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":
Cincinnati native Tom Berninger’s film that follows his older brother Matt’s band, The National, on tour, Mistaken for Strangers, is finally opening in Cincinnati this weekend, after making the film fest rounds and racking up mounds of positive press (it currently has an impressive 92 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes).
The movie — which follows The National’s members (all Cincy natives) on their tour behind 2010’s High Violet album, but is really more about Tom and Matt’s relationship — makes its Cincinnati premiere this Friday at the Esquire Theatre in Clifton at 7:30 p.m.
The Friday screening will be followed by a Q&A via Skype with the Berninger brothers. Following Monday’s 7:30 p.m. screening, there will be an in-person Q&A hosted by Jim Blase of Shake It Records and featuring Tom, Matt and The National’s drummer, Bryan Devendorf.
Here's the trailer for Mistaken for Strangers:
The release of the self-titled debut album from Cincinnati trio Tweens is just about a month away now. The music site Stereogum recently premiered the trio’s first music video for new album single, “Be Mean,” a great introduction to the band’s classic-Pop-meets-classic-Punk style (or “Trash Pop,” as they like to call it).
The buzz around Tweens, which scored the “New Artist of the Year” award at the 2014 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, continues to grow across the nation, with more and more music press and online outlets heaping praise on the both the band's recordings and live shows. That buzz should be almost deafening when Tweens’ debut LP is finally released on April 8 through Frenchkiss Records. The band’s usually packed tour schedule is about to get extra-busy with the new release just on the horizon, beginning with a head-spinning six performances during next week’s South By Southwest music fest/conference in Texas.
Click here to read CityBeat's most recent interview with Tweens.
One of the Queen City’s greatest musical exports, The Afghan Whigs, have just unveiled the music video for their new single, “Algiers.” The track is taken from the band’s forthcoming Do to the Beast album, the Whigs' first all-new full-length release in 16 years. The album is due for release April 15 on Sub Pop Records, the label that first exposed the band to a worldwide audience in the early ’90s.
During the Whigs’ global reunion tour a couple of years ago, the band released a pair of singles (covers of songs by Frank Ocean and Marie Queenie Lyons), but this is the first new original tune to surface since "Magazine" and "I'm A Soldier,” both recorded for the 2007 Rhino Records retrospective, Unbreakable.
Here is the intense, spaghetti western-inspired video for the new track:
The band previously announced appearances at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on April 11 and April 18. Several other tour dates on the west and east coasts have been announced; click here for the rundown (no Ohio/Midwestern dates yet).
Pre-orders for the 10-track Do to the Beast are open at iTunes and here directly through Sub Pop. Pre-order the album on iTunes and receive an instant download of “Algiers.” Pre-order the LP on Sub Pop to receive the “Loser Edition” on colored vinyl.
Whigs frontman Greg Dulli chatted with Entertainment Weekly about the new Whigs' happenings for an article posted online today. Meanwhile, Rolling Stone has the details on some of the musicians on Beast and why original guitarist Rick McCollum is not on the new album.
Creative Cincinnati MC Buggs Tha Rocka has just released a video for his “State of Hip-Hop Freestyle” track, featuring sounds from the late, great J. Dilla and taken from 2012’s The Wrath of Zeus mixtape, which was hosted by DJ Clockwork and is available for free download here.
The “State of Hip Hop” clip was shot in Amsterdam by Snow Rowe, who also performs/records with the great local Hip Hop crew Valley High. Rowe’s video for Valley High’s “8 Ball” won the inaugural “Best Music Video” prize at the recent Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.
Buggs Tha Rocka took home the 2014 “Hip Hop” Cincinnati Entertainment Award (his second win in a row) and he has video evidence to prove it:
Cincinnati Hip Hop MC Santino Corleon’s latest music video, “Night Still Young,” is one of the five music videos by emerging artists currently featured in MTVu.com’s “The Freshmen” competition. If the 2013 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards nominee beats out the other nominees in the weekly contest, the clip will be put into “on-air rotation” on MTV’s television networks.
Click here to check out the clip on MTVu.com and to vote now (and repeatedly — there appears to be no voting limits). Voting ends this Friday at 2 p.m.
The track “Night Still Young” is featured on Corleon’s most recent mixtape, Keep the Change, which is available for free download here. Below is the audio for “Night Still Young.”
If you are even a marginal fan of Black Owls (whose members split time between Cincinnati and Granville, Ohio) and have not yet visited their Bandcamp page to purchase a copy of their recent recorded triumph, Wild Children (which came out late last year), off with you. I'll wait.
