Sunday, February 11, 2018

Weather or Not
Rhymesayers, 2018

Image result for weather or not evidence
When I saw the Descendents in Blackpool 18 months ago, Dilated Peoples became one of the last heavy hitters on my liveage bucket list.  I remember back in 2002 making the 45 minute tram and foot journey to Manchester University, only for it to have sold out on my lazy, gleaming three-stripe wearing self off the surprise success of Worst Comes to Worst.  Since moving to the U.S. the Evidence 20/20 line “I toured the whole world but never been to Florida” has haunted me, and so far as I can tell has remained true aside from a few solo performances in 2011.  Until it happens I’ll have to make do with the fact that Evidence comes to me thematically with his English-friendly Weatherman moniker, the only rapper I can imagine my dad having a comfortable conversation with.

Weather or Not -- the third and final album in this series after The Weatherman and Cats & Dogs -- is like such a conversation with one of my people, in that the focus generally turns towards the damp.  It’s not exactly grand depictions of unstoppable hurricanes, hailstorms of frogs and sweltering summertimes.  Many of the beats sound like rain patterns, from the soft drips at dawn of lead track Throw It All Away, to the water-torture agony of Moving Too Fast, the ethereal Rain Drops, and the symphony of shower on Love is a Funny Thing, among others.  It’s the kind of production that makes you want to go on late night melancholy walks, protected in plastic perhaps, but physically there, feeling a breeze instead of a phone.  The panoramic artwork (reminiscent of Paul's Boutique, minimalism and all) is grey with turquoise tears.

It’s not just the Poms that The Weatherman is reaching out to.  DP’s current Wikipedia photo shows them holding their passports; of course the mixed-media celebrating, philosophical and racially Diverse Peoples appeal to the hip young folk of the world. And Weather or Not is littered with a world beyond America that the artiste feels a connection with.  “I'm celebrating globally, you celebrating locally” (The Factory), “My fam rock the planet” (Throw It All Away), “Got the fuck outta dodge and saw the world unfold” (To Make A Long Story Longer).  An irritable Englishman considers the album title in a few skits, while in another Perretta talks about whether his stage name is French (by way of old Latin, apparently -- a happy accident for his Italian heritage).  Comments on every platform (hah) are flooded in non-Anglosphere love; maybe there’s also something in the comprehensible slow flow that attracts ESL speakers?  If hip hop was ever about saying “fuck America if it doesn’t fuck with us,” Evidence and co. have casually accepted it.

Take another promo cut, Jim Dean.  Evidence is a bit like the opposite of the immortalised American boy Dean, having had a respectable and long career without massive success (chorus: “We're staying out the way, we get away with a lot”).  He’s not exactly making it rain.  Here Ev is glad not to have burned out in the spotlight, considering that a lot of extremely famous rappers have also died young (“Gangsters got this thing about flowers”).  Elsewhere he indulges in gangsterism, the third release 10,000 Hours almost inserting him into Dre and Snoop’s Nuthin’ But a G Thang as it samples it so much.  The producer on this one being DJ Premier only serves to highlight how Mr Slow Flow’s delivery resembles the calm demeanour of both Snoop and Guru (Gangstarrism?), and maybe it’s not so strange to be noticing this now.  Opening lines: “I was guarded as an artist from the first day I started/I lowered my voice deep and tried to rap hardest.”  Go back and listen to The Platform and Expansion Team and his tone is indeed noticeably higher here that it was then.  Keeping it real eventually and shit.

Speaking of which, we gatekeepers all know that real hip hop has a particularly narrow sound.  Weather or Not is mostly boom bap bumps with select sampling, so if you use hip hop to exercise the back of your neck by bouncing it at a couple of uniform speeds for extended periods, you’ll be happy. Opener The Factory is a confident proclamation with a beat of gold and concrete, of life as a gutterstar in a steamy industrial centre.  While not Tony Wilson related, I can see myself rocking this walking among the winter weak and weak-legged residents of Florida as easily as in Manchester.  Vaguely borrowing the tune of the distinctly uncool Never My Love by The Association, Powder Cocaine uses a male “ahhhh” harmony to incredible dreamstate effect, complimented by Catero’s hook and a standout verse by Slug (of Atmosphere, and Rhymesayers co-founder).  The underbelly of Sell Me This Pen sends the listener down a paranoid film noir Orson Welles wormhole, while What I Need rockets them into a delicate future with Metroid Prime style funk synths.  There’s a grow-slow burner in the granular guitar of Runners, with fellow go-slow rapper Defari heavily featured.

