Hometown Heroes at SXSW
Slug of Atmosphere
Atmosphere have yet to release a proper album you shouldn't own. Which is to say that 2005's wait-for-the-second-half You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having (Rhymesayers/Navarre) deserved better than the sagging praise and sales it garnered—(maybe Slug's ever-younger new fans finally alienated those remaining old souls who claimed him from the start). But the Minneapolis rapper followed with a seven-night stand in the 7th St. Entry to beat the Replacements' legendary run—and did it sober to boot. He proceeded to hit the road with both Ant (his heretofore hidden producer) and a live fusion punk band, bringing the latter to network television on Jimmy Kimmel and Conan, possibly to the bafflement of millions. He erred making the "Say Hey There" video, but anyone who doubts that the cameras love Slug should search YouTube for his verse in P.O.S.'s black-and-white "Lonely Hearts Club (MPLS Chapter)." Dude is one great single and video away from stardom, however you define that questionable status, and the word on his just-completed forthcoming album is that it's his best yet (though expect him to release a lesser track, with more murk and personal significance than the others). For the video, he should cast similarly sad-eyed Lost casualty Michele Rodriguez, who also deserves better.
Still preaching to the different as one of them, and swinging harder than ever, Minneapolis rap star Brother Ali has made what easily sounds like the best-sounding Rhymesayers album ever with his forthcoming The Undisputed Truth (due April 10). It's a singsong reggae blues hip-hop platter for an underground that wants to hear itself on the radio, a culmination of five years' work with his producer, Ant. (Credit stepped-up engineering, along with the pressure that comes with taking one's turn in this crowd.) Lyrics-wise, Ali mutes his trumpet a tad. "I opened and read it and burned that/Man, the way that I live don't concern that," he sing-raps on "Letter from the Government," a Chuck D. riff about the military that coaxes where Public Enemy seized and slapped. (Ali: "Man, we gon' have to settle this another way." Amen, brother.) Having exhausted his backstory (the man has taken his lumps as an albino Muslim), he updates his personal files, mouthing off about his ex (on a song his son probably shouldn't hear), then rapping a father's love to his son (on a song we probably shouldn't hear). It's all so personal, and it comes in a voice that could command attention, say, pointing you to the nearest fried-fish stand on the North Side.
Guitarist Hideo Takahashi and drummer Matthew Kazama formed Birthday Suits after the demise of their first band, Sweet J.A.P. Their thunderous debut CD, Cherry Blue, delivers crunchy guitars and powerful beats that fill audio space like Godzilla filled the Tokyo harbor. Takahashi's lyrics are as skewed as one might expect from a nonnative speaker and, at times, as indecipherable as those of any self-respecting rock seer with a preference for intensity over clarity. On "Rochester Moon in Toledo," he sings, "I think I'm gonna kill you/Rochester, Rochester/Every time I'm missing you/Rochester, Rochester." Before you can say, "eat that, greater Minnesota," Takahashi knocks the metro down a peg in "Twin Cities Bridge Is Falling Down." Operating under the brevity-is-the-soul-of-wit-and-punk ethos, the album has eight tracks, but dispenses with them in less than 17 minutes. "Slowly Motion," which clocks in at a relatively epic two minutes and 42 seconds, has four distinct sections including one that juxtaposes Kazama's insane fireworks-on-the-Fourth drum fills with wordless syllables sung in a calm a cappella.
Kazama cites Melt Banana, White Zombie, and Metallica as role models, as well as "a little bit of Sweet J.A.P." Can you be influenced by yourself?
Martin Dosh's latest release, 2006's The Lost Take, is a gentle sequence of soft, electronic meanderings and light, quick drumbeats. The songs recall the optimistic, jazzy music that Sesame Street used as a backdrop for time-lapse movies showing the ebb and flow of traffic at a city intersection. They start out with a single, sustained piano chord or a jerky, disjointed series of six short notes, and then become exponentially busier as fast little xylophone and sax samples join up.
For the most part, Dosh is a solo act. When performing live, he barricades himself behind a fort made of mangled instruments and electronic gizmos. The first bar of the first song starts with Dosh knocking out a few beats of rhythm and recording them on his sequencer. He instantly plays back the recording in an automatic loop. While that beginning beat repeats over and over, Dosh's hands are (momentarily) freed to create a second sample on a second instrument. Whether he plucks out a brief piano melody or a bright xylophone solo, he must feed it rapidly into the loop to maintain the song's momentum. Like a plate-spinning stuntman, Dosh makes the audience wonder how he'll be able to slow down without breaking his melody into splinters and shards.
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