PopCulturePirates Gives Raw Perspective on Music, “The Creative Scene,” and Growth as an Artist

by Dustin

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It’s impossible to not feel excited when meeting an artist with a clear passion for music. No lust for popularity, just a burning desire to be the best they can be. PopCulturePirates is one of those people, and a candid human to speak with. Pulling no punches with his perspective, it was a thrill to be able to interview PCP.  We won’t hold you up on introductions, though, as this interview has been delayed enough as it is. Let’s jump straight to the meat.


EN: First and foremost, thank you for being a part of this! We have a bit of a tradition in interviews. We always start with asking the artist to write a little about themselves, because it’s always more genuine than anything I could ever write. So, if you don’t mind, that’s what I’m going to ask of you to kick things off.

PopCulturePirates: About myself? Hmm… I don’t tend to talk about myself often. Let’s see… I was born in South America. I currently reside in Dallas, Texas. I picked up guitar after graduating high school. I don’t really know what else to say without guided questions [laughs].

EN: [Laughs] We’ll just jump into it then! You mentioned to me prior to the interview that you are a part of a band as well, but what made you interested in starting the Pop Culture Pirates side project? Was it just a desire to explore different avenues?

PCP: Actually PopCulturePirates has always been my project since I began learning to write music. My band came together fairly recently, in relation to my solo project. If anything, you could probably get away with saying my other band is my side project (but not really). My writing started to be more directed towards what I would want to see live. Which is where the band came in. I wanted to be in a band all my life (even when I was still too lazy to even dedicate time to learning guitar). However, I started to learn to do everything on my own because when I actually wanted to join friends and other people’s bands, I would get rejected because of my lack of talent.

So, it was sort of a “I’ll show them, they’ll see. l can make music too.” Kind of thing. But the actual band, being part of a group of tight friends and playing music and hanging out afterwards, that was always sort of the dream. But with more people, more bodies and hearts, come more voices, more opinions, and more bullshit. So any writing that wasn’t generally accepted, or didn’t follow the band’s sound, I would keep in the backseat and develop those ideas whenever I had time.

EN: Do you feel that having the PopCulturePirates project in your back pocket from the very beginning helped your development a lot as an artist? Because it sounds like, since you were never forced to prematurely abandon an idea, that you were able to grow a lot more naturally and freely.

PCP: Even though PCP is my “solo” project, that really is just the identifying label I slap on anything I make that is somewhat guitar driven. So, to answer that question, yes, I think being Solo from the beginning allowed me to really explore anything I wanted and absorb everything I came in contact with, and make it my own instead of trying to mold it to fit any limiting “project” I could’ve been a part of.

EN: Right. So, instead of being like some side projects that have a clean cut distinct sound removed from the artists other works (like The ILYs are to Death Grips), PCP is more of a sonic scrapbook of ideas you didn’t want to throw away? I say side projects very loosely at this point, since you clarified earlier. I just can’t think of a better word.

PCP: I would flip the table and say PCP is my music and the band is my “group” project. But for the sake of not sounding pretentious, let’s just keep referring to PCP as my solo project. Also, I really enjoy Death Grips. There’s a couple bands that just ignite inspiration in me, and that’s one of them.

Anyway, I am constantly writing music, like all the time, not even joking. Some people might think I’m trying to sound like “oh look at me I got music coming out of my hands, and feet, and kisses” (Julian Casablancas reference, by the way) and some people might think, “that’s just sad, mediocre music is all this guy can do? Pathetic.” But whatever the people’s thoughts are, the fact it I am always constantly writing melodies and lyrics and stuff. I’ve got over 11GB of demos and snippets I’ve recorded and have backed up. So it’s not really like a scrapbook, it’s more like I’m sort of rationing out my creative output.

At one point the band was all that I was writing for, but the progress of four people learning songs and getting them tighter can only go so fast and agreeing on changes and ideas. I became frustrated (not in a bad way, i just felt like I had to keep going) so I went back to writing for myself (PCP).

Oh, man, it’s really not my intention to sound like a pretentious piece of shit. I want everyone that might read this to know what I aware of my creative capabilities, I know I’m not that good making music. Or, I don’t think I am, but I am constantly getting better and one day I will be great. And then maybe I will be a pretentious asshole, when I have the skills and discography to back it up [jokingly anxious laughter]!

EN: [Laughs] don’t sell yourself short either. On that note though, do you think the current DIY scene is the perfect sort of environment for an artist like yourself? There’s such a fascination with eclectic, homemade, music. And the stuff you release under the PCP banner definitely fits that. Whereas I think some time ago, it may have been harder to have that freedom.

PCP: I think for the laymen, or just casual listeners, it’s great. There’s so much variety, so much content, they’re happy to be thrown all this cool music. Today everybody is a musician and everybody is a producer. Like the lyrics on my single Everything Is Forever say: “…Everyone with a pen is a poet, and everyone with a canvas is an artist…” Anybody with a laptop can make a shitty recording and people go wild. I don’t know if I’m happy to fit in there, to be honest. If I could make way better sounding music I would. I would love to be writing for or working with huge bands like the 1975 (I’m not a big fan of them) or Arctic Monkeys, but instead I’m making weird Lofi diy indie pop goodness. But I’m hoping to get better. I do think my material gets more and more refined the more I do it. Maybe I’m just a slow learner.

But nonetheless, i am grateful and blessed to have received the attention I have. I am very thankful to people like you, taking the time to actually listen and recognize the work I put into what I do. And yes, now that that Lofi sound is what’s sort of “in” I am able to receive such positive response. In the past it would’ve probably been met with, “you sound like you just recorded through an 8-track, what are you doing with your life? Making the wrong choices obviously.” But I recognize I do have to thank the current DIY Lofi global phenomenon for even making it possible for me to reach as far as I have. I might not even be making music today if it wasn’t for it, i probably would’ve given up long, long, ago.

