Nick Grant – Return of the Cool

Wow! It’s been nearly a month since my last post. So much for daily album takes! Life is awesome, but sometimes it makes you do things other than the things you thought you would do. Developing the habit of regular blog posts takes time, it turns out–I’ll start with one post a week. Once the masses demand more content to satiate their voracious appetite for my personal opinion, I might consider increasing the frequency. And if the words on these pages infuriate you, well, you should probably find something else to do on the Internet.


I have to be honest–a title like usually elicits no more than an eye roll. The pastiche album cover does little more to ameliorate my suspicions that this is yet another bad rap debut. Women, wheels, and a wine glass: who would have thought to put those on a rap album cover? Closer scrutiny, however, suggests the clichés of a bygone era: a man in a tuxedo, a muscle car. In an era where I hardly know what cool means anymore, could this be an homage to a better age of music? Not exactly. It is, however, a refreshing effort in the face of monotony in today’s hip-hop scene.

Nick Grant’s flow is certainly a token to the past, with a straight-ahead sixteenth-note delivery that cleanly punctuates end rhyme after end rhyme. This approach comes off as rather slow in the first couple tracks, causing a rather unspectacular opening. His style is persistent, though, in a way that demands respect. The steadily kindling finally catches fire in the third track, “Bouncin’.” The beat allows Mr. Grant to show off his true chops, which he takes up in spades with Drake-worthy punchlines (“Kids slide up on you like pajamas with the feet in them”). 

“Get Up” and “Get Down” are a hot duo as well, surprising this devout album-length listener near the journey’s end. I didn’t really understand why he did this, especially considering that “Get Up” was his lead single. Wait a minute—are albums irrelevant now? That’s a troubling thought… It certainly doesn’t bode well for a rapper whose styles evokes a stylistic integrity that predates the modern Internet of Everything approach to music, where traditional genre lines have all but disappeared, leaving little for traditionalist artists to stand for.

As an overall experience, though, I have to like Nick Grant’s first effort. His large-scale focus can sharpen with subsequent efforts, but he at least sticks with his guns and does well at it. When he says he’s tired of other rappers talking about the same thing, you actually believe him.

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Clark – Death Peak

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In my last post I took a legendary rapper down to size from atop my music theory pedestal, a force of habit of mine that didn’t quite do justice to his legacy as an MC. Something I failed to convey in that post was my belief that rapping is mostly about creating a personal connection with the listener. Historical impact can form a very real part of a rapper’s identity, and that in turn can actually make that rapper more identifiable with an audience. This changes the listening experience in a way that has nothing to do with the music itself. A really good Beatles tribute band could make a perfect musical reproduction of Abbey Road, but the massive legacy of the original record makes listening to it far more meaningful.

In the same vein, Prodigy’s legacy as a rapper makes for an instant connection with a huge audience, no matter what the musical product may be. In his later years he chooses to let the historical side of his identity do the work, as he presently sits back and scoffs at the haters who would call his music bland or lazy. Alas, I caught myself being one of those haters.

I still stand by my original evaluation; I only wanted to nuance that within a larger context. But from that comes another thought I had: the way I see it, there’s no such thing as good or bad music. Not even good or bad examples of any particular kind of music you could classify. These artificial categories are really a matter of individual perspective, and that usually boils down to familiar and unfamiliar music. That’s why country (or hip-hop) music all sounds the same—unless you listen to enough to be familiar with it. And after becoming familiar with the legacy of Prodigy, the Beatles, or any musical icon, the listening experience is similarly enhanced.

Where the 💩 am I going with all of this? I haven’t even started talking about the album in the title. That’s because I’m trying to talk about knowledge here, and epistemological discussions are never short and sweet.

A listener’s knowledge plays a key role in the listening experience of any kind of music, because it adds flavor to the thought process. There’s a certain kind of music that plays into this “thinking” part of the listening experience, and that music usually gets called “cerebral” or “intelligent” music. Clark’s latest album Death Peak, incidentally, could be classified as IDM, or “Intelligent Dance Music.” When I find myself thinking about this album while listening, I do fancy it to be a superior kind of music. The way he pastiches sublime musical landscapes out of the most unlikely of sonic fragments is incredibly satisfying to my logical ear for musical construction. Like I said earlier, though, there is no good or bad music in the grand scheme of things. What, then, is the equalizer for this seemingly great album?

