Detroit producers/Electro musicians Ryan Spencer and Adam Pressley formed its new project Jamaican Queens last year, following the demise of their previous band, Prussia. The pair bonded over a mutual love for Hip Hop production, something that would find itself central to Jamaican Queens winding sound. Together less than a year, the twosome's single "Kids Get Away" introduced the newcomers with a sound that blends EDM, Hip Hop sounds and rhythms and a somewhat psychedelic brand of Indie Pop.
The band calls its music "Trap Pop," a reference to the Trap style of Hip Hop that is something of a successor to the old Southern Crunk style. Still, you won't mistake Jamaican Queens' music for T.I.'s — JQ's unpredictable, fluttering style recalls MGMT's last two albums had the Electronic aspects of their music been more prominent.
Jamaican Queens' first full-length, Wormfood, is due in February and was mixed by Christopher Lazlo Koltay, a former Cincinnati musician who has been enjoying a successful engineering/production career in Detroit the past several years, working with artists like The Dirtbombs and Akron/Family. Here's the song that has garnered the band the most attention so far, "Kids Get Away."
Music Tonight: Say goodbye to August tonight with some classic Hip Hop at Bogart's, one of many recent and upcoming Hip Hop shows from the longstanding Corryville concert venue. Rock the Bells began seven years ago as a stand-alone Hip Hop festival in California, but today the brand has been expanded to included RTB package tours and smaller club tours, like the one in town tonight.
Lollapalooza Day 2 dawned bright and early — I woke up a tad late, having burned the midnight oil too long the night before.
Rule No. 2 of Lollapalooza: Get enough sleep. Always. Especially if you’ll be walking every-the-heck-where.
I had been invited to an after-party Friday night, sponsored by Belvedere Vodka, at the W Chicago City Center downtown. I went in my sweaty Lolla regalia, and was rewarded with performances by Two Door Cinema Club and Fitz and the Tantrums.
The album is an endangered concept in music, with MP3s and streaming encouraging more and more people to listen to tracks “a la carte.” If people aren’t listening to a collection of songs intentionally put together by an artist in a specific order, why should the artist bother trying? It’s one of the reasons releasing EPs seems to have become more popular than issuing full-lengths.
With some exceptions, the “album as art” concept has long been dwindling amongst Hip Hop artists, many of whom have more fully embraced the hodge-podge “mixtape” format, which is perhaps more in tune with our ADD/social media-plagued culture.
So it’s beyond refreshing to hear the new release from Cincinnati MC Sleep, Branded: The Damon Winton Story, a collection of eight tracks that tells the story of a young man’s troubled upbringing. It’s not just that Sleep has compiled eight songs that kind of fit together; Branded is a fully envisioned tale that requires the listener to hear the entire album in order to get the total impact. And it’s quite an impact.
It helps that Sleep’s “concept album” is based on some excellent storytelling skills, contains some fierce rhymes (with a flow and timbre that recalls Jay-Z at his peak) and is supported by the excellent, often hauntingly atmospheric production of Dope Antelope, which brilliantly reflects the dark, chaotic, heart-breaking nature of the story. The way Sleep — half of local duo 2-Man Cypher — lays the story out is also sharply clever. In lieu of titles, each track is labeled as simply “Question,” followed by the track number. The album opens with a police officer hitting “record” to begin his interview with the main character’s social worker about “what could have led up to what transpired with him this past weekend.” To kick off each track, the social worker is asked about a different aspect of the trouble the young man had experienced and been in.
Working backwards from the incident (which isn’t revealed until “Question 8,” so the listener is left to wonder what transpired), Sleep creates evocative, harrowing slices of life, usually told from the main character’s point of view, but with other voices popping in occasionally to give an even bigger picture. The young man’s horrific surroundings are revealed gradually; the listener learns that he has self-mutilated himself, been molested, lost (or never had) faith or religion and had family involved in drugs. Sleep’s brilliance is turning the smaller stories from the big picture into vivid, cinematic tales in themselves — “If this is grown folks’ business/Then why when you conduct it, there’s a child as a witness,” he raps after it’s revealed that the main character’s mother had substance abuse issues. When the social worker tells the officer that the young man had been bullied over his clothes in school, Sleep echoes that pain with lines like, “The peer pressure to be above the status quo/It’s never ending, it’s never taking sabbaticals.”
