Category Archives: 30Hz Bl-g

Ramblings at the frequency of 30Hz

Childish Gambino @ Stage AE 6/18

Childish Gambino, Donald GloverThe rap concert is an unnatural phenomenon. Rap is a Frankenstein genre, cobbled together from samples and beats and lyrics culled from life, other songs, other genres. Beats are made. Rhymes are written. And then all is combined and mixed in a studio. The system is not unlike any other style of music; however, rap differs because the subsequent components of a rap record are rarely organic. Rap has more in common with the electronic- and DJ-fueled genres, yet rappers perform in traditional concert venues because they are unshackled, unpredictable and the beating heart of the Frankenstein monster. For all its posturing, rap music is less a spontaneous creation than a practice of restraint and calculated excess. Rap concerts have a tendency to take on a life of their own, for better and for worse. The Wu-Tang Clan created the most influential rap album of the last twenty years, yet I attended a concert of theirs in 1997 that I recall as perhaps the worst exhibition of “music” I’ve ever seen. The phrase herding cats might as well have been “herding stray Wu-Tang Clan members.” ODB just didn’t show up. Method Man was late and the rest treated the performance like a freestyle battle gone horribly wrong.

Shaq Diesel
1 million sold, m’f’ers.

To further confuse the balance of spontaneous art and beats/production, the platform supports vanity entertainers with regularity. This introduces that final silent component of rap music, reputation and swagger. How else can you explain Shaq Diesel going Platinum? That’s one million copies sold. Allan Iverson, Chris Webber, Ron Artest, Roy Jones, Jr. have also all tested the rap game with lesser success. Therefore, at face value, it’s easy to be skeptical when Donald Glover, a comedian and notable TV actor and writer (for 30 Rock), releases a record. A quick sample of his Camp LP dispels any questions you may have had about his intentions (even more so when you learn that he’s been creating beats and writing music for more than six years, having already released three independent records prior to Camp). Glover is a capable beatsmith and MC (even if he borrows much of his style from the Kanye-school of swagger) but where he excels is his creative wordplay and rhymes. He alternates brash with hyper-sensitivity. His songs are laced with pop-culture references and cynicism regarding the genre’s predictable tropes. Personal themes of childhood bullying, alcoholism and failed relationships are littered throughout. As Childish Gambino, Glover is a self-aware artist that refuses to break the “Fourth Wall” – to borrow a term from film theory. Despite being an excellent stand-up comedian, the Renaissance man in Glover refuses the audience a campy wink-wink of acknowledgment. What he’s doing is serious business and he’s doing his damnedest to ensure that he’s accepted as an artist who excels according to the rules of each of his endeavors. He does not succeed as a rapper because he is an actor. He does not excel as an actor because he is a comedian. Each talent exists in a separate vacuum, a truly remarkable feat of career management.

The Fourth Wall

Danny Brown opened. While I’m warming to Brown’s lyrical style (which seems to be a mish-mash of Das Racist and Shabazz Palaces), his strength is also his creative use of humor. The performance, however, lacked energy. Other than the moment when he pulled a fan up on stage (a hipster Chris Elliott), Brown and his DJ seemed oblivious to the crowd. Hipster Chris Elliott rapped along the entire time and Brown lent him the microphone to punctuate particular phrases. Still, the unusually attentive crowd (for an opening act) ate it up.

Childish Gambino Stage, Stage AE

When the very first beat from “Outside” dropped, Glover turned the attentive but lax sold-out crowd at Stage AE into a fist-pumping party. His stage act is frantic and high-energy. “First time in Pittsburgh. We gotta do this right,” he proclaimed early on, and throughout the show Glover beckoned the audience to keep the pace. Backed by a full band, the music filled the space with more than just an obligatory distorted bassline. Two drummers, guitar, keyboards and the occasional violin. The musicianship transcended a standard hip-hop show.

I’d always wondered about the identity of the Childish Gambino fan demographic. These are things about which only those who write about music wonder. And as I nodded along with the beat appreciatively, I couldn’t help but take an unofficial and superficial survey of the demographics. Those most enraptured by the performance were A) Young; B) Twenty-something; C) Caucasian; and D) Female. Not what I had anticipated. If I’d taken a picture of the crowd you’d never have guessed the act. It was a cross-section of Pittsburgh youth culture. Glover requested a roll call of minority females in the crowd before “You See Me (UCLA)” and had to search to locate a few of them, including the one Indian girl who Glover called out for hiding from him. Welcome to Pittsburgh, Donald Glover.

