Whoa. In my daily youtube new video check (which because I can't time manage for shit basically means I look at video updates of my subscriptions but never watch them), the channel I subscribed to, because it had Def Poetry and Saul Williams stuff, posted a vague video trailer announcing that the new Saul Williams album, that I and about 500 other stans and lit majors are excited about, is coming. I peeped the link, which was just as vague, but funny and utilizing this cockyness I rarely see emanate from the guy. The voodoo rockstar aesthetic wrapped around his play on the much proselytized about David Bowie album (which is kind of a crap record, I should mention) is no surprise, but the purposefully mysterious website and alarming method of the record's low-key release is what makes this odd.
You see, sometime around his self-titled sophomore record, Saul started hanging out with Trent "I never met a junior high angst lyric I didn't like" Reznor. I love Reznor as an anal retentive producer and musician and as a guy who didn't start doing heroin until his third album, a good ten years after it would've been interesting, but, really, unless you're still a teenager or some deluded raver or mallgoth/modern rock troll, then it's apparent the guy's talent isn't in the written word. Dude drops more lyrical duds than Tony Yayo, which still strangely puts him ahead of every other mainstream/modern altrock lyricist ever.
With that, Reznor's output became complete shit after the Broken and Fixed EP's in the mid 90's. The Fragile was crazy uneven and not that good, and the last two NIN records, though sadly ballyhooed for some strange reason (The same force of mediocrity that seems to push Spoon, Modest Mouse, LCD Soundsystem and Sufjan Stevens everywhere, I reckon), were pretty much crap. But still, dude's talented and until 1998, I ride with homie's entire discography (as well as the first four Ministry albums). So imagine my suspicion and uneasiness with the clearly emerging friendship and working partnership between one of my favorite human beings on the planet, Saul Williams, and a 5'3 alt-goth icon that seems like a nice guy, but completely opposite of Saul. I understand, since Amethyst Rock Star that Saul has a penchant for the weird and spacey elements of rap and electronica and rock, which I love him for and appreciate his niche as a spoken word/rap/indie rock artist that operates within similar niches and small underground circles that few bother with (for an example, browse his work on iTunes.), and I could also see the musical connection and how, judging by shit like "Grippo" and "List of Demands", he'd hook up with Trent. After all, Reznor hasn't done anything remotely industrial in 6 or 7 years ("Dig" from the Tomb Raider soundtrack) and is in straight-up angry alt-rock live band with electronica flourishes and atmospheric territory of late.
Saul has collaborated with a bunch of people on his last album that I sort of like but also shit on for being really inconsistent and annoying (Serj Tankian, Buckethead, Zach de la Rocha), but the resulting songs were really great. He has a crazy grasp of hook, melody, rapping, and singing in that same pained way Mos Def does it, where he's not quite a real singer, but it's still in key enough and powerful to be effective. And, as of Saul Williams he's sort of perfected the difference between putting music behind spoken word and applying his crazy poetry to a pop song format, though his tracks are decidedly quirky as hell and varied. My paranoia about Reznor fucking up his musical output is sort of quelled by that, and I do have faith, as a Saul Williams stan, in the guy. For the most part, my alarms went off recently about this partnership (that has led to tours and backing vocals by Saul on "Survivalism" and etc) of Trent producing for him, were the striking similarities between the Year Zero marketing and etc, which I loved and though was really cool of Trent, despite the bad music it came with, and that of The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust. From all the vaguenesses and changing video-based hints and previews of the record, to the fact that the dude is GIVING AWAY THE ALBUM.
