Week 37 Review

Mr. Oizo – Analog Worms Attack (1999)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 3.5 out of 5 stars album. The album has perhaps the greatest bonus track in the history of modern music and is considered to be quite influential for the electronic music genre, which is why the score is as high as it is. However, I found myself bored with this album much of the time as the week progressed. It just doesn’t lend itself to listening on repeat for an entire week.

Artist BackgroundMr. Oizo is French electronic musician and director, Quentin Dupieux.  His biggest hit is Flat Beat which features the puppet, Flat Eric. Flat Eric starred in a Levi’s commercial which featured the song. It took another half decade before he would release a follow-up, Moustache (Half a Scissor). I’m actually a way bigger fan of his second album which is a very satisfying listen for me given the overall weirdness of it. It’s like I’ve always said: if you aren’t going to be melodic, you damn well better be interesting. Mr. Oizo continues to put out unique music including The Church which he released in late 2014.

Album Background: Analog Worms Attack is an experimental, instrumental hip hop album with a runtime of about 50 minutes. Given the genre, there is a heavy emphasis on bass throughout the entire album. Mr. Oizo at least had an interesting concept with this album, which was to create the entire album with nothing but analog components. Most notably, he used the analog synthesizer, the Korg MS-20. The MS-20 stopped being produced in 1983 but played a big part in the analog revival of the late 1990’s. Quite a few of my favorite artists use the Korg MS-20 to make their music. Mr. Oizo probably couldn’t have picked a better instrument to work with. The album wasn’t made solely by himself as Feadz did most of the turntable work.

Favorite Track: This has to be the easiest time I’ve ever had picking a favorite track from an album. That song is obviously the bonus track, Flat Beat. This song defined an entire era of my life which was about the first 5 or so years after graduating from college. I didn’t quite have the freedom that I had with college life at the time, but I didn’t have all of the responsibilities and commitments that I have now. In other words, good times. I thumped Flat Beat on a Friday or Saturday with a drink in my hand whether the people I shared a wall with liked it or not. And this song still is my go-to for testing out a newly purchased sub-woofer. So why does this song stand out? The music video definitely helps. It’s so entertaining and filled with so many memorable moments; some of which my friend and I would try our best to recreate IRL. For the best listening experience possible, you want to try to imitate Flat Eric’s head bobbing pattern when listening to the song.

And I’m not the only one to love this song. It was a huge hit. It was included in the Top 5 in fifteen countries and even hit number 1 in  six countries, including the UK. The fact that this was barely a blip in the United States in 1999 doesn’t surprise me. There’s a lot of songs that are big hits internationally but don’t resonate here. What does register with me is the infectious rolling bass line and the playful approach of the rhythmic patterns Mr. Oizo used with this song. It is a must-listen song if you haven’t heard it yet. Seriously, I gave you a link. Watch the video. Let the puppet make you smile.

What Works: 

  • Turntables The scratching done on this album by Feadz was one of the highlights of the album for sure. The thirteenth track, Feadz On, is one of my favorite moments of his. His creative and often delightful technique perfectly complements Mr. Oizo’s often minimalist and repetitive beats. I think if this album would have been more sample heavy with Feadz being a main contributor for every song, this could have easily been one of my all-time favorites.
  • Timing The album is kind of unique in that it has four tracks that are under the two minute mark that aren’t skits. It really helped break up the album which had some tracks that went on entirely too long given how monotonous some of the longer songs were. Feadz On is included in those four tracks.
  • Kidnies Since this album is considered experimental hip hop, I think one of the more interesting experiments on the album is Inside the Kidney Machine. Not only does it feel like the musical equivalent of being inside a kidney machine, it also feels like you’re playing a horror video game that takes place inside a kidney machine. Could this be the main storyline of the next Resident Evil? You don’t even have to pay me, Capcom. I’m giving you this one, free of charge.

