Daniel Johnston – 1990

Why do we even listen to music? For inspiration, relaxation, celebration. To remember, to mourn, to laugh, to honor, to dance. To cut loose. To peep in on someone’s darkest, most desperate, most vulnerable feelings that have been recorded and not feel so alone. None of these sacred rituals cover the experience of listening to Daniel Johnston’s 1990. This record transcends any notion of mass marketed music, then transports the listener to another dimension. The spirit world. Each track demands you to hold Johnston’s hand in order to pass the threshold.

Johnston spent much of the eighties pouring his heart and soul into homemade recordings, documenting his heartbreak, his fantasies, and his disappointments for anyone willing to listen. Johnson wasn’t making music, he was opening his veins onto cassette tapes. Strangers on the street would receive unique masters because Johnston didn’t know how to dub copies. A cult of supporters amassed, and eventually pushed this outsider artist working at a McDonald’s in Austin, Texas, to the apex of eighties relevance: an appearance on MTV.

1990 provided the opportunity for Johnston to leave behind the fuzzy boombox recordings and explore his muses within the confines of a real studio in New York City. The opening track “Devil Town” consists of only Johnston’s lisp dashed with reverb. Hell on earth materializes in the soft warble. All of Johnston’s friends are vampires. Turns out, he is one too. Johnston doesn’t seem too upset about it, with his vocal delivery carrying an air of acceptance. A smile might be cracking as he serenades the microphone. 

Johnston’s own private hellscape keeps billowing outward with “Spirit World Rising.” As Johnston strums a lone guitar, his home state of Texas turns into hell. The devil has Texas. Johnston later claims the devil is defeated, but it sure doesn’t sound like it. On “Lord Give Me Hope,” Johnston sings as if he is doing everything he possibly can to keep up with the piano, all while paying penance for his sins. Johnston abandons any sense of self-deprecating humor he once mastered in songs like “Story of an Artist,” and also shuns familiar characters like Joe the Boxer and Casper the Friendly Ghost who frequented prior recordings. Johnston’s very soul is on the line.

Much like Johnston’s unhinged creativity, 1990 can’t be contained within a studio, drifting into several live performances that blast from the stage like a fire hydrant.

Johnston cranks his playful charm to ten on “Tears Stupid Tears,” with a crowd cheering him on as he recounts his shortcomings. He lulls the crowd with a playful verse: How could you know that’s where the wind blows? / Out to the wind, that’s where my love goes. Later, Johnston drops the profound punchline: I was born in the body and right from the start / Those tears, stupid tears, been tearing us apart.

“Don’t Play Cards with Satan” finds Johnston impersonating a Pentecostal preacher making his case to the atheists and agnostics of the world. Johnston stages a haunting scene, softly singing about hearing the devil cry in the woods, followed by the vision of his own heart laying black with blood. Did I ever stop and tell you, I am a desperate man? he asks the crowd. Bedroom folk music soon explodes into fire and brimstone. A shaky, uncertain guitar riff dissolves into the ether, and Johnston screams out “Satan!” three times to end the song. You might think Lucifer himself is on stage, breathing down Johnston’s neck.

The moment Johnston quits screaming at the devil, an updated recording of his defining ballad, “True Love Will Find You in the End” begins. This tonal shift is either a dash of comedy or a deep breath to recover from what has preceded. The track remains an essential entry in the Great American songbook, even if the definitive version had already been released six years prior on Retired Boxer (1984). The original version portrays a fragile soul in a closet, singing to themself, crafting their own working class version of “I Will Survive.” Johnston simply recorded a perfect version of a perfect song, setting a standard that no other take could surpass.

Always in the shadow of “True Love” is one of Johnston’s most gorgeous compositions in “Some Things Last a Long Time.” Four shining piano chords lilt in the breeze on a summer day that stretches into twilight. Johnston reflects on a life of undying devotion in lieu of romance, oblivious to any other concern. Your picture is still on my wall, attests Johnston, the colors are bright as ever… some things last a life time. Johnston sounds blissfully lost in this moment, content to live in the key of C and unrequited love for as long as he can. Safe and sound, far away from “Devil Town.”

Johnston hams it up on a thunderous cover of the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life,” slamming the low register of a piano and forging a crude tribute to the Magical Mystery Tour highlight. 1990 is full of moments that haunt and disturb, but here Johnston is having fun, singing with unfettered glee, holding tight to one of his trademarks – chasing the unattainable girl.

The studio walls melt away for good by the end of 1990, leaving Johnston in the big, bad world armed with nothing but a guitar. “With feeling! It’s gonna happen!” he shouts at a captive crowd. “It happens everyday. Millions and millions of people have died. You too will die.” Not exactly what you plan on hearing while out on the town. Johnston wants his audience to sing along with him: Funeral home, funeral home. Goin’ to that funeral home. Got me a coffin, shiny and black. I’m goin to the funeral and I’m never comin’ back. The spectators snicker and oblige, lifting up this dire nursery rhyme. Johnston keeps banging on an acoustic that can’t stay in tune. “Louder!” he commands mid-verse. Not content, the singer demands another round, another moment to relish in the spotlight. The crowd audibly gasps, with one spectator laughing out, “I can’t.” 

A sense of existential dread pervades 1990, and Johnston attempts to exorcise the demons at the albums close, leading a church congregation through the gospel hymn “Softly and Tenderly.” Babies scream while pious worshipers envision Jesus calling home the sinners. Johnston, safe from the vampires and the spirit world, can rest easy in good company, under God’s roof. 

1990 lies in the middle of Johnston’s catalog in a precarious position. The warm tones of his home recordings are replaced with a larger sound, with Johnston’s dreams and desperation laid bare for all to listen. Freed from his work shifts at McDonald’s, emancipated from his parents’ basement, then let loose into the streets of New York – fire walks with Johnston wherever he goes throughout 1990.

The War on Drugs release new single, announce new album

The War on Drugs have announced I Don’t Live Here Anymore, their first studio album since 2017’s A Deeper Understanding. Ahead of the new album’s release on October 29, the band has shared the first track, “Living Proof.”

Cover art for the last couple of War on Drugs records has consisted of singer/songwriter Adam Granduciel’s profile brooding and shuttered in a room, surrounded by shadows ready to eat him alive. On the just-released album cover for I Don’t Live Here Anymore, a man is trotting through snow, carrying a guitar and a latte. A face is right out of frame, likely smiling and winking at a camera. Someone is on the move, and they aren’t mad about it.

