Author Archives: ndutton

Das Racist

Courtesy of MySpace

Das Racist MySpace

During their first string of Brooklyn shows, Victor Vazquez and Himanshu Suri — better known as Das Racist — performed by plugging an iPod into a 1/8” cable and rapping over their only track, what was then a 20-minute ode to fast food chains. Amateur third-of-an-hour, indeed. “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” the song in question, became a Williamsburg, NY, hit and soon a viral joke sensation in the summer of 2009. Everyone from hipsters to bros found solace in the cheesy (zing!) goodness of “Pizza Hut.” But these weird guys had no shot at a real rap rep, right?

Perhaps surprisingly, Das Racist’s bizarre, slurred approach to spittin’ rhymes and culturally topical, self-referencial lyrics have resurfaced this year with renewed vigor. The duo’s two recent mixtapes, “Shut Up, Dude” and “Sit Down, Man,” have received attention from the blogosphere, featuring guests El-P and Chairlift and production from the omnipresent Diplo. Their aesthetic has been called by The New York Times “as much a commentary on hip-hop as a rigorous practice of it.”

The group’s style has a tendency to polarize listeners. The band members themselves describe their vibe as “deconstructionist: sawing out the legs of hip-hop as they celebrate it.” Indeed, on tracks such as “hahahaha jk?” the band explores a series of non-sequiturs: a mix of references to “Days of Our Lives,” Dwight from “The Office,” live-action role-playing, 2-D movies, generally making dope rhymes and a mockery at the same time. On “I’m Up On That,” Das Racist sounds more Madvillain than ever, examining race through Queens’ riots, Reggie Bush and Hinduism — “brown man for dummies.”

When I saw Das Racist at a show for the College Music Journal Music Marathon, the band didn’t even play “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” Apparently, they’ve attempted to distance themselves from the days of the 20-minute grease-heaven anthem. Yet somehow, the band has found a way to evolve: the show was a wild house party with legit lyricism, matched by their effervescent sense of humor.

—By Editor-At-Large Geoff Schorkopf

Johnny Flynn

Courtesy of MySpace

Johnny Flynn MySpace

Actor, poet, heart-throb, songwriter — Renaissance Man. Johnny Flynn is a Jack of many trades.

The folk singer, whose most recent album Been Listening saw release in the States last week, began his life in the theater. Citing Shakespeare and Yeats as major influences, the versatile Flynn is a member of the “Propeller Theater Troupe” in London, England. As a member, he has acted in several productions, including William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

In 2006, he moved from proscenium to concert hall and costumed garb to steel guitar, forming the band Sussex Wit.

Been Listening, the Londoner’s follow-up to his break through debut A Larum, makes better use of his band: generous strings, bombastic horns and multi-track harmonies are prominent throughout the record. On “Kentucky Pill,” the album’s opening track, Flynn enjoys a “cow-tipping expedition” with his childhood friends. The very Americana folk song centers around a trumpet hook — uplifting and proud — before the album trudges into darker, love-lorn territories.

Indeed, there is a strange aura about Flynn, whose English upbringing clearly did not involve “living in boxes by the rails” and “cow tipping” with pals from the Deep South. Like Laura Marling, Noah and the Whale or the more popular Mumford & Sons, Flynn represents a piece of the nu-folk scene in Sussex. The scene wears their Bob Dylan and chamber artists (think British Fleet Foxes) influences on their sleeves with pride.

Flynn, like Dylan or The Band, is a storyteller first, lifting ideas from personal history, newspaper clippings and the oral tradition. In “Barnacled Warship,” he narrates the life of a troubled soldier going off to war; in “Churlish May,” he describes a year-long love story, culminating in spring.

Johnny Flynn performed last night at Atlanta’s Masquerade venue, playing an acoustic set without his five-man backing band. And yet that’s all Flynn needs to shine: his guitar, his stories and his endlessly appealing wit.

— By Editor-at-Large Geoffrey Schorkopf

The Heavy

Courtesy of MySpace

The Heavy MySpace

We live in a strange time. Whereas a performer once had to have actual talent in order to make a great album, the advent of Pro Tools and other computer programs of that nature have allowed even the worst of bands to sound surprisingly decent. Upon hearing what they perceive as a great new band, music fans must question whether it is the band’s skills or the technology that define the sound. Oftentimes, you can never aptly discern a band’s skills until you see the band live. Even then, however, it’s sometimes hard to know for sure.