The latter seems like it was clearly inspired by In Rainbows, which for some reason I'm not stealing from the internet for moral reasons (no homo), but it still feels to me like, though I think Saul has a vision and is incredible at what he does, Trent is influencing him. This clearly sounds really odd to be sounding motherly about a person I've never talked to (but briefly met when he performed two years ago at our yearly "Culture Shock" semi-obscure indie musician concert at my college) and discuss this album as if my daughter was hanging out with "the wrong crowd", but musically, that is my concern. But on the download, Saul is doing the same thing as Radiohead, except you have the option of paying $5 (under the title, "You can help support the artist") or just click the free option and sign your email up for the download link of a nice quality 192kbs mp3 LAME album. As much as I love physical albums and the visual art and thinking that usually goes into it, this seems like the best option for him. I don't think he and Fader, despite a bunch of MTV2 and MTVU video spins (again, no BET airplay...someone please destroy this failed network?) for both album singles, made that much money off the record. This whole approach to releasing and selling/giving away music works a lot better, plus it fits the whole persona of Saul Williams and the loose theme of the concept record he seems to be releasing on November 1. Dude even converted his whole website, removing all previous info, tour dates, floating ads for his books of poetry, discography, etc, and put up the themed "Niggy Tardust" site, that even changes the url from saulwilliams.com to niggytardust.com.
I still don't know what I'm doing, as I'd like to pay for the record, but only for a physical copy since I'm completely against the idea of not having a physical package with a record or paying album packaging prices for songs but no actual album. So, I'm probably, since I doubt iTunes will be involved in this or he'll make a physical record anytime soon seeing how serious he is about this concept, just sign-up for the free download. Interesting though, the subtle, possibly satirical guilt-line on the website about "I want to directly support the artists involved in the creation of this music" versus "I'm not concerned about that.I just want the music". Shit does work. Or at least, if you're a stan, like me.
Oh, and the title is fucking brilliant.
EDIT: From Saul's myspace;
The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust! is the lovechild of me and Trent Reznor. I met Trent when he asked me to fill the opening slot of his European With Teeth tour. After only the 2nd show he asked if I might be down to collaborate on a song or album, whatever I saw fit. At the time we were both listening to the Kanye/Jon Brion collaborations and feeling like a cocktail of our two worlds would fare even more interesting…and harder. Since then, Trent Reznor has become the big brother I never had, offering his insight, expertise, and shared desire to fuck up the system while believing fully in the power of music and the intelligence of the masses. What we both first realized we had in common was a deep love of Public Enemy and their Bomb Squad production, which personally served as the backdrop of my adolescence and fueled the fire that matured my vision of the sort of artist I wanted to be. A lot of people get caught up on my lyrics and poetry, but my writing is always founded on beats and polyrhythmic backdrops. My background as a dancer (I used to dance for a rap group in ATL in the early 90s) has always made me crave hard rhythms. Through Public Enemy I discovered that my ability to dance somehow improved when I truly felt the power of the words. This album captures everything I have aimed for in a song. Of course, as a performer, what truly inspires me is the opportunity to perform them live. The Niggytardust concept sets me free to do more on stage with costume, etc. than one might expect from a regular Saul Williams show. It allows me to put my theatre training to use. I’ve also thought long and hard about all the discussion surrounding racial epithets etc. and chose this title as a means of furthering the dialogue while also showing how creativity will outlive and outshine hatred of any kind.
The album would not have been possible without the collaborative spirit Trent and the other artists involved: CX Kidtronik and Thavius Beck brought beats and fire to the vision, energizing the process with blown amps and head-nodding cramps. Atticus Ross engineered and programmed. Alan Moulder is sonic testimony from headphone to full blown that the very rocks will cry out if you work with the right engineer.
I’m also collaborating with visual artists and designers as part of the whole NiggyTardust concept and presentation. Melody Ehsani designed Tardust jewelry, bracelets, rings. necklaces, etc. and also did the cover layout. Angelbert Metoyer has contributed greatly to the visual aesthetic with paintings and soon to be finished set design for the shows.
As far as the way we’ve decided to release the album, we’re aware that it’s pretty risky, but are even more aware that we cant turn to the so-called powers that be of the industry for answers. Someone has got to be willing to take chances. I was very inspired by the recent Radiohead release and felt compelled, almost instantly, to follow my gut and expand on their concept. Obviously, independent artists have been around for years. My indie film, Slam was in fact what opened so many doors for me. yet, the stigma of being an indie artist in the music world hasn’t always been rewarding. This time I feel different. I feel like the times have conspired to make this album an important part of history
Can't help but trust him.