by John M. Ellison IV
To tell you the story of a 4 piece punk band who’s trials and tribulations are what great epic’s are made of, A name like Pure Hell would be an understatement.
Pure Hell was formed in 1974 in Philadelphia, the band consisted of Kenny “Stinker” Gordon, Preston “Chip Wreck” Morris III, Kerry “Lenny Steel” Boles and Michael “Spider” Watts. These four were fans of bands such as The Mothers of Invention and Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper and other rock bands at the time. They bashed out a style that was miles from the expected Philly Soul sound, they were more interested in playing a loud, hard variant of there influences. The sound they were more akin to was 95 miles north in New York. It wasn’t long before the lure of the city convinced the four to trek to NYC.
Soon after arriving, the band found a supporter in Johnny Thunders. Johnny Thunders met Spider and offered to put them up at the New York Dolls loft. Managing the Dolls was future Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren. The Dolls in ‘75 had a mentorly presence over many up and coming groups in the scene. Bands and artists such as Patti Smith, Television and Blondie often gathered at the loft where they met and eventually shared bills with Pure Hell. While there peers aligned themselves with major labels like Sire and Arista, Pure Hell signed on to a management deal with Curtis Knight. Curtis being a former bandleader and who was instrumental in Jimi Hendrix’s success took on Pure Hell as being the next new breakthrough black rock phenom. Curtis tagged Pure Hell as “The World’s First All Black Punk Band” In late 1978, dramatic events such as the passing of Nancy Spungen. Sid Vicious who had used Pure Hell as a backing band during his New York residency was arrested. The tragic tale of Sid and Nancy ended the organized chaos of the punk scene.
Once in Europe, Pure Hell was greeted with the same level of excitement such as there contemporaries like The Clash. The buzz was due to Knight’s promotion skills. A fabricated quote printed in the UK’s Sounds magazine was “Hi we’re Pure Hell,we’re an all Black punk rock group from Philadelphia, and we’ve been playing punk for five years.” The band’s name was spread across giant London subway posters alongside total opposite acts such as Dolly Parton, The Kinks and WAR. Also to mentioned, the groups had the same PR firm at the time.
Well of course, at this point of the article, you have to expect something go wrong. While in Holland, the relationship between Pure Hell and Curtis Knight began to sour. Knight began to wield too much control over the quartet. At the end of the Netherlands tour, King threatened to interrupt the remainder of the show dates. Allegedly, the cancellation was Curtis’s jealousy over a Dutch girl that “Stinker” was pursuing. Kind of cliche,huh?
Before continuing on to the U.K., the band played a gig in L.A. at the Masque with the Dead Boys, the Cramps and the Germs. This show was noted for Stiv Bators hanging himself from the lights in order to top Pure Hell’s performance. Luckily, they got Stiv down.
Back in the U.K. the papers called Pure Hell “a minor triumph” and compared Stinker’s stage act to that of David Johansen and Mick Jagger and guitarist “Chip Wreck” Morris’s skills to that of Knight’s old band mate Jimi Hendrix. During this tour, a single that featured a cover of the Nancy Sinatra classic “These Boots Were Made For Walkin’” and backed with “No Rules.” This single charted in several publications and Knight took the band into a studio to record their full length classic, “Noise Addiction” As with the single, Curtis Knight had hoped to release the album on his own label, a move that may have hindered Pure Hell’s success on a larger scale.
At a party thrown in London, Knight molested an under aged fan. This incident was the final straw in the already tense relationship between the band and Knight. On the day they were due to fly back to the U.S., the band went into hiding. Knight was left at the airport and forced to fly back on his own. Downside is that, Curtis took the master tapes of Noise Addiction.
Roy Fisher, who had helped arrange Pure Hell’s European tour, took over management, and immediately sent the band back into the studio. Produced by Tony McPhee of underground legends the Groundhogs— whom Fisher had once managed—the three new songs did not attempt to recapture the recordings they had made with Knight. “[That] was old stuff,” Gordon says. “We were so young when we recorded them.” Despite their efforts for a fresh, new start, these tracks failed to capture interest. Upon their return to New York City, they played one of their final gigs at the famed Max’s Kansas City with old cohort Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys joining them on stage. By 1980, the band w as finished.
