Friday, September 05, 2008

The Best Things in Life

Writing reviews is hard.

It really is. You have to listen to the same songs over and over again with the specific intent of uncovering which succeed on multiple levels and which ultimately fail. It's a bit of a daunting task. But I continue to do it. Mostly because people ask me to nicely.

nYgel sent me a pre-release copy of his new mixtape Free To Good Home a while back. It wasn't totally complete, but the meat of the album was in there. In the ensuing weeks I've been treated to additional and revamped tracks, and a more sharpened listening experience over all.

Yet even from those earliest days, even from those less polished versions, the album proved to be an exhilarating experience.

In it's finished form it's truly the kind of thing that one needs to hear to truly understand. But those handful of you who'd like to know my thoughts are free to read on.
  1. "First Song 4 Your Mixtape"
    nYgel kicks off the proceedings with a clever reworking of Brand New's "Mix Tape." It has an odd, ethereal feel that highlights the artist’s penchant for the fine art of the bootleg remix.
  2. "S@rge (ft. Conyeezy, DJ Zap scratches)"
    The airy intro is followed with a straight-ahead nerdcore number featuring frequent collaborator Conyeezy. I'm a fan of Yeezy, but I admittedly gave him a little grief concerning flow on his contributions to the previous mixtape. So let me explicitly state that this track features one of his best performances to date. His delivery is measured and his swagger properly honed, which serves him well atop nYgel's sharp backing. While the beat is a little simple, the vocals and scratching dress it up nicely.
  3. "The Hyphy Dance (ft. T.Y.T., Whore Moans, YTCracker)"
    After keeping things fairly textbook on "S@rge," nYgel again gets a little eclectic on this track, mixing hyper-active clubs sounds with nerdy hip-hop. T.Y.T., Whore Moans, and YTCracker all bring their A games, and it makes for an unforgettable song.
  4. "World @ Large"
    By this point in the album, one can't help but notice the release's dual nature: Free To Good Home is both a hip-hop mixtape and a sonic experiment in the field of the underground remix. This song falls firmly into the latter, and takes one of my favorite Modest Mouse tracks in a wholly different direction. Though it's a little long, the only thing this track really has going against it is that it will surely serve to frustrate hip-hop heads who don't generally expect this sort of fare in their mixtapes.
  5. "Get Fresh (interlude)"
    Rather than switch things right back to hip-hop, nYgel dwells in the realm of odd electronica for a few minutes more. It's a little strange to have two such lengthy tracks back-to-back on a release of this nature, but, other than possibly undermining a bit of the inertia the album's built up thus far, the song is well-textured and enjoyable.
  6. "Rap Fanatic (ft. Jesse Dangerously, Ranger, LogicOne, DJ Zap scratches)"
    "Rap Fanatic" is a blissful return to rap, featuring excellent contributions by each of its featured artists. Once again, the backing sounds a tad thin, but I’ll simply chalk this up as a ploy by nYgel to highlight the featured rappers. While Jesse D and The Ranger both bring really enjoyable verses, LogicOne’s verse is slightly soured by overused vocal effects. And sadly, this song ends a bit too abruptly.
  7. "Wicked (ft. Benjamin Bear, Id Obelus, DJ Bizkid scratches)"
    While I love the frenetic beat and I admire the styles of contributors Benjamin Bear and id obelus, this song also suffers from overuse of vocal delay. Still, it's enjoyable, and Bizkid's scratches are probably his most dynamic of the album. Overall it’s an enjoyable song that’s just a little messy.
  8. "You Don’t Know About That"
    nYgel again does his best to desecrate a contemporary Billboard chart-topper – this time T.I.'s "What You Know" – to great effect. With a nice blend of sharps hooks, smooth backing, and good old-fashioned pitch manipulation, it’s a fun ride.