EN: I definitely understand what you mean, and unfortunately I think there is a crowd that uses that LoFi sound as a crutch. That being said, I think my interest in it is less as an aesthetic and more with the people in your sort of situation. Where it’s not LoFi for the sake of being LoFi, but it’s that way for the sake of actually being able to release music. I think there’s something beautifully genuine about that sort of never quit attitude. You know what I mean? Like, I would argue even acts like The Voidz carry that sort of spirit into more refined places. It’s not limited to LoFi.

PCP: I think Julian’s work has always carried that sort of grittiness, aside from his first solo and his Daft Punk collab. He has always tried to push that outlier music to the forefront. I guess Lofi can translate in many cases to rawness, which that in itself can translate to pure emotion through various states of sonic synthesis haha. I don’t know. I think you’re right. I think Lofi is a phase and it’s more important when it becomes forgotten and moved away from. It makes it so much more important. If you’re a lofi artist and all you do is lofi, i think that’s kind of dumb and takes away from it. Lofi is like the birth sound of one’s musicianship. It defines your beginnings, but if you’re doing Lofi because that’s what’s popular now, I feel it blurs the lines of what Lofi could mean in a musicians career.

I don’t know. I think I might be contradicting myself and talking out my butt. I think Lofi, like indie, shouldn’t be recognized as a genre.

EN: You think it’s more of a state of being? Like how you wouldn’t consider “clean studio recording,” a genre. It’s a trait of the music but not a genre.

PCP: That’s pretty much it. But I’m not mad about it, I just feel like that’s what it is to me. It’s all subjective I suppose.

EN: But, you would prefer if people took the nature of your sound as a reflection of where your career is and less as a reflection of what kind of music you’re trying to make. Would that be accurate? Say, in ten years. You’d rather look back on it like “these demos showed a lot of promise even though I didn’t have full studio access,” than “I used to be a lofi artist.”

PCP: Yes. But they would be demos really, they were final products that reflected my mental state, my physical skills, my financial level, etc. For everybody else it’s just a song but I guess for my it would be like “diary.” They would **not** be demos really. Like if you keep a diary, and you started when you were little and wrote on a crappy notebook; when you look back, it wouldn’t just be about what you wrote,It would also be the feel of that sheet of paper to the touch, the smell of it, the way it crumpled up, the teardrops, or blood stains, or food droplets, or anything and everything on it, it brings you back to that moment. You can “digitize” it and copy it into Microsoft word to save it forever and it would have the same legible content, but it loses the importance of what that original object was.

EN: I’m kind of understand more what you said earlier now. When you make LoFi a genre, it strips a bit of the intimacy the artist has with those older projects away. Right?

PCP: I think so, but pop culture takes anything it wants whenever it wants it. And this is not only evident with the topic we’re on but a lot of other things going on in the world that I’d rather not delve into.

EN: Is that sort of sentiment where the name PopCulturePirates came from?

PCP: Yeah, sort of. It’s like going against pop culture, being an outsider… Culture is so much bigger than just music and fashion. But that’s the theory, not the practice. I wish I would’ve been more strict with the ethos the moniker carries with it, but I ended up making music that could be considered “pop” right now anyway. Now I’m going against myself, and what my moniker stood for. I was younger and wanted to make something that would be huge, bigger than myself. Something that could mean something philosophically, politically, socially, that people could relate to. But it never got to that, I was never able to get to that point. I think I was simply limited by my most basic musician skills. And I just couldn’t create something that big. But I’m not mad nor disappointed, it’s just a little embarrassing admitting that, but beyond that, it’s whatever.

EN: I think the name is one of those things that’s vague enough to move past your original intentions though. Don’t you think there’s a lot of potential there for listeners to interpret it in various ways?

PCP: There is, but people don’t really pay any attention to the names. I feel even musicians at this point don’t even care about the names either. Porches? Bleachers? Quilt? Even Car Seat Headrest (I’ve read the reason behind the name, but still). Those are all stupid-ass names in my honest opinion, but I love all those bands. Except Bleachers… Bleachers is “meh” to me. But Porches is amazing. Car Seat’s song “Vincent” is my latest favorite song. Quilt blew my mind the first time I heard them. But people might think that of PCP too, it has 3 very “evoking” words. I’ve been trying to push my single to a few people, and some reactions to just the name have been “that name really turned me off, I almost didn’t listen to it because of the name.” At the same time some others say that it was a great name choice, as it makes you guess what direction it’s going to go, as opposed to naming the project something mundane like “Chair.” I have no fucking idea what that means, nothing comes to mind if someone would mention a band called “Chair,” you know? But with PCP I feel like those 3 words in different combinations call to mind very different things. I realize that the “pirates” could make people think of hard punk or gypsy folk. But nonetheless, I like the name, it meant something at one point, it’s catchy, and interesting. A bit original. At least I think so.

Though, now that I think about it. “Chair” would be a very interesting name. Poking fun at all the stupid names out there right now. Might make it an album name at some point.

EN: At the end of the day though, you want the music to speak for itself, yeah?

PCP: I’m sure everyone would agree to that, yes.

EN: We touched a bit on a few acts that inspired you, but who else did you listen to that really made you want to be involved in creating music? Inspirations, so to speak.

PCP: I hate to jump on the bandwagon, but The Strokes were the ones that made me go, “hmm… that’s cool. I wanna try doing that.” I hate admitting that because I feel they inspired pretty much everyone who listened to them, sort of what they say about The Velvet Underground. They might’ve not been as commercially successful, but every single person that heard them went home and started a band. They were very influential. That’s where the “dream” of starting a band came from, after watching their first tour documentary, “In Transit.” They looked like they really loved one another and they were brothers and best friends conquering the world together. That shit was beautiful to me. That’s what I wanted. But finding a band was very hard so I ended up just honing in on “solo” songwriting, because that’s all I could do and wanted to do, at that point.

