Tuesday, August 29, 2006

What, Me Worry?: the Roots' Game Theory

I might be part of a dying breed: the new Roots album Game Theory is out today, and I'm destined to buy it (as soon as pay day rolls around, that is), despite having downloaded it already over a month ago.

I've given the album multiple listens, tried to scrutinize every little detail of it despite the shitty stereo in my car, and the sad truth is this: I like the album, but I don't love the album. Given all the hype that has been circulating about the album, whether contained to Okayplayer or not, I was expecting a grandiose, no holds barred achievement, and instead all I've heard is a very good - but not great - album.

And I'm STILL going to buy it.

I'll continually list the Roots as one of my favorite artists, not merely because of their output but because of what I perceive them to stand for - the furtherance of hip hop. Despite what seems like the collapse of a second revival Native Tongues movement, I still look to the Roots and all their various colleagues (Common, Talib, Mos, Erykah et al) for some sort of sign as to where hip hop, now in its middle-age era, can go. To me, there has been no greater achievement in hip hop in the past few years than Outkast's A Love Below/Speakerboxxx, the Roots' Phrenology, and Common's Electric Circus (don't get me wrong, I loooove plenty of albums other than those), all of which push the boundaries of the genre to overlap with and expand beyond other genres.

Which is why the Roots' output since then has been disappointing. Phrenology was challenging because of what it contained and pointed towards; Game Theory is challenging because it doesn't point towards much beyond self-concern. The Roots had opened the door previously, but don't seem quite ready to go through it. Instead, we have a band that seems too concerned with outside perception and criticism to finish the job they helped to start.

It also explains their recent campaign to validate Black Thought. In response to review after review pointing to Black Thought as the weak link, Questo's resigned himself to blaming lazy journalists and Okayplayer's started a microsite as some sort of quasi election campaign for Black Thought-as-Best-MC-Ever. It doesn't matter so much that Questo's kinda right (Pitchfork's got way too much sway in the game for what it is: an overblown website of indie rock cranks), or that Black Thought is, pound for pound, a great MC - the Roots should never let such criticism sway them, because being on the defense has preoccupied them from getting to where they should be.

And I'm STILL going to buy the album.

Because, if Questo's posts on Okayplayer are any indication, the Roots are concerned with establishing themselves through sales first and foremost, with their backs-up against the rock crits as part and parcel of the same thing. That's not, in itself, a bad thing - everyone's got to eat, and it'd be a sad, sad world if the Roots had to still keep day jobs. The Roots should be one of the most profitable bands in the world, if artistic talent had anything to do with commerce. It's still grossly disappointing that they didn't take the carte blanche the HOV was seemingly willing to offer them to release the most-progressive-hip-hop-album-ever. The Roots are still the most important act in hip hop today, even if it's more for sheer potential than actual product. If they're worried that Def Jam has them on a short leash in terms of sales, well, I'll do my part.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

One F^%$ing Great Summer

Apart from all the other amazing, wonderful things of this summer, one of my favorite items of the season has been Terry Callier. I've heard odd songs of his through the years but hadn't ever really gone back to really listen to the albums until now, and What Colour Is Love is now up there amongst my top 10 soul albums of all time (which is no light thing to say, considering I only have five or six albums in said list thus far).

Thus (it's amazing what you can find on youtube):

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Food & Snicker, Snicker

Am I the only person that thinks this album cover is the funniest fuggin' thing they've seen in awhile? It seems like a few people have a hate-on for it. It's so over-the-top that I can't take it seriously, even if it does seem to run smack into the face of Lupe's backpack image. Shiz, the guy's got his own clothing line, and I'll give anyone that name checks Lupin the Third a hall pass. Haven't made up my mind on the actual album yet (what I've heard has been decidedly lacklustre), but whatev - the music's secondary nowadays, anyway.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Weeds Keep Sproutin'

Heard lots 'bout it, finally done gone watched it: we rented the first season of Weeds (btw, since the good folks at Showtime have decided to block all non-US residents from accessing their website for the show (kind of a feeble attempt, considering you can still access it via Google's cached site feature), I ain't posting any links to nuthin', bitches!), watched it in two days (there's only 10 half-hour episodes). It's addictive stuff, no pun intended.

As with most of our favorite shows, it's a friggin' bitch to finish a season only to have to wait for months for the new season to start. We were lucky to finish Weeds just as the second season was starting in the States, and figured it'd be easy to find as a torrent.

Lo and behold - somehow someone's gone and uploaded four episodes of the new season, before they've even aired in the States! Having been used to being a day or so behind, at best, with our other shows via Tivo-crazy torrents (cough, cough, Project Runway), it's somewhat mind-blowing that we're-actually-ahead-of-the-States on this one (well, not really, but it feels like it).

All looks good for Nancy et al ahead - the first two episodes already features an awesome vomit scene, which is always an added bonus. The Malvina Reynolds - Pete Seegar theme song's been covered by Elvis Costello and Death Cab respectively, and the next few episodes are slated to feature covers by Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley fame), the Polyphonic Spree dude, Regina Spektor, Englebert Humperdinck(!), McGarrigle Sisters, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and Ozomatli. This is all part and parcel with Joey Santiago (think Pixies) scoring and supervising the show, as he does with Entourage. Would there be any other reason why the Mountain Goats would sprout up on cable tv? Probably not. Weeds have a habit of cross-fertilizing, I guess.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Bored or Something? Think like Mike (Michael Jackson, that is).

