Hari Kondabolu’s Brilliant Album Release Show at Union Hall

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Photo via Kill Rock Stars

03.13.14

On Thursday, Queens-bred and Brooklyn-based comedian Hari Kondabolu performed his first of two sold nights at Union Hall in celebration of his debut album, Waiting For 2042, released last week on Kill Rock Stars. The album’s title references the year in which white people are expected to represent less than 50% of the United States’ population, a concept Kondabolu mines for pure gold.

A former immigrants rights organizer and Human Rights graduate of the London School of Economics, Kondabolu brings forth material that is every bit as informed and forward thinking as it is hilarious. People first started taking note of his talent in 2007 after appearances on Jimmy Kimmel and the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival and he has since performed on Conan and various Comedy Central standup shows, including a half-hour special of his own. Kondabolu also wrote for FX’s Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, co-hosts the Untitled Kondabolu Brothers Podcast alongside his brother Ashok (aka Dapwell of the now defunct Das Racist), and occasionally guest hosts Wyatt Cenac’s weekly Night Train at Littlefield (he hosts tonight with Ashok).

Kevin Avery acted as host at Union Hall and kicked things off with a 20 minute set emblematic of the evening’s intelligent racial humor. Surprise guests Janeane Garofalo and Ted Leo also performed brief sets at the intimate Park Slope venue, with standing room only audience members jostling for views at the rear bar. Avery and Kondabolu – outliers in a scene where comedians of color all too often whore out their cultures for cheap laughs – respect the audience’s intelligence by not dumbing down their sociological material. A Kondabolu line from Waiting For 2042 sums it up succinctly: “People always say I’m obsessed with race… You can’t be obsessed with race in America. There’s racist stuff that happens all the time. Saying that I’m obsessed with race and racism in America is like saying I’m obsessed with swimming when I’m drowning.”

Though he’s been on the indie comedy radar for nearly a decade and developed an impressive resume, 2014 could be the year Kondabolu blows up. His wit is razor sharp, his command of the audience is remarkable, and there are few comics in America with material half as funny or intelligent.

Atmosphere Releases Paul Bunyan-Themed Video For “Bob Seger”

Indie rap kingpins Atmosphere released the one-off track “Bob Seger” back in July and now have visuals to accompany the moody, evocative piece, one of their strongest individual songs since 2008’s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold. Slug had the following to say about the Andrew Melby-directed clip:

“(The video is) about how the legend of Paul Bunyan began. Babe wasn’t really a blue ox, it was a blue axe. But the northern accent made it sound like ‘ox’. Blue from the blood of the evil Canadian soldiers. It was filmed on the northern Minnesota iron range.”

Atmosphere is currently in the middle of their annual Welcome to MN Tour alongside Toki Wright, Big Cats, No Bird Sing, deM atlaS and Jimmy2Times. Catch the remaining dates below.

2.13 – Duluth, MN @ Clyde Iron Works (sold out)

2.14 – Rochester, MN @ Mayo Civic Center Auditorium

2.15 – Fargo, MN @ The Venue at the Hub

2.17 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue (sold out)

El-P and The Bots Celebrate CONS Project: Brooklyn with Intimate Performance

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CONS Project: Brooklyn came to a close Friday night with performances by El-P and The Bots at Converse Rubber Tracks. The three-month creative workshop offered emerging artists the opportunity to learn from the best in the fields of audiovisual, production and recording.

Hailing from Los Angeles, the young punk-blues duo known as The Bots rocked the Williamsburg performance space for the better part of an hour. Their gritty, wise-beyond-its-years repertoire included a song about a girl from their school that used to cut her feet and put her blood in the cupcakes she sold on campus.

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The Prison Poetry of Ceschi Ramos

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Drawing by Ceschi Ramos

In December 2010, rapper, singer and multi-instrumentalist Ceschi Ramos was arrested when a vehicle carrying 100 pounds of marijuana wrapped up like Christmas presents parked outside of his New Haven home and an informant pinned Ceschi as its intended recipient. Police tackled Ceschi to the snow and drew guns to his head, refused to allow his 98-year-old grandfather to contact a lawyer, threatened to arrest his entire family and seize their home and ultimately coerced Ceschi into signing a confession. Following three years of legal battles, he accepted a plea deal for an 18-month sentence. There was no evidence suggesting he was anything more than a scapegoat aside from the signed confession and by the time his sentence began in September 2013, marijuana was no longer illegal in Connecticut.

To keep the record label he co-founded with his brother David in 2008 afloat, Ceschi and Fake Four, Inc. launched an indiegogo campaign in the fall. Their modest initial goal of $15,000 was met within 24 hours and the final tally sat north of 52 grand. Approximately four months into his sentence, Ceschi was released on parole over the holidays.

