Amerigo Gazaway "Gummy Soul Forces"

Following a meeting of the minds at Atlanta’s recent A3C Festival, Gummy Soul‘s Amerigo Gazaway has linked up with Detroit’s Clear Soul Forces crew, blending styles and summoning hip hop godfathers with a new collaborative track titled “Gummy Soul Forces.” Exuding a sound very much in line with Gazaway’s much-celebrated Bizarre Tribe mashup album, “Gummy Soul Forces” retains a comfortable early-’90s feel, with the MC working loosely over the jazz-oriented beat. Considering that the verse was “whipped up” while the Gummy Soul guys were driving back to Nashville, it’d be a silly to critique it as a fully-fleshed out piece. Instead, have fun with it and just accept it for what it is: a fun, playful, and so-very-fitting verse that meshes nicely with the tight Clear Soul Forces beat, “All this time I spent obsessin’ over rhymes / Just tryin’ to find some kind of purpose in life / Murderin’ mics, makin’ sure these verses is tight.” To keep things going, you’d be wise to (re)introduce Bizarre Tribe to your ears.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Evan Blocker "Reign Dance (Eyes Open)"

When I was first introduced to Evan Blocker‘s debut, Life’s in a Blur, I subconsciously slipped up and confused the young Nashville MC’s name with that of a pro-wrestler (Evan Bourne). Make no mistake though: his debut was memorable, and Blur stands as one of the better hip hop releases to come from the city last year.

Now the MC is back, intent on solidifying his name within the greater Nashville scene with his largely self-produced sophomore release, Its All Life. With the first taste from the forthcoming album, the teaser for “Reign Dance (Eyes Open)” continues the trend that Blocker started with Blur, tightly focusing his sharp-tongued style and representing the P.U.S.H. Productions crew nicely. Keep an ear to Blocker’s Soundcloud page as the countdown to Its All Life continues.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Olivier de Sagazan

For over two decades the Congo-born French-based artist Olivier de Sagazan has “developed a hybrid practice that integrates painting, photography, sculpture, and performance,” explains his website. “In his existential performative series Transfiguration, which he began in 2001, de Sagazan builds layers of clay and paint onto his own face and body to transform, disfigure and take apart his own figure, revealing an animalistic human who is seeking to break away from the physical world. At once disquieting and deeply moving, this new body of work collapses the boundaries between the physical, intellectual, spiritual and animalistic senses.”

The “Transfiguration” video itself is unlike anything I’ve seen before: It is primitive, dark, intense, and disturbing. “This is pretty much my two-year-old eating yogurt,” joked one Metafilter commenter, putting the clay and paint meld into humorous perspective. “In my Transfiguration performance, where I transform my face,” revealed de Sagazan in an interview with Loving Mixed Media, “my purpose is to descend into the depths of my being, to bring out what is buried deep inside me. The masks or images that emerge are not merely seen, but felt in a visceral way, and so they create emotion.”

While a variety of press clippings and interviews are available on the artist’s website, little exists in English, leaving much to the imagination for non-French speaking onlookers in terms of intent and motivation. Yet each individual medium seems to bear its own direction while simultaneously conforming to a broader ideal. Taking inspiration from Rembrandt and Francis Bacon, his paintings replicate the grotesque nature of his performance work, vividly speaking to de Sagazan’s ability to manipulate his materials. His sculptures are fitting for this Halloween season, invoking hellish images while simultaneously breathing humanity (and reminding me of Adam Jones’ groundbreaking music videos for Tool). “My work is essentially a hymn to life,” he said to LMM. “[A]n attempt to understand what it means to be alive.”

But the way in which de Sagazan speaks with his performance work is unlike his use of traditional mediums. A rough translation of his 1994 piece “Bandages” reflects his longstanding relationship with the urge to reveal the human within, “Arrive the bandaged face, undo slowly his mask / Open its veins and mark with his blood: ‘This is my body, this is art.’” “I dreamed of being a dancer,” he continued with LMM, “using my own body as an essential element to express my anguish and my fascination with being alive. My performances are another way of channeling this urge. My main inspiration is in looking at nature with the eyes of the biologist I was and the philosopher I am trying to be.”

I don’t have a particularly well-grounded position to place Olivier de Sagazan’s work within the broader artistic landscape. I’m ill-informed when it comes to modern art, let alone the performance niche, and am oblivious as to whether his work is either derivative or groundbreaking within the field. To pretend to know is beyond me. But when I watch him I am moved, my pulse increases, and I’m left in a state of wonder, curious about what it is I’ve just seen and what it might be saying. “We must remain alert and lucid, aware of this amazing thing happening to us.” Transfiguration is just that: a vibrant announcement, awakening dulled emotions and desensitized nerves.

