On the 7th Day of Christmas… “Silent Nightclub” — Richard Cheese (album review)

Image

Richard Cheese may not be a household name, though after this review you’ll likely plow through his entire discography quicker than a one horse open sleigh. A comedic singer, he performs lounge and swing style takes on top 40 hits. Hitting play sucks you into a portal, transporting listeners into a Vegas cocktail bar complete with martini and halfway unbuttoned silk shirt.

Amid Cheese’s extensive catalog is an aptly titled Silent Nightclub. As the name suggests, the album is an amalgamation of “holiday” hits. A quick glance at the tracklist and the brow furrows in confusion. Only five of the 15 total songs are traditional Christmas tunes. The other 10 are mainly pop hits which slightly relate to the holidays. And most of the time the connection is more of a stretch than the Grinch shimmying down a narrow brick chimney. Cheese opens with Dead Kennedys’ punk anthem “Holiday in Cambodia,” presumably because it contains the word holiday. He does however, use jingle bells and a Christmas melody to provide a festive ambiance.

Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” follows up “Holiday in Cambodia,” a hilarious reference to the Virgin Mary. Conservative religious folks may be offended, but one listen to the disc and it’s obvious Cheese isn’t meant to be taken seriously. Cleverly, he includes “Like a Virgin” and unless you’re quick to ponder the non-commercial aspects of Christmas, the reason for inclusion may pass you by like Santa skipping the naughty kid on your block. Cheese also includes “Ice, Ice Baby,” “Imagine,” “Naughty Girl,” “The Trees,” “I Melt With You,” and finishes on an appropriate note with “Holidae Inn.” His choices are undeniably unique for a Christmas CD, and you’ll be gnawing the candy cane in your martini in no time.

Amusingly, though predictably, even the holiday tracks aren’t exactly straightforward. The version of “Jingle Bells” on Silent Nightclub features animal noises rather than the actual lyrics. This album by no means seeks to replace the original versions of your holiday favorites. “Last Xmas” is actually only 18 seconds long, and Cheese explains the shortened Wham cover by proclaiming “…that song sucks.” Sorry Wham fans. Take your problem up with Richie. As the sole original track “Christmas In Las Vegas” paints an entertaining portrait of Vegas with a twist. Rudolph bets on red and the Wise Men roll sevens. Cheese exploits both Christmas and Las Vegas clichés, stuffing both into a witty stocking.

Silent Nightclub serves up a hearty, creative dose of mildly, though carefully and astutely selected tracks. Additionally, Cheese’s mock-serious, sleazy delivery packs a ramshackle sled of laughs. Try not to keep from bursting into fits of giggles while the artist woof-woof-woofs in tune to “Jingle Bells,” double-times through “Christmastime is Here,” or jollily bounces down John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Just like spiking eggnog spices up the holiday merriment, Richard Cheese’s Silent Nightclub is sure to get the Christmas party popping.

On the 8th Day of Christmas… “Afroman’s A Colt 45 Christmas” (Review)

Image

You’ve probably heard of Afroman, but I’ll wager you haven’t been exposed to his holiday album, A Colt 45 Christmas. Chances are you may be familiar with his hilarious stoner tales “Because I Got High” and “Crazy Rap” (contrary to what your friends tell you, the track is NOT named “Colt 45”). As such, you may be so inclined to believe that this is a fictitious album, as Afroman is the last artist who’d be expected to kick it Christmas style. But this is all too real, and much funnier than anyone wants to confess.

A Colt 45 Christmas belongs to the category of albums you don’t want to admit enjoying, but can’t help bursting into fits of uncontrollable laughter. While “Colt 45” in the title may initially be misleading, keep in mind Afroman refers to malt liquor, not a firearm. If this further confuses you, just look at the track list. ‘fro initiates the festivities with “Deck My Balls.” As the title suggests, the song is set to “Deck the Halls.” It’s a holiday melody full of drinking, weed, and of course sex. The entire disc consists of these parodies, all of which are vile but tear-jerking laughter inducing.

Afroman raps primarily about weed and alcohol, and judging from the way he completely trails off in “The 12 J’s of Christmas,” he very well may have recorded the album under many influences. Unlike the holiday albums I’ve reviewed thus far, A Colt 45 Christmas is not suitable for a family get together. Unless, of course, you’re like me and relish in the prospect of keeping relatives at bay. At the beginning of “Afroman is Coming to Town,” Afroman chronicles smacking your grandma’s dentures out. He proceeds to discuss a certain sexual favor from said grandmother which I will not explain. Undoubtedly she was better off being run over by a reindeer.

