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Lexicon Over Lexus

In 2014, a data scientist named Matt Daniels created a diagram that visually ranked 85 prolific rappers, old and new, on a horizontal graph on their use of unique words in their song lyrics. For his data, he examined the first 35,000 words in each artist’s discography, and then used Moby Dick and seven Shakespeare [...]
Danny Hamen

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In 2014, a data scientist named Matt Daniels created a diagram that visually ranked 85 prolific rappers, old and new, on a horizontal graph on their use of unique words in their song lyrics. For his data, he examined the first 35,000 words in each artist’s discography, and then used Moby Dick and seven Shakespeare plays as a benchmark.

Not surprisingly, DMX came in dead last, verifying that his lyrics are better described as a series of garish shouts than expressive poesy.

The man who ranked first beat Shakespeare by 2,200 unique words, and, even more impressively—the GZA, by 966.

The Definitive Jux veteran, Ian Bavitz, is better known as Aesop Rock, and he’s got the illest lexicon in town.

Aesop’s blend of romantic intellectualism, brooding visceral beats, and distinguishably croaky vocal flow has more or less unchanged since his admired 2001 release, Labor Days. And that is okay. Aesop’s unique sound, lyrical verbosity, and complex song structure is what propelled him into the alt-rap limelight, alongside the likes of Busdriver and Atmosphere.

In the past decade, Aesop has been busy. He has released five solo albums, four EPs, and string of side projects, including a genre-transcendent collaboration with lo-fi acoustic starlet Kimya Dawson.

Today he is touring behind his sixth full-length album, The Impossible Kid, his first solo record in four years. The lead single, “Rings,” speaks directly to Aesop’s background in fine art and his anxiety about getting out.

“Yeah, I pretty much drew like crazy growing up, and ended up getting a BFA in painting from Boston University,” he said. “I always try to keep sketchbooks around, but I haven’t really put the work in to really advance myself in quite some time. I think the musical process over the years has transitioned into what my drawing process used to be like. I am by nature the kind of person that enjoys creating in a room alone. That’s what attracted me to drawing and painting. Music was always more social, out on stage or in a room with a bunch of rappers.”

Collective experiences certainly creates unique moments and ideas, but sometimes too many hands in the pot can sour the idea soup. That’s why Aesop says that music has become more of a personal endeavor, paralleling his approach to visual art art used to be.

“I don’t feel good unless I managed to have my hand in every sound that touches the record. I want to feel like I really made the thing. I don’t want it feel like I curated a bunch of people to work on it. I want to be a craftsman, so the successes and failures are all mine to own.”

A big part of Aesop’s influence came about growing up around New York in the early ’90s. Not surprisingly, he mentions post-punk influences like Fugazi and Hüsker Dü as major contributors to his musical influences, but it’s I think it’s fair to say that his proximity to an already blossomed hip-hop city is what rendered him incapable of doing anything else.

“I was in high school from ’90-’94, which basically framed what people commonly call the ‘golden era of hip-hop.’ Combine that with discovering the Stretch and Bobbito show and I couldn’t have been happier. Learning that there was all these insane lyricists out there that you may not have even heard of, but who just had bars at the ready every Thursday night was mind-blowing to me.”

It has been four years since Aesop’s last solo record, Skelathon. Despite the hiatus, he says his creative process has stayed true to the early days: Have a thought, save it for later.

“I keep notes always, so I just have this page in my phone with a lot of lines and phrases I’ve gathered over the weeks and months, and sometimes years. Sometimes I find homes for them immediately, other times they just sit there for awhile. Beats I treat more like a job—I try to wake up, get coffee, sit down and make beats. Whereas my rhymes, they come together slower and almost everything I bother writing gets used. When I have a loop or sketch of a beat I like, I sit and piece together my notes and think of ways to connect it all.”

Aesop Rock is to DMX as Uncle Tupelo is to Tobey Keith. They both share the basic underpinnings of their respective genres, except one serves to question and expand the aesthetic while the other accommodates the demand. And that is also OK—without that dichotomy and collective influence, there would be no counterculture and no new ideas.

“The mainstream has always had phases I enjoy, and others I think are terrible—I guess that’s just music. I think being influenced by stuff is never really intentional. You hear something, you like it … it doesn’t matter where it came from. All these rap subgenres are similar—it’s all phases. If one thing is dying, another is being born, but there’s always something to find. Shit doesn’t really die as much as it just morphs into the next thing. I think there will always be little pockets for more oddball music regardless of what sound is actually in style.”

 

See Aesop Rock perform in Columbus at A&R Music Bar June 8. Oh, and bring a dictionary.

 

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Dig. Shuffle. Click.

