MCs (EPISODE h)

Cory’s post about MCs started me thinking… and thinking about how much hip-hop I’ve been listening to this fall. From my ears, commenting on / adding to his list:

Black Thought: Author of most of the Roots’ rhymes, I hold a high respect for Black Thought. That his flow ties together the Roots’ party vibe (especially live) and some thought-provoking, consciousness-raising metaphorical work – along with some great hooks (see “Adrenaline!”) – reveals a dedicated street poet. Plus, the Roots are highest in my hip-hop listening rotation; that tells me something.

Special J & J. Guevara: This team fronts 2 Skinnee J’s with verve and spice. Special brings his brains to bear on deep and deftly pronounced metaphorical material, turning lyrical tricks like you won’t believe until you hear them. If I was choosing sides for a sandlot battle-rhyme, I’d pick Special over Eminem any afternoon. J. Guevara is the funky party-starter. Together, they are the most underrated MCs I can think of.

Gift of Gab: Cory’s “Honorable Mention” from Blackalicious is definitely on my list; just listen to Blazing Arrow. His work (and that of partner Chief Xcel) speaks for itself. Imaginative, free, inspired, inspiring.

Felix & Muad’dib (Heiruspecs): Heiruspecs are a local (St. Paul) crew; Felix and Muad-dib handle the mic work on their record A Tiger Dancing. These are underdog cats who bring their A-game to the record, and to their shows, consistently. Highly recommended for everyone – not just heads.

Favorite MCs of all time

These are my favorite MCs ever and why:

Kanye West: although he doesn’t floor me with his rapping skills, I am a big big fan of his beat production and most importantly I enjoy that he doesn’t take himself too seriously or talk about killing people or anything. He’s somewhere in between KRS One and Dr. Dre, and I pretty much just really like his sense of humor and the way he can write a hook. “Jesus Walks” is one of my all-time favorite rap songs ever for this reason.

Blackstar (Mos Def/Talib Kweli): These two are the epitome of what hip-hop is supposed to be all about, a uniting force that focuses on equality and togetherness. Mos Def’s voice and delivery is frankly just badass, it just seems to pour out of him. Talib’s delivery is a little more herky-jerky but it gives him character and also he has some of these best wordplay and use of metaphors and similes I can think of. I enjoy them both as solo MCs but I love them best when they are together. The best alliance in hip-hop (whooa-oooh!)

Eminem: Although he doesn’t always rap about things I can relate to, the biggest reason I like Eminem is because he’s got the most sincere, honest and caustic style ever. I think he is arguably the best MC ever, and he’s one of the only MCs that gives me the chills when I am listening to him because of how harsh his lyrics are and how totally badass it sounds.

Chali 2Na of Jurassic 5: I like him a ton not only because of his voice and because of the fact that he always says “Yo” in a super deep voice right before he starts rapping, but most impressive is the way his words flow out in a constant stream and he hits the syllable right on, keeping a steady rhythm with the way he accents his rhyme. Awesome.

The Streets (Mike Skinner): I almost wouldn’t really call Mike a rapper, since his music is more like some sort of contemporary “geezer” poetry over some very very unique beats. However, he is an excellent storyteller and I always find myself paying close attention the plot he lays out in a song. Also, a lot of his songs are about the things that most guys my age go through: girlfriend stuff, getting too wasted all the time, hanging out with your best guy friends, trying to have as decadent of time as possible, etc. Plus, the music he composes is awesome.

Honorable mentions go to Jay-Z and Nas, but they kind of cancelled each other out nyuk nyuk nyuk and also Blackalicious although I don’t know them well enough to put them at the top quite yet

All for now-
Cory Alan

HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB In Your Garage

On the radio the other night I heard a second track from U2’s new album; “All Because of You.” Like “Vertigo,” it sounds like the band wanted a pseudo-garage-y, young, energetic sound – they roughed up their writing a bit, and played dirty but mixed it down slick (as necessary for radio play). It was OK, in an “I feel I should like it – it’s new U2, after all…” sort of way.

