“I heard god is coming and she’s a screamer”- I Was Zero. I wasn’t lying about doing a rap album this week . This is going to be a little new for me, so forgive my ignorance of the genre. I don’t even know if I should call this stuff hip-hop, indie rap, or what. I generally don’t like rap (which is different than not respecting it), and I think it has something to do with the lack of a live band. I feel that live instruments are able to convey a sense of dynamics and energy or emotion to a track that just doesn’t happen as easily when backing tracks are programmed and/or sampled. Though I am a fan of earlier hip-hop like Run DMC, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys etc. and some of those beats are as robotic as you get, so who knows why I don’t like it. There are groups such as the Roots who are a live band, but I find that hip-hop that makes use of a live band tends to lean towards reggae, another genre that I am not so fond of for some reason. Anyway, this week’s mixtape is going to be all rap/hip-hop/grime/post-rap/whatever/post-whatever, so I can highlight some of that stuff I like. Now onto what I like about this album!
On LI(F)E, Sage Francis mixes Josh Martinez/Everlast/Kazzer vocals with rock, folk and indie backing tracks. The whole album seems to be without programmed beats or samples, relying mainly on live drums, keys, bass, guitars, and other stringed instruments of the acoustic and electric varieties. From time to time, some synthesized keys appear, but sound like they are played by a live person as opposed to a midi track. This all makes for an interesting mix, which I like so far, although I am unsure of its staying power in my playlists. I have a short attention span, and I generally listen to pop music with catchy melodies, so for me it is very hard to absorb everything a rapper says without listening intently a number of times. Sometimes it just seems like random figures of speech that sound interesting strung together. Mr. Francis does seem to be at his best when he is storytelling, like in “Little Houdini” or “The Best of Times”. It makes the words easier to follow, and you quickly get a sense for the context of the lyrics so the metaphors don’t come across as so random. I was a little torn on picking favourite songs, between fun rockin’ backing tracks, and more vocal focused tracks. Anyway, I did my best, here they are, if you like any of them, please check out more.
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Three Sheets to the Wind – This is the song that introduced me to Sage Francis. A chugging, charging guitar line starts this rockin’ track. It’s pretty cool how the vocal manages to join in the rhythm, instead of being part of the melody first and foremost.
The Baby Stays – The vocal reminds me of an aggressive Josh Martinez. The backing track comes courtesy of a very folkly ensemble of acoustic guitars, banjo, fiddle, and maybe some ukelele or mandolin. Almost zeppelin-ish at times.
London Bridge – Messy fuzz rock that sounds like it was recorded inside a bouncy castle with a bunch of kids that have been fed too much cotton candy. Awesome.
The Best of Times – A cool storytelling track. Sage Francis’s childhood and beyond in five and a half minutes. Xylophones, skinny white boy indie backups, and warbly synths maintain the anti-beat feel of this album.
In order to achieve the eclectic sound of this album, Mr. Francis got many indie artists on board for recording, including Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, and Richard Terfry (better known as Buck 65). Wiki it up to see the full list, It’s pretty extensive.
If you are a fan of Josh Martinez, Buck 65, Everlast, The Streets, or other slightly off-center hip-hop/rap with clever lyrics, you should check this album out for sure. I think most everyone should give this album a listen though, the variety of odd combos of musical styles could mean lots of surprise favorite songs for each person. I don’t think anything groundbreaking came out of this album, but I commend Sage Francis and his friends for trying something just a little different than what we’ve heard before.