Showing posts with label MPLS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MPLS. Show all posts

12.04.2012

Iced Out


So Xmas is coming, even if winter is barely here. 

There's no snow whatsoever. It's straight up a bummer for the holiday season. The situation used to be that I loathed winter and couldn't stand the omnipresence of snow. It was dark and miserable and painfully cold, but hey - that's life in the Middle West, huh? 

It still is, just not as severe these days. Last winter we hardly had any snow at all. Here we are on the 5th of December with nothing to show for it, save for the dead lawns and bare trees filled with lights. I guess the fact that it gets so dark at 4:30 in the afternoon tends to cover that up a bit but it's still a bummer when Xmas is on the way. It's hard to believe just two years ago we had a blizzard so severe the Metrodome straight up collapsed in on itself. That was an amazing storm. My (then) fiance and I spent the day cooking and baking and watching the world slowly succumb to the snow. At about one in the afternoon we saw all of the city buses line up on the street below our condo. We were confused as to why all the people were streaming off the buses until we saw the signs on the front of each one change from the route to 'Not in Service'. The city had given up. They knew when to pull in and close up shop, even if that meant stranding everyone at the Rainbow Foods in Uptown. 
Not even a month earlier an even crazier weather event happened. While my better half had gone out with her friends for a girls' night out, my younger brother and a friend of mine came over for a drink before seeing a movie at the Lagoon Theater two blocks away. On the short walk there we noted the steady drizzle and the dropping temp. I remember the three of us exchanging mutual concern over what was going to happen. We went inside and promptly forgot about all of that while we watched Monsters, an awesome yet underrated movie. Two hours later we left our seats, took one step outside and simultaneously grabbed each other for support as we slid down the curb on half an inch of glare ice. We were equal parts terrified of falling (and really hurting ourselves, as we were juuuuuusssst old enough to see the danger in icy walkways) and hysterics as we navigated the treacherous path back to the condo. I know I slipped at least twice, the slow, steady breakdown where you start standing and go down in stages, so by the time your feet fly out from under you you're really only a few inches high anyway. My brother tried to stop before hitting the crosswalk (and potentially being rundown by an out of control car or bus) only to slide into the street and almost to the other side, like a statue of a figure skater. 
When we got inside my building I made them promise they wouldn't try to leave. We all biffed it on the two block walk - no one was going to get anywhere without breaking a bone. So what to do? We sat at the windows and drank, five floors up and surrounded by a vantage point from which we could watch the chaos unfold. People were either boldly braving the roads or foolishly ignoring the conditions, staying out until bar close. Seeing the drunks stumble out onto the ice and skid around on shaky legs like a newborn deer had us all doubling over in laughter. That is, until we saw one guy go down hard and not get up. Our laughter quickly died down. "Oh. Oh, no. Alright, coats guys. Let's go help." Before we could leave, though, he made it to his feet and, with great trepidation, made it over to his friends. They hadn't even noticed he went missing. The joys of living somewhere the weather can kill you! 
So we stayed up all night watching the slowest, gentlest car crashes in the world. Blizzards that ruin buildings. Ice conditions that force us to hunker down indoors. I somehow fell in love with bolting the doors and watching the world turn white. Xmas is on the way, but there's nary a flake on the horizon. 

I hope that changes. It's not the same without the white stuff.

11.16.2012

Big Chill

We have got to chill out.

No, I mean for real.

There was a point raised to me by someone I trust and respect in the last year. This point, once it had been planted in my brain, germinated and sprouted. In the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro this idea has grown like a weed. It was, in a way, a spoiler, something that cracks your perspective. Now I find my worldview forever tainted by this simple idea. It's cultivating the urge inside me to just level us out. To play it cool.

Simply put, we need to mellow out on ourselves in Minnesota.

Please, forgive my violation of the Midwestern norms and allow me to explain my offense.

The thing is...we are trying way too hard to run with the big kids. The pervasive "me too!" attitude in the metro area (and I suppose the upper Midwest in general) is becoming grating. If it's this intolerable to a resident who is still quite happy to live here, how unbearable must it be to the rest of the country? We must sound like the youngest kid in your culdesac who tags along and tries to act even tougher than the toughest kid. Sorry, rest of the country.

This must come across as negative and disdainful, but I have to say that it seems to be a frequent occurrence to open the paper or go to the City Pages blog and see another gushing, "aren't we wonderful?" article written on how we're the 'best place to live' or in the top 10 for biking or the best to be young or single or have a band or oh dear lord, can't we just be a city? We're not even that big of one. Again, insufferable humblebragging. I know. But you have to know that other cities don't do this. They don't have to assert their wonderful qualities at a steady, relentless pace. We have to chill out and let our strengths speak for themselves.

Here's what really helped me understand it. The person who broke the concept for me watched a lot of true crime and Cold Case style shows. Typical episodes would start by setting the scene in a short exposition. "New Orleans, city on the the edge" or "New York, the city that never sleeps..." What happened in the Minneapolis episode? We had a pretentious pontificator exposing on how "Minneapolis is a burgeoning city, with a vibrant art scene, a sprawling business district, fabulous restaurants .." and it went on and on. Never had we heard another long winded speech asserting a city's good qualities. It was like a parent espousing the black sheep's fabulous social life or athletic prowess despite going nowhere in life. 

I know, I know. This is pooh-ing where you live, dumping on those that share your space. But we have to mellow out. If it's so wonderful, let's let the wonders speak for themselves. The great secrets may stay a little more secret and the citizens of Chicago may think of us as their hick cousins but you know what? That's okay. That's who we are. No amount of "me too me too! We're great too!" is going to change the fact that we're not Portland or Jo-burg. 

Let's love this place, warts and all. Even with miserly miscreants like myself calling it home. 

Deal?

12.06.2011

Crew Cuts

C'mon, like you didn't expect this?