But then, in 1986 Spider and Gordon reformed “Pure Hell.” While Gordon had moved on to new projects— collaborating with the Buggle’s Bruce Woolley, among others— Spider had tried to keep Pure Hell ’s name alive, at one point Spider got an offer from legendary bassist Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy and advocate punk rock to manage the band. When Spider relocated to California and urged Gordon to join him, Pure Hell was reborn.
Initially joined by original members Chip Wreck and Lenny Steel, the band has since made recordings with musicians like Lemmy from Motorhead, Mick Cripps of L.A. Guns and Charlie Clouser, formerly of Nine Inch Nails.
Mike Schneider, owner of the Connecticut-based label Welfare Records, heard of Pure Hell’s well, pure Hell and struggles regarding the band and releasing an album In 2004, when Schneider caught word that Curtis Knight had passed away and that his widow was having an estate sale. Schneider high tailed it from his Haverhill, Massachusetts, to the Bronx, where he found and scooped up the legendary master tapes of Pure Hell’s “Noise Addiction.” Schneider, tracked down the surviving members (sadly, Spider passed on in 2002), to discuss the release of the legendary album. In 2005, the album was re-mastered and remixed and re-introduced the rock world to there cool uncles that lost touch over a bad family argument.
Pure Hell was recently spotted doing an awesome set at the 2009 Afro-Punk Gathering in Brooklyn,NY. I spoke with bassist Lenny Steel for paving the way for what we know as Punk Rock and had one of those conversations that charged me up and made me want to kick out the jams.
Update I’ve just spoke with Lenny Steel and they’re a lot of projects planned for Pure Hell for 2010. Keep an eye out.
One Drop Theory: How Free Jazz is the Great Grandfather of Punk Rock part one by John M. Ellison IV
Due to colonization, a lot of minorities have a mixed ancestry. We all do in some way or another. My family is rooted in Virginia. I’m a genetic mash-up of Native American, Irish, British, etc. and more than likely some Caribbean roots. But, I prefer saying that I’m black because well…it makes sense. For example, if you mix a bunch of colored dyes together, you get a dark color which at a glance looks black. So, that’s why I say I’m black. Even with people that are “black” but of a mixed heritage, you would have some black families that had kids that were of a darker complexion and others that had more of a fair complexion and could pass for “white.”
Due to segregation and ignorance of genetics, the lighter skinned family members would usually drift off into the “white” world and be accepted as white without anyone knowing the truth of their lineage. Years ago, they had a rule called the “One Drop Rule” which meant anyone with a blood relative of Sub-Saharan African descent, meant they were black…no matter how European they looked.
You’re probably thinking “what does the one drop rule and genetics have to do with Free Jazz and the origins of Punk?” Well, here’s the answer. When I relate the one drop theory to music, I can show a link between Jazz and what we known as punk rock.
Awhile back, I guess around 2003, I found this article online titled “The Real Godfathers of Punk” by Jason Gross. The article stated that the proto-punk bands such as The MC5, The Stooges, The Velvet Underground and experimental musicians like Captain Beefheart had a common link regarding their musical influences. Those influences being Free Jazz artists Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman. I really enjoyed this article and I’ve decided to do some expansion on that.
To be clear, this is hardly meant to be a definitive article whatsoever. Look at this article more as a primer to the origins punk rock via free jazz and the beginnings of no wave/punk jazz and now Jazzcore.
The MC5 was a proto-punk band out of Detroit, Michigan started by Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith. Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith were two teenagers in Michigan who were both fans of blues, r&b, rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry and Instrumental Rock Bands like The Ventures. Kramer and Smith both enjoyed raw, aggressive music with speed and attitude. As a guitar duo, Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith were intrigued by the works of not just rock and roll, but jazz musicians such as Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra and the later Free Jazz compositions of John Coletrane. When doing gigs, their repertoire would include popular R&B songs from Ray Charles, Screaming Jay Hawkins, but would also play some Pharaoh Sanders and Sun Ra compositions also.