  9. "1to3for (ft. ytcracker)"
    Easily the album’s thesis statement, "1to3for" is both a masterful cut-up and a legitimate hip-hop track. While some may see it as two songs lashed together, I say it’s the best of both worlds. It’s delightful change-up (between the Feist and YTCracker movements) and masterful use of stereo panning makes it enjoyable despite being a bit on the lengthy side.
  10. "Take Your Time (featuring Whore Moans, Legendary Wizard, Conyeezy)"
    Honestly, this track doesn’t exactly kick off with Whore Moan’s best rhymes, but it’s fun and features tons of movement. Plus, it’s arguably a better use of the Jimmy Eat World hook than the original source track. ;) It sounds repetitive after a point and Legendary Wizard’s vocal doubling is a tad much, but Conyeezy comes through with another great contribution. In the end, it's the type of song that manages to make you love it in spite of a few shortcomings.
  11. "Happy 2Gether (ft. Whoremoans)"
    Though this lo-fi Whore Moans joint seems a like a jarring change from its forerunner, it too is a keeper. Moans raps kind of fast and the beat is a little repetitious, but the whole track manages to be equally sharp and loose. It spotlights Moans’ exceptional storytelling abilities, and some crazy-ass drums in its final quarter help to kick it up a notch.
  12. "Have You Seen Rain (ft. TYT)"
    Fulfilling a similar role as Conyeezy’s "The Wanderer" from Nature’s Outcasts, "Have You Seen Rain" is the emotional core of Free To Good Home. It’s a powerful heartbreaker tinged with hope that’s truly one of T.Y.T.’s best. Sometimes he gets a little ahead of himself with regard to flow – which is, I admit, my only genuine complaint about any of his work – but it comes together in every way possible. nYgel, T.Y.T. , and Fogerty are perfectly matched from the start, and the change-up at the 2:20 mark adds just the right amount of dynamism.
  13. "Digital Lyfe (ft. Funky49)"
    An excellent transition leads in to this funky49 joint. While not my favorite selection from his Starblazer album, it’s a great follow-up that ably propels the album forward.
  14. "Gayest Shirt (Killsaly remix of nYgel remix)"
    This remix of a remix doesn’t have all the style of The Grammar Club original, but it’s competent and catchy. Plus it features two of my favorite producers and one of my favorite bands, so I’m an easy sell.
  15. "Sugar, We’re Slowin’ Down"
    Another amazing transition leads us into a brilliant reimagining of a mediocre radio hit. The way nYgel forces this mall punk number into a ska-flavored offbeat by slowing it down is truly ingenious. It’s a great cut-up with some wonderful glitch elements that may prove too long for some, but not for me. I see it as a testament to nYgel’s ability to wholly repurpose a song to his own diabolical design.
  16. "Wake This Up"
    I’ve spent a sizable chunk of this review talking about song lengths, but this track stands out as the album’s longest. It certainly takes Green Day into new territory, but it suffers both because of length and because of its proximity to the all-too similar "Sugar, We’re Slowin’ Down." Still, it’s not without its charms, notably the injection of some totally unexpected mc chris at 3:45 and a very thematic fade-out.
  17. "Hardly Tell (nYgel remix ft. Conyeezy)"
    This remix of a song from YTCracker’s new Serious Business EP is a fine note on which to end. It pairs YT’s vocal high end with Conyeezy’s low, which makes for a fantastic contrast. It's the perfect hate song on which to allow the listener to reflect in the mixtape's waning moments, and should prove a fan favorite.
In summation, Free To Good Home could be described as having a split personality. It is at once a nerdcore mixtape and a sample-heavy experiment in musical cut-ups, and it does both very well.

