Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 24 Releases, 2012

By: Scott Smith, Reviews Editor

Well, I guess this is it--my last contribution to Drop It Like It's Hot. I’d take some time to reflect on my time as an ACRN editor, but this is not time for sentimentality and nostalgia. No, I’d rather stick to what this blog is about: new music, because it’s something I’m truly passionate about.

I’m also an avid film fan, in particular documentaries, and in this week’s music releases those two worlds are colliding for me. Two of the bigger releases this week were artists I discovered through two of my absolute favorite music documentaries.

The first would be the manic-depressive, schizophrenic singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas known as Daniel Johnston. The film The Devil and Daniel Johnston documents the artist's early life and career and also serves as an incredible insight into both. It’s hard not to be charmed and astonished by his whimsical lyrics, simple yet effective song structures and boyish vocals. His talent is undeniable and to see him perform, even on a movie screen, is captivating.

His newest album (I’ve lost count how many he has; dude is prolific) is titled Space Ducks: Soundtrack, and as usual, Johnston designed the album cover himself. The album features contributions from a number of new and emerging artists. I’d start listing off some of those bands, because some of them I quite like, but I fear if I do that I’ll be condoning this abomination of a collaboration.

You see, Daniel Johnston is at his most effective when he’s making bare-boned melodies at the piano or on an acoustic guitar. He’s a classic example of less is more (and I’m not the only one who thinks so). So all these bands working with Johnston, while coming at the project with the best intentions, can only harm the final product.

The Dandy Warhols, on the other hand, are a band of little consequence to me. They were a group that got big in Europe for a little while in the ‘90s and have been able to somehow continue making music today. The band was the subject of half of the documentary Dig!, which featured both them and the exponentially more bat-shit crazy band The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

The Dandys served to show the dark side of success as it relates to big record labels and their treatment of bands while BJM was the “musical genius who can’t get over heroin to take his band to new and exciting heights” side of the story. Over seven years of documentation, we see The Dandys go from unknown to overnight success to a washed-up, burnt-out, over-worked band on the verge of completely falling apart. That was eight years ago, so to see The Dandy Warhols still pumping out music is nothing short of remarkable, and a little terrifying to think about.

Diamond Rugs do not have a film about them, mostly because they are a newly-constructed “supergroup.” Compiled of two members of Deer Tick and one member of the Black Lips, this is one of the more peculiar and inexplicable supergroups in recent memory. I’ve seen both Deer Tick and the Black Lips live and I don’t really find much that relates the two. I also feel like the kind of music the other band makes will make the fans of one put off by the idea of the two groups working together; folkies aren’t much for punk and punks think folk is too slow and soft. I guess that’s part of a supergroup; it doesn’t have to make sense to work.

Last, but never, ever least, I always try to include some hip-hop in these entries. This week we get the newest entry from Sacramento noise rap group Death Grips. The Money Store is the first release on L.A. Reid's record label Epic Records. L.A. Reid is that guy on Simon Cowell’s "The Voice."  So I’m supposed to believe that in between judging the vocal range of 16-year-old teeny boppers, he’s bumping the group’s 2011 mixtape Exmilitary and decides that these guys were perfect for his label? Confused doesn’t begin to describe where my head's at right now.

It’s not like Death Grips couldn’t get signed anywhere. In fact, there was a time when their Zach Hill-produced, grimy, borderline frightening beats and punch-you-in-the-mouth lyrical spit was the going trend in hip-hop. But it’s not 1990 anymore and Flava Flav and Ice Cube are too busy contradicting everything they stood for back then to make a comeback for this genre to seem feasible.

But here we are, with Death Grips signed to Epic. I don’t think this is the massive revival of gangsta rap. Death Grips is making music unlike anyone else within a culture that is relying on 3D gimmicks to make their shows enjoyable at this point.