Monday, September 28, 2009

Kicking it New School: MAJA's BLEACH'D Out

I am not what you would call an anime fan. In fact, aside from the notable exceptions of Cowboy Bebop, the Daft Punk/Takenouchi video production of Interstella 5555 and a brief sojourn into the realm of Yu Yu Hakusho, I honestly don't think I've ever been particularly interested in contemporary anime. Still, I understand those who count themselves among the famed otaku to be my brothers and sisters, an important strata of modern nerdery in their own right.

Of course, that doesn't stop the sudden pang of panic I get when I discover that, say, Ultraklystron has a new album. I wonder if I'll truly get it. If I'll be able to sift through the subtle references and unpronounceable character names. If I'll truly grasp the weighty subtext.

Often, this makes such a release a far more taxing listening experience, but I always seem to find it worth the effort.

So, when MAJA let slip that he had a forthcoming release heavily influenced by Bleach, I was far more intrigued than I was apprehensive. And to sweeten the deal, MAJA even agreed to a little pre-album release Q&A.

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It's been nearly 3 years since the release of The Amalgam Project. What have you been doing in the interim between that album and Bleach'D Out?

Growing. I work a 40-hour a week job, am finishing up my degree, working on becoming fluent in Japanese, trying to get MAJA Mondays rolling on a consistent basis, writing; but most importantly, I have been trying to decide on my next step, musically. I am working on 3 albums at once. (Don’t even ASK how I manage to do this!) :-P

Has your songwriting style changed since the release of your debut album?

I think it has. I have evolved from the MC I was when I wrote The Amalgam Project. I think I was pretty scared writing through The Amalgam Project and came off a little raw. All I knew at the time was that I wanted to make the album and I think I expected opposition and hating and tried to address those things proactively. Bleach’d Out is a look inside myself, which is a little scary for me in a different way. Anyone who listens to the lyrics on this album will get to learn a lot about me. Offstage MAJA and onstage MAJA aren’t identical. People who have heard some tracks from this album have said that they can actually hear the evolution of my sound.

Are there any new musical influences or collaborators that managed to sneak onto the new release?

Hah! Paconaut called me up one day and said, "Yo, MAJA! Do you like Bleach?" And of course, I said, "Dude, do you know who I am? I’m the Anime King; I’m on episode 98!" So Paconaut made some beats inspired by the animated series and threw them my way. I thought I’d throw 3 or 4 tracks together and call it an EP, but SkochTape got involved and I added some more tracks to the project. Next thing I knew, I had 15 tracks to choose from for this 10-track album. Paconaut and SkochTape are very talented. I vibed off their beats easily.

Les735 is my main man when it comes to engineering and mixing. Zealous1 and DJ 2Thirteen helped me remix my song, "Bring It."

And, of course, the obvious follow-up, what tracks/albums are you diggin' right now?

I’m an eclectic cat. I have Jay Z’s Blueprint 3, Drake’s So Far Gone, Imogen Heap’s Ellipse, and Bjork’s "Sod Off" track in my iPhone on repeat at the moment. Oh yea, and Lupe Fiasco’s "Shining Down."

Are there any plans to tour in support of Bleach'D Out?

We will see. I’m planning an online concert for fans at the moment. I’m working with other anime conventions across the United States to bring Bleach’d Out to people everywhere.

Bleach'D Out is, obviously, even more anime-influenced than your earlier work, in fact it's been called a concept album of sorts. What will fans of Bleach find in the album, and do you think it will appeal equally to those of us not overly familiar with the series?

Nice question. I was thinking about this after I had the track list planned out. This album feels like a musical ride to me. I step in and out of reality on this album and try to hold everyone’s hands as I step from this world to others. Bleach fans will notice the music I am rapping over for the most part. Most songs are stories in themselves. You don’t have to know Japanese to get the mood of the tracks. This project is very vibe-driven. You’ll need to press play, close your eyes, and listen.

That’s where the challenge comes in: Will people who don’t know what Bleach is about relate to this in any way? I believe so, but we’ll have to see. Many tracks feel very experimental to me, in a good way.

You recent turn as a voice actor (in a series of Arizona-area McDonald's spots) was very favorably received. Are you hoping to continue voice acting? Can we expect to hear Maja in our favorite anime dubs in the future?

Haha! Voice acting gigs would be cool. But I wouldn’t watch them. I’m still all about watching anime in Japanese. I wasn’t sure how people were going to take the whole McDonald’s thing. I was nervous before the FOX interview, but afterwards I was happy about the way it turned out. It helped me see what outside people thought about my music.

Not to sound premature, but have you given much thought to your next project, or are you just planning to chill for a bit and unwind while Bleach'D Out works its magic?

I’m brainstorming new projects as we speak. I have many songs that I have not yet released. That’s kinda what took this release so long. I could have gone 4 different directions with the material I’ve been working on over the last few years and had even thought about creating The Amalgam Project Vol. 2. My goal now is to finish up the project number 3 and get that out as soon as it is ready. I hate making a song that I think is epic and hiding it from people.

