Tune In.


Years ago, I’d wake up on Saturday mornings and finish the beer on my night stand.  Armed with a wallet and an iPod I’d ramble off into my city. I’d spend the morning counting cracks in the sidewalk while keeping time to what ever the shuffle had in store.  I suppose around this time my playlists were dominated by an unhealthy mix of screaming emo bands and hardcore east coast rappers.  Not a balanced diet by any means.  But my travels almost always lead me to The Music Shack, the best independent record store my tiny Capital City had to offer.

As soon as you cracked the door you were washed with a sense of pretentious knowledge and attitude.  Picture Rob, Barry and Dick from High Fidelity.  The store was packed with aisle after aisle of new and used discs, posters, records, dvds, box sets, and tee shirts.  I’d spend three hours at a time browsing every gem and piece of shit the place had to offer.  The owners knew me, and the clerks got my opinion whether they asked for it or not.  It was my home away from home.   They fucked with me when I finally got the nerve to apply for a job.  As they should have.  They asked me to write an essay about Led Zeppelin, and naturally, I did it.   Essay or not I was getting the job, but that was the nature of the beast.

The manager and co-owner of the store was a bearded, bald headed maniac called Steve.  Unknowingly, Steve would bestow to me one of the greatest musical gifts of my life.  One painfully average afternoon shift he was cranking “See No Evil” by some band called Television, and singing along with the pitch of a deaf kid at an Ozzy concert.  People rummaging around for three 6 mafia tapes and white label bootlegged vinyl didn’t know what to make of this crazy, grizzled dude bellowing at the top of his lungs over a piercing stereo system turned up to ten.

This was 2003, and I was fully obsessed with the “garage rock revival” sound coming from New York. In my head, the Strokes were the only band that mattered and I was pumped for Room On Fire, their sophomore record.  He insisted that I listen up.  He talked of Television’s Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd like rock and roll Gods, two punks who streamlined the way guitar parts were written.  He drew comparisons to Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond of the Strokes, noting how their parts intertwined, blurring the lines between rhythm and lead.  All of a sudden “Reptilia” made perfect sense.  The more I spun Television’s Marquee Moon, the more their significance moved from the blurry and obscure to a place of innovation and groundbreaking creativity.

Television recorded Marquee Moon and Adventure before in-fighting and hardcore drug abuse split the dynamic that once made some of the most dialed in instrumental madness I’d ever heard.  They reunited in the early 90’s for a self-titled record, but were never able to rekindle that initial fire.  Word is there’s a re-tooled lineup and ten new songs in the works.  Selfishly, I almost wish it never sees the light of day.  Their contribution to angular, guitar driven rock and roll couldn’t be more clear, and could never be as perfect as it shined on Marquee Moon.



Slow Down Baby


It’s summer time in Queens and Action Bronson wants to party.  Problem is, he doesn’t have any normal friends.  So rather than bore us, he took to the streets with Riff Raff, a pit bull, and a 400 pound model in the video clip for “Strictly 4 My Jeeps”.  This one stinks of New York and warm weather, from the streets to the backyard cookouts.  Over another gem from Harry Fraud, Bronson boasts more of his trademark slick shit.  This one’s from Saab Stories, their long-awaited free collaboration headed our way in June.


The Hook Up


French Montana is an acquired taste.  His hook-heavy, sing-song style is something you either bump or you skip…simple as that.  Some MC’s hone their craft, locking themselves in the studio perfecting a particular sound, while others like French hop on every feature they can.  The rap world is a fickle place, and it seems that French understands that you have to strike while the iron is hot. So he strikes, and strikes, and strikes some more.

Excuse My French has been in the works a long while.  It’s been pushed back, retooled, gossiped about, and finally leaked.  Unfortunately, the results vary.  Montana had a vision for this record.  He aimed to make as many bangers as possible.  He shot to make every song unforgettable, loading up on the features, penning the catchiest hooks imaginable and hoping cars would turn it up from May to December.  Problem is, it’s so fine tuned and packed with superstar moments, it’s hard to separate the gems from the garbage.

The hits are there, see “Freaks” (doesn’t everybody wear a mink vest to the club?) and “Fuck What Happens Tonight”.  The hooks are plenty, as it doesn’t get any better than the egocentric “Ballin” featuring Diddy, the man who put hubris on the map.  But most of it doesn’t add up.

After a string of hot mixtapes and more features than you count, French Montana has mega-star status in his sights.  This effort, though ambitious as it might be, isn’t his defining moment.  It feels more like a star-studded Funk Flex freebie than a debut full-length.  But, if his track record is any indication, there’s already another helping of Mac & Cheese in the oven.


The Grown Up Table


Vampire Weekend make a living writing ironic pop songs that somehow convince us they’re made for our lies and loves.  While New York City can swallow you whole, their brand of cutesy afro-pop chirps just loud enough to fill your earphones and melt big city anxiety away.

Back in 2008, their Columbia sensibilities shook you like the first time you heard a Paul Simon record; you loved the risk, but there was nothing to fear.  For an hour at a time, Vampire Weekend made you the star of your own Wes Anderson film.

