Chicago rapper Serengeti has had a strange career to this point. Despite having a sound that is accessible on many levels and releasing music for over ten years at an incredibly prolific pace, his buzz has remained largely “Under The Underground”, which happens to be a song title on his most popular album Dennehy. His off-the-cuff, humorist style is the focus of all of his releases from his alter ego Kenny Dennis (including the excellent Kenny Dennis EP from earlier this year), but the depth and creative introspection of last year’s LP Family & Friends was Serengeti at his artistic best. All of the incredibly detailed stories and references gave the album a strong emotional core, but when I found out that much of the album was Geti writing half-truths and fiction, I was truly blown away.
Hip hop is nothing if it isn’t a personally revealing genre, but Serengeti forgoes all the trappings of conventional ‘skillz’ and makes his impact in other areas. While his stories may be fictional, they’re told with such conviction and detail that you can’t help but believe them. His flow isn’t complex and he doesn’t draw upon a giant vocabulary, but his subtle wordplay and creative song subjects give his compositions endless replay value. Serengeti’s new album C.A.R. is his second project produced by Anticon’s Jel and Odd Nosdam following the Kenny Dennis EP. While C.A.R.’s analog feel gives the album a bit of a throwback vibe, the album’s musings on relationships make it a spiritual successor to Family & Friends. Jel and Odd Nosdam and their Anticon label are industry outsiders themselves, but represent the most accomplished producers Serengeti has worked with to this point in his career, and they don’t disappoint on C.A.R. Their beats range from melodic bangers to buzzing, dissonant concoctions, but Geti sounds comfortable on everything. His conversational flow and simple rhyme schemes make his verses sound easy to write, but if you really listen to his lyrics and let his concepts reveal themselves, the amount of work he puts in becomes clear.
I highlighted the song “Talk To Me” previously for Thought On Tracks and it’s definitely one of C.A.R.’s standout songs. Geti starts the song by describing his frustration in his music’s niche following before seeming to accept his lot and recognizing there are several ways to look at the world. The combination of frustration and acceptance is a common one on C.A.R., he has every right to be frustrated that his brilliant music isn’t getting the push that it should, but he recognizes that dwelling on the frustration is wasted energy. “Geti Life” is another lyrical tour-de-force that features Geti in prime self-deprecating mode, yearning for a hit record and telling tales of trying to get props (and girls) through his name dropping of more famous musician friends (Jel and Why?’s Yoni Wolf). Serengeti shows off his referential humor towards the end of the track with the lines- “My favorite team is the ’87 Cubs, I love Hawk Dawson, I never felt awesome/ It’s always been a huge problem, I have a huge nose like that woman on Blossom”.
As I mentioned before, Serengeti writes a lot of songs about relationships, specifically with women. His own personal history with women includes divorce and the unexpected death of a long-time girlfriend, so it makes sense that his stories involving women and relationships have a dark edge to them. The difference from most MC’s who’ve experienced hardship though, is that instead of truly baring his soul and writing about his specific experiences, he masks them through his fictional stories. While these stories may not be accounts of his own personal experiences, they feel incredibly real and seem to be at least based around emotions Geti has experienced, if not actual events.
“Go Dancin” is a song about a relationship that starts off promising (commitments to go dancing, get a puppy, travel, and learn Spanish) but turns into a song about isolation and growing apart. The melancholy production reflects the song’s tone and adds to the feeling of desperation that is present throughout the album. C.A.R.’s final song “Uncle Traum” is a heartbreaking story that Geti delivers in spoken word about a character whose wife was killed while cheating on him. The songs chilling detail in lines like “I called the wife’s folks to find out when the funeral was, no one ever answered the phone”, makes me feel that while the story is likely fictional, a lot of the emotion and detail comes from a real place. “Amnesia” is a playful song, but has a deep underlying message. Serengeti’s wish to “get amnesia and see you again” is a clear yearning for a past relationship that ran its course. Sometimes insurmountable negative thoughts and events prevent us from continuing personal relationships, Geti accepts this, but wishes he could erase these occurrences from his head “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” style and press the reset button.
The song “Chill” is reminiscent of Geti’s verse on “Universe Man” from Open Mike Eagle’s new album 4NML HSPTL. Geti gives listeners a series of quirky suggestions (“become a dentist, write poetry with quills/ exact your vengeance, become more skilled”) on how to live a fulfilled life and appreciate the small things. “Peekaboo” is the type of song that only Serengeti could make, a story about a 12 year old peeping tom who gets his shoulder broken by the brother of the girl he was taking pictures of. Geti’s hilarious story ends with him saying that he actually shared the photos with the girl years later when she was back in town. The track also features some amazing scratches by Jel on the hook as well as a perfect MF DOOM sample, “I’m at where your sister went”. Jel also contributes the album’s only guest verse on “Nice”, a dusty banger that features Jel and Geti reminiscing about the days they were riding Huffys and finding their way.
