Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rhymes: The Yeezus Tour (Part One: The Calm Before the Yeezus)

In about 26 hours of writing this sentence, I will be experiencing the “Yeezus” tour with Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. I have been a Kanye West fan since one fateful summer day in 2003 when I saw the “Through the Wire” music video on BET or MTV. Since then Mr. West has grown more and more as an artist and I’ve grown more and more obsessive with him. 

Unfortunately I have not been able to witness Kanye’s infinite brilliance in form of a live show until this year. The “Glow in the Dark” tour, which followed his “Graduation” album, happened while I was in high school and unemployed. Kanye didn’t have a tour following two of my favorite albums from him, “808s & Heartbreaks” (yes this is a great album, if you disagree, your opinion is wrong) and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”  And I missed out on the extravagant “Watch the Throne” tour due to schedule conflicts and the lack of funds (missing them do “N***** in Paris” 10+ times in a row will always be one of my life’s greatest regrets). 

When the “Yeezus” tour was announced a few months ago, I was very prompt in purchasing tickets for my friend and me. I was counting down the days until Kanye and Kendrick would arrive in Chicago to perform in the United Center. Then a week or so before the show, Kanye postponed the date due to damaged stage equipment. This was unfortunate, but I know that this show is going to be so bonkers that it will be worth the wait. 

What makes Kanye West such a fascinating figure is his unpredictability. I’ve done my best to avoid reading about the shows he’s already done, although I’ve seen a few pictures of him onstage with a Jesus lookalike, Kanye donning a mask and some giant mountain thing. I’m hoping for some classic rants. I’m hoping he brings a fellow Chicagoan onstage (Chief Keef, perhaps?). I’m expecting to be confused. I’m expecting to be a little terrified at some points. But whatever happens, it will undoubtedly be awesome because Kanye West is the voice of this generation, of this decade.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Rhymes & LIfe: The Late Summer Classic

Even though August is totally the Ringo Starr of the summer/spring months, the late summer is my favorite musical season. Now for you non-musical nerds, I will break down the difference between early summer music and late summer music. The beginning of the summer is exciting; everyone is optimistic and relieved that the summer is finally here. Spirits are elated, thoughts are simple and the energy is high – and the music reflects that.

In summer 2013, Daft Punk released one of the most perfect summer songs I’ve ever heard – “Get Lucky.” It is the absolute reflection of what a young person feels in the months of May and June (also in 2012, B.o.B.’s “So Good” was a highly underrated/underutilized early summer track). The disco/funk infused guitar riffs, sultry vocals and the high-paced drums, along with an incredibly catchy chorus and lyricism about a night of fun, sexual pursuits makes for an anthem for anyone going out on a June Friday night. (fun.’s “Some Nights” was great in 2012 too.) The equally funky and Pharrell-infused (seriously, I’m so glad this man is back on the radio) “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke is another great early summer jam from this summer.
But after the initial excitement and unpredictability of that summer euphoria wears off, you have August – and your late summer classics. August is one of the worst months of the year – it’s usually unbearably hot, school is right around the corner (well, it used to be), I didn’t do all those things on my summer to-do list and the Indians have fallen out of the play-off hunt. August is a sobering month; after two months of carelessness and freedom, the late summer serves as the hangover. Late summer music is still aesthetically warm, but it tends to be a little slower (but still in that mid-tempo range) and often more introspective. These are the type of songs you play while you roll out of bed around noon, walk to Starbucks and wear shades to get that goddamn sun out of your eyes.
The best late summer album I’ve ever heard is without question Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…” The album’s warm and cinematic production is the perfect backdrop to an August evening, and Raekwon and Ghostface’s lyrical urgency and ambitious storyline is relatable for my late summer existential crises. (Granted they’re mostly talking about drug dealing, and I’m, I don’t know trying to get a job or something with ambition.) A great pop example of a late summer classic is Justin Timberlake’s “Future Love/Sex Sounds.” While this album has songs that I would consider early summer songs (“Sexy Back” and “My Love”), as a whole I’d say it’s a late summer album (especially the breakdown on “Summer Love” and the brilliant “LoveStoned… She Knows”).
The best late summer song I’ve heard this year is undoubtedly Mayer Hawthorne and Kendrick Lamar’s “Crime.” The tone of the guitars and piano make envision drinking outside at like one final cookout before the summer concludes (but maybe that’s just me). Last year Kendrick’s “Swimming Pools” was a prime example of a great late summer song. And Macklemore’s “Same Love” and Lana Del Rey’s “Summer Time Sadness” were also notable late summer songs from 2012, but strangely enough they’re just now seeing some attention on the charts this summer. Even though they’re definitely going to get ignore by pop radio and they came out in May, I’d make a strong argument for Vampire Weekend’s ”Ya Hey” and The National’s “This is the Last Time” for late summer songs of 2013. (Vamp Week also contributed “Diane Young” and The National’s “Sea of Love” and “Don’t Swallow the Cap” for early summer bangers.)
So even though the summer is over in a few weeks and we’re going to have to break out the hoodies and emo music soon, we can still enjoy a few more weeks of the best music-listening weather of the year.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Life: Anustart (part 1: The Day I Quit My Job)

