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Review: Big K.R.I.T., ReturnOf4Eva




Big K.R.I.T., ReturnOf4Eva

Standing high above his competition in what was already a banner month for the mixtape game, Big K.R.I.T. made summer come early by giving fans of underground rap the sleeper hit of the season. ReturnOf4eva‘s varied production is the work of someone who has clearly learned much from Atlanta’s Organized Noize and Memphis’s Three 6 Mafia, but steeped as the tape’s production style is in the Southern rap idiom, there’s no reason that it shouldn’t break K.R.I.T. to a wider audience. ReturnOf4Eva is too rich, too catchy, too wise, ultimately just too damn good to be appreciated only in one regional niche, and the fact that K.R.I.T. engineered every one of its tracks on his own should establish him as the most complete and exciting rapper-writer-producer package to enter the game since Kanye West. But if K.R.I.T. ever reaches that level of success, it will be on no one’s terms but his own: Much of the material here could slay on rap radio, but even could-be singles like the Chamillionaire-featuring “Time Machine” display the skewed pop sensibility of a deeply idiosyncratic talent. Like K.R.I.T. says on “R4 Theme Song”: “Mainstream is cool but in my heart forever underground.”

Hearing ReturnOf4Eva is like living in a fantasy world where Pimp C had never died, or one where he still died, but not before contributing some of his sizzurp-spiked DNA to a mad scientist’s Build a Better Southern MC project, where it would be spliced with André 3000’s melodic drawl and T.I.‘s knack for stern-ass sermonizing. Like both of those rappers, K.R.I.T.‘s priority is party music, but that doesn’t make him the least bit afraid to preach. He admits to passing on a record deal because he didn’t trust the suits who’d be running his career from that point on, and behind his calls for artistic integrity stands a general disillusionment with rap’s ghetto provincialism (just listen to the sonically jazzy, lyrically scathing “Another Naïve Individual Glorifying Greed & Encouraging Racism.” In the company of such material, there’s something instructive about tracks like “Rotation” and “Time Machine,” where K.R.I.T.‘s effusive love of his car signifies an entirely non-acquisitive kind of materialism: It’s about loving the simple old thing he’s got, not about wanting the souped-up whip he could never afford.

Cars, consumerism, mortality: K.R.I.T.‘s rhymes never get too technical, but his unshowy style still allows him to comment on a huge array of themes, using ReturnOf4Eva‘s considerable canvas to touch on things simple and sublime. Over an hour long and containing 21 tracks, ReturnOf4Eva provides K.R.I.T. am ample showcase as both an MC and a staggeringly gifted producer. Among the album’s finer tracks are “R4 Theme Song,” which sounds like UGK’s “International Player’s Anthem” if it had been a J Dilla production, the spaced-out, Badu-sampling “King’s Blues,” and, above all, “The Vent.” That slow-burning confessional, cordoned off to the very end of the set, is a spacious plea for understanding that touches on death—a friend’s, Kurt Cobain’s, really everyone’s—and weighs the relative merits of rap and real conversation as outlets for the resulting pain. Yeah, shit gets heavy—and that mournful, dive-bombing synth sample, plus all the quiet space around it, conveys K.R.I.T.‘s feelings perfectly. The MC can’t completely unburden his soul without dropping a few clunkers in the process, but “The Vent” remains a stunning listen, the best-yet encapsulation of everything K.R.I.T. can do and everything he’ll have to overcome (mainly his tendency toward the overwrought and the overthought) in order to do it.

Is ReturnOf4Eva the best mixtape of the month? Yeah, but that’s not the half of it. I’d say it’s the rap album to beat in 2011 so far, but even that doesn’t do it justice; it just means I like it more than Saigon’s The Greatest Story Never Told, pretty much the only decent rap LP to hit shelves in the past three months. Let me put it this way: This weekend I suffered the cruelest April Fool’s Day joke which could possibly have been perpetrated on me. The love of my life sent me a link to a “new OutKast song,” knowing full well that I love OutKast more than nearly all other music, knowing full well how desperately I’ve clung to each rumor of an upcoming album, only to send me to a loop of Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” This placed a strain on our relationship which has only been rivaled by our inability to agree on the relative non-shittiness of any of this season’s American Idol competitors. But more significantly, it left me fiending for some new OutKast, and I’ve got to say, while K.R.I.T. is far from touching their mantle, he’s without a doubt the most promising and innovative Southern rapper to emerge since the legendary Atlanta duo hit their peak.