What Doesn’t:

  • Build Up I think my biggest problem with a good majority of songs is they don’t really go anywhere. If you have four or five minutes and no lyrics, I think your song needs to slowly build up to something to get and, more importantly, keep my focus. Too many times I found myself asking, “Is that all?”
  • Boring  While I love minimalist graphic design, I rarely find myself as intrigued by minimalist music. It usually just comes off as boring. And that was the case here. Many of the songs just did not have enough going on for me to really enjoy them. And hearing them over and over didn’t help. I’m pretty sure, if I wanted to, I could yada yada nearly the entire album: “I put on my headphones. I turned on Analog Worms Attack. Yada, yada, yada. Flat Beat finally came on.” Yep. That works.

In Conclusion: I’m not telling anyone to not listen to this album. I think it might be worth a look if this is a genre you are interested in. It might even become a favorite album for the right kind of person. There are some hidden gems to be found, such as Monophonic Shit, and Flat Beat is absolutely a must-listen situation. But I don’t think this is going to end up high on the all-time favorites list for your average person since it really doesn’t hold up to repeat listens.

Finally, please check out his official website. It’s seriously retro-rrific! And it has free music to download for the if it’s free it’s me crowd.

Music Video Links:
Mr. Oizo – Flat Beat (Official Video) 

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music
Google Play
iTunes
XBOX Music
Spotify

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site

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Week 34 Review

Insane Clown Posse – The Amazing Jeckel Brothers (1999)

Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.5 out of 5 stars album. Critics seem to love to rip on ICP. I can’t say their points aren’t valid, but for me everything comes together to make the traveling dark carnival an incredibly fun time. At the end of the week, I was still smiling and laughing, so they must be doing something right.

Artist BackgroundThe Insane Clown Posse roots started in the mid-80s but the group didn’t use it’s current name until the early 90s. The band is made up of Joseph Bruce aka Violent J and Joseph Utsler aka Shaggy 2 Dope. The duo builds it music around the imagery and themes of the Dark Carnival. Both the name Insane Clown Posse and the idea of the Dark Carnival actually came from two separate dreams that Violent J had. ICP has a rather controversial history including a major protest of the group when they were signed to Disney records. They’ve also had several run-ins with the law over the span of their career. But despite all this, ICP has continued to build a successful following with each album release.

Album Background: The Amazing Jeckel Brothers continues with the Dark Carnival themes set up by it’s predecessors. This particular album focuses on the 9 circles of hell. The Jeckel Brothers Jack and Jake represent the duality of mankind and the internal struggle between good and evil. I’m not sure you need to know that to enjoy the album, but it does help make sense of the significance of the intro track. The album is 70 minutes long and is a combination of the genres horrorcore, hip hop and rap rock. With this album debuting at number #4, it is the most successful album in their discography. And it should have felt very satisfying for them given the intense amount of hate they received through the attention of the protests against them regarding their previous album, The Great Milenko. In addition to being successful, the album was also a major step toward being treated with more respect within the hip hop world by securing appearances by Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Snoop Dogg on the album. (Snoop just keeps popping back up on my reviews, doesn’t he?)

Favorite Track: Picking the favorite track is sometimes a struggle, but with this album it was an easy pick. Mad Professor checks all the boxes for me. First, the opening skit of the man buying a couch then being bludgeoned to death with a cartoonish-sounding frying pan is hilarious. This is then followed with one of the funniest lines I think I have ever heard delivered in an album skit: “You want my couch?…You can’t have my couch!” Couches are comedy gold for music. Two more people die during the song with additional skits, which nicely breaks up the song’s longer than usual run-time of almost 6 minutes. The song itself makes heavy use of samples from old sci-fi/horror movies, though, I couldn’t find any specific titles used. The heavy sampling and overall sound reminds me of the classic sci-hop album, Dr. Octagonecologyst by Dr. Octagon aka Kool Keith aka Keith Thornton. What really seals the status as favorite track is the ending reveals the song is actually an origin story for ICP as the Mad Professor’s creation is none other than Shaggy 2 Dope.