Other than The Strokes, I would say John Mayer really got me into exploring more complex guitar playing and into a little bit of blues. Blues is cool and all, and I respect it for what it is, but you can play any combination of notes in a blues scale and it will sound good. That makes it too easy and dull to me. There’s many obvious musicians and bands that made a career out of the blues, but I feel like now it’s just a learning phase. “Okay I learned to play bars, chords, and all. Now I will learn the blues scale, and then proceed to jazz music theory, and so on.” You know what I mean? I feel like I totally deviated to talk shit about the blues, but no disrespect, blues is the foundation. I love it, but I want more.

Other than that… I had a big Dave Matthews Band phase. That would be all I would listen to for like 6 months straight. His guitar playing was pretty influential. I still warm up by playing the “Satellite” riff which really makes your fingers stretch. Another band that really influenced me was an Argentinian band called Soda Stereo. I grew up with their album playing in the background pretty much 24/7.

EN: We’ve had Julian Casablancas come up a few times now, and reflecting on what you said, I have even had people in other genres mention him to me before. Aside from the brotherhood element of watching The Strokes, do you think his magnetic artistry just pulls people into music? Like for myself, I always looked up to him as someone unrestrained. It was refreshing.

PCP: I really dislike talking about The Strokes because it’s so unoriginal to do so. It feels like everyone is just in on the Strokes band wagon. I know that’s not the case, they are in fact THAT influential. They all have that rock and roll swagger. And Albert Hammond Jr., his first two albums are amazing, he is a great songwriter. But I feel like he kind of fell off with his third releases up until this last one. His last album, Francis Trouble, it’s really, really, good. And I just saw him live about a month ago. I was blown away at his stage presence, the sound, and the songs. But I could talk about them for days, but I’d rather not. Citing them as inspiration is overdone and uninteresting in my opinion. I’d rather say something like… Grimes totally inspired me to be a little weirder with my music. I actually have had a crush on grimes for a bit. And now she’s dating Elon musk. That blows my mind. I can’t compete with that. That was the whole reason I really started doing music. So I would seem cool to her and we could hang out and stuff, y’know? Now I can’t do that. How do you top Elon musk? You don’t. You can’t.

EN: So, you’d totally support a Grimes song being the national anthem of the first Mars settlement, even if she doesn’t notice you and fall in love? [Laughs].

PCP: I’m 100% on board with that. But I’d rather, you know, be noticed? Maybe co-write the anthem? With Elon’s approval obviously, I wouldn’t do anyone dirty like that. ‘Specially my boy, Elon. By that point in history he might already have developed a personal travel size death ray and is willing to use it on anyone who opposes him or gives his girl the googly eyes (for example: me).

EN: Let’s talk about Everything is Forever for a minute, because to me that song feels like you really took a massive leap in all artistic facets. Like, don’t get me wrong, I adore Death, The Kid. There’s just something about Everything is Forever that feels so complete… How do you feel about that track? Do you think it marks a new step forward in your songwriting?

PCP: To be honest, “Death, The Kid.” Is a step down from “Kanye” because “Death” was just a collection of demos going as far back as 2010 that I uploaded because it hadn’t been a productive year for my music. I didn’t really have much to show, so I decided to just upload this collection of old tracks. Aside from the two new songs I wrote that year which were Bad Luck and Kirito’s Dream. You can probably see more of a relation between those two and Everything Is Forever.

But I do like Everything Is Forever very much. I don’t think it’s too much of a leap for my style. But I do love the clash I was able to manage between very refined, Hi-fi guitars and cymbals against the lo-fi kick, snare, and vocals. The repetitive ending I initially intended on extending it for over a minute longer to emphasize the “Forever.” As in to make people say “damn, this part lasts forever” and then recognize that and the relation to the title of the song and be like “oh shit! I get it!” But then I thought to myself, nobody would probably pay that much attention to it. So I kept it shorter, but still kind of long and repetitive. But I don’t think it’s necessarily a new step, I think if anything I might’ve kept the songwriting on a leash a bit. I’ve been slowly finding out that, as cliche as it sounds, less is more. But then I went in and threw shit on its head by keeping that out-of-left-field outro.
There’s a song on the album coming out called “Where Is The Destruction,” and another called “Medallion City,” I feel like both of those challenged my songwriting a little more than EIF, each in its own way. Though, Everything Is Forever is a very emotional song, nostalgic summer vibe, sad crushing lyrics, the energy gets carried through in a very flowing fashion with its arrangement. It’s interesting. I like it. I’m proud of it.

EN: Apart from the other couple of songs you mentioned, does your new album carry that nostalgic vibe throughout? Or is it more varied?

PCP: It definitely has more variation.

EN: Does your musical process change at all when you know that you’re working on songs intended to be released on an album? I ask because I tend to get mixed answers to this, and it’s interesting. Some seem to feel their process becomes more intensive, others say it doesn’t change at all.

PCP: Not really. Usually I just write and write songs, when I have about… I don’t know, 7-11 good songs (which are usually picked from maybe 20 or so) I then “package” them as an album. For this last album though, I was approached by Breakwood Records (sweethearts) and they heard Everything Is Forever and decided to help me put out the next album. We sort of agreed on an imaginary deadline for me to provide all the songs for the LP. I ended up writing about 6 of the songs from it in like three months maybe. I did think it was going to become more intensive as I had never had any sort of “pressure” to finish songs but all that changed was me making more time in my day to day life to write music. That was it really, other than that it was sort of the same.

EN: How do you feel about doing something with a label? That’s super cool. And also, I should say, congratulations! Even with the internet, getting noticed like that is no small feat.

PCP: They’re a small independent label from Canada that just began, they’re the coolest and sweetest. But to be honest the coolest thing about it is not really being able to say “oh look at me, I’m on a label,” but instead having people that really, really, listen to my material and are critical, and honest, and interested in my music. They believe in what I do, and that honestly is a beautiful feeling.

EN: I can understand that, that’s a great attitude to carry into it. Nobody will show you more support than an independent label that loves you, and I truly believe that. On a funnier note, I am also from Canada. How does it feel to have a strange destiny bond with the Canadian music scene? [Laughs].

