Shabazz Palaces – #CAKE

Shabazz Palaces‘ new album Lese Majesty has wormed its way to the very core of me. It’s glorious, it’s freewheeling psychedelia, it’s a complete deconstruction of hip-hop forms and one of the best albums this year. Since my purple “loser edition” showed up a couple weeks ago, I’ve played it more than any album in months; even more so on my headphones at work, through the Sub Pop stream and then Spotify, where it’s streaming for free in whole: Lese Majesty on Spotify.

If you haven’t jumped on this wavelength, please have some #CAKE.

The second single, #CAKE, is the centerpiece of the album’s even-more-warped second half. An electro-jungle hip-hop riot erupts before leaping through a perfectly incongruous female soul vocal, taking flight with vintage Kraftwerk synth lasers as the tune ratchets up toward an unforgettable chant ending. It’s the type of multifaceted, twisty song that made their debut, Black Up, an instant left-of-center masterpiece.

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This piece is really indicative of how Shabazz Palaces (duo of Tendai Maraire and Ishmael Butler) appear to hold no affiliation to any particular genre or sound. The middle vocal bridge slides into the beat-driven first half like a glacier, overtaking all momentum. As the tune gathers steam for its ending, the krautrock influence bursts through as the vocals craft a towering a list of places from Berlin to Neptune. It’s pointed, it’s weird, it’s confusing, and it’s fun as hell. A recent review of Lese Majesty mentioned that they’re not “the future of hiphop, but a step to the side” as if it was a bad thing. I couldn’t imagine a higher compliment for a duo wholly unconcerned with trends in this meme-driven music climate.

Also, I feel obligated to share this amazing photo of Butler. It’s one of my favorite artist images in years:

 

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[buy Lese Majesty on 2LP vinyl, CD, or digitally via Sub Pop right HERE or Amazon or whatever]

Flying Lotus – Tiny Tortures (video featuring Elijah Woods)

This arrived today and it is beautiful.  Echoing Akira (and Tetsuo) and some of the brilliant, creepy videos from Aphex Twin, it’s a dark, cinematic corkscrew in psychedelic miniature.  There are few videos so evocative of their namesake, working as a perfect thematic foil to the song.  Now watch, as Elijah Wood has a fucked up night.

Despite the fact that I haven’t done a full “album post” about Flying Lotus‘ latest opus, Until The Quiet Comes is easily one of my biggest repeat listens of the year.  It’s the living, breathing incarnation of what I’d always kind of hoped his work was pointing towards.  Its growth from 2010’s Cosmogramma is more organic and inevitable than the sudden leap that album made from its predecessor, breathrough lp Los Angeles; naturally, it’s less surprising how radically good this is.  I feel like I took it for granted at first: “Of course this is good.  Well there it goes in my car to stay in rotation for weeks.”  Only a handful of albums have spent so much time as regular, near-daily listen this year, and if it weren’t for Kendrick Lamar’s new release, I could have, possibly, worn it out.

Thankfully this video came along today.  Not only my favorite track, Tiny Tortures was due for some recognition.  On an album crowded with standout moments between sublime guest vocals and dizzying synth work, its sparkling meditative cascade can be mistaken as a gentle interlude.  It’s more like a brief exposure of Quiet‘s spiritual heartbeat.  It reaches transcendence in the emotive dance of its guitar and bass (by second time MVP Thundercat) over a pulse hinting at great-aunt Alice Coltrane’s organ work on one of her masterpieces.  If you haven’t listened to the album yet, here’s your chance to embrace one of the warmest electronic albums in years, a possible masterpiece of jazz and electronic music.

Shabazz Palaces – Live on KEXP

I must begin with a heartfelt thank-you to Kevin for sharing this with me.  Thanks, Kevin!

