It's close to midnight at the Rotunda on 40th and Walnut. On the steps outside, a cypher of about 20 hip-hop heads huddle in close as a ghetto blaster thumps old school loops and two emcees in the middle face-off: "Common nigga, you don't think that's a lie / That's like saying when I spit it I don't spit fly / That's like saying you ain't you and I ain't I / Like this ain't the Gathering it's a street word fight." The crowd goes nuts, leaning back like witnesses of a car wreck to reward the verbal beating.
If there is a white picket fence along the rock-star trajectory, Chris Funk has likely found it. The Decemberists' jack-of-all-instruments (guitarists first and foremost; banjo, mandolin, bouzouki, pedal steel, glockenspiel, and hammered dulcimer follow suit) has a few weeks to spend with his family in Portland, Oregon before casting off on full tours of the U.S.
With a new album out and a national tour, Ben Kweller certainly is a busy fellow. Sacrificing valuable time for baby clothes shopping at a Cincinnati Old Navy, the one-man band takes a few moments to talk to Street about bloody noses, intellectual property, and even his music.
Street: On your new album you play all the instruments yourself, was that something you planned on doing much prior to recording, or when exactly was that decision made?
Kweller: It happened at the last minute.
Chin Up Chin Up
This Harness Can't Ride Anything
Listening to This Harness Can't Ride Anything, the sophomore album from Chicago's Chin Up Chin Up, is much like a visit to the Midwest - forgettable.
This Harness, recorded with producer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine), begins with promise.
Featuring nothing but the gyrations of a particularly impressive female behind, the video for "Backyard Betty," Spank Rock's debut single, has a clear purpose: to get them asses shakin'. But the music is far from standard club hip-hop fare; in fact, the MC at the helm, 24-year-old Naeem Juwan, would rather avoid classification altogether.
YoYoYoYoYo, Spank Rock's first full-length album, is a detailed collaborative effort: Naeem raps over beats ranging from Baltimore house to Hendrix, artfully layered by his childhood friend and producer, Alex "Armani XXXChange" Epton.
Naeem attributes the eclecticism of the music to his move from Baltimore to Philly to become a Drexel student (and one-time Penn partygoer). "We come from Baltimore," he says, "and the cultures don't really mix up too much." Though early exposure to traditional hip-hop and the ecstatic phenomenon of 'B-more' club house continue to be profoundly influential on the pair, it primed Naeem for a musical awakening.
"I really didn't know much about rock or punk or '80s, so when I went to Philly, things were a lot more diverse.
By all accounts, life on the road is nasty, brutish and long. And on the eve of a North American tour, Islands' Nick Diamonds is sick in a Toronto hotel room, speaking in low tones to protect his voice.
At a time when pop culture phenomena like Paris Hilton and Hulk Hogan's daughter are relentlessly promoting their debut albums, the idea of the remake doesn't sound all that bad.
Take Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt," for instance.