Damien Echols

Damien Echols and Jack Silverman at Nashville Southern Festival of Books

In 1994 Damien Echols was sentenced to death, while Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin were given life in prison, after all were convicted for the savage murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The thing was… they didn’t do it. “Police investigators believed the teens had formed a satanic cult and used the victims as part of a ritualistic slaughter,” writes Sarah Norris of the Nashville Scene. “The prosecution based its case on the fact that the ‘West Memphis Three’ — Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. — were widely perceived as ‘weird’. They were known to be fans of Metallica, and Echols tended to wear black clothing and a long trench coat. The only thing connecting them to the murders was a coerced confession from Misskelley, who tested low enough on an IQ test to qualify as borderline cognitively impaired. After confessing, he almost immediately recanted. A high school dropout who’d struggled with depression, Echols was depicted as the threesome’s ringleader, a devil-worshipping killer.” If ever there were a kangaroo court, the boys found themselves at the mercy of such a proceeding — the crime scene was significantly tampered with, police records were grossly mishandled… the entire process was a farce.

About 14 months ago the three were given a deal, setting them free while, as Echols explains, absolving Arkansas of any potential wrong-doing, forcing the waiver of any case the three might have in a lawsuit against the state. “On August 19, 2011, they entered Alford pleas, which allow them to assert their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict them.”

It’s been at least seven years since I first learned of the case of the West Memphis Three: Like many before and after me, I watched the Paradise Lostdocumentaries (The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Revelations), and found myself disgusted by the thread of injustice that flowed throughout the entire story. I bought a shirt to help support the defense, I told friends, and I felt sick about the whole thing.

I haven’t been a close onlooker of the aftermath following the WM3′s release, but in preparation for Echols’ appearance at Nashville’s Southern Festival of Books I was reintroduced to the powerful feelings that I remember struggling with when I was first turned on to the case. I cried. The anger, the sadness, the grief, the sympathy, the confusion, the fear… all of it surfaced at once and my body, not knowing how to react, funneled everything into tears. As Echols sat in the War Memorial Auditorium Sunday afternoon, speaking to the beatings he received from guards, the absent health care measures that he received during his decade of solitary confinement, and the extreme anxiety that followed his release, those feelings returned, and on a few occasions I had to divert my attention to avoid a minor public breakdown.

Throughout his appearance Echols remained calm, well-spoken, thoughtful, and articulate as conversation bounced between he and the session’s host, Jack Silverman. As questions began flowing from the event’s attendees, Echols gently floated a few jokes out to the crowd as discussion touched on items including his affinity for Stephen King and his ongoing work with organizations such as Amnesty International. Sitting there however, the words that struck an especially sensitive nerve with me were those offered when asked if he was interested in changing “The System”? His response was shockingly rational and objective despite the pain that The System had caused in his life. Think of the money, he replied, and the celebrity endorsements, the media’s interest in the case, his wife’s dedicated pursuit of justice, and the enduring efforts of those who offered their help along the way… think of all of that, he repeated, and recognize that even with all of that in place, it took nearly two decades before one case found a result that remotely reflected “justice.” Even for someone with his profile, changing “The System” is entirely out of reach.

As the event closed and the audience scurried to get a place in line for the book signing which followed (it should probably be noted that Echols’ appearance was in support of his recently released book, Life After Death) my friend and I remained in our chairs for a few minutes before slowly exiting the venue. As we walked away she asked what I felt, and all I could muster was “angry” and “sad,” a frog quickly took to my throat preventing me from saying anything further, as if the words were even there in the first place. I’m happy that Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin are free men, but how free are they? What sort of justice can be had to repair two decades of misery, let alone the pain that will remain in the lives that follow? What if he were put to death? What then?

I couldn’t hear the question but during the event Echols was asked something to do with the prevalence of innocents on death row, and without missing a beat he shot off two names of people he had met who were, in his eyes, innocent. Yet, unlike his case, they didn’t have the media push to bring their cases into the public eye, nor the outpouring of donations necessary to challenge their convictions beyond a bare-minimum defense. Such cases are generally easier to sweep under the rug, he said, than they are to investigate further. And what’s more, Echols added, much like his own case, the state would rather send an innocent to die than admit a mistake.

When writing this and reading back over it, no tears came to me. The anger, however… The anger, the sadness, the grief, the sympathy, the confusion, and the fear: all of that remains. We live in a broken world — each of us potentially at the mercy of a broken system. And I don’t have slightest clue as to what can really be done about it.