Because of his multiple recording personas and perspectives, the range of Serengeti’s appeal is wide, but the focused, distilled vibe found on C.A.R. and Family & Friends is the type of powerful, creative music that should be championed across the blogosphere and should truly allow Geti to reap the benefits of his labor. C.A.R. and Family & Friends both feature a runtime that is right around a half hour, but both albums are literally packed with thought provoking material and truly feel like LP’s, not random and unfulfilled EP’s. I had the pleasure of chatting with Serengeti at his amazing show at the Indianapolis institution the Jazz Kitchen last week, and while the performance was amazing, the fact that he confirmed this album was two years old and that he has a large number of releases lined up for the next year might have been the best part of the evening. Serengeti may have already accepted his current niche status in the hip hop universe, but it seems like he’s also accepted that his music is incredibly valuable and worth making, even if a larger audience hasn’t come around to what he is doing. Buy C.A.R. here and get hip to one of one of the most original musicians doing it in 2012.
Written by John Bugbee
I am still recovering from last weekend. Chicago was the venue, there was a bachelor party and I was in charge. A group gathered to pay homage to a dear friend. Steaks were smashed, craft beers were demolished, and humiliating headaches were shared. Being the childhood friend, I knew little about the crowd of college friends, but a special bond was formed post-destruction. While the fantastic beer selection helped bridge the gap, it was a special band from Brooklyn that brought the boys together.
The Drums played headliner to not only Saturday night at Wicker Park Fest, but also bachelor party weekend. When front man Jonathan Pierce took the stage, the atmosphere flipped and fans were zoned in. The Drums are one of those bands that seem to grow in my favor on a monthly basis. Their self-titled debut and 2011 follow-up Portamento have been heavy favorites in my rotation and the songs translated brilliantly live. I had seen the Drums last year at Lollapalooza and enjoyed them, but this time I was completely blown away.
A group of new friends traded high fives as The Drums traded songs from their two full-length releases. The crowd was huge and they were singing along throughout. Pierce maintained his charismatic persona throughout while plowing through a heavy set. The Drums delivered a magnificent setlist that kept momentum while demanding my full attention.
If He Likes It Let Him Do It
Baby That’s Not the Point
I Need a Doctor
Book of Stories
I Need Fun in My Life
What You Were
How It Ended
Let’s Go Surfing
Me and the Moon
I still can’t decide if it was the atmosphere, the bachelor party festivities, or simply The Drums, but this was the best live set that I have seen this year. The Drums offered a laid back coolness that provides the perfect soundtrack to a summer evening. While segments of our group were scattered throughout the venue, all agreed that The Drums were it. While the body continues to heal, I will spend this week diving back through The Drums catalog….they’ve earned it.
Written by Brett McGrath
Three days in Union Park, a few dozen warm Heinekens and Newcastles, and great memories made along the way are what you get with the annual Pitchfork Music Festival. Here are my thoughts on the festival itself. Be sure to check out Brett’s thoughts on the aftershows we attended for a complete run down on a weekend full of in indie rock.
The day begins with fighting Chicago traffic, a torrential downpour, and a lengthy cab ride to Union Park. Walking in, the first band of the festival is Lower Dens on the Red Stage. The Baltimore based band have a highly thought of LP in 2012 called Nootropics and they had a decently sized crowd for the 3:30 time slot. Despite being delayed due to the rain, it felt like they were given ample time to impress. Very mellow alt-rock, but not a bad way to ease into the day.
Next up was a few songs from hometown favorite Willis Earl Beal. An interesting performance to say the least. Whiskey induced soul music with minimalistic background behind Beal’s voice, more comical was the observation from Brett that he looks like a cross between mid 90’s Wesley Snipes and Deion Sanders. Up after on the Blue Stage was minimalist Tim Hecker. I’m not quite sure I can completely get into his music and performance style. A little too “filler noise” for my liking.
We have arrived at our first highly anticipated show of the weekend: Japandroids on the Blue Stage following a healthy rain. Wayyy too large of a crowd for the band on the tiny blue stage, but this is probably welcome news to the Vancouver duo. They really don’t mess around on stage. The play loud, fast, and with genuine emotion in their songs. The p4k tweens were certainly awaiting, as this was easily the youngest crowd of any weekend show.
