Friday, October 26, 2007

Hell Rell - "For The Hell of It" - Diplomat Records/Koch Records (2007)

The latest release from the Dipset camp, Hell Rell’s “For The Hell of It” (Diplomat Records/Koch Records, 2007) does much to uphold the street aesthetic that the
Diplomats are known for yet little to continue with the commercial flirtation that some members (ie. Cam’ron, Jim Jones) have enjoyed in recent time. Don’t expect “Ballin’ Pt.
2” on this record, just brace yourself for Dipset’s standard bombastic production coupled with grimy, hard-hitting rhymes courtesy of Hell Rell, who sounds like he has a bone to pick with the rap game on this, his long-awaited solo disc.
Based on the cover art alone for this album (Rell looks like he sees his dentist Dr. FullClip twice a year for regular checkups), you know you are in for some typical Dipset street anthems with an added dose of malice. On album opener “Intro”, Hell Rell boasts over a panicky instrumental, “I don’t get high no more/I smoke for the smell of it/Money just a hobby/N**** get it for the hell of it!”
“Streets Gonna Love Me” is reminiscent of Cam’ron’s 2002 hit “Oh Boy”, as Rell paints a picture, over a high pitched soul sample, of the bittersweet relationship he has with the streets that don’t reciprocate the love he has for them, “It’s funny that/I love the streets/But they on’t love me back.”
Rell invites a few guests to help add some menace to this already gritty album, including Styles P, Young Dro as well as Dipset alums Cam’ron, JR Writer and Juelz Santana. Absent from the album is Dipset “capo” Jim Jones, which seems to reinforce rumours about a widening divide between Jimmy and the rest of the Diplomats fam.
“I’m The S***” featuring Killa Cam, is one of the album’s standouts with Rell and Cam spitting over this car rattler that sounds like a jam session between a ghostly choir and the devil playing the drum kit.
Rell wraps things up smoothly near the end, with “Where You From” featuring Juelz, where over a laidback, soul-drenched beat, Rell gives thanks and praises to his Harlem crew that gave him time to shine in one of rap’s most interesting collectives, “Before I run off in the sunset/I f*** with a few things/But I’m only loyal to one set!”
After numerous mixtapes and guest appearances, it is nice to hear Rell stretched out over a long-player with no gimmicks, annoying DJ catchphrases and skits; just tight production and strong rhymes. This offering makes a strong case for Rell to receive a quick promotion within the Dipset ranks from a street soldier to at least a lieutenant. Hey Jimmy, what do you think?

Rating: 7.5/10

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Common - "Finding Forever Tour" - September 24th, 2007 - The Kool Haus, Toronto, ON, Canada

A quick glance at the massive crowd and lines outside of the Kool Haus on Monday night were a good indication that the stock of Chi-City’s illest MC has clearly risen since the last time he touched down in the T-Dot, back in February 2006 at this very same (albeit less crowded) venue along Toronto’s waterfront.

Common, who was in town for a stop on his current tour to support his latest release “Finding Forever” brought along some lively opening acts in the form of Stones Throw artist and legendary underground lyricist Percee P and Q-Tip, whom some might remember from a little group called A Tribe Called Quest. Unfortunately, due to the lack of complete organization and a proper lineup system courtesy of The Kool Haus security staff (this is a persistent problem at this venue, and will continue to be until someone in charge gets their act together!), many concert-goers (including myself) were trapped outside steaming, listening to the muffled sounds of each artists’ opening sets.

Once inside I was immediately hit with a stifling wall of heat and humidity created by the combination of poor ventilation and the thousands of hipsters, b-boys and girls, thugs and middle-aged couples eagerly anticipating the return of Kanye West’s favorite rapper. The lights dimmed and the screaming began as vocal snippets off “Finding Forever” played over the sound system. Common bolted onto the stage dressed to impress in a white tee, expensive-looking denim and one of his trademark hats; and immediately had the floor bouncing with “Go” from 2005’s instant classic “Be” and his current single, “The People”.

A welcome addition to Common’s performance was the inclusion of a live drummer (Karriem Riggins, a producer/musician/power player who is known from his close association with the Stones Throw family); which added some sonic muscle to Common’s already dope live show. Common kept the energy of the crowd up as he played a little call-and-response with the sweaty party people in attendance during crowd favorites like “The Corner” off his last album.

