Monthly Archives: September 2012
Hip to be square: Nerdcore tour hits That’s Entertainment, Worcester, MA, Thursday, September 6, 2012
But don’t put on your “Bazinga!” shirt yet.
The No Friends Tour, coming on Thursday, Sept. 6, to local geek mecca, That’s Entertainment on Park Avenue, will be more than a roomful of acne-faced teens playing Magic: The Gathering, or Klingon Boggle. The show will bring together some of the top names in nerdcore from around the country (and beyond) for a first-rate show – though, yes, one featuring a peculiar (and maybe geeky) strain of rap.
The self-deprecating sobriquet attached to the music these guys perform is geeky the way The Beastie Boys made hip-hop geeky or the way Talking Heads made punk geeky. That is, it is smart, it is hip, it is tense and intense. Mostly, however, it is rap that replaces the stuff of inner-city grit, poverty and gang life with middle-class concerns and traditional break-beat material with less typical sounds— hoedown fiddles, for example, and dialogue snippets from the TV series Firefly.
Its edge stems from its lack of commercial viability, its rejection of vapid, club-type mainstream rap. Because it throws open the parameters of acceptable topics and sounds, and because its artists have not yet been exploited by commercial acceptance, it has a freshness and excitement.
Jesse Dangerously, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, perhaps the best known artist on the bill, prefers the term “alternative hip-hop,” and says that his association with the term nerdcore is due to his stage clothes, which include “glasses and [a] penchant for neckties.”
And what is a nerd, but the antithesis of cool, a person who openly expresses an ardent interest in things without affectation? These artists tend not to posture in apathy like their rap counterparts. Adam Warrock, for instance, whose self-produced raps have been critically acclaimed by major publications across the globe, and who has performed at the SxSW Festival, in Austin, Texas, loves comic books and the NBC series “Parks and Recreation.” And that’s what he raps about. The attorney turned independent artist has a fun and upbeat EP devoted to the show, built on beats from current artists, like John Legend and Lil’ Wayne.
Does this sound nerdy?
Okay, so it is a little nerdy. Mikal KHill’s website, for example, opens as a fully operational Windows 95 desktop, with the content available in folders and Notepad windows, which offer a deep look into KHill’s mind via endless deep dispatches on the world around him, as well as up-to-the-minute news, and a string of sound clips. And geeky though it may be, it’s not the polite stuff of a grade-school brown-noser. KHill’s raps are profanity laced and edgy, and though he makes no bones about his nerdiness (his Facebook page cites him, first, as a rapper, and, second, as a Nintendo player), I suspect his physics teacher would blush at a few of these tunes. One tune, based on colleague Jesse Dangerously’s “Aww Shucks,” called “Awwwwwwwww Fuck,” takes a ’60s cop-show soundtrack (think Austin Powers) and delivers a slick, angry rap akin to late ’80s Digital Underground.
The community between these guys is one of the most compelling aspects of their scene. They routinely reuse the material of their friends and build new tunes by deconstructing the beats and altering the themes. Jesse Dangerously’s beat, “Pauly Shore,” for instance, takes Tribe One and Adam Warrock’s “Battle (Finale)” and turns it into a speed-rap lambasting of the MTV star, with scatological references that hit faster than your brain can grasp them.
The star-studded bill hits about 30 cities throughout the Midwest, New England, and down the east coast, and the local stop includes area artists Shane Hall and Danny Fantom, both who have made their mark on local music.
No Friends Tour on Thursday Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. at That’s Entertainment, 244 Park Ave., Worcester.
In “Sounds the Same,” from their new independent release, Good Times Ne’er Forgot, Hey Now, Morris Fader asks if the muse is gone away for good. This dire existential dilemma hits like a mid-life crisis, signaling the maturing of the group and its members. Good Times Ne’er Forgot is the result of growing up, facing life’s growing complications, and, sonically, it stems from recent outside musical pursuits of the band members. Brooks, for example, has become a mainstay on the local scene, providing his virtuoso chops to a variety of lineups based out of Green Street’s Dive Bar, and Pez plays with uber-pop locals, The Luxury.
The good news is, as this record testifies, the muse isn’t gone, at least not for this band. The record teems with ideas steeped in pop, with Brooks Milgate’s piano playing – as the lead instrument – defining the band’s sound, while his potent arsenal of blues and jazz chops have infused HNMF’s music with some historic presence, and elevated its appeal much the way superlative playing elevates the pop of Ben Folds or Phish.
The new tunes present the usual topics –social and relationship critiques – but often from less obvious vantage points, and with subtle suggestions of broader meanings. “Sounds the Same” finds the singer questioning his own creative sense (“Is anybody with me in thinking that the muse is gone away for good? It all sounds the same”) while seeming to call the state of all current music into question. Similarly, hidden beneath the bright, up-tempo, RnB/jazz-style piano hammering and blaring trumpet of “Not for You Anymore,” the band delivers the artist’s manifesto to create for the self rather than pandering to audiences. (“It’s not for you anymore, and it never will be again. “I won’t write your song and I won’t sing along.”). Or, perhaps it’s all just directed at a former lover.