What Works: 

  • ODB It turns out ODB aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard gave ICP very little to work with for the song Bitches as it amounted essentially to incoherent rambling when they first received his recordings. The duo pressed on, though, and dug through the ramblings to create something that actually worked as verses. They then re-recorded their verses to fit better with the lyrics they scraped together from ODB and thus Bitches was born. The song is incredibly misogynistic but given their starting point, I think they did an admirable job. I also enjoyed them reusing the backing vocals/chanting from the Wu-Tang classic Clan in da Front. ODB is a member of the Wu-Tang Clan for those not familiar with him. Props for the beat used on this song which is very playful.
  • Story Telling ICP are such good story tellers. My favorite track, Mad Professor, is a great example of this. But so is I Want My Shit which tells the incredibly epic and equally silly story of the 200+ year old Violent J who participated in key historical events and hung out with notable figures. Violent J remains immortal until he obtains four cornerstones of the Juggalo mythology which include an oxidized axe, knowledge in the mystical art of voodoo, an overweight female companion whose given name is Bridget and nature’s sweet elixir, Faygo. Faygo is a soda line based in Detroit, Michigan that heavily featured in ICP concerts. ICP has a lot of love for their hometown and makes sure the city is well represented on their albums. In addition to the compelling comedic tale, the rock-oriented beats complement the lyrics quite nicely and help to maintain the aggression of the chorus. Play With Me is another interesting tale from the point of view from a now abandoned toy and its need for revenge on its former child owner.
  • Comedy ICP is funny as hell. In particular, The Shaggy Show, which features real life ska band, Gangster Fun, is filled with numerous moments of hilarity. I especially like the mock commercial for a Player-Hating Degree program. And, although this doesn’t fall under comedy but since we are discussing The Shaggy Show, I have to mention this. I was impressed that ICP decided to reference Violent J’s real-life panic attack that occurred on-stage in 1998 as part of the interview between the two. In addition to some very funny tracks, some of the songs include skits at the end of the song. While all of them are pretty funny, the disgruntled truck driver looking to unload a payload of male masturbators for an ICP show as part of prank call to ICP’s management team made me smile every time I heard it. The prank calls were done by The Jerky Boys and were executed perfectly. There are just so many moment in the album that I can’t help but smile. How these guys got so much hate mail boggles my mind. They do nothing but make me happy.

What Doesn’t:

  • Abrasive I listen to albums on repeat during work but also on my commute. Some of the mornings were particularly brutal due to the over abrasive sound on some of the ICP songs. Bring It On is probably the biggest offender of being overly harsh due to the multi-layered screaming of the chorus. Multiple times I found myself thinking it is way too early in the morning for this kind of music. And I’m the kind of guy who will head bang to AC/DC’s Back in Black on his way to work. So it’s really saying something when I think they need to dial it back for some parts of the album.
  • Length At 70 minutes, I think the album is too long. The second to last track, Echo Side, was actually meant for a different album with a different group that ICP is a sub-set of and I think the album might have better pacing without it. I will say the song is interesting with the inclusion of what I think are backward lyrics but it’s not essential. Overall, I think a lot of the songs would’ve benefited from trimming off some of the excess fat. Quite a few songs go past the 5 minute mark and some run into 6 minutes. Don’t mess with Mad Professor though.

In Conclusion: The Amazing Jeckel Brothers is probably not for everyone. Sadistic rapping clowns that regularly denounce racism, bigotry and child abuse while telling vulgar stories of violence and demonic darkness probably doesn’t have universal appeal. I get that. But I think if you go into it with the right expectations, you’re going to finish the album feeling better off than when you started. ICP has never been and will never be lyrical geniuses. But I do think they are very creative with their Dark Carnival concept and do a wonderful job creating a fun, playful environment with dark gritty overtones. I’m not sure just anyone could pull off the balancing act ICP does, so unlike some others, I have a lot of respect and appreciation for this album.