Shabazz Palaces crafted possibly the best hiphop album of the new millennium with Black Up, something I’ve documented here and here.  Aside its status as a masterpiece of songwriting and innovative production, engaging places of the heart and mind which hiphop rarely acknowledges, the album serves as the blueprint for increasingly thoughtful and fun live appearances.  This particular video is the most professional and high fidelity recording I’ve seen, so despite its brevity there’s no better place to start expanding your view of the group.  Familiarity with the songs is not required for enjoyment – they’re evocative, head-nodding creations in any format  – yet the pleasures multiply when contrasting the live interpretations of such meticulously sculpted album cuts.  The hiphop I’ve seen in person tends toward one end or another: preformed backing tracks to emulate the recorded experience, or stripped down live-band approaches.  The latter are often more fun yet distance the performers from what we hear at home.  Shabazz Palaces seem to cut not a middle ground, but a third path to live nirvana, mixing the laptop histrionics and physical instrumentation with an experimental eye toward carving the feeling into something as disorienting and psychedelic as the album itself.

If you haven’t heard the album you owe it to yourself to check out my writeup and listen to the full stream here.

Kendrick Lamar – Real

I’m real, I’m real, I’m really really real.

I’d heard a single or two from Kendrick Lamar over the past year, and knew I liked his voice and style but never bothered to grab his Section.80 mixtape.  So anyone else who’s heard his official debut good kid, m.A.A.d. City can imagine how completely my hair was blown back in surprise: his bravura storytelling prowess, easy-like-falling cadence, all-star lineup of peripheral talent behind the mic and mixing boards; most of all, the entire album comes together in a cohesive narrative which completely justifies the subtitle of “A short film by Kendrick Lamar.”  The spoken interludes are not only enjoyable but essential to wrapping the entire package up.  Presented as a series of voicemail tape recordings from Lamar’s mother while he’s out on the town in her borrowed minivan, the final episode unfolds within this song, flipping aspiration to inspiration and leaving a lump in my throat.

Whether it’s the Erykah Badu-like hook and bouncing beat or the way “love” acts as a prism through which several verses are refracted, something about this track in particular allowed it to burrow under my skin and seal the wound from inside.  Since Lamar is such a gifted storyteller this almost feels like a spoiler to share a song near the end… but it’s too good to keep to myself.  If you haven’t heard the album yet, do yourself a favor and try possibly the best major label release I’ve heard in years.

There he is, eating cereal and sporting what looks like the exact haircut I had in 1991.

You can grab the album on Amazon, but I’m waiting for a vinyl copy.

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

In this first post of 2012 I proudly present my unabashedly belated yet wholeheartedly enthusiastic response to a slice of sound that has not only dominated my listening time for months but brightened my outlook for an important piece of the future of music.

Black Up is one of the best hiphop albums I’ve heard all year (the year being 2011 but it doesn’t matter), possibly longer.  I slept on this at first, honestly, because the name just seemed too hipster, too pitchfork, too much.  I pictured a thousand chillwave and witch house bands lined up behind triangles and crosses, a sea of stoned faces, limpid whitewashed guitar and anonymous lazy beats.  I pictured nothing interesting or worthy of my time, much less my money.  I did not picture something this fucking good.

When most people think of a hiphop artist the vocals come first: style, cadence, and timbre to subject matter and storytelling.  The sheer blunt force of the words themselves, inseparable from voice, embodies a delivery system of surface and substance.  Crushing the underground binary of either transcending or subverting this natural order, Shabazz Palaces blow hair back with pointillistic dexterity and canny substance while folding the vocals into the dreamlike puzzle box instrumentation itself.  Beatific slides like “It’s a feeling, it’s a feeling!” and “Clear some space out, so we can space out” are amplified by the very way they emerge through cloudbusting moments of clarity in the mix.  The production is the most intricate and interesting I’ve heard in an impossible stretch of time.  Huge and futuristic and swarming like Cannibal Ox (one of my all time favorites) but delicate and minimal in places, sometimes in the same song.  Relentlessly kaleidoscopic on a track-to-track basis like Madvillain and equally playful.  Taking each second as an opportunity for left turns, trap doors, and extraterrestrial launches like the best Flying Lotus material.  I’m uncomfortable reducing this experience to references but they help paint a picture.  Thrilling, gorgeous, head nodding and hypnotizing, worthy on its own as pure sound yet never subsuming the oft-poignant vocals, the meaning of Black Up is delivered fresh and phonetic, kinetic, poetic.  I sink deeper, hearing more each time.  Romantic, political, angry, meditative, militant, optimistic, futuristic, this blurs free-association and laser focus in the same moment, words and sounds in the same experience.

