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Thursday, March 27, 2014

John Reuben -- Sex, Drugs and Self-Control

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This is a review for an album called Sex, Drugs and Self-Control that contains a song titled "Paranoid Schizophrenic Apocalyptic Whisper Kitten," so it might be a little scattered. Sex, Drugs and Self-Control is John Reuben's final album (for now). This album is the most unique of Rebuen's oeuvre. While on past albums he seemed upbeat and full of swagger(even when he was thinking), here he comes off as broken, uncertain, detached, and just a little bit numb. Reuben's rapping is usually smooth, with an excellent lyrical flow, but here he Reuben-sings more than raps, and many of his lines are terse and blurry. He is wearing glasses made of tinfoil on the album cover, so perhaps they symbolize he is going through a time of not seeing things clearly? The album does contain the line, "Clarity is terrifying."
Sex, Drugs and Self-Control is most definitely a night album, and I don't mean 10 pm. I mean 3 or 4 am. The vibe is weird, yet does retain the trademark Reuben introspection, though his mind seems cluttered and divided. Reuben's music even sounds a bit smaller and dialed back here, though it still gets the job done. There are no huge beats or breakout moments. The standouts are instead completely unexpected, like the strangely robotic female vocals that pop-up throughout (I love the album layout with all of the dolled up girls and Reuben lolling around vapidly), Reuben pulling out a vocoder on "So Sexy For All the Right Reasons," or the layers upon layers of vocal harmonies at the end of "Confident." It's like a really weird party you are glad you attended, but are confused about the details of the next day.
The strangest element of Sex, Drugs and Self-Control, and really the element that makes the album work so well, is that despite the detached feeling, Reuben seems to be bearing more of his soul than ever. He sounds genuinely broken at points and isn't ashamed to reveal his brokenness. It's like he's hugging you, yet refusing to make eye contact. The final track title, "Joyful Noise," seems to promise a happy resolution, yet its chorus is
Make a joyful noise/clapping broken hands/feeling overwhelmed/standing outside myself.
Sex, Drugs and Self-Control contains a strange combination of intimate, distant, fun, divided, and difficult. This is a rare album, even if it isn't Reuben's best work.
Here is a video (starring Reuben and the models from the album art) that sums up the entire album in a nutshell.

2009 Gotee
1 Jamboree 4:07
2 Radio Makes You Lonely 3:14
3 Burn It Down 3:23
4 In The Air 3:40
5 Paranoid Schizophrenic Apocalyptic Whisper Kitten 4:05
6 Town Folk 3:11
7 Confident 4:26
8 Everett 4:41
9 No Be Nah 3:52
10 So Sexy For All The Right Reasons 3:21
11 Wooden Whistle Man 4:02
12 Joyful Noise 3:34

Monday, March 24, 2014

John Reuben -- Word of Mouth

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John Reuben underwent some pretty astounding growth between his second and third albums. Better lyrics, better music. He nearly perfectly balanced his goofier, fun-loving side with his more introspective side, writing better songs than ever. His fourth album then implicitly stated the divide between the two sides, but The Boy Vs. the Cynic didn't quite parlay as magical a return. I'm happy to say that album number five, Word of Mouth, not only matches the magic of Professional Rapper, but far surpasses it. Word of Mouth is John Reuben's perfect album.
The very nature of a review goes against the themes of this album, though. Word of Mouth is "just music for the kids," according to the very album's title track. Well, in my opinion, Reuben is selling himself short. This is music for the ages. I dig this album as much now as I did half a decade ago. Why? Reuben's lyrics climb another flight of stairs, and the dude's on the roof now. He's witty, he's funny, he's insightful, he's reflective, and he's thinking on a grand scale. Musically, his songs now range from darkly fun to hugely cosmic to adverbingly adverb. Together they form such a well-defined, self-contained musical landscape, getting lost in them is effortless. "Miserable Exaggeration" checks off essentially every sweet-spot on my musical checklist.

1. Begin with a sample of a woman speaking French.
2. Come in heavy with the beat and bassline.
3. Introduce a sexy saxophone line over a silky smooth Rhodes one.
4. Start rapping skillfully about the fact that you think too much.
5. Use the guitar subtly and with the sole purpose of creating atmosphere.
6. Get someone who sounds like they are coming through an old TV set being watched on a distant moon that is just now receiving signals from fifty years ago to sing the chorus.
7. Slam on the bridge.
8. Bring it home by repeating all of the awesomeness one more time.
9. End the song with a delayed fade-out.
10. You win, John Reuben. You just received a ten from The Nicsperiment because the sublimely perfect "Miserable Exaggeration" is emblematic of your entire album, yet in title, does not describe it at all.

