By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
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(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)
It’s easy to be a Grinch about holiday music because, well, most of it sucks, and best to acknowledge that up front. But it doesn’t have to. The proof is L.A.–based Stones Throw Records’ new Christmas compilation, a success for the following reasons. While the subject matter is holiday-centric, the music is decidedly not. Then there’s label-boss Peanut Butter Wolf’s meticulous crate digging, vault raiding and deejaying. Stones Throw staples Baron Zen and James Pants are represented, of course, with their bizarre new-wave take on Christmas funk. The sugar-voiced Georgia Anne Muldrow contributes the spacey “The Kwanzaa Song.” But it’s the obscure, kitschy gems that stand out. Are your holidays lacking Miami bass? The 69 Boys and Quad City DJs provide the pulsating “What I Want for Christmas.” If reggae’s your bag, check out Coco Tea’s “Christmas Is Coming.” And, of course, the abundance of old-school hip-hop and soul from artists including James Brown, Scoopy and Hard Call Xmas (who riffs on LL’s classic “Rock the Bells”). The best track transcends all these genres, though: the ’60s psyche syrup of the Free Design’s “Close Your Mouth (It’s Christmas).” Alas, the album is available exclusively at Urban Outfitters. Yep, we’re back to the ghost of Christmas past, present and future — synergetic marketing campaigns. Oh well, why fight it? Might as well pick up those cargo pants you’ve had your eye on while you’re at it.
The Solution | Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam
2005’s The B. Coming was Beanie Sigel’s most consistent and compelling album, but it came at a price: Siegs was facing serious jail time on a count of assault, and the darkest recesses of the record suggested Elliott Smith or Joy Division in how they all seemed to be preparing for the inevitable. Though he eventually ended up with probation, it’s not like things got any easier, from bizarre YouTube clips to his father’s grisly murder. In a likely attempt to distance himself from all of this, he signed off on his most atypical track to date; backed by the Runners’ blaring synths, R. Kelly announces dominance of the charts, the clubs and the streets in one of his more overbearing and formulaic guest spots.
As anyone familiar with the Broad Street Bully could guess, Sigel doesn’t sound like he has any of his heart invested in club hopping unless it’s to stomp someone out. But rather than embrace this sort of artistic complexity, as he did on previous outings, The Solution merely compartmentalizes Sigel’s moods in an attempt to please one type of listener at a time.
Following the futuristic-sounding opening triad, “Go Low” sports a palpable sense of violence that’s malevolent even for a Beanie Sigel track, but it’s counterbalanced by Rock City’s dime-store Akonisms. It’s a fitting bridge toward the midsection of The Solution, which is fueled almost solely by Sigel’s contempt for bitches, faggots and any rapper that doesn’t happen to be within his inner circle. Granted, if you ever liked the less socially conscious aspects of Ice Cube’s earlier work, it’s hard not to get puerile kicks out of Sigel’s brutish sarcasm. “Haze, Hustlas & Highways” is a smirking, cantankerous rant about the obsolescence of loose-fitting clothes that summarizes Sigel’s worldview in one line; “I’m a dinosaur/you n****s more like what I look for in a whore — pussy.” Consequently, in his Big Poppa loverman mode (“I’m In”), he still can barely contain his disgust: “I’m something like a pussy connoisseur/You’re more like a pussy kinda whore.”
As was the case with his debut (1999’s The Truth), The Solution doesn’t get truly interesting until Sigel focuses his rage inward rather than outward, and it only happens in the final third. Forget the talking-point samples in “Judgment Day” (a healthy chunk of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”) and “Dear Self” (James Blunt cashing in on the Roc’s obsession with Milquetoast limeys); as was the case with DMX, there’s a feeling that the internal wrangling is becoming something of a crutch to balance out the increasingly unhinged thug talk, but at least it feels like a light at the end of a record that’s tunnel visioned in its pursuit of cheap thrills.
The MySpace page, now so ubiquitous as an entry-level portal into the industry, offers the potential fan an important first glimpse into a band’s aesthetic soul. Within its templated audio-visual confines — four MP3s, some amateur videos, photos and a bio — local duo Regime Noir (www.myspace.com/regimenoir) do themselves proud.
Their military-garbed home page, manifesto-like words and images (“Remember the Past” above a photo of the McCarthy hearings; “Pray for Salvation” atop a religious fresco) and Cold War aura suggest a thinking band without beating us over the head. They include George Orwell and Jean Cocteau as “top friends” — there’s message, but mystery too.
Of course, it’s the music that makes a chance cyber meeting with Regime Noir such a nice surprise: serious, best-kept-secret talent. Making good on their claim to be “born from the dystopia found in the streets of downtown and East L.A.,” Regime Noir marry ultra-articulate bass lines, swaths of post-punk/new-wave guitar and frantic faux-flamenco flurries — and add imploring emo vocals dipped in juicily exotic harmonies. Beats are urgent and garagey; hand-percussion is of the streets and in the moment. Mood is confrontational yet palatable; there’s melody, momentum and a genuine sense of flab-free sonic purpose. They recall Mars Volta, with proggy structures and multicultural mashups, but so do Fugazi and Gang of Four.
To date, Regime Noir — as documented in four impressively emotive live vids (complete with deft mystery drummer) — have mostly played Eastside and Hollywood dives and loft parties. Hopefully they’ll shake off the siege mentality that seeps from their page (and keep the site updated with upcoming shows), because the band makes some gorgeously adventurous and authentic sounds.