Monday, April 26, 2010

M.I.A.'s "Born Free" Music Video


M.I.A. just released the video for her new single “Born Free” today, and it’s a doozy. Brutal, incendiary, fiercely political (the understatement of the year, btw) and shot in cinema verite style, “Born Free” is like the anti-“Telephone,” and you can check it out by following the link below.

Both “Telephone” and “Born Free” are epic, over-eight-minutes-long short films, but that’s where the similarities end.Where the song “Telephone” is melodic, dance-pop fun, “Born Free” is skuzzed-up, terrifying, electro-punk madness. The song is jagged and unrelenting, but it’s got nothing on its music video. “Telephone” is colorful, surreal and brimming with (allegedly) ironic product placement; “Born Free” is violent, gritty and genuinely provocative. No seriously, "Born Free" is really fucking disturbing, having already been removed from Youtube after less than a day.

Clearing addressing the demeaning, sadistic tactics of powerful nations throughout the world in bullying and controlling racial and ethnic minorities (i.e. not just the United States), the video depicts an American flag-sporting band of paramilitary men abducting red-haired, male civilians. The troops barge into private residencies, brutalizing the inhabitants indiscriminately, and face hurled bottles and rocks from insurgents (in this case, red-haired men with bandanas across their faces), before unloading their busload of prisoners in the middle of the desert and forcing them to run for their freedom amid IED explosions and machine gun fire. This video is amongst the most haunting I have ever seen; it is a downright visceral experience, and not for the faint of heart.

The message in “Born Free” is conveyed brilliantly with this concept, and like M.I.A., it is a vital one.

I don’t mean to incite warfare amongst fans by making these Lady Gaga comparisons, but I believe them to be apt. Within months of one another, both women have unleashed epic music videos, the likes of which we haven’t seen since MTV still actually showed music videos. One is a whole lotta fun, no doubt. But the other actually matters.

Just sayin….

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hole's "Nobody's Daughter" Review: A Riot Girl's Redemption

Rating: 4/5

Has there ever been a female artist more controversial and divisive than Courtney Love?

Amid multiple arrests, rehab stints, humiliating public appearances (like that infamous Pamela Anderson roast, for example) and even conspiracy theories that place the death of Kurt Cobain squarely on her shoulders, Rock’s most-(in)famous widow sparks controversy like it’s her job.

Which it is, of course. I mean, isn’t that what rock stars do? As far as that particular facet of Love’s job description goes, Courtney gets a 10,000 out of ten. But as for that other little part of her occupation—you know, the music-making part—Love’s final grade here is a bit more complicated. Live Through This, Hole’s 1994 sophomore release, is an undeniable classic of 90’s alternative rock; so good, in fact, that Love’s detractors will swear to you that Kurt actually wrote the songs. That’s probably bullshit, but it speaks directly to Courtney’s decidedly untenable position in the Hard Rock Universe; it seems like everyone loves to hate Courtney, and especially hates to like her music.

Well it’s been 16 years since that album’s release. Two somewhat lackluster releases (the glammed-up Celebrity Skin and Love’s half-baked solo disc America’s Sweetheart) and a whirlwind, near-fatal drug addiction later, Hole returns with Nobody’s Daughter, a dark and deeply personal missive that won’t convert the hostile, but irrefutably attests to Love’s position as one of the most engaging and incendiary musical personalities in the history of rock n’ roll.

Like most of Love’s previous work, the album’s content is largely of an almost-painfully personal nature, with lines like “I never wanted to be/The person who you see/Can you tell me who I am,” on the confessional “Letter to God,” sure to astonish with their austerity and candor. Love reportedly wrote many of these songs while confined to a rehab facility, and it shows; many of these songs are tortured, self-reflective, distinctly sober soliloquies from a woman who has seen and done it all. And the band doesn’t forget to have a little fun either (and by fun, I mean that dark, malevolent, Iggy Pop sort of fun); up-tempo rockers like “Skinny Little Bitch” and “Loser Dust” supply that classic venom we know, love and expect from anything associated with Courtney Love.

