This song is real long. Probably longer than it needs to be but the story it tells is so abstract and the music so full of deep mysteries that continue to bleed through the track no matter how many times you listen to it that it doesn't seem like six plus minutes at all. And, more than the recorded track, observe the artist in action live. They bring nothing if not more energy and layers to it. At times, the layers become white noise, then back again as they are peeled away and new ones introduced. I often marvel at how anyone could've made this mix and had it sound comprehensible. I can't imagine the levels, the envelopes, the effects all colliding into one another and then separating out. That School of Seven Bells is defunct at this point still saddens me, but legendary tracks like this will always live on. Ghostory and tracks like this were when they became more than an electronic, dreamy pop group and into something more intense. It's too bad we barely found out where that was going.
It may start like a typical indie rock song from several years ago, cutesy falsetto crooning, electric piano pounding out quarter-note chords. I was about to give up on it, then that cleaning guitar begins to prance all over it like a parade marshal of fun thinking it owns the place telling you to wait just a minute because the real shit is coming.
And it does, the rhythm guitar shuffling with a sweet, vivacious chord progression before the chorus arrives in a bloom of synths and harmonies. Is it done then? No, of course it's not. Why coast? Why take all that musical goodwill and end it there? When we come out of the chorus, it leaves us with a new verse full of a punchy baseline and even more jumpy guitar work building to . . . SOMETHING EVEN BETTER.
This track gets it. It doesn't do quietLOUDquiet, as classic as that is, it actually leaves every section of better as it finds it. One simple verse, a rousing chorus, a better verse, and then . . . a moment of tension before an even more explosive chorus. This song is what we must all be in life, rolling into next stage hungrier and fresher than the last. This diskopunk, they might be one worth following.
DJ SHADOW. RUN THE JEWELS. DJ SHADOW AND RUN THE JEWELS. DJ SHADOW AND RUN THE JEWELS SIMULTANEOUSLY!
You're looking at me like you don't understand how important this is. Just go ahead and listen to it, and then you'll understand. Shadow has seemed to be lost in the wilderness for awhile now. While he was an instrumental (heh) force in pushing me to understand and appreciate left-of-center hip hop and turntablism in my youth, much of his recent output has been in the meh to okay range. That's a dramatic fall when someone once called him the Jimi Hendrix of the Sampler or some shit like that.
Then, of course, you have Run The Jewels, probably one of the most vital forces in hip hop right now. Killer Mike's unctuous verbal battery combined with the air strikes of El-P's compelling weirdness and raunchiness blend with this slick and funky Shadow track like nothing I've heard in a long time. You can just feel Shadow's revitalization happening in your ears as two lyrical veterans knock it out of the park.
My writing has always leaned on music. Whether inspiration, mood, or energy to keep me going through the many hours of drafting and editing, it can be an important force and fuel for what I do. These tracks in particular were especially crucial, helping me build or refine a character, a scene, or a whole story arc.
As much as I love the Soul Coughing original of this song, with it’s bright guitars, sardonic tone, and punchy bass, I’ve long found this version to be more compelling. Low’s version of this tale, a song about the “god among salesman,” is a complete different character study. Smooth, slow, mournful, and a touch creepy, it feels more complex and evokes a whole different set of emotions than the original. It’s perfect to fit Reverend Matt Renault. On the surface, he’s a salesman of a sort. He sells a new destiny to the ignored, the excluded, and the failed. With all of his smooth talk and his intricate plans, he’s a suave force of malevolence. A song like this fits him and his slow, meticulous, and dangerous ways.
Reverend Matt Renault has been many things in his life. A former altar boy with a grasp on the power of religion, he originally felt called to Seminary school. His mastery of theology was beyond question, but very quickly his teachers realized he was too skilled at twisting its meanings into manipulating his own heretical understandings of life and God. He had an eerie talent for using the forces of religion and faith to manipulate people. It didn’t take long for Matt to realize his potential was being wasted and drop out of Seminary school to find more fruitful endeavors. The agents of Hell were quick to approach with an offer, eager to turn Matt’s talents with words and manipulative flare for religion into something they could use. His skill was particularly well-suited to Summoning, the art of calling Demons from Hell itself and binding them to his will. Very quickly, Matt found himself able to call and control some of Hell’s mightiest creatures and even converse with the Pit Lords themselves.
Eventually recruited by the Goetians, an elite group of Hell’s servants composed of mortals like Matt and devilkin who could trace their lineage to the Pit Lords themselves, he had a radical idea. Why not copy the model of active fundamentalist churches, but turn it on its head? Building a Hell church with active outreach programs to disaffected youth, loners, and social outcasts could yield an endless stream of angry recruits that could hide in plain sight as it masqueraded as any number of “normal” churches. It didn’t take long before the Goetians saw the virtue in his proposal and decided to fund it. One of Matt’s mentors, a talented Sorcerer, even helped design the church to be a veritable fortress of arcane defenses in case they were ever exposed.
