Apr 30, 2007

No Absolution

Li Zhanyang - Traffic Accident (2005)

In our world of no absolutes, absolution is morally and etymologically rooted in absolute faith. No where is the complexity of this conflict more lost than in the simple beauty of Tennessee, where spent I last week wandering (sorry for the lapse in posting). In the mountains, rivers sprout from their genesis and rush into rivulets with immediate purpose. The same unselfconsciousness is echoed in dinner theaters where dancing gospel choirs wipe vague religious patriotism all over callous war atrocities like the audience wipes barbecue sauce on their pants.

Faithfulness seems uptight in the Catholic religion, but the Southern faithful played with their religious icons along the road in a devoted way I couldn't dissociate from mockery. Jesus signs autographs outside "The Miracle Theater", home to an action-packed, bible-themed Broadway show advertised as "Thrilling". A five-story Jesus resurrects from a huge man-made lake along I-75. Entire scenes of life-sized wax dioramas depict bible stories at Christus Gardens, but there's no room for wandering; the tour is very specifically timed with pre-written narration and hymns. Office space and gyms are advertised as being blessed by God himself. Absolute faithfulness seems to be absolutely delusional, but if judgement day comes, they're certainly absolute.

Silver Jews - Tennessee (mp3)

Apr 22, 2007

Pencilina Ascension

Christian Gonzenbach - Propulsion (2007)

Alberto Gonzales is little more than a carcass after the Senate Judiciary Committee skinned him this week. Politics often seems to be the art of catching someone in a technicality and emphasizing it for the retribution a larger injustice that is somehow unprosecutable. Like someone legally disrespecting and ruining the reputations of eight highly respected US Attorneys, but being damned by his inability to lie consistently about the reasons. This track plays like the ascension of his remnants. The pencilina is solemn and respectful, but remains stern with Bradford's percussive confrontations. It ushers a resignation without being sure that it's going to make any difference and doesn't rest until the dissonance is spoken but lulled out of earshot. Hopes that any justice will result are graciously avoided by intently focusing on re-tuning.

Bradford Reed - Star, Sky, & Hutch (mp3)

Apr 21, 2007

Get Out and Enjoy the Sun

Tim Davis - Cherry Tree (2006)

Windows creaked a discordant alarm this morning, but a hot sun ushered the welcome. Sheets and sweaters were immediately stripped for sandals and smiles that stretched out into the fresh world of air waiting to be felt on the skin. Streaks of warmth reached places where the cold had abandoned them forgotten. Fraternity members swatting at beer cans with a plastic bat in the parking lot were suddenly joyous instead of annoying. And lofting quarters at them from the fourth floor was playful instead of spiteful. To top it off, Peter & The Wolf are playing the same Madison Rathskellar tonight where Jason Molina and his acoustic climbed atop a wooden table just a week earlier. Finally, the window boasts a landscape worthy of such a soundtrack.

Peter & The Wolf - Red Sun (mp3)

Jason Molina - Get Out Get Out Get Out (mp3)

Apr 20, 2007

Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School

Yoshitaka Amano - Untitled (2004)

Sharpen your pencils and head to the High Noon Saloon on Sunday (April 22nd from 2-5) for drinking and debauchery in the name of art. Madison's chapter of Dr. Sketchy's is premiering Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, a cabaret-style life-drawing salon featuring Randi O'Toole and hosted by Olive Talique of Cherry Pop Burlesque. It promises passionate poses for your doodles, contests for your skills, and beer for your inhibitions... as an "art class without the class". If you attend, make sure to scan and email me one of your resultant masterpieces and I'll post it.

Scissor Sisters - Tits on the Radio (mp3)

Apr 18, 2007

Breaking It Down Further Than Platitudes

Don Wettach - Motherfools Graffiti Wall

It's Hiphop as a Movement week in Madison, an audio activism experience worth hearing and intellectualizing (all the events are listed on myspace and a few are highlighted in the MP3 Calendar to the right). Organizer and local social prophet Kyle Myhre is a strong force behind mobilizing Madison's movement and if you haven't checked out his music or writing as El Guante, take a moment now. He took some time to send me a few comments about his work... I pitched him offensively simple prods and he unleashed the flow.

Q. What motivates your art?

As far as motivations go, it's all about content first and foremost for me... I think a good artist has something to say, and then finds a creative, engaging way to say it. If you don't have anything to say, why be a rapper?

And that's not to say that every song has to be "heavy;" it's always good to have a fun flexing song or "Esta Tarde" type song in there-- artistic freedom is important too. But the songs I'm really proud of are the songs that are attempting to tackle some real issues-- the poverty draft, the bread-and-circuses effects of the media, the real meaning of greed, nonconformity, the importance of organizing, etc. I also like to take emcee cliches and point them out, because I think being an emcee is a special role that has responsibilities beyond spitting pop culture references, rapping about rapping and getting cheap applause by saying the name of the state you're playing in or talking about how much you love weed.

So I guess in a nutshell, some rappers love rap and then have to figure out what they want to say. I started out with a lot to say and discovered rapping as the ideal medium for me. I think what separates me from a lot of other emcees is a deeper level of analysis-- whether that be political, social or whatever. I'm not the type to do a song that's just "fuck bush, start the revolution;" I'd rather break it down further than platitudes.

And I'm sorry if this is getting long, but my other main motivation is meeting and interacting with people. I like being on stage-- it allows you to come into people's lives, however briefly, however superficially, and that's something you wouldn't be able to do otherwise. It's a pretty beautiful thing. I'd really like to hit the road this summer and play a bunch of shows and just meet people.

Q, Do you find yourself sacrificing (or at least deprioritizing) beauty or artistic emotional expression for the sake of clarity?