Doomtree. No Kings. 


What more does a guy have to say? I've been all about the 'Meatcleaver tied to a Shotgun' since Just Riley turned me on to P.O.S. back in 2005. Since then, I've been as obsessed as any of their fans, clamoring for more material, the long awaited crew album, attending the (now week-long) Blowouts in First Ave. So when word dropped earlier in the fall about No Kings, I was super excited. The teaser tracks were killer, crazy stuff. I was gonna give you a full run down on why you should pick up the album (if you hadn't already) but it looks like the local City Pages beat me to the punch. That's the rub of a one man operation - I can only do so much. They did a fantastic job breaking down the release of the second full-crew release, so what more could I say? 
My own perspective, of course. While I certainly agreed with everything they had to say about Doomtree's rapid, hardworking rise to the top, it was interesting to see certain views and assumptions confirmed or denied. For example, my suspicions were correct, it seems, that the title and theme were completely coincidental in the context of the Occupy movement and the release of the Jay-Z/Kanye album. The crew had always had a 'make your own life' aesthetic to it, this album distilled that ethos. Additionally, the nature of the collaboration and presentation of the album was much more unified and cohesive when compared to their previous group effort. While I loved that album as a symbol of accomplishment and a statement on where they were, it was very diverse, almost scattered. No Kings, instead, is incredibly cohesive. Every song feels like part of an album instead of a showcase for each artist. Songs aren't individualized but more like limbs to a monster. 
The amount of growth each member of the crew has shown is also remarkable. The ideas and themes they put forth have always been lurking in the unspoken spaces of Doomtree hooks and lines. It's only in the last two years or so that the rappers have fully blossomed into the incredibly nuanced and articulate wordsmiths they are here. You could spend pages unpacking individual couplets, only to realize there would be more than one or two interpretations. Sims becomes more introspective and conversely more light in his delivery, feeling ever more alive and alight when he raps. P.O.S. refines his social viewpoints and desire to reform his world as he sees fit, all while gaining more verbal dexterity. Mictlan's word-collages grow evermore diverse and bizarre, creating murals with wordplay that hinges on free-association dadaism. Dessa has fallen into a dangerous pocket, retaining all her artistry she wielded on A Badly Broken Code, only now she finds herself completely lock-step with the rest of the insane crew, rather than being a stand out. Cecil Otter continues to make me question my own justification of using the same language he does. How can I claim to craft a sentence when he not only produces beats but creates some of the smartest, most cutting lyrics you've ever heard?
Yes, yes, hyperbole, I know. What I'm saying is prove me wrong. Listen to this album and tell me its not the most talented crew out there, working as one horrifyingly talented whole. The collective vision is so masterfully crafted and delivered, it almost puts anything else they've done to shame. All the shows at First Ave this week are sold out, but maybe if you know a guy, you can get in. They own their own world. We only get glimpses of it when they drop albums like this. 

12.05.2011

Police State

Okay.


Alright.


So, I'm in.


I had heard the buzz about Polica for a while. As bummed as I was about the disolution of local folk husband-and-wife outfit Roma di Luna, there was a bright spot on the horizon. While Alexi was free to return to his main ouevre as part of Kill The Vultures, his wife Channy Leaneagh teamed up with Chris Bierden, Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu to record a full length album under the name Polica. Funny thing is, they did this without playing a proper show in Minnesota. Before the album even comes out, though, there has been a massive buzz around the band. Just a couple of tracks from the forth-coming Give You The Ghost have been teased, yet their is an insatiable hunger for more. 
While they recently built on the anticipation by opening for Foster The People at First Ave the other night, Polica have already become a staple on The Current. Check out their sight to hear 'Wandering Star' (titled 'Dark Star' on their official site). This was the first track of theirs that I heard. It sums up all the best parts of the band without exposing all their secrets. Channy's voice gets to float and flit over the band, the only other sounds being two drummers, bass and the occasional sample. It's sparse and aloof, some soft vocals that get twisted and and tweaked just a bit while washing over the band. The echo of the drums and the warm bass make a distinct sound that form a better whole than the separate elements. 'Lay Out Your Cards', on the Polica website, has a similar mix of empty spaces and warm, human touches. Another in-studio performance for Radio K yields another fantastic song, the Bjork-esque 'Leading to Death'. It has some great synthesizers that form a core around which the band crafts a whimsical and weird tune.
I can't wait to hear more, honestly. Full confession - I am totally on the band wagon now. I had heard the buzz building and thought "how can it be so great?". Then I heard one song. That was all it took. I had to hear more. The album is done and ready to go, but in a wise move they're holding their cards close. A Valentine's Day release show is planned. Get on board now, kids. You won't want to miss this. 

11.21.2011

Cut Loose

What. The Hell. Was That.


Doomtree have lost their minds.


You think you know an artist, having listened to them for years. You get a sense of communicated identity. You learn their inflection and tendencies, even more so when they're a local legend. Hell, in some cases, I've even kicked back and shared drinks with the odd member of the crew. You make assumptions, you feel safe, if not confident in their choices. The last crew release was a killer, a massive album that served as a landmark in the divergent Doomtree canon. When word of the available-any-second No Kings, I made the mistake of thinking "Oh sure, more of the same, but better and harder, right?"
Remember what I said about assumptions and sanity?


The leaked tracks should have been an indication. 'The Grand Experiment' and 'Beacon' signaled a darker, more nuanced tone from an already complex and dexterous crew. The video for the album cut 'Bolt Cutter' though...it's dark and disturbing. Not in the gory, over the top schlock Hollywood tries to force feed us. No, this is the kind of strangely unnerving imagery that one would think impossible to pair up with hip hop, let alone such phenomenally talented artists as these. Stalking the gritty, grimy corridors of abandoned buildings. Climbing over the walls. Dodging spotlights while looking like their minds are unhinging before your eyes. Doomtree have lost their damn minds.