Music Video Links:
Insane Clown Posse – Another Love Song (Official Video)

Streaming/Purchase Links:
Amazon Music
Google Play
iTunes
XBOX Music
Spotify

Information Links:
Wikipedia Artist
W
ikipedia Album
Facebook
Twitter
Official Site

Week 16 Review

Blackalicious released A2G EP in 1999.  This Bay Area hip hop duo are part of the positive hip hop sub-genre which focuses on uplifting and spiritual messages rather than violence or materialism.     

Artist: Blackalicious {Timothy Parker aka Gift of Gab; Xavier Mosley aka Chief Xcel}
Album: A2G EP
Year: 1999
Genre: Hip hop
Rating: 4.75/5

Worth Your Time? Even if you’re not into hip hop, A2G is going to surprise and delight you.

Twitter Review: MC Gift of Gab and DJ Chief Xcel made an EP with A2G that is sonically, emotionally and intellectually stimulating at every turn.

 Top 3 Tracks:

  1. Clockwork
  2. Alphabet Aerobics (The Cut Chemist 2½ Minute Workout)
  3. Deception

Things to Look For:

  • Gift of Gab. On the song Clockwork Gift of Gab’s flow on the verses reminds me more of a saxaphone jazz soloist than I think any delivery by any MC I have ever heard.  The way he varies the rhythms, pitch accents and intonation of his words throughout the song feels like a saxophonist carefully selecting the next improvised note of the current chord as their fingers are flying along the instrument’s keys. For example, the lyrics “My house ain’t made of ginger, but it’s made of an array of pages that’ll slay ya like a ninja” is good in its own right. But to hear GoG actually deliver that line elevates it to a new level completely beyond anything you could ever get just by reading the lyrics.
  • Samples. It’s extremely clear that Chief Excel has paid his dues and has an extremely large knowledge of hip hop records, both past and present. Why? The wide variety of sampling happening on the EP is evidence enough.  Particularly in A to G where he samples various artists saying “gift of gab” to finish up the letter G and in Rock the Spot which is packed wall to wall with samples shows his commitment to the craft.
  • Dr. Suess. While it doesn’t have the playfulness and splendid imagination of Dr. Suess, Gift of Gab does an beyond impressive job in A to G and in Alphabet Aerobics as he does a verse featuring words starting with a particular letter for every letter of the alphabet. Have you ever heard anyone doing that before outside of some writing exercise? Probably not. But he not only attempted it but actually pulled it off brilliantly. In the hands of a lesser skilled artist, it could have easily turned into a disaster as the amount of multi-syllable words strung together on these tracks are jaw dropping. Also, the ending of Alphabet Aerobics is one of the best trolls ever on an album as the female narrator asks “Good. Can you say it faster?” as GoG finishes with the letter Z.
  • Think Positive. In the vein of Slick Rick, GoG delivers a parable in Deception to any future artists about the pitfalls of success in the world of hip hop.  In particular, I liked the processing of GoG’s voice as he becomes the narrator for this track. The other particularly positive track is Making Progress which is an inspiring track aimed at the black community to elevate themselves with the required effort despite the struggles they will have to face. Though the target of the song is narrow, I think it contains many universal truths of improving yourself that applies to any person thus valuable to everyone.

Low Points: The weakest track on the album is Back to the Essence which by no means a bad track.  It just doesn’t do much for me as the other tracks on the album. It also contains the only swear word is used on this album which is done by guest MC Lateef. Gift of Gab is known for not cussing on his albums. He’s even been referred to as the anti-Eminem in an article I ready some years ago. So to have Lateef break that up left me a little disappointed. It’s quite possible GoG swears on this album and I’m just missing it. I have two friends who can testify of my ability to miss swear words in a song. Luckily, the college radio didn’t get hit with a fine and nobody got in trouble.

