Thursday, May 06, 2010

That Ninja's Crazy

Believe it or not, I still have two album reviews on my plate from last year! Yes, friends, in my infinite slackitude I find myself quickly approaching mid-2010 with more than a little important business of old still in need of attention. Thankfully, with the Scrub Club re-release of Krondor Krew's 2009 EMPulse Records banger The 6th Rotation of the House of the Chaos Star, I can elegantly work in a long overdue critique whilst still remaining topical.

Go me.

Explaining the Krew to the uninitiated is a bit of a daunting task. How does one properly describe a nerdcore clique with undeniable heavy metal roots that's stage show encompasses oversized weaponry and full-on kung-fu aerobics? In truth, you can't.

Thankfully, The 6th Rotation ably illuminates the band's overall aesthetic.

Kicking off with the vaguely Schwarzeneggerian (and oddly Zen) battle anthem "Terminated," a jam that adds some heavily aggressive energy to familiar musical backing, the duo sets the stage with its transmutation of anger into creativity, a theme that is prevalent throughout the bulk of the album. This simmering fury colors follow-up "Baby Drama," a well conceived if occasionally lyrically simplistic tribute to troubled relationships, that then gives way to fantastical dungeon-crawler "Adventure," which somehow manages to marry D&D and g-funk in a manner that it both convincing and enjoyable.

From there, Shinobi Onibocho and Masurao slow things down with the introspective and philosophically challenging "Still Day," which fully employs the delicately sung chorus structure only hinted at to this point. "Threshold," however, is a literal cry for blood that, when contrasted with "Still Day," helps to define the odd musical mixture of violence and serenity exemplified across the breadth of the release. In fact, the brilliant transition between these two disparate examples is so striking that I also have to pause to compliment HT, EMPulse's producer-in-residence who helped mold the sound of the release.

"Juice" pays an obvious debt to the band's metal heritage (as well as their penchant for partying) and is a musical standout even when the lyrics go for low-hanging fruit. Similarly, "Darkness" doesn't exactly boast the band's best rhymes, but it still manages to be musically satisfying. "In the Pants" is an ogre war-chant that unceremoniously transforms itself into a little nerdcore lovefest, and, after a rather comical lead-in, "Not Like You" cuts up Portishead's "Sour Times" to great effect, easily proving itself to be a solid highlight.

The 6th Rotation begins its final descent with the driving drum track and growled, rapid-fire delivery of the eerie "Death Trap" and the dangerous ninja rhymes of "Sneaking," which boasts a beautifully complex chorus structure. "Talisman Attack" brings the funk back (coupled with some combat-ready sound effects) before ultimate closer "Ninja Masters" restates the band's musical mission statement with a distinct eastern flair.

At 13 tracks, The 6th Rotation of the House of the Chaos Star delivers the goods without overstaying its welcome. More importantly, it showcases the duo's most enjoyable joints to date while at the same time capturing just enough of the frenetic energy inherent in their live performance. (Which is, if I may be so bold as to state the obvious, where the guys shine.)

It's easy to write off a group like Krondor Krew, with their keikogi and oversized swords, as a novelty act. Still, while there is an obvious, functional, self-aware gimmickry to their over-the-top stage personae, the truth is that Sninobi and Masu have a genuine passion for music. The 6th Rotation is a tangible statement to that, and, while it may or may not silence haters, it serves as the perfect introduction to their unique style for new fans. 

Thanks to the Scrub Club re-release, the album is now freely available, so go give it a listen. It should easily suit all ninja rap needs. And then some.
"Thing will never be the same / My only constant is change / The life you had is rearranged."

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

What's Real

I have officially become that guy. I am now that blogger who talks about shit well before its actual release.

This means I am, at the very least, an abject tease. And I apologize.

Today, for example, I am going to drop a bit of knowledge concerning an album that is – get this – a full month away. A month! That's, like, forever in internet time!

Still, I'm gonna talk it up because it deserves the hype, and maybe not for the reasons you think.

This week Random and K-Murdock released a pair of singles from their long-awaited Forever Famicom album, and, unsurprisingly, they've been incredibly well received. Both "Dream Master" and "Epoch" are indicative of the stuff you'll hear on the full release come June 1st, but if you're just head-bobbin' to beats built on the music of Little Nemo: The Dream Master and Chrono Trigger you might be overlooking the genuine beauty of this project.

Don't get me wrong; Forever Famicom is certainly the brand of chip-hop you're expecting. (Hell, I'd go so far as to call it chip-hop at its finest, but that's neither here nor there.) The difference is that the mechanism isn't the message. Allow me to explain.

