Friday, March 22, 2013

Eye 8 The Crow

Simulacra and Simulation

The apocalypse is finished, today it is the precession of the neutral, of forms of the neutral and of indifference…all that remains, is the fascination for desertlike and indifferent forms, for the very operation of the system that annihilates us. Now, fascination…is a nihilistic passion par excellence, it is the passion proper to the mode of disappearance. We are fascinated by all forms of disappearance, of our disappearance. Melancholic and fascinated, such is our general situation in an era of involuntary transparency. - Jean Baudrillard

The new album from emcee Ricky Pharoe and producer Mack Formway (collectively known as Art Vandelay, entitled Eye 8 the Crow) will be dropping April 2nd.  Quite simply, it's the best thing I've heard from either artist.  Direct and straightforward, it doesn't waste a single bar on filler, skits, or any of the needless stuff that so often clutters albums.  Don't scan the tracks for the hit, I warn you now - several could fit the bill, but it's meant to be listened to as a whole.  The album is thematic and sets a linear course, progressing from sober beginning to end.  For those out there not familiar with the american colloquialism "to eat crow", it means to admit wrongness, to swallow your words and fess up to guilt.  A more apt title would be hard to find, as the themes of guilt, transparency,  and moral decay are prevalent.  
Pharoe has always had the penchant for being articulate, scathingly humorous, and unapologetic.  Historically playing the roles of astounded commentator and bemused informer, his previous works found him relating the absurdities of a myriad of topics from religion, to capitalism, to commercialism, to pop art; and revealed him as an ever-growing and passionate orator.  Whether his storytelling placed him on the stage or on a barstool, he was quick to jab his finger at everything and everyone that pissed him off.  Like a cross between Don Quixote and The Underground Man, he tilted at windmills, gleefully calling out in turn each of the malodorous idiots surrounding him.  With Eye 8 the Crow, Pharoe has now turned inward, throwing all the passion he once held towards the outside world away, and presenting himself in a new, darker light.  His usual barbed humor has been blunted down to a bitter resignation, and his finger-pointing and scorn is reserved almost entirely for himself, revealing a morally ambiguous, menacing, and dead-eyed persona beyond the typical existential crisis.   He depicts himself as an indifferent and exhausted man, sickened and numb past any fear of consequence for his actions.  Pharoe has not turned thug; in fact his level of eloquence and introspective depth has never been more poetic.  For we are spying on him as he bares his soul and admits his atrocities in front of the mirror, spitting acid through a mask of grinning teeth.
Nihilism is the philosophical doctrine which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose or intrinsic value.  Moral nihilism argues that morality does not inherently exist, and that moral values are abstractly contrived.  I say this because Ricky Pharoe and producer Mack Formway have created a nihilistic masterpiece with this album.  It's a distorted, bleak, and desolate journey, both philosophically and musically.  Beneath the minor-key melodies and layers of beats there is something dark, slithery and mechanically single-minded.  Televisions hiss white noise, samples are sliced to a translucent thinness, mouths stutter and repeat mindless noise.  Over this, Pharoe relates his most naked confessions and base secrets in a steady, medicated drawl, constantly employing violent imagery,  sounding both detached and savage.
Thematically the album is connected: Personal achievement has been cashed in for the predetermination of fame and fortune; passion is discarded for materialism, and meaning and purpose are negated by the mere image of meaning and purpose.  This is a violent and traumatic transition, and bloody imagery is pervasive.  He burns his bridges, annihilates his enemies, screws his friends, sells his soul, and focuses on his empty goals to the exclusion of all else, so very people he scorns idolize him, and he becomes king of the mindless system he despises.  It's a distilled and unrelenting listen, fatalistic and grim.  "I ate the crow, and didn't even choke" he snarls on the title track - he coldly and readily acknowledges this transformation and has no issue with it.
 There's a contrast and a duality with the characters he portrays, and Pharoe's perspective constantly shifts between accused and accuser.  He rails against himself, angry when he screws up, just as he applauds himself for the same self-sabotage.  Although obsessed with the image of fame and fortune, he cannot run from the crushing weariness of basic survival.  When faced with the end of the world, he's indifferent.  He arrogantly calls himself the center of the universe, but immediately follows with a shoulder-shrugging "I guess it sounds fine."  "When I look into the mirror, it's only time i get starstruck," he states on "So What" -  his ennui is such that his existence is bleak, that life is tiresome, and that nothing external brings joy.  He is ultimately weary on this cut, disillusioned and jaded.   
Where Pharoe's words provide the blueprint, beatmaker Mack Formway's music provides the architecture.  The music of Art Vandelay has always dramatic and heavy, with layers upon layers of samples, guitars, synths and pounding percussion.  The ingredients continue with Eye 8 the Crow, but as Pharoe's mood has changed, so has the music.  Minor keys and descending melodies dominate, and hip hop structures give way to desolate, industrial clanging, digital distortion, empty creaking floorboards and unresolved tension.  Where Ricky speaks about the monster he has become, Formway animates the golem.  Oddly enough he's also responsible for the brief, few moments of brevity in the album, with refrains emerging through the dust and rubble to shed a little momentary, fleeting beauty to an otherwise desolate landscape. 
The defining moment of the album is the oddly titled "Emilio Estevez".  Naked and brutal it is the nadir of the narrative.  "Who needs a family / All I need is money / And a burner just in case you try to take it from me / I passed ugly now I'm moving on to retched / Don't make your head and neck get somehow disconnected," he bluntly states to a tv screen in the promo video for the track.  "I promise i'll deliver if it benefits me / Through long history it seems to me the victories / Are written by the ones who use the strategy viciously / So let's just do it surreptitiously."  Vowing to take a page from the great tyrants of the world, and to do for self at the expense of everything else, he asks himself, almost - but not quite - hopefully, "It's that simple, right?"
The tone of the album subtly changes during the second half, gaining energy with guest appearances from 206 emcee Matic and the one and only Blueprint; culminating with the final tracks, "The Devil's Notebook" and "Eyeballs".  These end pieces are concerned with the concept of freedom, although existence is still depicted as very much a meaningless construct.  The nihilism is still very much present, but then anything less would only cheapen the dark perfection of the rest of the album.  And I wouldn't expect different from a band who got their name from a show about nothing.  Link to the Art Vandelay website below.  Album drops on itunes/Bandcamp on April 2nd.  Pick it up, it's my album of the year.

