Action Research

Kevin Devine and Andy Hull have done their homework.  They’ve studied early, influential indie rock with a careful eye.  Devine has been doing his folk/acoustic thing forever, and Hull fronts Manchester Orchestra, a band with its feet firmly rooted in pop rock and roll.  Their combined efforts equal Bad Books.

Bad Books’ last record, II, is wise beyond its years; capturing the pop-gleam of the New Pornographers, the fragility of Built To Spill, and the quirkiness of Weezer before their lame years.  Bad Books may be a side project, but the energy of II feels like a full time gig.  Hull channels his inner Jim James beautifully on “Pytor”, while “Friendly Advice” does its best to tread Doug Martsch waters.  Comparisons aside, Bad Books works because of the savvy songwriting of Hull and Devine.  Wordplay is center stage, flanked by subtle riffs, and a solid rhythm section.

Grab II on iTunes for ten bucks.  It’s a worthy listen, even if only to pick out the moments when the band is doing their best impersonations of indie rock icons.


Maybe He Doesn’t Wanna?

Where oh where has Asher Paul Roth been hiding?  Since his Pabst & Jazz tape he’s been awfully quiet.  I’ve always speculated that while Roth is a true MC, he was pigeonholed by the success of “I Love College”.  Team that rush of success with his management’s involvement in the explosion of Justin Bieber, and you find a solid rapper lost in the shuffle.  Asher boasts a dense, technical style that fans of the genre appreciate.  Problem is, the labels wanted a “College” sequel, and Roth?  He’s just not into standing in place.

Artists capture moments in time when they write and record music.  Asher has done some traveling, a little touring, and sparse recording the past few years, leading us to right now.  Asher has once again teamed with DJ Drama and Don Cannon to bless us with The Greenhouse Effect, Vol. 2, a sequel five years in the making.

Asher is back on his rapping shit.  He’s playing with internal rhyme schemes, fun beats, and doing what he does best.  His quirky personality can be a flaw in a game where you have to create a persona to succeed, but that’s what I enjoy the most about Asher Roth.  He’s making a career out of rhyming for sport, not for a rep.  GHE2 is packed full of puzzling bars, tongue in cheek references, and clever samples.  Time off was time well spent.  Welcome back Asher.

Mac Miller: Live at Upstate Concert Hall 7/20/2013

Mac Miller and his Space Migration tour came to Clifton Park, NY on July 20th behind his new record, Watching Movies With The Sound Off.  The bill featured California upstart Vince Staples, and Odd Future band The Internet.

I’d love to tell you Vince Staples showcased his tough, no bullshit flow and rocked the sold out house, but the line was so long and disorganized outside the venue that he finished before we got inside.  From what I heard, his DJ kept it live, and the crowd was involved.

Once inside, we bellied up to the bar for our first round of drinks.  The Internet was next up.  Their attempt to rock like the left coast Roots was a tragedy.  Odd Future DJ Syd The Kyd leads this ensemble, and does her best to be a worthy front woman.  But there’s a slight glitch in the operating system, Syd can’t sing.  Really.  Thankfully, time only allowed five or six songs.

Mac hit the stage to the roar of a rabid teenage crowd.  To the dismay of the venue’s security, bass hit in unison with the fog and strobes, triggering a wave of smashing bodies and blunt smoke.  Mac did cuts from Kids, Macadelic, and Watching Movies, while not surprisingly skipping most of Blue Slide Park.  He controlled the crowd like a pro, showcasing his ability not only as an MC, but as a showman.  He made up for the absence of Chance The Rapper (whose website claimed he was in fact on this date of the tour) by rapping his ass off.  The kid went all the way live and gave 100 percent for nearly two hours, including stints on the mic AND the guitar.  Frat boy rapper.  One trick pony.  That’s the shit Mac don’t like.

If nothing more, Mac Miller proved his career is headed wherever he steers it.  If Watching Movies With The Sound Off is any indication, doubters should take Mac seriously.  His new record and energizing live set is one of the more exciting things to happen in hip hop this year.

Check out “Watching Movies” from Mac’s new record.  It’s  hard to knock his independent hustle.


Charlie Noble: On Land or By Sea

No Free Rides- Snapback $46 at

No Free Rides Snapback $46 at

In 2008, designers Mike B. and Jimmynude started Charlie Noble, their take on everyday wears inspired by the military and sailing gear they’re accustomed to.  In just a few years, Charlie Noble (named after a 19th century ship captain, or the galley smokestack of a ship depending on who you ask) has carved out a name for themselves in the streetwear scene.

Most brands assault your senses with images and bold labeling.  Charlie Noble aims to keep it simple; and by doing so, they’ve created a distinct look to their hats and tees.  Recently, Mike B. and I had a chance to chat about how his company came to be, their identity as a brand, and what it’s like to create art with a dude named Jimmynude.

SGH: I read on your site,, Charlie Noble is inspired by the sea.  How did you decide on the name and your creative direction?  When did the company get off the ground?

Mike B: We started Charlie Noble in 2008.  Jimmynude and I met in the Coast Guard several years before that and we became good friends because we shared a lot of the same interests like surfing, skating, and music.  Charlie Noble was launched with the nautical feel because it came naturally.  At one point, Jimmy was even a ship captain in Oregon, and he continues to work at sea.  A Charlie Noble is actually part of a ship.

