Jan 2, 2012

[REVIEW] The Flying Spiders: Doppelganger EP: The Villaging Trilogy Pt. 1


Good music is a thing of beauty.  Really good music, often times, is very difficult to find.  There are the old standbys of course, the old reliables that you can always count on to come with good solid meaningful music, however it seems that as the years go by the quality of new music seems to drop.

Not to say there aren't good music acts out there, it's just a matter of discovering them.  The stuff that gets pushed and marketed tend to be the most generic and easily digested of the selections.  Things that aren't really challenging anything and often are not really saying anything beyond generic cliched messages.

That's why you have to go beyond the mainstream and search out the music that is lying there bubbling beneath the surface.  To search out those groups that are creating music that is truly saying something and doing somethng that is genuinely creative. Recently a musician friend of mine stopped by and gave me a disc of a group he said that he felt I'd like.

I've gotten to be kinda particular with what I listen to, but he knows that some of the groups I like are those who sort of combine multiple genres into a single act.  Acts like Gangstagrass (Hip Hop + Bluegrass), Apocalyptica (Metal + Classical) or whatever, I enjoy multi-genre music.  Creative offerings that truly try different things without fear of whether or not it'll be accepted.

The band that my friend introduced me to is a local Spokane Washington group known as The Flying Spiders.  I don't get out a lot and don't really frequent the live scene here in Spokane so I had not heard of them, however they've been around for about a year now, premiering in October of 2010, so they are relatively new and have just put out their debut "Doppleganger EP: The Villaging Trilogy Part 1".

The Flying Spiders are billed as a "Hip Hop Orchestra", and while I agree with that description, I sort of view The Flying Spiders as a multi-cultural Jam Band. According to their facebook page, there are currently twelve members of the group, and a revolving set of guest musicians making up this collective.  Some nights you will get all of them, and other nights you may get seven or eight of them, when you go see them live.

Reminds me of the days of The Rat Pack (another of my all time favorite groups), where the Rat Pack had evolved from the early days of Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, David Niven and others, and then into the 60's it became the version that most people know which was Frank, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.  The Pack also included extended members Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop and the "Rat Pack Mascots" which included Shirley MacLaine, Marilyn Monroe, Angie Dickinson and Juliet Prowse.

And since there were so many members of the group, often no one knew who would show up on the stage when they bought their tickets to the show and sat down. Sometimes Dean would play a show, and then several of the others would just show up out of the blue and join him on stage and sing and do their acts. So often the casinos and hotels where they would perform would include on their sign, the following: "DEAN MARTIN - MAYBE FRANK - MAYBE SAMMY". And I think that the Spiders are sort of like that, as there are so many who are in the Spiders collective, that you never know what surprises are in store for you when you go to a show.

There will be obvious comparisons of this band to The Roots, as they are making their bones as a live hip hop band and they play their own instruments. While listening to their EP I often would think of how much, at times, they would remind me of other jam bands that would incorporate various musical styles into their music such as Dave Matthews Band and Jamiroquai. The Spiders utilize everything from hip hop to funk to soul to electronic to jazz to just about anything they can think to add that will work.

As I listened to their EP, I thought about the transition from being a live "jam band" used to improvisation and just getting up on stage and doing your thing, and getting into a more sterile and controlled environment, and laying down a studio recording. You run the risk of losing the element of what makes them so great.

While living in Charlottesville, Virginia, there was this band called "The Secret" which was only together for a few years, and were flat out fantastic live.  You go to their shows, and it was just an experience to behold. They would get on stage and everything just clicked and would just groove. They were this beast on stage combining funk and soul and blues and jazz and rock and it was just amazing. Then they put out their debut CD and ... it was just not the same.  I mean it was THEM and it wasn't them, if that makes sense. 

It was like they were inhibited and restrained from what it was that made them such a wonder to see.  They were unable to translate their success as a live act into a studio environment, and it was just a bad result.  And I wonder still if that may have played a role in their breaking up a year or so after the release of their debut.

I haven't been able to see the Spiders live at this point, however I've found a few videos online of them playing live and while it's not the greatest sample size, I don't really think that they lose a lot when you hear them on the EP.  It's clearly not going to be the same vibe as a live recording as there's so many elements that come into play that affect the overall feel to a live show, however I think where "The Secret" failed, The Flying Spiders has succeeded.   Where the Secret seemed lackluster and restrained on their studio release, the Flying Spiders EP is still full of life and emotions. 

Another thing I like about the group is that their songs tackle topics that we see affecting our lives, whether it's racism or political machinations of this country we live in, or the ways the society that we are influenced by, in turn influences how we go about our lives and bring up the next generation.

Whether it's lead rapper Isamu Jordan's (Program Coordinator for Intercultural Student Services at the local Whitworth University) pointing fingers at his own flaws ("And I'm an alcoholic, another statistic of an economic slaughter"), calling out what he feels is a sad state of affairs among the Black community ("Black America, what has it come to, you hate that your brother has more money than you ... we can act all chummy and invite your friends over and chill, but there'd better be some money involved.") or lamenting other political issues, The Flying Spiders have established themselves as a group to be taken seriously and that they have something to say.

It's not all serious heavy subject matters though, as there are some playful lines as well including one of my favorites, "Hail to the Thief, I stole the show and jacked the beat and blacked out on 'em." and of course the "I've got that big diction" which of course is a crowd pleaser to be sure.

And while I loved Spokane's Finest, in part because it utilizes a re-interpreted sample of Wu-Tang's Reunited which is one of my all time favorite instrumentals, I think my favorite track on the EP is "Rainmaker"  Some of the lines just left me stunned and seriously contemplating the meanings after the song was over. Particularly the line of "This time the "Master" is our own race, 400 years of practice and we've made ourselves slaves." I've had conversations with my friend Miami Kaos about this very subject several times in the past and while we have differing thoughts on it, the fact is that it is a devastating problem today.

From beginning to end, this EP is solid.  From the 8-bit like synths in the opening track, "Subject Matters", to the Wu-Tang sampled "Spokane's Finest" which closes, this is a really fantastic offering, and one I encourage everyone to pick up. You can go to The Flying Spider's bandcamp page where you can pick up their EP which is priced as a "Pay What You Want" offering.  While the minimum is $1, you can offer more than that if you want to support independent music.



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