Dig: Brujas del Sol, II You could certainly make the case that this column makes overuse of the term “psychedelia,” if only because many of the bands that fortify the Columbus underground dabble with elements that, as much as “punk,” deem them psychedelic. But few of those same bands wear it as their tried and [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Dig: Brujas del Sol, II

You could certainly make the case that this column makes overuse of the term “psychedelia,” if only because many of the bands that fortify the Columbus underground dabble with elements that, as much as “punk,” deem them psychedelic. But few of those same bands wear it as their tried and true emblem (EYE is the only other I can imagine)—trying to conjure transcendence in wide swaths of cinematic atmosphere, endlessly entangled guitars, liberal use of reverb and flange, and a sonic propensity to paint deserts, oceans, space, with infinite horizons. Contrary to the ethos that music must be instantly inspired, or captured as lightning in a bottle, the psychedelic warriors of Brujas del Sol have been surgical in the creation of their sophomore album, the five years in the making II. The record is an object of monolithic heft, each song a journey unto itself, even when the quartet has chosen to reel in some of their unyielding tendencies to focus on actual pop songs, wherein “Fringe of Senility” could pass as Boy-era U2 and “White Lights” might confuse a Muse fan or two.

Those highlights, led by guitarist Adrian Zambrano’s faithful charge, actually make the headier, indulgent tracks more enjoyable. It’s a balance that Zambrano and bassist Derrick White—the group’s founders—discovered in their recruitment of drummer Josh Oswald and multi-instrumentalist Phillip Reed. Along with the studio wizardry of Relay’s Jon Fintel, the Sun Witches get both brutally and beautifully epic on the lead “Teenage Hitchhiker” and especially in “Sisterlace,” which switches quite magnificently between Pink Floydian dream-sequences and pure desert rock scrums. Zambrano makes use of most every edge and corner the battery provides, sometimes even bouncing his melodies around as if it were a smooth jazz station in some alternate universe. For those who like their post-rock instrumental albums, embellished with Sabbathy tones and the occasional spectral vocals, II is a engrossing trip few Columbus bands would have the patience to make.

Brujas del Sol will celebrate the release of II with a show 11.9 at Rumba Cafe. Visit brujasdelsol.bandcamp.com for music and more info.

Shuffle: Matt Umland, Blind Portrait

It might be cheating to include Matt Umland’s latest trio of songs in this column, as Umland, a member of our Class of 2017, has since moved to Baltimore to further his career as a one-man soul machine, and Blind Portrait, his finest work to date, was recorded in his new Charm City studio. For one last hurray though, we will claim him as our own, as the uniquely crafted synth workouts and layered harmonies of the once Tin Armor co-frontman, was the product of a void Umland found in Columbus music—namely, honest-to-goodness, R&B pop. Fitting then Glenn Davis, the genius mind of Way Yes, was responsible for mixing the release, and lending all production talents to the standout, “Small Senses.”

For those familiar with the sonic flora and fauna that encapsulates the wildly colorful Way Yes, “Small Senses” is a pop revelation, accented with breezy arpeggios, Muzak-inspired presets, and the Umland’s angelic voice (imagine a space between the twee of Ben Gibbard and the ’70s earnestness of Kenny Loggins). Umland’s appreciation of those yacht rock heroes and the glitchy lushness of intelligent dance music combine for an effect that shuns irony, or even hipness, but does so unashamedly. Instead, he’s making tunes that  “explore the grandeur of love in its simplest forms,” whether that’s caffeinated bedroom jams like “Hold Me,” or the lilting near-Josh Groban balladry of “Time Beyond Me.” For Columbus it’s farewell for now, but for the rest of the world it will be hard not to smile.

Visit mattumland.bandcamp.com to hear the Blind Portrait EP and for more information.

Click: Brat Curse , “Coloured by Paranoia”

I made sure to run it past the CEO of Brat Curse, Brian Baker, before referring to his band as the real-life version of a Hanna Barbera outfit animated for a Scooby Doo episode. Brat Curse’s latest video for “Coloured By Paranoia,” the first single from their long-gestating second album (released early next year on Anyway Records), is entirely inspired by the goofy, non-sequitur, hijinks of the Monkees or Banana Splits. A green-screen smorgasboard, of your above-average,  hard-working, blue-collar (Baker pleasantly reeks of Dayton, Ohio) American band, touring in the van, synchronizing jazz-hands, boofing for the camera, the clip revamps the ideals of ’80s public-access vids. The song itself is definitely an evolution from Brat Curse’s 2015 self-titled debut. The recent addition of Joe Camerlengo, who himself has been called a human Pikachu, rubs some of his own Van Dale musk over the proceedings, and some of the fuzz is removed to make way for a punchier, catchier, romp.

Visit bratcurse.bandcamp.com to hear the new single and a for a link to the outrageous video.

