Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Favorite Music of the Decade

So for CultureBully, I wrote up a few of my favorite albums of the past decade. I also missed a few. Here are links to the pieces I wrote, plus short write-ups of a few I missed, plus a few more random thoughts. Keep in mind that this isn’t a list of the BEST music of the decade; it’s a list of my FAVORITE music of this decade.

Regina Spektor: Begin to Hope

Saul Williams: Saul Williams

Erykah Badu: Mama’s Gun

El-P: I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

The Postal Service: Give Up

Gnarls Barkley/N*E*R*D/Andre3000

The Roots: Game Theory and Phrenology

Phrenology is criminally underrated by hip hop heads. I always hear people talk about how “out-there” and “experimental” it was, but when you take away the little “punk” interlude and the freak-out at the end of “Water,” you have a pretty straight-forward monster of a rap record, probably my favorite Roots album. And Game Theory is just undeniable—super cohesive, dark and beautiful—through Phren is my favorite, Game Theory might be their best.

Fall Out Boy: Infinity on High

If you peel away all the seething hatred for this band—hatred that’s usually based on non-musical factors like who their fans are or who the bass player is dating—you’re left with some of the best pop music of the decade. I wrote more about my love for this album in my review of their follow-up.

K-OS: Atlantis – Hymns for Disco

K-OS isn’t a great rapper, but he is a great songwriter. Though I’m usually all about lyrics, this album got me because of how pretty the music is. K-OS is one of the few emcees to get the whole genre-bending thing right—the music defies easy categorization, but it’s not defined by that. The hybridization is organic, and the music never loses sight of the hooks.

P.O.S.: Audition

This one hasn’t stayed with me as much, but when it first came out it was pretty revelatory. The harsh production isn’t for everyone, but I feel like this album really opened up some doors for other hip hop artists to explore weirder sonic territory. Sounds amazing live, too.

Haley Bonar: Everything

From "The Size of Planets" to “Lure the Fox” to “Big Star,” Haley Bonar is just breathtakingly good. Her lyrics are engaging, her melodies are beautiful and her voice is otherworldly. It’s an absolute mystery to me why she isn’t more famous than she already is—she can appeal to people who just want pretty adult-contempo folk rock, but she can go so much deeper than that too. And yeah, she's on my new album.

OutKast: Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Two interesting releases here. One represented the apex of OutKast as a duo; the other, the exact point they started to part ways. Neither release is perfect, but OutKast are so far beyond what most other artists are doing (hip hop or otherwise) that even their uneven, experimental stuff is pretty bonkers. If you took the best songs on these three albums and put them on one album, you'd have the best rap album of the decade. As is, they're still pretty good.

Janelle Monae: Metropolis - The Chase Suite

You don’t hear a whole lot of ambitious R&B music these days; usually it’s throwback retro soul, groove-oriented neo-soul or plastic loverman pop R&B. This album, however, shattered those molds and made something wildly original. Monae is one of the few artists I'm really excited about.

Yann Tiersen: Amelie Soundtrack

I don’t really have anything interesting to say about this one. I don’t really “do” instrumental music. I just really like this album. I think I listen to this more than anything else in my Itunes.

Res: How I Do

Another overlooked gem. Beautifully-produced music, well-written songs and a very cool delivery. An all-time favorite album for me.

Some Singles, Omissions and Random Thoughts:

I didn’t LOVE either of Lupe Fiasco’s albums, but “Kick, Push” might be my favorite rap single all year. He uses really simple language to say some pretty complex things about identity and freedom; I wish Lupe would “dumb it down,” so to speak, more often. Saying deep things with simple language is always better than saying simple things in overly abstract nonsense gibberish.

Another example of this would be "No Regrets" from Aesop Rock. I like Aesop's weird stuff too, but this is his most simple, straightforward song... and it benefits from that.

Amy Winehouse and producer Mark Ronson made some really catchy songs. “Valerie,” “You Know I’m No Good,” and others—it’s not exactly revolutionary music, but it’s really well-done throwback soul.

D'Angelo's "Voodoo" was my favorite album for a long time, but I haven't found myself coming back to it any time recently.

I thought about writing up Rage Against the Machine’s “The Battle of Los Angeles,” but upon re-listening it’s a pretty uneven album. The high points are insanely high, though. “Sleep Now in the Fire,” in particular, is monstrously good.

Nothing deep to say, but Raphael Saadiq’s “Still Ray” might be my favorite song of the whole decade.

“Makeshift Patriot” by Sage Francis is probably the best song dealing with 9/11, at least the best one that comes to mind.

“At the End of a Slow Dance” by Vant Hunt is also a great track, "a tremendously weird blend of ‘80s synth pop, rock and soul that not only defies genre conventions, but is a pretty brilliant piece of songwriting in its own right" --me.

