Kendrick Lamar: Hip Hop’s Atticus Finch

Courtesy of NYTimes.com

Kendrick Lamar isn’t a savior. He’s not hip hop’s last great hope or a wise old sage, responsible for ushering black consciousness into the light for impressionable minds worldwide. He’s a rapper from Compton. A rapper who found such massive success with his commercial debut, good kid, m.A.A.D city, that he afforded himself the luxury of making any type of sophomore record he damn well pleased.

Lamar isn’t content to cash in quite yet. Instead, he spends the majority of his fantastic new record, To Pimp a Butterfly, stuck in a mode of full on introspection.  He’s recognizing the flaws that being rich and famous have brought to his surface, and clearly struggling to make sense of the man he’s become in light of this wild success.

Creatively, things have never been better for King Kendrick. The record is a jazzy, free flowing opus; a dazzling display of funk flourishes and fuck you stomps. His wordplay, both playful and ferocious, is that of a man looking to be truly heard rather than garner praise. Yet, mentally he seems torn.

Race and racism in America haunt the record as a recurring theme, triggering connections to the album’s title and Harper Lee’s classic novel. Like the mighty father of Scout and Jem, Lamar is fighting a case he can’t win. For every kid he helps realize a shred of value and self worth, a hundred are lost to the mindless, violent turn up of his chart climbing contemporaries. And he knows there’s nothing he can do but step forward and make the type of record that draws attention to the plain and simple fact that black lives matter.

Where good kid took us deep inside Lamar’s Compton ride along, To Pimp a Butterfly is focused on the harsh world around him. This creative shift points simply to the true maturity of an artist who continues to rise above his peers with each and every move.

New: Modest Mouse- Strangers To Ourselves

Waiting to hear Modest Mouse’s new record, Strangers To Ourselves, was sort of like waiting for a perpetual no-show Santa. By the time the big fella finally dropped off a gift eight years later, you couldn’t possibly care less.

This record is a natural continuation of 2007’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, and its formulaic approach does little to stand apart as anything brand new. Eight years worth of stewing over new material feels tired, as the band wiggles its way through more anti-disco rump shaking and angled, jittery riffing. Sure, there’s a few gems sprinkled throughout, but wading through the filler is exhausting.

Maybe the mediocrity of this record will relight the fire in Isaac and Co’s engine, and they’ll remember how important their band was somewhere around 2000’s The Moon & Antarctica. Around that time they crept out of the drug ripped daze of their noisy past and started rallying around wacked out anthems that both terrified and inspired kids to abuse guitars. Unfortunately, Strangers To Ourselves is aptly named. Big budget, big label, and bad for business.

New: Diamond Rugs- Cosmetics

If you don’t fancy the term Supergroup, just agree that Diamond Rugs is a reckless sum of amazing parts. Deertick’s John McCauley and Robbie Crowell are joined by Los Lobos’ sax blower Steve Berlin, former Black Lips guitarist Ian St. Pe, Dead Confederate’s T. Hardy Morris, and Six Finger Satellite’s Bryan Dufresne. This racket is post-Stones strut with a 2015 hangover; a guitar driven coke bender balanced by Redbull, Marlboro Reds, and a crate of vinyl from 30 years ago.

Cosmetics, Diamond Rugs second offering, is a love story told from the eyes and minds of weary road warriors who only miss the steps that don’t matter. Berlin’s sax commands attention and does little to keep McCauley’s howl in check. Heavy rotation around these parts for months to come. Scope tour dates here and buy shit here. Turn this way, way up.

Duality: A Conversation With Casey Jack

Courtesy of Rough Beast Records

Courtesy of Rough Beast Records

Casey Jack is a chameleon of sorts. Springfield, Missouri is where he lays his head, but his sound palette is insanely vast and littered with the speckled influences of decades ago. Listening to his self titled debut on Rough Beast Records is like a who’s who of remarkable reference points; from Blur and Oasis to The Replacements with stops everywhere between. His ear is tuned to melody and noise, and that careful duality is what sets his music apart from the countless heaps of recordings I skim through on a weekly basis. Here, Casey and I discuss the pains of being a one man band, escapism in Chicago, and his desire to hit the road.

Shiny Glass Houses: Thanks for taking the time to chat.  What have you been up to since the release of your debut?

Casey Jack: I’ve been playing some shows in my hometown where I’m currently living (Springfield, MO), while writing new material and spending time with friends and family.

SGH: You wrote the songs for the record in Chicago, then went home to Springfield to record.  Why the change of scenery?  Did Chicago put you in a certain necessary head space to create?

CJ: Moving to and living in Chicago was a real turning point for me, it helped to humble me in a lot of ways and I was surrounded by very inspirational, beautiful people I was lucky to get to know. So yeah most definitely. Those years spent living there had a profound effect both personally and musically.