The floor shook when Common unleashed a classic throwback collage in which he spit Toronto-centric rhymes (Shouting out street names, landmarks, etc.) over classic beats like “Just A Friend” by Biz Markie and Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind”. Those fans who weren’t at his last show in Toronto, wouldn’t realize that Common pulled the same trick the last time around and it wasn’t something new; however it worked like a charm nonetheless.

The energy in the building waned slightly during “Testify” during which Common left the stage to change clothes and cut the music to deliver a spoken word portion of the track to create drama; however all it did was cause the crowd to stir restlessly and complain until the beat kicked back in. The unbearable heat was surely a factor, as several people were carried out unconscious by security; but the “mini-stage production” seemed to miss it’s intended target.

Common closed off his set with a stirring rendition of one of his all-time greatest tracks “The Light” which was produced by the late production prodigy J Dilla, whom was shown love by all inside the cramped Kool Haus. He then stated that, “I always close the show with The Light and typically don’t do any more songs….however because y’all been so good, I’ll do a couple more!” The crowd roared its approval as Common bounced through the Kanye-assisted “The Food” and “I Want You” off “Finding Forever”.

All in all, Chicago’s finest delivered yet another memorable performance filled with everything you would expect from Common and maybe a little you wouldn’t. Hopefully next time Toronto is graced with Common’s fine mic presence it will be at a venue that that offers some relief from the heat being produced on stage and amongst the fans.
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Friday, September 21, 2007

Grayskul - "Bloody Radio" - Rhymesayers (2007)

Grayskul’s latest offering, “Bloody Radio (Rhymesayers, 2007), their first release since 2005’s “Deadlivers”; is an album that shares a similar (albeit darker) feel to other artists coming off of the Rhymesayers label such as Atmosphere and P.O.S, yet it fails to leave a lasting impression after repeated listens; like numerous other albums have on this respectable indie label known for holding the torch for what’s known as “emo-rap”.

Grayskul, who are comprised of MCs Onry Ozzborn (aka Count Draven, Reason) JFK (aka Fiddleback Recluse, Count Magnus) and bassist Rob Castro hail from Seattle, Washington and came up on the underground circuit with the Oldominion collective based in the Pacific Northwest. On “Bloody Radio”, Grayskul definitely bring the gloom and chills similar to the unpredictable weather experienced on that part of the map.
“3000 Voices” kicks off the album with a mesmerizing, hazy beat while the chorus of “3000 voices and they’re speaking through you / No telling what these party people might do…” leaves you feeling as if you have just woken from a bad dream, yet you can’t recall exactly what it was all about.

Title track “Bloody Radio”, sports a beat that falls a few BPMs short of becoming a drum and bass track; which is coupled with double-time verses from Onry and JFK that are for the most part undecipherable. We are again left guessing as to what subject matter is being covered in this particular track. The chorus, “What makes the world go ‘round? Radio! / What makes you scream and shout? Radio?”, suggests that Grayskul are waxing poetic on commercial radio and it’s negative effects on society. Possibly, but then again maybe not.

Track by track the album takes the listener through the many different negative feelings one can have experience, ,paranoia, fear, confusion. The list goes on and on. Grayskul spit aggressively on the majority of the tunes that make up “Bloody Radio”; it just seems that their anger is directionless.

Thankfully, there are a few notable guest appearances on the album. Def Jux’s Aesop Rock and Cage take their turn on the “radio”, as does Rhymesayer’s golden boy Slug (from Atmosphere). The album’s standout is definitely “The Office” which features guest verses from Slug and Aesop. The beat features a soulful sample and steady drumkick that all MCs sound right at home on. The track would fit in nicely as a bonus track on either Aesop’s “None Shall Pass” or Atmosphere’s last release 2005’s “You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having”.

Grayskul’s MySpace page states that, “Bloody Radio is a perfect blend of study music intended for the open-minded listener…”. While an open mind is definitely required in order to enjoy all types of music, one can only hope that Grayskul themselves maintain an open mind when creating their next project, even if that means taking some cues from the “Bloody Radio” that they seem to despise so much. It could reap some benefits.

