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by Gregg Lipkin

18 Nov 2009


“Yeah people come up.”
—Rage Against the Machine, “People of the Sun”

It’s an unlikely invitation from an unlikely source. 

In 1992, Rage Against the Machine had stormed onto the music scene with the finesse of a class five hurricane.  Their self-titled debut album played like a musical version of blunt head trauma, and displayed so much honest anger in its fusion of rap and metal that it clearly wasn’t the work of an average rock band.  Rage Against the Machine was the work of true Masters of the Form.  This mastery continued with the 1996 release of their amazing follow-up, Evil Empire

Throughout their debut, Rage Against the Machine grabbed listeners by the throat, refusing to let go, with music that was vital and stirring, but rarely inviting.  Often, the lesson the band was trying to teach was lost in the midst of the bludgeoning volume they used to ensure it would be heard.  By 1996, people were already listening, and in its new volume of lessons, the band displayed how much they themselves had learned.  The opening notes of Evil Empire’s first track, “People of the Sun”, were easily the most subtle the band had ever recorded.  Rage Against the Machine had chased listeners down; Evil Empire invited them in to learn about things like the Mexican Zapatista Movement and “face the funk now blastin’ out ya’ speaker…”.  It was an easy invitation to accept.

“Turn on tha radio, nah fuck it turn it off…”
—Rage Against the Machine, “Vietnow”

Once you accepted the album’s initial invitation, it was difficult to turn Evil Empire off.  The album is an improvement over the group’s debut in virtually every respect.  The songs are more tightly structured, each one rooted just as firmly in hip-hop as heavy metal, each finding an explosive groove and sticking to it like audio napalm.  The rhymes are more compact, and Zach de la Rocha never sounds as though he’s trying feverishly to squeeze in more words than the songs have room for. More than anything, though, Evil Empire is the first great “rap-metal” album, even more so than its predecessor, because it is a much better hip-hop album than Rage Against the Machine.

Evil Empire sounds forceful without ever sounding forced.  Zach de la Rocha is a vastly improved MC, an angry, booming-voiced rapper rather than a metal screamer trying to rap.  Tom Morello is a far more musical DJ, routinely transforming his guitar into a six-stringed turntable that scratches as often as it solos.  In fact, the “Guilty Parties”, as the band is once again credited in the album’s liner notes, perform explosive hip-hop throughout, and that’s what sets Rage apart from the bands that tried to follow in their “rap-metal” footsteps, and Evil Empire apart from the albums that such bands released.  At their core, Rage Against the Machine are a hip-hop band playing metal, not a metal band fronted by a rapper that has somebody scratch a record a couple of times on each track.  Even a quick listen to Evil Empire reveals a legit MC, a fantastic DJ (who was aware that if you need to scratch a record on a metallic song, you should figure out a way to play it on guitar), and a tight, funky rhythm section—the foundation of all good hip-hop.  And, of course, it brought the Rage.  After all, Evil Empire was more than an album, it was an invitation to . . .

“Rally round tha’ family with a pocket full of shells.”
– Rage Against the Machine, “Bulls on Parade”

“Bulls on Parade” is a snarling beast of a rap song, coaxing listeners to slither back and forth with the rhythm that snakes its way through the verses, as it criticizes America for having a greater love for the military than education. “Down Rodeo” is a scathing indictment of racial and class politics that boldly proclaims, “So now I’m rolling down Rodeo with a shotgun / These people ain’t seen a brown skin man since their grandparents bought one”, over some of the most infectious riffs the album offers, while Morello’s guitar whistles like rapidly fired shots.  “Vietnow” is blatant finger-pointing at the fear mongering of right-wing radio.  de la Rocha raps, “Well I’m a truth addict, oh shit I gotta head rush”.  “Rush”?  Limbaugh, perhaps?  The audio texture continues in “Roll Right”, which uses volume as an additional instrument and displays more than a little irony when the album’s loudest scream bellows, “Now we’re alright, we’re all calm”.

“And now it’s upon you.”
– Rage Against the Machine, “Year of tha Boomerang”

Evil Empire is a masterwork that challenges its listeners to act upon what they hear—words that are just as topical today as they were in 1996, over music that is so far beyond what is being released today it sounds as though it hasn’t even been written yet.  And Rage Against the Machine?  They were Masters of the Form who conquered the Evil Empire and then charged head first into The Battle of Los Angeles.

by Tim Slowikowski

17 Nov 2009


The soap opera that is Aerosmith continues unabated. First, we got word from lead guitarist Joe Perry that Steven Tyler “quit as far as I could tell”. Then guitarist Brad Whitford spoke openly about possibly replacing Tyler with another singer. But, before you could say “Journey”, there was Steven Tyler making a surprise appearance at a recent Joe Perry Project show in New York.

So are they or aren’t they? The answer is still unclear as it seems Joe Perry and Steven Tyler have become the musical equivalent of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Perhaps Aerosmith has become too big for its own good.

Which brings us to the Joe Perry Project. Bringing it all back home to the basics that originally formed his style, Perry recently released Have Guitar, Will Travel, an ode to hard rock that proves the guitarist from Boston still has a few tricks up his sleeve, with or without Aerosmith.
 