I’ve decided that I’m going to make BRL more primarily focused as my personal blog – sprinkled of course with my unmatchable humor and wit (see: my life advice posts). I will occasionally post some musically based things, but I’ll probably just post most of my hip hop thoughts on a blog I’ve been writing for over a year: HipHopSpeakeasy and of course Okayplayer, RapReviews and my new home PlanetIll. I got a lot of neat shit going on in my life right now, so I figured I’d use BRL as a platform to share my experiences with my loyal and vast fan base.
And for those who don’t get this posts title, I will direct you to the image below (an Arrested Development gag):
Today I quit my job.
A risky move for anyone in today’s improving but still very unstable economic climate, and an especially risky move for a journalist. Yes I was very lucky to land a job writing full-time at a newspaper in my hometown only four months after graduation. It was also lucky I was able to crash with my parents over the past 13 months, as I dedicate large portions of my paycheck towards my student loans. But only one day after the Chicago Sun-Times laid off its entire full-time photo staff, I left my first and possibly final job as a newspaper reporter.
Now before you scream at your computer screen like you would at the protagonist in a horror film who is unaware that a man with a large knife is hiding behind that door, this move isn’t entirely spontaneous. I’ve spent the entire tenure at this job saving up money for my inevitable re-location, and I’ve spent the past four months scouting out cities to move to when I’ve finally had enough of Tiffin, Ohio. I found a cool spot in northern #REDACTED# in a co-op for a relatively low rent. No, I do not have a job lined up at the moment. A fact that became all the more worrisome when I explained to my co-workers that I’m basically going into this thing blind. “He’ll be back” they’re thinking to themselves, while they twirl their mustaches (yes all my co-workers are the villain from Rocky & Bullwinkle). 

In three weeks I will be unemployed; in four weeks from tomorrow I will be living in a new city. Is this whole thing entirely thought out? Not at all. But I think my life could use a little spontaneity. It will at least lead to some pretty amusing/interesting blog posts that my cult following will enjoy.
I think that’s all for now… At the moment I’m pretty optimistic/excited about the possibilities that await me in my future, but I’m sure my next post will resemble this:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rhymes: Savage (Artist Spotlight)

Cleveland has got to be feeling pretty good about itself, as the Tribe is one of MLB's hottest teams. So it's good timing on a day that the Indians get its third walk-off win in four days, that Cleveland spitter Savage releases his new video "Dream Team" off of his debut mixtape Olympic Gold.

On his first tape Savage displays his sharp flow, lyrical braggadocio, and his affinity for sports references that rivals emcees like Wale and Rapper Big Pooh. You can check out the project here.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Rhymes: A Reaction to an Evening With Bob Dylan (Concert Review)

On April 21, 2013 I saw Bob Dylan perform live in Bowling Green, Ohio at BGSU’s Stroh Center. The indie-folk band Dawes opened for Dylan, and they were pretty good. The doors opened at 6:30; Dawes began their set promptly at the designated 7:30 set time. Around 9 p.m., a 71 year-old version of Robert Zimmerman appeared on stage. He performed for approximately an hour and a half with a large group of very talented blues musicians. Dylan sang (well, he did his best with his decrepit vocal chords), played piano and played harmonica – at times a tad too loudly. His set list revolved around mostly playing new songs from his very good 2012 album Tempest, and really only played four classics: “Tangled Up in Blue,” “All Along the Watch Tower,” “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Visions of Johanna.” (Apparently he opened with “Things Have Changed” but I don’t remember/didn’t recognize it.)
This is the only thing I can confirm from that unforgettable evening. Everything that follows this sentence, is purely speculation and me trying to figure out what actually happened on that fateful April Sunday evening.
 Bob Dylan is the last of his peers. Sure, there are the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and the surviving members of the Beatles, but Dylan is on a planet of his own. He is an enigma; he loathes the spotlight and media attention, but has actively toured and released music since 1962. Seeing him on stage, there is a profound self-awareness about him as he carries his aging body in front of a crowd made up of a few college-aged hippies and a large assortment of middle-aged fans enthralled to witness a man whom they admired since their youth. All of these people will leave around 10:30 p.m. completely alienated and confused.
Dylan stands in a mostly-filled arena, that on tamer nights is the home of a below-average college basketball team and the occasional graduation ceremony, and he is noticeably the oldest member of the congregation. When he comes on stage the crowd erupts, and this would be the last time that Dylan’s performance meets any expectation of a concert or live performance.
The legendary singer-songwriter gets right into his set without greeting the crowd. This was the first tip off that this night was going to be both bizarre and completely unforgettable. Like many have warned me before the show, his vocals are not what they once were. I was fully prepared to hear the man on Tempest and his weird ass Christmas Album, and not the man on Blood on the Tracks and Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, so his vocal performance was not in the least bit upsetting to me.
The crowds’ reaction ranged from completely excited (the middle-aged die hards) to completely withdrawn, checking their cell phones and eagerly awaiting their next beer (the college kids who realized they are not as big of Dylan fans as they would lead their Facebook friends to believe), to drugged out (that one crazy lady who had a minor seizure in the aisle next to me), to completely alienated and confused (everyone else in between). The audience was asked to sit a couple times throughout the performance; the most annoying time was during “Tangled Up in Blue.” This event led to much of the crowd interchanging arguments on concert protocol and whether or not they should stand or remain seated.
In their defense, I too was a bit confused on what the appropriate position for the performance. I have attended many high-energy shows where everyone would stand and sing or rap along with the artist. I have also attended soft, intimate performances where the audience will remain seated while a bearded gentleman will sing and play acoustic guitar. Bob Dylan’s performance at BGSU was somewhere awkwardly in between those two settings. The music was often slow-tempo, but there was enough energy in the performance from his harmonica and guitar players to call for your typical standing position. But at the same time, it was not a performance that one could sing along with. For one, a vast majority of the audience probably only recognized a third of the set list. And the songs that were recognizable, were often warped – likely so Dylan could sing along, as his chops are no longer able to match the faster paced songs – beyond recognition for the average fan.
Dylan’s set list was also much longer than I had expected. And I think the most surprising moment of the evening was when he came back on stage to do an encore. He did “Ballad of a Thin Man,” which was totally unexpected and awesome. At the end of the song, he approached the mic; up until this point he did not speak or engage the crowd in any way (ie: your standard “thank you BG!” or “how we feelin’ tonight?!”). It appeared that he was about to speak, but decided to instead point with both hands to right balcony area of the arena. This was awesome and confusing. We’re still unsure what he was pointing at, but someone told me that it involved some sort of promotion for the Red Cross or something. I like to think he wanted to make the crowd feel more confused.

