Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Basketball shorts, swinging fists, & fashionable hair

or the Eighteen Visions, Comeback Kid, The New Transit Direction, and Preacher Gone to Texas show @ The East Peoria Legion Hall

Peoria has had a glut of decent hardcore (or metalcore, depending on who you ask) shows in the past few months, thanks to the new blood the has stepped up and declared "WE ARE TIRED OF SEEING THE SAME THREE BANDS!" This is possibly the biggest tour to stop at the local venue in quite some time, which meant interest and attendance was particularly high. In typical Peoria fashion, the show started late and on a slightly sour note; a sign was posted at the front door that said Eighteen Visions might not play because the singer had lost his voice. Surprisingly enough, the patient crowd gave no audible reaction.

Preacher Gone to Texas (pictured) kicked off the show by announcing this would likely be their last in Peoria, because they were planning on breaking up. From there, there were only two ways the set could go: Either they could play their hardest -- warriors not going out without a fight, or like a defeated dog just going through the motions. Unfortunately for the audience, it often seemed like the latter was their choice -- sloppy drumming, fumbled guitar lines. They had also added a keyboardist (or at least since I had seen them last) which seemed to be a mistake. He contributed little other than rote backing (or rather fronting, as he was much louder than the guitars for the first half of the set) and tuneless vocals. The only member giving it their all was the singer, who growled with a mouth that could fit volleyballs inside. It was sad to watch this once electrifying band play with so little gusto.

The New Transit Direction was most likely a band that got stuck with 18V by their label, because they seemed as out of place at this show as could be. No amount of piercings or tats could help people get past NTD's bland heavy rock and excessive arena rock posturing. I felt kind of sorry for them -- Peoria just wasn't the place to be.

So Eighteen Visions, the famed metalcore turned alterna-mosh pretty boys ended up playing an abbreviated set, composed mostly of songs from their most recent record, Vanity. This meant lots of Stone Temple Pilots-ganking riffs and pained howling vocals -- less than a delight. Despite the lack of heavy (read: older) material, it seemed like their fans enjoyed them enough to appreciate the miniture set they got.

Tonight's headliners (thanks to 18V) were Comeback Kid, whose metal-tinged old school hardcore was a bit of a departure from the rest of the night's bill. Fast beats, a ton of 100-person crew vocals and an overall energetic performance. I would comment more, but the raging pit was what kept me occupied for most of CK's set. It got tiring quick to watch kids jump endlessly on top of each other for no reason other to "get some air." Note to self: either stop coming to hardcore shows bespectacled or buy stronger glasses.

Usher -- Confessions
Arista; 2004

For a little bit there, I thought Usher had gone missing. I checked the clubs, the strip clubs, and the rodeos (I don't know, just to be thorough). Finally, after asking his long-time girlfriend, now current ex-girlfriend Chilli Thomas, I got the answer "He had better be at the confessional, if he knows what's good for him!" What she had casually left out was that for Usher, the confessional is a recording booth. Confessions, Usher's fourth album is fairly balanced between tearful fireside chats and party-packing movers and shakers.

As the title suggests, Confessions is a rather personal album with much of the subject matter focusing of infidelity, both his and hers. As expected, there are a lot of "I want you back" lyrics -- pretty typical pop/R n' B stuff. What got my ears to perk up was the track "Confessions II," a tell-all of a song about finding out his girl on the side is preggers. Whoa! That actually happens?? I'm so used to hearing stuff like "I sleep with all the womenz" from R. Kelly and the like, that the line "...that chick from part one I was creepin' with... / say she's three months pregnant and she's keepin' it," is plainly shocking.

Usher struggles over whether or not to stay with his girl despite their problems on the dusty-grooved "Take Your Hand." "Burn" is a twinkle and stomp ballad about coming to the point where breaking up is the only feasible option. Even tracks where Usher isn't moaning about love lost sound honest. Switching the roles to become his girlfriend's crazed groupie (like on "Superstar II") and giving a stern lecture to players that don't treat their girlfriends right ("Simple Things") make Usher all the more adorable. That seems to be his allure -- he may be a gajillion album-selling big shot, but he still comes off relatively grounded and human -- more than I can say for some of his peers in contemporary R n' B.

So he's down to Earth, and that's cool, but what I'm sure what people really want to know is, how's the music, Ush? Confessions provides a few tracks that number among Usher's best and a few that might be better forgotten after a night of heavy... dancing. Pretty much everyone knows the Lil' Jon-produced megacrunk hit "Yeah!", the track that ratcheted Confessions to the top of charts. Slick and smooth dance number "Caught Up" is loaded with blippy bass and carried by about 15 layers of Usher's vocals. The crackling, laid back funk of "Take Your Hand" is where he really lets loose, flying all over the octaves. And even though Just Blaze's track "Throwback" sounds more like Just Blase at times, the hazy, soul-sampling song actually works out pretty well for Usher's voice.

However, the album falters when Usher tries to scale it back a notch. "Can You Handle It," "That's What It's Made For," and "Follow Me" are like R. Kelly lite -- only a little sexy and half as memorable. Its decent lyrics aside, "Burn" is a total bore, making me wish Jermaine Dupri could have replicated the hotness of "U Got It Bad" instead of this yawn. The track "Bad Girl" is actually laughable, considering that it sounds like he borrowed JC Chasez's producers and utters the phrase "pimp juice."

