The Last Drop

Reviews and Clues on Music That Matters (to me)

Archive for April, 2008

New Issue: The Heavy

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The Heavy, Great Vengeance and Furious Fire – My second experiment with a big buzz band from SXSW (and we all know how much I love my first experiment, The White Rabbits) and I must say Austin has a knack for picking winners. Even if they come from the UK (why do I hear about Brit bands only when they hit American soil? I live in England! This is so wrong…). Mix Curtis Mayfield with the angularity of the Clash and the brashness of the Strokes. Stir well. And that is the intrigue with The Heavy. As a debut album, Great Vengeance displays all of the characteristics of a young band – no preconceived notions, lots of silliness, and occasional missteps in songwriting. Overall, you get a strong sense of possibility with The Heavy. And more than a few really good songs (come on “Colleen”). But a few are real drags and/or too purile for repeatable consumption (“Girl” should have been left as a studio joke instead of album filler). I’m just amazed at their deftness with multiple genres. Lead singer, Swaby, heaves sexiness at all turns, whether in floating falsetto croons or full on belting rock star swagger. I miss good old fashioned rock stars…that don’t seem to be swept in controversy or abject drug abuse. If nothing else, The Heavy should be an example to the rest of their English brethren on how to SOUND dirty and sexy without having to exude the actual lifestyle with all of it’s downfalls. Pete, are you listening?

Written by TopDrop

April 28th, 2008 at 2:24 pm

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New Issue: Lupe Fiasco

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Lupe Fiasco, The Cool – A brief yet important shout out to the coolest Zoroastrian Persian I know, Zubin! Thank you for the albums and I do hope this music relationship grows in the coming months. What would I do without good friends sharing good music???

I admit, I knew very little of Lupe as a solo artist prior to this album. I enjoyed “Kick, Push” and “Daydreaming” from the first album, but had very little experience for his full length efforts. A brief viewing at Lollapalooza as a side man for Kanye did nothing to expand my knowledge either. So, it is with his concept album that I begin my Lupe journey. Which is a mixed bag. On the one hand, I applaud him for his lyrical prowess and ability to actually rap about a topic. This seems to be harder and harder to do these days as hip hop has been relegated to club anthems and bar cries. For as much as I think Lil Wayne is one of the best rappers alive, he couldn’t rap about a single subject for an entire song (even if he was forced) without some random slang or talk about money/women/cars being thrown into the mix for good measure. That said, what I do appreciate about Lil Wayne and other talented rappers is that when I listen to their albums, I feel like I know them a little better on a personal level. Valid or not, the intrigue in hip hop for me is that it is a wonderful display of uniqueness. I listen to Jay Z, De La Soul, Lil Wayne, Jurassic 5, Atmosphere, etc. and I know more about each one of them by their style, flow, word choice and most importantly their ability to create a personal connection with the audience. Most of this can be seen by the artist using the first person to relate a story. Since they are telling “their” story, I get sucked in to the novel like effect. Lupe Fiasco chooses to use the 3rd person to relay the stories of “The Cool”, “The Game”, and “The Streets” throughout The Cool. By making these stories impersonal, I lose that vital sense of personal connection. Lupe becomes an omniscient character that chooses to stay out of the mess that is life. Not the easiest to relate to and thus becomes a little to preacher like for me. “Dumb It Down” becomes down right offensive as he views his audience as too base to understand his concepts. In the immortal words of Oprah, don’t play me that small!

The music itself is also too slick. Cellos, R&B backing singers, and synths abound. “Superstar” may be a hit but it has all of the trappings from mainstream hip hop to follow in its footsteps (or maybe I’m dumbing it down too much…). For an underground artist, he sure used his mainstream friend (Kanye) a lot in the process. But to a mind numbing end. Nothing stands out as too original and he doesn’t seem to let loose on any track. Which is ultimately a sad occurrence for a talented artist. I can appreciate his verbal skill and overall acumen in putting sharp insights together. However, The Cool lacked a sense of urgency, likeability, and personality that could have made it a great album. Lupe is very sharp and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that the third (and reportedly final) album becomes the masterpiece that he deserves to create. A little less Kanye and pointed castigation should do the trick.

