April 28, 2011

Beastie Boys be gettin' psychoactive

Put this on your zip disk and send it to a lawyer, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two has revealed itself
       After the Celtics blew the Knicks and their playoff hopes out like birthday candles Sunday night, Madison Square Garden emptied of disgruntled fans. Fortunately, there to fill the void, a single boom-box, at mid-court blasted the first full listen of the Beastie Boys’ new album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, from the famous arena’s sound system. Basketball may be over for New York, but at least their rap icons have returned.
       Their eighth studio album was scheduled to arrive in the fall of 2009, but Adam "MCA" Yauch discovered a cancerous lump in his throat and the whole moment was postponed. MCA took time off, stir-fried the lump in his wok, and made a full recovery. Hot Sauce Committee Part Two will stack up on chain store shelves everywhere this Tuesday, but it's been streaming fo’ free at http://www.hotsaucecommittee.com/ all week.
       The gonzo skwonking on the opener, “Make Some Noise,” starts the party off right. Like the beginning of all their albums, it instantly puts you in a good mood. As usual their zany beat arrangements shift songs into new rooms constantly keeping the listener wandering through the house. All the ingredients for mom’s home-made Beastie Boys’ album are here. We’ve got the spastic rhymes dashed with corny clown samples, live drums, stoner space jams, creeping robotics and nearly every song is anchored by a tremendous bass line.
       "Too Many Rappers,” the first track to leak, sounds heavier and coarser than it initially did streaming online. A quaking metal guitar throws Nas and the boys up against a cement wall of noise. It withers perfectly into “Say It,” a rumbling call-to-action drenched in feedback loops and junkyard bass. It has the same energy as “Sabotage” (as well as some of the same effects) and could be the song that destroys at the end of a long set list.
       A hazy hook from Santigold on “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” lies horizontally with hot horns and a dripping dropping guitar. The echoes swim around and the desert sun swallows your head whole in mirror images. I would bet they’re saving this one for a summer time single. “Long Burn the Fire“comes next. MCA starts off with his prodigious growl as caterwauling synths drop off in the background. If your body doesn’t do some kind of side-to-side rock and sway then you must be a corpse washed ashore. When the Beasties come for you in the middle of the night this song will be playing.
       For non-fans who discarded the instrumental jams of The Mix-Up or the political overtones that blemished To The Five Burroughs, the new album is a welcome return. The closest line to a political statement could be, “running lines like rats at Taco Bell,” but that's a stretch.The three musical blendings that have kept the Beasties so alive in music for twenty-five years -- funk, punk and rap -- are all present and sharp. Their funk is galactic and strong on “Funky Donkey.” “Lee Majors Come Again” takes claim of the hidden punk-rock gem that side-swiped their earlier records and “Tadlock’s Glasses” feels like the exact point of time when the nitrous oxide hits your brain mister hot air balloon head. Mix all this with the fact that their goofball genes have not diminished whatsoever with age and you have a classic among classic B-boy albums.
       This is Mike Diamond, Adam Yauch and Adam Horovitz (of course also Mix Master Mike and Money Mark) crafting a cherished record. With their sound fully realized and all their tools in a pile right before them, they know what they’re doing and oh mercy me is it exhilarating!

Best Tracks: “Long Burn the Fire,” “Say It,” “Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament,” “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win”

April 03, 2011

The Strokes shuttle back to Earth

New York City band returns with five legs in the sack and five legs running on Angles.

         It’s been a squeamish five years for fans eager to hear where the next phase of the Strokes leads. Their last album, 2006’s First Impressions of Earth, didn’t quite make any significant leaps into new territory, even though it did spawn some great overlooked songs. Since that release each band member has stayed busy in music in some form and threw the Strokes to the back of their minds.
         But oh, what teases! After jump starting the short second-coming of rock & roll in 2001 with their debut, Is This Is?, they’ve been tip-toeing around their mighty platform releasing only four albums in those ten years. Now they return with Angles. And yes, it’s a pretty good Strokes record. It’s poppy, it’s hip, it’s a feel-good experience.

         Their aesthetic of the choppy rock song filled with guts and attitude is still the blueprint, but they do draw outside the lines a bit. It’s just as slick and straight-forward as their other albums, but this one veers into psychedelic territory that is sometimes engaging, but other times can feel like an outtake from a John Hughes movie soundtrack.

         “Two Kinds of Happiness” and “Games” pour on wet synth-sounds; probably the inspirational remnants of Casablancas’ debut solo album, Phrazes for the Young, leaking through. Not necessarily a bad thing, but surely the least exciting part of the album. “You’re So Right,” buzzes and hops along like a Bond-style theme song played during an erratic chase scene through a forest. It glides with rolling high-hats, in-charge guitars and Casablancas’ distressed, lost-in-space vocals.

         The on-the-run feeling of “Metabolism” constantly climbs in pressure and finally, harshly, spirals out-of-bounds. The real interesting progression the band has made is their riff structuring. On songs like “Under Cover of Darkness,” “Taken For A Fool,” and “Machu Picchu” Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. trade licks with the same interconnectivity Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood had for Some Girls-era Stones.

         “Taken For A Fool” demands immediate attention as the album’s best song. The purest of Strokes choruses is hidden between so many sliding, twisting verses and one miraculous bass line from Nikolai Fraiture in the sudden gap of guitars. The lyrics come from Casablancas’ usual carefree attitude in the usual troubled scene. “You’re so gullible, but I don’t mind / that’s not the problem,” he sings deadpan. “I don’t need anyone with me right now / Monday, Tuesday is my weekend.” You can see the hung-over grin.

         For all the great songs on Angles, it lacks the continuity that made their first two albums so easy to listen to repeatedly. At times it lags and depending what kind of fan you are, you’ll love that or hate it. They never fall stagnant for long, fortunately, always bouncing back into familiar, head-bobbing, hip-oscillating territory. But, for the band, who shared songwriting duties for the first time, this new album brings a full evolution of their sound, expanding, but not drifting; experimenting, but staying grounded in their genetic code. Mostly, they pull it off, but after five years it’s nothing to hustle and cuss over. The Strokes may be of the saliva that drips from the Rolling Stones’ fat red tongue, but they’ve got a few more classics waiting to be made if they want to even begin to dream of having the longevity that band has.

Best Tracks: “Taken For A Fool,” “You’re So Right,” “Under Cover of Darkness,” “Gratisfaction”