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With the media feeding frenzy upon the death of Michael Jackson, I was hesitant to throw anything onto the huge pile. What needs to be said, when so many other people have said so much already? Unfortunately, as the coverage continued for weeks, most of what I saw was a lot of fantasy, grandstanding, bickering, and all sorts of other unfair treatments.
Can we not learn something real from the life of Michael Jackson? Can we not put aside our egos, our insecurities, our personal identities, and our own selfish, subconscious interests, and be purely objective?
In regards to his achievements, I will honor Michael Jackson for his work as an entertainer. He was amazing. He was an historic dancer and songwriter. In regards to his character, and claim to ‘leadership’ or being a ‘role model’, I couldn’t dissent more. There is almost nothing about Michael Jackson’s life that I deem worthy for emulation. But it’s not just Michael Jackson. I feel the same about Elvis, Britney Spears, and all of the other manufactured celebrities.
Michael Jackson isn’t the first celebrity who inspired the observations that I will present. There is a pattern of lost opportunity for artists, fans, and even our society and culture at large. I see profound lessons in the death of Michael Jackson, if we could only be honest with ourselves.
I don’t think anyone could have said it better than Herbert Spencer, a 19th century British philosopher and poet, when he said:
“The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.”
The news coverage of Michael Jackson that I was subjected to forcibly by non-stop coverage had only two parts. One part was “shielding from folly” by his ‘followers’ who seemed to come out of the woodwork only in time to stop ignoring him or mocking him on comedy shows. The second part of coverage was people outraged by those hypocrites, trying to dismiss Michael Jackson completely.
In my perception, this is what made the public reaction to the death of Michael Jackson tragic – a gaggle of polarized fools smacking each other in the faces with knit gloves while human decency lay abandoned at their feet, a victim of vainglory, ego, and selfish identity wars.
The advent of Mass Media brought about new challenges and concepts we have not addressed even to this day. In 2009, after over a century of Mass Media, we are still manufacturing celebrity.
The manufacturing process
In the big business of manufacturing celebrity, the process can be summarized beginning with:
- Massive amounts of money that is controlled by…
- Rich, high-risk-taking, gambling speculators and plutocracies of celebrity-inheritance who use, create, and breed…
- Talented (and sometimes untalented) entertainers like race horses, who dazzle and captivate…
- The general, entertainment-consuming public with…
- Amazing (and sometimes artificially amazing) spectacles of showmanship which consumes…
- Billions of dollars every year so that it can fund the next cycle of…
- Massive amounts of money that is controlled by…
- Repeat the above.
Sometimes the gambling plutocracies latch onto very young children, because there is an inexplicable fascination with seeing a young and talented child sing lyrics that they don’t truly understand and engage in social and financial dynamics that are very complex for well-grounded adults, let alone the undeveloped mind of a child.
The Jackson Five was just one of these experiments, but they are by no means alone in this class of tragic specimens. The Disney machine from which Britney Spears, Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, Zac Efron, Hilary Duff, Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato, and many others were produced had a large monopoly on this manufacturing process, until American Idol came along and showed them how masterminds can do it even better.
The American Idol machine works like this:
- Millions of people who desire fame and fortune believe that they are decent pop entertainers
- They audition for minor judges in cities across the USA
- If they are absolutely horrible, they get on national television
- If they are outstanding singers, they get on national television
- If they are decent singers, they get turned away immediately
- After all the nonsense and mostly subjective judging, we are left with a few contenders
- The general public “votes” on those contenders, and we are supposed to believe that the votes are actually used to determine who wins
- A winner is declared, and the winner gets to make an album and get promoted with lots of money
- They enter the cyclical manufacturing celebrity process described above, with the added bonus of tons of pre-existing hype and exposure from their long ordeal of ‘competition’ on national television
In addition to the massive revenues from a primetime TV show, the music of the winner (and some runners-up) is almost guaranteed to make back its production costs and profit on top. American Idol is an absolutely ingenious machine for manufacturing celebrity.
This is not to discredit the talent of the individuals who are the pliable material that the elites use in this process. As with any other manufacturing process: garbage in, garbage out. The sufficiency of the input materials (in this case, talented human beings) is required to ensure the quality of the output (in this case, celebrity entertainers).
So what is the end result? What does the final product look like?
Defining popular-music celebrity
While the manufacturing celebrity process is applicable to any entertainment format, let’s focus on popular music celebrities (Rock, Pop, R&B, Hip Hop, Country, etc.) where the iniquities of cultural and artistic monopolies are blatantly obvious.
I must say that I love popular music. I appreciate all of the major genres, from Rock to Hip Hop, from Country to R&B. I, myself, compose and perform popular music (Rock, Dance, R&B) in addition to Jazz and Classical.
So what are the typical lifetime-pursuits of popular-music celebrities? Let’s define them:
- Singing, rapping, or other vocal expression of words and human-voice sounds (vocalizing)
- Playing musical instruments with skill (instrumentation)
- Music composition – writing the music that brings life and emotion to the songs (songwriting)
- Dancing, acrobatics, physical feats, gyrations, or other displays of physical movement (dancing)
- Financial management of a growing enterprise, the commerce of personal image and art, endorsements, product lines, and the employment that is required for any organization of mid-to-large size (financing & business pursuits)
- Cultural and social inspiration and influence (inspiration)
- Charitable giving – once large enough and with more-than-sufficient funds, many celebrities take up a charitable cause to bolster their own image and legacy (charity)
When you look at the cumulative efforts of the most renowned popular-music celebrities, certainly they are impressive, but they are almost never the best at any one of those pursuits.
I believe that there is consensus among connoisseurs and gurus of these pursuits that:
- Michael Jackson could not sing better or more challenging works than Luciano Pavarotti. Michael Jackson was not the best at vocalization and not the best singer.
- Michael Jackson could not play the piano better than Frederic Chopin. Michael Jackson was not the best at instrumentation.
- Michael Jackson could not compose music better than Antonio Vivaldi (who composed over 500 concerti, 46 operas, 90 sonatas, and somewhere between 60 and 70 church/worship compositions) or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (who composed over 600 works in less than 35 years of living). Michael Jackson was not the best at songwriting.
- Michael Jackson could not dance better than Galina Ulanova. He was not the best dancer.
- Michael Jackson could not run his own financial enterprise and provision employment opportunities better than Bill Gates of Microsoft. Michael Jackson was not the best financier or businessman.
- Michael Jackson could not inspire more people in more profound ways than Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Buddha, Mohammed, Susan B. Anthony, Spartacus, Caesar Augustus, Baruch Spinoza, Edmund Burke, Thomas Hobbes, or Mother Theresa. Michael Jackson was not the best inspirer.
- Michael Jackson could not do more good for charity across the world than the cumulative tax-giving of hardworking taxpayers, nor could he generate more philanthropic output than charitable religious organizations and humanitarian funds. In addition, Michael Jackson left behind no eternal inventions to move mankind forward, or businesses that are self-sustaining for continued work-output that helps people. Michael Jackson was far from the best philanthropist and charitable citizens.
While Michael Jackson wasn’t the best singer, instrument-player, music composer, dancer, businessman, inspirer, or philanthropist – when you add up his contributions in all of these areas, he was a legendary popular music celebrity.
Even though Popular Music celebrities are rarely the best at their individual pursuits, what makes them truly successful and valuable? I think that popular musicians should strive for fantastic creativity that shows us things we’ve never seen, in ways we’ve never imagined, while communicating emotions and ideas that we reflect! With this in mind, I believe Michael Jackson was legendarily successful at his job.
Even still, Michael Jackson was not a role model in my eyes. I think that he could’ve been a role model, but the odds were stacked against him. Unfortunately, the industrial waste byproducts of the celebrity manufacturing process are incidentally harmful to healthy life, stability, prudence, magnanimity, wisdom, and the other things that make true role models. Michael Jackson certainly is not the first celebrity to be infected by these byproducts.
Byproducts of the celebrity manufacturing process
Byproduct #1 is self-destruction of the celebrity. This includes: weak character, spoiled-brat behavior, unmediated temperament, narcissism, instability, propensity for drug abuse, propensity for betrayal of loved ones, arrested development, stale inspiration, isolation, depression, and paranoia.
Strange things happen when power, fame, and money find their way into the hands of those who are ill-prepared to wield it. An individual with great character and wisdom would use those uncommon gifts to invent and create sustainable enterprises that bring progress and success to many people even after individual has passed on.
An ill-prepared individual would use the power, fame, and money to service their own egos, consume extravagant amounts of resources and luxuries, control other people, push out their rivals unfairly, and concern themselves with their legacy and image more than the raw output of continued acts of achievement and contribution.
Surrounded by servants, and an unending line of leeches who beg at their trough, and placatory supporters, the normal boundaries, opportunities, and challenges of interpersonal human experience are corrupted. The power and money turns what should be natural struggle and confrontation, into unnatural pretension and falsely-resolved outcomes. In essence, the natural human weakness of all parties involved is magnified because shallow motivations are the driving force behind everyone’s behavior.
This is the root of the self-destruction. Money and power in the wrong hands corrupts ill-prepared minds. Forget about abuse and family issues. I have seen abused and impoverished children rise above adversity with good hearts, morals, and determination. I have seen abused children not succeed in anything but to gain fantastic character in the inner city, and make great families and communities. These people are role models to me.
On the other hand, I have seen spoiled and privileged children who are treated like celebrities by their parents end up becoming drug dealers, drug addicts, cheaters, liars, narcissists, and the most tragic of the tragic people.
The byproduct of self-destruction is a tragedy for everyone involved and inflicts those from poor and wealthy backgrounds indiscriminately.
Byproduct #2 is the stifling of free market opportunities. When big powers manufacture celebrity, they do so at the expense of all the worthy artists out there who may even have more talent and potential than the artists that the elites are nurturing. Would you like the best artists to have earned their place? Would you like the best artists to have gained life experience that creates genuine artistic expressions? The stifling impositions of this manufacturing process crush justice, quality, artistic integrity, and opportunities for fans and artists to control their own options.
As the free market is stifled, we all lose. We don’t need The Disney Channel, MTV, American Idol, and other celebrity manufacturers to define who we get to listen to. We don’t need big money to artificially destabilize the lives of talented people, using them like marionettes on a stage to maximize dramatic effect. As artists, we don’t need to think like beggars, hoping that someday that big money will come our way, and then we can attach the strings to our limbs and do the dance that our newly-found masters command.
We need a direct connection between fans, artists, and the business so that the free market can operate in a natural state.
Byproduct #3 is new-age feudalism and cronyism. The lords of media and entertainment use their connections to rub each others’ backs, and eventually their children carry on the exclusive empires as well. Such children, who are unlikely to be well-equipped for the business of entertainment – but they are simply forced into it by birthright.
For societies that proclaim the virtues of freedom, equality, and justice – the entertainment industry must be very disappointing. The entertainment oligarchies need to start thinking about putting the art itself above lifestyles, ego, image, legacy, cultural control, connections, and friends.
With all of these byproducts which harm our culture, the celebrities themselves, and create the establishment of dishonorable operations and feudalism one question still boggles my mind.
Why is it that some people really look at celebrities like role models?
Manufactured celebrities are not role models to me
I have a grandfather who volunteered to take his friend’s post in the Pacific during World War 2, because even though my grandfather was just married, his friend already had children. That’s a role model. In fact, because of all that my grandfather was to the family, he is the biggest role model to me. But of course, I have idealized and distant role models too. Maximus from the movie “Gladiator” is a role model to me. Hamlet from Kenneth Branagh’s movie “Hamlet” is a role model to me. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus Christ are role models to me.
What about Michael Jackson? I just know too much about his personal life that makes me not really want to emulate anything about him. I think he’s a tragic figure, not a heroic one. To me, he’s no different than Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and many more. I see the vast squandering of opportunity and privilege which disgusts me; whereas, with my grandfather, I see the noble and magnanimous nurturing and sacrifice of very little privilege and opportunity. If my grandfather had access to that kind of money, power, influence, and fame, a man like him would have not only done right by his family and children, but he would have also created self-sustaining enterprises to make jobs for people that last. He was a hardworking man who believed in industry and the raw output of hands in motion.
We need to stop placing ‘popularity’ as the highest ideal, over real stuff. When you strip away the superficial façade of all these manufactured celebrities combined, we’re left with the drug addictions, death by drugs, child abuse, adultery, child endangerment, arrogance, superficiality, narcissism, reckless sexual behavior that uses human beings like throwaway trash, materialism, domestic violence, egregious family feuds, destruction of property, and other dishonorable antics.
What is it about these things that certain people find attractive for emulation? In a society of broken families, with a 60-70% divorce rate, the generation of the 90s and 00s is even more desperate to latch onto something different, something that’s unlike the disappointments they experienced at home, something they can invest their hopes and dreams in.
They’re looking for idols and direction. But they will find only long-term disappointment when they forge a relationship with a manufactured celebrity. At worst they will emulate or apologize for the dishonorable behavior. At best, they will continue to fall short of finding noble ideals and healthy direction in their lives.
The relationship we seek with manufactured celebrities is convenient, not genuine. The minute that the celebrity no longer provides fuel for the wandering fans to feed upon, they are forgotten entirely. The wandering fans move on to the next superficial icon of popularity. This binge-and-purge behavior shows how shallow the relationship is.
For many years before the death of Michael Jackson, no one cared about him at all, except to mock him on comedy shows. All of the sudden, when he dies, the vultures want to pick apart his empire like the scavengers that they are. Where will the money go? Who will gain the buddy-buddy connections to Michael Jackson’s surviving entourage? As a student of history, really this is nothing new. You can look not only to monarchies of the past, but also aristocracies of Italy (Medici anyone?), political families of ancient Rome, or military families of barbarians tribes.
So as I watched the terrible carnival that they called a funeral for Michael Jackson, I did so through the lens of history – most of the players on that stage looking to me just like the vultures of Rome and barbarian tribes. Those who did not care about Michael Jackson only one month earlier, were now prostrating themselves before his surviving empire so that they may potentially gain favor from the connections and money wielders, or maybe to get some media attention for their own selfish platforms.
