Something/Anything?: Thoughts on Rundgren’s classic and the progressive class

Something/Anything?  By Todd Rundgren (1972)

Todd Rundgren is a pop music genius. Todd Rundgren was also bored with pop music during his artistic prime. Most of his releases during his prime (70-78) skew towards the bored end. By bored this means these albums are inaccessible for most because there’s a uniformity of non-uniformity. They’ll be flashes of structure and poppy flirtations that reel you in initially. As soon as you begin to settle in and nod your head in anticipation of the next predictable bar..BAM..the song does a complete 180 becoming foreign to the ears. Sometimes the pop flair will show up in the middle of a song or at the end. Sometimes it’s faint but its always there. No matter how far Rundgren went in making his later compositions difficult you could discern a pop ideal within them. It’s just difficult as hell to find. It’s as if his progressive nature took the drivers seat for those compositions, but couldn’t run the entire show because he couldn’t deny his innate pop sensibilities. You can hear the pop characteristics fighting their way through the out-of-this-world weird songs he wrote during this period. He was creating his own “Rundgren language” that you had to sit with for a while listening to understand it. This Methodology lost him the commercial viability he gained with the hit “Hello, Its Me” that he wrote while in his first group “The Nazz.” His style earned him a passionate prog rock cult following leading to the formation of his band “Utopia.” Rundgren could have easily written as catchy of a song as many of his peers that were placing hits on the pop charts. Instead of following that route he went the other way writing music that gave you a hint of that sound, but one that asked you to follow him into a rabbit hole emerging in his bizarre world where what you originally thought was up is actually down and where left is right.

This approach alienated a fair amount of casual listeners that got to know him through “Hello, It’s Me” which was famously covered by The Isley Brothers. Even his hardcore base of fans were frustrated at times. Any idea conceived (sometimes 10 ideas within a song) was quickly abandoned after its initial execution. You could only expect the unexpected. If Rundgren attempted a previous idea he would make sure to apply it differently with the results sometimes disastrous. It’s as if someone makes you the perfect meal, invites you over to dinner again and proceeds to make the same meal while blindfolded. After dinner they’ll share that their now exploring the idea of preparing meals consisting of rocks and sticks. That’s how weird things get when your dealing with a musical progressive because they have a destroy, rebuild wierdly, and throw everything against the wall and out the window mentality. This leads me to some thoughts on the progressive artist (not just rock music), how they tick, and the individual Proger (short for progressive) evolution…
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No Joke: Chocolate and Cheese



I discovered rock music the same way a lot of other kids did in 1992: Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. The song had been out a year and hit big in ’92. With that song I became a card carrying member of the 120 Minutes/Alternative Nation contingent aka Generation X (which i wasn’t old enough to be apart of actually). I devoured all of the Nirvana clone bands and other acts to emerge from the new alternative movement. The alternative nation had its own sound, language, and style. A counterculture to their parents counterculture of the 60’s and 70’s. The movement was about angst, social issues, depression, drug use, and flannel (I engaged in none of those things at the time but I enjoyed the music immensely).
While there was great music during this movement their wasn’t much musical diversity represented commercially. The alternative nation sound was quite homogenous in its style and themes (adults don’t get it and they suck). Radio stations found the format they were comfortable with (loud/quiet/loud/quiet) and embraced bands that helped create the alternative rock format for radio. Once the mainstream media began to analyze the culture, more light was placed on the artists that fulfilled the long hair/doc martens/heroin addict stereotype. The sound, style, and approach was dictated within the group and reinforced via mainstream media “What’s wrong with these kids??” pieces.

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Editorial: R&B, We Need A Resolution

As I go through my mental record shelf of albums from the last 10 years that I’d like to feature in the event series, I’m not only alarmed by the lack of classic albums in R&B, but how stagnant and complacent the genre has become. There have been a few R&B artists and albums of note in the last decade, while in Rock and Hip Hop there have been significantly more. In the last ten years there have been major movements, fragmentations, and developments within Rock and Hip Hop while in R&B few. What’s missing is a progressive spirit within the mainstream and underground where contemporary R&B artists challenge modern conventions ultimately creating their own paradigm like generations past have. Music has always worked this way where each generation tinkers with and changes the previous generation’s model. A crucial example being the late 70’s early 80’s where the invention of the drum machine challenged artists to adapt to a new technology that inevitably changed music production. This change bought an updated approach to R&B where a new generation would have a sound and style that signified their youth as previous generations had (acoustic to electric instrument, Motown, etc).

