3.31.2011

Chasing Sheep

Here I sit, 38,000 feet above sea level typing diligently away about a book I finished for the second time. I'm on my way to carefree AZ to replenish my vitals and vitamin d levels. The book? Another fantastic piece of post modernism by haruki murkami, A Wild Sheep Chase.


The story functions in the most basic sense as a noir detective story. To summarize in a blatantly frank manner, a young man is tasked with finding a location and specific sheep within a photograph he used in one of his agency's ads. Sounds bizarre, I know, but I swear that in the greater context of the story it is quite engaging, to the point of my befuddlement even on a second read through. It's a story of this young, unnamed protagonist subjecting himself to the weirdness of the world at large while seeking an old, familiar (if forgotten) connection.


As I wrote in my article about Norwegian Wood I have concerns when reading murakami of whether or not I fully comprehend the context of what is being expressed. I get the literal action but worry about not understanding the idiosyncratic peculiarities of a foreign culture. Having had a chance to chew through the material once before, however, allows me the luxury of not worrying about plot as much as investigating the subtext. Having done so, I can safely say that A Wild Sheep Chase is indeed just as fantastic and weird as I suspected it was on my first read through. The retread afforded me perspective I lacked the first time around.
It really is a great gum shoe tale, albeit with a nameless Everyman hero. That is not a detractor, though, but a method and vehicle for the reader that works quite well for an incorporating effect. The story involves long periods of contemplative drinking, of which I am quite a fan, as well as carefully navigating peculiar  conversations with strange figures and the occasional metaphysical force. As our hero works his way north and out of Tokyo he comes closer to the core of the mystery and farther down into a strange world of men obsessed with a particular sheep, only to find a very inter-connected world of guided hands and lives. I know this all sounds very disjointed and off kilter but it really does hold together quite well in the end, to the degree that my second time through the denoumount brought a new found appreciation for just how fantastic and well constructed the tale is. All it takes is one good scare and a lonely cabin in a deserted mountain clearing to really grab you by the shoulders and make you sit up and take notice. 


Murakami is a killer writer, but you may already be well aware of that fact. Having read a handful of his books by now, im getting the sneaking suspicion that A Wild Sheep Chase may actually be his secret best work. I have a few more of his works to delve in to, admittedly, but this does stand out as a particular highlight. If you've never read anything by this phenomenal author I would highly recommend starting here - it's a quick and easy read that pays off incredibly well. 

3.30.2011

Quintessential Underdogs

Yesterday I wrote a small piece about Spoon and their excellent single Written in Reverse. After digging in to my music I started to recall just how much I listened to Gimme Fiction when I first picked it up and why I recently put it back into heavy rotation.

Gimme Fiction is a thoroughly fantastic album, the kind that you listen to the point of exhaustion, then pick it up months or years down the line and it rings fresh with renewed vibrancy and resonance. Released in 2005, the album was a critical success across the board, getting enthusiast reviews from all concerned. Like I mentioned in yesterday's brief post, Metacritic titled them the act of the decade due to their consistently high marks. This album was another in a string of near-flawless endeavors put out by a band that seemingly could do no wrong. One could surmise that they were not long for the Indie-band label they'd been saddled with, yet they have not now nor then broken through to the mainstream in a massive way, which is curious. On the surface it would seem that they'd have no problem becoming hugely popular; they've certainly become a giant draw at festivals. Furthermore, there's no stand-offish nature to them, no sense of quirky-for-the-sake-of-quirky that keeps so many bands out of the mainstream. They were the quintessential underground band - massive following and just on the verge of breaking in a big way. 

Spoon is a band that is, at times, strangely normal. The songs on Gimme Fiction are very natural feeling, with a sense of one foot in front of the other, making the move as it comes in order song writing. Maybe I'm not describing this properly - what I mean to convey is the sense that the songs here are very logical and understandable, and their outstanding quality is what makes them unusual. It's odd or perhaps striking when a band can simply write great songs and let them be, especially in what is perceived to be this modern age of over-production and non-stop tinkering. 
In a world of Georgre Lucas-esque, Kanye West-ian ego mania and detailing, the songs on Gimme Fiction stand out due to their slight nature. While the album is, of course, full of piano plinks and guitar plunks, vocal lines ebbing and flowing over wide-open pianos, there is still a minimalist nature at hand. From the opening, dry buzz of the guitar descending into The Beast And Dragon Adored to the full band popping in behind in a low rumble of piano, bass and drums, it all feels simultaneously clean and dusty. Singer/guitarist Britt Daniel's voice is wonderfully grainy, the stuff of rock & roll generations past. He sings, barks and lilts over the band plodding along, bleating about believing in rock and roll. Sister Jack is a fun, blaring take on hand claps and stop-and-go choruses that make your foot tap no matter the occasion. My Mathematical Mind is a momentous, rolling number that plows along with a thumping bass and a piano part that conveys a grand scale that Daniel wails over with gusto. It's a great song that you may have heard, unfortunately through the guise of marketing - it was prominently featured in a series of car ads I won't describe here. 
Another example of a superb song on Gimme Fiction that saw widespread commercial use is the funky, Prince-inspired I Turn My Camera On, which again shows that stripped down attitude despite the fully formed feel of the song. As I alluded to in yesterday's post, this song is the definition of restraint, drawing power from the energy the group has to hold in check. It's a great song and one can certainly understand, if wince only slightly, to see it used in everything from episodes of The Simpsons to the procedural Bones. Nothing robs a little essence of a song more than seeing it used by producers to add weight or "fun" to a scene. Curiously, significant portions of this entire album were lifted and restructured to serve as the soundtrack to the film adaptation of Stranger Than Fiction. In this case, however, it was with Daniel working intentionally with the sound designer for the film, editing and removing vocals to make them fit in proper context. Done in this manner, it actually serves the film quite well, and the passion of the band fits the quirky story. It's a great film, by the way, expect a write up in the future.

Gimme Fiction is excellent, start to finish. As I stated earlier, I listened to this album so much I actually grew numb to it for a while, only to rediscover it recently. It still sounds fantastic, six years later, all the nervous energy and impeccably crafted songs sounding fresh. If, for some reason, you still are unfamiliar with this great band, you would be doing fine to start with this album. 

3.29.2011

Backwards

Alright, round two, let's jump right in. 

Instead of focusing once again on music from the 90s, how about something more modern, say in the last 18 months? 

