Monday, May 15, 2006

2005 FLASHBACK: Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet

Hip-hop’s Employees of the Year earn their plaque with this powerful collaboration

(Rhymesayers) Back in the glory days of Marvel comics, the minds behind such legendary heroes as the X-Men and Luke Cage Hero For Hire came up with a quirky new concept: “What if?”

The idea was to let their writers and artists take on such hypothetical questions as “What if Spiderman joined the Fantastic Four?” and “What if the Incredible Hulk had David Banner’s brain?” In the equally obsessed-over world of indie hip-hop, the question “What if Slug, Murs and Ant made a record together?” has been answered with one of the best albums of boom-bap to mark 2005.

It’s common knowledge that Minneapolis’ Slug and LA’s Murs are among the hardest working dudes in hip-hop, always on the grind and practically living on the road. With Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet (word to Denise Huxtable), it sounds like they went head to head, pushing one another to step it up and craft sharper rhymes. The results find them firing off a litany of lines back and forth like the Crocket and Tubbs of backpack rap. And yes, Murs is still better than your favorite rapper.

As the dynamic duo are spitting their girl-crazy game (they claim the project is all about “the long-term goal of having sex with b-level Hollywood actresses”), Minneapolis production wunderkind Ant steals the show with a dazzling array of street beats that thump with the ferocity of classic Boogie Down Productions laced with the soulful sheen of ’70s R&B. Veering from orchestrated Minneapolis funk interludes (“Reintroduction,” “Lisa”) to rich, dramatic strings worthy of the Love Unlimited Orchestra (“Your Mans and Them”) to even showing Kanye a thing or three about sped-up soul samples (“Dirty Girl”), this sonic tour de force effectively proves that Ant is among hip-hop’s production elite.

Packed with all sorts of inside jokes and jabs at the insular world of indie rap, Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet even has a hilarious accompanying comic book, “True Tales of Underground Hip-Hop).” With new albums from both Atmosphere and Murs in the near future, 2005 is shaping up to be the year we might answer the question “What if Slug, Murs and Ant took over the world?”

(Originally published in Urb, Sept 05)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


They’ve survived everything from also-ran bands to a shattered elbow to become one of the biggest (and most name-checked) bands in Los Angeles...

LA’s intimate (and by intimate, I mean about the size of the rec room in your parents’ basement) Silverlake Lounge is bursting at its’ tattered edges. There are hipsters of countless persuasions jockeying for position around the tiny makeshift stage at the end of the bar. It gets so thick that actor Giovanni Ribisi (tonight hanging with fellow thespian Tim Roth) gets busted by a bartender for hopping atop the bar in hopes of a better view in the cramped space.

On the stage, clumps of red Christmas lights hang precariously from the rafters, while behind the drum set glows an oversized origami star. When the house lights dim and three slight figures take the stage, the boisterous crowd grows hushed in anticipation. A warped wash of spacey guitars loop into a hypnotic blur, which eventually explodes in a rush of sound somewhere between mid-period Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and 3am on the best college radio station ever. The Christmas lights twinkle in time with the music as the trio – bassist/ethereal voice Eugene Goresther, guitarist Greg Edwards and drummer Carla Azar – set about proving exactly why they’re one of the most hotly tipped bands in LA, fresh from a stint opening for Nine Inch Nails on their 2005-06 tour.

I meet up with the band a few weeks after the Silverlake Lounge show in Goreshter’s nearby loft apartment, where I find them frazzled at the tail end of a day spent entertaining a steady stream of journalists. They exude a collective cool most likely gleaned from each member having been on the verge of breakout status with previous outfits (Edwards in Failure, Goreshter in Maids of Gravity and Azur in Ednaswap, best known as the band that originally wrote and recorded “Torn,” the song infamously covered into a worldwide hit for former Aussie soap star/current make-up shill Natalie Imbruglia).

Autolux’s debut album Future/Perfect (DMZ/Sony), has already garnered reams of praise, and one spin bears out the accolades. A lyrically androgynous swirl of guitar melodies and Azur’s massive drum style (think a cross between John Bonham and Mo Tucker), theirs is a sound that’s completely unique, yet comfortably familiar. The legendary T-Bone Burnett (who co-owns the DMZ label with filmmaking siblings the Cohen Brothers) produced the album.

“T-Bone just created a relaxed environment so we could make the album we wanted,” recalls Goreshter. “He didn’t mess with the songs at all. The best way I can sum up the experience is by talking about ‘the buzz.’” The band all exchange knowing glances. “When we first got to the studio, there was this awful buzz that just wouldn’t go away, no matter what the engineers did. From the moment T-Bone walked into the studio, the buzzing stopped and never came back.”

The band is especially appreciative of their lofty position due to a freak accident that nearly cost Azur the ability to play drums. After opening for Elvis Costello at LA’s Kodak Theater, she was crouched at the edge of the stage talking to friends when the worst happened.

“The stage lights went down for Elvis to start his show, and I didn’t realize my feet were tangled in cables. When I stood up, I tripped and fell from the stage onto the concrete floor ten feet below. I landed directly on my elbow.” Her elbow shattered, requiring nine metal pins and lengthy physical rehab to repair. She produces a wince-inducing x-ray. According to her band mates, she’s playing better than ever.

“She’s got something to prove,” laughs Edwards. “I was afraid she’d never be able to play again.” Azure gives him a pissed-off look.

“You never told me that,” she retorts. “Way to be supportive.”

As Goreshter jumps into to diffuse the situation, I take the internal tensions as my cue to hit the door. It sounds like the band is already working on the second album…

(Originally published in the Oct 04 issue of Urb Magazine).


Yesterday a good half-million people marched up Wilshire Blvd (and a mere three blocks from HQ) in protest of proposed immigration laws. This is what it looked like when they appeared on the horizon...