On the splendid live album, Live Drugs (2020), and his preceding studio work of the 2010s, Granduciel gazes into the horizon, then plots sweeping journeys toward the beyond with heartland roots rock soaked in latter-day Pink Floyd sensibilities. Electric guitars and synths are topped with pianos carrying the warm tone of 1980’s Bruce Hornsby. A harmonica always waits in the wings to dig into the earth and recall simpler times. Drums both acoustic and programmed set to blast at any moment. Upon this flotilla of machinery, Granduciel sings his ass off in between oceans of hazy feedback. These Springsteen-ish anthems rise out of the abyss to shake a fist at a storming sky, then return to the shimmering ether.

In this first taste of new material, Granduciel retreats and explores only the air near his fingers.

“Living Proof” clicks off every gadget and distortion pedal, then unplugs all but one amplifier. A hushed acoustic guitar dashes alone through a familiar street, hopeful to meet a friend. A piano joins its side, plucking lonely notes to every other chord. Granduciel sings of all that’s lost and can’t be recovered, knowing that all the change in his neighborhood mirrors the same change in his own reflection: I’ve been to the place that you’ve tried escaping / I can’t recall what I believe in / I’m always changing / Love overflowing.

The song blazes a singular path with one long verse, abandoning the War on Drugs’ typical ascent to the edge of a cliff, leading to an epic beat drop that leaps into the unknown. “Living Proof” reaches its hands toward the sky and spreads the fingers, absorbing sunshine, embracing a crooked mile that has no climax. Bass and drums don’t kick in until the very last line, But I’m risin’, and I’m damaged / Oh, rising’… A lonesome electric guitar starts looking to poke a hole in time, picking around notes that begin to bleed into a familiar wash of reverb. Listeners will have to wait a little bit longer to know exactly what’s on the other side.

This first taste of I Don’t Live Here Anymore is a meditation and acceptance of the change brought by each new day. For the first time in a long time, the War on Drugs are content to enjoy the setting sun instead of furiously chasing it into tomorrow.

Pre-order the record today at this link!

CHVRCHES – How Not to Drown (feat. Robert Smith)

The Glasgow electro-pop trio CHVRCHES are back with pomp and circumstance, touting their fourth album, Screen Violence, due August 27.

Screen Violence

The lead single “How Not to Drown” is bundled with a high-profile guest spot, featuring The Cure’s Robert Smith. After a wave of synths, CHVRCHES ditch their trusted arpeggiator and lay down a rhythm of drums and piano for vocalist Lauren Mayberry to surf over. “I’m writing a book on how to stay conscious when you drown,” she attests. Mayberry has never held back in her delivery, inimitably emoting like Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis, daring anyone to mimic her without embarrassing themselves. Like most CHVRCHES anthems, the verse climbs into the sky with the chorus, “Tell me how it’s better when the sun goes down.”

Robert Smith takes over the second verse, writing his own chapter for when his lover is dug up from the ground. Smith refuses to go over the top here, remaining in neutral with a deadpan delivery. The drama that Smith is known for in The Cure remains shackled behind a thick attic door, with pounding from the other side mostly muted. Smith’s voice stays buried deep in the chorus mix, refusing to break through and preventing one of CHVRCHES’ most memorable choruses from reaching another level of affect.

CHVRCHES never strays from their dependable formula of emo-synth with “How Not to Drown.” Smith rides shotgun to Mayberry’s vocals for rest of the song, echoing her verses. Smith finishes off the song by himself, wounded, refusing to give up on love, ultimately winding down to a whisper. With the reigning godfather of goth rock in tow, CHVRCHES emerge from the clouds of the last year-and-a-half with a shotgun blast of sugary synth rock, destined to spray from a festival stage soon.

MIA: Bandolé

Walk with me, back to 1998. A girl on a church trip had a boombox, which made her the de facto DJ for the weekend. The usual suspects of Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony, Nirvana, and Sublime cycled through, until an unfamiliar song hit everyone’s ears. In a scene reminiscent of High Fidelity, even the uptight adults seemed to perk up and nod their head to the groove. A slow acoustic intro of a girl and a guy chanting call-and-response odes to “drinking cold beer” “down in the valley” quickly broke loose into an upbeat verse, depicting a peaceful day in mother nature that required alcohol. The chorus of “River Cold Beer” kept hitting us captive listeners, charming us into a chipper mood. The track immediately felt both familiar and unforgettable — infectious enough to chart on the radio with enough publicity and word of mouth. I casually asked my friend who this band was after the fact, and later secured a CD-R with “Bandolé” scribbled on it.

Bandolé checked every box for fun folk rock of the era. Every other song reached into tomorrow, celebrating life, refusing to look back on one misgiving. The acoustic pop sensibilities of Dave Matthews and the drum circle rhythms of Rusted Root were dashed with some noodling riffs reminiscent of Phish, conjuring all the fun hippy vibes of the time. I don’t know how my friend got this music or where it came from — I’m just glad I ripped the CD-R to my hard drive, where I’ve managed to harvest the mp3s over multiple computers ever since. I’m even uncertain of the song titles, having to have named them myself from the lyrics. 

Aside from a couple of people on reddit trying to figure out more about Bandolé, who was in the group — or if they made any more music — there’s absolutely nothing on the internet offering any reliable intel on Bandolé. 

When I first got a computer in the late-nineties, I attempted to find more information about Bandolé, and I remember finding an advertisement for a live show in Athens, Georgia. Did you ever listen to Bandolé? Do you have any live recordings of this band? Were you friends with any of the people in this recording? I’d love to know! I’ve shared “River Cold Beer” above in efforts to find whoever recorded it, tell them how much I’ve enjoyed their music over the years, and hopefully get more of Bandolé’s music to the ears of the masses!

cindygod – demos

Andy Rauworth and Craig Nice, for better or worse, ’til death do them part, are a case study of the best and the shittiest aspects of the last decade’s music industry. The pair have been friends since childhood and made music together under a number of guises — making a splash on the indie scene in 2010 as Gauntlet Hair, then calling it quits and disappearing into the mist of 2013. All has been quiet, until now. With no label behind them, the duo are officially back as cindygod, self-releasing the new EP demos.

But before we go forward, we must go back.