Anyway, back on track. Surprised as I was by the overwhelming reception for the Childish Gambino act (as I mentioned, a large, sold-out venue), I was more surprised by the knowledge of his back catalog, all independently released. Chalk it up to an Internet-savvy generation with too much time on their hands. I don’t particularly have an excuse other than having mild OCD. Also I don’t sleep much. While Camp favorites “Bonfire” and “Heartbeat” received raucous welcomes, it was tracks from his older releases that lit a fire with the audience. Much of the crowd knew the words “Freaks and Geeks” and “Culdesac” and sang right along, prompting Glover to offer the microphone to the crowd to jump in during the chorus on a number of occasions.

While I should have just been proud of Pittsburgh for coming out and actively supporting a quality artist, hip-hop or otherwise, I was still just a little confused. Who are these people? The last notable hip-hop act to come through Pittsburgh was Shabazz Palaces and I doubt more than a handful of this crowd knew Shabazz at all. I don’t intend this as a knock on Glover or the fans of his music, just that Childish Gambino has attained a crossover appeal that’s difficult to label. Is it because Glover is unintimidating? Small in stature? That he’s “hard,” but not too “hard?” That he raps about universal human conditions rather than drug abuse, objectification of women and violence? Or is it merely that he tells jokes and plays Troy Barnes on Community?

Troy Barnes (Donald Glover) on CommunityAnd though the comparison lacks realistic connectivity, I couldn’t help lament that fact that if all of these people watched Community the show wouldn’t be on such tenuous ground. But, again, I digress. The only explanation for his widespread appeal is that despite Glover’s ability to maintain separation of music and television stardom, he is incapable of escaping (nor does he necessarily want to) the connectivity to the global idea of “fame.” Music and image, after all, go hand-in-hand, like beats and rhymes. And fame can be wielded in many different ways. The only way for Glover to continue to succeed independently in TV, music and comedy is to continue pretend that he is three different people, each operating freely, without the baggage of his alter egos. Fans will continue to be drawn in by the idea of his fame as long as he pretends to recognize that it doesn’t exist. But however it is you’re doing all that you’re doing, Troy Barnes/Donald Glover/Childish Gambino, don’t stop doing it because you are a true entertainer.

Summer Albums for Oh-12

My daughter turns three years old today. Unbelievable, really. I find this particularly unnerving because my first concrete memory comes from my third birthday party. Up until now I’ve been living under the assumption that if I screwed something up, she wouldn’t remember it anyway. Now, I’m in danger of going on record… and while I’m sad that another year has passed and she’s developing that whole free will thing, I’m excited to finally, hopefully, start to make some lasting memories that she’ll remember when she’s 33 and reflecting upon her own childhood. Hopefully, she’ll remember this summer and maybe even the summer jams of 2012 (with some fondness), just as I remember the summer of 1981 and the timeless Hall & Oates track “Kiss On My List.” This track sticks with me and immediately recalls those early memories. Anyway, my memory, if you’re curious, is of finding a massive and wrapped box on the lawn and subsequently opening this beautiful beast:

Big Wheel
I'm pretty sure mine was of some green variety.

…and now for the jams…

The Walkmen – Heaven

The Walkmen, HeavenNo recent album requires an open window and a cold beverage more than this one. You’re outside on the patio sipping a margarita? Pump the Walkmen through to the outside. Maybe it’s evening. You’re inside with the windows thrown open with an uncoastered mojito leaving a sweat ring on the end table? The Walkmen, on simmer in the background on repeat. More understated than prior albums, Heaven might underwhelm at first, but give it another chance to creep in under your skin and induce instant mellow. This isn’t a sad sack record for sad sack indie worshippers. This is a laid-back record with something for anyone. It’s good enough to force a pause, to take a moment so that you might listen more closely to the music.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32QHk7IgKg0[/tube]

 

Quakers – self titled

QuakersThe Quakers are a full-frontal assault. If you don’t dig the Quakers, you don’t dig hip-hop. And that’s cool, but goddamn you’re missing out on some exciting new music. The Quakers redefine the term supergroup. The collective consists of 35 different members, summoning powers and talents from artists as varied as Portishead, The Pharcyde, Aloe Blacc, Prince Po and Coin Locker Kid. These 35 artists turn 40 tracks into a brilliant and cohesive record. Impossible, you say? I thought so too. Rumor has it that the three producers of the record, Fuzzface (Portishead’s Geoff Barrow), 7-Stu-7 and Katalyst, had all grown disillusioned by the state of modern hip-hop so they set out to create a record they’d want to listen to. As it turns out, it’s a record we all want to listen to… with the windows down, hoping the kid in the back isn’t realllly paying attention to the lyrics.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNb7DwiklZg[/tube]