When my grandfather died, I received his only nice pair of cufflinks and a tie clip that he wore. That is all. I guarantee that this small inheritance is worth more to me than a million dollars is worth to any of those vultures who now pick Michael Jackson’s body clean. It’s like a scene from the old west where people pull the boots off of a man as he lay dying.
Is this how we are meant to live? Is this how we are meant to die? Never has a rich man looked so poor and devoid of valuable things to me. I pity Michael Jackson. Not a hero, but a tragedy to me. For these indignities that his true loved ones must now shoulder – I have great sympathy.
But then there is always charity. And a manufactured celebrity nearly always falls into the game of image-building with charities. Sometimes sincere, never truly helpful to people in the long-term, and frequently respected by the public much more than it should be.
Charity: give me instant gratification, or give me a tool of empowerment?
I’m very cynical in regards to celebrity charities. I have some different ideas about what truly benevolent people do. Whether rich or poor, they help other people. They don’t take photo shoots. They don’t make a spectacle of it. They mentor people, and they do what they can within their power to make progress. I would love to see a celebrity support philanthropic pursuits in secret for their lifetime, only to reveal the secrets posthumously.
Moreover, there’s a matter of proportion and scandal. Many of the “give money away” charities end up being fronts for moving money around. Most of them simply create power bubbles that serve special interests of small groups of people. A true philanthropist considers the welfare and needs of everyone, indiscriminately. Real benevolence is creating long-lasting enterprises that are self-sustaining because they generate useful work-output for society.
It is not creating a feel-good give-away operation where elite people can service their legacy, egos, and pride. As for the elites who have so much power and money that they have trouble consuming even more luxuries – what more can they buy? Well they can buy more pride. It’s very easy when you take a picture of yourself giving stuff away.
Why don’t they make a viable organization that actually generates work-output instead of these temporary money-funnels? They could only do that if they started with a premise – take interest in leading the horse to water, to create a tool of empowerment that helps people in a self-sustaining way. Instead, they set up give-away operations to shove the water down the horse’s throat as they recline on the grass. This generates the desired effect of instant gratification, caring, and image-building for the benevolent celebrity ‘reliever’, our hero.
There’s also the matter of proportion. A celebrity giving a “benefit show” for one day is no larger commitment or sacrifice than a teenager volunteering for a day to help a canned food drive for a local church. A celebrity doing a ‘benefit tour’ is actually less of a sacrifice than a college student going on a summer charity job to build houses for the disabled and destitute.
Why is the celebrity making less of a sacrifice? Because the celebrity enjoys an empire that can keep them living like kings for the rest of their lives. What do they have to worry about? A middle-class college student who spends a summer volunteering still comes back to the same loans, mortgages, family needs, and unsecure financial future that they always had. They’ll still have to wonder if they can afford adequate housing for the family they’d like to have. They’ll still have to wonder if they can build their career enough to cover their basic needs. The celebrity doesn’t have these concerns, since all of their basic needs have already been supremely satisfied for life.
Let’s do a financial comparison. I will address the money right out of the net worth of the celebrity (not the money that comes out of foundations/money-funnels). We’re not talking salaries and incomes, we’re talking net worth. If a celebrity is worth over $500 million, and they give away 2 million, it’s like a middle class person giving away only $136.
I have to tell you something, I know many middle class and blue collar people who are much more charitable than celebrities when you take into account proportion and scale.
What could celebrities do instead? It’d be nice to see newly created, long-lasting and self-sustaining enterprises that do crucial work-output for the economy and our people. That would be an impressive feat for a celebrity to invest in. Turn your money into a sustainable business operation, rather than a short-lived funnel for small fractions of your money that lasts only long enough to get your photo shoot completed.
Of course, as Santa Claus has proven every Christmas, giving stuff away is the best way to bolster superficial joy and gain popularity among those who don’t think too hard. It’s a great image-building pursuit. On the other hand, investing in a self-sustaining business or invention does create genuine philanthropic results in the long term – but it’s never been a grand image-building pursuit. That’s why celebrities opt for the Santa Claus routine.
Again…those who are ill-prepared to wield such money, power, and fame…what do we expect? The charity of manufactured celebrities is yet another tragic folly.
Technology and Business Process Engineering to save the day
Is it possible to extract ourselves from the binge-and-purge cycle of consuming manufactured celebrity? Maybe. We know the benefits already. Our culture itself would benefit the most, followed by the fans, artists, and business.
When everyone complains about the low quality of modern TV, movies, and music – well, what do we expect when the competitive process is either stifled, fake, or run by modern feudal lords and inheritance?
I do believe we can do it, if we start a dialogue and seek art for the sake of art, and not what is just shoved in our faces. It’s a vicious cycle, but I know many who are breaking it. They tune out from MTV, American Idol, Disney, and the rest of the manufacturer’s enterprises.
When they see a celebrity abuse their luck and privilege by doing ridiculous things, maybe they abandon the artist, realizing that there are plenty of artists out there who have a lot more to offer. This is much like the time-tested democratic tactic of boycotting.
Most importantly, genuine fans just look at the art without context of popularity or personal affairs of the artist. They don’t buy celebrity gossip magazines or newspapers. They don’t tune into celebrity TV shows. If you ask them about the personal life of a celebrity, they really don’t know that much, expect for maybe a few details about their favorites. They look at the entertainer like any other job – enjoying the product greatly, but not supporting a vicious industry of paparazzi by showing obsessive interest in the details of entertainers’ lives.
To some people, it doesn’t matter what the artist is doing if they’re just so good at their craft. This is because they’ve successfully broken the cycle of manufacturing celebrity. They separate the act and products of the entertainer from the real person who wears the celebrity image.
Wherever our entertainment culture is headed, I know that giving fans and artists more power will help. This is a big part of MYnstrel’s mission. We treat music with the scientific scrutiny of Sir Isaac Newton, the psychological ingenuity of Sigmund Freud, and the philosophical rigor of Aristotle. By reinventing a holistic approach that puts the fans, artists, and decentralized music business professionals in charge – we can break the cycle of manufacturing celebrity.
Not only do we all win, but perhaps tragic figures like Elvis and Michael Jackson might have been able to grow their persona naturally and in a healthy manner. The cycle of self-destruction is heart breaking. I feel for Michael Jackson and his loved ones. What could Michael Jackson have been if he wasn’t corrupted by this money and power imposition by the elites? Might he have been a real role model? Might he have been a hero instead of a tragedy? Might he have been impervious to drug addiction? Might he have had a normal family in a natural way, with a mother who doesn’t reject child custody? Might he have lived much more happily and comfortably without extreme psychological duress?
This dishonorable practice must be reformed. It has claimed enough talented lives, overshadowed too many deserving contenders, and stifled our culture for decades. Now let’s start thinking about man-made solutions to the man-made problem of manufacturing celebrity.
We prefer that The MYnstrel Free Press touches all people in the MYnstrel community. What could be more applicable to every single member than sharing ideas about how we all make it through the struggles of life?
Whether we’re talking about growing a successful band, keeping a roof over our heads, our loved ones fed, health issues, or personal struggles – we’re all in different boats as to how we can deal with these different challenges. But don’t we share things in common? Moreover, what if you were to look at organizations (such as startup companies) as a struggling person as well? Where can we get a general understanding of how to persevere? And what can a jazz musician teach us about this perseverance?
Different scenarios, same concepts
A gentleman whom I hold in very high regard approached me with a familiar concern a few weeks ago. We were discussing how a music organization with no money could afford technology and marketing services when they are so utterly broke. He said: “The ideas are great, but how will they pay for this?”
Now tell me, how many times in your life have you asked yourself the same question? You want something – an apartment, a house, a car, a surgery, a grocery store run, college tuition, clothes for your children; moreover, you have various choices which carry different prices.
A startup company has the same challenges. How will they pay their lease, opening-day inventory, government fees, licensing, lawyer bills, technology bills, accounting bills, and employees?
Any band faces the same challenges – how will they pay their personal bills while they’re spending so much time practicing, writing music, and playing local shows? How will they get money to record their albums? How will they get money to advertise, travel, and put their album through total production? What about paying their personal manager, business manager, and lawyer?
Even the government is not special in this regard. What if a government is broke and can no longer pay its bills? It considers raising taxes, borrowing money from other governments, or printing lots of money. This is like taking a bucket of water out of the ocean so you can pour it back in a mile down the beach. During a time when private companies have shed 13.2 million jobs, why isn’t the government (which only survives on taxes) forced to lay off people as well and tighten their own belt like everyone else, so that the private companies that drive our success in the world economy can hire more people? How can the government achieve what it wants to without just sweeping the dirt around the floor? When does the dustpan come into play?
What do all of these scenarios have in common, and what is wrong with the philosophy that is commonly used to solve the problems?
Trade, proxies, and Hawaiian breezes
Let’s go back to what money is. It’s a proxy for trade. It has no real value alone. If it’s backed by something stable (like gold), it still only has a dependable proxy value. We exchange money to represent a trade of real services and goods.
An employed chef goes to their restaurant to cook meals for customers. When the chef moves their hands and feet to prepare the meal, they’ve just created real value. In turn, the restaurant gives the chef money to represent that real value. In turn, the chef uses that money to buy groceries from a farmer. As the chef consumes the groceries, he has acquired and consumed real value. The money has nothing to do with that. It’s a proxy. This is trade.
Now I’ll speak for honest businesspeople (yes we exist). I guarantee you that when you look at your own efforts in this way, an entirely new world of opportunity opens up to you. You begin to find ways to take control of fulfilling these needs for yourself. You start to realize, you don’t need more money. You don’t want to borrow money. You want to acquire real value for less money. You want to increase your ability to generate more real value that is useful to other people and organizations. You will start to realize that exchanging real value is what people truly seek, and that many items in the marketplace just aren’t worth the dollar-value that people put on them.
I’ve known many people in my career who were getting paid too much or too little for the actual value they delivered to their employer. I once saw a government contractor pay $100,000 to a person living in Hawaii just to get their signature on a report and pretend like they had something to do with authoring the report. I don’t view that Hawaiian any differently than a massive thief – upwards of grand theft. They stole the taxpayer’s money for an exchange of zero real value. You feel that Hawaiian Breeze? It’s the sound of your hard earned tax money disappearing into an unscrupulous, legitimized crook’s pocket. Whoosh! All gone!
The economy is filled with similar booby traps. Dot-com bubble anyone? Housing market anyone? Financial market, anyone? Retirement funds?
Look out for the next seemingly innocuous scam and beware that whoosh sound. It is a seductively comforting breeze. The good news is that in a free market, at least we have the freedom to seek independent companies who will be fairer to us should we encounter issues. Fair employers get good reputations and people want to be part of those good teams.
The bartering entity lineup
Let’s make a pact to start avoiding the traps, by thinking outside of the box, being able to identify real value, and seeing what kind of real value we can generate to exchange for the things we need (or want). Let’s recap and expand upon our examples. I’ll call each one generically, “a bartering entity”:
- The broke performing arts group seeking new technologies and marketing services
- A self-reliant citizen requiring items of self-sustenance (housing, food)
- A small-business startup company trying to get off the ground
- A local band of musicians trying to make an album and grow their act
- A defunct government that has made itself dependent on foreign lenders, tax games, and manipulation of currency
- Tommy searching for houses in 2005
- Tommy’s recent foot injury
For each bartering entity, the first step is to determine the current potential and limitations to generate real value that can be traded for the real value that the bartering entity seeks. In future publications, I may share my own statistical analyses with the MYnstrel community that will blow your mind, concerning nationwide labor activities. For now, we’re going to stick with concepts and see how these bartering entities can persevere. Bands, are you tuned in? This is your chance to turn a bad deal into a straight flush.
General advice for bartering entities
Please sit down on my couch, lay back and relax. I’ll play the role of fortune cookie, and we’ll see in the end what everyone can take away to improve their own circumstance. I’ll recount a few of my own experiences to illustrate.
Case: The insolvent performing arts group
So what did I tell the distinguished gentlemen when he asked me, “how can a broke organization pay for this?” I implored, “Let’s focus on an exchange of real value.” What does the organization really need done to achieve their goals, and what is the value of that. Secondly, what real value can the music organization generate in order to exchange for the things they want?
Their ultimate goal is simple. The music group is not greedy. They want a larger audience to share their art with, and they would like for the people who make the art to get paid fairly for their hard work. Ideally they’d like the money to come directly from eager buyers of the art (ticket buyers) instead of asking the taxpayer or wealthy fans for it. Self-sufficiency has a rewarding dignity and satisfaction that is natural for the human condition. The technology and marketing purchases are just stepping stones for that larger goal.
We could start by taking inventory of all the ways that other fine arts groups raise capital. Endowments are fine, but I bet if we expanded our options, we could find even more ways to do things efficiently and succeed in our mission – to deliver some of the best entertainment and finest culture to as many people as we can access, and get paid fairly for doing so.
Are the people in the organization multi-talented? Do they have access to knowledge and skills that can help to grow the organization? If so, can we develop a plan to reward them with cooperative ownership of the organization if they deliver results? This bartering requires no cash, and when we determine how we can expand our revenue channels, this technique can be used to execute the plans.
We might not be selling out arenas like the band Tool anytime soon, but I bet we can improve the situation of the group.
Case: Government economic blunders
Although I have my own thoughts on the matter, I’m not touching this with a ten foot pole. April fools!
Case: Tommy’s 2005 house search
At the height of the housing market bubble, I was in a position to think about getting my first house. I enlisted the help of a Real Estate Agent. This was my first experience in real estate, and I was on my own as usual.
As we were going house to house, nothing was adding up for me. I read that the traditional lending standards were to multiply your annual gross income by three, and this is the maximum house price you can afford. The Agent was trying to convince me to buy houses that were nearly twice the amount that I was supposed to be able to afford. Worse, those houses weren’t even average houses in the area (in terms of size and features). I knew something was not right.
I researched the median household income in the County that I was looking to buy in. My discovery was profound. I learned that the median household income could only afford a substandard house by traditional lending standards – a suburban condo at that time. In fact, the average resident of this County would have to max themselves out and double what they are supposed to spend to afford a suburban townhouse. When a median income can’t afford a median house, I immediately established the fact that the real estate market in DC was exorbitantly overpriced.
