MF Doom

Review: Ghostface Killah/BADBADNOTGOOD – Sour Soul

Ghostface Killah is in the middle of a furious creative outburst, and though for simplicity’s sake this review is nominally about Sour Soul,* it is necessary to examine Ghostface’s most recent collaboration in relation to his recent output.  It is tempting to lump together Twelve Reasons to Die36 Seasons, and Sour Soul as a trilogy, but considering that Twelve Reasons will have an official sequel of its own that would be a mistake.  Despite the fact that there is no official connective thread between them, this trio of albums do share a similar commitment to musical exploration of older genres that provide fertile ground for Ghostface’s preferred lyrical themes.  Twelve Reasons to Die, one of our favorite albums from 2013 (and an honorable mention on our best-of list), remains the best of the group, but Sour Soul comes close to reaching its peak and helps overcome some of the weakness of its immediate predecessor.

Adrian Younge’s spaghetti western/Italian horror-influenced production provided the perfect template for Ghostface on Twelve Reasons; the music contained the right amount of sinister ambiance to complement Ghostface’s pulpy tale of the revenge sought by a gangster spirit, a storyline as bizarre as it was captivating.  Younge’s use of vibrato guitars, jazzy organ flourishes, and expertly arranged strings all contributed to an enthralling soundtrack in its own right that perfectly evoke a 70’s-era noir film, with anachronistic touches like expertly deployed turntables helping provide a refreshing twist.   Younge was able to match the changing moods dictated by the demands of the plot without ever overpowering the rappers.  Ghostface shares the load mainly with fellow Wu-Tang Clan members who drop in to flesh out additional characters, with Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck in particular supplying memorable guest verses.  The success of all these elements coming together set up high expectations when the 36 Seasons and Sour Soul projects were announced.

With 36 Seasons, Ghostface kept up the throwback vibe, but opted for a more old-school R&B feel with the help of backing group The Revelations.  While the combination initially seems promising, unfortunately the album loses steam by the end.  Unlike Twelve Reasons, Ghostface is unable to keep the listener absorbed throughout the record with the storyline of Tony Stark’s return after nine years away from home.  The instrumentals on their own are often a bright spot, and the various interludes are well done, but too often 36 Seasons seems to drift along instead of settling into a true groove.  At several points Ghostface seems to drop out of the picture entirely, as guest verses make up an outsize presence on the record, leaving the listener to assume that there simply was not as much enthusiasm for this particular release.

Sour Soul ends up being somewhat of a mix of styles between the two previous albums, with BADBADNOTGOOD adopting elements of funk and R&B along with some of the more outlandish aspects of Younge’s work, most notably the vibrato guitar lines.  There is a sense of fun and adventurous on this record that was absent on 36 Seasons, which helps keep the listener fully immersed into the music.  Though the album suffers from the weakness of its underlying storyline like its predecessor, BADBADNOTGOOD provides enough variety to overcome this flaw, and shifts between a wide variety of genres with ease.  There are fewer guest spots on Sour Soul, but each emcee not only provides a strong presence but is helped by the fact that none of them are in Ghostface’s usual stable–they range from MF DOOM, Elzhi, to Danny Brown, the last of whom provided a smile to my face by dropping a reference to Toccara in 2015, even if his muppet-like style can be grating.

Ghostface simply sounds more engaged with Sour Soul, as if he enjoys the challenge of BADBADNOTGOOD and their ability to go in unexpected directions mid-song; even when Ghostface is covering tired cliches, he’s able to do so in an entertaining manner, as in the pimp’s lament “Tone’s Rap”.  Perhaps the best example of the difference between 36 Seasons and Sour Soul is that on the former he merely repeats the classic Wu-Tang line “cash rules everything around me” on “Double Cross”, while in the latter he plays with the callback a bit, declaring “money is the root to all evil, that cash rule” on “Food”.  Even though Sour Soul flies by too quickly at a little over a half hour, it ends up being a more satisfying experience because it packs a greater creative punch.  Hopefully Twelve Reasons to Die II will do more of the same.

*It ended up being too difficult a task to come up with a title that incorporated all three albums and did not create a formatting nightmare, but hopefully the greater context provides a more helpful review

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Over the Weekend (Feb. 16 Edition)

New music, videos, and news as you kill time on this arbitrary holiday…

If you could forgive us for a moment, but today was a bit of a downer when we heard about the passing of Lesley Gore this morning. Though many of the singer-songwriter’s hits have been overlooked over the years, Gore will forever be remembered for the timeless classic “It’s My Party.”

Father John Misty shared an acoustic cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” for Valentine’s Day, and it’s quite a beautiful and haunting arrangement.  Hopefully this will whet your appetite for our upcoming review of his stellar new album, I Love You, Honeybear.

Over on Reddit, Modest Mouse leaked another track from their upcoming album Strangers to Ourselves, releasing “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box”, a funky number that calls to mind the groovy “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes.”  Isaac also answered a couple of questions, but since they are few and far between, we’ll provide our favorite exchange:

[–]trippingwalrus 7 points 3 hours ago

No. Fuck you Modest Mouse. I saw you at the Monterey music festival a few years ago and you didn’t even play Float On. Fuck you.

[–]modestmouseband[S] 64 points 3 hours ago

Ha. Hahahaha. Haha. You’re simple. Love ya.

 

My Morning Jacket has been busy with their One Big Holiday festival, but crowd footage has leaked of a couple of new songs that made appearances in their setlist.

Death From Above 1979 has decided that acoustic versions of their songs are not a one-time thing, as you can see by their recent appearance on The Strombo Show, as they with pepper in a few stripped-down versions of their songs during their interview with George Stroumboulopoulos.

