Friday, September 26, 2008

Duff Review: RiceRokit -- Hang Loose

When I first heard RiceRokit's Hang Loose (released on Megalith Records), my first thought was that its compelling mix of guitar-driven modern ska, rock, reggae, and hip hop did Sublime one better (by a long shot, actually). So I found it kind of appropriate that it turns out that Kendo (singer, songwriter, guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, drummer--who also self-produced the album, well, I might add) used to be in Dubcat, which was comprised of members of Hepcat, the Long Beach Dub Allstars, and, wait for it, Sublime (d'oh!). This release probably won't go down too well with ska traditionalists (there is turntable scratching throughout--a nice touch, actually!), but if your musical horizons are a bit broader, you'll find a stellar album jam-packed with well-crafted, catchy tunes.

For a record titled Hang Loose by a Hawaiian-born surfer, there sure is a lot of anxiety and tension, conflict between good and evil, and temptation of the flesh in this batch of songs. And the inevitability of death and decay is always present. "All the Pretty Things," which Kendo sings practically in falsetto, laments the fact that beauty is ephemeral, even though he's very much in the now, lusting after a hot lady ("Your pretty voice/your pretty style/just like a movie star/And just the way/you wear your jeans/makes me believe in God!/Why do all the pretty things/always fade away?"). Backed by a driving ska beat, "Dull Boy" is written from the point of view of Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining, as he slowly loses his mind and becomes the mad, killer caretaker ("I get the feeling that something's on the other side of this door/I could have sworn that I've been here in this place before/Feels like I've been here before/All work and no play/makes Jack a dull boy"). Work is trying to write the book; play is "chopping his family to bits."

"Dance with You" (catch the video below) is pure pop-reggae-skank perfection as he's torn between the intense physical desire he feels for this woman and the complete absence of love for her in his heart ("Girl, I could dance with you/but you're not my dream girl/You're nothing.../nothing like that," which directly quotes a John Travolta line in "Saturday Night Fever"). And I don't think 'dance' here means dancing, if you catch my drift. "Dinner and a Movie" savors the thrilling emotional high (hopefully) you've experienced at some point in your life when you've just start dating a certain special someone and it seems like nothing can go wrong (and you want this amazingly surreal feeling to last forever). "Monkey See, Monkey Do" subtly admonishes the listener that we need to set better examples for each other and the impressionable. The menacing "Something Wicked" directly references Ray Bradbury's fantasy/horror novel "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (where an evil carnival comes to a small Midwestern town, led by Mr. Dark--most likely the devil--who tempts people by granting people the power to indulge their innermost fantasies, but they end up trapped as freaks in his sideshow), while "Howling at the Moon," with its nice touches of country-ish guitar amidst the mid-tempo skank, warns the listener to "run for your life/if you wanna to survive," because he's going to sink his bad werewolf teeth into you. The reggae-fied cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand" (essentially a song about how everything in life is transitory) gets the Kendo touch and is all the better for it. As you can see, there are some pretty interesting things going on in Kendo's head that he's happy to share with us (can't wait to hear what he's got in store for us with his follow-up CD, Pidgin English).

I have the feeling that I'll keep coming back to this record for a long time, since the more I listen to it, the better it gets. Hands down, RiceRokit's Hang Loose is one of the best, fully realized, and unique debut CDs I've heard--making it one of the top ska/reggae albums of 2008. Be sure to pick it up.

Grade: A

RiceRokit's "Dance with You" Video


Jeremy Patton said...

Thanks so much Steve for reviewing this release of ours. Honestly when I first was contacted by Kendo, I was a bit skeptical, the name RiceRokit through me off at first. But once I listened to what he was laying down, I knew I wanted to work with him. Initially he was making this record all by himself, burning the cds, printing the tray art and mailing them out. We started off just buying a few copies off him and getting him set up for digital distribution. But we quickly ran out of copies and so did our physical distributors. So instead of making Kendo de Casa into a sweat shop, we thought it was best to give him the royal treatment and go full on pressing. I'm glad we did too, he is a hard worker! He is constantly keeping in contact and updating us with what he is doing with the band and to promote the record. Because of this, we also struck a deal to get the album released in Japan shortly after our US pressing! And, like your latest entry states, we are securing his next record as well.

What most people probably don't know though is, this is album is one of the best "conceptual" albums to come along in a long time, not since Sublime's 40oz To Freedom have I listened to a record from beginning to end and felt like someone really thought about this thing in and out. Kendo originally have a 20+ track cd for this release. Between and before each song, the album was filled with all these awesome classic horror and comedy samples that pertained to each song. But as I'm sure you know, legalities prevail, and we thought best to nix those and not have to deal with all the rights. So the "samples" were dropped and what you get is still a very tight concept album. Tremendous thought and effort and conscious track list order. BUT! What you also get is an exclusive on both the DIGITAL and the PHYSICAL disc.
As I stated before, we got Hang Loose into digital before we went to physical print, upon announcing the physical release, Kendo went and gave us an alternate mix of "Howl At The Moon" (Traditional Mix). So the PHYSICAL cd has a different version that the DIGITAL release. So that means if you buy the cd, you need to get to iTunes and buy that track as well, to hear the differences...isn't the future cool?
Maybe down the road we can put those samples up for free on the website for peeps to download and make the original album their own way!

Steve from Moon said...


Thanks for all the background on this release--really interesting stuff. And, yes, Kendo is a great and extraordinarily talented guy--someone to watch, cause he is going places. I should probably get my act together and do an interview with him and find out more about "Hang Loose."

Is the Japanese version of the album different from the Megalith version?

I'll be heading over to iTunes to buy the alternate version of "Howl at the Moon" right now...awesome song...

Steve from Moon

David T said...

Hey Steve I just reviewed this album as well and linked to yours.