My friends and I left the Stroh Center dumbfounded. We thought it was incredibly “ice cold” (cooler than being cool (c) Andre 3000) that he did his set without doing anything a performer normally would. As we were about to cross Wooster Street to get some Burger King, we saw Dylan’s tour bus head towards I-75, no less than 15 minutes after his show had concluded.
It’s been weeks since that night, and I’m still trying to figure out what exactly happened. My hypothesis: Dylan is the last living true rock star. In an era where the masses love a politically correct, clean-cut entertainer/athlete, we are not used to an artist who is going to do what the fuck he wants. And that’s exactly what Bob Dylan does – and always has. Most musicians, like the opener Dawes, are eager to impress a crowd, Dylan would rather challenge and alienate an audience. Dylan, who has spent the bulk of his life entertaining, no longer has anything left to prove and he is completely aware of this fact. This is why he would release an album that Rolling Stone called the darkest in his catalog, 50 years after his debut. This is why he is not selling out arenas and playing “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Times They Are a Changin’.” While many artists his age are happy with letting their legacy keep them relevant, Dylan is continuing to re-invent himself.
While I can’t say exactly what happened at the weirdest performance of music I have ever witnessed, I can say it was truly unforgettable. And awesome. Stay cool, Bobby D, stay cool.

Friday, April 26, 2013

BEET Life (vol. 3): 3 Ways to Trick People Into Thinking You're Intelligent

Having a hard time landing a job? Have you come to grips that women will never find you attractive, and you’re too big of an asshole to ever get points for being nice? Well fret not, you can still be a desirable person to society with intelligence. What’s that? You’re a complete moron? That’s totally cool because we here at BRL have developed three clever ways for you to mask your total inability to cultivate any sort of brain activity.

1.)  Wear glasses

The first and most obvious way to trick people into thinking you’re smart is to wear glasses, nay, spectacles. I stumbled upon my spectacles about a year ago, and it’s truly amazing how much smarter I look now than I did without my lenses. This is a great way to go, especially if you’ve already realized your not winning anybody over with your looks. Glasses not only put the image of librarians into people’s minds, but they also cover up some of your face, which literally is masking your hideous facial features.
One of these guys is a mysterious, handsome and intelligent young man, the other one is a fucking idiot.
Now before you go out a purchase the first pair of glasses you see, cool your shit. You have to pick the right kind of glasses to convey the perfect image of intellect. If you do this wrong and choose the wrong pair of specs, you could wind up looking like a bigger idiot than you already are (see: essentially every NBA star in post-game press conferences). You’re going to want a modest frame; unless you’re Woody Allen or Rick Moranis, people are just going to assume you’re a hipster and therefore, an idiot. Just get a pair of glasses that people who can’t see would wear, it’s not that damn hard.

You're doing it wrong, man.

2.)  Pretend you read

Here is another big one – reading. Smart people read, or so I’ve heard. So what you have to do is to put on an illusion that you are a fan of the written word. It’s really not that hard to pretend you read because when people see you with a magazine or a book, they’re going to assume you will at some point read it. Now what you need to do is get a couple of subscriptions to magazines like Time or The New Yorker (you can get Hustler too, but I’d put that in a more discreet location). If you want to get really crazy, carry a newspaper around. When you have these things, place them  around your apartment, where people are going to see them (coffee tables, counters, etc.). Make sure you rough them up a little bit too; people have to think you’ve actually flipped through these goddamn brain puzzles.