It couldn't be better art.
The song itself, a multi-segmented beast of a track, is just as sinister. P.O.S. brings you into his world over frantic, broken beats. Sims lurches through ever more violent wordplay, brandishing a verbal knife in the shadows as speakers bust and distortion flairs up. Suddenly the song breaks and becomes a slinking little thing that Dessa bats around like a cat with a mouse. She owns it and dares you to take her toy away. When you think it's safe, the track breaks wide open and Mike Mictlan screams in your face over crazed dance beats, rapping face down on a dirty floor in the video. As the crew stalk the empty corridors, P.O.S. ascends a ladder into the night time city and the song continues shifting. All of this is horrifyingly cohesive.
By the time you read this, No Kings will be available. Go get it. Once you've listened to it, call the men with the nets and white coats. These rappers are a danger to society, in the best possible way.

11.16.2011

Rain Delay

I probably should have had this ready to go on Halloween night.


Can you blame me though? I was all about celebrating my favorite holiday. I had to watch scary movies and fill up on candy corn and chocolate. The only other thing I was looking forward to as much was the latest release from my favorite Twin Cities rapper Homeless. Recorded live at the 7th Street Entry earlier in the year, this free (FREE I SAY!) LP features the rapper cutting up verses and hooks over sick samples and trading lines with another good friend of mine, the multi-talented Just Riley. Having been all over the duo's mixtape (Patience Makes Lighter/Kids Eat Free) after seeing countless shows of theirs and even roping them into performing at my own wedding, I was beyond excited to hear that after relocating to California, Homeless was still putting out this fantastic and tightly paced show for free online. My expectations were exceeded in every way.
Where as seemingly every other live show I've heard on record has suffered from bad mixes or a lack of passion, Homeless did the deft mix here of coupling a fantastic mix with a relentless lyrical fire. The MC is just as vibrant and alive on this LP as he is at any show. Best of all, thanks to a well-orchestrated production the vocals are crystal clear over the beat, sounding almost like an incredibly dynamic radio performance more than a bootleg recording. Jumping right into the madness after an intro from another local upstart, Toussaint Morrison, Homeless shows his growth and burgeoning swagger by spitting apocalypse fostering verses over a crazy beat by R Productions. 'Craze(y)' shows him running a manic foot race against a beat by Alchemist that was originally put to use by Mobb Deep. The minute long 'For The Record' ends with Homeless clarifying his stance on half and half in his coffee. 
Just Riley joins the fray for 'The Weather', making his presence known by screaming about "Humpty Dumpty tendencies". From here on out the pair, known together as Mnemosyne, volley tracks and lines back and forth. 'Familiar Strangers' is an ultra catchy live staple and inspires little shimmies as the two spit miles of lyrics together. 'Somniphobia' will break your heart as Just Riley incites the crowd to sing along with his fear of sleeping alone. On 'Kids Eat Free', the title track from his mixtape, Just Riley takes lead vocals to examine our mental starvation as he wraps his linguistics in circles around his own ideas. Rapping over a beat provided by Cecil Otter of Doomtree, Homeless and Riley paint a grim picture of life inside asylum walls on 'Welcome to Bedlam'. Homeless makes a case for making the most of your life on 'In The Air' from his release Patience Makes Lighter before closing the show with the pop insanity of 'Magic Man', as crafted by Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss Homeless, here in the Twin Cities. Truth be told, I hardly go to shows now that these two have headed west to CA. Sure, Doomtree have a stint of Blowout shows coming up, but they're shoe-ins - some of the joy in watching Homeless making a release like Right As Rain happen is seeing an artist cut his teeth and hone his craft. The man has genuine talent that grows every day. I just wish he didn't have to head out to bigger and better things to spread the good word. You look him up - I'll make him do a hometown show as soon as possible.

11.09.2011

Mega Buster

If there's an upside to my cover coverage coming to an end, it's that I get to share more random, amazing things with you.

Take, for example, Dr. Wylie's recent amazing (and free!) EP, titled Wiggle. Packed full of robotic jams and off kilter beats, the EP shows what the DJ and producer hailing from Minneapolis is capable of when coming into his own. The collected tunes on file are a series of beats and songs that create a cohesive vibe, an artist who is really expressing a strong sense of identity with his sound. After getting familiarized with his sound through local artist Toussaint Morrison and his evermore impressive releases, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Dr. Wylie is compellingly capable of holding his own when stepping into the musical spotlight.
Wiggle is an EP whose roots are firmly planted in the world of electronics and videogames. The moniker alone should be enough of an indicator about his sensibilities. Dr. Wylie is the name of the antagonist roboticist extraordinaire in the seminal Mega Man series for the last 20-odd years. Both as an homage and namesake, our Wylie does the mad scientist proud with his electronic, robo-tinged sounds and samples. The opening tracks, 'GFGDGT' and 'Robot Love', show the artificial elements blending with natural melodies, creating a fresh hybrid sound. 'Favrit Flayvah' has enough twisted organic elements to allow the electronic samples to get loose and jazzy, aided by a just-barely-in-step piano and drum beat. 'Fear Is...' demonstrates the vibrancy and danger Wylie can harness in his equipment, full of low-slung buzzes and throbbing synths. 'Doris & The Machine' is full of snapping, head-whipping blasts of funk and fury. It sounds like breaking machines and malfunctioning droids. I love putting it on and watching the world around me lock into a rhythmic pocket. Built around a sample from Dr. Mario, 'Chill' is a fun, nostalgic banger that throws your ears out of whack. I love Wylie's rendition of folk staple 'Little Boxes' - here's hoping he gets his shot at opening an episode of Weeds.   
I love this EP - it feels, at its best moments, like party music from the not-too-distant future, or maybe a cocktail party hosted by Dr. Light. It's like our own, Minneapolis-bred version of Gorillaz, and I mean that in the most complimentary sense. Dr. Wylie creates these dense little audio worlds by himself, and in doing so establishes an undeniably unique presence in the scene. Keep an eye on him - he's only going to get crazier and build bigger, more dangerous sounds. 