PCP: Dudeeeee, to be honest it’s awesome. I’m starting to feel like Toronto is replacing New York as the music city to be in, in my mind. Plus, some of my favorite musicians are from there: Dirty Beaches, Crystal Castles, Broken Social scene, Metric, and so on. And of course, who can forget, Grimes.

EN: If you had the chance to form a band composed of any living musician, who would you have in there?

PCP: If I could I would clone myself and play in a band with 4 or 5 me’s. Because anybody I would pick is probably going to be way more skilled than me, to the point where I would be the weakest link. But with 5 me’s, we all would be on the same level of everything and on the same page, plus no egos because it’s really just me, you know?

EN: You’re smart. You’re really smart. You avoided Meg White-ing yourself entirely with one of the most unconventional answers I’ve ever received. Good man [laughs]. But actually, that’s got me thinking. You said earlier that you started by learning guitar, but what was the process like learning other instruments in order to complete full songs? It’s not easy to learn multiple instruments, never mind learning how to properly work them into a piece of music.

PCP: In high school everybody had to pick an instrument, I picked drums. The instructors said all the drummer spots were taken, so I chose saxophone, they said those were taken too so they put me with trumpet. I hated trumpet then. I appreciate it now. But I don’t play it anymore. Guitar… it’s a weird story. My mother was in a band and she always had a guitar in the house I would pick it up for 3 days every 3 months and decide I wanted to learn. I never did. I got instructors that I’d go to once and never again because they would send homework and I’d rather just play The Legend of Zelda. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school where I was like, “alright, let’s do this.”

On bass I get by with just what I know on guitar. And drums I learned because one of my roommates in the college dorms mentioned he used to play drums and had an electronic drum kit. I showed a song i had done and tried to convince him that we could totally start a band so that he would bring the kit to our dorm. He eventually did and that’s where I started learning how to drum. I would often skip classes if he had already left just so I could play. Since they were electronic drums nobody would complain. It was awesome. Drums are the funnest instrument but also the hardest to learn in my opinion. I have good timing but syncing your movements, that was tough. I learned by playing along to LCD Soundsystem songs. Because the drumming isn’t overly complicated but it goes, it goes, it goes, guillotineeeee [laughs]. The drummer on LCD just keeps the beat for all the 7 plus minute songs. I love LCD, man, one of. My favorites. James’ urban poetry destroys me emotionally.

EN: Are there any others you want to add to your arsenal in the future? Maybe throw a flute solo on a PCP track in the future? Or…like, bassoon?

PCP: I have a deep fascination for sampling and the way hip hop music is and has been constructed. I will incorporate that probably into my upcoming songwriting. So instead of learning an instrument, I would most likely sample it and make it weird. But if I definitely had to choose an instrument to learn. I’d probably say violin. That instrument is so beautiful and versatile.

EN: Have you ever watched some of the artists who do live sampling on stage with an MPC, or whatever? Some of those dudes turn that into an extremely delicate art. How’d you pick up an interest in the art of the sample?

PCP: I have another project where I make experimental “beats” that I lease to small rappers. A lot of my money for gear has come from that. My love for sampling came from having an obsession with New York producer, Blockhead. He is one of my all time favorite producers. Dan the Automator too.

Aarabmuzik is a freakin’ god using an MPC live. His finger drumming is almost mathematically quantized. He’s crazy.

EN: Is there anything you fear musically? For yourself, I mean. A direction or attitude that you hope you never start to take on.

PCP: I fear running out of ideas. Of good ideas. Sometimes when I don’t write music for a while, when I come back to it it’s as if I forgot how to write songs, so I go through a couple ideas which end up in the trash because they sound terrible and I get a little fearful thinking “maybe that’s it, maybe I’ll never write anything decent again, I’m all washed up.” It sounds dumb, but that’s something crosses my mind often.

EN: What sort of advice would you give to others who’ve felt that way? I know when I’m working on my music projects, it’s a regular fear of my own too. Hell, Rajin (my other writer) has watched me have near meltdowns thinking I’ve lost my touch. What do you do to move past that worry? Just keep grinding?

PCP: As cliche as it sounds, yeah. Just keep doing it until you either find your next good idea or until you truly can’t find anything else and give up. But the latter should be if you’ve been going at it for like a year maybe? And nothing comes out, then maybe then you’re all dried. Or maybe not. I don’t know [laughs].

EN: In all seriousness though, do you find breaks from writing music to be essential to the creative process?

PCP: I think sometimes you do need breaks physically, specially after hours and hours of writing, or mixing. Your ears get shot and you stop hearing things as they actually are. Your ears get tired. But maybe you do need to let that “creativity bank” refill every now and then. So I guess short answer: yes.

Also, if anybody has any other advice as to how to deal with the fear of drying up, hit me up. There should be a better way to deal with that which I haven’t yet learned.

EN: Is there anything that you have learned along the way that you wish you had known when you first started writing music?

PCP: The actual process of learning all I know, however long it took, that’s part of the whole artist thing. If I knew then what I knew now, the journey of becoming a musician would not be as exciting and accomplishing. I honestly hate referring to myself as a musician or an artist, I feel it is very pretentious. Not to give a smart ass answer, but truly looking back, I wouldn’t share any information with myself. I would watch myself go through all of it all over again. Over the same mistakes I went through and through the same victories I had.

Although maybe having the contact information of a few people earlier on would have helped [laughs].

EN: So you’d leave a little book of phone numbers and emails, but still let yourself experience those natural growing pains? [Laughs]. I don’t think that’s smartass at all. Every struggle, every misstep, everything makes you who you are as an artist now.

PCP: Yeah, I guess. Not to get philosophical or anything, but yeah, every pain you experience makes you who you are today. So every hassle and hurdle with respect to music would make you the music maker you are today.

EN: What should people expect from you as an artist in the future in terms of releases? I know you said you were working on an album to come out under the PCP handle. Any plans for a band album release sometime?

