Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Rerouting Writing

Hell crooks and grannies friends! For the time being, I've rerouted my writings to two virtual locations.

The Hydra Magazine: I started an online magazine / blog for both my self-published works and those of the Hydra collective.

Digital Deliverance: For my published works, I started a tumblr account (mad cleaner content).

If you were wondering, Granny Wesson and Cyrus the Humble are napping. They will return in the near future!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Show Review: Gil Scott-Heron Today

I tried to curb my anticipation for Gil Scott-Heron’s performance at the recently made over Regency Ballroom last Friday. But how could I? I wanted him to amaze, to enrapture with his musical poetics, and most secretly, to redeem my nebulous view of a 70s era, politicized soulfulness unrivaled by today’s musicianship. It’s an idealistic and surely ridiculous image we children of the 80s have learned of the decade before ours. But it’s one so ingrained and endlessly reminded that we can’t seem to shake it free.

While Los Angeles revival funk band Orgone grooved (peep their solid cover of “Funky Nassau”), singer Fanny Franklin expressed an equal excitement about bearing witness to the legend. And when Scott-Heron finally stepped onto stage, strutting choppily to the microphone, the audience erupted in wailing applause and shouts. He looked older and moved with certain difficulty, his body appearing thin underneath his loose fitting clothes. His face was angular and gaunt with patches of gray hair pouring from the sides of his hat and from his chin. A lady sitting in front of me asked incredulously if that old man indeed was Gil. I nodded with certainty but really had no idea. After all, he’s hardly recognizable compared to his younger self clad with the iconic afro and psychedelic garb. Today, it’s a rare occurrence to see Gil Scott-Heron. He has been in and out of prison for the past decade on drug and parole transgression charges. Some reports imply his suffering from being HIV positive, something Scott-Heron addressed perhaps indirectly when he told the Regency that a media frenzy on the internet continues to concoct all sorts of chimeras about his life.

Ebbing our immediate impressions, Scott-Heron opened with a consciously cheesy comedy routine where he got comfortable with the crowd. It reminded me of the legend’s simple humanity -- like a venerable uncle who still tells bad jokes at a family dinner. As soon as the routine verged on the unbearable, he transitioned into a monologue and solo song in tribute to Sister Fannie Lou Hamer. And when Scott-Heron’s voice boomed forth from his brittle body, everyone immediately felt his unparalleled soulfulness and brilliance. With age, Scott-Heron’s bright voice has gained a hoarse resonance, adding even more layers to his street inspired poetics and wisdom.

Gil Scott-Heron guided his soul-jazz outfit, the Amnesia Express, through some of the strongest moments of his catalogue. The band retained a decidedly solid hold on their expressionistic 70s earthliness but bent towards a lush, jazzy psychedelia. Although technically rusty and hiccuping occasionally with offbeat rhythms, it worked. Scott-Heron bellowed “We Almost Lost Detroit” to set the mood for a conflicted era shaped as much by violence as hope and love. He lamented today’s popular understanding of jazz as a sterile and passive musical style with a charging take on “Is That Jazz?” And in waxing poetic to introduce “Winter In America”, Scott-Heron pondered whether the season’s indifferent coldness might be revenge for us cherishing the other seasons more. A fifteen minute version of “The Bottle” -- sung in a dreamy, melancholic tone -- swept the climax. The performance swayed from lyrical musings to groove laden songs and improvised solos, each song extended into a prolonged and interwoven narrative.

Despite the real possibility of coming off trite, there was a remarkable sincerity to Gil Scott-Heron. His creative expression stemmed from life experience rather than a need to perform a spectacle and preach a message before a crowd. Song reflected life and life in turn was shaped and illuminated by song. For a moment I felt that magnitude of revolutionary spirit burning distant in another hazy generation. It was aged and hardened in one man’s beautiful, gravely voice, and filled the auditorium with its sweetness.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Seattle Slewing It

Montreal-based turntablist and producer Kid Koala (born Eric San) is the type of artist you can expect to take some formidably playful risks. Known for his virtuoso skills scratching and mixing on the wheels of steel, back in 1996 he was the first musician in North America signed to the U.K.'s boundary-busting label Ninja Tunes. Arriving in the wake of a fantastic mixtape, San's debut hip-hop-jazz-funk crossover Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (Ninja Tunes, 2000), featured a video game and a surreal comic book he designed himself. For San, the creative impulse is dedicated to telling a compelling and unlikely story. Free for download at www.nufonia.com, The Slew's 100% — San's self-released fourth effort in collaboration with long time friend Dynomite D — continues this tradition.

