Posted tagged ‘sage francis’

The FIVE BEST LIVE ACTS I SAW IN 2010 (C.A.T.T.L.E.) (I GOT 5 HONEST)

January 25, 2011

As we’ve said so far during Chaz’s Arbitrary Top Ten List Extravaganza, 2010 was a pretty fantastic year for music. But many were shocked to find out last year that music actually existed outside of the internet! These music exhibitions, otherwise known as concerts, are mostly held so greedy old people can bleed other old people for cash. However, there were more than a handful of performances that were not only outstanding works of art, but ranks among my favorite moments of the year. So now join me and some grainy iPhone footage as we look back on the five best live acts I saw in 2010!

I liked the part when they did songs!

5) HOMEBOY SANDMAN (June 1st , S.O.B.’s)

Kicking off the summer right was Homeboy Sandman’s record release show at S.O.B.’s. Not only was everybody who’s anybody in New York Hip-Hop there, but at least half of the audience were real life warm-blooded supporters not afraid to have a great time. With easily hundreds of fans and friends there to celebrate the rise of The Good Sun, it was just as powerful to see Sandman make his way around the room and treat every person in attendance like the most important person there. But this is all secondary to an amazing career-spanning performance that featured as many new favorites as underground anthems the usually-fickle Manhattan crowd was happy to chant right along with. The clip above was my favorite moment of the show when I was (to my surprise) invited on-stage along with Kosha Dillz for a freestyle over Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine.”

4) SAGE FRANCIS (June 25th, Webster Hall)

But as June began with the end of one career’s beginning, it ended with another’s touring career’s end. Longtime favorite of mine, Sage Francis set the final performance of his Li(f)e tour to be at New York’s Webster Hall, and it was bittersweet to be there for that last hurrah. Backed by Free Moral Agents with songs spanning from 1997 (shockingly breaking out his reinterpretation of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It” from his days fronting AOI) through his entire discography and closing with “The Best of Times,” it was a great goodbye to one of the most reliable live performers in the genre as he passed the torch to labelmate B.Dolan.

3) PACE WON (September 3rd, FatBeats) / RAH DIGGA (October 21st, Sullivan Hall)

I’ve probably listened to The Outsidaz’s Night Life EP more than any other CD in my collection, but they sadly dissolved when I was 15 so I was never able to see them. It was great to fulfill a decade’s desire to finally see two of the Outsidaz family live. As unfortunate as it was to see FatBeats closing, it gave us a great week of performances, the best of which was Pace Won. Performing a dream setlist of his most known singles and Outsidaz verses, along with plenty of anecdotes in between, it was a great goodbye to the Home of New York Hip-Hop. On a much happier note, Rah Digga’s performance was the highlight of CMJ. While she also ran through her most known singles and even a medley of her posse cut verses, her set ran the gauntlet of emotions as she seamlessly wove in her new material to an absolutely captivated New York crowd.

2) THE TOILET BOYS (June 14th, Le Poisson Rouge)

During my “Punk Rawk” High School years, there was no band I wanted to see live more than the Toilet Boys. Introduced to me by their ties to Troma Studios, I was never given the chance to see the fire-breathing glam rockers live as the Great White incident pretty much ensured they would never get booked again. So imagine my surprise when longtime friend and homie Ray Willis called me on a Monday afternoon to tell me that not only were the Toilet Boys having a surprise “dress rehearsal” reunion show THAT NIGHT, but it was FREE. At a price that fit my budget perfectly, I attended and felt myself step right back into 2002. The jam was awesome. The crowd roared like a lion. It really whipped a hyena’s ass. PLUS, I caught a t-shirt. What more could you want?

1) PRINCE (December 18th, Madison Square Garden)

Not unlike Mortal Kombat II, nothing in the world could have prepared me for this. As a child of the Twin Cities, I’ve grown up with the mythology of Prince as far back as I can remember. Of course, seeing the Purple One in our shared homestate is a near-impossibility and, even then, the setlists have reportedly been mostly new material. When he announced the Coming 2 America tour, I had to see it. Absolutely spellbinding. Words cannot express what a show this was, but this setlist might help make you understand. He gave it all and we took every bit of it. A great end to a great year.

