Author Archives: hehauser

Guest Review: Vagablonde on Kreayshawn

To be perfectly honest, when I first saw East Oakland rapper Kreayshawn’s (pronounced “creation”) new video “Gucci Gucci,” I was crushed. Knowing the rap game had yet to see a white female rapper (sorry, Ke$ha), I hoped this was a gap I could fill— achieving fame not through talent, but instead for being the first to capitalize on an untouched sub-genre.

Then I saw “Gucci Gucci.” With her Jeff Koons-esque hot pink balloon headband, considerable swagger, massive Chicago Blackhawks chain, and numerous references to swisher blunts and “basic bitches,” Kreayshawn proves herself as the trail blazing, emphasis on the blazing, anglo-feme rapper  I hoped to become. Her lyrics are funny and clever, yet she doesn’t take herself too seriously: “bitch you ain’t no Barbie/ I see you work at Arby’s/ number 2, super size, hurry up I’m starving.”

Her badass, semi-androgynous aesthetic is equally admirable; rather than adopting the uber-sexualized look that defines so many female musicians, Kreayshawn rocks oversized M.I.A. sweatshirts, fitted hats, and tattooed knuckles. This break with traditional gender notions extends to her attitude. When asked in an interview “what makes a bitch real?” she responds: “Can’t have no quiet bitches on the team.”

Finally cementing my sheer admiration – Kraeyshawn claims her biggest influence as Hype Williams, particularly for the videos he made for Missy Elliott in the ‘90s. Seriously, it’s like she took the words from my mouth. Kreayshawn stole my thunder.

That being said, I have no musical background. Kreayshawn, on the other hand, wrote her first song at age 5, which she performed with her mother’s punk-surf band, The Trash Women. By age 10, she and a friend from the neighborhood were writing and recording complete mix-tapes and crafting their own beats. Kreayshawn’s artistic pursuits are widespread—in addition to rapping, she also enjoys cinematography (for which she briefly attended UC Berkeley film school) and drawing. “I’m hella creative,” she boasts, showcasing that Bay Area lingo.

Yet despite her strong ties to the Bay—she’s lived in San Francisco for 10 years and Oakland for another decade—Kreayshawn considers herself “from another planet,” and it shows in her work, which oozes eccentricity. As is likely clear at this point, I have serious faith in this bitch. Since I began writing this review, Kreayshawn has received recognition from Pitchfork, the Guardian, and GQ. The wheels of the hype machine are spinning, kids, and I sincerely hope that Kreayshawn lives up to it. And if not, let’s hope everyone forgets this little video, and clears the way for your girl to be the first white female rapper in the game.

-Vagablonde

Fleet Foxes Take Control On Helplessness Blues

Mismatched glassy eyeballs stare out at us over a collage of pale orange and forest green haberdashery. A tiny propeller plane nose-dives into a jagged mountain range, hunters armed with high-powered rifles poke out from behind the hills, and an anthropomorphic black cat curls around a set of concentric orbs. There’s a hand offering up rubies and emeralds as if worthless chunk of rock, as Van Gogh looks off into the distance, the lines of his face saturated with worry and turmoil. Crowning this amalgam of bizarre fragments, white capital lettering against a thin black horizontal stripe reads: Fleet Foxes. Anchoring these images, in identical typeface, is the title of their sophomore LP: Helplessness Blues.

Under the umbrella of Sub Pop Records, Fleet Foxes’ 2008 self-titled debut sold over a quarter million copies, so it’s no surprise the tandem is back together for Helplessness Blues. Sub Pop, after adding Seattle neophytes The Head and The Heart to their catalog of stalwarts that includes The Shins and Blitzen Trapper, arguably touts the tightest, most distinctive bands in the Pacific Northwest. Now that’s sayin’ something!

Opening track “Montezuma” features guitarist Skyler Skjelset’s tender finger picking, as hirsute singer Robin Pecknold strips away the illusions of social status to reveal a cyclical truth: “in dearth or in excess / both the slave and the empress / will return to the dirt, I guess / naked as when they came.” Pecknold carols in contemplative reflection: “oh man what I used to be / oh man oh my oh me.”

The snare drum rim clicks of drummer Josh Tillman kick off “Bedouin Dress,” with squeaky violins ushering an uneasy, eerie vibe. On “Sim Sala Bim,” Pecknold whispers that new beginnings sometimes demand surreptitious escapes: “lighting a match on the suitcase’s latch in the fading of night.” As the song builds, mandolin and tambourine shower lyrics depicting the mysteries of love: “what makes me love you despite the reservations? / what do I see in your eyes / besides my reflection hanging high?”