One aimless night in 2010, I was driving my car, flipping through XM satellite radio channels. “I was Thinking…” by Gauntlet Hair stopped the spinning dial. Arena-ready beats and a sky-high guitar riff ran hypnotic circles around each other. A lone voice haunted the proceedings, echoing from the bottom of what sounded like a dank, abandoned wishing well. I still have no idea what the lyrics are about, and I don’t want to ruin the mystery by looking them up. I knew one thing that night – I loved whatever I was hearing.

Nothing about Gauntlet Hair has been so immediate since.

A self-titled debut followed soon after in 2011. The record was shiny and waxy, a board of finely grained wood set to surf the tide of bro-jam that Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion spawned in 2009. Guitarist and singer Andy Rauworth even channeled both ANCO vocalists, carrying the hyper nasality of Avey Tare and the sunny tenor of Panda Bear. Craig Nice was on the drums, providing a sonic boom over and under the clipping guitars. The band didn’t include the warmly-received single “I Was Thinking…” on the release, indicating a swagger and confidence that they didn’t need it. 

There is an inherent positivity in Gauntlet Hair’s debut album. If Rauworth is ever pissed off, dejected, or heartbroken, I can’t tell. Every channel in the mix feels like it is reaching for a higher purpose, the next step, or maybe a dystopian riff on “Good Vibrations.” Not until the last track, “Shout in Tongues,” can I understand Rauworth when he chants, “I want a child who breaks the rules, goes to school, and then gets the fuck out.” The shadowy image of a clothed man jumping into a swimming pool on the album cover spoke volumes.

We’re having fun now.

The hooks on Gauntlet Hair are tight, the melodies infallible, and while the record didn’t traverse the zeitgeist as I thought it might, it was enough to warrant the follow-up record Stills in 2013. Rauworth and Nice trashed their prior formula: the vocals more crisp and pronounced. The guitar was fighting for its aural space instead of obliterating it. The drums were still cranked to eleven, but in more quantized, robotic patterns. Two lead singles, “Human Nature” and “Bad Apple” had slow and sexy feels that were previously nowhere to be found. The melodic mission of the band remained true, striving for pop perfection. Instead of making a splash on the album cover, a baby doll was blindfolded this time. 

Everything was retracting.

More than the music on Stills, which I loved, the music carried another brand of desperation in my ears. A couple of weeks before Stills dropped, Nice tweeted, “Please BUY our album this time. I know it’s super easy to get for free but cmon… being broke all the time makes this infinitely harder.” Other tweets begged for places to crash while on tour. Two guys were making music that I absolutely adored, and yet were living hand to mouth.

A week or two later, the band called it quits and canceled a tour opening for Surfer Blood. Without any solid explanation, Rauworth and Nice vanished into the shadows of Denver, Colorado. The band’s self-mythology painted Rauworth and Nice as best friends who only wanted to make music together — and this is no bullshit. The disintegration of Gauntlet Hair didn’t break their brotherly bond. I had cornered both of them online in 2016 for a joint interview on my now-defunct podcast. The two were still roommates, working in bars and thrift stores, and apparently not releasing any new music anytime soon. It was a bitter feeling I carried about so many other bands over the years — Beulah, Rich Creamy Paint, Blue Merle, the list goes on — artists I loved that should be cashing in, not living in obscurity. The interview never materialized, and I kept wondering why the hell these two talented friends couldn’t just give the world some music and live off the fruits.

Three years later and better than never, we can all spin some new tracks from Rauworth and Nice. Further expanding the sound palette and distinguishing cindygod from Gauntlet Hair is bassist Anton Krueger and Eamonn Wilcox on guitar.


The title alone, demos, indicates a group of unfinished songs, lacking polish, but feels more like a proper evolution from Stills. No song is content to sit still, expounding on every sound that came before in Gauntlet Hair. The beats are faster, the white noise more aggressive, and Rauworth’s voice still emitting from a subterranean void. Each element invites the listener to wonder what message is presented. Anyone familiar with the backstory of the band can only guess they’re just glad to be back doing this.

In the first track, “Gosh,” gothic leanings of The Cure collide with early-Nine Inch Nails aggro-pop. Drums, buzz-sawing synths, and guitars all fighting for their place. Then the noise fades, leaving only a beat and the vocals to wind around the other. Every channel in the mix then comes back to life, sprinting to the song’s finish. “Disown” is a more mellow brand of thrash, leaning on airy synth pads and breakbeats, before resurrecting Rauworth’s guitar during the back half of the song.

Rauworth recently told Stereogum that demos comprises the first songs that were written post-Gauntlet Hair, an attempt to see if that dormant musical spirit could be prolonged. With that preface, the songs carry a literal fight for life. Instead of reaching for the sky a la Gauntlet Hair’s debut, cindygod’s demos goes wherever it may roam, changing tempos, dropping out, and fading in. “Rabbit” begins as one rolling drum beat and collects individual sounds along its way. Just like in Stop Making Sense, it all builds to an apocalyptic anthem.

More sounds of the eighties are turned on their heads during “711” and “DD-11,” then covered with the ashes of Gauntlet Hair. The songs on demos began as a seance, and seem to have resurrected an old friend into a new body, right before our very ears.

It remains to be seen if Rauworth and Nice are getting certain songs out of the way before a proper cindygod album, or if larger and louder versions of demos will comprise a future LP. Either way, fans of Gauntlet Hair have something to finally celebrate in this new year. You won’t find demos on Spotify or Apple Music, only direct from the artists via bandcamp, on wax or digital download.

Please support independent music, and please give a warm welcome to cindygod.

Beastie Down, Part 5: Dear New York…

Hey! Wait? Did you read Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4? Ok then…

After the Rhyme and Reason tour with Rage Against the Machine was cancelled in the summer of 2000, the Beastie Boys went into hibernation from the public eye. The calendar turned to 2001, and Ad-rock released another record with Eric “AWOL” Amery under their side project, BS2000 (the final release from Grand Royal Records before it closed up shop). 

Then, the unthinkable, the unimaginable. Until it happened. 

The Beastie Boys’ home turf of Manhattan was attacked on September 11, 2001. The twin towers came down, and no one knew what to think, what to feel. A long list of perennial radio hits were declared unfit to air in the wake of the tragedy; “Sabotage” not excluded. I have memories of MCA Adam Yauch appearing on MTV — dour, dire, searching for words of hope for the future to a studio audience. The next couple of years seem like a blur, maybe I prefer them that way. The US went to war in Afghanistan, and instead of America coming together in the wake of a tragedy, we were split apart by fear, propaganda, and warmongering. Meanwhile, the Beastie Boys were for all intents and purposes inactive. They had aged into respected voices, yet absent, and needed more than ever.