By the last track, the listener is primed to hear just what happened to the main character, but when his fate is revealed, it’s not what most would expect, making the album that much more powerful. (In the spirit of not ruining the final act, I’ll refrain from giving away the ending.)
Sleep’s Branded shows just how much power Hip Hop still has to tell a realistic story poetically but without hyperbole. It’s an incredibly moving piece of work that stands as one of the best Hip Hop albums to come out of Greater Cincinnati in recent memory. And Sleep shows that if he ever gets tired of the Rap game (which itself would be tragic becomes the genre needs more voices like his), he’ll be able to find some kind of career as a writer, be it an author, a journalist, a filmmaker or whatever field he decides to lend his talents to.
If you’re a fan of intelligent Hip Hop or just great storytelling in general, you must download (for free or whatever you’d like to kick in) Branded immediately at sleep513.bandcamp.com.
Here is a music video for the track, "Question 2":
On this day in 1967, The Beatles continued work on arguably their best song, "A Day in the Life." After a debate over how to end the track following the huge orchestral build-up (sustained choral vocals were considered, but scrapped), the group decided to simultaneously strike a massive E chord on three pianos and sustain the notes for as long as possible. Adding overdubs (and a contribution from producer George Martin on harmonium), the final resonating notes hang in the air for over 40 seconds on the recording. As the held chords faded on the pianos in the studio, the engineer had to crank the recording level, which picked up some incidental sounds (like a creaking chair and, certainly, something about Paul being dead) from the studio.
That E-major chord that closes the song — and the whole Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, considered one of the best ever — is widely considered one of the most famous chords in Rock/Pop history. Which means that The Beatles are responsible for the most popular opening chord in modern music — the mysterious G7sus4-ish that kicks off "A Hard Day's Night" — and the most notable final chord with the "A Day in the Life" finale.
Below is audio of BTO guitarist Randy Bachman explaining the "Hard Day's" chord mystery (frustrated guitarists should feel better about their inability to figure it out), followed by today's biggest Pop superstar performing that famed final note from Sgt. Peppers.
Click the jump for "Born This Day" featuring live footage from one of the final Sublime concerts with Bradley Nowell.
Since our Morning News and Stuff writer hates football and refused to comment on the Super Bowl (not even the Puppy Bowl!), I thought I'd take a minute to discuss yesterday's huge game. Well, the music heard during the TV broadcast, anyway.
While I'm not a huge Madonna fan (I love the idea of her more than her music), I thought her halftime show was excellent. Then I looked on the internets and it told me that I was stupid and it was actually horrible and, even worse, offensive! Things I learned: Madonna is, like, really old; she may have lip-synced during portions of the performance; and MIA said "Fuck you, America" with her middle finger. (Like Janet Jackson's boob, I wouldn't have even noticed had it not been overblown in cyberspace.)
Oh, and MIA, according to the AP report, also "appeared" to say a cuss word. (She didn't, clearly stopping her line, "I don't give a shit," at "Shhhh" — nice reporting AP!)
I’m not going to pretend I knew what synesthesia meant before listening to former Cincinnati/current Columbus-based Hip Hop artist Ill Poetic’s latest release, Synesthesia: The Yellow Movement. But after diving into the seven-song EP (and looking up the title on dictionary.com), I discovered that synesthesia is something like a music-induced hallucination where the afflicted see music as colors, which is the perfect description the album has on its listeners.
In the short amount of time it takes to get through this EP (just under 24 minutes), Ill Po takes the listener on a funky, soulful trip through his creative process. On the first track, “Be Cool,” Po is kind of like Samuel L. Jackson in the diner scene of Pulp Fiction (without the Jheri curl), urging everyone from politicians to status rappers to just chill the fuck out and re-birth the cool like Miles Davis.
“Be Cool” then melts into a laid-back Soul cut, the highlight track “On My Way,” which features crooner CJ the Cynic. It’s probably just the producer in him, but Ill Poetic lets CJ take the reins of “On My Way” for almost the first two minutes before he brings his spoken-word lyrical styling to the production, which is reminiscent of early Kanye or Eryka Badu with, dare I say, an added dose of creativity.
The wait for Po's words is well worth it, however, when he spits that “Ghostface is my real estate agent." Again, I really don’t know what this means, but the sheer image of calling Sibcy Cline or Century 21 and getting Ghostface Killah on the other end of the receiver is pure imagery gold.
