Monthly Archives: January 2011

Hip Hop Monday #5: Super Bowl Edition

It’s Super Bowl week. In case you are only casually acquainted with the NFL, I will explain why this is significant. It is significant because it is the best. 2010’s best teams play each other, famous people do boring stuff for TV purposes, exciting things happen and someone wins a world championship. This year, the teams are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. Here are some rap songs I like with football references.

This is Wiz Khalifa, whose thing used to be that he smoked a lot of weed but whose thing is now shifting towards being very popular and rapping over flipped euro-dance. Wiz is from Pittsburgh, where all of the major sports teams wear black and yellow. He put this song out in September and it was a hit, but now the Steelers are in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh now listens to Black and Yellow exclusively. The following is a list of Black and Yellow spin-offs in which other rappers rap the colours of their favourite teams over the beat to Black and Yellow.

Fabulous – White and Navy (New York Yankees, baseball)
Paypa – Black and Red (Chicago Bulls, basketball)
Bailey – Black and Orange (San Francisco Giants, baseball)
Marquee T – Black and Purple (TCU Horned Frogs, college football)
Snoop Dogg, The Game and YG – Purp and Yellow (LA Lakers, basketball)
Pizzle and Prophetic – Green and Yellow (Green Bay Packers, football)
Irv Da Phenom – Red and Yellow (Kansas City Chiefs, football)
B Double E – Red and Blue (Kansas Jayhawks, college basketball)
P.L. – Blue and Yellow (Michigan Wolverines, college football)
Marcus Manchild – Red and Yellow (Houston Rockets, basketball)
DC – Gold and Garnet (Florida State Seminoles, football)
Kazer and 2 Clean – Black and Silver (San Antonio Spurs, basketball)
Vinny from Jersey Shore – Black and Guido (Guidos and black girls, sex)
Latin Kings – Black and Gold (Latin Kings, gang)
Demize – Blue and Orange (Chicago Bears, football)
D-Pryde – Blue and Purple (Toronto Blue Jays, baseball, Toronto Maple Leafs, hockey)

There are more. Those are some of the ones that YouTube rappers were smart enough to edit into the Wikipedia entry for Black and Yellow. For fairness, here’s Green Bay’s version. It’s less good, but there are less than 1,500 African-Americans in Green Bay, Wisconsin according to the last census, so if precedent is anything to go by, their scene can’t be that strong.

Wu Tang slam tracks like quarterback sacks from LT (Laurence Taylor, a Hall of Famer New York Giants linebacker who is now on the sex offenders register. Wu Tang would not have known that this was going to happen.)

Danny Brown blows on kush the colour of a Minnesota Viking. Which is purple.

Yelawolf wears Alabama Crimson Tide sweat pants to bed, presumably because he is a fan of ‘Bama football. Yes, Crimson Tide.

NWA were into the Raiders, who moved out of LA in the 80s. They want you to bow down to Raiders hats.

Nicki Minaj calls plays, metaphorically, causing bitches to call her “Manning, Eli”, quarterback of the New York Giants. His brother Peyton Manning is broadly considered the superior quarterback, but that doesn’t work when you turn it backwards to force a rhyme.

One of the reasons they call Roc-a-fella “Gang Green” is because they stop your run. The New York Jets, also called Gang Green, do a reasonably good job of stopping the run, statistically third best in 2010’s regular season. Jay-Z also compares his multitasking rapper/exec skills to those of athletic former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart.

Eminem gets “as rowdy as Roethlisberger in a bathroom stall” – Ben Roethlisberger is the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and has made a habit of getting sexual assault allegations levelled against him.

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The Year. 2. My highs are high, my lows are low.

2. Best Coast – Crazy For You [US]

Just like previous years in this tortuously dragged-out end of year list project, I am pretty sure the albums at the top are the ones I think are best, but there’s every chance that that’s just because real life memories and associations have bled into the songs and give them more direct access to various emotions. I was against this sort of thing (affective fallacy, I believe) for about three weeks in first year of college, but now I don’t care. You can’t fight it. You have to live in the world, and you will generally end up listening to music while you’re worried about something, happy about something or walking down a street on a night you have no real reason to remember with cowing nostalgia.

This album leaked while I was in New York for three months, living with three friends in a basically unfurnished apartment with a constantly blocked toilet, no cooking facilities, only one single bed and a wide variety of carpet and wall stains that dated most likely to whichever antecedent wrote his phone book on the wall in permanent marker.. It was established pretty early on in that period of floor-sleeping, beer drinking and non-eating that it was probably going to ‘the best summer of our lives’. It’s strange to actually try to live a whole summer as if you’re trying to gather footage for the best possible montage at the end of it, but that’s basically what happened.

So Boyfriend reminds me of the South Street Seaport and the sound of Best Coast starting to actually play Boyfriend carrying as I moved as quickly as I could towards them up John Street without flooding the entire city with my sweat. The End reminds me of walking around the Lower East Side in the morning, past the boho stuff and on to the bulk supermarkets and project buildings and stuff. Goodbye reminds me of leaving my friends’ apartment on the Upper West Side at around midnight and deciding to walk about thirty blocks south before getting the A back to Brooklyn, seeing as I had nothing else to do in the foreseeable future. Summer Mood reminds me of coming home.

