French design duo M/M Paris shares a pixelated, neon future with C’est Wouf!

M/M Paris is a French design partnership consisting of Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak, well known for their work with musicians such as Björk (Volta), Kanye West (My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy) and more. Now the duo has a new exhibition, C’est Wouf!, up at gallery Air de Paris in Paris.

Featuring the titular dog(?) as well as light fixtures, neon sculptures, and more, the exhibit is up through May 18. If you’re not fortunate enough to be near Paris, view some of the wild work below.

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Interview: P.O.S throws an anarchist dance party

This interview appears in ALARM #40. Subscribe here to get your copy!

[Ed. note: ALARM contributing writer Bobby Markos was improperly uncredited in print. We sincerely regret the error.]

POS: We Don't Even Live HereP.O.S: We Don’t Even Live Here (Rhymesayers, 10/23/12)

“Fuck Your Stuff”

P.O.S: “Fuck Your Stuff”

With an ear for diversity and a mind for critical thought, Stefon Alexander — better known as rapper P.O.S — has maintained operations as a multi-instrumentalist by day and rap artist by night. The early-30-something is a man whose DIY/punk upbringing aligns him more with Ian MacKaye than Kanye West, and that’s reflected in his many and assorted rock-band roles, including his current gig as keyboardist/vocalist for Marijuana Deathsquads.

But no matter the project, Alexander continues to reinvent himself with each release. His latest as P.O.S, We Don’t Even Live Here, is a testament to his 360-degree perspective of both music and the world we live in. Here he discusses what has changed in his life as well as the new album’s danceable vibe and anti-capitalist theme.

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Review: The Man with the Iron Fists soundtrack

V/A: The Man with the Iron Fists soundtrack (Soul Temple, 10/23/12)

Assembled by rapper/director RZA, the soundtrack for The Man with the Iron Fists aurally delivers on the eyeball-punching promises of his over-the top grindhouse martial-arts movie.

From blues-driven opener “The Baddest Man Alive,” which sees RZA reunite with collaborators The Black Keys, this collection of largely new tracks works as a cohesive album while being eclectic enough to function as accompaniment for a film.

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Review: Portland Cello Project’s Homage

Portland Cello Project: Homage

Portland Cello Project: Homage (Jealous Butcher)

“H*A*M” (Kanye West & Jay-Z)

[audio:|titles=Portland Cello Project: “H*A*M”]

Since 2007, the Portland Cello Project has taken the cello where few have gone before, offering chamber and string-based renditions of movie themes, pop songs, classical pieces, and more — even metal tunes such as Pantera’s “Mouth for War.” The group’s live and recorded output now boasts more than 900 pieces, varying between straightforward arrangements with a handful of cellos to setups of grandiose proportions, with a dozen of its namesake instrument being supported by full choirs, winds, and percussion.

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Q&A: Sole & The Skyrider Band

Sole & The Skyrider Band: Hello Cruel WorldSole & The Skyrider BandHello, Cruel World (Fake Four Inc., 7/19/11)

Sole & The Skyrider Band: “Hello, Cruel World”

[audio:|titles=Sole & The Skyrider Band: “Hello, Cruel World”]

Citing differences in vision for his label and a desire to release music independently, Tim Holland split in 2010 with the Anticon collective that he helped to found. Now, with his faithful Skyrider Band at his side, Holland has released his first official release as Sole since the departure, and it’s another bold chapter in a bold career.

Skyrider, which has been the force behind Sole’s sonic development over the past few years, now sets a surprisingly mainstream and orchestral backdrop for Holland’s rhymes, which have slowed and become more decipherable — but no less potent in criticism. As he explains below, Holland wanted Hello, Cruel World to sound more like a “big rap album,” and it accomplishes the feat with club beats, vocoder-inspired choruses, and a posse of collaborators (Sage Francis, Xiu Xiu, Lil B, and many more). But the musical backdrop also is more cerebral and beautiful, thanks in part to the talents of band member and film-score composer William Ryan Fritch (a.k.a. Vieo Abiungo).

