Thursday, March 17, 2005

E, II

Eminem- The Slim Shady LP

My favorite band is the Minutemen, which is at least part of the reason why I have such difficulty with a lot of hip-hop albums, even the good ones- you know, the standard complaint of too many songs and skits that aren’t funny. I do recognize, though, that my complaints are about a function of the genre, that most hip-hop records are going to use what has become the de facto template of the artform, in the same way that traditional rock albums will contain ten to twelve songs. (I need to get over it/myself, in other words.)

Hip-hop is mostly made for cars, isn’t it? Seems like all the records I like and know the best were played and learned while I was driving. This one is no exception- my last semester at UNH was spent driving around listening to Farewell Bend, Garrison and Eminem (some mix, I know.) Mike G. had been raving about the Eminem record and tracked down a promo copy for me to check out. Again, there are songs that I don’t like, and I’m set with all the skits, but the songs that work are amazing. I’m not a beats guy (I drove an ‘86 Volkswagen with blown speakers,) so my attention was on the lyrics, which are fantastic. Even on his early stuff, Eminem’s rhyme schemes have been far more complex than the average songs on the radio- not only does each line rhyme, but multiple syllables inside each line do, as well. And it’s funny! When the man’s not brooding about how hard up he is (another function of the genre, I know- one that seems weird now in the wake of his mega-stardom) he’s telling some hilarious stories- the thing that attracted me to the record initially was the goofy sense of humor, like on ‘Role Model’ and ‘My Fault.’

Jeremy Enigk- Return of The Frog Queen

Released while the nascent internet was abuzz with rumors of Sunny Day Real Estate’s breakup- as far as anyone could tell at the time, their split had something to do with Jeremy Enigk finding Christ. The lyrics of SDRE’s final (ha!) record, LP2/the Pink Album, provided cryptic, skeletal clues that seemingly supported the claim. “You lift me up/you set me free/opened my eyes/ you’re (garbled mumbling which everyone posited was ‘You’re Jesus.’)”

In retrospect, the band’s breakup probably helped to pave the reunion road- disbanding under messy/unexplained circumstances after releasing a great record cemented the legend status that followed SDRE around until ‘How It Feels To Be Something On’ came out a couple of years later.

‘Return Of The Frog Queen’ was either a bold new direction for the man or a giant middle finger extended to the scene, depending on which side of the fence you were standing on. The songs didn’t sound terribly out of the ordinary- a little bit more subdued, maybe, than the SDRE stuff up to that point, only one real scream from Mr. Enigk- unless you count the full orchestra that plays behind him. Strings, horns, the whole ball of wax. No idea where he got the budget.

The record is alternately majestic, dumb, pretty, and totally over-the-top. Regardless, it remains totally fascinating and completely unlike anything else the man has ever done.

MIX TAPE: ‘Shade And The Black Hat’

Engine Down- To Bury Within The Sound

If nothing else, I can be amazingly predictable, to the point where my friends sometimes hear records and tell me about how much I’m going to like ‘em. And of course they’re right.

This was one of those records- my pal Chris told me I should go check out Engine Down at the Middle East. I did, and, surprise, I thought they were great- their set, like their record, was a sustained sigh, forty-five minutes of brooding moodiness set to music that had just enough tics and quirks to keep me on my toes for the duration of their set, waiting for the next off-kilter change. Three different guys singing over the course of the record. The type of record that blends together well enough so that songs become indistinguishable.

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