Bonus points for leather-bound books, bitches love leather-bound books.
Now on to the hard part, books.  What you’re going to want to do is get on eBay and buy a couple dozen books; eBay is great because you can get beat up, used books for like $4. It is important to be selective about what type of books you’re adding to your faux library. Don’t buy any books you would be interested in reading (that is if you actually read, which you don’t), so that's a "no" to having a Harry Potter book or any other book that was turned into a popular movie. You’re going to want to load up with a combination of older literature (ie: Dickens, Hemingway) and a few contemporary non-fiction works (maybe a few biographies and a couple of political books). Also on Facebook you can list books that you’ve “read” to your about me page. People will be inclined to think you’ve read those books, because no one’s lame enough to lie about reading, right?

3.)  Selective word choice

Using big words is a great way to trick people into thinking you’re smart. (See all these big words I’ve been using in this article? Yeah, no idea what they mean.) But it can be tricky because it’s also a fairly easy thing to fuck up, especially if you’re trying to trick real smart people into thinking you’re smart. But choosing the right way doesn’t always mean choose a big word. For example, saying the word “film” instead of “movie” will instantly make you sound like Roger Ebert. I’ve subtly done this throughout this article (“spectacles” instead of glasses and “intelligent” instead of smart), and I have you eating out my hand because you think I’m super smart.

Friday, March 15, 2013

BEET Life (vol. 2): 5 Pieces of Bad Advice from Rappers

I can genuinely say since turning 10 years old, hip hop has taught me about life more than anything else. (Yes, more than my parents, teachers, the Bible, Dr. Suess, etc.) Advice like “back that azz up” and “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to fuck wit” and who could forget “throw some D’s on that bitch” has shaped me into the man I am today. Unfortunately, not everything said in a rap song is sound advice. That’s why I’ve compiled a list to remind folks that yes many of these rappers are wholesome, sound advice givers, there are a few in the bunch that are just up to no good.

#1. Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems – Notorious B.I.G.


Now Christopher Wallace, better known as Biggie Smalls or Notorious B.I.G. has always been one of the better advice givers in hip hop. To this day, I consult “Ten Crack Commandments” whenever I’m planning a business venture (“never get high on your own supply” and “keep yo’ family and business completely separated” are two bits of guidance that can translate into nearly any situation), but with his 1997 hit “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” he really drops the proverbial ball.

As someone who has gone his whole life with a lack of funds, I can attest more revenue coming into my life would not only not add to my list of problems, but it would in fact erase several problems. As a recent college graduate, I’ve found myself in about $50,000 in debt. If I had mo’ money, I would be able to pay off these loans, move out of my parents house, pop bottlez and buy more rap records. It’s quite clear that I would have less problems if I had mo’ money. Sorry BIG, you can’t win them all.

#2. Bitches Ain’t Shit – Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg


On the surface, bitches ain’t shit is a true statement. Women (or female dogs even) are not bowel movements. But the true sentiment of this rap lyric is buried under some deep metaphorical, brilliant usage of the English language. To my understanding, which could be off base considering I’ve only earned my Bachelor’s whereas Dr. Dre has heard his PHD (not an MD, like many have claimed), that this song is saying that one should not be concerned with women.

I’ll get back to the basic thesis of this song in a moment, but first I want to address the language of this song. Like many impressionable hip hop listeners, I always assumed that the word “bitch” was applicable in everyday communications – it’s not. After extensive experimentation with the word “bitch,” I’ve concluded that women, indeed do not enjoy being referred to as such. First I’ve tried it with my mother, then later with every love interest I’ve encountered, and I’ve gotten lukewarm reception at best (and embarrassing physical injury at worst). So that misguidance alone is enough to land a spot on this list (and yes Too $hort, I’ve tried your extended “biiiiiiyaattcchhh” and have found it to be worse in some cases), but that’s only half of it.
In my 23 years, I’ve found that women are not only “shit” but also play a very vital role in a man’s life. I’ve had time with female guidance and time without female guidance, and I can say life is easier when you have a woman telling you what to do. In my early years, it was my mother who gave me advice (“don’t put that in your nose” “shut the hell up or I will beat your ass”), then later on it was girlfriends and girl friends (“don’t drink that” “you look like an asshole” “don’t put that in your nose”). And I’ve discovered when I don’t have these women in my life to tell me what to do (and more often, what not to do), I end up getting myself into some pretty unfavorable situations. So ladies, BRL is officially a pro-bitches website. You’re welcome Tina and Amy.

#3. Only God Can Judge Me – 2Pac

2Pac lived, and well, died by this mantra. Unfortunately this is just 100% inaccurate. You live most of your life being judged by others. I think a more accurate statement (depending on your beliefs) is that God is the last person (or whatever he or she is) that will judge you. And God judges good (see: Old Testament).
But there are several others in our lives that judge, and sometimes this judgment is helpful (see: mothers and girlfriends). Sure, other judgment isn’t as great (see: the jury on OJ Simpson’s 1994 trial). But my point is there are many judges in our lives; here’s a short list: the aforementioned women and juries, judges, bloggers, people who drive behind slow drivers.