Over the years, after recruiting and carefully grooming a handful of talented and powerful acolytes, his following and his church have grown into something dangerously special. With his honeyed words and talk of better lives, Reverend Matt has built quite the force of adepts and soldiers ready and able to fight for Hell all under the roof of what looks to be a normal church. And under that church? He’s built something even more dangerous. It started with an idea from his Goetian mentor, a construction from the middle ages called a Possession Chamber. While his mentor perished after completing the first phase of it in a summoning gone wrong, Matt has remained determined to make the Chamber a reality. Able to pull Demons directly from Hell to infest the souls of anyone placed in the Chamber, Reverend Matt has constructed the ultimate factory for Hell’s sleeper agents to hide in the bodies of others and terrorize all of humanity.
That is, once the Chamber is finished. Matt witnessed his mentor die, then over a dozen more talented enchanters follow suit as they try to complete the design. Hell’s power is not easily controlled, nor are its bloodthirsty denizens. As the number of enchanters that Reverend Matt can lay hands on begin to dwindle even as the design inches ever closer to completion, he finds himself in a strange place. His cult of acolytes is ready to act, to help Reverend Matt ignite the world and knock the forces of Heaven back from their dominance over humanity. The only problem? Their best weapon may never be complete. His last ditch hope before he falls to truly desperate measures is the name of one last enchanter he’s discovered - an obscure graphic designer named Derek Watts.
Sometimes you just want some rousing guitar noise. Bob Mould is always a pretty good place to start with that, especially his recent output. Patch the Sky continues a long streak started by The Silver Age where he brought a more lively grunge style back with the polished sonics of distinctly better production. His dissonant and harmonic choruses further seal the deal, giving these anthems an almost meditative field. Black Confetti is one of those, with a building, mid-tempo cadence that is underlined by a busy rift that is so dense it nearly swallows the world as it wraps you in a sonic fog. It's that kind of guitar-fog and Bob Mould's voice that can almost feel like a forcefield against the world around you at times.
Where to start with this obscure gem. The detuning slide guitar and whispery feminine growl set it up perfectly. Is this the song of a woman scorned? Or a woman delivering the scorning? Who cares! It rocks! The dissonant harmonies that are like pop through a fun-house mirror and the drunken wail of the guitar instantly transport you to a hookup gone off the rails. It's short, but it's not sweet. It's magnificently sour.
Sometimes when an artist that you haven't though about in years pops up again out of nowhere, it can really unleash a fountain of memories. Missy Elliot at the Superbowl and the incipient Missy Elliot mania couldn't be more deserved. Coming from Hampton Roads, VA like myself, she's always stood out to me and I've always paid attention. Timbaland is too, of course, but he was never as interesting as Missy was and when he was working with her. Here she is even improving on Skrillex and Diplo's work, although that doesn't surprise me too much. Hopefully this is the beginning of a lot more to come. Let's rewind first, though, to where it all began.
I'm cribbing a lot of this from her wikipedia page, because while I remember quite a bit of it I'm old and my memory of 90s music isn't as good as it once was. After the folding of early 90s record label Swing Mob, label Missy, Timbaland, Magoo, Ginuwine, and many others were on, Missy and Timbaland became a bit of a songwriting and producing powerhouse. She was a bedrock of Aaliyah's One in a Million album, a collaborator with Destiny's Child, P. Diddy (a frequent malingerer in all of my musical flashbacks), Total, MC Lyte, New Edition, the list goes on and on. She was everywhere in the mid-90s, but I won't further elaborate on that because if you really want to know, you can always go to her artist discography here or her production discography here. It's voluminous and staggering.
I would be lying if I said my teenage self noticed Missy Elliot's producing and songwriting skills in the background of all of these 90s R&B and Hip-Hop classics. I didn't read liner notes. I had maybe a dozen CDs up until the late 90s. I noticed Missy first the same way a lot of us who actually watched MTV back then noticed her: when this happened towards the end of high school.
Like many suburban white kids growing up in the shallow south, I didn't listen to a ton of hip hop. I've admitted this before. Missy was different, though. She was a local. She was also weird. As much as I saturated my brain with grunge, jam bands, and repetitive big beat electronica, I did enjoy hip hop of the weird variety. Particularly from this gentleman, who had a penchant for the weird and his video reminded me a lot of "The Rain" and came out not too much later.
That bass, Missy's odd flow, and of course the insane visuals. And Missy was a local, in a sense, so I had to cheer for the hometown girl. She was one of many artists who showed me that I was missing out on a lot by listening to too many second-rate grunge acts and hour-annihilating jam bands. And I will always remember that video. Judging by certain things, I'm not the only one who hasn't had it etched permanently in their mind.
Soon later, I actually saw Missy in person. I worked at a Hampton Roads movie theater at the time as an usher, and when I was ripping tickets one day I got a call from the phone on the wall nearby that a VIP would be coming through, a celebrity with a bodyguard. A tiny woman in a pink parka and one of the most enormous men I've seen in my life, her bodyguard, passed through. I couldn't make out her face too well in the parka, but she looked familiar. My manager came by after that and explained that it was Missy. This made sense as the theater itself was apparently very close to where she lived. I was shocked at how small Missy was, but also a little bit starstruck. She was definitely the only celebrity we ever had passing through that theater.