Rating: 6/10

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Raekwon - "Icewater: Polluted Water" - Babygrande Records (2007)

As time ticks by and we enter the fourth and final quarter of 2007, Wu fans are still awaiting the impending releases (or so we hope!) of the Clan’s 8 Diagrams (rumoured to drop sometime in late ’07 or early ’08) and Raekwon’s highly anticipated Only Built For Cuban Linx II which apparently is already completed and currently collecting dust at the offices of Aftermath Entertainment awaiting a release date. (For some insight into that situation, check’s exclusive interview with the Chef himself in our Features section.).

In the meantime, to satiate the thirst of Wu-heads worldwide Raekwon The Chef has put out a new album, Icewater:Polluted Water (Babygrande Records) which introduces us to his crew Icewater whom Raekwon pushes into the spotlight for the first time. Unfortunately, while this release does feature special guests such as Busta Rhymes and Three Six Mafia as well as production by Scram Jones and some fire rhymes courtesy of Rae himself; it fails to bring the same bang for your buck expected from a release stamped with the Wu Tang seal of approval.

Album opener “Animal” features a grimy New York beat and acts as an introduction to the members who make up Icewater; Polite, Stomach, P.C. and D.C.
A regular fan of Staten Island’s finest might be a little taken back at the simplicity of the rhymes that kick this album off, “…they say I’m wildin’/Plus I’m from the island/Something like Gilligan.” It’s clear right off the bat that this is not going to be the second coming of 36 Chambers, but there is promise.

The album starts moving in the right direction with “Do It Big” featuring Raekwon and Busta Rhymes trading verses with members of Icewater where they explain that the hustle they’re involved with on an everyday basis is not one of choice but one of necessity and survival. The soulful and somber beat is reminiscent of a cut off of 2005’s brilliant collab-filled album Wu Tang Meets The Indie Culture.

The album follows an almost hit/miss formula both in actual tracks as well as Raekwon’s experimentation. For example, on “I’m A Boss” where Rae teams up with Rick Ross, he sounds out of place on the South –flavoured club track. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but it’s hard to picture Raekwon popping bottles at the club. A more reassuring image is Rae on the corner, in the middle of a cipher spitting darts.

He does however sound especially tight with his Icewater soldiers and Three Six Mafia on album highlight “Let’s Get It”. Rae kills his verse over the Sergio Leone-style Spaghetti Western beat, as he closes the track off with, “Wu Tang’s foulest/Icewater’s wildest/Three Six Mafie/Big Papi with the chalice”

While Icewater:Polluted Water, does allow us to hear some up and comers within the Wu dynasty it is evident that the Chef needs to add a little more seasoning before Icewater is ready to fully meet their potential as strong additions to the Wu’s satellite family. However, what this album does is remind us that a surefire classic in Only Built For Cuban Linx II is currently sitting on a shelf, when it should be bumping out of stereos worldwide. The Chef has surely prepared a fine meal in Cuban Linx II. Icewater:Polluted Water is just the appetizer.

Rating: 7/10

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Aesop Rock - "None Shall Pass" - Def Jux (2007)

It’s been two years since Aesop’s last release, the excellent but brief “Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives” EP and four since his last full length LP, 2003’s“Bazooka Tooth”; but the wait was definitely worth while. As experimentation has increased over the last few years in underground hip-hop (most noted within the Def Jux camp itself, with head honcho El-P branching out and teaming up with everyone from Trent Reznor and Chan Marshall of Cat Power for his recent album “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead”); it’s nice to hear that Aesop (nee Ian Bavitz) has stuck with his proven formula of futuristic production and head-scratching rhymes on his latest opus.

The new album features strictly in-house production from Def Jux power players El-P and Rob Sonic as well as Aesop Rock himself on a few joints. Title track “None Shall Pass” sounds like a mash up of a xylophone loop and a high-pitched soul sample ala Kanye West. While the strange beat lulls the listener into a repetitive head-bob, Aesop spits the chorus, “I will rejoice in your fall from grace/ When I came to the sky like/None shall pass”. What exactly Aesop is referring to is anyone’s guess. The beauty in it is no one should really care, because it simply sounds great.

“Getaway Car” is a track that brings to mind a Starsky and Hutch car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco in the 1970’s; however this car is driven by Aesop, Breeze Brewin and the very underrated Cage (semi-famous for being name dropped repeatedly and hated on by a certain “other” white rapper who turned out to be a bit of a big deal. Any guesses?) Breeze Brewin, Cage and Aesop each take turns spitting fire over the blaxploitation beat that sounds like an outtake from “Fishscale” and just begs for a Ghostface cameo.

