Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hideout Block Party.

Here's my mini-review of Chicago's own 12th Annual Hideout Block Party, which went down this past weekend. Originally posted on TimeOut Chicago's Live Blog. Sorry to say my main man Rhymefest did not bring the noise, although the large population of children running around could have had something to do with that. He primarily rocked his "Man in the Mirror" mixtape, barely rhyming over MJ classics.

TOC Music intern Isabelle Davis reports on Sunday:

Jim DeRogatis hyped the Hideout’s 12th Annual Block Party as “the perfect ending to what has become Chicago’s long hot summer of over-hyped but underwhelming outdoor concerts and festivals” but the truth is, Sunday’s acts did little to fulfill DeRogatis’ prophecy. The crowd was a mellow mix of young families, yuppie-cum-hipsters and hipsters-cum-yuppies, enjoying an undeniably laid-back vibe, which was a definite plus, especially if one has little to no tolerance for drunk 16 year-olds. But those who got there early hoping for back-to-back face melting were severely um, underwhelmed. It wasn’t until 8:45pm, when Ratatat took control of the side stage that shit really became worth the $25. And that being said, going for the New York band alone was worth the time and money, because they packed their hour-long set and encore with exuberant and perfectly executed sonic punches to the face. The only act to have quality sound (and with the music they play, that is just non-negotiable), Ratatat drew the maximum crowd for Sunday and had everyone captivated. Electro and metal riffs over Tortoise-esque grooves, blended with Battles-like craftsmanship (minus the math) and epic synthesizers are a hard act to follow, and by the time Hercules and Love Affair’s Andy Butler took the stage for a closing DJ set, the party had already been busted.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Do You Believe in Rapture?

Disclaimer: It's hard to talk about Sonic Youth and not sling cliches or, on the other hand, sound like a pretentious wank. Cut me some slack if either of those happens here; I'm going to try to talk about them anyway.

Goodbye 20th Century, author David Browne's biography of Sonic Youth, is an epic tome about one of the most respected yet still unsung bands of alternative rock. Of all their contemporaries, few are still together, not counting reunited bands, and fewer still maintain the kind of integrity that Sonic Youth and each of its members does. Seriously, at this point it's basically them and R.E.M., and while the latter are one of my favorite bands, it hasn't been worth listening to one of their new albums since Monster. Their story is longer than you'd think (Kim Gordon is my mom's age!), and Browne tells it compellingly, getting great interviews out of the band, its various friends, family, and colleagues past and present. Anecdotes, stories, and 'huh?' moments abound (Gordon produced Hole's first record? What?). But this book contains more than the story of Sonic Youth and its so-cool-I-want-them-to-adopt-me members. I assumed, as is the case with many rock bios, that this was a fans-only book, and that may be true. But the true magic in G2C lies in the first 100 or so pages. Sonic Youth's story begins in the very late 70's/very early 80's, a time when punk had broken down, no-wave had stepped in to fill the gap, and all bets were off. New York City during these early days of post-punk was a fascinating place, and no one has set it up better on the page than David Browne has in the start of Goodbye 20th Century. We get to see Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, and Lee Ranaldo (permanent drummer Steve Shelley joined the band a bit later on down the line) interact with downtown luminaries from Lydia Lunch to Glenn Branca to Fab Five Freddy to Jean-Michel Basquiat. I may be biased towards New York City, but this book is required reading for anyone interested in the history of American rock music.

I'm just now winding my way to the end of Goodbye 20th Century. I was never a huge fan of SY until I saw them play at McCarren Park Pool in the summer of 2006. They were opening for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (more on that later) but they completely blew that band out of the water. After seeing the calm collected Kim Gordon, lead YYY Karen O's set just smacked of overcompensation. That night, Sonic Youth made me a lifelong fan. I very slowly started listening to their albums, because for me that is the only way to listen to this band. Whether it is because of the conflicting personality types in the band, their writing and recording method, or a concerted effort on their part to really make complex recordings, listening to a SY record is more about unraveling than straightforward listening. It's hard to explain. But sit down with a copy of Goo, or Daydream Nation, or Sonic Nurse for that matter and just listen. It's not always pretty, in fact, it's rarely pretty. But after a while the noise will subside and your brain will be able to comb through the wreckage. Sonic Youth is more an exercise in listening than anything else; this makes their albums more rewarding than most.

The thing about Sonic Youth, though, is that even though their music is complex, challenging stuff, the band manages to remain real. Each of their four core members pursue side projects in and out of the music industry, from fashion to film to publishing, and yet pretension is never the air they give off. These are four down to earth individuals. Goodby 2oth Century makes the case that while Sonic Youth never scored a #1 hit, never had a best-selling album, never had a video in heavy rotation on MTV or even college radio, really, their influence and guidance on the alt-rock community from the 80's to today cannot be understated. Even beyond all the artists that Sonic Youth helped break, (Nirvana, Chloe Sevigny, Spike Jonze, Raymond Pettibon, Cat Power, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, just to name a few) Sonic Youth greatly influenced the world by throwing all expectations out the window. If you keep working on what you're doing, letting your artistic instincts guide you, you'll make strong work. This mindset has sustained the band. They never became the biggest band in the world, but you know what? That happened to Nirvana, and now Kurt Cobain is dead. Meanwhile Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon are still making music, working on side projects, supporting the community, raising a family, writing books, and just generally living out their dreams. It seems like more than a fair trade-off to me.

And if this sort of stuff really interests you, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Goodbye 20th Century.

Goodbye 20th Century [amazon]

Instant Vintage.

I haven't been this jazzed on an R&B album in a minute. From his Tony! Toni! Tone! days to Lucy Pearl (R.I.P., God damn that band folded too soon), to production/writing for D'Angelo, Kelis and Erykah Badu (to name just a few) plus his own critically acclaimed solo work...I mean the man breathes good music. But this, his latest, is his long awaited straight up Motown effort, and it takes the cake. If you don't know, now you know: Raphael Saadiq is the J Dilla of R&B. The man is no joke. He does it ALL. From a recent interview with Okayplayer:

"The multi-instrumentalist (guitar, bass guitar, keys) only enlisted the outside help of Greg Curtis (Yolanda Adams, Keyshia Cole) for some key piano portions, Paul Riser (arranger of Motown classics “My Girl,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “My Cherie Amour,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and more) to do all of the string arrangements and Funk Brother Jack Ashford to handle the percussion work on the vibes and bells for the album."

Oh, and in case you hadn't peed your pants enough, Mr. Innervisions himself guest stars on a track.


The Way I See It drops September 16th.