 

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Craft Beer’s New Groove

Why would anyone in their right mind open another neighborhood bar or record joint in a city already brimming with both? Ask Troy Stacy, the owner of Craft & Vinyl, an endeavor that is deliberately neither, nor does it pretend to be. Yet it combines the essential elements of each into an entirely new experience [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Why would anyone in their right mind open another neighborhood bar or record joint in a city already brimming with both?

Ask Troy Stacy, the owner of Craft & Vinyl, an endeavor that is deliberately neither, nor does it pretend to be. Yet it combines the essential elements of each into an entirely new experience fine-tuned for local beer aficionados and audiophiles alike.

It’s not a bar that sells LPs, nor a record store that serves beer. It’s a kindred cultural convergence that combines a craft beer counter, new and used vinyl, and a recording studio conveniently under one roof.

“There wasn’t a place that brought all three of these ideas together,” explained Stacy, whose inspiration was well informed by a career in marketing and the music industry. “We live in a digital universe, but there is still a craving for something tactile.”

Vinyl is visceral. Even as records have emerged as the fastest growing segment of music sales, capturing the charm of a record store without the musty smell and dingy décor that are almost synonymous was no easy feat. But tip too far in the opposite direction and you end up with the vintage vibe of a deservedly defunct Sam Goody.

Stacy had the right idea. He just needed to find the right place and the right space.

“I had four or five target areas, but Grandview was always my first choice,” he recalled. “But I almost leased the space that became Brewdog in the Short North. They got it right out from under me.”

Music folklore is full of happy accidents, and losing that spot for something better could be among them. The former consignment shop that was once home to an old hardware store offered weathered floors, high ceilings, and instant credibility.

“We built it to look and feel more like an art gallery. People who collect vinyl also collect it for the cover art,” Stacy said. “It’s not just a music medium.”

The “Mosaic Wall” stretches 30 feet and five records high with classic and contemporary albums, many 180-gram pressings or “heavy vinyl,” preferred by collectors for durability and fidelity. Here you’ll find seminal releases from The Stones to The Stooges and everything in-between.

Used inventory fills the “Vinyl Salon” in oversized wooden bins complemented by a lounge with a couple of leather sofas at the end and a long, bar-height table in the middle with enough stools and space to make the experience equal parts shopping and social. Flipping through stacks searching for those hidden gems is a two-handed job. That’s why you’ll find cleverly placed cup holders spaced every few feet to park your pint.

“The idea came from a very practical place. I was stocking the bins, holding a beer, and had nowhere to put it,” he confessed. “They’re actually just RV cup holders, but everyone gets a kick out of them.” (Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention would surely approve.)

Despite their resurgence in popularity, selecting the right records to sell has become evermore crucial in the age of eBay and Amazon. Stacy was smart and thankful to enlist veteran vinyl proprietor Mike “Pepe” Depew as a mentor, whose experience at Ace in the Hole Music Exchange and the Record Connection dates back decades.

“I started buying records from Pep when I was 15,” Stacy revealed. “Anytime you start a business there are bumps in the road and painful learning. He took me under his wing and helped me avoid a lot of those mistakes.”

Extending the gallery metaphor are concert posters and handbills designed by prolific local artist Mike Martin, whose limited edition screen printing and illustration style echo an earlier era, and the depth and breadth of Craft & Vinyl’s selection. From folk to funk and soul to swing, add the black and yellow punches of color to the warm wooden accents, and Jack White would feel right at home. Even the pinball machines are on-brand for a place that seems like one giant analog anachronism defiant of all things digital—with one deft exception.

“Lots of musicians go to record stores and hang out. That’s often where collaborations first come together,” he explained. “I wanted to create a place where that inspiration isn’t lost by having a recording studio just steps away. There’s nothing like it in Columbus.”

In addition to hourly studio rental—including a collection of guitars, basses, vocal microphones, and a drum kit—Stacy offers monthly packages for musicians interested in more frequent access, one of several subscription options that distinguish Craft & Vinyl as a place where music is played and made.

“One of the ideas we’re working on is a ‘Flight School’ where once a month you’ll come in to try four to six beers from a specific brewer paired with a classic album listening experience and a new album listening experience,” he noted.

Though the smallest section of the store in square footage, that craft beer counter right as you walk through the door is definitely the social glue that binds the whole operation together, and the most unique draw for foot traffic and local buzz. The novel mix of stacks of wax and craft on draft was enough to intrigue distributors before they even opened.

“The relationship with Great Lakes Brewing was really interesting because they reached out to us,” Stacy recalled. “They approached us and said they wanted to serve their Turntable Pils here. That eventually turned into a conversation about doing a collaborative vinyl album together.”

Also available as event space, new ideas continue to surface now that more folks can take it in and suggest additional opportunities and potential. The concept was always considered an evolving prototype for future locations.