Evidence’s Step Brother collaborator The Alchemist produces four tracks here, and I’ve noted them all, the fourth being a major highlight, the aforementioned Love Is A Funny Thing.  It covers well worn territory (people who show a shallow love when they think someone is earning money), but the vulnerability of everyone on it is impressive, from the beautiful Khrysis hook to the guest verse from Rhapsody.  Nothing quite reaches the naked emotion of record closer By My Side Too however, an ode to sincere love about Evidence’s girlfriend Wendy struggling through cancer.  The child-looped beat gets to Michael Jackson levels of pop, and it sounds great, but with only a few bars on such a rough subject matter I wish it had been treated more like a full song, difficult as it may have been.

All the collaborations add welcome variety to the album (with the possible exception of Jonwayne, whose spot on To Make A Long Story Longer won’t be impressing most of the world’s hip young folk).  It was wise to include DJ Babu and Rakaa sparingly, because the latter’s lone verse simply made me want to listen to the group’s collective work.  Perhaps I am just showing my Peoples Preferences, but look at this on Wonderful World: “Street on tour is a trust fund traffic/They love to feel the edge they heard the history's graphic/All of a sudden it's gentrifying beards, ironic tattoos/Classic architecture, iconic statues.”  In fairness Evidence does talk about gentrification on What I Need, albeit briefly.  That’s the problem though: there is a lot to admire here, and he produces plenty of clever wordplay to be sure, but I struggle to identify spots where what the artist is saying captures my attention for a long period.  He doesn’t do long-form or even medium-length narratives, starting every bar at zero and matching his relatively monotone delivery.  And to release your third weather-themed, pro-globe record in 2018 and still not make any mention of global climate change -- what is this, the state of the fucking union?

Still, Weather or Not you’re in your carbon-belching car, or dry at home or hitting the cement, this album does the business, as you can see from the fact that I’ve praised almost every single one of its sixteen cuts.  The sunshine never so much bursts through as casts the occasional euphoric glow over proceedings.  It’ll make you appreciate the rain, an element both cleansing and grimy, as beautiful as it is ruinous to socks and picnics, as essential to life as it is deadly.  Traditional as his backing sounds might be here, Evidence is settling into middle age as an example of what the genres growing number of older emcee’s have to offer: using his natural voice, tempering narcissism with humility, facing a disease that can’t be beaten with bravado and talking of his love for his two-year old son Enzo.  It will be interesting to see where he goes now that he’s closing this climatological chapter of his career.  From now on he’ll just have to enjoy discussing the topic with the other dads.

You can buy and stream Weather or Not here:

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Reality Asylum/Johnny Mile & The Kilometers/Mushmind
Saturday February 3rd, 2018
Planet Retro Records, St. Petersburg, FL

As the world spins further into more horrific insanity, we come to question whether it is not society that is mad, but ourselves.  Perhaps it’s just our perspective.  So we try to embrace the madness, as this seems like the only remaining rational option when so little else makes sense.  The names on this lineup seem like they ought to help in that regard.

Approaching Planet Retro however, I’m not so sure.  The first act is Ybor’s Mushmind, and my mind already feels rather mushed.  Would I be able to withstand the musical pulverisation of the band chronicled in the infamous Zero Warning “Mushumentary,” depicted breaking into posh Miami hotel swimming pools and fighting over chocolate milk?  It turns out that like the uniquely neat walls in our venue tonight (do record shops always intend to overwhelm with posters and junk over every available surface?), Mushmind wish for you to settle into their heaviness without screaming in your fucking face, which is to say that vocalist Chris actually sings.  His voice is clean even when it’s hard to hear over the dense, murky stoner punk, and aside from him getting a bit energetic no-one in the five-piece is losing their shit.  It’s a good, appropriate, medium level effort, with heavy bass grooves and an overall sound that would go well with any colourful acid rock mushroom artwork.  Just in case we get the wrong impression though, Chris concludes their no more than 20-minute set by telling us that he’s off to smoke some weed.

