WEEZER - MAKE BELIEVE

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Album: Make Believe
Artist: Weezer
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It has become very trendy to make fun of Weezer (Pitchfork, i'm looking at you). Herohill doesn't like to jump on a wagon, but Rivers is becoming increasingly strange, and the sound the band is producing is all over the map. Gone are the days when Rivers opened up his soul to his listeners (Pinkerton). Today, he puts together songs that sound like they were written for lyrics he wrote in high school.

That being said, in the past, when Weezer was bad, they still managed to write some catchy pop songs. This effort however, seems to be an attempt to latch onto any style that might be popular for the kids buying the album. They have ballads, anthems, Beatles-esque tracks, and filler. Lots and lots of filler. I have to think radio-crafted songs about being on drugs are beneath this band. So are songs about being the odd man out. The single "Beverly Hills" sounds like some kind of white guy, indie rap that I could see Barenaked Ladies rocking in Americna Pie 5. Newsflash, you are in Weezer. I find it a tough pill to swallow when i try to picture Rivers feeling like no one lets him in. Indie kids would sell a testicle to hang out with him and girl/guys probably throw themselves at the sensitive songwriter.

Rick Rubin produced the album, and now the band is releasing songs about a minute longer than usual. While a minute might not seem long, in pop records, having a minute added to a song that goes nowhere, is painful. Past efforts where crunchy albums, that seemed to be a complete product, start to finish. This album is more like a grade 9 makeout session. You get mildly aroused, but never enough to make it memorable. Weezer - Make Believe We Are Doing More Than Dry Humping.

People talk about artist's growth. Well, I think River has finally jumped the shark. His usual introspective lyrics seems childish and boring. I could honestly see Rob Thomas singing these songs. "I don't wanna be in Weezer no more...."

I guess it is easy to crap on the band and expect past greatness, but seriously... songs like Pardon Me (no, it isn't an Incubus cover) seem to read like a diary. "I tried my best, I gave my all, sometimes my best wasn't good enough for you". Come on. "You're My Best Friend and I Love You". Is Rivers hoping to make a sequel with Jennifer Garner? 30 Going on 13!!! Another apologetic ditty with a heavy drum/guitar chorus? Does Weezer really want to be playing with Blink-182 for the 13 year-olds? They even make hand-claps sound bad. Any song with hand-claps usually make me laugh. The Other Way is painful.

Overall, I think this album is weak. Weaker than a lot of the radio crap you hear everyday? Maybe not, but would I watch a Charlie Kaufman version of New York Minute and be satisfied? Nope.


ZION I - TRUE & LIVIN'

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Album: True & Livin'
Artist: Zion I
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Why do some Hip Hop groups blow while others don't? I have no idea, and if I did I probably wouldn't be writing about it for free on herohill. But Zion I is one of those groups I thought would have gotten much more attention by now. With their unique, quality production and excellent emceeing, they've certainly got the talent to break out of the West Coast Underground a la groups like Dilated peoples, so maybe True & Livin' is the album that will do it for them. The Zion crew I hails from Oakland California and consists of Amp Live on the beats and Zion handling mic duties. This is their 3rd full length album following their debut, Mind Over Matter, and their sophomore effort Deep Water Slang Vol. 2.

As I mentioned, this is Zion I's third full album and I was a big fan of both of their previous efforts. One big reason for that was Amp Live's production. He's got an eclectic sound that utilizes programmed drums, live instrumentation, and samples to produce a soulful, electro-influenced vibe for the album. He's sort of like a more underground, west-coast JayDee.

Amp knows he's got a very versatile MC to work with, and as a result, he's not afraid to try some things. The Bay uses mainly a sparse track of handclaps and a bassline to provide the backdrop for Zion's ode to his hometown. Soo Tall is a fast paced, bubbling track that sounds like something the Artful Dodger or someone could have done. Amerika is out there, using military-style marching drums with some electric guitar in the background, but it matches Zion's "America as Military State" rhymes.

Zion's the Zion in Zion I, if you haven't figured it out for yourself, and he certainly earns his keep. He's got a cool voice and a tight flow, and as I mentioned, he's got the versatility to tackle tracks that most mc's wouldn't go within a 10-foot dookie gold rope of. And he tackles those tracks with wide ranging subject matter too, which is always a good thing. The aforementioned Amerika and Poems 4 Post Modern Decay take aim at the state of America today, while you can feel the optimism for the future of Zion's people on Luv and Soo Tall. There's also a track for the ladies (Next To U) and a Common Sense/Used To Love Her styled ode to hip hop as lover (Bird's Eye View).

If all that good stuff isn't enough for you, there's some quality guest shots on here: Aesop Rock, Del, Gift Of Gab, and Talib Kweli. If that doesn't get a rise in your indie hip hop shorts then you aren't paying attention. This album has only gotten better so far with repeated listens, so I'd say you'd be wise to check it out for yourself.



Album: Live at the Apollo
Artist: Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama
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It must be said that Ben Harper probably cares about music more than anyone else alive. He prides himself of his bootleg collection, playing tribute to his peers and influences and straight up feeling it when he plays live. Maybe I am reviewing this album because summer is upon us, it is Festival Time, and Ben is headlining the Zooma tour that is coming to the TeeDot. More likely, I just respect Ben Harper as a musician, and know he is one artist that won't phone in a live performance and the fact he is putting out another live album means he believes the performance is soild.

Ben's last studio album was a gospel album (There Will Be a Light) that featured himself and the Innocent Criminals, and the legendary Blind Boys of Alabama. The album netted two grammys, and reinforced Ben's diversity as an artist. The powerful soul songs were a refreshing change to all the new wave crap that seemed to be coming out every weak.

This album is a live performance at the legendary Apollo Theatre in NYC. The album consists of songs from the studio album, plus some of Ben's solo work. Perhaps the most obvious emotion Ben expresses is respect. He is genuinely thrilled to be sharing the stage with the Blind Boys, and creating soul music. This shows in the songs. Highlites include the title track from the studio album, Church on Time and I Shall Not Walk Alone. This album takes the beautiful melodies of the studio tracks, and adds the emotion of a live performance and an audience. If you liked the studio album, Ben Harper, or soul music, this album will not disappoint you.



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