Tomorrow Vampire Weekend will release their third record,  Modern Vampires Of The City.  Thankfully, it’s all grown up and it happened in the most organic way.  Modern Vampires sounds like it was born and raised in NYC.  It’s full of love and lust, ducking between downtown highrises and steam-filled alleys.  Of course the brand is completely in tact, but this time the band stretched its legs and experimented with sound.

New poise doesn’t mean an entirely new bag of tricks.  The record plays with a maturity many expected on 2010’s Contra.  At a touch over forty-two minutes,  Modern Vampires Of The City is a triumphant statement.

Live From The Hollow

The End Men live @ The Hollow  Albany, NY

The End Men live @ The Hollow Albany, NY

Welcome to Albany, home of the bipolar bar scene. Downtown is the creepy van with an airbrushed wizard on the sliding door. Lark Street is one tight flannel and Koi fish sleeve from being featured on Portlandia, and that depressing midtown stretch on Madison only works if you have the urge to lose a tooth…or get a slice of mediocre pizza. Yet, there is a light at end of the tunnel…even if it’s the train itself.

The Bayou Cafe always tiptoed between unbearable and a blast. The summer time crowd breathed local life through the doors, but the rest of the year was dominated by fickle college kids with fleeting tastes. The Bayou gave up juggling themed nights and went the route of the cover band and occasional radio station promo show before quietly changing ownership and undergoing a pretty little facelift. The Hollow is open for business.

The Hollow’s exposed brick and mason jar light fixtures are a gorgeous touch in the redesigned dining space, and the gold paint on the ceiling is flat out Kanye classy. The front bar is due for a cosmetic touch up, while the back bar/venue space will be left as is. The vibe is fresh, which downtown desperately needs, and buzz was contagious Thursday when WEQX welcomed Henry’s Rifle, Skeletons In The Piano, The End Men, and Linear North for a night of cheap, spastic rock and roll.

Henry’s Rifle is a dude with a banjo and kick drum. His set was all growl and stomp, with more frantic strumming than the Mumfords on a coke bender. Skeletons In The Piano rolled up their ironic thrift shop sleeves to deliver some voodoo-gypsy mystique complete with a belly dancer. Nice touch.

New York City’s The End Men balanced the freak-rock of Skeletons In The Piano by conjuring the spirit of Tom Waits and exhaling over a raucous bare bones blast of sound not far from the influence of the Black Keys, if they weren’t busy penning the next hit for a VW commercial, or the White Stripes if Meg could actually drum. The End Men spared no seconds, as if time was as precious as the attention span of the tepid Albany music scene. They were loud, they were on point, and they conquered our tiny Sheridan Hollow hood. Linear North’s sludgy, garage fuzz closed out the night in grand fashion playing cuts from their recently released Built 4 BBQ demo.

New menu. New look. New blood. The Hollow couldn’t have come at a better time for downtown Albany. Cheers.





Lurking Quietly…


I like time to myself.  Some people are afraid of that buzzing in their ears, or those early morning one sided conversations you have when motoring around the house.  For me, those are some of my most productive moments.  The Quiet Life seems to embody that spirit in their hats, tees and cut & sew. They popped up on my radar last summer; a clever streetwear brand using photography as their lynchpin.  According to the folks at The Quiet Life, happiness is a loaded camera, and in that silent space is where you carve out your niche.

Their site boasts plenty of classy tees and crew necks, but most impressive is their line of five panels and snapbacks.  Oxford prints, galaxy themes, Hawaiian chicks.  If you can imagine it, they probably have a print to match.  The catch is the nonchalance.  The company has been “on and off since ’97”, when founder Andy Mueller started playing with designs inspired by BMX, music mags and his own photography.  He splits time between designing for Girl Skateboards, The Quiet Life and even running OhioGold, a small indie music label.

Take a few minutes and browse, but you may want to leave your credit card in the other room.  You’ve been warned.


Everybody’s Somebody


Chicago’s music scene is on fire.  There are legions of dudes in the Windy City making records that will come to define this new age of hip hop.  It’s a protein blend of trap and boom bap.  It’s the perfect hybrid to unite the old heads and the kids coming up looking for a lane.  Chance the Rapper, ShowYouSuck, Nick Astro, Auggie the 9th, Chandler London and soul-singing beauty Lili K are the new new, and their push is just in time to cloud the water before Kanye’s next cluttered opus swoops in and borrows all the shine.

Chance’s new project,  Acid Rap,  is a monster.  His flow is ODB meets early Weezy, sprinkled with a touch of the Pharcyde for the druggish flair.  He spits it as it blossoms in his brain, at times feeling disjointed, but entirely dope in all its stream of conscious glory.  He’s twenty and just learning to walk all over production from Peter Cottontail, Jake One and Stefan Ponce.  Chance cut teeth on the road with Childish Gambino and this project takes off where his debut, 10 Day, left off.  Where 10 day chronicled his rise and eventual fall from high school grace, Acid Rap is the sound of a young talent dabbling in LSD and utilizing the lock on the studio door.  When it cracks open hours later and the sun floods the room, there’s a pile of songs that sound as fragile as the mind they came from.

It’s a project that deserves all the critical acclaim certainly coming its way.  And it’s free at http://www.chanceraps.com.  If Acid Rap is any indication of the way we’re headed, I’m on board for the trip.