science bastards

10 October, 2011

Handsome Boy Modeling School – Last Thoughts

Filed under: Authoritative Music Reviews, I Know Everything — sciencebastards @ 5:04 pm

So I’ve spent a couple weeks listening to this album and my general opinion of it hasn’t really changed.  This either means my first thoughts are quite honed and incisive or I’m pigheaded.  The latter is probably closer to the truth.  In any case, I still have a few quibbles.

Firstly, I think the sequencing of songs on the album creates a real trough with songs 2-7.  Not that they aren’t good songs, they are all actually quite nice, even the one with the violins and Chris Elliott samples is ok.  I do feel like it comes close to sucking the life out of the album with such a sustained level of mellow.  However, these guys have sold many more albums in their lives than I have so I would guess I’m in the minority.  It slows up a bit after “Holy Calamity” also but it doesn’t feel as much of a lull for some reason.

I also thought the record could have been a bit more concise.  I’m not positive if labels like to put pressure on artists to fill up an entire cd but it does seem as if they usually pad the album out at the expense of making a tighter artistic statement.

I do find it interesting that I could find no live footage of them performing and almost no biographical info.  It isn’t that they were just a studio concept one-off project, I have found live stills of them.  This is a big positive for me though.  Any artistic venture that doesn’t seek to explain itself is always infinitely more interesting than one that does.  Anyone who has ever been to an art opening with an explanatory statement by the artist is well acquainted with how quickly over-explaining something can take all the impact out of something.  Handsome Boy Modeling School achieves the opposite of this.  Whether this silence is just a coincidence or by design doesn’t matter much.  I think one of the best things any artist can do is to confuse their audience.  I know this sounds glib and snobby but I truly hate to get exactly what I expect out of artists.

One part I will reiterate has to do with reception.  In a previous post I said that I didn’t think this album would fly on the radio.  I believe this now more than previously.  Commercial radio relies on easy categorizations and I just don’t think they would have a clue as to where to put this album.  Not that there aren’t plenty of tracks that seem to be of high enough quality and of wide enough appeal to merit airplay, I just think the project itself doesn’t fit an easy narrative.  Media like radio and television are often reluctant to promote art or artists that require much effort to digest.

Final rating: Somewhere between 4 and 4.5

8 October, 2011

Handsome Boy Modeling School – Round 2

Filed under: Authoritative Music Reviews, I Know Everything — sciencebastards @ 5:47 pm

One notable thing about Handsome Boy Modeling School is the dearth of authoritative information on them.  Their website seems to have been abandoned as you only get forbidden message when accessing  Likewise, their Myspace page seems to be mocking you with its sparseness.  The UK MTV site says “Unfortunately it looks as though they won’t be producing any more now that Prince Paul has left the group in 2006 over disputes with Dan.”  This may explain then why the site has been taken down, or at least neglected.

The only biographical info to be found online seems to have been passed to every site from the same initial source.  It is also very cursory and frankly unhelpful.  The group consists of Prince Paul, most famous for being one third of De La Soul, and Dan (The Automator) Nakamura who is a producer best known for his work with Gorillaz and Dr. Octagon (Kool Keith).  This seems to be the extent of useful information but it almost makes no difference.  Sometimes a conceptual band is better when they don’t explain themselves.  Although it is possible they did explain themselves at some point and it has since been scrubbed from the internet (I did check).

Having downloaded the album from Amazon, I have no liner notes to work with.  Most of the online commentary focuses on all the guests that got roped into contributing. Personally I think the concept, nebulous as it is, is far more interesting.  The cover, shown here:

seems to be mocking some of the trappings of snobby culture while the lyrics, especially of the first song, are calling out conspicuous consumer culture.  This promo seems to bear this out without giving too many specifics away.



I wonder if there is also a dig in there somewhere at the dominant materialism of hip-hop culture as well.  Prince Paul has always been unafraid to make music that ignores the conventions of hip-hop, especially by using humor.  Dan the Automator seems to have a similar bent, judging from this and his involvement with Kool Keith.  Why has hip-hop lost all of its silliness?  In any case the ambiguity doesn’t really take away from anything in the least.

Despite the frustration you’d expect from not being able to get a hold of useful information on these guys, I actually find it pretty refreshing.  A lack of preconceptions lets me just listen to the record and find what I like in it.  For the record, I really don’t listen to lyrics much, nor do I really care much what they are singing about.  That sounds insanely stupid for hip-hop but voices are just other instruments and I generally just like to keep them in that role sometimes.  In this case, ignorance is bliss and I am sort of enjoying that.

Rating: Hovering just above 4 out of 5 at this point.

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