May 29, 2013

Review: "KingMi" by Montana Maxx

Montana Maxx: Detroit's Dirtworker

     On “City Of Gods,” off the mixtape, KingMi, from Montana Maxx (or Mt. Maxx), the Detroit rapper explains, “I’m from a city where it’s god this and god that / but when we hungry it’s sell this or rob that.” No flash. No champagne. Just real life in America’s currently most disheveled city.
     On the horizon rapper, Mt. Maxx, brings along a few friends for this ten song mixtape, his second. The album comes unhinged with the opening blare of “KingMi Intro.” Maxx appropriately uses the operatic vocals from Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “H.A.M.” as his backdrop. “I’m not a god, but I work goddamn hard,” he spits. Maxx, not yet in the throes of fame, seats himself on record as the man in the midst of his ascent. He’s working hard to get to the top, but still living like the rest of us day to day.
     In today’s Detroit this is not always easy.
    The fourth and best song, “City Of Gods,” floats along on a lush guitar loop. It has a dead end mood. With Rockzamillion featured, the two Detroit disciples describe the tough love they share with their home. They illustrate the daily strife of living in the U.S. city hit hardest by our collapsed economy. A place with such celebrated musical history can eat away at your own motives and Maxx is all too aware of this.
     A lot of the tracks on KingMi are very heavy on atmosphere with a mood to match. “One Night Stand” finds Maxx trapped in the aftermath of a relationship that broke apart, playing Xbox and serial dating, to try and get past it. “You jaded ‘cuz you self-proclaimed it,” he reflects. Over a thawing drum beat and a whispering premonition from the chords of a female throat, he struggles to escape his internal issues without the crutch of drugs. Later, on “Cold Outside,” Maxx deals with the anxiety of meeting the expectations of himself and his peers, never finding solid ground. It opens with sympathetic synth flourishes like a sci-fi soundtrack, then falls into a straight-forward beat that makes you wanna close your eyes and breathe deeply.
     It’s back to living the high life, smokin’ and drinkin’, on “Kingshit,” featuring Pgrand. “We like touching dirty money doing king shit,” the two rap over foggy Bejeweled sound effects spewing in the background. ”Love You Momma” completes the mixtape with forceful odes of love to his mother. While the track sounds gloomy and Maxx is almost yelling, it’s filled with genuine admiration and a steep motherly love. He abrasively exacts the feelings he has for his mother. The honesty, for a rapper, is refreshing.
     Maxx doesn’t often drop obtuse material references like many others in the game. His stories are tales of daily life, deep in reflection sitting in the middle of the living room. He’s introspective, eager to turn every plot twist of his life into an aggressive rhyme scheme. His flow is similar to many rappers today. More lofty run-on sentences rather than quick rhyming jibes.
     Sonically, some tracks are fuzzy and too sparse, with nothing more than average, often used, drum beats breaking over some background noise. But, if a mixtape is simply a vehicle for your flow to practice driving, then Maxx has succeeded. He’s got a heart dripping axle grease. He’s gone past the point of simply dabbling in rap music during free time to living each verse day and night. KingMi is Maxx’s introductory roar.

May 11, 2013

Celtics still a force in the East

     The allure of history was an unmistakable force. No NBA team has ever hiked up the hill from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game playoff series. In general it's a rarity in sports. Fittingly, in 2004, the Boston Red Sox did it blasting back the New York Yankees for the upset.
     Last week the Boston Celtics looked poised to potentially overcome the New York Knicks when they Tarzaned back from the no-win hole to take Game 4 in Boston and Game 5 in New York. "We out here scrappin'," Kevin Garnett exhaled, spraying sweat onto the post-game reporter. "We out here scrappin'."
     Game 6 came and went. The sea of green in the TD Garden just wasn't enough to fuel the Celtics to another victory. It wasn't even really close and just like that the series was over, just another unturned page of history. Another offseason beginning for another team, this one, for the Celtics, just started a little early. Since the signing of KG and Benedict Allen in 2008 team green had always broke through the first round with ease.
     Now with post-game press conferences done and exit interviews complete, it befuddles me why talks of the modern Celtic greats disbanding are immediately thrown into the barking conversation. It makes no sense. I understand people talk and this season wasn't the greatest and trade rumors were bulbous near the deadline, but couldn't the same be said for a lot of teams? In a season that saw the loss of Rajon Rondo (ACL), Jared Sullinger (back), and Leandro Barbosa (ACL), all in quick succession of each other, it would seem the unfortunate circumstances are more of a temporary stopgap, rather than the unraveling of a cherished franchise. 
     Sure, they had their problems beyond the inconvenient injuries. Jason Terry and Courtney Lee proved not quite the eligible replacement hoped for in the aftermath of that guy who left for beach side property. Paul Pierce started to show his age. Brandon Bass and Jeff Green gave some incredible performances but were spotty throughout, never falling into a groove. But, my God, they're still a great unit with the league's best coach in Doc Rivers. And they exist in a pretty weak conference.
     I get it. KG and Pierce will be older next year, but so will most of the Knick bench. Why would Danny Ainge shuffle these legendary pieces around? Garnett, who, up to this point, leads the playoffs in rebounds with 13.7, is under contract through 2015 and he won't leave unless he agrees to the destination. Pierce is on the books for next season (though with a player option), as is Avery Bradley. Every other major player is signed, at least, through 2015.
     Furthermore, and most importantly, all evidence points to a Rondo return by the start of training camp. Even with missing the last third of the season he still lead in assists with 11.1 (Chris Paul was two steps behind with 9.7). The wiliest point guard to grace the hardwood will be back setting up an ace supporting cast. There's no lessening of Celtic energy here. Who says you have to make a splash in the offseason every offseason? A summer to recharge and a fresh training camp can only create great cohesion and produce a stronger core for next season. KG and Pierce need to spend some time with their feet elevated, ankles iced, letting the blood flow, but there's no doubt this team will still compete, as is, like gruff wildebeests in a season of cold-hearted revenge and bounteous redemption.