All 11 tracks are laugh out loud funny, though you wouldn’t want to listen with anyone else. Easily offended readers may want to pass this indescribably strange album. Afroman brings his off-beat humor to the Christmas season in a way only Afroman could pull off. While the lyrics aren’t always the most appropriate, they’re undeniably creative, and the instrumentals are quite well produced and underrated. Having seen Afro in concert several times, I can attest to his proficiency on the guitar. Should you cop A Colt 45 Christmas? If you can stomach the raunchy, sure to insult lyrics, then yes. Just don’t pop this in the family stereo.

Ivan Ives: “Stranger” but still familiar

index

I’ve been an Ivan Ives fan ever since hearing his track “Got It.” The golden age beat, witty word play, and Big Lebowski references convinced me to pick up the entire “Iconoclast” album. After hearing Ives’ collaboration with legendary lung-buster Percee P, “Kill ‘Em,” I snagged “Newspeak.” Flash forward to 2013, and Ives is thankfully still spitting. Like any true artist, he’s switched up his style enough to remain fresh while preserving his individuality. His 2013 album “Stranger,” as the name implies captures a mature, introspective, and thoughtful vibe.

Before “Stranger” dropped, Ives released the single “8mm” produced by RJD2. Featuring RJD2’s recognizable sound, the traditional kicks and snares are accompanied by movie reel whirs. Ives uses the metaphor of an 8mm video camera in romanticizing his recollection of a relationship: “I’m doomed to sleep alone in this bed we bought together/But at least I’ll remember us forever.” Follow-up song “Insomniac” featuring Aaron Marsh on a Thom Yorke-worthy hook of “I close my eyes/Never gonna leave this world like this/I fall away/Never gonna leave this world like this,” contrasts RJD2’s instrumental with a traditionally modern hip hop beat. Instead of the sepia-tone invocations of “8mm,” “Insomniac” provides a subdued backdrop. Further developing this are Ivan Ives’ lines such as “I’ve ruined my real name/I’ve ruined my fake name/Because I had to do things I never wanted to do/Out of desperation, out of character/I’m sorry, I never meant to fail you.”

The album oscillates between these two styles, offering more traditionally underground beats and indie/electronic hip hop. “Stranger” therefore relies on Ives’ lyricism to serve as the unifying gel. And it works. Unlike CDs cobbled together to sell singles, this is a disc to be experienced as a whole, to provide an atmosphere and setting. Even the cover art alludes to the pensive portrait painted uncovered by pushing play. Memory is a key concept on “Stranger,” particularly the idea of fluidity and change. “Death of a Salesman” finds Blueprint dropping a few verses on priorities in youth and the consequences as an adult.

While Ives’ packs his usual insightful austere and wordplay, as well as top-notch production, the beauty of “Stranger” lies in the overall message. Rather than braggadocio, Ivan Ives offers reflection. Unlike the vast majority of records that overpopulate the airwaves, this is one rapper who doesn’t simply blab about over-indulgence. At the end of “On the Road,” he says “And fuck fame/It’s a damn stare-fest/I don’t care about fake outfits and who wearing best.” You have to respect an artist whose main priority is making music because that’s what they love as opposed to leveling up and gaining achievements.

If you’ve never experienced Ivan Ives, this is certainly an excellent starter album. Be warned though that any Ives disc is a gateway drug, and you’ll likely be jonesing for more of this rapper’s music. You can cop any of his releases from your favorite online distributor, or opt for IvanIves.com. This latter digital delivery method gives the artist maximum profit, and Ivan Ives is assuredly a hip hopper worth supporting. Also be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. A few weeks ago Ivan Ives was generous enough to give away a copy of “Stranger.” How can you not respect an artist with that much love for his fans? Enjoy your Tuesday Tunes, and happy Halloween week!

Apathy: The Alien Tongue

Image

Apathy made a name for himself as one of the heavyweights in underground hip hop. Today his music contains traces of former iteration, but he’s definitely switched up his game. Apathy even dropped the latter part of his former moniker. During the early 90’s he went by the name Apathy the Alien Tongue. Now it’s just Apathy. The Jedi Mind Tricks debut album “The Psycho-Social” features Apathy in his former iteration on a few tracks. In 2012 he dropped “The Alien Tongue,” an album of demos and unreleased material showcasing his early works, harking back to his Alien Tongue days. Definitely differing from his current catalog, it’s refreshingly rugged and offers an interesting look at the roots of a now underground legend.