It is, in short, the kind of album that's incredibly easy to like.

My only recurrent complaints, things like leveling and pacing issues, are only noticeable when viewing the album as a whole. And even then only slightly so. When listening to it as a regular listener on a track-by-track basis – read: like someone not attempting to review it – you're simply apt to come away with a smile on your face and a few more solid additions to your most played list.

Free To Good Home is a mixtape that shows nYgel's musical growth, spotlights a number of notable contributors, and genuinely deserves your attention. There's something for everyone, and the more open-minded your view and eclectic your taste, the more you'll find to enjoy.

"Be right back, I got to be a man."

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Nerd News in Brief

Earlier this week I was quoted by Wil Wheaton.

No shit; a veritable Geek God referenced me! How cool is that?

Now when I say "Geek God," I want you to know that I’m not speaking lightly. Wil is on a higher plain than us mere nerdlings.

Matt and Church asked if that made them a measly 2 degrees away from our dear Gordie Lachance, but I refused to hear it. We are all 1 degree from WFW. He is our benevolent deity of all things geek.

Thy Wil be done. Thy Wheaton come.

Wow. That sounded a bit grosser than intended.

  • First Things First: I've made no secret of my sorrow over the break-up of Optimus Rhyme. I've also made no secret of the length's I'll go to in order to procure audio/video footage from their final gig. Thankfully, fellow fan CR_Gus was nice enough to post the entire set (sans encores) to so that we all may enjoy it. And I didn't even have to do anything distasteful to see it!
  • Return of the King: It is with great pleasure that I announce that my comrade in arms from the house of Nerdcore News has returned! It's so nice to see him again. Okay, not see, per se, as this edition of the vlog is audio-only, but you get the idea. Welcome back, Gabriel!
  • Up and About: Also returning to the fold is MC Tanuki. After an automobile accident that put him out of commission for quite a while, Nook is back in the saddle again. Glad to hear you’re back among the lining, brother!
  • Trekkies Wanted: Church asked me to put the word out on behalf of the Trek constituents that Floridian photographer Jon Fletcher is looking for Jacksonville area fans. I’m assuming he wants to take your picture. Although I suppose he may just want to use your skin to make a coat.
  • When Nerds Collide: As announced at PAX, the soon-to-be released Rock Band downloadale content from MC Frontalot ("Livin’ At the Corner of Dude and Catastrophe") will be joined in a nerdy all-star song pack by tracks from Jonathan Coulton and The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. Even better, the proceeds from the sales of the songs from launch to Holiday 2008 will be donated to the Child's Play charity. In a related story, I totally fuckin’ called it.
  • Post-Punk Basic Cable Rap: At long last, MC Lars’s commercial from G4’s new "It’s a Nerd’s World" campaign has hit the airwaves. Very nice! All we’re missing now is Del’s spot.
  • Murder in the 2nd: And while you’re kicking around at the G4 site, check out this little jewel. Church noticed that they have a piece about how Dr. Dooom has killed Dr. Octagon. Again. Y’know, ‘cause the first one didn’t take.
  • In the Name of Gordon: My pal Antisocial has just completed work on his new album Anomalous Materials Laboratory. It will boast all of Soc’s Half Life-themed tracks, as well as a number of sci-fi-flavored instrumentals. It’s release date? "Sometime in October. Probably very early October."
  • No Super-Ego, Just id: id obelus has a new project in the works. It's currently goes by the delightful title The Inevitable Crushing EP, and the touted release date is "soon." This one will feature id's trademark smart and occasionally snarky rhymes, as well as contributions from the likes of Nomar Slevik, Oblio, nYgel, Benjamin Bear, DJ Bizkid, Audio88, Noah23, and LogicOne. And I, for one, can't wait.
  • Proper Pronunciation a Must: Also bringing some new hotness to the table is killsaly. Once again ks is putting his mark on an mc chris track, this time "Reese" from the mc chris is dead album. You are urged to take a listen.
  • Still Your Medic: And Captain Spalding has added yet another track to his MySpace, “All Hands on Deck.” At long last, nerdcore gets nautical. Not really.
  • Where’s Starbuck?: Thanks go out to Matt for turning me on to this delightful nugget of political precision. John McCain is a Cylon. Seriously.
  • Meet Your Replacement: Word on the street is MC Loki will be filling the vacancy left in the wake of Shelshocker's departure from the Sinister Six. Now it's only a question of when. Yes, when will the long-awaited Sinister Six project come to completion? Until that time we wait. With baited breath.
  • From the Heartland: Also from the mind of Mad Hatter and his Scrub Club compatriots comes the Midwest Nerd Fest. Slated for March 20-22 in Wichita, Kansas, this festival will feature music, games, trivia, and pretty much everything else you can think of. I had sort of been putting off talking about this project until the details had fully solidified, but, as Hatter just keeps adding more and more amazing shit to the mix, I figured it was well past time I mentioned it.
  • The Cube, the Cake: Taking us home today is a fine selection from the PAX ’08 stage. It’s Jonathan Coulton and the lovely Penny… er, Felicia Day with "Still Alive." Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Happy Accidents

I sometimes feel as though I stand alone – much like the cheese – with regard to my musical passions.

