Friday, June 9, 2017

Video Of The Week: Ice Cube

If you were to categorize the best rappers of all time, chances are Tupac Shakur's in your top-3; he's in mine as well. Eminem has taken himself out of contention because his most recent material doesn't match the quality of his previous output - say, anything until the 8 Mile soundtrack; it seems he's been trying to re-do Lose Yourself all the time since then, except perhaps for Berzerk. Ice Cube, the king of squared, 4/4 rap, also makes my cut, and the third spot is a toss-up between Busta Rhymes, Mos Def and a few members of the Wu-Tang Clan, particularly Raekwon and Ghostface Killah.

In terms of rap lyricists, my #1 pick would be Public Enemy's Chuck D, who's always stayed on point regardless of how long he's been in the game, his words always current, carrying the political weight of truth. I'd probably go with Everlast (House Of Pain, Warpon Industries) in second place and, again, Ice Cube in third. KRS-One misses by just a bit, as does Tupac.

My favourite current-day rapper just might be Donald Glover, though - a.k.a. Childish Gambino: smart, incisive, good flow, diverse subject mater, equally at ease  rapping about toys from the 1980s as he is politics.

Which makes Cube the rapper I find to be most important. And, as I've mentioned here before, he's kept his output quality at a high level throughout the decades - ok, maybe his records aren't all killer and there are fillers, but his records' high points are always consistent.

For Good Cop Bad Cop, which will appear on the 25th Anniversary Edition of his seminal Death Certificate album, he tackles the subject of racism and police brutality in a post-Black Lives Mater world, and his conclusion is fairly simple: we are no better off today than in 1988 when his group N.W.A. sang "Fuck The Police".
Good Cop Bad Cop (Official Video, Explicit) by Ice Cube on VEVO.
The video was directed by Gabriel Hart.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Video Of The Week: Tonnes

Sure, these are disturbing times, and as we sacrifice Liberty for Security and Bureaucracy, we are losing our Humanity. Franz Kafka wrote about this in Der Process (The Trial) in 1915, and published it in 1925, between the (first) two World Wars.

History has, of course, proven him correct time and time again. As bureaucracies get bigger and bigger, the "Big Picture" and "Greater Good" start constantly getting cited as the reason for doing and acting in certain conventional ways, except most people are at best only 90-95% conventional, meaning we're all exceptions in certain cases, and as soon as a government, State or otherwise leadership group looks into one of our behaviours, we are all likely to fall in some of the system's cracks at some point and be judged unfairly. Because at the end of the day, The System is unfair, rigidity is unrealistic, and we are all outsiders to some exent.

And so, Montréal indie rock "supergroup" Tonnes have enlisted director Giuliano Bossa (also the band's bassist) to set this reality into our own timeline, in this military-police-led present day - and the results don't even shock anymore, as we've seen these kinds of scenes happen on TV - and not just in fiction - and in film so often in the past two decades. The song is called In Trouble and, yes, we are.

TONNES - In Trouble from Giuliano Bossa on Vimeo.

Monday, May 29, 2017

NHL Predictions 2016-17: Stanley Cup Final

Will I learn anything from not picking the Pittsburgh Penguins in any round thus far this year? Of course not!

On the other hand, for some reason, I thought I had predicted the Nashville Predators would win it all this year at the beginning of the season, but I'd chosen the Washington Capitals instead. Oh well.

Time for a correction, of course, as I see the Preds winning this.

What we have at play here is one team without its best (and lone high-level) defenseman (Kris Letang) but two of the best centers in the game in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, and the other with the best defensive top-4 in the game featuring two Norris-caliber defenders (P.K. Subban and Roman Josi) and two of the five best shut-down guys in the league in Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis.

Nashville has torn through everybody, including the Anaheim Ducks who also have a decent 1-2 punch at center with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler...

The Ottawa Senators took the Pens to Game 7, and the Preds are just slightly less balanced on offense and tremendously better on D than Ottawa.

Subban made Captain Serious lose his cool, I can just see Temper 87 do something insane like (Marty) McSorley-stick him on the head twice (because he won’t get called for it the first time).

They say defense wins championships, it's time to put that saying to the test in hockey.

Preds in 6.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Video Of The Week: Audioslave

Well, mentioning this song in last week's post about Soundgarden and Chris Cornell kind of put me in a bind, in terms of having to showcase Audioslave's best song - the one that doesn't fall into the Pearl Jam-imitation tropes so much as just tries to give a good rock show.

In theory, Audioslave was the perfect mix: musicians who had been in the game-changing band Rage Against The Machine, a mix of rap and hard rock that tackled issues of race and politics, whose riffs were reminiscent of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, with some N.W.A. attitude thrown in to add fuel to the fire; and the frontman from Soundgarden, a hard rock machine whose riffs were inspired by those of Sabbath and Zeppelin, with some Beatles sensibility thrown in for good rock measure.