When listening to MC5‘s “Starship” off of the Kick Out The Jams album, you can hear a Sun Ra influence. Aside from quoting one of Sun Ra’s poems, you can hear MC5’s using spacey dissonance and playing some “way out” soloing that is quite reminiscent of Avant-Garde Jazz and quite progressive for the time being.
Aside from the horn work of Modal Jazz, take note that Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith were also deeply inspired by the avant-garde guitar playing of Sonny Sharrock; you can hear the influence on MC5 song “Black to Comm.”
On seminal Stooges album, “Funhouse”, This cult classic contains the Free Jazz “mind shag” L.A. Blues with way out sax by Steve McKay. L.A. Blues is very much like a Free Jazz workout with a mix of Sax, distorted guitars. In fact, Iggy Pop of Iggy and the Stooges is working on a Jazz album about French literature.
But, don’t get your hopes up for any psychedelic free jazz freak outs; Iggy stated it’s going to be a bit more of mellow affair.
Aside from noted influences of John Cage and Lamonte Young, Ornette Coleman was influential on The Velvet Underground. When in college, avid jazz fan and singer for the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, used to host a late night radio show on the college station that played Doo-Wop, R&B and Jazz. The show’s title was a reference to the Cecil Taylor piece, “Excursions on a Wobbly Rail.” Lou also said that “European Son” was the Velvet Underground attempt at trying to imitate Ornette Coleman’s famed horn style with guitars…uh, right? Listen for yourself and see what you think.
Also, a side note: Lou Reed used noted Ornette Coleman sideman Don Cherry, for his live shows.
Then, the dream opportunity of a jazz musician came, Lou Reed actually got the opportunity to play with Ornette Coleman! Lou Reed was invited made a guest appearance with Ornette and Prime Time at their live show at Avery Fisher Hall in New York in 1997. With Lou Reed is more or less the elder musical statesman nowadays. In an interesting twist, Loud decided to do “Satellite of Love” rather than the Ornette Coleman-inspired “European Son.” Figure that one out for yourself.
Now we have the Howlin’ Wolf-like vocals, Zappa’s high school and frequent collaborator and musical madman, Captain Beefheart. In this case, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band was a mixture of avant-garde and delta blues. Honestly, that sounds like American Gothic painted by Salvador Dali. Even the thought of Delta Blues and Avant-Garde sounds like Pizza and Ranch dressing, it sounds gross until you actually taste it. I mean, if the spastic bursts of freak out noise weren’t enough of a giveaway, the Captain’s mind melting sax playing was homage to Beefheart’s musical heroes, Coletrane, Sun Ra and Ayler; in some cases, Beefheart’s band The Magic Band sounded like they were trying to play those three artist’s styles simultaneously.
Now, with these four groups and artists who are ardent free jazz fans, you wonder how this relates to punk rock nowadays. Well, like my family tree, some of the genetic traits can be and are quite visible and some of those are not, but the same DNA still runs through us. So, here’s a brief list of the bands and their influence on Alternative Rock and Punk.
The Stooges/Iggy Pop
Influential Punk Band, The Ramones were ardent fans of The Stooges amongst other group. In fact, that’s how most of the band members connected. The guys bonded when they realized that they were only other guys in their neighborhood that not only heard of but also liked the The Stooges and The MC5.
When singer, poet and actor Henry Rollins was preparing to audition for legendary godfather’s of Hardcore, Black Flag for the vacant front man position, one of the members gave him a stack of Iggy Pop vinyl and told him to listen and copy what was heard. Also, Henry Rollins has stated he’s a fan of Free Jazz and also releases Avant-Garde Jazz re-issues via his publishing company and record label, 2.13.61.
Also, Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn mentioned how Free Jazz influenced him and his guitar playing. Ginn has stated that he was more inspired by the playing of Ornette Coleman than by other guitar players.
