Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Tasty Trio

Though it never seems to reach a drought level, there is an oddly cyclical nature with regard to new album releases. Sometimes they trickle in a proper pace apart and other times gush forth as if from some unwieldy spigot. I currently find myself heavily into one of the latter periods.

You might think of it as the musical equivalent of the rainy season.

Reviewing all of these new projects is well outside my abilities both as a writer and as a master of space-time – Shit, even a Time Lord can only find so many hours in a day!

Still, over the coming weeks I will make an honest effort to spotlight each new album to truly move me. A few of these will take the form of regular, structured reviews, while others, like today's offerings, will take a slightly less refined approach.

With that said, here are three special selections that are currently getting solid love on my iPod.

King Pheenix – Hero vs. Villain

I'm a little weary of concept albums in general and hip-hop concept albums specifically. They often take a solid idea and over-inflate it, bartering artistic integrity and natural cohesion for sheer length and pageantry. King Pheenix's new Hero vs. Villian sidesteps this by keeping itself to a tight 8 song cycle.

An odd story set in a not-too-distant future where hero and antihero vie for control in the long shadows of a sinister corporation, it's a compelling tale with heavy geek appeal. It doesn't exactly start off with KPX's best flows, but by the time the title track rolls around (three songs in) you've really got to try hard not to feel the energy.

The album seems to lose some steam on a few of the choruses, and the connecting skits do a great job at pulling together the plot but may prove distracting to those just looking to head-bob. Still, joints like the highly aggro "Traitor" and Scrub Club posse cut "Anarchitype Rush" (wherein MadHatter brings the pain while my boy Thunderball momentarily steals the show) are instant classics.

With a closing act that's both epic and enigmatic, it sets itself up for a second chapter that will no doubt channel the same sort of comic book storytelling with an even more polished lyrical sheen. And I can't help but look forward to the next installment of Pheenix's Multiple Personality Theater.

Kabuto the Python – Ill Ron Hubbard

Boasting what is easily the best title of 2010, Kabuto is back with a half-hour of power cobbled together from the remaining scraps of a full-length salvaged from not one but two catastrophic hard drive failures. Despite its highly abridged length it's gotten a serious pop from the community, specifically from my comrade-in-arms Tha Mike who passed to me the following missive:
"Look I'll be honest with you, I consider myself quite the Kabuto aficionado and the majority of everything he has released to date ranges from a good track to I-listen-to-it-multiple-times-daily. Then the Ill Ron Hubbard album was released and after listening to it anxiously and quickly like a kid opening a Hanukah gift, my first reaction to it was I thought he could have done a much better job.

Then I listened again, and again, and again and I started picking out some of the brilliant lines or images that Kabuto creates with his genuine and genius wordsmithness. I can't compare Kabuto the Python to any other artist in the world... past or present but if Parseltongue was a work of art, then this is a masterpiece of Sistine Chapel proportions."
Those are some strong words from the big guy, and I agree to a point. Ill Ron Hubbard is a diminutive beast sporting some of Kabuto's cleverest rhymes to date, and it somehow even manages to pack in a mega-dose of his smart-ass swagger into such a small package.

Still, the very nature of the project means that there are noticeable seams. "Origin Story" and "Rap Loogies," a pair of the album's strongest contenders, seem heavily truncated, and the chorus joke on "Swaggerjacking" wears thin almost as quickly as the quirky hook of "Reggaeton Song."

By far, the most interesting aspect of Ill Ron Hubbard has to be the simple act of Kabuto being Kabuto. The bane of Rhyme Torrents newbs and the most sought-after collaborator of the nerd rap elite, he exists to take the piss out of nerdcore by elevating the craft. And elevate it he does.

Despite its rough edges, cuts like "Reference Desk" and "Blue Harvest" skewer geeky hip-hop by turning its own motifs against it in a way that not only succeeds but shines. And its closing trio "American Song," "What It Do" and the title track combine big beats and lyrical gymnastics that find Kabuto entering an entirely new plane or peculiarity.

There are some undeniable issues with Ill Ron Hubbard, but, much in the same way that summer action flicks only seem outlandish when the popcorn wears off, you'll likely be having too much fun listening to the goddamn thing to notice. And the listening is the important part.

Shael Riley and the Double Ice Backfire – Ultimate Songs from the Pit

I'm gonna cheat a bit and include this one in my list. Obviously USftP hasn't been release yet, so what I'm currently vibing to is a rough mix that's only available to me due to whatever vague journalistic clout I possess.

That being said, this album, much like Epic Beard Man, is a motherfucker.

I was a big fan of the original (cassette-only) release of Songs from the Pit and the Nerdapalooza re-release, swollen to nigh epic proportions with b-sides and alternate takes, was a nice addition, but the 16 tracks of the Ultimate edition truly sound like the project in its adult form.

Old classics like "How to Fire a Gun" and "The Other Side of Memphis" have a nice, new coat of digital paint, but the fact that the original six tracks (the piano-only redux of "Asian Kids Have All the Best Moves" and the cover of "Chinese Ninja Warrior" didn't make the cut) are supplemented with 10 more chip-rock charmers really makes for an appealing package.

Highlights include the crunchy "Boot Straps," the pitch perfect electro-funk deconstruction of faux-nerd pinups "Hobby Model," the amazingly robust "Haters Unite" and off-time banger "Rarest of Elements."

Shit, I could actually go on about this one for another couple thousand words, but I'll cut my impressions short if only to urge fans of Shael and his various musical projects to contribute to this album's Kickstarter support project. He and the Double Ice Backfire sound tighter than ever, and, assuming the fanbase can provide the appropriate capital for its proper mixing and mastering, this could well be their I Fight Dragons-style success story.

The guys are only around 700 bucks short of their initial goal, and every little bit helps. Surely the promise of quirky alterna-rock power ballads with titles like "Personal Space" is enough to motivate you to chip in.

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