Spoon is fantastic, straight and simple. They're a great rootsy Rock & Roll band of the old school from Texas. They've put out amazing singles (I Turn My Camera On, The Underdog, The Way We Get By) and phenomenal albums (Gimme Fiction, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga). Metacritic dubbed them one of the best acts of the last decade, simply by weighing cumulative/aggregated scores from reviews. It's just good, solid music that rocks - great songs, great voice, great sound. So when this last year saw the release of Transference, their latest album, without the stoppage of the rotation of the Earth, I was a bit puzzled. The lead single in particular was a great piece of energetic, raucous noise. I fear we move to fast now in our pop-cultural momentum, so let's take a closer look into why Written In Reverse was fantastic and shamefully overlooked. 

Making good use of a staple of rock history that sees only middling play these days, Written In Reverse leans heavily on a piano riff on the back beat of the kick drum. It sounds great and hooks your head in immediately but it's a very raw sound. To cut to the chase here, I think that while the song is a gritty, thumping tune, it's also a little too intense and unrelenting to be as popular as it could be. I love the back and forth dynamic Spoon is creating here, down and up, down and up. It's almost hypnotic - almost. Brit Daniel's vocals are as salty and jagged as ever, wailing like a dying man. While it makes for heartfelt and angsty music, it's not a pleasant sound in the sense of drawing you back for more - its more of a 'look at how crazy this is' vibe of a wounded animal. The guitars are equally broken and damaged, simultaneously sounding tightly wound and frayed at the edges. The way they plow through the locked-in-step song it seems that the machine could break down at any minute. It's an amazingly raw and real tune, just not necessarily one you would expect people to latch on to. That may be the heart of the matter here. The song is phenomenal, it really is. It just may be that Spoon poured a little too much of themselves into it to keep it smooth. There's none of the restraint from past songs like You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb or Sister Jack. None of the loose swagger of My Mathematical Mind or The Underdog. They've gotten a little ballsier and it may have cost them a little air-play. 

I write all this and yet Spoon are still doing just fine. Transference received excellent reviews, people clamor to see them live. I guess I just want to make sure the cultural zeitgeist doesn't just zip past and onward towards some other meme-heavy fad. So by taking the long way round, I just want people to listen to Spoon, really. Just putting the word out there - get past the hard edges and they're still as fantastic as ever. 

Tribute

Hola, kids.

Yesterday I mentioned the song J.A.R. by Green Day, in light of it's forerunner status to their sophomore album. I thought about how great that song is and that it deserved just a bit more light shone on it, in hindsight.

The song, as I touched briefly on yesterday, wasn't released on any album at the time, only the soundtrack to that slice of 90s nostalgia, Angus. While it is certainly a flawed movie, it's charming in its optimism and message as a movie. The soundtrack was pretty darn good, too. Cuts from the Smoking Popes and Ash, as well as a killer song by Weezer, You Gave Your Love To Me Softly. J.A.R. was the other highlight. When it was given to radio stations, it quickly hit number 1 on the modern rock charts. Despite this, I only remember hearing it maybe once or twice at the time, having to pick up the soundtrack in order to attain repeated listens. Years later it would be compiled on their career spanning retrospective International Superhits! to give it proper chronological context with the rest of the Green Day canon.

Written as a tribute to bassist Mike Dirnt's childhood friend who passed away in an auto-accident, J.A.R. was actually tracked for Dookie but not included on the album. Sandwiched between the two and serving as a reminder to the public of the band's impending album in 1995, its a break-neck slice of pop-punk sugar. Like I said yesterday, it stands out not only for its quality but for the lack of connection to the subsequent album - Insomniac was a bleak, aggressive affair, while this single, fresh on the heels of the mega-smash Dookie, was life-affirming and almost celebratory, like a fond farewell in or wake. The lyrics are a smattering of live-your-life and give-all-you-can platitudes that see the band breaking from their wheelhouse of paranoia and disillusionment. It's actually quite refreshing for them. The structure of the song, while conventional, is an interesting choice of chords under the melody. To put this as clearly as I can, the manner in which the band constructed the song makes it impossible to properly sing the melody without two people - the chorus sounds flat or unresolved if there's no satisfying harmony. It makes it tough as a solitary musician but Green Day are a trio that work amazingly well together. Give it a listen here and see what I'm referring to.

Considering this is a rather truncated post on a single song, look out for another one later tonight. I just wanted to put a spotlight on this great if forgotten song. It's a rare piece of positivity from the band before they re-invented themselves ten years later and it deserves a wider appreciation. 

3.28.2011

Sleepless Nights

Back at it. 

It's Monday and the weather is already looking up. I knew it. I'm heading out of town at the end of the week and am anticipating an interruption in my normal routine, as anyone would. To compensate, I plan on full, normal posts until then, possibly even doubles. We'll see. In the meantime I thought I would write about an album that was no doubt popular but may not have had the high profile it deserves. Maybe it does and I just don't know it. Probably. Who cares. Point is, I love it and it's really good. What album, you ask? Green Day's follow up to the diamond-selling Dookie, Insomniac. 

Released in the fall of 1995, Insomniac saw the pop-punk trio from Berkley skewing slightly darker and harder in reaction to claims of selling out. Dookie had rightfully been a huge album - it's fantastic all the way through. Listening to it now, there's no question the band was destined for super-stardom, it just seemed like catchy songs at the time. While Dookie broke the band wide open, it saw a huge backlash for them over the widespread acclaim that inevitably follows anything underground getting exposure, and Green Day were no exception. Blasting out of the So-Cal scene, Green Day wrote fast and melodic tunes that spoke of discontent, boredom and paranoia, all packaged in insanely hooky pop songs. Basically a winning combination. So the pressure was on for them to repeat that success with their next effort. What we got, while awesome in my opinion, fell short of the lofty expectations at the time. In hindsight it is a really solid, punchy album, it just didn't have the miraculously high numbers Dookie did. Let's go in for a closer look, shall we? 

Teasing audiences with the non-album single J.A.R., the band was already getting buzz for what would come with the new record. While J.A.R. was a great stand-alone single, it didn't really give proper preparation for the sound of Insomniac. It was more positive and in line with their previous album. When the next single, Geek Stink Breath, dropped, we got a much clearer vision for what was to come. The song was heavier, just two plodding chords repeating while the band angrily pushed through the song, frontman/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong singing about the effects of meth-amphetamine rotting out his teeth. To boot, the video for the song was a further stroke of un-pleasantry, with distorted video of the band playing while a friend of theirs has a real tooth extracted, complete with graphic footage. Thus began the angrier, more nihilistic phase of the band's career.