The whole thing’s poisoned with these specific memories, and obviously just with general nostalgia. But that’s what Best Coast is for. The reverb’s there, over everything, the musical equivalent of sepia. The evening sun’s on the cover and in the tinges of dusk sadness in the chords of stuff like Our Deal. The lyrics are simple and broad. I love you. I miss you. I am sad. I am mad at you. You’re not going to have a revelation of self listening to the inside of Bethany Cosentino’s brain, but because it’s so simple, it’s difficult not to relate. Smoking weed helps too, in that regard, but my guess is it’s not necessary.

Sometimes the world view’s so narrow it’s legitimately funny. “I lost my job, I miss my mom, I wish my cat could talk.” “And nothing makes me happy, not even TV or a bunch of weed.” “I pick up the phone, I want to talk, about my day, it really sucked.” But it’s the tone of voice, the candour, the simple arrangements under them, that make it so endearing. It’s like a snot-nosed Gen X kid doing an early Motown covers album in her garage with a book of basic chords and a friend who has pretty much just learned the drums because the string instruments have been bagsied.

Internet Bethany seems annoying. But you can unfollow. You can’t escape from the fact that the first few chords in a song can change your entire mood for half an hour. Coincidence gave me the chance to get to know this album when it was sunny and I had nothing to do but walk around new parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan and bop to music that seemed like it would be good to walk around to. I’m pretty confident I’d be a big fan anyway – the singles that came out before Crazy For You got pretty heavy play. And, y’know, my highs are high, my lows are low. But the way it did happen will make sure both the songs and, in that weird way that songs connect to specific irrelevant snapshots of time, the memories too are permanently embedded in my normally fairly what-have-you-done-for-me-lately brain.

Best Coast – Goodbye

The Year. 3. At the end of the day, god damn it, I’m killing this shit.

3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy [US]

Not reviewing this again. If you want that, click here and here.

Instead I will list five of my favourite ridiculous lyrical moments on this album:

– “Fuck SNL and the whole cast/Tell ’em Yeezy said they can kiss my whole ass/More specifically they can kiss my asshole/I’m an asshole? You niggas got jugs.”
-“Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh?/I put the pussy in a sarcophagus.”
– “She found the pictures in my email/I sent this bitch a picture of my dick/I don’t know what it is with females/But I’m not too good at that shit.”
– “I need more drinks and less lights/And that American Apparel girl in just tights/She told the director she tryna get in a school/He said ‘take them glasses off and get in the pool'”
– “DJs need to listen to the models/You ain’t got no fuckin’ Yeezy in your Serrato?”

…and then say that I don’t like this album because it’s funny or a novelty, but because it’s great.

Kanye West – Power

The Year. 4. And the No campaign in my head, taking over.

4. So Cow – Meaningless Friendly [IRL]

In interviews when he was in The Smiths, desperately concerned with creating an image, Morrissey used to talk about happy songs with sad lyrics. Most of what So Cow plays has a major key vibe, traced directly from antecedents in 90s indie rock, 80s and 70s power pop and even 60s garage rock. And most of So Cow sings has a sense of sadness, struggle or misunderstanding to it. There’s plenty of humour too, both that which comes from the aforemnetioned juxtaposition, like singing a break-up song with a singalong chorus about the billboard that overlooked it (Moon Geun Yeung), and that which is just patently ridiculous, like singing about the amount of Helens on your street (One Hundred Helens).

That’s the story of Meaningless Friendly. A collection of fun, catchy, garage pop with words that make you laugh a little and cry a little. Everything sounds a bit bigger and a bit better than it did before, to the extent that one negative review even claiming that it “reeks of over production”. It obviously doesn’t. But it’s more consistent, louder than anything that came before, and album that feels like it’s, as Cloud Nothings put it, made with an audience in mind. It’s as ambitious as you can get within the confines of still sounding like you’re just having fun.

The most obvious example of this is International Waters, which is the longest song on the album by about three and a half minutes. It’s an epic. It starts with a fisherman, “off out with my net”. Trying to feed his family. Things start going well, and soon get out of hand. Buys a van. Sells his fish in the marketplace. Gets a bigger boat. Tries to run for mayor. Van breaks down. Starts drinking a lot. It’s hard not to laugh at that moment, the turn, where the guy takes the illogical leap of running for mayor, and inevitably has his life fall apart in front of him. It’s apparently a treatment of the insane Korean drive for success. It’s absurd, hilarious, and sounds a bit like The Who if The Who were from Galway and into the music people who weren’t quite The Who made in their garages after listening to The Who.