2007 Gotee
1. Sing It Like You Mean It 3:06
2. Tryin' Too Hard 3:09
3. Make Money Money 4:29
4. Focus 3:32
5. Word of Mouth 4:04
6. Miserable Exaggeration 3:28
7. Universal 3:42
8. Curiosity 3:18
9. Cool the Underdog 3:27
10. Good Evening 3:53

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

John Reuben -- The Boy Vs. the Cynic

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The Boy Vs. the Cynic takes John Rebuen's rap-music in a more rock-oriented direction. Lyrically, The Boy Vs. the Cynic is a direct response to Reuben's previous album, Professional Rapper. Some people felt that Professional Rapper took Reuben in too dark a direction. The Boy Vs. the Cynic draws a dark line between Reuben's serious and lighter sides. Ironically, though, this album is quite far from half and half. The darker, introspective side of Reuben has about 3/4 prominence here, and even the brighter songs, such as "Sunshine," seem to admit they are only a respite from the more difficult sections. This might be Reuben at his most lyrically difficult, as well, as he takes on hipsters, blind-followers, consumerism, marketing, the abandonment of the poor, the marginalization of American Indians, man-children, and himself.
Ignore the truth and neglect your responsibility/Because you can't decipher the real world from your hobbies/This whole starving artist shtick you've been running with is wearing thin/Put it to an end and grow old gracefully is a verse I wish I'd embraced half a decade ago. This album is full of hard truths, but Reuben also refuses to become the Cynic in the title of the album, despite all the difficult lines.
"What's left, except regret and heartache?/And yes, your heart will break and go numb/Lots of times before this life is done/You'll look for answers, but there's just one/Patience, one day it will make sense/But waiting is a pinch waking you up/From the worlds you've made up/The one where you dream, and the one where you gave up/Time to create a new atmosphere/Where the boy and the cynic can both play fair."

If I have one knock against The Boy Vs. the Cynic, it's that I don't think it has the kind of major standouts Professional Rapper did (I'm thinking of "Move," "Life Is Short," "I Haven't Been Myself," "Time to Leave," etc.). It's just solidly good from start to finish. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

2005 Gotee
1. Out of Control 3:50
2. Nuisance" (featuring Matthew Thiessen of Relient K) 3:37
3. Chapter I 2:49
4. Follow Your Leader 3:10
5. Sales Pitch 3:45
6. Sunshine 3:21
7. So Glad (featuring Tim Skipper of House of Heroes) 3:12
8. What About Them? 3:49
9. There's Only Forgiveness 4:07
10. All I Have 3:54
11. Cooperate 3:30
12. The Boy vs. The Cynic 6:19

Monday, March 17, 2014

John Reuben -- Professional Rapper

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8/10 9/10

I don't write often about the grading scale I use, but I feel like I should elaborate a bit to set up this review. In my 1-10 scale, between each number, there is no greater quality jump than from a seven to an eight. A Nicsperiment seven is a pretty decent album, but an eight is a very good one. I might throw on a seven once every few years, but I am going to listen to an eight on a regular basis. John Reuben makes that big of a jump between Hindsight and Professional Rapper, his respective second and third albums. EDITOR'S NOTE:You know what, though, screw this. In the retrospection of a decade, and after multiple listens the last few days, this album is not just very good--it's almost perfect. This isn't just an eight. It's a nine. I love all but one song, and the eleven others have very few weak spots. Nine. Anyway...
What's the leap? Is substantialness a word? Substantialism? Hindsight is loaded with jokey, lighter tracks. Professional Rapper only features five tracks I would reference as "lighter," but none of them (save perhaps "Treats," which is actually pretty self-mocking) feel unsubstantial. Every song on this album needs to exist, and they are recorded as such. The arrangements are interesting (the beat on "Move" and the breezy horns on "Life Is Short" are worth the sticker price), and Reuben's lyrics take a huge step forward. The more introspective lines that cropped up around Hindsight's edges dominate this time around. This is the difficult (though still fun) John Reuben we would get for the rest of his career. By difficult, I mean that from here on out, Reuben is brutally honest about the difficulties of life. I am puttering around right now. What I want to say is, Reuben's music is getting better to listen to at the same time his lyrics are necessitating more earnest reflection. Reuben is also improved as a rapper, his flow more relaxed, but intense when it needs to be.
Most importantly, though, these songs are great. The two collaborations with The Benjamin Gate's Adrienne Camp, "Freedom to Feel," and most particularly, "I Haven't Been Myself" are both excellent, but the solo "Time to Leave" gives me chills, and the lyrics make me cry, so here's that one instead.

