Sunday, February 10, 2019

For the 25th Anniversary of the Almighty Wu-Tang Clan

from here.

Been needing to compile this for a little while. First, I want to share with you a few videos from this past year when the Wu-Tang Clan celebrated the 25th anniversary of their seminal LP, Enter the 36 Chambers (1993). Wu-Tang was all over the place in 2018, these are just a select few vids that stuck out for me. Then I want to briefly share my personal history as a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan starting as a kid growing up in Staten Island in the 90s, when the imprint of Wu and what they stand for became foundational building blocks for the person I have since become.

First, here is an interview with RZA at the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee from last August. RZA gets into some stuff here that I've never really heard him talk about before. Typically in Wu-Tang interviews we hear the same origin stories repeated, whereas here RZA gives some insights on identity and the eclectic array of cultures that combined to form the core elements of Wu-Tang Clan that he doesn't often get into this much detail about. (Side note: this is the first time I've heard him share this amazing factoid: that while all the early Wu-Tang LPs were crafted to sound like movies, ODB's Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version album was made in the vein of a Richard Pryor record.) I often criticize RZA's musical evolution on this blog but I've said it before and I'll say it again: my mind grows when I listen to The Abbott speak.





The Wu-Tang Clan, minus Mef and Ghostface, put on a show for NPR's "Tiny Desk Concert series" in December. It was a thrill to see them perform in this format, ad-libbing, freestyling, taking turns throwing darts, with RZA playing the role of DJ. I wish they'd do this kinda thing more often, it's fresh as could be. Since it's a live show and there are so many members, there's some noticeable discord---especially between Raekwon and RZA who've been on different wavelengths for years now---but Wu-Tang performing live is still one of the greatest shows on earth. I especially love RZA's verse at the end here (19-min mark), a typically scientific-mystic Abbott verse that sounds like a taste of his long-promised album The Cure, delivered over classical orchestra strings. "Wu-Tang is for the kids!"





In October, the entire WTC formed like Voltron for a live performance of their classic single "Protect Ya Neck" on an episode of the Jimmy Kimmel show filmed live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House. It's rare to see the full collective come together and perform on a platform like this. Altogether this was a fantastic Wu-Tang showing, not in the least bit sullied by the lame audience clearly not being a typical Wu crowd.




There have been a few attempts at making a Wu-Tang documentary, none of them truly hitting the mark thus far, but this newly announced series on Showtime called "Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men" definitely looks promising. Here's the trailer:




And here's an interview with the director of the new documentary, Sacha Jenkins, who rocks a Mets ballcap and therefore shares not one but two of the greatest loves of my life. This looks like it'll be dope:




*   *   *

Saturday, February 9, 2019

(Video) Madlib Meets Ethiopian Legend Ayaléw Mesfin



Madlib meets legendary Ethiopian funk musician Ayaléw Mesfin whose music he has often sampled. The story of Ayaléw Mesfin, his struggles under an oppressive government, his humble appreciation of political asylum in America, and his emotional return to the stage to perform his music years later---there's a lot to appreciate in this 13-minute video. Ayaléw was jailed by an oppressive Communist regime that took over Ethiopia in the 70s. Arrested for distributing his music to the public for free, released only on the terms that he stop making and performing music.

A student of music in all its forms, we witness Madlib meet one of his idols and discuss their respective crafts as well as the harrowing story of what Ayaléw suffered through. Had to post this here as it really resonated and I'm glad to see Madlib showing love to one of the musicians whose work he's inspired by, while shedding light on an obscure artist for the fans.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Album Review: Ghost Files: Bronze Tape

Ghost Files: Bronze Tape (Remixes) - Ghostface Killah & Bronze Nazareth
(released Nov. 30, 2018).

