Friday, November 30, 2007

Review: Wu-Tang Clan: 8 Diagrams

Rating: 3/5

Oh, Wu. While I am occasionally overcome by the musical bulldozer that is Nation of Millions, Enter the Wu-Tang is still my favorite rap record of all time, a timeless, one-of-a-kind, stylistically unmatched masterpiece. It spun off a series of individual classics during the mid-90s at a time when each Wu member was hungry for solo success and the RZA had an absurd (truly ridiculous), seemingly bottomless pit of raw, vivid beats. Then came Wu-Tang Forever, a nearly 30 track behemoth that drained the Clan of fresh, clever rhymes and drained the RZA of inventive backdrops.

The W is actually pretty good, though, but Iron Flag is not, from what I've heard from fans and from the few tracks I've heard off the record. Perhaps, just maybe, a six-year layoff and a new self-proclaimed motivation and focus could return the Clan to Enter the W--well, at least Wu-Tang Forever-level. Unfortunately, while the Wu do seem hungry, such hunger alone does translate to greatness.

A couple problems. First and foremost: not nearly enough Ghostface. Of course, it wasn't that the RZA thought it would be good to limit his involvement; rather, Ghost was pissed off due to the original release of Diagrams corresponding with his new album and, more importantly, Wu management never paid him for the summer tour. He only shows up for three verses, and given their high quality, he could have launched the Wu to great heights. He spits absolute fire on the "Daytona 500"-like "Take it Back," and then provides the album highlight (the supermarket story) on the "Heart Gently Weeps."

I mean, Ghost's superiority within the 21st cetury Wu-Tang is well-known, and the rest of the Clan don't do much to challenge him. There was a time when the GZA was the most creative lyricist on the planet (the two verses of "Liquid Swords" still epitomize cool), when Method Man's flow charged forward like a moving train, when Raekwon could rhyme "back" with "crack" and "gats" on like every other song and still light shit up with pure enthusiasm and detailed street tales.

Now: Raekwon utilizes that whole just-woke-up whisper often ("Gun Will Go," "Take It Back") and usually sounds apathetic. The GZA's brilliant rhyme schemes and varied vocabulary are a thing of the past, replaced by an enthusiastic yet simplistic, unremarkable flow. Meth actually offers a variety of good (if same-sounding) verses throughout the album, but he can't carry the thing by himself. The RZA, U-God, and Masta Killa are listenable, occassionally entertaining, as are the GZA and Raekwon, but just listenable isn't good enough for the Wu-Tang Clan.

8 Diagrams is in fact better than like 80 percent of modern rap music, so it's easy to get excited about it, especially considering the Wu holds a special place in the heart of so many fans. However, then I listen to early Wu or the new Ghostface record (complete with a couple excellent collabs with Raekwon, Meth, and and U-God) and remember what it really feels like when the Clan nails it. Diagrams could be sliced down by three or four tracks (the U-God/Streetlife/Cappadonna-rapped "Tar Pit," the RZA solo "Sunlight," among others), and even the best material (the aforementioned "Take It Back" and "Heart Gently Weeps") doesn't come close to elevating Wu to the top of the rap totem pole with Jay-Z, Kanye, and Lupe. The RZA almost feels too comfortable re-embracing his old ways, too afraid to experiemt with the soulful stylings that have helped to make Ghostface's post-Forever work so engaging.

Still, if you listen to the album, you will have heard a decent set of classic-sounding Wu tracks. It's good to see them back, even if they have little to say. "Life Changes" is a moving tribute to the beloved ODB, and hearing the unreleased "16th Chamber" (which includes an ODB verse) is a fitting closer on multiples levels. Though likely meant as a reminder of how cool Dirt McGirt was back in the day (in which it succeeds), it also showcases a Meth verse and Raekwon shouting "4th chamber!" in the middle, the most energetic and happy either one sounds on the 8 Diagrams. It provides final proof that the Golden Age of Wu is over. Oh well. We'll always have 36 Chambers.

Sorry, I'm not posting an mp3 for fear that Ghost and Rae may simply show up to my house and take me out, only to be later immortalized in "Shakey Dog 3."

Big Doe Rehab review tomorrow or Sunday.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Return of My Bloody Valentine?!?...this is getting ridiculous

I mean, really. I may just stop listening to new music, because 2007 is just absurd. Hmm, where should I begin? The re-establishment of Radiohead as The World's Best Band, the re-emergence of Jay-Z as the king of rap, the re-uniting of the Wu, and the billion great albums that have come out this year. Just to name a few big players (roughly chronologically): The Shins, Deerhoof, The Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Spoon, Panda Bear, Animal Collective, M.I.A., Liars, Kanye West, Band of Horses. Plus the shitload of breakthrough acts, like, I don't know, Besnard Lakes, The Field, A Place to Bury Strangers, and so on.

And now...aww jeez. The Loveless follow-up seemed like a myth; the idea of a band progressing beyond Loveless in any way seems infathomable. The indie world witnessed In Utero and Bossanova and Kid A and Sandinista! but somehow My Bloody Valentine seemed like they were not supposed to make another record, like the epic glory of "Soon" acted as the perfect exclamation point on their career. It was Jordan (temprarily) retiring after his last three chamionships, or Eliot Ness calling it quits after taking down Capone. Like the Presidency of the United States, Kevin Shields' Loveless guitarwork is the last job he could ever have.