Suitably, the opening lines of the album were the bleak "Stranded, lost inside myself. My own worst friend and my own closest enemy" from Armatage Shanks. Setting the tone for the rest of the album, the hopeless lyrics were set to the dry, buzzsaw guitar hooks that would fill the 32 minute onslaught. It's a theme of nihilism packaged in aggro-pop, Armstrong bleating the lyrics along with aggressively played songs that have killer hooks in them. At times it seems as though the music could simply blow out the speakers and overpower the source, like in the furious Stuart & The Ave. There's an opening chord, then a plump and juicy bass lick, followed by drums and chords blasting back in so hard it seems loud no matter the volume. Singing just a hair harder and unhappier than he would anywhere else in his career, it seems, Armstrong sings of rejection and disappointment, almost as an anticipatory reaction to claims of selling out, the idea being he would reject his accusers before they could hurl claim at him. Indeed, the simplistic 86 paints this picture easily, wailing "There's no return from eighty-six, don't even try" against intense and undeniably catchy hooks. Fittingly, his most self-loathing and scathing attacks on himself serve as some of the catchiest on the album, as heard in No Pride. In it, Armstrong sings "Well I am just a mutt and nowhere is my home, where dignity's a landmine in the school of lost hope." In the chorus he announces "Honor's gonna knock you down before your chance to stand up and fight." It's bleak and depressing but incredibly well written stuff, the refrain building on a clever twist of chord structure that seems to keep the melody climbing despite its rise and fall.
Its interesting to see the band playing with such fervor, looking back now from their re-formatting as arena-playing rock-opera composers. Now they write suites about the youth in suburbia and the effects of war on the younger generations. This album, though, shows them as lashing out at the world that gave rise to their success and freedom to write what they pleased. Granted this was fifteen years ago and they had a little more piss and vinegar in them than they do now. Still it is an interesting look into what claims of fakery and selling out can do to musicians, as the band was clearly trying to strike back against those claims with this album. That being said, we shouldn't dismiss Insomniac as a furious diatribe - there are some great songs here that sound great today, despite their aggresive nature. Indeed, I decided on this album for today's post due to rediscovering the album and being surprised how well it holds up. I was just surprised to hear how angry they were at the time. Time and growth seems to have smoothed the edges for the group, though, and their writing has only gotten better. They're still going strong today, making great music. Give a listen and see where they've grown from, it's pretty fascinating. 

3.27.2011

Sunday Evening Post

Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Sunday evening and I have nothing.


Another week has come to a close with spring seemingly no closer. It's a load of crap! Next week, though. Next week it gets warmer. I can feel it.


In lieu of genuine content I present you one of my favorite online shops - the eccentricity and brilliance that is Think Geek. Described as Stuff for Smart Masses, the site is a repository for all things nerdy and brilliantly designed. You name it, they got it - detachable joystick for your iPad? Check. Bad Robot Statue? Check. Combination NES/SNES player with controller? Check. Vinturi Wine Aerator that I wrote about two months ago? Check.
The site is a geek's haven for all things gadget related. There are tons of products for the kitchen, your home office and your car. There are even decals to turn your child's (or your own) room into the first level of Super Mario Bros. or Donkey Kong.  There are great deals on nerdy clothing, as well. Hoodies with hidden pockets and lines for headphones are a highlight, as is my personal favorite - the 8-bit tie
I know it's not much of an update, but I just wanted to put the love out there for the site and all the awesome products they have. I'll be back tomorrow with a proper update but I wanted to make sure there was an awesome thing posted for the day. Head over to their site and see what's available.  I guarantee if you look around you'll find something you can't live with out!



3.26.2011

Boys & Girls

Woo! Saturday!


Yeah, so, after a solid week of consistently fleshed out pieces about hip hop and unending adoration for local artists, I'm feeling tapped. I may have also been to a happy hour with my better half - this is a Herculean effort just to type coherently. So instead of talking your ear off about Doomtree or Rhymesayers, I thought I'd just drop hints about something most hipsters are up on, in case you haven't heard.


And what, prey tell, am I alluding to? The infinitely dance-able tracks of Sleigh Bells (WARNING - Epilepsy may ensue).
The duo from Brooklyn are known for their poppy, blown out sound and heavy, thudding beats. Garnering a buzz before their first album, Treats, was even released, they have had critical adoration and decent sales to their name. Basically if you're young and have access to the web, you already know who they are. If not, take a look here for their awesomely cheesy video for the crunching blast of 'Infinity Guitars'. The clip is a bad ass affair, full of Catholic School girl outfits, denim jackets and sports cars - Mac and Dennis would no doubt be proud. The big single the duo released was the cacophonous 'Tell 'Em', all snapping drums and screaming guitar licks. It's like seeing the 80s re-born into a modern, irony-packed environment that is fully aping that style while grinning the whole time. Seeking further proof you've missed out on the wave of awesomely blown-out music? Listen to 'New Prince' and try not to dance. Go ahead. I'll wait. I'll be right here.
Honestly, I love this group but what makes it even better is hearing it further re-contextualized via Childish Gambino. His rapping over the tracks for 'Infinity Guitars' makes the song even better, another dope layer of swagger on top of the ridiculous bad-assery already accounted for. His bouncy rapping over the already funky 'New Prince' is like peanut butter and chocolate - each is great on their own, but even better when put together. Maybe they should get together and do an EP? One can only hope. It just goes to show, along with the week long theme on Doomtree, that to be a good MC you don't have to be a hood rat or thug - you need to be smart and talented. Clever wordplay and a sense of what works goes a lot farther than a hard street rep these days. So says someone in Uptown.
Sleigh Bells was lighting it up at SXSW this year and have been hard at work on a new album, although they have yet to debut any new songs for fear of bootleggers leaking rough versions. In the meantime, head over to iTunes and check their album to see what's been going on. See you tomorrow!

3.25.2011

Local Rappers Understand Internet

Happy Friday. 

Another week down. Still cold, still Minnesota in spring. 

After the week long Doomtree Diatribe I thought I would stick to the same genre, if switching gears only slightly. While it's not Doomtree, it is more excellent music from Minneapolis, namely the legendary rap group that is Atmosphere and a free bit of genius they put out that deserves a little attention. While the back story to what I'm going to write about is simply too involved and detailed to belabor you with in a single post, I'll try to summarize as best I can if you're not familiar with Atmosphere and the corollary Rhymesayers Entertainment. So here goes... 