#4. Bring Da Ruckus – Wu-Tang Clan


I can say the 9-10 members of Wu-Tang Clan have played more of a role in developing me into the incredibly average individual I am today than just about any other group of 9 or 10 African-American gentlemen. Ghostface Killah telling me to “be nice to the crackheads” was stern, fatherly guidance that I needed when I was a just a sophomore in high school. And the late great Ol’ Dirty Bastard telling me to use conditioner has helped my hair in more ways than I can count. But I can tell you that bringing da motherfuckin ruckus at the wrong time, can really hurt you socially and economically.
Sure, bringing said ruckus can be an enjoyable experience, but one must pick his or her spots. Bringing da motherfuckin ruckus at 1:30 a.m. at a dive bar is a more than acceptable time to do so. But bringing that same ruckus to a funeral, can be bothersome to many. Bringing just a little bit of ruckus to a court hearing could lead you to doing a little bit of time in the penitentiary (which wouldn’t be a bad place to bring some ruckus, I’d imagine).

#5. Where the Hood At? – DMX 

The main basis of this song is Earl Simmons on an odyssey for his neighborhood (or it might be his hooded sweatshirt, again layers). I have no issue with this because I’m sure Mr. Simmons has managed to get lost on many occasions, as this song was recorded well before GPS devices were the norm. And I get that. DMX and I both have a less-than-desirable sense of direction, so if I were lost I’d be yelling “where da hood at” also.
The main problem is the bits of advice sprinkled in the verses of this song, while he is searching aimlessly for his hood. First off you have “show no love to homo thugs.” Now this is a piece of advice I think is aimed towards my homosexual friends. I think he’s trying to say gay men, “hey, you can do better than that dead beat who is physically and emotionally abusing you.” This is great advice, gay men shouldn’t have to settle for “thugs.” Unfortunately when you piece together other bits of this verse (“how you gon’ explain fuckin a man? Even if we squash the beef, I ain’t touchin ya hand”), one starts to think that helping gay men find a quality mate is not what Mr. Simmons had in mind when he penned this track.
So speaking to gay and straight men, it is perfectly okay to be accepting of homosexual lifestyles. I know DMX has said some profound things in the past that have both tested the limits of the English language and human spirituality, but this one is a straight up dud.
Also “empty out ya clips and throw mo’ slugs” is another misstep in this track. If you do have a liscenced firearm, I highly recommend you do not empty out your clips and throw more slugs without at least asking a couple of questions first.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

BRL's 2012 Year in Review

It's almost the end of February, which can only mean one thing: It's time for the BRL year-end wrap up. Continuing the long-standing BRL tradition of releasing a top albums list nearly 2 months later than every other blog, we are back again to unleash the vast amount of brilliant music that you should've been listening all year.

Now usually I would make a huge, muli-post countdown with a paragraph explaining why each album made the list, but I'm getting older and too tired to do that shit. Last year was a very odd one for me, as I went through a few major life changes, so I missed a few albums along the way (a lot of albums that came out from May-August got lost in the mix of job hunts, graduation, working a shitty job, and dwelling on the fact that I was 22 and living with my parents). So this list isn't nearly as comprehensive as my 2011 list - where I obsessively listened to every album that would potentially make a top albums list. But 2012 was a phenomenal year for both hip hop and "indie" rock, so without further adieu here are the top albums of the year (and here is my super-detailed Best Hip Hop Albums List I did for RapReviews.com):
2012: The year young Kendrick dominated. Granted you knew that two months ago.

  1. Kendrick Lamar - "good kid, m.A.A.d. city" (Score: 95)
  2. The xx - "Coexist" (Score: 92)
  3. Passion Pit - "Gossamer" (Score: 90)
  4. El-P - "Cancer4Cure" (Score: 89.5)
  5. Nas - "Life is Good" (Score: 88.5 - Tie Breaker Advantage)
  6. fun. - "Some Nights" (Score 88.5)
  7. Killer Mike - "R.A.P. Music" (Score: 88)
  8. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - "The Heist" (Score: 87)
  9. Lana Del Rey - "Born to Die" (Score: 84.5 - Tie Breaker Advantage)
  10. Cloud Nothings - "Attack on Memory" (Score: 84.5 - Tie Breaker Advantage)
  11. Fiona Apple - "The Idler Wheel..." (Score: 84.5)
  12. Beach House - "Bloom" (Score: 84 - Tie Breaker Advantage)
  13. Big Boi - "Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors" (Score: 84 - Tie Breaker Advantage)
  14. Jack White - "Blunderbuss" (Score: 84)
  15. Frank Ocean - "channel:ORANGE" (Score: 83.5)
  16. Brother Ali - "Mourning in America, Dreaming in Color" (Score: 83)
  17. Ab-Soul - "Control System" (Score: 82.5)
  18. Jens Lekman - "I Know What Love Isn't" (Score: 82.5)
  19. Oddisee - "People Hear What They See" (Score: 82)
  20. Danny! - "Payback (2.0)" (Score: 81.5)
  21. Of Monsters and Men - "My Head is an Animal" (Score: 81)
  22. Peter Anthony Red (aka Tonedeff) - "The Projectionist" (Score: 80.5)
  23. Mac Lethal - "Irish Celebration" (released 12/31/11) (Score: 80)
  24. Murs & Fashawn - "This Generation" (Score: 79)
  25. Benjamin Gibbard - "Former Lives" (Score: 79)
  26. Big K.R.I.T. - "4 eva n a Day" (Score: 79)
  27. Andrew Bird - "Break It Yourself" (Score: 78.5)
  28. Alabama Shakes - "Boys & Girls" (Score: 77)
  29. Justin Townes Earl - "Nothing's Gonna Change How You Feel About Me Now" (Score: 77)
  30. Mumford & Sons - "Babel" (Score: 77)
  31. The Coup - "Sorry to Bother You" (Score: 76)
  32. Best Coast - "The Only Place" (Score: 76)
  33. Rapsody - "The Idea of Beautiful" (Score: 75.5)
  34. Bat for Lashes - "The Haunted Man" (Score: 75.5)
  35. P.O.S. - "We Don't Even Live Here" (Score: 75)
  36. Aesop Rock - "Skelethon" (Score: 75)
  37. Blu & Exile - "Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them" (Score: 75)
  38. Substantial - "Home is Where the Art is" (Score: 74)
  39. Brother Ali - "The Bite-Marked Heart" (Score: 74)
  40. Perfume Genius - "Put Ur Back N 2 It" (Score: 73)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rhymes: Jeff Mangum: Man or Myth? (Concert Review)