“People tend to tell you what they want,” Stacy explained. “I’m here to listen.•

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InnerVision

Sam Shepherd and Genene Blackwell didn’t come into this world together. But they’ve navigated much of their lives since then as an inseparable pair. Both born prematurely and with significant visual impairments, the duo were in the same NICU at the same time, began preschool together, started piano lessons together, rode the same bus, marched [...]
Aaron Wetli

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Sam Shepherd and Genene Blackwell didn’t come into this world together.

But they’ve navigated much of their lives since then as an inseparable pair.

Both born prematurely and with significant visual impairments, the duo were in the same NICU at the same time, began preschool together, started piano lessons together, rode the same bus, marched together in the world’s only blind marching band, graduated together, and would eventually collaborate with their band InnerVision. They are as intertwined as two individuals can be, and like Adams and Jefferson or Bird and Magic, it is impossible to tell one of their stories without telling the other.

For those unfamiliar, Innervisions (1973) is also the name of arguably the most famous and critically-acclaimed album of Stevie Wonder’s career. Naming their band in the vein of this album makes sense as Sam and Genene share their love of funk, soul, rock, and jazz with Wonder, along with their visual impairments.

Trying to make a living in Columbus as a musician has enough hurdles, but try adding being blind to the mix. It’s not like Sam or Genene can drive, and public transportation in this city —especially pertaining to those with disabilities—is sorely lacking. With the help of grandparents and parents, who double as managers, the duo have been playing the summer festival circuit. They’ve been making appearances in Columbus and beyond at Plum Run Winery (Grove City), Buckeye Lake Winery (Thornville), Tucci’s (Dublin). Mudflats (Galena), and Notes (Downtown).

Their long-term goals are humble. Sam stands firmly in practicality. He wants to build a life upon his craft.

“I want to make enough to pay the bills and make a living,” he said.

Genene’s response is closer to the heart. She wants to “bring joy to people’s hearts through my music,” she said. Those may be the least pretentious statements made by any musician. In the history of the world. Ever.

I was lucky enough to recently watch an InnerVision show at Oliver’s, a hidden gem of a downtown restaurant, where live blues is performed on Friday and Saturday nights. I asked the duo if they get butterflies before live performances. But Sam takes it in stride.

”Sometimes not being able to see the crowd is good for stage fright,” he said.

Well played, sir. Well played.

The dimly lit and intimate venue and motif was perfect for the duo as they seamlessly transitioned between blues, jazz, soul, rock, and pop covers. They touched on all the standards: “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Unchain My Heart,” “Hound Dog,” and “Summertime.” The crowd, along with the waitstaff and bartenders, were bewitched with InnerVision’s musical chops and entertained by Sam’s witty banter with audience members.

To put it bluntly, InnerVision is a well-oiled machine. Genene rocks the keys and Sam, who handles most of the vocals, jumps between guitar, bongos, trombone, and harmonica. InnerVision isn’t a couple of acoustic frat bros fumbling through a local open mic night; they are musical prodigies who take no prisoners and kill the audience with kindness.

And I don’t think the term prodigy is hyperbolic as both musicians can hear a piece of music once or twice and have it mastered (instrument, lyrics, vocals) within 30 minutes. Their only assistance is the occasional YouTube tutorial or bouncing ideas off each other.

When asked to name their favorite artists, Genene is decisive:

“Adele and Alicia Keys. Those two are the best.”

Sam is a little more traditional with favorites such as Rush, Pink Floyd, Sam Cooke, and Aaron Neville. The influence of classics come from his dad; his soul comes from inside.

However, in true InnerVision fashion, the duo put their own touches on contemporary hits. When you catch them live, ask them to perform their stripped-down, bluesy version of the Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” This cover alone is worth the price of admission.

Despite their visual impairments, Sam and Genene are like many other 27 year-olds and enjoy going to the gym, checking social media, listening to music and watching superhero movies. Unlike other 27 year-olds, their lives are significantly impacted by their disabilities, but not so much that they are giving up their dream of playing live music for a living.

What exactly can be attributed to InnerVision’s seamless on stage chemistry? Maybe it is their cosmic connection and the fact that they have known each other for the entirety of their 27 years? Maybe it’s the fact that they are brother and sister in every way except biologically? Maybe they share a bond that only persons with disabilities can share?

What I do know is that you should go see them live. Sam and Genene don’t need your pity or charity. They, like all Columbus musicians, need your attention, social media likes and cover charges. Actually, just go ahead and book them for the next event you are hosting. You will get three hours of world class musicianship from two people who are making their way by letting their inner lights shine. •

You can catch multiple InnerVision shows this month, from Worthington to Gahanna to Lewis Center. For more, visit innervisionmusic.com.

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