The album does have a bit of a dark and claustrophobic feel to it, just check “Gun For The Whole Family” featuring El-P for a perfect example, which sounds like a paranoid nightmare recorded on a DAT tape. El-P nods towards Trent on this industrial-tinged banger that has him and Aesop sounding tighter than ever together.

Although he spends the majority of the album caught up in his own complex rhymes and double metaphors, it is refreshing to hear Aesop inject some shameless humour at the beginning of “The Harbour Is Yours” where you hear a “REMIX!” shout that would sound more at home on a DJ Clue Mixtape, followed by some sarcastic laughing.

“None Shall Pass” proves to be yet another fine release from one of the hottest indie hip-hop labels around (Def Jux) and Aesop’s latest effort follows in the hot footsteps of Cage’s “Hell’s Winter” and El-P’s “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead”. If “None Shall Pass” is any indication, we can all rest assured that the Def Jux label will keep pushing out fresh and forward thinking music that will carry listeners into the next decade of the new millennium and beyond.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Yesterday's New Quintet - "Yesterday's Universe" - Stones Throw Records (2007)

Yesterday’s Universe (Stones Throw) by Yesterday’s New Quintet, an experimental/jazz collective headed by underground uber-producer Madlib, is a record that offers both a musical glimpse into the future and also a glance into the past. With this album, Madlib has compiled appealing instrumental tracks by the various artists and groups that work together under the Yesterday’s New Quintet moniker, resulting in an exciting mish-mash of experimental, free-form and acid jazz topped off with a Hip-Hop sensibility.

The tracks on this album take the listener through a sonic tour of Madlib’s leftfield taste in music; as each track is slightly stranger than the other, however the common thread that holds the album together is eccentricity. The Young Jazz Rebels’ “Slave Riot” sounds like a Mad Max post-apocalyptic rendition of a Medeski, Martin and Wood jam session. With the off kilter drumming, menacing bass and sci-fi sound effects, this tune gives you an idea of what jazz could sound like in the year 2050.

The Jazzistics “Martin, Marcus and Malcolm” provides a more traditional flow that would not be out of place being played in the background at your local Starbucks or martini lounge. Another track that has an old, throwback feel similar to vintage John Coltrane (Madlib namedrops him frequently) is “Umoja (Unity)” by The Jahari Massamba Unit. The track has a relaxed, airy vibe that is created with light drumming and breezy saxophones bouncing off one another. The track leaves a smile on your face, plain and simple.

The only track on the album that at a first listen, would make one realize that Madlib was actually involved in this project is “Sunny C (California)” by Ahmad Miller. The track would fit perfectly onto the forthcoming Madvillian project as you can almost hear Doom spitting over the blunted beat.

If you are looking for to expand your musical tastes and take a break from the mundane commercial rap currently flooding the market, then give “Yesterday’s Universe” a quick listen. Madlib (as the head of Yesterday’s New Quintet) puts together an album that simultaneously gives a brief jazz history lesson and also a peek of what may lay ahead in this exciting musical form. This album may not be for every rap or music fan (much like a lot of the music released on the Stones Throw label); but at the very least Yesterday’s Universe will open a door wide open for you. It’s up to you however, if you want to step through and explore.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Video: "Stronger" by Kanye West

Whether or not you are fan of Kanye West, you definitely need to check out this new video for the the single "Stronger" which is on his forthcoming album "Graduation" which is set to drop on August 21st. The video helmed by legendary music video director Hype Williams, is a treat for the eyes; and obviously the ears as well.

The video can be compared to a mini-motion picture as it is a visual feast that allows us to watch Kanye travel through what looks like Toyko in pursuit of a beautiful woman, whom we only see gyrating at some futuristic club. While in pursuit, Kanye grows "stronger" from his introduction at the beginning of the video in a strange space pod/chamber (Ala Keanue Reeves waking up the first time in the Matrix) as he seeks out this bombshell. Let's not tell Kanye's new fiancee about will be our little secret. We are assuming that Kanye's feelings for this woman grow "stronger" for her the more he searches. We even see him escape a hospital where he is laid up with some unknown illness; and he is so "strong" that he manages to get by and away from a SWAT team which has been sent in to neutralize him.