On title track “Helplessness Blues,” Pecknold searches for meaning in labor and life. Aching to shed the alienation of unique individuality for the simple, populist spirituality of agrarian toil, he echoes with ravenous longing for a bucolic countryside, : “If I had an orchard, I’d work ’till I’m raw!” Amidst melting, golden harmonies, Pecknold sings of pristine, fundamental beauty in this tremendously naturalistic tune.

Throughout the LP, Feet Foxes usher a sense of rustic placidity through eclectic instrumentation and soothing vocals.

Sunday Rewind: Itchycoo Park

Everyone has his Itchycoo Park. It’s that spot where you pick up a good vibe just by breathing deeply. Anxieties fade into the white noise of rustling leaves, nuanced hues intensify, and it all gets so clear. Mine is Indian Rock in North Berkeley: 51,400 square feet of volcanic outcroppings facing a bay view panorama that spans from Downtown Oakland to the San Quentin State Penitentiary, with San Francisco’s skyline and the Golden Gate nestled in between. And it’s precisely this favor of spiritual rejuvenation that Small Faces channel on their 1967 psychedelic pop single “Itchycoo Park.”

Co-written and produced by Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, “Itchycoo Park” scored the East London invaders a top-20 U.S. hit. The track begins with a simple acoustic guitar augmented by psychedelic effects and a whirling Hammond organ. Immediately, we transcend distress and disappointment, as Mariott’s flanging vocal transports us to his modern day Eden: “Over bridge of sighs / To rest my eyes in shades of green / Under dreaming spires / To Itchycoo Park, that’s where I’ve been.”

Riffs shoot from behind the vocals as the track builds irresistible momentum In a Blues derived call and response section, Small Faces have us reaching for the heavens and crying in ecstasy: “What will we touch there?  / We’ll touch the sky  / But why the tears then? / I’ll tell you why.” These questions give way to a chorus overwhelmed by natural aesthetic perfection, as the band exclaims in exultant harmony: “It’s all too beautiful / It’s all too beau-tee-fuhhh-awllll!

-HJH-

Sunday Rewind: Jonathan Edwards’ Self Titled

Unblemished sapphire skies overhead, the path down Berkeley’s Telegraph Ave, once a bastion of student activism, now hosts dual American Apparel storefronts, a burrito franchise owned by McDonalds, and that musky, sharp bouquet of urine roasting on the curbside.

Sure, students still march around campus clenching placards and waving signs, but they’re just baby bureaucrats vying for student assembly positions. Hoping to recapture that classic dissent vibe, I’m off to Amoeba Records. Just past a slew of dog problems and some merchants peddling Schwarzenegger mouse pads, is the best vinyl a buck can buy – only ninety cents with student discount!

With a mint copy of Gordon Lightfoot’s Old Dan’s Records already in hand, I’m struck by a mustachioed man with straight shoulder length hair, dressed entirely in black. Leaning against a decaying doorframe, he’s looking mighty stoned as he peers at me through the open passageway. Left hand slack at his side, his right hand is parallel to the rustic hardwood floorboards, thumb extended as he invites me to take a closer look. Light pours into the room from a tiny corroder to his left. On the right, the image is bounded by a thick maroon stripe inscribed with the name “Jonathan Edwards” in small capitals.

After breaking into the 60’s folk scene in Boston, troubadour Jonathan Edwards released this self-titled debut LP on Capricorn Records in ’71. The album begins with five pleasant – albeit derivative- tunes mirroring the early recordings of Poco and The Flying Burrito Brothers. But its not until crossover blues-folk ditty “Shanty,” those two and a half magical minutes hugging the spindle, that we leap at the turntable for a repeat listen. Leading with peeling harmonica and suave, jazzy piano, we’re transported to that same mildewed bungalow of album cover notoriety. Blues harp bleeding and blaring, Edwards turns to pipes and pals in escaping the turbulence of Vietnam and the politics of Dick Nixon: “Well there ain’t nothin’ to do / and there’s always room for more / fill it, light it, shut up / and close the door / cuz we gonna lay around the shanty, mama / and put a good buzz on.” With no commitments or obligations, the luxury of boundless leisure “every night and day, if I can help it mama,” lets us kick back and smell the roses: “Pass it to me slow / We’ll take time out to smile a little / Before we let it go.”

Side two commences with “Sunshine (Go Away Today),” Edwards’ greatest commercial success with over a million plus in sales. If you’ll humor the folklore, “Sunshine” wasn’t even supposed to make it on the album, but got tapped to “fill the hole” after an engineer mistakenly recorded over the master of a different track during eleventh hour recording sessions.

