MUSIC REVIEWS: Product of the 80s, A Filial, XX Teens, Nine Inch Nails
In an attempt to ride the coattails of rap group Mobb Deep’s success, former member Prodigy gathers his buddies Big Twins and Un Pacino for a collaboration that makes one glad that the 80s are far behind. From the record label Dirt Class Records, Product of the 80s is a potty-mouth return to murder-rap with a bit of early 90s gangster rap on the fringe. The idea is that all of these guys grew up in 1980s New York, “an infamous era, landscaped in political turmoil and economic crisis,” so says the more eloquent ABOUT section of the Dirt Class Records website. Rest assured that the issue with this album is not sentiment. From beginning to end, it’s clear that life was less than spectacular during the 1980s, hence the existence of murder-rap; operative word being the ‘murder’ part. Instead, the real issue with this album is the insufficiency of the lyrics. In this era of Eminem, Kanye, Wale, Pharrell, Common…or rather in this era of hard-hitting rhymes, swagger, cleverness, killer beats, and poetic mastery, it seems odd that Prodigy/Big Twins/Un Pacino would return to murder-rap, a flow punctuated by “bitches” and “ho’s.” There’s nothing meditative about these lyrics: “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse, I’m so thirsty I could drink a horse’s blood,” or “It’s so cold you wear sweatpants under ya jeans, know what I mean?” While hard to come by, spice came in the form of female vocalists who sang the choruses for “Circle Don’t Stop” and “Damn Daddy,” an ironic title for a song about dating a rich chick and letting her catch the tab–which begs the question: For all of the heavy content of the tumultuous 1980s, why didn’t this trio dig deeper in an effort to truly convey the hardships they’ve endured?
A Filial’s first U.S. release offers superb global hip-hop production complete with luscious musical landscapes and lyrics honoring its hip hop and skateboarding Rio de Janeiro community. The album’s title, $1,99, refers to Brazilian ninety-nine cent retail stores and it masterfully incorporates mixtures of house, jazz, samba, electronic, big band, club and soul music while lyrical delivery is more classic hip hop. Regional sounds also flourish, weaving in and out, underneath and over rhymes about street life, poverty and more importantly, pride. With sly trumpet tones over a fresh pop-samba beat, “Brown Sueter,” is a lyrical ode to wearing unfashionable brown sweaters with playful arrogance. Testifying about hardship, thankfulness and a desire to still share out of shortages, “Baiao One Two,” is a flighty arrangement of soaring flutes against wickedly tight drums. “Maluisa” is a summer sweet tune mostly of acoustic guitar and cicada sounds while, “Like a Baby’s Kiss” is a club driven techno-house dream layered with heavy bass and beats. $1,99’s sounds and styles are refreshing and delightfully charitable in its rich serving of succulent composition and thoughtful lyrics.
I was originally drawn to Welcome to Goon Island by a song I heard and grew to love on the radio, “Darlin,” a high-energy song that masterfully juxtaposes two tunes together. One played on a steel drum with a catchy, familiar jingle that I cannot place, and the other a hard, heavy, fast-paced tune that features trumpets blaring and screaming punk vocals from lead singer, Rich Cash. XX Teens is a five-piece band from London that is sort of a synth-punk rock act. Sadly, after many listens, most of the remaining songs on their debut album are disappointing. “Ba (Ba-Ba-Ba)” is a pleasant change of pace, as its a slower song that introduces a tuba and softer vocals – really talking instead of screaming, but still sort of leaves you hanging by really only having a basic hook and no bridge. It’s a theme that is common in all their songs, but only overlooked on the few tracks like “Darlin,” that substitute this lack of a bridge with a casually interwoven alternative melody. Their only other notable song is “Only You,” which has such a catchy hook, but again just dies in the repetition.
It’s no doubt that music has come a long way since metal gods Metallica were furious at Napster for allowing fans to illegally download their music. In the case of Nine Inch Nails, the industrial band’s album The Slip is in the house and readily available to download for free. Does this mean that Trent Reznor’s latest creation is so dreadful that it has to be given away? Thankfully, The Slip is too satisfying to go under the tracks and is indeed a gift for loyal fans. “1,000,000” exemplifies the reason behind the band’s many years of success: a hypnotic melody that unites electronic, man-made beats fit for raves, aggressive drumming, and a monstrous chorus that’s nothing less than rock ‘n’ roll. “Is my viciousness losing ground?” Reznor asks in “Discipline,” where his new role as a label-free artist is questioned along to erratic riffs produced by Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist Robin Finck. It’s only in “Demon Seed” where the familiar, ecstasy-inducing anthems prove to be more noise than substance. However, “Lights in the Sky,” a haunting, morbid ballad with a thunderous piano and whispers of “Watching you drown, I’ll follow you down,” reveals Reznor’s past battles involving alcohol and cocaine. The Slip may chronicle a man’s downward spiral, but it also marks a new period of a perfect drug that’ll keep listeners wanting more.