Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Interview: Bronze Nazareth Talks About Feeding the Listener on Thought for Food Volume 3

Bronze Nazareth

As archaeologists dig up the buried objects and sculptures of ancient cultures made of bronze, Detroit producer/MC Bronze Nazareth, who raps about being "The monolith prepared to wait beyond the common length," shines underground, rewarding those listeners who venture beneath the surface. After debuting on Rza's Birth of a Prince 10 years ago, Bronze has become an underground king.

While his fellow next-generation Wu-Tang affiliate (and likewise metal-named colleague) Cilvaringz grasps for widespread attention and notoriety with publicity stunts like the single copy Once Upon a Time in Shaolin album, Bronze simply goes about his business, continuing to pile onto a resumé that's earned him the respect and interest of the elite practitioners of his artform. Besides putting in work with the entire Wu-Tang Clan, Sunz of Man, Killarmy, and producing albums for Timbo King and 60 Second Assassin, he's already crafted bangers for the likes of Immortal Technique, Kool G Rap, Tragedy Khadafi, Jedi Mind Tricks, Roc Marciano, Copywrite, Tragic Allies, La the Darkman, did a full album with Willie the Kid, and produced an upcoming album for hip hop legend Canibus (on that note, get ready to hear Pete Rock rap over a Bronze beat).

And that's just his outside work. Spearheading his own movement, Bronze has led his Detroit crew, The Wisemen, for a whole slew of group and solo projects. In the midst of this staggering workload, Bronze also blesses fans with his own solo efforts. The latest is Thought for Food Volume 3. The first solo Bronze release in three years, it's a bundle of twisted wordplay and abstract metaphors packaged up in a style of hip hop that's rugged as Michigan winters and dirty as a Detroit storm drain. A recurring metaphor on the record is the diamond trapped in a rough block of coal, likewise this Bronze batch as a whole is as beautiful as it is harsh. Go listen to and purchase it here.

The Bronze Bomber was generous enough to answer some questions about his newest release, mostly focusing on his unique lyrical approach as well as a consideration of the turbulence of our moment in history.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A Review of Wu-Tang Clan's A Better Tomorrow

After two years of contentious attempts at coming together as one, the Wu-Tang Clan finally completed and released their 20th anniversary album, A Better Tomorrow, last December.

As part of a series commemorating this album's release, I ranked the albums in their catalogue, examined the original (and better) "A Better Tomorrow" and even attempted to compare each member to an NBA player from the '90s. Now, finally, we take a look at A Better Tomorrow, a mostly disappointing album that still gave us plenty to talk about. I'm a little late in reviewing it (most reviews came in shortly after the album's early December release) but the extra time has at least allowed me to soak things in a little more while tempering my initial reactions.

Since it's a special occasion and there's so much to talk about with regards to this album, I decided to experiment with breaking the review down according to The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (with respects to Sergio Leone). Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Music I Did and Didn't Hear in 2014

Trying to finish up this little series of year-end posts before we get too far into 2015...

Looking over the music I listened to in 2014, it's clear that I didn't do a very good job keeping up with the latest releases of even just my preferred narrow subgenre of underground hip hop. Thus, reviewing the albums of 2014 for me is as much about what I did listen to as what I didn't and still need to seek out.

Firstly, I already wrote a more in-depth piece about the two albums that were my favorites from the first half of 2014, The Living Daylights and Life Outside the Frame, so be sure to go give that a read.

Musically it was a great year as most of my favorite artists released long-awaited new material, including Bronze Nazareth, Madlib, Cormega, and the Wu-Tang Clan. In fact, looking back on it I spent most of the year listening almost exclusively to these new projects (while dabbling in their past catalogues plus exploring the old blind sage composer Moondog).

Rock Konducta (Parts 1 & 2) by Madlib
Was pining for this for a while. The vinyl dropped last January but those of us without phonographs had to wait until July for the mp3/CD version. Madlib, the legendary producer/sonic-trip-extraordinaire, added onto his mammoth catalogue with this newest edition of the "Beat Konducta" instrumental series, featuring a potpourri of obscure samples from the farthest reaches of 60s-70s psychedelic rock, prog rock, Zamrock, Krautrock, and every other eclectic rock, twisted, tweaked and chopped up into hip hop beats. Totaling more than 80 minutes over 50 tracks, most of them less than 2 minutes long, Rock Konducta is an enclosed universe in and of itself. There's an endless array of miscellaneous snippets, cacophonous blurts of speech, screams, Bill Murray disc jockey riffs, jangling-metal hi-hats, crunching drum lines, badass loops, synth-heavy snoozers, odd offputting tirades, the most random yelps you've ever heard (this tape has a recurrent motif featuring what sounds like a mentally disabled woman bleating "Gimme a dollar!"), ringing alarm clocks or phones, stand-up routines, and every other sonic microcomponent Madlib could cobble together to line this collage of treasures from his rock vinyl collection. There's certainly plenty of skippable material here, but you can easily distill this vast assemblage into a playlist of 30 tracks that are excellent (which is exactly what I did). Or you can listen to the full thing and drift away into the far reaches of Madlib's weird mind.

