Arm Chair Philosophy (Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory review)

Philosophy is a wonderful thing. Rich, compelling, and full of room to experiment, because there isn’t one world view per se.

 

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

released Jun 23, 2017
******* 7/10

Vincent Jamal Staples, better known by his stage name, Vince Staples, is an American rapper and member of the hip hop group Cutthroat Boyz. He has also been associated with Odd Future and gained attention by making appearances on their albums as well from a mixtape he worked on with Mac Miller, Stolen Youth.

Staples debut album, Summertime ’06, was already released two years ago, which is why his sophomore effort, Big Fish Theory, has a lot to say for itself and about this new renaissance of hip hop, EDM and pop. Much like his contemporaries, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Childish Gambino (who is supposedly leaving music behind), Staples is perfectly comfortable with living in the weirdness of our generation. That means producing a record which could be ethereal and amelodic or one that combines sounds of the past to propel us into the future. Big Fish Theory is the later.

And I have to wonder if calling upon his previous skills as a documentarian, celebrating a self-proclaimed posthumous guardianship of Amy Winehouse, who features on Alyssa Interlude, and his hyperawareness of his own mortality/celebrity are the driving factors of Staples’ successes here or merely a perk when listening to the record.

The weirdness shows throughout the whole album, and might be best demonstrated in one of the later songs, Party People. Staples raps about how you can either move to the music if it hits you right OR you can sit there in your depression swimming with thoughts and a heavy heart, after all, the world is dark for some of us. This is not your baby sisters hip hop, nor is it aunties or grandpas. These beats are different then pretty much anything I’ve ever heard, and it works well, most of the time.

Not only that, but Vince Staples is happy to push his collaborators into the backdrop and have them as part of the song rather then front and centre, in fact he even pushes himself into a minor role on one of the songs. Kendrick Lamar fits nicely inside Yeah Right, an attack on the chest-puffing of most rap tracks. And there are definitely blink and you might miss it appearances from Juicy J, ASAP Rocky, Kilo Kish, Ray J, Ty Dolla Sign, and Damon Albarn.

The challenges with this album come in on the structure and organization of the songs, which can be heard best when you listen to tracks like Crabs In A Bucket, Love Can Be…, and Ramona Park Is Yankee Stadium. The questions I have immediately are around the experimentation. Exploration is awesome, but do these really compliment Staples cadence and content? It’s interesting for sure to have the bird calls, sirens, and whistling winds, but where is this going? Crabs In A Bucket sets the stage for a complex album, but it doesn’t feel like his strongest work, for sure.

That said, there are some really surprisingly fun tracks like 745 and Rain Come Down that intrigue despite shortcomings. Tonally these suit Staples well and the melodic choices sync up well with the speed at which he lays down his lyrics, but the best parts come from the verses and his rapping.

It is an experimentation of electronic music and hip hop, the kind of thing which metal-hip hop hybrid groups of the 1990s tried to accomplish but never really pulled off. And maybe that’s because those artists were metal first and hip hop second. Vince Staples confidence is so much more convincing.

Pros: Big Fish, the aforementioned Yeah Right and Party People are absolutely necessary on this album. An exploration of suicidal thoughts, the nature of hip hop, and what needs to happen next, Big Fish Theory is conscious hip hop, even if it isn’t labelled as such.

Cons: Rain Come Down is a little off in its warbling and takes the album into weird territory just as Big Fish Theory ends, much like how Crabs In A Bucket has a shaky start, it’s the middle of this record that does best.

Runtime: 36 minutes

Points of Interest: Influenced by house music and Detroit techno, Big Fish Theory calls up avant-garde electronica, funk, industrial music and a host of other sounds to afford Vince Staples with the creative expression he needs to transcend his environment. That Def Jam supports this sort of experimentation is fantastic, despite how discomfiting it is for most hip hop fans.

