Janelle Monae

July 15, 2008

Hailing originally from Kansas City, this current Atlantan is changing the way the South views experimental soul (if that’s even an appropriate term).  And her vibes are not only resonating through the ATL.  This punk-ish diva is on the brink of superstardom.  With support from the likes of Big Boi (she was actually featured on a couple songs on Outkast’s “Idlewild”) and Sean Puffy Combs, Monae is getting nods from all over the record biz.  

But anyone can get publicity regardless of talent, right?  For Janelle Monae, that is simply not the case.  To say this female vocalist has a voice would be the understatement of the year.  With glassy tones, effortless vibrato, and an extraordinary range, Monae’s abilities are abundant and sure to turn heads.  Oh yeah…and the music’s not bad either.  Monae is currently working on “Metropolis,” a musical montage that will be released in four different parts.  She is about to release “The Chase” installment of the montage on August 12, 2008.  You can listen to a couple of her tracks at http://www.myspace.com/janellemonae, and you can order/pre-order her cd via the site.

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Music is meant to be a window; stained glass leaking light around the silhouette of the soul.  And every once in a while a song is written that captures this abstract ideal.  We tend to look past the emotive power of music more times than not.

Well it’s time to break the trend…

And I want to start this montage of emotive music posts by reaching back into the archives to Mr. Neil Young.  Among his hits are track titles like “Needle and the Damage Done,” “Heart of Gold,” and “Down by the River.”  But the song that sticks out to me as Young’s most haunting composition is “Don’t Let it Bring You Down.”  This song rings with epic quality as the artist paints a picture of life’s bitterness while preaching the message, “Don’t let it bring you down, it’s only castles burning, find someone’s who’s turning, and you will come around.”  Neil’s eerily soaring vocals over the alternately tuned guitar strikes a nerve at the resilience of humanity.

As I bounced around town this evening trying to find a suitable place to study for class, I became overwhelmed by the massive ambiguity surrounding my future. I almost never write personal blogs (especially not on The Haymaker), but this does relate to music and…well…it’s what most deserves textuality right now. I’ll spare the details on my personal fight for a future and a place in the world. The point is that I was fighting the mind battles of that fight, and I was losing.

I had been listening to Gnarls Barkley’s new album fairly non-stop in my car lately. So when I got into the car and turned on my cd player, I was surprised to here Fugees coming through the speakers. I had forgotten switching up the repertoire, but I was glad to hear the old school sounds blasting. I cranked the volume up as loud as I could handle it and rolled the windows down.

The interesting thing about Fugees’ album “The Score” to me is that the lyrical content and motive of the album is hard, but the music is like honey going down. The album exhibits very few moments of abrasiveness and yet loses none of its lyrical potency. As for tonight, this was just what the doctor ordered.

I felt the strength behind lines like, “boy on the side of Babylon tryin’ to front like he down with Mount Zion,” and, “Ready or not, here I come, you can’t hide, gonna find you, and make you want me…” Many of the lines are comforting, despite the fact that I did not grow up on the streets of Brooklyn. The fact that Fugees’ music and lyrics are foreign to probably 70 to 80 percent of my university is analogous to the distance I feel from everyone around me. People don’t get me. I’m too diverse, too undefinable, too hopeful, too nice. They’ll tell you they like diversity, individuality, and hope, but when it comes down to brass tax, no one knows what to do with someone they can’t box into a category, stereotype, or genre. This separation is why I identify with the revolutionaries (or at least the truly forward thinkers).

As I sit here and type the final words of this post, I realize that you probably won’t truly get this. And that’s ok. There’s always hope to fall back on. And hope is not hope if you can see it.

Emcees of Note (Part 2)

April 4, 2008

Alright, I’ve got more butter to turn into cream. If you haven’t checked out the first list of haymaker-worthy emcees, check em out near the bottom of the site…

Buff1 (www.myspace.com/buff1der)
Hailing from Ann Arbor, this emcee is maintaining the magic in smooth flowing hip-hop. As a member of the Athletic Mic League, Buff1 is notable for his honest lyrics and straight catchy hooks…oh yea, and this dude spits educated rhymes, unlike the junk “hip-hop” on the radio. His beats and rhythms hang in the pocket like few in the game currently. But I don’t need to spend too much time trying to convince you. His work speaks for itself. Check it out.buff1press1zg2.jpg

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Like clockwork (and just in the nick of time), Cee-lo Green and DJ Dangermouse have stepped back onto the scene. And their newest release, “The Odd Couple,” is a breath of fresh air during a stifled era of popular music. Gnarls Barkley’s 13 track record was scheduled to be released worldwide on April 8th, but at the last minute the date was bumped to March 18th (it was released exclusively through iTunes on this date). Regardless of what led to the premature leak (it was potentially due to The Raconteurs’ own trend setting premature release date) the album is just what the doctor ordered.