I saw Clark perform live at Concord Music Hall earlier this month. It is a spectacular venue, and I’ve gone to many shows there that I’ve really enjoyed. For some reason, though, I was somewhat less impressed by this show. The music was great, sure, but it really bothered me that no one in the hall was dancing. Remember, this is Intelligent Dance Music, and intelligent as it may be, it seems to fail in this respect. Going even beyond genre, I feel like music in general should move people. After all, music is just vibrations moving through air, and when it gets to you it ought to move through you. Otherwise it’s just hitting you like a blunt object—ouch!

Perhaps everyone was too busy thinking about the music to dance. Does that mean that thinking can be considered a kind of movement in its own way? This is a far-fetched notion, but it reminds me of the philosophy of mind-body dualism. René Descartes, the “I think, therefore I am” guy, was making a case for the mind side of things. He believed that we exist and have meaning in this world because of our conscience, and not because we take up space with our dumb bodies. But bodies carry their own kind of knowledge, and that’s what gets us through the countless mechanical tasks of our everyday lives.

When we listen to music, then, we can either focus on it quietly and generate high thoughts about its sublime musicality (think anything “classical,” be that Western, Hindustani, Arabic, or what have you)—or we can shut up and dance to it (think anything “pop”). That’s why we move to the music that we can “feel,” because its knowledge is more corporeal than cerebral. I guess what I’m saying is that Clark’s music lies more on the cerebral side, but this by no means belittles his music. In fact, sometimes he’s able to conquer both the cerebral and the corporeal (“Butterfly Crawler” is a particular favorite of mine that has a great quirky bounce to it.) That’s the true spirit of IDM (and indeed, all music) if you ask me: an interesting balance of thoughtful and danceable sounds that makes every kind of crowd happy. And at the end of the day, Clark does a pretty decent job at representing this ideal.

Mike Frasier Listens to Music and then Writes About Music (working title)

The wait is over! All you millions of fans out there have been waiting eagerly for so long, and finally my world famous blog has gone public. Huzzah for humanity!

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Seriously, what is this all about? This is a blog about new music and new thoughts about music—that’s it. I’ll be the one choosing and listening to said new music, and that of course would make me Mike Frasier. Yes, the very same Mike Frasier from the title of the post you read earlier. Can you believe it? But I suppose you want to know who this Mike Frasier person actually is…

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Mike Frasier is me! Furthermore, I am a music lover from Detroit making my living as a personal trainer in Chicago. I could tell you all about the amazing personal training career I’ve had, my personal journey as a lifelong fitness enthusiast, or how to get a bigger chest in 8-12 weeks, but none of that has anything to do with new music nor my thoughts about it. What’s more pertinent to this blog is that I play tuba and piano with Presidio Brass, an touring brass quintet that is a driving force in music education and advocacy around the country.

Why is that important? Well, because creating and sharing music is what I do, because it’s what I have done my entire life. I began piano lessons when I was six, and picked up the tuba five years later. Throughout my childhood I was surrounded by fantastic teachers and mentors that engorged my musical curiosity, not to mention unwaveringly supportive parents that forced me through the hardest years. I went on to study tuba performance and music theory at the University of Michigan, where I graduated with two bachelor’s degrees in the summer of 2014. Two years later I had two more degrees, this time master’s degrees in tuba performance and music theory from Northwestern University.

Long story short, I have spent a lot of time with music over my life. Consequently, music to me is less of a diversion than it is a way of thinking. I’m constantly driven by a desire to feed the endless musical reel that plays on in my mind, expanding and updating my mental repertoire to keep things interesting. As a result, I’ve become a ravenous consumer of music recordings (by consumer I mean listener and not buyer—this is the 21st Century, after all). This has culminated in an experiment that has spanned the last 3 years or so in which I listen to as many new albums as humanly possible: 137 albums in 2014, 184 albums in 2015, and 208 albums in 2016. That’s a lot of music. Do I remember all of it? Hell no. What does it even mean to remember music? That’s part of what I’m after here—what’s the point of listening to all of that music if I don’t preserve my thoughts about it?

For each new post, I will first listen to one new album released in the same year. Then, much as you have seen thus far, I will write my thoughts sporadically as they come to me. These aren’t album reviews, though I may seem critical at times. There likely won’t be any interviews with real musicians, either. In fact, I’m not really hoping to achieve anything by publishing my random thoughts about music. My only hope is that someone out there will find my thoughts as interesting as I do… ergo, blog.