PCP: With the band we’re actually recording at the moment. When you asked me if there was anything I had learned that I wish I would’ve know. In the beginning, I was tracking vocals at that exact time. I remember pulling my phone out and seeing your question while singing. I don’t think people shouldn’t expect anything from me. But I hope to be able to just improve and put out better and better material.

EN: And is that how you would like people to think of you? An artist with humility, but also a burning desire to continue improving every day?

PCP: Not really. Maybe in the long run, after I die, it would be cool if I don’t get remembered as a piece of shit. I honestly think my humility can easily come off as pretentiousness, somehow. But, I would just like for people to really like what I do. That’s pretty much it. Hopefully someone can see beyond the surface of the music and really get the substance of whatever I’m trying to say in that specific piece. But, as long as people just like it, I guess I’m ok with that. But my main, main, goal would be to cause in someone what other great artists caused in me.

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Collectors Corner: Madvillain – Madvillainy (2014 Cassette Reissue)

by Dustin

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Ever since we decided to revitalize the Collector’s Corner series of articles back in January, I’ve been racking my brain in an attempt to decide on the next album to showcase. I quite enjoy being able to talk about some of my favorite releases more casually and personally, as opposed to the formal nature of music reviews; however, physical media is not always the most interesting thing in the world. I adore my music collection, and have a bad tendency to put disposable income I don’t actually have into it. Regardless of this, many of the titles I own could be described in a paragraph or less. This simplicity is a wonderful thing, but at the same time it doesn’t make for the most catching of blog posts; however, Rajin recently published his own collectors corner, reminding me not to neglect this particular series. Being the stubborn person I am, I figured the best way to break the slump would be to write about one of the most simplistic releases I own. This may sound counterintuitive, but due to the album’s stature within hip-hop and grandiose sound I actually find the stark contrast quite interesting.

The album in question is Madvillainy, the collaborative effort between underground legends MF DOOM and Madlib under the name Madvillain. The particular version we will be looking at is the cassette re-release which came out under Stones Throw Records (STH2065) in 2014. This is the standard release, which has some minor changes from the Cassette Store Day release though they share the same catalogue number. The biggest variation is that the Cassette Store Day release has a shiny j-card rather than matte.

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Upon first look at this cassette it is evident that a few minor design changes were made to the original cover in order to have it look natural on a j-card. The text from the upper left corner has been removed entirely, and the orange square on the right has been trimmed into a much smaller strip. These alterations don’t take much away from the artwork, and in my opinion Stones Throw did an excellent job reformatting everything. One weird difference, however, is that the signature cover photo of DOOM appears to be slightly darker than on the original. This could just be an illusion due to the fact that his shoulders have been cut out, but it stood out as slightly odd to me. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter, as the album artwork is classic and looks just about as good here as it has anywhere else. I’ve seen cassette release adaptations go really poorly, and fortunately Madvillainy is not one of those cases.

The rest of the j-card is also quite minimalistic. Taking a look at the side spine you’ll find the album name and not much else. Around the back it simply says that group is called Madvillain, Madlib did the beats, DOOM did the emceeing, and Stones Throw released the record (in addition to the catalogue number). This serves as the credits portion of the release, weighing in at a whopping eight words. The interior of the j-card has a black and white photo of Madlib with his face partially obscured by a piece of production equipment. That is essentially all there is to see as far as the external packaging goes. It’s basic, but it looks great.

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The cassette itself seems barren (even under-designed) at first, but after taking a closer look at it I realized it is actually quite the unique piece. The tape is housed inside a colourless clear shell with black liners, which in itself does not sound like anything particularly out of the ordinary. If you take a closer look at the liner though, there is a triangular notch cut out of the top which is a shape that I have never personally seen on a cassette before. The black liner is also being used to provide a contrasting backdrop to the white text stamped on both sides of the outer shell, and makes the font pop excellently. It’s a very small design choice, but it adds a sense of flair that would not have otherwise been there. I personally adore it.

The sound quality is about as good as you’re going to get from a cassette, which still isn’t amazing, but it’s certainly passable. I noticed relatively little background hiss, which doesn’t seem to be a frequent issue on newer cassettes anyway. The quality control is appreciated nonetheless.

To summarize, the 2014 cassette reissue of Madvillainy is an exercise in minimalism done correctly. The aesthetic offers few clues as to how the album is going to sound, yet it also compliments the music very well. This particular album always seemed to suit the vinyl format the most, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised with the cassette. If you’re interested in picking up one of the many reissues (as of right now Discogs lists 23 versions) of Madvillainy, I would most certainly say that you can’t go wrong with this tape.

Album Review: Kanye West – ye

by Dustin

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4/10

A lot of things can and have been said about Kanye West. Many a think piece had found itself picking apart the socially reprehensible drivel to fall out of his mouth after he took the media by storm this year in a whirlwind of foolishness. Though the social impact of his ignorance is certainly an interesting topic, it has seemingly worked its way into every single review on the planet. Clicking on any discussion about his recently released ye album, and one is likely to spend more time reading political views than anything related to the music. While Kanye certainly has made himself an impossible character to wish to support, ye is for all intents and purposes a major release from one of hip-hop’s most prominent figures. For that reason alone, the music deserves to be analyzed as actual music, and not the ramblings of everyone’s favorite pariah.

With that out of the way, let’s reflect on Mr. West’s eighth solo effort.

It’s not often that the production on an album dwarfs the presence of the emcee, but this was absolutely the case with ye. Luckily for himself, Kanye can lay claim to the instrumentation on this record as well. For years, Kanye West fans have been clamouring for the controversial figure to go back to his roots of chopping samples and banging out killer instrumentation. Not long prior to the release of ye, he offered up some promising (and genuinely very good) instrumentals on Pusha T’s DAYTONA. Moving onto this project, he surprisingly kept that momentum going. The beats were good. Nothing stood out in the same way that “Santeria” did on DAYTONA, but it was some of the best production work Kanye has rapped on since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. There was a nice blend between his signature soulful sample style from back in the day, and his more modern wavy, synthetic, bass heavy sound. It was all quite pleasing to the ear, and set the album up for what should have been an easy home-run if he could keep up on the mic; however, that didn’t really happen.