“We’re pretty confident that the noise everyone made helped put me on the fast track for release,” says Ceschi. “It was even hard for me to believe but the public nature of my case had every C.O. in prison pointing and talking about me, they seemed utterly annoyed by the amount of mail and books and visits and overall attention I was getting – and that really helped push me out into the program faster.”

One of the many perks offered by Fake Four’s indiegogo campaign included the opportunity to receive original poetry penned by the artist behind bars. My girlfriend, one of the 1,046 individuals who donated to the Free Ceschi campaign, received one of his pieces last week, entitled “Bori, Niantic”, which Artlux is proud to share with you below.

Click each image for a larger version

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Artlux Mag’s Top 10 Albums of 2013

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When not discussing Miley Cyrus, the hype machine suggested Kanye West and Arcade Fire were the primary gravitational forces of 2013. And while Yeezus and Reflektor were great records, the time and energy journalists devoted to Kanye rants and Arcade Fire dress codes could have been spent covering a wealth of genius material that flew under the radar. With that in mind, and with the acknowledgment that ranking art is a pointless (though oddly fun) endeavor, Artlux presents its top 10 albums of 2013.

10. Serengeti – Saal

King of character study and frequent Sufjan collaborator Serengeti put out a lot of music in 2013. His record under the guise of Chicago bratwurst enthusiast Kenny Dennis received the most attention, including praise from Thom Yorke, but it was the underhyped Saal alongside German producer Sicker Man that showed Geti at his most raw and revealing, singing of a recurring night terror involving his deceased girlfriend and showing up at an ex’s wedding wearing a fake nose.

9. Young Fathers – Tape Two

Artists who make music described as uncategorizable  are often doing something right. Scottish trio Young Fathers are hip hop at their core, but their experimental lo-fi odyssey routinely features elements of African music, soul, reggae and more. Their second EP on Anticon is equal parts beautiful and grimy, highlighted by the melodic might of “I Heard” and adventurous tumult of “Queen Is Dead”, which sounds like a synthy post-apocalyptic dance party set in the Grand Bazaar.

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Rickolus – Troubadour (Review)

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Released by Circle Into Square

Over the course of 13 years, the last film projectionist in Florida spent his spare time recording an album a day in a green shed in his Jacksonville backyard, piling up roughly 4,748 albums according to legend. Somewhere along the way he got married, had a daughter, made music with indie rapper Astronautalis, and went on the occasional tour. This man is Rickolus.

The singer-songwriter, who emerged into cult consciousness with the obscure-yet-praised Youngster and Coyote & Mule records, had the audacity to drop a double album in the age of dwindling attention spans. This album is Troubadour, split into the acoustic Roads and electric Towns.

Drawing inspiration from Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, Troubadour is Rickolus‘ abstract exploration of love as the highest spiritual experience and serves as a meandering epic poem to his wife. His witty, emotive palette lends itself to a beautiful sonic sadness even when the subject matter itself doesn’t occupy the same space, as evidenced by songs such as “White Whale” and “9th Street to San Pablo”.

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B. Dolan Raps to Hardcore Crowd at Saint Vitus

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Photography by April Siqueiros

Following a memorable show with Sage Francis back in May at the Knitting Factory, B. Dolan returned to Brooklyn for an hour set bookended by hardcore bands at the sold-out Saint Vitus Bar. The current run opening for Circle Takes The Square marks Dolan‘s first trek with a live band, and his touring 3-piece brought the goods.

Drawing primarily from Fallen House, Sunken City and House of Bees Vol. 2, Dolan‘s band expertly transformed the beats of Alias and Buddy Peace to the stage while the Rhode Island emcee won over uninitiated hardcore fans with his staggering cadence and charisma.

He also shoved a white Rasta in the face, which looks like a fun thing to do.

Check out April Siqueiros’ photos from the night and view B. Dolan’s setlist below.

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Serengeti and Surprise Guest Sufjan Stevens Join Louis Logic for Release Show at Glasslands

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Less than two years ago, underground hip hop veteran Louis Logic considered quitting rap and trying his hand at indie pop. On Sunday night, in front of a packed hometown Brooklyn crowd of fans, friends and fellow emcees, Louis walked around Glasslands with a Mylar balloon tied to his wrist and an irrepressible grin on what was clearly one of the best nights of his life.

The show was a celebration of Louis Logic’s first solo LP in seven years, Look on the Blight Side, which comes out next week on Fake Four, Inc. It had also been seven years since underground contemporary J-Zone rapped on stage. After experiencing some marginal success in the early 00s with his comedic pimp raps, J got burned out, stopped recording, and penned a book on how to not make it in the music business. Motivated by positive press for the book, J recently dropped his 11th album, Peter Pan Syndrome. His brief Glasslands set consisted of new material such as “Gadget Ho” and “Trespasser”, songs about his disdain for smartphones and gentrification, respectively. “Jackin For Basquiats” continued the onslaught with a snarky jab at Jay Z and other rappers mindlessly referencing high art for style points. An audience member took note and called out, “What else do you hate, J?”