The whole video has a futuristic, Japanamation look to it; heck Kanye even name-drops "Akira" which is one of the most revered Anime films of all time. It reminds me of a hip-hop "Blade Runner" except instead of a young Harrison Ford running through a dark, depressing futuristic cityscape; we have a stylish young rapper bobbing and weaving through a kaleidoscope of colours and bright lights.

The video even features a cameo by the two members of Daft Punk; a electronic-music duo hailing from Paris, France. What makes this song and video so exciting is that Kanye bases the entire beat and the chorus from a sample of Daft Punk's track "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" their big hit off the "Discovery" album which was released back in 2001. The fact that Kanye is pushing the boundaries of hip-hop and pop music in general with this track, tells us that West is not sitting back on his heels and believing his own hype. He is trying to make important and interesting music, no matter what anyone thinks. Whether he is influenced by Daft Punk or Willie Nelson is irrelevant; with Mr. West we know that the end result of these strange influences will be a dope song and dope video to go along with it. Check it out and enjoy!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

STONES THROW RECORDS 10th ANNIVERSARY SHOW, Monday, October 30th, 2006, The Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, ON, Canada

Stones Throw Records, an indie hip hop label based in Los Angeles, California recently made its Toronto stop on the "Chrome Children" tour on Monday night. Run by an eccentric musical genius named Chris Manak (also known by his DJ alter ego Peanut Butter Wolf), Stones Throw Records has been releasing some of the most cutting edge hip hop, soul, R & B and avant-garde music during its decade plus existence.

The label is home to numerous intriguing artists such as Madlib, Madvillian (with MF Doom), the late production wizard J Dilla and Peanut Butter Wolf himself. This recent tour to promote the release of their CD/DVD entitled "Chrome Children" (which was made with the help of the Adult Swim portion of programming on the Cartoon Network) was a tour that was highly anticipated by all of those in attendance. I checked out the Madlib/Quasimoto show back in June 2005 and based on that blunted performance I wasn't expecting a pyrotechnics-filled display with spot-on renditions of Quasimoto's "The Unseen" and Jaylib's (Dilla and Madlib's side project) "Champion Sound"; however I definitely was surprised at the quality of the show that myself and hundreds others forked out $30 + GST for!

First off, this tour was dubbed the "Chrome Children Tour" which lead one to believe the show would feature artists whom had dropped gems on that album. Everyone from Wolf, Madlib, Dudley Perkins, Roc C, Oh No (Madlib's younger brother) and Dilla protege Guilty Simpson were expected to perform. The gig started with a warm-up set by J Rocc, followed by a confusing and disjointed performance by world music/MC Aloe Blacc. After that we were treated to some solid throwback hip hop courtesy of underground New York legend Percee P (who I might add could not be found at the beginning of his set as J Rocc yelled at him from the stage to "Stop trying to sell your damn CDs and get your ass on stage!"). Local Toronto-area hip hop mainstay Maestro Fresh Wes also stopped by during the concert to drop a better-than-expected freestyle. Is it just me or can we now refer to Maestro as "The Original Hip Hop Vampire"? I have seen Maestro at almost every hip hop show I have been at since 2000 and he always seems to get himself up on stage to try to remind us all about who he once was. Maybe we could call him Maestro Fresh WAS....just some food for thought.

After Percee P, Wolf spun a brief set of typical Stones Throw mish-mash. Some old cuts with the deceased but not forgotten rapper Charizma, who Wolf originally started making music with ages ago; some Dilla and other oddities that he dug deep out of his crate. In between sets, J Rocc kept the flow going with snippets of unreleased Dilla tracks which I personally CANNOT WAIT to hear in their entirety, once (if ever) they are released.

Finally, Madlib took to the stage for the finale. He came on wearing a wacky baggy, blue checkered suit with matching kicks; to a chorus of yelps and shouts (myself included) yet he never really seemed to deliver. Madlib is often referred to as "eternally-blunted" and this description proved fitting as he laboured through Jaylib standouts like "The Red" and "The Official" with a lukewarm and sloppy mic presence. Madlib is one hell of a producer, but he definitely needs to ante up on the mic skills. After roughly 30 minutes of this, the show concluded with J Rocc shouting at us "That's it folks, they're kicking us out of here!"