 

John Foxx – Garden

John Foxx, GardenMy classic jams list could never be complete without a rediscovered classic sneaking into the countdown. I’d always been a fan of the Foxx-fronted Ultravox. “Reap the Wild Wind” is a timeless charmer. But rarely had I ever heard any solo work by John Foxx. During my regular record-crate diving, I came across a sealed copy of John Foxx’s Garden for $4. An easy purchase. A pristine, unheard solo LP from an 80’s (near) icon. I expected to enjoy it, but holy hell was I surprised. John Foxx deserves more  respect. Garden is more smooth Ultravox than John Foxx’s prior release: Metamatic (a stiff, cold offering). If you don’t know John Foxx and/or Ultravox, there’s never been a better time to discover one of the 80’s forgotten gems.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dX6G3XwuYS8[/tube]

 

Hot Chip – In Our Heads

Hot Chip, In Our HeadsSomehow, Hot Chip has merely skirted big-time recognition. In Our Heads represents their fifth full-length album, and if this doesn’t strike a chord this summer, I’m not sure there’s any hope for civilization. Hot Chip creates electro-lounge-pop with a beat. And if you get caught up in the bounce, it’s very danceable. My now 3-year old can attest. The album drops next week but after having heard the album stream online, I believe quite strongly that there are a few tracks on this record that are among their most infectious. Hot Chip just understand the groove. No more self-conscious use of the world jam regarding this record. It’s a legitimate jam at the intersection of dancehall, indie and electronic music. Indiepoptronica, perhaps.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34Nk98Yk9B0[/tube]

 

2:54 – self-titled

2:54Named after a specific moment in the Melvins’ “A History of Bad Men,” this sister-duo made a splash with the Scarlet LP and have carried that promise into their full-length, self-titled debut. They’ve been dubbed nu-gaze (a sub-genre of my favorite non-genre “shoe-gaze), but if you’re looking for a definition that means something they’re PJ Harvey and Warpaint with an extra dash of 90’s-era guitar fuzz. Frankly, I shouldn’t like this… but it works. And I can’t stop listening to their radio-friendly single “You’re Early.” Plus the band has still got that anonymous quality that makes you feel like you’re one of the first in on the ground floor of something big.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AidvJnT-JE&feature=related[/tube]

 

Saint Etienne – Words and Music by Saint Etienne

Saint Etienne, Words and Music by Saint EtienneI didn’t know I needed another St. Etienne record but there it was and I had to listen after catching a few tracks on XM. Sure it’s vintage St. Etienne, bouncy, synth-laden electro-pop with pristine Sarah Cracknell vocals. Words and Music  is a return of sorts. Though I’d never taken a moment to wonder: Saint Etienne where have you been for seven long years? That begs the question: did we even miss them? Yes. I guess. I dunno. I’m so conflicted. I always thought they were cheesy. Did I change or did they? Because I like this album. I like it in the way that I can leave it on and not notice it’s there. In and out of the house, here and there, pick up where I left off. Did I miss something? It’ll come back around.  So if these albums are the soundtrack of my summer, Saint Etienne must therefore be the score because I don’t see Danny Elfman around anywhere.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEWEAqNR2XQ[/tube]

 

 Dry the River – Shallow Bed

Dry the River, Shallow BedIf you listen to one new band this month, make it Dry the River. I’ve been plugging this band on Twitter and I just can’t help but give the UK quintet another chance to win over one, maybe two new fans. I have serious pull. What can I say? Think Mumford & Sons, but distinctly British. Though they have energy in their repertoire, Dry the River’s ballads display remarkably lush musicality (given depth by a pervasive violin) and restraint. There’s nary a pinch to be found on the entire record. And even though Shallow Bed has been out for awhile now I still keep going back to it. The sign of jams that aim to set the mood for the coming season.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V02QI_jLGc[/tube]

 

Pylon – Gyrate

Pylon, GyrateThis band always reminds me of summer. Every year I seem to put Pylon on the speakers and let it ride. I have no reason to associate it with summer any more than the next fellow. But something about these post-punkers reeks of warm weather, beer and doing stupid shit that one might possibly do during the summer and regret during the winter. Is it just me or does Pylon not get a lot of buzz anymore for just being a great rock band? People think Athens, GA, they think R.E.M. Not me. I’d rather have a beat, some creative shredding and Vanessa Briscoe Hay. The albums have all been remastered with extra, previously unreleased tracks that are actually very good. Bonus bucks.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgez1nZKGoM[/tube]

 

Oh, and P.S.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXNX729Bj48[/tube]

Think About It

Some days just get away from you. Today was just one of those days. I need music more on these days than others. And it’s not just soul-revivers or some Kenny Loggins’ soundtrack jams. Any music can movie you. Even parody.