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Review)

Ben Stiller’s fifth feature-length directorial outing, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, screened Wednesday at Bowtie Chelsea Cinemas. Adapted from James Thurber’s classic 1939 short story, the adventure comedy details a bland office worker’s attempts to subvert reality through transcendent daydreams.

Walter Mitty features beautiful cinematography, with the picturesque mountains and waters of Iceland mirroring the larger-than-life travels of its titular character (Stiller). The duller half of the movie was shot in New York City, with familiar landmarks like Rockefeller Center popping up now and then. A Junip-heavy soundtrack suits the scenery well.

From the opening scene of Walter brooding over his eHarmony account in a solitary uptown apartment, his quiet desperation is palpable. He’s a man committed to his negative asset manager (photo editor) job at LIFE magazine, one he excels at by all accounts, but he has never taken any real chances or followed through on his passions. When a shakeup at work and the loss of a
crucial negative threatens his job as well as that of Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), a co-worker he has a crush on, Walter suddenly comes out of his shell and embarks on a globetrotting adventure to track down renegade photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) and the missing negative.

Walter routinely zones out in his daily life and daydreams of heroic feats that quash his nemesis boss (Adam Scott) and win the heart of Cheryl. The scenes portraying this are all excellently shot and provide a large portion of the movie’s laughs, but it’s a tired character trait. One need look no further back than Michel Gondry’s 2006 The Science of Sleep to see a character detaching himself from the moment and blurring the physical and (day)dream realms. Hell, even Zach Braff on Scrubs went down this road in his own cheesy way. In staying true to Thurber’s story, Stiller had to explore the protagonist’s daydreams, but was trapped by the aforementioned cliché and could only hope to go about it in an original way.

The film, like so many mainstream releases of late, is marred by gratuitous product placement. A conversation between Walter and Cheryl painfully namedrops Papa John’s about five times and Patton Oswalt’s cameo is most memorable for him talking about Cinnabon while eating a Cinnabon. This is particularly disappointing given that Stiller seemed to be going for something
more artful and less commercial with the film. Product placement is not enough to ruin Walter Mitty, a charming, slightly above average flick, but it keeps it a safe distance from the lofty heights it was after.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty opens in theaters on Christmas Day.

NYC Skate Doc ‘We Out Here’ Screens at Nitehawk

WE OUT HERE from Ron Brodie on Vimeo

Out in Brownsville, a group of young skaters are defying cultural biases and building a community of inclusion while coping with the typical horror stories associated with life in the hood. We Out Here, a micro-documentary produced by Mitchell Ware and directed by Ron Brodie, screened for the 2nd time at Williamsburg’s Nitehawk Cinema on Wednesday night courtesy of Airwalk, Harold Hunter Foundation and The Fader, who are now streaming the doc on their site.

After a crowd of skaters, hipsters, and press folks mingled in the exposed brick lobby over open bar booze adjacent to an Airwalk Capsule Collection, theater lights dimmed on a stark monologue from a skater’s mother that provided context for Ware’s portrayal of NYC urban skate culture. The decision to shoot the film entirely in black and white accentuates the odd beauty of kickflips and bench grinds juxtaposed with gritty Brooklyn backdrops.

Centered on eight BK skaters, We Out Here provides snapshots of their daily lives and the hardships they’ve had to endure. A young skater by the name of Sherry Puffin speaks on the two years she spent homeless and what it was like sleeping in shifts with a friend on the train between the Bronx and Brooklyn. Another talented skater, Wade Yates, talks about an annual Father’s Day BBQ held around the corner from his house in Brownsville that gets shot up every year. With little to rely on outside of themselves, these outcasts pick up skateboards and dedicate countless hours to their craft while their peers all too often get tragically caught up in gang violence.

Jessica Forsyth, spokesperson for the Harold Hunter Foundation, took part in a Q&A following the screening and spoke of NYC skate legend Hunter (“…a raunchy individual who died of bad cocaine, but was almost universally loved.”) and the foundation’s mission. We Out Here shows that Hunter’s legacy has lived on and influenced a new generation of disadvantaged Brooklyn skaters finding meaning, opportunity and positive escapism wherever their boards carry them.

Should there be any criticism of We Out Here, it would involve the documentary’s length (a mere 42 minutes) and how it’s a bit light on actual skate footage. Watching Keith White bust a heel manual while being passed a joint is endlessly entertaining, and it’s hard to believe that the cutting room floor isn’t littered with similar greatness.