SGH: Where’s home base for you guys?

Mike B: We’re based in Oakland, California.

SGH: I love how you consciously choose not to bombard customers over the head with flashy labels or one signature image that you paste everywhere, all the time.  How do you choose your designs/graphics?

Mike B: Thanks.  Classic Americana is the name of the game.  We draw a lot of influence from early American cartoons, and images from as early as the 1800’s.  As far as the nautical stuff goes, we want to convey experiences like peril and hardships versus flat, played out elements like anchors.

Not every design has to be directly related to the sea; we’re also drawing on encounters with superstition and Native culture.  Jimmynude is the creative lead, and we work together to fine tune each design.  We spend a lot of time selecting shirt and hat materials, often fairly limited in production, and made in the USA whenever possible.

SGH: Whether conscious or not, brands often try and associate a lifestyle with their product.  Do you think that’s the case with Charlie Noble?  Does your gear have that “feel”?  What does it represent?

Mike B: That’s a tough call, but I think everyone can relate to us in one way or the other.  After a hard day’s work, we all hit the bar to relax or deal with the hard times and uncertainty of life.

SGH: Where can we find your stuff?  Are you in stores or strictly online?

Mike B: We’re in a handful of stores and online markets in the USA and Europe, but mostly in the US.  We also maintain our own online store.   You can check out our dealer page at

SGH:  Some call it a habit, but it’s become more like a tradition to finish these chats by asking, what’s your drink of choice?

Mike B: I prefer beer, probably a Porter or IPA.  If you’re looking for something harder, I’d have to go with bourbon.

Charlie Noble is making dope, affordable, one of a kind pieces.  Proudly cop yours at, and follow the crew on Twitter @CharlieNoble.

Vic Mensa Is For The Kids

I’m getting biased here, but I can’t help myself.  Chicago is doing the damn thing.  While Chi-Town roots have always been deep in hip hop, the new new is a crop of charismatic stars rising on the strength of their creative direction, and incredible dedication to pushing the limits of the game.  The latest in my Chicago fascination is 19 year old Vic Mensa, who’s readying his INNANETAPE for the masses.

Vic’s musical sensibility comes from his time with Kids These Days, where the arrangements were just as poignant as the lyrics or delivery. His approach is that of a less paranoid Drake minus the nasally whine, comfortable with both rapping and crooning.  That balance will translate nicely, as INNANETAPE will surely be a collection of sounds, rather than eleven bangers packaged as one rappity-rap tape.  Every day feels like Independence Day with this new internet-based spirit of hip hop.  Just so has it that much of it is coming to you live from the Windy City.

Check out “Hollywood, LA”, the third visual from the upcoming INNANETAPE, featuring the gorgeous, soulful vocals of Lili K.  Enjoy.  Vic Mensa is officially on the radar.

New Mission

Deftones have a unique way of wiggling into my rotation and disrupting me for a few days.  I’m jarred by their odd flex of power and grace.  If you think you’ve got them figured out, they change up the pace and move from beauty to rage in seconds.  Chino’s vocals have that sweet balance.  Imagine if Axl had that kind of control?

Palms is a new side project from Moreno and former Isis members, Jeff Caxide, Aaron Harris, and Cliff Meyer.  I was immediately drawn to this EP, partly for the Deftones connection, but mainly because I was intrigued by the potential of combining the dynamic of the two bands.

Their self-titled six song debut is for the thinkers.  Palms didn’t exist in time to score the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but it should have.  These songs are written for those drives when there is literally nothing to look at besides that dotted middle line flashing past at 75 mph.  The band swells and crashes in all the right places, and Moreno is up to the task of bullying the instrumentals with his weathered pipes.  You can decipher the band’s coded message if you’d like, but it’s more fun to let this one fit into the spaces of your world.

Department Of Transformation

Reinvention is fun to watch.  I loved seeing Mike Skinner do his thing as The Streets.  His cockney, rambling, coke-bent forays on the topics of love, loss, and pop stars smoking crack kept me entertained through a handful of near-brilliant records.  Rather than strip his moniker, pick up the mic and continue his run as a wayward rapper/producer, he’s joined forces with Robert Harvey of the now defunct UK band, The Music, to form The D.O.T.   Together, they create introspective pop noise in the vein of The Postal Service, pre-UPS endorsement.

Diary is The D.O.T.’s official debut, and admittedly, it’s a tough first listen.  Harvey’s pitch registers dangerously close to annoying, and Skinner was never much of a singer, but the slip ups are easy to overlook by the ambition of the overall record.  This is much different that anything either artist has attempted, so there are plenty of forgettable moments here, made sweeter by the songs that truly work like “Left Alone”, and “How We All Lie”.

The production, handled mostly by Skinner, isn’t overwhelming and at times lulls you to sleep with a few too many gentle blips and beeps, but that’s the charm of The D.O.T.  They’re not trying to overpower you.  Both Harvey and Skinner have spent plenty of time in the blazing spotlight.  Now they’re settling into making whatever kinds of records they please.  Do you.