Holland also is keeping busy with DIY videos and his Nuclear Winter mixtape series, which employs the Situationist détournement technique of “turning expressions of the capitalist system against itself.” In this case, it’s taking hits by Lil Wayne, Rihanna, and the like and dropping politically current themes on them. Here Holland explains this mixtape concept while discussing the state of the world and the Sun Tzu-inspired direction of his new album.

Now three albums into recording with Skyrider, how do you feel that your sound has evolved since joining forces?

It’s pretty crazy, really. When we started out, all I wanted was to be a hip-hop version of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and somehow along the way, we listened to way too much Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne in the car. The rest is history, I guess! For a while, The Skyrider Band was living in LA and working a lot with Telephone Jim Jesus, and Skyrider really came into its own on the production tip.

A member of Skyrider (William Ryan Fritch) has experience scoring films. How much did he influence the orchestral accents of Hello, Cruel World?

Ryan has always been way too talented for his own good. On our past work, we weren’t experienced enough with how to make the band aesthetic work for a hip-hop album, and I feel like through all of Ryan’s work with real composers, doing film scores, working with Asthmatic Kitty, and branching out on his own, he has a really solid grasp of what to add to Skyrider’s beats to take them over the top. The big surprise on this album is his vocal contribution; he’s able to layer my off-key singing with his beautiful crooning and really make stuff sound great.

Hello, Cruel World has a much more radio-friendly sound and even features Melodyne software (similar to vocoder software) in many choruses. Was there any deliberate decision to target a broader audience to get your messages across?

Yes, there was. In Sun Tzu’s Art of War, he says you can’t keep attacking using the same method; in order to succeed, you have to surprise your opponents. I had listened to gangster rap so much that its influence and aesthetic had taken over what I did, and coincidentally, that is what the hip-hop people are listening to right now. It wasn’t so much an opportunistic move as it was a natural evolution. So we thought it would be an interesting gamble to try to make an album that would be an SSRB take on Jay-Z or TI — a big rap album. What I like about those albums is that they all collaborate with their homies and put each other on. After years of mainly writing music alone, it was really fun to try to collaborate with some of my favorite artists. Usually, when people use these styles, they try to be ironic, but we take rap music very seriously.

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P.O.S: Hip-Hop Innovation, Punk-Rock Disposition

P.O.S: Never Better P.O.S: Never Better (Rhymesayers, 2/3/09)

P.O.S: “Let it Rattle”
[audio:|titles=P.O.S: “Let it Rattle”]

Between finishing up a tour with his other musical endeavor as the vocalist / guitarist for Minneapolis punk band Building Better Bombs and filming videos for tracks on his third album, Never Better, rapper P.O.S has been chilling in the Land of Lakes, schlepping to gigs in his crusty-but-trusty ’95 Honda (the one with “the broken heater that you have to kick”), and enjoying invaluable time catching up with his nine-year-old son, Jake. He’s been on a roller coaster of work lately, but at least he hasn’t had to work a day job since 2004.

After the release of his first album, Ipecac Neat, in 2004, P.O.S (a.k.a. Stefon Alexander) quit his day job and devoted all of his time to making music. Since then, he released a second solo album with 2006 full-length Audition, and he followed that in late 2008 with the debut Building Better Bombs album, Freak Out Squares. In February of 2009, however, he released his magnum opus — his third solo album, Never Better. With a carefully crafted mixture of samples, big beats, snare rolls, and rock riffs — topped with Alexander’s lyrical prowess — Never Better is vying to be the best hip-hop album of the year.

Speaking from a video shoot somewhere in north Minneapolis, Alexander speaks about the importance to him of working on music full time. It’s a theme that is crucial to Never Better. “More than anything, the biggest theme that keeps coming up is the idea that 90 percent of people work in an office, or work at Dairy Queen, or work at a fucking graphic-design chunk of Target where they don’t necessarily care about anything that they do with 90 percent of their day,” Alexander explains.