Anything Else: So I think I proved the internet wrong while writing this review. And I would love to hear from you if you think I’m wrong after reading this.  On the song Clockwork there is a fantastic chorus. One part of the chorus contains what I believe to be the lyrics “Master of scratch, if the needle was to slip, then the needle he’ll catch” It is absolutely my favorite part of the chorus. I don’t know why but I loved hearing it every time it came up this week.  So I looked up the lyrics online to make sure I am hearing it correctly and all of the sites say a different set of lyrics “Master of scratching yes is he the one slippin or is he the real captain?” I listened to this part over and over again on my speakers and even my headphones trying to figure out how I could hear something so incredibly different than what’s on every single lyric site I visited.

Eventually, I noticed that another song was popping up when I searched the lyrics that I thought I heard. This song is Marley Marl feat. MC Shan – Marley Marl Scratch which is a classic hip hop song released in 1985. At 44 seconds Marley Marl begins to spell out his name in the song which is a common trope used by many MCs over the years. He raps “The M is for Master of Scratch And if the needle was to slip it’s the needle he’ll catch” which is incredibly close to the lyrics I think I hear. My version is obviously not a common phrase as I could find no other songs besides these two with those lines. And we already know that Chief Xcel has an incredibly wide breadth of music knowledge based on sampling on this album. Doesn’t it seem more likely that Xcel was paying tribute to Marley Marl by using that phrase in the chorus rather than using the phrase listed on the internet that sounds nothing like what I’m hearing? Feel free to listen to the song and give me your opinion. But I think somebody wrote the lyrics wrong in the beginning and that change has been propagated to all of the lyric sites without anybody ever verifying if they were correct. Therefore, the internet is wrong. And I am right. I rest my case.

Additional Links:

Week 8 Review

This week I’m reviewing Dr. Dre’s 2001. It is a triumphant return to rap and annihilates any question if Dre still had it in him since releasing The Chronic seven years earlier in 1992.  

Artist: Dr. Dre (also featuring Xzibit, Devin the Dude, Snoop Dogg, Hittman, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, Six-Two, Eminem, Ms. Roq, Knoc-Turn’al, Mary J. Blige)
Album: 2001
Year: 1999
Genre: Gangsta Rap
Rating: 5/5

Worth Your Time? Absolutely. Even if you don’t like rap, you should still give it a listen. It is a classic.

Twitter Review: Production and lyrics are unparalleled and refreshing. It is from a bygone era before materialism took center stage in the rap scene.

Please note that any links below should be considered NSFW. Expect strong language and sexual situations to be contained in all of these songs.

Top 5 Tracks:

  1. What’s the Difference
  2. Still D.R.E.
  3. Forget About Dre
  4. Bang Bang
  5. The Watcher

Things to Look For:

  • Guest Stars. Eddie Griffin is hilarious as the drunk bartender in Bar One and in his Ed-Ucation speech. While Ed-Ucation is done in a sobering matter, I don’t think you can take it any other way than a joke. Next, Jake Steed, a retired 90’s adult film star who may be currently hiding in South America from US law enforcement after skipping out on his trial date and may be central to finding the location of the jetpack is GTA V, makes an appearance on Pause 4 Porno. Finally, Tommy Chong makes a surprise appearance at the end of the album as part of a hidden track, Outro, where he tries to obtain illegal prescriptions from Dr. Dre. Including one of the most prolific potheads in a sequel to The Chronic was hysterical to say the least.
  • Those Big Beautiful Beats. Dr. Dre is actually better known for his producing than rapping. His ability for beat creation is legendary as he is known by many as the father of G-Funk which influenced just about any rap artist that came after him on some level. To give you an idea of his dedication to production, Dre will actually have in-house musicians play the music he wishes to sample from rather than taking the original material so he has more control over it to get it just the way he wants it. Another example of the care and dedication he puts into his work is Big Ego’s intro which starts with a conversation with air traffic control to request to land at LAX. It sets up a dramatic movie atmosphere for the rest of the song without even showing a single picture. I’ve hummed along and bobbed my head to so many songs on this album. I am in awe of his ability to turn some sparse notes and a bassline into a prolific influential genre-defining sound with widespread mass appeal. Plinking on a piano has never sounded so good.
  • M&M. While there are many incredible well delivered lyrics on this album and I probably have about 30 instances where a perfectly executed verse of clever word play will make me smile every time, the young Eminem really stands out from everybody. I look forward to his parts anytime I listen to this album.
  • Nods. Several times throughout 2001, there are some subtle and not so subtle references to Dr. Dre’s previous release, The Chronic and NWA’s Straight Outta Compton of which he was a member of NWA. It’s quite fun when you happen to catch one.