Love’s most emotionally-cathartic moment comes on the epic “Pacific Coast Highway,” a hard-edged acoustic number, where the battered and bruised former Riot Girl croons with a cigarette-wrecked, Patti Smith-like drawl “I’m overwrought and so disgraced/I’m too ashamed to show my face/And they’re coming to take me away now/And what I want I will never have/I’m on the Pacific Coast Highway/With your gun in my hands.” But the most outstanding moment on Nobody’s Daughter is the positively toxic “Samantha,” where Love rails against a trick-turning opportunist, sneering “Watch her wrap her legs around this world/Can’t take the gutter from the girl.” The song strikes the perfect balance between the rawness of Live Through This and the melodic pop sensibilities of Celebrity Skin. It’s classic Hole, and Courtney Love’s finest moment in over a decade.

Ultimately, the album does get bogged down by some of its slower, overly-emotional moments, but these minor missteps certainly do not cloud the bigger picture here. Nobody’s Daughter is a shockingly impressive comeback release from Rock’s most-embattled living icon.

You may not rate her too highly on your list of favorite people. But as far as effort goes, the bitch gets a ten.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Erykah Badu's "New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)"

Rating: 4.5/5

Functioning as the ying to the spaced-out, spectacularly batshit, sonic feast of a yang that was New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), Badu’s latest complements its predecessor beautifully…

By being absolutely nothing like it, of course.

An album rife with potential standout track after potential standout track, the true gem on Erykah Badu’s brilliant New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) is the supremely laid-back “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long.” Lyrically recalling a persistent theme present in much of Ms. Badu’s work (i.e. reckoning with steadfast love and support for a hustlin’ boyfriend), the song’s breezy, sparse musical backdrop conjures the feeling of a lazy, summer evening on a neighbor’s front porch; seemingly structure-less yet satisfyingly relaxed, almost intoxicating.

Where Part One’s focus was planetary and conceptual, Part Two’s is stubbornly personal and organic, recalling her earlier work in its treatment of love and its many nuances. Yet unlike her earlier work, Part Two is almost just as weird as Part One, complete with strange and seemingly random effects, funny/awesome-yet-over-too-soon skits, and a consistent mixture of warm, live instrumentation with a number of obvious samples, allusions and interpolations. These qualities give the album an analog-ish, yet very mixtape-like, pastiche quality; think The Miseducation of L-Boogie-meets-De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. Return of the Ankh has a gloriously radiant, freewheeling vibe that is irresistible. From first listen, you will at least be intrigued, but by the 4th or 5th you’ll be hooked; I can guarantee it. “20 Feet Tall” and “Window Seat” start things off in gorgeous, meditative fashion, and “Fall In Love (Your Funeral)” makes perfect use of one of Biggie’s greatest lines (eat your heart out, Hov!).

And then there's the end of our journey, the 10-minute epic/psychedelic soul masterpiece “Out My Mind, Just In Time,” with its trippy, breathtaking climax at the 5-minute mark that is just pure, emotional catharsis, plain and simple.

Erykah Badu has just released another fantastic album. And taken together, New Amerykah (Parts One & Two) stands beside D’Angelo’s Voodoo and Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black as the collective gold standard for post-millennial Soul music.

Friday, February 12, 2010

BADU & WEEZY'S "Jump Up in the Air and Stay There"

Just sit back, relax, and let them blow your mind.

Erykah Badu just released the most unbelievable music video for her single with Lil' Wayne, entitled "Jump Up in the Air and Stay There." Oddly enough, the song won't even be appearing on her highly anticipated new album New Amerykah Pt. II: Return of the Ankh. But when an artist releases something this fascinating...this exhilirating...well, you just don't worry about a little formality like that. Check it out after the jump!