At an hour long and fraught with some pretty weak slow jamz, Confessions is a far from perfect album, but not a bad record by any standards. Usher's fourth album is more than just tales of his most recent sexual exploits -- it's a well blended record that mixes emotion and heartbreak with some club-ready hits. I almost wish that more R n' B'ers would wax emotional on their albums, but I'm too afraid it would lead to an emo R n' B scene. That's a scary enough thought to make me wish I were missing too.

My salsa...

Or the new D12 single, "My Band"

He's right, you know. More often than not, lead singers are the only ones that get attention from the media and fans while backing bands get the shaft. How many times do you see the cellist of Bright Eyes getting interviewed over Conner Oblurst? Or the rhythm guitarist of Avril Lavigne's crap troupe? Or anyone in The Rolling Stones with the exception of Mick and Keith? (I swear, I'm not bitter.) This is actually a pretty great commentary on said issue, coming from the ever spoofing Eminem and his friends/fellow group members in D12. It kind of makes you wonder if shit is actually bad for Swift, Proof, Kon Artist, Kuniva, and Bizzare. But then you think, well, they are making fun of it... things can't be that bad.

Rapping-wise D12 get the job done, delivering hilarious, back-biting lines nonchalantly while still maintaining a decent flow. But despite the brilliant concept, Em's production is pretty same ol', same ol'. His circus-like organ/keyboard line just echoes his older singles and the beats leave something to be desired. What, pray-tell, is Eminem doing singing again? His voice is plainly grating, almost to the point that one would think it's intentional (duh). And that bridge -- Jesus fucking Christ -- which yes man told him he could shreik like that? It's interesting that D12 made a purposely irritating single and that it actually gets played! Although I'd give them an A+ for concept alone, this is kind of like the anti-single. It's not danceable enough for the clubs, too goofy in the Jeep, and too whiny for repeated play on the headphones. Sounds like he's created a single for nerdy music critics! Er, not that I know what that would be like or anything. Uhh, booo! Bring back "Lose Yourself"!

N.E.R.D. -- Fly or Die
Virgin Records; 2004

The Neptunes are highly overrated. And yet, scores of the greatest groups of all time have been overrated, which shows it certainly isn't the worst thing to be. That is, unless you happen to actually be the Neptunes. The famed production duo's rap-rock facet, N.E.R.D., has become a place where the two can let their now inflated egos run wild. The result is Fly or Die, the product of swelled heads and the increased desire for hip-hop fixtures to be acknowledged by the rock music world.

Now don't get me wrong, The Neptunes are fantastically talented musicians. Their production work of the last five years has yielded some of the best hip hop and pop singles of the times, putting them up there with Timbaland and Dr. Dre. Even ...In Search Of, their previous N.E.R.D. effort, was pretty good. So why is Fly or Die such a different story?

For one, the majority of this album's songs are essentially meaningless. Long gone are songs like "Bobby James" that give intimate portrayals of teenage drug dealers or the economic struggles of "Provider." Even the sex romps of "Truth or Dare" and "Tape You" had some substance to them: they were very human and down to earth songs. Fly or Die finds singer Pharrell Williams and instrumentalist Chad Hugo with their heads stuck in the high and mighty clouds. The songs are musically accessible, but have nothing to them lyrically.

Instead of topics the average person can relate to, we get Pharrell talking about being a kid in 2k4, a topic his rich, single, 30-year-old ass knows little about, and it shows. Other songs like "Wonderful Place" or "Waiting For U" are practically unintelligible. "Cuz cartoons are turning into real life / Lemons and limes are fighting / Fighting over straws..." Huh? Perhaps he was thinking listeners would be too caught up in the grooving music to notice his literary blunders.

Unfortunately, that musical end of the group isn't enough to carry the album either. What hasn't carried through from ...In Search Of is their sense of adventure. All the kick in the face bombast of "Rock Star" is diffused into the stoopid come-ons of Hendrix-derived "Backseat Love." In place of the calming lounge feel of "Stay Together" we get "Chariot of Fire", a track that sounds like a piano-based Avril Lavigne clunker. Avril-fucking-Lavigne, folks.

Simply put, The Neptunes have become cocky. Instead of pushing themselves to create the magical Midas touch they're so well known for, they think they can get away with anything. In addition, they've all but abandoned their hip-hop roots this time out. Much like other popular hip-hop artists Eminem and Outkast, they've found one of the best ways to connect with the rock audiences is, well, to make rock songs. Who can blame them? Look at the outstanding success of Outkast's chart-ripper "Hey Ya" and Eminem's you-can-do-it anthem, "Lose Yourself"; it's undeniable that they shift units like gangbusters.

There are a few bright points mired in Fly or Die's mediocrity, and thankfully they're hot. The album's single, "She Wants to Move" is quirky and contagious -- a complex dance number that comes packaged with the new catchphrase "she's SEXXXY!" "Maybe" is the album's secret weapon; a deceptively simple song that makes its money with fierce guitar lines, blissful harmonies, and noodling synth squiggles.

As Spiderman's dear old Uncle Ben once told him, "With great power comes great responsibility." Such is true for The Neptunes too. They've certainly worked hard to attain their great status in production and to succeed with their first N.E.R.D venture. Now it appears that all this glory has left them too full of themselves to put forth the same effort. Fly or Die seems to be their low point -- let's hope the mighty don't fall any further.

I Got Love For

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