I think there's a constant tension for me between pure expression and making sure the message gets across. Hip-hop in particular is an artform that travels at a high speed-- my songs are usually more than 90 beats per minute, so you can't always be as poetic as say, an indie-rock singer because people simply can't (or don't) listen that fast. Sure, some do, but for the most part people are listening to the beats and a few hard-hitting lines here and there.

Some artists just do what they do and don't care if people "get it" or not. I really respect that, but I think that art, especially political, message-oriented art, should be approachable-- not dumbed down to the point of meaninglessness, but not so abstract and artsy that the average person on the street can't get the overall message. Most hip hop fans aren't trying to sit down and sift through their music.

So with all that in mind, I TRY to make music that a casual listener can appreciate-- but I also try to put things in my lyrics that a more careful listener can pick up too. The music should work on both levels. It's hard, and I can't say I'm always successful at it, but that's the idea.

Q. Are you inspired at all by visual art where a similar challenge exists between aesthetic beauty and articulating message?

As far as visual art goes, I'm a big fan of cartoons-- cowboy bebop, samurai champloo, the boondocks, stuff with that style of drawing. More specifically, I'm a big fan of how series like that successfully blend music, visual art and narrative all together to create a total artistic package. A personal dream of mine is to write a graphic novel blending poetry, hip hop, social justice and visual art. Not sure if that will ever happen, but I hope I can find the time.

In celebration of this week, YOU CAN WIN a copy of Saul Williams' book "The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip-Hop", a copy of El-P's incredible new album "I'll Sleep When You're Dead" and a bandanna from Young Jeezy's new group USDA... just send me an email with a mailing address.

El Guante - Esta Tarde (mp3)

El Guante - Thought Criminals (Clean Remix) (mp3)

Apr 16, 2007

Nate Williams - We Don't Need Another Anti-Hero (2007)

The Milwaukee, Wisconsin band Call Me Lightning's billion eyes allure and billion hooks convince. The title track off their 2007 album Soft Skeletons sweeps etherial like And You'll Know Us By The Trail of the Dead's "Another Morning Stoner" until punctured by Hot Hot Heat dance guitar and shout vocals. Overall, it's an impressive piece of passionate rock that is consistently dynamic and hardcore sensitive.

Call Me Lightning - Billion Eyes (mp3) [myspace]

Apr 13, 2007

Tabernacle of the Immaculate Beatbox

Ring My Bell - Leslie Hall (2007)

Gemmed art-rap from Iowa is freeing the world and the world has Leslie Hall to thank. Adorned with the chubby wisdom of the proverbial Buddha and a mosaic of glistening gemstones, Leslie Hall's belly resonates with the beats of gitty transcendence. The clenching of it's core strength pressurizes corn-fed lyrics until they shine like diamonds. Unlike other religious figures, you can access her glory 24-hours-a-day at the modern Mecca of internet culture. But you're only praying to a pizza pan until your town is blessed by a live visit, which is the holy truth in Madison tonight. If you're in Madison, check it out at Cafe Montmartre. If you're anywhere else, check the calendar to find out if you're next.

Tears for Fears - Heels (mp3)

Apr 8, 2007

That's For Sure... I Mean, Uh, You Know.

Truth Tag - Urban Irony (2007) [Wroclaw, Poland]

My efforts to distill meaning from the French language through syntax alone are proving futile, so I have very little substance to report. But the song (like most good pop) is absolutely fine without. Soko's desperation is indescribably callous as it flickers and flares with the kindling of her story. The pauses in her monologue suggest a first take, but she stumbles along the perfect lines of a strangely retrained pop song. It's process-focused meandering is key to its discoveries, kind of like how the tears come only when you start talking about it.

SoKo - I'll Kill Her (mp3)

Apr 6, 2007

Going Undercover

"Undercover" is working prototype of a blanket embedded with 24 wireless speakers that produce sound via a Bluetooth connection from any audio device (iPod, computer, radio, etc). The intimate experience allows you to cuddle up in a cocoon of the noise and vibrations of your favourite album. It's probably not completely healthy to go sleep covered in Beyonce, but sometimes the sultry tones of Amy Winehouse refusing to go to Rehab are the perfect company after a bar-soaked night. It looks like Sean over at Said The Gramophone has a pop-crush that rivals mine on Beyonce... and he makes it sound a lot nicer than Rihanna does.

Amy Winehouse - Rehab (mp3)

Apr 3, 2007

People Like Us

Vicki Benett - People Like Us (always)

In a creative commons, we can find People Like Us; people who value creativity and collaboration above copyrights. It seems the best challenge of excessive restriction is actually demonstrating the spirit of the open source argument. Especially since very few of us have legislators who will tell our stories to power like Gregg "Girl Talk" Gillis' Representative Mike Doyle. I've always had a stronger feeling for what I stand against that what I stand for. But Vicki spends less of her time graffiting the existing walls of opression and more time ignoring them as she chooses to live her life as a free art commons. Collage is clearly the natural aggregate of this diverse commons, of this revolution, and of this generation. And Vicki's work is the freeform mascot.

People Like Us - SwingLargo (mp3)

People Like Us - Bitter Dregs (mp3)

Apr 2, 2007

Good Morning. You're the 100% Perfect Girl For Me.

Tanyth Berkeley - Claire (2004)

Haruki Murakami writes about the brief moment of intimately knowing a complete stranger completely. Knowing, sometimes immediately and without thought, that you both inherently share something worth acknowledging. Knowing that this moment is a meeting of two transcendental sparks in the dreary concrete corridors of human skin. Yet watching silently as the knowing is eclipsed by the feeling that offering an honest truth will somehow be inappropriate. Staying silent because you know that discussions of appropriateness will hide the horrifying fear of total rejection at this momentous moment. And then just walking past.