May 26, 2006

Saul Williams

Dear Hip Hoppers,
How goes it? I hope you find yourselves well and not getting sucked into this world of fashioned hip hop. Come on, you actually think you are listening to music that verbalizes reality? Are you seriously going to listen to every word that comes out of Kayne West’s mouth because he won a Grammy? Does that make him a political genius? Opinionated is not a synonym for intelligence. Are you going to question our foreign policy, or just disagree with it because some rapper preaches that Bush is the Anti-Christ? You know what; you are just as pathetic as those 12 year old Green Day “punks” that scream anarchy even though that can’t spell it. Underground hip hop has lost its edge. Mos Def nor Talib Kweli do it for me anymore. Hip hop used to have something special. While the world was experiencing the wonders of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Hip Hoppers were getting down with the likes of De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest. Now in this rap world of 50 Cent and god knows who else, the commercially raped genre leaves little left for us hip hoppers to enjoy. Until now. The spoken word of Saul Williams will have you bleeding individualism whilst enjoying some of the most sincere lyrics I’ve heard in quite some time. What makes Williams so great is that his opinion is not being beat into your head. All Saul Williams wants is for his words to be heard. He doesn't preach to the listener, he merely wants his ideas to be noticed. What makes this album hard to listen to is the obscure beats and noises he sets his words to. Now this will be hard for some of you to swallow. It is not an effortless listen, you will have to check the lyrics to truly get the message as it is sometimes tough to make some of the words out. Once you do, however, you will be taken back at his explosive words. You have to be open minded and patient to really get the feel for this album. If you are both of these, then I dare you to listen to Saul Williams. You will not be disappointed.

Yours in song,
David Taggerty

May 03, 2006

Batch 372


I do not usually write about concert experiences in here, but today will be my first exception to that rule. I have dedicated this blog to the pursuit and analysis of new music, and this will be no different. I attended a local show at Milestones last night. The band was Batch 372, and until that moment I had no idea what the band sounded like. The band describes their sound on their website as a “Coldplay meets Killers meets Claypol meets Mars Volta meets Bright Eyes.” I am going to put that thought to rest immediately. If you crossed The Killers, Claypol and Bright Eyes out of that equation, added Sigur Ros, John Coltrane, and Trail of Dead, then you will be somewhat closer to the progressive sounds of Batch 372. Before we get too far into this, I’m going to tell you how this is going to work. We are going to look at what makes a good band, completely dissecting every aspect of Batch 372 and break down what should be thrown to the birds and what should be worked with and expanded. We’ll start with the bands name. Band names are what initiate a connection with fans, so it’s only right that we start there.

Band Name: Batch 372 lacks a certain personality or character that only moderately fits with the bands musical style. If you are going to start a progressive (you will be hearing that word a lot kids) band, you need to capture people’s attention right from the start with your name. Batch 372 doesn’t quite do that. Regardless of the meaning, it should be reconsidered.

Talent: One thing this band isn’t lacking is talent. Drummer and founding band member Ryan Barclay has that. With his distinctive abstract style that is reminiscent of Doni Schroader (Trail of Dead) and Jon Theodore (Volta) he keeps the band together musically on stage, controlling the rhythm delicately while adding his sampling power in-between songs to keep the music flowing non-stop. He also adds some astonishing flavor with the ancient Australian digridoo. His modern drumming techniques are powerful and his stage presence is even more so. I think his best feature is his ability to create such conceptual beats while also managing to remain organized, making his sound a controlled riot of noise. Saxophonist Dan Merkey is literally the Omar Rodriguez of Batch 372. Creating unusual distortion with his foot pedals, his solos are imaginative as well as innovative. Merkey leads the band as a lead guitarist would (which the band does not have), offering solos and really letting the melody shine. His saxophone skills are beyond advanced, even comparable to such musicians as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Merkey is a diverse musician whose musical boundaries are few and far between. Put an instrument in the mans hands and watch him take it to the limits. Christian Schenk takes the bass to a whole new world. What he does for Batch is similar to what Flea does for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He is the only man on stage with a guitar, putting a lot of responsibility in his hands, which he carries on his shoulders with ease. You will usually find him on stage playing a tune, looping it and then having it play throughout the entire song while he adds creative little snippets of bass that really bring out the unique sound of the band. What J√≥nsi Birgisson does with the electric guitar and cello bow for Sigur Ros, Mike O’Connor does with his sound effects board. A notepad filled with his own poems and sonnets is all O’Connor needs to find the words for the bands songs. He waits for the band to find a groove, then searches for the words in his notepad that accomplish the desired emotion set by the music the band is creating. His lyrics have been said to be poetic, unfortunately, the crummy sound conditions at Milestones leave a lot of that to the imagination. To sum it up, talented musicians is the last thing this band is lacking.

Sound: This is where the review gets tricky. Batch has only been a full band for little over a month. Any band in its early stages is still going to be trying to find their sound. Batch is a step ahead of that. They’ve found their sound. In fact, its as though they’ve found too many sounds. The beginning of the show was a fine fusion of jazz and progressive rock, vibrating the glasses at the bar with their need to take their sound to that next level. With riveting solos and expanding voice reverbs, Batch made the whole bar stop in its tracks and take notice of what was happening on stage. They changed their pace, however, after the first few songs and transformed into a more modern jazz/pop/rock sound similar to the likes of Neutral Milk Hotel or Built to Spill. After that, O’Conner picked up a guitar and had a little fun with some acoustic material that ended in a sort of Dave Matthews Band jam session. Afterwards they returned back to the more progressive sound that they had originally started with.

I’ve said this before; it is hard to judge music from a first listen stand point. I personally hate to do it, but it’s going to have to be done despite the consequences. It seems to me that Batch 372 has a plethora of sounds. This isn’t a problem at all; they are still a new band looking to find their place in the music scene. This performance seemed to be an outlet for the band to perform all their styles live and see which works best for them. Most of the members seemed to have a good time throughout the show. My opinion is that they preformed the finest with the progressive jazz sound. If they took that style of music and really expanded their perspective they will have a great thing here. Sticking with one sound isn’t going to destroy the other ideas they have, it’s just a good idea to focus on one aspect of their music and perfect that characteristic especially in these critical beginning stages. Functioning with a kaleidoscope of sounds is something that takes time and growth. What Batch certainly has going for them is their unique set up. Substituting the lead guitar with a bass and saxophone is truly distinctive. Not to mention it sounds remarkable.

This band has the capability of making a great name for themselves. They have already proven to be a step ahead of the game. Once they get the new band syndrome out of their system and release an EP, Batch 372 will make a huge impact on the tiny progressive music scene of Rochester NY.