The short songs (which is obviously every other song) are just as endearing, if a little less spellbinding. I’ve Got A Horrible Feeling is a Television Personalities-type song about not falling in love “in rural night clubs that smell of chips”. Random Girls has an attention deficient riff and no time for anything not devoted to the overall goal of being the catchiest song in the room. The Tony Keady Affair is about the time Galway hurler Tony Keady got suspended for a year, ruining Galway’s chances in the All-Ireland, while So Cow in short trousers fails to impress a girl with Gorbachev on TV in the background. Hell is in Korean, not gonna guess what it’s about.

The last album was a compilation of years of recording. It was effectively a greatest hits. It was going to be difficult to match on what will be effectively the “sophomore” record to a lot of people. But how could you doubt? It’s better than the self-titled, more together (obviously), but also more self-confident and more sonically mature. It’s got weird chord changes coming out of its ears and, as referenced previously, lyrical matter that it’s probably fair to call “off-beat” or even “quirky” (and at times “local colour”). It’s sadder, but it’s more fun. It really does feel like an artist hitting that purple patch where they couldn’t avoid putting out great music if they wanted to.

Video from a show at South Street Seaport in New York, featuring me in the crowd, if you know what I look like, and the So Cow concept album about Tuam, Co. Galway.

So Cow – Random Girls

Quompilation interviews

It’s been a while, but I’m getting back to doing what I love the most – very long interviews with Irish bands. Doing what will hopefully turn out to be a new one every day this week for Totally Dublin, each with a band that features on the Quompilation.

Started today with Cloud Castle Lake. Check it out.

Ancient Kids

I never do this – maybe twice ever – but if a member of Sunset Rubdown doing his own emailing around sees fit to include you in his promo push, you have to oblige.

Ancient Kids is Jordan Robson Cramer, who’s in (Hall of Famers) Sunset Rubdown and used to be in Miracle Fortress. Also in his band, another former member of Miracle Fortress, and Jamie Thompson, who was in Islands and (Hall of Famers) The Unicorns. That’s the kind of line-up that makes you go “hey, yeah, maybe I will download this album for free or pay what I want from their site, where it was released today.”

So go do it.

Ancient Kids – Odd City

The Year. 5. My lover’s a carnivore, her body’s in ivy casing.

5. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast [US]

Surfer Blood make fun, catchy, slackery guitar pop. They’re a musical version of one of those convenient evolutionary missing links, sitting as they do barely within the confines of 2008-9’s lots-of-reverb-and-sunglasses-indoors lo-fi style and also, more firmly, within that moment in 90s alt music, maybe crystallised mostly in recollection, when boom-buoyed suburban parents started buying their kids expensive equipment for their garage bands, leading to big guitar sounds, huge choruses made of gen. x world view and Weezer dominating MTV.

For a while, music as big-sounding as Surfer Blood would have been too self-confident, too marketable. But that style of ‘alternative’ fell out with nu-metal. It’s now the 10s, so the 90s are officially retro and fair game to be doused in reverb and refitted to purpose. You can start your album with a couple of power chords, sing your songs straight and basic to the ideal female ‘you’ and do guitar solos where you stamp on a pedal and step forward to the front of the stage (so long as they’re simple).

Surfer Blood are a school textbook quality example of what I once said of Squarehead – they’re a band for whom every song sounds like a shot at the best guitar pop they can possibly do. So it’s less about the peaks and troughs of the journey, though there are slower, more ‘atmospheric’ songs, and more about how close to perfection each individual song gets. Swim, the song everyone will have heard if they’ve heard any, is the best effort in those terms. If the storyboard of a song goes ‘hook -> second hook -> bossa part -> third hook -> rock out -> first hook -> second hook’ you’re in pretty good stead in terms of keeping listener attention, and with a riff like something off Ultimate Guitar God Collection, Swim’s about as close to an unadulterated head bang as you’re going to get without studio compression fizzing your ear off.

There are no weird chords, or turns that don’t sound they’re exactly what should have happened to the previous part at that specific time. It could be any of the songs that’s left in your head later in the day, or most importantly, in the morning when you wake up before you can figure out what it actually is. The only drawbacks are stupid, throwaway things like that line about “TWIN PEAKS AND DAVID LYNCH, SAT ON YOUR COUCH IN SYRACUSE”, as if there was absolutely nothing else but namedropping the cred-loaded guy who directed the show you were watching that you could throw in to fill the metre.

As for the 2008-9 reverb-soaked lo-fi bit? Well, you can hear that in the reverb. And the lo-fi. Home-recorded, like obvious but slightly cleaner-cut precursors Vampire Weekend’s debut. In fact, Contra opening at number one in America seems like it might have had a lot to do with Surfer Blood’s deal with the nefarious Warner in the wake of Astro Coast. But so might the fact that more than half of these songs could’ve been lead singles. That’s not hyperbole. Floating Vibes, Swim, Take It Easy, Twin Peaks, Fast Jabroni and Catholic Pagans. Investigate. Even if the major label devils somehow destroy the incredible melodic sense and song-building ability, there’ll always be this one, out of the blue and as good as you could imagine it.

A fun Pitchfork.tv session in an actual garage, and the closest I got to an interview.

Surfer Blood – Catholic Pagans