“They just spend their entire day waiting to get off work so that they can go spend the rest of their time while they’re tired and hungry eating some food, and playing their video games, and living off of somebody else’s dream. The norm should be: people do what they care about, what they want to do, and what they love.”

Given how the 27-year-old speaks, it’s easy to see him as a young Gil Scott-Heron. Alexander is steeped in the “everyman” experience, from his single-parent upbringing to his punk-rock beginnings to his desire to be a social-studies or music teacher if his voice gives out. There’s no thug, gunfire, bump and grind, or swagger to him or his music, and there probably never will be. His self-described and self-imposed “punker-than-thou” guilt prevents him from following that route, even when performing in the often ego-bloated rap world.

“Ninety percent of people work in an office, or work at Dairy Queen, or work at a fucking graphic-design chunk of Target where they don’t necessarily care about anything that they do with 90 percent of their day. The norm should be: people do what they care about, what they want to do, and what they love.”

“The ego thing is embarrassing to me,” Alexander says. “There’s a rapper’s ego, and then there’s Kanye West. That sounds like talking trash, and it’s not talking trash. It’s just one of those things where you give your full support to somebody — and I was like, ‘Yo, this guy’s next to blow, next to blow!’ — and then he comes out with a wreath on his head on Rolling Stone.

“Don’t get me wrong, I respect Kanye West — and maybe it’s the young punk rocker in me — but I think of Ian MacKaye as the supreme icon of integrity and an attitude of DIY. I respect Kanye West more than I respect most of the rappers out there, but I’m one of those people who comes from a place where I feel that there’s a difference between being humble and showing some humility. If I somehow manage to miraculously sell a million records, and then I get up and I’m like, ‘See, I told y’all that I’d sell a million records. Fuck y’all! Look at me. I’m the fucking shit!’ Then yes, you can call me to laugh. But I guarantee that that’s not how it’s coming out at all.”

Though he’s humble about his ambitions, Alexander does not hide his pursuit of them. Never Better is a classic example of how to get things done by using the indirect route of Minnesota niceness.

“When I first turned this record in, the owner of the record label said, ‘It would have been amazing if you had turned this record in before you turned in Audition,’” Alexander says. Rather than break into typical rapper histrionics, he left the demo with Rhymesayers’ owner for a second spin. “It took him sitting down to listen to it — maybe two weeks, three weeks — and his entire view on it had changed. It’s just one of those records that doesn’t hit you immediately.”

Never Better is Alexander’s subversion of Audition’s pop-leaning sensibilities. “I deliberately went in there and made music that I felt was interesting to me — really angular stuff,” he says. “I wanted to have crazy toms and crazy, abrasive beats. I wanted to make it actually aggravating in some points. The production quality is a step back a little bit from Audition, because I wanted to make it sound different to me.”

His rationale, Alexander explains, was reinforced by a recent pop-saturated experience. “I did this tour with Gym Class Heroes,” he says. “And I have no disrespect for Gym Class Heroes. I think that Gym Class Heroes do their thing, and I like those guys, and they were really hospitable on that tour. But I don’t have the need or want in my life to make pop songs. It’s a good skill for someone to have, and maybe it’s my own way of sabotaging myself, but I only want to make these kinds of songs.”

This new P.O.S album also is heavy on political content, touching upon topics such as greed, corruption, and consumerism — themes that are common with the Midwest and East Coast rap traditions with which P.O.S most connects, versus the bling-bang-boobs-bongs themes at play in old-school, West Coast rap. These political themes are strongest on Never Better’s first track, “Let It Rattle.” “The line in the song is, ‘They’re out for presidents to represent them,’ which is a throwback to the Nas line in ‘The World is Yours,’ when he says, ‘I’m out for presidents to represent me,’” Alexander says.

“He’s talking about money. So I say, ‘They’re out for presidents to represent them. You think a president can represent you?’ And I’m still talking about money there, like, ‘Do you really think that money is going to represent who you are and who you can be?’ And then I say, ‘Do you really think that a president can represent you?’ I’m talking about whatever president is in office. So I’m talking about money almost more than I’m talking about the physical president of the United States.