Aside from ReverbNation, where else can fans pick up the new album? Will there be a digital version available for purchase for those who want to give back a little in exchange for your artistic services? What about a physical release?

"Purchase"?! What’s this word mean? LMAO…kidding. No, this is free for everyone. There will be physical copies pressed up for shows and giveaways and whatnot. However, I want to be clear: any money put into this project came out of my pockets. I’m talking studio time, artwork, pressing up of CDs, etc. If a fan wants signed physical copy from me, I’ll ask for a donation so that I can keep pressing CDs up. I will put a URL to Reverbnation on my site: MAJATRON.com.

And lastly, as I'm sure I'll have producers and remixers asking harshing me about this if I don't ask, are there plans to release a cappellas or remix kits for the tracks from Bleach'D Out?

I have been asked to do some remixes already, so I might do that.

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In addition to talking with me a bit about the album, MAJA also hooked me up with a pre-release copy. From start to finish, it proved a truly unique listening experience.

The journey begins with "Bleached Out Intro," a dynamic but slightly uneven opener that gives way to "Bring It," a track that, despite suffering a bit due to lyrical repetition, manages to clearly communicate to the listener what an amazingly polished production this album truly is. MAJA sounds great and the instrumental backing is every bit as inspired as its source material.

Bleach'D Out's third track, "Never Stop," however, is where the project truly comes into its own. An uplifting jam that parallels Ichigo's plight with MAJA's own experience – most specifically the crushing expectations that tend to haunt an artist on the eve of a sophomore release – it's both personal in approach and universal in theme. Then the album favors us with "Taken," a dark love song with a haunting beat but an occasionally stilted delivery, and "Bankai Interlude," a dark banger that comes through with all the power of MAJA's own "special move."

The 6th track, "Shinigami," is certainly one of the album's highlights. It's a strong center point: a funky, bass-heavy rap battle that pits an unwitting hollow against MAJA's "Zanpakflow." That theme transitions into "Hollow," a song about MAJA's personal struggle to find both artistic and life direction, which is probably his best track to date. Dangerously personal, it relates one man's version of the struggle we all face in determining which path to follow.

"Hollow," in turn, leads perfectly into "Bleached Out Outro": MAJA's declaration of "his hip-hop." It's a sharp statement of purpose that shows our hero shedding the mantles of that anime MC or that videogame rapper in favor of being both these and more: his own man. Using expertly diced samples and a perfect beat, it only suffers from its abrupt ending.

Thereafter we find "Hip Hop Daikou," and, while the last two tracks are tough acts to follow, it manages to maintain much of the musical inertia. Sadly, its great use of vocal doubling and overall balanced feel flounder a bit as the song goes on slightly too long. Then the album winds up with "Bring It (Remix)," which kicks up the original mix just enough (with some help from ZeaLouS1 and 2Thirteen) to leave the listener reeling from an expertly crafted audio assault.

All and all, the album comes through as a brave departure from The Amalgam Project. It succeeds perfectly in kicking MAJA's unique brand of "Janglish" to an entirely new level and in remaining both entertaining and relatable to listeners who, like me, aren't exactly down with the anime in question. In fact, aside from a little lyrical repetition, the album is damn near perfect!

Whether you're a Bleach aficionado, a MAJA fan or just a lover of quality hip-hop, it's definitely worth a listen. This is the caliber of album one usually expects to have to pony up a few bucks to hear, so the fact that MAJA is literally giving it away makes it all the more sweet. And his unique take on the Bleach mythos coupled with his undeniable musical growth make it more powerful than any Soul Reaper.

"I was trying to keep it MAJA, but it was hard 'cause everybody'd say, "Just keep it anime. Just keep it videogames."

7 comments:

Church said...

That interview is cool. Dare I say I'm lovin' it?

Paco said...

Man, that's EXACTLY how this project started too! I've been having people hit me up left and right about this. I'm glad it's finally out and that I got to be a part of it!

pac0naut

Big Ran said...

nice! cant wait to listen!

Anonymous said...

MAJA is AMAZING! Bleach'D Out is a fabulous album. And Mr. MAJA himself is a wonderful human being when you know him personally. ^_^

Anonymous said...

Great article Z on MAJA - so far he is getting a lot of good feedback on the music today with its release.

JT

killsaly said...

Yay new Maja! And actually available for me to download when i get home.

The only thing better would be some acapellas to play with... But i can wait.

Z. said...

I will never forgive you for that, Church!

Just wanna say you did some excellent work on this thing, Pac0!

I think you'll dig it, Ran.

I agree on all points, anonymous stranger.

Thanks, JT. You know I'm always more than happy to spread the word. :)

You'll get 'em, KS!

And to anyone who may be wondering, the album is out now: http://www.reverbnation.com/majatron