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Frankly, I can’t think of one.

2. The fictional character most like you?
I’m a big fan of historical fiction. There’s a series of books by an author called Patrick O’Brian—the Aubrey-Maturin series that includes Master and Commander. I kind of identify with Captain Aubrey.

by PC Muñoz

16 Nov 2009


“There’s the me you see, there’s the me I see, there’s the me that I really am…”
—“Pushed Aside, Pulled Apart”, Lyrics Born

Though he swaggers with the best of ‘em and has bangin’ beats to spare, indie boom-bap pioneer and Quannum Projects co-founder Lyrics Born has always been a man apart in the hip-hop world. This is both by design, and by default: as a producer and artist, Lyrics Born adamantly blazes his own trail with each new record, refusing to cynically regurgitate trends or tone down his crackling technicolor vision of what hip-hop can be.  As a lyricist, he has long been known for a stellar word-stash and multi-layered rhymes that go deeper than the first listen. As a hapa/multi-racial (self-described as Japanese-Italian/Jewish) MC, Lyrics Born has also, for the past 16 years, grappled with the pros and cons of being one of the first Asian-American rappers to make a significant impact on the hip-hop scene.

For my money, however, it is not his daredevil artistic choices, nor the particular mix in his double helix that really sets Lyrics Born apart. It’s that voice. Lyrics Born’s voice, a unique instrument that can shout, soothe, and sing with equal effectiveness, is, in my opinion, an exceptionally more versatile musical tool than what the majority of contemporary MCs are packing. He’s got a sexed-up low register, a sassy, swinging shout, a rapid-fire show-off mode, a new-wave tinged melodic mellow tone, and a bunch more vocal versions of himself tucked up his hoodie sleeves, all of which coalesce into an electrifying and distinct sound on record and on stage.

In the above-quoted song “Pushed Aside, Pulled Apart”, from his upcoming album As U Were, Lyrics Born raps passionately and reflectively about being “pulled apart”, and several lines in past lyrics also acknowledge his chosen path as a road-less-travelled hip-hop maverick. Though in “Pushed Aside, Pulled Apart” he makes a compelling case for being a tortured artist who is painfully self-conscious about every choice he makes, the truth is, Lyrics Born has taken the multi-faceted influences of his personal and professional life and fashioned an unparalleled aesthetic which no one but he can claim. And there’s nothing more cohesive than that.

by Sean Murphy

13 Nov 2009


Back in 2006, I recall reading many intriguing reviews of Daniel J. Levitin’s book This Is Your Brain on Music. It’s been on my Amazon wish list ever since, and writing about music as much as I do, I occasionally have friends ask me if I’ve read it, or tell me I should read it. The latest reminder came from a friend who wrote the following email to me and a few of our mutual (music loving) friends:

In his brilliant book… Levitin relates the tale of how an elderly colleague and he used to dine every Wednesday and discuss music. During one of these dinners the colleague, an octogenarian, confessed that he did not understand rock music, but wanted to be able to. He asked Levitin to choose six songs that would capture “all that was important to know about rock and roll music.” Levitin chose the following songs:

“Long Tall Sally” (Little Richard), “Roll Over Beethoven” (The Beatles), “All Along The Watchtower” (Jimi Hendrix), “Wonderful Tonight” (Eric Clapton), “Little Red Corvette” (Prince), “Anarchy in the UK” (Sex Pistols).

What would you guys choose, and why?

by Evan Sawdey

12 Nov 2009


All these years later, Adam Young still can’t sleep—and that just might be a good thing.

When the then-20-year-old Adam Young suffered from intense insomnia while living in his parents basement, he used his non-sleeping hours to carefully construct his own brand of Postal Service-indebted synth-pop, eventually self-releasing two albums under his Owl City moniker (2007’s Of June EP and 2008’s Maybe I’m Dreaming) to decent acclaim but somewhat marginal sales. When he put his music on MySpace, however, a following gradually began to grow around Young’s abstract, optimistic tales of love, his whimsical song “Hello Seattle” gaining particular notoriety. It wasn’t long before he got signed to Universal Republic, began collaborating with Relient K vocalist Theissen, and began forming an near endless litany of side-projects (with animal-friendly names like Swimming With Dolphins and Insect Airport).

Yet a funny thing happened following the release of Ocean Eyes, Young’s major-label debut. The quirky single “Fireflies” began picking up steam, first via MySpace, and then through the video outlets like MTV and VH1. Next thing you know, the 23-year-old Young has a chart-topping hit on his hands, is touring the nation with a full band, and is still selling hundreds of thousands of downloads every week, making him one of the brightest pop stars to emerge out of 2009. In short, these past few months have been a bit of a whirlwind for the dark-haired pop maestro, but—as is revealed in this short yet illuminating interview via e-mail—Young hasn’t let success go to his head at all. Being tackled by biker chicks, discovering Taco Bell, and still (still!) suffering from bouts of insomnia—these are just some of the moments that have colored Adam Young’s life this year. If his success is any indication so far, Owl City’s ride is just beginning ...

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