It seems every article about Richard Buckner that I’ve read recently has mentioned his stint in upstate New York as a sign holder for construction crews. At one point, taking a break to warm himself up in his truck, he heard his own song on NPR radio — a bittersweet moment for the man, to be sure. But what makes the story so compelling to fans is that it weds so well with Buckner’s music, which is imbued with an almost desperate sense of realness.
Our Blood is Buckner’s first release in five long years. I say long, because it wasn’t supposed to be this way. After penning a soundtrack for a movie that was never released, Buckner twice had to start over with the music on this record, having both his tape recorder and his laptop stolen. But cursed though the production of this record may have been, it seems to sound all the better for it.
Traitor opens the record with an eerie synth that scratches out a strange rhythm before dropping away to reveal classic Buckner: driving electric rhythm guitar, simply adorned with a drum kit, an organ, and some slide guitar. And of course, there is his haunting voice, which is the sonic equivalent of flickering fire. When that eerie synth returns at the song’s close, it brings with it a feeling of impending doom. “Oh watch that temper, now/Is it worth it, wasted?/How far will you get?”
Citing a fondness for E.E. Cummings and a propensity to play with punctuation, Buckner weaves words together with the careful attention of an earnest poet. On Collusion, atop fingerpicked acoustic guitar, he sings, “Already gone with no goodbyes/locked up and out of key/You’d hear them sing the distant songs with familiar rings/luring you out until you could remember the chance you took.”
Our Blood is a brilliant record that deserves your attention. Maybe if more people listened, he wouldn’t have to hold up signs in the cold New York winters.
Watch the Throne
Jay-Z and Kanye West
Roc-A-Fella, Roc Nation, Def Jam
Loaded with guest stars and matchless production value, Watch the Throne is another celebration of celebrity of the sort we’re used to finding in Jay-Z and Kanye West’s music. But this doesn’t make it any less gripping.
No Church in the Wild opens everything with a watery guitar riff and a pumping kick drum above which Jay-Z and Kanye trade verses about the new religion of excess, where everything is permitted so long as no one gets caught — a theme that is to be repeated throughout the album. Frank Ocean sings the hook: “Human beings in a mob/What’s a mob to a king?/What’s a king to a God?/What’s a God to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything?”
The self-congratulatory verses of most popular rappers, riddled as they are with cliched bravado, are generally unlistenable on any level other than that of pure entertainment. But both Jay-Z and West incorporate a level of clever self-reflexivity that continually breathes fresh air into their rhymes.
On Niggas in Paris, for instance, Jay-Z shrugs off the recent struggles of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets (of which he is part owner): “The Nets could go 0 for 82 and I look at you like this shit gravy.” And Kanye makes use of the double meaning of “illest” (which can mean both “cool” and “sick”) while addressing public concerns for his own mental health: “Doctors say I’m the illest/cuz I’m suffering from realness.”