The Beastie Boys emerged from a hiatus in March of 2003, releasing the track “In a World Gone Mad” on their website, right as the United States was about to attack Iraq. I could only listen to it once before wanting to forget it. The Beastie Boys were mad, fed up, and I guess, unwilling to sit back any longer without protesting. Like Phil Connors told the groundhog, “Don’t drive angry.” No other track in the Beastie Boys’ pantheon is as forced, wack, or forgettable. It’s a rare blemish in their three-decade playlist, but it does remain a moment of defiance when many other prominent voices remained silent.

Either way, “In a World Gone Mad” remains a political version of “Alive.” At least there wasn’t a video.

Just over one year later, the Beastie Boys officially returned from exile with a lead single, “Ch-Check It Out,” an augury of their sixth album, To the 5 Boroughs, to be released in the summer of 2004. Six years removed from Hello Nasty, the record lies far outside the heights of Beastie Mania, and functions as a snapshot of the latter-day Beasties who were about to enter their forties. With six years between albums, there was no excuse to not release a record on their own terms. For the first time since Paul’s Boutique, they fully invested in hip hop. No funky jazz cuts, no Biz Markie goofing off, no hardcore thrash. 

Just Mike D, Ad-rock, and MCA trading rhymes over beats, once again.

To the 5 Boroughs isn’t a bad album. It’s mostly laid back fun, but hardly as intriguing as anything that came before in the prior five records. There is no huge radio hit here, no wanderlust, no epic music video that reincarnated them before the eyes of the audience. For the first time in fifteen years, the three emcees had to fill an entire album with non-stop knowledge. “Triple Trouble” was the second single off the album, riding on the strength of a chopped up sample from the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” and the turntable chops of Mix Master Mike. Elsewhere, the rhymes are mostly overtly political or silly. The chorus hooks are merely passable. The beats are entirely underwhelming. Throughout the first five Beastie records, I commonly ask myself, “How the hell did they come up with this stuff?” and that question rarely poses itself at any point during To the 5 Boroughs. 

At the very worst, they sound like three guys trying to be the Beastie Boys. At the very best is “An Open Letter to NYC.”

This centerpiece of the record exposes most of the other songs for what they are: harmless, hammy fun. It is here the Beasties open their veins and release the trauma, the hope, and the defiance of New Yorkers in the wake of 9/11. Musically, lyrically, emotionally – nothing else on the record compares to it. “An Open Letter” champions the same spirit that instilled itself in the Beasties as they turned from boys into men, and filled their music with the versatility that could only be found throughout the city blocks of New York.

Personally, selfishly, I was just glad to have the Beasties back in 2004. Their presence on late-night television and magazine covers was a thrill after a long, uncertain break. And they were touring again. My six-year dream came true when I caught the Beastie Boys (with Mix Master Mike!) live in the fall of 2004. I couldn’t convince any of my friends to make the three-hour road trip with me, and I didn’t care. I got to the arena at noon and basically rushed the doors when they opened. Talib Kweli and a dog show functioned as the opening acts, and there was zero tolerance for moshing. I was right on the rail all night, watching the Beastie Boys live and in-person from six feet away. If I wasn’t rapping along with them, my mouth was agape, or smiling with pure, dumbfounded amazement. They were intent on putting on a show — there were costume changes, baby-blue tuxedos for the jazzy tunes, and a little side stage in the middle of the crowd where they performed a fiery take of “Intergalactic.” Mix Master let the beat of “Paul Revere” play while the crowd rapped the lyrics in unison, while the boys jumped around, chiming in at opportune moments. They closed the show with “Sabotage,” in full costume from Spike Jonze’s video, sending everyone home happy.

It had taken six years for me to see them, and I knew it was entirely possible I wouldn’t see them again for years to come. I never took one second of it for granted.

The Beastie Boys returned in 2004 with something that most people likely wanted from them — a straight up hip hop joint — but time had not made the hearts of fans grow fonder. Those six years between records instilled a separation from their audience, and for the first time in a long time, the masses didn’t hoist the Beastie Boys upon their shoulders and carry them around the field. They were still Mike D, Ad-rock, and MCA, but they had not done anything with To the 5 Boroughs they hadn’t done before.

Still, I can’t call To the 5 Boroughs a failure. Perhaps it’s most significant shortcoming is it does not bring the impassioned reactions from myself, or anyone else for that matter, that came with every preceding Beastie album. Fans don’t hate on it, they don’t seem to love it. I’ve never heard much of a sniffle about it. Regardless, I consider it a vital snapshot of the band at a strange, mournful time where they may not have known what else to do other than vent their feelings en masse. I’ll gladly take this album in place of nothing.

For any lack of innovation on that record’s part, Adam Yauch donned his alias of Nathaniel Hornblower to direct a concert film, Awesome! I Fucking Shot That… enlisting dozens of audience members to film an October 2004 gig at Madison Square Garden with handheld Super 8 video cameras. Yauch’s film does more than capture the band’s live experience, he puts the viewer in the crowd’s shoes for almost two hours. Even in the toilet stalls.

2004 was a wonderful time for a hardcore Beastie Boys fan to reconnect with their favorite band, but it felt like no one else did. Mike D, Ad-rock, and MCA promptly receded from the stage, and wouldn’t return with another album for three more years.

A Star is Born

For the past ten years, Lady Gaga has been hellbent on proving that she is not the entertainer you think she is. Love or hate Gaga — her appearance, her music, and her personality has been impossible to pin down. Even her collaborators have run the gamut from R. Kelly to Tony Bennett. Now, she’s set to conquer another medium with another partner in crime, Bradley Cooper.

Cooper has arguably spent more time genre-jumping than Gaga since he emerged from Hollywood oblivion in 2005 as the alwayson yuppie, Sack Lodge, in Wedding Crashers. Cooper later broke into mainstream stardom with The Hangover trilogy and then parlayed that comedic notoriety into Best Actor Oscar nominations for his roles in American Sniper and Silver Linings Playbook. Cooper has little left to prove as a Hollywood leading man, yet seems intent on piecing together a career arc that could one day match the virtuosity of Tom Hanks.

Earlier this year, Cooper reprised his role as Rocket Raccoon for the third time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, Cooper is merely providing the voice-over for a cute CGI comic book character, but Cooper is so good at inhabiting this personality that it takes me out of the moment trying to reconcile the voice to his now very-familiar face. A similar feeling took over when I first saw the trailer for Cooper’s directorial debut, A Star is Born.