Slug, real name Sean Daley, formed a rap group called Urban Atmosphere in the mid-to-late 90s. Through its various permutations and name changes, the only members to stay together were rapper Slug and producer/turntablist Ant (Anthony Davis). After the release of the first official Atmosphere album, the only other member at the time, Spawn, left the group. This album, Overcast!, established their sound and put them on the map as a legit rap group from Minnesota. The release of progressively better and wider reaching albums (Lucy Ford, God Loves Ugly, Seven's Travels) saw them increasing their stamp on the local music scene as well as gaining recognition on a national level. Rhymesayers Entertainment, what is considered to be the most significant musical presence in MN (Prince excluded), was founded early after the group's formation, due to the frustrations Atmosphere and fellow musicians Brent Sayers and Musab  Saad were experiencing with studios. The four partners established their label became the imprint through which Midwest hip hop would make its presence felt. 

At this point (2005) Atmosphere released their fifth album, You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having, and Rhymesayers had gained enough steam to not only have their own shop in Uptown but national distribution and critical appreciation for their artists. The two were institutions of the city - for someone like myself, who entered college at the turn of the century, it seems like they've always been around. It seems I can't paint a serious enough picture to give credit to the accomplishments these connected entities have made. Point is, they were intertwined and doing really, really well. Releasing albums and EPs at a seemingly breakneck pace, Atmosphere was certainly a prolific group. Imagine our surprise, then, when this gifted duo put out a free album of new tracks for online distribution. 

Titled Strictly Leakage, the album was a savvy move on Atmosphere's part. Unlike other artists that shall remain nameless, this was not some one-off, blow off some steam in the studio affair. Nor was it just old demos that had been unfit for other projects. No, this was a brand new album with freshly written tracks, any one of them sounding right at home in the expansive Atmosphere catalog. Rhymesayers deserves just as much credit for this move - they were not only putting out an album that was fantastic but ahead of the curve. They'd seen what direction the wind was blowing, that people don't buy albums much these days, let alone a hard-copy CD. They were aware of the massive amounts of piracy going on, so why not cut out the middle man and just offer the content themselves. After all, how many of us, in the heady, Wild West days of Napster, downloaded horrible, millionth generation mp3s that sounded like tin can rips? By offering their own content with high quality files Rhymesayers proved to their audience and the internet that they understood how the game was changing. Smart people. 

The album itself, complete with new artwork and all that, is great. It feels like a legit rap album, just more of Atmosphere doing their thing. 'YGM' opens the album with anthemic, old school horn samples and Slug rapping "This is Sean & Ant's day, yours is on the floor with your permanent mad face." 'Little Math You' has Slug defending the suburban crowd, extemporizing on how the passion for the rap game exists within the person, regardless of geographic origin. One of my favorite cuts on the album is also the shortest. Clocking in a just over a minute and a half, 'Jewelry' is a goofy, funky exercise in Slug reminiscing while maintaining his braggadocio about "rocking some moon boots" doing the MC Hammer pants and doing the flashdance. It's weird and awesome at the same time. 'Crewed Up' has some of the best from Rhymesayers making appearances and spitting verses at each other, including heavy hitters Brother Ali, Toki Wright and Mujah Messiah. 'Domestic Dog' sees Slug in his observant/writer's style, musing about having to pick up women at the grocery store these days. It's kinda funny, in a harmless way.
While the songs may not be the absolute best the duo have released, they're still great, dance-able tracks. The album is great for summer barbecues; it has a great positive vibe, veering slightly away from Atmosphere's introspective or bleak canon. What really gets me though, is the method of distribution - years later, its still hosted on the Rhymesayers site. Head on over and pick it up to see what you missed the first time around.

3.24.2011

Meat Cleavers & Shotguns

This is it, kids. End of the line.

Day 7 of the Doomtree Diatribe. I've covered the MC's and some of their best, if under-appreciated, releases. I've covered their devoted, multi-talented producers and beat makers. It's been fun rehashing their awesome body of work - I was introduced to their sound back in 2005 and they've accomplished tons and tons since then. They are the definition of hometown heroes, here in Minneapolis. They're a talented crew of devoted, boundary-pushing artists who grind away daily for the love of it, while inspiring the next generation to do something meaningful with their lives. To atone for the over-the-top sycophantic nature of that last sentence, let's take a step back and look at some tangential material, shall we? Just some details to round out the week, to ease off the medication, so to speak.

First up would be the excellent dance mix put out by waning member Marshall Larada, 'Break In Two'. Larada, known for his production and design skills, was at one time a formative and core member of the group, having taken a step back from heavy performance as of late. Released at shows and online, the album is, on the surface level, breakdancing music. Just a series of infinitely danceable beats designed to keep you going. Beneath that, though, is the reality - Larada designed an album of samples and beats from his childhood through modernity and it works as great party music. If you read yesterday's post on Paper Tiger's False Hopes, this plays the flip side to that expectation. You expect straight-up dance tracks, you get good times and mash ups and mixes galore. Pick it up and pop it in on a sunny Saturday while you cruise around the lakes this spring. 
Next up - the massive amounts of media the crew maintain on their site. Obviously in this digital age, the game has completely changed - MTV is almost entriely irrelevant to widestream publicity and radio is desperately trying to catch up to the shifting landscape. Doomtree's site has selected tracks to check out, as well as a collection of videos and shorts that are too numerous to list off here. Particular highlights, though, include their non-rap material. Turns out when some really smart musicians try their hand at humor it can really pay off. Check out their insane 'As Seen On TV', which sees the crew through the hyper-real filter of the TV junket. Others include the group of videos showing just how hard the crew is working. Check 'em out, they're good. On top of it, they have their bonafide videos available, as well. While they're all great, be sure to take a look at some of the best they've done, including clips for:

Half-cocked Concepts
Purexed
Optimist
Prizefight
Gameover
Dixon's Girl
Drumsticks
Traveling Dunk Tank
Burn It Down

One Dimensional Man 


One final note, probably most important of all. Sims is in the midst finishing a never ending tour in support of his phenomenal Bad Time Zoo and Dessa just announced her first headlining tour across the nation. If there is any chance that you could see either of these two when they come to your town, for the love of all that is good and sacred, go see them. They have phenomenal live energy and beats that make you move whether you want to or not. I did this week long series of posts because I wanted to do justice to their music and passion instead of a single blog post. Now I realize I could do this for every release they put out - they're that good. I'm sure other releases and events will warrant more posts, but in the meantime I got to evangelize about my favorite hip hop artists. Just glad to know other people appreciate them like I do.

3.23.2011

Man On The MAke

Oh man. Snow storm again. It's late March, though. Won't last long.

In the meantime - we press on.

Doomtree Diatribe, day 6. In which we study Paper Tiger's first solo endeavor.

