Friday, September 17, 2010

Funny is as Funny Does

The human brain is spectacularly adept at recognizing patterns. In fact, this innate human trait – the ability to construct silver strings of connection between otherwise disparate objects – is the very cornerstone of the Radio Free Hipster podcast.

When I hear a song my first instinct is to relate it to another, and to cross-reference that in my internal catalog. I then further build this rapidly-growing list by relating more tracks or artists with similar styles, tempos or thematic content. It's more than a little crazy, sure, but it's what I do.

Therefore I was anything but surprised when a pair of albums to recently fall into my possession became inextricably linked. What was a little unexpected was that the element that bound these two was little more than a firm focus on humor.

Insane Ian & the MusicIANs – The Last Arcade

Insane Ian isn't exactly the most well known act in the Funny Music community, but he's quickly become a personal favorite. Like a lot of his fellow Dementia musicians, Ian often constructs elaborate parody tracks (a la Weird Al), and it's a penchant that's served him well.

The Last Arcade, his latest full-length, relies on the hook-heavy nature of tracks lampooning everyone from The Beatles (opener "House") to the Black Eyed Peas ("Autotune") to catch the attention of the listener, but it's often his unique originals that prove most satisfying. Sure "Use Some Money" (a Kings of Leon take-off) and Barenaked Ladies-inspired "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" are perfect sarcastic-pop nuggets, but "Marry'd Life," Ian's own hilariously soulful meditation on modern coupling, shows an even higher level of artistry.

Still, both the parodies and the originals manage to happily co-exist on The Last Arcade. Old favorites like "DiG DuG" sound completely at home in close proximity to joints like "Our Love Song" – a selection that is, perhaps, the most brutally honest romantic ballad of all time.

But that's certainly not to say the album doesn't have issues. A few of the more punk rock numbers (specifically "Talk to Mr. Ed" and "24") overdo the stylistic trait of muddying up the mix, and a measure of the album's core tracks, those focused on the titular topic of games and gaming, fail to completely gel. "Achievement Unlocked" is an early selection that, while humorous, suffers because of a sloppy verse structure, and Super Smash Bros ode "MvL" reminds us that Ian's a better vocalist than rapper.

Speaking of Insane Ian's vocal stylings, The Last Arcade sees him pull off a solid performance throughout with some really nice harmonies scattered here and there. Though his timbre isn't always pitch-perfect his voice is warm, unique and instantly recognizable. More importantly, anything that Ian may lack in his singing is more than made up for by his writing, and even the tracks that flounder and flop (like "Superstitious") manage to work in abundant quotable lines.

The same can be said for the albums instrumental backing. From simple beats to sharp guitar work, Ian and his studio team do a great job of bringing these tunes to life. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the My Chemical Romance-inspired title track, which stands out as one of Ian's most ambitious efforts as well as one of his best.

All things considered, The Last Arcade is a competently performed and incredibly well written album. While not all the songs are total earworms, the vast majority should appeal to anyone with a healthy sense of humor and a love for smartass pop-rock.

Even if the FuMP scene isn't normally your thing, I urge you to at least give Insane Ian a try. He's obviously a cat who takes his music seriously, but isn't above being wonderfully weird for its own sake. It's hard for me not to support an artist like that.

Illbotz – Ringtones for Rotary Phones

While the aforementioned Insane Ian disc is brand-spanking new, Illbotz's Ringtones for Rotary Phones actually dropped way the hell back in 2007.And yet the album holds up well. Casting themselves firmly in the comedy rap vein, it kicks off with a legitimately amusing skit in which Stevie D receives a fax from Nas informing him that hip-hop is dead. The Illbotz solution? Buy a bread machine.

Yeah, it’s that kind of album.

From there the guys take us on a musical journey from distinctly old school hip-hop to contemporarily-colored radio rap – with brief detours into styles as contrasting as guitar pop, white-boy funk and pub rock. It succeeds in this odd musical experiment by relying on two unifying elements: well-metered verses and a wholly off-kilter sense of humor, both of which are firmly intertwined throughout some great songs and totally enjoyable interludes.

In the first musical track alone ("Clap Your Hands and Stuff"), rappers Stevie D and Big Perm manage to channel Sugarhill Gang, Glenn Quagmire and Zoolander into a proper comedy rap explosion. This continues through classically slanted hip-hop jams like "Gyeah" and "Doo Doo Def," both of which skew heavily toward the Biz Markie school of absurdist rhyming.

Hitting all the customary themes of the truly refined artist such as fucking ("The Opposite of Abstinence," "Naughty Party") and drinking ("Me and You and a PBR," "The Pub That Had No Gin"), Ringtones for Rotary Phones is genuinely fierce throughout its first half. Although, admittedly, throwing in an unexpected curve like "Here Comes the Predator," a Replacements parody about a certain 1987 sci-fi action flick, is an easy way to woo me as a reviewer.