Written by TopDrop

April 27th, 2008 at 4:51 pm

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New Issue: Gnarls Barkley

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Gnarls Barkley, The Odd Couple – Round two from the dynamic duo. I was so proud that St Elsewhere garnered commercial success for a under-appreciated Southern rapper and a dj who’s love of the Beatles was outlawed. “Crazy” was undeniable and eventually won the world over, thus re-establishing my faith in the world. However, ostensibly, The Odd Couple will be a harder sell for the masses. Not worse, just harder.

The defining and most beloved feature on the first album was the pace. “Go-Go Gadget Gospel” starts off everything in a whirlwind. And it worked. Extremely well. The odd noises, the hand claps, the gospel choir, the general cacophony was awakening and the world seemed refreshed (if but briefly) from the highly staged/coreographed/produced/manipulated world of pop music (most visibly seen in hip hop these days…). We all were thankful for the unlikely duo and their tendency for tongue in cheek costume humor ( I saw them perform in their tennis whites). That said, it did create a precedent for Gnarls Barkley as the indie world heros come to save us all from staid rock and formulaic hip hop and keep us dancing for the forseeable future. The Odd Couple is a departure from this precedent which will catch most off guard and probably turn most off. It’s a slow album. A few bits of sunshine creep in, but for the most part, the party is over and Cee Lo is having a big think about it all. The music is much more focused but lacks the dynamism from St. Elsewhere. Maybe it all makes too much sense. And maybe we don’t want Gnarls Barkley to make us think too hard. Which is a shame, because Cee Lo is at his best as a soul shattering crooner. “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” could easily stand up with an Otis Redding track. But I can’t see it having much commercial success. “Run” is the accepted first single and may be the only song that can stand up to radio/video airplay. A Justin Timberlake cameo also helps 🙂 But again, the general feel of this album is a bit of a Debbie Downer. An impeccably consistent one, but none the less, down.

I enjoy it, but I do struggle to get to the end. I recognize it’s beauty, but it’s hard for me to pinpoint it as a consistent listening choice. Still, it is exceptional work from unlikely collaborators. I hope this concept continues to spread and bend the common notion of what is commercial.

Written by TopDrop

April 27th, 2008 at 4:23 pm

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New Issue: Yoav

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Yoav, Charmed & Strange – You know, I was hoping for something better. I was intrigued by an artist that was reinventing a tried and true instrument. At that level Charmed & Strange succeeds at introducing Yoav as an uber talented musician. Much like Dave Matthews, you can’t fault him for not actually having technique. The sounds he creates with the guitar are otherwordly at best, pop like for the most part. Yet, most of his songs are utterly forgettable. How can this be? Well, poor lyrics are a start. The first few tracks are promising but quickly fall short of anything sustainable. Worse yet, nothing is bad enough to be completely terrible. Just average. Which, to me, is worse than awful. Furthermore, he tends to stick with one tempo. For the whole duration. No better way to get me to contemplate the length of my toe nails. Or simply turn to another album. Lastly, the songs do not use his talent to nearly the best of his abilities. The tricks and quirks of his guitar sounds get muddled into a commercial mess. “Club Thing” is standout track, but is backed with very few options to help sell Yoav as a legitimate artist. I can’t say I’m looking to see him succeed in 2008. But here’s to trying!

Written by TopDrop

April 27th, 2008 at 4:08 pm

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Stockpile: De La Soul

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De La Soul, Bulhoone Mind State – More music that I slept on in it’s original release. True, I was much younger then (and still didn’t own my first CD until age 21) and living in western NY state. Bring on the Bon Jovi and Warrant. Tribe Called who? EP needs an MD? Yeah, I’m behind. But I am trying. And liking what I try. This may prove to be a series on the grandness that is De La Soul. I’ve been airing my grievances on contemporary hip hop lacking any serious depth when all I had to do was go back 10 years to find it. Regressive? Don’t tell Lil’ Jon.

