Thursday, February 28, 2013

A is for Aceyalone - "All Balls Don't Bounce"

Aceyalone - All Balls Don't Bounce

So after writing about Abstract Tribe Unique's "Mood Pieces," I find myself kind of excited to review Aceyalone's first album, "All Balls Don't Bounce."  I guess you could say that Acey might be the "founder" of a specific type of rhyming and sound that came out of LA in the mid to late '90s.  All Balls was released in 1995.  It is not the origin of jazz-infused hip hop, but to me he kinda is.

The album is pretty decent for a debut release.  First off, I appreciate the variation of beats, message, sound, etc, that is prevalent throughout the album.  There are distinct tracks that have a pure jazz, spoken word sound.  Then there are others that have a little bit harder driven beat. On the track "Knownots," you can hear both sounds at the same time.  This shows me that there is an appreciation to the art while at the same time being honest to self.

The majority of the tracks have a focus on the horns found in jazz samples.  There is little use of the bass strings and drums, but on "Arhythamaticulas," you get that use. On "The Greatest Show on Earth," you get the bass lines and what sounds like an xylophone.  Never do you hear that on a track.  But at the same time, you get the overly styled poetry slam emceeing that I personally find a bit repetitive.  "Mic Check" might be the most "commercialized" style of a track on the album.  Between the snares and faster tempo of the drums, I hear to me what sounds a little like a Beastie Boys style track, if they were from the left coast.  It's nice to hear a completely different sound from Aceyalone.  Following "Mic Check," you get privileged to a sound that you don't find on albums these days, that is, a dj mixing for a quick minute to give the listeners a rest. 

(straight from the 90s in sooo many ways)
"Headache and Woes," is a nice in between to the poetry slam emceeing and the "we need a song for the masses" track that maybe "Mic Check" might be.  While the second verbage is not accurate, I don't know a better way to word it.  My apologizes.  What I like about "Headache and Woes" is 1) more xylophone usage, 2) solid bass line, and 3) a track with a solid story.  "With a head full of headaches/a heart that's full of woes/I'm constantly singing them down home blues/and not many peoples know/that leaves me with a twisted view of the whole world as I know it/and I guess I got no choice but to be a poet."  What a wonderfully worded verse.  This song is solid in more ways that I can ever really explain, but I really like it.  The downside to the track, is that the end of it tapers off to a moment of "dead air" and then followed by a quick poem with the bebop jazz background.  It should have been left off or separated as a quick intermission track.  "I Think" is a quick hitter of a track that starts off solidly with a bit of an old-school blaxploitation sound and then is over.  I wish that there was more to this track than any other.

While he flows at times slowly, I love the effortlessness of his vocals. He can speed up at anytime, but never lose the focus of the words he is professing.  Plus, you are always aware of what he is saying every time he speaks.

I thoroughly enjoy this album, but it is not an eye-opening, jaw dropping rookie album that I think I was slightly expecting.  It might come from being stuck in that time period when hip hop was changing rapidly in both sound and purpose.  That is, the mid 90s were not kind to artists who could adapt and produce quickly.  Aceyalone will always get his respect from "heads" who know the music.  I wish he would get more love, but hopefully we can see his growth on the next couple of albums.  I can't guarantee when I will listen to this again, but I know that if I were to make a mix tape there are tracks from this album I would use.  Plus, if anyone wanted a lesson on how to transpose jazz, poetry, and effortless lyricism into hip hop then this is always to be included into the circulum.

Next: Aceyalone's "All Balls Revisited"

A is for Abstract Tribe Unique "Mood Pieces"

Sorry for the absence, but today will feature a couple of albums.  So for beginners, here is Tuesdays.

Abstract Tribe Unique - Mood Pieces

Released in 1997, Abstract Rude released the album "Mood Pieces" with the help of his producer Fat Jack.  I listened to this album Monday night while trying to figure out what I was going to say about it.  On Tuesday night after work, instead of sitting down and focusing, I went to a nearby chill spot, Soul Gastrolounge.  Each Tuesday, they have a funk and soul night done by two guys I've gotten to know, Brad Pressley and Shanti Love Moore.  If you are ever in Charlotte, then you need to make this one of your official stops.  These guys play dope old school funk and soul.  It's a chill, chill night and that is why I always go.  While there, I was discussing this blog with Brad and talking to him about this album.

