Gold Panda

This track is owning me.

It reminds me of that song by The Field, “Over the Ice”. Guess I’m a sucker for that repetitive vocal sample technique. The Gold Panda full-length is the best dance music I’ve heard this year.

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Happy Thanksgiving

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Fear of a Ten-Point-Oh

This week, Kanye West released his fifth studio album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to rapt reviews. Quantifying the critical acclaim, Pitchfork gave the album an even 10.0. I don’t agree and I don’t approve. While I could have stomached a 9.5, clearly a 9.9 was not statement enough. That kind of statement I find to be nothing less than reckless journalism.

I understand the claim that it’s some kind of representative of a modern zeitgeist. I acknowledge the honoring of its boldness and musical adventurousness. I will credit the formidable creature it is and the remarkable ability of Kanye to allow his most personal work to be the most shared stage of his career. Indeed, there are virtues to be celebrated in this album. But saying it is perfect is not a reading of the album as a work in its own right–it is an appropriation of the work for an unclear cause in a way that ultimately invalidates the real value of the work by not really hearing it.

The aggressive review further discredits the album by setting the stage for a visceral reaction to its pronounced judgment that should be reserved for the experience of the music. Instead of approaching the album generously, I for one felt impelled to quickly compose a list of several reasons the album is not perfect and had to fight for even ground to come to some more objective decision on its worth. I continue to listen to the album; I find it to be more enjoyable with every listen. But I continue this list in my mind, spending every moment looking for things to dislike about it. I shake my head at dozens of clumsy production moments. I cringe at the continuation of his revolting string of blow-job raps. I raise my eyebrows at the way his guests out-perform him over and over. I marvel at the claim that Kanye is a better rapper than he ever has been, on an album full of awkward phrasings and generally lacking in the clever, disciplined constructions of songs like “Jesus Walks” or “Gold Digger.”

Aside from all these reasons of imperfection, the most celebrated and characteristic theme is the most vulnerable: honesty. Riding the success of his 808s and Heartbreak across the wake of the incredible Taylor Swift incident, Kanye is sharing more with his listeners than ever about his mistakes and missteps and misfortunes. But this sharing isn’t the kind of shockingly transformative cathartic experience that a band like Xiu Xiu provokes. It’s exotic, masturbatory self-indulgence, the likes of which could only exist in the bizarre microcosm of a superstar’s life of luxury and excess. It often feels like listening to an indulged child growing into adult desires.

Kanye raps like Caligula might. In “Monster”, he brags that “She said I bruised her esophagus.” In “Runaway”, Kanye says “I sent a bitch a picture of my dick.” In “Blame Game” he talks about fucking and strangling his lover in a bathroom. But details like these don’t surface in a 10.0. For critical cheerleaders, all of it is assembled into an ambiguous psychology and framed with a sense of Kanye’s humanity, thin veils that purport to forgive his transgressions by fabricating remorse. “Runaway” is not regretful; it is a parry to shame and embarrassment. It’s an anthem for kids in high school who tried to play it off like fucking up was cool when they really just couldn’t help it. The pretense of remorse is a disguise for a cowardly self-pity that cannot pledge to take a complaint seriously.

An unqualified celebration of this moment pays into a dangerous enabling cycle. Kanye errs; Kanye feels guilty; Kanye shares error and guilt in turn. Meanwhile, the public criticizes Kanye; the public forgives Kanye; and then the public admonishes Kanye for the transparency of his errors. The more transparent he is, the more people love him. But the more aggressively Kanye shares his faults, the more his fans respond to the content of his art, validating and encouraging it more and more.

Pitchfork is complicit in this, verifying the appropriateness of this kind of art for not only Kanye and his fans, but for other artists. Which is not to say that music critics have any responsibility to some kind of moral rehabilitation of artists. Artists are fucked up and a lot of the time that makes for great music. But it’s dangerous to herald honesty in art without certain essential conditions, foremost among them being the evidence of a transcendent, historical, timeless accomplishment; the “art for art’s sake” argument is bogus here because as good as this album might be, there’s no way it is perfect.

In fact, the only moment resembling such transcendence comes in the last track, whose finally calmed beat, disciplined and compelling at last, platforms a snippet of a beautifully lacerating Gil Scott-Heron poem, the one extended meditation on something larger than being a judged celebrity. Here now we are free from the Kanyesque quagmire of license and paparazzi, as Scott-Heron muses on grave concerns of freedom and politics, of race and revolution, of human needs and global tyranny. As I sober from reveling in the powerful moment, I react ambivalently to Kanye’s use of the claim that “All I want is a good home and a wife and children and some food to feed them every night.” On the one hand, I feel compassion and pity for a man who I can easily imagine knowing such a simple and universal desire; on the other hand, I reel in bewilderment at the appropriation of such a phrase in the seriousness of its context with no regard for the incredible excess of his glamour life. In a reading of the poem’s original lyrics, I cannot help but find in the edited content a call to Kanye for greater action and a condemnation of Pitchfork for the levity of its piggy-backing pom-poms.