In other words, ye was an album that would have been better served to be a beat tape. Kanye proved to be his own worst enemy, as his backdrop outshone the lackluster spotlight.

Being that he has never been the most talented writer in the world, Kanye has relied pretty heavily on his charisma and personality behind the mic. Even on his weaker projects he came across as an eccentric, and there was something infectious about it. His vocal performances on ye were odd, as they lacked any semblance of this spark. Yeezy seemed disinterested and it was difficult to engage the music when he carried himself as entirely uninvested. It should be mentioned that there clearly was an attempt on Kanye’s behalf to come across as a more introspective and thoughtful writer; however, this manifested itself in tracks such as “I Thought About Killing You” and “Wouldn’t Leave,” which were extremely groan inducing and difficult to sit through. In addition to that, the adventures into braggadocio did not carry any sort of weight, as his lack of charisma couldn’t lift the mediocre writing. Regardless of the topic, most songs on here felt like gutless and redundant rehashes of things that he’s already done a hundred times in the past.

Actually, imagine the rapping on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Now imagine that rapping with every last drop of energy sucked out of it, leaving only the bare bones of its design. That is essentially how Kanye came across on ye. Not horrendous, just unbearably dull.

Side note, the mixing was bad. Really bad. Mike Dean has been a bit of a disaster in the technical department for a long time, and ye is no exception. Everything was muddied out, resulting in the album sounding amateurish and unfinished. For a major release, the audio quality was downright shameful.

Acknowledging Kanye’s tumultuous negative media presence wasn’t really required to walk away from ye feeling entirely empty. Though many reviewers rating it poorly have chosen to focus mostly on his personal volatility, the album from a musical standpoint offered very little to be excited about. It was encouraging to hear him knocking out enjoyable instrumentals again, but at the same time his rapping showed little improvement from the nosedive it took on Yeezus five years ago. While one would have hoped that dialing back to a 20 minute run time could have helped Kanye release a more focused product, ye felt just as rushed as The Life of Pablo in most respects. Unfortunately, it was also a lot less interesting. The manic energy of his last two projects was not to be found; instead, the final product had little identity, and felt like nothing more than a placid celebration of boredom by an artist who left his prime long ago.

Collectors Corner: UGK – Too Hard To Swallow (2017 Vinyl Reissue)

by Rajin

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Last year marked the 25th anniversary of UGK’s debut album Too Hard To Swallow. To celebrate, Get On Down Records released a special reissue for Record Store Day, limited to 1,000 copies. Previously only released on CD and cassette, this was the first time the seminal Dirty South album was pressed on vinyl (aside from a 1992 promotional only pressing which wasn’t for public sale).

This was one of the first records I bought after getting into vinyl at the top of this year. On my first trip to the record store I saw it while flipping through hip hop records, but for some reason I didn’t think to pick it up. No more than a few days later I was idly reflecting on that visit, and decided to look this album up on Discogs. Upon doing so, I read details about it that made me realize the mistake I had made in passing it up. About a week later I went back trusting that if it had stayed on the shelf for 8 months, it would still be there. Sure enough, it was, and I went home with what remains to be the coolest vinyl I own as of now.

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The first thing that you’ll notice about the record is the way the cover art has been altered. Pimp C, Bun B, and the lettering are all gold, and essentially everything else is dark blue. I’m not entirely sure why the cover has been altered the way it has, and I don’t really know how I feel about it. While I don’t remember if it was the only reason I didn’t pick it up at first, the changes were definitely part of why I was apprehensive. I imagine I thought I would find an earlier pressing with the original cover, only to find out that this is the first vinyl pressing. I will say, it gives the cover a sleeker look than the original. It looks more like an actual album cover, and less like a picture with word art on it; however, it does eliminate the charming simplicity and overall “Dirty South” vibe that the original album art had.

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The record sleeve is a little thinner than I personally prefer for a 2xLP. There are no inserts or anything to speak of; the credits are all listed on the back cover, which follows the same color scheme as the front cover. There really isn’t anything else to the packaging. The actual vinyl is where the release gets more impressive to me. It was pressed on clear vinyl, which makes it one of the more aesthetically pleasing records that I own. I really like how you have a view of the grooves that you don’t get on other colors. Not only does it look extremely cool, it makes it much easier to see whether the record is dirty or not. The colors used on the sleeve are also used on the vinyl labels, which actually serves as a gorgeous contrast to the clear vinyl.

The pressing itself is a pretty good one. I’m no audiophile, so perhaps others who have listened to it would dispute me on this, but I love how full the funky, syrupy bass on this record sounds. Tracks with slower and more detailed production like “Feel Like I’m The One Doing Dope” become infinitely more immersive than the digital version is. The vocals also sound great, and honestly better mixed than they were on the original release. Bun B’s booming voice in particular sounds great on this pressing.

Ultimately, the best thing about this is that a classic album has finally gotten the vinyl pressing it always deserved. Too Hard To Swallow was already an album that anyone who considers themselves a fan of hip hop should own, but this pressing is special. If anyone sees it hanging out at your record store, pick it up. Don’t even think about it.

Album Review: Prof – Pookie Baby

by Dustin

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3.75/10

A few years ago, Rhymesayers associated themselves with an artist well outside of their usual dynamic. As an addition to their roster he stuck out like a sore thumb, yet his chaotic energy charmed the fanbase quickly. This artist was Prof. The other side of the coin to Rhymesayers Entertainment’s introspective conscious rap signature. He came in boasting an arrogantly brazen offering of hyperactive shenanigans within his music. He was a debauchery driven scumbag but possessed a degree of self-awareness that broke through on moments of emotional reflection. His label debut, Liability, came in 2015 and offered an excellent helping of his range. It was a mess, but so genuinely fun that it was impossible not to love. It felt like a jumping off point into something bigger for Prof. He took time away from the studio to tour but recently returned with his new album. Pookie Baby, the record which would push the sound and success of Liability forward and prove that Prof was a true powerhouse on the label.