Low Points: I know some people are probably going to not like me for saying this but I think The Message is the weakest song on the album. The song is about about Dre’s deceased brother Tyree which makes it sacrosanct for a lot of poeple. I wish that this song had an emotional impact on me like so many other songs related to the passing of a loved one but it unfortunately didn’t. At times the lyrics felt too cliche and generic for me to make that connection. And I think I know why. The only writing credit for this song is Royce Da 5’9″ who is part of rap supergroup Slaughterhouse and one half of Bad Meets Evil with Eminem filling out the other half. My guess is if it had been Dre who wrote it rather than Royce, the emotional intensity that I was seeking would have been overflowing on this track.

Anything Else: Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit and pretty much anybody who has rapped on this album, I would like to introduce you to a person that I think you need to meet: Miss Ogyny. Miss Ogyny, may I present the current membership of the He-Man Woman Haters Club. The one interesting rapper on this album in regards to the topic of misogyny is Ms. Roc who completely turns the tables on the men during her verses at the end of Let’s Get High. Only rich well endowed men are of any use to her though manual stimulation is sometimes prefered as it is less cumbersome than dealing with otherwise worthless men. In addition, she forces men to perform oral sex on her rather than the other way around. Notice, I just said this was interesting. I don’t think the inclusion of Ms. Roc’s performance somehow undoes everything said by the other performers on the rest of the album.

The lyrics throughout this album are incredibly misogynistic. Women are consistently valued only for performing sexual acts and I use the term valued loosely since I’m not even sure the lyrics indicate any appreciation for those. If an alien had heard only this album and came to Earth, they would think women existed solely for the purpose of providing oral sex and annoying men with their feelings. I don’t think men should view women like that. Any man who has those views is despicable and is doing nothing but holding back our society from progressing to a more equal environment. I view my wife as my partner in our marriage. We work as a team and there isn’t anything she can’t do if she puts her mind to it. I look at my female family members, friends, co-workers and personal heroes and can only come to the conclusion that you are insane if you think men are somehow superior to women.

So how can I disagree with the lyrics so much and still enthusiastically tell you to listen to this album? Well, I don’t believe in censoring art in any way. I tend to compartmentalize art appreciation and social views. I’d rather have some negative views out there than telling somebody that they cannot say something simply because I don’t agree with it. Mostly because putting anybody in charge of deciding what can and can’t be said is far too much power for any person or group of people. Next, there are numerous instances of rappers that are playing characters rather than playing themselves when they rap. The horrorcore rap sub-genre is a prime example of that. I’d be willing to bet that there isn’t a single practicing Satanist in the entire genre. Just because you rap about the devil, demons and death on your albums doesn’t mean you are wearing black robes in your basement with lit red candles everywhere as you try to summon the prince of darkness in your free time. Finally, Dr. Dre didn’t create the misogynistic attitude we see so often in society. He’s just reflecting it back to us. You want to break that mirror? Start treating women the way they should be. Set an example to family, friends, co-workers and even strangers that women deserve to be treated equally by actually treating them equally. Try to be conscious of it so you can be aware of when you make a mistake. Then you can do better next time.

If you really want to see how big of a problem this issue is, please take the time to regularly visit The Everyday Sexism Project. Some of this stuff sounds like it should have happened in the 1950’s instead of yesterday. I get so incredibly sad and angry when I visit this site. I also encourage both sexes to visit. There are numerous posts of women inflicting other women with these horrible sexist attitudes. I think we all can do better on some level by taking some time for real self-reflection and introspection.

Additional Links: