of the all time greatest producers Large Professor behind the boards, this album contained one of Hip Hop’s greatest police brutality cuts (“A Friendly Game of Baseball”), posse cuts (“Live at the BBQ”) and the only one-verse song that rivals Eric B. and Rakim’s “Paid in Full” (“Peace is Not the Word to Play”)

The album also contained this single, “Lookin’ At the Front Door.” One of the most referenced songs in the genre, this break down of exactly why a relationship isn’t working is funny, clever, and ultimatly moving. Couple that with one of the most recognizable beats of the era and you have an undisputed Hip-Hop classic, everything the genre can and should be.

4) Souls of Mischief – “Step to My Girl” (1992)

For the Overprotective Boyfriend, and those who Covet them –

A song that sadly never saw the light of day on “93 Til Infinity” due to sample clearance issues, this Bay Area banger about the absurd machismo of overprotective boyfriends is one of the best creations from a crew who, at the time, could do no wrong. The beauty of the Grover Washinton Jr. sample (an instrumental cover of Bread’s “Aubrey,” a song with lyrics so pre-emo that my wrists hurt just listening to them) and the contrast it provides to the crew’s endearing slapstick makes for a one-of-a-kind gem. With the sample at the end making for one final solid laugh, the song is four minutes and nine seconds of perfection. The hilarious KRS sample for the chorus doesn’t hurt either.

5) Chaz Kangas – “Black Cherry Chazfool” (2009)


For those having this night of all nights for awkward first dates –

*NEW* Originally “Black Cherry Audrey” from my 2005 collaboration album with Patrick “Kid Icarus” Swanson (Mouthful of Bees), here’s a quick press blurb from before the album’s release:

“One of the prettier moments on “Notes from the Underground”, this charming ode to awkward love disarms, arms, and disarms again.”

I had always liked the song and would work it into my live sets whenever possible. Once “Knee Jerk Reaction” came out I forgot about it and didn’t take it out of the vault until last December when I wanted to rework an old song of mine as the B-Side to my 2009 Christmas song “Christmas Mischief.” I don’t recall what exactly drove me to do it over “Lovefool” by the Cardigans, but somehow it worked.

Love me, or leave me alone.

And on that note, I hope you’ve enjoyed this romantic romp. I’m trying real hard to earn one of those Facebook wall gifts, so hopefully this great deed** won’t go unrewarded.

I also want to dedicate this post to my college Facebook girlfriend of two years, Katherine “Shadowcat” Pryde. Of all the fictional characters I’ve ever been involved with, you’ve by far kept it the realest. If you’re not busy with the X-Men, save me a dance at the end of the night.

Your Valentine,

*The worst is still “Teenage Rock and Roll Machine” by the Donnas.

** Greater even than the 2002 Adam Sandler film Mr. Deeds.