But let's get back to the music.
I loved how aggressively weird this song was, but like many great songs it was nearly ruined by a little too much airplay. A friend of mine in college who wasn't such a big Missy fan used to sing "Cut This Song off, Cut This Song Off" over it. That eerie music, the startling visuals, the overall unapologetic vibe that refused to fit in with any other music out there. But more greatness was to come. I mean, she even made that Moulin Rouge song tolerable (sort of).
These are the three hits that everyone remembers. I'm not going to say my music collection is busting with Missy, but they're songs and videos that I'll never forget. Missy is like that, her music is so distinctive, it even feels creative and fresh today ten, fifteen, almost twenty years after it first came out. It invigorated hip hop at the time, and with a refresh button hit on this, maybe it will invigorate everything now.
So it's good to have you back, Missy. And I (shudder) have to even thank Katy Perry of all people for helping you reclaim the spotlight you deserve. She helped pull me down the hip hop rabbit hole, she opened my ears and my eyes and quasi-traumatized me with an eccentric musical and visual point of view that can't be unseen or unheard. I mean, there are a ton of people that grew up in Hampton Roads who have maybe made more money or are more famous than she is with not quite as much talent (ahem) but she'll always be my favorite from old Tidewater. Maybe it's because I've got a little too much of that unapologetic and aggressive eccentricity in me too. I wish I had the talent and work ethic she does, though.
It's a fantastic song that is musically interesting and has a socially-conscious message. It's video is even interesting as well. You can never go wrong with Bowie. There's so much appreciate, from the bright guitar shuffle to the horns to the catchy bassline. This isn't even the long version with the zany trumpet solo (I seriously love the fuck out of that zany trumpet solo, btw). I remember hearing this song occasionally when I was very young because my mom did listen to the hipper radio stations when I was growing up in the 80s. Back when radio stations played more than five songs over and over again and would even (gasp) play a song that was a few years old. It faded from my memory for quite some time. At the time I didn't appreciate David Bowie at all. Mostly because I was a child and, well, David Bowie is some advanced shit. Today, I am a huge David Bowie fan. How did that happen? My secret shame is that this is how it happened.
If you were alive during this era of music, you're probably at least cringing and possibly having an episode. There were many years there where Puff Daddy/P. Diddy dominated the airwaves with other people's reheated music in such a blatant and uncreative way that it all but killed sampling off. Which is a shame, because people like the Beasties and Beck used it quite ingeniously back in the day, but that's a topic for another time.
Among the PD siege that occurred during my latter high school years, something about this song triggered latent memories in me. Then I saw something on TV where people were pointing out the basis of a lot of these sampled songs and there it was: Let's Dance. A few second snippet of Bowie playing that guitar next to that upright bass. Months later I found myself in the used section of a CD store (haha, I know, right?) and I bought the Bowie singles collection. I listened to these songs and realized that the Let's Dance guy was the same guy as the Suffragette City guy who was the same guy as the Space Oddity guy who was the same guy as the Changes guy. My adolescent musical mind was blown to bits by this revelation. Weirdly enough, I have Puff Daddy/P. Diddy to thank for that. Not that it wipes out all the deep red in his ledger, but I can't deny that impact on my life.
I'm not going to let you off easy, though. Given the success of a new Godzilla flick, I'm going to make you remember this:
This story doesn't have a sad ending. Another Bowie song that would come along shortly after that and it would force me to notice him again, cementing me as a fan of his forevermore. It's still a bit of a guilty pleasure and enjoys regular plays alongside Let's Dance, Fame, and much better works.
Smell that Trent Reznor flavor. Also a subject for another day.
On Valentine's Day this year, something crazy happened. De La Soul gave away most of their albums for free, just for 24 hours. When I downloaded them, and listened through the entire catalog again, it jogged a lot of memories. I was a late-comer to this music, I'll freely admit it. The first time I really became acutely aware of De La Soul was with this song. Why? Because my college roommate played it on loop early and often.
Granted, that was also how I became acutely aware of Usher, but that's a trauma to relive another day. Something about this song, with its low-key guitar riff and guttural chorus, really grabbed me. It made me (back in the days of early 2000s days of P2P misadventures) "obtain" as much of their music as I could. In High School, I'd known little more than Wu as solid hip hop, my ignorance compounded by the godawful radio selections from where I grew up and crowded out by my monomaniacal obsession with obscure jam bands at the time.
"Oooh" was a key moment to change all that. From there I rewound to the joy of 3 Foot High and Rising and the stylistic marvels of Prince Paul's production. As I relived all of that a few months ago listening to all those songs again, I regained an appreciation for how much De La really did convert me into a hip hop fan, even if I came to them at a later point in their careers.
Another thing I'll always remember about De La? Seeing them perform at the 9:30 club at a late show on a Friday night. As Pos demanded we sing back chorus to him at 2:00 AM with taunts of "I can't hear you!" I remember thinking, "that's because I'm too tired. I'm getting old." I haven't really been to a late show at 9:30 since.
Her covers just get better and better. Who even thinks to play Derezzed on a GUZHENG? More importantly, when will someone get her a record contract?!?!