The Agent told me I was wrong. She gave me propaganda from realtors’ organizations to try and boost my confidence. I didn’t bite. I did more research. I found two things that were astounding – the historical trend of rent vs. housing expenditure ratio and the historical ratio of real estate ‘value’ to GDP. Both were immensely out of whack, starting in 1988. Next, I used the New York Times “Rent vs. Buy” calculator and discovered that by historical standards, I would never make back the money that I would have to spend to buy a house in 2005, in the Washington DC market.
In the face of all these facts, my Agent only had a single argument: “these aren’t traditional times, you’ll make out positive.” By contrast, one of my friends’ fathers was in the real estate business for years, and although he wasn’t giving me all the numbers that I drummed up for myself, he warned me that it was a terrible time to buy.
Now, I don’t know for sure if my Agent was maliciously lying and trying to swindle me for her commission, or whether she was just immensely uninformed about her own industry; but it was one or the other. Because as we all know now, four years later, I was correct and she was wrong. If I had listened to her, I would have lost all of my savings that took decades to earn. I know people who bought houses in the DC area between 2002 and 2008 who have lost all of the money they put into the house.
That’s not a funny joke. That would have been me if I listened to this Agent. What’s worse than that is, I would never expect the government (i.e. my taxpaying neighbor) to pay for my mistake. If there is any justice in the world, my real estate agent, her company, and the mortgage company that was trying to push the loans on me would have to pay for the mistake (if anyone); because it is their industry and services that pushed customers to buy defective products. I ask: what’s more defective than a house that eats up your life savings in a few years? This isn’t the stock market, and it’s not a casino. It’s the shelter over our heads, and the majority of home buyers out there were not treating it like a gamble.
The lesson is that I identified what real value was by understanding that a small townhouse in a suburb was not worth double of what the median income could afford, and I followed up by researching the irrefutable reasons that explain why it would be a bad barter.
Even in a situation where I was tempted by bad advisors and a real estate market that is out of my control, I used my head and improvised to get the best outcome. No I didn’t get a house. Yes I found a fantastic place to rent, made a nice home out of it, and I’m still financially stable and ahead of the game, unlike the rest of that Agent’s clients. Even if I rent for the next 30 years, the total money is less than the interest payments I would have thrown away on that mortgage. Mission accomplished, real value secured.
Case: Tommy’s injured foot
Have you ever tried operating a stick shift with an injured clutch-foot? That is a treat, let me tell you. This week, I injured my foot and it was swollen so badly that I could only hobble around on my left heel. The doctor said that I’ll be able to walk on it in about 4 days, but it’ll take 3 weeks to get back to normal. I only saw the doctor to make sure it wasn’t broken.
Now, this case involves no money. Here is the real value that I want:
- I get immense satisfaction from running outside during the fall and spring. Because of this injury, I can’t run for these three weeks.
- Although I could likely finagle my employer to allow me to work from home, I can’t stand not being around my team on a regular basis. Because of this injury, it’s difficult to drive and walk around all day.
In this case, there’s no money to exchange; I’m really bartering with nature itself. My options are limited. Let me improvise like a jazz musician to get the best outcome again.
What I’ll do is drive my car by turning my left foot sideways as I operate the clutch. I’ll ice my foot before going into work and put some tight ace bandages on to compress it. I’ll wear casual shoes that can expand to fit my swollen foot.
To still be able to enjoy the weather outside during this season, I’ll do my pushups and sit-ups out on the porch (I usually do them while watching the news at night). I’ll do leg-lift exercises instead of running for three weeks.
After bartering with nature itself, all of my issues are resolved, and I have a happy outcome.
The only alternatives in this scenario would have been to give up on the goals. As you can see, I arrived at a satisfactory compromise by improvising. I got most of the real value that I sought.
Improvising to create real value
One of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein is, “Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value.” Baked into that quote is the heart of this article. A person of success is usually defined in terms of money. As we’ve already established, money is just a proxy. The real value is measured by your own personal capacity to make a difference for other people. Success will most likely follow if you’ve made yourself into a valuable and industrious person.
If you look around today, many organizations (including the government), would like you to believe that you can’t produce or consume real value without their help, without machinations of the economy and currency, and without the worship of the paper we call money. The truth is that if I had not been able to identify the real value of a piece of real estate with a simple observation, in defiance of ‘experts’, in defiance of the entire government and market ‘valuation’, I would have been wrong (and poor). Turns out they were the ones who were wrong, and now they’re the ones who are poor.
My message is a message of hope that was chiseled into my being by my Grandmother when I was just a child. She constantly made me believe that “The world is my oyster” and “I can do anything I put my mind to.” She never discouraged me (although she might have disciplined me), and her love was always unconditional. This is coming from the wisest and smartest woman I know, a waitress by trade, and Great Depression survivor. What’s that gift worth? It’s priceless. That’s real value. You see, the spoils of industry are not always tangible, and do not always involve money.
I say, look at what you’re doing with yourself. Look at what you choose to spend your money on. Look at what you really want to do in life. Find your goals. Cut your costs. Spend less money. You’ll find real value and you’ll invent ways to make your real objectives happen.
For Music Fans, take pride in that album you bought for $12. You’ll listen to it for years, 100 times over while you drive, exercise, party, or just do things around the house. That only cost you $0.12 per hour. By contrast if you buy a DVD that you’ll likely watch 2 times every five years, that’s about $20 for 6 hours of entertainment, or $3.33 per hour. Looking at it this way in terms of total entertainment time, that music CD you bought is 27.8 times cheaper than the DVD you bought. Now that’s great value, thank you musicians!
For Artists, don’t sweat the fact that money is hard to come by to grow your bands. Find friends in your area, and other musicians. Pool your resources. Help each other out. And above all, stick with MYnstrel, because our entire mission is about helping you out.
For Music Biz Pros, don’t sweat the fact that the industry is tighter and more polarized than ever. Stick with MYnstrel because we are inventing solutions to all of these problems every single year.
And finally, to all, let’s not forget about the jazz musician. When I played jazz for four years, I walked on stage with just chord symbols in front of me. I had to improvise and pick the notes and expressions off the top of my head every time I played.
Life is a big pot of jazz. You can’t change the crowd or the song’s score, but you can be resourceful and improvise to mold it into something that you think is valuable. I bet you’ll find some other people who agree with you, and they’ll come see your show.
Music fans, artists, and the whole of the music industry – today we celebrate birthdays and resurrections! The month of January is a month of many birthdays for the MYnstrel team, along with one of my greatest inspirations, Sir Isaac Newton (born on January 4th, 1643).
Centuries later, on January 4th, 2009, MYnstrel’s website was released to the public for the first time, marking the beginning of a music revolution of Newtonian proportions. We have watched and analyzed many players in the music industry for a while now, seeking solutions with an open mind, much like Newton. What we’ve invented in turn is unlike anything you have imagined, and we plan on gradually releasing our discoveries for many years to come – just as quickly as our team of high-tech wizards can build the solutions.
Looking back through the lens of history, you may recall the minstrels of the Middle Ages, who enjoyed a period of comfortable patronage, only to later wind up travelling on their own, seeking audiences. In many ways, artists of later centuries share a lot in common with these two scenarios – either being subject to a system of patronage, or wandering somewhat desperately to ply their trade.
While these systems may be more complicated in the 21st century, we see many parallels. MYnstrel is the company that will make music-related occupations more rewarding and excellent than ever, and elevate music and our culture as a result. Our inventions are for music fans, artists, and music business professionals.
MYnstrel’s mission is very clear and powerful. We are dedicated to improving the state of music as an art and a business. We seek to put maximum artistic and financial control into the hands of consumers and music professionals. By providing innovative technologies, industry support, and new business opportunities, MYnstrel empowers and connects all music patrons and providers.
And we possess many enduring motivations to succeed in our mission! I can speak for myself, and my own music-related promises that I have given and fulfilled.
When I graduated high school, I promised my band that I would complete the composition and recording of our full length rock album, as the band members all went separate ways to different colleges. Seven years later, even having worked 3 simultaneous jobs to pay for my college, and meanwhile traversing a top 20 engineering program, I completed the demo – bass, drums, guitars, and vocals all by myself.
I don’t give up.
In 2006 I contacted one of my favorite bands of all time, Lo Pro. I had a correspondence with the bassist, Jonathan Fahnestock, and told him that I was terribly sorry for Pete & Neil having been dropped twice from major labels. I told him that I was using my specialized engineering education to invent a company and technologies that would help fans and artists to prevent what happened to Lo Pro and so many other talented artists. At that time, Jonathan probably just thought I was a well-meaning fan, and he might have been a bit skeptical about my assertions; I know I would have if I were in his shoes.
Well, Lo Pro, I am here today telling you that I keep my promises, and I never give up. Please accept my gratitude for your music that has inspired me, and my acknowledgement of the tribulations you have faced to deliver timeless music to your fans. I promise that the MYnstrel team will give gifts to artists, fans, and the music industry in the same fashion that you have gifted us with your inspirational music. The entire MYnstrel team shares this determination.
So January 4th is a great day in MYnstrel’s books! As we celebrate the birthday of MYnstrel’s public website, we also celebrate the resurrection of incredible bands that received an unfair outcome from an ailing business. We celebrate the resurrection of the innovative, methodical, studious, and tenacious spirit that drove Newton’s breakthroughs. We celebrate the resurrection of the minstrel in a modern form. And above all, we celebrate our new community, including you! Together we seek the best that music has to offer us, and MYnstrel will bring solutions to make it happen.
MYnstrel is pleased to support this incredibly talented young woman, Danielle Peck, whose authentic country style will entice listeners young and old! Get ready to experience myriad emotions throughout this delicately constructed album, which presents upbeat and powerful ballad tracks. Can’t Behave offers a mainstay from the self-proclaimed “gospel soul with country roots”, which is a direct result of Peck’s lineage consisting of a group of church singers from her maternal side and a US Marine dad. Danielle takes listeners through difficult life experiences and demonstrates what her upbringing has taught her in dealing with these situations. One of the most profound sets of lyrics appears in the song “Brick by Brick”:
“You bet I’m proud that my father is a workin’ man who wears a blue collar. I was taught work hard, play hard, well pray harder. “
Throughout the album, Danielle Peck wows listeners with her dynamic vocals, and her falsetto adds subtle inflections which create interest in the songs. The supporting instrumentation provides intricacy where necessary, but mostly offers a solid foundation to propel the vocals to the forefront, which remains the showcase of this album. The songs vary from faster, upbeat, and fun to slow, dramatic ballads, which display her versatility as a singer.
For those who have seen Danielle Peck perform live, you have experienced her youthful artistic expressiveness. She loves to dance around to the fast songs and also move her arms in dramatic fashion when singing ballads.
Can’t Behave remains a compelling listen for any fans of country music. Not only does this album provide listeners with a pure, down home country experience, it also inflects a modern twist which will leave fans screaming for more!
Be sure to check out this gripping album!
The album opens with the hit single “Bad for Me”, which offers a witty perspective on loving things in life that aren’t the best things for your health, welfare, or productivity. One of the most intriguing aspects of Can’t Behave comes from Danielle Peck’s willingness to share experiences she has had with listeners, as well as offering her honest opinions on how to tackle tough problems in life. This makes her music very approachable, and listeners will immediately identify with this concept and appreciate the fact that many share the same trials.
Can’t Behave offers listeners a diverse collection of tracks, and the backing instruments support Ms. Peck’s vocals by driving the song and creating dynamic shifts where necessary. This adds much depth to the album overall and also provides a solid foundation for Ms. Peck to work with. Most of the instrumental rhythms are straight forward, with a resounding kick-snare drum assault, but there are also some delicate rhythms that are well placed to showcase the talent of the supporting musicians. The prescient musical showcase is Ms. Peck’s vocals, but their ability to add subtle musical inflections rounds out the music very well.
The dynamics on this album are well executed, with Danielle Peck utilizing her falsetto register when a softer tone is necessary, and the instrumentation following suit as the music segues to softer or louder sections. The mix is also very clear and spacious, with the bass drum and snare in the center. The spacious mix allows for a very clear sound, which propels the vocals to the prominent position. Country music relies on singers to drive the songs, so this mix supports the genre very well.
Danielle Peck not only presents an intriguing look at the world, but she is also an intriguing person. She started singing out at venues when she was sixteen, and wrote her first song at ten! Her youth does not preclude intense emotions and maturity, and her music demonstrates this fact. Can’t Behave is an album showing how Danielle likes to have fun, but also knows how to get serious. This album will quickly become a country music staple, and Danielle Peck will become a household name. Can’t Behave definitely gives listeners an honest opinion on how to solve some of life’s daily struggles, and listeners will quickly acknowledge her amazing talent!
Setting the Record Straight
Currently MYnstrel is unaware of any unfair press or slanderous reviews of this album.
Personal Connections to this Album
Spotlight Editor, Tony Abbruscato’s Personal Connections
I have admired the country artist ever since I heard Sammy Kershaw’s “Vidalia” when I was in High School. I remember the emotional response I felt to that song, and I soon rushed out and bought the album Politics, Religion, and Her. One of the things I noticed right away was that he was a really good singer! His voice had the traditional country twang, but his sustained notes were incredibly clear. This caused me to notice the other incredible singers in country music.
When I was deployed in Iraq, we sometimes had the very unfortunate circumstance where we lost one of our own in combat. I cannot tell you how many times country songs were played at the memorial services. Their patriotic themes and heartfelt emotions meant so much to US Servicemen and women, and still do today.
I was excited to learn that Danielle Peck’s father was a US Marine. Her patriotism and life lessons definitely show in her lyrics, and her pride in her father’s blue collar roots definitely resounds with me. I was struck by her stage presence as well. You can tell that she really enjoys what she is doing, and that she likes to connect with her fans. This engaging style adds a lot of depth to her impressive vocal talents and songwriting.
Overall, I really like her messages. She balances well between opening her heart and providing rocking anthems for all to enjoy. One thing for sure, I think that this lady has a great future, and I will be there rooting for her along the way!
