Every nine months or so, I ask myself a question: just what is it Kid Cudi does? I mean, I know what he does. He’s a rapper, a singer, a musician, an actor and now a producer. But does he do any of those things with particular distinction? No. Is there an uncanny Bradford Cox-like creative chutzpah where he’s not proficient at any one thing but the talent is undeniable? Far from it. So maybe we need to look at Cudi’s less tangible, less aural qualities. Maybe he’s like the Sid Vicious of hip hop? You know, not spectacular musically but there’s a fascinating id and personality there than encapsulates something a lot of people feel they relate to? No, definitely not that either.
Seemingly, he’s just a moody, romantically-minded kid with something to prove. What that is, I’m not sure, but I also can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to him than that. There has to be, right? He’s a Yeezy discovery. And while Ye has made mis-steps in the past, his creative acumen rarely falters. Perhaps Indicud is the key to the Kid Cudi kingdom that everyone but me seems to have free passage to.
The idea behind experimentation is that you start off without an idea or formula, relying on your chops to find something you or someone else would not have otherwise found. Mescudi on the other hand sees experimentation as a genre in and of itself. To him it means layers upon layers of 80s synths and warbling atmospherics, instrumental breaks that meander into their own asses, bad vocals punctuated by corny effects and attempts at genre-bending that see cohesion on the horizon and then promptly run in the other fucking direction.
Mescudi makes multiple attempts at blending disparate indie-rock and folk samples with hip-hop beats and new wave synths. The synths are a very tired trick and the beats, frankly, are boring. When combined with the various samples such as the likes of Father John Misty (“Young Lady”) and the contribution from the Haim girls (“Red Eye”), the result is a very muddied and awkward cacophony.
“New York City Rage Fest” might be the single most annoying thing I’ve ever heard. Or at least I thought that, until I heard the hook on “Brothers”. It sounds like someone drunkenly singing into a pedestal fan but hey, the hook on “Cold Blooded” is just embarrassing. See for yourself: “Cold, bitch you know I’m cold / I’m one cold blooded nigga / Oh, so cold.” The beat is quality and the rapping is solid, flow and all, but I had a hard time getting past that hook, well-sung though it may be.
The masters of cold, digital soundscapes like Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa divested themselves of warmth and humanity and as a result, made music intrinsically warm and human. Mescudi on the other hand, attempts to combine all of these elements outright. The result is an awkward mixture of sloppy, detached beats, meandering sentimentality, monotonous (and often off-key) vocals, so-so rapping and delusions of grandeur that remain delusions.
And it’s the deluded grandeur that I guess people find charming? I don’t know. The opening track “The Resurrection of Scott Mescudi” is a mishmash of tinny anvil clanging and saw synths. Picture the montage scene in Iron Man where Tony Stark is building the suit in the cave. The hubristic title and bloated atmospherics are very telling. Mescudi envisions himself as a deceased vigilante who is resurrected with robotic implants to help him fight crime. He is RoboStoner. And he’s not very interesting, even for a bonafide superhero.
The few bright spots on the album mostly occur when the guests are given a chance to shine. Kendrick Lamar, RZA and A$AP Rocky all take a stab at keeping this album afloat, like people running around with tentpoles as a canvas collapses on top of them. For the most part, they succeed. RZA’s contribution on “Beez” is excellent and the beat is one of the more interesting on the album. “There’s holes inside your sweatshirt / Through your apparel, through your blood, through your bone marrow.” Brutal.
Indicud is a strange record. And not in a good way. It doesn’t intrigue or inveigle, it’s strange in a way that is off-putting. More than once I found myself scrunching my face and furrowing my brow like someone had left a sarcastic note under my car’s windscreen wiper. And Jesus, why is it so long? 18 tracks? You could halve the tracklist and still have only a semi-decent album. Did Indicud provide an answer to my question? Well, on Indicud Scott Mescudi, rapper, singer, musician, actor and now producer definitively proves that he has something to prove, but not much more.
(Wicked Awesome / GOOD / Republic)
The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites
We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!
It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.
The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.“
It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.
Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?
It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new.
It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?
We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home.
How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?
It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked.
Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?
Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.
I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them.
For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?
We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music. With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since.
How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?
It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback.
I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?
It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first.
Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?
I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world.
Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?
I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s.
How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.
I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album.
The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.
Allweather – Through the Floor
Debut album from San Diego’s Allweather is a compelling listen
Where did Allweather come from? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself through the first 5-6 times I listened to their debut album Through the Floor. Collectively the songs reminded me of a sound prominent in the mid-90s; tempered by the album’s melodic-hardcore demeanor. Punctuated by the terrific strained vocals, the initial reaction was to equate Allweather to a band somewhere in between early Polar Bear Club and early to mid-Transit. The music, for the most part, takes pop punk but substitutes the saccharine for more gruff melodies and the kind of pained, mid-tempo emotion that made those bands household names. But listen after listen I felt that was another connection; one that resonated with me more than those aforementioned bands did.
It hit me after listening to “Another Sad Song” for the umpteenth time- Allweather, while sonically more akin to current pop punk’s downtrodden, baggage-saddled sound, resonates closer to that of melodic-hardcore greats Lifetime. In part because vocally, Allweather’s vocalist Tim Putnam is so close to that of Ari Katz that it is almost impossible to discern between the two. And that is a very good thing- because Katz’s vocals reverberate as powerfully as it did back in 1995 as it does today. In Allweather’s case, listen to songs like “Grim Ave” and the a capella opening of “Die Slow” and you can swear that these songs are cuts off Hello Bastards or Jersey’s Best Dancers. Allweather employs more mid-tempo structures than they do Lifetime’s breakneck pace, but the sum of the parts make Through the Floor a compelling listen, even if the Lifetime comparison isn’t 100%.
“Groundswell” is probably the album’s best outing; melodic, emotional, hard-hitting in a way Texas is the Reason was, while “Die Slow” is not far behind for its sincerely great Lifetime-esque similarities.
For a band relatively new (having only released a two-song digital album prior in 2017), there is already so much to like and look forward to. Composed and packing a punch, those who miss the melodic but pained sounds of bands like Texas is the Reason, and of course, Lifetime, need not look much further than Allweather to find that what is old (and great) is new again.