Three O'Clock

I woke up this morning at three o’clock a.m. to the sound of rain on the tin roof that lines the outer shell of the apartment building I live in. I’m on the top floor and that puts little room between me and the sound. Normally I enjoy the echo of the rain pounding down in sheets, the wind drawing it to and from the building such that when the sky exhales it sounds like a wet towel slapping the back-side of the building. But not last night. Last night I laid in my bed, angry that I couldn’t sleep, bitter about the lack of control I had in the moment to re-escape consciousness, and the reality of the day that had put me in such a foul mood in the first place. I wasn’t angry at anything or anyone in particular — not at the rain, not even at myself — just generally unhappy with the feelings that kept returning in sporadic intervals, bookending laughter, endorphin highs, and brief moments of everyday zen.

I woke up this morning at seven o’clock a.m. to the sound of my alarm but all was not forgotten. I remembered the rain that I hated, and the inexplicable feeling that soiled my otherwise “fine” day prior to the night’s unwelcomed interruption. I cracked an eye, read a text on my phone, replied, and returned my head, face down on the pillow. Another buzz on my phone, another half-conscious effort, another pillow flop, the mind unwilling to return fully from the departure. When I awoke again, whatever it was that was in my head was gone.

Three o’clock a.m.s don’t happen that often, but when they come I’m told to ride out the emotional storm, recognizing that the mental tides are constantly shifting, sometimes unpredictably so. Weeks can pass without issue, then at once, without reason, a volatile mood strikes and life is stripped of its flavor.

Depression is just a word, but the uncontrollable feelings that suck me in and inexplicably warp everything around me go well beyond the power that ten simple letters wield.

Mister Rogers Goes to Washington

I don’t know where to find PBS on my digital cable subscription, or if I even get the network (I have to, somewhere, right?). And aside from NOVA, I can’t really think of a show that might land on the channel that I’d enjoy watching from time to time. I don’t have kids, nor do I have any idea about how beneficial the current state of children’s educational programming is on PBS, or whether or not a budget cut would retard a generation of preventative learning — that’s a fancy little term I’ve come up with to describe the benefits of edutainment that might help prevent an outpouring of later-life subsidies to cover a nation of under-educated, under-skilled, over-stuffed citizens who have no choice but to turn to the government for aid after two decades of freely roaming the land as a small army of dimwitted Honey Boo Boos. (For the record, cable programming makes me very nervous about the future of this planet.) I don’t know enough about the upsides or the downsides of Mitt Romney’s bold statements at last week’s Presidential debate to accurately invest myself in that conversation (besides, that’s what political blogs are for).

I will say this, however: I love this video. In response to the proposed budget cuts by President Nixon, Fred Rogers took the floor to deliver what remains one of the most rational and thoughtful arguments for the continuance of funding for developmental programming that might ever exist: Mere reference to the statement that Mr. Rogers made in 1969 in front of the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications should be more than enough justification to keep backing this “liberal propaganda machine.”
"What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead — and think this song — I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime… And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man."
Enough about making a non-argument an argument though, because the point of bringing this up is to reflect on the compassion that Rogers spoke to while explaining himself. This isn’t just about funding some TV station that you don’t enjoy watching, this argument is about developing a national community with an understanding that our well-being and self-esteem are worth caring about. This is about nurturing the growth of young minds so that they know that they have meaning in this world, despite the overwhelming sentiment that drowns out the idea in daily life. This is about empowering young minds with the understanding that they are not some weak loser despite not meeting the cultural quota for cool, and it’s about showing children that the world is every bit as beautiful as you make it to be. I’m almost 30 and I wish that this message was pounded into my head every day NOW, let alone when I was young — this message of maintaining an honest regard for the care and well-being of self to better the larger society as a whole.

Would Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood even resonate with kids today if he were alive? Hell, did it even make sense when I was a kid? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. But without a nurturing system that encourages preventative learning we’re going to find out with increasingly speedy results just how distinct the disparity between the classes will become in our country… I’m not talking about the poverty line, necessarily, as much as the knowledge line — but in recognizing the illiteracy, ignorance, and uneducated population that exists even within my own community, the correlation between the two seems undeniable. Is there a direct link in avoiding this future and the shelling out of PBS’ $430 million annual budget? I don’t know. But to parallel the sentiment of Senator Pastore, a bet on the future of our children (let alone the children of those poor unfortunate families who only have basic network TV channels, and not some multi-tiered Comcast entertainment-explosion at their disposal like I do) seems like one that we should be willing to make.