In our discussion about music and life, I told him about this album and what frustrates me about it.  During the late 90s, there were many artist emerging from the west coast that had a completely different influence than many Northerners.  The largest being laid back jazz.  The greatest example for the old heads would be listening to Digable Planets.  While they aren't really west coast, their sound soon became embodied by many cats from the left coast.  In listening to this album, this is what I hear predominately throughout.  While talking with Brad, I also found that one of the things that this album presents to me is a constant feel of a spoken word poetry slam with a background beat.  While a specific number of tracks done in this form is genius, a whole album of it is very tiresome.  The best way I can describe this (for you jazz fans) is that when you hear a jazz album, you do not want hear the same beat production for each jam.

Mood Pieces is a decent album.  I respect where Abstract Rude comes from.  He is presented the counter to the 90s West Coast music theme, that is, the "gansta" rap sound.  He is socially conscious and trying to find a way to enlighten his peers and listeners.  I can hear also the influence he has provided for other cats who have followed over the last decade.  While I appreciate it, I just find the album to be too mellow.  It's not that the album needs a heavy hitter or club banger, that's not his style.  What it needs is a change of tempo.  Something just slightly faster to help prevent lulling to sleep the listener.  That being said, if I were trying to teach someone about the awesome variety of music and what it can truly say, then I would have them listen to this album.  While the current form of music is more of a manufactured, factory sound, there is always the sound of reality out there.  That is what Abstract Tribe Unique presents.  I recall in my college years listening to "different," non-radio hip hop.  I was amazed by my personal enlightenment.  This is was ATU does for music.  They provide the enlightenment that people need.

There are many who don't appreciate hip-hop because all they know is the media story, movie life, radio played versions of it.  If they found the time to listen to what is just below the surface, then they would find the beauty of what hip hop is and can be.  While I know that maybe writing a review of this album should have been the focus, it is hard for me to listen to this album and not get emotional about two types of music I love, hip hop and jazz.

In truth, this album does not impress me.  Abstract's vocals are repetitive, even though the lyrics flow effortlessly.  At the same time, his messages are more important than anything else.  This I respect.  The down tempo of the album is a nice change, but 18 tracks of it gets very mundane.  What does impress me, is the patience, practice, and dedication to a genre without forcing a commericalization of sound.  The fact that he is true to himself throughout is the most commendable thing about him.

If you are trying to find out about true hip-hop, the kind of hip-hop that cats like me argue about when discussing the difference between hip-hop and rap, then this is what you should listen to.  If you want to understand what the influences of the left side of the country are like, then you most definitely need to listen to this.  Not because of the message it presents, but because of what it says.

Next up: Aceyalone "All Balls Don't Bounce"

Monday, February 25, 2013

A is for Absent Fever - "Generation Y Not"

Absent Fever - "Generation Y Not"

Taken from their Bandcamp page, this is how Absent Fever is described. "Absent Fever is a free digital release label/music collective started by Eloise of verb/re/verb and Tyler of Flashlight Tag. Aside from... exposing emerging young talent via free music, Absent Fever’s goal is to also incorporate visual based mixed media art in order to further the connection between music and visuals"

While digging through Bandcamp a while back, I came across this little album.  The album was a free download, which I always love.  The album contains seven tracks by seven different acts.   The album is described best on their Bandcamp link. "Generation Y Not is a compilation of 7 young Los Angeles artists, all of whom are part of the enormous movement of youth in music. The compilation is a feature on the paramount shift in music culture, how because of the internet and the way this generation has grown up with the ability to create and share so easily, music has been taken into the hands of youth."  Most of the album is of an electronic-low key sound.

I don't know if the best way to describe it is "chill-wave" or not, but the opening track "Don't Care Bout Her," by Dreams is an excellent opener.  It has a nice slowed down, James Blake style dub sound.  Not the overly wah wah sound that is predominate in dub step, but a more relaxed way of making dub sounds.  The vocal samples used add a nice touch and I like this for when I need to chill.

"Immersion" by Kontent is the second track.  Most times I would skip right past this, not because it isn't good but because it doesn't really provide much to me.  The rhythmic beat is to repetitive.  There is a little bit of variation, but not enough to make the track more interesting.

Wondr provides the third track, "What A Day."  While the track starts with a possibility of hope, it just finds a way to make itself seem to ambient.  Even with the added vocal sampling, the track doesn't really provide much.  Sometimes I wish people who did ambient music would stop doing it with an electronic background.  A song like this needs a little more drums and less out-thereness.