Paper Tiger, if you've ever had the good fortune to catch a Doomtree show in person, is the guy behind the turntables with the shades and (most often) cocked ball cap. As the group's resident graphic artist and turntable extraordinaire, Paper Tiger has had a guiding hand in both the sound and literal vision of the crew. Many of the designs for album artwork and T-shirts has come from Papes, as has some of the best cuts the rappers have performed over. Another Hopkins alumni, Paper Tiger knew the establishing members way back when, working early on with P.O.S., Mictlan and MK Larada when the group was just getting started. Taking residence in the legendary Doom house where the collective resided, Paper worked diligently at the boards and computer, honing his skills and mastering his craft. Whereas fellow DJ/P.O.S. touring support Turbo Nemesis would display a more aggressive, in-your-face approach, all chopped guitar riffs and slamming drums, Paper Tiger ran his table with more subtlety and bounce, showing his artistic approach to the musical space in which he worked. His creations were distributed throughout the crew and he often played behind the Doom crew at full shows, sharing responsibilities with Lazerbeak.

After years of supporting the amazing rappers and DJ'ing hundreds of shows (possibly more, I can only attend so many), Papes was ready to take the next step. At the 3rd annual Doomtree Blowout he released his first solo effort, titled False Hopes, naturally. The EP belies the normal conceptions one would have of a hip hop producer. Then again, if you've been paying attention, the Doomtree crowd are no strangers to defying expectations. Where as some DJ's could easily be pigeonholed into repetitive trance numbers or soulless samples, Paper Tiger displayed a real sense of creation and nuance in his work. While it is no doubt fantastic, powerful stuff on record, little of it would be appropriate for a nightclub or dance party. Actually, scratch that. If you're looking for incredible mood music for cocktails with friends or a chill house party, this EP is perfect. I find myself thinking of this gem as a soundtrack for life. What Papes has done here is boil down all the swagger and energy of his live shows and filter it through the vibe of his graphic designs. It's the audio equivalent to a chef's reduction - slowly simmering the ingredients down to their essence in a concentrated form. It just so happens that the artist in question is working with a full lab of equipment and a unique sensibility that sets him apart from the rap community.
The EP winds up the opening number with a snippet of live sounds in the intro. You can hear Sims talking to the crowd as Papes lays down some funky guitar chords over a sleepy dance beat. We quickly switch gears when heading into 'The Random'. The song is the first real indication of Paper Tiger's curious perspective and predilection for dark sounds and almost contemplative beats. The mood stays fairly consistent when moving to the next song, 'Cannonade'. It's a similarly somber, moving piece that features fluttering, almost broken snares beneath tweaked vocal samples. 'MAke-MAke' is just as moving, if set apart due to it's beautiful yet simple piano element. This track is my favorite off the EP - it's a gorgeous, slightly out of key affair that feels just a bit melancholic while uniting a group of disparate elements under one roof. This song shows how Paper Tiger's hip hop expertise matches up so perfectly with the ambient and atmospheric aspects of his work. It's quite affecting. The short, nary-a-minute long interlude that follows is also fantastic; I just wish it was fleshed out into a full song! It's a funky little ditty that would serve as a great backdrop for hep-cat spy caper film. 'Singer' is another moving piece that sets an evocative tone with it's bleak intro of only moving water and acoustic guitars. 'Send Help' is equally despondent but creates a more lush landscape, the wailing tones sounding like a winding-down distress call. I love this song almost as much as 'MAke-MAke'. Again, it's a wonder this is coming from the same producer who collaborated on the frantic and furious 'Game Over' with Mike Mictlan, easily the highlight of the crew album. The final track on the EP, the despondent 'Speedmetal', features the only true vocals, courtesy of the inimitable Dessa. It's serene in it's loneliness.
Really, this short, amazing EP is all killer, no filler. Unfortunately it would be two full years before Paper Tiger would release his debut solo album, Made Like Us. But that's a post for another day. I wanted to give this EP some love, due to both it's fore-runner status and my personal adoration of the feel and tone. It's an astoundingly well constructed affair that's perfect for a contemplative drive or a sneaking evening of drinks, laid back with swagger. On top of it, the guy makes incredible artwork, much of which we see without knowing it's his creation. Paper Tiger's talent apparently knows no bounds, so watch for your job if you see him around your office. He may just take yours to get some artistic insight.   

3.22.2011

Segue Way

It's raining, of course. It's March in Minnesota, so it's actually a nice change from snow. It cleans the streets and melts the snow berms, so I will gladly take it.

While I am enjoying the distraction of the weather, it's time I press on with Day 5 of the Doomtree Diatribe. Today's post won't just focus on the dusty guitars and rattling drums with which Cecil Otter supports his brilliance, it will also highlight a secret, mega album you can assemble Voltron-style via playlists. I'm gonna be a jerk and just assume you're using iTunes, but that's my choice, not yours, so you don't have to get in a twist about it. Point is, we can play cut and paste. But let's take a closer look at the contemplative poet, the George Harrison of the Doomtree crew - Cecil Otter.

Cecil Otter is another longtime Minneapolis resident, having met fellow founder P.O.S. in high school. In between skateboarding sessions he and P.O.S. got acquainted, beginning to make music shortly after. As I mentioned in the post about P.O.S. they collaborated often in their early endeavors, splitting EPs and producing beats for each other. When it came time for Cecil to do proper albums he not only enlisted former members MK Larada and Beautiful Bobby Gorgeous, but ended up creating his own as well. Cecil Otter's False Hopes served as a fantastic first album, establishing the palate with which he paints his soundscapes. Using a liberal amount of slowly creaking drum beats and broken-machine sounding samples, Cecil created a slew of wonderfully off-kilter and laid back songs, such as the epic one-two opening salvo of 'Atreyu And The Swamps of Sadness' and 'City Girl (Amuse Meant To Get Her)'. They show exactly the kind of art he would create - songs that convey his twisting and cuttingly witty wordplay in the train-hopping drifter attitude.

As any artist can tire of their own repertoire, Cecil Otter set about constructing a new album worth of material from the ground up. In both a surprising but hoped-for move, he also produced the album himself, crafting the songs from the ground up. Every dusty string, every sampled music box - they were all hand picked and arranged by Cecil himself. An advance copy of the album was completed surprisingly quickly and sold at the second annual Doomtree Blowout, held in First Avenue downtown. I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy and was amazed by the growth he displayed on just the advance version of his album. His lines were more intricately written, often times with several running and interlacing similes and metaphors that converge into one brilliant picture. The sparse, laid-back approach was more refined and unified, not simply being low-energy but a low-burning intensity that never loses its momentum. It was, though, an advance, i.e. not what was to be viewed as the final, polished offering. The actual album, Rebel Yellow, would be released just over a year and a half later with a revised track list and re-mastered production. Feeling just a hair more smoothed over and polished around the edges (and a more balanced mix), this version of Rebel Yellow was the proper album. Featuring a few key substitutions in tracks, it felt different than the advance - not worse, just a differing tone and sensibility when listened to straight through. What I began to ruminate on, though, is the merging of the two. 

