TOKiMONSTA and a cheese smoothie anyone?

16 12 2010

Why does Bob Boilen of NPR have to be so much cooler than me and a generation(give or take a few) too old for me?With little exception, I respect every single piece of music he and his cronies at the All Songs Considered podcast recommend.  Bob, will you marry me? I know, I know…you’re married to the music. Sigh.

So yes. I’m giving away one of my sources for finding out about cutting edge or at least new music worth listening to. I guess everyone has sources, mine just don’t happen to be hip friends in underground bands or acquired via a low-paying job at a bad ass record label. No, it’s several hours a day listening to music, some good old fashioned word-of-mouth, and sleuthing the internet with zeal.

So again, thanks to an amazing show of All Songs Considered, I’ve been turned on to a lady dj, TOKiMONSTA from Los Angeles. She almost makes me want to give up my dreams of saving school children in The ‘Hood. I was bustling through her page online just now and read this comment a fellow fan typed,

“I want to drink a cheese smoothie after that eargasm”

Cheese+Smoothie=eargasm? Apparently because it’s the title of a track off her album featured below. Oh Jennifer Lee(that’s her real name), what kind of cheese exactly? Does it contain deep vibing electro beats, some soul, and touch of feminine class? Mmmmm.

Midnight Menu 2010

This isn’t the best electonic-hip hop-groove-trance-idm music I’ve ever heard, but that’s not the point. It’s interesting and damn, I think I am having a so-called eargasm. Especially when it melts into one ear and then the other. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

TOKiMONSTA official website

TOKiMONSTA on Myspace


Whispers from an Enchantress

13 12 2010

It’s important to me to remember the story behind something. Like the story of my scarf that went on an adventure around a friend’s neck, how I got a broken pair of plastic red handcuffs, and the history of my subway token necklace. Music, although intangible, is no different.
I hadn’t seen an old friend in probably over a year and we got together a month ago to catch up over wine in the dark den of his mom’s house. Of course there was talk of music and as always, I wrote down some musical artists that he was inspired by. This list grew to about ten artists only one of which I’ve researched and instantly felt connected to, a Miss Mariee Sioux. The other nine artists I’ll get to, just after I’m done being captivated by Mariee, which I hope continues for years to come. You know, I think I’m in the throws of a crush.

Faces in the Rocks 2007

This, her first record-label release, instantly invaded my psyche. She has the voice of an enchantress the likes I haven’t heard since Joni Mitchell. Seriously, I’m in-love.  I mean, look at the mystical album cover art. It’s totally something I would fall in-love with.
Although her last name Sioux and distinct use of the Native American flute denote a tie to that culture, from what I’ve researched, she probably wasn’t  eligible for a Native American college scholarship. After hearing this Native American-inspired/folk/Fairy Tale journey I wish more artists would draw upon the sounds of our country’s much-suppressed culture. Her delicate acoustic guitar picking style and breathy vocals always transport me to some mystic foggy netherworld. This post is a plea for Miss Sioux to continue weaving her own stories, at least for this lover of tales.

Artist Profile – Man In Charge (of Celcius Electronics)

12 12 2010

There’s plenty of hype surrounding the Detroit Hip-Hop scene these days.  What with Big Sean, Slum Village, Guilty Simpson and the like garnering plenty of national focus with big album releases this year, the D-Town scene is blowing up in ways it hasn’t done since the J Dilla days.  With all this attention focused on the 313, it becomes easy to overlook all the other great hip-hop coming out of SE Michigan.  But we here at Balafonic will hold the banner high for any good music that comes out of our hometowns, and to be honest, a lot of the independent hip hop coming out of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area these days is some of the best I’ve heard.

The collaborative atmosphere in the Ace Deuce, a popular local pseudonym for Ann Arbor, is one of its strongest points.  Emcees and producers from the area, including the popular electro-rap duo Celsius Electronics and Ann Arbor heavyweights Tree City have recently created the Branch Out Collective, a space where these Hip Hop artists and others can work together, promote each other and share their work with the world.

Man In Charge, one half of the tag-team combo Celcius Electronics with producer/emcee L05, has been featured on the Branch Out show since October, with the free online release of his debut solo album, Pentelligent (download here), 16 tracks of Man In Charge and friends rhyming, flowing and grooving to some of the sickest beats to come out of the Deuce this year.

I’ll just say this.  I’ve downloaded a fair number of free mixtapes and albums over the past year, mostly from emcees in the SE Michigan area, but Pentelligent, in my opinion, blows them all away.

As anyone who listens to good music knows, without Dope Beats a hip hop album would be nothing.  Man In Charge drops them in spades.  He keeps them interesting by bringing in so many outside producers that, for at least the first half of the album, there’s a new producer and a new feel to every track.  Grimy, Daft Punk-esque electro-beats wash in and out, pan left and right and layer all over each other in Mikey Digital, produced by Eric Garcia.  Then Doc Illingsworth comes in on Ode to the Pen and brings out the string, horn and live drum samples to give us that vintage feel reminiscent of Madlib’s Shades of Blue.

The second half features productions mostly by Man In Charge himself, but fear not, citizens.  Man In Charge knows his way around all the standard production tools and his beats can stand up to the best of ’em.  But where Man In Charge really shines is in his flow.

I will admit I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to flow.  You can come up with the greatest rhymes in the world, but if it doesn’t come out good, if the flow doesn’t gel with the song, it’s just not worth it.  For this reason I find it very difficult to get into guys like Gucci Mane, Styles P, Danny Brown and the like.  Gangsta rap just doesn’t do it for me.  But Man In Charge’s flow is right on point, his rhymes are tight and his style is sick.  It just sounds right.