Sufjan Stevens released the first single from his upcoming album Carrie & Lowell, and it’s the delicate “No Shade In the Shadow of the Cross”.

And finally, to prepare you for tomorrow’s release of their collaboration Sour Soul, here’s the video to Ghostface Killah and BADBADNOTGOOD’s “Ray Gun”, featuring an appearance from DOOM.  It’s pretty bizarre.

Over the Weekend (Jan. 12 Edition)

Videos, live performances, lists, and general news as we determine the superior “O” state once and for all…

We left a ton of material on the table for today’s post, and with the flurry of news this morning our roundup is even more overstuffed than usual.  So let’s dive right in with the surprise release of the music video for the Beastie Boys track “Too Many Rappers”, featuring Nas in both audio and visual form.  While it’s sad to remember that Hot Sauce Committee Part Two will be the last album we ever hear from the Beasties, but it’s certainly great to have some more footage of the crew having fun together.

NPR has streams for two highly-anticipated new albums available this week.  First, there’s the long-awaited return of critical darlings and Pacific Northwest favorites Sleater-Kinney, who are releasing their first album in ten years next week with No Cities to Love.  Then there’s the self-titled debut of Viet Cong, who have garnered a ridiculous amount of buzz among various indie blogs in the past couple of months.  I don’t yet have the same enthusiasm, though it may take a few more listens of their noisy guitar rock to convince me.

Ghostface Killah seemingly never stops working, because after releasing his solo album 36 Seasons last month (and appearing on The Wu-Tang Clan’s A Better Tomorrow), he’s set to release another album next month.  This time it’s a collaboration with BADBADNOTGOOD, with their record Sour Soul set to be released February 17.  Their latest track, “Ray Gun”, features a guest spot from DOOM and has a nice grimy funk feel, complemented by some gorgeous strings.  Stereogum has more information, including links to previously released tracks, for your perusal.

There’s also a trio of album releases that were announced this morning.  Death Cab For Cutie is releasing Kintsugi on March 31st and will be their first album “without” founding guitarist Chris Walla, who while no longer a member of the band still has a presence on the album.  Sufjan Stevens is releasing Carrie & Lowell on the same day, which we can take as further proof that the “50 States” project is dead.  And Waxahatchee will be releasing Ivy Tripp on April 7th, and you should probably click the link because Pitchfork has helpfully included the new track “Air”.  We were big fans of her previous album Cerulean Salt, and while this sounds a bit more polished than that lo-fi classic, sounding like a stripped-down Joy Formidable is something we can support.

It’s disappointing that a once-vibrant genre as Country has become just a bunch of homogenized pablum, and worse yet is the fact that every year it continues to get worse.  The genre has just  become Nickelback with a half-assed over-enunciated Southern accent, and that’s a damn shame.  The thing is, consumers are at least partly to blame, since as The Atlantic points out, uniformity is what sells.

Last week featured some great musical guests on the Late Night shows, including performances from such RIJR favorites The War On Drugs (who performed the epic “An Ocean In Between The Waves” on The Tonight Show) and Parquet Courts delivering a dynamite version of “Bodies Made of” on Letterman, a song that initially sounds like a poor choice for the national stage until it gets to its epic breakdown.  But the standout of the week was Foxygen and Star Power performing “How Can You Really” on The Late Show, which prompted an enthusiastic response from Dave himself.

We here at Rust Is Just Right are always down for hearing more from Spoon, so we are pleased to share their appearance on Austin City Limits over the weekend as well as their guest spot on Sound Opinions.  We’ll see if we can go the rest of the week without mentioning them, but don’t bet on it.

And finally, a couple of fun lists that can either be used as a discovery tool or merely as argument fodder.  Stereogum has a list of “30 Essential Post-Rock” songs which along with usual suspects Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Rós, and Explosions in the Sky includes several other bands that may not be as well known, though this may partially be due to a broad definition of “post-rock”.  You can have an argument about that specific topic as well as the following list from Complex, which goes through each year since 1979 to anoint “The Best Rapper Alive”.

Catching Up On The Week (Aug. 15 Edition)

Some #longreads for your weekend as we try not mention Spoon for the first time this week.  Oh…goddammit.

Well, we might as well keep the streak up and talk about Spoon again.  But we have a really good reason this time, as Britt Daniel talks to Pitchfork about a number of songs from the entirety of their career, and provides some great insight into the songwriting process and explains a lot of the specific references in their songs.

And while you’re hanging around Pitchfork, be sure to take a look at the story behind the legendary underground hip-hop album Madvillainy, and this piece that looks at why older artists are now hitting the top spot on the albums chart.

Slate has an article that discusses the neuroscience behind people’s natural inclination to adore the songs of their youth, despite the fact that objectively they realize the songs are not very good.  This inspired me to take a look through my collection to see if there was anything that I should be ashamed of, and I really didn’t come up with anything.  But I’m going to post this video of N.E.R.D.’s “Rock Star”, because how often will I have the chance?  I wonder what Pharrell ever did after this…

Continuing with the theme of articles of a more analytic nature, FiveThirtyEight has a look at the regional differences in playlist construction of Classic Rock Stations.

Rolling Stone has a couple of pieces that should provoke some interest.  First, there’s an investigation behind a lost classic by the Beastie Boys from the Paul’s Boutique days.  Then there’s a look behind the recording of Mother’s Milk for its 25th anniversary, an album that remains my favorite from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Impose Magazine has an interview with clipping., as they argue against being pigeonholed as “noise-rap”.

And finally, there’s a profile of The New Pornographers in the Wall Street Journal of all places.  Wrap your head around that concept for a second, then go ahead and read the piece.