In practice, though, the Rage musicians may have wanted to kick back and make "normal rock albums" for a while, but since becoming friends with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder and witnessing his rise to stardom, Cornell's traded away his wailing high-pitched classic rocker's voice for a Vedder-like smoother baritone that seems more like copycat than homage for the slower numbers, which really drags Audioslave's otherwise-decent output from the best it could have been (say, a Stone Temple Pilots level) to something barely more palatable than Candlebox, Creed, Bush and the like.

When they went rocking, though, such as on Cochise, seen here, they showed they could be a fine guitar-driven unit:

The video, featuring a shit-ton of fireworks, was directed by Mark Romanek, a leader in the art form, the director with the most Grammys to his name (3), as well as over 20 MTV Video Awards. He's directed clips for the likes of The The (Sweet Bird Of Truth), En Vogue (You Don't Have To Worry, Free Your Mind), De La Soul (Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)), Keith Richards (Wicked As It Seems), Teenage Fanclub (What You Do To Me), K.D. Lang (Constant Craving), Lenny Kravitz (Are You Gonna Go My Way, Is There Any Love In Your Heart), Madonna (Rain, Bedtime Story), David Bowie (Jump They Say, Black Tie White Noise), Iggy Pop (Beside You), Nine Inch Nails (Closer, The Perfect Drug), R.E.M. (Strange Currencies), Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson (Scream), Sonic Youth (Little Trouble Girl), Eels (Novocaine For The Soul), Weezer (El Scorcho), Beck (Devil's Haircut), Fiona Apple (Criminal), Macy Gray (I Try), Mick Jagger (God Gave Me Everything), No Doubt (Hella Good), Red Hot Chili Peppers (Can't Stop), Jay-Z (99 Problems, Picasso Baby), U2 (Invisible), Taylor Swift (Shake It Off), Beyoncé (Sandcastles), and Justin Timberlake (Can't Stop The Feeling), but his biggest contribution to the art form will forever remain his sober ad somber direction for Johnny Cash's cover of NIN's heart-wrenching Hurt.

He also directed the terrific features One Hour Photo (2002, starring Robin Williams) and 2010's Never Let Me Go, starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Video Of The Week: Soundgarden

Well, folks, the third of grunge's Holy Quadrinity has passed away. After Nirvana's Kurt Cobain (suicide or murder) and Alice In Chains' Layne Staley (drug overdose) , Soundgarden's Chris Cornell has killed himself as well. Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder remains, alone in sadness.

In the Greater Scheme of Seattle Rock, they themselves all joined James Marshall Hendrix (drug overdose), Mother Love Bone and Malfunkshun's Andrew Wood (drug overdose), The Gits' Mia Zapata (rape and murder) and Hole's Kristen Pfaff (drug overdose), Hendrix, Pfaff and Cobain even making it on the infamous 27 Club list of celebrities who died before their 28th birthday. Cornell was 52.

Much has been and will be said about this, and there will be much over-analyzing. I cut ties with them as favourites after two awful days in 1994 culminating in an awful show at the Verdun Auditorium (a venue where both Pearl Jam and Nirvana had wowed me the year before, among other great shows I've seen there), but they have created fine pieces of music in their careers and were good musicians. And despite Nirvana and Pearl Jam getting the credit for putting grunge on the map, Soundgarden (with Green River, which featured future members of PJ, Mother Love Bone and Mudhoney) was the oldest of its generation, having formed in 1984, with its "classic" incarnation dating back to 1990.

You definitely saw a change in the band's music and Cornell's singing style when Pearl Jam made it big, moving away from their metal roots and high-pitched vocals into more angst-riddled, bass-heavy territory, brooding melodies and a growling baritone. The evolution is extremely clear from the Screaming Life (1987) and Fopp (1988) EPs to Ultramega OK (1988) to Louder Than Love (1989) to the apex of their metal years, Badmotorfinger (1991), to the super-grungy Superunknown (1994) to its rehash/copy Down On The Upside (1996, which did have more Alice In Chains-y tones in the music), but Cornell's PJ-lite-ness really came through on all three Audioslave records. I'm surprised they didn't catch more flak than they did, because it would have been easy to categorize Audioslave alongside Better Than Ezra, Candlebox, Creed, Stone Temple Pilots and so many others as just Pearl Jam wanna-bes.

Still, on this day, I thought perhaps I could rank my favourite Cornell songs. It's hard, because all of his projects except Temple Of The Dog (created in memory of former roommate Wood) - even the solo albums - involved other songwriters, so it's difficult to pinpoint his actual involvement in many tracks, but I will omit songs such as Fresh Tendrils (a Matt Cameron number) and Head Down (written by Ben Shepard), for example, off Superunknown.