Next we have Johnny Mile & The Kilos, I mean Johnny Mile & The Kilometers.  Wasn’t Brexit supposed to remedy these continental crossover confusions?  In their defense, JM & TK do harken back to the pre-Brussels pub rock days of yore, making no bullshit fun music from a working class perspective.  Or maybe that should be American-style P(u)BRock, with bassist Chris Cardon politely asking for what might be the last “donation based” beer in the place.  This would help fuel his funky interludes on the likes of Second Hand Cool, while guitarist-singer Gino Capone stays cool and straightfaced no matter the song.  His voice reminds me of Notorious S.A.D.’s Devon Mackinnon, an act I saw at the previous Planet Retro a few years ago (RIP to the band, the old store, my attempt at that review, etc).  Amidst internal laughs and unforgivable threats of dragging one another to Chili's and Applebee's are morsels of the militant proletariat.  Fire in the Hole is a punked up number about racist cop shootings; As Long As You Want It is a piece of lovey sunshine pop with an intro riff incredibly similar to Baby, I’m An Anarchist!, while another riff elsewhere reminds of Sleep Now in the Fire.  As there is no actual Johnny Mile in the band, I expect any day now Johnny Marr will be in touch to offer to take them to the next level of fame, Cribs style.  The Kilometers released their second album Working Class Cool in December.

The next band also seem to understand that anarchism and similar disciplines are best spread subtly, without all the dusty old theory getting in the way.  The thing that tipped me over the wall of apathy into coming to this brainhumper of a show was the Reality Asylum Cassette Store Day compilation of local artists, given away free in October and containing their great track Intro To Drama (Car Bomb Driver and Chris Barrows Band also featured).  Before they begin they intrigue me further with Ricky Seelbach’s bright neon spaghetti Moog wiring and the sight of a veritable bundle of drumsticks.  In addition to the band being named after a Crass song and doing the selfless DIY-till-death thing, Lauren Elizabeth’s singing has a high-pitched resemblance to Eve Libertine’s.  She’s making prolonged eye contact, getting in people’s personal face space, climbing the furniture, unafraid to switch it up between racy, sobby and screamy.  It’s claustrophobic and uncomfortable in an awesome way (he says from semi-safely behind the new releases rack).  All the while the rest of Reality Asylum are hammering drums and producing throbbing colourful synths.  Sometimes it’s seeing yourself dancing in an 80s throwback club, others the beats are so big it’s not so much darkwave as ravewave.  If I may be so bold it might be a synthpunk sound for the times, a soothing balm in the night.  As if to apply such a balm, during the last song Lauren dons a pair of black gloves.  Penis envy?  Yeah maybe not.  

On my way home, a few blocks from the store, I come across two posters for the group Patriot Front, AKA white supremacist Blood and Soil-chanting fuckwits.  I tear them down.  We might all be in the asylum together, but I’m not letting these lunatics do the decorating.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Off With Their Heads/Seth Anderson/Dave Decker/Purr Purr Purr
Monday, January 22nd 2018
Lucky You Tattoo, St. Petersburg FL 

The dollar dances on our asses.  Never is that truth more tragic and brutal than with American hospitalisation.  Stacey Dee, guitarist and co-vocalist of Fat Wreck’s Bad Cop/Bad Cop, was supposed to be a part of this three-week Off With Their Heads acoustic tour, but at the final hour was rushed to the ER with possible appendicitis.  Simultaneously uninsured and without income, kind people that like fast music have stepped in to try and plug the financial gap, including with a line of Dee-themed shirts at Ryan Young’s Anxious and Angry podcast website, where Stacey is a regular guest.  In shithole countries like El Salvador that provide universal healthcare (despite the best efforts of the IMF and US State Department), they don’t get to have these bonding, “Big Society” experiences.  The poor sods.