Track 1: Bad for Me
This track represents the cute, sassy, and fun aspects to Danielle Peck’s music. For example, when Peck sings, “I like chocolate, but my hips sure don’t. I like wearing high heels, but tomorrow my feet sure won’t”, she playfully admits that some things in life remain fun, but you have to be prepared for the aftermath. In the chorus lyrics of “But of all the things I shouldn’t do, number one is lovin’ you. Why is everything that feels so dang good bad for me?” Danielle questions common temptations and reminds us that all of our choices have consequence, whether good or bad.
The introduction begins with a steady quarter note beat from the bass drum and some interesting guitar work. In the last measure of the introduction, the drummer offers a great staccato snare tap on beat three, with a rest on beat four. This adds a dramatic pause before the vocals enter in the first verse. The first verse offers very present vocals from Ms. Peck, which drive the verse into the chorus. The supporting musicians perform admirably, steadily driving the music with just enough force to keep it interesting while allowing Ms. Peck’s vocals to stand alone as the showcase.
The chorus displays the incredible vocal range Danielle Peck possesses. The backing instrumental tracks inflect guitar riffs that accentuate the steady 4/4 time signature, but don’t overpower the song. Listeners can tell that the backing musicians are incredibly talented, especially because their presence is noticeable and their subtle improvisations add much depth to the song.
This song is one of the most fun tracks on the album. Listeners will hum the catchy chorus long after they hear the song!
Track 4: Do it for Me
This song displays Dannielle Peck at her very best, which occurs when she opens up her heart and exposes it to her audience. It begins with a slow piano introduction with brilliantly executed ambient guitars. Danielle Peck then enters in the first verse and describes a potential situation in which she will have to tell her parents that their son is dead. She then sings some of the most poignant sets of lyrics on the entire album in the chorus: “If you keep on throwing your life down the drain, putting that poison in your veins. Can’t ya’ see that it’s killing me? And I love you too much to let you go down with the devil on a dead-end road. So ya’ gotta stop I’m begging you please. If you can’t do it for you, would you do it for me?” Listeners will immediately relate to her pain and how they might have experienced similar things in their lives.
The backing instrumentation provided by the musicians remains outstanding throughout the song. In the second verse, the guitarist adds an intricate harmonic riff which enhances the incredible depth of emotion found in this song. Overall, the guitarist contributes some amazing ambient sounds throughout this track, which compliment the powerful vocal tracks while not overpowering the focus of the song. It’s a very interesting contrast. Still, the true talent displayed in this song comes from Ms. Peck herself, with brilliantly executed falsetto vocals in the chorus and emotional style.
At the end of the song, Danielle utters powerful words of encouragement when she sings “I know you can do this.” This uplifting message of overcoming life’s difficult obstacles resonates with listeners and speaks to finding hope in human dignity.
Track 9: This is not Goodbye
This song starts with a beautiful piano introduction with ambient guitars in a supporting role. The heartfelt emotion in this track occurs through the tacit drums during the first and last verse, and also the first chorus. This allows the vocals and painful theme to drive the song, and also adds depth to the execution of this track.
Can’t Behave once again offers powerful lyrics when Peck sings: “This is not goodbye. I’ll be back in a little while. Lift up your head look me in the eye. It’s okay if you need to cry, but, this is not goodbye.” This track portrays the story of a young man’s life through his father leaving home, and then him growing up and leaving home himself, to visiting his mother on her deathbed. This storied journey remains bolstered by the lyrics stated above, and this will resonate with listeners.
The later iterations of the chorus are backed with well placed strings, which create a terrific flow to the mix of the song. As the song segues into the final chorus, the instruments quiet down and the drums drop out. This allows Ms. Peck to deliver a stunning vocal performance as the man sits by his mother’s beside while she departs this earth.
At the end of the song, Danielle Peck’s control of her voice as she fades out could possibly be the most talented vocal display on the entire album. The instrumentation supports Peck’s vocals during this important part of the song, and her voice puts out inspiration that listeners will remember.
We hit the streets and talked to the Baltimore and Washington DC fan base for other buzz worthy tracks. These include: “Brick by Brick”, with inspirational lyrics and pride in her blue collar roots, “Get You Back”, providing one of the sassiest choruses on the entire album and a great beat to dance to, and “That’s what Angel’s do”, a profound and heartfelt look at the people who love us no matter what.
In a musical landscape where formulaic songs are becoming more the norm than ever, Danielle Peck injects her self-made gospel soul with country roots to shake up the mix. She offers a refreshing look at different life circumstances and the great advice of every day common sense. She charms listeners with her unbridled honesty, and also her ability to display many different sides of her personality. From sassy revenge to heartbreaking pleas, this album provides listeners with tracks that will keep them wanting more.
Danielle Peck is a talented vocalist and songwriter, and her best moments on the album come when she shows just how much she cares for those she loves. In the world of country music, her alluring stage presence and unabashed confidence enthralls her audience. Fans of Danielle Peck understand what drives her, and they can relate to her realistic style and appreciation for life. This passion permeates Can’t Behave, and causes an infectious admiration for her tenacity. Here’s to a self made woman who understands that hard work pays off when you follow your heart and vision!
Album: Still Rising [Explicit]
Louis “Sabor” Tineo – Executive Producer
Clement “Showkase” Wong – Producer
MYnstrel is proud to support one of the Brooklyn hip hop scene’s shining stars, Jeru the Damaja! For those of you missing the good old days of honest and hard knocking hip hop, look no further. Still Rising lives up to its name as it continues to gain momentum. From the opening song, Jeru devastates the microphone with his honesty and emotional experiences in life. His lyrical themes preach positivity through the harsh realities that life often provides. Jeru states his albums present: “Raw, unadulterated hip-hop … there are a lot of gimmicks in music, and I wanted to take some of the gimmicks out and just do the hip-hop that I was brought up with. So it’s really just hip-hop; music without the executives, and without the market motion.” One of the most poignant sets of lyrics on the album, from the song “Hold Tight”, captures listeners’ attention with these powerful words:
“It’s the demons within nowadays that I fight. I took a few steps back, will I ever reach the heights? It’d a, be nice to have kids and a wife. What I tend to do was wrong even though I know what’s right. Unholy thoughts cause me stress and strife. Although I tired I’m determined to fight the good fight.”
Throughout the album, Jeru the Damaja demonstrates what only a true hip hop veteran can: intense lyrics with intricate rhythms that keep listeners spellbound and yearning for more. Still Rising maintains a slow, deliberate style that causes listeners to engage in Jeru’s jams and experience all of his myriad emotions so brilliantly on display.
If you are one of the many fans who have witnessed the unbridled power from a live Jeru performance, you realize that he remains faithful to the authentic hip hop he grew up with. His confidence comes from persevering through life, a pure love of music, and his willingness to share his experiences with fans.
Still Rising definitely deserves attention from all fans of Hip Hop. Jeru proves that he doesn’t need tricks, or expensive DJs, or famous producers to create a truly inventive and pervasive work of art. Still Rising provides a unique, heartfelt look at life through the eyes of a true visionary.
Check this album out; hip hop fans won’t want to miss it!
In the opening track, Full Metal Intro, Jeru the Damaja sets the tone for the entire album, and deftly pays homage to the Hip Hop genre through his quote “Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return”. Jeru utilizes DJs who play authentic beats through laying down futuristic bass lines, which emphasize his vocal ability and add substance to the music. Still Rising instills a sense of awe in listeners through the pure rhythmic onslaught of Jeru’s lyrical prowess, and the powerful messages will stay with listeners for a long time afterward. One of Jeru the Damaja’s honest lyrical passages states:
“I’m not saying that I’m ever start doin’ what anybody else is doin’, but I will grow. And I ain’t got too much else to say, just long live Hip Hop. Peace.”
Still Rising provides listeners with an offering of diverse songs bursting with creativity. Jeru offers different feels throughout the album, and every song has a powerful effect on the album’s entirety. His combination of direct and abstract themes of injustice keeps the album interesting from beginning to end. Most of the rhythms feature a center placed bass drum, snare drum, and hi-hat with a straight forward time signature. This creates a solid foundation to support the more prominent vocal tracks and place emphasis on the lyrics and concept of the album.
Still Rising provides some interesting ambient vocal harmonies, but the obvious musicianship skill comes in the form of the intricate rhymes laid down by Jeru in the songs. The DJ creates extremely interesting environments for Jeru to utilize, and the expert use of ambient sounds supports the theme of each song and adds depth to the tracks. This remains important in hip hop music, in that the focus of the lyrics needs to be adequately surrounded by proper ambient sounds to perfect the mood of the song. Still Rising preserves this important aspect of Hip Hop.
Still Rising creates a pretty standard hip hop mix, with heavy emphasis on the bass drum, vocal tracks, and often using grittiness to accentuate the theme. In addition, Jeru’s lyrical ability demonstrates his mastery of the English language and establishes his venerability as a writer. In fact, Jeru also writes scripts for movies. He discusses his writing when he states:
”It’s about inner city life, but in a positive way. Not glorifying the stereotypes, but showing them because there’s truth in any stereotype. It’s my expression. I try to be as expressive as possible and try to do the best I can.”
This album proves his success in that arena.
Still Rising offers a unique look at the world through the eyes of a veteran hip hop pioneer. Through honest and hard hitting lyrics and intricate supporting instrumentation, this album propels listeners to a whole new level of hip hop credibility. Still Rising definitely creates a sense of wonder as listeners ponder the deep impact Jeru’s lyrics have on their souls.
Setting the Record Straight
Currently MYnstrel is unaware of any unfair press or slanderous reviews of this album.
Personal Connections to this Album
Spotlight Editor, Nathan Radcliffe’s Personal Connections
I got turned on to Jeru the Damaja by my best friend who is somewhat of a connoisseur of rap music. His exact recommendation was, “You might like this guy Jeru the Damaja, he’s a dope rapper that preaches positivity.” I respect my friend’s opinion when it comes to rap music so I immediately went online and sampled some of the tracks off his latest album, Still Rising. My friend couldn’t have been more on point! The second track, The Crack, really grabbed my attention, the crisp lyrics and beat reminded me of the old school, “non-commercial,” east coast rap I’ve always enjoyed but have struggled to find recently in the mainstream hip-hop market.
The next time I saw my buddy, I congratulated him on his keen ear and told him how Jeru reminded me of Gang Starr. The funny thing is that I had no idea that DJ Premier from Gang Starr had produced some of Jeru’s previous albums. Once I discovered these two extraordinary artists had ties, my excitement to explore more of Jeru’s earlier work doubled. Jeru the Damja is now a mainstay on my Mp3 player.
Spotlight Editor, Tony Abbruscato’s Personal Connections
One of the earliest lessons I learned as a musician was to know my limits and not overplay for the part. This lesson started an educational process in which I figured out the types of music I was more talented in playing. I also gained an appreciation for musicians in various genres for the different levels of skill required to create an artistic expression. Jeru the Damaja, and other true hip hop artists, have definitely earned my respect for their amazing control of vocal rhythms. I am constantly blown away with their vocal onslaughts and their expert use of the English language!
When I was deployed in Iraq, I had a soldier who was really into Rap and Hip Hop. We used to listen to his albums when we were on patrols and when we were training in between missions. We often had long conversations concerning why he liked particular artists more than others, and I realized how much of the culture of hip hop was involved in his decision making process. This intrigued me, so I started listening and figuring out that hip hop was almost as much a state of mind as a musical genre. What fascinated me about this was that everyone could find something different that they liked in a particular song or artist, which created a totally unique experience for every listener. This realization caused my level of respect for hip hop artists to rise exponentially!
Jeru the Damaja definitely has no qualms about speaking what is on his mind, and that adds a ton of depth and authenticity to his lyrics. His unabashed confidence to write about his life experiences and how they have shaped his perception remains one of his best qualities as an artist. And no one can doubt his authenticity. His Brooklyn roots and early experience with Gangstarr solidified his presence in the hip hop community. Jeru’s vocal talents and his honesty regarding the state of hip hop music solidify him as a force to be reckoned with. Here’s to a talented artist willing to fight for his beliefs!
Track 3: Ghetto
This song blasts listener’s speakers from the opening downbeat which segues perfectly into Jeru’s powerful vocals. This song offers one of the most incredible lyrical messages on the entire album. When Jeru states “I suggest you lay low, if you know what I know. That’s how you survive. Welcome to the Ghetto”, his summation of the current situation as he sees it resounds with listeners for a long time afterward.
Jeru the Damaja maintains some of the most amazing lyrical talent we have heard, and this song exemplifies his vocal prowess. The beats provide some really interesting ambient sounds to support the consternation Jeru discusses regarding the state of the Ghetto. The bass drum and snare remain prominent in center placement in the mix and drive the song throughout. During the chorus, Jeru utilizes a cool affect on his voice to emphasize his point that nobody is smiling in the Ghetto.
The background instrumentation supports Jeru’s vocals well by allowing his vocal tracks to remain the focal point in the song. This adds the proper amount of depth to the song and enables listeners to truly focus on his intense message throughout the song.
Overall, this track represents one of the most honest looks at life in rough situations, and engages listeners every second.
Track 11: NY
This track opens with one of the most exciting introductions on the entire album, with a driving background beat and supporting vocals that lead into the first verse. Jeru’s message once again remains clear in that New York represents one of the most diverse and intriguing cities in the world. When Jeru states, “But I ain’t gotta tell ya that I think y’all know, here’s my stop, I’m off to the studio”, he reminds listeners that everyone can choose their path in life, and his remains the pursuit of musical expression.
The first verse then starts with Jeru the Damaja’s trademark vocal onslaught. Listeners will be excited with his incredible grasp of rhythm and honesty. Listeners will feel like they are riding on the train right along with him waiting for his stop to go to the studio and record his next hit album. The mix utilizes a prominent and driving snare, bass, and hi-hat beat to support throughout.
This song presents one of the jovial aspects of Jeru’s music; his observations of the various aspects of New York City not only cause listeners to wonder about the diversity found in the United States, but also intrigue listeners to experience this for themselves.