I'm sure any artist would shudder at what I'm about to propose. No one wants an improperly assembled or illicit version of their work to be in the public spectrum. I understand. So, Cecil - on the off hand chance you read this, I apologize if this irks you, but the temptation was too good to pass up. Here's how it goes:

Take the final track listing for Rebel Yellow and stick it in a play list. Then, taking the tracks from the advance version, fill in the gaps on the official version, interlacing them where they would potentially have lain. There you have an expanded version. Now if you really want to be excessively nerdy take the individual tracks Cecil offered for False Hopes 13 and 15 and pepper those in. What you have, then, is the Voltron-esque Rebel Yellow that contains everything after his last album but before his next official release. A playlist would look something like this:

1999 
Poet is Rapist
Rebel Yellow
Sufficiently Breathless
100 Fathers
Untitled God
Firewalk With Me/Last Archer
The Archer & The Scarecrow
City Girl Prequel
Untitled
Forensics
Beat It Loose
Boxcar Diaries
Down Beast!
Little Demon Girl
Demon Girl
Matchbook Diaries
Le Factuer
Traveling Dunktank
Black Rose
Let Me Tell You
Duel
A Rickety Bridge

I love the idea of cut and paste albums (for evidence see my post on the conspiratorial OK Computer/In Rainbows collection). The resulting product when you make this mega-Otter playlist is a more detailed and fleshed out scene that Cecil may not have intended but illustrates his vision in a unique way. Hearing '100 Fathers' segued into the beginning of the mix gives it a new sense of relevancy to the other songs, like 'Untitled God'. The rawkus 'Black Rose' is a great follow up in and of itself to the single 'Traveling Dunktank'. The progression of the embryonic 'Demon Girl' right next to the finished version plays like a natural growth of a song, showing how ideas change over time. 

Cecil Otter is an unparalleled poet who can create a swirling mass of text around your ears that can make you weep while you raise an eyebrow at his puns. God forbid anyone is ever on the receiving end of his wit - his deftness can insult you without you even realizing it happens. So if you hear a verse about bloggers getting his albums all wrong, remind me and I'll simultaneously hang my head and shrug my shoulders. He's working on a few projects at the moment, in particular a new album and a collaborative effort with Lazerbeak where they swap beats and vocals. Do yourself a favor and keep an ear to the ground. 

3.21.2011

Indie Darling

Happy Monday kids, another week to trudge through. 

Today is day four of the Doomtree Diatribe, which brings us to the verbose and loquacious Dessa. Dessa is the slow burning, ascendant member of the group. The only crew member to release a book of fiction, prose and poetry, the excellent Spiral Bound, she is also obviously the only female member as well. But you can tell by which characteristic I mention first is more descriptive of her role in the group. Rather than discussing the role of gender identity in hip hop ad nauseam (of which I'm sure I would do a terrible job) I'd rather spend today examining her methods of expression, which are far more prevalent in her artistic endeavors. While the music world has been abuzz with love for her latest album 'A Badly Broken Code' (and it is fantastic, you should buy it) I'm fascinated by the myriad of cuts that appeared between her first and latest offerings. 

Dessa, whom I'm guessing you already know at least a bit about if you're reading this, is another Minnesota native. Her entry into the rap world was a tentative one, having first sought out slam poetry and meeting members of her first group Medida, fellow artists Ronin and Yoni. While the group performed and recorded some material, they disbanded. When that happened Dessa was introduced to the raw and unfocused energy of Doomtree in its embryonic stage. After the crew had heard her perform and upon hearing of the demise of her group, Dessa was presented with the option of joining the burgeoning rap collective. She quickly said yes. What she brought to the table was a more refined, nuanced method of expression. Where as Mictlan and P.O.S. could volley back and forth on sheer frenetic energy, Dessa coaxed a literary sense of delivery out of the group, falling more into line with Cecil Otter's wordplay and Sims' insightful introspection. Her joining the group both influenced their delivery and writing style and hers.

Her first False Hopes EP shows this more subtle sense of song writing, with tracks like 'Kites' and '551' showing her divergent writing style. The first three tracks on the EP fall more into line with the group's ouvre, though - 'Press On' shows her rapping with the best of them, trading verses with Sims with ease. 'Mineshaft'  was a live staple for years after its release, her descriptive style displaying a depth of introspection rarely seen in the world of hip hop. Unfortunately a full five years would pass before she would offer a proper release. In the meantime, Dessa trickled out choice cuts and guest spots on her crew mates' albums. The Doomtree False Hopes, meant as a teaser before their long-awaited crew album, shows an excellent bit of her writing, the radio-ready 'Veteran'. It's such a great song with pop sensibilities that it's a wonder they didn't release it as a single - it really would sound right at home on any modern station. Knowing the Doomtree ethos, though, that would never happen. 'If And When' is a contemplative tune that almost marches forward with icy keys, a sign of where her album would go.
 When the full crew album finally was released we got a few great cuts from Dessa in particular, including the another team-up with Sims. 'The Wren' shows the two of them crafting a tale of broken hearts and trusts through the longstanding Doomtree bird terminology (a group of crows, etc.). 'Sadie Hawkins' sees her singing playfully over a funky piano beat, breaking into a Spanish rap halfway through the song. A guest spot on producer Paper Tiger's False Hopes EP has her singing in a strange new inflection, the eerie 'Speedmetal' slowly plunking along with haunting samples.  Interstingly, one of the tracks on Paper Tiger did for False Hopes 13 (with the Blowout DVD) later resurfaced with new vocals on top of it. Titled 'The Chaconne', it's a gorgeous, moving song that she has actually been performing with her younger brother accompanying her, as of late. At last year's annual Doomtree Blowout the group released another group False Hopes, this one being number 15(!!!). On it is one of Dessa's best, if over looked, tracks - the manic and confrontational 'Scuffle'. The song bears the unmistakable buzzing and stuttering guitars of a beat made by fellow MC P.O.S., and the soundscape created does indeed feel like a scuffle. Dessa displays some engaging and genuinely amusing rapping over the scrambled beats.
I'm just as fascinated by these scattered offerings as I am her staggeringly good album. Like I said, it's no surprise at all she gets such massive amounts of press when considering how talented she is, in particular the out-of-time and refreshingly genuine 'Dixon's Girl'. The video is an amazing piece as well. Still, I love that such a great artist will work to give her audience a fix, offering the occasional song to bridge the gap between releases. It reflects not only the work ethic but the changing landscape of the recording industry. While the album is still key, these individual tracks serve as a companion piece when compiled together, showing a cohesion of concepts. Dessa is one to keep an eye on, for sure. The national spotlight can't be far away.

