Monday Morning Fuel: DJ Shadow and Run the Jewels - Nobody Speak

DJ SHADOW. RUN THE JEWELS. DJ SHADOW AND RUN THE JEWELS. DJ SHADOW AND RUN THE JEWELS SIMULTANEOUSLY!

You're looking at me like you don't understand how important this is. Just go ahead and listen to it, and then you'll understand. Shadow has seemed to be lost in the wilderness for awhile now. While he was an instrumental (heh) force in pushing me to understand and appreciate left-of-center hip hop and turntablism in my youth, much of his recent output has been in the meh to okay range. That's a dramatic fall when someone once called him the Jimi Hendrix of the Sampler or some shit like that. 

Then, of course, you have Run The Jewels, probably one of the most vital forces in hip hop right now. Killer Mike's unctuous verbal battery combined with the air strikes of El-P's compelling weirdness and raunchiness blend with this slick and funky Shadow track like nothing I've heard in a long time. You can just feel Shadow's revitalization happening in your ears as two lyrical veterans knock it out of the park. 

TRACKED: Reverend Matt and Low's "Blue-Eyed Devil"

My writing has always leaned on music. Whether inspiration, mood, or energy to keep me going through the many hours of drafting and editing, it can be an important force and fuel for what I do. These tracks in particular were especially crucial, helping me build or refine a character, a scene, or a whole story arc. 

The Track

As much as I love the Soul Coughing original of this song, with it’s bright guitars, sardonic tone, and punchy bass, I’ve long found this version to be more compelling. Low’s version of this tale, a song about the “god among salesman,” is a complete different character study. Smooth, slow, mournful, and a touch creepy, it feels more complex and evokes a whole different set of emotions than the original. It’s perfect to fit Reverend Matt Renault. On the surface, he’s a salesman of a sort. He sells a new destiny to the ignored, the excluded, and the failed. With all of his smooth talk and his intricate plans, he’s a suave force of malevolence. A song like this fits him and his slow, meticulous, and dangerous ways. 

The Character

Reverend Matt Renault has been many things in his life. A former altar boy with a grasp on the power of religion, he originally felt called to Seminary school. His mastery of theology was beyond question, but very quickly his teachers realized he was too skilled at twisting its meanings into manipulating his own heretical understandings of life and God. He had an eerie talent for using the forces of religion and faith to manipulate people. It didn’t take long for Matt to realize his potential was being wasted and drop out of Seminary school to find more fruitful endeavors. The agents of Hell were quick to approach with an offer, eager to turn Matt’s talents with words and manipulative flare for religion into something they could use. His skill was particularly well-suited to Summoning, the art of calling Demons from Hell itself and binding them to his will. Very quickly, Matt found himself able to call and control some of Hell’s mightiest creatures and even converse with the Pit Lords themselves. 

Eventually recruited by the Goetians, an elite group of Hell’s servants composed of mortals like Matt and devilkin who could trace their lineage to the Pit Lords themselves, he had a radical idea. Why not copy the model of active fundamentalist churches, but turn it on its head? Building a Hell church with active outreach programs to disaffected youth, loners, and social outcasts could yield an endless stream of angry recruits that could hide in plain sight as it masqueraded as any number of “normal” churches. It didn’t take long before the Goetians saw the virtue in his proposal and decided to fund it. One of Matt’s mentors, a talented Sorcerer, even helped design the church to be a veritable fortress of arcane defenses in case they were ever exposed. 

Over the years, after recruiting and carefully grooming a handful of talented and powerful acolytes, his following and his church have grown into something dangerously special. With his honeyed words and talk of better lives, Reverend Matt has built quite the force of adepts and soldiers ready and able to fight for Hell all under the roof of what looks to be a normal church. And under that church? He’s built something even more dangerous. It started with an idea from his Goetian mentor, a construction from the middle ages called a Possession Chamber. While his mentor perished after completing the first phase of it in a summoning gone wrong, Matt has remained determined to make the Chamber a reality. Able to pull Demons directly from Hell to infest the souls of anyone placed in the Chamber, Reverend Matt has constructed the ultimate factory for Hell’s sleeper agents to hide in the bodies of others and terrorize all of humanity. 