This album is as much a triumph on lyrical expressionism as it is with musical experimentation. De La Soul flirt with weighty images of self identification, image, poverty, and moral mistakes with a genuine and sonically diverse attitude. Early to mid ’90s hip hop should be classified as the Impressionist era. No two songs seem to settle blanketly on one type of genre, whether jazzy, funky, bass driven, or pop. Yet they convey the strengths of each element well. Plus, we get intelligent lyrics that are clever and witty but unpretentious. And even fun. This is hip hop after all.

I’ve acquired much of De La Soul’s library of classic albums and I look forward to expanding my knowledge of their sound. If only I wasn’t being a harbinger of the past…

Written by TopDrop

April 11th, 2008 at 11:17 am

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The Real MTV

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Is on. Right now. A slimmed down version, but chock full of interesting little nuggets. I’m impressed with the simple interface and bandwidth options (easier to watch at work…). So far, it’s very digestible given that the original site has now fully clogged with banner ads and random news elements. As much I want to hate, I can’t find too much fault with Pitchfork TV just yet.

What do you think?

Pitchfork TV on blast

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April 8th, 2008 at 5:57 am

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More (Pseudo) Creativity from the Limping Labels

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All the Major Labels (ex artist hemorrhaging EMI) have signed a deal with Myspace to elevate MySpace Music into a joint platform to share their entire catalogs online. Yet again, another attack against Apple’s dominance in the digital music realm (they just surpassed WalMart in total music sales).

Still looks like too little, too late. Even Rick Rubin announced that “Myspace is dead”. Throwing money at a foregone conclusion doesn’t seem like it will spark results. Why are there so few people at the major labels invested in learning about the future of consumer behavior. Everything seems so set on now instead of looking towards what’s next. Isn’t that what music is supposed to be – an interpretation of what is happening now but how it can all change?

Read about MySpace still holding the music discovery title

Written by TopDrop

April 5th, 2008 at 2:04 pm

Miss Jones and Miss Lynn

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I can’t believe she covered “Fist City”. My stately pick from Loretta Lynn for my best of 2006 and now Norah Jones done covered it! See, it is a great song. As well as many other alterna-country covers in her latest, much raved about performance. This is really an inside joke post, so for those on the outside, I apologize.

Long Live Loretta Lynn!

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April 5th, 2008 at 1:42 pm

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Top Drops: March

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Back from rehab, here are my Top Drops from a fairly fruitful March:

Panda Bear, Person PitchThis is really growing on me. The clammering 60’s soundscape genre may well become a new territory for permanent exploration in 2008. I don’t know if I will find too many artists better than Panda Bear however. Maybe I should just Take Pills.


Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever AgoIt doesn’t hurt to have an amazing, gut-wrenching story to help further your bid for melancholic genius. Perfect for a spring day that calls for snow (thank you, irregular weather patterns across England!)


Jay Z, American GangsterA growing Jay z obsession?! Maybe. I think I really appreciate ’70s soul samples and Lil Wayne on his grimiest game. Say goodbye to Katrina, Hello Brooklyn!

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April 5th, 2008 at 11:00 am

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Live Nation really IS Live

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By Signing Jay Z to a $150Million contract for 10 years. Yet another defect from the major labels (Def Jam). Jigga joins the likes of Madonna and U2 under Live Nations newly signed artist roster. But has the highest payout for a contract to date. I guess it does help to be a CEO of your own label to negotiate better deals.

The major speculation is that these Live Nation deals will be the death knell for all major record labels. Artists are constantly wanting a larger piece of their own franchise (tours, merchandise, ring tones, apparel, anything with their name on it, etc.) and record labels have not been able to cope with this shift. However, Live Nation still isn’t turning a profit. So no side is really “winning” at this point. Except for the mega-artists getting these deals who were already safe and secure with their loot. So will this really be the wave of the future? I’m doubtful. No one has yet to crack the code on actually making money. As long as there are no sustainably profits, no one can truly be happy with the arrangement. But I’m glad to see that at least they are trying something new. Maybe this will spawn the profit inducing idea that sets music on it’s next frontier.

Jigga article in the NYT

Written by TopDrop

April 3rd, 2008 at 5:48 am

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