Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 66)


Homeboy Sandman, First Of A Living Breed     (Stones Throw)

He opens as breathless and enuciatory as Marshall Mathers, letting out an ecstatic whoop as the track rumbles to a close as if he’d been holding his figurative breath for fear of screwing up, and it’s that blend of modesty and pride that helps define fourteen good-natured tracks in which Angel Del Villar II lightly pontificates on such weighty matters as the little-noted similarities between W. Churchill and R. Kelly or how “I believe children are the future,” the latter delivered with a mock gravitas that’s in no way ironic. Things that piss him off: cultural minstrelsy, ice queens who won’t return his texts, financial irregularities, network indifference, both sides of the political aisle, the war on drugs, how our entertainment overlords prefer non-proud black women. Things he enjoys: jerking off to zombie porn, Dr. Pepper and blunts, chicken ‘n broccoli, Shaka Zulu’s refusal to kneel. But he’s philosophical, too - not just when he imagines alternative histories (“If I worked at Subway, my future made / I woulda made a hero”), but also when he levels with well-wishers who wonder if his life has changed since moderate indie-rap fame came his way. “Not Really,” that one’s called, seeing how the only difference between standing in the front row of a show and standing onstage is a mere ten feet. Talk about a healthy attitude.

Kid Koala, 12 Bit Blues     (Ninja Tune)

Chuck D once pointed out that despite assumptions to the contrary, he was far more of a blueshound than any kind of jazzhead. And yet hip-hop commentators routinely strain to hear evidence of jazz’s polyrhythmic improvisations amid the actual building blocks of rap music - floating verses, steady beats, repetition, huge hooks, mannish boy boasts. Sounds more like the blues, doesn’t it? Yet it took a classically trained Chinese-Canadian turntablist to assemble a convincing argument in favor of scratching’s proclivity to the twelve-bar format, no doubt to the consternation of technicians preferring the heights scaled by Invisibl Skratch Piklz. Most others will enjoy the relative scarcity of wrist-flexing exercises and revel in the big beat of past masters. For alpha male verse-chorus-verse, there’s Muddy Waters.  For cognitive dissonance, there’s Blind Lemon Jefferson stopping by the Chess Studios. For polyrhythm, there’s John Lee Hooker. 


Carly Rae Jepsen, Kiss     (Interscope)

Far too tuneful and restrained for the Ibiza hedonists bent on redefining dance music, this Canadian Idol finalist knows that ballads are where the best intentions of disco dollies go to die. So she stays uptempo and overshadows the big name boys who may well believe they’re doing her a favor - Owl City has never been so bearable, Justin Bieber barely registers. Despite all the attention given over to breakout single “Call Me Maybe,” it might be the world class hooks of Sam Cooke-sampling “Tiny Little Bows” or the Material Girl sheen all over “This Kiss” that best showcase what a gift she is to 2012 radio. Lyrics, it must be noted, don’t startle nearly as often as her chord progressions, on those songs or anywhere else. But claims she’s some squeaky-clean hayseed only prove people don’t take her seriously enough to study the lyrics, which wisely detail the ways hookup culture can both thrill and disappoint. Fighting the urge to consummate platonic relationships, lamenting a lover’s unreliability even as she remembers that other boy tucked away somewhere, letting her eyes linger over some hunk’s ripped jeans - does this sound like some naive studio concoction? So while Jepsen might indeed downplay overt sexuality within her narratives, that conscious decision would seem to have unnerved certain (male) spectators who prefer their female idols to be on the younger side of twenty-six and/or more explicit in matters of both heart and body. But what do they know? 

Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP     (Blue Note)

Five remixes and one unreleased number from Glasper’s fairly solid jazz/neo-soul/hip-hop album project earlier this spring, with jazz tendencies tempered and boom-bip pushed to the forefront. A few numbers offer minor qualitative differences from original versions, like 9th Wonder slowing down Erykah Badu’s “Afro Blue” and highlighting a descending flute line, or Georgia Anne Muldrow’s typically daft take on Meshell Ndegeocello. But Pete Rock pumps the bass hard underneath yasiin bey’s original vocal on a stripped down “Black Radio,” ?uestlove assembles a de facto Roots track alongside Solange Knowles for a nine minute soul-jazz centerpiece that might have helped shake Undun from its premature doldrums, and an atmospheric J. Dilla tribute closes out the record with knowing glances at that mourned producer’s oeuvre, including a turn on vocodor that scats, hums, and quotes Bobby Caldwell. Denser, darker, weirder than the source material - and less catchy.


Naomi Punk, The Feeling     (Couple Skate)

Certain bands (The Ponies) know how to nail that Pacific Northwest garage vibe, others flail in the general direction. Neither songwriters nor sonic terrorists, this Olympia, WA trio plods amid pointless interludes towards some imagined grunge nobility with all the assumed limitations of such ventures. This historian asks, where’s the sludge? The rave ups? The fuzz pedals, for fuck’s sake? Had they been signed to Sub Pop during the golden era, they might be remembered fondly as an archetype of that over-represented scene. Or they might weather comparisons to such epochal outfits as TAD and Love Battery.

Yokokimthurston, Yokokimthurston     (Chimera Music)

The dirty secret about Sonic Youth was that their avant leanings rarely held up when isolated from the rock classicism in their bones. The dirty secret about Yoko Ono is that she’s always flirted with disaster whenever she forsakes the mischievous wit that remains her most distinctive gift to a postmodern pop world she’s helped shape as much as fellow prankster John Cage. Having seen Thurston and Kim perform live in unapologetically avant settings, I suspect soundscapes-with-words like these might prove cathartic emanating from deep within the bowels of Tonic or The Stone. But noise of the NYC variety or otherwise needn’t be so formless, so foreboding, so tedious, so self-congratulatory. And it gets even worse when the guitar players start talking.