When music separates itself from it’s environment for even a second, acknowledges the world around it, and then zooms back in, it’s often a pleasing experience, and luckily for us world weary philosopher Vince Staples shared his Big Fish Theory with us.

theories Summarized

Keeping an open mind and heart is a wonderful philosophy and I hope Staples inspires other musicians to continue this trend. Yes, there will be blips in the road along the way, but how wonderful it is that we can have some good hip hop and EDM combined together for once, rather then remixes and overdubs. And that’s my personal big fish theory.

Tim!

Movies You Love To Hate (Cross Talk Ep. 27)

We all struggle with things in life. Things that we hate and which everyone else seems to love. It can be summed up in word – inexplicable.

I don’t really know why this happens, but there are a few camps on the matter. The most common belief being that over-saturation of something can lead to hatred of that same thing. We see pictures, memes, and discussions of something that we don’t know much about, nor do we really care for it, and the repetition grows and grows over time. To the point where resentment begins to set in.

It is especially true of very popular characters like the Minions, Harry Potter or Batman. When this content shows up in your social media feed over and over again, but you have no love for it, you slowly grow to hate it because others glorify it and raise it on a pedestal which doesn’t agree with your sensibilities.

Now psychology might say something completely different about this matter, telling us that hatred is often tied with difference. Difference being things which are separate from our own identities, and that when we hate something because it is different it says a lot more about us then the thing.

But I’m going to urge you to ignore logic today and look at the facts; Chris, Mike, and I all have a huge hate-on for some select movies and we are going to make some excellent points to justify for ourselves we why love to hate popular movies. And of course, we each bring an example that burns close to the home fires.

Yes hating things is usually bad, but sometimes its fun to hate something too, and if you aren’t directly hurting anyone, then it might even be cathartic to let it all out, dear readers. So this one is for the haters, to all you haters reading this post, take a minute and watch this video. This one is for you. And me. And Mike. And Chris.

And it just might awaken something in Andre leading to a contribution or too! This is Cross Talk episode number 27.

That was probably one of my favourite episodes to record creative cuties. Andre implemented the sliding camera in the wideshot, AND we had a four person conversation going at a couple of different moments. But what did you think? Do you agree that Meet The Parents is the worst? Or Unbreakable? How about Pirates of the Caribbean? Maybe you hate all of them equally…

Please let us know what you think? And if you liked this video, please share, comment, and subscribe! I’m out of theories for the day, but this has been Cross Talk and timotheories has even more in store for July!

Tim!

The Art of Weddings (Weddings)

Yoo hoo. It’s been awhile since I just rapped with you boo. At least a week or two.

Wedding season is upon us.

This is the time of year when true love reigns, people are getting married all over town and breeding like rabbits. Hence, why there are so many damn March and April babies in the world. If you want some math, to prove it, take todays date and subtract three month (human gestation takes nine months), and bingo bango, you land on April.

In case you didn’t know, a wedding is millennia old ritual that consists of a ceremony where two people are are joined in matrimony. Sometimes it’s holy and sometimes its a civil union. Either way it’s legal and for real. What I mean by this is that while wedding traditions and customs are varied all over the world, each one is a commitment made between two people, officiated, and witnessed by at least one over person. When you get into questions of ethnicity, culture, religion and social standing, then the details of how it shakes out, when the ceremony happens, what precedes and follows, all change and make for a unique situation every time.

What never changes is that it is a special occasion between two people, and one which needs to be captured, as a moment in time. Usually vows and rings are exchanged, a dance is shared, and speeches are given. This is where the art often comes in.

Musicians and disc jockey build the ambience, poetry, prayers and speeches need to be written, photographers and videographers take images and video, some designers decorate the space, and others fashion outfits.

All of this just for one day. A seemingly recession-proof industry. Now, I’m not here to tell you whether you should believe in marriage, weddings or any of it, but I do think you should consider what your role as a creative professional is within the spectrum of wedding season, because I know a few people in the industry who absolutely do make money providing the services I listed above. This might be a small consideration, but this post just might give you some ideas of how you could get a piece of the pie yourself.

theories Summarized

This might seem like an obvious post to some, but I’m hoping for you creative cutie, that this was an opportunity to realize you can do it. No matter what you think, you deserve success, you’re willing to reach out and grab it. So grab it and make it happen dear readers. The season is upon us, celebrate good times. Come on!

