Thursday, February 14, 2013

Angle - White Andy

            The margins of popular music are filled with stylistic misfits; square pegs whose music doesn’t fit nicely into the round holes of convention. Much like the individuals of Huxley’s “Brave New World,” who are unable to function within the boundaries of a tightly controlled society and as a result are banished to remote island communities, talented artists who don’t subscribe to mainstream orthodoxy are often relegated to the musical sidelines.
            This principle might explain why Jarid Catrenich, aka Angle, one of Des Moines’ most unique and longest-standing veteran MCs, remains something of a shadowy figure in the local hip-hop consciousness. Though he has abundant skill and a sizeable, consistent catalog, it seems his style is just quirky enough to run askew of the casual listener’s ear. His latest release provides a fresh opportunity to take a look at his approach and assess its merits.
            On his new EP, Angle assumes the persona of “White Andy” and pays tribute to the spirit of fun and creativity that characterized hip-hop’s Golden Era. That spirit is on display in the Vaudeville-styled cover art that features Angle in top hat, tuxedo, and “reverse blackface,” and its influence is felt in the music as well.
            The opening track, “Blazee,” begins in typical oddball fashion with a cartoonish intro followed by a Spanish announcer introducing “Angleoneous Maximus” and producer Coolzey. The song is breezy and upbeat, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. Next is a great track titled “Hiyah.” This song was the first to appear from “White Andy” when its pirate and Renaissance-themed video was released last spring. Angle’s flow is in good form over the relaxed beat, and he croons the chorus over a layer of female vocals that sing “White Andy.”
            The program takes a slight turn with “Abysses.” Coolzey lays drowsy strings over an interesting snare drum pattern, and Angle leads us down a hall of scary movie horrors replete with ghosts, serial killers, and monsters under children’s beds. A guest vocalist listed as “The Pleaser” delivers an ominous chorus, warning, “they’re coming for you . . . “ On “Chinee,” Angle takes aim at shortsighted MCs who are more interested in freestyle fame than building a solid body of work. (“I feel you’re haunted by the ghost of Eyedea past.”)
            The centerpiece of the EP is “Farns,” a posse cut that showcases Felix Thunder, D Average and Toby Diligent of prettygirlhatemachine, Tremayne, Ryan Nixon and Mic L of Neon Current, and ends with a verse by Coolzey. Though it’s the longest track on the album, “Farns” has one of those beats I could listen to for days, and as a result it feels like it ends far too quickly. “Rocket,” finds Angle playing the role of an aging rap superhero pondering his relevance and his purpose in the ever-changing world of rap music. There’s an interesting contrast here between subject matter and presentation; the lyrics deal with artistic self-reflection, but the music is light-hearted and playful. That contrast is indicative of the overall balance of this project, and despite its relatively short run time, it’s a varied and interesting listen.
            “White Andy” comes to a twisted conclusion with the song “Spookster.” Written as a series of journals entries, it tells the story of a group of people stranded in the mountains after an avalanche buries their cabin. When the food runs out and the pipes freeze, the song’s protagonist has to resort to drastic measures to try to survive. Even on a track so morbid Angle can’t seem to resist throwing in a quick dash of odd, self-deprecating humor at the last minute, leaving on the same note that he arrived.
            The peculiarity of Angle’s music is largely due to his deadpan, irreverent, and at times, dark sense of humor. There’s plenty of comedy on “White Andy,” but he also shows a willingness to indulge his imagination and work with unusual subject matter. This combination might not resonate with everyone, but it can be very rewarding for the listener who values the unique and the unexpected over the familiar. 


Friday, July 6, 2012

'Where the wild things crush you': Cypher Pressure Vol. 1

Several weeks ago, a stark video in black and white titled 'Cypher Pressure Vol. 1' appeared on my Facebook wall. The YouTube thumbnail image displayed the familiar faces of some of Des Moines hip hop's heaviest hitters, with one of them appearing in the guise of Lord Raiden. My curiosity aroused, I clicked play and was treated to a showcase of uncut skill and DIY execution courtesy of Nu Depths, Young Tripp and Gadema of D.O.P.E. Clique, and Asphate Woodhavet of Maxilla Blue, with cuts provided by DJ Touchnice, also of Maxilla Blue. If this video managed to slip past your radar undetected, you have the opportunity to reverse that misfortune now. Enjoy.