Track 13: Airplay
This song begins with some ethereal female vocal tracks that lead into a portion of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech. Jeru then assaults the microphone and raps about his perception of the current state of the world. Towards the end of the verse, before the start of the chorus, Jeru raps one of the most incredible sets of lyrics on the entire album, “What would the future hold if we neglect the youth; I bet this won’t get no airplay cause I’m speakin’ the truth.”
The supporting instrumentation tracks from the DJ add amazing depth to this song, especially because the female vocals sound exasperated with the state of the world. This effect is created through looping the female vocal tracks and causing them to cut off sharply. The result is a series of vocal tracks that add to the theme of frustration at the current state of affairs. The vocals also provide some great harmonies to support the verses, and this fills the mix out well.
At the end of the song Jeru raps his last lyrics, and the song fades out with the ambient female vocals. The DJ utilizes some interesting effects on the vocals to fade out the song. Overall, this song remains one of the most honest displays of Jeru the Damaja’s view of the world, and this causes listeners to open their thoughts to the various ideas he shares. Listeners develop empathy for his point of view, and this engages listeners and leaves them wanting more.
We hit the streets and asked the Baltimore and Washington DC fan base for other buzz worthy tracks. These include: “The Crack”, with an awesome old school back beat and some truly acrobatic vocal assaults, “Murdera”, with a great beat and intensely crafted lyrics, and “Quantum Leap”, with some of the most authentic hip hop beats and honest lyrics on the entire album.
In a musical landscape where many genres seem to be combining into one musical expression, Jeru the Damaja proves that the authentic roots of Hip Hop remain the most important foci of his work. He entertains listeners and offers unabashed honesty in his lyrics, which are delivered with such precise rhythms even the most experienced listeners out there will want more. Still Rising conveys an emotional ride through the challenges of everyday life that only experience and perseverance can transcend. Just read Jeru the Damaja’s own words, which exemplify his outlook: “Life as I live it is like a big university, as far as all the knowledge in the world is really at my fingertips, so I constantly use my resources to touch that knowledge.”
Jeru the Damaja accepts his position in the Hip Hop industry, and the title of this album, Still Rising, demonstrates his ability to take one step at a time and continue to damage the microphone with his lyrical prowess. He remains satisfied with the road life has provided for him, and Jeru will continue along this path no matter where it leads. This pure love for all that represents authentic Hip Hop excites listeners and garners new fans every day. Our most humble admiration for Jeru the Damaja’s pursuit of his craft and here’s to the realization of artisan creativity in a conglomerate music industry!
Dan the Automator
From the depths of the esoteric genius that is Mike Patton comes one of the most shockingly original pop albums we have ever heard! Get ready to relive your Faith No More and Mr. Bungle days while witnessing the reinvention of pop music, the Mike Patton way. Peeping Tom presents an album full of satirical messages of the music industry, life, and capturing artistry before fame. Mike Patton utilizes the incredible talents of many renowned guest DJs and singers to bring listeners through an entourage of unique sounds. Peeping Tom exemplifies the mystery of music and pays homage to art before anything else. Mike Patton croons imaginative lyrics with mastery of diction, painting images in the mind to spellbind listeners. Take a clever passage from “Don’t even trip”:
“Speak up now, and one of you is a hundred loud. When you preach, they’ll join you on the roofs and streets. Crystal clear, I’m hangin’ like a chandelier, watchin’ over you, I’ll move you from a song to tears. And I know that a**holes grow on trees, but I’m here to trim the leaves, and I’m afraid that you’re still my friend. And you’re still a piece of s*** but I can overlook it today, cause you’re still my friend”
Throughout the album Peeping Tom proves their cleverness by presenting listeners with a mix of electronic ambient tracks and looped beats to support Patton and other guest singer’s booming vocals. Most of the songs offer slower, more dramatic beats with powerful swells that build until the end, where Peeping Tom brings you back down and keeps you wanting more.
If you have been privy to the live Peeping Tom performance, you have experienced the eclectic mix of musical talent performing with Mike Patton. From drums, to DJs, to guest singers, to violinists, this collaboration offers many awesome grooves to enjoy.
Peeping Tom remains a definite listen for any fans of Mike Patton, DJs, pop music, hip hop, electronic, and those refined music lovers who have heard it all and seek combinations of sounds and genres they have never heard before. Not only is this album one of Mike Patton’s most accessible to the mainstream since his Faith No More days, it remains one of the most inventive pop albums on the scene. Peeping Tom proves that creativity comes in forms that everyone can explore if they know where to look.
You won’t be sorry for checking out this album!
From the opening gong on the track “Five Seconds”, to the ethereal electronic fade out on the track “We’re Not Alone”, Peeping Tom offers unhindered ingenuity through their incredible lyrics and impeccable musicianship. Their choice to pay homage to the original DJs of the past through electronic tracks that sound like outer space special effects demonstrates their respect for the authentic founders of hip hop. Peeping Tom aims to please listeners with a truly unique listening experience based on the pop genre, and their passion alone remains awe inspiring.
Peeping Tom shows immense respect for artists through the heavy use of guest DJs and singers. This adds incredible diversity to the album overall, and brings a fresh sound to every song on the album. Each guest DJ offers an interesting twist to the song structures centered on drums, bass, guitars, and ambient sounds, and this adds depth to the music. Most of the instrumental rhythms remain straight forward, but there are some intricate rhythms found throughout the album as well, especially when Patton and guest singers and rappers offer vocal onslaughts that play off each other’s timing.
The obvious musical showcase is Mike Patton’s incredibly dynamic vocal arsenal. However, a very close second consists of the diverse atmospheres created by the group of guest artists. Not only do they contribute interesting compositions, but their approach adds substantial depth to the songs through utilizing an unending arsenal of diverse instrument tracks and excellent application of dynamics.
Peeping Tom has impressive instrumentation on this album, exhibited by their ability to create so many different moods while presenting a cohesive piece of art. The mix changes for different songs, but it makes sense due to the presence of so many guest artists. Even still, the musical theme of the album is bound by the adventurous smorgasbord of styles and genres. Somehow, with all of this diversity, they managed to make every song sound like it belongs on the album, exactly where they placed it. That feat alone is worthy of composer’s delight.
Mike Patton, the man of 1,000 voices, explores the full extent of his vocal abilities, including his amazing singing range, his ability to change the sound of his voice to compliment the song, melodic shouting, and even rapping! Even more, his lyrics are just purely brilliant. He uses many forms of sound repetition besides just end-of-line rhyme – certainly a recipient of MYnstrel’s future “mouth made of drums” award. His words are not just delivered. The clever placement of sound repetitions in the lyrics truly makes his voice into another percussive instrument in the mix.
Add this to his facility with switching in a split second from his chest to falsetto, to distorted scream-singing, and any other manipulation of the voice-instrument that you can imagine, is it any wonder why Mike Patton is so renowned? Most singers use vibrato and falsetto as typical techniques. Mike Patton has about fifty techniques to change the voice-instrument’s expressive characteristic. It’s like he carries the guitarists’ equivalent of a $1,000 effects processor in his chest, throat and mouth.
Peeping Tom offers vastly unbounded and entertaining art with a focus on imagery, diversity of moods, and fun. Through various beats and mixing elements of different genres, this album piques listeners’ interest and creates a one-of-a-kind pop music approach. Peeping Tom inspires listeners to tap their desire for the creative and eccentric with thoughtful expressions and poetic imagery. Give this one a listen more than a few times. We contend that the casual music listener will eventually turn from scratching their head to smiling, grooving, and singing along!
Setting the Record Straight
MYnstrel has been made aware of some unfair press and slanderous reviews of this album. Some of the ideas we found to be particularly unjust:
“The group performed the song ‘Mojo’, which, according to literal interpretation, is from the perspective of a drug addict. (This is especially interesting since Patton has claimed to have never used drugs in his life.)”
Our thoughts on this? The author may be disappointed that Patton makes the drug addict in the song regretful of their behavior with the line “I can’t believe I did it again” and the hints of negative consequence, violence, and isolation discussed in other lines. Perhaps the author is pro-narcotics?
Secondly, if artists can’t write music about things in the world that they haven’t personally experienced, we’re in big trouble. I guess Iron Maiden shouldn’t have written that epic song “Aces High” since they never flew a fighter airplane in World War 2? I guess all of the urban music songwriters who talk about drug deals, gangs, and murder need to be felons? I guess all of the anti-military musicians shouldn’t write their war protest songs if they haven’t fought in a war before, or they don’t have education in national security and martial affairs?
This is preposterous. Artists in the music industry have just as much license to write about topics and concepts they find to be interesting even if they don’t have the personal experience. We purport to be educated people. We hope that we can come to an understanding of concepts and topics without necessarily having experienced them firsthand. And it’s supposed to be entertainment, let’s remember that and enjoy it as such.
The next slander:
“For all the great ideas and fantastic moments sprinkled throughout Peeping Tom, it turns out that Mike Patton’s idea of pop is as uncompromising as his other musical notions. In this case, what’s great in theory doesn’t work so well in practice.”
MYnstrel flat out rejects this statement. How could such a collaboration of different artists be considered uncompromising? Does the author mean that we as artists should comprise to the trend of the day and sell out? Patton allowed many different guest artists the freedom to accentuate his lyrics with their musical prowess. In our estimation, this represents the utmost compromise to present listeners with a unique pop experience.
Secondly, what does the author know about theory? I’ll never forget sitting down with a DJ for the first time, reviewing my dance album. I wrote the album on a keyboard and guitar with sequencing software too. What theories of composition did this DJ show me? None. To this DJ, it was more about techniques, innovation, and styles. DJs are some of the most unbounded and free musicians of today, and as foreign as my traditional music theory was to him – so too was his songwriting technique foreign to me. This was a great experience. Even the notation for record scratching isn’t in widespread use right now. I think the author is mistaken as to how most DJs compose new songs.
There were other slanders that don’t even deserve mention because of their vulgar and unprofessional nature. Essentially, we ignore comments that are nothing more than name-calling and subjective opinions, with no significant idea underneath.
To Peeping Tom, and the fans out there – we hope that we adequately Set the Record Straight for you!
Personal Connections to this Album
Spotlight Editor, Tommy Kurek’s Personal Connections
I was instructed by my staff to keep my personal connections to this album less than ten pages long. It’s no secret that Faith No More is one of my all-time favorite bands, along with Tomahawk, and now Peeping Tom. Sometimes, less is more; so let me be as brief as I can.
Faith No More’s “The Real Thing” was a favorite of mine growing up. But before my musical skills had developed a lot, I didn’t really understand the rest of Faith No More’s albums. They sounded too diverse for my ears the first few times…much like the first few times I listened to Tool – it just didn’t click.
Thanks to a close friend of mine, I gave both Faith No More and Tool many more chances. Song-by-song, they began clicking and I realized – there is so much thought and talent going into this music and so much diversity of sounds and styles, that it became an experience like nothing else when I finally understood it. It always amazes me how relevant Faith No More’s music remains. I would share it with people decades later, and they would think that it was a brand new band. And yet when I shared other tracks that were more jazzy or 80s, people would think they were an old band, or maybe not even a rock band. A common question: “Why do they have so many singers?” Laughter ensues.
Because of the depth of the music experience, it lasts a very long time before it gets old – if you can manage to ‘get it’. For Mike Patton’s part, I’m not only a fan of his art, but of the way his mind works through his lyrics and composition. I can put this music on whenever I want a smile, a laugh, and a fun time. I enjoy practicing singing Mike Patton’s songs because they challenge my vocal skills. Mike Patton entertains. The three-space around you is his canvas and he will fill it up with vivid sounds and ideas that take you on a rollercoaster of human experience, negative, positive, it doesn’t matter. Nothing is off the table, and all moods are considered.
Congratulations to all of the artists including the maestro Patton who made this album yet another classic in my collection.
Spotlight Editor, Tony Abbruscato’s Personal Connections
Mike Patton remains one of the most imaginative and eclectic geniuses in music today. I remember the first time I heard Faith No More’s “The Real Thing” after my best friend Tom begged me to listen. I soon understood where his passion came from. Not only was I mesmerized by the musical prowess displayed on the album, I remained riveted by the clever singing and drumming. First of all, I had never heard someone do the things with their voice that Mike Patton can do with his; truly an incredible talent. Second, Mike Bordin’s drumming was so unique. I couldn’t place why the drums sounded different from other albums I heard until I went to Ozzfest in 1997 and saw Mike Bordin playing drums for Ozzy. I realized that his left side dominance coupled with a right handed drum set up created an array of sounds I hadn’t explored before. Mike Bordin was one of the first inspirations to get me to start learning ambidextrous drumming techniques!
In addition, I was completely blown away by Faith No More’s cover of “War Pigs”. Mike Patton’s vocals were astounding, and their control of the song and subtle additions during the verses demonstrated their respect for Black Sabbath and their ingenuity to put their own twist on the song. The guitars and drums were simply masterful!
I have to admit I was kind of bummed when Faith No More broke up. They were so ahead of their time; many of my friends have listened to Faith No More for the first time, years after their music was released thinking they are a new band on the music scene. I realized that visionaries often get the credit for their artistry years after its creation when the world finally catches up to them.
When Mike Patton started all of his other musical endeavors, including the groups Fantomas and Tomahawk, I was always amazed at his brazen clash with what the mainstream defined as music. His avant-garde approach was as refreshing as it was mind-boggling. One thing remains certain: only a man like Mike Patton could create the music he does. My most humble respect and admiration continues to go towards this man of 1,000 voices!
Track 2: Mojo
This track represents the beautiful and sardonic wit found throughout the whole album. For example, when Patton sings the chorus lyrics of “Now roll it up and smoke it again, it’s bottoms up and drink it again, now fix it up and shoot it again, I can’t believe I did it again”, Peeping Tom’s commentary on what it means to experience narcotics abuse resounds. Feelings of isolation, regret, hallucination, and violence are also expressed from the perspective of the drug addict.
In the end, Mike Patton makes an hysterical satire on Britney Spears by sarcastically uttering “Oops, I did it again.” Is this a funny jab at the inebriated, tabloid-prone, Jerry-Springer-like, popularatzi, machine-created sensations of pop music? The art is always open for interpretation. Whatever the intent, we got a laugh and good grooving out of this song.