9.19.2011

Food Shelter

What's good?


Coming back to the work week is always hard after a weekend like the one I had. It was full of productivity followed by relaxation, a great one-two punch for relieving stress. I ate tons of curry and home-baked sweets. I shared some wine with my better half. I ran for an hour every day. Then I get to the office this morning and our kitchen sinks spewed foul, black matter onto the floor. I'm always amazed at how people can watch something happen and not intervene. Had I known immediately (and not been on the phone with building maintenance) I would have gotten to it as soon as possible. It took another intrepid coworker to strap plastic bags to her feet and lug some waste baskets over to the sinks to catch the funk. I'm grateful for her ability to act, it kept a bad situation from getting worse. It's the unexpected trouble that throws us; it's also the unexpected treats that put us back into balance. Having not been on Twitter as much as I normally am, I missed the release of the new single from Homeless, 'Epic Meal Time'.
I know I've written a great deal on this whip-smart and motivated rapper before - I'll keep doing it as long as he's on his grind. When you find an artist who possesses such conviction and talent, you can't help but throw your momentum in with theirs, drawing strength from it in a Captain Planet-style combination of positivity and ambition. What I'm trying to say is the guy is good and keeps getting better. I just want the world at large to have advance warning of his Minnesota-grown talents. They owe it to themselves to hear his latest salvo of cultural analysis packaged inside a shuffling soul beat.
'Epic Meal Time' is another offering from Homeless that shows his concern for our well being along with his frustration at the world he's forced to face. In the track he raps about our mental malnutrition as our youth tries to find nourishment in the vapidity of mass media. The hook has Homeless venting his anxiety over losing his drive from lack of positivity in the world and perseverance in the face of stupidity. How many rappers do you, indie or otherwise, who work so hard at reminding us of the wonders in the world and how we need to appreciate them? I can write about the silly exuberance of Das Racist all I want but I don't get sustenance from it like I do from this.
Homeless is still putting it down, line by line, track by track with Big Cats, New Tera and anyone fitting the similar ethos he embodies. Go download it and see what I mean. Here's hoping he keeps his momentum in this unforgiving world - we need more of his kind.

9.01.2011

Lone Pine

Evening, one and all.

I wrote a piece on the new EP from Sims yesterday, which got me thinking about how some of my favorite releases aren't necessarily the most long winded. Brevity is said to be the soul of wit. One of my favorite releases of the last couple years has to be the short but sweet EP from local avant garde rap group Kill The Vultures.

Kill The Vultures are not your average hip hop outfit. You don't hear the typical samples and beats. The vocals often times aren't in the common meter and delivery. What you get when you listen to this group is something out of left field.

Kind of a funny story how I got into Kill The Vultures. My better half had gone on safari in Africa with her mom. They were visiting Kate while she was working for Peace House, establishing their library facilities. This meant that for two weeks I was left to my own devices. Something I've found about being in a long term relationship (which lead to a marriage) is I now hate being left alone for too long. Short spells are okay. Long ones, not so much. I get restless and lonely. I did a lot of writing. Played some video games. I got restless to the point of simply wandering down to the local record store, the awesome and expansive Cheapo Records on Lake and Freemont



I had, by this time, fallen hard for local acts like Doomtree and The Plastic Constellations (before their dissolution). Wandering the racks of the local artists, I saw a name I recognized but had never actually heard. So on a whim, resltless and alone, I picked up some releases by Kill The Vultures. I only knew it was in the vein of hip hop. I had no idea it would be as good as it was. One of the albums was The Careless Flame, the other was The Midnight Pines Soundtrack. By just about stumbling over the album, I found something totally unexpected and completely unique. It was bizarre and off kilter in the best way possible.
 I've never even seen the movie to which Kill The Vultures composed the soundtrack. All I've been able to determine from searching online is that it was a local flick, a kind of modern noir. The soundtrack certainly would back up that notion. At only six songs, the soundtrack is a woozy, drunken affair. Songs are full of wheezing, out of focus jazz ghosts that make you feel like you've been transported in time. There are moments where the soundtrack feels like a jumping beat-poet session, rapper Crescent Moon spitting his free-form verses over saxophone and some light percussion, like in 'Where The Cutthroats Stay'. The song is a finger snapping, head bobbing number. Other times it feels like music to accompany scenes of the depths of a bender, like in 'A Long Way Down'. In the track, mournful woodwinds warble over a slightly-out-of-tune piano, Crescent Moon practically just speaking his lines. His vocals are chilling when he speaks "It's a cold, cold city and it's a long way down." 'Midnight Pine' feels like a marriage of the two proceeding tracks - light, jazzy drumming, somber poetry and some lively keys. It's hep cat stuff, for sure. 'Can't Buy Forgiveness' is more upbeat, the time-keeping ride cymbal adding an out of time air, like Kill The Vultures were the baddest outfit in your favorite speakeasy. The whole EP feels amazingly retro yet alive and vibrant, surprisingly genuine and relevant for such a distinctly throw-back idea.
Crescent Moon's vocals are an unquestionable strong force here, as well. His intonation guides the whole feel of the songs - he gets wound up and the track feels like it could burst into flames. When he slows things down to really force every word into your ear, you can feel him forming every syllable and letter. His rapping and voice are so distinct that you can pick him out on anything else he does, be it with his wife in the (sadly now defunct) Roma Di Luna or as a guest MC on countless Doomtree cuts. He has a conviction to his words and a heft to his voice that few other artists possess. When coupled with these amazing jazz constructions, I totally fall apart.
 How many groups these days, especially noise-jazz based hip hop, can make a soundtrack to a movie you've never seen, yet still completely convey the tone of the film? I adore Kill The Vultures for what they've done here. They have other fantastic albums that are more detailed and fleshed out, but I love the brevity and simple concept of what they've done here. If you've never heard of Kill The Vultures this is actually a great, accessible place to get acquainted with their aggressive sound. They're flying just under the radar, so go find them while you can.