As I shuffled out of the Phoenix, I wondered to myself what this show would have been like had Dilla been there. One can only dream. If the Stones Throw crew could duplicate live, the sounds they put on wax, then this show would have truly been something. Hopefully this show didn't disappoint J Dilla, like it did me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

TOOL - Sunday, June 24th, 2007, Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON, Canada

Hamilton, Ontario's nickname of "Steel Town", should officially be changed to "Metal Town" if the sights and sounds emanating from Tool's show at Copps Coliseum on Sunday night were any indication. Tool must have wanted to play in a venue that was the polar opposite of their last shows in Southern Ontario ( two sold-out performances at Toronto's Hummingbird Centre last summer); because the show on Sunday reminded me that while music may change over the years, the people that listen to it may not.

The first time I experienced the live Tool experience was almost 13 years ago at Toronto's Concert Hall (Masonic Temple) in support of their latest release "Undertow" and it left quite the impression both on me emotionally and physically. I experienced a real "metal" show for the first time. Surrounded by raging lunatics with long hair, I stood at the edge of the mosh pit and watched bodies smash willingly into one another as the sounds of blistering guitar and bitter screaming filled my ears. I was officially "rocked" I left that show knowing that there was no better rock band on Earth than Tool.

Well over a decade had passed since that show and here I was standing yet again amongst a mass of long-haired lunatics and other rock fans from all walks of life, ready to be impressed by one of rock music's most exciting live tickets. All of us gathered there at Hamilton's biggest and dingiest hockey arena were expecting to have our minds and eardrums blown. Plain and simple.

Tool, a progressive rock/metal outfit hailing from Los Angeles, California have been blistering ears since 1992 when they burst on the scene with their first EP "Opiate" which featured such memorable titles as "Jerkoff" and "Cold and Ugly". The raw, furious sound captured on their first release was more comparable to standard metal and punk; whereas through the years they have evolved into quite possibly the most interesting and unpredictable bands in rock today.

"10,000 Days" (2006), their most recent release, follows in the lyrical tradition of their previous albums; 1993's "Undertow", 1996's "Aenima" and 2001's "Lateralus". Lead singer Maynard James Keenan continues his obsession with pain, despair, anger and the inevitable demise of the state of California either by a natural disaster or self-destruction.

Sonically, Tool have steadily improved on the sound of each of their previous albums, thus culminating in a stellar live show. The set that Tool treated approximately 17,000 faithful too was one that proved to be not only an experience for the ears, but the eyes as well. After approximately 4 minutes of continuous and ominous feedback, Tool, (led by Keenan, guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor and drummer Danny Carey) took to the stage to thunderous applause and screaming. They immediately rolled into cuts of their latest disc which warmed up the crowd for the third track "46 & 2" (off the Aenima CD and also one of their most popular tunes). The menacing guitar and bass coupled with Maynard screaming the chorus "Stepping through my shadow...crawling out the other side....46 & 2 just ahead of me..." had the place going berserk. Add to this the twisted images of carnival freak shows and strange Egyptian symbols flickering across the stage and on huge screens behind the stage; and you had a true Tool moment.

The band performed mostly material from their two most recent releases, then brought the show to a close with the title track off their current release, "10,000 Days". After battering the audience for over 2 hours, the group then all bowed and thanked the audience for coming to see them. They then all embraced at the centre of the stage (which is a Tool post-show ritual) and exited the stage. It was quite the sight to see 4 men who had just finished venting their frustrations musically, turn and show their audience and each other such respect and admiration.

It is evident that during the 13 years since I last saw Tool live, they have matured both as musicians and as humans. However, the show in Hamilton reminded me that Tool fans do not change. There will always be those rabid fans that can't wait to get to the show to hit the mosh pit or to punch someone in the nose. Yet, as long as Tool keep making the type of music that was played on Sunday night, there will also always be those of us who are simply looking for the perfect live rock experience.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Young Folks" (Single) - Peter Bjorn and John - Almost Gold (2007)

I have yet to hear the full album from this 3 piece outfit based in Stockholm, Sweden; however I cannot get enough of the lead single "Young Folks" off their new album entitled "Writer's Block". This breezy, catchy song (also referred to as the "Whistle Song" by certain hipsters; not to be confused with the Ying Yang Twins' slimy crunk anthem "Whisper Song") is as infectious a summer single as there is. Although this album was released on North American shores in February 2007; so far this is the quintessential summer tune right now.