It finally happened: in the year that marked Wu-Tang Clan's 25th anniversary, we were finally blessed with an album from one of the nine generals fully produced by their most talented Wu-Element, Detroit's "hip hop blues" wizard Bronze Nazareth. After a productive decade-and-a-half waiting in the wings of the W---producing or featuring on tracks with virtually the entire Clan* and producing albums for Wu Killa Beez like Dom Pachino (of Killarmy), 60 Second Assassin (Sunz of Man) and Timbo King (Royal Fam)---in 2018, Bronze Nazareth got to design the soundscape for an official Ghostface album. Tony Starks, whose penchant for soul sounds is right in Bronze's wheelhouse. Indeed Bronze, given a chance to take a Ghost album for a spin, roars out the gate in a hail of fire, jetting along curves like a Bugatti, carting a dump truck full of jukeboxes jangling soul sounds over a rocky road of chunky bass and snares. That's the sound of Ghost Files: Bronze Tape. Keeping with the motorcar metaphor, the journey is punctuated by a few brief stoplights featuring dramatic dialogues from dusty old films while soul jams loop quietly in the background. With such heavy presence by the producer deploying cinematic clips and heavily orchestrated bangers, manipulating beats to embellish bars, the overall audio experience conjures classic Wu in a fresh form.

The project began in October with The Lost Tapes, a new album from Ghostface stuffed with notable features and fully produced by talented beatmaker and imposturous internet author, Big Ghost Ltd. Eight weeks later, fans were gifted a special double-edition of remixes to that album, the Bronze Tape (prod. by Bronze) and the Propane Tape (prod. by Agallah). While the Agallah version and the original Big Ghost Ltd version are both solid, in what amounted to a three-sided producer battle to craft the best Ghostface album, the kid from Motown put on a clinic. In this review I want to focus on how the Bronze Tape embodies what sets Bronze apart as a producer and why this record offers promise to diehard Wu-Tang fans hungry for fresh production.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back on 2018

Mural seen in Antwerp, Belgium June 2018.

Looking back on it, in many respects, 2018 was not a great year for me. Had lots of drama and bullshit in many of my relationships with those close to me. Suffered thru four months in the middle of the year where my across-the-street neighbor descended into a drug-addled psychotic collapse featuring, among other things: angry threats, kidnapping someone's dog, damaging property, going in neighbors' yards, lying down in the middle of a busy street, chasing random cars screaming, and even covering the entire outside of his home with creepy spray-painted screed of lunacy and racist, alt-right garbage. It was daily escalating insanity. This being the heart of heavily-armed Texas, every day it felt like the neighborhood might collapse into a Tarantino scene. Shit was a horror movie for a bit there. Seriously. Mercifully, that bullshit finally ended. He's gone and the whole neighborhood came together, so now we've got cool neighbors as friends.

In 2018 I also worked a lot, at a fairly challenging job, and spent an absurd amount of time commuting in heavy Austin traffic. With all that, it's always refreshing to assemble a piece like this and realize I also made the time to do a lot of the things I love. Writing this reminds me of what an awesome year 2018 was in many ways. I got to deliver lectures on Finnegans Wake at two universities this year, one in Florida, one in Belgium. I got to travel to cool places, read lots of cool books, write some things worth reading, watch good movies, listen to good music, meet cool people. Here's a brief recap of cool stuff experienced in 2018.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Album Review: Orpheus vs. the Sirens by The Hermit and the Recluse (Ka & Animoss)

Orpheus in Hades  (Beronneau, 1897).

"Judging from my cover, each chapter's a revelation" 
- Ka

An emcee who delivers even one artfully arrowed dart or whole song weaved of references from Greek mythology would be worthy of praise. What Brownsville rapper Ka did on my favorite album of 2018, Orpheus vs. the Sirens (a collaboration with producer Animoss under the group name Hermit and the Recluse), deserves accolades of the utmost extreme. This ten-track album must be the closest thing Hip Hop has come to James Joyce's epic novel Ulysses. Whereas Joyce structured the 18 episodes of his modern text Ulysses around the wanderings of Odysseus, the 10 songs of Orpheus vs. the Sirens follow the adventures of Orpheus accompanying the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece. Notice how the style of the title on the cover of Orpheus vs. the Sirens even resonates with the cover of the American edition of Ulysses, as seen below:

Sunday, December 9, 2018

More Notes on David Markson's "Notecard Quartet"

To an astronomer, man is but an insignificant dot in an infinite universe---said whoever. Though that insignificant dot is also the astronomer.---said Einstein. 
p. 433, The Last Novel

Before placing David Markson's spellbinding "Notecard Quartet" (namely, these four novels: Reader's Block; This is Not a Novel; Vanishing Point; The Last Novel) back on the shelf, I'd like to share a few more notes from my reading experience. (Page numbers are from the Dalkey Archive edition of Reader's Block and the Counterpoint omnibus edition of This is Not a Novel, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel.)