Flight of the Conchords

I’ve been re-watching all of the episodes of Flight of the Conchords while I work out recently and I’m once again in awe of this show. I never make a weekly ritual out of watching a particular TV show. Certainly I look forward to catching up with Don Draper every Sunday but, as it generally goes, I don’t get to watch the new Mad Men until Wednesday or Thursday. I made watching Flight of the Conchords a priority.  I watched it when it aired live and I recorded it on my DVR so I could watch the episode again during the week. My obsession with Community comes close. As funny as many of these FoC songs were, they had a depth beyond mere parody. They had heart and reverence. Jemaine and Brett deconstructed the genres, but still managed to respect the source material.

While I ponder how to kill a character with a string trimmer in my horror/coming-of-age/literary short story I felt compelled to share the song that kept me sane today. I had my daughter bobbing along with my own rendition tonight, and she, of course, latched on to one of the more inappropriate lyrics (Who’s touching these monkeys, please / leave these poor sick monkeys alone / they’ve got problems enough as it is) and repeated it, ad infinitum. To me, this song is the pinnacle of the Conchords’ songwriting and video production powers. And it makes me happy. Here’s the live version, just in case you hadn’t seen the stage show performance. I’m also assuming you’ve seen the show. You’ve seen the show, right?

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5tmnBeNv18[/tube]

 

Rage Against the Magazine

So I have this story of mine called “Shoot Like You’re Awesome.” The story concerns a cog in the roshambo (read: Rock, Paper, Scissors not Eric Cartman’s version) tournament circuit. I wrote it as part of my MFA thesis in 2007. It’s always been, in my mind, the best story I’ve ever written. Nevertheless, this story has garnered 50+ rejections.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwA8V6hcqQo[/tube]

One kind rejection a few months ago, one of those “I loved it but…” rejections, mentioned a flaw in the story that caused something to click in my head. The editor of the rejecting lit mag suggested that though she loved the story’s humor and the depiction of the main character’s eccentricities and single-minded obsession, the ending failed to deliver a punch worthy of the rest of the story. I’d always been reluctant to change the ending. The story is analogous to my own experiences as a writer: struggling to place my own work in literary journals, disappointment, unjustified rejection. I wanted the main character (Westinghouse) to lose and then soldier on, silently, resolute and without emotion. As writers, we’re trained by seemingly endless failure that we can’t get too high or too low… that we just… keep… writing. And for a long time this is how I felt. Resolute. Confident. Every so six months, I contemplate giving up writing altogether but after a few days of inactivity I’m drawn back to the blank page. There’s just too much going on in my brain to walk away. Writing is a disease I endure, for the most part, willingly.

After receiving the aforementioned rejection and another half dozen or so in close proximity, I forced myself to pause and consider that this story I loved so much might need to be retired, for good, and never thought of again. But I couldn’t do it. Not yet. I decided to give it one more edit, one more last ditch effort to save “Shoot Like You’re Awesome.” I considered all angles. And the more I hemmed and hawed the more angry I got about my experience trying to find this story a home. The culmination of this rage resulted in this post back on March 14th: Putting Fun Back in Short Fiction? In summary, I lamented the boilerplate-loving nature of many of the major lit mags who refuse to give off-beat, humorous fiction an audience.

Vader chokes the bitch that steps out of line.

The click came when I embraced this anger and gave myself an outlet for my frustration. The grind of submitting work to literary magazines wasn’t about “enduring.” It was about fighting. It was about raging, but ultimately continuing the grind after coming back down to Earth. Even Steven wasn’t the answer. So instead of the story ending with reluctant, silent hope, I harnessed my more honest recalcitrance so that Westinghouse might rebel, if only briefly, in a fleeting moment of weakness. And there it was. Weakness. I had thought Westinghouse’s weakness had been his single-minded obsession that lead to social and emotional inadequacy. It turned out, his obsessions, like my own pursuit of writing, had been his strength. It could be a tantrum in the wake of failure that would make him human. With this in mind, I re-edited for the billionth time, but instead of cutting (as per every other suggestion) I added three full pages to the short story, pushed the word count over 3500 and slowed down the ending to give Westinghouse a chance to lash out, somewhat irrationally. After the new edit, I sent another round of submissions and went about working on other projects. Hope had been restored, at least until I started receiving those brand new rejections for a story I felt had become stronger than ever.