The song kicks off with some simple whistling which combines with some steady 60's influenced drumming and wistful lyrics sung by a young man hoping that a young girl that he likes, likes someone like him. Sound simple enough? Well it is. There is no need to look further into the lyrics. Just sit back, relax and doze off daydreaming about that special someone you have your eye on. Who knows, maybe that person is looking for someone just like you!

The song structure and melody bring to mind the lazy, hazy days of summer during the 60's when everyone from the Mamas and the Papas and Simon and Garfunkel were ruling the airwaves while war raged on in other parts of the world. Something so simple as a basic pop song with a great melody can make someone forget about all of their troubles and enjoy a few minutes of pure musical bliss.

Unfortunately, there are still problems all across the globe, in our cities, towns and our own backyards. Thankfully, simple throwback pop music like "Young Folks" is just the type of song we need to make us forget about everything else going on around us and allow us a haven to retreat to ponder other important things that require our immediate whether or not that person that we long for would want to be with someone like ourself.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Weirdness - The Stooges - Virgin Records (2006)

You know that awful taste you have in your mouth when you wake up? Similar to your tongue feeling like the lining of the bottom of a birdcage? Awful isn't it? Well let's just say that The Stooges' (featuring 3/4 of the original lineup) new album "The Weirdness" is the aural equivalent of that. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but one that is strangely enjoyable.

Everybody's favorite cracked-out grandpa-lookalike Iggy Pop and Asheton brothers Ron (guitar) and Scott (drums) have reunited in 2007 (with the addition of grizzled punk vet, bassist Mike Watt) after a 34 year hiatus to remind us all what punk rock really is: dirty, grimy brief songs that leave you reaching for a bar of soap. The Stooges left a dirty skidmark on rock and roll's underwear during their brief time together from the late 1960s until they flamed out in 1973. This album sees them return to their familiar sonic snarl with the help of famed rock producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Jesus Lizard).

"The Weirdness" combines old, grimy, 70s-style punk rock with some rockabilly and British garage rock flavour to create one of the most enjoyable punk rock albums in recent memory.
With song titles like "Trollin", "My Idea Of Fun" and "She Took My Money", it is easily understood that Iggy and the boys don't want us to listen to diatribes on government corruption and and world peace. They want us to know that no matter your age (Iggy Pop turned 60 recently!?) cruising the streets looking for trouble and women, randomly harming people for amusement and complaining about being taken advantage of by an evil woman while inebriated; are all things that any red-blooded man should enjoy revelling in. When Iggy shouts the chorus of "My idea of fun/Is killing everyone" on the track "My Idea Of Fun", it almost makes you want to get out your seat and get outside and join Iggy in "a bit of the old ultra-violence".

If you're looking for a 40 minute escape from the mundane and aren't afraid to feel dirty all over, then the new release by The Stooges "The Weirdness" is just what you need. As Iggy reaches retirement age, let's hope that he doesn't lose that bitter edge that he's had for over 4 decades. Hey, wait a minute....isn't the food supposed to be horrible at retirement homes? That should piss Iggy off enough for at least another album's worth of material shouldn't it?

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


It's been over a year since the hip hop industry and the global music community as a whole lost one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time (and the best in my opinion); J Dilla aka Jay Dee aka James Yancey. On February 10th, 2006, J Dilla (who hailed from Detroit, Michigan) lost his longterm battle with lupus. Dilla had been fighting the debilitating disease for years and unfortunately he eventually lost that battle.

I myself was familiar with some of Dilla's tunes over the years but unfortunately I truly realized the musical genius he was after he had already passed. In just the last year since his passing, I have been hooked on his instrumental masterpiece "Donuts", the followup "The Shining" and his contribution to Stones Throw's "Chrome Children" compilation. I (among millions) can only ponder just what else Jay Dee could have accomplished musically if he had still been here with us today.

After hearing snippets of some more of Dilla's yet to be released gems at the Stones Throw show back in October in Toronto; I am literally salivating with anticipation to hear more. Stones Throw (a brilliant indie hip-hop label based out of Cali) has a double CD release entitled "Ruff Draft" coming out soon as well. I can only hope that their vaults hold much more of Dilla's unreleased music, because those who didn't know Dilla when he was around need to hear what hip-hop music really sounds like.

