Monday Morning Fuel: Frankie Sinatra - Avalanches

This is the sort of free-wheeling sample virtuosity that only people that have an encyclopedic knowledge of music or who are on a lot of drugs (or both) can pull off. Bouncing off a strange old calypso sample, a fuzzy tale of drugs, cops, women, and drinking from master lyricist Danny Brown spills out over a horny (but mostly tuba-powered) beat that is one of the most memorable I've ever heard just based on its pure random, bouncy, and off-kilter sense of joy. Really, the video says a lot, and only adds many more layers to this joyous romp through the strange. And then, at the end, MF Doom shows up. Just when you think there couldn't be anything more  to cap off a maliciously goofy Avalanches experience. 

 

Monday Morning Fuel: Nortec Collective - Tengo La Voz

No cross-section of artists on Earth sounds quite like the Nortec Collective. This loose amalgamation of musicians and producers put out solid gold for a long time with their rousing and space-age fusion of traditional music and electronica. As much as I've enjoyed at least a few tracks from all of their offerings, Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3 has always been my favorite. It perfectly blends the horns, synths, and drum machines into an irresistible cocktail of musical combustion. "Tango La Voz," the album opener, is a weird sort of mantra I often find repeating to myself during trying times. I don't know what I'm trying to tell myself that I have, or maybe I'm just trying to force myself to remember this blazing horn riff. Either way, it always lifts my spirits in the way all the best Nortec Collective tracks do. 

Monday Morning Fuel: DJ Shadow and Run the Jewels - Nobody Speak

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. 

TRACKED: Amy Reese and the Beastie Boys' "Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win" (Prophet of Chaos)

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. 

The Track

Santigold is someone who always projects swagger and mystery. A subdued Beastie Boys provides a perfect backdrop for her to really shine. It’s the perfect backstory for telling the story of a minion that became more, who grew into a danger. This song talks about everything that eventually found its way into Amy. As much as she may be a minion, she’s a real operator. She’s someone who reads people, who knows danger, and who knows how to play the game. Most importantly, she knows how to play people, and has done so for as long as she can remember. She’s one part femme fatale, one part manic pixie nightmare girl, and that throbbing and distorted beat coupled with Santigold’s confident and shady lyrics fits her perfectly. 

The Character

A lot of people underestimate Amy. With her strange hairstyle, her vintage clothes, and the fiery tattoos covering her back and body, they mistake her for someone she’s not. She’s well aware of that, though, and she exploits it to the hilt. Amy’s spent most of her short adult life as a recruiter and operative for Hell. Seamlessly blending in with every disaffected subculture she can: geeks, hipsters, metalheads, and EDM writhers, she’s always able to find a few disgruntled souls to join her Reverend Matt’s Church of the Second Redemption. Sometimes it’s her words, sometimes it’s her attitude, and sometimes it’s her body that wins them over. As a skilled Acolyte of both Hell’s Lord Hate and Lady Lust, men and women alike can’t deny her allure and her talent for always saying the right thing when they’re at rock bottom. 

Amy sells freedom. She sells an end to a life trying to conform to society’s oppressive mores, unfair economics, and the bible-thumping political players trying to bring the world to heel under their precious “Good Book.” In the end, she sells a chance to upend that very society itself. Amy’s a revolutionary, ready to overthrow everything about the oppressive modern order she sees around her. She’s risen in the ranks of Matt Renault’s church to be his most trusted agent, a recruiter and a tactician who can make his visions into something real. And his visions and plans are about to come to fruition.

As Reverend Matt’s plans slide into place, she just needs to grab one more enchanter to finish their greatest weapon. She’s even got Ryan Fletcher, a Defiler of Hell, along with her for the ride. Too bad that enchanter’s being protected by one of Limbo’s most dangerous players: the Prophet. So close and yet so far, she starts to wonder if Reverend Matt has the stomach to do what’s necessary. She’s never doubted him before, but after watching her courageous lover Ethan Morgan take on the forces of Heaven and Limbo by himself and nearly walk away victorious, she thirsts for something more. Reverend Matt’s schemes and grand plans don’t do it for her the way they used to. Neither does recruiting more social outcasts and frustrated disappointments to Hell’s cause. Amy wants action. More than that, she wants blood for what they did to her Ethan.