Pretty light crowd on Friday in general. I’d estimate the place was only 70% full.
The best thing about this festival? So. Many. Bands. Immediately after Japandroids I take a quick walk across the field to settle into Dirty Projectors on the Red Stage. Simply put, I left this set absolutely amazed and dumb founded with their talent. With the rain cleared out and evening upon us, a ska-like live vibe from Dave and Amber was met with a marijuana haze of dancing twenty somethings. That and Amber’s voice is absolutely incredible. Featuring a heavy dose of all the hits from Bitte Orca as well as Swing Lo Magellan, this is a talented band that knows their craft.
The final band of the day at the festival was a dance party with Purity Ring on the Blue Stage. Despite the volume feeling low, the group delivered a solid set off their debut LP. Not much in terms of adlibbing or extended far from the each song’s core, it was a fun, lively set to close the day with. “Fineshrine” was certainly the highlight. I managed to catch the end of Feist on my way out. She certainly has become a star judging by the production of her live set. A full band and soulful chicks from Mountain Man singing back-up really bring out how amazing Laura’s voice truly is.
I am hungover. I always get too excited on the first day. It’s my calling card, what can I say? Cloud Nothings began the day on the Red Stage. After seeing Dylan Baldi and Co at the MOTR Pub a few months back, I knew what to expect and they delivered once again. Best memory: the band willing on a downpour with a ten plus minute version of “Wasted Days” that seemed to get louder as the rains fell harder. I’m soaked from head to toe, but it doesn’t matter.
Bradford Cox, donning a white painted face, a guitar, and a harmonica, plays an odd set on the Green Stage after a break from the rain. A little too experimental for my liking here. Just bizarre really. I need another Newcastle.
Props to the metal head and his girlfriend at Liturgy for sharing their trash bag with us during another downpour. Karma repaid.
Cults are awfully impressive. I expected Madeline’s voice to be a little weaker, but she can wail. Thankfully, the sunny Cults vibe brought the sun back to Chicago and returned the fun to the day. “You Know What I Mean” stands out the most along with “Go Outside”. Once again, heavy haze of fun and dancing in the crowd at the Red Stage.
Only was able to catch the last bit of Youth Lagoon. From what I saw, Trevor Powers turned his album into a completely legitimate live performance. While The Year of Hibernation brings a definite bedroom pop feel, in person was full of energy and loud beats. Also caught a bit of Portland girl rockers Wild Flag whom I don’t recall anything memorable from.
Crowd is much more packed today. Tons of people after the rains end.
I don’t get the appeal of Sleigh Bells. Do you really listen to that sitting around by yourself? If you do, please feel free to explain it to me.
Third row for Hot Chip. Life Moment. Ridiculously talented band. Dance party with thousands of my newest friends. Articulating my thoughts of this is difficult. This was a sensual and mental experience for me. I completely left this world of ours for an hour and just lived in the moment with the music.
On to Father John Misty…
I am hungover. Again. Father John, you are one interesting person.
Dirty Beaches plays an experimental set to open the day. I wasn’t really into it. A little too out there and rag tag for me.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra just kick so much ass. This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve had the chance to catch these guys in the past year, and every time I enjoy it more. The guitar has a quality live that isn’t heard much in other current acts. Their next album to one to watch.
Too much. I watch bits and pieces of San Francisco psych rock acts Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall but I am struggling in the heat, and its really effing hot, with the weight of the two previous days. But there’s a long afternoon ahead, so some time on the ground in the shade is needed to rejuvenate.
Real Estate. The first time I saw you, I made mistakes. I had too much fun. I’m sorry. Thank you for the second chance. Is there a better, more relaxing music than Real Estate’s Days? There is a just a certain wavelength this band plays to that strikes me at the soul. And by the looks of the crowd, I’m not the only one to think this. Lots of the stoner/working professional late twenties around grooving.
Managed to catch the first few songs of King Krule. Super young. Looked a bit overwhelmed in the moment on the first song but got it together on the second.
Didn’t catch any hip hop sets this weekend but the crowds looked young and wild.
Beach House. Incredible. And another hazy show on the red stage…we seem to have reached a running theme of this stage from the weekend. Lots of people, very chill, and extremely great. Another moment of the experience for me.
Team Vampy Weeks. You are the mainstream face of Indie. You play catchy tunes. I can respect that.
Some people spend their vacations going to the beach. Others go hang out in a park in Chicago for a few days listening to music. Whatever you do to check out for a bit, I hope you get what you need. What did I get this weekend? Cankles, hangovers, dance parties, and great memories. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Written by Greg Dahman