Thanks to John Peel’s pirate radio show in the UK, Captain Beefheart was exposed to a listening audience that included British punk pioneers such as John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer and Topper Headon, both of controversial British Punk band “The Clash.” All of the ones stated beforehand, have professed to being fans of Captain Beefheart’s early work such as Trout Mask Replica and Safe as Milk.
Seminal California Punk band The Minutemen were great fans of The Captain’s music and the jerky rhythms and disjointed guitars are proof of that. Journalist/Musician Michael Azzerad described early Minutemen as “Highly caffeinated Captain Beefheart running down James Brown tunes”
The Velvet Underground
Brian Eno said it best, Although The Velvet Underground didn’t sell many albums, the ones who did buy them started bands themselves. The sound of numerous indie rock, drone music, post-punk, shoe gazing can be traced back directly or indirectly be traced back to The Velvet Underground.
No Wave/Art Punk group Sonic Youth, Talking Heads, U2, Roxy Music have called The Velvet Underground an influence.
Along with the Stooges, The MC5’s loud, unabashed kick in the face sound influenced The Ramones and The Dictators could be heard in the newer “Garage Band Revival” bands of the 2000s.
The classic “Kick out the Jams” has been covered by Bad Brains (featuring Henry Rollins on vocals), Monster Magnet, The Dictators, Rage against the Machine, Blue Oyster Cult.
Legendary bassist Lemmy of Motorhead has stated there would be no Motorhead without The MC5.
This is merely the beginning of this ongoing article. There will be more postings and updates coming soon that cover No Wave, Jazz-Punk and Jazzcore.
10 years ago today , I got my first electric guitar…so, I guess it’s my 10 year anniversary for me and my guitar. At first, I didn’t take it seriously, y’know, just playing some bad riffs and doing what I thought was right but the tape shows I sounded like shit. I didn’t know I had to tune it at first…Once it was in tune, it made more sense. I’d play for hours and hours with new techniques that got the best out of my music and wrote some great songs together. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our ups and downs, I felt like giving up and we’d both go through changes, but we always make up and end up making great music together. I’m still playing that guitar.
Tech N9ne-K.O.D. review by John M. Ellison IV
Ever since around 2002, I’ve been a fan of Kansas City, MO rapper Tech N9ne. His album Absolute Power was released on my 18th birthday, and that album changed my perspective on rap. I’ve even referred to his music as “progressive rap” due to the eclectic nature and lyrical references. Aside from Steve Vai, Randy Rhodes and various guitarists in Heavy Metal, Tech’s speed rap technique was very influential on my wanting to play faster guitar. A common theme through a good amount of Tech’s albums are lust, destruction, frustration from the lack of acceptance of “mainstream” acceptance but succeeding in the end with a following that rivals his more commercial “counterparts”. Teamed with Krizz Kaliko, Prozak, King Gordy, Three Six Mafia, Sundae and many more Strange Music regulars
Tech’s new album K.O.D. (possibly an acronym for King of Darkness) is what I would label Goth-Rap at its finest. K.O.D. is a very cinematic album that has elements that’s plays almost like a radio drama; an aural film noir as it were. With a running theme of lust, loss, isolation, a listener would become just listening to an album, but would become enchanted by a journal of melancholy and woe without seeming whiny. Here are a few outstanding tracks that are anticipated Tech N9ne tracks, the “misunderstood”, the “club jams”, the “macabre” and the very hedonistic reminiscent of a modern version of original dirty rappers Blowfly and Rudy Ray Moore.
Demons feat Three Six Mafia (misunderstood)
Like Trapped in a Psycho’s Body, this is shedding light to the darker side of Tech N9ne. “Demons” is basically about the reckless activities that he constantly fights, but succumbs to.
Blacken the Sun (misunderstood)
His “flow” is a melodic rap that is reminiscent of Dave Draiman’s vocals of Chicago hard rock Disturbed. This is another track that expresses his frustration for being accused of being a “Devil”, “Weird” by critics.
