Friday, March 9, 2012

Electric Relaxation: What I'm Listening To

Here's what's been playing in my ears the past month.

Yeah I'm still antsy for Big K.R.I.T.'s proper debut album but until Live From the Underground drops, we have his new mixtape "4 Eva N a Day" and I have to say that KRIT is quite simply giving us quality after two straight mixtapes of heat (Krit Wuz Here and Return of 4eva)

It's a concept mixtape taking you through a day and the emotions you feel. One thing KRIT does better than most new rappers now is give you his soul and make you relate to his songs. He doesn't waste verses, doesn't waste his self-produced beats and the end result is quality. Just looking at the cover, it's the complex of most people caught between the spiritual and secular.

My favorite jams so far are "1986", "Me and My Old School" (reminds me a lot of "Rotation" off R4E) and "Temptation". KRIT has expanded on his sound with more instrumentation and deeper tales from the heart and it's going to stick to your ribs. Just listen to "Red Eye" and imagine being there with a relationship that at its breaking point but also admitting your role in it.

I feel like "Handwriting" is going to be a song we remember as we wait for the album. KRIT put out all his label pains and frustration with not getting more support from Def Jam but it wasn't just anger. It was tinged with fear of not making it and it's that vulnerability that has made KRIT so endearing to me and a lot of other folks. He's not afraid to put his heart on his sleeve but he's also giving you a wide range of emotions and musical backgrounds to share with him.

I'm literally getting the shakes awaiting my next full listen. I just upped to the iPod so I can hear it through my car speakers. As time passes, I'll have more to say on it as it grows and songs hit me in diff. moods.

This should be called "What happens when you put three unique artists in a room and let them show their creativity." Seems like every 3-4 years, Damon Albarn and Gorillaz. come out with a song that sounds like nothing on the radio. "Do Ya Thing" is no different.

That funky, bouncy rhythm that drives the song makes me want to dance and while I'm excited to hear James Murphy's few words singing the hook - his first feature since disbanding LCD Soundsystem, this is all about the music and Andre 3000's 2nd straight verse of destruction!

"He don't rap enough. But ya'll rap a lot, you need to wrap it up. You ain't Scarface, you ain't Willie D, you ain't Bushwick, you ain't killin me"......(just a quick sample of 3000's controlled chaos!)

Now THAT is how you ride a beat and make a fun verse that goes all over the place (Blacks not playing baseball, him not rapping all the time, referencing hip hop legends, just off the top). But this song is just pure fun and I imagine it had to be fun in the studio cause I get happy every time I hear it and I gotta do what the song says do.

(There's also a 13 minute version on the Gorillaz' website that's even crazier with Andre going off and Damon Albarn/James Murphy following him musically. One take of spontaneous energy. Try to sit still, I dare you.)

College - A Real Hero

I finally got to watch Drive a few weeks ago and this song has stayed in my head. It not only carries the movie at different spots, it sets the mood for driving late at night. I feel like I have to be in my car or have the lights in my house off to appreciate the essence of this.

It sounds like something out of the 1980's and it gives you the same epic feel you'd imagine in the end credits of Miami Vice, Karate Kid, Top Gun or riding around Grand Theft Auto: Vice City at night. Ironically, I just read the band's Wiki page and that's exactly what they were going for.

I love how it's perfect mood music. Those synths drive the music, the words sound so airy. It's beautiful to me.

We lost a musical pioneer last year in Gil Scott Heron and his music not only had a profound impact on rap but Black culture. I was sad because I kept saying I was going to listen to more of his music after being turned on to several samples and I've fought to honor that promise. I dug into more songs after he passed and I wanted to keep digging. I got my hands on two of his classic albums from the 1970's and I feel like I'll be listening to these for a while.

Pieces of a Man has "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and "Home is Where the Hatred Is" but also shows you that Heron and collaborator Brian Jackson had great musical ears and Heron had a solid voice that conveyed his simple, yet powerful messages. It's almost like jazz to me.

Winter in America is definitely a bit more musically stunning and bleaker lyrically. From the opening and closing notes of "Peace Go With You, Brother" to the funky "The Bottle" (a lament on alcoholism's effects) and political commentary of "H20Gate Blues" and more in between, it's a capsule of America at the time.

Hearing this made me want to sit back and absorb it all in one sitting. It's beautiful, it's passionate, it's earnest and it's in your face. Gil Scott Heron does NOT get enough credit for his singing and musicianship. I encourage you to listen and appreciate his voice and how his words still speak to us even though his body is gone.

I'm a big fan of The Doors in terms of what they represent in rock, being from Los Angeles and seeking inspiration from one of my favorite poets, William Blake. "Break on Through" has long been one of my anthems because it takes from Blake's concept of going beyond convention.

So I decided to listen to their debut album since I figure between that song and Light My Fire, I'd see more. Well I was a bit disappointed. Consider that I've listened to great debut albums of that era from Jimi Hendrix and the MC5 and those albums overwhelmed me sonically and energetically.

I knew that the Doors would have more lyrically to offer and I loved the bluesy feel of a few songs. But overall, it felt like more of a showcase for Jim Morrison and his lyricism. "Alabama Song" and "The Crystal Ship" were great and I liked the feel of "End of the Night" but overall, I got distracted by things and I kept procrastinating on finishing it. I love how they used the piano/organ to great effect without a bass but my attention wasn't as focused as when I heard MC5's sonic assault for the first time.

Maybe my issue was the sound quality not being up to snuff. I found the 40th anniversary edition on Spotify that sounds better so I'll give it another listen. But besides my favorite songs on first glance, I may have to admit that as great as The Doors are, they are better in small doses and in the right mood. Yet I'm open to change my mind.

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