Sometimes an album just needs a total change of pace and boy does it come in from left field on this one.  Honeydrip's "Dull Tydes Brings Us All Down Sometimes" is no-where close in the musical realm as the previous offerings.  This might be the Absent Fever label's rock band.  They have a decent sound, but the vocals need some practice.  Not to sound like a total douche-bag hipster when talking about this band, but I guess I did.  I like their sound.  They remind me of plenty of other bands when they were first starting out.  I hope they keep up the good work and keep up the fine tuning.

"The Last Chapter (Forgive Me)" by Caves comes sixth.  In about 200 days, we will get to the Caves album and you will get to see how awesome they are.  This track is just a little too slow for me.  Especially after following a up and coming rock band.  This follows in the ambient sound of the earlier tracks.  I have heard better things from this band and maybe that is why this track disappoints me.  Softly singing over a monotonous beat with keyboard dragging sounds does not make for an awesome track.  In case you didn't know.

After one minute of listening to "In My Head" by Eliot, I finally got to hear a track that is good.  The first minute of nothingness should have been left for nothing.  The remainder reminds me what I love about chilled out electronic music.  It has a good rhythm, nothing you can dance to, but something that you can write to (as I am right now).  There is nothing more to this track other than a solid background and a more focused rhythm system.  It isn't overpowering, which is a good thing.

Last track!! Tuesday Glass gives us a rock song that hopefully Honeydrip will pay attention to.  Not just how it sounds, but also in how it sounds. "Better Places" reminds me a bit of that short period in "alternative" music, when bands weren't sure of their sound.  That is still making late 80s sounds vs 90s grunge sounds.  Tuesday Glass is right there, but they deliver very well.

All in all, I couldn't tell you how often I will listen to this in the future.  Maybe one day when I hear a song, I'll be reminded of this sampler album.  For a free album, I'm not entirely bitching about it. For a bunch of kids doing work, I applaud them.  The one luxury of youth is time and over time we all are able to grow in maturity and skills.  Those of us enjoy this culture in music should look forward to hearing more.  There is solid potential for some of these groups and I wish them the best of luck in their journey.

Next up: Abstract Tribe Unique "Mood Pieces"

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A is for Ab-Soul "Control System"

Sorry for missing my Saturday assignment, but my work schedule is only hardest on Mondays and Saturdays.

Ab-Soul - Control System

In this new generation of hip-hop/rap kids, there are many influences that I might not be able to truly relate to.  At the same time, I've been listening to a lot hip hop/rap for years.  This has allowed me to be able follow a lot of the trend and see where things are going.  With Ab-Soul's contribution to the genre, you see the potential and the downside at the same time.

Control System is a good "first" album, for any rap artist.  What it needs though is more focus and range.  Ab-Soul follows the Camron/Young Jeezy/Kayne West tradition of rhyming.  This is the downside to his hip hop.  He provides more of an Dr Seuss rhyming style as opposed to showing depth.  Like on the track "Terrorist Threat," the lyrics - "Babylon, Babylon/All is see out the window is Babylon/On the news all I see is Babylon/and all these dudes do is babble on" show a lack of creativity.  This is a common theme throughout.  Plus, if you're going to make a song about anti-military/government, etc, then you need to come hard.  And very hard.  No one likes a soft "anti" song.  The lyricism is one of two things that bother me about the album.  The other is the beat production on the majority of the tracks is the exact same styling.  I know many producers do this, but they succeed because they change the focus of the beats or the instruments themselves (vary drums, horns, etc).  There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of this with Control System.  The majority of tracks also have a very slow beat rhythm.

I know the whole swag scene is what's big in hip-hop these days, but it has to change.  Most of the beats present the swag style and, for me, I could do without a whole album this way.  On the track "SOPA," guest mc Schoolboy Q does great job.  The song also prrovides a DJ Screw style hook.  The whole track should be done that way. Plus, if you are going to name a song "SOPA," please make it about SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act and what it represents.   This lack of true focus is a shame, but it is the best track on the album.  It and "Lust Demons," which guest The Chicago Kid who I thought was Twista at first, are the highlights of the album.  These two tracks show the potential that Ab-Soul has.  He creates a slow jam, hip-hop track, but he doesn't need three or four.  Ab-Soul also need to make sure he delivers harder and more honest when he makes his socially conscious tracks.

All in all, I'm not truly impressed with the album, but there are a few potential gems.  Plus, there is a promise of Ab-Soul being better, but there has to be more focus.  I do appreciate the few tracks that deliver on the production.  I believe in the true marriage of beats and rhymes.  I'm sure when I need to get into a certain mood, I will reach out for Ab-Soul, but for regular rotation it is on pause.