I was enthralled by the camera angles and the curated snippets of the film, and again, my brain struggled to make connections: “Wait, that’s Bradley Cooper in the lead? And he directed this? Is that really him singing and playing guitar? Wait, is that Lady Gaga?” The trailer advertised a powerhouse movie of romance, tragedy, music, and schmaltzy charm. Cooper’s film ultimately delivers on every point.

Cooper crafts two very separate worlds in the opening moments of A Star is Born, then slams them together and lets the dust settle throughout the film. Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a barrel-aged, road-tested blues rocker that has Coachella crowds eating out of his hand. Jackson’s world is a bubble of privilege and vice, only to be pierced by Ally, played by Lady Gaga. Ally lives with her dad, works at a restaurant, and performs at a drag bar while she fine-tunes her musical chops. Jackson enters the bar, mid-bender, and falls head over heels for her. By the end of the night, the two are sitting in a convenience store parking lot singing to each other. Sharing a love of song craft, possessing what the other doesn’t. He makes a living off his music, and she holds a grounded, sober view of the world at large. 

Together and separately, Cooper and Gaga weave steady doses of Americana and modern pop  throughout the drama, offering three-minute ditties that can please both snooty hipsters, die-hard fans of The Voice, and everyone in between. The accompanying soundtrack is as undeniable as the film, expounding Gaga’s dependable sensibilities across folk and bubblegum pop, and highlighting Cooper’s musical talents that materialized out of nowhere as he developed the role and his film. Acting is pretending, but with a guitar in hand and crooning into a microphone, Cooper has never felt so natural on the screen.

Cooper’s trademark suave demeanor is buried under a cowboy hat, long hair and a beard, a gravely voice, and weary eyes, while Gaga is a stranger without a traveling circus around her. By unplugging and stripping down, Gaga has never been more relatable as an artist who is insecure about her appearance, her musical abilities, and how they could ever fit into the big, bad music industry. For all of Ally’s doubts, Jackson has her by both hands, pulling her into the spotlight. The buzz of love throttles the first half of the film — Jackson is smitten with something besides booze, and Ally comes into her own. Soon enough, Ally has a major label contract, a hot shot agent, and a musical guest spot on Saturday Night Live.

Jealousy and success are at odds with the heat of passion in the back half of the film. When all else fails, Jackson and Ally hatch a shotgun wedding to claim each other from the rest of the world, only complicating their relationship further. When all of the glitz, glamour, and indulgence is stripped away, A Star is Born is the true test of any and every romance: a wrenching account of what love can survive, and what it can’t. 

Sam Elliott co-stars as Jackson’s road manager and brother, exposing the shortcomings of Cooper’s character and his inability to maintain healthy relationships. Jackson throws money at every problem, then tries to drink his denial away. Meanwhile, Ally sticks to her guns — keeping her father close, hiring all the right people, and refusing to give up on Jackson when everything and everyone tells her she definitely should.

Gaga is a consummate performer from beginning to end, but most endearing before her character seizes fortune and glory. Once Ally is at the top of the world, it feels a little too natural, a little too obvious. To see Gaga successfully portray humility and earnestness early on is to believe she can just about do anything. Cooper’s versatility speaks as many volumes, and the actor transcends his own being into another once more – embodying the talent, addiction, and presence of so many doomed rock stars that have preceded. The darkest of moments dosed with black humor and a shrug. In the skin of Jackson Maine, Cooper reminds us exactly why we put up with icons who are as entertaining as they are obtuse.

By the end of the film, Cooper and Gaga construct outsized personalities for their characters that are entirely secluded by the fruits of their labor. The viewer can only relate to both because Cooper’s direction never strays from these two converging yet separating paths. Aside from a premier cinematic experience, A Star is Born leaves viewers with existential dilemmas to address. How does success, passion, and vice effect us as individuals, and in loving relationships? Where do we draw the line with others and ourselves? When do we say enough? 

A Star is Born is Bradley Cooper’s first magnum opus — a big rock n’ roll gig drawing out every emotion possible from the audience. In the carefully placed moments of silence, Cooper invites us to stare into a mirror with Jackson and Ally as they question where true happiness, true contentedness can be found.

Beastie Down, Part 3: Hello Nasty, where u been?

Part 1, Part 2, and now, this.

It was the spring of 1998. I was sixteen years old, and had a Ford Explorer that could fit most of my friends for a ride around and/or across town. We mostly rolled as a crew of six — three guys, three girls — bound by innocent and unassuming friendship and the Methodist church we all went to. We went to concerts, slept in each others’ basements, covered the houses of rivals in toilet paper, and on a tiny handful of occasions, got plastered. 

We had — for the first time in our lives — absolute freedom. We also had Licensed to Ill on perpetual repeat.

Sure. I knew the Beastie Boys. I had bought Ill Communication on CD so I could repeatedly listen to “Sabotage” a few years prior. But I didn’t listen to much else of it. I had Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head too, but only because I had seen them in the collection of someone whom I deemed much cooler than I. And of course I knew “Fight For Your Right.” You couldn’t emerge from the eighties without having the teenaged battle cry pounded into your conscious. Even if you didn’t know who the Beastie Boys were, you knew that chorus. 

You Gotta Fight! <insert two power chords>

For Your Right! <two more power chords>

To paaaar-tay!

Sure, it’s a good song. An epochal moment of rock n’ roll slamming into rap — but the other songs surrounding it on the album were beginning to scream into my soul. Deeply and often. I used to skip around CDs and only listen to the hits as a youth, but my friends insisted on playing Licensed to Ill front-to-back. I quickly realized why. Each and every song had moments and jokes and personality that demanded not only to be heard, but celebrated. Each ensuing track made riding around town all the more fun. Mike D, AdRock, and MCA were fast and furious and funny, but I began to wonder just who the hell these guys really were. The music was rich and dense and layered in samples and references to pick apart. I remember feeling stunned to realize there were actually only three dudes (and not thirteen) dropping all this knowledge, all these names.

By 1998, the Beasties had been in relative hibernation for almost four years. The musical landscape was still written, produced, directed, and mixed by corporate radio and Mtv playlists. Napster wasn’t a thing yet. Grunge had died off, 2pac and Biggie were dead, then here comes Marilyn Manson, Puff Daddy, and the Backstreet Boys claiming their place at the cultural zenith. Nothing felt very cool for very long. I bought a CD burner and was making my own mixes. I liked music a lot until the summer of 1998. 