10B. BIG DUMB SEX (Soundgarden, Louder Than Love, 1989)
10A. SPOONMAN (Soundgarden, Superunknown, 1994)
9. BLOW UP THE OUTSIDE WORLD (Soundgarden, Down On The Upside, 1996)
8. COCHISE (Audioslave, Audioslave, 2002)
7. THE DAY I TRIED TO LIVE (Soundgarden, Superunknown, 1994)
6. JESUS CHRIST POSE (Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger, 1991)
5. PRETTY NOOSE (Soundgarden, Down On The Upside, 1996)
4. RUSTY CAGE (Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger, 1991)
3. OUTSHINED (Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger, 1991)
2. HUNGER STRIKE (Temple Of The Dog, Temple Of The Dog, 1991)
1. 4TH OF JULY (Soundgarden, Superunknown, 1994)

I'm not too fond of Spoonman's lyrics, but the guitar riff ranks as one of the best in rock history. I'd say the rest are all solid rock songs in their own right, and perhaps TOTD's Say Hello 2 Heaven would have warranted inclusion somewhere in there as well; I'm also surprised two songs from Down On The Upside made it here, seeing as I've always been critical of it in the past 20 years.

And maybe I could have included Black Hole Sun as #10B instead of Big Dumb Sex, as it is their biggest hit, and I still listen to it at times, but I tried to look at it objectively, which ones ring truest to my heart and have done so since they came out, and those are the eleven that came to mind right away.

Here's Black Hole Sun anyway, with the famous video directed by Howard Greenhalgh, featuring a critical view at suburban life in the same vein as David Lynch's Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet:

In any event, R.I.P.

Friday, May 12, 2017

NHL Predictions 2016-17: Round Three

I did even better in Round 2 than in Round One, especially if you factor in the fact that on both instances where I was wrong, I was right that it went to a seventh and final game...

And so we have reached the Conference Finals...

When it comes to the Western Conference, the Nashville Predators vs the Anaheim Ducks, I'm fine:
Pekka Rinne is this year's Conn Smythe winner, and the Preds' defense is just amazing - they even score half their team's goals. Not that the attack is awful, it's well-balanced and all, but I did expect more from the likes of proven scorers like James Neal. The Ducks will be assholes, they'll play rough, they'll be dirty and mean, and they'll get away with most of it without getting suspended because the Predators' powerplay will make them pay.

Preds in 6.

I'm more tormented by the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Ottawa Senators...

I want the Sens to win. I love Craig Anderson and Erik Karlsson, and it'd be great to see them match up against Rinne and P.K. Subban.  However, I've dismissed the Pens twice already, and they've proven me wrong both times, against two teams with better records than they had. But can Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby and the rest defeat Guy Boucher's 1-3-1 super-trap? Can Marc-André Fleury and Matt Murray withstand the Sens' depth, with their three lines that can score equally? Again, we're talking about a banged-up group that is without Kris Letang, that employs 39-year-old Mark Streit and whose big trade deadline acquisition was Ron Hainsey, a 36-year-old who had never suited up in an NHL playoff game before.

I might be thinking with my heart more than my head here.

Sens in 7.

Video Of The Week: Sagat

1994 was a weird and formative year for me. It encompassed Grades 10 and 11, which were my best years of high school. It was the year where I had sex for the first time. It was the first time I played in a touring band, comprised of guys who were adults - six, seven years older than I was.

It was when I first started doing "adult things" like going to clubs, and started realizing I wanted to do something creative for a living, perhaps as much as or even more so than play hockey, a decision that would be made for me by my rights being traded away in 1996.

One club anthem that year was Sagat's Fuk Dat, which got some radio and video play in an edited version called Funk Dat, which you can see below, in the video directed by fashion designers Kurt & Bart (Bart Mueller and Kurt Swanson, who designed the costumes for such films as 2010's Howl, 2013's Stoker and Dallas Buyers Club, this year's Ghost In The Shell and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 and Part 2):

By 1994, I was already buying not only a ton of CDs, but was especially fond of CD singles, which usually either had terrific rare b-sides (Pearl Jam) or amazing and/or hugely different remixes (Nine Inch Nails). Sagat's single of this song - which preceded the album release by nearly a full year - had four or five remixes that gave you the satisfaction of hearing the song without the annoyance of always hearing the same version over and over again. It's one way of not tiring the audience out.

And, like early-to-mid-1990s gangsta rap, this song deals with matters pertaining to racism-related issues the Black Lives Matter movement would put at the forefront some twenty years later.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Video Of The Week: WARPORN Industries

Twice in a row?

Yep, I can do this.