- Scott

Friday, June 29, 2012

Maxilla Blue - Volume 3

"Fivehundredfifteen Percent," a track from "Volume 3," the latest offering from Des Moines-IA based crew Maxilla Blue, begins with the following profession of hometown loyalty: "Indivisibly dedicated to the Des Moines pavement/that's where we slay men/of every race, creed, and MC pedigree." (For those who don't know, 515 is the area code for central Iowa.) This dedication might baffle heads outside the state of Iowa - and even some within - that have yet to notice the blips of nascent Iowa hip hop on their radar. As an Iowa transplant that has spent a number of years living in Minnesota, I've come to expect screw-faced reactions whenever I use the words "Iowa" and "hip hop" in the same sentence, primarily due to the fact that many consider Iowa to be as culturally remote and desolate as it is geographically. This preconception casts a long shadow and adds another rung to the ladder Iowa artists must climb as they struggle to reach as many ears as possible. 

Maxilla Blue has been steadily scaling that ladder since the group formed in 2006, and has contributed significantly to the growth of Iowa hip hop in the process. Producer Aeon Grey and MC Asphate Woodhavet began their collaboration based on a mutual desire to experiment with the rules and conventions of their genre, and started work on a collection of songs that ultimately became the first Maxilla Blue record. Recognizing the importance of what a DJ/turntablist brings to the table, in the studio and on stage, the duo brought DJ Touchnice into the fold shortly before their debut was released on Central Standard Records in 2008. Aeon Grey and Twin Cities native Joe Williams created the Central Standard label in order to provide an outlet for Aeon Grey projects, including Aeon's solo work, Maxilla Blue, and the Des Moines-based Bum Rap collective. Maxilla Blue's sophomore album, "Volume 2," followed in 2010, and "Volume 3" dropped in March of this year as a split release between Central Standard and Chicago underground heavyweights Galapagos4. 

Visually, "Volume 3" grabs your attention with its intriguing album cover. Anyone who buys a lot of music has been tempted at one time or another to purchase an album based solely on its cover art. This album will likely be such a temptation for diggers, collectors, and music buyers in general, due to its distinctive, unconventional imagery, courtesy of Mayday Design. Featuring a dark, multi-colored Leviathan rearing its head against a soft, light background, the face of this album is an appropriate visual representation of a group of artists who pride themselves on challenging listeners by side stepping standard formulas and hollow rap cliches. 

"Volume 3" begins with a contemplative tone similiar to that of its predecessor. The first two tracks - "Quest" and "Saliva Live" (fans might recognize the latter from previous live performances) - are solid and engaging, and provide a recap of where Maxilla has been before they set out to explore new sonic territory. After this initial warm up, the album starts building momentum with "Lego Blocks," a track that features Asphate's insistent, literate flow on top of a steady beat that induces a serious head nod. As the title implies, the lyrics reflect on the process of deconstructing one's own ideas and beliefs in order to achieve new perspectives and continued growth. Asphate's complex wordplay is a key element of Maxilla Blue's music, and one that rewards listeners who are willing to take the time to deceipher his lyrics and build an interpretation upon multiple listens. (Note: the lyrics for "Volume 3" were only made available in a limited fashion as part of the Galapagos4 preorder bonus material.) 

"Lego Blocks" is followed by one of my favorite Aeon Grey productions, an excellent instrumental titled "Grey's Yawn." The track begins with keys playing a spectral melody over the shifting meters of a chilled out, loping jazz beat. Distorted textures gradually make their way into the mix before the beat transforms, becoming more aggressive over a back drop of thunderstorm effects, while the opening melody continues to float in the background, creating a polyrhythmic contrast. The arrangement is unpredictable and the overall vibe is very cinematic. One of the most notable aspects of "Volume 3" is Aeon Grey's growth as a producer, and this track epitomizes that growth. The cinematic quality of "Grey's Yawn" continues with "The Serpent's Twist," another highlight with its dusky jazz bar ambience complete with the sounds of drunken conversations, glasses clinking, and a lazy trumpet, as Asphate dissects weak-minded artists and crews. 