He's writing about me!

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

The TOP TEN RAP SONGS OF 2010 (C.A.T.T.L.E.)

January 19, 2011

What will YOU even remember about this year?

Chaz’s Arbitrary Top Ten List Extravaganza begins with probably my favorite thing to talk about: rap music. I’m sure you have plenty of websites telling you how great their lists are who really just want to invite their readers to a “pat yourself on the back”-fest. Not here.

My credentials are that I listen to a lot of rap music and have for some time. I evaluated each song on a scale of how much I liked it. I didn’t factor in social significance or success. I also didn’t factor in songs with great moments that suffered from the rest of the song. As great as that one Nicki Minaj verse was, let’s not forget it came from a song that suffered from Jay-Z saying “loooooooove.” No sex with a pharaoh can change that.

My favorite year end lists have always been the honest ones. I don’t read them to see how much my favorite writers agree with me, rather I hope to catch any of the great music that came out last year that I may have missed. That in mind, following my top ten I included a list of unranked ten songs that I still think are pretty incredible and worth a listen. Check them out. They’re great. Now, this was the best year for rap since the 90s, so let’s talk about rap music…

Music is a lot like love, it's all a feeling...

10 ) Bun-B “Press Play”

Now Bun-B’s 2010 album Trill…O.G. was pretty terrible and easily the worst album he’s ever been involved with. With its watered-down production and underwhelming performance it was basically a UGK album for people who hate UGK. What was most disappointing about it was that his mixtape featured a song like “Press Play.” Produced by Statik Selektah, it was Bun reminding us he was still one of the best rappers in the world in a new, refreshing soundscape. 32 bars of greatness, exactly how to build a bridge between Port Arthur and Brooklyn.

9 ) Homeboy Sandman – “Mean Mug”

The crown jewel of Homeboy Sandman’s fantastic The Good Sun album, “Mean Mug” was the best deconstruction of a sourpuss and reasoning for why they’re not in style in 2010. Catchy, well-written and not heavy-handed in the slightest, it’s a shining example of why Boysand is one of New York’s favorite sons.

8 ) Sage Francis – “The Best of Times”

The final song on what may be his final album, Sage Francis’ “The Best of Times” is not only the perfect bookend to a great body of work, but an enjoyable exploration of self-examination. It’s Francis at his most vulnerable and confident and stands perhaps the definitive statement of his career.

7 ) E-40 f/ Too $hort – “Bitch”

The only thing better than hearing the fire reignited beneath Too $hort is having him alongside one of the most dependable rappers in the game. On “Bitch,” 40 Water and Short Dog explain that not all bitches are women. In this new decade, this is the type of “music with a message” I can get behind.

6) Lil B – “New York Subway”

What a year for the #based one. Along with being the best rapper on Twitter, Lil B knocked his highly anticipated Red Flame mixtape out of the park with “New York Subway.” While he’s perhaps most known for being shocking, the subtle detail of “New York Subway” perfectly captures what being in New York in December is like. Lil B is for real, and the power of this song cannot be denied.

5 ) Dez and Nobs f/ P.O.S. – “Underbelly”

The closer of the duo’s analog modern classic Rocky Dennis, “Underbelly” sees them joined by Doomtree member P.O.S. for a pill fueled lament that also boasts some of the best technical rapping today. As heartbreaking as it is, Nobs’ warm MPC-based production gives it a classic New York feel.

4 ) Domo Genesis f/ Tyler, the Creator – “Super Market”

2010 was undoubtably the year of Odd Future, and this song is a shining example why. Producer/rapper Tyler and Domo exchange absurd barbs between two angry teenagers in a super market that acts as a series of trump cards over a swaggering bulldozer of a production. Amazing.