If you’re familiar with Jedi Mind Tricks’ “The Amber Probe EP” and “The Psycho-Social,” you’ll likely have flashbacks while listening to “The Alien Tongue.” If the title isn’t a clue, cover art alone tips off listeners that they are in for an intergalactic ride. The astronaut boot beside a cassette tape on the moon compliments the disc’s contents. Beats are raw in a golden age fashion. Drum kicks are punchy, hi hats defined, and obscure, often dark, samples abound. “Galaxy Rays” kicks off the album with a howling sound, reminiscent of wind, and a voice moaning “Adventures in time and space…dimension X.” Adding to the sci-fi feel are references to flicks like Plan 9 From Outer Space on “Mic Warz” and Star Wars on “Alien Invasion.” Yet Apathy doesn’t simply deliver clever pop-culture infused punchlines. From his talk of tetrahedral physics on “Alien Invasion,” it’s clear he’s done his homework. The chorus finds the artist borrowing the Oompa-loompas chant. While the Willy Wonka tune elicits a chuckle, it isn’t goofy.

Dark Holy Chronicles” continues the rambling, supernatural themes which play prominently during the audio excursion. He raps, “I look up to the skies/And see a pair of eyes/That seem to paralyze/And hypnotize my mind.” Not only is his imagery vivid, but the complicated flow, and heavy use of internal rhyme schemes is mind-blowing. Apathy’s confident delivery keeps stride with the plodding beat behind. While the majority of the tracks contain sci-fi references, there are a few more traditional songs which add variety. “The Big Hurt” is classic storytelling and the featured artists Punchline, Wordsworth, A.L. Skills, Wiseguy and Gaston perform admirably. The track feels like a mic passing session in a back room.

Similarly, “We Can Get Down” is a comedic dis track. He calls out wack rappers with lines like “Fuck sippin’ 40’s and ice in your shorty’s jewelry/Most of y’all are broken as shit, you don’t fool me/So-called playa/Rockin’ fake alligator/Walking through the club disconnected cellular and pager.” Further on he says “I’m not saying I’m the man-well, yes I am/I would even be dope if I drove in a Trans Am/With my windows tinted cheap speakers bumping Def Lepperd.” The sentiment reflects the idea that rap is more than appearance, an underground tenant. Interestingly, he says “Now adays kids are all about Puffy and Wu.” For most hip hop fans, P. Diddy and Wu-Tang aren’t even on the same level. Looking back on this line it’s more comical than when Apathy composed it.

The final eight tracks are instrumentals. Like any good hip hop head, I found myself rapping along to the beat. Luckily for your sake and mine, I did not record my attempts at spontaneous lyric spewing. The included instrumentals are catchy, but not quite as strong as the rest of the album merely for the fact that Apathy’s vocals are absent. Overall, this is a fantastic throwback disc, a time machine to the 90’s. If you haven’t copped this one already, go grab it and make driving around this week more enjoyable.

Jay-z: Magna Carta…Holy Grail or Magna Carta…Holy Fail?

Image

Readers be warned, this review will feature a lot more hiss than pop. Because I don’t know about you, but I was expecting a hell of a lot more from an album titled Magna Carta…Holy Grail.

I first became aware HOV had a new album coming out while watching game five of the NBA finals. Although I assumed the roughly ten minute long commercial was a promo for an upcoming record, the TV spot remained pretty ambiguous and it took a quick Google search to confirm my suspicions. I guess this tactic worked though, because I’m one of the poor souls who downloaded the rubbish.

A strange track, “Holy Grail,” kicks off Magna Carta…Holy Grail. The beginning is sung by Justin Timberlake, and after about a minute of his crooning over a soft piano piece, Jay-z jumps in on top of an electronic-rap beat. JT’s part is pretty good, and Jay-z’s appearance is alright, but they don’t really mesh well. Adding to the musical confusion are multiple tempo, instrumental, and flow changes that trip over one another in a dizzying frenzy. In a song just over 5 minutes they don’t really establish any continuity.