Check Yo’ Temperature (Club Jam)
This is a track featuring rapper by the name of Sundae. Not that lyrically interesting, but infectious for club play.
B. Boy (Get buck/kick some ass)
Good production, with hard hitting drums that makes you want to “whip some ass” MMA-style or to get you psyched up to tear the club up
This is the modern Dirty Rap, 2 Live Crew party track that is the ode to Caligula-like hedonism. Like the title of the song suggests, this is a fairly cleverly written song about the animalistic “ready to screw” side of Tech N9ne, Irv Da Phenom and Krizz Kaliko and in actuality, most humans.
When it comes to it, I don’t just see Tech N9ne as a rapper. In some cases, I see him as a novelist that uses rap as a vehicle to express tales of lust, pain, indulgence, and all around voicing the thoughts that most wouldn’t admit to having. For someone new to Tech N9ne, I wouldn’t recommend them starting with this album. To get in the mindset of K.O.D., start with Everready: The Religion, Killer and then K.O.D. This album is totally worth it.
You can get K.O.D. and most of Tech N9ne’s back catalog on iTunes and can find K.O.D. in most retailers.
Mr. Sterile Assembly’s Bug My Ride review by John M. Ellison IV
I’ve recently got an album by New Zealand music collective Mr. Sterile Assembly. To me, Mr. Sterile Assembly is a punk band with training in jazz, but they play aggressive progressive rock.
To describe Mr. Sterile Assembly’s sound, imagine…
· Mr. Bungle with a New Zealand Accent,
· Korn doing Free Jazz,
· Slipknot during their Mate, Feed Kill, Repeat era,
· Primus with Stanley Clarke on Bass as well as Les Claypool.
· The Mothers of Invention’s indie rock grandkids
· The Anti-White Stripes
According to their Myspace page, Mr. Sterile Assembly is a power trio that consists of…
mr sterile [drums, vocals]
Chrissie Butler [bass, vocals]
Sarsha Douglas [2nd bass, vocals]
But included at one time the talents of…
Jeff Henderson, Dan Beban, Aaron Lloydd, Cara Conroy-Low, Dave Michael, Francesca Mountfort, Miles Climo, Jana Whitta, Elisa Kersley, Chris O’Conner, Vlada Plackic
I commend mr sterile for his agile drumming which would make most drummers and listener’s wrists cramp by listening. The bass playing of Chrissie Butler and Sarsha Douglas is astounding and puts bass playing into another perspective. This entire album takes me back to when I was younger, and when I heard about the music style we know as “Jungle/Drum and Bass.” Before hearing the actual genre, this is what I imagined “Drum and Bass” would sound like. So, I’ve been looking for an album like “Bug My Ride” for awhile.
The album listing consists of
Agents of the Sun
Bug My Ride
Good as Goldie
The tracks that caught my ear would have to be…
Agents of the Sun
For people that aren’t fans of proto-punk freak out noise, skip the first minute or two of Agents of the Sun. After the first couple of minutes, it comes together well. This song connects with final track on the album “Static”.
Bug My Ride
The title track “Bug my Ride” is a jazzy “drum and bass” chase scene composition with treated vocals.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for odd and changing time signatures.
Bottom line, I would recommend “Bug My Ride” for two kinds of people; rockers who are looking for something more complex but as intense as the usual hardcore punk fare and bassists and drummers looking for an album that puts their respected instruments in the forefront. For those who aren’t used to jazz, avant-garde or anything experimental, this might take a few listens to get used to. If you’re a punk or rocker looking to expand your horizons Mr. Sterile Assembly’s “Bug My Ride” is a good start.
Xenophanes by Omar Rodriguez Lopez
Review by John M. Ellison
It’s been awhile since I’ve heard some great guitar albums outside of the realm of Tony MacAlpine, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and all of the other virtuosos that I’m fond of. At first listen, I thought “this is a great guitar album.” But after repeated listening, I noticed there’s a lot more to it than just a “guitar album.” Lopez is reminiscent of Frank Zappa. In Lopez’s case, he’s a composer that is versatile in a variety of styles. Both composers used the guitar as a tool to communicate musical ideas but neither considered themselves “Guitar Gods.” In fact, Omar has stated that he “hates guitar.” Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is known for his work with bands such as “At the Drive In”, “The Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Quintet” and “The Mars Volta.” His 12th album Xenophanes is a Spanish language experimental rock/progressive rock album with fusion overtones.