A few too many days hangin’ round the shanty, eh? Maybe that’s how we got penicillin too. Quick, jittery guitar lines and a peppy vocal melody clash with dispirited lyrics, as Edwards bemoans in consternation:  Sunshine go away today / I don’t feel much like dancing / Some man’s gone, he’s tried to run my life.” Wary of draft board goons and that military industrial complex Ike warned us about, Edwards stretches out the last word of each line, reaching back for a time when he greeted each new sun with enthusiasm and excitement. Exposing America’s Might Makes Right ethos, Edwards childes: “He says in love and war all is fair / But he’s got cards he ain’t showing.”

 

In an explosion of exuberance and rebellion, Edwards hammers out freedom, asserting a bold independence: “But he can’t even run his own life / I’ll be damned if he’ll run minnnne / Sunnnn shinnnne!” But today’s Sunday, so lets take some sage wisdom to heart: “lay around the shanty, mama… and put a good buzz on.”

-HJH-

Dawes, Delta Spirit, Deer Tick Squeeze In Tight As Middle Brother

 They say they ain’t no supergroup, but self-proclaimed “exotic band” Middle Brother is brimming with indie rock’s finest road warriors: soulful Delta Spirit frontman Matt Vasquez, Dawes’ country-folk hustler Taylor Goldsmith and Deer Tick anchor John McCauley. This resplendent synergistic concoction is brought to us curtsey of Partisan Records, home anachronistic female trio Mountain Man and cross dressing miscreants Deer Tick. Drawing from Rock’s bottomless tide pool, Middle Brother’s eponymous LP fuses Mississippi blues, Dixie ballads and folksy Americana, cut with generous globs of quirk and kink.

On single “Me, Me, Me”, Middle Brother fires an opening salvo with carefree, spontaneous yelps and skittering piano lines. Chuck Berry-esque guitar riffs drag us through a lyrical morass, as McCauley conveys an urgent tale of manipulation and egocentrism. Bombarded with questions, he faces fierce competition in life and love: “If he puts lies in your head / if he interrupts a feelin’ / that he cannot comprehend / I guess it’s meeee me me me meeee.” This suave dude chasing after McCauley’s girl may be smooth around the edges, but he lacks an authentic and genuine core: he is hollow. The ensuing instrumental flurry, equal parts sock hop and raunchy carnival, sets up a proclamation of headstrong independence and boiling lust: “I do my very own things these days / I gotta desiahhhhh / I gotta desiahhhhh!’”

Vasquez struts to the mic in “Green Eyes”, backed by Goldsmith’s chiming Rickenbacker, as high standards meet slim pickings: “I’ve been lookin’ for sometime / in a room full of pennies, for my dime.” Dwarfed by chronic loneliness, Vasquez dishes out a densely rendered fantasy, rife with restrictive accent qualifications and the apparent contradiction of wholesome sexuality: “She’s a Southern girl without a drawl / she’s a good girl who wears black bras.” Shuffling tambourine and metronomic hand clapping on title track “Middle Brother” frame denial as second nature. In turn, ignorance is unadulterated bliss: “I know my days are numbered / but I’m bad at math.” Playful riffs shoot from behind the vocals to the pulse of rhythmic excitement. Taking us back to those trailblazing ‘56 Sun Records days, Middle Brother interjects us with Elvis’ throaty, erotically charged “Uh huh,” chased by a cathartic, exuberant “Woooo, wheee!” that would have Jerry Lee Lewis crying happy tears. As the track fades, we hear a faint “that’s a wrap,” followed by Vasquez’s signature schoolyard diction: “we did it motherfuh…” Just in time to keep that family friendly rating.

Country waltz “Theatre” matches Vasquez’s glottal grinding with a deconstructed piano. He delivers coarse, dirty vocals with brutal conviction, frustration, and resentment: “This life will tell you nothing / nothing but lies.” Ripping to shreds life’s unfulfilled promises with the rapture of gospel, raspy howls permeate the track. Covering Paul Westerberg’s “Portland”, tranquil, crisp, finger picking softens McCauley’s pitchy vocal, as his cool disregard is exposed as a poorly masked amalgam of nostalgia and anxiety: “Its too late to turn back, here we go / Portland, oh, no.”

Closing out the elpee with “Million Dollar Bill”, we are reduced to a two-dimensional slip of paper in pursuit of a girl that’s already slipped away. Goldsmith’s humble, pristine voice turns ambition on its head, as he fantasizes: “When it hits me that she’s gone / I think I’ll run for president / and get my face put on the million dollar bill.” But his drive for posterity is neither societal progress, nor world peace, nor any of that groovy jazz, but simply to remain with his erstwhile lover as a mere shadow: “So when these rich men that she wants / show her ways that they can take care of her / I’ll have found a way to be there with her still.” Vasquez finishes the album with soulful quivering that is at once bewildered and bursting with passion, as he wails in merciless yearning for his love’s return. Stuck in the middle with these three? Squeeze me in!

-HJH-