Unfortunately, the only constant during the album is discontinuity. Unlike almost any good album, this just seems like a hodgepodge of 16 tracks of recycled material, not a unified whole with any purpose or originality. And to add to the clusterfuck which is Magna Carta…Holy Grail Jay-z isn’t even consistent. Lyrically, the only cohesion is the HOV’s braggadocio, emphasis on materialism, and overall narcissism. In the titular track Jay-z raps “Now I got tattoos on my body, psycho bitches in my lobby/I got haters in the paper, photo shoots with paparazzi/Can’t even take my daughter for a walk/See em by the corner store, I feel like I’m cornered off/Enough is enough, I’m calling this off.” Now, I have no doubt that you get a lot of unwanted attention HOV, but do you really expect me to pity you when you have millions, especially when you follow up a complaint about the media with “Who the fuck I’m kidding though/I’m getting high, sitting low/Sliding by in that big body/Curtains all in my window/This fame hurt but this chain works.” I certainly hope not, because it didn’t work.

This trend continues on tracks like “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt,” featuring Rick Ross. Opening the track Ross raps “I just landed in Europe, nigga/Shopping bags, I’m a tourist, nigga/Money talk I speak fluent, nigga.” Not exactly the most original, and yet again money-centric lyrics. Unfortunately Jay-z’s entire playbook is brag about [insert expensive car here], then [brag about being best]. On F.U.T.W. the rapper disses Cadillac’s in favor of Maybachs. Listening from the perspective of a dude with a car in the shop every other week, this isn’t exactly anything I can relate to, or care for. When Jay-z boasts “Hands down got the best flow, sound I’m so special” on “Tom Ford” though, he’s really gone too far. I know this is subjective, but go listen to some R.A. The Rugged Man, Percee P, Celph Titled to name handful out of the plethora of talented contemporary rappers. Then tell me Jay-z has the best flow.

After a while, and by that I mean the first three tracks, it starts to feel like HOV used a madlib for writing his lyrics. Formulaic doesn’t even begin to describe it. Most of the album consists of references to Jay-z’s immense wealth, Lamborghinis, Maybachs, and it wouldn’t be quite as bad if his accompanying beats weren’t mainly generic electro-rap. “Tom Ford,” “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt,” “Crown,” “La Familia,” and “Nickels and Dimes” all feature this uninventive instrumentation garnished with HOV’s cookie cutter lyrics. The few redeeming beats, including “Picasso Baby,” “F.U.T.W.” and “Somewhere in America” manage to piss me off as I keep dwelling on a slew of other rappers who would have murdered those beats instead of wasting them on car references and incessant verses about how many million HOV has made.

Of the limited tracks that don’t make my ears bleed, “Picasso Baby” and “Somewhere in America” remind me of old Jay-z material. This isn’t exactly bad, but it isn’t anything new or inventive. In fact, the only original product of this rubbish heap of a record was Jay-z’s decision to give out 1 million free downloads of his album…with a catch. The download was only available on select, pricey Samsung Android phones. I don’t have a problem with the idea of giving out free copies of an album, whether limited or unlimited, but the fact that he partnered with Samsung to distribute the downloads really sums up the materialistic focus of Magna Carta..Holy Grail.

If you paid for this craptastic CD, you were swindled. Write Jay-z and ask for your money back. From the sound of it, he could afford to reimburse each fan, even those who received free copies. If only he could give me back the time I spent listening to this damn record. At least I have a copy of Reasonable Doubt to console me after this depressing addition in HOV’s canon.

Mid-Week Music Update (Featuring Original Mashups…)

While you may have been able to glean that I’m a music buff (or as one friend put it “You like music too much,”), you might not have guessed that I (try) to create music, not just review it. So far my dabbling has been limited to a couple mashups and some button-pressing on the Novation Launchpad which Santa was ever so kind to deposit under my Christmas tree.

I used instrumental hip hop compositions from the Visioneers for two of my finished mashes, and videogame-based samples for the other. I mainly worked with Ableton Live 8, Fruity Loops and Audacity. While my music is admittedly pretty rough, feel free to provide any feedback and suggestions, and look out for more original pieces in the future as I make progress in Ableton.

Action Bronson: Well-Done Review

Image

Action Bronson certainly has gotten a lot of publicity lately. He has been hailed by many sources as one of the best up and coming hip hop artists. Often I’m skeptical of popular opinions. After downloading a couple of Action’s albums though, I was convinced.

