Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Suburban Champions

Seattle, Washington is the adopted hometown I've never actually been to.

Okay, that's a little obtuse even for me, so allow me to explain; Seattle is such a hub for contemporary nerd music and culture that I have begun to think of it, despite the fact that I've never actually traveled there, as my kinda place.

As someone who reached adolescence during the rise of the grunge era, I always felt the Pacific Northwest to be this almost supernaturally exotic land. The kind of place I could imagine but never truly wrap my head around. It was a land of flannel and coffee and rain and record stores. A place wholly foreign to me, but one with which I still felt an innate connection.

Some two decades later, Sea-town has been thoroughly demystified. It's not some ultra-hip cabal of Spin Magazine cover men; it's a burg full of dorks and techies and people just like me.

Where once the name Seattle was synonymous with acts like Soundgarden, I now think of it as the home of Optimus Rhyme. Ultraklystron. Kirby Krackle. The Goondocks. Southside. Billy the Fridge. Bloodhag. All unwitting members of my extended geek family.

Recently, a new hip-hop duo has insinuated itself into the proud musical tradition of that nerd mecca. While not exactly new to the scene, Death*Star has, in recent months, made its mark on Seattle nerdcore with a string of high energies shows and the release of their debut full-length The Fandom Menace.

The album kicks off, in traditional hip-hop style, with a skit. It's a too-long Japanese language introduction that doesn't exactly hit the mark, but it's got a certain awkward charm that carries throughout the album. This leads into upbeat banger "Bounce," a track that shouts out both a ton of geek/pop culture touchstones and the band's own nerdcore brethren. It also spotlights the amazing production of DJ Bill Beats, who's in no small part responsible for the discs nigh perfect tonicity.

Fighting gamer anthem "Suburban Champions" is clever and engaging enough, but lacks the strength of the project's early highlight, nerdcore love track "Looking for Group." The guys dig into the realm of the blatantly uncleared sample with "Villain of the Day: Episode 1," a joint that both takes the piss out of Coldplay and reps the likes of Bowser, Mumm-Ra and Vader. Sure, the delivery sometimes falters, but the lyricism is true geek poetry.

This leads to the first band practice skit. I'm notoriously not a fan of skits and this one goes on too long, but it again exemplifies the sort of cockeyed appeal of the C0splay/3PO dynamic. Things pick up again with the West Coast funk of "You're Not Geek Enough for Me," which succeeds despite the questionable vocal counter-harmony in the chorus. "From Dusk 'Til Dawn" brings even more of that energy back, but again loses me a bit on the singing. Horrorcore-lite joint "The Quick and the Dead," however, is a proper return to form that again highlights the true power of Death*Star: amazing beats, inspired lyrics and a healthy dose of the unexpected. The swinging chorus, the unexpected element in this instance, really blew me away on first listen, and it only sounds better on repeat.

"Sunshine" polishes the melancholy Bill Withers classic to a nerdy sheen and continues a hot streak through a shorter (and fucking hilarious) band practice skit and into the self-explanatory "Back in the Day." A perfect transition leads us to "Who Wants to be a Comic Book Villain," a sharply layered track that never quite gels vocally, which is, in turn, is followed by the moody but still slightly off-kilter "Rockman Blues."

The "Tabletop Tragedy" skit is both horribly inappropriate and an instant classic, and it primes the pump for the album's true artistic high-water mark "The Sound of Nerdcore." It's a musical mission statement that says as much about Death*Star themselves as it does the current state of the nerdcore nation. Like our community, it's not exactly flawless but still nothing short of stirring.

The Fandom Menace slows down for its final act thanks to the mellow "IRL," a track possessing a sing-along chorus that actually works beautifully, and the final band practice skit. I won't spoil the latter for you, but it helps set the stage for the album's unorthodox closer. "Second Video Game Apocalypse" is a fully realized concept that suffers a bit from weak delivery, but the boys redeem themselves with final track "Rollin' '20s/Turkey Bacon." Part slang-soaked, time-shifted jazz/hip-hop hybrid, part minimalist bullshit session, it wraps things up nicely and cements what I've come to recognize as the Death*Star sound.

While neither C0splay nor MC-3PO have the most commanding of flows and both occasionally lack a bit of the requisite swagger on wax, the fact stands that The Fandom Menace boasts some amazing nerdcore lyricism and genuinely satisfying beats. Despite some obvious holes, the album is keeper that any nerdcore fan should be certain to explore.

Like their contemporaries Karl Olson and Beef Thompson, Death*Star are nontraditional MCs with a true spark of geeky genius. Not only is The Fandom Menace an enjoyable ride, it's exactly the kind of project that makes me take note of an act and anxiously anticipate its next move. Because even though they live a continent's breadth away, Death*Star and I certainly occupy the same geeky headspace.

"Spend so much time alone my right arm looks like a thigh / got a werewolf on my palm and glaucoma in my eye."


thunderball said...


Z. said...


Jimi said...


Z. said...


killsaly said...

Ive been hearing about these gents for a while now. Now that I know it has the Z seal of approval, Ill check them out.

Z. said...

Word? Uh, I mean... cool, ks. I think you'll be quite entertained. ;)

eye-shuh said...

You really got to get yourself to Seatown. It's every bit as magical and wonderful as you imagine it to be. More, even! :)

Z. said...

I really have to get up there sometime, Eye-shuh. Seattle, she calls to me!