Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rogue Venom "Sick Sad World"

Expanding the Backpack, 9/28/11

At the time I was preparing this post, Rogue Venom's "Sick Sad World" album was being offered up for free off her Bandcamp page, but it looks like there's a price attached to it now. Still sharing it in this section since it was free and it's an album worth listening to, if not buying. Swim Team's resident femme fatal Rogue Venom can definitely spit, and offers up a certain aggression lacking in this generation's wave of woman rappers with "Sick Sad World." She played a major role in making Dr. Oop's excellent "Grateful Dread" album from last year so dope, and her beat selection on this new one is surprisingly strong, with lots of grimy boom bap provided by the likes of Ras G (who handles no less than 4 of the beats on here) and Elusive amongst others. The album's really more of an EP, clocking in at only 28 minutes in length, but pretty strong stuff here. Peep the tracklisting and stream the album in full below:

[Edit: aannnd as of 10/7/11, it appears to be available for free again, at least for a limited time!]

1. Intro (produced by Elusive)
2. Lightyear (produced by Ras G)
3. Out My Mind (produced by Budamunk)
4. Afterlife (produced by KG Boom)
5. Revenge (produced by 3AM)
6. Dopeflow (produced by Mar-Var Productions)
7. Sunday (produced by Milan Kishonti)
8. Cold Hear'd (produced by Milan Kishonti)
9. Sick Sad World (produced by KG Boom. Scratches by D-Styles)
10. Stuck (produced by Ras G)
11. Tell Lie Vision (produced by Ras G)
12. Puppeteer (Remix) (produced by Elusive)
13. Spaced Out (produced by Ras G)
14. This is It (produced by...?)
15. Outro (produced by Elusive)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Skyrider Hand For Hire

The Latest Greatest, 9/27/11

Well my word. Fresh off their brilliant production work on Sole's "Hello Cruel World" album, the Skyrider Band will be releasing a new project with folk singer Jim Wurster under the moniker Hired Hand. The leaked single "Rising River" sounds like what Blue Sky Black Death might do if they went for reinterpretations of Western folk instead of dream pop, which is not knock the originality of the sound here. This stuff sounds refreshing, and I can already tell that it's destined to get some serious late-night driving rotation from my end. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the Nick Cave fans I work with fell in love with this shit. Hired Hand's self-titled debut drops October 25th via the ever-reliable Fake Four Inc. You can sign me up for a copy outside the stable, next to the hangman noose blowing in the wind. Tracklisting and stream-able single below:

1. Queen of My Heart
2. Cold Wind
3. Rising River
4. Love Thirsty
5. Armageddon
6. For Changes Forever
7. Dark Skies
8. Suicide Soliloquy
9. There's a Reward

Hired Hand "Rising River" by Fake Four, Inc.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ceschi, Paranoid Castle, Rickulos & Kaigen at Ear Peace Records

View From the Front Row, 9/25/11

Sometimes, the trickiest part about writing reviews of these shows is choosing the specific ones to highlight. Given the volume of shows that I attend on a regular basis, it's impossible to fit in a decent review of every one of them. So, what makes a show worthy of a write-up on this here barely read blogspot? I attended Low End Theory earlier this month and had fun rocking out to Flash Bang Grenada and Edit, I hit up Sims and Cecil Otter's latest concert in San Francisco and enjoyed their sets, and Hopie's all-female line-up release party in San Francisco was a surprisingly great time. But somehow, time restraints or other factors (read: laziness) led to those events never getting a write-up. I meant to do a review of an excellent L'Roneous, Brothers Amor, and Sean E Depp show at the new Berkeley record spot Ear Peace Records earlier this month, but somehow that too slipped through the cracks.

Well, another memorable event at Ear Peace has given me a second chance to do their free shows justice, and I'm certainly not passing on the opportunity to cover this one. The event in question was Ceschi's "We're History" tour stop in Berkeley CA, featuring the likes of Paranoid Castle, Rickulos and Kaigen. Some truly impressive talent and an amazing crowd of awesome hip hop heads made this free in-store one for the books.