"Jump Up in the Air and Stay There," which premiered a few weeks ago, has a trippy, joyous, almost dreamlike quality to it, and the video matches the song perfectly; its just as psychadelic and far-out, clearly inspired by Funkadelic (particularly the cover of the legendary band's 1970 debut album) in terms of sound, visuals, and creative spirit, and I'm sure you're going to love it.

Especially if you're high. (Hey, just being honest)



Friday, January 29, 2010

Lil Wayne's Rebirth: Conceptually misguided like a motherfucker...

Rating: 1.5/5

It would be so much easier to write a review of Lil Wayne’s forever-delayed “rock album,” Rebirth, if it was possible to frame it as some sort of tangential, finished-in-a-couple-weeks side project. Unfortunately, that’s just not possible.

Like Kanye West’s brilliant 808’s & Heartbreak, Rebirth is supposed to be an artistic coup for Wayne, where he sheds any external limitations placed upon his work stylistically, and potentially shifts the landscape of popular music in the process (i.e. Hip Hop). Initially set for release almost a year ago, Rebirth has been pushed back over and over again, and like Tha Carter III, this has only served to raise the stakes on the importance of the project in relation to Lil Wayne’s body of work. In other words, Weezy really cares about how you’re going to respond to this album.

Well…I seriously doubt most people will respond well to Rebirth. But unlike 808’s & Heartbreak, that’s not because it’s a drastic change from his established sound, and perhaps a bit ahead of its time. The problem is that Rebirth is a drastic change from Wayne’s established sound, probably not ahead of its time, and conceptually misguided like a motherfucker.

I can kinda, sorta, almost halfway understand Wayne’s decision to make an album like Rebirth. In the wake of his rapid ascent to the top of the world of Hip Hop and Pop music, Wayne has been subjected to the kind of widespread idolatry usually reserved for rock stars; and thus many in the media have dubbed him Hip Hop’s first, true rock star. And I don’t argue with this assertion; his style of dress, the incessant presence of drugs in his music and public persona, his multiple run-ins with the law, and his brash, unpredictable, “badass” personality all lend themselves to the kind of outlaw status people like Axl Rose and David Lee Roth once enjoyed. Additionally (and allegedly), Wayne likes rock, so perhaps adding some live drumming, and maybe emphasizing some raw, crunching, rhythmic guitar work on the follow-up to The Carter III wouldn’t have been a bad idea. Incorporating elements of rock into your sound is one thing; making a ROCK ALBUM is quite another.

The best songs on Rebirth do exactly what I’ve just described; the Eminem-assisted “Drop The World,” is a monster, and the trippy, hard-edged “Ground Zero” perfectly captures what an ideal Lil Wayne-helmed rock album would sound like, by integrating heavy guitars and live percussion into a firmly hip hop-based form. Even the criminally-overlooked first single “On Fire” basically does it right with a great sample, searing electric guitars and catchy, clever lyrics; basically, it’s a beefed-up version of “Lollipop.” Everything else on Rebirth oscillates from the misguided and strange to the misguided and annoyingly bland and pop-oriented. “Get A Life” sounds like a failed attempt at channeling Fishbone, “The Price is Wrong” sounds like an underdeveloped and lyrically-inept attempt at Nirvana-styled, pop-oriented hardcore punk, and “Paradice” and “Runnin’” even tread power ballad territory. Lyrically, the album largely offers absolutely nothing even worth mentioning, likely because Wayne is completely out of his element throughout, like a great white attempting to walk, or a tiger trying to fly. Needless to say, there are many cringe-worthy moments throughout Rebirth.

Maybe Wayne should have considered working with producers that have experience working with both hip hop artists and rock bands, like Rick Rubin for example. Or maybe he should have just shelved the whole project, since he clearly has no idea what he’s doing. Or perhaps, years from now, Rebirth will be seen as a misunderstood classic, like The Stone’s Exile on Main Street, or The Stooges’ entire body of work (yeah I know…probably not).

In the meantime, let’s just hope the No Ceilings mixtape is enough to tide us over till Tha Carter IV drops.