I'm really into WARPORN Industries these days... Again, Everlast, Sick Jacken and Divine Styler make the music, Chad A. Marshall films it (in colour this time, featuring a tag-filled abandoned bus and one-room shelter as well as green hills and terrific landscape), and second-school hip-hop dominates...

This is the World's End:

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Video Of The Week: WARPORN Industries

Everlast can basically do no wrong (apart from his cheesy first album). His solo records are among the best music released in the 00s, House Of Pain's three albums are classics, and he helped launch La Coka Nostra into a solid career through terrific beginnings.

Now, he returns to his old-time friends (all of them save for Ice-T and the guys from Funkdoobiest) on a brand-new supergroup mixtape, launching WARPORN Industries (with Divine Styler and Sick Jacken), with strong features over the eleven tracks, including Cypress Hill's B-Real, Big Daddy Kane, Vinnie Paz, Gravity Christ, Termanology, and Rakaa.

This latest single and video, released today, is Warporn Industry, featuring B-Real and directed by Chad A. Marshall, like all of the group's clips:

Everlast's delivery is classic, and he looks like the coolest grandpa in the entire world.

Monday, April 24, 2017

NHL Predictions 2016-17: Round Two

So, how did I fare in Round One?

I was better predicting the West, accurately predicting 3 of the 4 winners, usually within a game of the series' actual length, save for the Preds, whom I had winning in seven games while they swept the Chicago Blackhawks in four straight games instead.

I had a tad more trouble in the East, accurately predicting the Caps and Sens winning, but the Rangers and Pens made their way through, with Pittsburgh appearing particularly strong.

So, for Round Two, I thought I'd start out with the West:

Nashville Predators vs St. Louis Blues:

Jake Allen performed miracles for the Blues in the first round. It's entirely possible for elite goaltenders to elevate their game in the postseason (Patrick Roy, Jonathan Quick, Tim Thomas, Curtis Joseph, Nikolai Khabibulin), and it also happens at times that okay goalies enter a sate of grace they can never replicate in future seasons but actually sustain it for an entire two months one time (Cam Ward, Ron Hextall, Dwayne Roloson). Obviously, I feel like if Allen remains that brick wall, he will be part of the latter bunch. I also think it'll be extremely difficult to do that against this Preds team. I mean, yes, there's Alex Pietrangelo  Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester on defense, but it gets thin past those three. And sure, the offense features super-sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, and Paul Stastny came back from his injury and scored, but Nashville's P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm just shut down the entire Chicago offense by themselves, with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews limited to two points apiece - the same amount as the Predators' goalie, Pekka Rinne, who also happened to have two shutouts in four games.

Preds in 6

Edmonton Oilers vs Anaheim Ducks:

Connor McDavid was the best player in the NHL this season, and although his speed confused the heck out of the San Jose Sharks, he has yet to produce at the same clip that saw him be the lone 100-point player in the league. The Oilers also showed some depth in beating the Sharks, with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins raising their level of play, Oscar Klefbom playing like a #1 defenseman and Cam Talbot looking like he should have been a Vezina Trophy finalist. But the Ducks are bigger, faster, meaner, better and deeper than the Sharks at every position; I wouldn't be surprised if they won the Cup. However, I still see the Oilers prevailing here on talent alone, but too banged up to pose a threat against the Preds in the Conference Final.

Oilers in 7

And, in the East:

New York Rangers vs Ottawa Senators:

Henrik Lundqvist was Royal against the Habs, but the Sens have a much more balanced offense - and elite talent that Montréal just cannot match, starting with Erik Karlsson, perhaps the best defenseman in the league. Their offense includes high-scoring wingers such as Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman, as well as power forward Clarke MacArthur to complete centers Kyle Turris and Derick Brassard, meaning the Sens also have the manpower up front to rival the Rags' Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Jimmy Vesey, and Michael Grabner (the only wild-card being rookie Pavel Buchnevich, who could explode at any time); New York, however, has a suspect defense past Brady Skjei and captain Ryan McDonagh. Also, as I said for round one: never sleep on Craig Anderson in the playoffs.

Sens in 6

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals:

"The Caps have the best goalie in the world in Braden Holtby, the best goal-scorer of his generation in Alex Ovechkin, the deepest core of forwards in the East and a coach, Barry Trotz, who knows what he's doing and has instilled a system good enough for two straight Presidents Trophies, i.e. "tops in the regular season"." All of this still holds true two weeks later. But the Caps are now facing last season's champions, not a bunch of rookies. The Pens were all over the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, making likely Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky look like an AHLer in their five-game series. Evgeni Malkin has 11 points (again, in five fucking games), Phil Kessel has 8 and Sidney Crosby has 7, among others. Crosby will lose his cool at least once, possibly costing his team a game in overtime, and Kris Letang's absence will be too much to bear against a team like the Caps. Justin Williams will prevail, scoring the Game 7 winner.

Caps in 7