Except, it didn’t happen that way. Not even close.

Pookie Baby missed the mark in most ways, but the biggest element of failure was Prof’s writing. His wild, party addict, white boy shtick, which normally seems natural, came across as eye-rollingly forced. The lyrics began to be more of a nuisance than a pleasure to sit through by the thirtieth time he reminded anyone listening of how often he has sex. It was funny at first, particularly on “Send Nudes,” but at a point, Prof started to sound like a meme of himself. A broken record with no range. It was hard to listen without feeling like he had phoned the writing portion for the vast majority of the release. The wit and tongue in cheek braggadocio of past releases were hard to see. Instead, there was an appeal to the lowest common denominator with empty, repetitive lyrics. It was a letdown. Prof is capable of a lot more than he showed on Pookie Baby, but the steps backwards were too blatant to be pushed aside. Given the length of time between Liability and now, it’s reasonable to say that more could have been expected.

There’s also the aspect of vocal delivery. Prof has never been a technically talented singer, but in small doses, his voice can be a lot of fun and add a unique flair of versatility that many lack. Small doses being the key. In the case of Pookie Baby, though, the singing was far too frequent and hit a point of being completely abrasive. One or two songs featuring his trademark warbling would have been welcomed with open arms; however, when it feels like half the album is an artist overusing an already spotty singing voice to avoid having to write lyrics with more depth, there is a problem. Pookie Baby had this problem. When he opted to rap, Prof’s delivery did compensate for some of the weaker writing to a degree. It still wasn’t his best work by any means, but it was passable enough for songs like “Time Bomb” and “Action” to sound genuinely engaging. Sadly, these moments were very much the minority. Prof misused his vocal tools to the point that it hurt the record severely. It’s a shame because there were a few glimpses of that bombastic skill on the album. He just decided, for whatever reason, to put a minuscule amount of it on display.

In addition to Prof delivering vocals well below his capabilities on Pookie Baby, he received little help from the instrumentals. It was more cohesive than Liability musically but lacked the eclectic charm and character of that album’s production. It felt like a binary. Either he was rapping on top of a bouncy, upbeat trap flavored beat, or he was crooning on top of something more wavy and slow. While none of the instrumentals were inherently bad, they were generic and grew dull quickly. Prof normally has enough energy to carry weaker beats, but his complacency on Pookie Baby enabled them to stand out as mediocre. Tracks were screaming for more intricacy to help carry his performance, and it just was not there. It was another unfortunate reflection of the regression Prof displayed as an artist. His production choices were that of an individual who misunderstood his strengths and appeal, resulting in a bitterly inferior product from top to bottom.

In spite of Pookie Baby’s quality issues, it doesn’t seem fair to count Prof out entirely. As much as this was a rather significant misstep, it wasn’t bad due to deteriorated ability. It felt more like he was lost musically, and leaned heavily on his crutches to be able to flesh out an album. This has happened to many an artist over the years, and a future return to form is more than possible. Regardless this is a review, and the reality is that Pookie Baby offered little of value or interest. A couple of songs were quite amusing and might be worth spinning again, but the overall product was underwhelming at best. It just didn’t click. He’s worth keeping an eye on going forward as there’s plenty of untapped potential, but this is a project better to be left forgotten.

Album Review: Black Milk – FEVER

by Dustin

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9/10

Detroit. One of the meccas of hip-hop. For years the city has churned out phenomenal talent like flowers growing through the cracks of the extremely rough social climate. Since the turn of the millennium, Black Milk has been honing himself as one of Motor City’s finest artists. Working with prominent local names such as Slum Village, Danny Brown, Guilty Simpson, and Royce da 5’9”, he became known as a production wizard before moving into solo rap releases in 2005. His career has been one marked by superhuman craftsmanship, particularly following the release of Tronic in 2008. Black Milk has been an artist to never settle, striving to push his style to new places with each new drop. Just shy of four years since his last rap release, Black Milk stepped out of the shadows with a new offering of tracks; one that may only have been his most bold step forward in the name of musical progression.

FEVER was a sonic departure for Black Milk, at least regarding his rap releases. While it moved away from the alternative street-hop sound, he had crafted on No Poison No Paradise, and If There’s a Hell Below, it built upon the distinctive flavor of the Nat Turner collaborative effort, The Rebellion Sessions. This will likely be a sticking point for some, and admittedly it did make for a confusing initial listen; however, once that shock wore off, the album felt incredibly well put together. It doesn’t take a hip-hop aficionado to recognize that Black Milk has been a production powerhouse for many years, but he still managed to find a point of ascension for FEVER. The instrumentals on this album were fantastic. Through the process of chopping tracks recorded by his actual band, Black Milk gave the beats a sense dynamic liveliness that would otherwise be difficult to accomplish using samples. It created an intimate environment, much like watching a jazz-rap show at a small venue. Additionally, he didn’t entirely abandon the classic boom-bap undertones that have become a signature of the Michigan region. The record maintained a needed sense of familiarity. There was a wonderful balance between genres that often gets lost on artists when they move into new territory. While the jazz and funk elements were certainly prominent, FEVER remained hip-hop at its core.

The production oddities didn’t end there, however, as the vocals on this release were handled uniquely. Black Milk felt to be a little further back in the mix, doing away with the stark contrast between emcee and instrumental. This had some interesting consequences. First and foremost, it gave the album a flawless aspect of cohesion. The way Black Milk allowed himself to be enveloped in the beat made it sound as if he was more at home than ever before. There were no moments that felt as if the beat selection was questionable, a true hat tip toward the attention to finer detail. Secondly, it created an environment in which it became possible to end up fully lost in a track as the listener. There was an ethereal beauty to each song, with the individual pieces joining forces to create a rich final sound. While this may have made it hard to firmly hang onto Black Milk’s lyrics at first, with subsequent listens it became a true marvel to appreciate.