Pentelligent is a great introduction for what looks to be a new star rising out of the Ann Arbor nebula, and I can’t wait to watch its shine grow.


The Apocalypse is Here: Enter itschewbac with Cannibal Ox

11 12 2010

Enter itschewbac fresh off the eating of some beautiful French toast topped with homemade whipped cream. Mmmm. Smooth. Now time to share the love…

I’d like to think I’m an invaluable source of listen-worthy music; anything from the realm of old twangy country to a planetary-themed orchestral opus. This being said, there’s so much music out there, I usually employ my controversial 30 second strategy to weed out the boring, the un-amusing, the bad. The use of this filtering strategy still leaves hundreds of thousands of hours of goose-bump inducing music. Trust me. After more than 14 years of obsessing, I’m still sifting through the later half of the 1960’s. Today however, I’m not going to be predictable or write about a genre that I can say with confidence  I know. Nope. I’m going out on a limb. A metaphorical limb that finds itself stretched out from the rare, scraggly city tree in Harlem circa 2001. This limb on this tree may feel a bit unfortunate, having only half a square foot of dirt surrounding it’s base, but it just so happens that this tree is in front of the equally small apartment of the Definitive Jux founder/record producer/artist known as El-P. Enter the hip hop duo Cannibal Ox.

This duo, made up of Harlem-raised artists, Vast Aire and Vordul Mega, recorded their album, The Cold Vein, in El-P’s apartment. I’m impressed and you should be too if you’ve ever visited a real person’s apartment in New York City.

The Cold Vein 2001 Definitive Jux

This is an amazing album. I’ve never heard anything like it. It’s a straight shot to the psyche. An instant bob-the-head with subtlety up and down. A drive your car around at night with one hand on the wheel album. I’m not one to go on and on about albums using adjectives from my high school SAT study guide or anything but sometimes I should. The album features vocals about as harsh as DMX’s  minus the uh… ridiculous. It’s laced with the space-age quality of Deltron and is indeed “abstract”. I read that term somewhere and liked it.


It seems to allow this album to exist on its own plane and makes me miss my record player that is holed up in my ex-roommate’s girlfriend’s apartment somewhere in Brooklyn. Cannibal Ox is just that cool and worthy of telling you about ten years after the fact. yessiree.

This album sews in samples from the most surprising of sources, anything from the 80’s sentimental drama, The Big Chill to the sultry vocals of the one, Reverend Al Green. They rhyme about politics, life in Harlem, and unrequited love, making me wish I’d been open to listening to hip hop back in the 2001. The clincher of all of this enthusiasm is that me and the hip hop world are pretty sure that these guys aren’t puttin’ anymore music out under the guise of Cannibal Ox. Did they do as their alias implies?…Eat their own kind with what I’ve heard an Ox is, a street euphemism for a sharp blade?

Why are there so many groups that don’t make it to the second album?  This state of mourning led me to do some sleuthing about on the intranets only to be blessed with a time warp of a documentary featuring Vast Aire and Mordal Vega taking it easy, smoking a fatty in El-P’s apartment. This clip starts out in some Germanic language subtitles just post 9-11 with El-P telling us the Apocolypse is nigh.

“We’re gonna die”

Artist Profile: The Ultrasounds

9 12 2010

I should preface this, our first feature artist profile here at Balafonic, with an admission of shameless bias.  I’ve known The Ultrasounds since its inception back in high school in Ann Arbor.  But even though I would count the band’s current and past members as old friends, I will try my best to not let this affect the writing to follow.

The Ultrasounds, now a 3-piece arena-rock outfit based out of Chicago, has much humbler roots in the High School and College party scenes of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  I remember back in 2003 when they were first getting started… their sound was, well, we’ll just call it raw and unrefined.  Throwback rock covers seemed to be their game, and it was obvious every time they played that what they lacked in mad skillz they made up for ten-fold with passion and dedication.  It was obvious these guys had the gene to make it, but they had a long road ahead.

Over the following years, as their sound and skills improved, the band’s membership and vibe changed dramatically.  By 2006, the band had gone from a 4-piece fly-by-night rock n’ roll semi-cover-band to a serious three-piece set bent on world domination.  With the addition of Sara Kay on drums and vocals, The Ultrasounds built a new, more forward-thinking roots rock vibe, influenced by bands like The Strokes, Elliot Smith and Phoenix.

As The Ultrasounds garnered more and more attention, voted Most Underrated Band by readers of Ann Arbor’s Current Magazine two years straight, also winning Best Rock Band in 2009, they continued writing music, playing shows and building up to a crescendo with the release of their second full-length, Give Up the Fight, in May 2010.

Give Up the Fight is a revelation.  On their myspace page, the band describes their new album as revealing “a band in its peak, with an eminently accessible, epic arena-rock sound,” and they really aren’t kidding.  Every song on this album is accessible and catchy.  Hell, most of them are even danceable.  But even the most poppy songs with the most mainstream vibes still manage to avoid a cliché and generic sound.  It is a testament to the gigantic strides this band has made in the seven years since its inception in terms of creative output.  Utilizing the record studio like never before, The Ultrasounds have created beautifully imaginative layered harmonizations and melodic phrases unachievable by a three-piece live set.  As The Ultrasounds mature, so do the intricate designs of their music, and boy is it exciting.

Coming up:

For those of you in Chicago, The Ultrasounds just landed a gig at The Underground Lounge as the regular band on Tuesday nights, so check ’em out!  They’re also competing in a Battle of the Bands to play at SXSW, and as of this posting they’re at number 1!  That doesn’t mean they don’t still need help to win though, so everyone take a minute to vote!


The Ultrasounds Official Website (bandcamp)
The Ultrasounds Myspace

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