Sadly, the album falters a bit around the half-way mark. "Transform" suffers from weak production and an inelegant beat, "Unclean Jellybean" seems far too repetitive, "Gettin' Cocaine for Papa Smurf" fails to live up to its epic title and "My Favorite Things" (a rap parody of the Sound of Music classic) is a far better idea on paper than on wax. Luckily the crew manages to right shit in the waning moments.

Their acoustic-backed tribute to the late Ol' Dirty Bastard is positively inspired, and the album's closing couplet remind us that Illbotz have more to offer than their distinctive humor. No sooner does the "Ghostface Got Fish" skit present Perm's outspoken opinion concerning backpack rap than Stevie seemingly defends the same underground aesthetic (over the Pet Shop Boys "Domino Dancing," if you can fuckin' believe it!)

Already I've begun to see Illbotz much in the same way I see Seattle duo Metaforce or art-rock-rappers Zombies! Organize!! – as a group that I probably enjoy far more than the rest of you. And that's okay. All I can do here is offer my own opinion, and in that opinion Ringtones for Rotary Phones is humorous rap at its finest. I can forgive a few bum tracks when paired with some top-shelf material, and anyone who's still willing and able to keep hip-hop loose, funny and patently disrespectful in the modern context of holier-than-though MCs is aces in my book.

Oh, and as a bonus, Ringtones for Rotary Phones also contains a hidden cover of The Outfield's "Your Love."

Yeah, it’s that kind of album.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Radio Free Hipster Ep. 95: The Tribble with Troubles

You will likely notice that this episode features me startlingly sober. Yes, I admit it – I was totally not drunk during the recording of RFH 95.

But fear not, as even now I am finalizing plans for my own annual celebration of Drunken Podcasting Month. My friends Matt and Church will again be joining me for the festivities, and the finished product will be made available to you by month's end.

In the meantime, please enjoy the following musical Star Trekkery.

Yes, that's totally a word now.

Download Radio Free Hipster Ep. 95: The Tribble with Troubles [hosting provided by Antisoc] Size: 46.7 MB Running Time: 51:01 Subscribe to RFH

Show Notes:

Intro: Baddd Spellah – "Radio Free Hipster Theme (feat. Beefy)"
These lads often go where no man has gone before. (That sounded way less nasty in my head.)

Track 1: YTCracker – "These Are the Voyages (feat. Hairetsu)"
Nerd King YTCracker is currently on a Space Mission. You are invited to come along.

Z's 1st interlude: "I don't really have anything to add to that save thank you and… holy shit!"
Yes, folks, you are now listening to an award winning podcast! Now I just need to rejigger the title graphic to reflect this. :)

Track 2: Jayenkai – "Pain (Extended Mix)"
An instrumental version of this track also serves as the background music for this ep.

Track 3: Nerf Herder – "Mr. Spock"
I can't really tell you which I like more – Parry Gripp's solo work or Nerf Herder. Let us just agree that both are awesome.

Track 4: Sci-Fried – "My Name Is Spock 2.0"
One of my favorite moments of Nerdapalooza 2010 was Sci-Fried's performance of this song.

Track 5: Family Guy dialog / Bloodhag – "James Blish"
At the top of my nerd rock wish list is another Bloodhag album.

Track 6: No Kill I – "Vaal"
You can't do a Star Trek podcast without NKI. It's the law!

Track 7: The Scofflaws – "William Shatner"
As suggested by Geek Studies' Jason.

Track 8: Family Guy dialog / Darkmateria – "The Picard Song"
I've been sitting on this audio clip for ages!

Z's 2nd interlude: "Please hit me up with some of your own picks. "
Feel free to let me know which excellent Star Trek jams I missed.

Track 9: Marc Gunn – "A Drop of Vulcan Blood"
From Marc's brand new release Kilted for Her Pleasure.

Track 10: William Shatner dialog / Warp 11 – "Belt Buckle Tractor Beam"
Did I use this Star Trek episode as an excuse to play one of the most offensive Warp 11 tracks? Maybe.

Track 11: Ookla the Mok – "Mr. W."
Am I the only one with any faith in Worf as a captain?!

Track 12: Klenginem – "SuvwI'pu' qan tu'lu'be'"
My Klingon is deplorable.

Z's final interlude: "A very special 5-year mission of its very own."
That mission? World domination!

Track 13: Lab Rat – "Star Trek Theme (Remix)"
It's always hard for me to work tracks this lengthy into the podcast, but it seemed like a perfect way to wind this episode down.

I have to offer some extra special thanks to resident Trekkie/er Church H. Tucker for helping out with the song selections for this ep. Though it proved a little hip-hop deficient, I think it came together quite nicely. I sincerely hope you feel the same.

As I stated earlier, the recording of the annual drunkcast is still being hammered – Hammered! Get it? – out at present, but I'll make it a point to get it to you in a timely manner. In the meantime, keep an ear open for incoming drunken revelry from many of my distinguished peers.

And remember – it's Drunken Podcasting Month all September long!