On the sixth track and first single off the EP, “Gone,” the song cleverly describes Po’s struggle to leave Cincinnati and pursue his dreams (his every body part attempting to convince his brain to dip-out), while the Jazz-style production makes the listener want to roll-up and take a road trip with this song on repeat.
The best part about this album, though, is when Ill says “You don’t have to be cool to listen to this; you don’t have to listen to this to be cool.” So for all the nerds, dorks, dweebs and losers out there looking for new music, have no fear. You don’t have to be cool to listen to this and listening to Ill Poetic won’t make you cool. But it surely couldn’t hurt.
Click below to preview and purchase Synesthesia: The Yellow Movement. For more on Ill Poetic, visit his official site here.
Music Tonight: New York-based Pop singer/songwriter Gavin DeGraw is joined by American Idol winner David Cook at the Taft Theatre for a 7:30 p.m. concert. Swedish Pop/Rock band Carolina Liar opens. DeGraw's love songs have found big success on the charts (his latest album, Sweeter, debuted at No. 8 when it came out in December; he also has four singles that have been certified Gold), radio and TV licensing; his introduction to most of the world came via his theme song for One Tree Hill, "I Don't Wanna Be," which has been "covered" on American Idol and Idols in other countries. Speaking of Idol, Cook won the grand prize on that show's seventh season. The Missouri native released his second major-label effort, This Loud Morning, this summer and it reached No. 7 on the U.S. charts. The jury is still out on whether Cook becomes the next Kelly Clarkson or the next Taylor Hicks, but the longevity rate of AI winners seems to be decreasing with every season. If it doesn't work out, maybe Cook can get an audition for X Factor. Tickets run $39.70-$53.06. Check out DeGraw and Cook's latest singles below.
When the phrase “guitar hero” gets tossed around, it’s naturally in reference to some of the greatest six string figures in Rock history. But if there is a subset of that hallowed group — guitar heroes in waiting, as it were — then Natalie Wells surely deserves to be included on that hopefully short waitlist.
The Independence, Ky., native is quickly becoming one of the Greater Cincinnati area’s most powerful live forces with a guitar presence that stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the giants of Rock. A teenage student of the Blues, Wells felt an affinity for first generation masters like Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt and next gen ’60s acolytes like Johnny Winter, Big Brother’s Sam Andrews and James Gurley, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher and a host of others. Wells’ brilliance in her own guitar pursuits has been in her supernatural ability to absorb a rainbow of Blues and Rock influences and translate them through her own unique interpretive gifts. As she showed on her largely original debut, Mind the Gap, she may have learned from the greats but she’s much more interested in running the guitar flag a little farther up Rock & Roll Hill.
On her new mini-album, Live from Earth, Wells and her chugging rhythm section (bassist Curt Hall and drummer/vocalist Michael Hodges) offer up an all-cover set that simultaneously proves how much she loves her influences and demonstrates her translational power.
Live From Earth’s seven tracks represent just four factions of Wells’ estimable influences and they’re more than tangentially connected; Buddy Guy is one of the primary links between the old acoustic and new electric school of Blues, while Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Robin Trower represent those who most effectively reimagined the Blues in a Rock context. Wells injects swinging new life into Led Zep chestnuts “Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid” and “What Is and What Should Never Be” while distilling Hendrix’s complex chemistry to a simpler but still impressive formula with her takes on “Stone Free/Third Stone From the Sun” and his avowed classic “Voodoo Chile.”
Wells finds the heart of Guy’s gentle “My Love is Real” and the soul of Trower’s blistering “Day of the Eagle,” all delivered with her fluidly original guitar stylings and a voice that is part husky Blues shouter, part Cher Pop powerhouse. Wells may still has a few minor vocal timing issues to fine tune, but Live on Earth is solid evidence that her guitar chops are cooked to perfection and ready to serve to a wider audience.
At this point, Natalie Wells’ guitar does not gently weep; it cries a bucket of tears, screams with passionate abandon, howls like a steroid-amped wolf and demands to be heard.
Music Tonight: Eilen Jewell does her part in putting the "Alt" back in "AltCountry" when she and her band hit the Southgate House ballroom stage tonight at 8 p.m., supporting her fantastic latest album, Queen of the Minor Key. Superb area singer/songwriter Lauren Houston opens up the show. Check out CityBeat's recent interview with Jewell here. Tickets are $15 at the door and the show is open to those 18 and up. Enjoy the clip below of Jewell performing for NoKy radio station WNKU while out supporting her 2009 Sea of Tears album.