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Homeboy Sandman shows off his work ethic on latest EP with Aesop Rock

Hover over the graphic below to listen to Homeboy Sandman's Anjelitu EP in its entirety. And if you like what you hear, you can head out to RE:GEN:CY in Red Hook, Brooklyn, tonight to see him perform live.

 
In modern-day America I think it's safe to say that most of us don’t know too much about our homeland’s labor history or workers’ rights movements. For example, it wasn't until I did some Labor Day googling yesterday that I first learned about the 100-year-old Battle of Blair Mountain, where 10,000 workers living in a West Virginia mining camp staged an armed insurrection against the bosses who apparently treated their interracial work force like slaves and carried out intimidation and assassination (!) campaigns against worker-residents who tried to unionize. The battle ended after five days (and about a hundred deaths) when the US Army intervened on the side of the coal mining company (interesting sidenote: the militant miners called themselves the “Red Neck Army” after the red bandanas they wore around their necks, meaning that some of the first “rednecks” were Black Americans, a term that was soon usurped by less enlightened elements).

It's pretty crazy I’d never heard of the uprising before—another piece of our history that’s been suppressed and kept out of school curricula (see the "Red Neck Army" link above) not unlike the Tulsa race massacre, a tragedy that likewise occurred in 1921 which was not exactly a banner year for this country (and ok, my own inherent laziness get some of the blame as well). Anyway, about now you may be thinking “what does this have to do with emerging music in New York City?” Because, let’s face it, labor history isn’t the most popular subject for songwriters with some notable exceptions of course. What’s arguably more surprising is how the broader topic of work is likewise not so popular as a musical subject, despite it occupying about half the waking hours of the full-time gainfully employed and even more time if we define work simply as “concerted effort put into a given task," but then again who wants to think about work when enjoying music or to think about making music as "work"?

Hip hop artists and audiences is who. Or at least it is judging by how often work is acknowledged in lyrics and in hip hop culture as a reality of life--with words like “hustle” and “grind” used frequently and approvingly. And pro-work tendencies are hardly limited to aspirational pop-rap, or serious-minded conscious rap, because even when attention is turned to such leisure activities as sex and drugs in hardcore-oriented rap, it’s notable how often (to the point of cliché by now) these subjects are framed less in terms of pleasure and more in terms of work, with the job security of "pimps, players, and pushers" guaranteed thanks to the insatiable desires of their clientele, an even more durable subject given the exploitational parallels drawn between "underground" and "legitimate" economies. As for mumble rappers, they stand proud and tall (ok, more slouched over really) for the slacker contingent. (notably country music used to excel at work songs too, but not so much anymore, since Nashville hitmakers stay busy these days writing songs about date nights at Applebee’s and sexy tractors).

Work is clearly front and center on the opening track (“Go Hard”) of Homeboy Sandman’s Anjelitu EP (Mello Music Group), the latest in a series of collaborations with fellow underground highly-productive worker bee Aesop Rock (who produced all of Anjelitu and contributes vocals on the last number “Lice Team, Baby”) that began back in 2015 with their first record together under the Lice moniker—a moniker most recently resuscitated for their MF Doom tribute single early this year. And Mr. Sandman is clearly pretty well-versed on the subject of work given his employment history (bartending, marketing, teaching in the NYC Public School System), the three years he spent at Hofstra Law School before dropping out to become a full-time emcee ("I want to make arguments and make points and back them up with details [and] specifics, and that's the type of stuff you work on at law school" he explained back in a 2012 interview), and finally, in his status as an underground "hip hop PhD".

And his partner Aesop Rock knows a thing or two about work too, considering that his breakthrough LP, Labor Days (Def Jux, 2001) was a concept album centered around the perils and the pleasures of labor as well as the larger plight of working-class America (“Now we the American working population / hate the fact that eight hours a day / is wasted on chasing the dream of someone that isn't us”), an album that’s still considered a landmark of independent hip hop, not to mention white rapperdom.

“Go Hard” is a phrase that one online dictionary defines as “to work hard or to do something with intensity” and boy does our ‘Boy Sand (as he refers to himself on the track) go hard on “Go Hard” as he bobs and weaves between the metronomic-yet-lopsided beat like Muhammad Ali playing rope-a-dope with bars that float like a butterfly and sting like a bee (“I’m like Fred Hampton chewing on rattlesnake plantain / in other words, I go hard”) unspooling in short bursts at first then turning into long flowing lines like a bebop solo (Mr. Sandman is a jazz fan and former sax player, and his Dominican father was a champion boxer before becoming a lawyer focused on local progressive causes, so the math adds up). And hey anyone who manages to rhyme string theory, chimichurri, cemetery, and seminary and make it flow seamlessly both musically and logically has clearly put in the work and isn’t afraid to let it show.