“But then again, if you look at the album artwork, there is that Shepard Fairey print of Obama. It’s all blacked out, but in the negative space of Obama’s shirt, the artist has a Nike swoosh to present the idea that you need to be careful who you give your whole-blood faith to. You need to realize that a lot of what you voted for is branding, is marketing, and it’s going to be a couple years before we realize ‘yes, Obama does know.’”

Alexander voted for and has hope for the Obama administration, but his punk-rock sensibilities make him healthily wary of any authority figure. It is this type of scrutiny that keeps Alexander honest when analyzing his accomplishments as P.O.S. “That’s one of the things that happen when you grow up in Minneapolis,” he says.

“I don’t know my level of success yet. I just know I don’t have to work a normal job. I don’t know who actually listens to my music, except for the people that come to my shows. It would be really presumptuous for me to be like, ‘Hey, can you contact [Spoon singer] Britt Daniel and see if we can have our people meet?’ Because I don’t have people. I mean, I guess that I have people, but I don’t think about them as ‘my people.’ That’s not me.”

After a pause, Alexander adds, “You know, the thing about punk rock  —  it might be the only kind of music where the more underground you are, [you’re getting] more fake respect, and the more ‘hardcore’ you are. That kind of vibe is sought out and respected. I don’t think that that’s necessarily true of any other style of music. When you’re a kid and you submerge yourself in that whole punker-than-you thing…well, anyway, being from Minnesota, you never want to presume that you’re a big deal. You never want to presume that people want to work with you or people want to hear you. You just keep your eyes on the prize and do what you want to do.”

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Concert Photos: Wu-Tang Clan @ Congress Theater (Chicago, IL)

Everyone’s favorite original rap super-group Wu-Tang Clan rolled through Chicago over the weekend to perform a set in the Congress Theater. Though its individual members have each gone on to do a number of other things, including RZA‘s foray into Hollywood and recent work on Kanye West‘s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it’s nice to see them unite forces once in a while. ALARM contributing photographer Elizabeth Gilmore waded through the head-nodding masses to snap these stellar photos.

Wu-Tang Clan

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100 Unheralded Albums from 2010

Among the thousands of under-appreciated or under-publicized albums that were released in 2010, hundreds became our favorites and were presented in ALARM and on  Of those, we pared down to 100 outstanding releases — from the progressive-industrial madness of Norway’s Shining to the folk-hop rhymes of Sage Francis to the orchestral Italian oldies of Mike Patton‘s Mondo Cane project.

As usual, ALARM leaves no genre unexplored in our list of this year’s overlooked gems.

Presented in chronological order.

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Guest Spots: Sole picks the West’s five greatest myths

Since leaving longtime label Anticon, indie rapper Sole has released The Pyre — a collaboration with artist Ravi Zupa — as well as a free mixtape of his signature rhymes over radio-hit beats from the likes of Rick Ross and Kanye West, titled Nuclear Winter: Vol. 1. In addition, Sole and the Skyrider Band has been working with the label Fake Four. Inc and just finished a US tour with IDM artist Egadz.

Sole (a.k.a. Tim Holland) took a few minutes out of his busy tour schedule to pen a piece on the greatest myths in Western civilization. On the list, just in time for the holidays, is a new perspective on the story and significance of Santa Claus.

Five Western Myths
by Tim Holland, a.k.a. Sole

1. Santa Claus

The modern Santa gets his roots from Sinter Klaas, the Dutch father of Christmas. Sinter Klass, with the help of his ‘”Zwarte Pieten,” a.k.a. enslaved “black devils,” brought gifts to children. He moved his residence to the North Pole, where he seemingly swapped out the Moors for Inuits. Today this myth lies at the center of our entire economy and arguably our way of life.

My biggest problem with Santa is that it teaches children that something comes out of nothing, and it gives them an early and tangible affirmation of the supernatural. Even during periods of relative prosperity, it’s not uncommon for an American parent to take a second job around the holidays simply to perpetuate this myth. Maybe history laughs last, as yesterday’s “Moors” are replaced the world over by today’s work force.