Of course, he popped up here and there, but not with the band, and it seemed like his soul just wasn't in the music (the music was, if you will, loveless). Now, we get one--oops, my bad...TWO FREAKIN MY BLOODY VALENTINE RECORDS! (cue me fainting and my brain frying and my mouth widening to a Joker-like grin). Reportedly, one of the records features material originally recorded as the Loveless follow-up in 93-94. The other one supposedly showcases a mixture of new material and songs written by Shields and Belinda Butcher during the immediate post-MBV era. After you finish orgasming over this, check out Pitchfork for full details.

My Bloody Valentine - Soon

Just Some Thoughts

So as you may know, television writers are on strike and so The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have been sidelined for the time being. Of course, there is an upside to all this: Fox has to deal witht the fact that they currently have nine episodes of 24 written. They should film a tenth episode where Jack just fails, the apocalypse ensues, and the season ends. Of course, they'll find a way to throw in a dozen more filler episodes before Jack saves the day or takes down the president or whatever. And oh yeah, apparently Tony Almeida isn't dead. Don't know how they're gonna pull that off, but check this video. The guy doing Jack is so-so, but the Tony guy is hilariously right on.

Speaking of hilarious, the much-hyped Ghostface doll looks ridiculous. I mean, it looks enough like Ghostface, but I just can't look at it without laughing. If the doll's appearance isn't enough, he apparently also has a blog and six catchphrases recorded by Ironman himself (no word yet if one of them is "I'm on the floor like holy shit!" but I have my fingers crossed). Also funny: as Pitchfork joked, the miniature Raekwon doll is busy finishing miniature Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II.

The Onion also just dropped two particular funny articles, one stating that Goosebumps author RL Stine has revealed that Slappy (from Night of the Living Dummy) is, in fact, a homosexual. Even funnier: the season fall has been canceled after three billion seasons. As The Onion describes, "The classic season, which had been slotted between summer and winter, will be replaced by stifling humidity, constant sunshine, and little precipitation." Check em out at

Still waiting for Pitchfork to review the fuckin Jay-Z album. The killing me.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Jay-Z: American Exec...I Mean Gangster

Sorry, I haven't written anything in like three weeks. I've been busy, uh, fighting crime. OK, so that's about as believable as, well, Jay-Z holding any "gangster" credibility in 2007. Yeah, American Gangster finds Jigga sticking to the strengths abandoned on the pathetic Kingdom Come, but calling Gangster a true street record is like moving from Bill O'Reilly to Fred Thompson and calling Thompson a leftist. Even on Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z's style and charisma seemed built for the mainstream, and any underground impulses he may have once had are long gone.

Even if Jay-Z genuinely wished to return to his "roots," any hope he had he destroyed by having Diddy and co. handle the boards half the time. Diddy's production actually doesn't crash and burn; it even excels on horn-driven single "ROC Boys." Jay-Z feels at home on the clean, radio beats, while sounding almost silly when trying to work Bigg D's grittier underground sound with Lil Wayne on "Brooklyn 2.0." Like Kanye West with his Graduation failure "Barry Bonds," here the Lil Wayne collaboration exposes the colossal gap between Jay-Z and the streets he once ran.
(Leave it to fuckin Lil Wayne to try to fuck up the two most anticipated hip-hop records of the year).

This gap isn't a problem though. American Gangster is miles above Kingdome Come, even if doesn't come close to the big three. Shawn Carter got his swagger back, and the production here matches him step for step (save for the aforementioned "Brooklyn 2.0" and slightly flat "Sweet"). The Neptunes provide two gems, borrowing from their own Hell Hath No Fury- playbook on "Blue Magic" and offering a super catchy synth line and flashy bells on the absurdly infectious "I Know." Jermaine Dupri and K West protege No ID lay down the final two tracks, including the wonderful Nas collab "Success."

That being said, Gangster isn't a complete return to form, since it does not land the home-run tracks that fueled The Black Album. A long career and a three-year layoff has permanently dimished the brilliance of Jay-Z's flow, as nothing here matches the ill rhyme scheme on "99 Problems" or "What More Can I Say." Further, Diddy never lays down anything close to "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," and it would have been nice to hear a Kanye track at one point or another.

Of course, Jay-Z still undeniably regains his footing on Gangster, offering the wit, clever wordplay, and enthusiasm that made his earlier work so remarkable. The man is the best rapper who ever lived, so could really have expected back-to-back failures? Of course not. American Gangster may even upstage Graduation as the hip-hop record of the year on end-of-year lists. It sure as hell deserves to.

He don't need no hook for this shit, but he got em anyway:
Jay-Z (featuring Pharrell)- I Know
Jay-Z- ROC Boys (And the Winner Is)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Mike Relm in Bethlehem : November 1, 2007

Recently I went with my Dad to see The Blue Man Group for his birthday. The Blue Men put on a great show, but that isn’t what this is about. The opening act was what I wanted to talk about. I was a little surprised to see one guy walk out onto the stage for the opening act. He turned out to be a DJ named Mike Relm, and I was a little concerned. I had heard horror stories about opening DJ’s who…well…sucked. Mike Relm actually brought a new element of originality that kept his songs interesting and refreshing. He mixed hip-hop beats into songs like The Sound of Silence and various songs from the cartoon Peanuts. Relm also incorporated a visual element into his performance. Various clips from well known movies played behind him during his performance and he was able to manipulate the videos, just like the music, using controls on his mixing board. His performance was truly something I had never seen before as he made an entire song out of a clip from Office Space where a certain character talks about his “Oh face”. He followed this with Jack Black telling his “students” about “getting the lead out” and an ensuing live Led Zeppelin video that Relm manipulated to fit a hip-hop beat. He’s a one of a kind performer.