4/20 has taken on a life of its own the last few years, as the mainstream has embraced it with open arms. It’s no surprise that many artists have taken the opportunity to strategically release music today, while a number just ignore or look at it as any other day. The weekend may be filled with the inebriated but everyone’s taking their lives seriously. Changes in the culture, it was bound to happen. There isn’t much left to say here but
Now occasionally, you run the risk of trying to fit your feet into very large shoes, which is what Arturo Hernandez, known on stage as the emcee Artson, tries to accomplish with his Brave Star release. Cover art notwithstanding, the Native American emcee takes his ode-du-jour to Talib Kweli and Mos Def/Yasiin Bey with their opus that was Black Star. Artson walks a fine line between his southwestern roots and love for the innovators that came before him. One thing Artson doesn’t do is hide behind façades, instead, leaving behind tracks that are filled with humility and sincerity. On the opening title track he relishes the ideals he holds close to his heart and wears on his sleeve. Over a nostalgic backbeat, Artson raps about his youth which was emblazoned in the Hip-Hop culture of graffiti life, breaking, and of course rapping. From this point on the mood of the album seems to shift constantly. “Vibe” peaks in with authority, a track you can find bumping in rides on a summer night with the top down in desert high. Here he again shows his respect and influences with “Got a feeling that I’m freakin’ the flavor in your ears/we keep on pushing and tweaking it for years” as well as, “Take a hit of the potion, you know that it’s potent/Black Moon don’t front/you know I gotcha open.” Real heads holding onto thoughts of lyricism know.
Things move along into darker places on “Focused feat. MC RedCloud,” as both emcees volley their words over a hard-edged beat, with a sinister feel to it. Both rappers are coming for you, through imagery of darkened hallways in rundown tenements. The power of the track can barely be contained and before you know it, they walk away. Breaking up the 18-track release are poetic entries filled with stormy weather wrapped around wind instruments (“Clarity”), daily street life (“This Is For You”), noisy playgrounds (“The Game 1”), and quiet evenings (“Some Day 1”). But the album isn’t just about celebrating a culture through music. Artson takes on the subject of oppression on “We Gather feat. AprilFRESH,” where that moment of clarity comes in. Systematic racism and unapologetic bias are in his and FRESH’s words. It’s a subject that no one tackles in music. And then “Celebrate feat. Brittany” flips the script. Here Artson raps around letting go and feeling life, but he knows his history, sharing a small amount but just wants to be about the love. “We Ain’t Done 1” gives you more of what Artson is about as he combines old school beatboxing, scratching and merges it wind instruments he might have watched his grandfather playing with his tribe. It’s the perfect melding of two worlds. There are obviously a few sides to Artson, and he fills them all in Brave Star. The Hip-Hop kid, the activist, and the lover; this, and so much more. There’s something for everyone here but most will love it in its entirety.
As soon as the first song plays on Songs From The Lodge (Dirty Water Records) I question, “What the holy fuck…?” before I let it end. The band, Archie And The Bunkers, are a duo from Cleveland, which is proof that the city is still somehow, um, rocking. The brothers O’Connor, Emmett (drums/vocals) and Cullen (keys/vocals) create a racket since releasing their self-titled debut back in 2015 and even if they don’t receive even a modicum of notoriety, I’m sure no fucks will be given. The band obviously takes its name from the 70s sitcom that revolved around the character played by Carroll O’Connor, and when he got into character, yeah, no fucks were given either. Now finding out that the album title is reference to the Twin Peaks series? Ok, all bets are off! Obviously. The band’s imagery is odd, not unlike the series there. David Lynch’s bizarre Dadaist landscaping of a show freaked out many but enthralled most and there’s no doubt it’s sucked in these two, with song titles like “Fire Walk With Me” and “Laura,” you can’t help but make that realization. But it’s the music that makes the difference here.
