The Soft Pack Fooled You

The Soft Pack’s saving grace is their ability to play it cool.  San Diego has that effect on people.  2010’s self-titled debut showcased a knack for airtight three minutes gems loaded up with cynicism and power chord guts.  It stayed even-tempered even in the face of seeming urgency.  Strapped, their new self-produced record, picks up exactly where they left off.   Snide lyrics and that basement band-feel haunt these twelve tracks, but time off gave the boys a chance for experimentation and the results are pleasing.

Strapped finds The Soft Pack (formerly The Muslims) getting their Vampire Weekend on, minus the Brooks Brothers cufflinks.  The smarts are there and the tongue finds the cheek with tunes like “Tallboy” and “Bobby Brown” but time also brought instrumentation to the mix that was absent last go-round.  There are some horns and keys sprinkled throughout the record, stretching the bands legs a bit beyond the surf punk edge of their debut.

“Tallboy” paints the jagged canvas of a man and the can.  It’s the classic tale of the tape.  The champion is the twenty-two ounces of cold bliss and the challenger is the man who can’t get it together without a little help from the corner store clerk.  If you can’t relate, I applaud you.  It’s true story telling, chock full of metaphor a man like me can’t ignore.  “Chinatown” steers the crew into familiar waters with a machine gun rhythm section and a Strokes-ish chorus that pleads…”you will find me in the dark.”  Strapped finds The Soft Pack exactly where they should be on record two.  Their room is on fire and it’s time to tell the world all about it.



Setting The Record Straight

The blues are as old as time.  If you feel it, play it.  Make sure you put some soul into it.  Break your back all day working a job you hate and sing a song about it.  Break the heart of a lady who meant more the evening before and sing a song about it.  Keep it raspy and keep it real.  The blues are as American as the men and women who’ve perfected it for the past hundred years.

Austin’s Gary Clark Jr. is that rare blues man with his finger firmly pressed on the pulse of the world around him.  His nights are long and his days may have been cluttered with moments both fleeting and pleasing, but the pulse he measures is one that beats in the here and now.  Sure he’s a blues player, and a wildly skilled one at that, but his heart beats soul.  And funk.  And a few oddly balanced flutters of hip hop.  The fuzz is loud, the riffs are massive and his Warner Brothers full length debut, Blak And Blu, is a powerhouse, but it’s the experimental carefree nature of his artistry that sets Clark Jr. apart from his contemporaries.

Clark Jr. has been gigging, touring and crushing the festival circuit for a few years.  His earlier EP’s and recordings are solid, but often left me scratching my head because there isn’t a lane built for him.  The proof is Blak And Blu, a record cluttered with dense brilliance.  Whether he’s charging straight ahead on the raucous “When My Train Pulls In” or crooning like a 60’s soul man on “Please Come Home”, it’s straight from the gut, commendable in a day and age when major label records are meant to place on the billboard charts.  Blak And Blu comes on strong and finishes just the same.  Just press play.

Down With The Sickness

The Cute Lepers understand the need to keep it light.  They don’t make records aimed at making you laugh, but it’s nearly impossible to hear them and not smile.  They might be damaged, battling addictions, overdose and the pitfalls of a rock and roll lifestyle, but they’ll be damned if they can’t help cure what ails you.

This Seattle gang crafts power-pop with a Buzzcocks gleam while balancing the nerd-chic of the Jim Carroll band.  The songs are urgent and playful, while managing to showcase a true knack for tight songwriting.  Lead man Steve E. Nix, formerly of The Briefs, channels his inner Pete Shelley on tracks like “All This Attention Is Killing Me” and “Adventure Time” while UK punk legend Duncan Reid of The Boys penned the mischievous “77”.  Adventure Time is punk with a slightly curled lip.  There’s angst but it’s directed inwards rather than aiming a loaded Sex Pistol at the world for the sake of raising eyebrows.

We have enough to worry about.  The Cute Lepers manage to remind me that music is meant to help us escape, even if it’s for two blissful minutes at a time.

PAPERKAV: Victory Lap (official video)

As promised, Harlem’s PAPERKAV delivers the fire on “Victory Lap”, another banger from his recent tape, Ni’jels Biography.  Shiny Glass Houses brings you the premier as KAV comes with his usual bravado and champion bars over an airtight beat from the Henessy Music Group. The video, shot and edited by Demetrius K. Martinez, captures KAV and his boys in their element.  It’s stripped down and real, delivering a simple and effective message.   KAV wants to eat, and with tracks like this his feast isn’t far away.  Hip hop is about the grind again.  You have to respect this type of DIY hustle.

