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Archive for June, 2009

First off, this video comes via Stereogum, so thank the folks over there for their great post before enjoying this repost.  Now that that’s done, on to the good stuff.   The video for the dance-cut off Bitte Orca is every bit as abstract and as oddly appealing as the band itself.   I probably am right in the wheel-house of those who should enjoy the video for “Stillness Is The Move”, just take a look at the gushing review of the album that I posted a couple weeks back.  In all fairness, though, clearly I’m going to be a sucker for any video that features the use of a llama throughout, and anybody who doesn’t I will accuse of being heartless!   I would suggest that instead of trying to decipher any meaning from the video itself, you just hit play and enjoy it, otherwise you may be left with a headache.   Watch the video, go to the Dirty Projectors MySpace, go to the Dirty Projectors official site, and then go out and buy the wonderful album that was released off of Domino a month or so ago.

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Man, where’s the Jimmy Carter Foundation when you need them?  The latest word out of Iran comes from their election authority, who are saying that Ahmadinejad’s re-election was valid and that no evidence of foul play was found.  Well, it would be more accurate to say that aside from the evidence of foul play that was ignored, no evidence of foul play was found…

The words apparently came from Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei in an hour long interview.  Kadkhodaei did go on to say that there were 40,000 representatives of the candidates monitoring the affairs, and that he was untroubled by the fact that there were roughly 46,000 ballot boxes, leaving a minimum of 6,000 unattended.  He was similarly less than concerned by the fact that many of the ballot boxes contained more ballots than there were voters in the province.  Kadkhodaei also dismissed claims that there were many who were turned-away or unable to vote, saying that in fact it only happened in one or two instances, and in both cases it was a mere twenty minute wait for more ballots to arrive before voting resumed.  Good enough for me, I guess, how about you?  Case closed?

All kidding aside, I can’t really imagine how frustrating this must be for much of the Iranian people.  Listen, I’m not saying that the all definitively adds up to foul play, but to look at these inconsistencies and not to say that the situation warrants further investigation is borderline humorous.  What it really speaks to is not the validity of the election, but how frightened of disturbing the status-quo the people of Iran are, or at least how deeply the election authority is buried beneath Ahmadinejad and the ruling party’s heel.  At this point, what it would take to appease my suspicions would be a proclamation of validity from an independent international investigating body (i.e. the JCF) and nothing short of that.

From a practical and more of a realist standpoint, the question now becomes whether this will appease the Iranian people and put an end to the violent and angry protesting that has gone on thus far.  My guess would be that it while it won’t immediately, I get the impression that the momentum of the protests is winding down, and it won’t be long before the Iranian government is able to stamp out such angry spirits entirely.  The of the story will then fall back to the ever reoccurring and sad  adage of “it’s amazing what people can learn to live with”.

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I know that it seems like two out of every three times I post about authors, they seem to come from the same literary movement.  But is it my fault that there’s still a media soft-spot for Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney?  No, it’s not.

Anyway, if you hop, skip, and jump with this link over to Defamer you’ll see the little summation they put together of the recent cover story on Ellis that was in “Fantastic Man”.  Now, putting aside the insanity that the existence of a magazine entitled “Fantastic Man” brings in the first place, there are some pretty wonky bits of information in the Defamer piece.  First, it says that apparently the article paints a kind of depressing picture of Ellis’ move to LA as he works on his “Less Than Zero” follow-up, “Imperial Bedrooms”.  Second, it calls out Ellis for making what would seem to be a less than lucid claim that MTV’s The Hills is a “modern masterpiece”.  Wow?

I would love to get all up in arms about this statement, but I really can’t.  Why, you ask?  One, him drinking a DC on the cover is pretty awesome.  Second, as the piece points out, it kind of makes sense.  The Hills essentially is the reality-TV recreation of “Less Than Zero” minus all of the drugs, whoring, and gay sex (aka, the interesting stuff).  Thirdly, this seems to be the trend for brat-pack authors.  I mean, stop me if I’m wrong, but since when is Jay McInerney’s involvement in Gossip Girl an example of some kind of sophisticated auteurism?   And finally, since when is Defamer anything but more of the same?  I mean, lets face it, saying snarky things about all of that celebrity tripe for the mind-numbingly apathetic masses is just as bad as just plain spitting out news.  As such, me saying snarky things about those snarky-thing-sayers is equally guilty of being part of the problem.  Confused yet?  Good.  Me too.