"Lord Willin'" from Clipse deserves a mention, but only a mention. Enough other people have written about them.

Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief” is usually overlooked in their repertoire of albums, but I think it splits the difference between their early, more poppy stuff and later, more experimental stuff just like “OK Computer” did, just not as well. But being “almost as good as ‘OK Computer;” is still a pretty awesome thing. Some killer songs on this album.

Upon further listening, Saul William's Niggy Tardust album is pretty great. Not as good as the self-titled, but not as "eh" as I first thought.

Blue Scholars put out some great music, but they still haven't grabbed me by the throat and demanded my attention. They share this with about 98% of all indie-rap released in the last few years.

I think Ghostface and DOOM are both really talented and put out some great music over the past ten years, but I also think they’re insanely overhyped. You can read about how brilliant they are elsewhere.

Kind of the same for Kanye, who had some amazing tracks this decade, but I don't really feel like writing about.

I want to love The Coup, because I think Boots Riley is one of the best lyricists in all of hip hop, but their music is just too inconsistent for me. Some of it is beyond brilliant, but only some of it.

I’m SURE I’m forgetting some stuff too. It is a whole decade, after all. What about you? What are your favorite albums or songs of the decade?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

new album tracklisting

Just another appetizer:Say what you want about my songs, but I write better song titles than anyone.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

this week: Sioux Center, Iowa City, Kansas City

The latest swing in the Verbal Graffiti tour w/ me, Junkyard Empire and e.g. bailey. Sioux Center Iowa tonight, Iowa City tomorrow night, and Kansas City Saturday night. Check my MySpace page for all the details.

Also, if you're in the Twin Cities, be sure to go check out Big Cats at Last of the Record Buyers tonight (Thursday) at Fifth Element at 9pm. He'll be playing some never-before-heard stuff from our new album.

BIG PLANS for the release party 12/12 at the Bedlam. BEYOND. We've added members to our band. Special guests. Much more. Tell your people.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

more release party news!

Here's the new flyer, with supporting acts and sponsors. We're all really excited about this lineup. Me and Big Cats! will be playing with our band, plus a few more special guests.

Also, here's the Facebook event page, if you do that sort of thing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

upcoming shows, release news, new job, more

I'll be featuring at the Macalester Poetry Slam on Saturday (11/14) night. It'll be in 10K, the basement of Dupre. Their slam has been a HUGE success, and I'm excited to perform there. Here's the Facebook event page.

On Sunday (11/15), there's a march for LGBTQ equality (commemorating last year's historic protests) at 2pm in front of the Hennepin County Government Center. From 3pm-6pm, there'll be a show at the Bedlam Theater featuring me, The Tribe, Sleeper & The Sleepless and some really good poets. Here's the Facebook event page.

If you haven't heard, the big release party for the new album will be Saturday, 12/8 at the Bedlam Theater. 10pm. Pre-sale ticket information, supporting acts (they're amazing) and sponsoring organizations will be announced very soon.

Also, I got a job as the arts coordinator for the Canvas, a new, arts-based youth center in St. Paul. We're putting together an amazing slate of workshops and events right now, so if you know teens in St. Paul (or beyond), let them know; if you have connections in St. Paul schools, let ME know. Here's the Facebook page; website coming soon.

Finally, I've got a title for my one-man spoken-word show: "The Fist that Lives in Your Neck." Look for a debut in the Spring.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chantz & Grindberg: The Good Company EP


This is one of my favorite Twin Cities hip hop releases ever, one of a few that I listen to regularly. My label just re-released it, newly mastered and beautiful. GO GET IT HERE.

I also just recorded a song for Chantz's upcoming full-length, which should be even better. Watch out.

Here's Chantz's MySpace page too.

Friday, November 06, 2009

OUR CD RELEASE SHOW: 12/12 AT THE BEDLAM

I can tell you with no ego: this is my finest album. If on your journey, you should encounter God, God will nod his fucking head.

Saturday, December 12 at the Bedlam Theater. 10pm. 18+

Opening acts and sponsoring organizations will be announced soon. For now, just mark your calendars. It's going to be a great show. For real.

AN UNWELCOME GUEST is a hip hop concept album from Twin Cities producer BIG CATS and rapper GUANTE. Over fifteen tracks, the album tells the story of one man moving from east to west in the wake of a man-made disaster and his own personal tragedy. Also, there are zombies.

The album features guest appearances from HALEY BONAR, PROLYPHIC (of Strange Famous Records), BIG QUARTERS, CHASTITY BROWN and ERIC BLAIR (of Hyder Ali and No Bird Sing). Through the album’s unique narrative frame, these artists join Guante in exploring issues of displacement, authority and the difference between the violence of the oppressor and the violence of the oppressed. Also: zombies.

Stay tuned. Much more (including the first single, some exclusive video stuff and more announcements) coming soon!