In the spirit of revamping this blog into something a lot easier to update and thus more random and, let's face it, crummy, I thought it'd be good to open up the posts beyond revisiting my CD collection to revisiting other ideas as well. If we all write-what-we-know, then it's only inevitable that this thing gets more chaotic, superficial and laxidasical, open to positing unfounded arguments with little in the way of basis (or rebuttal, depending on your usage of the comments feature).

Case in point: I've been wondering if Michael Jackson could still cut a hit album. Don't know why I should be concerned about this, but for whatever reason I spent an hour thinking about it in the early morning one weekend. (Could be that a True Hollywood Story on the Jacksons had some influence in that).

Mike! Lay off the make-up!I've been a Michael Jackson fan since I was in elementary school. I was about 5 when Thriller came out, didn't like the title track to Bad but enjoyed the rest of the album, hated most of the material since (although that lead single off the last album was alright), and Off the Wall's been a constant fave since my late teens. It might be nostalgia, but I still think Mike's still got it, and it's been helpful to know everyone from Gondry to the Neptunes (it's widely known that many of the Neptunes' tracks on JT's first album were originally written for MJ) to Ian Brown to Cornelius to...the list is endless, really (well, not Paul McCartney).

It's easy for me to say that I think Mike's still got a hit album in him, then, but it's another thing for me able to say that it'd actually happen. It ain't true that there's no such thing as bad publicity, and he's the prime example (that said, the R Kelly issue never really got resolved, but folks are leaving him alone 'cause he's been racking up hits since, even if "Trapped in the Closet" is just about as bonkers as anybody could ever get this side of Napolean - I particularly like when the midget is trapped under the kitchen sink).

The worst thing that ever happened to Michael Jackson is Michael Jackson. Dude's his own worst enemy, and, criminal charges aside, his egomaniacal nature hasn't helped his image or his music any. From those crazy statues to self-producing the last batch of albums (save for Teddy Riley here and there), he ain't helping himself out, and it's time someone else stepped in and did it for him.

Thus, here's my plan for USAthe Clutterer for AfricaMike:
1. Mike, stay out of the press for a year! The SPCA can take care of the Neverland animals, the lawyers can take care of, um, the lawyers, and the money stuff can be dealt with outside of the press (if Enron could do it, so can you). If you could do this and leave the Howard Hughes setup you got going in Bahrain, all the better.

2. Mike, let some one else produce your album! If the last few albums are any indication, it's that Mike either ain't in the know or he's over-estimating his own talents. This isn't uncommon - Prince could do with a little third-party-editing himself. Hits are needed, and there's nothing that says "hit" these days like Kanye, the Neptunes, Timbaland (though I doubt Mike could pull that off), Just Blaze, Richard Harrison. Maybe throw in a Quincy track for old times sake. If you really want to do it up, go for the hit AND spare yourself from the critics, do NOT hook up with DawG-Unit.

3. Mike, don't do publicity! Like I said, the worst thing Michael Jackson can do is associate himself with Michael Jackson. Stay out of the press shots, don't do interviews, and stay out of the videos! You got Gondry on your side, use him!

Voila - easy as pie. This had me all in a tizzy last weekend, and I emailed my friends (all two of them!) about it for their opinion, and noticed that Okayplayer had a coincidental post going on their boards a few days later.

Here's what Frank had to say:
"Thriller was the pinnacle of his career because the paranoia was in his lyrics and nowhere else. If he's gonna do an elvis '68, then he's gotta get some hypnosis to forget all his problems 'cause he's got mo' problems than Cobain ever did. (Not to sound racist, but why do them black artists attempt/commit fewer suicides than their white counterparts? overdoses are one thing, but hutchence, ian curtis, kurt, gahan, et al., well, you get the picture.) He needs to forget the bankruptcy, the custody battles, the lawsuits, disintegrating nose, clown makeup, etc. and get focused on actually getting women preggers, knife fights and halloween. Hire the best hip hop producers promisory notes can offer. Thriller the sequel = hit. Bad (or subsequent record) the sequel = miss. And then maybe he can get another monkey.

"It's almost a no-win situation for him. Maybe Gondry can make his video, maybe Jonze, Matt Groening (!), or even Herb Ritts (from beyond the grave) with nothing but nude supermodels. But you're only as good (bad) as your last boneheaded move or self-inflicted controversy, which people seem to remember with greater clarity than the music or his voice. While other artists have the ability to let these things slide, MJ puts it in his music. "Leave Me Alone," "Scream" and other blunders do not help. Forget what the press says, forget what the people think. Write songs from the perspective of a regular joe, and not some hounded celebrity. This may be a little bit of a reach for him, but i'm thinking they've got mood-altering pills nowadays for whatever's ailing him, and hypnotherapy may just get him out of (or into) his funk just one more time. And for God's sake, keep that surgeon's mask on!"

For the record, I really liked "Leave Me Alone." I think it was the Elizabeth Taylor montage in the video.

Here's what Marco thought:

"MJ is (now) irrelevant. Music these days is all about image, and his is f'd. I don't think the general public would support his music, no matter how good it is."

I asked my sister too, who's a publicist, for her professional opinion. She sez:

"Are you bored or something?"