But the DJ followed it by spinning Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”, destroying whatever appreciation for “All Because of You” I’d accumulated pseudo-consciously. Faced with a band that made a truly great record out of their garages, How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb was revealed as an under-thought, overprocessed pop album; above-average radio fare but nothing more. If you are interested in a real “Vertigo”-named song, spin the Libertines’ Up The Bracket.

COURTNEY YASMINEH at the FINE LINE, MPLS, 23 NOV 04 and "SUFI LINE"

Local (as in Minnetonka-grown, Wayzata-living, lake-dwelling local) songwriter Courtney Yasmineh wrestles with two driving forces through her album “Sufi Line”: a colorful, brash personality, and an incredible backing band. Courtney grew up at WCC, and we met when she stopped in a few weeks ago to put up some posters for her CD release show. After the meeting, I wore a Sufi Line temporary tatoo on the inside of my wrist for a week; she must have made an impression on me. She speaks her thoughts unapologetically, in person and in music. There’s a playful but deep sensual presence, coupled with a complex spiritual history, and her voice tiptoes the line between being moving and discomforting, finally falling on the side of motion.

On and off, I’ve listened to “Sufi Line” for about a month. The geograpy of the album and of the show last Tuesday reinforce each other with similar themes and execution. When stretching outside of the self lyrically, exploring smoky gospel territory musically, Courtney is unstoppable. Slow-burners like “Nehemiah” and “Survival Time” find songwriter and band meshing over rich writing and playing, unified in a singular, distinctive aesthetic voice. At other times, in poppier and lyrically more self-absorbed moments, only the backing band saves Yasmineh from being a very average singer/songwriter – the kind found in coffeeshops everywhere at 8 on Saturday nights. The balance tips towards the former, and I count myself a Courtney fan, but I hope next time she’ll boil 1/4 of her material off, for a more concentrated mix.

Having mentioned the “boiling” process I see that it’s a maxim I’d stress for everybody; those who live it usually make the greatest art. I try to apply it to myself constantly.

Watching the band at Courtney’s CD release show was plain fun – Jeff on keys (from local heroes Honeydogs) plafully changing tent-revivalist chords into avant-garde explosions, drums comfortably rock-steady and textured like the devil, and guitar playing that reminded me of JV‘s Scott Solter and the new Wilco guy (Nels Klien). To hear these guys bleed the songs out in the luxurious tube tone of vintage amps and keys was a downtown, late-night, bar-closing blessing.

In the middle of her set, the band took a break and Courtney played one of her old tunes, a rambling “autobiographical” ballad about her tortured marriage to Bob Dylan in 1978. I caught myself thinking “This song is for Courtney what “Was I In Bon Jovi For A Second?” is to me”; beyond fact-or-fiction, how much of our past is imagined? And how much does it matter?

Fall and Winter Months

The next few weeks are going to be pretty intense.  They will include (in chronological order) these things:  resigning from my job, getting a visit from Jaimie Tucci, hanging out with Matt Wisecarver, going on a cruise, and packing up and heading back to Nebraska for real.  Musically, this means a couple different things (I am sure I could ramble on about this n’ that, but musical topics are what this blog is about…).  First, there will be a definite reunion between Jaimie and me.  Hopefully also between Annie, Jaimie and me.  Even better would be Annie, Jaimie, Eric and me.  All together playing music on keyboards, guitars, basses, cellos, and such.  The absolute best combo would also include Howie, but he told me he’s got a lot more snow-shoveling to do before he’s allowed to come back to Nebraska for good, whatever THAT means. 

And, I have a new goal when it comes to music.  I mean, relatively new, since this summer sometime I guess.  I used to want to make it big, or at least make it big enough to be able to have music as a low-paying job that I could live on, but now I have a better idea that involves a lot less stress about “the biz.”  Talking about “making it” in music sucks.  Side note, I know, but worrying about things like money and exposure and image and selling yourself is an awful but usually necessary thing to worry about when it comes to “making it.”  I digress, but my new goal in music is to make the most beautiful music possible.  “Duh,” you might be thinking, but I’m not talking about catchiness and sing-along-ability or anything like that, although of course if those things are included, that’s fine.  But I want the main goal to create a wonderful sound, and I want the sound to be so wonderful that if no one ever heard us play besides ourselves, we wouldn’t care because we’d be so into what we were doing, it would be more than good enough for us.  It may seem obvious, like “of course that’s what it’s all about,” but we’ve gotten so far away from that, it’s too bad.  I apologize if this overlaps with my first blog too much, but it was something on my mind.