(Photo courtesy of Blorb, who risked getting kicked out to take this totally unblurry photo)

It was a cool January night in Cleveland, Ohio. There was a slight breeze, but even with that it was much warmer than the average January 13 most Clevelandites are accustomed to. This was the night my friend (we’ll call her Blorb, so as to not expose her identity and because I’m sure it will annoy her to no end that she didn’t get a “shout out”) and I sought to confirm the existence of Neutral Milk Hotel’s frontman, Jeff Mangum.
We were no strangers to his body of work, as Blorb introduced me to Neutral Milk Hotel’s cult classic in the summer of 2010, and has since remained one of my favorite pieces of music. The title track of “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” was the first song I ever played when I moved into my first house – the Troup House in Bowling Green, which now lives in infamy.
Blorb and I wandered the streets of Cleveland looking for the concert venue – the Masonic Auditorium, which we actually parked right next to but we didn’t see until about 15 minutes of walking around aimlessly. The venue was a pretty awesome building, and I made the clutch decision of opting to buy the mezzanine seating tickets as opposed to the general admission. Blorb and I sat in the front row of the mezzanine, next to some incredible douchey hipsters who entertained us between sets with their discussions of the affinity with Pabst Blue Ribbon and plaid-designed clothing.
After two lackluster opening bands – one crappy folk rock group and a acoustic guitar duo who spent way too much time awkwardly trying to communicate with the audience – we finally got to see if Mangum was a man or myth.
A man did indeed walk onto the stage of the Masonic Auditorium that night. To the surprise of few, he was fully bearded, resembling Tom Hanks in Castaway with a flannel shirt. He looked like your standard, yet undersized, lumberjack – that is, until he picked up his guitar. Within a few quick strums of his six-string the crowd’s palpable nervousness/uneasiness/anxiousness erupted into excitement and hysteria. He opened his set with one of the more popular songs in his former band’s brief catalog, “Two Headed Boy.” 

It takes a true talent for one man to sit down on a stool and play an acoustic instrument and mesmerize an entire auditorium full of people. Sure there was your basic assholes fighting and overzealous dancers, who would momentarily distract Blorb and I from Jeff, but his 13-song set ran seamlessly. The crowd sang along eerily to the opening lines of “King of Carrot Flowers pt. 2” almost in an almost culthood manner. Hearing the entire crowd sing along with “I love you Jesus Christ,” was like a hipster/Catholic church hybrid.
My personal favorite moment from the show is when Mangum played my two favorite NMH songs back-to-back, “Holland 1945” and “Oh, Comely” and just fucking nailing them. The former is among the heaviest tracks Neutral Milk Hotel has in their two LPs, and I was curious as to how he would manage to match the energy of the heavily distorted sounds with a single acoustic guitar. Sure it was less loud, but it was every bit of awesome. In the 15 years since “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” released, Mangum’s voice is still as powerful, if not slightly off kilter as it was on the original record.  And the performance of the 8-minute “Aeroplane” centerpiece, “Oh, Comely” had the perfect builds and troughs as the studio recording, as you would hear the entire crowd screaming at the top of their lungs on the song’s highest moments, and you could hear a pin drop during its lowest.

After the predicatble, but necessary choice of “Aeroplane’s” title track as the encore, Blorb and I left the venue in search of a late-night meal. As we walked up and down Euclid Avenue looking for any open restaurant, we discussed what we had just witnessed. Mangum, who was infamous for being a recluse, was surprisingly easy-going during the show’s performance, making easy conversation with the crowed, and responding with a modest “thank you” when an audience member appropriately screamed “this is amazing!” So is Mangum a man or a myth? He did seem like a pretty normal guy, that is until he picked up his guitar and sang.