Among the throngs of up-and-coming bands with songs and production as sterile and clean as a hospital room, The Heavy is a welcome shot in the arm.
Hailing from the small hamlet of Noid, England (a make-believe location as far as I know), The Heavy attack their listeners with a unique combination of soul, funk, rock, reggae and punk (sometimes within the same song). Founded by Kelvin Swaby (vocals) and Daniel “Dan T.” Taylor (guitar), their 2009 album The House That Dirt Built offers a raw and rollicking journey through the band’s unique sound. Sharp guitar riffs and Stax-era horns propel the dynamic single “How You Like Me Now.” With a voice drenched in rock-star confidence, Swaby coos “I’ve been a bad, bad man” with a lilt that suggests we should have no reason to think otherwise.
“Cause For Alarm,” meanwhile, has the band stripping down and strutting around their reggae skills with Swaby adopting the necessary cadences and reverb. “Oh No! Not You Again” screams with the urgency and fervor of a traditional blues song filtered through a punk mentality. Likewise, the soulful “That Kind of Man” and funky “Coleen” sounds like something straight out of a cool 1970s blaxploitation film.

Banishing polish in favor of grit, The Heavy more than proves their namesake. If such an unconventional band can teach us anything, it is this: if you want to make great music, you got to get a bit dirty sometimes.
—By Entertainment Editor Mark Rozeman

SPEAK

SPEAK

Courtesy of Traffic Records and Loophole Entertainment

SPEAK MySpace

When it comes to electronic indie pop, I tend to want to keep my distance. In my experience, electronic music — with its spacey, repetitive sounds played out over an interminable length — seems to be the last refuge of the drugged-out hippie seeking a modern-day alternative to the Grateful Dead.

Call me a traditionalist, but I like my meat-and-potatoes music. When I listen to rock, I picture a group of passionate young rebels strutting around on stage, pounding their instruments into submission and howling out their (often incomprehensible) lyrics like they are commencing a political rally. When I listen to electronic, I picture two black-clad men pressing buttons while hordes of strung-out, pale youths all bob their heads in synchronization; all the while, a group of Pitchfork Media critics sit at the sidelines and stroke their goatees in contemplation. Guess which band I wish I was in?

As such, it’s always refreshing when I hear an electronic band that doesn’t sound as though they’re trying to subliminally convince me to kill myself. My current exception is the Austin-based band SPEAK. Formed from the remains of Troupe Gammage’s previous project Jupiter 4-, SPEAK consists of Gammage, guitarist Nick Hurt, drummer Jake Stewart and bassist Joey Delahoussaye. Boasting a range of influence from Led Zeppelin to the B-52s, the band delivers a hearty mix of playful electronica and Beach Boy-inspired harmony pop.

Currently available on iTunes, their debut EP Hear Here is a wonderful introduction to their sound and style. “Stand by Us” is a pitch-perfect summer hit waiting to happen. “Louder,” meanwhile, begins with a U2-inspired riff and only gets weirder from there — in a good way. The EP concludes with the up-tempo “I’d Rather Lie,” a song that somehow manages to be both exuberant and haunting at the same time.

Having recently been awarded the 2010 Best New Band Award from the Austin Music Awards, the band’s future certainly looks promising. My suggestion: check out their MySpace, download their EP and say you knew them when.

— By Staff Writer
Mark Rozeman

Rubik

Rubik

Courtesy of Stunt Company

Rubik Myspace

Finnish electro-indie band Rubik describes their music as “nice little pop songs” on their MySpace page. That thought flew from my head as soon as I hit the play button for the song “Goji Berries” off of the band’s album Dada Bandits.

Rubik’s self-proclaimed “nice little pop song” all but assaulted my ears — what with the distorted screams, staccato drum-pounding, synthesized keyboards and stuttering piano chords. Those dirty, Finnish liars.

But dirty lying aside, Rubik’s absolute control over its wild amalgamation of harsh instruments and abrupt tone changes is nothing short of masterful. Even as “Goji Berries” switches frantically between psychedelic keyboards, stark piano interludes and jaunty, light-hearted instrumentals, Rubik weaves the melodies together seamlessly and makes the song an auditory delight rather than a case of musical ADHD.

As a strange but wonderful mix of the sounds of Animal Collective, Of Montreal and Radiohead, indie music fans could dismiss Rubik as a band of mimicry rather than originality. However, the sheer intensity of Rubik’s inspirations in Dada Bandits allows it to transcend this definition.

Much like the band’s name implies, the progression of songs on Dada Bandits comes across as a complex puzzle. While all the songs are tightly contained within their respective layers of electronic synths and ranging vocals, the album holds no common theme. Instead, it offers listeners a glimpse into the band’s diverse love for music.

By Entertainment Editor
Ginny Chae