The Weekly Jive

Posted May 8, 2008 in Music

Emmanuel Jal—Warchild (Sonic 360)

It’s the American rapper’s sacred arch—to lionize the bottom while flaunting gratuitously from the top. As hip-hop artists are prone to spit about the economic reality of the streets—drugs, hustling, guns, banging, dodging the five-o—it’s all moot without an Easy Street from which to recite and make legitimate those realities. But how many rappers have actually killed people, or have witnessed relatives being beaten and raped, or have contemplated eating a best friend to stave off hunger, or have traversed minefields for hundreds of miles, or even have had to reinvent their will to live? Sudanese rapper Emmanuel Jal has. As a child escaping the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, Jal (now 28) fled a childhood racked with anesthetized horror to Kenya, where he got into music as a teenager. Though this is his third full-length album, Warchild’s the first in which he has found the voice and courage to articulate his experiences as a rebel soldier with the SPLA and, ultimately, rejoice at his reawakening to better days. Here’s a distinction within the rap form in which he works in: Warchild is an epic album of perseverance, not of vainglory. If Jal lacks colloquial fluidity and executive pluck, he makes up for it in context—and in subtext, being that there are those rappers whose reality looks most comfortable dressed up in quotes. (Chuck Mindenhall)

Monroe Mustang—The Imaginary Band, Regretfully Declines (Jagjaguwar)

Like lonely transmissions from the furthest outposts of turn-of-the-century indie rock, this set of slo-core home recordings drifts in eight years after the Austin band’s last release and may ironically serve as Monroe Mustang’s finest 40-plus minutes. Their first two records—1998’s Plain Sweeping Themes for the Unprepared and 1999’s The Elephant Sound—were criminally overlooked, but those who heard them were usually smitten; these 13 cuts remind us why. Unfurling with stately grace, these minor-key pop gems are built on slow-burn guitar crescendos, synth washes, plangent organ or piano, laconic vocals and gentle, angelic harmonies that wind up inspiring the same reverence they were crafted with. Processed beats accent most of the weary-but-content narratives (handled democratically by all five members), with the full kit bringing things to a boil on “Marie Antoinette.” But the prevailing atmosphere here is decidedly unhurried—fitting for an “imaginary band” that records on its own terms and exists outside of music industry time. (John Schacht)

The T4 Project—The T4 Project (Mental)

The T4 Project brings together tons of punk notables—members from the Subhumans to Pennywise—to tell the story of Phil and Jackie, two star-crossed, disenfranchised, anti-culturalist punk rockers that spend their time feeling alienated by pop culture, attending protests and trying to wiggle out from under The Man’s big boot. As you know, The Man has a system that’s really unfair, and these two pariahs know all about it, which of course translates into an instant (yet doomed) love connection. The sound that their hearts make upon coming together at that begrimed bar is like manufactured, melodic pop-punk with songs knocking about high-minded concepts like revolution, and government fibbery and decadence. Isn’t love great? Their psychodyssey then finds them at an anti-war protest, where some anti-anti-war protesters start to get crazy. “I have no patience for these bigots!” proffers Phil, without the slightest twinge of irony. And then he does it—he spits on them. The expectorating, done with righteousness and benevolence of heart, is caught by the local news media, and just like that Phil loses his job. You know the rest before it plays out—Jackie gets raped and later dies in Phil’s arms after her back alley abortion goes horribly awry, followed into the grave shortly thereafter by Phil himself, who is gunned down in a failed attempt to avenge her death. Poetry, right? No, but by the end of this tragic concept album, there’s a lingering sense of marvel that runs like this: That must have been one hell of a loogie! (Phil Fuller)   



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