Music

Recent Hearings: Deltron 3030 Event II Takes Lyricism to a Higher Level

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I’ve been listening to Deltron 3030 Event II for a few months now, and while almost everyone I talk to likes the first Deltron 3030 album a lot more, this long-awaited followup definitely holds its own.

It probably didn’t help that it took 13 years for Dan the Automator, Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Kid Koala to release the sequel, irritating rabid fans. It was a little weird Del partly blamed Automator’s “hella dusty” basement for delays. No matter what the reason, a lot of people built up so much anticipation that it would be almost impossible to meet the expectations they held in their minds.

While I’ll admit some of the lyrics sound like they were just mailed in, there are truly some gems on this album. In particular, the song “Pay the Price” (included in the video above) really found a way into my heart. I wouldn’t say it was mind-blowing for me, but after a few times of hearing it play in my car, the sheer depth of the lyrics are awe-inspiring.

In the song, Del breaks down all kinds of social issues like economic exploitation under the guise of equality, social manipulation of blind believers, and the drawbacks of prioritizing profit above all else — all artfully masked in a science-fiction prose that would probably impress famed writers like Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. Like Asimov and Bradbury, whether or not you agree with their social commentaries, the artistic craftwork of the allegory is worthy of universal appreciation.

Some of the snippets really gave my brain a tingle.

Early on he smoothly and discreetly slips in a really astute philosophical statement on how much of our universe is built on binary relationships (something anyone who’s worked with computer science can appreciate), and how refining complex situations down to their binary building blocks can provide greater clarity and understanding:

We all know of imposing forces
Existing in space in time, matter coursing
Up and down, right or left, good or bad, black and white
Even day and night
Moon and sun, negative and positive
This is one of the first stages of blowing all the mist
To clear the window of perception
Of what is universally right and corrected

Del’s sci-fi alter ego, Deltron, crash lands on an alien planet where people allow themselves to be exploited by illusionists, which immediately conjures up visuals of real-life overaggressive marketing to the detriment of the consumer.

Dude thought he had the golden touch like Midas
It’s like a planet-wide spell was cast
Everyone I asked, accepted the baloney and trash
And it’s only a mask
Worn by a character who wants what you have
He thought I bought his ticket to this station
Because beliefs have infinite room for manipulation

Deltron wants to address the mass societal willingness to be manipulated, but realizes the person in power that he’s dealing with is someone who can’t register his arguments due to a single-track worshiping of profit:

I wanted to talk, more of the people
He said “For what? duh, we all equal”
Everywhere I smell the place stink
And I told him man, “Seems like y’all gotta think big.”
I said introduce deeper concepts
He told me “Hell nah fool, it wouldn’t profit”
What do you mean it wouldn’t?
What do you mean it wouldn’t?
Ahh…hmm…

Sometimes “equal” isn’t really equal:

Dude obviously made it in the ranks of elite
Who sabotaged history to make it unique?
In aspects of superiority
He said “One for you, more for me”
I see, we ain’t really equal

Clear commentary on the financial sector collapse that took place in the last decade:

You part of the disagreeable people
Who broke off into a smaller pack
Who were dubbed the hard headed holograms
Ya’ll remember that they thought they was all of that
Lost all they had and came crawling back
After daddy had more jaw to jack
Said it’s our fault calamities were caused, in fact

When you really dig your brain-teeth into these lyrics, you can really see that Del has reached a truly high level of lyricism. I feel like he refined and condensed an entire science fiction social commentary epic into a four minute song.

Some people talk about how some hip hop artists and songs have great social statements, but this song goes beyond that. This isn’t just coming out and saying “fight the power” or “don’t discriminate by sexual preference” (not that those songs don’t have a value), this is a more complex and layered artistic construction.

This carefully-crafted allegory has the power to make the audience immerse themselves in an alternate reality only to understand that the injustices of that reality are actually a mirror image of their own reality. In some cases, this type of allegory can even “trick” people into understanding situations that they would otherwise immediately disregard due to the influences of preconceptions that they bring to the table when interacting with the real world.

When the puzzle is unraveled and your brain is rewarded with that prize of deeper understanding, it’s a pretty gratifying feeling. That’s how I feel about this album — once I got the chance to really let it sink in, unraveling that allegory really provides a new level of appreciation and enjoyment.

And if that wasn’t enough, Automator has some solid beats and Kid Koala did a great job maintaining the same style of cuts on the turntables.

What do you think? Does Event II live up to the first Deltron 3030 album?

Recent Hearings: John Coltrane Plays the Blues

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Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of John Coltrane, with my favorite albums being Coltrane Plays the Blues and Blue Train.

Probably my favorite saxophonist of all time, Coltrane plays with immense feeling, dishing out notes both fast and slow, loud and soft. Actually it feels more like he’s speaking through his saxophone rather than playing notes.

Some people play notes, but a good jazz musician like Coltrane exploits the many dimensions of sound, inflecting, dragging and cutting up notes into a unique expression. His music feels extremely advanced, even next to contemporary music.

Here’s another great album, A Man Called Trane, which includes his famous rendition of My Favorite Things.

Recent Hearings: Kid Koala’s Beautiful Take on the Blues

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There’s something beautiful about the way old Delta Blues express and analyze sorrow.

Rather than hide or ignore deeply troubling experiences, these old relics provide a catharsis by exploring and understanding the spectrum of human suffering in a way that helps the spirit cope with trauma that cannot be overcome or even understood.

Motherless Child” and Son House’s “Death Letter” are two songs in particular that have helped me reflect on heavy subjects like slavery, cultural stigmatization and the death of those closest to us. While many people in the modern world are uneasy discussing subjects like these, these songs as forms of human expression are so genuine that they pull you in and merge you with pains you can’t otherwise rationally comprehend.

Since this dark journey is in my view the most powerful part of the Delta Blues experience, I was actually quite relieved to hear Kid Koala’s 2-Bit Blues x 6-Bit Blues album stay true to reflecting that experience (unlike Moby’s dancier take). Sure there are a few more uptempo tracks on Koala’s album, but they still feel like an extension and recognition of that old tradition.

One of my favorite turntablists from childhood, Koala’s samples, beats and cuts all contribute to reconstruct the feeling of the Blues with newer musical techniques that still feel tangible and rich with personality. The music video for the 5-Bit Blues track also makes interesting use of old imaging technology like Polaroid photos and block prints synchronized to create a visual reflection of the song that unfolds in synchronization with the music’s progression.

You can hear most other songs from the album via this YouTube playlist:

Recent Hearings: New Album from Dan Bao 蛋堡的新專輯:杜振熙

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蛋堡 AKA Soft Lipa released a new album a few months ago that has my ear buds listening in heavy rotation. I was surprised to see songs like 我們都有問題 (“We’ve All Got Problems”) in KTV – not just because they’re pretty difficult to pull off in karaoke, but also because just a year ago it seemed like none of his music was available in KTV.

Have a listen – here are a few of my other select tracks form the album 杜振熙:

雨沒停過

梅雨記

當我來到這裡

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