There are two types of music fans: those who feel something deep when they hear George Michaels’s “Careless Whisper” and those who don’t. The adoration (or lack thereof) says everything about our ability to consume art at face value, or to get lost in endless debates about kitsch and ironic revisionism. Though I haven’t had the fortune of meeting them yet, I feel comfortable placing locals Elvis Craig and Austin Wilkinson, who perform together as Jensen Sportag, staunchly in the earnest Whisperers camp.
“If you take it out of the context of shopping for discount clothes or sitting in a dentist’s office and you listen to the music as pure music,” Wilkinson told Vogue a few weeks ago, “you have a different perspective.” He was referring to the duo’s long-running love of smooth jazz, but the sentiment can safely be extrapolated to their probable fondness for Michaels or Sade or even Elton John. Wilkinson recently told The Wall Street Journal’s Jim Fusilli that he “hazarded his health” by donning Rocket Man merchandise to the White House, Tenn., high school he attended with Craig.
Whether he knows it or not, Wilkinson is doing more in these interviews than offering journalists an endearing aside. Anyone who would use the national pedestal offered by Vogue or the Journal to declare his love of smooth jazz, or to convey the unabashed sensitivity of himself and his collaborator, is clearly not trying to score cool points with you or me or anyone else. We don’t know this because smooth jazz or Elton John or “Careless Whisper” are bad, per se. (They’re not — I’ll fight to the death over “Careless Whisper,” and most so-called Elevator Music for that matter.) We know this because, as a creative force, Jensen Sportag emotes so convincingly. We know this because Stealth of Days.
One of Bowling Green's most successful exports, who have become major benefactors of the BG scene, are indie rockers Cage the Elephant. Most of the band has in fact moved here, and they've appeared on our radar pretty often lately; on Tuesday, it was a music video for the latest single from their new LP, Melophobia, and back in August, they invited us to check out a live preview of the record that doubled as a warmup for their opening slot at Bridgestone Arena with Muse.
They took their time with Melophobia, working as always with longtime Nashville musician/producer Jay Joyce. This time out, the team crafted a robust indie sound that stays grounded by Cage's neo-grunge leanings, and thankfully jettisons the pseudo-rap they dabbled in before. The new album finds a comfortable niche between The Flaming Lips and Arcade Fire, and is, to our ears, massive strides ahead of their previous work; longtime readers may remember we weren't fans. (Oh, the LOL-some days when every Cream post's comment section was a war zone of butt-hurt.)
Craig Fehrman spent several months researching Bowling Green and visiting Cage on tour. On Oct. 20, Fehrman published Home Grown: Cage the Elephant and the Making of a Modern Music Scene, an Amazon Kindle Single outlining what he learned. There's plenty in the short volume for both Cage fans and those whose interest is more academic, documenting the conditions that made it possible for the scene to develop, and the center-periphery tension between Bowling Green and Nashville that's both helping push BG's local acts to new levels of professionalism and providing access to important resources for taking the world stage. (Icing on the cake: a chapter devoted to master horror director John Carpenter, Bowling Green's most famous export ever.)
Fehrman kindly took a few minutes to talk with us about it. Read our Q&A after the jump.
Tennessee-bred, Bushwick-based Internet rap/R&B/punk duo Dark Sister recently dropped the much-anticipated follow-up to their 2011 debut EP SWAG HAG. It’s a four-song EP called DARKEST LiPSTICK (in the Drugstore), and it’s a surprisingly mature statement from the pair.
Part of Dark Sister’s brilliance has always always been the cultural intersection where they exist. They are products of the Internet generation who have managed to mesh a confluence of subcultural and musical influences into one cohesive narrative. Think goth meets millennium-era female R&B and pop influences. Smash those sensibilities into a few early ‘90s reference points: riot grrl, trap music, grunge. And what results is an undefinable mixture of punk, hip-hop and electronic music, which is all filtered through the aesthetics of Internet culture.
This overlapping array of cultural signifiers has always been a part of Dark Sister’s aesthetic. But while SWAG HAG showed promising hints of what a cohesive look into this world could be, DARKEST LiPSTICK actually delivers said vision.
In Greek mythology, the sirens had the power to siphon entire ships of sailors off plotted course with their alluring singing. And damned if Karen Elson and the Secret Sisters didn’t exert a similar power over me when I reached their track on disc two of Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War.
I’d steeled myself for the worst-case scenario — that this would be yet another hoary song collection with a misty-eyed, even misplaced sense of nostalgia — and approached the album at a coolly analytical remove. But when I had it playing in the background one evening, I caught myself absently murmuring along with Elson and the Rogers’ surprising rendition of “Dixie,” so beguiling were their harmonies, so demure their caressing and releasing of each note.
As disconcerting as it was to be reminded that I’d learned that minstrel tune turned Confederate anthem in elementary school music class, it forced me to acknowledge that I did, in fact, have a personal relationship to this music. And it led me to revisit the adolescent moment when I learned to differentiate between feelings of familial connection toward the daguerreotype portraits of long-gone kin in Confederate uniforms that my grandmother hung around her house and the general disgust I felt about a veil of tragic romanticism being draped over the historical reality of slavery.
