Arcade Fire is at the top of the very tall and exclusive indie rock food chain.  Since 2004, they’ve released two successful, independently-produced albums, and have caught the attention of artists such as the legendary David Bowie, played every major music festival under the sun, and even collaborated live with U2. Not bad for a bunch of Montreal art fags.

That said, you might be interested to know who’s fancy they’ve tickled this time around. Barrack Obama. Yeah, I said it. Barrack Obama – the likely next President of the United States. They’ve been commissioned to play – dare I say open – two shows for him in Ohio, today and tomorrow. This isn’t something you’d expect to see on a either a show flier or at a political event.

I’d line up for that.

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I was sent the new Radiohead album, In Rainbows, for free. I listened and liked it. I can’t say I’m in love with it. Yet. It deserves at least a dozen more listens. That’s not necessarily relevant to the rest of this entry.

Radiohead have, in my opinion, pioneered a new way to sell and distribute music. They fulfilled their contract to their monolithic record label and chose not to renew it. Just do it themselves, and let their fans and rest of the world dictate how things evolve or devolve from there. As I understand, you pay them what you think it’s worth, and take Digital Rights Management-free, available in digital download format only with you, no questions asked. I don’t think you’ll ever see a Shelf Keeping Unit manifestation of this work. Amazing experiment. I’m thrilled that they had the balls to try. It will be a true test of our character as human beings, I think.

Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief at Wired Magazine, wrote a book called The Long Tale. It’s largely about how the internet has fucked with the traditional role of supply and demand and how the little guy has now got himself a new way to weather our seemingly ominous, ever-expanding economy. It was written about two years ago and holds truer every day. The book’s about 200 pages long, and I’m not about to go into the ins and outs of it here. However, Radiohead’s efforts with In Rainbows are testament to it. Or is it the other way around. Apparently Madonna’s hopping on that train too. Hopefully more major artists use them as examples of a business model that doesn’t require a mortgaging middleman. It would set not only a precedent, but a path to a new form of commerce–and not only with music, but in the way we interact with products and services everywhere.

It’s neat to watch ourselves evolve sometimes. Maybe we’re not so bad after all.

The longest album review ever

September 21, 2007

5-year old Live Journal ramblings aside, I’ve never been compelled to do a music review. In fact, I’ve never really been a fan of reading them, either. I rarely agree with the reviewer, and if I do, the piece is so stuffy that it seems the writer is using the review as a showcase for their own writing skills rather than to define and judge an album. I know you know what I’m talking about.

In recent years, few albums have succeeded in provoking a truly emotional response from me as a result of their insight, creativity, and overall listenability. Sure, there have been highlights. But nothing that made me want to put an album on repeat, permanently. Until now.

El-P’s new-ish full-length, called “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” is the single most powerful musical effort I’ve heard in a dog’s life. Known for being intelligently poetic and politically charged, El-P’s latest effort grabs the collective balls of conventional hip hop and stuffs them, en masse, into the garborator. That garborator turns on the second you press play.

The track, “Dear Sirs”, begins with frantic tapping of a typewriter that somehow mutates into a blazingly fast coup of heavy double bass drum goodness with no identifiable time signature—all while maintaining the furious resonance of writing an angry letter.

Dear Sirs,” He states,

If the pavement comes alive on Flatbush Ave with toothy smiles
Comprised of traffic cones and manholes become eyes

And continues on a tirade of his futuristic vision of something that resembles a utopian anarchy, yet seems to take place in the present.

And drugs no longer taunt me and flooze around my conscience
And every woman beating rapist is nailed securely in their coffins

This scenario is further elaborated upon while being perfectly captured and delicately framed with distorted guitars for another verbose half minute.

And the sniveling grimace mongrels of infected money slobbering pesticrats ignite
into a brilliant beam of light
And mercy is the rule
And the exception’s mercy too
And the desert comes in Brooklyn and the President goes to school

And, as if he’s either nearly run out of breath, or his gushing, bloody nose is warning him that another 10 seconds of this and his head’s going to explode, he ends with:

Time flows in reverse
Death becomes my birth
Me fighting in your war is still, by a large margin
The least likely thing that will ever fucking happen…ever

The sheer electricity of feverish contempt in his voice was enough to give me goose bumps. And that was before I could understand a goddamn word he was saying. This song clocks in at 1:34.

Another track, titled “Habeas Corpses (Draconian Love)”, appears to take place sometime in the distant future where the world is divided into traitors and those who dispose of them. Cage—a stunningly controversial artist with a sharp tongue and a bucket full of clever to cool you off with when stung—makes an appearance or two on this song. Together, they talk through a narrative where they act as traitor executioners when El-P falls in love with one of the prisoners he’s about to kill. The song starts on an eerie note with what sounds like a decrescending electric cello that just consumed a bucket-sized GHB and ketamine cocktail.

The two talk about their jobs.

Cage: “When I wake up and put this suit on, I feel escape begin
Expirations are needed, I facilitate the end

El-P: “There are two types of mornings/mournings in this life I can surmise
I wake early in the first to help supply the second type

After a bit of back and forth, El-P confesses his fixation on the prisoner and Cage attempts to wrap his head around the scenario.

El-P: “I’m saying during the tenure of your gig, have you ever herded a pris
Who despite the traitorous label, makes you nervous as a kid?
Maybe beyond a date with the lead, there’s something else meant for
A prisoner with the beauty of 247290-Z

Cage: “Oh God, you gotta be joking, I get it she’s smoking
Go get a taste, I’ll hold you down for thirty, she must be purty, you’re open
Your secret’s safe with me, go on a raping spree
I gotta couple numbers of my own, just return the courtesy

Without pasting the entire song here and offending you with what some would call objectionable content, let me tell you this—It’s story telling at its finest. The production creates a very believable atmosphere, while the syllabic efforts of each artist ebb and flow with both smooth compliance and negative friction.

Unlike the product of today’s marketing machine-driven content, each track on “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” has a big, fat, juicy gem in it – if the song itself isn’t.

I should also note the unlikely collaborations that make their home on this record, too: Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala of the Mars Volta; Mr. Dibbs; Aesop Rock; Mr. Lif; Daryl Palumbo of Glassjaw and Head Automatica; Chan Marshall a.k.a. Cat Power; and the most surprising of them all—Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Given this is almost exclusively a rap record, it’s impressive to see the roster of very well-known rock musicians working with El-P.

This is easily the finest urban music record I’ve ever owned, and it’s likely one of the best of any genre.

Also, El-P has red hair. Heh.