"Fire & Rain" is a bluesy, percussive instrumental that isn't quite as compelling as others on the album, but it provides contrast and levity before the mysterious, hypnotizing "Lost In Composition." These two tracks combined run 3:22 and display the efficiency of expression that is another hallmark of the group's work. In fact, the entire album runs approximately 40 minutes. This is refreshing for those of us old enough to remember when records regularly clocked in at 45 minutes or less, when emphasis was squarely placed on quality over quantity. 

Next is another personal favorite, a mostly-instrumental track titled "Crane Style," that sounds something like hip hop psychedelia. It features the sounds of violin, hand percussion, and soulful backing vocals, with words from Asphate and turntable flourishes from Touchnice periodically wandering in and out of the mix. "Crane Style" is followed by one of the catchiest songs ever heard on a Maxilla Blue album, "Perfect Mal-F." (There seems to be some debate about the proper pronunciation of this title.) A strong groove carries the verses and Aeon takes it higher with a well-placed guitar sample during the chorus. The frenetic, quick-hitting "Retrogression" keeps things moving and sets up the album's last instrumental, "Upon Descent." Though the overall sound is very different, this track rivals "Grey's Yawn" in terms of dynamics and arrangment with its unexpected changes and guitar textures. The instrumentals on "Volume 3" are more developed and integrated more successfully than on previous Maxilla Blue releases, and combined with greater contribution from Touchnice throughout the recording process, the result is the most cohesive Maxilla Blue record thus far.

This brings us to the climactic anthem "Fivehundredfifteen Percent." A dramatic intro sets up this droning banger that's certain to energize the hometown fan base and light up crowds on the road as well. The song is an expression of local pride, but woven into that display of pride is an admonishment directed at fans and fellow artists that there's still a lot of heavy lifting to be done before Des Moines and the rest of Iowa are recognized as artistically on par with numerous other scenes throughout the region, let alone the rest of the country.

The album closes with the laid back, soulful "Wretches Brew," which imparts a feeling like that of a show as it starts to wind down, as the crowd closes tabs and begins to disperse. Though the vibe is chill, the lyrics touch on apocalyptic social ills and speak of Asphate's vision of "a pale equestrian," creating an interesting juxtaposition between music and words, and characteristically inviting examination and interpretation on the part of the listener. And so, the album closes with a perfect encapsulation of Maxilla Blue's music - there's often an underlying sense of skepticism, but it's always balanced by the possibility of discovery and new understandings. 

- Scott Dominguez

"Volume 3" is available on iTunes, AmazonGalapagos4, and UGHH. If you're old school like me and prefer a physical copy, you can stop by ZZZ Records in Des Moines, which any self-respecting Des Moines music fan should already be doing on a regular basis. 

In addition to this year's 80/35 Festival, you can catch Maxilla Blue live at DG's Taphouse in Ames, Saturday, July 14th.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Young Tripp - The Kraken

I don't lend a great deal of credence to popular opinion, but in this instance I'm willing to make an exception: there’s a reason why Young Tripp is considered to be one of the best MCs in Des Moines by many local hip hop fans and artists alike. If you’re not familiar with his work and would prefer to make your own judgement, you can download Tripp’s latest offering, “The Kraken – The Mixtape,” for zero dollars*.

“The Kraken” is presented by fellow D.O.P.E. Clique member Ritchie Daggers (the guy in the sleeveless Iron Maiden shirt) and features beats by Big Vern, Aeon Grey, and DMNY Beats, as well as cameos by Ryan Nixon and Gadema, and Calibre of Florida’s Scar Mafia.