I was about to fall in fucking love with it.

One June night, the sun was setting and I was driving my friend Ryan home. We scanned the usual radio stations, and something jumped out at us. It was unlike anything I had ever heard. It sounded like a trash compactor talking over a breakbeat, then, familiar voices flying at 100 mph. There was a feeling of shock in the car. Is THIS the Beastie Boys? We kept listening, on edge, glancing at each other, feeling every beat that was rattling the car frame. And then:

Beat-sie Boys known to let the beat… mmm… drop!

Serotonin flooded the car. We almost had a shared aneurysm. Holy shit, the Beastie Boys were coming back. Out of nowhere. We didn’t know what the song was called until we tracked it down that night in an mp3 chat room on America Online. It took thirty minutes to download “Intergalactic,”  the lead single for the Beastie Boys’ fifth album, Hello Nasty. The B-boys had returned from exile with a song that claimed the obvious: they were indeed out of this world, neck deep in another, and they solidified their argument for posterity in under four minutes.

Their three voices never sounded so clear-eyed, so full-hearted. The hiss and crackle of Check Your Head and Ill Communication had turned into something more alloyed and more refined. The Beasties had aged like wine. Older than most in the pop game, far from ready to cede the throne.

“Intergalactic” made me certifiably insane for the Beastie Boys. Hello Nasty was a few weeks away from hitting stores, so I tore the Internet apart to find anything and everything they had ever done. I purchased VHS releases full of their original videos and skits and jokes, then learned the biography of each emcee. I was never more happier to spend fifteen bucks than the day I drove to Blockbuster Video to buy that album.

Hello Nasty remained a highly curated mixtape in the vein of Check Your Head and Ill Communication. Afrika Bambaattaa makes a cameo on the dub-happy “Dr. Lee, PHD,” MCA whisper-sings over an acoustic guitar during “I Don’t Know,” and Ad-Rock gently meditates with a vibraphone on his eventual demise, closing the album with “Instant Death.” MCA’s apology to the female population on “Sure Shot” goes a step further on “Song for the Man,” when Ad-rock lectures the macho goofs the Beasties used to be: “What gives you the right to look her up and down?” Hip hop was the glue holding every other style of surrounding music together. Across the funkiest takes of jazz, rock, bossanova, and spacey ballads, the Beasties were still managing to do things they had never done on record, having more fun than they ever did on Licensed to Ill. 

Minus the drugs and alcohol. Plus greying temples. Plus motherfucking Mix Master Mike.

Mix Master had not only laid the beat for the Hello Nasty banger “3 MCs and 1 DJ,” he was touring the world as the Beasties’ hired gun disc jockey, chopping up their nightly performances into an unpredictable seven-course dinner. His hands flew across two turntables and a mixer, shaming any other DJ that had touched a pair of Technics 1200s.

Mix Master never played it safe, throwing any and all kind of beats at the boys during each song. “So What’cha Want” could turn into Ice Cube’s “Tonight’s Da Night,” and “Shake Your Rump” could morph into Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff.” Any live bootleg from the era is a white-knuckle rollercoaster, different from every other ride. (And yes, I still curse myself for not driving to a show in Atlanta, just a few hours away that summer. More on that later.)

In case anyone had slept on the Beasties’ fifth album and triumphant return, they amplified a couple of visceral statements to a national viewing audience during the night of the 1998 MTV Music Video Awards. First, an electrifying performance. With Mix Master Mike on the decks, the Beasties blew every other act away with a brief “3 MCs and 1 DJ” interlude that bled into “Intergalactic.” In matching red coveralls, Mike D, Adrock, and MCA slam danced across the stage, spit rhymes, and delivered one of the most charged television performances of their career.

Later that night, Chuck D of Public Enemy introduced the band and awarded them the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, placing the Beasties in the company of Madonna, the Rolling Stones, and Guns n’ Roses. Mike D made a few shoutouts, then, MCA stepped forward. Instead of basking in the limelight or making an absolute joke of the event as he did four years prior, he made a statement. A statement that can’t be heard in 2018 without a lump in one’s throat, blinking back tears, mulling over everything that has happened since. 

Yauch saw the world differently than anyone, even his brothers in arms, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz. Three years before two airplanes flew into the World Trade Center of his hometown, MCA said to the world:

“Yeah, uh, in addition to thanking everybody that’s worked on all the videos and all the people that have worked with us over the years, it’s kind of a rare opportunity that one gets to speak to this many people at once. So, if you guys will forgive me, I just wanted to speak my mind on a couple of things. 

I think it was a real mistake that the US chose to fire missiles into the Middle East. I think that was a huge mistake, I think that it’s very important that the United States start to look to non-violent means of resolving conflicts.

Because if we… [crowd applause] Hang on, hang on, give me one second here. 

Those bombings that took place in the Middle East were thought of as a retaliation by the terrorists, and if we thought that what we did is retaliation, certainly we’re going to find more retaliation from people in the Middle East. From terrorists, specifically, I should say, because most Middle-Eastern people are not terrorists. I think that’s another thing that America really needs to think about is our racism – racism toward Muslim people and Arabic people and that’s something that has to stop. The United States has to start respecting people from the Middle East in order to find a solution to the problem that’s been building up over many years. 

So, I thank everyone for their patience in letting me speak my mind.”

This is yet another moment in the vein of MCA’s verse on “A Year and a Day,” taking a side step out of Beastie bombast, and shaking the listener to pay attention to what really matters. Exactly one year later, the B-boys won another Mtv video award for “Intergalactic,” and the band approached the dais. Ad-rock followed MCA’s lead by calling out all of the reported rapes a month prior at the Woodstock 1999 Festival, begging his peers to take notice of this growing trend at rock shows, and further more, take action to prevent this behavior. Before the turn of the millenium, Mike D, Ad-rock, and MCA had become far more than pop stars — they were purveyors of what is and will always be cool.

And coolness is having courage.

Hit up Part 4, wont’cha?

Beastie Down, Part 2: I got the Ill Communication

Hey, hold up? Did you read Part 1? Okay then.

The Beastie Boys wrapped up their tour in support of Check Your Head in 1992 and got right back to work on a follow-up LP.  For the first time in their career, they were approaching a new record without the plight of reinventing themselves and their music. The B-boys had identities they were comfortable with, and set about expanding upon every sound they had mined during Check Your Head. 

