Music I Should’ve Grown Up With (2007-2009)

by on August 7, 2013

Posted in: Album Review, Eclectic, Hip Hop, Pop, Rock

So we’ve made it. Out of those stormy days of young adolescence and into the somewhat less tumultuous days of young adulthood. For me these years were a time of rapid change, from awkward to nerdy to hard to define. But it was right around this time that I also began to take my music listening more seriously, and to bask in the beauty that I found was out there. The following are some of the most special albums of my teenagehood, and I hope you find them as life-changing as I have. They’re filled with shouts, with calls, with celebrations, with the energy to teach even the most helpless of us how to dance.

If you’ve missed previous renditions of the segment, check them out by searching ‘Music I Should’ve Grown Up With’ in the search bar above.

2007—Blue Scholars, Bayani

 Bayani_(Blue_Scholars_album_-_cover_art)

It wasn’t Kanye, or Jay-Z, or even Lupe Fiasco (who remembers “Daydreamin’”?) that got me into hip-hop. In fact, for a time, most of these ‘greats’ pushed me away. But then came a cool autumn night in 2011, and friends around school were buzzing about the Blue Scholars show in town that night. I’d heard the name thrown around quite a bit (weirdly enough, Northampton has a particular affinity for Seattle underground hip-hop), and decided it was worth the risk. By the time Geo and Sabzi had made their way through their opener (“Cinematropolis” off their 2011 Cinematropolis), I was convinced. By the time the night ended, I had in my possession every album they had for sale. On the top of my stack lay Bayani.

The rest of the cross country season that fall, I was listening to Bayani almost exclusively. What first struck me was the nature of Sabzi’s production—it was so filled with jazz influence, piano, horns, everything I craved. I hadn’t heard enough of this before, and the grandeur of the trumpets on “North by Northwest” combined with the trombone solo on “Still Got Love” were a dream. But soon, it was Geo’s writing that began to entice my growing poetic sensibilities. I found his message unique, the humbleness presented in “Ordinary Guys” refreshing after so many artists out there had been claiming for a decade that they, inarguably, were “THE S**T”. The struggle of the immigrant, dissected on tracks “The Distance” and “Morning of America”, also caught my attention. There was and is an irrefutable authenticity to this group, a realness that pushes them, in this writer’s opinion, beyond a generation of hip-hop that seems more fake these days.

 

Composed of a Filipino MC and an Iranian producer, Blue Scholars manufacture a global sense of struggle and emplace it in the streets of Seattle and the 206 (see personal favorite “Joe Metro”). Track “50 Thousand Deep” narrates the 1999 WTO riots in the city, tackling issues like globalization, economic marginalization, and the exploitation of third world labor. It, like this whole album, is an effort of protest, a symbol like the raised fist that gives listeners a needed dose of empowerment. And it was this album that alerted me to the power of the spoken word and the persuasiveness of “beats, rhymes, and life.” If you don’t believe me, give it a listen yourself—you’ll likely find the same.

“Joe Metro”

2008—Born Ruffians, Red, Yellow & Blue

 born-ruffians-red-yellow-blue

Born Ruffians were a Christmas present for me. No, Luke LaLonde and his 2 yelpy, shouting friends weren’t gift wrapped underneath my tree in late 2008. But I did find an iTunes gift card in my stocking, and the name looked like something that might entice me. The impulse buy during those magical yuletide days came to take over my winter break much more than any other gift, any gingerbread house, or any Claymation special did. In fact, I became a bit of an obsessive listener almost immediately; my parents’ concern grew as they overheard the choruses of “ah oh oh, ah oh oh oh oh, yo oh ohohoh ohoh O” that I was substituting for speech. Santa had certainly made good this year.

Red, Yellow & Blue, from those first cries of “If I started my own country / On the flag, what colors would I use?” (off “Red, Yellow & Blue”) grips you with its marching energy, an energy that soon transforms into a stomp, then a jump, then a party. LaLonde’s vocals straddle the line between words and punctuated wailing, both of which glide into the right moments to create a uniquely satisfying blur of ideas. “Barnacle Goose” is a high energy track infused with punk elements; hilarious, biting lines like, “None of the girls / Seem to think you’re cool / It’s probly cause you smell bad” are packed with gusto and excitement. “Hummingbird” stands out as the indie rock anthem, what with it’s flying hook and infectious chorus. And it’s hard to ignore the funkiness and jolly disposition of “Foxes Mate for Life”. If you’re looking for a band who takes chances, and succeeds with all of them, look no farther than Born Ruffians.

This writer holds particular love for the slightly more restrained moments on this album. “Hedonistic Me” and “Little Garçon” are strewn with elements of childhood, bringing out the feelings of young love, joyous shouting, and pure fun that keep us all nostalgic. Perhaps that’s why I found, and still find this album, almost biographical. It represents a turn in my life—the breaking of those shackles of awkward adolescence into the beginning of a new era of discovery. An era where I learned to dance like an idiot, turn goofiness into charm, and speak, as I still do, in a language of shouts and yelps.

“Hummingbird”

2009—Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca

 DirtyProjectors-BitteOrca

2009 was a landmark year in the indie rock world—Beach House’s Teen Dream, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, and the unforgettable Bitte Orca, a shimmering, psychedelic trip guided by frontman David Longstreth’s delightfully bizarre storytelling. It’s true, Dirty Projectors require somewhat of an elastic ear; you better be prepared for weird chord progressions, regular breaks into half-time, and a few melodies that seem completely out of place until the last note. Opener “Cannibal Resource” begins with an overdriven guitar riff, devolves into rhythmic asynchrony, and manages to work in lines like “And what hits the spot, yeah / Like Gatorade?” Bizarre, beautiful stuff.

“Temecula Sunrise” amps up the arythmmia a notch further, and the interplay of voices (especially the angelic call of Angel Deradoorian—p.s. that can’t be a coincidence) envelops you into a cosmic web of noise. You almost get lost, but something among all of the pleasant chaos is familiar enough to keep you happy. The same happens on “Useful Chamber”, as all confusion is lost when the pounding chorus of “Bitte Orca, Orca Bitte. / Bitte Orca, Orca Bitte.” comes in escorted with heavy guitar. And of course, this writer would be remiss not to mention the string-heavy skip of “Two Doves” and the earnest innocence of “No Intention”.

“Stillness is the Move” will always be this album’s best moment, the pulse of the sub-toms meshing in euphoria with Longstreth’s piercing guitar and Deradoorian’s sheer vocal brilliance. The way the vocalist is able to contort and shape her voice (aided by the group’s other women), is simply breathtaking, so much so that when she croons “Where do you and I begin?” I used to become giddy with excitement. I was 15 and, imagining her speaking to me, I responded, “Here, now, immediately.” Thus began my young romance with Dirty Projectors, a romance that I still cherish to this day as some of the brightest days of my teenagehood.

“Stillness is the Move”