You see, I like it when, for lack of better phrasing, shit gets mixed up. I enjoy it when my hip-hop incorporates jazz breaks or my geeky rock borders on ska. I like sonic experimentation. It might not always work, but I admire those willing to take the chance.

nYgel is on a similar page. So much so that he's just released his second mixtape Free To Good Home, an album firmly rooted in the concept of combining fresh, new nerdcore with eclectic, sample-based beats from the most unlikely of sources.

How does this musical mad scientist approach his craft? Read on to find out.


You first began to make a name for yourself in the Beastie Boys remix community. Would you say the Beasties are a primary musical influence? What are your other influences?

I suppose you could say they are the primary influence, though my music never really sounds too Beastie. A lot of my music really, to me, doesn't seem to sound like anyone else's. It's not like some genre I'm trying to copy; I have an idea and then I go with it. Some of these ideas come out better than others, but it's usually not based off of anything in particular. Though certain artists do make me wish I sounded like them: people like Ratatat and Justice. I sound nothing at all like them, but they really influence me. Of course other "nerd" music as well influences me. but mostly I usually just want to do something the others aren't.

What was your introduction to nerdcore hip-hop?

Well, I'd have to say mc chris. I only knew about MC P. Pants and such from Adult Swim but, that was it until this kid at my high school had me listen to "Evergreen" in gym class one day. I took my Beastie Boys remixing skills over to the mc chris board. Everyone was pretty accepting of me and my mixes, so I called it home for quite a while. But then I got banned and got called a talentless bad word by this DJ who was losing to me in a remix contest, but that's a different story.

My introduction to real nerdcore came when I mentioned on the BBMB that I was one of the few original remixers to still post, and in that post I mentioned funky49. I suppose funky49 checked out the boards, maybe searched his name, I don't know, and found it, felt flattered, and then told me about Rhyme Torrents.

I went there and was very unimpressed, but continued on. I hadn't heard anything really powerful there and was starting to turn away... until CSHC dropped their first single "Nerdcore is Dying." After that things picked up.

What producers and DJs do you admire within the nerdcore community? How about within the larger sphere of mainstream music?

Wow, that's a hard one. I really like killsaly. He's one of the few I would really like to listen to. I obviously enjoy DJ John and Baddd Spellah (though I hated his "Fett's Vette" remix, no offense if you're reading). DJ Inubito of CSHC I like a lot as well.

As for mainstream music I like the Beastie Boys of course, their other producers like the Dust Brothers, Mario C and Mix Master Mike. Ratatat and Justice I've already mentioned. Danger Mouse due to his work with Gorillaz and Grey Album.

Other DJs beside Mix Master I like are like Shadow and such, but I want to mention this now because he needs some recognition for it: DeeJay Zap does the scratching for my tracks, he's an old friend from the Beastie Boys community and he does great stuff.

Also a guy named dj BC. He's very talented too.

Oh yeah! I'm a big fan of dj BC myself.

Why did you choose the mixtape format as the basis for your recent projects?

Well, under my theory, which is probably wrong, it is because producers/DJs (whatever I am) don't release albums. They drop mixtapes. Also because mixtapes usually are more creative and "risky," I suppose you could say. And I think what my mixtapes can do is either give smaller artists a chance to shine beside bigger artists, or offer bigger artists a chance to sorta have fun. When these bigger artists drop tracks they usually put a lot of effort in them, and, to me , my releases are a place for them to let loose. (Take YTCracker's verse on "Hyphy Dance" for example.)

How would you say Free To Good Home differs from your previous mixtape Nature's Outcasts?

I feel FTGH is a big improvement. I don't know how, but it just is.

It is far more sample oriented, and that was my original idea. I was thinking about how the Beastie Boy's second album was roughly 95% sampled music - which actually caused a number of new sampling laws to come into effect - and I started sampling things. Then I decided I wanted everything on the new album to be very sample oriented. All but a few are like that.

Also I don't have many solo tracks, which I wish I had more of, really. I liked the mixture I got from "Last Call" from NO and wanted more like that. Just not with that many people. That'd seem like I was riding off my previous success.

Mostly I wanted to stand out and improve, but still bring what I brought before.

Both projects feature an interesting mix of traditional hip-hop mixtape fare (albeit with a nerdcore slant) as well as remixed and often heavily re-sequenced modern pop and rock tracks. Are you actively trying to redefine the concept of the mixtape, or are you simply trying to put your stamp on the art form?

