Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Talking Points:: k-os - Yes!

"I am not indie rock, I am West-Indie hip hop"
If one felt like putting words in the mouth of Kevin Brereton (also known as k-os) one could see that relatively simple statement as his mantra for his fourth full-length album, Yes!, which is being released next week. Like anyone else who creates songs that don't fit neatly into one of the little genre-boxes we like to jam our music into, Kevin's had to defend and define himself more than I'm sure he cares to. So perhaps he drops that line in the opener in hopes of letting the music speak for itself for the rest of the album.

That would be fine by me, as I've always been a fan of what k-os does. I know there are people that view him as a bit too pretentious, or trapped in his own little arty world, but I consider him a friend, so I don't worry about any of that stuff. I also think he's gotten a bit of unfair stick about not being hip hop enough, and for following his influences all over the musical map, but it's always sounded natural to me, never forced because it's the in thing to do. But melding the indie rock with hip hop kind of is the in-thing to do now, so perhaps k-os will blow-up everywhere else like many of us Canadians think he should.

Anyway, I expect k-os will have plenty of outfits much bigger than ours reviewing Yes!, but because I was sent an advance of the album, I thought I would give it our famous talking points treatment. So let's get to it.

- Zambony opens with a "Crazy Joe" Clark sample (I know, it isn't that one, but "You smoke crack don't cha!!!" is hard to top), makes sense, when I think of K-Os, I think of Hockey and stern principle-ship. Good track though, K-Os kicking some nostalgic rhymes over choir samples, deep bass, guitar licks before he croons the catchy hook. After repeated listens, this has grown on me tremendously, a great, if understated, opening track.

- Astronaut has a real spacey beat, with almost an electro-Indian-dub feel, with some super speed cowbell mixed in, and K-Os laces it with pop culture references aplenty. It's the kind of beat that you wouldn't normally think of as "hip hop", and if were anyone else but k-os on the track, I don't know if it would work. But therein lies what I think is the big key to K-os' appeal, he succeeds in making the unlikely "hip hop", and does so in a more natural way than the current flavout of the month rapper that might be trying it.

- Burning Bridges is very much on the indie rock tip, and it starts out as if it may be the more uptempo sequel to Crabbuckit and Flypaper, but it's more like a mix of those songs and the more uptempo sing-alongs from past records like Man I Used To Be and Sunday Morning.

- Despite it's semi cringe-inducing title, I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman is one of my favorite songs on the album. It features fine work from Saukrates, one of Canada's most talented, yet under-appreciated MC/Producers (I'm like 99% sure it's him, but I cannot confirm this anywhere on the intertubes. Further intertubing suggests that this song might not even appear on the American release of the album - hahaha, can't have everything USA-er's! Even further intertube-age reveals that this song is built around the piano and vocals from former Jason Schwartzman vehicle Phantom Planet's California, which was apparently also used as the theme song for the O.C. This is the kind of thing that the K-os haters would point at to dent his hip hop creds, but I like this song, so it's not enough to scare me off it. This is the longest bracketed digression I've ever written, so if you made it to here, I greet you with a hearty kudos).

- 4 3 2 1 was the first single released from the album, and for good reason - it certainly has that "single feel" (ugh, whatever that "is"). It alternates between the the catchy squidgy-ness of the very familiar Fatback-assisted opening beat (I know it from the Pharcyde and, of course, Lakim Shabazz's Pure Righteousness, but there must be other uses) to the big, piano & strings vocal breakdowns. K-os' verses themselves are catchy on this one, he's in fine form. Fun tidbit, I read a review of this album that said this of the Fatback sample: "featuring one of the more annoying sound effects I’ve heard in years". Oh white people, you are so cute! (That's funny because I am also white!)

- Eye Know is also one of those tracks that I might not have given too much of a chance too without my pro-K-os bias. It flips between big banging bass and a rocket-propelled handclaps & synths beat with female vocals for the chorus, that is strangely hypnotic. It has just induced a brief round of chair dancing though, so clearly I do like it, cannot front.

- Big drums and guitar riffs provide are the soundtrack for k-os to narrate his relationship with hip hop on FUN!, and by the sounds of it, he doesn't always have the fun doing something us regular folks just assume would be a constant blast. I would guess that Kevin has a bit of a love-hate relationship with hip hop: loving the classic elements that all of us who grew up on it during a certain shiny-metalled age all do, but hating the thuggish nonsense that has been in vogue for so long, and constantly having to defend what he does. That bit can't be much fun.

- Something else I cannot front on: there was a not so tiny part of me that was hopîng Mr. Telephone Man was perhaps a remake. No such luck. It turns out to be k-os touching on some of the same themes as FUN! over a mix of traditional hip hop drums and telephone sound effects.

- Whip C.R.E.A.M. is a cross-reference of the Wu's C.R.E.A.M. and Devo's Whip It. I made up the Devo bit, but that would be a helluva mix if one were to create it. Next k-os album maybe, but I like this song though.


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