In summation, here is what it boils down to; I think I need to subscribe to “Fantastic Man”.

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I’m not going to put down a whole ton of words about the passing of Michael Jackson, instead I’m just going to link to somebody who already has been more articulate and emotional about it than I ever could have.  Follow this link over to Carrie Brownstein’s post about Jacko’s passing on the blog that she does for NPR.  I think she hits the perfect tone about what the loss is for the musical world as well as what a conundrum the artist eventually became from a social stand point.

What little I will say is this, I think while the man died today, the artist of Michael Jackson was already dead for me for a while now.  Musically speaking, he was already gone.  He wasn’t recording anything new that could compare with his old self, and could no longer do what he had previously done in a live setting.  I really didn’t even think of him as the same person who made all of those great songs anymore, as largely he had become something of a larger than life cartoon, a caricature of what a successful-musician-gone-wrong looks like.  All of this being said, he put out some really incredible stuff.  For my money, tracks like “P.Y.T.”, “Billie Jean”, and “Beat It” are up there with anything that’s ever been released by anybody, and neither his decay at the end of his life nor his recent death can take that away.

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Mos Def

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Mos Def’s career to date has been that despite seemingly limitless natural talent, Mos hasn’t always seemed like he’s giving it all.  Perhaps this is unfair, perhaps it’s just an illusion that has been created by his increasingly prominent acting career, but there has always been a nagging suspicion that Mos wasn’t the most focused artist in the world.  While I was able to shake this off when The New Danger didn’t live up to the epic jump out of the starting gate set by Black Star and Black on Both Sides, I was willing to find enough to enjoy in his sophomore effort that I was able to write it off as being a result of Mos Def trying to be more experimental and broad with his sound, occasionally even more hook-driven.  However, True Magic proved to be a much tougher album to defend, and the suspicions returned.  Well, Mos has successfully put those suspicions to rest, for while The Ecstatic is far from a perfect album, you cannot for one track accuse him of being unfocused or less-than-driven on a single track.

From the very opening track, “Supermagic”, The Ecstatic proves that it’s going to be, at the very least, an interesting ride.  It opens by sampling a Malcolm X speech, which is hardly anything new, in fact, referencing Malcolm has become something of a hip-hop cliche.  But the specific choice of what he’s sampling is very interesting, it’s not the militant Malcolm, but rather the Malcolm of looking for a more utopian existence as he says; “…and I for one will join in with anyone, I don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change this miserable condition, that exists on this Earth.”  It shows that Mos isn’t merely interested in making enjoyable music, his mission is bigger, he has a message as well.

The production on the album is often kind of bare-bones, but that isn’t to say that it isn’t often impressive.  On the second track, “Twilite Speedball” Chad Hugo drops a heavy beat that’s reminiscent of a certain old Pharoahe Monch track, but with a hazy and psychedelic twist.  It’s all to fitting when Mos slips into the chorus of “Bad news, good dope, powder potion, pills smoke, baby how you trying to go?” Things don’t let up on any on “Auditorium” where Madlib is in the producer’s chair, as the beat is eerie and almost aloof.  Mos is meanwhile doing what he does best, and that’s to say he is dropping rhythmic lyrics on his verses without paying too much mind to a hook.  By the time we get Slick Rick’s politically-fueled verse to the mind-bending Madlib beat, we’re really cooking with gasoline.

Like Mos Def’s career itself, The Ecstatic is full of peaks and valleys, and the next couple tracks are kind of throwaways.  While neither “Wahid” or “Priority” are particularly wince-inducing (that’s an honor reserved exclusively for “Worker’s Comp.” which is just a blunder of a song from top to bottom) neither song is particularly interesting either.  It kind of makes you wonder why Mos released this sixteen track album when he could have shaved these minor tracks (neither runs over two minutes) and ultimately had a tighter piece of work.  Ultimately, though, the man has always been something of an enigma, to expect him to be anything less at this point is purely foolish.