Not entirely understanding the real concept of a mixtape, I would say I'm just trying to put my stamp on it. I like to give my work variety. If others are like me then they get tired of hearing the same things over and over, and I feel a lot of releases around the nerdy community fall victim to their own comfort zone. I don't really have a direct example, but I think most people find their style and call it that. I want to continually change up my style and still have it be my own.

Is there an underlying theme or concept that ties all the tracks of Free To Good Home together?

They were all made by me, lol. Really no solid concept, it's just the things I created in my final months in Indiana and a few that were leftovers from NO. Actually, I guess, like I said earlier, it's just about it being a heavily sampled mixtape. That was my hope from the start of it, even though some tracks don't follow this theory.

Mixtapes in general draw on a wide and varied group of contributors, and yours are no exception. Do you typically solicit contributors to rhyme over specific, pre-selected beats, or do you tailor instrumentation to match their vocal contributions?

It changes a lot. Last time I made a lot of beats and just hoped to get some people I really liked on it. This time I had a bit of an idea of who I wanted. Sometimes this was who ended up on a track, but mostly it wasn't.

I try to either make a song that really blends with a rapper's style, or, failing that, I try to put in someone who you wouldn't think of on a track. Then sometimes I get asked to remix tracks, like funky49.
I usually reject remixes for various reasons. Mostly I don't have much time. (And now I don't have a program to remix with. Why is Sony Acid NOT Mac friendly?!)

You've worked with a number of notable artists on this album: YTCracker, Jesse Dangerously, T.Y.T., Conyeezy. With whom else would you like to collaborate?

Wordburgler! I tried to work with him on this release, but time was an issue. And MC Lars was supposed to be on Nature's Outcasts, but obviously that didn't happen. Both were time issues. Others I want to work with would be guys like Beefy (again). He turned down a track on this one. I can't remember why he did. Lucy Starkiller I want to work with. Which I sorta am. She was supposed to be on this album too. Frontalot and Shael also come to mind. But really most people I want to work with I got, or tried to get, on this one. In a month or two I'll probably have a few more that I'll want to work with.

If you could only pick one song from FTGH to serve as an example of your work to new listeners, which track would it be? Which song most clearly demonstrates the nYgel sound?

I think the "nYgel sound" is so vague none would demonstrate it too well. I really like all the tracks on the album, but I guess "Rap Fanatics" would work. It has a pretty good beat, nothing too catchy, but solid, and then three great rappers. I think any would work well. But again, my style is so varied in my opinion. Play "S@rge" and "Wicked" one after another and that kinda shows what I mean.

Lastly, nYgel, what truly inspires you?

My girlfriend. And you, Z. I want to be in the Nerd News in Brief and podcast more often.


And so I find that nYgel and I share another commonality, one outside of our shared love of musical eclecticism: we both tread heavily in areas that we do not fully understand.

This is, in fact, sort of a mantra to me: do things that you do not understand.

But unlike my meager contributions, nYgel's musical experimentation charges on through uncertainty toward a kind of natural genius. Toward a brand of musical nirvana that can only come from making the music that you want to hear.

It may confuse neophytes and put off traditionalists, but to me it smacks of authenticity. It bears the true weight of substance.

nYgel, as an artist, is defined by a flagrant disregard for the conventions of popular music, and I, for one, wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Happy Drunken Podcasting Month

Yes, friends and neighbors, it's September, and thus it is also Drunken Podcasting Month.

It's a fake holiday season of my own design that exists, for the most part, to give me something to do during the interminably long month before the more legitimate Halloween season. Still, as observances go, you couldn't ask for a lower impact approach. All you need to do to participate is:

A) get drunk
B) record it
C) post it as a podcast

Yep, that's it. It is genuinely that simple.

(Okay, admittedly you need to be of legal drinking age in your nation of residence, but that's not too much to ask, right? Didn't think so.)

I actually recorded my first Drunken Podcast this weekend with my pals Matt and Church. The process was fun. The aftermath? A little head-achy, but well worth it. And there are even plans to record a second edition.

Not that you have to, mind you. One Drunken Podcast is all that's required to cement your membership in our loyal fraternity of the embarrassed and slightly hungover.