SGH: Your sound is polished but you’re clearly straddling the line between “force and precision”.  I hear garage.  I hear punk.  I hear Britpop. I hear a carefully blended mix bag…how do you define your work?

CJ: Thank you. It’s always hard for me to try to explain, even though it really shouldn’t be. I want to say its just rock and roll and then have the freedom to play with everything that entails. There are way too many genres and I’m hoping I won’t get stuck in one in particular. Growing up was a mixture of Britpop, punk, and a handful of other genres that set up and influenced my style most definitely.

SGH: You perform as a trio, but with the exception of drums, you recorded all the parts for the record yourself.  Walk me through that process. It must be a real test of patience.

CJ: It was an experience (laughs). I had never attempted anything like that before, but thanks to the drummer John Saad, producer/engineers Jim Wirt and the late Lou Whitney everything went smoothly. I love the way a lot of bands from the late 70’s and early 80’s had a very direct sound and performance. Nothing too flashy, nothing too grandiose.

In the beginning I had all these huge ideas of how big the record could be and all these instruments we could have and layers of effects, different arrangements of the tunes you know..but we realized they needed to be recorded and presented in their most natural state. So that hurried, sort of minimalist approach you hear was basically born from that, being that it was only me. I didn’t have anyone else to bounce too many ideas off of and since it was only going to be a 3-piece kind of deal it only made sense for me to keep a level head about it all.

SGH: As a lifelong music fan I’ve experienced the big venue spectacles, the dive bar pits, and everything in between. What’s an ideal show for you?

CJ: My favorite shows are the smaller, mid-level venues packed out with folks going nuts. Especially if there was traveling involved it always adds an adventure aspect. I’m not a big fan of the festival thing personally, they can be kind of stressful.

SGH: How has it been working with Rough Beast? I love how they’re building a roster of blue collar, badass rock and roll bands.

CJ: It’s been great. If it wasn’t for Rough Beast my record wouldn’t physically exist and I would never, on my own, been able to do what they’ve been able to so far. The other bands rule too, and the goal is to make our little family better known throughout this little world. Hopefully we can make that happen!

SGH: Do you have plans to tour? Come play upstate NY, we’ll set you up.

CJ: I have aspirations of touring, but no real plans set in stone. Unfortunately, there have been talks and offers that fell through. We’ll see. Hell…it’s all I want to do, but yeah I’m trying. I’d love to play there. I’d love to play anywhere (laughs).

SGH: If you had the opportunity to lean in and share the mic, Mick and Keith style, with any musician living or dead, who are you harmonizing with?

CJ: I’d probably go Wayne’s World fanboy if I somehow was able to sing with Sir Paul McCartney for sure. Also Elvis Costello… or Prince!

SGH: Lastly, and customary around these parts, what’s your drink of choice?

CJ: Scotch on the rocks. J&B or Dewar’s usually, also a fan of dark beers and red wine. Cheers!

—-Thanks so much to Casey and RJ at Rough Beast for sharing some time. You can check out the Rough Beast store for releases and merch.  Follow Casey and the label on twitter and IG @CaseyJackBand and @RoughBeastRecs.

First Look: Aaron Cohen & ABGOHARD- Right Here (Prod. Kemal)

Aaron Cohen x AbGoHard4

“Right Here” is the first single from Inner City Kids ABGOHARD and Aaron Cohen off their upcoming collaborative Uglyboyz EP. Produced by Kemal, “Right Here” is a gritty, dark reminder that we are who we are. Embrace your ugly…because pretty is for girls and Derek Zoolander.

Cohen and Co. continue to remind me that the most important movements in hip hop are the ones made in the shadows. Enjoy.

New Action Bronson feat. Chance The Rapper- “Baby Blue”

Here’s a little taste of Action Bronson on his New Jack Swing tip, courtesy of Mark Ronson’s magic touch.  “Baby Blue”sounds like midnight skating at the roller rink, rocking baggy jean overalls with one strap hanging.

Mr. Wonderful is on its way March 24th, and it’s going to be glorious. Shout out to Chance for piecing together a dope verse wishing all the worst for some lucky lady. Rock this one a few times back to back, nice and loud.

Listen Up: Fashawn- The Ecology

Fashawn’s long awaited sophomore album is a total triumph. The sound centers around a rapper with unmatched potential and unbridled frustration bubbling up around Fresno’s jagged borders, a city as unrelenting as the art it produces.

Crafted by a host of producers, but still focused on the beats of long-time collaborator Exile, The Ecology isn’t cornered by geographical barriers. Of course it boasts plenty of California love, but it’s the next-level pressure of executive producer and Mass Appeal label head Nas that pushes the sound to new heights.

There will be lots of records discussed and debated here this year, but I doubt anything will move me this much. This is the first release of 2015 that hits you with one monster moment after another. You’ll run “Confess” back as soon as it’s done…bet.

More info here.  Get familiar.