Friday, November 05, 2010

Refuse to Fall

Though they are (spiritually if not outright geographically) my hometown heroes, it's likely that you've heard very little from Charlotte's The ThoughtCriminals. If this is the case, then I highly recommend you check out their brand new and totally free EP Still Standing. Hell, even if you are already familiar with Mikal kHill and the boys, I still suggest you cop it.

This project kicks off with "Radical Ish," a tribute to Orwell's 1984 – the work from which the band draws its name. It's a frantic pile-on of live instrumentation, NES-based chiptunes and Mikal's own hip-hop delivery. It's dense and weighty, but never off-putting.

From there we transition to the lo-fi chip-funk of "Warp Zone," an explosion of guitar noise and game-centered lyrical aggression. "We," the EP's center point, proves an unexpected highlight, with a piano-backed lead-in that quickly transitions to a full-on electronic assault. The beat is undeniably forceful and aptly supplemented by its delicate melody, but its' kHill's frank exposition regarding the decay of a relationship that provides its true power.

Likewise, "Roll for Initiative" is a musical highpoint that should serve as a textbook example of The ThoughtCriminals sound. A hodge-podge of organic soul-rock, electronic drones, hip-hop politics and geeky swagger, it's a fantastic fusion of underground indie and straight-up nerdcore.

Closer "God vs. PlayStation" is actually an acoustic reworking of a song from Mikal's solo effort This is Not an Entrance. From its scratchy vinyl intro and delicate key lead to kHill's fierce, almost slam poetry-style delivery, it's a solid closer. Sure, the vocal harmonies are a tad flat at times, but it's still a great way to wind down a really interesting, fairly eclectic effort.

The ThoughtCriminals always put on an inspired live performance, but this sadly makes it a bit difficult to capture that experience on wax. Their 2009 self-titled debut (while an enjoyable album in its own right) caught the crew in flux, so the disconnect between what you heard at a show versus the album experience was a bit striking. Still Standing, by contrast, features a selection of newer material more tonic to the band's current setup. And fuck – you can't beat the price!

If you're a fan of unique underground hip-hop, well-rounded fusion instrumentals or chip music, The ThoughtCriminals are for you. And if you like all three in equal measure, prepare to have your playlist assailed by Still Standing.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Fathers and Sons and Game Boys

I try not to double-dip between this blog and GeekDad, but this week's episode of our HipTrax podcast contains some info about a project that I think y'all should definitely check out.

By this point you are no doubt familiar with Seattle chip-hop giants Supercommuter. Admittedly, those of us coming at things from the nerdcore side immediately recognize the group's vocalist – Wheelie Cyberman, formally of Optimus Rhyme – but it is equally impossible to discount the contributions of chiptune veteran Andy "Stenobot" Myers to the band's coolly cohesive, techno-organic sound. Interestingly enough, Stenobot recently released an album of his own, and I'll hazard a guess that it's not what you'd expect.

Sink or Swim We'll Go Together is a solo work in name only, as it mines the talents of a number of interesting contributors. You'll likely recognize the dulcet tones of Jen Wood ("Butterfly Wings") from The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights," and former 90 Lb. Wuss frontman Jeff Suffering punks up pseudo title track "Far Too Far." Still, the most interesting aspect of this album is that Andy's own son Julian both provides some percussion and co-wrote most of the songs "in one way or another."

Four-year-old Julian has leukemia, and Sink or Swim We'll Go Together is an album very much about a family's struggle to fight the disease while keeping its own collective spirit intact. It's an amazingly personal album, and from the opening strains of the energetic "Running and Jumping" to the starkly mechanical "Counts," the haunting "Our Bodies Are Fragile" to anthemic closer "Dancing Shadows," it's an amazingly poignant musical study of struggle and hardship and, in spite of it all, hope.

It's available as a free download from local indie label Crunchyco, but more importantly there's also a short-run physical printing that comes with a handmade, hard-bound photo book for a mere $15. All proceeds from the sale of the album go to support the Child's Play charity, because no one understands the hardships facing hospitalized children more than a parent who's lived through it.