1. In one of the many online essays devoted to Markson and his quartet (though I'm currently unable to identify which one), an author suggested that these books, composed almost entirely of an encyclopedic range of historical facts, quotes, and what Finnegans Wake calls "scrips of nutsnolleges" (FW 623.32), are not intended to spring the reader off to Google the history and validity of each item. I mostly adhered to that approach, streaking thru the pages with a growing sense for the vastness of the anomalous, paradoxical, occasionally confounding historical record of artists and thinkers. On the occasions where I was compelled to look stuff up, a vertiginous awe accompanied the realization of just how much color and feeling (love, pain, passion, humor, anger, confusion) can be extracted from any of Markson's terse lines once drilled into.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Discovering David Markson, Wittgenstein's Mistress and "The Notecard Quartet"

Somebody is living on this beach.
- Wittgenstein's Mistress, p. 240

Quelqu'un vit sur cette plage.
[Somebody is living on this beach, French]

Alguien vive en este playa.
[Somebody is living on this beach, Spanish]
- Reader's Block, p. 178


My reading recently has quickly ricochet'd through the later works of author David Markson, catapulting from Reader's Block (1996) through This Is Not a Novel (2001) into Vanishing Point (2004) on the way to The Last Novel (2007). My binge through this tetrad of experimental novels known as "The Notecard Quartet," styled as meandering strands of loosely linked bits of art historical data written as terse one or two line paragraphs (and originally composed by Markson on index cards), this began on the strength of persistent hints from my Santa Cruz pals Charlie and Luke to read Markson's postmodern masterpiece Wittgenstein's Mistress. My copy of that novel was acquired in Austin a couple years back when I happened to be at a bookstore with Charlie and Luke and they both suggested I'd dig it. They were on point. During a recent trip to Santa Cruz and the San Fran area I finally cracked open Wittgenstein's Mistress and zipped thru it enthralled. The impact of jutting single line paragraphs presenting one mental nugget after another over and over becomes a compulsive reading experience, oddly addictive. Bookworm host Michael Silverblatt compared it to a nutritional snack food for the mind.

To compose an impactful page turner out of a staccato of epigrams and ephemera with no chapters or conventional story elements was Markson's stated goal and manifested gift, repeatedly achieved over the latter stage of his career. After starting out publishing a handful of pulp western and noir novels in the 1960s including The Ballad of Dingus Magee which became a film starring Frank Sinatra, David Markson eventually began to move toward more experimental and original uses of the written word. In the mid-1980s he wrote Wittgenstein's Mistress, a story consisting of the interlinked mental fragments of a narrator known as Kate who seems to be the last person alive on earth. Persevering through 54 (!!!) rejections from publishers who found it either too unconventional or unfit to sell, Markson finally got Wittgenstein's Mistress published in 1988 by Dalkey Archive Press, thanks to the brilliant Steven Moore. The book garnered some laudatory reviews, most notably from David Foster Wallace who described it as "pretty much the high point of experimental literature in this country."

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Brief Note on "Marksmen": the Intricate Lyrical Design of Citizen Ka

Preparatory to an upcoming review of my favorite album of the year thus far, Orpheus vs the Sirens, by the Hermit and the Recluse also known as rapper Ka and producer Animoss (of the Arch Druids), I'd like to briefly make a note on a lyrical tactic from a different song involving these two. The song is "Marksmen" from Roc Marciano's 2017 album Rosebudd's Revenge, featuring Ka on the first verse and production from Animoss.




I love this beat from Animoss, it seems so odd and simple. The distinctive short looped sliver of lightly dribbling guitar string was shrewdly selected out of the original sample "Love Feeling" from Mecki Mark Men, the song title "Marksmen" partly an homage to them. The tiny piece of sound Animoss chose here, and how he deployed it in the beat, fascinates me. Only somebody in a crew with a name like the Arch Druids could have devised this sound.