Favorite tracks: First of all, where the hell does he come up with all these track names? There are 52 tracks in all, none of which have a generic name. Among my favorites are the thumping, mildly melancholy "Motorik Matching", the rugged pysch rock jam "Black Widow", the woodwind orchestral head-bopper "Giant Okra", and the drum-heavy up-tempo controlled chaos known as "Soap Guillotine" on Part 1; deep into the more lackluster Part 2 is my favorite loop on the whole project "Dies Irae" (it's become one of my favorite Madlib beats ever), the rest of Part 2 is unspectacular aside from the rugged fiddle symphony "Teapot", the penultimate percussion showcase "Soon Over" and, of course, the beat tape's closing 30 seconds into which Madlib enigmatically inserts one of the finest, most grave-sounding beats. You'll first need to sit through a 90-second satirical skit of a botched plane hijacking because it's only after that, and a transitional distorted sample singing "though I call from far awayyyyyou don't listen...," when the Beat Konducta decides to flip on the serious switch.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Colossus of Staten Island and Other Historical Detritus

Who knew there was so much fascinating history to be uncovered on miserable old Staten Island? Certainly not I, whose mother spent years working for the Staten Island Historical Society. Nope, never cared.

During the Christmas holiday I spent a week back in my hometown of Staten Island. It was an eventful trip, bookended by some of the worst travel experiences I've ever had (lost luggage on each leg of the journey, thanks United!) but I ended up having a really great time. Got to witness New York City from the perspective of a visitor, which I always find to be an exciting and enlightening experience.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Quick Rundown of Books Read in 2014

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
Zipped through this hilarious little gem on my flight to Portugal in the spring. This was my second foray into Vonnegut and, while my socks certainly weren't knocked off by this book, I'm starting to love the guy. His style of writing is just so damn clear and concise, the humor always incisive. With a rather mundane story focused in middle America, Vonnegut brings the absurdity of our modern existence to light as only he can. Few books have made me laugh out loud as much as this one. Upon finishing it, I planted my copy in the bookshelf of the Lisbon apartment we stayed at. Hopefully it will bring someone else joy and bewilderment.

Cat’s Cradle by Vonnegut
A friend, whose brother had originally insisted I read Slaughterhouse Five last year, handed me a copy and urged me to read Cat's Cradle, which he feels is Vonnegut's best book. Much like Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut's economy of style and constant wit blew me away but the story didn't capture me until a sudden plot twist toward the end. The last 100 pages or so have many quotable lines, here's one of my favorites: "When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed." There's a strange affect I've noticed when reading Vonnegut that compels you to crave more. I now see why his easily digestible books are so adored. Can't wait to dig into the next one.

Joyce’s Book of the Dark by John Bishop
The premier critical text of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, occupied an inordinate amount of my brain energy for most of the year. While I completed it in January of 2013 (it shows up on my book list for last year), I felt so adamant that a thorough summary review needed to be written that I spent all of 2013 re-reading it, then spent most of 2014 re-re-reading it and writing a review which became one of the longest pieces I've ever written. You can read all about it here.

Baseball Prospectus 2014
The ol' reliable doorstop made some drastic changes with its 2014 edition. After major complaints from readers (myself included) about the 2013 edition with its shortened team essays and run-of-the-mill writing, the BP editors not only brought back the extended-length essays but brought in outside writers to cover each team. They also broke with a long tradition of leaving the essays without a byline, presumably for the appeal of having some well-known baseball writers featured. It made for a great edition of this often terrific annual, but I remain perplexed at the direction it's headed. Bringing in 30 outside writers is a nice gimmick, but I'd like to see the actual cadre of Baseball Prospectus analysts get back to banging out unique, awesome essays on their own like they used to.

Football Outsiders 2014
This book was partly responsible for me winning my second fantasy football championship in a row. I wrote about it a bit more extensively here. It's an encyclopedic annual overflowing with stats and elevated by always impressive analytical essays. The heyday of Baseball Prospectus has passed, the fantastic Pro Basketball Prospectus series got snatched up and turned into online content by ESPN, but the Football Outsiders/Prospectus group maintains its powers. This is a must-read every year for devoted football fans and fantasy football geeks.

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