You can imagine these two bouncing around their instruments pulling every frenetic note out of the two singular instruments that are played together, sounding both spook-filled, yet entertaining at the same time, with punk-fused enthusiasm. I want to stop listening to their songs, from the opening “Bill’s Bad Day,” to “Riot City” but I can’t. I’m waiting for something different to happen, and although I know it’s not changing, I’m thoroughly enthralled. The bizarre concoction of playing becomes completely relevant in 2018. I can’t help but fall in love with “You’re My Pacemaker” and when they sing, “You make my heart beat,” of course it does! It’s so simple it’s mind blowing. Archie And The Bunkers have slipped onto a banana peel of sound here that’s compelling and an annoyance at the same time. But you won’t be able to stop listening to Songs From The Lodge because it’s that much different from the rest of the bullshit we’re all thrown. Yeah! We want more.
Chicago is well known for its punk and post-punk enthusiasts that have defined the city as a creative outpost for music, aside from other genres. The four-piece Ganser is from Chicago and I’m not sure if they even care what anyone calls them. The band’s new album Odd Talk (No Trend Records) appears almost out of nowhere and the quartet plays instruments with reckless abandon, albeit controlled(?) I know, confusing but let me elaborate. While this is the band’s first long-player, they’ve become familiar with one another through the course of a 2-song single and an E.P.’s worth of material. They open the album with songs that are rhythmically aligned to one another but let free-floating guitars wail with guttural feedback, hitting notes when they serve a purpose on “Comet.” Intriguing. As is “Satsuma,” with feedback-ridden guitar enthusiasm and dripping with tension. Airy vocals float on top perfectly fitted within. Ok, the band has something to offer here. And then they strike with “Avoidance,” which sounds like a throwback, with semblances of new wave anthems but never sounding dated. The rhythm itself, with its bassline completely willing to take the lead as dissonance fills the air. Yes! It’s a welcome addition here.
But Ganser isn’t quite satisfied with giving clear-cut tracks that will embed them into psyches for extended periods of time, trying to get the most out of their instruments and pushing the boundaries of song structures, and redefining them is what they try to accomplish with “Marsh” as it begins as a controlled free jazz session and morphs into something quite different. The band continues to play with dissonant notes, leading the way on “Aubergine,” aligning it to a completely different rhythm, and breaking it down through the course of the almost 4-minute song. For good measure they include some “(Miscommunication)” literally misdirecting any idea of what one my think they should do, as notes plink through this instrumental track. Ganser confounds again on the closing “Touch Insensitive” as the wall of guitars makes a play for contention with Kevin Shields and the ilk. That right there isn’t something to be scoffed at. There are much worse comparisons that could be made, but I think the band would be fine with that one. This track may just be one of my favorites in the batch! Ganser is able to do so much with Odd Talk. I mean, a LOT. It might be an acquired taste but if your tastes aren’t aligned to what Ganser does here, you’re the one that has a problem because this is pretty bad ass.
Rounding things out today is J. Cole who released his new album KOD (Dreamville) with little to no fanfare. But at this point in his career, I don’t think it matters at the point in his stature. This is his fifth long-player, not accounting for mixtapes, and much like his 4 Your Eyez Only back in 2016, it slinks in with artistry of a musician in no hurry to rush songs or pieced together with urgency, although it was recorded in the span of mostly two weeks while on tour. There’s a lot to take in on his new album. The title track has him dealing with the hate of others while Cole also continues to rap about an unleveled educational playing field (“Brackets.”) Here he talks about paying taxes spitting, “I guess they say my dollars are supposed to build roads and schools / but my niggas barely graduate, they ain’t got the tools.” This over a jazzed backdrop he addresses the conflict with curriculums that don’t make sense and gripping reality of inner-city living. Songs like this are found along side struggles of being human and failing (“Kevins Heart.”) Yeah, we find more of what J. Cole does best here. At 12 tracks, KOD is still filled with heady lyricism and tight beats. But the haters are still going to come out strong at J. Cole regardless. I don’t think Cole is ahead of his time, with KOD he’s ahead of decline.