Friday, September 24, 2010

The Return of the Swami

Gather 'round, kids, because Uncle Zed is gonna tell you a story. It probably won't seem relevant at first, but bear with me.

I grew up in a poor neighborhood, and by "poor" I mean blue collar and wholly unglamorous. Those of us who still had dads around noted early on that there was a definite pattern to their vocations. Most were mechanics or truckers or welders – they did dirty work, and that was reflected in our surroundings.

It was a neighborhood positively littered with scrapped cars, discarded tires and, most importantly to this tale, rusty, bone dry 55 gallon drums. I don't remember who the first kid was to decide to climb inside such a drum and roll it down the severe and muddy hill that separated the trailer parks, but it quickly became our preferred pastime.

The problem with kids, however, is that they are easily bored, and at some point this game became too simple on its own. At that time some industrious ragamuffin took it upon himself to add another wrinkle. You see, every once in a while, as you were building up speed and banging around inside that great metal cylinder, some asshole would toss a little surprise into the rolling drum. Sometimes it was a half-empty Coke can. Other times it was a rock. Hell, one poor fucker ended up making the trip down with a claw hammer riding shotgun. I think you get the idea.

I share with you this oddly protracted story from my white trash youth because I recently felt that same sense of exhilaration, adventure and dread for the first time in twenty-some-odd years. Thankfully, it wasn't because I was riding a rock-filled tetanus trap down a steep incline!

Instead I was listening to Lo Fi Muey Thai by DC rapper/producer Navi. He's a cat that I always make it a point to keep up with. Firstly, he's an old friend – we go all the way back to the early days of the online nerdcore community (when he was known as Myf). But most importantly it's because his work always manages to make me feel… well, cultured. I'm used to music that appeals to intelligence or humor, but his shit always feels wild, exotic and adventurous.

I've heard a lot of stuff from Navi – from OverClocked ReMixes to the heavily aggro nerdcore from his Metamystiks days – and I've always come away from his work feeling as though I'd experienced something just outside the bounds of accepted hip-hop. Fusing jazz, funk, punk, electro and the irregularly recurring motif of the distinctly Asian melody, Navi always manages to insulate his rhymes within this densely packed musical bubble.

On the subject of his rhymes, I must note that over the years I've come to think of him as less a rapper in the traditional sense and more a very distinct poet, albeit one with a distinctly urban feel. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his new release. Navi calls it a mixtape, but Lo Fi Muey Thai is as much an album as any other I've been asked to review in recent memory.

As he spits about everything from mad chefs ("Cookin' with Fire") to complicated women ("Bad Juju," "Bass Girl") to weed ("Lemme Know"), he sounds like equal parts Kurt Vonnegut, ee cummings, Method Man and Kool Keith.

Confused? You should be. From the eerie street grime of "Fess Up, Shooter" to the chippy DnB of "Right Back Up," Lo Fi Muey Thai is an almost overwhelming musical experience. Twenty tracks deep, it tackles brand new joints, Navi classics (yet another mix of "Snakecharmers") and it even tosses in some bootlegged beats (most obviously in his own take on Cee Lo's "Fuck You") for that proper mixtape aesthetic.

All kudos aside, this isn't an album for everybody. Some heads will surely complain that Navi's flow is too rooted in free verse and that his overall delivery is breathless and wheezy. Meanwhile, those who only dig distinctly nerdcore jams will likely be disappointed by a lack of easily relatable material. To the former I'd explain that Navi's wordy, gaspy flow is part of the package – it serves to heighten the very vivid, undeniably relentless attack that Lo Fi Muey Thai truly is. And to the latter I simply say buck the fuck up and try something different. While Navi may dig a little deeper these days than the arcade game beats of old, he still roots his storytelling heavily in the outsider's perspective. In short, he'll always be one of us.

Since I've already rattled on for nearly 800 words here, let me just conclude by saying please give Lo Fi Muey Thai a try. It's a free download, and I guarantee that it will provide you a listening experience like no other. Surely not all the songs will satisfy you, but the exhilarating, challenging, almost disorienting nature of this aural assault will certainly keep you in rapt anticipation.

Come along on Navi's wild ride, a journey that'll take you from the back alleys of the nation's capital to the littered streets of South Asia. It will boggle your mind, disorient your earholes and otherwise assail your senses. And you'll be all the better for it.

"Lemme beat 'til the cough drops / Lemme cough 'til the beat drops."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Kickstart My (Steam-Driven) Heart

MadHatter was a steel drivin' man.
Seems like everyone has a Kickstarter project going on these days – Shael Riley, Random and, most recently, Scrub Club's main man MadHatter.Hatter is looking to kick shit up a notch for his next solo album (the first since his widely lauded 2007 release 8Bit Bullshit), but he needs your help to make his dream a reality... or in this case an alternate reality! #badpun

The proposed concept album The John Henry Complex will blend the ever-popular steampunk aesthetic with hip-hop storytelling. It's a re-imagined tale of John Henry, the steel drivin' man of American folklore, as he fights against the crooked mechanical and entertainment industries as a true hero of the common folk.