The introduction begins with an impressive beatbox contribution from guest artist Rahzel, and the delay effect adds a lot of depth and interest to this track. Guest DJ Dan the Automator then pounds your speakers with a pulsating tribal loop utilizing guitar, bass, and drum tracks to set up Patton’s impressive vocals. The first verse then starts with Mike Patton singing in his low register and then switching to a higher register in the pre-chorus. The steady driving beat with hi-hats, bass drum, and snare maintains the rhythm of the song, suitable for casual dancing.
The chorus provides one of the most poignant messages on the entire album, with Patton’s vocals sounding reminiscent of his Faith No More past. The backing tracks from Dan the Automator add a lot of depth to the song, and the ambient instrument tracks combined with Rahzel’s beatbox tracks offer great instrumentation. Towards the end of the song, the backing instrumentation utilizes dynamics well to soften, which emphasizes Patton’s vocals and drives home the message of the song.
This song presents one of the most concrete and straightforward song structures you will ever find from Mike Patton, and the effect mesmerizes listeners to focus on Peeping Tom’s profound message throughout the song.
Track 5: Your Neighborhood Spaceman
This song begins with incredible ambient tracks from guest DJs Jel and Odd Nosdam of the Anticon label. In fact, their tracks pay a great homage to the old school DJ samples that often resembled space sounds and futuristic imagery (anyone remember the first DJ appearance on MTV in the 80s?) The instrumentation that follows segues well into Mike Patton’s initial vocal tracks. The lead vocals have a powerful hook singing, “I’m your neighborhood spaceman, ya don’t know who I am, or where I’ve been.” The entire lyric draws vivid images of a benevolent alien that can do anything they want, and does spectacular things “when no one is looking.”
Examples? “When no one is looking I’m swatting thunderclouds, and kissing hallowed ground. When no one is looking I’m crying raindrops, and chewing mountaintops. When no one is looking I eat the desert sand, and drink the Rio Grande.” This is just such a fun, creative, and entertaining song!
The backing instrumentation provided by the guest DJs adds incredible depth throughout the song, especially during the chorus, in which the rhythm of the instrumental tracks balances with the vocals to emphasize Patton’s use of two octaves to create a terrific harmony.
The guest DJs contribute some very interesting ambient sounds throughout this track, especially the tracks that emphasize the otherworldly theme of the lyrics. During the bridge, the instruments create contrast by adding half step inflections, which supports Patton’s rap lyrics and the complexity he brings to the song.
At the end of the song, when the last iteration of the chorus ends, the instrumental tracks sustain the driving beat while Patton raps again. When his vocals fade, the DJs take over, slow down the beat, and then provide one of the most expertly crafted fade outs on the entire album. Maybe the effect means that the neighborhood spaceman has lifted off again and we’re left to wonder where he went.
Track 11: We’re Not Alone – Live
This song pounds listener’s speakers with a dominating downbeat from the drums and bass followed by a steady 4/4 drum beat and Patton’s high falsetto ambient vocals. This song offers some of the most impressive vocal melodies and harmonies on the entire album, and Patton’s command of his instrument creates a chorus listeners will be humming long afterward.
Peeping Tom once again offers intriguing lyrics in this Dub Trio remix, which was the first song Dub Trio recorded with vocals. When Patton sings, “We’re not alone in this psychodrome, and I know that I don’t want to lose yah, livin’ the dream, if ya know what I mean, and I’ll be that boy you used to know”, I interpreted it for myself as the conflicting feelings over what people want to be versus the image society deems appropriate. The vocal harmonies in the verses create a great dynamic with their spacious mix. We loved how Mike Patton explodes in the middle of the light and airy falsetto-driven verse with a huge, “Breathe out, breathe in!” shout.
The bridge has some really interesting screams with a great guitar riff and some ambient guitar tracks that drive with the rest of the song as the bridge ends and segues into the final chorus. The instrumentation supports Patton’s vocals throughout, and Dub Trio offers some cool effects to transition into the choruses. These subtle musical inflections add depth and interest to the song.
Overall, this track represents one of the most accessible on the album and listeners will enjoy this remix long after they listen.
We hit the streets and talked to the Baltimore and Washington DC fan base for other buzz worthy tracks. These include: “Don’t Even Trip” with funk-rock grooving, excellent imagery, and interpersonal commentary, “Caipirinha”, a groovy bossa nova track featuring the vocals of Bebel Gilberto, “Five Seconds”, an ethereal track with one of the most technically difficult vocal rhythms in the chorus, and “Kill the DJ”, with superb instrumental tracks from guest artist Massive Attack and some of Mike Patton’s most impressive vocal expressions.
In a musical landscape where the beauty and audacity of pop music has become more like an antiquated idea, Peeping Tom offers a hefty alternative that entertains and educates. Peeping Tom seeks to add humor to the music industry and demonstrate that true art is pushed forward by visionaries, not by following the crowd. Mike Patton’s own words about Peeping Tom exemplify his vision for the project: “I don’t listen to the radio, but if I did, this is what I’d want it to sound like. This is my version of pop music. In a way, this is an exercise for me: taking all these things I’ve learned over the years and putting them into a pop format.”
Mike Patton remains the king of experimental rock virtuoso singers, and he is soon becoming a legend in the music industry. In the world of pop, he becomes a new prince overnight and stays satisfied with this level of accomplishment. Fans of Patton realize that if he wants something bad enough, he will provide the most imaginative method to achieve results. This drive, vision, and pure musical tenacity permeates the Peeping Tom album, and these aspects will excite listeners to experience new creative ideas. Our hats off to a truly inspired work of art, and here’s to more of the same!
Mike Hamilton – Bass
Jon Pang – Drums
Natty Roc – Sax & Vocals
Brian Gorman – Keys
Eric Vincent – Vocals
We’re honored to support this incredibly devoted band and their expressive album One for You! Their work ethic alone remains awe inspiring: these guys tour and play an average of 200 to 250 shows a year. That sure puts you in the top tier of motivation! Jah Works presents an album full of messages of hope amid the trials of life, and the challenge for everyone to join together to make the world a better place. Jah Works exemplifies this message throughout the album, especially when they sing:
“Leave your worries at the door and jump on the dance floor. Got some business to tend to, I’ve come to heal and mend you with the music I send you; my responsibility is set the people them free, yeah”.
Their encouragement permeates this uplifting album!
Jah Works captures listeners’ attention through an impressive mix of genres. This demonstrates their knowledge of music and their ability to appeal to a wide audience. Jah Works’ many strengths revolve around two core principles: the band is full of performers who love music for the creativity they can express, and they constantly work to inspire through their art. This passion fills every minute of their album, from straight up reggae to dance hall beats.
One for You blasts off with one of the most popular songs in Jah Works’ catalog, and the title track of the album, One for You. This masterful groove demonstrates why clubs and dance floors are always packed when Jah Works comes to town. The vocals offer versatility and powerfully state the meaningful lyrics. Jah Works keeps the intensity high throughout the rest of the album with tons of intricate drum beats, bass licks that resound, subtle harmonies and ambient instrumentation that pique your interest.
If you are one of the many fans who have seen Jah Works live, you are witnesses to their emotion and captivating performance. This band pulverizes local clubs with an infectious combination of musical genres which causes fans to dance the night away and sing along to their favorite tunes.
Give these guys an honest listen and you won’t be sorry! This is a tried and true group of working professionals devoted to their craft and the listeners who support them. That means you!
The opening jam on this album will cause listeners to jump to their feet with its captivating beats! Jah Works educates through their influential lyrics and purposeful instrumentation. Their ability to pay homage to the rhythmic vocals of traditional reggae while adding their instrumental accents and intense dance hall vibes offers listeners a truly original experience. Most of all, Jah Works remains committed to their inspirational messages and bringing their love of music to their fans without restraint. This permeates One for You, and exemplifies Jah Works desire to live life their way.
Jah Works shows immense creativity in their jammin tunes. The drums and bass serve as a prime foundation for the dance grooves, but also add interesting accents to breathe excitement into the songs. The piano and synthesizer tracks complete the rhythm section and demonstrate some pretty creative effects. Most of the rhythms are straight forward dance grooves, with complex harmonizing vocal tracks completing the instrumentation.
In fact, the harmonizing vocals remain one of Jah Works’ most incredible displays of their talent. These harmonies are creative and usually follow the underlying chord structure. Jah Works creates amazing depth in their songs by using many different instrument tracks. Their ability to excite listeners with so many different instrument tracks and well placed effects displays their compositional prowess. The tracks are well balanced with appropriate density, an incredibly important feature for music consisting of so many rapid vocal and instrument tracks.
Their instrumentation is awesome too, clearly displayed by their ability to seamlessly end the album with a Latin instrumental track with various horn solos. The overall mix is well balanced, and every instrument pierces through clearly. This remains important in this genre of music because the vocals must carry the songs, but the supporting instrumentation provides the foundation of reggae, dance hall, and R&B that keeps listeners interested. The vocals remain the most prominent instruments on this album, and Jah Works knows how to demonstrate their talent in this area.
One for You offers unbridled honesty and a sense of purpose that both inspires and motivates listeners to look around them and appreciate the experiences life has given them. This album jams from start to finish; with their lyrics and upbeat sounds, Jah Works captures expressions that speak to why life is worth living!
Setting the Record Straight
Currently MYnstrel is unaware of any unfair press or slanderous reviews of this album.
Personal Connections to this Album
Spotlight Editor, Nate Radcliffe’s Personal Connections
There are many fond memories that ring in my head when I think of this band. I first heard Jah Works back in college when I was bartending at a local Irish pub, Ned Devine’s. I was never a huge reggae fan but I always respected the genre. The first night Jah Works walked into the bar and began playing, I was blown away. And I wasn’t the only one. Jah Works would consistently pack the joint. Jamming out fan favorite tunes like “One for You” and “You Look Good”, patrons of the bar would dance until the early morning hours. The nights Jah Works were booked to play, we knew we were in for a crazy night and the band always delivered.
My wife and I have made many special memories at that Irish pub where we met. A lot of those memories were accompanied by Jah Works’ musical themes. Five years later we still share a love for Jah Works’ music. The first time we vacationed together in Ocean City, MD, we were shocked and thrilled to see Jah Works on the main stage playing at our favorite beach hangout, Seacrets, Jamaica USA. This band is great but they are even better on an outdoor stage on a warm summer night while sipping on your favorite cocktail.
Rest assured that the dance floor is never empty when Jah Works is playing, whether it’s live or a DJ is spinning their record at a club. These guys add their own personal twist to the genre while still holding true to traditional roots-reggae sounds, concepts, and themes. Their beats and catchy hooks reverberate in my mind on a daily basis. For this, Jah Works is a mainstay in my music library. Thanks to Jah Works for writing the theme music for some very memorable times in my life!
Spotlight Editor, Tony Abbruscato’s Personal Connections
The first time I listened to Jah Works one of the most profound memories of live music came back to me like a rush. When I was seven or eight years old, I was visiting my grandparents in Queens, New York. As we were getting ready to walk down to Liberty Avenue to get some pizza and Italian ices, I heard the faint sound of music from a few blocks away. As we walked towards the avenue the music got louder and I could decipher more instruments. Pretty soon I could hear the whole band, and this music was like none other. I was so blown away by this music that I asked my grandfather what type of music we were listening to. I later found out it was Reggae. This interesting and complex music was the first live performance in my life, and I will never forget the impact it had.
Jah Works is a working class band extremely interested in playing their hearts out and letting you know how they feel. These guys routinely play over 200 shows a year, including taking tours to play for the United States Servicemen and women. Their passion goes beyond what you normally hear, and they are happy just creating art for everyone to enjoy.
Their ingenuity excites me; not many bands could successfully play so many different genres cohesively. Jah Works demonstrates their command of Reggae, Dance Hall, R&B in one cohesive package of artistry that will leave you wanting more. These guys write powerful and thought-provoking lyrics too, and I thank Jah Works for pursuing their dreams through inventive music.
Track 1: One for You
This track represents the passionate message and compelling choruses that Jah Works has to offer. For example, when they state “High time for the leaders to lead”, their message remains clear, and it resonates throughout the rest of the album. In addition, when they sing “Don’t believe everything that you read” they implore their fans to think for themselves.
The introduction begins with an effect buildup into the chorus, and thus sets the mood for the song. The first verse then starts with the vocals carrying the melody, and ambient bongo drums and a cool ambient guitar effect. The drummer plays a basic, driving beat with the hi-hats, bass drum, and snare to keep the momentum of the song through the verse.
The bridge adds some really cool background vocals which create depth and really drive home the message of the lyrics. The bass guitar contributes a terrific track during the second half of the bridge, which drives the song back into the chorus and adds incredible density to the instrumentation. In addition, more tracks join the mix throughout the song, which creates a wall of sound that surrounds listeners. This then perfectly leads into a breakdown in which many of the instrumental tracks stop playing for a crescendo into the last iterations of the chorus.
The song structure is straight forward, with well placed dynamic control to add emphasis where Jah Works wants listeners to feel their emotional lyrics. Overall, this song serves as the signature representation of Jah Works powerful message, well placed instrumentation, and impactful creativity.
Track 2: Over the Hill
This song starts off with a subtle intro with a sustained beat and harmonizing vocals. The lead vocals then utter one of the most poignant sets of lyrics on the entire album, “Someone say that I am over the hill, that I’ve been doin’ this night life and music for far too long, but I know they’re wrong, I got a brand new song, I say my spirit is strong, can’t go wrong”. The guitars and keyboards apply a great backing to propel the vocals to their prominent position in this chorus. This engages listeners to the message Jah Works wishes to portray, and gives hope to all who listen.
The bass guitar and keyboards maintain a steady drive throughout the song, with the drums completing this very tight rhythm section. Ambient guitars and keyboard tracks support the vocals and assist in keeping the lyrics the main focus of this song. During the bridge, all the instruments back out of the song except the bass guitar and drums. These two instrument tracks support some of the most incredible roots-Reggae lyrics on the entire album. The harmonizing vocals stay right with the lead vocals, and the rhythmic and dynamic control remains at the expert level.