Ear Peace Records
is a tiny little music and art spot on the corner of Alcatraz and Adeline St. in Berkeley CA, run by some of the homies from Candlespit Collective and Understudies. The size of the shop is small enough to merit someone worrying over the size of a crowd overwhelming it, but intimate enough that nobody's about to complain. Since Ceschi is originally from Berkeley, a lot of his close friends were in attendance, which gave the whole atmosphere of the event a really friendly and familial vibe. Ear Peace's stage is a balcony elevated a fair distance above the crowd, but artists have generally found a means of bringing the mic down to ground level and rocking from the center of the main floor, which was the case at this show for the most part.

Japanese MC Kaigen was the first artist to perform in the line-up, and he rocked his set from the balcony in order to show-off his live Ableton laptop skills as well as his intricate verses. Bizarrely enough, I was chatting with Ceschi and some of the other homies shortly before Kaigen's set and brought his name up since I'd seen his album recently listed on Access Hip Hop, but was completely unaware that he was on tour and part of the show! Everybody gave me looks as if I was kidding when I brought him up and asked about him; easily one of the strangest coincidences of all my show-going experiences. Anyway, Kaigen definitely seemed to know what he was doing. His strange Anticon-ish flow and twisted Japanese verses have caught the attention of producers like Jel (who was in attendance at this gig, but didn't play), Thavius Beck, and Ras G. He put a great deal of energy into his verses and sounded different from your average foreign language rapper, which was a good thing. Nice opening act.

The next guy to play was Rickulos, who's part of Fake Four's sister label Circle Into Square and has produced songs for Astronautalis and Noah23 amongst others. Rickulos was apparently not feeling too hot after a rough show in Reno the night before, and was lugging around a big jug of water to keep his voice and sanity in check. Never the less, he put on a very entertaining set, alternating between strumming songs on his guitar and singing over beats played via laptop. He wisely chose to rock his tracks in the crowd rather than on the balcony, flailing around the audience in a weird drunken sort of way that was fun to watch . I wasn't too familiar with Rickulos' solo stuff but enjoyed it, and was reminded in some ways of Gregory Pepper's persona but with more of a serious undertone. Good stuff.

Paranoid Castle, a group consisting of Bay Area O.G Kirby Dominant and Canada's finest producer Factor, were up next to play. I'd seen Paranoid Castle's free release party in San Francisco a few nights before and was completely blown away by how fun it was... the memory's somewhat scattered, but let's just say it involved film crews, popped champagne bottles, crazy dancing girls and a random bulldog that at one point served as a stool. While this in-store performance didn't quite live up to that level of craziness, it was still a great time and showed the crowd how funny and underrated a rapper Mr. Kirby Dominant is. Paranoid Castle's new material off "Champagne Nightmares" takes on a whole new life in a live setting, with tracks like "The Mature Life" and "Feeling Inside" offering some really great interactions with people in the audience that get folks laughing left and right. Kirby's voice was pretty shot (and no wonder, after that SF release party), but he eventually exchanged the prop champagne bottle he was holding for a water bottle to recover enough of his throat to work through his set. He still killed every song over Factor's banging beats, and the crowd was clearly having a great time to his tunes. There was also some very funny interactions involving an enthusiastic gal from the crowd yelling "my pussy is not your therapist!" (referencing a line from a Paranoid Castle interlude), which had Kirby responding in various comedic and witty ways. Really fun and awesome set from these two.