The success of “Crazy” seems to have placed a subconscious (or, in some cases, blatantly conscious) expectation on the group from fans. But “The Odd Couple” doesn’t want to conform to those presuppositions. This album is it’s own beast. The lyrical content on the is dark. The second track, entitled “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul,” features Cee-lo’s soulful voice singing “Got some bad news this morning, which in turn made my day…how could this be, all this time I’ve lived vicariously, who’s gonna save my soul now?” The group’s single “Run” suggests a sense of frustration and toil with the lyrics “hurry little children, run this way, I have got a beast at bay.” One of the dominant themes of the album is loneliness, and it’s repeated often. But accompanying these honest themes lies an unparalleled musical creativity. Some of the tracks veer toward the Motown and soulful tendencies of the previous album while incorporating electronic and varied instrumentation. Other tracks are much more risky. My personal favorite on the album is “Open Book,” which plays with tribal elements and a powerful chorus.

In a music culture overrun with cliched rap songs with Akon-like hooks, exhaustingly predictable rock songs, a flood of unmemorable indie artists, self important and absorbed artists like Kanye West, and whatever other crap the record industry wants to force on listeners, Gnarls Barkley is the answer. While their latest release may not feature the next record breaking single to hit the UK album charts, “The Odd Couple” proves that there is hope amid the darkness. Creativity is not dead.

Johnny Depp never ceases to veer from the expectations of the masses with his role choices. And while I thought I had seen all of his films of note, I discovered yet another gem hidden among the multitudes of dvds at my local Vision Video (I don’t do Blockbuster anymore…there are better alternatives out there than renting a movie for practically the same price I could buy one). The movie is Dead Man. It was directed by Jim Jarmusch, and it is wild! The film is about an accountant named William Blake (mistaken often in the film to be the poet by the same name) who moves to the West for work but, ends up on the run after he murders a man. Now, before I go wearing my quirky personal movie tastes on my sleave, I must say that the film is very unique and…well…quirky. But it’s gutsy, beautifully filmed, and Johnny Depp is superb.

The part of the film that really brought it home for me was not the superb acting or the beautiful cinematography, however. The score pushed the movie over the edge. The music during the film was written and performed by Neil Young. Young incorporates a raw acoustic guitar that carries the root of the music. But the real brilliance comes from his use of fuzzy, delayed electric guitar over the acoustic rhythm. At times the rhythm guitar fades out entirely, and the electric is left to accent the beat with varied singular strums, some muted and others wide open. His use of silence to contrast brash electric explosions provides the film with an extremely unique and capitvating score.

Unfortunately, I have not found the film’s soundtrack for sale anywhere online. But, as always, I have found a good Youtube montage from the film featuring some of Young’s composition

I saw this video randomly the other day and immediately fell in love with it.  Not only is the song timelessly beautiful, but the video itself is very original.  As the ninth track on Iron and Wine’s album “The Shepherd’s Dog,” “Boy With a Coin” is a subtle, rhythmic song that stands as one of the catchiest tracks I’ve heard in the last year.  If Sam Beam keeps writing songs like this, he’s going to be known as one of the most prominent folk artists of recent years.

Noisettes

January 20, 2008

This band has been bound for success since the first introduction of their song “Don’t Give Up.” Led by the vivacious voice of Shingai Shoniwa, Noisettes live show explodes with charisma. While their antics have defined them as one of the more exciting live acts in rock today, their song writing is equally as impressive. “The Count of Monte Christo” showcases the band’s originality and unique sound as well as any of their tracks.

Go check out Battles. This band is doing what a lot of bands can only pretend they’re doing. Battles is creating new sounds. The band’s last single “Atlas,” which was released earlier this year, is remarkably original. All music listeners have the natural tendency to try to compare new music with something they already know. But, frankly, I don’t know where to put these guys. They just don’t sound like anything that could be a noticable influence. And really the “rock” genre is not big enough to hold Battles, though I’m sure many would box them into that category. (((The great thing about this band is that they raise the question of genre. Too many artists give into the conformities controlled by big record labels. The labels want everything neatly packaged into identifiable genres so they can spawn the necessary buzz about a particular genre in order to make the most money. It’s all about control.)))

Battles is living up to their name. You just cannot categorize this band without a fight.

http://www.myspace.com/battlestheband

This single released in 2007 really seems to have that necessary “staying-power” for which so many artists strive. “Mistaken for Strangers” teems with dark guitar sounds and vocals resonating with empathetically lonely lyrics. But the interesting aspect of the track is that I still wanted to listen to it over and over, despite the dark overtones. The song is really adicting. The vocals might be compared to other monotone-like singers, such as Interpol’s singer or She Wants Revenge’s singer. But I don’t embelish when I say that The National does it better. Yes Interpol has their fair share of great songs with haunting, monotone vocals. But The National seems to have the elements that are lacking for other similar bands.

“Mistaken for Strangers” is dancable, fun, and self-loathing all in one. Who could want more? If you’re feeling in the mood for some straightforward, catchy indie rock, check these fellas out.