Towards the end of the song, the instruments all fade out in interesting ways, and the song ends with an ambient keyboard loop which forms the completion of their thought. Overall, this leaves listeners with provocative thoughts to ponder.
Track 4: You Look Good
This song starts off with a sustained beat and a prominent 4/4 time signature that makes listeners want to get out on the dance floor. Jah Works’ singers once again offer some pretty incredible vocal melody and harmony tracks, and their rhythmic control remains incredible throughout this song. Jah Works has a lot of fun with the lyrics in this song, especially when they sing “If you say you’re independent, and you’re waiting on the one, if you say you are the bomb, girl, show you’re right, show you’re right.”
The bridge has some really interesting ambient sounds which add to the mystery and complexity of the song. The vocal harmonies stick to the underlying chord structure, and demonstrate the genre-diversity of Jah Works vocals. The instrumentation supports the vocal tracks, one of the important facets of Jah Works’ artistry. This aspect of their music creates a cohesive package which many different listeners can enjoy.
Jah Works utilizes a unique song structure in which they create different sections with various instruments maintaining a more prominent placement. This creates a contrast and adds much interest to the music. Overall, this song represents the lighter side of Jah Works music, and they appropriately end this song with a joyful laugh to drive this point to fans.
We talked to the Baltimore and Washington DC fan base to get opinions on other buzz worthy tracks. These include: “Gimme the Microphone”, demonstrating Jah Works incredible ability to transition to R&B style, “Vocalist”, with the powerful lyrics “Music is my business, cause I’m a vocalist”, “Life in the Ghetto”, with some impressive vocal tracks, and “Las Chicas Mas Finas”, a purely instrumental track with an awesome Latin flair.
In a time where people are dealing with adjusting their way of life and searching for answers, Jah Works offers an outlet of honesty in which fans can enhance their lives with uplifting expressions. This is the true beauty of Jah Works’ powerful message, unabashed confidence in what they naturally feel and the desire to seek meaningful opportunities. In the song, “Crazy in My Head”, Jah Works says, “Living in this life can take a heavy toll. Life is much more than let the good times roll.”
The level of craftsmanship found in this album is indeed a rare gem in today’s musical landscape. Why settle for anything less? Jah Works certainly proves that they won’t! No matter the time of day, nor the venue, Jah Works inspires fans to enjoy life for the very moments we often overlook. This album will certainly excite you and become one of your classics very quickly. Here’s to a truly admirable working-class band that won’t give up, and will constantly strive to make sure their inspirational expressions are heard!
Are you in the mood for Rock? How about Hardcore? Perhaps some Heavy Metal? Element Eighty will bring you an onslaught of power in all three capacities! Words can’t describe the originality and raw command found on The Bear, Element Eighty’s most adventurous album to date. From the precision guitars and brilliantly executed harmonics to the pummeling double bass drum grooves, you will never have a dull moment.
The best passages of this album come from the artistic freedom given to the guitars and drums, which causes listeners to feel that many of the songs are not repetitive. It’s hard to imagine a major record label allowing any band to be so technically audacious, for fear of scaring off casual listeners. The bass, drums, and guitars are just dripping with style every second of every song.
It’s not often that we can say that we’ve never heard anything like this style of playing, but Element Eighty has shattered the mold with their clever combination of diverse heavy-rock styles from hardcore, metal, hard rock, to classic rock. You can even hear the underlying classical music inspiration in the rhythm variations, rests, making all instruments converge upon the musical theme for a bit, and the way they use pedal notes. These facts testify to Element Eighty’s immense musical prowess on The Bear.
But it doesn’t end there! David Galloway performs superbly as the main vocalist in this quartet, perfectly balancing melodic (yes melodic) screaming with a crystal clear voice. His subtle inflections create a great dynamic with the lead guitars and rhythm section. Galloway’s impressive instrument paves the way for emotionally charged lyrics that will keep listeners intrigued. One of the quintessential themes on this album is the pain that haunts us from broken relationships. On the song “The Sacrifice”, Galloway sings “I know we’ve changed and the innocence is over now”, indicating the desire for reconciliation while looking through different eyes.
For those fans that have seen these guys live, you have witnessed the emotion and provocation in their music. This band provides an explosion of ingenuity wrapped in an impenetrable hard-rock exterior.
Don’t miss this band! You will not be disappointed when you experience the guttural roars, powerful beats, and unforgettable melodies of this Texan stronghold!
This album will take you places you have never been, but you will understand them when you get there. Element Eighty places listeners in a reality they can understand because the emotions are overwhelming and completely honest. One of the most prominent themes this album presents is pain; just pure, unfiltered, relationship-oriented pain. You will feel the emotion that grinds into every lyric, and you will appreciate that Element Eighty remains unafraid to show you honest expressions of their deep psyche.
Element Eighty’s unfettered style blends perfectly with the theme of the album. The guitars and bass have a prominent presence, but also support other instrumentation when necessary. The rhythms are complex, and one of Element Eighty’s strongest characteristics remains the use of non-repeating rhythmic themes. Most noted are the rhythms in which the guitars, bass, and drums drive together in order to allow the vocals to carry the emphasis. Masters of rhythm, these guys also use rests (pauses) to create grand drama.
Harmonies are mostly subtle, but they remain well placed and definitely within key. Element Eighty adds a lot of depth to their music through synchronizing the lead guitar and vocals during their songs. This effectively engages the entire band in the musical theme for a bit, and allows each instrumental voice to work well together. Another unique characteristic of Element Eighty’s music remains the grassroots feel, in which the music is not over produced with too many effects, or radio-friendly musical clichés.
The density is well balanced, and each instrument can be clearly distinguished. This is an important aspect of the songs on this album, and this clarity enables listeners to experience the important rests in the songs. The instrumentation is incredible, with improvisation-style guitar riffs and drum fills. The overall recording is spacious, allowing each instrument to operate in their most effective frequencies without disturbing the mix.
This mix places the bass drum and snare drum in the center, and emphasizes the vocal and lead guitar tracks. This is expertly done because the interplay between the vocals and lead guitars is one of the most important and prominent features of Element Eighty’s musicianship. The lead guitar tracks blend well when played with the rest of the rhythm, and also pierce through when appropriate in the song. The vocals play a key role in the melody of each of the songs, and drive home the lyrical concepts. The rhythms of the vocals stay within the song and lyrical structure, which is unique. Galloway’s vocals are always one of the signature components of Element Eighty’s work.
The Bear provides a relatable message in an intricate and stylistic package. This album pushes boundaries of the musical horizon and demonstrates that doing things the Element Eighty way is a unique rock experience.
Setting the Record Straight
Currently MYnstrel is unaware of any unfair press or slanderous reviews of this album.
Personal Connections to this Album
Spotlight Editor, Tony Abbruscato’s Personal Connections
Everyone has those moments of their lives where they remember exactly what triggered the memory. The first time I heard Element Eighty was one of those moments. I was deployed in Iraq and a few of my soldiers were playing Need For Speed: Underground when the song “Broken Promises” came on. I was so floored that I made them pause the game so I could see who the band was. I immediately put Element Eighty on my wish list since it was hard to get CDs while deployed. It was a great welcome home musical gift from my mother!
I noticed a couple of intriguing aspects of Element Eighty’s music right away, namely, they are a cohesive unit. Not only are they all brilliant musicians, but they have the rhythm and the ability to play complex instrumentation together perfectly.
Moreover, I always thought these guys had a lot more chops, and incredible new ideas to share on subsequent albums. Well, when I first heard “Killing Me”, “Price to Pay”, and “Guntruck”, I was astounded. The interplay between the instruments and vocals in “Killing Me” remains some of the best I have heard in modern rock. “Price to Pay” is definitely the most crowd pleasing tracks on the album, with a chorus that I found myself singing over and over. And “Guntruck” has chromatic guitar riffs that would make any classical guitar instructor proud.
More than once I have heard, “Can you play that song again?” in reference to Element Eighty. This is truly a working class band interested in assisting listeners, and themselves, to achieve a greater purpose. In fact, one of the most poignant stories I have ever read about these guys comes from a Myspace blog where one of their listeners tells a story in which Element Eighty’s powerful lyrics saved him from taking his own life. This amazing story exemplifies the powerful honesty and the positive impact this band can have on fans’ lives. I offer my thanks to their inventive, aggressive, and intuitive songs that remind me why I love music so much!
Spotlight Editor, Tommy Kurek’s Personal Connections
Element Eighty is up there as one of my favorite bands. There are so many talented musicians in so many genres of music that I enjoy, but this band is close to my heart. I discovered Element Eighty in 2004 while simply surfing the internet for new rock bands (there was a lull in my usual 20-CD-per-year consumption). Their sound literally jumped out of the computer at me, boldly distinguishing itself from all of the other dozens of bands I sampled that day. Not only did the band’s musical style and talented vocals thrill me, but after I got to know their lyrics, I found that I could really relate to these expressions.
Granted, some rock fans still just don’t get the scream-sing style of vocals, but that’s a shame to me. I liken it to food – when your tastes are limited, you might be missing out, and not everything tastes great the first time. The scream-sing style is actually very hard to do well, because the vocalist is hitting notes, but also coaxing their throat to put a ‘natural’ distortion on it, just like a guitarist might flip a ‘distortion switch’ on their amplifier to get the guitar sound everyone loves.
The vocal technique is hard on your voice. When I used to do 1-hour shows, I’d try to save songs like that for the end, because I could easily lose 3 pitches off my top vocal range from having to use the scream-sing style. Notice, that as a first-chair bass vocalist in the choir, I never had such problems singing songs that are more widely appreciated throughout history, like Shenandoah (I also never worked up a sweat on stage with choir).
Truly, there’s no better vocal style for the expression of power, brawn, gusto, angst, pain, frustration, authority, force, and confrontation. Let’s see Frank Sinatra or Mariah Carey try to convey these emotions and expressions as well as Element Eighty. I didn’t think so.
Then there’s this other thing. Element Eighty saved at least one person from suicide. Someone else might suck up thousands of dollars of drugs to cope with suicidal tendencies. These guys give a fan a $10 CD and save their life. How incredible is that? That’s the power of music. It also speaks to the way that the hard rock genre as a whole is largely misrepresented by outsiders who are allowed to define it. They see the mosh pits and hear the scream-singing and choose to cut the taste buds off of their own tongue immediately.
Well they’re missing out. They might benefit from the emotional release that this music is capable of providing.
While Element Eighty delivers a music experience that I have related to for decades, their use of classical music techniques is also very appealing to me. I do some of the same things in my own hard rock music. Element Eighty will always be at the top of my list. They are uniquely gifted, interesting thinkers, interesting composers, and original style-maestros!
Track 2: Victims
This song doesn’t even let you catch your breath before you are hit with some of the most amazing guitar playing on the entire album! The introduction comes in the form of a Woods lead guitar riff, followed straight away by the first verse in which Galloway shows off his vocals and the rhythm section supports with vigor.
The powerful lyrics found on this song blend perfectly with the theme of the album. The very first line Galloway sings, “Tell me how long until all of this breaks me”, announces the roller coaster of emotions listeners will experience on this track and sets the tone for listeners to enter into the Element Eighty world.
These verses exemplify this powerhouse rhythm section. Masterful use of rests accentuates the complicated drive this song creates.
The chorus blasts you with style, so much that you have to listen and wonder how the lead guitarist gets the harmonics he produces. The vocals traverse almost too easily back and forth between melodic screams and catchy melodies. An incredible technique that Element Eighty uses frequently is letting the vocals and lead guitar converge on the melody – playing the same notes for a short time. This is used in classical music all the time, in order to drive home the melody amidst passages of great depth and complexity.
Element Eighty uses that technique in this song.
The lead guitarist is not shy with the drums either. He will occasionally accentuate the rhythm by playing a riff in time with the drummer’s fill in, bringing the cohesiveness to the music. This technique creates a lot of depth to the song overall. The bridge of this song relaxes for just a second, until the rests end and the driving chorus comes back into full swing. The end of the song remains one of the best closing riffs on the entire album.
The lead guitar work in this song is simply amazing. Although the song structure is a straight forward 4/4 time signature with verses, choruses and a bridge, the use of incredible instrumentation and musical elements to provides a pure gem. Overall, this song exemplifies the theme of the album well, and prepares listeners for the ride ahead of them.
Track 5: Killing Me
This song starts off with one of the most intriguing guitar riffs on the album; Woods uses octaves, slides, bends, pedal notes, triplet bursts, rests, electronic effects, and harmonics to make a total guitar package that oozes with unchartered style.
The vocals once again pierce through with clarity, and the screaming inflects the emotional message of this song. The lyrics on this track represent some of the most powerful found on the album. When Galloway sings, “How would you feel If I told you it’s inside of me…How would you feel If I told you this was killing me”, his honesty permeates the entire song. Listeners will immediately understand and empathize with him, and the supporting instrumentation grooves with this feeling.
The overall effect? You will feel his words in your chest.
The rhythm section supports with daunting syncopation throughout, and their inventive dynamics and timing lock in the song nicely. A creative effect on the guitars answers the vocals every time “Killing Me” is uttered in this song, which emphasizes the message.
The timing in bridge completes the congruity in this piece, and the contrast of the well placed vocal harmonies offers the perfect resolution to this song. There are rests of different lengths throughout, so much that one would have to study this song to play it like Element Eighty. At the end of the song, instrumentation follows a very straight forward drive to the end in which the singer utters “Killing Me” one last time. The sustained vocals and energetic guitars work very well to establish control over the momentum of the song, and also increase the complexity by once again changing the feel.
This song engages through relatable relationship-frustrations.
Track 8: Price to Pay
This could easily be the most hummable and memorable song on the album. The message remains relatable to so many different relationship situations that listeners will place themselves right in the middle of it. Galloway’s pervasive lyrics consist of goodies like “And in my mind there’s nothing left to find…I’ve been shot down from behind…No time left to unwind” and the signature lyric of the song, “Don’t leave me standing here with my wasted time that’s all been spent now.” His vocal inflections while singing these lines add to the effect, and listeners will be drawn to their expressiveness.
