Music

T.J. Miller: The Extened Play E.P. Illegal Art ReMixTape

Adam Finley

T.J. Miller is a funny guy. Illegal Art is a legendary label. Common sense dictates that a collaboration between the two would be incredible. Unfortunately, common sense is often wrong.


T.J. Miller

The Extended Play E.P. Illegal Art ReMixTape

Label: Illegal Art
US Release Date: 2012-09-04
UK Release Date: Import
Label website
Amazon
iTunes

In 2011, comedian T.J. Miller released The Extended Play E.P., a comedy rap album that managed to rise above the level of one-listen novelty. It wasn't boring. At times it was really funny. The idea of Illegal Art, the home of sampling legends Steinksi and Girl Talk, remixing a comedy rap album is incredible. The result, The Extended Play E.P. Illegal Art ReMixTape, is less than incredible.

Curation is a big issue. The Extended Play E.P. was 41 tracks comprising 70+ minutes of material, yet the ReMixTape's eight tracks are sparse on humor, skipping many of the original's memorable moments. "Now We're Partying", "Denver", and "Special Individual" were all forgettable tracks on the original, and input from The Kleptones, Junk Culture, and Babes don't do much to elevate the material. On some tracks Miller is barely present, either relegated to the background or chopped into obscurity, reducing high-concept satire into a frenetic series of one-liners.

There are bright spots, namely Miller collaborator Jesse Case's funky groove on "Make Me Sad" and Touch People's polyrhythms and arcade bleeps on "Too Good To Be On This". If you missed the original album you'll get a laugh out of "Yep Yep" which features Miller's sister, Morgan, attacking the sibling rivalry angle with fervor. But the overwhelming reason for listening to the ReMixTape is because it's Illegal Art remixing a comedy rap album. In other words, a one-listen novelty.

In the promotional materials accompanying the album Miller is preemptively defensive, acknowledging, "It's career suicide to release two music albums before I have a standup album," but insisting that "the idea behind these records is to let people understand that I'm serious about this satire." That point that was never in question. As metacomedy this is brilliant. As an album it's unexceptional.

4

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"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
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Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

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Music

Mike Stern: Trip

Photo: Sandrine Lee (Concord Music Group)

Mike Stern has fallen. Trip shows that he can get back up just fine.


Mike Stern

Trip

Label: Heads Up
US Release Date: 2017-09-08
UK Release Date: 2017-09-08
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Guitarist Mike Stern suffered from a big owie last year. It seems that, while trying to cross a street in Manhattan, he tripped and fell, breaking both of his shoulders in the process. He underwent surgery and reports that "I still have to use glue so I can hold a guitar pick." While you're busy trying to figure out just how a jazz-fusion guitarist needs glue to hold a pick, keep in mind Stern is an embodiment of a working musician, and his chosen genre of expertise is famous for its pay-to-play, sink-or-swim business model. Such a setback can really eat into one's career. Gigs need to be canceled, which sometimes leads to venues blacklisting you in the future. And in a world where most people listen to their music via streaming services, gigging may be your only reliable source of income. Thankfully, Mike Stern, who was 63 at the time of his injury, has made a full recovery and is back to work with an impressive array of professional help. His new album is ironically named Trip. Apart from the title,

Trip makes it sound like nothing ever happened to Stern. At all. In the same way that John McLaughlin and his current Fourth Dimension band sound like a bunch of barnstormers who haven't hit 40 yet, the powerful performance of Stern and his colleagues coupled with the high quality of the material belie both age and medical condition. Now I'm aware that our very own Steven Spoerl did not care for the writing on Mike Stern's 2012 All Over the Place, but there's no way I can sling the same criticism at Trip. The opening title track alone is enough to nullify that. Stern plays the melody in unison with saxophonist Bob Franceschini, and it's all over the place. The song slinks into a B section where the chords shift from a minor vi to a major IV, and again, Stern and Franceschini drive an even meaner melody down the scale with plenty of sharply punctuated intervals. This guy fell, broke his shoulders, and now needs glue to hold a pick? Are we all sure he wasn't just replaced with Steve Austin?

Another number that, to me, offsets any concerns about the able-bodiness or strength of the material is a spunky one named "Watchacallit". This time, the B section brims with even more tension with Franceschini flying high and bassist Tom Kennedy doing little divebombs at the start of each bar. When it's all put together, it's truly a moment for you to crank your listening device of choice (in the past, we would say "stereo" right about here). But that's just two songs. There's a total of 11, spanning an hour and six minutes. Stern doesn't use every bar of every number to punch us in the gut. He still goes for the smooth bop ("Emelia"), the funky intersection of Miles Davis and Funkadelic ("Screws"), and the soothing ballad ("I Believe in You" and "Gone").

No review of Trip would be complete without mentioning the musical pedigree of Mike Stern's friends. When it comes to drummers, he managed to net Dennis Chambers, Lenny White, and Will Calhoun (yes, that Will Calhoun). Those names alone give you a money-back guarantee that the rhythm section will never, ever falter. But just to be sure, Stern summons Victor Wooten to play bass. Top shelf names like Randy Brecker and Bill Evans, in addition to Franceschini, provide Trip with soulful wind. Pianist Jim Beard pulls double duty as the session pianist. Normally, I'd wrap this up by saying that Mike Stern is under the process of pulling himself up by his bootstraps and dusting himself off after a major boo-boo. But after listening to

Trip over and over again, I'm convinced that he's beyond that. The straps are up, and the dust has cleared. He's back, playing and composing just as well as he ever did. Better than he did before the accident, perhaps? You can be the judge of that meaningless hairsplitting exercise because Trip is worth the journey no matter where your expectations may lie.

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Music

Dan Deacon: Rat Film

Photo: Theo Anthony (Domino Records)

For an artist like Dan Deacon so intensely involved with constant maximalism at the expense of almost all other endeavors, this is a left turn.

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