Tim!

Too Old To Be A Kid, Too Young To Be A Man (A Monster Calls review)

Why is the stories from our youth always seem to have the most impact on us as adults? They leave a legacy all their own and one which compounds over and over again, creating ripples in the lives of those around us.

 

A Monster Calls (2016)

Cast: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson, James Melville
Director: J.A. Bayona
released on blu-ray March 28, 2017
********* 9/10

IMDB: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, Audience Score 88%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Juan Antonio García Bayona, better known as J. A. Bayona, is a Spanish film director. He is the guy responsible for The Orphanage, The Impossible, and now A Monster Calls. Which should probably have been called The Monster. Just saying. Anyway, he is now set to direct the fifth instalment of the Jurassic Park film series, Jurassic World II.

Bayona is now going three for three, so I’d say it’s a safe bet that this is a heartfelt and glowing review. Just look at the plot, if you don’t believe me. Taken from Wikipedia…

Young Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) must face his mother’s (Felicity Jones) terminal cancer, his strict grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), his estranged father (Toby Kebbell), and his school bully, Harry (James Melville). One night at 12:07 a.m., Conor encounters the tree-like Monster (Liam Neeson), who tells Conor it has come to relate three true stories, after which Conor will tell the Monster his own story, the truth behind his nightmare. They continue to meet at 12:07 to tell the stories.

First story

An old king who has lost his entire family, save a young grandson, remarries a beautiful young woman. He dies before the prince comes of age, and many believe the queen poisoned the king. Not wanting to hand the kingdom over to the prince in a year, she plots to marry the prince and remain queen. The prince runs away with a farm girl he loves. They stop and sleep under a yew tree (the Monster), but in the morning he finds the young woman murdered. The prince tells the villagers that the queen, a witch, must have done it, and they rally to overthrow her. The monster awakes and joins the mob. Before the commoners can reach the queen, the Monster carries her away to a far-off land where she lives out the rest of her life in peace. Though she was indeed a witch, she did not kill the young woman or the king. The prince had murdered the young woman in order to inspire his people to back him into overthrowing the queen.

Second story

An apothecary follows old traditions and beliefs, using herbs and brews to cure ailments. His business becomes less popular as a local parson tells his congregation not to accept the apothecary’s old ways. When the parson’s two daughters become sick, the parson asks the apothecary to save their lives after all other resources are exhausted. When the apothecary asks why he should help a man who has turned people away from his skills and denied him the yew tree, his best source of healing ingredients, the parson promises to give him the tree and deliver the parishioners to him as customers. Yet the apothecary says that he cannot help, and the girls die. The Monster awakens from the yew tree to destroy the parson’s house and raze it to the ground as punishment.

While the apothecary was a greedy man, he was a healer and would have saved lives, including the girls’, if the parson had allowed him his way of life. The parson was a man of belief, but was willing to discard his beliefs when they were in the way. The healing traditions followed by the apothecary require belief in order to work; without the parson’s, the apothecary was unable to treat the two girls. Belief is half the cure.

Third story

A man was invisible because no one ever saw him. Tired of this, he summoned the Monster to ensure people would take notice.

Fourth story

Conor must confront his nightmare to tell the fourth story. His mother has been pulled to the edge of a cliff by a sudden collapse of the ground, and Conor must hold her hand to save her from falling. Eventually, his grip fails and his mother falls. The Monster forces Conor to confess the truth: Conor loosened his grip on purpose. While he could have held on longer, he let go in order to stop the pain of having to hold on. Conor ultimately understands the complexities of human beings, and that though he doesn’t want his mother to die, he understands it is inevitable and something he must accept, and that he wants the experience to be over.

After this, Connor returns, with the Monster by his side, to comfort his mother one last time, and she dies at 12:07. He returns home with his grandmother, who becomes caring towards him and gives Conor a room of his own, a room that used to be his mother’s. In the room he finds his mother’s old art book, which depicts the characters of the stories that have been told by the Monster, and a drawing of his mother as a child with the Monster.