3.20.2011

Thinking Man's Blues

Good evening, welcome to the end of the weekend!

Additionally welcome to day three of my never ending Doomtree Diatribe. Today we look at the working man's/thinking man's rapper, your favorite bad ass and mine, Sims.

Sims is another Hopkins alumni, having met P.O.S. in high school. After buying beats off him, Sims began recording his music with P.O.S. and soon got rooked into the rap game with the newly emergent elements of Doomtree. Having released his own False Hopes EP early on, the fantastic and now out-of-print False Hopes 4, Sims released his album Lights Out Paris in 2005. Both a damning look into American culture and a call to arms to better our country and lives, the album was a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a man who is both frustrated with the world he lives in while simultaneously tries to improve it in any way possible. The album sees him digging into such diverse yet interconnected topics as the free market society, the daily grind & navigating rush hour, Bush's political landscape and his relationship with his father and the impact it had on him. It's no wonder the album received so many accolades, including the Strib's Best of 2005 list and gathering critical adoration in the online rap community.
 Unfortunately, the demand of both being a human being (working, paying rent, sleeping) and a member of the best damn rap crew around (touring, guesting, working on the highly anticipated crew album) kept Sims from the task of finishing his long awaited follow up, Bad Time Zoo. After all the pieces fell into place, though, it was finally released to the overwhelming approval of the local and national rap community. But while this album has been gathering a huge buzz, both online and via NPR (despite his understandable critiquing) what I find more fascinating is what happened between albums. To satiate the demand for his music and to satisfy his fans, Sims released an EP. Number 14 in the False Hopes canon, his EP is an interesting work in dynamics that really could warrant more love than it gets. Everyone is rightfully stoked about Bad Time Zoo, but we shouldn't forget about the EP that proceeded it.
Bearing beats produced by both members of the crew and a few outsiders, False Hopes XIV is an interesting peak into an artist in flux. At the time these songs were created, Sims was between the fury of his debut and the confidant consternation of his follow up. It essentially afforded the man an opportunity to exorcise some demons with the same demons plaguing the mood of a highly public release. While Lights Out Paris is full of clanging beats and despondent tones and Bad Time Zoo utilizes horns and strings to quantify man's plight, False Hopes XIV is a sparse, almost minimalist affair that serves as a playground for the artist fleshing out his ideas, seemingly painting as he goes. 'Like You Mean It' is a gorgeous, melancholic tune that is a fantastic warm up to the meat of the ten song EP. 'With The Fire In Its Palm' is a foggy, moody song that sees Sims spinning yarns about the people he's known, most movingly that of a soldier "who served and earned a medal - he made it home but the storm never settled". Sims is a man of the people and a heartbreaking story teller, capable of giving you just the right details to hook you in and see a real person in the lyrics. 'T C a G' utilizes a similar sharp piano loop as 'Like You Mean It' and the song shares the somber link of the tone. Showing further dichotomy to the ideas put forth, there are tracks like 'Rap Practice', where Sims shows he can still be playful and loose, not just focusing on societal strife. In it, he raps about jokingly and freely about how his "practice raps are soundin' better than your album tracks". 
There is no doubt that Sims is one of, if not the smartest rappers around. Who else would make a repeating theme, and song, out of citing Kurt Vonnegut's phrase "So It Goes"? He's the kind of man who dissects philosphy between carpentry jobs, seeing the wisdom and application in both. I'm so grateful he's getting the recognition he deserves, now that Bad Time Zoo is out. But while you enjoy his newest release, head over to the Doomtree store and pick up this fantastic, under appreciated EP.  

3.19.2011

Living Slightly Larger

Saturday, day 2 of my multi-stage Doomtree diatribe. 

Today I want to look a little farther back in the canon and celebrate what was one of the first major outing for Doomtree, namely the first official album for P.O.S
. - the curiously titled 'Ipecac Neat'. Released in 2004, the album was one of the first official records put out under the Doomtree banner and stands as some of P.O.S.'s best work, made all the more impressive by the fact that he was only 22 at the time. 

The Promise Of Stress (or Piece Of $#!% depending on his mood, born Stefan Alexander) is a lifelong Minneapolis native, having grown up here and attending Hopkins High School, where he met fellow crew members MK Larada, Cecil Otter, Mike Mictlan and Lazerbeak. Initially averse to rap and hip hop in general, in wasn't until a punk outfit he was playing with did a one-off gig as a rap-parody that the wheels turned in his head. Following the example of his friend Mike, P.O.S. took to rapping like a duck to water. He quickly became one of the best young MCs on the scene. For particular proof, track down a copy of his now-defunct group Cenospecies' first and only album - it's a fascinating look into the talented rapper's early work. His signature style is there, just not fully formed (it's a great piece of local history, if you can ever find it). When he began writing and rapping with eventual Doomtree crew member Cecil Otter they recorded and released a series of EPs, all under the title of False Hopes, not unlike, say, Nine Inch Nails' method for titling each release another in a series of Halos (Halo I, Halo II, etc.)  These Eps, (False Hopes, False Hopes Mega! and Cecil Otter's first solo foray, Hungover Seas) quickly established them as rising stars on the scene. When P.O.S. released his first full album there was no question about his talent and the potential that lay within.