Monday, February 18, 2013

BEET LIFE: 6 Tips on How to Survive College

Hello BRL,

Your great leader has returned after spending months in exile, hiding from the apocalypse. I’m proud to say that, yes I’ve defeated the Mayans and I will probably live forever.
As you may or may not have noticed (most likely you have, come on, you know you love BRL more than your first born), I’ve been noticeably absent for most of the past 8 months or so. Yes, I’ve done a few “Artist Spotlight” posts here and there, but I haven’t really dedicated much time to this blog. Much of that has to do with the treacherous and unpredictability of life in the “real” world.
I’ve decided to take this blog in a little bit of a different direction. Yes, you will still get some of my brilliant musical knowledge and I will continue to do the occasional “Artist Spotlight,” but I want to focus on the “Life” aspect a little bit more here on Beets, Rhymes & Life. With my 23 years of life experience, I feel more than qualified to inform you peons on to live life and conquer your most modest goals. See without further adieu, here is the first of hopefully (but let’s be honest probably not) many Beet Life posts.

BEET LIFE: 6 Tips on How to Survive College


Last May I did what very few have ever been able to do, I graduated from the esteemed Bowling Green State University (better known as the Harvard of the Midwest) with a 3.2 GPA with a major in Print Journalism and a minor in Popular Culture (yes, that’s a real thing). So this more than qualifies me to tell you how to survive college life, so listen up you twatty 19 year-olds, and I’ll show you how to perform slightly above average academically and trick na├»ve women into thinking you’re cool.

Tip 1: Never turn down a free beer.


This is the first and most important piece of advice I can give. That’s why it’s number one because you’re probably going to get distracted by some asshole trying to Facebook chat you before you can read the whole list. When you arrive at college you will likely be 18-going-on-19. Which means you will spend roughly two and a half years at school trying to find beer.
If you’re reading this and you’re a college student, you probably don’t have a lot of friends, so you might be spending a lot of time sober. This, my friends, is a real fucking bummer. I was lucky enough my Freshman year to be decent enough friends with people who constantly had booze; I spent a lot of that year intoxicated – life was good. My Sophomore year however, those connections moved away and I spent a lot of time sober – a real fucking drag.
This is when I learned life’s most important lesson – NEVER turn down a free beer. You don’t feel like drinking tonight? You got class in ten minutes? You’re at work? You’re already completely blacked out and the mere scent of alcohol will cause you to projectile vomit all over your house and closest friends? Tough shit. You accept that beer with a smile, and you consume all 12 ounces. Who knows when you’ll have access to another opportunity like this?
Even after you’re of legal drinking age, you always accept the beer. By that time your student loan debt is pushing $40,000 and funds are tight. Thanks to my shamelessness, I’ve accumulated enough money to buy a decent home in Detroit – all thanks to generosity of my fellow drunkards.

Tip 2: If you’re going to go bowling, do it ironically. 


This may sound random, but some asshole is going to ask you to go bowling at some point in your college life. Hopefully it’s a girl you’re trying to nail, but most likely it’s some dude who helped you cheat on your biology exam, and you owe him. If it’s scenario A: sure go ahead and bowl, but I warn you take the game too seriously, she’s gonna think you’re lame because bowling is fucking lame. If you don’t take it seriously enough and she beats you, she’s going to think you’re a pussy and friend-zone your ass promptly. There’s a nice little gray area here. My suggestion: bowl like an asshole (my bowling technique consist of me chucking the ball down the lane like I’m passing a basketball), but be fucking good at it. Also make sure you are aloof at all times – about to pick up a spare? Throw the ball down the lane and head back to your seat and not look at the ball. If you do pick up said spare, go ahead and give an ironic Tiger Woods fist pump.

If its scenario B: exhaust every option to get out of it. You already have something going on that night. You’re way too drunk to do any sort of physical activity. You’re completely broke.  He’s buying? You can’t get out of it? Looks like you’re bowling, bro. But it doesn’t have to be all bad. Make sure there’s a group of people you’re bowling with. If it’s two dudes bowling people are going to make assumptions, and not only that but you’re going to run out of things to talk about with Mike from Biology pretty fucking quick when you find out he doesn’t watch football. Make sure there’s alcohol involved, and lots of it. Bowling is stupid. Even the asshole who run the bowling joint knows that, that’s why they serve beer in containers that look like something out of Beerfest. Drink as much booze as you can, and try to pay as little as you can. If Mike from Biology is dragging your ass here, he better be paying for your flat Coors Light.

Tip 3: If someone talks about a band you’ve never heard of, pretend you do?