TRACKED: Ryan Fletcher and Kanye West's "Monster" (Prophet of Chaos)

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. 

The Track

I cannot tell a lie. I’m a Yeezus fan. I tried to deny it for a very long time. I tried to argue that we should separate the music from the man. I tried to say I only liked “a few of his songs” (maybe “a few” out of every single album he’s ever put out). But part of what makes Kanye’s music compelling is the man himself. They’re inseparable. He’s a man who’s arrogant, self-destructive, moody, talented, insecure, and in many ways at least somewhat aware of all of the above. None of that is more clear than in “Monster,” an anthem to how awesome and yet how fucked up he truly is. In “Monster,” one moment he is celebrating himself and in the next demanding adulation and raging at the gossip about him in a way that leaves his thin skin on full display. And then there’s that Nikki verse. How can you say no to that?

The whole track fits Ryan Fletcher exactly. That dichotomy of believing yourself amazing, a genius, and then deep down below there’s the rot, the doubt, and the need for validation. A need for validation that can make you do terrible things. A murderous, mutated soldier of Hell, Ryan Fletcher only ever wanted to be loved and respected. All he ever got was manipulated and abused into doing everyone else’s dirty work. 

The Character

Having Demon blood coursing through your veins can cause you to do funny things. It can make you emotional, unpredictable, and sometimes blind. Ryan Fletcher knows this well, and he wished he could use it as an excuse for all the poor decisions in his life that have brought him to where he is now. He’s always made mistakes, but he was only after that recognition. That acknowledgement that he was worth something. It led him to becoming a cop, then a dirty cop, then a dirty cop who was doing Hell’s errands. After that, it almost led him straight to the grave. Lying there, shot and bleeding, Fletcher prayed for a second chance. The Demon blood gave him that. It saved his life, but it made him into something different. A warped reflection of a man that’s more monster by the day, Fletcher’s life slouches toward ever more dark deeds and brutal acts. 

But the power? It’s amazing, and in Fletcher’s mind worth the price of admission. Strength, speed, and a body that mends itself from almost any wound are part of the bargain. The ability to cloud people’s minds with fear and hate whenever you want is a serious sweetener, too. Fletcher makes use of it all, ready to crack some skulls on Hell’s behalf whenever he’s needed. Recently, he’s been tasked to help a small group of Demon-worshipping churchgoers with some plan he hasn’t been really given the particulars of. Typical that they wouldn’t trust him and respect them. Some of the church’s acolytes are alright, but almost immediately he finds himself butting heads with their leader: a Reverend Matt Renault. When Fletcher sees a prime opportunity and takes it, dropping an Agent of Limbo, Reverend Matt had the audacity to criticize. Fletcher’s seen his kind before, mages that are all talk and unwilling to take action and micromanaging assets he doesn’t truly appreciate. Fletcher is just hear to kill as many people who serve Limbo and Heaven as he can. Reverend Matt and his acolytes better watch themselves. If they don’t give Fletcher his due, they could end up on the wrong side of his Demonic powers and talents

Monday Morning Fuel: Boulevards - Got to Go

 

This ear worm can't be stopped, and I don't want it to. I'm strangely okay with the chorus to this track being stuck in my head for the rest of my natural life. When something reminds me of The Gap Band, that's a good thing. Boulevards' "Got To Go" ticks off all the right aspects for a chunky piece of electro-funk. I've never heard a song that makes breaking it off with someone sound like such infectious FUN. In between a rapid-fire guitar shuffle, a slap bass line that oppresses with manic delight, and a runtime that just breezes by through the verses and a perfect breakdown of a bridge, there's nothing to stop you from just putting this song on repeat forever. That and the rest of Boulevards' music.