The introduction offers a buildup of guitar feedback to a straight forward 4/4 drive that stays with the song throughout. The vocals melodies are some of the best on the album, and the subtle harmonies are well placed, tight, and within proper chord structure.
The guitars offer an intricate rhythm that shows great discipline in the instrumentation during the verses; the vocals carry the verse but it would not sound anywhere near as good without the lead guitar work supporting it. During the chorus, the vocals take over until it is time for the guitar riffs and drum fills to lead into the next verse, in which the cohesive rhythm machine takes over and brings it all together. An additional treat for listeners: this song provides a pretty wicked guitar solo with enough tricks to excite any level of listener. The song ends with a great guitar slide up a full octave. This song demonstrates that Element Eighty can write lasting songs that you will want to hear over and over again.
So what tracks are the music fans in the Washington DC area raving about? Favorites include:
“Sacrifice”, with that famous vocal and lead guitar chorus melodic interplay
“The Itch”, with outstanding use of rhythm section instrumentation, rests, and a lasting message
“Guntruck”, with piercing screams, pummeling drums, a great sixteenth note guitar riff in the chorus, and a terrific use of lead guitar harmonics to emphasize the consternation in the lyrical message
The musicianship on this album will impress even the most well listened fans out there. You will find yourself stunned by their use of rests as you anticipate a big cymbal crash or power chord will be played. Element Eighty writes all of their music with a fascinating control of dynamics and rhythm. This in itself will warrant a few listens to catch things you missed the first time.
Element Eighty consists of intense, cohesive members bursting with creativity and ingenuity. On their sophomore release, they once again demonstrate that the musical landscape consists of mountainous terrain, where only the truly adventurous listeners dare to explore.
Mike DeWolf – Guitar
Phil Lipscomb – Bass
Jarrod Montague – Drums (On this record)
Nick Fredell – Drums (Touring for this album)
We were incredibly stoked to hear about Taproot’s new album! The three year wait since their thought-provoking album Blue Sky Research proved worthwhile; the band provides explosive, melodic, mind-bending grooves on their new album, Our Long Road Home. The songs reach into your heart and evoke images of hopeful struggles that result from separation from the things we love. Taproot perfected the end of the album, resolving these emotions with acknowledgment of where resolution might be found:
“The footprints that I left were meant to lead me back to home”
Throughout the album Taproot captivates listeners with impactful songs covering new and adventurous applications of musicianship. One of Taproot’s gifts remains their accessible eloquence. Their lyrics are meaningful and comparable to situations everyone faces in their lives at one point or another. For example, we feel that Taproot’s ability to confess the strength of relationships in “Wherever I Stand” demonstrates their maturity through life experiences. Our Long Road Home chronicles life experiences that everyone can appreciate.
As for the ode-to-rock that is larger than life, this album won’t let you take a breath before a wall of sound pulverizes your speakers. The opening music sets the stage for the rest of the album very well. The vocals offer a roller coaster of soft spoken passages contrasted by powerful choruses you will be singing for hours afterwards. With brilliantly orchestrated vocal harmonies and effects, uniquely ambient guitars, unconventional drum fills, and powerful lyrics, you’ve got a lot of musical goodies to take in.
Our Long Road Home is definitely worth the buy. Once you understand their ingenuity, you’ll definitely have a hard time taking these vibes off your speakers for a long time. Just as a plant’s taproot maintains strength amid adversity in nature, Taproot sustains a raw power that many bands yearn to discover.
This album is all about freedom from constraint, and providing listeners with wisdom gained through experience. Taproot emanates plenty of originality, and they also present a package that most listeners will find engaging and honest. This is one of their best qualities, and this album expresses their desire to break free from the preconceived notions people have about music and life as a whole. Their lyrics support this theme of hope and determination, which permeates this album, and listeners remain moved by Taproot’s honesty regarding the ups and downs of life.
Richards’ vocals remain complex and unique throughout this album. His use of half steps and a jazzy vibrato add to the eclectic feel of this music. Jazzy 2, 4, and 6 harmonies add depth to the interesting compositions. This is one of Taproot’s signature instrumental applications, and listeners will not be disappointed with Richards’ command of his vocal instrument.
The guitars and bass provide clear and driven riffs, always well stated and not overwhelming. The rhythms are complex in some parts, but Taproot favors the brilliant use of simple rhythms to accentuate complex themes. What’s the result? Inventive drumming and accents. Noteworthy rhythms come in the form of half time drumming, in which the drums add drama to the chorus.
Harmonies are always amazing with Taproot, and this album has some of the best. Taproot uses harmonies to create the effect of listening to a full chorus, which forms a wall of sound and fills your aural space completely! The bass, guitar, and vocals work well together in order to create depth, and not overwhelm each other. This creates distinct sounds and imaginative tracks to form a cohesive work of art.
The density and instrumentation are both expertly crafted, with plenty of musical variations to keep it interesting. A great example of this aspect is in the song “It’s Natural”, in which the verses and chorus sound distinctly different, with brilliantly executed female background vocals to add complexity.
This mix utilizes a center placement of the bass drum, with the hi-hat and snare drum prominent on all of the tracks. The lead guitar tracks are bright and very precise. The rhythm guitar and bass guitar parts sustain the rhythm and back up the other tracks well. The vocals are the most intricate of all the Taproot albums, and Richards’ voice shines through in a fascinating display of talent.
The level of musicianship is excellent. You will often find yourself either singing along or concentrating hard to not miss the awesome ambient sounds present on every track. Taproot writes every song for a purpose, and it is easy to see real experience and heart in all of their music. One of the most notable vocal expressions comes in the form of using recording tracks on top of each other, one at the normal register and the second a full octave above and sung with a falsetto.
Rather than just using clichéd pop harmonies where the different singers essentially sound the same except for the different notes they are singing, Richards really uses multiple tracks of vocals to take advantage of different voices that can sing different notes, have different inflections, come together, break away, and mix-and-match levels of softness, cleanliness, grit, or intensity in the voice itself – making a final vocal instrument that shakes the boundaries of expression.
Setting the Record Straight
Currently MYnstrel is unaware of any unfair press or slanderous reviews of this album.
Personal Connections to this Album
Spotlight Editor, Tony Abbruscato’s Personal Connections
I still remember the feelings associated with hearing “Again and Again” off of the album Gift for the first time. I was driving cross country, and I finally found a radio station that played hard rock. The first thing I noticed was the cool loop introducing the pounding drums and thrashing guitars in the opening measures of the song. Then came the amazing vocals with strategically well placed shouts and awesome harmonies.
I quickly went out and bought Gift, and soon learned what true ingenuity meant. Taproot was one of the first bands I encountered that mastered the subtle difference between 3/4 and 6/8 time and transitioned seamlessly between the two signatures. As a musician, I view that level of precision as incredibly indicative of a band’s overall command of rhythm.
Each new album brought forth more creativity and intricate rhythms. I was always blown away because these guys managed to write new and exciting stuff that sounded like nothing else out there. Their music has so many layers and unconventional techniques, from the lyrics to the counter melodies to the half step vocal changes, that I often had to listen to their albums three or four times before I could fully appreciate their artistry. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t because I didn’t love the music from the very first time I listened. This was due to the fact that their overall concepts are so deep and there are so many intricate things going on in the songs, that you don’t catch them all until you listen a few times.
Taproot has also matured in that they utilize simple musical concepts to achieve a more complicated overall effect. Their lyrics remain poignant and challenging, while their instrumentation always brings you to the edge and then pulls you back with its congruity. Taproot continues to shine and proves that doing things differently can definitely be a great thing. Here’s to one of the few bands whose music can make me blurt out a joyful “YES” every time they release a new album!
Spotlight Editor, Tommy Kurek’s Personal Connections
Taproot is just one of those bands that is close to my heart. They’re honest, they’re heart-on-sleeve, they’re uplifting, they’re releasing, they’re just real. If you read the lyrics out of context, you might say, “hey, this band can get really negative.” You would be incorrect though. While Taproot has always been courageous and unafraid, being as confrontational as their honesty would compel them to be, frequently they supplement confrontational lyrics with music in a major key (happy-sounding); a style that gives you a total feeling of “yeah, this is a tough part of life, but the music says that it’s alright and there are positive things to take from it.”
I’ve been with Taproot since they first hit the national scene – during my college years, when I was part of an underground worldwide organization that promoted rock videos. The video for the song “Again and Again” off of Gift was a popular one. I remember those days fondly – it was around the same time that Tomahawk and Mudvayne were tearing it up for the first time, and a lot of the rock-saviors of the late 90s were coming out with some of their most refined work.
At that time, the album Gift was my staple release-album. Got a rough family-spot, or significant other who is giving you trouble? Taproot was king at giving you that release for your frustrations because their expressions were so intense, so honest, so poetic, and so wise. It helped that I was a huge fan of Deftones since the early 90s and Taproot definitely gave me a similar vibe.
Years later, it seems as if Taproot has progressed with my own life. Their lyrics and styles still greatly jive with me. I’ve got melodies and rhythms from Our Long Road Home popping up in my head on a regular basis these days. The songs are fun to sing along with, and they always give me a smile. Congratulations Taproot on your excellent work of art! I hope that your band receives the renown that they deserve for this album; I am very glad that MYnstrel could be a part of that effort with this Spotlight!
Track 2: Wherever I Stand
If you have seen the music video for this track, then you know the powerful visual message that works in concert with these skilled lyrics. For example, when Richards sings “Yet again, You’re a testimony, Now and then, That a greatness occasionally can come along” he provides a testament of hope that life will present those rare opportunities for greatness, combined with a suggestion to recognize and seize those occurrences.
The introduction begins with a prominent bass drum, snare and rim click with ambient guitars. The first verse then starts two measures later with pleading vocals carrying the melody. The drummer then plays the hi-hats with well placed accents by opening the two cymbals.
The chorus then blasts away with piercing vocals and rocking guitars, and the drummer uses a well placed half time to emphasize the end of the chorus. The background vocals add great depth and emotion to the second and following choruses. The bridge then provides the consternation found in the video through a 3 measure repeating 4/4 pattern. This 3 measure pattern affects listeners by not offering the typical resolution found with even-measure patterns, a very cool effect to deepen the impact of the powerful vocal track.
The guitar sound changes throughout the song, which exemplifies the mood and supports the instrumentation very well. The song structure is straight forward, but poignant, and the depth of all the instruments provides a wall of sound. Overall, this song represents the album well and showcases the raw emotion this band portrays in their art. You can check out the video at your leisure:
Track 8: You’re Not Home Tonight
This song starts off hard with a stark contrast in the falsetto vocals and half step changes. The guitars have just enough depth to remain intricate and not overwhelm the vocals. Again, Taproot provides pervasive lyrics, especially during the chorus, when Richards sings “I didn’t mean the things I’ve said, If I could take them back again I would, But you’re not home tonight, I didn’t mean to break your heart, If I could fix it even start I would, But you’re not home to-, you’re not home tonight”. These lyrics serve as a provocative reminder that all listeners will grab on to.
The guitars drive the song in the bridge, a brilliantly executed 7/4 time signature in which the vocal shouting personifies the pain in which he realizes he has lost his love. Ambient guitars harmonize over the other instrumentation, adding the contrast necessary to get the message of pain and catastrophe across.
The timing in this song remains excellent, and the dynamics are well placed, especially in the bridge. There is a rest after the bridge with drum fills that brings the chorus back superbly. At the end of the song, the drummer starts to play a half time drum part which increases the complexity by causing the interval between beats to double, while the guitars and vocals stay the same. Overall, the effect leaves you wanting more, which the ending guitar riff provides in overwhelming ferocity.
Track 7: As One
This song provides a straight forward 4/4 time signature with one of the most hummable choruses on the entire album. The introduction and end build up and fade out to create a total musical experience. Taproot offers resolution in this song, directly in line with their deeply realized truths they express in their lyrics. This completion resounds through lyrics such as “This is our chance to love and grow, These are the truth’s I’ve come to know”, in which Richards’ voice sounds strong and confident as he shares the knowledge it took years to obtain.
The bridge has a well placed and very deliberate collaboration in which the drums play cut time in order to add the dramatic affect to build back up into the chorus. The vocal harmonies are well placed, tight, and within proper chord structure. This song demonstrates the depth of Taproot’s vocals, especially during the verses where Richards loops a falsetto track an octave above his other vocal track.
The guitars are very bright and mysterious during the intro and verses, contributing to the piercing sound desired. During the chorus, all the instrumentation sustains a wall of sound so that the vocals really punch through. Taproot uses a creative affect on the vocals and carries the notes past the downbeat while another vocal loop starts the next line on the downbeat. The overall affect creates a constant wall of vocal melody that is hard to forget.
The different sections create a great contrast which drives the interest of this song. Taproot has a great use of timing with the half time sections in the choruses and the bridge. This song is mixed brightly, but with more reserve in the choruses to add the needed driving background for the vocals.
Once again, we hit the streets of the Washington DC community to gauge the other noteworthy tracks. These include: “Hand That Holds True”, with some of the most impressive vocals on the entire album; “Karmaway”, with a powerful message, haunting guitars, and outstanding use of dynamics; and “Footprints”, with airy vocals, driving drums, and seemingly endless fade out, which I interpreted personally as the aural expression of Taproot’s Long Road Home; what a journey it is.
In a time where common opinion says people should try to “stay young forever” – Taproot goes against the grain again. This is the true rebel-spirit of rock, unafraid to go against the norms. In the song, “It’s Natural”, Taproot says, “It’s natural, The fear of growing older, It’s natural, The mirror’s getting meaner, Until you realize, You’re meaningful, And that’ll last forever”. These perceptive words enhance the listening experience because of their honesty. Our Long Road Home will give you that honesty at every turn!
The level of creativity found in this album is rare in today’s musical landscape. Brilliance of this caliber should not be constrained to three minute radio sound bites, and it is evident Taproot does not desire that. If you want a rewarding, intellectual, and emotionally charged experience, check this album out; with each listen it will come closer to becoming a classic in your collection!