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N.A.S.A: Flying High With All-Star Collaborators On The Spirit Of The Apollo

On their debut album The Spirit of the Apollo (Anti-), DJ/producers Sam Spiegel (Squeak E. Clean) and Ze Gonzales (DJ Zegon), together as N.A.S.A. (North America South America), embarked on their own musical odyssey. As studio astronauts, the duo’s mission was to mix Spiegel’s love of North American hip hop and rock with Gonzales’ passion for Brazilian funk. Together they hoped to create a new musical galaxy filled with Earth’s rising and brightest stars.

From the start, The Spirit of Apollo celebrates humanity’s delicate interdependence with “The People Tree,” and then it ponders the perpetuating evils of worshiping the almighty dollar on “Money.” Both tracks juxtapose David Byrne’s soulful siren against the barbed spitfire rhymes of Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Blackalicious rapper Gift of Gab. As the rest of the album unfolds, the other collaborating crew members (Kanye West, Santogold, Karen O, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Tom Waits, Kool Keith, KRS-One, Fatlip, et. al.) send the 16-song shuttle ride surging towards a dance-floor party on the surface of the sun.

Though the journey isn’t conceptually cohesive track to track, the universal groove of the Spirit of Apollo still mines the depths of human emotion. Among the other party tracks, “Way Down” stands out as the album’s deepest trip to a dreary and emotional underworld as Barbie Hatch’s dark and cathartic croon, RZA’s nimble flow, and John Frusciante’s psychedelic rock riffs take your heart and mind through a compelling journey filled with pain, sadness, and loneliness.

A few weeks before the album’s launch date (February 17, 2009), Spiegel explains how the project began nearly six years ago, when he and Gonzales first considered combining their music passions. “We started talking about using the Apollo theme because that’s what we wanted the album to be about,” he says. “The album’s first collaboration with [Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer] Karen O created the song ‘Strange Enough,’ and then we added the Ol’ Dirty Bastard vocals. That’s when we realized that this album is all about avoiding the things that keep mankind separated musically and culturally. We focused on the unity idea because it’s the unexpected collaborations that bring the world together.”

For the last several years, Spiegel has sharpened his producing skills by scoring commercials and movies. And those experiences helped capture The Spirit of Apollo. “Scoring a picture is a very dynamic process; it has builds and falls,” Spiegel says. “I’ve really learned a lot about how to translate that to music. Being able to play and have a wider range of instruments has really helped widen my production palette too. When you’re confronted with different types of music, you’re forced to grow and open up a new part of your musical vocabulary.”

As a producer who has a long list of previous credits and collaborations, ranging from movie and commercial scores to album and remix production, Spiegel says that he began tapping his “list of favors” to accomplish his mission. “Calling in a few favors meant different things depending on who I was talking to,” he says. “Santogold was the very last song on the album, and we needed to get it finished or we would have had to push the release date back. She was on ‘Gifted’ with Lykke Li and Kanye West. She was telling us that her vocal chords were trashed and that she was way too busy touring, but I begged her to take time out so we could finish this song. She was generous enough to meet me in New York and record the song.”

Ever since his adolescence, Spiegel has been in love with hip hop. “This was the album that I was dreaming about making since I was a kid,” he says. “Even though it took a long time, it was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. It was a very special honor to work with my hip-hop and rock heroes.”

Once he had his wish list of collaborators, Spiegel sent letters to the album’s hip-hop emcees. “We presented the music to the emcees by sending them the track with a letter about what the album was about, why they fit into the album, and what the song was about,” he says. “We already had the hook and melody, and sometimes each emcee would write with us in the studio. I ended up going all over the world to record this album. It was a big, crazy adventure.”

Spiegel received unexpected inspiration from folk/blues journeyman Tom Waits, who gave the project depth and support. “Waits was really into the project and wanted to support us by donating his services from the start,” Spiegel says. “I was going to pay him because I didn’t know him that well, but we became friends fast. He would call me with ideas for the album’s film and suggested other collaborations. He’s such an amazing and terrific person.”

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