The lights in Ear Peace Records were dimmed as Ceschi Ramos stepped up as the evening's headliner. I stand by my verdict that Ceschi is one of the best live shows that modern hip hop has to offer. Every set that I've seen from him has been a very special and unique concert experience, and it seems like he improves and sharpens his songs with each tour. The last time I saw Ceschi open for Awol One in San Francisco (one of my favorite shows of 2011, read here), he performed with his brother David Ramos and Max Heath as Anonymous Inc. This was a very different and special set of music in its own right, but there's a certain intimacy in seeing Ceschi perform on his own without a band or backup vocalist, and that brilliant closeness and connection with the crowd was in full effect at Ear Peace. Ceschi went from singing delicate folk-rap ballads over his guitar to speed-rapping with insane intensity over electro beats. The audience responded immediately without hesitation, moving from their seated positions around Ceschi's chair to a wild frenzied dance pit of people jumping up and down. Too many highlight moments to name. "Black and White and Red All Over" was impressive as always with its tightly knit verses and guitar chords, leaving more than a few people in the crowd looking mighty impressed. "No New York" was the best I've ever seen it performed, with many people in the crowd wailing along with the hook and Ceschi tackling one of his tour mates to the ground mid-song. "The Fall of Captain E.O" and "Calluses" provided a razor sharp display of Ceschi's rapping and lyrics that put anyone's doubts of his abilities as an MC to rest. Ceschi ended his set with a brilliant string of three accoustic numbers, starting with a somber guitar-based rendition of his verses from "Long Live the Great Short Lived" dedicated to a lost friend. He played "The Longest Song Ever" by request after much hesitation and nailed it super well, then ended things on a more funny note with his performance of "For My Disappointed Hip Hop Heroes." One amazing thing through all of this was just how responsive and in tune the crowd was with every one of Ceschi's numbers. People would start singing or clapping or yelling along to Ceschi's songs out of the blue, and it never felt out of place. It was the sound of Ceschi's friends and fans knowing his music, and showing a great appreciation for it. Truly excellent set and a great show, props to Ear Peace for holding it down when no other venue pulled through.

I leave you with a poorly lit snippet of Ceschi's performance in video format below. Here's "Long Live the Great Short Lived," done accoustic:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Knives & Gasoline, Avatar, Abnormal and Knomadic Souls at Old Princeton Landing, Half Moon Bay

View From the Front Row, 9/10/11

Last night, I rolled down to the Old Princeton Landing in Half Moon Bay to check out the second installment of Maleko's "Fresh" series, starring Knives & Gasoline, Avatar, Abnormal and supposedly Joe Dub. Unfortunately, Joe Dub ended up being a no-show, which was the one major disappointment of the evening. I'm a big fan of Joe's music and have never seen him live, so I'd be lying if I said that he wasn't one of the names on the line-up that prompted me to make the drive. Still, a bunch of other exciting talent was in full effect at Old Princeton Landing, and the spot was packed with a really awesome crowd of vibrant Bay Area folk, including plenty of friends and family of the performers.

Panik the Skinnyman and his group Knomadic Souls opened things up with a very brief set of about three or four songs. I wasn't familiar with their music and guess that they're part of Half Moon Bay's local scene, but their stuff sounded pretty good and got the rap part of the night off on the right foot. Panik's solo numbers were decent, but were overshadowed by the Knomadic Souls material, which had him and his MC partner chopping it up pretty fiercely with their flows. Could have done without the bare-chested flashing of the Knomadic Souls tattoo though! Major props go out to Panik the Skinnyman for giving the DJ so much love prior to his performance as well. He was grooving to the classic hip hop jams and bugging out every time a fresh old school beat came on.

Abnormal, a group consisting of Maleko, Administer Raj, and Space Ranger, were the next act to perform. They took the stage wearing matching workman uniforms with their MC names stenciled on the back, and struck a unified B-boy stance to flash their names to the crowd prior to getting busy. The visual aspect of their set didn't end there, as Maleko whipped out a pillow during his verse on their first song while referencing pillows in his lyrics. These three gents definitely fall on the intellectual side of the hip hop spectrum, so naturally their verses contained lots of abstract imagery and strange flows. They kicked quite a few acapellas to highlight their brainy lyrics, and took turns performing collaborative numbers with one another. It was good to see a full set from them, since I remember Maleko and Raj only having time to play a few short numbers at the end of the last "Fresh" event Unfair given the amount of work these guys have been putting in over the years. Glad they got some shine at this one.

Avatar was the next to rock the mic, and he put on a solid set of mostly new numbers with a couple of old jams thrown in for good measure. As far as the hip hop side of the evening goes, Avatar's set was the most impressive and intense of the bunch, with his speedy complex flows and energy standing out amongst the evening's MCs. I'd seen Avatar play not too long ago with his group Speak Easy at the "I <3 Neila" Benefit in LA, but this was my first time seeing him play solo since his tour with Xololanxinxo in 2009, and I must say his live show has really improved since then. Maybe it's just because the new material's sounding extra dope, but Avatar's set had a really nice flow to it that made the whole performance sound very cohesive. Out of the older numbers, he knocked it out the park with "Tear Jerker" and also covered his verse from "St. Patty's Day" off of Speak Easy's album, which is always a sure-fire winner in a live setting. Strong set from the homie, be on the look-out for Avatar's upcoming solo album cus' it's bound to be bangin'.