While his style might not appeal to all listeners, the discerning ear will find that Tripp's skill is undeniable, and though some might focus solely on his raw and often rapid delivery, to do so is to ignore Tripp’s overall facility as a MC. Sophisticated wordplay and rhyme patterns combine with his aggressive style to create a formidable presence on the mic that few in DMI can step to.

*Tripp recently made his entire discography available for free download, effectively negating any and all of your excuses.

- Scott

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Davey Suicide - The new face of Industrial

If you were a musical child of the late '80's or '90's more than likely you had listening experiences with some of the music that fell in to the category of "industrial" or "electronic". If you didn't I'd be willing to bet that bands like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Dope, Gravity Kills or even Union Underground were names that you could recognize. The genre seemed to somewhat fade in the early 2000's, but now in 2012 it's making a resurgence. 
Since I live in Iowa, I have a disadvantage in finding newer cutting edge music on the radio. We are a few years behind the trends according to the East and West coasts. Luckily, I've made some friends who make their living looking for new and upcoming artists to represent. When they ask if I'm able to do interviews with their artists I jump at the chance because it allows me to be part of the music industry since I can't play an instrument to save my life. It also allows me to expand my musical horizons and check some stuff out that I didn't know about or normally wouldn't listen to.
Davey Suicide resides in LA, California and is gearing up to release their debut album in July of this year. Even though the album isn't released, the band is creating some major buzz in the music world. Just recently Davey Suicide released their first single accompanied by a music video for their song "Generation Fuck Star". The video was directed by Chad Michael Ward who had directed videos for Black Veil Brides, Fear Factory and Marylin Manson!!!

Greg: How excited are you for your album to drop on July 17th? 
Davey Suicide: Extremely. I feel like this album defines me as a person and we’re starting a new chapter in the Industrial Rock world.

Greg: What can past and even new fans expect from you on the debut?
Davey Suicide: An unbridled honesty and confidence to rock that’s been absent for a long time.
There are tracks to fuck to, rebellion, shedding fear, propaganda and hope.

Greg: Who is Davey Suicide the musician and who is Davey Suicide the person?
Davey Suicide: I think they both go hand in hand but the musician side of Davey Suicide releases the aggression that Davey Suicide the person allows to be stored away. Everything I talk about in my music is what I believe as a person so they go hand in hand.

Greg: Tell me a little about the deeper meaning to “Generation Fuck Star”?
Davey Suicide: It represents an empowering freedom and letting go of all the baggage that has plagued me for years. Being the new breed, taking what’s yours and second chances.

Greg: You’ve said that most of your musical influences are based out of the ‘90’s, Who are they?
Davey Suicide: Although they aren’t all 90’s bands, my main influences are Guns N Roses, Manson and Eminem.  

Greg: Can you describe what it’s like being added to Chad Michael Ward’s list of video greats?
Davey Suicide: The biggest challenge in any artistic collaboration is taking a vision from someone’s head and bringing it to life. I brought my concept to Chad and he tweaked it a little to tie up the story and it surpassed every expectation that I had. Going into it, I always felt that his visual aesthetic fit with the soundtrack of Davey Suicide and it came out that way. It was an inspiring experience and he’s an amazing visionary.

Greg: What do you have to say to the youth of America who look up to you?
Davey Suicide: I was once in your spot and instead of letting the world shape you, I made the world cater to what I’m about. In the moments where you feel lost and alone, remember that boundaries and guidelines are only there because we allow them to be there. We’re limitless and opportunities are endless if you go after what you want.

Greg: How about a question that is directed at your female fans? What qualities does Davey Suicides ideal woman have?
Davey Suicide: I love a woman with ambition and a sense of independence that allows her to be happy and confident with or without her man.

Greg: I have one question that everyone gets asked…There is no escaping
If a gun weren’t available, what would your weapon of choice be?

Davey Suicide: A nuclear bomb because once we land, we’re going to change the world.

