Telekinesis: Please Ask For Help (video)

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Considering Telekinesis’ 12 Desperate Straight Lines is probably my most-played album of the young year, it was disappointing, to say the least, that Michael Benjamin Lerner had to cancel his Feb. 26 date at Sail Inn due to illness.

He vowed via Twitter he’d return – and who doesn’t hold everyone to their tweeted promises? – and it looks like he’s making good on that, albeit in an opening slot for Portugal. The Man on May 8 at Martini Ranch.

Combine that news with Wednesday’s release of a new video for the song Please Ask For Help, and I’m getting excited all over again about the album, a 32-minute burst of infectious pop and tangled-up emotions. The new video follows a tumultuous evening for a potentially doomed couple whose large, papier-mached heads can’t hide the awkward tension between the two.

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Q&A with Michael Benjamin Lerner of Telekinesis
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I Used to Love H.E.R.: Kokayi

The 51st installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Kokayi, a Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, emcee and producer.

The Washington, D.C. native, who released Robots & Dinosaurs last year, offers his take two albums, one old and one new.

the great adventures of slick rickSlick Rick, The Great Aventures of Slick Rick (Def Jam, 1988)

Defining moments in the lexicon of hip hop culture are many, especially for artists who both evolve from and are involved in creating soundscapes that attempt to add an indelible stain to the pages of said lexicon. At each milestone of my passion becoming my purpose there have been records that helped me: bridge gaps, realign my focus and set off in new directions.

But there is a singular record that helped me understand that records could be all inclusive and that record is The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. I swear I murdered the tape (yes, “cassette tape”), the vinyl and the CD. All met their doom due to being played until: the tape popped, grooves were worn and the digital data was so badly burned that skipping didn’t happen anymore, respectively. In ’88 you had “gangsta rap” from NWA, PE scaring America, KRS on social justice, Eric B and Rakim on knowledge of self and Slick Rick with the bipolar album. Songs from possibly the greatest story ever rhymed, the brilliant “Children’s Story” the inspiration of “Hey Young World” to tales of illicit behavior “Lick the Balls” and the über misogynistic “Treat Her Like a Prostitute.” It was the craziest thing to hear, all of these emotions captured in a single body of work that told a cohesive story, the production was no slouch either, primarily handled by Bomb Squad members Sadler and Shocklee with an appearance from Jam Master Jay.

Most recently, I have to shed light on the fantastic record of fellow DC-area native and 1/3 of Diamond District, YU’s Before Taxes. The rhymes are solid, the brownswood bubbler “Fine” is positive affirmation in sample/loop/sung form. This album is emotional crack. Grown man on his B.I. shit. From his experiences as an Afro/Native American in “Native,” the anger of “Close,” the thump of the “Up & Up,” all 16 tracks tap chakras, cold brew or apple juice, dank or chew stick. it’s all in there.

The Baseball Project: Past Time (live at Martini Ranch)

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You didn’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate what The Baseball Project was doing on Friday night at Martini Ranch, part of the band’s weeklong tour playing spring training parks around the Valley.

Oh, I could tell my wife about Curt Flood, Ichiro Suzuki and Ted Fucking Williams until her eyes glaze over. I could try to explain why the delicate storytelling and intricate details of Buckner’s Bolero – the nearly six-minute anchor on the new album Volume 2: High And Inside – gives me the chills. But I quickly realized during the band’s inspired set that the stories – for the non-baseball nerds among us – could be secondary to what was going on musically.

After all, we are talking about some indie-rock heavyweights: Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5), Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Linda Pitmon (part of Wynn’s Miracle 3). Buck’s affiliation is, of course, exploited at every promotional turn, and it’s almost amusing – if not totally bizarre – to think that a member of R.E.M., on the heels of a new album, was tooling around the greater Phoenix area in a van to play ballpark concourses. (That said, he looked to be nothing but cordial and generous in signing autographs and spending time with fans.)

The band reached full boil when it launched into songs by Dream Syndicate (Tell Me When It’s Over), the Miracle 3 (Amphetamine) and the Minus 5 (Aw Shit Man and Twilight Distillery). As Jason Woodbury noted in his review at the New Times, “It was all exuberance and sweat last night. Save the blues for the end of the season.”