That is, once the Chamber is finished. Matt witnessed his mentor die, then over a dozen more talented enchanters follow suit as they try to complete the design. Hell’s power is not easily controlled, nor are its bloodthirsty denizens. As the number of enchanters that Reverend Matt can lay hands on begin to dwindle even as the design inches ever closer to completion, he finds himself in a strange place. His cult of acolytes is ready to act, to help Reverend Matt ignite the world and knock the forces of Heaven back from their dominance over humanity. The only problem? Their best weapon may never be complete. His last ditch hope before he falls to truly desperate measures is the name of one last enchanter he’s discovered - an obscure graphic designer named Derek Watts.

Monday Morning Fuel: KONGOS - Take It From Me

Normally, you wouldn't expect "rocking accordion riff" to be a phrase that, well, exists. But here it is. In this puzzle of an anthemic rock song, an accordion riff goes to the front of the mix during the verses, and it doesn't feel out of place or wrong at all. Even when paired with a slab of synth bass and some warbling pulses, it seems oddly right. The guitars stay in the background, and I don't miss them. It's a bit of a counterpoint to Bob Mould last week, but it just goes to show that if you've got a big hooking riff, and a good melody, you can make the strangest arrangements play nice around it. I always have to applaud bands that take bizarre instrumentation like a sonic dare and go all the way with it. 

TRACKED: Amy Reese and the Beastie Boys' "Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win" (Prophet of Chaos)

My writing has always leaned on music. Whether inspiration, mood, or energy to keep me going through the many hours of drafting and editing, it can be an important force and fuel for what I do. These tracks in particular were especially crucial, helping me build or refine a character, a scene, or a whole story arc. 

The Track

Santigold is someone who always projects swagger and mystery. A subdued Beastie Boys provides a perfect backdrop for her to really shine. It’s the perfect backstory for telling the story of a minion that became more, who grew into a danger. This song talks about everything that eventually found its way into Amy. As much as she may be a minion, she’s a real operator. She’s someone who reads people, who knows danger, and who knows how to play the game. Most importantly, she knows how to play people, and has done so for as long as she can remember. She’s one part femme fatale, one part manic pixie nightmare girl, and that throbbing and distorted beat coupled with Santigold’s confident and shady lyrics fits her perfectly. 

The Character

A lot of people underestimate Amy. With her strange hairstyle, her vintage clothes, and the fiery tattoos covering her back and body, they mistake her for someone she’s not. She’s well aware of that, though, and she exploits it to the hilt. Amy’s spent most of her short adult life as a recruiter and operative for Hell. Seamlessly blending in with every disaffected subculture she can: geeks, hipsters, metalheads, and EDM writhers, she’s always able to find a few disgruntled souls to join her Reverend Matt’s Church of the Second Redemption. Sometimes it’s her words, sometimes it’s her attitude, and sometimes it’s her body that wins them over. As a skilled Acolyte of both Hell’s Lord Hate and Lady Lust, men and women alike can’t deny her allure and her talent for always saying the right thing when they’re at rock bottom. 

Amy sells freedom. She sells an end to a life trying to conform to society’s oppressive mores, unfair economics, and the bible-thumping political players trying to bring the world to heel under their precious “Good Book.” In the end, she sells a chance to upend that very society itself. Amy’s a revolutionary, ready to overthrow everything about the oppressive modern order she sees around her. She’s risen in the ranks of Matt Renault’s church to be his most trusted agent, a recruiter and a tactician who can make his visions into something real. And his visions and plans are about to come to fruition.

As Reverend Matt’s plans slide into place, she just needs to grab one more enchanter to finish their greatest weapon. She’s even got Ryan Fletcher, a Defiler of Hell, along with her for the ride. Too bad that enchanter’s being protected by one of Limbo’s most dangerous players: the Prophet. So close and yet so far, she starts to wonder if Reverend Matt has the stomach to do what’s necessary. She’s never doubted him before, but after watching her courageous lover Ethan Morgan take on the forces of Heaven and Limbo by himself and nearly walk away victorious, she thirsts for something more. Reverend Matt’s schemes and grand plans don’t do it for her the way they used to. Neither does recruiting more social outcasts and frustrated disappointments to Hell’s cause. Amy wants action. More than that, she wants blood for what they did to her Ethan.