The sound that Dilla produced is both indescribable and simple at the same time. Whether you wanted to hear some menacing futuristic boom-bap like on "E=MC2" featuring Common (from "The Shining") or the most mesmerizing, soulful and organic beat I have ever heard on the instrumental "Time: The Donut of the Heart" from "Donuts; Dilla made music that touched you no matter how complex or how simple it sounded. By the way, Black Thought also spits on the "Time" beat on a cut off The Roots' "Game Theory". A must hear for sure!

I could go on for days about the impact that Dilla's music has had on me in the short period that I have truly discovered his music, but this piece was meant to be a short reminder to myself and to whoever else reads this that Dilla was, is and always will be hip-hop music to me.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Brand New - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me - Interscope Records/Tiny Evil (2006)

Upstate New-York emo/punk four-piece Brand New have not released an album since 2003’s “Deja Entendu”. Their latest effort “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me” is a return to the form that they crafted on the last record. However the jury is still out as to whether or not this release has broken any new ground or not.

The title of the record certainly reflects the pain and emotion of lead singer Jesse Lacey as he spits out his bitter lyrics over the standard “loud-quiet” emo template. The album opener “Sowing Season (Yeah)” starts off with some gentle guitar strumming as Lacey states “I am not a man, but at least now I can say I tried…” letting the listener who is familiar with Brand New know that he is the same angry, hurt and broken man he was at the end of “Deja Entendu”. The strumming quickly blasts into a frenzy as Lacey screams the chorus of “Yeah, Yeah….Yeah, Yeah!”. The tracks proves to be a good introduction to the new record, while also reminding us that Lacey and company have not forgot how to wear their emotions of their sleeves.

After reminiscing and telling us about the numerous changes he needs to make in order to become a better person on tracks such as “Millstone” and telling us that “We all have wooden nails…” on “Jesus”; Lacey pushes forth with bombast on “Degausser” in which he pulls a Kanye West and enlists the services of a children’s choir for a grand chorus. Children’s choirs seem to work under few circumstances. First, they can work as their own entity, where they can be appreciated for exactly what they are: a choir consisting of children. Secondly, they can possibly work backed by a hip hop beat like on Kanye West’s “We Don’t Care” from College Dropout or on an all-time classic like Pink Floyd’s“Another Brick In The Wall”. Unfortunately on Degausser” the mix of innocent children’s voices and Lacey’s grown-up howling is enough to confuse and scar both the listener and these young musicians themselves.

By the time the halfway point of the album is reached, one has to wonder whether or not poor Jesse has ever done anything right in his life. The somber mood and “quiet-loud” routine plays out on “You Don’t Know” and “Welcome To Bangkok”, however on this 3 minute instrumental thrash out the listener is given a short reprieve from the emotional onslaught. On “Untitled”, Brand New hint at a slightly more mature if not obscure sound, which consists of what sounds like a muffled voicemail message and some strings mixed with some hypnotizing guitar-picking.

Album closer “Handcuffs” leaves the listener feeling emotionally drained as Lacey croons to a lost lover that he would “…drown all of these crying babies, if I knew that their mothers wouldn’t cry”. The commitment and passion in Lacey’s voice convince the listener that he would do practically anything to get the object of his desire back. Drowning babies seems a little extreme as previously he seemed to have a good relationship with the younger generation when he called upon a group of children to help him exorcise his demons on “Degausser”.

Nonetheless by the time the album closes one can only applaud Lacey for sharing his new pains, problems and insecurities with us. However, unfortunately it leaves the listener wanting more in terms of variety and musical maturity and growth which they showed glimpses of on a handful of the tracks. The liner notes state that the album “…was recorded in the middle of winter…at Longview farm…”. Surely, that environment helped cast the dark emotional cloud that hangs over “The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me”; too bad that cold barn didn’t house an angry mare that could have kicked Brand New in the pants and forced just a little more out of them.

Rating: 3/5

My Music Reviews and CD Reviews

I have dreams of getting my opinions on music published someday (hopefully sooner, rather than later!) so i will be posting any and all of my reviews on this blog in hopes that is leads to my words showing up somewhere important!