Almost two months after Kurt Cobain committed suicide, Ill Communication was released on May 31, 1994, a mere two years after Check Your Head (a nanosecond in Beastie terms). Opening track “Sure Shot” runs with the same self-assured shenanigans of “So What’Cha Want,” enlisting longtime band associate DJ Hurricane for the chorus hook. Yauch begins to close down the song by coming clean on his past, saying what he likely wanted to on Check Your Head. A confessional that would have felt like too much too soon after the debauchery of Paul’s Boutique and Licensed to Ill. With some distance from that identity, he confesses:

I wanna say a little something that’s long over due

The disrespect to women has got to be through

To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends

I wanna offer my love and respect to the end

It’s hard to listen to Yauch’s verse and not have much of the band’s past life flash before one’s eyes. This verse officially turns the page on the band’s career, but not without a look at the past and a shake of the head. Yauch’s proclamation was the dawn of another Beastie-ism – devout, politically aware activism.

Yauch was the leading socially conscious Beastie, forever changed in 1992 when he was snow skiing in Nepal and saw Buddhist monks from Tibet fleeing to India for asylum. This spectacle changed his life, and everything he wished for in “A Year and a Day” came true in that moment. Yauch studied Buddhism for the next four years, officially converting to the religion in 1996. Upon his awakening, he became dedicated to freeing Tibet from four decades of Chinese occupation and oppression. Check Your Head felt like a walkabout — wandering spirits grasping for something just out of reach.

For Yauch, it was Buddhism.

Yauch led the band toward a deeper purpose on Ill Communication, ushering Buddhist monks to the studio to chant on two tracks toward the end of the record, “Shambala” and “Bodhisattva Vow.” While these two meditative tracks are stashed toward the end of the record, the Beasties run amok elsewhere with a proven template of lo-fi hip hop, jazz, and thrash.

“Tough Guy” follows “Sure Shot” in the number two slot with a fifty-second hardcore seizure of Mike D dissing an opposing basketball player that crowds the lane: “Bill Laimbeer motherfucker, time for you to die.” The next song, “B-Boys Makin’ With the Freak Freak” is a slow and plodding rap where the Beasties sample Mantan Moreland, diss Russell Simmons, and put every other rapper on notice. The track doesn’t hold a candle to any prior released album track, but “Root Down” follows two tracks later and stands as an immediate and essential Beastie joint flowing over a Jimmy Smith sample.

“Fight For Your Right” still casted a long shadow on the band from eight years prior, and the Beasties managed to produce another song mixed with rock and rap to stand at the pinnacle of their catalog with “Sabotage.” With Mike D on the drums, MCA on bass, and AdRock on guitar and lead vocals, the gas pedal goes down for three straight minutes. A booming beat and MCA’s wobbling low register form a rhythm for Horovitz to scream over and repeatedly pound a G# power chord. “Sabotage” sounded like nothing else on the radio or Mtv, and was a massive hit that minted the Beasties anew with the wide audience. 

Mosh pits in the summer of 1994 abided.

An accompanying video for “Sabotage” directed by Spike Jonze proved the Beasties still didn’t take themselves too seriously. They dressed up like undercover cops from the seventies eating donuts, sliding over the hoods of sedans, and jumping from roof-to-roof in a shitty apartment complex. The hapless bad guys were also played by the Beasties, etching one more iconic caricature of the band. The collective sounds and optics of “Sabotage” thrilled audiences and moved the three emcees toward the kind of chameleonic ubiquity only possessed by Madonna and Prince.

The B-boys continue shaking up the formula of their prior successes on Ill Communication with “Get it Together.” For the first time on a Beastie album, an outsider emcee joins the fray and Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest matches every rhyme and reason of the Beasties over a moog beat. It’s fun, playful, and stuffed with the most illing-est rhymes from beginning to end. “Alright Hear This” and “Do It” are additional hip hop bangers on the back half of the record, which doesn’t carry the urgency or spontaneity of Check Your Head. 

Ill Communication is the first Beasties record that beckons a direct comparison to its predecessor. It feels like a sequel with many vital moments, with the rest unable to harness the momentary magic of the original. The record still carries the unflinching, incomparable sensibilities of the Beastie Boys, who seem more concerned with pleasing themselves before any other audience.

Mike D, AdRock, and MCA had reincarnated their existence with Check Your Head, then surfed to the top of the music zeitgeist once more with Ill Communication. With little else to prove, they toured for their new record and slipped away from the public eye as a band. They stayed busy in the studio and released the 1995 hardcore EP Aglio E Olio to little fan-fare. The Beasties then impacted pop culture once more by contributing their own word to the English language when describing an unfortunate haircut in the song “Mullet Head,” found on the Clueless motion picture soundtrack.

While the music on Ill Communication is mostly an expansion of what came before on Check Your Head, the outside world of the Beasties billowed outward. Mike D took the reins of Grand Royal Records, a Beastie-curated imprint of Capitol Records. The label included a fashion line, a magazine, and a swelling number of artists including Sean Lennon and Luscious Jackson. Two years later in 1996, the Beastie Boys co-hosted the first Tibetan Freedom Concert with MCA’s non-profit foundation, the Milarepa Fund. For the next five years, the Beasties and other bands such as Rage Against the Machine, Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam among others performed to raise money for the Tibetan cause. With Mike D and MCA busy with their own efforts, Ad-Rock branched out and released his own experimental project BS2000 in 1997 with frequent Beastie collaborator Eric “AWOL” Amery.

For the following three years after Ill Communication, the Beastie Boys were hardly seen together in public aside from performing at the annual Tibetan Freedom Concert. It wasn’t until 1998 that they returned with a fifth album. Each Beastie was now a married man, in their thirties, greying at the temples, and confronting the world at large once again as a brotherly unit. 

Elder statesmen by pop music standards.

On to Part 3.

Beastie Down, Part 1: Check Your Head

With the impending release of Beastie Boys Book, now is good a time as any to look back at the long, winding road of the three bad brothers you know so well: Michael Diamond, Adam Horovitz, and the dearly departed MCA, Adam Yauch. Before Mike D and King Adrock come correct with the official word this month, I will try to make a little sense of what we already know, and grasp for what this band has meant to me over the last two-plus decades.

In May of 1992, the Beastie Boys released their third album, Check Your Head. The record was a culmination of everything the band had released, destroyed, and survived since the band began as a hardcore punk group in New York City, eleven years prior. What started as a lark at Yauch’s seventeenth birthday party in 1981 had lived and died nine lives. Instead of grief (and there was plenty to wallow in), the end of each creative life brought resurrection. 