Sad, thoughtful, and penetrating, A Monster Calls tells a story that we can all relate to, or at the very least, one which means something for the kid in all of us. I don’t know about you, but films which feature the loss of a parent always get me tearing up, but whether that is true for you or not, I can say with damn near perfect timing that Lewis MacDougall has the acting chops necessary to get you to feel the pain of bereavement. It simply is worthwhile.

Pros: The message is accessible, ushering away the monsters of youth with wonderment and fateful stories. Even the darkest moments of the film are made brighter by the authenticity of it’s narrative. Lewis MacDougall shines.

Cons: It can be a struggle to see Sigourney Weaver as a grandmother, and the bullies of the film feel more like pieces to be moved then real characterizations.

Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes

Points of Interest: Liam Neeson appears as Conor’s grandfather in the photo of Conor’s mother as a little girl being carried by her father. The sixth time that Liam Neeson has voiced a CGI character –  three times as Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia franchise, Phango in Khumba, and Good Cop/Bad Cop in The Lego Movie.

Too old to be a kid, too young to be a man. That’s how this films opens on the story of Conor, who is watching is mother die of a terminal illness. Where the fantasy intersects with reality is the beauty of this story, and it reminds me of the widely underrated film, Bridge to Terabithia, which also took advantage of childhood fantasy as a device for growing up amidst personal tragedy.

theories Summarized

The stories the Monster tells are really and truly for Conor’s sake, to aid him in his healing. It’s all beautiful and symbolic given that the Monster is a yew tree (known for it’s healing properties), while the Monster and the stories he tells are in fact derivative of Conor’s mothers own childhood drawings.

Most of all there is something moving in knowing that Conor doesn’t understand everything yet, and that might not ever, and the theory that monsters aren’t always what they seem.

Tim!

Meet the Family (Easter)

I’ve written about Easter traditions before AND even included some perspective as it relates to the history of the arts… but today I decided to write about Easter as an influencer on life. My life in particular.  Because I was born in the spring and Easter is a movable holiday, sometimes it falls before my birthday, sometimes it falls after, and very rarely it happens on my actual birthday (read: two times) and I suspect won’t happen again in my lifetime.

This is because according to Catholic traditions, Easter follows the first full moon of the vernal equinox. A pattern unbroken.

Certain events are like that though. Even though they don’t happen on the same day of the week each year, they happen on the same calendar month or in some fashion which guides their timing on a yearly basis.

Secondhand Firsts

But not this weekend.

This Easter season I’m visiting my girlfriends family for the first time. Yay! I’m supposed to meet a lot of the family all at once, cousins, aunts and uncles, and close family friends. But not her immediate family.

You see dear readers, my girlfriend is a planner with a system for introducing partners to her family. She does this because she has a young son and doesn’t want to create too many waves for him in her personal life. Now, as for meeting the whole family. My girlfriend had an unconventional childhood, because for most of her childhood, her parents didn’t raise her. Shock. Gasp. Well at least not ever at the same time, and it was not them alone that did it.

Mysticque was also predominantly raised by her aunt for quite a few years. And so her aunt has served as a surrogate mother along with her aunt’s three children who affectionately become her younger brother and two younger sisters.

No big deal right? I’ve meet parents before, and I’m a fairly charming, clean cut guy who likes to bring flowers, give a big greeting, and make a great first impression. In fact, I think it’s because I’m so secure in my own identity that I can assure the men in the room of my good intentions, plus I dress sharply and get to know the family, which goes over well with the female family members.

But I’m nervous, because I love her. I want to get along with them and make sure she gets the approval, because I know in my heart of hearts I’m going to be with her. And that’s the first time I’ve written that down, and shared it with world.

Whew.

timotheories Summarized

I think this is a good time to meet her family. Because Easter is supposed to represent a time of Christ’s rebirth, the time of my own birth, and a time to begin again. Cause you know sins are forgiven if we accept Jesus as our Saviour. I’ll just say for now that I’m glad that I met Mysticque Moore. I love her, and no it’s not theoretical – she’s the muse of my life.

Tim!