The Owls' fourth album is nothing less than the maturation of a supremely talented band that has been patiently waiting for the right pieces to fall into the right places almost from the beginning. The installation of drummer extraordinaire Brian Kitzmiller and the relocation of vocalist David Butler away from the drummer's chair and to the front of the stage was the first necessary shift, while adding second guitarist Brandon Losacker as a frenetic foil to Ed Shuttleworth's tightly coiled brilliance was inspired and equally required.
The bass position has been problematic only in its temporary nature; Nancy/National bassist Mike Brewer left to pursue his own thing, the thunderously wonderful Alan Beavers was forced from his role due to back issues and Goose four stringer Sammy Wulfeck was almost psychotically overextended and had to bow out; his work is all over Wild Children, a
tantalizing hint at what he brought to the Owls and further proof of his longstanding chemistry with Kitzmiller. (For the record, both Beavers and Brewer guest on Wild Children and remain welcome alumni in the Owls' extended family.)
On the whole, Wild Children is an expansion of the Owls' sonic mission statement of cross-pollinating early '70s-era Glam (see Bowie/Mott/Marc Bolan) with late '70s-era New York Punk (via Tom Verlaine's Television, Richard Hell's Voidoids and Lou Reed's simple fury). A good many of the songs on Wild Children have been worked out in live sets over the past year or so and will be familiar to anyone who has haunted the band's numerous local appearances; the effervescently charged "Incandescent Vultures," the melodically moody "She Invented Air," the propulsive and sinewy title track, produced into a beefy studio anthem. There's even a re-recording of "Julias Morningstar," one of the Owls' most recognizable and popular tracks from their 2008 debut, Lightning Made Us Who We Are. Wild Children shows that the Owls are gelling nicely and becoming even more comfortable and confident in the brilliant niche they've created for themselves.
And while Wild Children is patently excellent and an absolute necessity, perhaps even more exciting is the two-track glimpse into the Owls' future just revealed by Kitzmiller. A result of recent sessions featuring former Doc & the Pods/Roundhead four-stringer Kip Roe, an absolute prince of a human being and the perfect piece to complete the Owls' puzzle, the two songs find the quintet sounding less like the brilliant sum of their influences and more like a blazingly original band that has effectively incorporated their heroes into their creative vision without showing a seam
or dropping a stitch. "Gasoline" is a hard-charging, manic and relentless three minute thrill ride (and a prime candidate for the first single from the album that it will eventually crown), while "Rook" muscles along with the shivering, shimmering energy that has defined the Owls' best work over the past six years. These two as-yet-unmastered tracks show Black Owls evolving into a focused unit of astonishing power and unlimited potential.
More. Soon. Please.
Saturday at Bogart’s you’ll have a chance to see 10 of Greater Cincinnati’s finest up-and-comers as CityBeat presents the first “Best New Bands” showcase. The event coincides with our “Best New Bands” cover story, featuring profiles and info on all of the performers — grab a copy if you haven’t.
Below is the lineup, which includes all six of the local acts nominated in the “New Artist of the Year” category and four other favorites, plus some audio/video previews to whet your appetite. Click the artists’ name to read CityBeat’s stories (and some great original photography) about each. The stories include links to the acts’ websites and more music.
The doors open at 7 p.m. Saturday at Bogart’s and admission is just $5. Performers will be featured on two stages, so it will be non-stop music all night.
7:30 p.m. Pop Goes the Evil
8 p.m. Molly Sullivan
8:30 p.m. Injecting Strangers
9 p.m. ADM
9:30 p.m. Mardou
10 p.m. Austin Livingood
10:30 p.m. Archer's Paradox
11 p.m. Little Lights
11:30 p.m. Tweens
12:15 a.m. Electric Citizen
So far, the videos released from The Queen City Project’s series of clips from The MidPoint Sessions (a day party that took place at the Art Academy during September’s MidPoint Music Festival) have showcased three great Ohio acts — Athens’ The Ridges (also the curators of the Sessions), Cincinnati’s The Happy Maladies and Columbus’ Indigo Wild. Today you can check out the final clip from the performances, this one featuring another Cincinnati artist — intriguing singer/songwriter Molly Sullivan. While the previous performances were acoustic, Sullivan strums an electric guitar and utilizes loops to create a haunting effect.
Click here for more about Sullivan. And you can see/hear her live this Thursday at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine as she opens for Lexington, Ky.’s Ancient Warfare, which also played this year’s MidPoint Music Festival. Find details on the free show here.