3 ) Danny Brown – “Guitar Solo”

If you’ve never heard of Danny Brown before, start with his song “Exotic” and then come back to this, his masterpiece. Best described by rapper Despot as “all the members of the Outsidaz rolled into one,” What I love about Detroit’s Danny Brown is that his music has a genuine unpredictability that’s been missing from rap music. He keeps me guessing with his verses, even on repeat listens, without sacrificing any of his soul. This is best heard on “Guitar Solo,” one of his album The Hybrid‘s more serious moments, it quickly dips into poverty stricken Detroit character studies before cliffhanger endings, as if the people discussed are trapped within the self-awareness of the song.

2 ) Beeda Weeda – “Baserock Babies”

DJ Fresh is picking up where the Hyphy Movement in the Bay Area left off, and he’s ready to explode. Not since Rick Rock’s production on Turf Talk’s West Coast Vaccine has the Yay given such a progressive slap to rap production. Riding the beat like a coin-operated carousel is Beeda Weeda, who you remember from last year’s “No Hoe” remix. Here, instead, he breaks down exactly what it was like being a product of the 80s. But this isn’t another “back in the day” song, rather a stripped down this-is-how-it-really-was fact-check that shows no matter what the scene is, things aren’t that different.

1 ) Earl Sweatshirt – “Stapleton”

We’ve all see the “EARL” video with the teenagers who kill themselves and yes, it is great. As brash and in-your-face as that is, Earl is an outstanding technical rapper and it’s what he hides in his songs that make him incredible. The last verse here speaks not only to his persona being the product of a deadbeat father, but parallels the ageist Hip-Hop generation predating him of boom-bap dinosaurs that raised the post-Rawkus “real Hip-Hop” sect to sound like soulless 40-year-olds. An amazing performance from one of rap’s most compelling new voices and the best rap song of 2010.

Almost...

Honorable Mentions:

Atmosphere – “To All My Friends”
Big Boi f/ Andre 3000 – “Lookin For Ya”
Curren$y – “Life Under the Scope”
Mac Lethal – “Cover My Tracks”
Mike G. – “Crazh”
Rick Ross f/ Jay-Z “Free Mason”
Roc Marciano – “Ridin Around”
Shad – “Rose Garden”
Soulja Boy – “First Day of School”
Waka Flocka Flame – “Hard in the Paint”
Young L – “Drop Top Swag”

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

Sage Francis “Li(f)e” – Album Review

May 24, 2010

"Life is just a 'Lie' with an 'F' in it."

Rapper Sage Francis has been something of a one-man Noah’s Arc in the flooded indie hip-hop landscape. First appearing a decade ago during what many consider underground hip-hop’s peak, he’s weathered the storm by not only surviving, but staying afloat with a career that, as Public Enemy’s Chuck D put it, created his own niche. At a time when many of his contemporaries are inactive and their labels have all but folded, Sage remains as unfliching as ever with the release of his new album, Li(f)e. The first Hip-Hop artist signed to Punk label Epitaph, Sage has been no stranger to bending, or should I say blending, genres. From his 2004 collaboration with Bad Religion to his work with Mark Isham for the Pride and Glory soundtrack, he’s exercised a discretion that has lead to a much higher level of quality control than most rap-based musical experiments. Entirely produced by Brian Deck (Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica , Iron and Wine’s Our Endless Numbered Days) Li(f)e shows Sage’s rap roots remaining strong even when the breeze more closely resembles “Liu Kang Wins” than his “video games” freestyle.

The easy comparison here is to lump Li(f)e in with the ever-growing number of recent indie Hip-Hop releases that have attempted to dabble in indie rock. The main difference here is that Sage isn’t trying to recreate his favorite non-rap songs by sampling them and then attempting to sing. Instead, he’s enlisted the genre’s professionals, not for instant “cred,” but to genuinely add to his ever-evolving soundscape. Among those joining the party are Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, and the late Mark Linkous. Deck’s production gives the album a cohesiveness that allows these guests to play to Sage’s strengths. For someone who has never had another rapper appear on any of his official albums, the extensive guestlist seems somewhat daunting. However, their participation helps elevate the record above other rap records that have tried to emulate the indie-rock sound. Li(f)e is not a record that tries. It is a record that does.

