Sunday, October 17, 2010

Odd Years Indeed

Buck 65's EPs are finally here! And they're... good, but somewhat disappointing. For those who don't know, Buck 65 has just released three 7" EPs of four new songs apiece to celebrate his 20th year as a recording artist. They're available exclusively through his site,, as vinyl EPs or mp3 downloads, except for the first volume, which is also available as a bonus CD packaged with his DVD, The Lost Tapes.

But if, like me, you were essentially expecting a new album sliced into three parts, you're in for a bit of a let-down. This is more a collection of scraps, like his tour CDs, pressed on wax. There are cover songs, material that sounds like it didn't make past albums, at least one song that you've heard before and lots of awkward collaborations. In fact, every single song here is a collaboration (and none with actual rappers), which just opens the door for a lot of mish-mash: hooks that don't fit, indulgent instrumentation, and silly ideas which shouldn't have been fully realized into commercially released songs.

So, it's kind of a mess. But as any serious Buck 65 fan - who should be used to this by now - knows, that doesn't mean there still isn't a lot of quality to be found if you're willing to sift through the chaos. So let's break it all down and really see what we've got here.

Volume 1 - Avant:
1) Gee Wiz (w/ Nick Thornburn and Buddy Peace) - At least we start off strong, with one of the best songs in the series. The music is really good, Buck's in top form. It's also got a fantastic scratch chorus. This is a great song all around, and unfortunately raises the bar way too high for the rest of the songs coming up.

2) Who By Fire (w/ Jenn Grant) - We follow the best song up with the worst. I mean, what the fuck is this folk music shit? I think it's another non-hip-hop cover, which a segment of his audience must eat up, because he keeps making them. Buck 65 whispers along to Jenn singing over a bland instrumental about... whatever; I don't care. It's like being at a party and some friend of a friend says, "hey, my girlfriend and I are learning guitar. Wanna hear us sing?" and before you can make an excuse... Blech. This is one song I'll never be revisiting.

3) Superstars Don't Love (w/ Jorun) - This one features some very 80's drum machine beats, which is kinda cool and surely Jorun's influence, but it does feel a bit gimmicky. That gimmicky nature is quadrupled by the lyrics, which is just a long list of pop culture references. I guess all the name-dropping is meant to be hipster bait ("wow, Buck 65 has heard of ____? I'm a fan of ____, too! Amazing!"). Also Michael Jackson's name comes up about twenty times, because I think this is actually supposed to be about his life as a media icon, in a tenuous sort of way.

4) Red-Eyed Son (w/ Coral Osborne) - Another good one, and one of the few examples where the guest singer on the hook actually works. She's got a compelling voice, which is echoed and played softly in the mix with a really nice instrumental. And as good as she sounds with the music, Buck sounds even better.

Volume 2 - Distance:
1) BCC (w/ John Southworth) -This is silly but catchy one. It's got kid-friendly music and a weirdly sung hook that sounds like it's taken off an old children's song. Buck's flow kinda reminds me of MC 900 Ft Jesus here, as he kicks lyrics that are just arbitrary non-sequitors. This is like one of those crazy records Prince Paul would stick on somebody's album. Amusing, but probably not one you'll want to play too often.

2) Paper Airplane (w/ Jenn Grant) -After "Who By Fire," I winced when I saw Jenn Grant's name pop up again. But this song is a lot better. It's actually taken from one of the DirtBike albums, but since those were mp3-only releases, it's good to get this on vinyl. The music's great, Buck's rhymes are thoughtful and Jenn's hook sounds nice. Simply put, this is one of the good ones.

3) The Niceness (w/ Colin Linden) - This is a bemusing, but overly simple song that pounds a little too hard on its concept like your typical pop record. It's a series of boasts of how nice Buck is, taken to ridiculous extremes ("I'll tell you the truth; my questions are never loaded. I'm so nice, my girlfriend's mother exploded"). The music feels a little undercooked, like a jam session turned into a studio outtake, but here's a nice scratch break-down two-thirds of the way through. It's essentially a comedy record, and like "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" or any other comedy record, it doesn't hold up to repeated listens unless you're easily amused.

4) Tears In Space (w/ Meaghan Smith) - This is one of the best examples of why forcing every song in this collection to be a collaboration hurts the finished product. Buck sounds alright on this, and the music, which takes the basic track from The World Famous Supreme Team and adds a bunch of new layers on top of it, mostly works (there may be a few too many layers here; it's a bit cluttered). The main thing that drags this down is the awkward hook, sung my Meahgan Smith. She doesn't seem to have a good voice and I can't even make out half the words she's saying. A remix of this song at some point might be welcome, because it feels like I'm listening to a work in progress here.

Volume 3 - Albuquerque:
1) Final Approach (w/ Marie-Pierre Arthur) -This is pretty good... the music is really effective, and Buck's lyrics are a little phoned-in, but not bad. Marie-Pierre sounds great, but she's singing in French, so I can't understand a word she's saying. That detracts from the experience, which is a shame, because otherwise it's good stuff. Maybe Buck will do an interview someplace and tell us what she's saying, but I shouldn't have to track down obscure interviews online to appreciate a record I just bought.

2) Cold Steel Drum (w/ Jenn Grant) -A little less Jenn Grant would go a long way here. Buck's kicks a nice verse at the end of this, and the music's really rolling along with him, but unfortunately, it takes a long time to get there. Before that we have an annoying repetitious chorus by Buck, singing by Jenn that never feels like it's going anywhere, and a loop that sounds like someone in the studio accidentally recorded the sounds of a broken modem over part of the song.

3) Lights Out (w/ Buddy Peace) -It's like he designed this song just to be annoying. Half of his lyrics are censored by loud beeps or ridiculous cartoon noises. The music features some discordant guitars and samples of alarms and stuff. It's like he came up with a song concept and took it way too far.

4) Zombie Delight (w/ Afie Jurvanen) - In many ways, this is one of the best songs in this collection. The music's effective (listen for the subtle use of "UFO"), Buck's delivery is tight. But ultimately, this is a silly song that's literally about a zombie apocalypse. It reminds me when Josh Martinez did a rap song about Snakes On a Plane; the subject just doesn't deserve music of this caliber. Again, the music was good, Josh was sounding good... but Snakes On a Plane? It's just stupid. And in this case, humorous takes on zombies have been done to death, the concept is no longer novel, and the content of this song is about three years behind Leslie and the Ly's, who didn't just do it years before Buck, but did it better. The vocoder hook doesn't work either, because it's way too high-pitched and light.

...So, to bottom line all of this? Well, on the one hand, it's too bad there isn't just an EP of "Gee Wiz," "Red-Eyed Son," "Paper Airplanes" and "Final Approach," because that would easily be a must-have release I'd strenuously recommend. But no, those songs are spread out over a series of EPs that includes a lot of filler and outtakes. Like I already said, this is really like one of his tour CDs, except on vinyl... so if you're a big enough fan that you collect his tour CDs, you'll want this one too, and you'll be happy with the set. But less dedicated enthusiasts may want to just let these go by and possibly catch the next album.

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