Their sophomore album from three years prior, Paul’s Boutique, remained ahead of its time. Still considered a dud, not yet heralded by many as the greatest hip hop record ever made. It was a miracle Capitol Records hadn’t dropped them in 1989. Grunge had broken through in 1991, West Coast gangsta rap was taking over, and the Beastie Boys sat in the middle of this musical, cultural divide, forsaking any pre-conceived notion that had made them famous.

Would the memory of the Beastie Boys die along with the eighties? It was a veritable possibility.

With nothing to lose except their record deal with Capitol, the band had built their own G-Son Studio in Glendale, California, determined to reinvent themselves after Paul’s Boutique was a non-starter. The studio was a utopian playground where they played basketball, skateboarded, and rebooted the Beastie Boys once more. The widespread audience knew nothing of the band’s pre-Licensed to Ill era where they were teenagers playing hardcore music in shitty Manhattan clubs. To begin again, they picked up their instruments and jammed, bro. 

Apple Music or Spotify allow you to listen to Check Your Head on demand, but the gatefold double LP reveals a look behind the curtain. Adrock on guitar, MCA on bass, and Mike D on the drums; bongos and guitar pedals scattered about. A carpenter remodeling the studio, “Money” Mark Nishita, had been drafted for keyboard duty to stretch the sonic pallette. The Beastie Boys’ self-mythology alludes to thousands of hours of recordings from this time, in search of more than the perfect beat or their own loops to sample, but their very souls.

The results were profound, totally removed from anything the Beasties had produced before. Blues, jazz fusion, spaced-out ballads, and punk rock abounded. The three crafty bozos hanging out in front of 7-11 at midnight years before were now cultured grown-ups who had seen it all, yet looking for whatever is next.

Three years prior, MCA was rolling through a solo verse on “3-Minute Rule,” claiming he was making records before “you were sucking your mother’s dick.” By the end of Check Your Head, Yauch fronts the mic on a breezy, low-key funk meditation, crooning an opening line of “Yeah. A butterfly floats on the breeze of a sun lit day.”

The inverse of “Fight For Your Right” and its adolescent call-to-arms. A devout “take it or leave it” to any old fans or curious onlookers.

One can’t help but try and imagine the conversations between Diamond, Horovitz, and Yauch behind the scenes, tracing the transcendence of three party animals into worldly sages. (This is a vital moment in the evolution of the band that is hopefully, fully covered in their upcoming autobiography.) The Beasties were actively disowning any character traits that made them household names in 1986. The beer, the girls, the homophobia, the violence, and the drug references melted away with Check Your Head. 

In efforts to outrun the caricatures they had previously inhabited, the Beastie Boys forsook everything with this record. Except the identity of three snotty, self-realized poets.

Toward the end of recording the album, longtime Beastie engineer Mario Caldato Jr. (Mario C in the place to be!) gently nudged the band to make a few hip hop joints. The band obliged, and delivered. Out of twenty tracks on the record, only seven are marked with trademarked ping-ponging rhymes from the band. “So What’Cha Want” was the dangling carrot for the masses — an anthemic proclamation that could close any future arena gig — reminding everyone they were still three emcees absolutely never to be fucked with. 

The song starts with a quick namedrop of Mario C, and Money Mark’s keyboard lays down a squiggly loop that underpins the song. A crusty, two-note guitar riff rides atop a trap kit, and the three emcees rise again from the grave. Their voices are fuzzy and garbled, channeling through bullshit microphones made out of plastic. When the chorus hits, Biz Markie jumps in for reinforcement: “You can’t front on that.” As defiant as any moment on Licensed to Ill or Paul’s Boutique, the Boys place themselves on a pedestal, mark their territory, and double down on pop culture references. 

The accompanying video for “So What’Cha Want” puts slightly aged faces to their familiar names. The B-boys are romping and stomping through the woods, adorned in t-shirts and toboggans, rapping down at the camera with some of the most furious, fun verses in the entire Beastieography. The trees and the sky are overexposed in the film, causing a psychedelic oyster shell to short circuit above their heads. The Beasties look like giants, shouting and trampling over anything in their way. For all of the experimentation that pervades the record, “So What’Cha Want” sits firmly in the middle of the chaos, harnessing all the surrounding kinetic energy into one delicious track.

With all the debauchery of the band white washed, the Beastie Boys manage to have just as much sober fun entertaining themselves throughout Check Your Head. They picture themselves headlining a tiny juke joint in “Live at P.J.’s”, return to their hardcore roots with a thrash cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Time for Livin’,” let Biz Markie adlib over a Ted Nugent track (“The Biz vs. The Nuge”), and offer a straight-up rock song about literally running out of words to say on “Gratitude.”

A virtual impossibility in Beastie Land, fully realized.

Over their three decade run, the Beasties are never as prolific, experimental, and surprising than during the Check Your Head era. Even the B-sides relay genius overflowing onto the parquet floor of G-Son Studio. “Netty’s Girl” is an absurd doo-wop ditty with Mike D falsetto-pining over his current crush, “The Skills to Pay the Bills” is probably the best Beastie track to never make it on an album, and “Honky Rink” is a goofy, funky skit indicting Fly-Over country racism.

The catalyst for change in Check Your Head might be found forty-eight minutes deep into Paul’s Boutique. Early in the ten-part movement of “B-Boy Bouillabaisse,” MCA grabs the mic and throws down a skewering solo verse on “A Year and a Day.” Instead of physically assaulting a fellow member of the human race or busting with a whip-it, Yauch searches for salvation for two solid minutes. A higher self. He prays and hopes that a message is sent, and heads to the mountains every weekend to ski down black diamonds and get high. If you are familiar with Beastie lore, Yauch etches a self-realized prophecy for his own spiritual being, and his band’s future with these rhymes. From the ashes of Paul’s Boutique’s failure, the B-boys crawled away, and Yauch’s riveting face turn in “A Year and a Day” is one of the few vibes they held on to as they began anew.

For the first time in their career, Check Your Head finds the Beasties assuming an identity and sticking with it, holding the mantle of the most wise of wise asses in pop music for the next twenty years, up until MCA’s passing in 2012. More than an album title, I consider Check Your Head a mantra for the Beastie Boys. An affirmation that it’s just fine to second-guess everything you’ve come to believe and assume. 

To press pause, look inside, then take that next step into the unknown.

The saga continues in Part 2: I got the Ill Communication