With time, we will all see how he grows.  "I just wanna be free/I ain't trying to be nobody shadow."  Hopefully Ab-Soul can learn to be himself on his next album a little more.  I look forward to seeing that change.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A is for AA Bondy "When The Devil's Loose"

A.A. Bondy - When the Devil's Loose.

This is AA Bondy's second album, which I know is a little odd to review the newest album first and the older album second.  I know, but hey, that's the way the computer has it.

I just finally listened to the album in whole tonight.  It is wonderful.  I actually like this one a little better than "Believer."  It's not about a sense of range.  He still keeps his blues/folk sound going.  There is no "uptempo" tune, but at the same time there is no overly dramatic sad, sad song.  It is a nicely put together, well thought out album.  The songs flow one into the other with a smoothness that makes you feel like you are part of the story being told, without the album coming across with a "concept" theme.

The opening track is  titled "The Mightiest of Guns."  It as a small overture sound in the beginning and then you hear the strings being strummed perfectly.  If this song could have no lyrics it would still be beautiful.  This song reminds me of  Carson McCullers's "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter."  It is smooth and soothing.  Whatever the intention behind the story for the song, I know not.  What I do know is that this is how you start an album.

"A Slow Parade" has to follow in big footsteps and does nicely.  Here I hear the blues man at his core.  Plus, I love any musician who uses a piano correctly in a song.  No matter how the song goes, if the piano is the right tool for the song then I love it.  If used wrong for a song, the song suffers.  The piano is perfect in this song.  "Parade" finds no rush to play with segments of only instrumentals.  This is a hard feat to pull off, but Bondy does a wonderful job.  If there were a scene for a movie where the character is reflecting on a past moment, then this song fits the scene.  I see a man walking a small beach town street.  He looks upon the people living their lives and wonders about his own.  His life is a slow parade, but he knows the time for the next adventure is right around the corner.

"When the Devil's Loose" makes me think a little bit about the old time folk sound.  First Bondy tells Delilah to not go round when the Devil's loose. The old time guitar sounds beautiful.  My favorite verse is the "in the living/in the dying/how easily you bruise."  It's a truth that we all have to remember.  We bruise in everything.  Some artist don't know how to make a title track.  Bondy delivers a lesson on how to do it.  Well done sir.

"To the Morning" and "Oh the Vampire" find the album slowing down.  Not just slowed down, but last song at a dusty floored, dim lit, little town dive bar.  The kind of place where the pool table is missing two balls and there is only one cue because the others got used in a bar fight long ago.  The type of song that someone plays when they have two quarters left and is too drunk to punch the right numbers.  Where you slow dance with your lady as the night ends.  The songs aren't romantic and moving, they are just very mellow.  And that soots me just fine.

"I Can See the Pines are Dancing" helps us get a little bit of the speed we had earlier back.  It's not rock-a-billy speed, but it's Bondy's speed.  This guy plays a smooth guitar and delivers a wonderfully voiced song.  "This is the leaving of another love/This is the howling at the moon/These are the arms you fell into/I am a fire and I must burn today."  If this isn't a verse about passion, then I don't know what is.  This might be my favorite song on the album.  It has a smooth tempo change in the middle of the verses to had the importance to the lyrics.

Here, give it a listen.

"A False River" is a good song.  When it starts, it makes me think of a Johnny Cash tune.  But it doesn't deliver with the speed I thought it would.  It makes me realize how much I don't know about folk music.

"On The Moon."  If you start a song with a piano, then I am in love.  This is the song I would use for a movie or tv show anytime.  Whether it's a montage of a love lost or a love distant, it is perfect.  No other instrument, just the piano and the voice.  It sets up the fade to black scene before our hero begins the day anew and faces the journey of the day.  Plus the songs finishes with a moment of musical interlude to help you prepare for the final two songs.

"The Mercy Wheel."  Our love affair in our small town is almost ending and Bondy does wonderfully here.  It's not an overpowering song and it sucks that it has to follow what I find to be the most beautiful song on the album.