It was a great way to warm up for Opening Day, and gain a better appreciation for the talent that was collected on one stage.

To celebrate both, here’s a video (with sound that turned out amazingly clear) I took of the group performing Past Time, the opener off its 2008 debut, Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails.

Not the 1s: Why You Cryin? (Kickstarter campaign)

I recognize that my taste in hip-hop is steadily veering a little to the left, and the progressive duo Meanest Man Contest has been one of the acts to lead me in that direction.

So my curiosity is piqued by a new project from MMC’s Eric Steuer called Not the 1s, a collaboration between Steuer (aka Cuzzo) and Alex Christidis (aka Mawnstr), a Bay Area-based rapper by way of L.A. who was part of a group, The Connoisseurs, that included P.E.A.C.E. from Freestyle Fellowship.

Steuer and Christidis linked up for an eight-track debut, Why You Cryin?, that will be released in June on the great Gold Robot Records label. Steuer – accessible and friendly in addition to supremely talented – gave me the skinny: “We’ve known each other since back in the day and we’ve been looking for the right opportunity to work together on something for a long time. It’s a short album – eight tracks. We recorded a bunch more stuff but we shelved some of it because we wanted to make sure everything we put out sounded right.”

Judging from the first leak, You Dress Like an Asshole (which premiered at Altered Zones), he’s clearly onto something. This is where future-fresh beats meet an old-school hip-hop truism: Your wardrobe is wack, son.

Lunice worked the production, one of several notable guests on the album. Daedelus, Mexicans with Guns and Monster Rally are among the beatmakers, and Tucson’s own Isaiah Toothtaker drops in for cameo raps, returning the favor after Steuer produced a track, T.T.T., on Toothtaker’s 2010 album Yiggy.

To help fund pressing of colored vinyl, Not the 1s fired up a Kickstarter campaign, which at the time of my writing this had raised $1,470 of its stated $2,000 goal. Incentives (vinyl, T-shirts, shoutout in liner notes) are offered at the various contribution levels. Even $5 gets you a digital download of the album two weeks before its release, so get a move on it.

(Track courtesy of Altered Zones)

I Used to Love H.E.R.: Dan Mennella (The Mennella Line)

The 50th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from NY-based writer Dan Mennella, a friend, former co-worker and fellow music/baseball devotee (see his info below).

Dan surprised me with this one, providing a compelling argument to revisit an album with which I’d (probably unfairly) spent little time.

the grind dateDe La Soul, The Grind Date
(Sanctuary Records, 2004)

It’s funny, in a way, that this great record became one of my favorites and a very important one to me. Prior to The Grind Date, I didn’t like De La Soul all that much. I didn’t have anything against them, but I was 21 in 2004, and their best, early work had not aged well at all.

That’s not a criticism unique to De La, of course, merely an observation about the genre as a whole. If you were to look at the changes in hip-hop over a 13-year stretch from 1991 to 2004 in contrast to those from, say, 1998 to 2011, that idea becomes more apparent.

Anyway, The Grind Date is the record that brought De La into the 21st Century. The aesthetic was essentially the same, but they were now delivering it in a way that spoke to me and a new generation of fans, in particular those who, like me, were supporters of a very credible and thriving underground with acts like MF Doom, Murs, Madlib, Little Brother, the Def Jux crew and so on.

That whole movement may seem sort of dated now, but a lot of the guys on this record – producers J. Dilla, Madlib, 9th Wonder, Supa Dave West and Jake One, and MCs Doom and Ghostface – were at their creative heights in 2004. And that, combined with De La’s new-found focus and sense of craftsmanship, makes for a great record. It’s cohesive and lean, whereas the older records were too long and skit-heavy for my liking.

On a personal note, what really resonated with me was the record’s overarching themes: manhood, maturity, and self-reliance, to name a few. I was in the thick of a tough personal time in ’04, and, as I said earlier, I was 21, in college, and on the verge of entering the real world, i.e. adulthood. Pos and Mase rap from a place of peace and wisdom after having gone through the music-industry wringer, and I greatly admired their resolve. It showed me that people could go through a lot and still come out OK on the other side.

It was little nuggets like this from Church that helped me fight through helplessness and despair: “Instead of giving you a share or serving you a dish / I’ll lead you to the water, show you how to fish.”