MadHatter elaborates saying:
Set in a broken-down, surrogate America during 1894, the music is composed only using instruments available during this time period such as timpani, snare drums, violins, cellos, pipe organs, etc. with accents of industrial clangs, electricity, booms, rivets being struck by hammers, steam hisses, marching, and more. All of the themes deal with the industrial revolution of man versus machine, hard work, racism and slavery, mad science, new world communication, people's basic rights, corrupt governments, and evil corporations.
Featuring seven completely original songs as well as two timeline-perfect covers (Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" and Louis Jordan's "Beans and Cornbread"), this album is executively composed by Pelicaine!einhander, one of the most unique producers in underground Hip Hop from Texas. It also features record scratching (or phonograph manipulation, if you will) by Dale Chase, a quick-rising Nerdcore star and amazing beatsmith from New York.
There will be a few major collaborations with fellow nerdy emcees as well as appropriately untranslated verses from a few international artists on the track "World's Faire."
Also, you should know that this release will be completely radio-friendly to appeal to a wider audience and be playable anytime, anywhere.
Concerning the presentation of this unique project, the goal of the Kickstarter fundraiser is to garner enough cash to press 12" vinyl in period-appropriate packaging "including jackets with custom etching-styled illustrations" by Scrub Club's in-house designer Mr. Spooky.

Of course it wouldn't be a Kickstarter project without contributor perks, and on this end the Scrubs really pull out all the stops. Rewards run the gamut from the typical digital album download and a copy of the physical release to extravagancies like a special guest verse on your own track (from MadHatter or Dale Chase) and a custom-made beat (compliments of Dale or Pelicaine!einhander).

Anyone interested in high-concept nerdcore or steampunk culture should definitely peep the full details. This sounds like a genuinely original album concept, and I truly hope it meets its funding goal. If you feel so lead, please do what you can to help fight the (stodgy, distinctly Victorian) power!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Welcoming Our Robot Overlords

I don't trust that smile!
Earlier this month I wrote a fairly lengthy post about the perceived importance – or lack thereof, depending on your individual slant – of netlabels. You never saw it, of course, because after re-reading this epistle it became apparent that I had added absolutely nothing to the debate.

My final conclusion, that a netlabel can provide valuable assets and collaborative input yet doesn't ensure artistic success, seemed… well, pretty goddamn obvious. So I scrapped the piece.

I can't imagine any fan reading this will mistake Pause or Scrub Club for Universal or Sony Music. Nor does any artist looking to leverage the kind of grassroots networking inherent in a netlabel confuse that subtle camaraderie for his "big break." In short, I think we all understand what netlabels are: a tool for digital musicians that, if employed properly, can provide minor artistic support and help with much-needed promotion.

I mention this because I recently received a press release from a brand new netlabel on the scene. This one, head by former MisterB and current B-Type Mr. Steve Brunton, operates under the unassuming name of Giggling Robot Records. Peep the presser below to see what they're all about:
Around two years ago now, I discussed the possibility of starting a record label with a friend of mine. We mused that in an age of rampant piracy, fatigue with the music industry, and a huge amount of quality acts releasing music for free that was on par, quality wise, with the mainstream, record labels were finding their roles in the musical society being marginalized.

However, one thing we agreed upon was that the vast majority of music fans have investigated the acts on a label, having heard and loved one.

Publicity is a valuable and difficult thing. We began coming up with a manifesto based around the concept of shared success. With tools like youtube, facebook, and twitter, matched with traditional means such as Album Notes and Word of Mouth, there is no reason that publicity for one act, or the label itself, cannot bleed through to the rest of the family.

As a record label, the most precious commodity we have are our artists. People have already made comment with regards to the sheer amount of acts we have signed in such a short amount of time. The reasoning behind this is powered by our focus on shared publicity. However, this was not an open call. Each act has been pondered, discussed, and even argued about by members of our team.

The label requires each member to be self sufficient when it comes to the music they make. While other labels are able to offer mixing and mastering, this is not something Giggling Robot Records can provide, due to the size of our roster, and monetary constraints. However, to turn a negative into a plus, this means that each and every artist that releases music under the Giggling Robot Records banner will have complete control over their music. The only control we retain is the option to refuse to release music that we do not feel reaches the artists potential. (Indeed, one of our first moves as a label was to create a strict and passionate Quality Control team.)

More information about GRR can be found on our currently under construction website,, as well as links to our acts, such as Whoremoans, DJ Roborob, JHSounds, MC Gigahertz, and Magitek.

The Giggling Robot Records team live, breath, and NEED this music. We hope to become a welcome community servant that will produce music to the highest quality, and do our part to help our associated acts reach their full potential.


Steve B-Type Brunton
And there you have it. Giggling Robot is a place that a number of established nerd music acts already call home, and we can only assume that it will prove to be a conduit for new talent as well.What it may lack in production resources it hopes to make up for with regard to individual artistic freedom.That's certainly a risky gambit, but an admirable move none the less.

Like most netlabels, it started with nothing more than an idea and a dream, and I, for one, can't wait to see what they bring to the table. Best of luck, lads – Now wow us, you magnificent metal bastards! :)