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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

September 10, 2010 at 10:04 AM

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Friday Favorites: Shabazz Palaces, The Good Sin, Blue Scholars

Posted by Andrew Matson

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"'Barksdale Corners' on palaceer pusher beat circa now" by Shabazz Palaces (download here)


Behold: a new song from recently announced Sub Pop Records partners and Central District avant-rap act Shabazz Palaces. The vaporous, creeping "Barksdale Corners" is a free download companion to the current edition of Seattle's I Want You Magazine (if you mail order the issue, which is free, the song comes on a 7" record, also free and limited to 1,000 copies).

Musically, it's a blend of loping bass and buzzy synths wavering on an intermittent breeze. Background vocals waft in and out, whimpering falsetto tones and stuttering female breathiness. The "snare" is a horse clop, the kick a muffled boom.

The song structure is also unconventional but not jarringly so, and in line with other Shabazz songs. Palaceer Lazaro's raps don't enter until halfway in, with speak-singing preceding verse.

Trying to figure out exactly what Lazaro's saying in the pre-rap part is difficult, due to his twisting/side-of-the-mouth delivery, but couplets like, "Drop shadow in zebra print / the white horse with the wings to fly" pull one in deeper. What does he mean?

Then the rap starts, and it's off to the races, with Lazaro's voice made otherworldly by the usual heaps of echo, then pitched up or run through an effect that narrows his tone. Lines are so imagistic and densely written, they come across as poetic shrapnel. The title "Barksdale Corners" references "The Wire," and suggests something about cocaine, crack, streets or violence, but Lazaro's words are not so direct — he raps of holy lands and blood oaths. One place where I can say he makes perfect sense to me is when he says, "Charisma: that's what sell it."

For real: How else does one make rap this tough to understand and still be engaging about it?

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"Given" by The Good Sin feat. Sean Symphony and Hyphn8td (download here)


Central District brothers The Good Sin and Sean Symphony are the Fasolt and Fafner of the local rap game, nine foot tall giants you might have seen at this or that concert around town.

Seriously, though, they're tall.

The Good Sin's been working with Renton jazz/rap/other producer 10.4 Rog on an album called "Late," and this song didn't make the cut for whatever reason. Rog's composition is beautiful, with a halting bass line creating a little herky-jerk rhythm underneath sonar drone and soothing space bleeps that bubble skyward.

"Given" is the first time I've heard The Good Sin rap on a song with his brother Sean singing the hook, and they make a great team, thoughtful raps and straightforward vocals, neither one trying too hard. Hyphn8td Hyphen8d (I think that's how you spell it) from area group State of the Artist raps perhaps the first verse I've ever liked from him, an ode to monogamy — "ball together or fall together/ it's all whatever / I'm all in." Toward the end of his verse, Rog takes a synth note and bends it into a severe splatter sound, then just lets it hang there, taking up space and eventually drifting off. Somehow, it is the perfect thing to do.

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"Lumière" by Blue Scholars (download here)


The lateness of just now getting around to making a rap song from British noir&B group The xx's "Intro" (2009) is forgivable in this case because Seattle's Blue Scholars tweaks it a little, beefs up the wordless melody-hook and alters the notes ever so slightly to fit this new version.

Also, Beacon Hillionaire Geo raps exceptionally well on it.

Perhaps the days of his wooden flow are permanently behind us. Here, the syllables come out with inevitable force, each one in its right place, bringing velocity to the next. He's rapping about nothing — his daily routine, the sun setting in the South End — but sounds great doing it, dominant, even.

The Beacon/NYC duo performed "Lumière" at Capitol Hill Block Party this year but it was hard to tell that they'd done anything with The xx's atmospheric instrumental track. They have, and it's worthy.

Photos by me

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