This album is very reminiscent of Weather Report, Frank Zappa’s fusion era and in some cases Atheist’s “Elements” album.
This album has an amazing rhythm section comprised of Juan Alderete de la Pena on Bass, Thomas Pridgen on Drums, Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez on percussion and keyboards and Mark Aanderud featured on Additional Keyboards. This also features Ximena Sarinana on backing vocals. This band understands the art of blending virtuosity, songwriting and jamming. De la Pena’s slap bass and melodic fretless playing reminds me of Larry Graham and Les Claypool and at times reminiscent of Jaco Pastorious as well. Thomas Pridgen’s timing and amazing drumming makes even the oddest of time signatures seem effortless. Marcel and Mark’s keyboard work mixes melodic and synthesizer sounds that brings this band of virtuosos together like audio embroidery.
Every track on this album is great! Even thought the first track “Azoemia” is kind of minimal, it builds into something.
A few tracks that caught my ear were…
“Mundo De Ciegos” a heavy slap bass, odd time signature workout that sounds like the “pump up music” for two lab
technicians about to engage in fisticuffs over chemicals.
“Amarita Virosa” another odd time signature slap bass odyssey that reminds me of Les Claypool doing an intimate show at a Quinceañera.
“Desarraigo” This is one of the more atmospheric tracks. What caught me with Desarraigo would have to be the hooky melody. I could see this as a single.
With “Xenophanes” being in Spanish, this album proves that strong music transcends language barriers and really is a language of its own. Although I’m familiar with the work of At the Drive-In and The Mars Volta, this is the first time I’ve sat down to really listen and experience the compositional magic of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. You can find this album about anywhere, whether through his website, iTunes and now in the U.S. wherever great music is sold.
• Omar Rodríguez-López – producer, guitars, vocals
• Juan Alderete de la Peña – bass
• Thomas Pridgen – drums
• Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez – percussion, keyboards
• Mark Aanderud – additional keyboards
• Ximena Sariñana – backing vocals
Hey, I’m working on a ton of new articles. One as an addendum to “The Jazz-Punk Connection” article by Jason Gross, a few music reviews and some essays. I’m looking to update this site twice a week and Saturday if time permits.
by John M. Ellison IV
Mash-up: A mash up/blend bootleg remix is when an artist/remixer combines two or more vocal or instrumental tracks and fuses them together into a new track. The can be traced back to the audio experiments of Xenocrony by Frank Zappa and before that.
Video Game Music or “VGM”: VGM is the background music that’s heard in video games. Video game music was originally, based off of a few audio channels and based off of the sine wave of a synthesizer. But, with the development of gaming technology, sound and graphics have become a lot more sophisticated. As of recently, “VGM” has been gaining a following of its own. In fact, OCremix is a community of people that remix video game music. In most cases, the re-arrangements are done and are well received.
Washington, DC’s Tae K is a mash-up artist has compiled his VGM-driven rap remixes into the “Arcade Mixtape.” This isn’t a surprise, at some points gaming and hip-hop isn’t that far from each other. Using samples and music from Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Legend of Zelda and the Mega Man series he creates a fun and in some cases nostalgic atmosphere that combines some of rap’s coolest verses with 8 and 16-bit sine wave synthesizer sounds.