Release Date: March 28, 2011



Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.



Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.
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Review: Lambchop’s This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You) Doesn’t Say Much

Modern trappings do little to obscure the fact that frontman Kurt Wagner feels more out of time than ever.




Photo: Merge/Steve Gullick

After more than two decades of dealing in musical anachronisms, one might assume that Lambchop’s recent forays into electronics mean that frontman Kurt Wagner has finally gotten with the times. Defined by synths, vocoders, and drum machines, 2016’s FLOTUS and now This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You) are daring departures from Wagner’s previous attempts to mine outmoded styles of the past for new truths. But these modern trappings are just misdirection, doing little to obscure the fact that he seems to be feeling more out of time than ever.

Perhaps inevitably, This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You) isn’t as sprawling or stylistically immersive as FLOTUS. When you put out an album whose lead single is an 18-minute synth dirge, it’s probably a good idea to take a bit of a step back for the follow-up. This album lacks the stitched-together quality of FLOTUS, that certain emphasis on atmosphere, texture, and the unexpected, rather than structure and melody, that makes that album alternately impenetrable and transcendent. This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You) is 20 minutes shorter, and far less formless. Even its more abstract passages, like the nearly five minutes of roaming piano and wispy horns that close the title track, feel more familiar within Lambchop’s pre-established paradigm of reimaging old genres—in this case, lounge jazz—and as new again than the alien soundscapes of FLOTUS did. The Wagner who spent much of the 2000s trying to turn himself into the world’s strangest, crustiest Vegas lounge singer is recognizable here as well. He’s just singing through a vocoder now.

No one could credibly accuse Lambchop of making conventional pop music, but new collaborator Matt McCaughan, who co-wrote over half the album with Wagner and is responsible for much of its electronic instrumentation, at least steers the band in a less abstract direction. The whining synth motif that pops up in the middle of “The December-ish You” is a sneakily good earworm, and if it weren’t for Wagner’s creaking old-young voice, “Everything for You” might sound like something you would hear at Sephora.

That’s not to say Wagner sounds anything but disaffected by modernity. Just as FLOTUS’s title falsely promised political musings in an election year, the fact that all but one of this album’s eight song titles are written in second person is just a canard—as if anyone wouldn’t notice that the only person Wagner is singing about is himself. A song title like “The New Isn’t So You Anymore” seems to promise a withering indictment of some behind-the-times character, but in reality, it’s just about Wagner sitting in a car and trying to reconcile his own place in the dizzying 2019 cultural landscape. Political references abound throughout This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You), but they’re mostly just context-free phrases: “Be it so un-presidential,” “The news was fake, the drugs were real,” “Fell asleep during Vietnam,” and so on.

Rather than grapple with politics, Wagner sounds like he’d much rather revel in daily mundanities: “I’m in a Mexican restaurant bar/Watching surfing and it’s amazing,” he sings on “The Air Is Heavy and I Should Be Listening to You.” In so doing, Wagner culminates a retreat into himself. Whereas Lambchop once boasted a grand, 12-plus-piece lineup, the band is now smaller and more insular than ever before. But Lambchop has always been whatever Wagner wants it to be, and if he wants “you” to mean “me” this time around, it simply does. “I see your reflection,” he sings at the very end of the gentle, acoustic-based closer “Flowers,” as Nashville legend Charlie McCoy’s honey-sweet harmonica billows behind him, “and I say hello.”

Label: Merge Release Date: March 22, 2019 Buy: Amazon

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Review: Meat Puppets Remain Resilient on the Mellow Dusty Notes

The album marks the band’s first reunion that feels truly consequential.