Over the subsequent five tracks, Sandman and Aesop offer a virtual correspondence course on underground hip hop beat-making—ranging from minimalist funk grooves to beats built on what sound like Spaghetti Western samples and that’s just in the next couple of tracks—and equally on the technically complex bars favored by many underground emcees including heavy doses of consonance and assonance, alliteration, speed rapping, slant rhyming, internal rhyming, multisyllabic rhyming (a.k.a. “multis”) and other techniques—it’s telling that most of these techniques can be heard in four random lines off Anjelitu like “Another clash, another classic down the massive drain / Gene Kelly dancing in the acid rain / beneath the moon, I penned the music for the village getting raided / play while lickin' shots, I’m still in shock from Ewing getting traded”—not to mention all the clever metaphors and allusions and colorful imagery and the constant switch-ups of flow and the lyrical callbacks to the likes of LL Cool J, Slick Rick, and Cypress Hill. With so much going on it can get pretty intense, just ask the Youtube reviewer above.

So if you wanna help support two hard-working indie hip hop stalwarts you’ll probably want to check out Anjelitu and perhaps drop the artists a few bones for their trouble. The record's title is a mashup of Homeboy Sandman’s childhood nickname (Angelito meaning “Little Angel”) and the well-known Chinese yin-yang symbol (taijitu) which symbolizes the fluctuating dynamic caused by opposing forces coming together to form a whole—which all makes good sense given the highly personal nature of the record (“My team ain’t make it to the playoffs / luckily my demons always make it to the seance”) and its shape-shifting nature (consistent with Sandman and Aesop’s discographies on the whole) holding true to the vow made on the EP to “go to hell and back 'fore I repeat myself.” And if you wanna witness some hip hop labor performed live before your very eyes, as stated above, you can head over to RE:GEN:CY in Red Hook, Brooklyn tonight (9/7) where our 'Boy Sand will do his thing. Or catch him touring across this great nation’s southern and western regions over the next couple months. (Jason Lee)

   

Petite League teach old dog "New Tricks" in music video premiere

I’m not usually one to quote other critics here but since I’m feeling a little lazy, and because there’s some provocative opinions on the latest album by Petite League out there, I’ll just share a couple quick ones here. Like the quote from the Americana Highways writer who says there’s no hyperbole at all in calling Joyrider “a lo-fi Pet Sounds” or prematurely naming it “the best album of the year” because “it’s just hard to image [sic] something topping this.” Congrats with that pull quote gentlemen! And over at The Family Reviews, in describing the overall vibe of the album, another writer observed that “the dominant force on this album [is being] blissful in the moment even with the knowledge that when the high wears off the hangover is going to be psychically shattering.” Which sounds a lot like Brian Wilson while making Pet Sounds so I think we have a running theme here. 

When it comes to the song “New Tricks” off the album and it’s newly released music video, Petite League demonstrate their considerable talent for making loneliness and regret and daydreams and succeeding-against-all-the-odds sound transcendent in a low-key/lo-fi kinda way, luxuriating in sharp, sweet suffering like teasing a loose tooth with your tongue. And while I can’t help but think of Rob Gordon at the beginning of High Fidelity when he wonders aloud whether the music or the misery came first, finally you gotta say “who cares!” when you can simply bask in the winsome strains of Petite League and the heart-rending tale of an old dog trying to learn “new tricks" in the parallel realms of romance and roulette.

Now that I think about it, this song’s scrappy shaggy-dog story is straight out of a hardcore country song--talk about a genre that knows how to confront everyday forms of sadness or at least it once did--about a gambler who definitely does not know when to hold ‘em or when to fold 'em as evidenced by all-night booze and baccarat filled bender at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City spent “betting it all on the wrong dog” and returning dejectedly on the 4AM bus back to the city smelling like ashtray butts and “the bottle I was sleeping in” and then showing up on your doorstep unannounced declaring “I’ve made a terrible mistake please consider loving me like you once did” and boy does this kind of stuff pull at your heartstrings, especially given the dogged optimism of the narrator holding out hope for “one more lucky strike / one more lucky hand / one more lucky night” a lot like the tragic protagonist of nearly every movie ever made about doomed dreamers and gamblers.