May 09, 2013

Review: "Monomania" by Deerhunter

Deerhunter's sixth album is a solid square fitting into circle speakers

    Warning: Monomania by Deerhunter is not the album to listen to in the wake of a ratty hangover. It’s abrasive, snot-nosed, manic-depressive rock and as noisy as a traffic jam. There are few moments of calm. Your neighbors will not appreciate you blasting it, but their well- being is not of your concern and neither is it of Bradford Cox, the main force and singer behind Deerhunter.
     Monomania, released Tuesday May 7, is the group’s sixth studio album and announces the addition of new bassist Josh McKay. It also comes after their longest music drought with their last output being 2010′s Halycon Digest. They've been fairly consistent with releases since their 2005 debut, but Cox has upped the ante with his side project, Atlas Sound staying just as active.
     On previous Deerhunter albums there would be long dramatic drop-offs of noise washing over, scant ambient swirls, cymbals tinkering against each other, shots of whatever leftover noise just rattling on into infinity. This collection of songs is more straight-forward, focused, but still with a sloppy punk rock execution.
     The album begins with a line of drool slipping into the slow creep California jam, “Neon Junkyard.” Acoustic guitars lay on top each other while a moody synth gurgles in the distance. “Leather Jacket II” throws the listener into a pit of feedback and jumbled guitar twine. The same squawking lick writhes throughout until the whole thing crumbles at your feet. Thankfully, “The Missing,” pulls itself from the noise and reveals a hazy charm. It’s like a song from a 90′s backyard smoke-out beaming back to us on broken down transmitters.
     Cox slobbers all over the microphone. Each lyric is delivered with a repressed primal scream. His vocals are either enmeshed in distortion or floating, upside-down, in reverb. Most of the time it’s difficult to understand what he’s saying, but it’s clear that something in life is bugging him. He’s unsettled, impatient and before he lets it bring him down he’s going to burn out everything nearby.
     Lyrics are like chicken-scratch scraps from his daily journal. On the blustering “Pensacola” Cox yelps, “The woman that I loved, took another man. Nothing ever ends up quite like what you planned.” Later he plans a trip to that city, seeking adventure as a means of escape. He pleads on the following track, “Dream Captain take me on your ship, Dream Captain it’s my only wish.” His head is spinning and this guy wants out.
     He seems to be trapped by every emotional state known to modern man. He calls himself a “crippled coward.” His hair is falling out. He almost arrives at personal connection multiple times, but slips into a pit of despair. “If you need a friend,” he remarks on “Blue Agent,” ”then look someplace else.” Oh really? Then I guess someone else will have to use these two free Braves tickets I scored.
     That song is the first to finally offers some space in the mix, with tiny high-pitched plucks on the guitar. “Monomania,” which comes toward the end, assures the album doesn't completely go soft. It sounds like a motorcycle crashing into a van, spliced and looped, until the motorcycle drives off. Fittingly, the next song, “Nitebike,” offers a moment of contemplation on a cool night. Cox coos hypnotically over a limp acoustic ballad. “I was on the cusp of a breakthrough,” he spits before erupting in howls of moonlight.
     Cox and his quintet are picking up the pieces dropped by Sonic Youth and other noise-rock conglomerates. In their headspace a song doesn't ever have to be complete for it to be finished. Music need not be perfect or even comfortable. As long as you attack the scraps lying around with grit and desire, the audience will appear. Monomania is Deerhunter’s best album. It works, not for it’s songwriting and musicianship, but for it’s forced penetration and total onslaught to fill the speakers. Before you press play, make sure your door is locked.

Key Tracks: "The Missing," "Pensacola," "Dream Captain," "T.H.M."