San and Dynomite (born Dylan Frombach) had discussed collaborating on a full-length project ever since vibing together on a couple spacey jazz singles about a decade ago (peep their "Third World Lover"). Thus, when Frombach was enlisted by his cousin Jay Rowlands to produce the score for a feature documentary on elusive Seattle psych-rock recluse Jack Slew, he brought San along. That was four and a half years ago. The documentary has since fallen through, but the score evolved independently into a masterfully abrasive and chest-rumbling soundscape. "We wanted to do some Black Sabbath meets the Bomb Squad," San tells me, laughing.

Initially the loosely-defined "Black Squad" duo gathered concrete inspiration from Jack Slew's unreleased material — an ample body of work, thick with ferocious dusty breaks, bluesy vocals, and fuzzed-out riffs. Slew has a gravelly yet piercing voice that cuts right through the drums. He sings knowingly of freedom lost and the fragile sentiments of an ape trying to become a man. It's rich material that just begs for sampling. San and Frombach reassemble the parts to produce a fresh perspective on the dangerously free spirit of the outlaw. "We needed a car chase scene, and a jail break scene, and then we ran with it," says San. Indeed, the album roves widely and digs deep, concluding with the epic moral struggle of "A Battle of Heaven & Hell."

Despite a cinematic narrative akin to a rogue spaghetti western, The Slew nearly succumbs to the usual pitfalls faced by turntablist albums. In the aesthetic sphere of turntablism, the scratching and abrupt pattern changes can sound gluttonous and overtly technical, warping the sonic landscape into a show of narcissism. "On the one hand [100%] is super-psychedelic, loud, and banging," San explains. "On the other hand" — he laughs — "it's the most masochistic, purist turntable record I've ever made."

However, what saves the effort from sadism as well is that the Slew's hip-hop inspired pastiche takes cues from authentic recording techniques of early '70s rock. San and Frombach dove into their history books to study the methods for producing the screeching drums and sandblasted guitar riffs of that era. To really polish the coarsely hypnotic sound, they asked Mario Caldato Jr. — the engineering innovator behind the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique (Capitol, 1989) among others — to master the effort. The result is an interweaving of pummeling breaks and wa-wa guitar nastiness fractured by effects modulations and the emboldened seams of mixing and scratching. And it hits loud.

Koala and Dynomite originally entertained the idea of performing 100% live with 14 turntables. Fortunately, they scrapped that idea in favor of working with Chris Ross and Myles Heskett, the former rhythm section of Australia's the Wolfmothers. Ross and Heskett play bass guitars, drums, and organ while Kid Koala and mad scientist partner P-Love (Paolo Kapunan) handle six turntables. San had to build "bass-proof, shock-proof turntables" to face the monster loudness that will ensue on the Slew's two-and-a-half-week North American tour. "We bought spring-loaded tone arms and made custom vinyl to cue faster, so we can just drop the needle and go," he says. "We are going to just cut loose."

also published in SFBG

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Confessions of a Download Junkie

I did it again man. I got home from work and locked myself up in my room. I closed the blinds and locked the door with the dead bolt. Not that anyone in San Francisco really cares. Hell I saw some old guy doing it in a cafe last week. No shame. But it's still embarrassing for me. I just prefer to be alone when I do it alright?

Just me and the succulent adrenaline that it brings. Oh I love that rush of blood straight to my eyes, squeezing them big and painting them glossy. Sometimes I don't even mean for it to last more than a couple hours. But then I just keep on digging into the veins. There's all sorts of hidden ones, the virgin, untapped ones. Oh those beauties. No broken links, just pure life and gorgeousness ready for my assault. Begging for my hands to possess it and drink down its love.