Sick bro!

TRAVELLING MUSIC

Here’s a list of the music I listened to in the car over Thanksgiving weekend. Better than trying to think up an arbitrary top-10 list, it gives you a snapshot of some of the things I’m tuned in to. Identifiable trends: Minneapolis bands, jazz, New York-scene rock, hip-hop.

MPLS->Crete
Heiruspecs “A Tiger Dancing”
John Coltrane “Giant Steps”
John Vanderslice – mix
Bright Eyes “LIFTED or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground”
JV All*stars “Distance”
Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”
Olympic Hopefuls “The Fuses Refuse to Burn”
The Roots “Things Fall Apart”

Crete->MPLS
Dredg “el Cielo”
A Is Jump “My Ice-Fingered Ghost”
Buddy Holly – mix of early songs
Interpol “Turn on the Bright Lights”
Joel Raney “Celebrate the Season” (WCC’s Xmas Cantata – I am the orchestra drummer)
Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”
The Who “Who’s Next”
The Walkmen “Bows and Arrows”

TAPESTRY on LAKE ST, "SHOEBOB'S KICKOFF" – DOWNTOWN WAYZATA MN, 13 NOV 04

Tapestry is WCC‘s band; I’m a more-or-less official member singing, strumming, and playing percussion as needed. We played a big gig on a Saturday night a couple weeks ago in downtown Wayzata to kick off IOCP‘s fundraising drive for their work to house homeless people. Shoebob is the catalyst of it all; http://www.bobssleepout.com.

Sitting in on drums for a full set on just a week’s notice was a struggle in terms of getting caught up on material, but an absolute joy also. There are not enough drums in our lives, certainly not in mine. We moved away from our Sunday morning music, covering things like “I’m a Believer,” “Mustang Sally,” “Your Momma Don’t Dance…,” and a Dixie Chicks song I clicked off at punk-rock tempo. Tapestry uses an electronic drum set, which is new to me. It makes a really professional sound when you play steady, but has some idosyncracies about the hi-hat pedal and lackes the feel of a real kit. Not that I would complain about rocking the beats for about 2000 people in downtown Wayzata (even KARE 11 news, the local NBC affiliate, was there). After the set Shoebob spoke, along with our Rep Jim Ramstad (proudly, one of the Shays Handful) and Corey Koskie of the Twins.

After the gig came the actual sleepout – an act of solidarity with our area’s homeless people as well as a fundraiser for IOCP. Six HS students from WCC’s youth group joined me, as well as several families, for a chilly night out in tents and sleeping bags in front of the church. IOCP estimated over 600 people were sleeping out in different places around town as part of the effort. There is something spiritually purifying about going through a physical trial like that – a cleansing – whether one has an emotional experience or not. That the time has been given to a cause, and that it has not been easy to endure, makes it meaningful.

BAY WINDOW REFLECTIONS from the DIMLY LIT ROOM

When I left Nebraska for Ghana, West Africa in October 03 I knew Cory and Jaimie were going to keep playing music while I was gone. That thought was a little discomforting, but still good – Shacker was becoming, and has become, a decentralized band. Cory and James played some great shows without me. Going further in that direction, by the end of “The Dimly Lit Room” I could play my favorite Shacker songs by myself (and still do) – but I’ve skipped ahead.

After three months of seperate paths, I came home on New Year’s Eve and heard about Annie. Unsure at first, after I heard what she was doing with her cello I jumped on board. And not long after, we started practicing for the Powerless III show at Duffy’s in Lincoln (the Powerless shows are starcityscene.com‘s localized version of MTV Unplugged). Rehearsals for the show were a blast, and the show itself went off so well we decided to make a good recording of our work before returning to being a rock band after 5 months off.