That being said, it is far and away the single most esoteric music that Sage has ever released. Prior to Li(f)e, Sage’s most recent output was his 2009 Sick of Wasting mixtape that was strikingly his most straightforward rap release since 2003’s Hope. While Wasting did reaffirm that Sage’s Hip-Hop credentials were up to date, Li(f)e features Sage using many of these same skills in a dramatically different soundscape that, after repeat listens, display how talented he truly is. With organized religion and its direct and inadvertent effects on everyone’s everyday lives as the album’s central theme, Sage takes a much more subtle approach than many of his cantankerous conspiratorial contemporaries, choosing instead to make his points through some of the sharpest storytelling of his career. Beginning with “Little Houdini,” based on the true story of Christopher Daniel Gay who escaped prison twice to visit dying family members, the song seems like Li(f)e’s opening Bond scene, an action packed narrative that acts as an overture for what lies ahead. “The Baby Stays,” which tells the story of an unplanned conception, with each verse from the perspective of the father, mother, and unborn baby, is another highlight showing that the album’s boundary pushing isn’t merely restricted to the soundscape. Folks, what we have here is in every way the exact opposite of a DC Talk record.

But the album’s brightest moment comes from “The Best of Times,” a collaboration with Amélie composer Yann Tiersen. While Sage has previously tackled career-retrospective rap on “Underground for Dummies” and most of his 2007 album Human the Death Dance, “Best of Times” instead fills us in on everything non-rap related that made Sage who he is. As honest and vulnerable as anything he’s ever written, it’s a tremendous crescendo that’s still as hard to get into as a scotch-taped grade school love note. It, like the album, is challenging but exudes such a high level of professionalism that you’re either on board with it or have to step back saying “yeah, this is not for me.” Moments like that for me were the screaming children on the chorus of “London Bridge” and the background wailing on “Diamonds and Pearls.” I can appreciate why they’re there, but they just weren’t enjoyable within my listening experience.

Sage Francis presents his After-Sunday School special.

With many Francis loyalists considering his 2001 debut Personal Journals to be his best work, they will be pleased with how many of its favored elements are taken to an elaborate extreme here. If Journals was the micro-budgeted cult classic horror film, Li(f)e is its million dollar Hollywood remake that stays true to the original’s spirit while updating it to be relevant and fittingly flashy for today’s audiences. It’s not for everybody, but Sage’s performance and Deck’s production make it an album for a very definitive somebody. Yes, Li(f)e is polarizing, but over time those who warm up to it will have something that resonates with them that only comes once in a li(f)etime.

We give Li(f)e a Four Out of Five

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

B. Dolan and Alias “Fallen House, Sunken City” – Album Review

March 3, 2010

"It's deeper than Atlantis."

At a time when rappers flood the market every three months with their official 80-minute-long mixtapes, the idea of a rap album being ten years in the making is unfathomable. While the actual production from-conception-to-recording on Fallen House, Sunken City took two years, MC B.Dolan has painstakingly poured a decade of emotion from things he said, did or heard about* into one ghastly nightmare of a sophomore album. While I enjoyed his first release, 2008’s The Failure, I found it not so much a rap album as an audio performance art piece. Even during its more Hip-Hop moments, the focus seemed moreso on the world Dolan was creating all his own than making a great traditional rap song. But now Dolan is back, turning his one-man show into an apocalyptic Hip-Hop vaudeville duocracy with producer Alias (“Divine Disappointment,” Sage Francis’ “Message Sent”) and inviting all to check out one of the most haunted open houses you’ll ever attend.