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Big Digits – Return to Cocoon Lagoon (Initials B.R. Remix)

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Nude remix

At the beginning of April, Radiohead released five audio stems (Vocals, FX/Strings/Etc., Guitars, Bass, and Drums) from their song “Nude” for purchase on iTunes. All who were interested could buy and download the tracks to participate in a remix competition without reward. Since “Nude” is probably my favorite song on In Rainbows, I decided to take a stab at it. I did things I’ve never done before. I channeled Pete Rock and J-Dilla. I added no instrumentation of my own besides two drum machine sounds. It’s easily the most minimal and the most conventional rap song in the BR ouvre. And the conclusion? Unfortunately, it’s one of the best rap tracks I’ve made. And I’m pretty sure Warner/Chappell Music Ltd owns it. Here it is for your enjoyment…

Boo Radley / Radiohead – Nude (Rap Remix)

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Piles – Radiomir (Initials B.R. Remix)

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On Boo Radley Bruises Badly

From the mouth of someone more inclined to synopses of major life episodes, 2003 in a nutshell reads something like this:

“An escalating romance falls disastrously to the wayside when, a year shy of graduation, Luke Kirkland moves across the country with his band, Night Rally to give a music career the old college try instead.”

Unfortunately, brevity has never been my strong point. Instead, I find it’s taken almost three years to sort through what happened that year and 70-something minutes to narrate it. Boo Radley Bruises Badly is a twelve song sculpture of those twelve months, a four course conclusion to a four season psychologue, an album of opposites and obstacles, of assimilation and isolation, and a mess of confusion becoming perfectly certain of what it’s doing.

Perhaps too certain…

I’ve always feared becoming an apologist for Boo Radley Bruises Badly. Perhaps I’m too quick to assume the listener’s surprise upon hearing split personalities duel for the spotlight. “I’m listening to a love song. Now I’m listening to a rap song. Again, love. Rap. Hmmm. I’m confused.” How are we to justify the juxtaposition of such musical styles? It was never my intention to become a musical Dr. Moreau, piecing and pasting spasmodically at whim. On the contrary, Boo Radley was a rap alias confined to a world that had transformed suddenly and dramatically and whose narrative had been and was being sussed out into rock songs. Boo Radley Bruises Badly became a coping mechanism, a project without conditions beyond the consideration of the events of 2003, and ultimately a collection of songs that could only stand apart from one another at the risk of sacrificing the gestalt and misunderstanding the narrative.

But this conflagration is a convenient opportunity for a larger musical discussion. On the one hand, escaping the love song in rock music is impossible. Songwriters incessantly delving into their personal love lives comprises the great majority of rock music’s subjects. The romance of the breakup song or of the unrequited love song remains so appealing to the musical audience largely because of the excitement not of meeting one’s match, but of pursuing one’s match. On the other hand, rap music and the “hip-hop” culture in many ways approaches a celebration of pure escapism. While the content of many songs attempts to elevate or address problems of great import affecting the artists, there is nevertheless a violent opposition to the conditions of earthly life. In fact, the urgency of the sentiment is nearly apocalyptic and/or suicidal in nature and expresses itself as a desperate lashing out at all who might represent and/or fulfill the weaknesses of earthly life. In the end, both are concerned about encountering something else that can be both one’s glory and one’s downfall. For rock, the love song is the yearning for the other. For rap, the battle is the yearning for the other.

Despite the success of artists like DJ Shadow and the “Get Paid” rap industry machinery still supporting producers such as Kanye West, I find it hard to imagine that Boo Radley Bruises Badly could ever be released legitimately. The number of samples I’ve co-opted for my own psychiatric ends could never be fully given their due. Ever since the crime spree that was P. Diddy’s career, the successes of the rap world have relied increasingly on original beats. The sampling hey-day is long gone. No one can afford it anymore. But while I would never insist that a musician be denied his monetary compensation for the use of his recorded material, it is unfortunate that artists can’t be honest about their inspiration. A million hacks with guitars have ripped off other artists’ songs without batting an eyelash and without the Puritanical slap on the wrist of a “Cease And Desist”. Doubtlessly, there is something innately shameful about the sample. The feeling of dependence upon others for inspiration or of incompetence in comparison to those who have influenced will always soil the creative achievement in some manner. But as if this weren’t enough, many go so far as to label those who sample as thieves and condemn the practice as destructive to the spirit of artistry or to the gasping illusion of a rock and roll ethos. Musicians are thieves first and foremost. It just so happens some build beautiful artifices out of the many things that fit into pockets. We should be so lucky as to profess our debt openly without being assaulted by the weapons of those who falsely claim license to cast the first stones, be they rolling or otherwise.

Ironically, the recording’s fate is potentially the same as that of Harper Lee’s hero: its public life will remain a relatively private one. As is the case in To Kill A Mockingbird, I don’t guess that’s such a bad thing. Nevertheless, Boo Radley will push on in his guise, though this guise will, from here on out, enjoy rap’s respite exclusively. Love songs will perhaps find their moments or even their proverbial R&B hooks within the bounds of their rap counterparts. But they will be few and slight impressions on a dreaming recluse whose monogrammed chest will be henceforth embroidered Initials B.R.

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Boo Radley Bruises Badly

1. Overtour In Media Res / Tin Piece
2. Milton Bradley (Alexander The Great Gatsby)
3. Transmissing (Crimebridge Mix)
4. Little Caesar
5. Challenger
6. Man Down (Pigs)
7. Presto Change-O
8. Breathing Room (East Egg)
9. Boots Of Spanish Leather
10. Give Up The Ghost (Hawaii Calls)
11. What If By Land? (Model T)
12. It Ends In The Street

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