Thursday, April 30, 2009

His Name Is Wigald

Jet Set Jazz
Boning establishes a strong sense of mystery throughout -- as if his live horns, bass, piano, percussion and electronics are out to turn your weekend trip down the coast into a Hitchcock espionage thriller. Most of the compositions are mid-paced mood pieces, with wordless vocals and breathy reeds set against Latin bass and percussion.

A native of Wildeshausen, Germany, the multi-instrumentalist's career began with the jazz-punk outfit KIXX. But his second career as a comedic performer on a Saturday Night Live-type television show, plus his stated desire with Jet Set to recreate the music he heard on the radio as a child, gives a clear idea of what to expect. Italian cinema soundtracks of the 1960s and '70s, bossa nova, the more accessible West Coast jazz and early synthesizer exotica all pile into his memories.

A theatrical undercurrent of travel-weariness runs beneath most of the record. And given Boning's comedy background, it's easy to imagine his globe-trotting cast of characters putting limp, begloved wrists to their foreheads, overwhelmed by all the trans-continental fun their wealth and freedom allows.

But Boning's sense of humor and use of electronics sometimes works against him. The distorted speech in "Avalanche" feels weird, and the house track "Kobra Dance" crashes when the vocals come in, making it seem even more out of place among the other songs.

His best gag is the cover art, featuring Boning clad in top hat and tails flanked by two blonde stewardess types straight from the Matt Helm casting pool -- but all three are cardboard cut-outs.

Reference material: Anybody familiar with Piero Umiliani or Nicola Conte won't be disappointed with Wigald Boning.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Holy Smokes!

Datajunkie is back. At the start of the year, we removed his link from the "Monkey Love" section, because it seemed he'd stopped posting. And that was sad, but understandable. A blog like that -- hi-res scans of comic book, fan magazine and horror magazine covers, plus text discussing the artifacts on display -- means more effort than anyone at The Typing Monkey can fathom.

As promised, Datajunkie will return to our Love list post-haste. In the meantime, go there and see what's cooking since he returned. (Fresh content showed up there right around the Ides of March. Hmm.)

Also, he put up some pirate-themed covers earlier in April. Probably for the same reasons we've been reading Robert E. Howard's pirate-themed short stories lately.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Who Knew?

Escaping MIMS' single "This Is Why I'm Hot" in 2007 proved difficult. It also signaled yet another milepost on the road to creative bankruptcy for Top 40 rap. Remember the video? Neither do we, which is why The Typing Monkey was impressed not just that the single from the MC's new album earns repeat listens -- but that the video for said single, "Move (If You Wanna)," is kind of fun to watch.

Granted, hip-hop videos rarely set the bar high. And if you'd like read more of our reasoning behind that assertion, move (if you wanna, tee hee) to the post just below this for a treatise on rap video. In the meantime, though we never anticipated typing this, enjoy the '90s-retro Spike Jonze-edness of this:

[courtesy mims]

And at no extra cost to you, if you haven't already seen Kid Cudi's "Day 'N' Nite" video 23 times, watch it here. It's pretty good too, and we hope part of a larger change in the direction of rap video.

Thank You, Kanye West?

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Rap Videos

The vast majority of rap music videos are boring.

Rap is party music, or at least was initially. As a result, many rap videos portray a party setting, usually without anything of dramatic or comedic value happening, and too often without anything visually interesting going on either, beyond displays of conscious consumption and as much flesh as basic cable will allow. Without a compelling narrative, the audience must endure four minutes of staged party footage.

And while Lil Wayne's obscene limo ride in "Lollipop" may be more titillating than digital video of your nephew's bar mitzvah, they both net the same result: Nothing exciting happens, you get the idea pretty quickly and move on.

In essence, rap is meant to be heard but not seen. At least not in such a preconceived, literal way. Camera friendly acts of the first MTV generation (Michael Jackson, Duran Duran) make sense as stars hitched to the rocket of music video's success. But both music videos and rap made use of existing media tools to create something new, and as such, needed to grow a bit independently of one another before they could meld.

Early efforts such as the iconic "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are no more or less homemade than efforts by their rock and pop contemporaries. (This was 1982 after all, when it was perfectly acceptable for Triumph to lip-sync atop a giant flying-V guitar.)

As the decade wore down, mainstream music videos went from inspired to tedious, and hip-hop videos fell hardest. Entertaining goofs from Run DMC and the Beastie Boys gave way to a three-pronged approach for rap videos as the genre took over Top 40 music for the majority of the '90s. These three options were:

Dance/comedy numbers - Reserved mostly for pop-rap performers
Realism/morality plays - Almost exclusively the domain of East Coast and early West Coast gangsta rap, the videos were filmed on the streets or used obvious symbolism to express the frustrations of Black America.
Fantasy/party scenes - Bacchanalia as escapist entertainment, which isn't bad in and of itself, but fanned the flames of critics and bored those of us who wanted something besides an endless stream of absurd lifestyle endorsements we can't afford.

Despite the big budgets of Tupac's Beyond Thunderdome homage "California Love" and the diet-Ridley Scott of Puff Daddy's "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" [which samples "The Message" -- ed.] both videos fall into the fantasy/party camp and are staggeringly dull.

Even innovations quickly became rote. The body paint, costumes and odd photography that worked so well for Busta Rhymes' "Woo Hah! I Got You All In Check" made for an instantly recognizable calling card, and was greatly expanded on by Missy Elliott. Yet too many MCs learned the wrong lesson from Busta and Missy. A fisheye lens and gaudy lighting are not enough to keep us watching.