The album, Ipecac Neat, is titled as such because P.O.S. wanted to conjure the image of "mental vomit" of which he identified his rapping - loose and free associating, yet personal and revelatory. Well played, sir. The album is definitely all those things and more. As an introduction to the astounding canon of material that would ensue, Ipecac Neat could serve as a primer for neophytes. Like any artist who is crafting their first album, P.O.S. drew upon the series of False Hopes eps for a couple choice cuts in addition to freshly penned (at the time) material. In particular the opener, Gimme Gunshots, is a fantastic illustration of personality contained within. The slower sections of verses show P.O.S.'s sly sense of humor and wit, cracking jokes and making winking references to the late Notorious B.I.G., even singing a bit, even if only in jest. When he switches up the rhyme scheme and tempo in the chorus we see his deft word play and knack for hooks - phrases fly by like shots and you can hardly decipher them before you're trying to catch the next line. I, personally, was hooked and blown away by the personal yet universal appeal of 'That One', an amazingly insightful song about the effects romantic entanglements. Just the opening lines had me enthralled when I first heard it "Gimme  a pen, a pad, a couch, a blanket, pillow and I'm out - I wrote this thing from 31st to Clinton foaming at the mouth, can I sleep in your den?" Those little details make his story telling very real and beleivable. The song is a heartbreaker, with P.O.S. spitting rhymes about suicide by cop and the moving refrain "I'm not waving, I'm drowning".
The whole album holds up as you listen through. 'Music For Shoplifting' is a speedy but sparse tune that makes a case for minimalism in hip hop. By crafting a beat around a broken kick-snare combo and putting just a hint of flamenco guitar on top, P.O.S.'s wit and wordplay get a chance to really shine through what is other wise a sonically dense album. Favorite line: "I'm not trying to save hip hop, I'm just trying to save my baby cousin from Jermaine Dupri". 'I Play The Matador' creates its energy and momentum seemingly out of thin air just from the beat, all snapping guitar licks and popping drums. The closer to the album, the personal 'Duct Tape', gives an even closer look into P.O.S.'s childhood and what he went through that made him who he is. The tales of home drama clearly made an impact but it gave birth to the passion on display here. Culled from an earlier ep, I'm guessing it was a natural choice for inclusion on the album. It's a moving, vivid piece of music that is quite affecting.
On a whole this is a fantastic album. I think, though, that part of the genius on display comes from the fact that P.O.S. had so much to prove when he was making it. Now, with three fantastic and varied records under his belt and all the critical adoration one could hope for, he may not have the same drive to prove his worth. On Ipecac Neat he had that desperation, the hunger of a young artist with the fire inside him. It's still there now, of course - he's tearing up the scene here and abroad, not only with solo sets and the Doomtree crew, but also with hardcore bands Building Better Bombs and Marijuana Deathsquads. He was also a highlight of the phenomenon that is Gayngs' album Relayted. all these cats are making huge waves at SXSW this year, so if you're not there, start with this amazing album and get acquainted quick, before you miss out. 

3.18.2011

Hand Over What?

Holy Hannah, am I glad it's Friday.

As long as my week has been, one thing I can't stop obsessing over is all the amazing shows at SXSW I'm missing this year. Admittedly, I'd rather take a week off to go somewhere tropical and sit on the beach, but all that good music is too tempting. So I sit here in Minneapolis, reading constant updates about shows I can't see or movies I'll have to wait for. One thing I can console myself with, though, is the knowledge that I've had my fair shake at seeing Doomtree live. Knowing they're down there riding a huge wave of positive buzz and playing an obscene amount of shows makes me so proud of all the good things Minneapolis can create. I've dropped the Doomtree name in more than a few posts here and it's time I give them the full round of praise and explanation they deserve. Unfortunately it is literally a crew of people, so this will be no small undertaking. In order to keep this manageable I'm going to spotlight a release from each of the MCs and give proper credit to the beatmakers that make it all possible. I might end up hopping around a bit in the process but in the end there should be a nice collection of articles on the best hip hop to come out of Minnesota since Rhymesayers first made waves. First up - Mictlan and Lazerbeak's magnum opus 'Hand Over Fist'. 

Mike Mictlan is the proverbial Juggernaut of the crew - a rapper who, once he gains the momentum, cannot be stopped by any obstacle you throw in his way. His lyrical skill is unparalleled, with the ability to construct lines that approach Dada-ist absurdism in their twisted linguistics, while still maintaining coherence through complex similes and references. A Cali transplant, Mictlan spent separate chapters of his life traveling back and forth between MPLS and LA, gathering friends and influences in both states while honing his craft. His first official album under the Doomtree banner, 'Deity For Hire', was excellent and a strong indicator of things to come, but his talent and sound quickly grew beyond the parameters the album established. The album was reworked and expanded, released under the title 'Deity For Re-Hire' but again time passed and fans wanted more. Working with producer Lazerbeak, the duo set about constructing something massive. 
Lazerbeak, whom I previously wrote of in the Plastic Constellations post, was splitting time with both crews. From his time as a guitarist and vocalist in TPC he brought a refreshingly unique perspective to hip hop production, crafting beats and samples that displayed unusual musicality and sounds not often used in the genre. His songs show an affinity for real instrumentation instead of broken sounds - pianos, horns and guitars all serve as frequent backdrops for the tracks he creates. Beak and Mictlan were longtime friends and the collaboration came naturally as the two set about the long process of making the record together. What ensued is an album that is both heavy, full of banging drums and beats, while conversely musical and insightful, with Mictlan's lyrics delving into his personal life with intense candor.
To set the mood for the album, the opening, eponymous track sounds like a machine winding up in the first few seconds. When the song jumps to life, it's clear the energy is not a question here - Mictlan and Lazerbeak are going full steam, drums banging and Mike inciting the audience to hold up the signature hand signal of the crew, the bird gesture representing the Teeth & Wings of the Doomtree logo. Dropping references to ice-cold MN winds and rapping in his fluidic style, the track isn't even half over before we know exactly what the album has in store. The two lock into step and stay that way for the entire album. Tracks like 'Clam Casino' feature drop-in and out beats, with Mike bouncing along effortlessly. 'Shux' is a manic, barreling affair that features fellow crew member P.O.S. trading verses and double teaming the chorus. The song itself seems to follow the shouted instructions to grab a shovel and start digging, the beat digging farther and farther down. Maintaining the energy isn't simply a tempo trick, though. Tracks like 'Wolf Tickets' slows the pace but make up for it in the soundscape and ear-hook of the music. 'LA Raiders Hat' sees Mictlan talking about growing up in LA and it's a candid look into the rapper's life. It's easy to forget he's not solely a MN resident and his love for California is clear. 
The real standout track, however, is the album closer, which has also closed more than a few Doomtree sets. The massive and epic 'Prizefight' is an absolute highlight of what Doomtree, and Mictlan and Lazerbeak specifically, are capable of. The song is a grandly structured example of the musicality and range of styles hip hop can embody. It's essentially Mike rapping about keeping his "eyes on the prize" even though he might not know what he'd doing. It's a rundown of his life and how the passion for rapping he possesses has kept him moving forward and how it's paid off. It's also insanely danceable. The piano motif is both striking and funky, a testament to Lazerbeak's talent. Listening to this song winds the audience up no matter the occasion and it's no wonder they choose to close so many performances with it.

Hand Over Fist is an amazing album that shows just what Doomtree can do - it's all passion and drive, bolstered by insane talent and joy for the grind. Stay tuned for more posts about the crazy good music this collective can make!