8.31.2011

Zoo Animal

Well, hello there!

Last time we spoke, I was waxing nostalgic about things long gone. How about instead of focusing on things that are a decade old, we look at something new and fresh?

In my last post about Minneapolis rapper Sims, I made a mea culpa for sleeping on his latest and greatest endeavor, the staggering and alarming Bad Time Zoo. To counteract the guilt and feelings of missing out on something so amazing, I want to use today's post to spread the good word about his latest offering. The thing is, Sims is heading out on his Good Time Zoo tour (see relevant dates and venues here). As a reward for coming to see him perform live he has pressed up physical copies of an EP he recorded with fellow Doomtree crew member Lazerbeak. The EP, titled Wildlife, serves as a coda or addendum of sorts to his sprawling and dangerous album that preceded it. Knowing not everyone will be able to attend the upcoming shows, Sims and co. went the extra mile and distributed the EP for free online, via this link
.
 I can't tell you how fantastic of a gesture that is from such a hardworking artist. While Sims has been riding a wave of critical success, we all know the record business is a limping, potentially mortally wounded beast. So to offer fresh, original and (most importantly) high quality content like this is quite simply a gift on the artist's behalf. I'm very grateful, not only for the gesture but for the fact that this EP is just as amazing as the work that preceded it. Sims is on his grind and we are reaping the benefit.
 Musically, Wildlife falls right into line with Bad Time Zoo. The songs are at times, alive and manic, sprinting alongside the rapper as part of a pack. Other times they feel run down and full of history, like an old supper club with outdated d├ęcor. They sound, really, like they could be alternate takes of other songs on Bad Time Zoo, and I mean that in the best way possible. Often times an artist will plop out an EP simply to get some spotlight between albums - not so with Sims. These songs are of the same high caliber he always delivers, even showing further signs of growth in certain spots.
 At a mere five tracks, Wildlife is lean but not gaunt. There's just no fat on the record. 'Lighthouse' is an ephemeral track, one that gives the impression Sims is perched high above the Veldt he in which he describes the modern world, watching the chaos unfold. 'Mad Night', technically pulled from Bad Time Zoo, shows how far he's come as a performer. Not to patronize his or anyones rap game, but on this track he shows the strength of his vocals and the depth of his lyricism. It's a track with real flow, not only in the hip hop sense but as a writer polishing his craft. Listening to 'Here I Stand' its easy to conjure the image of Sims as a man on the hunt - monster approaching, the artist grabs bow and arrow and takes aim. When his verses unfold it feels as though he's taken chase, hunting wounded prey. See how effectively the rapper paints imagery with his lyrical themes? Infectious when done right. 'The Line' shows Sims flexing new muscles in his writing style, getting more personal than ever as he weaves a pair of narratives about broken people and the help the refuse. Its haunting and affecting storytelling.
 The final track on the EP, 'Jordan 5's', contains a line I think may encapsulate why he does what he does. In citing the mortal accidents of the King James Bible, he raps "The truth fades but the ink stains". This notion of the fleeting sacred truths held in ink and paper is not unlike his relentless grind. He is an artist with a message that is, at times, difficult to pinpoint. He implores us to be better people, yet cites the flaws of the world in our most animalistic tendencies. On the sliding scale of artistic intent and rappers spreading a message, Sims is definitely on the heavy end. Maybe we'll never know why he perseveres. I think this track at least gives an insight into his reason for being. Either way, I'm just grateful to have the EP to compliment his monster of an album. The Good Time Zoo is heading out on tour - see if you can witness the madness. 

8.09.2011

Get It While It's Good

Alright, kids. Gather round and listen.


I've written about Toussaint Morrison before, but you need to hustle up and get on his momentum while you still have a chance. His new mixtape dropped yesterday and it's even better than the last.


Hot on the heels of his last outing with Dr. Wylie, last spring's Toussaint Morrison Is Not My Homeboy, this week saw the Middle West rapper let loose his best outing yet. Titled Makin' Mistakes & Feelin' Great, the mixtape is full of the perfect little idiosyncrasies that make Toussaint so unique and fantastic. I hate to fawn but there are times, listening to it, that it feels eerily like it was tailor made to suit my tastes, only with more laser-like precision this time around.
 Lighting right up with an assist by local charmer and songbird K. Raydio, 'Jon Bones Jones' sets up the soundscape deftly. While Morrison whips through his verses like it's a steeple chases, his hooks get a touch of lightness and snap from K. Raydio's melodies. Showcasing the energetic mad-scientist work ethic of Dr. Wylie, 'Veronica Hotel' kicks in with a manic beat that practically knocks your ear off kilter intentionally. When it switches gears about 45 seconds in, Toussaint slips effortlessly into the pocket and you get the best of both worlds - heavy hip hop with insanely catchy dance track synths. Some new-wave-esgue stuff that gets you moving, no matter the office. Toussaint makes cracks about his critics still bringing their ipods to the office but at least I get to bob my head on the bus.