Monday Morning Fuel: Bob Mould - Black Confetti

Sometimes you just want some rousing guitar noise. Bob Mould is always a pretty good place to start with that, especially his recent output. Patch the Sky continues a long streak started by The Silver Age where he brought a more lively grunge style back with the polished sonics of distinctly better production. His dissonant and harmonic choruses further seal the deal, giving these anthems an almost meditative field. Black Confetti is one of those, with a building, mid-tempo cadence that is underlined by a busy rift that is so dense it nearly swallows the world as it wraps you in a sonic fog. It's that kind of guitar-fog and Bob Mould's voice that can almost feel like a forcefield against the world around you at times. 

Monday Morning Fuel: M83 - Road Blaster

So many artists traffic in 80s, synth-drenched nostalgia that it takes a lot to really stand out. M83 has offered one of the few albums recently that revisits that tinny, blaring synth sound evocative of new wave and also thoroughly modernizes it. You can really hear it in "Road Blaster," a song that produces a shower of synth horns that doesn't sound cheesy or ironic, but sincerely joyful. The bright guitar finish makes it gleam and shine like the special track it is. Every time I listen to it and the album it came off of, "Junk," I can't help but smile and find something new in the stacks of sounds M83 has presented. 

TRACKED: Ryan Fletcher and Kanye West's "Monster" (Prophet of Chaos)

My writing has always leaned on music. Whether inspiration, mood, or energy to keep me going through the many hours of drafting and editing, it can be an important force and fuel for what I do. These tracks in particular were especially crucial, helping me build or refine a character, a scene, or a whole story arc. 

The Track

I cannot tell a lie. I’m a Yeezus fan. I tried to deny it for a very long time. I tried to argue that we should separate the music from the man. I tried to say I only liked “a few of his songs” (maybe “a few” out of every single album he’s ever put out). But part of what makes Kanye’s music compelling is the man himself. They’re inseparable. He’s a man who’s arrogant, self-destructive, moody, talented, insecure, and in many ways at least somewhat aware of all of the above. None of that is more clear than in “Monster,” an anthem to how awesome and yet how fucked up he truly is. In “Monster,” one moment he is celebrating himself and in the next demanding adulation and raging at the gossip about him in a way that leaves his thin skin on full display. And then there’s that Nikki verse. How can you say no to that?

The whole track fits Ryan Fletcher exactly. That dichotomy of believing yourself amazing, a genius, and then deep down below there’s the rot, the doubt, and the need for validation. A need for validation that can make you do terrible things. A murderous, mutated soldier of Hell, Ryan Fletcher only ever wanted to be loved and respected. All he ever got was manipulated and abused into doing everyone else’s dirty work. 

The Character

Having Demon blood coursing through your veins can cause you to do funny things. It can make you emotional, unpredictable, and sometimes blind. Ryan Fletcher knows this well, and he wished he could use it as an excuse for all the poor decisions in his life that have brought him to where he is now. He’s always made mistakes, but he was only after that recognition. That acknowledgement that he was worth something. It led him to becoming a cop, then a dirty cop, then a dirty cop who was doing Hell’s errands. After that, it almost led him straight to the grave. Lying there, shot and bleeding, Fletcher prayed for a second chance. The Demon blood gave him that. It saved his life, but it made him into something different. A warped reflection of a man that’s more monster by the day, Fletcher’s life slouches toward ever more dark deeds and brutal acts. 

But the power? It’s amazing, and in Fletcher’s mind worth the price of admission. Strength, speed, and a body that mends itself from almost any wound are part of the bargain. The ability to cloud people’s minds with fear and hate whenever you want is a serious sweetener, too. Fletcher makes use of it all, ready to crack some skulls on Hell’s behalf whenever he’s needed. Recently, he’s been tasked to help a small group of Demon-worshipping churchgoers with some plan he hasn’t been really given the particulars of. Typical that they wouldn’t trust him and respect them. Some of the church’s acolytes are alright, but almost immediately he finds himself butting heads with their leader: a Reverend Matt Renault. When Fletcher sees a prime opportunity and takes it, dropping an Agent of Limbo, Reverend Matt had the audacity to criticize. Fletcher’s seen his kind before, mages that are all talk and unwilling to take action and micromanaging assets he doesn’t truly appreciate. Fletcher is just hear to kill as many people who serve Limbo and Heaven as he can. Reverend Matt and his acolytes better watch themselves. If they don’t give Fletcher his due, they could end up on the wrong side of his Demonic powers and talents