There were bright spots. In 1991 Black Sheep's "The Choice Is Yours" took advantage of a cutting-edge editing technique and used it to bolster the song's impact -- and they don't even employ the trick until after the two-minute mark. Budget limitations can be a good thing.

Outkast, and Andre 3000 in particular, embraced the same P-Funk inspired weirdness as the aforementioned Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott, with a string of watchable videos culminating with the ubiquitous "Hey Ya!" in 2003.

In 2006, just two years after Fat Joe would not dance but only "Lean Back," E-40's "Tell Me When to Go" video had dancers the average viewer could root for and driving stunts. And though they weren't doing anything groundbreaking, the first few videos from Norfolk, VA duo Clipse will still scare parents who catch their kids watching online. That's something, right?

If it's not apparent by now, the 1990s were generally a wasteland in terms of compelling hip-hop video. The indie/underground acts of the era tried to match their creative music with more interesting videos, but results were mixed. Present day indies such as Def Jux and Stones Throw make an effort to do something different, generally giving a better noise-to-signal ratio than most, thanks in part to better technology making it far easier to make a cheap video look good.

Now that you've sat through this town council meeting, we will get to the big point. Southern hip-hop aside, rap videos in the past year or two have started to get interesting again. Well, at least more of them are more frequently interesting. And like it or not, The Typing Monkey thinks we have Kanye West to thank.

Like most of you, we have our problems with Mr. West. But for every status quo "Gold Digger" and "Stronger" video, he's taken an equal amount of chances. "Jesus Walks" started out his video career with blatantly incendiary imagery. He made an alternate video for "Can't Tell Me Nothing" staring meta-comedian Zack Galifianakis and folkie Will Oldham. And he's released multiple animation-based videos. (Name another rapper at Kanye's level of fame who'd enlist the talents of Bill Plympton.)

And though West has returned to animation with "Heartless" from 808s and Heartbreak, the video for "Flashing Lights" off the Graduation album marks a high-point in West's canon, and acts as a smart flip of the use of women in rap videos. Gender studies classes will have a field day with it. Russ Meyer would be proud. [The video is mildly NSFW.]

At the time of this writing, Kid Cudi's "Day 'N' Nite" video shows up regularly in MTV's rotation, and it's a breath of cool, minty air -- offering eerie animated hallucinations happening all around the MC as he walks the streets. And as discussed in the post just above this diatribe, MIMS' "Move (If You Wanna)" gets all '90s indie-rock retro by tipping its cap to Spike Jonze.

Keep it coming gentlemen and ladies of the hip-hop world. Your dominance of popular music deserves better visuals, and so do we.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

We'll be right back after these messages.

Nice use of an anti-drug film and a song that can't be played often enough:

The Elastik Band

[Courtesy of blacflag]

Friday, April 3, 2009

Space Is the Place

Editor's note: Somehow The Typing Monkey missed this sophomore release from Coconot, a band now known primarily for being the "other" music endeavor of El Guincho (aka Pablo Diaz-Reixa). Coconot's debut (which we also missed) came out in 2005, Cosa Astral was released in the U.S. in November '08.

Cosa Astral
"Verbena de los Delfines," the third song on this nine-track disc, bursts forth like a spray of confetti in the ears. After a jaguar growls, birds sing and a tropicália beat skips into the picture, drunk with percussion, double bass and chanting vocals. This song, and the album, captures that tipsy, tomorrow-be-damned mindset of the gloriously intoxicated.

The final tune, "Miles de Ojos," comes on like tourists attempting to sing along with the natives at a beach bonfire. Indeed, the whole of Cosa Astral is a disorienting trip to foreign places. And "foreign" here does not indicate Barcelona, where the trio formed, nor Brazil, from where much of the musical influence flows, but destinations beyond both the grasp of Earth's gravity and the boundaries of this dimension, just as the album title implies.

That's not meant to sound so much like tossed off (read: lazy) record-review speak. As weird as Coconot gets, multi-instrumentalist sidemen Jens Neumaier and Cristian SubirĂ  keep Diaz-Reixa's tendency toward conflicting rhythms in check ... barely.

Eventually some university musicologist will dissect Cosa Astral in detail. It is the album as new species -- exotic only because it seems to exist in an environment unavailable to most of us. This music can be parsed, but that won't make it any less splendid.

Reference material: We'd be remiss not to mention Os Mutantes, especially in their less Beatle-esque mode. There are echos (ha!) of Liquid Liquid and A Certain Ratio, as well as the in-love-with-sound brashness of Esquivel too -- which is no surprise given El Guincho's sampling of his work. Just give Coconot a listen.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

No Following

The AV Club, an offshoot of The Onion, does a good job of covering arts and entertainment. Most of the content walks a solid line between unapologetic fandom and distanced criticism.

As part of the site's ongoing "Cult Canon" series on film, the AVC writers are tackling animation during April, 2009. The first entry is The Iron Giant, and Scott Tobias gets it right. His piece, essentially a love-letter to a poorly marketed film that fell under the rug of public attention in 1999, is worth a read.

Before we link to his article, please enjoy the promotional poster from the film below, and also understand this: The Iron Giant should make you cry. We say should because if you get to the end of the film -- one of the only movies worth your tears -- and you don't at least have a lump in your throat, then we can't help you. Seriously, there's something wrong with you.

Now then, here's the poster:

And here's the link.