May 04, 2013

Review: "Just A Machine" by Piqued Jacks

The cranks and gears of Piqued Jacks' Just A Machine

     Just A Machine, the newest EP from Piqued Jacks, opens with the quick crack of a distorted egg. What then dribbles out is the yolk of six fluctuating industrial rock songs that leave the listener scrambled.
     The title and opening track starts with a patient riff that falls right off a cliff. When it lands it bursts through with quick shots of modern punk. It rises high and wants you to wake the fuck up. The sound is very similar to Refused or early Mars Volta and the reader should take that as a high compliment and not a descriptive crutch. The energy continues on “Blackie.” Guitarist Pengulnsane keeps the track fuming with jumpy guitar, like John Frusciante on a good day. The instruments of each player are absolutely all over the place while E-King howls, “Don’t turn away, even if you’re afraid.” I am and I won’t. The group has a calibrated control over their own chaos.
     Formed in Pistoria, Italy in 2006, Piqued Jacks have been making their way through America using this year’s six-song EP as their launching pad. Each player has their own unique robot-like alias. Andrea “E-King” Lazzerettl sings and plays piano, Francesco “Pengulnsane” Cugla is on guitar and background vocals, “Francesco “Ilttleladle” Blnl takes the bass and Matteo “ThE dOg” Cugla beats the drums. The members are all parts and accessories to a tall-standing machine and it doesn’t run without each gear turning.
     When E-King belts he sounds frantic like Cedric Bixler-Zavala, of The Mars Volta; when he cools down he’s closer to the vocalists of the post-grunge era of a few years back. His lyrics hold a heavy surrealism that paints a picture of impending doom. “Nothing remains of the sun / Except cars’ headlights / Guard duty at the huts / Skinny dogs at the feet of empty slides,” he sings on the final track. Throughout Just A Machine there is a suffocating presence that keeps him on the run.
     The first single, “Youphoric?!,” finds moments of calm, differing from the first two songs. It could easily find a home on rock radio if radio still mattered. Pengulnsane lights it up with a crushing guitar solo as the tender voice of a female frees the listener from the song’s constraints. On “My Kite” E-King struggles in whispers over a lengthening distance and harrowing piano. It’s the slow-burner of the EP and develops like a tidal wave. “Amusement Park” is built around a guitar arpeggio that sounds extraordinarily similar to the intro to Jeff Buckley’s song, “Grace,” but no harm no foul. The song still kicks.
     The closing, “Tourist Of An Apocalypse,” is anchored by the understanding between bass and drum as they walk, linked arm and arm, through the track. The song transforms, twisting, turning and never getting back to where it once was. The final two minutes of the six minute song is an uphill climb as the guitar chops through drum rolls and E-King pleads mightily to, “Just make sure we save the Earth.” It’s a beautiful ending to a collection of songs by a band that shows promise to take up the mantle of progressive rock and roll in 2013 and beyond.
     Piqued Jacks have great attention to song structure and never linger too long in one moment. It makes for a very healthy listening experience. They have a sound that rock fans from every generation can latch onto. They can force you to jump out of your chair and lose brain cells, or, take a long reflective walk around the block.

from: Independent Music Promotions

Review: "City Of Wonders" by Off Orbit

Let Off Orbit take you for a quick ride on City Of Wonders

     Off Orbit may be from Miami, Florida, but their sound comes straight from the Texas desert expanse where plenty of psych-blues bands have called home. Their three-song debut EP, City Of Wonders, is a quick snapshot into their developing sound.
     Opener, and first single, “Vice City,” kicks off with a jumpy guitar intro then evolves into a hippy shake. Moises Jimenez leads the four-piece with scratchy rust-coated vocals. It’s fun and loose and would be the perfect first song to play on a long road trip through the country.
     In addition to his gruff vocals, Jimenez plays bass and splashes the recordings with keyboards. Marcos Jimenez mans the guitar, erupting with spacey solos at times appropriate and inopportune. The meat of the songs is due to Jonathan Colorado, on drums, and Angel Cerdeiras, who adds popping Mexi-Cali bongos to the background.
     Second song, “Pretty Little Things,” comes in with a rollicking bass line and mimics the party-vibe alertness one experiences right as the drugs start to take hold. When the rest of the instruments slide into the mix everything just feels right. The song is stitched together with elongated effects, but they never overtake the song itself. There is a perfect mix of pedals and instrumentation. It’s easy to hear that the players in Off Orbit are true musicians first, who dabble in atmospherics, and not the other around. That formula will take them far.
     The EP concludes with “Interlude,” which is just that. It swims along with layers of instruments, builds up, then drops and leaves the listener very interested to know what comes next.
     City Of Wonders is a time-traveling trip to a place when hearty rock’n'roll mattered to the world. There is a druggy soul to these songs, each one anchored by a blues stronghold, something like Billy Gibbons joining Spiritualized for an all night jam session.