Aesop Rock at Exit/In (Nashville, TN)

I went to a fight and an Aesop Rock show broke out…

It wasn’t without incident, but for the most part Aesop Rock’s show at Nashville’s Exit/In felt like something of a light-hearted family affair. Ace, Rob Sonic & DJ Big Wiz opened strong with a series from the MC’s recent album Skelethon, immediately setting the bar high with the powerful “Leisureforce,” “Crows 2,” and “Homemade Mummy” (which wound down with a “Make Mummy, Mummy, Make Mummy, Mummy, Mummy/Take Mummy…” play on the Make/Take Money hip hop standard — it was funny, it was unexpected, and it encouraged a playfulness that would remain throughout the set).

“Smock” followed as the first from the trio’s Hail Mary Mallon release which dropped late last year via Rhymesayers. While seeming a little disengaged late in the set, Rob Sonic shined early through this song and the track which followed (introduced as some “Brand new never heard before Rob Sonic shit” from his forthcoming Alice in Thunderdome release), with Ace taking a supporting role, appearing equally as enthused to be lipping Sonic’s lyrics off-mic while slipping deeper and deeper into the music.

A bit of crowd-interaction turned an intermission letter-association-game into the powerful “ZZZ Top,” lifting the energy of the room before slinking into one of the night’s most memorable moments. In recent years it’s become fashionable to mash media on stage in an attempt to create a value-added sensory-overload rock show extravaganza — many times this takes the form of a video accompaniment (as it did during this show) or something like a painter creatively slopping a brush over a canvas while their stage-brethren sail through some this-is-coming-straight-from-the-heart indie rock interpretation. (This isn’t always the case, but it’s been my experience… just sayin’.) Not so with Ace & his band of merry men though.

Enter the show’s openers for the Dark Time Sunshine Barbershop, with tonight’s V.I.P., Mandy A. The crowd huddled closer to the stage as Mandy was invited on stage and sat down on a chair, putting the fate of her well-kept mop in the hands of two questionably qualified barbers while Ace, Sonic & Wiz broke out with “Racing Stripes.” If there was a personal highlight of the night, this was it: chanting along to my favorite song from Skelethon, hollering “muthafuckin’ bzzz bzzz” while the crew on stage proceeded to leave Mandy with a surprisingly-presentable dew. The performance was great and the haircut ended up looking sharp in a sort of “I just got my hair cut on stage at an Aesop Rock show” sort of way. Satisfied by the final product himself, Ace joked with the crowd how they could have left her looking like Friar Tuck (Think they’re joking? Think again.) only to apologize moments later in the event he inadvertently insulted any Friar Tucks in the room. No harm, no foul…

Within moments of “Grubstake” opening though, things began to fall apart as a fight broke out near the front of the crowd, leaving the crew on stage shutting down the Hail Mary Mallon track to play peacekeepers. As the situation settled down someone yelled out how their Jack & Coke was spilled, and Ace threw out an order to replace the wounded soldier. Keeping that light-hearted feeling alive amid all the bull-shittery in the crowd, Ace joked about how someone else spilled a large pizza and coke, proceeding to beg for a replacement while he was in such a giving mood.

“Cycles To Gehenna” followed, with another new Sonic track (“Rock, Paper, Scissors”?), and “Zero Dark Thirty,” before (another personal favorite) “Grace” kicked in, somehow sending a universal message to those same mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers in the crowd, encouraging them to start fighting again. “Broads be goin’ hard in Nashville, yo,” joked Sonic as a petite blonde-haired trouble-maker was literally dragged out of the club. (Sidebar: It’s at this point in the night where my buddy Rob leaned over and dropped what might remain the night’s finest moment of commentary, adding “They were literally rapping about vegetables and a fight ensued.” Well played, sir.) “Anyone wanna take a swing before the next song starts?” mocked Aesop (or Sonic, I didn’t really catch which one said it — my bad) before the duo took a backseat to Wiz as he kicked in with his “Making a Beat From Scratch” mainstay. The man’s turntablism and mixing is excellent, and his ability to improvise on the spot is insane… though I can’t but feel like it was overshadowed by the surrounding nonsense.