The tracks on this mix are…
01 Wu-Tang Clan – Da Mystery of Chessboxin TKRMX II
02 Busta Rhymes & Brand Nubian – Let’s Dance TKRMX
03 Beastie Boys – Triple Trouble TKRMX
04 Lil Wayne – A Milli TKRMX
05 T-Pain, Huey, Bow Wow – Pop Lock N Drop It TKRMX
06 Clipse – Mr. Me Too TKRMX II
07 50 Cent – Hustler’s Ambition TKRMX
08 Lupe Fiasco – I Gotcha TKRMX III
09 Blackalicious – Make You Feel That Way TKRMX
10 DR. WILY II [young jeezy - and then what TKRMX]
11 CHARGEMAN [kid sister - pronails TKRMX]
12 HARDMAN [t.i. - rubberband man]
13 FIREMAN [dead prez - hell yeah TKRMX]
14 SNAKEMAN [dmx - get it on the floor TKRMX]
15 BOSS [biggie - gimme the loot/sucidal thoughts/going back to cali]
16 50 Cent – Amusement Park TKRMX
17 Eminem, Lloyd Banks, 50 Cent – Warrior TKRMX
18 Fort Minor – Remember The Name TKRMX
19 Game – One Blood TKRMX II
20 Cee-lo & Timbaland – Call Me TKRMX
I really enjoyed track 15 entitled “BOSS.” “Boss” combines three boss themes of the Mega Man series with three verses from “Gimme the Loot”, “Suicidal Thoughts” and “Goin’ Back to Cali“by Notorious B.I.G. The best blend on this track is the one that features a verse from “Gimme the Loot.”
With this project, I see the potential of an insurgence of video game driven or “Chip tune” driven rap productions and video game driven pop. In fact, with songs like “Icebox” produced by Timbaland and with “Game Over” by Lil’ Flip using sounds from Pac-Man. Also in the rock/pop world, aside from “allegedly” borrowing from “If I Could Fly” by Joe Satriani, Viva La Vida is supposed to be inspired by music from the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. In retrospect, it’s already starting to happen.
The only downside about this is when it comes to the music used on this project, I noticed some of these tracks aren’t directly from the game themselves; some of these are remixes and not the original track. But, with the tracks that do use the original music. I noticed that they’re additional drum patterns and drum loops so the tracks can keep time with the vocal. The additional production work is simple, but glues the tracks together well. Aside from the remixed tracks that can be somewhat dodgy at times, for gamers, fans of mash-ups and hip-hop, this is worth the space on your MP3 player.
When listening to Leila Adu’s “Dark Joan,” one word describes the album, “theatrical.” At first listen, it sounds like the soundtrack to a sleeper indie film that ends up making it big within the first week of it’s release. Singer-Songwriter, Leila Adu reminds me of solo artists such as Nina Simone, Regina Spektor, Bjork and Tori Amos. “Dark Joan” is produced by Steve Albini and for those who aren’t aware, he is a veteran producer, journalist and musician. Some of his first notable work is the Chicago Post-Punk/Noise Rock drum machine driven band Big Black, Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion, the Nirvana classic “In Utero” and countless other projects but this is an interesting departure from his recordings in rock. In this case, “Dark Joan” is a stripped down album that’s predominately keyboard, Leila’s vocals and natural room ambiance. Albini’s familiar recording techniques are still heard. For example, the usage of “analog hiss” adds a subtle organic texture giving “Dark Joan” the feeling that you’re hearing the album being recorded at that exact moment in front of you.
“Helfire” is the a capella opener that displays Leila Adu’s haunting operatic vocals.
I noticed throughout the album that her keyboard technique is about conveying a mood to complement the lyrics. For example, on “Ode to the Unknown Factory Worker” Leila’s usage of distorted electric keyboard (possibly a Fender Rhodes or a patch that emulates it) accentuates the subject matter of equality and mutual respect by giving it more of an edge. Her control of dissonance, usage of diminished chords and choice of minor key melodies is quite complementary to lyrics that invoke a certain intensity equally displayed in other compositions such as “Wolfmen,” the title track and the haunting anti-individualism number “A Moment of Peace.”
Within seven tracks, Leila Adu takes you on an aural journey that most progressive rock albums could only attempt to do. I see this album as a future classic.
“Dark Joan” will be released November 9th, 2009. Pick it up and enjoy the journey.