Eye 8 The Crow   

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bring That Beat Back, Vol. 8

VIP Membership

The latest Installment in what's good in the Northwest.  I went for a certain sound with this collection.

Triceracorn - Colder Winter feat. Mike Harris
Cam The Mac - Keyed Decisions
Mad Rad - Glitzerland
Matic and Keyboard Kid - Too Easy
Lu C - Lanterns
The Deal - Rules
Baphomet MC - Blaze Away
Self Evident - Atmosphere
Triceracorn - Certain Type
Side Pony - Ride With Us
PROPS! - What Up
Think Jarvis - Short Love Letter
Leandre Nsabi - 5 In The Morning
Triceracorn - Strings Break
Knowledge SV - The Truce ft. Sunshine

J.P. Patches

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tribal Productions Freestyle Demo Tape

I came across this often-rumored, seldom-heard tape today when I visited Tribal's bandcamp page, and couldn't believe my eyes.  I instantly dl'd it, but there was work to do and guests coming over and it had to wait there on my desktop until everything else quieted down.  It's just after Eleven at night and I have now finished listening to this for the first time and the euphoria and dopamine is still circulating in my head, so my apologies in advance if I dork out.  
But what am I supposed to say about this?  To convince you of the value of this work?  I tend to gush, and I have been called a Seattle hip hop Stan by more than a few, and I readily accept the label - after all, have I ever posted up a negative write-up, or had anything less than stellar words to say about who I choose to post about?  I can understand that what I have to say has to be taken with a grain of salt, because I have an undying love for the Town and the artists in it and the music it shapes.  When I was 13 years old Nirvana broke out, and a few short years later I first heard Tribal Productions' Untranslated Prescriptions, and the rest is history.  I'm a lost cause; for me Seattle was, is, and will continue to be the coolest city on the face of the Earth.  
In short, I know I'm biased.  But, the memory of driving around in a car with my friends after school, listening over and over to Sinsemilla's "Confrontations" and PHAT Mob's "P.H.A.T." above the grind of the heater - those are oddly some of my most cherished mementoes I have of the heady, emotional roller-coaster ride that is adolescence.  Out through stock radio speakers from a warbly tape came rough, beautiful music made by kids not much older than myself, living a few short miles away, that was unlike anything else out there.  There was East coast and West coast, and then after Untranslated there was Seattle.  To this day when I listen to that tape or Do The Math and hear those young voices over thin, scratchy, heart-wrenching instrumental tracks, it gives me a feeling of pride for my home - and also that the world can still be surprising, and as full of promise and terrifying opportunity as only a teen-ager can imagine.  And now with the Freestyle Demo Tape, I have something else to invoke those emotions in me, even though I never got the chance to listen to it back then.  But those young voices are still there, as is the atmosphere of that wonderfully-familiar 4-track - and even without the nostalgia I chain it to, it still sounds fresher than fresh.
And that my friends is why I'm all bubbly about this release - and actually everything else I post up about Seattle music.  Tribal's vibe is understated but it extends deep, throughout the Northwest and outward.  That sound crafted by Vitamin D and Topspin have soaked into the Town and set the mood and tone of its music to this day, whether you like it or not.  And I for one love the hip hop of Seattle because of that mood - the whole genre in this neck of the woods has become part of Tribal's legacy.  That grey jazz, the substance of the lyrics, you can hear it all over the 206 - it still gives me a thrill whenever I catch it.   
And to be honest I'm here writing on this blog because of Tribal.  I want people to hear this largely unknown music and understand its greatness and influence, in the hope of conveying that spark.  Who I choose to write about are those that give me that same thrill, that child-like wonder, that sense excitement that is unfortunately more and more rarely found as I get older.  I don't know what listening to this will do for you, as I'm sure very few of you have the same experiences with Tribal Productions, but listen to it anyway.  Use it to think about the music that you're passionate about, and to think about what artists helped move you and shape you into who you are now.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Deleted Scenes

The Black Lab

I regret missing out on this show, but I'm not exactly in the neighborhood any more.  The Black Lab brought the legendary Blueprint to Seattle this month, and along with the Th3rdz (Oldominion), Fatal Lucciauno (Sportn'Life), and The Sharp 5, they put on what I can only imagine to be a spectacular show.  Fortunately for me, and for you, they also put out this ill compilation featuring new music from the artists - Fatal, Blueprint, Nathan Wolfe, the Th3rdz, and Jewels Hunter.  Joining them on musical accompaniment are Maker, Jake One, Phreewil, 10.4 Rog, Kuddie Fresh, and others.  Hunter and Phreewil come with the sickest beats in my opinion - Psychedelic, dark, and rough.  The Black Lab is a conglomerate I've been recently delving into in a heavy sort of way, and this latest release does not disappoint in the least.  If you're unfamiliar with the crew, or 206 music, this is as good as any a place to dip your toes.  And dang, Lucciauno is a monster, the scariest dude in Seattle.