There are fresh new sounds on this mixtape, too. 'N.O.A.' has a fresh feel due to it's throw-back roots - it has an air of soul music and Al Green channeled through modern day thinking man's lyricism. 'F*uck School', a super fun rager with Jus Rhyme, shows that Morrison knows how to write a hook, making you want to shout out the title whenever it comes up. Despite the fact I've not set foot in a college in five years, it still feels fresh and rebellious. 'Favorite Game', featuring vocals by local legend Lucy Michelle, is a classic example of Toussaint at his most introspective while spinning yarns and name checking heavy hitters on the Minneapolis scene. The tone of the keys is so smooth and slick, it's a great track. 'Freedom Cobra', featuring Mayda, makes great use of a sample from The Strokes, while 'Mutant After All' has a hooky bit from Natalie Fine, adding to both track's dance-ability. From the construction and production of the track 'Ashley', there are times it feels like marketing execs wrote it just to appeal to every divergent taste in my brain.
My favorite track hands down, though, has to be 'Uppercut', with a guest spot by my favorite underground rapper, Homeless. Homeless, as you may or may not know, granted the first ever interview for this site. His back and forth volley with Morrison on this track is fantastic, their distinct but complimentary voices playing well off each other. I love the references they both drop, from Minneapolis landmarks to special moves in Street Fighter. 


It's easy to see why this mixtape is great. If you were lucky like I was, you were able to catch a download while they were available. If not, you can still stream it, but your best bet may be catching the man live, in action. Follow his twitter feed to see what's up and when he has a show coming. You'd do well to keep your ear on the ground.

7.26.2011

Further Regrets

Hey gang.


Yesterday I wrote openly about the regret of sleeping on a talented artist. The positive side to such a piece is that I am still able to get back into the work. Sims has no shortage of energy and passion - we'll all be hearing more from him in the future. What can make ignorance difficult to deal with is losing an artist before you have a chance to appreciate them. I'm in that position now in the absence of Michael Larsen, a talented rapper and musician from the Twin Cities who passed away late last year. Only 28 years old, Larsen (known mostly by his stage name Eyedea, of the duo Eyedea & Abilities) was only beginning to truly come into his talents. He had tons of irons in fires, working in multiple groups and playing and recording prolifically for a young artist. His untimely passing left a huge hole not only in the lives of his friends and family but in the music scene both here and abroad.


I was missing out, both then and now.


I had heard snippets of Eyedea rapping but had little appreciation for what he was putting down. Besides, a fuzzy little iPod earbud on a busy street is not ideal for hearing a new sound. Still, he was outside of my bubble - there are tons of Rhymesayers artists I love and adore, but his work rarely found me and vice versa. But that's on me.
 So when photog-extraordinaire Kate Engelmann tipped me off to an upcoming Face Candy showcase/benefit in August, suggesting I look into the posthumous release, I was curious. Curious not only for what I anticipated would be an interesting and energetic event, but for what I began to understand Face Candy to be - a melding of improvised freestyle rapping over improvised, live jazz tracks. 


How in the world could I have missed this? 


It's every thing I love in hip hop - passionate, intelligent, loose and slinky. I haven't even allowed myself to hear the album completed in the wake of Larsen's passing, only the first release, This Is Where We Were. Recorded live on tour, the album is raw and vibrant, a collection of artists who captured lightening in a bottle. At times it feels like it might squirrel away from the musicians as the weave and bob, reigning in their instruments, but the whole time it holds together in a way that subconscious cohesive ideas can do. I look forward to digging in to Waste Age Teenland, but I'm deliberately saving it for a later time, maybe closer to the event.
It's amazing how we can take things for granted - like the old joke about New Yorkers never visiting the Statue of Liberty despite being life long residents, we just assume things will always be there. I just assume local musicians will always be around for my eventual discovery. They're people just like you and me, capable of leaving or quitting or losing the fire inside. Take a look around and enjoy the world while it's here. Celebrate the artists who do it, not for mansions and money but for fun and fans. Support the arts.

7.25.2011

Mea Culpa

I'm sorry, Sims.


I'm sorry I slept on your amazing, unparalleled masterpiece - Bad Time Zoo


I'm sorry I ever questioned the work you put forth, delaying the album until it was perfect, giving valid reason for any push back it might have had. 


I'm sorry for not being a better person, in the wake of the material you put forth. You're the kind of artist who puts out a body of work and the audience realizes their own shortcomings as a result. It's just that good. It's that well put together.


I first covered Sims in my week-long Doomtree Diatribe earlier in the year, wherein I wrote about his under-appreciated False Hopes 14 rather than jump on the band wagon that was rolling in on the heels of his second major release. Turns out I should have been paying better attention. While I was making an impassioned plea for the masses to listen to his stealth endeavors, everyone else was busy being blown away by what the artist is truly capable of.
Bad Time Zoo is the kind of album you use in text books to illustrate just what exactly is artistic growth. As amazing as Lights Out Paris was, it was well worn by the time his official sophomore release debuted. What the world received was the lyricism and insight of one of the most thought-provoking and hard working mc's out there. The working title had long been in the public eye as 'The Veldt' which set the tone conceptually for an animalistic endeavor. The final title of 'Bad Time Zoo' establishes more of a manic, stampeding and vital soundscape, one whose life force feels like a zoo run amok in the face of an oppressive society. The opening salvo of 'Future Shock' shows Sims to be all too aware of the isolating world we create with our omnipresent tech, while subconsciously summoning more human times with it's chanting and pounding drums. The sweaty worry of 'Burn It Down' feels frantic and inescapably energetic, pulsing with rhythms that grab you and shake you to wake you from your slumber. 'One Dimensional Man' brings to light the vapid air of the upper-middle and upper class' attempts at saving the world, one banquet benefit at a time. 
Showing a broadening of sound, 'When It Rolls In' stands out as a game changer for the artist. Producer Lazerbeak creates a brooding, haunting soundscape for Sims to run wild in. In what may be a first, Sims actually sings a bit on the track, whose poetry has never been more affecting. I would be remiss, though, not to mention the lava-banger that is the formerly eponymous track 'The Veldt', where the two create a melting world of animals out to get you, lurching one bleeding beat at a time. I've honestly not heard anything quite like it in a long time, even from anyone in  the Doomtree crew.
Sims' intelligence has the rare gift of making the audience feel sheepish for a lack of aid to society. I know I come away from spins of this album with a bit of languishing guilt, knowing I walk to my office with the mindset of being the best person I can be. His lyrics bring light to the world we live in, for better or worse. I'm grateful that I can work to do the good things I can, but being a good spouse and responsible citizen simply isn't enough. What I struggle with, though, is what to do with that guilt - what does Sims want from us? How do we save the world, then, if not by being more aware of what we do?