For more info and show dates check out Davey Suicide on Facebook

- Greg

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A few questions with Blackie Starks of Isaac James

     I'm willing to bet if you live in or anywhere near the Midwest you have probably heard of a band called Isaac James. If you haven't then you've never been to The House Of Bricks in Des Moines. Sad to say you've really missed the boat if you have never encountered either entity. Some pretty rich musical history flows in the veins of Isaac James and if you want to know more I will direct you here I have seen Isaac James perform more than once and have even had a chance to interview the entire band in person. Every time I see them play their sets get better and better. I'm guessing that's what happens when you don't change members once a month. The band has been playing tons of shows and has been receiving support from some pretty unlikely places. Front man Blackie Starks was able to talk to me about some of that recently.

Greg: I've noticed Isaac James has been traveling pretty extensively lately to play shows, what is your favorite city to play in? 
Blackie: We've been getting a lot of love out of Burlington, Iowa as of late, even sold out a show in an auditorium of 2400 people co-headlining with Royal Bliss. That was an amazing night for Isaac James. 

Greg: Can you tell me about the web show that is featuring some of your music and how you tie in with the show? 
Blackie: Shotgun Mythos is a new series in pre production. They approached us to use our music and you'll even see the main character in the series donning some IJ gear occasionally from what I'm told. I don't really know much else at the moment except that it's supposed to have an action packed solid story line. 
Greg: How does Isaac James write a song? 
Blackie: We don't really have any one set method. We throw out riffs, collaborate, and voila... song is written.. sometimes I'll have an idea to start with, sometimes the song is written right on the spot. It's just good chemistry.
Greg: What is your biggest musical accomplishment? 
Blackie: I'd say the show using our music is pretty decent. There are some other big things in the works that I'm not yet at liberty to discuss yet but stick around, you're gonna like what's coming.
Greg: What is your best and worst show memory? 
Blackie: I love small venues. Always have... We rolled into Burlington, Iowa for the first time a couple of years ago and played a radio station sponsored event at a place called the Crazy Coyote. The people were shoulder to shoulder and lined up out the door... We were packed in the corner of this place and all you could see was heads from the stage to the back wall... it was loud as shit and people were singing words to songs that weren't even released yet. They were learning them from the live videos of us off of Youtube. That was awesome!!!
Worst show.. hmmm... We played in Chicago with some close friends and we were on just like any other night and the crowd just flat out wasn't in to it. I think we even cut our set short by a few songs because it was so ridiculous. Later, a local band on the bill told us it was pretty typical of that venue and area of Chicago. Still sucked though.... 

Greg: If you could play one venue anywhere in the world, where would that be? Why? 
Blackie: I've always wanted to play CBGB's but unfortunately they closed it down a few years back. That place is legendary in the rock world and it would have been cool to say I played there.

Greg: When can we expect the next Isaac James album?  
Blackie: We're writing for it at the moment and hope to have something released by early 2013.

Greg: Band names are sometimes clever cliches or something a band has happen to them previous to choosing a name. Isaac James has somewhat of a different story with the band name. Would you care to share with us and your fans how the name came to be?  
Blackie: Joel, our drummer as you know was a co founder of Stone Sour and in the midst of recording their second record, Joel's son Isaac James Ekman was diagnosed with cancer and passed away which ultimately led to his departure from Stone Sour. We felt if it hadn't been for this, Isaac James the band may never have existed so we named it in memory of his son.
Greg: I have one question that I ask everyone I get a chance to interview that is pretty unconventional, and you're no exception, so if you're up to it, here it is! If a gun weren't available what would your weapon of choice be?  
Blackie: A light saber.....

-Greg Waldrop

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A few questions with Brian Sheerin of Audio Addiction

Photo by Holly Parkhill
One great thing about not getting paid for what we do here at The Backstage Betty Pages is getting to do interviews with bands and artists that we like or have that influenced us. Don't kid yourself, we would love to get a paycheck for our hard work, but until that happens, we do what we want!!! There are a few bands whose live performances rank on the top 10 charts with me. Mower definitely belongs in the top 5 of that list. Mower and it's alter ego Slower have since slowed their touring for front man Brian Sheerin to focus on his other project Audio Addiction. I contacted Brian a few weeks ago and asked him to tell me a little more about the band. Being based out of San Diego, California, they have found sanctuary and support among friends and family in the surrounding areas. In Iowa, however, not much is known about Audio Addiction. You may have never heard of them unless you were paying close attention to the Mower Facebook page. What ever your case may be Brian was able to share with us his new(er) found outlet...
Greg: Can you tell me how Audio Addiction came to life?