The album’s journey begins with Dolan’s journey ending as the autobiographical “Leaving NY” chronicles his final days in a city where a post-9/11 haze clouded a dream he once had and forced his return to Rhode Island. From there, the album seems to stop at every small town along the way as Dolan peels the scabs off of the modern capitalist hustle (“Fifty Ways to Bleed Your Customer”) urban sprawl (“Earthmovers”) and the forgotten human face of the economic crisis (“Economy of Words”). Dolan’s performance plays as somewhat of a spiritual successor to label head Sage Francis’ album Hope as it is rich with references so well implemented that you might not even catch them within the first few listens. The difference, however, is while Sage’s sounded like a nostalgic winking-to-the-audience, Dolan’s loom like an apparition coming home to roost. Even if one doesn’t quite catch all of them, Dolan’s wordplay is enough to still make sense of what’s going on and anticipate the next hallway of horrors.

But credit for the album’s success is just as much that of producer Alias. The chemistry between the two is off the charts, giving an Ennio Morricone-vibe to the project that makes the rapper’s most profound and memorable moments inseparable from the soundscape they exists within. With Dolan’s accolades as a spoken word artist well documented, Alias utilizes his vocals’ every degree of emotion from the somber (“Marvin”) to the incidiary (“Border Crossing”) to the sadistically self-depricating (“Kitchen Sink”). It’s the first time in his nearly two-decade career that Alias has produced a full-length for someone other than himself, and the result is tremendous.

Not since the days of The Micranots has there been a rap album so politically charged without being overtly political. In a post-Bush era that saw the “conscious” sect change their rallying cry from “Bush sucks” to “everything sucks,” most rappers who claim to follow politics** feel more concerned with screaming a message they barely understand than making good rap music. I don’t need my favorite artists in any medium to agree with my personal politics, but with the craftsmanship put into Fallen House, Sunken City it becomes a moot point as I’m convinced a bizarro right-wing B. Dolan would make an album just as dope. This is mainly due to Dolan not making his politics the main selling point of the album. He’s a storyteller of the guided tour variety, a warped Clarence Oddbody showing you that the lives around you really aren’t all that wonderful. It’s only on repeat listens when you penetrate the underbelly and discover the source of the empathy this cynic is pulling out of you. These 12 tracks are great at face value, but it is infinitely refreshing that an East Coast artist in today’s Hip-Hop respects his audience enough to let them uncover the most subtle of subtleties.

I can reccommend this album if only for what an incredible first listen it is. I received it in my inbox the night after my Curtis Plum review went up and planned to only listen to a song or two before I went to bed. What resulted was me being glued to the speakers, sitting wide-eyed in front of the computer for the album’s entire 47 minute duration. The cinematic experience herein forces you to hang on to Dolan’s every word for dear life. Not since Redman’s Whut? Thee Album have I been so completely captivated by a first listen. It’s only after you collect yourself following your first encounter that you can begin to put the pieces together. The album finishes strong with the P.O.S. and Cadence Weapon-assisted “Fall of T.R.O.Y.,” where Dolan contemplates the present-state of his rap heroes (“You’re not a Soulja Boy, You’re a mercenary in a cryogenic sleep“) and “Buddy Buddy,” a scathing indictment of some of the “artists” he’s been forced to encounter over the years. The album has very few missteps in the form of a remaining vagueness in certain songs that only really surface after repeat listens, but it’s somewhat understandable with the size of the giants in the 12-song tracklisting. Fallen House, Sunken City is a powerful paranoid pulverizing piledriver of an album and makes a welcome addition to any record collection or bomb shelter.

We give Fallen House, Sunken City a Four Out of Five.

Until next time…let’s agree to agree!

*Which, if OC is reading, means first-hand AND word-of-mouth. While we’re at it: HEY GREG NICE – Dizzy Gillespie played the trumpet, HEY WARREN G – “next” is spelled “n-e-x-t,” and CAN-I-BUS – just give me a phone call as we really need to discuss your math homework.

**As opposed to the ones that, you know, actually follow politics. By that I mean those who didn’t skip their local elections to hand out the umpteenth edition of their “7/11 TRUTH – OBAMA WASN’T BORN HERE AND KILLED CHRIS BENOIT” DVD-Rs.