Perhaps I'm looking too deeply at this issue. Whatever your take is on this album, you can't deny it's craft. Immaculately assembled, Sims has set the bar staggeringly high for anyone else in Minneapolis, let alone the world of independent hip hop. Step up your rap game, kids - Sims is loose.

7.11.2011

Unbreak

Well, lookie what we have here!


It's been far too long, dear friends. Far, far too long.


What's new? You look good. You have a good Fourth? Been hot, right? Tell me about it.


So.


I'm married now. I'm a husband. I have a wife. Not, like, to own - someone who gets me. Couldn't be happier, honestly. The wedding was, in a word, fantastic. That's the word I kept using all night - fantastic, evoking the essence of fantasy. Everything I ever wanted. All my closest family and friends in one place, all of them feeling the love. My better half looked amazing. Simply stunning, if you saw for yourself. In fact, see the amazing Homeless Pennies for a little insight. Her take on the whole day made me smile. Everyone was in a joyous mood. 


Not to self-aggrandize too much but it clicked with me at some point during the reception just how positive my life has become since I've been writing this blog. By focusing on sharing awesome things with the world I've rekindled my sense of optimism and positive perspective. Instead of looking for the worst and snarking about the world (of which I am still frequently guilty) I find great pleasure in shared marveling and simply communal appreciation. This sounds really corny, doesn't it?  


You know what? I don't care. I shouldn't feel sheepish about being happy. There have been times in which I feel foolish for writing here on a daily basis. However, coming off the roller coaster that is getting married and going on a honeymoon, it's easy to see how much life is improved with a positive attitude. Whereas I felt myself burning out as I approached the finish line, I write this with a renewed vigor and joix de vivre. I love my family. I love my friends. I love my wife. I love my life. Even on Mondays.


Here's a fun little tidbit: I've been understanding more and more in recent years that life is whatever you want it to be. Misery, joy, mischievous, lazy or contemplative. It's your call. So in planning the wedding, my better half suggested we incorporate some of our talented friends. Here's proof in concept - in the middle of our reception we had a private concert by our favorite local rappers, the much-ballyhooed Mnemosyne:
I love this shot. In the middle of an elegant, 1940s-esque old-school Hollywood feeling Beach Club, we have Bride, Groom and Indie-Rappers. The juxtaposition kills me.


To further cast my affection around, I want to thank you for still reading this. To know that there are people in the world that would spend their time reading this is more than any writer could ask for. I know you're still there, and it means everything to me.


So here's the deal - I'm gonna keep doing this. I love it. It reminds me of how amazing the world is, and if it does the same for anyone else, all the better. Tomorrow I'm going to touch briefly on what I learned by going to a tropical island for a fortnight. It'll be good, I promise. After that, I get back to sharing amazing things that you simply must know about! So stick around, cats. Big things lie in store. More themed weeks. Grander concepts. More interviews. Let's explore this world a bit together, shall we?

6.24.2011

Home Alone 2

Alright, gang.


Like I said, today is Part 2 of my feature on Homeless. Below is the whole of an email interview I did with the rapper. Take a look at the first part of the feature here, then read on to get know the man in depth.


First off, how tall are you, exactly?
Exactly? 6'4" and 3/4. But I tell people 6'5". Just easier to round, and that way I don't feel like a five year old by getting overly specific with my statistics...

Do you have much of a set "process"? What comes first most often, the beat or the hook? An idea or a rhythm?
To be honest, my process would probably be considered by most artists as totally disorganized. Well, maybe we're all that way. But yeah. Piecemeal. Chaotic maybe? Form comes along eventually, but most of the time, my starting point is just a thought. I do a lot of writing in my head. I'll get an idea for two bars, maybe even just one, and it usually won't be in a convenient place. I carry around a Moleskine notebook, and I'll record lines into my phone if I'm driving, or about to fall asleep. Then later, I compile those, pick and choose, mash some together, and that usually gives me enough clay to start sculpting. Either as a hook, or a start to a verse, and I start to write off of that. I don't think I've ever sat down with a beat, and just wrote a track. God, I wish I could though. I'd be doing one a day. I'm working on the discipline to get better at that though. I'm a huge procrastinator too, which isn't always helpful. I'm about two thirds of the way through a song, just tonight. And I bounced over to this interview as a good distraction. I swear I'm undiagnosed ADD or something.

What was the first piece of music you bought? Cd or tape? Do you think it established a course?
It definitely would've been a tape. I think I got given Jock Jams Vol. 1 on tape as a present, but then I got the Space Jam soundtrack for myself. I'm not sure exactly, that was awhile ago, but that's gotta be close to it. Did it establish a course? I'm not sure, I don't think I'd blame the Space Jam soundtrack for my love of hip hop. But it definitely played a role in my early fascination I'd say. That movie came out in '96? I woulda been 9 years old at that time. And even though it was definitely for kids, that tape had Busta Rhymes, Method Man, D'Angelo, Jay-Z, R. Kelly, and more on it. I remember the hip hop tracks on Jock Jams being my favorites too. I guess what I'm trying to say, is any course I've landed on has certainly been influenced by small steps along the way, and I'm certain that those tapes being some of the first music that really energized me, and made me wanna pay attention, definitely contributed to my love of hip hop onward into the years when I discovered real music (i.e. not cartoon soundtracks).