Making it all the more worth taking time was the fact that Black Milk’s performance as an emcee remained solid as ever. There’s something to be said about knowing when to keep it simple, and he has proven time and time again to be a master of that art. While admittedly more ambitious on FEVER than some of his past work, Black Milk’s flows never attempt to overwhelm. They were tight and complementary to the chilled out production. At the lyrical level, he opted to focus on his strengths: observant bars and social storytelling. Verses were packed to the brim with quick poignancy, and tracks such as “Foe Friend” highlighted his ability to craft interesting stories out of the day-to-day. What FEVER lacked in bombastic vocals was made up for in spades with unmatched consistency. There isn’t much else that can be said. Black Milk was simply extremely sharp for the entire duration of the project, and that’s an underrated quality for an album to possess.

Unfortunately, FEVER was the sort of album that will evade a good handful of listeners. It felt distinctly removed from the path Black Milk was on, and if fans don’t approach it with an open mind, it likely won’t land with them as well as it could. This is “unfortunate” because beyond that surprise it was truly a pleasure to experience. Spinning it with expectations checked at the door made it evident that this is a special record. A potential candidate for album of the year, assembled by one of hip-hop’s most artistically attentive minds. Black Milk once again found a way to push the envelope, a remarkable feat for an individual with an already fantastic track record of releases. Bravo.

Celebrating the Growing Importance of Physical Media

by Dustin

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To be completely honest, the title to this article might sound odd to most. How can physical media possibly be more important than ever when digital has steamrolled the industry? At the surface level, it is dead. Retailers are pulling the last of the CDs off the shelves, marking the end of a decades-long music media evolutionary process. Yet, many have never spent more money on CDs, vinyl, and cassettes than they do now. I am extremely bad. If I don’t budget a monthly allowance to be spent on music I suddenly find myself in a position where groceries are particularly troublesome. Financial tomfoolery aside, I’ve come to realize that moving back toward physical releases has changed my relationship with music entirely. With today being Record Store Day my friends and I wanted to take a minute to share our passion for this fading corner of the music scene, and hopefully shed some light on why we consider physical releases more important now than they have ever been.

“In a world where streaming makes music easier to consume than ever, it seems as though its value is continuously decreasing. For a long time now, I’ve been confronted with the question “why buy a song when I can download it for free?” However, with the increasing prevalence of streaming, which poses as a way to “support” artists in a cheap (potentially free) way, the statement seems to just be given more validation. I’ve always felt that streaming is dissatisfying in many ways; there’s no connection between fan and artist. Physical albums allow that connection to exist. You have something tangible to hold, you have to store and maintain them, you get to surround yourself with what you love. They allow the music to keep its value in a market where it’s more dispensable than ever.”
@RajinBuu

“Buying records means reading liner notes. It means learning about the friends and family involved with the project and glimpsing into their world. It also meant (like in the case of Outkast) learning just exactly what they were saying in the days before OHHLA or Genius.”
@deaconlf

“As both an artist and a music lover I appreciate something tangible and it warmed my heart as an artist to know that so many fans wanted to buy a physical copy of our debut project, my mom bought one my dad bought one it was something that they can look at and say “wow my kid did this” and fans can look at and say “yeah I can touch this, I can hold on to it, I can frame it” it’s like a time capsule from a forgotten period where projects stayed in your rotation for longer than a week and reviews weren’t done instantly but it’s an incredible thing to be apart of, physical music goes right along with t shirts and posters as genuine mercy.”
@MTFRyourmom of @_Nobodies

“Physical releases, no matter the format, are more important than ever now. Much of our lives exist between ones and zeros, so holding and hearing and smelling something like a record can really fill the binary void… Establish a sense of connection beyond the internet. As soon as the needle hits the groove something real happens and it is fucking beautiful. It’s almost primal at this point. I think this is true with vinyl, cassettes and CDs. All formats provide a tangible experience that sounds better than streaming, hope people stop arguing about ‘superior’ formats and just focus on making something beautiful and real. Physical releases are awesome”
@FilthyBrokeRex

For myself it’s much of the same. I crave the connection to art that only physical media can provide. From the beauty of large format cover art to the excitement of finding carefully placed easter eggs inside the album booklet, there is a tactile appeal to the senses that cannot be found anywhere else. For me, it transforms listening to an album from a simple act of consumption to an event that feels special and unique every single time. The thrill of entering a record store or thrift shop and crate digging can only be surmounted by the childlike wonder I feel when my hands finally reach something that I want. My music collection at any given moment is a treasure trove of memories, personal discovery, and adventure. It’s something I curated for myself and nobody else; a scrapbook of self-assuredness that carries all my convictions in taste. I wouldn’t trade that feeling for the world.

There’s also the element of showing that you care. The artists I love create music that becomes an integral part of who I am, and as such I want to support them in any way that I can. Attending concerts isn’t realistic all the time, but buying something that I can hold, show people, and proudly display is always an option. Digital media feels so incredibly disposable, and to me that undermines the effort and dedication these individuals pour into creating something for us to enjoy. Sure, I can acknowledge that 25 or 30 dollars for a vinyl record sounds expensive; however, when you start to consider the entire process behind the album’s existence, it really isn’t that much money. Support keeps people creating. At the end of the day, I’m more than willing to shell out extra if it helps my favorite musicians are able to stick around a little longer. Fraction of a penny streams don’t pay the bills for anybody who isn’t already a star, and that fact alone would be enough for me to proclaim physical media’s importance in the modern climate.

If you still carry any doubts, please take the time to visit a record store today (or at any point in the near future). If you’ve never been fortunate enough to take the time, it is a vastly different experience than endlessly perusing music on Spotify or Google Play. It’s a world that not enough people take advantage of these days, yet there’s a reason it pulls so many of us in. We could sit here for days and try to explain, but really you won’t get it until you try for yourself. Who knows, you could just end up catching the same bug that bit the rest of us from the very moment we purchased our first albums. Apologize to your wallet on my behalf, and have fun!

Happy Record Store Day.