The video is exactly what you’d expect and the music is better than what you’d expect.
OK Go: White Knuckles
Broken Bells has just released an interactive video for “October,” a trippy little song with a synthy chorus. You can sit back and let the video navigate itself or take your own trip through its world with some 3-D glasses and a mouse. If you feel like retracing your path, “save your journey” at the end.
Arcade Fire will be burning up Madison Square Garden on August 5th and YouTube will catch a bit of the flame, too. Terry Gilliam will direct a live webcast, called “Arcade Fire: Unstaged” at 10 p.m. EST. The concert is in support of their latest album, “The Suburbs,” out today (you can stream it at NPR). And Pitchfork this morning reported that soon to come is a B-movie sci-fi short flick made with Spike Jonze.
Unlike peanut butter and chocolate, rap and rock, do not go together. But what about Rage Against the Machine, you say? Didn’t LL Cool J “rock the bells”? Didn’t Public Enemy and Anthrax “bring the noise”? Aren’t 311’s first three albums OK? Yes, fine, but those are exceptions.
Generally, rap and rock means baggy pants, backward hats, misogyny, poor grammar and even poorer spelling. It means Limp Bizkit, Korn, Insane Clown Posse and other abominations creating sounds that people with IQs between 10 and 15 find appealing. It means concerts filled with barely upright-walking, mouth-breathing, dirty hominids slamming into each other when they’re not gang-raping some fat white girl behind the porta-potties. Seriously, as much as I like Rage, I would forego having listened to them if it would have meant Korn never coming into existence.
Let’s face it, rap-rock is largely created for white people who wish they were black, but instead have no rhythm, can’t read, don’t understand multisyllabic words and would rather slam into each other in outdoor mud pits then get their groove on. Think about it this way: What’s cooler, Ice-T the pimp with the shark tank in his house and the Ferrari outside or Ice-T the sweaty guy wearing a wool hat and fronting Body Count?
Which brings us to BlakRoc, a pairing of the indie blues and rock masters, the Black Keys, with rap’s finest – Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, etc. For those who don’t know, the Keys sound like Howling Wolf fronting the Stooges after drinking a gallon of moonshine. In other words, they destroy everything. The inclusion of them on this record alone makes it better than 98% of all rap-rock creations.
Seriously, if you’ve never listened to the Black Keys, go do it now. They are one of the last remaining five bands on this planet who will make you want to dance, cry and drink at the same time. Not only do they rock, they’ve got soul and rhythm. Soul and rhythm being two key concepts to all successful music endeavors and two concepts unknown to all the groups composed solely of fecal matter mentioned above. As for the rappers on this, Damon Dash cleverly assembled a group comfortable getting grimy. Not that Raekwon would be caught dead laying rhymes while sipping moonshine in a club with sawdust on the floor, but he doesn’t need pro-tools to shine either. As for the others, Mos Def, Q-Tip and MOP have all featured live music in some form or another and are not alien to rhyming with a real rhythm section.
As for the music, on BlakRoc’s self-titled debut, the Black Keys lay the tracks down for the rappers. Unlike most rap-rock efforts, the Keys keep things restrained, laying down funky beats that are better-suited for the lounge than the mosh pit. Drummer Patrick Carney consistently kills it; you can feel the snap of the stick hitting the skin on almost every track. Carney’s beats have more bounce than most DJs get from their 808s. Guitarist Dan Auerbach eschews the straight-up blues riffs that can be found on most Keys’ albums for more psychedelic grounds. Auerbach’s guitar work on this album is more akin to his solo work; it never reaches the frenzied squall of his earlier efforts but if you loved the last Danger Mouse-produced Black Keys album, “Attack and Release,” you’ll dig this.
As for the rappers, they all deliver clever rhymes that fit the palette painted for them by the Keys. Unfortunately, even a posthumous Ol’ Dirty Bastard seems restrained. It’s as if presented with a quality backing band, the rappers are holding back so as to not overshadow the music. I understand that Mos Def and Q-Tip are mellow by choice, but that doesn’t explain why no one else wants to cut loose. Everyone seems intent on trying to complement the music instead of trying to rise above it. The best verse is delivered by – not unsurprisingly – Raekwon, with GZA and MOP coming in a close second. No one is terrible but no one is great. And that, in itself, is disappointing.
Overall, BlakRoc is solid and workmanlike, but not great. As Duke Ellington sang, “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.” And despite the stellar talent assembled by Damon Dash, BlakRoc is head-nodding music when it should be bottom-shaking music. It sounds like everyone was afraid to step on each other’s toes when, considering the characters involved, they should’ve been stomping on them.
Admiral Filthy McNasty, Special Guest Author