The duo of Ishmael Butler, of classic conscious/jazz-hop group Digable Planets (listen if you possess even a passing interest in A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, or Del La Soul; they’re probably better) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire (of whom I’ll be honest: I have no idea where he came from), is an alchemy I’ll forever thank Sub Pop (of all labels) for bringing to my ears.

My first favorite track.

Possibly the most direct distillation of the group’s ethos, with an outright nod to the original Digable Planets album in its ascendant coda.

The full album streaming free with visuals on youtube.  Nice.

I should be so bold as to say that this is the equivalent of Disco Inferno (a longtime favorite of Optimistic Underground) for the hiphop galaxy.  I don’t state this lightly.  I also do not often insist so fully on a vinyl purchase but in this case I must spread the word on its inner beauty: the package does not resemble the semi-anonymous visual you’ve seen floating around the internet and the top of this post.

[pick this up via Sub Pop or Amazon or Insound or Undergrounghiphop and thank me later for helping you find one of the least recognized masterpieces of the past year or so]

Tuck In With… The Natural Yogurt Band

Living within minutes of the most exquisite record shop around – the fabled aQuarius Records – lends a handful of advantages to my evergreen quest for new music.  Each time I step inside, I hear something infectious on the PA; more often than not it is truly new to me.  Last time, The Natural Yogurt Band set the stage for intrigue.

“Authentic, psychedelic library vibes from the golden era meticulously recreated in the new millennium.” – the label’s tagline.  This points in the right direction but does no justice to the experience of what they actually sound like.  I can’t adequately do that either but I can describe what I feel.

This UK jazz duo ply an alien sea triangulated somewhere between vibraphone and flute laden chillout, exotic trance jam workouts a la ROVO, and the funk & soul rich sampledelia of J Dilla.  To put it another (more fun) way, this is like Miles DavisOn The Corner band jamming inside a broken time machine, forever oscillating between 1972 and 2012.  There’s an embryonic hiphop pulse beating inside this streetwise astral flight.  The duo’s kinetic performances on live instrumentation breathe in a living space while delivering a kaleidoscopic beatscape fathomable only to a post-Donuts world.

The mention of Dilla’s hiphop concrète masterpiece is not without direct intention:  the CD and LP editions of this album come equipped with nearly 20 “Biscuits” – bite sized riff- and beat-centric tracks created expressly for sampling.  Interesting on their own and reeking of the promise of future albums by other musicians, these tracks expand the value of one of the best albums 2011 has yet delivered.

Check out Eastern Promise here for a tasty (though not wholly representative) slice of Tuck In With… and seriously peep the lavish 2 x 10″ edition.  If you touch it, you will buy it.

[purchase direct from Stones Throw or head to your nearest record shop – the album is exquisite in digital form but the immaculate packaging demands to be seen and held and smelled]

Odd Future: Tyler The Creator and Hodgy Beats on Fallon

Since I actually sought this out on tv and stayed up to watch it, AND it turned out to be more than worth the time and effort, sharing seemed to be on order.  It’s Tyler, The Creator and Hodgy Beats of OFWGKTA.

So check this out and enjoy it as I have.  Several times already.  A few highlights:  Their insane energy and enthusiasm.  Tyler getting away with wearing the upside-down cross ski mask.  The song itself, fucking great even when edited.  The J-horror girl standing there doing nothing.  The gnome.  Felicia Day warily shouting “WOLF!” And of course the perma-grin final few seconds in which Jimmy Fallon carries Tyler piggyback, and a (possibly inebriated?) Mos Def shouts “SWAG, SWAG, SWAG!”