Speaking of “Amnesty Don” (that friend of foreigners and women alike), tonight’s opening act Purr Purr Purr were the inspiration for our cock-scratching flyer.  In an example of how two oversaturated mainstream internet concepts can be combined to make something new, the duo perform trap rap songs about felines.  Your cats funny facebook account aint shit.  Lady Shae-Shae (formerly of locals Y Los Dos Pistoles) is accompanied by DJ Scratching Post and the swirling light bulb dead eyes of the stage-dominating Purrminator X.  They’ll “fuck your blinds” up, get lost on a Fast and Furrrious highway and fill your ears with an abundance of identical Public Enemy air horns and moggie meows (come on people -- you’re already applying some pretty stringent creative limitations on yourself here, at least use more of an array of samples).  All involved in Purr Purr Purr being here are to be applauded in the name of variety, with a crowd that would likely be more in their comfort zone watching Soo Catwoman or Josie & The Pussy Riot.  But I can’t help but feel that anyone who treats hip hop even remotely seriously will view this sort of primed-for-online-fame gimmick as further evidence of peaktrap.
With a night of no drummers ahead, Purr Purr Purr are kind enough to leave the swivel-eyed loon in place as a backdrop for all performers.  Dave Decker of Decker, Too Many Daves and too many others is next as a timetable-saving replacement for Dee on this local stop.  He has an impressively original take on the “punk dude with acoustic guitar” formula, playing nonstop for some 15 minutes with odd time changes, patterns of the same few notes in energetic bursts, and noticeable stretches without vocals.  It’s like he’s doing as many notes as a full band, just not all at once.  The droning tempo of this almost makes me think of drum ‘n’ bass rather than punk, as similar an emphasis on speed as they might have.  Decker has an album called Rekced, so perhaps Dave has secret dreams of being a Deckwrecka (to borrow the moniker from the UK hip hop producer).  He does sing “I love Depeche Mode and I love Eazy-E.”  Just as I’m thinking the whole set will be like this, he stops for a breather then slows down for Asylum (Decker seems to have a running topic interest in homes and neighbourhoods).  Increasingly, he forces his admitted nervousness out in explosions of voice and rigid body posture movements, before closing out on a number about George Carlin and his stint narrating Thomas the Tank Engine.

Our next guest doesn’t seem likely to be doing a rendition of Carlin’s seven dirty words any time soon.  According to smiling Seth Anderson, fast-strummed acoustic can be like “being stabbed in the eye,” but if that’s what you want, he’ll play it.  The Alberta-based and “truth-inspired” folk rocker is the resident foreign nice guy (don’t look to me, dicknose), thanking the crowd for not throwing things at him and singing self-doubt love songs.  He’s signed to Joey Cape of Lagwagon’s One Week Records, and is so polite that he named his most recent record One Week.  (Okay, every record on the label is named that - it’s a bit like those time constrained Fuck The Kids/Surfer EPs NOFX did.)  I really shouldn’t make these jokes, knowing what it feels like to be considered of an overly genteel nationality; Anderson does scare the crowd by strapping on one of those harmonica neck appendages reminiscent of an overly enthusiastic dentist’s work.  He plays a number about the DIY space he and his friends made up in the Rockies, and the track 24 which has a video filmed (I’m presuming) in said cool-looking space.  “Here’s a slow one that’ll make you feel good in your pants.”  This is a comment for which the singer would later apologise. 

And before we get into Off With Their Heads, I have some comments of my own to whom they may concern.  Dear any Americans who love July 4th as much as they love a Royal wedding: do us all a favour and learn that the world’s anti-democratic upper class swindles are not there for you to play make-believe in, and then stop giving these society-drenching leaches the oxygen of good global PR.  Keep that birthright celebration bollocks for Disney World if you absolutely must.  Laudibly monarchy-punishing names aside, this gig is part of the final North American tour of OWTH’s acoustic record Won’t Be Missed, before they embark on making a new original album.  It’s Off With The Band as Ryan Young is performing solo, making the interesting choice to open his set with the line “Take my advice and leave now while you have a chance” (Go On Git Now).  I suppose that sort of dichotomy is part of the appeal of The Heads: dark lyricism and uplifting tunes to lift your spirit; talk of death, gambling, drugs and all warts in just the first five minutes, amidst hilarious, affable and warm banter.  Even alone the man’s got room presence.

We get the likes of Old Man and Jackie Lee, and are informed that the latter was first performed here in St. Pete.  There’s also a few renditions that aren’t captured on Won’t Be Missed, such as My Episodes from In Desolation, and From The Bottom cut Fuck This, I’m Out.  Not satisfied having recorded a podcast with the man in the parking lot of Lucky You that afternoon, Young brings up tourmate  -- and, I would imagine, fellow Windsor family head chopper -- Seth Anderson to accompany him through the latter half of the set.  The burly American largely drowns Seth out on all fronts, berating him for seeing the dark side of Norm on Cheers and warning that voicing such opinions will get beer bottles thrown at your face by hard-drinking, sitcom-loving yanks.  He sips threateningly from his Sierra Nevada.  So much for “clearing the air.”  Working equally well as a melancholy romance song and show closer, Stolen Away is where Young and Anderson choose to end.  Anxiety and Anger will doubtless be rearing their heads again soon, but for the moment at least, they’ve been ‘cast aside.

You can arguably render most of my amusing observations -- and by extension entire role here -- moot, by watching Ryan’s set for yourself (video by Jess Lupin Bowles).