It’s difficult to boil Action Bronson down. He’s a zany rapper who drops more punchlines, pop culture references, and food metaphors than you can possibly keep track of, and collaborates with some incredible producers such as Alchemist and Statik Selektah. The food descriptions are pretty understandable considering Action’s past experience as a gourmet chef in New York. Luckily he was passionate enough about hip hop to cook us up some fresh albums to satiate our appetite for delectable hip hop.

The appropriately named Well-Done, a collaboration album with producer Statik Selektah, plays on Bronson’s background as a chef. Staying true to his style, Statik Selektah crafted mainly sample-based beats with slow tempos and jazzy, horn and bass filled pieces which bring to mind an image of Selektah pounding keypads on an MPC. Action Bronson’s laid back, silky smooth vocals waltz in step with Statik Selektah’s gorgeous beats. If they released an instrumental version of the album, heck, I’d gladly pay for a copy.

It’s a lighthearted, entertaining album. What makes it so enjoyable is the combination of Bronson’s high class taste, sexual braggadocio, and laid back vibe. No pun intended on the high class taste either. Not only does Action Bronson have a refined palate for food, but the man likes his weed too. I guess being a chef comes in handy at times like this since he doesn’t have to resort to Doritos and pizza like the rest of the population. The album opens with “Respect the Moustache,” and serves to set the mood for the rest of the disc. He raps, “Well since I’m high, straight polenta from the pot.” It’s a great song to introduce both Bronson and the album as a whole. “Cocoa Butter,” with Nina Sky comes two tracks later and features an insanely catchy horn and piano loop. Sky’s high-pitched, upbeat vocals reflect the victorious hook she sings: “On and on, push it through, we won/Never stop till the day we there.” Certainly Action Bronson has won and he references his success frequently in his raps, mainly to the tune of fine cuisine, sexual endeavors, and marijuana enjoyment. He says, “I’m in the mountains eating rare bison/Clam chowder, you ain’t fucking with this man-power/Straight from Queens, where we’re know to make your plans sour.”

While Action Bronson’s themes are pretty clear and persistent throughout, the album is by no means repetitive. Rather, every line is a surprise, like a bite of fine dining and you enjoy each track more and more like successive bites of a favorite dish. One of my personal favorite tracks “White Silk,” (presumably chef’s whites). The beat is a slightly faster paced piece and Bronson quickens the pace of his rapping accordingly. His clever lines like “take a hit of drugs and I’m passing like I’m Rondo” and “Arnold Palmer on the graphic in the beverage” sink in about a line or two after than they do on his slower songs. “Keep off the Grass” follows up, maintaining the same fast-paced, lively feel and featuring a few Big Pun samples cut and chopped into the chorus.

As a whole Well-Done mimics a meal. The beginning features some slower songs to introduce Action Bronson and give the listener a taste of the album. Then the main course hits somewhere toward the middle and the intensity quickens a little, culminating with “Not Enough Words.” This track is probably my favorite, although it’s difficult to choose just one. What I enjoy the most, and what makes me hit replay on this one a few times before moving on to the next song,  is how “Not Enough Words” feels more personal and introspective than the rest of the album. Bronson spits “Book a ticket to the tropics cause I’m through with all the shit/That I’m living every day, in the mirror saying ‘why me?’/Hide my eyes cause I’m sickened with the image/Of using marijuana, sipping vintage for the time being/My skillset is very serious in fact/Spit a wild rap, carve a steak right off the cow’s back.” Over a steady beat and a sample which sounds like a chorus going “ooh, ooh ooh,” Bronson’s clever wordplay really packs a punch here. Sure, he still drops lines like “Hustle till my fingers staying like a cheeto” but then he’ll throw in a verse of “Ask to swear to God but in that I don’t believe though.” It’s not as heavy as a Dickens novel, but for Bronson, and in general for a musician, the levity definitely falters a bit.

To conclude the album, Bronson ends with a few slower songs like the beginning of the album. They are great for head-bobbing, toe-tapping, and are sure to put a smile on your face and force a few laughs. These are dessert, a few extra bites to chew on as the album winds down. Well-Done is definitely an album you’ll want to add to your collection. While the album is available for free (no strings attached) from Action Bronson’s website, you can purchase it from iTunes and Amazon. And MC’s of this caliber as well as generosity are worth supporting. So get into Action and start downloading.