"The Coal Hits the Fire" ends the album.  It is a wonderful selection to end a song.  When some rock bands try to get that old-timey folk sound, the type of sound where the hurt and love are at its' soul, they sound rushed and just off.  Bondy doesn't do a whole Jack Black style tune, which is rushed.  He does his tune, which is slow and meditative.  It is honest, with hurt and pain, love and the future. This song has a solid slow build up.  There are only two stanzas.  They are beautiful. This is how an album should end.  "Memory, oh, memory where is it I must go?/Away from here, but do not weep/Such wonders you will know"

When I read, this is the type of music I like to listen to.  When the weather is nice and the front or back porch is the place to sit and relax, then these songs are the kind to listen to.  Some songs are slow, some not so much.  I know slow, mellow albums are not every one's cup of tea, but sometimes we need them.  That is what this album is for.  For the moments in our life when we need a mellow moment.  I'm happy to have reviewed this because I have a greater appreciation for Mr. Bondy's work.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A is for A.A. Bondy

AA Bondy - Believers

About 4 years ago, I was living in Tampa, Fl.  A good friend of mine had been talking about a tv show with some of her friends and I asked her about it.  The show happened to be called "Parenthood."  I was hanging out with her one day when it was on and watched it with her.  It was an unbelievable show.  The more I watched, the more I loved the show.  Not just becuase of the show, but because of the music.  They always find the right music for the right emotion that is being protrayed.

During the third season, after I moved back to Charlotte, I was enjoying the storyline of the brothers opening up a studio in San Fran.  During the episode, I was introduced to an artist named AA Bondy.  Mr. Bondy is from Birmingham, Alabama, which is where some of my family lives.  After learning which songs were on the episode, I decided to dig through the internet to find more of his music.

The album "Believers" was released in 2011.  AA is a folk singer, but not in the mindset of an overly bluesy, folk singer. To me, I find his voice to be melodic and cracking at the same time.  I hear the emotions of a man.  Of a soul that is still in hurt, but slowly healing.

AA Bondy - The Heart is Willing.

The album starts with "The Heart is Willing."  It starts with the slow speed of a train, but as soon as you get on, you are off to the distance.  The bass strums constantly like the wheels turning and the drums beat along like the engine churning.  The song is the perfect intro for this album.  It gets you going, but doesn't speed off too fast.  It just lets you sit back and enjoy the escape of the small town you used to be stuck in.  For me the vast majority of the album is like the intro song.  This is not a folk record where you are going to be blown away by the guitar strums and a wailing voice.  This album is like a midnight walk alone on a country road contemplating what the hell is going on.  I find what I love about this album is exactly that.  I don't need to always know about the hardness of life.  I need to know about the soothing of time alone. Bondy provides you the escape of the hurt, the loss, and the love, without reminding you about it.  You don't look at the pictures of your past crying in the dark.  He allows you to remember the moments but as a glancing moment.  I find I ponder, but not too long on my life when I listen to him.  "Believers" reminds me of winter and the chill and frost, but also of the warmth of the house.

AA Bondy - Drmz

While "Believers" is Bondy's latest endevour, it is also his best work so far.  With a hauntingly beautiful voice, as well as the honesty of life in his songs, I am happy to have stumbled across him.  I'm sure that in the moments of my life where I need a song for the fireplace on that cold winter day or for when I need the freshness of the crisp fall night air, he will always be available to help console and soothe me.

AA Bondy - Believers

1."The Heart is Willing"
2."Down in the Fire (Lost Sea)"
3."Skull & Bones"
4."123 Dupuy Street"
5."Surfer King"
8."The Twist"
9."Rte. 28/Believers"
10."Scenes from a Circus"

A disclaimer on this blog.

This blog is personal journey into my musical world.  This is not a hipster blog to explain how awesome one band is and how another sucks.  This is for me to learn more about the music I own and why I love it.

I have on my computer over 2000 albums of varying genres.  I plan to write a review of each and every entry on my i-tunes daily.  There is no method to the madness, just I will start with the first one and move along to the next one daily.  The system of cataloging is really random.  I do not follow all the rules, but I do follow my own.  For instance, Al Green is under A for Al and Fiona Apple is under A for Apple.  That's just the way I have it set up, so please do not beat me up for it.  I will not write a true "review" of the album for every album.  I'm no music critic, but I am in love with music.  I love all that it represents.  Everything about it.  Some of my reviews might be about the actually songs, others about the memories of my life and why the tracks are important.  I will do the best I can to provide tracks off of each album to provide you with something to listen to while you read.

Please enjoy this journey with me.  One day you might know the artist, but not the story that goes with it.  The next day, you might not know who I am talking about.  I would love for you all to love all that I love about music.