Flirkin’ is an impressive record, produced almost entirely by Nephew, Jung Youth’s frequent collaborator and longtime friend. Indeed, on first listen, Flirkin’s production and overall cohesion are the first things to truly stand out. It's a reflective and stream-of-consciousness-oriented release, and Nephew’s production does a good job of navigating between different moods as the EP progresses. With each additional listen, the chemistry between the duo becomes more apparent. Jung’s lyricism and R&B vocals also start to become more impressive in their own right.
On “Get It While You’re Here,” Youth displays his chops as a songwriter and vocalist. The song is a classic, new-school R&B single that’s surprisingly reminiscent of UK garage pioneers like The Streets and Just Jack. It’s the kind of song that could be a crossover-radio hit. Same with tracks like “There It Iz (That’s That Sh*t)” and “This Needs More.” In fact, “There It Iz (That’s That Sh*t)” epitomizes the unabashed, poppy vibe that makes Flirkin’ such an enjoyable listen. Jung Youth’s newest EP is one of the most accessible records I’ve heard in Nashville hip-hop this year. It’s pure pop enjoyment, with a surprising amount of depth and musicality.
That’s it folks. This week’s "Numbah 4,080" is a bit abbreviated. Download Flirkin’ right now via Bandcamp, or stream it after the jump. And if you have any cool hip-hop/R&B to show me, hit me up on Twitter or email cream[at]nashvillescene[dot]com.
When Starlito and Don Trip recorded the original Step Brothers in 2011, it was done with few expectations. The record was released as a free mixtape. In contrast, the build-up to last week’s sequel, Step Brothers 2, included an exclusive, week-long stream on NPR. The album itself? Available for $9.99 purchase on iTunes. The contrast is revealing in regard to the level of unexpected acclaim that Step Brothers received, and the subsequent anticipation leveled onto its sequel. Step Brothers is, to date, the most acclaimed work Don Trip or Starlito has released in either of their illustrious careers. It’s the kind of record that can cripple a sequel under its own weight. But ‘Lito and Trip are two artists who, over the past couple of years, seem to have perfected the art of making follow-ups look effortless.
Step Brothers 2 delivers on all counts, because ultimately there’s no amount of pressure that can mess up a combination as good as Don Trip and Starlito. Few rappers today trade verses with the familiarity of the Tennessee duo. “Paper, Rock, Scissors,” the album’s opener, establishes this. Starlito and Don Trip spend four minutes building off of one another’s punchlines with an ease that’s truly captivating. The same can be said of “4x4 Relay,” a celebratory track that features some of the most impressive production on the record.
You wouldn’t be faulted for thinking that such setbacks and transitions might slow down Gummy Soul's output as a label — but you’d be wrong. Just under a month since the release of 93 Still comes Sportin’ Waves (stream below or purchase here), an album that Wally Clark dropped unannounced on the Internet’s doorstep last Tuesday.
Wally Clark’s second solo album finds the rapper-producer with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. For 31 minutes, he spits in the kind of relaxed, conversational flow best reserved for fireside chats. Wally spends the entire record in story mode, musing over various topics in the same dry, humorous and smart-ass tone. He reflects on parenthood, discusses his past successes and conflicting future aspirations, and recounts former exploits with women, not all of which paint him in the best light.
In the aptly titled The Wrecking Crew (St. Martin's, 2012), Kent Hartman boils down over a decade of research into a breezy yet remarkably thorough overview that shines a light on who these folks are and how they came to be part of such an incredible ensemble. Hartman begins with biographical sketches of three members of the crew who were some of the most prolific and remained in the field the longest: drummer/percussionist Hal Blaine, the de-facto ringleader; bassist/guitarist Carol Kaye, the only woman in the group; and Campbell, who was a first-call studio guitarist for years before he took center stage as a singer. As their stories intersect with the principals, figures like master songwriter Jimmy Webb and genius pop producer/megalomaniac Phil Spector get a similar treatment. Contributions are also outlined in detail from characters like Larry Knechtel, perhaps best known as Bread's bassman, but part of an enduring trio that appeared on The 5th Dimension's Up, Up and Away, Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends and Bridge Over Troubled Water and many more — generally without credit, until recent reissues.
Chancellor Warhol Listening Party
I’ll be honest. When I first heard the listening party for Chancellor Warhol’s new album would be held in the Adventure Science Center's Sudekum Planetarium, I expected some sort of swanked-out reception area with massive speakers and tasty finger foods. I arrived at the premiere of Paris Is Burning last Thursday evening, however, to find that the listening party was actually being held in the planetarium.
I get it if you don’t fully understand the gravity of what I’m saying. Because until you’ve actually been to a listening party in a planetarium, it might not occur to you that it’s actually one of the most brilliant ideas ever. We were inside a giant dome with surround-sound speakers, blanketed by darkness, as a dazzling light show, synchronized to music, ensued around us. I’m talking stars, galaxies and geometric shapes. It was kind of intense.
We covered this. He is talented.
Does puke come in piles?
It's not because he's black, altho his being black & throwing it in our face…
Guys it's because he's black.
Damn good band. Wish they'd release that mashup as an mp3 or something, it's cool.