Dusty Notes

The Meat Puppets have gone on hiatus and subsequently reunited at least four times now, rivaling any cash-grabbing classic-rock dinosaurs still out there in their ability to put boomer butts in arena seats. With the possible exception of guitarist Curt Kirkwood’s short-lived, Y2K-era solo project, it’s not as though the post-prime iterations of the Meat Puppets have been especially unwelcome. But their 15th studio album, Dusty Notes, marks the first such reunion that feels truly consequential, thanks to original drummer Derrick Bostrom returning to the fold for the first time since 1995’s No Joke!

Anyone who might want to trace a direct lineage between the new album and alt-rock classics like Meat Puppets II, and who hasn’t kept up with the band since they broke up for the first time, will of course notice the audible effects of the intervening 35 years: Curt and brother Cris’s low, calm voices; the slower tempos; the preponderance of acoustic guitars, often in place of fuzzy electric ones. One might also wonder if the band took the wrong lessons from Meat Puppets II’s acclaim. The idea of three former hardcore punks with acid-blasted brains playing a twisted psychedelic version of country and Americana music was novel and fascinating in 1984 and remained so 10 years later when Kurt Cobain invited them on stage to play during Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged. Remove the acid and hardcore, however, and you just get middle-aged Arizonians playing straightforward country music, like Dusty Notes’s pointlessly faithful cover of the Don Gibson standard “Sea of Heartbreak.”

Fortunately, though an old-school country aesthetic defines the album—the banjo picking on “Nine Pins,” the sweet hillbilly harmonies on “Outflow”—Curt’s irrepressible songwriting quirks make the rest of Dusty Notes anything but formulaic. The post-Bostrom Meat Puppets have often veered much closer to modern alt-country than the hardcore of their early days, and Dusty Notes is no exception; in fact, it might be the mellowest of their albums to date.

With key assistance from keyboardist Ron Stabinsky, Curt turns what are at first blush prototypical country strummers into weird, melodic concoctions. Stabinsky’s contributions—circus organ on “Nine Pins,” Mariachi-like synths on the title track—often leap out immediately from the mix. But it’s Curt’s songwriting that makes those same songs stick in the brain, from the demented polka groove of “Warranty” to the sunny Tex-Mex hooks and characteristic stoner turns of phrase on the title track.

If anything is missing from Dusty Notes, it’s certainly not hard-rock dalliances. Besides, with both Stabinsky and second guitarist Elmo Kirkwood—Curt’s son—abetting the original trio, the album features a fuller, richer sonic character than any of the band’s early albums ever managed. Rather, there’s not enough of Curt’s guitar playing. His inimitable jangle riffs from the ‘80s and fuzzed-out, spacey heroics from later years are both in short supply, which does render Dusty Notes more conventional-sounding than most Meat Puppets albums.

It’s unlikely anyone predicted that a 2019 Meat Puppets album would feature a return to the blown-out arena-metal of 1989’s Monster, but that’s exactly what we get with “Vampyr’s Winged Fantasy,” complete with Dungeon Master-friendly verses like “Your chariot of protons/Slices through the gloom/Drawn by a pharaoh/Risen from the tomb.” It’s fun, but once the novelty and nostalgia wear off, it doesn’t leave as much of an impression as the songs here that don’t quite sound like anything the band has done before, like “Unfrozen Memory,” a dramatic slow-burner that melds distorted guitar with Stabinsky’s expert, baroque-style harpsichord, or “The Great Awakening,” on which silky, entrancing acoustic arpeggios drift into a tough, bluesy chorus and come back again like you’re falling in and out of a dream.

These particular songs exemplify what the Meat Puppets, at their best, have always been about. Not their singing or their playing or their lyrics, which were all often utterly incoherent even at the band’s peak. It’s their ability to evoke emotional states—some precious feeling half-remembered from childhood, or perhaps a really good acid trip—that has allowed their music to remain so resilient for almost 40 years.

Label: Megaforce Release Date: March 8, 2019 Buy: Amazon

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