Curtis Plum “Call My Cellphone” – Music Review

February 15, 2010

‘Outsider Art’ is a funny term*. While there exists a tangible ‘mainstream’ and an ‘alternative’ to whatever that mainstream is, outsider art occupies the territory outside of that. While counter-cultures primarily exist from a reactionary need, outsider art tends to thrive in a vacuum, not concerned with their medium’s peers in the slightest. Both vague and to-the-point, it’s a label that gives you an idea of what you’re in for when you still have no idea what to expect. I break this down to frame Curtis Plum in a special light, one brighter than any cell phone.

plumphone

Have You Heard?

Discovered by Sage Francis and quickly scooped up by his Strange Famous Records imprint, Curtis Plum stands the oddest man in a room full of oddities. While not a traditional rap record by any means, Sage’s investment and vote of confidence in Plum is the ballsiest move a rap label has made in some time. Much like Daniel Johnston on Atlantic or, more accurately, Wesley Willis on Alternative Tentacles, Plum’s spot on the roster seems to exist just because it feels right. What began as an exchange of MySpace messages snowballed into a record deal seemingly based on the principles that 1) Sage likes the music a lot and 2) he thinks it should be heard. Fortunately for us, he’s right.

Call My Cellphone is ten tracks of unhinged uninterrupted Curtis Plum. A genuine eccentric, there’s a sincerity in play that shows the man doesn’t have an ironic bone in his body. From the title track (“Take a photo of you on your phone with my phone / save it on my phone and I press upload / take one of me on my phone with your phone / internet photo of my phone by my dome”) to taking Pitchfork posers to task on “Indie Rocker” (“It was Blink 182 / Now it’s Blink, you’re a jerk”) Plum creates a carnival sideshow out of the absurdities of everyday life. His voice, sounding like the polite lovechild of the B-52’s Fred Schneider and Katherine Hepburn, creates a conversational relationship with the listener that make the entire project seem like some recorded pleasant exchange with a stranger.

But that’s not to write-off Plum’s very real talents. While Plum’s appeal is that he’s a legit loon giving you a half-hour of him in all his Plum-ness, his comedic timing is perfect. On “Get on the Dancefloor” Plum uses the standard dance song’s lyric structure and vocal inflections to explain that, as much as he would like to see you dance, it’s totally your call and he’s cool with whatever you decide. In a lesser man’s hands, it’s a one-note 15 second joke that wears out its welcome the second it’s repeated. Plum’s charisma, however, keeps the listener hanging on his every word. This is even more apparent in his storytelling. “Jack in the Pine Box” chronicles Plum’s golf course confrontation with the restaurant chain Jack-in-the-Box’s mascot, “XBox Trife Life” has Plum as a video game console lamenting his own existence, and the show-stopping “Lil Wayne Tried to Rape Me” has Plum asking ‘have you ever been molested by a tiny hand man? Have you ever been touched by Lil Wayne’s little hands’ and, at the album’s climax, busting out a double-time flow to explain to the Platinum selling rapper that he’s a heterosexual. Folks, this album exists.

The album closes with “Bike Cop Reanimated,” a dead-on style parody of the super-serious epic song-sequels that are prone to clutter the conclusions of rap albums. Plum nails the soundscape and presence of such an undermentioned phenomenon so perfectly that I refuse to believe it’s a coincidence. With early press material insinuating this will be Plum’s only record Call My Cellphone, is destined to become a cult classic. While some may appreciate it on a face-value Dr. Demento level, Plum’s deliberate craftsmanship raises the project far above novelty status making it a welcome addition to any record collection between Philosophy of the World and Trout Mask Replica. This album’s not for everyone, but in a post-Tim and Eric world it’s clear that an audience for this type of project exists. For the people that won’t get it, no explanation will be good enough. But for those that do, no explanation is needed.**

We Give Call My Cellphone a Five Out of Five

Purchase the album here at Strange Famous Records.

So until next time…Let’s Agree to Agree!

*Meaning it’s a goofy term for silly-billies.

**I’ve seen this quote originally attributed to everyone from Jerry Lewis to Jeff Jarrett, so since google is failing me I’m just going to take credit for it, K?