If you can hit one of those cavernous forgotten ones, that's when the trip feels real nice. Beautiful. Sublime. A release. When I find those man, I can go for hours, I can go all night fucking long. I pass out for an hour or so as the sun rises, crippled on my chair with a bent back like the letter C. It's still glowing that bluish hue of electronics in my room. The computer is still humming along, ushering my own breath, as if saying it's all going to be OK. Yes computer, we'll make it through.

But I don't know if it will. I keep going back. I keep on wanting more. And more mother fucker I need it. Don't take it away from me. I feel gluttonous. I'm repulsive. This is all so disgusting. I mean at least it doesn't cost me anything. But all that time that I'm just sitting there, whisking my life away into the corrosive depths of blogspots and torrents. Waffles for breakfast and soulseek for dinner. Google blog searches for a snack -- snacks all the time. I mean they're just there to help me right. It's not like they want me to hold onto this addiction.

Are bloggers the new pushers? What the hell am I thinking. This is ridiculous. Yo wait a minute, is it high quality shit man? I'm not fucking with that unless it's at least 320 kilobytes per second. Holy shit, I just found the complete 16 volume Dusty Fingers compilation in FLAC. I'll finish this post later.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Project Kill Nazi Redemption

Before seeing Quentin Tarantino's alternate World War II story, Inglorious Basterds, I reflected on a few Nazi killing fantasies that have impressed the world's imagination in the past couple decades. The most brilliant I believe is the computer game, Wolfenstein 3d, created by id software initially just for Windows in 1992. Wolfenstein started the 1st person shooter genre in the gaming industry that has now become a multi-billion dollar industry in itself.

As a young Jewish boy growing up in Los Angeles, I was already familiar with playing video games glorifying violence. But I distinctly remember the irreproachable morality of playing Wolfenstein. In other words, my mother did not seem to feel any guilt allowing me to play it. And we offered the game as gifts for the birthdays of many other Jewish boys during my elementary years.

In this alternate world, I took on the avatar of a Polish, perhaps even Jewish soldier, attempting to escape a labyrinthian Nazi castle, killing the bastards along my way. In fact, little did I know that I would eventually be the Rambo-like agent overthrowing the entire Nazi regime, assassinating Hitler -- the final boss. I mean what foresight in 1992, Hitler as the final boss of a shoot 'em up video game. And I killed that mother fucker over and over again.

The dream of reimagining more redemptive ends to World War II run deep in the American collective consciousness. And that ferocious fantasy is exactly what Tarantino taps in Inglorious Basterds. *(Spoiler) The concept of annihilating the most powerful Nazi heads -- including that of Hitler -- within an occupied Paris cinema is Tarrantino's brilliant representation of such a revenge fantasy. While the Nazis watch a self-congratulatory spectacle of their own feats, at least three separate groups of conspirators successfully plot their deaths and thus the end of the war.

The fantastical demise of the Nazis within the French cinema is ultimately the brilliant concept that holds the film together. The cinema -- as repository of chimeras, alternate realities, and the realizations of our most unimaginable dreams -- is the magical setting of this revenge. Perhaps the cinema is the contemporary symbol most capable of vindicating us from our traumatic histories and horrific truths, at least for those sublime moments of experiencing catharsis. And within this particular Parisian cinema, we can obliterate the masturbatory spectacles of Goebbels' Nazi film making with the dramatically explosive, Jewish fueled cinema of modern day America.

And as if burning, shooting, and blowing up all the head Nazis wasn't enough, we also get to dream revenge in the shape of carving a swastika into Hans Landa's head. The act, I know, may seem too ethically abrasive for a Jew. Although if you've ever studied Passover, then you know that atrocities from 4000 years ago still irk us. Ultimately, the swastika carving points out that the identity and moral implications of Nazism goes beyond the typical episodic nature of warring parties. Once the war is over, a Nazi should not so easily shake his or her affiliations with the machine.

So, it seems we've entered a new stage of viewing WW II. One where we rewrite the history and satisfy our inflicted guilt and anxieties, as the last horizon of people holding real memories of the events die off. The said truths shall become legend and in legend we can invent myth.