And when you’re this hard up you can sometimes find a perverse succor in being a sucker, that is, in giving yourself so entirely over to something or someone so that no matter how hopeless the reality of it you at least manage to escape yourself--like our narrator drawn to pretty faces that “always drinks for free...like sugar and wine in my veins,” providing comfort to “a broken, broken man,” not unlike “the comforting heat from the warmth of a gun” or some other metaphor about being inextricably-drawn-to-what’s-worst-for-you in a way that's “hard to explain and harder to change” but hey just raise your hand if you haven’t been there before. (Yeah, I thought so!) Then if you dress up the quasi-story-song with gently shimmering Andy Summers guitar chording and bounding basslines and in-the-pocket timekeeping (courtesy of drummer Henry Schoonmaker) and blankly blissful vocals (courtesy of songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Lorenzo Gillis Cook) all wrapped up in the warm glow of the record's lo-fi production, and you’re likely to experience a slowly spreading sense of deep contentment whatever your current circumstances in life.

And speaking of being bathed in a warm glow, the music video only amplifies this sense of womb-like comfort and warmth with the band’s members ensconced in colorful mall-walker windbreakers kind of like oversized Members Only jackets as they wander around and lounge on a city rooftop decorated with pin-striped partitions and it certainly looks like a pleasant way to spend a day--especially with all the magic tricks and money flaunting and dice playing happening up there. This warm nostalgic aesthetic is only heightened by the video being filmed on Super 8 and 16mm film by band ally and video director KD Sampaio (Good Relation Records) with the resulting visual full of artifacts and vertical hold issues evoking the hazy, sentimental vibe of unearthed home movies discovered in the attic. 

And so the moral of the story may be "why not bet all your chips and shoot for the big jackpot, perhaps followed by a joyride in the Mojave Desert, because what else have you got to lose?" or at least that's my takeaway. At worst, you’ll experience a psychically-shattering hangover and then write a great song about it like this one. (Jason Lee)

   

Single premiere: Nihiloceros preps for imminent self-destruction with "Dirty Homes"

It’s one thing to know that the end will come one day (easy enough to ignore) but it’s another to know when that day will come (not so easy to ignore). The new single put out today by Brooklyn-based three-piece Nihiloceros (“Dirty Homes”) is based around the latter condition which Dr. Nessa Coyle, co-editor of The Nature of Suffering and The Oxford Textbook of Palliative Care Nursing, both of which make for excellent beach reads, has termed the “existential slap” i.e. the very moment where a soon-to-arrive demise is realized and internalized alongside the attendant trauma likely to follow a time-stamped death sentence.

Despite being something best-avoided in real life, the “existential slap” is a popular plot device in the movies like in all those ticking-clock-countdown-to-a-life-or-death-deadline type films, even if many of them cop out and allow the hero to live at the last minute. Existential slap movies also tap into our curiosity of how we’d react if we learned we’ve got only one year or maybe just 24 hours left to live, just like Ethan Hawke in that movie from a few years ago called (*ahem*) 24 Hours To Live. But my personal fave in this genre is Miracle Mile, an obscure 1988 film that’s grown a cult following over the years due to what Black Mirror sicko-satirist Charlie Brooker once labelled “the biggest lurch of tone” of any movie ever.  

Basically (warning: skip this paragraph if you hate tangents and/or spoilers) the movie starts off as a quirky “meet cute” rom-com that’s just about as Totally ‘80s as they come. And then it ends with our nerdy-adorable couple slowly sinking into the La Brea Tar Pits in a crashed helicopter as nuclear bombs rain down on Los Angeles (a surprisingly tender scene believe it or not). But most of the movie revolves around the existential bitchslap that arrives about 30 minutes in when Anthony Edwards first finds out (before anyone else) that nuclear armageddon is on its way in about an hour or so, and all the batshit crazy shit that transpires as a result.

But hey we’re here to talk about music, right? (thanks for the reminder!) While not on the same level as movies there are at least a few well-known albums (concept albums, natch) that deal with this very same theme—notable examples being Megadeth’s Countdown To Extinction, the Del/Dan/Kid underground hip hop classic Deltron 3030, and of course David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars which opens with the conceit of being down to “five years left to cry in” before the end.

But a “concept EP” that takes the existential slap as its central conceit, well this is breaking new ground. And Nihiloceros have done just that with Self Destroy (released digitally on 9/17 and then physically on 10/1 from Totally Real Records) perhaps the world’s first “existential slap EP” (make that “ESEP”) and there’s no bisexual rock aliens falling to Earth to spread moorage daydreams before the inevitable rock ’n’ roll suicide in the Nihiloceros's rendition. Instead, we have a six-song self-described meditation on “the imminent evolutionary unraveling of the human condition and the absurdity of the end of the world” which obviously should make for good beach listening.

