HOLLYWOOD HOLT | These Are the Songs That Didn't Make the Album but Are Still Cold as Hell So Shut the Fuck Up! Vol. 1(mix tape)
A couple years ago you couldn't swing a pair of tight purple jeans without hitting a trend piece about so-called hipster rappers—I even wrote one myself—and given how many local artists got slapped with that tag, there was some expectation that Chicago would be the center of a sea change in popular hip-hop in which street-level crime tales were replaced with an attitude and aesthetic as indebted to Pitchfork as to The Source. That evolution is under way, but Chicago hasn't taken the lead like it could have. The Cool Kids' When Fish Ride Bicycles is so overdue that jokes about the aptness of its title are getting stale, and Hollywood Holt's official debut, Hollywood's Greatest Hits, has been at least as long in coming—it's only finally dropping in November. Meanwhile the hip-hop world's attention has drifted elsewhere—like to eccentric east-coast up-and-comers like B.o.B., Wale, and Theophilus London.
Holt seems as fed up about this as anyone—hence the mix tape These Are the Songs That Didn't Make the Album but Are Still Cold as Hell So Shut the Fuck Up! Vol. 1. If the album is anything like this collection of outtakes, it may actually benefit from the delays: now that the novelty of seeing an MC in throwback Cazals and dookie chains has worn off, we can talk about the actual rapping instead of arguing about the clothes. Holt's fashion sense hasn't changed, but he seems more confident about incorporating influences from rappers who'd smack you if you called them hipsters. For "It's On" he borrows a bit of Tupac's singsongy cadence, which nicely offsets the twitchy backing track by Million Dollar Mano and Martin "Doc" McKinney. The minimal 808 beat on "Stylin' on You" seems to have inspired Holt and Mano to deliver their rhymes in a laid-the-fuck-back style reminiscent of old-school rap pimps like Slick Rick and Too Short. And Holt goes in hard on Dre's claustrophobic classic "Deep Cover"—you could try to write it off as part of the retro-hipster appropriation of 90s gangsta rap, but that would involve too many levels of irony to compute.
BLACK MATH | Phantom Power(Permanent Records)
Either the members of Black Math have their fingers dead on the pulse of indie cool or they're hucksters of unsurpassed cunning—their new album, Phantom Power, is an algebraically precise hybrid of trendy styles. Low fidelity, frequent use of reverb, and chintzy electronic drums connect it to the New New Romantics of the painfully hip chillwave movement. The hissy quality of the recording also brings to mind the current crop of four-track-loving garage rockers, as do the buzzy guitars and candylike hooks that pop up here and there, like on the infectious "Part of Me." And "Bottomless Sea" basically sounds like a home-recorded demo from Siouxsie & the Banshees' peak—which puts Black Math on top of the big goth revival that's percolating at the moment with the likes of Zola Jesus, Blessure Grave, and Salem. Whatever Black Math's formula is, it works (though from what I've seen, their live act could use some tuning up), and Phantom Power has been stuck in my rotation for weeks. I'd like to think that they're just what they appear to be—one of the city's more enjoyable and promising bands currently at the opening-shows-at-the-Bottle level—but even if they come out and say that they're actually cynically and deliberately exploiting indie kids a la Malcom McLaren, I still won't take them off my iPod.
ARCHITECTURE | "Pregnant"
The first 15 seconds of Architecture's single "Pregnant," released as a free download through a number of music blogs, are impeccable. Rebecca Scott and Melissa Harris, both of local dream-pop band Panda Riot, combine a sparse, cavernous drumbeat, some expertly placed finger snaps (a grossly underutilized sound these days), and a minimalist echo-draped electric-piano line to create something you might hear at a burlesque joint for ghosts. Things go south, though, once the singing starts. The problem isn't the voice itself, which is light and airy but not insubstantial; the problem is that it's singing the lyrics to R. Kelly's "Pregnant." It was once possible to get a little socio-musicological frisson out of hearing a fey white indie-rock chick singing raunchy male-perspective R&B lyrics, but the joke's been worn smooth by now. If the duo had simply ripped off Kelly's melody and set it over their own arrangement, odds are no one would be the wiser, and this whole song would be my jam. Instead I'm left with just those 15 seconds.
RESIDUE REED | "All I Need"
I know we're already past Labor Day, but you don't need to put away your breezy, summery rap songs along with your white shoes and seersucker. The beat to "All I Need," by increasingly hot local producer Tony Baines, uses a sprightly drum pattern to drive a wash of backward guitar arpeggios and burbling synths that sounds like something out of a Dan Deacon song. But its rhythmic heft, catchy kids-choir hook, and Residue Reed's rap—an ambivalent but optimistic account of a hustler hoping for a better tomorrow while he slings coke today—would make the song an easy fit on the heavy-rotation playlist of Chicago's commercial hip-hop stations, if they were willing to take the kind of chances on locals that some of their New York counterparts do.
GHOST HUNTER" | Island Barbados (Gatekeeper Fantasia Edit)"
At its outset, this remix by Chicago-born horror-synth duo Gatekeeper—now splitting time between here and Brooklyn—follows the mood of the original Ghost Hunter song, which sounds something like an Enya CD having an illicit tropical tryst with an early-90s club 12-inch. But around the halfway point it goes silent for a moment, then returns with a vaguely sinister bass line, rolling thunder effects, and vocals pitch-shifted so low they're incomprehensible. If David Cronenberg ever needs something to soundtrack a creepy-sexy nightclub scene, he's in luck. v