John M. Ellison IV
by John M. Ellison IV
November 1st, 2009…it’s the day after Halloween; Catholics recognize it as All Saints Day but it’s also they day that the Afro-Punk Tour blew the roof off of “The Black Cat” in Washington, D.C. This tour is one of those events that will change your perspective on music. For those who aren’t aware of Afro-Punk, this is the time to explain. Afro-Punk originally started out as a documentary directed by James Spooner. The focus of the film was on the experiences of black people in punk and alternative rock bands and of people who are black and apart of the scene. The film gained rave reviews. This film also has a website that in some ways surpassed the success of the film. I’ve been a part of the website since 2003. In fact, it’s where I met who I affectionately call the missus and my partner in crime. Music lovers of the D.C. area flooded the notable venue!
The line curled around the block. With guerrilla marketing tactics promotion was by Afro-Punk members including myself. Thanks to these DIY marketing skills, true music lovers came out to support the likes of bands such as American Fangs, The Smyrk, CX Kidtronix/Krak Attak, Living Colour and Saul Williams as Niggy Tardust.
Since our long tenure with the site, the missus and I were offered tickets for the Washington, D.C. stop on the Afro-Punk tour. I ran into some of the D.C. members of Afro-Punk, such as fellow musician “PolariVibez”, photographer “W.M. Dekooning”, “C” and many others who although weren’t on the board, did fit the spirit of the site. It was a fun evening that included bands such as…
Well, the missus and I got to The Black Cat late so we missed American Fangs. But, we got there in time for The Smyrk. Regarding The Smyrk, they’re a strong live band, the lead singer’s voice was reminiscent of Patrick Stump of Fallout Boy (that’s not a jab; I really think Stump has a decent voice). The songs had an interesting theme. The songs made reference from various subjects, such when The Joker from Batman killed Jason Todd (the second Robin) to Jim Carey’s lead character from Liar, Liar. Also, they worked in “Hypnotize” by Notorious B.I.G.
After the brief intermission, CX Kidtronix started his set. CX Kidtronix reminded me of Afrika Bambaataa if he evolved from electro to gabber. When CX is with Tchaka, they form the hip-hop electro-punk rap duo Krak Attak. The duo exuded great energy, after a 15 minute set.
In the midst of the intermission, I was interviewed by a young woman by the name of Whitney who was with Afro-Punk. We spoke and then I realized that she was interviewing me. Oddly enough I noticed she didn’t have a tape recorded or any kind of recording device…man, I hope she doesn’t take some of the stuff that I said out of context or not remember it accurately.
After the “conversation” between Polarivibez and I spoke briefly. The sound of guitar, drums and bass tuning up alerted us that Living Colour was getting ready to rock out. To get it out of the way, Living Colour started out with Cult of Personality and material from “Vivid”, “Time’s Up” Living Colour’s set was pretty good, even though there were a few tech errors. What seemed odd to me was the fact that Living Colour wasn’t the closing act. Go figure.
Well, the closer was Saul Williams as Niggy Tardust. I’m not going to lie, I see the playfulness of the name, but I’m not really feeling it. Aside from the name, three words describe the band live…GREAT FUCKING BAND. Niggy Tardust’s set was a mix of spoken word, industrial, glam, electronic and punk fury, Niggy Tardust featuring DJ CX Kidtronix on sampler and turntable, Davin on guitar, Kwame on keyboards and Saul Williams as Niggy Tardust on vocals.
The maniacal energy of this ensemble was something to experience. CX’s industrial samples work and Kwame’s low bass was reminiscent of “Gothic Crunk.” I didn’t know whether to brood or throw them ‘bows as they would say. Imagine, Ministry backing up Funkadelic, Sun Ra working with Nine Inch Nails…you get the idea. Aside from their original, the band also has covers in their repertoire, Tr(n)igger, a reworking of Welcome to the Terrordome by Public Enemy and their cover of Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2. I’m still speechless about this performance. Seriously, the album is amazing. BUY IT! If they’re coming to town, GET TICKETS!