Late last night, after an epic four hours of watching the highly entertaining The Hatfields & McCoys (coincidentally, a story all about irrational rage), I checked my email before going to bed and received that long awaited acceptance for “Shoot Like You’re Awesome” from the literary magazine P.Q. Leer. Visit their site. Feed them some traffic. I really dig their style and sense of humor. That they had enough sense to publish my favorite story is just extra sauce.

Writers, if you love a story that no one else loves, stick with it. Listen to the criticism but don’t necessarily take it to heart. If you really love a story, there shouldn’t be a such thing as a last chance. Also, Star Wars wisdom aside, maybe sometimes it’s better to give in to your hate, if only just a little while. Also, at some point, make some time to watch Kevin Costner, Tom Berenger and Bill Paxton go all dueling hillbillies against each other.

 

 

Dry the Spontaneity

Routines / Systems / Spontaneity
Taken from an interesting bit about the intersection of creativity/spontaneity at http://the99percent.com/

As much as I like to be spontaneous (I’m really not) and as much as I like to make last-minute, spur-of-the-moment plans (I generally won’t) and as much as I can make split decisions… meh. You get the picture. I often look at a perfect opportunity, last night for example, to escape from the daily grind. Everyone’s got a daily grind, be it a 70-hour-per-week job, a litter of kids at home, a work-from-home situation that feels like the end of sanity. If you’ve read a sizable portion of this bl-g you’ve probably read a few posts that encourage active participation. It’s just so much easier not to do things. To not go see that movie. To not attend a band’s show because I just don’t have the energy. Staying home is almost always easier. But do you make memories, entertain new experiences?

Listen to Dry the River here:

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-iZRl2BoeQ[/tube]

A few weeks ago, I Shazammed a song by a band called Dry the River. I finally had the opportunity to listen to the full record sometime last week. From the very first spin, I was hooked. Full-on, hooks through the gills. I’ve been pushing the band on Twitter (@drytheriver) whenever possible. They remind me vaguely of Shearwater (probably because I’ve been listening to Shearwater a ton lately) if Shearwater were enamored with some Scandinavian folkies like First Aid Kit. They’ve mentioned the influences of Leonard Cohen and At the Drive-In, a comparison I quite like. So yesterday I received one of those concert announcement emails from one of the local promoters. I don’t always skim these things because I’m usually aware of a show before it arrives in my inbox. Well, there at the bottom of the page was a small blurb mentioning Dry the River playing at the Club Cafe, that night. Ugh. Overlooked, likely because they just recently became a name on my radar.

Hyperbole is the worst thing everI wanted to go, of course. The rules of Interweb hyperbole permit me to claim that Dry the River’s Shallow Bed is the OMG best m’f’in album of 2012. But I just couldn’t muster the gumption to go last night. A night in which I had nothing doing, nowhere to be, no immediate responsibilities to undertake. And I make these grand speeches about making the effort on this bl-g. I’m a hypocrite.

It takes energy and time to go out into the world. It seems silly but it’s true, especially when days are filled with other responsibilities. Work. Kids. Wife. Coffee consumption. Fiction writing in between all of that. I build myself up for going out. I look forward to my dates with live music for weeks in advance. Could I talk myself up in one day? Ehhh, not so much. All I wanted to do was get the kids to bed, do my workout and catch up on some Sherlock, some baseball watching and maybe paint the attic stairs. Some nights you’ve talked yourself up for a night of nothing whatsoever. And when you’ve talked yourself up for nothing whatsoever that something that comes along, even something as fated as a Dry the River show the moment after discovering the band, just needs to take a night off.

Sherlock Holmes BBC
Have you caught up on your Sherlock? If not, stop reading this and go watch some Sherlock! What's wrong with you?

To be fair, I almost talked myself up. The wife even told me to go. After all, I could have written a spectacular bl-g proclaiming my love for this soon-to-be  buzzband, touting their brilliant mishmash of folk and rock. I could have marked off another venue on my Pittsburgh concert-going to-do list. Somehow I’ve never been to (or don’t remember) the Club Cafe. It would have been glorious, I assure you. But on the other hand, I’m writing this instead. And while it’s not as glorious as a night out with live music, some contemplative time about choosing to squander opportunities can almost be as valuable. I’ll go out there and get ’em next time. I promise. I might just need someone to remind me about this post, three years from now when I’m complaining about how I didn’t go to that Dry the River show on some arbitrary, ho-hum Tuesday back in Oh-12.