Unfortunately I could not find a copy of Wolfenstein 3d for Mac OS x as I did want to revisit some of my childhood simulations of Nazi killing catharsis. However, my good friend Adia did draw my attention to a promo "Bear Jew" game posted on Eli Roth's myspace page. I suppose I'm not so far off associating the Wolf with Inglorious.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Intoxicated Rhythms

I wrote a couple drug related music lists for the Guardian. Despite the possible implications of my finding drug use as particularly inspirational, I'd prefer to side with Ice T in his Curtis Mayfield "Pusherman" flip. Music can get you high! Oh the cliche, but what can you do when it's true?

I'm looking to expand these two lists, the first regarding albums made by musicians while under the influence and the second, songs about love interests that are really about drugs. So give me your suggestions!

Albums Recorded By Intoxicated Musicians

I had considerable difficulty in compiling a top ten list of albums recorded by musicians while under the influence. An almost mythological speculation inundates the many so-assumed drug inspired recordings, especially those of the psychedelic 60’s. But most artists do not care to divulge their less than sober stories, or do not quite seem to remember them. For these reasons, I admit my own suspicion of the following list’s indelible accuracy despite my late nights of fuzzy research. I thus advise the reader to measure these drugged-out recordings with the highest dose of skepticism.

Ash Ra Tempel and Timothy Leary — Seven Up (Kosmiche Kuriere, 1973)

While recording, members drink a 7-Up can laced with LSD.

Dr. Dre — The Chronic (Priority, 1992)

The much-imitated and never duplicated source of blunted funk rap.

David Bowie — Station to Station (RCA, 1976)

On a cocaine trip to new-wave space.

Sly and the Family Stone — There's A Riot Goin' On (Epic, 1971)

Famously recorded in Sly's Bel Air drug mansion.

Leak Bro's — Waterworlds (Eastern Conference, 2004)

Get wet with these rhymers on a PCP holiday.

Quasimoto — The Unseen (Stones Throw, 2000)

Madlib gets wicked with psilocybin mushrooms and a voice modulator.

DJ Screw — 3 N' The Mornin' Pt. 1 (Bigtyme, 1995)

The originator of purple drank (codeine, promethazine, alcohol).

The Cure — Pornography (A&M, 1982)

A dark journey into LSD, cocaine, and alcohol.

Pink Floyd — The Piper at The Gates of Dawn (EMI Columbia, 1967)

This Syd Barrett acid trip will keep you away from drugs forever.

Songs About Love Interests That Are Really About Drugs

I noticed a revealing trend in songs about love interests that are really about drugs. Men enjoy personifying their drug of choice as alluring or mischievous women. Female artists tend to just sing about the drug -- or sometimes mind melting, clouded narratives about white rabbits a la Grace Slick. Despite this disappointing limitation I tried to create a well balanced list by defining love interest in the broadest sense possible. I mean, this is all the many layers of interpretation anyway.

Rick James — "Mary Jane" (Motown, 1985)

Marijuana's classic cut just to get your feet wet.

The Beatles — "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Capitol, 1967)

Heavily debated, but really, is this not about LSD?

Laid Back — "White Horse" (Sire, 1967)

Don't ride heroin, but get up on that white pony!

E-40 — "White Gurl" (My Ghetto Report Card, Reprise, 2006)

Another Yay Area cocaine anthem.

Paper Route Gangstaz — "Keyshia Cole" (Fear and Loathing in Hunts Vegas, Mad Decent, 2008)

Tribute to the Oakland-based singer -- and potent brand of herb.

Don Cherry — "Brown Rice" (Don Cherry, Horizon, 1975)

Oh, seductive golden brown of heroin!

Cab Calloway — "Minnie The Moocher" (Brunswick, 1931)

Save your wallet and stay away from Minnie, that drug fiend inside you!

Steely Dan — "Doctor Wu" (Katy Lied, ABC, 1975)

A tad colonial, but still an insightful meditation on the opiate trade.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Layout

I made the layout simpler to accommodate my recent abundance of writing. I feel that even though the page might not look quite as stunning, its easier on the eyes for reading. To my loyal readers, what do you think?!