2003 Gotee
1. Move 3:50
2. Have No Opinion? 3:17
3. I Haven't Been Myself 3:43
4. Life Is Short 4:10
5. Treats 3:22
6. Freedom to Feel 3:57
7. Time to Leave 3:52
8. Re-Record 3:28
9. Jammin' John & Mixin' Manny 1:29
10. All in All George Harrison / John Zappin r 3:24
11. 5 Years to Write 5:06
12. Higher 3:35

Thursday, March 13, 2014

John Reuben -- Hindsight

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* * *
I have to be honest. I didn't listen to too much Christian music in high school. The debate rages on to infinity about what constitutes "Christian Music" or if there is even such a thing, but for the majority of high school, I certainly didn't focus on those lines. I focused on finding sounds I enjoyed, and truth be told, most of those sounds came from bands no one would call Christian. I have talked about this already.
Heading into college, I recommitted to my faith and decided a little lyrical reinforcement could help my situation. Thus, I made an earnest effort to find out what had been going on in the Christian music world since I was in the ninth grade. This was also one of the reasons I became interested in hosting KLSU's Christian Rock show. Once I began that job, I had unparalleled access into as much music by Christian artists as I could desire. Well, access to everything but John Reuben's debut, Are We There Yet? For some reason we only had the two singles for that album. All that to say, for some reason, I never heard it, and I never bought it, so starting today, here are reviews for all of John Reuben's albums but that one.

* * *

John Reuben's sophomore album, Hindsight, is...a little sophomoric. It's honest, though. Reuben seems to just want to have a good time, with a few breaks to think a little deeper. His goofy sense of humor is at the forefront, and while it may not be everyone's cup of tea, Reuben's frequently expressed wishes to appear authentic most definitely come true. This album is more than just goofing off and clever lines, though. The title track is a genuinely great song (we used the instrumental version for on-air breaks quite frequently), and the album's introspective middle section ranks among some of Reuben's best work. Shoot, who is John Reuben? My bad, I didn't set this up very well. John Reuben is a rapper. In hindsight, I probably should have mentioned that first.

Ditto the top comment on this video. This song has gotten me out of some bad times, as well.

2002 Gotee
1. I'll Try Harder 0:50
2. I John Reu 3:04
3. Hindsight 4:14
4. Big E Cypher Session 0:26
5. Soundman 4:52
6. Run the Night 4:31
7. Breathe 3:52
8. I Pictured It 4:31
9. 01/08/02 1:11
10. Doin' 4:55
11. Thank You 3:58
12. DJ Manuel (Turntablism 101) 1:00
13. Up and at Them 4:16
14. Defensive Offender 3:58
15. Pataskala 3:56

Monday, March 10, 2014

Jóhann Jóhannsson -- IBM 1401: A User's Manual

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While I had been introduced to Jóhann Jóhannsson before, this movie trailer really got my attention:
Unfortunately, the trailer is better than ANYTHING from the film. That's probably because Jóhann Jóhannsson's "the sun's gone dim and the sky's turned black" doesn't soundtrack the entire movie.
Jóhannsson is a bit of an enigma (I checked wikipedia and they used that word, too. Not fair! English language needs more words!). He is a classical composer, but he is also an electronic music composer. He often combines the two.
IBM 1401: A User's Manual is a concept album with tracks named after components of the 1959 built computer of the same name. Jóhannsson combines strings with electronics and actual "singing" noises recorded from an actual IBM 1401 by Jóhannsson's father many years ago (his father was chief maintenance engineer for a 1401). As you can imagine, this is quite a personal project for Jóhannsson.
And here I again use the word "enigma." IBM 1401: A User's Manual is the exceedingly rare album which magically joins the intellectual portion of the mind with the emotional. A concept album about a five-ton computer should not be capable of evoking the emotion 1401 can pull from a listener, but I would place this in my top tier of emotion-invoking albums. I remember listening to it in my car alone after having an argument with my wife, and literally feeling like a different person by the time I reached my destination. This is an album prisons should be playing for inmates. I can't describe why strings-swelling over computer noises is this powerful, but Jóhannsson creates an insurmountable wall of feeling that swells and overtakes throughout. This has to be heard. Clear your schedule. Bring some Kleenex. Here is a short video further explaining what went into making IBM 1401: A User's Manual.
On a final note, Battle Los Angeles was filmed less than twenty minutes from my house. From what I've heard, half of the females I know or am related to made out with this guy at Red Star Bar at some point. So, Rothhaar, I guess I owe you a knuckle sandwich.

2006 4AD
1. Processing Unit 8:32
2. Printer n 9:32
3. Card Read-Punch 10:23
4. Magnetic Tape Punch 7:15
5. the sun's gone dim and the sky's turned black 7:09

Saturday, March 08, 2014

The Nicsperiment: Episode VI: Return of the Content

As anyone can see, the first two months of this year (2014) have been the Nicsperiment's least prolific in over three years. The reason is simple: Chemical Engineering is a demanding degree to acquire, especially for someone in their 30's who has to pay his family's rent, and with a child at home who says "daddy, I'm still hungry" alllllllll day. Don't get me wrong, I am thankful for (almost) everything, but that everything has really been cutting into my writing time. Instead of embarking on my fourth straight hour of Physics homework, I'd much rather write a music review. Miraculously, I've written three over the last two weeks, and I still have twenty or so unpublished ones stored up from last year, so I'm thinking...
Might as well publish them. I'll do three a week, starting Monday, and just add whatever else I write as I go along. Silly to hoard them. Almost as silly as this picture of a buck-toothed llama I stole from someone else's website.
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