Tis the season…
“Happy Holidays,” “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah.” I feel like October just ended and here we are about to celebrate the biggest shopping holiday of them all. Those youngsters are getting their phones ready to record all the Walmart fun yelling, “Worldstaaaaar,” in hopes of catching fisticuffs flying and panties pulled down. Of course, my concerns vary from the rest of the country on this Black Friday Roll Out(!), as I eschew this day of commerce in lieu of something more…enjoyable. As I’m one of the few that has to work today, the day right after Thanksgiving, I’m trying to get through my day without distractions. Björk’s new Utopia dropped today, but I haven’t heard it yet. I’m waiting for the day to end so I can sit and listen to it with fewer distractions. I’m all about attempting to avoid distractions although it rarely happens.
But today is about other things. Sufjan Stevens has just released The Greatest Gift Mixtape: Outtakes, Remixes & Demos From Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty). The great thing about listening to an album filled with outtakes, demos, and especially remixes is you’re basically getting an album whose songs are nothing like the originals. So yeah: a new album! Many songs here get reworked, ending up with sounds that while similar to the original version, sound different. I’ve expressed how much I’ve enjoyed his Carrie & Lowell, as did friends of mine that I would have never counted as fans of Sufjan’s music, so this Mixtape is indeed the greatest gift for fans. He opens with a new track on this release with “Wallowa Lake Monster” which makes Dungeon & Dragons references for all you game boarding fan(atic)s as well. The beauteous fingerpicking he’s come to be known for is present as is his soft vocal delivery. All is accentuated by the vocals that billow in the background, hauntingly.
Sufjan takes a hand at remixing his own “Drawn To The Blood” with a hypnotic, repetitive beat drawn in. The track is masterfully pieced together. But then there’s another remix of the same song, a fingerpicking remix which swings in a direction that’s a total 180 degrees. Where one makes you dance, the other has your hand in the air in glory. Others take a stab at changing, or altering his tracks. Labelmate Roberto Lange, known in music circles as Helado Negro, breathes new life in “Death With Dignity,” with an airy quality, exploring that distance in sound and giving a blended pop treatment to “All Of Me Wants All Of You.” Of course, we all know comparisons are cheap to make, but the latter here is eerily reminiscent of what the late Elliot Smith sounds like. In the past, I’ve always been able to separate the two artists and just chalked it up to both drawing from Nick Drake. But back to the track, the melody is perfection, Sufjan’s voice is amazing, and Negro kills the remixology game.
Sufjan’s iPhone demo versions of tracks “John My Beloved” and the title track of “Carrie & Lowell” could easily appear on any album he’s released. I myself find no faults here but then again, I don’t hear the nuances he does. Oh how The Greatest Gift is perfect for the holidays. If anyone is interested, you can send me a signed vinyl copy when they’re released. That’s how good this is!
Now today I wasn’t planning on sharing anything to Roll Out(!) but I changed my mind at the 25th hour. I didn’t think there was anything worth discussing but obviously, I was wrong, and I can admit when I’m wrong. It is Black Friday after all.
Released this week as well is the San Diego transplant Ill Poetic’s An Idiot’s Guide To Anarchy (Definition Music). Now Ill Poetic has been on his game for some time now, his first album, The World Is Ours dropped in 2007 and now 10 years later he drops his sophomore release. Some may even know him as the man behind the boards of Detroit rapper Red Pill’s Instinctive Drowning but on this album, I find myself conflicted. There’s a lot going on here and it sounds like he’s performing with a live band, which at different points is reminiscent of his contemporaries, like the lesser-known Kuf Knotz’ Boombox Logic, in production, or even Doomtree’s Sims in his delivery. Of course, I will explain.
According to Ill himself, he’s said, “Many things built this album, both selfish and selfless” which I’d have to agree with. It’s something that can work in his favor and become a negative factor. In his case, it is both. For one thing, I can admire the work ethic it took to record Anarchy, but after a few listens I realize one thing: I can’t sit down at one time to take in the entire album at once all the time. There’s so much going on in this album, and it’s expressed in the opening “Billy Holiday” where a voice opens stating “…demographics are for politicians…” which tells you from the beginning, yeah, this is going to take time and effort but it’s not a bad thing. There are moments when the album sounds self-indulgent, as he tries to capitalize on the free-flowing music which many will appreciate but I want more lyricism. The seriousness of his samples aren’t missed though and when “Ill Communication (Get Busy)” drops you get that deep resounding beat while he rallies around the track with metaphors and a cut-throat delivery. One of my favorite here is the laid-back delivery of “Yesterday” where Ill’s don’t-give-a-fuck attitude is more of a spoken-word stylization. “8:44” is frantically paced and Ill is all over this one where he takes serious situations and expresses them in a playful manner, all the while getting his point across. “Build You Up,” this one is sheer fire! The beat moves much slower here and it’s all about love. Of music. Lyrically, it’s the culmination of all the grinding and musically, the beat is fitting, with a sweet bassline, horns coming in and out and a background vocal hook. Ok, this one is the one I favor most.
Then there’s “Let It Ride,” with a bounce in that beat that makes my head nod but it has me wishing for more lyricism. At the halfway mark he pretty much lets the beat “ride” and I can’t help but just hit the FF button. And this is my issue with An Idiot’s Guide To Anarchy. For the most part, it has what I want. What I need. But then yes, Ill Poetic gets a bit self-indulgent. No one will question that homey knows what he’s doing because when he hits, he hits hard and flavorful.