I can see the reflections of the room’s few candles in the living room bay window, smell the drizzly February night mix with the familiarity of my house, and remember looking around the circle at three friends, over a clutter of mics and cable, while I played the same old guitar I’d first learned with. We had a great time, taping all the songs one after another in one night; we were transported. And hearing the record brings that all back; “The Dimly Lit Room” is like having Shacker sit down in your living room to just sing and play. It’s reason number fifty-four Shacker is one of the top five things that have ever happened to me.

Beach-Puppy

Just today, CDs containing both the Pro-Tools files and the songs of Beach-Puppy were sent to H-Murder in Minnesota.  He’s going to mix them, kiss them, dip them, dine them, and possibly even make a sweaty movie on them.  Yikes!

Am I right?

But what does this mean for you, loyal Mr. Furious visitors?  It means that you get to put your weird little i-tunes and/ or winamp-loving fingers all over FIVE NEW SONGS by Beach-Puppy, which is just ridiculous!  The name of the EP is the Creepy Eepy (EP).  If you want to be a Miles Standish (the first person who writes Mr. Furious and guesses who Miles Standish was gets a blog-prop in my next blog) about the whole thing, you can call it the Creepy Eepy EP.  But Creepy Eepy sounds better.  I think.  It all started when Beach-Puppy decided that he wanted to start drifting towards softer, more subtle acoustic music while still keeping a very short, sweet and simple pop-ness about the whole thing.  Beach-Puppy adores melody, tight little chord progressions, and catchy choruses.  All I can really tell you for now is that they are short little ditties that are some of Beach-Puppy’s most sweet efforts yet.  They include the crackling of an old classical guitar that he BP used to record.  And Beach-Puppy hopes you like them.  The track listing is as follows:

1. Rose-Colored Glasses
2. Nature Versus Nurture
3. There’s Something To Be Said
4. Save Your Breath
5. Taking A Break

There you go- and even at this point in time H-Murder hasn’t heard but maybe one of these songs, so it’ll be a treat for everyone! 

Until Later,
Beach Puppy Spokesperson,
Cory Alan

MARCUS BORG at WAYZATA COMMUNITY CHURCH, WAYZATA MN, 6 NOV 04

The work of Dr. Marcus Borg is characterized by its “academic and pastoral sensibility” in the words of John Ross, words I echo. His latest book, “The Heart of Christianity,” spells out the dissonance between two Christian paradigms, the earlier and emerging in Borg’s terms. The scholar and teacher visited WCC for a United Theological Seminary fundraiser Saturday night, dinner and a lecture afterwards, and I was fortunate to attend both. Offering tremendous insight, criticism, and possibilities for building bridges, ultimately Borg’s prophetic voice calls mainline Christians into the vocation of articulating the “emerging” Christian worldview.

From my front-row seat in our sanctuary, Aegis lit and standing over him, Marcus Borg looked like a professor whose class you’d love, all red socks, corduroy pants, and the top button of his denim shirt unbuttoned and half-hid behind the knot of a tie. Soft-spoken and gently witty, only once did Borg’s passion for his vision break through, revealing conviction that is only found in the white in-between spaces of his book. Like many, Borg grew up in the “earlier” Christian paradigm; once transcended, feelings for it are hard to conceal, and he does so better than most. Later, in the Q&A time, he offered his reasoned opinion that we are currently seeing the high-water mark of Christian fundamentalism; an affirmative antidote to the post-electoral disillusionment I, we, have been under.

Over the course of the evening, my suspicions were raised more than once that the special invitation extended to me included a subtext of persuading me towards UTS sooner rather than later. A bit awkward, that.

The process of reading and understanding Borg’s work is reinforcing for me the importance of Christian artistry, the aesthetics of Scripture and Gospel that have been an increasingly living part of my spiritual praxis. Approaching, reading, hearing, and responding to God’s Word as art – even the phrase “God’s Word” is a poetic claim within our emerging paradigm, not a factual one. Musically, this helps illustrate the false bifurcation between “Christian” (actually meaning fundamentalist, evangelical Christian) and “secular” artists. At times I deliberately translate, record, and express my experience of the Sacred in music; also deeper than consciousness, I write as a Sacred-seeking and Holiness-experiencing person. I practice within Christian tradition, and most often find my experiences within it as well. Give it the label you will, but I feel closer to Deftones than to Michael W. Smith.