I think De La always touched their fans in that way, but for the people to whom 3 Feet or Stakes Is High sounded too old, De La was able to reach them with The Grind Date. And if you look at this series, it’s a testament to their prowess as smart and talented artists that they have records from distinct eras featured here.

Dan Mennella is a NY-based writer and editor. His work has appeared on MLB.com, MLB Trade Rumors, the Long Island Press and RapReviews.com. Check out his blog, where he writes about sports, music, politics and literature, or follow him on Twitter.

Chuck D: By the Time I Got to Arizona art piece

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Twenty years later and Chuck D has delivered another missive to the Arizona government. In a play off the 1991 protest anthem, By the Time I Get to Arizona – which decried the state’s refusal at the time to recognize a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday – the Public Enemy frontman has collaborated with Los Angeles’ SceneFour on a visual art piece, By the Time I Got to Arizona.

The limited-edition 60-by-33-inch piece – only 300 canvasses were produced, each numbered and signed by Chuck D – takes on Arizona’s strict SB 1070 immigration law, which has fueled outrage over racial profiling. The piece costs $500 (with four installment plans available).

Our friend Jeff Weiss talked to Chuck D. about the piece and politics for the Pop & Hiss blog at L.A. Times.

Says Chuck D: “Of course, it doesn’t mean that all the people in Arizona are like that, it’s just that people in governmental situations may have this manifest destiny with what they consider their territory. They’re the types who say that they’ve had family here for 500 years and want to spend billions of dollars on a wall. But it’s not just pointed at them, it’s pointed at those in Texas, New Mexico, California and Arizona who are against Brown people, Mexicans and Latinos.”

Aloe Blacc + coolest kid ever: Loving You Is Killing Me (video)

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Somehow, Aloe Blacc can sing about an oppressive relationship – as he does on Loving You Is Killing Me – and still make me smile. You can’t watch this video and not smile. It’s impossible.

In an update on the album version of the song – a little faster and a little tighter with a sprinkle of hand claps – Blacc finds himself in a bit of a dance-off with one of the coolest kids I’ve ever seen. And if there was any doubt about that, his name is Baby Boogaloo and he has a Twitter page, on which he says he loves to “pop, lock & breakdance.” Do your thing, Baby Boogaloo.

Watch the video and then pick up Blacc’s standout album Good Things, which would be on a list of my favorite albums of 2010, if I ever got around to writing such a post.

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Miniature Tigers: Dark Tower on Yours Tru.ly

I can’t say Dark Tower is my favorite song on Miniature Tigers’ 2010 album Fortress – that distinction belongs to Rock N’ Roll Mountain Troll (which is even better live) – but it does seem like a perfect fit for the band’s performance for Yours Truly, which was unveiled earlier this month.

The song’s somber mood settles nicely into the chandelier-adorned atmosphere of a room at Kitsch Gallery in San Francisco. I’m also mildly curious about what movie/images are being projected on the wall behind the band, but I suppose that’s beside the point.

Mini T’s will make what is sure to be another triumphant homecoming on March 24, when they play Rhythm Room in a show brought to you by Psyko Steve. That bill includes locals Roar (who recently did Daytrotter) and Gospel Claws, Los Angeles’ Pepper Rabbit and Alvin Band (the brainchild of Miniature Tigers drummer Rick Schaier).

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Alvin Band: Temple Pressure (video, mp3)
Miniature Tigers on the Interface
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Miniature Tigers: Cannibal Queen (video)

Rival Schools: Wring It Out (video)

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Having posted about a new Rival Schools song in October, I nearly forgot that Pedals, the new 10-years-in-the-making album, was officially released on Tuesday.

I haven’t had a chance to dive in, but the band – fronted by former Gorilla Biscuits/Quicksand frontman Walter Schreifels – put out a video for the song Wring It Out, in which a rock-and-roll exorcism is performed on a sinister-looking gal. It’s totally safe for work, unless you find fake green upchuck potentially offensive.

And speaking of Schreifels and Quicksand, a 7-inch of the band’s debut EP (1990) – which features the amazing Omission – will allegedly be released on Record Store Day, April 16 (obviously, hitting Stinkweeds early that day). But I still dream of the day someone remasters/rereleases Slip, the Quicksand classic from 1993.

(Photo credit: Erik Snyder)

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