Mighty Mos quickly finds his groove again on another strong pairing of tracks in “Quiet Dog Bite Hard” and “Life In Marvelous Times”.  The first track features scarce production as Mos relies on his deadly flow to carry the track, and to great success.  This is the Mos Def of old, dropping clever rhymes and twisting words to the point that you’re almost dizzy.  When he says boasts that he’s been blessed with fresh since day one”, the claim suddenly seems less eye-rollingly egotistic than it would’ve on his last couple albums.  Meanwhile, on “Life In Marvelous Times”, he slips into storyteller mode, taking the listener back to Bed Stuy in ’92 over a powerful Rap-Rock beat provided by Mr. Flash.  The song comes off as a reminder that Mos can hit you upside your head in a number of ways, be it the laid back rapid-fire lyrics, or if he’s spitting larger than life rhymes that put you on your ass.

Following another mini-slump, Mos drops what is easily the best track on the album in “History”.  In fact, it’s easily his best track since anything on Black on Both Sides. The track is a Black Star reunion as Talib Kweli is featured along with a beat that’s instantly recognizable as belonging to J Dilla.  As Kweli and Mos hand the mic to one-another you could get chills, when Kweli spits “the flow is historic, they can’t get rid of us” you can’t help but think about the durability of both artists who have had their ups and downs of the course of their careers, but are still standing.  The result is nothing short of three hip-hop visionaries operating in peak form.  The closer, “Casa Bey” is also nothing to sneeze at.   The song features a grandiose beat that recalls 70’s funk as Mos fires off words like a snare drum, and he’s able to close the show on a strong note.

So what does one make of The Ecstatic?  The album is deliberately minimalist in presentation, but that works largely in its favor.  As you’ve come to expect from Mos Def, it’s also pretty inconsistent, but at the same time is his best work since Black on Both Sides. Mos finally seems once again to be inspired by the rap game, though still a little rusty.  Ultimately, it’s unfair to judge everything against his work in Black Star and Black on Both Sides, as both albums were not just career defining-efforts, but genre-defining as well.  Instead, you just have to enjoy the stronger parts of The Ecstatic and ignore the worse ones, all the while appreciating that Mos Def is back.

SCORE: 3.5 out of 5.0

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I know I’ve been kind of video-heavy with my posts of late, but I was about to throw up a review of Mos Def’s latest album, and wanted to first remember the man at his very peak.  Michael Jordan has always been somebody who has always been very conscious about being extremely digestible to the mainstream.  Even far more so than modern stars like Kobe Bryant or Lebron James, he’s always been super cautious about not appearing to stand anywhere on a political spectrum.  The fact that this commercial for the Jumpman brand, which came about shortly after MJ retirement number two, is entirely soundtracked by Mighty Mos’ “Umi Says” really speaks to Mos Def’s transcendence and level of excellence when he’s at his best.  The song is exclusively an homage to African-American culture and having a sense of black pride, so for Jordan, who’s always been all about only being an athlete, to use it in a spot for his brand, just shows the power of the music.  It was two titans of two different worlds coming together for one brief and spectacular moment.  Wow.

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In my humble opinion, HBO’s miniseries “Band of Brothers” was the greatest collection of television ever to be put on the air (at least top three). I’m not a huge war movie buff, but I just found the scope and execution of the entire series to be unprecedented and unmatched since. As such, I’m sure it comes as little surprise that I’m so excited about “The Pacific” which is set to start airing on HBO soon, and is coming from the same collection of minds as “Brothers”. There have been murmurs about “The Pacific” happening for a long time now, and it was originally set to air last year, and now it looks like it’s finally going to happen. Check out the trailer below, and get excited all for yourself.

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more about “Spielberg and HBO’s “The Pacific”“, posted with vodpod

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