Through his wildly popular Mega Ran releases, Ran caught the ear of gamers everywhere, not to mention garnered the favor of Capcom itself. Both Mega Ran and Mega Ran 9 were finely focused concept albums that drew both musical and lyrical inspiration from the Blue Bomber's elaborate mythos. Like the series that inspired it, the Mega Ran project proved itself to be, on every imaginable level, a rousing success. It got Ran a performance spot at Comic-Con, a write-up in Nintendo Power and even helped to push his work into film and videogames. Still, despite their inherent genius these are concept albums, and the concept album, by its very nature, has an intentionally limited scope.

I've remarked in the past that the original Mega Ran album wasn't merely an artistic departure, but a fairly brave gambit by Random to boot. This is a cat who, I might remind you, was already established in the underground thanks to stellar efforts like his 2006 debut The Call. Stepping back from more introspective, personal work into the allegorical skin of a robot hero was a risky move, but it succeeded both because of the strength of the concept and the skill of the MC himself.

In that regard, Forever Famicom is the perfect marriage of the lovably nostalgic Mega Ran and the straight-talking street poet Random. It at last bridges the gap between those sometimes contradictory aspects of his artistic persona.

Still, as much as I'd love to lay the strength of this new album at Ran's feet, it owes just as much to the virtues of K-Murdock. Yes, the musical end of the project is built upon beats inspired by the NES titles you know and love, but somewhere early in the album's intro – a breezy little number that wryly references Random's other 8-bit endeavors – that quickly stops seeming like a crutch.

Yes, Ran and Murdock could've simply tossed another straight-up Mega Ran album at us and we would've gobbled it up. But they didn't. They innovated. They flipped the game. And the results are astounding.

In back-in-the-day cuts like "Forever" and the aforementioned "Dream Master," the chiptunes that power the musical movement blend in seamlessly with Random's own brand of personable, enlightened lyricism. Rather than clash, they coalesce.

The word I'm grasping for here is transcend. It can't be easy to balance misty childhood memories and hard lessons learned with digital escapism, but Forever Famicom does it. And it does it flawlessly.

You see, just as Boogie Down Productions colored hip-hop with dancehall and A Tribe Called Quest melded rap and jazz, Ran and K-Murdock have turned the novelty of chip-hop on its ear. The songs don't sound like cash-ins and they don't sound like sonic experiments and they don't even sound like fan service. They just sound relevant and genuine. And beautiful.

Joints like "World Tree," with its rapid-fire namedropping of eighties TV shows, "Drop the Load," which laments the shortcomings of modern games via intentionally stilted vocals delivery, and convention anthem "CONtact" definitely play up the nerdy pop culture angle, but tracks like "The Girl with the Make-Up" and "Galaxies" come off as brilliantly earnest as any more traditionally produced hip-hop, even though their musical beds are deeply rooted in familiar, minimalist blips and bloops.

You can subdivide any musical movement into more minute elements, and in that regard we can color a specific artist or project as chip-hop or nerdcore or grime or death rap or gangsta. But at the end of the day songs succeed by leveraging whatever musical minutiae they employ to the proper end; by being engaging and, yes, transcending.

And in that very important regard, Forever Famicom is simply another delicious flavor of true hip-hop.

Those of you lucky enough to receive the same media leak that I did can back me up, but I'm afraid the rest of you will simply have to wait until June. At which time, I guarantee, you'll see how right I am.

"Haters call you addicts, but I just know you just passionate."

Monday, May 03, 2010

Move Somethin'

Like the turning of the tides and the shifting of great tectonic plates, the clockwork of the universe is at play even here at Hipster, please! While the blog itself will appear unchanged, my longtime friend and selfless host Antisoc has just migrated the various and sundry media files (specifically stuff like albums and podcasts) to a shiny new server.

What this means for me is countless mind-numbing hours of checking and updating reference URLs. What this means for you is… well, hopefully nothing. The idea is that you won't notice anything and the site will function exactly the same on the front-end. But, as SLI was quick to point out, those are famous last words from the IT set.

So, now that my back alley workings have been laid bare to the harsh light of day, please be so kind as to let me know if I fucked anything up. If you click on a link (either here or over at the dedicated podcast blog) expecting to download some free entertainment but instead find yourself faced with the dreaded 404, just shoot me a message to let me know.

You are my eyes and ears in this matter.

And, while I'm taking a moment out of my regularly scheduled blogging to address these potential technical issues, let me also use this opportunity to once again thank Antisoc for putting me up rent-free for lo these many years. Anytime you check out a new ep. of Radio Free Hipster or share Old Nerdy Bastard with a friend, you're helping to burn through his bandwidth.

To steal a line from the great Wordburglar, I can't make a move without that guy; he's my legs!

Y'all give it up for him, please.