I've listened to this song frequently the last few months while binging on some of the more recent music from Ka and Roc Marci. The more I've heard this the more things I've noticed in it. The track interests me for a number of reasons. Besides Roc Marci's verse weaved as an array of interlocking musical instrument references, what stands out to me is Ka opening with what seems like a hook over the beat's initial bridge and how he then transitions into the verse. It is that transition from hook into verse and especially the final bars of Ka's verse, that I want to focus on here. There's a fascinating bit of self commentary on the design of the verse itself.

At the end of Ka's verse he says:

"A true verse but too terse
I hope the hook grab em"

and then repeats "I hope the hook grab em."

There's no obvious hook on this track though and certainly the repetition of "I hope the hook grab em" isn't a hook. So what he's referring to here then is the slower delivered set of lines that open the song. Ka rhyming over the beat's precursory windup, beginning of course by saluting the production itself:

"To our production, much destruction for our appetite
With steel fist, if meal missed wasn't for lack of might 
We been binging, we purging dividends with snub nose 
My buds rose, my service citizens..."

I add the ellipsis at the end there because this transitions directly into the first lines of the verse, "My service citizens... Cain and Abel my rapping plight." I believe when Ka mentions he hopes the hook grabbed em he means I hope the listener is drawn to the hook and the clever triple entendre I built there. He draws our attention to it and by doing so gives even another layer of meaning to it.

The first connection that stands out is to the film Citizen Kane, wherefrom the "rosebud" of the album name Rosebudd's Revenge came, with allusion to it in "My bud's rose" and the aural sound of "My service citizens/ Kane." Of course there's also the allusion to the Biblical twins Cain and Abel. And to service citizens cain would be to serve dope to the citizenry, Ka often invokes the economy of crack cocaine cooking and dealing. (Using this last angle then "My buds rose" would also be cooking crack like baking bread, rising yeast.)

So already that quick transition from the final line of the "hook" into the first line of the verse has at least three references:

- Citizen Kane
- Cain and Abel
- Selling crack

He doesn't have to say much in order to invoke these, it's basically all stuffed into one line or one and a half lines. That alone is extremely clever. The creative tactic of directly feeding from the "hook" into the verse, that alone is cool too.

Then to actually make a reference to this "hook" and confirm that the opening is a hook while also explicitly hoping the listener picks up on what he's doing in the hook, you catch the last trick he embedded here: that line "I hope the hook grab em" refers to the hook which hook's right into the word "cane" after all. He hopes to hook you in as with a cane. Or to get citizens hooked on cocaine. Or provide a service to the citizens in the form of cooked verses, an addictive crack of intriguing lyricism.

This little bit of ornate lyrical design, finishing the verse by sending the listener back to the beginning to focus on what he planted there while layering one last bit of meaning onto that part of the song, is just the type of lyrical craftsmanship I've come to associate Ka with. Much as with dudes like DOOM and GZA, Ka is a writer intensely devoted to devising the cleverest turns of phrase, puns, and triple/quadruple entendres with every chance he can get. It is the artful verbal tricks deployed in the hooks throughout his newest album Orpheus vs the Sirens that intrigue me the most about that record. Fitting, then, that I've been so preoccupied with this clever lyrical device from Citizen Ka attempting to pull the listener in with the hook of "Marksmen."

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Book Review: Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day is Lit!


Last summer, topping off a binge of reading Thomas Pynchon books, I set forth on the long, arduous, and vastly entertaining excursion of reading his 1,085-page epic, Against the Day. Almost a year later, I'm still preoccupied with this multifaceted meganovel. Before putting the cinematic cinderblock of letters back on the shelf for a while I've got some thoughts I'd like to share on it here.

Mainly, I must declare that Against the Day is Lit!!! As in, Against the Day is Literature in extremis! Literary, narrative worlds taken to extreme levels of world building, as Bruce Allen of Kirkus Reviews captured it, "Pynchon is both wordsmith and world-smith." The book is all about journeys traversed around the world, and it is told in a bountifully rich style of extremely erudite yet comedically committed prose that serves to weave a vast interconnecting network of literally hundreds of characters across the span of a few decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century.

