I have heard the birth of Acid-Hop, and its name is cLOUDDEAD. Annoying alternative capitalization aside, this album marks a huge and much-needed musical departure toward a future of new possibility in hip-hop. Imagine that Brian Eno, Godspeed You Black Emperor and RZA got together in the studio with De La Soul and Kool Keith. Ambient waves of minor synthesizer chords and finely harmonized off-rhymes sung without melody fuse into what could easily stand in for the soundtrack of Forbidden Planet. "Should the rules by which a desert cactus lives be adopted by a sycamore as well?" one of the voices asks, echoing William Blake's infamous line "One law for the lion and ox is oppression." Then, as soon as you think you've got a grip on a lyric, it quickly disappears into a surrealist schizophrenia: "I taught myself to survive/ a four story fall/ wearing a space suit/ and a dead Englishman's socks." This trio composed of poet MCs Dose One, Why? and Odd Nosdam collaborate variously with Illogic, DJ Signify, Sole, The Wolf Bros., Mr. Dibbs, and The Bay Area Animals, to create the perfect soundtrack to your dreams, waking and otherwise. My favorite new(ish) album!
Sound Go Round
Equal parts sugar, spice, Le Tigre, The Breeders, Ramones, and everything nice, Denver's Dressy Bessy has rediscovered and reinvented the eternally simple formula for a great pop record: basic catchy riffs, lots of airy la-la-las, hand-clapping, and deceptively easy lyrics. With a voice that casually water-skis the wake between Harriet Wheeler and Kim Diehl, Tammy Ealom lifts her band up out of potential indie generica into a wispy cirrus loft. "Settle back, enjoy the flight/ Fantastically high/ Look at all the colors/ We've managed to invite," she beams in "All These Colors." This is pure convertible music for aimless weekend driving. In "Flower Jargon," all parts of the music find that effortless, dreamy Cocteau Twinslike harmony that makes every terrible care you've ever had melt into a buttery bliss. "Something's coming up in her garden/ She's been talking that flower jargon." This sophomore effort, after 1999's Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons, should earn Dressy Bessy a loyal pop following and a place on any daydream driving mix-tape.
Denials, Delusions, and Decisions
Definitely in the "diva achiever" category of soul singers, Jaguar Wright steps to the microphone with just enough attitude and quiet old-school style to set her well apart from the TLC's and Destiny's Children. One of her most alluring qualities is the seductive aloofness of her voice -- doing it because it's what she does, and because she can. But she seems to be holding something back. What is it? Looks good in a pimp hat though. Note to Jaguar: Get new producer.
Daniel Dale Johnston
Pickled Egg Records
I didn't know anything about Daniel Johnston until a friend of mine gave me a vinyl copy of Hi, How Are You?/Keep Punching Joe, one of his many self-recorded titles, on vinyl about a year ago. On the plain white cover is a plain black line drawing of a monster-bullfrog thing with antenna eyes that looked like Johnston's music sounds: stark and freaky. The creature, I later learned, is Jeremiah the bullfrog. "And God killed Jeremiah. And Jeremiah's ghost is Casper the Friendly Ghost. And Jeremiah is John Belushi" (from an interview with Andrew Hultkrans).
As you may have already surmised, Daniel Johnston is not entirely "well" by society's standards, and spends a spell or two in the "looney bin" every now and then when he isn't busy being Austin, Texas' favorite cult-garbage-folk-outsider musician and artist. Rejected Unknown, in all likelihood, will mark the end of Johnston's cult status. With a biography from Softskull Press, a major city tour (that includes Denver on March 9), and shows of his art sneaking up in New York like rats from the subway, there aren't too many places left to hide.
The first thing that struck me about Rejected Unknown is that it's actually produced. Gone is the bedroom ambience of a four-track loner. Gone too, mostly, is the flat and nasal, talkie twang. Johnston is actually singing out in a not entirely un-horrible voice. And it sounds like he has a ... a band backing him. OK, some of his lower-than-thou charm is gone, but the raw nerve and bloodied-heart outpourings that are the marks of true feeling are still here. And it's still just raggedy enough to be great!
Lyrically, all of Johnston's off-color surprises still bewilder. "I knew a girl at the funeral/ She said she was dead/ She always said it could never work out/... They really should do away with funerals," he drones on "Funeral Girl." "You know I probably stole all my poetry/ Even though they took most of it from me," he bemuses on "Devinare" and then proceeds to steal the chorus from "Every Breath You Take."
Languorous "I Can't Live Without You" piano chops spook clunkily behind "Dream Scream." Recorded "live at L.A.'s Hyperdome in 2961," "Billions/Rock" lets Johnston out of the cage and onto the stage as the crowd cheers to his Robert Plant howls.
Catchiest of all are the clap-along "Thrill," and the loser anthem "I Lose": "She invited me to a pity party/... I got left out of the "in" crowd/... I seen their type/ A bunch of buttwipes that rule/... I Lose." Not his best, but a triumph of loser rock nonetheless.
Rating: Tonya Harding
What ever happened to the KRS-ONE of By All Means Necessary? Fresher than fresh beats made his teacherly style bumpable. "My Philosophy" still ranks on my list as one of the great rap tracks of all time. KRS (Knowledge Reigns Supreme) has now apparently been born again, and knowledge has given way to God. Most of the tracks are infused with radical Christian propaganda ("Godcore"), Bible verses and yawn-o-rific R&B and gospel riffs. There's nothing wrong with this, I guess. But it's just so boring! And preaching is a far cry from teaching.
Despite his growling James Brown enthusiasm and undeniably original style, I think I've heard enough of it. "Smoke One" is catchy, but not a hit, and Method Man is a welcome cameo on "I Get It Started." That's it.