PAPERKAV is a carrying that torch for Harlem.  Grab the tape at

Even The Score

It’s refreshing to listen to hardcore music every now and again.  It gives me a chance to harken back to a time in my life when everything felt like the center of a pit.  And even though I don’t throw nearly as many elbows as I once did, bands like Sacramento’s Trash Talk give me faith that the true punk spirit is alive and well from Cali to Coney Island.

Youth culture is blending at a dizzying rate.  Kids who rap, skate.  Skate kids rock beats by Dre.  Hardcore kids line the walls at hip hop shows and backpackers are hobnobbing with the freaks and tattooed geeks in basements and VFW shows across the country.  It’s good for the collective scenes, that in all honesty, have started to smear right before our eyes.  Trash Talk is a perfect example.  They’re a tried and true hardcore band with chops like Terror and style like Odd Future.  Fitting since their new record, 119, seamlessly bridges the gap between hardcore and hip hip, without muttering one bar.  The tie that binds is simply the ethos behind the combination of a hardcore band as brutal as Trash Talk and the We Don’t Give A Fuck temperament of Odd Future’s ring leader, Tyler, the Creator, who signed the band to his label.

Since forming in 2006, Trash Talk haven’t attempted to reinvent the wheel.  They’ve never been about pushing the boundaries of their craft.  They’re more concerned with the punch packed into their two minute cacophonous jams.  They’re also hitting the road with label mates Mellowhype, which nearly guarantees chaos and mayhem at every stop.  Put on your shit kickers and kick some shit.



The Kids Ain’t Alright

Current hip hop trends speak to a specific demographic that just don’t give a fuck.  And I love it.  Odd Future kicked down the door, rattling our cages like we haven’t seen since Young Black Teenagers. And sure, we want to tap the bottle and twist the cap…but we also need more than entertainment.  It’s not just about style anymore, we need meat.  There are plenty of crews and soundcloud pages to clutter our mind space and there are tons of rappers and KlVans to deal with, but hip hop heads needs more than tumblr pages filled with freaky animations and hipster references to pass the time. 

Elizabeth, New Jersey’s Doomkidz make me smile.  They take me back to the days when it was perfectly acceptable to light a blunt and skip the first half of a Monday morning.  They’re a group of ragtag young rhyme spitters who don’t care who they offend, as long as it’s done with the love of beats and rhymes, and that’s hard to ignore.  They have a deep respect for history of the game, evident in their 90’s era beats and crate digging influences that seem to range from Redman to Rakim. The Doomkidz tend to break off into groups within the group (see Artificial Sand and Thick Frames) yet form like Voltron to prove that a sum is always stronger than its parts.

It’s dope to witness a collection of young artists who take this much pride in their craft.  MC’s Fuzzy, Dre Doso, Shaggy and Classic Leo take turns and video spotlights with ease, delivering carefully playful raps that some vets would struggle to string together. The future’s bright for these cats, and it’s only the very beginning…

Find A Common Grave

The Jesus Lizard couldn’t have been bothered and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club lacked the balls.  And while A Place To Bury Strangers New York City cool is undeniably palpable, it’s their musical chops and vision that force me to listen hard.  They’ve found the perfect balance between anger and anonymity.  This past June saw the release of Worship,the bands third full length record and I can’t get enough of this moody mess.

Billy Idol used to snarl one lip and churn out sleazy, glam-drenched ditties that reeked of Hollywood excess.  A Place To Bury Strangers flaunt that same attitude but do so with a serious east coast after hours twitch.  This stuff is made for all nighters.   Living room lamps with dark, flickering bulbs.  It’s the score for your early morning stumble down a littered Brooklyn street.  The subway entrance is up ahead, but all that matters is getting a cigarette lit.

Unlike My Bloody Valentine or English oddballs Clinic, A Place To Bury Strangers craft fuzzy yet concise noise rock with more substance than style.  The feedback rings and the bass throbs, but it’s not for effect.  Worship may follow a blueprint a decade in the making, but the band isn’t afraid to take chances while staying true to the pulse that put them on the map to begin with.