I want you to support this cause and to purchase this disc because it's important, but I want you to experience this music because it is beautiful, moving and exquisitely crafted. Sink or Swim We'll Go Together is a chip-pop masterpiece that presents its all-too personal subject matter in just the right light. It neither undersells the important thematic underpinning that childhood disease entails nor does it hide behind its weighty emotional appeal. Herein Stenobot has done what all artists endeavor to do when life takes a turn for the worse – he has turned tragedy into creativity.

Give Sink or Swim We'll Go Together a listen. Not because of what it is, but because of what it does. Because what it does is offer an amazing listening experience. Afterward, if you feel so led, copies of the special edition CD are still available.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Always on the Ran

Everyone's favorite Teacher-Rapper-Hero is on the move and coming to a venue near you. Yes, that Mega Ran - this time with his Forever Famicom partner in crime DC's K-Murdock - is on tour across the southern expanse of our great nation throughout the month of November.

For more information we'll cut to our live tour correspondent, guy-who-can-copy-and-past-a-press-release.

Take it away, Guy!
PHOENIX, AZ– Hot off the heels of their successful album Forever Famicom, Teacher/rapper Random and producer K-Murdock are taking their show on the road.

The Bits and Rhymes Tour will feature Ran and K doing what they do best, rocking crowds with their 8-bit beats and high tech vocals, and will feature guest artists, such as YouTube favorite Brentalfloss, TX rap group Crew 54, videogame cover band The One Ups and many other nerdcore and hip-hop stars. Random’s high-energy set always contains some surprises, such as his mind-blowing freestyle, where crowd participation drives the length and theme of the song.

Ran and K’s innovative album Forever Famicom released on June 1, 2010 and has managed to tap into a fanbase never before explored on such a large scale, the gamers and the hip-hop fans. The album has garnered high praise from top Hip-Hop sites all over the world, as well as the top videogame sites and publications, including Nintendo Power magazine.

The fan support has been phenomenal, and thanks to their donations through Kickstarter, Ran and K are planning a vinyl and DVD release of the Forever Famicom album and sprite videos. The tour will begin on 11/12/10 in Austin, TX, and ends 11/21/10 in Miami, FL.

Since the release of Forever Famicom, Ran and K have each dropped new solo releases. Random’s HEROES vol. 1 and K-Murdock’s DECADENSE are available now. For additional info or radio or interview requests, please contact or learn more at and

Tour Dates:

Nov 11, 2010 @ Headhunters, 720 Red River St, Austin, TX, w/Crew 54 and more, FREE 21+
Nov 12+13, 2010 Yule Con @ American Airlines Training Center, Ft Worth, TX w/Brentalfloss and more! $15-25
Nov 14, 2010 @The Highball, 1120 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX $7 21+
Nov 16, 2010 8PM @ Super Happy Fun Land 3801 Polk St Houston, TX $7 all ages w/MC Router and more
Nov 17, 2010 2PM @ Bedrock City Comics 4602 Washington Ave, Houston, TX all ages (performance & signing)
Nov 18, 2010 9PM @ Smoke And Barrel Tavern 324 W Dickson St, Fayetteville, AR w/The One Ups FREE 21+
Nov 19, 2010 8PM @ 331 Nightlife Cafe, 331 W Forsyth St Jacksonville, FL $5 21+
Nov 20, 2010 @ A Comic Shop 114 South Semoran Blvd.Winter Park, FL w/Krondor Krew and more $10 all ages
Nov 21, 2010 @ TBA, Miami, FL

Sadly, it seems my own rural locality didn't quite make the cut on this outing, but that shouldn't stop you from having a good time. I'm serious – go to the show. I insist!

Nerds in Texas and Florida are particularly blessed with regard to The Bits and Rhymes Tour, and, with two amazing co-headliners and a cadre of fantastic openers on-tap, this is not one to be missed.

To whet your appetite for all things Random, I'll even favor you with a little light reading. Peep Ran's recent interview with Searching for Chet Baker for more talk on the upcoming tour as well as an astute observation re: the mainstream. As properly illustrated by George Michael and Bubba Sparxxx, if you can believe it.