What's your earliest musical memory?
I will be the first to admit that my memory is garbage. I'm terrible with dates and times and associating the when and where of situations. Outside of playing plastic instruments in school, or a rainbow colored xylophone as a baby? One of my clearest musical memories is listening to CD's in my cousins' room when I was in elementary and middle school. My cousins were older than I was and I didn't have that "cool older brother" type of musical influece, but my eldest cousin was the one who was actually old enough to own and buy CD's. He's 6 years older than me? Something like that. Anyways, he was the one who introduced me to The Fugees, The Beastie Boys, Jay-Z and eventually Atmosphere. I'd say he was the one who really gave me my musical education for the most part. I remember being young, and wowed by that music. It was aggressive and calculated and eloquent and it made you listen intently to it to pick up everything that was being said. I likely wouldn't have used those words back then, but I think the sentiment remains, that I was in awe of hip hop at a relatively young age.

Who's been the biggest influence on you, musically? Personally?
Man, tough questions, but important. Musically? I'm gonna say some thorough combination between Slug and Jay-Z. I'd say Slug, just because musically, he's influenced this entire city, whether people like it or not. He was also a pretty big shift in my interpretation of music as well. I was reading and writing a lot of poetry, and listening to a lot of hip hop, but had never really understood the fusion, until someone like Slug delivered and I understood hip hop was bigger than what I knew it to be. Not to mention, coming from Minneapolis from the bottom, as an independent artist, from a looked over city, gave a lotta kids around here hope that they could come from a place where music "doesn't come from" and make something of themselves. As for Jay-Z, it was the first full rap CD I ever owned. Hard Knock Life Vol. 2. I got that CD when I was probably in 4th grade? 5th grade maybe? I just played it until it was scratched and unplayable, and I had to rip it onto my parents computer (external CD burner of course) and make another one. I just banged my head, played basketball to it, and loved that record. Still do to this day. As far as my biggest influence personally? I still attribute a lot of my aspirations to my grandfather. My middle name is his first name. I was inspired by his wit and his charm and his wisdom and his skills. He was an alcoholic before I was born, and quit cold turkey one day and never went back. He really turned his life around. I think what inspired me about him, beyond all of his fantastic characteristics, was that he was an early example for me that people can change, no matter how old they are. And I've held onto that.

Do you have another artists career in mind for your own path, as a rough outline of what you want to accomplish?
I would love to have Blu's career ("It's B-L-U and if you see the E drop 'em). That dude has been eating off of music for a long time now. He's well loved by pretty much everyone in the game. And a ton of people don't know who he is. He's never, to my knowledge, fully signed on with a label, so every project he's dropped has been completely his own. Below The Heavens is probably the most classic hip hop album to come out in the past five years, and I know so many people who've never even heard of it. But yeah, that would be dope. I'd love a Rhymesayers career. I don't care if that sounds cliche. Again, hardworking people who love their art and eat off it. At the end of the day, that's all I really wanna do. Outside of that, I'd love to have a Lupe Fiasco type career, or somebody like Black Milk or Mac Miller. Independent. Solid. Eating offa art. Yeah.

Name a guilty pleasure, musically or otherwise.
Musically? Commercial hip hop and old poppy R&B music. I'll get down with some super ignorant or poppy hip hop with a good beat if I'm in the right mood. Sometimes it annoys the piss outta me, but some days it's just what you wanna hear. I also love me some Carl Thomas, R. Kelly, Trey Songz, etc. That type of slow, crooning, "Let's make love girl" music. I always have. Outside of music? I probably shouldn't make a public list of them, but I bet most people could guess them. We all sort of share the same seven or so guilty pleasures, don't we?

Is there a trend in modern music you love? One you hate?
It's hard not to bring up Odd Future when you talk about trends in music these days. They're the definition of trendy, and the bandwagon filled up super quick for those guys. Regardless of what you think of their music, their style, or their subject matter, you have to respect the grind. The fact that they're as young as they are and have come up so quickly as a 100 percent DIY hard working interesting unit, giving away free music all the time is impressive as hell. I think that trend, the idea that labels are dying, and artists are having to work harder to forge independent routes to success is something that I really dig. I think it's going to open the playing field and your radio is going to slowly but surely start to sound different. I think it's putting power back in the hands of the masses to chose what they like and want and the labels will have to follow suit. The internet has done that for everyone. As far as a trend I hate? Dubstep? I'm sorry, I know it's the new craze, but after 15 minutes, that stuff all sounds the same to me, and it makes my jaw vibrate. I've never been a huge fan of electronic music. I'm seeing it in hip hop too, where artists are trying to fuze electronic elements for faster paced hard hitting songs. I personally don't think it's working. Hip hop doesn't need to be more like other genres, it just needs to diversify within itself, and people need to understand that hip hop is many, many things, not just the dumbed down commercial version they're often fed.

Any local artists you want people to know about, or compatriots?
If you search for each of these things on the internet individually, it'll be worth it: The Tribe and Big Cats, Illuminous 3, Dumnfoundead, Big Quarters, Chantz Erolin, Grind Time Now, Miles Mendenhall, The Van GoBots, Evan Drolet Cook, Just Riley, Blu, Guante, Man Mantis, Mally, Analyrical, Daniel Switch, Max Selim. Yeah. That should give you some things to look up if you're bored and unfamiliar with those names. Emcees, producers, painters, writers, directors, rock bands, guitar players, all in that list. If you don't find something in that list that's aesthetically pleasing, or at least interesting in some facet, you might not have a soul.

What do you want an audience to know about you that might not be expressed in your music?
I'm really curious. I work really hard. I have a huge heart and I hate seeing people or things in pain. I want to travel the world. I have big dreams but I don't have delusions of grandeur, I just wanna be an artist and live off my work. I'm a huge people person and I would go insane without being social and friendly with friends and strangers. I talk to random people on the street. Oh yeah. And I'm still trying to save the world. I'll let you know how it works out.