It's also Lit as in Bonkers as in yo this book is lit af. (Millenial slang for "yo it's wild as fuck!") In Against the Day, Pynchon takes risks, letting the imagination expand in full flourish of zany, unpredictable explosive interactions and storylines, straining the limits of credulity as he works within the genre of what Wikipedia calls historiographic metafiction or metahistorical romance. The powerful electrical experiments of Dr. Nikola Tesla himself make up part of the story, mixed with the ominous tensions of turn-of-the-century political revolutions and the buildup to World War I, witnessed by a team of globe-trotting, time-traveling aviator adventurers (the Chums of Chance), with the overall storyline centered around a decades long struggle between the family of a murdered anarchist bomber (Webb Traverse) against a merciless robber baron/cartel boss (Scarsdale Vibe). It is the grandest manifestation of Pynchon's consistent theme of the struggle throughout history between what he labels the elect vs the preterite or the rich and powerful vs the common man. Serious, important historical stuff. But as Steven Moore noted in his review, the book's Marxist melodrama is laced with the comedic strain of Groucho Marx. Since this is Pynchon in full force, the novel is completely bonkers, often hilarious or silly, and sometimes ridiculous in its sexual excesses.

For example, flipping open the book at random, on page 384 we encounter a freedom fighter in the Mexican Civil War named El Ñato described as an "energetic presence" dressed in an "officer's jacket from the defunct army of some country not too nearby" with a ridiculously oversized parrot perched on his shoulder, "so out of scale in fact that to converse with its owner it had to lean down to scream into his ear." Then we meet the parrot:
"And this is Joaquin," El Ñato smiling up at the bird. "Tell them something about yourself, m'hijo."
"I like to fuck the gringo pussy," confided the parrot.
Later on when one of the main characters is about to strangle the insolent parrot, Pynchon describes El Ñato "sensing psitticide in the air." Parrots being of the Latin order Psittaciformes, Pynchon invents a clever word for parrot murder.

And finally, the novel is also Lit in the sense of Illumination. One of the main preoccupations of Against the Day is Light. The novel is full of newly lit cities, luminous prose, an ever expanding glow of creativity and proliferant storylines intent on covering everything under the sun. The force of the Tunguska event plops upon the text with "A heavenwide blast of light" (p. 779) that leaves the sky over the European continent alight for weeks. The light-refracting crystal Iceland Spar is a recurrent element in Against the Day. We experience frequent digressions into philosophical, scientific or occult contemplations of Light itself, as in the scene where the young genius mathematician/engineer Kit Traverse argues with his cynical brother Reef on science vs mysticism, pointing out how wireless waves were complete "bunk" not very long ago, then he reminds us: "Seems every day somebody's discovering another new piece of the spectrum, out there beyond visible light, or a new extension of the mind beyond conscious thought, and maybe someplace far away the two domains are even connected up." (p. 670)

To illustrate the ways in which Against the Day is totally lit, let's further expand on each aspect of its lit-ness:

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Healing Ingredients for Hard Times

Greek street art from here.

"A middenhide hoard of objects!" 
- Finnegans Wake, p. 19


"To clean and tidy up Matter...
To put back all the things people cluttered up
Because they didn't understand what they were for...
To straighten, like a diligent housekeeper of Reality,
The curtains on the windows of Feeling
And the mats before the doors of Perception...
To sweep the rooms of observation
And to dust off simple ideas...
That's my life, verse by verse."

- Fernando Pessoa (as Alberto Caeiro), 17 September 1914 
(from A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems, p. 56)


Besides the increasingly entropic, sad and infuriating thunderstorm of drama unfolding daily in the news, my closer circumference has also been racked with scary, turbulent, and unpredictable drama lately. The tension of the times is inescapable, it seems.

Besides the weight of experiencing people close to me fighting life-threatening illnesses, family friends passing away, and cherished friends leaving town, the last few months have featured the misfortune of a nearby neighbor exploding into a dark psychotic and meth-aided breakdown bringing nerve-eroding levels of disturbance and threat to my immediate community. My strong woman is terrified, deeply rattled, and my infuriated Italian Staten Island dude energy is trying to force its way into the situation. Plus it's Texas so the entire neighborhood is armed. Dealing with all of this has been rough.

What's helped me keep my head on straight is regular indulgence in the following ingredients: reading the poetry of Fernando Pessoa, exploring the music of rapper Ka, vibing off daily doses of Fela Kuti or lines from Finnegans Wake, and both watching and playing lots of baseball. Here are some thoughts on all of those.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...