The group I was most curious to see live was the headliner Knives & Gasoline, an awesome post-rock project from the venerable LA hip hop producer Deeskee and adorable* punk rock singer Stacey Dee. I'm a fan of their album "Love Songs for Crime Scenes," but was uncertain how well it would translate to a live setting given the downtempo nature of a lot of the songs. Well, Knives & Gasoline's performance ended up being the highlight of the evening and was everything that a fan of the music that these two make could hope for. One thing that I liked about seeing this group live is that it gave Stacey Dee the opportunity to showcase her talents as a live performer, with Deeskee playing the silent mastermind behind the scenes on his laptop. I've seen Stacey's punk bands the Angry Amputees and Compton SF play before, and while they definitely have some searing live sets, no one member of the group stands out. With Knives & Gasoline, Stacey has the stage to herself, and she vibes off of Deeskee's instrumentation well while pulling some entertaining tricks of her own. There were lots of highlights in Knives & Gasoline's set, including an awesome rendition of their cover song "Cry Little Sister" that breathed new life into the song via Stacey's raspy vocals. "Trainwreck" got people dancing with its catchy horns and rhythms while "The Night is Young" left folks reeling in a state of bliss. Stacey had a ton of friends in attendance, and she got into the crowd for "Breadcrumbs" and addressed her singing to different people she knew with a smile. And speaking of friendship, it was fun to see Stacey and Deeskee bicker on stage in a way that only long-time friends can... Deeskee tossed a lime from his drink at Stacey at one point, and she picked up Maleko's pillow in response and turned to him in a menacing manner. No ensuing pillow fight. but I guarantee you the thought was there. Knives & Gasoline closed their set with an excellent rendition of "Stage Coach Road" that had Stacey Dee going all "Coyote Ugly" on the crowd. She got up on the bar counter and had the whole audience clapping their hands and stomping their feet in time to the Western tune. Great set from these two, check'em out if you get a chance!

A really fun and memorable show at the Old Princeton Landing, despite the lack of Joe Dub. Was great to meet Deeskee and catch up with some other folks, good times! Some video footage below:

Avatar kicking a new track of his:

Knives & Gasoline playing one of my favorite songs of theirs, "The Night is Young":

*inside joke. She *is* pretty dang adorable though!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Illogic & Walter Rocktight "Year 8076"

Expanding the Backpack, 9/8/11

As promised a couple of blog entries back, here's a link to the long-lost Illogic & Walter Rocktight collabo album "Year 8076." This was intended to be a Rhymesayers release about 8 years ago, but the artists decided not to release it and it was shelved until now. Just finished my first listen through the album and I'm scratching my head over why they hesitated with it back in the day... Solid beats, solid rhymes, and the most dance-able album of Illogic's career. I was afraid it might sound sloppy or unfinished since they decided to give it away for free, but this baby's fully polished and sounding awesome. Illogic's early work with Blueprint had a major influence on my introduction to indie rap music. I used to idolize him for excelling in every aspect of MCing and being one of the most well-rounded MCs out there. I still think he sounds really on-point and he's waaayy too slept-on as rapper, so stoked to hear some new-old material from him and happy that he has a new album with Blockhead in the works. Hopefully this project will help give him some more exposure. Free download available at Illogic's Bandcamp Page or you can stream the album in its entirety below. If you're feeling it, you can make a donation on the Bandcamp page or (better yet) buy a physical copy of "Year 8076" when Illogic & Walter Rocktight make it available.

1. Intro
2. How You Want It
3. Morals
4. Life Is Passin' By
5. I Know You Wanna Dance
6. The Whites of Their Eyes
7. Clap Ya Hands
8. Hit the Road
9. Time is Comming
10. Meant to Be
11. 3 to 5
12. How You Want It (Remix)