HMM’s “Meter Feeder,” “1,000 O’Clock,”and Sonic’s “Happy Land Disco” played through before a brilliant version of “Fryerstarter” hit, and “Gopher Guts” closed out the main set. The group took a moment to gather themselves before the dozen-year-old “Big Bang” exploded, with the crowd fist pumping its way into the introduction of the “Night Light”/”Daylight” blend, which served as the final shot for the show. It was nice to end the night by hearing something so comfortable (though predictable… I mean, Van Halen’s not leaving the stage without playing “Panama,” are they?), properly book-ending the night’s wide-reaching circus of human emotion. If I have one regret about the show though, it’s only that I wish I would have been the one with the pizza-joke. It still makes me laugh… maybe you had to be there.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

Penicillin Baby "Daddy Drove a Hearse"

A little over two months back, in my interview with Penicillin Baby and Favorite Face Records’ Jon Conant, the vocalist mentioned that the group was in the process of putting together a few projects including a split-release with Megajoos. The two bands have now wrapped things up and packaged everything together as MEGA/BABY, a four-track EP which features a pair of songs from both bands — the early standout being PB’s “Daddy Drove a Hearse”: the track’s smooth vocals propelling a surf-rock vibe that (rather nicely) veers from the band’s previous psych-rock leanings. Megajoos’ “Gnar Gnar” is also up for streaming right now, but to hear the whole thing you’ll have to either keep an ear to Favorite Face’s Soundlcoud page come October 13, or head out to the release party the two bands (along with Tennessee Scum) will be holding at Dino’s Bar and Grill October 14.

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

S.T.A.N. feat. Sofa Brown "The Almighty Dollar "

The tone for “The Almighty Dollar” is set early in the first single from S.T.A.N.‘s forthcoming Nightmare Next Door release, as the brooding track flips between verses from the MC and the P.U.S.H. Productions mainstay Sofa Brown. Produced by Fred the Tech, the dueling verses cascade over the sounds of a haunting piano and thunderous beat. “My goal with ‘The Almighty Dollar’ was to raise the awareness of the evils people rely on just to get by,” explains S.T.A.N. “From crooked leader heads in church down to the stick up kids on the block. The track is just a sample of what’s going on Next Door.” The new album will be released on Halloween, further emphasizing the theme that the new songs will play to. “Every track has a somewhat dark undertone feel with real life situations.”

[This article first appeared on Break on a Cloud.]

"It Gets Better"

I’m a little torn here. I almost feel like suicide is something that should either be talked about without reservation, or not talked about at all… Which is why I don’t really know that I should be writing anything. In this video, Ze Frank says it’s like a virus, and that it can spread from one person to the next — how true that is of a lot of destructive behavior.

When I was in college I knew a girl who was dealing with tremendous night terrors, where she’d start thrashing around at night, still asleep, yelling and kicking until she woke herself up, only to then think she was still trapped in the world which her mind had created for her. I can’t imagine what that’d be like, fearing sleep. She took medication, but that didn’t help much. She sought therapy, but in the small college town we lived in the options were very limited. She told me one day that she had been using another coping mechanism in her life: To help manage the pressure, and take control of her emotions, she would cut herself. This was a new concept for me, and I didn’t really understand it at first. It didn’t take long before it made complete sense though.

For some reason I have a harder time talking about cutting than I do suicide, but both are destructive outlets for release that I’ve used to try and get through, or escape, living. Part of the reason that I started attending meetings at a local sober house in August wasn’t because I was strung out (to be fair, I sort of was), but because I could see my mind drifting, opening up possibility for that dark cloud of self-destruction to return. I was confused, about a lot of things, and after finding no help from local outlets that are supposed to be able to at least point me in the right direction, I decided that just being in a room with people was better than being in a room by myself. I was right.

Talking about suicide is a hard thing to do, and I still don’t know the right way to even approach discussion of it. Whether or not this is ever true, it seems easy for those who haven’t struggled with crippling depression to offer catch-all, broad-stroke advice to those in need of support, or to say, “seek help,” or “you’re not alone,” or “it will get better.” And that pisses me off. What pisses me off more is that even coming from someone who continues to struggle through suicidal ideations years after a failed attempt at ending my own life, that’s about all the advice even I can offer.

I don’t know what good there is that can come from putting this out there, but maybe in some universal-positive-lifeforce-energy kind of way, it’s just my way of taking the aluminum foil down that has been covering my windows, and setting a tone within the tiny, little community that I live in. And if by some odd chance someone reads this who feels like a miserable sack of shit, who’s working a soul-crushing job to pay for a house that they purchased because that’s what grown-ups do, who’s getting shuttled to and from that dreadful job by friends they don’t even like because they lost their driver’s license, who’s as depressed when medicated as they are normally, who doesn’t get any reprieve from therapy, who feels like their family would be better off without the burden of dealing with an emotional train-wreck on a daily basis… just know that I felt that very same way, too, and it actually does get better. And if you can’t believe that and things continue to appear their most bleak, you’d be surprised who will show up on your doorstep in order to talk you off of that ledge. People care. You’re not alone.