Brian: My friends Keith and Johnny have been writing together for years and I used to see them around San Diego.  Up until the time I was recording the third Mower CD, those two didn't know I could do much more than scream, but they thought I was an interesting front man. After they started hearing the jazz/lounge covers, they wanted to see what I might do over some of their songs, that's when we started working together. As far as Kevin goes, I saw him perform with Buckfast Superbee at the Casbah one night and I thought. "This guy's a monster" so I hit him up online about playing in a cover band. The cover band thing didn't happen, but when we needed a bass player for this band, I called him. Jimmy is one of Johnny's good friends and a solid player so he got the call when we added a second guitarist. That's basically it. If we don't like you we'll just tell you that we formed in Liverpool in the sixties.
Greg: How does Audio Addiction differ from other projects that you've been a part of?

Brian: It differs in the vocal style more than anything. I love heavy music, but I grew up on 70's rock and then got into what was going on in the punk and glam scenes. In Mower, my role wasn't to do much singing and I reached a point where I wanted to make music that had elements of The Rolling Stones, MC5, Hanoi Rocks, The Who, Dead Boys, Jane's Addiction, bands with a lot of soul and style and grime to them. I'm never going to sound like any of those singers and the band doesn't write music like that, but we can get that vibe into what we do and it feels very real and that comes across. Audio Addiction is good about letting each guy do their thing. We trust each other. One thing we say in rehearsal all the time is to "serve the song", do what's best for the song. Maybe that means playing a simpler riff, or not singing over a part or not passing on a big fill and just keeping a solid groove. Whatever is going to make the song shine rather than trying to display your talents or whatever. Another thing that's different is that we are an idiot, I mean, collectively, we're just an idiot that makes himself laugh a lot. Audio Addiction is funny.
Greg: Not a lot of info is available on Audio Addiction, Is there anything that you would like fans of yours to know about the band?

Brian: Go to the shows when you see them booked.  One thing that struck home when I took a break from Mower is that these moments, the beginning of a band, that rawness, the grit and intensity, it's a passing thing. It's life, it's alive, it's living. Go to the shows, be a part of it while it's cool and unpolished and crammed into a little club and add your energy to it. Buy tickets, be there and we'll give it back with all we have onstage. We're entertaining, we'll get your blood moving. We're good for you, like vitamin C.

Greg: At what age did you first become interested in music?

Brian: I was four or five when I started identifying bands, The Beatles, The Monkeys, Sha Na Na, Elvis, but my entire life went down the tubes when I talked my dad into buying me Kiss Alive II for my birthday when I was six or seven. That was the end. I could have been somebody if it weren't for that album :-)

Greg: Who would you say your personal musical influences are?

Brian: Real Mofos, Ace Frehley, Eric Avery, Bill Ward, Brian Jones,  Izzy Stradlin. The type of person where the band loses the mojo when they're not in it.
Greg: When can we expect to hear more music from Audio Addiction for people who live outside of San Diego?

Brian: We have about two CD's worth of songs but we're going to release it on our own which means we have to foot the bill.  So for now, there is the freebie track out there at People can get a copy of "The Way To Hell' to check out while we sort out the details.

Greg: I have a final question I like to ask everyone I do interviews with and it isn't of the conventional variety. If you feel inclined to answer, here it is!!!
If a gun wasn't available, what would your weapon of choice be?

Brian: Your mind is the best weapon, right? I don't know. Two rubber bands, a pen and a paper clip. MacGuyver my way out of the situation.

Click on the blue highlighted links. For more information on Audio Addiction you can visit their Facebook page or website.

-Greg Waldrop