There’s nothing worse than the asshole who plays the guitar, is a music major and thinks he knows everything there is to know about music. You’re on this website, so obviously you know a little bit about music – or at least enough to pretend to know something. Some wannabe-hipster is undoubtedly going to ask you about the new Sigur Ros album while you’re trying to order a French Vanilla Latte at Starbucks, at some point in your college life. Have you heard of Sigur Ros, possibly. Have you heard their new record, probably not. Do you want to listen to Sigur Ros? Fuck no. But you’re already paying $5 for a bitch-ass caffeinated drink, don’t let this clove-smoking douchebag make you feel small because you don’t download everything you’ve read about on Pitchfork.
If someone asks you about an artist and their music, always reply “yeah I heard it, the new album is pretty cool, but I like their first record better” (oh and using the word “record” instead of CD or album, makes you sound much cooler/more informed). This will always hold up in an argument no matter what. Even when it’s not true, you can always say something like “their new stuff is too polished for me” or “that first record was just so honest and raw” to support your claim. That’ll show ‘em.

Tip 4: Never schedule morning classes.


This one is probably the most obvious on the list, but you’d be surprised how many assholes like yourself drop the ball on this one. At some point in your college career, you’re going to overhear your roommates/friends talk about how nice it is to be done with classes for the day at 11 a.m. This is a fucking trap; don’t fall for it. Yeah your friends have the whole day to play Madden and watch Cops, but you know what? They start their day at 8 a.m. You are not that type of person. You’re the type of shit bag, who’s going to stay up until 3 a.m. watching Seinfeld re-runs, checking your Twitter and clicking through stupid ass memes on StumbleUpon.
You are not a morning person and you never will be. Just because you have one moment of enlightenment, don’t fuck up your entire semester because you felt inspired to make a lifestyle change. There really aren’t that many perks to starting your day at 8 and ending it at 11. Trust me no cool shit happens during the hours of 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. You know why? All the cool motherfuckers are still in class. You know when cool shit happens? 6 p.m. – 3 a.m. And guess who won’t be awake to see your friend Brian get shithouse drunk and jump off of your roof? That’s right your asshole friends who scheduled that 8 a.m. class.

Tip 5:  Wear sweatpants to class on the first day.


Every semester it’s the same – college campuses run rampant with students intoxicated with the promise of a fresh start deciding to dress like they’re going to a job interview to try and impress new classmates and teachers. This will not work for you. Yes, this will work for the chesty blonde, who decided to wear Daisy Duke jean shorts and a top that leaves little to the imagination. But you have not be blessed with physical attributes that will instantly make you seem attractive or interesting. You also don’t have the money or fashion sense to be able to consistently dress well.
How do I stand out, you ask? Easy set the bar very, very low. You’ve already showed up five minutes late to class and got a shitty seat, sitting next to the mouth breather who has a perpetual runny nose – because, like we mentioned before – you are NOT a morning person. So why rock your best shit on a day that’s already a wash? Here’s what you do – wear your sweatpants. Set your alarm for five minutes before your class starts, wake up, gargle some mouthwash, spray an inoffensive amount of AXE on yourself and get to class, you unimpressive bastard.
Now don’t worry about being the weird, smelly kid in class because you’re not that kid, you’re sitting next to that. Ah ha, showing up late on the first day and getting a miserable seat next to a miserable person all of a sudden has its perks. Since this gentleman has no social skills, you will be the cool guy in the group all semester, and there’s at least a slight chance he will be so appreciative of being next to another living person, he may do all of your work for you as well.
As the semester wears on, people will start giving less of a fuck about what they look like, and by then have already given up hope trying to bang that chick who wore the super short shorts on the first day. This is your time to shine my friend. With a level playing field you can now dust off those slacks that you bought for your cousins funeral, and be the best looking guy in your class.

Tip 6: Never carry cash on you.


I’ve found whenever I have cash on me, I end up spending it. The best way to save money is to never, ever have cash on you. The cute sorority girls asking for some money for some stupid cause you don’t give a shit about? Engage them, sure. After a few minutes of small talk and pretending to care about starving kids in India, reach into your wallet. Oh shit, you don’t have any cash. Darn. What, they don’t accept credit cards? Damn, you were really hoping you could give them a couple of bucks because this is a cause you truly believe in. And that, my friends is how you look like a good guy, without actually having to spend any money.
But you like to carry cash on me when you go out drinking, you say? You fucking fool. Do you know how many expenses you can get out of by simply saying, oh shit I don’t have any cash? Most bars have a minimum amount of money you have to spend in order to use a credit card. There’s no point in using your card if you’re only going to stay for one drink, oh my buddy’s got this round? Thanks man, I’ll totally get you next bar.
And let’s not forget tipping our waitresses. Yes she’s beautiful, slightly ethnic and is wearing a flattering top that gives you just enough of a view of her good parts that you can properly satisfy yourself to later. But when you’re buying a beer for $2.50 in cash, how much are you going to tip? 50 cents seems too little and you’re not gonna get a quick beer or a courtesy laugh the rest of the night. A $1.50 tip and you just spent $4 on a shitty Bud Light.  Now if you’re paying in cash over the course of an evening, a 50 cent tip for each beer is going to add up to like 6 or 7 bucks, and god knows how big of a whole in your pocket you’re going to burn if you tip $1.50 a drink. How to avoid this mess? Pay with your card. You drink all night on a tab, and at the end of the night you feel like that $4.76 tip was pretty damn generous. You sir, are the fucking man.