And guess what “Dirty Homes” is the lead-off track on the EP so we got a sneak preview now of how it all begins. Eschewing any “meet cute” gambits, the song instead charges into your earholes with a needle drop straight into a rush of Superchunky distorted intertwining bass and guitar and propulsive beating of skins (Chris Gilroy on the skins as well as production/engineering/mixing duties, whereas Siberian transplant German Sent handles current live drumming duties, got it?) and an eerie high-register melody. Meanwhile, right off the bat the narrator faces “youth erod[ing]” and “ages torn down” and the impending demise of humanity (difficult to imagine, no?) and just like Anthony Edwards in the phone booth scene above, humanity’s first reaction is flat out denial. When we talked the other day guitarist/lyricist Mike Borchardt called the song a “fairy tale vs. reality” type fableand that seems about right because the cognitive dissonance is palpable in both the lyrics and music.

Contrasting the titular “dirty homes” with pristine “white cathedrals” it seems humanity may have miscalculated in not taking better care of the places where we actually live (the dirty homes in question) instead tending to ritual spaces where we imagine our ideal selves as looked after by a beneficent god (this could be any type of “god” or "gods" take your pick). As further described in the lyrics through snatches of arresting imagery, we’ve travelled to the point of no return on “the yellow bricks [that] lead to Rome” and well now I’m picturing Dorothy hooking up with Caligula and bringing the whole gang along to a gladiator match (you know the Cowardly Lion is freaking the fuck out) followed by an imperial orgy (every tried to have sex with a scarecrow?) which all ends in chaos of course. 

Likewise on the musical side of the things the song swings between extremes—the bouyant melodies of the verses masking apocalyptical imagery of locked jaws and rusted suns and “cities built on your cries” that is until the song gets stuck in its own groove with our narrator repeating “YOU! YOU! YOU! YOU!” in the chorus in an echo of the egotism and individualism and freedom-to-be-stupid-but-fully-satiated-at-all-times-at-all-costs that got us into this end times mess in the first place. Then later there’s a breakdown section (talk about literal!) and finally an outro that opens with a nice crunchy ’n’ catchy guitar solo that soon unravels into swelling sonic murk and doomsday countdown-clock rhythms before glitching out and ending on a bass and guitar single-note that hisses and crackles like a burnt out element. 

And if this all sounds a little on the dismal side it’s not so much really because much like Miracle Mile the songs on Self Destroy are the musical equivalent of action set pieces, adrenalized and strangly exhilarated by impending doom (thought don’t get me wrong “the shit goes down”) and plus the band creates such a powerful slab-of-sound that you’ll likely be mesmerized anyway—at times I still can’t tell which parts are bass or guitar, nevermind theremin or effects-laden Rhodes piano—which could be down in part to bassist/co-vocalist Alex Hoffman designing a custom line of pedals for the record (!) that’ll be available to the buying public at some point (plus an entire line of tie-in hot sauces, I shit you not) so check out “Dirty Homes” for now and then clean up your pig-sty why don'tcha and then get ready to blast off when Self Destroy drops because, well, it’s gonna be “a thrill ride into oblivion” (potential pull quote!) and you may as well sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds as it goes down. (Jason Lee)

   

Colatura release "King Kalm" and invite you for a ride

There was once a band called the Ramones who wrote a song about wanting to be sedated but the song itself sounded anything but sedated because, well, those guys spent a lot of time in a van together and, well, just imagine spending half your life trapped in a van with Dee Dee, Johnny and Joey (and whoever happened to be the drummer at the time) and you know that shit was far from sedate.

Based on the new single and video released today by New York City band Colatura (the song in question being “King Kalm” which also happens to be about wanting to be sedated) I actually don’t think I’d mind riding around in a van with Digo, Jennica, Meredith, and Alex especially if they brought along their gorilla suit, skateboard, and prescription meds and played more songs like this one on the van’s tape deck or 8-track player featuring chiming swirly guitars and synths swells and gently insistent bass/drums all topped off with gossamer overlapping airy vocals to the point where if this was 1987 or even 1993 it’d probably get you signed to Sarah Records on the spot and it would definitely make you feel sedated.

However, upon further inspection, I should mention that should the band Colatura drive up next to you in a sketchy looking van and offer you a ride to your destination along with some unwrapped candy then you may want to think twice because once you dig under the surface of “King Khan” (lyrics here) you’ll find it’s actually a song about battling anxiety and loss and regret and finding that the only way to do so is through some combination of denial, self-harm (if scab picking counts that is) and (wait for it...) drugs. So while your trip in the van probably won't be stressful on the level of Dee Dee pulling a big Bowie knife on Johnny after the latter called his girlfriend a skank, instead you may be faced with four minds full of worry (and, who knows, possibly some passive-aggressiveness followed by a long icy silence) so maybe you’re better off just walking. But you can at least put their beautiful new song on your headphones. (Jason Lee)

   

J Bambii "Hermit 9"

J Bambii has released a new single and video called "Hermit 9". The single, which was mixed and mastered by SolarFive, finds J Bambii dominating a J Dilla beat and making her way around New York City.