Most of the songs presented on Good Times Ne’er Forgot are pop, and move in unpredictable ways that are hard to pin to one genre or another. Some, though, incorporate well used tropes to positive effect, like “Suits,” a condemnation of phonies (“A crooked smile, insincere and smug, you’ve got all new scams to pull”) with its Ray Charles-like Rhodes riff and bluesy right-hand trills (as well as a great Rhodes solo and a barrelhouse piano bridge); and “Two Weeks Notice,” a five-minute soul/blues revue that would be right at home on Joe Cocker’s Leon Russell-led Mad Dogs and Englishmen, borrowing chord changes from Ray Charles hits, like “A Song for You” and “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” The tune is big and bluesy, with tasteful lead guitar and a scorching solo courtesy of Troy Gonyea (The Howl, Booker T. and the MG’s), who also delivers some sweet slide guitar work ala Derek Trucks on the opening track, “The Blues and Alcohol.”
The work hangs together and makes good use of musical friendships developed by the band members. In addition to Troy Gonyea’s fine guitar work throughout the record, track four (“Gone for Good”) features strings by Boston guitar ace Ian Kennedy (Reverse, Groovasaurus), and track five (“Cop Show”) features Dana Colley (Morphine, Twinemen, Hi-n-Dry studios) on saxophone.
Overall, the record stays true to the band’s belief in having a good time. So, while the themes can be bleak, critical, and sometimes anxious, the mood is carried by the arrangements and production, which are driving, up-tempo, and slick, making the overriding vibe light and fun.
Hey Now, Morris Fader, comprised originally of drummer Alex Sacco and keyboardist Brooks Milgate, stormed this scene late last decade, playing an ironic, bombastic pop that bore inevitable comparisons to early Ben Folds Five (in no small part due to Brook’s piano chops, though the band cites the band as an influence, too). HNMF was immediately embraced by the scene, and won best new pop act in Worcester Magazine’s 2009 Reader’s Poll.
Hey Now, Morris Fader 2012 – Brooks Milgate (keyboard), Alex Sacco (drums), and Justin “Pez” Day (bass) – has a new CD, Good Times Ne’er Forgot, and will celebrate with a party at Ralph’s on Saturday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m., featuring Boston band Lights Out; local power pop icons Thinner; Jon Short, Duncan Arsenault, and Jeff Burch electric blues trio, Big-Eyed Rabbit; and New Pilot.
“Basically [it’s] just a big party, and we hope everybody comes out,” says Brooks of the event. “Our objective is just a party celebration, so you can expect a good time.”
A good time is what the record provides, though the process wasn’t always easy. “We started making this record about a year and a half ago,” says Brooks, of Good Times Ne’er Forgot, which was tracked at a number of studios, including Wooly Mammoth, New Alliance, Hi-n-Dry, and Tremolo Lounge, and, according to their website, mastered three times.
The album, he says, evolved out of “a bunch of songs that we just started writing in practice” as a collaborative method, though, sometimes, he or Alex would “bring in a completed song.” More often, though, Brooks says, “I’ve got a verse and a chorus and I show it to those guys and we kind of piece it together, and there’s probably one or two that were completely written in the studio.”
“The second to last song on the record,” he relates, laughing, “we legitimately didn’t even have finished. We had the time booked at the studio, but we finished it right before we recorded it, which was pretty exciting.” Time and money both influenced the making of the record. “Over the next year or so we just kind of – as we had the money to do it, we would try to add a little bit more.”
As recording progressed and the band moved from studio to studio and engineer to engineer, a vision began to emerge. They liked the songs and the progress, and “started hearing horn parts and string parts,” Brooks says, and the band “felt like [they] needed to make a bigger production of the record.”
Additionally, HNMF wrestled with a philosophical debate familiar to any musician or music fan. “Our last record,” he says, “we were very in the mindset, ‘We don’t want to record anything we can’t do live.’ But the record, we felt, this time around, needed to be something a little more special.”
Now that the recording is done, the packaging has been designed, and the CDs have been duplicated, Brooks is enjoying the result and looks back with fondness. “We just got our CDs in the other day. I’ve never done a record that was that big of a production,” he says. “It’s a great feeling when you hear it back and it’s that huge.”
The band has high ambitions for the record and has hired Powderfi nger Promotions in Framingham to manage them. “We’re doing two campaigns,” Brooks says. “The first is just to get it reviewed in different magazines and blogs, and after we release the record, next month we’re going to do a six-week [campaign] targeting college radio, and see if anything sticks to the wall.”
“We’re not really expecting anything,” he laughs. “We’re hoping it helps us get the word out, but we’re not really hoping to become millionaires.”