Who were the trailblazing artists of the last ten years that not only defined R&B, but influenced music as a whole? The few successful acts pushing the envelope in the last 10 years did so with moderate attention compared to contemporaries in other genres. This argument pertains to both the mainstream and underground where innovation has been lacking. In the mainstream there was a super producer hangover with producers doing their best impression of The Neptunes/Timberland production or artists going directly to the source (unfortunately both production teams are past their prime). The prevailing influence of Hip-Hop is involved as well (good and bad which we will cover). In the underground most R&B artists have recycled J dilla style beat after J dilla style beat and rehashed the same themes of the last ten years. Underground fans have contributed by forgetting what drove them to progressive music in the first place by supporting recycled music and shunning innovation by established artists. If your criticism of Erykah Badu’s “New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)” is “its not Baduizm,” then you are part of the problem. The genre has also had no “Kanye West” transcendent artist who challenged artistic expression within a larger commercial framework. What there has been is the death of the R&B album, short lived singles, unrealized potential, record company bungling, disappearances, tired production, wtf’s, and luke warm fanfare. Continue reading
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Classics Party #1 wrap: Shake that load off

Photography: Shannon Sturgis (link)
Thanks to everyone that came out last night for Classics Party #1: Aquemini. The night started off calm with people filing into No Malice Palace where they mingled and and enjoyed a 42BELOW cocktail and Pabst Blue Ribbon. DJ Ayres played a beautiful array of southern rap classics early in the evening getting the crowd ready for what became a emotion filled dance party with EVERYONE singing along to tracks from Aquemini as well as other southern “I can’t believe I forgot about this song but now I’m dancing my ass off” tracks.
I’d like to thank everyone that helped in putting the event together, the people that attended, DJ Ayres, No Malice Palace, and of course Outkast. Pictures below…

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Classics Party #1 – Pimp Trick Gangster Click Mixtape

On behalf of Outkast, I cordially Invite you to an emotion filled theater

With Classics Party #1: Aquemini quickly approaching our DJ for the event, DJ Ayres has put together a magnificent mixtape inspired by the sounds of “Aquemini” era Outkast and their crew The Dungeon Family. This mix is a perfect example of what were looking to say and accomplish here at Classics Party. It connects the dots and tells the musical story of artists that paved the way for a seminal album such as Aquemini and spotlights artists that were contemporaries of Outkast during that time.
Jam on the mix and we’ll see you on thursday 
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Them Boys Earned That Crown: Aquemini

When I decided to begin this project the first album that came to my mind was Aquemini by Outkast. No album challenged me more around the time when I decided that music was really THAT important to me. Not only was it a challenge but I didn’t like it. It was just weird for 1998. There were no soul samples and boom bap drum breaks like the traditional east coast rap that I was listening to at the time. They had live instrumentation on a lot of the tracks and…gasp…a harmonica solo on the first single. These songs were even different then the ones on the previous album ATLiens. How could they screw up a proven winning formula (pimps, ho’s, players, and Cadillac’s)? I couldn’t tell if there had been a actual conscious decision to change the style up or wether these guys were doing drugs only aliens had access to. The album stood out in’98 because of the live instruments, spiritual/astrology themes, rappers singing (now every rapper sings even if they can’t sing), and a member who decided to get weirder and weirder by each album. “Why is he wearing football padding and multiple color frizzy pants?” No one could explain any of it to me. Then my rap bible and I think everyone else’s at the time “The Source” gave the album 5 Mics (when 5 mics was credible) and then we were all really confused. What I didn’t see as a kid and immature appraiser of art was that Outkast was creating their own paradigm and never looking back.

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Classics Party #1: Aquemini

It's him and I...Aquemini

Classics Party Presents: A Celebration of Aquemini by Outkast
With DJ Ayres
9/30/10 | Thursday | 8pm – 11pm

No Malice Palace

197 East 3rd Street (Btwn Avenue A & Avenue B)
New York,  NY
Featuring all of the songs from Aquemini along with music from artists that influenced and were influenced by this monumental recording.
Complimentary 42BELOW Vodka cocktails for the first hour of the event. 21+
RSVP to classicsparty@gmail.com

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For the first edition of Classics Party the album “Aquemini” by the legendary group Outkast will be celebrated. In selecting the first album that would be featured I couldn’t think of another album from my musical upbringing that embodies the spirit of Classics Party as Aquemini does with its daring approach and multitude of styles
. With its mix of backyard southern flare, spaced out funk, and progressive subject matter, Aquemini challenged music and cemented Outkast’s reputation as one of the most progressive groups of the 90’s.

Taking us on this musical journey of Aquemini, the music that inspired the recording, and the artists it ultimately influenced will be DJ Ayres who with his crew The Rub released the amazing “History of Hip-Hop 2000-2009” mix series this year. We’ll also have a one hour special open bar courtesy of our friends at 42BELOW Vodka. Please join us in commemorating this landmark album and the launch of Classics Party.
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